Title: All Return Again
Rating: PG-13 (just to be on the safe side)
Word count: 7 800
Warnings: depression, mentions of suicidial thoughts, death and violence
Disclaimer: Not mine, really.
Summary: Post Reichenbach Fall: John tries to cope with living in a world without Sherlock.
Author's note: Events of S2E3 made me horribly depressed and I needed a way to get it off my chest. Hence, this fic. Title taken from R. W. Emerson poem by the same name. Beta by my dear friend Claire. Feedback is most welcome.
All Return Again
World without Sherlock is a different place. Colder. Alien. It feels like someone had taken all the things and turned them upside down when John wasn't looking. John is lost. How can a planet continue orbiting a star if the star got sucked into a black hole and disappeared? Sooner or later, it will get sucked in, too, since its centre of gravity is gone.
It wasn't so bad, at first. John didn't remember much from the first few hours. He could recall Sherlock falling for what had seemed like eternity and wishing desperately he could stop time and save him somehow. Even when he'd seen the crumpled, broken form on the pavement, he still didn't believe. That couldn't be Sherlock. Just couldn't.
Then the shock kicked in and he felt himself being led somewhere, a hospital room probably. He couldn't see, he couldn't feel. All he could focus on was Sherlock. Sherlock. He couldn't be dead. No.
He must have sat in that hospital chair for hours, maybe days. He didn't hear the people passing by, or the nurse that came several times to ask if he needed anything. Someone had put a blanket on him sometime during the night. He didn't notice. He just sat there, with Sherlock's blood still on his hands and found himself praying for the first time in years. He'd never prayed in Afghanistan, not even when he himself was close to dying. He didn't believe in God, but surely, if there was a God, he'd let Sherlock live. If he was able to save John, he could save Sherlock. Surely it wasn't that much to ask for?
The doctor came right before dawn. Sensing a change, John was able to leave his bubble of numbness to focus on him for a while. The message was absurd. Sherlock dead? How could he be dead? Couldn't the doctor tell he was just playing a game with them all? One more game to stop the boredom...
But the doctor kept insisting that Sherlock was dead and John started to get angry. How could they all be so stupid and fall for Sherlock's act? The stubborn detective would never let himself just die. He told the doctor that. He may have also started screaming at some point, but he can't remember why or what he'd said. Later Mycroft told him he had to be tranquilized. He couldn't remember any of it.
The next thing he knew, he was at home. He had no idea how he got there. The following days (weeks?) were a blur. He would get up after a night of staring blankly at the ceiling, make himself tea and sit in his armchair, staring at Sherlock's sofa, waiting. He waited for days. After the first week he gave up on trying to sleep (Sherlock's fall kept playing on a loop in his mind whenever he closed his eyes) and just sat on the sofa instead, sometimes with his gun by his side.
The gun had taken on a new meaning now, laden with possibilities. Sometimes he thought about them. He'd never been the type to entertain thoughts about suicide - at least not before the war - but now they crept upon him in the dark hours of the night when sleep was elusive and the perspective of living the rest of his life feeling like this unbearable. He didn't give in, but sometimes the idea started to look a little less unreasonable and it got harder to remember all the arguments for why he was not supposed to do it. Some distant part of his brain that wasn't paralysed by grief (and sounded a bit like Sherlock, when he let it speak) amused itself by observing its own mental decay. He wondered what Sherlock would have to say about that.
He would certainly have some choice words to say about John's attempts to talk to his grave. John visited it several times, sometimes spending hours sitting in the grass beside the headstone, telling it all the things he had never told Sherlock. He may have pleaded for him to come back a few times. He wasn't ashamed of it. Bargaining with the dead may be illogical, but then, when were humans ever rational? Was it so strange to hope for a miracle?
Mycroft came to visit him occasionally, probably to check if John was still alive. John refused to see him at first, but Mycroft had found a way to get in anyway. They didn't talk much. After all, what do you say to a man who had a hand in ruining his brother's life? Who didn't lift a finger to help him when he was at his worst?
So John made tea and they sat in silence in the flat which was still full of Sherlock's things (John hadn't moved a thing, not even the nails in the fridge even though they were well on their way to falling apart), with John ignoring Mycroft and Mycroft making an analysis of John's mental state from the position of his teacup and the fold of his newspaper. Or maybe the gun lying on the coffee table told him everything he needed to know. John didn't even try to put it away anymore. Why bother, if in the evening he would just take it out again anyway?
Two months after Sherlock died, John visited his old therapist. Or - more precisely - Mycroft arranged for him to visit the therapist. Not that it did him much good. She made him break down all over again, just when he was managing to almost start functioning again. When she told him he should move on with his life he walked out and never looked back.
Few weeks later, he tried returning to his work at the hospital. Not St. Barts, though. He doesn't think he can ever go near that place again. He found a job at St. Thomas' and got himself put on a mindless, menial job of cataloguing patient's cards so that he wouldn't have to think too much about anything. He lasted all of five days before he quit – a combination of the hospital environment and a sight of heavily bleeding traffic accident victim bringing all the memories of Sherlock's death back vividly.
After that, he just gave up. Why bother with any pretence of normalcy when everything was gone? If anyone had told him a few years ago that he will meet someone who will give his life a new definition, who will fill all the empty spaces in his heart, he would have laughed at them. Now, he sometimes wondered whether it would have been better if he'd never met Sherlock at all. What was the point of meeting someone like that, if you just lose them anyway?
He made a habit of walking around London a lot, to fill his days somehow. The flat sometimes became unbearably small, the walls closing around him until he couldn't breathe and needed to get out before he suffocated. He walked the streets blindly, barely paying attention to his surroundings. He almost got run over by a car several times, just because he wasn't paying attention. The cars always managed to stop in time though. John wondered if he should try crossing in front of a bus instead.
He started to hate the sight of taxis. And the tall glass City buildings. Chinese restaurants. Buckingham palace. Graffiti. Pools. Hospitals. They all reminded him of his time with Sherlock and he hated them for that.
In one of their earlier phone calls Harry advised him to move out of London for a while, for a change of scenery. Eventually John gave in and tried her advice, desperate for something to stop the memories. He took a train north, hoping to clear his head by spending some time in a quiet village somewhere away from Baker Street. He was back in London in less than a week, the peace and quiet of the countryside driving him crazy. Or maybe it was the sight of the forests, which reminded him of the time they had hunted after the Baskerville Hound.
Harry also told him that he should be able to cope with Sherlock's death, since he had managed to deal with living through a war, seen a lot of comrades die. What was the death of a single friend compared to the trauma of war? John didn't even try to start explaining it to her. She wouldn't understand. He stopped taking her calls.
War had been horrifying, yes. He'd seen a lot of people die, some of which he'd killed himself. War had left him bleeding and damaged, but still able to cope. Sherlock's presence had helped a lot with that. John still marvelled at the effortless way with which he'd cured his psychosomatic limp, the way he never let John get bored and start searching for the light at the other side of the gun barrel. Sherlock had kept him sane when the memories of the war made him feel like he was drowning. War had damaged him, but it didn't break him. Sherlock did.
Somehow he'd managed to become a vital part of John's life - an anchor, something to depend on and to draw strength from when things got bad. Now he was gone and John was left stumbling in the dark, sometimes literally. The limp had come back, almost as bad as before, shortly after Sherlock died. The pain in his leg was just another reminder of what he'd lost.
Finally, feeling like he would go insane with nothing to do after spending days on end locked in the flat, John decided to volunteer in a soup kitchen at Tottenham Court Road, helping serve food to the homeless and poor. He spent three days a week there, wondering which of those faces had belonged to Sherlock's homeless network. The work was easy and repetitive and John found it comforting, in a way. He felt like a sleepwalker - his body working like an automaton, doing all the actions but not really being aware of them. He only woke from his daze when he came back to his flat every evening to find it empty, as usual.
John's life took a new direction four months after Sherlock's death. Mycroft came on one of his now customary visits, but this time, he had a business-like air about him. He laid a folder in front of John, looking at him expectantly. When John made no move to pick it up, Mycroft went to stand at the window, turning his back on him. Several minutes passed before he spoke.
"I came to offer you a job. For the past few months we've been tracking down Moriarty's web of contacts and I thought that you could be able to contribute to our efforts."
John, who had startled at the sound of Moriarty's name after hearing it said aloud for the first time in months was now staring at him like he had just seen a ghost. Pleased with finally having John's full attention, Mycroft continued.
"So far, we've located some of Moriarty's allies and plan to dispose of them. Unfortunately, I cannot trust my men not to betray me for a better offer. I need a good shooter, a marksman, someone I can trust. How do you feel about being a sniper?"
John blinked slowly. "You want me to be your...hitman? Why?"
"Because you're the one man Moriarty couldn't buy. My brother trusted you. Also, it would give you the opportunity to have a hand in avenging Sherlock. What do you say, John?"
John took a deep breath, staring at the folder. "I will think about it."
Mycroft picked up his coat and made to leave, but stopped in the doorway, turning slightly in John's direction.
"One more thing - as you will find, the task is quite dangerous. You may not come back." With one last meaningful look at John, Mycroft started down the stairs, leaving him sitting there with a folder full of secret information and a world of new possibilities slowly opening before him.
John sat there, looking at the stack of papers in mild disbelief. Even without opening the file, he knew he will probably take the job. Mycroft had known it too, the devious bastard. He'd known John was slowly growing sick of the flat, of the feeling of helplessness coming from sitting for hours on end with nothing to do. His volunteer work only took up a few hours every week; he'd taken it just to have something to do besides sit in the flat and stare at the wall, feeling useless.
Maybe it was time to find a new occupation. Since he was finished as a doctor, never being able to walk into a hospital again without having a breakdown, there weren't many options he had left. Shooting people wouldn't normally be his first choice of career, but as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers. He was lucky Mycroft had been paying his rent all these months when he'd been unable to hold a job. If he'd been anyone else, he'd be homeless by now. Damn Mycroft for knowing what he needed before he even knew it himself.
Reading through the file was painful. Besides the profiles of people to kill it also included all the newspaper articles about Sherlock that had been printed. Looking at them made all the memories he'd been suppressing for so long break free until he found his mind swimming with a torrent of images. Sherlock's cases. The brilliance of that incredible mind. He hadn't believed for a second what Sherlock had told him on that roof. It had all been real. Must have been. Now he had proof of that, right in his hands. According to Mycroft's information, Moriarty had been thorough. Very thorough. He managed to break Sherlock's life apart bit by bit, making him lose everything, including his own life.
Now it seemed Mycroft was returning the favour, even though Moriarty was no longer around to appreciate it. He had started with restoring Sherlock's reputation by releasing a big feature article in the papers, setting things straight to the public. The True Story of Sherlock Holmes. John had missed the article, as it had come out not long after Sherlock's burial. He'd been ignoring the world at that point, no wonder he hadn't seen it. Now John read it eagerly, feeling some of the jagged pieces of his heart slot back into place. Mycroft may not have saved him, but he at least made sure Sherlock died an honourable man, his name unblemished.
Feeling a little better, John turned his attention to the rest of the file. He didn't recognize most of the faces, but he recognized the actions behind them. The snipers hired to shoot them at the pool. A killer hired to kidnap the two children and feed them mercury. A drug lord in charge of supplying Moriarty with all kinds of substances. Chinese Crime lord leading the British branch of the Black Lotus... The list was practically endless.
For the first time in months, John started to pay attention to his surroundings. The flat looked exactly the same as it had when they'd been arrested by Lestrade. Piles of paper everywhere, knife wedged into the mantelpiece, books strewn across the floor, violin perched on a chair, skull gazing towards the kitchen. There was dust all over, but nothing had been moved. The only new things were the gun lying in its now customary place on the table and a cup with a fresh batch of tea on a coffee table next to John. Other than that, it looked the same as ever – as if Sherlock will just walk in any moment and start demanding to borrow John's laptop. It was eerie.
The only reason why John hadn't starved was Mrs Hudson, who'd been bringing him groceries regularly. John realized he hadn't spoken to her properly in weeks. He hadn't spoken to anyone, in fact, except for Mycroft and the people at the soup kitchen. Sherlock would surely have something biting to say about that as well. Sherlock...after reading that article, remembering him hurt a little less.
John went to clean up his mug, but didn't touch anything else. He found his phone in his room, the battery empty. He hadn't used it for over a month. He plugged it into the charger, wondering at their similarity. He felt a little like the phone - lying around until someone (Sherlock, Mycroft) came and picked him up, making him useful again. He shook his head at his strange thoughts.
Instead of pondering further nonsense, he sent a message to Mycroft.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
The John Watson of old would never kill people in cold blood. He would also never spend months on end grieving for a friend. The old John was also incapable of sustaining any kind of a long-term relationship, baring those with his family (which were tenuous at best).
Sherlock had changed all that, by becoming his companion, worming his way into every corner of John's life, casting light on all the dark corners of John's soul where no-one had dared to look before. He had managed to gain John's absolute loyalty, something few have accomplished before. John would kill for him, die for him. Gladly. He had always expected he'd die for Sherlock one day. In the end, in a highly ironic twist of fate, it had been the self-professed man with no heart who had sacrificed himself for his friend, not the other way around. John would appreciate the irony, if he wasn't choking on it.
John thought about him now as he crouched behind a row of barrels in an old factory, waiting for one of his targets to come. With a rare flash of wry humour, John wondered about what Sherlock would say about his new way of coping with grief by shooting people in the head. Today his target was one of Moriarty's kidnappers, who specialised in children. John won't be sorry to see him dead.
The man came, not paying attention to his surroundings. He felt secure in his lair, in the place he'd thought nobody could find him. Mycroft did. John felt only a small twinge of remorse as he pulled the trigger and watched as the figure crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from the head wound. He didn't stay long enough to watch the man die, the growing puddle of blood reminding him unpleasantly of another pool of blood, another figure...He quickly packed his equipment and left, not looking back.
He'd never liked killing, but he had to admit, he was good at it. He'd been one of the best marksmen in his battalion. Mycroft had been strangely pleased, in that smug way of his, when John had told him he'll take the job. Every few days, John found an envelope with instructions in his post. Sometimes his special postman left a package with a specific type of gun, for the times when a simple handgun wasn't enough.
Most of his jobs went smoothly. Surprisingly smoothly - but then, it was Mycroft organizing this whole affair, so John shouldn't have been surprised. He'd almost mucked up his first kill when his leg had crumpled at the most inconvenient moment and he had to shoot while lying on the floor, almost missing because of it. He got better afterwards. His leg stopped hurting when he was on a hunt, as he'd suspected it would. The adrenaline surging through his veins was making him forget for a while and he could almost pretend it was like old times, chasing after a burglar or a jewel thief with Sherlock.
It made coming down from the adrenaline high so much harder, and it made him dread the moment when the spike of thrill passed and his leg started to hurt again as he arrived to the cold, empty flat to find that nothing had changed while he was gone. Sometimes, he felt like Sherlock was with him on these hunts, covering his back, their teamwork as flawless as ever. It was a nice illusion, one he didn't try to rationalize away, even though he knew it was just a projection of his troubled mind.
He'd had these hallucinations before, in the weeks after Sherlock died. He seemed to see Sherlock's face everywhere back then – a glimpse of his face from a window, a flap of that coat around a corner, a mop of curly hair in the crowd. They had all been fake, just like the feeling now was fake, but John held onto them, not caring if that made him crazy. He found them comforting, in a way.
John had expected to get caught, sooner or later, so when it finally came, it didn't surprise him at all. On the contrary - he was amazed that this vigilante business had lasted so long, since he wasn't even a trained killer and had been being fairly straightforward in his approach so far. Get there, wait for them, shoot them. John had been rather reckless in his methods and he knew it, the rational part of his brain shouting at him for being a careless idiot. John paid very little attention to that part of his mind nowadays. His thrill came from the danger and reason had very little to do with it.
Not paying attention was also what got him caught at last. He didn't cover his back and got discovered by a guard while waiting for a drug lord to come home to shoot him with a sniper rifle as he was exiting his car. The thug crept at him from behind, overpowering John easily with the advantage of being two feet taller and a hundred pounds heavier, and dragged him to the drug lord's residence to wait for his master's verdict. John wondered if it's normal to feel relieved while waiting for one's own execution. His mind worked in strange ways these days.
They waited for less than an hour before the boss came, having been informed of the intruder straight away. He had John taken to his dining room, which had stone floor, because he didn't want his Persian carpets stained with blood. His thugs had made a nice work of John already, giving him a black eye, bruising four ribs and making his bad shoulder ache as they threw him to lie on the floor.
He watched the boss approach him with a gun in his hand and felt strange peace come over him. So this will be the end. The thought didn't alarm him at all. The man looked at him with contempt in his face, taking in his scruffy clothes and three-day stubble.
"So this is the little rat that's been killing off Mr Moriarty's contacts. I expected someone...bigger." He chuckled at his own joke indulgently, his blue eyes remaining icily cold. "I will consider killing you a final favour to Mr Moriarty We couldn't kill you before, the orders were to leave you alone, but since you've decided to come here on your own will, surely nobody can blame me if I get rid of a trespasser?"
Two thugs pulled John to his knees and stepped back, leaving him kneeling at their boss' feet, arms bound behind his back. The drug lord started to raise his gun, a self-satisfied smirk wide on his face.
John was completely calm. In that moment, it felt like everything had fallen into place, like his whole life had been heading towards this moment. A gun aiming at his head, certain death seconds away. He opened his eyes and looked the man right in the eye, a smile on his face.
The man wavered a little, apparently unused to his victims smiling at him in their last moments. The lapse was only momentary and he gripped his gun more firmly, unflinchingly aiming at the centre on John's forehead.
A gunshot sounded.
The boss' face took on a slightly surprised expression as he crumpled to the floor. Two more rapid shots and the thugs were lying dead as well. Sherlock was standing in the doorway, a gun in his hand, breathing hard and looking at John like he was seeing him for the first time in his life.
In his strange state, John didn't find Sherlock's presence on the scene unusual at all. His last thoughts had been about Sherlock, so it wouldn't surprise him to meet the man in his afterlife, as well. But Sherlock continued to stand in the doorway with a peculiar expression on his face, there were three bodies lying on the floor and his shoulder was still hurting so it didn't seem like this was the Paradise, after all.
Feeling like he'd been doused with cold water, finally realizing the full reality of the situation, John turned his gaze to Sherlock, taking time to properly look this time. The man in the doorway certainly looked like Sherlock. He had the same height, the same face, the same thick, curly hair. He wasn't wearing his customary coat, having only a dark grey turtleneck and a pair of black slacks on. John started to wonder if he maybe was hallucinating after all.
Then the hallucination spoke and there was no way he'd ever mistake that voice. He'd been hearing it in his dreams for months, haunting him.
The illusion shattered. John took a shaky breath.
"Sherlock?" The name was almost a whisper, as if saying it will somehow undo the whole reality. Since the man didn't disappear, John continued. "How? Why? I don't understand. You were...dead. I saw you."
His face was twisted in the hopelessly confused expression of someone whose entire world had just been turned on its head.
His voice seemed to have broken the strange stillness that had settled over them. Sherlock (was it really Sherlock?) took three long steps to kneel before him, long hands reaching out to settle on John's shoulders.
"John? Are you alright? Have they hurt you?" His eyes were flicking over John's form, cataloguing all the bruises and hidden injuries they could find.
John was still staring at his face.
"Is it really you? You're alive? But how-?"
Sherlock stopped his scrutiny, apparently satisfied with his findings. He reached behind John to untie the ropes on his hands, his speech taking on the familiar matter of fact tone John had heard a hundred times before.
"Yes, it's me, but I have no time to explain now. We need to leave before they find us. Come." He grabbed John by the arm and started dragging him outside, his eyes scanning every inch of space on the way, looking for hidden attackers. He managed to get them out unobserved and didn't speak the whole way until they were safely hidden in an alley half a mile from the house.
Their escape gave John a little time to gather his thoughts and think about what was happening to him. It also gave him enough time to start getting angry, since it seemed Sherlock's death had been a fluke and he wasn't informed. As soon as they were far enough from the house, he stopped them and turned to Sherlock, his hands shaking.
"You better start explaining. Now. What the hell are you doing here? The last time I saw you, you were dead. What have you done?"
He hadn't meant to sound so angry, but it felt like someone had let loose a dam on a river and now all the pain and frustration of the past months was pouring out. He couldn't stop them. He found himself shouting without even meaning to.
"Where the bloody hell have you been? The last time I saw you, you were lying on the pavement, dying. The doctor told me you were dead. I attended your burial. For God's sake, I even visited your grave. Where have you been? What have you been playing at? Do you have any idea at all what those past few months have been like for me?"
His voice broke at the last sentence. He had to turn away for a moment and focus on his breathing so that he won't break down in front of Sherlock. It was enough that he had cried over his grave, he didn't need to do it in front the man himself.
A warm hand landed on his shoulder. John refused to look at him.
"Was it another one of your experiments? An observation of the effects of grief on an average human mind?" he asked between measured breaths, his head bowed.
John heard a sigh behind him and suddenly found himself spun around, his face buried in Sherlock's shoulder, those long arms wrapped around his back.
Sherlock was...hugging him? That was weird, Sherlock never hugged anyone. John wondered if this was an imposter after all. Imposter or not, he was warm and smelled like Sherlock, so John allowed himself the luxury of hugging back, enjoying the comfort of his first direct human contact after months of isolation.
He didn't know how long they stood there, holding on tightly, while John slowly calmed down. He soaked up the warmth and relished in being able to hear Sherlock's heartbeat, feel him breathe - so gloriously alive after seeing him bleeding out on the pavement, knowing he was gone.
"I couldn't find your pulse." John finally spoke, voice muffled by the fabric of Sherlock's jumper. He knew Sherlock would hear anyway. "I saw you fall and it took me ages to get to you. When I got there, you weren't breathing, I couldn't find any pulse. How could you have survived that? You were dead."
"Mycroft saved me. I was going to die, but Mycroft planned a switch and saved me at the last second. What you saw lying down there wasn't me."
John took a deep breath and pulled back a little, just enough so he could see Sherlock's face.
"Why did you jump?"
It was Sherlock's turn to pull away. John let his hands fall and watched as Sherlock started to pace in the narrow alley.
"Moriarty. He had it all planned out, every step on the way. He planned to destroy my whole life, from my reputation to my sanity. When we met on the roof, he gave me a choice. I chose."
"What? I don't understand? What did he do?"
Sherlock ran a hand through his hair in agitation. Talking about emotions wasn't his strong suit.
"Remember when I told you during the bombing case that caring about people won't help save them?" John nodded mutely. "I've learned better since then."
John swallowed heavily, his head spinning. Was Sherlock implying...? His face probably spoke volumes, since Sherlock could read his question before he even said it.
"Yes. Exactly what you think. He gave me a choice. I chose the lesser evil. That Mycroft intervened was a lucky coincidence."
John's head was starting to hurt. All these months, Sherlock had been alive. He'd been alive all this time and...
"Why did you never contact me? Why did you let me believe you were dead? You could have told me, I wouldn't have told anybody."
"I know." Sherlock raised his hand to silence him when John opened his mouth to protest. "I know you wouldn't. But you were being watched and I couldn't risk anything. Those first weeks were crucial for destroying Moriarty's web and I couldn't risk anyone finding out I wasn't dead. If they found out you knew..." His voice trailed off, unable to finish the thought.
John stared at him, the full implications of Sherlock's action resonating in his mind. He didn't know what to say. What do you say to a man who was willing to commit suicide just to save your life?
He tried to make his voice work, but his throat was suspiciously tight. He cleared his throat a few times, searching for a safer topic.
"Why have you come back now? After all this time..."
Sherlock looked at him like it should be obvious.
"They were going to kill you, John."
And it was.
They stood in silence, just looking at each other, the space between them full of unspoken words. John had a million questions that he wanted to ask, but decided they could wait until they get home. Home...
"Are you coming home?" he asked, hating himself a little for sounding so timid.
Sherlock paused at the word.
"Home? That will be...nice. I deem it's finally safe for me to return, so I can come home." He looked at John, suddenly looking slightly unsure. "Do I still have a home?"
It was John's turn to reach for his arm, squeezing lightly. "Of course you have a home. All your things are still there. Are you coming?"
They took a cab. The last time John had ridden a cab had been on his way to the hospital. He tried to not stare at the car, getting in with some reluctance. If Sherlock noticed John was acting strange, he didn't comment on it.
They spent the ride home in silence. The journey felt surreal. Riding a cab together was an action they had done dozens of times, and yet... John spent the whole time looking at Sherlock, making sure he wasn't going to disappear. Sherlock was gazing out of the window, seemingly unbothered by John's staring.
Mycroft was waiting for them when they arrived at Baker Street. He took one look at them, face resigned.
"I see you have decided to come back, dear brother." His eyes flickered between them, taking in the way they stood close together, Sherlock shielding John subconsciously.
"I suppose that if you are determined to do this, there's nothing I can do about it. You have always been awfully stubborn." He picked up his umbrella and started to walk towards the car that had just stopped before the house. "I hope you have chosen well." He gave them one last look, before getting into the car. Before the door closed, they could hear him mutter. "Maybe it's for the best."
Sherlock didn't say anything. John felt like he'd just missed some important part of a conversation. He decided not to dwell on it, opting instead to go unlock the front door. He opened the door and paused, turning in the doorway to look at Sherlock. The man was still standing in the same place, looking at the house. John knew that look. He'd seen it on his fellow soldiers when they'd returned back to England from war. It was the look that said you've been away for so long you became unsure if you're ever coming back, and now that you were back, you had to confirm that it wasn't a dream.
John gave him a moment to himself, to enjoy the moment. A little later he cleared his throat softly and beckoned to Sherlock.
"Are you coming in?"
Sherlock roused himself from his thoughts and walked to the house, stepping inside without hesitation. John smiled at him as he crossed the threshold, closing the door behind him. He took the care to hang his jacket, leading the way upstairs.
Suddenly, he thought about how much Sherlock will be able to deduce just from the state of their flat. The kitchen had been cleared out a little, with Mrs Hudson putting some of Sherlock's equipment into boxes before John stopped her, but the living room was untouched and it spoke volumes, even to an untrained eye. Well, it was too late to worry about that anyway. John climbed the stairs and entered the living room, switched the light on and went to stand by the window.
He heard Sherlock stop in the doorway, taking in the state of the room. John didn't turn around, preferring not too look at Sherlock when the man arrived to all the right conclusions. He could almost feel the man's gaze sweep across the room, taking in the layer of dust, piles of books, everything looking exactly as it did when he'd left. There was a blanket on the sofa - the only thing of Sherlock's John had taken from his room in the vain hope that maybe sleeping under his blanket will make the man himself miraculously appear when he wakes up. John didn't know what he'd been thinking.
Now his life was lying open to Sherlock's scrutiny, allowing him to find out everything about John's mental state in the past six months. He'd expected Sherlock to start a long string of deduction, but the man was uncharacteristically silent. When the silence continued for more than a minute, John finally moved to face Sherlock only to find him staring at the gun on the table, a strange expression on his face. He slowly raised his eyes to meet John's and John could see that Sherlock had understood everything. For all of his trouble with understanding human emotion, this was a thing even he couldn't miss. And he didn't.
"John..." Sherlock seemed at a loss for words.
John didn't say anything, letting him draw his own conclusions. Sherlock's face was twisted in misery.
"Have I...done this to you? Have I driven you to this?"
John would like to lie, to pretend he hadn't been that desperate, but there was no point in lying anymore. Sherlock had seen through everything. He tried to fall back on his usual tactic – avoidance.
"You know what? I won't be needing it anymore so I'll just-"
He'd reached for the gun to put it away, but Sherlock snatched his wrist before he could reach it, pulling his hand away from the weapon. John stared at him in shock. There was an urgency in Sherlock's eyes, something wild that had appeared as soon as John approached the table. He let himself be dragged across the room, to a safe distance away from the table.
He tried reason. "Sherlock, I wasn't going to..."
Sherlock looked shaken and tried to desperately cover it up. "I know. I just...Don't touch it, John. Just don't."
He let go of John's wrist and turned away, going into the kitchen under the pretext of checking on his equipment. John leaned on the wall and watched him dig through the boxes, pointedly not looking at John. Something was wrong, but John had no idea what it was.
"What happened, Sherlock? What happened on the roof?" He took a wild guess at the source of the issue and seemed to have succeeded, since his words made Sherlock pause in his activity and straighten up with his back to John. It was John's turn to cross the space between them and lay a hand on his shoulder, a gesture that he hoped would express his support.
"Moriarty." Sherlock took a deep breath. "Moriarty killed himself before my eyes. He was shaking my hand with one of his and reached into his pocket with the other, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head...And now I come here and find out you've been contemplating doing the exact same thing. Excuse me for being a little...distraught."
Well, shit. John hadn't expected that. He knew that something horrible had happened with Moriarty before Sherlock jumped from the roof and he could remember the file on Moriarty mentioning that the man had shot himself. John just never connected himself with that in his head. Sherlock apparently had. No wonder he was so upset. John wowed to hide the gun as soon as he could.
They stood in silence, John with his hand on Sherlock's shoulder, until he started to feel rather awkward and removed it, intending to go and make some tea. Tea was good. Tea would make everything better, make the whole situation less surreal. He barely took two steps, however, before Sherlock's voice stopped him in his tracks.
"John. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what you had to...experience."
John sighed. He turned back to Sherlock, looking him straight in the eye.
"I'd like to say everything's ok, but it's not. You can't just erase six months with a "sorry". You can't. It will take a while before I forgive you for putting me through this." He went to fill the water kettle, busying himself with preparing tea. Neither one of them was comfortable with these types of conversations.
"I understand." Sherlock's voice was soft as he said this and for once it seemed he really did understand what John was trying to tell him. "Is there anything I can do...?"
John paused with his hand on the cupboard door, pointedly not looking at Sherlock.
"Just...stay. Don't leave again. That's enough for me."
Sherlock didn't say anything to that, opting instead to sit down on one of the kitchen chairs and contented himself with watching John pour hot water in the china cups and carry the tea tray back to the living room.
It was already dark outside, the streetlamps alight, blocking the view of the stars. John sat down in his armchair, teacup in hand and pondered the strangeness of the situation. Just yesterday, he'd sat here feeling like someone had sucked out all the colours from the world around him, leaving it bleak and monochromatic. Now, watching Sherlock rummage around the room, looking for one thing or the other, he thought he could feel the colours start to creep slowly back. It would take a while before they return and they may not look quite the same as they did before, but somehow, it didn't matter. Nothing will be the same as before, even if life returned back to old tracks. They were both too changed, had been through too much to just snap back into the same roles they had before. But maybe, with time, they'll be able to build something new, something even better. For the first time in months, John found himself looking forward to the future.
He found himself smiling when Sherlock picked up the violin and started playing one of his made up tunes, the familiarity of the situation bringing back fond memories. He listened to Sherlock play for hours until he fell asleep on the sofa, his combined physical and mental exhaustion finally catching up to him. He was woken by Sherlock less than an hour later - apparently he'd been having one of his nightmares, judging by the distraught expression on Sherlock's face as he crouched next to the sofa.
John realized he was wrapped in Sherlock's blanket – Sherlock must have covered him when he'd fallen asleep. John stood up, heading for the bathroom. He stopped in the doorway to look back at Sherlock, suddenly reluctant to leave the room, his fear that Sherlock might disappear while he's away coming back, even though the rational part of his brain told him that he was being ridiculous.
Sherlock seemed to have picked up on his train of thoughts, because he sat down on the sofa, pointedly making himself comfortable.
"I'm here, John. I'm staying. I will be here when you come back, I promise. Please go wash up so that we can go to sleep."
Too grateful to feel stupid for being so transparent, John quickly went through his bathroom routine, rushing out of the shower after a minute and hastily threw some sleep clothes on, intending to go sit in the living room for a little longer.
He didn't get to the living room. Sherlock was waiting for him in the hallway, his sofa blanket bundled under his arm. Before John could open his mouth to ask what he was doing, Sherlock took his hand and started leading him to his bedroom. It felt so surreal John didn't even think about protesting. He let himself be lead into Sherlock's room and waited patiently by the side of the bed, watching Sherlock pull back covers, put his stolen blanket back in place and climb in. Only when Sherlock beckoned to him to get in as well did his brain start to work again. He stared at the bed in mild disbelief.
"You want me to do what?"
"Get in the bed, John. I require your presence for optimal sleep quality and I know you still haven't tended to your bruises from the fight. If you sleep on the sofa - don't bother to argue, we both know you would – you will be sore in the morning and you wouldn't be rested properly. This way we can both sleep well."
His tone had been very matter of fact, but there was something vulnerable in his eyes which told John that Sherlock wasn't doing this just for John's benefit. It seemed John wasn't the only one who needed to reassure himself that the other won't disappear suddenly.
"All right, I'll do this for your sake. But if you hog covers, I won't make you any tea tomorrow."
With a long-suffering sigh that didn't fool anyone, John got into the bed, sliding into the heavenly warmth under the covers. It has been ages since he'd last slept in a bed. He rolled on his side to face Sherlock to find the man watching him intently. He hesitated about the next course of action, but Sherlock solved the problem for him, simply taking him by the arm and pulling him closer, until John was lying snug against his side, Sherlock's arm wrapped around his back.
John gave up all pretence of reluctance and wormed even closer, wrapping his arms around Sherlock with a contented sigh. It was interesting, this new need to be close. They had never touched much before. Sherlock had never seemed like the type to cuddle and yet here he was, looking like he'd never been more comfortable in his life. Of course, he had never seemed like a person willing to put his friends first either... John wondered what else had changed between them during their time of separation. The idea that they'll have years to explore those possibilities filled him with a sense of wonder. Suddenly, he was glad to be alive.
There was still a hundred things they'll have to deal with – John's sniper job, his self destructive streak, Sherlock's return to the world, lack of milk in the fridge... But that could wait until the morning. For now, this was enough. John snuggled closer, falling asleep to the sound of the strong heartbeat under his ear. For the first time in months, he slept in peace.
All Return Again by Roland Waldo Emerson
It is a secret of the world that all things subsist and do not
die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.
Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals
and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the
window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise. Jesus is not
dead; he is very well alive; nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor
Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could
easily tell the names under which they go.