DISCLAIMER: The show, the characters and so on and so forth all belong to the lovely BBC.

Warnings: Violence and slash, none of it NSFW explicit - I don't think so, anyway. Johnlock, no longer lightly but actually quite heavily implied Mystrade.

So. There is now ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE cover art for this fic by the wonderful conductressofcoats over on tumblr which I am still having difficulties dealing with. I urge you to go and check out the other fics she's created art for; they're all mindblowing stories.

Hello to all of you who have joined this story since I last updated. It's been a while, and I'm missing this story incredibly, especially because I'm able to upload so little each time, so I need to apologise again for these long hiatuses because I'm not sure how long they'll last. Sorry guys. I miss you all. Hoping you're all well. Enjoy the chapter.

All my love and thanks to the absolutely incredible whitefang3927, and mypantsflewoff and to shadow-purple (I told you, ROOFTOPS), to the spectacular ongreenergrasses and to Quend, a wonderful beta and an even better friend.

IMPORTANT FIC NEWS: Due to an avalanche of crises, near-crises, and life just doing what it generally does best and laying waste to the best laid plans, this fic is officially on hiatus. I've been putting off making this announcement just in case things turned around, because never wanted to do this: I love this fic, and I love each and every one of you who's been reviewing and alerting and favouriting, but it's gotten to the point where I just don't have a choice any more.

It's not an abandonment: I'm not done with this story, not by any means. It's just putting aside until my beta and myself both can get our lives back in order to the point where we can give this fic the time it needs.

I'll be posting on my Tumblr when we're ready to start updating again, and then updates should come regularly (and I mean that this time.)

I'm sorry. Thank you, so much, for your patience.

When John wakes the next morning, Sherlock is everything and everywhere.

And for a minute, it's peaceful. In the timeless hush of the early hours, he does nothing but lie still and appreciate these simple truths – the sharp planes of Sherlock's face, illuminated by the morning light; the feel of Sherlock's hand resting lightly in his, spanning the space between them; the way Sherlock's face is open and restful in sleep. The sight of Sherlock at rest – really at rest, in unguarded slumber – was rare even before the Say No Party, and John takes the opportunity to scrutinise Sherlock properly while the dawn paints everything in technicolor.

He does so hungrily. It feels like he's been starving for this, all this time, this contact with Sherlock; so he absorbs every little detail he can, taking advantage of the morning light to build on last night's study. The prominent cheekbones in particular catch his eye, and he frowns. Sherlock has lost a lot of weight – coupled with his overly long hair, the soft illumination of the morning sunlight and his peaceful expression, it makes him look ten years younger, and John's heart twists painfully. It's only been nine months, but John himself feels like he's aged a lifetime, in contrast. So much has changed.

And John wants to hear all of it. But now isn't the time, not with the morning so gentle and Sherlock still sleeping, so John gives Sherlock one last glance, settles down into the mattress and tries to drift off again.

He doesn't have much success. There's something wrong, and it takes him a minute to put his finger on it.

It's nothing really, he's sure. It's just that, well, Sherlock isn't moving very much. Or at all. But Sherlock's always been a deep sleeper, whenever he actually finds the time to sleep, and John tries to reassure himself with this fact. It's fine. Sherlock's fine. It's all fine. John readjusts his sleeping position and tries very hard to keep his eyes closed and will himself back to unconsciousness.

It lasts for approximately a minute before John is straining to hear Sherlock's breathing, placing his free hand gently on the duvet covering Sherlock's chest, just to check the rise and fall. Of course Sherlock's still breathing. It's fine. He's fine. But John just wants to make sure.

When a minute passes and John can't tell whether the movement is his imagination or reality he really begins to panic. Nausea claws its way up his throat, freezing his voice, making his breath come shallow and fast. He swallows to disperse it but his thoughts are racing ahead of him, throwing up situation after situation, everything that could have possibly happened to Sherlock between last night and the current moment and it's overwhelming, it's too much, he can't even remember what he's supposed to do now, and – oh god, is he sure Sherlock's heart is still beating?

John's shaking fingers alight briefly on Sherlock's wrist.

He can't feel a pulse.

For a split second, the world whites out and then everything explodes. John's aware of ripping himself away from Sherlock, because everything is mixed up and nothing is right and oh god no, it's happening all over again, Sherlock's dead and there's blood and voices and Sherlock's bleeding, but he's not, but John can't get a pulse. He's stumbling backwards across the floor and watching Sherlock wake up and he doesn't know what's going on anymore because Sherlock wasn't moving and he didn't have a pulse and now he's awake and looking at John like John's about to faint and there's blood and sightless eyes and a blue, blue sky, but there's not, it's not actually real, and John knows it but it doesn't stop him from it and feeling it in every inch of him. Past collides with present in front of his eyes and John hits the wall, sliding downwards until he reaches the floor.

Sherlock slipping out of bed – Sherlock falling – Sherlock's socked feet, padding slowly across the carpet – Sherlock bleeding – Sherlock standing over him, haloed with sunlight – Sherlock dying, oh god – Sherlock kneeling, looking at John with concern – Sherlock dead, Sherlock's eyes, the way they blankly stared – Sherlock reaching out a hand to John.

John flinches at the movement and Sherlock freezes.

Sherlock's okay, John thinks, but he can't stop staring. He tries very, very hard to convince himself that there is no blood on Sherlock's face, that it's just the way the shadows fall. John just didn't take the pulse properly; his hand was shaking too hard, he didn't keep his fingers there for long enough, Sherlock's pulse has always been difficult to take. It's fine. Sherlock's whole. He's alive. He's uninjured. Like he's always been, all this time. Sherlock's fine, all this time and John's been the one falling apart. He closes his eyes, tries to breathe calmly, but it doesn't really work.

When he opens them again, Sherlock is leaning closer, about to place his hand on John's shoulder.

'Don't touch me.'

John's voice cracks like a whip. The words sound out hoarse and raw, like he hasn't spoken in years. For a split second, he feels regret – the words are born of pain, and fear, and shock, and he doesn't think before he speaks, and he didn't mean this, for all of this time, all of this separation and silence to end in words so furious and dark, poisoning the pure and beautiful calm of the morning.

But after a second, he reconsiders. It's not unreasonable. It's not at all unreasonable to be angry at Sherlock. Sherlock's fine. He's not dead, not even close. There's not a scratch on him that John can see. He's been doing god-knows-what, holed up somewhere totally separate from all of this, and John's been living these past nine months in the eye of the hurricane. John's been risking everything to keep alive the memory of the dead man who's currently staring him down, irrefutably alive. And look what it's done to him, he thinks.

His pain, his grief, the fatigue that's dogged his steps these past nine months; all of these things that he has been living through day after day… they haven't just disappeared because Sherlock has returned. He's still shaking, still sweating, and his stomach still feels like it wants to force its way out of his mouth. So where was he? Where was Sherlock when this was happening, when he was changing day by day into this new John, who can't even wake up in the morning without breaking down?

John's not angry. He's livid. He's never been so furious in his life. Because it's worse than all that, John thinks, so much worse, because it's Sherlock that has done this to him: ruined him, lied to him, broken him, and then slunk back into his life without even saying a word. What the hell did Sherlock think he was doing, just slipping into John's bed without even a hello, I'm alive and what did John think he was doing, letting him?

'Bastard,' John breathes, and he sinks forward to his knees. 'You let me think you were dead. You did this to me. You… you…'

Sherlock is frozen two feet away, kneeling at John's level but not moving, and John sees the look of hurt on his face and feels a vicious stab of pleasure. Good.

'Christ, Sherlock. After everything… everything that happened. This whole country went to the dogs and you… you just left? You jumped off a bloody building, Sherlock, with the blood and the way you died, Sherlock, what the hell was that? You… you didn't have to… oh god.'

He passes a shaking hand over his face.

'John,' Sherlock says, for the first time in nine months.

And just like that, at the sound of that voice, deep and reassuring and last heard eons and eons away, John shatters. It's impossible to hear Sherlock, to see Sherlock crouching in front of him wide-eyed and horrified and breathing and talking like some kind of miracle and not be aware of just how much he goddamn loves the man. It catches up with John, it's overwhelming; it's almost everything, and it hurts.

Because at the same time, that singular word echoes in his head, becoming twisted and warped, taking on static, and then John remembers the last time Sherlock called his name. The world twists and he sees blood and recoils, lurching away, hands immediately moving to his head.

'Sherlock, what have you done to me?'

Sherlock's lost for words now, his mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out, and the hand he's proffering to John is shaking. John shrinks away from Sherlock, against the wall, wild-eyed and burning with fury.

'Jesus Christ, Sherlock, why? In what screwed up world did you think you'd jump off a building and then waltz back into my bedroom and think things would just be okay? Because it's not. It's not. You died, Sherlock, you died right in front of me. So tell me how I'm supposed to deal with this Sherlock, how I'm supposed to even look at you right now, tell me.'

For all that his demand sounds rhetorical, he's expecting an answer. It's one of Sherlock's defining traits - this need to be right, need to have the last word, every single time - and as much as he loves it, he hates it. He can't count the number of times Sherlock has negated his supposedly well-reasoned anger with his casual and irrefutable logic, leaving John floundering in the dust with the slow burn of anger still roiling in his stomach and nowhere to direct it. The idea of Sherlock doing it right now, of undermining John's nearly overwhelming panic and fury with a few almost nonchalant explanations makes him almost dizzy with something approaching dread, but as long as he considers it inevitable he'd rather get it over and done with.

But for a full minute, Sherlock doesn't say a word. Instead, he just stays put, kneeling a foot away from John, and calmly meets John's eyes. Slowly, very slowly, he stretches out a hand and grasps one of John's, bringing John's hand back towards his own body to rest splayed out over his heart.

As the moment stretches on and neither of them moves, John's heartbeat begins to slow, and his breath begins to come easier. Through the thin cotton of Sherlock's shirt, John can feel both the rise and fall of Sherlock's chest and the pulse of blood to Sherlock's heart. The steady rhythms ground him, relax him as he stares at Sherlock and Sherlock stares at him. For once, John can read Sherlock's expression like a book, and he's infinitely grateful that there is no trace of superiority or condescension there, only raw concern.

When Sherlock does speak, the words are the last thing John would have expected to hear in a thousand years.

'John, I'm sorry.'

John can't suppress a snort, his hand still placed on Sherlock's chest. Sherlock's mouth twists into a grimace.

'John, please. Just give me a chance to explain.'

John raises his eyebrows.

'So you can have me as a willing audience for yet another Sherlock Holmes miracle? I'm not going to bloody ooh and ah for you, Sherlock, not this time.'

This time when John sees the hurt flash briefly across Sherlock's face, he does feel a pang of remorse. After a moment of silence Sherlock speaks again, his voice sounding carefully controlled, barely controlled.

'That… isn't my intention in explaining to you. I want you to understand. I admit that I misjudged… what the manner of my leaving would do to you, and you've got to understand John, I am truly sorry for that.'

John's voice is flat.

'Why, then?'

Sherlock maintains eye contact as he carefully removes John's hand from his chest, placing it on John's knee. John watches as Sherlock settles cross-legged on the floor and begins without preamble.

'I needed to fake my death, and you couldn't come with me.'

John swings his legs around and hugs his knees, leaning back against the wall. The anger is draining out of him little by little, and in exchange exhaustion fills him up to the brim. He can't handle Sherlock's melodrama, his need for theatrics and drawing things out, not now. Not with this. He just wants the facts, the bare skeleton of the thing at the very least - nine months of his life spent guessing and wondering, he thinks, is enough.

'I think a little further explanation is needed, Sherlock.'

Sherlock steeples his fingers together and nods.

'Look at it this way. I think both of us always knew that avoiding the Party and calling in favours was not the kind of lifestyle that could be sustained indefinitely.'

John makes an affirmative noise, and Sherlock continues.

'Your… ah, absence, courtesy of Moriarty, was the final proof of that. When three hours passed – the longest three hours of my life, I might add – and you didn't meet me at Lestrade's apartment, I assumed the worst. After all, you've never been the kind of man to keep me waiting. So I knew that you'd fallen into the hands of the Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party, and that was it. There was no way that they'd let you escape, not a high-profile dissenter like you. But I knew that they wanted me too, and if Moriarty was smart, he'd use you to find me.

'So I left you the notes and went to find Molly.'

John starts.

'Molly? Molly Hooper?'

Sherlock nods.

'Her job made her the ideal candidate in helping me to fake my death. You see, either way, they had you. Either you didn't escape - or you did, and it would be because the Party wanted to keep tabs on you. The only way I could help you was to take down the Party, and John, I couldn't do that with them following me. So I had to die.'

John cocks his head and stares at Sherlock, and his eyes are very bright. This is an angle he has never considered before.

'You took on the Party for me.'

Sherlock smiles, just the smallest, tiniest bit.

'You did the same, and you punched Jim Moriarty in the face. Makes me feel a bit inadequate.'

John's responding laugh takes both of them by surprise, and he can see Sherlock's cheeks visibly colour in response, just a little.

'Anyway,' Sherlock says, looking away. He sounds graver, less proud now. 'I couldn't take you with me. The key to the plan was the party absolutely believing that I was dead. You needed to believe it for that to work. And John, I couldn't take you with me. They'd found you, they knew where you were, and if we both disappeared off the radar, they'd never believe it.'

John can't keep a trace of bitterness from entering his voice.

'So you threw yourself off a rooftop and didn't tell me a thing.'

Sherlock flinches, but he continues speaking.

'Molly helped out with the logistics of faking the death, and then I stayed with her for a week while I started my search.'

John hugs his knees closer to his chest, curious despite himself.

'Search for what?'

'Others,' Sherlock says. 'There had to be other people out there who were hiding in the same way as we were. I used my homeless network to filter the rumours and determine who would be the best person to approach. That's when I met Claude. Their Association was already organised when I joined, but it didn't take long before they recognised the wisdom of giving me more control, and after a couple of months I joined their board of leaders, most of whom were imbeciles.'

Christ. That was unexpected. John doesn't know how to deal with this revelation: he speaks slowly, as if he's not sure whether to be angry or not.

'That was you. That was you. I joined your organization. All that time, and it was you all along?'

Sherlock continues speaking like John hasn't said a word.

'The rest of the leaders were an insufferable drag. Claude was the only even mildly tolerable member, and even then his optimism was nonsense. It took me an inordinately long amount of time to persuade them all that performing a rescue operation on the prisoners was in their best interests, even though I had to agree keep out of sight on the night.'

John's eyes widen even further.

'God, Sherlock, were you there that night when we rescued everybody? You must have been, Sherlock, everyone was. I was there, at the house. I was so close.'

Sherlock stares at John, and when he speaks, his voice is softer than John has ever heard it before, and there's an intensity and a possessiveness in it that John can feel it to the very marrow of his bones.

'I know. You fell asleep in a lonely corner of the house. I found you.'

John bites his lip and says nothing. After a moment, Sherlock continues and his voice is stronger and louder.

'Obviously you know little bits of the rest: the capture of the other team, the meeting with Moriarty. We used – I used – your blog to advertise the meeting and ask people to turn up and show their support. The popularity of your graffiti campaign suggested that there would be a sufficient turnout to effectively remove Moriarty from power. Thankfully, our hypothesis was correct. All that was left was to come and find you.'

There's a moment of silence where Sherlock looks expectantly at John, who blows out a long breath.

'It's… a lot to take in,' he says.

And it is. John's head is spinning from all the information that Sherlock has given him. That Sherlock's been so close, all this time – that he'd been there, in that very house just a week ago, that he'd stumbled across John sleeping, been close enough to touch – angers him as much as it oddly reassures him.

'So,' he says, shaking his head. 'All of this time… we've been working together to take Moriarty down, and I didn't even realise it.'

Sherlock smiles.

'That's one way of looking at it, yes.'

'Christ,' John says, shaking his head. 'This is insane. This is absolutely, categorically insane. I ought to throw you out right now.'

'Will you?'

John shakes his head mutely, and gets up off the floor.

'But,' he says, as he stretches, 'I don't forgive you.'

Sherlock presses his lips together and doesn't speak a word.

'Not yet, anyway,' says John, and he reaches down to give Sherlock a hand.

Next time: In which things are both good and bad for Sherlock, and he's still working out why.

You anons also get my thanks because I couldn't find you to thank you personally! Minervagem, sorry about the late night, Phoenix, sorry about the tears, Keegan, thank you so much, guests, love you all, thank you so much (especially the one who called me a whore-face poo monkey, new favourite insult), Kia, hope the anger was okay for you! Margaret, your words are entirely too kind, thank you so much, Sarah, sorry for the explosion, Bromosexual, I'll correct all my Gregories tomorrow (when I'll actually be awake to do so.)

I'm grateful to everyone who leaves comments; your reviews, especially ones with constructive criticism, are invaluable to helping me improve my work and inspiring me to keep going even when it's twenty past twelve in the morning. If you have a complaint, please leave me a way of contacting you. Anonymous hate will henceforth be unceremoniously ignored.