Chapter 1: First Date
I'm finally comfortable leaving the flat with Sherlock still inside.
It took some time, yes. After the – wince – Fall, I found it difficult to let Sherlock out of my sight. How did I know he wasn't an apparition, wasn't going to just disappear the moment I looked away? I've always trusted Sherlock Holmes, but never before have I had so little trust in my own mind. My own perception. I couldn't handle it if he was to leave me again.
But after time I came to realize that Sherlock was back and he was back for good. The detective remained himself, stoic and difficult to read, but I could see that this had hurt him too. It was the only way I could forgive him. I saw that the separation was an absolute necessity, that he believed it was the only way to save my life. I cannot claim to have had a better plan, and even if I could, it is now over and done with. Sherlock did what he did, and it hurt him too, and now he is back. I am too grateful to have my best friend return to life to spoil it by questioning and accusing. Truthfully, it helped that Sherlock didn't seem to mind my honestly embarrassing show of clinginess after the initial surprise. In fact, there were instances where I thought he rather enjoyed it. But that could have been me seeing what I wanted to see.
Anyway, now I am able to leave the flat without panic, without the fear that when I return home I will be alone. Again. And so, for the first time in many, many months, I am on a date.
I almost didn't come. This Jennifer is a friend of Molly's, and while my initial reaction to her was favorable, I still wanted to spend more time with Sherlock in Baker Street. I knew it wasn't healthy, though, to abandon everything in my life just for him. We normal people need balance to function. So tonight I called a quick goodbye toward the kitchen while he examined who-knows-what, grabbed my coat, and headed out.
"So, Jennifer," I say as we settle down into our seats and glance over the menus. "How do you know Molly?"
A light blush colors her cheeks. "We met at a party for Scotland Yard, actually. I was one of the officer's dates."
I smile reassuringly, showing her I won't be jealous or rude. "Do I know him?"
"I doubt it," she starts to smile at me, but it transfers to our waiter as he takes our orders. Once he is gone, she continues, "He hasn't worked there for many years. Got transferred. I never did find out why."
"There are all sorts of reasons why that could happen." I acknowledge. "It's nice that you and Molly have remained friends, though."
"Oh, yes," Jennifer's eyes light up. "Molly is a great friend. I tend to attract girlfriends who are overbearing, but Molly is so sweet and gentle. What about you? How exactly do you know Molly?"
I can't tell from the tone of her voice the honesty in her question. After all, if she is friends with Molly then she must know about Sherlock. And knowing of Sherlock almost inevitably leads to knowing about me.
That throws me for a moment. Are Sherlock and I really that tied together? Is that what people see when they look at us, why they always assume we are in a relationship? When did it become an assumption in my mind that to know Sherlock is to know me? Thinking of my best friend sends my mind flying back in time, unexpectedly, to the night he returned.
I sat in my chair in 221B, staring at the empty space in front of me. I had stayed away for a while, but Mrs. Hudson never rented the flat to anyone else, and I thought that maybe together she and I could learn to move on.
It wasn't going so well for me.
Sherlock changed so much in my life. He rid me of my limp and tremor, took a broken man and made him whole again. Sherlock accepted me, came to rely on me; he let me into his life when everyone else he had pushed away. There are no words to describe the connection we had. We lived together, we worked together, and we were friends, but it was more than that. When you run with Sherlock Holmes, it feels like it will never end.
So why did it have to? Why did he have to leave? He didn't care about his reputation – no, that was what I worried about. That was my department. I did the ordinary stuff while he did the extraordinary stuff. Suicide? It was so…boring. Not Sherlock.
And yet, here I am. Alone. In an empty flat, still cluttered with files and experiments. I looked around, absorbing the environment I had taken for granted for so long. Everything was the same, even after this time, and yet everything was different.
All of a sudden I was grabbed with a desire to hold on, to find something that was tangibly Sherlock and keep it close. I didn't have that urge all the time, but when I did it would sometimes last for days. I knew it was better to head it off, to find something to placate the emptiness inside me before it festered into an unyielding crutch of loneliness and longing.
"John?" Jennifer's soft voice interrupts my flashback, and I remember her question.
"Sorry, lost my train of thought," I smile. "I met Molly the same day I met Sherlock, although I didn't get to know her until later. It was my acquaintance with him that really caused us to cross paths."
Our waiter arrives with our drinks. "I see," Jennifer says, taking a sip from her glass. She looks down to the liquid within as though contemplating. "So tell me… What's your favorite color?"
I laugh in surprise, and our conversation continues this way, full of playful banter and get-to-know-you questions. It is going quite well, actually, and I stop worrying about making a good impression and instead start to just be myself.
Well, this isn't too difficult. I think to myself, laughing at a funny offhand remark Jennifer makes. Almost as easy as being with Sherlock.
On the mantelpiece, sitting patiently, was Sherlock's violin. I got up and, ignoring the stupid cane, walked as normally as I could to pick up it. As I reached out, my hand began to tremble violently. Frustrated, I clenched my fingers together until I had regained control. Then I lifted the violin gently.
This is where he placed his chin, I thought, running a finger over the indentation at the bottom of the instrument. I plucked a string, listening to the note fade quickly. He put his fingers on these strings.
This wasn't right. Why was this hurting me so much? I had lost people before. Watched the light fade from their eyes. I was able to let them go. But not Sherlock. Why not?
I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. I shouldn't question it. Sherlock was so very different from everyone else in my life – wouldn't it be the same in his death?
I put the violin back where it was instead of hugging it to my chest like I wanted. I was not a child. I would not hold a remnant of a dead man like a teddy bear.
With a sigh I headed back to my chair – because it was still my chair, just as the one across was still Sherlock's – and fell into it with a sigh, picking up a paper for lack of better things to do. Out of habit I reached for my cane, checking to make sure it was still there.
Confused, I looked up. Everything was the same – wait, no, it wasn't. Something was different. What was it? Internally I cursed; Sherlock would have noticed the issue immediately. My eyes flitted around the flat, trying to discern the change. Besides the obvious – my missing cane – there was something off, something wrong.
There. The door. I hadn't closed the door completely when I first entered the flat, with several inches between the edge and the frame, but now the two were almost touching.
Someone had come in, taken my cane, and apparently left while I was musing over the violin. How could I have been such an idiot? So oblivious?
Besides that, why would someone take my cane? It was a very odd thing to do. Doesn't seem like Mrs. Hudson, she would have talked to me. Or maybe she wouldn't have. People tend not to speak to me as much anymore – I think they are worried about saying the wrong thing. Which, to be honest, is a perfectly reasonable fear. Even I don't know what will set me off sometimes.
It was very rude, though, for someone to take my cane. As much as I hated the thing, I needed it.
"Damn my leg." I muttered, throwing the paper back down on the table and standing slowly, trying to decide what to do. Maybe I moved my cane without being aware. But no, that wouldn't explain the door. Wind? No, the window was closed. All the evidence pointed to someone having been in the flat; the only issue was, I couldn't find anyone.
Just then the door creaked and started to open. I looked up, my hand instinctively going to the small of my back for the gun that wasn't there. I hadn't carried it around since… well, since Sherlock.
Then the door was fully open, and standing in my doorway was – Sherlock Holmes.
"Sher-Sherlock?" I stuttered. Everything felt strange; the world took on a hazy grey tint. Was that really Sherlock standing in front of me? He looked real enough. The eyes, the cheekbones, the hair. He even had his coat. I took a step forward to check, but my balance was off. I felt like I was moving, but it was all wrong. What was that sensation in my stomach?
Falling, the doctor side of me said. You're fainting.
Then, overriding all else, It's Sherlock.
Everything went black.
"Are you alright?" I feel the warm pressure of Jennifer's hand on mine and I have to control the impulse to flinch away. Since when has it been your impulse to flinch away? I ignore the question to myself and look up, seeing worry paint Jennifer's face. "John, are you okay?"
"Yeah, yes. I'm fine." I shake my head, trying to get my bearings. I thought I was okay leaving the flat. I was having a good time on this date. What is happening to me? "Really, I am." I grin. "I was just remembering something."
"Is that so?" Jennifer looks interested. "What kind of memory?"
I grimace. "It's… kind of a long story."
"I don't have anywhere else to be." Jennifer smiles, but this pushiness is starting to bother me. I know she is just flirting – hell, that's what we've been doing all night! There is no reason for me to be uncomfortable with this.
And yet, I am.
I think she sees it on my face, because she says quickly, "Or maybe another time. I understand wanting to keep things to yourself. I haven't told you half the crazy things about me yet."
I smile, but all of a sudden the double-meaning in her words are abundantly clear. Expectation of another date. Implied intimacy at sharing personal stories. This shouldn't be bothering you! My head screams. And yet there, in the back, another voice says, Is this really where you want to be?
And as much as I hate to admit, as good of a time I am having, I know that I would rather be at Baker Street. I'd rather be making tea that won't get drunk, listening to whining about being bored, watching incessant pacing that makes me feel like I am the one with pent-up energy.
"So…" Jennifer seems to be sensing that something is off. Great, now there's guilt to go along with… whatever it is that is driving my thoughts back to Sherlock and Baker Street. I think I know what it is, but I don't want to put a label to it. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away. Except now I've thought his name, and apparently that is what sets me off. The end of the memory refuses to be kept at bay.
As I came to, the first sensation I noticed was hands stroking my hair. Taking stock, I realized I was lying on the couch, my head propped up on a pillow. The palms of my hands hurt, like I had scraped them – oh, trying to catch my fall. Instinctive reaction. Beyond that, there didn't seem to be any other injuries. The hands were still moving soothingly through my hair, and I had a moment of contentment, not wanting them to stop. Then I realized who the hands must belong to, and I sat up quickly, opening my eyes and ignoring the rush of vertigo my sudden movement caused.
"Sherlock!" I exclaimed, searching frantically. And then there he was. Right in front of me.
Sherlock's gaze met mine, and for a moment I saw something akin to fear in his eyes. But that was wrong; Sherlock didn't get afraid.
"John." It was Sherlock, alright. Sherlock's voice, Sherlock's inflection. No one said my name quite the way Sherlock did. When did I notice that distinction? Not important now.
"Sherlock. You're – you're alive."
"Yes, John, obviously." Sherlock was still eyeing me cautiously, like he wasn't sure what I was going to do next. As if I could ever surprise Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock's mouth twitched. "It's a long story. And I will tell you everything. But you just fainted; perhaps we should wait until you are sure you've recovered."
I thought about that. "Very reasonable." Very Sherlock. Reason and logic. Except that my best friend just came back from the dead, and that was completely illogical.
"Come here, you idiot." I said, reaching forward and wrapping my arms around his neck, pulling him close to me. I felt him freeze for a moment before he relaxed, and then his arms tentatively came up to circle around me. It wasn't the most ideal arrangement, me sitting on the couch and Sherlock having been on his knees next to me, but I'd be damned if I was going to put this off just so we could both stand up.
"Don't you ever, ever, do that again. I don't care what fantastic reasoning you have. Don't."
"John," Sherlock began, his voice slightly muffled by my shoulder, but I shushed him.
"No, don't speak. You might ruin it." I held him closer and just breathed, taking in the scent that was Sherlock, feeling his heart beat in his chest. "Don't ruin it."
I sensed another moment of hesitation, but then Sherlock pulled me closer, his arms tightening around my back, his face pressed into the fabric of my jumper. And, per my request, he didn't say another word.
Jennifer clears her throat and smiles, trying to salvage the end of the date, I can tell. "What do you say about dessert?"
"Sure," I smile, letting her lead. I am fairly sure I won't be calling her again, but I can at least leave this amicably.
Suddenly, though, I feel my phone buzz with a text. I apologize quickly and glance at it, giving the excuse that it might be the hospital but knowing that this is probably not true. I am right.
Lestrade's got a case. SH
I feel my heartbeat increase as a smile rises unbidden to my lips.
"Not bad news, then?" Jennifer teases, seeing my expression. I am relieved she isn't mad at my unexplained previous distance. "No broken bones?"
I glance at her briefly, still grinning. "Not bad news for me, no. And hopefully I won't be dealing with broken bones."
I type my reply: Need me now? JW
I look back up and see she is still staring at me, though this time mild confusion is in her features. "Mind if I ask?"
"It's just Sherlock." My phone buzzes again and I glance at the message, smirking slightly. I slip my phone back into my pocket. "But, I'm sorry, it looks like we won't be able to have the dessert after all."
I think she smiles in understanding, but my mind is no longer on our conversation. No, it has drifted several blocks away to 221B and the man and his mystery waiting there for me. I make it through the goodbye pleasantries as I pay the bill and leave the restaurant with Jennifer, but I think we both know my heart isn't in it. I kiss her on the cheek as we part ways, but as soon as she is behind me my mind jumps back to my phone and the second message from tonight it contains.
If convenient. SH
A/N: Well, there it is! The first chapter of my first multi-chapter Sherlock fic. Thank you for reading, and please let me know whether or not you think I should continue. Obviously it's going to get much more exciting from here, because a case is about to start, but I needed to set a lot of things up before I could just jump into it. Anyway, even just a "yes" or "no" saying whether or not I should put my time and effort into this would be great. Thank you so much!