Three years after Sherlock was pronounced dead, he came back into John's life. It probably should have been during some life-or-death situation with explosions all around them and Sherlock swooping in to save the day. Instead, John literally bumped into him stepping out of a cab when he was on his way back home to meet Mycroft. For a moment John thought he was hallucinating, that Sherlock had a twin brother or that he had seen a ghost, but when he saw the look of horrified surprise on Sherlock's face he knew the explanation was much more logical: Sherlock Holmes was alive and had faked his own death. His hair was shorter, clothes different, but it was unmistakably Sherlock.
John felt different feelings wash over him like waves: surprise, confusion, hope, then all-consuming, incredible relief and joy, as if he finally was able to release a breath he did not know he had been holding for three years. Sherlock was alive, alive and well and standing in front of him.
Sherlock, having recovered from the shock of the encounter, started to edge away, looking around for an escape route. John grabbed his arm.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Sherlock, turning pale, looked around again. "We mustn't be seen together, definitely not here."
"Then come with me to my flat. You're not getting away that easy, not without an explanation."
Sherlock twitched and surveyed the surroundings again. Then, having made up his mind, hailed a taxi and bundled them both in. John only let go of Sherlock´s arm once the doors were secured.
In the silence of the cab, John´s initial joy was rapidly turning into anger. How could Sherlock have done this to him? All the pain he had gone through, the missing, the loneliness. And here he was, safe and sound, as if nothing had happened. And what about his brother? How could he have left Mycroft with all that guilt?
By the time they arrived at John's flat, he was positively seething with rage.
"Explanation. Now. The short version," he gritted out through his teeth.
"Moriarty. I knew he was going to try to make me kill myself so I arranged everything to make it seem that way. Just in case. He had instructed his criminal network to kill you, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade should I not die. He was of course the key to everything and I had been convinced I would be able to use him to call off the assassins. Had a whole plan thought out and everything. Didn´t expect him to see through that and top himself. That was…a setback."
"You could have told me."
"No, I couldn't risk Moriarty finding out."
"What about afterwards? After he shot himself. I don't know, a text, Irene Adler style: 'I'm not dead, let's have dinner'."
Sherlock fidgeted a little. "I couldn't risk it. If those assassins would get the tiniest suspicion I wasn't dead, they would execute their orders. Moriarty made sure of it. Besides, you already thought I was dead, had gone through watching me die. It didn't matter anymore."
"Didn't ma…Jesus, Sherlock! Of course it mattered! Every minute that I thought you were dead, was a minute of more pain, of more guilt, more regret. To think that you would let me suffer, let all of us suffer, while you were out there…"
"While I was taking down Moriarty's network, to protect all of you!"
They were both yelling now. Standing opposite each other in the middle of the room.
"I, I stood over your dead body. I took your pulse. Do you…"
"Now you see, there is this trick one can do with a rubber ball…"
"NO! I don't want to hear your explanation of how you did it. I'm sure it's clever and amazing and brilliant, but I don't care! I arranged your funeral. I stood over your grave. I mourned you, Sherlock. I grieved. Do you have any idea what your death put me through, you selfish cunt?"
"Selfish? Everything I've done was to protect you! To save your life!"
"It's my life, don't I get a say in that?"
"It wasn't just your life. Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, should I have endangered them too to give you a choice to die and expose myself to a crime syndicate after my head?"
"And what about your brother? Do you have any idea how guilty he felt? Was it so difficult for you to get in touch with him? You know he would've kept your secret."
Sherlock opened his mouth as if to interject something, then refrained. But the momentary confusion on his face said all John needed to know and the horrifying realization slowly dawned.
"Ah, but he did. He has kept your secret, hasn't he? He has known the entire time." John let out a mirthless laugh. "I'm such an idiot. Of course he knew." Multiple emotions were battling inside him; betrayal, pain, anger, self-loathing. He had no idea which would win and whether he would burst out in tears or maniacal laughter. For a moment they were both silent, Sherlock trying to come up with the right thing to say and John trying to get his emotions in check.
Mycroft, in a bout of particularly bad timing, chose that precise moment to bound up the stairs with a bounce in his step that usually signified him being in an especially cheerful mood. As he opened the door and took in the faces of the room's occupants his good mood immediately dissipated and he instinctively took a step backwards.
John swirled on the spot and fixed his emotions, which had rapidly shifted back to anger, on Mycroft.
"How could you?! You lied and pretended you were mourning, you pretended you understood how I felt. But I suppose I'm just a Holmes' plaything after all. What am I to you two? Some kind of pet? Amusing to keep around, but not smart or important enough to involve in your decisions."
"J…John…" Mycroft stammered.
Surprising everyone, in a moment of helpless frustration, John swung his fist and punched Mycroft square in the face, rather hard. The surprising part was not necessarily the punch itself, it was Mycroft not dodging the punch, even though John knew he could have. To his credit, he did not go down, but swayed on his feet a little and held out his arms for balance. The resulting silence was deafening, with Sherlock staring at John as if he had suddenly grown a second head.
"You punched Mycroft in the face," a statement made with more glee than Sherlock should display in this particular situation, where John was concerned. "I've never punched Mycroft, actually I'm pretty sure no one has ever punched Mycroft and lived to tell." Sherlock sounded on the verge of erupting into a fit of giggles. Mycroft had stopped swaying, but still looked a bit bleary-eyed.
John had enough, the army doctor in him taking over the situation. "You," he physically pointed at Sherlock, as if the anger in his words was not enough to convey the message, "shut up and sit down, before I punch you in the face." To their both surprise, Sherlock complied immediately. "And you," he added, addressing Mycroft this time, his voice less loud, but still firm, "come here, let me check your face."
Even though he knew Mycroft was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, his doctor's instincts warned him against a possible concussion or broken nose and his sensibilities bristled at having physically attacked someone he was intimately involved with.
He sat Mycroft down in a chair opposite Sherlock and, crouching in front of him, shone a light into his eyes. Then he carefully, but methodically touched Mycroft's jaw. Satisfied that apart from a significant bruise and possibly a black eye, there was no further damage, John righted himself and crossed his arms.
In the ensuing silence Mycroft's phone went off, but he turned it off and pocketed it without even looking at the screen. In all the years John had known him, he had never seen Mycroft do that. The peculiarity did not escape Sherlock's attention either.
"Don't tell me the Ice man has developed feelings," Sherlock sneered, "how surprising."
Mycroft did not miss a beat. "And the Virgin is still running away from his. How predictable."
Sherlock's spine straightened and his face turned red. He looked as if he was ready to attack. "I tried to protect him and I asked you to watch over him, not shag him! Your entanglements are not without risk to him. But I should have known. My brother ever doing something without personal gain? Did you consider him in debt to you for your protection? Some sort of compensation in natura?"
"How dare you?!" And that was another new experience: seeing Mycroft lose his composure, lose it completely. He was on his feet and about to take a swing at his brother.
"ENOUGH!" John bellowed jumping in-between the warring siblings. "I won't stand for you two fighting over me like…, like I'm some toy."
He turned towards Sherlock and pinned him down with a stare. "Stay put, I have to have a word with your brother, in private." Sherlock looked taken aback that he was being excluded. John knew he was moments from a proper sulk and did not want to witness that. He led Mycroft into his bedroom and closing the door behind them, sat on the bed.
"He was wrong about me wanting… I didn't plan…," Mycroft started, uncomfortable and unsure of his place.
They were silent for a moment, John sitting down with his face in his hands, Mycroft pacing about the small bedroom.
"Why didn't you tell me? You knew how much his death had hurt me, how much it was hurting me. How could you look at me and not say a thing?" John's anger had been replaced by sadness and he looked tired and weary.
Mycroft reached out to touch John's face, then reconsidered and let his hand fall along his body.
"I'm good at keeping secrets. That is what I do. I never wanted, nor asked anything of you. I didn't make any promises either." For a moment it seemed that Mycroft would leave it at that, but then he sighed and added: "At first I thought Sherlock was right. You were safer not knowing. You were the prime target, if they would find out even our combined resources would not keep you out of harm's way. We did not know who they were or how far Moriarty's web reached. But as time went by…I got…selfish, I suppose," John's head shot up at that admission. "I knew if I would tell you, you would never forgive me. I liked being a part of your life. I knew there would come a day when I would have to step aside and let my brother take his rightful place by your side, but I had no intention of bringing this about myself."
John shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe Sherlock basically called me a…"
"He hasn't," Mycroft interjected. "He was trying to get a rise out of me, not thinking about other emotional consequences his words could have. He does that.
John, I realise you are upset and angry at both of us, as you have every right to be, but I'm hoping you can find it in your heart to forgive my brother. For all his crassness and insensitivity, he really cares for you. His main concern in this has always been your safety. You should have seen him the past three years. He missed you, he was hurting. He needs you. I understand if you can't trust me, or if you don't want to see me anymore, but don't turn him away, he will be devastated."
Mycroft turned to leave until his cuff was caught by John. "Where do you think you're going? You don't get to leave here until I have had the opportunity to yell at you, throw a hissy-fit and have you two grovelling for my forgiveness." While his tone was firm, the twinkling in his eye betrayed that the forgiveness would be granted in the end.
To the untrained eye Mycroft did not visibly react, but to someone like John, who had had years to learn and catalogue Mycroft's little quirks and peculiarities it was crystal clear his statement was met with extreme relief. It showed in how Mycroft's eyes opened a little wider, how the corners of his mouth quirked up a tiny bit and how his form lost some of its rigidness.
"John…" His hand reached out again, with an ever so slight tremor, this time reaching its destination and stroking John's cheek with almost unbearable tenderness.
"I'm not letting you off easily, mind. Neither of you. You'll going to have to work for my forgiveness."
John smiled, then jumped to his feet. "Come on, let's talk to the overgrown kid, before he destroys my living room out of boredom or spite".