"You can't go back home to... things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing
all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." - Thomas Wolfe
My humble thanks to Jolie Black, 7PercentSolution, Amanda, and Anyawen for their eagle eyes and creative genius.
He had spent more than a decade living alone without ever once considering that the term might be subjective. Being alone meant privacy and independence and precious solitude. Time to think and experiment, and freedom to ignore the rules. It was his choice, and he relished it.
But being left alone was proving to be another matter entirely.
The day he met John Watson, everything changed. He didn't realize at the time just how much or how irretrievably it had changed, but he'd felt the shift. Suddenly, he had found the silence less agreeable. For the first time in his adult life, he had reached out to another human being and sought his company. He had gone out of his way to impress John with his deductions, and had basked in his approval. Having something that he'd never imagined wanting suddenly felt as natural as breathing. At some point, it had also become just as important.
Mycroft had seen it, and had tried to caution him. Of course, any advice coming from his overbearing busybody of a brother was instantly discounted. Looking back, Mycroft's warning may actually have spurred him on to be more open to John than he might otherwise have been, just to spite his brother. Mycroft would be insufferable if he knew how right he'd been.
He'd spent two years imagining the moment when he could return to his life. In his mind, home had been in a state of suspended animation. Safe in a bubble, waiting for him to come back and pick up where they had left off. John would gladly forgive him for the lie, and praise him for his ingenuity. Moriarty's network became little more than an obstacle to get past so he could get home. He hadn't yet realized that 'home' and 'John' were synonymous, and neither would ever be the same.
He had bungled his return badly. John's reaction had shocked him, although he believed he understood it now. John didn't see ingenuity. He saw abandonment and distrust. He felt left behind, and that was a sentiment with which Sherlock was now intimately familiar. John said he was forgiven, but it was clear that something had been broken that could never be fully restored.
The drugs weren't helping. The physical effects were the same as he remembered, but his response to them was not. The high was still there, but it left a darkness in its wake that took days to shake off. During the worst of it, he was torn between painfully grieving what was lost, and despising his own weakness for wanting it back.
To add insult to injury, his private misery turned out to be less private than he'd thought. It began with Mrs. Hudson. Since she had caught him trying to bin a box of John's belongings, he seemed to have become her mission. She popped into the flat at all hours with biscuits and tea and leftovers that clearly were prepared specially for him. Her cheery chatter couldn't hide her concern. He ignored her as much as possible.
Then Lestrade started dropping by with increasingly flimsy excuses for doing so. He would stay for a short time, and leave looking worried. The last time, he'd dropped all pretense and just told Sherlock to call John and get matters sorted out between them.
Even Sally Donovan seemed determined to set him straight, although it was clearly not out of concern for his well-being. She had squared off on him at a crime scene shortly after his string of justifiably harsh deductions had cleared the room, a scenario that was becoming tiresome in its regularity. "It's even harder for Greg to get people to work with you now than when we all thought you were a murdering psychopath. Personally, I'd be delighted if he just gave up, but I know that's not going to happen. Do us all a favor and get yourself another boyfriend. The last one got married. Get over it."
He had recovered enough to resurrect his own sarcasm. "And you would be the expert on married boyfriends." He had walked out of the room and left the scene without talking to Greg or anyone else. The thought that someone as oblivious as Donovan could have come to such a conclusion made him feel naked.
It was Molly who finally made him see the truth.
He was in her lab, comparing diatoms from the water-soaked clothing of a murder victim to samples from the suspect's koi pond. Hunched over the microscope, he'd lost track of where Molly was until she entered his peripheral vision approaching the workbench with a mug of coffee. His mobile phone was on the counter a few feet out of his reach, and it started to ring at the same time she was passing it. He made no move to answer it. After having ignored five texts from John over the past twenty-four hours, he had a fair idea who was calling.
Molly glanced at the caller ID. "It's John." She picked up the phone and brought it to him.
He ignored her.
"It's John," she repeated, as if thinking he hadn't heard her the first time.
A moment later, the ringing stopped. Molly slowly placed the phone on the worktop next to him and started back the way she had come. She took a few steps, then turned to her right and walked to the opposite side of the bench. She stopped directly across from him. "Sherlock, is there anything wrong?"
"No." He swapped the slide he'd been viewing with another from the sample set.
She watched him quietly for a moment. "You seem upset about something. I just want to help."
This was dangerous territory that he most emphatically did not want to enter with Molly Hooper. He looked up so abruptly that she took a half step backward. "There's nothing wrong. Stop prying." He fully expected her to leave the room at his tone. He knew he no longer intimidated her, but she typically avoided him when he was being rude. He returned to his microscope, confident that the threat was handled.
But she didn't leave. "If you think you can shut me up by being unpleasant, you'll have to do better than that."
He glanced up and gave her a look that should have ended the discussion, but didn't.
"There were some Met people in here the other day, and I heard them talking about how horrible you've been to everyone. They said people are refusing assignments now just to avoid you. Is that true?"
"Consider the source."
"Greg was one of the sources. He's your friend, Sherlock, and he doesn't understand what's going on. He's worried about you."
He sighed. She was not going to let this go. "So I've heard. He's wrong. Now, may I continue?" He glanced meaningfully at the slides.
She gestured toward the phone. "Is it something about John?"
If she heard the warning in his tone, she ignored it. "He and Mary stopped by to say hello when they got back from their honeymoon. He asked how you were, and it made me wonder why he wouldn't know that better than anyone."
"I've never known you to let a call from John ring out. What happened between the two of you that could make you do that?"
What happened was that the world changed when he wasn't looking. "Nothing happened."
"But you're avoiding him. I didn't get the impression that he knows why."
She clearly wasn't going to stop. He took the slide from the microscope and started packing up. He would use his own equipment at home. It wasn't as powerful as what Molly had in the lab, but at least he could concentrate.
She watched silently until he pulled on his coat and headed for the door. Then she came around the workbench and put her hand on his arm. He stopped but didn't turn. "I'll finish at home where there are no distractions."
She tugged on his sleeve and turned him to face her. "You're upset. John's upset. You can't expect me to ignore it, Sherlock. I'm your friend."
"Then be a friend and stay out of this. You can't help, but you could very well make a temporary situation permanent. John needs to focus on his family and his job. His real job. He'll be fine, once he gets settled."
She stared at him with dawning recognition. "Is that what this is all about? You think he's better off without you?"
He smiled at her innocence. "Are you seriously asking if he will be better off working in a clinic and going home to his wife instead of risking his life chasing serial killers with me?"
"Would he still be better off if something happened to you because he wasn't there to help? Sherlock, you can't make that choice for him. It's not up to you."
"Yes. It is." He left the room before she could respond.
His phone pinged a text as he got into the cab. He didn't need to look at the screen to know it was from John. The temptation to reply was as intense as his craving for the drugs, and he knew what it would mean if he gave in to it. He had told himself that John's marriage would not change their friendship, and right up until the instant he'd told John and Mary about the baby, he had believed it. Until that moment, he had never understood what it meant to be truly alone.
Molly was right, but not in the way she thought. Pushing John out of his life was indeed what he was doing, but it wasn't for John's benefit. It was the most selfish thing he'd ever done in his life. An act of unvarnished self-preservation.
He would flush the drugs when he got home, and bin the kit he used to inject them. He'd been driven back to an old addiction by the loss of an even stronger dependency that would be infinitely more painful to break. The only appropriate countermeasure for an addiction was to avoid any chance of exposure to it.
He pulled out his phone and erased John's messages unread.
A/N - Update 29 Feb 2016 - I had been keeping this marked incomplete because I felt there was more to say. I was right, but not about this story. As it turns out, this post-TSoT, pre-HLV, turns out to be a prequel for my post-TAB WIP, Something True. Appropriate Countermeasures ends here, but the story continues.
As always, I would love to hear what you think. - Ghyll