John, frustrated with his place, with his restraints, with his own damned pride, finds himself walking out on the moors in the early morning hours. It is quiet in that way that only the moors can be: peaceful, but busy with the murmur of late frogs and early birds, the buzz of bees, the song of the wind through the long grasses.
Beyond the hills, the trees, the horizon, the sun rises.
John ducks his head into the cover of his collar and walks, the hem of his coat dragging wet through the morning dew. The house behind him is sleeping, but for the first scullery maids and stable boys, and John imagines that he can leave behind the disaster he’s made in his heart as easily as he does his overbearing mother, his newly engaged and unbearably delighted sister, and the oily slick memory of Lord Mycroft Holmes, looming out of the darkness of the safe and familiar rooms of home.
If he is to be unhappy now, it will be only of his own making.
Yet John remembers the softness around those pale eyes just yesterday, the confession in them as he passed Clara Bingley into Harriet’s waiting arms, and cannot now suppress the seedling of hope growing beneath his breast.
And then, a hush.
Through the fog, through the grey-green-violet fields, through the first weak strains of sunrise, there is a miracle with hair wild and shirt open, coming across the moor toward him: Sherlock Holmes.
He is now as John had for so long not been able to imagine him to be – soft-edged and warm-cheeked, looking over John with such wonder and longing, as if he can scarcely believe him to be real.
If John had been able to see this truth in him from the very beginning, he might have saved them all a great deal of pain. But what’s done is done, and it has been Mr Holmes’ goodness of heart that has slowly begun to repair the damage left in John’s wake, and John can see him now for who he truly is.
Mr Holmes stands in front of him. John swallows. “I couldn’t sleep,” he offers in explanation. Niceties and social rules hardly seem to apply to a meeting on the moors at sunrise.
“Nor I,” Mr Holmes says quietly. “My brother…”
“Yes, he was here.” John offers a shy smile to soften the blow.
Mr Holmes’ neck and cheeks are flushed against the chill of the morning, and the colour deepens with embarrassment. “However can I make amends for such behavior?”
John would lower his own eyes in shame but finds he cannot tear them away. “After what you’ve done to protect us from Ms Morstan, and I suspect for Harriet, it is I who should be making amends.”
“You must know,” Mr Holmes chokes out, suddenly overcome, “Surely you must know it was all for you.” John does know. John does, and he nods, and Mr Holmes says, quickly, breathlessly, as if he might lose his nerve, “You are too generous to trifle with me. You spoke with my brother last night, and it has taught me to hope as I’d scarcely allowed myself before. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes have not changed – but one word from you will silence me forever.”
John looks up into Sherlock’s eyes, willing him to see there how John’s feelings have changed, and says nothing.
After the longest moments of John’s life, Sherlock begins again. “If, however, your feelings have changed…” His lips are trembling as he pauses, collecting his courage. John holds his breath. “I would have to tell you. You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love – I love – I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”
Oh, but to hear it said, to hear it confirmed, to hear that it is still, after everything, still true: John’s chest is full to bursting, an ache of light and adoration that stills the flurry of John’s thoughts and soothes the very deepest places in his soul.
He steps forward, takes Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock, unblinking, lets him.
“Well then,” John whispers, bringing Sherlock’s knuckles to his lips. I shall never be parted from you from this day on, he breathes over them, and Sherlock’s chest hitches as if he has heard the words said aloud. “Your hands are cold.”
John closes his hands around Sherlock’s fingers, holding them close, holding them with promise, and Sherlock leans in, resting his forehead against John’s, letting himself be held, letting himself give in.
Somewhere in the distance, the sunrise crests over a ridge, and warms the first tentative breath of a kiss.