John let himself into Baker Street and stood at the foot of the stairs.
(He remembered the day when he went to tell Mrs Hudson he was getting married, the day he heard violin songs drifting through the air that couldn't possibly have been there, before he knew Sherlock was still alive, that bastard.
He remembered the day after he'd nearly been burned alive, walking into the flat like he used to, only to find Sherlock's parents in there, so ordinary.)
And here he was again.
He climbed the stairs and let himself in.
There was only Sherlock in the flat this time, sprawled on the couch, face pressing into the cushion.
"Hello John," he muttered without looking up.
John nodded at him, not that he could see. "Nice to know you've been busy," he noted.
The kitchen was relatively clean, no sign of biohazards, just the usual chemistry equipment on the island along with...
John was going to murder him.
He stalked into the living room to address the prone detective.
"What the hell are you doing with that needle?" John hissed.
Sherlock lifted his head up to see what John was pointing at. "To inject the contents of the vial," he replied.
John gaped at him.
Sherlock sighed, and got to his feet, his dressing gown swirling behind him as he breezed by John in order to hand him the vial from the island.
"Look at the label," Sherlock ordered.
"Just!-" he took a deep breath before continuing, "Do it... please," he finished more quietly.
John glared at him, remembering the last time Sherlock asked him something like that, but picked the vial up and examined it.
It was prescribed to Sherlock Holmes by a doctor that John didn't recognize.
Ceftriaxone. Take as directed.
Antibiotics. Not drugs.
"I have the instructions if you want to see them," Sherlock added. "IM OD x14. One gram mixed with 3.5 millilitres of 1% lidocaine. Once daily for two weeks. I'm nearly done."
"You do this on your own?" John demanded.
"It's not exactly my first time with a needle," he replied quietly. "Admittedly, this time it's intramuscular rather than intravenous." He shrugged. "Easier, really."
John only stared at him. "Why? Why are you taking antibiotics? Heavy duty ones, I might add."
Sherlock blinked at him like he was an idiot. "You're a doctor, as you're so fond of reminding me." He rolled his eyes. "The normal reasons one might be on antibiotics."
"So an infection then?"
"Where," John demanded. "You don't seem sick; it's not something like pneumonia, because I would have noticed that."
Sherlock sighed. "You're really not going to give this up, are you?"
John shook his head adamantly.
Sherlock examined him critically. John felt exposed, but finally Sherlock nodded once, and shrugged his dressing gown off.
He winced as he pulled his shirt over his head, and after a second, John understood why.
Arms lifting above his head stretched the skin, and therefore the thick scars and healing wounds that glowed an angry red at John.
"Christ Sherlock..." John whispered, pushing the man gently to sit on the stool.
He hesitated at touching them, not wanting to cause Sherlock any more pain. They were infected. Not terribly, but enough that Sherlock needed to take major antibiotics via injection.
"It's alright," Sherlock said quietly, knowing what John was thinking. "They don't hurt that badly."
John knew that was an outright lie, but ran his fingers gently over some of the older scars, because Sherlock wanted him to touch them. Needed him to touch them. But that didn't mean he had to cause more pain than necessary.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked quietly.
Sherlock said nothing, but John knew what was going through his mind.
Why would he?
Since he'd gotten back, John had been angry with him, injured, dragged out on a case, and angry again. When was there time to tell John? When he was throwing him on the ground?
John groaned. "I am so sorry Sherlock. I threw you on top of them, and practically..." He shook his head miserably. "I can't imagine the pain it caused you."
Sherlock shrugged minutely, without moving any of the muscles that would have irritated his wounds.
"It's fine. I miscalculated horrendously, so I can't blame you for reacting in that way. You were angry, and you needed to be angry, so I let you."
He glanced up at John, who was standing behind him, clenching and unclenching his fist in an effort to stay calm.
"Did you really think I couldn't stop you from hitting me if I wanted to? How do you think I survived for two years?"
John stifled a laugh that threatened to turn into more of a strangled sob. "Well look how that turned out."
Sherlock hummed. "True. But I'm here, aren't I?"
John's heart clenched the same way it did when he'd thought about Sherlock's death. Just what had happened to Sherlock for those two years? Torture, evidently, and that was recent. Perhaps there were older scars underneath, perhaps elsewhere, perhaps there was torture that left no marks, not any that could be seen with the naked eye, needed x-rays or probing visits to psychiatrists to be brought forth.
Even though John had been mourning, Sherlock was not sitting on a beach anywhere, relaxing. He was risking his life to...
Well, John wasn't entirely sure why Sherlock had to do it.
Sherlock had stood up, slipping his dressing gown back over his injuries, forgoing the shirt altogether.
"Why did you do it?" John asked quietly. "I'm listening this time. I have the rest of the day, and I promise I won't hit you." He glanced at Sherlock, who didn't look at him. "I just... need to know why."
Sherlock sat down in his chair, oh and god it felt good for John to even think that, because he remembered the days after, when he sat in his chair alone, looking at the one opposite, vacant just like the space in his chest was.
John shook the thought out of his head and sat down in his.
"Moriarty had planned it carefully," Sherlock said, not looking at John. "He needed to ruin my reputation, yes, but in order for his plan to be complete, he had to kill me too."
He looked at John then. "He told me that unless I died, everyone I cared about would. You, Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade. Three bullets. Three gunmen. Unless I did what he asked."
John inhaled sharply.
"I thought... I thought I caught him, that there was one flaw in his plan. But I hadn't predicted how far he would go. He shot himself to ensure that there was no way out for me."
John could only stare at Sherlock in horror.
"I'd prepared for that eventuality, but... I'd be hoping to avoid it," he admitted. "But I couldn't, not without risking the three lives that I cared the most about."
"So you jumped," John whispered.
Sherlock nodded. "I called you..." he trailed off, likely remembering the worst conversation of both their lives. "And yes, I jumped. You've told me you don't care how, so I won't make you listen to that, but there is the why. I hope you can understand now."
John slouched in his chair.
Yes, he understood, but now that he did, wasn't sure he wanted to. It was so much easier for him to hate Sherlock for doing that, but now that he knew why... he couldn't be angry. No way. Not when Sherlock, a self proclaimed high functioning sociopath, was willing to sacrifice himself and run off for two years to be tortured and god knows what else, in order to save three ordinary people.
John hated himself a bit.
"And what did you do? In those two years, I mean."
Sherlock smiled sadly at him. "I'd rather not talk about it. Today, at least."
John nodded. He understood.
He changed the subject instead. "Listen, I think tomorrow we should have some people over, a sort of celebration that you're not dead, and to announce mine and Mary's engagement."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "A party?"
John shrugged. "Just a few people. Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson, maybe your brother."
"Ha! No, Mycroft is taking them to Les Mis tomorrow, and he will not be getting out of that. Of course, in retaliation, he's set up a press release statement thing that he's forcing me to go to." He waved a hand in annoyance. "Which you're supposed to come to, by the way. Did I mention that?"
"Not until now," John sighed.
Sherlock smirked at him. "Well now you know."
John examined him for a moment, six feet of consulting detective, all sharp angles just like before, perhaps a bit skinnier, but maybe some more muscle too. The same hair, the same eyes... but there was something different.
Something softer, something darker. John wasn't sure what it was, but then, no one could go through whatever it was that Sherlock went through without changing.
God knows he was proof of that.
But here he was, Sherlock Holmes, alive and breathing and most definitely not dead.
John was overjoyed.
John wrapped his arms around the other man impulsively, taking care not to irritate his wounds, and possibly still failing, if Sherlock's reaction was anything to go by.
The other man stiffened, but then John had never hugged him before, so that could have been it.
"Thank you," John said, stepping back. "And sorry."
Sherlock's eyes twinkled with a question, but he said nothing.
"I'll see you tomorrow then?" he asked. "Around three? I'll call Lestrade and Molly."
Sherlock nodded, smiling slightly.
He followed John down the stairs, but remained on the bottom step, perhaps conscious of his bare chest.
"Oh, John," he called after him.
John turned, one hand on the door. "Yes?"
With that he disappeared back up the stairs, dressing gown flowing behind him like a cape.
John set off into the crisp November air, smiling to himself.