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“Hey, John.” John turns around even though Sherlock is already swanning away.

“Greg?”

“Yeah,” Greg must’ve come running. “Look I know I’m overstepping by a lot here but…”

He takes a deep breath and John steps closer to hold his elbow. It’s been a long night for all of them and Greg looks like he might fall over.

“What is it?”

“Shit,” Greg takes another deep breath. They’re pretty hidden in the alley, but Greg drags them next to a pile of rubbish anyway. “Like I said, I know I’m overstepping.”

“Just say it,” John is feeling a little at the end of his patience and Greg doesn’t deserve to get yelled at after what Sherlock’s put him through these last few days.

“I don’t know what you were going for with the ‘not gay’ thing,” Greg says, and he’s right, this is overstepping, “but you should stop.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Greg rubs a hand over his tired face. “I don’t like it personally, and it’s not even true.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. “I’m not homophobic,” is what John starts to say. Greg looks incredulous and then shrugs.

“Look just keep it to yourself, we get enough shit without Captain ‘not gay’ Watson reminding everyone at every turn, the team’s just teasing you. Next time smile and nod. No one is threatening your masculinity.”

“Mm,” John is trying to say something but nothing will come out. “What?” He tries. And that’s not where he wanted to go with this either. “Sherlock is... He isn’t.”

Greg gives him a look that is so much like the one Sherlock gives him when he’s being exceptionally dense that John feels himself shrink down. “You really don’t know?”

“I don’t even know what I don’t know,” John snaps, but he’s given himself away. Greg’s expression morphs into something else entirely, and Johns hands are shaking.

“Alright,” he says, looking around, “here’s what we’re going to do. Sherlock is long gone, I live nearby, we’ll go there.”

 

Not ten minutes later John is standing in an apartment that both matches Greg and doesn’t at all, it’s nice, comfortable, a little on the posh side. There’s pictures around but John doesn’t get a chance to look at them before he’s being herded into a very nice bathroom and handed some joggers and a t-shirt. “Towels under the sink!” Greg calls, before closing the door.

John takes his shower and comes out smelling like expensive soap. He knows what’s wrong with the apartment’s decoration now. Greg doesn’t live here alone, but all the things women seem to collect around them are missing too. No razors in the shower, no nail polish in the baskets by the window. No high-heeled shoes in the doorway, not even a catchall for earrings and things on the bedside table. Even Harry has some of those things, if not all.

“You’re smelling better,” Greg grins when he spots John. “I’ll have a quick rinse myself, there’s tea and sandwiches in the kitchen.”

John walks over to the tiny kitchen off the living room and finds a plate stacked with ham and cheese sandwiches and a steaming pot. He sits down on the sofa in the absence of a kitchen table, and only slows down his eating after three sandwiches. Running after Sherlock isn’t exactly the best way to stay well-fed and comfy. He’s having his first proper look around when he hears the shower switch off. With his mug of (excellent) tea, he walks around to get a good look at the pictures.

“I love that one,” he hears when he’s trying to comprehend why Greg has a picture of Sherlock looking about eight years old surrounded by what must be his family. “It’s right before Myc left off for uni, before he started wearing his hair combed down.”

John hadn’t even looked at Mycroft, but now that he does he notices that ridiculous curls apparently run in the family. It’s... almost cute. As far as Mycroft could ever be cute of course.

“Have you figured it out yet?” Greg is wearing some joggers and a t-shirt too, and sits down on the comfortable sofa with a mug of tea of his own.

“Have I figured what out?”

“Look at your mug,” Greg suggests. It says ‘#1 husband’. He looks at Greg to find out how this fits in, and sees Greg is holding up his own mug. ‘#2 husband’.

“No way,” he sighs, and he sits down next to Greg. “You’re gay.”

Greg cackles and points at the photo. “And...”

“Married? To Mycroft?”

“Great deduction, detective,” Greg laughs. “Took you long enough. We live here throughout the week, in the weekend we stay in the family house outside of the city as much as possible.”

“Holy shit,” John groans, and he lets his head fall into his hands.

“This is where you say something like ‘Greg I’m sorry for being a twat, I’ll stop saying anything that could be interpreted as homophobic in your presence’,” Greg’s still smiling, but there’s a hardness to his eyes that John’s only ever seen him turn on suspects before.

“I am sorry.” John tries to say something else and instead he flaps out: “I thought you had a cheating wife?”

“Yeah,” Greg sighs, “I used to when I met Sherlock, I suspect he deletes the relationship I have with Mycroft or pretends to, just to piss me off.”

“That’s...” John tries to think of a way to say ‘pretty much exactly what I’d expect’ but Greg seems to have forgiven him.

“On brand. I know.”

Greg knows Sherlock. Has for a long time. Knows his family. Married his brother. Might have suggested that Sherlock isn’t all that married to his work. “What else do I not know?”

“I’m not in the habit of telling other people’s stories, John,” Greg tells him, and that’s fair. “But I will tell you I’ve seen new-born kittens that hold their liquor better than Sherlock does, and for all he talks about needing to feel the city, Sherlock sure loves traipsing through a good field or two.”

“I should take him on a holiday to the country?”

Greg shrugs. “Right now, you should go home. You’ve had food, a shower, and a polite recommendation. That’s all you’ll get from me. My husband promised me he’d be home for dinner today and I want you out when he comes back.”

Husband. Greg has a husband. “When? And how?”

It’s not a terribly logical way to ask for what he really wants to know, but Greg seems to get it anyway. “Sherlock’s been working with me for just over ten years, on and off. Pretty soon after that I was kidnapped and taken to a warehouse, and three years after I finally got divorced.”

“The wedding?”

“Five years ago.” Greg stands up and John follows him to the door. “Your clothes in the plastic bag, your coat. Go home and talk to him.”

 

John leaves in a daze and doesn’t realize he didn’t say goodbye until he’s walked almost the whole way back to Baker street. He texts Greg quickly to apologize for being shell-shocked, and gets nothing back. Which is extra weird now that he knows what Greg gets up to on a quiet night in. He lets himself in and walks up the stairs. In the warm apartment the fire is blazing and Sherlock is draped over the sofa, still wearing his coat. The throw draped over him suggests Mrs. Hudson has been in here at some point, and John stands in the middle of the room staring at the sleeping detective. Finally lets himself feel what he’s been trying not to. It’s not even true, Greg’s voice sounds in his mind. You really don’t know?

He sits down in his chair and just stares at Sherlock, his messy hair, his long limbs, the way his nose twitches in his sleep. I’m not in the habit of telling other people’s stories, he thinks. What is the story? Sherlock moves in his sleep and pulls a face like it hurts, and John remembers the way the murderer slammed Sherlock into the wall. He should at least be checked for bumps and bruises.

“Sherlock,” he tries, and Sherlock’s lashes flutter before still again. John carefully takes the throw away, helps Sherlock out of his shoes, and tugs him up to standing. All seemingly without waking him up. It’s been at least three days since Sherlock slept at all, so he’s not all too surprised, but he never really tried to get Sherlock to his bed before. He normally falls asleep himself before thinking of what Sherlock gets up to immediately after a case.

“John,” Sherlock mumbles, when John helps him out of his coat and under the covers. He gets rid of Sherlocks belt for him, but leaves the rest of his clothes on for reasons he doesn’t want to think about. Decides to make Sherlock some tea and a sandwich and makes it all the way back to Sherlocks bedroom before he realizes the tea will of course have gone cold by the time Sherlock wakes up.

“If you want a shower,” he says, gentle enough not to disturb Sherlock if he’s really fast asleep, “I have tea for you and I’ll set out a towel.”

He puts the mug and plate down, and hangs a towel over the heater in the bathroom for Sherlock, then walks up to his own room for a well-deserved sleep.

 

When he wakes up seven hours later, there’s a mug of still-warm tea next to his head, and it’s dark outside. It feels like it might be dinnertime. The room smells like shampoo, Sherlock’s kind. John warms his hands on the mug, and thinks about all the things he wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t talked to Greg, and all the things Sherlock does for him. He’s gotten used to waking up with a perfect cup of tea or coffee next to his head. His favourite cereal is always stocked, and there hasn’t been an out of date milk carton in the fridge since. Since then, really. Before.

John rolls his muscles and realizes that the heating is on. Sherlock must’ve timed it all for him. Must have done so every day since John moved back in. John isn’t altogether sure what that means, but it makes something in his chest feel like the wet soft bits might fall out. Raw and achy.

 

“Morning,” Sherlock says when John walks in, a small smile on his face. He’s working on something on the kitchen table.

“And you,” John says, topping up both their mugs from the teapot. “Indian tonight?”

“Why were you at Lestrade’s?” Sherlock says, suddenly icy and hard, without looking up.

“He wanted to talk to me about something,” John says, and he sits down opposite Sherlock. “Look, Sherlock – ”

“Don’t,” Sherlock tells him, waving it away, “I’m sure I don’t care to know.”

Is he really? John wonders, but he lets it go and orders them their Indian food. Which they eat wrapped in pyjamas and bathrobes and tucked in on the sofa together. Laughing at the telly. John’s eyes dart over to Sherlock’s profile every now and then. It’s not even true, he thinks. New-born kittens.

Then his aunt Stella calls and says he really should visit, and Sherlock stares at him the whole time, unblinking eyes. He finds himself say yes. “I’ll be there,” he promises. “No don’t, I’ll find a place to stay out of town, I do miss the moors.”

“You’ll bring her round for dinner, won’t you,” Stella says, always sharper than she has any right to be, and John does it again. Yes.

 

Cases wind up being slow, and Sherlock gets a little itchy, and then one morning John wakes up to Sherlock standing in his room, holding the cup of tea he desperately wants. Sherlock blinks, shoves it into his hands, and rushes off, and John books them a car and a cottage. It’s a 15-minute drive from Stella and Ted’s to there, and it’s right in the middle of the moors. The pictures on the website show him landscapes that have no business being so beautiful it fills his chest with longing.

“Sherlock,” he says when he comes down the stairs, gentle to not disturb him. Sherlock is sitting in his chair, folded in half, his head on his hands, his elbows on his knees. Pulling at his hair. “Sherlock let’s go away for the weekend,” he says, and Sherlock looks up at him, frowning and confused. Daring himself to be brave, John steps closer and puts a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I booked us a car. If my leg is alright I’ll drive us. We can leave in the morning or tonight, whatever you prefer.”

Sherlock kicks into action slowly, and picks up speed as he goes, whirling through the apartment to pack and tie up cases, texting and emailing from his phone. John watches him from the kitchen table as he eats his breakfast, then goes to pack too.

 

After picking up the car, and a quick stop past the lab, Sherlock and John are on the road. John is driving, and Sherlock is fidgeting in his seat. It’s a little worrisome, he’s normally better at keeping himself busy.

“Music?” John asks, and Sherlock shakes no.

“Is there something you’d like to talk about?” He suggests, and Sherlock shakes no again. “This is a four-hour drive,” John reminds him, when they’re almost past Cambridge, and Sherlock looks at him.

“Almost five,” he croaks. He hasn’t asked where they’re going yet. “Your aunt Stella lives in Middlesbrough.”

“We’re a bit closer though,” John tells him. “But you’re right, it may well take more than four hours.”

They stop for lunch at a road-side restaurant, boring sad chips and a sandwich for John, stolen chips and pickles from the sandwich from Sherlock. John notices a kid staring at them, and shallows down the urge to talk loudly about work with Sherlock, just so that no one will think they’re a couple. Sherlock offers to drive the rest of the way and John grins at him. They got an automatic car from the rental place, but he still gets stiff after a few hours.

He buys them some snacks and a large bottle of water while Sherlock gets the car, and gets out right when Sherlock pulls up. He climbs in and is really grateful that he won’t have to drive, flexes his foot back and forth and adjusts the seat.

“What’d you get us?” Sherlock asks, eyes on the road, and John opens the plastic bag in his lap.

“Water, of course,” he says, and Sherlock looks over at his lap quickly.

“Is that purple Fisherman Friends?” He asks, nose wrinkled.

“Yeah,” John holds it up, “never had those before. Blackcurrant apparently.”

“I also got frosted animal crackers,” he holds that one up so Sherlock can see it, “KitKat and crisps.”

Sherlock quickly looks at him again. “Apple KitKats,” he says, disgust clear in his voice, “and Worcester sauce and sundried tomato crisps? Are you insane?”

“No,” John bristles, a little defensive over his snack choices, “I thought they’d be fun.”

Sherlock stops halfway through taking a deep breath, and looks at John, unreadable expression. It’s sad and deeply moving, and then he looks back at the road.

“Let’s start with the animal crackers,” John decides, in the awkward silence that follows. They listen to the radio a bit, and chat about cases and the things they can see from the car.

 

“Been a while,” John says, when they’re getting close, and Sherlock makes an inquisitive noise. It shouldn’t be endearing. “Since we had a road trip,” John clarifies, “but also since I’ve been here. Next exit.”

Sherlock takes the exit, and they find themselves even more deeply in the countryside. London feels a lifetime away when John opens the crisps and Sherlock complains until John shoves on in his mouth. Then Sherlock finishes the whole bag in minutes, slapping at John’s hand every time he tries to sneak a crisp from the bag between Sherlocks leg.

 

They pass by a three-house village for the key, which gets handed to John with a saucy wink from the old lady who owns the cottage. He opens his mouth to say they’re not gay, and stops himself just in time. Not even true.

It’s a beautiful, if small, cottage, in the middle of the moor. John calls Sherlock into his room when he realizes the view.

“You have a single bed,” Sherlock says.

“I know,” John smiles at him. He’d made the booking after all. “Look how far you can see from here.” They watch a flock of birds for a while, then get back to unpacking the groceries John had insisted they get at the last town they’d passed through. Much as he wants to support small business, he doesn’t feel like spending this trip scouting for butchers and grocers. Supermarkets are an excellent invention, even if they make Sherlock twitchy and anxious with the overload of information.

 

John leaves Sherlock to nose around the cottage and probably discover a family secret or two, and goes outside to call Stella. He keeps his back to the cottage so Sherlock can’t read his lips and comes back to find Sherlock has started a fire. In the fireplace too.

“Wonderful,” John grins. The weather is alright but he’s glad to be warm.

“Dinner at your aunt’s tomorrow,” Sherlock deduces, and John turns to tell him amazing. Finds Sherlock curled up in a tiny ball in the corner of the sofa. Hanging on to his legs tight enough that his knuckles are white. “Did you adequately warn her, too?” He continues, haughty tone to mask what surely must be hurt.

John wants to defend himself, but he has done that in the past. Friends, Mary, clients, they all got the don’t mind him speech. “I didn’t,” John says, honestly, because he really hadn’t. “She asked if you have any food allergies.”

“What’d you say?” Sherlock looks up from his feet a little, uncurls just a bit. “No, ta, just stupid people.”

“I didn’t,” John laughs, “I told her no allergies, but no cumin or nutmeg. She’s making lasagne.” He’s rewarded with a brilliant smile for that. He doesn’t quite feel like he’s earned that kind of gratitude so he goes to make some tea. Finds a large thermos. “Sherlock,” he calls.

“Yes?” Sherlock is right behind him and it startles John into dropping the thermos onto the countertop with a clatter. Which makes Sherlock take a step back.

“Sorry,” John says, “thought you were still on the sofa.” Sherlock shakes his head but stays away, and John feels it. How he’s holding back. “D’you want to go for a walk?” He says, as he was planning to. And Sherlock says yes.

 

They walk for a few hours, until they get cold, the tea finished on top of an abandoned farmhouse long before, and when they get back, John makes them spaghetti.

“Telly?” he asks, when they’re sitting on the sofa together.

“I checked,” Sherlock says, around a mouthful of pasta. “There’s only a few channels working.”

“Ah,” John says, picking up the remote. He flicks through three channels heavy with static, and finds a movie that judging by the colour tones is a romantic comedy. It’ll do for background noise.

When he’s done eating, Sherlock finds them the bottle of wine and some glasses, and John gratefully takes one, nestles in properly with a pillow on his lap. They both changed into pyjamas after the climb onto the roof of the farm left their clothes muddy, and it feels rather like being at home. John doesn’t catch on to what’s happening until Sherlock makes the smallest noise of distress, and John looks at him to find agony on his face. He looks back at the tv. Oh.

Perhaps he wouldn’t have chosen a movie about someone in love with someone else on their wedding day. He definitely wouldn’t have chosen a movie about coming to terms with same-sex attraction. But now he can’t stop watching. Sherlock makes a half-hearted joke at some point about how Rachel is his type that makes John look at him and wonder how he could have it so wrong. How could Sherlock Holmes be this far off, when surely his feelings must be written all over his face. John holds the wine glass tighter, and tries to breathe throughout the rest of the movie.

He says goodnight as soon as the credits start rolling, and finds his way to a shower. Brushing his teeth on auto-pilot. He stares at the ceiling until he hears Sherlock creep up the stairs too.

Wishes he was brave enough to do something about the fact that he heard Sherlock linger in front of his room for minutes, before finally going to his own bed.

 

The next day they spend the morning and afternoon doing a good chunk of the Cleveland Way, before taking the bus back to where they parked the car. They stop by a pub overlooking the sea for lunch and a beer for John, a forkful of stolen cod and a water for Sherlock.

For most of the way they don’t talk, just follow the path. John smiles at people that pass them, although it’s pretty quiet. Sometimes they pass a group of people, and Sherlock hisses rapid-fire deductions into John’s ear that have John clinging to his arm and laughing so hard there’s tears in his eyes.

In the bus back Sherlock falls asleep. Folded sideways in his seat, eyelashes fluttering against dark tired skin. John resists the urge to pull him in, to let him rest on his shoulder. He’s too short for that to be of much help anyway, he tells himself.

 

John drives them both to Stella and Ted’s house, where they are received with such warmth it makes his stomach hurt. Why did he wait so long?

Stella did make lasagne, and Ted chats a mile a minute at Sherlock about music and instruments as soon as John tells him Sherlock plays the violin. Throughout dinner John checks with Sherlock if he’s alright, if he’s comfortable, and Sherlock doesn’t look comfortable at all. But he does look happy.

When Stella and John go to clear the table and wash up, Stella turns on the radio in the kitchen.

“That bad?” John laughs, remember all the times she tore him a new one with the radio on so it wouldn’t upset Ted.

“Figured you’d appreciate the privacy,” she smiles as she says it, down at the dishes. John gets started on the drying. “He’s lovely, John.”

“You don’t,” he swallows, tries to tell himself that denying it isn’t worth it, “mind?”

“Oh hardly,” she says, looking up at him now. “You know how we feel about Harry don’t you? And how we are, even.”

John just hums, more because he doesn’t know what to say than because he doesn’t understand, even though he really doesn’t.

“Well Ted and me,” she says, like it should be obvious.

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” John tells her. Starting to get curious now. Stella puts down the plate she was washing and turns to him, sweet curls and kind eyes. Dish-washing gloves still dripping with soap.

“We don’t have sex, John,” she says. And at least five things click at once. Comments made. Wry smiles when people asked when they’d have kids of their own. “It was important to both of us that we’d marry someone who wouldn’t want to, either.”

“You’re asexual,” John says, proper astounded, and she shrugs.

“I guess we are. I love him,” she says, and John knows that, of course he does. So he puts down the towel and comes for a hug. She takes of the gloves without letting him go before squeezing him back.

“Thank you for everything you’ve always done for me,” John tells her, because it feels appropriate. “For us.” Because Harry should be included in this. The mess with their parents would have been infinitely worse had it not been for Stella and Ted.

“Oh John,” she says, “I’d do anything for you. You’re so loved.”

He knows, and he nods. Gets back to the dishes.

 

“Thank you for bringing him over,” Ted tells him when they’re leaving, with a big hug and a kiss to his forehead. “I’m glad you’re sorting things out.”

Sherlock drives them both back to the cottage. It’s dark out, but the stars are showing, and the moon is bright. It feels like they’re suspended somehow, like the transit time between Stella and Ted’s and the cottage isn’t truly happening. That nothing could happen to them during this time. They’re both quiet until John fills up the kettle as soon as they get back in.

“Cuppa?” He asks, and Sherlock nods. John hands him his steaming mug soon, and joins him on the sofa. “Was that alright for you?”

“How do you mean?” Sherlock turns fully towards him, seeing far more than John is ready to show, probably. Can he tell how much John is feeling the time he’s wasted being angry over something he could have just let himself feel?

“It’s been a long day,” John says. You met my parents. He doesn’t say. They like you. “I know how you feel about meeting new people and being forced to eat.” He does want to know if it was too much for Sherlock.

“It was good,” Sherlock says, a little smile on his face, probably also remembering the last time someone tried to force him through a sit-down dinner where they couldn’t talk about murder. “And Ted is very knowledgeable.”

“He is,” John admits, feels his eyes shine with joy and Sherlock stares at him. “You must’ve made quite the impression, I don’t think he’s ever let anyone else play his instruments before.”

“How do you know it was me playing?” And that probably gives more away than John was intending to. How had he known?

“Familiar repertoire,” he says. Which is true. I can’t count the nights I’ve sat on the stairs listening to you play because I couldn’t sleep and you couldn’t see me cry. That would be more true. Sherlock probably knows, anyway.

They finish their tea and chat about their plans, then head off to their bedrooms after a warm goodnight. John sleeps better than he has in years.

 

“Sherlock!” John bellows the following morning, when he comes downstairs to find the kitchen table absolutely covered in carefully cut and labelled plants. “What is the meaning of this?” He checks quickly outside and is relieved to find the garden looking no worse than it had yesterday, at least Sherlock hadn’t destroyed anything. Himself swans in through the back door looking muddy and eager, right until he sees John. His mouth turns down, his eyes narrow.

“John.”

And that wasn’t Johns intention at all. Of course Sherlock would want to explore and categorize. Of course he should. There isn’t anyone around for miles, he probably didn’t even bother anyone while doing it, which is rare enough for an experiment as is.

“I’m sorry,” John finds himself saying. “That was entirely the wrong tone. Have you eaten? I’d love to hear about the plants while I cook.”

Something happens to Sherlocks face, he gets the same look he did when he was in the car, but he recovers quickly and gathers steam soon enough, talking about the plants and the books about plants and the way it would affect the bees around, and then when John offers him some local honey Stella had given them yesterday, he lights all the way up. They spend the rest of the day visiting apiaries and shops and trying out obscene amounts of honey from all over the area. It’s fun.

 

John twists his leg while stepping off a ladder during one of their stops, and though it doesn’t hurt much at first, his leg gets more and more painful throughout the day. Sherlock ends up insisting they go back, and even runs John a bath. Fetches him tea and lavender from the garden, and after John has had a painkiller and a good soak, he comes down in his pyjama’s to find Sherlock has cooked. There’s wine, and a salad, and a delicious-looking risotto, all stalled out on the kitchen table. Sherlock standing next to it chewing his lip. He mustn’t have heard John come down the stairs, because he picks up the tealight that’s standing on the table, and blows it out before putting it away.

John takes the last few steps extra loudly, and Sherlock has pulled his face into a friendly smile by the time they look at each other.

“This looks amazing,” John says, trying to show just how much. “And it smells even better.”

It is great, and it’s wonderful to have time to talk about the day, and to laugh about what happened, and to thank Sherlock for all the ways he tries to help when John is hurting. When they’re listening to a recording Ted had given Sherlock to listen to the day before, John on the sofa and Sherlock on the floor, the fire crackling, John lets his mind wander.

Sherlock, beautiful Sherlock, who he’s loved for years without meaning to. Not even true.

 

John stares at the way Sherlock lies on the carpet, entirely unaware of himself. Comfortable just being in his skin for once, and his thoughts drift back to Greg. Who knows parts of Sherlock better than John does. Who married Mycroft, of all people. He feels a familiar queasiness when he thinks of it, Greg and Mycroft. Marriage, and all that that implies. Tries to sit with the feeling rather than push it away. Maybe he’s just scared. It is a similar enough feeling to standing on top of something very tall and looking down. He almost laughs when he thinks the metaphor is fitting in other ways too. He’s unlikely to get hurt unless he does something stupid. The only way to fly is to go where he isn’t supposed to.

 

Sherlock sits up and makes a noise, must have heard John’s breathing change. John gets up with a groan and he limps to the kitchen for a bottle of something. Anything, really. Finds another bottle of wine and decides it’ll have to do. He joins Sherlock on the floor in front of the fire, stiff and awkward because of his leg. Sherlock tries to help with pillows and moving the chair so John’ll have something to lean against, and John decides to just let him.

“When I was thirteen,” John starts, after they’ve raised their glasses at each other, matching grins. “Harry was fifteen and in love. We knew it, because she suddenly stopped talking and started wearing nice clothes. I knew she was seeing Susan. I knew that it was a secret, but I must’ve not really registered why, because one night over dinner my parents were teasing her, asking what his name was, how she knew him. I told them Susan was a class above her and they were in theatre together.”

Sherlock tops up his wine glass in quiet support, and goes back to staring at the floor.

“I don’t remember much from that day,” John tells him, “but I remember what Harry looked like when Stella showed up. Like she was finally safe.”

“Who is Stella to you?” Sherlock asks.

“Legally? Ted’s my mum’s brother, but he’s a bit younger than her, I think. They weren’t ever close.”

They’re quiet for a bit together, and then John really has to know. “Why weren’t we at Mycroft’s wedding?”

Sherlock frowns with his Oh John expression all over his face. “You weren’t answering my calls. I was there.”

“Ah,” is all John can say, when the air in his lungs leaves him in a rush. That was five years ago, wasn’t it? He wants to apologize and when he looks up, Sherlock is looking at him in a strange way. Sherlock shakes his head, and starts clearing away the dishes. It takes John a while to get up, and by the time he does he’s tired and dizzy.

“Go to bed John,” Sherlock tells him, so John sways close to him, resting his forehead on Sherlock’s shoulder for just a second.

“Thank you,” he says, standing back, looking up at Sherlock, “and I am so very sorry.”

“Bed,” Sherlock croaks, and John goes. He turns around at the bottom of the stairs and sees Sherlock standing unnaturally still. His back too straight, his arms down by his sides.

 

He feels how much he had to drink when he brushes his teeth, and lies in bed afterwards with his eyes closed, trying to remember what you’re supposed to do when the whole world is spinning. It’s not unlike being on a ship, he thinks. The floorboards creek when Sherlock comes upstairs, an hour or so later. John left his door open on purpose, wanting to catch some of the warmth from the hallway, and he can hear Sherlock stop in front of the door opening. He’s too tired and tipsy to move.

 

The door creaks when Sherlock moves it, but John can’t tell which way. He doesn’t want to open his eyes and risk feeling worse.

Sherlock makes a little noise, like he’s going to say something, and John wants to open his arms to him, invite him in. He’s wearing nothing but boxers though, and he’s not quite ready to think about what he might do if he were to get Sherlock into his bed. It’s all rather exhausting, he thinks, and then he finally falls asleep.

 

The next morning John’s leg is feeling better, and there’s a glass of water as well as a cup of tea on his bedside table. He smiles at it, and joins Sherlock in the kitchen, excited about their day. Sherlock looks worn but smiles when John makes him some coffee.

“If you’d rather not – ” John offers, but Sherlock shakes no.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says, not even a hint of sarcasm. John thinks he could kiss him and settles for a warm smile instead.

 

They meet Ted and Stella at the parking area nearest to the Roseberry Topping. Sherlock gets a hug from both Stella and Ted, and John wants to tell them off until he notices how Sherlock leans into it. Stella takes his arm, and they set off all together, John and Ted behind Stella and Sherlock.

“He’s a good one,” Ted says, with a fond smile for Stella.

“We’re not...” John swallows, looking at Ted and begging him silently to get it.

“Words, John,” Ted says, staring at a flock of geese flying by. John knows, so he hums and nods. Tries again.

“We’re not together,” he says. “I think I might like for us to be, but I’ve been slow in... letting myself believe it. Does that make sense?”

Ted hums, “it does. Have you talked to him? What does he want?”

“No I haven’t,” John scrapes his throat at the unimpressed look Ted throws his way. “I find it so hard to know,” he says, defensive at first, before he realizes it’s the truth. “He seems to know everything, secrets, hidden things, things people didn’t even know about themselves. And I feel like I’m lagging behind, playing catch-up.”

“I understand that,” Ted says, looking at Stella again. Who is talking to Sherlock with fire in her eyes. Sherlock is just nodding at her and John wants to go rescue him. “Words, John,” he says. And John knows. But that doesn’t make it easy.

John talks to Ted about the plants they’re seeing, the birds passing overhead, and then they swap. Most of the walk passes with them taking turns to walk together in pairs, and Stella takes pictures when they get to the top. John walks around with Ted, until he notices that Sherlock is standing on a boulder, looking out over the view with his arms crossed. John touches Ted’s arm and walks over to Sherlock, stopping in front of him. Sherlock turns to him with a serious look on his face, so John grabs his elbow and pulls himself up on top of the boulder too. Stands next to Sherlock as they look out over the fields. Let’s himself stay close, even if there are people around. Even if they are looking, and thinking about them. When he checks on Sherlock, he realizes Sherlock wasn’t looking at the view. He is looking at him. It makes John’s cheeks heat, a bit. “Alright?” He asks, and Sherlock smiles a small real smile. It’s worth all the staring in the world to have Sherlock smile like that.

“Yes,” Sherlock tells him. “I was just wondering about the people that stood here before us.”

“Well Ted can tell you all about that,” John promises. Sherlock nods and jumps down, before helping John. Sherlock and Ted talk animatedly all the way down. Stella and John catch each other up on people they both know, and they have lunch at a pub nearby the parking, outside because the weather is nice. They talk about the work, mostly. Interesting cases.

 

“Are you up for it?” Sherlock asks while holding out the car keys to John and John thinks about it. Decides that no, not really. Sherlock must see it on his face because he takes the keys back.

“Back tonight?” John asks, when they’re on their way back to the cottage, and Sherlock sits up a little straighter. “We have it for one more night. We could leave in the morning.”

Sherlock turns quickly, looks at him from the corner of his eyes. “Let’s stay one more night. Do we need groceries?”

“You cooked yesterday,” John says. Sherlock is probably better aware of what they have. “Although if you’re up for it I have an idea, it’s back the way we came though.”

Sherlock stops the car by the side of the road and looks at John. “An adventure?”

All John can do is smile. “Yes.”

He guides Sherlock back to town, and then in and through the confusing suburbs of Ormesby.

“Should be...” He double-checks the number. “Here, yes.”

He can tell Sherlock is ill at ease in a place like this, so he smiles reassuringly at him before knocking. “Mrs. Laghari?” He calls, when nothing happens.

The door opens wide to Mrs. Laghari looking at him, first suspiciously, then with joy. “John!”

She pulls him in, and Sherlock follows. John knows he’s smelling the air, it always smells amazing in here. They leave with far more food than two people could ever eat, and John insists on paying for all of it. Doesn’t realize until they’re in the car again that she snuck in more than she’d told him about.

“I used to tutor her kids,” he explains at Sherlock’s face. “Best Indian food I’ve ever had.”

Sherlock shakes his head, “you’re a strange man, John Watson.” And John laughs.

Over dinner Sherlock has to admit that John might be a strange man, but he does have excellent taste in semi-legal Indian food.

 

They get back to London later than intended the next day. Packing up had taken a while, but most of their lost time was spent looking around Leicester. They have so much fun it’s suddenly way past lunch time.

Sherlock falls asleep somewhere between Leicester and London, and John gets to look at him as he sleeps, while driving them home safe.

He only wakes Sherlock up right before they get to the rental place, with a careful hand on his knee. “Sherlock,” he says, low and quiet. “Sherlock we’ve got to go soon.”

Sherlock wakes up with a gasp, and wide sleepy eyes. John couldn’t not smile at him if he’d tried, and Sherlock pulls a face. He doesn’t explain, and John doesn’t ask.

 

John has lunch with Harry three days later, to give her some things from Stella and Ted, and to catch up. She’s been doing well, loves her job.

“Thought you hated kids,” John says, grinning into his sandwich. She kicks him under the table but laughs too.

“Only you,” she promises, and he coughs as he inhales a bit of bread. “And anyway it’s mostly parents and grandparents I deal with, and then teenagers.”

“Do you have time to work besides?” John asks her, telling himself he’ll walk her back to the bookstore after lunch so he can actually see the place.

“Yeah,” she smiles wider, he knows they look alike, but it’s more obvious like this somehow, when she really smiles. “I’ve actually sold a few paintings in the last weeks.”

“Excellent,” John tells her, holding up his hand for a high-five.

“Weirdo,” she says, but she doesn’t leave him hanging, dances in her seat. “I’ve news too.”

“Yeah?”

“Met someone,” she says, blushing a sweet pink, dancing in her seat. It’s a good look on her. “She’s... really something.”

“Do you want to tell me?” John teases, but he knows she won’t.

“Early days,” she says, as he expected. “Don’t want to jinx it. But I... I’d love for you to meet her.”

“Anytime,” he promises. “I – me too,” he says. Swallows, “I’m realizing something.”

“Oh god,” she says. “Tell me,” she puts her napkin down, “but after I use the bathroom please.”

“Sure,” John says, and he sits back to wait for her. What does he really want to say? He wants to ask her things, he wants her advice. How do you know what you are? How do you choose what to call yourself? What does he even want from this? What is his endgame?

He’s just telling himself that he has no business doing anything with Sherlock if he can’t even say it, or worse, can’t even think it, when Harry comes back. John is halfway through giving himself a stern talking to. I love Sherlock, he thinks. I’d love to see Sherlock naked. I have no idea what sex would entail but I want it regardless. If Sherlock doesn’t want the same I’ll happily be his platonic life partner. Not even true, Greg’s voice echoes in his mind.

“Christ, John,” Harry says when she sees him, “did something happen? Do you have to go?” And John shakes it loose.

“No,” he says, “no, I just... Haven’t a clue where to start.”

She tilts her head at him, looks at his face. “Johnny, are we talking good or bad news?”

The whole story about Greg tumbles out, but it’s a mess and John can tell she’s not really following. She only had an hour for lunch anyway, he should’ve started with this. He fidgets. “Bad news,” he decides finally, “I’ve been horrible.”

“Well that’s not news,” she says, blunt as always, and his face twitches without him meaning to. He knows it’s the truth. “You’ve always been a bit of a dick to everyone you weren’t trying to sleep with.”

He feels his face move more, and suddenly his eyes sting. Harry grabs his hand under the table, like they’re ten and listening to their parents fight. Six and waiting for dad to come back. Four and hungry.

“John,” she says, and he looks up at her. “Besides everything else you’ve told me. Do you realize how hard this is for Sherlock?”

“What?” He croaks. Of course he does, he’s been being a twat about being not gay in front of Sherlock for ages and that can’t have been easy, he knows Sherlock doesn’t have any other friends.

“How you’re acting towards Sherlock now, this is worse than what you were doing before.”

“Being nice?” John manages, thrown, how could that be worse?

“Disturbing the equilibrium,” she says, “making him think about something he thought he dealt with years ago.”

“You seem sure he feels... something,” John says, trying to process what she’s telling him.

Harry laughs, a bit brittle. “I have eyes, baby.”

 

John does walk her back to the store, and meets her colleague, who is at least as tall as Sherlock and exactly Harry’s type, from the way her hair flows down her back to the way she looks at Harry like she’d happily set the world on fire for her. John makes sure to smile at her, and to wink at Harry before he goes.

 

Sherlock barely looks up when he walks back into the flat. “Good lunch?”

“Very,” John says. “She’s doing really well.”

“That’s good to hear,” Sherlock looks up at him. “I have a case, if you’re interested?”

Of course John is interested.

 

John calls Harry, a week or so later. “Can I ask you something?”

“Course,” she says, “but it’s still early days and you can’t meet her. Not properly anyway.”

“Not everything is about you, Watson,” John laughs, and Harry joins in.

“You’re one to talk,” she says, “anyway, shoot.”

“If I’m... not sure.” John starts, takes a deep breath. Tries again. “Harry-I-might-be-gay.”

“Johnny,” she says, and John takes a deep shuddering breath in and out. He’s sitting on his bed, home alone. Curled up under the window. He doesn’t even feel bad, he feels buoyant. Both in the good way and the about-to-be-swept-away-by-the-sea way.

“I’m so sorry it took me this long to get here,” he says, and he hears her smile.

“Ask your question,” she says.

“If I’m not sure.” John says, “should I be sure?”

“How would you become sure? You know you’re hurting him, you shouldn’t wait too long.”

“Date other people?” John tries, but even the thought makes him sick. “Kiss someone? Porn?” Date men, kiss men.

“Absolutely not,” she laughs, “none of that will help, trust me. You need to talk to him. Stop making decisions for him.”

“But...” John says, and she shuts him down. They talk of other things for a while, and otherwise John lies on top of his sheets, staring at the ceiling. Sherlock painted the room when he thought John was going to have a baby, and hoping John might let them stay over here sometimes. It’s just white, but it’s well done. With love, something in John whispers, and suddenly he aches for Sherlock. Wants him to be home already. Wants to be close to him on the sofa and watch a movie.

 

“Why do you have this?” John laughs, holding up the DVR for Maurice. Sherlock looks up from his plate and shrugs.

“Mycroft gave it to me, must’ve thought it funny.” His hair is still wet from the shower, he’s wearing a bathrobe and pyjamas, and they’re going to watch something together.

“I saw it in the theatre,” John says, looking at the front. Hugh Grant was so young here. “I remember thinking they should hurry up and get to it already, all the gentle hugging and caressing drove me insane.”

“Not enough naked tits?” Sherlock sneers, and John laughs. As if Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t have figured it out by now.

“Let’s watch something with explosions then,” he joins Sherlock on the sofa and flips through the tv guide. “Or would you prefer Agatha Christie?”

“Pff,” Sherlock huffs. “Do The Mummy, give me something to look at, at least.”

John isn’t sure how to process that at all. Brendan Fraser? The mummies? Egypt? He flicks to the channel anyway, and takes Sherlock’s plate from him so Sherlock doesn’t have to get up. Puts it on the coffee table. Sherlock hums his thanks.

He realizes what’s happening when he hands Sherlock another glass of whiskey. They’ve been drinking. New-born kittens, John thinks, and he tops Sherlock up again. Pretends it’s because the bottle was almost empty anyway.

Sherlock finished the glass pretty quickly, and John makes use of a commercial break to bring their things to the kitchen. Only takes three seconds to decide on whether or not to bring another bottle out. One of their thank you bottles, a good one.

They each savour this glass, and then John starts talking to Sherlock about the movie. Not like there’d be spoilers for either of them anyway.

“Hate this part,” John mumbles. “Stupid woman.”

“You’d have done the same thing,” Sherlock says, leaning back to look at John, dramatic and just a little catty. John can’t help his smile.

“Would you have saved me?” John teases, when the scene switches back to Rick. Sherlock blinks at him in the dark, the light from the tv playing across his face.

“Haven’t I?” He asks, and John nods, throat suddenly dry.

“He is very good looking,” John admits finally, after stubbornly staring at the screen to calm his heart rate back down a little.

“I’d fuck him,” Sherlock drawls, and John’s cheeks flash hot. He’s never heard Sherlock talk like that before. He refuses to look at him, just hums as if that was a normal thing to say.

“Thought you were married to the work,” John finds himself saying. He must be more drunk than he thought. He wasn’t going to say that at all.

“You of all people should know you needn’t be married for sex, three continents,” Sherlock teases, and when John looks at him, he’s being stared at, half-lidded eyes, his head hanging to the side. His throat bare and exposed. John licks his lips, and he watches Sherlock shake his head as if to clear the fog. They look at each other, in the dark, muffled screaming coming from the telly.

“Something’s changing, John,” Sherlock tells him, entirely serious. “And I’m not sure what to do.”

“I know,” John says, “me neither.”

They nod at each other, and then turn back to the movie. They even watch the one that comes after, an Agatha Christie.

 

Greg invites John for a drink one day, after they finish a case, but John has plans, and when he proposes another day, Greg ends up cancelling.

“Thursday?” John asks, piling things into his grocery basket while balancing the phone between his shoulder and ear.

“Thursday,” he hears Greg think. “I have... You know what, you can join. I’m eating at the pub then, with rugby mates.”

“Sounds good,” John says, a little surprised but happy for a chance to sit in a pub and talk sports. He doesn’t really think about it again until Thursday, except when he looks at himself in the mirror and wonders when he started looking so old. Maybe he should ask whether Greg’s team has room for one more.

 

When John arrives at the pub, he knows immediately where to look, judging by the matching jerseys and loud laughter coming from the corner. There’s a pack of men standing around, and John greets Greg with a quick slap to his shoulder. They grin at each other, and John shakes a lot of hands in rapid succession. He only remembers the names of three or four people, and one of them is also called John. Most of the night is spent eating pub food, drinking beer, and talking rugby. England plays France and they lose rather miserably, but it doesn’t matter much. Some people start leaving and the group moves to sit down, and John gets a rather enthusiastic lecture from a guy he thinks is called Albert about why he should join the club.

He’s just about to tell John again that the club has teams for all levels, when his phone rings and his whole face softens. The other guys sitting near notice too and laugh, and Albert apologizes and answers the phone.

“Hey... yeah.” He says, “yeah I’ll come home soon.” His eyes are shining and John wonders at the display of affection, so public, right in front of his friends. “Love you too,” Albert says, and he laughs at something, “I know, I know. Yeah. Ok I’ll be on my way in a bit.”

He hangs up and the guys cheer, laugh at Alberts red cheeks.

“My husband,” Albert explains to John, as an aside, since all the other guys obviously already know. It takes all of John’s training but he manages to just smile at Albert, instead of showing all the emotions warring inside. Obviously Greg wouldn’t be friends with homophobes, but this is quite far beyond the indifferent tolerance he knows is expected in men-only things.

“Got married last May,” a guy opposite them tells John. “They’re still in the honeymoon phase.”

“Some people are just like that,” Other John says, nodding in the direction of Greg, who laughs. Something clicks.

“What about you?” Someone else asks, no agenda, just curiosity.

John considers for a second to shake his head. To tell them he’s not gay. He decides not to lie, and when he ducks his head his blush is genuine. “Maybe.”

The guys cheer for him like they did for Albert, and John catches Greg’s eye. Greg raises his glass to him, but he looks a little worried.

 

They all say goodbye not long after, and John wraps himself up in his coat and scarf for the walk home. He finds Greg smoking outside.

“Waiting for the car,” he explains, a happy grin on his face.

“Lucky you,” John says, but he’s pretty close to home and looking forward to the walk a bit. It’s a nice night out. “I took him to the moors,” he tells Greg, who nods at him, “he met my aunt and uncle, the ones who raised me. I’m being better.”

Greg stands up straight when the car pulls up, and claps John on the shoulder again, “wouldn’t have brought you to meet these guys if I didn’t think you were.”

“Thank you,” John says, and Greg nods at him again, before getting into the car and being whisked away.

John walks back fast, a little too fast for his leg, but it helps with the evening chill. Stop making decisions for him, he thinks. In Harry’s voice. He thinks about how Sherlock sleeps with his arms tucked in, how he looks at John when he’s waiting for him to get something, how his back straightens when John tells him well done. He thinks about what he wants, and realizes while waiting for a light to turn green that he won’t ever get it if he doesn’t ask. Sherlock will never risk it, he’ll never take the first step.

He walks up the stairs and makes them both some tea, then nearly drops the whole tray when his phone rings in his pocket. Sherlock raises an eyebrow at him, up from the book he was reading, and John hands him a mug before checking. “St. Thomas’,” he says, out-loud in his surprise. He picks up and it must show on his face, because Sherlock helps him back into his shoes and coat, and out onto the street. Gets them a cab while John is still talking to a nurse.

“Hit by a car on her way home,” he tells Sherlock. “They suspect a concussion and want to keep her overnight.”

“We’ll be there soon,” Sherlock soothes. John feels the alcohol in his veins, making him nauseous and sluggish. Not his best for Harry. Sherlock notices his hand shaking and offers his own. That’s how they arrive at the hospital, John holding Sherlock’s hand in both of his.

 

Next to Harry’s bed sits the colleague. “Emma,” John says. She stands up, red eyes, and shakes his hand before introducing herself to Sherlock. For a second John fears Sherlock will say something, but Sherlock isn’t looking at Emma anymore, he’s looking at Harry.

Harry is a little pale, and she has a plaster on her forehead, but otherwise seems to just be sleeping. They all get chairs and sit together at the foot of Harry’s bed while Harry sleeps, John feels the fear leave his body with every steady breath she takes.

 

A nurse walks in and addresses Emma, “are you the brother?”

John’s eyebrows rise, and Emma turns bright red, immediately fumbles to undo her tight bun, but it’s Sherlock that says: “Really?”

The nurse stammers an apology to John after actually looking at them all properly, but John shakes his head. “The doctor please,” he says, and she just nods and runs off.

Emma’s jaw is tight, and her hands are folded in her lap but shaking. She looks down at them and her hair falls from behind her shoulder to cover most of her face. “Would you like to come with me to see if we can find some decent tea in here?” Sherlock asks her before John can say anything, stuck on what could be appropriate here, and she gives a tight nod.

 

Harry wakes up for a bit when Sherlock and Emma come back with tea, and complains that they didn’t get her any, which makes Emma laugh. Real joy. The doctor comes and explains that although Harry has no broken bones and should be fine, the fact that she threw up a few times is a bit worrisome and they’d rather keep an eye on her. The doctor advices that she take it easy for a bit, and Harry holds out her hand for Emma to squeeze. John pats her leg and thanks the doctor.

“I know better than to tell you you don’t need to stay,” he tells Emma. “Harry I’ll talk to you in the morning alright? Give me a ring when you can.”

She nods and they say their goodbyes.

 

John falls asleep almost as soon as the cab starts driving and wakes up when something jostles him. He blinks himself awake and realizes that was Sherlock paying the cab driver. “Come on,” Sherlock says, his tone different than John’s ever heard. He sits up, one cheek hot, and realizes he must’ve slept on Sherlock shoulder the whole way.

“Thank you,” he mumbles, and he lets Sherlock help him out of the cab, into the hallway. Up the stairs. Sherlock hesitates in front of the second staircase, and John decides he can make it the rest of the way by himself. He turns around and gives Sherlock a big hug. Mumbles another thanks against his shoulder while Sherlock’s hands twitch against his back.

“Good night,” he says, and he’s almost closed the door to his bedroom behind him when he hears it.

“Sleep tight, John.”

 

They take the next day off. John talks to Emma, and makes them a nice breakfast, and they do some things around the flat. After lunch Sherlock spreads out on the carpet, and blinks at John, who’s trying to read in his chair.

“Would you turn on the music?” Sherlock asks, clearly too lazy to get up. John huffs but can’t help but smile, and finds a violin concerto he knows they both like. “Of course,” Sherlock says. “Paganini.”

“What gave me away?” John asks, more to entertain Sherlock than because he cares very much about the deductions Sherlock must have made about his music.

Sherlock blinks up at him, upside down on the carpet. “What gave you – oh, no. It was a hindsight thing.”

“You didn’t deduce I was going to put on this specific record by how I stirred my coffee this morning?” John asks, still smiling.

“The whole point of this relaxing is rather to not think so much, isn’t it?” Sherlock frowns a little as he says it. Like he’s doing more thinking than he was supposed to.

“Does it actually help?” John closes his book and sets it down. He’s not talked to Sherlock about his deductions like this... possibly ever.

“Yes,” Sherlock tells him. “As I – as I get older I find it easier to not be so overwhelmed by the input. I am learning to focus on finding out what I want to know, and to keep it to myself whenever the situation might call for it.” He smiles a wry smile, like he expects John to tell him he’s not doing a great job. But he is, now that John thinks about it. He hasn’t offended innocent bystanders in ages, and tends to only give unwanted deductions when he’s tired or in a high-stress situation.

“You’re doing very well,” John says, entirely honest, but it makes Sherlock face do something it’s not supposed to. “No?”

Sherlock shakes his head and sits up. “Not that.” He looks at Johns face for a long moment and then sighs. “I often get the impression that you think I know more than I do.”

“That might be,” John says, but he wonders what things he’s been assuming Sherlock knows that he doesn’t. “I get the same feeling sometimes. Although I suppose it’s the other way around in a way. I feel like you’re dropping hints that I should be able to string together and then I can’t.”

“You look at me like I know all the secrets of the universe when I really was contemplating whether I have food between my teeth,” Sherlock tells him, and it’d be funny but he looks so serious.

It feels like the time is here, and John should clarify something. Something that he’s been assuming was obvious, but he can’t think of anything. He comes up with things he’s not sure he even wants Sherlock to know, and things that are blindingly obvious, and nothing much in between. “What’s something I should know about you?” John asks.

Sherlock’s jaw twitches and he looks off to the side, but then back up at John. “My mother’s favourite movie is Dirty Dancing,” he says. “I watched it every time she did because I couldn’t stop watching Patrick Swayze.”

Even in this he cannot be straight-forward, John thinks, and the thought makes him smile. “You’re gay, then?” He asks, hoping that is what Sherlock was trying to say.

Sherlock, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of their flat, which smells of clean laundry and home, nods. Blinks slowly. Not ashamed, not hoping something will come of it, John thinks. He just is.

Maybe John could just be, too. He slides off his chair and onto his knees. Sits between Sherlocks legs and looks up at him. “Sherlock,” he says, entirely at a loss for words, needing permission before he goes any further. “Would you? If I – if I. I don’t want to...” he swallows. What are you trying to say Watson? “Only if you want it too,” he says, and Sherlock just stares at him. “Only if you want it too,” he repeats. “Can I kiss you?”

Sherlock blinks, and his nostrils flare, and then he shakes no. “What is this?” He croaks.

“I love you,” John tells him, and his eyes sting. He’s never said that before. Not like this. “I’m in love with you. This is what has changed, but I still don’t know what to do.”

Sherlock’s hand flutters to his elbow, then up to his shoulder, and John can’t look at him. Until he hears Sherlock take a ragged breath in, and then another, no time to breathe out in between, and he knows what to do again. He helps Sherlock onto the sofa, head between his knees, a hand on his shoulder until Sherlock’s breathing has calmed down a little, then strong sweet tea.

“Have you eaten at all today?” He asks, and then he remembers watching Sherlock eat breakfast, happy about the grilled tomatoes, and lunch, talking between bites of left-over curry, “alright, yes. Sorry.”

Sherlock takes another deep breath and looks up at him with a frown. “This is why you’ve been nice.”

“No,” John says, but he only wishes it wasn’t true. “Alright, yes. But not because I want to... be with you. Because you don’t deserve how I’ve treated you. Because you’re wonderful to me, and you’re my best friend.”

Sherlock nods like he doesn’t believe him, and that stings, but it’s fine, it’ll be fine. He’ll just have to try harder. “Does the offer of kissing still stand?” Sherlock asks him, and John isn’t sure where this is going, but sure. He nods yes, and Sherlock pulls him in until John is straddling his lap. Cups his face, and kisses his lips.

John wraps his arms around Sherlock’s neck, settles on his thighs properly, and kisses back. Sherlock tastes of tea, and warmth, and maybe some curry. John’s stomach squirms with butterflies, and he kisses Sherlock hard and proper. Feels his surprise when he stiffens and relaxes. Together they lean back against the sofa, and Sherlock’s hands find John’s thighs. It shouldn’t be so arousing to have large warm hands on his thighs, even if they’re only wearing pyjama’s, but soon John has to come up for air. He looks at Sherlocks dear face, and kisses his lips again. Sherlock’s eyes shine up at him.

“Is this a kissing only arrangement?” Sherlock asks, and John shakes his head no, a bit shy. He’s done some googling of course, but really this is all new. Sherlock gets them both up from the sofa, and drags him through the corridor to his bedroom, where he flops down onto the bed. John joins him, and then really does get lost. He doesn’t know where to put his hands until Sherlock takes them, doesn’t know where to sit until Sherlock pulls him closer, doesn’t know what to do until Sherlock kisses him again. They kiss until his jaw hurts, and then John wants more. He flips Sherlock onto his back and pulls at his shirt a little. Sherlock nods, and soon John gets to look at Sherlock’s chest. Nothing he hasn’t seen before, of course, and still somehow completely new. He runs his hands up Sherlock’s sides and touches the scars he has, many of them he stitched up himself. Lingers over the bullet hole.

Sherlock tugs at his shirt, and John takes it off, then sits to the side so they can take their trousers and pants off. Sherlock pushes him onto his back and kisses him, then trails down. Kisses John’s good thigh, firmly, and swallows John down. John has never been this hard in his life, and cups Sherlock’s head, tries to keep looking at him, and soon can’t. The tension in his stomach too much, the heat too good. He tries to warn Sherlock and ends up coming halfway through a wobbly “Sher.... ahh.”

He slumps back down into the pillows and watches Sherlock smile at him as if it hurts, pulls him closer until his cock is right in front of his face. Sherlock braces himself against the wall above John’s head, and John holds the (hot, heavy, hard) cock in front of his face still. Licks it experimentally, and then dives in. Sherlock tastes like clean warm skin, a bit salty. He smells like hot heavy arousal, and John’s hips buck in sympathy when he sucks on Sherlock. Sherlock groans and whines, his stomach clenches, and his cock twitches, and John doesn’t need the warning to know what’s coming. He holds Sherlocks hips and sucks harder, struggles to swallow when Sherlock comes deep in his throat. Forgets to close his mouth until the last second before he makes a mess at the look of rapture on his face.

All assertiveness gone, Sherlock slumps like someone cut his strings, and folds himself down and in between the sheets. John joins him there, not entirely sure of his welcome. Sherlock tucks in his arms and John moves a little closer. “What is this?” He asks, hoping Sherlock is still awake. Wanting to share this with him too.

“Doesn’t matter, John,” Sherlock mumbles. “I’ll take what I can get.”

It breaks John’s heart to hear, and his eyes sting. His nose stings too. He watches Sherlock sniffle in his sleep, folded around himself, and the tears spill over. He brings a shaking hand to Sherlock’s side, and another one to the side of his face, the one that’s squashed against the pillow. Sherlock lets him manoeuvre them around until John has a face full of curls, and Sherlock’s face is mashed against his chest. He tries not to wake Sherlock with his crying, and just holds him, keeps them covered with the warm duvet, their naked bodies closer like this than they were while having sex. Deep shuddering breaths.

 

John lies awake for nearly two hours, judging by the alarm clock on the bedside table. He listens to Sherlock’s even breathing, and looks around at his room, the dresser, the wardrobe. The north-facing window that never lets in enough light. He thinks about bravery and plots out the absolute worst case scenario (being laughed at, kicked out, humiliated so badly in public that people will think of that first when they meet him, years from now) and the best case scenario (sleeping in one bed, watching movies on the sofa and kissing whenever he wants to, proudly holding Sherlock’s hand, watching Sherlock come as often as he can) and he decides it’s time for a trick Ella of all people had taught him. What do I want? What will I have if I get what I want? What might stop me? How could I overcome that?

He’s five possible scenarios deep in his thoughts when Sherlock moves in his sleep and now John really needs to use the bathroom. So he gets up, pees, and makes them both some tea. Decides to bring a jar of honey with him.

 

When he gets back to the bedroom, Sherlock is sitting up against the headboard, playing with his phone. “Case?” He asks, and John hands him his tea instead. I’ll take what I can get, he thinks, and he leans in for a kiss. Sherlock is so surprised that he doesn’t respond at all, so John sits down on the bed next to him and takes his phone away.

“It’s our day off, Sherlock.”

“That’s right,” Sherlock says, blowing into his tea. John hands him the honey and watches Sherlock pick the right amount of honey from the jar, and dribble it into his tea.

“I have to say something,” John says, because they’ve followed scenario three pretty nicely so far. “Please ask if anything is unclear.”

Sherlock nods at his tea, and John shuffles around a bit to get more comfortable.

“I have had more time to think in these past years than I have in the rest of my life,” John tells him. “After we found out the baby wasn’t real, and the mess with the annulment, and if I’m honest everything else that was happening then too,” John takes a deep breath. “I leaned on you, and you were there for me, whether I made it out of bed or not, and regardless of how awful I was to you.”

Sherlock’s hand shakes when he takes a sip of tea, so John puts his hand on Sherlock’s knee. Feels oddly aware of the fact that beside his sloppily-closed bathrobe, they’re both naked. “You deserve better than me,” John says, unscripted, but true. “But I want you to want me, because I want you.”

“That’s not how it works,” Sherlock says, as if he’s pointing something out about murder and decay. Like an expert. “This is the story of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, where I love you, and you can never love me in the same way. No matter that you would.”

It’s not an unfair thing to say, John thinks, but it’s not true. “I don’t know how to tell you that I’m tired of being afraid,” he says, “and that any hesitation on my part is fear that I hope to be rid of, and the need for you to be as into it as I am.”

Sherlock smiles a watery smile. “Ever the gentleman.”

“Hardly,” John laughs, remembering what he used to tell himself about being good and strong and better. How much he doesn’t care for that anymore. For now, he lies his head down on Sherlock's pillow and lets himself relax. Feels Sherlock settle down next to him. Takes a deep breath in, and a long breath out, and reaches out his hand.