Two years later
The day dawned, bright and beautiful and in complete and utter chaos.
The first truly warm day of the year, it was mid-April and the risk of rain had been giving everyone involved heart palpitations for weeks, but the day knew what was required of it. It presented itself with focused, pure sunshine, as if it was cheerily looking forward to the events to come, and a little bit smug and self-satisfied that it alone out of everything had managed to avoid going spectacularly wrong.
'It's a monumental cock-up. Spectacular. Odes will be written, Mrs Hudson. Stories told, songs sung of how I single-handedly engineered the greatest disaster known to all humankind.'
Mrs Hudson, who was already distinctly harried and had half of her hair in curlers, petted her doctor distractedly on his sandy head.
'It's not that bad, dear. Have you seen Detective Lestrade?'
'Not that bad? Can you picture a single bloody way this could be going worse? I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it right from the start, and this is just the universe telling me to grab the dog and get the hell out of here.'
Mrs Hudson paused from where she'd been pacing the floor, in the middle of dialing a number in her ongoing attempts to field and avert the crisis. John had been in enough war-room situations to recognise tactical, military genius when he saw it, and Mrs Hudson was a godsend.
It said a lot that even she wasn't able to fix all that had gone wrong.
'Grab the dog and get out of here?' she echoed, outraged. 'What about Sherlock?'
John rolled his eyes, buried both his hands in his hair and attempted to pull it out. 'Well, obviously I'm going to take him with me when I flee this burning ship. Don't be ridiculous; I've invested far too much in that man to leave him behind.'
'Just take deep, cleansing breaths, dear. I'm going to try and sort this all out – can you please track down the detective? I'm worried that Sherlock might have done him a mischief.'
John sat bolt upright. Until that very moment he hadn't even considered that option, when he'd left his partner and Lestrade drinking together at the hotel bar late the night before.
'Oh, god. Sherlock's going to have killed him. We'll find him, tied naked to a tree and whimpering. Which will make my life even more stressful.'
'Just go,' Mrs Hudson flapped at him, forcing him out of the room and into the equisite pale green hallway. 'You're all dressed and ready, that's something, at least. I'll sort out everything else, just find poor Mr Lestrade and try to get him looking presentable.'
John wandered down the stairs, focusing on his breathing and trying not to freak out – this was something he'd gotten particularly good at in two years of loving and living with Sherlock Holmes – as he took in the glory of the house Mycroft had arranged for the day. Hanbury Hall in the beautiful heart of Worchestershine was generally open to the public, but now it was mostly quiet; all of the chaos of the day was taking place away from the main house, in the exquisite gardens and the orangery.
John had chosen the place, having visited it when he was a child and remembering only one thing with any real clarity: the tranquility of it, and the bees.
It was anything but tranquil. So far today John had been informed that Sherlock had disappeared – he wasn't too worried about that, he usually showed up again in time for the things he deemed important, and he bloody hoped this fell into that category – that there was no food for anyone, several outfits had gone missing somewhere along the line and that the violinist had eaten some bad shrimp.
He walked through the conservatory, pushing open the big glass door, and was immediately attacked by a whirling dervish.
'Johnjohnjohnjohnjohn,' it screamed, and he managed to untangle himself from its grasp just enough to hold it at arm's length.
'Mallory, you scared me half to death. Are you alright?' He smiled at her; she was currently taking A-levels, at the ripe old age of eight, but she'd taken time out of revision to travel north with her mother.
She looked more than a little manic, dressed as she was in a purple and green gown made from a length of Kenyan fabric over a poofy sort of underskirt, lime-green Converse and a sparkly tiara balanced precariously in her wild mass of curly black hair. Also, because she was carrying Gladstone, who was wearing a purple bow tie and looked up at John with rheumy, confused eyes.
'Mallory, why have you got Gladstone? And... have you painted her toenails?' He pressed a hand to his forehead. 'Girls, I don't know if I can deal with much more drama today. Please, tell me everything's alright.'
Mallory shifted from foot to foot, then dumped the dog down, who promptly lay down on John's feet. 'I found the policeman.'
'Greg? Was he... dressed?'
'Yes. He was dressed in Molly's dress and sleeping by the beehives.'
'Molly's dress,' John repeated. 'Tell me he didn't stretch it.'
'No, he didn't. I remembered what you told me about approaching people like solving a problem, so I first made him get up, then made him have water, and then I made him get out of the dress and put on his proper clothes.' She beamed at him, showing off her new braces, which had special purple rubber bands for the occasion. 'Then I told him that if he wanted to express his inner woman he should have asked to be in a dress, not stealing Molly's, which is mean.'
'Well done, sweetheart. Is he alright now?'
'Yup. I had to tell him I would wash his mouth with soap, because he kept saying bad words.'
A thought occurred to John. 'Why were you down at the beehives?'
'Lock texted me and asked me to. Don't worry, I told my Mum where I went.' She crouched down and patted Gladstone. 'He asked me to sort Greg out, said there was something he had to do.'
John closed his eyes and prayed to the dark gods that it was something nice and non-venomous. However, knowing that at the very least Mallory and Greg seemed to be dressed and functional was a relief.
'Don't suppose you know if anyone's found a violinist? Or any food?'
She shook her head vigorously, knocking the tiara askew. John fixed it, petting down the soft curls. Since they'd met her on that case what felt like a lifetime ago, John and Sherlock had babysat for the genius little girl quite often; her mother worked several jobs, and it was easier to drop Mallory off at 221b after school than to track her down when she ran away and was inevitably found sitting cross-legged in their living room eating Mrs Hudson's scones and reading books about brains.
The small, warm pleasure of being allowed to touch and gentle someone so intensely private , of being amoungst the select group of people she trusted, was almost enough to calm John down. She reminded him so much of Sherlock sometimes, and the two of them – Sherlock and Mallory – were surprisingly close. They understood each other on a level no one else seemed to be able to breach.
'Right. Could you take Gladstone to the orangery, Mallory? I've got to attempt to sort this all out.'
'It'll all be alright, John,' she said sagely, patting his sleeve. 'I like your hat.'
Self-conciously, he reached up a hand to touch his dress-uniform beret. 'I shouldn't be this nervous, should I? It's just... I never needed this, never wanted it, and it's all gotten a bit out of hand. Mycroft insisted on this massive affair and I keep expecting everyone to just point and laugh and say this has all been some eccentric, two-year Holmes joke at my expense.'
The little girl looked at him with her big, black eyes, wise beyond her years, and said, 'you're a moron. Lock loves you, and it'll all be fine. Uncle Mycroft told me to tell you to remember to breathe.'
John blinked at her, not least because she had gotten into the habit of calling the older Holmes uncle to annoy him. 'Why does everyone keep saying that?'
'You do tend to freak out,' she said evenly. 'Look, everything's going to be fine. Just come with me to the orangery – your sister has met Miss Adler and it's all getting a bit strange.'
Oh, god. Harri and Irene; he genuinely couldn't imagine a worse pair. His sister had been dry for eighteen months – he had a horrible suspicion that Sherlock had said something to her, after she'd managed to get so bad she'd actually almost made John cry – but big events with free bars were always a bit touch-and-go.
Then again, maybe a dominatrix was exactly what his sister needed. He groaned, took Mallory's proffered hand and led girl and dog across the gardens towards the orangery.
At least the flowers were flawless, taken from the grounds. The orangery, a victorian hothouse filled with orangeblossom, was at the end of an aisle of white roses and jasmine. Guests hovered around, ready to be seated when – or, if – the music ever started or Sherlock showed up.
Mallory dashed off to join Molly, who appeared to have retrieved her gown and was dressed in rich purple, looking very pretty. She waved, and nearly hit Lestrade in the eye, who was standing ashen-faced beside her.
'You made it,' John said, smiling for possibly the first time since waking up. 'Mallory told me everything. If you want me to keep silent, you're going to have to owe me one.'
Lestrade looked nauseous. 'Do what you will, no punishment will ever be as cruel as the one your stupid boyfriend inflicted on me. By the way, I heard something about the catering going wrong, so I told Mycroft's secretary. She'll sort it out.'
'Speaking of punishment,' came a purring voice from behind them, and John turned to find himself enveloped in the Chanel Chance-scented arms of Irene Adler. 'You need to relax, darling. It's a happy day.'
'It's still weird to me that you're not dead,' he said, not without affection, and looked over her shoulder to Harri. 'I can't decide if I should have an issue with you being anywhere near my sister.'
Harri smiled, and added, 'I felt the same way when you moved in with Sherlock, Johnny.'
'Speaking of,' Irene interjected, 'have you seen him? We're supposed to get started soon.'
John considered screaming, thrashing and running away, only stopping to grab his dog and his partner on the way, but instead tugged nervously on his dress uniform and turned on his heel.
'We need to give him a ticking clock. Let's do this.'
Military officer John was back and determinedly not freaking out. He turned, and moved to stand under the arch by the orangery, where he was joined by Harri, Lestrade, Molly and Mallory.
Mycroft suddenly appeared at his elbow in impeccable tails and top hat, panting a little. 'Don't panic, John,' he managed, 'catering is sorted.'
'And the violinist?' he hissed back as everyone took their seats.
'It'll all be alright. Now calm down and think of England.'
John still wasn't a hundred percent certain if Mycroft had only managed to engineer the position of best man by agreeing to organise absolutely everything. Sherlock's preferred choice – the best woman, Molly – hadn't seemed to mind and instead was nervously hopping from foot to foot, picking petals off of her bouquet.
This was completely unnecessary. He didn't want a piece of paper to tell him that he'd made a commitment, or a big party, or the stress of all of this – he'd only agreed to it because Sherlock had asked him, and he couldn't deny that man anything.
They'd been lying together at around three in the morning, the light of a streetlamp outside illuminating the soft white of Sherlock's skin, where his head rested on John's belly. John was lazily braiding his hair, half-aroused even after they had made love twice, and he couldn't remember ever having felt so content.
Sherlock had raised his head, his eyes silver in the faint light, something impossibly open and vulnerable in his expression. 'I've been meaning to ask you something. You have to promise you won't... freak out.'
In retrospect, people did seem to accuse him of freaking out an awful lot. 'I won't. Are you alright?'
'I'm good. I'm perfect.' He'd smiled, and had risen up on his elbows to press a kiss to John's lips, sleepily and slowly delving into his mouth, cradling the base of his head. 'Marry me?'
How was he supposed to say that it didn't matter to him if they were married or not? That there would never be anyone for him but Sherlock, and all of the people who were their nearest and dearest were completely mental and getting them all in a single venue was probably a mistake?
A hush fell suddenly, and then a lone violin's song rose, soft and joyous, filling the garden. It wasn't a melody John recognised, but he knew who played it before he turned.
And suddenly nothing much mattered, except the man walking towards him, playing his violin and dressed in a beautifully tailored tuxedo. With – and John rolled his eyes, despite himself – motorcycle boots.
He didn't really want to know what had happened in the 24 hours since he'd last seen his lover, so he made the executive decision to ignore that particular detail, and instead take in the whole.
Mrs Hudson, who walked down the aisle with Sherlock, kissed them both on the cheek and joined their hands, before bursting into noisy tears and being helped into her seat by Mallory's mother. John couldn't seem to stop grinning like an idiot, and Sherlock bent low, to kiss his cheek.
'How is it I've never seen you wearing that uniform before?'
'Special occasions, love.'
'This is meant to be a big moment, could you keep it in your pants for ten minutes?'
His pale skin love smiled, and took both of his hands in his as the minister began to speak. Then low enough so only the two of them could hear it, he murmured,
'I'm ready to spend a very long time loving you, John.'
Something in his heart released, and he grinned back.
'Ready when you are, Sherlock Holmes.'
That's it for this fic – it's deliberately set into the future so I can do some intermediate cases :) Any suggestions? The gardens described here are real, and exquisite, and I don't care if people don't like Irene – I think she's all kinds of kickass, and I still want her in the boys' lives! Reviews are like sunshine and ribena ;) xx