Chapter 1: A Meeting in Belgrade

He wasn't surprised to see her. Absolutely not. Few things surprised him anymore. (He was too weary for surprise, eighteen months after leaving home.) Her appearance in his dingy hotel room in Belgrade didn't surprise him in the slightest. In fact, he was almost expecting to see her—they were both dead. It would've been a bit of a disappointment if she stayed away.

It was late when he returned, cigarette smoke clinging to him like a miasma, and he was very, very worn.

"Tired?" She asked from her place, perched on his unmade bed. If he was any other person, he wouldn't have recognized her.

She wore glasses now, and contacts that turned her blue eyes a dark brown. Her hair was cropped short in a style reminiscent of the 1920s, and dyed a shade of brown which bordered on auburn. Her face was clear, without make up, and her clothes were tatty and ill-fitting. Now, her appearance was a far cry from her once swan-like beauty. Now, she resembled some cross between a wasp and a sparrow.

He knew he didn't look much better, fatigue carried openly on the sleeve of his navy blue sweatshirt, and showing through the threadbare knees of his jeans. (For a moment, he wondered what their disguises said about both of them. It was a very short moment, and he realized their disguises said far, far too much.) He didn't reply to her single word question, only stared at her for a long moment before he went to look out the window.

The corners of her mouth turned up in a simile of a smile, and she joined him. She stood closer than necessary, but he took no notice. She looked around the small room. She considered his clothing, his face. "Why Belgrade?"

"Why not?" He replied, blithely.

"Indeed," she murmured. In her hands was a simple phone, nothing like the seventeen thousand quid phone Sherlock still had somewhere, and she was flicking through pictures. "Have you heard about the graffiti?" She tilted the screen towards him. I believe in Sherlock Holmes.

He glanced at her briefly. "Yes."

"What do you think?"

There was a long pause. "Perhaps there are fewer idiots in London than I first thought."

Her grin was positively vulpine, but in the continued silence her expression faded. In its place was something far more uncomplicated, yet something thoughtful and deep. He watched the transformation with a frown.

"No," he said just as she was opening her mouth.

She lifted a delicate eyebrow. "You don't even know what I was going to say."

"You wish to know my plans. To help." He sneered at the last word.

"So you don't need help?" By her expression, his whole bravado was unimpressive and probably very sad.

He remained silent.

Chapter 2: Four Mostly Unconnected Episodes

Sherlock spent three months in New York City after leaving London. They were the worst three months of his life. (They were the loneliest months of his life, though he didn't know that was the reason why they were the worst.)

Moriarty had agents nestled in the seedy underbelly of the city, in those dark alleyways everyone saw in the movies but where very few ever ventured. Sherlock, being the sort of idiot he was, sought out the dark corners of the metropolis and cut Moriarty out of the picture piece by piece. Three months, and he had carved cleanly through the Big Apple.

So, in the heart of Belgrade, Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler became allies, first out of convenience, then out of necessity. For Sherlock, it felt right to have someone watching his back. He didn't fully trust her, but he trusted her enough, regardless of how foolish that decision looked from the outside.

Neither would admit it, but they were frightened. For themselves, for their loved ones. It was so very human, so very dull, how they fell in together. How they became a team, how they topped Moriarty's criminal empire one person at a time—it was all so… anticlimactic and pedestrian. Sherlock somehow felt cheated from his victory, though he quietly acknowledged he wouldn't have gotten half as far half as fast without Irene Adler's assistance. He grudgingly accepted her presence and was silently thankful for her appearance.

"What happened?" His voice was sharp.

"What?"

"You broke your ankle approximately four months ago. Judging by the way you walk and run, you haven't regained full use of the joint. What happened?"

She grinned. "I was running. Took a bad step."

"Running from whom?" His eyes narrowed.

"You tell me. Mr. Holmes, I'm not helping you out of the goodness of my heart. I'm helping you because Moriarty wanted me dead and there are people at home I need to protect, too."

The look on his face was highly skeptical. "Are there?"

"I am not an island," she remarked, derisive.

He gave her a speculative look, but on the whole seemed to believe her. If he, out of everyone, could have people he cared about, then she certainly did as well.

"Gayle McAdams," he read her passport. "Your forger is quite good."

"I don't have a forger. These are genuine. Issued by the state. I know one of the officials. Well, I know what she likes."

The corner of his mouth turned up in what could have been a smile, but she knew better than to think she was the source of his amusement.

(At least, she thought she knew better but, in actuality, Sherlock wondered if Irene's sexual proclivities were the only difference between him and her. If he were so inclined, would he also use his body like she did? He imagined he would, and the idea was quite amusing. Interesting.)

Chapter 3: I Saw Him Last July

"I believe in you," she told him out of the blue during a lull, somewhere between Belgrade and Vienna. "John believes in you, too. He's the reason I don't think you're a fraud."

"Don't be an idiot," he snapped. "Surely you of all people can see through the web of lies."

"Oh, certainly. I see them now. That doesn't mean I wasn't caught initially, even if only for a moment."

He studied her, gauging her expression and stance. Honesty didn't suit her, but there it was, plain as day. "Not all of us are infallible," she murmured. This wasn't meant to be a stinging remark, but he felt it jab sharply in his gut.

"You should tell him," Irene remarked, "you're alive."

Oh, the irony. If he wasn't so angry, he would have laughed. Sherlock glared at her, willing her into silence. She found no amusement in his ire as she often did, however, and her stony-eyed look made something small and deep inside him quail, inexplicably. "I know I can't persuade you," Irene admitted. "Perhaps this will." She held out a small manila envelope.

Inside was a photograph. Of John. Or someone who looked just like him, but wasn't him at all. Sherlock had seen John from afar, after his funeral. He knew his death would be… not good, to put it lightly. But this picture, a candid portrait, caused everything to go still. So very, very still. It was his eyes, John's eyes. Sherlock couldn't move.

"I saw him last July," Irene said. "That's where this is from," she gestured to the photo. "And don't worry, he didn't see me."

With quick, precise movements, he put the photograph back inside the envelope.

"Tell him," she demanded.

"No."

The cold fire in his eyes warned her away from continuing. They stood at an impasse, him aching and angry but unwilling to admit it, her proud and confident, but smart enough to know when to back away.

"What is her name? The woman you want to protect," he questioned.

"Mary Morstan. She's American. Not a client, but…" Irene paused. "She matters."

"Ah," Sherlock understood. Somehow, he understood the fierceness in her eyes. Rarely did he empathize with others, but in this, he knew exactly what Ms. Adler meant.

"Does she know, this Ms. Morstan? She knows you're alive?"

Irene inhaled sharply through her nose. "No."

First irony, now hypocrisy. Sherlock raised a brow and she refused to look at him. It felt a bit like a victory, but it didn't feel good. So, not much of a victory at all. Just two stupidly clever people being more stupid than clever, though they were doing all they could to remedy it.

Chapter 4: Violin

The trail ran cold exactly seven times in three years. Four time before Irene, three times after. Irene insisted the trail hadn't gone cold at all during those three instances, but Sherlock knew how to retreat with grace. Or at least he thought he did, but to any outside observer, he sulked for days.

When things seemed bleakest, he would play his violin late into the night. Irene listened to him pull unbeknownst melodies from the air. Sad lullabies and lilting airs—Irene was reminded that though she and Sherlock had been compared before, she knew so very little of what went on inside his mind. What she knew was but a shadow across the water of a depthless pool. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but Irene still felt every melancholy note Sherlock played.

Admittedly, Irene didn't know what to do with him when he was in a foul mood. She didn't know what to do or say when he was having a tantrum or whatever his dark moods were called. She tried several approaches, but each failed and often made the situation worse. The only affective response to a stroppy Sherlock was to ignore him, a war of attrition. Irene wondered what John would do were he here. Even if she knew, it wouldn't have worked because she wasn't John.

It seemed almost like a crime, how in the times when Sherlock needed John the most, John couldn't be there. John was the constant variable in Sherlock's life, and the foil to Sherlock's mercurial temperament. Irene couldn't even hope to fill John's place. She didn't want to, anyway, but some days it would have made for a more peaceful existence.

"Your violin, won't he notice it's missing?" Irene wondered one late evening. She and Sherlock stood side-by-side in a hotel bathroom, washing blood from their hands and faces.

She didn't need to explain who 'he' was.

Sherlock looked at her through the mirror. "I hope he does, though I know he won't."

"You don't give him enough credit," she replied, slightly chiding.

"I know."

Chapter 5: Disguises

In Vienna, Irene passed as a librarian. Once, long ago, her only interest was in the written word. When she discovered the world beyond print, she never went back. There was no power in books. The words of dead men had little sway in her world. But sex? Sex was powerful. It was taboo and ubiquitous at the same time. It was mysterious and forbidden, and she became an expert. Though she had long abandoned scholarly pursuits, Irene still had a fondness for literature and the dusty smell of old books. Her disguise wasn't the most elaborate, but it was the easiest to maintain.

Sherlock, on the other hand, dabbled in a dozen different jobs, just to get by. He put himself at information hubs, inserted himself unobtrusively into the underground—he acted as a freelance journalist or street musician. For a time he pantomimed being a barista until it became too tedious to deal with the average person day in and day out without respite.

In all reality, it didn't matter what their disguises were, and both knew their disguises weren't wholly necessary. Just precautions, really.

They acted as siblings in Shanghai, honeymooners in Rome, students in Johannesburg and business people in Mumbai. Every place, every city, every town with ties to Moriarty was found and purged of his taint. At times they moved in violently, guns blazing, like modern day warriors, like avenging angels, pale skinned and dark. Other times they crept in quietly, and dismantled the criminal infrastructure from the inside, moving like chameleons from one place to the next, putting hairline fractures in Moriarty's skeleton, breaking just enough things for the whole to collapse on itself. Moriarty's death was a great blow to the criminal world, but it wasn't enough to topple everything. There were numerous operatives and cells where his influence still thrived. Sherlock and Irene found these dark places, and eradicated them.

Chapter 6: Once Upon a Time...

(Once, in Tokyo, Sherlock and Irene got hopelessly lost on the Metro. Irene kept a cool head. Sherlock cursed and ranted under his breath. Irene knew his frustration was less about being lost and more about the fact that he, of all people, had gotten lost.)

(Once, in Paris, Irene sang on a street corner like some modern day Edith Piaf. Sherlock accompanied her on the violin, and they made more money that day than they did masquerading as anything else.)

(Once, in San Salvador, Sherlock and Irene raced through Central America's largest shopping mall, desperate to lose three different people trailing them. They escaped by hiding out in a changing room, pressed tightly together in a corner, trying all they could to quiet their ragged breathing. Somehow, they got away. They escaped death that day, and later that evening they laughed about the whole thing over a bottle of wine.)

(Once, in Qikiqtarjuaq, they had dinner. No, seriously, they just ate dinner and waited for a plane back to continental Europe. That's all they did, besides wonder why the hell a unit of Moriarty's people were so far north. After dispatching the offenders, nothing exciting happened, though Irene claimed she saw a polar bear in the distance. Sherlock knew entirely too much about arctic ecology, and Irene almost strangled him.)

(Once, in Cologne, Irene and Sherlock scaled all five hundred and nine steps of the Cologne Cathedral, just because Sherlock wanted to, and because Irene liked to indulge him. They looked out from the platform ninety-eight meters above the ground, and saw a flock of ducks floating on the Rhine. Sherlock knew the names of the cathedral's bells. Irene knew it had been hit seventy times by aerial bombs during World War II.)

(Once, in Santiago, Irene somehow caught typhoid fever and became so ill that Sherlock was almost worried. Which meant he was actually nearly out of his mind with concern. Even in London Sherlock was highly critical and always questioning the credibility of doctors and hospitals. John was the exception, of course. Sherlock couldn't put words to his horror at the hospital conditions in the developing world. He was also appalled that Irene hadn't been vaccinated before she left the U.K. According to her, he threw a 'hissy fit' when the doctors confirmed she had the disease, and only calmed down somewhat after they had given her antibiotics. During her treatment, Sherlock spent most of his time at her bedside, rattling off facts about typhoid and famous people who had the disease before her.)

(Once, in Sydney, Sherlock somehow got tickets to see Anne-Sophie Mutter play with the Sydney Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. Irene was rather ecstatic. It was a brilliant performance. By the end of the night, Sherlock and Irene had killed two of Moriarty's associates, who had also gone to the event.)

(Once, in Brazzaville, Sherlock just barely missed a bullet. Irene called him a fool, and he let her.)

(Once, in Kabul, Sherlock voluntarily slept, ate at regular intervals and was surprisingly docile. Irene wished she could marvel at the change, but she couldn't ignore the truth. Sherlock didn't wear apathy well, because it was only a cover for sadness, which was infinitely uglier. It wasn't long before Irene began to wonder if John Watson had stood on this street corner, or heard that muezzin call people to prayer, or watched the sun rise over this mosque, or eaten at that small restaurant. Irene didn't know John Watson well, but his image was forced into her mind. She could barely imagine how Sherlock felt, and was determined to leave the country as soon as humanly possible.)

(Once, in Vancouver, Irene managed to sprain her ankle. Sherlock refused to wait for her, and instead pursued the enemy. Irene, though incapacitated, was still the one to capture and kill their prey.)

(Once, in Jakarta, Irene surprised Sherlock with her handle on Indonesian, as well as her familiarity with the people and their customs. He didn't know, and she didn't tell him, but she had spent several years during her early adolescence in Indonesia. Her father had worked in Jakarta, and her years there were the last years she remembered her family being happy.)

(Once, twice, thrice, and an infinite number of times in an infinite number of places, Sherlock felt a sense of disconnect, of alienation within himself. He didn't understand it. The feeling dogged him, no matter where he or Irene went. He mentioned the feeling in passing to Irene, which surprised her as much as it surprised him. She gave him a sad smile and patted his cheek, even if he hated it. "You miss him, pet. A year and a half of having him at your side, and now he's not here? What else did you expect?" She said. This made Sherlock inexplicably sad in a way he hadn't felt since childhood.)

Everything ended with a whimper. The last strand of Moriarty's web was a man by the name of Sebastian Moran. Irene slit his throat three miles outside of Cairo, while he slept.

There were no stars out, but the moon was full. They stood in the open, trembling but unafraid. "What do we do now?" Irene idly wondered.

"We'll always have Paris," Sherlock stated, matter-of-fact. Irene looked up at him, and they shared a grin.

Chapter 7: Eighteen Months

Irene decided she didn't want to leave the Commonwealth, but returning to the U.K. was a bad idea. The government would probably respond poorly to her presence, she told Sherlock, and he couldn't disagree.

He suggested India—they had one hell of an adventure ducking guards and evading snipers at the Taj Mahal. In the middle of the night, during a lunar eclipse, no less. Sherlock thought fondly of India. Irene refused to live in a country where it rained more than it did in London. So, she settled on Canada. Sherlock mentioned that it rained there, too, but she rebutted, "There's no bloody monsoon season, and that's all the incentive I need."

Sherlock didn't believe her. "What else?" He loomed, and though she was far from intimidated, she told him her real motivation.

"Mary's in Toronto," she said. "No one knows of my connection to her except for you. Or, I should say, everyone who knew is now dead, except for you. It should be safe for me to join her."

"What will you do in Canada, of all places?"

"What do I always do? I misbehave," she smirked.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You won't."

"Oh, take all the fun out of it, will you?" She crinkled her nose.

"Yes, the fun out of your second chance at life. Or is this your third chance? I've lost count," he droned, shoving a bloodstained something or other into his bag. Irene pulled it out, folded it and repacked it.

"Mr. Holmes, how is it you keep a sock index but can't pack properly?" She griped. Their conversation dissolved from there, treading into a realm of playful banter that neither thought would be possible with the other. It wasn't easy, not exactly, but it had a semblance of comfort. Despite their history, Sherlock and Irene had reached a common ground. It was an unspoken agreement, an invisible but present trust. And that… was okay.

On the plane from Egypt to Turkey, Sherlock and Irene sat together in silence. It wasn't until the second leg of the journey, Istanbul to Kiev to Toronto, that Irene decided to say something. "I know it seems paltry to say it now, but I'm sorry for what happened. Before," she spoke. "I was afraid. What I did and what I said… none of it was out of true spite. And you weren't exactly kind, either."

"I thought this was an apology," Sherlock frowned.

"No, it's setting the record straight. It's clearing the air a final time because we won't be seeing one another again," Irene clarified, voice soft but intense.

"Ah," Sherlock sounded as if he understood, but he really didn't. Why not leave it alone?

Irene gave him a look. A look that said something along the lines of 'oh, aren't you adorable and slow, let me keep you' which didn't agree with him at all. He glared in response, like any proper adult. Which he was, obviously.

"Sherlock," she said emphatically. It wasn't often she used only his first name, even after a year and a half together. "Please, just… let me finish."

He gestured for her to continue.

"I wanted to say I am sorry for how everything played out, and I'm sorry for being selfish. I won't say I didn't imagine what Moriarty had in mind for you. He dropped hints and… you've met him," she wore an expression that seemed to demand comprehension. Sherlock nodded.

"He was unhinged," he simply stated.

"I thought things would end when he stood trial, but evidently not. I underestimated him," she admitted. "I'm sorry it had to come to this—us running for our lives."

Sherlock sighed. "As am I."

"But it's over for now."

"Yes."

They sat in silence once more, and a stewardess brought ginger ale and white wine. "I used to order ginger ale when I was a child," Irene said, sipping her wine. It was a subtle dig, and a playful one by the upturned corner of her mouth.

"I like to keep a clear head while flying," Sherlock replied.

"Oh, I know that, Mr. Control," she smirked. He huffed, and gazed out the plane window into the night sky. (He always demanded the window seat, for reasons unbeknownst to the general populace.) Irene made a discouraged sound and he focused back on her, eyebrow raised in question. Irene frowned. "We never got to have dinner," she told him faintly, as if in mourning.

"What? We ate—"

Her peal of laughter cut him off. "You know quite well what I mean."

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, that's not on my itinerary."

"How unfortunate."

"For you, perhaps."

"Ooo, that stung," Irene mock-cringed.

The amusement on Sherlock's face lasted for a handful of seconds before he began to fidget with his plastic cup. He cleared his throat. "I was callous," he said slowly, deliberately, plucking out the words carefully.

"What, just now?" Irene was incredulous.

"Before," he emphasized. "I won't apologize for what I did, but the whole situation…"

"It was a mess."

"You drugged me," he scowled. "And then held Britain by the throat."

"Don't pretend you care about Britain. But you did save my life," she pointed out. "I was wrong."

"About what? Or are you just saying that?" Sherlock wondered, critical eyes trained on her face.

Irene downed her drink. "There's a difference between self-preservation and willful malevolence," she said. "I crossed that line. I forgot there was more to my life than myself."

"Mary Morstan."

Irene smiled. "Exactly."

A year and a half ago, this conversation would have been impossible. Sherlock knew eighteen months ago he wouldn't be listening to her, he would be lashing out and furious. He also knew eighteen months ago Irene would never have said these things. She wouldn't have known them yet.

They were tired, yes, more tired than they were when they first began this mad quest. They had over time shed the disguises they wore, and now they had returned to echoes of their former selves. There was no more need to run. Not now, at least. Later, maybe. But not now.

"I think I might miss you," Irene admitted.

Sherlock cast her a half-smile, and turned his attention to outside the window. A heartbeat later, he felt her small, nimble fingers wrap around his hand. He glanced down at their intertwined hands, and though he was Sherlock Holmes and held hands with no one, he allowed it just this once.

(It never occurred to Sherlock to send Irene off to Canada on her own, while he found a way back to London. No, the idea didn't cross his mind, even if accompanying her was costly and time-consuming. Whether it was habit or some form of loyalty that brought him with her, it was never thought of, and never discussed. Years later, decades later, the notion would strike him, and he would be left without answers—which bothered him more than it seemed to concern anyone else. Sherlock would resign it to one of the few mysteries in his life left unsolved.)

Chapter 8: Mountain and the Sea

"Thank God for the consulting detective," she sighed. She squeezed his hand once then let go. His mouth lifted into a brief smile, and he watched her approach a woman with dark, braided hair. At first, the woman went still, and Sherlock thought she might faint. Instead, she burst into tears, and lunged at Irene, twisting her arms around her neck. For a moment, Irene looked stunned. Sherlock scoffed. What other reaction would this Ms. Morstan have, if she considered Irene even half as dear as Irene considered her? Then Irene hugged back in earnest. Sherlock's smile faded, and he turned and walked away.

His homecoming to John didn't go as well as Irene's to Mary. John—stout, strong John—sank to the floor in a dazed swoon when Sherlock entered the flat. (Perhaps, Sherlock reviewed, showing up without any warning was not his best idea.) John wasn't out for long, just long enough for panic to edge into Sherlock's mind, though he'd never, never admit it.

And then when he came to, John punched Sherlock on the jaw. Sherlock knew it was a bit not good, but he couldn't help but feel nostalgic at the sight of an angry and physically violent John Watson. Not only nostalgic, but a sweeping sense of relief. Part of him feared his friend would be unrecognizably altered during their separation. Now, as John hissed an obscenity at him, Sherlock believed his worries were unfounded.

(He was wrong, obviously. Both he and John had changed in the past three years. Not unrecognizably altered, of course not, but they had changed. They were different, even if just by small degrees. John's adventurous spirit was weighed down by grief and righteous, low-burning rage. Sherlock felt the same, yes, but sometimes his reactions surprised him. He sensed something was off, but it was too integral at this point for him to identify, isolate or understand. Even with these shifts, these epiphanies of character which marked them different from before, Sherlock and John still fit together. They still were the unwitting halves to a whole. It took time, their falling in together, but in the end it worked, just as it always had.)

"Where the hell have you been?" John demanded, still seething, still pale as a ghost. Which, Sherlock reflected, was an ironic description.

"With Irene."

"Irene? Irene Adler? Oh, so she's not 'The Woman' anymore?" Never mind that she was supposed to be dead. Sherlock always suspected John knew at least part of the truth behind her apparent death.

Sherlock make a noise of derision. "John, when you topple an international crime syndicate with someone, being on a first name basis is the least important thing to take into account."

John opened his mouth to continue, but seemed to take a verbal step back instead. "Moriarty is dead?"

"Him, and his empire," Sherlock confirmed. "Irene and I made sure of it. Neither of us could return while his operatives still lived."

Sherlock went on to explain just why he faked his death, and made everyone believe he was a fraud—to save the people who mattered most. "Moriarty, predictably, forgot Molly out of his own objectivity. Moron. He assumed since he had lost interest in her, I had as well. He lost," he remarked, a small, triumphant grin on his face.

John did not look impressed, and his hands were still shaking. Sherlock quickly recovered, and continued his narration. "I had no other choice," he asserted. "I couldn't… I refused to risk your life, Mrs. Hudson's life, Lestrade's life…" He cut himself off, afraid of the trembling in his voice. He desperately wanted John to understand, but the doctor's brow was pulled down in consternation. Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment, trying to fight the feeling that he had lost everything.

He opened his eyes just in time to see John come at him, and pull him into a hug.

For some reason, this desperately relieved, demonstrative John Watson made more sense than the violent and angry John Watson. Sherlock hugged back, and both men held on, the neurosis of three years coming to fruition. They held on for what seemed like hours, but was really only minutes, and it still didn't feel like enough.

So they held on, John trembling with repressed sobs, and Sherlock trying his best to understand. He didn't quite know what he was trying to understand, which was part of the problem. All he knew was the feeling in his chest, an uncomfortable expansion, and the sense that the closer he was to John, the less that feeling hurt.

Chapter 9: Three Years

Three years was such a very long time. John never moved out of 221b. All of Sherlock's things had been moved to his old room. Mrs. Hudson still lived downstairs. London rain still battered the windows; the kitchen window was still the best place for sunlight.

John was still here, and he looked much the same. Three years of loneliness and grief made their mark, but they were timeworn emotions. No longer stabbing or fresh, just a quiet throb. Like a heartbeat.

The furniture had been rearranged, and the walls had been repapered, but those were the only noticeable differences. Sherlock felt as if he had come into an alternate universe where he never existed. He didn't quite know his opinion on the idea of 'alternate universes', but the concept struck him with some poignancy.

"Will you be staying?" John wondered.

"If you'll let me." The words weren't right; they had the wrong texture when spoken.

"Still an idiot, then," John sighed.

"Pardon?"

John gave him a sad, small smile. "You're still an idiot. Do you really think I'd kick you out? After everything? Your things are all here."

"Oh."

"Everything except your violin, but I see now where that's been," John gestured to the case at Sherlock's feet. He looked up at his friend. "You okay?"

Sherlock was taken aback by the question. "Am I…?"

"You look… tired," John clarified.

Sherlock could see his reflection in the mirror above the mantle, and John's observations was a bit of an understatement. Sherlock's hair was ragged and limp, his clothes ill-fitting, his face wan and pale. "I am," he sighed.

"Tea?" John asked.

"That would be lovely."

Three years was a long time, but when one can measure it in the little, immutable things, three years wasn't so very long after all.

Chapter 10: The Aftermath is Secondary

For a time, conversations regarding Sherlock's death and resurrection were strictly off limits. Lestrade was the first to bring it up, at a crime scene two months after Sherlock returned to Baker Street. The detective inspector asked something along the lines of where Sherlock had been, location-wise. Sherlock was about to reply with something about his and Irene's short stint in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the look on John's face stopped him dead in his conversational tracks.

The expression on the doctor's face was the ghost of the expression on his face in the photograph Irene had given Sherlock, all the way back in Belgrade. To the average observer, it was a blank look. But in that blankness was desolation and a kind of soul-wrenching melancholy that left Sherlock unsettled. It was a look often seen on the loved ones of murder victims. Sherlock's lips twitched, and he refrained from grimacing. Luckily, Lestrade was able to read Sherlock's face, his you should probably be quiet now face. Accordingly, detective inspector nodded, and dropped the subject.

Sometimes John would see Sherlock, squeeze his eyes tight, take a deep breath and stay still for a few moments. It was as if he had forgotten Sherlock was still alive, and then suddenly seeing him standing by the window composing music or slumped on the sofa in his blue bathrobe… John had to take a mental step back and reorient himself to a world where miracles were just the products of a clever but completely mad mind.

Sherlock wondered what it was like to have one's heart restart several times a day, and if there was a medical term for the phenomenon.

Running into Molly Hooper after Sherlock's return was interesting.

Sherlock allowed a hug from her, and then went immediately to a microscope. Molly inquired after John's health—boring! Molly, you are better than that—and John replied with all the aplomb of British reticence. Sherlock wondered if the doctor would forgive Molly for her role in the whole thing.

"Thank you," John murmured to Molly as Sherlock grumbled at a petri dish.

Molly started. "What for?"

"You looked after him when the rest of us couldn't," he replied, eyes downcast.

"It really wasn't much," she said, eyes wide. "I-I know he didn't have many options."

John was quiet a moment. "You could have said no."

"I wouldn't have," she said.

He smiled, just at the corner of his mouth. "I know."

Molly twisted her fingers together and shifted from one foot to the other. "I'm just happy he's all right," she said. "I've been really worried."

John opened his mouth to reply, but Sherlock barked out a "John!" as he swept out of the lab. John huffed in amusement, squeezed Molly's shoulder in a farewell, and followed.

Chapter 11: Caprice No. 2

"Did you ever doubt me?" Sherlock asked, because he had to ask, even if the notion left him feeling a bit incredulous.

John's self-depreciating smile seemed out of place. "Not for a moment."

In fact, John hadn't been idle during Sherlock's absence. He became a sleuth in his own right, and just shy of seven months before Sherlock's return, John cleared his name. (Lestrade had thrown his weight in behind the doctor, and proved to be a valuable ally. It was one of the few reasons why John forgave the man. Also, it wasn't as if Lestrade had anything better to do, after being fired from the Met.)

This was part of what enabled Sherlock to come home early—he imagined he would have to clear his own name, which could have taken months. Part of him was irritated that John so easily disregarded his 'dying' wish. Part of Sherlock quailed at the idea of John, his John, making himself a target again. But, fortunately, his retroactive worry was unnecessary. John came to no harm, and it appeared he eliminated some of his own threats himself.

Sherlock stared at John, which wasn't unusual. The doctor was like a monolith—a monument of eroded stone, but somehow enduring. The idea of change frightened Sherlock; he didn't want John to be any different that he had been three years ago. Sherlock didn't know he was frightened, but he knew his heart was seizing uncomfortably in his chest, mingling with the feeling of gratitude towards John.

Instead of confronting this feeling, he began to tune his violin.

John frowned, eyes on the instrument. "You had it with you the whole time, didn't you?"

Sherlock nodded.

"I thought Mycroft took it."

Sherlock scoffed. "He's not sentimental."

John didn't believe this, but continued. "Did he know?"

"Know what?"

John made a small, frustrated sound. "You know what I mean. Did he know you were alive? Was he in on the… plot?"

Sherlock let his violin rest on his shoulder, down and a bit away from his chin. "Initially, no. Molly was the only person who knew from the very beginning. It took nearly a year for my brother to confirm that I was still alive."

"He was livid, I'll bet," John muttered.

"Relieved, actually."

John frowned. "Idiot. You know, if things had gone differently, it would've been his fault if you died."

"I know. He certainly knows. Why do you think you haven't seen him since my return? He's doing his best not to antagonize me," Sherlock explained. "It's the 'least he owes me'," he said this in a flippant, sneering way.

"How long do you think that will last?"

"Until I next end up in jail," Sherlock shrugged.

John made a face and moved to the sofa. "Please don't."

"Don't expect me to change," Sherlock snapped. It was a sudden and unexpected outburst. He hadn't meant to say that; he hadn't meant to say it so maliciously.

If John was taken aback or surprised, Sherlock couldn't tell. "I wouldn't dream of it," he said. "Sherlock."

"What?"

"I don't expect you to change."

Sherlock thought viciously, But what if I did?

"Then what do you expect?"

John seemed perplexed by the question. "Don't jump off buildings. Don't attract the attention of an international psychopath. Don't die," the last bit was added as if it were an afterthought.

"As if I'd do something as banal as die," Sherlock snorted.

"Well, I thought you had," John's voice was hard. "Seriously, Sherlock, I saw your body, I felt for your pulse—"

"That wasn't even my body," Sherlock interjected.

"I thought it was," John half-shouted. "You meant for me to think it was. But now you're right here, talking to me as if the lie has been completely dismissed because you're alive. As if I can just ignore what I saw and felt then."

"I don't—" Sherlock's brow creased, his eyes darted a bit around the room, as if looking for something he had misplaced. His gaze settled on John, eyes wide. "What can I do?"

John shook his head. "There's nothing you can do, Sherlock. I have no template for a situation like this. Time, I suppose. Give it time."

Time. Ugh. So much time had passed already. Sherlock was sick of this malaise, both in John and in himself. He set his jaw, put his violin under his chin and began a violent rendition of Paganini's Caprice No. 2. After a few moments, John stood and headed upstairs. Sherlock continued to play long into the night.

John's nightmares returned while Sherlock was gone. Sherlock forgot about John's nightmares, given they had petered off a few months after they first began living together. He expected the same to happen after he came home.

He soon realized John wasn't actually experiencing nightmares, he just wasn't sleeping. For a time, John went through the motions of a nighttime routine, but at some point he gave up pretence and began returning downstairs to haunt the living room and kitchen, a tired, hollow-eyed wraith. It was like seeing a strange facsimile of himself, Sherlock thought, and found it just as annoying as John once did about Sherlock's nocturnal habits.

It was seven minutes after four in the morning when Sherlock came home after checking in on his homeless network, and John was sitting on the sofa, a mug of cold tea in his hands. He appeared drained, and so very misplaced. Nightmares would be better than this, thought Sherlock. Banishment from 221b would be better. Anything but this. Sherlock realized too much could change in three years. There were new facets he discovered in himself, parts that made him feel painfully human at times, parts that broke when he saw John like this—a marionette with severed strings.

"You should sleep," Sherlock said, starling John out of his reveries.

"I can't."

"Of course you can. Why can't you?" Sherlock spoke quickly.

John didn't reply. He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Sherlock had never seen John appear so brittle. This was an unrealized facet, and by this point Sherlock thought he had seen every shade of John. But was it really possible to know everything about another person? Sherlock wondered if he could know everything about himself.

He realized he had never seen, up close, John in mourning. Second hand accounts were quite worthless when it came to observing emotion. And this didn't make sense. Sherlock was here now. Alive, no less. What was there to mourn; why hadn't things gone back to as they were before? "I don't understand," Sherlock uttered. Suddenly, everything hurt and there was no reason for it. No reason at all and Sherlock didn't do hurt. He wanted nothing to do with pain, but even more he wanted John to go to sleep and be okay. Just okay. That's all he was asking. Okay was enough to go on, wasn't it? Okay was a step in the right direction, a juncture towards better things.

"It isn't something that can be easily understood," John said with a heartbreaking smile.

Sherlock dropped his coat on the desk and gingerly sat beside John. He didn't know quite what to do with his hands, which usually wasn't a problem. He settled the problem by folding his fingers together. It was a natural position; familiarity brought poise. "This is absurd."

John huffed in subdued amusement. "Yeah."

Sherlock slumped over so his head rested against John's shoulder. "I'm right here," he murmured. Isn't that enough? He wished he could ask, but the words caught in his throat and he knew the answer already.

"I know," John said after taking another sighing breath. That's what makes this so difficult, don't you see? "I know."

"Do you?"

"Yeah."

"Good."

"Mmm."

"Go to sleep."

"Says the insomniac at four in the morning," though Sherlock couldn't see John's face, he knew the other man was rolling his eyes. Sherlock drew himself up and, as if he wasn't trying to work through a certain level of emotional trauma, imperiously left the room. John watched him go, too tired to even attempt to figure out what Sherlock was doing. When he came back, he carried in his arms John's pillow and blankets, which he dumped on John. "Oi!" John narrowly avoided spilling his tea all over said pillow and blankets.

"Sleep here," Sherlock instructed. Then, in a tone just a shade softer, "I'll stay nearby."

John nodded, grateful. He curled up on the sofa, and Sherlock sat in his armchair, knees pulled to his chest. Soon, John fell asleep, and Sherlock stared into the abyss, mind whirling with questions and thoughts he had no way of answering on his own.

Chapter 12: The Indiscriminate Dust

Three Years Prior

He moved through a thick haze. Everything slowed to a crawl, as if his knees were broken and stuck in tar. As a kid, John once had an interest in paleontology, and read about ancient tar pits, which sucked animals—mammoths, mastodons, saber toothed cats—down, devouring dozens over eons. Now, the only remnants were collections of bones—nature's charnel houses, treasure troves for any naturalist. John felt like these animals. He felt the pull of reality and time, he was hauled down into blackness and felt his flesh strip away, slough off from his tired form. Nothing but gutted bones remained, delicate as ash.

(Tobacco ash, perhaps. John actually read Sherlock's study, before he deleted it from his website in a fit of pique. Now, the whole site had been taken down. John deactivated his blog soon after.)

Baker Street was the last place at the end of the world, teetering along the edge of apocalypse. The sun shone bright enough to burn, the rain washed out everything in its path, and the wind convinced the buildings and people to tear themselves apart, brick by brick, cell by cell, atom by atom. On the surface, no one could see this happening, but through John's eyes the world dismantled. Or maybe it was just him, stuck in the tar pits but trying to act as if nothing was wrong.

Months passed. Nothing changed. Nothing was wrong, and everything was wrong. He continued to wade through the mire, expecting to be wretched out by a hand that wasn't there anymore. Work, therapy, long hours spent in blank, sinking contemplation. He didn't do as Sherlock asked, at the end. He hadn't told the world Sherlock was a lie. He was incapable of the deed. Truthfully and wholly incapable.

John only remembered crying a total of five times over his best friend in those three years. The first time was after the funeral, when he said only some of the things he should have said before. The second time was when he visited Ella after eighteen months of no contact. The third time was soon after he moved all of Sherlock's possessions into his old room. John purged the flat of nearly all material signs of Sherlock—his armchair, his strange cow skull with headphones, his books and papers. The flat looked as hollow as John felt.

He moved numbly, cleaning with borrowed supplies from Mrs. Hudson. He found, in a corner of a bookshelf, tucked in a crevasse among John's old medical journals, a single package of cigarettes. Another one of Sherlock's stashes, no doubt. John wasn't aware of this one, and the irony of tobacco hidden between medical literature was enough to force John into the nearest chair. The location was so very Sherlock—he must've thought himself so drolly clever when he put the cigarettes there—and John's heart twisted sideways in his chest.

He once feared losing Sherlock to guns or knives or crazy poison-wielding murderers. Sometimes, he worried about losing Sherlock to lung cancer or heart disease—another irony, given Sherlock's opinions on the human heart—but he never imagined he would lose Sherlock this way, to something like suicide. A forced suicide, brought about by the houndings of a madman.

Tears sprang up, unbidden. John fought for control and lost. Twenty minutes later, the cigarettes were returned to their hiding place. John didn't get any more cleaning done the rest of the day.

On the first anniversary of Sherlock's death, John revisited his grave. He hadn't been back since that first time, and as he struggled for breath he realized why. This was too much, even a year later. The flat was still empty, his bones were still white-washed and dry under the sun. Coming here was just asking for trouble, wasn't it? He spotted a black car in the distance—Mycroft's by the make—so he left. He wanted nothing to do with Sherlock's brother.

Instead of taking a taxi back to Baker Street, John walked. It was a very long walk and he wasn't anywhere near home until late in the night. Passing through a shoddy alleyway, John absently glanced at the graffiti adorning the concrete and brick walls. The whole world stopped. In bright, yellow letters—I believe in Sherlock Holmes. The words stand out like beacons in utter darkness. John quickened his step and went to all the old homeless network haunts. Under the foggy London lights, place after place variations of the message were written everywhere—Moriarty was real; I believe in Sherlock; Richard Brook was a fraud

There was an underground culture here, some of the paint recent, some months old. The tears John was able to stave off earlier returned in full force.

When he stumbled in the door at 221b and slogged his way up the stairs just as touches of dawn appeared on the horizon, John pulled out his phone and for the first time in months sent a text. To Lestrade of all people. You know he wasn't a fake. Reopen the case. JW

Lestrade couldn't do this, of course. He had no access to anything now he wasn't with he Met—but he did have some of his own notes. He kept some things he should have turned over, but out of loyalty or spite he didn't. Everything Sherlock-related had been relegated to a cardboard box—Lestrade's personal notes on various cases Sherlock solved, photographs Sherlock took at crime scenes. The only thing he had of Sherlock outside the box was the recording of him drugged after his first encounter with Irene Adler. All these things—Sherlock would blame him for being sentimental, and Lestrade would agree. He brought the box of notes and things to 221b and tried to salvage something, anything from the whole mess. John wasn't ready to forgive him, but he was willing to work with him.

"I don't see how anyone could set up something like what happened in Dartmoor," Lestrade said to John as they went over various cases. Papers spread over the table like maps; each one part of a blueprint for an answer. "The aerosol was a product of a twenty-year-old program—look, there's evidence to back that. He couldn't have had access to American records, anyway."

"He always said we see but don't observe," John said in an undertone. "We both know the truth, but one instance doesn't make for an argument."

"God, what a disaster," Lestrade sighed and rubbed his forehead.

"Tea?" John offered. He imagined they would be here for awhile.

"Yes, thank you."

"What was their reasoning?" John asked, rising and filling the water heater. "Their rationale for firing you."

"Do they need one? I helped an apparent psychopath create crimes to make himself look good, without suspecting a thing," Lestrade looked as tired as John felt.

"What are you doing now?" The water heater began to mutter. It was the same one he had bought with Sherlock's card a few months after they first moved in together. They had a kettle, of course, but it had been requisitioned in one of Sherlock's experiments and John was unwilling to use it again. Something with formaldehyde. And a sickly yellow, vicious compound John didn't want to know anything about. Now, John couldn't explain why he kept the water heater yet 'got rid of' so much else.

"Working security for Mycroft."

John gave him a look that said really?

"I'm not above taking handouts from Sherlock's brother when I have to," Lestrade shrugged. "I'm sure if I asked he'd help us with this," he motioned to the papers.

"No," John frowned. "I won't work with him."

"Thought you might say that."

"So you know?"

"What, that Mycroft basically gave Moriarty the key to Sherlock's downfall? Yeah, I know that bit."

"And you're okay with it?"

"Christ, John, of course I'm not! I'm not okay with any of this. I know you were the person closest to Sherlock, but you didn't know him as long as I or Mycroft did," Lestrade said.

"How does that matter?" John snapped, lashing out even though he knew it was wrong.

"It matters because you need to understand you're not the only person grieving," Lestrade's voice was harsh, challenging. "You're not the only one who feels guilty."

"I don't—"

"Don't give me that."

John set two mugs of tea on the table, and didn't reply.

"If this is how it's going to be from here on out, we're not going to get anywhere," Lestrade said after a moment.

"You're right. Sorry," John nodded.

They began to go through every case they could remember, from times before John up until Sherlock's death. From the smallest missing pet cases to ones with maniacal serial killers, John and Lestrade analyzed and teased out facets which would have been impossible for Sherlock to create. Cold cases were the best for this, because many of the actual crimes occurred when Sherlock was too young to have had anything to do with them. Some even transpired before he was born.

"They're going to argue that Sherlock faked these files," John said when Lestrade began to focus on the cold cases.

"There's something seriously wrong with the public," Lestrade muttered. "But if anyone could have done something like that, Sherlock could."

"Oh?"

"He used to hack into all the phones during press conferences, and let all the media people know when I'd say something wrong. He'd correct everyone via text," he said.

John laughed, though it was watery and subdued. "Sounds like him."

"Before, when he was still on the drugs, I banned him from crime scenes. So, instead, he'd stand a few yards away and text me what had happened. It was bloody infuriating, but he was always been better than the rest of us," Lestrade smiled sadly.

John's face crumpled a bit, but he just took a deep breath. "Yeah, he was," he said, and both men turned back to the mess of papers on the table.

"What about the people who have confessed and gone to jail because of Sherlock?" Lestrade asked. Days later, and they were still going through years' worth of cases.

"What about them?"

"If the media says Sherlock paid off everyone, that means he paid people to go to jail. Who would agree to that?"

John's eyes brightened. "Maybe we could contact them, though I doubt they'd want anything to do with Sherlock. But if one of them… Just one person might change things."

"Also, his personal cases. We could find those people. I have a list of all the people he helped in the last decade," Lestrade said.

"Where did you get that?" John frowned.

Lestrade winced. "Mycroft."

John's face became livid. "Greg—"

"I didn't ask for it! He just emailed it to me yesterday. Did you think he wouldn't find out about our plans?" Lestrade held his hands up, palms forward, in a gesture of surrender.

John rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, right. Of course."

Lestrade sighed. "I'm assuming we're going to use the list. We should contact the people he's help, get testimonies from them," he suggested.

John nodded, and opened his laptop. "How long is the list? We'd better get started."

It was very slow going. Their resources were stretched thin and though Lestrade pushed for more of Mycroft's help, John refused. "Did you learn to be stubborn from him," Sherlock, "or have you always been this bull-headed?" Lestrade asked once.

"Both," John admitted.

"God help us all," Lestrade sank back in his chair, and John cracked a small smile.

It was… good, John supposed. Actually doing something. Most days he still felt like a sun-burnt skeleton, empty, and it was so difficult to wrap himself in Sherlock's past, but he never lost sight of his purpose. He was beginning now to understand why Sherlock became so frustrated with everyone when the truth was apparent and no one else could see it—John and Lestrade were in the same situation now. But if Sherlock had so often revealed truth against the odds, then it could be done again. Truth will out, John reminded himself.

"Do you think he was afraid, at the end, in those last couple weeks?" John quietly asked one evening. He and Lestrade were taking a break at the pub down the street. It was late enough for the place to be full, but still early enough so that the atmosphere was calm.

"Was he afraid of anything?" Lestrade replied.

"Yes."

"Really?"

"You should've seen his face at the pool, when Moriarty kidnapped me," John said. "And when I was nearly shot by one of those CIA agents."

"You do know you're very odd and maybe a saint, right?"

John snorted. "What makes you say that?"

"You lived with him longer, much longer than anyone else has lived with him. Except for Mycroft, but I bet he didn't have much of a choice," Lestrade shrugged. "You didn't smother him in his sleep, and more importantly he didn't smother you. No, really, just think about it," he said when John raised an incredulous brow. "He didn't like people and never suffered fools, which the rest of us practically are compared to him. You're obviously special, or something like that, to have known him so well and still stuck around."

"I didn't know him that well. I mean, I knew what he was like. I knew his habits, his inclinations, but did we ever really talk about the past? Not as such, no," John said, still unconvinced. "I was convenient, Greg."

"I don't think he'd be afraid of losing you if that were the case," Lestrade countered.

"It doesn't matter now. And it wasn't that bad—"

"There was a head in the fridge."

"Yeah, but—"

"And he tried to drug you with coffee. And he invited himself on more than one of your dates. And everyone thought you were gay together."

"Okay, point taken." John conceded with a huff.

"So, my question is this: Why? Why did you both stick around?" Lestrade asked.

John sighed, not sure if now was the right time for this conversation. He knew why he stayed, but could only guess at why Sherlock let him stay. But was there ever a right time for this sort of speculation? Everything still felt so close, everything was too soon, too raw. Maybe this was the time for him to begin to move. He already started when he unofficially reopened the case, but could this go anywhere good? Sherlock was dead. Anything John thought or said now wouldn't matter, would it? Would it be worth the heartache?

"I don't know," John said, mostly to himself. His voice caught in his throat and he swallowed a few times before continuing. "It just made sense, after the war. We, I dunno, clicked or whatever. We put up with each other. He… he was my best friend.

"I had good mates before the war, and soldiers often form strong bonds, but with Sherlock… Oh, this is going to sound stupid, but it was as if we found each other at the right time even though we hadn't been looking."

"You did shoot that cabbie for him," Lestrade added. John choked on his drink. "You think I didn't know? Sherlock couldn't've been more obvious. I just chose not to say anything about it."

John quickly recovered. "Well, thanks for that, I guess."

Lestrade waved it off. "Did you love him?"

John choked on his drink again. "You've got to stop saying things like that."

Lestrade raised an eye brow and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well?"

"Do I have to answer?" John deflated. "Hell, what kind of question is that? Of course I did. I told you, he was my best friend. God, I'd… give anything to have him back." He stared at the glass in his hands, breathing through his nose.

Lestrade patted his shoulder. "I know, John. I really do know."

Many people refused to speak to John or Lestrade, even people whose lives were saved through Sherlock's quick thinking. Family member of victims wanted even less to do with them, and more often than not yelled, threatened or simply hung up on John when he mentioned Sherlock's name.

Others jumped at a chance to help. The first woman who was kidnapped by Moriarty, the 'first pip', was sure Moriarty was real. "No one, not even an actor, has eyes like that," she explained, voice soft. She and John had coffee one afternoon, and he recorded her experience with Moriarty. Afterwards, she sat quietly, hands clasped tightly together. "I'm glad you're doing this. For Mr. Holmes. I know he wasn't the most pleasant of people, but he saved my life."

"You're not the only one," John told her. She looked up, met his gaze, and nodded.

There were others that slowly came out of the woodwork—an elderly man whose heirloom watch had been stolen by a distant cousin, a transman trying to get to the bottom of a string of systematic trans-related murders, a teenage girl who had been abducted when she was younger, a business man blackmailed and framed by a competitor—all who had been affected by Sherlock. Most agreed he had been a prat, but they were thankful and couldn't believe the accusations against him.

Members of the homeless network seemed again committed to plastering graffiti all over London. They manage to hire a lawyer (who was also connected to Sherlock but declined to explain how) to set the record straight. In a matter of months, John went from being so utterly alone, to surrounded by people. Because of Sherlock. Even in death, he somehow managed to better John's life. He didn't feel alive, not like before, but he was living. He was living, and that was more than he ever imagined for himself.

The first time he saw the headline pronouncing Sherlock's innocence, John stopped in his tracks. The Tesco bags in his hands dropped to the pavement. After a year and five months of work, John and Lestrade had finally cleared Sherlock's name. For the fifth and final time since Sherlock jumped from St. Bart's, John cried. Then, seven months later, Sherlock came home.

Chapter 13: Equilibrium

"You're being an idiot," Lestrade told John. A strange sense of normalcy pervaded the air, even if this was only just their first crime scene since Sherlock returned.

Sherlock was abusing the forensics team and rattling off deductions. When he said anything particularly clever, he looked to John for acknowledgment. John, hanging back with Lestrade by the police cars, would smile and nod. Sometimes, Sherlock could be both childish and child-like. Whether it was endearing or irritating, John had yet to decide.

Currently, Sherlock was out of earshot. "What, sorry?" John was a bit startled by Lestrade's proclamation.

"He's back from the dead and you've been moping," Lestrade replied.

(He was rehired by the Met a few months back. Initially, he wasn't going to take the job, but John persuaded him otherwise. Now, he had a whole new team, and was free to work with Sherlock as he pleased. Someone higher up in the chain of command must've felt bad, but neither John nor Lestrade were willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if that said gift horse had Mycroft's finger prints all over it.)

"I'm not," John sighed, "moping."

"Really? Then explain this," Lestrade gestured to John.

"What?" John looked down at himself.

"You look almost as bad as you did when he was dead," Lestrade stated.

"It's difficult," John said.

"Of course it is. But I don't understand what you're doing, and neither does he. When he died, you took your period of mourning. Then you got off your arse and did something. You've got to do the same again," Lestrade said.

John took a deep breath. "Yeah."

"Good. Now that's settled, I think you have things so do," Lestrade said. Sherlock was gesturing wildly, and one of the police sergeants looked ready to throttle him.

John snorted, and shrugged way from the car before Sherlock suffered any serious damage.

"I'm sorry for how I've been the past few weeks," John apologized over dinner at Angelo's when they finished the case. (A murder-suicide which turned out to be a double homicide by an outside party, which at the end became a murder-murder-suicide. The murder weapons were a nail gun and a heavy, marble chessboard, oddly enough. Sherlock thought the chessboard was reasonably unusual, though lacking in refinement. Molly promised Sherlock access to the murderer's body. He wanted to pick the killer's brain, so to speak.)

Sherlock stabbed at his pasta with a fork, another solved mystery doing little for his foul mood. In a unanimous decision of one, Sherlock began to think of John as a case, as a conundrum with no apparent solution. He was trying to understand what John was going through, and all he understood was that his powers of empathy were pitifully lacking. But, like an unused muscle, Sherlock imagined he was getting better over time, and soon the answer to their problem would appear. Just now food wasn't a priority. Besides, he never ate on a case. (However, that rule was being disregarded at the moment. He blamed John, just to be spiteful. John didn't care.)

"Why?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow, and blinked as if surprised.

"I haven't been fair to you," he clarified.

Bafflement. "How so?"

"You were gone for three years, and I imagine those years weren't the easiest. Adjusting to London again, it isn't the easiest thing." John foisted a couple mushrooms onto Sherlock's plate. The detective grudgingly ate them. This seemed to please John.

"It's hardly about me," Sherlock said, and immediately knew it wasn't true.

"Sure it isn't." John snorted. "And here I was going to be nice to you." A grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. Sherlock realized he had missed that expression.

"You're always kind to me, John," Sherlock said. This sobered John immediately and Sherlock wished he hadn't spoken at all. A dull, bruised throbbing crawled into his ribcage and settled there. He hated himself for coming back so changed, but not in any way that could be considered useful. Why did bodies and minds have to constantly conspire against him? Why did his own have to do the same?

"What's wrong?" John prompted, noticing his shift in demeanor. Frustration was one thing, melancholy another. The first came to Sherlock easily, the latter not so much.

Sherlock ignored him, and gazed out the window.

John frowned. "No. You're not doing this now, Sherlock."

"Doing what?"

"Shutting me out, shutting down. I won't let you."

Sherlock laughed without humor. "Is that so?"

John took a calculated risk and reached across the table to take one of Sherlock's hands between his own. "Yeah, it is," he replied. "I am sorry for how I've been acting. I'll be better from now on."

Sherlock stared at his hand, caught between John's. Normally, hand-holding was an unwanted intrusion. Too personal, too close. But this, here with John, didn't bother him. He was… comfortable. John could be dangerous, of course, but Sherlock knew he was safe with him. No one else could fulfill that capacity. His gaze drifted up, so they now made eye contact.

"I'm not… good at this," he said, as if it were a grave sin.

"You're not good at a lot of things," John countered, grinning.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. I'm not accustomed to talking about feelings," he said the word in the same manner most people say 'mildew'.

"Yeah, I know that one, too," John nodded. "Sherlock, we don't have to talk about this right now. I just don't want you to shut me out. You've done that before, and with how I've been since you came back, I don't blame you for keeping the pattern. I'm letting you know my expectations now that I'm done being a twat."

"Oh." That was reasonable, wasn't it, what John was saying? Of course it was reasonable. John was more reasonable than most, something Sherlock appreciated about him. "Very well," he nodded. "Thank you." He wasn't sure, exactly, what he was thanking John for, but words occurred to him as appropriate.

John knew this, because he also knew Sherlock didn't often show gratitude. It was more of a habit, a convention Sherlock upheld to pass as a normal person. (Though if anyone was pulled into believing Sherlock was normal merely through his expressed thanks, they were idiots. More so than most people.) "You're welcome," John said with a quick smile.

There was something eerily familiar about tonight. John was by the window, peering out at rain sloshed streets. Sherlock sat at the desk, the light of his laptop casting a wan glow over his face, making his cheekbones stand out in relief. The room was mostly dark, and everything seemed to balance on the edge of knife-like silence. Smothered tension crackled up Sherlock's spine.

He was well aware this all looked very much like the night John said he didn't, couldn't believe the lies Moriarty shaped against Sherlock. It was a cold memory, years old, and a last moment of stillness before everything unraveled. Sherlock glanced up at his dearest friend, and felt he should speak. He had no words, however, which was worrisome in itself. He could go days without speaking, but that never meant he had nothing to say.

Still, something must be said. "I… am glad to be back," Sherlock struggled through his words, trying too hard to be sincere.

John looked over at him, a slight smile on his face. "I'm glad you are, too." There was no difficulty in this softly spoken phrase, and, again, something swelled inside Sherlock's chest, ready to burst. It frightened him, like how falling from the roof of St. Bart's had frightened him—a sort of dizzying exhilaration.

Chapter 14: The Cat Returns

Irene Adler showed up in Sherlock's room again approximately six months after she and Sherlock parted. John was the one to discover her, when he went into Sherlock's room to collect the laundry. He stood for a long moment, staring at Irene's back as she looked at Sherlock's bookshelf. "I'm surprised you kept all his things here," she said and turned to John. "Mary moved everything of mine into storage," she added under her breath.

"What are you doing here?" He demanded, trying his best to not seem annoyed.

"Can't I visit a friend?" Irene waltzed past John and leaned casually against the kitchen table. "Where is he?"

"Out," John replied in a clipped tone.

She nodded. "Should he be back soon?"

"Why are you here?" John asked more forcefully.

Her pale eyes flashed. "I told you, I'm here to see Sherlock."

"Why?"

"For this," Sherlock swept into the room and handed Irene's old camera phone to her. "It's been stripped, of course," he told her.

"Oh, obviously." She agreed and turned the phone over in her hands, a small smile on her face. "Thank you."

"I have no use for it," Sherlock replied.

"Yet you kept it." She cast a significant look at John, who frowned in response.

Sherlock busied himself with making tea, which had become a habit of his recently, and John moved into the living room, too disoriented to do much else but sit in his chair and read the paper. He heard Sherlock speak over the water heater. Irene laughed. John's hands tightened on the newspaper, crinkling it. He took a short breath and attempted to smooth out the wrinkles, which was rather stupid. Just then, Sherlock appeared at his elbow with a mug. "It's not drugged," was all he said.

John snorted, and accepted the drink. "Thanks."

His moment of good humor was gone as soon as Irene folded herself into Sherlock's chair. She rested her mug on the floor to cool, and gazed at him expectantly. John didn't want to look at her, but there she was, smiling like a cat with a canary. Sherlock took stock of her expression and became wary. "Irene—" he began, but was cut off immediately.

"Dr. Watson, what do you do with an unhappy Sherlock?" Irene leaned forward, face suddenly dead serious.

"Why?" John thought that if one more mercurial person came into his life, he would go mad.

Her eyes flickered to Sherlock, then back to John. "You know how he gets. I began to wonder what you, specifically, do when he's in a mood. The best I did was to ignore him, which made me feel quite useless."

John did not expect this line of conversation at all. It took a few moments for his brain to make the right connections. "There really isn't anything else to do. Either he'll find a way to entertain himself, or we'll get a case. He didn't take up smoking, did he?" John glanced at Sherlock, who had moved to the window and was holding his shoulders stiffly.

"No," Irene shook her head. "Not after we began working together."

"I'm assuming you weren't in a case-by-case situation," John hedged. Frankly, unless he asked, he knew very little about where exactly Sherlock and Irene had been, and what exactly they had done. Sherlock had given him a basic overview, yes, and some of the highlights of his adventures… but other than that? Very, very little. He didn't know what Sherlock and Irene did during down time. (Cluedo?)

"We kept our ears to the ground for information, in a sense," Irene said. She picked up her mug and took a sip before continuing. "We would go weeks without hearing anything sometimes. And without anything to go by, what was there to do?"

"He gets bored."

"I'm still in the room," Sherlock ground out through clenched teeth.

"Are you? You seem to be doing a quality impression of an angry statue at the moment, pet," Irene said, a single eyebrow raised in his direction. "I spent a year and a half of my life with you, but John is the closest thing to a Sherlock expert we have. I'm sating my curiosity."

Sherlock glared at her and muttered something about 'see if I ever travel with you again' under his breath. Irene ignored him, and sighed. John watched the interaction between the two with more fascination now than curiosity. Sherlock gave off an air of veiled hostility, but Irene was the picture of exasperated affection. It didn't make much sense, and John began to wonder what Irene's actual objective was.

She told John about the Trevi Fountain incident. He hadn't asked for the story of how Sherlock was almost drowned, and how Irene shot the man who had been holding his head underwater. As her narration progressed, Sherlock's agitation increased until he was pacing the length of the room. Irene continued to ignore him.

"Why are you telling me this?" For some reason, it didn't feel as if Irene lorded the story over John. She wasn't flaunting her adventures with Sherlock. Her story was… a statement of facts and events.

Irene's face took on a contemplative expression. "This was the first time I killed any of Moriarty's men for Sherlock. It wasn't the last, but that's of little consequence. This was a week and a half after Vienna.

"I had never been so afraid in my life, during those moments before I pulled the trigger," she admitted in a soft voice. "But I wouldn't have done anything differently. Surely you understand that?"

John nodded. She was right. Living with Sherlock was exhilarating and frightening and dangerous, and he couldn't imagine doing anything else.

Irene's phone—not the one Sherlock handed over—rang and she glanced at the caller before excusing herself from the room. "Interesting," Sherlock commented, and sat in the chair Irene vacated.

"What?"

Sherlock shook his head.

They were quiet, and could hear Irene's voice muffled through the walls. "So… why is she here?" Not for the phone, surely?

"Presumably to check up on me. Between you, her and Mycroft, I'm surrounded by mother hens," Sherlock sulked.

"I thought she wasn't allowed in the country? Something like that?" John was still quite baffled, and couldn't care less about being labeled a 'mother hen'. Sherlock made it easy for others to want to look out for him. It was a thankless job.

Sherlock nodded. "Technically, yes. I didn't think I'd see her again."

"Do you have any other ideas on why she's here?"

"A few, in fact."

"You're keeping those to yourself, of course."

"Of course," Sherlock smirked at John's frown.

Irene returned and frowned at Sherlock in her chair. "I had a dog like you once. Any time I'd leave, he'd steal my seat," she said. Sherlock looked scandalized by the suggestion that he was like a dog, and he flounced out of the room.

"You're allergic to dogs!" He turned on his heel to accuse. Irene was already sitting.

"I am. My siblings are not," she clarified, smug.

"You're more like a cat anyway, Sherlock," John added.

"Do shut up," Sherlock hissed, and retreated to his bedroom.

"Mary says 'hi'," Irene said to John.

"Does she?" John wasn't quite sure who Mary was, but she was free to say 'hi' to whomever she chose.

Irene inclined her head, and sipped her tea. "How is he?" She asked in an undertone, her eyes flickered towards Sherlock's room.

"Fine," John stated. "He's… fine."

"Good." Irene's face broke out in an honest smile. "Take care of him."

"If he lets me," John scoffed.

"He already does," she said.

John shrugged. Sherlock came out of hiding, deduced a slew of things about Irene—she was living in a too-small apartment in a northern suburb of Toronto, she hadn't eaten yet today, probably because she'd gained nearly six pounds since he last saw her, ("Fasting doesn't make you lose weight, Irene, it's just stupid." "Don't talk to me about not eating, Mr. Holmes."), she was working part time as a typist though she hated it, but took a few clients on the side for old times' sake, most of her money was coming not from herself, which bothered her—and finished by saying, "Don't talk about me while I'm not here."

John dropped his head into his hand. "Sherlock—"

"Not a typist," Irene countered, a grin on her face. "Receptionist."

"Boring," Sherlock waved off the correction.

"Undoubtedly," she agreed.

Sherlock glanced at her mug. "You've finished your tea and concluded your business here," he said.

"I have," Irene stood and looked at John. "It's was good to see you again, Dr. Watson."

John didn't know how to reply to that so he went with, "You, too. I guess." Irene laughed and faced Sherlock.

"I feel as if I should say something about how you've grown taller," she said.

"I'm not a child."

"Of course," she laughed again and hugged him around the neck. "Maybe someday you'll show up in Toronto ready to interrogate Mary?"

Sherlock raised a dubious eyebrow. "Only if you get murdered interestingly."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"That was… unexpected," John announced when she was gone.

"Not really," Sherlock drawled. "I always assumed she would visit eventually. She wants to sell her old mobile."

"How much is it worth?"

"Seventeen thousand."

"Christ."

"She also wanted to talk to you."

"Why—?"

It dawned on John—Irene was attempting to befriend him, or at least diffuse the bad blood between them. She was trying to assert that they were allies, but she was also deferring to him. In a way she was telling him, "Look, John, we both care about Sherlock, right? But you're more important than I am to him. I'm not a threat, I'm not here to hurt either of you. Listen, though, because I've been with him through thick and thin, too, but you're still more important. Because you were here first. Without you, I wouldn't be here."

But since she was too much like Sherlock, she couldn't come out and say as much like a normal person. Yep, John was sure now—if he had to deal with one more like them, he was going to burn something down. Possibly this side of Baker Street.

Chapter 15: A Wedding Announcement

"Um, Sherlock?" John called from the kitchen table. Beside him was tidy pile of letters. He held an open envelope and letter in his hands. The paper was of very fine quality and the script was a flowing calligraphy, stark and black against pale paper. John frowned.

Sherlock ignored him, laying prone on the sofa, hands pressed together as if in prayer. He figured John would ask his question regardless of Sherlock's response.

"It's a wedding announcement," John continued. Sherlock's mouth twitched into a half-smirk. It was a secret comfort knowing how predictable John was.

"From whom?" He decided to ask. Maybe Mycroft finally found the right trophy wife. Probably some distant heir to the throne? Oh, Mummy would be beside herself with joy, no doubt. But, then again, Sherlock figured he would've been told of any impending nuptials before an announcement was sent. (It was wishful thinking on his part that he could actually get out of attending any event like a wedding.)

"Mary Morstan and Gayle McAdams," John replied, sounding confused.

Sherlock rose from his repose, and stalked into the kitchen. "Let me see," he snatched the card.

"Do we know them?" John asked.

"Yes." Sherlock brought the paper close to his face, looking at the edges and the ink. If John had blinked at the right time, he would've missed when Sherlock actually licked the envelope. "Miss Morstan… or Mrs. Morstan has excellent penmanship," Sherlock said, an afterthought.

"But who is she?"

"Irene Adler's wife, apparently."

"What?"

"Gayle McAdams? That's Irene's name. Not her real name, obviously, but the name she went by while we traveled," Sherlock explained.

"Oh. Irene did mention someone named Mary," John nodded, and did a bit of a double take. "Wait, so they're married?"

Sherlock gave a look that said don't be stupid. "That's what it says on the card," his tone matched his expression.

John rolled his eyes. "We should… send them a congratulations," he said.

"Ugh," Sherlock intoned.

"Yes, yes, I know. Social protocol. So very dull," John grinned.

Sherlock leaned close to John and watched his face. "What's wrong? Something is wrong," he announced.

"No," John deflected.

"John," Sherlock prompted. "If you're about to sulk—"

"You're the one to talk," John exclaimed. "It's just… You traveled with her for a year and a half and you never…?"

(If there was an unspoken hall of fame for awkward pauses, the following awkward pause blew every other pause out of the water with its sheer length and magnitude of awkwardness.)

Sherlock, bless him, didn't understand what was happening until he did. "Had dinner?"

"Sure, if that's what it's being called now," John rubbed his forehead.

"No."

"No?"

"No, I never had romantic or sexual relations with Irene Adler," Sherlock stated. "Not that it would matter if I had. She's free to marry whomever she wishes."

Normally this sort of conversation disinterested Sherlock to the point of severe irritation, but he indulged John. Frankly, if John wanted conversations like this all the time, Sherlock would let him, and he'd be happy to do it, so long as John was content. The realization of this fact was shocking, to say the least.

John looked rather incredulous. "It didn't even occur to you?"

"It occurred to her, of course, but no."

John's expression shifted to speculative. "You're not, um, a sex person, are you?"

"If you mean I'm asexual, then yes."

"Well, that explains a lot, actually."

"Quite."

John continued to sort the mail. Sherlock stood beside him for a moment, an indecisive tension in the set of his shoulders. "Sherlock," John half-chided, "it's fine."

At those words, the detective visibly relaxed, nodded, and moved back to the sofa.

Chapter 16: Safety

Sherlock wasn't any more human now than he had been three years ago, or ten years ago, or even earlier than that. He knew he didn't have much by way of humanity—his empathetic powers were nearly non-existent, he said and did and thought things no other human said, did or thought. John's good opinion of him was appreciated, but unnecessary. Truly, John's belief in Sherlock's humanity was actually quite remarkable. No one else called him human before, no one had ever even thought it, he assumed.

Sherlock wasn't any more or less human now, but he still felt different. He was sure nothing had actually changed, but it feltas if there was a change. He couldn't explain this, and couldn't articulate it and it haunted him.

There was a fire fight, and the sound of bullets ricocheting off brick filled his head with a sharp din. He watched as John returned fire around an overturned stack of crates, and then stared when John took his wrist and pulled him to a place with better cover. Everything was sharp and stark, John's tanned fingers against the pale of Sherlock's skin, the loud rapport of guns, the distant shouts and distant sounds of police sirens. Sherlock was focused on trajectory and angles and how to not let John get hurt, even if it was John with the gun and years in Afghanistan. Sherlock had to fight the sense of helplessness in moments like this, and he felt, in a moment of perfect chaotic clarity, safe.

Sherlock and safety were not good bedfellows. Sherlock didn't do comfort or ease. He was prickly and ragged and splashes of bright color against old pavement.

And right now, his back pressed to John's, he felt a sweeping sense of safety. Not only that, but it was right. Reality clicked into place and for the first time in over three years, homeostasis was achieved. The world reoriented and found its balance again.

Once, for eighteen months, he was Sherlock-and-John. Then, for three years he was Sherlock-and-we're not talking about this, Irene, there's work to be done, drop it and don't you dare touch it again. Now, after slogging through hurt, they had become Sherlock-and-John once more. And from the way John was pressing against his back, the doctor felt it, too. It was a relief, because Sherlock hated explaining himself in these matters.

Chapter 17: On the Brink of Epiphany

Sometimes, John wondered what it would be like if he was a proper scientist or mathematician. He wondered what his life would look like if he had taken the path of researcher instead of doctor. If he had he would, for instance, be able to make a graph showing the exponential increase in Sherlock's tactility since his return from the dead. Because once John took Sherlock's hand at Angelo's for the sake of making him pay attention, the contact didn't stop. He supposed he needed his own graph for tactility, but he didn't think he could measure that objectively. Not that any of this was objective to start with, but it was the thought that counted, wasn't it?

Harry was a very tactile person, so it didn't feel unusual to live in a home where contact was common. However, Harry's jocund slaps on the back or drunken kisses on the top of head (she was taller than John) were definitely different from Sherlock's subtle hand, guiding John through a door, or gently squeezing his good shoulder if he'd understood something before everyone else. Sometimes it seemed Sherlock couldn't be bothered to offer affection with his hands, so he merely pushed his forehead against John. (John had taken to calling these cat-like displays 'head bumps'.)

Sherlock had always been affectionate with Mrs. Hudson, but now it wasn't uncommon to see one of her arms looped around his, or her hand just resting on his arm while they spoke. Sherlock wasn't only being affectionate, but he allowed others to be demonstrative towards him. This was what stood out to John the most.

Though it wasn't overt, living with Sherlock made John realize how very, very awkward Sherlock inherently was. Only the most important people—Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson and now Molly—were truly aware that, for all the times Sherlock came off as charming and sociable, there were dozens of other times when he muddled about like an over-eager, not-very-well-meaning puppy.

Despite his tendency for uncomfortable silences and to say things that made the whole room go still, when Sherlock meant to be affectionate, he pulled it off quite well. It wasn't timing or being in the moment, it wasn't a science. Instead, it was emotion. (Which in itself was rather foreign and only now was Sherlock getting the hang of both having a heart and recognizing it. He would never admit to either. Never, even if he gave himself away each time he planted a kiss on Mrs. Hudson's cheek or leaned against John when the world got too dull for his liking.)

Newfound facets, like emotion and tactility, fit their way into John and Sherlock's lives as easily as John and Sherlock fit together, giggling at crime scenes in the middle of night. They were as good together now as they had been before. John restarted his blog; Sherlock's website was once more open for business. Mycroft came by (like he could stay away for long) to harass Sherlock about matters of the state, and Sherlock was as inflammatory as ever while John tried to play diplomat. It was perfect.

Then they hit what John in future years would call The Great Dry Spell.

Days and days and weeks of absolutely nothing. Almost as if the entire criminal world decided to take a holiday. (Sherlock claimed on the third day that he and Irene had been too thorough, which wasn't true. "We killed off my living, John. What am I to do now?" John told him he was being an impatient idiot, which was true.)

Sherlock went mad, and John went mad because Sherlock crawled up the walls and got into everything he should've let well enough alone. Sometimes, when he went caseless, Sherlock curled up in a chair and mimicked someone in a catatonic state. Sometimes he paced like an animal with cage-rage. Sometimes he scoured London at strange hours, sometimes he sunk into a melancholy state. That was the worst, in John's opinion. He could deal with angry and erratic, but sad and gloomy was just… not right.

Regardless, Sherlock without a case was always irritable and always unhappy. Right now, it sounded as if he was upending his bedroom. "Where is my stash?" He yelled to John.

John thought briefly of the cigarettes tucked on the shelf, the ones he found when Sherlock was still 'dead'. "Dunno," he replied. "You don't need it."

Sherlock appeared in the kitchen. "How would you know?" He snarled, and disappeared again.

"I'm a doctor," John replied easily, folding his newspaper over so he could see the crossword on the back. "And Irene said you haven't been smoking."

Sherlock made a frustrated noise and stormed out of the flat. John watched him go, slightly alarmed. Six hours later, Sherlock returned sporting a black eye, bloodied knuckles and extensive bruising on his left side.

"Sherlock!" John shouted. "What the hell—?"

Sherlock limped to the freezer and fished out a bag of peas John hadn't realized was there, and pressed them to his face. He gingerly leaned against the worktop and heaved a pained sigh.

John closed his laptop and fetched his medical kit. "What happened?" He demanded when he returned.

"Got in a fight, obviously," Sherlock huffed, and winced.

"But why, Sherlock? God, you look horrible," John began cleaning the scrapes on Sherlock's free hand.

"I won."

"Of course you did," John grumbled.

Sherlock removed the peas and looked directly at John. "You're unhappy with me."

"Yes, I am."

"Why?"

"Because you're a bloody idiot who gets himself beat up for fun," John sniped.

Sherlock frowned. "You've patched me up before."

"That's not the problem," John gritted his teeth. God, he wanted to give Sherlock another black eye. "You can't do things like this, Sherlock. You just can't. What if you hadn't 'won'?"

"I feel better and that wouldn't have happened. I know how to choose my battles," Sherlock replied.

"You can't plan everything. I know you're quite good at predicting different outcomes, but the world doesn't work like a controlled experiment."

Sherlock rolled his eyes, his ego obvious disagreeing. "You don't need to worry about me, John."

"But I do, though," John's voice was severe, harsh. "I don't even get a choice. I worry. Okay, Sherlock?"

Sherlock looked straight ahead and brought the peas to his eye again. He tried to take a deep breath, but flinched and said, "I may have bruised ribs."

John nodded, resignation setting on him. "That was a stupid and dangerous thing to do."

"You've never said objected to dangerous before," Sherlock pointed out.

"That's why I said stupid first." John wrapped a bit of gauze over Sherlock's hand and gestured for the other. "How's the pain?"

"Fine."

(They both knew it wasn't fine. John gave him some paracetamol along with a glass of water. Or, maybe, it was fine in the important ways. The ways that mattered, like how they really didn't have to say anything at all to speak. Sometimes lying could be more truthful, so long as the listener knew how to understand.)

John was sitting on the sofa one Sunday afternoon, skimming an article in one of his medical journals. (Thyroid disorders were interesting. Not as interesting as a madman flatmate with a bit of a god complex, but John had yet to find and scientific studies on Sherlock. Now that would be fascinating. John was probably the most qualified person to conduct such a study andOh, God, he thought, I'm turning into him. He stared at the opposite wall, amused and horrified in equal parts.)

Sherlock stormed up the stairs, went into the kitchen, and John was on his feet as soon as he heard glass shatter. Sherlock dropped another beaker out the kitchen window before John stopped him. "What are you doing?" John demanded, pushing Sherlock away from the window.

"Bored," Sherlock cried, face like some wrathful creature. A demon, John amended. Yes, that fit perfectly. And they'd had this conversation a million times before, it seemed.

"Weren't you just at a crime scene?"

"Ugh, it was dull, John! So obvious. I'm beginning to think Lestrade's going senile," Sherlock uttered and stalked into the living room. John followed, worried about the other breakables in the flat.

"He knows you haven't had a case in a while," John placated. "He's trying to help."

Sherlock stationed himself at the window, hands shoved in his pockets. "Molly doesn't have anything for me, either," he said, shoulders slouched in a sulk.

"You can't expect everyone else to find ways to entertain you," John commented.

Sherlock cast John a significant look over his shoulder that said he obviously did expect that from others.

"Can I do anything?" John asked, rubbing his forehead with his thumb and forefinger.

"No," Sherlock whined and caved in on himself more.

"How many hours had it been since you last slept? Or ate?"

Sherlock's head drooped, as if the trite question was sapping his will to live. "John."

"So?" John folded his arms over his chest.

"I can't remember," Sherlock flicked his wrist as if to dismiss John's concern.

John heaved a sigh. "I can't help if you don't let me. Take a shower, eat something, and go sleep, Sherlock," he said.

"If only it were that easy," Sherlock muttered darkly.

"Okay," John sighed. "Help me understand. I know you brain won't let up and when you're bored you feel restless."

"John, your ability for understatement knows no bounds. It's as if I'm constantly on the brink of an epiphany, but something's missing and something isn't there and I don't even know if that piece exists!" Sherlock pulled at his hair in frustration. Before John ever met Sherlock, he didn't know people actually pulled at their hair in frustration. But now that he had seen Sherlock do it, he became less skeptical of the histrionics on the television and in movies. People actually had the capacity to be dramatic, and Sherlock excelled in such matters.

John left his side and returned in a few minutes with a mug of tea. "Here." Sherlock had half a mind to refuse it out of spite, but took the offering and breathed in the rising steam. He slouched a bit more, and rested his temple to John's shoulder for long moment, maybe too long, before straightening to his full height and sipping the tea. When he finished, John pried the mug from his hands and said, "Go get some sleep."

Sherlock, oddly enough, did as he was told.

Chapter 18: Scenes From Something Like Domesticity

The kitchen smelled faintly of garlic. John wondered at this. The kitchen never smelled like actual food. Chemicals, smoke, and rubbing alcohol, yes. But food? Unheard of, that. His vision fell on Sherlock, sitting limply on the floor against the cupboards, long legs stretched out, bare toes wiggling idly. Sherlock hiccupped and a violent shiver ran through him. John crouched at his side, a severe frown on his face.

"Did you know," Sherlock said slowly, "some compounds minimize the effect of radiation on cells?"

"What did you take?" John demanded, fingers at Sherlock's neck, checking his pulse.

Sherlock made a small noise, like the idea of having to think or speak was too much. But this was Sherlock, whose nature was to think and speak, regardless of his state of mind. "Sodium thiopental."

John blinked. "You injected yourself with a truth serum? Really, Sherlock?"

"It's not a truth serum," Sherlock insisted. "It's a barbiturate and an anesthetic. I still have a high resistance to drugs, apparently."

"You do know self-administering anesthetics is idiotic, right?" John said, stern.

Sherlock flailed a hand, dismissive. "I knew exactly what I was doing."

"And what was that?"

Sherlock's face skewed up, as if he was suddenly confronted with a problem he couldn't understand. It was an interesting expression on his face. "I… don't know. I did before."

"How long until it wears off?"

"Not sure. Soon."

"Do you have any more?"

Sherlock pointed to the table, strewn with chemicals and science equipment. John stood and investigated. He found the source of the garlic-like scent—a yellow powder which Sherlock appeared to have dissolved in water. "Christ, I knew you were bored, but this is taking it a bit too far, Sherlock," John said.

"Mrs. Hudson doesn't want more bullet holes in her walls," Sherlock replied.

"I don't think she'd appreciate illegal drugs, either. Where did you get this?"

"Places. I'm cold. Can I just…?"

"What, Sherlock?"

"It's cold in here."

"You left the window open."

"Oh."

John brought a blanket from the main room and wrapped it around Sherlock. "Why do you do things like this?" John wondered. "First with the fist fight, now with the truth serum. What next? I'm beginning to wonder if I can leave you alone."

"Then don't." Sherlock grabbed onto John's right hand and didn't seem amicable to letting go. His head lolled to the side, ear pressed to his shoulder. It didn't look particularly comfortable, but John assumed Sherlock wasn't feeling much pain at the moment.

"You're going to have to let go of me sometime, Sherlock," John stated, calm.

"I'd rather not," Sherlock replied. "You are my blogger."

"Yes, I'm also your flatmate and friend and I'd really appreciate if you could give me my hand back and not drug yourself in the future," John snapped.

Sherlock made a face. "But I'm so bored ."

"You said it's not a truth serum. Then why do they use it in all the movies?" John wondered, settling down beside Sherlock. He didn't think he'd be getting his hand back anytime soon, and Sherlock was still shivering.

"Media tripe," Sherlock burred. "Drivel, rubbish, trash, garbage."

"Yes, good. Very nice imitation of a thesaurus, Sherlock," John commented.

Sherlock eyed John through the wild fringe of his hair. "Complex thought is a bit beyond me right now," he admitted. "Sodium thiopental. It makes everything slow. Slower for normal people, though."

"You're going to be angry about this later," John said. "Though you'll be happy to know you could probably pass as a sober person, granted you let go of my hand and can stand."

Sherlock made a disinterested sound. "I'm fine here."

John sighed. "I have a question."

"Good for you, John."

"Sarcasm doesn't suit you."

"It suits you better, yes," Sherlock nodded.

"Clarify the asexuality thing to me," John said.

"That's not a question." Sherlock paused, confusion flashing across his face. "Is it?"

"Not technically, no, but I'm curious. I know what it means in a general sense, as an orientation, but what does it mean for you?"

"I just don't care ," Sherlock huffed. "Sex seems so ridiculous to me. Always has."

John was highly amused by this unguarded Sherlock. And the twat claimed the drug wasn't a truth serum. "Are you aromantic?"

"How do you know these words?" Sherlock's brow creased.

"Between being a doctor and having a lesbian sister, I think I know a bit more than some," John shrugged.

"You looked it up," Sherlock accused, as if that wasn't a valid way of learning new information. John could practically hear the implied Cheater in Sherlock's words.

"Yes, but that was before I met you," John said.

"Oh."

"So are you?"

"Am I what?"

"Aromantic?"

"I don't know," Sherlock said. "I've never considered it."

"You seemed pretty upset when you thought Irene died," John pointed out.

"Yes, well, she's interesting. New. Different. Novel. Unique—"

"You're doing the thesaurus thing again."

Sherlock didn't seem bothered by the fact, and plowed on with his explanation. "John, my intrapersonal skills are lacking. I don't know what I was feeling then or why. I just… thought her death was a bit of a waste."

John smiled a bit. "You cared."

"She drugged me. I vomited. I didn't care much for her at all, really," Sherlock said.

"You do now, though. And you did enough before to have saved her life. You're going to tell me how you pulled that off, especially right under Mycroft's nose," John grinned.

Sherlock smiled vaguely. "I'll do that. Later. I'm tired now."

"You're not sleeping here," John announced, and stood. "Up you get."

Once Sherlock had been ensconced in his bed, John stood in the doorway for a short while, watching his friend. "I'll be fine," Sherlock mumbled.

"I'll come back later. 'Night, Sherlock," John said, flicking off the light and shutting the door lightly behind him.

(The next morning, Sherlock was rather furious with himself and John just shrugged in an I told you so manner. After that, they didn't mention it again. Well, Sherlock didn't mention it because he couldn't remember what his original purpose was in taking the drug. And John didn't bring it up because he knew Sherlock was incredibly embarrassed about the whole thing. Certainly, the fact that Sherlock drugged himself silly could be quality ammunition against him, but John chose silence over humiliation.)

Sherlock was reading a novel when John came home from work. Sherlock reading wasn't in itself unusual—he read a great deal. Often scholarly articles or research studies—physics, chemistry, biology. Occasionally he would pick up one of John's medical journals. A few poetry books lined the shelves (a smattering of Eliot, Plath and Auden) and John knew Sherlock was a fan of Poe. But modern fiction? That was very out of Sherlock's brand of ordinary. John paused before asking, "What are you reading?"

"A book."

"Yes, I can see that, Sherlock," John rolled his eyes. "My 'powers of observation' aren't that bad."

"Could've fooled me," Sherlock drawled and did something very Sherlock with his face.

John sighed and went into the kitchen. "Tea would be lovely, thank you," Sherlock said, as if he hadn't just insulted the only person in the world who put up with him. Then again, he never acted as if he'd insulted people. (This fed into the belief held by the few and the stupid that Sherlock didn't know any better. He did. He absolutely did know better.)

"I used all the sugar this morning," Sherlock added. "And the milk."

John mouthed a few choice expletives towards the ceiling, as if cursing some deficient deity. Sherlock added, like a half-arsed consolation prize, "I'm reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It's quite clever."

John ignored him.

"I thought you'd be pleased."

"About you using the milk and sugar? No such luck, Sherlock," John replied, jury-rigging his tea with milk powder (ugh, barely acceptable) and honey (Sherlock's, but he would have to deal with John using it).

"I haven't drugged myself, broken anything or caused an explosion today."

"Oh, small miracles," John grumbled, and dropped into the armchair opposite Sherlock.

Sherlock frowned. "What's wrong? I've used the milk and sugar before. You're usually not so peeved over something this remediable."

John sighed. "One of my patients. She, um, usually sees another GP, but couldn't get an appointment with him," he said. "I think she's a victim of abuse. Bruises, scrapes—things out of the ordinary for a schoolteacher in Soho. She claims she's just clumsy, but…"

"You don't believe it," Sherlock surmised.

"Tell me about the book," John swiftly changed the subject, and gestured at the book in Sherlock's hands. "You don't read much fiction. Must be interesting."

"What are you going to do?"

"There's nothing I can do," John said softly. "I tried to ask her about her situation, but she refused to talk about it. Said she and her partner were perfectly content."

"From a legal standpoint, you can report abuse," Sherlock said. "Ideally, you'd speak with her first and explain why you think the issue should be brought to the authorities' attention, but since you're not her usual practitioner…"

"I'm going to bring it up with her normal GP, but it's difficult seeing patients like her," John explained. "Hopefully, she'll get the help she needs, but until then I can't imagine what she's going through." He took a breath. "Tell me about your book. Why is it clever?"

Sherlock studied John, eyes sharp, cutting through the shaky visage of ease John wore. Instead of berating John about why he felt the way he did, he merely stole a sip of John's tea (made a face at the subpar flavor; he'd go out tonight to replenish their tea supplies) and began summarizing the story.

John sunk into Sherlock's narration, and the tightness beneath his sternum eased, just a bit. But that bit was enough, and when Sherlock finished with, "And that's as far as I've read."

John smiled. "Thank you," he said.

Sherlock didn't reply, but flashed an almost smile and turned back to his book.

Chapter 19: Air

His lungs burned as if he had been holding his breath for hours. His throat constricted against his will and everything was just so wrong.

Sherlock had been on the edge of death a great number of times. Between his twin addictions—cocaine and crime scenes—he'd almost lost count of the number of times he nearly died. (Almost lost count because, really, the times when he did nearly die were quite exciting and how could he forget anything exciting?)

John was familiar with death, too. Sherlock wondered about specifics, but with John being both a doctor and a soldier, his life wasn't too difficult to deduce. What stands out most in his mind isn't the years John was in the army, but his brushes with death now that he was a civilian.

Semtex vests and Chinese gangsters were exciting in and of themselves, but a pall fell over those events. The ecstatic thrill he once associated with near-death experiences was siphoned from any time John was in danger. Fear was a potent thing, and part of Sherlock believed he should be resentful. Of what he wasn't quite sure. He couldn't imagine being resentful of John, or of criminals, or of himself, but… Sherlock cared and that in itself was bizarre and foreign. Different enough that he thought he should have a more violent, visceral reaction to it.

He was certainly having a violent and visceral reaction to John Watson bleeding out under his fingers. The blood gushed warm from the stab wound, turning Sherlock's pale fingers scarlet. The assailant sprawled on the ground nearby, a welt rising on her temple where John had hit her after she attacked.

(In the distant corners of Sherlock's mind, places he hadn't visited since childhood hurts scarred the verdant of youth, he felt something burn and crumble into ash. Like a flash fire across dry grass. He never thought he could have his heart burned out twice. It occurred to him then that hearts healed and grew, and became open to hurt once more. He didn't know what to do with this realization.)

John's lips moved, as if he were trying to speak, but Sherlock kept cutting him off, and began shouting at the arriving police. John was pale, so very pale, and Sherlock pressed his scarf against the flow of blood from John's abdomen. How was it Sherlock could travel eighteen months around the world with Irene Adler, purposefully hunting down Moriarty's empire, and avoid getting either himself or her seriously wounded, but only a handful months after his return face death again? Because Sherlock knew if John were to die, he would be lost. Almost as lost as he was in those eighteen months before Irene showed up. God, he owed her more than he'd ever admit.

But right now, none of that mattered. John's jaw was clenched against the pain, and he'd seemingly given up on speaking. "John," Sherlock spoke his friend's name, and he nearly winced at his tone. So desperate, like a drowning man's cry for air. "John."

"I'll…" John said through blood lined teeth. "Be all right."

"Idiot, of course you will," Sherlock said. His attempt at chastisement fell glaringly short, the desperation remained. Sirens sounded in the distance. "Wait," was all Sherlock could say. And though he wanted more than anything to look over his shoulder, to see how near the ambulance was, he couldn't, couldn't, take his eyes from John. And John, bless him, looked back and refused to break eye contact with Sherlock until the paramedics pulled his hands away from the injury.

Chapter 20: Looks on Tempests

For all the time Sherlock spent thinking, he wasn't a very thoughtful person. Not unless he was forced to be, and that didn't really count for much.

Thinking about John didn't count as being thoughtful, at least in Sherlock's opinion. People who were universally thoughtful were perceived as having good character. Sherlock was many things, but never had he been described as having good character.

John was thoughtful. He was a doctor and a soldier-could he be any more thoughtful? His altruism was one of his most human qualities, his gruff compassion, his lion-heartedness.

John was human in the ways Sherlock couldn't be.

For John's sake, part of Sherlock wished 'The Great Dry Spell' wouldn't have ended as it did. Part of him wished he hadn't leapt at the chance to chase pell-mell after a lady serial killer. (Statistically unlikely, he said when Lestrade texted. So few serial killers were women. Lestrade assured him otherwise, at least in this case. Sherlock grabbed his coat, his blogger, and practically ran to the nearest passing cab.)

If he had known John would've been injured (attacked; stabbed) during the case, Sherlock wasn't sure what he would have done. It's not as if he would've not taken the case. No, but he imagined he would have... ran faster, tried harder, something. Something. He could have prevented this!

He vaguely remembered the drugged conversation he had with John in the kitchen. He remembered telling John something about his lack of intrapersonal skills-he struggled at times to understand himself, especially his emotions which seemed to play games with his thought processes. Sherlock could barely take the time to be considerate to himself (hence the drugs, the cocaine then, the sodium thiopental now) so how could he be expected to think of others?

He didn't think of John, not during the chase, not until his friend was on the ground bleeding. It wasn't until John was in his life that he had even thought about people being thoughtful. Heads in the fridge. Playing angry sonatas in the early morning. Abandoning people to do damage control for the gossip fodder bomb he just dropped. Things he did without thought, without even thinking about thought, which was a conundrum in itself.

He rode in the ambulance, leaning back and away from the EMTs as they worked to stabilize John. His thoughts weren't on the case or on what the technicians were doing, but on John. Amazing, fantastic, conductor of light John. His thoughts weren't even coherent, not a single one running to absolution, all a blender of words strung together, images, sounds pieced together with one single undercurrent, one connection.

They whisked John away as soon as they arrived at the hospital. Sherlock tried to follow, but as John's next of kin (they'd decided to take that legal step; Sherlock didn't want anything to do with Mycroft and John didn't trust Harry to be sober) the nurses dumped him with clipboards of paperwork, a horrible pen, and ushered him into the waiting room.

Lestrade showed up minutes later.

"D'you want me to fill those out?" Lestrade offered. Sherlock shoved the papers towards him. Oddly enough, Lestrade basically knew everything he needed to about both John and Sherlock, and gave the clipboards back to the head desk when finished. Lestrade was a thoughtful person.

Currently, as Sherlock paced a tight circle in the hospital waiting room, a new definition of fear confronted him. It wasn't the fear he felt while knowing snipers and gunmen waited in the wings for his only friends, or when he stood at the very edge of the world, hoping he was doing the right thing by jumping. This new fear was a nagging, clawing thing. It ripped where other fear stabbed cleanly thought him.

"Sherlock, for god's sake sit down," Lestrade said in a tired voice. He pressed a coffee (black, two sugars; Greg also knew how John and Sherlock took their hot drinks) into Sherlock's fidgeting fingers, and sat in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the room. Sherlock paced a few more rounds, then sat and pulled his knees to chest. He felt his eye twitching, but couldn't help control it. Muscle spasms, supplied his mind. Common eyelid twitch. Non-issue. He sipped his coffee and wondered if the caffeine would exacerbate his twitch.

Lestrade was saying something, and Sherlock deigned to listen. "…nothing important was damaged." Pah, what do you know? Sherlock's mind was on the verge of screaming. John was damaged, damn it all! What do you mean by 'nothing important was damaged'? But Lestrade wasn't telepathic, so he continued. "The nurse said he'll be just fine."

"Of course he will be," Sherlock snapped, and his eye twitched again.

The detective inspector turned to Sherlock. He didn't speak again, but took in the other man's appearance. It had been ten months since Lestrade had been reinstated as a DI, and he knew John had long forgiven him. But he and Sherlock never spoke of what happened. He assumed everything was fine, because nothing was said to the contrary. For all Lestrade knew, Sherlock was wrathful and after three years of killing people who had wronged him, possibly still homicidal.

Sherlock sipped his coffee and muttered a soft "Thank you, Greg" before closing his eyes and trying to calm and quiet the clamoring in his head. He hoped Lestrade was bright enough to recognize forgiveness when it hit him in the face.

(Sherlock didn't know he was being far too subtle for the average human being. It was only his dumb luck that Lestrade had known him for several years and had a rudimentary skill in translating Sherlock to Normal Human Being.)

He babbled. He never babbled, not really. But here he was, clasping John's hand in the recovery room, babbling without rationality or explanation.

"John. John. You can't die. Not yet. I won't allow it. It… it would be very tedious if you died, John. Also quite obtuse of you because I'd have to give your eulogy and that sounds even more tedious than you dying. But who else would give it?" He said as an afterthought, mostly to himself. "See, it would be worse if you died—so don't. Just don't, John. I'm not sure what I would do without you," his voice splintered, then fractured further. "Please, John. Please."

"Shuddup," slurred John, waking up enough to speak and twitch his fingers within Sherlock's grasp. "Not dying."

Sherlock pressed his forehead to the back of John's hand. "Okay," he breathed slowly. "Okay, John."

"Shuddup," John repeated emphatically. His eyes cracked open and he sighed. "I'll be f'ne," he said. When Sherlock nodded, John closed his eyes and fell back asleep.

The constant on-the-verge-of-a-paradigm-shift sensation in Sherlock's over-active mind suddenly changed. The epiphany he was pursuing revealed itself, like a bird flushed from tall grasses and why was he thinking about things in the terms of a hunt? Epiphanies weren't things to be caught or snared. They were gardens, maybe, or buildings, crafted with careful hands until they suddenly existed.

Sherlock realized, in a flash of insight, he has always been in love with John Watson.

Chapter 21: The Raveled Sleeve of Care

Three years of sleeping in dirty hotel rooms, alleyways, sharing a bed with Irene (she kicked a lot in her sleep; dominatrix indeed), and, on one notable occasion, in a tree, Sherlock had imagined returning to his own bed would be like a dream, no pun intended. Not that he was big on the whole sleeping thing, but he discovered his productivity increased after he was well-rested. It only took him thirty-some years to realize it.

But instead of falling into his bed like a swooning heroine falls into the arms of a lover upon his return from the dead, he took one step into his room at 221b, saw all things stored there, and felt the overwhelming urge to sleep on the sofa. For the first month, Sherlock used his room only for changing clothes. John noticed his avoidance, but didn't say anything. He thought about it a great deal—John thought so loudly sometimes—but he let Sherlock do as he pleased. Sherlock was grateful. He missed how John would just let him be when he needed it. Irene pushed too much, the witch.

Inevitably, he began sleeping in his room once more. At least on nights when he did sleep. Traveling the world for three years wreaked utter havoc on his already skewed sleeping schedule.

Then John was stabbed. (The idiot. Didn't Sherlock fake his death to avoid this? Damn it all.) Sherlock's room felt both too large, too small, too close and too far away all at once, which would be curious if it wasn't so distressing. He returned to the sofa, the kitchen table, the desk and sometimes the floor to sleep. It became an increasing habit of his to push himself to the brink, and collapse wherever he was when his brain began to shut down. It wasn't ideal, but he was willing to sacrifice efficiency for what felt like peace of mind. Not that he knew what peace of mind was, not with his mind.

His mind was especially not peaceful with John wounded. Though John was at home, he wasn't accompanying Sherlock to crime scenes or going to work. The stairs were manageable, but only just. He spent most of his convalescence resting, which was really the whole point. "I plan to catch up on some reading," he told Sherlock, who hadn't realized someone outside school could fall behind in literature.

Sherlock developed a strange, overly attentive streak. He was always on time with John's pain medication and antibiotics and helped change bandages and disinfect the sutures. John was a bit amused by Sherlock's insistence to help, but allowed the attention.

Sherlock set quiet hours for himself, went to the shops, made sure to be clever in ways John found endearing, tried to not be as irritating and only failed a little bit, but most importantly, he didn't badger John with questions. There was no "What do you need?" or "Anything I can do?" because though John was a proud man, he wasn't above asking for help.

John got on well during his recovery. About a week after being released from the hospital, his sutures were removed and he began to go on walks. Part of the recovery process, he said. Sherlock occasionally went with him. (Meaning, he followed unless John said no.)

Sherlock felt a bit at the end of his rope. He craved sleep, but it seemed like such an impossibility. He missed having John with him on cases, and he missed the way his brain worked when all the elements were right. (John was one of these vital elements. Also, sleep. Sleep was important.)

It was a rather rainy evening, John turned in early, complaining about his shoulder. (Low barometric pressure and high humidity tended to aggravate the old wound.) Sherlock half dozed on the sofa, languid in a post-case haze. He'd eaten his first substantial meal in week and over dinner explained the case to John, who was still barred from anything too rigorous.

He hovered on the edge of sleep, trying to find a balance between contentment and unease. It was impossible; anxiety wormed its way into his chest, burrowed into his heart and lungs like strains of an incurable disease. Despite his need to sleep, he forced himself into wakefulness, a determined, intrepid expression on his face.

He took the stairs to John's room two at a time and let himself in without knocking. John started when Sherlock shut the door behind him and the latch clicked loudly. He struggled to sit up, hissing at the pull of his shoulder.

"Sherlock, what—?"

"You should sleep down stairs," Sherlock blurted. "The… the stairs can't be good."

(Oh God, John thought, This is going to be a Signature Awkward Sherlock Conversation, isn't it?)

"Sleeping on the sofa isn't going to be better," John replied. "I've been fine for the past week and a half, I can't see things taking a turn for the worse because of the stairs."

"You can use my bed," Sherlock offered.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's your bed and you just started sleeping there again. I know you're worried about me, but I'm fine. Few more days, and I'll be back at work and ready to go on cases again."

"You were stabbed."

"I know. I was there, remember?"

"I'd rather you were nearby."

John paused, blinked owlishly. "What?"

Sherlock mentally backpedaled. "I wanted to kill her," he admitted.

"Who?" John frowned a bit, too tired to follow (let alone comment on) Sherlock's sudden change of subject.

"The killer, the woman who injured you," he said.

"You don't usually want the criminal to die," John said.

"Most criminals don't stab you," Sherlock reasoned.

John heaved a sigh. "Can we not have this conversation now? I understand you care about me, Sherlock, but it's too late and I'm too tired to be talking about your recently developed separation anxiety," John said.

"When would be a better time? Shall I schedule an appointment, Doctor?" Sherlock sneered.

"Must you be such a child? You did just fine without me for three years."

"I wasn't fine, John. I was miserable," he divulged.

"Join the club," John uttered. "Why are you here, Sherlock, really?"

"I can't sleep."

"You actually sleep?"

"Ugh, don't be dull."

"Can't help it, really."

"John."

"What?"

"Please."

A long-suffering sigh. "Fine. Just… I'll kick you out if you hog the blankets."

"Thank you." Curt, short, but with a triumphant edge.

(And that's the story of how John woke up with a six foot tall child noodled all over his bed. Drooling a bit, too. Sherlock denied these claims after he'd woken. John almost wrote about it in his blog, but didn't want to waste good blackmail.)

"You swan about saying you're a bloody sociopath, but you're not," John told Sherlock.

"He's right, you know, love," Mrs. Hudson called from the kitchen. Housekeeper she was not, but she still occasionally cleaned. Said something about the mess 'making her skin itch'. John tried to stop her, but she told him that even if he cleaned, Sherlock would dirty it up again. (Also, "Just this once, since you need to rest up.") John wondered why she was cleaning then, if Sherlock was to undo all her work. She said something about miracles.

Sherlock turned over on the sofa, so his back was facing the room. "Shut up," he muttered.

John grinned, and went back to reading the newspaper.

Chapter 22: On the Road to Essex

"Do you know much about Mary Morstan?" John asked. They were driving to Essex—a businessman in Chelmsford requested Sherlock's assistance regarding a missing son, who might or might not have been living in a crack house. (Sherlock couldn't care less about the son, but a string of interesting murders had occurred in the area. The Essex constabulary's chief constable was scratching her head in pure bafflement, and Lestrade offered Sherlock's services. Sherlock only agreed to go because it sounded interesting.)

Sherlock was in the driver's seat because, though they could both drive, he had a sort of manic teenage-like love of driving. Being in control of a couple tons of metal and fiberglass was cause for excitement, obviously. Rain pattered against the windshield, the wipers worked at a steady pace. The dull roar of engine and rain soothed the pair into a candid relaxation. Green countryside passed in a muted-gray haze.

"She's married to Irene," Sherlock started, a you should already know this but I'm repeating because you might be especially idiotic today in his tone. "From English and Pakistani descent. Raised in America. Studied operatic theatre at Oberlin."

"Okay," John nodded. He knew nothing about opera or Oberlin, but hoped it worked out well for Mary. "Have you met her?"

"I saw her once."

"What did she seem like?"

Sherlock huffed at the question. "Does it matter?"

"Well, you can't blame me for being curious about the woman who married Irene Adler," John said.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "She seemed... tired, I suppose. I was standing a ways off, but I think she was doing a show, and had performed the night before. Not the lead role, but something substantial. I can't tell you anything of her character; we've never spoken."

"What happened to that other woman—Kate, was it? And the one I thought was working for Mycroft?"

"I never asked; Irene never offered. I assume one in Irene's old line of work hires various people. An entourage," Sherlock shrugged. "Irene and Mary have a more open relationship than most. I said before that Moriarty targeted you, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade. He also kept tabs on Mary Morstan. Irene didn't help me for altruistic reasons. She had her own personal impetus."

"What happened in Karachi?"

"Morstan's family on her mother's side still live in Pakistan. Irene had gone to stay with them for a short time. Rather than put them in the line of fire, she let herself get caught."

"But you saved her."

"Yes."

"Why?"

Sherlock flashed a smile. "Call it… returning the favor."

"You're not going to explain that, are you?" John asked with a put-upon sigh.

"Don't be absurd. Of course I am. It was her call at the pool which caused Moriarty to retreat," Sherlock explained.

"Really?" John leaned back. "Christ."

Sherlock smiled again. "She hadn't meant to save us, she had no idea, but… yes, and I thought it would be good to vacation in Pakistan. You were visiting Harry at the time."

John grimaced. The trip had been horrible, but then so was everything involving Harry.

"You're supposed to call her, by the way," Sherlock added. "Harry left a message."

"When?"

"Wednesday."

"Sherlock, that was nearly a week ago and you're just telling me now?" John's expression was less angry and more incredulous.

"Yes."

"You didn't think to tell me before?"

"I did, but it's not as if you like calling her. Had I told you before, you probably would have waiting this long anyway to return the call," Sherlock reasoned. He was right, of course.

"She reads your blog," Sherlock said after a few moments.

"She also leaves inflammatory comments about my sexuality," John muttered.

"Not Harry. Mary Morstan," Sherlock clarified.

John's brow rose a fraction. "Really? Didn't think I had much readership outside the UK."

Sherlock shrugged. "You don't."

"Neither do you, so no need to get smug," John said. It was a bit of a pointless statement-Sherlock always found a reason to be smug.

He was certainly smug when he clambered into John's bed at the hotel later that evening. "One instance isn't a permanent invitation," John muttered, while he scooted over to make room.

"It would be beneficial for both of us to be well rested when we meet our client tomorrow," Sherlock said. "That in itself shouldn't be difficult. Simple missing persons case. But Constable Jones is surely an idiot. To work alongside her will be incredibly taxing. I work most efficiently when I get at least six hours."

His unspoken statement went something like I sleep better when you're here, you sleep better when I'm here, and we're really just a couple of damaged people who are dangerously co-dependent. At least that's what John heard, underneath it all.

He folded his hands together over his chest and looked over at Sherlock. "Have you shared a bed with anyone ever in your life?"

Sherlock decided not to mention the few times with Irene. "No."

"Why the sudden insistence now?"

Sherlock didn't reply, and stole John's pillow. "Berk," John said, and grabbed the other pillow from Sherlock's side of the bed.

"You should stop booking twin rooms," Sherlock stated. He rolled over and fitted his back to John's side.

"Yeah, sure," John said with a stifled yawn. "G'night."

"Goodnight, John."

Chapter 23: Jekyll and Hyde

Sherlock was awake before John the next morning.

He turned on the hotel room's small coffee maker, took a shower, and stood at the window. Listlessness ran through his veins, and he sipped his coffee without truly tasting it.

Today was a Jekyll and Hyde Day, he thought to himself. He could feel it under his skin and beneath his scalp and inside his bones. A spectral pall against his living self, resonating and echoing strangely as he moved through his day.

Most literary classes he took in school were useless-curricula filled with sentimental rubbish and fanciful nothings. Sherlock deleted most of it. Today, if he was asked about Mary Shelley or F. Scott Fitzgerald, he would look at John for an explanation. But every so often, he was presented with a text he could appreciate.

One said text was The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The juxtaposition of goodness and evil intrigued Sherlock, then age seventeen, and the concept of being two people at once stayed with him into adulthood.

No one knew about Jekyll and Hyde Days; Sherlock never explained the concept to anyone before. They hadn't existed, really, until three years ago, when he was in the middle of nowhere, alone, holding a gun with a broken safety catch. He killed three people within half an hour, ruthlessly hunted down the second and third after they received a warning from the first.

When they were dead, and after Sherlock confirmed there were no other agents of Moriarty in the area, he realized he didn't know what day it was. He didn't know the time, or if he had crossed any national borders in the past two weeks.

After this rather castrating incident, Sherlock discovered the idea of Jekyll and Hyde Days-days when he would notice a distinct schism between the analytical, brilliant scientist and consulting detective he knew as Sherlock Holmes, and an unnamed man who carried a gun and didn't fully wash dried blood out from under his fingernails. It was the difference between a man who died for his friends and a man who wreaked vengeance on another for threatening what he considered his.

The difference, when Sherlock was fully confronted with it, was startling. The continuum from here to there, the vast swaths of who he could be and had been... it was astounding. The depth and breadth he possessed in his single being, and the people who survived there, tucked in his psyche-Sherlock could feel these rifts in himself more acutely on some days more than others. Hence, Jekyll and Hyde Days.

Today, he felt more than one person in his being. They were all him, all facets of who he was, but their existences were paradoxical.

Before, Jekyll and Hyde Days were the most difficult of days. Sherlock knew now some of his black moods were caused by J&H Days, his brain trying to tear itself apart over the obvious contradiction of his many beings. Boredom was one thing, but existential crisis coupled with boredom was a volatile mixture.

Today, Sherlock knew that if anyone was hurt after he became fully engaged in the case, he would kill the perpetrator. Pity the murderer, if he or she planned on another murder this day, Sherlock thought.

John shifted, and woke. Sherlock handed him a coffee, and began to lay out their plans for the day. The best way to prevent J&H Days from going poorly was to be succinct and decisive. This was hardly a problem for Sherlock and John. The listlessness in Sherlock's blood began to evaporate.

Chapter 24: The Adventure of the Essex Wolf Slayer

The businessman's son wasn't living in a crack house. Not anymore, at least. Now, he was laying dead in a garbage skip in the middle of town. "Aaron Yates," the head officer at the scene said. "Age twenty-three. He's been missing the past week, according to his father. Had a falling out or something. We'll let you know what the autopsy says."

"No need," Sherlock muttered, crouching over the body. "Overdose. Presumably one of the people he was with left him here. Wanted to avoid contact with authorities."

"There appears to be no foul play," the officer said slowly.

"Of course not. His death was accidental. Come on, John, we have an appointment with Constable Jones."

"Shouldn't we tell his father?" John asked as they left the scene.

"The police will take care of that," Sherlock brushed off the suggestion.

"No." John stopped in his tracks. "This is our responsibility, Sherlock. Mr. Yates hired us to find him; it's only right to follow through."

Sherlock frowned. "You're usually more amusing when you're being noble."

John rolled his eyes. "It's not about being noble."

"Very well," Sherlock acquiesced.

"Thank you," John said, surprised at Sherlock's change of heart.

The boy's father was furious with Sherlock and John when they broke the news. They were late in meeting Constable Jones because Sherlock was nursing a bloodied nose and a black eye. "You deserved it," John stated.

Sherlock huffed, which was an ineffective response given he was leaning forward with a handkerchief pressed to his nose. In response to the father blaming Sherlock for his son's death, the detective scoffed and deduced what exactly about the father's parenting style caused the estrangement and drug use in the son. He failed to deduce the fact that Mr. Yates had been a boxer in uni, and still spent time at the gym. (Or, rather, he had deduced it but regarded the information as irrelevant.)

"Poorly handled," John said, severe. If Mr. Yates hadn't gotten to Sherlock first, John would've been the one to hit him.

"You're disappointed with me," Sherlock guessed (even if he never guessed).

"Of course I am! You know better than to attack someone who is grieving!"

"I don't understand. There was no love lost between father and son," Sherlock scoffed.

John's shoulder slumped. "You can't know that. Mr. Yates hired us to find Aaron. He wanted to know where his son was. He may have been fearing the worse, but no parent, no sane parent, wants to hear their child is dead. You... You rubbed the fact in his face. Parents are people, too, and they make mistakes just like the rest of us."

"You think I'm projecting my parental issues into this situation," Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John, another ineffective reaction, given his semi-incapacitated state.

"You said it," John replied. He sighed. "And here I was thinking talking to Mr. Yates in person was a good idea."

"Not your best."

"Sherlock," John snapped. "I swear if you harass Constable Jones or any of her people, I'm taking the car and driving home."

Sherlock was not impressed by the threat.

"I'm serious. For just this case, can you think before you speak?" John asked.

Sherlock's lips twitched with distaste. "I dislike censoring myself."

"But you can do it. So, please, just this once."

Sherlock nodded, face pulled into a grimace.

Sixteen hours later, sitting in their hotel room, Sherlock cried out in revelation. The room had been redecorated in the style of paper bomb explosion aftermath-details and reports of the seven murder victims lined the walls and any flat surface. John was shunted to the chair in the corner, and told that if he got up he would ruin everything and stay put, John, just stay put. Don't think, stop thinking, you might throw me off. Sherlock, stop, you're being an arse, I need to use the loo.(Sherlock's expression showed that he thought this an unacceptable reason for getting up.)

So, Sherlock crowed his realization. John looked up from his journal, where he'd been keeping a sort of steam-of-consciousness catalogue of Sherlock's voiced thoughts. The habit had proven useful in past cases, if not for their write-ups afterwards. John's observations on what was said in written often inspired Sherlock, as well.

"Their names, John! Their names!" Sherlock said, pacing and gesturing wildly.

"Yes, their names?" John asked, and continued to jot down notes.

"Wolfe, Aiolfi, Blevins, Whelan, Farkas, Lowell, and Stidolph-they are all surnames with canine connotations," Sherlock said with a wide grin.

"Come again?" John rubbed his forehead.

"Wolves. It was Ms. Abigail Wolfe's murder that sparked the idea. Shot with an arrow? Highly unusual, just like the other murders. Archaic guns, arrows, spears? Historically, tools of hunters. All of the victims have surnames which etymologically connect back to wolves," Sherlock explained. "Someone is a wolf hunter, but since we've not had wolves in the area for hundreds of years..." Still grinning like a maniac. He went for his coat, hanging on the back of the door. "Come on, John!"

"What? Where are we going?" John asked, but Sherlock was already out the door.

"Why... are these people always... so insane?" John panted, hunched over after a long chase. Sherlock grabbed John's left hand, and looked closely at his knuckles. John opted to punch the murderer, a man named Peter Corbet, instead of shooting him. (The man was psychotic and unarmed at the time, so John figured it would be better to just incapacitate him.)

"You've never hit me that hard," Sherlock commented, and glanced at the unconscious killer, spread out on the pavement. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. I'll need a plaster or two later," John said. "And I don't hit you like that because then I'd be the one stuck moving you."

"Ah," Sherlock's mouth twisted into a smirk.

They shared a look, and burst into laughter. "Stop, stop," John insisted. "We can't stand here giggling-we have to call the police."

Sherlock snorted loudly, which made John laugh harder.

Once they reigned themselves in, Sherlock texted Jones, and John began planning his next blog entry. He already thought of a working title-The Adventure of the Essex Wolf Slayer. (He'd taken to creating more sensational titles of late, mostly because it irritated Sherlock.)

They were home by midnight. John collapsed in his chair, exhausted. Sherlock immediately went for his violin and began playing something John didn't recognize. Not that he often recognized what Sherlock played, but that was beside the point.

At times, he could gauge Sherlock's mood by certain pieces. Bits and pieces of Mendelssohn hinted at something very different than Elgar, which was in turn different from Tartini. Bach was saved for times of intense critical thinking; Schubert for when Sherlock was feeling fanciful. The more technical the piece, the greater the likelihood that Sherlock was upset. Writing music gave Sherlock an excuse to ignore John. Playing at three in the morning was symptomatic of boredom.

(And then there was that one incredibly bizarre occasion when Sherlock played music from Doctor Who, though he claimed he merely overheard it somewhere else. John asked why Doctor Who, to which Sherlock replied something about the Library of Alexandria. John didn't know if he was more surprised about the music or the fact that some small part of Sherlock cared about history.)

John couldn't tell what Sherlock was feeling at the moment, which wasn't unusual. He pushed himself to his feet and shuffled into the kitchen. During a pause in Sherlock's playing, he asked, "Tea, Sherlock?"

"Yes, thank you," Sherlock replied, voice a bit distant.

John turned on the electric kettle and dropped tea bags into mugs. He was running a bit on auto-pilot, and didn't notice when Sherlock came into the kitchen.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock said, leaning close to John, which caused him to startle.

"Jesus, Sherlock, do I need to put a bell on you?" He gasped. "Wait, you're sorry for what?"

"For what I said to Mr. Yates," Sherlock explained. "I realize I was out of line."

"You realize I have a hard time believing that, right? I think you're more bothered that I was unhappy with you," John said.

Sherlock's expression read 'Obviously.'

John sighed and leaned against the worktop. "Sherlock, you don't have to fake contrition for the sake of my good opinion. I know what you're like, and while I'm not okay with how you handled the situation, I'm not surprised. You lack restraint when attacked, and his anger at us was unreasonable. I get that."

"But?" Sherlock prompted.

"I know you don't particularly care, but that doesn't give you an excuse to needlessly harm someone," John said. "I'm not asking you to be a paragon of empathy, or anything like that, but... just think next time? If not for others, at least for yourself. That black eye looks painful."

"It's fine," Sherlock deflected. John gave him a look, but didn't comment.

The kettle turned off, and John busied himself with the tea. Sherlock hovered nearby, well within John's personal space, but living with Sherlock long ago eliminated such a thing. John wasn't asking him to change, per se, but to adjust his behavior for his own personal well-being. That made sense, of course. John often made sense. He rested a hand on John's shoulder. "I'll think about what you've said," he told him.

John grinned to himself at Sherlock's use of a 'stock phrase,' but nodded. "Good."

Sherlock half-smiled, took his tea, and retreated back to his violin.

Chapter 25: Interlude

The shift between Sherlock and John from strangers to flatmates was quite abrupt. Suddenly, deductions and names were thrown across the room, volatile as grenades, followed by an address. One manic chase across London later-flatmates.

Changing from flatmates to friends was more difficult. "My friend, John Watson" was met with the correction of "Colleague." Sherlock needed to learn how to work with another person, John had to learn how to work with a person like Sherlock. Navigating dates, limbs in the fridge, expectations of normal and not-so-normal people... their first few weeks together had felt a bit like a minefield.

Sherlock prematurely thought he and John were friends, before he even knew or considered what friendship entailed. It wasn't a one person decision or occurrence. Friendship was more than just banishing a psychosomatic limp or eating dim sum after midnight. It was something like fighting a diamond thief in the living room, and then talking about it later (much, much later), laughing at the thief's sword now ensconced on the wall.

One incendiary night confirmed the existence of Sherlock's heart. After the poolside incident, neither Sherlock nor John brought it up-neither the confirmation of their friendship nor the danger of Moriarty. Both were ever-present in their lives, echoing in the background of every case, every dull moment, every crazy thing they did, every calm meal with a candle meant for a romance that wasn't yet there.

The next few months of his life were spent learning how to have a heart. To re-familiarize himself around the idea of emotion, of what it meant to be human. It was a burden, and one he didn't want. But he couldn't get rid of it, and even though he tried, John was always there to keep it firmly in place.

Sherlock wasn't aware of how protective John was of him. He knew John didn't blink twice at shooting or hurting anyone who dared to harm Sherlock, but the incident with Irene brought to light new information. John cared about more than Sherlock's physical and mental well-being. John cared about Sherlock's heart.

Friends to something more... Well, while the world talked about it as if it had already happened, the actual change was far later and more simple than most assumed.

Chapter 26: With Your Crooked Heart

Sally Donovan was at the next crime scene after they returned to London. John gave her a steely-eyed look; Donovan quickly relocated to the opposite side of the area. She kept her head down, gaze glued to the ground.

Sherlock's process seemed undisturbed by her presence. "The white bands on the victim's fingernails suggests heavy metal poisoning. Now, we need to know which metal, how the victim came in contact with it, and if it has anything do with the victim's untimely death," Sherlock rattled off. An unspoken To The Lab! was apparent. "I wonder if Molly will let me help with the autopsy."

"She won't," John said. Sherlock made a face at him when he turned his back.

After, Lestrade apologized for Donovan's appearance. "One of the guys has sick kids at home, so they called her in," he explained.

"She didn't talk to us," John said when Sherlock stayed silent. "It's fine."

"She feels bad," Lestrade added, "about what happened."

"Her regret stems from the fact that she was wrong. There's no love lost between us. Lestrade, you don't have to apologize for her," Sherlock snapped.

Lestrade nodded, exchanged an imbued glance with John, and went to go check something or other with forensics.

"Sherlock?" John rested his hand above Sherlock's elbow.

"I'm fine," Sherlock hissed, very much not fine. He was irritated, and didn't know why. His mind and emotions rebelled against him. Rationally, he knew why Donovan and Anderson acted as they did. Sherlock couldn't blame them for falling for Moriarty's plot, yet at the same time he did.

Instead of saying something and risk Sherlock closing off even more, John fit his arms around Sherlock waist in a hug. "What are you doing?" Sherlock asked in a deadened tone, which mean he was more surprised than angry.

"I'm giving you a hug. I'm not sure if anyone's tried this approach with you," John explained.

Sherlock didn't respond for a few moments, while his eyes darted around the crime scene. Either the Yarders didn't notice, or they were very good at faking obliviousness. Sherlock took a breath as if to steady himself, and hugged John back in earnest. He thought he heard John mutter something like, "Oh, good. I hoped that would work." And for once, Sherlock didn't snipe at his friend for being right.

Chapter 27: The Incident in the Lab

The first time John and Sherlock kissed wasn't very spectacular. Sherlock was stewing in the lab at Bart's, waiting for various test results. Molly was in and out every so often. Graciously, she brought them coffees, though John told her she was just encouraging Sherlock.

"I don't mind," she brushed it off. "I know how he gets." Apparently, Sherlock bunked with her the first few days after his death, and Molly had a new found appreciation and respect for John. He chose to live with Sherlock, and was actually okay with the arrangement. John didn't want to know the details of Sherlock's stay, though he could easily guess that the man had been a complete terror. Regardless, Sherlock was generally more kind to Molly now than he was once. He thanked her for the coffee, and it appeared he actually meant it.

John glanced at his watch. Sherlock had his hands pressed together, and stared at the wall as if it had done him a personal offence. "I have work," John announced.

"Mmm," Sherlock's eyes turned to him. John was decent at deciphering the random non-words Sherlock used. This particular Mmm was an acknowledgment and an acceptance of fact. John had a job, to keep that job he needed to go to it. Locum work. Not very time-consuming. Sherlock would see him again in a few hours. By no means was Sherlock a needy person, but he was possessive and secretly (not so secretly) hated being lonely.

"Alright, I'm off," John said, rising from his stool. "I'll see you around six. Should I bring something home?"

"No need," Sherlock said, and stood to help John into his coat. The assistance wasn't necessary, but neither thought anything of it. "I won't be eating."

John frowned, but he knew he might be able to persuade Sherlock to eat later if he didn't make a fuss now. "Text me if you learn anything new?" He gestured at the experiment beside the microscope.

"Of course," Sherlock nodded. The pair stood fairly close, closer than people normally stood, but it felt natural for Sherlock to bend down, while John leaned up, to press his lips against the corner of John's mouth in a dry, caste kiss. They muttered a 'bye, see you' as they broke apart.

It wasn't until John was halfway down the hall that he realized something was amiss. He turned back immediately and found Sherlock staring at the wall, looking as if he had just discovered his reality didn't exist and he was actually a cosmic octopus made of blue jelly. "Did…?" John prompted.

"Yes."

"Right."

"Mmm." This Mmm had no discernible meaning, at least not to John.

"I'm going to be late."

"Can't have that," Sherlock replied, voice faint.

"Right," John repeated, and left again. Sherlock watched him go. He was distracted the rest of the day, and it took him nearly two hours extra to discern the solution to the current case.

When he came home, John was already there. "Lestrade texted me," he said in lieu of a greeting. "Says you're in a strop."

"I am not," Sherlock emphatically replied and dropped into the sofa. He kicked off his shoes, which ended up in two very different parts of the room.

"You're usually in a better mood after you've solved a case. Is this about… what happened earlier?" John asked, and pressed into Sherlock's hands a carton of vegetable lo mein.

"Yes," Sherlock snapped and forked noodles into his mouth. (John was a collector of Little-Known Sherlock Facts. One of his favorites was the fact that Sherlock tended to be either an emotional faster or an emotional eater. Not that Sherlock knew; he wasn't very in-tune with his emotions. He was either fine or not fine, and when he was not fine, he tried to convince everyone he was fine. The only person he could ever convince was himself.)

John's brow furrowed and he opened his mouth a few times before speaking. Sherlock kept eating and refusing to look at him. "It won't happen again, then," John decided.

"No." Sherlock's shoulders tensed as if waiting for a recoil. He was surprised by his outburst, and knotted his fingers in his hair, carton of noodles left to balance precariously on the arm of the sofa. John moved it to the floor, and sat on the coffee table.

"Don't abuse your hair," John said and pried Sherlock's fingers away from his head. "Talk to me. What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" Sherlock exclaimed. "What's wrong? Obviously my own emotional turmoil is interfering with my work, that's what's so wrong, John! I can't think!"

"Calm down, Sherlock."

Instead of replying with a very mature and quite inflammatory remark, Sherlock took a deep breath through his nose. "It happened and neither of us noticed. It would be one thing if you didn't know, you hardly notice anything," okay, maybe a bit inflammatory, "but I didn't notice. Me! What else am I missing?" He asked, eyes beseeching for an answer. "What are we, John, and does giving it a name matter? Labels are so subjective!" He spat the last word out as if it personally affronted him.

"It matters if by not talking about it you're unhappy," John replied. "It matters if your work is compromised."

"Nothing will help," Sherlock decided after a few moments. John looked at him for a long moment, face shuttered. Sherlock didn't know what would happen next. Anxiety coiled in his heart like a viper. He always did know how to kill the mood. "It helps in that it's so easy, John, to merely be with you. So unimaginably easy."

"What about Irene?"

"What about her?" Sherlock snapped. "What is your fascination with her?"

"Sherlock, besides me, Irene is the only other person who has put up with you for an extended period of time," John calmly explained.

"Put up? Put up with me?" Sherlock somehow managed to look like both an indignant peacock and a hurt child at the same time.

John sighed. "You know what I mean. You're not the easiest person to get along with, Sherlock. It takes time and practice. And patience. You both seemed to get along when she visited. It was very different from the first time she was here."

Sherlock ignored the last bit. "It took weeks, months, to get to that point, and we were in near-constant danger," he explained. "You shot a man for me the day after we met, without any other motive beyond the fact that he was a threat to me. If Irene saved my life, it was because she needed me."

"I did, too," John admitted. "Still do. Need you, that is."

Sherlock fell quiet, and studied John. Then, he said, "It's not the same."

"No, it's not," John agreed.

"Why isn't it?" Sherlock's eyes were narrow, brows furrowed.

"Because you didn't need her the same way she needed you?" John guessed.

"She did help me."

"But you didn't seek her out. You might have been fine on your own, though you would've been in far more danger. You would've been away longer," John said, more to himself than anything. He looked up at Sherlock. "You didn't need me when we met, not really. If I had died in Afghanistan, your work wouldn't have changed."

"You're indispensable," Sherlock argued.

John smiled. "Exactly. I'm not required for the work, but you still need me."

Sherlock took a quick breath. "Yes." His face was open, vulnerable, and he could do nothing about it. Aware of this, Sherlock leaned forward until his forehead rested on top of one of John's knees. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but John's warmth brought a strange gleefulness to a small corner of Sherlock's mercurial mind. John sifted his fingers through the hair at the back of Sherlock's neck.

They stayed like that for minutes before John asked, "Better? Can you think yet?"

I think I love you. The unbidden thought continued to make him mentally choke, days after the realization. "Not yet. I'm tired."

"Of course you are," John chided. "When did you sleep last?"

Sherlock didn't respond. Instead, he leaned back and reclaimed his lo mein. John joined him on the sofa, and they leaned together, while Sherlock corrected the telly. Eventually, Sherlock got bored of eating (he was special like that) and fell asleep against John's shoulder. He would feel bad in the morning for resting on John's bad shoulder, but until then neither of them cared.

Chapter 28: Pluto and Charon

John was the most important person in the world. Not because he took care of Sherlock and not because he did some really valuable damage control, though those were important things, but because he stayed. He stayed when every other person before had left. He stayed that first night after mad cabbie chases and after killing said cabbie-John didn't back out. He didn't say, "Oops, this is too weird for me, mate, good luck."

In fact, it seemed John enjoyed the lunacy just as much as Sherlock. John was constant and unyielding, things Sherlock didn't realize he needed in his life.

John made Sherlock want to be better-a better detective, a better friend, a better human being. In the past, Sherlock would have eschewed all forms of sentiment, but now he knew his feelings for John made him stronger. Lost without his blogger, indeed! And this should've bothered him, but instead Sherlock found himself welcoming the feeling of warmth and companionship.

They were embarking (Sherlock liked that word) on something neither of them had any practice with, something neither had tried. John was a life-long heterosexual; Sherlock was asexual. Still, they fit, regardless of labels. It was right, though their relationship may have lacked precedence on the surface.

But Sherlock wasn't one to do as others did—a statement that explained nearly everything about him. He took the world and interpreted it through his own lens, fleshing out different unnoticed truths, revealing facets of the world no one had even considered. Hell, the whole Science of Deduction was Sherlock's way of explaining his own existence, his own brilliance, to the rest of the slow, dull world. It's why John once spent an afternoon reading Sherlock's study on tobacco ash, because he wanted to understand.

His world now orbited Sherlock's, and though Sherlock would disdain the astral metaphor, John knew it was true.

They were like Pluto and Charon—the once-planet and its moon, which didn't act like a normal planet and moon. Instead of Charon orbiting Pluto, they balanced by orbiting one another. Together, they made up a binary system where the movement of one was dependent on the other.

Before, this idea frightened John, being so close to another human being. Especially someone like Sherlock. It scared him beyond belief—he realized why after Sherlock died. What can a lone moon do but spiral out of orbit and drift into the emptiness of space? The void was far more frightening for John than anything else he could imagine—far more frightening than the idea, the actuality, of having a more-then-friends relationship with Sherlock Holmes. But since when did the what-ifs stop John from doing anything?

Anyway, he had the sneaking suspicion he and Sherlock had already been in a relationship for some time now. They just hadn't realized it quite yet.

Chapter 29: Tuesday Mornings

Days after the lab incident, John was still waiting for Sherlock to do something. Say something. Anything. It dawned on him one Tuesday morning that, perhaps, Sherlock thought everything was resolved. (It wasn't as if he knew how normal relationships worked. That John hadn't kicked him out of his bed must mean everything was fine.) John refused to sit at this strange limbo, not knowing if they were stopping or going.

So he did the most foolhardy thing he could think of. Tuesday mornings were good for things like this, he convinced himself.

John cleared his throat. Sherlock looked at him, knowing full well this clearing-of-the-throat was meant to get his attention.

"So, I love you."

A slow blink. "Okay."

A long pause. "Yeah. Just thought… I should, you know, say so."

"Why?" Sherlock looked a bit shell-shocked. John distantly wondered if he needed a blanket.

"Felt you needed to know."

"Thank you?" Confusion.

Swallow, shifting feet. "I don't expect… reciprocation or anything."

Surprise. "Why not?"

"I'm happy with things as they are." I'm just happy you're here.

(And because Sherlock was impulsive and impetuous and overall just silly and brilliant and right, he kissed John. Because he needed John, and John needed him and everything was better like this, anyway.)

Sherlock soon developed a habit of swooping down on John at random intervals only to wrap his arms around his shoulders or waist. Half the time this started the living daylights out of John, but his complaints were half-hearted and ignored.

Sherlock's room became a lab space, the kitchen began to resemble an actual kitchen (as long as one didn't go into the cupboards or refrigerator), and Sherlock slept either on the sofa or in John's room. When he slept, that is.

"No sex," Sherlock announced upon returning from a walk.

John started, and glanced up from his computer screen. "Sorry, what?"

"I don't want sex. Ever."

"Oddly enough, that's not the strangest thing you've ever said to me."

"Mrs. Hudson informed me that I should lay out the parameters of our relationship. I found her advice to have merit. My parameter is no sex," Sherlock said.

"If it makes you feel better, I don't really want to sleep with you, either," John replied.

"I was under the impression that most successful relationships have a level of sexual compatibility-"

"Sherlock, we have compatibility in the fact that there is no sex," John reasoned. "I'm not gay. Neither are you. If I expected normalcy from you, I wouldn't be here."

"Good," Sherlock nodded and drifted out of the room.

"Kissing's okay, though, right?" John called after him.

"Yes."

Chapter 30: Fulfilling Our Foray

"It was going to happen eventually," John conceded. Earlier in the day, he introduced Sherlock as his partner to a client, much to Sherlock's delight and surprise.

"No it wasn't. Was it?" Sherlock frowned.

"Since you came back from the dead, yeah," John shrugged. "You can't die and not expect things to change."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like when you think you've lost something you already knew was important. Living without it isn't okay, but then you find it again and you swear you'll never lose it because you can't imagine going back to living without it. So you value this thing more now than you ever thought you could."

"Eloquent." Sherlock smirked, John rolled his eyes. "I'm the 'thing' in this situation?"

"Basically."

"So," Sherlock paused, gathered his words. "My return caused your feelings to change?"

"I've more or less been in love with you since... I'd say since dim sum, after I shot that cabbie."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"But-?"

"I didn't act on it because I didn't know, and even if I did I'm sure you wouldn't have appreciated it."

Sherlock's face was contemplative. "John, my question is why? There's a world full of people, and though most of them are idiots, most aren't as difficult a person as I am."

"I'm glad you can admit it, at least."

"John."

"You're asking me why I love you?"

"I wouldn't word it as such-"

"Because you're you and I'm me and we were both more lonely than we realized before Mike introduced us," John said. Sherlock couldn't argue. "I had no purpose, Sherlock. You gave me purpose and for all the times you are a complete and utter arse, you're always the most human person I know."

Sherlock was skeptical. "That's the last adjective most would use."

"But I'm not 'most' and that's the point. You make me happy, regardless of all the madness. You're brilliant, Sherlock, you know that-"

"Obviously. I would be quite dull if I didn't."

"That makes no sense."

"You like me anyway."

"Yeah, because you're the only person like you."

"You like me because I'm a novelty?"

"I think if that were the case, it would've worn off by now. Look, I can't explain it exactly. It's not a science, not in the way you want it to be. You're the most important person in my life. More important than anyone else ever, really. It's difficult to quantify or explain that."

"I love you," Sherlock said, a puzzled expression on his face. John laughed.

"I know you do, you great git," he took Sherlock's hand in his own.

And, despite being Sherlock Holmes who held hands with no one, he found himself holding John's quite often. He couldn't bring himself to care.