England, you've been here too long,
And the songs you sing are the songs you sung,
On a braver day. Now, they are wrong.
- Stevie Smith, 'Voices Against England in the Night'.
"You know, for a doctor, you have some strange ideas about hygiene," Sherlock remarked.
John looked up, caught, with the recently-licked knife still in his hand. He made an exaggerated guilty face.
"I'll wash it afterwards."
"I'm sure you will," Sherlock agreed. "It doesn't alter the fact that you have licked and re-used that same knife twice already this morning; once following the marmite and once after the first round of marmalade. Have you finished eating yet, by the way?"
"Oops," said John, grinning, and a little contrite. "And no, I haven't, thanks. Nor have you. Here." He dangled a piece of marmalade-slathered toast in front of Sherlock's face until his friend was forced to retrieve it out of sheer self-preservation.
"Four rashers of bacon, two eggs, one piece of toast with marmite, two with marmalade, and two and a half cups of coffee. Stop stalling, John."
"Shan't," said John, obstinately. He didn't quite stick out his tongue, but it was a near thing. "And I'm not stalling. I haven't even had any tea yet," he added, as if that justified matters.
"This is getting absurd, John. You're still in your pyjamas, you're unwashed, unshaven, have already mislaid one of your shoes, and accidentally-on-purpose left your phone inside the other so as to avoid looking at it. It is twenty three minutes to eleven, and we are well on our way to being late."
An odd, vulnerable expression flickered briefly across John's face.
"Just – give me a minute, yeah?"
He glanced up at Sherlock, then quickly away. Sherlock, for once in his life, did not press the point.
They were seated opposite one another in low chairs either side of the fireplace. Sherlock was freshly showered, his hair still damp, and wrapped in his oldest, shabbiest dressing-gown (unprepossessing mouse-coloured velveteen, and John's unconfessed favourite). His long legs were stretched out between them, with his large, bare feet touching the base of John's armchair so that John was forced to splay his own feet sideways to accommodate them. It was too familiar an imposition to be difficult.
With a clear effort of will, John rose. Stepping easily over Sherlock's outstretched legs, he shambled around collecting the paraphernalia left over from their extended breakfast. After some searching, he managed to excavate the last teaspoon from between Sherlock's hip and the arm of his chair, and wandered off in the direction of the kettle. Sherlock watched him, a slight frown between his eyes. He had not aided John's endeavours beyond a minor shift of his left arm to allow access to the teaspoon, but his expression was meditative, almost troubled. From John's direction came the furious hiss of steam from the kettle and the gentle clatter of washing dishes. Sherlock watched as, absent-mindedly, John rubbed the back of his head, leaving damp, ruffled hair and an iridescent smear of dishwashing liquid. The corners of Sherlock's mouth twitched. Dishwashing liquid in his hair; faded, blue-striped pyjama pants with the hems scuffed through; old grey t-shirt, thin and near-transparent across the shoulder blades. His best friend.
John made tea, retrieved mugs, milk bottle, strainer, knitted tea cosy, and two bran muffins (in case, Sherlock presumed, they were in danger of keeling over from lack of nourishment). Balancing his spoils tenderly, John made his way back to his armchair, stepping once more over Sherlock's feet in order to do so. He leaned back into his chair with a sigh. It could have been any morning in Baker Street.
"You don't have to do it, you know," Sherlock said, apropos of nothing.
John inhaled sharply.
"Yeah, I do though. I really, really do."
"Not necessarily. Believe me, I would be delighted to have the opportunity to shock and offend several hundred people on your behalf."
John laughed, a little shakily. "Ta for that."
A soft silence fell. John poured tea, and handed the first mug to Sherlock. He poured a second for himself, but only held it in his lap, staring at it. Both of his hands were wrapped around it, his fingers winding over each other and back again.
"I love her, Sherlock," he said at last. And then, softly, almost plaintively: "You can understand that – can't you?"
It was not any morning. It was not Baker Street.
They were sitting in opposite armchairs on either side of a fireplace, but the armchairs were thin and under-stuffed, covered in cheap, cream-coloured vinyl. The fireplace contained an arrangement of dusty plastic flowers that would certainly never have survived in 221B. It was not the worst place they had ever stayed in, by any means. It was, in fact, a fairly standard motel unit: two armchairs, a coffee table, a small bathroom, an even smaller kitchenette, and twin beds against the far wall (the manager, thank Christ, had acceded to John's request for a twin room without any of the usual insinuations – small mercies). In short, it was clean, serviceable, and thoroughly depressing.
For awhile, there was no more conversation. They sat quietly, drinking tea, studying each other. Sherlock's gaze flickered here and there, taking in everything: dishwater-blanched fingers; clean, pale soles; toast crumbs; a brief twitch of abdominal muscle; loose thread in the seam of John's pyjamas; a thin scratch on his left bicep; a bitten place on his lower lip; an ink stain on the ball of his thumb. Swift as thought, he categorised the data, discarding trivia, storing minutiae, analysing everything of relevance. John's eyes were fixed softly on his companion's face.
"Wish we could have had a last night in Baker Street," he said at last. Sherlock's eyes flickered.
"We did. It was last Thursday."
"Shut up. You know what I mean."
"Yes," Sherlock conceded softly. "But it's entirely your own fault, you know. You were the one who insisted on getting married in some god-forsaken corner of the British Isles."
"You organised my wedding, you berk."
"And I'm hardly likely to do it again, if that's the thanks I get. You can organise the next one without me."
John smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners, and conceded the round. It wasn't as though the motel was the worst place they'd ever stayed, after all. And sharing a room with Sherlock again was – nice. John's sleep the night before had been restless, but he'd been comforted every time he woke by the presence of Sherlock's jumbled, softly breathing figure in the other bed. There was no fear of his own restlessness disturbing Sherlock; for a man who happily went days without it, he could sleep like the dead when he wanted to. John had once brought a rather lovely ambulance driver back to his room for a (thoroughly enjoyable, thanks ever-so) quickie, and only afterwards discovered, to his mortification, that Sherlock had been out like a light not six feet away from them. Thank Christ he had been asleep. Not that it made a great deal of difference where Sherlock bloody Holmes was concerned, because he'd still worked out the entire sequence of events within three minutes of waking, and had laughed himself stupid at John for the rest of the week.
God, he hoped that that story wouldn't be making an appearance today; he'd never live it down. Though Sherlock was going to embarrass merry hell out of him no matter what he talked about. Dear God, who in their right mind would ever have thought it was a good idea to let Sherlock give a Best Man's speech? John would either end up hitting him or hugging him, he was sure of it, and either way it was going to be awkward as fuck.
Having Sherlock stay with him the night before the wedding had been a good plan, though. Sherlock, with his reliable contempt for human emotions in general, and the matrimonial institution in particular, was a reassuring antidote to the fervour and near-panic of the last few days. His friend's presence was comforting - a reminder of all the cases, all the rooms that they'd shared over the years (and yes alright, sometimes, admittedly, beds; hotels and motels and even sodding stately homes had a tendency to mix up their bookings with alarming regularity where John and Sherlock were concerned).
But even sharing a bed wasn't the worst, not by any means. Not when you considered that they'd shared cupboards and alleyways and shipping containers and rubbish skips and, on one memorable occasion, a fridge. Sharing a bed was a positive luxury by comparison. Sherlock was a sprawler, of course, but there was no waking him once he was out, so John had got used to just manoeuvring around him. Though the lanky bastard more than made up for such temporary malleability by being an utter bloody menace while awake. On one particularly memorable occasion, the daft git had lost his boots in a frozen swamp; by the time they'd reached the relative comfort of their hotel bed, his enormous bloody idiot feet had been in danger of falling off, and the berk had apparently determined that the ideal method of thawing them was to insinuate them between John's thighs. John had been resisting, forcefully, and Sherlock had been engaged in a rather impressive feat of contortionism when they had been humiliatingly interrupted by one of Lestrade's officers – a woman of rather more than ordinary prettiness, with whom John had, up until that point, been on pleasantly flirtatious terms. The interruption might have been more welcome had the officer in question not promptly sent the resulting photographs to Lestrade. John scowled. Women could be fiendishly evil.
The thought of Lestrade brought another memory, one so utterly ridiculous that John could not repress a nostalgic grin.
"Come on, what is it? You've been scowling and muttering to yourself and grinning like a loon for the past four minutes."
"Do you remember that total cock-up in Sheffield? The time we were trying to wait out those gun runners?"
"Ah… you mean when the sweet little old lady came home unexpectedly and discovered us in flagrante delecto with our favourite Detective Inspector?"
"Yeah," John grinned. "I was just thinking of Greg standing there in his shorts trying to convince her that he was a police officer, honestly, and he really had got the key from the estate agent, and he was not under any circumstances using her house for some torrid dirty weekend with a couple of toy-boys."
"Ah, yes. Her threatening him with the poker when he tried to reach for his warrant card was a nice touch, I thought."
John grinned reminiscently. "You were magnificent, you really were. Stark, staring naked, and doing the whole upper-class, old Etonian bit. 'Most sincere apologies', and 'My dear madam' and 'Perhaps we might continue this discussion in the presence of a solicitor'. Sheer, fucking brilliance. I swear she was convinced you were some sort of eccentric minor royalty. Poor woman didn't know where to look."
"A handy little trick I picked up from Ms Adler."
John snorted. "You did not. You've been using that one forever. My first week in Baker Street, remember? You came into my room completely starkers at five in the morning demanding cigarettes."
"As I recall, your response was to tell me to bugger off and not come back without tea."
"It was five in the morning. What did you expect?"
"Frankly, I was a little disappointed in you. A glorious physical specimen standing naked in your room, and all you could think about was your insipid Darjeeling."
John sighed. "Englishman's curse, I'm afraid. Tea wins out over sex, every time."
Sherlock's eyes twinkled.
"And on that note, Doctor Watson, the pot has been drained to the dregs, and it is time that we were making tracks, I think. Come on: shower, shave, suit."
John sighed again. "If you insist, oh Glorious-physical-specimen. But you're on dishes duty."
"It's a motel, John. They expect you to leave the dishes filthy."
John levered himself from his armchair, leaving the mugs – unwashed – on the coffee table; then he crossed towards the furthermost bed and rummaged for awhile with his luggage. For a moment, he paused, as if he were going to say something; but instead, he turned sharply on his heel and stumbled off in the direction of the bathroom.
For a long time, Sherlock sat motionless, his eyes on John's empty chair. Strange, disconnected thoughts filtered through his brain: snatches of memory, textbooks, papers, correspondence. It was chemistry on which his thoughts fixed. Progesterone, prostaglandin, oxytocin; the major histo-compatibility complex. And then, from there, another stream of consciousness: reciprocal altruism; prosociality; haplodiploid inheritance; bees. He smiled. And then, somehow, as if snagged on some obstacle he could not name – something to do with John's empty chair – his thoughts seemed to snarl and turn back upon themselves. Haplodiploidy; altruism; MHC-complex; prostalglandin; progesterone; love. That last spawned a thousand new associations – things he deplored the necessity of, resented knowing, but could not afford to unlearn for all that. Verona; Paris; Botticelli; the Venus de Milo; amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant (and of course, bloody amant – what a god-awful excuse for a conjugation); the pretty follies which themselves commit…; love-in-idleness, love-in-a-mist; In a Cold Climate, From Russia With, All You Need Is; J. Alfred Prufrock (love song of) – And would it have been worth it, after all?; Funeral Blues (Auden): for nothing now can ever come to any good; Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea – Who invented the human heart, I wonder? Tell me, and then show me the place where he was hanged; Anna Karenina; Nikolai Rostov; Rosa caninae, Viola canina, Lilium candidum (caninae, canina, candidum – rather neat, that); the Song of Songs; A new commandment…; Sigurd, Gudrun, Brunhilde; Wagner; Tristan and Isolde; Pro patria mori; Reading Gaol; Harmodias and Aristogeiton; Leda, Danaë, Europa, Ganymede; P.G. Wodehouse (strange connection, that); Philia, Eros, Agape (which?).
Sherlock's brows contracted, and the tips of his steepled fingers twitched. He was a repository of knowledge, but he did not understand.
(John's voice, soft, and a little plaintive: "You can understand that – can't you?")
Dimly, he became aware that John had turned the shower on. He heard the familiar sounds of his friend disrobing and testing the heat with one hand before stepping beneath the spray. Abstractedly, he counted the time (one minute, sixteen seconds) before he heard the familiar clatter, followed by a curse, which marked John accidentally knocking the shampoo bottle off the shelf as he turned around. It didn't happen every time; just often enough to keep Sherlock entertained. By the sounds of it, the cap had come off, the bottle's contents splattering John's toes.
"It's supposed to go on your head, John."
"Piss off, you wanker!"
With sudden resolve, he sprang upright, crossing swiftly to his own corner of the small room. There was no sense in delaying the inevitable.
On the curtain rail, between the two beds, their morning suits were hanging tidily, side by side.
Sherlock dressed with fastidious care. Every button fastened, every crease exact; silk tie, dove-grey waistcoat. It was a uniform, of a kind. One that Sherlock had never imagined that he would one day wear. John had made him do a lot of things he'd never thought of.
Sherlock Holmes was thirty-four years old. Entirely of his own volition, he had remained celibate for the entirety of his adult life.
For at least twenty of those thirty-four years, almost every person he had met had sought to explain his lack of regard for sexual matters; and when they had explained, they sought universally to diagnose, to justify, or to cure. The theories regarding his lack of sexual activity were as many and as various as those regarding his genius. Repressed homosexuality, asexuality, impotence, haphephobia, misogyny, fastidiousness taken to a libido-crippling extreme, or a secret insatiability nightly serviced in brothels and crack-dens across three counties. All of these things had been suggested, with solutions for their appropriate resolution heavily implied. The theories amused him, but the truth was more prosaic. Sherlock Holmes was thirty-four years old, and had, quite simply, seldom met another human being capable of sustaining his interest. It would be untruthful to say that he had met none, but they had been few in number, and had mostly been disqualified on sexual grounds by virtue of their being either deranged, scheming serial-killers or, worse, related to him.
And yet… And yet, Sherlock was both a sensualist and an aesthete. Form, order, momentum… These things pleased him. It was likely, he thought, with a rare flash of self-deprecation, that there were few people in the world who understood desire so well as he. Yet perhaps that was, in itself, the reason that his was a theoretical knowledge only – because anything, any real, human thing, must necessarily fall short of his own mind. It was not that he desired perfection – how could he? He lived in flaws, in minutiae, that most people never even suspected. He could not help but appreciate such nuances, such imperfections – and John Watson had plenty.
(That there existed one particularly obvious exception to all of his misgivings did not entirely escape him. But Sherlock Holmes was nothing if not analytical; an avenue closed was an avenue not worth pursuing. There was nothing to be gained).
He was not wholly without sexual desire; it was only that it so rarely found a human focus. Music inspired it, sometimes; more rarely, a texture or a scent – petrichor, or the chemical tang left behind after lightning. Desire promoting a physiological response – that was rarer still. He knew every nuance of his mind, every chemical pathway: quiet or misdirect the stimulus, and the response was gone. He had never fully understood the inability of other men to control the functioning of their own bodies so far as sex was concerned. It would be inaccurate to claim that he maintained a rigid self-control, but only because it was so slight a concern, requiring the merest, most simple shift in his thought process. There had been, in his life, only four exceptions: occasions when, out of surprise or sentiment, he had found himself, disconcertingly, wishing to give in, having to restrain his physical self by a conscious effort of will. Twice, it had been caused by women of truly phenomenal intellect; once, by a woman of truly phenomenal beauty. And once, by John Watson.
The circumstances had been entirely unremarkable. It had been late at night, and they had just returned from a case. Not one of the swift, manic, evenings when they tumbled through the door, exhilarated and giggling like schoolboys. Not one of the evenings when they collapsed on the stairs, jumbled together in a mad rush of anything-is-possible invincibility. There had been no villains to chase, no death-defying, surge-of-adrenaline leaps. No; they had walked together along Baker Street, and up the steps to 221, one behind the other. John had unlocked the door; he had stopped in the hallway, brushed the rain out of his hair, and shrugged off his overcoat. He was already partway up the staircase when he stopped and turned, one hand on the banister. And, just like that, Sherlock had found himself spellbound. He had not closed the door behind him, had not removed scarf or coat, had not even stamped the mud off his shoes. Instead, he was standing, spellbound, in his own hallway, watching his entirely ordinary flatmate, and a terrible, choking sensation had surged through his chest, a swell of love and tenderness and devotion and sheer want that had almost overtaken him. To this day, he did not understand what had prompted it, but John, noticing his hesitation, had turned and looked back.
"Alright?" he had asked.
And it had been. Sherlock had felt the warm eyes upon him, the fond, quizzical smile, and had tamped down the swell of emotion into a tiny space beneath his ribs. It might as well have borne a label: Precious. Do not jeopardise.
Distantly, Sherlock was aware that John had re-entered the room, that he was shuffling around, half-dressed in a towel, and dripping water all over the floor. He heard the slight scuffling of footsteps and the rattle of the curtain rail as John retrieved his own suit, but he saw it only in periphery, his mind focused on a different time. What might he have said, on a braver day? What might he have done? Impossible, now, to know.
With a final tug to the lapels of his tail coat, Sherlock turned to face the mirror. He met the eyes of his reflection contemplatively (strange eyes, as was often remarked). He smoothed the set of the coat across his shoulders, and tugged gently at his cuffs. No buttonhole yet – they would pick those up on the way. But in every other regard, it was immaculate. There was nothing more he could do.
He heard John before he saw him – a rustle of clothing, and a slight intake of breath. Then his reflection appeared in the mirror behind Sherlock's left shoulder. His hair was damp, his face and chest still faintly flushed from the shower. Their eyes met in the reflection.
"Wow." John managed. "You, uh… you look really good."
Sherlock's mouth quirked. "And you look a shambles."
John grinned sheepishly. He had made it as far as shirt and trousers, but his feet were still bare, and his shirt was unbuttoned and untucked. His hair, Sherlock was displeased to note, was now dripping steadily onto his formerly-crisp white collar. He couldn't help his smile though; the essential John-ness of the image was extraordinarily endearing.
"I thought I'd better give you this now," John said, extending a half-open palm. "I'll probably forget otherwise."
Something chinked softly as he held out his hand. Three small objects nestled there. Two cufflinks, perfectly matched, and one further piece of jewellery, small and gold and bright.
"Ah," said Sherlock, softly. "That. Yes. Wouldn't do to forget that."
He reached out a precise, pale forefinger, and hooked the object into his palm. He held it there a moment, studying it, then slipped it carefully into the breast pocket of his waistcoat.
"Safe and sound." He said.
John exhaled. He seemed unsure quite what to say. There was a suppressed tension in the set of his shoulders, and he met Sherlock's eyes with an uncharacteristic nervousness, seeking a reassurance that Sherlock felt ill-equipped to give. Blue, hazel-flecked eyes. The eyes of a man who fears, yet faces it with courage: steadfast, unwavering – but afraid. Sherlock felt a strange and unfamiliar tenderness unfolding in response to that look; he wanted to touch John; to comfort him; to soothe away the desperate fear that seemed to grip his friend.
Softly, oh so softly, Sherlock stepped forward; John had to raise his chin to keep their line of sight. A lesser man might have appeared intimidated; in a weaker man, it might have been submissive; but John had never been either. His manner was so understated, so matter-of-fact, that by the simple act of raising his chin, all Sherlock's height advantage was rendered void. In that gesture, John was every inch military: an upright, compact figure, with proudly raised head and sober mien.
John's palm was still held, half-outstretched between them; with deliberate slowness, Sherlock took it in his left hand. He felt the delicate tremor as he uncurled John's rigid fingers beneath his own. Carefully, with the lightest brush of fingertips, he plucked the twin cufflinks from John's palm.
"Let me." He said.
Still moving with slow deliberation, Sherlock shifted his grip, supporting John's wrist in one large, white palm. With the greatest precision, he aligned the trailing edges of John's shirtsleeves; his fingers were deft and sure as he slipped the cufflink home. Half-unwilling, John's eyes were drawn down toward their hands. Strong as it was, his own was almost engulfed by Sherlock's (the story of his life). His palm looked square and unusually small, and his fingers were blunt and brown against Sherlock's pale, attenuated digits. There were calluses on Sherlock's fingertips and along the inner edge of his thumb. John's calluses ran in two parallel lines: beneath the first joint of each digit, and across the top of his palm. They were masculine hands, both of them: sinewy and strong-boned; too large, too strongly proportioned for elegance. So clearly masculine, and yet so clearly different: a friendship in microcosm.
The cufflinks were shield-shaped. Gold, etched with a regimental crest. Not the same bright gold as the ring, shiny and new in Sherlock's pocket, but a duller, deeper gold. Older; faintly scratched; a little tarnished. Did gold tarnish? John didn't know.
With all the intensity of concentration that he applied to intellectual endeavour, Sherlock lowered John's left hand and took up his right. Deftly, he turned the wrist over, supporting it once again in his spread palm. John wanted to protest that he could lift his own hand without help, thanks – that he was perfectly capable of fastening his own cuffs, in fact – but he said nothing. Sherlock's hands were smooth-skinned and very soft. The tip of his index finger rested against John's pulse.
Cuff fastened, Sherlock let John's hand slip to his side. He didn't step backward. His hands made a slight, abortive movement towards John's chest. An instant later, John realised that Sherlock had intended to button his shirt for him as well. That he had clearly thought better of it sent a thrill of nerves through John; Sherlock so seldom second-guessed himself.
Seemingly at a loss, Sherlock stood in front of him. His peculiar eyes were very clear, regarding John intently. His face was touched with an expression that John saw only rarely; a strange, little-boy expression of uncertainty. Briefly they stood frozen, unable, absurdly, to speak or move. The thought flitted across John's mind that, to an observer, they would have looked like lovers. After several moments, Sherlock broke the stand-off: awkwardly, and with rather less than his usual grace, he brought his hands to rest on John's shoulders. Then he stooped, tilting his head to one side, and, very formally, he touched his mouth to John's skin; to the small, secret place just behind his jaw. John could not remember anybody ever having kissed him there before.
Softly, Sherlock drew back. Upright, he seemed somehow taller than John had ever seen him, so tall that his expression was half in shadow.
John's senses seemed slowed, his thoughts sluggish and uncomprehending. He reciprocated almost instinctively – a natural reaction to Sherlock's drawing back, or so it seemed. He had to raise himself on the balls of his feet, steadying himself against Sherlock, to reach that same small, secret place. The edge of Sherlock's jaw was against his cheek; his nose bumped gently against Sherlock's ear; the long, pale column of Sherlock's throat moved softly against his mouth. Warm, soft, baby-smooth skin, newly-shaven. A slight dampness from the thick curls against John's brow. The smell of their shampoo was very strong in such close proximity. It was nothing John could name, just something vaguely herbal – the cheap two-in-one shampoo that he always bought, and that Sherlock always shared – fresh and clean-smelling and slightly astringent.
They had always shared everything, from the day that John had moved in: same shampoo; same plain, lanolin-scented Knight's Castille soap; same toothpaste. No aftershave or cologne, because frankly those were both a little – well, gay. But if they had used them, they would have shared. They had twin toothbrushes and twin combs (there was nothing coupley about it – they just came in packs of two). They had identical razors (electric and blade), because it made it easier to nick blades off each other, and meant that they only ever had to pack one charger.
And it was brought home very suddenly to John that this was the end of all that. From now on, he wouldn't use the same generic, bachelor-male shampoo as Sherlock, but the papaya-and-mango combination that Mary favoured. Soap and body-scrub and shower-gel and shampoo and conditioner (in separate bottles), all matching, all carefully arranged on the shelf in the bathroom. They smelled nice. John liked them. But they weren't the things that he and Sherlock shared.
Unthinkingly, John inhaled, drawing in the smell of soap and shampoo and Sherlock's skin. Seemingly of its own volition, his mouth was moving against Sherlock's neck, kissing softly and desperately, mouthing at the corded tendons, nuzzling at the roots of his hair. Sherlock's arms came up around John's back, tethering them together, his broad palms covering John's shoulder blades. John knew the feeling that flared through him in response too well to have any illusions as to its name.
With a monumental effort of will, John brought himself back under control. He exhaled in a shaky rush, half a sob, that he knew Sherlock could feel. Trembling, he drew back, easing down onto his heels. One of his hands was at the nape of Sherlock's neck, the other pressed against his ribcage. John didn't remember how they had got there. He withdrew them now, feeling suddenly embarrassed. He had not meant to do that. Not at all. He didn't understand, even now, why he had. John's heart lurched. He was fairly certain that it was not exactly standard pre-wedding practice between a groom and his best man, either.
"Oh, Christ." he breathed.
Sherlock gave a low, wry chuckle. He leaned his forehead against John's, and for a moment, John closed his eyes, drawing slow breaths, allowing his heart rate to steady. Finally, he straightened. For want of anything better to do, he began rather shamefacedly to do up the buttons of his shirt.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, awkwardly. "I… Sherlock – I don't…"
"It's fine, John." Sherlock cut in. He met John's eyes, and his voice softened. "It's all fine."
And somehow, it was. John laughed, a little embarrassed, and the corners of Sherlock's mouth twitched.
"We're a couple of nutters, aren't we?"
"I won't tell Mary if you don't tell Mycroft."
John gave a huff of surprised laughter. "Reckon I can manage that, yeah."
"Come on," said Sherlock. "Or we really will be late." He tossed John's waistcoat at him, and John caught it, grinning.
"Oi! No crinkling the outfit!" he chided. "You're a rubbish best man, y'know that?"
"Yes, I know," Sherlock agreed. But then his mouth quirked up at the corners, and he winked. "But you'd be lost without me."