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There's So Much Labour Just in Breathing Lately

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John sat in the white armchair for an hour each week and told Ella Thompson everything. He filled the hours with tales of his childhood, his training at Bart’s (equal parts terrifying and exhilarating), the first girl he ever fucked (also equal parts terrifying and exhilarating). And today, because he was tired and running out of things to say, he told her about the corporal he met in Afghanistan – the one with enough shrapnel in his right leg to spend two weeks in hospital at Camp Bastion, but not enough to be invalided home. The one he’d played cribbage with each evening on the ward, the board propped on the sheets, drinking weak tea and counting 15-2s and 15-4s until the head sister sent John back to barracks.

“Do you still see him?” Ella asked. She rarely asked questions, rarely said anything at all.

“Simon?” John closed his eyes against the late afternoon sun that was throwing shadows across the floor. “When I dream about Helmand, he’s there. Usually running. Always two steps ahead of me, shouting back at me to move my bloody arse.”

“And do you?”

He looked at her and tried to guess what had piqued her interest. “You’re awfully chatty today, Dr. Thompson. Two questions and we’re barely twenty minutes in. That’s one more than the last three sessions combined.”

“I won’t charge extra, I promise.” The barest hint of a smile flashed across her face. “So? Do you?”

“Yes. But no matter how fast I run, he gets farther and farther ahead. Some nights, he gets blown to bits in front of me, sometimes it’s me who gets it. Other nights he just fades away. Like he was never there at all.” He scrubbed at his face with both hands. “It’s bloody stupid, really. I had plenty of mates die over there, and I only dream about the one who didn’t.” Might as well have, though. Simon had made that clear enough – I’ve got a girlfriend now, John. I’m not going to mess it up. It was just a bit of nonsense, you and me.

He shifted uncomfortably in the chair, crossed and then uncrossed his legs. Checked his watch, thirty minutes left.

“Do you ever dream about Sherlock?” she said. She’d clearly waited a long time to ask that. For two months they’d pretended that Sherlock’s death wasn’t the reason he was back here.

He dreamt about Sherlock every night. Sometimes just a glimpse of him – long coat, turned up collar – in a theatre, or front row at Cirque du Soleil or singing hymns at Sunday service – or at any of the hundred other places Sherlock would never have been caught dead. Even John saw the irony in that.  

Other nights, Sherlock played the violin for him – improbable snippets of Disney tunes – Spoonful of Sugar, sometimes Beauty and the Beast. Once Moriarty joined in, his voice high and thin, the words indecipherable.

The dreams he hated most – the ones that left him a sweating, shaking mess when he woke – were the ones in which Sherlock was just Sherlock. Laughing or drinking tea. Sitting across the table from him at Angelo’s eating pasta. Trailing his open hand behind him on the way to the bedroom. “C’mon, John. I’m about to have my way with you.” That’s when he knew it was a dream, even while it was happening.

“John?” Ella prompted. “Do you dream about Sherlock?”

“No. Never.” He knew he’d said it too quickly, too abruptly. “Look, I’m . . . I can’t. Not yet.” His face burned with embarrassment, like a schoolboy caught cheating. He stood quickly and grabbed his coat. “Sorry . . . I’ve got to go.”

He was halfway to the corner when he noticed it. He tried shaking it off – it was probably just a cramp from her damn uncomfortable chair – only it didn’t go away. Not that night and not the next morning.

The limp – the scarlet letter of everything that was ever wrong with him – was back.

 

*****

 

Although he told himself he was done, a week later he found himself back in Dr. Thompson’s office.

“I’m glad you’re here, John,” she told him at the door. If she noticed the limp, she didn’t mention it. “Sit down and we’ll get started.”

He sat and laid the cane on the floor beside him. He had his lie prepared. An elaborate story of tripping over a runaway terrier on his way home from Tesco. Twisted his knee, but he’d be right as rain in no time.

He was almost disappointed when she didn’t ask.

“Let’s begin,” she said. She picked up the pen from the small table beside her and held it over the empty page. “Now, about Sherlock . . .”

“I don’t want to talk about . . . him.”

She sighed and closed the notebook. “I’m sorry, but if I have to listen to one more story about how your wicked sister teased you, or how horrid all the masters at school were, I’ll scream. You came to see me because your best friend – your boyfriend, for crying out loud – threw himself off a building in front of you, so for God’s sake, stop wasting my time and talk about him. Tell me how he liked his tea, or what shows he watched on telly. Anything.” She stood and dropped the notebook on the table. She walked to the window and stared outside, her arms folded in front of her.

“He wasn’t my boyfriend.”

She turned back to face him. “Really? That’s what you took away from that?”

“Everyone called him that, but he wasn’t.”

She walked back to the chair and sat down. She left the notebook where it was and leaned forward. “Did you want him to be?”

“Boyfriend sounds so . . . I don’t know . . . adolescent. I loved him though. Wanted him too – not that he deserved it – selfish self-centered prick that he was.”

“Did he know how you felt?”

“Wrong question, Dr. Thompson. You should ask – did he care? And the answer to that, as all the world well knows, is that he didn’t give a flying fuck. About me. About anything.”

“I think you’re wrong.” She reached out and rested one hand on his knee. “I think he loved you more than you knew.”

He shifted in the chair, forcing her to move her hand away. “You sound like Mrs. Hudson.”

“Then why are you here? What do you want from me? From this?”

“I want him not to be dead anymore.” He’d never said it out loud to anyone but Sherlock. He felt the familiar sting behind his eyes and wiped at them with the heel of one hand. “If I can’t have that one simple thing, then I need to find a reason not to follow him.”

“So let’s start over.” She held out a box of tissues. Christ, she was Mrs. Hudson. “From the beginning this time.”

John took a breath and tried to tease one thread loose from the tangled jumble of memories that filled his head. “He—” he forced himself to say his name—“Sherlock liked his tea with two sugars . . . unless he was forced to fetch it himself, in which case he was usually too lazy to look for it. I started buying packets of sugar since I never knew what I’d find in the sugar bowl. It drove me crazy at first.”

“John. Come here!”

“Stop shouting at me,” he answered from the next room. “I’m not your bloody pet Corgi.”

“Aren’t you?”

John thought about ignoring him, but that never really worked. He walked over to the table where Sherlock was staring into his microscope and making vague tsk-ing noises. “I’m busy, Sherlock. What do you want?”

He didn’t bother looking up. “Busy? Making up twee fairy tales for your blog again? What it is this time? ‘The Case of the Purloined Pillow?’ I told you I did not steal your pillow.”

“It was on the chair yesterday, and today it’s not. Where is it?”

“I have no idea. Ask Mrs. Hudson.”

As if summoned by the mere mention of her name, she appeared at the door with a feather duster in one hand and the Union Jack pillow tucked under her arm. “I’m not your housekeeper, dear.”

Sherlock turned away from the microscope to look at her. “It would be easier to believe that if you stopped picking up John’s toys.” He turned back to John. “Look, the prodigal pillow’s come home, must be teatime.”

John retrieved the pillow from Mrs. Hudson and went back to sitting in his chair, the pillow on his lap. He refused to ask where she’d found it.

“Mrs. Hudson, I need tea. With biscuits. John was getting it for me, but now he’s sulking.”

“Not your housekeeper, Sherlock.”

“I’m not asking you to hoover the carpet, I just need a bloody cup of tea.”

Mrs. Hudson went into the kitchen, picked up the kettle and began filling it. “I’ll put the kettle on, but then I’m leaving. I only stopped in to drop off John’s pillow. I knew he’d be missing it.”

John shook his head, annoyed. “If I make the tea, will both of you stop going on about the damn pillow?”

“No need to swear, dear,” Mrs. Hudson said. “But tea would be lovely. Ta.”

John swatted the back of Sherlock’s head as he passed. He was rewarded with a brilliant smile, the one that always made his stomach – and his heart – flutter.

He stopped talking and checked his watch. “So that’s it, then. Not sure what you’ll make of it.”

“It’s a good start,” Ella told him. “At least the elephant in the room has a name now.”

He nodded, not sure how he felt or what else there was to say. “Next week, then,” he said, looking for something to break the silence between them.

He stood and she looked up at him. “It will get easier. I promise.”

He bent stiffly to pick up the cane from the floor. “My mother called those piecrust promises, Dr. Thompson. Easily made, easily broken. I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime.”

 

*****

 

His new flat was shite. Too small, too damp, too depressing. But it was close to the clinic where he’d just been hired, closer still to The Blind Beggar, a pub as cheap as it was anonymous. The blog had made him, if not as recognizable as Sherlock, vaguely familiar to almost everyone he met. In the fortnight after Sherlock’s death, he’d refused to leave Baker Street. Greg had stayed with him at first, pouring whiskey and playing nursemaid. But after the funeral—he’d never forgive Sherlock’s parents for not attending—he hadn’t gone back. Mrs. Hudson packed up John’s clothes and the computers and sent them on to his sister’s. He spent days trying to hack his way into Sherlock’s laptop, but Sherlock had locked everyone out. He thought about asking Mycroft, but that would mean giving him first dibs on what was hidden there. He knew it was sentimental and stupid, but John had hoped to find something Sherlock had written about him – about them – that would help him understand.

Lestrade was leaning against the wall of John’s building when the cab pulled up. John paid the fare and was about to close the door behind him when the driver shouted after him, “Sir, you forgot your cane!”

John considered pretending he didn’t hear, but Greg had already arched one eyebrow. Damn.

He retrieved the cane and closed the door – less gently than he probably should have – and walked as evenly as he could manage over to Greg. Last thing he needed was someone else trying to psychoanalyse him.

“Yoga injury?” Greg asked.

Molly had recently tried to convince John of the healing powers of yoga. He’d gone once, if only to make her stop looking at him as if he were about to take a header off the nearest ledge. She always looked so guilty, as if she’d pushed Sherlock herself.

“One bloody word, and I’ll crack your thick skull with it.”

“Take more than that, mate.” He dropped what was left of his cigarette on the sidewalk. “Fancy a pint?”

John doubted Greg would let him say no. “Sure. Will The Blind Beggar do?” He pointed his cane towards the pub at the corner. “Drinks are passable, just stay away from the pickled eggs.”

“Looks very posh.”

“It’s not.”

 

The Blind Beggar had never been posh. Not a hundred years ago when it served its first pint of ale, and certainly not now.

“Go sit down, John. I’ll get this round.”

A few minutes later, Greg set two glasses and two packets of crisps on the table. “Carling okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” John’s father used to say that there was no such thing as bad beer. Some were just better than others. “Beer and crisps, eh? Should I be nervous?”

“Shut up. I missed lunch, that’s all. You sure about the pickled eggs? They look fine to me.”

“I’ll put that on your headstone,” John said. He took a long drink, wishing it was something stronger.

Greg sipped his beer and took a long while opening both bags of crisps. He pushed one across the table to John. “How are you?”

John waited for Greg to add the word “really” at the end. It seemed everyone did that now. As if the question wasn’t sincere without it.

“I’m good. Started a new position last week. At a clinic nearby. It’s all right, I guess.” It’s bollocks actually, nothing but upset stomachs and common colds.

“Good.” Greg stared into his glass.

“And you?” This was going as well as some of John’s first dates.

“Also good. Busy. My solve rate’s been shot to hell of course. No pay rise this year, I’m sure.” A shadow crossed his face. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” He wished he had a quid for every time he’d said fine over the last few months. “Did Mycroft send you to check up on me? I’m sure this part of London is far too dodgy for his nibs.”

Greg didn’t answer. He swallowed the rest of his beer, picked up the empty glasses and headed back to the bar for refills. “Whiskey this round,” John called after him.

His mobile pinged, signalling a new e-mail. What did Harry want now? Probably asking how he was. Really. Same as she did every bloody night. He lifted it out of his jacket pocket to turn it off. Same as he did every bloody night.

Only it wasn’t from Harry this time.

 

From: gidleighparkhotel@gidleigh.co.uk

To: drjohnwatson@gmail.com ; sherlockholmes@gmail.com

Re: Reservation confirmation 4567269

Date: September 16, 2011

 

Dear Mr. Holmes,

This email is a reminder of your confirmed reservation at Gidleigh Park Hotel, Chagford, Dartmoor. Friday, October 1- Sunday, October 3, 2011.

Tel: 01647 432 368

Fax: 01647 432 577

Email: info@gidleigh.co.uk

We look forward to seeing you.

Andrew and Christina Blackwood

 

“Whiskey it is.” Greg set down the two glasses on the table.

John’s hand shook as he lifted the not-quite-clean glass and downed it all in one shot. He was glad the burn in his throat made it momentarily impossible for him to speak.

Greg frowned. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

John slid the phone across the table and tapped the screen to turn it back on.

Greg read the e-mail quickly. He was quiet and John could see him searching for the right thing to say. “He must have made the reservation months ago. You didn’t know?”

John shook his head. “Fucking typical. I never knew what he was up to. He liked it that way, me tagging along at his heels like a lovesick puppy. Hoping that one day he’d finally take notice of what was right in front of him.”

“He knew, John. He just didn’t know what to do with it,” Greg said carefully. Gently. “His whole life was about finding patterns in random events. Creating order out of chaos. It’s what made him brilliant. But with you . . .” Greg paused. “With you . . . if he acted on what he felt, what you felt, it would be like creating chaos from order. And that scared the hell out of him. For a smart man, he could be pretty thick.”

“Ever think about becoming a therapist?” John said with a smile. “Pay’s better.”

“Christ, no. Anyway, being a copper’s not that different. Want another drink? I do.”

John pulled a twenty pound note from his wallet. “This round’s on me. Jameson’s. A double.”

After two more drinks and a promise to call Greg the next week, he walked back to his flat. He poured himself one last whiskey and took it to bed with him. For once, he fell asleep quickly.

Sherlock was on his back, John’s arms curled around his hips. John felt Sherlock’s hands on his shoulders, in his hair. He grabbed Sherlock’s ass and pulled him closer. Sherlock arched up into his mouth and he could tell he was on the edge. He shoved one last time, shuddering and calling John’s name.

John woke with his mouth watering for the taste of him, the echo of his voice in his ears.

He tried to untangle himself from the sheets that had wrapped themselves around him in his sleep. He was soaked with sweat and his cock was hard, throbbing with what it thought it had been doing in his dream. He wrapped his hand around it, and he could still hear Sherlock’s voice in his head and taste him in his mouth, when he came.

Bloody hell.

 

*****

The next week, he showed the e-mail to Dr. Thompson.

“What did the hotel say when you called?” she asked.

“I never said I called.”

She smiled, “I think we know each other well enough by now, John. Of course you called. You like a puzzle as much as Sherlock did.”

“The reservation was made in May, a few weeks before . . .” It was strange how his life was now divided into “before” and “after.” “With everything going on then, why in hell was he making hotel reservations in Dartmoor?” He didn’t add that the reservation was for the Empire Suite- king-size bed, Jacuzzi, minibar.

“Were you ever there with him?”

“No. We had a case nearby this spring – to do with the military base – but nothing else.”

“Did you cancel the reservation?” She said it as if she already knew the answer.

“Not yet.”

“Will you?”

“Probably. Shouldn’t I?”

She smiled. “Did he use your credit card?”

“Of course.”

“Then go. Enjoy a weekend away in the country. Update your blog. Take pictures of the scenery. I know it sounds near to impossible, but try not to think about Sherlock Holmes for forty-eight hours.”

 

*****

 

According to Google, the drive from London to Dartmoor was about four hours. He and Sherlock had chosen the train last time and picked up a hired car at the station. Trains allow me to think, John. You might try it one day. Recreating that particular itinerary would make this trip feel a little too much like a pilgrimage, so he decided to drive.

He thought about borrowing Harry’s Volvo, but then he’d have to explain where he was going and why he was going, and most importantly, why he was going alone.

“How long is the Miss Havisham act going to last?” she’d asked during his last visit. “You’ve turned grieving into a high art form. You’ll never get laid again, you big baby.”

“Sod off, Harry.” I wasn’t getting laid before, was I?

In the end, he reserved a Ford Focus from the local car hire. No extra charge for last minute cancellations.

 

He called in sick the morning of October 1. He told the new nurse he had migraine – not as far from the truth as he would have liked.

The M4 was busy so he didn’t make it to the hotel until well after lunch. He thought more than once about turning around and going back, but to what? He needed to at least try to make a life without Sherlock.

But since that day, the one he could only think of as that day, John learned that it was the small things he missed most—over and over. The adrenalin rush of a new case, dark curls against a turned-up collar, a cashmere scarf dropped carelessly on the table by the door– the memories held him back, stopped him in his tracks every time he started believing that he really could begin to start over.

Sometimes, usually late at night or when he’d had too many whiskeys and too little sleep, he let himself believe that if Sherlock had chosen to live, if he’d found the courage to face the mess Moriarty had left behind, they might have had a chance together. . .

The name of the restaurant was Arahova, named after the owner’s village in Greece. It was small and quiet and served the best spanakopita in London. It was Harry who had introduced John to the restaurant when he first moved to the city - one of the few things of hers that didn’t make him wish he were an only child.

  A large man greeted them at the door. “Dr. Watson, so good to see you again.” He pulled John into a tight hug.

“Kali spera, Ari. It’s been a while. We’re not too late?”  

“For you? Never.” He led them to a small table against the wall of the near-empty restaurant. He came back with two menus, leaned over John’s shoulder and whispered in his ear, “He’s new, nai?”

  “Just a friend, Ari.”

  He smiled. “A glass of retsina to begin?”

 " Yes, please. Sherlock?”

  "Definitely not. Only the Greeks would think pine resin makes a suitable beverage.”

  "Sherlock, behave.” He turned back to Ari. “Ignore him. He missed his nap today. He’ll have a Guinness.”

  When the waiter was half-way back to the bar, John called him back. “Ari? Can I get a whiskey instead?”

  "Actually, his name is Tom. His wife, whom he met in secondary school in Brixton still calls him Tommy, his mistress calls him Thomas, because she thinks it sounds more posh. He’s been to Greece exactly once, two weeks in a borrowed timeshare on Mykonos. Possibly Crete. He used to call you John until he realized you tip better when he calls you Dr. Watson.”

  John fumed. “Jesus, Sherlock, can you not be a complete bastard all the time?”

 S herlock shook out the folded napkin and laid it across his lap. “Surely you’ve known me long enough to know the answer to that. Yet here you are. Buying me dinner once again.”

 It was your idea to go out.”

“Yes, although I’m not sure what that has to do with who pays. Unless we’re on a date, in which case etiquette may force me to reconsider.”

“Are we?” John said as casually as he could manage.

“I think you think we are. You’re wearing your lucky socks and you’ve never worn that tie before – Molly gave it to you for Christmas last year and it’s been sitting in your top drawer ever since. Which implies either A, that you hated it, or B, that you didn’t hate it, but were saving it for a special occasion, which apparently this must be. Ergo, it appears we are on a date.”

“If we were, I’d expect you to at least try to be charming.”

“There is no trying. One is or isn’t.”

“This must be what’s it like to date Yoda.”

“So you admit you believe it’s a date.” Sherlock sipped his Guinness behind a self-satisfied smirk.

“If it were, how would it end?”

“After I paid Ari aka Thomas over there, we would enjoy a nightcap at the pub next door before taking a cab home. You’d have brandy which you don’t really like and I’d have port which I do. I would go to sleep and you would recount the evening in your blog in excruciating detail. Because apparently nothing that happens to you is real until at least a hundred other little minds have read all about it.”

“No kiss at the door?” John asked. His face was flushed, but it may have been the whiskey.

“I don’t kiss on the first date.”

John wanted to point out they’d been dating for a year, only Sherlock never noticed. “So we agree it’s a date. Our first date.”

“It can only be a first date if it’s followed after a suitable interval by a second. Let’s wait until then to pronounce judgement, shall we?”

But a week later, Moriarity was back and everything changed.

 

*****

 

Gidleigh Park Hotel was lovely in a Town and Country sort of way – an abundance of plaid upholstery and dark wood. He checked in and had to explain to a very bored but polite young man, that no, Mr. Holmes was not with him and no, he would not be joining him later. He turned down the offer of a guided tour of the grounds and afternoon tea (only £74, starting in half an hour) and the biodynamic wine lunch (£95) the next day.

“Room 114.” The desk clerk handed him the key card and two yellow and black striped plastic bracelets. They looked like colourful versions of the ones worn by hospital patients. “These are for the “Magic of Beekeeping” tour tomorrow morning. The tour was booked and prepaid at the time of the reservation.”

Beekeeping, Sherlock, really?” he thought. Apparently out loud.

“Sorry, sir?”

“Beekeeping, of course. Wonderful.”

The clerk pointed to a hallway to the left of the main lobby. “Your room is in the back, facing the woods. Non-smoking. It’s a lovely suite.”

“For £360 a night, it bloody well better be,” he muttered under his breath. “Can you send a bucket of ice to the room, please?” He had a large bottle of Jameson’s in his bag, wrapped in one of Sherlock’s old scarves.

The desk clerk was right – the room was lovely, the bed was lovely, the en suite was lovely – complete with Jacuzzi and a shower with more heads than he’d know what to do with – it was all fucking lovely. And the thought of spending a whole weekend in this lovely empty room made him feel a little sick.

What the hell had he been thinking?

He filled a crystal highball glass with Jameson’s and dropped an ice cube in it with enough force to send the liquid splashing onto the antique desk. He wiped it quickly with his sleeve. He’d probably get a bill for room damage now. Fucking Sherlock, what was he thinking? Why would he have wanted to take him here, of all places?  

He took off his shoes and socks and lay on the bed, trying not to spill his drink on the expensive coverlet, and stared at the ceiling. He could have done this at home for free.

“Sherlock, you stupid, selfish bastard, look what you’ve done to me,” John whispered as he drifted off.

 

The room smelled like smoke. Cigarette smoke.  

He fumbled to turn on the lamp, his heart racing. In an instant, the room went from night to day. Everything was where he’d left it, the bottle of Jameson’s on the table, his overnight bag by the door, Sherlock’s scarf folded on the sofa. Sherlock standing at the window, a lit cigarette between his fingers, staring out into the darkness.

A strange noise escaped him, as if the air had been sucked from his lungs and burst from his throat. His military training, ingrained on a cellular level, kicked in and he was off the bed and across the room before Sherlock had turned from the window. He stood, fists at his side, breathing, willing his brain to confirm the sight before him. He watched Sherlock stub out the cigarette, and take a step forward.

“John.”

John had imagined this moment a thousand times, in a thousand different ways. In his fantasies, Sherlock’s reappearances were always miraculous – a rising from the dead that defied explanation.  Even in his darkest moments, John couldn’t imagine that Sherlock wasn’t dead, not because he wasn’t smart enough to pull it off, but because John knew, at the core of his being, that Sherlock would never have done this to him

In his dreams, he only felt relief and the sense of everything sliding back into place, like a movie rewinding itself. Sherlock would press his palm against John’s chest, and he would feel the shattered pieces of his heart finally heal.

In his dreams, John never once looked Sherlock in the eyes, curled his left hand into a tight fist, and punched him.

Sherlock staggered back a step, but recovered quickly. He rubbed a hand along his jaw. “That bloody hurt, John. Not quite the welcome home I expected.”

“Yeah, fuck your welcome home. Four months, Sherlock! Four months.”

“Three and a half actually.”  He used John’s least favourite tone – the one that sounded like a parent correcting a toddler.

John could see the faint bloom of a bruise developing on Sherlock’s jaw. It made him happier than it should have. “Do you have any idea what it’s been like for me? Jesus, do you?”

Sherlock backed up to the middle of the room, holding up both hands in mock surrender. “Do you plan to hit me again?”

“I might.” John shook his head. “You bloody bastard!” He started pacing back and forth across the room, carefully stepping around Sherlock each time. If he touched him, he’d have to kill him.

Sherlock moved to the armchair and started to sit.

“Did I fucking say you could sit?” John said and Sherlock straightened. His voice was quiet now, cold. “Why are you here? Why now?”

“Why are you here, John? Seems a bit sentimental, even for you.”

“Oh no, you don’t. You do not get to ask questions.”

“John, I – ”

There was something in Sherlock’s voice that stopped him saying what he was about to say. Something about what a bastard Sherlock was and why would never—could never—forgive him – but all he managed was, “Oh for god’s sake, just sit down.”

Sherlock sat. He crossed his legs, and then uncrossed them. He picked at a loose thread on the armrest. He chewed on his lower lip. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. John mouthed “no” and Sherlock put them back.

At first, John put all Sherlock’s fidgeting down to impatience. But there was something else there, in the way Sherlock’s eyes followed him as he paced around the hotel room. And then he understood that Sherlock was nervous. For the first time since they’d met, he wasn’t taking John’s devotion as a given. He was actually afraid that John might not forgive him. The cold weight that had been pressing down on John’s chest for the last four months began to lift.

John pulled the desk chair in front of Sherlock and sat down opposite him. He dragged the chair closer until their knees were touching.

“Talk,” John said.

Sherlock talked and John listened. When Sherlock was done, John leaned forward and laid one hand on his knee. “You still should have told me, you bloody selfish twat.”

“I’m telling you now.”

“Why?”

Sherlock looked away and took a long breath. When he spoke, his voice was thick, “I fear that I miscalculated the depth of my –” He turned back to face John and lifted his shoulders in a small shrug. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” He smiled. “Ask my therapist. You cost me a lot of money.” John lifted one hand and reached across the space between them. He brushed a stray curl off Sherlock’s face. “You need a haircut.”

“I need lots of things.” His voice was hoarse. “First among them a shower.”

John got up and stood behind Sherlock’s chair. He let his hands fall to Sherlock’s shoulders. He was thinner now, bones pressed up tight against skin.

Without thinking, he leaned down and kissed Sherlock on his bare neck.

Sherlock reached back with one arm and wrapped a hand around the back of John’s neck. He held him there, his fingers laced tightly in his hair. It was explanation and apology and declaration. All the things John knew Sherlock could never say.

Sherlock let go and stood up, shrugged off his jacket and let it fall onto the chair.

“Go have your shower,” John said. “I’ll order us some dinner.”

 

It was almost midnight when they finished eating. Steak, roasted potatoes, asparagus, apple crumble to finish. A bottle of Bordeaux – 2008 Château Lusseau. The meal cost almost an entire week’s pay.

“You’re staying?” John asked. “Tonight, I mean?” Sherlock had confessed that this reunion was more furlough than homecoming.

“Yes. Until Sunday at least.”

“Then we can talk more tomorrow. You need to sleep. You look exhausted.”

“I’ll take the sofa,” Sherlock offered.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You could fit all of Manchester United in that bed.” He said it without thinking, but it felt right.

Sherlock nodded. He stripped down to his pants and lay down on the bed, close to the edge, pulling the sheet over him. He was asleep before John had a chance to pull up the duvet.

He undressed and brushed his teeth. He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror for a moment, wondering what Sherlock saw when he looked at him. The last four months had taken a toll. If Harry was to be believed, at least.

“He’s not dead,” he said out loud to his reflection, just to know how it felt to be able to say those words and have them actually be true. He switched off the bathroom light, and went to bed. He had no idea what was going to happen next, but for the first time in a long time, not knowing didn’t feel like standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting for the next strong wind to send him crashing onto the rocks below.

It felt like coming home.

 

They’d shared a flat, a bathroom, even the same plate of pasta on occasion. John had put him to bed, rousted him from bed, Christ, he’d even made his bed a few times, but until tonight, they had never shared a bed. Lying there, he recognized that he had just won the Sherlock sweepstakes – he was both alive and in bed beside him. Even if he was fast asleep.

No matter what Sherlock’s rationalisations were, John was still hurt. It was a hurt he knew he’d get over eventually, but the question was still there – as brilliant as his plan may have been, how could Sherlock have gone through with it? How could he have lain on the pavement, while John . . . He closed his eyes against the memory.

John turned on his side and scooted closer to him. He reached out one arm, rested his hand against Sherlock’s hip as if to anchor him in his world, and slid into sleep.

 

When he woke up, in the hazy light of five am, he felt Sherlock’s back against his chest, Sherlock’s foot resting on his ankle, his hair in his face. He moved his hand up Sherlock’s back, noting the scars, the raised edges of scabs not yet healed. He lightly caressed his shoulders, his neck. Sherlock stirred, his body reacting to the touch even in sleep, moving closer.

John’s cheek rested against Sherlock’s back, between his shoulders. He pressed his lips against Sherlock’s skin and slid his arm around Sherlock’s chest, pulling him closer. Kissed and licked a lazy circle around his shoulder blade. Sherlock murmured, but didn’t move away. John continued down Sherlock’s back, kissing, his tongue leaving a trail of cool moisture. He blew lightly across his back and felt him turn.

“John,” Sherlock murmured.

John froze. Because it dawned on him that he had been three steps away from ravaging Sherlock in his sleep. And also because that voice, the one he’d heard countless times in his dreams, the one he thought he’d never hear again, raked against his chest, making him hard in a moment.

“Don’t stop.” Sherlock reached around and pulled John’s hips closer to him, pushed his back against John’s chest.

John moved his hands to Sherlock’s shoulders, kissing the back of Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock arched toward the touch, his hand falling from John’s hip, brushing against John’s erection. His hand stilled for a moment, and John pulled away, not sure.

Sherlock turned suddenly, and they were face to face, Sherlock’s arm around John’s back, pulling him closer. John could feel his heartbeat knocking against Sherlock’s chest, Sherlock’s breath on his cheek, his leg snaking between his. Sherlock pulled John’s chin up and he stared at him, his eyebrow raised. John answered the question by kissing him hard on the lips, moving his hand up around Sherlock’s neck, threading his fingers through his hair. He hooked his leg around Sherlock’s hip and pushed against the hardness. Sherlock moaned against his mouth and reached down, hooked a finger under the waistband of John’s pants and pulled. John sucked in a breath as Sherlock’s fingers brushed against his cock.

He reached down and slid his pants off. Sherlock rolled away for a moment, tossed his pants to the floor and rolled back. They fell back together, as if that moment of space between them had been too much. They pushed against each other, every bit of skin touching, ragged breaths filled with a need long buried, hot and desperate kisses, the friction threatening to overtake them as they thrust against each other, slick with heat.

John came first, his head back, his hands holding tight to Sherlock’s shoulders, his breath an exploding hiss of “Sherlock . . .”

Sherlock buried his head against John’s neck, pressing John to the bed, pulling John’s hands above his head, threading their fingers together. John wrapped his leg around Sherlock’s hip, pulling and thrusting and Sherlock bit his ear as he came, a long moan against his cheek. He fell against John, his hips sliding off, his head resting against John’s neck, breathing heavy. John moved his hands to Sherlock’s shoulders, kneading. Needing. No difference.

 

“Sherlock?” John said a little while later. They were lying side by side on their backs, shoulders and fingertips touching. “One thing I still don’t understand.”

“Only one? I am impressed.”

“This weekend. Why here?”

“Beekeeping, John. It’s fascinating. The hotel offers a tour.”

John leaned up on one elbow and searched Sherlock’s face. “You’re serious? Bees?”

“Have you never read my website?”

“No one reads your website.”

“Molly does.”

“Yeah, well, Molly would read anything if she thought you wrote it.” John had not been happy to learn that Molly had known all along that Sherlock was alive.

John’s hand lazilystroked Sherlock’s chest, over his stomach, down his side. There was a bruise there, a big one, almost healed.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” Sherlock said by way of explanation.

John pressed his hand against the bruise lightly, knowing it didn’t hurt anymore, just wanting to be sure that he was all in one piece.

“I’m fine,” Sherlock said. He took a breath. “No permanent damage.” John suspected he was talking about more than the bruise. Sherlock’s hand pressed on top of John’s.

John sighed and moved his hand down to Sherlock’s hip. There was a long, thin scar there. He ran his fingers over it, tracing it slowly.

“Knife,” Sherlock said. “Angry husband of a client.”

John moved his hand down to Sherlock’s thigh and came to a small, raised half-circle.

“Football. Player from the other team fell on me.”

John wanted to know all these stories. How Sherlock got hurt, got better and got hurt again, long before he came around.

“As much as I enjoy you cataloguing my scars, John, I need coffee.” He sat up and scrubbed his face. “Lots of coffee.”

“I’ll get dressed.” There was always fresh coffee in the lobby. Or so the brochure said.

“Wonderful. And fetch the newspaper too, would you?”

John smiled to himself as he pulled on his trousers. The more things changed . . .

 

The Magic of Beekeeping Tour lasted two hours – approximately an hour and forty-five minutes too long by John’s calculations. It involved wearing ridiculous-looking beekeeper outfits, perfect, as Sherlock pointed out, for someone trying to maintain a low profile. Sherlock corrected the guide twice in the first ten minutes. John punched him in the arm and told him to stop, which he managed to do for the most part, only muttering under his breath at the most egregious of her mistakes.

Later, they ordered lunch in the room – cold lamb sandwiches on fresh baguettes and the local ale. Only slightly less expensive than the steak dinner the night before. They sat in the two armchairs facing each other, plates balanced on their knees, bottles of beer on the floor beside them and talked – John about his new job (shite), new flat (more shite) and Sherlock talked about everything except Moriarty. There were silences, during which John thought, “How can we ever leave here?” But as long as neither dared say it out loud, he could pretend this room was the real world and everything beyond it a dream.

 

It was dark too soon.

John came out of the shower and felt a hand on his shoulder, tugging him around and pressing him hard against the door. Sherlock kissed him, his tongue licking its way into his mouth. He pulled away finally and pressed his forehead against John’s. His breath came in soft gasps as he said, “I need you, John . .  . you understand that, don’t you?”

Sherlock let him go, headed towards the bed, and trailed his open hand behind him. Sherlock lay down, one knee bent, hands laced behind his head, his skin flushed pink with arousal. John lay down bed beside him and Sherlock kissed him again and there was only bare skin against skin, the sound of rough legs sliding against each other. John loved that sound, the strength in Sherlock’s grip, the hot press of his cock against his stomach.

Sherlock’s hands held tight to John’s hips and he pulled John closer again and again. He kissed John hard, moaning into his mouth like he wanted to get lost in him. Sherlock pulled away and pressed his lips against John’s shoulder, gasping out words like please and now and John.

Sherlock came hard, growling and biting against John’s shoulder. John loved him most in that moment. And he let himself believe that Sherlock loved him too.

 

John woke with a start. He was alone in the bed.  

“Sherlock?”

“Here.” His body was black against the window, then invisible, slipping into bed beside him.

“Try to sleep.” He offered his body as blanket, and Sherlock wrapped himself in it.

Of all the things that John knew about Sherlock, it was this restlessness that had surprised him most. But now he understood that for all his confidence, Sherlock walked a tightrope. He ran, leaped and performed his daredevil stunts over an abyss that threatened to dash him to pieces.

John had stumbled behind, always watching, forever waiting.

And tried to catch him when he fell.

 

In the morning, Sherlock’s side of the bed was empty again – he was sitting in the armchair by the window smoking a cigarette, John’s roadmap of Britain spread over his lap like a blanket.

John walked over to him. Sherlock looked up and smiled and John’s heart did that little flip-flop thing it always did. Sherlock’s eyes were tired, his hair was still damp from the shower, combed flat against his head—he looked both younger and older at the same time. He smoothed out the folds of the map with the flat of one hand. “So many places I’ve never been,” he said.

Sherlock said once how he liked the look of a map, “all that strange geometry of roads coming together and parting, over and over.” John had nodded, even though he didn’t really understand what he meant.

Sherlock tilted his head, and the light caught one side of his face and drew shadows under his eyes. He folded up the map and got it right the first time. “I went to sit in the garden before, while you were still asleep,” he said. He took a long breath. “I almost called Mycroft. I was going to tell him I was done. With all of it.” 

“Why didn’t you?”

“If I give up now, it would all have been for nothing. This way, at least you know the truth and I won’t feel like a complete bastard.” He smiled a sad sort of smile. “Even sociopaths feel guilt on occasion. You’ll go on as before and we’ll find a way to meet when we can. And you’ll wait for me.” It sounded like a question.

“Of course I’ll wait, you stupid tit.” John wondered if he and Sherlock would be like the roads in the map – with their own strange geometry – coming together and parting, over and over.  

John leaned over him, took the cigarette from his mouth and rested it in the ashtray. “Let’s go back to bed. We have time.” He kissed him and pulled him up from the chair.  “I’ll order you breakfast after,” John promised.

“I’m not sure how much longer . . .”

“Out there can wait. Out there owes us this one.”  

Sherlock nodded slowly and let John lead him back to bed. He stopped, and John thought he’d changed his mind.

“My cigarette . . .” “It’ll burn itself out. It’s time you quit smoking again. A man should only have one vice at a time.”

“And what should my vice be, Dr. Watson?”

“Me.”

 

“What time is checkout?” John asked later. “Did you notice?”

“Eleven. We have a few hours.”

“I’ll go fetch the coffee,” John offered and started dressing. “I think the girl at the counter fancies me, she gave me free biscuits last time.”

Sherlock laughed and kissed him quickly. “I think the term is complimentary. I’m already showered. I’ll go. It’s early, no one will be around – it’ll be fine.”

“You never go.”

Sherlock smiled. “Biscuits, John. I’ll do anything for free biscuits. Including wearing this ridiculous disguise.” He lifted a baseball cap from his overnight bag and pulled it down over his forehead. “Voilà. The world’s biggest Yankees fan,” he said in his best/worst American accent.

“Go. I’ll be waiting.”

Sherlock smiled his most brilliant smile. “I’m counting on it.”

 

*****

 

From the back seat of the town car, Mycroft watched his brother walk across the lobby. Noted the weight loss, the ridiculous cap, the way he still held his arm tightly against his side. No one jumps to his death without a scratch, brother mine.

He estimated he had approximately three minutes before Sherlock would notice Anthea standing next to the coffee trolley and come looking for him. He smoothed the front of his jacket and took a deep breath. He vacillated between deep anger and a deeper regret. Anger that his brother could be so reckless with his own life. John’s life. And regret that it would all be for naught.

He saw Sherlock emerge through the door and lowered his window.

“Mycroft, what the hell?” Sherlock held two cups of coffee and a small bag in his hands.

“Inside.” Mycroft opened the door. “Quickly.”

Sherlock bent down and slid into the seat beside him. “What are you doing here?”

“I am in need of clarification.”

Sherlock frowned. “This is none of your business.”

Mycroft raised an eyebrow. “Really? One of my operatives goes missing and it’s not my business?”

“I took all the necessary precautions – I’m not an amateur, Mycroft.”

“All evidence to the contrary – ask me how long it took to find you.”

“You didn’t find me – you found John.”

“C’est la même chose.”

Sherlock took a sip of coffee. “So what do I have to say that gets you off my back and out of here as quickly as possible?”

“Sherlock, if I found you, how long until other concerned parties show up?”

“I’m leaving this afternoon.”

“You’re leaving now.”

“Mycroft, you know I don’t respond well to threats.”

Mycroft took a deep breath. “Sherlock, I am very sorry.” He was surprised to find he meant it.

“Switching tactics?” Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“He can’t know you’re alive.”

Sherlock snorted. “Oh yes, well, something about a horse and a barn door comes to mind.”

“I am serious, Sherlock. And if your brain wasn’t so addled with-“

“Tread lightly, brother,” Sherlock warned.

“He can’t know you’re alive,” Mycroft repeated.

“Well, he does. And he understands what’s at stake. He’ll stay quiet.”

It was Mycroft’s turn to snort. “Really, Sherlock? I’m not sure what good that will do. I expect he’ll be skipping all the way back to his dreadful bedsit.”

“You can’t undo what’s done.”

His sympathy was fading under Sherlock’s refusal to admit he’d made a colossal mistake. “I can and I have. I am sorry.”

“Stop saying that. What have you done?”

“It’s what you’ve done. You’ve sent John a coffee and a text. Said you’d be back in a bit. I’m sure by now he’s used to your . . . disappearing.”

“What the hell have you done?” Sherlock repeated, his voice rising.

“Don’t worry. John is quite safe. He’ll wake up with a headache and no memory of the weekend. We’ve found this particular compound to be quite effective.”

“You bastard. Until now, I’ve done everything you’ve asked.”

“Then it won’t be hard to do this. Stay away from John until the job is finished. Another six months, a year at most. Surely you can wait that long.”

Sherlock stared at him. Mycroft recognized the look – Sherlock was about to surrender.

“If I agree to this . . .”

“You will agree to it.”

“If I agree to this,” Sherlock repeated, “then you agree to leave John alone.”

“I will if you will. And make no mistake, Sherlock. You will.”

Sherlock stared out the window. When he turned back, the look on his face let Mycroft know he had won. And lost. Mycroft nodded to the driver and the car pulled away from the hotel.

“Where am I going?” Sherlock tossed both coffees out the window.

Mycroft slid a file across the seat. “Bogota. I hope you remember your Spanish conjugations.”

 

****

 

It took Sherlock a month in Bogota to do what had to be done. His cover, as an expat Brit looking to make less than legitimate deals in software security, certainly suited his complexion. Mycroft, who had laid the groundwork ahead of Sherlock’s arrival, added a recently deceased wife to his backstory. It was cruel, but it gave Sherlock an excuse to act as miserable as he felt.

He was leaving Bogota on a flight to São Paulo in the morning. Some loose ends to tie up, then on to Montreal. There was evidence (old and extremely circumstantial) that one of Moriarty’s assassins (still nameless) was recruited out of Montreal or possibly Ottawa. There wasn’t much to go on, a dead MP ten years earlier, but he’d agreed to take a look.

Sherlock ordered another beer. To pass the time, he ran profiles in his head of the waitress (married, former prostitute, going to school in the evenings), the couple at the next table (co-workers, about to start an affair, the younger girl was deaf in her left ear), the dog tied by its leash to the door (half poodle, half mutt, lived with a short-haired white dog, possibly another poodle). Boredom wasn’t new to Sherlock, but this odd aching feeling he had – as if he’d misplaced a part of himself – this was new.

The waitress set a glass of Chapinero on the table. He pulled a 20K note from his wallet to pay her and noticed the yellow and black bracelet tucked inside. He should have thrown it out when he found it in his trouser pocket the day Mycroft extracted him from the hotel, but his feelings for John had apparently transformed him into a sentimental lovesick girl. The fact that he thought of them as his “feelings for John” only confirmed it.

Twice he’d started a letter to Molly – they had arranged a mail drop in Holborn before he left London. Even Sherlock understood gratitude, and although he’d never actively practiced it before, he’d agreed to send her a post card every few weeks. Blank of course, but she’d know and it would be enough.

He didn’t finish the letters – he’d never mastered the art of chatter, would have been appalled with himself if he had – but he knew John still saw her on occasion . . . surely two degrees of separation was better than what he had now.

It was his own fault, of course, he knew that. He’d broken the rules, the rules he’d insisted on when this whole thing started. He had calculated risks and contingencies and timelines. He’d spent his life doing that. Keeping track of time. Counting weeks, measuring months, marking the years. He’d done it since he was a little boy. The future had been too large and too uncertain, so he divided time into fractions and looked for constants, found common denominators, calculated probabilities. One month to his birthday, two weeks before school let out, four days until Christmas.

Six months until he could tell John the truth.

Sherlock had miscalculated. He knew that now. He’d factored every variable into the equation – Moriarty’s threats, his criminal network (known and unknown), his own genius and ruined reputation, the safety of John, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade, Mycroft’s access to information – and always came up with the same conclusion. Being dead was the only way out. It was also the only way in. It served everyone’s purposes.

Everyone’s except his own as it turned out.

He swallowed what was left of the beer and headed out of the tavern and back to his room. With luck, there’d be just enough cocaine left in the vial under the mattress to get him through the night.

 

Six months turned into twelve turned into eighteen. Each time he thought he was approaching the finish line, Mycroft moved it further out of reach. “New evidence,” he would say and Sherlock once again found himself on a plane to a new cover, new city, new country.

Twice he considered calling John, once when Mycroft casually referenced John’s “friend” Mary Morstan, and then after he stopped mentioning her at all.

 

*****

 

When he finally returned, it was too late. John busted his lip, bloodied his nose, and introduced him to his fiancée. “He’s moved on,” Mycroft had told him. “He’s happy now.” Sherlock spent the next few months finding his place in this new configuration. He started to believe Gidleigh Park had all been a dream.

It also helped him to think of John’s wedding as another assignment. His cover was supportive friend, helpful best man. He identified a spare room in his mind palace to house the hurt, and went on to make seating arrangements, fold napkins, choose flowers.

He smiled and danced at John’s wedding. Pledged his undying love and loyalty. Two years undercover had made him an excellent liar. He left well before the last dance. Quarter notes on a page the only evidence that he’d been there at all. Another successful extraction.

But it was all lies. His and John’s and especially Mary’s. He should have known. Another miscalculation – only this one sent him to hospital. Twice. He didn’t think John would ever get over it. John came back to Baker Street. But not to him. The chance that it would end well flew out the window the minute he’d allowed Mycroft to erase the past. Their past. The present, built upon a truth within a lie wrapped in another lie, would have to be enough. The only person Sherlock Holmes had ever cared about was John Watson. Surely his happiness, whatever form it might take, was enough.

 

 

*****

 

“The box is in the top drawer, John. Left hand side. Open your bloody eyes,” Sherlock shouted at him from the kitchen. The search was on for Sherlock’s new box of microscope slides. They’d been delivered the day before and hadn’t been seen since.

“I don’t see it, if you’re so sure, come and look yourself,” John shouted back. Sherlock’s bedroom was a total tip, as usual. “Think!”

“I am thinking. For God’s sake, how I am supposed to keep track of everything. I’m dealing with a bacterial anomaly here.”

“Jesus,” John muttered to himself. “No, don’t get up, your lordship.”

He’d been back at the flat since the night he’d found out the truth about Mary. He knew he’d have to make a decision eventually, but until then . . .

He tried the second drawer (pants, socks, two forks and a copy of National Geographic), then the third (jumpers, ties, and a collection of takeaway menus). No slides.

He sat on the bed to think where it might be. Sherlock had a habit of shedding things in the nearest available space. It explained, but didn’t excuse, eyeballs in the coffee mugs, dirty dishes in the fireplace, orange peels in the umbrella stand.

He leaned over and opened the night table drawer. Empty pill bottles, two pencils, a credit card. And tucked in the corner, a yellow and black striped bracelet, like the kind hospital patients wore. He took it out and stared at it a minute. The Magic of Beekeeping, Gidleigh Park Hotel was written on the inside. How in hell did this end up here? He always kept it in his wallet. As a reminder to never, ever get as drunk as he had that weekend. The weekend he couldn’t remember with the exception of a few strange dreams.

Confused, he took out his wallet and pulled it open. A pitiful amount of cash, his bank card, driver’s license and a bracelet. Identical to the one he’d found in Sherlock’s drawer.

John walked into the kitchen, holding both bracelets in his hand. He stopped just inside the doorway as a fragment of one of those dreams came hurtling at him . . .

 He brushed a stray curl off Sherlock’s face. “You need a haircut.”

“I need lots of things.” His voice was hoarse. “First among them a shower.”

Sherlock, still bent over the microscope, looked up. “If you can’t find them, I suppose I can re-use the old ones. But really, John, you need to pay more attention to things.”

John tossed the bracelets on the table in front of Sherlock. Sherlock looked at the bracelets, at John, and closed his eyes. John stood still, staring at the bracelets as the images that had haunted him for so long fell into place like tumblers in a lock.

“Beekeeping, John. It’s fascinating. The hotel offers a tour.”

“I need you, John . . . you understand that, don’t you?”

“Go. I’ll be waiting.”

“I’m counting on it.”

“You were there. At the hotel. We were . . .”

Sherlock looked up at him. “John, I . . .” He reached across the table, but John stepped back.

“No. No. How . . .” John felt as if he were back on the pavement outside Bart’s. “You drugged me and then let me think . . .”

Sherlock pushed his chair back and stood. “John, I had no choice . . . Mycroft . . .” He came around the table but John held up a hand.

“Everyone has a choice. Mary had a choice. You had a choice. And you chose to lie. Over and over and over again.” John walked into the living room and turned around. “Even when you came back, you didn’t . . .” His breath came in short painful gasps. “You let me marry her. Christ, Sherlock – one word, one word from you and I would have –”

“Please, John – let me explain.”

“No. Not this time. I’m sick of everyone explaining why they had to lie to me.” He grabbed his coat from the hook by the door. “I can’t stay here,” John said without looking at him.

He slammed the door behind him.

 

John stood on the pavement outside the flat, breathing hard, his heart beating loudly against his chest. He needed to get as far away from Sherlock as possible.

He hailed the next cab that turned onto Baker Street, climbed into the back and pulled the door shut.

“Where to?”

“I have no fucking idea.”

The cabbie looked back at him in the rear view mirror. “It’s like that, then, is it? A bit of a domestic?”

“You could say that.”

“What if I just drive? You let me know if you think of somewhere you’d like to go.”

How about back two years? “Yeah, okay.” John slumped back in the cab and stared out the window. They’d gone a few blocks when he asked, “Do you know The Blind Beggar?”

“Not sure I do. Is he from ’round here?”

“I mean the pub. It’s near –”

“Course I know where it is. I was just having a bit of fun. You look like you need a laugh.”

“I need a drink more.” He closed his eyes and laid back his head against the seat.

"A man should only have one vice at a time.”

"And what should my vice be, Dr. Watson?”

“Me.”

 

John hadn’t been back to The Blind Beggar since he began dating Mary. She’d said she was more the Starbucks/wine bar type. But Mary said a lot of things . . .

The pub was just the same. Same cracked vinyl chairs, same greasy tables, same pickled eggs. Same jar, most likely.

He ordered a whiskey. “A double.”

He paid and carried the glass to an empty table by the window. It was almost six, and the bar was crowded with office workers having a pint on their way home.

Home. Now there was a concept.

Since that weekend at Gidleigh Park, when he’d believed he’d drunken himself into a two-day blackout, he’d tried, if not to be on the wagon, at least to be running close behind. He’d always liked to drink – everyone in his family did. He’d learned to love the burn of scotch against his throat, the slow fire it fueled in his gut. The first time he kissed a man – in the alley behind the Pig and Whistle – he was drunk on Canadian Club and the dangerous feeling of his hard-on pressed up against another man's cock.

He drank the whiskey quickly. Before he could get up to order a second one, a well-manicured hand set down a full glass in front of him.

“Good lord, John. I always thought these sorts of places were apocryphal. Who would suspect that people actually pay money to drink here?” He used a handkerchief to pull out the chair. “May I?”

“Mycroft Holmes.” He lifted the glass in a toast. “I won’t waste time asking how you found me.”

“Technology is a wonderful thing. Makes all our lives so much simpler.” Mycroft sat with his hands in his lap, trying to touch as few surfaces as possible.

“I assume your brother sent you?”

“He cares deeply for you, John.”

He didn’t expect that. “Are you really here to plead his case?”

“More explanation than apology. I forced his hand at Gidleigh Park. I clearly underestimated how much losing you again would affect him.”

“Oh right. Poor Sherlock.”

“Look at it from his point of view. He believed, rightly or wrongly, that you’d wait for him. You didn’t. Instead you proclaimed to the world that you were in love with Mary Morstan. You married her. And if she didn’t turn out not to be who she claimed, you’d still be living with her. Choosing colours for the nursery.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Maybe. But I daresay it’s accurate.”

“Sod off, Mycroft. Nothing you can say is going to make up for what he – what you and he did.”

Mycroft lifted a hand and Anthea appeared from the shadows, holding a file. “If you won’t listen to me, perhaps you will believe this.” Mycroft slid the file to John.

“What is it?”

“It’s a record of our correspondence during the time Sherlock was . . . working for me.”

“There’s not enough whiskey in the world.” John signaled to the bartender.

Mycroft frowned. “I know I am in no position to ask you for a favour-“

John snorted. “When has that ever stopped you?”

“But please, John, for Sherlock. Just read it. You’re upset now because of things you didn’t know. I’m giving you the opportunity to acquire that knowledge. To make a decision based on what you know, not what you think you know.”

“Do you charge by the bloody word?”

Mycroft rose from the seat, careful not the touch any surface. “Words are power, John. They can be the bridge that rescues you or the rope that hangs you.” He placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “I leave you to your evening.” He followed Anthea to the door, already on the phone.

 

John stared at the file on the table. Another whiskey gave him the courage to open it. Two more to read through it all. Emails and letters and texts. Comments left on obscure websites. Transcripts of phone calls. Starting the day after Sherlock jumped and ending the week before he came back. There was a gap of six weeks halfway through the first year – a month after Gidleigh Park, John calculated. Followed by surveillance reports of a drugs rehab centre outside Ottawa. After that, the correspondence continued as before. The tone changed towards the end – Sherlock seemed angrier, more desperate that it was taking so long. He accused Mycroft of keeping him in the field for reasons that had nothing to do with Moriarty.

Two years of Sherlock’s life lay spread out before him. And every piece of paper, every email and letter, asked for Mycroft’s reassurance that John was safe. Two years. All for him.

John collected the papers from the table and put them back into the folder with shaking hands. He stood, a little unsteady from the whiskey, and left the pub. It took him a long ten minutes to find a cab.

“Where to, mate?” the driver asked.

“Home,” John said. “Baker Street – 221B.”

 

The light was still on when the cab pulled up. John climbed the stairs slowly, one hand against the wall to steady himself. The result of the whiskey or what he’d read, he wasn’t sure.

He opened the door and leaned against it, gathering his courage, preparing what he was going to say. “Sherlock?”

The apartment was quiet. He could hear the ticking of the antique clock on the mantle, the soft hum of the old refrigerator.

“Sherlock?” he asked again, louder this time. He laid the folder on the table and dropped his jacket on his chair.

“In here.” The voice came from Sherlock’s bedroom.

Sherlock was lying in the middle of the bed, fully dressed, his head pillowed on his folded arms. The only light came from the lamp on the bedside table.

“You came back,” Sherlock said quietly. “I estimated the probability of that outcome at less than 30%.”

“Was I wrong to?” This was not the conversation he planned.

Sherlock sat up, his legs outstretched in front of him and his back pressed up against the headboard. “Are you planning to punch me? It’s what you usually do.”

“You know how fucked up that sounds, right?” He looked down at Sherlock. “We need to have a conversation, Sherlock. The one we should have had months ago.” He sat down on the edge of the bed.

“How much do you remember?”

“Not much. Enough.”

“It was a mistake.”

John flinched. “Which part?”

Sherlock shook his head. “When I was . . . away . . . I couldn’t tell you because it was too dangerous, and then it was too late.”

“Why?”

“You loved her.”

“I loved you. Jesus, Sherlock.”

Before John could remember one of the thousand reasons why he shouldn’t do this, before Sherlock could say no, before he could change his mind, he leaned forward and wrapped one hand around the back of Sherlock’s neck, pulled him close and pressed his mouth hard against his. Sherlock gasped and John thought that maybe he’d got it wrong after all, that maybe it was too late to get back what they’d never really had, and then decided if this was the only chance he ever got, he was going to make it the single, longest, best kiss there ever was. He slipped his tongue between Sherlock’s lips and the taste of him, the wetness of his mouth, the feel of his tongue, hit him like nothing ever had. He made a sound deep in his throat.

Sherlock finally pulled away and took a great, gulping breath and pushed John back onto the bed with a low growl until he was on top of him, one knee nudging up against the inside of John’s thigh. John kissed him again, and this time Sherlock kissed him back, and John wanted to laugh because it was so fucking right that Sherlock should kiss the way he lived—hard and fast and more than a little dangerous. John’s hips moved against Sherlock’s, their erections pressed together, and Sherlock’s hands reached up and around and pulled John closer to him.

“Bloody hell,” John panted in Sherlock’s ear and ground against him again. “Wait.” John reached down between them and unzipped his jeans and lowered them past his hips. Sherlock pushed himself up on one arm and did the same. They fell back against each other, moving together, hands tangled, finding that rhythm where it all fell away and it was just the two of them. Sherlock hissed John’s name as he came and John clung to his shoulders, thrusting against him, burying his head in Sherlock’s shoulder as the wave threatened to toss him to the floor. Sherlock wrapped his arms around him and pulled his hips tight, sliding his hand down John’s cock, sending him over the edge. He came with a shout and dug his fingers hard into Sherlock’s back.

They fell back against the bed, sweating, breathing hard. John pulled his jeans up past his hips. Sherlock headed to the loo, and came back wearing nothing but a satisfied, if slightly embarrassed, smile. He pulled back the sheet and lay down beside John.

“Oh, it’s like that now, is it?” John said, running his hand slowly down Sherlock’s bare chest. He stopped when he came to the small round scar – still raised and red. It hurt to look at it, not only because of the damage it had done to Sherlock’s heart, but to his own as well.

Sherlock covered John’s hand with his and pressed it against his chest. “A new scar for your collection.”

John looked confused.

“Something you said once.”

“Well, whatever it was, I’m sure it was very wise.”

“Or very foolish. I’m never sure.”

John leaned over and kissed him again. Slower this time. He stopped, sat up and unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it on the floor beside the bed. He stood for a minute and stepped out of his pants and jeans.

He lay down again beside Sherlock. Sherlock was quiet but he could hear his brain analysing and calculating and planning. “Stop. Just be here. With me.”

Sherlock nodded, then asked “Will you stay? Tonight, I mean. I gather all this –” his hand made a circling motion around them, “— indicates you’ve forgiven me. Again.”

“I suspect it’s your turn to forgive me. I said things I shouldn’t have. Mycroft – ”

Sherlock tensed. “What has my brother done now?”

“Shut up. He did us both a favour. You’ll have to be nice to him for a while.”

Sherlock turned and looked at John. “I’d rather be nice to you. Though I’m not quite sure what entails.”

John laughed. How long since he’d done that? “How about we start with no body parts in the fridge?”

Sherlock yawned. “It’s a small price to pay, I suppose.”

John laughed and leaned over to kiss him, but he’d already fallen asleep.

 

****

 

Two weeks later, John made an appointment with Dr. Thompson. He hadn’t been to see her since before his wedding. He couldn’t bring himself to go – not even after he found out the truth about Mary, and not during those long months after she shot Sherlock and he’d taken refuge at Baker Street. While it was still happening, talking about it was impossible. Saying the words out loud would only make them more real and more terrible than they already were.

He tried to explain that to her.

“So what you’re saying, John, is that you only want my help now that you no longer need it.”

“Sounds barmy when you put it like that. I’m just saying I need a little distance before I can talk about . . . things. I have some decisions to make quite soon and I thought . . .”

She smiled at him and picked up her pen and notebook. “Okay . . . how have you been? I read the newspapers – your detective is back and you’re married to the nurse you met at the clinic. I recall you were just getting serious when you stopped seeing me. How’s that working out?”

“Well, that’s why I’m here.”

“Ah,” Ella said in her best therapist voice. “Marriage can be difficult in the best of circumstances.”

He bit back a smile. “My wife – I call her Mary, but only because I don’t know her actual name – is an assassin. Of course, I didn’t know that when I married her. I only found out after she shot Sherlock in the chest and he almost died. I moved back to Baker Street to sort things out and take care of Sherlock. When the woman you think you love shoots the man you actually love, what choice do you have really? A week ago, Sherlock and I . . . well, we finally got things out in the open for the first time . . . well, it was really for the second time, but I don’t remember the first time because I was drugged afterwards. He hasn’t said yet that he loves me, but that’s only because he’s a tight-arsed prat.” He stopped and took a breath.

Ella had stopped writing at “assassin.” “Anything else?” she asked nervously.

“That’s not enough for you?”

“Just being thorough.”

“Well, I guess I should tell you that Mary’s pregnant.”

“I see.” Clearly she didn’t.

John smiled. He suddenly felt lighter. Happier. The situation was all wrong, but sitting in this chair, talking about it to another person, made it somehow feel not so bad. Almost normal.

“You seem unusually calm, John. This information is . . .”

“I know. God knows any bit of it should have sent me right over the edge. But if I were being totally honest –”

Ella had the decency not to speak, a raised eyebrow the only indication that she was still on the clock.

“– it’s all working out.”

“You’ll need to explain that, John.”

“I agree it’s all a cocked up mess. But it’s my mess. Our mess. Me and Sherlock’s. And me and Mary’s – to be honest.”

Ella’s phone buzzed and she glanced at the screen. Looked at John. “Apparently we’ve gone three minutes past our appointment time.”

John shook his head. “He thinks you are a bad idea.”

“What do you think?”

“I think he’s not always as brilliant as he thinks he is.”

The phone buzzed again. “He says there are several severed hands hanging from the London Eye.”

John snorted. “Sorry.” He stood. “So, same time next week?”

Ella stood. “I’m still not sure how I can help you.”

The phone buzzed. John picked it up and read the screen. “Ignore that.” He handed the phone back to Ella. “You help. You’ve always helped.”

Ella walked to the door. “Next week, then.”

John shook her hand and left. She closed the door and turned the phone over and read:

Blah blah, oddly attracted to dangerous psychopaths, blah blah. Need you now, John.

SH

She took the rest of the afternoon off.