He's done what he needed to, now. He can go and find John.
He could ask Mycroft, but it wouldn't mean as much. John shouldn't be found by cameras and cell phone towers and men in clean-pressed suits. It's all too synthetic, and John needs Sherlock to be real.
He isn't sure what makes him think this, nor is he sure exactly what it means, but he does know that John has never wanted him to be anything but what he is, never asked him to slow down, never questioned what he does, never failed to trust him when they run, clear-headed and on fire, across all London in pursuit of something Sherlock hasn't bothered to explain. And oh, the running is glorious, and they both come alive.
John needs alive.
Sherlock needs alive, too, because alive means warm and comfortable and awkward and error-prone and yes, sometimes painful, but the kind of pain that comes from breathing too deep and trying too hard, the kind of pain they've always had together. And they can laugh it off and shake their heads and run away and start it all again, like they always have, together.
He needs to find John.
The first few places the doctor might go, he immediately dismisses as obviously wrong. Not Lestrade's; he doubts that John could face another friend tonight. Not Angelo's; that place is Sherlock's, and John wouldn't go there to escape him. He tries the Swan & Edgar, around the corner; John likes the warmth of the tiny pub and is particularly susceptible to the apple and rhubarb crumble, but one quick glance around the room is enough to tell him it isn't the right place. The park, then, or the bridge.
Rapid footsteps take him there because if this isn't it, if both of his remaining guesses are wrong, then Sherlock doesn't know where to go next. It's all very well to think of people and the world they live in as mundane until it matters, but now it's suddenly important to know where John goes when he "needs some air," or when he meets his old rugby mates, or when he's longer getting home from work than he should be, because Sherlock has counted the minutes of the walk exactly, and he notices when John is late.
He needs to find John so badly that he almost doesn't, practically at a run through Regent's Park in the direction of Waterloo Bridge, too urgently occupied to pay attention to the huddled figure on the bench until a soft sound reaches his ears and he stops dead.
John is cold, lips pressed together and shivering slightly when Sherlock reaches him. He left the flat in only a thin shirt, and he's been out here for hours. Sherlock's throat tightens at the sight, wrench in his chest and burning at the corners of his eyes, and he pulls John in close and wraps his coat around them both, and John is too worn out to try to fight it.
He lets Sherlock hold him, try to warm him up, but he doesn't understand, so Sherlock searches for the right way to tell John all the things he told John's father, and in the meantime, he just goes on holding. And Sherlock's phone is buzzing and buzzing, but Lestrade can wait until tomorrow and Mycroft can go to hell (just for tonight; Sherlock hasn't forgotten the favour Mycroft did him), only then John's phone starts buzzing, too, and John's sense of duty is much more developed than Sherlock's, so, even exhausted and shivering, he answers.
Sherlock can hear Lestrade's voice on the other end of the line. He's asking if John has seen Sherlock, telling him about an assault called in by a Henry Watson – and even as Lestrade begins to say the name, Sherlock snatches the phone away from his friend's ear. It's too late, he can see that John has heard, but there are more important things to worry about right now.
"What did you tell him?" Sherlock's voice is dark with the fear of what Lestrade might just have done. Because if Lestrade has told Watson where to find Sherlock, then he's also told him where to find John.
"Told him he must be mistaken," Lestrade says calmly. "That Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are highly valued consultants for the Metropolitan Police. Took a statement, but there's been an awful lot of paperwork lately – things are bound to get lost in the shuffle."
Breathing seems unfamiliar, and Sherlock realizes he'd forgotten for a minute.
"Sherlock – " and the Detective Inspector's voice lowers a shade, as if afraid that John might overhear, "can you justify all this to me?"
"Yes," Sherlock replies immediately. "But not now."
"Not ever," says Lestrade. "I don't want to know. If you say it was justified – whatever it was – then that's enough for me."
Lestrade rings off before Sherlock can respond, not that he's sure what he would have said in any case. Thank God the inspector can tell when something carries more weight than Sherlock's usual mockery of the official channels. He makes a mental note to have John buy Lestrade a drink.
But right now, John is heavy in his arms, tucked inside the rough material of his coat and growing slowly warmer. He hasn't moved since Sherlock took the phone away from him, but the shivering is quieting and he's not as pale as he was.
Sherlock doesn't know what makes him do it, but he touches his lips softly to the dark blond hair against his chest, then runs a hand gently over it, smoothing it back down. John's voice is muffled by the fabric of Sherlock's sleeve, but the words are clear enough as he asks, trembling voice tinged with a dozen fears, "What did you do?"
"Nothing," says Sherlock, watching his breath ruffle wayward strands, "comparatively."
John's hands grip his.
Sherlock meant to take John home, to make him tea and put the television on and clean up all of the experiments and anything, anything at all to keep John there and tell him, I need you. Instead, here they are, curled up together on a park bench in the freezing nighttime, Sherlock's face buried in John's hair, murmuring without even knowing what he's saying, not just I need you, but also You're safe and I will never let him touch you and You are beautiful, every mark, every line, every inch of you, until his voice gives out and John is shivering again and it's time to go.
He barely notices the walk to Baker Street, his coat wrapped awkwardly around the two of them to shield John from the cold and so much more.
Once they're inside, Sherlock's hands are steady and John doesn't stop him, arms limp at his sides as he sits on the couch and, for the third time, lets his flatmate's careful fingers undo the buttons of his shirt. The first time ended in fear, the second in shame, and John is terrified of what else there might be left to feel.
He doesn't expect Sherlock's fingertips against the desecrated skin again, more slowly this time than before and lingering on each mark. He doesn't expect warm breath over his shoulder when the cautious hands leave his back to pull him into an embrace. He doesn't expect Sherlock to kiss the scars, whispering over each one, beautiful and perfect, and mine.
He expects to hate the words for lies, but the way Sherlock says them, every one is truth.
"Will you stay?" he whispers later, while Sherlock traces lazy circles on the skin he's claimed for his own. He thinks he knows the answer, but he needs to be sure.
"Of course. Always."
"What will we do now?" Because after all, everything is different now.
Sherlock weaves his fingers through John's hair and kisses him, letting the touch say all the things he can't.
Solve crimes. Get hurt. Lose sleep. Argue. Run. Love.
"What won't we do?" he whispers back.