Tactical Error

He doesn't like to admit, even to himself, that it may have been an error to come here without warning. But the draw. . .the need. . . was irresistible.

Mycroft had warned him to stay away, to break the news gently, that the shock would work against him. But this wasn't about want, it wasn't about need, this was about making things right.

Three years away on a quest that had very nearly robbed him of his last shred of humanity. He was a shell, an empty vessel, scoured thin by the necessities of death and violence and depravity. His one saving grace, the thought that his dearest, most loyal friend would be able to pull him back from the brink of the yawning chasm of despair that had been his constant companion on his travails.

He came here from the train, without taking the time to clean-up, to wash or to change out of the stinking ragged disguise of his last false persona, unable to wait another minute for this long awaited reunion.

John is not home.

221B is the same and yet different. Gone is the scent of chemicals and sulphur, replaced by the subtle tang of shoe polish and sandalwood aftershave. The holes in the wall have been erased along with the smiley face. The furniture is the same; his sofa, his cushions, the desk between the windows, but the sense of barely ordered chaos is missing; surfaces are tidy and polished, the rug dust free and the bookshelves organized into regimented alphabetized neatness. A glance into the kitchen confirms that it too is tidied and ordered to military standards.

For the first time it dawns on him that this is no longer their flat. This is John's flat now and he has clearly turned it into his own sanctuary.

John has moved on.

With a restlessness born of desperation he investigates the rest of the flat. His room is now John's room and there are only two of his possessions in sight; the skull on the bedside table and his great-coat hanging on the back of the door alongside John's dressing gown. It is the coat he wore on that fateful day, the coat he and Molly splattered with his own blood before dressing his already dead doppelganger for the switch. It makes his heart clench to think of John having it cleaned of the gore and keeping it as a memento.

Upstairs in what was John's room there are no signs of a new flat mate. The bed is stripped and half buried under boxes of books and science equipment, his clothes are neatly folded away in the chest of drawers, his suits and shirts pressed and hanging in the wardrobe and his violin case standing to attention in the corner.

He doesn't touch, he can scarcely breathe. This is a memorial and he is an intruder.

A visit to the bathroom reinforces the dichotomy between then and now, the pristine fixtures, the neatly folded towels, the toiletries placed with precision. And the man in the mirror, pale to the point of transparency, cropped dirty blond hair that needed washing a week ago, expression vacant. He retreats from the evidence of his own decline.

He considers calling John's mobile but he cannot bring himself to do it.

John's schedule is pinned to a new noticeboard in the kitchen and his absence is suddenly clear, he is on duty at the hospital and should finish at 5pm and be home by 5.30. Four hours and John will be home. Sherlock settles on the sofa to wait.

Sunset comes and goes. The hours tick past and Sherlock waits in silence in the growing darkness. He hears the front door snick shut and, after a slight delay, hears Mrs Hudson's labored tread on the stairs. She lets herself in and goes to the kitchen, using the light from the refrigerator to put away the groceries. He hears her mutter about. . 'working late again' and.. . 'works too hard' and . . . 'needs a life' ormaybe it was. .. 'needs a wife'.

She leaves without venturing into the lounge and Sherlock doesn't announce his presence, because if anyone deserves to know first that he is back, it is John.

Sherlock doesn't sleep, even though he is running on his last reserve of energy; he doesn't eat or even make himself a cup of tea.

He waits. He waits to come home.

It is after midnight when the sound of heavy tread on the stairs pulls him from the depths of his mind-palace and he is memory is taken into the past when John first visited the flat and his limp and walking stick defined his disability. Before John makes it through the door, Sherlock reaches over to turn on the lamp, hoping the light will alert John to a visitor as soon as he enters.

Sherlock fears this confrontation more than any encounter with Moriaty's crew. . .this means so much more and his future hangs on John's capacity for forgiveness. He cannot afford to fail.

It is barely dawn when John finally reaches flashpoint.

They have hugged, talked , cried, argued, hugged, drunk tea, talked some more and Sherlock has tried so hard not to tread on oversensitive feelings. He has learned so much in his time away, has been so alone and so lonely. He has learned to value unconditional friendship and the rarity of the bond they shared.

And he can see in the lines on his friend's face and in the silver in his hair, the cost of his decision to go it alone. John is broken, diminished. . .a shadow of his former self. . .far more broken than the wounded ex-soldier who first hobbled in to the lab at Bart's. He can see the anger, too, it has been bubbling under the surface for the last six hours and John's anger is not something he ever wants aimed in his direction because he fears its power and its possibilities.

Sherlock knows the last three years have changed him and he can see now that they have changed John too, in ways he had never anticipated. All the qualities he has always admired in John are still there; his honour, his compassion. . . .his goodness. . . but there is a brittleness to him now that was never there before. Sherlock knows that he is responsible and that he will forever grieve for the hurt he has caused to the one person in his life (except Mycroft) who ever accepted him for what he was and saw through the many layers of self-protection he had armored himself in to protect the wounded soul beneath.

Sherlock talks, he explains and John listens but doesn't seem to hear. Exhausted, soul-weary and overcome, John finally reaches the end of his tether and lashes out.

John storms out and by the time Sherlock comes to and has picked himself up off the floor his friend has vanished into the dawn.

Sherlock calls for him, drawing a sleepy crowd of onlookers, including Mrs Hudson who emerges onto the street to confront a ghost. Amidst the confusion and distress a sleek black sedan pulls up to the curb and the landlady and the formerly deceased tenant are swept back into the privacy behind the door of 221B.

Mycroft takes charge, summoning Lestrade, calling for his own back-up, sending operatives to search for the missing Doctor; to the Hospital, to Harry's, to his therapist's office, to the morgue at Bart's. . .to the places John would likely bolt to. Alerts are sent to hospitals, airports, ports, stations and taxi firms.

The Soldier/Doctor has gone to ground.

They find the smashed phone and the walking stick abandoned in an alley but no sign of their quarry. Mycroft pulls strings and gains access to John's bank records and tracks his oyster travelcard. They get a hit on the travel card which sends the troops to Islington but there the trail goes cold.

Back in the flat they find John's Passport and two prescription bottles of pills, one for a sleep aid and the other an antidepressant . After twelve hours with no sightings the press are briefed and John is listed as a vulnerable missing person, although no mention is made of Sherlock's return.

Sherlock is distraught and barely able to function. As the paparazzi camp out in Baker Street, Mycroft arranges for Mrs Hudson and Sherlock to be spirited away to the privacy and seclusion of his penthouse in Mayfair to be cared for by his personal Physician and his very attentive staff. Sherlock is sedated and only begins to stir days later when Mrs Hudson gets a message from John via Sarah that he is safe.

By the time Mycroft's operatives have tracked the Doctor's 'Lestrade' alias to Glasgow the tabloids have broken the story of Sherlock's resurrection and John's disappearance is relegated to a second string story. The Holmes brothers are whisked by private jet to Glasgow and the search is resumed but all the resources of the police and the spymaster come up blank. They are on the point of returning to the capital and accepting that Dr Watson has evaded The Best of British, that they have underestimated him, when the chime of an incoming text message announces an end to the uncertainty.

2pm Sunday. Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

Come alone. JW

Sherlock is at the meeting place an hour early, sitting at the base of one of the fluted columns of the portico. He counts the number of agents keeping a discrete surveillance on the meet; he knows Mycroft is sitting in the window seat of a coffee shop across the street.

Sherlock wants to pace to help disperse the pent up anxiety of the upcoming reunion but he dare not move for fear of missing John's arrival. He counts down the minutes; at ten to the hour he stands and in his reflection in the glass doors he once more recognizes himself; the tailored designer suit, plum coloured silk shirt and flowing full length coat. . .his own coat, his hair back to its natural colour. For the first time in three years he feels comfortable in his own skin and he has hope.

He misses John's arrival, the Doctor camouflaged amidst a large part of sightseers following an umbrella wielding tourguide. He turns to find John leaning against the pillar behind him.

A hesitant smile and an arm extended for a handshake.

A brief hesitation and the handshake becomes a hug.

'I missed you'


Shireling April 2012