you can afford courage
John had thought he was too old and too . . . obviously damaged to be waking up in someone else's bed. But the other side of the bed was cold, the pillow undented, and the blankets undisturbed, so he hadn't had company. If he'd had a nightmare, he'd moved through it rather quickly, pushing forward with enough momentum that he hadn't woken up.
He squinted and looked around the room, eyes still bleary, wondering what had woken him. Ah, bladder. He put his hand up to touch the deep-blue walls as he walked, guessing that the bathroom would be to his right. He peeked down the hallway and saw the front door of the flat, shoes scattered in untidy piles nearby and a merry-eyed Ganesha hanging in the entryway; a look in the other direction revealed not only the loo but also the green bedroom he'd entered last night. Right, this was Lestrade's place, his and his wife's.
His trousers were still hanging in the bathroom, damp in patches where he'd tried to scrub Greg's blood out of the material. There was a faint beep coming from one of the pockets, which still housed his mobile. He wrestled it out and peered at the display. Texts from Sherlock, of course, beginning with demands for his time and attention and ending with a command to filch whatever case files Lestrade might have lying about in unguarded desk drawers. John resolutely thumbed the mobile off, brushed his teeth, and gave his face a good scrubbing.
He followed the sound of murmuring voices and the aroma of chai to find the kitchen, where Greg and Vee were cuddling, she sitting on the counter island and he wedged between her legs, his head on her breast. One of her hands was stroking down his spine firmly over and over, and Greg looked ready to melt at the treatment. John smiled at the sight and waved to keep her where she was; he could certainly fetch tea himself. One quick but rousing game of charades with her later, he had a mug in his hand and an invitation to all the chai he could drink. It was only at his involuntary sigh of appreciation for the flavours of her homemade blend that Greg's eyes opened.
"Ready for a check-up?" John asked, his voice reduced to a husky murmur because of the hot swallow of tea he'd just drunk. Greg cocked an eyebrow at him and John darted a glance upward to see Vee grinning benevolently at him. "Sorry, that was not meant to sound like the opening line of a porno. Just – I really should take a look at your arm, make sure nothing's going amiss." He set his mug down and approached them, since Greg looked unwilling to unwind himself from his wife for the foreseeable future.
John peeled the gauze away, nodding at the butterfly bandages beneath and the still-pungent olfactory sting of the antiseptic. "This looks good, and I'm sure you know to wrap it in plastic if you want to shower. Should be pretty easy, actually, given the location of the injury."
He'd just rewrapped the wound when he felt a hand sliding through his hair and cupping his head affectionately. It made his knees shake – he hadn't been touched with any kind of tenderness in far too long; he and Harry had never got on well enough for those kinds of touches, and Clara had, in those last weeks since he'd been back, carefully removed herself from their orbits to keep things on an even, if unhappy, keel. Before he could disgrace himself by closing his eyes and leaning into the touch, it was gone, a quick pinch to his cheek serving as a coda. "This one's got a sister-in-law," Vee announced, looking down at him like some beautiful, benevolent deity from on high who could get away with wearing a shocking-pink batik nightie.
John tilted his chin slightly down, just enough that she'd have trouble scanning his face but Greg could still read his expression. "What, another deductive genius? Couldn't get enough at work?"
Greg sniggered and John guessed it was the vibrations from him passing to her that made Vee laugh as well. "Go on, impress John," Greg invited.
"He's your friend –" at that, John snuck a look at Greg, who was glancing sidelong at him, equally uncertain and shyly pleased; clearly they were both idiots destined to be friends "– but he doesn't treat me like an extension of you, or interact with me only through you. He's a man who's comfortable with women."
"That could just be that I've got a sister," John pointed out.
Vee shook her head. "So does this one. Two, in fact, both older than him and still thinking of him as the baby they used to mind. And anything more awkward than Greg around strange women has yet to be invented."
"Ah, love, you're plenty strange," Greg said, earning himself a nip on his ear that he looked tremendously pleased by.
"Still," John pressed. "How did you know that I've got a sister-in-law? Clara, married to my sister Harry."
Vee had gone suddenly taciturn, but Greg stepped into the breach. "Because you've got no problem looking like an idiot in front of a woman you'd have tried to pull if she weren't someone else's wife."
John, feeling his cheeks and ears burning, was glad to have an excuse to look down at himself and the rolled-up pyjama bottoms and shapeless socks that could hardly be showing him to his best advantage. Bloody hell, was he really that crass, that he'd apparently been making eyes at Lestrade's wife? That was what three continents of glory got him – an instinct that was going to get him heaved out of the first place he'd felt welcomed since he'd been back in England and onto his lily-white arse.
Vee grinned at him, her killer instinct very much on display, and oh, he could see exactly why Greg had married this one. "You can make it up to me," she said, all shark-like smile and mischievous eyes, and he agreed without knowing what in the world he'd signed up for.
"What is it exactly that you do?" John asked; normally, he'd trust his instincts that Vee was not going to do anything drastic or even unpleasant to him, but the look of schadenfreude on Greg's face was curiously compelling.
"I'm an artist," Vee said absently, looking between him and the light pouring through the windows, eyes sharp like they could burrow beneath his clothes. Greg was smirking as he buttered his toast.
"Look, if you want me to pose for a life study," he said, responding to the surprise on Greg's face with a touch of smugness, "I can do that for you, no problem." The vast majority of people he'd known had seen him naked at one point or another, thanks to larks at Barts and his quest for life-affirming sex while in uniform, and more than a few had documented the sight with photographs and sketches. And Natalia had even brought body paint to his room one night, and the impressions they'd made on his crisp white sheets had made John a legend among men. "But I can't do life-masks or anything like that." The feeling of wet plaster on his skin, pulling at his fine hairs, hardening gradually until he felt like he'd shrunk to fit it, was not just unpleasant but somehow triggering for him, though there was no direct link between what he'd seen and done and the texture of anything even vaguely like mud. Triggers were illogical, brains being the tetchy things they were; it was exhausting trying to keep track of what would set him off.
She looked directly at him, her eyes darker and even more direct than Lestrade's official, penetrating stare, and John saw her gaze drop down, not to his shoulder or his damned leg, but for some reason to his belly. She nodded as if there had never been any doubt about whether she would understand what he was trying to tell her. "I just want to make a few sketches," she said. "Though it will be a tremendous sacrifice not to see you naked – especially since the line of your shoulders is quite different from my regular model's – you can keep your clothes on."
John relaxed all the way at her light tone. "Bit chilly in here to make a good first impression," he agreed affably.
"Far too late for that," Vee said sweetly, already making thick charcoal lines on the heavy cream of her sketchpad.
"She's saying you'd never measure up," Greg interjected helpfully, finally bestirring himself to refill all three of their mugs. His arm seemed able to handle the weight of the pot without any issues, John noted, observing closely; that was a very good sign, though he might have been overcompensating for his bicep with his hand.
John opened his mouth to defend himself and cast aspersions on what the DI was working with, only to be beat to the punch by the DI's wife. "If you make him laugh and ruin the lines of this pose, then both of you will be stripped naked and posed for a study in Greek wrestling forms," she promised, her hands not stopping as they flowed over the page.
"Finally I'm being paired with someone other than Sherlock," was all John said after a pause, voice dry as he could make it, and Vee looked up from her sketchpad to eye him speculatively, far less serious than her husband, who looked like he was dying to ask if all the rumours were false. John gave him the two-fingered salute and picked up the original thread of the conversation. "And if you're the one who makes me laugh?" John asked Vee, brushing a finger over the tip of his nose to indicate to her where charcoal dust had already settled on her face, freckling her brown skin.
"Oh, that's fine. Artist's privilege." The words were self-aggrandising, but there was a heavy dash of irony in her tone. John figured she was up for a challenge, so he let himself laugh.
Sherlock eradicated contexts, that was what he did, John realised when he walked back into the flat. They hadn't been fighting when they'd parted – when Sherlock had stalked off without a word of explanation and left him at Greg and Vee's flat – but somehow, Sherlock still managed to make his silence pointed.
John nearly offered to make tea, even though his own insides were sloshing with the stuff, but then he saw that Sherlock had set out a mug with a teabag on the counter just next to the kettle. Apparently that last step of turning the kettle on and pouring hot water over the teabag had been too much for him, after the excitement of having his deductions proved correct by getting Greg carved up.
Sherlock, prone on the sofa, seemed to be waiting for something, and when John didn't speak, he let out a sigh. Nothing fond or indulgent about that sound – it was sheer aggravation that motivated it, and John didn't particularly want to hear more.
"I'm off for a shower then," he said, already tugging at his jumper. Waking up in a strange bed usually meant round two in the shower with a lovely lady, but even now with no soapy vixen around, he found he was craving the feel of hot water on his skin.
"Lestrade couldn't give her children, but she'll never leave him for you, even temporarily," Sherlock said, not bothering to make eye contact. At least he didn't have his hands up in that affected prayer position.
He wondered if he should just ignore Sherlock's mean shots in the dark, if discretion were the better part of valour, but he'd already turned to go back down the stairs. "I have no intention of sleeping with Greg or his wife, Sherlock, and it would be nice to know where exactly you get off assuming that I'm incapable of being someone's friend." There was an ache along his jaw, strain from keeping himself in check.
"You make friends very quickly," Sherlock said, casually barbed, as if he'd never witnessed anything half as disgraceful. John wondered if Sherlock knew just how much he sounded like his brother sometimes.
No reassurance of continuing friendship was going to be enough for Sherlock, evidently, and John frankly wasn't sure he could shape the words and give them voice with any decent measure of honesty. He trudged upstairs, intent on having that shower, ten minutes of peace; Sherlock had yet to intrude on him in the bathroom, though surely that was coming one of these days.
He scrubbed stray molecules of charcoal dust from his skin and the sweat from his hair, and then stood under the spray with his eyes closed and mouth open, just letting the water beat down on him with a therapeutic tenacity. The rough cotton of his towel felt nearly as good when he dried himself off.
Right, so it wasn't the bathroom but rather his own bedroom that Sherlock was set on invading. Sherlock was sprawled across the bed, diminishing its size with his sheer presence; his eyes were closed but the hand he thought he'd blocked from John's view with his body was white-knuckled as it clenched at the duvet. "Neither of them wanted children – obvious from how Lestrade spoke of Jennifer Wilson's stillborn daughter, no personal history there – and neither of them has ever been unfaithful to the other."
"That's your version of an apology, is it?" John asked, dressing while the tosser still had his eyes closed. "There's no reason for her to want me, so there won't be any adultery today, thanks?" A roll of thunder reverberated outside, surprising him with both its intensity and its timeliness. "You didn't think that I might have a code for myself, and that I'd never hurt a friend like that? Cheers."
Sherlock's face was illuminated by another streak of lightning as he attempted to defend himself. "You're a man who clearly prides himself on sexual conquest, and Lestrade's wife is both attractive and unrelated to you by blood or marriage."
It wasn't about conquest, or at least it hadn't been, not for a long time. It was about reciprocity, the chance that some kind of connection would be made, and the rest of the world would either melt away or grow sharper around the two of them; either way was lovely, and he hadn't had it in so long. John looked down at his bed, at the sharp-tongued man lying across it, and felt the fight drain out of his body. Sherlock still didn't call Greg by his first name, and he'd suggested stealing Met files; friendship was not familiar territory for him. "There's always something," John reminded him. "This is where you're wrong."
A walk in the rain wasn't going to do him much good if his leg seized up, but procuring food – and putting some distance between himself and Sherlock – took precedence. Thai sounded good, and his phone beeped as he clicked open his umbrella. Red curry and glass noodles. York Street, past Wyndham Place. Mention my name. SH
John had barely got Sherlock's name out before the girl behind the counter – not quite pretty, definitely appealing with those kind eyes, John thought automatically, then wondered if his unthinking assessments of women going about their lives, getting on with their jobs, were just biological instinct or signs of something more troubling – heaved a large takeaway bag in his direction. "For Sherlock Holmes," she said distinctly, "and friend."
She smiled at him as he paused in the doorway, trying to open his umbrella without dropping the food. He smiled back and stepped out onto the pavement, the patter of rain on his umbrella a cheerful beat just above his head.
a life of joy with you
"Didn't you hear the doc? I got the all-clear on this arm," Greg said, flexing for her like she was still a starry-eyed teenager. "I'm fit for active duty."
"Prove it," she said against his mouth; he caught himself before he agreed.
"No chores," he bargained. "Not today."
"Not up for a challenge?" she asked, then handed him the hairbrush and started unpinning her mess of hair.
"You are so spoilt," he grumbled, but the smile on his face was real, and he sat behind her on the floor.
"Yes, please," she said, unrepentant, and he put down the brush to work through the tangles with strong fingers that never forgot to be gentle. Being petted like this always made her a little spacey, a little sleepy, and the rhythms of his hands working in her hair betrayed his mind's tendency to wander off while he was occupied with manual labour. "You do like him, don't you?" she asked quietly.
"Yes." She'd been expecting some kind of justification, a reminder of what Sherlock Holmes was like, an allusion to the character of a man who'd served his country as a soldier and as a doctor, but that was all he said.
"Mmm," she said as he picked up the brush and started sweeping through her hair with extravagant strokes, flourishes that began with bristles tingling pleasantly on her scalp and ending with the tips of her hair stretched as far as they could go. "My good man."
He tossed the brush aside once more and swung around so that he was in her lap and facing her. His fingers were buried in her hair again as he kissed her, fierce and plaintive, and she splayed her hands on his arse and pulled him in tighter. "Only you," he gasped against her mouth, and she swore the same with the bites she left on his cheek and jaw. They rocked together, unable to decide which way they wanted to go, and she found herself giggling, tickled deliciously by the vibrations of his laughter, and getting wetter by the millisecond. "This way," he said when he'd got himself under control, pushing her down and divesting her of her clothing with authoritative ease. Her hair was a warm prickliness beneath her, setting her nerves alight.
God, he looked marvellous like this, naked and unashamed, fit and known, all hers, and she parted her legs invitingly so he could kneel between them. The tip of his cock dragged wetly up her thigh as he stretched to lie on top of her, blanketing her for one endless moment before he rose up on his hands and dropped his hips, pushing inside her, sweetly relentless.
There was always a dazed disbelief in her head when they were in this particular position; she marvelled over how completely full she felt, squirming with the pleasure of it. "Here, now," he said, his nose tracing delicate lines on her cheeks and chin, while he held himself still to give her a moment's respite.
"More," she said, coming back to herself, revelling in the sensation of those strong hands curled possessively around her hips, tilting her up to lay claim to her thoroughly.
"Spoilt, like I said," he gasped as she clenched around him. He bit at her nipple, the one that pointed to the side like a lazy eye; he had a preference for that one.
He buried his face between her breasts, his temple and her heart pressed close together, their pulses urging each other on to greater speeds. Her hands slid down his back, over all that warm skin of a grain far more beautiful than marble, sweat springing up in the wake of her touch. "Please," she whispered, and like that was the cue he'd been waiting for, he set up a rhythm that drove all thoughts out of her head except MINE.
She was off like a shot, and the feel of her coming around him made his eyes roll up in his head. There was no way they were going to hit their all-time record, but she thought she had at least one more orgasm in her; blunt nails against his skin and scalp kept him grounded and moving frantically inside her. "With me," he growled out and she tipped her head back, vaguely seeing the wall behind her upside down, and obliged him.
He kissed his way down her body, taking the scenic route it seemed, as he pulled out. There was a crack of lightning and a rumble of thunder as rain suddenly came crashing down. The plants on the windowsills would appreciate that. Greg was sitting up, mostly, one hand playing with her off-kilter nipple, and she stretched and rolled up next to him, one arm across his lap.
"My hair's all tangled again," she said.
Her first feeling, when John sat down opposite her at their usual table and smiled, was regret, and it took her aback enough to stay silent while he stole a few of her chips, heedless of the fact that his own pile would be coming in a moment.
It was the knowledge that he and Sally weren't going to be together, she realised, because Sally was still entangled with that man no better than he should be, the one with a wife at home, and John had found someone else to keep company with, a woman called Sarah, whose voice she'd heard when John called to confirm their lunch date.
She hoped this Sarah was good enough for him. There was something tentative about John's response when she asked after her; all he said was, "Sarah's very kind and very beautiful." Which told her next to nothing about whether he was happy when he was with her, but Vee let it go, fingers brushing his when they both dipped their chips in the sour cream and then dragged them through the well of sweet chilli sauce on the side.
"You're leaving tomorrow, aren't you?" John asked. "That's why Les– Greg wasn't the DI in charge of the case Sherlock just finished, isn't it?"
"Mmm," she agreed, swallowing a delicious mouthful. "He's had this leave on the books for months, so they said he should concentrate on getting all the paperwork done for the last few and not take on any new cases."
"Are you looking forward to this at all?" John asked, smirking at her over their salads.
"Yes," she protested feebly.
"Come on, even Sherlock could do better than that," he teased. "Try again."
"I love Gen and Deb, and Greg's dying to see his sisters and their kids. But it's the West Country; it's boring beyond belief."
"Surely you could do some sketching or something – isn't it supposed to be beautiful out there?"
"Watching too many Jane Austen adaptations, John?" He flushed at the reminder of the night she'd walked into the flat to find him and Greg half-drunk with Northanger Abbey on in front of them. She'd stayed to watch the end with them, at which point a pink-cheeked John had said he needed to go home and check on Sherlock; she'd watched him go and then, without any shame, stolen Catherine's move of surging forward and kissing her husband until his back hit a wall. Greg hadn't bothered with embarrassment at all, and that had just made her all the more eager to make his legs turn to jelly.
John was studiously spearing the asparagus in his salad. "None of your business. Where do you want to go, then?"
"What?" She hadn't realised she was even longing for a trip until he posed the question.
"Well, where was the last place you went?"
"It's all been family visits to the West Country and Cambridge. The last time we took a proper trip was on our honeymoon. We went to the Maldives."
"That sounds lovely."
"Yeah, it was." They had been together for a few years already at that point, so the only surprise had been how much it shook her to look at him and see her ring on his finger, how disbelieving she was when her own clinked against her teacup or caught the light when she raised a hand to his supremely contented face.
"So where would you want to go?" John repeated patiently. He was already done with his salad and she hadn't done more than push leaves aside to find a few olives.
"Greece," she said decisively. "I'd like to stand in front of the Parthenon before I die."
He nodded, smiling at the waitress to get the last of his meal – a pot of strong tea and a slice of iced lemon cake – delivered to the table. "Well, you'd better go, then. Doctor's orders."
"I have to work for my supper?" John asked, sounding frankly aghast; he was a better actor than he admitted.
"Better than singing for it, mate, I've heard your voice," Greg said. "Just need to put together a few bookshelves, nice and easy."
John groaned but stripped off his jacket and got to work. Vee watched him while the pressure cooker weight shuddered in place; he didn't even look like the same man she'd first met, scrawny and worn through, whose hands shook and whose leg regularly betrayed him. John looked strong enough to take on anything now, and did, if she could count on Sherlock Holmes to be exactly as idiotic as he sounded.
The cooker whistle blew and she ducked back into the kitchen. She could hear Greg interrogating John in a discreet undertone, evidently not realising she could hear every word once the whistle stopped its screech. She kept up the illusion of privacy by clattering spoons against pots, but she still heard John say definitively, "Greece. She wants to go to Athens."
Greg must have said something about being unable to afford to splash out like that – she was occupied with blending the sauce for the chickpeas in quick little pulses – because John said, "Just take her, you cheap bastard. You can use the money you're saving on a carpenter by pressing me into service instead." His voice betrayed how pleased he was to have sawdust in his hair and a reasonable task in front of him, and Greg must have heard it, judging by the tone of his murmured response.
She left everything to marinate a little longer and went back out to the living room. Her sketchpad was right there, so she flipped it open and began to draw them, two strong bodies conspiring to defeat gravity and create something of use and beauty. It was too bad, she thought, as her fingers flew, smudging the pencil marks for the right depth of shade, that her medium didn't allow her to record the grunts and laughter that filled the air around them.
They were a remarkably efficient team, and they had both bookcases assembled and positioned more quickly than she'd anticipated. She rose from her position on the floor, where she'd been trying out variations in perspective, and her knees cracked dramatically. "Oh, you've got to be joking," she muttered.
"Getting old," John said, all spurious wide-eyed innocence, as if he weren't only a few years younger.
"Quiet, you," Greg said, aiming a light slap at the back of John's head, and leaning over to kiss her once the blow landed.
"Can we put off dinner for an hour?" she wheedled. "I want to see what I can make out of this." They both nodded, good-tempered as the best men were, and Greg fetched bottles of beer from the kitchen.
"You," she said to John, who'd accepted his drink with a smile, "would make a gorgeous statue." Marble was definitely the right medium for him, all steady and solid in body and lined in face, wearing his life's experiences on his skin.
"Make me immortal, then," he joked, laughter lighting him up. He trailed off when she didn't join in. "No, really, Sherlock's the one who looks like he belongs in a museum."
"Or the nuthouse," Greg said into his bottle.
She didn't disagree with John's assessment of his flatmate; she'd seen Sherlock half a dozen times by now, and those odd features and whipcord grace were well worth recording. "God, no," she said aloud. "It would take the patience of a saint to sculpt his hair alone, and even then people would think I'd just done another Medusa."
John choked on his giggles and Greg thumped him on the back. "Sherlock would make a very good painting, though. Watercolours on wet paper, I think. Would he sit for me, do you think?"
"He's vain enough," John mused, "but I don't know if that's the form his vanity takes."
"Not even as a favour for a friend?" she asked, watching John's expressive eyes cloud over and clear again between one blink and the next at that.
"Maybe," he allowed. She nodded, then got lost in the work, seeing Greg and John take shape on the page, strong and certain and tested, like twin guardians in a modern mythology.
"Morning, Sally," Vee said through a mouthful of hairpins as she finished winding her hair into a knot that would stay in place for at least a few hours. "How was the wedding?"
"Very nice," Sally said. "Mamie looked lovely, Kevin is exactly who I'd pick for her. And – you were right – it decided me."
"Right about what?" she asked, leading the way back to the kitchen. "The hats?"
Sally smiled wanly at that and peered down the hallway. "Greg's still sleeping, but I can get him if you like," Vee offered; Sally had something to get off her chest, clearly, and working nights couldn't be making it easier for her to get past the jet-lag and get her life back on schedule.
"I'm not going to see Ted anymore," Sally said, face crumpling, and Vee stopped fussing with the kettle and wrapped her in a hug.
"How'd he take it?" she asked, soft words that Sally could pretend hadn't got past her shining curls.
"I haven't told him yet. We'll be on the same shift on Friday; I'll tell him then."
"Is he likely to be a bastard about it?"
Sally sniffed and clung to her. "I don't see why this would be the exception," she joked. "I'm sorry," she said, stepping back, but Vee didn't let her get away with that.
"Shush," she said, and hugged her again. Sally slumped a little in her arms, and then with a final squeeze they let go. "Go and sit. I'll have your tea ready in a minute."
When she came back out, Sally had her eyes fixed on her latest sketch of John and a wry grimace on her face. "He really is a nice man," Sally said.
"Yes," Vee agreed, setting down the tea and biscuits and easing the sketchbook from Sally's unresisting hands.
"What's the occasion?" she asked when John showed up at their door, coming straight from work. No, straight after running an errand after he'd finished work for the day; she could see a Waterstone's bag in his hand.
"Is Greg home?" he asked, brushing by her to get into the flat.
"He just texted to say his shift is done and he's on his way. What's going on?"
"He's the cake, I'm just the icing," John said.
"That was terribly subtle, John; I'm not sure but I think you were hinting that you wanted a slice of the cake I just bought. Could it be?"
He grinned at her, shameless as an imp, and she couldn't help grinning back.
"If you're having one, I will too. Just to keep you company."
"Of course," he agreed promptly. "It's only fair."
Greg walked in just as they were sucking crumbs from their fingers. "Couldn't even wait for me, could you?" he grumbled happily, smiling at the sight of them. "You didn't tell her, did you?"
John shook his head. "All you, mate. In fact I think I'll wait this one out in the living room with the telly on."
Greg watched him go then turned back to her with an air of triumph. "Close your eyes," he said, and she obeyed with alacrity. She heard the rustle of paper, and when he said, "Okay, now," she opened her eyes to see two airline tickets to Athens on her kitchen table.
She must have made some kind of odd, carrying noise at the sight of them because John rushed back in, more quickly than necessary. "No, I'm fine," she said, before grabbing Greg's head for a kiss that was just the start of what she wanted to do to him. "Wait, what's your news?"
"Just a little gift to make sure your experience is all that it could be," John said, opening the Waterstone's bag and handing her a book. Greek-English Phrasebook it said, with NEW YORK EDITION! printed underneath.
"New York?" she asked, puzzled, but John was already smiling and taking it back.
"Trust me, the plain old English version was not nearly as exciting." He flipped through a few pages. "See, there are three columns: one Greek, one English, one New York. So, we have 'ne' and 'yes' and 'abso-fucking-lutely.'"
"What?" Greg asked, while she went off into a gale of laughter.
"Or, if someone is being particularly persistent, you could say 'fige,' which can be translated either as 'go away,' which seems likely to be ineffective, or 'get the fuck out of here, fuckface.'" John was giggling rather madly himself, and Greg snatched the book from his hands with a look of disbelief. She fell into John's arms and watched her husband's eyes get wider and wider.
"This will get us arrested!" Greg protested, and there really was no point trying to get herself under control.
"Abso-fucking-lutely," John said.
they roar in chorus, not in tune
Sarah hadn't been expecting him – though, really, given how often Sherlock was in a strop, maybe she should have been – but she let him in. He smiled at her, finding it charming that she kept smoothing down her hair like it looked messy instead of just appealingly disordered.
Her flat was full of pretty objects, things he could imagine her buying herself as rewards: this vase for landing the job at the surgery, that painting for being promoted to the head of it. He didn't have to be his disastrous flatmate to read her flat, to read her, beautiful and dressed down for home in her blue jeans and green top. "Hi," she said, smiling back and leaning forward to kiss him. Her mouth was firm and welcoming, and he got one hand up to thread through her hair.
"Are you hungry?" she asked, breaking away. "I do lovely gourmet takeaways."
He laughed at her self-deprecation and kissed her again, tasting the wine she'd been drinking. "Doesn't even have to be gourmet."
"Good, because I'm craving shepherd's pie and chips," she confessed. He kept his arms round her while she placed their order, and she turned to face him as she clicked her mobile shut.
Just looking at her was good for him; he could feel the spikes of his irritation with Sherlock being smoothed down by her calming presence. He looked at her fair skin and clear eyes and did not ask just what she'd been thinking to give him another chance instead of cutting her losses and running.
John stretched as best he could, trying to work out the kinks Sarah's godawful sofa had left in his neck and back, and resolutely kept himself from wondering if he'd have been better off at Greg's place, in that luxurious spare bed with Vee's spicy food a warm weight in his stomach and the promise of companionship in the morning. Or if he should have stuck it out with Sherlock, whose look of surprise when John walked out was surely evidence that he hadn't meant to be hurtful with his lashing out.
In any case, John had come to Sarah and she'd taken him in, and he looked forward to thanking her properly for it. She walked into the living room, her light-blue robe outlining her body, and he wanted to untie it and lay her down and feel her warm skin against his. But she spoke, keeping things light, and he was assailed once more by disbelief at her beauty; he still wasn't sure what exactly he was doing in her flat, getting to see her first thing in the morning, getting to joke with her about breakfast and future dates.
He smiled after her as she went off to have a shower, and he sat in peace and quiet for a moment before his world shrank to the size of the TV screen. He knew that building, even if it took him far too long to read the caption House destroyed in Baker St. His heart hiccupped and his throat clenched tight. Sherlock was all he could think, but he forced himself to say the other name, calling out for Sarah as he gathered himself to run home, back to where he belonged.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.