A/N: This is the follow up to A House Divided but there is a story arc here and this story won't make sense without it. In addition to AHD, you should read (in this order): A La Fin Du Monde, Splinters, What We Share, Shattered, Forty and Moonlight And Wine. This story is therefore set after these stories.
This is for so many people, but specifically katkaista and AGirloftheSouth for the John stuff.
I do not own, nor do I profit from. Enjoy!
John came home to an empty flat, which was unexpected if only because he hadn't received the flurry of texts from Sherlock that usually accompanied him having a case and wanting John's opinion on some detail or just wanting John to join him. Sherlock liked to try and wear down John's resolve, make him leave work early, and somehow counted it as a victory when John joined him after finishing his day at the clinic.
John supposed Sherlock just saw it as a win that John showed up because he liked to be right.
If he wasn't on case, he may just be out – was he actually doing errands? That was probably a bit too much to hope for. If Sherlock was out shopping it was likely for himself, chemistry set equipment or possibly controlled substances for his experiments or maybe even body parts.
One pair of Sherlock's always-polished black shoes was missing and his keys were not in evidence on the small table by the door, so he was probably out somewhere, yes. John called out a hello just in case and received no answer, but checked the upstairs bedroom – Sherlock often ignored John if he was working up there.
He came back downstairs from the empty spare room and took off his own shoes before heading into the bedroom to change.
It felt strange to be home so early in the afternoon on a weekday with a legitimate reason. The water had been unintentionally shut off to the building in which his clinic was housed due to roadwork that had damaged some pipes and caused some minor flooding. Since they couldn't work without water, they had closed early. John appreciated it – although he would have appreciated it more had Sherlock been at home to enjoy it with him.
Well, he'd change then text his errant husband to find out where he was. The promise of mid-afternoon sex would probably be enough to bring him back unless he was on a case.
John grinned to himself as he went into the bedroom and then stopped in mild surprise. The window accessing the fire escape was wide open, the curtains that framed it stirring lightly in the faint late July breeze. They hadn't put in the window AC unit yet because it hadn't been hot enough, and the air outside was warm but the movement kept it fresh and pleasant.
John frowned though, because the screen had been carefully removed and set against the wall. He looked at it a moment, then crossed the room and leaned out, looking down and then up before pulling his head back in and glancing around. Nothing seemed missing, and if someone had broken in, they'd done a very neat job of it. Part of his mind leapt automatically to the idea that Sherlock had been kidnapped but the army trained part dismissed that conclusion almost as soon as it was formed – Sherlock was stronger than he looked and getting a six-foot-two man out of a window and down a fire escape unnoticed would be difficult, especially if he were struggling. Even if he'd been unconscious, manoeuvring him would have been extremely awkward. And there were no signs of any struggle anywhere in the flat. Sherlock would have put up a fight if someone had tried to snatch him.
The logical explanation was that he had taken himself out onto the fire escape and since nothing was burning or even smoking in the flat, John suspected this wasn't because of an actual emergency. The doctor stuck his head out again; Sherlock wasn't down below, so he was probably on the roof.
That was strange – or it would be, if it weren't Sherlock. John had run across his fair share of roofs since knowing the detective. There was no reason Sherlock wouldn't go watch the city from that vantage point and John was probably lucky he hadn't been dragged up there before on some attempt at a romantic gesture – a picnic, stargazing (nearly impossible with the light pollution in central London) or a shag, which John would have said no to anyway. He had no desire to be seen by anyone in any of the surrounding buildings and he couldn't imagine the roof was very comfortable for or conducive to that. Falling off and all of that.
He grinned and swung himself out easily onto the fire escape, still in his work clothes and stocking feet, and climbed up quietly, shifting his weight slowly. Old training for moving stealthily came back to him with almost no effort. Sherlock hadn't known that John was coming home early and John wanted to surprise him. He so rarely got to really startle the detective that it may be fun, although he'd have to remember to duck in case Sherlock had his gun with him.
John took his time, wondering where Sherlock had stashed himself. The roof was flat but not built for being used and it was a general mess of pipes that had to ventilate out of the top of the building, the chimneys from the three flats and probably various pigeons. In fact, a pigeon sat on the parapet, eyeing John in its mad little bird way and refused to fly away when he got close. City birds, too used to humans.
He came up to roof level, saw Sherlock, and stopped short.
For a moment, the detective didn't see him, sitting a short distance away, back against one of the chimneys – the C flat, John thought inanely – profile to John but his face slightly turned away. He had his knees drawn up somewhat, his left arm resting beside his left leg on the old blanket he'd spread out for himself, his right arm propped on his right knee. He was looking out toward the street, toward the city.
Sherlock was dressed in one of John's old t-shirts, a black one that John had vaguely noted was missing but hadn't really cared because he only wore it when doing heavy duty cleaning. It was so old he probably should have just binned it or turned it into dusters, but it didn't actually have any holes. Sherlock was also wearing a pair of his own jeans, but one of the pairs he used for his disguises on cases, John noted, not either of the good pairs he would sometimes consent to wear mostly for John's benefit. And his polished shoes, the pair that had been missing downstairs.
And gloves. Black leather gloves.
There was a cigarette burning gently between the index and middle fingers of his right hand and an open pack on the blanket beside his left.
John didn't know if he'd made a noise – a startled sound or a shift on the fire escape – but Sherlock stopped abruptly in the act of just starting to move his right hand up to bring the cigarette to his lips and his expression went rigid, cold. He turned his head enough to see John and there was panic and denial in those grey eyes. He looked hunted, trapped, deer-in-the-headlights, and John felt equally as frozen.
They stared at each other and John felt cold, wondering suddenly how long this had been going on.
Sherlock was wearing clothing he would not normally wear and gloves to keep his fingers from being discoloured from the nicotine. If he did this when John was at work, he had enough time to shower thoroughly, scrub his teeth and change into his regular clothing before John got home. And Lord knew Sherlock could afford to go to a dentist for those whitening treatments if he thought the nicotine was staining his teeth.
John swallowed and reminded himself to breathe.
"Why don't you finish that," he heard himself saying in a voice that sounded detached, not at all like his own, "And then come back inside?"
It was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
Harder than any of the criminals he'd confronted, harder than facing down Moriarty, harder than seeing John in a Semtex vest.
When John had left him on the roof, Sherlock had stayed frozen, caught, for several long minutes, his breath shallow, his pulse jumping, until the useless rush of adrenaline had subsided, dragging utter anxiety in its wake.
John was waiting for him.
Sherlock had never seen that look of sad disappointment on his husband's face before. Never that piercing. Never that hurt.
And Sherlock knew he'd deserved it.
He made himself put out the cigarette and tuck the butt into the pack, which he stashed with the blanket in the small hiding place he'd found on the roof, then wondered why he was even doing this.
And then he forced himself to go back down, one slow step at a time, his heart hammering the whole way, screaming silently at himself for not having paid attention, for not having realized that someone was on the fire escape stairs.
For having lied.
Sherlock eased himself through the window and changed – he had no time to shower or brush his teeth or even wash his hands, which he did fastidiously despite the gloves, but at least he could remove the smell as much as possible for John's sake.
He lingered in the bedroom a few minutes – John had closed the door after coming back into the flat – then steeled himself and opened the door, stepping out into the living room.
John wasn't in there, sitting neither on the couch nor in his armchair, but was in the dining room in his usual chair, elbows propped on the table, fingers interlaced. He was staring at his hands.
No, Sherlock realized. He was staring at his wedding band.
Sherlock felt his mouth go dry.
Oh, stupid, stupid, he told himself. He should never have started again.
He should never have got caught.
"John, I –"
"Why?" John asked, cutting him off. He was immobile for a moment, then turned his head ever so slightly so he could just see Sherlock, who kept himself in the living room, standing next to his own chair, not wanting to risk further displeasure by getting too close. "Why?"
Sherlock opened his mouth but lost the reply – why? He'd asked himself that and tried to avoid the answer because he hated it, hated the reason, hated the reality. He hadn't even really considered doing it, not until about four weeks ago when one of those crushing dreams had left him feeling out of sorts and edgy all day and some random stranger – a young woman in her twenties outside a café – had caught him staring at her as she smoked and had offered him one.
He'd accepted it without intending to and had taken her offer of a light.
It had made him feel somehow better the night his mother had died and the sensation had rushed back, that inhalation of nicotine and relief.
Then he had taken out some cash to buy a pack, telling himself he'd only smoke one or two, and had found himself a spot on the roof of their flat and had gone through the pack in three days.
Then he'd bought another and gone through it just as quickly.
It was less than he'd smoked when he'd been a smoker – when he'd been a smoker before, no sense lying to himself about it now – but more than he had in the entire time he'd known John. Up until Sibyl had died, he'd not smoked a single cigarette since shortly before he'd met the doctor.
"I –" he started to answer.
"Not why are you doing it," John said, not meeting Sherlock's eyes, his gaze falling somewhat to the right, on the coffee table or the floor just below it. "I can figure that out, Sherlock. I may not be you, but I'm not stupid."
He paused and raised his eyes now and Sherlock fought against taking a step back at the hurt in them.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked softly.
Sherlock stayed frozen.
John waited a moment then sighed, shifting in his chair, rubbing his left hand over his face, his wedding ring gleaming once as it caught the light when he moved. Sherlock stared at it, wanting to sit down but also not wanting to move.
"I thought –" John began, shutting his eyes for a moment then reopening them. "Sherlock, I thought you were doing better. I know it's been a hard few months, but –"
Eleven weeks, it's been eleven weeks, Sherlock thought. To the day.
"You play your new violin," John said, his voice still soft, almost distant. He gestured vaguely to it with his left hand. "You're yourself again on cases. You – yes, you seem sad sometimes still, of course, but – but you never said anything to me. How bad is it? Is it this bad that you needed to start smoking again?"
Sherlock wanted to reply, wanted to explain, but how? How to tell John that he was doing it because it hurt, that he hadn't wanted to tell John for the same reason? That it was easier not to voice it, to sit and let the smell and taste of the cigarettes he shouldn't have been smoking take away the memories? That he felt better when John didn't know because it made Sherlock feel as though things were normal again between them, something he could rely on, something he was used to?
"You'd have stopped me," Sherlock heard himself saying then winced. It was a stupid thing to say.
A deeper flash of hurt crossed John's features.
"Yes. Because you were doing so well. I know how hard it was for you, but you worked hard at it. And I'm a doctor. I know all of the health problems associated with smoking. I don't want you to have any of them."
I don't want you to be hurt, I don't want to lose you. Sherlock heard the unspoken words, saw them reflected in John's eyes.
John closed his eyes again for a moment.
"You didn't tell me, Sherlock. Why?"
Sherlock found himself at a loss for words again and John was looking at him with an even brown-eyed gaze but there was still hurt there, and so much disappointment.
"I know it's hard," John said quietly. "I know you miss her. I know sometimes it feels like too much. I've been there. I was there with Harry. But you got me through."
He paused and Sherlock tried to will him not to say anything more.
"Am I not enough."
It wasn't even entirely a question.
"No, John, don't," Sherlock said, finding his voice in a rush. "Don't –"
"You couldn't tell me," John said. "You needed to do this to deal with it, but you couldn't tell me."
Sherlock shook his head, squeezing his eyes closed for a moment.
"It was easier," he managed.
"Easier than saying 'John, I need you'?"
Sherlock snapped his eyes back open.
"But it was," John said and it was not anger in his voice, but a crushing disappointment. That was worse. Sherlock wanted John to shout, to rant, to curse and yell, but the quiet, let down tone was like a blow with every single word.
John watched him silently for a moment, then stood, his movements slow as if he were stiff.
"I need to go out for awhile," he said.
"No!" Sherlock exclaimed, feeling a sharp and sudden panic. "No, John, don't. Don't leave me."
John held his gaze.
"I'm not leaving you, Sherlock. I'm going out for a bit. I'm going to Tricia's, so you can ring her if there's a real emergency, but I need some space for a little awhile. I'll be back tonight or tomorrow morning at the very latest."
"God no," Sherlock whispered. "John, I'm so sorry."
"I know you are. And I know you're sorry you were caught, too."
"I – no, stop, please, John. I love you."
"I love you, too, Sherlock. I'm not walking out on you. I'm just going out for a bit. I need – I just need some space."
He wasn't asking Sherlock's opinion or permission, not checking to see if this was all right. Just stating what he was doing.
That was even more gut wrenching and Sherlock's hands twitched, reaching instinctively for him before he could shut down the action. But John had seen it and stepped toward him, close enough so that Sherlock could feel his body heat. The doctor took his hands for a brief moment and Sherlock felt a flash of relief that made him feel weak.
"Just stay," he said.
"I'll come back," John replied.
Sherlock closed his eyes, fighting against shaking his head.
"All right," he made himself say. He'd brought this on himself and he knew John needed some time. Time to be more disappointed? He ached again for shouting and cursing, hot anger that had to burn off more quickly because it was brighter and more intense.
How long would this last?
How stupid had he been?
John kissed him lightly on the lips and had pulled away almost before Sherlock was aware of it.
"I'll see you soon," he said and walked to the door – still in his work clothes, Sherlock noted. He put on his shoes, gathered his keys, wallet and phone and left without another word, the locks clicking shut behind him, their quiet sound too loud in the silent flat.
Sherlock stared at the door for a moment, then sank into his chair, putting his head into his hands. He stayed that way for twenty minutes, arguing with himself, fighting, tightening his fingers in his hair to offset the craving, to try and reassert some will power.
In the end he lost and went back to the roof and smoked the remainder of the nearly full pack back-to-back.