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Title: This Man's Heart - Chapter 23
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Pairing: Sherlock/John.
Word count: 3306
Summary: In the latter part of the 19th century, a peculiar solitary man and an ex-army doctor disfigured at war live in a small village, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. When they first meet, they have no idea their lives are about to change forever and, over the months, they will form an unusual friendship, discover more about each other and themselves, and maybe fall a little in love along the way.
Disclaimer: See first chapter.

Back to the first chapter
Previous chapter

Chapter 23
Two weeks into the month of June, Martha woke Sherlock up unusually early despite his vehement protests. When it was impossible to ignore his aunt’s nagging, he got out of bed, got dressed, and stumbled down the stairs, his eyelids still heavy with sleep. He didn’t even have time to sit down and have a cup of tea; she grabbed him by the hand and dragged him out of the house saying she had something extremely important to show him. He was much stronger than she was, but he couldn’t deny her anything when she was that excited, so he followed her outside.
She led him to a recluse wood on Sailboat Bay, not too far from their house. A few yards into the small forest, there was a large clearing surrounded by many trees. Despite its proximity to the small number of other houses on Sailboat Bay, the clearing seemed far away from everything; it felt as though they were in an entirely isolated area. It was quiet, calm, and intimate; the perfect place to build a hou— Oh!
“Aunt Martha,” Sherlock said warily, “why did you bring me here?”
“It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”
“Aunt Martha, answer me!” he said, his heart beating faster than was healthy and his voice pitched slightly higher than normal.
He needed her to talk, to explain; he had reached a conclusion that she needed to confirm because he was on the verge of exploding (it sure felt that way). His thoughts were swirling so fast that he barely noticed when his aunt grabbed his hand.
“I bought this for you and John,” she said, her voice filled with pride and repressed excitement.
Sherlock blinked several times, looking around him while he detailed every single tree, every rock, every wild flower, and every patch of sand that surrounded him. This couldn’t be real. He thought his aunt had awakened him several minutes ago, but he needed to consider the possibility that he was still sleeping; it seemed a lot more probable than him being offered that beautiful hunk of Sailboat Bay.
“This can’t be possible,” he said.
“I’ve been saving some money for you ever since you father died,” she said, and her eyes glistened with unshed tears, “I never knew what I was saving for, but I knew it would eventually make you happy. This is my wedding gift for you and John.”
For one very short moment, he felt sorry that there wasn’t a wedding planned (yet) and that he hadn’t even formed a concrete plan to propose (yet). However, his aunt was incredibly happy and he was ecstatic, so he promptly forgot about that small detail, and he hugged his aunt so tightly he knocked all wind out of her.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and she patted his back lovingly.
“I love you, my dear boy, and it’s a very selfish gift; I’m keeping you near me.”
“It’s perfect,” Sherlock confirmed, and he let her go to have a proper look around.
The vegetation was lush and coloured in dozens of different shades of green. The trees surrounding the glade were old and tall, and it seemed as if they were forming a vegetal rampart around the place where their house would soon stand, a shelter around a shelter. He would have liked to stand there longer, in the middle of his and John’s future home, but Aunt Martha needed his help. Apparently she had accepted to bake pies for the next day’s dinner at the Lestrades, and she always asked for his help when she had a lot of dough to roll. It was a tedious task, but he always got to steal bits of apple peals so it wasn’t all bad. He would come back later, alone, to enjoy his gift.
Later, when there were four pies aligned on the kitchen counter, Sherlock went out again to revisit the clearing – his and John’s clearing. He quickly crossed the distance separating the edge of the wood – his and John’s wood – and Aunt Martha’s house, and he calculated that there were 663 feet between them. He was so absorbed by his calculation that it took him longer than usual to notice that something was out of the ordinary. On one of the trees, close to the path leading to the clearing, a familiar red scarf had been tied to a branch and was floating softly, rocked by the wind. Suddenly, his heartbeat quickened. He untied the scarf, brought it close to his face to inhale John’s enticing smell, and he made his way towards the glade.
Standing in the middle, surrounded by trees and bathed in the afternoon sun, stood John Watson in all his glory. When John smiled warmly at him, he grinned back, and once he was close enough, he delicately wrapped the red scarf around John’s neck. He had forgotten how nicely the scarlet scarf and the brown leather of the mask complimented each other, and he was pleasantly reminded of their first meetings and of the anticipation he had felt every morning, hoping to see the red piece of fabric.
“It took you long enough to come,” John said.
“Aunt Martha was baking pies; I helped,” he said, perfectly aware of the ridiculousness of his answer compared to the solemnness the moment inspired.
John had raised the flag, he had summoned him, and as usual, he had come. They were now alone in their piece of land, alone in a place that was entirely theirs, a place where they were protected and loved, and that no one had ever tainted with spite or disgust. They were extremely far away from the rumours and gossip, far from Anderson’s lies and from Harry Watson’s hate. They were home, exactly where they belonged.
“It’s been two years since I first saw you,” John said as he laid a hand on Sherlock’s neck, holding him, grounding him, “yet, every time I see you, I’m surprised by how breathtakingly beautiful you are.”
Sherlock wanted to respond, he wanted to say that he felt the same and that every day he was pleasantly surprised to feel the same thrill in his stomach that he had felt on that first night among the trees close to the foxes’ enclosure. However, something important was unfolding, and his instinct told him he needed to let John speak.
John was looking up at him and Sherlock couldn’t look away; he was anchored by his blue eyes, nothing else existed but those eyes and the loving words John was saying to no one else but him, the words he would never tell anyone else.
“You’re not just a great heron; you’re a phoenix. When I look at you and at how brilliant you are, I get the feeling that you could outlive everyone, always rising from your ashes.”
John raised his other hand so they were both resting on either sides of Sherlock’s throat. Sherlock swallowed hard, but his gaze never faltered; he kept his eyes fixed on John’s. His whole body was shaking with slight tremors; no one had ever spoken to him that way, and he was drinking John’s words as if he were dying of thirst.
“John,” Sherlock whispered lovingly as John’s thumbs stroked his collarbones through his shirt.
John shook his head, and Sherlock fell silent.
“I still can’t believe that what we share is real, but I need it, I want all of it for as long as I live. I want to create stories with you. I want to be the instrument you play, and I want you to be mine; I want my ears to be filled with nothing but the music we’ll make.”
John pressed his hands to Sherlock’s cheeks, and he stroked the cheekbones he was so fond of with his thumbs. All Sherlock could think about was how right John’s last words had been. The gentle words he was quietly speaking were arranging themselves like a partition in Sherlock’s head; John was creating music and Sherlock’s whole body was vibrating with it.
“I want you to choose this. You could conquer the world, you could have anyone, but I am standing in front of you today asking you to choose the sacred simplicity of us being together. I want us to get married.”
“You said I would make a horrible husband,” Sherlock said with a smile.
“Yes, well I’ll take what I can get,” John said, and they both laughed until Sherlock leaned down to press their lips together, sliding an arm around his waist to pull him closer. His other hand cupped John’s face, and he shivered when John stroked his arms in slow up and down motions.
“I choose this. I choose you; I’ll always choose you,” Sherlock said once their lips parted, “and I want us to get married too, soon if convenient.”
“Soon,” John confirmed and they kissed again, with more hunger this time.
Sherlock followed John to a tree with a large trunk, the kind of tree they had leaned against several times before, and they sat together. Sherlock had an arm wrapped around John’s shoulders and John snuggled close, his face buried in the crook of Sherlock’s neck. He kept his mask on; the fact that they were outside, even in such an intimate place, meant there was a slight chance that someone could walk in on them. When the sun started getting closer to the horizon, John extracted himself from Sherlock’s long arms and extended a hand to help him get up. His blue eyes were twinkling with mischief, and there was something devilish about his smile.
“I have orders to take you home,” he said, and Sherlock arched an eyebrow.
“Take me home? Are you and Aunt Martha planning something? Oh just look at you, of course you are. All right then, take me home,” he said as he entwined his fingers with John’s.
John didn’t respond, he couldn’t respond without laughing. He wasn’t surprised that Sherlock had noticed something was going on, however, it was a surprise that he hadn’t noticed it sooner. Squeezing Sherlock’s hand tighter, he led him out of the small wood – their small wood – and into Mrs. Hudson’s house.
Martha, Gregory, Jim, and Sebastian were waiting for them when they arrived. When Sherlock opened the door, there were approximately five seconds of silence during which the others tried to determine whether everything had gone according to plan. When they saw that both Sherlock and John were smiling, they hurried to express heartfelt congratulations.
“Did you plan this?” Sherlock asked his aunt while she was crushing his ribs with her arms.
“John did after I showed him the place,” she answered.
“I was inspired,” John said, “the place truly is beautiful, I’m surprised it wasn’t owned yet.”
“I believe its remoteness was perceived as a disadvantage by most people,” Sebastian said, warmly shaking John’s hand to offer his congratulations.
“We visited it a few times since Mrs. Hudson bought it,” Jim added, his eyes shining with excitement, “we will need to cut down a few trees if we want to respect the plans, but it will look beautiful.”
“Speaking of plans,” Sebastian said, “the final version is done, and Jim put together a team who will build the house. The construction will start in two days.”
Martha clapped at the announcement, and both John and Sherlock thanked their architects for the umpteenth time, but Gregory loudly cleared his throat and everyone turned to look at him.
“The new house sounds beautiful, but I believe we are here to celebrate an engagement!” he said, getting more excited with every word he was saying.
The others seemed to have forgotten what the dinner-party was all about, and Gregory’s reminder prompted another round of congratulations. Martha hugged Sherlock, then John, and then Sherlock again while wiping tears from her eyes. Gregory clapped them both on the shoulder, but he ended up pulling them both close for a hug at the same time, crushing them against each other while they laughed. When it was Jim and Sebastian’s turn, Jim hugged John first, and then turned to hug Sherlock.
“Now you actually are allowed to have sex, you naughty, naughty boys,” he whispered so only Sherlock could hear.
Sherlock opened his mouth to protest, but Jim was already gone, hugging John and patting his back in a friendly manner. Nothing in John’s face and bearing showed embarrassment, so Sherlock supposed Jim had kept his unsubtle comments to himself.
Then, it was Sebastian’s turn to embrace them, and when he released John, Martha was coming out of the kitchen with several wine glasses in her hands, Gregory following with a bottle of sparkling wine. He popped the cork opened and poured everyone a generous portion. Once everyone had a glass, Gregory made the first toast.
“Sherlock, John, it’s only the second time I see you together, but it’s obvious just by looking at you that you love each other very much, and I don’t doubt that if you had the possibility, you would spend an eternity making each other happy.”
Sherlock slid a possessive arm around John’s waist and brought him closer, which made Gregory smile before he continued his short speech.
“Sherlock, you’re my best mate, and I couldn’t be happier for you; not only did you find someone mad enough to put up with you,” he said as he raised his glass to John who chuckled, “but you also found someone I can actually beat at chess and who doesn’t call me an idiot when he wins. To the future married couple!” he finished as he raised his glass.
Sebastian went next.
“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you both, and seeing you together never fails to bring back memories of my husband and I when we were younger. I hope that when you’re old there will still be as much love in you eyes as there is right now when you look at each other. It’s my absolute pleasure to participate in building you a house that will be witness to your love story. To the newly engaged couple!” he said before raising his glass.
Once everyone had taken a sip of their drink, Jim made the next toast.
“It’s been quite an adventure, even just watching from the side. I was hoping you two would end up together ever since that picnic we organized, when Anderson announced that he had seen you two together. I must admit I had doubts when you showed up at our house and collapsed on our floor.”
John who hadn’t heard of the incident turned to look at his fiancé with inquisitive eyes, and Sherlock held him tighter and bowed his head to whisper “later” in his ear.
“I almost lost all faith in you when you announced that you were engaged to a woman, but in the end, you did what’s right. You both did. May you live long, happy years together, and may your marriage bring you…gratification. Although I don’t doubt it will, John is a doctor after all,” he said before winking at John who, judging by the colour of his ears, had turned bright red.
“I raise my glass to Sherlock Holmes and his doctor, John Watson,” he concluded, and once again, the others raised their glasses in response.
Then, it was Martha’s turn to clear her throat, but she didn’t speak right away; she looked at the two men standing close to each other. She looked at Sherlock’s protective arm around John, and she saw how naturally John seemed to lean towards Sherlock. They looked happy.
“Following his father’s death, I had the pleasure of watching that little boy grow, and as he grew into a solitary man, I prayed every night for the good Lord to send him a friend. I had to wait many, many years, but finally my prayers were answered,” she said, and she looked at John with tear-filled eyes.
She had to pause for a few seconds before continuing.
“I knew there was something special about John Watson the moment Sherlock mentioned him for the first time; there were as many stars in his eyes as there are in a clear June sky. It was obvious he was completely smitten as soon as John organized a treasure hunt which, if I may say so, is the most romantic courtship I have ever witnessed; therefore, I suggest we raise our glasses to the ingenious John Watson.”
Everyone did so, including Sherlock who turned to John and fondly looked at him. John looked back, mouthed ‘I love you’, and Sherlock squeezed his waist a little tighter.
“They almost lost each other for a moment, and I don’t think I was ever as scared as I was when I saw Sherlock in Jim and Sebastian’s spare room, looking scared, lost, and so small. But in the end, they found each other again, and I don’t believe they will ever let the other out of their sight for longer than strictly necessary. To Sherlock, who is still my little boy, and to John Watson, whom I already love like a son.”
Again, the glasses were raised, and another round of congratulations was offered. Then, under the watchful eyes of their friends – and family, in Sherlock’s case – Sherlock and John shared their first public kiss, which prompted applause, whistling, and a howling sound that was most certainly Gregory’s doing. Martha filled up their glasses again, and they chatted pleasantly while the dinner was finishing to cook.
The dinner consisted of many courses and lasted for several hours. At the end of it, they were all extremely full and a little tipsy. When they finally left the table, it was almost one in the morning. Gregory was the first to leave (with a few pieces of strawberry pie), followed by a yawning Sebastian and Jim who was still high on sugar. John was trying to locate his scarf that he had taken off at some point during the night when Martha approached him.
“It’s late and you live so far away, why don’t you stay with us for the night? Now that you two are engaged the proprieties are respected, and I would be terribly worried if I knew you were walking home all by yourself,” she said while retrieving his scarf from under one of the couch cushions.
“I gladly accept your invitation; it’s very late indeed, and I’m exhausted, thank you Mrs. Hudson,” John said, and Sherlock smiled at him from across the room.
Martha insisted on doing the dishes before going to bed, and John helped while Sherlock sat at the kitchen table, complaining that it was taking too long but doing absolutely nothing to accelerate the process. Once every glass, plate, and utensil was back in its storage place, Martha kissed them both on the cheek, and John thanked her once again for organizing such a lovely gathering.
Then, Sherlock led John to his bedroom where they got ready for bed. Despite Sherlock’s suggestion that they slept naked, John refused categorically, saying that the door didn’t have a lock. Sighing, Sherlock lent him a nightshirt. It was snug on John’s broader and more muscular chest, and Sherlock devoured him with his eyes, suddenly reconciled with the fact that they wouldn’t be sleeping naked.
“Aren’t you going to take off your mask?” Sherlock asked when John slid under the covers.
“Mrs. Hudson—” he began, but Sherlock cut him off.
Mrs. Hudson was engaged and married once, she knows better than to open the door without a warning.”
John hesitated, his fingers hovering close to his leather mask, and Sherlock got under the covers with him and untied the thin straps of his mask before setting it on the bedside table. Then, they naturally gravitated towards each other until they were entwined in a mess of limbs and warmth. Sherlock slid a hand under John’s nightshirt while the other one lazily stroked his cheek, and when he leaned in for a quick goodnight kiss, John held him in place by a well placed hand on his neck.
Despite their exhaustion, neither seemed able to fall asleep. They remained entangled while they stared at each other. Sometimes, one of them would smile or laugh, and the other would mirror the gesture; soon, they had to admit that sleep wouldn't easily come for them that night. Sherlock found John's hand, and he brought it to his lips to lightly kiss his knuckles.
"We're engaged," Sherlock said.
"We are."
"Do you really want to marry me?"
"Haven't changed my mind. Yet," John answered with a smile.
Sherlock's smile was lost behind John's hand, the palm of which he was peppering with gentle kisses.
"I play the violin when I need to think, and sometimes I need to think in the middle of the night. I have black moods, and there may come a time when I won't talk for hours or days. I am rubbish at cleaning or cooking, and my idea of appropriate home decoration is a skull."
"And you tell me this now?" John asked, but it was obvious from his tone that he was amused.
"Future husbands should know the worst about each other."
"That's kind of you. I think. Although I must say I can't honestly object to the skull."
Sherlock chuckled, thinking about Aunt Martha's relief when the skull would finally leave her house; she had never gotten used to the gift, and her expression always turned sour when Sherlock mentioned it. For a long time, they continued to look at each other, Sherlock massaging John's hand while John stroked Sherlock's lower back.
"I never imagined being married until I met you," Sherlock said after a while.
"I thought about it often...before," John said, "it would have been a simple, pretty girl with a plain name and good manners. Now, when I think about it, I feel ill; imagine what I would have missed."
Sherlock opened his mouth to respond, but no sound came out. Instead, he pulled John closer, and he buried his face in his hair while trying not to think about his life without John. Had the bullet's trajectory been very slightly different, they never would have met. John could easily have died, and he could just as easily have lived unscathed, gone back to London, and married a Sarah, Anne, or a Mary. He wondered whether he would have eventually felt as though something was missing, or if he would have lived his life undisturbed.
John probably sensed his troubled thoughts, because he pulled away to hold Sherlock's face between his hands. He locked their eyes, and when he spoke, his voice was firm and earnest.
"I'm here, I'm not going anywhere, stop thinking about that."
"How did you know?"
"I was thinking the same thing, and it was scaring the hell out of me."
Sherlock smiled, and he carded his fingers through John's hair before leaning towards him to press their lips together.
"Never leave me," he murmured between kisses.
John grabbed Sherlock's hand, and he pressed their entwined fingers against his own heart so they could both feel the strong heartbeat there.
"Never. Not as long as this heart beats."
No other words were spoken that night, but John's promise echoed through the room, and they could both feel it through the beating of his heart. They both fell asleep eventually, lulled by the steady 'thump thump' of John's heart.

Next chapter.


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Ellie L.

December 2012

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