They’ve come back from a case, Rosie long-asleep in the upstairs bedroom where there’s just enough room for her cot and John’s bed, and Sherlock is ranting.
“Stupid,” he spits out, pacing to and fro in the living room, his hands in his hair. “Why was she so stupid? Why kill them in the first place, when she knows she’s the best suspect?”
“Well, she loved him,” John offers, even though he knows Sherlock doesn’t really want his opinion.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snaps, not even looking at John. “She didn’t love him.”
“What?” John sits up from where he’s been lazing on his chair. “Of course she did. Listen, I know you like to dismiss ‘sentiment,’ Sherlock, but love makes people do crazy things, so-”
“That,” Sherlock says and his voice is flat and angry at the same time, “was not love. That was possession, that was ownership, it may even have been jealousy, but it was definitely not love.” He infuses the word with such contempt that it makes John flinch, but Sherlock is moving again, glaring at the world as though it had personally offended him. “If she loved him, she’d have let him go. She’d have done everything in her power to make sure that he was happy, even if that meant he was with someone else. She’d have killed - she’d have died herself - if it meant that he would have one millimetre more happiness in his life than otherwise. She would have protected his lover with her life, she’d have done absolutely anything in her power to give him anything he wanted. Instead, she killed them both in a fit of jealous rage, because she never really loved him, she loved owning him. Like a favourite pair of shoes, or a pretty picture.”
John is still trying to absorb that rant when Sherlock crosses the room and slams his bedroom door behind him.
John sits in silence for a few moments before heading to bed.
He wakes up an hour later and John Watson has never actually experienced an epiphany before, never experienced that moment Sherlock is always chasing where all the pieces come together and your brain dissolves into fireworks and you know everything but he’s pretty sure that he just had one.
Before he can even think, he’s downstairs, pushing open Sherlock’s door and standing there like a fool.
Sherlock sits up, sleep-mussed and soft, and says “John, what’s wrong? Is it Watson?”
John licks his lips and tries to speak and…nothing.
“You…you love me,” he manages, and it’s a bare whisper, all he can force past the weight in his chest, of ten years of unsaid words. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock is looking at him with horror in his eyes.
“I-I” Sherlock says, and John interrupts him.
“Please say I’m wrong, Sherlock, please say I’m wrong,” and he’s speaking quickly now, tears running down his face unchecked, and his leg gives out and he finds himself on his knees by Sherlock’s bed, a ragged penitent in old pyjamas, prostrating himself before a saint. “Please say I haven’t been wrong all this time, haven’t wasted all these years, please, Sherlock, please…”
He hides his face in Sherlock’s bed, so that he can’t see Sherlock’s eyes, his beloved face creased in confusion.
“John?” Sherlock asks. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”
But John is sobbing too hard to answer, great heaving sobs, and Sherlock puts a hand on the back of his neck that burns like a brand because of course Sherlock would try to comfort him, even though he doesn’t understand what John is on about, even though John has hurt him so terribly so many times.
“I love you,” John gasps into the bed. Sherlock’s hand stills for a moment and then, cautiously, resumes its smooth comforting stroking.
“John, you’re upset,” he begins, but John cuts him off mid-sentence.
“Years, Sherlock, years,” he gasps. It’s becoming easier to speak, the weight on his chest becoming less with every word. “I’ve loved you for years. Since Angelo’s that first night, I think, since the cabbie, since the first time I saw you sleep-soft in morning light. I loved you in Dartmoor and I loved you at the pool - God, how I loved you in that moment, I would have fallen to my knees and worshipped at your feet for the rest of my life and I would have been content. I loved you on the roof of Bart’s and on the pavement a moment later. I loved you every moment of every day you were gone, and I loved you every time I stood in front of your grave and begged you for one more miracle, and I loved you when I punched your face because it was that or kiss you, and I loved you when you were bleeding out in Magnussen’s office. I loved you on Magnussen’s porch and I loved you on the tarmac, and I loved you in the morgue and in the hospital and in the prison and the well and I’ve loved you every moment since the day I met you, I love you I love you I love you.”
He doesn’t stop so much as run out of breath, chanting those three words - three words he’d never thought he’d be able to say - like prayer, John is a monk and this is his religion now, this is his faith, this only thing he knows for sure.
“John,” Sherlock breathes. “Why didn’t you…”
“I thought,” and John is trying to think of a way to say this right, a way to really explain, “I thought that you didn’t…I didn’t think you didn’t love me, but I thought you wanted me as a friend, just a friend, and so I tried to be the best friend anyone could ever have, but obviously I’m pretty shit at it, but I tried and I hid it, and hid it, and I married Mary because I thought…I thought I’d break apart from missing you and later I thought I’d die from wanting you, and I couldn’t bear to lose you but I was losing you anyway, but the surest way to lose you was to tell you, you didn’t feel the same, you didn’t want the same things, and that’s the best way to kill a friendship, and if friendship was all I could-”
And John shuts up, because Sherlock has slithered out of his bed and fallen to his knees in front of John, and stopped his panicked babbling with his mouth.
When Sherlock finally pulls back, John stares at him, shocked into silence.
“So many years,” Sherlock says, stroking a thumb over John’s lips. “We could have had so many years, John. If only we hadn’t been…”
“Afraid,” John supplies. Sherlock nods, and he’s so close that his nose rubs against John’s when he does, and it’s unbearably intimate. “We could…” And John has to stop for a moment to breathe, to lick his lips and gather his courage in his hands. “We could still have years,” he says. “If I’m not too late. If you still-”
And Sherlock doesn’t say anything with words, but when he kisses John, he writes eloquent poetry in this new language they are building together.
Yes, he says as he licks into John’s mouth
I want, he says, as he sucks a bruise into John’s neck.
I still, he whispers into the curve of John’s ear. I still love you. I will always love you.