Johnlock readers who are are looking for more Johnlock writers to subscribe to: do browse through the This drew out the first spontaneous grin he'd seen so far. He’d been wondering whether that grin was a casualty of Sherlock’s time away, or of John’s fury, or of the persona of Will—which, he reminded himself, was also Sherlock, not a mask. The atmosphere was electric, and the only thing missing was space to dance; that was always his favourite part. And—there he goes, leaving the shopping in the kitchen and coming over to the table where I’ve been shoving some papers into files and binning others (equally important ones, but I’d started to feel jangled). He moves into my space, standing close behind my back and raising his hands to my shoulders. He smells of the early spring outdoors, of the damp clean cold, and it’s perfect. But it wasn’t necessary; they understood each other. He could feel it not just in an absence of tension, but in a palpable harmony that turned John’s clip to his arm into a caress. The atmosphere was so tense that on an impulse I tugged Sherlock out into the hall just to get away from it for a moment. I wasn’t surprised that he left me a few minutes later to rejoin Watson. That was understandable; he’d said at dinner that he hadn’t seen much of the man of late. It was insensitive on my part to try to keep him away, but jealousy is a bitch. “Well, tell him we changed our mind. Tell him we’ve been too busy.” Unbuckle the belt, open the trouser buttons. In exchange, he consented to reply to a comment the last day of every month on an idiotic Facebook page for world travelers. Any information his brother considered he needed, would be posted there. Unexpectedly John heads straight for Sherlock and backs him up against the counter, wraps his arms around his waist. The time passed much faster than Sherlock had expected, and he hurried home inspired to revisit the project and update it. To do that, though, he had to unearth two file-folders with new data he’d never added to the website. John takes a few minutes after his dance with Donovan, less to catch his breath than to order his thoughts about what she’d said. “I can hear them coming, they must be close. Can you speak to her? Afterwards I’ll tell you where they’re taking her, so you can join her.” “When you were dead. When you were shot. When you left for Rome.” I hope he doesn’t press for details. Those things happened very far apart, after all. And I should have added, “When you thought Irene was dead.” Sherlock’s pale face is flushed from the exertion, from his cheekbones down to the hollow of his throat. “Obviously, John. What did you think I was up to?" He said I’d know when I heard the songs that it was my John. And by the same token, that the anonymous absent friend was me. Mycroft nodded shortly. “Manipulated forms in hard copy and computer documents. Meaning that someone in their firm was involved. Shortly after they raised these discrepancies in a regular staff meeting they received an unequivocal threat, and they brought the evidence to the Met, who brought it to my attention.” leather-bound blank book with handmade paper, must open properly flat for writing in (if he doesn't like it I'll give him a £2 umbrella and beat him about the head and shoulders with it) (FOUR VISITS I made to that bookbinder’s workshop) Since he had read up about the riches of Sicily he didn’t need explanations, so we just discussed our itinerary to Cefalù. He wanted to take the coast road, only regretting that the plan wouldn’t allow us to visit an island nature preserve rejoicing in the unlikely name of “Isola delle Femmine,” which he’d seen signposted between the airport and Palermo. Nettled, he retorts, “Yes, the irony is not lost on me. But when I’m rude it’s because I choose to be, whereas you do not.” Those first eighteen months in 221B—they were magic, and we won’t get them back. We grew up, Sherlock. But if it hasn’t worked out with you and Zanardi, perhaps we can be together now. You’re all I want. Let me show you. When John rolled his eyes at the urban-chic tone of the fad, Sherlock just said, “I want bees to become the norm. They have to be everywhere. Not just honeybees; wild bees too, in every back garden and park and meadow and playing field. That means getting people invested, educating them about pesticides and herbicides and over-mowing. There’s a lot of work to do, John. I can’t afford to be a purist.” “I’ll put these in the sun, see if they can dry out a bit.” The sodden trainers and socks went outside the door. Now John looked bewildered, though not irate or repulsed. That was something, surely. And John’s hand was still on his knee, not pulling away. “Like the ... really tired. And really happy. I hope you weren’t miserable on the sofa. If I hadn’t been so knackered I’d have argued. I fit there better than you.” I had two reasons for that stubborn, if occasionally wilting, hope. First, he’d chosen me. I’m average-looking, smarter than average but nowhere near Sherlock’s league, and obviously of less than average sensitivity. But Sherlock, for reasons that were never very clear to me, had chosen me and he’d never swerved. Christ, how could hearing that hurt even more the second time? And again in that desolate tone that had broken my heart Monday night. He sighed. “That day you were leaving for fucking Serbia, saying goodbye. You turned it into a joke about your name.” When Sherlock goes slightly pinker John has to fight the urge to lean up and kiss him then and there. Sherlock is blushing at John’s romantic choice of song, after an athletic, even aerobic, dance that had him repeatedly hoisting a partner has left him flushed already: it's so endearing John can hardly stand it. How could he have thought he’d rather lounge around 221b watching crap telly than watching his charismatic partner perform all this seductive beauty for an admiring crowd? Our first night in John’s flat was strange, no question. I’d expected Mary’s bed to be alien, even hostile. I stretched out on the sofa (buff) with a pair of pillows (bisque) and a woolen blanket (cream, with magnolia highlights). To my surprise the sofa was welcoming and comfortable—long, wide, soft but not sagging, with support but no springs. 221B was going to have to upgrade. When John had unpacked a bit and washed up he came down, reached out a hand and asked, “Are you coming?” I’d have followed him into the bathtub (wheat) to sleep, if he asked it with that quirk to his eyebrow. “I know that, of course I do. Robbie may not have mentioned Jamie for reasons of his own, but I prefer to speak of him. Never to mention him is like never having had him. After he died everyone seemed to think it kinder not to talk about him. It wasn’t.” “Sorry, John. Sorry.” The tea was perfect, too—assuming there wasn’t anything added to it this time. Standing in the kitchen with tea and toast: another recurring daydream coming true. Sherlock managed to conceal a smile at Donovan’s subtle Mycroft impression, even as his brain flinched away from the mental image evoked by her last words. I stroked along his left arm in a way that I hoped was reassuring and pleasant, and then asked another innocuous question: “What did you like best about living in Rome?” Today Sherlock lowers himself to the floor and first folds his long legs under him, then stretches them out to cage Watson in, a game she enjoys inordinately. She likes trying to escape, and she whacks his knee or his shin with the flat of her hand, eyes narrowing as she scolds him in words he understands perfectly although she’s just now made them up. He understands them because she’s just like her father in this: when she looks cross she’s at her most affectionate. If she were John she’d be calling him berk, or git, or nutter. Watson swats him and shouts nonsense syllables and eventually giggles. The music ends and the dancers separate and applaud. Sherlock takes the chance to appreciate the unexpected pairings of men obliged to dance with each other: reedy Dimmock with the portly Chief Constable, slightly rumpled Lestrade with the sleek chief of Forensics, and his favorite pair, a campy gay D.S. reveling in the discomfort of a distinctly grumpy-looking closeted bi man. He could dance with the D.S. himself, Sherlock thinks. That is, if he can be bothered to dance with anyone but John ever again. (If you don't know this song, do yourself a favor when you have time to listen to it with your full attention. While reading the lyrics. Yes, I'm being bossy. But this song is astonishing.) On the anniversary of Sherlock’s suicide he received a text message from an unknown number and his legs buckled, luckily into his chair. I was confident I could outshine most of my own sex, if only because John had an idiosyncratic preference for those areas where I He was still stroking my shoulder, so softly. “Your skin is so beautiful.” His voice didn’t rise above a whisper. He was careful to ratchet back his machine-gun delivery when he spoke, to aim for calm, steady. He had nowhere to be, no case to solve; he could take the time to exchange a few words with other people. It had to become second nature. (He’d have a word with Lestrade about exclamation points.) From Dimmock, Diana, Charlotte Gordon. From unknown numbers, most of which he skips. (He’d have a word with This time he looked up and his smile, his fondest one, reached all the way up to his eyes. He had the nerve to laugh, or at least I think he did, as he said, “Payback?” Well, who else? It wasn’t just that John was my only friend; so far as I could tell, I was his, as well. No talking to the departed this time, no pacing. He seemed unaware he wasn’t alone. Just reached out and touched the stone, stepped back again. He was tall and muscled; first time he helped me up at a crime scene it was like I weighed nothing at all. Much more solid than my dance partner, and a lively stare, so much warmer than Holmes’. Well, Watson seemed satisfied with his man, but August was much more appealing, and infinitely more sexy. Even more hatefully, Mycroft had been aware of it all, even untold. Of the drastically slowed cognition, like slogging through treacle. Of the uneasiness. Of the ... waiting. Of the terror, tamped down. Our cover story was that we were arranging a special surprise at 221B. Which put us in the position of having to beg Mycroft to set up a special surprise there which we weren’t even privy to. “Intimidated—? Dunno what you’ve been doing, John, but you’re much more confident than last year. The very opposite of intimidated.” Sentiment. Repulsive. This unconscious mental wandering to “where is he,” “has he read it yet,” “will he text” It works. John looks quickly up at him and says, “No, but I hope you do, and I hope they include me. I’m just about ready for an adventure. What’s on your mind?” I moved in close, for warmth and to see him glance up and smile. I nodded across the canal to Santa Maria della Salute, beautifully illuminated and alluring, close by our hotel. Like everything in Venice, the colour of its stones changed with the light; it could be pale grey, warm ivory, or as now, a cool white. Canal water ranged from sage green to verdigris to viridian to Aegean. I spent the week before our command appearance at the Holmes’s in a nonstop blush. At first Sherlock thought it was adorable, or so he said. Then he grew annoyed and snapped, “If you’re embarrassed about what we do in bed, John, we can always stop.” Gingerly I moved closer. I still couldn’t think of a thing to say, even though John didn’t seem even discomfited, let alone outraged. extra income, nothing immoral, just technically illegal: small quantities of alcohol and tobacco brought in without excise from the continent, along with his declared merchandise. He’d never smuggled more than 75 kilos, since lorry scales are accurate only to about 100 kilos, and the weights recorded on arrival needed to match those on the bills of lading, on departure. It worked, at least it’s worked so far. Clara isn’t living with Harry, but they’re trying to rebuild their marriage. Harry’s been mostly successful with sobriety, and I’ve never seen her this motivated before. Sherlock could have been standing in for the evening. The Irish band hadn’t expected to perform at the festival, after all. They were on the sub list, like theatre understudies. “No. I didn’t really remember him or the phone at all after the victim died. But I think he knew she was dead, because the young woman with me said aloud, ‘She’s gone.’ Then we were both shifted by the medics. When I remembered about the phone, the call had ended. The time must be registered on it, though. It didn’t seem to have any damage. Heavy-duty protective cover.” But the reply, when it comes, is equable. Deliberately so, and I appreciate the effort. “Of course you’re happy. We’re meant to be this way with each other.” Well. That was embarrassing. It seemed I’d spun an innocent birthday project into a fantasy of reclusive study and some kind of sinister conspiracy between Sherlock and Rosie. I jolted myself out of this speculation, patted her hand, smiled ruefully and escaped out onto the street. Mycroft’s driver would pick me up between work and Baker Street; he’d texted me a location and a taxi number, so I knew which corner I was to hail it from. It was consistent with my claim of a headache—like I just had to get home as soon as I could manage. The next months were a dichotomy. My life had exactly two dimensions: Moriarty’s criminal network, and John. He’s silent, and then takes his arm from under my neck, lifts his weight from my torso, untangles our legs, without a word. He lifts himself off and sits back against the headboard. It’s all tense now, careful and silent. I’ve ruined everything. Demonicangeling’s painting of 19 Aug. 2021, which they've given permission to include here, swept into my brain and took up residence there. This ficlet, added to I shift to rest my palm on his chest, and remember the interlude in the middle of last night—we weren't fully awake, but that too added something. Finally he shifted, stretched, and reached for a laptop. When I looked at the search history later I found “I’ve enjoyed our conversations, and collaboration. Perhaps I’ll submit something to your journal next year, a project John and I have been developing.” There too the hospital employee refused to give me a list. Confidential, he said, and bloody cumbersome to collate from the hundreds of employee records. I might’ve given up at that point, but the pallid, reedy bloke helping (“helping”) me slipped up and suggested that the information I needed was likely to be centrally assembled in the office of the hospital’s legal counsel. I'll start adding links for music and lyrics with Ch. 4. The ways of the silver clan are inexplicably unsystematic, or systematically inexplicable. I put up a feeble defence. “But you wouldn’t talk to me, tell me why. You just ... shut me out. We made a promise that we’d never do that to each other again. There was a time-sensitive decision to be made, so I made it.” at age four is going to help her adapt to children of less advanced capabilities. Is that—wrong on my part?” “Dimmock suggested I get started planning next year’s event. With dance lessons beforehand, says Charlotte Gordon. Unlikely.” He can’t spare too much thought for anything but John’s forehead on his shoulder and John's hands on his arse. “Doesn’t seem too great a sacrifice.” He may not be able to make out what I’m saying, as I’m holding his entire ear delicately inside my mouth when I say it. But he sighs anyway, and as I release his ear I let my breath trail out over the tiny hairs along the top. He was still asleep, curled toward me as he usually was if we weren’t actually entwined. I always loved to look at his sleeping face, so boyish, his lashes brushing his cheeks. It always moved me, that moment before he woke up and gave me his luminous morning smile and moved in to kiss me. Mycroft put on his own mask of condescending patience to answer, “Yes, and no. Let’s hear the expert reports first, then I’ll explain.” acerbic about idiocy, but he was no longer cruel, ever, about whom people loved and how, and the things they will do for love. John was tired and hungry, but a superb dinner of fresh fish in a down-at-heel but excellent trattoria restored him for a walk around the city by night. By local standards we’d eaten on the early side, and the city centre was humming with activity as we explored. Not with tourists; Palermo didn’t require Carnevale festivities to bring people out on the streets on winter evenings. Nothing could be more different from Venice, so beset by tourism that it seemed to have little left of its own civic life, and for that matter little of its original population. But when I got there, there were two left. Two. And I couldn’t face, somehow, leaving the other one there. It didn’t matter to the little runt that it was Christmas, I told myself. But it did matter that he’d already lost all his other litter mates, and I was going to take the last one and leave him alone in that disinfectant-scented, fluorescently-lighted place. I just—I couldn’t. John’s tone was as earnest now as his expression. And I could see that he was making a clean breast of his own concealments, as part of his demand that I commit to honesty. I’d do that, I’d do anything, even break a lifetime’s habit of bypassing tedious explanations by a strategy of silence or lies. John sat bolt upright, as though there were a damsel in distress to rescue right there in the sitting room. “ Too focused on what was waiting for him even to dry himself properly, he stepped into the bedroom to find Sherlock sitting unnaturally still on the side of the bed. And the worst of it was that I no longer cared. An indifference like a numbness permeated both mind and body. John had been the focus of my thoughts and wishes for so long that losing him in this deadening way felt like losing myself. Sherlock felt well and truly wrong-footed, and his irritation was audible. “So I’m to make her look good? She won’t thank either of us for that.” Ashford-Warrington looked hopeful again, as though he’d found the perfect solution. His bright gold hair and sturdy shoulders caught a ray of sun, his deep blue eyes were all but pleading. He extended his compact hands palms up, as though proffering a brilliant idea or a baby. Sherlock shuddered again. When I picked up my jaw from the floor and confirmed my bemused impression of what Sherlock had actually said, Rosie was staring at me indignantly. I was holding her spoonful of applesauce just out of reach, and paying no attention to her at all. Unsteady as I was feeling, though, I was gratified that Mycroft seemed to think me a steadying influence on Sherlock, wrong though he was about that. I opened the tablet, hoping—don’t know what I was hoping to see. Sherlock and Zanardi rowing in public? Before he’d worked it out, Ash and her little family trooped in and joined the conversation about “last night’s fun.” No warm up, no stretch, I was running full tilt as soon as I hit the pavement in front of 221B. It was freezing cold but clear and dry, and I took off for Regents Park and started my usual circuit. But I couldn’t stand to look at the same things I’d been seeing for the past seven years, just as I couldn’t stand to see the images I’d conjured up in my head—Sherlock seductive, Sherlock ravished, Sherlock in orgasm with another man. Sherlock in bed with Zanardi curled around him. I left the park and headed generally south. P.S. Thank you again for my book. As it and the hellhounds prove, you have a truly exceptional knack for giving gifts. Had Prof. Spink-Bottle reached out to Sherlock to publish the endless study of tobacco ash because of what he looked like? It wasn’t only that, of course; it was textbook progress through the five stages of grief. I’d begun with mourning, and moved into the phase of anger. Sherlock deduced the green light that John must have given Lestrade from the text the DI sent out of the blue one cold mid-November morning. No reference to the long hiatus, no inquiry as to his recovery. No prelude or preamble at all, just the familiar “Something in your line. Can you come?” with an address in Kensington. respond emotionally. I don’t know where you got this idea that you’re somehow pathologically lacking in the emotions that everyone experiences. But you can’t fool me: I’ve seen you. I know you for real.” But for a clumsy misstep, he’d have been back early in the fall—weeks before John made a date to ask a woman for her hand in marriage. (Strange image, come to think of it. Obviously connected to the symbolic lock men put on women’s fingers.) But he’d got himself captured, and detained, and tortured, and his abominable brother had had to effect an extraction. And the game was on. We delivered Rosie to school (I always say Sherlock threw her out of a moving vehicle, as I can’t swear he actually slowed to a complete stop) and arranged for Clara to collect her, and keep her for the night. From that moment it was as though Sherlock was visibly searching for words—my daft genius, always so glib when sure of himself, was inarticulate and blushing over the simple truth that I admired him and wanted him. Well, it had taken me years, but I would never again let him wonder what I felt for him. “Okay, look, I’ve got a compromise. If one of us dies, the other can move to Italy and become a nanny.” The Registry office was already doing us a favour by giving us the last slot of the day, bumping us up in the queue; John was keen not to keep them later than necessary. No written vows then, thankfully. No music, no photo sessions; the photos of John’s first wedding were stored safely in an album for Watson to see, one day. I didn’t want a rival set. It had been an uncomfortable night, a difficult one. Summer nights should be warm and languid. It may well have been, but I was storing a body in a walk-in freezer and had no occasion to notice. This is a hermetic universe, which for a few minutes a day has only two inhabitants. They don’t even need names. He opens me again as gently as before, but I’m less tight and tense, and after a few moments of his deft fingers I’m ready for him to try. More than ready—on the verge of desperation. I feel him round and firm against me, then he’s just barely inside, and I’m faint. Breathing is actually difficult in this state; as I’d rather not lose consciousness I focus on my lungs and abdomen. This helps me to relax, to allow John to push in. At some level beneath conscious thought he was grateful that Roberto was in the other room, withdrawn and morose; the discussion that was looming was going to be painful in any case, but for Roberto to see the incredulous elation that must be pouring off him would exacerbate the rejection. On his second reading the letter still said the same thing, and indeed on the third. He’d drained it for information and implication, for tone and emotion, and now there was nothing for it but to ring Mycroft and ask when he’d last seen John. “A straight man fell in love with you. A gay woman did. And of course, gay men and straight women want you. Who wouldn’t? You’re brilliant. Gorgeous. Charismatic. And I could never eliminate all the potential competition. So—listen carefully—I focused on you. I saw that you never, ever respond, not for real. Only for a case. Only when you’re shamming. And it’s always obvious, to me at least, when you’re shamming. As a new reader to the Angstmobile commented on Ch. 42, “You have a great readership.” They are right: I cherish and thank you for every comment, and am constitutionally incapable of not answering each one I see. Thank you all for caring about this fic and its characters as much as I do; for seconding and for objecting; and for so often showing me things about it and them that I hadn’t noticed. This conversation has now officially gone so far awry that it can literally get no worse. He, of all people, failed to notice that there was another son, a gay son, and that that son was dead. Aside from the obvious regret at turning the knife in a terrible wound, there is the mortification of being so distracted by emotional static that he’s missed this far-from-negligible circumstance. Why in the world had Roberto never mentioned his fourth brother—a gay brother—a brother who had I thought it was going perfectly. And then one day John said he wanted to send Watson to school a full year early. So that she would not be—of course he never said this, but I seemed to hear it like a siren—a Freak. And from the time he mentioned it, it wasn’t a proposition to discuss and consider and resolve together; it was a fait accompli. The school was chosen, the Open Day attended, the decision made while I was still reeling at the distrust revealed by both the impulse to send her away from my influence, and the autocratic decision that made it a settled thing. ” He’s actually prepared an answer blaming fatigue, nerves, anything that would lead Roberto off the track of Sherlock’s increasing indifference—regretful, remorseful, but inexorable indifference—to the month’s experiment. The fact that Roberto makes no such objection, asks for no explanation, makes it clear that he already knows. That it pains him, and to some degree mortifies him. Sherlock knows himself to have been culpably careless with Roberto’s feelings, but it is utterly beyond him to keep up the behaviors of their first three weeks in Rome. In that fic, the memory of John kept Sherlock on his hard, dark, lonely road. I wanted to write a very different Sherlock committing to a life only glimpsed in "Last Call" mid-hiatus, and see how it would play out if John came to retrieve him from that life and that commitment. Ash (Aislinn Riordan) is named in honor of Aislin, the focalizer in Chryse's fic, shortened to Ash for 243 obvious reasons. is for the way you look at me.” From that moment John is quite simply riveted. The music is exhilarating, Cole’s singing is beguiling, Sherlock’s sure, agile footwork is doing extraordinary things to his already bewitching legs and hips, and the way Donovan’s dress flashes silver and gold is nothing short of entrancing. Sherlock’s standing stock still, apparently mesmerised by the careful, slow stimulation. His breath is coming more quickly again, his chest is flushed, nipples erect. John is fascinated by what he sees and senses, can almost feel it as if he were Sherlock, a strange feedback loop in which he both creates and experiences the same stimulus. After a few beats of strained silence, Sherlock whispered, “I know it was unforgivable. I don’t ask to be forgiven. But you have to know, at least, that I didn’t do it because you didn’t matter to me. It’s because you mattered so much.” He looked at me suspiciously but I wasn’t joking, and he saw that right away. To my relief, instead of pulling out his hair in exasperation, he gave a considering "hmmm." I went on. Now the floor has filled with couples, mostly mixed, but two couples of women are dancing and one couple of men. Sherlock looks a bit heated, though his breathing is steady, and John hands him his martini to sip. Sherlock smiles his thanks. The plucky dancers on the floor are swaying and swinging to Louis Armstrong's warm, growly rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You." When Armstrong sings “I get no kick from cocaine” John looks pointedly at Sherlock, who rolls his eyes. She’s hanging off my arm, unable to support her own weight or find her balance. I’m embarrassed for her, and hope she won’t remember this the next morning, or it’ll bring back quite a lot of the tension that always used to characterise our interaction. And it would humiliate her. Needlessly. When The Woman had drugged me, Donovan had doubtless enjoyed seeing me incapacitated. I wasn’t enjoying this: she’d narrowly escaped being raped. I’d forgot that Sherlock had had a run-in with Zanardi’s mother that had left him quite wrong-footed. He was, well, Once I used to cross my fingers for a chance to touch him, casually. Faux casually. If he needed stitches, it might be. Or restraint. Or a vigorous throttling. I’d keep my eyes open for any chance to make him touch me, too. To shift me out of the way, or once, nightmarish memory, to reach into my coat to pull out my gun. It was a not-unwelcome spike of jealousy, but a little inexplicable. Did Sherlock think I had a type? That he was just “my type,” and that any long, lean, bloke with dark hair and pale skin might be tempting to me? —Well, he wasn’t entirely wrong, I’ve admired many a man who looked like Sherlock, more because they did look like him than because Sherlock resembled some abstract ideal he imagined I was cherishing. ,” came a somewhat breathy answer. His face was buried in my neck, and I felt him nuzzling the jaw beneath my beard, which was unexpected and rather touching. He sounded uncertain, off-balance. That this was the same man I had met in London—confident, razor-sharp, impatient, imperious—was a delicious surprise. (His arse under my hands was also delicious, if less of a surprise, given how long I’d been eyeing it.) Several hours later Sherlock brought her back to the flat literally glowing. The meeting had consisted of the executive producers handing her a very satisfactory contract, introducing her to the score composer, and beginning the artistic conversation she had thought lay far in the future, if ever. The composer and one of the producers meant to attend the concert on Friday, but they’d made their choice. “Come back here. I’m not—” I try for control myself, now. Some warmth. Humour. “I’m not done with you.” It was seriously good to feel him grinding in to me, moaning my name as though it were the only word he knew. To wrap my arms around his head and neck, wind my fingers through his thick curly hair, so oddly long. To breathe him in, the subtle clean scent of him and his poncey shampoo I’d never used or binned. His breath, not just delicious but arousing to a hyperbolic degree. After all these months, years really, there was nothing on my mind or skin but the overwhelming sensations of the man I’d wanted from the first day I saw him. , as you put it. But once we’ve made the arrest, and the dust and the paperwork have settled, I’ll be sent back to Rome. Why don’t you come with me. Stay with me. Give me a month to change your mind, change your heart. To win you. See whether we could work out. Be together." Roberto shows Sherlock into the restaurant at seven, an absurdly early dinner hour for Italians; but the owner, accustomed to tourists with odd schedules and welcoming Roberto warmly, seats them in the mostly empty dining room. The restaurant has an incomparable view: halfway up a mountain, with a wall of glass facing west. Lights glitter in the valley below and jagged mountains loom in the dark beyond. Usually a vista like this means indifferent food; Roberto assures Sherlock that this place is the exception to the rule. We pull up at the hospital and I get out to find a cab back to Baker Street. Donovan would rather not be seen in this state, I imagine. And John might still be up, to tell the story to. Sherlock rang off and flung the phone on the sofa with disgust, as though it had been a party to that long-ago affair. . If John was the only one for me, why had I gone to Italy with another man, possibly forever? John isn’t one to forgive and forget. Most of the time he just gets on with things, bracketing old sorrows and wrongs as things he can't change. But they don’t fade away, and he doesn’t let go of them. I tug at his cuff a little, trying to stare into his eyes that are slewed away from me. “Well, no. I never made the coffee there. Roberto made it. It was a welcome distraction, to be honest.” And I Not unlike surgery, actually. Which he would never call pedestrian, and he’d sprain something important on anyone who tried. He felt his cheeks burn. It was cocky ignorance to dismiss Sherlock’s study. Worse, it was insecurity. “Hour or so. Eventful evening.” I’ve always loved talking to John in the dark. I could let my guard down, and so could he. He was good at keeping his mind off the past. Hell, he’d been known to delete entire memory sequences if they were futile or too intrusive. He couldn’t bring himself to go that far yet. For now he could certainly keep from daydreaming or pining or internet-stalking a man he used to care for, but who had cut him off quite definitively. , not the reverse. That’s when I decided to look into the local primary school, check out their Reception year curriculum and facilities, maybe make a visit, meet some members of staff. See if Rosie could start in the fall, though she’d be only four and a half. As advanced as she was, surely that wouldn’t be a problem. Sherlock extends his hand with a gesture meant to convey finality, and dismissal. John looks down at it, then up at him, turns on his heel and leaves. observer, he listened and felt and deduced with his entire body. John had instantly clocked the devastating jolt of pleasure provoked by his faint stubble on the tender inside of Sherlock’s thighs (and parts adjacent) and had used the knowledge ruthlessly from then on. John had studied him with a laser focus he’d never exhibited before. (Except, probably, in an operating theatre.) And in a moment there he was, looking self-possessed but betraying just the faintest bit of unease nonetheless. His temples and beard had gone a bit greyer, but otherwise he looked very little changed from when we’d spent the month of February together four years earlier. Instead of growling I smiled, and said more calmly, “Sorry I shouted. But Sherlock, you do have feelings. You He spots another number he can probably handle, “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” and thinks it might make Sherlock laugh to see him dancing it with Sally, whose looks have certainly bowled over the entire room. He's got a few questions to ask her as well—Sally, whom he has never, for reasons he cannot quite articulate, managed to forgive for her part in Sherlock’s disgrace and “suicide.” He makes another maximum bid for that one and hopes she’ll go easy on him, since he’s clearly not in her class. The first time I saw Sherlock Holmes in person I was determined not to like him and not to give him an inch. I’d been sent to the U.K. on a case of the highest importance, for Italy and for Europe: the humanitarian crisis of a generation. It was an improvised collaboration between two prominent European nations, both facing—not very successfully—the enormous wave of refugee dislocation and the illegal, immoral “business opportunities” that spring up whenever human desperation means there’s money to be made. So after tea, as Julian was collecting the photographs for scanning and the thumb drive with the updated files of prose and data, Sherlock stood briskly and looked expectantly at Julian. Who wasn’t moving. Oh. I expected the night itself to be tense, without even the novelty of the first time to make it fun. But it was magical even before August turned up. For example, she used words that kids three times her age wouldn’t know. That wasn’t unusual in itself; only children, especially those who spend most of their time with adults, often have a rich vocabulary. And Sherlock, who spent a bit more time with her than I, never simplified his speech patterns for her. Certainly never angry, too angry to say anything. I heard you tell Mycroft we’d never see each other again, but you hadn’t told , that hurt. It almost cut off my breath. It brought back my first sight of him in the train station, seeing how he moved differently, looking somehow both more centred and more connected, more at home in his own frame. Zanardi had done that, not me. My face burned at the thought of it. He shifted, I think a little uneasily. “I didn’t meet them, not really. His friends—he seems to work most of the time, which he said accounted for the divorce. His children are adolescents, and he was worried about traumatising them, so soon after.” The real fly in the ointment is the wind. It burns my ears, makes conversation impossible, and has made a monstrous tangle of my hair (of course I’m not wearing the ridiculous Christmas-themed hat I found in our suitcase). The wind is probably also the reason for the gloriously clear sky, but it is still wholly surplus to requirements. The next day was grim. Patients were needy, I was irritable—both unsympathetic and distracted, not much use to them at all. I’d barely slept all night; no need to fake exhaustion. And Mary the nurse picked that day to try to chivvy me into going for a drink with her after work. (Oh, fuck. Was it a mistake to say that out loud? Why had he listened to Julian, anyway? The man knew nothing about John and his reticences, his avoidances. Well, it was too late to take it back now. In for a penny.) We were the focus of a great deal more attention than I was accustomed to in London. This was in part because Italians have no scruples about overtly inspecting each other, and in part also because we looked like something of a matched set. Roberto was insistent about touching my hand, my arm, my elbow, my shoulder, the small of my back, and once, as he backed me up against a pillar, my cock. It was kind of surprising, why he wanted me to dance at all. He was working on a weird scheme—well, of course it was weird, it was Holmes, after all. He wanted to change up the annual Met gala and make it a kind of fundraiser dance to benefit kids whose parents on the force had died in the line of duty. Something I Problem was: once John left, everything he’d come to value about this new life was going to be tinged with the old sorrow. Even the music. “Well, that’s fair, then. I bid on you for “‘Unforgettable.’” Sherlock’s voice is not quite as controlled as usual. There’s something high and almost breathless about it. Sherlock sounds— The interruption had knocked both of us out of the mood a bit, but just a little and not for long. I smiled—may never have stopped smiling—and pulled him against me, ran my hands over his shoulders and up to his hair. Then I took his face in my hands and kissed him deep and slow. I already loved the taste of him; I loved the feel of his tongue in my mouth too, warm and wet, firm and slender and agile, like the rest of him. He hired an on-call au pair for her, who only came when Sherlock had to work; always the same person, a university student from Liverpool whose parents were from Algeria. (Sherlock only told me much later how many people he had interviewed to find one whom both he and Rosie approved of equally.) Serial rapes. There are few crimes more repugnant, or that leave a grimmer aftermath for their victims to live through, to recover from. No one ever suggests a murder victim was asking for it, going along with it, responsible for it. No one The next morning he was awake before me, plastered to my back as affectionately as ever. He was waking me with gentle touches, stroking my arms, my hair, to spare me the alarm clock. Kissing my nape and shoulders. This too I add to the Waking Up files in my Mind Palace. His own voice was equally unsteady. “I didn’t fall in love with him. I was ... aroused by the idea of someone falling in love with me. That got me only so far, no further. Something was pushing me away from it. From him. Because I was already... taken. I always have been.” In the three years since, we’d become adept at compressing physical pleasure into a child’s hour-long naptime—or stretching it out into a night-long session of play, thrusting and straining, pausing to regroup, whispering and touching and laughing, resting and starting again. We sometimes got up from a night together not having slept but an hour or two. We hadn’t got jaded or sated; if anything the fascination had deepened. “You’re not ... interrupting me. Finishing my sentences. Saying ‘I know’ or ‘obvious.’ Who are you and what have you done with Sherlock Holmes?” And with a shock I realised we hadn’t checked in with Watson at all. I hoped Harry and Clara had distracted her from that oversight. , by O’Sullivan. It’s not just the Famine, the Rising, and the Troubles, either. It’s full of daily history, cultural history, arts and sciences. Two thousand years’ worth, more or less.” “I owe you—an apology. For attacking you. For hating and blaming you enough to beat you. I am so sorry. You never deserved that. And I was never entitled.” It was miraculous. Not forty feet away Sherlock was alive, and healthy, and the voice of the violin was exactly as John remembered, despite the unfamiliar music. A thrill had gone through him at the first distinctive ornament, heard a thousand times and then not for years until last Friday. He swung down the hall with his grip and into his bedroom, came back out a few minutes later with his at-home dressing-gown on and plumped down on the sofa beside me. I shut him out. Pre-emptively. I plunged back into working cases as though they were all that mattered, as though my puzzled little Watson didn’t matter, as though my visibly suffering but silent lover didn’t matter. As though I were a machine, bent on other journeys with other destinations. I slept in our bed but made sure never to touch him. But when Sherlock received, unresponsive, the tenth or the hundredth caress or kiss or endearment—I knew the words would eventually force themselves past my strict guard, out into the increasingly tense air: “ Chapter title is from a traditional ballad; the last line of the chapter is from Paul Simon, "Further to Fly." Dull. At the very least Sherlock had hoped for some political vendetta or a secret sexual relationship gone horribly wrong. Was there any motivation for murder more banal or soulless than greed? “Did you?” Some other note has entered his voice, something I can’t quite place. Doubt? Sadness? He returns his mouth to my ear and again I’m unbearably aroused, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks and my ears, tingling there strangely like a bee sting. He must know what this is doing to me. My heart is pounding inside my chest, my breath is coming shorter and my mouth is dry. Oh, God. He’d never thought of that. There were limits to Mycroft’s self-control, of course there were. elegant trousers. I knelt to nose at him, breathed in his scent at his thighs, testicles, belly, cock—loving the competing textures, the blend of salt and musk. John is endlessly delectable, a sensory banquet. I looked at him with suspicion, but couldn't detect a trace of irony or innuendo to take exception to. When the street door shuts downstairs, Sherlock turns to see John watching him, waiting. “Well? He’s gone: you can say whatever you came to say.” Donovan’s questions were clear and succinct and well-ordered. She was also professional, and in her way, kind. In spite of myself I was impressed. visibly jealous was also, so far at least, the only time. As a surprise for him, I’d got us front-and-centre tickets at the Wigmore to hear a rising young violinist. Alex Constantine was a Greek who’d grown up in London. He was tall, as tall as Sherlock, and slim and dark-haired to boot. Shortly after five, the first arrival was, surprisingly, Sarah Sawyer and Julian (can never remember his last name). Sarah was thrilled to see Rosie in her Christmas colours, and Rosie babbled away at her, holding Sarah’s neck with one arm and  flinging the other expansively. Molly came next, looking tentative as always, but moving in for a hug with Rosie and Sarah. Then Mycroft—that was a surprise—with an excellent and ostentatious bottle of some Islay whisky. Mike Stamford. Greg Lestrade, who looked But the one area where there’s no daylight whatsoever between me and the British Government is what Sherlock likes to call his drugs “use.” . That fic long ago took up residence in my heart, nestling there so firmly that it has its mail delivered there. I moved in behind him, pressed up close and felt my cock stir at the touch of John’s arse. Pavlovian, I swear. He reached his left hand back round to stroke mine for a moment. echoed in his brain. Well-concealed. Will Simpson owned a small fleet of lorries with, apparently, concealed compartments in at least some of them, for carrying contraband . My receptiveness, expansive air of leisure, equally feigned. It would be rude to admit directly to having pressing business elsewhere. I had to seem to be the master of my fate, wholly at ease, comfortably in charge of my time, even with a heart pounding with eagerness to race straight home and strip every article of clothing from Sherlock’s lean frame. Sherlock does not look ill-at-ease. Neither does DCI Dumpy, for that matter. Unsmiling but perfectly in step with her gorgeous partner, her hands on him in a way John can only envy, she handles the sharp and the smooth motions of the dance with equal aplomb. Once she’d complied, I sat down in another desk chair opposite, carefully placed so the wall between the windows shielded me from being seen from outside. Her face went sour as I proceeded to deduce her mercilessly, though in truth I couldn’t be entirely sure which of the qualities I was extrapolating were hers, and which belonged to her persona as Mary the nurse. Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You’re hardly an assassin, John. A strong moral compass and protective instincts don’t sit well with wet work, for pity’s sake.” What ever was Mummy thinking, I sometimes wonder. Pushing a little boy with auditory hypersensitivity to play an instrument that is notoriously grating, and loud, and played how people stand it, Sherlock. I wasn’t able to. But you have to know that I love you, that keeping away from you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never be able to apologise enough for it.” It wasn’t until Rosie turned four that I started to notice her, well, exceptional talents. While most parents think their children are exceptional, I’d been doing the opposite: taking for granted abilities that, when you put them all together, really were a bit startling for her age. “Really, John? You shot him before you even saw whom he was aiming at?” Sherlock, distracted by this exchange, looked both scandalised and gratified. That reaction might be troubling, if I looked closely at it. On the other hand, it hadn’t bothered me the first time I shot a man to save his life. If Sherlock had looked relieved before, he looked beatific now he realised he could touch and kiss and grind without trying to stave off what was obviously overcoming him. He grabbed eagerly at John’s arse, but John still hung back, murmuring, “Let me.” I had taken up my position in the empty house opposite the flat, almost two hours before nurse Mary was due to arrive for our date. It was quite cold, the only light was filtering in from the street, through the single wide window. I settled in close by, keeping an eye on the street and pavement and roofs opposite. “Sauce for the goose,” he says cheerfully. “Be warned, I’m going to lick you every chance I get, whether it’s the right time or not. Like every time I see your neck bare.” Part 1, “Incomplete” (chapters 1–20); Part 2, “Wanted” (chapters 21–38); Part 3, “Entwined” (39–56). (Ch. 57 is a link to They're dancing, not exactly in place but very nearly, given the press of couples on the floor. Molly and Greg, Donovan and Duncan, Diana and the lady in red, and dozens of other dancers, including some who only now feel emboldened to give it a go. I sit down and write. It goes quickly; my violation is obvious, my mistake is clear and my apology simple. I put the sheet in an envelope, not that John needs one, but it feels more proper somehow. He was smiling as we danced, and I wondered if he was thinking of dancing with Mary at their wedding, to that strange and mournful waltz Sherlock had written for them. But I don’t think he was: his face was open and happy, just John being John, you know. Kind and fond, the way he is. And he held me firmly so I wouldn’t slip. Thank you to heyblinken for betaing also; between the two of them they not only improved the story and lifted my spirits, they made sure that each character had no more than the usual number of limbs and appendages and other things necessary for the porny bits. John looked positively sick then, sick and grey. He stared into the middle distance, said two or three disjointed words, and left. A few minutes later I was still trying to figure out his reaction when Sherlock came back in by the main door. The audience was a mix of locals, in to support Ash and the others, and tourists (kindly called “visitors” here) chasing the El Dorado of Celtic music in its “authentic” form. Absurd: as if traditional music could somehow be insulated from the modern sounds and modern society its performers had been steeped in their whole lives. ?” I’ll never get to the end of the mystery of Sherlock, I swear. If he’s afraid I’ll ever get bored of him, well, that isn’t going to happen. Ella insisted I needed to start writing blog entries again. I tended to resist her suggestions when she made them, but experience had shown that she was right more often than not, so I made a start. Told the “world” (whatever world was still reading my blog) about my new job. About how ordinary it was, though not in so many words, of course. The mad whirl of bad backs, piles, and hernias. I talked vaguely about the other doctors and nurses. Never about patients—just conditions. But he tugged me back to my feet, self-conscious that he hadn’t showered and I had. I never knew how much I would love knowing someone so well; it was the very opposite of boring. He pushed me the few feet back to the bed and tumbled me onto it, crowding me into a diagonal sprawl across the coverlet. With a start I realised I’d been the one to withdraw, not Sherlock. I’d stood him up, and cut him off, and hadn’t even given him the chance to explain whatever was going on that day. Had just assumed he wouldn’t deign to. He must be wondering what was wrong. If he wasn’t using he wouldn’t intrude, wouldn’t ring. I knew that well enough. If he was, he also wouldn’t ring: he’d know that I’d pick up on it. As Molly too is not a confident dancer, distracting her from her anxiety serves two purposes: keeping her both from obsessing about her steps, and from asking any probing questions about his dance with John. She looks up as he whirls her through “I will get a glow just thinking of you,” and asks, “Well, what is it, then?” My fathers have loved each other so completely, and it’s how they’ve loved me: past, present, and future; A to Z; never taking anything for granted. It’s no wonder I miss them so fiercely, though I love living here so much. “Of course I forgive you.” A pause. “I hope you’re going to forgive yourself, John.” Another pause. His voice slips from composed to uncertain, lower in pitch and volume. For so long I’d chosen to be solitary and composed. And now I was choosing to live in my body rather than above it, to give myself to someone rather than remaining out of reach. It was ... stimulating. I looked at Roberto as his posture relaxed, and on impulse drew my thumbnail up the inside seam along his thigh. His electric response electrified me, which was interesting. “John, your idea of drawing Miss Morstan here turned out to be inspired. It didn’t leave her or Moran the time to deploy backup around Baker Street; even crime lords don’t keep snipers on standby on the off chance, after all. So, he had to come along himself when Morstan called him from the surgery, and they had to concoct a plan quickly. That nightmare pulled him gasping out of sleep, sitting up in bed ramrod straight and flinging Mary’s hand away with a wrench. How could—what did—Sherlock was weeping, had wept, he remembered it clearly. Real emotion. I tried not to mind. I got out of bed and opened the shutters, which had the effect of making him glow against the pale grey sheets of my large bed. To lighten the tension I asked, “ We always knew the day would come when Rosie would hit a rough patch in adolescence and start longing for her mother (a mother, any mother) and tell us, especially Sherlock, that we were not an acceptable substitute. The inevitable blended-family drama that ends in someone shrieking “ “No, no need. I do know it. I just can’t stop hating it, and sometimes that comes out. I don’t know how you stood it, when I was with Mary. You truly are a better man than I. And now look at you, a fully-fledged romantic, declaring that there are perfect pairings in the world. Next you’ll suggest they’re fated to meet.” “Yes. I realised: I am happy like this. Perfectly content. I never want to move again. And it was ... it wasn’t ... like this. In Rome.” But John wasn’t in bed, he was on the sofa. In a position that looked miserable. He was going to be sore in the morning, I was sure. I tugged at him gently to straighten out his neck, and nudged him off his bad shoulder. Another blanket warmed him up enough to relax, and I worked on his laptop in the dark. Now I sleep with him, and some nights I honestly think I don’t sleep at all, just stay half-awake and feel him. When we’re in bed we’re always tangled up, and my skin knows every surface and texture of his. Knows when he’s running even a low fever. When he’s a bit dehydrated. When he’s relaxed and happy. Sherlock’s hand was still between them, holding John’s cock, almost motionless as his fingers trailed tiny but galvanising shocks that kept John breathless. He put his hand on Sherlock’s hipbone and then lifted his face, holding Sherlock’s gaze as he shifted his own hand to Sherlock’s erection, watching as Sherlock’s eyelids squeezed shut and his head fell back. . It’s very... disorienting.” He tried to put on a rueful expression, but he overshot rueful and went straight to forlorn. never does either. Not while he’s playing. I used to think he didn’t even like it, with that frown between his eyes. Thought he just did it because it looked and sounded so cool.” Ah, finally, John’s kiss, his caress, and his whispered, “You’ll always be younger than me, remember.” . When I’d fantasised about holding Sherlock at last I had never imagined this glacial speed, this suffocating desire. I’d imagined explosive, uncivil, urgent. Never this...control. All he could do was stare and smile and duck his head and hope not to be seen, so he didn’t have to keep his heart out of sight. First it was the two women police officers. He’d overheard them whispering, crouched behind a concrete barrier a few metres off and trying to lie low. He wanted to hiss at them to be quiet; there were already too many of them poorly concealed in the cavernous structure, and it would only take one half-choked giggle to tip off their targets. But then he saw what they were murmuring about. Naturally I didn’t panic at all. My heart was pounding and adrenaline was burning me up from the inside, but panic? “But given the press attention given to the first victim, there’s also the possibility that there’s no more connection between the two killings than simple mimicry. In which case the nephew is still guilty, and your cross-searches will be so much wasted effort. But we can’t know unless and until you all do that painstaking work, and do it thoroughly.” At that moment I did have to glance down, conceal a surge of energy. Of course. Legal liability is always a terror at a busy urban hospital, and who was working when and in exactly what unit—that’s information hospitals have to be able to access immediately if a complaint is lodged. Sherlock might never come back to London, but he might let John go to him. Some day. In any case, he could in all honesty tell Mycroft that he’d had no luck. That would almost certainly be no news to Mycroft. I’d reduced him to silence, which was no small feat. I felt his heartbeat speed up and his breathing go quick and shallow. He was so responsive. How could I ever have thought him so detached, so indifferent to me? “I’d seen,” all right, but I sure as hell had not observed. sake, was the bastard going to punish him by withholding Sherlock’s contact details? The to-do list just got longer, and now it included fingernails. “Doesn’t seem too great a sacrifice.” He may not be able to make out what I’m saying, as I’m holding his entire ear delicately inside my mouth when I say it. But he sighs anyway, and as I release his ear I let my breath trail out over the tiny hairs along the top. Rosie giggled again, sounding more tired. I glanced at Sherlock, to see him looking wry, maybe even nostalgic. The stranger gave an almost imperceptible upward jerk of the head, concurring. He seemed completely at ease, but not at home, in Lestrade’s crowded office; his dark eyes were completely focused on Sherlock. It was momentarily disconcerting. “It’ll be cool enough to light the wood stove overnight, that’ll do more to make them wearable for tomorrow.” There was a palpable uncertainty in the air— I didn’t answer. It was a relief. I’m not the nurturing sort, and John, for all he asked after her, wouldn’t cross the street for Donovan. Not anymore. I texted my mother to say I’d be going to the house for a night or two. At first I was disappointed when she answered that she’d be there herself while my father was away at a medical conference; but then I thought that this might be a good way to introduce Sherlock to her. It had to happen sometime, and when better than when she was on her own? She’s always been most herself in the country; I love the house too, and wanted to see Sherlock in it. It might be just the low-pressure environment for a first meeting—no other family members around and no one to perform to or for. He seemed to think his very desire for me made him undesirable to me—desire I hadn’t known about, so he was dead wrong on both counts—and that if I’d thought him unattainable I’d have loved him. Well, I In early March I decided that on the very small chance that Sherlock was alive but just hadn’t understood me, I’d reiterate what he had to do to decode my messages. ” Odd. Surely Mycroft's had cameras planted around the flat, almost certainly over the front door, cameras that would confirm delivery. But he puts down the bow to sign the receipt. She flashes a quick smile in lieu of thanks, turns and heads down the stairs at a trot. John hung back discreetly since there was what he thought of as “band-stuff” to do, set-up and sound-check. He was much nearer the dais this time, so he’d have a fine view. I could see why John pursued this so relentlessly, if this was what he felt with every—and again I thrust the thought away. I was here now, with Roberto, and that was, that had to be, everything and enough. Holmes and I separated for the first dance. And with so many anonymous sign-ups, who knew who my first partner would be? I’d been rather surprised so far with my ability to “live in the present,” as the loathsome cliché has it: to have no project but exploring the city, improving my stamina, walking, playing the violin, reading in Italian, even eating. I’d gained a kilo, and I was stronger. I’d stopped in a tailor’s shop, tempted by the window-display of fabrics not found in London. Somewhat to my surprise the saleswoman, discreetly elegant, turned out to be the tailor. Same artist and same album as the first two songs after I jumped. But unlike those, nothing about this song of falling in love through conversation corresponded to our circumstances. "Well, I also like eggnog latte, and I don't see you offering me that." His smile is audible in his voice even if I can't see it. I've always loved his teasing. It's intimate. Our private jokes. He’d listed so many examples, and I’d even remembered most of them. When I think about it, I can remember some other times I’d taken the piss at Sherlock’s expense. But it always felt like ... mocking He did a funny kind of half-circle twirl, kind of a full-body eyeroll. “Sally. I only see you one on one, dancing, or in a crowd at crime scenes. At the latter we’re both focused on “I’d love to. I would. I’d like nothing better. But if I’m honest: I’m seriously underwater at the bank. Really have to be working.” John tightened his arms around his knees a moment, then relaxed. “Isn’t that enough? Rosie was already very attached to you, you know. She didn’t, doesn’t, act around anyone else the way she does with you. If I’d let her grow around you like a vine, and you’d gone back to using, losing you would have hurt her far more than never knowing you would have.” “I was going to tell you that you had made me the happiest I had ever been in my life. That even when I was away you were always with me. That I wanted you to be happy, that your safety was why I left. That I was sorry I’d left you to grieve, left you wounded.” There’d been perhaps a dozen people at the scene; even if there were a few passers-by, I remember seeing lots of medical professionals. They A numbing void was growing between us where there had always, always been understanding and affection and trust. Even at the very worst times—when he came back from the dead, when I married Mary anyway, when I blamed him for her death—there’d always been a connection between us that I’d thought was unbreakable. It was broken now. And the first time I really realised it was when he refused to say my name. The broken little sound he made as his hand curved around my desperate, almost painful, erection, his fingertips on the underside, grazing my bollocks—I could only make the same sound back at him. All our clothes were gone now, no more obstacles. I pushed Sherlock gently down onto the bed, swung my right leg over him and put his hands up over his head, holding them so I could see all of him, chest and arms and throat and his luminous, yearning face. This is going to be miserable. The drearily familiar ritual of half-shamefaced flirting, lacking in conviction but somehow a masculine imperative. Practically underway already, unfolding with the inexorability of an ordeal you’ve lived too often and too painfully. And with a girl far too young, at that. The evening after Sherlock’s arrival I’d returned home to another vigorous, deliriously exhilarating encounter. Drained, I’d got up and gone into the kitchen for a glass of The scraps and flashes of meaning he could pick out of this wittering were horrible, and he hardly knew which to pursue. First things first. “He’s left.” I felt myself swimming upwards out of sleep, but slowly and reluctantly. I’d been having the best dream of my life, didn’t want to interrupt it. Even though I was coming awake anyway, with Sherlock flush up against me, I still squeezed my eyes shut and tried to submerge again. But already on Sunday night at the cabin, Patrick had seemed possessive, and tonight it was worse. Much worse. Significant looks. A frequent hand on Sherlock’s arm. Easing in close for vocal harmonies. Once on the roof, he pulled his bathrobe tight and knotted the belt. It was freezing cold up here, but he felt more comfortable, clean and for awhile at least, warm through. The evening passed unremarkably, and I tried to remember that for two and a half years an evening spent unremarkably with John had been the height of my ambitions. Or nearly. John can see Sherlock turn to look at them, as Donovan’s voice has risen and sharpened in her sarcasm. He says hastily, “No, no, of course not. Here, let’s go have a sip of something, toast your conversion.” The fireworks—waterworks?—in the shower that morning felt like a long time ago. We both felt more like curling up together than anything more vigorous, so we slotted ourselves into our favorite position for going to sleep. As I was nearly drifting off, though, John’s voice came out of the darkness: . Sherlock lifted the covers and withdrew as silently as he could. Essential to preserve the illusion, at least, that he thought Roberto was still sleeping. They needn’t speak if Sherlock pretended to protect Roberto’s sleep, unbroken. His own heart was on the verge of exploding, pounding out of his chest, his skin crawled with his own sweat and Roberto’s soft body hair, his breath—never unpleasant, quite the opposite, but too much The sun was hot on their shoulders, the damp was evaporating from the grass, and John’s voice grew relaxed and cheerful again. “Crueler than a faked suicide and two years of silence?” It came out in a whisper, because I too was still perplexed at how much that hurt. No need to be shamefaced at wanting him again: he was in the same state, clearly, and the skin hunger we’d built over weeks of distance would take a As if Sherlock sensed it, he pushed me over, gently, onto my back, pulling himself over me and making me look him straight in the eye. “I don’t mind,” he said. “Whatever we do, however we live. Under a bridge, as you said. Surrounded by pink and purple plastic baby toys. I don’t care, as long as it’s with you, and Watson. —I’ve missed her. More than I let myself realise. I may not be able to be a full-time parent proxy, but I don’t want to do without her, either.” He wondered why there were no signs of a busy workday spent at home with microscope or petri dishes or tissue samples. Between the onslaught of physical and emotional stimulation I hiss in almost unbearable pleasure. Now it’s not just his mouth and nose on my skin; he’s trailing his fingers slowly, lightly, along my shoulder blades, over my shoulders and down my arms, now rubbing firmly into my biceps, then flattening out again over my forearms. I could feel him breaking apart in my arms. All those years of distance and rancour and distrust. I could’ve avoided it all if I’d just talked to John like a peer. Looking back it seems I’d preferred being his idol to being his equal or his friend. It was a breakthrough, but it didn’t help his own search for Will Simpson. It promised concrete evidence for the Crown Prosecutor, and certainly for a new, collateral homicide case. But time was running out to find Will, who had used no bank card, no internet account, no VPN, no cell phone associated with either of his identities, and how “It’s hardly overkill, John. She’s not been placed in a Soviet-era talent-farm and made to practise fourteen hours a day.” of assuaging. He straddled me, lining us up so that his bollocks rolled lushly over mine, his cock dragging gently over mine, his hands grasping my hips and then pressing up my sides to my shoulders, neck, face. It was subtle but intoxicating. I didn’t even notice when he turned out the light. . He was too collected to betray much emotion but I choked up, and I knew he was affected by the sight. John thought for a moment and said, “Me too, to be honest. But tonight: tonight we’ll talk without words. And we may not sleep much, but we’ll be happy. “The hair? Of course not.” The tea was perfect. Perfect strength, temperature, sweetness. The familiarity of it was quite disproportionately reassuring, and I felt my entire body begin to relax. My family isn't ordinary, and we take pride in it. We’re probably insufferable. Our Christmas tree is a family portrait where we expose our oddities in full view and almost no one notices. Because as Ba never fails to say: they see, but they do not observe. “Yes, she stammered over his name once or twice, but Warren is what she said and it was one of only three contacts listed in her mobile.” His voice was tight, not with irritation but with stress. But now he wants me to leave him alone. His voice was icily quiet when he told me to do so, in fact. He stomped upstairs in a towering rage and gritted out “Don’t even think about it, Sherlock,” when I turned toward the stairs to follow him. That... hurt. I’d hoped that when we were back here, after everything we’d been through, we’d be done with sleeping apart. But when I thought about going upstairs anyway—I stopped. Thought for a moment. Can I I’m untangling myself from him, trying to get up from the bed, when a thought hits me. “Just—while I’m out, don’t go anywhere. Don’t leave. Don’t disappear.” One Sunday morning in mid-October I woke up in a familiar position: lying on my right side facing him, his right leg slung around my waist and holding me close. And for some reason that was all the spur I needed. He plucked quietly at the strings, the notes climbing a minor scale, calling to mind John in all the incarnations he had known and desired. John boyish and grinning, reborn the night he’d shot Jeff Hope. John broken and old, when Sherlock had come back to interrupt his proposal at the Landmark. John golden, expansive, grinning. When had John last looked at him with unshadowed affection, relaxed and comfortable? As he opened his mouth and closed his eyes, he felt John’s quickening breath and heartbeat even more intensely. Roberto huffs and looks chagrined. He squeezes Sherlock’s arm, stands up, and reaches into his pocket for his keys. “ “Anymore.” Sulky but suppressing a smile. “Only because you made me swear. You blackmailed me with threats of a lifetime of solitary orgasms.” A pause, while Donovan doubtless pondered which of us she’d dread seeing least. John has never regained his casual friendliness around her. And me—well, I’m me. It all happened so quickly—or perhaps, I was so shocked—that there was no time to steer John away from seeing Roberto. Or Roberto from seeing us, for that matter. He was escorting a handcuffed suspect (suspected of what, I wondered, and immediately stifled my curiosity) toward a police launch, and when he saw us, Roberto actually stumbled. He nodded tightly, and returned to what was obviously a very large operation inside the cordoned-off area. She huffed a relieved little laugh, and admitted that she’d had to ask this question more often of female staff than of male. , a massive basilica with a museum’s worth of art scattered casually throughout. We heard an impromptu organ recital while John studied the Titian altarpiece, and then repaired for lunch to a modest My cock bobbed cooperatively but my stomach made an inelegant protesting sound, an undeniable anticlimax, and Sherlock gave an equally inelegant snort of laughter. I said tartly, “ Oh, we spent a few nights in John’s guest room in Bromley, while his old room in 221b was made ready for Watson. But when we finally connected, in Bologna, both of us free at the same time for the first time, perhaps ever—we snapped together like a neodymium magnet, perfectly fitted, powerfully attractant, absolutely unwavering. It was perfect. She might not even have heard him; certainly she didn’t answer. She was already asleep, her hand still in Sherlock’s. He parked and waited outside, not wanting to show even a tenth of his eagerness. They hadn’t talked about—etiquette, how they would behave outside of their locale, outside of their cabin, even. Embarrassing John was not how he wanted to welcome him back. “Failed to incorporate.” If I was being honest I’d have to say I actively excluded him, and it was time I got used to being honest without needing Ella to nudge or punch me into it. I was stricken. That really, really wasn’t it. And I didn’t even have the words to tell him why, or what it really was. I’d given us a month of absolute misery by being too gutless to ask him to simply Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. I passed Mrs Hudson’s darkened flat, slipped into 221B, and sat in my chair to wait in the dark for John. He’s always been a very practical parent—no saccharine photo ops, no trendy-spendy nonsense—so Rosie was surprised and just a little suspicious at all the new acquisitions. But when we explained that she’d be going to school in the autumn, she fell in with the whole thing with typical Rosie enthusiasm. If Sherlock did want to talk, he didn’t show it. On the contrary: Mister Last Word didn’t reply. Not for hours. Not before John went to bed. Not overnight. It was so uncharacteristic that John got worried. (How long since he’d worried about Sherlock?) Sherlock's eyebrows now raced toward his hairline, but he decided not to comment no matter how the word “subordinate” rankled (and it rankled Sherlock gave a satisfied hum, then seemed to return to Ash’s dilemma. When he spoke again, it was with barely contained animosity. It was too solemn a moment for levity, and too heavy to leave unresolved. The proprietor brought us each a He stopped stroking the carved pine and turned to me. “Can’t you see it? I see him finally believing in himself. At ease with himself, happy with himself. In no small part because Could someone have caught on to our message exchange via radio? I didn’t really see how, since I hadn’t used my own email address for my radio requests, and I’d kept everything in the songs too vague. I’d refrained from using the tempting Once past security we stepped into the grotesque pantomime of High Street that is London Heathrow. A mammoth, neon-lit emporium with an airport attached. It was disagreeable and disorienting, and I thought of the top-secret flight I’d boarded over a year ago, to take me away from my London life forever. From Mrs Hudson. Lestrade. Molly. My irritating brother and parents. My profession. The flat. —At least this was a choice; that had not been. Suddenly I wished I’d brought my violin. looking forward.” The gleam in Sherlock’s eye was strangely at odds with the almost-shyness of his expression, and John felt yet another tug of tenderness. It was as intimidating as it was thrilling, this shift in their—there wasn’t a word for what they were, there never had been. about it demanded relief beyond tears, drinking, self-isolating. Or even my personal version of the five stages of grief. Once we shifted a move because he didn’t like to have me hanging from his neck. Fine with me; I didn’t want John Watson glaring at me, for that matter. From the day I met him we had our own wordless speech, and it served us well until it didn’t. In this situation, however, it was flawlessly clear and expressive: I knew what he wanted, he knew what I wanted, there was no need to negotiate with words the transition from a devoted friendship to a passionate—oh hell there was no word for it anyway, words have never sufficed for what Sherlock was and is to me. 221B took on a school-centered routine; Sherlock took on more cases, and I at least saw more of Sami, who by now spoke almost exclusively French with Rosie. He was a gentle young man, studying speech therapy as a profession and well up on related fields like linguistics, anatomy, and psychology. Sherlock trusted him, and so did Rosie, so I did too. . Like blood types, yeah? You think I’m a universal donor, and I think you’re a universal recipient.” John went to the kitchen to make tea, and tried not to listen to the voices in the adjoining room—the rumble of Sherlock’s conversation and occasional laughter, the higher, lighter timbre of young Marmaduke. John wasn’t the tea expert in 221B, but he laid the tray in a tidy military-surgical kind of layout, put a few digestives on a fancy plate Mrs H had left, and brought it all in. I heard the air rush out of his lungs, not in surprise—in confirmation, rather. His hands shifted from my hands to my elbows, pulling me closer, and for perhaps the hundredth time I wondered how I could ever have thought that anyone else could displace John. John was everything, he had been all along, he “You said I don’t want you to bring Rosie up to be like yourself. It isn’t that, and it never was that. What I’m afraid of is Rosie growing up to be like Mary.” While there was in fact a gibbous moon on 19 February 2016, none of the rest of this visit to the Pantheon is realistic. That the moon would obligingly cross the oculus before midnight, that the building would be open but plunged in darkness for a few hundred lucky souls—all that is pure wishful thinking, alas. John felt an echo of the fury he'd felt that night. The grief swept away by humiliation at realising he'd been a dupe. That it had been a game, and that Sherlock had been—was still—laughing at him. to your questions?” asked Mycroft acidly. “I still have news to convey. And I’d prefer to leave before things get any more ...” The proper word seemed to fail him, because he finished with a sound something like “bleurgh.” the oxygen. Thank you for reading, commenting, reblogging & sending comments on Tumblr...and for all the fandom creativity and community. Well. That was a mood-killer, thought Sherlock, as his erection flagged and his hand fell away. Just as well. This definitely wasn’t the time or the place. But once he comes back with their coffees he never looks at her again. As though the angel had never existed. There’s no rehashing of the nightmare scenario, just a comfortable, affectionate half-hour together brightened with a few very tantalising allusions to the afternoon to come. John drew my head down to kiss me on the lips. “Yeah, no. Honeymoon is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Besides, if you’re a terrible father, that makes two of us.” “Lose all this chic clothing and meet me in bed, hmm? Lie on your stomach, you’re getting a massage.” Sometimes you think you’re on your glide path, and one abrupt event reveals you’re not. It might not be a dramatic or violent event, but the displacement it reveals .” Sharply. Too sharply. He gentles his voice, carefully, to add, “I like having her here, awake or asleep. When you feel comfortable leaving her here with me I’ll enjoy that, too.” The room had been made miraculously tidy again after our morning spent tearing it apart. The silver sheen of the coverlet, now smooth over the bed—I could all but see it heaped on the floor, and the sheets whipped up like whitecaps, and John naked and straining under me. I could smell him on my own skin, even after we’d showered. And always I could replay his voice in the night, whispers and murmurs and the occasional moan. “They always say, be careful what you wish for. —Now. We have one perfect July day and miles yet to walk. Let’s make the most of it.” Chart music is a foreign language to me—well, worse. I could learn the rudiments of a language in a matter of days. How was I supposed to master the innumerable vapid pop songs John was using as a language? I hear that your own work is going well, dear niece. You did well to settle on Salerno for your medical studies; I imagine that living in Italian, in Italy, is sparing you any boredom that might creep in whenever your first-year courses repeat what you already learned at your father’s knee. Your fathers’ knees. As you progress, of course, this will change; so much advanced research and instruction in the sciences is conducted in English. I assume that your History of Medicine course allows you to apply your Latin, and introduces you to at least the rudiments of Arabic. Salerno was the premier medical school in the West a dozen centuries ago, and I was pleased when it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. That honour has been sadly cheapened in recent years, of course; next they will be naming 221B Baker Street a World Heritage Site. Every day he commits to memory a portion of the map. At its centre is the flat he can barely remember reaching that first night, dazed by arousal and distracted by nerves. The morning after his arrival he’d had no recollection of what the place looked like from the outside. Now each day after he dresses he checks the map again, and sets out to explore his new home. , to find the place buried in paper, about as welcoming as—” his comparison faltered. Nothing came to mind that could possibly do justice to the disorder before him. John watching ballet at La Fenice after our tour: an inventive composition on the life and influence of Eleonora Duse, the Italian Sarah Bernhardt (or was that vice versa? They were close contemporaries). He loved the music, by Pärt and by Britten; he loved the kinetic power of the dancers; he loved the expressiveness of the choreography. I assume the performance was superior, from the absorbed attention he devoted to it; but I was mostly watching him. over to the bidding table to secure a dance with him. That means he’d probably been pleased to discover he’d been bid on himself, and the resulting boost to his confidence would account for the slightly heightened intimacy of John’s body language since the second show dance had ended. glad I do. So, from here on, we might be talking about just me, not you. I could even—though I don’t—feel like flirting with someone, without intending to go beyond flirting.” I was quiet while we danced a waltz, then a fox trot, with me leading. I didn't need the practice; he did. But why? I twisted my wet hair into a knot at my nape and went into the kitchen for tea and an air-clearing. Ass-kicking. Whatever. The last half-kilometre was on the appalling N-70, choked with Ring of Kerry tourists in their foul-smelling vehicles. He led John up the narrow road to the garden centre, fed him tea and sandwiches in the café there. They both had a sharp appetite from walking, and he ordered them another sandwich to share. But occasionally, despite an uncommon intellect and acute observation, I still managed to find new ways to misread him, and new mistakes to make—though fortunately, not before the wedding. Roberto had come home in what I’d initially thought was a promising state of arousal, but he surprised me: instead of a late dinner or an immediate retreat to bed, he proposed a night walk through Rome, by moonlight. The night was crisp and cold, the sky clear, with an almost-full moon rising unnaturally large at the skyline. I like a wuthering height as well as anyone. However, I have not yet deduced why we are climbing one in early December, through four inches of snow (only getting deeper as we gain elevation), in temperatures which, while not life-threatening, are nonetheless more likely to prompt yearning for whisky and a warm fire than any sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. It didn’t escape John’s notice that Sherlock wasn’t offering his own number, or a meeting at his own place; that didn’t bode so very well. But he hadn’t invited this encounter, after all; he had every right to protect his privacy. Or not. “So why did you?” Oh, neatly done, John—I didn’t even see it coming. That’s what comes of getting distracted by an unexpected caress, and of underestimating your partner. Now I almost had to admit I was downplaying my usual appearance for a case. I consider. “Yes. She’s teachable. She taught herself a great deal, while I was away. She’s far less eager to construct an easy solution than she used to be. Getting away from Anderson was the best thing that could have happened to her. He was holding her back, and she’s worth a dozen of “No, not at all. If she doesn’t rise to the occasion then her promotion will be postponed, that’s obvious. And she doesn’t know any such thing is at stake for her in this case. All she knows is that the real case is William Simpson, and she assumes—has been led to assume—that containment of that information is why we chose her to lead the investigation, as the officer at the scene yesterday. Her discretion about all sensitive details is essential.” John had speculated, of course he had, wondering what kind of beautiful he was going to find, but knowing he And on 9 December, when I was at the end of my rope, just as he’d done in April Sherlock finally answered me: Thai massage, or something equally strenuous? He didn’t like to be touched by strangers, as he’d told me often enough. “The way you talked to that poor man, Sherlock. The way you cared about his wife. You always ... wanted me to think you couldn’t care about people that way. Why did you hide that part of yourself away?” He thought of the times Roberto had touched him. Smiled at him. Texted, or called, or shown up where he was. Absented himself without fanfare if Sherlock was busy or needed solitude. He wasn’t invasive or demanding; hesitant, rather. Doing the original taxonomy had been a lengthy process, between assembling materials and samples, testing and re-testing for replicability, documenting and analysing and all the rest of it; but at least the first time around it’d been fascinating. For a man who quite liked novelty, though, revisiting a completed project in order to present it to what Mycroft called Sherlock feels his cheeks grow hot, but addresses the less suggestive question. “No, I chose a hotel thinking of you, though I didn’t dare hope you’d come. Or come so soon.” He tries to recover his nonchalance. “You’ll see. It’s to your scale.” Ten days later my request was denied. No explanation, just the decision from the authorities, which in itself was not surprising. I never like going to Mycroft behind Sherlock’s back. In fact I hate it. I hate conspiring, because it gives Sherlock another brick in his “alone protects me” wall. And because I’m on his side, always. And because it gives Mycroft the upper hand in a relationship that’s already fraught. Why, I wondered for perhaps the thousandth time, did I have to fall in love with a man who wants to think he’s straight? John resolves to hurry to the bidding table as soon as this fantastic display is over, even if he has to trample over dancers and wait-staff and the Chief Constable on his way. The next days passed without much more discussion of Project Overwrite. The real-time experience of taking these shots couldn’t supplant the mental images of the originals—but for his tenderness during the process. As we did this strange reconstruction he was even more tactile and affectionate than usual, distracting me from the photography with kisses and caresses. “Don’t be an ... of course not. What should it change? We’re where we are now, here. Any regrets I have apply only to the present.” Datum after datum combined to show me that sentiment is not a defect, a deformation, or a disadvantage. Instead it is the highlighter that connects otherwise disparate pieces of data: the backdrop that makes a vague and banal song, for example, speak clearly and only of one’s own experience. The associative glue that binds us to any input that reminds us of something precious. Sentiment, in sober fact, fulfills a myriad of functions that I had not understood. It is a way of organizing data. It is data in itself. And it is what makes the human person capable of, and desirous of, processing data, and functioning, and surviving. I still had it. I didn’t know why I kept it; I don’t think he knew I had it. Waking up on January 31st I sensed, at the far edge of my consciousness, a numb, exhausted oppression I hadn’t felt for so long that I didn’t at first recognise it for what it was: grief. I’ve never understood why walking through museums and churches is so much more tiring on legs and back than walking briskly, hiking, running, or even parkour. I felt sixty years old as we made our way to the Giglio stop, though I tried to disguise it with a casual saunter. John was tired too, but was much too adult to pretend otherwise. I glanced at him fondly and reflected that one day I’d set aside my need to deny hunger, fatigue, emotion, need itself; but I wasn’t there yet. “When I tackled you to the floor—split your lip—bloodied your nose—were you still injured? In pain? Were your wounds still open?” It was certainly a surprise—well, a shock—when Sherlock took up with that Italian officer on secondment from Rome. It did sting, a bit, since I’d figured that Sherlock loved one person only, someone I couldn’t replace no matter how hard I might try. But once I saw that particular light come into his eyes, over someone who wasn’t John—that shattered my illusion that it was only one person, one man, I couldn’t compete with. And when I saw Sherlock’s eyes narrow and drop to this Roberto like he was walking cocaine, I had to admit that it wasn’t only one person, I considered. It wasn’t an unreasonable question. God knows, people are fickle and quickly sated. I tried to pick my way through the apprehension that was jagged in his voice. At this he came to the bed and got in, stretched around me so that we were touching everywhere we could, breathing me in as I was him. “My great big brain, as you call it, is perfectly capable of running multiple programmes at once. Right now it's running . After Sherlock came back you ... changed. You’re not the man who asked me to marry him that night at the restaurant. And when I think back over the past few weeks, I remember that night—how you looked at him. I want a man who’ll look at “For example, how she says ‘Ba’ in forty different ways, and you understand every one of them.” The triumph in his voice was audible. When I got to the morgue, I found, along with Molly and Sherlock, this eerily Sherlock-like shadow. An Italian copper had been seconded to the Met, and was seemingly joined to Sherlock at the hip. Taller than Sherlock, dark hair shorter than his and shot through with grey, a trim beard, on the slender side like Sherlock, and very poshly dressed. I hated him on sight. Yet I longed to take him out. By night my city was intoxicating, gorgeous, majestic, intimate, and I wanted her to seduce Sherlock, seduce him into staying forever. And I wanted Rome to marvel at Sherlock, at his lithe and muscled physique, his assured and balletic stride, his compelling face. Embarrassing though it is to admit, I wanted to show him off. I wanted to flaunt this dazzling man as I would once have flaunted a woman, before I’d known that there was such a thing in the world as the unique and heartstopping beauty of Sherlock Holmes. At first Molly looks much struck, as though she had never thought of this before, and Sherlock thinks that if he can only help her get out of her own way, he’ll be satisfied—he doesn’t want her to become a glib and smooth conversationalist, she wouldn’t be Molly any longer. There were dozens of them, so sweet that even those evenings she withdrew didn’t sting. Somehow we'd managed to luck into an equable, thoughtful, and self-aware child who couldn’t be bothered to lash out, or to hurt herself or the people around her. Weird. “Right. That’s it. If you aren’t going to tell me what’s got under your skin ever since Boxing Day, you don’t get to make me and Rosie nervous or miserable while you pout. Out with it.” I took her from his suddenly rigid arms and bounced her a bit, teased away her distress. “Well, from the outside, I imagine it must look like magic. Have you ever thought of teaching a course on the Science of Deduction? Oxford would be honoured to have you.” “It’s ... yeah, it’s true. It was the lightest I’ve ever felt, the most relieved. I don’t think about it at all anymore, I don’t hold it against you. It happened, it’s over, it’s gone.” He rang off and I sat a moment. I felt better, just having done something concrete. Probably the right thing, at that. I knew Sherlock needed Greg’s cases as much as those cases needed him. I’d text him later, see if he’d come over at the weekend. That’d give me a chance to see him out in the world. Dressed for normalcy. For real life. For us. His light pajamas and dressing-gown are suddenly too thin to keep him from shivering. Absently he notes that the sun is lower now, no longer streaming in the window, and in the pit of his stomach he feels that metallic weight he always feels when he remembers. When he thinks. He “Just kidding. But be fair. You don’t give any sign of being drawn to much of anyone, let alone a particular type.” A couple of nights when she cried I went to her room and took her in my arms, rocked her in the glider rocker and hummed to her, let us both fall asleep there. It wasn’t a good habit to get into, but it helped me to hold her, to feel her sleepy little bulk and smell her clean baby hair. It anchored me in the here and now, and helped me stop imagining nights of passion in the Eternal Sodding City. He’d taken an enormous chance on me, after years of my vacillation, denial, open reluctance and serial cruelty.  He’d died to protect me, he’d saved me over and over, and when I finally figured out my own heart, he gave me his without a qualm. “You’re too rational to pout on all the. Days. Engagement. Wedding. Leinster Gardens. All of them. You have so many anniversaries you could hate, and I just have two.” (The day I jumped. I hated it too.) “But this one is a whole month.” At this John tightened his hold and he actually laughed, loud and easy. “I don’t imagine anything of the sort. You didn’t see your face, Sherlock, or his. I did. You were as taken aback as I was, and so was he. It’s just an embarrassing coincidence. Don’t give it another thought; I’m not going to. Bloke has a right to be doing his job somewhere else besides Rome, after all.” This is a hermetic universe, which for a few minutes a day has only two inhabitants. They don’t even need names. Plus, of course, they were anonymous dedications on the radio, and John was the commonest name imaginable (for a man so far from common!). His voice was never heard on the air. An “absent friend” was a cliché so well worn that it stood in for any dead or distant person. Dr Rossiter was an energetic, cordial, welcoming woman of forty or so. She put me at ease immediately on the subject of starting Rosie six months early, confirming that only children were usually capable of doing so because of being saturated with adult contact. She didn’t have time that day to give me a full visit of the school and show me a Reception year class—“ Why was Sherlock seeing his old dealer, enabler, at Baker Street? What was he handing over to that bastard? Money? What the When he took me up the stairs to his flat, just outside the enormous wall of the Vatican City, I was so aroused that when he drew me inside I put down my case and pushed him firmly against the heavy old door. I took his jaw in my hands and kissed him, urgently but not ungently. When I couldn’t stand it anymore I’d come back by. If I could find an excuse I’d touch him: take his pulse or his temperature, change a dressing. I was glad my hand was steady, since he had a way of discerning emotional intensity from cues like a tremor or an elevated pulse. Occasionally, to his silent mortification, I checked him for fresh needle tracks. Every day he kept clean I felt my hopes reviving. That Sherlock and I could be us again. That we might even be closer than we had been. . And again his right arm throbbed, and he rubbed it helplessly, then felt John’s hand closing without any discernible hesitation, not around his shoulder or elbow or bicep, but around his hand. For a moment he looked speculative. “It should be. The two of them are taken care of, and I know of no other immediate dangers.” He should know; after playing music with her almost every day for five years, he’d heard her sing every colour of the emotional spectrum and speak every tone from joy to exasperation, from love to loathing and everything in between. He’d never had a sister but he’d adopted one in Ash: watched over her when she needed it and left her with regret when it was time to leave Ireland. Mike’s eyes widened, then crinkled as he laughed. “You don’t take Sherlock at his word, do you? Not the ‘high-functioning sociopath’ part, at least? Lord, I took you for a better judge of character than that!” When John didn’t answer I looked up, to see him looking at me with a very strange expression on what I could see of his face. “What?” This is a hermetic universe, which for a few minutes a day has only two inhabitants. They don’t even need names. I indulged in a superstitious refusal to cut my hair, until I was out of the wilderness. Back from exile. Home. It wasn’t rational; it sometimes made disguising myself harder. But it was non-negotiable. He pulled away and made to take off his coat. He hung it up, ruffled his hair (I still get butterflies when he does that, does he know?) and settled into the one almost comfortable chair in the small room, leaving me the bed. Git. to mention anything about this on the show—it might alert them to something they hadn’t really noticed. Who knows how many people even worked there? Three notes: 1. you don't need to know any of the songs 🎼 John uses to send out his messages; after all, Sherlock mostly doesn't 👀 Yeah, that failed miserably. “Surely that’s for me to decide?” He was sounding not just resistant but annoyed. “Of course not. I thought all along that Sicily in winter would be preferable. I have to admit, I’m going to miss the chandelier.” It was clear that I had to go back to London, had to see John. He kept asking. And for my own peace of mind, because the unanswerables were too many and the stakes too high. This had become a dangerous distraction from The Work, but I now realized that it was also costing John. A flying, undercover visit could be justified, just once. There was always information to relay to or retrieve from London. We didn’t talk much on the flight. We smiled, touched lightly. I reflected. But what I thought about wasn’t customary, for me. I thought about what was coming later tonight, how I would respond to it, adapt to it. It’d been years since physical intimacy had been so imminent, so deliberately chosen and undertaken. anymore.” Sherlock peeled off his socks and stared pointedly at John’s feet until he took off his own. “It’s passé.” She trailed out of the bathroom looking fragile, like an exhausted adolescent who’d cried again in the shower, and he felt quite ... savage. Whatever her husband had done to make her feel he hated her, he was going to undo it. Sherlock knew a thing or two, after all. If they notice and go, “Cool,” the dads perk up and give them the tour of the tree. It’s us they’re introducing, it's our story they're telling as they pull out the gruesome bits camouflaged by fairy lights gaily twinkling. He also resisted the urge to panic-text Lestrade for more encouragement. What would he even say? “Am I special to Sherlock?” God, he’d sooner die. Nothing like as horrible as when I read Sherlock’s letter, though. When I read that he had loved me all along: that I could have had what I wanted if I’d only had the courage to admit it—to myself, to him—to ask for it, take it. Sherlock had loved me. He still did, it seemed—but he was determined to delete it. I’d finally beaten out of him any desire to be with me. Any hope of it. “I... of course, if you want. But—I don’t want to upset you again. It’s been ... good having you here, swapping nights on the sofa, getting to know each other again. I don’t want to bring back all the—all of your very justifiable anger at what I did.” “That’s irrelevant. Even if Sherlock knew he was under surveillance, he never expected you to show these to So we showed up at the house, Rosie in her prettiest little sundress with matching hat (a fetching lavender colour, as Sherlock vetoed all florals) and the two of us feeling self-conscious but game. Margaret came flying out of the house and I realised that Sherlock’s unique physical grace came from his quite solid mother, not his slender but slightly awkward father. She stroked his cheek but buzzed on over to me and Rosie, kissing us both heartily and possessing herself of my little girl with ruthless tenderness. If you like the result so far, do let me know. If you don’t, you may direct all objections to my brother, who will graciously accept responsibility for the many imperfections of conception and realization in this fic. (He doesn't know this, but it's true nonetheless.) And in fact there were many things to fix in this initially unbeta'ed and unbritpicked chapter, so where I fluffed it big time, it has been corrected and seamlessly smoothed by guardian angel 7PercentSolution who will, I hope, take a bow in the comment box. trying to use the London A–Z, for example. And the last Sunday of March I sent out the Joe Cocker song again, highlighting the line Showered and dressed, Sherlock has done another random assault on a museum. The Palazzo Braschi, it turns out, has far from adequate security. He could remove any of the smaller pieces with ease, were he so inclined. He targets a bookshop in the Campo de’ Fiori and another tailor off of Via Panisperna. To his secret gratification he can now pass for Italian, if not Roman, for very brief encounters at least. , John. It was nothing but transience, and regret, and homesickness and solitude. Tedium, and terror. Longing. It was exile.” Sherlock gives John a smirky little smile and strolls over to the table where Greg has been making Molly blush. He arrives just in time to hear her say, “Oh— was going on? My cheeks started to burn as I realised how stupidly optimistic I’d been about Sherlock’s recovery. Addiction isn’t a cold. You don’t get over it with bone broth and bed rest. A handful of tuxedo-clad men surrounds a slim woman in a striking black dress. It’s form-fitting to the waist, but flares out dramatically with pleats that open to reveal hints of gold and silver. When she walks these flame out into long metallic flashes as the skirt ripples, and John can only imagine how eye-catching that will be when she takes to the floor. She’s swallowed up in the crowd. He picked up the violin and narrowed his focus. John. If he had ever experienced John’s caresses, could they have provoked the same unease, physical and psychic? Contact—possessiveness—skin—breath—sweat—body hair—need, silent need, too much need, too much love. Could all those things have made him pull away from John with the same—call it distaste—that he had just felt with Roberto? When he wasn’t lost in lust himself, reaching for John, would he have felt the same wincing reluctance to be touched, to be wanted, by John? Rosie was napping upstairs when Sherlock’s text came and sent adrenaline surging through my bloodstream like molten metal. If he’d ever texted “I need you” before, I couldn’t remember it; I was certain he’d never summoned me and said it wasn’t for a case. “This is an uncomfortable situation, and I’m very sorry. But” —Roberto turned to me— “there’s a chance that my boss will want to consult with you on a case, Sherlock. He saw you at the Gritti Palace last night, and remembered that we knew each other. Asked me to make an overture to you.” Nice. He means to spoil me, instead of me spoiling him. No complaints here. I lean back against him and we don't talk anymore. that was so completely irresistible. He thought with the speed of light. He observed like a camera, facts and objects freeze-framed in his mind to revisit at any later moment. He combined and recombined data and hypotheses like a computer, but creative, charismatic, exultant. Watching him think was like watching a master musician play an instrument—intoxicating and seductive. Later Roberto had run his hands and mouth over me again, this time as I lay face down beneath him. By then the room was dark, and I felt his hands hesitate and return to the places on my back that his fingertips had sensed were marked, damaged. This time I was ready, and let him touch while I focused on his fingers. The doors that led to the places where I had got those marks were firmly closed. No monsters roaring out, no poisonous smoke seeping around the edges. Those doors were secure. “John, if your invitation was innocent, Moran was merely backup for taking you hostage; but if Sherlock was involved, she would allow Moran to kill him and then shoot Moran herself. A murderer would be dead, her identity would be intact, and she would be the sole leader of the network.” Bored now, she kicks out with her legs and wriggles, threatening to slide out of his arms altogether. Whenever she grows restive like that he’ll pull her blanket off the sofa, spread it on the floor and place two or three toys on it so she can squirm around from one to the other. She can’t yet gather them together; she uses them as destinations, landmarks on her inelegant progress round the blanket. I slid a hand round to grasp his own on his cock, loosen his grip so I could stroke him to climax as I eased a finger in deep to brush his prostate. I lapped at him around my finger until I felt him coming, thrusting back against my face, pulsing over my hand, my finger still pushing into him but slowly now, softly, until his legs almost gave out and I pulled him, heaving panting breaths, onto my lap. Despite the chill on the room I almost prefer the winter: more comfortable to have every centimetre touching than in an urban summer; more rewarding to warm up together as the evaporating sweat cools. It isn’t only ever sex, of course. Sometimes it’s conversation, verbal or wordless; sometimes just touch; sometimes even sleep. But mostly—yes, mostly it’s also sex. To think he’d woken up in London just the morning before, with asphalt, and humidity, and air pollution. Here were more colours of green than he’d ever seen in his life, practically incandescent. The wind made the grasses roll and ripple in waves; the white clouds scudding overhead threw shadows on the fields, giving depth to the shifting patterns. The world was reborn, newly washed and shining. In the mornings our time is always uncertain and limited, though, so soon enough he began to rub gently against me, rolling his hips until I could barely breathe and had to flail at the night table for some lube. He did that thing I love where he takes both of us in one hand and with incredible precision brings us both to climax at nearly the same time. I never could have imagined the way a man whose brain never turns off, could direct all that concentration and observation to making love—and to making the familiar patterns of lovemaking even more breathtaking than the elation of novelty. It only got better with time. Oh. Right. The time Adler drugged him. We’d laughed about that sedated rebuff. I feel a bit better, if he’s making a joke that means “I always need you.” He was looking around at the room; of course, he hadn’t seen anything of the flat when we got in last night, drunk on arousal and pushing into the bedroom. “ The key is to stop resisting the cold and accept it. Once that’s done I can embrace it or discard it, it is no longer a factor. If anything, the cold can become an advantage, as I discovered one memorable first of my many—call them nights—with John. “So: you were feeling, when you did those horrible things to your violin. When you were mourning Irene Adler.” Even saying her name makes me wince, but I try to keep my tone steady. He wasn’t the pirouetting pseudo-virtuoso of European art music now. He had a new voice. The voice of the violin hadn’t changed; but he defied anyone who heard it sound now, to identify it as his, or the player as himself. Even his wretched brother. People who play only the piano have no occasion to develop an ear as sensitive as those who have to Before he’d even got the words out, though, he’d already grabbed the phone. I read over his shoulder. John laughed, as I meant him to, but he was also galvanised as though he’d been aching for exactly this and hadn’t known it. (If he had, he’d have said before; he was far from passive, and never coy.) “Yes, I do. When I met you—I knew at once that you were mine. It wasn’t like meeting you, and then learning you. I recognised you, and I knew you. You’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to be with from the moment of meeting you. My only experience of love at first sight. Don’t tell me you don’t know that.” If you're still reading this long note, recommend one of your favorite fics about the Fall and/or the Return! Oxygen or champagne, your choice. He came home. For the longest time that was all I could think: he’s come back, he’s home. I couldn’t find any words to speak, just silence and breathing, as I heard that voice I’d thought I’d never hear again, asking me not to shoot him. “So you’re telling me that Moriarty set up some kind of round-robin of snipers to kill Sherlock’s closest friends if he In the event, though, they talked until two. Or Sherlock talked, and John listened intently, prompting him every now and again. When he finished telling about Serbia, John asked (well, demanded) to see the scars on his back. That was a wretched, uncomfortable moment: what he could see of his ruined back in the mirror was ghastly. He took off his shirt; for John it had to be shocking. The penny dropped when he made me lead. Not a problem, of course. It's like driving on the right side of the road: you just reverse everything, and do it ... forwards but still in high heels. But why? The first week wasn’t hard at all—on Rosie, at least. I learned that she makes friends easily. That her temperament is sunny and confident, sensitive to other kids but not hypersensitive about herself. Her classmates were a varied bunch and many of them were precocious. Several were bilingual, two were trilingual; one was a polymath; one was definitely autistic, two others on the spectrum; two were incredibly gifted at music, three at arts. And most kids occupied two or more of these categories. A heightened sexual energy was building as well. John became aware of the bare feet beneath his thigh and lightly raised a hand to Sherlock’s knee and left it there, waiting. He thought he heard an intake of breath. never been tempted to take up again with someone I walked away from—don’t know about you, but that just isn’t a thing. Particularly when that person Mycroft’s lips twitched in annoyance, and he sighed ostentatiously. “As if he ever respected yours. And he certainly expects me to keep an eye on him.” It’d been one of those disorienting moments when something you think you understand is jerked completely sideways. You think you’re looking at a giraffe and suddenly it’s a chair in profile. I’d been lying there stewing about the way Mary and Sherlock—separately and together—had mocked me, and “You said I don’t want you to bring Rosie up to be like yourself. It isn’t that, and it never was that. What I’m afraid of is Rosie growing up to be like Mary.” “No, no, I know. It’s dicey. Smartest man in London did the stupidest thing in the world with the Culverton Smith case. Don’t want to make him feel like the idiot he is, right?” She’s never dull. Annoying at times, but all babies are, he thinks. Limited cognitive powers. But he likes to watch her discover things, see her shout with delight and clap her hands, just the once. He likes to see her respond to music, whether recordings or his violin. She listens, really listens, and once she’s decided it’s good, or dreadful, the whole street knows it. In a kind of trance he watched their entwined hands, her pink fingernails, her fourth finger now ringless, and he heard an exasperated voice from years back: “ I didn’t see Sherlock again until the blue Christmas was over, and weeks into the lonely new year. We seemed to be stuck in long silences interspersed with desultory and sporadic texts. I was still hypervigilant about Sherlock’s state and Wiggins’ bizarre, too-frequent presence in Baker Street; I hadn’t brought Rosie by for weeks, hadn’t seen him at all beyond a couple of short and unsatisfactory video calls. He didn’t answer, or move. I bent down and kissed him, whispered to him, held him. I wanted him but needed to think about what he'd told me, and from his stillness I thought he might feel the same. So I shifted us so we were both on our sides with me behind him, my knees tucked into his, my arm over his waist. I felt a rush of gratitude that we could still connect the way we always had, even in this new incarnation, entwined and touching from head to toe, all filters down. “I get that,” Mike said. “Grace is convinced she’s mediocre, when she’s absolutely not. But besides this publishing project—does Sherlock to feel you near. How do people bear this kind of turmoil, John? This emotional ... shipwreck. I needed you, and I could only withdraw from Roberto. ‘I’m losing you,’ he said. I wanted to say, ‘I was never yours to lose. I was wrong to let you think I ever might be.’” I always wonder what it's like to be in Mycroft's head, and how to account for the things he's done for and to Sherlock--in canon, and in my own imagination. I didn’t want to see any more of this. Sherlock wasn’t aware of being watched and photographed; it was stalkerish. And I didn’t want to see any more scenes of physical contact, if I’m honest. I dreaded what lay behind those images: gestures more erotic, maybe, a connection more intimate. An expression on Sherlock’s face that was more The low-key delivery was typical for a John Watson stealth strike, just the opposite of his own flashy reveals. John had waited until everyone was playing, to go downstairs to Mrs Hudson’s kitchen and contact Ciaran. The thing about seeing Sherlock in the shower is that John knows this body so well already, yet it’s brand new to him. Familiar; foreign. He’s seen most of Sherlock; stitched, medicated, palpated, evaluated much of him; knows that physique better than most of his transitory lovers, and still finds him jaw-droppingly beautiful. And now the careful distance he’d always kept has vanished. He can reach out and touch, gaze and admire. When I didn’t answer he said, “Of course I can wait, if you think it best. But I’ll text you every twelve seconds and insist you send me photos of your cock.” And it must have had some similar effect on Sherlock, because as soon as I put our small case on the low table I found him standing at my elbow, the closest he’d come voluntarily in weeks. To my astonished relief he raised his arms and encircled me, lowered his head to my shoulder, breathed in deep and exhaled as though he’d been physically holding his breath. Only natural; I’d come on too strong. Sherlock had said he’d not been involved with a lover, so it wasn’t surprising he’d drawn back a bit from that intensity. But sometimes he’d go cool or move away, even as he stayed in the bed. Here though there was no rooftop with its warm greenhouse to withdraw to, and I never found him retreated into an armchair—after all it was small. My mouth fills at the thought of him even though I know it will take some preparation and adjustment before it feels good. I can’t resist stroking him again, the slick lube making it even better so that he’s quickly panting. These words, seemingly an afterthought, occupied and consoled John for hours. Only toward dawn did he remember that Sherlock hadn’t asked about Mary. Suddenly his soothing voice tightened into exasperation and he yipped a curse (yes, sorry to say so, but even Mister Mellifluous Baritone will occasionally yip) as he flung the magazine behind him, toward the window. (It collided with the Christmas tree, but happily no ornaments were harmed in the making of this petulant scene.) A warm, high woman’s voice was singing a graceful melody over a lacy guitar accompaniment. And a violin, now springing lightly up to a sustained high note, now sailing down to a rich low drone below the guitar and the singer. I chose a good restaurant, more for the atmosphere than the menu. Italian food was out of the question; I was sure to be distracted by any and every imperfection in the cuisine. So I took him to a dark, quiet, French restaurant for its ambience. I wasn’t subtle, but I didn’t want to be; I wanted to be absolutely transparent. Even then I didn’t quite realise that to Sherlock most people are absolutely transparent, most of the time. So were we all. And now I pulled John’s hand into mine and laced our fingers together. I could spare some sympathy for Mary, trying to get John’s wandering attention, and for John, unable to respond to her. excruciating ordeal: I’d have to look his mother in the eye after she’d been informed tartly that her precious son and I regularly shagged in the afternoons. In the sitting room: a piano. Music for piano and cello still on the stand, but not recently played. (Stop deducing.) A wall of books, fiction, travel, classical literature, scholarly editions. Mostly Italian, but English and French, too. A weary but sturdy sofa that was long enough for a proper sprawl. The photographs in the sitting-room showed a few men who must be Roberto’s brothers, grown, alone or with wives and children. In Italy and on holiday, at family events or playing music or sport. An anniversary photo of his parents. A united family, then. (Stop. Deducing.) The man I’d wanted so much, had lost, had tried so hard to give up to another man, was spread out under me and straining, thrusting against me. It was the fiercest joy I could have imagined, and nothing about this moment could be taken for granted. I’d so nearly lost it all, for good. But if John had given me just one hint that he loved me, I’d have waited forever, Roberto would never have stood a chance. — When a week had gone by and we hadn’t spoken, just exchanged a couple of bland and careful texts, I was sick at heart. I missed him. I missed trusting him. I missed looking forward, I missed knowing he was waiting to see us. “Talking” guardedly through text messages was almost as bad as not talking at all. And God, I missed his voice. Amused, or annoyed, or affectionate, or distracted—I missed hearing him talk to me. Or rather, it swung between tedious and exasperating. He’d been unable to settle on the best expository sequence, and John’s offers to help had made him uncharacteristically nervous and self-conscious. Sherlock might scoff at the blog, but there was no denying that John was a writer and knew instinctively the clearest way to convey information. The light woke him, of course—I hadn’t meant to turn it full on him. Rosie slept on, and Sherlock mouthed, “Shhh.” Sherlock was much the better shopper, seemed to spot quirky prizes in heaps of utter rubbish. I was hoping the huge market would strike him as a challenge. Everyone smiling, and shouting, calling out, hooting, cheering. There was even confetti, though apparently that was a rash violation of The Rules. I was so taken aback—no, so After plying, flattering, and chivvying the lab director into moving Valentina’s sample analysis to the top of his list, I wandered into the kitchen and reached for the Bialetti. I didn’t need to concentrate to make the coffee, the lush black liquid that English speakers call That was a clue, surely. I tried to figure out what it meant. Maybe he was meeting someone for regular exercise. Squash. Tennis. No, he’d have no reason to be so cagey about that, or about them. “Do you remember, the first nights we spent together, that you asked me what would happen if this didn’t last?” This is a hermetic universe, which for a few minutes a day has only two inhabitants. They don't even need names. When I thought I’d made myself perfectly clear, and understood him well enough—I began to insist we see each other. I had faith in him, about this bizarre faked death—Irene Adler had had to do the same thing, and I knew it meant something dire. But we had to see each other. I had to understand, and I had to see him. And, if I could, hold him. And Patrick was undeniably attractive. Almost as tall and very fit, and from his expression when he was in the throes of music, probably very capable of letting go in other activities too. When I came to consciousness again I could tell it was just after dawn, though the shutters were mostly closed and little light came in at the window. Sherlock was awake, stretched out beside me on his back and staring up at the ceiling. I curled around him and nuzzled his neck and shoulder with my beard, something he’d liked last night; I called him loving names as I kissed him. Perhaps that seemed too soon for him, because at my words he gently took some distance. Having got this out she stares at him steadily, not unkindly but very seriously. Sherlock can imagine his own mother saying much the same thing to anyone who—well, that had never happened, nor was it likely to. He senses something else he doesn’t care to examine too closely: that in other circumstances, he would have liked Elena Zanardi, and she might even have liked him. I also wore a dreary succession of identical clothes to work. Only the drab colours varied. My expression was sombre, my words to the surgery staff sad or sarcastic; Sherlock’s life depended on it, or might do. I slept less than I needed, to keep up the bags under my reddened eyes. That’s nine, so far. Nine that I could not rank in order of preference or perfection. Nine for my memory, though the list I will give John is considerably less detailed. I am eager to know whether I'm right about our overlap. (I know one item he will list that I didn’t: “ It wouldn’t be the first queer subtext masked by stoutly heterosexual sentiment. But which of these John intended, if either, I had no idea. I looked at Sherlock, at that delicious wrinkle between his brows. Kind enough not to mock, and to treat my worry seriously. It’s been forever. It’s been a minute and 44 seconds. John isn’t opening the door and telling me to come up anyway. I turn back to the sitting room, turn out the lights, and sit in my chair. I can’t sleep, so I’ll think it through. I’ll think it through and I’ll write a letter. That worked before. Then John can decide. He can read it if he wants to, or he can talk to me if he’d rather. The rhythm of the conversation slowed, shifted into the familiar formalities of gratitude, obligation, and farewell. In my mind’s eye Sherlock, standing upstairs in the glassed-in rooftop guestroom, looks up and lowers the violin, sets it carefully down before beginning again the slow and deliberate undressing that has me hard by the time he’s got to the buttons at his wrists. It looked like tonight I would again fail to take him out to see Rome, to be seen by Rome. . He zeroed in on the drugs, he’d obviously been anxious about what he (and Mycroft) called my addiction. I knew what he meant: talking about my leap from Barts now might actually break us. He was right. We needed to stabilise ourselves before we reached that far back. Concentrate on the nearer past, then. This was an important question; I’d been thinking that everything had been settled, ever since our weekend in Bologna. That after our shipwreck our ship was righted again, with no outstanding leaks to seal. “I’m glad. If you could text Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade, it’d save me some time in London. And Molly. Will it ever go public that you didn’t actually die? I mean, the terrorism case you solved when you got back—that was never tied to you, was it. There was some publicity back when your name was cleared, but nothing since.” “The way it always should have been,” he says. “But only if you want to. After all, we really already are.” Or at least I think that’s what I hear over the rising wind. John stared at their hands, then looked up to meet his eyes. A clear question, unspoken: “For real?” And a clear answer, in his grasp tightening on John’s hand. John’s sounds are captivating: desperate, ecstatic, frustrated, desirous. We do this together, with me first dipping my tongue into him, then thrusting, kissing and sucking his hole as I had just been doing to his mouth. Then I’m making sometimes regular and sometimes syncopated, unpredictable plunges with my tongue into him and John After their expulsion from the Landmark, though, and in progressively less exalted eateries, that hint of uncertainty vanished from Sherlock’s gaze. There was defensiveness, in plenty. Condescension, Sherlock’s signature mode, in spades. But contrition? Concern? Simple bloody I panicked when I realised I was replicating the guest list of our first—our only—Christmas at Baker Street, so I randomly invited a couple of mums I’d met at Rosie’s daycare. There. That would defuse the emotional intensity of memory lane, and redirect the adults’ attention to the kids, which was appropriate for Christmas. Faithful betas, fan artists, and participants in summer fic writers' retreat have been helping me write this fic for literal years. But Sherlock is shaking his head, slowly. “You—you think I’m like Mary that way? Shutting you out?” His voice too is low, steady but laced with an edge of tension and John should have known, should have To close, as the encore the band had chosen an optimistic tribute to their hosts: a spirited cover of “Hard Times of Old England.” Energy and resilience in the melody, hope at the end: Working certainly took care of the amoebic formlessness of time: a regular schedule, and people to be responsible to and for. I had to be focused and prepared. It was good for me, though I’m not sure how good I was for it. I’d just started to imagine him in the shower when I heard the door to the flat open, and straightened up. Suddenly there was John Watson: my rival in the flesh, taking off his coat and hanging it on a hook beside Sherlock’s. Oh, he was more than a rival, I knew that for certain now. John laughs a little: “Did you book yourself in at the Hotel Opulentia? It’s fine if you did—it’s all fine. In a car. Under a bridge. I don’t care. Just get me somewhere I can have you to myself.” "Actually it surpasses every threshold of hideousness ever established for an ugly Christmas jumper competition." Ever since I finally apologised to him I’d been feeling a lot better about Sherlock, about Sherlock and me in particular. Embarrassed about having waited so long, really. Why had that been so hard to do? Because of all the baggage that came along with the moment I’d snapped, apparently. All the guilt and shame, all the frustration and desire. All the years I’d spent lying about what I wanted, what Sherlock was to me. All the pretence. Well, thank God for Ella. He left the Diogenes with a head full of static and a gut full of acid. Sherlock had not only cared when he said goodbye; he’d said goodbye "Maybe that's not what you want from this. From us. And that's fine," I hastened to add. "It's all fine.” He runs his cheek over mine, and then I feel it: smooth and soft, without the stubble he’d had at the station. In the middle of the night, he’s He stepped in and let the water sluice over his sticky, clammy skin. His heart began to slow as he kept his breathing regular. The rosemary-scented shampoo felt good in his hair, already longer than he liked, but he wasn’t ready to entrust it to a new stylist. He stood under the pounding hot water longer than he usually allowed himself. Post-it left on the bathroom mirror: So, I hope you remember you agreed to watch “The Others” with me tonight. “What’s a theoretical level when it’s at home? Like honey, do ya?” Teasing was her default speed, never unkind though. She managed to make teasing a joint effort with her target. Not easy, that. However, because today is Missdeliadili’s birthday, I decided to stick with Plan A (a disproportionate amount of smut) rather than Plan B (which may have been edifying but would also have been stultifying). Happy Birthday, MissDelia! While I regret never daring to ask you to choose me, I also know you’d never have done it. I deluded myself into hoping that you could love me that way, if you would only admit it; I was wrong. That isn’t who you are, and you cannot. When they wake Sherlock forestalls talk with fast, urgent, and (to Roberto, obviously reassuring) morning sex. The kisses he scatters over Sherlock’s throat and shoulders, his affectionate caresses, and his hesitant “ “We’ll figure it out together. I don’t think you’re monstrously large enough to make this impossible, John.” A bit of humour to settle his nerves. It might deflate the mood, as well, but that may be inevitable, for two neophytes. The first dance is just starting when John sees Sherlock join the couples on the dance floor. He’s leading a rather solid-looking woman of middle age, complete with thick ankles and a poofy hairdo. He’ll have to tease Sherlock later about taking to the floor with the stout DCI who looks like— He should just call and hear the inevitable bad news, get off this dizzying rollercoaster right away. Sherlock looks at Roberto’s profile, considering. It’s not like Roberto to not finish sentences, search for words like this. He listens as Roberto talks around his fears and denial of bisexuality, years of trying to suppress part of himself to maintain his self-image and the And he didn’t. They were all on fire. The visitors who’d come hoping for “authentic Celtic music” weren’t disappointed; the locals, who’d been watching for months as the group coalesced, were over the moon. You know when you have to admit you’ve been wrong about pretty much everything you thought about someone? It isn’t actually that easy. If your opinions are strong enough, you literally can’t see some of the information that contradicts or even modifies them. Plus it’s way harder to have to reality check negative feelings than positive ones. They’d taken to ending their concerts with a song Dennis had written for the victims of Covid: “Gone Too Soon.” Every verse honored an example of those who’d died—a nurse, a teacher, a child—the last one, the gallant Captain Tom. Even at one hundred years of age, he too had gone too soon. This Spink-Bottle, despite being unguarded and affable, pushed John’s buttons. He wasn’t an arsehole or a snob, but he reeked of family money, of unconscious privilege unconsciously deployed. John wasn’t in the picture for the Kensington case, and that probably kept Sherlock a bit subdued—didn’t have anyone to talk to anymore. Anyone who caught his meaning pretty quickly, that is, and was willing to follow him blind until he did. That wasn’t my role; if anything, it’s my job to keep him reined in. I gave John a couple of hints by text while we were working that first I thought again of his vows, when he promised to take care of me. Silently I drew him to standing, from the desk where he’d been bent over his laptop. He came willingly into my arms, and as I kissed him I reached to draw his jacket off his shoulders. He’s stroking one now: intricate, playful, unlike any other in the world. Lean, powerful, variegated. One that hums with pleasure as strokes now firm now gentle wander unpredictably over his skin. One that any moment now will turn over and face him, pull him down for a kiss, smile and slip an artful tongue between his lips. Well. If I hadn’t known he was still alive I’d have wanted to kill him myself when I found out. But I had known, and had resolved to trust him, and I did still trust him. Still, I had to get to him somehow. He needed a partner. He needed me. I floated home that day and into the flat, spun Sherlock round the sitting-room narrating my deeds of glory, and he couldn’t have been more pleased. There was no ambivalence in his voice or face: he was overjoyed. He’d given me back my identity, and he didn’t even wonder what it might mean for him or for us. His horrid brother had seen it all. Had had the gall to say, gently, that he shouldn’t worry: that his brain was undamaged, that the trouble was in his mind. That things would—return. To normal, whatever that was. Having gotten up so early to travel Ash was shattered, and by ten they’d tucked her up in bed with a hottie; London in June was no warmer than Kerry, this year. We got back to 221B well after 1 a.m., and Sherlock was knackered. We both were, but I was also jittery, far too wound up to consider going to bed. The flat was dark, and Rosie was sleeping downstairs with Mrs H and the nanny, and I was going to take advantage of the privacy to start a conversation. It might not go well, but it seemed urgent and, in a way, hopeful. the rest of his dances. As soon as he has displayed to advantage in the rumba with his old friend Greg, he intends to dedicate the rest of the evening to John alone. To “Got it in one. This is the outermost of what I am reliably informed is a system of planets orbiting the star , at least so far as I know. (Though I suppose I could be dive-bombed by an insistent coda or epilogue, heaven knows fics have a mind of their own.) cover all the facts. He wasn’t a fraud, so he didn’t kill himself for being one. Did he kill himself for another reason, then? Or did he even kill himself at all—did someone else force him to jump off that roof? I was wrong. His answer made my chest tight. “But I was sick of who I really am, John. Sick to death of myself. The person who knew me best in the world was so sick of me he left me for my murderer and pushed me at the Woman. Clear signs that who I am was unlovable, that I had to change. I tried to change. It seems I can’t.” He sighed, shivering a little and pulling the blanket up over our shoulders. me in a theatre. I’d go mad with you looking over my shoulder, hectoring, dictating, critiquing, distracting me. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Our show dance knocked everyone on their arse, and men who’d never given me a second glance were practically starstruck when they talked to me. But they were no temptation. On the contrary. Pasty-faced Londoners too nervous even to flirt properly? it, to RadioBob214 who made a playlist for it, and to everyone who left a comment--may you find diamonds on the souls of your (dancing) shoes! “How do you know I’m straight?” False step, I could see that at once. He looked put out, and I frankly didn’t want to know how he knew something as intimate as my sexual identity. History. I hurried to cut him off. “Never mind. You’re right. I am. At least, until now. Does that put you off? That I’d be a beginner? I mean, assuming you’re even open to the idea in the first place.” . Not only would any child be blessed to grow up like you, but the only way I could love you more is if there were another one of you to love. —Is this making And now on top of it all John is kissing his neck. His adam’s apple. His jawbone. With a bit of teeth. That morning I wrote “FRUSTRATION is an emotion.” on a post-it and stuck it on the bathroom mirror, with the date and time in the corner. seem to hear exactly what I was thinking—he turned back around to face me, and kissed my forehead, cheek, jawline, until I was warmed again and reached up to take his beautiful face in my hands and kiss his mouth. That upper lip I’d stared at for years. I shifted and turned on the tiny reading lamp, just to see it better. “Ah, there you are! I ordered you some curry. I’m headed out for the evening. Shouldn’t be too late, I imagine I’ll be back by ten or eleven. —You all right? You look terrible.” “It’ll be a pleasure to watch you dance with her. Really, Sherlock, I’m enjoying this about ten thousand times more than I expected to. I love watching you, and I’m not the only one.” “And when you cut me out of the operation the previous night I was furious and even more jealous. I wanted to find you alone and ask you to give me a chance, but there he was. I was obviously too late. He was all but living there. I got so angry, I just gave up on what I’d come to say.” Well, that was a relief, at least. But only for 1.5 seconds: once the anxiety vanished it left twice as much room for rage. I straightened my hair with a citrus-scented product and gelled it, combing it back from my face. John looked startled, unsurprisingly, to see me in a silky black t-shirt two sizes too small, with skin-tight black leather pipestem trousers (not sure about those, but he looked frozen as he stared at them). Blue-green color on my eyelids, even a hint of glitter. Instead I stroke his hand, part his fingers, slot my own through them and bring the knuckles to my mouth to kiss. Well, for what? “What do you want ... first?” I tacked the last word on, to make it clear that we had all the time ahead of us, for He needed help. He needed me. I left 221B for the nearest pub, and in the privacy of the toilet there I phoned Mycroft and told him to get me to Belgrade, Belfast, Belgravia, wherever the actual fuck Sherlock was summoning me from. “Holmes. If there’s something—anything—I can do to help you out sometime, you only have to let me know. I do owe you.” She looked steady now, confident. She’d said what she wanted to say. Fizzy as champagne I hyperventilated, I punched the air, I whooped and laughed. Mrs Hudson came up to ask if something was wrong. I grabbed her shoulders and kissed her soundly on both cheeks: “No, Mrs H. Nothing’s wrong. Something is , and I didn’t even apologise, not that day. Instead I cried for my own sorry arse and my own losses, things I lost that were never even real. The closest I got to being direct with Holmes was when I said, “So, you really think this is going to work. Tell me why, again? I mean, he might not even agree to come.” Again I stopped him talking, with a kiss. I didn’t want him apologetic, or sorry, or guilt-ridden. Not tonight. Not in this bed. This was our reunion. Our union. All I wanted was to know, and for him to know, that we were a unit, indivisible. It was a moment too—I want to say It was miserable. And I was in limbo: waiting to tell him something I’d been wanting to say for years, but waiting too to be sure he wasn’t using again. I wanted him back, my partner. The man I loved. Who didn’t seem, from what I could tell, to want me. It took some discipline to wait before beginning my next enquiry. The grief that had brought me to a standstill in the first two months after had paused, or shifted; and I had to conceal that fact. After my tour of Barts’ Many Non-Medical Offices I went ten days without leaving the flat, doing precious little that I can recall beyond searching the internet again for photographs of Sherlock. And listening to music. I kept my i-pod or the radio on constantly, to drown out the silence of his absence. On Tuesday afternoon, two days after Heather’s death, they had a false alarm in the form of an unidentified corpse in the river, corresponding to Will Simpson’s age and description. Dead by violence, not drowning. A month. One lunar cycle. Why the circling of a pale satellite around the earth should seem a meaningful marker of time is not clear to me, but it’s only one of the many arbitrary correspondences humans make—between the material and the mental, between the physical and the psychological—that mystify me. Roberto should have, at the very minimum, one month. . And she’d stared at him, though he couldn’t tell how clearly she could see or whether her fixed gaze meant anything or not. That made no sense. “Why? There’s nothing he can do, here. The victim’s dead and the body’s been removed.” Trust Zanardi to be perfect even in the family line, I thought.  They were probably all tall, dark, and handsome, damn them. Even the children. Too fragile to be told their father had jumped the fence. Sod the lot of them. Sherlock was no more interested in sleep than he was in food. When I was exhausted from the day and languid from the strenuous evening activities, I was all too happy to stay in bed. He would stay for half an hour or so, as if to respect some mandated post-coital bonding period, but in general he wasn’t especially interactive then: no non-sexual caresses, tactile or verbal. Shortly after business hours, Sherlock, John, and a clutch of officers led by Donovan were at the garage, not exactly breaking but definitely entering, complete with cliché torches and dark clothing. They identified the vehicle by its number plate and surrounded it. On the chance that Will might recognise his voice from that terrible call last Sunday, Donovan had Sherlock call out, I roll my eyes. “Coincidence. I just needed to get out and dance. John’s mooning about the flat taking forever to work something out. Donovan would probably have pulled herself together and knocked the bastard out on her own. He doesn’t look as though he could crush a grape. She’s worth ten of him.” drooling on my shoulder (he hates that). What ever happened to "alone protects me"? He was right then and he shows it every day. People. Friends. Even family. The chance-met and chosen family around that table, the birth family which may be fraught but is still woven into us by nature and nurture. At 6 p.m. the day of the concert, John walked Ash through Regents Park to the Cecil Sharp House in Camden, their first half-hour of quiet conversation since she arrived. The venue was one from Caherdaniel’s early days, before twelve international festivals, three CDs, and one shattering pandemic. “I know. I mean, I understand. I was afraid of that, too. Afraid of what it might—break.” Even remembering that fear is chilling.
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"She patted his back covering up what sounded like a sniffle with a laugh. “Fair enough. Let’s g(...TRUNCATED)
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The Multitask Long Document Benchmark

MuLD (Multitask Long Document Benchmark) is a set of 6 NLP tasks where the inputs consist of at least 10,000 words. The benchmark covers a wide variety of task types including translation, summarization, question answering, and classification. Additionally there is a range of output lengths from a single word classification label all the way up to an output longer than the input text.

Supported Tasks and Leaderboards

The 6 MuLD tasks consist of:

  • NarrativeQA - A question answering dataset requiring an understanding of the plot of books and films.
  • HotpotQA - An expanded version of HotpotQA requiring multihop reasoning between multiple wikipedia pages. This expanded version includes the full Wikipedia pages.
  • OpenSubtitles - A translation dataset based on the OpenSubtitles 2018 dataset. The entire subtitles for each tv show is provided, one subtitle per line in both English and German.
  • VLSP (Very Long Scientific Papers) - An expanded version of the Scientific Papers summarization dataset. Instead of removing very long papers (e.g. thesis), we explicitly include them removing any short papers.
  • AO3 Style Change Detection - Consists of documents formed from the work of multiple Archive of Our Own authors, where the task is to predict the author for each paragraph.
  • Movie Character Types - Predicting whether a named character is the Hero/Villain given a movie script.

Dataset Structure

The data is presented in a text-to-text format where each instance contains a input string, output string and (optionally) json encoded metadata.

{'input: 'Who was wearing the blue shirt? The beginning...', 'output': ['John'], 'metadata': ''}

Data Fields

  • input: a string which has a differing structure per task but is presented in a unified format
  • output: a list of strings where each is a possible answer. Most instances only have a single answer, but some such as narrativeQA and VLSP may have multiple.
  • metadata: Additional metadata which may be helpful for evaluation. In this version, only the OpenSubtitles task contains metadata (for the ContraPro annotations).

Data Splits

Each tasks contains different splits depending what was available in the source datasets:

Task Name Train Validation Test
NarrativeQA ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
HotpotQA ✔️ ✔️
AO3 Style Change Detection ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Movie Character Types ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
OpenSubtitles ✔️ ✔️

Citation Information

      title={MuLD: The Multitask Long Document Benchmark}, 
      author={G Thomas Hudson and Noura Al Moubayed},

Please also cite the papers directly used in this benchmark.

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