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A Study In Auto-Signatures, Sniper Dolphins, and Sex Holidays

Chapter Text

Sherlock can't help it.

John and Mary have left for their ridiculous sex holiday, and Sherlock can't help himself. He knows that he's not supposed to do this, the way that a child knows not to touch the hot stovetop, and he knows that, like a child, he's going to do it anyway.

He flops over on the couch to face the quiet room and thinks that maybe, if his phone isn't within reach, he won't pick it up and do this, but there it is, a mere two feet away. He picks it up and strokes his fingers down the narrow, metal edge, over the smooth glass front, and lets his index finger rest in the hollow of the home button. Technology. How ironic, he thinks, that something so cold and precise can be the portal of so much sentiment.

Nothing left to lose, he thinks. His fingers fly over the touch-screen letters, the little clicking sound a pleasant staccato in his ears, then he hits the send button, listening to the swoosh of his words flying through space and time to John's phone several thousand miles away.

How's the sex holiday? SH

Sherlock considers what might happen next. John almost always has his phone on or near him. But will he respond to anything less than an absolute emergency while on his sex holiday? And what would constitute such an emergency? John is an idiot, so for him an emergency could be anything as mundane as Mrs. Hudson losing her keys to his idiot sister falling off the wagon again. It probably would not include Sherlock lying on the couch in his blue dressing gown and striped pajama bottoms thinking longingly about John.

I've only been gone 24 hrs. Go find something to do. Call Lestrade.

What are you doing? SH

Eating breakfast.

Boring. SH

Some of us eat on a regular basis, Sherlock. What are you doing?

Hmm. Best not to admit that he's lying on the couch doing nothing.

Setting things on fire. SH

Excellent. Have fun. Gotta go. Snorkeling lesson.

All things considered, that went far better than he had expected. He considers telling John to give Mary his best, and then thinks better of it. She already has his best. She has John.

Mrs Hudson appears with a plate of freshly baked blueberry scones and a hot cup of tea, muttering about the mess in the kitchen and something about pining, and Sherlock eventually gets up and pulls on some clothes so that he doesn't have to listen to her rabbiting nonsense anymore. When he re-emerges from his bedroom she's gone, but she's left the scones, so he nibbles at one for a moment before tossing it back down on the plate and pulling on his security blanket. The Belstaff – at least he still has that.

 

* * * * *

 

The plan was to storm into Gavin's office and demand a locked room murder case, because this insufferable boredom can not be tolerated for one more second, and John, stupid John, was on his sex holiday, snorkeling, whatever the hell that was. Before visiting Gavin, though, he reaches into his pocket, retrieves his phone, and fires off another text.

Snorkeling is stupid. SH

He flags a cab and sulks despondently for the duration of the thirteen minute journey, annoyed that no matter how hard he stares at his phone, John doesn't respond.

Gavin is shouting at him – something about a man named Greg, whoever that is – but Sherlock isn't really listening. The office seems different – too big, too empty, and completely lacking in its usual buzz and energy. John. The office seems too big without his genius-conducting flatmate by his side. Snorkeling, indeed.

Gavin insists that he doesn't have a locked room murder, or a serial killer, or a double homicide masquerading as suicide. He doesn't have a forged art scandal, a counterfeit ring, a drug cartel, or a Chinese gangster. He doesn't even have a goddamn shoplifter. Lestrade is useless. God, he is so overwhelmingly, horrifyingly, unacceptably bored.

He spends another fifteen minutes reducing Anderson to a quivering mess of fraying nerves, insulting Donovan's scabby knees, and poking around DI Dimmock's desk for anything at all of interest, before he eventually admits defeat and storms out, leaving a wave of smoldering disgust in his wake. How is he going to survive two weeks of this? It's all John's fault. No. Actually, it's Mary's fault. Mary, the thief. He flags another cab and digs in his pocket for his phone.

Come back. Emergency. SH

This time a text comes in less than two minutes.

Still bored I take it?

How was the stupid snorkeling? SH

Kind of boring, actually.

The side of Sherlock's mouth hitches up a millimeter. Good. That was good.

What's next on the sex holiday agenda? Bingo or shuffleboard? SH

You don't want to know.

Now you have to tell me. SH

Mary's signed us up for a sunset boat tour of the bay. Dolphins. Champagne. Moonbeams, etc.

Jesus Christ. SH

No, he won't be there, just the dolphins.

Sherlock laughs out loud. John. Only John could make him laugh like that. One more text, then he'll drag his bored arse back to 221B and see if Mrs. Hudson has made anything for his dinner.

I can think of much better uses of your time. SH

No doubt you could. Gotta run. Something about a lobster boil.

Sherlock walks the few miles home, feeling lighter and less doomed than he had earlier in the day. This is what life is without John. Doomed.

In the face of having nothing else to do, seeing as how everyone in his life has completely failed to entertain him, Sherlock decides to take a bath. He fills the tub as high as he's allowed – he doesn't need another lecture from Mrs. Hudson about overfilling, or flooding, or ceiling damage – and then dumps half of John's stupid shampoo in the water, too. That'd teach him to go and get married and leave his idiot shampoo behind. So what if he smells like strawberries and coconuts for the rest of his life? It's fine. At least he'll die of boredom smelling like John and his strawberry-coconut shampoo.

He's half-asleep in the chilled water when his phone pings. He reaches over the side of the tub, fingers trailing over the loopy bath mat, and locates the phone. If Graham has a case for him now he'll just tell him to sod off. He's had his chance.

Help. I'm hiding in the jacks on the boat.

Sherlock sits up so fast he empties half the tub in one giant slosh.

That bad? I warned you. SH

What are you doing?

Taking a bath. SH

Sherlock's phone is quiet for too many minutes. Has he said something wrong? He's said something wrong. The bath was wrong?

I'll let you get back to it, then.

No, it's fine. I'll save you from the boring dolphins. SH

Why do you always sign your texts? It's obviously you.

I don't sign each text. It's an auto-signature. I could change it to anything I'd like. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Yes, I agree.

No, that's my new auto-signature. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

You changed it from SH to dolphins are boring?

Yes. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Git. Mary's looking for me. Enjoy your bath.

Good night. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Sherlock crawls out of the bathtub and gives himself a cursory drying off, then flops into bed, rolls himself up tight in his sheet, and dreams about a renegade pod of dolphins eating Mary.

Sherlock has an excellent sleep. He can't remember the last time he slept so long – four whole hours. It's now three o'clock in the morning and the rest of London is busy being boring, so Sherlock drags his body, still wrapped in his sheet, to the lounge and contemplates his options. There aren't any. Even the skull seems to be sleeping. He curls up in John's chair, inhales the missing man's lingering scent, and falls asleep for another three hours. When he wakes up there's a hot cup of tea and a plate of biscuits on the table next to him. He really needs to figure out who does that.

The phone pings from the bathroom, where he left it after his bath last night. He gets up, sure that it's John begging him to rescue him from his insufferably boring dolphin holiday, steps on the bottom on the sheet, and falls flat on his face. Well, at least that's not boring, he thinks, as he half staggers, half crawls to the bathroom. The text is not from John.

How are you holding up, dear brother?

Fuck off. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Dolphins? Let me know if you get bored and would like to have dinner at the club later tonight.

As if. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Excellent. See you at six.

 

* * * * *

 

Sherlock arrives at the crime scene like a diva at the set of La Bohéme. He ruffles his hair and gestures with his loupe, takes deep inhalations of questionable things, and twirls elgantly in his Belstaff. His eyebrows are dancing on his forehead, insinuating all manner of disgust with everyone around him. These people are all idiots, those eyebrows say. Idiots. All of you.

He takes a series of images with his phone and strides over to a befuddled looking Gavin, spells out the crime details that any four-year-old with half a brain would have seen, and asks him if he has anything more interesting, for example, anything with psychotic dolphins?

“Dolph...? Nope. That's it. Sorry it wasn't up to your aquatic expectations. What do you need the photos for if you've solved it?”

“What photos?”

“I saw you take photos, Sherlock. You know you can't do that.”

“I don't know what you're talking about. Call me when you have psychotic, human-flesh-eating dolphins.” He strides away, phone in hand, texting without looking at the keys.

These may offset the boredom of your dolphin sex holiday. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

He attaches six of the crime scene photos to his next text message and sends it to John, John who is no doubt so bored on his mundane sex holiday that he is now, at this very moment, planning his great escape and return to Baker Street. How much sex can two people possibly have? Do dolphins have sex? He read somewhere that they have tons and tons of sex, and that they masturbate. He's also read that marine scientists believe that dolphins are more intelligent than humans. That wouldn't surprise him for one moment. A goldfish is probably more intelligent than the standard issue human. But if dolphins have superior intelligence and they like to have a lot of sex... Sherlock is lost in thoughts of dolphin sex when his phone pings.

Please tell me this is a crime scene and not one of your experiments.

Crime scene. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

Good, are you less bored now?

No. I solved it in ten minutes. DOLPHINS ARE BORING

That signature is getting old, Sherlock.

I'll change it. HOT DOLPHIN SEX

No. Just... no.

What's wrong? HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Change it, please. You're worrying me.

What's on the agenda for today? Macrame? Scrabble? Basket Weaving? HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Scuba diving lessons.

Didn't you do that yesterday? HOT DOLPHIN SEX

That was snorkeling. This is different.

Boring. HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Please change your signature.

I'll consider it when you stop being boring. HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Then, much to Sherlock's surprise, and something that might be considered delight, although he's not sure because he's deleted the sixteen emotions that correspond to the latin verb delectare, a photo appears on his phone. It's a photo of John, in the sun, with a floppy hat, a sunburned nose, a big grin, and a bare chest. John is bare-chested with a red nose and floppy hat. John has sent him a photo of himself with no shirt on, of his broad, muscled chest, of his oval nipples and defined pectorals and fuzzy sternum and the fine hair peeking out from under his armpits. And a red nose. And a hat.

That hat is ridiculous. HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Well, I tried.

Keep trying. HOT DOLPHIN SEX

Change your signature to something less disturbingly distracting and I'll see what I can do to entertain you.

Words swirl in front of Sherlock's eyes, words superimposed over the image of red-nosed, floppy-hatted, bare-chested John, and for a moment Sherlock is far, far away, his brain catching and sorting those words – banter, tease, taunt, jeer, joke, frolic – until he finds the right one, pulls it to the forefront, and studies it.

Flirting.

Sherlock stands suddenly, the phone dropping to the floor with a hard smack as he yells, “HUDDERS! I NEED TEA! NOW!”

 

* * * * *

 

At precisely six o'clock Sherlock heads down the stairs, opens the front door, and climbs into the open door of the waiting black limousine. He wasn't going to accept Mycroft's invitation to dinner, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and flirting is a very, very, horribly desperation-inducing word. The car pulls up to the entrance of the club in short order, and Sherlock wastes no time sweeping through the grand foyer, sailing through the whisper-quiet receiving room, and swiping the plate of hors d'oeuvres out of Mycroft's pudgy hand before pushing his phone into his brother's dismayed face.

“What on earth are you doing, Sherlock?”

“Look.”

“For heaven's sake, I can't see anything, you're too close.”

Sherlock steps back six inches, still holding the phone out at the end of his rigid arm, and wiggles it in front of Mycroft's face.

“What about it, Sherlock? It's a photograph of John on his honeymoon. Oh my, he really should be applying sunscreen on a more regular basis. At least factor 70, I should think.”

“Read this and then tell me what you think.”

Mycroft tilts his head and studies his younger brother with a questioning look. Never before in the history of their antagonistic relationship has Sherlock asked Mycroft what he thinks, not about anything. Not about his very first elementary chemical experiments, or his selected course of uni studies, or his drugs of choice, and certainly not about his flatmate, the esteemed John Watson. He blinks several times, working hard to keep a neutral mask over his hawkish features, and gingerly takes the phone from Sherlock's fingers.

It takes him all of five seconds to scan the last few texts, glance at the photo again, and press it back into Sherlock's outstretched hand. He gestures toward a chair and Sherlock takes it. There's a bottle of wine and the previously snatched plate of hors d'oeuvres between them, and Sherlock pokes at the assortment before selecting something with cucumbers on it. He sniffs at it, tosses it over his shoulder, and reaches for something that looks like lemon-drenched salmon on toast.

“Well?”

“Well, what, Sherlock?”

“You know what, Mycroft.”

“I'm not sure that I do.” Mycroft picks up a bit of rare roast beef encrusted in pastry dough and pops it into his mouth.

“Why? Why now? He's flirting with me while with his wife on his dolphin sex holiday.”

“I dare say, I wasn't sure he had it in him.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Mycroft taps a fingernail against the edge of his crystal wine glass, taking the time to pull his thoughts together, then smiles at Sherlock with a look that says and you call him the idiot?

“Did he... say anything to you after the wedding, before he left?”

“More specificity would be appreciated.”

“He didn't mention anything … special … about his holiday?” Mycroft won't meet Sherlock's eye, and spends too much time studying the assorted hors d'oeuvres before selecting a morsel of raspberry preserve topped brie.

“Mycroft, what the hell are you getting at?”

“Nothing. Nothing that you need concern yourself with.”

“Mycroft!”

“Eat, Sherlock.”

“No.”

“Suit yourself. And please, do change your auto-signature.”

They sit in silence for another five minutes before Sherlock is convinced that Mycroft isn't going to tell him what the hell is going on. He shoves a handful of cheese cubes into his pocket, then sweeps out in the same manner that he swept in, all drama and danger and daring, and the whole club seems to breathe a sigh of relief when he's gone.

 

* * * * *

 

Bath, stupid strawberry coconut shampoo, towel, sheet, phone.

What did you and Mycroft talk about? YOU'RE AN IDIOT

Nice. Is that your new signature?

Don't avoid the question. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

He wished me good luck and reminded me to use sunscreen.

Nice try. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

Did you like the photo?

Sherlock loves the photo. He's looked at it two hundred and sixteen times today, and each time he sees something different. A freckle, a laugh line, a bit of sand clinging to the brim of the ridiculous hat, the shadow playing in John's suprasternal notch. He does not see Mary.

You need to use sunscreen. You're going to get skin cancer and die. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

Let's not jump to drastic conclusions.

How is Mary? YOU'RE AN IDIOT

Busy.

Busy? Doing what? YOU'RE AN IDIOT

She's been taking extra scuba diving lessons all day. Turns out she loves it, wants to get certified.

Boring. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

I have a gift for you.

Sherlock's heart rate is already elevated, but when the phone pings again and he looks at the screen, all the beats blur together in one great wave, and he has to clamp his hand over his mouth to keep his lungs from sucking themselves right up and out of his esophagus. Lungs are boring.

It's another photograph, but someone else must have taken this one, because it's a full body shot of John, on the beach, with the waves lapping the shore behind him. He's wearing a navy blue bathing suit and a short sleeved linen shirt, has his hands on his hips, the floppy hat resting far back on his head. He's not smiling in this one, at least not fully. He looks determined, serious.

The shadow of the person taking the photograph falls at an angle to John's side, meaning that the photo must have been taken in the morning, with the sun still in the east, and low. The shadow is a bit distorted over the uneven sand, but Sherlock can tell that the person who took the photo is male, tall, wearing a suit, short hair, no hat. Resting against the man's right leg is a rectangular box, similar to a briefcase, but longer and narrower, like a … no. That can't be.

Sherlock swipes over the image with two fingers, enlarging it so he can take in every detail. John's nose isn't sunburned in this one, so it was definitely taken before the one he sent last night. There are creases in the bathing suit, so it's new, he hasn't worn it before. There's a square shape in the left pocket of the bathing suit, probably his phone. His hand is resting on his hip, near that pocket, the fingers splayed, but tense. He swipes over to John's other hand. It's also splayed, but dangling from his index finger is the circle of a silver keychain, and there's something hanging from the loop. He can't quite make it out, but based on its shape, he'd say that it's a flash drive.

John is on his sex holiday having his photo taken by a man in a suit with a gun case while he holds onto a flash drive. The fuck?

What are you up to? YOU'RE AN IDIOT

What does it look like I'm up to? I'm enjoying the beach.

This was taken yesterday morning, before snorkeling, before the lobster boil, before the dolphin tour, before the scuba diving. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

So?

I'm going to call you now. We need to talk. YOU'RE AN IDIOT

I won't answer. I'm going to have cocktails now, with some other newlyweds. Change your signature.

I'll figure it out. YOU'VE PUT ON THREE POUNDS

Change it to something nice, Sherlock.

Why should I? YOU'VE PUT ON THREE POUNDS

I'll send you another photo later.

Fine. NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

Ta

He hears Mrs Hudson making her way up the stairs, slowly, slightly weighted down. When she reaches the flat she calls out in her silly yoo-hoo way, so he throws on a dressing gown and goes to meet her.

“I wasn't sure you'd be eating properly, Sherlock, pining the way you are. I've made you a nice shepherd’s pie.”

“Pining? I'm not pining.”

“Oh, Sherlock,” she says, amusement and pity in her voice. She sets the tray down on the desk and turns to look at him, her face bemused and kind. “Eat up. I'll bring you some tea later.”

Sherlock huffs and pouts and sulks, but he lets her baby him a bit, and eats half the meal, making a replica of the Sphinx and Khafre pyramid at Giza with the remaining mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots. By the time she returns with a pot of tea, he's stretched himself out on the couch, his fingers steepled in the telltale mind palace position. He doesn't hear her come in, deposit the tea, or leave with his to-scale rendition of the Sphinx and Khafre.

It's hours later and the flat has fallen dark when Sherlock hears the ping of his phone. He'd fallen asleep, his mind working the puzzle apart, looking for clues that he may have missed. Even in sleep his brain was searching the gaps, which are considerable at this point, and when the gaps remained unbridgeable he had dreamed of dolphins with sniper rifles wearing floppy hats tearing Mary limb from limb.

He reaches for the phone and smiles despite his frustration. In the photo John is grinning and holding a cocktail up to the phone, as if in toast. He looks freshly showered, his hair combed back and slightly tousled, his sunburned nose less inflamed now and smeared with some kind of lotion. The drink is pink and frothy, and there's a delicate paper umbrella hanging over the edge of the glass.

In the background he sees Mary, her back to the photographer, chatting with another woman. There's not much there to deduce, just the straight posture and squared shoulders of a confident woman at ease in her environment.

The most striking thing of the photograph is the wink. John is winking at him.

The phone pings again.

Miss me?

I must admit, it's quite boring without my blogger. NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

What do you miss, Sherlock?

Sherlock doesn't know how to do this. He doesn't know what John is up to, but whatever it is, he's doing a masterful job of scrambling the synapses that control and regulate his thought processes. He tries for something light.

I miss your tea. Mrs. Hudson doesn't put in enough sugar. NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

Okay. Is that all?

I can create a spreadsheet and email it to you if you'd like. NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

Don't email. Texting is fine, but don't email.

Why on earth not? NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

Not safe.

What the hell is going on? NICE BATHING SUIT, GIT

It's fine, Sherlock. It's all fine. I have to go. Say something nice.

I don't do nice. I MISS YOU

Sherlock holds his breath until the next text comes in, then exhales sharply and takes another deep breath.

I know you do.

Chapter Text

Sherlock bolts awake in the middle of the night, his body heaving and covered in sticky sweat, his breathing shallow and fast. He had dreamed of the dolphins again, still psychotic, but this time armed with switchblades and singing a tune from West Side Story. In the dream John is walking lazily toward the warm ocean water, intent on going for a swim, and Sherlock is running down a beach that feels like quicksand under his feet, screaming warnings that don't reach John's sunburnt ears. At the last minute John sees Sherlock, turns back from the water, and begins to walk toward him. It's too late though, because the ever-smiling, musical-clicking, cetacean mammals are walking out of the surf on elongated flukes, clutching their weapons in their cute little flippers.

Sherlock rubs at his face as if this will erase the nightmare and fluffs up his displaced goose-down pillows. Sherlock should have gone on the sex holiday. It would've been fine. He could've slept on the beach in his Nyamuk tent and stayed out of the way. Surely he could have bribed a resort employee to bring him room service. Or he could have gone undercover, posing as a waiter or... well, no, that hadn't really worked out so well last time. John really hadn't seen the humour in it, not at all.

He scrubs a hand through his hair and speed dials Mycroft. Despite the hour of night his brother answers the phone on the first ring, alert, as if he is expecting the call.

“Yes, Sherlock?”

“John is in danger, and you know what's going on.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

Sherlock sighs in exasperation, but explains the photo of John on the beach, the shadow, the gun case, the flash drive. It's so obvious that something is horribly wrong, and he doesn't understand why Mycroft continues with this absurd charade.

“Sherlock, why must everything always be so complicated with you? Has it occurred to you that the man who took the photo is the hotel's photographer, that he has with him a tripod case, and that the flash drive holds photos that he's taken of John and Mary's holiday thus far?”

“The timing doesn't make sense. They haven't been there long enough to have that many photos.”

“Then perhaps it's a flash drive provided by the hotel so that guests can download images from a professional photography website, a service provided by the hotel to their happily married newlyweds.”

Sherlock narrows his eyes at this unlikely explanation, but gives Mycroft a begrudging, “Maybe.”

“Go to sleep, Sherlock. Would you like me to get a case for you, something to keep you busy and out of your own way? I hear Serbia has some interesting things going on right now.”

“That will hardly be necessary. I'm very busy, you know.”

“Of course you are. Goodnight, Sherlock.”

Despite his nagging thoughts and the clinging tendrils of the nightmare, Sherlock manages to fall asleep again. Again he dreams of John, but this time it's entirely different. John is on his sex holiday, but he's not with Mary. He's with Sherlock, and Sherlock has no idea how he got there, or what events transpired to result in the two of them going away on a romantic holiday together. Sherlock is sure that someone is going to storm over to where he's reclined on a plush, velour, chaise lounge at any moment and insist that he vacate the resort immediately so that Mary can take her rightful place, but no one does.

Sherlock relaxes against the back of the cushioned chair, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun, and tries not to worry about the effects of electromagnetic radiation on his virgin, alabaster skin. Thoughts of basal cell carcinoma, however, are quickly shunted to the side when he feels a strong, warm hand on his thigh. He knows, without opening his eyes, that the hand belongs to John, and that this is not a platonic touch. The hand drifts higher and higher on his leg, and comes to rest just below his hip, warm fingers curling intentionally into the space just between Sherlock's inner thigh and his testicles.

Sherlock opens his eyes in the dream, and John is there, close, smiling down at him. He's wearing the floppy hat and navy blue swimming trunks, and his chest is bare and tanned. Sherlock reaches out tentatively, running the back of his hand down John's neck and over his strong, compact chest, knuckles grazing one of his nipples. John's tongue slips out of his mouth for half a second, licking his bottom lip, and Sherlock rubs the hardened nub harder.

John braces his arms on Sherlock's shoulders, then swings one leg over Sherlock's chair, settling himself heavily on Sherlock's thighs. He leans forward and presses that gorgeous nipple against Sherlock's lower lip, and then groans as Sherlock begins to suck the warm flesh. “Fuck, that's it, just like that,” he says, and Sherlock's cock swells rigid and hot against his abdomen.

The dream progresses quickly, too quickly, and suddenly John is sucking Sherlock off with his tight, wet mouth, right there on the veranda of the resort, not caring who sees. Sherlock is gripping the sides of the chair, hanging on for dear life, making embarrassing high-pitched noises. He can no more stop this than he can stop the earth rotating on its axis, and John is relentless, his mouth working him like a machine, and Sherlock's orgasm is on him, moving through and over him like a tidal wave, sweeping away his breath and his thoughts and his heart, all of it gone.

 

* * * * *

 

When Mrs Hudson brings Sherlock's tea upstairs the next morning, Sherlock is freshly showered and sat at the desk staring intently at his laptop. She pats him on the arm and peers over his shoulder, then tsks in disapproval.

“Really, Sherlock, you need to find something to do. This simply isn't healthy. Oh, but look at that one, that's lovely, isn't it? What a stunning sunset.”

Sherlock taps the cursor to bring up the next photograph. Mycroft was right. The hotel manages a photography website, complete with instructions on how guests can download images to a flash drive provided at check-in. There's a picture of the flash drive, a pink device with the hotel's jumping dolphin logo in blue across the front. The flash drive in John's hand is not pink. It's black, and there are no sex-crazed, frolicking dolphins on it.

“Where are the biscuits?”

“I haven't got any biscuits, Sherlock.”

“Go buy some.”

“Really, Sherlock, your manners leave much to be desired.”

“Something chocolate.”

“Deplorable, for heaven's sake.”

He ignores her after that, reaching for his phone and taking matters into his own hands. John is an idiot, so he doesn't expect a straight answer, but he's going to ask anyway.

Who is the man with the gun? I MISS YOU

The answer is almost immediate. John must be bored, too, or at least not actively engaged in sex holiday activities.

What the hell are you on about now?

Just answer the question. I MISS YOU

You really are bored, aren't you?

Who is he? I MISS YOU

I miss you, too. I've been thinking about you, quite a bit.

Stop trying to distract me. I MISS YOU

Is it distracting?

Is what distracting, the man with the gun? I MISS YOU

Noooo... that I'm thinking about you.

Of course you're thinking about me. I'm amazing. What else would you think about? I MISS YOU

My wife?

Boring. I MISS YOU

I thought you liked Mary?

She's nice enough, but ultimately, boring. I MISS YOU

Mary's not boring. Believe me.

Really don't want to know. I MISS YOU

I think you might.

So you do? I MISS YOU

Do what?

Miss me? I MISS YOU

Very much.

I am loathe to admit it, but this isn't making a lot of sense. I MISS YOU

And that's hard for you, isn't it?

Yes. I MISS YOU

Patience.

John? I MISS YOU

John sends another photo, then signs off. Sherlock sits and stares, zooms, stares, swipes, stares. In this photo John and Mary are seated together at a round table, outside, on what appears to be a deck. There are heaps of breakfast foods on plates in front of them, tumblers of orange juice, a cup of coffee for Mary, one of tea for John. John is slouched in his chair a bit, smiling, one arm draped over the back of Mary's chair. He looks relaxed and happy. His hair looks a bit more blond, probably from the sun, and his skin looks a bit more golden. John looks very, very good.

A quick glance at Mary shows that she's gained five pounds since the wedding and appears to have heat rash. This makes Sherlock very, very happy, even though he knows it shouldn't.

What makes the photo most interesting, however, is the man in the background, almost out of the frame. He stands near the deck's railing, legs slightly askance, hands grasped behind his back. He's wearing khaki shorts, a tropical fish print shirt that should be outlawed, and dark sunglasses. The man's hair doesn't make sense. It's too shellacked looking for a beach holiday, too tidy and controlled. When Sherlock zooms in to get a closer look at the man's face he hmms in recognition, then zooms in as close as he can. He's not seeing things, he's sure of it. Just under the ear piece of the man's sunglasses is a coiled wire leading to the man's ear. There's something about the man that looks familiar. He taps on the phone in absent concentration for a few seconds, then smiles as it clicks into place.

Mycroft Holmes is a lying son of a bitch, and Sherlock isn't going to stand for it anymore.

Mycroft, tell me what you and John are up to or I'll fly there and figure it out myself. I'M NOT KIDDING

You'll do no such thing.

Don't tempt me, Mycroft. I'M NOT KIDDING

Everything is under control.

Why is agent 0018 on John's sex holiday? I'M NOT KIDDING

Why would you think that?

John sent me a photo of him and Mary. 0018 is in the background. I'M NOT KIDDING

What makes you think it's him?

The missing earlobe. I'M NOT KIDDING

Don't move. I'll be there in ten minutes.

It takes everything Sherlock has to not throw his Armani bathing trunks in a duffel bag and flag a cab to Heathrow. He could be there in six hours, seven tops. John is in danger – again – and his interfering, infuriating, ignoramus brother is keeping vital information from him. John is in mortal danger and he's too busy getting an admittedly sexy sunburn to do anything about it.

Enough.

He dials John's number while rummaging for his passport and his favorite incognito Chicago Cubs baseball cap. He'll tell John to lock himself and Mary in their room, to not come out until he gets there. He'll put enough fear into John's heat-simmered brain that he'll hunker down and wait for Sherlock to come and make things right. He'll wait for Sherlock.

Oh, for the love of psychotic dolphins, John, answer your phone. But John doesn't answer, and Sherlock is left listening to his ridiculous voicemail message.

"Hey, yeah, it's John. Leave a message and I'll call you back as soon as I can, although it might take a while seeing as how I'm on my honeymoon, heh heh heh."

John. You idiot. You adorable, clueless idiot. Sherlock doesn't bother leaving a message, but he does send a text.

You and Mary are in danger. I don't have all the details yet, but you need to lock down until I get there. I'M NOT KIDDING

Everything is fine, Sherlock. Don't you dare come here while I'm on my honeymoon. Bit not good.

Answer your phone, we need to talk. I'M NOT KIDDING

Nope. Not talking to you right now. I've got it under control.

You have WHAT under control? What the hell is going on? I'M NOT KIDDING

Nothing you need to know about.

Why is agent 0018 there? I'M NOT KIDDING

What?

He's in the last photo you sent. I'M NOT KIDDING

Oops.

You are in danger, John, and if anything happens to you, anything that I could have prevented, I will never forgive myself. Not after everything that I've done to protect you, John, not when you're wearing that awful hat and have that ridiculous sunburn, and are doing all that dolphin shit, I won't stand for it. I'M NOT KIDDING

I'm not kidding either, Sherlock. You cannot be involved in this. I promise it will be ok.

I'm coming down there. I'M NOT KIDDING

No. You. Are. Not. you bloody git.

Sherlock is so intent on yelling at John via text that he hasn't heard Mycroft come up the stairs. He's considering how far to go with this pointless “yes I am/no you're not” conversation when he hears the soft tap of Mycroft's umbrella just inside the threshold of the flat.

“You have questions.”

“Jesus, Mycroft, can't you knock? Or have all those donuts clogged your arteries to the point that you can no longer lift your arms?”

Mycroft dodges the insult with a weary smile on his patient face, a smile that says oh lovely, another donut joke from my hysterical baby brother.

“I know that look, Mycroft, and I am not a baby.

“Of course you aren't. Do sit down,” Mycroft says with a soft, condescending look that screams baby baby baby.

“I don't want to sit down, Mycroft, I want to know what the hell is going on.”

He does sit, though, because Mycroft is sitting, and because he's exhausted and wound up and confused and he needs answers. He perches himself on the edge of the coffee table and rests his elbows on his knees, steeples his fingers under his chin, and waits. He scowls while he waits, just for good measure.

Mycroft shifts uncomfortably in Sherlock's chair, fiddling with his cuffs and waistcoat. He clears his throat a few times, and rearranges his legs before smiling wanly and saying, “Tea?”

“MYCROFT!”

“Fine. You never were one for the social niceties. I'm going to say this once, and despite my better judgment, I am going to trust you not to repeat this, or act on this information in any way. Do I have your promise?”

“No.”

“Then I have no choice but to leave you here alone with your ignorance.” Mycroft makes to stand and leave, taking his information with him, but Sherlock knows it's just a ruse, a dance that the two of them will engage in until they've both played their part as far as they reasonably can.

“Mycroft, I will do my best, but if you do not tell me something right this very second I swear to god I will have your head on a platter with a Braeburn apple shoved in your mouth.”

“I'd prefer a Delbarestivale, if it's all the same to you.”

“A Zari.”

“I think not. Very juicy but a rather short season.”

The brothers glare at each other for a moment, neither willing to budge one tiny iota toward the other, not even on this issue of which apple Sherlock should stick in Mycroft's mouth when his head rests on an imaginary, macabre platter, and finally Sherlock shrugs his shoulders and says, “Fine. A Delbarestivale. Now tell me what you know.”

“John is on a case.”

If Sherlock had had a cup of tea in his hand he would have spit a mouthful of the hot liquid across the room. As it is he merely chokes on air and sputters, “John is on a case ? Without me?”

“Yes.”

“What case? He's in danger, Mycroft.”

“He is in very little danger, if any at all. Agent double-oh-eighteen is with him, as well as a few others that I have personally hand-picked.”

“Why did you not tell me about this? Why did he not tell me about this?”

“Because we couldn't risk your involvement. Had you known, you would have insisted on being involved, just as you are insisting now.”

“And how would that have been a bad thing?”

“You would have risked the advantage, of course. We couldn't have them know that you were aware of the situation. It would have forced their hand before we were ready.”

WHO?

“I am not at liberty to say at this time.”

“You couldn't have trusted me to keep a secret?”

“Did you trust John to keep your secret when his life was on the line?”

“That was different.”

“Was it?”

“Of course it was. And my life is not on the line.”

“Is it not? Sherlock, you have the impulse control of a toddler with pathological Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. You wouldn't have lasted twenty-four hours before taking things into your own hands, and you would have brought down the entire operation.”

“Which is?”

“Do you truly not see it, Sherlock? I must admit, that disappoints me.”

“Stop. I need a moment.” Sherlock presses the tips of the four fingers of each hand to his temples, his thumbs rigid under his ears, his eyes closed. His eyelids flicker and his tense forehead speaks to the frantic thought processes taking place behind an otherwise calm exterior. Mycroft looks at his watch, at Sherlock, at his watch again.

Exactly forty-two seconds later Sherlock opens his eyes and drops his hands, huffing out his breath and pressing his body into the back of the chair.

“Oh my god.”

“Indeed.”

“I missed someone. Moriarty's web. I missed someone. But how? It's not possible.”

Mycroft pinches the bridge of his nose as if in pain, and nods ever so slightly. “It would appear that you did, and that it is.”

“Why is he doing this? Why John? Why haven't you taken care of it, on your own?”

“John Watson has the brain of a doctor and a soldier, but spends his time chasing after and taking care of the world's only consulting detective. What can we deduce about his heart?”

Sherlock swallows and looks down at his hands, turns them over, back and forth, splaying his fingers and flexing the joints. Mycroft watches him with a raised eyebrow, waiting for Sherlock to speak again.

“He shouldn't be doing this alone. I would have – I would have --”

“You would have taken this away from him. Let him give this to you, Sherlock. He wants to. Consider it a gift.”

“So the flash drive contains his instructions?”

“Background information about his target, timelines, instructions, alternate plans, all the usual.”

Mycroft stands and taps the tip of his umbrella against the scuffed hardwood floor twice before giving Sherlock a discreet nod of his head, then he turns on his impeccable heels and strides out of the flat.

 

* * * * *

 

You should have told me. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

Finally got it out of Mycroft, did you?

You've been lying to me for months. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

Oh please. You lied to me for two years. All for my own good, remember? Turnabout is fair play.

I did not spend two years traipsing around the globe, throwing myself into death traps at every possible opportunity, breaking my back to dismantle Moriarty's web, only to come back and have you killed by one of his degenerate henchmen. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

I guess it wasn't totally dismantled, eh?

Shut up. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

Looks like you missed someone.

Shut up. I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

Stupid. So, so, so very stupid. He should have seen, he should have observed! Was he so wrapped up in John's happiness, no matter how counter it was to his usual modus operandi, that he stopped doing what he does, being who he is? Sentiment. He had let it blind him, tie him up in knots, render him utterly useless, and now he stands to lose everything.

His phone pings again and again and again, but he doesn't pick it up, won't read the messages, letting them accumulate as he fumes and strides and huffs around the flat. He shoves his phone under the skull on the mantel and orders it to not give the phone back no matter how much he may beg for it. He's not going to read the texts. He's not going to give John the satisfaction. No. The phone pings again. Dammit. Who is he kidding? He retrieves the phone and starts reading. Even the skull has betrayed him.

You really didn't know?

Sherlock, don't be angry.

This will be over soon and then I'm coming home.

Sherlock?

Do you want to talk about dolphin sex?

You probably don't want to talk about dolphin sex.

You know I'm doing this for you, right?

That I had to have a stake in this, to give you something back after all that you did for me?

If they knew, Sherlock, how important you are to me, they would have killed us both.

This is my St. Barts jump, Sherlock. Well, sort of. I'm not going to fake my death or anything.

Sherlock?

It's almost over now.

Sherlock, please answer me. I'm trying to give you something to hold on to.

Me. I'm trying to give you me.

I'm not wrong about that, am I?

That it's me you want?

Sherlock, answer me.

I think you want me.

I think you want me the way I want you.

Please.

Do you want me to say it?

I love you.

 

Chapter Text

Mrs Hudson enters the dark flat with a tray laden with dinner and tea. She wonders if Sherlock is out, but then she sees him, standing near the fireplace, still as stone. His lips are parted as if in mid-sentence, but he doesn't speak. A curl hangs over his drawn forehead, and his nose is crinkled. He's staring at his phone, blinking. Just blinking. So much blinking.

“Sherlock, dear?”

Sherlock doesn't budge. He blinks at the phone. Mrs. Hudson crosses the room and puts the tray down on the desk, then turns on a small lamp. She pours a cup of tea and uncovers a steaming plate of something savory before approaching the unmoving, blinking man.

“I brought you dinner, dear. And a nice, hot, pot of tea. Sherlock?”

Sherlock blinks three times in rapid succession.

“Are you alright?”

Sherlock blinks. Mrs Hudson sighs and leaves the flat, closing the door softly behind her.

Sherlock is startled out of his quiet revery the next time the phone pings. It's nighttime now, and the time stamp on the text indicates that he's been standing there, insensate, for over two hours. His feet and knees and neck ache, and his eyes feel like he's replaced his eyelids with sandpaper. He sees a plate of congealed food on the desk, and a cup of tea long since gone cold.

He sits in his armchair, crosses his legs, and puts the phone down without checking the text. He thinks about where he's been for the last two hours, about what he's learned. Most people think that his mind palace is like a crammed-full storage center, a series of mental filing cabinets overflowing with all manner of information, facts, and data, and he would acknowledge that that's part of it. But no one would be able to understand, and so he doesn't try to explain, that his mind palace is actually quite a dynamic place, so much more than dusty boxes of documents and newspaper clippings and old school textbooks.

For the last two hours Sherlock has sat in the extensive garden of his mind palace, a veritable treasure of botanic riches, and chatted with his Grand-mère. It's Grand-mère who keeps the garden in such a spectacular state, existing in eternity with her gardening gloves and trimming shears and a canvas bag of seeds and tools. She is the Grand-mère of Sherlock's youth and short-lived innocence, and Sherlock loves her more fiercely than his own parents, more than Fiona, the Irish nanny he had when he was four, more than anyone.

Mon petit chou,” she says, looking up from her basket of rose cuttings. “What a delight to see you. Just look at you, so tall, so handsome. Come, sit, let me look at you.” She takes his hand and leads him to a stone bench among her award-winning Versigny blooms, and Sherlock lets himself relax into the warmth of her adoring gaze. Content with what she sees there, she pats his knee and waves one arm out toward her rose beds.

It has been a good season, Sherlock. Can you still identify the fragrances?” He closes his eyes and lets his other senses take over. He hears the bees droning around them and feels the brush of her impossibly fragile fingers over his knuckles. He takes a deep inhalation and registers each new scent as they come to him.

Oui, Grand-mère.”

Tell me, mon petit chat.”

Apricot. Vanilla. Anise? Almond. Something citrus, I think. Lemon?”

She pats his hand and tuts. “Presque parfait, mon trésor. Pamplemousse.”

Grapefruit? Of course. There's always something, grand-mère.”

Always, child.”

She pulls the wide-brimmed hat from her head and twists her thick, silver hair into a messy bun, smoothes her linen skirt, crosses her bare ankles. Her eyes are a perfect reflection of his, just one of the many genetic gifts she bestowed on him, the favorite of her grandchildren. He has her eyes, her cheekbones, and her bowed mouth. He has her gift of observation, her love of science, and her insatiable desire to learn. It was she who helped him, at age five, to design the first blueprint for his mind palace, and the very first files he added were her extensive family tree, all the species of the genus Rosa, and the French words for each element on the periodic chart. 

He is truly himself when he is with her, for there is no need to hide behind sarcasm, no need to build defenses, no need to impress or befuddle or fool. Every time he comes here he realizes how much he misses her, how much she grounds him, and he always chastises himself for not coming more often. He can talk to her about anything, and there are times he wishes he could stay here with her forever, basking in her acceptance and patience.

Grand-mère, what can you tell me about love?” He sounds like a child when he says it, as if he's asking her why the sky is blue or how birds fly. She is silent for a moment and pushes a curl off his forehead before she speaks.

What is his name, Sherlock?”

He doesn't question that she knows it's a man. She has always known everything about him, always loved everything about him.

His name is John, Grand-mère. He says he loves me. I'm not sure that it's possible, though, as I've done nothing to make him feel this way.”

Oh, Sherlock. You do not make someone love you. Love comes, it finds you. Your John has not decided to love you. He cannot help it.”

And how do I know if I ...”

Silly child. You would not be here with me right now if you did not love him back. Why does it frighten you so?”

Sherlock closes his eyes and lifts his face toward the early summer sun. He misses her, he misses the complete faith he always had in this honest, wise woman. 

"I don't know if I can afford so much emotion. It will dull my intelligence, affect my work. I'll be slow. Muddled. Mycroft says that caring is a disadvantage, and that love is a chemical defect found on the losing side.”

She sighs in exasperation. “I wish I could get my hands around your brother's neck, choke all of those awful things he taught you right back down his throat. He had good intentions, your older brother. He wanted to protect you from pain, but his methods were … what is the word … barbaric. He did not teach you to handle pain, he taught you to hide from it. Love, Sherlock, caring, is not a defect. It augments, it enhances. To resist it will make you brittle and one-dimensional, narrow. Sherlock, you are not Mycroft. You are capable of being complete. You deserve to be complete.”

I will fail him.”

Yes, at times. At times he will also fail you. This is the way of life, Sherlock, and you are allowed to fail. Yes, even you. Is he a forgiving man? Kind?”

He's the best man I have ever known. But Grand-mère, what if I lose him?

Why would you lose him?”

I lost you."

No, mon cheri. You did not lose me. Death cannot end love, Sherlock.”

And how do I do it? How does one love someone?”

I suspect you are already doing it. You take care of each other, protect each other. You support and help each other and forgive when mistakes are made. You learn and grow with each other.”

He wants to tell her that he can learn on his own and protect himself as he has always done, but she's fading now, she's competing with the sounds of traffic and life outside his windows. It's enough for today. He wraps his long arms around her narrow shoulders and rests his chin on the crown of her head, and then she is gone, along with the complex scent of her roses.

Sherlock looks down at the phone sitting in his lap and sees the text alert. He swipes through and taps on the latest message. This time there's a photo, too, another one of John. His face nearly fills the frame, his eyes no less blue for the amount of worry in them, his face no less kind for the terse lines around his mouth. His lips are pressed shut but lifting at one corner in a tentative, hopeful smile. This photo is not about the beach, or cocktails, or his holiday. This photo is about John.

The accompanying words say: deduce me.

Sherlock doesn't even need to try. John is afraid. He's not afraid of this last slippery strand of Moriarty's web, of violence and danger, not afraid of taking out the last piece of the puzzle. No. John is afraid that he's said the wrong thing. John is afraid that his future is now unfurling in a completely different direction than the one for which he has hoped and planned.

Sherlock is still not sure what to say. How long has he wanted this? And yet how long has he resigned himself to slipping back into a life of silent solitude, protected by his aloneness? He's never done this, never felt so much, and he's certainly never allowed himself to imagine that his feelings would ever be returned. And none of it makes sense, despite John's declarations of love, because … what about Mary?

He still has Grand-mère's words in his ears, and he knows that if John says he loves him, it must be true, because John is nothing if not so very true. Sherlock is not afraid of risk, and the adrenaline coursing through his veins is encouraging a certain impulsivity. He tilts his head back against the chair, places his right hand over his pounding heart, and then angles the phone to capture this image of himself, Sherlock Holmes, loving John Watson back. He sends the text and waits, but the answer is almost immediate.

Hi, you. Okay?

Very much okay. :-)

It's nice to see your face.

As it is to see yours. :-)

That's your new signature?

For now :-)

I wouldn't think you'd know about emoticons. 

Molly uses them incessantly. :-)

: -*>

;D :-)

(*-*)

I think that's enough of that for now. :-)

Quite right.

I'm still mad that I didn't know. :-)

Mad that I didn't tell you, or that you didn't figure it out?

Yes. :-)

I see. 

I don't like not being involved. You're not safe. :-)

Sherlock, I'm safe. Just a bit of a decoy, really.

John, what about Mary? :-)

What about her, specifically?

How does Mary feel about your feelings for me? You just got married. Why not tell me before the wedding? :-)

The seconds tick by, turning into minutes, and then the minutes merge together to create a new eternity. 

Well, obviously the wedding wasn't real. It was part of the case, the operation. My feelings for her had to be proven, so that my feelings for you could remain hidden. Pressure points couldn't be exposed. The wedding kept you and I safe. 

It wasn't obvious to me. :-)

Sherlock, did Mycroft not tell you about Mary?

Tell me what. :-)

Who she is?

What are you talking about? :-)

Her years of work with the CIA and then what we might call her freelance work in London?

Are we talking about the same Mary? :-)

She's at the center of this last piece, Sherlock. I can't believe he didn't tell you.

But Mycroft had told him, hadn't he? He said that agent 0018 wasn't alone, that Mycroft himself had hand-picked a few other agents. But Mary? Sherlock feels rage bubble up in his chest like a hot, viscous fluid, surging its way up his throat, into his mouth, behind his eyes. Red. He sees red. This, all of this, is suddenly too much. The lies, the secrets, the World's Only Consulting Detective, Duped. He missed it all. He missed every single thing that had been playing out, flagrantly, under his nose for months. God, how much fun they must have had, how they must have talked behind his back, and laughed, just like they did at school, and then at uni, and then at the Yard, just like everyone has always talked and laughed.

He thinks about that hideous wedding, how he threw himself into organizing bridesmaids' dresses and bouquets, about the hours he spent on his best man speech, about all of the sentiment and caring that he allowed to spill out, his speech the only true goodbye gift he could give John, even the meticulously written violin composition paling in comparison to his heartfelt declaration. And they had hugged him, and let him vow to protect them, and it was … it wasn't real. They were in it together, John and Mary against some unknown enemy that he hadn't seen. John and Mary on a case.

It's unreal.

And now what? They'll do their job, and come home, and Mary will move on to her next assignment and John will move back into 221B, and how on earth could he ever look at Sherlock again and tell him that he's brilliant and amazing and incredible? He'll look at Sherlock and see how stupid and ordinary and dull he's been, and Sherlock will crumble under the weight of his own failure and humiliation. How could John accept that? How could John love that? This is what he's been reduced to: a sentimental fool who missed the final piece, who left it there, unguarded, to be picked up and flung around by the two people he thought least likely to be able to identify a case let alone solve one, while he, Sherlock, folded serviettes into swans and opera houses. While he loved.

Sherlock? Talk to me please.

Is this how you felt when you realized I wasn't dead? Did it feel like betrayal, like mistrust? Did you feel like an idiot for not having known? SH

You aren't an idiot, Sherlock, you are the most brilliant man I've ever known.

Hardly. My continued ignorance in all of this is the antithesis to everything I value. SH

Did you intend for me to feel like an idiot when you faked your death to save my life? 

Of course not. What I did was necessary. This - you doing it - was not necessary. SH

It made the most sense under the circumstances.

You and Mary lying to me, working together to finish what I started - that's what made the most sense? SH

What? No! You don't understand - that's totally wrong. I haven't been clear - let me explain.

Too late. Leave me alone. I'm turning off my phone now. SH

Sherlock, stop. You have trusted me with your life - trust me now. Take some time, but do not shut down on me. We'll get thru this, I swear.

You sound like Grand-mère now. SH

Well, you loved that woman with all your heart, so maybe you should listen, yeah?

I need to go. SH

Not too far, Sherlock. Not too far.

Chapter Text

Sherlock sulks around the flat for the next two days. He rants at the skull, at Lestrade, at Mrs Hudson. He reorganizes all of his books by color, then publisher, then author's middle name, then word count. He searches the sex holiday hotel's photography website for more images of John, but doesn't find any. He orders two ridiculously expensive suits, six silk shirts in varying degrees of purple (lavender, lilac, violet, orchid, mulberry, and pansy), and two pairs of Oxfords from Saville Row. He charges everything to Mycroft. He makes a fire in the fireplace and sits in front of it, legs crossed, and starts throwing pages from a thick file marked “wedding” into the blazing flames.

Mrs Hudson does her not-your-housekeeper-but-here's-some-tea-and-a-hot-meal thing, but he almost never notices. The food seems to miraculously appear, and he spends more time building architectural models with the food than eating it. He builds the Eiffel Tower out of chips, the Panama Canal out of bangers and mash, and a map of Paris' 6 th arrondissement out of sausage, rashers, and toast. Occasionally he eats portions of his architectural studies before Mrs. Hudson returns to clear the plates. She is in the process of doing this when Sherlock's phone pings, and he absentmindedly reaches for it, knocking over the Empire State Building he's been building out of a pork chop bone and cooked carrots.

Mrs. Hudson flusters excitedly as she stacks china on her tray. “Who's that, dear? Maybe that nice Mr Lestrade has a nasty murder for you?”

Nothing nearly so fabulous, Mrs Hudson. It's only Mycroft, absolutely nothing of importance.”

I'd hardly say your brother isn't important, Sherlock.”

You'd be wrong.”

Alright, dear. Just holler if you need anything.”

She balances the tray on one arm and is about to pull the door shut behind her when she turns to address Sherlock again. Her face is lined with worry for the sulking consulting detective.

Really, Sherlock, you need to pull yourself together. What's done is done. The way you're going, dear, sulking and burning things and not eating, you're simply a disaster waiting to happen.”

Sherlock ignores her, his fingers flying over the phone, silently yelling at Mycroft for his vague declarations and muddy clues. Mycroft loves to tease and be mysterious. He obviously fancies himself living in one of those moronic Bond movies that John likes so much. Sherlock is surprised that Mycroft hasn't assigned them all code names at this point. Maybe he should make one up for his brother. Decrepit Falcon, Bloated Baboon, Dashing Dingo. He'll work on it. For now he needs to extract answers from the pompous git.

Tomorrow? What is that supposed to mean? Are you starting a new diet? Have you considered Atkins? SH

It means exactly what I said. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow when? SH

I'll send word when it's done.

This is insufferable. I need MORE than this, Mycroft, I need INFORMATION. SH

He could be home as early as the day after tomorrow.

That's not what I was asking. SH

Yes it was.

Sherlock takes a deep breath and ponders tomorrow. He cannot stand not knowing, cannot stand being on the outside of something that he started and failed to finish. He hasn't responded to John's texts or sent any of his own since he learned of Mary's involvement, but he writes one now and hits the send button, almost hoping that John is currently engaged in some inane beach bingo game that renders him unavailable to respond.

Tomorrow? SH

Oh, are you talking to me again?

Tell me about tomorrow. SH

Tomorrow is whale watching.

Is that a metaphor? SH

All the world's a stage, Sherlock.

And all the men and women merely players. SH

They have their exits and their entrances.

Shakespeare was an idiot. What's happening tomorrow? SH

Whale watching. Exits and entrances.

Don't die. SH

Okay.

I'm serious. SH

I know you are. Are you mad? You said you wouldn't be mad.

You've made me look like an idiot. The FARCE of it all. I gave you up for something that wasn't even real, John. The two of you on a case. It's supposed to be the two of us. SH

I've already told you, you don't have all the information, and it's not what you think.

You know me, John. My gargantuan ego is rather spectacularly bruised right now. SH

I'll explain everything when I get back. Will you be there?

Sherlock understands that John is asking so much more than his anticipated whereabouts upon John's return. John wants to know if this is going to happen, if he and Sherlock are finally going to happen. Sherlock considers the evidence of their time together, the countless times they've saved each other in ways both big and small. He weighs their unconditional trust of each other against the bitter nagging of John's lie-by-omission, the steady whispers of his heart over the unwelcome rants of his mind, and the memory of a shared past over the prospect of an empty tomorrow. It is disconcerting, to say the least, that there is no formula for analyzing relationships, no periodic chart of emotions, no ruthless logic with which he can steer his thoughts. But in the end an equation does present itself, and Sherlock smiles at its simplicity.

SHERLOCK - JOHN = DOOM.

I'll be here. Grand-mère says we'll get through this, although I have my doubts that you could possibly still feel the way you say you do after witnessing my overwhelming idiocy, stupidity, and moronickness. SH

I think I would have liked Grand-mère, but I don't think moronickness is a word. Sherlock, I went into this knowing that you were unaware of the situation, and although it is new to you, it is not new to me. I went into this wanting you, and I still do, and I will continue to do so. I just couldn't tell you then. Please get this through your ridiculously thick skull before I return.

Duly noted. SH

Thank you. Maybe you could change your signature again.

Any suggestions? SH

I don't know. Something to wish me luck?

You don't need luck. CBTM

What's that mean?

Come back to me. CBTM

I will.

Are you nervous? Don't be nervous. CBTM

Not nervous. Excited.

Excited for whale watching? CBTM

Em, no.

About something else? CBTM

About something else.

It's hard to deduce you through text, John. CBTM

Try.

Sherlock tries. He knows that they have been on this path toward each other for years now. He sees now that John's marriage is a sham. He understands that it is John's desire to gift Sherlock the last piece of a puzzle in which they have both been inexorably tangled, and that after returning home, they will shift their previously platonic-though-angst-ridden relationship over the line from friendship to that of something decidedly more more. Something intimate and yearned for, something sexual. Sherlock suspects that he's going to be extremely good in bed, and he has deduced that John is already extremely good in bed, and all of that is going to be fabulous.

Fabulously exciting. Excitingly fabulous.

The thought of physical intimacy with John is a treat Sherlock rarely allows himself. He has endeavored, with some difficulty, to keep his conscious thoughts at bay, but his dreams are untamable, existing below the foundation of Sherlock's well-disciplined mind palace. His dreams find and drag to the surface everything he has worked so hard to suppress: tenderness, need, want, touch, desire. Every illogical, messy, emotional reaction he has so carefully packed away is unwrapped and laid bare under a subconscious microscope when he dreams, forcing his mind's eye to take a good, close look at the truth behind his lies.

Now he realizes that all of it is his to indulge if he so desires. And sweet mother of god, how he desires. His imagination feeds that desire, and the desire loops back to fuel his imagination: the press of John's lips and the slick of his tongue; the sounds he might make in moments of mounting desire; the curve of his neck under Sherlock's mouth; the dip of John's lower back just before the swell of his tight little arse; the musky warmth of his belly as it narrows to the silky expanse between his hips; John's cock full and heavy with his need for Sherlock. He is sure that John's cock will match the reality that is John: stocky and thick, strong and aggressive. Can a cock be aggressive? Sherlock is sure that John's cock is aggressive. John's cock will stand rigidly at attention and slightly threatening as if to say I'm gonna fuck you up so bad, you won't know what hit you.

Jesus Christ. This is going to happen. All of this, all of John, his to touch and have, to inhale and subsume.

I'm hard. CBTM

Excuse me?

I was thinking that maybe you're excited about things to come, and then I started thinking about some of those things, and now I'm hard. CBTM

I see.

Are you hard? CBTM

Well I wasn't, but I am now thank you very much.

How hard? CBTM

Hard as fuck.

How hard is 'hard as fuck', exactly? Is that a physiological term based on valid and reliable medical research? CBTM

It is now.

Then I believe I am Hard as Fuck squared right now. CBTM

God, Sherlcok.

Was that a typo? CBTM

omg, that's hilarious.

You still there?

Sherlock?

I see. You and I are going to have to have a serious talk about sexting.

 

* * * * *

 

The next day Sherlock texts Mycroft for an update at 4:32 in the morning and finds himself completely disgusted by his brother's lack of productivity when an answer is not immediately forthcoming. He waits for seven minutes and sends another text, then another one three minutes later. He is incredulous that Mycroft deems sleep, cake eating, national security, and international espionage all of higher importance than Operation John's Sex Holiday. When this is all said and done he plans to have a serious discussion with the elder Holmes about his shockingly misplaced priorities.

Finally, at 5:30, Mycroft responds with all the grace and patience that Sherlock is lacking.

I don't have news, Sherlock, or I would have let you know.

Put the cake down and do your job, Mycroft. CBTM

Enjoy your morning, Sherlock. I'll be in touch when I have something to tell you. And I'm sure he will CBTY.

There are no texts, no phone calls, and by noon Sherlock has two nicotine patches on each arm and one on each hip. He takes his phone apart, sure that it's malfunctioning, then puts it back together and tests it again. Nothing. He feels inexplicably tied to the flat, as if receiving any news whatsoever about John outside of Baker Street would cut him uselessly adrift and untethered, unable to access the mental acuity that comes so easily within these walls. He's in lock-down mode now, functioning almost entirely in his mind, and he startles when he looks down and realizes that Mrs Hudson is shaking him rather violently.

Oh, for heaven's sake, Sherlock, did you not hear me at all, then?”

Busy, Mrs Hudson, please go away.”

No, Sherlock, I really must insist. You haven't eaten in two days, and to be quite frank, you stink something awful. When was the last time you showered?”

Sherlock flaps a hand at her and turns away. If she won't leave, he'll ignore her. Mrs. Hudson, however, has known Sherlock for a very long time, and can be quite forceful when she needs to be. She steps in front of him again and corrals him up against the wall with a greasy butter knife in one hand.

Sherlock, love, let me be clear. I know that something big is happening, and I know that it involves John. If he were to walk through that door right now and see you in this state, I guarantee that he'd not even take off his coat before turning around and going right back down those stairs and out the front door. Is that what you want?”

Sherlock cocks his head at this delightfully irritating little tsunami of a landlady. She's as close to a caregiver as he's had in years, and her ability to read him is uncanny for someone that he fondly thinks of as an idiot.

What do you suggest, Mrs Hudson?”

Give me the phone that you've been staring at all day. I will stand right outside the bathroom door and I promise that I will pass it in if it so much as peeps. You will take a shower and wash your hair, clean your teeth, then dress in something other than a ratty t-shirt and stained dressing gown. As soon as you are done I will hand you this phone and make you a sandwich, which you will promise to eat.”

Shower, hair, teeth, pajamas and dressing gown, no sandwich.”

Shower, hair, teeth, clean pajamas and dressing gown, and the sandwich.”

Half a sandwich.”

Whole sandwich.”

Fine.”

He slaps the phone into her hand and makes his way down the hallway to the bathroom, turning to make sure she's following with the phone. Reassured that she's doing as she said she would, he turns on the shower and sheds his grotty garments. Ten minutes later he reappears, freshly scrubbed, teeth cleaned, damp towel wrapped around his narrow waist, and Mrs Hudson returns the still silent phone and retreats to the kitchen to make his sandwich. When he finishes dressing he slips into the kitchen to find not only Mrs Hudson with a plate full of sandwich, but Anthea, holding a small black box.

God, what is it now?”

She lifts one eyebrow half a centimeter and holds the box out to him.

Your brother thought you might want to listen in. It's a one-way receiver, so you won't be able to communicate with him, but you'll be able to hear Doctor Watson and the others as events … unfold. There's an access code and a replacement battery, although I doubt you'll need it. Everything is in the box.”

Sherlock takes the box and turns away, his eyes wide with surprise and gratitude. Good lord, he thinks, Mycroft must be suffering from a near fatal sugar high to have ceded something so monumental now, in these last moments. He realizes that he should thank his brother, and turns back to ask Anthea to pass along the message, but she's gone. In her place is Mrs Hudson, holding the sandwich at him like a gun.

Not until you eat, young man.”

He sits at the table and takes a massive bite of the sandwich, opening the box as he chews. He pulls out the components of the receiver, inserts the earpiece lead, checks the battery, and switches it on. Mrs Hudson thunks a mug of steaming tea down next to his plate and glares at him, so he takes another bite of the sandwich before routing around in the box for the small slip of paper with the access code. It's written in Mycroft's handwriting, which causes a small bit of unease in Sherlock's gut; this was a last-minute decision, and judging by the quickly written, poorly formed characters, one that Mycroft doubts. Mycroft isn't entirely convinced that Sherlock should hear this, which means that he is either unsure the operation will go as planned, or still withholding something important. He enters the code and hears several clicking noises as the connection is made. For a moment he hears nothing at all, and then there's a low, unrecognizable voice.

Hold your position, twenty-five. Eighteen over.

Roger eighteen, twenty-five over.

You're sure target is unarmed, Watson?

Sure as I can be.

And you're sure tonight is the night?

That's what your intelligence people said, not me.

– Come in twenty-five. Reconfirm intelligence.

Intelligence confirmed. Twenty-five over.

Target is headed your way, Watson.

Sherlock moves to his chair, ignoring the rest of the sandwich and mug of tea. He sits with his arms on the armrests, his feet flat on the floor, his eyes closed. He's parsing each and every word he's heard so far, but there's nothing there, nothing to go on. There's not enough, because something is missing. Something he has expected is missing.

Mary.

He hasn't heard anything from Mary because Mary isn't wearing a mike.

Sherlock throws his head back and roars. Mrs Hudson drops the cutting board she was rinsing into the sink and turns to stare, her hands up in a defensive posture. She takes her five heartbeats to realize that Sherlock is not yelling, he's not furiously exploding, he's not about to violently break something.

He's laughing.

Everything alright, dear?” Mrs Hudson questions from the safety of the kitchen.

He's up now, pacing, hands on either side of his head, quietly ranting to himself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Oh, of all the things I missed, this is absolutely the best. Holmes, you ignorant, oblivious fool! Under your nose, under your very eyes this entire time! Oh, this is delicious!

Sherlock is unaware of Mrs Hudson slipping down the stairs, unaware of the cooling tea and wilting sandwich that he promised he'd eat. He half-listens to the men talking in his ear, partial sentences painting a broader context – above board, stern, knots – they are on a boat – all the while pulling files from his mind palace, slotting things into place as he should have done, could have done, months ago. The snipers at the pool, the woman's handwriting on the pink phone envelope, the middle man for the fake Vermeer painting, the packet of breadcrumbs – so many ways that she had been involved from the very beginning, running Moriarty's errands and organizing the logistics for his criminal operations. He wants to think more about the way she must have infiltrated John's life when everyone thought Sherlock was dead, but he gives this up for now to listen in on John and the agents on this supposed whale watching tour.

He hears John murmur target approaching and then he can hear Mary, who must be close enough to be heard through John's hidden mike.

Here, love, I brought you a glass of wine.

Thanks. Any sign of the whales yet?

Not that I've seen. Don't you like it?

Like what?

The wine.

Oh, haven't tried it yet – yeah, it's fine, lovely, thanks.

Well, bottoms up, as they say. To the future, John.

Cheers.

Sherlock hears the clink of glass on glass, then silence. He thinks about the set-up: Intelligence believes that Mary will make a move to eliminate John tonight, on this boat, while whale watching. There must be at least a handful of other couples on the boat, maybe up to a dozen, plus the agents, who must be posing at tourists. Armed tourists. But Mary – Mary is unarmed? Of course not. It comes to him in a flash and he curses the fact that he can't communicate through the radio.

Oh, but he can still communicate. Of course he can. He whips out his phone and sends the text, hoping that John will check it immediately, even if Mary is standing right there. He hears the ping of John's phone receiving the text, then Mary's voice again.

He just really can't leave you alone, can he? What is it now, does he need you to fetch him some tea?

John chuckles, keeping it lighthearted.

You know Sherlock, he's probably not even aware that I'm not in the next room.

Shouldn't he be though, after you not living there for months? It's like he's been with us this entire time. Maybe you should've just invited him, saved the effort of texting every five seconds.

Does it really bother you, love? I married you, yeah? I'm here with you. I'm just going to use the head, okay? Be right back.

Oh for god's sake, John. Tell him I said to go get a life.

The text comes through a moment later, indicating that John is probably alone now and able to text.

Don't drink the wine?

She's put something in the wine, John. If she's unarmed, she's using something else. Something to render you unable to protect yourself. CBTM

How... ?

Mycroft gave me a one-way receiver. I can hear you, but I can't speak to you. CBTM

Of course. Well, I've already had a bit, so now what?

STOP DRINKING IT, OBVIOUSLY. CBTM

So you've figured it out, about Mary?

Finally! So much makes sense now. What is the objective? Are you bringing her in? CBTM

Depends on how things proceed, I suppose. I have to get back out there.

Before John leaves the head he hears him communicate to the other agents, target has drugged my drink, watch me for signs of disability. Watson over. 0018 and 0025 confirm the message, and John goes back to Mary.

Another twenty minutes pass with little to no activity. John and Mary stay where they are, watching out over the water, barely speaking to each other. The other agents are completely silent, undoubtedly in place and waiting for something to happen. When it starts, it happens quickly, with little warning or lead up. Sherlock stands near the fireplace, eyes closed, and presses the ear bud with an index finger, as if this will bring him closer to the voices he hears.

There, John, look, everyone is moving to the bow – we must be near the whale pod.

Will... we... join them?

John's voice is slurred and slow, and Sherlock wonders how much sedative Mary added to the wine before handing the glass over, and how much of the wine John actually drank.

I don't think so, John. Let's just stay here, shall we?

Hmm? But... the... whales...

You're looking rather sleepy. Everything okay? I wouldn't want you to fall overboard or anything.

Mary gives a sharp laugh, then there's a rustling sound, a few low grunts, and a splash. Sherlock's cocks his head as if to hear more, but his ear piece goes deadly silent.

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock is about to yank the ear piece out of his ear and call Mycroft when he hears 0018 and 0025 responding to what they'd heard. He stills himself, hands midair, long enough to understand that 0018 is now responsible for working with the captain and that 0025 is headed to the stern to determine the exact nature of the situation. As he listens he hears his phone ping from where he left it on the kitchen table. It's Mycroft, and Sherlock finds himself surprisingly relieved that his brother is involved and has been so responsive.

Stay where you are until we know more.

Sherlock doesn't respond, as there is nothing to say until he has more information. The agents are communicating with each other now, but they aren't saying what Sherlock so desperately wants them to say.

Watson and the target are missing, no sign of them in the water. Call for search and rescue, I'm going in. 0025 over.

0025's mike clicks off, and Sherlock hears 0018 calling search and rescue and then instructing someone to lower one of the mandatory lifeboats into the water. After thirty seconds of silence Sherlock rips the earpiece out of his ear, grabs his phone, wallet, passport, and a prepacked travel bag, and slams out of the flat. This, he thinks to himself, could not be allowed to happen. John is alright or he is not, but either way, Sherlock is going to him. He should have been there all along, at John's side, but Mycroft had insisted, and John had insisted, and for some absolutely unimaginable reason, he had listened to them. And now this had happened.

He sits in the back of the cab, willing the traffic to clear and barking alternate directions to the driver – take the A40 to the A312, it's a slightly longer distance but will be seven and a half minutes faster this time of day – while firing off texts to Mycroft.

Don't even try to stop me this time, Mycroft. CBTM

I wouldn't think of it.

Have you had an update? CBTM

I expect one any minute. I'll arrange a private flight. Go to the usual terminal and runway.

Update? CBTM

Update? CBTM

Update? CBTM

Anthea will meet you at the terminal with your paperwork.

Update on JOHN? CBTM

They have located John.

Do not toy with me right now, Mycroft. Tell me. CBTM

Resuscitation underway.

Resuscitation. John may be alive. John could be alive. John could be not dead. A small drop of water splashes on the glass of Sherlock's phone, and he realizes that he's sweating as if deep in the throes of a fever. His collar feels soaked, and his hair, and he suddenly becomes aware that his shirt hangs wet under his arms and down his back. More than that, he senses that his heart, that master of cardiac operation, has somehow detached itself from its pinnings and has relocated to his throat, somewhere behind his adams apple, jammed into a space impossibly small and drastically uncomfortable. Upon further inspection he catalogs that his stomach is no longer nestled above his large intestine, but has migrated lower, and might be navigating its way right out of Sherlock's body. Either Sherlock's organs are rebelling, or have been completely taken over by his brain, which is at that very moment orchestrating a massive panic attack.

Sherlock closes his eyes and leans his head against the back seat of the taxi. Behind his eyelids the plane trees come into focus first, and then the curved, stone drive leading to the house. He can barely move his legs up the sweeping front stairs, each one testing his ability to function, but then the front door opens and she stands there, holding out her delicate hand.

“Tu as besoin de respirer, mon chat.”

I cannot breathe without him, grand-mère.”

Here, breathe into this, child. Breathe in, Sherlock. Now out. Again. You are going to him now, yes?”

Sherlock lowers his face to the pale, peach tinged bloom and inhales deeply. There is something about grand-mère's rose that reminds him of John. Not the scent – the scent is too feminine. Not the color, either, which is too pale for John's vibrancy. The petals. The petals, the way they gently unfurl from the tightly gathered cluster at the center, revealing everything, slowly, slowly, yet still holding fast and sure at the core.

What if he's gone?”

We will face that if it happens, Sherlock. Not until then.”

What if I'm too late? All this time, grand-mère, years wasted, I've been such a fool.”

Non, ce n'est pas vrai, Sherlock. It is not true. This was your path, it was always meant to be this path.”

Then he must be alive, grand-mère, because it can't end this way.”

Good. Now go. Get on the plane, mon petit chat.”

Sherlock boards the small, private jet with the dossier of paperwork Anthea had briskly handed him and settles into his seat. He turns off his phone and slips it into his pocket, tosses the dossier onto the gleaming table in front of him, pulls the window shade down, and closes his eyes. The hours looming before him, hours of inaction and uselessness, hours between him and John, are an exquisite form of torture. Why has no one figured out teleportation yet? Surely Mycroft has people working on that? Useless people, it would seem. Being, sitting, existing in this nothingness is a new addition to Dante's circle of hell, a particularly cruel renovation. It has to be. Sherlock sleeps.

The small plane lands hard on the runway, its wheels thudding and screeching as the engines are thrust into reverse and the wing flaps tilt up to slow their acceleration. Sherlock gathers his belongings and is up and at the door before the aircraft has come to a complete stop at the gate. The flight attendant glares at him. He glares back.

Sherlock turns his phone on and walks off of the plane and into the heat. His hard soled shoes click on the tarmac and a soft ocean breeze ruffles his hair, but he is oblivious to the palm trees and seagulls, the smell of salt and sea around him. He barely glances up as he scrolls through his texts, crossing the interior of the small airport quickly and with singleminded purpose. He clears customs with the click of a stamp in his passport, then strides outside and to the private car waiting at the curb.

The driver makes no attempt at small talk, and for this Sherlock is grateful. He sits, unseeing, as the car moves smoothly with the sparse traffic and toward an area of the island completely un-afflicted with tourists. The hospital is a short, squat, concrete building that inspires little confidence, but Sherlock has seen worse. Standing outside the revolving door that would take him inside and to John, Sherlock reflects on what the next few minutes would mean and how they might change his entire life. Whatever he discovers inside would either end his existence or restart it, of that he is sure. If John is well, Sherlock promises himself, he will waste no time claiming his new future, claiming John.

He reviews what he knows at this point. Mycroft's text had said little, just that John is alive and in a local hospital, and that a car would be waiting to take Sherlock directly there. The lack of more relevant information causes frustration, but this is typical of Mycroft, a diplomat who never manages to say what he means to say with the actual words that would best express his intent. Alive could mean life support, hospital could mean intensive care. It's the last text that worries Sherlock the most. He doesn't want to think about what good luck most likely means in Mycroft's garbled, evasive lexicon.

The hospital seems mostly deserted when Sherlock walks in, and there is no one at the reception desk, so Sherlock moves behind the empty chair and clicks through various drop-down menus on the computer until he locates John's room. Not intensive care, not surgery. Recovery. John is on this very floor, probably just past a nearby set of swinging double doors. Sherlock releases the breath that he's been holding and feels the smallest of smiles tug at the corner of his mouth. Less than thirty seconds later he finds himself in John's room.

John is sitting in a chair by the window when Sherlock walks in, fully dressed in what Sherlock assumes is part of his sex holiday wardrobe and tying his shoes. Sherlock had pushed the door open without announcing himself, and John doesn't look up, just says, “I'm almost ready, thanks.”

“I told you not to drink the wine.”

John's head snaps up fast, his eyes clear and wide, his mouth open in shock.

“Jesus Christ, Sherlock. Are you really here?”

“It would appear so, yes.”

“Well, come here, then.”

Sherlock feels rooted to the spot, all the events of the past week grinding to a halt, all of it backdrop to the eddy of emotion and uncertain anticipation radiating between them now in this seemingly mundane moment, this moment that is as basic as one of them walking into a room to find the other already there, this moment that is phenomenal because it is the last stop on the precipice of Sherlock hurling himself into the unknown.

Later he wouldn't remember crossing the room, or saying anything, or even having had made the decision to move, but he will remember the hard floor pressing up into his knees, and the feel of John's khaki trousers against his cheek, the spread of John's fingers through his hair as he wraps his arms around John's waist. He will remember the warmth of it all, the strength of it, the solidity of John under Sherlock's reverent, bowed body.

“Breathe, Sherlock.”

“That's what grand-mère said.”

“Bless that woman. Sherlock, let me see you. Look at me.”

Sherlock raises his head and peers up at John, who then takes Sherlock's face gently in his hands and rubs his thumbs along the hollows under Sherlock's cheekbones, eyes roaming over his curls and eyes and nose and lips and throat. Sherlock closes his eyes to see if that might somehow help his heart reclaim some semblance of normal function, but loses track of his erratic heartbeat altogether when he feels John's lips on his forehead, his eyebrows, his temples and nose and cheeks and eyelids. The kisses stop then, and Sherlock feels John's nose rub against his, and feels John's warm breath against his mouth, and realizes that John is angling Sherlock's head just a bit to the side. Sherlock has just the briefest thought that his own lips seem to be taking over all operations, because surely Sherlock has no idea what he is doing, but there are his lips, parting and searching and then pressing ever so barely against John's.

That kiss is little more than a gentle brushing of mouth against mouth, of pressing and aligning and perhaps just the suggestion of the tip of a tongue, but it is the sweetest thing Sherlock has ever experienced in his previously pathetic existence, and he knows that if he dies in that moment he will have been the most exultant man on the planet. He thinks maybe he should tell John that, but then he hears another voice, an unexpected voice, saying, “Doctor Watson? You just need to sign these forms and then you're free to go.”

Sherlock opens his eyes for the sole purpose of rolling them, and John, still so close, smiles and raises an eyebrow in mock exasperation before turning to the nurse and addressing her.

“Thank you, I'll sign those now. Would you mind calling a cab?”

“Not at all.”

This, Sherlock wanted to say, has been entirely too easy, but he doesn't want to invite complexity, so he stands and holds out a hand to help John pull himself out of the chair. They stand close, and Sherlock instinctively reaches out and wraps his arms around John, smiling at his ability to finally, finally, give in to that overwhelming, constant instinct to touch.

“Where are we going?” he asks, and John answers, his face pressed against Sherlock's neck.

“I thought we'd go back to the resort for now. I still have to debrief with double-oh-eighteen and twenty-five, and em, I've got the room for another week.”

oh.

“John, where's Mary?”

“She's dead, Sherlock.”

ah.

“Could we maybe get a different room than the one you shared with her?”

“I believe that has already been arranged.”

Sherlock feels a thrill shoot through his body and his breath catch in his throat as he pulls out of the embrace and looks down into John's teasing, dark eyes.

“John Watson, are we on sex holiday together?”

“I do believe we are. Okay?”

"God, yes."

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock and John stand together for another moment, both of them grinning like idiots. Well, Sherlock thinks to himself, if being with John makes him look and act like an idiot, so be it. John moves to pick up the plastic hospital bag with his belongings and rummages through it. He slips his wallet into his back pocket, fastens his watch, and puts a pair of sunglasses in his shirt pocket. He looks in the bag one last time and smirks, then pulls out his wedding band, a simple platinum circle, and holds it up between his thumb and index finger.

Sherlock feels a bit of the warmth he'd absorbed from John's arms slip away. He scowls. Watching Mary put that ring on John's finger had been one of the most horrendous moments in his life, and he reflects now on the sensation he had had in the small chapel, of a sinking heart and clouded mind, of regret and loss and loneliness. Knowing now that it was all fake does little to erase the memory of it.

“What will you do with that, then?”

“I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.”

“My my, Agent Watson, you really are quite impressed with yourself, aren't you?”

“Aren't you?”

“I've always been impressed by you, John. I am immensely impressed by you right now, and I anticipate being thoroughly impressed by you in the very near future.”

Sherlock revels in the slow flush that crawls up John's neck and across his cheeks, the way he swallows and licks his lower lip and slightly quirks one eyebrow.

“Let's get out of here, yeah?”

“Let's.”

Sherlock reviews John's hospital records in the taxi on the way to the resort. He suspects that there's more to the story than is reflected in those pages. According to the report given by the attending physician, John came into the emergency center via ambulance, conscious after being given CPR, the result of having fallen off a boat and remaining underwater for too long. There is no mention of a sedative or any other illicit substance in his blood, nothing to indicate that he had been impaired by whatever Mary had put in his wine. The report lists a few minor contusions, rules out a concussion, and states that his lungs are clear and healthy. He notes that there is no attached police report detailing any foul play. But there wouldn't be, would there?

He hands the papers back to John and studies him for a moment before saying, “I'd like to know the whole story, including all the bits that aren't in this report.”

“Sure. Maybe not just now, though?” John answers, nodding toward the taxi driver.

“Of course. Later.”

The sun is setting when they pull into the resort's circular drive, and Sherlock is momentarily struck by both the significance of everything that has happened today and the compact time frame in which it has taken place. Mrs Hudson and her sandwich feel like weeks ago, as does Anthea and her delivery, the rushed trip to the airport, and the flight to John. This morning he was pacing the floorboards, waiting for a response from Mycroft, still unsure about what was about to happen, and now, almost sixteen hours later, it's all over, and something new and fabulous is beginning. Sherlock isn't one to put much stock in the concept of closure, or to mark his life with symbolic chapters. To dwell in reflection too long would be to stay in those darker moments, to give them power they no longer deserve. It's a rare moment, but for once he doesn't feel compelled to deduce the missing parts. He would rather have John fill in the blanks and then move forward, into this new reality that John has created for them.

The staff at reception greet John warmly and welcome him back. The young woman behind the desk hands John a small folio containing the new key cards and says, “We processed the request for a new room, Mr. Watson. I hope you and Mary will enjoy it.”

Sherlock looks at John, wondering how he'll address this, but John simply says, “Mary was called away quite unexpectedly and won't be returning to the hotel. Mr Holmes here will be joining me for the rest of my stay.”

“Fabulous. Welcome, Mr Holmes. Let us know if there's anything we can do to make your stay as comfortable as possible.”

Sherlock flashes her a fake smile and is about to dismiss her before turning back and saying, “Actually, there is something. My luggage didn't make it on my flight, and I'll need to purchase some clothes for the next week.”

“I would recommend the shops on the mezzanine level, Mr Holmes. You'll find everything you need, including toiletries, there.”

“Excellent. Thank you.”

As they're walking away John leans in and whispers, “You're really not going to need those clothes, Sherlock.”

It's Sherlock's turn to blush now, the heat across his chest and neck flaring up to match the warmth growing in his abdomen and groin. He's not used to this John, this predatory and suggestive version of the man he knows so well. They've certainly flirted a bit before, and pushed that invisible line of appropriateness and personal space that exists between just-friends, but something in John has definitely shifted. He's strutting next to Sherlock like a peacock with a look on his face that's positively voracious in its hunger.

Sherlock let's the words slip by in front of him – consume, absorb, destroy, inhale – and then there is it.

Devour.

John looks like he wants to devour Sherlock.

“Hey, you still with me?”

Sherlock hadn't realized that he'd stopped walking, and the words in his vision fall apart and slip out of sight as he blinks rapidly and looks to John.

“John. Your face. There's a word. It just came to me.”

John cocks his head to the side and raises an eyebrow, encouraging Sherlock to go on.

“Devour. The word is devour.”

John steps back to where Sherlock has stopped and crowds in close to him, keeping his eyes level so that he's staring at Sherlock's mouth. He leans in closer and wraps his fingers lightly around Sherlock's wrist, rubbing the inside of that pale, delicate flesh with his thumb. He nods ever so slightly and then whispers, “Yeah? That's a good word, Sherlock. That's a very, very good word. Very accurate.”

Sherlock feels a chill run up and down his body and he swallows, loudly. They walk the rest of the way to the suite in silence.

The first thing John does when he unlocks the door and steps inside is toe off his shoes and toss the key card on a low coffee table in the sitting area. There's a manilla folder on the table, and a new iPhone still in its box. Sherlock watches as John ignores the folder and retrieves the phone from its packaging, hitting the on button and waiting for it to come to life.

“Mycroft doesn't waste any time, does he? He had new clothes and shoes delivered to the hospital before I arrived, has this phone waiting for me, and that's probably the debrief in that folder, just waiting for my signature.”

“He does occasionally have his uses, although I imagine you have Anthea to thank for the wardrobe and phone.”

“No texts.”

“Texts?”

“No texts from you. I had become rather used to them.”

Sherlock puts his hand in his pocket and draws out his phone, fingers flying. Five seconds later John's new phone pings, and he shoots Sherlock an exasperated look before looking at it.

Hey. SH

Hey. Come here often?

First time, actually. SH

I see. Can I buy you a drink?

Maybe later. SH

Later?

After you snog me senseless. RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Snogging doesn't even begin to cover what I'm going to do to you.

Oh. RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Come here.

I am here. RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Come closer.

Sherlock closes the distance between them, the phone's ignored screen going black in his hand.

“Better?”

“Yeah. Better. And we'll work on your sexting later, too,” John says, winking up at him. He takes Sherlock's phone from his hand and sets it, alongside his own, on the coffee table.

“Will you do something for me, Sherlock?”

“I'll do anything for you, John. Surely you know that by now.”

“Mmm. Take off your clothes.”

“Take off...”

“I want to look at you. I want to really see you. I want you to stand here, naked, in front of me, and I want to take in every bit of you, everything about you that I've imagined for so long now, before I touch you. Will you do that for me?”

Sherlock blinks and tries to process John's request. Although he's grown used to his desire for John in an abstract way, he's given little thought to the logistical necessities involved. He's never been modest, but he's also never been asked to strip by someone who wants to devour him. Whereas he has spent years sublimating his body into the realm of transport-only, he can no longer deny that his flesh is infused with wants, needs, and reactions. How, though, to move forward, with such a blank page of experience from which to draw? Insecurity, doubt, and hesitation have not been allowed to the surface for years and years, but he recognizes them now the way he would recognize the bitter taste of a childhood medicine. The lingering message is just as bitter: You'll do this wrong and he will leave. He has no idea what to do.

He is there immediately, standing on the porch, fighting with the doorknob. Why is this door locked? Why can he not get in? He pounds on the thick wood, rattles the knob, bangs the knocker.

He hears the soft clicking of her heels on the marble floor and then her voice comes to him from behind the still-locked door.

No, mon cheri. You must go back.”

Grand-mére, please, I must talk to you.”

No, mon canard, I am sorry, but no.”

I don't know what to do. I haven't … done this before.”

He should be embarrassed to tell her this, but he's not. She knows.

So you are afraid and … embarrassé … standing on this front porch instead of loving your John? Sherlock, it is his first time too, yes?”

No, grand-mére, of course it isn't. That's the problem.”

Yes, mon chat, it is. It is his first time with you. Whenever two people are together for the first time, it is just that. A first time. Go, go learn with your John.”

But I need to read more first, I need to come in and access some files, review some things I had packed away …”

You are being … ridicule … Sherlock, ridiculous. There is nothing to read, nothing to review. It is natural, it will happen the way it is meant to. I am going back to the garden, back to my roses. You must go now, too. Goodbye, mon chou.”

Sherlock feels John's hand on his shoulder, and when he meets his eyes he sees concern and perhaps a bit of panic there.

“I'm sorry, Sherlock. I thought... I didn't mean to...”

None of his own insecurities can stand against what he sees in John's expression. John is not going to laugh at him, will not care what he knows and does not know, will not leave him.

“No, I'm sorry, John. That won't happen again. It's good. What you asked, it's good.”

Sherlock slips out of his shoes, then reaches down to pull off his socks and set them to the side. He watches John's face as he starts on his shirt, first tugging the tails out of his trousers, and then undoing the cuffs. John's gaze stays with Sherlock's fingers as they slip the mother-of-pearl buttons out of each buttonhole, and then back up to his chest as Sherlock lets the shirt slip off his shoulders and land on the floor behind him. John takes a step closer as Sherlock undoes his belt buckle and tugs the woven leather out of the loops, then pulls at the zipper, hooks his thumbs into the waistband, and pushes them down around his thighs, knees, calves, and feet.

“Stop. Wait.”

John moves to pick up the discarded clothing, bunches it all into a bundle and tosses it onto the couch. He moves back to stand in front of Sherlock for a moment, staring at his small, oval nipples, his narrow ribs, his concave abdomen. John cocks his head to the side as if he's inspecting a work of art, lingering over Sherlock's biceps and forearms, his neck and shoulders and collarbone. He stares at the trail of hair disappearing into Sherlock's pants for a small eternity, then flicks his eyes back up to Sherlock's face and says, “You're unbelievable. Do you know that? Do you know how fucking gorgeous you are?”

Sherlock knows that this isn't a question he's actually expected to answer, and he's not sure he'd be able to find the right words if he tried. He doesn't see himself that way, but somehow, with this man's adoring eyes and single-minded focus on him, Sherlock feels that maybe he could be truly special to someone else. To John. He inhales deeply, feeling his heart pound like a lever in his chest, and wonders if John can hear it. Surely he can hear it.

He's hard now, and he doesn't have to look to know that his cock is straining upward, pushing its way out of his pants, exposing the head of him, foreskin fully retracted. It feels hot and silky against his belly, it feels gorgeous, and he has to close his eyes when he sees John lick and bite his lower lip.

“Take. Those. Off.”

Sherlock rolls the black silk down slowly, ever so slowly, feeling the cool air of the room on his flushed skin as he reveals himself inch by inch. He bends at the waist to roll them all the way off, and a drop of pre-come weeps out of his slit, then rolls down his shaft as he stands up straight again.

“Jesus Fucking Christ, Sherlock.”

John sinks down to his knees and Sherlock's eyes roll back in his head when he feels John's breath on his inner thigh. He struggles to open his eyes and look down, and feels a low groan resonate in his chest before he hears it come out of his throat.

John is kneeling in front of Sherlock, his hands clasped behind his back as if to restrain himself from touching. He's only inches from Sherlock's cock now, and Sherlock is sure that he's going to press his face into the thatch of black, curly hair covering his groin, but John is just there, so close, taking slow, deep breaths. John is inhaling deeply, breathing in the musk that must be radiating off of him in waves at this point. Sherlock closes his eyes again, and waits.

“Don't move.”

He hears John stand and walk behind Sherlock, then hears the rustling of fabric as John begins to undress. He hears the clink of John's belt buckle and the undoing of his fly, he hears his trousers land a few feet away, and then the softer sweep of his shirt being pulled off his shoulders and down his arms. There's silence then, absolute silence but for the sound of Sherlock trying to breathe and a long, low sigh from behind him.

“You are the most stunning thing I have ever seen,” John murmurs, “and you should never, ever, wear clothes again. God, the things I'm going to do to you, the ways I want to devour you.”

He feels John press up against him then, his broad chest skimming Sherlock's back, his hips nudging his arse. He feels the length of John's erection press into the roundness of his left cheek, and he can't help but shift his hips from side to side until he feels it slot into the cleft at the center of him. John stops Sherlock's hips with a light touch of his fingers on them, and then speaks into the nape of his neck, running his fingers up and down the veins on Sherlock's forearms, the insides of his elbows, the curves of his deltoids.

“How long, Sherlock? How long have you wanted this?”

Sherlock's voice is broken, a raspy, stuttering sound.

“Years, John. Years.”

“But you never said.”

“Neither did you.”

“I guess that makes us both idiots, yeah?”

John's fingers move around to Sherlock's chest, whirling around his nipples in smaller and smaller circles until they finally brush over and then pinch the stiff peaks. Sherlock gasps and rolls his hips back, feeling John's cock slide against him.

“I know, love, I know. Steady now, okay?”

Sherlock lets his head roll back, tries to still himself. John keeps his left hand on Sherlock's chest, working his nipples, and moves the other upward, over his collarbone, up the long expanse of his arched neck, until two of his fingers are caressing Sherlock's lower lip. Sherlock licks at them, then pulls them into his mouth, sucking at them as he pushes back against John's cock. They both groan, and Sherlock feels a slickness against his backside as John begins to leak heavily against him.

John withdraws his fingers and lets both hands drift down Sherlock's torso to his hips, and he slowly rocks against Sherlock from behind while licking a stripe up his spine and across a shoulder blade. His fingers work their way to either side of Sherlock's erection, teasing downward into his pubic hair and rubbing into the inner crease of his upper thigh. Sherlock's breathing is ragged and he's trembling, leaning back so that John can support some of his weight.

“John, please, let me see you. I need to see you.”

John doesn't answer, but he moves to stand in front of him, almost toe-to-toe, their bodies swaying toward each other. Sherlock takes a step back and steeples his fingers together under his chin, his eyes sweeping from the top of John's head to the tips of his toes. He knows that he's seeing the physical manifestation of what his own body is experiencing – the flush across John's chest, the erect nipples, the rapid rise and fall of his chest. John's penis, shorter but thicker than Sherlock's, is exactly as he imagined it. It looks aggressive. It looks like it might need to be tamed. John's thighs are strong and muscled, his calves are round above the taper of his ankles. John is stunning. John is everything and more.

Sherlock moves behind John and rubs his thumb lightly over the scar there, not lingering for now, then runs his fingers across the back of John's neck and up into his hair, tugging gently on the way back down. When he presses himself against John, the way John had done to him, he finds that his cock rubs into the curve of John's lower back, and his balls nestle against John's arse. From here Sherlock can easily tilt his head down and suck a small welt into the tendon on the side of John's neck, and again on his shoulder, and again on the knob at the top of his spine. Maybe even better is sucking an earlobe into his mouth, and running the tip of his tongue over the curve of John's ear, because the sounds John makes are absolutely wanton.

Sherlock moves around again and takes John's face in his hands, the soft touch of his fingertips a counterbalance to the roil of passion he feels racing through him. He tilts John's face toward his own, lowers his parted lips, and presses them to John's. The kiss is slow and wet and open, the slide of their tongues a slow dance of exploration and tenderness. He feels John's hands slide over his shoulders, around the back of his neck, tugging into his hair, and Sherlock pulls back slightly, rubs his nose against the tip of John's, and says, “John Watson, I suggest we take this to bed before I make you fall down.”

John sucks Sherlock's swollen lower lip back into his mouth, pulls off slowly, and says, “Bed it is, Sherlock Holmes.”

The suite is expansive and luxurious, but Sherlock hasn't seen or catalogued one iota of it beyond the front door, couch, and coffee table. They kiss and caress their way to the bedroom, pushing open the french doors that separate it from the living area with their elbows and backsides, and wrestle each other, hands grasping and tugging, onto the bed. Sherlock begins to blindly toss the excess of decorative pillows every which direction until there's enough room to roam and roll and rut.

“So – many – pillows. For god's sake, John, who needs so many pillows?”

“Forget the stupid pillows, Sherlock, come here.”

Sherlock flicks one last pillow onto the floor and crawls across the bed to where John is kneeling, then tackles him to the side and wedges one of his thighs between John's, up tight against the heat between his legs.

“Better. Horizontal is better. We were wasting too much kinetic energy trying to maintain an upright posture.”

John pushes against Sherlock's shoulder, rolling them over so that he's on top, straddling Sherlock with his knees on either side of Sherlock's hips.

“Horizontal is good. Vertical. Diagonal. Whatever. I don't care, as long as I can touch you. I want you so much, Sherlock.”

“Well that's fortunate, because it appears that I have given myself to you, for however long you'll have me.”

Sherlock does something then that he never would have foreseen, never could have imagined. He pulls his knees up and to the sides, spreading his thighs as far as he can, putting himself in what must be the most vulnerable, exposed position he's ever assumed in his life. More vulnerable than having a gun pointed at him, more trusting than letting Mycroft admit him to rehab. There are no more defenses.

John sits back on his heels and stares down at him, takes it all in, his face open and full of wonder.

“God, Sherlock.”

“Yours.”

“I'll take such good care of you, Sherlock, I swear. I swear I'll be so good to you.”

“I know. I know you will. And I, you.”

John bends then, rubs his cheek and nose up the length of Sherlock's shaft, brushes his lips against the glistening head, licks the pre-come into his mouth. He runs his hands up and down Sherlock's spread thighs, smooths his thumb over Sherlock's perineum, tugs gently at his testicles. Sherlock has never felt so worshipped in his life, and when John takes Sherlock in his mouth, sucking down a bit more with each pass, he arches up off the bed, his neck straining, and moans, "Johhhhhn, god, yessss.”

He slams his feet down on the mattress and uses the leverage to roll his hips in time with the movement of John's hot, tight mouth on him. He thinks, briefly, that he should stop this before it's too late, that he should be pleasuring John at the same time, but before he's finished the thought he feels the flat of John's tongue swipe over his glans and the tip of his finger press ever so slightly into his anus, and it's done, it's too late. John has torn the orgasm out of him with such fierceness that his hips still, his muscles cramp, his hands clench so hard into the sheets he's sure he must have ripped them. He hears the echo of someone yelling oh god oh god oh god oh god and then he becomes aware of John moving up his body and settling against his side, feels his breath against his cheek when he whispers, “Sherlock?”

It takes a lifetime for him to be able to relax his legs, unclench his hands, and open his eyes, but even then he's trembling, shaking, every bit of him overstimulated and quivering. John is smiling down at him, the blueness of his eyes standing out against his blond eyelashes, his lips a delicious, deep, rubbed-raw red.

“You still with me?”

“Can't … oh god …”

John rubs his palm up and down Sherlock's arm and across his chest, and eventually the trembling begins to fade and the buzzing under his skin settles down to something closer to normal.

“That was by far, bar none, the most intense thing I've ever seen in my life.”

Sherlock pulls John down into a lazy kiss and wraps his arms around him, pulling him as close as possible.

“Mm. Didn't know … Not sure … I can move. You, though. We need to take care of you.”

“Yeah, about that. It's, em, done.”

Sherlock blinks at him, not understanding. He hadn't even touched John. The entire thing had been entirely one-sided and quite unfair.

“Sherlock, I was already so close. When you came like that, so fast, so hard, it just took about three hard strokes and I was right behind you. I couldn't help myself.”

“Oh. Well. That's not what I had wanted to happen. I owe you.”

“Stop. You don't. There's no owing, no score keeping, no master plan. I had an amazing orgasm with you and I feel fucking fantastic, and we're going to have a long, long time to repeat the process every which way possible, okay?”

Sherlock would argue back, but he's having a hard time keeping his eyes open, and John's words are beginning to fade. He starts to protest when John moves away, but then he's back, pulling the duvet up and over them, tucking his face into Sherlock's neck and doing something with his legs that has them completely entwined. The last thing that Sherlock sees before slipping away are the words cocoon, warm, solid, drift, waves, John.

John, John, John.

Chapter Text

It's dark and warm and Sherlock is covered in goose-down and John. There's just enough pre-dawn light coming through the drapes for him to make out the curve of John's head on the pillow next to him, the slope of his shoulder and the dip of his waist. He can feel John's forearm laying across his ribs, two of their legs aligned, the other of John's thrown over Sherlock's thighs. He tries to move and finds himself just about immobile, so he works on nudging himself even further under John's errant limbs to completely ensure his bodily entrapment.

This will be his excuse if Mycroft calls, demanding an update, or asking for the debriefing documents, or telling him to come home for some inane reason. Sherlock will huff with resignation and say You just don't understand, Mycroft. I couldn't move, I was pinned down by a sleeping Watson. Oh, he hopes he gets the chance to say that. He will contrive a situation in which he can say that. He chuckles softly to himself, imaging all the things he could say to make Mycroft fidget and squirm.

But Mycroft, you never wake a sleeping Watson, as they're likely to attack you with their aggressive penis.

Mycroft, don't be daft. Watsons – unlike Holmeses – require at least four hours of sleep a night, or they risk adding unwanted time to their sexual refractory periods.

No, Mycroft, I cannot hunt down your ring of rogue espionage agents at the moment, I have a rather short but heavy Watson passed out on top of me.

He's chuckling now, he can't help himself, so he snuffles down into the hair on the top of John's head in an attempt to quiet himself. This may have been an effective strategy had he not snorted some of John's hair right up his nose, causing him to sneeze with his entire body.

“Th'hell, Sherlock?” John croaks against his shoulder. “What time's it?”

“About 5:30. Go back to sleep. No, over here, on my pillow the way you were.”

“You okay?”

“I am amazing.”

“And modest.”

“Yes. And you are amazing, too.”

“Alright. Go back to sleep.”

Sherlock tries cataloguing bits of John while he sleeps, but after two minutes of tracing his fingertips up, down, and around each of John's vertebrae, especially those of the lumbar variety, John mumbles against his shoulder again, “What're you doing?”

“I'm cataloguing your vertebrae.”

“Well, that's alright then.”

“I thought you were going back to sleep.”

“Can't with you touching me like that.”

“I'll stop.”

“Don't.”

John props himself up on one elbow and fixes his gaze on Sherlock, his eyelids puffy with sleep, blinking in slow-motion. His hair is a bit shaggy and the duvet has slipped down to his waist, revealing his perfectly edible nipples and abdomen.

“Look at us, Sherlock. In bed together. Sleeping together.”

Sherlock looks up at him and feels such a flush of fondness flood through him he's temporarily unable to breathe. It unmoors him, sets him casting for anchor. He turns toward John, so that they're facing each other, and shifts down so that he can press his face into John's chest, slightly tacky with sweat. John smells like salt and sex.

“Hey, you alright?”

“This is more than I ever thought I'd ever have, John, more than I had convinced myself I'd ever deserve, or be allowed. It's a bit overwhelming.”

“Of course you deserve this. How could you think you don't? You deserve to have affection and pleasure and love. Although ask me again if you still deserve for me to be madly in-love with you the next time you give my favorite jumper an acid bath.”

“In-love?”

“Yeah, in-love. Totally. Too much?”

“No. Unprecedented. Unbelievable. Unwarranted. But not too much.”

John wraps his arms around Sherlock and tugs at him until Sherlock is sprawled on top of him like a large, floppy muppet. Sherlock burrows his face into the curve of John's neck and shoulder and wriggles his hips until John's legs spread wide enough for him to settle between them comfortably. He could have this. He could take this and keep it and let it grow, let it twist and twine between them like a vine of ivy, wrapping them together, tighter and tighter. He wants this.

He strokes over the taut skin of John's scar and down his arm, pressing his fingers into John's bicep, cupping the firmness of it with his palm. John's bicep is deceptively strong, Sherlock realizes. John may be short and compact and may look like a cuddly librarian with a penchant for bad spy novels and hideous jumpers, but the evidence contained in this one bicep speaks of an entirely different story. Sherlock continues to prod and press at it, until John flexes it and sends Sherlock's fingers flying. It's unbelievably arousing.

“So, tell me again,” Sherlock kisses into the pulse under John's jaw, “why would we ever leave this bed?”

John plays with Sherlock's mussed hair and Sherlock becomes, if possible, even more boneless on top of him.

“At some point we may want to eat.”

“Room service.”

“And use the bathroom.”

“Chamber pot?”

“Em, no. But I really do need to meet with the others and wrap up the debriefing report, and you may actually need one or two items of clothing.”

Sherlock had temporarily forgotten about the other agents, the debriefing report waiting on the coffee table, the body resting on the dark ocean floor. He runs his hands over his face and looks up at John, his brow furrowed and his lips inclined toward a pout.

“John. You killed your wife for me.”

“Well, no, not really. I killed an international, ex-CIA, rogue assassin who had been working closely with the devil himself and was planning on killing both of us in the very near future before returning to her highly-paid life of violent crime.”

“It's even sexier when you put it that way.”

“I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Sherlock nods thoughtfully before resuming his exploration of John's neck with his mouth. There are several things that Sherlock would like to initiate right now, all of which include John's rather aggressive penis, but he can't rid himself of the nagging thought that there is something unfinished between them, something that needs to be pulled tight and knotted before it can be set aside in the appropriate alcove of their history together. He strokes John's forearm slowly and pushes the words up and out, hoping that John will be amenable.

“I'd like to talk about it, if that's okay with you. I'd like to get all of this out between us, and have it be over, before we get out of this bed, before you talk to the others.”

John twirls the longest curl at the nape of Sherlock's neck around his index finger and tugs at it gently, then lifts his head slightly so that he can kiss the crown of Sherlock's head.

“That's fine. I'll tell you anything you want to know, whatever you haven't already figured out by now.”

Sherlock is pretty sure he has all of it figured out by now, but he wants to hear the way John will explain it, the specific words he'll choose and the meanings he'll assign his decisions and actions. He wants to have John's story to hold on to, because his own deductions are useless until they're confirmed, and even then, they always seem to reflect as much about himself as the object of the deduction. This is John's to tell. This is John's.

“She was the last piece of Moriarty's web?”

“She was. She'd been there from the very beginning, hiding in plain sight. Her gender and size made her unthreatening, and people trusted her until it was too late. She was one of the snipers at the pool, and it was her handwriting on the envelope with the pink phone. She was the middle man between Moriarty and the cabbie, between him and Wenceslas, and she was most likely the one who strapped the bombs onto those poor people when we were counting down the pips. She left the breadcrumbs on our doorstep, both literally and figuratively.”

“She put his plans in his motion, acted as a criminal administrative assistant.”

“Of sorts.”

“How long did you know?”

John shifts onto his side to face Sherlock and pushes a flop of curly hair out of his eyes. His touch is gentle and whispery, and it matches his voice, low and soft, as if he's trying to soothe Sherlock while telling him their story.

“Mycroft came to me shortly before you came back. He had had her flagged for a while, and assumed that she was trying to get close to me so that she could confirm that you really were dead. We both agreed at that point that it was better to keep her under close surveillance.”

“And did you?”

“Keep her under close surveillance?”

“Love her.”

John runs his fingers down through Sherlock's hair, pausing briefly on the nape of his neck, and then down and across his shoulders. Sherlock can hear his heart beating steady and sure where his ear is pressed to John's chest, he can hear his voice reverberate under him when he speaks.

“She filled a gap, for a time when I needed that. She buzzed with an undercurrent of energy, of something dangerous. It all makes sense, now. And yeah, I thought I loved her. I needed to love her. I needed to move on and have something to pull me though the grief of losing you. But as soon as I knew what she was, it was as if I'd never cared for her at all. So I doubt it was ever truly love, not if I could turn it off like that. I suppose I loved the idea of her.

"And then you came back, and she had become rather tangled, I guess you'd say. I proposed the very night you showed up. Mycroft and I thought it would force her hand, that she would turn me down and move on, satisfied by my proposal that you were really gone, and then there you were. Alive. She said yes to stay close and see what you knew, and then to finish her job. I couldn't back out at that point, not without giving something away.”

Sherlock lets out a heavy sigh and fidgets with the buttons on the duvet cover. John's hands have gone still, so he nudges up under his chin and rubs against him until John starts playing with his hair again.

“Why did you not tell me? When I came back, I mean.”

“I thought that you would figure it out. When Mycroft and I realized that you were, well, that you were more invested in allowing me what you thought was my happiness, we decided that it was for the best. If she suspected that you knew who she was, she would have acted sooner, most likely killing both of us. We needed her to believe that I completely trusted her.”

“You were her original target. Why didn't she kill you immediately when I came back? Why go so far with the charade?”

“She wanted information. She asked me constantly where you had been during your fake death, what you had been up to. I never told her anything, Sherlock, not a word, not that I really knew much. She even searched 221B one afternoon when we were on a case. I think she was waiting it out, waiting for me, or you, to confide in her so that she would have a better idea of what was left of Moriarty's network. She wanted details and proof so that she'd know where to pick up the pieces.”

Sherlock lets it all slip together like so many pieces of a puzzle. He wants to believe that he would have seen it all happening had he not been so blindsided by his feelings for John, but had he not let those feelings for John so absolutely direct his thoughts and actions, would they be here now, today? Would they have this? It's an annoying circular thought, similar to pondering how the universe and every single speck of dust in came to be out of absolute nothingness. This is the reason he deleted the solar system, this is the reason he has suppressed illogical emotion and sentiment – because it makes his brain itch in the most desperate way. He pushes it all away and turns his thoughts back to what John is saying.

“Becoming my wife kept her close to both of us, presented her in the most trustworthy light. She encouraged our friendship, included you in all the planning, got to know you. But after the wedding she knew that you and I would see less of each other, and that it would be more difficult to get any information. She knew she was at the end of that particular trail, and I became deadweight, so to speak. She was planning on killing me on the honeymoon, and then going back for you. Think of the tragedy, losing her husband while on holiday, the grieving widow in need of protection and care. No one would have suspected her for one second when you turned up dead.”

“She'd have your name, your pension, the flat – not that she would have needed the money.”

“Mycroft has identified several offshore accounts in her various pseudonyms. It's a lot of money.”

“And now it's yours.”

“Actually, it's not. We weren't officially married. No paperwork was ever filed. Rather handy, having the British government as your brother-in-law.”

Sherlock blinks several times in rapid succession, his fingers stilling on John's wrist.

“Brother-in-law.”

“Well, I didn't want to presume, but yeah, I've kind of come to think of us, and him, in that way. I mean, I've had months to think of where I hoped this would lead, months of thinking of what would happen between us once she was out of the way, so maybe I've rushed the gun a little bit, but if it makes you uncomfortable --”

“No. Stop. I'm yours in whatever way you'll have me. I'll be your partner, significant other, your lover, whatever you want.”

Sherlock wants him to say it, he wants John to ask him. He wants John to say my husband? And he wants to say all the ridiculous cloying, sentimental claptrap he's never once considered saying before this moment. Yes, your husband, your soul mate, your legally recognized partner in case one of us is in the hospital because no doubt that will happen again, and your emergency contact, and your retirement, and the person you think of when you're at Tesco in the tea aisle, and my constant date at Angelo's and yes yes yes.

But all John says is good and Sherlock sighs and thinks that he'll have to work on this, have to help John see that Sherlock is already his husband.

The sun is coming up now, and Sherlock can hear John's stomach grumbling. He's not finished asking his questions, but he's become rather distracted by John's newly acquired erection pressing into his belly. He drags his body slowly up John's, until they're hip to hip, and rubs his nose along John's jawline.

“I have a few more questions, but I need to kiss you first.”

“The questions require kissing?”

“No. I require kissing. It's been too long without kissing.”

“I quite agree.”

Sherlock rubs his lips against John's before slipping his tongue into John's open mouth. It's slow and sensual and affectionate for approximately the first eight seconds, but then John starts sucking on Sherlock's tongue, rather relentlessly, and Sherlock has to tilt his hips up for a moment so that his rapidly filling cock can straighten itself. When he settles down again he feels John's erection flush against his, and he retrieves his tongue when John opens his mouth to groan and say, Jesus, you feel so fucking good. He presses his thumb into John's mouth so that he has something to suck on while Sherlock talks.

“Another question,” he says, rolling his hips slowly. “The last thing I heard on the boat was Mary saying that it would be a shame if you fell over, and then you both went in. What happened?”

John releases Sherlock's thumb with a sigh and reaches down to wrap his hands around Sherlock's arse. His fingers are low and deep, kneading on either side where the plump flesh disappears into inner thigh. Sherlock realizes that his hips have begun moving a bit faster, a bit harder. He needs to concentrate, but damn, what is John doing to his arse? He licks the whorl of John's ear and nibbles on his earlobe in hopes that it will give him something to think about other than John's administrations below.

“I had dumped out the rest of the wine after talking to you. I pretended – oh god – do that again – that I had finished it, pretended that I was under the influence of – fuck, your tongue – whatever she'd put in my drink, tried to – wait, stop – tried to – Sherlock, wait!”

Sherlock is sucking insistently on John's earlobe and rutting against his belly fairly frenetically at this point. There's a growing slickness between them and Sherlock thinks he may have, after much experimenting with different thrusts based on various physics equations, found the perfect angle at which to rub against John's overly aggressive cock. Based on his calculations John's cock will give it up and become much more placid in about thirty seconds.

“Sherlock, wait!”

Sherlock slowly brings the whole operation to a halt and pants into John's neck. His heart is pounding in his ears, and just beyond that is the sound of someone whimpering ever so softly. It may be him.

“Am I doing it wrong? Did I do it wrong?”

“Sherlock, love, you're perfect, you're doing it perfectly. You're doing it so well it was all going to be over way too quickly. I want to answer your question, and kiss you some more, and then you can finish taking me apart. Okay?”

“Yes, alright. But first let me tell you what I think happened, and you can tell me if I'm right. You didn't drink the wine, but you pretended to be incapacitated to make it easier for her, you even sat up on the rail to give her an advantage, and when she went to push you over you grabbed her wrists, pulled her into the water with you. You were strong, and she was always a weak swimmer, and you let yourself sink down with her until you knew she was gone. But you miscalculated how much oxygen you would burn holding her as she struggled, and couldn't quite make it back to the surface before succumbing to the need to breathe. They found you quickly after that, and after a bit of CPR you coughed up that bit of ocean that you had inhaled, and vomited, and began breathing on your own. They took you to that pathetic excuse for a hospital to check you over, but you were fine. You're fine. You're perfect, here with me, and Mary is gone, and you did all of this for me, for us.”

“You're bloody brilliant, you know that?”

“Am I right?”

“Of course you're right.”

Sherlock tries not to preen, but John's praise has always been a powerful reward, both leveling him completely and puffing him up with pride. He basks under the words, but only for a moment, knowing that they have more to discuss.

“John, you said we wouldn't keep score, that there was no strategic plan, no point-keeping, but isn't that what you did? You didn't tell me about Mary because you wanted to make our relationship more equitable. You knew that I had killed for you while I was away, to keep you safe, and you wanted to even the score a little bit, to not feel so indebted.”

John is silent for so long that Sherlock suspects he has said something wrong, has caused some offense. When John speaks his voice is low and his words are deliberate. Sherlock only knows that he's not in trouble when John reaches to cup Sherlock's face in his hands, when he rubs his thumbs against Sherlock's temples and lets his fingers tangle into his hair.

“You're right. I did say those things, and I did take this on because of what you had done for me. But it wasn't keeping score. At least, I don't think it was. It was love, Sherlock. I saw an opportunity to prove to you how much I love you and how much you mean to me, and I took it. I never meant to make you feel inconsequential, or stupid, or anything like that. I didn't like keeping it from you, but I kept focusing on what it would feel like, to me, and hopefully to you, to give you something like that, because I knew what it felt like to me when you had done those things for me, for us. It felt like putting a bow on a gift you had already created and wrapped. Does that make sense?”

Sherlock isn't sure if it makes sense. Or, he corrects, he suspects it makes perfect sense, but he's having a hard time grasping it and internalizing it. He touches his forehead to John's and closes his eyes, letting John's fingers in his hair ground him. He's been looking at this the wrong way. He's been looking at it as something that John had taken from him, not given to him, and he's been insufferable in his patronization of John. For so long he's tried to keep him in a tidy little box, not allowed him to be who he really is. If John is like a cuddly librarian, it's only because that's how Sherlock insisted on seeing him. John killed for Sherlock the day after they met. What kind of poorly dressed librarian would do that? John doesn't just like danger, John is danger. He's murder and revenge and cool, calculating annihilation.

“John. I apologize. For too long I've acted as if I'm the orchestrator, the brain, the center of all of this. I've treated you as something to augment and support me, and that is entirely unfair. You do so much, give so much, things I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do or give. I want us to be equals, together, a true partnership. I think I understand why you let things unfold the way they did. And I see that you need to be able to make your own decisions regarding the actions that affect your life, our lives. I'm not sure how to adequately express my gratitude, my admiration, for what you have done.”

“You just did, love.”

“You keep using that word.”

“Love? Yeah. Because you are, and I do.”

“You're better at saying those things than I am.”

“It doesn't matter. I know you feel the same way. Your actions tell me that, and I'd rather have the truth of your actions than the hollowness of unsubstantiated platitudes.”

“The hollowness of unsubstantiated ... John, you're beginning to sound a bit like me.”

“Yeah, well that's because we've swapped spit now.”

Sherlock's laugh begins as a low rumble in his chest, and by the time his face has rearranged itself into a map of those delightful, squinty laugh lines, it is booming from him, and his whole body is shaking, his overgrown giggles resonating between their bodies.

“God, I love it when you laugh like that.”

Sherlock smiles, then they're kissing again, and all the rest of it falls into place, step by step. The alignment of lips, the thrusting of tongues, the slotting of legs, the tilt and roll of hips, the grasping of arse and cock and hair and sheets. Quickened breaths, then low groans, and then the keening, the nonsense verbalizations, the slack-jawed, wide-eyed reckoning, and finally, the spasms of intensely, otherworldly, muscle-clenching brilliance.

John's voice comes to him through the sound of the explosion rippling through his body, I know, I know you do, love, shhhh, it's okay, shhhh, it's okay.

Sherlock hears John but has no idea what he's talking about, not until he realizes that he's talking too, although maybe it's less talking and more whining or begging or pleading, and he seems to be having a difficult time breathing because of the words streaming out of his mouth, I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you.

Sherlock raises himself up on his forearms and looks down at John's beautiful face, looks down at the mess between them, back up at the damp hair brushed away from his face, his gaze settling in the depth of John's eyes.

“Don't you ever leave me, John Watson. I wouldn't survive it. Not after this.”

“The same goes for you, Sherlock Holmes.”

“No. Never.”

 

* * * * *

 

Where are you? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

I'm in the bathroom, you git. Be right out.

How long have I been asleep? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Two hours, maybe a bit less?

Is there always such a strong causal relationship between sex and sleep? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Not always. But yeah, a lot of the time. Especially if you're NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP TO BEGIN WITH.

Are you yelling at me from the bathroom via text? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Yes.

What are your doing in there and why is it taking so long? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Just took a shower. Let's go eat.

I need a shower, too. RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Then put your phone down and get your arse in here.

I can come into the bathroom when you're in there? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

Of course.

What else can I do now that we're … this? RIGHT NOW PLEASE

I'll make a list. Come in and take a shower.

 

* * * * *

 

Sherlock didn't anticipate how the entire world would be altered after the change in his relationship with John. It's one thing to love someone quietly from afar, even if afar is just the distance of one armchair, but actually loving someone, physically and verbally and emotionally, changes everything. The food on his plate tastes better and the colours of his new linen trousers and shirt are more appealing and the smells of the ocean and the sunblock on John's nose and the feel of the sea breeze on his skin – it's all quite delightful.

Not quite so delightful are the two agents sitting across the breakfast table from them, each nursing a glass of orange juice while waiting for Sherlock and John to finish eating so that they could get down to business. Sherlock eats as slowly as he can, occasionally swiping morsels of french toast from John's plate, which is apparently something else that he is allowed to do now, in hopes of dragging out the inevitable for as long as possible.

He is chewing on a bite of said french toast at a rate that would inspire molasses when John pokes him in the thigh and says, “Sherlock, you're not fooling anyone. Let's get this over with. The sooner we wrap this up the sooner we can go do something else.”

Sherlock shoots John a look that screams BED!? and almost chokes in his effort to swallow his food. John shoots him a look back that says you exasperate me in the most adorable way possible you massive git and sets his coffee cup down with a solid thunk, wipes his mouth on his napkin, and scrapes his chair back.

“Gentlemen, let's do this.”

They move into a small conference room with a view of the ocean. Sherlock paces the length of the room while the others pull documents out of folders and spread them across the table. It's not until someone produces an iPad and activates Skype that Sherlock stops pacing and takes an interest in the proceedings.

“Please tell me that you are not Skyping my idiot brother.”

“Em, yeah, we are. He wants an oral recounting as well as the documents, and this is the best time to do it.”

Sherlock considers sabotaging their efforts, but knows that in the end he'd only be sabotaging himself. Fine. Let them get it over with. They certainly don't need him there, and he's about as interested in interacting with Mycroft right now as he is coming face-to-face with a harpoon-wielding dolphin. Dolphins. He slips out the door and heads to the beach.

 

* * * * *

 

Where are you?

Beach, on the rocks on the far side of the breakers. GET OVER HERE

Are all of your auto-signatures going to be demands?

Probably. GET OVER HERE

On my way.

Sherlock watches John cross the beach and make his way to where he's perched high on an outcrop of enormous rocks. He's wearing a short-sleeved, white linen shirt with the buttons undone to his sternum, the tails untucked. His khaki shorts are loose on his hips and show a fair bit of thigh, and Sherlock has a hard time looking away from his quads flexing and releasing as he strides through the sand. The hair on John's legs has gone lighter than usual, and looks golden in the sun. Sherlock wants to study the hair on John's upper, inner thighs to see if the sun has reached there, too.

“That didn't take as long as I thought it would.”

“No, it was pretty straightforward. Mycroft and the agents had already done up the documents and filled in most of the blanks. They just had a few questions, items for clarification, some technicalities regarding witnesses on the boat, who have all been sent home early. It's done now, though. It's over.”

Sherlock looks out over the horizon and lets the words expand through his mind.

O – V – E – R.

Those four little letters take up almost no space at all, but if pulled and stretched the proper way, he can make them almost infinite, tack them back to the beginning of Moriarty and forward to the sex holiday, to Mary and John on a boat, to just before Sherlock and John in bed together. All of that, before this, is over.

He feels John's hand on his, the weight of it pressing his palm against the heat of the boulder they sit on. John's fingers wrap around his and squeeze, and then John's thigh presses against his.

“Over. It's been a long haul, hasn't it?”

“Too long, Sherlock. Years. We've been caught up in someone else's web for so long, I almost forgot what freedom was like.”

“Freedom. I wouldn't have thought of it that way, but you're right. Everything we've done, every single thing, since Moriarty started, has been in response to him, has been dictated by his actions.”

“And all of it was designed to keep us apart.”

Sherlock leans over and kisses John on the temple before rubbing his nose into the short hair above his ear.

“John. I'm tired of running. I want time with you now.”

“Well, we are on sex holiday together.”

Sherlock runs his hand down John's thigh and caresses the tender space under John's knee.

“And I intend to make excellent use of this time together, I do. But beyond that, I want us to be together, not pulled apart by outside forces. If we stay close, John, if we promise to go forward as a team, no more tricks, no more lies, no more secrets... we can manage. Just you and me against the world.”

“Sounds good to me, love. Sounds perfect.”

Kissing on a rock perched above the ocean with the wind whipping through his hair and his hand up John's shirt is apparently something else that Sherlock is allowed to do. Sherlock is beginning to suspect that John is going to let him do whatever he wants. Of course, there was little that John disallowed before now, other than some particularly gruesome, errant body parts in the refrigerator and occasional experiments involving acid and his jumpers.

“Let's go back to bed. I've been working on the list of things you're allowed to do.”

“I'll need the list typed up, you realize, double-spaced, single-sided, and in a waterproof, three-ring-bound portfolio.”

“Of course. I'll get on that as soon as we get home.”

“Home. 221B?”

“Yeah. Listen, I hope you don't mind, but I asked Anthea to turn your bedroom into a lab and storage area and my old room into our bedroom. Bigger bed, better mattress, new linens, night stands, reading lamps, stuff like that. Hope that's okay?”

Sherlock tries to stifle a giggle but it bubbles up and comes out as a snort. John is looking at him with those bright, happy eyes, his mouth shaped into a questioning smile.

“Lab? New bed? John, you really have taken charge, haven't you?”

“Well, yeah. I'm feeling rather large-and-in-charge lately.”

“I like it. Especially the large part.”

Sherlock's fingers grope under the hem of John's shorts and reach for his crotch, prodding at the thickening flesh.

“You're going to be an absolute adolescent of a boyfriend, aren't you?”

“Boyfriends don't have brothers-in-law, John.”

“No. I suppose they don't, not in the strictest sense.”

John is quiet for a moment, shifting his legs apart so that Sherlock has a better angle, then says, “I have something for you.”

“Yes, I see that.”

“No, not that. I mean, yes, that's yours, too, but I was talking about something else. I don't have it yet, though. I wish I had it right now, but I don't. Oh god, you're going to spend days trying to figure it out, aren't you? I shouldn't have said anything. Shit. I bet you already know. Of course you already know.”

Sherlock thinks he knows, but he's content to wait and let John have his control in this, to not push and deduce and be brilliant at the cost of John's desires. Sherlock pulls him down for another kiss and the nervous chatter abruptly stops. John's lips feel smooth and eager under his own, and his tongue is quick to find Sherlock's and stroke against it. His mouth opens wider as Sherlock works his hand over John's erection, smearing the leaking fluid with his thumb.

God, Sherlock. Jesus.”

Sherlock forces himself to stop and withdraw his hand. John is going to let him do anything, but that doesn't mean that Sherlock should do anything, at least not anywhere.

“Let's go back to the room.”

“I can't walk like this, you git. Christ.”

“I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. Let's take a moment to compose ourselves, then go back to the room and start again.”

“Fine. But you can't touch me if you want me to compose myself.”

Sherlock distracts himself by studying the spread of dark clouds just gathering on the horizon. They sit low and move fast, and he follows their passage over the water, toward the resort, until he sees something else that captures his attention.

“Look, John, out there.”

Sherlock points out past the rocks, far out into the shimmering water. John continues to breathe hard through his nose, chest rising and falling as he licks his lips and readjusts himself in his shorts. He squints, furrowing his brow, and Sherlock has to stop himself from tackling him to the rock and climbing all over him.

“Dolphins?”

“Dolphins. I bet they're having sex.”

John giggles and runs a hand over his face, shaking his head back and forth.

“For the love of god, Sherlock, having sex?”

“Dolphins have loads and loads of sex. I told you that.”

“You did, yeah.”

“Remind me sometime to tell you about the dreams I had about dolphins when you first came down here. Assassin dolphins.”

“Assassin dolphins?”

“Sniper dolphins, and they could walk.”

“Clearly. Come on, you. I think I can walk now, too.”

“Excellent. Let's get you back into bed, where you belong.”

Behind them the storm clouds roll in, heavy and black with rain, spiking lightening into the growing waves. The first drops catch up with them as they clear the beach and start running for cover. By the time they reach the lobby they're soaked through, laughing and panting. John stretches up to kiss the rainwater off Sherlock's lips, and they head back to the suite, where they spend the entire afternoon in front of the terrace's open french doors, stretched out on the pillows that Sherlock keeps tossing on the floor. They watch the rain pour down, and the lightening strike, and the clouds roll through, and they make-out like teenagers who simply cannot get enough, because they're allowed to.

Chapter Text

Their week at the beach is lazy and indulgent, the mornings filled with sleepy sex and long, drawn-out showers. They spend the afternoons in town, poking around in dusty souvenir shops and wandering through deserted museums and dank cathedrals, and when it gets too hot they go back to the resort and lay by the pool or on the bed with newspapers and used books. They pass quiet evenings curled together in lawn chairs with mugs of steaming coffee drizzled with the local liqueur, and they watch the purple and orange hermit crabs click across the patio, hidden in the dark from the seagulls. Sometimes John tries to point out the constellations and unravel Sherlock's understanding of the solar system, but Sherlock will have none of that. Instead, Sherlock reads a battered copy of Meisser's Latin Phrase Book and tries to teach John how to say, "Seize the penis," but John will have none of that.

They eat when they feel like it, occasionally in the suite, sometimes on the terrace, frequently on the beach. Sherlock discovers the culinary bliss of fresh oysters, fried plantains, and lobster dripping with melted butter, and John discovers the bliss of licking said butter off of Sherlock's fingers and lips. Sherlock orders baskets of tortilla chips and guacamole and chases them down with pink, frothy cocktails adorned with flimsy, blue umbrellas. He basks in the way John grins whenever he orders something else to eat or drink, but refuses to pass over his desserts because it becomes quickly apparent that John will come over and straddle his lap and let Sherlock feed him spoonfuls of flan, and tres leches cake, and chocolate mousse. He gains four pounds.

They swim in the ocean together and float on their backs, arms linked like otters, and let the current move them about. They climb rocks, and hike dunes, and in short order Sherlock, ever coated in SPF 110, is slightly less cream colored and John is even more golden and brown. They carry the heat of the sun back into the cool darkness of their suite and lick the salt off each other's skin, letting gooseflesh rise up in the wake of tongues and fingers. They explore each other's bodies in the shower, on the sofa, against walls, and on the piles of bed pillows that Sherlock keeps tossing on the floor.

Everything previously buried and hidden is awakened. Sherlock feels himself being remoulded under the force of emotions and sensations that bubble to the surface, and trusts John to show him how his wants and desires can be strengths, can round him out and add complex layers to who he already is. Every time he is sure that he has said too much, or touched too much, or stared too much, John wraps him up in warmth and acceptance and grins at him like he's the most brilliant-emotionally-repressed-idiot-savant on the planet. Sherlock is tempted to ask, constantly, really? but John's kisses give him the answer before he has time to shape the word on his tongue.

On the fourth day John turns to Sherlock where they are stretched out on striped beach towels like starfish at the edge of the water and says, “Why aren't you getting bored of this?”

Sherlock slurps down the last of his pomegranate margarita and adds the tiny umbrella to his growing collection, then replies, “Bored of what?”

“Not being you. Not being Sherlock Holmes, World's Only Consulting Detective.”

“I'm still Sherlock Holmes, World's Only Consulting Detective, aren't I?”

“I have never, in my years of knowing you, ever seen you this happy doing so little for so long. Surely you are itching to solve a case, to flap around in your coat, to call someone – everyone – an idiot. You're eating and sunbathing. You haven't sulked once in four days.”

“Hm. You may have sucked the sulking right out of me, John.”

“I find that highly unlikely. You love a good sulk.”

Sherlock turns over onto his side and inches himself further into the shade of the umbrella, sifting his fingers through the sand in search of shells and sea glass. He makes a small pile of them on his towel and sorts them into categories of ascending size and color: white sea glass first, then pale pink, amber, light green, and dark green. He puts the violet colored glass off to the side, because it's rare and he only has one. It's like John Watson, he thinks. Rare. Only one.

“I'll have you know that I've been solving cases since I got here. I'm just not telling anyone about them because that would seriously detract from necessary snogging time. For example, the woman who cleans our suite is having an affair with her sister-in-law, but they only get to see each other on Sunday afternoons. The people staying in the rooms next to us are celebrating their divorce after thirty-six years of marriage. The waiter who served us last night has a serious crush on you and is trying to find a way to slip you his phone number. And you, John Watson, are currently obsessed with the idea of performing penetrative anal sex on me.”

“I – I'm not obsessed, I hadn't really – you – the waiter last night? Really? He was actually pretty cute.”

“Your attempts at distraction are wasted on me, John. Whereas I appreciate you waiting until we'd explored all other manner of sexual fulfillment, I'm very much amenable to the idea of anal sex if you are.”

“Ah. Well then. I have been thinking about it, but I wasn't sure if you'd be alright with the idea. I imagine it's not for everyone, and the women I've been with –“

“The women you've been with are not welcome in this conversation. Why don't you just ask me?”

“And say what? Sherlock, would you mind if I fucked you up the arse?”

“Exactly.”

“Shit. Sherlock, would you mind if I fucked you up the arse?”

“I would love that, John. Thank you for asking.”

“Great. I'll look forward to that, then.”

Sherlock leans over and kisses John's laughing mouth lightly, rubbing his sun-blocked nose against John's stubbled cheek and chin. Above them a seagull squawks before plunging into the water, then pulls up again with a small, silvery fish in its beak. He kisses John again, deeply, and John tilts his head and leans into it, a soft mmm rising up between them as Sherlock pulls John's lower lip gently between his teeth.

“You smell like coconuts, John. Like coconuts and the ocean and salt and me. Let's go back to the suite.”

“Now?”

“Right now.”

 

* * * * *

 

John steps out of the bathroom, naked except for the towel wrapped around his waist and the drops of water trailing down between his shoulder blades, and finds Sherlock standing at the bottom of the bed, alternately toweling off his hair and drop kicking pillows across the room.

“For god's sake, again with the pillows, always with this preponderance of pillows. This isn't a bed, it's a pillow storage device, a pillow raft, a pillow breeding ground.”

“Leave a few of them, Sherlock, we may need them.”

“Need the – ? Oh. Yes. I see.”

John picks a pillow up off the floor and tosses it back onto the bed, then turns to where Sherlock is standing and runs his hands down his arms and around his waist. He presses his face into the curve of Sherlock's neck and inhales, then says, mouth pressed to warm flesh, “You smell like margaritas, and salt, and sex. You smell like sex.”

“Do I?”

“You've always smelled like sex to me, Sherlock. Not the aftermath of it, but the lead-up, the anticipation. Your scent has always been about sexual anticipation to me.”

Sherlock sits on the edge of the bed and pushes himself back with his feet and elbows, laying himself flat, then reaches out his arms to bring John down on top of him. John resists for a moment, stopping to undo his towel and toss it to the side. He braces himself on hands and knees over Sherlock's prone body, and traces the faint tan lines around Sherlock's thighs and arms and neck, his fingers cool on flushed skin. Sherlock sighs and bites his lower lip, then brings his knees up and lets them fall so that John can nestle down between his spread thighs.

John braces himself up on one forearm and runs his free hand down Sherlock's torso before turning his hand over and brushing his knuckles gently over Sherlock's still soft penis and taut inner thigh. The feel of John's bare skin against his is delicious, and he closes his eyes and thinks about all the years of skin-on-skin contact he's missed, all the ways he's closed himself off, locked up his transport. He thinks about how much he has to make up for, and wonders how long John will stay and touch him like this.

“You're so good to me. Why?”

“Because I love you.”

“You really do, don't you?”

“Yeah, I really do.”

Sherlock closes his eyes again when John leans down and licks his lower lip, then his upper. He parts his lips and lets John's tongue run across his teeth, then slip inside. Of all the kisses they've shared, he likes these the best, these slow, lazy, caresses of tugging lips and darting tongues. He loves to rub his full lower lip between John's, loves when John leans in close and hovers, making Sherlock chase after it. They kiss until kissing is not enough – will kissing ever be enough? – and Sherlock lets his hands wander down John's back, lets his fingers trace the compact curve of John's sacrum before slipping down into the cleft of his arse. Jonn's arse. Sherlock loves John's arse. It's muscular and has broad dimples on the sides of each cheek and Sherlock can just about cup the entirety of it in his two large hands. John's arse is highly sensitive, too, and Sherlock could spend hours just squeezing, stroking, spreading those cheeks, but John would never let him do it for hours, because after just a few minutes of Sherlock's arse-worshipping John tends to go a bit mental with lust. Sherlock will take what he can get, though, and now his hands are gently stroking the swells of that delectable, rounded flesh, sliding down the sides and gripping from underneath, and when his fingers slip into the creases of John's inner thighs from behind John sighs and grinds that aggressive cock of his into Sherlock's belly, and moans, fuck, Sherlock, your hands, god.

Sherlock doesn't open his eyes when he feels John shift off of him, but he hears him walk into the bathroom and pad back a moment later. He doesn't open his eyes when he feels John's hands stroking his inner thighs, pressing his knees further apart, rubbing his thumbs against his perineum. He doesn't open his eyes when he feels John smack his arse lightly, lifting him up to slip one of those finally-useful pillows under his hips. He doesn't open his eyes when he feels John pulling his cheeks apart, feels John's breath low down on him, his nose pressing into his testicles.

He doesn't open his eyes when he feels the flat of John's tongue swipe against his perineum and over his scrotum, when he feels him pull his testicles, one by one, into his perfect mouth and roll them on his tongue. He doesn't open his eyes when he feels John's lips encircle the head of his now bobbing, leaking cock, when he feels his tongue paint broad stripes up and down his veined shaft. But then John is gone again, not touching him at all, and then the only thing he feels is the tip of John's pointed tongue, pressing directly against and into his anus.

Sherlock's eyes fly open, and his mouth goes wide in imitation of the sound that escapes it – ohhh. He instinctively grips the back of his knees with his hands and pulls, spreading himself open further, the lewdness of his position like an invisible hand on his hardening cock. John's tongue swirls and dips and prods, and Sherlock's cock swells harder again. He rolls his hips up slightly, causing his glans to rub gently against the soft skin his belly, then does it again, and again, his low, drawn-out moan joining the obscene sound of John's wet licking. It's filthy and wonderful and he wants to tie John to this bed and make him do it forever.

“You doing okay?”

“God, John, so good.”

“I'm going to use my fingers now, love. Have you ever done this to yourself?”

“No.”

“Alright. You have to let me know if this hurts, alright?”

“Okay.”

John lifts each of Sherlock's legs in turn so that his ankles rest on his shoulders. He looks away to pour lube on his fingers, but keeps his eyes on Sherlock's face as he reaches down and presses the tip of his index finger against that sweet spot, and slowly presses in.

“Take a deep breath and then exhale. You'll be more relaxed on the exhale.”

Sherlock does, and feels everything loosen as John's finger slips further inside him. It is unbearably arousing, and he focus on relaxing, on letting go, on welcoming John inside of him with each long breath. John reminds Sherlock to keep breathing, then he slides his entire finger in, then begins to make tiny circular motions inside of him. Sherlock arches his back and pushes into the sensation, already wanting more.

“I'm going to look for your prostate now, love. This can either be absolutely amazing, or absolutely too much. You ready?”

Sherlock reaches out and pulls gently on one of John's arms.

“Come down here and kiss me while you do it.”

John leans over Sherlock, shifting onto one elbow for balance, and kisses his way up Sherlock's neck. He waits until his lips find Sherlock's mouth, then crooks his finger and slowly draws it out, turning it as he goes. Just before his second knuckle slides out he hits it, and Sherlock thrusts hard, his calves pressing into John's shoulders, his hips and lower back curving up and off the bed.

“Oh! Right there –”

“It's good?”

“Oh god, oh god – yes.”

John pulls back again to sit on his heels and reach for the bottle of lube near Sherlock's hip. He holds up one hand, two fingers extended, and quirks an eyebrow at Sherlock. Sherlock nods, and John squeezes the tube, letting the viscous liquid run down over his fingers, dripping onto his palm and wrist. He leans down, partially to one side so that he can reach between Sherlock's legs, and presses a kiss to the corner of Sherlock's mouth. They lock eyes and hold the gaze while John pushes his fingers in, so slowly, and Sherlock thinks that John looks reverent as he does this, a look of awe on his face, as if it's the most important thing he's ever been allowed to do. He understands then that this is not just about the sex, that this is about making love, about claiming and being claimed, about doing physically what their very beings yearn to do: merge.

Sherlock's eyes roll back when John's two fingers are all the way in, and he pants into John's mouth in small gasps.

“I love you so much,” he hears John say, “so very much.”

“Show me. Show me now, John.”

He doesn't know if he's ready, doesn't know if it's going to be too painful, but he needs it badly, needs to feel John claim him like this, needs to give himself over wholly.

John takes a deep, shuddering breath, and swallows, bites his lower lip and says, “Sherlock, there's no rush, we can go slow.”

“I don't want to go slow. Show me. Show me how much you want me, how much you love me. Let me show you how much I love you.”

John lowers himself completely on top of Sherlock, his belly pressing Sherlock's cock flat between them, one hand clutching at Sherlock's shoulder. He spreads his knees a bit more and flexes his toes against the bed for more leverage before reaching between them with his other hand and gripping his shaft, sliding it under Sherlock's scrotum until he feels the hot, wet dip he's made with his fingers and tongue. He presses his glans there firmly, feels the give of the muscles, and tilts his hips until the entire head slips inside. They both groan in satisfaction, and John lowers his head to Sherlock's shoulder and presses his face into his neck.

“Okay?”

“It's good, it's really, really good, John. It's so good.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes at the words he's saying, good, really, really, good, and marvels at his inability to be more descriptive, to pay proper homage to the unparalleled connection taking place between them. He imagines that he will continue to lose his vocabulary as John proceeds, that by the end he won't remember his own name, will be reduced to a bundle of quivering nerve endings and primal vocalizations. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if he melts or explodes or blacks out. It only matters that he gives this to John, that John is inside him, that John knows.

“John – before it's too late – I need to tell you now – right now – that you are everything to me – I love you so much – I want you so much, and no matter what happens – no matter what our future holds – I will always try to deserve your love. Now please, do it. I need it. Please.”

John smiles into his neck and murmurs, “Sherlock, love, beautiful, so good – you deserve love, you deserve this.” And with that, he rolls his hips, pushes in another inch, and then pulls out slightly, repeating the shallow thrust over and over until Sherlock is whining and begging, please, please, please.

They continue like this, John pushing in inch by inch, holding back, letting Sherlock's body stretch and receive while Sherlock whimpers and pushes back against him, trying to draw John further in. Finally Sherlock slides his hands down from where they've been resting on John's back and grips his hips, fingers digging into clenched muscle, and pulls him down and in as hard as he can.

“Impatient git, you beautiful fucking impatient git.”

John bites at Sherlock's neck, then leans up to lick into his mouth. They stay like that, mouths open, tongues flicking, while John slides out of Sherlock as far as he can without completely pulling out. He holds himself like that, shaking on his forearms, then pushes all the way back in, until he's fully seated, the two of them joined completely. Sherlock pulls at John's arse, spreading the cheeks apart, thrusting against him as if they could possibly get closer.

God, John, fuck. Fuck.”

Sherlock is slowly unraveling, his entire body directing everything toward release, and he begins to lose awareness of his sweaty skin, his racing heart, his labored breathing. Everything is there, in the connection between the two of them, in the friction and tug and slide of John inside of him. With the last bit of focus he can summon he pushes himself up on his elbows and looks down between them, past his engorged, leaking cock, past his tightening scrotum, to where John's hips are tucked into the backs of Sherlock's thighs, just the base of his erection visible as he slides back in.

“You feel amazing, Sherlock, so amazing. You're so tight, so smooth, so – fucking – hot.”

“So close, John, so close. Please, please, finish me, I can't...”

“I've got you, love, hold on. I'm going to try something, okay? Hold on.”

Sherlock flops back on the bed, his neck arched and his jaw slack. He gathers folds of the sheets into his hands and tries to tether himself against that wreckage that he so desperately wants. John pulls out slowly until the ridge of his glans finds the place his fingers sought out earlier. He knows that he's there when Sherlock moans incoherently and begins keening and flexing beneath him. He rubs the base of his glans over the gland repeatedly, using short, jabbing strokes that render Sherlock completely incomprehensible. Propped on one elbow, John reaches down and strokes his fingers lightly over Sherlock's cock, smearing the pre-come that's gathered on his belly down the shaft. He presses his thumb into Sherlock's frenulum and uses his fingers to stroke up and over the slit, watching Sherlock's face reflect his fall into ecstasy.

“Sherlock – Sherlock, love – you're there, you're right there, please, love, come for me –“

Sherlock's body gives one final tremor before he goes rigid under John, silent, and his orgasm begins. Streaks of fluid spurt from his cock, splattering high on his convulsing torso, pooling between his pecs and running in rivulets over his peaked nipples and contracted abdomen. John watches, awestruck, as wave after wave shoots forward, painting Sherlock in stripes, until the very last bit dribbles out into his belly button.

Jesus, Sherlock. Fuck. Sherlock?”

Sherlock lays spent, his eyes closed, his breathing still erratic. He reaches up with one finger, unseeing, streaking it through the cum on one nipple, and then raises that finger to his mouth and sucks it clean.

John blinks at the spectacle beneath him, then licks his lower lip and starts moving again. He's tempted to stop and pull out when Sherlock moans a low fuuuuck, but Sherlock shakes his head and grunts go, go, do it, do it now. He's given Sherlock his pleasure, more than he would have believed possible, and now Sherlock urges him to take his own. He bucks into Sherlock, rutting hard, the slap of flesh on flesh rising over his own low grunts, Sherlock's body pulling him in, clasping him hard, and then it's on him, surging through him and into Sherlock with a force that causes his arms to give out below him. He collapses onto Sherlock, shuddering, and the two of them lie still for several, long, quiet minutes.

“Sherlock?”

“Mm?”

“You 'kay?”

“Not sure. May have pulled something in my arse. Spots in my vision, can't really feel my testicles.”

John giggles and soon Sherlock joins him, the two of them snickering against each other. John's cock is softening now, and it slips out of Sherlock with a squelching sound and release of fluid, and their giggles turn into raucous laughter.

“John Watson, look at what you've done. We are a disgusting mess.”

“S'true. We are.”

“You sound drunk.”

“I feel kind of drunk. That was spectacular.”

“It was truly outstanding.”

“Phenomenal.”

“Prodigious.”

“What?”

“Monumental, tremendous, immense. Where did you learn to do that?”

“I'm a doctor, Sherlock. I have information and I know how to use it.”

John rolls onto his side and Sherlock turns to face him. They are splotchy, stubble-burned, sweaty and stinky. Sherlock's hair looks like it's been through a blender and John has Sherlock's cum smeared all over his chest and through his pubic hair. They start giggling again, rubbing feet against shins and calves, until Sherlock goes quiet and kisses John gently on the mouth.

“John. That was the most intimate, intense, mind-altering experience I've ever had. Thank you.”

“I altered your mind?”

“You stilled it. Re-aligned it. I suspect we'll have to do this frequently for the sake of my mental health.”

“I think I'm okay with that.”

“I'm a bit afraid of your penis, though. It's very aggressive, you know.”

“Aggressive?”

“I thought maybe I could tame it, but it appears that interacting with it in any way makes it even more pugnacious.”

“Pugnacious?”

“Irascible.”

“My penis is not irascible, Sherlock.”

“Isn't it? I rather like it.”

“You're a complete git, and I am madly in love with you.”

“As am I, with you.”

“Shower?”

“Might need to call for more soap.”

 

* * * * *

 

He hears the front door open and close, and then John's footfall, his very own John Watson, making his way up the stairs. Sherlock imagines that the sound of those footsteps speak of peeling sunburns and frothy cocktails; of thunderstorms and rain and long, slow kisses; of dolphins and agents and whales. He listens for other layers of meaning as John gets closer, but all he can deduce is something akin to elation, and anticipation and … love. John Watson's footsteps coming up the stairs, coming home, sound like love.

Sherlock unfolds himself from his armchair and untangles his dressing gown from his thighs as he strides across the length of the room. He flings the door open just as John reaches for the doorknob, and John looks up at him, surprised, and smiles.

“Hey, you.”

“John. Thank god.”

Sherlock wraps himself around John and rubs his nose above John's small, perfectly shaped seashell of an ear, inhaling deeply and making small sounds of comfort. John came home, again, and Sherlock will never stop delighting in this, never stop feeling relief and awe that John keeps coming home.

“What's wrong? Sherlock?”

John is trying to peer over Sherlock's shoulder, trying to see if something is missing or on fire or otherwise destroyed.

“You've been away too long, John. It's altogether unacceptable.”

“I've been out a little over an hour, Sherlock.”

“I know, it was an eternity.”

“Can I please come into our flat now?”

Sherlock unwraps his arms from John's waist, but keeps him close, taking his face in his hands and tilting it up for a kiss. John blushes under the attention and clears his throat, glances down at his feet and then up again into Sherlock's unwavering, now suspicious gaze.

“You're self-conscious. Why are you self-conscious?”

“I'm not. Just... come sit down with me.”

Sherlock takes one step back and scans John from head to toe and back again. He quirks one eyebrow and purses his mouth in mock deduction, but lets John lead him to the couch.

“Maybe I am a bit self-conscious. I have something for you.”

“Is it a bag of petit four? I do love petit four.”

“A bag of –? No! Sherlock, please, this is serious.”

John sits on the edge of the couch and rubs his palms together, then rubs them again on his jeans. He still has his jacket on, and his shoes, and he looks like he's about to jump up and make a big fuss about needing tea. Sherlock is fully prepared to head off any extraneous tea-making nonsense, but John just sits, and rubs his palms on his thighs, and sighs.

“John?”

“Sherlock. Okay. Em, remember when you came to the hospital and I had – em, no. Okay. Remember when I said I had something – wait, no. Alright. See, I was thinking about – shit.”

Sherlock is delighted with this version of John, this stammering, skittish, shy, swain of a man. He watches John raise one finger in the air and open his mouth as if he's about to begin orating, then watches him lower it, and then raise it again. Sherlock takes that hand in his and twines their fingers together. He rubs his thumb over John's knuckles and waits for him to try again. He considers putting John out of his misery, but this is such excellent, awkward bumbling, and he wants to savor it.

“I have something for you.”

“So you said.”

“Well, I had something made for you.”

“I see.”

John sits back a bit and looks at Sherlock, his expression open and soft, a bit unsure. He moves closer and bends one knee so that he can shift on the couch and face Sherlock more comfortably. He takes both of Sherlock's hands in his and sighs, and licks his lips, and sighs some more.

Sherlock finds this all utterly beguiling. He is completely besotted with this ridiculous man.

“So, can I have it?”

“Hm?”

“This thing you had made for me. Can I have it, or are you going to keep it?”

“No. Yes. Yes, you can have it. I wanted to say something significant, to get this right, but maybe I should just give it to you before I bollox this up any further.”

“Don't say that. You haven't bolloxed up anything.”

John huffs and gives Sherlock a small smile, then lets go of one of his hands and reaches into his jacket pocket. When he pulls it out again he keeps his hand folded in a loose fist, and then pulls Sherlock's right hand toward him, palm up, and squeezes his eyes shut.

“It's okay, John. It's fine, it's all fine. Breathe.”

John opens his eyes and smiles, then drops his fist into Sherlock's hand, slowly unfurling his fingers. Sherlock keeps his eyes fixed on John's face, but he feels the soft press of warm metal under John's hand, and he slowly slides his hand out from under John's and closes his own fingers over the small gift. He leans forward and kisses John, softly, just a breath of air and tug of lips, then settles back and looks down at his palm.

In it lays a wide, thick, platinum band, perfect in its circular infinitum, still warm from John's touch. The ring has a matte finish with one thin, polished line undulating through the middle, a subtle detail that brings to mind thoughts of waves, thoughts of the ocean. There's something engraved on the inside, and Sherlock holds the ring up between his thumb and middle finger and brings it closer, turning it slowly in the mid-afternoon light.

If the letters start to blur a bit it's probably because the light is waning, or because his hand is trembling ever so slightly, undoubtedly the result of too much tea. But then he feels a small tremor in his lower lip, and he has to raise his index finger to prod against it. He assumes it's just a twitch, but then something wet is sliding down his face, and John's eyes are welling up, and if he didn't know better he'd think that maybe he was crying.

“John?”

“Yes?”

“Am I crying?”

“I think you are, love.”

“Are you crying?”

“Yeah, I think I am, too.”

Sherlock sniffles loudly and rubs his nose on the sleeve of his dressing gown, then looks back down at the ring through his blurry vision and tries to blink the tears out of them.

“You remembered that?”

“I'll never forget it, Sherlock. You've sent me many auto-signatures in the last month, love, most of them ridiculous, but that was the one, the one that told me what I really needed to know. It gave me hope and the strength to finish what I had set out to do. You wrote CBTM. Come Back To Me.”

“I held my breath when I sent that one. No matter how clear you made it, I couldn't fully accept what I thought you were saying to me, that you wanted me. Even when you told me that you wanted me, I was afraid to say the wrong thing back, to ruin it somehow.”

“You said the right thing back. The absolute right thing.”

“Do you have one, too?”

“A ring? Yeah. I had the other three melted down and made into two.”

“There were three? Oh, of course. An engagement ring and two wedding bands. The engagement ring had diamonds, too, didn't it?”

“It did. I sold the diamonds and donated the money to a dolphin rescue organization.”

“Ah, very clever. Do they rehabilitate the dolphins so that they don't have to be snipers anymore?”

“There are no assassin dolphins, Sherlock.”

“I'm pretty sure there are.”

“No.”

Sherlock grins at John, chuckling at their inside joke, then abruptly turns serious again and says, “Where's your ring? Can I see it?”

John fishes it out of his other coat pocket and holds it up to Sherlock.

“Is it the same?”

“Almost identical. Only the engraving is different.”

“What does yours say?”

John rolls the ring in his palm and smiles, his posture more confident now. He licks his lips and studies Sherlock's face, his gaze now full of certainty.

“Mine says Always. Because I will, Sherlock. I will always come back to you.”

Sherlock sits with his eyes closed, tears running down his cheeks, shoulders shaking. He feels John move closer and cup his face in his hands, wiping the tears off his cheeks with the pads of his thumbs.

“Hey. Hey, there. You okay?”

Sherlock sniffles loudly and hiccups, looking down at the ring still in his hand. He wants desperately to slip it on his finger, but despite all the reassurances John has given him, he still isn't sure that this is real. He considers that there is at least a seventeen percent chance that he has misinterpreted the meaning of the ring. He has to ask. He has to be sure.

“John, are you – is this – are you asking me –?”

John smiles at him and wipes away some more tears. He starts to nod his head, but Sherlock isn't done.

“Are you asking me if – if Mycroft can really be your brother-in-law?”

“You almighty git. Look at me. Give me your hands. I am asking you, Sherlock Holmes, World's Only Consulting Detective, if you'll be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

Oh. Oh, god yes. Yes. I will. I do. Right now. Immediately. Quick, put your ring on before something happens.”

“Nothing is going to happen. Come here, let me put that on you.”

Sherlock watches as John places the ring on his finger, sliding it gently down and over his knuckle, giving it a little twist before letting go, and then Sherlock takes the other ring, holds it close to read the Always for himself, and slips it onto John's finger. They kiss, still gripping each other's hands, until Sherlock needs one to cup the back of John's neck and the other to brace against the couch as he nudges John down on his back, stretched out beneath him.

“Don't get too comfortable there, love, we have a reservation for dinner.”

“To celebrate?”

“Yeah, to celebrate.”

“What if I'd said no?”

Sherlock regrets it the second he says it, because he knows that there is no combination of variables, no alternate universe, no philosophical argument, that could have resulted in him saying no, and he's not sure if John knows this.

“Then I would have tied you to this couch and denied you all food, water, and sex, until you came to your senses and said yes. I estimate you'd be fine without food and water for a week or two, but after twelve hours of no sex you'd be begging me to ask you again.”

John knows. John knows that he would have been incapable of saying no. He breathes a sigh of relief and says, “I shouldn't have said that. I never would have said no, John, never.”

“I'm glad. Dinner?”

“Dinner. Angelo's?”

“Angelo's. Then we're coming right back here so I can take my husband to bed, properly.”

Sherlock grinds against John and lowers his mouth to his ear, his tongue flicking inside for a moment before he says, his voice a low rumble, “We'll have to book another sex holiday.”

“Oh god, yes. It's not legal until there's a sex holiday.”

“Do you want to make this legal? Should we have a wedding and all that?”

“If you'd like to. I'm not sure that I need the government's recognition of who you are to me, but if it's important to you, I'm fine with it. What do you want?”

Sherlock leans in and kisses John again, kisses his mouth and his nose and his eyelids. He doesn't care what the United Kingdom thinks about his marriage to John, or if it's recognized on a dime-a-dozen piece of paper in a registrar's office. He wouldn't mind if everyone in the United Kingdom knew that he's with John, that John chose him, but it doesn't matter that it's legal or labeled or licensed in anyway.

“I don't think I need any of that. Let's just wear our rings for now, and see how we feel down the road.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Sherlock wriggles down a bit so that he can lay his head on John's chest, and tucks his arms under John's sturdy shoulders, holding him as tight as he can while nuzzling into his soft shirt. They stay like that for a while, John's hands running slowly up and down Sherlock's back, and when he pulls back to look at John his expression seems wistful and young, almost innocent.

“Do you smell that, John?” he whispers, his voice soft in John's ear. “Oh. Can you smell it?”

“Smell what?”

“The roses, John. Almond, vanilla, anise, apricot... and pamplemousse.”

“Grand-mére? You can smell her roses, here?”

“I can. Oh, John. Grand-mére knows.

Sherlock closes his eyes and rests his head on John's chest again, feels John's hands rubbing circles into his back and shoulders. She walks toward them slowly, a wide, open basket of tightly furled, peach-colored blooms looped over her arm. She looks happy, so happy to see him, so happy for him.

Look at you, mon petit chou. Look at you and your John. He is lovely, Sherlock, he is perfect for you, and you for him.”

That's what he says, grand-mére. He really loves me.”

Of course he does, Sherlock. Why would he not? And you remembered, Sherlock, you remembered each of the unique scents of the rose. You got all of it this time, mon chat.”

I did, Grand-mére, I got it all this time, every single thing.”