Did you miss me?

Apologies for the confusion last night- I don't know why everything uploaded all wobbly, and it took me a few tries to get everything sorted out. When in doubt, you can always visit my AO3 account under the same name if FF is having issues.

Hope you enjoy!

"Alone is what I have, alone protects me."

John stares at him, eyes wide with hurt and anger, and Sherlock feels his insides wither, imagines his stomach as an atrium, clear and hard and impenetrable, filled with acres of greenery, fields of fruit cultivated by he and John's hands.

And slowly, ever so slowly they wilt, green crumbling to brown, leaves fading, berries gone sour and putrid, and he tries, silently, to bring John back even as he pushes him away, to see through his lie and stay. Just stay. Just this once.

But John turns away, pausing only to shoot him a look of pure and utter loathing.

"No, friends protect people."

It echoes through the empty space, plays over and over for Sherlock to hear, a mindless loop of agonizing torture, to watch his John turn away, to see him leave, to see him hate so fiercely, even as Sherlock clings to the fragile thread between them.

"Friends protect people." John echoes, louder this time, and Sherlock screams, only no sound comes out, only a strangled whistle that dies almost instantly, leaving him alone as the door slams in John's wake.

"You are my friend," Sherlock shouts silently. "John, you are my friend. My only friend," and even though John is long gone, he can hear the unspoken truth hissed into his ear.

"He doesn't need you," it whispers softly, and the glass inside him shatters, piercing like a thousand knives, "he doesn't love you."

Sherlock awakens with a gasp, hair damp and cheeks clammy, and it takes a moment to orient himself in the darkened surroundings.

The leather of the sofa clings to his cheek, a satisfying little sticky sound as he peels himself off, blinking wearily around the living room in search of life. Squinting, he can see the clock on the stove (10:33pm) and the four hours of sleep he's managed to drag down with him have left him feeling gummy and boneless, exhausted but somehow still wired from the day's chaos.

He does the math in his head: he must've fallen asleep around four, somehow passed out for the rest of the day. He can't remember the last time he slept. It's late, it's a weekday, so John will be at Mary's then (at home, Sherlock reminds himself, for that is his home, the place he belongs, the place that holds wife and child and future and family) and the flat is eerily quiet. The air itself seems stagnant.

Without warning the room seems stifling, hot and claustrophobic and alien, and he stands on wobbly legs, stumbling over to the window and heaving it open. He sucks in a breath, relishing the frigid air, sharp with the tang of snow and Vietnamese noodles from down the street. His mouth tastes vile, his clothes rumpled and dirty from god knows how many days of wear, but the street is serene, beautifully tinged in purple-black light from the horizon, cars smudged with a powdering of snow.

He sniffles, notices the stuffy weight in his chest without further comment. He can feel the beginnings of a cold coming on, the tightness in his throat, the dull headache that prefaces a sinus infection, and wonders briefly what John would say if he knew Sherlock were standing out in the cold.

"John isn't here." A nasty voice reminds him that sounds dreadfully like Moriarty, "John isn't here to babysit us anymore, Sherlock. Time to be a big boy now. No one wants a basket case."

As if to prove a point his headache twinges violently, kicking up the dull throb behind his eyes to a steady thrumming, an unpleasant reminder of his recent extracurricular excursions. He drops back onto the sofa, not bothering to close the window, tries miserably to massage away the pain inside his skull.

The world is very still.

One minute everything is fine. Really, it was all fine, all normal, just a normal night and a normal headache, until suddenly the loneliness hits him like a wave, knocking the breath from his lungs, the ground from beneath his feet, and he is struck by the horrific magnitude of just how alone he is.

"You are worthless", the voices hiss, "You are pathetic. John will never love you. John will always leave you."

The air is suddenly like fog, and he is finding it unexpectedly difficult to breath. His hands clench into fists, nails biting into flesh, piercing pallid skin hard enough to draw blood. He can't feel it though. He can't feel anything except the excruciating pain in his chest, his lungs, his heart, a white-hot, agonizing emptiness that renders him paralyzed against the couch cushions.

"It's no wonder they always leave," Moriarty breathes, voice sickly sweet, "Who could love something like you? Why would John want a clingy little thing like you?"

He can't breathe.

He forces himself into a sitting position. Forces himself to bend over, head between his legs, breath coming in great gasping hiccups of air as his body tries to choke down the oxygen he can't seem to find.

He hates this. He hates himself for being so weak. For needing so deeply.

He can't breathe.

Logically, he knows the window is still open, he knows there is air in the room, that normal people would just breathe and be alright, but he isn't like normal people, and the air just won't come no matter how hard he tries to pin it down.

"Breathe," He thinks, "Just breathe, breathe like John is here, breathe for John", but it's so much harder by himself, and the air is so thick and his lungs are too small, and suddenly breathing has become a chore, a burden, and he just wants to let it all go, let go of this great weight on his back and fall into the oblivion of nothingness.

Because he's so tired. So very, very tired of pretending, of pretending not to care what They all think, pretending not to mind that John has moved on, that his world has moved on, that he has become nothing more than a novel footnote to share at dinner parties, while John- his John - is gone, long gone, snatched away by someone else who can love him and hold him and touch him without frightening him, without hurting him, and that if only he was normal, if only he knew how to love John, then John wouldn't have left. John would have waited for him.

"But he didn't," Moriarty reminds him, "He didn't wait for you."

His breath catches, mid-gasp, catching on the congestion in his chest and pouring into a cough that sends him to his knees, spluttering and choking as the shit in his lungs rattles desperately, but still he can't breathe, he can't feel, he can't breathe, and the world is dotted in dangerous spots of black, his vision narrowing as the front door swings open.

"Sherlock!"

John is at his side in the blink of an eye, groceries forgotten as cool hands caress his back, fingers fluttering along pulse points, reassurances whispered into his scalp.

"Sherlock what happened? What happened Sherlock?"

It all sounds so distant, John's words echoing galaxies away, and Sherlock just shakes his head, eyes bulging as he coughs, chest heaving as his face begins to turn purple, the toxic fumes of panic rendering him breathless against John's body.

He can't breathe.

His fingers scrabble against John's chest and he feels like he's drowning, he's being buried alive, suffocated, lungs flattened inside his dying body as he chokes on his own tongue, because he can't breathe, he can't move, he can't.

Suddenly a plastic tube is being pressed against his lips, and John is telling him to take a breath, and he shakes his head because he can't, he can't do it, he can't do anything this time, he couldn't make John stay and he couldn't make John wait, and fuck there's that weight pushing into his heart, but John shushes him (was he speaking?) and tells him to take a deep breath, and together they breathe, just one big breath like they're going to jump, and then together they jump and John clicks the inhaler and they breathe. Just like that.

The first hit leaves him spinning, and it takes a few before he can actually breathe on his own, before the shuddering, gasping, wheezing gulps turn into regulated breathes, before John's grip on his shoulder slowly softens, until both of them can really let go.

John just sort of wilts against the soft, chest heaving like he's run a marathon as the adrenaline begins to ebb away, leaving him exhausted and drained, half cradling Sherlock's shoulders as he composes himself.

Sherlock just breaks.

He is fighting against the tears with every fiber of his being.

But still they come.

Without warning, unbidden, some unseen dam just cracks inside him, and suddenly he is clinging to John like a life-line, trying to hold him, devour him, burn himself into John's soft skin, leave a mark that will never fade. Because they are so painfully close, so disgustingly, achingly close, to each other, and he can hear John's heart and taste John's skin, and yet John isn't for him to have, isn't for him to take, and the wickedness of the world comes crashing down around them like a wave, and all he can do is sob into John's chest and beg him to stay.