Waiting Up

John stays at the flat until the funeral. There are just too many things he needs from here... papers... clothes. God, the clothes. They asked him to pick out the suit and he almost got sick going through Sherlock's closet.

Not that his friend would have minded. There have been enough occasions when the situation has been reversed, when it became painfully clear that privacy or personal space haven't meant all that much to Sherlock. At least not when it came to worldly possessions.

After steeling himself against the memories and the grief, John has picked one of Sherlock's almost identical suits (or a suit jacket and black slacks, really) and a purple shirt. No... aubergine. He remembered the five minute lecture about hues of purple he had eventually stopped listening to. The most important thing, not that it made much of a difference now, is that he has always liked the purple.

Some part of his brain notices that all the shirts are neatly stacked and pressed, something that clearly was not Sherlock's doing. Despite her constant reminders of not being their housekeeper, John suspects Mrs. Hudson. She does care for him (or them, now) in more ways than both of them would let on.

When he is not busying himself with the most trivial things, John finds himself sitting in the chair in front of fireplace. He knows they won't come but at any moment he expects Sherlock's hurried footsteps up the creaking stairs, expects him to practically explode into the room, firing off one of his infamous monologues. But non of that is happening now. Or ever again.

After the funeral, he can't go back. Of course, Sherlock is just as dead as he has been before the service but something has changed. For some reason, now that there is a black headstone to mournover, things feel more... final.

John has been to too many funerals in his day but he has attended those as a soldier. Being in the military, death was always looming somewhere nearby, not inevitable but to be expected, especially in battle.

This one, he has attended as a friend and it's not just a body they have buried.

He knows he is not the only one feeling this way but he is one of very few. Of four, to be accurate. Mrs. Hudson, of course, being so much more than a landlady to the both of them. Molly who was uncharacteristically calm; John had expected her to be sobbing given her well known feelings for Sherlock. And Lestrade who was, despite all quarrels, differences and doubts still a friend of sorts. Sherlock had once referred to him as the best of Scotland Yard and that, coming from the detective's mouth, meant something.

But despite that he knows that he is not the only one grieving, it's more real to John.

He has not just lost a flatmate but the only person he ever considered a friend. Back in service, he avoided making close friends for obvious reasons. Sure, he had trusted those guys with his life but that didn't make them friends. And then there were people he did call friends (Mike Stamford was one of them) but who he only trusted so far.

In Sherlock, he had found both.

So he leaves the flat behind, thinking it might help.

It doesn't.

The hotel room he has rented now is even cheaper than the last. Even more bleak, if that is at all possible. When he had come home from Afghanistan, it had been enough. A bed and four walls had been all he needed after sleeping in barracks and tents for months on end.

Now those four walls seem to be closing on him whenever he tries to settle down. And the bed feels so lumpy beneath him that, more often than not, he ends up sleeping on the floor. That is, when he can sleep at all.

So after a month of trying to convince himself that he can do this, he goes back to 221b.

He doesn't tell his therapist, knowing exactly what she'll say.

Her advice hadn't done him much good the first time around, it wouldn't be any different now. "Write a blog", she had told him and he had sat in front of the damned computer without typing a single word. Only after he had come across Sherlock, he had started typing. Nothing about his time in Afghanistan, of course, but that didn't matter. That chance meeting and all the subsequent adventures had shaken something loose inside him, had revived what he had believed to have died on the battlefield. It had brought him back to life.

So that's what he has to do now. In order to go on, he has to go back to where it all started.

#

John stands on the other side of Baker Street, looking over to the door. It's only a few yards away and yet so far. It's another world entirely. The key to said door feels like lead in his pocket and for a second he fears his limp might return, should he start walking any time soon. If only he could will himself to move.

He sees Mrs. Hudson down at the cafe, chatting with the owner. She must have forgiven him for not telling her about his wife. Or maybe it is her way to cope, to busy herself. They haven't talked much in the past few weeks and he feels guilty for not telling her he's coming back. It's too late now and he really couldn't bring himself to announce it beforehand.

This is something he has to do alone, on his own time and without the expecting eyes of others drilling into his back. He knows they all just care about him, and he appreciates that but they constant asking and worried looks aren't making things any easier.

He crosses the street and almost gets clipped by a London Cab. Those stupid cabs. Even though he shot the guy, he can't shake off the suspicion that crawls up his spine whenever he climbs into the back seat.

As he stands in front of the door, he thinks it could use a repainting; something he hasn't noticed before. If Sherlock was with him now, he could probably tell how many coats of paint the door has, if the painter was left or right handed and if his wife was having an affair with the mail man. But he is not here so he just thinks that black would be suitable.

John hasn't lived in 221b for too long but everything is so... almost too familiar. The click of the lock as he turns the key, the screech of the second door, the smell of the hallway.

He is glad that Mrs. Hudson is next door, otherwise she could come bustling out of her flat, asking him once more how he is doing. Fine, thank you.

He has to drag his feet upstairs almost like the first time he's been here only without the cane. It's just that for a second he wishes he had something to lean on now.

The fifth step gives its comforting creak and John can't help but smile. The floorboard is the next best thing to an alarm which is why they never had it fixed.

He stops in front of door and takes in a deep breath, suddenly not so sure if he can go in. Funny, he's been crawling through sand and dirt, has hauled himself into trenches and has explored the most dangerous terrains but this... this stupid, cluttered and always too cold flat... there is no kevlar or steel helmet in the world to protect him against this.

Carefully as if not to disturb someone who doesn't live here any more, he pushes the door open. It still looks the way he has left it. It's comforting and scary all the same.

He almost expects Sherlock to be sitting over his microscope in the kitchen, analyzing only God and he knew what. Or maybe he'd be lying on the couch, indulging in his newly arisen Three Patch Problem. (yeah, John did notice, being and army doctor and all). Or he'd be playing some tune on the violin, sometimes a well-known melody, sometimes an original Holmes.

But none of this is the case. Of course, it isn't.

John closes the door behind him and, as was his routine, starts getting a fire going. As he rises again, he takes a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the flat.

It's always been a mixture of two men and their cologne, of black tea, of wood fire and of chemicals (more often than not it's been formaldehyde).

It's the smell of home. Only that he is alone now.

#

It's been nine months now. No... eight months, three weeks and 5 days. He could also count the hours but that'd be tedious.

John is doing okay but nothing more. He is getting by. Through the motions, as they say.

It's not Sherlock's death itself that makes this so hard. He has seen people die, people he knew and had sworn to protect. Death doesn't affect him. Much.

It's the fear and the hope.

No, John doesn't believe in Moriarty's story. Yes, there has been a flicker of doubt along the line but he knows that it's not true. He knows how to read people. Not like Sherlock did but on a more... human level. On instinct. Going to war makes that necessary, knowing who is friend or foe. And he had Sherlock down in the 'friend'-column soon after they had met. Deprived of excitement as he had been, he didn't just venture off into a possibly dangerous situation for the cheap thrill but because he had trusted Sherlock. And he still does.

That's why he is afraid. Afraid that there might be no miracle. That Sherlock is, in fact, dead and won't surprised him after all.

But there is also hope. Hope that one day, there will be that tell-tale creak of the floorboard.

So until that day, he waits.

He stays up until late at night. It's not really by choice but because when he does manage to fall asleep, he dreams. He is back on the street in front of St. Bart's and it's worse than any post-war dream he ever had. So he busies himself with all sorts of things, reads, watches bad telly, and mostly, he just waits.

#

It's another night of waiting. Another night in which John sets up the kettle, boils the water, lets the tea seep. Sometimes and out of reflex, he sets out a second cup.

He goes to the fridge to make a sandwich to go along with the tea and almost expects a severed head or another random body part. Thinking about it, he shouldn't have been so surprised that he actually needed to remind Sherlock to eat. Who would eat from a fridge that held anatomical experiments and left over pot pie alike? Well, John does but then he can't live of 'data' alone for three days on end.

"You want something to...," he starts. It's one of those reflex things, too. The more time passes, the more it hurts when he catches himself talking to someone who is no longer there.

Today is even worse, though, because today he is not only communicating with the dead, he has also poured that pesky second cup and it just sits there on the tray, steaming and taunting.

Rage, white hot and brilliantly bright, surges up inside him and he grabs the tray and tosses it across the room where it crashes against one of the overhanging cabinets.

Tea drips everywhere and the cups shatter into a thousand pieces.

John braces himself against the kitchen table, drawing in a long and shaky breath. He suddenly feels very tired.

He remembers how he has told his therapist that nothing ever happened to him and right now, he wishes that was still true. That nothing had every happened, that he had never run into Mike that day, that he had told never him about this probable flat share.

And he can't help but wonder if any of this would have happened if he hadn't moved in with Sherlock. If he would still be alive...

John kneels down to pick up the pieces of the broken cups and one of the shards nicks his skin, blood welling up at the wound.

"Need me to take a look at it?"

There's a smile curling his lips. "I survived a war. I won't die in a household accident."

"Doesn't look like you need stitches. Where's the first aid kit?"

"In the bathroom. I'll get it."

Great, now he is not only talking to himself but he hears Sherlock's answers, too. He even sees him, leaning against the cupboard, brows furrowed in curious confusion.

He goes to the bathroom and bandages his hand. When he comes back into the kitchen, Sherlock is still there and John makes a mental note to see his therapist again. Because this is clearly what going insane must feel like.

"I'm tired," he tells the figment. "I'm going to bed." He turns to head for the stairs. He needs to sleep in his own bed for a change and not on the couch.

"John." The figment sounds suspiciously real. "I'm sorry."

John understands then and has to lean against the door frame for support. He lets out a groan as if he is being punched in the gut.

"God, you're real," he manages, feeling sick.

Sherlock chuckles. The bastard. "How did you figure that?"

John doesn't turn around. He can't. "Because you never said you're sorry before."

There is a long pause and for a moment, John is sure that he is, in fact, hallucinating and that Sherlock is gone when he turns around.

He is still there, all long limbs and lean. He has lost weight (clearly there is no one to remind him to eat) and his dark hair stands out in even sharper contrast to his pale skin.

"You picked an awfully convenient moment to show up," John comments and turns around. He leans his back against the doorjamb.

Sherlock raises an eyebrow. "In time to rescue you from a very undignified death?"

John holds up his bandaged hand. "When I'm incapacitated and can't punch you in the face like I've pictured all these months."

Sherlock nods, lowering his gaze for a moment. "Bad day, I presume?"

"Not worse than others."

Another nod. "I did mean it," Sherlock says then. "I am sorry."

John waves his healthy hand in a dismissive gesture. "I know you had your reasons." He draws in a breath, trying to keep his emotions from his voice and sound hundred percent military. "I guess you've taken down Moriarty's web." He breaths again. "And that Mycroft was in on it." This is getting harder than he thought it would.

Sherlock just stands there, watching him. It's like it has always been when he has let others do the deduction, waiting for them to miss something, and it's annoying. Of course, John could just ask for the whole story but he is too tired right now. And a part of him just doesn't care. Not anymore.

"That's not what I meant," Sherlock replies, slightly irritated.

"What then?" To his own surprise, John's voice sounds angrier than he had intended. "What else could you possibly be sorry for other than playing dead for nine months?"

Sherlock hesitates. And for good measure. In the span of that pause, John's anger dissipates and he feels exhausted again. "For making you a part of this. I had no right to drag you into all this." He pauses again and when he continues, he doesn't look at John for more than split-second. "You deserve better than this."

It's not funny but John puffs out a laugh. "You think I'd be better off without you? That sounds very unlike you. Maybe I am hallucinating after all."

The eyebrows creep even on Sherlock's forehead. "Am I incorrect?"

John shakes his head and he still feels that almost hysteric grin on his face. "No, you're right. Without you, my life would be less nerve-wrecking. Less dangerous." His mood sobers and he squares his shoulders, meeting Sherlock's gaze with all the bravery he can muster, still fearing he might just be talking to empty air. "But better?" He makes a pause and let's Sherlock squirm. "No."

They look at each other across the kitchen and finally, after all this time, John understands. He understands what Irene Adler had been talking about.

Standing here, looking at Sherlock, at those strangely colored eyes that sometimes remind him of London rain clouds and sometimes seem to have no color at all, he gets it.

He loves Sherlock Holmes.

He is not gay, no. But he does love him.

It's not platonic – because they have been through too much to just be friends.

It's not romantic – because, really, Sherlock and romance? No.

It's not sexual – because, look at the man... he's way too skinny.

It just... is.

"When is the last time you had a good night's sleep, John?" Sherlock asks in that disturbingly gentle tone.

John blinks slowly, shrugging with one shoulder. "Can't you tell by the shadows around me eyes?"

A smirk crooks Sherlock's mouth. "Nine month, give or take?"

Matching the expression, John nods. "Obviously."

"Make you a cup of tea?"

"God, yes."

As Sherlock starts to get a new kettle boiling and puts two new cups on the tray, John drags his feet into the sitting room and slumps down on the worn couch.

Even if he would try, he couldn't keep himself upright any longer. He sinks to one side, then shifts into a more comfortable position.

Before the kettle whistles, John has fallen asleep.

Tonight, he lets Sherlock wait up for him for a change. He can still punch him tomorrow.