John paces across Sherlock’s line of sight.
Sherlock shifts uncomfortably where he sits against the ambulance’s cold, corrugated metal. His limbs ache and his lungs burn from running, running, hiding. This is too familiar. This is too much, even for what their lives have become. Eventually, they’ll see the coincidence for plain truth—the right-hand woman of the spider who set them in this web in the first place was destined to draw them in. One of them, at least.
Suffice it to say, she was a great shot.
John’s a better one.
Sherlock asks him: “What do you want?”
It almost seems like an impossible question, because none of this is anything they wanted. It is, indeed, a simple question, because they both know the answer to it.
The frigid night air contracts and expands between them like the flood of a heartbeat.
She hasn’t even been dead two hours. Their life together as man and wife, however, ended ages ago. God, how long has it been? How much time did he waste in a life he never wanted?
It’s John who needs the shock blanket, really, but the absurdity of it all won’t hit him until morning, when he wakes in a twin bed.
“I want to come home.”
It’s been an entire Spring since John’s return to the old flat. Back home.
“Crispy duck?” John suggests, as he scans the menus laid out on the table by the sofa. “Prawn toast? That new Indian place does great green Biryani if—”
“I could quite literally eat anything at the moment,” Sherlock says.
“I’ll choose then, shall I?”
“Whatever you like,” he replies, a note of irritation in his voice. “As long as it’s in great proportions. And perhaps something cold to drink. This weather is intolerable.”
“Right, well I’ve got Stella in the refrigerator.”
John orders two full portions of the Biryani (though one portion could easily feed three people), extra naan, and mango Kulfi. Has he ever seen Sherlock eat ice cream? He must’ve at some point. Regardless, the spicy main dish and the weather warrant it.
Sherlock rounds the kitchen table and procures two bottles of beer from the fridge. He’s sat beside John on the sofa in a moment, opening both and extending one of them.
After long swigs, John breaks the silence.
“This is pleasant.”
“I can be pleasant.”
They both laugh.
What a ridiculous life they lead. The thought seems to dissipate between them, like a delusion only they’ve shared. Folie à deux, and all that business.
“It feels good to be home,” John says.
“I, ah,” Sherlock rotates his wrist so that the bottle tips back and forth with its neck between his fingers. “Nevermind.”
A bit more silence until both bottles are empty. It’s too hot outside, inside.
“What is it, then?”
They don’t make eye contact, though.
John’s pretty sure he knows what it is.
“It’s not home without you,” he says. “As it were.”
Now John’s looking at him, but he’s still staring at the bottle in his hand. He sets it on the table. He can feel it: the heat in his cheeks, the emptiness that will soon become important words. He plucks the other bottle from John and sets it beside his.
“Look at me, yeah?”
Sherlock does. His flatmate is smiling. Just barely.
“You’re—you’re home, for me. You know that, right?”
A quick Bzzt. Bzzt.
It takes them both a second to snap back to the present moment. It’s Sherlock who makes quick work of the stairs, paying the delivery person, placing the bags of food on the kitchen counter. He makes two plates. The silence is suffocating.
Sherlock sets the plates in front of them, heaped with food, though neither moves to retrieve the plastic forks from their packaging.
“You were just starving,” John says. A loud, drawn-out exhale escapes him. “Eat. We’ve got all the time in the world for this.”
“We haven’t,” Sherlock says.
“Why are y—”
“There are always…” he rubs his palms on his knees, looks John right in the eye. “There will always be something. Extraordinary, dull, it doesn’t matter. We’re both here at this exact moment, and I find that… extraordinary.”
“You’ve said ‘extraordinary’ twice.”
“I’m flummoxed,” he says, and it comes out a bit louder than he intends. “Perhaps you’ve noticed.”
“I need to know if you mean it.”
John pulls their bodies together, chest flush to chest, and he burrows his chin in Sherlock’s shoulder. They wrap arms around shoulder blades and don’t let go for ages. This isn’t quite what either of them imagined (when they dared imagine these type of things). There isn’t a big, romantic kiss. There’s this: holding, keeping, knowing.
“You are, you are,” John says, muffled by the fabric of Sherlock’s tee, and he means it.
There is kissing later, of course, and enough Indian food to keep them sated for days, and when the light seeps into the sky the next morning, they wake beside each other still in sock feet and boxers and briefs and cotton tees.
There is time enough.
They divest themselves of coats and scarves, smack in the middle of a fight about nothing that turns into something else entirely. They trod upstairs as freshly fallen snow melts into their hair, onto their clothes.
It’s been a whole sweltering Summer and an entire Fall since the Biryani and the melted Kulfi and all of the words spilled and scattered on the floor like uncooked rice.
Voices float into the main room from the hall. John’s voice, primarily.
“...older, and I just… if you don’t think…”
He crosses the room and sits in John’s chair, probably just to take the piss out of him. John doesn’t take the bait; he comes just close enough to leave distance for shouting. God, he hopes there isn’t shouting. How are they so bad at this? It’s as if they’ve cut off every line of open communication and never quite learned how to express themselves face to face… except in moments of grave distress, of course.
How is Sherlock so calm? How hasn’t he fled to some secluded spot to smoke an entire pack? John didn’t quite know what to expect (to put it mildly), but it wasn’t this.
“John, really. ‘Gather ye rosebuds’? Doesn’t that sound a bit… pathetic?”
“It’s not though, is it?” John does an abrupt one-eighty, turns on his heel, paces four steps, and returns his clammy palms to the back of the chair. “It’s not—”
He can’t find the right words.
The calm has gone. Sherlock waits impatiently. His silence is appreciated, though his readiness to spring right through the roof and into space is glaringly apparent.
“That’s not what I meant by it.”
Sherlock sucks in a quick breath, adopts his matter-of-fact tone. “Then please do explain to me what you meant, exactly, because for however long it takes you to spit it out, I am utterly unable to remove your clothing.”
Oh, he’s not angry at all.
He keeps his voice soft and even, somehow.
“This is all we’ve got, hm? Just this, nothing else. The time will pass anyway and we haven’t got a say in it, but this—” he gestures between them, “you and me? It’s a choice.”
“You’ve made choices before,” Sherlock counters, and it’s entirely fair enough though a punch to the gut nonetheless.
How is John supposed to be plain about something they can’t describe? What shall he say about the business of his past, the déjà vu of Baker Street in their bones, the heavy stones settled in his stomach when they continue not to talk about, well, all of this?
“You’re going to have to take me on faith here, Sherlock,” he says. His lips tick up at the corners just enough to pass for a smile. “When you love someone, you take them on faith.”
Yes, this is plain enough.
“And I—love you,” he says, though it sounds a whole lot more like someone asking permission.
“You do, yes, absolutely you do,” John says. He’s steadier with every word. “You daft bastard.”
“I’m to understand you... feel the same way.”
“Yes,” he says, much too quickly, and runs his hands along the back of Sherlock’s chair. He navigates his way around it, though doesn’t sit. “Of course I do. It goes without saying, I do.”
“Yes, you must. If you think this is a good idea.”
He rarely sees Sherlock this willing to have something explained to him. It’s almost as if—
“You need to hear it.”
Sherlock attempts to shrug this off, to lean back in the chair and set his expression just so. It’s transparent. It’s heartbreaking. Of course he needs this; it’s never been given to him, and John can’t begin to fathom why.
He rounds the chair and approaches Sherlock, places his hands on man’s knees, dips his head to look him right in the eye.
“I love you. I love you, I want to be married to you, I want you. Just you, like this.”
Sherlock takes his partner’s face in his hands and presses their lips together, hard.
Yes: just them, like this, no more questions.
Snow begins to thaw in London. Tulip bulbs begin to emerge where there once was ice. Work speeds up, slows down. They go about the business of living, cups of tea and toast with jam, a shared laundry basket and the infinite small moments in which a life is shared.
Nobody asks about the matching gunmetal-grey bands.
Nobody has to ask.