Two men were sat on a train, slumped comfortably into their chairs with the contented knowledge of a job well done.
The sun was setting and the cool February sky was bathing them with a warm pink glow. The cool blast of air from the open train door as passengers got on and off the stationary train was a mild irritant but only drew more attention to the soft, drowsy aura of warmth surrounding the seated passengers.
The satisfaction of the completed case had made Sherlock unusually relaxed, and he slouched into the soft woollen cocoon of his coat, eyes scanning the other passengers in a lazily observant manner.
"Alright John," He murmured. "The two men over there. Which one of them is the teacher? Go."
John smiled slightly as they continued their 'game'. "Right . . . they're both reading the children's exercise books . . . but the dark-haired one is actually marking them. He's the teacher."
"Excellent. And what subject are the books on?"
"Maths. No other exercise books come with square paper inside."
"School age of the pupils he teaches?"
"Primary. No sign of algebra or trigonometry in the books which rules out high school. No areas or graphs which rules out middle school. It looks to be just basic multiplication and addition. And the handwriting is very childish."
"Very good. And the men's relationship?"
John pondered the two men for a moment, viewing them sidelong through half-closed eyes so as not to appear nosy. "They're a couple. Matching rings on the fingers and the first name of the teacher written on the front of the children's books is the same as the name written on the pink envelope presumably a Valentine's card just visible in the red-headed one's bag."
"Very good." Sherlock said, and John couldn't help feeling happy at the pride in his friend's voice. "I wasn't sure you'd notice the card."
"Well, you've trained me well." John yawned, waving a polite 'no' to the lady coming along with the food trolley.
At that moment, the train doors hissed shut and their companions, who had just boarded the train, sat down.
"Hi." Lestrade said, courteously offering Molly the window seat. "Just finished up with the paperwork, all the details will be sent on to the relevant London courts in the next few days."
"Brilliant." John smiled, moving his stuff to give the other two some table space. "Sorry about today Molly, you were barely needed after all. Bit of a wasted day, really."
"No. It's alright." She said, trying not to look too obviously at the Consulting Detective who was snuggled down in his coat. "It's nice to get out of the lab for a change. And it saved you from having to delay whilst waiting for someone else to check the reports and evidence. Win-win situation all round, really."
"Yeah, and it was nice to have you along. Meant I could leave Anderson at home." Lestrade sighed, ruffling a hand through his short grey hair. "Today would have been a disaster if you hadn't said you'd come in his place. Seriously Molls, I owe you."
"Odd, I'd have thought he'd have jumped at the chance to show off to a bunch of new people." Sherlock muttered, snidely.
"Oh, like you do, you mean?" John pointed out.
"I actually have something worth showing off." Sherlock pointed out.
"Quite alright, Greg." Molly finally, nervously, made eye-contact with Sherlock. "What about you then, this case not too boring for you in the end?"
"Mm?" Sherlock raised his thick eyebrows sleepily. "No, no. Could have been a lot worse. I genuinely thought it was going to be just another typical smuggling case. The ice-cream element was an unusual and puzzling break from expectations."
"I might call this one the Six Neapolitans." John mused.
Sherlock knew better by now than to protest and just shook his head in an expression of mild disgust.
"Oh." The two men were interrupted from their reveries by Molly's little interjection of surprise.
She was holding a light purple envelope. "This . . . isn't mine. Someone must have thought my bag was theirs and put it in by accident."
"It's got your name on it." Sherlock pointed out.
She turned it over. "What do you think it is?"
John rolled his eyes, grinning. "It's Valentine's Day Molly, you figure it out!"
"But I never get Valentines." She said, uncertainly.
"Well, this year you have." Lestrade said, quietly.
Molly turned the envelope over a few more times before opening it, tentatively as though she was afraid too heavy a touch would cause it to fly away.
The card inside was simple. Smooth, good quality paper, with a single little silver heart in the centre.
The message inside was equally discrete. 'Happy Valentine's Day, Molly' written in black ink by a notably masculine hand.
"Nice." John observed. "Nothing soppy or saccharine."
"Not a man used to displays of emotion." Sherlock steepled his fingers and leant his chin against them, viewing the card curiously.
"Or one who believes that he's in much of a chance with you, otherwise he would have signed his name."
"But one who obviously thinks very highly of you. That card doesn't look like a cheap petrol-station knock-off. Must be worth a good few quid."
"And look." John pointed above the messages. "Tiny dots of ink where he put the nib of the pen down to write a longer message but couldn't decide on what to write. Someone put a lot of thought into that card."
"Good God, it's contagious, even John's doing it now." Lestrade laughed, although it sounded a bit forced.
Sherlock peered at him, then his brow furrowed in confusion. "Lestrade, why have your ears turned red?"
There was an awkward silence.
"Not good?" Sherlock whispered to John.
"Not sure." John murmured.
Lestrade had flushed red as a beetroot. "I . . . I'm going to the loo." He said, hastily, excusing himself.
Molly gaped at the retreating man's back, before gazing back down at the card once more.
Sherlock pulled a face. "Was that very 'not good' or just a bit 'not good'? You know I'm never very good with judging sentiment correctly." He said, balefully.
"I'm not sure, the card was anonymous for a reason bu-"
Both men blinked at the interruption.
Molly was neatly placing the card back in its envelope and, with care, tucked it inside her bag so it would remain flat. "Excuse me gentlemen. If you want me, I'll be waiting by the loo."
Now it was the Baker Street pair's turn to stare in disbelief as the pathologist calmly got up and followed the departing inspector.
"Good grief." John said, finally. "Now, I admit I was not expecting that. Still-"
He was interrupted by the gentle tap of something landing on the table in front of him.
It was a plain white envelope with John's name written on it in Sherlock's scrawling handwriting.
John felt his stomach flip a little bit. "Sherlock, what's this?"
"I was given to belief that Valentine's Day is one of those times like Christmas where the giving of cards is traditional." Sherlock said.
John swallowed, his mouth dry with a feeling he couldn't quite put his finger on. "Sherlock, I don't think . . ."
The detective turned to look at him and, as so often happened when confronted with emotional matters, his brow furrowed worriedly.
His quicksilver eyes scanned John's face and he slumped slightly.
"This one really is 'not good' isn't it?" He said, sadly.
"I . . . don't know." John admitted, turning the card over and toying nervously with the flap of the envelope. " . . . Sherlock, do you understand what Valentine's Day is?"
"I thought I did, but I seem to have got it wrong." Sherlock admitted.
"It's not something flatmates do, Sherlock."
Sherlock seemed to shrink deeper inside his coat. "Sorry John."
There was awkward silence for a long time after that.
The sun set fully as the train trundled on, bathing them in pink-grey dusk.
Sherlock, pressed into the train wall in an attempt to distance himself from the doctor lest he make a mistake and offend him again, tapped skittishly at his phone.
John just sat and stared at the card.
After a period of time, he quietly opened it.
Again it was quite plain. But a warm cream this time. With two simple little cartoon figures sat on a hill, heads together, eyes closed, smiling.
Happy Valentine's Day
No passionate declarations of love or physical attraction. Just a card, just Sherlock observing what he had been informed was a socially required tradition, just like Christmas.
There was a nudge and Sherlock was passing him his phone.
"My apologies," the detective said, quietly, staring out at the darkening sky. "My previous research was not extensive; I was going by what this website said."
John took the slim phone and looked at the webpage.
St. Valentine's Day is an annual festival. It is where people take the opportunity to demonstrate how they feel to those who matter most to them. Traditionally gifts and cards are exchanged.
Take the opportunity to demonstrate how they feel to those who matter most to them . . .
John smiled, starting to understand. "Yeah, that's a very neutrally worded version of it."
"I apologise John, I didn't realise it was a festival for lovers." The detective said, still not meeting his eyes.
"It's fine, Sherlock." John said. "I'm . . . sorry for reacting the way I did, you obviously didn't know and I should have explained." He fiddled with his sleeve, feeling a slight dizziness surge through his head as he mentally prepared what he was about to say.
Those who matter most . . .
Sherlock finally looked at the discomfited doctor.
Eventually John huffed a sigh and shook his head with a small smile. "And . . . to be honest, if Valentine's Day went by the version you thought it was . . . I would have got you a card too."
Sherlock still looked uncertain.
He swallowed, awkwardly. "I know, I'm not the most . . . Would that . . . I-"
John's lips parted in shock. Sherlock Holmes, the most horrifically, confidently arrogant man he knew, was stumbling over his words.
"Would it really have been that terrible if I had meant it in the proper way?" Sherlock's voice was tiny, each word dragged from him almost unwillingly. John got the picture that, if it was anyone other than him, he wouldn't have even contemplated asking the question.
And just like that, his confusion and - and yes - anger, vanished.
He began to speak but Sherlock interrupted. "I know, when it comes to emotion and sentiment I am only marginally better than useless-" He jerked his head uncomfortably to the side and John noted the faint self-loathing in his eyes as he admitted to his lack of proficiency. "-But I was always given to believe that loving someone was a good thing."
The sun had set almost completely now.
"Do you love me Sherlock?" John asked, finally.
The detective swallowed. "I . . . don't know. Feelings . . . aren't exactly my strong point."
The little trembling butterfly sensation was back in John's stomach.
Crap, he had to ask because he really, really wasn't gay and this could make life very horrible. "Do you . . . Are you . . . Attracted to me?"
"Sexually, you mean?"
John flinched and tried to stop himself from hushing the man, before nodding.
To his relief, Sherlock smiled. "No. Your virtue is safe from me. And besides, I can hear your snoring from two rooms away. If I were to share a room with you, my eardrums most certainly would not survive."
"Oi cheeky!" John laughed, feeling a tangible sense of relief.
"I'm surprised you don't wake yourself up with your snoring, it's so loud." Sherlock teased.
They sat in silence for a long moment, some of the tension easing out the atmosphere.
The first stars were coming out, Orion's Belt bright and obvious.
"Do you love me?" Sherlock asked, almost in a whisper.
John was surprised by the question. But he was even more surprised by the speed of his own reply.
Sherlock rolled his head around to look at him.
John rubbed his eyes and smiled as he finally realised that they had been dancing around this conversation for ages, Sherlock liked knowing the answers and unresolved questions made him uneasy. Sooner or later, this question was going to be asked. Now was just the time to answer it, honestly and simply. "Don't worry; your virtue is safe from me too. Has anyone ever explained the different types of love to you?"
"There are types?"
"Thought not. There's romantic love, the obvious sort, which is the type of love that contains a sexual element. Examples of this are those two over there-" He nodded his head towards the teacher and his boyfriend who were cuddled into each others' side, gazing out the window and talking lazily. As they watched, the dark-haired one turned his head and pressed a tender kiss to his lover's hairline. "And Molly and Lestrade, and judging by the amount of time they've been gone, they may well have started on that part of the relationship already."
"Alright, that makes sense."
"Then there's familial love, the love of one family member for another. Like me and my parents. Or you and Mycroft."
Sherlock rolled his head sideways and gave John a scathing look.
John smirked. "Alright then, you and Ophelia . . . Then there's platonic love . . . which-" John swallowed and cursed the fact his habitual British reluctance to talk about his feelings made this so damn hard to say. "-Which is what I feel for you."
Sherlock pricked his ears up slightly.
John rolled his head from side to side as he tried to think of how to phrase it. "Platonic love is like familial love in that it's non-sexual. It's when . . . when you-" Fuck it, why was this so hard to say? Sherlock stared at him all the time, why was it so off-putting now? He could take it when he was telling Sherlock he was a prick even if it meant viewing the hurt look on his face why was it so much harder to tell him this, which was something good? "-care very strongly for someone . . ."
Sherlock's underused heart was doing something weird and wibbly, but for once he was telling himself that it was a good thing.
"You care for them so much that, if anyone were to hurt them or anything should happen to them . . . You don't know what you'd do."
Venus, Sirius and the moon itself were all high in the sky now.
" . . . So, you do love me? Platonically?"
There was a long pause.
" . . . Yes?"
"Now I understand it a bit better I can actually answer your previous question. Yes. I do love you."
There was a pause, and then Sherlock spoke in a faintly petulant voice.
"And I would just say, if someone had explained it as clearly as you just did I would have understood the entire love concept a lot better a long time ago."
Sherlock's sulky tone was so comical that John couldn't help laughing.
After a few moments, the doctor's giggles were accompanied by the low rumble of Sherlock's own laughter as it occurred to him precisely how ridiculous he had just sounded.
"What are you two laughing at?"
Lestrade and Molly had returned.
They were holding hands.
"Oh, nothing. Just John explaining something to me that I didn't get before."
Lestrade mock-gasped as they took their seats again. "Did the almighty Sherlock Holmes just admit to not knowing something?"
"Notify the Vatican, it's a miracle!" Molly giggled.
Sherlock rolled his eyes and snuggled back into his coat.
"Oh, John, did you get a Valentine's too?" Molly said, spotting the card on the table.
"Yeah." John said.
"Who's it from?" She asked, excitedly.
John sensed Sherlock tensing slightly next to him.
"Oh, just from my Mum. She sends me one every year." He said offhandedly, casually tucking it inside his jacket.
Sherlock relaxed imperceptibly.
Lestrade checked his watch, with a yawn. "Got ages yet."
Molly shyly shifted towards him, only resting her head on his shoulder once Lestrade had raised his arm to draw her to him.
She sank into him with a smile.
Sherlock viewed the two with an amused but ultimately caring gaze. He was glad they were together. He wasn't sure why, he still didn't understand sentiment completely even with John's explanation, but he was glad all the same.
"Happy Valentine's day, you two." He murmured, leaning his cheekbone against the window and closing his eyes.
The two new lovers blushed happily but said nothing.
And still the train trundled on through the night, towards London and home.