swissmarg: Mrs Hudson (Molly)
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Part one


"Good morning." Sherlock's voice cut through the remnants of John's sleep haze. He was barely awake, but Sherlock must have been waiting for him to stir beside him and pounced on the first sign of life. John cracked his eyes open. The thin, winter light in the room told him the morning was well advanced.

"Morning," John slurred, his speech sleep-rough. He turned his head to blink blearily at his bedmate. Sherlock lay on his side, just as they'd fallen asleep the night before. Well, as he'd been when John fell asleep, listening to him monologue on blue gems and creepy bicyclists, silver roadsters and an illegitimate son. Mostly, anyway. They were no longer touching, John's hands neatly folded over his chest and Sherlock's tucked under his pillow. Sherlock's chin was stubbly and his hair was pressed flat, and his eyes were a little bloodshot, as if he'd slept about as well as John, which was: not very. John thought he was the most fantastic thing he'd ever seen, and his heart skipped a happy beat.

"Sleep well?" John asked.

"Not really, no." Sherlock's lips quirked up into a self-conscious smile. Under the covers, John felt Sherlock's foot move against his. A question, or maybe an answer. The reason for his unsettled rest.

John felt his own face breaking into a grin and turned onto his side to see Sherlock better. "Me either."

"This whole bed-sharing thing," Sherlock said. "Not quite as simple as I imagined."

"No," John agreed. There was something about sleeping with someone -- just sleeping -- that was even more intimate than sex, in a way. It involved trust, knowing the other person could do anything to you, but wouldn't. Waking during the night to hear someone else breathing next to you. Being able to reach over and touch them, knowing they trusted you just as much. Just being close. Sex was usually over so fast, but lying in the same bed for several hours was.... more, somehow. At least it could be, in John's experience. When the other person was important. When the relationship was important. When there were feelings involved that it was really much too early in the morning to be thinking about.

"Not so bad though," John said, his voice pitched halfway between a statement and a question.

"No," Sherlock said, his voice pitched low. Confidential. "No, it's... quite good, actually."

"Yeah." They lay there grinning goofily at each other. John felt giddy. More than quite good.

"Is this where we get up?" Sherlock asked, more amusement than uncertainty in his expression.

"Erm," John hedged. He had the impression Sherlock wasn't in any great hurry to vacate the bed. "If you want," he said, his stomach doing flip-flops and his hormones undergoing a general scramble. It came out more than halfway sounding like an offer to do the opposite, which hadn't been his intention. Not strictly speaking.

John tried to keep his expression neutral as Sherlock searched his face, maybe looking for John's own answer, maybe trying to decide whether John was really the person he wanted this with. If he wanted it with anyone. John wasn't sure himself what he wanted Sherlock to say. A huge part of him wanted Sherlock to say yes, to say he wanted it all, part and parcel, that sex was on the table. John had never been in an exclusive relationship -- a romantic relationship, if they were at a point where they could call it that -- without sex before, but he'd pretty much been resigned to that being what he and Sherlock had. Whether because Sherlock was asexual or because their friendship was already so fragile after all that had happened, that trying to add that dimension to it might break it. Or just because they were satisfied with the way things were.

Only John had to admit that for him, it would make a lot of things easier. He was wired to express love physically, it was that simple. It didn't have to be sexual, necessarily. He was just becoming more and more frustrated at having to hold back; not feeling free to hug Sherlock when he came home from work, or put his hand on his leg when they rode in a cab together, or to just kiss him on the top of his head when he passed by him in the kitchen.

But yes, there was also a selfish part of him that wasn't exactly looking forward to spending the next forty or so years without having sex. He believed he would have managed it; he didn't think he'd ever have gone elsewhere for sex, not even if he and Sherlock never formally defined what they had, because it still would have felt like cheating. But he didn't know, couldn't know how he might feel two or five or ten years on. Would he become resentful? Would there always be a divide between the two of them, never closing, perhaps even widening with time? So definitely, a relationship according to the pattern John was used to would be easier for him to navigate. Even if he didn't have any illusions that sex would magically make everything work.

Plus, John had had sex with several people he didn't love, and two he did, and the latter were as far removed from the former as Sherlock's methods were from Philip Anderson's. The one was nice, adequate, but the other went deeper, opened paths he'd never known existed. He understood why it was sometimes termed mind-blowing. John supposed at some level it was all just down to which chemicals got released in which quantities, but that didn't mean it was any less desirable or meaningful. He wanted that with Sherlock. Wanted it for Sherlock. But not if it came at the cost of anything else. Not if it meant Sherlock -- or he -- were compromising, trying to squeeze into some kind of norm that left both of them bent out of shape and hurting.

The doorbell rang downstairs; footsteps and voices followed. Mycroft? Sherlock's eyes peeled away from John's as he looked over his shoulder toward the door. "All things considered, probably the best course of action," he said cryptically and swung himself around to get out of bed. "You can take the hall bathroom, I'll use my parents'," he said. He went to his suitcase and gathered a few items, which he held in a bundle in front of him as he slipped out the door, keeping his back to John.

John's first, devastating thought was that Sherlock had smuggled drugs in with his underwear. His second: maybe it wasn't what was in the bundle that Sherlock was trying to hide, but what was underneath. John's own cock twitched at the image. He had to forcefully remind himself where they were, and that Sherlock had fled the bed. The bed which was still warm next to him, where Sherlock had lain beside him for hours. Too many mixed signals. John gave himself a wistful squeeze that did nothing to console him, and got up.

******

It was an odd kind of walk of shame when John entered the kitchen some time later. Sherlock wasn't down yet, but Mr and Mrs Holmes were there, lingering over their mid-morning tea. Although neither of them said anything that could in any way be construed as suggestive, John got the distinct impression from the looks on their faces that they thought he and Sherlock had been having a lie-in for more indelicate reasons than simply having stayed up late talking the night before. Or maybe it was just the fact that they very nearly had. Or the furtive wank he'd had in the shower. Which was not the kind of thing he should be thinking about when sitting down with his... with his friend's parents for breakfast. God, of course they could read it all over his face. He was an open book, as Sherlock had so often told him, and they were Holmeses. He was done for.

The visitor earlier had apparently not been Mycroft, who had still not arrived, but a friend dropping off a Christmas fruitcake. Mrs Holmes was about to leave shortly for her own gift delivery rounds and last-minute errands while Mr Holmes stayed home to keep an eye on the Christmas pudding that was already in the oven. John secretly took it to be a kind excuse; Mr Holmes was no longer able to keep up on foot with his wife, who always gave the impression of being on urgent business. He also had a bit of a tummyache, he said, from sampling the batter -- and most likely some of everything else, John thought privately: the sideboard with the baked goods looked decidedly less populated than it had the previous night. John could certainly see where Sherlock got his sweet tooth from.

When Sherlock finally came down a quarter of an hour later, John was halfway through his second cup of tea and had arranged to go with Mrs Holmes into town. He'd debated staying home with Mr Holmes so he didn't feel that everyone was abandoning him, but decided that Sherlock's father seemed to rather enjoy his "cave" out back and probably preferred to be on his own for a bit.

Sherlock was dressed in his suit from the previous day with a fresh shirt, his hair still damp and his sink smooth and clear. He certainly looked sharper than he had just woken up next to John in bed but John honestly thought he preferred the latter, softer version. The one hardly anyone else knew. He said he'd never shared a bed with anyone before. It stood to reason that meant he'd never woken up with anyone before. Never said good morning across the pillow, never shared the quiet intimacy of sheets warmed by several hours of body heat. He caught himself gazing dreamily only when Sherlock gave him a half querying, half indignant look. John shook himself and stared down into his cup, feeling his face burning.

"Good morning, darling," Mrs Holmes said, offering a cheek for Sherlock to kiss dutifully. "John here's going into town with me in a bit. Do you want to come?"

"John's not going to town with you," Sherlock said. He came over to stand next to John and spooned some sugar into what was left of John's tea. Before he could even muster a protest, Sherlock had picked the cup up for himself. Which... didn't bother him half as much as it ought.

"Whyever not?" Mrs Holmes asked.

"We have business at the dockyard," Sherlock said briskly, grimacing slightly as he drank the lukewarm tea.

This was news to John. "We do?" he asked, his senses prickling as he looked up at Sherlock.

Mrs Holmes' eyes lit up triumphantly. "I knew it. Didn't I tell you, Bill?"

"Sorry, what's going on?" John said, looking from Sherlock to Mrs Holmes and back. Had there been a discussion of plans that he'd missed?

Mr Holmes leaned on his elbow toward John and explained, "She said he'd never have agreed to come so readily if he didn't have some business up this way."

Of course, John thought. That figured. He'd thought Sherlock had been awfully quick to accept the invitation, especially for more than the single afternoon that would have been sufficient to discharge the obligatory Christmas visit with family. The car had seemed an unnecessary expense as well, but if they were on an expense account and needed a quick means of getting around, it made more sense.

"Mind you don't drug us this time," Mrs Holmes said. "Your father was sick for two days last year."

"There's a case?" John asked, already standing.

"I'll tell you on the way," Sherlock said. "Have you eaten?"

"Just the tea," John said, nodding at his now-empty cup in Sherlock's hand. The cup they'd shared. The bed they'd shared. The flat, the life they shared. All the lines in his life were blurring.

"Take some of the fruitcake," Mrs Holmes said, pushing the plastic wrap-covered gift toward John. "I think it's the only thing Dad hasn't got into."

"I'd go for the lemon pie if I were you," Sherlock advised, taking a piece for himself. "Margaret McFee doesn't bake anything less than 50 proof," he said around a mouthful.

"One of each then," John said gamely, peeling away the plastic wrap so he could cut a generous slice of the fruitcake while Mrs Holmes took out some Tupperware.

"Dinner will be at seven," she said. "If you're not back by then I shall let Myc have all the profiteroles. The ones from Trifton's," she added with a pointed look at Sherlock.

"There aren't any profiteroles from Trifton's," Sherlock scoffed. "I'd have found them, and the shop's closed today so you can't be buying them fresh."

"You haven't discovered all of my hiding places, not by a long shot," his mother said. "Now off you go, and for goodness' sake don't get shot again. Either of you," she said firmly, pulling John in by the shoulders to give him the same stern look she directed toward her son. "I shall be very cross if I have to spend Christmas Eve at the hospital."

******

"What's the case? Is it one of the ones you were looking at last night?" John asked once they were on their way with Sherlock behind the wheel of the hired car.

"No." The brief response spoke volumes: Sherlock was hiding something. And if he was hiding something, whatever it was it meant he knew John wasn't going to be pleased about it, because Lord knew Sherlock wouldn't have held back if there were any chance of exciting John over the prospect of an adventure.

John knew Sherlock still thought that was the only reason he had come back -- or at least the main reason, the practicality of the location and low rent being the others. Sherlock took at least one case a week, usually conveniently scheduled for days or evenings when John was free, even cases that weren't really up to Sherlock's calibre, in John's opinion. Sherlock would either try to play up the mystery and complexity or say he was just taking it on "to keep his hand in", but John wasn't that stupid.

Still, what harm did it do? People were helped, Sherlock was kept away from other temptations, and John felt more or less useful. He hadn't really thought it important to make it clear he'd have come back even if Sherlock shut down his consulting business and went into beekeeping or professional internet forum lurking. After all, what did it matter why he was there? He enjoyed going out with Sherlock, exploring seedy locales and posh residences, bluffing their way past security guards and fusty librarians, grabbing a sandwich from a stand as they passed by, or debriefing over coffee and a pastry in an all-night cafe. Going home together, still buzzing with caffeine and adrenaline and maybe some other more incriminating hormones, shushing each other on the stairs so as not to wake Mrs Hudson, lingering in the living room, finding excuses not to go up to bed quite yet.

It would be nice, maybe, to do what they'd done last night. Crawl under the covers together. Talk in the dark. Have one more laugh. A brush of the foot, a squeeze of the hand. Once in a while. Or every time. John wasn't fussed.

He watched Sherlock shift gears. His hand close to John's knee. Then back on the steering wheel. John closed his eyes, the sense memory of Sherlock's hand last night in bed under his rising to the forefront of his mind. The prominent knuckles, the long fingers. Warm and strong. He hadn't moved away. He'd put his leg over John's. Held him close, against his body, his heart pounding. Both their hearts pounding. John couldn't imagine doing something like that now, putting his hand on Sherlock's. Or Sherlock reaching over to pat John's leg. Where was the line? What had blurred it beyond all recognition last night, only to re-draw it so straight and clear today?

The other line that was clear was the fact that Sherlock was still keeping secrets. John had thought they were doing better in that regard. Not that John didn't have a thing or two he hadn't told Sherlock. But this concerned 'the Work'. John had made it clear in no uncertain terms, the day he'd moved back, that he wasn't going to be involved in anything he didn't have full knowledge of. No more rooftop rendezvous arranged behind his back. No more drugging the tea with known or unknown compounds. No more tricking him into bringing his gun along so Sherlock could use it to shoot inconvenient media moguls. Well, the last one was impossible anyway, since John's gun had, for obvious reasons, never been returned. And while he was sure Sherlock wouldn't have a problem getting his hands on a replacement -- perhaps even officially sanctioned via Mycroft -- John felt he'd had rather enough of guns for the time being.

John bristled now at Sherlock's reticence. "Sherlock, we've been over this. You either tell me what's going on or I'm out." He wasn't sure he'd actually make good on the threat. He wouldn't knowingly let Sherlock go off on his own into a situation that might turn out to be dangerous. And Sherlock had never forced his hand. Not yet anyway.

"We're going to the dockyard," Sherlock said, as if that explained everything.

"Yes, and what are you hoping to find there?" John asked testily.

A slow smile crept onto Sherlock's face. "A pirate ship."

******

It turned out not to be so much a pirate ship as a ship that had once been used to chase down pirates. It was authentic, though, an original from the 18th century, and it certainly looked the part. It was enormous, its intricately carved bow towering several stories over the pier, boldly painted in gold and royal blue. It was topped by three masts with a veritable spider's web of rigging, standing defiantly against the dull grey sky.

There were other historic ships anchored there too: a Victorian warship, the first ever built with an iron hull, bristling with cannons; a 16th-century galleon that had been submerged for 400 years before being salvaged in the 1980s; a low-slung, understated WWI relic that would have looked more like a fishing boat than a wartime vessel, were it not for the pair of 6-inch guns gracing its deck; a sleek, shark-nosed submarine looming over the boardwalk from its dry berth.

But the "pirate ship" was the one Sherlock was interested in, and he made a beeline for it as soon as they'd paid their admission fee and passed through the turnstile of what looked to be something more akin to an adventure park than a working dock, with food and souvenir stands alongside prominent signs indicating the way to the laser tag arena, indoor climbing tower, motion simulator, and 4D cinema. It wasn't too crowded, which John attributed to the biting wind and threat of precipitation, but the walkways were still well enough populated, mostly with families and gaggles of teenagers.

Sherlock spouted dates, names, and places as they approached and walked up the long gangplank to view the section of the first-rate ship royal -- as Sherlock informed him it was classified -- that was accessible to the public. John wasn't sure if he should be taking notes, still in the dark on what they were looking for. He rather pettily decided that if Sherlock wasn't going to let him know what they were doing here, he wasn't going to be responsible for keeping track of whatever it was. Sherlock clearly had all the details down anyway, playing a veritable tour guide as they made their way through the state room, captain's and crew's quarters, cannon deck, and navigation cabin.

John was soon distracted from any thoughts of cases or Sherlock's lack of transparency. Instead, he was drawn in, as usual (and not entirely unwillingly), by Sherlock's enthusiasm and charisma. He listened, and looked, and found himself fascinated not only by the history and meticulous restoration work that had been done, but by the vivid picture Sherlock painted of how he imagined life on board would have been. The dichotomy of the solitude of the sea and the close quarters below decks; the smell of sulphur, tar and unwashed men; the intrigues and power plays, bargaining and tests of strength over scarce resources. Nooks and crannies where secret stashes could have been squirreled away, prime spots for inserting peep holes, shadowy corners where the acoustics would have allowed listening in a deck away. Several novels' worth of drama on a single voyage.

When they finally emerged once again topside into a stiff breeze, John experienced a moment of disorientation upon finding himself back in the 21st century. Sherlock led him up a metal staircase, a modern addition, that brought them to the uppermost aft deck. John stepped aside to let a couple and their two children through, then joined Sherlock at the railing. From here, they could look down on the entire dockyard, down the river to the estuary, and even over most of the surrounding neighbourhood.

Sherlock stood tall and straight with both hands on the rail, gazing into the distance. The wind lifted his hair, pushing it back from his face. John could well imagine him here in his element, exploring the vast unknown, beholden to no master other than the sea and his heart. His eyes crinkled at the corners as he squinted into the wind. Lines that hadn't been there before he left. John had some too. They'd both been weathered, by storms, erosion, and forces both natural and unnatural. There would be more. Things seemed to have settled somewhat for the time being, but the way his life had gone so far, he knew this was only a lull, a moment of calm before the next upheaval. What would it be? He didn't dare to speculate. All he knew was, he wanted Sherlock there with him.

Sherlock closed his eyes, breathed in deeply, as if catching a scent on the wind. The three girls next to them finished taking selfies and moved away, leaving them alone at the railing. John leaned forward, resting his elbows on it.

"Does this have to do with an old case?" he asked. "Like that Ricoletti thing?"

Sherlock hesitated just a moment too long before answering. "Yes, that's right," he said, opening his eyes and looking down at John. "A mutiny, a lost treasure. Just a thing I was reading about. Thought it might be fun to have a look." He sounded dismissive, almost apologetic. A quick, insincere smile. Holding John's eye just briefly before looking out at the panorama again.

John was about to get his back up over Sherlock continuing to play hide-and-seek with the truth when all of a sudden, the penny dropped. Sherlock's spyglass and compass stowed under the workbench; the pirate ship; the 1980s. There was no case. Sherlock had brought John here to see one of his boyhood memories. There wouldn't have been any laser tag or 4D cinema back then, probably just the ships, maybe not even all of them. He would have come here some weekend or holiday with his parents and Mycroft, maybe even Christmas Eve one year, seen this ship and promptly spun himself a fantasy of pirate gold and the high seas, poisonings in the mess and swordfights up and down the rigging.

Sherlock had been worried John would make fun of him, of this. That's why he hadn't told him what they were doing. He never talked about things that were truly important to him and yet: he'd brought John here, and he'd done nothing but talk about the ship and its stories. His stories. This was his ghost story. The thing he was perhaps most scared of: exposing his heart, making it vulnerable. His foot touching John's under the covers. In a way, this was even more daring. His move.

Now it was John's turn. He could accept the offering, tuck it away in his own personal treasure trove, take it out in quiet moments. Maybe that's all that Sherlock intended. All that he expected. But it wasn't what John wanted. Not anymore. He'd had a taste of what it could be like. What their life could be like. Their partnership openly acknowledged; between them, at least. John's stomach flipped at the implications. The possibilities. The reality. Because this was it. They were there already. Here.

Sherlock's parents hadn't invited him because they felt sorry for their son's poor divorced flatmate and didn't want him to be alone on Christmas. In fact, John didn't recall there ever having been a formal invitation made. It had been more along the lines of "What time are you boys arriving and should we meet you at the station or are you hiring a car?" A single pronoun encompassing the two of them. A single cup of tea. A single bed.

There was a gap between them now, a polite distance. Sherlock's hand on the railing was to John's elbow as his hand on the gearshift had been to John's knee. An equation of proportionality. An unknown equation to move the asymptote closer to zero. To cross the axis.

John slid over, bumping Sherlock with his shoulder. Not moving away, letting his arm rest against Sherlock's. Sherlock didn't move away either. An increased pressure along the seam of contact. Tentative but not unwelcome. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Have you solved it?" John asked, careful to keep his tone casual. "The old case?" Or the new one, he rather thought. The case of what John meant to him, what he meant to John. What place they had in each other's lives.

Sherlock gave him a sidelong look. "Not sure yet."

"We could have another look?" John offered, leaning deliberately into Sherlock, as if to nudge him into action. Because he was sure now. Very sure. "Maybe check out the laser tag?"

He didn't know what made him suggest that, of all things, but his curiosity had been piqued by the sign at the entrance. He'd never done it, but he imagined it might be similar to some of the training exercises he'd done in the army, where they had to navigate a course with figures popping up, deciding in a split second whether they were friend or foe, whether to fire or pass on by. He'd always found them to be great fun. And that's what he wanted their outing to be: fun. No pressure, no performance. No threats or madmen, no blood or broken bones. For Sherlock to see that he didn't have to invent cases or try to cater to John's admittedly danger-seeking side in order to keep him around.

"Laser tag," Sherlock repeated with an incredulous expression. John had a brief moment of agonising uncertainty that he'd read this all wrong. In for a penny, though. Even if Sherlock hadn't meant this outing the way John had thought, John now did. This was a date, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to go all out to make it a memorable one.

"I think there's quite a good chance your missing clue will turn up there," John said, nodding down toward the boardwalk.

Sherlock gave him a searching look, his forehead creased, as if he didn't quite trust that John wasn't about to pull the rug out from under him. "It's going to be overrun with teenagers," Sherlock warned him.

John grinned up at Sherlock. "I'm feeling a bit sprightly myself today." Too daring?

But Sherlock laughed, and John knew he was all right now. "Sprightly, John?" Sherlock said, one corner of his mouth quirking up.

John straightened up, turning slightly so his body was angled toward Sherlock. Still almost no space between them. John's chest brushed Sherlock's arm. "Shut up," he said amicably. "Now are you in or not?" He clapped Sherlock on the shoulder and let his hand linger there, his thumb brushing Sherlock's collarbone through his thick coat. In or not. He'd meant it in reference to the laser tag, but now it seemed he could be talking about this other thing too. Their life together. A life, together. The other side of the line. A buried treasure to be uncovered.

Sherlock's eyes rested on his. In his. Deep and clear. The promise of a pirate adventure and a safe harbour in one. His smile gentled, and John was flooded with warmth and a giddy sensation not unlike the call to danger that had initially drawn him in.

"Lead on, captain," Sherlock said.

******

They ended up joining a free-for-all skirmish with two other parties: three late teen boys cashing in a birthday present and four members of a country-and-western band in town for a holiday gig. John emerged after the twenty-minute session with the largest number of hits registered to his laser gun, while Sherlock came out completely unscathed. John almost would have suspected him of hiding in a corner of the labyrinth somewhere for the duration, except Sherlock had also clocked a fair number of hits himself.

The musicians extended an open invitation to the pub they were playing that night, and John was halfway through explaining they already had plans with the family when he realised what he was saying: the family. It was really only Sherlock's family. Wasn't it? But how could he say that: his best friend's family, who treated him like a son-in-law, which might not be too far from the actual truth, aside from the lack of legal documents stating such?

Sherlock was no help, merely looking bored by the interaction, impatient to be on his way. John shook hands and wished the band a happy Christmas, feeling slightly discombobulated. As if things were moving too fast, spiralling out of control, and yet if anything, it was only an incremental shift. A change in perspective, an acceptance of the way things really were. An acknowledgment of the status quo, but at the same time an opening of an entirely new frontier, uncharted territory. The family. Their family.

The pretense of the case tacitly abandoned, they moved on to the on-site naval museum. Sherlock denounced much of it as superficial and pandering to millenial showmanship, although he allowed the presentation on the particular difficulties of dating artifacts that had been submerged for many years was informative. John also couldn't help noticing how he seemed particularly keen on the gallery of naval uniforms, nor how he lingered in front of a diorama depicting a surgeon treating the wounded during the Battle of Trafalgar. Nor the fact that he stayed close, waiting for John to finish reading a text before moving to the next display, leaning into John's space to point out some detail. John was fairly sure Sherlock knew exactly what he was doing. Even more so when he felt Sherlock's eyes on him as they stood watching a video of historical footage of naval manoeuvres during WWI.

John glanced up in time to see Sherlock quickly look away, back to the screen. John chuckled, and Sherlock looked back down at him and laughed a little too, embarrassed maybe, or just happy, and John put his hand up and lightly squeezed the back of Sherlock's neck to let him know it was fine. It was good. Very good. Heady. Amazing. He couldn't stop grinning. Sherlock's hand came up to touch John's back, landing somewhere just under his shoulder blade, and they stood there like that for several seconds in an awkward half hug, oblivious to the grainy black-and-white scenes flickering on the screen before them.

There were more looks after that as they moved through the rest of the exhibits, shoulders bumping whenever they stood together, a touch on the arm to draw attention, remarks made low, deposited with lips almost touching ears. There was no need for more. Not here. Later. Later, John promised himself. Later, he was going to put his hands on Sherlock's skin, hold his body close, closer, until there was nothing between them. Kiss him. Breathe in Sherlock's air and infuse his with all the words he wasn't sure he was going to be able to say, not even now. Not even then. Later.

When they'd completed the tour and John's stomach started grumbling, they left the dockyards for a small, quiet restaurant that Sherlock knew in another part of town. It was nothing very fancy, but the tables had real tablecloths and fresh flowers, and there were matching water and wine glasses and two sets of forks and knives at each setting. John had soup and a salad with roasted chicken strips, anticipating a large meal that evening. Sherlock had fish with couscous, and actually ate it all. They shared a bottle of wine, although John drank most of it as Sherlock was driving. They talked about pirates and Battleship, favourite Christmases and which diseases seafarers were most susceptible to. The leaky tap in their bathroom. Whether Mrs Hudson would like the Christmas present they'd given her before they left: an array of UV lights for the cannabis plants they weren't supposed to know anything about. They didn't talk about their arms around each other at the museum, the breathless moment in bed the night before, or their feet knocking together under the table until John pulled Sherlock's in between his and held it there while their eyes met over the rims of their wine glasses.

The drive back was mostly silent, John feeling slightly buzzed from the wine and the looks and the touches, the anticipation of what might happen that night. He still didn't know how much Sherlock was comfortable with; how much he was comfortable with, come to that. Especially with Sherlock's parents just down the hall. And, he realised with a half sinking feeling as they pulled up in front of the house and saw the black town car, Mycroft too. It wasn't that he had a great dislike for Mycroft himself, but there was a constant undercurrent of tension between the brothers that had a way of spilling over into every interaction. As soon as they went inside, John knew, the good mood, the feeling of lightness and happiness that had been buoying them along for the past few hours would start to diminish.

Sherlock must have sensed it too, because he didn't make any move to get out of the car when he turned off the engine, instead sitting with both hands still on the steering wheel, looking down.

"Hey," John said, wanting to reassure him. To let him know that Mycroft wasn't going to ruin this day for them. "Thanks for that. I had a good time." He patted Sherlock's knee, gave it a squeeze. It didn't feel awkward, or even daring. It felt natural; right.

Sherlock's mouth quirked up at the corners. He gave John a sidelong glance. "Me too."

"Yeah?" John said, jiggling Sherlock's leg. Rubbing it with his thumb.

Sherlock's smile deepened. "Yes." He turned his head to look at John from beneath his lashes. His silver-green eyes crinkling at the corners. Knowing. Inviting. John's breath stuck in his throat, his heart hammering madly. His hands steady as steel. He couldn't have stopped himself at that point if he'd tried, which he didn't. There was no need, because Sherlock was leaning in too to meet him, his eyes sinking, until their lips met.

Warm. Soft. Softer than John would have imagined, and he hadn't imagined, hadn't let himself imagine, because it would only have driven him mad if he'd never been able to have this. It wasn't earth-shattering. There were no fireworks or visions, no weak knees or sobs of emotion. It was quiet. Simple. Light but sure. No hesitance. They broke apart, shifted, released their seatbelts, Sherlock's hand spanning John's shoulder, John's sliding up to Sherlock's thigh, heads tilting to a new angle, perfect choreography. The next kiss was firmer, longer. A hint of something more. A whiff of sea air. More kisses, testing the waters. Finding them to their liking. The only sounds their breaths and the soft sussurus of skin on skin and fabric shifting.

When they separated the next time, Sherlock ducked his head before John could catch another kiss. "Someone's at the living room window. My mother, I think." His voice was satisfyingly breathy. His mouth just as satisfyingly reddened. He didn't look embarrassed, though. More like he'd been caught doing something he wasn't supposed to, but was secretly proud of, a grin percolating as he peered out the windscreen.

John glanced up at the house in time to see a curtain twitch. He didn't care; wanted, even, for her to know: that Sherlock was loved, and cherished. That he was good, and deserving of happiness. That John was going to give that to him. Or try to anyway. He wanted everyone to know. He supposed perhaps they did already, had long thought he and Sherlock were a couple.

Still, he sat back in his seat, reluctantly relinquishing his connection to Sherlock. It was probably good to take a moment. He caught Sherlock checking him warily. As if John might not be happy with the turn things had taken. The furthest thing from the truth. John grabbed Sherlock's hand and squeezed it firmly while planting one last quick, chaste kiss on the corner of his mouth. It was all more than fine.

"We'd best get inside before she sends Mycroft out after us then," he said briskly. "Unless you're keen on giving him an eyeful?"

Sherlock chuckled, any remaining tension dropping away. "While the idea's not without merit, she's more likely to send my father, and I think we could both do without that."

John laughed too. "Oh God, no."

======

Mycroft was standing by the hearth, his phone to his ear, when John and Sherlock came in. He raised his eyebrows in greeting, mouthing 'in the kitchen' and jerking his head toward the other room. One eyebrow remained raised as he watched them leave obediently, and John smirked back, which garnered him an eyeroll from Mycroft. That answered the question of who had been spying. An eyeful indeed.

They found Mrs Holmes ladling broth over a lightly browned turkey in a pan on the table.

"Oh John," she said, "would you mind terribly putting this back into the oven for me? Myc took it out but he's scuppered off somewhere."

"I don't know who you think's going to eat all that," Sherlock said, eyeing the huge bird on his way to the chair by the sideboard. "Mycroft's diet won't allow him to eat more than three peas and a lemon."

"Oh, you," his mother scolded him in mock reprimand. "It's organic and very lean, the lady in the shop told me. No salt either, all low-sodium seasonings. I think you're the one who could stand to lay off the sweets," she said pointedly as Sherlock lifted a sugar-iced biscuit toward his mouth.

He popped it in with a quick, self-satisfied smile. The same mouth John had just been kissing. John felt a thrill run through him, realised he was staring, and forced himself to remember what he was supposed to be doing. The turkey.

"It looks delicious," John assured Mrs Holmes as he put on the oven mitts to pick up the hot pan. "Where's Bill?"

"Out back. I haven't even had a chance to let him know Myc's here." She opened the oven and stood back to let John get by.

"I'll go," John volunteered, sliding the pan into the hot oven to finish cooking. On his way out, he clapped Sherlock on the shoulder and was rewarded by Sherlock's hand covering his briefly. A momentary eye contact, a shared memory. They both knew which one. One more to add to the thousands they already had. The beginning of many more.

He found Mr Holmes sitting on a stool, hunched over the workbench with several pieces of wood laid out in front of him. It looked like he was piecing another birdhouse together. He straightened when John entered, wincing a bit.

"Hello, John," he said, sounding cheery despite the pinched look on his face. "Did you have a nice time?"

"Yeah, he took me to see the pirate ship." John came over to stand next to him, leaning back against the workbench and folding his arms.

Mr Holmes's face lit up. "He always loved going to the dockyard. I don't think he's been there in ages. Not since he was quite small. He refused to go anymore once Mycroft left. I'm glad he took you."

John tucked that tidbit away for later. "Me too," he said. "Speaking of Mycroft, he's inside." He jerked his head toward the house. "Must have got in a few minutes ago."

Mr Holmes grunted, in acknowledgement, John thought at first, but then he noticed him grimacing again.

"Everything all right?" he asked, turning to get a better look at the man. He looked pale and fragile, almost grey in the sickly light.

"I probably shouldn't have had the fruitcake with lunch," Mr Holmes said, attempting to make light of things. "If I didn't know better I'd think Sherlock was up to something again." He rubbed his knuckles over his stomach and lower ribcage.

"What are your symptoms?" John asked, getting a sneaking suspicion. He'd complained of indigestion that morning already. He definitely didn't look well.

"Oh, it's just a bit of wind," Mr Holmes said, trying to downplay the situation. "Feels like a lump that doesn't want to go down."

"Pressure? Tightness?"

"Yes, just here," he said, indicating the lower half of his esophagus. "A bit peaky as well. You don't think there was something in it, do you?"

"I had a piece this morning on our way out and I feel fine," John assured him. "I'm just going to check your pulse, all right?" He slipped his fingers up under Mr Holmes' jaw. Fluttery and weak, his skin cool and clammy, and his muscle tone slack.

"Bill, I'm going to ask you to lie down," John said evenly as he put an arm around the other man and helped him off the stool. With his other hand, he was already pulling off his jacket to toss it onto the floor. "Are you taking any medications?"

"Diovan and something for my bladder, I can never remember the name. Uro something." He moved compliantly with John, feeling heavier than his thin frame might indicate.

"Uroxatral?" John guessed. "That's lovely, just like that," he said as he eased Mr Holmes to the floor on top of his jacket. Alpha and beta blockers. A history of hypertension then. "You have any nitro on you? Nitroglycerin tablets? Aspirin?"

"No. I'm having a heart attack, aren't I?" Mr Holmes asked, sounding surprisingly calm.

"We're going to be very, very thorough is all," John said as he arranged Mr Holmes on his side, although privately that's exactly what he thought was happening. "Have you had one before?"

Mr Holmes shook his head, closing his eyes. "Just a bit of high blood pressure."

"You're doing very well, just try to relax. Is there a blanket in here?" John asked as he took out his phone.

Mr Holmes pointed out a plaid, plastic-backed picnic blanket rolled up on top of an unused cooler. John dialed emergency services with one hand and tucked the blanket around Mr Holmes with the other.

"Tell Mal and the boys I love them," he said. "You too, John." He reached one thin arm out from underneath the blanket to reach for John's arm. His grip was weak, barely able to hold on, but his eyes were clear and steady. Then he turned his face toward the floor and vomited thinly.

John dashed to the door of the shed with the phone glued to his ear, bellowing up to the house: "Sherlock!"

Go to Part Three
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