A year had passed as quickly as rain fell in the spring.
Spring in London was melting into summer; the daffodils had bloomed and wilted, the smog had thinned, and the bright mornings poured warm air through open windows.
Margaux pulled the curtains apart, welcoming the morning sun on her face. She felt two arms wrap around her waist, a firm body pressed against her back. She turned her head to the side as his lips met the back of her shoulder, travelling up her neck to her cheek. She leaned back against him and smiled.
"How long will you be gone?"
"Hm? What do you mean?" he muttered as his lips pressed against her temple.
"You're showing me affection first thing in the morning and you're fully dressed – bag sitting on the floor by the door." She turned around to face him, slinking her arms over his shoulders. "So, I'll ask again: how long will you be gone?"
"All day. I will do my best to return tonight."
"Where to this time?"
"Not sure. I assume Mycroft will enlighten me once I arrive."
She narrowed her eyes. There was an inkling in the pit of her stomach that told her he was lying. She was sure Sherlock had been lying for a while.
In the year they had been together, she had noticed he would disappear; unreachable by phone and without John by his side. Where he was going, she wasn't sure. But as he picked up his bag and made his way downstairs, she heard a familiar text tone echo from the staircase – a tone that sent a shiver down her spine and made her chest feel hollow.
John took a large gulp of coffee. He was nervous, burning his tongue in his haste. The woman across the table smiled, her deep olive skin flushing slightly. Her name was Victoria. They had studied medicine at St Bart's at the same time but never crossed paths, finally meeting over twenty years later at a mutual friend's wedding. She had sharp features, deep brown eyes and thick, perfectly styled black hair that glittered with greys when it caught the light.
A waitress placed two plates on the table.
"Lovely," said John, rubbing his hands together as he looked down at his Full English.
Victoria nibbled politely on her toast as she continued her story. "So, then my eldest son Carl came running downstairs wondering what the hell was going on–" She stopped talking as she raised her head to look at him.
He was distracted, almost angry as he stared off at something behind her.
"S-sorry, Victoria," he said, rising from his chair. "Can you just... excuse me for a second?"
He made his way towards the door, glaring at Sherlock who stood waving at him through the glass pane.
"What are you doing, Sherlock? I told you I was going on a date."
Sherlock looked at his watch with a raised eyebrow.
John huffed. "People go for breakfast together – it's a perfectly acceptable date."
"Ugh, what is it? What do you need?"
"Margaux is becoming suspicious. She thinks I'm lying about where I'm going."
"You are lying about where you're–"
"Never mind that, John. Just- If she comes snooping around for information, you tell her I've travelled to Brussels to aid Mycroft in some government... stuff."
"Government stuff. Right, okay." John nodded. He stepped back into the restaurant before pivoting on his heels and returning to Sherlock. "I don't like lying to her."
"Don't think of it as lying."
"What else can I think of it as?"
Sherlock stood quietly for a moment, staring blankly over the top of John's head. "Okay, it's lying." He finally said. "But it is necessary. She can't know."
Greg Lestrade was leaning back comfortably in his chair. He was reading over a witness statement while eating his lunch, being sure not to get food stains on the crisp, white paper. His office door opened suddenly. He sat up, taking his feet down from the desk.
"You could've knocked," he said.
"Sorry, did I interrupt an intimate moment between you and your sandwich?" said Margaux as she closed the door behind her. "Where's Sherlock?" she asked abruptly.
"I don't know. Should I know?"
"I don't know..."
"Well with all due respect, Marg, he's your fella; if you don't know where he is, how should I?"
"Right." She nodded, reaching for the door handle. "Okay then."
She stopped and turned around quickly. "I think he's cheating on me."
Greg's eyes grew wide. He remained silent for a moment but it didn't take long for his expression to break. He burst into laughter, throwing his head back and closing his eyes.
"Sherlock? You think Sherlock is playing away?" he continued to laugh.
"Stop laughing, Greg, it's not funny."
"Okay, alright, I'm sorry." He wiped away a tear, continuing to chuckle quietly as he gestured for Margaux to sit down. "Go on, enlighten me."
She sighed. "It started just after I moved in with him. He'd disappear for a whole day here and there and I'd try to get in touch with him but I couldn't – no one had seen him, not even John knew where he was. When he'd get back, he'd be really secretive. He'd make up some vague excuse – researching for a case, doing some undercover work, stuff he thought I'd just accept as true. But what he didn't account for, was that I noticed he would be different. He'd be really affectionate, calm, agreeable. Guilty."
"That's just Sherlock, though. Odd behaviour, no one can read him."
"You know Irene Adler's still alive. He saved her from being executed."
"So no one knows where she is. Except Sherlock. She texts him. Even has her own personal ring tone." She paused. "I'm not paranoid, Greg, I'm observant."
"But... After everything you've been through to get to where you are; he'd be an idiot."
"Yeah, well he can be an idiot, can't he. He's proven that time and time again."
The air was still, and the warm day had cooled to a calm night. Margaux walked out of the police station and across the carpark, shifting her bag up her shoulder and taking her phone out of her pocket. As she scrolled through her phone checking for messages, she noticed a shadow ahead.
He was leaning against her car; hands in pockets, head down. He glanced up at her and smiled.
"What are you doing here?" she asked as she approached him.
"I've not long got back. Thought I'd come and meet you – accompany you home."
They climbed into the car, closing their doors and buckling their seatbelts without a word. Sherlock could tell something was wrong. But he knew why. He wondered if he should mention something, but the can of worms seemed better shut. So instead, he waited for her to speak first.
"So..." she began as she drove them through London. "How was Belgium?"
"Ah, you spoke to John?"
"Mhm. I text him earlier to see if he'd pick Vaughan up from nursery. He mentioned you were flying to Brussels."
"Oh yes, well, it was rather uneventful. But I got what I needed for Mycroft so–"
The car slowed to a stop at a traffic light. The red light glowed through the windshield onto her face as she turned to look at him. "Why did you tell John where you were going and not me?"
"He... called me as I was getting on the plane."
"Oh." She felt the inkling again, trying her best to bury it.
Greg was right, he was Sherlock; she knew him, loved him, and she wanted so desperately trust him. The light turned green. She turned her attention back to the road and drove.
"Long day?" he asked.
"Just admin. Lots of paperwork." She dropped her arms into her lap, holding the bottom of the steering wheel gently with one hand.
Sherlock reached over, weaving his fingers through hers and holding her hand as she drove.
When they arrived home, they climbed up the stairs and walked down the landing towards 221B. He opened the door and stumbled through the dark to switch on a lamp. It shone a faint, warm glow across the living room as they slipped off their jackets and threw down their bags. Margaux sat on the couch and took off her shoes with a relieved sigh.
Sherlock picked up a letter, opening it and skimming over it quickly. He walked to the fireplace, placing the letter down and pinning it to the mantle with his knife. Margaux watched him, the lines of his face illuminated by lamplight; his straight mouth, clenched jaw and heavy brow. She walked over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and laying her head on his chest.
"I love you," she said quietly.
"Good, I was starting to wonder."
She glared up at him.
He smiled softly. "I'm kidding. I love you too."
"You doubt my feelings."
"Are you asking me? Or has something brought you to that conclusion?"
"You were hesitant when you put your arms around me, and you're requesting reassurance of my love for you. Am I not making my feelings clear? I'm still unsure sometimes whether I'm acting appropriately–"
"No, Sherlock, you've been... you've been wonderful. Really. I just worry sometimes. Maybe I'm not... enough for you."
"Margaux. I spend my days gallivanting around London with my best friend, doing what I love and being paid for it. I crack cases and receive glory from the press and police for my work... Yet knowing that you are the last thing I see when I go to sleep, and the first thing I see when I wake up, is the better than all of that."
She smiled. "You know, for a man with a rather prickly disposition, you can be rather... smooth."
He felt her grip around him tighten, her body relax into his. He breathed an internal sigh of relief knowing that, for once, he had said the right thing.
"So, since John has been a stand-up uncle," he said. "And we have the flat to ourselves..."
"Mrs Hudson is downstairs."
He checked his watch. "It's after 9pm, Mrs Hudson's had sherry and a half and is currently asleep in front of the television."
"People aren't always so predictable."
"Mrs Hudson!" he bellowed, so loud that his voice rattled her bones.
They stood in silence for a moment, waiting. But no sound came from downstairs. She looked up at him, rolling her eyes as he had once again proven himself right.
The corner of his mouth lifted smugly. "On Friday nights, both her favourite soaps are broadcast at the same time on two different channels. She tapes them so she can watch them after she's had her dinner and washed the dishes. John took Vaughan for the night so with the place to herself, she treated herself to a sherry while she watched her soaps back to back – falling asleep half way through the second episode."
Margaux tried to stifle a smirk. He was impressive, and she couldn't help but find the confidence he had in his own deductions somewhat sexy. He was clever and he knew it. He was right and he knew it. He was in control and he knew it.
"That was the most thorough way of convincing someone to have sex with you," she said.
"Do you need to be convinced?"
She leant up to kiss him as he pulled her closer. She smiled against his lips as his hands trailed quickly from her waist to her backside.
"Mm." She pulled away. "I've been sitting behind a desk all day in a room full of sweaty policemen. Give me five minutes?"
He nodded, watching as she disappeared towards the bathroom.
Mrs Hudson woke to a loud bang. She jolted forward, gripping the arm of the couch and blinking away the sleep that had formed in the corners of her eyes. She looked around the room, eyes wide as she wondered if she'd imagined the sound, or if it had been the television that was still playing as she slept. A few moments later, another bang made her jump. She stood up, realising it was coming from the front door.
She stepped out of her flat into the hall and crept forward slowly, her eyes never leaving the door. The stairs creaked beside her, she looked up to see Sherlock rushing down the steps; he was red-faced and breathing heavily. His hair was messy, his naked body draped in a bedsheet. Mrs Hudson covered her eyes.
"Ooh Sherlock," she whispered in horror.
He looked down at his attire and rolled his eyes before continuing towards the door.
Margaux appeared at the top of the stairs wearing Sherlock's dressing gown, she had wrapped it tight around her waist, holding it in place with folded arms.
"What was it?" she whispered.
"Maybe the wind lifted the knocker?" Mrs Hudson replied.
"Will you both just shush and let me check?" said Sherlock.
His hand reached slowly for the door while the other held the bedsheet in place. He opened it, just enough to let a sliver of streetlight into the hall. He peaked through the gap, furrowing his brow and standing up straight.
"What is it?" asked Margaux as she made her way downstairs.
He opened the front door wide. "Not sure," he mused, crouching down to examine something on the doorstep.
Mrs Hudson took a step forward. "They don't deliver at this time of night, surely?"
Sherlock turned around. He was holding a small brown package. "It's for you..." he said, his eyes flitting towards his girlfriend.
Margaux took the package from him, twisting her mouth and running her finger along the sealed edge.
Sherlock lay his hand on top of hers. "How about we don't go opening strange packages left on doorsteps?"
Margaux hovered in the kitchen chewing the nail of her index finger. She watched as he sat at the kitchen table examining the package with a small device.
"I should be surprised that you just so happen to have bomb-detection equipment lying around," she said. "But I'm not."
"I've noticed people try to blow me up more than the average person." He put down the device and held up the package. "It's safe."
She took it from him and opened it with haste, tearing away the brown paper and tipping out a small velvet box.
Inside the box was a necklace. She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. The chain was thin and old; the metal worn like antique brass. Hanging from it was a pendant.
She held it close to her face, her eyes fixed on the stone in the centre. "Is- Is this..."
Sherlock took it from her, looking at it for just a moment. "Painite."
"The stone from the museum?"
"It appears so."
"Why would somebody send me this?"
Sherlock didn't respond. Instead he picked up the remnants of the package and turned it inside out. Nothing.
"A fan of John's blog, maybe?" Margaux pondered. "But I mean... Painite? That's a bit of an obscure reference, don't you think? To read about the case, source a piece of the stone, set it in a necklace and send it to... me?"
Sherlock paced the floor, rolling the pendant between two fingers. "It would be..." He held it up – the cloudy amber stone glittering as it caught the light. "Except, John never wrote about that case."