A/N: IMPORTANT: IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND YOU HAVE NOT YET READ THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER IN ITS ENTIRETY, PLEASE GO BACK AND DO SO. I decided that instead of having two chapters and the epilogue, since the second chapter would have been bitching-ass long, I'd make it one really, really long one-shot and the epilogue to follow. So. If you're looking for the update to this, then please go back to the first chapter and read it in its entirety, then follow with this epilogue.
That aside, I would just like to thank everybody who's reviewed this fic - especially those who so patiently waited for the update. This is the first time I've written something this long in one go (usually I do things chapter by chapter) - around 21000 words and 33 pages. It's also the first time in so long that I've been this invested in a fic. So to all my readers, I give my most profuse thanks, and hope you have enjoyed my writing.
Without further ado, here is the epilogue. Enjoy!
John gets home a little late from his shift, late enough that he's missed Mrs. Hudson leaving for her early evening bridge games with Mrs. Turner and her married ones. She'd tried to get John and Sherlock interested at one point, but Sherlock had been entirely too good at deducing who had what cards (despite the fact that he generally detested card games) and he'd kept trying to direct John even when Sherlock was the dummy (which was once and only the once; he'd claimed the title was insulting and far more appropriate for John, anyway). As John unlocks the front door he smiles a little at the memory.
The click of the door echoes slightly in the empty hall as he closes it behind him.
Seventeen steps and it takes him just a bit slower than before to climb them all, pausing to wiggle his bad leg on the landing. Not quite psychosomatic now, not since that case with the stiletto murderer where his leg had been grazed by a bullet. Sometimes at night, when John closes his eyes, he sees Sherlock's face, bone-white, eyes wild and hands fluttering all over him, pressing a dove gray scarf (birthday present from John) to the wound and staining it deep red. Scotland Yard had never been able to sufficiently explain why the murderer had come in with a smashed nose and badly bruised ribs, but Lestrade hadn't been particularly invested in investigating. John bangs his fist against his thigh with a huffed chuckle and resumes his ascent, takeout bag in one hand. Vietnamese tonight; he's been craving spring rolls. They'll go with his new tea.
He enters via the kitchen door, setting the food on the mostly clean kitchen counter. There are still a few beakers over by the far end, but John hasn't had the heart to put them away. He ambles over to the cabinets, ruffles around for tea and two cups. He sets the kettle.
"I saw Mrs. Jenkins at the clinic today," he says, shrugging off his jacket and shuffling into the living room to hang it on one of the hooks next to Sherlock's coat and scarf. "Funny how even after all these years she's still just as grateful to you for solving the case and finding her son. Remembers you a bit fondly. You'd have been appalled by how she'd described you."
There's a slight creak and rustle from the couch. A corner of John's lips quirks up.
"People always act toward you that way, I've noticed. Angelo and his free dinners, anything you want, on the house. Mrs. Hudson and her deal with the rent. Mr. du Pont and his discounts with suits." John looks down t his slightly threadbare jumper, the periwinkle one Sherlock had bought him ten Christmases ago, and the immaculately tailored shirt beneath. "For someone who claimed to be socially tone deaf, you really had a way of ingratiating yourself with people." A huff from the couch. John cracks a grin and heads back into the kitchen to wait for the kettle to boil. "Even me, really."
John closes his eyes, pictures the smile that'd be on Sherlock's face at that remark: the dismal failure of an annoyed look covering up a pleased, shy upturn of lips. It's one of John's favorites. The kettle whistles and John takes it down, pours the water over the leaves. He grabs the bag of Vietnamese takeout and brings it and both cups (one with two sugars and a dash of milk, one weak and plain) into the living room. He sets the food on the table by his armchair along with his cup, then sets the other one down on the floor by his feet. He straightens and whistles.
Gladstone perks up from his little nap on the couch, tiny stump of a tail wagging. He sniffs the air and bounds down eagerly, heading straight for the cup on the floor. John's never understood why the little bugger's developed a taste for tea, but the vet said it was all right for dogs when weak and in small amounts, so John indulges it. Gladstone laps up half the cup, gets the other half all over the floor and John's shoe, and scrabbles at John's leg, yipping happily.
"Hello, you," he murmurs affectionately, scratching that spot between the little pup's ears that he so loves. Immediately Gladstone melts into a puddle of exuberance and slumps down onto the floor, belly up and tongue waggling. It makes John laugh, and on reflex he glances to his left. The tone of his smile changes subtly, and he exhales a little noisily as he leans down to rub Gladstone's warm tummy.
"Yeah, you really had a way of ingratiating yourself with me, you mad bugger," he says softly, letting go of Gladstone (who whines) and turning to the left, feeling the full weight of his sixty-eight years in the creak of his bones. He pauses and the silence in the flat is almost tangible. He gives the skull an affectionate pat where it rests on the arm of Sherlock's empty chair and heaves a little sigh.
"And hell if it doesn't mean I miss you."