I wrote this a while ago for pyromancing on Tumblr, for the Johnlock Gift Exchange, and forgot to upload it here. So I'm remedying that.
Warning for copious amounts of Reichenangst. Oh, and cursing.
Hope you like it!
The man who enters 221 Baker Street does not look healthy. Midnight's streetlamps paint him sallow. The gaunt lines of his face are crippled by sagging fatigue, and half-moons are blacked in beneath his reddened eyes.
With his face this altered, it would be easy to imagine the man had changed during his seven months and twelve days of absence. It would be easy to imagine an added weight to his brisk walk, or a certain harrowed emotion behind those hard unreadable eyes. But Sherlock Holmes is not that kind of man; he is no prodigal, transformed before some humble return. He is, as he always has been, immutable, and the things he has seen have not alarmed him. Christ knows it would take something more impactful than crime and killings and cruelty to change him.
He shuts the door to the foyer behind him and removes his hat. He has shorn his hair down to tufts and dyed it to a dry wiry ginger. He wears shapeless black pants and two jumpers under a heavy beige coat. In general, he does not look like Sherlock Holmes – sometimes a glimpse of himself in the glaze on a store window takes him aback – but he hardly dwells on it. This is all in the interest of efficiency, anyway. It does not do to draw attention.
He hasn't been in London for seven months and twelve days. Even now, he has only returned because he traced Sybil Earhart's base of weapons smuggling to an apartment not far from this block. And he wouldn't have returned to 221B except that he keeps finding his fingers itching for his violin.
That is the only reason, he tells himself.
After all, his violin helps him think. And his mind is the only thing that will matter until he has won the game Jim left him to play.
Yes: he is walking up these dark steps because of his violin, and because of his violin only. He is picking the lock on the door because of his violin, because his violin helps him think. He is drawing in a deep breath because he needs steady hands to carry out this heist effectively. He has no other motive for returning; he has no reason whatsoever to dip into sentimentality.
The door to the flat swings open, and Sherlock enters. He does not look toward the steps at the far end of the kitchen, nor up the steps, nor to the door at the top of the steps.
He does not look around and catalogue every change that has been made to the place in the last seven months and twelve days. He does not note that two of the windowpanes have been replaced; neither does he acknowledge the bareness of the mantelpiece, nor the empty shelves, nor the stack of unlabeled boxes in the corner. He does not take note of the frankly rather surprising scores in the kitchen table, scrapes that appear to have been drawn there by human fingernails. He does not notice how freakishly neat the place has become; he does not notice the tiny evidences marring the cleanliness, such as the infinitesimal rips in the wallpaper (cut there by what, exactly? Sharp edges of some sort? Is that a tea stain by the rip? Who would put tea on a wall?), such as the loosened stitches in the cushions of his old chair.
He most decidedly does not observe any of that.
The moment he turns his gaze on the window at which he used to stand and play, his eyes fall on the violin case in the corner. Almost alarming, how simple the search was. One might think the flat's inhabitant had been expecting a visitor.
Shame, isn't it, that the theft will be this straightforward.
But that's not because he wants to spend more time in 221B. Not at all. Of course not. The very notion is preposterous.
Sherlock does not glance once more toward the steps, nor up the steps, nor to the door at the top of the steps.
He slips toward the case, the floor letting out a single obnoxious creak. His lips purse. Damn this old wood.
He crouches beside the case, unzips it, and inspects the violin, whose cherry body seems to glow, draped in moonlight. Since Sherlock left, the instrument has been fiddled with (evident in the slight alterations in the tuning pegs), though not in recent days – a fine cloth of dust lies atop it, rather uniformly. The instrument looks forlorn, and lonely, and old.
Sherlock reaches for the bow, but when his fingers ghost over the velvet latch, he finds the space empty.
There is not a slight leap in his chest. He does not feel pleased that he must now spend more time here, nor does he feel relieved. This is an inconvenience and of all things it is definitely not a welcome surprise.
He replaces the violin, zips up the case, and half-rises.
Then he freezes, because the cold solid nose of a gun is sliding up the back of his neck and fixing at the base of his skull. Nestling itself amidst his rough dyed hair.
"Don't move an inch," says a hard male voice.
Sherlock doesn't move. He isn't sure he could if he wanted to. That voice has shattered his sensibilities and now the only thing running through his brilliant mind is john john john john john. John. John Watson.
You did not come here for John Watson, he reminds himself, without as much resolve as he would like to believe he possesses.
"Put down the violin," says the voice. John's voice. John, John, John. So close; insanely, wildly close. God, he's right there. Sherlock can hear his breath, can hear the slight roughness of sleep slipping up the sides of his vowels. Fuck. He feels the way John's standing in the way the gun is angled. He didn't want this to happen. (He desperately wanted this to happen.) He needed this not to happen. (He needed to see John. He needs John. John.)
"Put it down. Now."
Sherlock crouches and places the violin on the ground.
His tired muscles ache as they draw him back up. His eyes are closed against the dark. He wants to crash through the wall, dive through the window, cover his face and run before John can figure out it's him. John mustn't know he's alive. Can't know.
"Face me and put your hands to the back of your neck," John says.
Sherlock shakes his head the tiniest bit. The gun knocks against his skull.
He hears the click of the hammer being depressed. The sound rings in the taut silence.
"You wouldn't kill a man over a violin," Sherlock whispers, so slowly and quietly his voice hardly sounds like a voice at all. Let alone his own voice, resonant and deep and assertive as it usually is.
John replies almost instantly. "This violin?" One harsh jangle of laughter. "I wouldn't think twice. Hands on your neck. Turn around."
Sherlock frowns. This doesn't make sense: John's moral character doesn't align with the desire to kill someone over a possession. John doesn't even playthe violin. Why should he care if someone were to pilfer the thing?
Sherlock exhales slowly and lifts his hands to the back of his neck. No getting out of this one.
Another click as the gun's hammer rises. "Good. Now turn, and don't move. I'm getting a phone, and if you try to run I'll –"
Sherlock turns around and John's words choke off. The doctor's face is frozen mid-word, his mouth dipped slightly open.
The gun crashes to the floor with a noise like a cannon's blast.
The first thing to move is John's left eyelid. A flutter. Then his eyebrows draw together for a fraction of a second. His hands shiver out of their frozen state into an uncontrolled tremor.
Sherlock doesn't move. He watches. John takes one step backward, a terrible noise coming from his open mouth.
Sherlock cannot seem to look away. Since a young age, he's compiled an exhaustive mental list of human emotions for utility's sake, but this particular expression does not seem to fall under "surprise," "sadness," "hurt," or even the stronger iterations like "shock" or "anguish" or "agony." John is clearly not breathing. He looks like he might crumple to the floor. He looks strangely hollow, as if part of his mind has been scooped away and replaced with something cold.
John Watson stands in his living room wearing a gray shirt and flannel pajama bottoms. He looks vulnerable and ruffled and absolutely like a child.
"John," Sherlock says. Another awful noise comes from John's throat, this time a horrified sort of 'ah,' as if his name were a slap.
Sherlock does not say anything else. Is John going to react like this to everything he says?
What's happened to John, anyway? The man's eyes are rivetingly bright. Sherlock had anticipated incomprehension, of course, but this doesn't seem to be on the same plane as a simple inability to understand what's happening.
"My bow," Sherlock says. "Where is it?"
John doesn't say anything. He half-turns away and one hand comes to his stomach and for a split second Sherlock thinks he might be sick. But then the other hand comes up and John hunches over himself, hunches over as if cradling something broken under the hollow of his torso, and he teeters back until he has pressed himself into the nearest chair.
Sherlock looks around, lips pressed tight. "You wouldn't have boxed it up, not unless you were to do the same for the violin itself. And if not in the case or a box, it's not going to be in this room, obviously, for … neatness purposes."
Probably upstairs, then, or in the kitchen. Hardly a difficult mystery – the deduction shouldn't take more than a minute. John won't have to suffer his presence much longer.
He reaches for the light. John makes another noise.
Sherlock's hand falters. No light? No light, then.
His eyes catch once more on John's expression. Something seems held tight in the creases of those blue eyes, a tense sort of focus on nothing at all. As if John has just awoken from a dream and is trying to remember it. As if he has a slight headache and is trying to focus on the lack of pain in his fingertips. As if he is mentally very far away indeed from 221B.
Sherlock lets out a slow breath through his nose and perches himself on the chair opposite John. His hands clasp the edges of the armrests, and he leans back.
Damn, but it is an awfully comfortable chair, isn't it. He hasn't slept in fifty-six hours and twenty minutes. John looks like he hasn't slept in days, either. Untrue, obviously, as he must have just come down from his bedroom – evident given the tiny dot of sleep-glue at the inside corner of his left eye – but …
Sherlock glances into the kitchen and frowns. It's not the door at the top of the steps that's open; it's Sherlock's that stands cracked an inch. John was sleeping in Sherlock's room. Why? John's room is generally half a degree warmer in winter than Sherlock's. Impractical to switch rooms in this sort of icy January.
Sherlock opens his mouth to ask, but he closes it abruptly upon the realization that John has lifted his hands to his face and pressed his trembling fingers to his eyes. Tears are trickling over the solid knuckles, down the weathered backs of John's hands.
"Oh," Sherlock says. "I. Oh."
"'m … asleep," John says hoarsely. It sounds like a dying breath.
"No," Sherlock says. "You're awake. Though you shouldn't be. It's late. And you look exhausted." He considers for a second. "Actually, you look terrible."
John's hands slip down from his face and fold so tightly that they turn white. He glances up at Sherlock but can't seem to look at him for more than a second. His eyes dart and evade, and Sherlock's piercing gaze finds no purchase there.
After a minute, John stands. He looks almost surprised to be on his feet. As if he's wondering how he got there. How he's holding himself up. How his body is working.
He walks mechanically to the kitchen and flicks on the light. He pulls open a cabinet and takes out a block of rosin and Sherlock's bow. He carries them back and sets them on the table in front of Sherlock.
"There," John says. His voice is unsettlingly empty and distant. "That all you needed?"
Sherlock stares up at John, who stands hunched as if by some weight atop his shoulders. "John –"
"Right," John says, and turns around. "That's it. That's it, then. That's."
Sherlock stands. Something strange has pooled in his stomach. Melted snow, perhaps, or molten lava. Something entirely the wrong temperature. And his hands feel strange and dissociated from his body. He wonders what this means.
He lifts a hand and reaches out.
The second Sherlock's fingers brush John's shoulder, John twists around. The words that belt from his mouth are not quite yelled nor screamed nor roared; they are torn from a place deep in the doctor's body. "NO NO NO NO –"
"NO YOU FUCKING – YOU CAN'T –" John's arm thrashes out wildly and smacks Sherlock's hand back, a club taken to a viper. "NO!"
The silence in the wake of the sound is a creature with wide eyes.
Sherlock waits. A statue. His heart seems to have stopped entirely. He is almost entirely sure he is not breathing. His vision seems to be dyeing itself a deep asphyxiated purple. He doesn't know what is happening but he does not like it. "John," he breathes, the word a slip of paper fluttering from his lips. "God, John, I came back for you," and as he says it he knows it is true, inexplicably and illogically true, true that he came back for this friendship thing he still does not understand, true that he came back for the man and not the object although it was so convenient that he wanted his violin as well, a convenient excuse –
"I came back," he murmurs, "for you."
The silence quivers. The silence is a tremolo eked out by a single bowstring. The silence is the hush of unplayed heartstrings.
John says, "Fuck you."
Sherlock thinks he might fall. He thinks maybe the word has gone right through him, punctured him. He thinks he might just deflate and decompose into an unrecognizable pile of skin.
He tilts his head and for a second he simply looks at John's round lined face and the way it is assembled, looks at the nose and how it sits atop the mouth, looks at the eyebrows and how they feather out above John's glistening abused eyes.
"Oh," Sherlock says.
They both stand there for a clogged innumerable mass of seconds. John is looking at Sherlock now as if the sight of Sherlock does not affect him and as if it is not difficult.
Sherlock does not want John to see his face like this. He supposes that something of what is happening inside him may be showing on his face. Inside him feels like defused fireworks and a terrible soapy acrid burn. He does not want John to see that. He wants to be the same man who left because maybe then John will like him again and not say anything like what he said –
Sherlock's eyes snap shut. He shakes out the arms of his coat and recollects himself. He opens his eyes with a deep cold breath.
"I'm in London," he says, "to shut down a weapons smuggling ring. I haven't actually been in England since June. I spent a lot of time in China; it appears Moriarty spent quite a bit of time advertising his talents in Hong Kong."
John just looks at him. Opens his arms the tiniest bit as if to say, What does it matter?
Sherlock wants to keep talking but he doesn't know what he could say that would matter.
He doesn't understand what is happening to John or what has happened to John. He does not understand why John stands as if a great hand is pressing him forward; he does not understand why another tear has tripped off the ledge of John's eye and is now soaking into the carpet. He does not understand any of this.
He wants to apologize, but he does not know what he would be apologizing for.
A great babble bursts forth from him. "You've had three visitors in the last week and one of them was Molly and one of them was your sister; the other was possibly Mike but more likely Lestrade, you threw a teacup at the wall a month or so ago though God knows why, you've been walking on this carpet more frequently than usual, you sleep on the sofa on Tuesdays while watching television, you've been watching that show you hate about the woman who's sleeping with her husband's sister, you're eating the same foods every week and you're often late to work judging by the slips in the pocket of the jacket on the back of the door and Ms. Hudson brings you up tea quite often but because you smashed one of her cups you bought her another set of china, you went shopping for new clothes in November but ended up buying only one item, you take cold showers now instead of hot, your limp returned for several months but you've been having physical therapy to alleviate the symptoms and you must understand, you have to know I only made you think I'd died because your grief was the only way to convince people who understand that sort of thing that I'd really done it."
After a long second, John repeats, "People … who understand that sort of thing."
Sherlock breathes shallowly. Has he said something wrong? Is that wrong? "Yes."
"People who understand grief. God. Oh, God." John looks up at the ceiling and sways as if there is no roof but only a dizzying view of the heavens and he might collapse under its enormity. "Okay. I … alright, just …"
He does not finish.
"Should I apologize?" Sherlock says.
"No. No, don't even … fuck, don't bother."
"But I should." Sherlock draws in a slow breath, watches closely as John's eyes slide shut once more. "I'm sorry," Sherlock says quietly. "I'm very sorry."
"Jesus fucking Christ." John's voice breaks. "Sherlock."
And to finally hear his name builds something strong and electric in Sherlock's chest. His ribs are lightning and his heart is static. He is jerked awake.
"Have you been all right?" he says, striding to John, taking him by the shoulder. John does not force him away again. "John?"
"Well, you … you already bloody deduced everything, didn't you."
"That tells me hardly anything about your emotional state."
"Take a wild guess," John says, looking Sherlock in the eye. "Jesus, I can't …"
He shakes his head the tiniest fraction. Then there is a hand on Sherlock's cheek, a warm damp shaking hand, a hand whose index finger presses into Sherlock's temple as if trying to feel the muscle beneath the skin and the bone beneath the muscle and the brain beneath the bone.
The other hand comes to rest on Sherlock's other cheek. His face is cupped in these disbelieving hands and Sherlock closes his eyes and leaves himself to be catalogued by John, re-labeled as alive.
Fingers through his hair. Thumb down the side of his neck. John breathes, "Fucking hell, it's really you, isn't it," and he is so close that the breath brushes against Sherlock's cheek. "Fuck it's really you it's you Sherlock."
It has been so long since Sherlock has felt any sort of human touch. He swallows but cannot nod.
"I almost shot you," John says, his voice trembling with the undercurrent of a shaky laugh. "Shit, I almost fucking –"
And then John's hands come to the back of his neck and two warm human arms slide atop his shoulders and John's head fits beneath his chin and Sherlock feels his best and only friend shaking against his chest.
Sherlock closes his arms around John's back and moves his palms up over and between the ridges of two strong shoulder blades and feels a heartbeat jump against his palms.
He hears John's strange high noises of grief and realizes they are his name, distended and warped into sobs. John's hot breath soaks into the front of his two jumpers and through his shirt and he feels it like a badge against his flesh. Like a brand.
Sherlock's chin is nestled in John's grey-blond hair. His eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the flat. He finds himself closing his eyes and breathing in the smell of everything, of this private world he abandoned, of John. "If … if I'd had the choice," he whispers, but he doesn't know how to finish the sentence and he assumes John knows what he means, that if the choice had been his he would have told John everything and he would not have found himself feeling a bit lost out there without John and he would have had his best man by his side when he had to lift that gun and commit his first murder and afterward when he was staring into the dark inkblot of the sky against the skyscrapers maybe he would have had someone who could have identified the feeling eating up his chest, that poisonous decaying sentiment, and if Sherlock had just had the choice but he hadn't.
He assumes John understands.
"But you're back," John says, and pulls away and wipes his eyes on his bare forearm and leaves a glistening salt smear against his tan skin. "You're —"
"I can't stay." Sherlock's hands find his pockets.
John's sudden stillness is terrible. An abrupt paralysis. "How long?"
Sherlock's jaw tightens. "I've a plane tomorrow morning."
An eternity passes before John nods. "A weapons ring, you said?"
"Near here. I believe."
"You've only one night to confirm the location?"
"I'll come with you."
"No." Sherlock's hands find John's shoulders again. "I am dead to you. I have died to you and you mustn't change that."
"John. Your job is more important than mine and infinitely harder. Give nothing away, do you understand me?" He squeezes. "Do you understand?"
John takes half a step forward. His face is so close. Sherlock is allowed more detail than he has ever seen. He logs it away in loads and bunches, preserving and photographing every pore of John Watson's face for the months that will come.
"I will see you as soon as I can," Sherlock says and it comes out so very stiffly and he curses how his voice sounds but John seems to understand what lies behind those words, seems to understand the effort it took to produce that sentence.
John's eyes leave his and travel down his face. Sherlock feels a strange animal thrill as John's attention fixes on his lips and he knows he's going to kiss him before he does, feels it almost before it happens –
And when John's lips crush deep against his, Sherlock feels the heat bleed into him like a wound, like tears, like John is pressing his heart into Sherlock through his lips – a lifeline and a death weapon – and some part of him marvels because a kiss should feel like skin, not like this, how could it feel like this.
He pulls away and breathes broken words onto the doctor's tongue, "I am sorry," and John whispers hard, "God I missed you so much Jesus Christ," and Sherlock says again, "I am sorry," and leans down to kiss John greedily and he closes his eyes as their lips melt together and somehow he feels he is in John's body entirely, with John's hands wound into the back of his coat, with John's arms so tight around him that Sherlock cannot breathe. It is not comfortable. This makes sense to Sherlock. Need and want and desire are never comfortable. John tilts his head and presses closer and his tongue seems to carve all the air out of Sherlock's lungs and Sherlock drinks in the fury, the rage, the hurt and the passion.
John pulls away and Sherlock remembers to breathe.
They look at each other. Sherlock's brain burns the image somewhere deep in his hard drive: John's flushed cheeks. John's hard eyes. Under the knife of John's scrutiny Sherlock feels his mouth itching and aching and tingling.
John's lips press to Sherlock's left cheek, then to the right. He cups the back of Sherlock's head in his palm and pulls him down to touch his lips to his forehead. "Go," he whispers. "You know I'll wait."
Sherlock straightens. When he pulls away his eyes are bright and he feels strange and not like part of his own body at all.
He tucks the bow and rosin into the violin case.
He walks toward the door dizzied.
He stops in the threshold. Turns.
John's head dips.
"Thank you," Sherlock says.
John Watson stands with his back ramrod-straight as his best friend leaves for the second time. He stands like a soldier. His fists are balled at his sides and the effort it takes for him not to stride after Sherlock could pull the world entire to a standstill.
And Sherlock Holmes sweeps down the street, a man different from the one who left seven months and twelve days ago.
Hope you liked it. And as always, reviews brighten my day - I hope you'll drop me one!