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Whatever Remains, However Improbable

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It’s going to happen. You don’t know it yet, but it will. It’s written all over you. I’m surprised you can’t see it yourself. I’m doubly surprised that he can’t, given that big brain of his. All that experience in observation and deduction, you’d think he’d see it by now. Consulting Detective, isn’t that right? Well. Can’t deduce the nose on his face, if you ask me.

No, we’re not clients. We don’t need his help. We’re here to help you, actually.

We’re here to tell you how it’s going to happen.

Well: to be fair, there’s more than one option. We’re here to tell you the most likely ones, and the ones we like best, the ones we think you’ll most want to hear about. Which one it turns out to be in the end depends on you, your circumstances, and which family members, cases, major political events, murders, crime lords, and adverse weather events get in your way between now and then. And it depends on him, of course. He’s got a say as well, obviously. He might be your biggest obstacle, in the end. Or your understanding of him will be. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s be clear from the outset: it will happen. There’s no fighting that. It’s like gravity; you can imagine flying, you can dream about pushing off the pavement and soaring into the sky, but in truth, if you found yourself up in the air like that, you would most certainly fall to the ground at a known rate of speed. It’s like that. Predictable, like gravity. You are falling, John Watson. You will land one way or another. It’s only a matter of when, where, and how.

Sit down. There you go; that’s better, isn’t it? You’ve got your cup of tea right here. You don’t have to say anything. I’m going to tell you exactly how it will go, and all the ways it could. If you’re lucky, you might get to choose the one you like best. Though it’s not only up to you. You’re both in this together.

We’re just interested observers, waiting for the inevitable. We’re waiting for you to fall out of the sky. Or leap into it, depending on your preferred metaphor. You see?

Interrupt me if you have questions, by all means. I can imagine you’ll have a few, as we get into the details. The details are the best part.

Are you ready?

Here’s a simple one. Not a likely one, but one that could come if you opt for the long, patient, obtuse, and infuriating wait. If you never ask, if you never take a risk, if you never try to understand what’s going on inside that mad head of his. How patient are you, John Watson? How deep does your denial go?

If it happens this way, it will be ages from now. This is the slow route.

You’ll both be a bit drunk. It will be amiably noisy in the pub, so much so that you’ll have to stand closer to each other than usual in order to converse comfortably, which will feel entirely fine. It will set off no alarm bells. Neither of you will mind in the slightest, or even notice.

The fact that you’re standing close enough to kiss him won’t even occur to you, not at first. It will feel absolutely unremarkable that you’re standing so close together at the bar. It will feel completely natural to you, because by then, it will be completely natural. It will seem like nothing earth-shattering and life-changing is going on at all.

At first you’ll try to maintain eye contact with him, but your eyes will keep drifting down to his mouth. He’ll notice that, of course. He’ll chalk it up to tipsiness and think nothing of it. Like I said: this is the slow route.

You’ll talk about the case you’ve just put to bed. He’ll tell you the things he didn’t tell Lestrade, the tiny things he catalogued but didn’t bother to mention. The littlest details that didn’t make it into the formal story. He’ll tell you his mistakes, too. His doubts. The things he did wrong, but caught just in time. You’ll love that: you love the vulnerability of the confession, for one. And the fact that even his errors zing with brilliance. It thrills you. He’ll be practically whispering into your ear before long. You’ll marvel at him, which he’ll love, as always. He never tires of impressing you, just as you never tire of being impressed by him.

And you’ll touch him. Does that seem odd? Well: sitting here sober and thinking about a decision like that, yes, I can see how it might be. But you’ll be a little drunk, a little tired, buzzing with the high of the adrenaline in your blood, and he’ll be whispering the most amazing things in your ear, so it won’t seem odd at all.

First you’ll just touch his wrist, which is resting on the bar. Then his shoulder. You’ll bring him closer to you with your fingers, because you want to hear him better. You’ll want to touch him, you’ll want him closer to you than you’ll realise is strictly normal between you. Because you won’t be able to get enough of him on this particular evening.

It’s perfectly friendly in the moment, of course. You’re just mates. It will all make sense in context. And he won’t mind. Not at all. All his attention will be focused on you. He won’t care any more about boundaries than he does now. He’ll watch your face, the way you’ll lick your lips, the way your shoulders will angle towards him: it’s all flattery to him, you see. He’ll be at least as drunk on you and your intoxicating reactions to him as he is on anything else that night.

Someone will struggle to get past him at one point, so you’ll reach out and grab him to shift him out of the way. That’s how you’ll end up with a hand on his waist, resting on the small of his back, hidden under his coat. His skin will feel invitingly warm. That will be the first time it will occur to you that something else might be going on between you and him.

You’ll blush hard, just thinking it, like you are now. You’ll blush because there are far too many idle thoughts and unacknowledged fantasies in your head that start this way, and you’ll be too drunk to untangle them from reality, from this moment. You won’t let go of him, because you won’t want to. And he won’t shake you off, or even give you an odd look.

You’ll feel his breath against your neck, because that’s how close he is to you. You’ll feel the cold pint in your hand, and let go of it to rest your damp fingers against his jaw.

It’s such a big moment between you, it really is. I know. What will you be thinking? Will you be seeing all the consequences of this running through your head, ticking through a massive spreadsheet of risk assessment pros and cons? No. Nothing so sophisticated. You aren’t him, after all. Time won’t change that. This is what you’ll be thinking as you make your decision: Oh, for fuck’s sake. Then you’ll kiss him.

On the mouth, I mean. It won’t be difficult; his face will be exactly in the right place to make it easy for you. Not that he’ll have meant it that way. Though maybe some part of him will have. It’s hard to say, really. In retrospect, he won’t be entirely certain about that himself.

You’ll taste the beer on his tongue. He will be warm and malleable, and will take your direction well. He won’t know what he’s doing, which you’ll sense, but he won’t want you to stop, so you won’t. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It will be. It will be very nice indeed.

You’ll kiss him far longer than you’re imagining you could, given that you’ll be in public, standing at a bar. It will be crowded and busy, but in that moment, you won’t care. Until suddenly you will, because someone will nudge into you by accident, and you’ll have to take a step back and away from him. Then you’ll get a good look at where you are, and who you’re with, and what you’ve been up to, and you’ll piece it all together. Finally. Just like that and it’s done: you’ll be romantically involved. A couple, like everyone always said you were. You’ll sleep in his bed from then on. All because of one spur-of-the-moment kiss, interrupted by some stranger’s elbow.

I can’t even describe the look you’ll see on his face. You’ll never forget it once you’ve seen it. He’ll look so surprised, at a loss, and above all, hungry. It will be the very first time you’ll see him look at you like that. You won’t entirely believe him capable of it until that moment. You know by now that you don’t have it in you to deny him anything, don’t you?

You’ll hold his hand on the way home, and you’ll both continue your conversations as if you aren’t clinging to one another. You’ll have parallel conversations: the one with your bodies, and the one with your words. You’ll act as if it’s any ordinary day, even though it isn’t. That’s the day your relationship changes, and it will hardly feel like any kind of change at all.

And that’s it: done and dusted. Painless, really.

Funny how your life can change that easily, isn’t it? So seamlessly? Without so much as a conversation? Do you really want to wait that long, though? I didn’t think so.

There are quicker ways.

You could just ask him.

It’s the least likely way of all, of course. Given your situation. You’re married, I can see that. Still wearing that ring! And about to have a baby, aren’t you? How lovely! So you’re happily married, isn’t that right? Ha! We know the truth of it, don’t bother lying to us about that.

Of course we know about the tremor in your hand. And your nightmares. We know how much you miss him, how much you need him. How you feel like you’re drowning, like you’re lost, like you’ve made a terrible mistake you can’t undo. We know how guilty you feel. Don’t ask how we know. It’s complicated. Just rest assured. You’ve got no secrets from us.

You could just tell him what you want from him, you know. In graphic detail. But you don’t tend to confess things like that, do you. Not to your best mate, anyway. And you’re married to someone else.

For now, anyway.

Sorry: strike that. I didn’t mean to say for now! You’re married, of course you are! That’s a vow for the rest of your life, we respect that! Of course!

I didn’t mean to let it slip out like that. What, the odds? On your happy marriage continuing indefinitely? Do you really want to know?

Well, it’s not zero.

But it couldn’t be much closer to zero.

I really am sorry about that. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Though I suppose it’s terribly relevant, isn’t it. I was hoping to just gloss over it.

You look conflicted. It’s bad news, but it’s not all bad news, is it. Being in love with two people at once can be a bit confusing sometimes, when you’re not ready for it. When no one talks about it. And I know you’ve got that big ugly marital issue to wrestle with. Can’t be easy, not knowing who on earth you married. No one would blame you if you tried to have the marriage voided on the grounds of completely-made-up identity, I’m sure.

Ignore that bit. We don’t need to talk about that now.

I only meant to talk about the great inevitability of your life: you and him. Let’s talk about that instead. Alright?

You could always just tell him the truth. You could ask him for what you want from him. Or offer him what you want to give him.

Don’t laugh! It’s possible. Everything is possible. I’ll tell you how it would go if you were to try. It might appeal to you.

It will begin just after breakfast, which he’ll only pick at. He won’t be in a strop, exactly, but you’ll feel one brewing. He’ll want a cigarette, he’ll want a needle in his vein, and he’ll be anxious. Crawling out of his skin. Familiar, isn’t it? You’re used to this sort of thing. You know how it goes. This won’t be any different.

He’ll be frustrated because he’s been caught out again. Some little detail in a case that shines an uncomfortable light on a gap in his core knowledge. You know already what that gap is. It’s sex. Romantic affection. It’s all the rush of hormones that comes along with being physically intimate with someone you love. He understands it all theoretically, but in practical terms it remains a nagging and persistent mystery. He wants to understand everything, even the things he’s not sure he’ll ever physically know. He doesn’t believe that there’s any truth to the contention that you need to experience this particular activity in order to fully understand it, but once in a while a case crops up that shows him that he’s wrong. That he’s got a bit missing, that he doesn’t entirely understand. You’ve already seen that, haven’t you. He goes a little hollow at moments like that. You can see the gap in him then, can’t you.

This will be one of those moments. He’ll be feeling the gap, prodding at it like a loose tooth. It will bother him, that little unsolved and seemingly unsolvable mystery.

He’ll tug his dressing gown around him and sulk. He’ll flop down on the sofa and stare at the ceiling, as if you’ve written the answers for him there. He knows you have the answers. He knows you can’t just tell him, either. For once.

This will be your moment, if you want to take it.

You’ll clear your throat first, and he’ll ignore you. Strop, remember. It will be well on its way by then. You’ll take a gulp of your tea, now cold. You’ll fold the paper in half, then in half again, and put it on the table in front of you.

“I…” You’ll start. An auspicious beginning. “You know, I wouldn’t be opposed to... well, if you wanted, I would–”

He’ll interrupt. “I don’t want anything.”

“Don’t you?” A good counter.

He’ll just glare up at the ceiling. “Don’t be daft.”

“I’m only trying to say,” you’ll go on, trying to keep your voice as smooth as you can, “that if you wanted to, you know. If you needed some experience in–”

This is the point where you’ll regret not having written something down. It’s always easier to write these things down first, isn’t it. Then you can look at it, memorise it, reconsider it, write it again, frown at it, throw up your hands, and then have a go at saying it out loud. Even then it’s a challenge for you, isn’t it.

“Well. I would be happy to–” There’ll be a pause here, mostly because you’ll be feeling overexposed and awkward. This is a revealing statement, after all. Your tongue will start to feel too thick. “I would be more than willing to–”

You might have hoped that by this future point in your life you’d have gained at least some ability to say the difficult things you want to say. But it doesn’t get any easier for you, I’m afraid.

“Do you feel as though you want to be in a relationship? I mean a romantic one. A sexual one.”

His brain works quickly, it’s true. But you have to understand that it won’t work quickly for a question like this. Because he won’t be able to bring himself to see that you’re saying what you’ll be clearly trying to say. It’s not that you won’t be obvious about it. It’s that the words themselves will shatter his perception of you, himself, your relationship, and the universe. He doesn’t let himself imagine you would mean what your words mean. It will take him a bit of time to process it. Take what you say and put it in reverse: that’s how he’ll hear it.

“No.” He’ll say it fast. “Of course not. Not my area.”

“Right,” you’ll say. Couldn’t be clearer. No means no, and all that. “Fine. Fair enough.”

You’ll wait a minute or two and catch your breath. You won’t look over at him, but you’ll feel his fidgeting stop. If you look over, you know he’ll see right through you, so you won’t. You’ll inhale, then get up and put the kettle on. Your heart will be racing. It will be breaking, but you know how to stuff that feeling down as far as it will go and not tremble, run, or throw plates at the wall. You’ll be fine. You’re a grown up.

Yes, you’re right: I did say the two of you ending up together was inevitable, didn’t I. This story doesn’t seem to be going in that direction. Well, hold on. I’m not finished yet.

You’ll spend the day feeling stupid and a bit raw. And disappointed, frankly. Terribly disappointed. I know you won’t admit to it now, but some part of you has always believed that it was only circumstances, an absence of emotional maturity, and a comedy of misunderstandings that’s been keeping you apart. You have always believed that the two of you would grow into each other, eventually, like old trees, and that you would be impossible to untangle ever after. You like that potentiality, don’t you. It’s exquisite, this bizarre love, sitting there just out of your reach, moving towards you with each passing day.

This man is yours even though you act as if you don’t want him to be, even though he says he belongs to no one; you married someone else, but you still dream of him. Some part of you knows what we know, that the two of you ending up together somehow is inevitable. So when he says no to you, it hurts you more than you might expect. A lifetime of potentialities will vanish from your heart and leave it limping and sore. You’ll feel the loss of him behind your eyes all day. Your hands will be cold without the hope of his warm skin under them. Until he says no, you won’t entirely understand how much you’ve been depending on him saying yes instead.

But you’ll grit your teeth and move on. He’s your best mate, and that won’t have changed. You’ll go out. You’ll walk in the rain, pick up milk and some ready meals from the M&S. You will feel a bit numb, and the rain will remind you that this isn’t some tragic nightmare or a daydream. You’ll tamp down every feeling you have with each step. You’ll tamp them down as far as you can, and try to take yourself back to where you were before you opened your mouth, but you’ll find it impossible.

You’ll consider never coming back, for a moment or two. But you’ll know that running away is silly and hardly called for. Surely, you’ll imagine, it will fade to a mild embarrassment eventually. You’ll get over it. You’ll still be addicted to him, after all. You’ll need him still, the way you do now. So you’ll push the door open, you’ll walk back up the stairs, you’ll put on your calmest face, and you’ll nod to him (still in his dressing gown, still lying on the sofa) without actually looking at him. Best not to, isn’t it?

He won’t say anything. He won’t move.

Later that afternoon, as the rain patters on the windows, you’ll tap away at your laptop. You’ll try to write a blog post about the case, and do your best to focus on the facts, the past, the dead body. You’ll try hard not to look in his direction. That’s when he’ll answer you.

He’ll still be in his dressing gown. There will be seven laptops on the coffee table, and you won’t have even thought to ask why. He’ll have been pacing, wringing his hands. He’ll have had a sneaky cigarette while you were gone, and it will be impossible for you not to notice, in spite of the toothpaste and soap trying hard to disguise it. You’ll be too distracted by the pulsing pain in your chest where his rejection stung you to think about what that might mean. He’ll stand up, he’ll turn and face you, even though you can’t bear to look at him.

“Yes.”

“What?” It will have been six hours since you asked the question. It’s fair enough that you’ll have no idea what he’s saying yes to.

“You–” His turn for unfinished sentences. “You said that thing. Yes.”

You’ll play dumb. That’s handy with him sometimes. You’ll know what he means, or think you know, but you won’t want to dare imagine it. Not until you’re entirely sure, at least. You’ll want to make him say it. Clarify. Best to be on the same page about a thing like this, no?

“What thing?”

You know this look: rolled-eye exasperation. “Sexual. Romantic. Yes.”

You’ll really look at him after that. Really look. He’ll still be in his pajamas. His dressing gown will have fallen open. There’ll be a crease from the sofa on his face. He’ll look a little wild; you’ll wonder if he’s high. You’ll know about the cigarette. Naturally, you’ll wonder what other urges he gave into that afternoon.

“So you’re interested in–”

“Yes.”

“With…” You’ll have the option whether or not to phrase it as a question. You’ll be a bit afraid that your voice will come out all squeaky if you do. “Me.”

“Yes! I said yes!” He’ll be annoyed already. He doesn’t like things that move this slowly, you know that.

“Right,” you’ll say. There it is. Your heart will fill back up again. Yes. There it is: done. Potentialities once dumped down the drain will come rising back up again, back to their natural home. They’ll all be within touching distance after that. You will almost be able to smell them. Of course they’ll smell like rash cigarettes and unwashed hair, but you won’t mind. “Okay.”

Before you can say another word, he’ll bound over the coffee table, charge through the kitchen, and vanish into his bedroom. You’ll think for a moment he means you to follow him (so direct! So sudden!), but you’ll hear the shower switch on a moment later.

He’ll return after about twenty minutes fully-clothed with wet hair and a well-scrubbed face. He’ll close all the laptops but one, then go into the kitchen and set up some sort of chemistry experiment. He’ll put his safety goggles on and won’t speak again until supper time.

It will almost be as if nothing was said at all. As if it didn’t happen. Almost. The only difference that afternoon will be that you will grant yourself permission to watch him. Of course you often watch him, but not like you will this time. Not with this direct, unashamed, anticipating, devoted stare. He’ll notice. He loves to be watched. You know that already.

“Dinner?” He’ll say.

Some things won’t change. Others will.

There are so many more possibilities I could tell you, John. They’re practically infinite.

You already know about the awkward possibility of a triad.

No, of course we’re not listening in on your conversations with your wife! No no! We’re not creeps! We’re just observers and pattern-followers, that’s all. Theme hunters. Subtext analysts, shall we say. Have you noticed that your life revolves around a set of themes? No? Well it does. That’s how we know what we know. It’s just that obvious, if you’re looking at it from the right angle. Your life is a composition, and we can feel where the notes are heading based on the ones we’ve already heard. It’s not magic, or voyeurism. We’re only following a logical progression, that’s all.

You were right to say no, by the way. To the threesome offer, I mean. Of course, you said no in part because you were in denial about your internal conflict, and you were unwilling to admit that something so carnal could be part of the fabric of your relationship with him. You couldn’t admit that you wanted him, could you. You were keeping that door very firmly shut. Dangerous to open it up and look too hard at what’s on the other side. We understand. Aren’t you keen on danger, though?

She knew you were lying as well as we do. She’s a smart lady, that one! I understand the attraction, trust me! But it’s for the best. A tryst between the three of you could have had its benefits, of course. A little imagination goes a long way! All of London would have been salivating over the blog post about that steamy evening, let me tell you. Not that it’s any of their business, of course, but...well, you know how people are.

There are a few ways it might have worked. At least for a little while. But you know full well you wouldn’t be able to share him for long. Not with anyone. You can already imagine how filled with blind and burning jealousy you’d be if you tried. You’ve felt that before. You’re feeling it now just thinking about it, aren’t you. That’s really why you said no when she offered, isn’t it.

Interesting that it’s him you have trouble sharing, don’t you think? That him being with her was the stumbling block? It’s a little bit hypocritical of you, don’t you think? You ask him to share you, even now, but you really can’t bear to share him. Not with anyone. Even the idea makes your stomach turn, doesn’t it.

Do you need a glass of water? You look a little unwell.

It’s alright. He’ll be yours alone, I promise.

He’d only ever accept a sharing arrangement in the first place for your sake. Honestly. Does that make you feel better?

Deep breaths, John. You’re looking a little green.

Let me tell you another.

There’s the one where you fall asleep on the floor together in a tiny space. Long story: there’ll be a case, and a door you can’t open until the right moment, and only just enough room. It’s a closet you’ll be shut up inside, if you must know. The jokes come naturally for this one, of course, but I won’t be so gauche.

That’s the subtext of it, you see? That’s why it’s so easy to see where this is all going. It’s all the jokes. It’s like God is picking you up like dolls and forcing you to kiss! Doesn’t it feel that way to you?

Anyway: there you’ll be, lying on the floor with him beside you, ostensibly waiting. He’ll be meant to stay awake and listen for the right moment, but you’ll wake up when the dawn light starts to trickle in under the door. You’ll look over and see him there beside you, his head propped up against the wall facing you. Asleep.

You’ll look at him and really see him, unanimated for a change. As he actually is. Human, flawed. Fragile, in his way. Unusual. Marvelous. Brilliant and audacious. Beautiful. And you won’t want to disturb him, even though the logical thing to do, when your best mate falls asleep and misses the thing you were closed up in a closet all night to do, is to kick him. Hard.

But you won’t. You’ll just turn your head and watch the watery morning light inch up along the odd planes of his face. His neck will be so sore after this. He won’t be able to turn his head to the left without wincing for the next three days. But in that moment you’ll look at his sleeping face and you’ll think: Yes. I do love you, don’t I. I absolutely do. Impossible not to. You bastard.

When he wakes up he’ll kick himself for falling asleep. It’s hardly a surprise, though. He won’t have slept at all in the previous two days. But he won’t wake up just then; you’ll have a few more minutes with his slumped, awkward sleeping body beside you. It will feel good. You’ll feel oddly at ease with his body heat and the sound of his even breathing so close to you. And it’s just then you’ll realize that he fell asleep in that awkward position because he curled himself around you in the night. He’d been watching you sleep, just the way you’ll be watching him. You’ll take that knowledge and hold on to it for the rest of the day, like an ember you’re keeping safe.

Do you want to hear the one where your date will fail to turn up, so you’ll take him out in her place? You will have bought the tickets ahead. Would be a shame to waste them. Premium seats at the Everyman, nice and romantic.

He’ll go with you even though he’ll have no interest in the film and actively won’t want to sit through it. He’ll go with you even though he’ll complain the whole way there. The server will make the same assumption about the two of you everyone else always makes. You won’t bother to correct her; what’s the point? It won’t matter what she thinks. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, really, does it. Except for you and him.

You’ll bicker so affectionately in your seats that you’ll make everyone around you certain you’ve been together for ages. And as the lights go down, you’ll realise that you have been. And it will strike you that you know exactly why he’s come with you, even though he won’t say it.

The decision will come to you so easily you’ll barely stop to think about it at all. You’ll reach over and take his hand. He won’t resist, but you’ll notice that he catches his breath and holds it, then exhales after you don’t pull your hand away. You’ll be able to read the confusion in the tension of his body, even in the dark. Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you can surprise him. You’ll knit your fingers loosely with his and let him think on that if he gets bored of the film. Far be it from you to leave him without some form of entertainment. You’ll be so pleased with yourself that you’ll almost start laughing.

It can be that easy.

Or it can be incredibly hard.

No pun intended.

There are scenarios where it happens in the middle of a fight, and not just an argument. Where he’s wound you up so much you’ll swing at him, push him up against walls or down onto the floor. And in those scenarios, it will always just fall out of you by accident. You’ll say something you don’t mean to say, you’ll reveal too much. Sometimes he’ll hear it before you’ll even know you’ve said it. Sometimes it will stop the argument dead. Other times it will only make the argument worse. But it won’t ever change the outcome.

Would you like to hear about–

Well, hello there, Mr Holmes. How lovely to see you. My colleague and I were just–

Oh no, definitely not, I won’t tell you what she told Dr. Watson. That’s between the two of them. He’s free to tell you, if he wants to. But we all know he won’t. That’s not his style, is it. I have a different story for you, if you want to hear it.

Come with me.

You know what I can see, don’t you? You know what I can offer you. Tempting, isn’t it?

Do you want to hear it? I won’t make you beg. I could tell you everything; all the possibilities, from least to most likely, if you like.

But you’re a man of numbers. Facts. I wouldn’t dare bore you with merely possible. You don’t have time for those types of scenarios, do you. The soft options on the margins, the unlikely futures still vaguely within your grasp? No: I won’t go into all that with you. You only want to know what’s most certain. Don’t you. The version of events that will happen, if everything proceeds as it is. If the laws of physics and statistics hold. We know the odds. We’ve calculated them down to the last decimal point. Do you want to know? I could tell you. If you like.

Alright, then. Sit down. Go on. Sit. Hear me out, Sherlock, because I think you'll like this one.

It won't go quite like you expect, telling John you love him, but you've always found it difficult to think about John dying. You know it's a real danger, of course, but contemplating it shuts you down; you prefer to imagine happier scenarios. John will be thrilled, you hope. That could go all sorts of nice places. Sometimes going to those nice places in your mind will be the only way to be patient, to keep lying and keep John safe. Or in your darkest moments, you imagine John will be angry at you for not saying something sooner. For letting him stay with Mary, when you know what you know. You think you could handle that. You're pretty sure it's what you deserve, at any rate. And John has never stayed angry at you for long.

Those things you can think about.

But John dying will become a music box in your mind palace. You'll compose only a few bars before you have to shut it away in there, knowing where those thoughts are headed – where you're headed – and then you'll rarely open it. You'll never wind it either, but that's no obstacle for an imaginary music box: in your moments of despair it will play anyway. You'll tear the key out and still it will play. So you'll tell yourself, in a voice quite like Mycroft's, that you can't afford moments of despair. You've had a whole table for your plot to kill Moriarty, and the box will come to rest on the corner. You'll make sure nothing can touch it. You'll give the rest of the table your attention, and you'll shift knick-knacks around a taxidermied fox until you can almost forget what lies just outside your peripheral vision.

So, no, it won't be an outcome you’ve pictured before, when you tell John. All of it, really: so unexpected. You won't expect John to die, John won't expect you to tearfully tell him you love him, and you certainly won't expect that John won't believe you. A rooftop full of schemers – you, Moriarty, Mycroft – and not one of you will have planned that. And Moriarty won't expect you to throw him off of Bart's, but he really should. You owe him a fall, after all.

More than anything, you won't expect that John will live. It won't feel likely, when you see the bullet pierce his chest. When you see him fall. When you see all the blood. What it will feel like is your fault, your fault, your fault. It's real, you'll be certain. You'll scramble to John's side and it will feel like those nightmares, the ones where the music box pops open because you haven't constructed the latch properly, or you're too rough with it and it breaks. It will feel like that. But it won't be a dream, so all that will remain is the impossible: he's dying.

So when you cry, and say you're sorry, and you kiss him, it will feel somehow fitting that you got it wrong. Everything you've done has been too little, too late; of course you'll have fucked this up, too. You won't get to kiss the love of your life until he's dying, and when you do, he won't kiss you back. Instead, he'll furrow his brow and cast Mycroft a confused look. Like Mycroft could explain. Like Mycroft knows anything about love. You'll have forgiven Mycroft by then, but you're prepared to reconsider if he's the last thing John sees.

But John will look back at you, albeit suspiciously. He'll say your name – has been saying your name, you'll think. And then he'll say it sharply, in that tone that makes you feel like he's taller than you, and suddenly you'll be able to hear again. The world will speed back up again. And John will say he's okay, which can't be true, but somehow it will be. You'll stare down at him, blinking. John won’t look at you, though; he’ll look at other people. You won't remember exactly what you say, what brings John's attention back to you, but he’ll only frown and say, "Yeah. I love you too, Sherlock."

John will keep talking to Mycroft, and then Lestrade when he comes back, but you'll have hardly moved. You'll be thinking, That's not how I meant it, John, and, I kissed you, that should be obvious, and Have I misread this?

You'll sit quietly in the hospital. Sally Donovan will catch Mary when she runs. You'll want to thank her for putting Mary in jail, for not being too rough with her – Mary saved John’s life, in her way – but your thoughts will be too scattered. Everything will be over, but nothing will feel resolved: when John doesn't make sense, nothing does. You'll think it was wishful thinking on your part, and jealousy on Moriarty's. You'll think it, but you won't quite believe it, and that will make it worse. Because you've never thought of yourself as delusional, Sherlock. You strive not to be.

But somehow you'll have come full circle, because you won't have felt like this since the last time John escaped Moriarty with his life. Like you’re trying to find evidence he feels that way about you, when you know he doesn’t. You'll replay everything John has ever said to you, ever written about you, looking for a way to put the pieces into a clearer picture than you've already constructed. It would be tedious if it weren’t so wrenching: you hate repetition, and you’ve done this so many times before. You know all the places the pieces can go. The picture where John was straight was always blurry. The picture where John is in love with you is in sharper focus. It took you so long to acknowledge it because it couldn't possibly be. You had accepted it, though, as the only explanation of all the facts, and you won't know how to reconcile any of that.

You’ll want to stay by John’s side in the hospital, but you won’t be sure you’re welcome. His face will be difficult to read. You’ll leave the room a lot, and you won’t know how John feels about that. It won’t have felt awkward, genuinely awkward between you for years, but it will then. And that will feel like you lost, when by all other accounts you should have won.

You won’t have envisioned losing him quite this way.

I know, I know: I said you were going to like this. What gives? Moriarty will be dead and you’ll still feel like you're being tossed about by a malevolent higher power. God doesn't exist and you'll have already learned that Mycroft is a mere mortal. There will be no one left to toy with you. You'll know that, but the feeling will persist. That’s what feelings do. And that's just what happens, isn't it? Happy endings aren't promised to anyone, you'll think, least of all you. It was stupid to ever believe otherwise.

You won’t bring yourself to regret it, though. Trying, I mean. Risking it. You won’t entirely regret it. You decided that a long time ago, when you jumped off of Bart’s, when you finally knew you didn’t want to die anymore. Staying with the people you care about meant accepting certain emotional consequences, so you made yourself a deal: if they could cope with you, you could be better for them. You could handle a broken heart, if it came to that. In that context, with all the sacrifices they had made for you, it just seemed like nothing.

There was something so noble about John at your gravestone. You’ve never forgotten that. The way John can care about people, and lose them, and keep going. That stuck with you: John, always so brave, and you, ready to stop being a coward. You’ll think you did okay on that score. We think so too, not that you care. It won’t make you feel much better.

So, no: the coping will still be difficult. You’ll have amassed even more strategies by then, however. One does, you know; pain does get easier to handle. That’s good, isn’t it?

You'll tell yourself, for example, that the happy ending is that John lived. He escaped his entanglement with you long enough to blog about it. If he still wants to blog about you, that is: sitting there in the hospital, bundled in your coat and listening to the drone of the vending machine, you won’t be sure. But still: John lived. If that's not a miracle, nothing is. Wanting anything more is just selfishness.

Plenty of people don’t have bloggers, you’ll tell yourself, and they aren’t lost.

But it will be awkward, yes. Coping strategies won’t do much for that. Even Lestrade will pick up on it. Lestrade, of all people! He didn’t see the kiss, you know, having taken off after Mary. So when Lestrade looks between you and John during an uncomfortable silence and makes that shifty face, it will feel unfair. I’d assure you that you won’t be that obvious, that word just gets around, but the truth is, it will be both.

People talk. That won’t have changed.

When John recovers, he’ll return to Baker Street. You’ll worry that he won’t, but he does. It won’t even be a question. But it will be different, away from the bright white stasis of the hospital. John’s health won’t be in peril, and that will regrettably free you up to consider the future full time. A future you won’t yet know how to detach from all your planning. And 221b won’t be the right place to let go of those plans, because it’s where you made those plans.

You’ll freeze a bit, actually, when you step through the door. You won’t even take off your coat.

You won’t be able to sit in your armchair without remembering it all. That was where you sat when you came back from John’s wedding, and realized exactly what you’d lost. Because when that day began, you’d thought you were only losing a fantasy. It was something that wouldn’t have happened anyway, you’d told yourself. Where’s the loss in that? But when that day ended, you knew you had lost something concrete. Something that could have happened, would have happened, if you hadn’t been so slow.

But you were right the first time around, as it turns out. Weren’t you? It will seem like it, anyway. John didn’t kiss you back.

You won’t be able to look at his armchair either, because that’s where the offer was made. Or rather, what you later convinced yourself had been an offer. But it couldn’t have been. You’ll test your new interpretation: you didn’t pick up on it at the time because there was no offer. You’ll repeat it to yourself a few times. It won’t feel right, no. You’ll be inclined to keep thinking about it, to make sense of it. You’ve pored over that memory so much you’ll still be able to feel his palm against your knee, if you want to.

You’ll want to.

So you won’t sit in your chair. And you won’t look at his chair. And you can’t look at him. You’ll need privacy, just a moment to get yourself together. But you’ll make it all of one step in the direction of your bedroom before you stop and think, Definitely not. The plans and memories will be densely packed in there. And rather heated. Even moreso than they are now, if you can believe it. That had been a big thing for you: consciously thinking about it, and acknowledging you were thinking about it, and not feeling pathetic for thinking about it. You’d really believed it was possible, is all. You won’t want to open that door and let in this new, harsher light, Sherlock. You won’t want to feel like an idiot. No one does.

So you’ll stop. Turn. You’ll step toward the couch instead. And you’ll stop again. You’ll look at the couch a few moments, and then you’ll think, I may have let that get out of hand.

You will look at John then. Just for a second. You won’t mean to; he moved, or something. He’ll be sitting in his chair. You'll see John in front of you, and you won't know how to take those fantasies back. You've never been able to delete those sorts of things, have you. John has been the exception to so many of your rules, but not that one.

Mrs Hudson will have put out a plate of pastries, so you’ll stalk into the kitchen under the guise of eating one. You’ll realize you’re starving; you couldn’t even think about food at the hospital. John still won’t say anything. It will make you uneasy. You won’t be able to think of anything to say, either. You would offer him a pastry, just to make conversation, but it will seem like a ridiculous thing to say. John will know the pastries are there, he’d eat one if he wanted to. Wouldn’t he? Of course he would. It will feel so stupid.

It will quickly become clear that nowhere in the flat is safe. Nor much of the outside world. You would go get dinner, but it would be a bit rude not to invite John. You would try to find a case, but you don’t want to do a case without John. You would simply make up an excuse and leave, but you’re sick of lying to John. None of those will solve anything, anyway. You’ll know you’re just stalling, trying to think of something to do, when only time will make things better.

That’s what you’ll think, anyway.

John will sit with his laptop resting on his knees, but you won’t hear him typing. You’ll wonder what he’s not typing about.

It will feel awful, Sherlock, there’s no way around it. You’ll realize that there’s little that doesn’t remind you of John, and as the door slams on one potential refuge after another, you’ll feel a bit hunted. Exposed. Vulnerable. You won’t be able to look down at your own body without thinking of him, because your body wasn’t something you let yourself think about before him. You’ll try to retreat to your mind palace, but John has a key to every room. Of course he does: you rebuilt the whole thing on a foundation of John after you jumped. You felt scared, then, is all. There are whole hallways you don’t have the courage to walk down unless he comes with you. And it cheered you up, having him there, talking to you all the time. John moves around in there, wherever he pleases. He just does.

John is in your head and under your skin and has direct control over your pulse. And what’s worse is you’ll have grown so used to liking it that way you won’t want to let that go. It’s like mourning, in a way, you know. Hopes can get so strong that they feel real. Alive. They become a part of you.

There will be nowhere to hide from yourself. That’s what it will come down to. You know when you’re beaten, and you’ll know it then.

No syringes. You’ll have promised him.

You’re a proper genius and you’ll reason that you can’t stand in the kitchen forever. And you’ll want to see what John is doing on his computer. You won’t be able to help it; you’ve always wanted to know everything about John, and you'll be in no position to resist then. Whatever gets you out of the kitchen, right? We all have our crutches. So you’ll wander past and discretely catch a glimpse of an empty blog entry box. He’s thinking about it, then. Of course he will be. And there you’ll be, still with nothing to do.

You’ll see your violin near the window and think, That could work. It’s not that it won’t remind you of John – since you met John, you've composed only for him. It’s just that John tends to leave you alone when you’re composing. And it’s what you’ve always done, when you can’t talk about something. Just then, it will feel like the closest you can get to talking to John without imposing upon him. He won’t know what it means, but he’ll listen. That’s something.

You won’t compose anything, though. What will actually happen is you’ll stand there just a moment too long, and John will speak.

“Going out?” John will ask. And he’ll look up at you, unwavering. You won’t be able to read anything on his face, and it will take you a moment to understand what he’s asked you.

“No, I–” you’ll say. You’ll realize you’re still wearing your coat and gloves. You’ll hastily remove the latter and shove them in your pockets.

John will look achingly handsome for someone who just got home from the hospital, I’m sorry to say. It will throw you a bit off-kilter. You won’t want to stare, but won’t you seem nervous if you look away? There’s probably some optimal balance of eye contact. Someone should figure that out. You won’t, though, and it will feel like another thing you didn’t solve in time.

And you won’t actually answer his question, either. You’ll notice that about a second after it becomes uncomfortable.

“Blogging?” you’ll ask instead. You’ll sound casual enough, to your credit. But you’ll just stand there, all the same.

“Trying to.” He’ll tilt his head and give one of those slight smiles, the kind that he can’t quite maintain when he’s teasing something out. “Not quite sure where to begin.” A pause. “I’m not sure I’m… clear on all of it.”

“Ah,” you’ll say after a moment. “A lot did… happen.” You’ll expect more words to come, but they won’t.

And there’s two seconds gone. John will stare at you.

“Yeah,” he’ll say suddenly, too nonchalantly. He’ll clear his throat. “Yeah. And Moriarty is dead this time? We’re sure of it?” He’ll smile: it’s a bit of a joke.

You’ll smile too. “Yes.” You’ll be grateful for it, John’s smile. You’ll shuffle your feet a bit. “Threw him off the roof myself.” You’ll chuckle slightly, and John will join in.

“Well, when you want something done…” John will say. Fond, isn't it, the way he’ll trail off. For a moment, you’ll think things might be normal again. But when the laughter dissolves, he’ll look down at his screen without really seeing it, a beat will pass, and you’ll look away. You’ll force yourself to look back.

And that’s when it will start to happen: he’ll inhale tensely, hesitate, and close his laptop. All in slow motion – like you’re watching a bomb ticking down. He’ll set his computer aside on the end table, clench and unclench his hand on the arm of the chair, drum his fingers a moment, and all you can do is wait for it.

“Yeah, listen Sherlock,” he’ll begin. He’ll look up at you, and a muscle in his jaw will twitch. His mouth will twist a bit. And you’ll know: you’re doing this now.

“Go on,” you’ll say softly. There’s no predicting what he’s going to say – well, none you can do anyway – but you’ll be certain you deserve it. You’ll start pulling together pieces of apologies you’ve drafted in your mind. None of them will feel adequate, but you’ll owe it to him to try.

John will lick his lips, then open his mouth. You’ll wait. You’ll hold his gaze; you won’t know if you can fix things, but facing him is the least you can do. You’ll take responsibility for your mess.

What he’ll finally say is this: “Is it done?” A tight almost-whisper. You’ll want to answer, but you won’t understand the question. He’ll impatiently plow ahead, finding it easier to speak now that he’s started: “The… game. Or whatever. Moriarty’s plot, your plot. Is it all finished, can you talk about it?” You’ll have expected anger, but not about this. And it will build so quickly. John will sweep his eyes across the flat. “Are there, what, cameras still?”

I feel I should remind you that you'll like this. It gets worse before it gets better, I'm afraid.

“Of course not,” you’ll say distantly, because it was the last question, and the simplest. Why would there still be cameras? You’ll struggle to catch up, but John will just keep talking.

“Are you lying?” John will stare you down, eyebrows raised in expectation.

“No.” You’ll sound more offended than you’d like to. It’ll feel like you’re a second behind the rest of the world. When his expression doesn’t falter, you won’t be sure what else to say. “John, I– Moriarty is dead.” You’ll look around the flat like John did, then back at him. Nothing. He’ll know Moriarty’s dead; that’s not what it’s about, Sherlock. You will, however, manage to deduce one thing from his stare: “You’re waiting for me to say the code,” you’ll say, almost an accusation. “I’m not going to say the code because I’m not lying, John.”

“You don’t have some sort of scheme,” John will say, voice low. It's not so much a question as an invitation to defy him and see what happens. He can unnerve you sometimes, can’t he, when he sounds like that?

It won't click just then. You'll almost have it, but not quite. Sometimes John has to talk a while before everything slams into place. You know that.

“Why would I– If I had a scheme, I'd say the code. That's what the code is for.”

The force of it will startle you: “Not if you needed to lie to me, Sherlock.” It won’t be a yell, no. It will be lower, quieter, and have all the same power. He’ll shake with it, he’ll just barely contain it. It must hurt his throat to sound that way. “Not if you need me to believe something.”

He’ll be sitting, and you’ll be standing, and still you’ll need to touch your fingertips to the desk behind you to steady yourself.

That’s when it will click.

You’ll have become one of those people. You’ve already done a lot of terrible things for love, you realize. I don’t need to remind you, do I? You know that. And you’re going to do a lot more. You’re already planning some of those things right now, so you understand the necessity of rationalizing certain morally questionable decisions when John’s life is in danger. It’s not like you don’t struggle with it, of course. It makes you feel like Mycroft one day, and like Mycroft isn’t so different from everyone else the next. Dreadful, isn’t it? But Moriarty has always forced you to choose between two devastating outcomes, and you won’t have time for self-flagellation along the way. People like to think that you’re clueless, or heartless, but it’s not that. You’re focused. You’re rational. It’s because those decisions can paralyze you that you don’t let yourself despair over them.

Not more than you can help, anyway.

You’ve hated it from the start, after all, lying to John about Mary. For what it’s worth, you won’t have to keep that up much longer. I’ll just tell you that now, to put your mind at ease. John’s clever enough, and when it becomes clear that Moriarty is actually alive, he’ll put two and two together. Snipers aren’t exactly thick on the ground, are they. But that’s another story. The important part is this: you’ll come clean as soon as you can, and aside from keeping your feelings to yourself until Moriarty is out of the picture, you won’t lie to John again. He’ll forgive you, when you tell him about Mary, as he always does. He won’t be happy, as you can imagine, but he’ll accept you had no choice.

So by the time Moriarty is dead, by the time you’ve kissed John and ended up in 221b fumbling for something to say, you won’t have had to confront the whole lying thing. Not like you should have. It was a relief when it was over, and you’ll think all that is behind you.

But when you realize John thinks you kissed him as some sort of trick, that you were just messing with his mind, that’s when you know: You’re one of those people who hurts the people you love. It’s not all killing bad guys, after all. You won’t stay entirely above the fray, no. You’ll slide nearly all the way down that slope. You won’t know what other choice you had, but you can’t deny you’ve deceived him. The road to hell, as the saying goes. You’ll be sure that’s how John must see you: you’re someone who lies to him, and hurts him. And that is the last thing you’ve ever wanted to do.

It will click, and stick in your throat, and you’ll swallow against it.

His eyes won’t leave your face. You won’t have a response – how could you? – so he’ll cut straight to the point.

“You kissed me,” John will say, voice quaking with pain.

You’ll think you’re going to cry, hearing him sound like that. Given your track record, you’re right.

“John.” That’s all you’ll manage. Pointless. Worthless.

Halting and breathy, he’ll continue listing your crimes: “You told me you love me. You... held me, and you cried. Hm?” How do you plead? There should be something you can say to that, and you’ll mean to find it. But before you can answer, he’ll inhale sharply, and his next word will fight being spoken: “Why–”

It will only choke him for a moment, mind you. It’s a dangerous question, and he won’t be able to help marching right into it. Nothing ever stops him, in the end. That’s just how he’s always been: he does what needs to be done. His gaze, though wet, will remain defiant. He’ll keep going, heedless of how small and teary his voice will become. And though the anguish in his voice will be as sharp as a lance, he’ll get the question out:

“Why would you do that, Sherlock?”

He will never seem stronger to you than he will then, and your eyes will sting.

“Because it’s the truth.” It will sound too quiet, too weak an explanation. And he’ll shut his eyes and incline his head as if stricken, just for a moment. It will be the wrong thing to say.

Well, it’s not as if you could have said anything else. You will have misread nothing after all, you know. That’s what it will all mean, and it won’t be lost on you. It should give you hope, but you won’t be thinking clearly. It’s difficult, when he’s hurting. It’s always shut your brain down.

When he speaks, it will be flat and toneless. A warning: “Sherlock.”

It will just burst out of you: “I love you.” You’ll sound hopeless. You won’t even care how your voice wavers; desperation tends to hit like a flash flood, doesn’t it? And that’ll be the first tear. You’ll feel badly about that, you know, like you don’t deserve to cry, but, well. You’ve always been a crier. And if there were ever something worth crying over, surely it would be this turn of events. You kissed him, and he didn’t believe you. What could possibly convince him? What good is the word of a liar?

“Sherlock.” That small, murderous smile. He might actually hit you. Maybe you should stop. A wiser man might, but you’ve always been a babbler too.

“I am in love with you,” you’ll try again, voice shaking but somehow oddly formal, “and I have been, always–”

“Always,” John will echo hollowly.

You won’t be certain exactly how it happens. One moment you’ll be babbling, sensing him slipping away from you, and the next you’ll be on your knees. It will feel right, is all. Like the thing to do. Instinct serves you well often enough, and whatever the reason, whatever primal part of your brain issued that directive, once you’re on the floor something about it will ground you. Maybe remaining upright was too distracting, and on your knees, looking up into his face and grasping his hands, you can focus properly. Or maybe the contact with him just calms you, even when he’s angry. You’ll sit back on your heels, and take a breath.

John won’t flinch, or press his back into the chair, or anything like that. He won’t pull away from you. He never has, when you get in his space. It took you years to figure out why, and it will bode well that it hasn’t changed. But you won’t be home free yet. He’ll look down at you, laugh humorlessly, and say, “Oh, not this.”

“John.”

“Stop this,” he’ll hiss suddenly, and your mouth will snap shut. It will be the most vicious plea you’ve ever heard. “Just… stop lying. Alright? Stop it now, and I’ll forgive you, and we’ll pretend it didn’t happen.” His face will contort at that idea, just briefly. That’s not what he will want, you know. You’ll know it then, too. What he will want is to believe you, to trust you, and though your mind will ring with the impossibility of it, you’ll somehow have to make that happen.

Luckily you’re well-practiced at accomplishing the impossible for John. It seems bad now, but you’ll pull it off. In your usual spectacular manner, even. You didn’t think it would take days, did you? No, of course not. It’ll only take minutes. As I said: he’ll want to believe you. And you two have been dancing around each other for years.

It’s inevitable. Not impossible. Remember? You do manage to say the right thing, sometimes. It’s been known to happen. So you’ll pull yourself together, and this is what you’ll say:

“I could outsmart a corpse without resorting to lies.”

Alright, I’ll grant you this: it will come out arrogant and defensive. It’s not how you’ll mean it, but there’s no denying it. You’ll wince as soon as you hear it, and you’ll see John’s teeth grind. It’s probably a bad idea, then, isn’t it? To continue with that approach? Reasoning with someone who’s upset is always a gamble. Sometimes they just want to be comforted, or left alone, and reason makes them angrier. Reasoning is the approach Mycroft would take. Or your mum. That’s the only approach they ever took with you, and that’s why you don’t talk about things. You know the harm it can do.

But it did work, sometimes. More often than you’d like to admit. And it’s not like you’re practiced at much else. Well, your dad would hug you. But John won’t be in a hugging mood, so reason it is.

It’ll work, don’t worry. You do say the right thing sometimes, it can just take you a while to get there.

“This is not funny,” John will say.

You’ll ignore that, soften your tone; you’ll have a path cleared for him, and you’ll just have to guide him along it.

“What would that accomplish?” you’ll say. “Why would anyone need to be convinced that you think I’m in love with you? What plan would that serve?” He’ll start to look away from you, toward the fireplace, and you’ll have to get him back: “Think, John.”

“Sherlock,” he’ll say, labored, “if you’re lying, if you’re lying to me about this, I will not forgive you.” He’ll swallow. “Alright? Not for– I won’t. I mean it.”

Slowly, so he won’t wander off-course: “Moriarty wanted to destroy me, John. You know how he went about it. What did he do, in order to destroy me?” John won’t answer, so you’ll continue, as gently as you know how. “He didn’t kill me. He never wanted to kill me. In the end, what did he want? What did he want me to see?”

“Someone get shot,” John will say, quietly. “So you’d blame yourself.”

“Not someone. Who, John?”

“Your best friend.” It will be terribly difficult for him, saying all this.

“Is that how Moriarty thought I felt about you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” you’ll say softly. “He wanted you married once I returned. We still saw each other. We were still friends. John. Why would he think that would hurt me?”

There will be a long, heavy pause. But it will be the easiest silence you’ve ever endured, because John won’t have automatically deflected you. You’ll wait for him. John will glance at you, shut his eyes against tears, and open them again. He’ll meet your gaze but shake his head minutely, a refusal to speak.

So you’ll speak for him.

“Isn’t it more likely,” you’ll prod, “that I would try to convince him he was wrong?” He’ll let out a shaky breath, but no words after it. No confirmation, no denial. Just nothing. Your chest will hurt, watching him like that. “There were cameras,” you’ll remind him. But even as you say it, you’ll know it’s not necessary. You’ll see it sinking in.

He’ll make a small sound, not quite a sob. His foot will jiggle anxiously and he’ll try to pull himself more upright in that military way he does. He won’t quite manage it. You’ll move your fingertips against his wrist, steeling yourself for what you’re about to say, and he’ll tremble, just slightly.

“John,” you’ll say. It’ll be unsteady, but it will be as good a start as any. “You’re right. I have lied about... so much. And hurt you so much.” Isn’t it strange, how something like speaking can be so painful? “I am, truly, so sorry for everything I’ve put you through. I haven’t been honest with you for years, but please, believe me when I say this: I–”

It will be your turn to stop, then. It’s difficult being a crier, isn’t it? It throws your voice all out of sorts. You’ll need a moment, that’s all. You couldn’t bear to have him misunderstand you, and repeating it wouldn’t be any easier. It’s okay, Sherlock. He’ll let you take your time. It won’t take as long as it seems, and you’ll manage to get the words out.

“The moment I kissed you is the moment I stopped lying to you.”

That’s the first time you’ll see John cry. I mean really cry, not just a tear or two. Lots of tears. He’ll try to say your name, but all that will come out is a hushed fricative. It’s just as well. You won’t be finished, and you’ll want to get it all out while you have the chance.

“I can’t ask you to forgive me,” you’ll say, swallowing. “But I swear to you. John. If you’ll let me, I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you. Anything.” You’ll smile weakly. “Anything you want. I’ll... stop storing body parts in the crisper. I’ll do the grocery shopping sometimes. John, I’ll..."

It will be hard to think of much else, with all the tears streaming down his face. That’s probably why you’ll do it: you’ll reach up and touch his cheek, just briefly. It will feel natural, and he won’t protest it. You’ll think he’s still in shock, is all. Just a bit.

“I’m sorry,” you’ll say, and then because you can’t help it: “I didn’t know you hated grocery shopping so much.” A disbelieving grin will break across his face, and he’ll shake with silent laughter. “You never said.”

“Yes, I did,” John will say, laughing audibly now. He’s always had the most lovely laugh.

“Ah, right, so you did,” you’ll say, and smile. Maybe you shouldn’t smile, maybe it will be too early for that, but you won’t be able to help it, looking at him. You’ll feel so relieved. “Sorry about that, too.”

He won’t mind. The smiling, I mean. Your hand will have fallen to his shoulder, and he’ll look at you that way you were certain you’d never see again, with his eyes all soft and shiny. Like he adores you. It’s worse than crying, isn’t it, the way that look can render you speechless.

“Sherlock, I… don’t care about the grocery shopping, or body parts in the crisper, or whatever.” John will swallow, but he’ll keep smiling. “You know that, right?”

His gaze will flick to your mouth, and you’ll tell yourself it didn’t. You’ll have hurt him so badly, you won’t dare presume.

“Good,” you’ll say, because body parts spoil faster in every other part of the refrigerator, but John will save you before you can say the wrong thing. He’ll lean forward, press his palm against your cheek, and kiss you.

You’ll be glad for it, because you weren’t quite sure how to get there.

It will be slow at first, not that you’ll know it from how fast your heart will be pounding. It’s not that you’ll be nervous, exactly. You will be, a little – everyone is – but it will be John, and it will be the safest you’ve ever felt. It’s just that’s how it feels, to get something you’ve always wanted. That’s never really happened to you before, has it? Well: it’s exhilarating. You’ll like it. You don’t need convincing, do you. You’ll find out.

You won’t know what you’re doing, true. But John will, and it will feel so good you won’t be able to overthink it much. Not everything requires a lot of thought, you realize. For example, it will be instinctive when your hand slides up his thigh. And it was instinct that put you on your knees. You like it there, and so there you’ll be. It’s quite simple, see?

You can, of course, think about it later. When you have more data. There’s something to be said for that, don’t get me wrong. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s later. You’ll have just confessed your feelings; John won’t want something cerebral and forced. He hasn’t spent years wondering about that side of you. That’s all you’ve ever shown him, and you will have just said that you were done lying. No, it will be good, that first time, that you can hardly process it all. John won’t care about all that. He’s only ever wanted to help you stop thinking.

John won’t be done talking to you, either, by the way. That’s hardly fair, is it? It will already be so much to take in at once, and he won’t even stop kissing you. If you want my advice, just do your best to keep up. Even you won’t be able to think fast enough. Moments like this, there is no such thing.

“I still have a lot of questions,” John will say. The kissing will quicken as you’re trying to make sense of what you’ve just heard. Terrible timing, that. It will be because your hand brushed his zip, but you won’t realize. There’s really no point in my telling you, is there? It won’t matter. “And I’m still pissed off at you,” he’ll say. You’ll register how rough his voice is, more than what he says. “But that can wait. Right?”

“Of course,” you’ll say. You’ll think that works. Right? That answers all of it? John will start unbuttoning your coat, and. Well. As I said, just do your best to keep up.

“Alright?” John will mumble against your mouth. You’ll understand he’s asking about your coat and you won’t know why, because it’s not like you’ll be stopping him. He asks stupid questions sometimes. It’s endearing.

“Yes,” you’ll say. And once you hear yourself, it will hit you: you really are doing this. Now. With him. You’ll help him with your scarf – or try to, anyway. Your hands will be shaking a lot. And his lips against your neck won’t help matters. Well, not those matters, not the unsteadiness. Everything else – seriously, everything else: yeah, it’ll help with that. All of that.

Because it’s felt like you’ve been lying your whole life, in a way, hasn’t it? You know what I’m talking about. Oh, but people don’t say that about you, is that right? They get upset that you just say whatever’s on your mind? They say you’re too honest, do they? Don’t try and pretend with us, it won’t work. Tactlessness isn’t honesty, it’s armor. It’s a disguise. The scarf and the coat are part of it for you, somehow. It’s not the wind you turn your collar up against, and you know it.

You think you need them, the coat and scarf, don’t you? John thinks you look cool in them, yes, we know. But once they’re gone, you won’t miss the extra weight. Not at all. The jacket won’t feel like such a big step compared to that. And when John unbuttons your shirt, well. I can’t say you’ll be calm, but it’s hard to describe how it feels when a decades-long background hum of anxiety recedes and a different kind of excitement drowns out everything else. The outward signs are similar, after all: your heart will pound, you’ll hardly be able to breathe. You’ll be properly terrified, that goes without saying. You’ll feel a bit like you’re going to die, Sherlock, if I’m honest. But you’ll feel truly okay for the first time in your life. You’ll like it.

Stop worrying about the shaking, by the way. You’ll imagine you can get a handle on it, but you really won’t. You’ll feel self-conscious for all of a moment before you realize how much John likes it. You trust him, after all, and he’ll know what he’s doing. And he’ll shake a bit too, so you’ll know it’s okay.

And that’s it. That’s your happy ending! You do get one of those after all, as improbable as it will seem along the way. It’s nice, don’t you think? We think so, too.

Well, no, I suppose it’s not an ending, if you want to get technical. If you want to get into semantics. Things do happen, afterward, yes. Of course they do. We said we were going to tell you the important bits, and that’s what we did. You have quite a lot of sex, if that’s what you want to know.

Oh, I see. You’re worried you’re going to screw it up, are you? Don’t be. It’s true, you’ll have your ups and downs. Every couple does, but your downs won’t merit much mention. They don’t fundamentally change things. For example, we could tell you that in a moment of impulsivity, you’ll propose to John using the same engagement ring you used for Janine. We could remind you that John has every reason to hate that ring, and that it is, in fact, a woman’s ring. We could warn you that you should not attempt to justify your decision on the grounds that it fits him, and that men with small hands do not like to have attention drawn to said fact.

We could do all of that, sure, but it won’t matter, because John will say yes anyway. As a stickler for semantics, surely you understand the word inevitable?

Well, it’s been a treat chatting with you both like this, it really has. We should do it again some time soon.

Thanks so much for the tea! Though, to be honest, it was a little cool. And rather...strong. Not complaining! Just mentioning!

And there’s an odd smell coming from the fridge, if you hadn’t noticed. You might want to check into that.

So we’ll leave you to your own devices now, yes? And you’ll get on with it? Go on, then. Give us more to talk about won’t you?

We’ll be watching.