A/N: This is set after "A Matter Of Perspective" but won't make a lot of sense unless you've read "Things We Know" and "The Persistence Of This Illusion". It's a little family, friendship, romance, humour, and angst. I do not own, nor do I profit from. Enjoy!
John had decided to clear out the upstairs closet of Harry's belongings after Josephine had found the picture of his parents. Not that he worried about what his niece would find up there – he kept the contents of that room decent whenever she came over, and it wasn't often used anyway, except for as storage. He'd have complained to Sherlock about what the other man stashed up there, but John was just as guilty of it.
And it had been five years since his sister had died, a realization that had startled him – stunned him, really – when he realized how much time had passed. How, during those years, Josephine had learned to walk, talk, grown so much, begun to speak Arabic because her father spoke it passably, had started kindergarten at the French school so she could learn yet another language, had been given her first violin by Sherlock and had taken to it fairly naturally, as naturally as someone her age could. She had lived almost her entire life, save for about the first six months, during the time Harry had been dead.
It was sobering and unpleasant. More so when John realized he did not really notice the lack of her presence in his life, because he'd never truly felt like she was there, unless she was causing him trouble. Save for the brief period when she'd been sober. He made himself remember that she'd come to the hospital to visit him following Sherlock's crash, because it has been the one time John had needed her that she'd supported him. Everything else revolved around her needing him, or her not providing the assistance he had wanted from her.
And he didn't like to think about that time much, since Sherlock had been so badly injured and John had been so exhausted and frightened.
He could not remember everything he'd taken from Harry's possessions, even though it wasn't much. He'd shoved it all into the back of the closet, promising himself he'd deal with it eventually, when he felt like he'd dealt with everything else. In the beginning, there had been so much to sort out, legal and practical and emotional. It had been the guilt and anger that had been the worst, until Sherlock and Tricia had encouraged – manoeuvred – him into joining a support group for families of drunk drivers.
John had been sceptical, more than a little, but it had proven to be extraordinarily helpful. In ways he hadn't even imagined. Sometimes, he still went, when his mood turned black, or occasionally when it didn't, to provide newcomers with someone who had gone through it all, who had emerged all right, but still with bad days of his own. He could tell them – and himself – honestly that most of the time it was good, that sometimes it was not. And that this was normal.
He pulled out some photo albums and small shoeboxes, tossing each one on the bed. When he was finished, he stared at it all, certain he must have missed something. There were two small boxes and four photo albums. Everything else, save for some of the photo albums he'd given to his mother, had been donated to a local charity. Nothing Harry had owned resonated with John, and he hadn't needed anything from her possessions. He had more than enough junk in his flat, most of it courtesy of Sherlock, of course. There were people out there who could – and probably had – made good use of all the things Harry had left behind. It had felt good to get rid of all of her things, to close out his account at the storage facility, to have done with all of it. That had been the last thing he'd taken care of, except for taking care of himself, of course.
That can't be all, John thought, looking at the small amount of stuff piled on the spare bed. He snagged the chair that rested against the wall next to the old dresser that had once belonged to him and that he'd replaced some time ago, when he started making enough money at the clinic to afford some decent furniture. John dragged the chair to the closet and stepped up onto it.
It was a good time to be upstairs. Sherlock was working on something and had been for the past three days, insisting on needing to concentrate. John knew enough to stay out of his way during those times, and was very good now at judging when Sherlock really needed him to make himself scarce and when he did not. Although Sherlock's ability to concentrate on something still astonished John after all this time, he knew – because Sherlock had told him once in complete frustration – that his physical presence was enough to keep the consulting detective from focusing properly.
He usually removed himself to his former bedroom to read or do crosswords or work on his blog if he wanted to stay home. If not, he went to see Tricia and Josephine, or to take his niece off her parents' hands, or to a local pub, or met up with some other friends from the army for drinks and reminiscing. John always vaguely missed Sherlock during those times, but understood that his husband's work was important to him and always would be. And John himself found his work as a physician important, even if Sherlock did complain occasionally – all right, often – that John was not as available as Sherlock wanted him to be. It went both ways.
Sherlock's intense concentration gave John a good excuse to do something he'd been putting off for half a decade anyway.
He rolled his eyes at himself; he couldn't believe it had been that long.
The closet's shelf was still packed with things, books, bags, boxes marked with labels as to what supplies Sherlock had stored in them, a bicycle pump, even though neither of them had a bicycle, a toolkit John used when he need to repair something about the flat or for Mrs. Hudson, an empty plastic food storage container, for some reason. John supposed he was lucky it didn't contain any eyeballs, and tossed it onto the bed to bring downstairs later.
There was another box at the back, shoved under a bag of old clothes he really should put in a donation bin, roughly the same size as the ones he'd pulled out with Harry's things. John tossed the bag on the floor with a dull thump and eased the box out. It was actually bigger than he'd initially thought, and quite dusty, although everything in there was dusty. It was about twice the size of a big shoebox, perhaps for boots, he didn't know. It wasn't labelled with anything. He didn't remember it, but then, he didn't really recall what he'd stored of Harry's.
John tossed it on the bed with its companions and put the chair back, then settled himself on top of the dark blue duvet. He scanned through the photo albums, picking out several pictures of his family from when he'd been a child and a teenager, and some of him from when he'd been in university, his graduation, a formal army photo. Harry had probably gotten most of the later ones from his parents, he supposed, since by the time John had gone to uni, they had not really been on speaking terms anymore. He thought it was sad – so much wasted time. And so much wasted life, of course.
With a sigh, he snapped the last of the albums shut. None of the other pictures mattered. He closed his eyes a moment, one hand still resting on the cover of the photo album, and waited for the residual anger at his sister to pass, or at least to settle somewhat.
This was another reason he'd been avoiding this. He hadn't wanted to dredge up the rage and guilt he'd felt about Harry's death again. It had been so exhausting to go through it. Logically, he knew he'd never feel it that strongly again, but he shied away from wanting to feel it at all. Once in awhile, he would still dream about the crash, hearing it over the phone, and would wake up with his heart hammering, uncertain of where he was for a taut and endless moment, then everything would return and his lungs would fill with air and he'd be able to force himself to relax.
And then he'd wake Sherlock up, having no compunctions against that anymore, because if he needed reassurance, Sherlock was the only person who could give it in the small hours on the night. It was often enough just to have Sherlock awake and holding him, to remember that they were both safe and unharmed.
John stood, putting the albums aside, shaking away the darker thoughts. Now wasn't the time for them, with Sherlock clattering around downstairs, the occasional strains of violin music combined with comments directed at the skull. He listened at the door for a moment, a smile playing on his lips, but was careful to keep to the floorboards that didn't creak when he returned to the bed and sat down again.
He pulled the larger box toward him and slipped off the lid, then blinked in surprise.
This wasn't Harry's.
John frowned, putting the lid aside slowly, his brown eyes intent on the contents of the box. It made no immediate sense. There was a dark green jumper, carefully folded, with an envelope resting on top of it, unmarked, and a pair of cufflinks.
He tried to place the items, but could not. Was this Sherlock's? If so, why was he storing an old jumper with cufflinks? Those two items did not go well together and Sherlock was quite a sharp dresser.
John picked up the envelope, which was somewhat heavier than he'd thought it would be, a bit stiffer. He turned it over, but there were no markings on the back either, although the flap was unsealed. He pushed it open with his index finger and saw the glossy sheen of a photograph mostly obscured by four train ticket stubs.
He pulled the tickets out first, putting the envelope on his knee, then realization set in and he grinned, repressing laughter, suddenly feeling much better. John fought the urge to run downstairs and – do something, he wasn't sure what. Laughter bubbled in his chest but he swallowed on it, still grinning.
There were so many times that Sherlock still surprised him, for so many different reasons.
The tickets were for both of them, travelling from London to Edinburgh and then back again on the train. Two tickets for Sherlock Holmes, two tickets for John Watson. They were cancelled out, and John had never even considered what had happened to them, never even realized that Sherlock had collected them. They had a number of souvenirs and photos from their much belated honeymoon, but somehow, the fact that Sherlock had kept these made John want to laugh and cry at the same time, but in delight and with love.
He kept his eyes on the tickets a moment longer, then put them aside, still smiling broadly, shaking his head. He opened the envelope again and pulled out the photo, the smile pausing for a moment, his eyes widening.
He thought he'd lost this.
The smile faded, but in awe, not apprehension, as John stared at the picture of himself and Tricia. It had been taken in Afghanistan, long before he'd been shot and pensioned off back to London. So long ago. Ten years now, it must be, he realized with a jolt. At least.
It was his favourite picture of them together, the one he'd always kept nearby the entire time he'd been home and she'd still been over there. As a reminder that his friend was still alive, still the same Tricia, still all right and healthy and safe.
John didn't even remember when the picture had been taken, or where precisely. They were both dressed in their fatigues, outside somewhere, the sky a blazing blue behind them, the sun hitting the building they were leaning against, bathing it in bright yellow light so that the bricks baked in the heat, radiating off of them in waves. Tricia had her head thrown back, laughing, and John was in the act of doubling over, almost looking at the camera, his face split with a grin, eyes bright, tears running down his cheeks from the edges of his eyes.
He couldn't even remember what had been so funny, but he could remember they'd ended up leaning against each other, gasping against the laughter, trying to reassert some semblance of dignity, but failing each time.
Those moments had often hit so unexpectedly, small oases of joy in the midst of the war.
Like almost everyone there, they had endured rumours about them. John hadn't really cared – let people think what they wanted. In the way of any small group whose members were forcibly and necessarily confined with each other, there was talk, there were rows, there were out-and-out battles. But there were also friendships, fleeting, lasting, tenuous, solid. He considered himself lucky – in Tricia he had found a friend he would keep for life, an extended family member who was unrelated by genetics but related in all the ways that really mattered.
People had whispered about them shagging, but people whispered about everyone shagging everyone else, so John had ignored it and Tricia hadn't said anything against it, because it made some of the other men leave her alone. The fact that she'd resorted to that bothered John – not for her actions, but the necessity. It was just disappointing.
He had no idea Sherlock had nicked the picture. John grinned at the image of himself grinning, and Tricia as well. God, they looked so young.
When he thought about it, he realized it wasn't until after Tricia had come back to England that the picture had gone missing.
That little – John thought, the corners of his mouth twitching. Sherlock had let him keep it until Tricia was safely home, although he hadn't known Tricia before then, only known about her.
John set the picture down on the envelope, shaking his head again. He picked up the cufflinks and held them up, surprise coursing through him when he recognize them after a blank moment. He had worn these the day of Harry's funeral. They were small, silver, with a simple black Celtic pattern etched into them. He'd never expected to see them again.
After the funeral, he'd given all of the clothing he'd worn, the shirt, the tie, the suit, the cufflinks, the shoes, to Sherlock and told him to get rid of them. Didn't care how, didn't care where. Bin them, give them to charity, burn them. It didn't matter. John hadn't wanted to ever see them again. To erase as much as he could some memory for the funeral. Sherlock had taken them without protest and John had crawled into bed, too tired to even cry or care that he was sleeping too much, that he wasn't eating enough, that all he wanted to do was avoid reality by slipping away into hazy dreams.
He had never asked what Sherlock had done with the suit and Sherlock had never told him.
Now, John hoped he hadn't kept it for the same reasons he'd kept the cufflinks, the ticket stubs and the photograph.
It was so strange to consider that the sentimentality Sherlock so often disdained in others had worked its way into his life. But so very Sherlock that he never called attention to it, hid it away, kept it secret for himself.
John was not at all surprised to find that the green jumper in the box had been his. He pulled it out and shook it out – had been folded neatly and carefully and when he held it to his nose to smell it, it still smelled faintly familiar. Still smelled something like him. Like all of his clothes did.
John grinned again.
He had worn this jumper on the very first case he and Sherlock had taken after they'd gotten together. He remembered the cold November day, being dragged out at five in the morning after only a handful of hours of sleep, because Sherlock had still been quite intent back then on keeping him up as much as John could handle. John smiled at the memories – Sherlock hadn't let up that much, really, even after all this time, but at least there was less urgency to it when John really did have to sleep or had something else to do, like work. Five years had taught Sherlock a lot about trusting and relaxing and accepting that things might work out.
The jumper had met its end while they were chasing a suspect down a narrow road and the man had darted into an alley in an attempt to circumvent the consulting detective, who unfortunately for him, knew the entire city better than anyone else John had ever met. Sherlock had caught him after two minutes, but John had been slowed down, snagging the elbow of his jumper against a nail or bit of errant wood in an old fence. He hadn't been hurt, even minorly, but the jumper had a gash through down the arm that wasn't worth mending. John had binned it.
Apparently, Sherlock had rescued it.
John shook his head, grinning at the sentimental foolishness that he'd never share with anyone else. John had plenty more jumpers and Sherlock had stolen his old bathrobe years ago, which John had never protested. He found little outlets for his need for small, familiar things, and this was one of them.
John settled the jumper on his lap, feeling somewhat chilly from sitting for so long without moving about much, and looking into the box, expecting to find nothing else, since the jumper had taken up most of the room and the other items had rested on top of it.
But there was a small plastic bag, carefully wrapped and taped, in one corner.
Filled with white powder.
His heart skipped a beat and his stomach plummeted suddenly, everything else forgotten. He felt cold, constricted, his lungs refusing to bring in enough air, goosebumps jumping up on his arms, the hair of the back of his neck standing on end. The bag sat there mutely.
He felt his stomach clench, then one of his hands.
No, he thought. Oh, no.
In all the years he'd known Sherlock, John had never once had real reason to suspect his husband of doing drugs. There had been Lestrade's accusations on the first day they'd met, and Sherlock's assertions that he was clean. John had never asked about anything before that, but he'd kept an eye out for awhile, before gradually relaxing and trusting Sherlock.
John wouldn't have been surprised to find out Sherlock had used something in the past – something stronger than marijuana, which didn't bother John, because it wasn't though he himself had never done that. But he was a doctor, he knew what to look for, the signs of hard drugs, even when those symptoms could sometimes be mistaken for how Sherlock was acting on a normal day.
He'd rarely seen Sherlock acting not like Sherlock, and during those times, John had kept an even sharper eye on the situation, ensuring his flatmate then lover then husband didn't turn to anything he really did not need. A man like Sherlock on drugs was too frightening a prospect.
And, John realized suddenly, he couldn't do it.
Couldn't deal with another addict.
Couldn't face living with Harry all over again, but this time worse, because it was his husband, not his sister. There was no way he could fight this, no way Sherlock would give it up for John, for anyone.
What did one person matter if there was some thing that kept the genuis' mind going, kept it lighting fast, kept the patterns connecting, kept things interesting?
Without intending to, John reached out and picked up the bag, tearing it open with one finger, the powder puffing out slightly from the bag. He lifted it to his nose, not wanting to do so, not wanting to know, his heart hammering hard in his chest, a tight pain already settling into his lungs, his stomach, his entire body.
His brain supplied him with a lifetime of losing Sherlock, of rows and anger and anguish, the way it had been for Clara losing Harry.
A lifetime alone, because he could not do this.
Please, just no, he thought, and sniffed it carefully, not wanting to inhale it.
Then he frowned, pulling back slightly.
John sniffed it again, then licked a finger and dipped it into the bag, pressing it very carefully to his tongue.
He did it again.
Then his eyes narrowed and disbelief coursed through him, pushing out the sudden despair and denial, leaving him feeling weak, like he'd been punched and had the wind knocked out of him. His hands shook and he fought to steady them, using years of medical training to do so, the effort seeming more demanding now than ever before.
He took one more taste, just to be sure.
It was sugar.
John sat absolutely stock still for a moment, staring blankly at the tiny bag of white sugar in his hands, then inhaled sharply.
And began to laugh.
He managed to drop the bag back into the box, pressing his fists over his eyes and falling back onto the bed, gales of laughter overtaking him so that he could no longer breathe properly, but for much different – much better – reasons. John curled onto his side, shoulders and back shaking, gasping for breath, laughing so hard tears rolled down his cheeks and his laughter disappeared into silent wheezing.
He tried to stop but was unable to, even when the muscles in his stomach stitched and pain flared up his side, even when he could no longer see nor barely breathe.
Even when he heard Sherlock's hurried tread on the stairs and the sound of the door being pushed all the way open.
"John?" Sherlock demanded.
John managed to open his eyes and gulp down a breath, then burst back into laughter when he looked at Sherlock. He pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes, then rubbed away the tears, giggling, his shoulders still shaking.
"What on Earth has gotten into you?" Sherlock demanded.
Instead of replying, John pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room in a single step and pulled Sherlock into a kiss. He kissed him again, and again, until Sherlock relaxed, forgetting his confusion and his irritation at being interrupted from his work and kissed back, settling his hands on John's hips, pulling him closer. John kept chuckling into their kiss.
He had been right; Sherlock did keep surprising him.
He pulled away, brown eyes bright, cheeks still streaked with tears of laughter. John crossed back to the bed, and picked up the picture of himself and Tricia, holding it up.
"You can keep everything else," he said. "But I'm putting this on the fridge."
Sherlock gave him an absolutely befuddled glance but managed a nod. John paused in the doorway to kiss him again, deeply, then clattered down the stairs, leaving Sherlock standing, stunned, in the doorway to the spare room, John's laughter trailing up to meet him.