Note – I would recommend listening to the Vaccines song of the same name alongside reading this, as it's my personal reunion song and inspired this fic. Also, the piece that Sherlock plays on his violin is real and really quite beautiful.
The flat was almost exactly as he'd remembered it. The bullet holes were still in the wall, a ring of coffee on the desk next to the laptop. Granted, some of the test tubes and beakers, Bunsen burners and bottles of multicoloured acids had been stashed away in boxes in the hallway – he supposed it was one of those 'too difficult to keep or throw away' things that people liked to talk about – but the rest was all the same. It smelt like home. It felt like home.
The mantelpiece was almost completely clean, except for a small ring of thick dust around the skull where it hadn't been dusted properly, so John must have left for a month and then come back for the remaining nine. Judging from the scratch marks on the floor he was using his cane again (really, John?) The stash of cigarettes had been taken from the shoe, though, more's the pity. His place on the sofa hadn't been disturbed since he'd been away: the cushions were exactly moulded to his shape when he sat down.
He put his feet up on the sofa and steepled his fingers underneath his chin. Here is the church, and here is the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people; he might have forgotten round and round the garden but he still remembered that one from nursery. At three, he had thought it odd that a hypothetical church would have so many people in it when there was nobody left to believe in God.
He'd been anticipating this meeting for a long time – almost before The Fall. He knew how it would play out, too; he'd had so much time just to sit and think it through. John would come in. He would stand up, say hello. John would punch him, obviously. John was a soldier: the physical violence was inevitable. He would apologise profusely; explain why he had to do what he did. John would be stunned by his uncharacteristically selfless behaviour. There would be an embrace, of a kind. It was only fair he let John indulge in some contact, after a year apart. He'd rehearsed this scene almost every day in his mind until it was engrained there. He had memorised every line on John's face before it had even happened.
All he had to do now was wait.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked on and on to the hour, quarter past, half past, quarter to, the hour itself again. The thought that he might have made a mistake occasionally flashed through his mind but he swiped it away like an irritating insect. No: judging by the state of the flat John never went out of an evening; why would tonight be any different?
He got up and looked around for his Stradivarius, and was delighted to find it exactly where he'd left it under the window. The sky outside was dark now – five to six. He picked up the violin and plucked at the strings, tuning it with a loving hand usually saved for tending to corpses. He smoothed the bow down with a lump of yellow resin, and tightened the hairs. Then he tried to play a section of the violin part to Vladimir Martynov's Beatitudes, but found that the notes just slipped away; wouldn't hold onto the strings. It had been too long. He sighed, and placed the violin back against the wall.
Then came the sound of the front door slamming downstairs. Quickly he leapt back onto the sofa and resumed his previous position, with his fingers pointed like a gun towards his chin and his breathing calm and steady.
The footsteps came unknowingly up the stairs, shuffling a little with a waltzing tap as the cane was dragged along beside like a reluctant shadow. The door to the flat shivered as it was unlocked, and then it opened, and John Watson came into the room.
He stopped short.
Their eyes met.
"Hello, John," said Sherlock.
John said nothing for a moment. He frowned, his mouth twitching in disbelief, and he tilted his head like a startled rabbit. Then he shut the door behind him.
"Er…hi," he said. "Hello. You're…"
"Alive, yes. That much is obvious, John," Sherlock replied, putting his head back down on the pillow. From the corner of his eye he could see a ripple of tension in his friends' knuckles, a flicker in the muscles of his jaw, a slightly quickening of the breath as John's Cortisol hormones began to push the weight of stress down on his mind, and he knew it was coming. He waited for it.
It did not come.
John was still standing in the doorway. "You're…alive."
"You're not dead. How…how are you not dead?"
"Well, you tell me; you're the doctor. I'm breathing, my heart is still working, my brain is more than fully active. Take your pick." Come on, where was it?
"But…you fell, I saw you fall."
"It's just mechanics, John, unimportant."
John's lips pressed firmly together until they were nearly drained of blood. Sherlock knew it was coming then, it had to be. This was all wrong. It had to come soon.
But his flatmate merely tottered over to his armchair and sat heavily down.
"You're alive," he said emotionlessly.
"Yes, John, we've established that." He was getting irritated; he could hear it in his voice. But why wasn't it happening? Why hadn't John hit him yet?
"Right. Good," said John, holding onto his cane for all it was worth. He sighed, as if braving himself for the front line. "Cuppa tea?"
"No, I don't want a cup of tea, John!" Sherlock cried, sweeping his legs over the sofa and sitting himself upright. "This isn't right, this isn't working."
John frowned. "What isn't working?"
"You're supposed to hit me!" Sherlock growled.
John's frown was etched into his face. "I'm supposed to hit you?" he repeated.
"You want me to hit you?"
John shook his head slowly. "I don't want to hit you."
"Yes you do, John! I can see you twitching, just get on with it."
John laughed mirthlessly. "I'm not going to hit you, Sherlock."
"Why not? You're dying to." Sherlock leant forward, and pointed to his jawbone. "Go on, right there."
"I don't want to hit you."
"Yes you do. Don't you remember, just before we met the Woman, you said 'All I ever hear when you talk is hit me'? Well, now's your chance. Do it, John."
"Yes, hit me."
"No, Sherlock!" John suddenly roared. He slammed a hand down on the arm of the chair, and Sherlock involuntarily moved backwards. "I'm not going to hit you, so just shut up, alright?"
"But you want to," Sherlock said quietly, his face colouring with puzzlement.
"Yes I want to. I want to bloody throttle you, alright? Christ…it's been a year, Sherlock; it's been one sodding year." John leant forward and put his head in his hands. He ran them over the lines in his face and breathed sharply. "I'm not going to hit you just because it fits in with your plan. Do you think that letting me punch you is some sort of…payback? For one year? I won't forgive you just like that, Sherlock, I can't."
John's hands were shaking.
Sherlock knotted his fingers together. "You're angry with me."
"Oh, well done, Sherlock. Another brilliant deduction. Give the boy a cigar."
"I had to, John. They had rifles on you, and Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade. They said if I didn't jump they'd shoot you."
John pressed his lips together, and shook his head. "You think I'm an idiot."
"What? No I don't."
"I guessed all that. There had to be…some reason. You can call yourself a fraud all you like; I've lived with you and I know your ego's much too big for suicide, no matter what you say. So there had to be a reason you'd jump. I worked it out, Sherlock. But that was a year ago, and I still thought you were dead. I thought you'd died for me, and the others, and you didn't call, didn't leave a note under the doormat, nothing. You were dead. And now you're not. And I can't pardon it."
I can't pardon it.
And there it is.
A long time ago, Moriarty promised Sherlock Holmes that he would burn the heart out of him. For the first time since that day, he starts to feel those words ringing true. Because this, this must be what it's like when the muscle and the veins and the arteries just stop working, leaving you only to choke on excess oxygen.
"I'm sorry." By God, the words were strange.
"Yeah, me too."
Yes, he can see it now. The slight bags under John's eyes from another disturbed night, the bitten-down fingernails, the clothes that are clean but hardly military standard like they used to be.
"You…you were dead, Sherlock. I took your pulse."
"It was a trick. Just a magic trick."
"Well? Are you going to tell me how you did it?"
He shook his head, slowly. "It doesn't matter."
"Oh, go on. I'm sure you'd relish a chance to tell someone about how good your massive intellect is."
"It doesn't matter, John."
John sighed. "No. I suppose not."
This wasn't how it was meant to be all.
"I'm sorry, John."
"Can you stop saying that?" John snapped.
"No. I mean it."
"You can mean it as much as you like, it doesn't change the fact that for the last year I thought you'd died."
Sherlock frowned. "Why not?"
"Jesus, Sherlock!" John cried. "Sorry's what you say when you break the teapot, not when you come back from the dead!"
"But I didn't die."
"Yes you did. You died. You left me." John's body was racked with constrained fury.
"You seem to think that it was easy for me. I can assure you, it wasn't."
"Is that right, Sherlock?" John yelled. "Because you have no idea, no idea what it was like for me. All those times when I had to call the police to stop the journalists knocking on the door, when I had to go to your funeral, the therapy, you don't have a single clue what any of that was like! But then, I guess you just can't even begin to comprehend it, because I suppose sometimes it all gets a bit much for you, doesn't it, all this humanity?"
John got unsteadily to his feet, leaning on his cane for all he was worth, and made to go into the kitchen.
"John, I don't know what else to say. I am sorry."
The older man spun round again. "I mean, where did you even go when you were off gallivanting around, hm? On your travels?"
John sighed, all the fight drained from his face. "So you won't even tell me. Ok, that's fine."
"I didn't mean that, John!"
"I quite clearly don't matter, in your grand scheme of things."
"How can you say that when I did it to keep you safe?"
"I'm just your friend. No, better than that: I'm just your blogger."
Then there was a moment of noiselessness in which the two men just looked at each other, one looking down and one looking up, their separate silences colliding together and jarring the atmosphere. Sherlock looked down at his hands.
"You were never just my blogger, John. And you appear to greatly underestimate just how lost I was without you."
John cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. "Yes, well…"
"The thought of anything happening to you was intolerable. I missed you more than I knew how but I needed to go: you have to understand."
The words didn't fit properly and they scratched his tongue, but at that moment they were all he could muster. For a moment, John didn't say anything. Then he laughed a shaking, trembling laugh; almost indistinguishable from breath save for the small smile that twisted his lips inside out.
Sherlock frowned. "I'm sorry. Is that not good?"
John rubbed a hand over his mouth, and shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was fractured. "Not good? No. Not good at all. Not in the slightest."
Slowly, the detective unfurled himself from the sofa, pushing himself to his feet. Serotonin, oxytocin, norepinephrine. His head hurt. "John?"
"You're a bastard, you know that? An absolute bastard. Christ almighty…"
John had his head firmly pressed in the palm of one hand now. Tentatively, Sherlock reached over and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, letting it rest there when it wasn't shrugged away. Then he took a step forward and awkwardly placed his arms around John's chest, pulling him softly into am embrace. John folded into the hug as if sleepwalking, without any trace of struggle. Then, slowly, finally, his own arms shifted until his hands were pressed against Sherlock's spine.
"I can't quite believe it," he mumbled as Sherlock leant against him, indulging in the contact. "You were dead."
John smelt like home. He felt like home. Sherlock swallowed down the stuck breath that was clotting his throat. "Clearly our time apart has in no way influenced your lack of observational skills, John."
John chuckled against his shoulder. "How about that cup of tea, then?"
"I desire nothing greater."
"I'll put the kettle on then."
And yet, neither could quite bring himself to pull away.