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52 Years

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The first year, John finally understands why he is alive in this time and in this space. The universe rights itself and he is suddenly home. The days rush by, Sherlock rushes from crime scene to crime scene, and John spins around him, hardly able to believe Sherlock is real.

John is fairly certain that he is, though. It is the gravity of Sherlock that proves it; it pulls at John constantly and makes him change direction entirely, his life now orbiting around Sherlock's mesmerising infuriating beautiful charisma. John's blood is pumping hot in his veins when he runs beside Sherlock, when they giggle together over how ridiculous they are, when he yells at Sherlock to stop deducing his passwords, when he sees Sherlock's dramatic sprawl on the sofa. He can feel his pulse in the very tips of his fingers, making him hot, making him constantly know he is alive.

 

The second year, John's thoughts make an unpleasant reappearance. He accidentally analyses his feelings, he immediately damns them, then acknowledges they have no intention of going away. He chokes on them when Sherlock insists on keeping that bloody phone from that bloody woman, he loses himself in them so badly he thinks Sherlock must see how he stares.

Then suddenly Sherlock Holmes is gone and, just like that, so is John Watson.

 

The third year, everything is too late. John cannot speak and his face turns as grey as his life and he waits and waits. Someday, life must finally be over.

 

The fourth year, John realises how very long it will take until life is actually over. He thinks he should at least pretend to still be alive. He decides to get married. It was what he wanted once, or thought he did. The jewellery box is heavy like a stone in his breast pocket and it is unexpectedly difficult to offer it to the woman sitting across from him.

Then suddenly Sherlock Holmes lives.

 

The fifth year, John is so furious that he decides to make the biggest mistake of his life. He marries a woman right before the eyes of the love of his life. Then he punishes himself for it by listening to Sherlock give the most soul-baring love declaration of all time, in front of everyone John knows (except for Harry, who makes a point of not supporting the idiocy). Well, he didn't know Sherlock would say all those things, so he didn't exactly inflict that particular punishment on himself. He most definitely did inflict it on Sherlock, though, and he tries to feel that they are even.

Maybe they are. But however would that help?

 

The sixth year, John is scared all the fucking time. He resents the woman he calls his wife – he is not sure she technically is, since she did not marry him in her real name. He doesn't sleep for fear of what she might do. He watches her belly grow and is worried sick over this perilous housing for his unborn daughter. He asks the love of his life for help even though it makes him hate himself, because Sherlock has already paid the biggest toll from John's disastrous marriage; he was the one who got his heart pierced by John's wife, and then she shot him.

 

The seventh year, John comes home. He's a widower – if he was really married, that is – when he limps out of hospital to collect his one-year-old daughter. The air of 221 Baker Street is calm and still, the smell of arch-enemies and threat is replaced by the smell of biscuit dough that Mrs Hudson claims Rosie made mostly by herself. John limps up the stairs and Sherlock looks as though he's trying to hide in his armchair, but John was almost killed for all this, so he doesn't let him hide. He asks if Sherlock meant what he said, and watches his face crumble just as it did last time he saw him, with his hands covered with John's blood and sirens too far away and the most secret and forbidden words coming off his lips. Sherlock nods and there really isn't much left to do besides kissing him.

The awed look on Sherlock's face was worth the wait.

The scars heal and the funeral fades and everything broken is covered in maddening love.

 

The eighth year, between fervent evenings in the dark and precious mornings with Daddy-Papa-Rosie in bed, every old heartbreak leaks out through the cracks. Betrayal, sacrifice, lies, jealousy, it all pours onto their living room floor until they can't walk through the flat without stumbling upon it. Everything unspoken becomes shouted echoes between walls that have seen so much and forgotten nothing. John is sad and afraid and angry and so in love, and he goes back to Ella and laughs darkly at the fact that she thought he had trust issues before. Sherlock is just as afraid as John is, and it breaks John's heart to keep being angry with him for something he had no choice but to do. When Sherlock explodes a few times, calling John a selfish coward, John squeezes his eyelids together and tries not to defend himself. Mostly he fails.

He mourns the Sherlock who died on the pavement outside Bart's, the one with the reckless smile and the untouched back. He mourns every opportunity they missed when they were both still naively invincible and boyishly happy and so young.

When they sleep he holds Sherlock closer than he has anyone else. The scent of his curls makes John think it will all be fine.

 

The ninth year, new memories are becoming visible within the rooms of 221B. There is sunlight in the corners and a certainty in the three bodies' movement around each other. At Rosie's third birthday they make an excursion to the park, and Sherlock pretends to be bored but when Rosie sits in his arms and asks him about the ducks, he holds her tightly and goes on and on, presenting every duck fact he can dig out of his mind palace. Rosie listens with a focus she only ever gives her Papa. John watches Sherlock's face, graver and more careful than before everything happened, but also soft with love he doesn't conceal any more.

They have said all the things that needed to be said, and a few things that maybe didn't. And here they are.

 

The tenth year, John proposes to Sherlock. It is the easiest thing he has done in his life.

 

The eleventh year, Sherlock cries despite his best efforts when he says I do. John leads him through their wedding waltz flawlessly, and the smile on Sherlock's face when John dips him, breaks his heart and mends it at the same time.

 

The twelfth year, Sherlock introduces them practically every time he walks into a room, no matter who is in it. Sometimes repeatedly to the same person, even though he loathes repetition. He looks intimidating and untouchable, but his eyes are beaming. I am Sherlock Watson-Holmes, this is my husband, John. He always says it with an air of superiority, as if he's surprised that these little people dare speak to John Watson-Holmes' chosen husband.

John does his best to look dignified and unmoved at those moments. All he really wants to do is overpower Sherlock and tickle his belly until the scowl is wiped away and he screams with laughter.

 

The thirteenth year, the sounds of violin and piano duets embed John in a blanket of calm, safety and love every evening. Rosie is taking piano lessons, and an elegant piano mysteriously appears in their living room. Rosie's eyes are bigger than ever before, Sherlock scowls, and John puts a hand on his arm to remind him that Rosie's excitement is more important than Sherlock's obligatory hatred for everything deriving from Mycroft, at least for the moment. Sherlock sulks in their bedroom where Rosie won't notice. When he's done, he picks up his violin and plays with her for hours.

It's the sound of home, really.

 

The fourteenth year is a busy blur of school, homework, outings sports piano lessonsfriends. They hardly have time for any cases so John works extra hours, and Sherlock is the one handling school contact. When the parents are invited to visit the lessons with their child, John is terrified when Rosie and Sherlock leave for school. He is unsurprised when they come back two hours later, Sherlock having corrected the teacher so frequently that he was eventually asked to leave. He did, but not before he had deduced the teacher and half of the parents pressing themselves against the walls. Sherlock lunges into a twenty-minute rant about the stupidity of human kind, Rosie sits with her arms crossed and huffs that none of this is news to her and she is the one who has to deal with the stupidity every day, and John is torn between defending the school, stroking Sherlock's hair to calm him down, or just giggling at the two of them. He should probably not encourage Sherlock in front of Rosie, but this year he realises that they are already odd beyond help, and all three of them really prefer it that way.

 

The fifteenth year, John turns fifty. Sherlock is nervous about what he is supposed to do to celebrate it, and in the end he overdoes it completely. He wakes John with breakfast in bed at six AM, leaving John to eat it alone while Sherlock gets Rosie ready for school, then comes back for fifteen minutes of morning sex. John tries to cuddle with him afterwards, but Sherlock announces that they have a strict schedule. There is a violin composition, a meticulously cleaned flat, chocolates spread out over every surface of it, a whole set of new shirts, some jewellery, a scavenger hunt, a picnic in the park, a visit at the cinema, a dinner at London's most expensive restaurant, and a surprise party that John doesn't realise is a surprise party until weeks afterwards, because the guest list was pretty thin, and John is never too surprised to have Mrs Hudson and Lestrade visit their flat. When he stumbles into the bedroom at midnight and sees the rose petals spread out over the bed, he tells Sherlock that he really has to sleep now. Sherlock gratefully falls asleep in his arms.

 

The sixteenth year, Rosie learns about adoption. She comes home from school and asks John to tell her about when Sherlock adopted her. When she finds out there is no such story she is furious with John, screaming at him that Sherlock is her Papa. Her bedroom door has been shut for two hours when Sherlock comes home, and John has resigned himself to reading a book in his armchair. Rosie has stopped crying when she silently enters the living room, walks up to Sherlock and asks him if he wants to become her real father.

Sherlock cries even worse than at the wedding. Rosie smiles sunnily at John and says: Sentiment. Then John cries too.

 

The seventeenth year, Rosie is quiet and slumped when she gets home from school. The air gets heavy and fragile in the evenings, Rosie poking at her food, her fathers sharing worried glances across the table. One night, Sherlock spends hours and hours with her on his lap by the microscope, and from bed John can hear her finally talking in a hushed tone. Sherlock's voice is deep and calming, until Rosie is in bed. Then Sherlock storms into the bedroom, telling John in furious whispers about the idiot girls who won't let Rosie play with them because of her interest in science and mechanics, and the idiot boys who won't let her play because she is a girl, and the idiot teachers who pretend everything is fine. Sherlock wants to go there and deduce them straight back to hell, but John goes instead, talking the teachers down with cold fury and explaining to the wide-eyed children what it is they are doing to their classmate. Then he takes Rosie home and finds her a new school.

 

The eighteenth year, John and Sherlock go away alone for Sherlock's fiftieth birthday. John apologises that he didn't give Sherlock the whole fiftieth-birthday-package, Sherlock blushes at the reminder and John giggles into the skin of his throat. Sherlock pretends to mind, but ten minutes later he is wrapping his naked legs around John's hips and begging John to hurry up.

 

The nineteenth year, 221B is constantly filled with inane popular music from the karaoke machine Sherlock's parents gifted to Rosie. John and Sherlock hold each other through the light annoyance the first weeks, the murderous headaches for what seems like months, and the giggling amusement the night Rosie sleeps at a friends' and they try it out themselves.

 

The twentieth year, John makes sure he is thoroughly equipped for Rosie's puberty. He buys every sort of menstrual hygiene product he can find (and the number of options shocks him, but he pulls through). He raises the question of having the Talk, but Sherlock rolls his eyes and tells John he took care of that eight years ago.

Sherlock downloads every social media app that Rosie uses, determined to keep up with the world she lives in. She blocks him on every one of them, so he forces John to get them too, so they can try them out on each other. They end up using Snapchat in a way that makes John have a very concerned conversation with Rosie about how she is not meant to use it.

 

The twenty-first year, John understands nothing of what is going on. Rosie stomps on the stairs and slams the doors, making the flat shake dramatically around her confused Daddy. Sherlock claims to understand, because he has made spreadsheets, but John is unconvinced that this helps.

 

The twenty-second year, Rosie brings home her first boyfriend. He is visibly terrified of Sherlock Holmes, staying close to John's friendly smiles and calm posture. Sherlock looks up from his bowl of goat blood on the kitchen table, smiling his biggest and most insincere smile, leaving the boy trembling. This is the worst thing Sherlock does, however, and when the boy breaks up with Rosie over text, he learns that John Watson is in fact the father to dread.

 

The twenty-third year, Rosie brings home her first girlfriend. Sherlock hurriedly gets the goat blood out and it does earn him a sceptical look from the girl, but she stays. John is silently impressed and enjoys the way she steadily grows into 221B until she too is a part of it.

 

The twenty-fourth year, Rosie moves out. The silence is sudden and they constantly stumble on the gap she left behind.

 

The twenty-fifth year, their flat is filled with an endless stream of cases. Sherlock is insane and John blogs about it, and it feels as though they will be able to do it forever, even though they know they will not.

 

The twenty-sixth year, Sherlock takes John on a shopping tour to find a shirt for his parents' golden wedding anniversary party. Sherlock tries to find the objectively perfect shirt, explaining the criteria in vain for a John who spends the entire day flirting shamelessly with him. They end up having sex in a changing room when Sherlock is trying on a burgundy one. Sherlock buys the shirt even though it doesn't meet the criteria, and at the party they have sex in the laundry room. Sherlock experiments on whether they will end up having sex every time he wears the shirt, and John lets the experiment go on for months, falling for it every time and pretending not to know what is going on.

 

The twenty-seventh year, Rosie is heartbroken. She moves out of the flat she shared with her girlfriend and moves back into 221B. When John gets home from work the flat is always silent but for the turning pages of Rosie's and Sherlock's intense studying.

The lines on Sherlock's face have turned deeper, coming out to frame his face whenever he smiles. Somehow this makes his smile brighter and John finds himself staring. Sherlock glows like a sun and he just grows more and more beautiful, and he looks back at John as if he knows exactly how John feels. Rosie watches them and John hopes that she will see the way they glow for each other, and decide not to settle for less herself.

 

The twenty-eighth year, Sherlock's sixtieth birthday takes them by surprise, neither of them having stopped to notice the time passing. They sit down in the evenings, they hold hands and talk about their lives. They catch sight of something changing not too far ahead, and dreams and plans are slowly chiselled out between their hands with softly stroking thumbs.

 

The twenty-ninth year, when Lestrade retires, John and Sherlock travel for cases. Sherlock's smooth voice pours through foreign syllables in a myriad of languages John had no idea that he spoke. Somehow, Sherlock makes every one of them sexy. Nine hotel room beds and seven showers, the Eiffel tower, aeroplanes, a closet in a suspect's house, a desk in a policeman's office, the Sagrada Família church in Barcelona, a pool after closing hours, and a balcony in Egypt all get added to the list of weird places they did it in.

 

The thirtieth year, Mycroft dies of a heart attack. The cutting stillness in the hospital waiting room and the greyness of Sherlock's face follow them home and stay there. John tries to take his hand, but Sherlock scoffs at the idea of Mycroft's death causing him grief. John tries to give him space while also watching out for danger nights, and he never sees Sherlock sleeping, or even pausing for more than five minutes. He spouts deductions like a machine-gun, throwing in random facts as if the shelves in his mind palace are tipping over, everything falling down. Then John tries to talk to him, but his determination not to get hurt by whatever Sherlock might say doesn't hold.

 

The thirty-first year, Mrs Hudson shrinks and fades. John is there with calm and steady hands. Sherlock tries to be there too, but he is buzzing with all the terribly sad things he has encapsulated in his chest. He can't be with her without pacing around her, his strides long and his coat as dramatic as ever. He loathes himself for causing her stress like that, until she roars at him that she isn't stressed, she just wants her dear boy there, even if he is so afraid of himself that he can't be still.

When she dies, he is still. John meets his gaze over the stretch of her bed and their eyes finally fill with tears.

 

The thirty-second year is sad. Sherlock's bad nights do not look that dangerous any more; he finally sleeps and his limbs are heavy. John is allowed to hold him now, so he does that all the time. He feels every one of Sherlock's tears in his own tear ducts. When they kiss, Sherlock's lips are softer than they were before.

 

The thirty-third year, they move to Sussex. John's life is an ocean of boxes containing God knows what, when all he wants is that crime fiction book he bought at the sale.

 

The thirty-fourth year, Sherlock's brilliant focus and mad determination are focused on his new bee colonies. John watches the sharpness of Sherlock's mind through his pale irises and cannot help but blogging about it, not caring that the viewing numbers go down sharply without the detective work.

When they lose Sherlock's parents John is worried, but instead of a new surge of danger nights, Sherlock slips into the garden, sits cross-legged like a child in the middle of the lawn and watches his bees work. John puts all the love he has into steaming tea cups placed beside him and soundless words in the touch of his hand. Sherlock rests his head against John's chest and together they breathe.

 

The thirty-fifth year, Rosie gets married. John thinks they will manage not to cry, but when the brides enter the aisle with beautiful hair and radiant eyes, he hears Sherlock sniffle once and then John is done for. When the party is over and they lie in bed, they laugh over how soppy they have become, although Rosie would argue that they always were.

 

The thirty-sixth year, John falls a little more in love every day. Their lodge is shaping into their home, warming up with flames from the fireplace and cuddly leg tangles on the sofa. Sherlock spends all day in the garden lost in his bee colonies. John sits at the desk, closes his blog and opens an empty Word document, looking through the window at Sherlock's back. His posture tells John how content he is, and his words are softer at the edges. Sometimes they laugh about the way he used to insult John and order him around, and the way John was grumpy and fussy all the time, and Sherlock's rumbling laughter rolls around the lodge and all the laugh lines on his face show, and John loves him intensely.

 

The thirty-seventh year, they get a dog. John and Sherlock both forget about their minor ailments, running and jumping along the beach with the overexcited puppy. More than once they end up in a tangle on the ground, and when the dog tires of them and finds some bird to hunt, John discovers that they are not too old to make out in the sand.

 

The thirty-eighth year, John lives at his desk, leaving his mind there any time he gets up. Reality becomes a blur between walks with the dog and an old phone with an engraving to his sister, toast with Sherlock's fresh honey and a pink suitcase, sleep cuddles in the lodge and a gunshot through two windows.

 

The thirty-ninth year, A Study in Pink is on the shelves of every book store. Sherlock puts up a token complaint about John's romanticising language and plot construction. John nuzzles his cheek and tells him that's because it is a romance. When John puts a copy in Sherlock's hands for the first time, Sherlock goes very still and stares at it for a long, long time.

 

The fortieth year, happiness seems to constantly seep in through every crack in the wall and every crack in their exterior. The sun is bright on their wooden floors and the riddle of love is simpler than John ever guessed it to be. He takes Sherlock's hand whenever he can and kisses his neck when he passes him by. There is a gleam in their eyes and softness on their skin, and their still inappropriately-timed smiles make John think about how he was right thirty years ago; he will never grow tired of this. He will want this man forever.

 

The forty-first year, Rosie has a child. All Sherlock wants to do is carry him around constantly. John takes sofa naps in the afternoons with the baby on his chest, and the weight seems to mend all that is wrong with the world.

 

The forty-second year, they share the desk by the window. John writes slowly and steadily, Sherlock writes explosively. John stares into space, thinking about wordings. Sherlock spends entire days in the garden with his notebook, then rushes in and types with uninterrupted frenzy. The only way for John to get Sherlock's attention when it's time for dinner is by kissing his throat.

By the end of the year, John publishes his second book about their adventures at the same time as Sherlock publishes his beekeeping handbook.

 

The forty-third year is spent in constant travel between the lodge, Rosie's house and the hospital. Their lungs are narrow with fear and coated with nausea, and everything is reduced into what is needed to survive.

Rosie's hospital room is heavy with illness and the ceiling is lowering. John and Sherlock spend more time with the child than either of his mothers do, whispering worriedly through the nights and making it a point to laugh during the days.

 

The forty-fourth year, Rosie gets out of hospital and Lestrade goes into it. Sherlock gives a beautiful speech at his funeral and then they go home, Lestrade somehow going with them and staying for a while. They talk about him and Mrs Hudson and Mycroft, and they smile.

 

The forty-fifth year, John turns eighty. They have a party far too big for the lodge, but the weather is nice so they spend most of it in the garden. Rosie rolls out the piano and plays a duet with Sherlock that they have composed in secret for the occasion. Their fingers dance with their instruments and their eyes dance with one another, and it's all so beautiful that John has to close his eyes, losing gravity when he falls into the music.

 

The forty-sixth year, their grandchild gets his first violin. John and Sherlock travel to London for never-ending concerts at music school. The seats are hard and everyone except for their boy is terrible, but it is always worth it for seeing his grave concentration on stage and his radiant eyes afterwards.

 

The forty-seventh year, their walks by the beach are languid, the dog slowing down until finally it is only John and Sherlock left. They keep walking anyway, appearing silent for everyone who doesn't know how wordless their communication is. Rosie laughs at how they look the same as they always have; Sherlock's dramatic strides, eyes mystically narrowed in the wind, curls whipping, and John's military posture still lingering around his shoulders and spine.

 

The forty-eighth year, Sherlock refuses to have a large party for his eightieth birthday. John chuckles at the fact that he believed John would even try to force that upon him, and takes him to the ballet to celebrate. John cannot take his eyes off Sherlock in his dark tailcoat, and the air around them is vibrating and reverent during the performance, stolen kisses scattered through it.

 

The forty-ninth year, they fight over who gets to die first. John wins, arguing that Sherlock already died once so it would only be fair. Sherlock reluctantly concedes his point, and then he grieves it for days until John pinches him hard on the upper arm to make him realise John is not gone yet. He is still quite healthy, in fact, and proves it by taking Sherlock to bed.

 

The fiftieth year, Sherlock surprises John with a flower bouquet from their garden to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. John points out they have only been married for thirty-nine years, but Sherlock scoffs and starts listing facts about their first year together (you made my tea every morning, I lent you my credit card, we spent eighty percent of our waking time together, I put on your coat for you, we each knew what the other was thinking with one single look, you nagged me about severed body parts in the fridge but really you loved it because you loved me, I catalogued the fifteen colours of your hair), proving to John that they were, in fact, married all along.

 

The fifty-first year, John is happy. He remembers being sure that his life was over before he was forty, he remembers letting go of his cane and being afraid of the greatest love he had ever held. He remembers hesitating because he was living under the illusion that there was ever too much to lose, and he hardly even remembers the years of regret and grief that followed. He remembers harming the most beautiful thing he knew just because he had once thought he would never get to see it again, and he remembers tentative smiles and unspoken words. He remembers being sure those words would never be said. He remembers thinking that two years of betrayal were enough to destroy even the strongest of friendships. And he remembers the fragility when they finally abandoned the second bedroom, the first anniversary's joy and desperation because really, what was one year together in the face of those two years apart?

John thinks fondly of the miserable man with the cane, he remembers how naive he was, and he thinks about how wonderful the fifty-one years with Sherlock have been.

 

The last year, Sherlock keeps his promise. He lets John go first. He cries and John tells him that he should not let his senses fool him, John might turn up at the most inopportune time and reveal that he is not dead. Sherlock laughs or keeps crying, it is hard to be sure, and he tells John he will need to come back quickly then, because Sherlock likely won't have long.

John tells Sherlock about the lost man with the cane, and his stupendous misconception that his life was over, and how surprised he is to discover how much time of pure living he had left after that. Imagine, he tells Sherlock, what eternity might wait for us after this one. In this world, he says, the memory of us will be forever entwined, and you and I, he says, well, who knows what we will get up to next. When we look back at this, he says, we will laugh at how we thought it was the end. With us, he says, it never is.