"I had such a great time! Do you want to go out again next week?"
John bit his lip. Jess was so nice, so lovely, and she'd be a great person to move his life on with. The decision hung in the air in front of him, he knew full well at some point he needed to take the opportunity to move on. But not now.
"I… Uh, I'm sorry but I don't think I can, it's not you, I just… I can't."
John turned and walked away. He felt the anger and bitterness well up inside him and he walked for miles across London towards 221B, trying to wear it out, exhaust himself. It wouldn't work though because it never worked and every time he was left with the same regrets running through his head. He walked until he felt dizzy and sore and once he reached the flat he crashed on the sofa. Why, he thought. Why can't I move past this? The Psychiatrist said this is a natural part of mourning, but why is it lasting so long? His gaze fell once again on the harmless armchair across the room. That harmless, square armchair that had once held the most brilliant man he'd ever known. A man who could curl up on that chair with his arms round his knees whilst his brain performed near miracles. A Man who's brilliant mind could save whole countries, save hundreds of lives and cure a broken ex-army doctor of horrors he hadn't realised he was suffering from. But it was over nine months since that tall, exquisite genius had sat in that chair, insulting the television and refusing to buy milk.
John choked up a sob and the tears started again. He'd hoped every day for months that maybe, just maybe tonight he could fall asleep without losing control and then every night he failed. He'd been told multiple times that the regret would fade. He'd been told multiple times to let go, expel his sorrow and move on. He'd been told to go out on dates, find friends, find people to comfort and console him and help him move his life on. Nobody understood why it was taking him so long to get over the most basic first stages of mourning, after all it was only his flatmate. My flatmate, my colleague, my partner in solving crimes, my best friend, my…
But he could never find an end to that sentence.
When John woke the next day London was covered in a thick frost. He treated four people who had fallen on the ice at the surgery and two pensioners who has pneumonia, but overall it was a light day and Sarah let him home early. On his way home, like every other day, he contemplated going out and about and finding something interesting to do with his evening; like every other evening he ended up deciding against going out. Opening the front door, hanging his coat and heading up the stairs, he froze. The door to his flat was ajar. This in itself wasn't very strange as Mrs Hudson usually helped with cleaning but she was away visiting her sister.
"Mrs Hudson? Are you back early?" He called tentatively. He heard something being knocked over upstairs but there was no reply, whoever was there obviously didn't want to be discovered. They knew I was at work, they knew I was out of the house. It must be someone who knows me. Someone who I know. His army training kicked in for the first time in months and he was alert, climbing slowly up the stairs. Shit, why is my gun upstairs in the wardrobe. He opened the door tentatively but there was nobody there. An empty flat but with an open window. He scanned round, nothing appeared to be particularly out of place, nothing appeared to have been taken.
But he still needed to check everywhere. John slowly climbed the stairs to his bedroom, throwing the door open. In this room, there was a difference. The shoes he'd had sitting just inside the door had been kicked out of line as if someone had tripped over them. Secondly, the bed covers were ruffled, as if someone had lain on top of them, looking closely confirmed it, he could still see the indent in the middle of the bed. John didn't know what to make of this intrusion into his privacy, his initial thoughts flew to at least they didn't take anything of value.
But then he glanced over at his other bedside table. Sherlock had never been very sentimental and didn't appreciate stopping for photographs, but John had managed to get just one. One photograph of himself and Sherlock one evening at Angelo's, sitting smiling, which he proceeded to take home and frame next to his bed. But now he looked over at the innocent little silver frame and another sob broke in his chest, the frame was empty.
John's heart stopped. It was his only personal photo of the two of them when they'd been smiling and having fun and not through a newspaper in mid-case-madness. He felt panic rising inside him at the loss of this little printed piece of paper. The impact of the evening as a whole washed over him. He had been nervous when he saw that the door was open, heard the knock of the intruded kicking his shoes. He had switched straight to soldier mode to check for danger. Looking back this surprised him, it was so long since he'd had to worry about any danger in his life. So long since he'd had to worry about personal safety, running across London with his flatmate, his colleague, his best friend, his…
Enough reflection, it's time for tea he decided, and proceeded to go downstairs and distract himself with bad television, anything to take his mind off the missing picture. Maybe this is a sign I need to move on he thought. If I'm getting overly sentimental at some print maybe it's finally time to let go. But even then he didn't believe he'd move on any faster. It took a while to calm down completely, but by the time he dragged himself to bed he'd managed to dispel the panic and it had just blended into the aching sadness that hadn't left his chest for the past nine months.
Lying in bed, he reached over to turn the light off and paused. He grabbed the empty frame and inspected it. Flipping it over, he saw a slip of white in the back cover. Pulling, out came a little piece of paper and on it, in handwriting he'd recognise even if it had been nine years, were four words. Four words and two letters.
I'm so sorry John - SH
John didn't sleep that night. He was dominated by a constant string of words and emotions running on repeat through his head. The paper in the frame was new, he was sure of that. Numerous times he'd picked up and held the photograph whilst mourning, numerous times he'd cried himself to sleep looking at the image of his flatmate, his colleague, his best friend, his…
Which means the paper must have been placed there when he had the break in. Which means that whoever broke in must have known Sherlock. However, why had the message in Sherlock's handwriting had been left for nine months before being brought to him? John wondered about the content of the message itself. He knew that Sherlock had cared about him, but never really to what extent. Sherlock had never been emotional, he just didn't waste brain space to things that weren't productive in crime solving. Besides, if he really cared about John he wouldn't have gone and committed fucking suicide would he? Leaving John to deal with it. John can't help but feel that this entire suicide is so fucking selfish.
But then again, as he had stood there, watching Sherlock up on the roof, he got the distinct impression that Sherlock was hiding something, both factually and emotionally. The sound of Sherlock's voice cracking as he'd struggled to hide emotions foreign to him made John hope deep down that Sherlock had cared and was just unable to express it.
But he had still left, left John as a ruin of a life, missing the one person who had understood him. There was no trouble for Sherlock now, just sat dead a dying in the ground. Sleep well Sherlock, you've ruined me forever. And it was true, once he was swept up into the world of Sherlock Holmes John could not see his life ending another way. The loss of Sherlock had seemed just impossible, there was no way he'd ever manage to move on. So John had given in, spent the past nine months dangling in limbo and just dreaming that Sherlock was watching him from somewhere.
But, he wondered, who left the message? The ideas teased round his head. The only other person close to Sherlock was Mycroft and, well, that wouldn't have worked. Mycroft had been just as shocked at Sherlock's death as John had, and besides, Mycroft would not have laid in John's bed. My bed! I can't think of anyone connected with Sherlock who would have just decided it was time for a nap. In fact the only people who felt comfortable sleeping in this house surrounded by all the body parts and test tubes were me and Sherlock himself. John's breath caught. Maybe…? But no. He's dead. He's dead and the man you knew would never leave you like this for this long. No matter how I look at things I can't understand this. John Hamish Watson you're fucked. Pull yourself together.
However, despite convincing himself that it couldn't possibly have been a dead man that had left him a physical piece of paper, a small part of him still hoped. Still hoped desperately that the beautiful impressive figure of his flatmate would one day stride though the front door again.
It was a few days before John could bring himself to leave the house. Even then it was just for basic shopping. Thank god work was light at the surgery or he wouldn't have managed it. Strangely enough he had adopted Sherlock's habit of not caring about money, the work he did was just as a reason to leave the house, not because he needed to earn a living. In fact he hardly ever worked enough to pay the most basic bills, but somehow an extra two thousand pounds appeared in his account every month. Though hating him deeply for selling out his brother's secrets John appreciated that Mycroft had thought to set him up. Probably his way of apologising.
Walking down to Tesco John paid more attention to the world around him than he had in months. Everything was so heart-achingly boring. Now he was out and about John longed for adventure, to go around and spent time on the edge as he had before with Sherlock. He watched the world around him thoroughly, imagining criminals following him, hiding behind those trees or that post box or round the side of that shop-
And that's when he saw it, a tall shadow down the alley between a café and a post office, a tall figure with dark hair and a dark coat. He panicked, his heart making hopes he knew logically it shouldn't. Realising he'd frozen John turned and walked straight towards it, and the figure turned and ran. By the time he got to the alley the figure had well and truly disappeared. He knew who I was John realised. He knew who I was and he didn't want me to see him. But who is he? John's heart leapt again at the thought. He's dead, stop it, it can't be possible, and even if it was he would come to see you, he wouldn't run away. John fell against the wall, exhaling and trying to calm himself. At that point his head slumped forward, eyes closed. You need to get a Grip you idiot. After a few more minutes of calm breathing John opened his eyes, and there on the floor in front of him was another little piece of paper.
Not here, not now. Meet me at home - SH
John wasn't sure how he managed to walk back to 221B. He remembered at one point telling his feet to move but still felt surprised when he arrived at the door in a very short amount of time. Fear eclipsed everything else in his head, and his head was rather full. All of the doubts and the maybes, the seeing figures around street corners, the suspicions he'd dismissed as stupid over the past few months had all arisen again on his walk home. But now he stopped, his breath catching as he stared at his door number. That innocent collection of numbers and letters could behind it contain the man who had left him a shadow of his former self.
Pull yourself together, it's your own flat!
John thought about Sherlock's statement. "Meet me at home". What right does he have to call it his own home again? I'm the one who's been living in it, cooking in it, cleaning in it for the past nine months.
The anger that rose in his chest from that statement gave him the strength to open the door, but even as he opened it, the voice in the back of his head was saying but it was only you that did the cooking and cleaning when he lived here too.
The momentum of his anger took him to the top of the stairs. The door to Sherlock's bedroom was open. When Sherlock had jumped (I can't bring myself to say "died" now, John thought, I'm too full of hope) all of Sherlock's belongings had been taken into Sherlock's room and the door locked. Mrs Hudson sometimes went in there to dust but John had not seen the inside of the room since Sherlock… well, that was the issue now, was he really dead or not? John steeled himself and walked through into the living room, not sure what to expect.
And there he was. That dark figure silhouetted in the window, still in long coat and scarf, looking out into the street but tense all over listening, waiting, judging John's reaction. That dark, brilliant, genius leant casually up against the window as if nothing had ever been wrong, waiting to see how his former best friend would take this revelation.
Strangely enough, John himself was waiting for the same thing. His mind froze and he stood there, breathing heavily, waiting to judge his own actions. Part of him wanted to turn around and walk back out again, to dismiss this all as a sick dream and resign himself to living alone again, because this couldn't possibly be real.
The other overwhelming urge in his head was to touch Sherlock to verify that he was real. Part of him wanted to go and put a hand carefully on Sherlock's arm to try and get him to react, to speak. Part of him wanted to go over there and punch that git, make him hurt for making John suffer. Another, overwhelmingly strong part of John's brain wanted the opposite of this, to take Sherlock into his arms and hold on, to never let him go, to never allow him to leave John again.
And then, Sherlock turned round. His face was gaunt and thin, his skin was extra pale and stretched, he looked like he hadn't eaten or slept for weeks. And his eyes. They looked desperate, pleading and weak. Sherlock seemed a shadow of his former self, he seemed to be suffering just as much as John. This combination of physical weakness and recognised despair made John think automatically, he needs a doctor.
And as if reading his mind, Sherlock took three strides across the room to come and stand up in front of him, he looked John in the eye and said almost helplessly "I need you".
Their eyes locked for a moment and then suddenly the space between them didn't exist. Sherlock pushed them both a step back against the wall and then bent down, mouth crushing onto John's, a kiss full of urgency and longing, full of apologies and desperation to be accepted. The feel of Sherlock, the smell of him was utterly overwhelming and John just let him carry on, unable to react, to push away or pull into it, this was all too much.
After a few moments Sherlock broke off, looking scared at the lack of reaction.
"I just… I'm sorry, I needed you, I've missed you". Sherlock looked into his eyes again. "Give me something John, after all this time this is killing me."
That was enough to kick-start John's brain again.
"I'm sorry, me, killing you?" He was angry, angry like never before at Sherlock casually throwing out a statement like that. "What sort of sick fucking joke is that supposed to be Sherlock? Have you not seen what you've done to me? What the fuck made you think you could just walk out and leave me without anything? Oh but of course, you know exactly what this has done to me, because you've been watching me haven't you?" It all became maddeningly clear in John's head. "Breaking in and taking my things and watching me from street corners and not giving enough of a damn to come and tell me you were alive! You knew I was suffering."
"I…", Sherlock paused, taking a step back and trying to compose himself. He seemed to be resisting the urge to make a particularly Sherlock comment. "I couldn't, staying away from you protected you. Still, I confess I don't understand why this has dominated your life so much."
"You don't understa- SHERLOCK, YOU MADE ME WATCH YOU PLUNGE OFF A BUILDING. I HAD TO LOOK AT THE BODY OF MY PARTNER LYING CRACKED AND BROKEN ON THE GROUND."
The world span and John's legs gave way, incoherent babble spouting from his mouth as mental control slipped away, he slid down the wall and sat on the ground, the tears starting to leak through. Sherlock moved as if to touch him and John froze.
"Don't you dare lay your hand on me right now."
"John let me move you onto the sofa."
"Don't. You. Dare."
And at that point John lost it completely. He broke down and cried, cried like a child as all the fears and sadness of the past nine months took over him. He didn't know how long he sat there, it could have been ten minutes or over an hour, he just sat and let it all bleed out until he was too weak to keep his eyes open. The part of John self conscious about breaking down had long gone and he didn't try to hide at all, too far gone to give a damn what Sherlock would think. Sherlock sat there the entire time and just watched him, not moving any closer or further away, not trying to talk at all, just sitting and waiting.
When the tears finally stopped, John felt on the verge of collapse. Despite looking so weak himself, Sherlock scooped an arm round him with surprising strength and swung him round onto the sofa, lying him down so he was facing out into the room. He then disappeared, returning in what seemed next to no time. He had taken off his coat and scarf and was carrying a cup of tea in one hand and his violin case from his bedroom in the other hand. He placed the tea down clearly where John could see it and went and stood by the window, pulled his violin out and started playing notes he knows John found calming.
The warm familiar notes allowed John be gain more control of his breathing and he slowly pulled himself up, reaching for a tissue to wipe his face and then reaching for the tea. It was warm and soothing and he sat in silence until it was finished, at which point Sherlock drew out one last exquisite note and placed his violin down, coming to sit next to John on the sofa. He had managed to calm John down sufficiently and now they both knew it was time to talk.
"Where do you want to start?"
"I, uh… Why Sherlock?"
"I had to." Sherlock struggled to keep the strain from his voice "Moriaty had snipers trained on you, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, the only want to stop them shooting was to jump."
John took a deep breath, steadying himself for the amount of information he knew he would receive. "So, how come you didn't come back straight away?"
"Surely you realise John that Moriaty had a vast and wide criminal web, I couldn't just leave that whole. I've spent the past nine months breaking down his organisation."
"But why couldn't you tell me? Why did I have to be left in the dark?" John couldn't quite hid the hurt from his voice.
"Because I was sure they'd be watching you." Sherlock's eyes and expression softened as he reached forwards and put his hand on John's shoulder. "If you were suddenly happy again they'd become suspicious that I might not have died and it might have put you in danger again. I needed to wait until the entire web was disbanded before I could come back. I wouldn't ever risk you."
"And now the web has been totally shut down?" John asked tentatively, dismissing the anger that had spiked in him again at Sherlock's assumption that his return would make John happy (Though deep down they both knew it was true, John just didn't want this man suddenly claiming emotional responsibility for him).
"Yes, it's all gone. Meaning I'm here to stay" John's expression didn't soften and Sherlock bit his tongue, scared of having overstepped the line by assuming welcome return so openly. "I mean, if you want me to come back. I know this has been hard on you and if you're angry then I won't mind."
"Of course I want you back Sherlock." He stalled, then looked round at Sherlock again, "Are you sure this is real and I'm not imagining you?"
Sherlock chuckled, a deep, familiar rumble that sent shivers up John's back. "Of course I'm real."
"Can I, can I touch you, just to make sure?"
Sherlock smiled and John took his hand, shuffling closer to him across the sofa. His hand reached up and touched Sherlock's face, stroking over his cheekbones with a closeness that he would never have risked before the fall. Sherlock sighed and pulled John down as he swung their legs up, so that John lay cuddled up to Sherlock's chest.
After a while laying there in comfortable silence, Sherlock cleared his throat, his speech rumbling through his chest into John as he spoke.
"Earlier on, you referred to me as your partner."
John froze, his mind reeling. He had hoped dearly Sherlock wouldn't have noticed, but he should have known better. All sorts of lies ran through his head, but in the end he chose the explanation he'd least expected to use, the truth.
"Well to a large extent you were. We worked together on cases, we lived together, we spent all our time together. You were my colleague, my flatmate, my best friend, my partner." He smiled internally. That works.
"But we were never sexual."
John's breath caught at the word, but he carried on. "We didn't need to be. Well, I say were. Was I dreaming or not, when I came through that door?"
"Ah, I…" Sherlock composed himself. "I apologise for overstepping your boundaries John, after seeing how angry it made you I am sorry for trying to invade your privacy. I put my own personal need for you in front of your needs."
"It wasn't the kiss that made me angry." John shuffled so he was lying practically on top of Sherlock, looking him in the face. "It was the being left part that made me angry."
"So, you didn't mind?" Sherlock was trying to look casual, but John was against his chest and could feel his heart racing.
"After being away from you so long? Not at all." He looked into Sherlock's eyes again, bringing their faces closer together. "Not, one bit".
The second kiss was entirely different from the first one. It was soft and gentle, taking things slowly. It seemed to confirm some sort of understanding between them, that they didn't need to hurry or rush. Acceptance blossomed in John's chest as he gently moved to part his lips. He's back. He's really back and I'm not imagining it. And it wasn't from spite, he did it to protect me. Sentiment. He smiled against Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock pulled back, his face puzzled.
"Nothing, just… welcome home."