This is the end...
With thanks to Shaindy, my beta, as always. I have gone back over the whole thing, so it is now all properly edited and proofread and shiny, espically the first three chapters, which were causing problems before.
Doctor Watson hasn't called any patients through in the ten minutes since his last appointment. It's odd, not like him at all. Mira glides backwards on the wheels of the chair, which is still a glorious novelty and doesn't stick to the carpet like the old, uncomfortable wooden one, and goes through to see.
The corridor is silent, just the hum of clunky computers. His door is open a crack, as is his habit when there are no patients in the room.
He isn't doing anything. Doctor Watson, from the little she can see, is staring at the taped together photo on his desk, the laughing one with him and Mr Holmes, whom she hasn't seen for three days. Mira pushes open the door. The hinge doesn't squeak.
"Hmmm?" He turns around in his chair to face her in the doorway. She can practically see the way he drags his eyes away from the photo. He looks like he should be crying, something written deep into the lines on his face. He looks too lost in the picture of the past to take any note of how he is now. "Yes?"
She doesn't know what to say. What the hell does she say to this man? This locked up man who she can't comprehend anymore. She used to be able to, a bit. Sympathise, even if she couldn't empathise. There is no template, Mira realises, for the reversal of grief. She tries to imagine a metaphor that would work for this situation. It must have been like having the stars, and then having them taken away from you and being given LEDs in the stars' place, and then having the stars shoved in your hands again, just when you'd gotten used to placebo light. It still doesn't fit. It is something entirely unknowable.
She can't help him. For the very first time she can't do anything. She can't provide newspapers, or messages, or paint, or a recipe for the spiciest meal her grandmother had ever made. This time, she can't help. She doesn't think anyone else can either.
It feels wrong to keep on intruding on this backwards process, but she can't leave without having a reason for being there.
"Tea?" she offers and doesn't mention the tears. He must have felt them by now.
"Thanks," he says, and smiles in that 'I'm trying but my face won't move properly' way that everybody does when they're uncomfortable.
She leaves him and debates calling his house where Sherlock Holmes will hopefully be. Should she? Would that be what's best for Doctor Watson?
She doesn't know.
When she returns with the tea five minutes later there is no evidence on his face. If she hadn't seen then she wouldn't have known. It makes her wonder, as she leaves the door open just a crack behind her, how much else of himself Doctor Watson hides and how much he has left behind over his life and is now reclaiming.
The text sits on the screen of his phone, innocuous and just there, waiting to be replied to: Half of these textbooks are yours. S
You used them more. J, John sends and sees the scrawl of Sherlock's notes on his pages.
When John gets in, Sherlock is sitting at the kitchen table and has paper spread out around him like a blast radius. Half has been torn into pieces and the other half appears to be pages covered in the careful, deliberate print that Sherlock uses when he is writing for others. It's almost childlike in its shape on the page. Sherlock writes, in situations like this, as if he's going to be told off for a misformed letter. When he's scrawling his own notes the words and letters are pen scratches all over the place.
It takes John a few seconds to acclimatise once more to two facts. 1) Sherlock is alive and 2) he is sitting at John's kitchen table even though he has moved back to Baker Street. Then he sits down and steals the mug Sherlock has dangerously close to both his left hand and the edge of the table. He takes a sip. It's coffee, and hours cold at that.
"Have you been drinking this?"
"Mmmm," Sherlock says, or rather doesn't say, because that hum is the sound Sherlock makes when he's coming out of his head and starting to pay attention to the outside world again.
"This coffee, how long have you had this cup?" Sherlock shrugs. "Then when did you get here?"
"Around one?" Sherlock offers. His hair is its old length, cut so that the curls just rest on the back of his neck as his head bends down when he writes. It brings back memories of cases, of mutual understandings on long nights where the exchanges of idea was what kept them going. Things that John thought he had forgotten, because that's what humans do: forget. It's like he has a small slice of the past stuck in the now and John can't get over how disjointed that feels.
It would be easier, John suspects, to accept and get used to the fact that Sherlock is alive, get used to the old-newness of this situation that they have themselves in if he'd given into the immediate instinct of yes when Sherlock had asked him back to 221B two weeks ago. But this doesn't deserve to be easy. If anything can be salvaged out of the mess that they have themselves in it is going to be hard and worthwhile. John thinks, when he lets himself imagine this new future once more with Sherlock, that it could be better than what they had before. And that was pretty damn near perfect. A sort of understated perfect with exciting bits and awful bits and quiet bits and all sorts of bits really. Good. Just plain good and the potential for this to happen again makes John's diaphragm tight.
John pours the half-drunk cup of cold coffee down the sink. It leaves a thin brown residue of liquid on the metal, like a semi-permanent trace of where it has been until the water washes it away.
"What are you writing?"
"Mycroft. Wants reports of specific events because we tore up those forms," Sherlock nearly growls, impatient and irritated. The two brothers seem to have fallen into a vicious cycle of one upmanship. Sherlock tears up forms Mycroft undoubtedly has copies of already and Mycroft pushes Sherlock into writing up reports of events that happened a couple of years ago.
"You hate writing," John says as he sits down at the end of the table. Sherlock will makes notes, proper ones and messy two-second ones but he prefers to type for longer pieces.
"It's easier to destroy," Sherlock says, and then nearly jabs the biro through the page. This is true, John considers. You can burn paper. You can't burn bytes. The sight of Sherlock surrounded by tangible words brings back more thoughts, and the ideas written in a letter that lives in a shortbread tin under his bed.
"Should I burn the letter then?" It makes John ache to consider turning Sherlock's proper goodbye, because that phone call was not goodbye, to ash. He likes having a record of Sherlock's sentiment on paper, written with ink. It was out of character for Sherlock, that letter. Very sincerely yours. The words run through his head as Sherlock looks up.
"If you want to," he says slowly, and he is closed off, almost like the beginning. Wary. Sherlock shouldn't be wary of him. Oh god, John is tired.
There is something John needs to ask, something that has preyed on his mind in the small hours for the past three years. He's not quite sure if he can actually ask until the words come out of his mouth with a mind of their own.
"Why did you write it?"
Sherlock puts down the pen, and scrubs his hands through his hair and over his eyes. He doesn't look like he's been sleeping. It's been just as hard for him, John realises, but in different ways. "I wanted you to have something," Sherlock says. "I wanted to leave something. Mycroft was to give you that letter only if things went completely wrong. Like they did."
"Completely wrong?" John stands up and paces across the small kitchen floor. "That wasn't completely wrong. The complete balls-up would have been if you had actually died."
"I have eyes, John," Sherlock burst and throws the pen at the wall. It leaves a small black mark. "I can see what I've done to you. For Christ's sake, you've lost more weight in these past few weeks than you have since I had to call you as Sigerson."
"Like you're one to talk," John snaps right back and then somehow they are giggling like old there in the kitchen.
This is how the healing starts, John thinks later, after Sherlock has gathered up the handwritten report and left. With awkward, inappropriate laughter. But then, that's how they always have been.
John has a full staff at Montague Street for the first time. It's a miracle that has taken two rounds of interviews and an eventual decision on a young doctor named Charlie Verner and the fact that several of the district nurses are now going to be based there. It means that with the Moran/Armstrong trial looming heavily in the distance John can take the time off without feeling guilty about leaving them there. They are all fully competent intelligent adults, skilled and liked by everybody. They can do their jobs.
So he doesn't feel anything other than every single form of anticipation when he goes back to Baker Street for the first time. It's in response to a text; Sherlock has taken to texting him several times a day with small, often ridiculous titbits. This one reads Mrs Hudson is trying to kill me with cottage pie. Help. S
How can John resist a plea like that?
"Mrs Hudson, I honestly couldn't eat another bite," John says as he leans back in his chair, stretching out his legs. They kick into something. Sherlock's legs, but Sherlock doesn't say a thing, just kicks back slightly and doesn't smirk with his mouth or his eyebrows. He is smirking though. John can tell these things.
"It's lovely to have my boys back," Mrs Hudson says as she starts to gather up dishes and plates. "Look at you both." John and Sherlock look up at each other, and then away, and then hold each other's gaze for a few seconds. It feels far too close to a courtship dance for John's liking.
John stands suddenly and takes the plates out of her hands. "Let us. You cooked." Sherlock pulls a face behind her back, but helps anyway, snatching the sponge out of John's hand before he can start running the water. Sherlock always prefers washing if he has to do one of the washing/drying combo, leaving John to dry up every time. The little things haven't changed. He's still Sherlock who hates being handed plates that are slimy with soapy water, so he prefers to make them that way himself. It is very like him. If Sherlock is washing, he's causing the mess, leaving John to clear up after him, or dry up, and since when has doing the washing up for Mrs Hudson turned into a gigantic metaphor for their lives?
John is tired, and drunk, in his own house, not 221B. Sherlock is sitting across the kitchen table from him. Between them are a couple of empty bottles of wine and the dregs of a half bottle of Glenfiddich. Their heads are going to kill them in the morning. John cannot think of a time that he has been more grateful for not having the morning shift.
He doesn't care about that at the moment. Right now Sherlock is across the table from him, flushed and soft with alcohol and open and desperate to share. John isn't drunk enough that he won't remember this and he is so fiercely glad about that. He needs to hear this, Sherlock's tale while he is willing to tell it. Dragging it out of the man against his will would spoil it. Trust. It's all about trust. You have to trust someone to drink around them, trust them not to ruin you with the careless words and actions that intoxication can cause. Sherlock is trusting John, like he used to, like he still does and John is trusting Sherlock, like he used to, like he somehow is still trying to, and if it takes a bit of liquid courage to get them going, so be it.
"I was wrong," Sherlock has finished talking about far off lands and has moved on to being in London. "I told Lestrade and he knew what I had said straight away. How did he know?" A drunken Sherlock is a garrulous Sherlock, all relevant rambles and a slight lisp.
"He's known you for a decade," John says and smiles down at the last thin layer of amber in his glass.
Sherlock half leans over the table, propped up on one hand and examining John. John looks back, not sure if it feels odd or ordinary to be examined once more.
"When I said you weren't a hero, John. I was angry at you because you weren't listening." Sherlock turns away as he speaks, doesn't look John in the eye. They're back to the oldest form of communication, glances and not-glances. "I've been watching you. You're everybody's hero. I can't move without finding someone who adores you. It's like the Doctor Watson fan club around here."
John feels like blushing, and holds it back mostly; swallowing against the fact that Sherlock has admitted that other people need him. It's a form of acceptance that means they can only go forward.
"It's quiet without you," Sherlock says, as if it's some kind of great secret that can only be shared in this liquid-bolstered environment. "Too quiet- the upstairs doesn't creak, and there's no-one to complain about the kitchen."
"John. I'll be fine." Carmen stares down at him along a proud nose. She's an inch taller than him. "You told me everything that I need to know." She shuffles the papers on her desk, hand flicking over the picture of her children. "Julia and Alberto are both in school. I have the time and you've been, how do you say- preparing? - grooming? - me for this for the past year, I can tell. Go and put that hijo de puta in cárcel, prison? Yes?"
John smiles. Carmen is fiercely protective. He thinks that she and Sherlock should meet, they would tolerate each other. She is also surprisingly vulgar when the occasion demands it, swearing fluently and without impunity in her mother tongue. He trusts her, and he trusts her with his surgery and patients. She will make a fine temporary head of surgery. He wouldn't be surprised if she surpasses him in some areas. The only reason that he became head was because Dr Fryer retired and there was no-one else.
John stands in the witness box and resists the compulsion to smooth down the lapels of his jacket. It doesn't quite fit him properly. That's what you get when you lose weight due to grief. Three years is a long time though. He should have regained at least some of it. In the depths of his mind a little voice whispers, I was prepared to mourn him for the rest of my life. No one would have noticed if I was quiet about it and made it the normal me. That's not healthy; John knows and doesn't quite care. Sherlock is back, and he is here. Not here, in the court room, because they had agreed that it would be too public. But he is back. He is here.
The judge on the bench in this case of The Crown v Moran is not Sir Augustus Moran, who has taken a voluntary (forced) leave of absence while the entire affair is happening. Justice Brinkley has the roots of a Jamaican accent in his low tones and is practically the opposite of Moran. John is not sure if this is good or bad. Good, he thinks tentatively.
The lawyer prosecuting for The Crown is a woman called Ruth Instone who looks like she's seen everything and knows that she's seen almost everything. There is a difference between thinking that you've seen everything and knowing that you've seen almost everything. It's a difference that John is intimately familiar with and he's glad that she is too. You fall into fewer traps that way.
"You are," says Ms Instone, and looks up at him. "John Hamish Watson of 15 Montague Street."
"Yes," John says, remembering to say so, and not just nod.
"You graduated in July 1997 from St Bart's Medical school."
"You joined the army as a doctor where, over 12 years of service you received a Military Cross and a George Cross as well as numerous mentions in dispatches."
John fights the quiver across his skin. He hates his decorations being pointed out; it goes against his every modest bone.
"Yes," he says once more, softly. He know why she is establishing this, a base of honesty and bravery, setting up the picture of a good man for him to stand on and use to portray himself as someone to be believed. There are twelve people sitting across from him who should be hanging on his every word if he's doing this right. John's always hated public speaking. He's rubbish at it.
"You received Medical Discharge after being shot." And now he has their pity. He loathes pity. The jury now see him as a washed up veteran rather than a man who can stand on his own.
"Yes," John says and feels slightly uncomfortable. Talking about when he was shot he will have to do, because Moran was involved, but after, the consequent infection and care it took to get him on his feet again, he hates thinking off, and talking about. There is only one person who knows more than the basics who wasn't involved in his medical care or is Mycroft and he is not here. He should be tucked safely away in 221B. He is… sitting in the gallery.
John, in an unparalleled feat of self-control, doesn't bury his head in his hands. Sherlock is sitting in the public gallery, in a brown suit with his hair combed and slicked to the side and a pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose as he pretends to scribble notes. He could strangle that man. They'd agreed. Agreed that Sherlock wouldn't come to watch even though he'd wanted to because he didn't want the press, of which there is quite a bit, to see him. They've kept his return confined to government back offices and cold-cases from Lestrade so far. Sherlock and John have no desire for the major public eye at all.
Slowly, ever so slowly, over the course of three days, John talks his ways though his encounters with Moran, in both desert and city. He tells the court of the soldiers and few brave civilians he had treated in the wake of Moran, he tells of the night spent in the cell, he speaks of the burnt out building across from the surgery where he had been prepared to. Sherlock sits through it all, watching John. It is a staggering reversal of the opposite circumstances, when near four years ago now they were in each other's seats.
So long. It's been so long.
Late on the third day Ruth Instone stands from behind her table to address Justice Brinkley. "Your Honour," she says, face sure. "I would like to present one last piece of evidence concerning the defendant. The court has already hear how he plotted, and carried out, with the assistance of the late James Moriarty, an attempt on the life of Doctor Watson. I request permission to play a recording of the confession of Piers 'Skinner' Tyler, one of the men who, two years ago, attacked Doctor Watson and Bethany Lonski in another attempt on Doctor Watson's life.
"We were given the doctor's description and a photograph, nothing more. He looked a bit small and old and we thought no trouble. Mr Moran told us he had been in the army, and so to watch out, but that he would have a girl with him, and we could do what we liked with her. Mr Moran gave us half the money then and promised us the other half after. We thought that it would be easy 'cause of the way Mr Moran was smirking at us. Never been more wrong in my life. The doctor was a scrapper, and a right menace with that cane of his that he was using to help him walk.
"This is yet another offence that Sebastian Moran committed against the person of John Watson." Her red hair is scraped back into a tight bun at the base of her neck; sever against the neck of the dark grey suit jacket as she turns her head to look each of the jury in the eye, securing their attention.
John glances up at Sherlock, just one of thousands of such looks over the past three days. Sherlock has been sitting up there like an over-protective hawk even though he really shouldn't have been. John hasn't spoken to him about it because he hasn't seen the man outside the courtroom; he comes and goes without John seeing, even though he's looking. John knows why he's avoiding him, he doesn't want John to talk about how he really shouldn't be here even though he so utterly grateful that he is. Having Sherlock sitting up there makes it better once John has resigned himself to the fact that Sherlock isn't leaving. It lets John pretend that he is talking to Sherlock only, that everybody else are just incidental intruders in their private little world. Sherlock is there, and listening. Such a small shred of knowledge that makes this entire tiring experience seem that little bit better.
When John turns on his phone late that evening, having gone out the back of the Old Bailey to avoid the crowds of press and is ensconced in the hotel room he's in for the duration of his time as witness, his inbox is full of texts. Most of them are from Sherlock, with the exceptions being from Harry, Mike, Greg and Mira. Theirs are all asking how he is. Sherlock's are a strange list when read backwards as they appear in his inbox, newest at the top of the list.
John, answer me. Say no.
Would you have let them? Say no.
You're very good at pretending to be fine. You fooled everybody.
The girl, wasn't it. The one at dinner. Only for her. John. Answer me.
Did you think yourself not important? That is perhaps the most moronic thing. S.
Did you pay her off? S.
Why didn't Wiggins say? S.
Did they hurt you? What did they do? S.
Why didn't you say? S.
Read in reverse, they paint a picture of panic that wrenches something in John.
Come here. J.
He sends the text, and waits.
Sherlock shows up at the door, not bothering to knock, just opening and walking in. His suit jacket, brown and slightly ill-fitting, goes with the colour scheme of the room, the beiges and the whites that seem universal in every average hotel across the globe. John closes the door behind him as he sinks into a chair in a way that seems entirely wrong.
"So," John says, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I appear to have underestimated the entire situation," Sherlock says slowly, and removes the thin wire frame glasses that have sat on his nose, changing the shape of his face, obscuring his eyes. He puts them in his pocket, and runs a hand through his hair, messing up the way it's been combed back and aside. It falls oddly across his forehead, sticky and straight. "You. Moran and you. And you would have let them, if Miss Lonski hadn't been there. I can tell- the way you were talking about it gave it all away."
John says nothing. He doesn't really think of that time. Doesn't let himself. John Watson is very good at pretending, and he had just been pretending to be fine up until the attack, and even after,until the second Christmas where he had realised that he could be reasonably content living in Montague Street. Before then he wouldn't have cared really. He would have been fighting, if he had died that night. An honourable way to go, no shame in it, and most definitely not with it being five on one. Not that Beth hadn't been a scrapper, kneeing two of them in the balls as they tore her blouse, but still, not a bad way to go.
Would he have let them? Would he have fought half-heartedly and welcomed any sort of peace and darkness? It's not something that John likes to think about, mainly because the answer is a dangerous road to go down.
"I don't know. Maybe," is all John says. The air is thick and stuffy, entirely wrong for late November in a badly heated room. "Why did you go without me?"
"What?" Sherlock stares at him. It is strange, Sherlock's eyes burning mercury out of the wrong costume, but it is wonderfully similar at the same time. John has seen Sherlock in disguise before. It's just another time with a different reason.
"Your 'dusting spree'." John quotes himself. "Why did you go without me?"
"I've already explained this," Sherlock says, looking slightly annoyed. It's a relief. Up until now, it's been as if Sherlock doesn't dare to get annoyed with John, for fear of driving him away. He's trying so hard. "If you had come, Greg and Mrs Hudson would have had to too."
"You said it yourself; we could have faked a suicide for me. In the first week people would have believed it. Or put out that I was volunteering for MSF in Africa, god knows I've worked in Kenya before, so the story would have held up." John sits very still, not looking at Sherlock properly. He can see him in his peripheral vision clearly, but they are not eye to eye. John twists, brings a leg up onto the bed so he can face Sherlock, perched on the uncomfortable wooden chair by the desk that John has been using to dump his clothes on for the night.
"I didn't want you there," Sherlock says finally, and John has a sudden and intense burst of homesickness for the living room of 221B, the fire and the chairs and co-operative closeness that felt right in all ways. It's definitely homesickness and not nostalgic longing, John knows the feeling well. "I didn't want you there. I did. I talked to you constantly, even in my sleep, according to I..." Sherlock breaks off, his face wrinkled and uncomfortable in new ways that John is learning. "I didn't want you to see me like, that. My worst." The scoffing laugh is bitter as it leaves Sherlock's throat and enters John's ears, mocking.
"You didn't want me," John says, and sinks into himself. It's only confirmation of what he already knows, but it still hurts. Did Sherlock really have to say it? Couldn't he spare John just this once? Though really, John doesn't want to be spared. That's half the point.
"No." Now Sherlock moves and sits facing John on the bed. John looks up at him, his newly lined face and his eyes and thinks I have never loved anyone more. More than Harry, more than any of his girlfriends, more than his mother. It is an uncomfortable thought, but a welcome one. "If you died John, if you died in front of me as I did in front of you, I would not be able to bear it as you have. I wouldn't give a fuck about the rest of the world, about anybody. It wouldn't matter. And that is why you couldn't come with me. Because I am a weak man, and you, John, are the strongest man I know, the only one who would be able to bear it. I could not. I could not, if you were to die..." Sherlock bows his heavy head, the skull that is covered in dark curls and holds all that is important and cradles John's face in his palms, pushing them forehead to forehead. He's crying, small hitching breaths and tears to match. "Look at me. Tears, no purpose to them, unnecessary physical response really, and I can't help it. I'm just a man, John."
John holds Sherlock's too close gaze, holds it steady as a burden he is happy and willing to carry for the rest of his life. He wants to, he realises. He wants Sherlock in the rest of his life, wants him there desperately.
"Everybody needs a good cry now and again," John says, smiling and running his fingers over the back of Sherlock's head. Look at them, getting places. It makes John happy, happy to know that they can talk, that they are approaching normal and kicking it out the window to create something better. He can feel it building in his chest, smoothing the knots and helping his shoulders carry the load.
"All rise." The court shuffles to its feet, the witnesses and the defendants and the prosecution and the jury and those in the gallery all standing, kicking items on the floor as they stand. The room is packed.
Justice Brinkley looks down at the papers in front of him, and then across at the jury. "Sebastian Moran has been brought before this court on five charges- the murder of Ronald Adair, the attempted murder of John Watson, possession of a Class A substance with intent to supply, receiving of stolen goods and smuggling. How have you found him?"
The foreman stands. She is small and seems slightly scared. Her hair is obsessively neat. She speaks.
John hadn't been expecting the relief, the visceral flood of endorphins that saturate his brain and colour everything pale for a second. He doesn't feel safer, knowing that Moran will be pretty much permanently incarcerated, with Armstrong soon to follow with the charge of Police Brutality, but knowing that the Homeless Network will be in less danger, the kids on Montague Street will have one less way to muck themselves up. Jesus, that's a strong feeling. This is a gift of one less thing to worry about and John is so grateful.
Sherlock catches John's eye and offers him a small smile, a quirk of the lips. John grins back, fully and properly, in a way he hasn't in ages. Jesus. Jesus. It's over.
His phone vibrates in his pocket. It's Sherlock.
221B is warm, and there is a fire in the grate, not doubt thanks to Mrs Hudson. Sherlock is framed in the window, playing, sounds smooth from the strings, the vibrato hovering between them as his fingers vibrate over the fingerboard. It's amazing what John remembers, late night lessons when neither of them could sleep. He's playing In the Bleak Midwinter, which is John's favourite carol and Sherlock's too. Sherlock lowers the bow, leaves the violin resting on his shoulder.
"All done then."
"Yup," John agrees and goes straight to the kitchen. Everything is in the right place, but as usual it is half lab and half actual food preparation area. Tea is needed.
Over the course of the evening Sherlock floats his way through all of John's favourites and John listens, entranced to have Sherlock playing for him again, a private concert once more. That little snippet when he first saw Sherlock again doesn't count.
John watches, tea just cool enough to drink and heating his oesophagus as Sherlock loses the tension in his shoulders and the slight wrinkles in his forehead and the corners of his eyes smooth out. It is something miraculous to watch, the real man coming out of the shell of the other man, like a butterfly emerging crumpled and drying to show shining wings.
"John. John." John wakes to Sherlock kneeling in front of him, his hand on John's knee where he was shaking it to wake him. John isn't sure when he'd fallen asleep, somewhere during The Aquarium he thinks, because the slide of the strings in that piece is recognisable without the other instruments. It had been a lullaby of the subtle kind. John hadn't meant to sleep. "You're about to miss the last tube," Sherlock says softly. The way he is kneeling means that he is looking up at John for once. It is an unusual state of affairs.
This isn't the first time. John would fall asleep in his chair Before, because he can fall asleep anywhere, and Sherlock would wake him with an admonishment of 'honestly John, your shoulder', but this is the first time After that the same thing has happened. Once more, it is incredibly odd, the past muscling its way into the present.
John stands and feels lightheaded for a moment, the result of too little food over the past few days and too much worry. He gets over it quickly. If there is any person used to working on 'grab it while you can', it's John Watson. Since the age of twenty, when he started clinical training he has lived on that mentality. Grab sleep, food, drink, five quiet minutes when he can because he never knows when a patient will come in, or he'll be called out or if he'll get shot at or get any sort of break of a decent length or if Sherlock Holmes will come into his room at three in the morning, rip off his covers and say, with an indecent grin that drips with anticipation, 'John, case.', and drag him out of bed.
"Right then," John says, casting about for his jacket. Sherlock lifts it from the hook on the back of the door where it has hung all evening next to Sherlock's own greatcoat. Seeing Sherlock wear it had given John shivers the first few times, unease sitting heavy on him. The last time he had seen that coat, it had been cleaned of blood and folded neatly on a mortuary table. The time before that, holding Sherlock's fallen body together, collar turned up as always.
"You could stay," Sherlock says quietly, suddenly, not looking at John and then right in the eye. They hold the contact; let it stretch, comfortingly familiar. "Mrs Hudson keeps your room aired. There are still linens in the cupboard."
It is so easy to give in and John is so tired, and has been for the past three years.
"Right then," John says and takes his jacket out of Sherlock's hands and hangs it back up.
John wakes in a remarkably familiar room to his phone ringing. Mira, the screen tells him, as well as the fact that it is six thirty in the morning. The last time she called him like this, oh Christ, oh fuck.
"They saw him, didn't they, yesterday," he says before she can get a word in edgewise. "Jesus." He casts around for his jeans, and looks in the drawers on impulse. There's a pair of underwear in there, and a pair of neatly balled socks and yes, in the small wardrobe a shirt is hanging. He can't help but choke out a laugh, despite the situation.
"Cheh? John, why are you laughing?"
"The lunatic's only gone and stolen a set of my clothes so that I can have fresh ones in the morning. I wore this shirt last week."
"John. You're both everywhere. Plastered across the pages. Are you at Baker Street?"
"Yes." He peaks through the outer gap in the curtains. Cameras have gathered. John's window looks over the street, on the third of four floors and no attic. Baker Street is absolutely useless for tried and tested escape methods. "Jesus," he repeats, slipping out of Dari to blaspheme and then back in. "Thank you, Mira. Christ. I'm due in at one today, I'll see you around twelve."
"John." John can hear Sherlock taking the stairs to his room two at a time, rushing. "John, outside."
"Vaghean?" John says, in the wrong language and twice as sarcastic.
"What?" Sherlock says, face screwing up. John had been teaching scraps of the Middle Eastern language to Sherlock in the quiet times but John's Dari has only improved over these past years, the benefit of regular meals at the Husays.
John forces his mind to switch languages. Unlike Sherlock, he's not able to jump lingual tracks effortlessly; it takes him a couple of seconds to get back into it. "Really," he repeats, "I hadn't noticed."
"You're getting up." Sherlock looks put out. John suspects it's because he wanted to be able to wake John up, like Before, with a case or problem. On one occasion because Sherlock had forgotten to remove the batteries from the fire alarm before starting an experiment that lived up to its smoky potential and then didn't know how to detach it from the ceiling in the hall to turn it off.
"Not like you to state the obvious."
"Yes, well." Sherlock looks away as John hangs up on the call and grabs the hung up shirt. "How did you get out last time?"
"The attic. Like in The Magician's Nephew." Socks, and then his shoes are downstairs. "I'm going to have a shower. We can talk about what to do after."
The bathroom is the same as always, but with a slightly greater need of a scrubbing. Sherlock uses his soap. Or at least the soap he had used Before. John had used Dove soap, because that's what he had used as a child and then as a teenager and then that was the type that came in the wash kits and he could never be bothered to change. For the past three years however, he has used the plain Imperial Leather that Sherlock had used in what started as a desperate attempt to preserve some part of his scent and turned into comfort. It seems Sherlock has done the same, because in the soap dish sits a curved white bar of Dove soap. It's nearly ironic really, the lengths that each of them have gone through to keep the other even slightly present in their lives, even thousands of miles distant.
There is no good way to get it over and done with. A consultation with a quietly woken Mrs Hudson confirms that her back door is a no-go too- the entrance to the alley at the road also has a few cameras waiting in hope.
They stand, facing the front door. Mrs Hudson is behind them, all of them dressed as smart as is appropriate. John's run an iron over his suit jacket and has changed his shirt. Sherlock looks as put together as ever and Mrs Hudson, who five minutes ago had been fussing about her roots, is looking like a hidden battle-axe. If worst came to worst, they had joked, she would get her ladle out again.
"We should have waited for Mycroft," John says, playing devil's advocate. He fully supports Sherlock's decision to address the collected press without his brother, but he wants him to think it through properly, not do it as an unplanned impulse.
"I'd prefer this over and done with." Sherlock fiddles with his hair, and then drops his hand to his side. "Confirmation that 'yes, here I am' and then tell them to piss off."
It is mayhem, it is a nightmare, and Sherlock is coiling tighter and tighter as the days go by and more questions are shoved in his face and people want to see him. John can tell. It's written in the creases around his eyes and the fact that he will flop over the sofa of 221B and then pace, hands flying. It's the fact that when Mycroft comes over, Sherlock doesn't turn bitter towards him and doesn't play the violin and is silent except for when he needs to speak. John goes from Montague to Baker Street, back and forth and gets more tired, and more wound right alongside him. They both turn into a mess of agitation and when John nearly decks a photographer he knows something has to happen. They are people and they have lives.
Then news happens. John has never been so indecently grateful for the kidnapping of oil workers in Africa in his entire life. They are left alone as the papers scream about the growing number of militants in Africa and terrorists.
Sherlock is silent as John puts on his coat to head home to Montague Street from 221B. John thinks that he still wants John to move back in. Well tough. He as Montague Street and the surgery. Sherlock knows this and also knows that John is not giving them up.
"'Night Sherlock," John says over his shoulder to the flopped shape that lounges over the sofa. "Try to actually eat something tomorrow."
"John." Sherlock twists to look at him, smiling and indulgent. "I did actually survive for more than thirty years before I met you."
"Whatever you say Sherlock," John tosses over his shoulder as he goes down the stairs. "Whatever you say."
Why is my brother such a git?
Because you're an equally melodramatic sod, and you know it. Punch him for me. Dinner?
No. He puts me off. You know this.
Coq au vin.
Sherlock calls. Calls. "Where?"
John stifles a chuckle. He can hear a terse sigh in the background. Mycroft. Sherlock is making this a call when he could be texting; he prefers to text, purely to annoy his brother. John doesn't blame him. He still doesn't trust Mycroft, and never will, especially concerning Sherlock. He may have motivations and justifications but John will never trust Mycroft again.
"Marseille's, that little place in the corner of…"
"Great Russell Square, yes. You finish at seven."
John thinks of the state of the waiting room. It's half three, but things will get worse. "More like seven thirty." He's getting a cup of tea in the midst of a mess; the staff room covered in files that a week ago, during an inspection, had been neatly hurried away. His neck is craned to keep his phone in place against his right shoulder. "Lots of people. Winter flu. Meet you there?"
"No. I'll come to you." John is presented with the sound of Sherlock abruptly hanging up as the kettle starts to inform him that it is really boiling, right now.
"It's seven thirty five," drags John out of his angry sad fugue of paperwork. He is filling in a referral to the local food bank. A mother has come in with her young boy, who has an ear infection. Her partially sighted partner has just been declared fit for work by ATOS, but no one will hire him, and she's on maternity leave. They have no money for Calpol, so the child is past screaming. He's more concerned about the mother though, she's pale and exhausted and she and her boyfirend are taking it in turns to eat on alternate nights due to lack of funds after paying for rent and electricity and gas. It's is nearing worst case scenario and it makes John want to go somewhere very far away where the worst thing that he can face is bullets and too much blood.
"Ah." Sherlock sits in the chair the patient usually sits in. John watches him scan the papers in front of him, reading upside down. "St Patrick's?"
"Mmm hmm," John agrees. "The second referral this week. January is always the worst time." Sherlock has been back now for almost two months, quietly fading back into his life after that blip with the papers. The detective is once more a detective, working on small cases quietly for the police and a few private ones that John has heard of and in some places, helped a bit with. Greg has also told him that the cold case folders at The Yard have been finding their way to Sherlock one at a time, via various different senior staff, and have been coming back with both insulting notes and solutions scribbled on them. John knew about this before Greg told him over a pint in the Headless Mary, because Sherlock had been complaining about the paperwork that he had to do, signing off on each and every move he made.
John scrawls his name on the forms, dating them as Sherlock watches. He is very glad that Sherlock hasn't said anything past questioning the food bank to which John will refer the young family. He doesn't think that he could bear it. John has never gone hungry in his life from lack of resources, but he knows Sherlock has when he was a few years out of Cambridge and spiralling down a dying, drug-ridden drain. John doesn't like to think of Sherlock like that, so the train of thought revolving around poverty and hunger is thrice damned: Sherlock, some of the areas he had served in and now here, in Montague Street.
John has always been most comfortable where others fear to tread. He wonders what that says about him.
Marseille's is a small restaurant tucked in a corner, a bit like a French Angelo's, if John was searching for a comparison. They serve, by Sherlock's reckoning, the best Coq au Vin in Zone 1, though the pair of them had only gone once or twice Before, because Sherlock had only proved that it wasn't the chef, but the waiter hired six months earlier, who was infecting certain costumers' food with strains of an unpleasant but non-lethal strain of E-coli in revenge for firing his uncle the month before that, after the whole mess with Irene Adler had been cleared up. It is cosily lit and coal smoke music filters out of the speakers hidden in the corners.
A candle is put on their table. John doesn't have it in his heart to complain.
They wait, and then eat for the first few minutes in a silence reminiscent of old evenings. John doesn't feel up to talking after the last part of his day and Sherlock seems quite content to just eat. He likes the coq au vin here, said that it reminds him of how his grandmere used to make it, thick sauce and flavour heavy in the meat.
"You still have Teleological Response of the Virus," Sherlock says, after swallowing a mouthful.
"Not surprised," John says, setting down his knife and fork, picking up his water glass and watching the clear liquid swirl. "You left quickly. I was surprised you managed to find movers at that time of night."
"Well, they owed me a favour. Smuggling charges. I did say." Sherlock fiddles, fingers wrapping around the stem of the wine glass. Sherlock actually staying still except for in several very select circumstances is about as likely as a snowball having a chance in hell.
"You left very quickly," John says, and starts eating again. He knows that to anyone else his agitation would be invisible. Sherlock Holmes is not anyone else.
"You weren't coming back to 221B. You made that remarkably clear." Accusing him, Sherlock is accusing him of a crime that John is not sure of committing. Having a life? Is that a crime now? Being forced to move on against his will and settling into it when it became apparent that dead was dead?
John pushes it aside. He doesn't want this to degenerate into sharp arguments that hurt. They both know too many secrets of the others for the attacks to become anything less than entirely pointed.
They move on, settle back into companionship and small comfortable comments like "pass the pepper," and "here, your spoon, it's about to…" and "thanks."
"Speaking of an entire community wrapped around your little finger," Sherlock says and puts his coffee cup back on the saucer with a 'clink'. "I was talking to your receptionist, Mira."
"Mmmn. Fascinating conversation."
John looks up, and smiles slightly. It feels a bit like they are back in the beige hotel that he had been put in during his tenure as witness during Moran's trial. Sherlock has been keeping this aside, building up to it. A bit different from his usual 'dive in the deep end' approach, but his is a different man. Three years does a lot to a person. They're both proof of that.
"Go on then. What did she say?"
"The night that farce of an arrest happened, with Armstrong. She seemed to think that I needed to know. I had forgotten how tenacious she was." John can't help but freeze, memories of everything he said that night, especially to Mira, the non-stop evening, being wound up from the two emergency calls to the Chambers' and then the full day and then the invasion and all on the anniversary of the Jump. It had all been too much at once.
"'The right hand side of a dead man', John?" Sherlock is incredibly serious and a bit sombre and desperately wants to know why John would say this. It's written all over him.
"Well, me standing to your right meant our dominant hands were free to pass stuff to one another..."
"John," Sherlock protests, leaning forwards slightly, following John, who has leant back in his chair, wanting some sort of protective distance. John really doesn't want to discuss this. It seems he may have to.
"You were dead, and I was having a bad day. A young boy had just died. Cystic Fibrosis, entirely expected, but still. Never good seeing a child die. And it was the fifth of June. I was having a bad day, and no-one was there, and Christ…" John passes a hand over his eyes, and sucks in a breath. "And I was happy with you, not happy, but it was good, it was approaching everything I wanted and maybe that's rose-tinted spectacles colouring everything pretty but it was a damn sight better than that day and I wanted to be back there. So yes. Your right hand side." It's far more than he would usually say to anyone, about anything, let alone his emotions, and his feelings. He's an Englishman, an Englishman who was in the army, who's a doctor, who knows about the importance of distance.
"Well," Sherlock looks down, lets the small spoon clatter against the mug. "I'm sorry," he offers. "It was flawed logic, John," he says, low, impassioned. John has always known that Sherlock's farce of emotionlessness has always been that, a farce. Anyone who says differently can't be bothered to look properly.
"It was the best you could have done," John reassures him.
"Still, flawed," Sherlock sighs. "Love has always been. Why else would the world be so obsessed with it?"
John sighs, and closes his eyes, takes two seconds, and then smiles, just a bit. It feels good. Nothing more needs to be said on the subject now.
"It's fine, and thank you. I've said it before, Sherlock, and I'll say it again 'til the sun goes out. You did the right thing. I may not have liked it, and I hate that it was necessary, but you did the right thing."
Sherlock smiles back, like he believes John when he says that for the first time. It makes John's stomach clench and his ribs tight and makes him think that it's all going to work out like it should in the end.
Sherlock looks up from the bookcase, where he is slotting Teleological Response of the Virus into place, sideways above the other medically related books.
"Looks like it." John checks around the room. The majority of their shared belonging are in their proper places. John has a few changes of clothes in the upstairs room, a toothbrush and shaving kit in the bathroom. Now he is no longer using the second bedroom at Montague Street for storing Sherlock's belongings, it's looking like a proper spare room, with a bed, and essentials for any of the guests he typically gets, the Homeless Network and the like. Sherlock also has a toothbrush, and they have spread themselves unequally, but with fair agreement on the placing of most items, between the two homes. This is going to work, John thinks. This is really going to work.
They stand there, Sherlock in the corner by the bookshelves, John in the sliding doorway to the kitchen, grinning at each other. Here is John's life, slotting back into place with a click and a grumble as the pieces settle back into place, old mingling with new and falling back into a glorious harmony. He feels like himself, his proper old-new-before-after-doctor-soldier self all in one and nothing conflicting.
Predictably, Sherlock's mobile breaks the moment.
"Lestrade," Sherlock says, and his eyes are sparking properly, like they should be. "Mother and infant. Mother's dead, and the infant heading that way. They don't have a clue." The impossible man strides across the room, grabs his coat from where it was slung across the back of his chair, performs the scarf, coat, gloves preparation for going out dance that was once so familiar and will be again. Sherlock pauses in the doorway, by the pile of magazines. "Aren't you coming? It's likely to be poison, from what Lestrade has sent via text."
"I'm on call," John reminds him. He wants to go, he really does. It would be good, and this is the kind of thing that he can help with, properly help with. He can calculate the effects of mixed medicines and post-natal vitamins faster than Sherlock can. Sherlock has always respected expertise and that he is still Sherlock's medical expert is flattering, and wonderful.
"Then if they call you can leave, why wouldn't you?" Sherlock looks honestly confused that John is concerned about this. "You never stopped me being a detective, why would I stop you being a doctor? It's who you are." He hands John his coat.
"Okay then." John puts on his coat, feels the anticipation building in his gut. His heart is steady and his mind is clear and he is by the right hand side of an alive man. "The detective and the doctor. Jesus."
John can keep his bag with him; put it in Greg's car if he needs to put it down to help or examine.
"Wait." Sherlock turns back to look at him. John digs in his pocket, tosses something across the room to Sherlock who catches it without effort, just his gloved hand flashing out to snatch it from the air. Sherlock Holmes brushes his thumb over the re-faced watch, with the message from one to the other inside and tucks it in one of his many pockets in his greatcoat.
"Want to see some more?" Sherlock asks and smiles in that same way, soft and sure and sharp and glinting.
"Oh god, yes," John says, and doesn't limp out the door, picking up his bag from by his chair.
The detective and the doctor. This is their city, and they take care of it.
SO, that's the end. Thank you for all who have read and reviewed and enjoyed and encouraged. Special thank you to chironsgirl who has poked me periodically to make sure that I'm still alive.
It has been a bit of an epic for me, and I'm glad I've finished it.
Love to you all my dears ~SRM.