Chapter 1: Prologue
There was a strange emptiness.
Not the kind of deep void Sherlock caused when he jumped - that was insurmountable. It was dread, a slow death from inside, a completely purposeless existence. So much worse than any low point in his life before he met Sherlock.
If he’d been suicidal after Afghanistan, which he actually could admit to himself that he’d been to some degree, any thoughts approaching the subject was tainted by Sherlock's precedent and effectively stopped. So that road was practically closed.
It hadn’t stopped him from self harm, though. Before Mary. As in sleeping pills and too much alcohol.
He’d made calculations. What was the maximum dose far beyond recommended, but not fatal and with only reversible damage? How much could he numb his mind before it got dangerously pleasant? He knew, of course, that this was the road to hell, but he followed it willingly, ignoring the danger of increasing the dose to counteract his escalating tolerance.
That's when Mary came into his life. He was indebted to her. He should be thankful that someone loved him, saw him at his worst and didn't pity him or find him repulsive.
Someone had done that once before. Or so he’d thought. Which was cutting in an indescribable way. The doubt. The possibility that he’d imagined it all - the prospect of love, the unspoken emotional reciprocity. And that it all had ended in disaster.
Mary could see through him.
It was relaxing in a way Sherlock's scrutiny never was. Sherlock had been picking him apart, like a specimen under his microscope. It had been a bit disconcerting. Because John had felt as if he had something to hide.
His attraction, his fucking infatuation, his irrational fear of Sherlock being an actual sociopath. His fear of falling apart, losing control of his demeanour.
He’d never mentioned it to his therapist. He just couldn’t put it into words. And he felt it was private, too private.
With Mary he never felt compelled to try to express such things.
That was a blessing in a way. She poked at him, and giggled at his grumpy reactions. It could have been infuriating, but it wasn’t really. It was more of a comfortable, though not always enjoyable, companionable tease. He could relax, knowing she could read the most important things.
"You miss him,” she had said, and it was like a blow, but when the air had gone out of him, he could breathe in again, deep.
"It's normal, John,” she had said reassuringly. And he didn't have to answer, and it was good, very good. Mary meant less struggle, more complacency.
Sometimes, when they fell asleep on the sofa in front of the telly, and John woke up to hours of insomnia at half past two, blaring lights all still on, and the telly had shut itself off - those times he felt that emptiness, as if he existed in a distant dream, a non-state.
Was this their life? His life? Was this what it was supposed to be like? Was this... all?
He didn't know how to feel about that.
Eyes roaming the room, his things, very few, her things - also quite few - and the stuff that they'd bought together. Two orphans with only estranged relatives. This was the home they had created, this was his chosen partner and life. Was he being too demanding, craving more than this? Shouldn't he be satisfied with all he had? Was it normal to doubt like this?
Then came the usual morning routine, with Mary running water in the bath, himself seated with the paper and a cup of tea in the kitchen, eventually packing the lunch box. The familiarity of a farewell hug, the scent of Mary's damp hair in a towel, the warmth of a kiss on the cheek. It was all so very comforting, making his doubts seem like ingratitude.
He kept himself busy at work, barely meeting her in the staffroom. It wasn't healthy for couples to spend both private and work life together, was it? Better make sure they wouldn’t wear each other out.
Better save their time together to do something special, eat out, have a walk in the park. Do things that couples did. Living in peace and quiet, healing his damaged heart.
Yes, she’d really changed things for him. Meeting her was the best thing that could have happened after...
She’d made him see beyond his terrible loss.
He’d do better by her, make sure to say those words while he had the chance. Make sure he wouldn’t lose what they had. It was time to finally say goodbye to the spectre that had haunted him for nearly two years.
Time to move on.
John is uncomfortable.
The fucking disgrace of waking up with a stiffy the middle of a sex dream involving someone not-his-wife, the heat coursing through his veins, making his skin vibrate.
Mary shifts her heavily pregnant body beside him. John tries to concentrate on the comforting scent of her hair, her measured breathing… anything that will absolve him of the guilt creeping its way into his mind and heart.
But with the guilt comes the insomnia, and the constant stream of thoughts surrounding the events since Sherlock’s return.
The bittersweet wedding with the shocking news that he’ll become a father.
The cracking facade of his wife, revealing a stranger who still looked, spoke and acted like the woman who picked him up from the trenches of sorrow.
The deadly damage she did to Sherlock, a few millimeters from pushing John back in to that hell.
The shock of the, admittedly very logical, execution of Charles Augustus Magnussen. The loss of perceived innocence.
The near loss of Sherlock. Again. Only his time he was given a chance to say farewell, permanently. The paralysing panic. His inability to say something, do something while he still had a chance.
The feeling of being a pawn in a game, with no control over his own life. Sherlock pushing him towards Mary, urging forgiveness. Mary pushing him towards Sherlock, to run him, give John his fix of adrenaline.
The painful questioning of life choices. The inevitable submission to the state of things and the numbing feeling of being stuck.
He hates it.
He hates this life, the continuous state of helplessness, how he seems unable to live up to even the lowest expectations of a father-to-be.
He swallows the hate, forces air through his nostrils and makes a grimace of a smile.
But his insides burn, eviscerating him, making him hollow.
Every word she says with her dying breath cuts through him. He just wants her to shut up because it isn’t true.
None of the things she says about him are true, can’t be true, because he’s a pathetic excuse of a human being who’s failed her. A lousy cheating husband and father who resents his marriage. Who’s failed his one shot of having a normal life and becoming a better man, and now she’s dying without him having had a chance to be honest with her.
He shushes her until she stills, and beyond.
All he can do is to breathe her in. The familiar scent of her shampoo, the warmth of her skin, soon to fade away. The only traces of the mother of his child, ripped away too soon. Leaving him alone. Alone with his life in ruins.
Sherlock’s hand on his shoulder jerks him out of the unnatural sounds emanating from the despair within.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sherlock promised to keep her safe, that’s the only reason she willingly returned to London. And now she’s lying dead on the floor.
He goes through the motions of her funeral, letting Stella and Ted take care of Rosie as much as they offer.
He drinks too much. Sits, stands, paces the flat. Mary’s shadow always hover somewhere nearby, just as Sherlock’s did during those years he was ‘away’. She disapproves of his drinking. She doesn’t talk much. Just sits there, judging.
He had things he wanted to say. Needed to say.
Not anything like the things he’d needed to tell Sherlock, but important ones. That’s why she haunts him, like Sherlock did.
Again, he can’t make himself say it, not even to the hallucination of a very dead person.
He’d kept his silence when they were alive. He’d had the opportunity ripped from him just when he’d felt ready to take that last step, to open up, to talk - it’s all the same.
Only this grief is different. It’s not as piercing and heart-ripping as last time.
He’s just so very tired. So very tired of bereavement, of obfuscation, deception and straight up lies. It’s like there’s nothing left to feel. And that makes him feel like a horrible man.
His daughter is halfway to an orphan. He has lost his wife. He should be grieving.
In a way he has already grieved her. Grieved what could have been. He’s already lost her once. A long time ago, when the facade of Mary Watson cracked with the sound of a gunshot.
He makes Molly do the dirty work.
He could write a list of all the reasons why he should stay away from Sherlock Holmes, but in the end, he can’t make himself sever the last threadbare string tying them together.
So he offers a false apology, creates a tale of dangers and risks and horrible outcomes. He writes Sherlock a letter, saying he can’t do such things anymore, not when he’s become a father. Responsibility. That’s a proper, weighty word. And he wishes Sherlock good luck with upcoming cases in his career.
But he can’t meet Sherlock, can’t look him in the eye, can’t hand over that letter. He hides instead. Goes into the bedroom and swallows down a big gulp of numbness from the bottle that has somehow migrated to under the bed.
He knows he’s playing a dangerous game. He knows this needs to stop. He needs a therapist.
Sherlock is wearing a tight vest under a perfectly sized hoodie, joggers and trainers. He’s pulled back his hair with gel, put on sunglasses, carries a bottle of water, and wears a pair of in-ear headphones for show. The traffic outside the old industrial building is deafening, so he keeps his eyes moving, scanning the surroundings. He pretends to stretch, leaning a hand against the wall just beside the large windows to get a discreet peek inside.
There she is, balancing upside down on a tilted wooden board, hands on the rubbery surface and slowly lowering her legs to rest her knees on her elbows, the group following her movements. Her strength and control is quite impressive. Hopefully it’s only physical, or else he’ll be in for a match. Wouldn’t be surprising.
He estimates there is another five minutes to go, so he joggs until he rounds the corner of the building. There comes the outdoor fitness group, back from a drill in the nearby park. Perfectly timed as expected. He’s worked up enough of a sweat to merge with them undetected and follow the swarm through the doors without having to procure a gym card.
After navigating to the right side of the building, Sherlock can hear loud music coming from his intended destination: the opaque glass doors at the end of the corridor. Is that? Nineties melodic heavy metal. Oh, that’s an interesting incongruity. Not the usual pumping music he’d expect in a gym facility.
The next song is familiar. One of those almost symphonic ones. He’s tried it out on his violin many years ago, in one of his rare forays into popular music. It has many dynamics, from soft pizzicato to intense arcos.
When the music stops, he empties his water bottle in the drinking fountain, turning away from the door. The people mill out, pass by him, warm and red-faced. Some queue up behind him as he fills the bottle. He drinks slowly, walking towards the open doors, and steps inside.
There she is, rearranging the boards into a circle, checking the equipment, her back to the door. She’s slim and wiry, in small shorts and a tight top. Barefoot. She wears her hair in a small bun, uneven strands tucked in place with hairpins - a previously short hairstyle growing out. Piercings.
He’d seen her tattooed arms from the window, but now, when she turns towards him, he can make out the large slightly faded X’s on her forearms, mostly amalgamated with the newer ornamental tattoos covering the full length of her arms. Oh. Of course.
She stares at him. All his thoughts slow to a crawl due to the distraction provided by her very familiar eyes. Frowning, she draws in her breath, clearly about to ask him something, and just like that, Sherlock finds his voice.
“I need to know what to do about John.”
Sherlock inserts himself into his life anyway, with cunning help from Mrs Hudson.
It ends catastrophically, with Sherlock lying bleeding on the floor, and it’s John who has put him there.
Of course he can’t leave him like that. Of course he has to go back to the hospital, to a sleeping Sherlock in a hospital bed, just to see him one last time, his own knuckles still sore from the abuse he put him through. Egoistic. Sentimental. He says his goodbye and leaves. For good. He doesn’t want to cause more harm than he’s already done. He is really losing it.
But then he saves Sherlock’s life, or is it Sherlock who saves him? And again he’s been manipulated by those two: a genius junkie and a former assassin, playing games from beyond the grave.
It seems like he can’t ever do the right thing.
But he has friends who sets him up to do what’s right, a scheduled redemption. He doesn’t believe in it, he’s still so tired, his heart not in it. They take turns caring for Sherlock when he goes cold turkey.
John had failed him when he was at his lowest, but at least now he can try to make up for some of it by babysitting the addict. It’s the stitches in Sherlock’s eyebrow that keep catching his attention. A glaring reminder of what he’s done, what limits he’s overstepped. He shouldn’t be around Sherlock.
At the end of one of those awkward sittings, an unfortunate and familiar text alert triggers John’s latent jealousy. But he is trying to be a better man, so he rants at Sherlock about missed opportunities, and it somehow turns into a confession about his cheating on Mary. She’s there, listening. Tells him to be the man he wants to be. And then she’s gone.
He breaks down in tears, his head buried in his hands, until the inexplicable happens: Sherlock takes him in his arms and comforts him. John is so weary that he lets him.
It haunts him, after.
Rosie has made a mess, requiring the need to hose her down in the shower. She squeals in protest as he tries to hold her slippery body and get rid of all the poo from the crevices on her increasingly chubby body. He needs to ask Eileen if she’s eaten something unusual.
He picks her up and sweeps her into a towel. There aren’t enough clean ones. He’s falling behind his washing schedule. Again.
He kisses her wet brow, making a twirl on the way to the nursery which elicits a smile. She reaches for the mobile hanging above the nursing table, babbling a bit as he rubs her dry.
He’s efficient, but also loving. There’s so much love in his hands nowadays, a result from handling this precious little human being. At least he has that when he doubts everything else. A loving touch.
Touching Sherlock could never be casual.
John doesn’t do casual touches. Practical, part of his training. Friendly but not intimate, never charged.
Once, he tried out the casual touch. On his wedding day. After Sherlock had poured his heart out - a heart John could never get a grip on, only sometimes glimpsed between all the seemingly sociopathic antics.
Luckily, John had been drinking quite a bit by that time, or else he never would have been able to touch Sherlock that casually or let his hands stay on his shoulder, squeezing a bit, as if that gesture held no significance.
If he were to touch, linger, that would be dangerous.
He could casually touch women. He could affectionately touch women. His hands would roam the usual paths.
Only in his dreams, his hands would roam Sherlock's body.
But he’d come to know how it felt to be held by him, know the scent where his collar opened up, know the feeling of Sherlock’s warm breath ghosting over his hair.
Only happenstance interrupted the situation before it became awkward, thanks to Molly calling to say she was late.
He’d avoided babysitting Sherlock after that, making several excuses. Molly, Greg, Mrs Hudson - no-one blamed him for having his schedule full, with shifts at the clinic and single parenting.
Rosie is warm and tired, her weight increasing as her eyes droop. There’s no use to start up a bedtime story, she’ll fall asleep in minutes. He sits down in the comfy armchair, where he’s been sitting so often, watching her. He’s fallen asleep in that chair more times than he can remember. But contrary to his usual routine, he doesn’t put her to bed, instead he lets her slumber in his arms.
Him being there for her out of obligation seems to be worth something. This growing bundle, who loves him unconditionally, happily bites his nose and pulls his hair, because she doesn’t know any better. Apparently, a worthless human being such as himself can find comfort in the love from a baby. She’s happily ignorant of the abuse he’s let Sherlock suffer. She doesn’t know what kind of man John is.
It seems impossible for him to become the man Mary had thought he was, the kind of man who he wants to be. What he does for his daughter isn’t enough.
Mary, though only a figment of his imagination, had spent her last words telling him to get the hell on with becoming that man.
It’s time to take the first step. He doesn’t know if he can do it, but at least he needs to give it a try.
He fishes up is phone from the pocket of his jeans, careful not to disturb Rosie. He opens up the email app, and searches for Ella’s information.
He’s been to therapy.
It was awkward, being back with Ella. During the session he’d felt bad for briefly going to another therapist, for not going back to Ella when he’d lost someone again.
This time, he’ll make an effort. This time he will talk.
Sherlock texts him about cases.
John is reluctant to see Sherlock again. He hasn’t apologised for what he did to him. He dreads it. To speak those words, admit his actions.
He can hide behind Rosie. He can fail to mention he has Eileen as a regular sitter. He can find justifiable excuses to not go on cases when Sherlock texts him.
Sometimes he doesn’t even make excuses. He just doesn’t answer the texts.
Then Sherlock texts him even more. Details, clues, the clever solution.
If he hadn’t done what he did to Sherlock he’d be very tempted to come. To be allowed a valid excuse to be in his company.
Sometimes John plays with the thought of contacting E again. Just to have someone to text to when Rosie is tucked in for the night, since he’s made it a habit of not answering Sherlock’s texts.
His flirting with E had been as much attention seeking and ego licking as it was a test of Mary's commitment. She was supposed to notice. She'd been a goddamned agent. She'd always seen right through him.
Maybe he should have given her credit for overlooking his missteps. For trying so hard to become Mary Watson.
In the end, neither of them had managed the charade. They’d failed spectacularly in their own ways. He had found himself not being the slightest bit surprised when she left. He’d been anticipating it since Sherlock told him of the man from A.G.R.A. John didn’t buy Mary’s fancy words about moving the target away from her family. She’d been on a mission, albeit with her life at stake. She never would have come back for good, to him and Rosie, whatever she’d tried to tell herself.
He wonders if Sherlock misses him. If he understands why John suddenly has become so busy. If staying clean drives Sherlock mad. If he’s having setbacks.
If John could have done anything to prevent Sherlock from using.
Would it have made a difference if he’d decided he never wanted Mary back after she shot Sherlock?
He was selfish to go back to her.
He’d only had a shard of a life when Mary entered it. He’d desperately clung to her. He didn’t know what to do with himself when she turned out to be a stranger.
Would they've had a chance at a good life if she'd been the person he thought she was? Would he have managed to be the person he thought he was?
During the months of separation, John was as sad as he was angry with her. He had a small hope of reconciliation, and anyway, it was the only proper thing to do, seeing as she was expecting his baby.
He’d ended up with resignation, had fallen back on familiar ground; soldiered on and done his duties. Smiled when expected, winked when words clogged his throat, and tried to step into ill-fitting boots made for another kind of man.
He'd always been good at seeming pleasant.
He goes to therapy twice a week. They’ve barely scratched the surface of his issues.
Right now, the primary focus is to make John functional. Get back into routines. Spend time with his daughter instead of fobbing her off on others at every opportunity.
Mary’s death still keeps him up at night, when he feels the weariness of being so very alone. Alone with his motherless child.
Her death was brutal and seemed so unnecessary after the last remnant of A.G.R.A. was shot dead in Morocco. She didn't have to run anymore. She came home.
Why would she run to a violent showdown just because Sherlock texted? Why didn't she want to live for Rosie at least?
It seemed she'd always had her loyalties elsewhere.
As had John, if he was to be uncomfortably honest about it. He would have run headlong into any danger if Sherlock asked him to. It was just that this time, it concerned Mary’s past, and Rosie had to be taken care of. Otherwise, it would more than likely have been John who ended up dead on the London Aquarium floor.
Poor Rosie, to have been burdened with such reckless parents.
“Tell me about your day.”
Ella’s voice cuts through his jumbled thoughts. “Hmm?” He’d already zoned out. What a mess.
“What's an ordinary day like now - what do you do?”
Why do therapists always ask these questions? It’s not like he takes notes of his days. They’re pretty similar anyway.
“Oh… I wake up, I dress and get ready for work. Then I prepare Rosie’s morning milk and wake her up. Take her to the sitter, go to work.”
“And do you feel that you’ve found structure?”
“During our first session, this time around, you told me that you lacked structure, everything was-” she looks briefly at her notes. “-‘a chaos’.”
“Oh. Yeah it was pretty chaotic at the time. Too much to drink, too much going through my mind.”
“How is the drinking now?”
“Oh, much better. I poured it all out.”
She doesn’t say anything to that, just discreetly makes a note.
It really is better now.
The most structured period had, strangely enough, been when Mary was away. When he didn’t know when or if she’d come back, if he would be alone with Rosie forever. He’d learned so much during those weeks. Instant single parenting was an acid test of his ability to care for his daughter.
He’d had to set a routine, to keep himself sane and both of them fed, cleaned and dressed in clean clothes. It was a mission, keeping up his side of things while being updated by Sherlock on Mary’s movements.
He learned to sometimes let Rosie sleep even if the timing was wrong and it would mess up her feeding schedule. He learned not to try to move her if she’d fallen asleep in the baby gym. He just tucked her in where she was. No reason to jinx it with a sleeping baby, when he had a chance to get a nap himself.
Sherlock had come by regularly. He was of course a master at deducing what the baby wanted when John scratched his head in desperation.
He came up with a spreadsheet enumerating different sounds and what they meant, tied to an infant’s basic needs. John asked how he could know all this. Sherlock simply shrugged.
“Internet research. Properly sourced, science based. Don’t worry, it’s not bogus.”
It worked wonders.
The next time Sherlock had come around, Rosie was a very happy baby, freshly burped after her meal, sitting up in her booster seat, enthusiastically waving her arms and kicking her legs.
“Hmmff,” Sherlock had scoffed. “Immature neurological system.”
“Nothing. She needs to jerk her limbs to strengthen her muscles. But it does look terribly uncoordinated.”
John could only laugh at that.
When there had been two parents in the house, with Rosie so very small and squealing, it had all been a haze of too little sleep, and what felt like a million ways of trying to ease her cranky tum. They’d had two weeks of relative peace, where she mostly slept and slowly looked less like a scrunched up monkey and more like a tiny hairless human.
When they all started finding some routines with a bit more sleep, they almost always ended up at Baker Street. For being two seemingly polite and easygoing people, John and Mary were really crap at finding new friends - not any playground parents by a long shot.
Sherlock and Baker Street gave a sense of security and stability. It resembled the time during the wedding preparations, but with a little extra excitement in the form of cases. John had almost succeeded in subduing all the conflicting emotions surrounding his marriage. They’d been a team, him and Mary; the ‘Managing a Newborn’ team.
They were quite successful and even accomplished squeezing some cases in. But John had been worried about Sherlock. He’d been too wrapped up in the cases, like a squirrel on speed, running around gathering clues in an inhuman tempo, even more frantic than he had been in the old days.
John had seen it, but hadn’t done anything about it.
“You know I’m here for you to talk to,” Ella’s gentle voice interrupts his wandering mind. “To voice your thoughts, act as a sounding board.”
He’s done it again. He’s really having a hard time focusing, being in the present.
“There’s no need to be sorry. Take your time. I’m just reminding you that all those thoughts running through your head now can be let out, if you allow it. That’s why I’m here.”
He knows this. But it’s so, so hard.
Sherlock calls - from John’s lawn.
“Please, John. For me.”
“D-Don’t do this.”
He feels the anger rising. He has never been able to deny Sherlock when he asks like this. Or rather, he’s never wanted to deny him. The one time he really tried to resist and fight against it, it ended in disaster.
Sherlock has taken the stitches out. Not let someone do it for him, John’s sure about that. The first stitch has been pulled out at a wrong angle, creating a slight tear where there should only have been a pinprick of scab from the suture. John’s not a nurse, but he would have done a better job of it than Sherlock. John should have been the one to do it, to care for Sherlock, to undo the damage he’s done to him, to make sure there at least won’t be a more prominent physical scar than needed.
Rosie is at Stella and Ted’s for the night, which Sherlock surely has sussed out. There’s even a cab waiting at the curb. And Sherlock is aglow, enthusiastic about the case, and he wants to share it with John.
There’s no use resisting, is there?
Sherlock explains the case up until this point while they ride the cab across town to a building site.
“So of course the manager listened to the entrepreneur. But the entrepreneur, being an expert, still had an interest in creating more jobs for himself. So he overplayed his concern, made the manager think of the possible risks to the poor innocent children - though children don’t have a higher intrinsic value than adults - and it made the manager worry: ’If something happens, if there is’ - against all probability - ‘an accident, who will be responsible?’ Well of course it’s the manager who will be held accountable, and that’s where it starts - in fear.”
“So who’s the culprit of the two of them?” John asks.
“The manager has broken the regulations, he’s the one susceptible to bribery.” Sherlock bites his lip, he’s holding something back.
“But?” John prompts.
“But the entrepreneur is very close to blackmailing.”
“So we’re meeting the entrepreneur?”
“Yep,” Sherlock pops the p, looking smug.
They end up chasing the entrepreneur.
He’s not having any of Sherlock’s accusations and lashes out at him, but Sherlock ducks smoothly, before running off after him. Of course Sherlock takes unnecessary risks, following the man up the scaffolding, in the dark. Of course John has to intervene and save that bastard completely lacking in self-preservation. When all is done - with the culprit sitting in the back of a police car, and they’ve been back on safe ground for at least half an hour - John is still trying to get his breathing under control. He’s not panting from running. He just has this worry that won’t subside. He rakes his fingers through his hair, but can’t keep quiet.
“Dammit, Sherlock!” He lets out just a little of his frustration. “You can’t run off like that. It’s too big a risk.”
”No, it’s not.” Sherlock looks annoyed. “You must know risk assessment John. You’ve been to war.”
”I wasn’t in combat. Not until the day I got shot. I was an army doctor.”
”Even so, you should be familiar with the concept. The level of risk is the product of probability and consequence severity. The consequence severity of harm is categorised between negligible and catastrophic, while the probability of harm occurring is categorised between rare and certain.”
”All right!” John throws his hands in the air. “Yes I know of it, I’ve worked in trauma. But a hypothetical risk matrix doesn’t matter when you run off like that. That’s taking a huge risk!”
”No, John. You’re letting fear cloud your judgement,” Sherlock lectures, pacing. “Just like this case. The fear will affect you and you’ll end up making the wrong decision, like the manager did. It will make you overvalue the risk. It’s exactly the same fear-mongering that baby equipment marketing engages in.”
”Nevermind. Forget I said anything about it.” Sherlock twirls and faces John straight on. ”The point is - never let fear override your judgement.”
John won’t let this go. “What if your judgement is poor? Did you anticipate he would come running back at you, before you went up after him? That he’d try to trip you?”
“I anticipated it, yes. There was a possible probability of marginal damage - which is a moderate risk level.”
“What if I hadn’t been right behind you?”
“But you were,” Sherlock looks incredulous. “That’s why I only risked marginal damage. With you out of the equation the risk level would rise to high.”
John doesn’t have the energy for this anymore. He’s feeling close to tears. “You’re so reckless…” he breathes. “You’d do anything for a case, or to prove a point.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“But you did, over and over again.”
“No, you’re wrong. I’d do anything for you and Rosie.”
He says it so easily, as if Rosie is just an extension of John. As if John is valuable, not just his blogger, who doesn’t even blog anymore.
John’s cab is waiting, and that’s just as well. He feels utterly drained.
The incident comes up in therapy, of course.
Ella seems to have an efficient radar at picking up on his unease. He manages to actually tell it like it is, that it really scared him, that following right behind Sherlock was almost not enough. That he had to pull him up, from where he was hanging onto the scaffolding, dangling three floors above the ground. That it was a close call.
“What did you feel in that moment?”
“I felt like I was seconds away from losing him again. I felt inadequate, responsible.”
“What’s your responsibility in this, John?” Oh, she’s sharp today, bouncing the ball back hard and fast. “You know you’re not responsible for Sherlock’s addiction?”
Why is she bringing up his addiction?
“No I’m not, but…”
He sighs deeply, pinches the bridge of his nose. He knows why she’s bringing this up. They’re not here to talk about Sherlock. “You know, it’s kind of complicated.”
“Is it to do with your sister?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
He’s not really opposed to that thought. He sees the truth in it. But it’s not pleasant to feel like a victim of one’s circumstances. To fail so spectacularly not once, but twice. Both as a doctor and as a sibling and... partner? Working partner, friend. Knowing the medical protocol for alcohol poisoning and drug overdose didn’t help him one iota watching a loved one willingly destroy themselves.
“You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. They’re not your patients, John.”
“I know that and it’s fucking breaking my heart!” he snaps, catches himself, tries to rein in his temper only to have his breath catch on a sob.
For the first time ever he cries in a therapy session, quietly, a hand shielding his eyes. It feels odd, exposing.
Ella gently pushes the ever-ready box of tissues towards his side of the small table between them. She waits, as always.
He admires her patience. He’s a middle-aged man who’s never really talked about his feelings and hates being confronted with his fears and failings. He knows he’s a nightmarish patient, all doctors are. How bored she must be, with their endless quiet sessions without any visible progress. He presses a tissue at his eyes. It’s a calm, very still crying, no big gulping sobs or wailing. It feels like grief over something he cannot have. Stability, love.
He’s always loved Harry fiercely. She’s rude and sharp, witty, never afraid to be inappropriate. Has the annoying habit of being right about most things. A bit like Sherlock, that. People who’d never met Harry while sober didn’t understand that that was who she was. It was too easy to reduce her to the rude, despicable alcoholic.
John was used to correcting her, for her own protection, make her less intimidating to narrow minds. Harry didn’t care if he made excuses for her or not, that it was his problem, not hers.
He came to partly resent her for it, because of the strain it put on him, to be the perfect kid, the normal one, especially after she came out. He was a coward then. Didn’t dare to stand up with her. Secretly admired her defiance, her refusal to be anything but herself.
When the addiction came creeping in he had tried to stand by her side, offer his help. But it was too late, not enough trust left between them.
He’d lost her, and now he’s losing Sherlock, too. Again.
He blows his nose and is suddenly unsure of where to put away his snotty tissue. Ella discreetly sticks her toes under the table and pushes out a small rubbish bin.
“Do you fear that Sherlock will come to harm if you’re not around?”
“I try not to think of him, when I’m not around. I need to focus on my daughter.”
“I think it would be pretty tricky to not be scared when a loved one is in danger. Keeping oneself detached in such situations, that’s a pretty tall order.”
He wasn’t scared when he shot the cabbie. But at that point Sherlock had yet to become a loved one. He can’t say that.
“Do you talk to him, try to prevent this behaviour? Tell him of your fears?”
“No. He won’t listen once he’s set his mind to something. Basically I stay around, ready to intervene, do something drastic.”
"How would you define 'something drastic'? What is it that you would be ready to do?"
“I already did,” his voice cracks and the last word is barely audible.
He swallows, letting his fingertips stroke the rough denim on his thigh. Ella waits for him to get his voice back.
“I-I beat him,” he croaks and he swallows again against the shame coursing through him.
He leans back against the chair and looks to the ceiling with tears welling up, letting them spill out of the corners of his eyes. He’s not the victim here. He snorts at his self-pity. Takes a deep breath through his nose and looks out the window.
“I beat him to the floor.” He purses his lips to stop his face showing the disgust he feels. “And then I blamed him for the death of my wife. And he let me.”
Ella is quiet, waiting. John doesn’t know what more to say. Now he’s said it. The worst.
“Do you still feel he was to blame?”
“No! I-I mean he was involved in the incident but… No, that was her. I mean…” He sighs.
The only thing he blames Sherlock for, is not seeing through Mary’s facade. Why hadn’t he seen it from the start? Why hadn’t he revealed her until after she had revealed herself? When John failed to see it, when he was duped, why couldn’t Sherlock have seen? And done something about it. Sparing them so much more sorrow.
John knows he’s holding Sherlock to unreasonable standards with that kind of reasoning. But that’s just how he’s always seen Sherlock: like a demigod, a magician stepping into John’s life and turning everything on its head. Mostly in a very good way. The frustratingly impossible bastard.
“Have you told him?”
Oh, how he feels caught out. Did he say that out loud or is the heat in his cheeks that apparent? “Sorry, what?”
“Have you told Sherlock that you don’t blame him for your wife’s death?”
“I did. He said I was human.”
“I don’t know. That it was a mistake and it’s human to make mistakes.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“That it isn’t true.”
Because it was not a mistake. A doctor kicking someone lying down is not a mistake. That’s grounds for getting struck off. He can’t say that.
“It just isn’t true. It’s not a mistake. What I did was unacceptable.”
Ella doesn’t press the question further.
He leaves the session feeling lower than when he arrived.
Sherlock is unshaven again. He’s looking pale and haggard. John sits across from him in his chair. He doesn’t like the look of the scabs from the suture.
“Why did you take the stitches out yourself? Why didn’t you let me do it for you?
Sherlock shrugs, not meeting his eyes.
“Can I?” John gestures.
“Oh, sure, go ahead.” Sherlock tilts his face to let John inspect the pattern from the stitches. “Be gentle, please.”
Why wouldn’t he be? He can’t help but reach for Sherlock’s jaw, supposedly to change the angle of his head, to see better, feeling the stubble tickling his palm. He touches Sherlock’s brow, prods the skin lightly.
There’s something off with the tear, where Sherlock pulled the first stitch out. There’s no scab. It hasn’t started healing. It’s a small tear, but there seems to be fluid oozing out. No, it’s blood. It’s dark red, almost black, deep down in the tear, but it rises to the surface and starts dripping.
A crimson streak runs down Sherlock’s face. How could this happen? John tries to squeeze the tear shut with his fingertips, but now it’s starting to bleed profusely. He grabs the back of Sherlock’s head, putting pressure on the wound with the heel of his other hand. It bleeds through John’s fingers, warm and pulsing, an ungodly amount.
“Oh, God, Sherlock. I’m so sorry. Oh, God, I’m so sorry. What have I done to you?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer. The blood flowing out of him is hot, but he’s getting increasingly colder under John’s hands.
“Please, God, let him live!” John cries out in desperation and gut-wrenching fear.
The sheets are wet from his sweat. He has to take several deep breaths before he can move. He sits up. His heart is still beating hard, but he has to do something to get rid of the images that linger in his mind, so he gets out of the bed. He stumbles to the nursery to check on Rosie, only to find her fast asleep. He must have dreamed her cry intermingling with his own.
He makes his way to the kitchen and pours himself a glass of water, drinking in heaping gulps, refilling it twice. He rubs his eyes with the heel of his hands, only to be reminded of how he pressed into Sherlock’s brow in his dream. He sniffs, clears his throat and heads back to bed.
Sherlock has taken his shirt off. John longs to touch him.
“Can I?” he gestures.
“Oh, sure, go ahead,” Sherlock says, sliding down comfortably in his chair, letting his arms rest wide open.
He looks like Jesus on the cross, with his arms spread like that. John wants to linger there, to let those arms embrace him once more. Sherlock does, and John touches the skin on his chest. He rests his head against Sherlock’s ribs, listening for his heartbeat. He can’t hear it, can’t feel any vibration. But Sherlock’s skin is warm against his cheek. There’s a scar slightly left of the middle of his chest. John has tended to that wound. He touches it with his fingertip. It’s wet to the touch. Strange. It’s wet and hot and it’s gushing blood. It’s a flood, swallowing John whole.
He sits up, hearing Rosie crying in her room. He glances at the clock and barely sees the numbers through the tears clouding his vision - only 3:37 AM. He must have been screaming loud enough to disturb Rosie. His breath shudders in his chest and he wipes at the moisture on his cheeks.
Why did he ever bring Sherlock and Mary together?
He goes to Rosie’s room and retrieves her from the cot, sits down in the armchair, humming to soothe them both. They fall asleep that way.
In the morning John is stiff and sore, and he feels a headache creeping in.
He needs to do something. He knows it’s wrong to blame Sherlock for being reckless. He’s told Sherlock he didn’t cause Mary’s death, but it’s not enough. He’s not sure Sherlock understands. He can’t understand what a pitiful man John is. If he did, he wouldn’t keep asking him to go on cases. How can Sherlock trust him after what he did?
He needs to ask for forgiveness.
The morning shift starts badly. He’s unmoored by the nightmares and can’t focus properly on his patients.
A worried young couple bring in their infant who’s just completed weaning.
“He seems very thirsty and suddenly drinks a lot more. There’s more pee than usual in his nappies. What if he’s got diabetes?!”
“Diabetes?” John breathes deeply. He doesn’t really have the patience for this right now. “Well... the timing suggests this might have something to do with ceasing breastfeeding.“
The couple seems unnerved by his harsh tone.
He schools himself, finds his usually more diplomatic voice. “Weaning is a gradual process, you can’t just full on stop without complications. It can take weeks, months, even years to complete.”
Unless you never even start it. Mary had asked him to provide her with prolactin blockers right after birth, to stop lactation. He’d been grudgy, but obliged. It was her body - her choice. He never asked her for justification, and that was proper conduct.
But in hindsight, it’s just another tell that he didn’t notice in the moment. Mary had always wanted her independence. She’d been an agent and couldn’t be tied down bodily to an infant. She’d always been ready to leave him and Rosie behind, even before A.G.R.A. resurfaced.
The rest of the day isn’t any better. He’s restless and jumpy, avoids his colleagues during lunch break.
Sometimes John feels very sympathetic towards Ella. When he has to guide a patient to see what’s obvious, preferably with diplomatic restraint.
Today, it’s an up-and-coming young man in a posh suit. It’s not as perfectly tailored as Sherlock’s, and the man’s not even near average intelligence.
“So I’m going to travel in a couple of weeks and I feel like I’m ill.” He dabs his nose with a tissue to accentuate the fact. “It’s a very important trip with my work, but now I’m afraid I won’t be able to go, since I’ve felt quite bad for a few days.”
“What are your symptoms?”
“Well, when I sneeze it’s repeatedly. Maybe eight to ten sneezes in one go. And I have a runny nose and feel a bit off.”
“Um, what does that tell you?” John waits for the penny to drop, but the blank look he gets in return has him sighing internally. “Are these symptoms you recognise?” he prompts.
“Yeah, it almost seems like when I have a cold.”
“Yes,” John nods, and stares intently at his biro to keep his eyes from rolling.
“You think I have a cold?”
“Yes, I think you have a cold.”
“Oh.” The man looks a bit sheepish. “Now I feel like I’ve been wasting your time.”
“M-hmm.” John presses his lips together, his temper rising by the second and he can’t, doesn’t want to, subdue himself.
“Maybe, just maybe, next time you could try to use your brain before coming here. Do you know how many old ladies come in here, apologising for taking up my time, when they should have gone straight to the A&E? ‘So sorry to bother you, doctor. I’d rather not impose myself on your surely busy schedule. But I’ve lost my arm and it’s quite hard doing the dishes with only the one. If it isn’t too much trouble, would you have a look at it?‘ Maybe you could learn something from them.”
The young man blinks at him, perplexed. He’s probably not been told off since he was in nappies.
“Get out of here, just go. You’re wasting my time.” John shoos him out of the room.
And then the anger recedes and he just feels empty and useless. What the hell did he just do?
He leaves within a couple of minutes, cancelling the rest of his patients, blaming a stomach bug. He heads for Baker Street, stomach churning and heart beating hard.
Sherlock is bored, sitting with one of the multiple laptops littering the desk, scrolling restlessly when he hears the lock turn downstairs and the sound of John’s unmistakable gait storming up the stairs. He glances at the clock. John should still be at the surgery, but something is apparently out of sorts.
Maybe he shouldn’t have argued that hard last time they saw each other. He should refrain from creating unnecessary conflict in matters where he and John have opposing beliefs. But he’d missed him, missed him to the point that his company wasn’t enough, that he just had to provoke something, make him rage, show some emotions. Stupid. It was even more stupid to climb that scaffolding. Sometimes he’s really slow on the uptake.
Of course John would be upset seeing him climb several floors up. Not to mention he almost fell, right in front of him. Stupid. Really stupid. Now he’ll have to face the consequences.
The door opens and John steps in, deliberately closing it behind himself.
Sherlock notes the tell-tale signs of a bad day at work: hair a bit ruffled, jacket unbuttoned, thrown on in a hurry, fists clenched until his knuckles are white. Clearly, John is upset, but Sherlock can’t quite make out what’s going on in his face. He looks devastated, but also ready to pick a fight. Sherlock can’t make sense of this.
"Punch me in the face,” demands John.
Sherlock freezes. "What?"
John steps closer. "You heard me."
Sherlock goes on full alert - this isn’t about his fall, it’s about John’s guilt. "No, no, no. We're not playing that game,” he says, but he stands up all the same. What the hell is John trying to achieve?
John fixes his eyes on him and moves close enough for Sherlock to notice an indiscernible clench of his jaw. "Come on, I deserve it!" John bites. He positions himself, steady legs spread a bit, arms behind his back, defiant stance, chin jutting out.
Sherlock can't help the rage that suddenly ignites him like a dry forest catching fire from a thunderstorm. How dare he? "Yeah? You deserve to be punched for what you did? What do I deserve then? When I do this?“
He takes one swift step forward and slaps John's cheek with considerable force. John blinks and stumbles backwards, taken aback by the sudden outburst, clearly not expecting Sherlock to oblige that quickly.
“Do I deserve to feel guilty?" Sherlock slaps him again in time with the word.
John takes the blow in silence, still defiant.
"No, thank you.” Sherlock turns his back on him. “I've had my share of guilt."
John doesn’t answer. Sherlock spins around. John’s cheek is red.
"Is it helping?" He slaps John’s other cheek. "Feeling better now?"
He slaps him again. He's mocking and condescending and it feels wonderful.
"Are we even yet? So you can fucking let it go and not give me pathetic, wounded eyes for something that you chose to do?" He points a finger hard into John’s chest.
John doesn’t answer, only swallows hard, tears filling his eyes. Sherlock’s not sure if it’s from the stinging of the slaps, or if it’s emotion showing there. Sherlock is angry and sad, weary of the unspoken hurt between them.
"Are you quite done with your self-pity? Have I punished you enough so you can get on with forgiving yourself?"
John doesn’t budge. He’s still standing like a soldier, at attention, provocatively quiet.
Sherlock shoves him. "Why don't you fight back? Isn't that what you wanted me to do at the mortuary?"
He shoves him again and again until John stumbles back against the door.
Sherlock crowds him, leaning in with all the intimidation his body can exude. "Fight me!" he hisses.
John looks thoroughly defeated. Sherlock tackles him to the floor, pinning him down.
"Fucking fight me, you coward!" he provokes, shouting into John's face, and there's a small gleam of resistance in John’s eyes, though his body is still.
"Is this who you want to make me? An abuser, since you think that you are one yourself?”
John squeezes his eyes shut, his whole face contorting. His breath stutters, wheezing, and he turns his face to the side, away from Sherlock.
Sherlock lets go of his wrists and sits up, resting on John’s legs. “I’m sorry, John, but it’s not in my abilities to help you with this.” His voice is suddenly raw, he’s blinking back tears. “I really wish I knew what to do, but I know this is not the way. I can’t engage in this. It’s ruining us.” He gets off the prone body.
John covers his face with his hands and turns onto his side into a foetal position.
Sherlock sits down beside him, talks to his heaving back. “I could beat the hell out of you if I thought it would do any good. Don’t assume I can’t fight back. I’m not afraid of you. You,” he taps his finger on John’s back. “are afraid of yourself. Keep your head clear, John. Don’t mix it up.”
John cries wordlessly. Sherlock doesn’t know what to do. He suspects a hug would be unwelcome, this time.
Eventually John calms, sits up. Sherlock stands, extends his hand, takes John’s hand in his and pulls him up off the floor. John avoids his gaze.
“This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come.”
Sherlock hasn’t let go of his hand. He pulls John closer. “It’s not a mistake. If you hadn’t come, you’d still be under the impression that you can self-flagellate your way out of this. Believe me, it doesn’t work that way.”
“I’m sorry,” John whispers.
John’s hand feels limp. Sherlock pulls it close to his chest. “No, you’re not sorry. You’re feeling sorry for yourself, quite the difference. It doesn’t suit you John.”
He lets go of John’s hand. He’s being mean. He doesn’t want to be mean to John. But he doesn’t want this- destruction. He’s about to cry.
“Just leave, John, please leave. Now!”
Before he breaks down in front of John.
John’s jaw is rigid. He squares his shoulders, nods and leaves without a word.
Sherlock said us.
It’s ruining us.
Within that apt and terrible description, there is room for hope.
There’s still an us.
John could cry from that admission.
“You consider Sherlock to be self-destructive.”
“How do you see yourself in relation to that sort of behaviour?”
“You manage.” Ella says it calmly and neutral, but he still feels the need to explain himself.
“Yeah, I- I don’t drink that much. I did for a while, but I know when to stop. I’ve seen what it did to my sister. I know how deceiving it can be. I’m very aware of the risks of genetic predisposition. So, yeah, I think I can manage.”
“I wasn’t thinking about alcoholism.”
“I was thinking of how you treat your relationships.”
“What you value in a relationship, be it a friend, family or a partner, and how well you feel that you live up to your own expectations of maintaining that relationship.”
He holds his breath, struggling. She’s got him pinned. Failure, failure, failure! His eyes prickle with tears. It’s a recurring thing, these days. He breathes out shakily, swallows down the lump in his throat. Ella waits patiently. He pinches his thigh, trying to divert his attention away from the pain in his chest.
“I- I- I’m shit at it. I’m shit at relationships.”
“In what way?”
“I don’t- I don’t know how. How to-” he stutters, digging his fingers hard into his thigh. “How to not be a shitty boyfriend, husband. To value what I have. To show that I care.”
“I- I should care. Another person wants my company. That’s- that’s great. I like girls, erm, women…” he chuckles nervously. “I’ve never been the best boyfriend. Hence my short relationships, I guess.”
He sighs. “I should’ve been better to Mary. I really should have. She was different. I mean, I’ve always gone for the witty, no-nonsense girls. It probably hasn’t done me any good, ‘cause they tend to be frank and end it if anything’s not to their liking. But it’s what I like.” He shrugs. “She had all that, but she also saw right through me from the start, saw how broken I was. And that was okay. She didn’t pressure me. She didn’t break up when I was moody and difficult. She was there, by my side, waiting for me to get better, moving on from-” His mouth is suddenly dry. “If you find someone like that, shouldn’t you marry them?”
Ella shrugs, almost imperceptible.
John smooths his jeans, gently massaging the flesh he just pinched. “Mary did some unforgivable things. Lied about her past. Led a double life. Deceived me. But I wasn’t good to her even before that. Wasn’t comfortable in that life. Married, living in the suburbs, doing locum work.”
That is a truth he’s never even admitted to himself. But he can see it now, plain as day.
“I really thought that was it. What I truly wanted. And having a baby was just a- a very surprising bonus.”
He looks to Ella. “Isn’t that what happiness should entail?”
“That’s different for everyone. And it’s common to re-evaluate ones views on what brings happiness, or rather what you value in life. The bottom line is if your definition is consistent with what you want to achieve, or if you’re holding yourself to unreasonable standards.”
He’s heard a version of that one before.
“It is reasonable to not cheat on your wife,” he snaps. “Especially with a newborn baby. I don’t understand why I do such things to those I love. Why I barely manage to reach the minimum expectations.”
He pushes back hard into the chair, making it’s legs squeak against the floor.
“I cheated, I lied and didn’t forgive her although I told her I had!” He bangs his hand against the armrest in time with enumerating all the horrible things he’s done. “I never forgave Sherlock either, but I told him I did. I didn’t know I hadn’t forgiven him. Not until...”
He breathes deeply, looking to the ceiling.
“Not until Mary died, and I blamed him for her death. And then I abandoned him, twice. Like I’ve abandoned my sister. It just- it just hurts too much to watch. To see the most beautiful person destroy themselves. I can’t- I can’t do that, not again, not with him.”
He’s crying openly now, not hiding his face, just letting the tears run slowly down his cheeks. He sniffs. His stomach turns on what he’s about to say next. He needs to say it. All of it.
“I didn’t just beat him. I kicked him while he was lying helpless on the floor.”
Ella raises her brows.
“I was supposed to disarm him. He was high as a kite, delusional and he was about to cut someone with a scalpel. I had to intervene. But then...”
He presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, drags them down his cheeks. He grips the armrests and fixes his eyes on his knees.
“I beat the scalpel out of his hand. I shouted and shoved him hard against the wall to get him to wake up, come to his senses. I punched him hard, and then I punched him more. I didn’t stop.”
“Do you know why you did that?”
“I think I felt he’d fooled me, and oh my has that happened before,” he huffs. “I felt he’d betrayed me somehow. Not reaching out for help, but willingly plummeting down into drug abuse. Not for the first time.”
He leans back and closes his eyes.
“It’d been a crazy day. That’s usually all fun and games with Sherlock. A little dangerous excitement. But not this time. I hated how he’d made light of addiction, never recognising the severity. But I didn’t intervene. Let him shoot up in a public bathroom. Followed him on a crazy case. It was all wrong. People didn’t remember me, didn’t remember I used to be his blogger. It wasn’t us anymore. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t his doctor. A doctor would intervene, would have made sure he got treatment. It was me who’d betrayed him. Left him alone with addiction. I was just so tired. And angry. He’d put himself on the brink of death, for real this time. He attacked someone, could have killed him. Then he’d be taken away, no divine interventions saving him this time. I guess I wanted to stop him from killing himself or getting incarcerated, leaving me behind again. Not that I had any coherent thoughts in that moment. Just this- indescribable pain. Like when he jumped. But I didn’t break down. I broke him instead. And any trust that was left between us.”
He opens his eyes, looks directly at Ella.
“There’s no excuse for what I did. I caused a lesion on his left eyebrow, nosebleed, gave him a swollen eye, a broken blood vessel in his sclera, kicked his guts. No excuse.”
“Have you talked about it? With Sherlock?”
Sometimes he wonders why she asks these questions she already knows the answer to. “No.”
She considers this for a while. “John, I would like to talk more about this the next time we meet. I think it would be good if we booked another session this week.”
Has he reached the bottom yet? He really hopes so.
“The last time we met you talked about how you’d beat and kicked Sherlock and the resulting physical damage. Would you agree with me if I said that you sometimes have trouble controlling your anger?”
He huffs. She’s got him.
“Let’s have a look at this and see if there’s any description you feel resonates with your experiences.”
Ella hands him a printed copy from some kind of self-help site. She briefly walks him through the different types of angers listed.
Yep, that’s him all over. Every description rips through his chest. He clenches his hands, pinches his thigh hard, tries to keep breathing slowly and evenly. At the bottom of the list his fear is written in letters that burns his eyes.
Volatile anger - sometimes-spontaneous bouts of excessive or violent anger
“We won’t discuss this in-depth today, but I want you to read this through and preferably write down your thoughts about these and bring your notes with you to our next appointment.”
He nods. Why does it have to hurt so much? To see the truth and once again feel like a failure. A shitty, shitty human being.
Case. Will you come?
John drops the phone on his desk and covers his face with his hands. He feels weak and ashamed. He longs to see Sherlock and he dreads it. He’s made such a fool of himself.
The phone buzzes again.
I might need your expertise.
He seems keen enough, with that kind of flattery. John needs to decide now, before the next patient, if he’s going to be able to manage extended sitting for Rosie.
When and where?
The case takes them to Chelmsford. John wonders if that’s a real reason or just an excuse to make him agree to go on a case again. Expertise. Right.
It’s where John grew up, left for medical school and briefly returned to, to work as a junior doctor in Trauma and Orthopaedics. He hasn’t been back since his mum died.
The train ride is relatively short and efficient. They’re surrounded by tired commuters. John doesn’t ask what kind of expertise Sherlock thinks he can provide. They definitely don’t talk about what happened when they last met.
The scabs are gone, but the newly healed skin is red. The redness will fade, but John knows it will leave a scar.
Sherlock fiddles with his phone and John looks out the window, at the once familiar landscape that’s changed quite a bit since his Chelmsford days.
They take a cab from the train station, pass new buildings that weren’t there the last time he was. The factory where his father worked for most of his life was shut down and demolished even before John moved to London. There’s a university in its place. There seems to be new developments everywhere. Shopping malls. Fancy. It must have become more expensive to live here.
They stop at a remote address on the outskirts of town. Sherlock checks their location on his phone. They search the perimeter. John’s not sure exactly what they’re looking for. ‘Signs of disturbance’, Sherlock had said. John finds suspicious tyre marks on the gravelled backside of the building, but Sherlock dismisses them.
Eventually Sherlock stops to examine the wall of an extension of the building. He crouches, then turns a brilliant smile to John.
“Clearly someone has removed these bricks.” He waggles his eyebrows.
John is incredulous. “Which bricks?” There’s a whole wall of them.
“For God's sake, look at the middle of the wall. See?”
John stares. The bricks look identical, the same kind of brick all over as far as he can see. Sherlock lets out a theatrical long-suffering sigh and points at the mortar in-between the bricks. John sees it now; there’s an area, roughly the size of a bin lid where there are white spots on the surface of the bricks. That’s not out of the ordinary. He’s seen thousands of variations of brick surfaces with and without spots, with algae, moss or simple dirt coating the surface.
“The white spots?” He looks to Sherlock, whose eyes shine bright.
Sherlock nods. “These bricks are set with traditional lime mortar. See? No spots. Here on the other hand, the bricks have been removed, but when they put them back someone used Portland cement instead. It’s cheaper, but it doesn’t bond well with the lime mortar and it’s also impermeable to water. So it can trap moisture behind the bricks causing frost cracks. Or, like in this case, the moisture can’t evaporate through the cement mortar, so it’s pressed out through the brick, bringing lime and salt with it, creating this white spotty pattern.”
“Amazing!” John doesn’t catch himself in time. For a moment, he’s back in the old days and nothing hurts.
Sherlock smirks. “Chemistry.”
“So, what does it mean then? That someone removed and put back those bricks with an inferior mortar?”
“I have no idea,” Sherlock shrugs happily. “Could be murder, could be the take from a heist. Which admittedly would be very impractical unless someone wants to save it for future relatives.”
“So, what do we do?”
“Call the local police.”
John’s jaw drops.
Sherlock makes the call while they slowly walk back into town. He manages to get hold of an inspector. It’s quite entertaining to listen to Sherlock trying to stay on the polite side of insistent.
Soon they get to familiar areas.
John used to cycle around here, when he felt the need to get away from home, which happened frequently.
Get some air and calm down. That had been a pretty wise coping mechanism, in light of his latent anger issues.
It had worked pretty well until he was accepted into grammar school. He’d been a bright kid, but being bullied for whatever inane reason his bullies had, combined with the way things were at home was just too much, the pressure overwhelming.
He made it out of the bullying situation by pummeling other kids in the school yard, until threatened with suspension. At that point, a very wise teacher, dearest Ted, prompted him to try out for the rugby team. Obviously to give John an opportunity to be rough and physical within clearly regulated limits.
Those boundaries became his lifeline. With an outlet for the raging, uncontrollable feelings, and a few serious meetings with Ted, he found some balance and was able to focus on school work instead of going there only to seek conflict every day.
He’d never had made it to med school without Ted’s timely intervention and constant support.
John and Sherlock part ways, since Sherlock is adamant on paying a visit to Inspector Baynes to convince him of the need to investigate the suspicious brick wall.
John’s not sure if there ever was a case, or if Sherlock just had decided they needed to see each other on more neutral ground, after what happened. He continues walking. He has no baby to carry and has nowhere he needs to be at the moment. A little bit of unexpected freedom.
He doesn’t consider himself sentimental, but being back in Chelmsford stirs up memories. If he’d name two people who defined his childhood and youth, it wouldn’t have been his parents.
One was Ted, his teacher. For some reason, he’s managed to keep in contact with Ted and his wife Stella, through med school and beyond, through his years of deployment in Afghanistan. And now, they’ve been his most reliable overnight babysitters since he went to Morocco to retrieve his wife. They don’t know the entirety of Mary’s story, but they’ve been incredibly supportive none the less.
And secondly, there was Auntie Catherine - the most non-judgmental person he’d ever met. She had opened her house unconditionally. John had secretly wished she had adopted him. No matter what adversity she had struggled with, she had always maintained her loving personality. Her sister, John’s mother, only had faint traces of that streak. Nothing more had survived her marriage. John couldn’t quite remember his mother’s affection, but he’d seen it in yellowed photos. A tiny John, in mustard coloured jumpers and brown corduroy overalls, being held in her arms in a loving embrace. Or him blurred out, being pushed on a swing, met by his mother’s beaming smile. That smile died long before she did.
He hasn’t seen his aunt in a very long time.
And now he’s walking on a familiar street, her street. It feels like walking home. And why shouldn't it? That’s what she’s always been to him, a home. A home he hasn’t visited in years.
He stands outside her door, feeling nervous. She must be retired by now, so the chances are good that she’s at home at this hour. Will he still be welcome after so many years of silence?
He’s about to chicken out, run away, when he reminds himself that he’s trying to be a better man.
He rings the doorbell and stands at parade rest, waiting.
The door opens wide.
They stare at each other.
She looks different. But it feels like no time has passed at all.
This was the norm, when they were teenagers. She’d practically moved in with Catherine and John came here too, to relax, feel at ease. They were always welcome at any hour, no questions asked.
He looks behind Harry, expecting Catherine to come to the door any moment now. Unless she’s out in the back, soaking up the sun in the reclining sun chair below the wisteria.
“How- how are things?”
“Well,” she shrugs. “I’ve just buried our aunt.”
All the air goes out of him.
They’re sitting in Catherine’s kitchen. They’re having an argument. Life seems to go in circles.
“How would I know you’d want to come to her funeral? You haven’t been in contact with her for what? Fifteen years? Not since Mum passed.”
“You didn't even ask!”
"You didn't even ask me to come to your daughter's christening! Or your wife's funeral.”
“No,” he sighs.
He doesn't want to fight her. He didn't even mean to, but the force of habit is strong. It takes a lot of effort to break away from it and resolve to be reasonable instead.
“I know. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“You didn't even tell me she was dead, John. Sherlock had to do that for you."
“You’ve met Sherlock?”
“Yeah, he snuck up on me after work. Came for advice, he said. About how to handle you.”
“He’s a meddling pain in the arse.”
“Or a concerned friend?”
She’s right of course.
“You’d shut him out completely. Sounded familiar.”
“Harry,” he sighs. “I’m so very sorry for not being there for you. But I couldn’t do it anymore. Couldn’t watch you-”
“Fail again and again,” she cuts him off. “Yeah, I know it’s not very uplifting. But don’t worry. As you can see I’ve managed.”
She gets up, almost making the chair tumble over. Paces the small kitchen. Runs water in the sink, puts two glasses and a jug of water on the table. It used to be a decanter of scotch.
They drink their water in silence, regarding each other. She’s wearing Catherine’s knitted cardigan. No, it can’t be, it would be two decades old. It just looks very similar.
Harry snatches up the jug, goes to the window. The windowsill is full of seedlings covered by plastic bottles cut in half. She lifts the bottles one by one, watering the plants.
“Do you live here or- or are you just cleaning out?”
She doesn’t turn to face him when she answers, just continues to slowly water the plants.
“She gave it to me.”
“Gave it to you?”
“Yeah. I inherited the house.”
He doesn’t know what to say. The place looks just like he remembers it. It’s Catherine’s all over. The garish wallpaper in the kitchen, the well-worn furniture. The many watercolour landscape paintings of her own making. The abundance of plant hangers and the macrame wall hanging with clay beads. How John and Harry had struggled with those knots in the early 1980s.
It’s strange to think they left this trace in the form of a physical object, and that it remains while Catherine is gone.
“So are you planning to live here or-?”
“It’s quite fancy here nowadays. I could sell it with good profit. But I don’t know. It’s calmer than London. Maybe I’m done with flat-sharing for now.”
“You don’t- do you have a- uhm Clara?” he stutters.
“No,” she says curtly, her eyes boring into him. “No John, I don’t have a partner, and definitely not Clara. It’s been years.”
It’s all fine. And at the same time it isn’t.
“Right,” John says again, slapping his knees.
“Umm, yeah, need to get going. Rosie…”
“Oh, sure, Rosie,” she nods, then smiles. “So that’s her name. Almost forgot there for a moment, you being a father and all…”
A silence falls, and John doesn’t get up out of the chair.
He inhales shakily, suddenly overcome with emotion. This was his second home for so many years. Or rather his only home. The other place never felt like it. No comfort there, no safety or trust.
Of all the houses, flats, bedsits, rooms and military quarters he’s lived in, there’s only one other place that has had the same impact on him - 221B Baker Street. It wasn’t just a flat, it really was a home. Until it became a mausoleum to flee from.
Harry turns on the extractor fan over the stovetop and pulls her chair close to the stove. She lights a cigarette and sits down on the chair, backwards, leaning forward with one arm over the backrest, the other hand effortlessly holding the cigarette within range of the fan to catch the rising curls of smoke.
She looks so much like their mum, he thinks, a pang in his chest. Except for the tattoos he knows are hidden under the long sleeves, and piercings gleaming on her eyebrows, in her nose and curling at the edge of her lip. Even though she’s dressed in the loose cardigan, he can tell that she’s very fit, arms muscular.
He realises he doesn’t know what she does for a living nowadays. He’s about to ask when she pins him with an unrelenting but fond gaze.
“What’s it like?” Harry wonders softly. “Having a daughter?”
He huffs a small laugh.
“The best and the worst,” he muses. “I never pictured myself as a father. Being a kid was- I couldn’t wait to grow up, so why would I put someone else through-” He shrugs. “She wasn’t planned. I thought I was sterile.”
“Oh. What made you believe that?”
“Er, we didn’t really- I mean, I haven’t been the most consistent user of- not just with Mary, but-”
“Spit it out, dammit! Are you saying you never wore protection?” Harry reads the answer on his face. “Christ John!”
“Not never ever, but enough to... draw conclusions. Never got it properly checked though.”
“Creep. New week, new girlfriend. How many children were you planning to father?”
“It wasn’t like that. It really wasn’t.”
He chuckles mirthlessly. “Yeah, can you believe it? But now she’s here so I gotta make it work.”
Harry sighs and shakes her head. “How are you doing? I mean, being a single parent and all.”
“Would you believe me if I told you my wife left us for months before Rosie was even three months old?”
“Yeah. There’s a lot you wouldn’t believe about Mary if I told you.”
“You seem to engage with the strangest people.”
“Oh, look who’s talking!”
“Well,” she shrugs. “I mean, Sherlock-”
“What about him?”
His tone is unnecessarily defensive. She’s just asking. It’s natural she has questions, after so many years of estrangement. Harry regards him with a frown. Oh God, soon she will start to ask really uncomfortable questions, he can feel it. She’s always been too clever for her own good.
“That was a pretty shitty thing he did. Faking his death.”
It really was. It still hurts.
Harry narrows her eyes. “What made you come here now, after all these years?”
“Er, actually we were in the area for a case, me and Sherlock.”
She cocks an eyebrow. "What case was that, ‘The Adventure of the Estranged Sister’?" She stumps out the cigarette butt on a small ashtray beside the stove.
“Uhm. Not exactly.”
He hates the meddling, but at the same time it warms his heart.
This time he gets up. “Nice to see you, Harry. Uhm, doing well. I’m glad. And I’m sorry about Catherine.”
He walks to the door, his last sentence echoing in his mind. He can feel tears rising, swallows hard.
“Goodbye, John,” Harry calls from her chair.
He waves his hand, barely looking at her, quickly lets himself out and closes the door firmly behind him.
The crying catches up, forcefully. He walks briskly down the street, chest burning, turns a corner and doubles over, leaning against a tree. He cries his eyes out for what feels like an eternity.
It has started to rain. He welcomes it. Lets it mingle with the tears on his face. He walks slowly to the city center and is both relieved and a little disappointed that Sherlock isn’t on the same train back.
Catherine had been like a fond, but distant memory or dream. Now she will never be any more than that. He thought he knew the pain of regret. It’d been a constant in his life since the day Sherlock jumped from Barts.
That was a pretty shitty thing, indeed.
If there’s a shittyness-scale, he and Sherlock are close to even these days.
“In what situations have you turned to violence?”
He huffs. “I invaded Afghanistan.”
“John,” Ella reproaches.
He sighs and contemplates this. How many times? If he dismisses his younger years and any violence directly related to cases, chasing suspects and maybe not being too polite about tackling them, there’s still... a lot.
“I decked a superintendent for calling Sherlock a weirdo. I punched Sherlock in the face when he asked me to.”
Ella raises her brows.
“He punched me first. It was for a case. A- a disguise. He was supposed to be this reverend who-” he shakes his head. “Never mind. It’s fucked up, I know.”
Ella makes a note and John cringes.
”I tackled Sherlock in a restaurant when he came back after faking his suicide. After two years, acting like it was all a bloody joke. We were thrown out. Then I jumped him in a café. He’d treated me like shit, letting a whole bunch of people know that he was alive, but kept me in the dark, as if I wouldn’t be loyal, couldn’t keep a secret.”
Ella is always very neutral but he’s learned to recognise her well concealed disapproval.
”Yes! I’m rationalising violence, I know, but he really behaved like a dick.”
”And you felt it was your responsibility to correct that behaviour?”
”What? No. No I didn’t-” He’d been retaliating, not correcting… or?
”Is there more?”
”Uh, yeah. I head-butted him. Gave him a bloody nose.”
The blood pumping through your veins. You and me against the rest of the world.
Those words had felt like a punch to the gut. As if Sherlock had always seen, known and only came back to mock John and his stupid infatuation.
John hit back against it. It felt no different from punching the bullies in the schoolyard. Not one of his proudest moments.
Tallying up his aggression towards Sherlock like this is... brutal. How many times has he hurt that precious face?
He sighs deeply.
“I intentionally used my medical knowledge to sprain the arm of a junkie when he tried to stab me.” He rolls his eyes at himself. That one doesn’t look good. Why did he tell her that?
“I generally kicked furniture when I found out about my wife’s lies. Threatened to hit Sherlock when he seemed to blame me for her lies. I didn’t mean it of course. I truly didn’t. If I did, I wouldn’t be here, trying to move on after- after actually battering him. It never occurred to me that I would ever be in a situation where I’d do it.”
He bites his lip. What a fuckup he is.
“I did not punch Mag- a blackmailer when he threatened my wife and tried to humiliate me. I think I only managed to refrain from violence in that moment by thinking of Rosie. It was only weeks before her birth. I knew I had a daughter coming into this world and I just kept thinking ‘the baby, the baby, I’m tolerating this for the baby’.”
“Have you found another way of coping?”
“Not really. I haven’t really seen the problem, not until-” He breathes hard, gathers himself. “I realise it’s a pattern, but- I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.”
John really doesn’t like the feeling of regret. So he picks up his phone and, although his heart flutters nervously, he sends a text. He has to try at least.
How are your babies?
Your tiny plants.
You seemed to care well for them.
It's tomato plants, John.
Any tomatoes yet?
Actually they need potting compost.
A lot of potting compost.
Do you have a car?
One week later, he drives Harry to a garden centre outside of Chelmsford. She loads the bags into the boot.
“Do you want to plant some? I could use the help.”
That could be nice, being back in Catherine’s garden.
“Alright. I only have a few more hours, though.”
“Then I can hitch a ride with you back to London. I’ve got a class at 7pm.”
“Oh. Right… Actually, I’m sorry I haven’t asked, but what kind of class is that?”
“You mean how do I support myself now that I’m not living on people’s couches? Jesus John, that was twenty years ago. Do keep up.”
Fuck, she’s irritating. Always assuming the worst about him. Always thinking he’s a righteous, small-minded bigot, looking down on her and her shady acquaintances. He reminds himself to breathe. This is an exercise as good as any of those Ella has recommended. He relaxes his grip on the steering wheel and schools his mind before speaking, calmly.
“Harry. I’m just asking. I’m interested, okay? I do care.”
She sighs. “I’m a yoga instructor, as well as an instructor in different yoga fusion classes at a gym. I’m training to become a PT.”
“Oh. A yogi. So you’re a hippie now?”
She whips her head around at the same time as he realises his mistake.
“Sorry, sorry! That came out all wrong. I’m sorry.”
She still looks affronted. “I don’t do any drugs.”
“I didn’t mean it like that I-”
“Okay coffee, tea and cigarettes,” she admits. “I know you doctors don’t approve of the smoking, but don’t tell me you don’t drink coffee.”
“I actually prefer tea. I try to keep my coffee intake to a minimum, and I only drink it at work. Sherlock’s usually the one who uses up all the coffee, but somehow I’m always the one to have to buy new.”
Harry looks at him as if he’s said something very strange. Oh fuck! Of course. He was talking as if he still lives at Baker Street. In the back of his head he always does, but it’s painful to admit that he actually doesn’t.
“I-I do have a cup of coffee once in a while,” he tries to smooth it over. He scrabbles in his mind. What on earth were they talking about before his silly embarrassment? Hippies, right! “Not tripping hippies, I meant the down-to-earth knit-your-own-cabbages kind. Romanticising India and all that.”
“Oh. Yeah maybe I’m becoming one. I just don’t fit into your prejudiced image of a yogi. I do my meditations - I can highly recommend it. But actually, you might be right about the veggie thing. Don’t tell anyone, but-” she leans over conspiratorially and stage whispers, “I’m gonna grow tomatoes out in the back.”
They burst out laughing, together.
John reluctantly accepts an invitation to go on a case with Sherlock. Luckily it’s not a high-adrenaline stake-out, but turns out to be a rather boring insurance fraud.
Sherlock is wonderfully scathing as he strips down every defence of the client’s uncle who, of course, is the real perpetrator. John loves seeing him come alive like this. Although the healing scar tissue flashes red, it manages to lift his spirits somewhat.
Sherlock asks him to dinner, after. It’s early in the evening and Rosie is at Stella and Ted’s for the night, so there’s no hurry. They eat at a Chinese place on Marylebone Road. They even share a bottle of wine and order dessert. It’s plum wine, made especially by the owners. So smooth, you wouldn’t even realise you were under the table until it was too late. Sherlock has a sweet tooth, though, and John is happy to indulge him.
“How is Rosie? I assume she’s... developing?”
John laughs. At least there’s one area where Sherlock is inadequate. Sherlock’s brow furrows in confusion.
“It is common knowledge that parents’ sport of choice is to boast about the development of their child.”
“Right. Well, we’ve been playing peekaboo a lot lately. She really laughs her head off. That giggle, it’s- you can’t stop smiling,” John muses. “I do this thing where I hide under the table, and then I’m playing with her dummy, you now, making silly sounds, making it walk along the edge of the table. And then I stick my head up and do a silly face. And she- she just doesn’t stop laughing. She can’t beg me to do it again, but I can swear that’s what she’s saying even if she doesn’t know how to speak. She’ll laugh until she gets the hiccoughs.”
Sherlock scoffs. “Ridiculous concept.”
“You should see it some time.”
“The whole game is based on the child’s inability to understand that things you can’t see still exists. It’s only surprising to them until they’ve developed object permanence.”
John shakes his head. Sherlock is impossible.
“As I said, you should see it some time. Play with her. I bet you can make silly faces.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just, you’ve got a lovely face.”
Sherlock huffs, and John can’t believe he let that slip through, or that he seems to be getting away with it, without Sherlock scrutinising him on the spot. What a difference a little wine makes. John hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in weeks. He tries to bring the conversation back on topic.
“It’s moments like those that makes parenting quite nice sometimes. It kind of balances things out. There’s so many nappies and smeared food otherwise. Life is always a bit sticky.”
Sherlock makes a face.
“See, I knew it!” John points to Sherlock’s face. “I mean it is pure humiliation from time to time. Me, hunching under the table, lying there on all fours wiping up crumbs while Rosie sits in her highchair kicking my head and throwing peas on the floor. But at the same time, all the things you get back - that messy kiss, the feeling of belonging. You’re bound together. Can’t really explain it.”
He puts his hand over his chest. Now he’s getting all maudlin. Stupid wine. “It’s beautiful. It really is.” His smile is a little wobbly.
Sherlock regards him in silence. He looks positively kissable. Stupid, stupid wine.
John knows Sherlock’s been texting with Irene Adler. Besides, he hasn’t yet made amends for what he’s done. So he gets into a cab, watching Sherlock head back home to Baker Street.
John is happy he went on the case. It’s brought them slightly closer to normalising their relationship.
So, how are your tomatoes coming along?
They’re growing fast.
They’re too tall.
They’ll fall over soon.
Do you need to bind them?
Or do you need a trellis?
There’s lots of stuff in the shed.
Want to fix it with me?
I’ll get back to you when Rosie’s taken care of.
A patch of African lilies grow by the garden stairs, their deep violet blue enhanced by the afternoon sun.
John and Harry have been clearing out the shed. It was a mess and took a couple of hours work.
Now they’re having a rest. Harry is smoking in the sun chair. John is lying flat on his stomach in the grass, watching the garden from the ground up. It reminds him of something.
They can’t have been old, early primary school? It must have been when Catherine’s friend Dorothy lived in the bedroom upstairs. He’s got a vague memory of her sewing doll clothes for Harry’s tiny fairy dolls out of the polyester petals of artificial flowers. They used to live among the long stalks of the lilies.
“Remember when we played with your… fairies?” He clears his throat. "The dolls, I mean. Your fairy dolls."
She lifts her sunglasses and gives him a look. “I never got any flower fairy dolls. I only got old, hand-me-down Sara Louise’s from the seventies. With messy hair,” she huffs. “At least they were the same size.” She takes a deep drag, making a few smoke rings when she lets the smoke out.
“I wanted the Marigold Fairy, because she looked like Olivia Hussey. And then I wanted the Mayflower Fairy. She looked like Barbara Carrera. Though I didn’t notice until years later when she was in that tellyseries, Hawaiian Queen something or other.”
John sniggers. He thinks fondly back to when Harry and him queued in a video rental shop to get their hands on a VHS release of the latest Bond movie. Of course he had to see Sean Connery return as 007, but the film also featured Barbara Carrera, so he and Harry were both gushing over her beauty.
Harry has had a clear preference since a young age: dark-haired girls with prominent cheekbones, looking vaguely South or Central American. Clara was just the first one in a long row of crushes who actually hit it off with Harry. Of course she was Spanish, not Nicaraguan, but there was still enough of a resemblance to Carrera that he could see the pattern.
“Catherine bought me a few packs of flower dresses and butterfly wings though.”
“Yeah I remember that, your dolls didn’t have that hole in their backs.”
“Right, to plug the wings in.”
Catherine, practical as ever, had brought out her hand drill and a drill bit barely as thick as a pencil lead to rectify the issue.
“You didn’t want to watch when she drilled a hole in the back, so I assisted, holding the poor doll down,” he chuckles. “First surgery of my life, I guess.”
They’d played with the fairies in the garden. Hours upon hours dreaming away into a fantasy land with a small family of fairies. It had been their secret garden, their secret game. A world of their own, safe behind the high garden walls covered in winding wisteria. No-one would know. Know of John playing with girl’s stuff, of them playing out their dream of an alternative family, where everyone loved each other, and wasn’t afraid to say so.
Harry had such a good eye for seeing small things and their potential to become part of the fairy household.
Picking katkins from the willow tree, to give them furry pets, finding an acorn cap to use as a bowl. In the spring they dug up small root bulbs, from the yellow spring flowers scattered on the lawn, that looked just like doll sized potatoes.
He really needs to make it more of a habit of going to the park with Rosie.
Regent’s Park would be nice. Not the small park in the neighbourhood of his flat. Too many kind-hearted do-gooders whispering poor sod, such a shame, behind his back. Gossiping and pitying him and his daughter.
John gets up to collect the bamboo canes they found in the shed, and Harry brings out the cord she found in Catherine’s craft box with macrame supplies. Harry shows John how to prune the tomato plants, and they stick the bamboo canes into the ground and bind up the plants against them with macrame cord.
It feels good, working quietly side by side with Harry. Takes his mind off things.
“So, how’s Sherlock?” she asks, innocently.
She had caught him unaware. Too relaxed, too wrapped up in old memories. He was defenceless against her prodding.
They’re sitting side by side on the garden stairs, sipping Harry’s homemade elderflower cordial with sparkling water.
“I hit him, Harry. I hit him hard. I don’t know where it came from, all this rage. It was like that time when you told Mum that uncle Joe had tried to- And Mum made us swear to never tell Dad, because he’d have beaten his own brother to death. That kind of rage, which we all knew he had within him. I subjected Sherlock to that kind of rage. Without justifiable reason.”
He’d been afraid of inheriting such behaviours. Nature or nurture - it’s clear he has acquired some version of it.
“He was a shitty Dad, but a least he never laid a hand on us. I did. I did it to my best friend.”
“Doesn’t make Dad’s actions not abuse, though. He managed to scare the shit out of me anyway.”
John studies her, taken aback by her admission. “You never seemed scared. You always had a clever comeback. As I remember it, you provoked him frequently.”
“I did. Doesn’t mean he didn’t scare me.” She searches his eyes. “I thought you knew that.”
“I didn’t. I just thought you were braver than me. Always.”
She shrugs, stumping out the cigarette butt against the stone. “I chose to not conform. I guess that’s what I did differently. Actually, I’m not even sure it was a choice. More like… the only thing I knew how to do. Act out and provoke and possibly make him throw me out.”
“And I only knew how to conform, to keep a low profile.”
Harry huffs, lights another cigarette. “No wonder you have anger issues. These things tend to bounce back, rather uncontrollably. I was so angry for many years. I know what it’s like, John. I didn’t realise how the anger drove me to self-sabotage. I mean, there were of course other issues too, but, God how I hated him! You know about my foul mouth. I was rude, sarcastic, anything to keep those feelings at bay, to not let the hate eat me from the inside.”
“And I used to try to correct you. You were just too much and I didn’t want you to suffer the consequences. I’m sorry if I kept you down.”
“You did what you thought possible, John. You were just a kid. No remorse.”
It’s a stab to the heart. She’s forgiven him, but he doesn’t know how to let it go. So many years of guilt, pushed to the side unacknowledged, still able to burn in his throat.
“I don’t know how to fix this,“ he croaks, then sobs. “How to fix me.”
Harry puts a tentative hand on his knee. Patting it awkwardly.
“Just- I know I didn’t want to hear this myself, and you were very stubborn, which I kind of hated you for, but loved you even more for it, even if I didn’t say… So, I’ll say, sincerely, the same thing you told me for years - seek professional help.”
John sniffles and rolls his eyes at his younger self, for giving such advice without understanding how difficult that step really is.
“It’s gonna be awful sometimes, but you can’t imagine the relief that comes with it.” Harry tries to reassure him. “Don’t do it out of obligation, do it for you. You deserve that, John, you truly do.”
John pulls a pack of tissues ut of his pocket. He’s taken to carrying them around, lately. He blows his nose. “I do go to therapy.”
Harry looks like she can’t believe what he just said. “You do?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I would have closed that door and never come back. Feeling miserable. Just one more failure on a long list.”
“Oh, John,” murmurs Harry, her voice pained.
“I just let it all slide. With Catherine, when Mum died. With my wonderful landlady, Mrs. H, when Sherlock died. It hurt too much, to be confronted with the loss again and again. There’s a pattern to it, and I wouldn’t have seen it if not for therapy.”
“Jesus, what a mess you must have been. I mean, if this is you with therapy, then…” she says with a grimace.
John laughs. “It’s not easy to change behaviour when you’re older. I realise that. But now, I can see how important relationships are. Without therapy, I would have felt your sobriety was another reminder of how I’ve failed you. And I would have been glad for you, but wouldn’t have kept up contact. I would have let it all slide, again.”
“Hey, John.” She’s suddenly on the step below him, gripping his shoulders with both hands, so he worries ash will burn his arm. She stares intently into his eyes. “I’m happy to have you back in my life. Very happy. You can tell that to your therapist.”
Oh, Harry! He rubs his brow, looking away, then back to Harry.
“I’m happy to have you in my life. You give me perspective. And Ella, my therapist, is fierce - you can bet this conversation is going to come up in therapy.”
Sherlock asks John to move back in. It’s a spur of the moment decision, when they’re sitting in front of the fireplace in the early morning, warming up after a night out, having successfully solved a case ending with John’s smooth and very controlled takedown of a suspect.
Sherlock’s thought about it for so long, but he’s been reluctant to ask while John has evidently been struggling with guilt. It’s probably too early still, judging by John’s reaction to his words.
"That-“ John swallows. "Didn't really expect you to ask that."
He looks lost, uncomfortable, and Sherlock instantly regrets his words.
"If you want to. You don’t have to. John, you can consider it for a while. There's no hurry, the offer still stands if you want to-"
"Sorry-” John mumbles, stands up, causing Sherlock instant panic. “I need to-”
He all but runs to the bathroom.
John is crying. Sherlock can hear his sobs from the other side of the bathroom door, enhanced, and sounding heartbreakingly lonely, by the eco off the tiled room. He puts his forearm against the doorframe, leaning into it, willing John to come out, to stop putting barriers between them.
"Hey,” he mumbles, touches the door gently, as he would have if he was touching John’s cheek.
The sadness in John seems to transfer through the door and into himself. Like melancholia. A sudden lump in his throat. He leans his forehead against the door, rests his fingers on the doorknob.
“Hey, wazzup Hamish?" he mumbles.
Sherlock has no idea where that terrible sentence came from, but the words are spell-breaking, because now there's a giggle inserting itself between the sobs in the bathroom.
"Fuck off, Sherlock!"
He clearly hears the fondness behind the dismissal. And now the giggling overtakes the sobs almost completely, and it reminds Sherlock of a less complicated time. The doorknob twists in his hand and he lets go of it, moves to the side, leaning against the doorframe with a pretend casualty, as John opens the door. Sherlock's eyes begins to sting.
John stays in the bathroom, keeping one hand on the doorknob and the other worrying his jeans clad thigh. Sherlock worries he’s going to close the door again. John is equally red-eyed, but he's smiling, eyes bright and alive.
Sherlock blinks and blinks, willing any tears away.
"You tosser,” grumbles John, though he smiles.
Sherlock holds on to the doorframe, can’t let go of this seeming connection between them.
"What makes you think a baby in 221b would be a good idea?"
"Ah..." The hazardous kitchen. “I can clean up..." All the dangerous stairs, the sharp edges of furniture, the-
"No, no, I mean the wailing in the night, the noxious smells, the constant sleep deprivation, the never-ending interruptions…”
“Sounds like old times,” Sherlock shrugs casually. In fact it sounds even more like John is asking him to co-parent. Clearly he must have gotten the wording wrong due to the fragility of the moment. "Um, we'll figure something out," he tries to conclude.
John gives him a weak smile, lets go of the door and claps him on the shoulder. "'Course I'll move back in, mate. 'Course I will."
The distancing again, inserted to tone down his blatant enthusiasm, in all it’s delightful glory.
Nevertheless, Sherlock is thankful for the hateful distancing, as it helps him in his struggle to retain his composure. But he’s aching to break their careful dance, to confront, provoke, shatter the walls they constantly put up to- ... to what end? What's the meaning of it if-
He returns to the present, noting that the hand, which delivered the matey shoulder clap, is still on his shoulder. He feels it slide down a fraction, turning into a warm presence, a grounding grip on his deltoid.
John is calm, searching his eyes. "Don't worry, we'll figure something out." This is a new development. Something has changed.
Sherlock catches himself staring at John's hand on his arm. John sees it too. But he doesn't remove his hand, doesn't lessen the grip. Instead he lets his thumb massage the muscle, carefully watching Sherlock's reaction.
Just when Sherlock’s knees are about to go wobbly, John lets go with an innocent smile.
“We’ll figure it out.” John nods, almost to himself.
John goes to put on his coat; the sun is rising and Rosie needs to be picked up soon. Sherlock can hear the skip in John’s step as he descends the stairs.
God, what has he done? What madness has he destined himself to? This is foolhardy. Sherlock wants this so badly, but it can’t really be as it was before, can it?
A long time ago he’d been so sure about what John had wanted from him - cases and casual sex, nothing more. But he could also clearly see the suppression. He soon determined it would have been very unwise to initiate anything sexual. It would have poisoned their relationship. John would want to hide it. And Sherlock couldn’t do that, not with John. He’d grown too attached to him, become sentimental. And they led a dangerous life. This sort of sentiment would have been a serious liability. Better to keep his distance.
He’s done a lousy job of it since coming back, though. And now he’s really messed it up, again. Worse.
Because he’s no longer sure about John’s intentions. Or his own.
Having John in his life, in as much as he can be persuaded to, is Sherlock’s main goal. But for a period of time, mainly since he shot Magnussen dead, he’d been sure that John was over any attraction he might have felt. He’d last seen it on full display during John’s stag night. But he’d dismissed it as drunken nostalgia.
That whole night had been about nostalgia, as arranged by Sherlock. With it had come, unexpectedly, drunken horny John Watson. The physical attraction that had been evident from the day they met had returned, transformed from sparkling electricity between them to open lust, treacle slow and dangerous, because acting on it could have ruined the life John sought.
Sherlock had ruined it not long after, by exposing Mary. That’s when he killed John’s wife and John’s suburban life, and instead revealed an assassin.
John’s still wearing his wedding ring. That should really be a glaring signal to Sherlock to keep his distance, to not go ahead and mindlessly invite trouble and heartbreak into his home.
But it only feels like half a home without John.
John doesn’t tell Harry about Sherlock’s offer. Or him readily accepting. But she seems to have a sixth sense just to be able to prod him.
I’m cleaning out the house.
Anything you want to keep?
He feels initially shocked, a jerk of protest, a reflex. The house is like a box of memories - pleasant ones at that. Harry wants to up-end it. But it is her house, she has the right to do whatever she wants with it. And he knows very well the feeling of living in a mausoleum, another person’s belongs reminding him of his loneliness.
Are you selling?
Nah, just cleaning up.
I’ve got some things in storage.
Need to make room.
And new wallpaper.
Can’t live in the 70s forever.
What will you do with the craftbox?
You can have it.
Great for Rosie huh?
Will you keep the wall hanging?
No, I’m gonna throw that out.
One can’t keep living with the dead, John.
And especially not with all their STUFF!
Besides it’s dusty as hell.
You can have it.
If there’s anything else you can have a look next time.
It doesn’t take more than a few days for John to go through all their joint possessions at his flat. Most of it he sets aside for charity. There’s plenty of things still in Baker Street.
Whoever Mary really was, the things she left behind were few. Her documented history is short, her paperwork fake. He doesn’t even know if the things she’d brought into their home were things she genuinely liked or if they were there to add to a persona.
He glances at Rosie’s sleeping form when he goes through Mary’s clothes. Do motherless daughters want their dead mothers’ dresses when they grow up? Christ, she’ll not even remember her. In a few months she’ll have been motherless for half her life. And it will only increase with time.
He decides to keep Mary’s long winter scarf. It’s practical and can be used for Rosie’s pushchair when it’s cold, instead of languishing in a box. He also keeps the dress she wore on that fateful night when he was supposed to propose, only to be interrupted by Sherlock. It was the last time things with her were uncomplicated. It has the beauty he saw in her, the grace she bestowed upon him, helping him survive the grief. And it’s symbolic for what he wanted to do that night, and what he’s about to do next.
Moving on. He feels lighter for it.
Only one thing breaks his resolve, going through Mary’s few pieces of jewellery on the shelves in the bathroom.
He ends up sitting in the shower, sniffing a half full, half forgotten bottle of Herbal Essences, crying quietly, trying to not wake up Rosie. He doesn’t even know what he’s crying for. For the cracked facade that revealed a former assassin? For searching for something that he never truly wanted, and the emptiness and desperation when it wasn’t there anymore? For the terrifying thought of starting from scratch?
Where the hell do I go from here?
He puts away some earrings and her wedding ring with the dress. He’s not sure what to do about his own, so it stays on his finger.
Harry’s got a spray bottle. It’s see-through plastic, tinted a sickening artificial green, contrasting sharply against the lush, organic green of the back garden.
“Pest control,” she says with a wicked smile before attacking the plants.
“Oh. So you’re not becoming a vegan guru who treasures every tiny life form?”
She scowls. “Tell me, John, are you always going to be filled to the brim with ingrained prejudice?”
“No, I hope not,” he says, his smile waning a bit. “I was trying to be funny.”
“Well, you’re not.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“It’s not actually pesticide. Just plain soft soap and water, given the lack of enough ladybirds. I’m not completely heartless. I do care for Mother Earth.”
There’s that wicked smile again. How could he have let this reunion wait so many years? When they could have had this. He’s missed it, he’s missed her so, so much. He just didn’t know it, didn’t stop to let himself feel any longing.
“Okay soldier, it’s your turn.” She tosses him the bottle. “Root the little fuckers out. I’m having a smoke.”
She goes inside to fetch her cigarettes. John gets to work, turning over every leaf and spraying the underside. There’s so many leaves. And a lot of tiny budding tomatoes. These plants have the potential to carry a lot of fruit. How will she be able to eat it all?
“So, can I meet her?”
He turns and sees Harry watching him carefully from the shade along the crumbling brick wall. “Who?”
“Oh, of course, of course!” He’s been reluctant to show her off. Been reluctant to connect this sanctuary to his present life in London.
“Doesn’t mean I want to babysit her all the time,” she warns.
He frowns. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”
“Right,” she sighs. “because I’m not reliable.” She flicks some ash in the general direction of the neighbour’s lot.
“I didn’t say that. I do believe you when you say you’re off the booze for good, even if it’s contrary to previous experiences.” He rolls his eyes, silently berating himself for the unnecessary remark. “It shows, it really does. You look well, truly.”
“Okay, enough with the flatter, I told you I won’t be your new babysitter.”
“And I promise I won’t ask you to,“ he says firmly.
She scoffs. “You’re a man of your generation. Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it. I’ve seen kids being passed off to female relatives all the time.”
“Yeah I know. I’ve seen it too.”
“What’s really detestable is when you see a family, where the mother’s already pregnant with the next child, they have a toddler running around and she is the one pushing the pram, wiping the nose, calling out to stop the kid from killing themselves and the guy just- strolls along.”
”Jesus!” He pinches the bridge of his nose. She’s really talking about their own parents, isn’t she? “You don’t have to convince me. I’m not blind, Harry. I do notice that I’m the only male bringing a kid to the park, only mothers, sitters and grannies all around.”
“Yeah, sorry.” That’s not a word Harry uses lightly. “Stupid of me to assume.”
“No, but you’re right. I could’ve very well been that guy. If Mary hadn’t-”
“I’m sorry, John,” Harry says sincerely.
“You know,” he says, shrugging. ”I have all these gentlemanly values of trying to do the right thing, but I’m crap at it. I could have lived with Mary and let her do all the child rearing, anything to distance myself from that life. Running off on cases with Sherlock, feeling validated by bringing home the money from a frankly boring job as a GP. I didn’t have the guts to tell her I didn’t love her enough. Didn’t even have the guts to acknowledge it to myself. I’m a coward, but maybe people don’t notice since I’m so bloody stubborn about following things through, even if I hurt myself and others in the process.”
“Oh, John. You can’t be that bad. I don’t believe you’re anything near as lousy as our parents.”
“No, I’m not now. But I handed Rosie off as much as I could for a too long time. When I first was alone with her, when Mary left, I like to think I managed pretty well, considering the circumstances. But after she- I just- I just couldn’t. I didn’t feel anything about anything anymore. Just resentment and self-pity.”
And trying with all his might to forget about Sherlock, handing over all the guilt and blaming him for everything.
“If you didn’t love her enough, why are you still wearing your wedding ring?”
Had he really just told her that? Stupid, stupid man. “How could I not? It’s the only- the only thing left of my daughter’s mother.” He sighs. “I’ve not told you everything about Mary.”
“She lied to me. Really severe lies. She had a past she concealed. But she carried our child for nine months while I kept her on the rack for most of that time. I wasn’t ready to take her back after her deception. But I wasn’t ready to let her go either. In the end I made the right decision. I forgave her, even though it was merely lip-service. I couldn’t have done anything else. I never wished for children, but I couldn’t leave her when she was pregnant with mine. Of course I had to forgive her. And Sherlock, he...”
He can’t really make himself say out loud what Mary had done to him, put them both through. It would be like betraying Rosie, taint the memory of her mother.
“What about Sherlock?”
“I think he forgave her in an instant. God knows why.”
“Strange people, both of them.”
“Yeah. He made excuses for her, right from the start. And then when I- I went back to Baker Street for awhile. I cared for-” he clears his throat. Now he’s really got himself tangled up. “Nevermind,” he starts again. “Sherlock pushed me to get back with Mary. That’s mainly it. So I did the honourable thing. But I was crap at it. I almost missed Rosie’s birth because I was too wrapped up in following Sherlock on cases. Well, partly it was because Mary had a rather fast labour progression. A first time delivery usually-”
“John!” Harry almost pleads. “You don’t have to just endure. God, do I know how stubborn you can be, but really! You don’t have to soldier through everything. You just don’t have to. You can leave, you can choose differently, you can decide for yourself.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk. You’re a quitter. Always finding a new odd subculture to hang on to, and then just leaving your new friends behind when they call out your drinking problems.”
Harry meets his diversion with calmness. “We’re not talking about me right now.”
Oh he’d rather! She regards him quietly, a hint of sadness in her gaze.
“Alright, let’s talk about me then. I’m stubborn as hell. When I decide I’m in for something, I’m hellbent on following through. I wouldn’t have made it through med school, I wouldn’t have gone on several tours in fucking Afghanistan if I wasn’t stubborn and loyal.”
Harry crosses her arms and tilts her chin. “You say I’m a quitter. Yes, I am. And you know what? I’m happy about it. Fuck that loyalty bullshit. I have succeeded, John. Repeatedly. Do you know how many times I’ve fought this shit and succeeded?”
She takes off her cardigan and holds out her bare arms in front of her.
"This many times!"
There are new, intricate tattoos he hasn't seen before. Now the ink winds around the entirety of her arms, from wrist to shoulder in a variety of figures and patterns.
"See? There's no more room for celebrating my sobriety," she points out, giving him an impish smile. "This is it, John. I'm done.”
He can’t argue with that. He doesn’t want to argue, and yet they once again fell back into well known patterns. Two steps ahead, one step back. It seems to be the inevitable motion of all things Watson.
The craft box is bulky and heavy. He’s afraid he’ll drop it on another passenger if he tries to put it in the overhead compartment, so he pushes it under his seat instead. He’s got a plastic bag on his knees, with a watercolour landscape wrapped in tissue paper and the dusty smelling macrame wall hanging. Maybe he can let it hang outside for a few days, to get the smell out?
He hadn’t known, had totally missed the obvious connection of Harry getting a tattoo for every new period of sobriety. That was logical. She’d always used her looks to state her independence.
By the end of fifth form, Harry had trimmed her waist long hair down to 3 millimeters.
"You look like hell!" was their father’s response.
Harry had glared at him, shrugged, walked out the door, nonchalantly throwing a scathing comeback behind her:
"You'll get used to it."
Oh, how he loved Harry and her defiance!
She was rebelling, seeking out her own role models, though when she had pierced her belly button, she was wise enough to keep it carefully hidden. Wouldn't want to provoke their father that much, it could lead to unpleasant consequences.
John knew about it, though. Of course she had wanted to show it off to him.
"You don't tell, not even Mum, or he'll find out some way. I bet he'd rip it out if he got the chance, the old bastard."
Not long after, she’d started drinking. Not copious amounts, but she tended to be the one who seemed sober for far longer than the rest. Her tolerance was increasing.
John had moved to London, feeling bad for leaving Harry behind. She’d mostly stayed at Catherine’s and managed to come after within a year, living on people’s couches in various groups on the outskirts of society.
She’d found her pack quickly, it seemed. John had been flat-sharing with a bunch of other medicine students, but he didn’t find himself making any close friends. They were mates and they were horribly messy, as if they’d never ever had to clean up after themselves. John had made a schedule for cleaning, doing the dishes, and even marked up the shelves of the fridge. Always the doer, following through, enduring.
His phone buzzes.
The only one who deserves your loyalty is yourself.
Loyalty and honesty.
Sometimes people are not very good at being honest with themselves.
Sherlock moves into John’s old bedroom upstairs.
There’s nothing to it. It’s the only logical arrangement, since John is caring for a small child who needs to be fed and cleaned repeatedly. Of course he’s in more need of the room closest to the bathroom and the kitchen. While Rosie herself doesn’t take up much space at the moment, they can’t really cram in both bed, cot, changing table and all their belongings in the smaller room upstairs.
John makes a fuss anyway. He’s clearly having a hard time accepting anything from Sherlock, except his company. Their argument may also be affected by the fact that Sherlock made this decision without informing John beforehand. Not that they had discussed the particulars, aside from setting a moving date.
Sherlock presents John with the fact on the day of moving, which in hindsight might have been a less than good idea.
He’s already had Wiggins over to re-fit the lab into a storage room upstairs. They’ve painstakingly switched John’s old narrow bed for Sherlock’s wider one, needing to make an emergency call to hire two guys from the homeless network when the bigger bed got stuck on the landing with he and Wiggins on each side of it, impossible to move either backwards or forwards. With help they luckily managed to unstick it without breaking the stained glass window.
The room is smaller, a little more than half the size of the kitchen downstairs, and it seems to shrink a bit more when the wide bed takes up more of the space. He can still fit in a chair and a chest of drawers without the room feeling overcrowded. There’s no need to bring up his wardrobe since there’s a large one built in by the door. When all his clothes are in place, there’s actually room for more, and his heart skips a beat when his mind spontaneously presents a picture of John’s clothes hanging beside his own. Feeling foolish, he shuts the doors with a bang and shakes his head, to shoo the picture away.
There’s a small sink in the hallway outside the storage room, but something seems off with the plumbing. Someone needs to see about that, he does need running water for his experiments at times.
Living with a small child means nothing is constant. Everything is always in a state of flux, of change.
Sherlock’s happy to be able to withdraw upstairs when there’s too much wailing or banging of pot lids, which, along with stacking mixing bowls, is Rosie’s current favourite activity.
It’s not unexpected, but he’ll need a bit more time to adapt.
Besides, he’s of the private opinion that it’s far better that she play with household items than risking the flat being flooded with garish playthings of questionable quality.
To counteract such risks, he undertakes the task of securing quality items in all things regarding Rosie. He doesn’t quite trust John’s judgement after he’d seen the hideous wallhanging by Rosie’s cot.
For that reason, he orders John a new baby carrier, since Rosie has outgrown the previous one by four pounds. John hasn’t noticed that yet, but Sherlock has found that he's less grudging about forgiving other people's lack of observational skills than he used to, especially when it's John. He can see it’s still very practical for John to be able to lull his daughter to sleep on his chest, rocking her while still being able to move about with his hands free. The new one is more accommodating for both of them, allowing John the freedom to carry his daughter for longer periods of time, and flexible enough to also enable him to carry her on his back. It will be excellent on a case. That is, if John will ever agree to bring his daughter along during such activities.
Sherlock reluctantly sorts through a bag of hand-me-down baby clothes that John got from a colleague. Why aren’t there any trousers? Why are there only dresses? The societal pressure to conform, maybe especially to gender roles, begins at a young age. If Rosie wants to only wear dresses, when she’s old enough to understand the concept of appearance, that is her prerogative. But he vows to always have trousers on hand, to give her the choice. He picks out the acceptable items and proceeds to order trousers as well as replacements for the clothes he’s discarded.
He’s invited into their bedroom late one night when Rosie refuses to fall asleep. Of course he’s been in there before - snooping, when John’s at the surgery and Rosie’s at her sitter. But he’s not actively gone in there when they’re at home since the day they moved in and he helped John set up her cot and changing table.
She’s not angry or sad, just stubborn about not sleeping.
She sits in her cot, gripping the bars and looking like a prisoner contemplating escape plans. Sherlock wouldn’t be surprised if she was. It’s too easy to underestimate the intellect and escapologist skills of a child.
“I was thinking,” says John reluctantly. “Maybe you could- it’s helped me before so I thought- could you maybe play for her?”
Sherlock flies out of the room, compiling a list of melodies that might appeal to an infant as he goes.
When he approaches them again, already playing a longer variation of the wedding waltz, he notices John’s eyes are glossy. He excuses himself with the promise of making tea, and leaves Sherlock and Rosie to themselves.
She perks up, warily watching the movements of his bow arm. Eventually she seems content with her observations and her eyes start to droop.
Sherlock feels magnificent.
John sees Ella with regular intervals, though further in-between.
They go through the usual. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, drinking habits. He’s got these things under control nowadays. Feels like an A+ student - done his homework, become mostly functional.
“If you’re still concerned about Sherlock’s drug use or see signs of relapse, there is this method which builds on creating a community around-“
“Yeah, we’re already doing that, actually,” John interrupts, not very keen on being reminded of the fact that he and his baby daughter has moved in with a recently relapsed ex-addict.
Ella makes a note. John doesn’t care.
Moving back to Baker Street has lifted a heavy weight from his chest.
It’s his home. It’s his stability.
He still feels their relationship is fragile, but Sherlock had said us. When John was at his lowest, there was still an us, and now he’s getting a second chance at making things right between them. Get back to normal, without resentment and constant doubt. They’ll figure it out. How to be best mates again.
Sherlock’s come to the conclusion that crawling is a deceptive skill.
It started innocently enough, as a slow rocking back and forth, and later turned into a giggle provoking odd technique of getting around on hands and feet, instead of the more common hands and knees. Rosie looked like a small and slow four legged spider with an unfortunate nappy bump tipping the scales.
Now the crawling has suddenly turned into speed racing. At a mere 72 centimetres height, she throws herself into sudden spurts of crawling, pulls herself to standing, and starts grabbing everything within reach that’s potentially accident inducing.
It’s a repeated hunt after this little crawler who is gone in an instant, as soon as you blink an eye, already on her way to create the next disaster.
Time off isn’t a concept anymore, with this soon to be free-runner. In the midst of the daily chaos, Sherlock appreciates that she’ll probably be perfecting her skills in the future, to become an excellent companion to run with in pursuit of criminals.
This development contains the answer to the mysterious case of the missing hand-me-down trousers. He should have been able to infer the trousers absence was due to being worn out from crawling, enough to be discarded. But he’s far from an expert on babies. There’s only so much knowledge to acquire by skimming through books on child development and dreadful parental forums on the internet. Rosie’s trousers are already approaching a threadbare state. He realises he should have ordered trousers with reinforced knees.
Well, it’s seems to all be trial and error, as John so succinctly put it the other day. Parenting that is. Sherlock’s not sure if what he is doing is considered parenting. Possibly co-parenting? Assistant-parenting?
They’ve not discussed it, but John doesn’t protest as much as Sherlock expected. He seems to appreciate when Sherlock steps in. A single parent has limited room to decline help. After all, there’s only 24 hours a day, and he needs to rest sometimes.
One afternoon, Sherlock sends John upstairs.
Sherlock knows John treats his daughter with lots of love and great forbearance. But now Rosie has thrown herself into a fit and John doesn’t seem to have any energy left to help her calm down.
“Please Sherlock, could you just- distract her or something? An experiment? The violin? Anything? I’m stuck, I can’t think of anything I haven’t already tried.”
John hands her over, but she’s not having it. She arches her back to the point Sherlock is struggling to keep his grip around the wiggling body in his arms.
“Go upstairs,” he calls over her wailing. “Use my room. Have a lie down.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s close to soundproof.”
John seems unconvinced but goes upstairs anyway.
Sherlock puts in his earplugs and brings out the baby carrier.
He’s grateful to have helped John strap it on a few times in the past, but it’s still a struggle since Rosie currently is contrary to everything. He eventually manages to strap her on, tummy to tummy, but she’s rubbing her tear-streaked cheeks against his chest, soaking his shirt, and straining against the carrier, bringing up her feet as she tries to get leverage on Sherlock to stand up.
“At ease, Watson,” he murmurs.
He puts on his coat, but it can’t close around them both. In John’s room, he finds Mary’s long knitted scarf and he grabs it, hurrying to get them both outside. He sets his path towards Regent’s Park.
He tries to get Rosie to accept her dummy, but she immediately throws it to the ground. Grunting, he crouches down, a hand on her back, which is unnecessary for support, but feels right to do all the same. He pockets the dummy, wraps the scarf around her back, and starts to hum a low melody, entering the park.
After a long walk, he returns to Baker Street with a warm baby snoozing against his chest. John is nowhere to be seen. He’s probably still upstairs, sleeping.
Sherlock laboriously wrestles himself and Rosie out of the scarf and coat, throwing them over one of the side tables. He releases the backstrap and sits down on the sofa with a pillow against the arm rest. He carefully scoots down to a reclining position, holding Rosie tightly against his chest. He releases her limbs from the rest of the carrier, and decides to reach for Mary’s scarf, folding it and tucking her in.
Her warm weight, her calm breathing, the feeling of having proven himself - some kind of atonement for his involvement in this baby’s loss of her mother - it’s all crashing over him. He cries silently, stroking her back until he too falls asleep.
Harry calls. It’s been over a month since John last visited.
“Why do you keep shutting people out, John?” There’s a weary sadness in her voice.
“Yes you do. I’ve seen it before. Not just me and Catherine. Obviously our parents, I’d never criticise you for that. I did the same as soon as I moved out.”
He’s not sure what she’s getting at. He’s been busy with moving, selling the flat and the car, settling in at Baker Street.
“You isolate yourself when there’s something you can’t handle. My relapses, Sherlock’s death. You said it was Mum’s death that made you cease contact with Catherine, but I have a feeling there’s something more.”
She’s prodding at his sore spots and he doesn’t like it. “Why are you calling me?”
“It’s the reason why you haven’t been in touch lately. Catherine saw right through you, she knew you. She’d know if there was something bothering you. And she would have asked. That’s why you stopped coming around - you didn’t want her prying you open.”
Harry’s right, of course, but this truly guts him. “Why are you saying this?”
“Because you stopped texting after I told you you deserve to be honest with yourself.”
He threads his fingers through his hair, pulling a bit at the strands to ground himself before he explodes.
“What are you afraid of, John?”
John squeezes his eyes shut and presses his lips tightly, unable to say anything.
It’s so very easy to lie by omission. He’s done it for ages. It’s easy to never delve into deeper thoughts about his own sexuality. Disregarding the occasional drunken hookups with men. It doesn’t really count, right?
He’d had relationships with women. Not very successful, but at least he wanted it. Or did he? Why did he never commit? Did he self-sabotage on purpose? It’s been the easy way, choosing to hide. At least it seemed easy, until Sherlock came along. But what’s the cost for hiding from oneself?
Ella has reassured him, repeatedly, when he’s in doubt, of the sometimes slow progression of therapy, and it’s seemingly rambling nature:
“That’s how we learn. By talking, rambling if you will, and hear ourselves saying out loud what we already know.”
There are still things he knows, but has never said out loud.
He’s not gay.
He’s said that many times, mostly when people have leered and probed at his relationship with Sherlock in recent years, and never once been lying.
It would have got him done for perjury in a court of law all the same, because while it’s the truth, it’s not the whole truth.
He’s not gay. He’s bisexual. And that’s nothing but the truth.
Still, he has never said it out loud.
Harry had a brief stint in the Straight Edge community during one of her many periods of sobriety. Their commitment to live their lives free of alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs appealed greatly to her, coming right out of rehab. The punky attitude and raging music didn’t make it less compelling. It didn’t keep her from drinking for any longer period of time, but it left a permanent mark on her life in the form of the Straight Edge X-symbol in ink on her forearms.
“The only thing straight about me is straight edge,” she’d joked repeatedly.
She and John had struck up a relatively smooth path of renewed friendship. She’d invited him to concerts. It wasn’t John’s usual music taste, but he appreciated the raw energy, so he actually chose Straight Edge concerts over med student parties a few times.
One of those times resulted in his first ever - and really the best of his life - snog with a guy.
It had been an evening with several bands on a makeshift stage. The audience danced wildly, the adrenaline high. John had seen the lithe boy on stage. Most singers had been highly energetic, jumping around on the stage, sometimes mixing with the audience. This boy was rather still in comparison. He played the bass and was the lead singer, not straying far away from the mic stand. He had dark hair in an overgrown haircut and a white shirt with a dark tie. The tie was eventually loosened, the shirt soaked through and opened up at the neck, sleeves folded up to reveal strong forearms with rippling muscles. John couldn't look away, he was transfixed.
The boy didn't actually sing that well, it was genuinely more screaming than singing, which was par for the course. He exuded raw energy, and the vocals gave vibrations to his throat. He strained his neck when he lifted his chin towards the mic, tendons and bulging veins visible. And his hands - the long fingers on his left sliding along the neck of the bass, while the right worked fast and hard over the strings at crotch height - God that was pure sex.
John let the movements of the crowd pull him along, started working himself towards the area in front of the stage, filled with wildly dancing people, never taking his eyes off him. The beating of the drums and the vibrations from the base pulsated through his body, reverberating inside his chest. In that moment, there was no fear that someone would see or notice if they happened to touch his swollen state in the chaos. No fear of making eye contact, only a wild lust that overcame his whole being, wanting to touch and taste the roaring boy and his raw energy.
He went backstage, long after Harry and her friends had left. The band was sitting on the floor in a corridor, tiredly sipping soft drinks and talking about nothing in particular. John sat down beside the boy and leaned against the wall. He joined the conversation briefly, but didn’t dare to look at him, just talked to the air in front of himself. The others in the band eventually dropped off, and suddenly John’s field of vision was blocked by that guy, sticking his tongue into John’s mouth.
It was a shock to his system; he gasped and his hard-on returned instantly. They ended up snogging and humping each other on a stage drape lying on the floor behind a pile of chairs. The boy took his shirt off and John went mad with the sight of the defined pecs that were sparse with hair, not even wishing for a moment that they were tits. John began caressing and stroking the boy’s back, feeling every muscle in his shoulders, following the trace of sweat along his spine down to his arse crack as he licked his neck, while touching his nipples and raking his fingers through hair matted with sweat, tugging. It was wild, dreamy and passionate.
They they never took off their trousers, since neither of them had any condoms, and they were both scared shitless of the mysterious, murderous, ever-present threat of AIDS
It is the only time John has done anything remotely sexual with a man while sober.
Every other experience he’s had with other men was hidden, secretly or anonymously, covered by darkness and intoxication. Snogging, hand-jobs. He’s received a few blowjobs, but only given one when he was thoroughly smashed.
He’s only fallen in love with men three times.
As a scared teenager - never daring to express any of it, secretly pining while banging cute girls.
Then again, many years in completely different circumstances, deployed and instantly charmed by a superior. Nothing he’d dare to pursue, even if there was a hint of something there, maybe an acknowledgement, maybe even the suggestion of reciprocation.
And then once again, twenty years from the first time it happened, and as before, he continued the pattern of hiding behind a string of girlfriends.
And when he’d slowly worked up the courage to expose himself - ceased dating and committed himself for ever without even being sure of reciprocity - the promise of a new way of life ended with Sherlock smashing into the pavement.
When John had snogged that boy, when he had felt the masculine body under his hands, grinding against him, his fantasies were not just fantasies anymore.
That’s why he had stopped going to this aunt’s place. John knew, if Catherine had asked, had even looked at him, she would know. And that meant Harry would have known, too.
Why had he been afraid of Harry figuring it out?
Because he knew she’d have wanted him to be open, supportive, exposing himself like she had done. And he just couldn’t do that.
Why is he afraid of Harry figuring it out, now?
Because she’ll question him, push him until he actually verbalises it, making it real. And then he needs to do something about it.
Here are a few examples of Straight Edge music:
They’re nearing the end of a weeklong case.
John and Sherlock are standing on each side of the desk, chairs pushed out of the way and abandoned in the intensity of staring at the mass of notes and photos pinned to the wall beneath the bison skull - a satellite of the usual wall of clues over the sofa.
Sherlock is aglow, enthusiastically guiding John through the new connections in front of them.
“See, here’s the observation reported by the London Bird Club, while the London Wildlife Trust-”
Sherlock stops speaking, eyes narrowed, one hand left hanging mid-air. This is a sure indication that he’s close to a breakthrough.
Sherlock is still. As still as he can be while his mind is actively processing. John quietly regards his poised body, still alive with fervid energy; he can almost literally see the cogs and gears turn and whirr in Sherlock’s head. Several minutes tick by in silence.
Suddenly, John can’t stand it, watching Sherlock frozen in his most energetic state. He’s overcome with a sense of being back where they were, years ago, always fighting his impulses to touch Sherlock.
Oh God, he wants to touch him now, just a little bit. Be close, feel his warmth. Like when Sherlock embraced him in this very room. John longs to touch his skin.
And just like that the moment is gone.
Sherlock draws in a breath - he’s figured it out. “Oh, Oh!” He makes a happy little jump and suddenly he climbs the desk, squatting down, narrowly missing John’s laptop. “Oooh, this is clever!” He gives John a sly smile, pointing at a seemingly insignificant newspaper clip on the wall.
“Look at the lighthouse! It’s obvious - the politician trained the cormorant!”
Sherlock bursts out in a rapid-fire deduction, amazing as always, arms gesticulating, babbling too fast. He goes through the material in front of them, stating the facts, explaining the implications of the connections.
John has stopped listening.
A fondness comes over him and he cannot help himself. The ache within his chest to be close to this extraordinary man becomes too much. John steps closer to the desk and reaches out his hand towards Sherlock’s animated face.
Sherlock freezes mid-sentence.
John let his knuckles brush along his cheek and Sherlock closes his eyes. John tucks a stray curl behind Sherlock’s ear and cups his jaw, stroking that lovely warm skin with his fingers. Sherlock swallows hard, and John can hear his breath stutter when John tilts his face towards him. Sherlock’s eyes are still closed, but there’s a pained expression on his face.
Did John read this wrong? Read all the little tells that Sherlock has been letting slip over the weeks?
“Sherlock,” murmurs John, terrified and mesmerised, heart pounding in his chest. He can’t afford to get this wrong, so he lets go and steps back.
Sherlock blinks a few times, still squatting on top of the desk. He opens his eyes fully and stares at John, his gaze confused, searching. He briefly glances to the wall, as if he’s waiting for this to end so he can continue his explanation.
And then Sherlock does something that John would never have anticipated: he turns his full attention on John, dismissing the case, at least for the moment. He turns and sits cross-legged on the desk, placing his hands atop his knees, waiting. When John doesn’t move, he arches a brow. “Well? Please continue.”
Christ, he is allowed. Allowed to touch. A sob is caught in John’s throat as his shaking hands rise up to cradle Sherlock’s face. He doesn’t want this to end, not yet, not before Sherlock tells him off. Maybe he thinks this is some sort of experiment, that John has gone soft in the head, but he can’t let go now, he needs to know where this ends. In disaster or..?
Little by little he touches Sherlock’s cheeks, following the cheekbones to his temples, up over his forehead, circling around the scar, then following the brow ridge, and back down all the way to his jawbones, resting his fingertips in the hollow below Sherlock’s earlobes. His left thumb lingers on Sherlock’s bottom lip, feeling the warm huff of breath.
John drags his thumb along the plump flesh. It’s soft and yielding. John is dizzy with tension, anticipation and dread. What if he pushes too far?
Sherlock closes his eyes and leans into John’s touch, his breath quickening as his body slightly trembles.
John softly traces the shape of his mouth, from the cupid’s bow downward, letting his thumb catch on the lower lip, feeling the heat of the moist inside.
He closes the distance and nudges his thumb at the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, until his lips are slightly parted. Then slowly, he presses his lips to Sherlock’s. Sherlock keens and the sound is like a firework, an ignition, a miracle, an aphrodisiac all in one. John hadn’t expected Sherlock to reciprocate, but when Sherlock opens up his mouth only to lick deep into John’s, he’s hit by a wave of arousal. He feels drunk; there’s a static noise rising in waves in his ears and everything feels languorous.
John leans over him, nearly stumbling onto the desk, making Sherlock’s eyes snap open.
John needs to get closer, but there’s not enough space left on the fucking desk; he’ll tip Sherlock over the desk edge if he follows his impulse to climb on top of him. He abruptly lets go. Sherlock draws in a sharp breath, staring at him, eyes narrowing, regarding John suspiciously. John looks at his hands; they’d been clenched in Sherlock’s hair, leaving his curls ruffled and wild, looking a bit like a mad scientist.
What has he done?
John’s insecurities are surging through his mind now and he’s on the verge of sobbing, but Sherlock takes his hands in a tight grip.
“John, breathe,” Sherlock urges.
John does, closing his eyes, noticing the warmth of Sherlock’s hands, the weight of his own body against the ground beneath his feet.
“Yes, just like that, John,” says Sherlock, his voice deep and calming.
The panic eventually subsides, but John’s too overwrought to speak. He opens his eyes and, in the hopes of this moment going somewhere, before it’s too late, he tugs on Sherlock’s hands, wanting him to get off the desk. There’s nothing else to do than to continue with this madness that he’s started.
“Please.” He tugs again, firmly, and Sherlock’s legs untangle and he slides off the desk with a huff, slightly imbalanced. John tugs again, getting Sherlock away from the desk. He’s bloody stunning, as always, and in this incredible moment, possibly slightly less unattainable.
John needs to get close. Closer. Unable to help himself, he crowds Sherlock, stepping into him, stepping beyond him until Sherlock loses his balance and needs to take a step back. John does it again, and somehow they stumble into something similar to their dancing lessons.
Those dancing lessons had messed with John’s mind, making him panic. He’d dreaded the dancing lessons for what they evoked in him, but didn’t want to call them off, couldn’t give up those intimate moments alone with Sherlock. He also didn’t have the courage to call the wedding off. Because the alternative to getting married would have meant exposing himself to the man who made him watch his suicide and let him live in the hell of grief for two years. He’d trust him with his life, but he didn’t dare to trust him with his darkest secret after that blatant display of indifference. He’d been stuck in limbo, until his stag night, when he successfully got himself drunk enough to stop giving fucks. The night when he, inebriated and randy, tried to push for a reaction that never came.
How could Sherlock have missed that? Had he ignored it?
Either way, John is now determined to remind him. For all that John can’t get the words out, at least he can show Sherlock that this isn’t temporary. This isn’t inebriation.
This has been a very long time coming.
John grabs Sherlock’s posh shirt, waltzes him backwards until he stumbles over the armrest of his chair, making him sit down. John sits back in his own chair, taking in the mess that is Sherlock Holmes, the wondrous man stripped of all his masks and mannerisms, all those walls of rudeness and indifference completely shattered. The silky fabric of his shirt is wrinkled, even a few buttons undone. He looks bereft, slumped in the chair, his eyes searching John’s face.
John takes off his shoes and socks and Sherlock narrows his gaze. “John, what are you doing?”
Oh, that voice.
John burrows his naked toes into the old familiar, worn carpet. This is home. This is were his longing started and grew. This is where he almost cheated on his wife-to-be, even before he knew who she really was, or rather claimed she really was. He’ll never know for sure what was true and what was lies, or if what she presented to the world truly was how she desperately wanted things to be.
But this, here? This Sherlock, who must be aware of the long lasting sparkling tension between them, who is sober and not confused by a ridiculous Rizla game, contrary to the last time they sat like this. This Sherlock, who now must know what John wants. This is home and familiarity and somehow safety. Safety enough to plough on and take that last step that’s been eluding him for so long.
John takes off his ring and drops it to the floor. Sherlock’s eyes go wide.
John shifts his chair closer to Sherlock’s and stretches his leg across to rest his bare foot on the cushion, right beside where it dips under the weight of Sherlock’s thigh. He lets his toes work the buttery leather, reveling in the sensual feeling as it slides against his skin. Sherlock seems enraptured by the movement, a fine shine of sweat glittering off his forehead.
He’s so quiet, impossibly quiet for being Sherlock. John can see Sherlock’s fingers twitch with wanting to touch John’s foot, so he does what he did on his stag night. He lets his foot slowly drop to the floor, then he very deliberately leans over, without the shield of overplayed intoxication, and puts his hand on Sherlock’s knee. They both stare at it, Sherlock taking deep shuddering breaths. John needs to use his other hand to adjust himself, feeling the immediate burn of Sherlock’s eyes on his crotch.
“John,” Sherlock rumbles, and that’s all John needs.
He leans further in, letting his hand slide up Sherlock’s sinewy thigh. He strengthens his grip as he goes, until his fingers are boring deep enough to make Sherlock gasp and wriggle, raising a tent in his fine trousers.
Sherlock sees that John sees and then they crash together, with John surging onto Sherlock’s lap, his hands once again buried in those luscious curls.
This is not a snog, like the tender caress from earlier. No, there’s nothing normal about this, and of course it can’t be, not with them. This is inexplicable, this is a marvel, this is something beyond dreams coming true. Dreams filled with longing, a deep sorrow at their core - a sorrow that is now turning into something burning hot, like fire, like power. The power of finally taking destiny in his own hands and fucking make it so!
John is high on his own capability after the last years of feeling like a pawn in a game of chess, without any authority of himself. Things just happening to him.
They taste each other, licking and sucking, grappling each others arms and backs. John is straddling Sherlock’s lap, grinding down. It feels marvelous. He reaches for Sherlock’s face again, and Sherlock lets him. Closes his eyes as John caresses his jaw, lets his thumb play with that wet bottom lip.
Since that first boy he snogged in his early twenties, he can’t remember anything feeling so genuinely right. Sexually gratifying, yes, but never with this rightness at its core. This feeling of belonging, of coming home.
John can’t help nibbling at Sherlock’s lips. Sherlock drags his teeth along John’s jaw. They kiss fervently, teeth clacking together, as they pant into each others mouths. John is certain he’s going to come in his pants any second now, sliding his tongue deep into Sherlock’s mouth.
John’s phone rings. Fuck!
It doesn’t stop, and Rosie is at the sitter so he needs to answer, snogging be damned.
“Bloody phone!” he grunts.
“Good God,” Sherlock blurts out. “Timing!”
John gets off Sherlock and picks up his phone. Thankfully nothing serious has happened. But Eileen has had an unexpected family emergency, so John needs to leave immediately to pick up Rosie early.
“Sorry for-” he mumbles, tying his shoelaces. “See you in a bit.”
John ran off with his wedding ring still on the floor where he’d dropped it.
Sherlock doesn’t want to touch it, doesn’t want to handle it at all. It’s John’s to decide about.
But he seems to have forgotten it, and it can’t stay on the floor, because Rosie will find it and possibly eat it. If Rosie didn’t live in the flat, Sherlock would most likely just have kicked the ring under John’s chair. That’s sadly not an option.
So Sherlock has to remove the ring, and make a decision about where to put it. He could just drop it on a dresser in John’s room. But then John will see it, and there’s a risk that he will reconsider the symbolic gesture he made earlier.
Sherlock can’t really throw it in the rubbish, though he’d very much like to. There’s a risk John will remember his ring and ask about it.
The only good thing about John keeping the ring on was the offputting effect it had on potential girlfriends. If there’s one thing Sherlock doesn’t wish to repeat, from their previous period of flat-sharing, it’s the never-ending stream of boring girlfriends.
He briefly considers putting it deep into one of Billy’s eye-sockets. But there’s a risk it will fall out if Mrs Hudson insists on being obstinate about dusting the mantel.
On the tip of a horn on the bison skull? No, it’ll catch his attention and make him fret until John’s observation skills improve. Indeterminate waiting.
It shouldn’t even be possible to have a problem making a ring disappear in 221B.
He finally settles on putting it on the hand in the glass cloche on the shelf behind the telly. It’s very fitting, and off-putting enough to make John not go near it. And if he asks for it, Sherlock can truthfully say it’s in safe hands.
Now that the ring is disposed of, Sherlock can finally think about sex.
He's been compartmentalising for most of his life; using drugs to heighten his thought processes, using sex mainly as a means to subdue them, through sensory focus and heavy hormonal impact.
Only it doesn’t work that way with John.
John transcends Sherlock's well ordered borders. He makes Sherlock mix up his categories - sex can no longer be reduced to merely a form of self medication, with no attachments.
This is different. John is different.
A slight, calm nudge with the press of a thumb had prompted Sherlock to part his lips, and a soft but insistent mouth made his own start to water, opening up fully, ready to take him in.
This was so different. So far removed from what he's been seeking, so... gentle compared to previous experiences, but oh so powerful in its lack of hurried force.
He’s never thought he'd be able to focus in a sexual situation, no less a simple snog, without some element of force or physical coercion. Any gentleness would have his skin crawling and his restlessness increased. He's always needed some degree of pain to override his mind’s constant activity. But John made the sensory overload halt with the mere touch of his fingers on his cheek.
Also, there is definitely potential for more.
Sherlock had pushed his tongue into John’s mouth to provoke a reaction, to let him know this was welcome, and the result was phenomenal. Only a brief panic, and then John had proved how capable he was. Utterly inventive, playing Sherlock, teasing, and radiating power.
He needs to talk to John.
They don’t see each other ‘in a bit’, since Sherlock heads to Scotland Yard, to go through all the evidence from the case. He’s not at home when John returns with Rosie. They don’t meet in the evening, as John joins his daughter in slumber while putting her to bed. The next day Sherlock is at home, pacing the flat while John has long shifts at the surgery.
It’s like they’re back to normal. Without cases they’re somehow leading parallel lives in the same flat.
They hardly see each other for two more days, and when John returns home after leaving Rosie at the sitter Sherlock hopes for something. A conversation, a confrontation, anything but this quiet circling. But then John texts his sister and leaves for Chelmsford within half an hour.
The tomatoes are ripe, hanging heavy from the stems.
Harry peers up at John as she picks a plump one. “So. Why her? Why marry if your heart belongs to someone else? Not fair on her.”
“I- I did love her. For a while. As long as Sherlock was dead. Then things got complicated.”
“But he came back before you got married, right?”
“Yes, he did. Quite spectacularly, of course.” He huffs. “That silly wanker. He’s always been bad with timing.”
He busies himself with polishing a large tomato with the end of his shirtsleeve. “I don’t know-“ He laughs humourlessly. “Besides not daring to declare my love to Sherlock, I’m not sure why I went through with it.”
“Oh, I know that one!”
“Because you’re stubborn as hell. When you decide you’re in for something, you’re hellbent on following through. And the vague promise of Normality? Pretty alluring stuff for people like us. Only thing is, you have to lie a bit to yourself to be able to do it.”
“I guess this means I don’t need to feel bad about missing your wedding.”
“It was fine. We had a near murder.”
“That was for real? I only thought it was Sherlock being hyperbolic on your blog. Then I definitely was better off in rehab.”
“You were in rehab then? I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, it was a pretty fast decision. I had intended to come to your wedding, but you could say a crisis arose. Alcohol poisoning.”
“Oh Christ, Harry. I’m sorry.”
She shrugs. “It was all for the better. That was my last stint. In a proper facility. Like the one you paid for, once.”
Harry had usually been skint. John had saved up as much as he could during his junior doctor years, and somehow Harry at one point had accepted it. Since they left home, they’d always had a frail relationship, switching between hostility, estrangement and jolly friendship. It was as though the stress at home had kept them united, and when they were free from it, they didn’t know what they were to each other anymore.
“I’m sorry I never said anything. About me being… queer too?” He cringes internally. That word might never sit right with him. "I had a hard time accepting my sexuality,” he goes on before she says anything, before he loses his nerve. “You know how it was. It was all sissy this and faggot that, poof here and queer there, and burn those disease spreading perverts and cut the balls off that fucking pedophile before he assaults our kids. Fucking Dad, and all other homophobes,” he spits with a sudden anger he hasn’t felt in many years, hasn’t directed to its source. “It wasn't anything I could ever talk to someone about. Not any way I could know that I wasn't abnormal, liking both boys and girls. But unlike you, I had a choice. I still liked girls and could ignore the other part, the sick part of me. I didn't have to put myself in your situation.”
He sits down, realising he has squeezed the tomato he was holding, wiping his hand on the grass. “I’m sorry, Harry, but that’s how it was. I could shut up about it. But I was terrified of being found out. What would they have done to me? The freak who wasn't gay, but not straight either. I was afraid they would come after me for flirting with their daughters, for faking straight.”
It’s a while before Harry draws in a shaky breath, long enough for John to try to form a plan for damage control, to identify his easiest escape route, to mentally rehearse his defensive manoeuvres.
“It’s fine, John. I understand why you didn’t talk to me. It would surely have made a difference, for both of us. But I realise it could have been conflicting too. Those were messy years.” She sits down beside him. “What about Catherine? Why wouldn’t you talk to her? Why didn’t you trust her to keep your secret?”
“She wouldn’t understand.”
“What do you mean? She would most definitely understand.”
“How could she? Yes, I know she wasn’t prejudiced, but how could she ever understand me having these- these urges?”
Harry rolls her eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake, John, she was a lesbian. She would’ve understood and shut up about it if that was what you wanted.”
John is speechless. Harry narrows her eyes.
“You didn’t know? How could you not know? Why do you think Dad hated me coming here? In his head, it was indoctrination.”
John doesn’t know what to say, what to do with this earth-shattering information.
“Who did you think Dorothy was? Did you think she was a friend? They slept together.”
“But- but the daybed in the lounge,” he stutters. “I thought-”
“You thought it was Catherine’s?” Harry is astounded. “It was only us who slept there, stupid. When we stayed over. She always slept upstairs, with Dorothy.”
Harry falls dramatically onto her back, gripping her hair. “Good God! Why did you think I stayed here as much as I could throughout my teenage years? Why do you think I ever dared to come out? Couldn’t have done it without her, not before I moved out for real.”
“I wanted to stay here, too. But it was easier at home when you weren’t there. Not as much conflict.”
“They’d been together all their life. They were what Clara and I could have been. You don’t remember her grieving?”
“I- I don’t know. We were just kids when Dorothy died. I- I didn’t think about it. Not like that.”
“You’re right. We were just kids.”
“I wanted her to adopt me. Us.”
“Me too, John, me too.”
John stays the night.
Normally, he would never have asked Sherlock to babysit, but he can’t end this conversation yet, not if he wants to talk, really talk with Sherlock about what they are to each other. He needs this time. He hopes Sherlock doesn’t feel John is somehow taking advantage of him. First thoroughly snogged, then left hanging with a rather impressive tent in his trousers - if John’s eyes hadn’t deceived him - and now suddenly babysitting. If he were in Sherlock’s place, he definitely would have had a few questions as to what had just happened.
As John expects, Sherlock readily takes responsibility for picking up Rosie from the sitter and then caring for her until John returns. He’d thought as much. None of them are really any good at denying the other.
In the early morning, they eat their breakfast in the garden. Harry’s brought the hifi to life in the lounge, and now some raging anti-war metal song is blaring from the speakers in there, loud enough to be heard outside. She really is annoyingly spiteful, but mostly in good humour.
John remembers sitting in Catherine’s kitchen in the afternoons, doing his homework, while Harry sat in the lounge by the telly, humming along to the theme of Follyfoot Farm. That had been more to his liking.
They had talked long into the night - about Catherine and Dorothy, about how they had been able to fly under the radar. How lesbian and gay experiences differ due to society’s expectations. How the contempt for femininity affects gay men, how the sexualisation of lesbians makes them a target for straight men. How bisexuals are largely invisible, leaving people like John feeling isolated, without role models. About the crushing loneliness of being on one’s own, trusting no-one, fearing everyone’s judgement, wondering - fearing - if they might be right. About ignoring it, pushing it back into secrecy until you meet someone who can’t be reduced to a quick shameful shag in the dark. About choosing conformity, just so you can label it and get a grip around something. Something tangible, traditional, safe. About still feeling lonely and then losing it all.
John remembers Dorothy, but more faintly than Catherine. She’d been equally warm and loving, but generally more private and withdrawn. Apparently that was her personality, but as a kid John had put it down to her being a flat-mate.
What a difference it would have made, if his childhood dream had come true: being adopted by Catherine - and Dorothy. It would have been an entirely different life.
They talk about Catherine and their mother, about all the things that were wrong with their family and how their Mum had ended up as a mental punching bag that had unknowingly passed the trait to her children.
”It’s called codependency, John. It’s a thing. Ask your therapist. That’s what happens in dysfunctional families.”
“I don’t like to be victimised.”
“I understand that. But you are. You and I both.”
He huffs and squirms in his seat, and if that doesn’t tell him there’s truth in her words, nothing will.
“It’s just simple cause and effect. There’s nothing in it making us lesser, unworthy. It’s just what it is. We’re not alone. I have many friends who-”
“Yeah, that’s just it, Harry,” he snaps. “You’ve got friends who are just like you. As I said, I’ve never-”
The tears come rushing before he knows it. He covers his face with one hand, the other caught by Harry. She squeezes it gently.
“You’ve never had anyone to confide in. I know, I understand. You could have had me.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice is high pitched and broken. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s just how it is. Nothing to be done about it. But I’m here now. And I’ve missed you,” she says with such warmth that he falls into sobbing again.
She pulls him into a loose hug. “You know, there are queer spaces that you could go, to see if you feel comfortable being in that environment,” she says, rubbing her hand up and down his back. “You don’t have to go to a gay club. There are pubs, coffee shops… It’s not the nineties anymore, John.” He snorts at that. She lets him go and sits back, studying him. “You don’t have to be isolated. There’ve always been such places, but it’s a lot easier now, more accepted.”
“I would feel like a fake, like I’d be lying to get in there.”
“But you wouldn’t be lying. You’ve just stopped lying to yourself. You’re not alone, John. People tend to do that - lie about things they have reason to believe might hurt them, only they end up hurting themselves in the process. You need to face it, John. You’ve been hiding for so many years. Christ, you managed to hide from me! Do you want to keep living like that?”
“No.” He really doesn’t.
“I’m not your therapist, but I think it’s time for you to expose yourself.” He flinches at her words.
“Not literally, you fool!” She bumps his elbow.
“I didn’t think you meant that. It’s just…”
“Yeah, it really is.”
“Maybe you should take it slow then, start with something neutral. Or a least not that gay-coded.”
“The exposure,” she says with a wink.
“Take Sherlock out to a quiet place. Don’t do anything that would provoke you to panic.”
He just stares at her. “Who are you and what did you do to my sister?”
She stares back at him. “What do you mean?”
“Seriously!? You advocating against provocation? Proposing a neutral venue?” He can’t help but laugh.
“I’m trying to be considerate of your insecurities. And I can tell you don’t want to jinx this.”
That’s very true. Wise girl.
“Would it be so bad though? he thinks aloud. “Going to a- gay club?” He barely avoids the usual reflexive dissociating tone of those last two words.
Harry chuckles. “Not if you’re into shock therapy.”
John doesn’t know if clubbing would be the right thing for a first date, or whatever he should call the conversation they need to have.
He can’t imagine Sherlock clubbing. Actually, he can, but not in his usual posh suits. He can vividly imagine a junkie-Sherlock clubbing. But that’s an uncomfortable thought. Stunning beauty and devastating disaster, like when John had shut him out, only younger.
“What’s the worst place you can think of? What’s your greatest fear?” Harry’s eyes flashes conspiratorially. “The Pride parade?”
He laughs out loud; that’s the sister he knows. And suddenly it’s all very clear to him:
“I know a place, or a situation that could prove to be quite demanding.”
John returns from Harry’s late in the morning. He seems collected, possibly more at ease.
Sherlock has already handed Rosie over to the sitter, so it’s just him and John. He waits in his chair for John to come back from changing his clothes. He’s prepared tea for them both.
As John sits down at the kitchen table, Sherlock stands and goes to him. John is pleasantly surprised by the cup landing in front of him. Sherlock remains standing. He doesn’t know where to look. All he can think of is how it felt to touch John, and how he can’t do it now. There seems to be an unspoken rule of no touching, since they only distantly circled each other during the days between their snog and John leaving for Harry’s. He can’t make sense of the relation between them. The sparkling sensation from a couple of days ago, the previous tension between them - is it gone? Is it there? It’s too intangible, unquantifiable.
He needs to say what he’s been preparing for, all the long night with John away in Chelmsford and him sleeping with Rosie on the sofa. He clears his throat.
“I’m not- I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
Sherlock sees his words land, the devastation in John’s eyes.
“You don’t want this.”
“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.” He hesitates, but the words jump out of his mouth anyway, ruining it all. “Except cocaine.”
John looks at him, incredulous.
“If I’m being honest, which I presume you want me to be,” Sherlock tries to backtrack. “It’s likely not going to help this conversation. You know I’m terrible at not insulting people, and-” he stops himself, sighs, furrows his brows. “I just did, didn’t I? Insult you.”
Johns opens his mouth as if to say something, frowns. This really is terrible.
“No. No, you’re not insulting me. Of course you’ve wanted coke more than- than this- whatever it is, which is very new, very uncertain and possibly a very bad idea,” John nods to himself while speaking.
Is he trying to convince himself again? Another self-deception? Smoothing things over to cover up his hurt feelings.
“Can I just- can I ask you for one thing?”
“Of course.” Sherlock has never been able to deny him. This whole conversation is futile. He’ll go wherever John wants him to, do whatever John asks of him.
“Can we... pause? Can we put this conversation on hold for a while?”
Sherlock frowns. “I’m not very good at waiting.”
“I know. Not- not for long, I promise. I just- I need to make a reservation. And take care of a couple of things. A week tops?”
“Sure,” he says, feeling anything but.
John seems relieved, but still composed. Deceptively composed. Sherlock must have hurt his feelings.
All Sherlock wants to do is to take him into his arms and never let go. But he’s just declared that it’s a bad idea. And John didn’t contradict him.
John smiles at him. A small smile, one that doesn’t match the emotion in his eyes. “Yeah?”
Sherlock takes the leap. “I want you. In any capacity. Don’t let my poor communication skills make you doubt that.”
John looks stricken. He draws in a breath, eyes scattering about not landing anywhere. “Right. Okay. Fine, good.”
“Yeah, fine. It’s fine. More than fine.” John’s emerging smile is a little wobbly. “Let me get back to you on this soon. Just- uhm, reservation…”
And John Watson walks out of their flat, forgetting his coat. Sherlock feels a bit unmoored by this conversation and its abrupt end. What the hell is John thinking? A week on hold? The agony! The horror!
He needs to text The Woman.
He plays the violin for hours on end, until his fingers are raw and cracked. After he wipes down the instrument, removing the layer of rosin dust that had accumulated, and places it in the case. He then texts his manicurist who luckily has a spot available in a few hours.
He cherishes the usual sensations of warm fingers touching him, the gentle massage a relaxant. Today, there’s a heightened sensitivity in his left hand, where his digits had flown over the fingerboard for so long. Small sparks fly when the tips of his fingers are gently pressed, massaged in small circles. The light pain is not enough to produce the level of endorphin he craves, but it’s still something. Oxytocin, without personal attachment. It’ll have to do.
This is the unresolved issue he doesn’t know how to bring up with John. This craving, which he’s been handling remarkably well through years of flat-sharing, tamped down and wilfully ignored, will be impossible to keep at bay after the recent developments between them.
This is why it might not be a good idea to go further. If John wants him, but isn’t amenable.
Sherlock has always immensely enjoyed John being authoritative, exuding power and not accepting any bullshit regardless of his short stature. He was thrilled by their snog, by John showing dominating tendencies in that situation. There’s clearly a potential for sexual compatibility there. But he can’t know for sure, can’t know how far John would be willing to go.
Mr Chamoun had regularly been very willing since Sherlock returned to find John bound for marriage. He was younger than Sherlock, nice looking, well groomed and very well dressed when he wasn’t working. He was kind, polite and openly religious, wearing a cross of gold around his neck, but decidedly not boring to engage with sexually. He was clearly bisexual and, like a majority of the men Sherlock had sought out in his sexually active years, a closeted man with some degree of internalised homophobia.
Sherlock had learnt, early on after his debut, how men with such issues could be triggered into rough behaviour. Derogatory language had sadly been a common side effect that would take him out of it in an instant. He’d used their ingrained fears to his advantage; probing and prodding until he was manhandled, held down, hurt - anything to provide the intensity and pain required to quiet his mind.
That had been a topic of debate during his conversations with The Woman over the years. While she sympathised with his craving, she didn't approve of his approach, of course. After apologising for her own transgressions regarding consent, she'd advocated for a certain definition of safe and sane, which bored Sherlock to no end. He'd always taken measures to assure his safety, and his version of sanity had always been to make sure he'd never get tangled up in a relationship.
That's why he'd preferred closeted men. They would be content with discreet meetings and no strings attached.
Mr Chamoun had been an exception, with his quiet ways and unrelenting dominance. He wasn't fooled by Sherlock's antics, was almost impossible to provoke. That's why Sherlock, after many years of abstaining from sexual activity, had found that this was a man he'd like to see repeatedly.
Only last time Sherlock bought chips, it was Mr Chamoun’s cousin serving. Sherlock quickly deduced Mr Chamoun’s continuing success in the fish and chips business had led to him upgrading to a proper restaurant, and that he currently was on vacation to be set up to marry. As expected, but nonetheless irritating. One more thing to put on his ever growing list of reasons why he loathes conformity.
He’d been in a severe place at the time.
To lose those convenient and very pleasurable meetings made it easier to chase the more dangerous highs.
Choosing celibacy because relationships are messy and people generally intolerable is one thing. Then it’s perfectly doable to ignore the craving and live by small sensations.
To engage with John sexually is a whole other thing. He knows it will open Pandora’s Box.
It’s not that John is uncomfortable with nakedness in and of itself.
He’s a doctor and used to seeing all possible angles, crevices and orifices of the human body - there’s no excitement in that. He’s spent years in the army, sharing facilities with men in different states of undress. And if his first confrontation with an abundance of men, living together in tight spaces, was unnerving, he’s long since learned to relax living in close quarters.
It’s the shower situation that triggers the nervousness. The feeling of being found out, the fear of being caught with inappropriate thoughts, or worse, bodily reactions. He doesn’t ogle, he avoids letting his eyes linger anywhere near another body. It’s probably a very common behaviour in public showers, out of politeness, but his is imbued with fear.
So, when he goes about booking a spa day for him and Sherlock, he's very aware of the challenge he will face. There's no logical reason to try to hide, try to go unnoticed. Of all the people who have ever shared a showerroom with John, probably no-one has even thought of his particular sexuality. People tend to generally categorise other people as straight, unless there's something contrary catching their attentio'n. Besides, he's out now... sort of. To two people. It's a start.
Logic can't always beat a feeling, but he'll try. He will be confronting headlong one of his greatest fears: being undressed with an attractive man - sober.
He doesn't want to panic like he did the other day, even if it was briefly. The rest of what happened was an exception that proves the rule. It was pure adrenaline pushing him forward. It won't always be like that. If there's ever going to be another time for him and Sherlock.
John knows he can't keep avoiding this part of himself, keep dousing himself with liquor before he has the guts to come near another man in that way. He needs to break the habit, to soldier through. He needs to change his thought patterns, and with time creating new neural pathways in his brain. He wants to be able to live a life that's more than endurance.
He hopes the spa setting will offer them a relaxed, laid back atmosphere. The conversation John is planning to have with Sherlock will be fraught with tension. He needs to own up to his failings, admit his transgressions. Say it to Sherlock’s face, and ask for forgiveness. He should have done it a very long time ago.
After that, they might possibly try to define what they are to each other, and what they want, or don’t want to do about it.
He’s booked treatments for them as well, in case bathing in pools and steam rooms aren’t enough to make them relax. It’s very possible that it’s only John who feels the need to relax.
The spa program folder is peppered with oriental names alluding to spices, sultans and hammams. It makes a promise of treating their bodies with the most luxurious soaps and oils known to man. This is a very special occasion, so John really hopes it will be worth the splurge. It should be enough, just having a relaxing day off, him and Sherlock, but he’s still nervous about the outcome.
And a bit nervous about having a joint bathing session.
When John first lived at 221B he took regular baths to relax. He used to light candles and mix in essential oils and usually ended his sessions with stroking himself to climax, driven by fantasies of Sherlock touching him or swallowing him down.
He can’t help that that’s where his thoughts go. The whole prospect of the day is both weird and a bit arousing.
Even though they’ll both be in swim trunks, John feels really out of his depth.
When they arrive at the spa, they are ushered through a door and into a posh, comfortable lobby, complete with lit candles in every corner and the smell of spices filling the air. They have at least two hours until their booked treatments and are free to explore the different pools and saunas of the facility. They each get a personal kit in a basket, with bathrobes and slippers, and a set of different towels, complete with small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, all labelled ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’.
The bottles are of course in there to provide the visitors with samples to make them buy the posh product line associated with the spa. It’s very expensive, but John sniffs them all, thinking they smell nice at least.
They change in separate cubicles, and as soon as John has put his things in the locker, he hurries into the shower room, feeling jumpy. The showers have partitions, but no doors or curtains. It’s all nice and fancy. There’s beautiful mosaic patterns on the walls and the showerheads provide a rainfall effect.
John feels utterly naked. A fluttering nervousness rises in his chest. All he can think of is shared showers after PE class and rugby, and in military quarters. A thought, a feeling, an impulse doesn’t have to be true, he reminds himself, Ella’s voice echoing in his head, let them be what they are.
She had meant his self deprecating tendencies, his undervaluation of his worth as a father, a brother, a friend. The same should apply to this situation. There’s nothing to be nervous about, the feeling is only a bodily response to his thoughts. We are not our thoughts - we are the one’s observing our thoughts.
He turns his back to the room and quickly lathers himself with the nice smelling shower gel. He almost gets a hard-on, as if his body wants to expose him out of spite. It’s always been a traitorous, adrenaline driven companion. He’s had to have many a cold shower in his life, and this is not an exception.
He leaves before Sherlock enters the room.
Dressed in swimming trunks and wrapped in a fluffy towel, John sets out to investigate the first room. He’s carrying his basket kit along as instructed, feeling a bit like he’s having a picnic. There are several hydrotherapy tubs of different sizes lowered into the floor, a cold pool and the entrance door to the sauna. He realises there are designated shelves for the baskets and pegs for the bathrobes right by that door.
He makes his way to the sauna, puts the basket on the shelf, and peeks in through the glass door. It’s already occupied by two retirees. He doesn’t like the idea of initiating any conversation of importance with people listening in.
Most of the tubs are also occupied. There’s one for couples free. That feels a bit much at the moment. He doesn’t want Sherlock to think he’s assuming anything about their relationship status. Just as he’s about to give up on any chance of a semi-private conversation, two young women start to get up out of a tub. When they breach the surface, he notices they are both heavily pregnant. Probably third trimester. It occurs to him that he doesn’t know if Mary ever went to a spa during her pregnancy. In a rosy, romantic dream he would have treated her to it, making sure she got pampered while she carried the heavy burden of their child. But he’d been distant, shutting her out, grieving for the life that never was and his inability to make other choices.
John heads for the tub, slipping down into the warmth. He lets his head fall back onto the curved headrest, submerged up to his chin. He closes his eyes, relaxing more and more with every deep breath, feeling the water tickle and massage his body. He opens his eyes only to see Sherlock come sauntering through the room, in tight black swimming trunks, clinging to his crotch. He twirls his towel and casually throws it over his shoulders, all his assets on display for John.
John’s mouth goes dry. God, what a tease. Showing off those impossible legs.
Sherlock steps into the tub, sits down opposite John, the water reaching to his clavicles. He leans back and sinks lower, stretching his legs across, resting his feet on the seat, one foot on each side of John.
“So… John Watson, captain of the rugby team,” he muses.
“You’ve been snooping.”
“Of course. I had time to have a walk in Chelmsford after I met with Inspector Baynes. Let myself into the rugby club and found a binder with some very old team photos.”
John chuckles. So typically Sherlock.
“The only feature of interest was a very handsome young team captain.” Sherlock grins and flicks a bit of water at him with his toes.
John is suddenly very aware of where Sherlock’s legs are, only inches away, invisible under the bubbling surface. He resists his impulse to capture them and instead wipes away the droplets that had landed on his face.
“Is that why you call yourself captain?” Sherlock squints at him, a small smile playing on his lips. He seems to be inquiring about something John can’t quite put his finger on.
“What are you implying? That I’m not a captain?”
“Aren’t you?” Sherlock raises a brow, smirking. “You said you weren’t in combat.”
“I’m a Medical Captain,” John says with a measure of pride, although he’s formally retired after being discharged.
John shrugs. “I was a clever kid. I liked protocols and regulations, routine and purpose. I wanted to succeed. What I really wanted was to best my dad.”
“Well, my grandpa was a military man. So my dad was about to follow when he had an accident during his military training. A grenade detonated too close, so he lost his hearing on one ear. Which made him seem more impolite than he was. He always seemed pleasant enough - publicly - but sometimes people thought he was ignoring them when they were only talking to him from the wrong side of his head. Anyway, he ended up working in a factory where he had to wear ear-protection all the time and no-one could hear each other above the sound of the machines. I wanted to do better than that, if only to spite him.”
“I take it he wasn’t a very nice man. I don’t know you to be ungenerous, and it would seem a bit petty to spite someone due to their hearing impairment.”
John huffs. “I don’t have any qualms being petty when it comes to him. He deserved every fucking obstacle and hardship coming his way.”
“And you managed to do better,” Sherlock drops his voice. He puts his feet on John’s thighs, sliding his toes up to the edge of the trunks.
John has to take a moment to regain his breath. “Yeah I did. I had good grades, so medicine seemed viable. But I didn’t get into med school on my first attempt. So I signed up for basic military training. If I saw that through, I’d have succeeded where my dad never could. Also, the Balkan War had made an impression. The reports were jarring, and going there would have had a clear purpose.”
John falters. He’s distracted by Sherlock’s feet still resting on his thighs, thankfully not sliding further up.
He clenches his hands, grateful that Sherlock can’t see it beneath the bubbles.
He’s right in the middle of one of the fears he’s trying to overcome. Even if no-one can see what’s going on, there’s people close by, the lights are on, they’re undressed and touching, and John is awfully sober. Only a bit lightheaded from feeling weightless and warmed up by the bubbling water.
Will Sherlock think less of him if he tells him about his cowardice? Now, if ever, it would be best to soldier on. He grabs Sherlock’s ankles and puts his feet back down on the seat, but doesn’t let go.
“I loved the military. And it scared me shitless.”
Sherlock raises his brows. John clears his throat.
“Sharing quarters. Living so close to other recruits, sleeping in the same room, sharing showers.” He looks meaningfully to Sherlock. “I had known since at least puberty, but I hadn’t really known. Do you understand?”
Sherlock nods. He seems to contemplate something, hesitating.
Of course Sherlock would have figured that out.
”Yes. Potentially. Theoretically. But I didn’t meet him until my last tour in Afghanistan. And before him, I just- dabbled, occasionally. Didn’t have the opportunity to get drunk enough to dare very often.”
The all male close quarters of the army had messed with John’s mind. He had to hide a few erections, terrified of being found out. As time progressed and the squaddies became a squad, being there for each other, eventually a bunch of them developed some very secret, very straight, circle jerks with regular intervals.
John only joined once. The sounds of slapping flesh, the grunts and curses - it was like porn or a sex dream.
No-one touched another man, it was only group masturbation. But there sat John, incredibly aroused, touching himself. It was too much, too intense, too shameful and dangerous.
What would the other guys do if they knew he had the hots for them? He was terrified, bit the inside of his cheeks hard to not cry out when he climaxed spectacularly.
He was overcome by terrifying impulses that worked themselves into his dreams, ones containing cocks and come between his fingers, or in his mouth, the tantalising curves of muscular thighs and arses and the scent of sweating bodies. He went to bed with his hands firmly placed under the pillow. Luckily the training in itself provided plenty of exercise in control. He learned to keep his head clear and hands steady.
John realises he’s slowly sliding his hands back and forth along Sherlock’s calves, feeling small bubbles release from the hairs and tickle his fingers as they rise to the surface. He lets go, unsure of what he’s allowed to do, even in the face of Sherlock’s unabashed flirting.
“I got accepted into med school after barely three months of basic training, just in time for me to be allowed to terminate it. I did medicine for many years, as a student and as a professional. And then my dad died in a bland fucking car accident, and I hated him for it. So then the military became a thing again. I had begun specialist training, and the army needed surgeons and trauma specialists, so I applied to the Professionally Qualified officers training course and went to Sandhurst for ten weeks. When I had worked long enough for the RAMC as a Medical Officer, I was ranked Captain.”
“Three months plus ten weeks, that’s- that’s nothing,” Sherlock says, bemused.
“Well, I’ve always identified with being a soldier. Duties, having a clear purpose, a protocol to follow, knowing right from wrong. I’ve since learned that it’s not that black and white. Invading Afghanistan and such. But I’ve always wanted to do something of importance, to make a difference, and often enough I’ve literally been the difference between life and death.”
Sherlock leans over and with absolute precision, he captures John’s right hand under water and holds tight. “Yes, you have,” he says reverently.
John doesn’t know what to do with that. He chuckles and smiles a bit, returning the grip. “Also I’m generally good at commanding people and pulling rank.”
Sherlock gives him a lopsided grin. “I noticed in Dartmoor.”
”I also found that I had a talent for marksmanship.”
Sherlock doesn’t answer this. He just watches John with a peculiar expression, lips slightly parted.
It’s definitely time for a cooling dip in the plunge pool.
John clears his throat. “Cool off a bit?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says, releasing John’s hand and sitting back again. “You go first. There’s something in my pocket I need to be released from first.”
Oh God. John realises he can’t see where Sherlock’s keeping his hands. Has he been touching himself this whole time? He feels his face turn impossibly hotter. He climbs out of the tub, very aware of Sherlock’s eyes following him to the small pool.
When he’s cooled off to near freezing he gets out of the pool, seeing Sherlock come sauntering towards him. He’s apparently got rid of his erection - hopefully not by actually releasing himself in the tub - since he’s wearing his towel over his shoulders instead of using it to cover his crotch.
“Don’t stay in too long. It’s freezing.”
“Go warm up in the lounge. I’m feeling a bit peckish. Is there any tea and biscuits to be had?”
“Loads.” John grins. “Meet you there.”
They’ve put on white fluffy terry bathrobes and slippers. John feels ridiculous, but Sherlock has grace as always and knows how to move like a fashion model. His hair is curlier and wilder than usual, and a stray curl falls down into his face as he whips his head around looking for John along the low ottoman benches lining the walls.
John’s already comfortable in a plush seat in a recess, the small table in front of him filled with bottles of mineral water, hibiscus tea and small Turkish Revani cakes that look like petit fours.
Sherlock flops down on the bench caddy-corner to John.
There lights are low in the warm lounge, just a few tables occupied. John is happy he seems to have booked the right time and day for quiet conversation without too many people milling about.
Sherlock leans back and stretches out his legs, resting his feet near John’s. A slow smile spreads across his face. He’s spotted the cake.
“Hydrate,” says John, opening a bottle and pushing it into Sherlock’s hands. He obliges without protest.
The pastry forks are as always made for right handed people, but the display of the cakes are nice enough. It would probably make a perfect picture for a food blogger.
Sherlock skips the fork entirely and stuffs a whole cake into his mouth. John uses the fork. It tastes really good, heaven for Sherlock’s sweet tooth.
“Yellow semolina sponge cake steeped in lemon and rosewater syrup,” Sherlock says.
That could have been an impressive deduction, but John recognises the quote.
“You read the folder?”
“You left it on top of the microwave oven, of course I read it.”
John sips his tea and Sherlock eats two more cakes before John clears his throat, gathering courage.
“Listen.” His voice seems loud in the mostly quiet lounge. He tries to relax his hand, that is somehow gripping the fork hard, even though he’s not eating. “I need to apologise for what I did to you in Culverton Smith’s mortuary.”
John looks at him. Is Sherlock really surprised, or is he trying to make things easier for John?
“This is in no way a justification, but I think what happened, when I hurt you, was that I was afraid. And I handled that horribly. Afraid and angry. Afraid of losing you, again.”
John’s resolve abandons him, and the proper words he’s prepared for today’s solemn topic of conversation are lost.
“God, Sherlock, if you could have seen yourself! You were a wreck. I had never seen you so vulnerable and, at the same time, so cocky and adamant about self destruction. But it was me who destroyed you. Who beat you until you were unable to fight back.”
“I wasn’t unable to fight you.” Sherlock scoffs, sitting up straight, suddenly very much closer to John. “But you wanted me to fight back. You sprained Wiggins’ arm for waving about a knife. You would know how to effectively disarm any junkie. But you didn’t. You wanted something from me. Otherwise, you’d just have taken the scalpel and held me down.”
Through all the time he’s spent feeling bad about what he did, all the therapy sessions with Ella, all the anger management exercises, this has never occurred to him. It seems he has even more soul searching to do.
“Maybe I did.”
What had he wanted from Sherlock at that point? Had he truly wanted a fight? It’s all a blur of hot anger and blinding pain, fear. In light of recent events - had he wanted a physical confrontation? To crash into Sherlock, feel his body under his hands, wrestle and hold him. It makes John’s head spin. If Sherlock’s reasoning is correct, then John would have had the opportunity to hold him without a mindless violent attack. To hold him down.
The way Sherlock said it suggests... something. John’s thoughts go astray. He’d surely like to hold Sherlock down, in general. But not then - never like that.
Holding him down, spreading him out - it has always been part of John’s sexual fantasies about Sherlock. In his dreams he’s created situations that would allow it. He’s not sure Sherlock would allow it. If he’d ever be ready to not be the person dominating the room, being in control. If that’s something he’d want at all.
Before he met Sherlock, John didn’t know he wanted it. He can’t remember having urges like these with anyone else. He’s generally been a quick shag, chasing the climax. He’s learnt the hard way, through constant breakups, to become a decent lover, learnt the importance of not leaving it solely to your girlfriend to achieve her own climax.
He’s not sure it’s a sane thing to be contemplating. He’s worried that dominance is the only approach to men he knows, the only way to handle his lifelong reluctance and fear of intimacy with men, to not feel emasculated. How can he know what is a healthy, deep urge and what is a destructive behaviour that will only increase his insecurities?
He can’t speak with his therapist about this. He just can’t.
And he’s too afraid to put Sherlock off, to disturb this thing that is growing between them, to voice any of these fears. But he can’t erase the pictures in his head. He’s nurtured them for so many years. They were only fantasies. Harmless dreams of something he could never have.
Now, he might have it. Have something. It’s terrifying.
“Mr Holmes, Mr Watson,” an attendant interrupts. “It’s almost time for your treatments. You’re welcome to prepare yourself and warm up in the hot room.”
Back in the changing room, they contemplate the remaining content of their baskets.
There’s traditional woven modesty towels intended to be to wrapped around their middle for the treatment sessions.
It seems they’re about to get properly naked.
John finds papery pants at the bottom of the basket, supposed to be worn under the towel during massage for added modesty, but Sherlock scoffs at their ugliness, declaring he’d rather go in the buff.
“I bet that would be frowned upon,” John says. “Not by me,” he adds, tentatively.
Sherlock only smirks and locks himself in a changing cubicle.
“Don’t worry,” he calls. “I’m not planning to expose the massage therapists to unwanted body parts.”
“If you’d only show Mrs H the same courtesy,” John mutters.
When they both emerge from their cubicles, John feels like a misshapen Tarzan. He really should be better at this, what with knotting macrame as a kid and folding hospital corners every time he makes a bed.
Sherlock looks like he belongs on the catwalk. He’s wrapped himself up in several towels, sweeping one over his shoulder with the same air as a Bollywood heroine sweeping the end of her sari in slow motion.
The hot room is sweltering. It has marbled walls, benches and floors, and they start to sweat profusely within minutes. When they’re admitted inside the treatment room, they’re already soaked, especially Sherlock in his towel creation.
In the middle of the room is a raised marble dais, with two linen mats on top, close together. They are told to leave their slippers, and lay down on their backs. Sherlock flops down on the mat, untangling himself as he’s lying down.
“You’re ridiculous,” John laughs and closes his eyes. If he hadn’t been so thoroughly warmed up, his shoulder would probably have protested from lying down on the firm dais. Now he feels ready for a nap.
The therapists start their treatment with a rather intense full body scrub down with a traditional coarse exfoliating glove, where a mass of dead skin cells are released. John feels like his skin is burning, but it soon fades with the endorphin release.
Next, they are instructed to turn over onto their stomachs, so John does and lays his head atop his hands, face turned to the side, peering at Sherlock by his side.
Sherlock has a relaxed, dreamy look on his face, the kind he gets just before he collapses after a case. John smiles tentatively and closes his eyes as the therapists douses them with warm, fragrant water. He groans with how good it feels, just on the right side of hot. He opens his eyes again. Sherlock smirks at him.
“So rude, John.”
Anything else is lost when a fluffy substance is slathered onto his skin. This massage is like a breeze compared to the harsh scrub. A frothing cloth sweeps over his body, up, down and side to side with long strokes, covering every limb in soft suds.
They need to sit up for the final rinse, first warm, then colder water poured from head to toes.
This is what it must feel like for Rosie, when he pours water over her in the tub. It’s strange how the memory works. His Mum must have done this with him when he was small. He must have felt taken care of, as he feels now, by a complete stranger. He gets a bit teary eyed thinking about it, and then he feels Sherlock’s hand in his.
The mats are swapped for dry ones and they lie down on their fronts again.
And that’s when the massage really starts. Warm oils are poured over their backs, releasing the scent of oranges and cloves.
Elbows, knuckles, heels of hands… all are used on their muscles, sliding over their bodies. The massage therapist pays special attention to John’s left shoulder and he can’t help the moan that escapes him. He hears an answering groan and sigh from Sherlock, and John suffers through the rest of their massage session, willing down his erection before he gets up.
There are shower cubicles just outside the room, and John uses up most of the fancy shower gel to get rid of the abundant oils.
After the massage, they traipse through the facility in their fluffy robes. As they move from the lounge to another area of the building, John spies some male athletes, apparently going here for physiotherapy as well as massage and relaxation, and something about that puts their own appearance in stark contrast. They’re not colleagues or mates. They’re here on a date, and whatever it may entail, it must be glaringly obvious to anyone looking at them.
So much for hiding, hoping to pass as straight.
Their final treatment is a very posh joint barber session with hot towels. John had chosen a pricey option with a facial treatment and a wet shave. He had thought of adding the haircut service offered, but he knows how meticulous Sherlock is about his curls. He’d probably not let anyone touch them except his own secret, probably even more posh, hairdresser.
Sherlock seems to be in his element, commenting knowingly on the proceedings, asking about the products being used, while John struggles to stay awake. It’s exactly what John expected. He’s glad he didn’t skimp on this. They leave the barbers’ with baby smooth faces, smelling very nice.
They’re alone in a relaxation room - there are several skylights, with the shades open to allow sunlight to filter into the chamber, while the sound of sea waves emanate from hidden speakers, their only company a couple of big potted palm trees.
They’re still enjoying the soporific effect of their treatments. John is comfortably seated in a reclining chair, with fresh fruit and lemon infused water at hand. Sherlock is right by his side, close enough to touch. John noticed how Sherlock discreetly pushed their chairs closer together while John inspected the trees to see if they were real. They are.
Though Sherlock is laid back, eyes closed and the picture of contentment, John is anything but. He’s trying to calm his mind, to match the state of his body, but it’s not working.
Because they haven’t finished their conversation, and John’s not done confessing.
“Seriously, I can’t leave this, Sherlock,” John hedges, regretting that he needs to interrupt the peace in order to continue this topic. They’ve finished their treatments, but have about two more hours free access to the facility. And they haven’t really talked that much. Not about the things he had planned, at least.
“What I did to you-” he starts again. “ I- I could have ruptured your spleen, I could have-”
“But you didn’t,” Sherlock says firmly. He turns to study John and cocks an eyebrow. “Besides, it would have been a pretty convenient place to suffer a ruptured spleen.”
John huffs. “You don’t understand, do you?”
“I think I understand. You regret what you did and won’t repeat it. Correct?”
John goes on, ignoring Sherlock’s simplification. He needs to get this out. “There was no stopping me. I punched and kicked blindly. I know the consequences of blunt trauma to the abdomen. It can be superficial, but it can also be life threatening. I didn’t stop until they pulled me away.”
“It was superficial,” Sherlock points out, irritated. “Believe me, I’ve had worse. It was just a few bruises. No permanent harm done.”
John sighs and rolls his eyes. This is so stubbornly Sherlock.
“You may not care about your ‘transport’, but that’s irrelevant. This is about us. About trust. Us trusting each other and me trusting myself. I don’t know if I do. Trust myself.”
Sherlock regards him, quietly. “Why are we here then?”
“Why did you arrange this? If you don’t trust yourself?”
“I- I want to make it up to you. To somehow- To apologise. For real. To make things normal between us.”
“We’re not normal, John. We can’t be.”
“Doesn’t mean I can abuse you without consequences.”
“You didn’t abuse me!” Sherlock snaps.
“I did,” John reiterates. He knows exactly what he did and what it’s called, whether Sherlock sees it or not. “You may not feel abused, but my actions-”
“Alright!” Sherlock throws his hands in the air. “You abused me. But I let you.”
“Yeah, exactly. You let me. That doesn’t make anything better, Sherlock, it makes it worse!”
“I didn’t want to fight you, I saw what you were going through. If Mary’s death taught me anything besides the terrible ramifications of being overconfident, it was that it made me see clearly the consequences of what I had done to you when I jumped to my apparent death in front of your eyes.”
“It’s not the same,” John mutters and looks away.
“Sufficiently similar for a viable comparison.”
“It’s not the same!”
John’s heart beats so fast it feels like it’s going to jump out of his chest. This is it. This is where he has a chance to stop being a coward.
“Because I never loved Mary the way I love you. I never could.”
And it feels wrong, saying it like this, once again putting Mary between them, and suddenly the words fall out of him, words to make things right. “Oh, Sherlock, I’ve loved you since- I don’t know - since almost forever!”
It’s true. And now Sherlock knows. It’s relieving.
Sherlock stares at him. And suddenly John’s words seem inadequate. Not nearly enough.
“John,” says Sherlock, pain written all over his face, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this. John’s words were not meant to hurt.
“I don’t want to hurt you anymore!” John sobs.
“You didn’t. You didn’t.”
Sherlock moves swiftly and takes him into his arms, soothing him and pressing kisses to John’s temple. But John is overcome with sadness, and weariness over all the things that he’s done.
”I blamed you for her death,” he sobs.
”Wrong. I blamed me for her death,” Sherlock mumbles calmly into his ear, stroking his back. “You merely agreed.”
”Semantics,” John counters with a sniff. “How do you even remember? You were high as a kite.”
”Oh, God, Sherlock, I’m so, so sorry.”
”I exposed her to you. I killed Mary Watson and left you with Rosamund Mary of A.G.R.A.”
John pulls away and glares at him. ”She fucking shot you!”
”Even so. It is what it is.”
John shakes his head. “How can you justify- ”
”If you want to see this as an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth situation, which is ludicrous by the way, then let’s call what you did retaliation. Retaliation for what I put you through, making you watch me die. It was all done in good faith and I didn’t have any other viable options at that point, but you became collateral damage. I regret that it’s taken me years to really understand the impact. I should have understood that you never really forgave me for making you believe I died.”
“I thought I did. I wanted to. So I said the words when you asked me. Even if you tricked me into it.”
“I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know any other way to make you talk, make you say- something. It was a stupid idea. I was an idiot.”
“It’s alright. I mean, if we had to go, even in a bloody train car, of course we’d go together.”
“We’ve made some bad mistakes, but that’s alright,” John reassures him.
“Your idea was better,” Sherlock admits underneath his breath, but John hears him.
“This,” Sherlock says, gesturing vaguely. “To make us talk.”
“Oh, right.” John preens a bit, looking around the room. “A bit nicer than a rigged up train car, yeah?”
They smile at each other. The calmness lingers. John turns and lies on his side, facing Sherlock. He wonders if Sherlock’s cheek is as smooth as his own after the barber session. Though Sherlock embraced him just a while ago, he doesn’t dare to reach out a hand to find out.
“So you consider treating me to a spa day as suitable atonement?” Sherlock turns over too, his bent legs still long enough to end up in John’s chair, bumping his knees. “I’m not disagreeing, if it works for you, then it’s good, very good. I’m just saying, to me it’s unneeded. I forgave you long ago. If I still had an issue with it, do you really think I’d ask you to move in with me? With a child in tow?”
“I don’t know. You don’t have the best track record when it comes to making choices that are in your best interest.”
“Sharing my life with you is in my best interest.”
“It really isn’t. Not if I’m an abuser.”
“Well you’re not, so can we please move on? I detest needing to repeat myself.”
“I can’t take this lightly, Sherlock.”
“And that’s your confirmation that you’re not an abuser. You made an awful but human mistake and you’ve been ready to face the consequences and do better. That’s more than enough for me. So please, for my sanity, let’s move on.”
There’s his absolution, freely given from a man with too big a heart.
John could stay like this forever. With peace in his heart and a beautiful human being, inside and out, in front of him. He’s got eyes to drown in and a very kissable mouth. He’d like to touch him, if he’ll be allowed. But his hands and feet are getting cold.
“We should try the aroma steam room,” he says, focusing on Sherlock’s lips.
“Alright. Though I should point out-”
“It’s eucalyptus infused steam. Good for your airways.”
“It’s not the proper grooming order. Should have done it before shaving to prepare the foll-”
Sherlock chuckles, low. “I know you like scented baths.”
John spies a slight blush on Sherlock’s impossible cheeks. It surprises and tickles him. What a smooth way to get Sherlock hot and bothered.
He seems to gather himself. “I’ll readily try it out. Let’s go then.”
Entering the steam room feels like walking into a wall of hot moisture. The steam is thick in John’s lungs, but he notices the effect of the eucalyptus opening up his airways within a minute.
The room is a bit kidney shaped, with three open showers in a recess. It’s flowing, curving and sparsely lit, a beautiful blue-green mosaic covering the walls, floor and seating benches. The benches are curved with high reclining backrests, that follows the curve of the room, creating separate niches.
John sits down in the niche farthest from the door. There’s no-one else in here. Sherlock comes after. Lithe and mysterious in the darkness and foggy atmosphere. John’s eyes goes to his hip bones, follows the line of his iliac crest until it disappears under the towel.
Sherlock sits down right next to John, their thighs touching.
The hot air is like a cocoon, enveloping their bodies, making sweat break out and mingle with the dampness on their skin.
John notices Sherlock looking at him, watching his body. They’ve sat like this another time, only John was the one looking, and fully clothed. It had been so silly, Sherlock in a sheet. Then John had seen a glimpse, thanks to Mycroft’s pettiness. Now he’s seen more than ever. Though it’s dark, the scars are still visible. The one Mary put there, and the one he’s responsible for.
“You said it was only superficial. That’s pretty permanent,” he says, voice wobbling a bit, and gestures towards Sherlock’s face.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. This scar that I put right there.” John touches it with his thumb.
“I’ve got plenty of scars,” Sherlock murmurs, voice low. “They would make for interesting stories if anyone cared to listen.”
An odd look crosses Sherlock’s face before he pivots the focus back to John. “Tell me about your scar.”
“There isn’t much to tell. I got shot. The bullet went in back here, and out through the front.”
“Can I touch it?”
Sherlock’s eyes are so close. Gentle and curious.
“Yeah,” John breathes.
Sherlock puts his hand flat against the exit scar. He leans down to see it up close, letting his hand slide slowly downwards until only his digits touch the scar. He traces patterns of raised flesh, gently pressing here and there, his eyes alight in wonder, as if John is a miracle to behold.
The touch makes John’s heart beat hard, his erection grow beneath the towel. His head falls back against the mosaic surface on the curved backrest. The curves doesn’t quite fit with his proportions, so he slides down a bit, which opens up his legs a little. Sherlock bends lower, his hair, curlier than ever from the steam in the air, tickles John’s neck.
A moan escapes him when Sherlock puts his lips to the scar. John’s mind fills with images of someone coming in, interrupting them - seeing. But this feels so right, not wrong, perverted and forbidden. There’s no hurried panic.
It’s slow and delicate, Sherlocks tongue exploring his scar. John breathes deep and heavy, the warm moisture filling his lungs, expanding. Sherlock’s tongue flicks against his skin, downwards. He shifts, leaning over in front of John, puts his hand on John’s thigh, slides it in just beneath the towel.
He plays with John’s nipple, lavish licks and kisses, a hint of teeth, and now he slides down off the seat, kneels on the floor, a hand on each of John’s thighs. His curls seems darker than ever, hanging down in front of his eyes.
“No-one will disturb us. I put up the cleaning sign outside, and barricaded the door with a broomstick. Don’t worry, just relax and let me-”
John grips Sherlock’s hair on both sides of his face and brings them together, licking into Sherlock’s mouth.
Sherlock’s eyes go wide.
John holds him like that, watching Sherlock’s beautiful mouth open on a moan. He clenches his fists, tugging on soft curls, and Sherlock’s eyes fall closed as he lets out a trembling sound. John does it again, and this time, Sherlock shudders and draws in a sharp breath. His hands slip off of John, scrambling for a grip on the wet mosaic. John catches his wrists, firmly guides Sherlock’s hands onto the seat for support. Sherlock keens.
John tugs lightly on his wrists but the small movement reverberates through Sherlock’s body, like a wave rocking sea kelp, and Sherlock falls forward, resting his cheek on John’s thigh.
He looks as debauched and giddy as John feels. Sherlock’s head is lolling, he brushes his cheek against the inside of John’s thigh, inhaling him. John’s cock jerk at the sight.
John lets go of Sherlock’s wrists to quickly release himself from the towel. He takes Sherlock’s hands in his, entwining their fingers, licks and sucks at his thumbs. Sherlock is so very pliant, following John’s movements. John can’t quite wrap his head around it. He puts their hands down against the seat, his own on top of Sherlock’s. He lets his fingers slide up Sherlock’s forearms, watching him shudder. Then quickly back down, digging in his nails along the way. Sherlock cries out, blinks as if he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. John grips his wrists again, unyielding, and tugs a bit more forceful, lifts an eyebrow.
It’s over almost before it starts. Sherlock kisses the head of John’s cock, works back his foreskin with lips and tongue. John involuntary lifts his arse off the seat, thighs already cramping.
Sherlock watches his red glans with heavy-lidded eyes, lips wet from saliva. Then he pushes forward, letting John’s cock slide in between his lips, into the wetness of his mouth. He hums and John almost hyperventilates from the sound of his voice and - at last - the sensation of it, too. Sherlock doesn’t move, only presses his tongue lightly against John’s frenulum. Waits until John’s breathing evens out.
He catches John’s eyes before he makes John slide all the way in, bumping the back of his throat. John gasps. Sherlock shudders. He holds still and John realises neither of them are breathing. He watches Sherlock close his eyes, fluttering, and then he sees and feels Sherlock swallow and tilt his head and it’s instantly over.
Sherlock slides back along his length as he’s pulsing, maintaining the suction until he has caught all of John’s ejaculate.
“Oh God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” John pants.
He realises he’s clamped down hard on Sherlock’s wrists. He lets go abruptly.
Sherlock looks at him curiously. Then he takes John’s hands in his, leans forward and empties the contents of his mouth onto John’s abdomen.
“Don’t be,” Sherlock rumbles before he dips down and rubs his face like a cat against John’s skin, smearing half his face.
This is filthier and dirtier than any same sex activities John’s been involved in, and yet those felt numbingly shameful. This is not. This is the hottest, most beautiful, most right thing ever.
They kiss, slow and deep.
John can taste himself on Sherlock and it could well have been panic inducing, but when he closes his eyes, he doesn’t picture himself scrubbing away the filth. Instead his mind fills with images of himself ejaculating all over Sherlock and then licking him clean.
They switch places, never letting go of each other’s hands, until John guides Sherlock’s hands upwards, devouring the striking view of his body stretched out.
Sherlock looks like Jesus on the cross. Arms spread, hands high up, white-knuckled from holding on to the headrest. Shoulders lower, head fallen to the side, neck exposed. Only Sherlock’s legs go on forever, thighs spread wide. John opens up the towel, letting Sherlock’s erection spring free.
For all his fumbling with men in the dark, and that one drunk blowjob he can’t quite remember, he’s never had a proper real life close up of another man’s erection, never been able to see, observe. It’s beautiful and incredibly hot, as is everything about Sherlock.
John lets his hands slide up, up from hairy, strong calves, over the lean muscled thighs, to the hairless silky vulnerable insides, all the way to Sherlock’s groin. Then all the way back, using his fingernails. Sherlock keens and his erection bobs.
The pubic hair resembles dark moss covered in dew, small and tightly coiled. John can slowly rake his fingers through it and relishes when Sherlock trembles, the mix of sweat and condensation covering his body gleaming in the low light. John cups Sherlock’s balls and leans in, licking up his neck.
“You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met,” he says softly, breathing into his ear. “Please, let me have you.”
He drags the tip of his nose down along Sherlock’s sweat-slicked neck. He wants to make him shiver, but that should be impossible in this heat.
“Please let me-”
He bites down into Sherlock’s trapezius muscle and pulls lightly on his balls. Sherlock gasps and bucks. John uses the thumb of his other hand to tease a nipple. He licks softly over the bitten flesh, the other hand playing gently with Sherlock’s balls. He bites and pulls again and Sherlock moans. He licks and teases. He repeats the bite, sucking hard. Sherlock’s voice rumbles deep.
It’s intoxicating, being allowed to play him like this, tease out reactions, see him crumble. He wants to see him fall apart. He licks, soothes and mischievously twists the nipple, making Sherlock cry out and tense up, only to slacken and slump, arse slipping down to the edge of the seat.
John kisses him, plunging his tongue deep, while caressing the inside of Sherlock’s thighs, making him tremble.
“Budge up a bit, will you.”
He releases the towel from under Sherlock’s bum. Folds it and prompts Sherlock to let it back in under his tailbone. He pulls at his hips and Sherlock moves sluggishly but manages to balance better. John continues caressing his thighs, working down to his calves. Then he grips his ankles, pushing up against the edge of the seat. Sherlock’s head lolls to the other side, watching him as John puts Sherlock’s heels on the edge, legs folded, crotch exposed. John strokes his sticky cheek, slips in a thumb between plush lips and Sherlock sucks it, swirls his tongue, never breaking eye contact. John’s blood rushes. He switches his thumb for his index finger, then adds his middle finger, lightly pressing down into that talented tongue. He can feel Sherlock’s mouth watering.
John stands up, grips Sherlock’s jaw, tilting his head up until he looks up at John.
His hand slips in under the jaw, feeling the edges of his jawbone, massaging the soft tissue. He tugs Sherlock’s hair and licks into his open mouth. Sherlock closes his eyes and mumbles.
“Conditioner. The spa kit. All natural ingredients. And silicone. Checked it.”
“You posh, dirty git,” John smiles.
Of course Sherlock read the ingredients list with his level of fancy grooming procedures. Of course he’s always one step ahead, thinking of alternatives to lube before John even knew if he’d be allowed to kiss him again.
He gets the kit, squints at the small bottles. There. He caresses Sherlock’s opening with a lavish amount of conditioner.
This part he knows well, if only clinical and non-sexual. Loving hands, he reminds himself.
His fingertips are wrinkled after so many hours of water and moisture. There's nothing in-between them now. No nitrile gloves. No distance. He’s steady and sure but his heart beats and his ears roar when Sherlock lets him inside. He has to pause. To see, to observe Sherlock. To hear his sounds as John moves his finger inside him. It’s like a dance. John initiates, experiments, and Sherlock’s response leads the way. He slowly works Sherlock to a frenzy. He’s panting, head lolling from side to side, eyes unseeing. John needs to kiss him. So he does, and puts his hand on Sherlock’s cock. It doesn’t take long from there. He works Sherlock from the inside and outside, rubbing his own already half hard cock against him.
“Look at me, Sherlock. I want to- I want to see you.”
Sherlock opens his eyes. His face contorts and his body tenses up. When he cries out, John swallows that sound, plunges his tongue deep inside, feeling his finger being clenched in pulses and the soft wash of sperm covering his hand. They’re still, panting into each others mouths. John doesn’t dare to move.
The beauty, the fragility of it all. It’s all too much. He shudders, blinks back tears. Sherlock takes his hands, guides him out.
“Sit with me.” Sherlock kisses his every fingertip. “Come here.”
And John is back in that inexplicable embrace.
He had never imagined Sherlock being so- passionate, decadent. He had imagined things he’d like to do to him. He’s overwhelmed by Sherlock being so receptive, both pliant and indulgent. It felt as if they were doing everything together. That’s supposedly what sex is about, but this is a new experience to John. It seems there’s still things to learn after almost 25 years of sexual activity.
They shower. John finds a hose and cleans off the bench. Sherlock unblocks the door.
They put on their bathrobes again and head back to the relaxation room. Sherlock staggers and sniggers. He looks feverish.
“I’m high,” he smiles. “Pheromones, endorphin, oxytocin. It’s simple chemistry, but a great, natural cocktail.”
John takes his hand, heart swelling.
“Oh, the Doctor approves,” Sherlock raises a brow, a mischievous smile on his face. “I might get addicted.”
“Shut up,” John grins. “You’ve clearly overdosed.”
They’ve always shared an inappropriate sense of humour.
“You were foggy even right after the massage.”
Sherlock sniggers again, threading their fingers together. “You mean you were. Snoring at the barbers’.”
They’re alone with the palm trees again. They find fresh drinks in a stylish designer fridge, and they lay down in their chairs, gulping them down.
“When we lived together the first time, you used to masturbate when you took your candle-lit scented baths.”
It’s not a question, and that should really bother him.
“You forgot to hose off the tub after, once.”
John starts to giggle. He knows what’s coming.
“The drain hadn’t been properly cleaned for a while, so the hairs functioned as a sieve capturing-”
“Did you take a sample?” John chuckles. “Did you bring my spunk into our kitchen to examine under your microscope? Why Sherlock?” He smiles fondly. “You’re ridiculous.”
“You know why.”
He does. Sherlock has always had an odd way of obsessing about things he’s interested in. John hadn’t understood he’d been the object of such obsessions, hadn’t thought this thing between them went back so far. Not for Sherlock. For a brief time he had believed it. Until Sherlock faked his death.
He swallows. There’s the familiar ache of regret.
He’d been so careful.
He had draped his towel over his shoulders, whenever it wasn’t wrapped around his hips. Had let John lead the way, purposely falling behind to make sure that he always had his front towards John. Discreetly turned his body if he had John at the wrong angle. He’d hurried ahead of John to have a quiet word with the massage therapists, giving them a discreet heads up on the state of the skin on his back.
He hadn’t wanted to distract John from whatever this day was about.
But then, at the end of the day, when he comes back from the shower, John manages to sneak up on him when he’s about to go into his changing cubicle, wanting to steal a kiss. And Sherlock is distracted enough by John nipping down along his neck that he lets him push the towel on his shoulder out of the way.
It’s only when John stops kissing his way down towards his shoulders that Sherlock realises, too late, what he now has an unobstructed view of.
"John-" he begins, automatically, to apologise. He is distantly aware of his towel brushing against his leg as it’s unceremoniously dumped onto the wet tiles.
"Oh, my god." Strong, blunt fingers trace the line of what Sherlock knows is still the most livid, prominent welt of scar tissue on his back; but feather-light, so delicately that it almost tickles.
"How did I miss this?" John interrupts, but without anger or blame evident in his voice. Not directed towards Sherlock, at any rate. "We've spent half a day together, semi-naked, in bright light - how the fuck have I been so oblivious as to not see this?"
“You didn’t miss it, John. This is not a case of ‘you see, but do not observe’. Yes, I was undressed. Hiding in plain sight. I deliberately never turned my back to you. I didn't want you to see it, I didn’t want to distract you. You clearly had thing you needed to say.”
Of course John doesn’t appreciate his efforts. There is an argument.
Then Sherlock is forced to say what he doesn’t want to say, because he knows how it will affect John and his continued struggle with guilt.
"When I was 'dead', I spent some time in Serbia," he begins, and tells John succinctly but straightforwardly what had happened there, and how the thoughts of returning to John had kept him sane during his captivity.
"It is what it is," he finishes. The words he’d used to say to himself so often, since John had been engaged to Mary and drifted further and further away from him.
John starts crying then. Sherlock gets a stubborn lump in his throat when he sees the tears in John’s eyes, his own starting to fill in sympathy.
“Don’t keep things from me, Sherlock. Promise me you won’t keep things from me again. Not important things, like this.”
He doesn’t want to keep things from John. But they are both clearly lacking in communication skills, and he’s never wanted to burden John with topics that seems fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things. After all, he’d lived, and come back to London. It had been a bump in the road, unfortunate and utterly unpleasant, but he had lived through it. He’d suffered worse when John had turned his back on him with that letter of misguided excuses. But he can’t make himself say that to John. Maybe some time in the future, he will be able to find the words to communicate his feelings in a way that John can understand. When it won’t hurt him as much.
John is adamant Sherlock’s fibbing should never be repeated.
"I will never keep anything important from you, ever again, if I can possibly help it," Sherlock declares. John looks about to protest, so he barrels on, "I can't promise I'll always get it right and know what's important. But I swear, I will do my best to be completely, utterly, eternally transparent with you."
John nods. "I guess that's fair enough. And Sherlock, you're going to know everything I know." Sherlock begins to scoff and roll his eyes. "Yeah, get ready for a load of boring, banal observations. But everything that matters will be in there too. I'm sharing it all with you."
"Yes, fair enough," Sherlock accepts, the corners of his mouth tugging up into an unstoppable smile.
Unstoppable, even with John's mouth on it, half a moment later.
Mycroft calls as soon as they exit the building. John can only hear Sherlock's side of the very short conversation, but it seems to be enough to throw him into a barely suppressed fit of giggles.
”Yes, of course you know where I’ve been and with whom. We’ve just defiled the steam room. Doctors have very steady hands, you know, and John's fingers- oh. He's hung up.”
John snorts, red-faced.
Sherlock will gladly let Mycroft believe this was his debut. He’s always been careful and discreet, and luckily managed to keep Mycroft out of things like this. He’s overplayed his innocence and ignorance in these matters, to be able to keep a semblance of privacy. He would very much like to keep it that way, and the best way of putting Mycroft off is throwing unnecessary details in his face.
Rosie climbs before she walks.
Sherlock has had his share of losses. He spent an uneventful morning home alone with her. He went to the loo for two minutes and when he returned, he was met by his bat taxidermy box in pieces on the floor. He’d anticipated something like this would eventually happen, and to prevent any damage he’d moved the box from the mantel to one of the bookcases, just a little higher and safely out of reach.
In just two minutes, she’d managed to climb the bookcase, and his bats had met their destiny. He can only assume that she has an accomplished sense of balance, seeing that she hadn’t fallen and injured herself in the process. Something to possibly study in the months ahead.
They need to put the kitchen chairs on top of the table and let the remaining chairs lie down on the floor all across the flat.
Any chair forgotten in an upright position is pushed around by Rosie, to be used as a ladder to higher levels.
"You're living proof that we evolved from monkeys," John says, exasperated, carefully extracting her from a bookcase. At eye level.
"Common ancestor, John," Sherlock corrects him. "It won't do her education any good if you lie to her about how evolution works from the start." Eventually he concedes that that wasn't the point, and removes some of the makeshift hand- and footholds that enabled Rosie to get up there.
From having been content to sit under furniture, or in empty moving boxes, she’s now climbing everywhere - a bit like Sherlock - always sitting on top of the living room table.
The baby monitor has come back into use again, since John’s moved most of his things upstairs, preferring to spend the night with Sherlock, rather than sharing a room with Rosie.
He still occasionally falls asleep on his old bed while putting Rosie to sleep, only to be gently woken by Sherlock when he’s about to go to bed in the early morning hours.
The last tomatoes of the season still hang on to the stems, mottled green.
”It’s not going to be frosty for a while yet,” says Harry. ”I’ll let them be a while longer.”
They go to the cemetery just before the early sunset. They wind their way towards the plots in the back until they find the plain grey stone. It’s simple and square, no flowers or candles. A sad testament to the life of those resting beneath it.
John puts his hand on top of the rough hewn stone.
Jean Watson 1949-1999
”I’m sorry for not being understanding. I’m sorry I didn’t have the sense to appreciate all you did for us.”
Hamish Watson 1942-2003
”Sorry for not having the guts to beat you to a bloody pulp and throw you out.”
Harry snorts. ”Go on, John, out with it. Perfect anger management, really.”
They walk a few rows over, past a sweeping oak tree.
There it is. A weathered stone in rose coloured granite, with a matted white dove on top.
Dorothy Cullen 1934 - 1986
Under, in newer fresh gold:
Catherine Leekey 1944 - 2015
John is puzzled. They couldn’t have married in Dorothy's lifetime. ”Is that allowed?”
”Fuck allowed. Catherine chose this stone for them both. And look-”
She points to the words between Dorothy and Catherine's names - dearest companion to - and snorts.
"-just ambiguous enough to satisfy any disapproving busybodies."
Harry sets a lantern down, lights it. John puts his hand beside the dove, bites his lips. Reaches for Harry’s hand. She puts her other hand on the stone, too, as John addresses their aunt.
”I’m sorry for being a coward. I’m sorry for never telling you how much you meant to me. And sorry for not - for not seeing.”
He turns to Harry. ”Sorry for not being by your side.”
She shrugs. ”It is what it is.”
”No more remorse, John.”
”Yeah.” His voice is barely a whisper.
Harry tugs his hand. “Come here.”
They hug. He holds her tight, caressing the back of her head. Looks to the darkening sky. Closes his stinging eyes and breathes in the cold air, deeply.
”Yeah. No more remorse.”
Next time he visits he brings Rosie, to Harry’s delight.
The frost is near, so Rosie helps picking the remaining tomatoes, bring them inside and put them on the windowsill to slowly ripen during sunny hours.
At the beginning of November, Rosie empties the kitchen of all its boxes and bowls with a determined energy. She then proceeds to throw them down the stairs, one by one, watching in fascination how all of them tumble and bounce differently. She laughs uproariously when each item lands at the bottom. Sherlock, of course, chooses to let it all play out while he documents her deeds for posterity on his phone, smirking as he recalls it’s Guy Fawkes Day and silently applauds her destruction in honor of civil disobedience.
“It’s a pity that there’s no documentation of all the times I’ve cleaned up after her,” John says grudgingly. “It would have been fun, and ammunition to use in case she ever becomes a sulky teenager avoiding her chores.”
"When," Sherlock says firmly, with a little uptilt in the corner of his lips. "Your optimism is charming, John, but it's 'when', not 'in case'."
A week later, when Rosie paints the warm kitchen radiator with crayons that melt, Sherlock preens and considers it her first experiment. He documents, on her behalf, the way that the red and the blue crayon mix together to make a disappointing grey, rather than a vibrant purple.
Mrs Hudson isn’t happy.
“Oh look at you two,” she complains. “How will I ever get rid of those stains?”
Sherlock realises he’s become protective of Rosie. When Mrs Hudson, with the best of intentions, shows him a video on YouTube with an inane self-assigned child expert presenting his theories as facts, Sherlock snaps.
“That's outdated, and discredited! It’s not science based. Show me something based on modern studies. Is he a paediatrician? Is he an accredited child psychologist? No! Why does this so-called 'expert' even open his mouth when he can’t even refer to his sources properly? The curse of the internet, and Youtube in particular, is that all kinds of people who are challenged in the intelligence department, find it their mission to spread their wisdom.”
”Oh, Sherlock,” Mrs Hudson chastises. “Really. I may not have cared for any children, but you don’t have to be condescending. I was only trying to help.”
“Make some tea then, that would be helpful.”
“Not your housekeeper!”
John invites Harry to Baker Street for Christmas. It’s very informal. Only the usual fairy lights and some tinsel. Sherlock had actually wanted to get a tree, for once, and hadn't hidden his disappointment when John vetoed the idea as far too hazardous with a small, bright, inquisitive person apparently bent on self-destruction in the flat.
Harry brings a small gift - a jar of homemade green tomato chutney.
Of course, Sherlock and Harry immediately get on like a house on fire. John should have known.
He manages to get Harry to himself for a bit, when he follows her out for her second smoke. He could tell from Sherlock’s smell that he’d been scrounging on her batch, when they returned from the first.
“You’re terribly reserved for being two lovebirds.”
John snorts. “As long as you are here and Rosie’s awake, yes.”
“Having a good time then?” she smiles wickedly.
“Well yes.” He’s not going to talk about his sex life with his sister. The memory of when she drunkenly set out to provoke him in their early twenties, by giving him unasked for advice on cunnilingus, is more than enough. Though he realises he might have spared himself a few breakups if he’d cared to listen to her then. “Girlfriend?” he tries to divert.
“No. I’m fine.”
“But you’ve been dating, a lot?”
“When I’ve been on and off with Clara, yes. And some after. But at this point in life I’m quite content with living on my own.”
“Oh. Well, that sounds reasonable.” He’s talking shit and he knows it. Doesn’t quite know how to move the conversation forward. It’s surreal, having Harry at Baker Street.
“Don’t worry,” Harry says lightly. “I won’t end up like Catherine.” When John give her a questioning look, she rolls her eyes. “ You know - the old lesbian living alone forever after the love of her life died scenario. I’m not saying she didn’t live a good and rich life after Dorothy passed. I’m just saying it’s not for me. It did feel as though it was the end for a while, after Clara. We were so young when we got together, it was hard to imagine life without her.”
John can’t wrap his head around that. The longest relationship he’s been able to maintain was with Mary. But that had been broken up by a long estrangement, when he had to step away, and then once more when it was Mary who left. Even though his current state of relationship with Sherlock is very new, he’s the person John’s known longest, besides old mates and of course his sister. Sherlock is also the person he’s loved longest.
Harry snubs out her cigarette against the iron railing.
“I like women too much to stay away for long. I just think it’s good with some peace of mind. Really settling into this new sober life. Besides, I’ve got friends. Lots. I’m not isolating myself, though I understand it may look like it since I’m always by myself when you visit.”
“Harry, I’m not judging you. Not at all. What you have managed to do is- it’s just extraordinary. To be able to take on that fight, again and again. I don’t know if I could have done it. I admire you.”
“John.” He can see that Harry’s getting restless in the face of all this praise directed at her. “You’re getting sappy. Are you sure you haven’t been down to your landlady, tasting that eggnog?”
“Not a drop, truly. I’m trying to be supportive, you know.”
“And I’m trying not to be a quitter,” she says with a wink. “No seriously, let’s talk about my job instead. I love my job. It gives me balance. I’ve got goals and ambitions, now. I’ve got time and energy for that, now that I’ve got less struggle. I’m actually hanging out with some of my workmates, outside work. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, and yes there’s this hot girl on my mind. We’ll see.” She taps his shoulder. “You should come to a class, might help channel any latent aggression.”
“I’ll think about it,” John chuckles. He loves chatty Harry. And now he can see her insecurities too, when he isn’t too wrapped up in his own.
When they return upstairs, Sherlock has brought out his violin, but instead of carols he puts on a song on the speakers, playing along to an old heavy metal song.
Harry is enthused. She even starts headbanging with her now shoulder length hair.
Rosie is perplexed at first. But after a while, she starts bobbing her head to the rhythm, imitating Harry’s movements.
John’s heart is warm.
It’s Rosie’s first birthday.
Greg, Molly, Mrs Hudson, Stella and Ted gather in their living room for tea and cake. Mycroft is actually invited, to Sherlock’s irritation, but he never shows up, though there is a conspicuous, neatly wrapped package by the fireplace. John will have to write a thank you note to Mycroft later, when Sherlock isn’t in the flat.
Harry is busy completing her PT training, but has sent an envelope addressed to John.
Sherlock’s ordered a lush chocolate cake. He seems to be convinced that he’ll be able to cultivate Rosie’s taste by starting early.
Rosie is unperturbed by the attention. She promptly starts ripping wrapping paper, more interested in the delightful texture and the sound of ripping than her gifts.
Sherlock gives her a magnifying glass.
John gives her a name. The name he’d always wanted her to have, but didn’t have the strength to argue for.
Rosamund Mary Catherine.
Mycroft has gifted Rosie with a toy piano, though it’s quite fancy for just a toddler. Sherlock snorts when he sees it. “I used to tease Mycroft about his piano lessons. He absolutely hated them.”
“I guess it’s payback time,” says John as Rosie begins to bang on it, squealing when discordant sounds fill the air.
They forget to open the envelope from Harry until all their guests have left and Rosie is having a well-deserved nap.
John opens it under the fluorescent light by the kitchen table.
It contains a birthday card and some very small things rattling about in the folds of the envelope.
John is so very touched when he realises what it is. He needs to rest his head in his hands and breathe, breathe. Sherlock comes to him and embraces him from behind.
John shakes the envelope. ”It’s seeds. Tomato seeds.”
The small seedlings in Catherine’s window, planted by her right before she had the fatal stroke, cared for by Harry and John, had produced tomatoes, and Harry took care of their seeds, for Rosie.
John bites his knuckles, still trying to keep things in, although he’s safe in Sherlock’s arms.
It’s strange how some things can grow from just a little. Harry has told him how other plants popped up near the compost, from seeds she didn't even know were there, in conditions that she would have thought too harsh to allow it, taking nourishment from discarded and rotten leftovers. How those tomato plants grew relentlessly from just a little soil and sun. Just as he and Harry grew at Catherine’s, the haven of their childhood, only offering a place free of judgement. As John grew after meeting Sherlock, weird in his own way, getting off on the macabre and dangerous. As Rosie, unwished for, an inconvenience, still has grown rapidly, capturing his heart.
A confused, newly awakened bumblebee is aimlessly bumbling about. It’s an early spring day. Sherlock is walking in the park, alone. That’s a rare occurrence, these days. Since he currently doesn’t have Rosie to focus on, all the impressions flood his mind.
There are dogs on leashes barking, a low hum of polite conversation from all the previously hibernating people, suddenly out and about. The sound of a bouncing football, making eyebrows raise and frown, disturbing the relative calm. The athletic all-year-round runners now have to share the space with the suddenly health aspiring comfort joggers. There are birds enthusiastically chirping from the thicket. So much noise in comparison to just the other week. Ducks are making indignant noises from being chased by toddlers on the loose.
Rosie has made a large contribution to duck chasing. Otherwise, she’s turned out to be a very considerate little person. She wants to help others with everything; cutting up food, blowing on hot food, blowing where it hurts, putting on shoes, giving verbal encouragement for unqualified everyday tasks.
She’s of course also full of mischief. She’s always had good fine motor skills, but John and Sherlock were still taken by surprise by her first, very quiet and very successful, attempt to use scissors. Sherlock’s shirts luckily made it through. The living room net curtains were not as lucky, nor were her pajamas.
Groups of tourists with guides are popping up as the green returns. The occasional junkie walks too fast through the park, making weird noises.
Between the adrenaline of cases, and the hormonal cocktail John provides him through pain and pleasure, Sherlock is still an addict. But this is manageable, this is a sustainable habit almost without side effects.
There are birds happily picking through the slowly budding strands of grass, where just thawed maggots unknowingly offer themselves up for lunch. Other birds are chirping and screeching and making inappropriate advances on each other in the warming spring sun.
Sherlock would very much like to devour John in public. John’s inventive streak in the bedroom aside, he’s still a very private man. They’ll probably need to work up to it. He could start by snogging John under the weeping willow by the lake. There’s not many days left until the green leaves will explode and cover the bare black branches of the old majestic tree. Squirrels, still unconcealed by foliage, run hurriedly about the tree trunk.
He sits down under the bare hanging branches, leans his back against the tree. He brings out his headphones and turns his face to the sun. He needs a moment to find the energy to return home to the life with a toddler.
He was positively surprised by the effect Rosie had on him, when John first moved back in. It was calming, having a nap on the sofa with her, kissing her downy hair, inhaling her baby scent. The weight and warmth of her small body resting on his chest was even more calming. It made him able to relax, to zone out without necessarily turning to his mind palace.
Now that she walks freely, she’s also become an intruder. A small person who squeezes herself in between everything. Always in the way. Always present. Always interrupting. Always demanding attention. Always in his face.
While he loves Rosie with all his heart, he still wants John to himself. Not always, but regularly.
John and Rosie’s constant presence leaves him nearly exhausted at some point every day. John readily accepts him fleeing upstairs to their bedroom, or locking himself up in the small lab, when everything becomes too overwhelming. Or, like today, leaving the flat for a couple of hours to recalibrate. He does the same for John, when Rosie drives him to his wits’ end.
After bad days, John will provide him with bodily sensations, a piercing focus eliciting a rush of hormones that makes one tension fall away after another until he’s languid, like a piece of clay, held and manipulated by John.
Sherlock does not regret the sacrifices that brought them to this point. With time, Rosie might even become less of a tornado and more of a steady, thoughtful person, like her father.
He will manage, today and forward, but he’s still counting the hours until bedtime.
He breathes deeply and presses play. Time to recalibrate.
Rosie’s starting to get a real mop of hair.
It’s not very long yet, messy and uneven in the back, where it’s rubbed off every night when she turns her head in her sleep. John is not a fan of starting the day by chasing a half-naked toddler across the flat. So he sneakily changes Rosie’s nappy while she’s only half awake and brings her right from the bed into her highchair in the kitchen. Sherlock sips his coffee, squinting at her appearance.
“What have you done to you hair, Watson? You look like you’ve spent the night with your hand on an electrostatic generator.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk. You look like a mad professor.”
“Well thank you, John.” Sherlock smirks.
“You’re welcome,” says John, very aware of how that hairstyle came to be. “You’re gonna sport this new look in the park later?”
“No!” Sherlock glares at him.
“Alright, posh boy,” John says and kisses him on the mouth, grabbing the wild curls one last time before Sherlock flounces his dressing gown, heading for the bathroom to get presentable.
Rosie’s fringe has started falling into her eyes, so after breakfast, while she still sits firmly in her highchair, John plaits the long strands on the top of her head into french braids, as he did Harry’s when they were kids. Some things the body can’t forget, even if it was many years ago. Braiding and knotting macrame - he’s still got it in his hands.
Sherlock watches his fiddly work with a peculiar expression.
”Nothing. Deft hands.”
When her hair is done they leave for the park.
Rosie is always a step ahead of them despite her short legs, when she’s not lingering at something interesting, trailing behind.
"Tiitii-tiitiii-tiitii-tiitii!" She gives up an ear-splitting screech, pointing.
“Yes Watson, it's a bird,” says Sherlock. She has already set her eyes on something different, equally interesting. She rushes ahead again.
“Rosie, wait!” John calls after her.
“Let her walk, let her stray,” says Sherlock.
“My parents let me stray and it didn’t do me any good.” John can’t help being grumpy.
“Did you wish to come back to them? Did they provide you with comfort and encouragement?”
John snorts. “Not likely, no.”
“Well then, there’s the difference.”
John huffs. Why is Sherlock always right? It’s annoying to say the least. But Sherlock is the one to daily take Rosie to the park. She loves to see what new flowers have grown, and Sherlock loves to do it with her.
Rosie doubles back, takes Sherlock’s hand, pulls on it eagerly, stops and turns herself and their arms into a twist as she looks back at John. She reaches out her hand, repeatedly opening and closing her fist - the cutesy silly toddler version of waving. “Bye bye,” she says.
John waves back at her, and then she’s off, toddling along with determined steps, towing Sherlock behind her while cooing like a train whistle. John sits down on a bench in the shade.
Rosie is wielding the magnifying glass Sherlock gave her on her birthday, and he crouches down beside her to show her how to use it properly. They are both clearly in their element when they’re out cataloguing plants and insects.
John has been thinking about having a garden of his own. Thinking of endless afternoons with Harry at Catherine’s.
He had invited Harry to plant the tomato seeds with Rosie. John and Rosie had spent weeks observing them through the condensation of the bottle ends, looking for signs of development each day.
With Mrs Hudson’s blessings and delight they had fixed big pots and raised beds in the back just outside her patio door.
Yesterday, after long weeks of waiting, the seeds had completed their transformation into proper seedlings, ready to be potted outside.
“Well,” John had said. “I wouldn’t have guessed we’d ever be trendy, but I’ve actually read that small scale city farming is the next new thing. You know, to keep the doomsday at bay, climate change and all that.”
Sherlock had stared at him as if he’d said something unusually stupid. “John, it’s not just climate change. It’s food deprivation! Do you have any idea of the key role of bees in pollination for food production?”
He’d given a long lecture, ending with him having his mind set on putting at least one bee hive on the flat roof of the extension, above Rosie’s room. John was pretty sure Sherlock would spend all night researching bees.
The three of them had spent all morning at the back of the house. John had sent pictures to Harry. She’d returned them with a blurry picture of her bare ankles, intertwined with another couple of tan, decidedly female ones. He could almost make out the African lilies in the background. He’d felt an unexpected pang of compassion and nostalgia. It seems he’s turning more maudlin day by day.
Sherlock comes stalking towards John. Rosie is preoccupied with some small things she’s found on the ground. It seems she’s beyond the stage of putting anything she finds in her mouth. Sherlock hasn’t hindered her as often as John would have liked, but maybe it has paid off, since she seems to have learnt quickly what tastes good or bad.
“We have the Acer pseudoplatanus!” Sherlock smiles brightly and sits down on the bench beside John.
“The sycamore tree behind Mrs Turner’s. The one with the snot green hanging flower heads. The one that spreads an annoying stickiness over everything in the back. It creates copious amounts of pollen for the bees!”
John is familiar with that stickiness; it’s especially off-putting when he’s about to dump the nappy bin bag and he opens the bin lid. “Oh, I’d always wondered what the bin-man did to the bins to get them that sticky.”
“Don’t blame the rubbish collectors. It’s the aphids who absorb sap proteins from the leaves and produce honeydew dripping down. Sometimes it ferments by natural yeast on the leaves, but bees collect it anyway and then they end up drunk.” Sherlock actually sniggers. That’s a rare sight.
“Are you really considering keeping bees in a residential area? Is it even allowed?”
“Who knows.” Sherlock shrugs. “Won’t stop me from putting them there.”
“No, I’m sure it won’t. Why bother with permissions. But, please, can you just check that Mrs Turner’s tenants aren't allergic. Wouldn’t be good to see one of them in anaphylactic shock with no Epi pen available. I bet you can do some sneaky detective work to figure that out.”
“I won’t sneak. I’ll ask them.”
John raises his brows.
“I’ll actually wait one year.”
“I need time to do research. I’m not an apiarist. Yet.”
“And besides, I’ll probably need to do Janine a favour or two.”
John feels the old, unfounded jealousy return. He tries to tamp it down. But the whole thing with Janine makes his skin crawl.
“I never slept with her.“
“Sherlock,” John sighs, feeling guilty again. “You don’t have to-”
Sherlock shrugs. “Could have been interesting, since I lack the experience with women, but there’s only so far you can go.”
“It’s really none of my business.”
“I know. I’m just teasing.” Sherlock smiles, eyes glittering. “It was quite entertaining at the time, seeing your jealousy on full display. But if I’d gone any further with her, I definitely wouldn’t have a chance acquiring her beehives.”
“Yep. She’s got at least two of them down in Sussex. Also, we’ll need time for building work. There needs to be some duckboard or similar to safely get around on the roof.”
John is incredulous. “Safely?”
“Yes, safely,” Sherlock says firmly, sincerely. “Besides, if I employ this former carpenter from the homeless network to fix the roof, there’s a lot more work he could do. We need to see to other safety measures.”
John doesn’t follow. They’ve had safety gates in place since Rosie started crawling. “What safety measures?”
“To secure our blossoming sex life.”
John feels his cheeks heat. Blossoming could be a word for it. Depraved would also fit. His blood rushes just from thinking about it. Luckily nowadays, he’s got a bit more stamina than during their first encounters. The mere satisfaction of giving pleasure to Sherlock used to tip him over the edge embarrassingly fast. He’s since learnt to pleasure him in so many ways. Sometimes reluctant to meet Sherlock’s very specific demands, but always ending up getting off on it anyway. There’s always ongoing negotiations, as Sherlock pushes boundaries and John struggles with his ingrained fear of being deviant. They’re still learning, and learning is progress.
“Okay, what are you thinking?”
“Well, firstly we should tear down the wall to the storage room, to make us a bigger, more suitable bedroom."
“I think Mrs Hudson prefer us having a whole floor in-between. She wouldn’t like it if we switched rooms with Rosie.”
“You’re getting rid of the lab?”
“Of course not. I was thinking we should do something about the damp in 221C. There’s room enough down there for both a proper laboratory and a honey extractor."
“Please keep them sufficiently separated.”
“Obviously. Though there’s no certainty city bees will produce that much - too wide an area with no reliable foliage or plant life - but they’re quite resilient, and we have the park nearby, so it will be interesting to see what they produce. Sycamore honey is said to be dark and strong-flavoured. I hope to at least get a taste of it.”
“I’d rather taste you,” says John, reaching for Sherlock’s face, bringing them together in a deep kiss. He’s used to this now. A bit of public snogging. It’s their favourite pastime in Regent’s Park.
Sherlock is, as always, a provocateur. He bites John’s lip. John pulls Sherlock’s hair, discreetly tilting his head to expose his throat. Sherlock lets out a low moan, eyelashes fluttering.
Having Rosie in their lives has forced them to become better at communication. For practical reasons, and to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
However, old habits are hard to break. It’s not like they throw love declarations around every day. But this - experimental tugs of locks, answering gasps, breathing into each other’s mouths - it requires a high level of non-verbal communication. This is part of their language now. Their love declaration.
“Dada-dada-dada!” Rosie is returning at full speed. John grunts and brings their foreheads together, pecks Sherlock’s lips and puts his jacket over his crotch, just before Rosie throws herself into his lap, narrowly missing his sensitive bits. Sherlock sees his discomfort.
“Come, Watson! Let’s find something to build us a bee hotel,” he prompts, winking at John and standing up in a flurry. Sherlock’s still wearing his coat. It should be too hot in this weather, but John can’t deny it’s very practical in these situations.
“Yes. It’s a settlement for Osmia bicornis, or the red mason bee. They are solitary bees; every female is fertile and makes her own nest, so there’s no hive, and no worker bees for these species exist. We’ll start out with that until we get proper beehives. You see, insects are essential to seed production, and we need all the pollinators we can get to keep up the food supply.”
“Eat?” Rosie giggles. She has no idea what most of what Sherlock says means, but she's delighted to be told anyway. It's infectious. John realises his cheeks are getting sore before he realises he's smiling.
“Yes, we’ll eat soon. First, we’ll look for dry bark on the ground. Let’s go!”
They wander off, scanning the ground. One tall, one small, both having made themselves a home in John’s heart. He knows this, and sometimes he says it out loud.
He’s still trying to follow Ella’s advice on learning more about himself. To let himself talk, to ramble, to say out loud what he already knows.
He’s getting better at it. He’s also getting better at listening to himself.
John mostly doesn’t see the scar on Sherlock’s eyebrow. It’s faded to a thin, almost pearly white, line. He’s kissed it plenty of times, when he occasionally falls back into despair and doubt.
He’s lost so much the past years. But he’s got his very lively, annoying and lovable sister back.
There are tomatoes growing in the backyard, reverently tended to by John and Rosamund Catherine.
Next year, there will be bees on their roof, helping save the planet and keeping Sherlock distracted from boredom between cases. John can already taste the honey.
At times John’s life still has a little bittersweet taste, but it’s also incredibly full.
The music Sherlock listens to as he’s recalibrating in Regent’s Park could be Philip Glass’ album Koyaanisqatsi
and in particular Pruit Igoe
I also imagine he would be a fan of Wendy Carlos, and I can picture him listening to Switched-On Bach, which sadly seems to be impossible to find on the internet.
Writing this story was a crazy process.
I had no idea what I was getting into. The characters took on a life of their own and they were terribly chatty, taking up space in my brain at the most inconvenient times. The story grew to a format not really compatible with the time frame of this exchange.
I couldn't have come this far without the immeasurable help of my two wonderful betas Scribblesandscreeds and Darkrivertempest, who caught my non-native speaker mistakes, read my mind and provided better words, asked just the right questions, helped me detangle difficult scenes, gave me suggestions that provoked and inspired creativity when I was stuck, and who showed a deep understanding of the characters.
After setting for the John redemption angle of the story I was inspired by the roundtable discussion on Three Patch Podcast, Episode 92A: Sherlock and Morality–Extended Cut
as well as Wellingtongoose’s excellent metas The Semantics of Healthcare - about John’s medical and military background, Explaining John Watson’s Medical Discharge and Exploring John Watson’s Childhood