John Watson looked around his room. The narrow bed, the plain curtains, the single tall unembellished wardrobe. It was very much as it had been when he had first moved into 221B Baker Street, grateful to escape his cheap bedsit and follow Sherlock Holmes around London. But that was years ago, and he had never expected to live here again. He'd dreamed of and wished to return, though, oh yes.
He knew a part of him had never truly left Baker Street and his beautiful, maddening flatmate behind. But Sherlock had left first, devastating John. Their time apart forced John to harden his heart and resolve never to allow Sherlock to regain his power in John's life again. And so John chose to ignore his nagging doubts about Mary: the fact he did not care he had not been introduced to some of her friends or knew details of her early life, the fact he did not miss her while away on cases with Sherlock, the fact he slept next to her while dreaming of his life with Sherlock. Instead John had clung to Mary like an anchor, the only thing holding him in place and preventing him from running back to Sherlock.
And those decisions led John back to Baker Street, an angry betrayed husband who was never married and a grieving parent who had never fathered a child. So many times he could have changed his mind. The night Sherlock had interrupted his half-hearted marriage proposal or the following morning when he went along with the notion. The night Sherlock dragged him from the bonfire or when they'd been caught on a train car with a ticking bomb. Over the dinner where they couldn't stop laughing about the elephant in the room or through the tension John suspected was not one-sided over oscillations on the pavement. The stag night. Hell, the ceremony itself. But John was stubborn, to a fault, it seemed.
He walked over to the bed, his bed once again, and threw his duffel bag onto it. Might as well get this started.
In retrospect, it may have been the forceful slamming of the wardrobe drawers that drew Sherlock's attention. Mired deep in regretful thoughts, he did not hear Sherlock climb the stairs.
"Do you need any help settling in?"
The familiar, deep voice caused John to turn to his open door, where Sherlock was standing just outside. Like John, he had changed into nightclothes, somehow looking elegant and very young in his ratty pajama bottoms and maroon silk dressing gown.
"Thanks, but I've got it under control." John waved towards his bed. "Feel free to sit."
Sherlock clasped his hands behind him and rocked on his heels. "No. I don't mean to disturb you. I just wanted to make sure you had what you need. I know the bedding is freshly laundered. Mrs. Hudson and I tried to anticipate everything, of course, but…"
John interrupted. "Sherlock, it's fine. Truly."
John sat down on this bed, leaning back on his elbows. "Thanks for dinner. It was nice to be back at Angelo's with you."
Sherlock shrugged off John's words, although John could tell he was pleased. "There is still some tiramisu in the fridge."
"You mean you didn't eat it all?"
"Thought I'd try to be a good flatmate. At least until you get used to me again."
"Getting used to Sherlock Holmes. Don't know if there is any such thing."
The two men smiled at each other.
Sherlock's voice was low and soft as he said, "I know it probably isn't appropriate for me to say it out loud, but I'm glad you're home."
John said, "Some times it feels like I never left."
"Oh, I can assure you, you were gone."
John bit back his angry rejoinder, that Sherlock had left first, because the last year had taught him Sherlock sincerely was sorry for any pain he had caused John. And it was becoming increasingly clear to John that Sherlock had suffered, not only during his faked death, but also when he had returned to an empty flat with scars John never asked about, but haunted his dreams. The initial rush of anger turned into affection, tinged with guilt.
"Well, maybe it isn't the right thing for me to say so soon, but I'm glad to be here. It means more than I can say that you took me back in."
"You were always welcome, John."
"I know. It's made this whole mess easier…" John trailed off.
John let his head fall back, facing the ceiling. "It's still a lot to process."
"Yes." The tone of Sherlock's voice invited John to confide his thoughts, no matter what they were.
"I mean, it's one thing to learn she had secrets about her past. Don't we all?" John sat up straight and ran his left hand through his hair.
Sherlock nodded his head and hummed encouragingly.
"But she lied, over and over again. She hurt you, which I never truly forgave as much as I may have pretended to. I hope you realize that. I hated her for shooting you. But I went back because there was a child. A child! How could she have lied to me about being a father? And then to find out she was planted in my life to begin with…" John took a deep breath and focused down upon his shoes. "And all I can think to myself is, am I really so difficult to love?"
"I have not found you to be so."
John looked up at Sherlock, who had a sad, wistful smile on his face. John tried to speak, but his barely formed thoughts stuck in his throat. Sherlock shook his head, as if to forestall any discussion. "Please let me know if you need anything. Good night, John."
John forced out a whispered "Good night" as Sherlock closed the door behind him.
John lay silently on his bed for a long time, Sherlock's words echoing through his head. I have not found you to be so. John knew Sherlock cared for him deeply, more than anyone else. A fact that never failed to astonish John, considering all the two had been through together. But Sherlock's words hinted at more than friendship, and John reeled at the possibility of a reality he'd dreamed about for years, yet never quite fully admitted to himself.
And I'm in no position to think about it now. John felt himself chaotically adrift after the events with Mary, and now Sherlock was his shelter from the storm of his life.
John forced himself back up into a sitting position, shaking his head in bemusement. I'm looking to Sherlock for calm, now. How did I get to this point?
He once again busied himself by putting his few belongings away. They filled only a duffel bag and a single suitcase. John had trained himself from a young age to not get attached to material things, but even he was surprised at how little he had accumulated in his time with Mary. Several books, a few new items of clothing Mary had picked out and he had never really liked, a new coffee mug to replace the one he'd left behind at Baker Street.
Which he had used just earlier in the day. Sherlock had known he was returning, of course. They'd discussed it when Mary had been detained and the decision had been made for John to move back after the placement of the child had been settled.
Tears threatened as John thought of the baby girl who he'd so quickly fallen in love with, all chubby cheeks and big blue eyes. But she'd been as much of a lie as Mary, and as tempted as he was to raise her as his own, he believed reuniting her with her real father was the best choice.
John would never forget the pain he felt when Mycroft finally reassured him the father was a good man, as much of a dupe in Mary's machinations as he was. He could not bring himself to hand his little girl over, though. Mycroft arrived at what had once been John and Mary's flat to retrieve the child, and John collapsed on this couch, hunched in despair. Sherlock sat silently at his side. Sherlock, who had offered to help raise the child. Who had supported John in the most difficult decision of his life, who had allowed a single tear to fall as he ordered a takeaway and cared for John through that first long night.
And by the end of the night, John had agreed to eventually return to Baker Street. At the memory of Sherlock's muted, yet delighted, reaction, he was overcome with gratitude and ready to face his next task. He wiped his eyes and jogged down the stairs to the loo. Sherlock's bedroom door was closed. John was amazed he had already turned in for the evening, but glad Sherlock would not see him in such an emotional state again. As he brushed his teeth, he inspected his reflection in the mirror. Gaunt, haggard, with the ridiculous hairstyle Mary assured made him look younger. But I'm not ashamed of my years. I'm getting a haircut this weekend. He was surprised by how relieved he felt at having a simple goal he could accomplish, solely in his control.
On that note… John returned upstairs to his room and once again looked around. Still so devoid of personal touches, it did not look occupied. Unlike the sitting room, where his chair was again opposite Sherlock's. And just that afternoon he'd been seated there, as Sherlock handed him his old mug full of tea while the ratty Union Jack pillow once again supported his back and his old blanket cradled his neck.
John did have personal belongings, and they all belonged at Baker Street. Much like he now knew for certain he belonged there and nowhere else.
As he crawled under the duvet and thumped his pillow, John knew sleep would be a long time coming tonight.