Scouring the Edges (Of Endings)
Sherlock Holmes' favorite thing to do was to drive John Watson mad. John was sure of it, as sure of it as anything he's ever been sure of in the world.
Sherlock likes half-preparing meals, leaving the milk out, throwing out the packet of biscuits John had just bought, using the hot water John had just prepared for tea for his experiments, leaving body parts exposed in the refrigerator, stealing John's jumpers for evidence, sending text messages in code from John's phone to unknown, international phone numbers. John tries to not scream in frustration.
Often, John contemplates medicating himself, or drinking a lot, or well, leaving, but he doesn't. He must've been a masochist in a past life (or in this one), because he sometimes stares longingly at the door to his freedom but instead settles deeper into the couch.
On day 365, the year anniversary in which John had found himself in this insane situation, Sherlock bounds up the stairs graceful and almost silent, nearly startling John off of his chair when he slams the door behind him.
He expects a proclamation of some sort; a 'Ah ha!' moment, one of Sherlock's typical musings that should be internal monologues.
Instead, all he gets is a good glimpse of the back of Sherlock's head as he disappears into the bedroom, slamming that door as well. He watches after him for a moment, then goes back to his computer, musings flowing rather haphazardly from his mind down through his fingers to his keyboard. He's not sure what he's writing about, truthfully; he's more distracted by whatever Sherlock didn't say.
The bedroom door opens after five or so minutes of distracted typing, and this time's Sherlock's got a small satchel and his scarf on.
"Don't worry about me," he says, flittering about the room collecting bizarre materials; a rock from the mantelpiece, a flask filled with formaldehyde, two bottles of tap water, John's cardigan that he'd declared his after two months that's short in the sleeves, his mobile, and John's laptop from right under his fingers.
John's sure his jaw is slack and that his face of utter bafflement is humorous to anyone who might stumble upon it, but he can't help it, really. He's not sure exactly what's happening, but as his brain can catches up, he's pretty sure Sherlock is, well, leaving. It's only then that John manages to get his voice to speak the words his brain is shouting at him.
"Where are you going?" Without the laptop under his fingers, John's fingers are idling on the tabletop, blunt nails worrying the edge of the heinous tablecloth, once provided by Mrs. Hudson.
There's a bizarre sense of finality to the quick, abrupt way Sherlock shoves these items into the semi-empty tossed over his shoulder. He doesn't answer John, not really. He finally just finishes the frantic gathering and finally straightens to avoid John's eyes. He looks small, then, smaller then John's ever noticed. He's sort of hunching, looks tiny in his overcoat and his eyes look a little wild. He's never looked less like Sherlock Holmes then he did right now, and John is, for once, at a loss of words.
"It's been a pleasure, John Watson," he says, and suddenly, he's right before John, standing right in his personal space. John's sure there's a moment where Sherlock touches the top of his head gently, but in retrospect, he almost feels it was wishful thinking and then Sherlock is gone.
This time, the door behind him clicks shut softly, and John swiftly feels empty.
Then it's 48 hours and John's scouring the apartment, turning it upside down, looking for anything and everything that might give him clues to what caused Sherlock's abrupt departure. He's rung Sherlock's mobile 20- no- 30 times, only to be told the number was disconnected. He's dialed Lestrade and Mycroft with little to no help.
"He does this," Mycroft actually has the gall to sound dismayed, even sad, "It's best to leave him be, he'll return if or when he's ready."
And the fact that Mycroft says this all with little sarcasm, or hidden agenda, frightens John half to death. He ends the call without any other words and spends that afternoon crawling through the flat, pressing on floorboards in hopes there's some hidden compartment with all the answers John never knew about.
A week later, and Mrs. Hudson is appalled, worried and flittering about like a mother hen (even more so then usual) as she observes the utter disaster the flat has been reduced to. Her eyes wide and watery she looks more heartbroken and lost then John feels. He sort of wants to succumb to her mothering; allow her to serve him tea and biscuits and stories of her own heartbreak (he and Sherlock, they don't even bother trying to correct her anymore it's just silly, really. This way, at least, she doesn't wink knowingly at them). Instead he begins to search for clues the way Sherlock would, methodically and carefully. He cleans up the mess and picks apart everything in the flat piece by piece, setting it aside in boxes when it ends up truly being nothing.
In the end, he ends up with fifty boxes of their combined belongings and half of a box of things he's just so confused about that he's unsure of their use or whether they point out Sherlock's reasons for leaving or not.
He drags himself to the clinic and stares off into space, and he thinks, and at night, he dreams.
None of it makes sense.
When it hits a three months and there's nothing, not a word, and even Mycroft has stopped checking in on him and swearing he hasn't heard from Sherlock, John realizes that he's never quite thought this long and hard about anything or anyone before; not even his first love or even his own mother.
Instead it starts to make sense, his frantic worrying, the sad eyes he gets from Mrs. Hudson, the pitying words from Mycroft. It suddenly makes sense why he'd stay when sometimes all he'd wanted was to walk out that door, when his breath hitched when Sherlock put himself in the line of fire AGAIN, when he didn't quite mind that his favorite cardigan became stretched out by too-long limbs.
And then, upon that realization, it sort of hurts worse.
Mycroft calls on a Sunday evening, at 6:32pm, and he's out of breath and he admits he'd just gotten off the phone with Sherlock. It's been 6 months. The flat had been cleaned up and out. Sherlock's experiments have been carefully stocked away, the refrigerator only mildly smells like dead bodies. There's milk, all the time, and John has finally saved enough to justify purchasing a new computer. These days he calls Sherlock's old mobile number only three times a week in hopes it's been re-connected and doesn't even wear Sherlock's spare scarf. He's done mourning for someone who's left and still [hopefully] alive. He feels older, somehow more weathered. His leg's been hurting again, he wears his glasses more often. Mrs. Hudson has (unhelpfully) admitted he looks like he'd aged ten years.
John drops his mobile when the call comes, and then a minute later, spills his tea. It's all a dreadful mess for a few minutes while he tries to process Mycroft's words, but when it finally absorbs into his overloaded brain, he's already cursing.
"It's Moriarty," Mycroft says, almost hesitantly, "It was Moriarty all along."
At the same moment, John's inbox bings. It's from an unknown email address, and the message just an address. In America.
"He's okay," Mycroft says in his ear, "He needs your help."
Of course he does. And of course, John runs.
New York City isn't much like the movies, but a lot more like them then John would like to admit. It's not much different from London in some ways, as people are always rushing about and taxis barely hesitate in running you over. But John doesn't like being out of his comfort zone, and there Sherlock was, pulling him out of it, again.
He's told to meet whoever it was he was supposed to be meeting at the top of the Empire State building at 3PM on a Saturday. John's not one to leap and jump because of his curiosity, he'd always been the more cautious type, even in light of Sherlock's influence. He's not sure who he's expecting at the top of one of the most famous buildings in the world; if it's Moriarty he's sincerely hoping he's not signed the death warrant to a few hundred tourists milling about around him.
However, he's actually not expecting it to be Sherlock.
It is Sherlock, though, looking quite Sherlock like and silent and eerily out of place amongst those in backpacks and bum bags. He's certainly not wielding a camera or a smile, anyway.
John's emotions range from hate-love-anger-frustration-relief, and once again, he knows his expressions might be pretty priceless. He wants to punch Sherlock with equal fervor to how much he want to hug him and breathe him in. Instead he stares him blankly in the eye and tries not to cry.
"You're here, then," Sherlock finally says, and he seems sort of surprised, as if John hasn't been following him around like a puppy for the past year. It only serves to make John more angry, if anything.
"I am," he replies, and he tries to school his features into some sort of passive expression, as not to startle or frighten anyone around them. It wouldn't do to see two mismatched Brits brawling on the top of the Empire State Building, as much as he'd like to wipe that unmoved expression off of Sherlock's face.
"Let's carry on, then," Sherlock says, and then he's whipped around with all the show he always does and begun the descent on the stairs. John's behind him in moments, his knee protesting as he scrambles to keep up with Sherlock's much-longer legs down the many many steps.
At about flight five John's knee, his heart, and his pride had just about had it.
"Wait. Stop, stop -" He says, his voice echoing down the empty staircase, as they are the only two crazy enough to take the stairs in the Empire State Building, "Stop!"
Sherlock stops abruptly and John goes nearly flying into him.
"You must be joking, Sherlock, with all this. Are you not going to tell me what's going on?"
Sherlock has the nerve to look oddly sheepish, oddly apologetic. John has never seen either expression on him; it catches him off-guard for a moment, almost as if Sherlock had learned social etiquette in their months apart. He'd forgotten what it was like to be so close to the other man, and for a moment, he almost feels like perhaps he'd imagined the feelings he'd realized in Sherlock's absence. Right then, in that moment, he sort of hates Sherlock, moreso then he'd ever, even when Sherlock was at his worst.
"I can't," He replies finally, his resolve clearly rebuilding, "It's not information you need right now."
John's anger skyrockets to utter, ridiculous furiousness. He wants to wring Sherlock's pretty little neck.
"No. No! I go nowhere until you explain." He parks himself against the wall of the stairwell, leaning on cool concrete and easing his weight off of his throbbing leg. Sherlock stares at him for a moment, teeth grinding audibly. They have an utterly ridiculous glare-off until John loses patience and goes to stare at the graffiti by his elbow instead.
"I'll leave you here, John. I'll leave you here between floor 85 and 86 of the Empire State Building with your utterly mentally fabricated injured leg and your pride."
It stings a little, but if Sherlock was telling the truth, he wouldn't warn. Sherlock very rarely warns he just does. Instead, John continues the silent treatment.
Then, there's the touch again, and this time, John's sure it's not in his mind, as Sherlock's fingers idly comb through his hair and then settle on his temple. John reflexively looks back up to Sherlock standing much, much closer to him then before. They're almost the same height, now, as Sherlock's standing on a lower step. For once, John doesn't feel like Sherlock's that much bigger- physically, emotionally or in confidence. His eyes betray him, and John's very, very shocked.
"He'd threatened you," Sherlock admits, Adam's apple bobbing as he turns away, "Just like before, except it wasn't a game anymore. He was going to take you away from me, and the only way to stop it was to continue playing with him and drawing him away from you."
His fingers are burning on John's temple and John unconsciously leans into it for a moment. He suddenly recalls Sherlock's urgency in leaving, in the way he avoided John's eyes. John feels at loss, feels confused and elated and panicked and tormented. It's devastating.
John takes a deep breath, leans forward until Sherlock's forehead is pressed against his own. He watches Sherlock's eyes flutter closed before he allows his own to, and for a few moments they just breathe one another in, settle into one another's space.
Finally, Sherlock pulls away, and John leans forward, almost unconsciously, as if to follow him. Sherlock's hands catch John's arms and John feels Sherlock press a kiss to his forehead before stepping away from him.
John's eyes open and he knows everything's changed. They look at one another for a moment, take one another in.
"Come on," Sherlock finally says, voice husky with some sort of emotion he probably never realized he had, "We'll go back out onto the floor; take the lift down."
John's lips finally twitch into a sad sort of smile and he allows Sherlock to lead him through into the 85th floor of the Empire State Building. Inside the lift, some inane pop song is playing and John steps in almost too close to Sherlock as the door closes.
"I found a flat downtown," Sherlock finally says, eyes never deviating from the closing door in front of them, "I decided you'll be safer with me."
John tries not to blush like a schoolgirl, then tries not to berate himself mentally for not succeeding.
In the end, he settles for brushing his fingers against Sherlock's and leaning a bit closer. Safer, indeed.