"So, Doctor, tell me, how is our mutual friend?"
Friend. Was it fair to say friend?
Could you still call someone "friend" when he wrapped his arms around your waist in his sleep?
When you had mapped every centimetre of his skin so many times you knew it by heart?
When you had caught him in an unexpected moment, throwing his head back and laughing?
When you had wrestled your share of the blankets back in the middle of the night without waking him up?
When you had sat by the Thames and watched the water flow by for hours, resting against one another, without a word?
Yes, of course. But it failed to capture so much.
Sherlock, confused, caught off guard, the first time I'd called him beautiful.
"You have no idea, do you?" I'd asked.
Disbelief, because I think no one had ever told him that before.
He had walked out on me in a restaurant, once.
I'd called after him, flustered, then fumbled with my wallet, throwing a handful of notes, far too much, between two half eaten meals and two nearly empty glasses of wine. I had sense enough to grab my coat, tossing it over my shoulders as I stepped into the November wind at dusk.
"Sherlock! Sherlock!" The wind whipped my words from me, but he turned, dark hair lashed by the breeze, the collar of his coat turned up against the cold, his eyes bright in the light from the street lamps.
"Yes, John," he replied.
"You just – ran off!"
"Yes, John," he said.
"I asked you a question."
"Yes, John," he repeated, but this time, the corners of his lips quirked upward, once, quickly.
I stopped, considering what I'd done. He stood staring levelly at me, hands in his pockets, expression unreadable now, as it so often was, but more so in the early days we'd known each other.
I took a deep breath.
I had been foolish.
"Look, I'm sorry," I started. "Forget-"
"Yes, John," he reiterated, and this time smiled.
I stopped again, turning my head slightly, not quite sure I understood or believed.
"Yes?" I asked.
"To be fair, I can't actually agree to marriage, because it's legally a civil union, but given the context of your question-"
I cut him off, and kissed him.
He was shocked a moment, then relaxed. I couldn't feel the wind anymore. I couldn't feel the cold. I couldn't feel the passers-by, some who stared, some who barely noticed us.
We may have been the only people in London, for all that I cared.
"Oh yes, I got these."
It was later, a different night, colder, but we were at home. Sherlock was sitting on the couch, long legs stretched out, feet crossed at the ankles and resting on my knee. I liked the warmth, and to watch the long-limbed grace when he moved.
He wrestled a small box from his pocket and tossed it me casually. I caught it, a good, clean catch, and saw a jeweller's box.
Inside, two simple bands, muted gold with a thin strip of bronze on either side.
"You bought these?" Surprise didn't cover what I was feeling.
He nodded, his hair falling carelessly about his face.
"I deduced you'd prefer a traditional design, but it wouldn't be accurate to call our relationship traditional, and this motif seems to fit."
He was right about that. I took out one, the wider one. For all that Sherlock had longer hands, his fingers were thinner than mine. I moved to put it on, but he leaned forward and plucked it from my fingers, shaking his head. Without a word, he slipped it on my finger for me.
I was only a little surprised that it fit perfectly. He eased it back off my finger and slipped it into the box. I took the box from his hand and put it in my own pocket.
"I'll keep these," I said pointedly.
"Moriarty has nothing to do with this."
"He wants to kill me," Sherlock pointed out.
It was morning, almost two weeks later. I sighed, folding the newspaper, setting it on the table in a pool of sunlight. I wished he wouldn't say that so bluntly.
"I know. And me."
"I've often observed that relationships cause weaknesses that can be used as leverage. Logically, he will use you to try and get to me. He already has."
"I know," I sighed. "I remember. Are you going to allow him to dictate the terms of your life?"
Sherlock paused, looking at me over his shoulder, a flipper in his right hand, his left hand on the handle of the frying pan. Only he could have a discussion about his arch-nemesis while frying eggs. He regarded me a moment, inscrutable, then put the flipper down carefully and stepped over to the table. Another moment those eyes bored into me, then he leaned down and kissed me slowly and deeply.
"I don't suppose I am," he admitted.
I signed first, the seventh of December under my name. I passed the pen to Sherlock and had a moment, only a moment, wondering if he would sign, or change his mind. There was no hesitation. He steadied the certificate with his left hand and I watched the gleaming gold-and-bronze ring on his finger as he scrawled his signature with his other hand. A twitch of the lips, he looked up at me, and I wondered if he'd signed "Watson", to be contrary, but he hadn't, much to my relief.
"I asked about Sherlock."
"You asked about our mutual friend," I said, meeting Mycroft's eyes.
He gave me a calculating look, but it was nowhere near what I'd endured from Sherlock and I met it with well-practiced equanimity.
"He's your brother," I said. "Your family."
With an impatient sigh, he nodded, as if this was not an important point. I drew my hands from the pockets of my trench coat and checked my watch. The eighth of December, 7:45 PM. I held my left hand up to catch the light.
"He's my family, too."