A/N: This story is for Ennui Enigma for her birthday!
Happy Birthday Ennui – this is for you for all your support and encouragement and challenges. You make me a better writer! I am afraid I cannot write a birthday story that is totally happy – I tried, but this is the one that kept knocking at the door! I had to let it in (smiles).
Thanks to johnsarmylady for helping me with location details!
The wonderful stories of Sherlock Homes are due to the creative genius of Arthur Conan Doyle – thank you for letting me play with your words.
Sherlock does not belong to me, but to ACD, BBC & of course Gatiss & Moffat – thanks for letting me borrow the characters to write a story for my friend!
A Desolate Occupancy
It wasn't the best day of the year to be alone.
John walked in that state, down Baker Street.
He'd moved back into the flat at 221 a little more than a month ago and was still getting use to coming here. It had been hard at first, but he had decided he owed it to himself and to Mrs. Hudson.
Originally he'd shown up just to help her sort through things, but then he decided to stay. It seemed fitting even though every time he turned around there was another reminder of Sherlock. He'd placed most of Sherlock's things in boxes and put them in the upper bedroom, although there were a few things he felt he couldn't pack up, the skull, the cushion with the flag on it, the copy of the Periodic table, some other odds and ends.
Approaching the flat, he dug the key out of his pocket and opened the front door. He closed it behind him and stopped to pick up the mail Mrs. Hudson had sorted for him. She would be gone by now, left for the week on a holiday in Cornwall with some relatives.
He climbed the stairs slowly, tired after a long day at the A&E. Not quite as exciting as chasing after a madman in a greatcoat, but enough to keep him feeling more or less alive. More or less.
He reached the top of the stairs and paused, surprised to find the door to the flat slightly ajar. He was sure he had closed it before leaving this morning. He drew in a breath and straightened, senses heightened. It wouldn't be the first time he'd come home to face an intruder and it probably wouldn't be the last. He just wished it didn't make him feel so old and tired. It was suppose to make him invigorated. It use too.
He reached up and carefully, slowly pushed open the door, wishing briefly for his gun.
The flat was silent. He looked carefully around. There was no sign of anything or anyone having been in there nor did it appear as if anyone was here now. He felt his heart settle.
The door must not have been latched properly, although he distinctly remembered the sound it made as it closed behind him. Perhaps the mechanism needed looking at. No matter. He felt a little foolish for having become so worked up. He went into the kitchen to brew a cup of tea. After pulling it together he walked back into the front room.
And that's when he noticed it. He didn't know how he could have missed it. It was obvious now that he saw it.
Sitting on his chair was a package, neatly wrapped, tied with a ribbon. A present.
He stopped abruptly and then put the cup down afraid he'd spill.
Curiosity seemed to take the place of common sense as he picked it up, not really caring if it was a bomb or some other threat.
There was no note, nothing to indicate whom the package was from. It was flat and rectangular, thin. A book. He carefully untied the ribbon. He unwrapped the package in the way that use to drive Harry mad, slowly, pulling at each piece of tape.
The wrapper fell off and landed on the floor. He was looking at the back of the book. It looked old. He carefully turned it over. The cover was leather, a rich crimson. Embossed on the front, in gold, was the title A Desolate Occupancy by Carolan O. D. Y. Hunter. It was a first edition of an old book, from 1894, in perfect condition. He'd vaguely heard of it, but had never read it. It was suppose to be a classic.
He stood there stunned. Someone had broken into his flat and left him a present. It left him feeling decided unsettled. He wondered who it could possibly be.
He sat down in his chair and turned the book over, the texture of the leather rubbed against his callouses. He carefully opened the book, not sure if he should be doing this, but deciding it would be almost sacrilegious if he didn't. Books were made to be opened, to be read, to be experienced, for the tale to unfold.
He settled back in his chair and started reading. Once he attuned to the Victorian language, wrapped his head around it, it was easier and he became engrossed in the tale.
It was the story of a man who had lost his best friend to unexplained circumstances. He believed his friend to be dead, but it turned out to be not so. His friend had had to disappear in order to protect the ones he loved. He had been forced to make it look like he had met an untimely end, but in reality he was hunting down the very people who had put him in this situation. Towards the end the friend returned. The man didn't recognize him at first and when he turned around to retrieve something for his disguised friend, his friend shed the illusion and was revealed. After explanations the friend was forgiven.
By the time John finished the story it had grown quite late. He had been so caught up in the tale he hadn't even noticed the time or bothered to get something to eat. He stood and rubbed at his face, still lost in the story. It left him with an impression of unease. It was a little too close to how he felt, to what he wished for, for him to be comfortable with. He carefully placed the book on the mantle.
He went out to the kitchen to cook some eggs, something quick and mindless. He stood in the kitchen, wondering, as he slowly ate his solitary dinner.
Why would someone break into the flat and leave a book, presumably for him? A book about a man and his best friend torn apart by shadowy figures. People who forced the friend to…disappear.
Oh God! Came an unbidden thought to John's head. What if…He put the plate down on the table, clumsily, carelessly. He felt ill.
This could not be. How could this even be plausible?
Someone was messing with his head.
But what if they're not?
What if it was true?
What if Sherlock…?
Stop it! Stop it! This is not happening! It's a coincidence.
He straightened, his face a mask and marched back into the living room and opened the book to the end, turned a few pages and read the passage…
'He stood outside the little bookshop at the corner of Church Street, the strange old book-collector looking at him. He moved his head to look behind, but when he turned again, the book-collector was gone and in his place his friend was standing smiling at him. He started in utter amazement and then it appeared as if he must have fainted for the first and last time in his life.'
Church Street. Church Street. Was there anything there? He wasn't sure. This was ridiculous. He could go and look for an old bookshop and find nothing but disappointment.
He grimaced, opened his laptop and did a search.
There was a bookshop on Church Street. He hurried into his coat and slipped out into the night. When he reached the street he had Sherlock's luck grabbing a cab. Climbing in he gave the address of the shop to the driver.
After what seemed like an eternity John arrived on Church Street, right near the end closest in distance to Baker Street. There was a little jog where it bumped up against Paverly Street. Nestled in between two other shops was a small bookshop.
John paid the driver and hurried up to the store, hope flaring in his chest only to be dashed as he noticed the Closed sign in the window.
He stood, his head bent, forehead pressed against the glass of the door, his fingers splayed, bearing his weight, shoulders slumped, thinking himself foolish for even considering the possibility.
He was just glad no one knew, knew what he had believed to be promising even for the smallest of moments.
He turned slowly, sadly, his night left with nothing but an empty flat and a lonely existence.
He raised his hand to signal a cab when out of the corner of his eye he saw him standing there, in the shadows.
John turned quickly, disbelief, despair, joy, anger all haunting his face at the same time.
Sherlock stood there, the greatcoat last seen covered with the detective's blood, familiar blue scarf wrapped around the long neck.
John staggered, emotions pushing against him. He didn't faint, but he did feel a wash of dizziness flow over him as images assaulted him and incredulity warred with acceptance.
"Sherlock? How can you be alive? How is it possible? I saw you fall, felt your pulse?" John's voice trembled with overpowering sensations.
"John, I owe you a thousand apologies," the well-remembered voice warm and alive again. He reached forward and gripped John's arms helping to hold him upright as John's equilibrium tried to reassert itself. John placed both hands on Sherlock's forearms, the reciprocal touch seemingly able to reassure him in a way that simple sound and vision could not, promising him that Sherlock was flesh and bone and not spirit.
"John, I had no idea this would affect you this way. I am sorry. I didn't know I would give you such a serious shock."
"Seriously?! You didn't now how this would affect me? Good Lord Sherlock! What did you think would happen? You didn't, did you? Think that is!"
John's gaze raked over the detective's face, taking note of how thin he was, how tired, the unhealthy tinge and pallor of his skin. But there was a light there, in his eyes, which gleamed with intelligence and fondness for the smaller man standing in front of him. A small smile quirked at the corner of Sherlock's mouth, a smile that pleaded forgiveness and understanding. It was the smile that saved the two men from being bruised, the taller on the chin, the shorter on the fist.
"Can I ask you something, Sherlock?" The younger man's face tightened and a wariness crept over his face, as if prepared to shut down his emotional response, but he nodded just the same.
John gathered his thoughts. "Why? Why did you go to all this trouble just to bring me here, to tell me here? Why did you not just see me at the flat?"
Sherlock looked both younger and more ancient as the emotions flitted across his face. With his hands in his pockets, he shrugged, his expression vulnerable. His eyes darted as he thought how to answer.
"I was afraid you wouldn't let me stay. I thought if I met you here and you didn't want to see me, at least I wouldn't be turned away from the flat. I don't…," and he paused, tightness entered his voice, "I don't think I could have stood it, John, if you had turned me away there."
The doctor nodded, once, tightly, with contained emotion, burying everything down deep to be examined later, privately. He quickly and firmly pulled the other into a hug, cleared his throat and said,
"We'd best be going home, Sherlock."
The detective nodded,
"Happy Birthday. I'm glad you found my present."
John felt a small, almost absolving smile try to plant itself upon his lips and nodded once more, as he hailed a cab.
A/N: Thank you Arthur Conan Doyle for the use of your words. For those of you who might not know the story The Empty House has Sherlock returning at the beginning. I changed things to better fit with what I had in mind, plus a few other odds and ends (grin).