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The Keeper of Things

87.

There are patterns in everything. In movement and static, in all things tangible and untouchable. It is a mathematical beauty which Sherlock has always appreciated, has kept in the palace of his mind, a kingdom for mnemonic treasures. People seek God to find what Sherlock has been born with; the ability to observe the seeming chaos that fractures the soul and make it something whole and understandable. He is eighty-seven, now, and his body has failed him in many ways; it cultivates exhaustion and pains, it is a habitat for the creaking creatures of old age. But his mind is as sharp as ever. The patterns are still in movement around him, a delicate, ageless dance that was there before him, and will remain long after he is gone.

This, if he ever had to explain it to anybody, is why he keeps bees.

Sherlock stands before his beehive, leaning against his old, ebony cane as he observes the restless movement of his bees. Most modern beekeepers are apiculturists, meaning their prime objective is the collection of honey. They keep their insects in rectangular structures of wood, containing removable slots so that the honey can be extracted without the destruction of a hive. Sherlock, however, is an observer, a keeper of, not material, but knowledge. Instead, the small piece of green land behind his cottage is occupied by several self-made skeps; large, oval structures made of woven wicker and mud with holed, wooden tops on which rest a bell jar of translucent glass, where the honeycombs lay. Any surplus honey is stored in supers; shallow combs that act as central brood frames hanging above the skeps, allowing the collection of honey without damage or disruption to the hive. Now, though, he simply observes the movement of the furry, yellow-and-black dots in the now comforting patterns of the hive. The noise swarms around him and he wonders how he ever got here. As a young man he barely thought of the future. Everything was a momentary thrill, the topography of his life shaped by the flash-floods he used to live for. Now, there are no chases, and life and death is a game played not by the recklessness of youth, but by the natural progress of old age. Now, there are bees, Go games with his Japanese neighbour, cases dealt with from home, writing critical letters to Naturewith ample corrections on all manner of journal articles, and the memories that make a home. The place and time in which he now stands is not thanks to him, but another man, an old and dear companion. Inside the cottage he can hear the familiar sounds of tea-making, and his wrinkled face allows a smile.

John, he thinks. It has been a long and arduous journey, one he would not change for all the beehives and serial killers in the world.

...*...

30.

John was covered in a thin coat of gold from lying out in the sun. Sherlock's shoulders were sunburnt, and freckles speckled his nose in a determinedly un-aristocratic manner. They had spent the day at the beach, having taken a few days off after a case chased them to the coast of Wales. It had been three weeks since Sherlock's 30th birthday, five month since his return from Moriarty's chase, and seven weeks since his and John's first kiss.

Holidays were something completely foreign to Sherlock, but he could tell that John had become restless and out of sorts, lately. When Sherlock had mentioned staying a few more days in the bungalow by the sea, John's face had lit up in an almost child-like manner. Everything since that moment had been softened by the heat and the sand, the rest. Sherlock was sufficiently occupied by scouring the rocks for the scallops indigenous to the west of Wales and cataloguing the change in flora as distance increased from the shoreline. John spent most of the day reading under the sun. He would run his fingers through the coarse sand and Sherlock would read nostalgia in those movement, but not sadness. Sometimes he would follow Sherlock on his walks, and the detective took the opportunity to explain about the pectin maximus, which's presence was vanishing thanks to over-collection. They spotted two spiny spider crabs fighting on the rocks, out of the depths of the sea for the battle of summer mating season. When the heat became unbearable they escaped the sun to wade into the waves, and Sherlock would watch John breast stroke through salt and water. Everything was as calm and deep as the Bristol Channel they swam in, a welcome change from the troubled waters they had drowned in, lately. Sherlock had often caught John looking at him with a frustrated frown in the chaos of their flat, a puzzle working across his features. But Sherlock had no delusions about himself; he was no prize. He had told John, at their meeting, that he was a difficult flatmate, but that didn't compare to how impossible he could be as part of a relationship. That he had a friend like John at all was a mystery that baffled all who encountered them, and Sherlock actually understood why. Intelligence wasn't a precursor to affection. In his experience, it only bred isolation.

This respite by the sea would give John the prefect escape. All he had to do was let go, and the kiss would be- not forgotten, but at least adopt a diminished position in the pattern the joined their lives.

Sherlock closed his eyes and tilted his face to the sun, letting the water drip from his hair and down his face. The air smelt so clean he almost missed the fog of London, if only not to feel so completely out of place. Somewhere in the violin strings that strung his heart there was a sort of sadness. He couldn't help but feel he had...missed something. If only everything could be as clean and sharp as logic.

A splash sounded near him, and Sherlock turned to see John surface from beside where Sherlock was standing, waves just covering his shoulders. John blinked the water from his eyes and looked at him, irises large and as blue as everything else around him.

"Why is it that you're always standing in the depth whilst I'm treading water?" He asked, smiling.

"Superior genes," Sherlock replied, and barely twitched as john kicked him on the thigh.

"Well, your knees are ridiculous." Sherlock raised his eyebrows, amused.

"Is that what they are? I always thought they were joints," he mused.

"You're such a prat," John chuckled, and his voice was as soft and gentle as his face. Sherlock opened his lips, but no banter came forward. His hands felt heavy, his lungs tight. John was just looking at him. The rhythmic movement of the tide and John's hands keeping him afloat seemed the only shifting thing for miles, apart from Sherlock's pulse. Without a word John swam a little closer, resting his hands on Sherlock's bare and raw shoulders, his knees coming up to hold Sherlock's waist. For a second Sherlock just stood there, like a rock with a mollusc, but the lead on his fingers was eroded by the sea and they skimmed through water to hold John's hips. John tilted his head down and kissed Sherlock's neck where sea met air. Sherlock closed his eyes, tightened the hands around John, pulling him a little closer. Not close enough. He said nothing as John's wet and chapped lips pressed a path towards his cheekbone, his breath tickling Sherlock's closed eyelashes before finally capturing the bowed lips. Sherlock sighed, and the opening of air let John's tongue in, a languid movement, as if they had all the time in the word, as if the world hadn't just ended softly. Sherlock opened his mouth further, stroked the underside of the tip of John's tongue before everything was a little too much and he had to pull away. This wasn't as rash and thoughtless as their first kiss. This was too delicate, and Sherlock feared that something would get hurt when it broke.

The silence was filled with water. Sherlock didn't move, not even to open his eyes.

"You know...I have no idea what you're thinking. I never have any idea what you're thinking," John said quietly. What Sherlock had been thinking was this.

John's knees around him were sure and trusting. He wanted this, at least for now.

John didn't seem to have any qualms about Sherlock being a man, or Sherlock being Sherlock. At least for now.

His shoulders stung from the burn and the salt, and he wanted John to press his hands down harder.

This was a terrible idea; John was a good flatmate and he would miss his contributions when he was gone.

His heart was breaking a speed limit.

He wanted this like he wanted a new serial killer after a week-long lull in cases, meaning that he could barely stop himself, and that this would probably end in bloodshed.

"I'm thinking that the heat has gotten to you," Sherlock said. He tried to pry John off him, but the other man clamped down harder, and Sherlock stopped. He knew that wasn't the way to remove a sea urchin.

"That's a very stupid thought for such a brilliant mind," John replied.

"John-"

"Just don't." John sighed and Sherlock felt it cool against the water on his cheek. "I'm sure I'm not nearly so unreadable, but I've been thinking a lot about...this. Us, or whatever. I just think, why overcomplicate things? No more bollocks. I want this. The end. The question is, do you want this? 'Cause if you don't I'll let go now, and there's no need for any dramatics. We'll go home...it'll be fine." The tenseness of John's body against his warned that it wasn't going to be just fine, but it would be tolerable. In the end, it was John who was giving Sherlock the escape. "So...do you want this?"

Sherlock had never needed much time to think about any one thing at a time. He leaned forwards and pushed his lips against the raised skin of John's scar, opened his mouth and dragged the flat of his tongue there, tasting salt, John, John, who shuddered and pressed closer with a small gasp.

"O-okay I'm taking that as a yes."

"Brilliant deduction Dr. Watson," Sherlock said softly. He lifted his mouth before John could reply, catching his bottom lip between his teeth and pulling slightly so that John's short pant of air drifted across the underside of Sherlock's sunburning nose.

"Let's go back to the house," John had breathed against him.

Sherlock had no more objections.

...*...

The bungalow was small and picturesque. A porch lay facing the sea, and with its open windows everything smelt of salt and fresh air. The sun was now low, but light still streamed inside. John made sure Sherlock washed his feet from the clinging sand before entering, and they hung their towels outside to dry above the closed, lime green parasol that had kept Sherlock from toasting completely on the glowing sand. John picked up the bucket clattering with Sherlock's collected scallops and rinsed them in cold water, leaving them soaking for later.

"Want some tea?" John offered, raising his head to look at Sherlock.

"Too hot," Sherlock replied, and they stood there, damp and nervous from the sea. Finally, Sherlock sighed and turned towards the loo.

"I'm going to-"

"Wait. Don't. Don't." Sherlock paused, and counted John's barefooted steps until the heat of him stopped right at his back. He closed his eyes as two hands slipped under his thin t-shirt, holding slim hips. John's forehead pressed between his shoulder blades and he could feel all of him, a live pressure, the rise and fall of his chest out of tempo with Sherlock's own.

"You're too tall," John mumbled.

"My knees are ridiculous, I'm too tall. Any other aesthetic complaints?" Sherlock drawled, and he could have sworn he felt John's smile through the cotton on his back.

"I'm not complaining."

"Aren't you?"

"No. I'm not." John's hands rose slowly, lifting his t-shirt, but Sherlock's arms stayed stiff and uncooperative beside him.

"You just love being difficult," John said, and the fingers of his left hand traced the outline of Sherlock's nipple, making him clench his teeth to avoid a gasp escaping. John was too warm, too much.

"No I don't," Sherlock said, but his arms rose, and for a second everything was dim and suffocating before the shirt was discarded like useless, shed snakeskin on the floor.

"You're sweating. I don't think I've ever seen you sweat before."

"You're very observant today, John. Granted the observations are less than mediocre, but-"

"Oh will you shut up?" John said, and his hands fell away, the heat of him taking a step back. Sherlock couldn't help but sigh in relief.

"I told you that if you didn't want this..." Another step back. The possible actions spread before Sherlock like moves in a chess game. He could win or lose, now; proclaim checkmate, or give away his king.

The truth was that it wasn't that Sherlock didn't want this. It was the opposite, and that was the problem. He knew the moves, but was suddenly unsure of what meant winning, and what meant losing. How does one conquer land by giving themselves up?

Sherlock turned, and John's form was so achingly familiar; the openness on his face, the determination and courage on his shoulders. How could he give a man like Sherlock so much ammunition and yet stand there, a soldier's pose; I will risk death, I will risk everything for what I believe in. The chess board disintegrated and Sherlock moved forward, bending slightly to reach John's lips, his hands threading through his damp, beach tangled hair. John opened his mouth instantaneously, letting himself be manoeuvred back against the kitchen counter and then on it, open knees once again capturing Sherlock's form. Now they were more of equal height and they pressed together, a bare chest against a heaving one. Sherlock cupped John's neck, running his thumbs along his tilted jaw and John pressed his knees tight against Sherlock's hips. Fragmented thoughts flittered like hummingbirds in Sherlock's mind, never stopping long enough to really be seen. He pulled back to try and remove John's shirt but John wrapped his legs around him, pulling their foreheads together so that their panting mouths were inches apart.

"No, don't go," he said, and Sherlock dug his nails into John's skin, a plea, a point of no return.

"Shirt, off," Sherlock managed. It seemed that the concept of any sort of attractive nakedness short circuited the semantic areas of his brain. John moved to take off his shirt but Sherlock slapped his hands away.

"Me," he said, and John laughed softly, keeping completely still except for the involuntary rise and fall of his chest as Sherlock traced those long fingers over his middle, up, up, brushing a nipple, rolling stray patches of sand against warm skin. When it was off, John simply looked at him and Sherlock tried to keep his expression guarded, but feared he was failing miserably. John's hand lifted and brushed again Sherlock's cheekbone, traced the arch of an eyebrow, the drip below his bottom lip. He let his fingertips draw against the slightly red skin at the bridge of his nose, asking,

"Does it hurt?" Sherlock closed his eyes and moved John's hand away, pressing a kiss under his ear, burying his face at the crook of his neck. After a whole day out at sea, John smelt like a sailor; like salt, sweat, like the warmth of skin after long hours under the sun, like John. He wrapped his arms around him, pressing closer, wanting more of that scent, that warmth. John tangled his hands in Sherlock's hair, one moving down to stroke Sherlock's back. They stood there, for a moment, tangled like rope on a badly tended boat. Sherlock pressed a kiss against skin and John clutched at a little intake of breath, tightening his hand on Sherlock's hair.

"Sherlock..." he said, but Sherlock didn't want to hear it, didn't want vocalised what was happening, didn't want John knowing, didn't want to acknowledge it himself.

After all, caring was not an advantage.

So he pressed his lips against John's, urgent, now, and John moved with him, against him, and it was a moment later when he was gasping, bed, bed, and Sherlock cradled John's behind with one arm, making sure his legs were tightened around him as he lifted John off the counter, stumbling under the weight towards his bedroom. John yelped and Sherlock licked at his open mouth.

"Sher-lock, this is un-, oh God, unnecessary." John's back hit the bed and he let go of Sherlock, letting his feet fall flat, raised knees on each side of the other man. Sherlock loomed over him for a moment, hands flanking John's head, clutching at the white sheets.

"You'll make me feel like a girl, carrying me around like that," John joked, but Sherlock didn't smile.

"I can remedy that," he said, and licked at the hollow of his throat, the line of the collarbone, the peak of the nipple, the treasure trail, and John was making soft, quick sounds, the muscles in his abdomen clenching in anticipation as Sherlock licked a line above John's trunks.

"Oh God, this is actually happening," John said, voice sounding far away, and Sherlock bit at a hipbone, making John twitch and clutch at Sherlock's shoulders. John's trunks, despite being large and loose, were completely tented in the front, a state mirrored in Sherlock own long, khaki trousers, and Sherlock pushed his nose against the bulge, hot air breathed heavily over the thick, dry material. Slowly, his long fingers undid the knot holding the trunks closed and pulled them down as John lifted his hips, pressing against Sherlock's face, his open mouth, the seeking tongue. Sherlock moved down, removing the clothing completely to reveal John, nude and spread in the summer heat, his for the taking. He ran his nose across a rough knee, to the inside of a thigh, covered gently with soft hair, higher until he licked the underside of a salty testicle. John made a strained noise at the back of his throat, the anticipation having strung him tight, and he arched his back slightly, uncontrollably. Sherlock pressed the hard tip of his tongue against the vein on John's cock, tracing it upwards where the head was already exposed and leaking. Everything tasted salty, and grains of sand roughened the path unbearably, exquisitely. He circled the glans once with his tongue before taking the tip into his mouth, sucking lightly, and John yanked on the sheets in an attempt at not jerking his hips forward, crying out Sherlock's name, shredding it apart. Sherlock could smell the musk of him everywhere, it took over every neuron, every cell, and the waves of it drowned him.

He succumbed.

He moved downwards, loosening his lips slightly, one hand stroking the sensitive skin of John's thighs, moving his head up to stroke the frenulum with his tongue before taking as much as he could and humming low and rough, wanting more but not being able to take it. John writhed and a hand clutched at Sherlock's shoulder, digging his nails on already sore skin, and Sherlock could barely take it, his pants were too tight, the air too hot, everything smelt of the sea and he was drowning.

"Oh God stop, oh God stop stop stop," John cried finally, pulling slightly at Sherlock's hair and before Sherlock could take a real breath he was being yanked up and rolled around, the movement awkward and tangling their limbs, a knee hitting a thigh and they were both panting too hard to even protest. John straddled him, his cock wet with Sherlock's spit, and he crushed their lips together, nipping Sherlock's lip on his own teeth, but in an instant they were both open, John tasting himself on Sherlock's tongue, his arms trembling with desire on either side of the other man. Sherlock lifted his lips to seek something, anything, and John let out a guttural moan as the fabric of Sherlock's trousers rubbed against his sensitive cock.

"Off, take those off," John panted, and sat back on his haunches to scramble at Sherlock's button and zipper with trembling fingers. Sherlock tried helping, desperate, now, but John just made a growl of frustration as he managed them unzipped and pulled down in a swift movement, getting off Sherlock for a moment to discard them completely before getting something from the bedside table and climbing back on.

"Sorry but I'm ruining you lip balm," John said as he scooped a little Vaseline from the circular pot and spread a thin coat on his palm and fingers. Sherlock's brain went white and quiet as John's hand finally wrapped around him, pulling the foreskin back and rubbing a thumb over the slit before setting a treacherously slow pace.

"I'll, ah, I'll kill you, I'm going to kill you," Sherlock panted. John chuckled and Sherlock looked up at him, at his animated, familiar face, and the amusement seeped out of John's expression, the intensity, the want, the need. He leaned forwards and grabbed a pillow from behind Sherlock's head and slotted it under the small of his back, keeping one hand in a steady stroke on his cock whilst he clumsily coated two of his fingers with Vaseline.

"No condoms, so no fucking. Is this ok?" John asked, holding up his fingers in an almost ridiculous motion.

"For God's sake stop talking and come on," Sherlock implored, his sweaty hands palming the sheets. John smiled and circled Sherlock's entrance before pushing the tip of a finger in, out, and then in again, further, past the rings of muscle, and Sherlock made a long, low noise inside his throat.

"John, please," he moaned, and John's thighs trembled as he supported his weight on his knees, taking both their cocks in one hand as he stretched Sherlock. The friction, God, the friction, the heat.

"More, more," Sherlock growled, and John obliged, pulling out and then two fingers in, bending them ever so slightly. Sherlock raised his knees up towards his shoulder to give better access, and John picked up the pace, eyes open but blind, and Sherlock cried out and arched his back as the prostate was hit, once, and then again, and chaos took over, a wild tempo of moving hands, Sherlock scratching long lines of desperation across John's back. God, God, and then it was all too much, for both of them, John unravelled first, a loud and broken cry. Sherlock wrapped his hand around John's to keep it moving, and he opened his eyes to see John break apart, completely, deliciously, and all he needed were a few more strokes before he, too, was destroyed.

The moment after climax is a blank in Sherlock's memory, just a pressure of John's body over his, exhausted, delirious, before shifting and falling besides Sherlock. A breeze drifted from the open window, cooling their bodies, slowly bringing them back to life. Sherlock opened his eyes and blinked at the ceiling. The light streaming in from outside was yellow, orange, gold. Sunset. Their breaths calmed, pulses slowed, and they were left alone with just each other.

"I thought you weren't attracted to men," Sherlock's whirling brain made him say. There was a pause, and then John sighed.

"That's not quite true. And, anyways, you're not exactly just any man, though, are you?" he replied quietly. "And since when do you take anybody else's word for anything? Don't you make conclusion from the data you collect?"

"Hmm," Sherlock replied noncommittally, his fingers threading through John's still slightly damp hair.

"Let's not think about this too much," John said, running a finger across the skin over Sherlock's ribs.

"Society's motto," Sherlock replied. John lifted himself slightly and looked at Sherlock, searching for something, and Sherlock refused to look away. "I'm not...very good at this, John," he said, looking like the admittance pained him. John smiled.

"I beg to disagree."

"Not sex," he scoffed, "Just...everything around it." John said nothing before resting his head back on Sherlock's shoulder.

"Let's take one thing at a time, yeah?" he said. "Rest. Shower. And then we'll see about everything else."

Sherlock stayed silent and allowed himself to relax, closed his eyes, his thoughts drifting like un-anchored fishing boats on the ocean.

They stayed by the sea three more days. Hours filled with sun, salty water, long hours of skin and teeth and want. On the second day Sherlock caught a fish, and that night he gut and de-scaled it, John frying it and baking some potatoes for dinner, eaten in companionable silence. After, out in the dim lights of the porch, John sliced a lemon and spread the juice across Sherlock's long, pale fingers to get rid of the fish smell. That night Sherlock touched all of John with his citrus hands, and the lemon scent remained between them, a mark, or a promise.

...*...

87.

As Sherlock stands in front of one of his skeps he catches sigh of the queen bee, easily distinguished because of her sheer size, even larger than the male drones. To an amateur it may seem that the queen has complete dictatorship over the hive, but Sherlock knows that is not the case. The queen is solely responsible for procreation; her ability to lay large numbers of eggs and decide who becomes a male drone, used for mating, and who becomes a female working-bee, responsible for all other duties, measure her worth, something the hive's survival depends on. Because of this an inefficient queen is quickly and mercilessly replaced. This can happen in two ways; through supersedure, in which the queen is quietly killed and replaced within the hive, or through swarming, which causes division within the hive and often results in the loss of many bee lives, the hive, and honey stock. Despite the various disadvantages of the latter, this is the method Sherlock prefers. The sight and, most of all, the thundering sound of the battling swarm is something magnificent to behold. It is nature, life, it is the pattern of survival. Humans, he often think, seem like domesticated, supersedure-prone animals, but Sherlock, as well as John, he muses, has seen that, often, people's first instinct is to swarm. To create chaos, if only to feel alive, to kill and cheat and risk anything to get what they want, what they need.

Sherlock has never really been able to live by any other code. His soul has always been but a swarm of bees.

...*...

37.

Sherlock's hands were trembling from the adrenaline. Every cell was singing, a crescendo of strings, the rapid drum roll of his pulse setting the tempo. He watched as the group of drug dealers, murderers and kidnappers were shoved into various police cars. Their faces lighted blue, red, blue, before disappearing into the shadows of the interior. Police men and women milled about like bumbling insects, and Sherlock could hear one of the victims sobbing in the back of another ambulance, a wet jumble of Oh God I was so scared.

All in a day's work.

"That was incredibly stupid of you, Sherlock," Lestrade was saying beside him. "God, I'm getting to old for this."

"Maybe you should take that desk job they keep offering you," Sherlock said nonchalantly, fidgeting with the shock blanket that they kept insisting on placing over him, even after so long helping the force. Lestrade shot him a look. After all the years working together there was no more "How did you know...?". Now it was simply assumed Sherlock knew everything about everything, and why bother questioning how?

"Don't do that again," Lestrade bit out. Sherlock sighed.

"I made the kill, didn't I? One would think a little more appreciation wouldn't be amiss."

"That's not the point! You can't just make yourself bait without telling anybody. Bloody hell, John is going to be furious," Lestrade said, running a hand over his face. A spark of annoyance and something a little more troublesome ignited within him. He probably should have told John what he was up to, but the man had been busy with work, there just hadn't been time. He would understand.

"Since when is John's emotional status your concern?" Sherlock grumbled.

"God, I can't believe you're still such a child. How he puts up with you..."

"Yes, yes, John the martyr, sacrificing himself to take care of the evil Sherlock Holmes. I've heard it all before."

"You've gone too far this time, Sherlock. You very nearly got yourself killed!"

"Oh, please, I'm not even hurt. A few cuts, what's the big deal?" But Lestrade just shook his head. There was a sudden commotion at the periphery of the crime scene and both men looked up to see John standing there, looking haggard and out of breath, not even wearing a coat despite the winter chill in the air. Giving Sherlock a last, tight-lipped glance, Lestrade moved forwards towards the yellow tape cordoning the warehouse off. The police drones parted and John slipped through. Sherlock felt a wave of trepidation. Lestrade had been right; he didn't look happy. The two men exchanged a few words, Lestrade shaking his head and raising his hands in a defensive gesture as John motioned widely with his hands, before crossing his arms against his chest. For a second he listened to whatever the Chief Inspector was saying before running a hand across his face, shoulders hunched. Lestrade put a hand on John's shoulder, leaned in, and John shook his head, untangling himself, straightening. Even now, after so many years, the soldier still lived inside him. A trickle of affection warmed Sherlock, but he guarded his expression as John started walking stiffly towards him. He stopped a mere foot away, and the siren light at his back cast shadows on John's face. For a few moments strained silence tugged between them.

"Home," John said finally. Sherlock tilted his head, removing the blanket from his shoulders and leaving it haphazardly on the metal steps of the ambulance. For a second the scene around him was superimposed by an old memory, the conclusion of John and his first case.

Things had been very different, then.

Sherlock followed John silently, giving Lestrade a dismissive gesture as the man called out a "Witness report tomorrow, Sherlock!". There was a cab already waiting for them on the nearest street, the diver looking curiously at the scene behind them.

"Been a murder or somefink?" He asked as John and Sherlock sat themselves inside. From the corner of his eye Sherlock could see John clench his jaw and fists, and threw the driver a glare.

"That's confidential police business. 221 Baker Street, now." The driver just shrugged and rumbled the cab forward, probably used to all sorts of snark from passengers.

The ride back home was unbearably quiet. Even if Sherlock weren't a deductive genius, he had lived with John long enough to tell how truly furious the other man was. When riding in cabs they usually sat in the middle, thighs brushing , even when Sherlock was deep in case-related though. Now, however, John sat pressed against the car door, his body tense, his jaw clenching and unclenching. Sherlock could practically hear the teeth grind.

When they arrived, John very calmly paid the driver without even glancing at Sherlock, who followed silently behind as they climbed the familiar stairs to their apartment. Now that the adrenaline had worn off, Sherlock felt tired and sore, the bruise on his cheek from when he been smashed onto the ground stinging dully. The door closed quietly behind them and John looked around for a moment, as if lost in his own home, before settling slowly on his old, worn armchair. Without a word he put his face in his hands, pressing his thumbs against his temples as if warding off a headache. The flat was dim and lifeless, the only light coming from a solitary lampshade that had been left on and the phantom stream from the streetlights outside. Something in Sherlock clenched uncomfortably, the sinking knowledge that he had made a wrong turn somewhere and things were going to go horribly wrong.

"John-"

"Don't. Just don't." Sherlock sighed, taking off and hanging his coat, a present from John for his last, 37th birthday. Sherlock had barely eaten for the past three days, and slept even less, but he sat down on the couch, knowing that ignoring John would just make things worse. Stubbornness and guilt fought inside him. He had done the right thing by going to the warehouse- it had worked, hadn't it? It was unfair of John to dictate exactly what amount of danger they were supposed to get themselves into. And yet...

"Should I make tea?" Sherlock offered. There was a pause before John laughed, the muffled sound as hollow as a bell jar. He let his hands fall, staring at them blindly.

"You don't even care, do you?" He said quietly. Sherlock looked at him, clenching his jaw.

"I cared about the victims. I-"

"No you didn't," John cut him off with that same deadly, soft voice. "You cared about the puzzle, about being the one to break it. You didn't care that you put all those people in danger had the criminals figured out who you were, you didn't care that you could have just as easily gotten yourself killed, and you didn't care that I was left here, calling your phone, knowing what you'd done and not even...For God's sake Sherlock, what were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all?" John asked, finally looking at Sherlock. His eyes were burning, almost pleading, as if he already knew the war had been lost. Sherlock frowned.

"Of course I was thinking. I had it under control, obviously, or it wouldn't have worked! You're overreacting, John."

"Overreacting," John echoed dully. "Sherlock...I thought you were dead. Lestrade said...and then you didn't even answer your phone. Don't you understand? Don't you even care?"

"But I'm not dead! What does it matter- you were wrong. I'm here, the victims are alive, the men captured, the-"

"Just. Stop." The look John gave him was filled with such grief that for a moment Sherlock wanted to take it all back, apologise, lie. But he couldn't. He had never been able to put someone else's emotions above his own convictions. It was woven into his skin, the very matter of his brain. No matter how many years passed, this was who he was. And as he looked at John, that aged, amazingly familiar face- in sight, touch, taste- Sherlock knew that this was the point. This was the point at which Sherlock's destructive force was too much for even John's stone form to stand.

"How many times, Sherlock? I sat here, here, wondering if I would get a call from Lestrade telling me you were dead, that I would have to identify your body in the morning. How many times are you going to do this? Until something goes wrong and you just...leave? And then what? What do you suppose I do then, Sherlock?"

"You would live without me," Sherlock said simply. John would grieve, he knew. In fact, Sherlock has seen him do it before. But he would survive. John would always survive.

There was a terrible pause, an open chasm between them growing uncontrollably, before John shot up from his chair, looming over Sherlock and clutching at the shirt over his shoulders.

"I don't want to live without you!" He bellowed, cracked, spilled. He shook Sherlock, once, before pressing his fingers down almost painfully on skin and bone. "I can't, I just can't- Sherlock, please, I'm actually begging you. You can't do this. You can't do this to me."

"I'm not doing this to you, John. I'm just doing this," Sherlock said quietly, looking up at the man that had stood by him for so many years. With him in the battlefield, the home front, with him even when he wasn't.

"Yes you are, Sherlock. I'm the one left behind. Wouldn't you feel something if I died? Wouldn't you-"

"What a ridiculous question!" Sherlock bit out, angry now. "It's been seven years since we... I am not so unfeeling," he whispered harshly.

"Then why can't you understand? You can't go without me. You can't leave me behind." John's voice was quiet, now, the fury bled away by Sherlock's words. Sherlock closed his eyes, shaking his head, wishing John could simply understand.

And addiction is an addiction is an addiction.

"John I can't just...I'm..."

"Sherlock..." John untangled his fingers from his shirt, moving to sit beside the other man. He put his palm against Sherlock's cheek, turning it to make it face him, though Sherlock didn't open his eyes. "Don't you think I know? Sherlock, I've been with you for, what...for ten years now. I know you, I know what you need. But that isn't an excuse. Do you understand what would happen if you died? Sherlock, I..." And even after all these years the words didn't come easy, to either of them. Not because they didn't feel them, but because this wasn't a relationship for the movies, for sunsets and soft sheets. This was John and Sherlock, and their love was made of explosives, of a need that was deep and treacherous like the ocean.

"I need you here with me," John finished. Sherlock opened his eyes, looking at him. Their history was etched there on his face. All their fights, all their comforting moments, every caress and kiss and bite, the meals shared, the crimes solved, the bed space filled by their tangled bodies. Often Sherlock thought that the only thing that could ever change about himself were the things he kept in his mind palace, his little treasures and his little facts. Never in his life would he have guessed he could keep someone like John for so long, and he knew something fundamental in him had grown to allow such a feat. Lesser people than Sherlock fought and defeated their demons, Sherlock had simply never seen the true benefit of it. But as he looked at John, John and him, together, on the lines of that face, he wondered.

Sherlock moved forwards, placing a kiss on the wrinkles at the side of John's eyes, those precious indentations of laughter that were silent and unused, now.

"Ok. I understand," Sherlock said quietly. He felt John sigh against him, a breath of relieved air. "I'm not promising-"

"I know. But I need you to try." He pulled away, smiling slightly. "I'm not putting up with your brother at Christmas alone. He ate all the mince pies last time. I've never seen Mrs. Hudson so shocked, and considering what you get up to in here..."

"He is getting rather fat, isn't he?" Sherlock said with undue pleasure. John laughed, before his features settled into something softer.

"What am I going to do with you?" He asked quietly, fingers hovering right above the cut on Sherlock's bruised cheek. Sherlock caught his wrist, placing a rare kiss to the palm of his hand, the true meaning of John's words quite clear.

What would I do without you?

Sherlock had never thought much about become a good man, but if it could be done, it would be for this man before him.

...*...

87.

Sherlock walks slowly over the damp grass, towards the small shed where his bee-keeping utensils rest. Leaning his cane on the wooden wall he unlocks the door and reaches inside for his light, protective suit, putting it on with practiced ease despite his complaining joints. Once donned, he moves back towards one of the skeps, a glass jar in his hand. The buzz around him intensifies, but it is a familiar, comforting drone, and the bees are not as alarmed as they once were, having learnt his presence is no real threat to the hive. He reaches for one of the supers, where the surplus honey is stored, and carefully removes the combs he finds there.

This is all habit, now, the excess honey a sign of the easy productivity of his bees, but it wasn't always so easy. The start of a hive is laborious, and though quickly made it is a period of vulnerability. Once the queen is born and made, everything is set into action, the pieces falling in their place, but it is a battle that each creature has to fight; for survival, for the good of themselves and those around them. John had helped him build his very first skep, but the hive had nearly died that winter. Beginnings are rarely easy, but the proof of their worth is trickling richly on Sherlock's palmed hands. This is something Sherlock treasures not in jars, but in the memories that line the most precious walls of his mind.

...*...

29.

John was hovering. It was the day after a particularly gruelling case, but Sherlock had still not come down from its high, his violin spreading manic sounds across the apartment. John had been trying to dissuade him from his composition for most of the day, a recently cooked meal already cold on the coffee table.

"Sherlock, come on, just eat it and go to bed, you can keep going after you rest. You'll feel better," he was saying, standing tiredly at the entrance of the kitchen. Sherlock's violin howled a particularly screeching noise, and John flinched.

"Sherlock..."

"John, I think you're under the misguided notion that I don't feel well at present. I'm perfectly fine, stop nagging."

"You're just not listening to your body, as usual. Even if you feel fine, your body needs some sustenance, some peace. Just-"

"Give it a rest. I'm fine."

"Sherlock-"

"For God's sake!" Sherlock exclaimed, the hand holding the violin bow motioning widely in front of him, "Enough! Simply because your feeble mind can't comprehend the notion of having control over one's needs and the importance of higher cognitive function doesn't mean I have to lower my behavioural patterns to your standard!" It was true that he was tired, the feeling a grating sensation at the back of his eyelids, but he had made a mistake in the last case and he wouldn't rest until he resolved the matter completely, insuring it never occurred again.

John closed his eyes in an expression of quickly disappearing patience.

"Fine. Fine. I'm not your keeper, do whatever you want. Starve to death, if that's your bloody fancy."

"That's right, you aren't my keeper. Who in the world would want to keep me?" Sherlock bit out petulantly, watching as John shoved his jacket on, grabbing his keys and phone into angry fists.

"You wouldn't know the answer to that question even if it bit you in the face. I'm off." And with that he stomped down the stairs. Sherlock waited until the front door slammed shut before moving to the window to watch John's retreating form on the street, a smudge of black hunched over against the wind. He set the violin down carefully and flung himself on the couch, red robe billowing around him before settling. He pressed his palms together and then hard against his forehead, shutting his eyes tight. Why did John have to be so infuriating? Couldn't he see that Sherlock's brain couldn't just be switched off like John's beloved kettle? Granted he never really tried, but why should he? For the good of who?

He stayed there as the light outside dimmed and disappeared, leaving him in a cold a barren twilight. His thoughts whirled, unstoppable, inside him, fending off sleep, oscillating between John, the case, the new sets of tobacco ash he was investigating, John, John again. The cycle was maddening.

Three hours and a quarter later he heard the front door open, close, and the slow steps of John's ascending form. He walked into the flat and Sherlock could feel the glance he was dispensed before John moved into the kitchen. Two pints, at most; obviously Lestrade was on call. He listened to John rattle about making tea, the cure-all remedy for his soul. The water was poured into a mug, the filling sound solitary in their apartment, and Sherlock's words leaked out of his own mouth like boiling liquid.

"Have fun with your friend?" He asked with derision. There was a long pause as the tea seeped, the milk added, before John stepped out of the kitchen, cradling the beverage in his hands. Sherlock had gotten to his feet and stood facing the window, looking at the dreary street outside.

"Sherlock, I don't know what's gotten into you, but kindly remove it from your person. I don't know how you think friendship works, but people don't have limited amounts of space in their heart, making them push one friend out to insert another," John said finally, sounding like he was trying to insert a higher level of patience in his voice than he actually felt.

"The heart is a muscle designed to pump blood around the body, John, not a cave to keep your little friends in. As a medical practitioner I would have hoped you knew that." Sherlock didn't know exactly why John was frustrating him to such a level, but the feeling of placeless anxiety inside him needed somewhere to go, and its source was just a good a target.

"I'm going up. I'll see you tomorrow, Sherlock. Hopefully your tantrum will have ended by then," John said, but before he could turn fully around, Sherlock had strode towards him, grabbing his arm. John startled, trying not to spill his tea.

"We're talking," Sherlock said darkly. John didn't have permission to just leave; if Sherlock couldn't escape this feeling, neither could John.

"No we aren't. You are just arguing for arguing's sake. I don't need to be here for this, you can be a prat just as efficiently by yourself." John tried to pull away from him, but Sherlock just tightened his grip, getting angrier every second.

"Sherlock, let me-"

"Just shut up! Why won't you let me think?" Sherlock snarled, and John leaned back from him, bemused and not a little shocked.

"Sherlock, what the hell? That's what I'm-" But Sherlock didn't want to hear it, didn't want to hear John's voice from that soft face, the memory of him shooting down the killer that had almost gotten them, both of them, and Sherlock had thought, for a second, as the knife disappeared and the murderer slumped forward, as John fell, that he had been hit, a deadly hit, and Sherlock had felt something- foreign, something overwhelming. Something human. A disadvantage.

So Sherlock lunged forward, an attack, an escape. The tea spilled, the heat of it against John's skin making him cry out, drop, shatter it, the noise capturing the sudden clash of their lips perfectly. John stumbled backwards, back hitting a wall, rattling a picture. He was devoured. Sherlock pressed his body against John's, harder, more. John opened his mouth in a pant, or a plea, but Sherlock had no mercy, he let his tongue slip inside, savouring, at last, the poison. John moaned against him, his hands fluttering upwards to clutch at Sherlock's hair, his neck, his shoulders, drowning from the sudden rush. Sherlock mapped out the shape of John's teeth, pressing against an incisor, wishing to draw blood, but John's tongue was too distracting. It moved against him in that pattern you never forget, a dance of delicious spit, of the infernal heat of breath.

"Sherlock, Sherlock," John let out as they parted for breath. Sherlock looked at him, eyes dark in order to swallow the other man whole, inches away from another taste. Then, to his surprise, John smiled. "God...you're such an idiot." Sherlock opened his mouth to defend himself, but closed them again as John just leaned forward, taking control, now, letting his tongue run across the seam of Sherlock's lips, an enquiry. Sherlock's guard dogs were called down, his walls crumbled, and he pushed forward again, letting John's tongue be part of him, make him a little more whole, a little less him. He surrendered. He let his hands slip under John's jumper and shirt, running them against the warm skin of John's back, and John pressed a little closer, angling his mouth so that the kiss became deeper, more intense. In his robe pocket, Sherlock's phone chimed. John went to pull away, but Sherlock growled low in his throat, digging his nails into him, and John gasped against his mouth, a delicious sound of want, of more. Sherlock could feel John's erection against his hip and thrust slowly forward, a teasing slide, making John pant out a moan, pulling at Sherlock's hair desperately. The noise of their gasping breaths, however, was interrupted by another short ring from Sherlock's phone, and then another.

"What is it!?" Sherlock growled as he pulled minimally away, yanking the phone out with a trembling hand and glowering at the screen.

"Well?" John said after a moment of silence.

"Murder. Must be good if Lestrade got called in," Sherlock replied. They looked at each other, a moment of charged silence, before John pressed gently against Sherlock's chest.

"Get dressed. We'll go. I'll...clean up the tea." After a moment Sherlock stepped back, running a hand against his hair. It was the first time in his life that he had damned the appearance of a murder. He looked down at John. Everything was so terribly silent. The uncertainty grew between them in fields of weeds. Then, in the darkness, John smiled, that comforting, it's all fine smile, and Sherlock felt something loosen, untwist, inside.

Maybe it would be.

...*...

87.

Despite Sherlock's desire for swarming, the event is a dangerous game. It is a battle between oneself, within the hive that has worked and lived together for a common survival. Deaths are inevitable and destruction the ultimate outcome. The hive is divided, half leaving to construct a new home. Sherlock, however, knows about death. He has made a living out of it, sought puzzles in the murky depths of other's despair. Now, as he collects the honey of the super hanging over his second skep, he is aware that sometimes that destruction is necessary, but no less painful for the fact. In the end, the remaining half of the hive go to join the newly constructed home. In times of despair, one must make allowances, must seek refuge in the creatures that have weathered the cold of winter and the working frenzy of summer with you. The habitat that now surrounds him; the contained, buzzing mounds of life in which the bees live and, beyond them, the house that has become Sherlock and John's home, have all faced loss, and those are the moments in which one is allowed to find what truly matters; those that will keep with you after a battle is lost. Life is a long and addictive war, Sherlock thinks, now, a veteran of his own existence, and he has learnt the value of having a soldier to have your back. When he was young he assumed he would live alone; not with misery, but with resignation. That he isn't the solitary creature he thought he was but, instead, a bee keeper, is Sherlock's most precious, deeply buried treasure.

...*...

49.

Mycroft's death was a pedestrian affair. Cancer of the lung, ironically befalling the Holmes brother who had never smoked a cigarette in his life, not even a Cuban cigar with his colleagues. He died in his home, surrounded by cold, beeping machines. He died alone.

The day of the funeral, Sherlock barely spoke. He was accompanied by John, standing beside him in a soldier's pose as they looked at the descending casket. Sherlock's mother was the only one weeping, though she did it quietly, a handkerchief embroidered with Mycroft's initials pressed against her mouth. The rest of the crowd might as well have been part of a masquerade, composed of Mycroft's numb-faced, government spectres. God Save the Queen rung out as the coffin hit the 6-feet-deep ground, and Sherlock fleetingly thought the man could have just as well be buried in a sea of tea, amongst the shells of crushed saucers and china cups. With a trembling hand their mother threw a handful of soil over the polished mahogany. Sherlock did the same, but his hands were steady and stiff.

The event unravelled. The crowd dispersed.

It was late at night when Sherlock and John finally made it to their flat; it would be more than a decade before they would leave London for the countryside. Though still, the flat breathed of life; it was suffused by the now imprinted smell of Sherlock and John, their cooking habits, the materials they favoured, the suspicious odour of Sherlock's experiments and the resin from cleaning his violin. Sherlock took a deep breath, vanishing the scent of lilies and gladiolas from his mind. Without a word Sherlock shed his coat, going to their room and changing into soft garments and his very old and worn blue gown. John sat on the bed, watching him, but Sherlock ignored his presence, even as John, too, undressed into more comfortable clothes.

"Do you want-"

"I'll be at my microscope," Sherlock said curtly, his shoulders straight and tense.

"Alright," John replied quietly, following Sherlock to the living room. It had been many years since the room upstairs had been converted into a lab for Sherlock's more poisonous experiments, but his old microscope still sat in the living room, a curious sign of affection, allowing Sherlock from being holed up upstairs for long periods of time. Sherlock settled before it, a box of slides at one elbow, his laptop humming to life at the other. The world around him faded away as he concentrated on the patterns of the cells and compositions before him. After a while he felt John place a steaming cup of tea beside him and Sherlock looked up to see John give him a smile before he settled down on the couch with a book.

"It's late. You might as well go to bed, I still have two dozen specimens to analyse," Sherlock said.

"No, I'd rather stay up until you go to bed. Anyways, I'm not tired," John replied, and they both knew the latter was a lie- it had been three emotionally tiring days, but Sherlock let it drop. Time passed in silence. The tea grew cold. It was hours later before Sherlock lifted his head away from his work, the edges of his eyes burning with the strain of adjusting the lens of the microscope. Instinctively he looked at John and saw the man had fallen asleep, the open book slumbering on his lap. Sherlock saved the SPSS document, shutting off the laptop before grabbing a blanket and moving towards his partner. He removed the book and, after just a moment of hesitation, settled beside John, draping the blanket over both of them. He pressed against him, leaning his head against John's shoulder, who stirred at the contact.

"Mh? Sherlock?" He mumbled sleepily, uncurling an arm to settle it around Sherlock.

"Go back to sleep," Sherlock replied, his own eyes closing of their own volition. There was a long moment of silence, but Sherlock could tell John was still awake. He could hear his heartbeat in the silence of the room.

"When I was six," Sherlock begun quietly, "I went down to the lake beside out summer house, fancying myself a pirate, then. I wasn't supposed to go alone, and with good reason. I slipped and fell inside, knocking my elbow on the side of the wooden boardwalk, and in my panic almost drowned. I hadn't noticed, but Mycroft had been watching me, and he pulled me out of the water and carried me all the way back home. I remember struggling against him, saying that pirates didn't need to be rescued from water, but, of course, he didn't listen. Instead he took me to the porch and dried me off and disinfected my cut. He didn't tell Mummy about it. In the end all he said was 'Even pirates need to respect that which they depend on. Be careful, will you?' Such a Mycroft thing to say. He was such an imperialist." John ran his fingers through Sherlock's hair, letting the story rest, for a moment.

"Remember when Mycroft gave Moriarty that seemingly innocuous information about your past? I was never sure about him, about what he wanted or felt, especially not after that, but...he asked me to tell you he was sorry. I remember his face. It was...well. It did hit me then, that he loved you. Despite everything...maybe he was indeed an imperialist, but he was also your brother. That meant something to him." Sherlock could tell John wasn't quite sure if that was the right thing to say, then, but the memory was clear and vivid in John's mind.

"Caring is not an advantage. He told me that, long ago. But...for once, I was one step ahead of him," Sherlock said softly, and his hand searched under the blanket until it found John's. Their fingers slid against each other before intertwining. "I think he was quite mistaken, about that."

It was the dead of night, but John and Sherlock were warm and alive beside each other. John smiled and placed a kiss on Sherlock's hair, pulling him close. The blanket cocooned them against the world.

"You're quite right about that. Caring is one of the few true advantages of life."

In the darkness, sleep took them. They dreamt of nothing, but it didn't matter. What they wake up to is enough.

...*...

87.

As Sherlock hobbles slightly back towards the shed, the large, open-mouthed jar filled with honey combs, he counts the weeks until the most active bee mating season commences. As the queen is the only sexually mature female in the hive, she is the protagonist of the show, engaging in nuptial flights some distance from the hives. Sherlock, as stubborn as he is, has managed to see the mating occur a few times over the years. The first time he was witness to it he had texted John, and they had stood below an old oak tree, watching. To John it had been dots simply buzzing around in an incomprehensible dance. To Sherlock it was another pattern, similar to the one himself and John had danced, once. It is not an easy game to play, he knows; an underperforming queen will be slaughtered, forgotten. Though it may seem extreme, people are known to do similar things, discarding their partners if they become unfit, if they are revealed to be sub-par. Curiously, despite Sherlock's arrogance, his petulance and stubbornness, he has never thought John in danger of being the one to be discarded. Sherlock is enthralled by few things, but when he is it is forever, be it solving crimes, scientific investigation, or the people he chooses to be surrounded by. Sherlock doesn't know how normal relationships work. He assumes that people are too dim-witted to realize at the start of a relationship whether or not the person with whom they are embarking with will suit their inevitable needs and wants, but Sherlock is not so short-sighted. It was from the very beginning that he knew that John contained all the elements possible to make a good companion; first, a flatmate, then a friend, and third a man who it would be almost almost impossible to live without. John, however, knows about normalcy. He had dated in healthy, stable, ultimately unsatisfactory relationships. All his queens had died; he himself had died a hundred deaths. Sherlock had once assumed that if their queen was to be declared damned, it would be John the one to do it.

...*...

33.

The woman had touched John's arm a total of fourteen times, an excessive amount, Sherlock thought, for even those not as unused to public displays of affection as he was. She was smiling and giggling at all of John's terrible jokes, barely taking her eyes off him. John was telling her some kind of story that involved a lot of hand gestures and a ridiculous variety of facial expressions. Sherlock found the whole thing vaguely nauseating.

"Your boyfriend seems to be having fun," Donovan smirked, sidling up beside him. Sherlock didn't bother looking at her, instead kepping his eyes on the woman's hands. Fifteen.

"Quite the miracle, considering the company we're being forced to endure," Sherlock replied, now giving her a pointed look, but Donovan's smirk only widened.

"Rest assured, freak, that no one is enjoying yours. Not even John, it seems." Sherlock rolled his eyes.

"Yes, and Anderson seems to have been avoiding you all night. Do tell, how is his baby? Such a shame he no longer has time to have you stay over, isn't it?" He drawled. From the corner of his eye he saw Donovan tense and purse her lips, the hand around her champagne glass tightening.

"Oh, she's just fine. Actually, John saw her the other day, he seemed quite taken with her. He's really good with children, isn't he? Too bad he'll never have any. Not good for everything, are you?" She snarled quietly. Sherlock clenched his teeth, wanting to take a bite out of her infuriating face, but he had promised John to be on his best behaviour. They were attending the celebratory reception of Lestrade's reinstatement as Chief Inspector, something he had had to work hard for after the whole Reichenbach Fall mess. John had insisted that, since his demotion had been mostly their fault, they should attend, and since Sherlock had wrecked two police cars and set fire to an, admittedly abandoned, building in their last case, he could hardly protest or he would risk ending his career as consultant detective.

"Yes, I guess he's as likely of having children as you are," Sherlock replied in a bored tone, walking away from her steaming form. He was already strung tight from the whole affair, a dent in his tongue from where he had bitten all night to stop himself verbally exploding all over the nearest idiot surrounding him. But even as he walked away Donovan's words were sharp and deadly inside his mind. He sat down beside a potted plant, hoping that he wouldn't have to engage in any more mind-numbingly boring small talk with the imbeciles attending the party.

It was forty-five minutes later before John found Sherlock, dragging a chair to sit beside him.

"Sherlock, do you really need to glower at everybody from the shadows like this? I think you almost gave Mrs. Bernard a heart attack," John joked, obviously in good cheer. The amused tone of voice simply aided in shredding Sherlock's quickly evaporating patience.

"You said to behave, so I'm being a good little boy and following your orders. Aren't you proud?" Sherlock replied acidly. John raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Wow. That's some mood you're in. I'll say goodbye to Lestrade and we can leave, I'm afraid if you stay here much longer you'll blow something up, and considering we're in a room filled with people from the Yard..."

"Oh, goody, you're giving me permission to leave. However should I thank you?" Sherlock looked away from John's half amused, half exasperated expression. Obviously he was in too good a mood for it to be ruined by Sherlock. Fantastic. Sherlock couldn't help but watch John as he went to talk to the inspector. Sherlock looked away as they went to glance at him, but he could hear Lestrade chuckle at something John said. Sherlock's jaw clenched painfully. He felt like a trapped, isolated animal. A test subject, an abnormal little specimen placed in the room so that everybody else could feel oh so much better about their own little lives.

As soon as John started walking back towards him Sherlock got up and strode out of the door, not even waving goodbye at Lestrade. He yanked his coat from the hands of the cloak clerk and made the mistake of looking back to the open reception room. John was saying goodbye to the woman he had spent a large portion of the night with, smiling at her. Sherlock pulled his coat around him like armour and walked outside. The cool air was a relief on his frayed nerves. The claustrophobia from being cooped up for so long with so many idiots fell slightly away from his bones. Instead, however, it left him feeling oddly hollow, as if something crucial had been lost in the party, some essential part of him.

"I told reception to call us a cab, it'll be here in a minute. You ok?" John said as he walked up behind Sherlock.

"I'm fine," Sherlock replied shortly. John settled beside him, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets.

"Lestrade seemed pleased. Thing will go better for him now," John mused.

"How fantastic for him," Sherlock muttered. John looked at him and bumped his shoulder gently against Sherlock's arm.

"Come on, Sherlock. Don't be grumpy, it's over now. And you didn't maim or psychological traumatize anybody, so I'm calling the whole thing a success," he smiled.

"I'm not grumpy, I'm fine."

"Yeah...I can see that. Oh, there's the cab, that was quick."

The cab ride was mostly silent, despite John's various attempts to engage Sherlock in conversation. Sherlock wished he could slip away and smoke a whole packet of cigarettes. His memory brought forward the bitter taste of the smoke, the way the lungs filled deliciously and held, suspended for a moment, the pleasure, before the air slit past his teeth. That first drag was always the best, long in order to light the cigarette, the sudden flare of the tip, bringing it to life. He scratched his fingernails against his palm, the craving so strong for a moment that he could barely think.

As soon as they were inside the apartment Sherlock ripped off his coat and went straight to where he kept his nicotine patches, pulling out three at once.

"Sherlock, what are you doing?" John asked, coming up behind him.

"What does it look like I'm doing, John? Or has that insufferable party killed all your remaining neurons?" Sherlock snarled, wishing John could just step away for him, wishing he could escape.

"Christ. What has gotten into you? Did something happen at the party?"

"No, John, nothing happened. I'm trying to think, you know, that thing people with actual brains do?" Sherlock sneered derisively, turning to look at John, who was frowning.

"You're being insufferable," John said, pursing his lips. Sherlock tried not to shake him in his anger.

"Yes, that's me. Insufferable. So why don't you go back to the party, hm? You can go mate with that woman. Have a whole brood of children. Move to the countryside, get a dog. That way you wouldn't have to put up with insufferable me," Sherlock said angrily, glowering at the other man. John gaped at him.

"Sherlock...what in the world are you on about? Are you talking about Shelly? She's just...wait. Oh my God. Sherlock...are you jealous?" John asked incredulously. Sherlock's lips curled.

"Jealous? Of what, exactly? That empty-headed imbecile? Yes, John, I've always aspired to be a retarded drone of society," Sherlock proclaimed, flinging the nicotine patch box across the room. John watched it as it sailed across the room, hit the skull, and fell onto the floor, before looking back at Sherlock.

"Jesus Christ. Sherlock, Shelly isn't even a friend, I met her today, I was just passing the time. She's friendly enough but...come on. You can't seriously believe that...Sherlock, despite how obviously mental you are, I'm with you. I don't want a...brood of children. I'm quite happy with the way things are," John said gently, reaching out to catch Sherlock's arm, but Sherlock pulled away from him, rounding the coffee table and pacing in front of it.

"Yes, you say that now, but what about in five years? I know you've thought about having a family. You're being ridiculous. Just go," Sherlock ranted, sticking one of the patches on his wrist.

"Christ, you really are mental. You're off your rocker. Sherlock, as hard as this is for you to believe, I love you. I'm not going anywhere."

"Love," Sherlock snorted.

"Yes, love," John said before Sherlock could go on, "We've been together for three years! What do you think I'm doing here, Sherlock, just passing the time until a fertile woman crosses my path so I can fling myself at her? I may have thought about having a family once, but...Sherlock, come on. Stop pacing, you're making me dizzy." John moved over to Sherlock, stilling him with his hands on Sherlock's narrow hips.

"You don't have anything to be worried about," he said quietly.

"I'm not worried," Sherlock muttered. John smiled slightly.

"Right. Of course not," he chuckled. "God, it figures that you would be so brilliantly arrogant about some things and so ridiculously insecure about this." Sherlock opened his mouth to protest, I'm not insecure, but John cut him off with a kiss. He soothed Sherlock's lips with his tongue before slipping it inside his mouth, a warm and wonderful taste, his hands secure around Sherlock's face. He stroked the shell of an ear, the line of the pale throat, catching the nape of the neck to pull Sherlock closer. Sherlock felt overwhelmed, frayed, a body of live wires waiting to electrocute. It was too much and not enough all at once.

Sometimes you only understand the feeling of being lost once you've been found.

Sherlock grabbed at John so roughly that they stumbled backwards, Sherlock backpedalling from the momentum, but their mouths didn't disengage. Sherlock pulled them into their bedroom and John pushed Sherlock down on the bed, straddling his hips, panting his name into his mouth.

"Undress," Sherlock ordered, though he had a hard time of letting go of John's mouth. John sat up, giving him a small smile, and unbuttoned his dress shirt, one casual button at a time. Sherlock looked up at him, tracing the skin just above his black trousers, dipping in once in a awhile to tease the hairs that lead to more valuable terrain. When the shirt was off, Sherlock unbuttoned and unzipped John's trousers, but after a moment of awkward struggling as they tried to pull them down with John still in place the man rolled sideways, almost falling over as they tangled on his knees, to remove them. Sherlock snorted and John chuckled a shut up, placing a kiss on his lips as the trousers fell by the side of the bed. Sherlock went to unbutton his own white shirt but John stilled his hands.

"Let me." He scooted Sherlock towards the head of the bed so that his head was resting on the stacked pillow, his legs flat on the bed. John straddled his thighs and looked at him for an achingly filled moment. The lights were low, for a change; Sherlock usually preferred to have the lights on, and a memorable time with a lens in hand. At that moment, though, Sherlock seemed to be the one glowing, a creature of contrasts; his pale skin and dark hair, the cold irises ringing those dark eyes, that skinny love enveloped in such warmth.

Slowly, he undid the small buttons of Sherlock's shirt, bending down to breathe over, though not quite touch, the skin revealed. When the shirt was undone it fell to the sides and John licked over the bellybutton, making Sherlock exhale a small gasp. John let his lips trace the path his fingers had, across the hard planes, stopping at a nipple to savour its peak, and Sherlock ran his hands through John's hair, the softest John breaking on his lips. John ran his tongue over a sharp collarbone. It tasted of skin, of salt. Sherlock.

John sat up and brought one of Sherlock's hands with him, examined those long, piano fingers, kissing the first knuckles, the second, before exploring the palm. Sherlock lay silently, his chest heaving slightly with slow, shaken breaths, as John kissed his wrist, peeling the nicotine patch off, undoing the cufflink. The hand was dropped and the other adopted, explored, before the second cufflink was discarded, the silver of it glinting for a moment in the dimness. Sherlock sat up for a moment, the shirt removed and thrown aside, and he kissed John deeply, trembling for more, more, but John pushed him gently back down, sliding, himself, so that he could undo Sherlock's trousers. They were pulled off, leaving Sherlock, like John, in just his underpants, a pair of simple, black, tight boxers, stretched delectably by the erection. John paid it no mind, however. Instead he moved towards the other side of the bed and traced his fingers over a foot, making it twitch slightly, He picked it up, cupping the heel with his palm, and let the ankle run over his lips, catching the bone with his teeth. Sherlock's toes curled and John smiled, a both reverent and dark expression. John moved upwards, feeling the sparse hairs with his tongue, following the hard path of Sherlock's bone, the delicate underbelly with his fingers, exploring this familiar landscape, relishing in it, a soft and intimate worship. Sherlock's knees were bony, delicious, and he dug his nails into them slightly, dragging the flat of his tongue over the rough skin. Sherlock's leg jerked, a strangled noise choking from his mouth, and John soothed him with delicate fingertips on the underside of the knee, but it just made Sherlock squirm further. John advanced, conquering with patience, moving towards the other thigh. He kissed a winding trail, dripped towards the heat between his legs, catching the sensitized skin of the thigh's underbelly, and Sherlock was writhing, now, the anticipation of John's landing at his final destination. John looked up to see Sherlock watching him with such intensity that it made him shiver, want, need, and he pressed his face against Sherlock's stomach, moving to find those beautiful, narrow hips, so sharp they cut all resolve, all coherence. Finally, finally, he traced the outline of Sherlock's erection with his fingers, curling to the side, and Sherlock arched his back, so pent up he felt like snapping at the slightest contact.

"You're mine, Sherlock. You're mine," John whispered without even thinking about it, a simple statement of fact. But they weren't good with these types of words. When it counted, they were men of action.

John kissed over the waistband of Sherlock's boxers before removing them, letting his cock spring free. The last of the clothing was removed and John himself was so hard he could hardly stand it, but he couldn't get enough of Sherlock, his pale skin and those soft, broken sounds. He held Sherlock's hips as his tongue ran a long, slow line over his cock, making Sherlock cry out, plead, and he took the head into his mouth, sucking slightly, before releasing.

"I need...I need to...I need you," John whispered, and Sherlock moaned, an uncontrollable noise. He sat up suddenly and yanked the bedside table drawer open with such force that it was removed entirely, the contents scattering everywhere.

"Fuck!" Sherlock growled and John laughed, earning himself a glare.

"Find. The. Lube," Sherlock said slowly, and John couldn't help another chuckle.

"Yes, sir," he saluted, making Sherlock roll his eyes.

"And take off your pants!" he barked out. John crouched down in the darkness, trying to make out the tube of lube as he bit down a grin. He spotted it under the bed and grabbed it, standing up to shake it triumphantly at Sherlock.

"Pants," was all the other man said, and John, without much hesitation, followed orders, releasing his cock and stepping out of the offending garment. He stood there, completely nude, a challenge. Sherlock licked his lips.

"Anything else, sir?" John drawled. Sherlock narrowed his eyes.

"Yes, come here and fuck me," he said, voice all a growl. The amusement bled out of John's face, replaced by undiluted want. He crawled back on the bed, and Sherlock's heart was beating so fast it inundated all other sound in his mind. All there was, was John.

John straddled Sherlock again, leaving the lube besides them for a moment as he leaned down, kissing Sherlock, taking all of him, leaving nothing, nothing behind. Sherlock lifted his knees, their cocks brushing, sliding together and they moaned, the tempo in the room picking up in time with their breaths. John pulled away, a thin, perfect string of saliva connecting them for a moment before snapping. Looking at Sherlock, at those swallowing eyes, he coated two fingers with lube.

"Sherlock, I'm not going to fuck you," John said quietly, shifting Sherlock so that he could reach the back of a testicle, further down to circle his entrance with a coated finger. Sherlock narrowed his eyes instantaneously at the words.

"What-" But John leaned down, pressed his lips against Sherlock's chastely.

"I'm not going to fuck you. This isn't what we're doing here. This isn't fucking...you know that, right? This is...Sherlock. This is something else," he whispered. For a moment Sherlock tensed, before his eyes closed in an almost pained expression.

"John..." he said helplessly. John moved his lips to trace Sherlock's ear and whispered,

"I'm never going to leave you, Sherlock. Do you understand that? I'm yours," and he pushed a finger in, deep, Sherlock used to the intrusion. Sherlock cried out, lifting his knees higher, but all he could say was John, John, John. The world unravelled. Sherlock felt a sort of fear, inside, the fear you feel when you are falling, when you know something has become inescapable. When you don't want to escape.

When something that can destroy you, saves you instead.

"Now, John, now," Sherlock said finally when he was stretched enough. John had been placing kisses all over his mouth, his cheek, his neck, the waves of him crashing over Sherlock, one after another, a relentless pace. John coated his cock with lube. They hadn't used condoms in two years; a clear sign of trust.

Sherlock's knees were pressing against his shoulders and John positioned himself, one hand guiding his cock and the other clutching at the sheets by Sherlock's face. He looked at Sherlock's eyes, unable to disengage, and Sherlock's mouth, that perfect heart, was open and panting, wet with spit. His teeth flashed, pleading

Slowly, John moved in. Sherlock was open, pliant, neither of them unused to this, but John didn't pick up much the pace. Instead he leaned over Sherlock so that their breaths could mix and join together, his pace slow, deep, deep. Sherlock opened his eyes and all he could see was John, all he could feel, all he could smell and taste, it was all John.

Sherlock craned his neck to slide his mouth messily over John's, his trembling hand coming up to clutch at his hair, the air all moan between them.

"Please, please." Sherlock didn't even know what he himself was asking for, but he needed. He tried to think through the lightning of pleasure as his prostrate was hit, again, again, a steady contact, now, but it was all white. John wrapped his hand around Sherlock's cock in that same steady, overwhelming rhythm, and Sherlock could barely take it.

"John, I, I," but he couldn't even finish the thought before he was shattering, his spine arching, a cry leaving his lips, and he could feel John coming inside him, that exquisite wetness. The world was blinded. Everything stopped.

When he had enough energy to open his eyes, Sherlock saw John was sprawled beside him, half over him, still panting slightly. His eyes were closed. His muscles relaxed.

This man, he thought. This man is mine. And Sherlock, with the resolve he uses to decide that which is most important to him, knew that he would keep him. If it ever ended, it would be with a struggle, against Sherlock's tooth and nail and razor mind.

"John," Sherlock said, and the man mumbled slightly, pressing closer to Sherlock.

"Mhm, yeah?"

"We should make your old room into a laboratory, to keep my things, as well as your journals. You never sleep there, it's ridiculous that we haven't done it before," Sherlock replied sternly. There was a pause, and Sherlock could feel John's smile.

"Yeah, alright," He says quietly. Sherlock stretches for a moment to grab one of the clean cloths they keep under the bed to clean himself up before settling back down. He pulls John close, presses him against him, a clear message,

You are mine to keep.

...*...

87.

Now, Sherlock knows he was capable of keeping John, guarding him, for as long as he possibly could. They lived together in Baker Street for forty-three years before moving to the countryside so Sherlock could keep other creatures in jars and mud. All they had, they shared, built together; a life.

But even the most precious things don't last forever.

"Sherlock, I can't believe I'm still making you tea in your own house. Come here, will you? We have to leave in twenty minutes," Lestrade's voice calls out from the kitchen window.

"We'll be there before Molly. It's raining in London, her hip will be acting up," Sherlock replies, nonetheless moving towards the house, his protective suit once again hung inside the shed.

"Know-it-all," Lestrade mutters as Sherlock steps inside the house. He leaves the collected honey on the counter to be dealt with later, picking up his tea. The mug is one of John's old ones, and the memory of it in his hands is an ache, for Sherlock, a hole.

Four years to this day Dr. John Watson died from heart failure. He was in the hospital, surrounded by cold, beeping machines. But he did not die alone.

Sherlock settles in John's old armchair with a slight grunt, his cane leaning on the armrest.

"How are you, Sherlock?" Lestrade asks.

"Old," replies Sherlock with a slight, wrinkled smile.

"Aren't we all!" Lestrade wheezes slightly. "Really, Sherlock, I just want to...make sure you're ok. I know it's been a few years, and, but... Well."

"As eloquent as always," Sherlock teases, before sighing. He doesn't see Lestrade often, doesn't see anybody often, really, but he is old enough to know who his friends are. Old enough to know he has them. "I'm as well as you can expect. I keep myself busy." It helps, goes unsaid.

"Still solving cases?" Lestrade asks with a smile.

"Once in a while. What will your dear police force do when I'm gone, I wonder?"

"Well, I'm retired, so that's somebody else's problem."

They sit in companionable silence, for a while. Lestrade is more than getting on in years; they all are, really. It is the point in one's life when they have done much more than they will ever do again, the point at which one is filled with things to maintain. What Sherlock has, is John. The memories of him. It is not facts from cases, of particles and bonds, not a list of murderers conquered and villains won. Those things he can discard without a second thought, easily recuperated in books and images. But John...he has always been something worth keeping.

...*...

83.

Sherlock slammed his cane against the reception desk, making the nurse behind it jump and look up from her computer, startled.

"John Watson. What room?" He bit out.

"O-oh, uh, let me see...Oh, are you Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"

"Yes, obviously! Room, now!"

"213, sir," the nurse replied curtly, and Sherlock strode off as quickly as he could, his cane thundering down the hall. The hospital smell of antiseptic and stale air had never bothered Sherlock before but, now, it created a deep, unsettling nausea. Once room 213 was reached he yanked the door open, but stilled suddenly as he saw the prone figure on the bed. John was pale, attached to various IVs and a breathing device. Machines beeped are hummed around him, a symphony of John.

"Sherlock," John said weakly, smiling. Sherlock clenched his teeth, grabbing at the chart slotted in the compartment at the foot of the bed, skimming over the pages.

"Heart failure," he summarized bitterly, throwing the chart besides John's feet.

"In a nutshell, yes," John replied. "Are you going to make me get up or are you going to come over here?" John rasped, that infuriating smile still on his face. Sherlock couldn't understand how such an expression belonged in that awful place.

Sherlock moved forward slowly, sitting down on the chair beside him. John lifted his hand slightly in an obvious invitation, but Sherlock didn't take it. He couldn't move. All he could do was stare at John's worn face, the patches of skin he had touched, kissed a million times. That skin was his, that face was his.

That failing heart was his.

"There are some treatments, I've been reading about a doctor in Japan-"

"Sherlock..."

"A heart transplant. That's what you need, you just need a transplant."

"Sherlock, who is going to give me a heart? I'm eighty-five. I've lived-"

"So what? A twenty-two-year-old could get hit by a bus tomorrow! It's completely illogical-"

"So could I. Sherlock, there's nothing you can do," John said quietly. There was acceptance there, Sherlock realized angrily.

"What, so you're just going to give up!?" He shouted, losing control. His hands clenched into painful firsts, the cane clattering to the ground.

"It's not about giving up. Sherlock...Everybody dies."

"No!" Sherlock exclaimed. He swallowed, trying to regain control. His mind was whirling madly, but it all came to the same conclusion. "No," he repeated, quietly this time. He felt as if he were seeing some great, impossible hound; there had to be another way, another explanation. This couldn't be it.

"Sherlock...thank you," John said. Sherlock frowned at him.

"For what?"

"For...Everything. Sherlock, my life...when I came back from the war, I was so alone. You have given me so much, you-"

"Stop," Sherlock said. The edges of him were coming undone. Everything was loose and trembling, shattering. "Please, John, we'll find something, we'll-"

"Shut up, will you? Just, be quiet for once in your life, old man, and listen to what I've got to tell you," John interrupted, smiling ruefully. Sherlock pursed his lips, but did as he was told.

"Sherlock, I love you. We might not have said it enough, but I guess we never really needed to. The life I've had with you...you've made me a very happy man. A man that can die with no regrets. You are infuriating, and brilliant, and mad, and the best thing...the best man, person, I have ever met. I am proud to have fought and lived beside you for so long. So, thank you."

The silence that followed was hollowed by the sound of the machines. Sherlock's inside felt rotten, a putrid, clenching mess. Finally, he took John's hand in his and pressed it against his face, his lips, hard against his forehead, shutting his eyes, concentrating on the sensation of the bony warmth.

"Sherlock..." John said softly, caressing the wrinkled face, the sharp cheekbone.

"Don't leave me," was all Sherlock could say, all he could admit, beg for. "John, please. Don't go." How could he escape from this?

"Sherlock, I'll always be with you, haven't I always said? That's never going to change."

In the empty air of the hospital room, the two men sat in their silence, their hands wrapped together, and anchor in a storm. Whether or not what John said was true was left to the superstitious to decide, to the religious, and to men as desperate as Sherlock to keep the things they love the most.

...*...

87.

As Sherlock leaves for the cemetery with Lestrade he thinks about the one thing he admires most about his bees. The fact is that a queen is not born: she is made. Born just another worker bee, the egg is fed the substance necessary for it to grow into something else, something greater. For many years Sherlock had through himself born a brilliant man, but that is not the case, he thinks now. He has become the man he is today thanks to the people he has learnt from, the company he has fed from.

Now, the misery of Sherlock's loss is something tangible and alive, something that has become as much a part of him as John had, his absence leaving a bullet-wound shaped scar inside. Sherlock had been alone before he met John, but loneliness is something relative, something that can only be felt once companionship is understood. And John has been nothing if not a companion. But Sherlock cannot regret. If he has become worthy to lead a hive at all, it is because of John. When they met, the wires needed for true human connection had been missing in Sherlock; stripped and frayed and useless. But John's presence had repaired him. He had taken Sherlock's mechanical heart and replaced the gears and oil with something akin to glass and silk, something soft, padded, something that could feel pain, affection, loss, love.

They had lived so many moments together, moments that had exploded around them, moments that had been soft and filled with John's expert light. But as Sherlock and Lestrade depart for John's grave, the last memory that overtakes him is ageless. It is one of the million of similar moments; just another day. A day at 221b Baker Street, a comfortable lull between serious cases. Sherlock is bent over his microscope and John is behind him in the kitchen, making two mugs of tea, talking and smiling as he tells Sherlock about a patient at work. Sherlock turns to look at him and is captured by the sight. It is with logical clarity, with sharp minded focus, that he realizes how beautiful this man is. Beautiful not in the way people in glossy magazines are beautiful, nor the outstanding, breathtaking sight of a natural phenomenon (the stars, the forests, the rolling mist across the silhouette of mountains), nor the delicacy of art. Instead, John is beautiful in the way a truly familiar thing is beautiful; when you know something so well that it becomes part of you, that you keep it in the most intimate, the softest nest in your mind. He sees that John is what completes the previously unfinished, wounded pattern that had been Sherlock's being.

"Sherlock? Are you listening?" John is frowning and smiling at the same time. That worn and perfect face, Sherlock knows all of it. All of him.

He moves away from the microscope, slow steps counted at the back of his mind, eliminating the distance between him and the other part of himself. He pushes John against the counter, and John lets him. Sherlock's hands rise to lie on John's shoulders, move up to his neck to simply rest there.

"John," he says simply. At the end of the day, or a lifetime, it is all that there is to say.