Six Months Later
The wind blew John’s hair back from his forehead, tossing it carelessly up into the air and whipping it back into his eyes in the same gust. The flowers gripped in John’s hand threatened to succumb to the gales, pulling against his fingers; his hands only tightened around them, keeping them close to his chest.
Sherlock stood at John’s side, staring at the gravestones only because he thought it would be the polite thing to do. He felt the urge, strong as the gusts of wind pushing at his own curls, to glance at John’s face, to analyze the emotions stirring there, but his eyes remained glued to the glistening marble.
John hadn’t even wanted Sherlock to come with him at first. When he’d quickly mentioned the trip in passing, he’d rejected Sherlock’s offer to accompany him before it’d even left his mouth. “I just…” he’d said, rubbing his wrists and staring at the ground. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
So Sherlock had let John wander around the flat for the next few weeks, distant, his hands shaking more and more as the days passed. Affection was fleeting, almost nonexistent—an outlier, to be sure, Sherlock noted, as John normally felt that a moderate amount of affection was necessary.
Then, Sherlock had jolted awake one night to John’s quiet sobs shaking the bed. He’d gathered John carefully in his arms, letting John’s tears stain the backs of his hands, and after a few moments, John had whispered, “I’m not ready to go alone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock had said. “You’re not alone.”
Now, Sherlock watched John kneel and place the poppies between his parents’ graves, wedging them under the edge of a small, ornate, gold-plated vase sitting at the edge of his father’s grave before standing. His hands, with nothing to do, shook in the open air for a moment before he tucked them into his coat pockets; after a moment’s hesitation, Sherlock reached over and pulled out one of John’s hands, slotting their fingers together. “I’m sorry.”
John squeezed Sherlock’s hand so hard he lost feeling in the tips of his fingers for a moment. “It feels like the funeral all over again.” He turned his eyes to Sherlock for the first time in an hour, brown searching blue expectantly. “That’s not logical, is it? I’ve had a year to heal, but all I’ve done is broken open again the moment I came back here.” His voice broke near the end, and he quickly turned his eyes away, toward the small stone church outlined by rolling Scottish hills and clear blue sky.
“No, it’s not logical at all,” Sherlock agreed, the hand not holding John’s absently stroking the small box in his coat pocket. “It’s not logical that you could think a year could heal an emotional wound such as this. It’s more probable you will never heal.”
John sucked in a rattling breath; his hand twitched in Sherlock’s. “Ah. I suppose it was irrational to think…” A few stray tears trickled down his cheeks, and he wiped them away impatiently. “God, I’m so tired of crying!”
“Biologically, crying releases toxins and stress from your system, slowing your breathing and increasing your heart rate to calm you down. It is not shameful for you to release emotions in this way.” Sherlock turned the box over in his pocket, thumbing the slight indentations peppering the material.
John’s hand relaxed slightly in Sherlock’s, his fingers falling back into their most comfortable position. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said quietly, his words almost lost in the wind.
Now it was Sherlock’s turn for his hand to stiffen, his fingers gripping the box in his pocket tightly. He’d never get over it—the small rush of warmth that flooded him when John gave him small, tender smiles like he was the only thing that mattered, or the clenching of his stomach when John called hurried “I love you”s over his shoulder as he rushed off to work. He’d never thought anyone could make him feel like this.
“It would have been foolish to let you come alone,” Sherlock said, letting the warmth seep into his muscles rather than into his words. John already mentioned enough how besotted he was; he didn’t need to give him any more reason to bring it up.
Sherlock caught John’s faint smile out of the corner of his eye, the slightest traces of sadness still evident in the stubborn downward set of his eyebrows. “I don’t suppose we can eat lunch out here anymore—everything would blow away,” John sighed, glancing remorsefully at the small cooler on the ground next to him. As if to accentuate his words, a particularly strong gust of wind sent John stumbling slightly; he instinctively reached out and grabbed the edge of Sherlock’s coat to keep himself from tripping.
“I always thought that custom was a bit ridiculous,” Sherlock said. “Perhaps it would be better to eat indoors.”
John paused. “We could… we could go to my old house.” His voice shook slightly. “My sister, Harry—she lives there now.”
Sherlock could feel John’s hand trembling slightly in his; he tightened his grip until the tremors stopped, and John glanced at him questioningly, his eyes tinted red. “Are you asking me to meet your family, John?” The unspoken question hovered behind his words: Are you ready to go back?
John bit his lip. “I’m asking you to come with me.” His eyes fell to the grass and then rose again to meet Sherlock’s. “That sounds stupid, right?”
Sherlock pressed a chaste kiss to John’s forehead. “Absolutely. Let’s go.”
“Johnny!” Harry cried, her mouth breaking into a wide grin as she dragged John halfway through the open doorway into a tight hug. “God, I haven’t seen you in ages.” She pulled back quickly, her face falling slightly and her eyes softening. “You must have already gone to visit them.”
John nodded mutely, feeling more than slightly overwhelmed. Behind Harry, he could see the edge of the staircase, and his heart began to beat uncomfortably fast. “Can we come in?” he asked, swallowing sharply and dragging his eyes back to his sister’s pale face.
Harry’s eyes skirted over John’s shoulder, where Sherlock stood slightly back, and then snapped back to John. The corner of her mouth quirked up. “Of course. It’s still your house, Johnny.”
No. It’s not. John stepped over the threshold anyway, hearing Sherlock’s footsteps follow him into the living room and trying not to let the images hovering at the edge of his mind overcome him. Light filtered in through the sheer window curtains, giving the living room a faint blue tint; the house smelled faintly of vanilla spice and cigarette smoke. John focused on the slight rearrangement of the soft brown couches as he sat down, ignoring the small voice in his mind that reminded him that the last time he’d seen his parents, they’d been sitting on the same couch, reminding him not to stay out past ten o’clock.
“I know this is hard for you,” Harry said, startling John out of his thoughts as she sat in the armchair adjacent to the couch, “but I am glad that you’re here.” She wrinkled her nose slightly—a gesture John recognized as a sign of discomfort. “Ever since Clara left, it’s been too empty here.”
John felt Sherlock’s hand subtly press against his; he covered it with his own, letting his fingers fall naturally in the spaces between Sherlock’s. “She left you?”
Harry sighed. “Only after I dumped her. After the funeral, I found Dad’s whisky stash, and it got bad. I couldn’t drag Clara down with me.”
John’s throat felt tight. “I’m sorry, Harry. I should have been here to help you—I didn’t even think—“
“Don’t start with that,” Harry sighed, running a hand down her face. “It’s not your fault.” After a short, awkward pause, she said, “Besides, I think the bigger issue at hand is why you didn’t tell me you have a boyfriend.”
John’s face went twenty shades of red in the span of a few seconds. “You didn’t tell Mom and Dad about Clara until you moved in together!”
“That’s a completely different matter.” She raised an eyebrow at Sherlock. “So. How did you and Johnny meet? I imagine he hit your dog on his way to work or something.”
Whatever Sherlock said in response was lost in the sudden wave of terror that flooded over John, filled with memories of the past year that stung as they swept past him. He would have to tell Harry. How could he not? She deserved to know everything—about Mary, about Magnussen, about their parents…
John stood suddenly, interrupting Sherlock mid-sentence, his heart falling to the soles of his feet and throbbing there painfully. “I have to use the toilet,” he managed before stumbling quickly out of the living room, feeling both Harry and Sherlock’s eyes burning into his back as he rounded the staircase—blood, blood everywhere, empty, soulless eyes—and shut himself inside the lavatory, locking the door behind him before bracing his hands on the edges of the sink and taking deep, heavy breaths.
This was wrong. He never should have come back to this house, especially not today, when the memories stood out the freshest in his mind like a newly painted surface. He could almost smell the metallic tang of blood, mingling with the bitter scent of burning chicken, and a rattling breath escaped him as his chest tightened in a way that was all too familiar.
No. He was supposed to be better. His therapist had even made it official when she’d released him in March—earlier than she’d expected, she’d said with a smile. He’d made it all the way to Scotland, something he’d never thought he could do again—and God, now tears were dripping down his cheeks and splattering on the white porcelain of the basin. Was this supposed to be the rest of his life? Skirting around things he couldn’t handle, breaking down when the memories became too much?
“John.” Sherlock’s voice floated through the faint ringing in John’s ears, muffled by the door. “Come out.”
All at once, harsh embarrassment sent the painful memories flying back to the recesses of John’s mind, and he wiped his eyes and cheeks dry with the sleeve of his jumper before letting his eyes raise to his reflection. Red-rimmed brown irises stared blankly back at him, framed by sticky eyelashes and faint dark half-moons; pale, thin lips parted slightly as eyebrows folded down and out, his entire face crumbling in on itself.
Then, the door swung open behind John, and before John could recover Sherlock was kicking the door closed and taking John in his arms, his dark curls tickling John’s ear as he pressed a soft kiss to John’s temple. “Harry’s worried,” he mumbled. Then, after a short pause, he amended, “I’m worried.”
John melted into Sherlock’s embrace, letting his tension seep out through his hands as they fisted in the back of Sherlock’s coat. “I can’t tell her about Mary,” he said, the words catching in his throat. “I know I should, but I can’t.”
“Do you want me to tell her?”
John shook his head. “She doesn’t deserve to know.” He swallowed sharply. “She doesn’t deserve to feel like this.”
Silence sat heavily in the air for a moment. Then, Sherlock pulled back, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a small, black box that looked quite well-worn, with small patches of yellow showing through the black exterior. “I need you to try to understand something, John. No one deserves the life they’re given. Misfortune befalls good men and women, and miracles grace criminals and murderers. You and your sister are no exception, and neither am I.” He pressed the box into John’s hand, folding John’s fingers around it. “But you deserve to be happy.”
John stared at the box clutched in his hand, his heartbeat picking up again until he could feel it in his fingertips, sending small pulses into the surface of the box. Then, his eyes snapped to Sherlock. “Is this…?” He cut his question off with difficulty, instead cracking the box open. His heartbeats retracted suddenly, centering in the middle of his chest and filling his throat. Wordlessly, he lifted the thin gold band out of the box, running his fingers over the engraved Greek lettering running the length of the band. Εμείς δεν θα μέρος, ακόμη και σε θάνατο. “What does this mean?”
“The literal translation is ‘we will not place, even in death,’ but—“
“No,” John interrupted, closing his hand tightly around the ring. “What does this mean?”
“Ah. I was hoping it would be obvious.” Sherlock seemed uncertain suddenly, a word not often used to describe him, and he pulled himself up straighter to compensate. “You seem to need assurance of your self-worth, so I thought this could symbolize a promise.”
“A- a promise?”
Sherlock sighed heavily. “Yes, John, a promise. I can’t promise that I’ll always be by your side—there are an infinite amount of variables that could make that impossible—but I swear that I you will always be worth everything to me.”
John’s emotions tangled into a knotted web within him, residual pain and terror mingling with surprise, relief, and vibrant pleasure. Finally, he composed himself enough to say, “Are you proposing to me in a toilet?”
“No, of course not. Marriage is an unnecessary institution—simply a legal document, and completely irrelevant—“
John smiled and met Sherlock’s lips with his own, holding the sides of Sherlock’s shoulders gently as he pulled back. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
“It’s not marriage, John. It’s—“
“—a promise, I know. What’s the difference?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Weddings are horribly boring.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Is that it?”
Sherlock shot John a flat look. “Marriage is out of the question.”
John glanced at the ring in his hand, his stomach fluttering just looking at it. “Then what am I supposed to do with this?”
Suddenly, John’s right hand was in one of Sherlock’s while the other slipped the ring deftly onto his fourth finger, his fingers lingering briefly on John’s knuckles before pulling back. “Really, John, it’s quite simple.”
John prepared a clever comeback, but a loud crash followed by an even louder, “Son of a bitch!” sent him rushing out of the lavatory and into the kitchen, where Harry stood glaring at thousands of glass fragments, her face a bright shade of crimson. “That was Mom’s tea tray—damnit!”
John’s eyes locked on the counter behind Harry, where a long row of liquor bottles with various amounts of liquid in them lined the wall beneath the window, the faint daylight filtering through the glass and sending glimmering reflections onto the counter. The sight left John with a bitter taste in his mouth. Harry had lost herself to alcohol, letting Clara—someone whom John never pictured without Harry by her side—slip away, and for what? For John to lie to her? For her to believe that their parents’ murderer still walked free? John’s stomach turned sharply; Harry didn’t deserve the pain of the truth, but she certainly didn’t deserve the agony of the lie.
“Harriet, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Harry’s eyes flicked up from the mess on the ground, her mouth folding into a frustrated line. “Yeah, John, I know it was Mom’s favorite tray. I already feel like shit.”
“It’s not about the tray.” John’s hands shook at his sides; out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sherlock standing in the kitchen doorway, his hands in his coat pockets. A surge of something warm and powerful shot through John. “It’s about Mom and Dad.”
Harry took a step back from the shattered glass, her expression guarded, as if sensing John’s hesitance. “What?”
John took a deep breath.
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