Such high-quality angst requires redemptive fluff, and so I wrote this little ofering earlier this week. Unbeta'd and un-Britpicked, but I think it's fun nonetheless. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been rereading earlgreytea68's wonderful "Nature and Nurture," and it's entirely possible some details of her version of parentlock have seeped in. And those of you noticing certain similarities between Sherlock's crossword and Leo McGarry's on the West Wing opener aren't imaging things. Enjoy.
John wonders, sometimes, why Sherlock never asks for the ring back. This is Sherlock Holmes, of course he's worked out John has it. And for all his bluster, John knows Sherlock was too proud to touch the family money that was his by rights but would require negotiations with Mycroft. That ring could mean months of worry-free takeaway, a new laptop, even a sizeable contribution to Willa's school fees or a holiday out in Sussex. Odd, that Sherlock never suggests they sell it, or asks after it at all.
That question gnaws at him, and in the silence that defines so much of his life after Leinster Gardens he often hears the unvoiced question echoing behind more urgent thoughts. In those first few months he carries it around in his coat's deep pockets (to have it at hand when -- always when -- Sherlock finally asks after it, he tells himself), and sometimes on the Tube he retrieves the box and flicks it open absentmindedly, twirls it around his pinkie less from the ache of that day in Magnussen's office and more out of bemused curiosity. At some point he stops fiddling with it, tells himself firmly that Sherlock plainly has little intention to take it back, and leaves it often as not in his sock drawer, forgotten and yet not. alternating it between his drawer and his coat's deep pocket, forgotten and yet not.
Months pass, years even, until even his divorce is little more than a low ache and he and Willa are well ensconced into 221B. The second move seems destined to take (though how they will manage once Willa outgrows the toddler's bed squeezed in beside his own...) and John slowly retrieves his belongings from the Finchley flat that was theirs and will now be Mary's. Winter clothes and mementoes crammed into old army duffels; Willa's bottles, changing pads, and stuffed menagerie; his Harry Potter first editions and the James Bond DVDs he'd bought for Sherlock before St. Bart's, one of the very few things he couldn't bring himself to part with after. And the ring, of course. He kept it closed away in its velvet box but he knew what it was, of course, and it mocked him every morning in its new home.
Finally he decides quite enough time has passed, and so he pulls it out one morning meaning to ask Sherlock what he wants done with it. If Sherlock sees it as some kind of keepsake from an old lover, well, let it rattle around his sock drawer; and like as not Sherlock hasn't given it a moment's thought in years. It's his affair, in either case.
Halfway down the stairs, though, curiosity gets the better of John and he opens the box for one last look. He stops midstep and the stair squeaks at the changing pressure, a sign Sherlock is sure to catch. The ring inside is different than the one Sherlock had offered Janine years earlier: no diamond, no narrow gold band, but a ring of what can only be platinum, engraved with (of all designs) a Gordian knot. He starts down the stairs again, plucking out the scrap of paper folded inside its circle as he goes, only to stop once more when he reads the words.
"To err is human. Will you?"
For a moment (he will insist on that fact later; only the briefest of moments) his heart rate accelerates, beating out a punishing march, and his breathing grows a little more shallow. But why should he be so surprised? No; he will go downstairs, make their tea like any morning, and see whether Sherlock is such a mind-reader he can work out the precise cause of John's pausing on the steps.
As soon as he sees the scene laid out for him in the kitchen, however, that thought is pushed out of his mind. Sherlock is bent over the table, too-long dark curls hanging over his eyes, and he has Willa balanced in his lap, the morning's crossword wedged between case-files and the Bunsen burner with its flask emptied of all but the residue John has learned not to consider too carefully. "John," Sherlock says without looking up, "they've misspelled Khaddafi again. And if they really think he was behind that missile strike they're hinting at with their clue, they're idiots, a fact which really is not in need of further evidence after last week's sitar debacle."
"You arse," John says, kissing him through the mess of curls and brushing the hair to the side fondly. They crossed that particular bridge some months back -- because Sherlock Holmes might be brash and prone to windmill-tilting, but even he would not propose marriage without some empirical evidence to the true nature of John's affections -- and John wonders, in retrospect, how he could have been so blind not to have expected this. Six weeks is not so long to move from first kiss to bended knee (though, in fairness, no one's knees have bent in quite that way, so far, and trust Sherlock to choose the unorthodox path), but John supposes they've lived as partners, other halves, even married ones for long enough. Years now; longer than legal marriages have endured.
Sherlock's eyes flash brightly, joy at the fact that John has finally solved his puzzle, or perhaps just at the result. After the briefest of moments, though, he masters his expression into something a man less acquainted with his habits might mistake for a more academic interest in that morning's events. "As always, you see but do not observe," he says, holding out his empty cup in an unspoken bid for more tea.
John shakes his head at that, takes the cup and walks to the sink to begin the morning ritual of tea and baby formula. A part of him wishes for the bended knee, something a little more storybook, but then he has had just that with Mary, twice in fact, and between dragon-slaying and story-tellers -- well. Perhaps it is best to leave fairy-book to the world beyond 221B. And really, that's just as well. Sherlock Holmes might be many things, but John guesses he'll never be that, though no doubt he'd rend himself to pieces in the attempt if John asked for it.
Instead, John sets the water to boil and retrieves his mobile from its charger, taps out the obvious (thus unnecessary, and yet oddly not) answer to the question tucked within his ring, and hears the answering buzz from the table beside Sherlock's newspaper. He regrets the lost pun about coming as soon as convenient, but he rather suspects Sherlock would never have forgiven him for it. Or perhaps he would have overlooked even that. Interesting.
The kettle whistles, reminding him that idle thoughts will only result in over-steeped tea, but even so he finds himself smiling at the ring box he's laid on their counter. He knows, somehow without looking, that he isn't the only one fighting that urge just now. After all, some deductions do not require the world's only consulting detective.