A/N: This is set during "The Persistence Of This Illusion". I do not own, nor do I profit from. Enjoy!


It was astonishing what one could get used to, and how quickly.

He hadn't realized how dark it had become, how grey, how dreary. How the flat seemed dimmer, the surfaces that normally reflected light duller, as though they had lost their lustre. How the air felt close and oppressive, as though it was not moving, as though the atmosphere was trapped in the moment before a violent summer thunderstorm, everything still, hanging in anticipation of something – of anything. Of change that should have come, but that seemed to be just out of reach, as if it were nothing but a whispered promise, a casual lie.

It should not have been this way.

They had passed the winter solstice over two months previous and were rapidly approaching the spring equinox, when the day and night would be, momentarily, the same length. The days were therefore getting longer, and they'd left behind the worst of the January winter rains and the snowstorms that hit seemingly out of nowhere. The temperatures were milder, hinting at a coming spring, if not yet delivering it, and the sun shone more often than not during the days, its warmth growing steadily stronger, pushing back the cold winter months.

It should not, therefore, have seemed so much darker inside.

Somehow, it did.

And there was the silence.

Sherlock was not used to the silence.

It was different in tone and weight than what he was used to when John wasn't home, when he could play his violin without arousing comment or criticism, when he could clatter about the flat without regard for anyone else, work on whatever he pleased. That wasn't silence, that was the sound of life, his life, being played out on his terms. There was the sound of his phone, when Lestrade called, and the banter with Donovan and Anderson when he had to work with them at a crime scene. Donovan he tolerated somewhat better – she wasn't as dull as she pretended to be. Anderson was intolerable as a forensics officer, but quite a joy to bait, really, since he continually thought he could out-think Sherlock but very clearly was unable to do so.

Strange to realize that when he was not on a case, he actually missed them, not as people, but as interactions, as noise, as games.

There hadn't been a case in the past two weeks, of course.

Well, there had, but he'd had to leave it, although he ended up solving it remotely, because it really hadn't been that difficult once he'd reviewed the evidence the police had managed to gather and gone through their list of suspects. Really, a dentist with small scars on his arms? He'd been practicing his scalpel skills from a young age, on himself first, but not in a fatal way, obviously. That would come later, with carefully selected victims who had given him some imagined slight.

But no other cases.

The silence in the flat was different even when John was at home. He was always at home these days – how not? Except when there was something to take care of, but Sherlock never let him go alone, not since he'd slipped off to Harry's flat without telling him. And when John went out now, he went out unwillingly.

When he was at home, normally, he put up with whatever Sherlock was doing, often with amusement. He could be quite quiet when Sherlock wanted him to be, when Sherlock needed to concentrate and not be distracted by his husband, who somehow managed to be a distraction when reading silently in another room. Sherlock had often thought he would have to devise some way of measuring how much John sidetracked him, but then would get diverted by John and not get around to it. It was a never-ending cycle.

Now he was very much distracted, but in another way.

John was now quiet often because he was sleeping, or too exhausted to do anything. Sherlock was accustomed by now to reducing how much noise he made when John slept and he himself was awake, if only to not have to contend with a grumpy John, who could really be quite touchy and unreasonable. Now John seemed to sleep through everything, collapsing into bed at night, crawling out in the morning as if the sleep had done nothing to restore him.

There were not, Sherlock considered, actually very many people whom he hated. He'd tried to draw up a mental list, only to find that it was far less populated than he imagined.

There were the people he loved: John, of course, at the top of that list, Josephine, Tricia, his parents, even Mycroft, although he never wanted to speak to Mycroft again.

There were his friends: Lestrade, Mike, Angelo (more or less), Sam, all of whom he liked and tolerated and even got on with.

There were antagonists: Donovan, Anderson, other members of the Metro police who annoyed him as if they were small insects buzzing about his head. And Mycroft fit into this list as well, because he defied any attempts to place him into one category, and could be extraordinarily maddening.

Even Moriarty did not come under the heading of people Sherlock hated, despite it all. The man was dead, and had been an opponent like no other, matching Sherlock in his abilities, his resources, his intelligence, forcing Sherlock to really think, more so than anyone else had in years. That, at least, deserved recognition, even if everything he'd done had been truly appalling.

The only person he thought he truly hated right now was Harry.

He did not hate her for dying, but for what she'd left behind.

She had thrust upon John all the responsibility for her death, the execution of her will, the accountability for her estate, the planning for her funeral, the horror at listening to her, over the phone, as she caused a vehicle crash.

The guilt at her death, which had taken three other people with her.

Sherlock wondered how it was possible that he'd become accustomed so quickly to listening to John cry.

Accustomed?

Not quite accurate. Not accustomed to the sound, but accustomed to listening to it. No longer surprised when it happened, as though he were waiting for it, all of the time.

It added to the exhaustion, the silence coming from John when there were no tears.

Could someone function like this? For how long?

A change in the sound of the water in the shower alerted him the day before the funeral. Not to the fact that John was moving about in the shower, or getting ready to step out, but that he'd stopped moving altogether, and was not entirely standing under the spray. A week ago, Sherlock would have noted this but not noticed it. Now, it made him stop what he was doing and go into the bathroom, helping John from the shower, wrapping him in John's old blue bathroom and waiting for the grief and rage to abate.

Not disappear.

It never seemed to.

A small noise would wake him in the night – John had always contended with nightmares, in part because of his experiences in the war, in part because vivid dreams were genetic and he had a family history of them (Sherlock had checked; this hadn't been difficult). Sherlock had learned to sleep through them for the most part, unless they were particularly bad, because John often slept through them as well and would remember them hazily, if at all, when he awoke.

He had never cried in his sleep before, though, eyes moving beneath his eyelids as with all dreamers, but tears slipping down his cheeks in the darkness or shivering on his eyelashes.

And Sherlock would brush them away very carefully with his thumb, not wanting to wake John, because surely sleeping was still better than being awake for the guilt and pain.

Surely.

He would lie awake himself, holding John until John slipped into a deeper sleep, breath warm against Sherlock's neck, the only time now when he actually felt like John, not some pale shadow of John caught under the weight of Harry's actions.

When John was awake, the silence was still there. Sherlock was used to being able to talk to John, or at least talk at John, and get some kind of response, or jibe, or laughter, or admonishment for Sherlock to quit yammering so much. Sherlock generally ignored these, because John didn't mean them, which Sherlock knew because he always teased with a smile, with a bright light in his brown eyes. And he would contribute his own insights as well, which were not always pertinent, but forced Sherlock to consider evidence or conclusions in a new light, which often led to better results.

When John spoke now, it was wearily, or with forced cheer, as if he were trying to return to how he'd been by sheer will alone.

It did not seem to be working.

There was a lightness missing in his voice, and he did not joke or tease, as if he'd forgotten how, or forgotten he'd ever done it. He would often not hear Sherlock when Sherlock spoke to him, lost in thought, or trying not to think at all, simply staring out the window into the early spring outside. When he realized he was not listening, he'd have Sherlock repeat himself, which was frustrating and worrisome.

John developed more patience for Sherlock's mess about the flat, and Sherlock responded by trying to contain it better, then stopping when he realized it made no difference. Then starting up again when he got angry at himself for being stubborn.

Then suddenly and sharply missing John's accusations of Sherlock's stubbornness and idiocy, which he made on a fairly regular basis, but with a glimmer in his eyes and a twitch on his lips that let Sherlock know he was not serious – not entirely serious.

He had been upset and frustrated when Tricia had told him there was nothing he could do to fix this quickly, that it would take time. Not upset and frustrated at Tricia, who knew what she was talking about because she had experience in this regard, but at the fact that he had to watch John go through this and could do no more than hold him.

It seemed so inadequate.

Sherlock had hoped that following the funeral, John would start to feel somewhat better, at least, with the worst of the duties out of the way. But the next day, John slept for most of the morning, and then spent more time in bed reading before napping again. Sherlock wondered then if John was using sleep the same way Harry had used alcohol, as an escape from reality. He wondered if this was a normal part of grieving after such a traumatic loss, especially given how much responsibility Harry had unloaded onto him. Should he start worrying about depression? It seemed too soon to tell. And John had a very good reason for feeling the way he did. Sherlock also worried about pushing him too hard to come out of it too soon.

It was maddening, not having a solution.

He took Tricia's advice, the only advice he had at the moment that seemed reasonable, and did what he could. Made breakfast as he normally did, ensuring that he sweetened John's tea properly. He set himself a schedule for meals, which he disliked, but John ate at regular times, so Sherlock at least made John something to eat, even if it was only soup from a can or a sandwich – better something small than nothing. He held John a lot – a lot more than normal – and let John decide what he wanted from that, which was often nothing more than to sit against Sherlock. He even tolerated John's American crime shows, trying not to comment about them, writing up lists of errors in his mind and silently criticizing the deductive capabilities of the so-called detectives. He went with John to deal with some of the legalities of Harry's will, to pay for the funeral services, to meet the movers who would pack up her flat, and the cleaners who would clean it.

And then, finally, to return her keys to her former landlord, one major hurdle cleared.

After that, John had fallen asleep at home on the couch, his head pillowed in Sherlock's lap, but his expression had seemed somewhat clearer around the corners of his eyes, around his mouth. Sherlock had read a book until John woke up, stroking John's hair with one hand the entire time.

The following day, John had woken up closer to his normal time, which Sherlock made a note of, if only because it was the first time since Harry had died that John had gotten up at a normal hour. Sherlock had made breakfast as per usual, then left John to clear up the dishes – something John had been insisting on doing because it gave him something to do, something to focus on that wasn't Harry or related to her. Sherlock knew how important activity was to John, so he didn't complain, and he hated doing dishes anyway. He returned to an experiment he was working on, albeit slowly, since he wasn't willing or able to throw himself fully into his work right now, in order to keep an eye on John. He kept an ear on his husband now, chewing on his lower lip as he worked.

He heard John pause, but not in a way that indicated the grief was catching up with him again, but as if he'd been distracted by something. A moment later, John asked:

"Can we go out somewhere?"

Sherlock looked up quickly, glancing over his shoulder, then turning in his chair.

"Of course," he said, surprised, but suddenly pleased and intensely relieved. It was the first time since Harry's death that John had actually wanted to leave the flat, and to do something away from home that had no connection to the responsibilities thrust upon him by his dead sister. "Where would you like to go?"

"For a walk near the river. Battersea Park, I think."

Sherlock flashed him a grin, standing and kissing him quickly on the lips.

"Certainly," he agreed.

John kissed him back, then smiled.

It was the first time in thirteen days that Sherlock had seen that smile, a real smile, John's eyes lighting up with it, his lips twitching at first, then stretching, his face bright.

He had missed it more than he'd even realized, and he suddenly understood why everything had seemed so grey and dark lately, despite the sunny days and warmer temperatures outside. The flat felt airier and brighter now, and Sherlock was stunned to realize how much John – his smiles, his laughter, his presence – changed the flat, made it lighter, made it bright even in the darkest and longest of winter days, made it whole and home.

Sherlock kissed him again, cupping John's face between his long-fingered hands. When he pulled away, John chuckled, eyes dancing again.

The sound reverberated through Sherlock, coursing down his spine, settling something within him that had been aching for the sound of John's laughter without even realizing it.

"What was that for?" John asked.

"For you," Sherlock replied.

And he felt suddenly that they had passed out of winter, into spring, into light and sunshine and warmth. He knew it wouldn't last, not entirely, but the silence and greyness that had hung over their flat the past two weeks had broken, at least temporarily. John would need more time to deal with the disaster Harry had left behind her and with her death, but Sherlock knew it was, at very least, beginning to work itself out.

The John he knew and loved was still there, not lost to the complications and the grief, but working his way through them slowly. Sherlock would go with him, every step, whatever it took, and he would do so gladly.