Well, dear readers, here it is, the final instalment, and something of an epilogue, told from John's POV. I've been twiddling with it right up until the last minute, and I think there is still more to add, but not for now. I think I am through with this story. I hope you have enjoyed it, and I promise there will be lots more from me in the coming weeks. Thank you for coming out to play with me. With love, EF.
The sense of burden that came from Sherlock's reaction to his having been with another man still rumbled under the surface for John. Guilt tugged at him. Sherlock seemed blithely unconcerned, but John found himself racking his brain for some way to prove his devotion. The idea finally came to him about a month after Sherlock's little ruse had been revealed. A patient by the name of Alan Peace had presented at the surgery with a nasty chest infection. Alan, or Mog as he preferred to be called, was an Illustrated Man. John liked him immediately, and Mog responded with enthusiasm when John showed an interest in his personal art form. Mog was a walking Hokusai print. He admitted that he had become fascinated with the Samurai at the age of 12, and a passion for Japanese art had followed. The two had wound together in his teens to form a painted rebellion on his skin. Billowing waves now encircled his arms, elegant geishas entertained their lovers on his belly, a Samurai brandished his sword on his back.
'You never do your face, though,' Mog confided. 'Only nutters do their faces.'
John prescribed heavy duty antibiotics, advised against alcohol for the duration, urged the abandonment of tobacco, and asked if he might visit Mog at the premises of the tattoo parlour he had set up to pursue his passion.
It was impressively neat and clean, with the aura of an art gallery rather than the lurid haunt of the drunk and the bolshie. Mog showed John round proudly, answering detailed questions about blood safety and HIV protection, and then invited him to sit in the office for a cup of coffee.
'So what is it you want, then Doc? Regimental Tattoo?'
'What makes you think-'
'Oh, come on, we're men of the world, ain't we?' Mog pulled out a tobacco pouch and began making a roll-up. 'I know, I know. I've cut down. Believe me.'
'Oh, I do,' said John, although he didn't and knew Mog knew he didn't. 'Anyway, how did you know I was in the army?'
'RAMC on your instrument case,' said the eagle-eyed Mog. 'Me dad was a Para. He brought me up to respect you lads. Good blokes to have in a tight spot, he always said. He was in the Falklands.'
'Then he'd know.'
'Yep.' Mog licked the fragile paper and folded it down. 'So what did you have in mind?'
Feeling his ears pink, John explained. Mog's brow furrowed.
'You can't do it?' John felt a twinge of disappointment.
'Oh, no, its not that.' The tattoist lounged back in his seat, waiving his hand, with the unlit roll-up still pinched between his fingers, to emphasise his point. 'You wouldn't believe some of the bits of people I've tattooed. Just, well, there's stuff you gotta think about, right? Not being funny, but, is it for the particular recipient, or the casual reader? Underside or topside, if you know what I mean?'
'Oh, underside, definitely.' John was sure about that, at least.
'But you want it legible, right? Well, if its gotta be read in that condition, then you gotta be in that condition while I do it. Touch of the Jimi Hendrix, if you catch my meaning? Longevity will be your problem. And pain. It'll be much more painful than normal.'
'Pain won't be a problem. I'm used to that.'
Mog gave him a shrewd look. 'I'll bet,' he said. He pinched his nose ring speculatively. 'And concealment. If you want it to be a surprise.'
'Which I do.'
'Well then, doc, you just choose your moment and take care of the longevity issue, and I'll fit you in any time you want.' They stood up and shook hands, like city traders concluding a multimillion pound deal.
It turned out to be Mycroft who provided the solution to John's concealment problem. He arrived at the flat a few evenings after the doctor's visit to Mog, with Lestrade in tow. The policeman was still glowing from his recent success on the 'body in the suitcase' case – three Yardies had been arrested, and as a bonus, the Bolivian cocaine merchant had been caught with them. The Drugs Squad were sulking. Lestrade was the name on everybody's lips at New Scotland Yard. And, as Mycroft explained, in Whitehall.
'The F.O. wants the best, which is why they asked for Greg,' he said, glancing at Lestrade, who grinned with pride. 'And they asked for you, Sherlock, too. I did my best to dissuade them, but the minister was adamant.'
'I don't want to go to Paris,' Sherlock said, pouting.
'I'm sure Lestrade doesn't want to go to Paris with you either, and I certainly don't want you to go, but a speedy resolution at the embassy is required. We can't have people thinking they can just bump off our diplomats willy-nilly, can we?'
'I want to stay with John,' Sherlock moaned.
'Oh, come on, Sherlock,' said John, seeing his chance. 'It'll only be for a couple of days, a week at the most, and after all, you've been moaning that your ring-piece needs a rest from me for weeks!'
Lestrade started to choke.
Mycroft's eyes watered very slightly. 'Rather too much information there, John, but the point is well made. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.' He got up, slapping his gloves on his overcoat hem irritably. 'I shall expect you to be on the 6am Eurostar tomorrow morning. As will Lestrade.'
When they had gone, John sat down on the sofa next to his lover, whose pout was magnificent. (Sherlock was invariably annoyed that his sulks only made John laugh.)
'I don't want to go to Paris,' he grunted.
'It'll only be for a few days.'
'You could come with me?'
'I've got to work.'
'Humpfh!' It was such a Sherlockian sound. John stroked the curls from the detective's creased forehead tenderly.
'We can go to Paris another time. Together.'
'The criminal classes will have a field day if they hear I've left the country.'
'Sherlock, I really think that is the most arrogant thing you have ever said to me.'
In the end, he saw Sherlock and Greg off at St Pancras in the morning, and then rang Mog from the bus on the way to the surgery.
John watched the Eurostar train slide into the station. It gave off a hiss of brakes like a relieved sigh. There was a moment suspended, as if the world was holding its breath, passengers seen crowding the gangways and lobbies of the carriages through tinted windows, their faces twisted with anticipation. Then the doors hissed open and people spilled onto the tarmac. There was the familiar rumble of wheeled suitcase, grunts as bags were lifted down, shrieks of laughter as friends were met, worried voices barking into cellphones.
Then there was Lestrade, climbing down onto the platform a few carriages down, heaving his bag and pulling out the handle. He looked up and saw John, waived, his face brightening. John nodded.
Sherlock's pointed features emerged through the door a few seconds later, looking back up the platform towards the main concourse, scanning the crowd with his slotted eyes. John's heart leapt.
People were moving around him. He stood there, his body dropping automatically into 'At Ease' posture, locking his knees, feet apart. He was aware of clenching his fists in the small of his back as he tried to catch his breath. A breeze cut up the line, skipping in under the canopy of the station, ruffling Sherlock's curls as he stepped from the train and strode down the platform.
And then he was there, coming to a stop inches away, the hem of his overcoat flapping. John was vaguely aware of Lestrade beside him, speaking.
'Well, all done, great journey, you…er…' He must have realised neither of them was listening. His voice died. John felt him looking at them, his stare passing from one face to another.
'Right, well, I'll call you, Sherlock. Nice to see you, John.'
And he was gone.
They stood there, face to face, as the rest of the passengers passed them, the platform clearing. They stood there as the railway staff wheeled decimated refreshment trolleys down ramps from the buffet car, or loped along to attach water supplies between the carriages. John stared up into those almond eyes, as all the world faded from his consciousness, until they were alone on the echoing platform, until there was nothing else but Sherlock, and the beat of John's own heart.
That voluptuous mouth curved up into a smile. John's heart thrilled.
They continued to stare.
Then Sherlock whispered, 'Take me home.'
They stumbled into the house, falling over themselves to get across the threshold. John grabbed at Sherlock and lifted him, heaved him over his shoulder and carried him bodily up the stairs, the detective giggling uncontrollably. The doctor threw him onto his back on the bed.
'Missed me then?' Sherlock smirked, lying splayed out, his chest heaving.
'You have no idea,' John told him.
Sherlock sat up and began to tug at John's belt.
'Jesus, let me get my coat off, you maniac!'
'Coat is irrelevant,' Sherlock told him, his long fingers working fast. 'I don't need to undress you completely for that I'm going to do.'
John shivered with anticipation as Sherlock tugged at him, popping open his fly button. His head was spinning. He'd been thinking about nothing else but this moment all week, and now here it was, and he felt something of the flavour of what Sherlock must have, that frightening desire, the delicious anxiety. He reached down and slid his finger under his lover's collar, fingering the little blue smudge.
'You still like it?' Sherlock smiled up at him.
Sherlock snaked his hand inside John's trousers, his fingertips stroking over the hard ridge of flesh.
'Mmmmmm.' John wasn't sure if he or Sherlock had made that sound.
'My mouth is watering,' Sherlock told John's cock.
'Help yourself,' John said, sounding a little husky.
Sherlock's capable hands slid the jeans off the doctor's hips, and massaged at his hard-on hungrily. John made a rumbling noise in the pit of his throat. He wanted this to go on, but at the same time was desperate for Sherlock to pull down his pants. It was agony. Sherlock craned down and bit at the bulge, tugging a little at the fabric. No, John had to choose getting on with it now, he just couldn't wait anymore.
'God, please, I've been waiting a week, for Christ's sake!'
Sherlock slid the waistband down a little and pressed a kiss on the satiny skin of John's lower belly. He nibbled at the hip bone.
'Stop teasing me!' John groaned. 'You've had a case to distract you, I haven't!'
Sherlock grinned up at him. And tugged the boxers down.
John watched his face intently. The moment of anticipation, the bleached blue eyes turning down, eyelashes soft and thick; the expression of expecting the expected, sensing difference, registering change, absorbing data; shock, disbelief, then awe, pride, passion, tenderness, and finally deep, deep love.
The mark was about the size of a postage stamp, a rectangle full of neat capitals on the underside of John's impressive erection. It was right at the root, that little patch of flesh that Sherlock seemed to so adore, on which he lavished so much time and patience, as if it was an entire microcosm of John's being. John had taken the words from Sherlock's moment of genius and reshaped them to speak what was in his heart.
Sherlock Holmes Esq
Inside and Out
Now and Forever.