John can feel a faint draft coming in from the bathroom, making the door creak in the wind. He sticks his head inside and what he sees makes him smile to himself, and roll his eyes.
Sherlock is on the stairs conferring with Mrs Hudson about something or other. He looks up as John approaches, expression enquiring.
"I think you have a visitor."
Sherlock looks at John uncomprehendingly for a moment before his brow unfolds, eyes brightening. Without a word he pushes past John to bound up the stairs.
"Look at the boy," Mrs Hudson says affectionately. "She's back, then?"
"Seems so." John says.
"Now, I don't know why the girl can't use the front door. If I'd known she was here I'd have offered her a cup of tea."
"I don't think tea is what she's here for." John winks at her.
Irene's visits always seemed to be preceded up a break in through the bathroom window. Sherlock describes it as a security measure, but John suspects the gesture has sentimental value for the two of them. It's the second visit Irene's paid them this Spring which is good news for Sherlock's mood. It's nice to see him happy – letting someone else make him happy, even if it doesn't last long. Irene's departures are usually followed by several days of brooding silence, but by and large John thinks the brief periods of sunshine are worth the storm clouds. The moody bouts seem to be getting shorter and less intense, especially since Sherlock seems to have realised that although Irene leaves, she always comes back.
"Do you know," Mrs Hudson says, pleasantly. "I think I need new earplugs." John glances up at the ceiling above them.
"I think I might too." He says. Sherlock and Irene's reunions tend to be enthusiastic in nature and neither of them seem particularly concerned with keeping quiet for their neighbours. John's one tactful suggestion that the walls were perhaps thinner than they realised had been met with a broad smile from Irene, who had apologised insincerely for disturbing him and pointed out that he was always more than welcome to join them.
She had been joking, of course. At least, John hoped she had been joking.
"I'll pop out to the shops." John says. "Pick you up something."
"You are a dear," Mrs Hudson says, and pats his cheek. "You should find yourself a young woman too, you know. Or a young man. If Sherlock can do it I'm sure anyone can."
John makes himself smile back at her. "Oh, I'm all right."
The truth is, John thinks, as he heads off down Baker Street, however glad he is that Sherlock has discovered a brand of idiosyncratic happiness, it does make him feel oddly small sometimes. Sherlock has had a sort of serendipity in these things, John thinks, casting his mind back over his own history littered with failed relationships and unsatisfying dates. Sherlock had been interested in precisely one person his entire life, as far as John can tell - and it had worked out, straight away.
John has got too used to thinking of himself as the knowledgeable one in this area. Sherlock was the logical one, the socially oblivious genius who didn't feel things like others did. John was supposed to be the one who understood people, relationships. Apparently not.
When John gets back, several hours later, Sherlock and Irene are in the kitchen and Sherlock is trying to deduce Irene's latest mission. Another little shared tradition – Sherlock copes with his resentment against the fact that his brother employs his girlfriend by trying to deduce as many state secrets out of her appearance as he can.
Girlfriend. Another very odd word to use in connection with Sherlock, John thinks. Of course when one remembers that said girlfriend is a kind of female James Bond with a mind like a steel trap it makes rather more sense.
"All right, John?" Sherlock says later, giving him a scrutinising look over a forkful of takeaway curry.
"Yeah, 'course." John says surprised, wondering what he has done to make Sherlock look at him so thoughtfully.
The next morning John finds his laptop open with a yellow post it note containing a website address on it. Sherlock's handwriting. A little intrigued, John types in the address.
It opens a web page with a rather off-putting pink background. Cupid's Arrow Dating Service.
"Irene and I set you up an account." A ruffe haired and heavy eyes Sherlock has appeared in the door behind him, making John start.
"What?" John says. "Why?"
"You were obviously unhappy about something." Sherlock points out. "Irene said you were jealous."
"What?" says John. "I'm not…."
Sherlock waves a hand dismissively. "You consistently pursue relationships with women you are unsuited to." He says. "Clearly you need help. This website employs an algorithm calculated deduce compatibility. Originally the website was put to some unpleasant uses, but it is under new management now, and the science behind it is sound."
John gapes at his friend.
"Come now, John." Sherlock says patronisingly. "Don't be difficult about things."
Sherlock Holmes is an utter arse, John thinks later, after he checks out the rather unrelentingly honest profile Sherlock has written for him.
About me: War hero with a pronounced but manageable adrenaline addiction, and overly emotional personality. Assistant to consulting detective and locum GP. Thirty six years old, but judging by appearances one would think closer to forty. Short, broad shouldered, good aiming skills. Can cook beans on toast. Seeks a broad minded woman for a committed relationship.
The photo Sherlock has uploaded is awful – a shot of him and Sherlock waking away from a crime scene grinning manically. Jesus, you can see the crime scene tape in the background.
"You've made me sound like a complete psycho." John complains. "A short psycho."
"If they are put off by an honest account of your personality and appearance there is no future in a relationship." Sherlock says. "I am merely saving you time."
"He wanted to write about your favourite sexual positions as well." Irene says, emerging in the sitting room, wearing Sherlock's dressing gown. "I told him you wouldn't like it."
"Oh, thanks." John says sarcastically. "Pity you couldn't persuade him not to do the stupid bloody thing in the first place. I'm deleting this, Sherlock, before anyone I know sees it."
Sherlock sighs darkly and rolls his eyes. "As you wish."
John's finger is just hovering over the delete button when a message notification appears in the corner of the screen. John hesitates for a moment, before deciding to open it. What's the harm, he thinks, as a picture of a pretty woman with a mane of curly auburn hair appears on his screen. He doesn't notice Sherlock smiling to himself as he pads into the kitchen to switch on the kettle.
John ends up going on a date with the girl from the website, after all. He turns up at the restaurant, in his best jumper, shifting nervously. He is somewhat convinced that this is all going to turn out to be some kind of elaborate prank or that his woman – Mary – will turn out to be some kind of psychotic Sherlock fan or an undercover criminal.
In fact the date goes well. Very well. Exceptionally well, in fact. Mary is a journalist, something that momentarily gives John pause, though it turns out tabloid gossip isn't her thing. In fact, she tells him, she used to be a war correspondent and had been working in Somalia before catching a rather nasty case of Dengue Fever and having to be shipped home. It's funny, John thinks. They'd both been away to war and come home wounded.
Remembering what Sherlock has said about honesty John describes his life with Sherlock in detail, and finds Mary surprisingly sympathetic. She has a mentally disabled brother who takes up a lot of her time, she says. She's been dumped before for her tendency to always put her career and her brother first.
"But I don't regret anything." She says, earnestly, and John finds himself replying:
"Neither do I."
They wind their way through the streets of London after their meal, reluctant to part at the tube stop.
"I hope we'll see each other again soon." Mary says.
"Yeah," says John. "Me too."
Irene is back for a whole week this time, which means no cases for the time being and Mycroft's security on the door. John doesn't mind – it's nice to have a break from chasing criminals, and it means he can set up a date with Mary without worrying that it is going to end with a kidnapping or a high-speed chase through the streets of London.
John returns from work one day to find Sherlock and Irene lounging like a pair of very expensive cats lazing the afternoon away in a patch of sun on the sofa.
"How were the plague ridden residents of London?" Sherlock asks as John puts on the kettle.
"Fine, fine." John says.
"Your last patient has suspected diabetes." Sherlock says. "You've been running blood tests."
"Not at all," says Irene. "It was an STD panel."
John only smiles to himself. It's strange sometimes to be around the pair of them, both so smart, and so utterly ruthless. He remembers once, in the beginning bringing a date home at the same time Sherlock and Irene were in. The poor girl had left in a fury, after Sherlock had deduced her correct age and Irene had pointed out her sexual incompatibilities with John.
They were too smart, those two. Dangerous for ordinary people to be around. Except, John is a very ordinary person and somehow it seems like they accept him. However rocky his relationship with Irene had been at the beginning, she actually seems fond of him now. When he'd brought Mary home for dinner that one time the pair of them had actually been almost sweet.
John remembers a story he'd heard in Sunday School as a kid. The hero, Daniel, had been sent by the wicked emperor into a den of hungry lions. Everyone expected the lions to tear him apart, but instead they had simply sat beside him, leaving him to his own devices. John feels like that sometimes, with Sherlock and Irene. For some reason their claws are sheathed, their acceptance as warm as a cloak around his shoulders.
At last John's tea is ready and he takes his seat, kicking Sherlock's feet off of his armchair where they'd been resting. Irene gives him one of her lazy, sharp edged smiles as Sherlock grumbles at him. In his pocket John's phone buzzes. Mary is free this evening – they can go to the cinema.
John feels a wave of contentment pass over him as he settles back in his chair. He knew his life must look odd from the outside – living with a crazed detective, with randomly occurring appearances from his secret agent girlfriend, fixing colds in the day and running after criminals at night. But right now, with Sherlock and Irene sitting her with him, happy and relaxed, and with the thought of seeing Mary later, John can't help feeling however unconventional their lives were, maybe they had got some things right, after all.
Frogsfortea over on deviant art has made some really lovely pictures to go with this story - I can't link but if you type in frogsfortea deviant art you should and look at her gallery you should see them. I recommend checking them out as they are stunning. Credit for my story cover image also goes to frogsfortea.
Aaaand that's all folks! This is the first long fic I have ever successfully finished so I am feeling proud of myself. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in writing this, especially all those lovely people who sent me messages, made art or left reviews. I couldn't have finished it without your support.