Comfort Object (Post-Reichenback Drabble)

It was always cold in Baker Street after he left. He stayed – of course he did, where else would he go on an army pension? – and Mycroft helped him pay the rent, and Mrs. Hudson was forgiving if his check sometimes bounced, but it just seemed so much colder with Sherlock gone. Some elemental essence had been lost that day, at the precipice of the watery vortex deep in central Switzerland, and its absence let the frost sink in, let the ice creep around the corners and kill off the warmth.

He refused to believe that Sherlock had died. John was certain that one day, out of the blue, his best friend and partner would come bounding back up the stairs to their flat with a resounding hulloa and some bullshit explanation of why he'd forsaken his army doctor for so long. And John would shout at him until he was hoarse and then sink gratefully into his arms while Sherlock whispered something comforting and stroked his hair. Maybe he'd cry. He hadn't thought that far into it yet.

But two years had passed now (two years, two months, and three days, John counted automatically) and it wasn't getting any warmer. People were beginning to worry: Sarah had begun asking him about quitting London for a bit, getting some fresh air. The private practice he'd opened up was flagging and he couldn't summon the energy to care. Even his sister – the self-absorbed cyclone of addiction that she was – noticed that he'd stopped calling and had called him of her own volition, a veritable miracle, to ask if he was going to keep sending her rent money.

Today was one of the harder days. The void left by Sherlock's apparent death hurt more than the bullet hole in his shoulder, more than the arthritis he felt brewing in his knees; it was a physical ache today, a phantom pain as if part of him had been torn away and the wound left to fester. Getting out of bed was a titanic effort and not even his warmest cardigan could exorcise that niggling, bestial cold that refused all banishing efforts. A scalding shower did little to heat him; piping-hot tea tinkled like a glacier down his throat.

He called in sick to work, saying he had a cold. It wasn't entirely untrue; something in his internal furnace was broken, irrevocably, and nothing could fix it. A doctor in need of a detective – he snorted.

A good brisk walk through London might help, he decided. Seeing normal people, going about their ordinary lives, with no bomb threats or Chinese mobs or ancient family curses coming to life in canine form; maybe it would help remind him that there was a world out there, a world that didn't revolve around Sherlock, that hadn't been destroyed when he left. Whether that world was a better place for lack of the detective, or a worse one, he wasn't sure. He suspected the latter.

But somehow the scenery seemed infused with the presence of his flatmate, as if everywhere he looked had gained a part of him, some imprint of his persona that lingered on long after he had disappeared. Trafalgar Square was rich with the ghost of him; John could practically hear the distinctive patter of his shoes, the swish of that regal coat as he whirled about, surveying what was – and always would be – his city, his fiefdom, the place he protected and detested with the same cold-eyed determination. London was Sherlock's, same as Sherlock was John's, and it ached even more terribly here, in the place that was so permeated. John shivered. It was no warmer there than it was in Baker Street.

On his way back to the Tube, John spied a flash of Sherlock like a beacon in the dark. It stood in the window of a second-hand shop; for a second he'd thought it was him standing there, his Sherlock, before realizing it was only a doppelganger, a body double – the coat.

Sherlock had left with his coat, and that was the last John remembered of him: that Irish wool coat flapping somberly in the wind as the detective strode away, like crow's wings, a curse upon any criminal that piqued his interest. And to John the coat had held an almost supernatural sway; it was Sherlock, his bear-shirt as he went into battle with his newest fascination, as he bore no weapon other than his intellect and no protection other than his charisma.

He knew that the coat wasn't the same. Even if it was another Belstaff coat (he'd looked them up – pricey things; Sherlock's had been a gift from Mycroft), it wasn't the coat, the one he'd gently unwound from Sherlock's sleeping frame when the detective would fall asleep where he stood, the one he'd grudgingly laundered while its owner read forensics journals, blissfully unaware. But still, it was enough. It would have to be enough, because he didn't have anything else. The skull and the microscope and the carefully pressed shirts did not hold that same comfort or familiarity: they were not welded to his memory, inseparable from Sherlock like the pins in John's scapula, holding him together.

The shopkeeper saw the look in his eyes; maybe she understood. She lied and said the coat was on clearance after John told her he couldn't possibly pay that much, and she handed it over to him with a questioning look. "Present?"

"Past."

That night, John spread the coat underneath the blankets, running his hands over the rough wool. A tear ran down his face, melting into the fabric, becoming one with the tweed. He stretched his hands into the arms and held it closer. It felt a little warmer for the first time since he'd left.