I think myself in love,
And I dream myself out of it.
In the end Sherlock decided to give in.
Not to obey the heartfelt words of Mrs. Hudson, not to follow Lestrade’s hesitant advice, not because of John’s invitation, but simply behaving in relation to boredom as he always did: by choosing a diversion. No matter how damaging to himself.
Many things have changed, but this has not.
This has not.
"How is he?" John had asked, and Mrs. Hudson had sighed and replied: "Always works too much, but he eats when I force him. Barely speaks. He plays his violin - so well, John, melodies so beautiful, but so sad. And he plays me the toast from the Traviata when I ask. He’s such a dear boy. "
"Yes, but I asked you how he is."
John had felt the temptation to ask her again, but then he had wondered if it was really needed. In the end he had given it up and, after asking about her hip and promised her a home medical examination for old times’ sake, he had interrupted the conversation with the sting of a memory on the back of the neck.
(He writes sad music. Doesn’t eat. Barely speaks).
"John, darling, can you do something for the kitchen sink? It’s the third time this month that, in addition to washing the dishes, I wash myself as well.”
John chuckles and shakes his head. His beautiful Mary. Her adorable domestic awkwardness. Her splendid attempts to fix things.
He puts the cordless back on the coffee table and walks down the hall. He’s already seeing the scene - one of those many, endless scenes of trivial and carefree happiness that this woman is able to paint for him: he will come from behind, lay a kiss on her neck, kneel on the floor giving her a gentle pat on the ankles to make her move from the sink and begin to take care of yet another failure.
Even when things don’t work and break down to pieces, it’s wonderful.
(I’d say he’s heartbroken but… Well, he’s Sherlock)
His neck continues to itch, and, without even realizing it, still all wet because of the sudden jet of water erupting from the pipes, John stops mid-laughter and asks her: "Do you remember Sherlock?"
(He’s always like that.)
Sherlock hops down from the train with a light hand-luggage. He’ll stop by only to spend the weekend, for the fortieth birthday of John, and then he’ll return to his home. Alone.
John waves his hand at him, leaning against the open car door. He has a broad smile on his face and a little more grey hair since the last time Sherlock saw him.
Sherlock smiles and goes to meet him, popping up the collar of his coat just to annoy him. His heart is beating fast, but is it not right, is it not normal? He’s thirty-six. He still feels young and physically vigorous. It means nothing.
"Sherlock," John says quietly, happy to see him, shaking his hand warmly.
Sherlock doesn’t know if he himself is happy to see him. Happiness and sadness are very coarse emotions, with no corners and no room to properly move around them, and annoyingly extreme. The detective delights in thinking himself sophisticated enough not to feel them in their complementary, as well as limiting, spectrum.
"John Watson," he states softly. He would like to say something else, but he doesn’t know how.
John looks hesitant, eyes uncertain, then he hugs him.
Free at last from his eyes, Sherlock can stop smiling.
"You're a bastard."
"You disappeared after the wedding."
"I had several cases that kept me very busy."
John emits a sigh of fond exasperation and continues to drive with his eyes fixed on the road. Sherlock looks now at him, now at the window, his gloved hands in his lap and the small suitcase between his legs.
Silence falls, as it often used to happen even at Baker Street. A cozy and warm silence, as intimate as a physical caress. Sherlock shudders and stares out of the window at the repetitive landscape of fields invaded by sheep.
He hates the fact that John touched him, because he has made no qualms in doing so. It came natural to him.
In this way, I touch Sherlock. In this other way, I touch my wife.
Not even a doubt, not a minimum of embarrassment. It was everything and nothing, a gesture of friendship perfectly circumstanced in the friction of their coats, and it has changed nothing. The right, horrible measure.
John looks at ease and happy to see him, but he seems to have been happy in his new home without him too, just right before going out to come and pick him up.
Sherlock feels pain somewhere in his body, unable to figure out exactly what it is that makes him hurt.
But then John clears his throat and turns the radio on. Silence is usurped, as well as the memories.
Not everything is well, and Sherlock can’t help but feel a burst of happy, silly hope.
"What’s this," he asks, wrinkling his nose in disgust. John shakes his head and sighs, torn between exasperation and nostalgia.
"It’s nothing, Sherlock. Just Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps the most famous duo in music history. Trifles. "
“They sing nonsense," he mutters.
"It’s a pop song. It can be beautiful without making any sense," says John abruptly. Too abruptly. Sherlock sees him swallow nervously.
Like your life now, he thinks, looking back to the sheep.
There are things that, even with all his prodigious intelligence, he will never understand. Pop music is only the last of the list.
When they arrive at the house, the fog has already begun to cover its roof.
John extends his arms to surround affectionately with his body the courtyard, the walls stained from moisture, the grass of a relaxing green, as if he is feeling the need to constantly claim them as his own.
"So," he asks, smiling at him with something which is not challenge - it cannot be, right? "Do you like it?"
"You know I prefer London," Sherlock calmly replies, pulling out the suitcase from under the seat. His hands tremble for a moment. "But I imagine that, regarding the countryside, this is a very good example of domestic bliss."
He bites his tongue. He’s been more poisonous than he wanted, and John has noticed, and his hands are clenched into fists.
For a few seconds they stare at each other from the opposite sides of the car. Sherlock thinks he saw something furious and red-hot in John’s eyes. His breath stops in his throat.
But it is only a moment, and before he’s able to shake himself out of the paralysis that has immobilized him in place, Mary is at the door and is greeting them.
Sherlock keeps his distance but behaves as impeccable gentleman. Mary perhaps was expecting much worse, judging by his stories, and spends the dinner happily dancing from the kitchen to the dining room with dishes in her hands.
Sherlock and John are sitting opposite each other. In the brief moments when Mary leaves them alone they stare at the tablecloth, chewing slowly. Conversation is kept alive by his wife and internally John thanks her a thousand times. She knew exactly how to take Sherlock, stimulating his ego and his diva side. With the help of a couple of glasses of wine the evening passes between re-enactments of old cases and more or less glorious deeds.
Sherlock and John take turns in the narrative, slowly alternating their stories with a simple look and a tiny, tired smile. Mary laughs and asks for more; suddenly it all becomes too much.
John jumps up to his feet and runs to fetch the champagne in the kitchen.
"You must excuse him," whispers Mary affably, taking his dish away, "He must have suddendly realized he’s forty years old."
Sherlock smiles an empty smile and looks away. If he closes his eyes, he can see the scene perfectly well: she will lay a hand on the shoulder, asking with utmost care: "You all right?"; John, his hands clutching the sink, will shake his head and smile, then he will come closer, and kiss her, and forget on her lips all that dreadful confusion that now belongs to the past.
Sherlock focuses solely on breathing and, later, he even eats a slice of John's birthday cake.
Sherlock has disappeared to change himslef after staining his shirt with chocolate.
"It’s a shame that I've only met him at the wedding and didn’t get a chance to know him better before today," says Mary with a sincere voice, washing the dishes. The tap is now behaving properly and has ceased watering the surroundings. "He’s not bad at all."
John puts the leftovers in the fridge and stiffens.
"You think so?" he asks with a wry, almost grotesque smile.
Mary has her back turned and doesn’t notice it.
"Yup. It’s obvious that the newspapers didn’t sell smoke when they described him as a genius. And,” she chuckles, and John feels chilled to the bone because no, no, no, Mary mustn’t like Sherlock, Mary has no idea, Mary does not understand, it's all wrong,"with all due respect, love, but he’s reeeally handsome. " She whistles playfully. “Very much so."
Mary bursts out laughing, louder this time, and it all feels like a horrible joke.
John curses himself for inviting Sherlock, for insisting that he came, for calling him a bastard because after the wedding he had disappeared from his life. He was right from the start, as always.
How could they ever live side by side, he and Mary? Even the simple ideas of them? What they represented?
A Gothic cathedral against a nice cottage, a Jaguar against a comfortable family car, the fire that burns against the fire that warms?
Down the hallway, upstairs, one can find the guest bedroom, the only bath in house, and John and Mary’s bedroom, one right after the other.
Sherlock has changed in his pajamas and he’s brushed his teeth. While he’s coming out of the bathroom he collides with John, who’s about to come in.
They do not look at each other until, at last, they have the courage to do it. John feels a jolt of arousal so hard his knuckles tighten around the door handle.
Sherlock is barefoot, wrapped up in his dressing robe. Seeing him like this is almost more intimate and erotic than seeing him naked: memories are a powerful aphrodisiac.
If they were in Baker Street they would never apologize to each other. They would carry on with a grunt and an affectionate sigh towards their bedroom. If they were in Baker Street, if they had returned there after the fall, if Mary had never existed, John wouldn’t have lost time and would already have his mouth on his and his hands on the warm skin of his back, because waiting to get to the bed would have been a useless and unnecessary torture.
If they weren’t here, if they were anywhere else, they would certainly be together, because it would have happened sooner or later. It would have happened. This precise awareness affects John with a violence almost comparable to the physical desire he’s feeling. There are no ifs or buts: there’s only a reality that is a parallel universe to what it would have been.
And it’s a happy universe, yes, yes, yes, happy, normal, reassuring, yes, there is no right or wrong, there are so many kinds of love, it’s not a fault, it’s not a waste, it’s not a lost opportunity, it’s only the path most travelled, it’s just another choice, it’s -
"Mary ... She’s acceptable."
John is stunned. Sherlock is pale and very serious, his jaw rigid, his eyes grave and mercurial.
He’s sincere, John can feel it. Said from any other this sentence would have sounded condescending, offensive. Said by him, it is almost a Greek elegy.
John for a second pities him. Sherlock fails to hate Mary because he considers her right for him, suited (honest, gentle, reassuring, good wife and probably good mother: John can almost see this precise analysis projected on his eyes, like a documentary about his wife).
Everything that is right and armonic, Sherlock can not help but notice it, this man who sees perfect circles in a reality that most of the time seems to him similar to a child's scribble. If something is true and logical, Sherlock must say it. It’s the curse that his intelligence carries within itself, and will always eclipse even his own suffering.
John shudders and his laughter makes an unpleasant sound. Sherlock has a scarlet spot on the neck, extending right under the hem of his shirt, and he’s murmuring with his eyes just give me a chance to spirit you away from here and I'll take it.
"She’s good with children. I knew she would manage you just well. "
For a moment everything seems to stop, those gray eyes send a flash, and the beating of his heart becomes so hectic that it becomes painful. But then Sherlock lifts a corner of his lips and passes him by, barely brushing his arm with the sleeve of his dressing gown.
John thinks: we are good, moral men, and hates himself.
Sherlock tosses and turns in his bed and thinks, I’ll go down to drink a glass of water. It’s a perfectly acceptable excuse.
The stairs creak under his bare feet. The house is as silent and cold as a crypt.
Sherlock crosses the living room and enters the kitchen, leaning both hands on the sink, taking a deep breath.
The steps leading upstairs creak.
Sherlock closes his eyes and their Baker Street apartment appears behind his tightly shut eyelids.
He turns around. John is at the foot of the stairs, and looks at him without remorse or resentment, but only with a heavy composure Sherlock imagines is appropriate for the sad and despicable sin of adultery.
John leads him out of the house (outside: it’s right, it’s the minimum of respect, it’s doing evil, but doing it fairly) in the dark garden, turning the corner of the house.
The grass is wet and cold under his bare feet and Sherlock shudders. John turns and looks at him with deep tenderness in his eyes, reaching out to grip his arm, caring, devoted, as if the chill running through his body was the cry of hunger and despair long awaited and feared.
Their mouths collide softly, clumsily; John's hand on his cheek is warm and reassuring. Sherlock sucks his lower lip and thinks it’s happened and there was no alternative, there never was, everything else is contingency.
Variables are not happy or tragic, they are not right or wrong. They are merely variables, and the result doesn’t change.
In his head, Sherlock embraces and salutes as brothers all those he has thrown in prison for crimes of passion, because he finally understands why people steal, kill, beat, blackmail and lie just to keep someone who is able to give meaning to things, as John is doing right now while he’s clinging to him like a child.
"Do you regret it?"
"The only thing I regret is the place where it’s happened."
John points with his chin to the half-shut garage door and Sherlock feels stupidly, uncontrollably euphoric.
They shouldn’t laugh: in these circumstances, it’s something incredibly wrong to do.
But understanding the right time to do certain things has never been their forte.
Sherlock re-enters the dark living room with John and recalls having compared it to a crypt.
Suddenly neither of them smiles anymore. It’s as if the house has become haunted by an evil presence: life as it is now, and not the brutally intense glimpse of possibility they have lived barely a few seconds before, when they were walking barefoot on wet grass.
Sherlock reaches out with his hand, but John has turned his back on him, rigid, fists clenched at his sides. Sherlock decides at last not to touch him.
I get dressed and then I’ll go, he thinks with stolid efficiency. He feels stupid. He doesn’t like it.
John turns and nods, although Sherlock didn’t say anything. They still understand each other with a single glance.
Many things have changed, but this has not.
This has not.
John shuts carefully the door of their room and approaches the bed to caress Mary’s hair. She’s sleeping with one hand under her head and the other on her chest, her wedding band scintillating on her left ring finger, small and delicate.
Why, despite having married her, he feels it’s Sherlock he’s cheated on?
He scribbles on a sheet of paper: urgent case, I’m giving S. a lift to the station, he says he’s sorry and fits it under their alarm clock.
It had to happen, it’s happened. It's nothing more than that. A simple logical consequence. A stimulus is always followed by the appropriate response.
His reflection in the mirror touches with his fingertips the signs that John has left on his neck. The muscles of his belly are still cleched in blissful tension.
In the bathroom, with his shirt half-buttoned, Sherlock realizes that he can’t store and hide everything in the depths of his Mind Palace. Not when his body’s memory is still so fresh. Not when he still manages to see in front of their eyes the complicated sequence of John’s hands touching him. Not when he thinks: I have always loved him, and he hasn’t the slightest idea what this really means.
But one day, one day he will. One day he will able to do it. He takes it as a personal challenge.
The dawn is cold and humid, like the light of a cellar. The sun seems a mocking illusion, and the birds chirping many mocking voices. The bucolic calm that reigns in the house and in the fields around them is ridiculous.
John drives with his hands firmly set on the wheel - not a single tremor in his fingers - and his eyes firmly planted on the road. Sherlock looks out the window, his hands in his lap, his little suitcase between his legs.
The radio is on: the song is still the same.
I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would, if I could, I surely would.
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail, yes I would, if I could, I surely would.
Sherlock thinks: it makes sense. He’d rather it didn’t, as before.
"Will it happen again?"
They absorb this information in silence, with the typical calm of a shock not yet metabolized.
They are honest with each other. Sherlock imagines that this is important for their future relationship. The prospect of repeating what they have done causes him a warm spasm in his thighs.
What remains are the aftershocks: secure land is lost forever. He accepts this reality without much effort.
He doen’t know if John just wants to punish him, or if he isn’t going to leave Mary because he feels chained to his gratitude for her, because she saved him while he was away to save John, too. He doesn’t know if he decides not to return to Baker Street because he wants children, a family, a sense of continuity in continuous decomposition, and not to die young and vibrant with a bullet in the heart during one of their mad pursuits through London. He doesn’t know if they were wrong to do it now or if they were wrong to never having done it before.
John says a brusque goodbye but doesn’t touch him - he doesn’t even meet his eyes, deciding to return immediately in the car. Sherlock nods once and steps on the train.
They look through their respective windowpanes. John is pale: he’s yelling something, but Sherlock can’t clearly read his lips. He thinks he understands but it might not be so. Instinctively he stands up.
The train leaves.