AN: Wow guys, this chapter. I might as well have been writing with blood from a papercut. Sorry about the wait. Should be only one or two chapters left, which will hopefully come easier and you'll get them sooner!
Also if you're frustrated by Sherlock in this chapter: me too, guys. Me too.
Sherlock and John go back to their lives, or as close to it as they can remember how, and heal.
They drink a lot of tea, they do a lot of sitting quietly. Sherlock plays his violin. John listens. Sherlock repopulates the kitchen with the science equipment from the box Mrs. Hudson had stowed under his bed. John reads a book nearby. It is surprisingly healing for Sherlock just to sit with nobody else in the room except someone he knows means him well. It is not so surprisingly healing for John to sit with Sherlock.
They do speak, but not often on anything that happened before The Dinner Party, either in Sherlock's life or John's. They have both run out of light, casual things to say, and are still unwilling to say anything else for the moment. So they drink tea, and heal.
John thinks he is touching on a neutral subject when he sees Sherlock fiddling with his phone while he waits for results on some experiment or other.
"How's Molly?" John asks, and Sherlock sets his phone back down on the table.
"I wouldn't really know," he says, putting his eyes to his microscope again. John frowns, one eyebrow lifted.
"I thought you were texting," he says. Sherlock glances up from his microscope to shoot John a suspicious look. He's sure John would never admit it, but Sherlock suspects "texting" means something a little different from "sending texts to each other."
"We were in extremely limited correspondence while I was gone," Sherlock responds, not looking at John. "If that's what you mean. We haven't had reason to speak since my return."
John looks skeptical, but Sherlock rolls his eyes.
"It's a week. It would often be weeks between any texts—once we didn't speak for two and a half months." He doesn't mention Molly had been angry with him—or how bleak those months had been—since that would seem to serve John's point. "I'm sure Molly isn't on the edge of her seat waiting for updates on my bacteria cultures after all that."
John doesn't look convinced, but he doesn't press the matter. Sherlock takes his phone from the table and stuffs it into his trouser pocket, resisting the sudden urge to text Molly about his bacteria cultures.
Molly goes back to her life, or what of it still feels like hers, and waits.
She left the camera with Lestrade the night of Moran's arrest, but it's hard to unlearn the awareness of it in the corner of the morgue. Every now and then she starts to do something for the sake of the camera—tilt an autopsy toward it so that Sherlock can see if he wants to, make a comment out loud supposedly to herself—before she remembers that Sherlock is no longer watching.
Even more often does she think about her phone in the pocket of her lab coat. It seems to bang against her thigh more than it ever has.
"I know it hasn't been that long, and I don't know if you're ready to cut short your recovery quite yet—"
"I'm not recovering from anything, Lestrade," Sherlock says briskly. "You have a case?"
"Not me—they passed it to me to pass to you. Turns out coming back from the dead didn't do anything to make you more approachable."
"The case, it's… Is it a murder? Is there a body to inspect?" Sherlock hesitates. From his chair, John looks up over the top of his book at him. Sherlock pretends not to notice.
"Nah, just a museum robbery. Why?"
"We'll take it," says Sherlock quickly. "We'll be by the Yard later. Ta." He hangs up his phone before Lestrade can respond and stuffs it in his pocket.
"Museum robbery case waiting for us," Sherlock says. "Coming?"
"No murder?" says John.
"Well, you know, nothing on. Give London a few days," Sherlock returns breezily.
"It's only that when you said that it seemed… like maybe you were hoping there wasn't a body," says John mildly.
"Not at all."
John's eyebrows go up. A question. In Sherlock's mind is a black and white morgue, in his pocket his phone, bulky and accusing. He dismisses both.
"Plenty enough bodies lately, is all," he says quickly. "Up for a change of pace."
John watches him a moment longer, then nods in quiet understanding. He reaches for the bookmark he has left on the end table and Sherlock goes to get their coats. He feels maybe a little guilty for exploiting this new commonality of having been a soldier abroad he now shares with John, but like before, this thing with Molly is his fight, his case. He has to solve it on his own.
Molly had thought that not having to carry her secret would be a huge weight from her heart, that being free of it would fix all the things that it had made wrong.
It does, sort of. Or Sherlock being back fixes a lot of things. Having other people know he's alive does not in and of itself fix anything she thought it would.
Meena appears in the lab doorway and Molly looks up and smiles. Meena smiles back, but perfunctorily. Caroline looks up from the test she's setting up.
"Lunch?" says Meena.
"Sure. I'll be done in a second," Caroline says. "Hey, Molly, can you keep your eye on the centrifuge and take my samples out when it's done?"
"Yeah, sure," smiles Molly, attempting to sound cheerful and not doing a very good job. Neither woman seems to notice.
"Thanks!" says Caroline. She throws her lab coat on a hook as the two of them walk out on their way to lunch.
It's not that they wouldn't invite Molly if they thought she wanted to go. They used to invite her. She used to go. They used to come over to her place after work and play with her cat sometimes. They used to be her friends. They still are, she supposes, but a year can change a lot of things, and having an enormous secret to protect is not conducive to healthy relationships. She didn't trust herself with other people, then she couldn't relate to other people, and she didn't feel like lunch and she didn't feel like having company and she didn't feel like going out, and no she felt fine it's okay, and if you give enough nos eventually even the kindest hearted people stop asking.
That isn't Sherlock's fault. It's hers. She knows that well enough.
But though the secret is gone, the secret keeper is still here. Something keeps her from chasing after Meena and Caroline, asking to tag along. She suspects it might be that she doesn't really want to have lunch with people who gossiped about a dead hero (but she still remembers lunches from before a year ago, remembers nights out at the pub and them coming over the day she first got her cat Toby, so she is pretending not to have decided).
It feels selfish to think, but Molly understood things better when she was all Sherlock had, and not the other way around.
Sherlock drops his phone back in his pocket.
"That was Lestrade," he says. "They've got a date set for Moran's trial."
John looks up from assembling a sandwich in the kitchen. Within sight. He hasn't gone out of range of sight of Sherlock often since his return. "Yeah? Will we have all the evidence in order by then?"
"All my evidence is in order," sniffs Sherlock.
John smirks and scrapes a knife along the inside of a mayonnaise jar.
"Okay. Will the police have the evidence in order?" he rephrases mildly.
"One can hope," says Sherlock with a cartoonish sigh. "Hoping isn't advised, but one can." John laughs, as Sherlock meant him to.
Molly gets a call about Moran's trial date too.
"We're making your role as minimal as possible," says Lestrade. "A couple statements, that's it. We're not even giving you an opportunity to perjure, figured that was the neatest way about it."
"They'll be asking me something, though, right? I mean, I'll be a witness," Molly points out. The word 'perjure' makes her more nervous than it had occurred to her to be about this.
"You'll be asked almost nothing, I promise," Lestrade reassures her. "Honestly, it's gonna be a kangaroo court. The entire thing's being virtually scripted by whatever department Sherlock's brother runs, which actually actively terrifies me, but I'm trying not to think about it. I'd be more concerned if I wasn't certain he'll deserve whatever they hand out to him and more."
"Pity they couldn't do it with Moriarty a year ago," she frowns.
"Yeah well, Moriarty was a genius, he could arrange for his own perversions of justice. Moran was pretty much just his gun arm, from the little Sherlock tells me. His inherited connections mean much less than Moriarty's did. And for that matter, that was a high profile case." He laughs faintly, and she can imagine him scrubbing his face with the heel of his hand, as she's seen him do when Sherlock closed a case in five minutes with a glance at a body. "We're getting Moran more or less on assault with intent to kill and the like, if you can believe it."
Molly shakes her head. It's a strange world, the law.
"Nothing about Moriarty?"
"Not nothing," says Lestrade. "But not much. Nearly nothing about Sherlock's doings while he was gone. Don't worry, you're being portrayed as nothing more than an incidental ally."
She laughs quietly. It rings a little hollow to her ears.
"That sounds about right," Molly says.
Sherlock is much better about using his own laptop than John's now that he's back. Better, actually, at having it accounted for and nearby, at checking intermittently for its presence and the presence of his phone and, John suspects, the black strapped bag still sitting by the door. John still isn't much of one for deductions, but he thinks even he can spot the twitch of a hunted man, the precautions of a transient.
Sherlock's strangely-cropped hair and his heightened care for his possessions aren't the only things that have changed about him; he doesn't linger in bed or in his pajamas anymore, gets up early. He doesn't stand by windows like he used to, looking out. Doesn't even walk in front of them casually. John sees a soldier in so much of Sherlock now. But Sherlock hasn't talked about it, still, two weeks on, even though John has taken Sarah's generously offered time off from the surgery and the case didn't take long, so for the last two weeks it's been mostly either talking or nothing.
And therefore it's been pretty much nothing. Not that John minds so much. It's good just to have Sherlock near, to reassure himself of Sherlock's reality. And he understands the not talking. It's fine.
Sherlock is up early again today, earlier than John, which isn't as hard as it used to be now that he's slowly managing to drop his army conditioning. Sherlock is fully dressed and sitting in John's chair rather than his own, staring absently out the window from a safe distance, his laptop shut on the table at his elbow. As soon as John sees him there, he makes sure his footfalls make a noticeable sound. Never sneak up on a man just back from war.
Sherlock looks up at the sound, as he mightn't have a year ago.
"Good morning," he says, as he definitely wouldn't have.
"Morning," says John, going into the kitchen . He sees, from the corner of his eye, Sherlock's hand flicker toward his laptop and then stop, to be withdrawn back to his lap. John's seen it happen surprisingly often, for a man normally in such conscious control of himself. He can't imagine how often Sherlock must have been checking his laptop while he was gone.
"I can see Mrs. Hudson didn't make you breakfast today, since I highly doubt you washed your dishes," he mentions as he puts some bread in the toaster. Sherlock chuckles.
"Yes, I finally convinced her. I had to say that after a year without a proper British breakfast, so many all at once might turn my stomach. It was a difficult fight and I'm not sure she wholly believed me, but she let me off with some tea and biscuits," he grins.
John laughs too, softly, but stands in the kitchen doorway and crosses his arms thoughtfully.
"You said 'fight,'" he says after a few moments. Sherlock twists around in his seat to cock an eyebrow at John.
"What? I mean, obviously I didn't—"
"No, it's not… you used to say 'case,'" he explains. "That used to be your word for things like that. Now it's 'fight.' I noticed it the other day."
Sherlock stiffens visibly and turns back around.
"Well, what do you expect," he says. Not loud, no inflection.
John wants to circle around to the front of Sherlock, but doesn't. "Nothing," he says, trying not to sound exasperated and mostly failing. "I don't expect anything because I don't know what to expect. I mean, I know basically what you were doing but… You realize you haven't really told me anything, right?"
He sees Sherlock's shoulders relax.
"Yes. I'm sorry. It's just that I hadn't—"
"No, I don't need—" says John, the two of them speaking over each other for a moment. There's a brief silence. The toast pops up in the kitchen.
"I'd be happy to tell you," Sherlock smiles, "if you bring me some toast."
She wonders what Sherlock and John are talking about, now that they can finally talk. He's probably telling John all about the things he did and the places he was for the last year, the mysterious dangers he texted her from. The firefight while he asked her about her eyes. The morning she talked to him while he sewed up the wound in his side.
She hopes John will share some of the stories with her sometime.
She's glad Sherlock is back with John. She's so glad. When she thinks of the day John came into the morgue alone, her chest still tightens. It's good for them to have each other again.
Two weeks after Sherlock's return, Molly starts leaving her phone in her handbag at work again. The absence of its weight is hard to get used to—she keeps feeling off balance, like part of her is missing.