The Nag's Head was busier than John would have expected. One or two older couples and younger families were eating today's "special" (the only thing on the menu) and a group of farm workers were gathered around the bar having a rowdy, back-slapping laugh over an afternoon pint.
John went straight over to the bar, ordered a beer, downed it and then ordered another.
"You look how I feel," laughed the bartender, an old-boy with a thick, country accent.
John attempted a polite smile but it came out just as the pursing of his lips.
He took his pint to a booth, put the book on the table in front of him, and stared at its cover. He didn't know what he was going to find in there and he didn't know if he wanted to know either. Thing was, once you knew something, you could never un-know it.
Right now, Mary was his wife. Despite her faults and mysteries, he loved her. Would he feel the same when he'd finished reading?
He wasn't much of a drinker, Harry's alcoholism had put him off, but sometimes, occasionally, you just really needed to get pissed. This was definitely one of those times.
"Are you going to read it?" he imagined Sherlock saying. "Or throw it on the fire?"
"There isn't a fire," John muttered back.
"I was making a reference to your disposal of Mary – or A.G.R.A's – USB stick and your apparent inability to face up to who you are married to."
"I know you were!" John snapped.
"I see. So you were attempting to avoid my interference as well as the truth."
"Jesus, Sherlock. Have you heard of tact?"
Sherlock just smirked.
"I'm off to the bar," said John, downing the last dregs of his beer.
He came back with two pints.
"I got you one," John said.
"You'll have to drink it for me," said Sherlock.
"That was the idea," said John.
They sat in silence for a while, staring at the book while John swallowed mouthfuls of beer at a rather unhealthy pace.
Eventually, Sherlock asked, "What's the line, John?"
"That's what you're worried about, isn't it? Mary's killed someone, you can live with that. What you can't live with is her being on the wrong side of the line; a murderer."
"I don't know," he said, truthfully. "Saving someone's life. Unpleasant, but justifiable. In the line of duty - if it's a killer, I don't know. Maybe. I've done it myself, but I didn't like it, I don't feel justified, I feel guilty."
"That's because you're a good person, John."
John smiled a little. "Yet I'm married to a woman who shot you."
Sherlock's forehead creased in puzzlement for a moment. "I'm not dead, John. She's not a murderer on my account."
"She could've been. You could've..."
John trailed off and picked at a scratch in the wooden table. He couldn't stand to think of how close his wife had come to killing his best friend. He couldn't stand it.
Sherlock leaned towards him. John watched, wondering what he was doing as he came closer. Did he have something on his face, some evidence that Sherlock wanted to examine more closely, some speck of splatter of something that had brushed off onto his face at the Brooks' that was going to lead them to an amazing revelation?
Sherlock kissed him.
Wow. Where the hell had that come from?
Sherlock sat back and grinned.
"I'm not gay," said John.
"It's your imagination John, not mine."
John frowned and stood. "I'm off to the bar."
"You still have a beer," said Sherlock, puzzled. "Ah, I see. It's not strong enough. Now you want to throw your sexuality crisis on the fire too, so to speak."
"I'm not having a sexuality crisis!" whispered John angrily.
He came back with a whiskey on the rocks.
"Good choice John. Very manly," teased Sherlock.
"Jesus. Even my subconscious is out to get me," John complained, downing the drink and barely savouring the warm burn of it on his throat before he chased it with another swig of cold beer.
"Have I crossed the line, John?" Sherlock asked, quietly.
John softened a little. "No, it's fine. I can't say I haven't wondered about it myself. I'm mean, you're very…"
Sherlock's mouth quirked upwards. "Not that line."
Oh, he didn't mean the kiss; he meant killing Magnussen.
As disturbing as Mary's certainty that 'people like Magnussen should be killed' had been, John couldn't help but agree with her on some level. How could he regret Magnussen's death when it had saved his life, Mary's life, the baby's life? Magnussen would have destroyed them all with one phone call.
He was relieved that Magnussen was dead.
It didn't change the fact that it was murder.
"I don't know, Sherlock," John sighed. "I really don't know."
Sherlock looked him in the eye, and then he was gone.
John pushed aside the murder question for the time being to wonder if he was going crazy, why the hell he'd imagined Sherlock kissing him and, if he was being completely honest with himself, why he'd enjoyed the imaginary attention.
It was entirely possible that he was having a nervous breakdown. It wouldn't be surprising. Some sort of mental mix-up - Mary and Sherlock had both been on his mind a lot recently, they'd both lied to him, they'd both killed people, he wasn't sure what to think about either of them.
He was drunk too. Had to take that into account.
Still. A kiss?
He started on the next pint, the one he'd bought for Sherlock.
Sherlock was always on his mind, that wasn't normal for a straight man, was it?
What about loving him, was that normal?
But, what about Sherlock Holmes was ever normal? The man was so unique that it was difficult to define him in ordinary terms - John had tried enough times to put Sherlock's brilliance into the words of his blog, and always felt he'd fallen short. So why shouldn't John love him? Why did it have to mean anything more than platonic love?
Although, John mused, platonic just didn't seem to fully encompass how he felt. There was something more. Was he attracted to Sherlock?
Sherlock was attractive. He was very attractive.
That didn't really mean he was attracted to him though, in a gay way. He meant that Sherlock was attractive in the way that you might comment on a piece of good-looking... architecture. It was quite normal for straight people to have some objective attraction towards people of the same sex, he heard about it all the time, it didn't mean anything, not really.
Or did it?
No, no, no. He really wasn't gay.
The idea just didn't sit right with him. Not that there was anything wrong with being gay. It's just that he wasn't. It wasn't him.
Was it just that the idea of being gay didn't feel right?
As if being gay would somehow change who he was and he'd suddenly start drinking cocktails instead of beer, going to spas instead of crime scenes, and wearing skin-tight designer t-shirts instead of unremarkable jumpers.
Maybe he could be gay and still be John Watson.
John downed his pint.
He could not believe that he was thinking these things.
He was married. Married to a woman. He liked women, he fancied women, he loved Mary... the Mary he'd married, anyway. All these thoughts were just a reaction to what was happening. He was running away from his fears about Mary and projecting his affections onto the first person who popped into his head, who would, of course, be Sherlock, the man being always on his mind.
Which was kind of gay.
And he really didn't want to think about this right now, he had enough to deal with. He turned his attention back to the book in front of him on the table.
It was difficult to focus on the title through his drunken haze. Any more booze and he would have no chance of reading the damn thing.
He staggered over to the bar, leaned heavily on it, and ordered a coffee.
"Are you okay, mate?" the barman asked him.
"Make that two coffees," John said.
This was definitely a two-cup problem.
He sat back down, steeled himself, and turned to the first page.
Comments please :)
I've had loads of people comment on Sherlock's imaginary conversation with John in chapter 14, what did you think of John's with Sherlock in this chapter? Favourite?