Sherlock's chair still sat empty, the bow of his violin balancing on the arm, waiting for a hand that would never hold it again.
It was the bow John had been staring at for the past twenty minutes, remembering the way Sherlock had easily drew it across the strings of his violin, composing a new song or annoying Mycroft with something obnoxiously patriotic. He missed the music. Baker Street was silent without Sherlock. Life was silent without Sherlock.
He snatched his coat from the hook and marched out the door, needing to get away, to get out of the house he'd shared with him. On the street, the reminders didn't disappear; there was the cafe he'd sat at with Mycroft, discussing what to tell Sherlock about Irene Adler. The graffiti artist furtively spray-painted a masterpiece at the end of an alley. In a bakery, one of Lestrade's men, whom Sherlock constantly took the piss out of, was purchasing a croissant.
As he walked, the images wormed their way to the front of his brain. Sherlock, dead on the sidewalk in front of St. Bartholomew's, his blood staining the pavement. Sherlock standing on the roof of the hospital, his hand reaching out toward John, as if he could touch him. As if he wanted to. The memory was so poignant, and so cruel; the moment John realized he wanted his fingers to meet Sherlock's, the moment he had a revelation that the Sarahs and the Marys of the world would never be to him what Sherlock was to him, the moment he knew, without doubt, that he needed no one else in his life—Sherlock had stepped off the edge of the roof.
Hot tears sprung to John's eyes, and he blinked them away. It had been months since he'd made the last- and final- post on his blog, months since he'd stood over his best friend's grave and pleaded with him to not be dead. He shouldn't still be crying. You've seen men die on the battlefield— for Christ's sake, pull yourself together, John.
Wiping his eyes, he ducked into a coffee shop, not meeting the barista's eyes as he mumbled his order for a mocha. He dropped his money on the counter and stared blankly at the wall as the man made his drink.
Back outside, a square of paper tucked into the cardboard sleeve caught his eye. Immediately, he unfolded it.
Meet at 151 Tyler St., 8 pm. Let no one see you. Thank you for believing, John.
He stared at it for a full ten seconds. Sherlock's alive. He's alive? Is he—is this a trick? No, he decided, recognizing his friend's handwriting. There was no mistaking it. Immediately, he burst through the door of the coffee shop, fully aware that Sherlock would be angry with him for doing so, but he didn't care. A blonde girl in a ponytail greeted him.
"Hello, what can I get started for you?"
"I was just in here," he said breathlessly. "I was just—the man, the man who waited on me. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to ask—never mind. Is he here?"
She raised an eyebrow. "The only guy here is Jack…"
"Jack, then. It must be Jack."
"All right, let me go back and get him."
She disappeared through the swinging doors, and John's stomach twisted in anticipation. A few moments later, she came back—alone.
"Sorry. He must have knocked off early." She grinned at him. "D'you want to leave your phone number for him? I'm sure he'd give you a ring. I'll make sure to tell him it was the cute one at the end of his shift."
"I'm not—" John began, then shrugged. "Whatever. Maybe I am." He turned and left, breathless with his newfound knowledge—Sherlock is alive.
151 Tyler Street was a dodgy flat with the aroma of rich, sweet pipe smoke and the distinct décor of Sherlock Holmes—piles of newspapers, an empty kitchen, curtains made of rich brown velvet, and a human skull perched on a towering stack of books.
John picked up the skull, chuckling softly to himself.
"He's not nearly as good of a flatmate as you," came a warm voice.
John turned, and there in the doorway stood Sherlock, dressed in a thick robe, as if they'd never left 221B and he'd never jumped from a building.
"You bastard," John found himself saying, "you bastard, making me think—making us all think—god damn you!" Inwardly, he kicked himself. He'd promised himself on the taxi ride over that he wouldn't lose it, that he wouldn't get angry or teary-eyed, that he'd just ask him to come back to Baker Street and make things normal again.
"Shut up," he said, his voice breaking, and he couldn't stop the tears from flowing as he threw his arms around Sherlock.
"I said, shut up." He held tight to him; Sherlock put his own arms around his friend, and they stood there for a moment until John pulled away. "How could you do this to me—to us?"
"He shot himself on the roof before you jumped, Sherlock, there was no threat from him!"
"Except that, even in death, he held the trump card. Do you remember the assassins that moved to Baker Street?"
"In the event of Moriarty's death, they were under instructions. If I did not jump from the roof, their orders were to kill my friends."
John stared back at him.
"Don't you see, John? To save you—and Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson, and Molly—it was the only way."
The tears refused to stop. "You jumped off a building to save my life."
"And you're still hiding because—"
"Two of the four assassins are still alive. And if they know I'm alive, they'll go after you. I've been working alone, attempting to take them out. But I'm not as good with a gun as you are, John."
"How are you still alive?"
"I knew this was going to happen. I had help from Molly."
"What kind of bloody help? I was right there, you had no pulse, you were dead…"
"Later, John. Right now, we have to work. Give me your phone."
He wiped furiously at his eyes. "No."
"We have to—"
"No," he said, more forcefully. "Sherlock…"
Sherlock's clear eyes keenly searched his face, and John knew he was calculating, measuring, deducing. Shit, he probably had already figured it out. He'd probably known it even before John had.
"You have something to tell me. Out with it."
He squared his shoulders. "Sherlock, I—" He paused again.
With a roll of his eyes, Sherlock let out a heavy sigh. "You realized the day I jumped from the building that you loved me, and now you're not sure what to say to me now that I'm alive."
"…And you thought I'd really believe you were a fraud."
Sherlock smiled. "This wasn't really a difficult deduction."
John stared back at him, waiting for an answer; instead, Sherlock started digging through a stack of newspapers.
"Right," John said awkwardly. "Right. Well, then, I'll just—I'll just be—my phone, you needed?" He fumbled angrily in his pocket.
Sherlock, realizing his mistake, put a hand on his arm. "Don't. Why do you think I invited you here?"
"You needed a sniper."
"You're in danger, you know. Just by being here. I shouldn't have asked you to come. But I'm selfish and I brought you anyway. So, yes, you're right… I needed you."
He let his words—always chosen carefully—hang in the air. I needed you. His eyes were soft and spoke volumes, and John realized that Sherlock Holmes would never be heard saying anything as emotional as "I love you," and that this admission was the closest he'd ever get—and, he found, it was good enough.
Tentatively, he reached out; Sherlock, understanding, put his fingers to John's for a moment, giving them both a sort of closure.
Sherlock, too, had realized something that day on the roof. Moriarty's voice had echoed in his head: I will burn the heart out of you, followed by his own glib response: I've been reliably informed that I don't have one. But Moriarty had known better. He did have a heart and, looking out at John, he realized it. He reached for him, knowing he couldn't touch him, no matter how much he wanted to. It was unfair to realize this just before he had to vanish from his life forever.
But now they were together again, and their fingers, unable to meet that day at St. Bartholomew's, were clasped in each other's hands. John leaned forward, almost unaware that he was moving; Sherlock had always had that effect, like he was his own world with his own gravitational pull. He stood calmly as John pressed his lips to his, having never kissed another human being before, but feeling quite at home with the way John's lips felt against his own.
"Let's leave," John whispered against his lips, feeling reckless. "Let's just get out of England altogether. Let's go live in a cabin in Sweden or something. They won't find us."
"No. We have to stay here and finish this."
John closed his eyes. "I know. It's a nice fantasy, though." He bowed his head against Sherlock's. "Promise me something?"
John met his eyes. "Never leave me in the dark again."
Sherlock squeezed his hand. "Never."
John looked down at their interlaced fingers. "People will talk," he said with a nervous laugh. "When they know you're alive again, that is."
"I've always said," Sherlock maintained, watching him, "that I don't care." He smiled. "Now, let's get to work. Your phone, John."
Fingers steady, he reached into his pocket and handed it over to Sherlock.
Sherlock refused it. "Type this message and this message exactly: 'I have found Ernst in Hanover.' Send it to the number pinned to the board by my desk. Then, go out to the store around the corner; we need milk. And some nicotine patches. Now that you're here, I'll try to quit again…"