A/N: Here is the final chapter. Thank you so much to all who've read, reviewed and added this story. It's helped me to keep going with it. I'm sad to see it end, but I'm pleased with it. I hope you are too.
It was 3:27am when John woke suddenly from a dream which he'd forgotten on wakening. His t-shirt felt clammy against his skin, and he lay there in a state between slumber and consciousness, listening to the sounds that the old house made around him. He had been so used to waking at this time to the soft notes of a violin rising from the floor below. Now, John listened to the house playing its own tune of eerie silence.
John tried to swallow but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rose, stretching his stiff limbs in the process. John shuffled down the staircase in the dark, using the banister in place of his crutch which lay discarded somewhere on the living room floor. He made his way through the door frame, flicked the light switch and then froze on the spot. He let out an involuntary yelp.
The words filled the room and lingered. John blinked at the harsh light and silently cursed his brain for not moving as fast as he would have liked. He took several tentative steps into the room, his eyes never leaving the figure sat in the grey leather armchair. A violin lay elegantly in the man's lap. As John grew nearer, the man rose from the chair to his full height. John's chest constricted tightly, and a knot twisted in his stomach with such intensity that he nearly cried out in pain. The man before him studied him closely, a small smile playing on his lips. Suddenly John found himself moving in a reaction that surprised even himself. He pulled back his arm and punched the man, hard, in the face.
"Bloody hell, John!" cried Sherlock Holmes. "What was that for?"
John stood there, trembling in shock, his knuckles throbbing tenderly and his skin warm from the contact. Both men stood for a long moment, regarding each other. John was the first to break.
"I'll get you some ice," he murmured. His visitor followed and sat himself down on a kitchen chair. John handed him some ice, enveloped in a folded tea-towel. He refused to make eye contact.
"I see you went food shopping."
"And you washed up!"
"You bastard!" John shouted, making his throat raw. He fetched himself a glass of water, and drank it slowly. He wanted to drown in it.
Of course, there had been a tiny corner in John's heart that had known the truth, but the rest of it had ached so terribly that it had been easier to let his head think what it wanted. Despite the obvious facts; no body found, the large sum of money that turned up in his account, the skull. All pointing to a fact that John didn't want to believe: That Sherlock Holmes was still alive. He had wanted to grieve for his friend, to feel a loss that would never be healed. Because grief was so much kinder than anger and resentment and rage. And those were the things that John would feel if he had accepted the truth; that Sherlock Holmes was off on another grand adventure and that he, John Watson, had been left behind.
He suddenly thought of Mycroft. Had he known? Of course he had. The intense fear of his younger brother's safety was easily mistaken for grief. People saw what they expected to see. John certainly had.
"Why did you do it?" His voice seemed loud in the kitchen. He wanted to make it louder but his throat wouldn't allow it. Behind him, he could almost hear Sherlock Holmes frown.
John's breath staggered, and he struggled to say the two words which pained him so much.
"Leave me. Why did you...leave me?"
"John, you know why."
"I want to hear you say it." It was late, early, and John rubbed at his tired eyes. He turned to face the man. "Why did you leave, Sherlock?"
Sherlock rose from his seat in agitation.
"Because it's not safe...We're not safe...I have to stop him. Don't you see John, I have the upper hand. If he finds out I'm alive...I just need time..." he trailed off, running his hand through his hair. John noticed he needed a haircut. "I shouldn't have come."
"Why did you come?" John asked in a little voice, almost in the hope that he wouldn't hear and therefore fail to give the answer that John didn't want to hear.
"I missed you," Sherlock replied. It was neither heartfelt nor emotional. Sherlock Holmes was merely stating a fact. Something inside John cracked at that moment, and he began to feel his resentment ebb away. He blinked back tears.
"Let me help you, Sherlock," he pleaded. Sherlock's eyes darkened.
"Because it's you, John! John Watson with a bloody bomb strapped to his chest! And I honestly don't think I could go through that again. When you're in danger I panic, and when I panic I make mistakes. I can't afford to do that John. With James Moriarty there can be no mistakes." Sherlock's voice had risen to a bellow, and John decided to bring it down with his own response.
"I thought you didn't care about anybody."
"Wrong!" Sherlock stated pointedly. "I don't care about 'people'. People are trivial and dull and most don't deserve their pathetic existence on this rock. But you are not 'people' John. You are brilliant John Watson. My dear John Watson." He grabbed John's head roughly in his hands and pressed his cool forehead against John's own.
"I will finish him. This I promise you. And then I'll come back for you, my friend, because we are far from done here." He planted a kiss roughly on John's forehead, before letting go and marching to the doorway.
"Goodbye, John," Sherlock said swiftly. "Look after my skull. Oh, and try to refrain from throwing any more of my things away." He offered John a wry smile, and John tried to return it but couldn't quite manage it. He heart had become heavy once more. With that, Sherlock Holmes was gone.
John sat in the silent kitchen for a long while, letting his friend's words wash over him. His head was spinning. Eventually he rose, and went to the living room to switch the lights off. His hand faltered over the switch. There, on John's armchair, sat a white carrier bag. John frowned as he moved to it, to regard its contents. Inside, John discovered two items; A bottle of milk and a can of beans. John laughed, loudly, feeling hot tears roll down his cheeks.
"About bloody time!"
The next morning, when John awoke, he remained perched on the edge of the bed for some time. Doubt had begun to creep into his mind. He often dreamt of Sherlock, and the things he might say to his friend if he ever got the chance again. Had Sherlock really been there at all?
His doubt was washed away by the sound of his own genuine laughter minutes later, as he was greeted in the living room by a bright fluorescent face, grinning jovially from the living room wall.
Sherlock Holmes would return to 221b Baker Street.
And the game was far from over...