A week passes. A week in which John tries to adjust to an empty bed, a flatmate who no longer quite belongs to him, and a mountain of things that cannot be said. It seems easy for Sherlock, so effortless, for him to step back out of their romantic relationship, to turn back the clock and return to simple partnership and companionship. John knows it probably isn't really effortless for Sherlock, but it feels that way and it hurts.
John tries his hardest to behave normally as well, to keep the resentment he can't quite help feeling out of his tone and attitude, to be the same old friend, flatmate, partner he was before. But at night, alone in his room, without the hope of hearing that soft step on the stair, it is harder. He tells himself it is just temporary, that this state of affairs won't endure forever, but as the days stretch on with no change, he is not sure he believes it.
Whenever he closes his eyes, the memories come back to him, painful now but also wonderful. He doesn't want to forget. The feeling of the warm, smooth, alabaster skin on his. Sandpaper stubble on his neck and chest. Soft lips on his back, his shoulders, his most intimate of places. His hands on the slender waist, bodies pressed together, arms around each other. Tongues and fingers and cocks trembling inside each other, making them one. The scenes play in his head like a movie, over and over, and he doesn't know if he wants them to stop.
Then John comes home from a meeting with Mycroft to an envelope of breadcrumbs and news the Ambassador's children have been kidnapped, and it all goes bad so quickly that he cannot quite comprehend it. They both know, instantly, that this is Moriarty's doing, but neither will say it. John hopes, prays, he is wrong, that it is just a normal case, that they will find the children and all will be well.
Two days. It takes just two days for Moriarty to destroy everything Sherlock has built, everything they have together, and John can do nothing to stop it. All his loyalty, all his defence of Sherlock, his willingness to turn fugitive and go on the run from the law with him, none of it amounts to anything. It plays right into Moriarty's hands.
Two days and John is standing in front of St. Bart's, listening to Sherlock lie to him, not understanding why and pleading for him not to jump.
"It's just a trick, just a magic trick," the beloved voice tells him, and he doesn't believe it for a second. Even when he says, "Goodbye, John," and plunges over the edge, John doesn't believe it, not his words, not his actions. It can't be possible that this is happening. Not even when he hears the sickening sound of Sherlock hitting the pavement.
He runs to Sherlock, thinking if he can get there fast enough it won't be true. A bicyclist comes out of nowhere, knocking him down with enough force to slam his head on the pavement and make him lose consciousness, just for a second. It doesn't matter. He scrambles to his feet, stumbling almost blindly through the crowd that has inexplicably materialized around Sherlock and pushes through. "Let me through. He's my friend," he cries, as if the assertion could bring him back.
His head pounds as he reaches for the limp wrist and finds nothing there, no pulse, no life. He allows himself to be pried off Sherlock. Even then he thinks maybe it isn't true, even though he knows the feeling of that hand, that wrist, better than his own, has checked Sherlock's pulse there scores of times. But they turn him over, revealing the battered face, streaked with blood, grey eyes sightless and open. It is the eyes that convince John it is really over. He knows those eyes, has seen every possible mood shining in them, has seen them sharp and cold and angry and filled with desire and joyful, but he has never seen them empty, never seen them still.
They take him away, some kind strangers holding John back, keeping him from throwing himself upon Sherlock's body and laying with him in the street until he dies as well. John is left standing alone in the rain, with a puddle of blood next to him. There is so much blood. It's all that's left of his friend, slowly being washed away into the storm drain.
He understands then, rain beating down on him, crimson and pink swirling around his feet, that Sherlock knew how it would end all along. Or at least guessed. That's why he had ended things when he did, thinking it would be easier this way, for John, for him. Typical Sherlock thinking. But it wasn't easier, at least not for John. There had been no proper goodbye, at least not till the very end, and even that had been wrong and full of lies. There was no acknowledgement of the situation, no last night together. Just the false hope that it would be over soon and that they would be together again. But it had never been going to end any other way than this.
John knows this wasn't a suicide. He doesn't know what has transpired on the roof, and won't until weeks later, but he knows that the man he has shared a life, a flat, a bed with wasn't a fraud and wouldn't never do this to himself, would never do this to John. He knows exactly who to blame.
He goes through the motions of the statement and the funeral mechanically, until he finds himself standing alone in front of the stark headstone, begging Sherlock not to be dead, as if he can hear him, as if he can make it be true. Even after he leaves, goes to his new rooms, unable to bear the thought of returning alone to Baker Street, he continues to plead inside his head. "Please don't be dead. For me. Please." It's like an unceasing prayer, keeping him from breaking down completely, keeping irrational, ridiculous hope alive.
It does little for the pain, but nothing can. Sometime in the past 18 month he has forgotten how to be alone, and it is too quiet, too dark, too still without another human being, without someone to leave appalling messes in the kitchen, body parts in the fridge, mock crime scenes in the sitting room. But he cannot abide the company of anyone else, so he endures, still trying to hold on to the idea that it might all be a dream, or a trick, that Sherlock might still be alive, somehow. He wishes Moriarty were still alive so he would have someone to hunt, to kill, to take revenge on.
About three weeks after Sherlock's death, John is out walking. He is not going anywhere in particular, he just can't bear the emptiness of the flat any more, being alone with his own feelings, his memories, without purpose. He is lost in his own thoughts when a black town car pulls up beside him and stops. A large man gets out and opens the door for him.
"No," John says. "I won't see him."
He keeps walking and the car pulls ahead of him, stops, and repeats the performance.
"I said no. Mycroft can deal with his guilt on his own. I don't want to see him, I don't want talk to him, I don't want his help or his money or his empathy. Mycroft Holmes can go fuck himself."
The woman occasionally known as Anthea sticks her head out the window. "Dr. Watson, we are not going to see Mycroft, I assure you. But you very much want to get in this car."
John is tempted to walk away, but something in her tone makes him surrender and get in. She is, as usual, working away furiously on her phone, taking no notice of him.
"Where are we going, if not to Mycroft. This is his car, isn't it?"
"Mm. Don't know."
"Then how do you know I want to go there?"
"Oh, you definitely do."
He gets nothing else out of her and they ride in silence for nearly an hour, seeming to take a ridiculously circuitous route to wherever they are going. The car pulls to a stop in the middle of a large industrial complex, now mostly abandoned and in disrepair. John has no idea what part of London he is in.
"Well?" Anthea says shortly. "Getting out?"
John gets out and is barely surprised when the car drives away and leaves him. It's raining again, it's been raining all summer. "Great. Now what?" he mutters to himself. Suddenly his mobile vibrates and he looks down. There is a text from a blocked number.
Prat. Walk straight ahead and enter the third building on your right.
There is no signature, and no way to send a return text, but for some reason John's heart flutters in his chest. Cautiously, he does as he is instructed. The building seemed to be an empty warehouse, with great chains hanging from the ceiling, possibly used for construction equipment. The few, high windows are filthy and it is cloudy out, so only a tiny amount of light manages to filter on to the floor. The room is huge, and John can just make out a figure standing in shadow all the way at the other end of it.
Even before John can see it properly, he knows, he knows that shape, even hundreds of metres away, even in darkness, even though it is impossible. He freezes, feeling his knees go weak, afraid to go any closer, afraid it might vanish or he might find his mind is playing tricks on him. "Sherlock," he breathes.
The figure steps into an anaemic patch of light and there is no doubt left in his mind. John forces himself not to run, walking as quickly and determinedly across the distance between them as he can manage, trying to keep tears out of his eyes. He stops a few feet in front of his friend, looking him up and down desperately. He is whole, unharmed, unchanged, right down to the coat and the scarf and the way his curls fall across his forehead.
"Sherlock…" he says again slowly. "It's really you. Isn't it? I'm not… I'm not hallucinating this…"
In answer Sherlock puts his arms around John's waist and draws him to him. John buries his face in Sherlock's shoulder, holding on to him for dear life, hands digging into the fabric of his coat. John can smell his familiar scent, feel his warmth as Sherlock put his lips to John temple, nuzzling John's hair and closing his eyes. John cannot totally stop the tears, but they come silently and are lost in Sherlock's lapels.
"I'm sorry, John," Sherlock whispers. "I am so very sorry. For everything."
Neither knows how long they stay like that, but it is several minutes before either can move or speak. At last John lifts his head, still not letting go of Sherlock. "How? Why?"
Sherlock explains as briefly and simply as he can, about Moriarty, the contract on John and the others, the plan he hatched with Molly and Mycroft to escape, why it was vital John know nothing of it.
John knows he should be angry that Sherlock kept all this from him, that he put him through so much pain. He is angry, really, but his anger is so tiny compared to the joy and relief of having his friend back that it seems utterly insignificant. He takes in the explanation wordlessly, just happy to listen to the smooth, sonorous voice again. When Sherlock is done he asks, "So… is it safe now?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "No. The contract is still active, Moriarty is dead so he can never recall it. They are not watching as closely as they were, but…it isn't safe."
John gives him a quizzical look.
"I had…intended not to come back until I had dismantled Moriarty's network entirely, destroyed his entire web, made sure the threat was gone completely. But that will take months, years even. I realized I didn't… couldn't… imagine being away from you that long, with you thinking I was dead, moving on with your life."
John's heart melts. "Sherlock…"
Sherlock shakes his head and pulls away. "I'm being very selfish now, John. More selfish than I think I have ever been. I thought of how hard it would be to be alone for so long, how you might move on and forget me, find a woman, get married, by the time I got back. I thought if I was gone too long you might not forgive me. And I decided that mattered more to me than your safety. You should hate me for this."
"Oh, just... shut up," John says, grabbing his coat and pulling Sherlock down to him, kissing him heartily, hungrily, gratefully. Sherlock's eyes widen in surprise, then he gives himself up to the kiss and returns it eagerly. They break apart only when neither can go without oxygen any longer.
Sherlock looks pleased, and a little ashamed of it. "Will you come with me, John? Will you help me? It will be very dangerous and we may be gone a long time, but I… would very much appreciate your assistance. And your company."
John grins. "Do you even have to ask?"
Sherlock nods. "We have to leave right away, you can't go back to your flat. Do you have your gun with you?"
"Yes." John had not gone anywhere without it since Sherlock had died.
"Then let's go. I'll tell you where we are headed on the way."
John grabs his arm. "Wait. Are we okay here? I mean just for a few more minutes. Is anyone watching?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "I wasn't followed and if you had been we'd already know. Mycroft's drivers know how to lose a tail."
"Okay. Just give me one moment."
John pulls out his mobile, fiddles with it for a moment, and sets it on the floor a little way away from them. The sounds of violin music, slightly tinny but magnified by the hard concrete and aluminium around them, waft up from the floor. Sherlock cocks his head, listening. "Schubert… Opus 18, No. 6, waltz in B minor. That's…my own arrangement for the violin. That's me…playing… in our flat."
"You played that a lot more than you realized," John told him. "I never wanted to forget it, never wanted to forget that night, so I recorded it on my phone when you weren't paying attention."
Sherlock is too moved to say anything in response.
John bows and holds out a hand. "One dance? Before we go. You lead."
In the cold, empty, dim warehouse they twirl and spin as if they are in the most elegant of ballrooms, in the finest of clothes, with the best orchestra. Sherlock holds John very tightly to him indeed this time, cheeks pressed against each other, eyes closed, completely insensible to their surroundings, lost in one another, moving as one.
"I never gave up on you, you know," John breathes in Sherlock's ear. "I never will."
Sherlock makes a soft sound of gratitude and pulls him even closer.
They both know next few months will be difficult. There will be danger and death, and blood, hopefully of others but very probably both of theirs' as well. It may be a very long time before they are safe again, before they can come home. But right now, in this moment, none of it matters. They are alive, they are together, and there is only dancing.