Here 'tis, as promised. It should probably be two chapters (you can blame Anderson for the length) . . . but I've been threatened with dire things if I did another cliffhanger.
Again, thank you all for taking the time to read this story and comment on the things you like (and don't). Your support, kind words, and gentle criticism have been invaluable!
John woke late the next morning, which was no surprise—even if there had been a reason for setting his alarm, he'd been far too tired to think about doing so.
He barely remembered the ride home from Scotland Yard, though he recalled devising a few ridiculous punishments for Anderson just to hear Sherlock's deep chuckle, so comforted by the sound that he'd almost taken the hand resting next to his on the seat.
He half-wished he had.
Still fuzzy, he wandered downstairs with vague thoughts of tea and found Sherlock in the living room, his long fingers dancing over the keyboard of his own laptop.
"What are you up to this morning?"
"Dealing with Anderson."
"Lestrade said he was taking care of that." John went over to look and was reassured to find a word processing program instead of Anderson's bank accounts or a purchase order for four tortoises.
"He's already been suspended, but the trick will be to exact full official punishment without sacrificing Sally Donovan's reputation. Lestrade mentioned the problem last night, Jane formulated a plan, and I am executing it." The doorbell rang. "Could you get that, John? I believe a five pound tip would be appropriate."
John looked down at his tee-shirt and boxer shorts, sighed and went to fetch pants and wallet.
At the door, a uniformed courier handed him a large document box and refused the fiver with a smile. "It's been taken care of, sir," she said
"By whom?" he asked, but received only a bigger smile in reply.
He brought the box to Sherlock who shoved the laptop out of the way to make room. The box was full of various dated papers, credit reports, affidavits, and printouts of CCTV images.
"Is that Anderson?" asked John.
"Fifteen years' worth of Anderson," said Sherlock paging through the items with an air of approval. "You do have to hand it to my brother—when he decides to be useful, he doesn't stint."
"Mycroft sent these?" It must have taken hours to assemble.
"He called early this morning and offered to help—best not to ask how he knew." Sherlock glanced at him. "He's fond of you, John, in his own way"
"Oh. Should I be worried about that?"
Sherlock's lips twitched. "Not at the moment, no. These should do very nicely. Can you be ready in an hour?"
"Ready to do what?"
"To force the correct confession out of Anderson, of course."
"Ah. Should I bring the Browning?"
"If you like. But you won't need it."
At first it seemed they would need the Browning, just to get past the front door.
"What do you two want?" snarled Anderson, looking much as he always did in slacks and a pressed shirt, though without the tie. John wondered if he'd dressed for work before he'd heard about his suspension. "Haven't you done enough?"
"We need to talk," said Sherlock.
"Talk to my solicitor." He tried to slam the door, but Sherlock's foot interfered.
"We will, if it comes to that. But first, we want to give you the chance to do the right thing."
"Get off my property before I have you arrested for trespassing."
Sherlock's lip curled. "This isn't yours—you can't afford Finchley Road on your salary. It belongs to your wife. Perhaps she'll talk with us. I'm sure she'll find it all very interesting."
"I'm calling 999."
"John, call Lestrade and have him meet us here."
John hit a button and lifted his phone. "I think I'll ask Sergeant Donovan, too."
"Damn it," Anderson glanced behind him and lowered his voice. "You can't come in—she's home."
"Stop sweating, Anderson, your deodorant isn't up to it."
"Perhaps he should try scented talc," said John.
"There's a thought. Come on, Anderson. She needn't know a thing if you can stop swearing at us for five minutes and find someplace where we can talk privately."
Anderson reluctantly led them through an airy foyer and up a flight of stairs to a small study and closed the door, retreating behind the desk which was far too ostentatious for the room. "So, talk."
"You don't deserve an apology."
"Perhaps not. But John does."
"He isn't going to get one," said Anderson, lifting his nose in the air. "You were supposed to call him," he told John, "not the Yard and the bloody fire department."
"Sorry," said John. "You left that out of your note."
"So the end goal was to make me suffer in some way," said Sherlock. "Quelle surprise. Let me guess . . ."
"Guess?" murmured John.
"Anderson defies logic. Was John supposed to read the note, become terrified of being romantically linked to me and flee into the night, leaving me heartbroken? Or perhaps you thought I'd throw a jealous fit?" His words dripped scorn.
John winced. Obviously, Sherlock found both notions absurd.
"Either seemed fair," said Anderson, with an air of self-righteousness. "You told Sally—"
"I told Sally," snapped John. "I told her she could have a great career, if she stopped listening to people who told her it was stupid to try." He folded his arms. "I'm sure it was just a coincidence that she ditched you five minutes later."
Sherlock snorted and dropped two packets on the table. He put his finger down on the slimmer one. "One of these is a confession. It states that you were drunk and spontaneously thought up a nasty prank based on a previous case, in answer to our . . . disagreement of yesterday afternoon. You'll notice that Sally Donovan is not mentioned in this document. You will not mention her in connection to this incident, nor will you mention your previous connection at all." He held out a pen. "I suggest you sign it."
"Why should I?
"Because you'll be shooting yourself in the foot if you don't."
"My solicitor says I'll be reinstated with a warning."
"Your solicitor is used to prenuptial agreements and wills. Do neither of you realize that your silly little prank could be construed as a hate crime under the Criminal Justice act of 2003?"
"What? A hate crime—"
Sherlock leaned over the desk. "Even if you hadn't just stated that your motivation was to ruin our supposed relationship in payment for damage to your own, your note references a supposition of Doctor Watson's sexual orientation and infers mine in a way meant to wound. And you have several times accused me of various mental illnesses—usually in the presence of police witnesses, which in retrospect appears to have been a remarkably stupid move on your part."
Anderson gaped like a fish.
"In addition, if you don't sign, your affair will become public. Your wife will find out. Good-bye, Finchley Road."
Anderson pulled himself together. "My wife—"
"In the event that she forgives you or somehow believes in your innocence—which would seem unlikely, except she must be extremely gullible to have married you in the first place—both she and the gutter press get a copy of this." His finger stabbed the thicker packet.
"What is it?"
"Documented evidence of every extra-marital affair you've had during your years together and dated CCTV stills of you going in and out of some of the more . . . exotic establishments in London. Occasionally in rather vivid company."
Anderson went white and stared at the packet. "I don't believe you."
Sherlock opened it, pulled out an assortment of documents and dealt them out in front of the other man. "This one is my personal favorite. I'm thinking of using it as a Christmas card."
He showed it to John, who coughed. "You're on your own, there," he said. "I think I'll put a Santa hat on the skull, instead."
Anderson looked like a ferret who just realized he'd eaten a poisoned rat. "How . . . How did you get all this?"
"Does it matter? The courts won't see it—but everyone else will." Sherlock gathered up the evidence and put it back in the packet. "Time to choose, Anderson."
John could hear Anderson gritting his teeth. "Fine," he said between them, snatching up the pen. "I'll sign. But I want those papers."
Sherlock smiled. "No."
Anderson went puce, but signed, grumbling under his breath. "There. Now get out."
"Presently." Sherlock kept staring at the man, who squirmed. "John, would you mind waiting outside? I'll only be a moment."
John thought he should mind, but found he didn't, much. Sherlock had what he wanted—Anderson was safe enough. Probably. "Of course." He picked up the unused packet and went to the door.
"No!' said Anderson, sounding panicked. "Don't leave me alone with him."
"You aren't alone," said John. "Your wife is home."
John leaned against the ornamental brick wall in front of Anderson's patch of front yard and smiled at a woman walking her dog. He didn't hear anything from the house—no shouts or breaking glass or the screams of a gullible wife—so he closed his eyes and let the sun warm him as he waited.
A hand jostled his good shoulder. "Wake up, John."
He opened his eyes and saw a ferociously satisfied Sherlock. "You didn't kill him, did you?"
"Only his spirit." He held up the signed packet. "I'll drop this off later."
"What about this one?"
Sherlock took it. "Insurance. It may be possible Emma has underestimated Anderson's sense of self-preservation."
"All this effort for Sally Donovan? I'm surprised."
"So am I. But the Sergeant and I have recently arrived at a new understanding. And the effort wasn't only for her." He strolled down the pavement at a moderate pace that John could easily match. "It isn't acceptable tactics to attack me through you. Anderson understands that now. Beautiful day," he said, squinting up at the blue sky. "Shall we walk for a bit?"
"If you like," said John, bemused.
It was companionable, walking side by side, talking about nothing much. Sherlock didn't often let himself enjoy the ordinary, but John thought he might secretly enjoy those times over the most exciting midnight chases.
" . . . There are some very good restaurants just up the road, if you're hungry. Indian, Chinese, Japanese . . . And a superb Italian, though if we eat there, I suggest we take care that Angelo never finds out."
John caught his arm, stopping them both. "Sherlock, may I ask you a serious question?"
Sherlock hesitated. "Now?"
"I think so, yes." He looked into those pale, watchful eyes. "Do you really think a Santa skull is too boring for a Christmas card?"
Sherlock blinked at him. For a moment, John thought he saw disappointment on his face. Then he started to grin. "Oh, yes," he said. "Quite overdone." He started walking again. "What we need is a fresh head—"
John caught up to him. "Oh, yes, because nothing quite captures the miracle of Christmas like bits of cadaver."
"Brilliant," said Sherlock. "We'll have that printed on the inside."
John shook his head, but couldn't help grinning.
We, Sherlock had said.
It didn't last long, the hope. Not three hours later, John finished writing up the Umbrella Murder—he'd think of a better title later—and went to see if Sherlock was up from his catnap and wanted tea.
And maybe . . . maybe a conversation. The conversation.
It was time—past time, maybe—to ask each other about the possibilities.
He lifted his hand to knock, but heard a muffled voice through the door. Sherlock wasn't napping, he was on the phone.
John decided to knock anyway, but Sherlock's shout stopped him.
"No, I can't ask him . . . All right. I won't ask," said Sherlock, at volume. "Because he might tell me—and then where will I be? No, I won't do that either. Because he won't want to stay if I tell him."
"Emma. Emma. We aren't your characters. You can't force someone to fall in love just because you want a happy ending. I'm not the type to. . . it just won't work. I'm sorry."
John sighed, dropped his hand, and gave up.
Sherlock had left soon after with Anderson's confession, though he'd gone somewhere else after visiting Lestrade—he'd texted another set of cab info, but not his destination.
John knocked about the empty flat, telling himself his world hadn't ended. Not a month ago, it wouldn't have bothered him at all to know that Sherlock wasn't—couldn't be—in love with him. It wasn't as if that was news.
The important thing was that Sherlock valued their friendship. That's more than most people could ever hope to have. And it would be enough for John.
His phone rang. "John Watson."
"Doctor Watson, this is Sally Donovan."
"How are you?"
"Better," she said. "I still feel a right idiot, but I'll live through it."
"Did you see Sherlock? He was supposed to give Lestrade something that might help."
"Did he? Thanks, I'll ask as soon as I have a chance to breathe—I've been up to my neck all day. That's why I called, actually. I need your help to correct another mistake . . ."
"What can I do?"
"Would you be able to answer a few more questions about yesterday? Just a couple of routine things, but I missed them last night."
"You were understandably distracted," he said. "We all were. Ask away."
"Oh, um, I'm sorry, but I'll need your signature and initials as well. I know it's an imposition, but would you mind coming in this afternoon? I need to get all this filed as soon as I can."
"Sure. I don't have anything better to do."
"Good—I mean, I'm sorry to hear that. Can you come right away? I'm not on call at the moment, but you know how that can change."
John agreed, ended the call, and went to find his jacket.
He caught a cab and texted the details to Sherlock. He didn't expect a reply, and didn't get one.
Sally was waiting at her desk. She was smiling. "Doctor Watson—"
"John." She beamed. "Thanks for coming in at such short notice." She gestured to her full desk. "We'd better use one of the rooms for this." She picked up some forms and escorted him down the hall.
"You look happier."
"I am, thanks to you—all of you. DI Lestrade says it looks like there won't be any permanent damage to my career." She shook her head. "I still can't believe he confessed—and agreed to keep my name out of it."
"You can thank Emma and Sherlock for that." They seemed to be headed for the same interrogation room where Emma had confronted Thomas King.
"I did—I mean, I will," she said. "I suppose he was terrified his wife would cut him off and toss him out—wish I'd been there to see him squirm." She sighed. "I sure can pick them, can't I?" she said, opening the door.
"Join the club," he said lightly.
She paused. "He was frantic," she said, quietly, "when we arrived at your flat. I'd never seen him frightened before—I didn't think he could be, or would ever show it. He cares about you. Really cares, I mean. I misjudged him so badly . . . I'm glad you ignored me when I tried to warn you off."
John touched her arm. "It's okay, Sally. You meant well."
She snorted. "No, I didn't. But I'll make it up to you both, somehow." She went in, putting her papers at the near end of the table. John took a seat opposite, facing the one-way glass window. "Okay, the first one is about your reasons for—" Her phone buzzed and she made an impatient sound as she glanced at it. "Typical! I'm sorry—I need to take this. Just be a moment. Sorry!" She hurried out, leaving the door open.
John scrubbed his face with his hands and looked at his reflection. A few moments later, the lights went on behind the mirrored glass, showing Sally talking on the phone.
"You look tired, John."
"Emma?" His gaze moved from the glass to where she stood, just inside the room. He stood up. "What are you doing here?"
"Research," she said, smiling. "I hear you had a productive morning."
"Yes. Very. Your plan for Anderson worked perfectly."
"Oh, that. I' more interested in the other one." She winked. "Have you, ah, explored the possibilities, yet?"
John felt a stab of anger, though he knew that wasn't fair. "I'm sorry," he said. "We aren't characters in one of your books. You can't force someone to fall in love just because you want a happy ending."
She grimaced. "You heard that."
He nodded. "It was hard to miss."
"And you think he was talking about himself."
"Who else? It's not the first time he's said he wasn't the type."
She rolled her eyes. "You aren't the only uncertain one, John. He doesn't want to risk losing you, either."
"I know that—and he won't, just because he can't . . ." He shrugged. "It's okay. It really is."
"Lord save me from stubborn men. Look." She put her hands on her hips. "He's spent his whole life deconstructing what he knows, just to prove to all those skeptics that he's not just guessing. But explaining the steps doesn't work—they still call him a freak because they can't do what he does and they don't understand why he uses his genius the way he does. So he stopped looking for approval and started keeping score."
She poked him in the chest. "And then you come along . . . and you accept him, even approve of him, even though he made sure you know who he is and what he isn't. You may be the first person in his entire life who ever gave him that."
"Yes, but you've never tried to use him for your own agenda, have you? And you've never tried to change him—some of his behavior, yes, but not him."
He remembered a conversation about heroes. "I've been disappointed in him."
"That's because you know him as well as he knows you. You know he's a better man than he's allowed himself to be." She started to pace. "He'll allow himself to be that better man because of you. But he can't quite trust it."
He folded his arms and propped himself against the table. "So now he doesn't trust me?"
She made a frustrated sound and began to pace. "He needs you, John, and he knows he needs you, probably knew it the moment you met—but he can't parse it out. He can't quantify you, John, or his feelings for you. And the feelings you have for him seem to be an unsolvable mystery. Nothing adds up because love can't do math."
He raised his eyebrows. "Are you still talking about Sherlock?"
"I'm speaking from experience, so show a little respect and answer me one question: Are you in love with him, John? No, stop." She put her hands on his shoulders and her golden gaze bore into his. "Ignore the implications and the consequences of either answer. Ignore what you think his answer would be. None of that matters—the only thing that matters right now is the truth. Don't do the math, just feel the answer. Yes or no: Are you in love with him?"
"Yes!" he shouted. "Yes, I bloody well am!" He looked past her and saw Sally looking at him, phone forgotten. She reached out and hit the lightswitch.
She disappeared and Sherlock was in the mirror.
John swung around to face him, barely registering Emma's retreat or the door clicking shut behind her.
They stared at each other.
"I meant it," said John, unable to bear the silence. "But nothing . . . nothing needs to change, unless you—I know how important your work is, and I won't interfere or make any demands."
He didn't think he'd moved, but Sherlock seemed much closer, his expression unreadable. He still didn't speak, but at least he hadn't sneered.
John tried again. "I know this is the last thing you need. Delete it, if you want to, only . . . let me stay. Please." He swallowed. "A life without you in it wouldn't be a life at all, you see, not for me."
Sherlock was very close, now, and John braced himself, expecting a lecture on the uselessness of emotions. Or worse, an apology.
But instead, Sherlock's expression changed into something John didn't dare interpret.
"Sherlock? Are you—?"
Sherlock put out a hand and gripped John's good shoulder. "I need you," he said, in a rough voice. "I need you, go away, you make me want too much, I'm scared, you're mine, never leave me. Never leave me."
"I couldn't," said John, shaking his head. "Even if you tell me to. I'll move into 221C and grow mould first."
Sherlock chuckled at that, then sobered as John dared to trace a high cheekbone with fingers that were remarkably steady, considering his entire life had turned upside down. But no—that had happened a while ago, with a single arrogant wink in a lab at St. Bart's.
Sherlock's gaze dropped. "John," he whispered, the same wonder dawning on his face as when he found the final piece to one of his impossible puzzles.
Someone knocked on the door and half-opened it, sending Sherlock back a few steps. "Whoops, sorry, this room's supposed to be free now—will you be long?" said a voice.
John suppressed a curse and rubbed the back of his neck. "Five minutes?"
"Fine." The door shut again.
Sherlock cleared his throat. "So," he said. "What, um. What happens next?"
"Haven't a clue." said John, with perfect honesty. "This is all new to me. But we're reasonably bright—the last few days notwithstanding. We'll figure it out."
Sherlock visibly relaxed. "All right." He straightened John's collar. "Dinner?"
John grinned. "Starving."
If they walked a little closer together than usual, no one noticed, except perhaps for Sally, who was at her desk dealing with several stacks of paper at once and talking on the phone. She looked up as they passed, raising her eyebrows in question.
John grinned and mouthed, thank you.
She saluted with a pencil and a saucy wink before getting back to work.
"She's going to be insufferable over this, isn't she?" remarked Sherlock as they made their way to the elevators. It didn't sound as if the prospect bothered him.
"Probably," said John. "But she'll be our kind of insufferable."
Emma and Angus were waiting outside, near the revolving sign.
"All sorted?" asked Angus. "I'm a bit disappointed—it was going to be my job to take you out and drown your inhibitions while Emma talked your detective into spelling it out."
"Sorry to disappoint," lied John. "Dinner instead?"
"Of course," said Emma, smiling. "I know just the place. Mr. Holmes?"
Sherlock offered his arm. "Ms. Rheardon?"
They walked off together, towards the street.
"This has been one of the best and worst weeks of my entire life, all at the same time—sometimes at exactly the same time," said John. "Was it like that for you?"
"Multiply your one week by two years," said Angus, grimly. "I did say it had been bloody difficult."
John flinched. Two years? "I owe you."
"We're even. For what you did for Emma. As for what you owe her . . . good luck when she decides to collect."
"Completely worth it," said John, as their partners disappeared inside a cab.
"Told you. Think they'll wait for us?"
"It doesn't matter," said John, with a grin. "I know where they're going."
Angelo, sensing something in the air, had ushered them to his best table, clearly pleased that the bella signora had brought her own escort this time.
John had asked for the pasta alla checca and taken full advantage of Sherlock's mood to make sure the detective identified and ordered something he'd actually eat.
"Oh, and Angelo," he had told the beaming man, "We'll need two candles, tonight."
"Don't encourage him, John," muttered Sherlock, but not as if he'd meant it.
Angus had been regaled with the mystery of Jane Doe in three-part good-natured argument—all of them tacitly leaving out any references to nonjudgmental human contact—and John and Emma had agreed to collaborate on the writing of it, using up a stack of paper napkins Emma had begged from the busboy to make notes.
Meanwhile, Sherlock and Angus had bonded over music, of all the unlikely things, and had still been debating the possible influence of Vivaldi on Paganini when Emma had finally dragged Angus off to their patiently waiting cab.
All in all, a successful evening. But it was good to be home again.
John was still very aware that he and Sherlock were alone in the flat . . . but his anxieties had disappeared.
He picked up his Doyle biography and went downstairs.
Sherlock, dressed for bed, lounged lengthways on the couch, watching one of the crap television programmes he loved to hate. He was scowling now, as a woman tried to name the last five prime ministers in thirty seconds. "Who cares?" he said. "They can't do any more harm now."
"Some people like history," said John, walking to the couch. "It helps put the present in perspective."
"Irrelevant rubbish." He scowled, but John saw a trace of apprehension in his expression as well.
That helped, somehow.
"Lift up," said John, tugging at a pyjama'd ankle. Sherlock obliged and John slid underneath the long legs, propping the book against Sherlock's knees. He read without seeing a single word, until the complaints started up again. He smiled and rested his right hand on Sherlock's calf.
Three pages later, Sherlock, still muttering, reached down and took it in one of his, resting both on his thigh. A thumb occasionally brushed John's knuckles. It was distracting, but John didn't mind.
The programme ended and another began, something to do with spinning wheels and buying vowels. Sherlock let go of John, swung his legs round the other way, and leaned back against his side. John shifted, too, and Sherlock took his hand again and pulled John's arm around him, still berating each contestant in turn.
Without any deliberate thought, John nuzzled the dark curls, breathing in that familiar mixture of chemicals, burnt match, and ridiculously expensive shampoo.
It smelled exactly like home.
Sherlock tilted his head back, asking a silent question that John was more than ready to answer.
There was a soft meeting of mouths, a gentle, thorough exploration of touch and taste, trust and desire. One of them made a small sound of contentment.
John lifted his head and smiled at his partner, whose eyes were both luminous and dazed.
"Are you very sure, John?"
John rubbed his cheek against the hand that had stolen up to cup his face. "Are you?"
Sherlock sighed. "No." A smile tugged the corners of his lips. "Angus tells me that living with a writer can be problematic."
"Turnabout is fair play," John said, drily.
"Mmmm. But are you, John? Sure?"
"Don't be an idiot," he said, and lowered his head again.
The programme ended, another began.
They were both stretched out on their sides, John's head pillowed on Sherlock's right arm, drowning in long, slow, drugging kisses and the feel of Sherlock's sensitive fingers on the nape of his neck. His hand had slipped under Sherlock's tee-shirt to make slow circles over smooth, bare skin that was so much warmer than he'd imagined it would be.
There was only one problem and John was doing his best to ignore it, though he knew he wouldn't be able to for much longer.
Sherlock's fingers trailed down John's arm, drifted lower, and lower still . . .
"No," gasped John, sitting up and sending Sherlock sliding to the floor. "No. I can't. I'm sorry."
Sherlock rose on his knees, looking confused and heartbreakingly vulnerable. "Not . . . not yet? Or not . . ."
"No!" John caught his arm before he could move away. "Not here." He brushed Sherlock's hair from his forehead and touched his swollen lower lip. "I can't say there won't be some awkward moments along the way, but I do want you very badly—and I trust you. Completely. But whatever happens between us is never going to happen on this couch. Love hurts," he added. "But this is carrying things too far."
Sherlock blinked at him before a grin—that rare boyish grin that was probably the first thing that John had loved about him—spread across his face. "We'll get a new one tomorrow."
John started to laugh. "We should send this one to Anderson. It fits his personality."
"Done. But meanwhile . . . " Sherlock's grin went wicked and his voice deepened. "Your place or mine?"
John thought about it. "Your bed's bigger."
"Right." Sherlock stood in a graceful motion and pulled John to his feet. "Yours, then."
"A man after my own heart," said John, with a laugh.
"Yes," said Sherlock, with an unguarded simplicity that dispelled all doubt. "Would you care to trade?"
"Oh, God, yes," said John, and let his brilliant, mad, infuriating genius lead him, once again, into a future full of possibilities.
I would very much appreciate your comments on this story—even if you didn't care for it, or if it seems far too late to do so.
And here's a final question. . . Would anyone be interested in reading this story from Sherlock's point of view? Just a thought . . .