The fog was so thick it created the illusion one was in a Charles Dickens novel, or at least a very small, damp room. John wiped a bit of dew from his watch and checked the time. It was a quarter to seven and the sun was rising, casting a pale yellow glow upon the acres of green marshland and a thin smattering of cottages as far as he could see. Despite the emotional weight of their latest case, he felt the crease between his eyebrows smooth and his shoulders relax away from his ears. It was a beautiful sight.
With a sigh, John turned away from the sun and began trudging through the mud in the direction of the inn. His boots stuck to the mud with every step.
“Sherlock?” He called into the mist. He could barely make out the impression of a path a few yards ahead. “Sherlock,” he tried again, not wanting to raise his voice too loudly and attract the wrong attention.
He took a few careful steps down the path, conscious of the wet rustling sounds he made - seemingly the only disturbance for miles. Growing increasingly anxious about the distance between him and Sherlock, he picked up the pace. His breath came in short white puffs as he fell into a light jog. A line of trees practically appeared right in front of him and he was soon enveloped by their branches. It was dark past the trees, alarmingly so considering it was nearly daytime. Distracted by his own thoughts, he stumbled on a tree root and went down hard, gasping as his injured shoulder took the brunt of his fall. He lay there for a second in the wet earth until the spots from his vision cleared and his breathing steadied. Where the hell is he , John thought, beginning to feel properly irritated. The case had been all but solved, with Lestrade on his way to make the arrest and Sherlock awash in his usual self-satisfactory glow. The only reason they were still out in the mud was that Sherlock insisted upon getting samples. Silly man and his silly dirt , John thought, smiling a bit despite himself. Sunlight had begun to peak through the thick, tangled branches of the forest - slicing through the fog and illuminating more of the path. A familiar figure emerged from the shadows up ahead.
“Sherlock,” John sighed, relieved. He began to pick himself up out of the mud and Sherlock was suddenly at his side, one hand gripping his forearm and tugging him upright while the other hovered at the small of his back, ready to spot him if he faltered. John winced as the movement aggravated his shoulder and he heard a sharp inhale by his ear as if Sherlock had felt the twinge himself.
“Alright?” asked Sherlock, his eyes bright and scrutinizing for signs of discomfort.
“Alright,” answered John. “Just took a spill in the dark. Did you find what you needed?”
“Hm?” Sherlock’s eyes scanned back and forth across his neck, his chest, his arms which he held stiffly at his sides. “Oh, yes. Four kinds of mud, three kinds of moss. Pity I wasn’t able to find anything more noteworthy but it’ll do. Hungry?”
“Mm, breakfast at the inn?”
“Lead on,” Sherlock smiled.
John smiled in return. “I would if I could find my way through this bloody forest.”
“Come now John, I figured you for an outdoorsman.”
“Right, the kind who can’t see a damn thing in the dark and goes stumbling into tree roots.”
“Why not use your phone?”
“Your phone, John. It has a torch.”
Sherlock thumbed his iPhone open and turned on the torch, waving it around a bit to demonstrate.
“Yeah, I got it, thanks.”
“Never fear, John,” said Sherlock, still waving his phone around. “I’ll light the way.”
The inn was small and drafty with decor reminiscent of a 1970’s sitcom and a painfully apathetic staff, but the rooms were clean and the breakfast area was rather charming. John tugged self consciously at his muddied jeans and brushed his damp hair down against his neck where he could feel it standing up.
“There’s no dress code John, for God's sake,” Sherlock whispered, amused. He, of course, looked impeccable as always, but for the dirty gloves poking out of his pocket and the mud clinging to the bottom of his shoes and the end of his coat.
“Yeah? Well, you don’t look like you’ve wrestled an oak tree and lost,” John replied.
“Don’t be silly, the oak tree wouldn’t stand a chance.”
John opened his mouth to counter and found that he was at a loss for words. He felt his ears begin to burn and was saved from himself by a waitress coming to take their order.
“You two ready?”
Sherlock ordered them a pot of coffee to share, toast for himself, and an egg and cheese sandwich for John. The waitress took it down, hardly sparing them a glance, and whisked away their menus.
“It should be more annoying when you do that,” John tutted. “Ordering for me.”
“I know what you like,” Sherlock replied, primly unfolding his napkin and placing it in his lap.
“Yes but— yes,” John couldn’t quite recall where he was going with his complaint. “What if I’d wanted to try something new? Or different?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Then you’d scowl at your plate and pick around your food for twenty minutes.” He fidgeted in his chair and began rubbing at an imaginary spot on the table. “Are you angry with me?”
“Oh, no— Sherlock. I’m just— ignore me. Let’s have breakfast.”
“We are having breakfast. And you’re going to enjoy your egg and cheese sandwich.”
The waitress came by to drop off two mugs and a french press full of brewing coffee with the promise that their meal would be out shortly.
“Do you have any black currant jam by any chance?” John asked. “Or strawberry?”
“Yes, we have both as a matter of fact. Homemade. And marmalade.”
“Could he have some for his toast, please?”
“Of course sir, I’ll have it out in a moment.”
She bustled away into the kitchen.
“I know what you like too,” John muttered, and poured them both piping hot cups of coffee and wondering why his throat felt tight.
Sherlock’s foot nudged against his under the table affectionately.
Their waitress returned with hot plates of food and they soon tucked in, not talking much but sparing thoughts of appreciation for the comfortable silence they were able to have. Sherlock carefully spread black currant jam over one slice of bread, sure to reach the corners of the crust before wiping his knife clean and spreading marmalade onto the other piece of toast with equal care. Watching him do so warmed John from the inside out, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
Without a word, he offered Sherlock two sugar packets for his coffee which were accepted with a small smile. John poured milk in his own mug and stirred, lost in thought. He wasn’t sure he was ready to go back to London. The hustle and bustle of the city left little room for the kind of quiet contemplation that he needed now and again.
“Yes?” Sherlock glanced up, a few bites into his first piece of toast and a crumb of black currant jam toast stuck to his lip, which he licked away.
“Um,” John began. “I think I might stay — stay here, I mean, for a couple of extra days.”
“Oh?” Sherlock’s eyebrows creased together with worry. “Everything… okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” John resisted the urge to take his hand and squeeze. “I just thought it’d be nice. I few days in the countryside without a case. Might clear my head— um, no jokes about how my head doesn’t need anymore clearing, thank you.”
“Never, John,” Sherlock said with a smirk. “Do you want to— that is, alone?”
Sherlock had resumed his nervous fidgeting with the tablecloth.
“Not if you want to stay,” John replied. “You’re welcome to stay, of course you are.”
“Oh,” Sherlock smiled, bright and genuine. “Good.”
“Sure you won’t be bored?”
“I’ll find something to do,” Sherlock chewed, thoughtfully. “I thought I saw a rather interesting fungus this morning.”
“Ah, fungus always keeps you busy.”
After breakfast, John extended their room for two days and the pair headed upstairs to get showered and changed. Sherlock let him have the first shower on account of all the mud in his hair and folded himself intricately into the armchair, already beginning to scroll through his phone.
John emerged fifteen minutes later wrapped in a robe, skin pink and smelling like the lemon bar soap provided by the innkeepers. Sherlock looked a bit stunned at the sight of him, but quickly snapped out of it and swooped past him and into the bathroom. The water began to run all but ten seconds later.
“Might take a kip!” John called through the door, knocking softly but not expecting a reply.
He changed into a t-shirt and boxers and tucked himself into his twin bed. Hardly enough space for a man his size, let alone someone as gangly as Sherlock. Not that he’d done much sleeping the past week, with a case and all. He tossed and turned a bit, conscious of the strain he’d put on his shoulder that morning and not wanting to irritate it further. With a stretch and a sigh, the exhaustion of the past few days and nights caught up with him and he dozed off, still a bit stiff but too tired to do anything about it.
He dreamt of the morning mist, of seafoam, of a warm, lithe body under his hands and tangled around his own. The dream turned away from the ocean breeze and into a hearth, a forgotten glass of scotch in his hand and a deep, rumbling laugh from the man sat across from him. He leaned towards the sound, drawn as ever to the man’s warmth like a plant to light.
When he woke, the room was tinged with the orange glow of a setting sun. It made him uneasy, as the winter days grew shorter and shorter and seemed to pass by quicker each year. His phone was buzzing on the bedside table and he batted at it blindly, still chasing the last remnants of deep sleep. He managed to grab it and winced at the too-bright screen in the dim little room.
Sherlock Holmes (13)
John sat upright in bed too quickly, wincing as he strained his shoulder. Thirteen messages and he expected the worst, swinging his legs out of bed and opening the messages with one hand while he fumbled with his shoes with the other, his heart racing. To his enormous relief, however, Sherlock had sent him eleven different pictures of fungi and two long messages asking his professional scientific opinion about their effects on the human body. His phone buzzed again, insistent.
[John, you can’t possibly still be asleep. SH]
[I was until I got your messages. Still collecting samples?]
[Heading back now. SH]
[You should take a look at some of these. SH]
[If you’d like. SH]
[I would. :-) I’ll get dressed.]
It was then that John realized he had started putting his shoes on before his jeans. He scrubbed his face, willing himself to wake up. He went into the bathroom and grimaced at his reflection under the fluorescents, creased with sleep and age. A few quick splashes of cold water seemed to do the trick, and as he toweled his face dry he heard Sherlock let himself into the room.
“Yeah,” John opened the bathroom door. “Just waking myself up.”
Sherlock shrugged out of his coat and unwound his scarf. He looked a bit chilled and sniffled daintily, pressing the back of his hand to his nose.
“Not catching a cold, are you?” John asked. His stomach was fluttering embarrassingly at the sight of Sherlock’s wind tousled hair and red cheeks.
“No, no, of course not,” Sherlock replied, distracted by his discoveries. He was emptying his coat pockets of plastic sandwich bags full of samples. “Come look at these!”
“Er,” John started. “I’m not sure what help I’ll be.”
“I need a doctor’s opinion,” said Sherlock, sounding as though he had just held back a haughty ‘ Obviously.’
John made his way over to Sherlock’s side, peaking around his shoulder at the multitude of samples he had managed to collect while John slept.
“Lucky that you found so much this far into winter,” John remarked.
“Indeed,” said Sherlock, and happily dove into descriptions of the various species of Western European fungi.
John was content to let him ramble on, occasionally offering what he could about foraged foods and poisonous mushrooms. There was something about this: standing at Sherlock’s side, feeling the zeal in his voice and the heat of his body as they went back and forth on the identification of a stubby little plant, that John never wanted to end.
“I’m glad you’re here,” John remarked, with rare candidness. “I’m glad you decided to stay.”
Sherlock looked up from where he was writing frenzied descriptions in a little notebook; his expression was one of alarm, and he blinked several times before softening into something sweet.
“Well,” he replied, stiffly. “I’m trying to break the habit of leaving you, after all.”
John swallowed to clear the lump in his throat. “Good, that’s— you know… what I… want.”
“Um,” John began, gathering his courage and just falling short. “Er, I thought I’d get us something to drink. Tea? Coffee?”
“Marvelous,” said Sherlock, not looking up from his notebook.
John grabbed his keys and phone from the bedside table, irritated with himself and craving the cold, clean air. He shrugged into his coat, unable to suppress a little grunt of pain as his shoulder objected to such movement. It caused Sherlock to glance up from his work; his expression still remarkably open.
“You hurt your shoulder when you fell,” he declared. His eyes narrowed. “More than you’ve let on.”
“Clever man,” John sighed, hating himself for being snippy. “Back in half an hour.”
Sherlock remained silent, though John felt sharp eyes on the back of his neck as he left.
John turned his coat collar up against the wind. It was colder now than he remembered it being and he tucked his chin into his scarf, trying not to shiver. He walked into the little town; it was hardly more than a single street with a few shops, a cafe, and a bar. Fairy lights twinkled across every building, and it suddenly occurred to him that New Year’s was only two weeks away.
He walked a bit further, imagining what this New Year's Eve would be like. The last time he and Sherlock had celebrated together properly had been after Irene Adler’s case. There had been a myriad of hardships between that case and the one they had just wrapped up. He sniffed to himself and stopped in his tracks. All he wanted was a roaring fire, homemade biscuits from Mrs. Hudson, and Sherlock at his side. He couldn’t help but smile despite the weight of unspoken emotion in his chest. The longer he walked in circles in the cold, the more ridiculous he felt. There was a warm room and the best friend he’d ever had waiting for him back at the inn. What in God’s name was he doing outside? Well, I’m meant to be getting something to drink, John thought, eyeing the cafe at the end of the street. He walked toward it, eager to get warm and join Sherlock in studying some fungi.
The cafe was practically empty, a lone barista glaring at his phone screen and typing furiously. John cleared his throat, but the barista didn’t give any indication that he had heard him. He crept up to the counter and shuffled his feet for a moment before ringing the service bell, awkwardly. The man— well, boy, really, looked up from his phone and glared at John.
“How can I help you today, sir?” He slipped his phone into his back pocket and smiled, overly sweet and definitely false.
“Er, two medium hot chocolates? Sprinkle of cinnamon on one of them please,”
“On the one without the cinnamon.”
“Right,” he replied. He rang him up, and John thought he caught the beginning of an eye roll before he turned away.
“Thanks,” he said, and found himself shoving a fiver into an empty tip jar.
Sherlock Holmes (1)
[Have you tripped over another tree root and hit your head? It’s been over an hour. SH]
John smiled down at his phone.
[On my way! Getting our drinks now.]
[Very well. SH]
John’s thumbs hovered over the screen.
Backspace, backspace, backspace.
[Sorry If I]
He scoffed at himself and pocketed his phone.
“Two hot chocolates?” the barista called out. “‘Night, then.” He pulled his phone back out and settled back into his furious typing.
“Night,” John said, picking up the drinks and heading back to the inn.
John knocked tentatively on the door to their room.
“Sherlock?” he said, letting himself in. “Sherlock,”
A little snuffling noise came from within the dark room and John turned a lamp on, casting the room in soft, subtle light.
“Oh,” John exhaled. Sherlock was asleep in the armchair, looking as though he had fallen asleep mid-text. His phone was dangling from his fingertips and his head was tilted backwards against the back of the chair.
He placed the drinks on the coffee table and knelt in front of Sherlock’s sleeping form. He placed a hand on his knee and shook, gently.
Sherlock stirred a bit, made an unhappy noise, and began to snore. John laughed and shook him again.
“Sherlock, love, you’ll end up with a crick in your neck if you fall asleep like this,” John insisted, letting himself slip while Sherlock couldn’t hear him.
Gathering his nerve, he placed the palm of his hand to Sherlock’s cheek; ran a thumb over a bushy eyebrow.
“John,” Sherlock’s head jerked and his eyes fluttered open. John quickly moved his hand away and stood. He cleared his throat.
“I er— I brought us hot chocolates.”
Sherlock indulged in a full-body stretch and a wide yawn, blinking a few times to clear his vision.
“Yum,” Sherlock murmured, offering him a small, genuine smile. John handed him the to go cup, trying to ignore the rapid thudding of his heart.
“Sprinkle of cinnamon, no whip.”
Sherlock sighed. “Perfect.”
John sat on the edge of his bed with his own hot chocolate. Tell him , he thought. Tell him. Tell him. Tell him. Sherlock took a sip of his hot chocolate and sighed again, licking a bit of foam from his upper lip.
“Something’s the matter,” Sherlock stated, eyes alert again.
John swallowed the denial on the tip of his tongue. “It’s just more of the same,” his voice sounded rough even to his own ears.
“John,” Sherlock began, uncertain. “Is your… head... any clearer?”
“This morning you said— something about clearing your head.”
“Oh, um. I don’t know really. I just…” John squirmed, feeling terribly vulnerable.
“Did I do something wrong?” Sherlock set his cup down on the table. “Did your head need clearing… from me?”
“ No , Sherlock. Of course not,” John soothed. “Do we have to do this now?”
“Yes,” he responded, unflinchingly.
John looked down out his hands wrapped around his drink. He was quiet for a long time. To his horror, he felt his eyes sting and his throat begin to close.
“It’s— it’s, um,” John’s vision began to blur, and he so desperately wanted to cry. No, no, no, no no, he thought. Not now! “I have a lot of regrets, Sherlock. A lot of things, well. That I might’ve done differently if I had… if I had the courage to. Do them some other way. The way I… wanted to.” His words felt thick, wet, and dumb.
Sherlock was leaning so far out of the armchair he risked falling out of it. “Oh yes?” he acknowledged, his voice shook just the slightest bit.
“Yes, and,” he took a deep breath. “I don’t think I could live with another one.”
Sherlock’s eyebrows furrowed. “John?”
“Another regret, I don’t…”
“Tell me,” Sherlock said, a note of plea in his tone. “Tell me.”
John’s hands shook. Sherlock finally slid from the armchair to the floor and knelt below John, carefully taking the cup from his hands and placing it on the carpet beside him. Slowly, deliberately, he took one of John’s hands in both his own.
“Is this,” Sherlock started. “Alright?”
John nodded a few times, squeezing his eyes shut. Sherlock’s thumb stroked across his wrist.
John’s breath left him in one hard exhale. “Yeah?” he asked, just to be sure. He felt an errant tear trail down his nose.
“Yeah,” Sherlock breathed, and bent to press a kiss to John’s knuckles. His eyes were distinctly wet and red around the edges.
“God,” John giggled in disbelief. He caught Sherlock’s lips in a brief and tender kiss. Their lips met again, again, and again. Finally, John leaned back with a sniffle. “Is there any fungi left for me to categorize?”
“Forget the bloody fungi,” Sherlock sighed, leaning forward and pushing him back into the mattress. His kisses were messy, wet, and more than a little enthusiastic. Charming, John thought, his body alight with adoration.
He tangled his hands in Sherlock’s hair, flinching a little when his shoulder spasmed. It was enough to make Sherlock pull back, worry crossing the otherwise dazed expression on his face.
“I’m fine, for God’s sake, come back here—”
Sherlock fell into his embrace for a few more moments before pressing a kiss, feather-light, to John’s temple and standing.
“Your shoulder needs a hot compress. Stay right there.”
John made a frustrated noise and reached out to grab at him, but he only strained his shoulder further and swore under his breath. Sherlock tutted.
“I can’t understand why you don’t just tell me when it’s acting up,” he rolled his eyes, crouching in front of his duffle bag and pulling out a hot water bottle. He filled the room’s kettle with water from the bathroom and flipped it on.
Sherlock stood awkwardly as the water boiled, wringing his hands, shifting his feet, and avoiding John’s gaze. John felt his heart sink. He must be having second thoughts. About this, about me, he reasoned.
John picked his hot chocolate up off the floor, though it was lukewarm now. He sipped at it, numb, anxious, and waiting for Sherlock to come back around, sit in the armchair and make some fumbling excuse about his work and the perils of romantic entanglement.
The kettle clicked off. He heard Sherlock prepare the hot water bottle and tread back over to him. The bed dipped as he sat down and Sherlock reached a hand over to the front of John’s shirt, gradually undoing the buttons one by one, his eyes fixed stubbornly on the task.
John didn’t dare breathe. Sherlock’s fingers trailed along the seam of his shirt, tentative and shy.
“May I…” Sherlock’s voice sounded coarse.
“Yes,” John sighed, and some of his apprehension melted away.
Sherlock pushed his shirt back until it hung off his forearms and he sat up straighter, puffing his chest out a little despite the raised, pink scar on his shoulder. Sherlock rubbed slow circles between his shoulder-blades and John felt his throat tie itself in knots again. The hot water bottle pressed against his scar and John sighed, his muscles finally loosening. He leaned unconsciously into Sherlock’s side, hair brushing Sherlock’s cheek. They sat like that for several long minutes. It all felt heavenly.
“I don't think anyone’s ever cared about me like this,” John remarked. It was the truth.
Sherlock’s hand on his back froze. "John..."
John turned his head so that he could press a kiss to Sherlock’s chin. “Mind if I lay down?”
“Of course not,” Sherlock said, pink in the cheeks. He unbuttoned John’s cuffs so he could slide his arms out of his shirt. The two of them stood and habitually, shyly turned away from each other to undress. The room was so quiet John could hear the soft clink of Sherlock’s belt; the slide of fabric as he slipped out of his shirt and trousers. Sherlock tossed his clothes over the back of the armchair, threw back the covers and burrowed beneath them.
John had stripped down to his vest and boxers and turned around. After a moment’s pause to admire the sight of Sherlock on his pillow, John gingerly tucked himself into the other side of the little bed. They were practically on top of each other. He fidgeted a bit, trying to get comfortable. Sherlock reached over to tuck the hot water bottle between his shoulder and the mattress.
“John, erm.” Sherlock began. “You did mean to… that is… the same bed?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “Although it’s even smaller than I remembered.”
Sherlock responded by shuffling downwards until he could tuck his face into John’s neck and rest his head on his healthy shoulder. John wound his arm around him, hugging him close. Sherlock tossed a leg around John’s waist.
“I’ve been dying to do this for ages,” he murmured into John’s skin. “Years and years.”
Sherlock sighed, impatient. “I confess, I didn’t know what was happening to me for the longest time. It wasn’t until I came back that… it… well. All I could think of was you. And I began to suspect there was something more to my affection than friendship.”
“You— Sherlock you planned my bloody wedding.”
“And it looked hideous. All that yellow. Disgusting.”
“You’re a cock.”
“You’ve said,” he replied. “Oh, that reminds me…” Sherlock trailed his fingers over the waistband of John’s boxers.
“Stop trying to distract me,” John protested, though his voice hitched. “I’m trying to be… communicative.”
“You’re doing very well,” Sherlock assured him. His eyelashes fluttered against John’s throat.
“Not sure I expected that from you.”
“You always seemed so above such trivial things as sex and intimacy. Have you had…?”
“Right,” John’s chest ached something awful. “You know there’s no rush, you don’t have to…”
Sherlock scoffed and muttered something unintelligible to John’s collarbone.
John cleared his throat. “Not even… The Woman —?”
“John,” Sherlock admonished. “You really must stop worrying about her.”
“I’m not worrying, I’m curious.” John cleared his throat. “I’m… envious.”
Sherlock paused. “Envious?”
“Yes,” John said bitterly. “You just seemed so interested. So invested in her games and… wellbeing, I suppose.”
“And what of the man I lived with, worked with, and killed for?”
There was nothing John could say. He turned his head and pressed his nose into Sherlock’s hair and breathed in deep. Sherlock tilted his head up, eyes closed and lips slightly parted. John sank into the invitation, kissing him soundly.
Sherlock pulled away for a moment. “Just so you know, I’m not the kind of man that would… not with The Woman.”
John stared at him, perplexed.
“I’m gay, John. For God’s sake.”
“Oh,” John murmured. “Oh… I thought maybe you—”
“Yes, yes I know. I was afraid, you see.”
“Christ. I’m so sorry, Sherlock.” John gasped. “Everything I’ve done has been to try to… bottle this up, ignore it and… I should’ve known, I should’ve seen. I thought I did. I know you.”
“Better than anyone,” he agreed. “We’ve both been utter fools.”
“The stupidest bastards alive. Seeing and not observing,” John replied with a smirk.
“Indeed,” Sherlock hesitated. “I’m… sorry too.”
“At least we’re having a cuddle now.”
“The very least you could do, Doctor Watson,” Sherlock agreed. John could feel him laugh where they were pressed together.
“It’s my pleasure, Mister Holmes.”