Hello again! By demand, here is another installment to my "Stimulus" series.
As you might be able to tell, much of my influence comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

Sometimes, it felt actually possible to get by. Sometimes I came to think that I had never even met Sherlock Holmes, for my life had become exactly what it was before our paths had crossed. My leg pained me furiously every morning. I got a new cane, and I lived in a flat as dingy as the one I'd moved into upon returning from Afghanistan. My practice was doing well, of course, for I was still at the top of my game when it came to surgery. I distanced myself from the pain when I worked, and that was what helped me get on. When the night fell and the quiet hours came, however, my heart would swell. My leg would give me an agonizing twinge, and I'd seethe to myself in the dark, laying about and allowing the boredom and emptiness to sink in. I reveled in it until I grew numb so that I might sleep. As soon as I would begin to forget the pain of loss, an image of my friend's ghostly white flesh decaying underground would strike me, and I would be jerked out of any calm I might have been feeling. I couldn't stand it. The image of Sherlock's hollowed cheeks being eaten by the earth's life would sometimes hit me in the middle of the day so that I'd have to sit down for a minute as the hyper-ventilation overtook me from the shock. Such was my routine. Sometimes, it felt actually possible to get by, but usually, getting by was the very thing that hurt the most.

Molly Hooper came to visit me frequently. She brought me food sometimes, or knitted things to keep me warm. Every time I saw her, I felt a pang of horror. Every time she knocked on my door and I said "Who is it?" and heard her name in response, it would dawn on me that it was she who'd handled his body last. For it was Molly who'd performed the post mortem. It was Molly who'd declared him dead, who'd determined it was really him. Since the event, my mind seemed to be in a permanent state of over-imagination. I kept seeing these images-of Sherlock's skin rotting away, of Molly sobbing over Sherlock's limp corpse on a slab. I hated myself for it. More than once, I itched to remove those images myself. My old handgun remained fully loaded in my bedside drawer for this reason.

Something awful had become of me. My practice was the only thing I had to hold my interest anymore. It was at least once a week that I found myself sitting at the edge of my bed having awoken from my miserable dream, shaking, sweating, and panting. My dreams were always of falling. Sometimes I was the one falling, but frequently I relived the terrible night that Sherlock had fallen from St. Bart's. On those terrible nights, my mind would often get fuzzy, and I would many a time find my handgun clutched in my quivering palm. I closed my eyes, and felt the cool metal in my hand cut into the skin of my fingers as I gripped it tight, allowing it to ground me. I was light-headed. This experience was not uncommon in the year after Sherlock's death.

A year and a half after that fateful day, I had met a woman. Mary was her name. She loved me. My days were bearable because I was busy, and my nights were torment, but when she opted to stay over with me some nights, my head felt quieted. She was a lovely, voluptuous girl with a pretty face and a bright mind. My heart felt numb to love after the intense fire I'd shared with my late friend, but Mary warmed it a little. She got me to smile again. She said she'd always believed in the great sleuth, and that she never believed for a second that he could have made it all had done it for me. I married her. She loved me with everything, and I loved her with whatever I could give. I really was a sliver of what I had been once, and with that enormous chunk of me missing, I couldn't really give much. Most of the love I could have given Mary had been buried with my friend, the genius Sherlock Holmes.

Mary and I moved into a two-level flat on a ground floor, and my practice moved with us. It made my life very easy to have my work and my home in the same building. Mary cared for me, as I could barely function to care for myself. I would never have lived without her. Still, that emptiness without Sherlock grew like a sucking black hole, dooming me to a lifetime of this misery. I kept that sorrow at bay only through the presence and touch of my beloved. Though Mary helped to heal me, the gun remained always loaded and ready.

We lived comfortably and happily for almost thirteen months. We talked about children. Mary wanted them, and so did I, but somehow, we never got around to it. She was busy, and I was busy, I suppose. She had a smile to lighten the heaviest of loads, and I was so grateful to her every second of every day.

One day, a year into our marriage, I found my sweet Mary complaining of an uncommon pain in her gut. In addition to being her husband, I was also her physician, and so I examined her. Upon the discovery of the cancer, further along than either of us could have expected, I passed her off to another doctor. I was at her side always. I slept at her bedside as the rapid illness enveloped her, dreaming of the fall as usual and always waking with tears on my face. I held her hand, sometimes receiving flashbacks to the pulseless wrist I'd held that day in front of St. Bart's hospital. She was pale, fading fast, thinning out day by day as her body shut down.

Mary died only one month after her diagnosis, and I was alone again.

Every night for two months after that, I contemplated the handgun tucked safely in my drawer. I held it in my hands, admired it, stroked it. Sometimes I'd lift it to my face to sniff the cold metal, just to see what it smelled like. I barely left the house. People still came to my practice, and I held up the most perfect expression of cheeriness for them. I have always been an excellent doctor, and I was not about to let go the only thing I had left in the world to give in to depression. I needed the distraction. I clung to surgery as though it were my life's blood. Without it, the gun would have brought me to my lost Sherlock over a year ago. Without that distraction, I would have perished.

I rarely slept. Molly visited me every few days to stock my fridge and fuss over me. Lestrade started accompanying her after a few weeks. I imagine she told him how badly I was doing.

Two months went by, and then one night, for the first time, I actually felt the nose of my handgun at my temple. I had my eyes shut tightly, and there were tears streaming down my cheeks from beneath my desperately clenched eyelids. I made no move except to hold it there, feeling its solidity, noting how strange it felt to know that only a thin layer of skull and flesh kept me safe from the weapon. With a single motion it could be over. I felt so alive then. It gave me a rush, and for a second I almost did it, but then I choked up. I thought of Sherlock's hands clutching my face to tell me something he saw as obvious. I wilted pitifully at the thought. I missed him so much, and now I missed my Mary, too. I croaked her name out loud to myself, gave an ugly little sob, then cried Sherlock's name to the ceiling. It must have been a horrendous and sad sight to behold, to see me crying in my subdued way upon the edge of my bed. I released the gun, set it back safely into its drawer, and relinquished myself to exhaustion for the first time in days. I slept in. I had no clients that next day, for the practice was closed Sundays. I slept properly for the first time in a long time.

Over lunch that day, a pre-prepared sandwich from sweet Molly Hooper, a knock arrived at my door. I lifted myself effortfully from my chair, and grabbed my cane, hissing through my teeth at the pain of the gesture. Limping to the door, I grumbled to myself. I was not in the mood for company. But then, I never was anymore.

Upon opening the door, I fell flat.

Sherlock Holmes stood in my threshold, an ominous smile upon his face, and his eyes full of light. It seemed to me that for the first and last time in my life, I fainted. Certainly, the world went grey before my eyes, and in the fuzziness of everything, I suddenly found myself gazing at the ceiling with my head in a warm lap and the taste of brandy on my lips. "John," came that tell-tale voice. I scrambled away from him, but had so little strength, I could not get far. I sat back on my hands, my legs out straight on the floor. He knelt before me, a flask in hand. "I am sorry, old friend. I did not mean to affect you so." He screwed shut the flask and tucked it away. He looked just as I remembered him. His collar was turned up. His skin was sickly pale. His cheekbones were high and unaffected by worms.

I was wordless. Thoughtless. Breathless. I thought for a second I might pass out again, but Sherlock reached out and grabbed my ankle, as though he knew. He always knew. He was grounding me with his touch. "Yes," he whispered slowly. "I am real."

I shook my head, disbelieving.

"Don't you want to know how?" Sherlock's eyes twinkled deviously, but it was at that moment that my rage bubbled to my surface.

"No, you bloody bastard!" I leapt to my feet with no trouble. Through the adrenaline, I needed no support from the cane, but instead held the thing like a weapon, and began whacking the man to the ground. He shielded himself with his arms, but I did not stop. "You right arsehole! You left me! You left me alone, and then you did it again and again every night following! You sod! I can't believe..." I trailed off, and threw my cane to the ground in an absolute fit. "I can't believe you bloody did this! Why would you put me through that, Sherlock? Why? Or can you even understand what you put me through? How am I to know I'm not bloody shouting to myself right now? Am I going mad, and simply imagining you? I wouldn't even be surprised!"

He kissed me. Oh, bloody hell, the bastard kissed me. I sank within myself, my whole brain spinning on a very fast axis. Sherlock held me as close as he could, pressing me to him. His body was warm, and solid. He was real. I felt the fabric of his coat's collar brush my neck as he deepened our kiss and hugged me round the middle, drawing me near. I moaned uncontrollably, and I felt him smile against my tongue. Suddenly, everything was as it was.

But then, as he pulled back just a little to remove his coat, I came to my senses again. I pushed him away, staring at him with the utmost pain in my expression. He looked shocked and hurt, but he had no damn right to be. I was thoroughly damaged by the last two years, and although I felt the most inexpressible joy at his return, that damage would not just ebb away so quickly. "Sherlock," I choked, tears filling my eyes. "Do you even know? Do you even know what I went through?"

My friend swallowed uncomfortably. He stared at some spot on the floor between us. "Of course," he said quietly. His voice cracked a little, and that flooded me with an odd sensation of despair on its own. "I have been watching you from a safe distance."

"Watching me?" I cried. "But you didn't think to say anything?"

"I couldn't!" he said loudly, looking frustrated by me, as usual. The fact that he was the same as ever did not irritate me today; no, today I found it comforting. "Not under the circumstances..." He cleared his throat. "But I followed you. Every week that you attended my grave site, I was there. I watched, and I listened." Something unreadable was flickering behind his eyes. I noticed in that moment how very well-groomed he looked.

"Damn it, Sherlock!" I shouted, throwing my hands in the air. "Damn it all! What on earth-" I didn't even know what to say. I was so flustered and angry, I could feel my pulse in my head. "Why would you do something like that? Why would you put me through all that?" The pain was evident in my voice, I knew.

"I had to," Sherlock grumbled furiously. "Moriarty was going to kill you, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade if I didn't jump. His henchman had to know I was dead, had to know the world thought me a fake, had to know you thought me a fake... or you would die. I couldn't let it happen."

My heart soared. "You were protecting... me?"

"You and the others," he said.

"Friends protect people," I whispered. I swallowed hard, feeling a lump gather in my throat. My mind was racing. "And now you're back? Why today?"

"Because," he said as calmly as he could, "Of last night." The quiver in his tone betrayed his worry.

My heart missed a beat. "What?" I breathed.

"I told you I've been watching you," he said flatly. "Last night I feared... Well, I had a feeling that... And then I saw that you had... Well, what I mean to say is..." Sherlock Holmes looked more anxious than I had ever seen him. I realized that he must have seen me at my moment of weakness, perhaps through my window. "I am sorry about your wife," he concluded dully. The pain of my most recent loss struck me all over again, and I began to weep without shame. Sherlock came to me in two strides, and wrapped his arms around me. He held me for a long time, saying nothing while I cried there onto the shoulder of that damned coat. I seemed to feel everything all at once. The warmth of Sherlock beside me was absorbing my sorrow as I stood there. Somehow, I could feel again. The consuming abyss that called for my death was gone. Sherlock had stopped it. The pain of his absence was slowly healing at long last, but my loss of Mary was prevalent in my throbbing heart. In addition to that, a new sort of pain, a very unfamiliar one, appeared within me. It was a pain caused by Sherlock's reappearance, and it was hard to name or to explain. But then, as Sherlock's warm palm touched my cheek, everything melted away. The world stopped existing. There was only me and my friend.

I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him passionately through my tears. He was eager, his hands clutching me desperately. I could feel in his touch that he had missed me, that he regretted keeping away from me these passed years. I loved him-I had always loved him-and my haunting regret of the last two years was never telling him that. I tugged my lips from his perfect ones with some level of difficulty. "I love you!" I cried vehemently, pressing my forehead against his. "I love you! I love you, Sherlock Holmes!"

"I do know that, John," he cooed, his swollen lips looking eager for more touch. "I watched you cry at my grave, I heard you shout at me, saw you whisper your declarations of love to the ground in a haze of quiet tears." He blinked away tears. "I saw all this, and I felt it all, too. You should know, my dearest friend, that I have loved you all this time. I cannot imagine not loving you." I was overcome by his words, and sunk into his arms as though he was my only support. He half carried me over to my sofa on which Mary and I had sat together, and kissed me. "I love you, John," he purred, and our lips proved that love together. I snaked my fingers into his tangle of dark curls, and inhaled the kiss deeply, breathing him in. I felt that I was soaking in his smell, wanting to hold that in and never let it go. His tongue devoured my thoughts and took me over. He lay me back, and held me there with his knees, kissing me steadily. He shook his large coat off, leaving only the suit beneath. I tugged him close so that our bodies appeared a funny twine of limbs. The sofa groaned under us, so wild was our embrace. We rolled from it onto the floor. Our passion was intense, and our need for closeness was unnameable and beautiful.

We loved each other fully that day. We christened the floor of my flat with our lovemaking, and it was beautiful. Even with that man's incredible hands on me, I drowned in sorrow. I was so broken, so disparaged by Mary's death, that I did not wish to own Sherlock this time. On this day, I wished my friend to claim me as his instead, so I could feel him in me, feel how real and alive he was. I gave myself up to him, moaning and sighing all the while he ravaged me. His long, wide hands were rough, and warm. He was perfect. Sherlock's name was cried gratefully to the heavens time and time again as he took me deeply. I chanted the name with such rhythm, I wasn't sure there was a even a breath between each time I shouted it. It drove my lover mad with ecstasy. Amazing grunts of desire escaped him, and oh, I loved it. In the throes of our passion, I scraped at his backside. I forced him deeper, wanting to be totally consumed by his love. I saw him release inside me with a gorgeous expression of relief upon his stern face. I came with him, but with my pleasure came hand-in-hand with a deep-seated pang of emotional distress.

I cried afterwards, and Sherlock held me in his arms awkwardly but gently. "I am so sorry, John," he sighed, nuzzling my cheek. This was the most emotional-the most caring-that my friend would ever be, and I knew it. I treasured it as it happened, even through my depression. I curled into his chest, wrapping my arms around him. It was the first time I'd felt safe since Sherlock's fall. If there had ever even been a fall, of course. Had I imagined it? What had we buried on that tragic funeral? The questions would come. Now was not the time.

For just now, I was contented to lie with my friend all day. We very well might have, but after a few hours, hunger struck me. I groaned, suppressing my sorrows for a moment. "Sherlock," I whined quietly. "I think it is nearly time for dinner."

He nodded, and lifted me to my feet. I found that I was very sore from being on the floor for so long, but while I was down there I hadn't even realized it; I had been so comfortable to be back with my dead friend that my body's protests had completely escaped my notice. I dug into the freezer, Sherlock sitting calmly at my kitchen table and staring at me fondly. I withdrew two frozen dinners (for I had nothing better), and proceeded to stick one at a time into the microwave. As the low buzz of the machine became white noise for a few minutes, I leaned against my kitchen counter. "So where have you been living for the last two years, old friend?" I asked Sherlock curiously, crossing my arms casually.

He sighed, and sat back. His eyes were drinking me in, sizing me up, deducing what my reaction would be to what he was going to say. "Molly Hooper's flat," he said. He was watching me cautiously.

I nearly went numb. "Molly!" I cried. "She's been in on it! Her? But not me?"

"You were essential to it all!" he hissed, pounding a fist upon the table before him. "You had to believe that I was dead. You were being watched."

I shook my head, swallowing hard. "So Molly knew," I whispered to myself. "All this time, she knew how I suffered and she didn't say anything."

"Yes," he said adamantly. "It was I who urged her to look after you, anyway. It has been necessary," Sherlock added a little bit louder than was necessary, "that I be extremely careful about who knows I am alive. I recently outed myself to Mycroft, for I had to gain his assistance in a particular matter. Molly was essential to the whole deceit because she was so unlikely a suspect. None of Moriarty's men would think that she-of all people-could be my confidant. That was the necessity she provided me: her insignificance. It has proved her important, after all." He smiled genuinely at me, and I felt a tingle in my lower belly. It was then that the microwave emitted its loud alert, so I removed the tray and sat it in front of my friend. He waited patiently for me to heat my own meal, and then we ate together in silence, letting the events of the day sink in.

"Do you expect," Sherlock said when we had finished, "to ever return to Baker Street with me?"

I laughed, and the sound was strange. "I don't know!" I exclaimed honestly. "I couldn't stay there without you. And, well, I never thought it a possibility until today. I thought you dead for the last two years. Remember?"

"How could I forget?" Sherlock pressed his fingertips together, leaning back in his chair. "I have a plan, you see," he said with an air of excited mystery (oh, how I'd missed that tone). "I may have found a way to eliminate my last enemy, and if I manage it, we may be able to move back into 221b. Would you like that?"

"God, yes," I moaned with no hesitation.

"And would you join me in this particular mission?"

"Of course," I said quickly. "Anything."

He smiled warmly.

"Wait," I said suddenly, and my friend looked at me with a furrowed brow. His bright eyes dazzled me. "How are you going to explain your death and reappearance to the public?"

The man shrugged. "I'll think of something," he said coolly, as though that matter were hardly of importance. I rolled my eyes. Same old Sherlock. "I really don't care what anyone thinks of me, anyway."

"And what about my practice?" I reminded him (and myself). "With my private practice here, now, I can hardly return to galavanting-"

"That will not be a problem," Sherlock interjected offhandedly, waving away my comment with his hand and an expression of slight disgust. "You will sell it."

A real smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. My heart felt light, despite it all. "Oh, I will, will I?"

"Yes," said Holmes. He smirked at me out of the corner of his eye. "All will be as it was." He seemed convinced.

I sat across from him, sighing heavily. "I wish it was that easy," I said darkly. "And maybe it will be! I don't know. But right now, that's not easy for me. I loved you, and I lost you. I loved Mary, and I lost her, too. That much loss leaves a serious scar, and I don't know... I don't think I can just wave it off as easily as you can."

Sherlock Holmes leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table between us. His fingers were interlaced. His expression was determined and dangerous. "That's what I'm here for," he said in a deep rumble. "I am here for you." His nearly inhuman eyes bore into me, and I found myself lost in them. "I love you," he reminded me, "and I'm not going anywhere again."

A wave full of relief, love, grief, and shame washed over me. With Sherlock near me, I could feel everything at once. It was glorious, but it was also painful. I thought, however, that with the sleuth at my side again, I just might survive this. I might really find it possible to get by once more.

I smiled. "Sherlock?"

"Yes, John?"

"Thank you for not being dead."

"You're welcome, John."

"Also..." I paused, staring up into his intense eyes, which shone a sea green in this light. "Thank you for saving my life. In... more than one way, friend." I hoped he understood. He kissed me, so I knew he did.

I had thought life to be a lost cause until Sherlock Holmes' return. Healing felt more possible since my friend came back to me, and I thought that maybe-just maybe-Mary's death would not destroy me.

Without a command from Sherlock to wield it, my handgun lay untouched from that day on.

Thank you for reading, friends! I'd love to hear your thoughts!