Author's Note: Yes, yes, final chapter. Thank you so much to all of you who have managed to hang with me through the slapping together of this story. My second attempt at Sherlock fiction wasn't quite so all-over-the-place. It was a post-Reichenbach oneshot I'd love some feedback on, if any of you lovely people are willing to oblige. Anyhow, please enjoy the last chapter here, as well as the awkwardness of our boys situation, hehe.
John walked back to Baker Street that day, full of conflicting emotions. Sherlock had not come, after all. Sherlock, it seemed, had been beaten. But … John couldn't quite make himself believe that. So had he even been trying? Without meaning to, his brain took him back to a conversation with Sherlock. Sitting in the lab, asking about Moriarty's latest bomb-wearing victim, and Sherlock – Sherlock had said: "Oh she doesn't matter, she's just a hostage. No leads there."
Oh. Oh, right. Had that been what Sherlock had said when John had gone missing? Had it all just been the game, after all, Sherlock and Moriarty's game, and John himself was just a pawn? Didn't seem fair – okay, so he wasn't quite on the same level as either Sherlock or Moriarty, but really, what would the world be like if everyone had an intellect – and an ego – that gigantic?
John shook his head sadly. He had thought it didn't matter. That Sherlock didn't mind. That Sherlock … loved him anyway?
John stood outside the flat, looking up towards the window. No frantic Sherlock pacing about; no sound of the meditative violin. What in God's name was he doing up there, then?
When John finally pushed open the door, Sherlock sat still for a long moment. Took in the sight of John. No injuries, as he'd expected. No reason to get silly, then. Let John have the first word.
But John just stared at the mess that was once his best friend. The cigarette butts, the sad music, the dishes and dishes of half-eaten food that Mrs. Hudson must have brought him over the weeks. Not to mention all of their belongings strewn about the floor – overturned chairs and emptied dressers.
"Sherlock…" John was waiting for the explanation, for the grand reveal.
"John." Sherlock was waiting for John to reach the boiling point. He needed John to get angry. Only then he could explain. Only then could they get to the part he needed the most.
John, however, seemed to be trying his hardest to keep a poker face. "You're still listening to this record," he said stupidly.
"And you have a cat," Sherlock countered sarcastically, "The world is full of little wonders, isn't it?"
Ah, yes, there it was. That would do it, surely…
But John did not get angry. Sherlock observed his free hand clench for a moment, as if he were heading in that direction, but then … no, John, where are you going? Why did John always surprise him with his absurd reactions? Why couldn't the man just act like a normal person would? Sherlock knew John was angry, had every right to be angry, so why had he just walked away? Sherlock needed John to demand an explanation so that he could … explain.
But John was in his bedroom now. Sherlock followed at a cautious distance.
"Go away, Sherlock."
"John, may I-"
John stood and slammed the door in Sherlock's face.
Sherlock knocked politely.
A second attempt, but a pointless one – only a fool attempts the same experiment twice, hoping for a different result …
"Well," Sherlock said softly to the wood of the door, "Well, I'll just go and tell Mrs. Hudson you're home, then. She'll be-"
Ah, but there it was! John came barreling out of the bedroom, both fists raised and a face so red it almost made Sherlock laugh aloud. "No!" he yelled, "Damn you," he cursed. "I've been gone a month – that's four weeks, Sherlock, that's thirty days. And you've been … lounging on the sofa, playing my records? For a month – did you even try to find me? Did you once get off that bloody sofa? Did you even care that I was gone?..."
Sherlock let the rant run its course. John called him lazy, and heartless, and insane. When finally it looked like he was losing steam, Sherlock sighed.
"Good," he said, "Very good. Now will you please come back to the living room so we can talk?"
John looked like he might start yelling again, but he swallowed the rage and did as he was asked.
When they were seated each in their respective chairs, Sherlock steepled his fingers beneath his chin and watched John for a long moment. Didn't matter that he knew what Moriarty had been playing at the first time he'd found John's diary. Didn't matter that he'd played along, the sooner to get John home. Didn't matter that he'd known no real harm would come to the good doctor. All that mattered was that John was home now – sitting inches away, and breathing, and making those funny little expressions only John knew how to make.
"I'm sorry, John," Sherlock said.
John pursed his lips. He was going to need a little more than that if he was going to forgive.
"You don't understand, do you?" Sherlock asked.
John looked angrily across the space between them, as if to say: If I understood, I wouldn't be so furious, would I?
"John," Sherlock began, trying to calm the doctor with frequent repetition of his name: "John, I knew exactly where you were. The whole time."
"Because that wasn't the game."
"The game, Sherlock?" John asked dangerously.
"Yes, John, the game," Sherlock answered, frustrated. "Moriarty didn't want me to come after you. If he did, he would have left me something to go on. He didn't. He only wanted me to know you were with him – that's why he left your diary in its hiding place."
John went a little pale for a moment. "You found my journal?"
"Of course," Sherlock waved it away.
"And so … that's what told you where I was? But I didn't even-"
"No no no," Sherlock said, "It told me you were with Moriarty. And I did look for you, John, for a few days. But if Moriarty had been using you – to get me to come and play, to get information out of me, anything – he would have contacted me. But there was nothing – the phone numbers from which he'd called couldn't be traced, and they weren't a code. Yet they were the only clue. So Moriarty wasn't trying to get me to come out at all, then, was he?"
John creased his eyebrows guiltily.
Sherlock chuckled. "Ah, so he also told you all about the game, did he?"
"He said… he said he was seeing how fast he could … ruin you."
Sherlock looked terribly sad for a moment. Then he nodded. "Indeed."
"And you knew?" John asked incredulously.
"It was the only explanation that fit all the facts," Sherlock said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Both parties sat in silence for a beat or two. Then John looked more sad than angry. Sherlock watched him curiously.
"So you were just playing along, then? This," he motioned towards the mess and the cigarettes, "is all just an act?"
Sherlock Holmes sat still for a moment, his face as unreadable as stone. "No," he admitted eventually, "the game was a bit more … complex than that."
"Complex? Sherlock, I don't follow."
"No," Sherlock muttered. "You wouldn't, would you?"
"Sherlock-" John began angrily.
"No no, I mean you really wouldn't. I was keeping something of a secret from you, John, for the few weeks before you were abducted."
"Secret?" John leaned forward in his chair.
"An experiment," Sherlock sighed, "I was conducting, rather without your knowledge, I'm afraid."
John caught the little notebook that Sherlock tossed him. He opened it and found the two columns of tally-marks Sherlock had been compiling. Love and Not Love.
"Moriarty must have found it." Sherlock mused. "After I realized he'd taken you, I looked for it. Couldn't find it, anywhere. Two days later it showed up, right here on the coffee table. With a bow."
John shook his head, "Sherlock … I still don't quite …"
"I gave him the inspiration for his latest little bit of fun."
"Sherlock, you're not making any sense. This," John held Sherlock's pocket notebook, "This doesn't mean anything. It's just rubbish."
Sherlock chuckled morbidly. "Perhaps."
John waited for the explanation, but Sherlock was oddly hesitant to oblige.
Finally: "You, John," Sherlock said, "I was experimenting on you. Don't you … understand?"
John stared at Sherlock's notebook for a few seconds more before he understood. When Sherlock recognized the look of sudden insight on the doctor's face he stood up abruptly and snatched back the humiliating little tome.
"Well," he said, tucking the notebook back into his coat. "See, now you know. So there. You're safe, of course, and no harm done."
John sat stupefied for a moment. Games indeed. What awful, intimate, sick games these bloody geniuses liked to play… So Moriarty had stumbled upon a rather personal secret, and used it to play mind games? That was the only point? No gratification other than the satisfaction of royally fucking with somebody? John put his head in his hands. A month of being a bloody hostage, all so Moriarty could feel as if he-
"Rather gave me the conclusion to my own experiment," Sherlock interrupted his thoughts.
John looked up to see his friend's back, standing straight as a rod, looking out the window down into the street. Oh! Of course it would take silly John Watson that long to get past the immediate why's and how's of the whole mess to see the real consequences of what it all meant.
"You needn't stay here any longer," Sherlock said sadly, as he turned around to face John, "if I've made you ... uncomfortable. But you should know, before you go, that I … it wasn't an act."
John watched Sherlock standing there, hands behind his back, grey eyes looking tired and sad, defeated after all.
"No, John, you're right. That was silly. Tell you that you may leave and then tell you I'm a mess without you. Mixed signals. I apologize."
"No, John, please don't worry. Of course I'll be fine. Lived on my own for years – certainly I can do it again. Just …" Sherlock paused a moment, but seemed to think better of it. "Well, anyway, I'll help you pack. Mrs. Hudson will understand."
John laughed and Sherlock's eyebrows creased in confusion and irritation.
"Let me get a bloody word out, will you?" John smiled fondly. "I'm not going anywhere, idiot."
John kept on smiling because for the first time ever, he seemed to be the one with the much-needed information. Sherlock was the one standing around, looking daft and confused, trying desperately to figure out what was going on. If John had been a vengeful sort of a person, he might have let the detective suffer a while longer. Thankfully…
"Will you come sit down, please?"
Sherlock approached John cautiously, his long legs taking a surprising amount of time to reach their destination. John stood.
"John … I don't seem to understand..."
John seemed both happy and sad all at once, and Sherlock was having a difficult time interpreting his body language.
"I missed you, Sherlock. I missed you very, very much."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. Certainly John was trying to tell him something, but it was bloody hard to concentrate with John standing so close, and moving closer. And then … something strange happened in the great detective's brain. Something he didn't think he had ever experienced before. It just … stopped working. The five senses he relied so heavily upon to pass vital information to his brain seemed to have suddenly slowed down. Because all he could hear was the creak of the floorboards as John approached, and all he could smell was John's shampoo-cinnamon-rain scent, and …
And then he was holding on tight to John's shoulders to halt his progress forward, to try and stop the overwhelming flood of stimuli. He held John at arm's length, watching his face carefully. But John moved too quickly, and the sensory overload of a moment ago was nothing compared to the incredible rushing way in which his brain seemed to dissolve completely when John kissed him.
It was almost clumsy, and it was certainly nothing like in the movies. Hardly a kiss at all, really, more of a touch. But John made sure to lead the shocked detective carefully to the sofa so that he might recover. Sat with him, watched him for any sign of a response. But Sherlock was silent and perfectly still, trying desperately to make that experience fit into what he had previously known to be his life. He couldn't, and it didn't. But Sherlock knew that John was watching him anxiously, and so he reached over and took John's hand. Cautiously, delicately, John let his fingers become entangled with his friends.
"I'm glad you're home, John," Sherlock managed eventually.
"Not going anywhere," John smiled.
"Good," Sherlock looked down at his own hand holding John's. "And John? I – I don't quite … Well, I don't know …"
"It's fine, Sherlock. It's all fine. We'll figure it out."
"Yes," Sherlock said, still rather dazed. But he turned his head to look at the doctor then, because even through the haze there was at least one point on which he was very clear. "I love you, John."
John gave Sherlock's hand a little squeeze – what a perfect thing to do at such a moment, Sherlock thought. And John said: "I know. And I love you."
And just as Sherlock was getting the hang of the hand-holding, just as he was beginning to understand that squeezing the doctor's hand at random intervals was a good way to show affection – that it made John smile – John brought their joined hands up to his mouth and kissed Sherlock's long fingers. And the comforting warmth of John's lips sent the detective's mind buzzing for the second time that evening, and Sherlock understood that he had very, very much to learn.
But that was all right. They had the rest of their lives, as well as a delightfully silly Billie Holiday record…
I say I'll care forever,
And I'll care forever,
If I have to hold up the sky.
The difficult I'll do right now,
The impossible might take a little while.