After the funeral, John kept moving. Everyone seemed to expect him to just curl up in the flat and disappear. He was a soldier. People died. Life never stopped. There were still bills to pay and groceries to buy. He moved to a new flat with a roommate who never did anything remotely interesting. St. Bart's offered him a temporary post as an instructor; he accepted. Every day he looked at the roof; every night was spent pissed out of his mind. One morning, he woke up with a blonde in his bed and cigarette smoke on his breath. Now, he barely even noticed the smell. Of the cigarettes, of course. The blonde had been replaced by a brunette, or redhead, or perhaps even another blonde. They all blended together nowadays.
Two weeks after the funeral, the tremor in his hand returned. At first, it was just a shake every now and then that he chalked up to long days at work. It was only troublesome when he tried to write on the board. Now, he could feel the consistent quivering all day. After that, the ache in his leg increased until he was using the cane again. He didn't go back to the therapist.
After the first year, Sherlock faded to just a lingering pronoun.
John stumbled out of the diner and into the cold. He frowned up at the looming clouds, pausing to turn up his collar against the faint drizzle. No cabs. Just his luck. He fumbled through his pockets, locating a cigarette and his lighter. Two flicks of a lighter and a deep breath later, he frowned at the cigarette in his hand. Tomorrow, he told himself, he'd quit tomorrow. He'd been repeating that mantra for months. John checked the street one more time before beginning to limp resolutely towards home. By the time he reached his flat, the drizzle had turned into a downpour and he was soaked through. John eased himself up the stairs of the flat. Cane, leg, step. Cane, leg, step. It was an easy rhythm now.
"John? Someone's here to see you." His flat mate, Sam, was in the kitchen washing dishes. From the delicious smell in the flat, he must have cooked dinner.
Sam cleaned up every mess he made. It annoyed John to no end.
"Who?" John peered towards the sitting room. "If it's that girl—"
"Well, it was a girl and him initially. That one you work with. Mandy? Mary? No, Molly," Sam said, waving a dish towel. "She left a good hour ago, but he stayed. Refuses to move." Sam's voice descended into mumbled curses.
John sighed, and moved to the sitting room. His damp clothes hung tight and uncomfortable, but served as the perfect excuse to get whoever it was out of his flat.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting. I didn't realize I was expecting company." He glanced once at the chair back, leaning his cane against the wall to peel off his jacket.
The irritated sound of disapproval froze every muscle in his body. He could only stare at the chair. His hand dropped from his jacket lapel to blindly find his cane for support. His ears had to be playing a cruel trick on him. Slowly, Sherlock Holmes unfolded from the chair, straightening his shirt, and then jacket. John's hand clenched the curve of his cane so tight, he was sure the wood would splinter. He couldn't take his eyes off the phantom. Part of him lingered in disbelief. The other half (actually a larger part of him than half) was relieved. Sherlock's gaze lingered on the cane disapprovingly.
"Leg acting up again, I see." Sherlock brushed invisible lint from his shoulder.
"You…" was all John could manage. Relief was fading wholly to anger.
The edges of Sherlock's lips curled up in a humorless smile. He crossed the distance until they stood toe-to-toe. John closed his eyes hard, rubbing at one with the heel of his hand. Sherlock was still there when he opened them. John's thoughts consisted of various repetitions of the word "fuck".
"You don't understand," Sherlock sighed. "Why am I always the only one that sees?"
John resisted the urge to throttle him. Barely.
"I saw you fall." John looked away when his voice broke.
Something had changed in Sherlock's eyes when John finally met his gaze again. The calculation had receded, and John thought he saw a hint of regret. Within the span of a blink, Sherlock's expression was carefully ambiguous again.
"I told you it was a trick," he began.
The condescension in Sherlock's tone broke the last bit of restraint John had. His heart pounded hard between his ears. He didn't hear a word Sherlock said after that, acting on the one instinct that made sense. His fist connected firmly with Sherlock's jaw. An unsuspecting Sherlock stumbled back, hand automatically rising to his face. John kept his fist clenched, glaring at the man who he'd seen crumpled on the concrete; the man he'd buried. Sherlock smoothly returned to his former stance toe-to-toe with John. John fought the urge to shove him back. Too close. Everything was too close.
"I suppose you believe I deserved that." Sherlock rubbed his jaw.
"You. Utter—" John's chest heaved angrily and he swung again.
Sherlock ducked this one, slipping behind John to wrap his long arms around John's chest. John twisted out of his grasp, cane clattering forgotten on the floor. He launched himself at Sherlock, and they were rolling on the floor, fighting for dominance. John swung furiously at Sherlock, only growing more enraged as Sherlock managed to elude his fists. He wanted Sherlock to hurt.
"John! Stop, stop!" John was forcibly pulled off Sherlock by Sam. "What the fuck is going on here?"
"Nothing," John wrenched his arm away from Sam, glaring at Sherlock.
John paced the floor, glaring down at Sherlock. Sherlock ignored John, scowling fiercely at Sam. Sam picked up John's cane, gaze moving between the two men. John grunted as pain shot up his thigh. Sam quickly held out the cane.
"I think you should leave," Sam said to Sherlock once John had the cane in hand.
Sherlock's gaze moved to the space around John. John shook his head.
"Sam, we're fine. Thank you." Translation: fuck off, Sam.
The brief twitch of Sherlock's cheek relayed that he had correctly interpreted John's tone.
"Really? You were boxing in the sitting room. If he's bothering you—" Sam persisted.
"Please go away," Sherlock interrupted, waving a thin hand dismissively. "He's fine, just experiencing mild shock." Sherlock sniffed, wrinkling his nose. "Surprisingly, he will calm himself with a smoke. Tut, tut, John. That's a nasty habit."
"I'm going to change," John muttered, suddenly remembering he was dripping all over the floor.
"Please do. We are needed elsewhere," Sherlock replied.
John ignored him, limping off. He was secretly glad to hear Sam's chastising tones aimed at Sherlock as John stripped off his wet clothes. He sat on the bed in just his pants with a sigh, trying to organize his thoughts.
So the facts were such: Sherlock was not dead. He was alive. He was currently in John's sitting room.
Still being determined: Would he kill Sherlock for being an outright asshole? It was too bad Mycroft would intervene. Unless, of course, Mycroft did not know… John snorted and shook his head. Of course Mycroft knew Sherlock was alive.
Decided: He would go with Sherlock.
That, the unconscious decision already made to leave with Sherlock, scared John more than the facts or unknown. He'd seen the man die and resurrect himself, but he was still willing to follow him.
"I must be mad," John muttered.
The logical thing to do was kick Sherlock out and never speak to him again. Yet, that wasn't what John wanted to do.
"I am mad." He rubbed his face with his hands roughly.
"Yes, yes, you are," Sherlock barged into the room, slamming the door behind him. "How can you possibly live with that man?"
It was completely lost on Sherlock that John was nearly naked. John looked down at his hands, pursing his lips as he considered his response.
"Didn't have much of a choice, did I?" he finally said.
Two long strides placed Sherlock sitting on the bed beside John. John glanced up briefly at Sherlock before settling his gaze on something safe, like the wall just to the left of Sherlock's head.
"Look at me, John." Sherlock's murmur barely crosses the air between them.
John just shook his head.
"No." He felt his jaw tense. "Fuck you, Sherlock. You can't just walk in here—"
"Why not?" John knew Sherlock was probably studying the door for a literal deterrent. "Oh, I see. Would you like me to find you a pair of trousers?"
"Why not?" John repeated incredulously, and his voice rose in pitch. He cleared his throat before forcing himself to speak evenly. "You've been dead, Sherlock. I saw you…" And then he began shaking his head. He pressed his lips tight, pinning back all the words and emotions that he could not allow escape.
All the words and emotions that Sherlock now freely observed in the twitch of John's hand, the nervous facial movements and, most telling, in his eyes. They were silent for a long time.
"I see," Sherlock murmured. His knee bumped John's leg as he rose.
Anyone else might have missed the disappointment in Sherlock's tone, but not John. Now Sherlock's eyes were averted to the floor, searching the boards for something. John rubbed his head with a sigh, pushing to his feet to stop Sherlock from sweeping out of the room. His grip was too tight on Sherlock's wrist.
"Don't." He took a breath, hoping his voice didn't sound as desperate as he felt. "Don't leave."
John knew if Sherlock left now, they wouldn't speak again. Sherlock tightly nodded, glancing to the door.
"We have an appointment, Dr. Watson," Sherlock said, pointedly sweeping his eyes over John. "I suggest you get dressed."
Sherlock didn't leave the room while John dressed. He huffed and sighed as John rummaged through a drawer for a clean pair of socks. His phone beeped and Sherlock was distracted for a millisecond.
"Mycroft is impatiently awaiting us," he announced.
John reached for his cane. Sherlock made another noise in his throat.
John glared at Sherlock and opened the bedroom door. In the light, John could see the bruise darkening on Sherlock's jaw.
"Ready then?" John motioned for Sherlock to exit first. Once Sherlock swept past, John retrieved his cane and limped after him.
"John, this is him, isn't it?" Sam was waiting for them in the sitting room. His lips twisted in a frown. "That detective? Holmes?"
"Your skills of observation are astounding," Sherlock intoned dryly.
"Don't have the time to explain now, Sam." John interrupted whatever it was that Sam had been about to say. "We're off."
John gently shoved Sherlock towards the door. The wool coat felt familiar under his fingers. He grabbed his jacket, swinging it around his shoulders awkwardly as they exited onto the street. Sherlock surprised him by holding John's jacket so he could slip an arm into a sleeve. John murmured thanks, straightening his damp collar. Sherlock nodded stiffly, reaching into his coat pockets and producing two cigarettes and a lighter.
"We don't have far to go," he explained, offering one to John.
His eyes cut towards the black sedan on the other side of the street. Ah yes, Mycroft. Apparently, Sherlock was no longer in a hurry to be off. John fought the smile twitching at his lips and took the cigarette, tapping the filter against his palm before raising it to his lips. He fumbled in his pockets for his lighter, caught off guard when Sherlock politely offered his. Once John was finished, Sherlock lit his own, breathing the smoke in deep before exhaling into the night sky. John sucked in a breath, relishing the familiar burn in the back of his throat.
"So," John leaned back against the building, watching Sherlock intently.
"You're teaching now," Sherlock returned the gaze.
John reveled in the deducing stare. A faint smile turned up the edge of Sherlock's lips.
"You've been in Germany," John replied.
John knew he would lose this game, but it was worth playing.
"No girlfriend. Or boyfriend," Sherlock returned.
"We both know that girlfriends are not your area." This time the smile played at the ends of John's lips.
The tense line of Sherlock's shoulders began to round and smooth.
"You hate your flatmate, and with good reason. He is borderline neurotic," Sherlock said.
"Says the sociopath," John snorted.
Sherlock's grunt sounded more like a choked laugh. He tossed his cigarette butt into the street with a quick flick of his wrist. He motioned towards the car.