"Sherlock, why are there fishsticks in here?" John asked, carefully swishing around the canning jar of what looked like formaldehyde. He walked into the living room with the small jar to find Sherlock staring at the ceiling, obviously bored.
"Those aren't fishsticks. Obvious, John," Sherlock drawled and John put the jar down on the coffeetable before moving to wash his hands. He definitely didn't want to know. "What's the purpose of marriage?" he mused and John paused en route to the kitchen. It wasn't like Sherlock to muse about such human decisions, putting most actions up to the irrationality of more idiotic minds. John leaned on the kitchen doorframe, watching as the man ground his teeth in his jaw over the question.
"People want to know that they'll stay together," John replied, shrugging casually. That had never seemed like much of a mystery to him but Sherlock had only recently come to the conclusion that there were people in the world worth sharing space with, so it was perfectly possible the wonder of marriage was new to him.
"That's a motivation for staying together, not for saying it aloud beneath a flowery curved thing," Sherlock growled. John shrugged again.
"Maybe it's like going to the gym. If you tell all your friends you're going to do it, you're more likely to follow through," John replied. Sherlock turned his head, his eyes wide.
"Is that true?" he asked, apparently horrified. John smiled.
"We're idiots," he said. Sherlock nodded, accepting that, but still seemed a bit revolted. "And we're afraid of being alone," John added. That was likely a large bit of it, too. Sherlock nodded slowly, accepting that too.
"Words change nothing," Sherlock said, staring at him like that meant something deeper than it sounded.
"Okay," John said and shrugged to show he didn't fully understand. Sherlock scowled.
"Do they change something for you?" he asked seriously and John sighed, pushing his hands into his pants pockets.
"I don't know. I don't tend to tell people what I'm planning," John replied and Sherlock smiled strangely.
"Me neither," he said and John smiled. He had the striking impression Sherlock had just asked him if he wanted to get married, and he'd turned it down. Or, they'd turned it down. It didn't seem to matter. Sherlock was rarely one for sentiment and really, a black-tie ceremony would point out exactly how many of his friends were too dead to be there. Hardly inspirational. This was greatly preferable, a quiet understanding between lovers. At home.
John rubbed a hand through his hair, only to remember that it was just holding preserved not-fishsticks, and immediately wanting a shower. Still, this seemed important, so he waited, holding his hands as far away from himself as he could.
"John Hamish Watson -" Sherlock started, only to freeze, his whole body going tense and still. They were starting again, John could feel it, just from that look. They weren't staying home. "Hamish. She was in your hospital room," Sherlock breathed.
"Sherlock?" John asked urgently, needing to keep up, and Sherlock returned to him, his eyes wide with barely suppressed concern.
"The Mayfly Man," he whispered, understanding starting to spark in his eyes.
"The..The Bainbridge killer?" John asked, only then remembering that they'd never actually caught the man who'd stabbed the lad. He'd wash his hands later, apparently.
"It's the only time your middle name is ever published; you made sure of that. The Mayfly Man only saw five women, but Tessa saw your hospital tags. For one woman to be in both groups..she's a private nurse..could be a coincidence.." he rambled, slowly sitting up from the sofa to stare at the door where Tessa had come in. John shifted uncomfortably. Where was this going? Who was threatened? Him? His family? Mrs. Hudson again?
"The Mayfly Man went to great lengths to find out about your hospital stay, probably was waiting there throughout it. They lied, assumed false identities..Who? Too many options," he hissed. "The staff, the patients, their visitors…Too many, too many, too many!" he yelled at the door, slapping a hand down on the coffee table and John almost covered his ears before he controlled himself…he'd need to hear this, to help with this, and his shoulders twinged when he raised them that far. He moved to Sherlock's side, waiting for the man to run through his logic. "Murder," Sherlock said finally, following some leap of logical John couldn't follow. "No!" Sherlock shouted and slapped himself. John grabbed his hands to keep him from hurting himself or convincing Mrs. Hudson to come upstairs and complain. Sherlock opened his eyes, looking triumphant now.
"You, it's always you. John Watson, you keep me right," he swore.
"What do I do?" John asked, nervous. There was nothing he could do, with his shoulders as they were.
"No, you've already done it. Don't solve the murder. Save the life. They didn't kill anyone you knew in that hospital or we'd have heard of it. Ergo, it was someone who could have been expected to show up at your bedside but didn't. In a hospital? Most people you can kill any old place. Lestrade's so easy to kill it's a miracle no one's succumbed to the temptation. A hospital gives you the worst chance of success. So who could you only kill there? Clearly it's a rare opportunity so it's someone who doesn't get out much. Someone for whom a known location is an exception. Has to be a unique opportunity. And since killing someone in public is difficult, killing them in private isn't an option. Someone who lives in an inaccessible or unknown location, then. Someone private, perhaps, obsessed with personal security. Possibly someone under threat," he said and trailed off. John waited only to realize Sherlock was waiting for him.
"Oh, you're asking me?" he asked and Sherlock glared.
"Isn't that what it means when you lift your tone at the end of a sentence?" he complained and John waved him off.
Sherlock turned in his chair to stare into his eyes. John looked away, too distracted by the colors there to think.
"Who did you want at your bedside but didn't come? Who did you hope for, think was a possibility?" he asked and John knew immediately. Someone under threat. Someone who hid their address.
"James Sholto," he said and Sherlock's eyes widened still further.
"Your commanding officer," he breathed, though John was sure he'd never said Sholto's name before. Sherlock must have remembered enough from his story, told so long ago, waiting on a bench with nothing but small talk while Bainbridge began to bleed out.
"We must warn him," John said and Sherlock nodded, though John was sure he once would have used Sholto as bait. They'd do the same now, John guessed; with James's permission this time. Permission that'd be easy to get, John had no doubt. Sherlock pushed himself up from the couch to stand by the desk, the laptop up and running before John had realized that going to Sholto's home would lead his killer there. They would have to rely on coded email. Fortunately, Sholto was just paranoid enough to have taught John a system, in case any of their old comrades were stable enough to be getting married one day.
Sherlock stepped aside, the email client open, the short missive already written. It was signed Will you be bait? Sherlock and John Watson . John didn't bother changing it; it was high time that James met Sherlock Holmes and this was certainly an effective way of doing it. He coded the message and sent it out, praying that the Mayfly Man would not somehow have access to its key. Sherlock clearly guessed not, and that'd be good enough for him.
"What were you going to say, before?" he asked and Sherlock waved a hand at him, like it didn't matter, still looking at the now-blank laptop screen.
"Love is an irrational urge that overrides more productive cognitive fuctions," he said, his brain obviously elsewhere. John turned his face with his hand so Sherlock would look at him. Sherlock drew himself up and scowled. "I love you, John. I want you to stay" he added and John smiled. He had a strong feeling Sherlock hadn't said that before, likely since childhood. He blew out a heavy breath, absorbing that, and ran a hand down Sherlock's back, wishing he could raise his shoulders enough to tug on the man's neck. Someday.
I can do this.
"I can do that," he promised and Sherlock nodded, clearly ready to disappear into thought again. "I love you, Sherlock," John added awkwardly and Sherlock refocused.
"Are you attracted to toast?" he asked and John froze, his mouth a bit agape. "You had an erection, before, and -" Sherlock started and John closed his eyes in embarrassment. At least they were vaguely alone. Though with his luck, Mycroft's flunkies were recording every word of this.
"No, Sherlock," he answered and Sherlock nodded like that was an acceptable choice of two reasonable options.
"Just checking," he grumbled and John pulled his hand away to pinch the bridge of his nose. This was going to be an interesting life.
"And if I always got a hard-on from hot bread?" he asked and Sherlock shrugged.
"Yes, pity, that would have been convenient," he complained, throwing himself back onto the couch and settling in to think about darker things.
The game is on, John thought and watched Sherlock tent his fingers in front of his lips, impatient to receive Sholto's reply and race to their next case, to capture a murderer and save a life again.
A/N: If you'd like an email notification when I publish my book, with no 'updates', spam, or fuss, join my publication email list here:
Thank you all so very very much for making this story what it became, your reviews & comments were immeasurably helpful and I adored talking about writing/Johnlock/everything else with you. It helped me get through this tough year and I'm so excited to be starting my new fantasy book with all the energy & encouragement you've given me. And a thousand Kudos to Cyclamen, for copyediting Every chapter of this, I'll be fixing it all and posting the final versions here on AO3 and on my website GwendolynnThomas.com ! Thank you again!