John goes about his days. Work. Sleep. Breathe. He hates that.

Meanwhile, Sherlock has never had more purpose. It occurs to him that he's never been so miserable, either.

At night, John takes tea in their quiet flat. He stares at empty chairs.

At night, Sherlock stares out of windowsills in hidden places. Always towards England.

John can't remember when telly became boring.

It's never been so hard to focus before, which is at odds with his logic as it should be rather simple. To focus, rather.

His cursor only ever blinks now.

Sherlock searches and sometimes fights. He gasps when knives pierce flesh, when hands clamp around throats in dark alleys, when leads vanish too quickly. It does hurt. But he'd have it no other way.

Sometimes, he forgets not to make that second cup.

On the quiet days, when it's just him and he has nothing else, not even facts, he thinks it's the silliest thing that his fingers keep trying to text John. He ends up smashing a lot of mobiles.

Time crawls by.

And time slips by.

He sees fewer patients.

In Vienna, he passes streets and buildings that Mozart once knew, and doesn't see them.

John hasn't bought groceries, nor done laundry, in two weeks. Mrs Hudson frets.

Budapest is cold. It snows, and in December he almost breaks. He reaches for a syringe and bites his lip instead.

Three duvets aren't enough anymore, and besides, Sherlock's has stopped smelling like him.

He's so close.

He's far too close.

Then, in Prague, a break, like oxygen, but never luck because there's no such thing, not really, and one is left. It's maddening, it's brilliant, it's frustrating, and dear God, the euphoria!

Mrs Hudson nags him about wool socks. They won't help. He's been cold for months.

It is February, and he smiles at their mistake, but his reward. There are no obstructions or twists this time, and that's not even dull. He hunts now with all he has, for all he's endured (and missed) with every scrap, every cell -

The skull stops talking back.

-engaged. Lungs burn, bones crack, screams echo, and adrenaline rushes until everything narrows to that one triumphant moment, that incandescent second he realises… he's won. It is over. He sags against a wall in another dark place, and breathes. A body lies at his feet, and it's fine. The death of this man means life for another.

John thought it was Tuesday today. It's actually Friday.

Sherlock moves quickly. His trousers are torn, his breath ragged, his shirt bloody; his few belongings will remain behind. A slip of paper, a ticket like countless others before, has never been so important. He'll frame it one day.

John sits on the floor tonight. No telly. Tea forgotten. He hasn't moved in hours, and his toes are blue (Sherlock would say 'cyanotic' and reach for a magnifying glass) but it doesn't hurt. Perhaps it should though.

Absence does make one fonder, and London, he marvels, is beautiful. The plane trees are beautiful. The orange haze that is the night sky, the one that blocks both moon and stars, is even beautiful. His heart, he has one, could burst. It could.

He simply waits. For nothing.

Why the creak in the third step still amazes him, he couldn't say.

Once, the little sounds of night, of settling buildings and squeaky nails, were significant. Like the man that used to cause them.

Doorknobs, Sherlock thinks, are miracles of invention, and-

There are pills in the cupboard.

-his breath, when it leaves, is a rush. Is a weight, gone. His friend, his constant, his living home - he would do it all again for this moment.

And John's eyes are liars, and his breath, when it leaves, is agony.

He inhales.

He gasps.

He trembles.

He shakes.

"John."

"No."

They stare.

John cries.

He dies again.

He swings.

He does not dodge the blow.

Then, his lips.

His teeth.

His hands.

He won't let go.

Neither do, or can.

Nor ever will.

Ever again.


A/N: So many thanks and crazy gratitude for the beta/alpha squad ofmundungus42, just_a_dram, and pyjamapants. ilu, ladeez.