Everyone commented on the fact that Sherlock was so much more cheerful at work. The truth – unacknowledged, but easily realised – was that she was putting on a front. Mary's death and John's behaviour hurt her terribly, and she could only concur with Mycroft's insistence that sentiment truly was a defect. It was one of the few times in her life that she found herself on that particular losing side.
Not since the night before the funeral had Sherlock performed 'Goldfinger'. She'd returned to 'Don't Tell Mama', insisting that the former required additional work.
Tonight, a week since the funeral, Sherlock was wishing that she had a third song. Even if she did, she would have had no time to alert the band to a change, and would be forced to perform 'Don't Tell Mama' in front of her parents. They were towards the back, but in the centre, and perfectly in her line of vision. Mycroft was there, looking distinctly uncomfortable, and she couldn't help feeling that it served him right. No doubt he was responsible for their presence; though what he was trying to achieve was a mystery yet to be solved.
But then the worst happened. She'd had a few casual requests to sing 'Goldfinger', but nothing serious. Nothing until someone stepped from the shadows.
"Sing 'Goldfinger' for us," John said, loudly enough for several tables to hear. Sherlock froze where she was, and the band waited for her signal. Then other people took up the call, soon chanting the name of the song, and Sherlock internally panicked. It was an even more salacious song than 'Don't Tell Mama'. And John was there, and asking for it. And… dangling that bloody locket from his fingers. His face was blank as he held her gaze, and for a second everything went fuzzy. Sherlock forced herself to focus, and noticed her family. No. She wasn't going to fail in front of them. If they were going to be ashamed of her chosen part-time job, she wasn't going to double that shame by giving a second-rate performance.
"Well, I am paid to entertain you," she purred. Cheers went up as she nodded to the band. The moment she latched onto the pole, they started to play, and the cheers grew louder. Sherlock felt elated, and forgot everything else that wasn't the song. She had four backup dancers, two male and two female, and they danced together in the background while she made excellent use of the poles. When she ventured into the audience, she remained in fine form, cooing to the members of her unofficial fan club, and strategically avoiding her parents, Mycroft, and John. She played up to Molly and Mrs. Hudson a bit, and left her cape around a random man's shoulders.
Back onstage, Sherlock launched herself to the top of the middle pole, holding on with only her legs as she allowed herself to rest back, unbuttoned the middle part of her bodice, and let it drop to the floor as she sat up again, abs working to make the movement as smooth as possible.
"He loves only gold," she sang, nearly drowned out by the wolf whistles, and she lowered her eyelashes. "Only gold." She pouted, and slid down a few inches. "He loves gold." She grabbed the pole above her head, as high as her hands could reach. "He loves gold." And she swung around as she dropped, sprawling gracefully on the stage with one leg still hooked around the metal. The spotlight didn't fade until the applause had dropped approximately fifty percent in volume, leaving her holding that position for at least two and a half minutes. When the light did go out, she immediately stood up again, now holding onto the middle part of her bodice, and buttoned it back into place as soon as she reached backstage. She was fortunate that the costume was in so many parts, and easily removable. All of their costumes were designed that way.
"Hey, Sunny!" the emcee hissed. Sherlock's head snapped up.
"What is it?" she said.
"They're asking for an encore."
"Tell them if they want an encore, they can pay for it in one of the private rooms. I cannot top that performance. Not the way that I feel."
"Why not?" Miss McCray said, appearing behind Sherlock like the ninja she must have been in a past life.
"Well, my parents are out there," Sherlock sniped. "That was difficult enough. Tell them…" She sighed. "Tell them that I am not prepared for an encore, and that I will make sure that I have an appropriate backup piece for the future. And… thank them, for their confidence in me." She looked away. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the emcee nod, and then hurry back onto the stage. Sherlock walked as quickly and sedately as she could, back to the dressing room. She was in a group number later, and needed to make a few changes to her costume. Miss McCray followed her in.
"You're gaining quite a following," she said. "Sure you can't be here every night?"
"There are intriguing cases out there, intriguing criminals to be caught, and there is only one person who can solve those cases and catch those criminals. I am that person, Miss McCray. Wouldn't you rather the streets be a little safer?"
"After an act like that? I'm not so sure."
Sherlock snorted. "Well, being a consulting detective was my calling. This… this work that I do here… I never anticipated it, nor did I anticipate enjoying it as much as I do. But it is not The Work. I am married to The Work."
"So the Blue Note's your mistress?"
"Apparently," she replied, and she smirked. "If ever you require a violinist in the band, do let me know. It would lend some variety to my work here."
"I'll keep that in mind," Miss McCray said, raising an eyebrow.
"Sunny, you've got a request for a private dance," Bella said, sticking her head into the room. "Nearly ready?"
Sherlock touched up her makeup and hair, and then nodded. She received additional congratulations as she passed other people backstage, and then made her way to the 'pickup area', as they called it.
Her buyer was John.
"I'm to take you to room three," Sherlock said. All of the powder in the world could not have hidden the flush that stole over her cheeks. And she thought his request for 'Goldfinger' was humiliating enough. This was the final insult, and it took every ounce of her love for him to stay her hand once they were alone. She would have to enact a different kind of revenge.
"So, Starshine," John said. "Interesting show. The bartender said it's your best yet."
"Apparently, being caught on the hop forces me to outdo myself," Sherlock said, determinedly avoiding eye contact. "Please sit down." She noticed John obeying in the mirror on the back of the door. One steady breath later, she whipped around, stalked over to the chair, and sat astride its occupant. At last, she met his eyes.
"The rules are that you don't touch me without my permission," she said. "And that you enjoy yourself. Have you paid yet?" He shook his head. "Now or later?"
"Later, then. You agree to the set fee?"
"Y-yes, all right—"
"Good." Then she studied him, attempting to work out what he wanted. But he didn't look at her like any of the other customers. She'd come to learn how to read them well, and John was as indecipherable as a naked Irene Adler. She caved. "What do you like, Dr. Watson?"
"I'd like to talk."
"Oh?" She leaned closer to his ear, eyes half-closing, and caressing his cheek with her breath. "Wouldn't you rather that I talk? Wouldn't you rather hear about all the things that I could do to you? That I could make you think of when you get home, and find yourself remembering tonight? You saw my dance. You saw how I embraced the pole as though it were a lover, my lover. Would you like that, Dr. Watson? Would you like to see that again? This room is equipped with a pole, right behind that curtain. Or," she linked her right foot around John's left leg, "would you prefer that I just sit here and talk until you go insane with want?"
John's eyes flashed. "That is not what I meant, Sherlock, and you know it."
She sat back on his knees, breaking character for a moment. "Is this supposed to be something that only a person with feelings could understand? Because I was under the impression that machines didn't have feelings."
"If you don't tell me what you want, I cannot—"
Her words were cut off when John grabbed her shoulders and pulled her into a kiss. It lasted barely a second before she leapt back towards the door, instincts kicking in.
"I swear to God, I will call for help," she said, voice breaking.
"We need to talk," John said, carefully standing up. He pulled the necklace out of his coat pocket, and held it out to her. She felt sick.
"I gave it to you," she said. "Why are you pressing the issue?"
"Mary left it to you in her will."
"Yes, and you disapproved, so I returned it to its rightful owner. Now will you please either let me get on with my job, or leave me alone?"
"No," John said, and he stepped forward. Sherlock knew that she could take him, even in heels. But he was a soldier once, and still undoubtedly fit; her chances of overcoming him were looking slimmer by the second.
"Don't come any closer."
"All right, all right." He held up his hands in a motion of surrender. "Uh, you got the DVD?"
"Yes. I gave it to Lestrade, because he hasn't seen it."
"I burned it." John's mouth fell open. "Oh, do keep up, John. We both know – everybody knows – that I will never marry, which renders the letter a moot point."
"You didn't even read it?"
She sighed, and leaned back against the door. "Of course not. It was to be opened on my wedding day. That likelihood went up in smoke some time ago; now her letter has gone the same way."
John shook his head, clearly still shocked. "And… and the ring? Her engagement ring?"
"I got rid of it."
John stared for a moment, and then sagged, grabbing onto the chair at the last moment and then sinking onto it. "You got rid of it."
"I can't… How?"
"It should have been buried with her. I did not have access to her body before it could be entombed, and so I put it around a rose and threw them onto the lid together."
"Sherlock…" He appeared to be having trouble speaking. "That wasn't exactly hers to give away."
"No. It was… it belonged to my grandmother." Sherlock's blood froze in her veins. "I used it to propose to Mary."
She had trouble breathing, and sank to the floor, still pressed against the door. "I had no idea. I am so sorry, John. It looked new. She… she must have cared for it a great deal."
"Considering its sentimental value, I suppose she would've done." There was nothing that Sherlock could think of to say to that. "Why did you get rid of it? And the necklace? Why did you give it back, when Mary had left them to you?"
"I had my reasons," she murmured.
"What reasons? I think I have a right to know, Sherlock."
She glanced up at him. "A few days before your wife died, she and I had a talk while you were out at the shops. She said that I was to take care of you after she passed. She said that anyone could see how we felt about each other, and she'd explained to everyone else. No one would blame us if you moved back in, and if – she said 'when' – you moved on from her with me. She gave me the ring and the necklace, and told me that they were important, but not how. I deduced the significance of the ring when I observed that her engagement ring was not among her effects, nor on her person. When you told me the significance of the locket, I wanted nothing to do with it. The DVD would simply remind me of the end of… what had remained of our friendship. And the letter was the final straw. I had to destroy it, the way Moriarty destroyed my life when he forced me to choose between seeing three people I knew on the slabs in the morgue, or taking my own life. I had no reason to live if you were dead, John. It has become apparent that I had no reason to come back to life, either. So… so if you will please accept my apologies for throwing away a family heirloom, and keep the bloody necklace, and… and leave me alone, I would be most grateful."
She stood up, legs trembling. But before she could even touch the door handle, John caught her shoulders, and turned her to face him.
"I'm sorry, Sherlock," he said, and he cupped her cheeks. "It's always been you. Before Mary, during our marriage, up `til now, and forevermore. It will always be you, Sherlock Holmes. I love you, and God help me, if I could have married you the day Mike introduced us in the labs, it wouldn't have been too soon. All this time wasted." He shook his head, and Sherlock noticed tears welling up in his eyes. "We can't do everything over again. But please say you'll let me show you how much I love you?"
Before Sherlock could think past the words 'It will always be you', John's mouth was on hers, and she was melting into his arms.
"I never thought I would live to see this day," Mummy said.
Sherlock adjusted the skirt of her dress. It had been over a year since Mary's funeral, and much had happened. John moved back in to Baker Street after the sale of the house went through. Sherlock was too scared to start a relationship for at least five months; scared of what people might say about them, scared about getting hurt again, even scared about how this would affect her work at the club.
"I'm married, and my husband doesn't give a damn," Miss McCray said when Sherlock spoke to her. "He sure as hell doesn't hate the extra money, and he's appreciated the skills which led to me managing a joint like this. Appreciated them ever since the night we married, more than twenty years ago. At least three of your fellow performers are married as well, and more than half are in steady relationships. It's fully understood that nothing goes any further than flirty touches and dirty words. I'll have you know that this is a respectable club."
Still, Sherlock had imposed a few new rules for her private customers, and her dances never reached truly raunchy heights. Yet it seemed that she was even more popular for having an air of mystery. She'd certainly never revealed her midsection and back again; not like the night she made up with John, and finally kissed him.
"Stop fidgeting," Molly said, and she rolled her eyes when Sherlock poked her tongue out at her. "You look perfect, all right? I wonder how many people will see the irony in you wearing white…"
"I am not being ironic," Sherlock said. "I am perfectly entitled to wear this colour." Molly gaped at her. "Celibacy is not indicative of a person's ability to arouse and seduce, Molly."
"Sherlock!" Mummy said, shocked. "I would appreciate not being reminded of that… disturbing spectacle, thank you."
"John will appreciate it tonight."
"Right," Molly said, and she began to push Mummy out of the room. "Why don't you go and sit down, and get the tissues ready, all right?"
As soon as they were alone again, Sherlock mouthed 'Thank you'. Molly smiled and nodded.
John's breath caught when he saw Sherlock walking down the aisle towards him, face partially hidden by a thin veil, moving quite timidly for someone who worked part-time as a dancer in a nightclub. When she was by his side before the priest, John's lungs kicked back into action, and he beamed. Sherlock's smile was small, but no less beautiful, and even more so when he finally lifted the veil to kiss her, sealing the marriage and inciting applause and cheers from the congregation.
Dancing at the reception, John surrendered Sherlock to Mycroft, and went to dance with Mrs. Hudson. He noticed Mycroft hand something to Sherlock at the end of the dance. He didn't have a chance to ask her about it until they were in their hotel room. They were to spend the night there, and then set out for the airport the next day for their honeymoon. Sherlock's hands were as unsteady as John's were calm, and he helped her out of the dress. It had been a long day, but he was invigorated, and Sherlock didn't sleep much anyway.
"What was the thing Mycroft gave you?" he asked. Sherlock pulled it out of the front of her gown, once it was loose enough to move.
"I was duped," she said.
"Mary knew me too well, apparently."
John paused in removing his shirt. "Oh?" he repeated.
"The letter and ring left to me were decoys. She gave the real ring and letter to Mycroft. She must have known what I would do." Sherlock opened the envelope. Sure enough, John's grandmother's ring was inside, along with a letter.
"What does it say?" John asked, looking over the ring. Sherlock had clearly never suspected a thing; now her comment about it looking new made sense. He'd never forget that conversation. But he'd never thought to ask her to describe the jewellery. Why would he?
"It says: 'Dear Mrs. Sherlock Watson, I know that you're the only person in the world who could make John even half as happy as his sacrifice has made me. I pray that you will get everything you want out of life, and so much more. Your combined services to the country mean that you have earned the right to a happily ever after. Please live the life you deserve, Sherlock. With you as his wife, I know that John will. And if you haven't married John by the time you are reading this letter, then you're an even greater idiot than your brother said you could be when it comes to love. Your friend, Mary.'"
Sherlock noticed black lines from the mascara running down her cheeks. She swallowed, and handed the letter to John as she went to the bathroom to clean up before bedtime.
"It really is over," John said, and Sherlock nearly poked herself in the eye with her makeup remover.
"What is?" she asked. What had Mary done with that stupid letter? Sherlock should have thrown it back in Mycroft's face, or read it to herself and not out to John.
"That chapter of my life. I mean, it was over a long time ago. But this letter is the closing point. It's the line between being a widower, and being a married man. Married to the woman I should have chosen right from the start."
Still tearful, Sherlock stuck her head out of the bathroom, and smiled at her husband. "I won't be long. I just want to take a shower. Wash it all away, if we want to continue these ridiculous metaphors for life and… everything else."
"You do that," John said, smirking with obvious amusement, and he began to tug the sheets down.
As the last of the water trickled down the shower drain, and Sherlock dried herself vigorously, she felt as though everything really was falling into place.
Oh gods. I don't know how to end this without dipping into NC-17 territory. You know, any more than this story already has. Nothing was supposed to get this blatant! Sigh. At least there's the happy wedding day and whatnot.
Please review! And I hope you've enjoyed the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it for you.