A/N- The sixth part of my little "Reunion" series! There's just one left, which I am presently at work on.

To anyone who's followed my work this far- thank you! Thanks to anyone who's read and enjoyed my stories, and especially those who've reviewed or favorited my stuff! It means a lot to me! Hope y'all like this one! ;D

8-24-12

The Return

Sherlock catches himself experiencing what he supposes to be nostalgia as he walks up the front steps of the Baker Street flat, remembering days past. With the memories comes a grief he's yet to confront, so he pushes them aside for the nineteenth time today.

Had he not been so preoccupied lately, that number would be far greater.

Tonight should be when he returns to 221B for good- instead he's spent the majority of it deciding where he'll go after this, for what he once considered to be 'home' is no longer an option. The only reason he's come here at all is to gather a few things he'd rather take with him. He doesn't want to admit it to himself, but he means to take something that used to be John's- something that the doctor treasured, though Sherlock isn't sure what, yet.

Sentiment is a chemical defect, he considers, but the urge only grows. The gun, then, he settles. Meaningful, and not without purpose.

From what he can see by the dim overhead light, all appears to be as it was before. Sherlock picks the lock on the door to his old living quarters to find the place pitch black but for a faint glow through the drawn curtains.

When he switches on a lamp in between them, he's surprised that so much looks the same. He expected that John would leave his test tubes and microscope in their designated places- but the fact that they remain now indicates that Mrs. Hudson has yet to prepare the flat for the next owner.

Sherlock again wonders how long it has been since John's death, though he really prefers not to know. They agreed to it, really, last time they spoke- that it would be the last time they spoke. John seemed to think that would make it easier, and the idea of ringing his phone without reply led Sherlock to comply with his wish. But that was weeks ago- by now, he knows his friend must be gone.

Someone has heard his entrance, Sherlock realizes, for footsteps are approaching- from John's bedroom, he's certain. He shakes his head slightly to himself. Mrs. Hudson has simply rented it out again, and there's no reason to-

And then a figure emerges in the doorway that sends Sherlock's thoughts into turmoil.

My eyes can't be tricking me- I'm not nearly that tired. I don't believe in ghosts and he doesn't have an identical twin. A fatal brain tumor in its final stages would have a man bedfast by this time- and he didn't plan on seeking treatment. I know him; he wouldn't have. He didn't.

Almost independent of his coordinated reasoning, Sherlock's mouth forms the word "John" with a mere breath in support of it. The stunned whisper proves what shock a large part of him feels. In spite of this, however, he's able to draw his conclusion.

"You were misdiagnosed," he murmurs as John, squinting in the light, recognizes his friend.

"Sherlock, thank- I've been trying to get a hold of you- why couldn't you just give me a reliable phone number?" Amidst this stream of anxious words John hugs him with a firmness that pulls Sherlock back into the moment from which he became detached.

"You're alive. You're alive." Like the first, these words make no actual sound, and the part of him that cares is grateful for it, even while the other part struggles to pronounce them clearly. He takes John by the shoulders, holding him away and looking him over. At the doctor's smile, Sherlock realizes his mouth is hanging open and closes it.

"I tried calling you, Sherlock," John says. "I tried Mycroft- even he didn't know where you were. I was so worried that-"

"How stupid can people be to make a mistake like this?" Sherlock bursts out, stepping backwards in a blind need to separate himself from the situation.

"Look, I know- I know," John says in a way he intends to be calming. His tone only emphasizes how shaken up Sherlock feels about this. "Look, come sit down," he tells the long-absent detective, guiding him to his sitting-room chair. There he stands beside Sherlock, one hand upon his shoulder. "These things happen sometimes, you know. That's why they're called mistakes, Sherlock."

"I know why they're called-…" Seeing John's smile widen, Sherlock makes a point of not finishing the sentence, determined to amuse him no further. How can the doctor treat the matter as if it hasn't scared him like it did? If Sherlock weren't so relieved, he'd be quite annoyed at him.

"Stay there," John tells him; "I'm going to get you a drink."

"I don't-"

"You look like you could use it."

Does he? Sherlock hasn't considered it, but he must be as white as a sheet. He looks down at his hand while John is in the kitchen- it shakes. When the doctor returns and hands him a glass, he makes a great effort to hide the fact.

The rum-and-water is bitter, but it helps him to look at John a little less like he's an hallucination. "Your symptoms weren't a mistake, John. You were sick."

John sits down to explain. "My x-rays were confused with another patient's," he says. "Once that matter was cleared up, they discovered all I'd been getting were common migraines." He shrugs. "Painful, but it's not life-threatening. Now at least, my symptoms are being properly treated."

Sherlock just stares at him. "You're not angry that they made such an obvious mistake as to confuse you with another patient?" he bursts out. "You thought you were going to die, John- how can-"

"Sherlock."

The detective sets the rum-and-water down on the table, covering the armrests of his chair as he pretends to relax. He's only allowed John to interrupt him because he really wants an explanation- and he doesn't quite trust himself with the emotion that has crept into his voice. The doctor bends toward his friend, looking him dead in the eye, though with his own troubles upon his face.

"It's a horrible- a horrible thing to be so scared," he admits with difficulty. Sherlock isn't so perturbed as not to notice that John goes out of his way to be open with him. "But this has been good, in a way," John continues, in spite of the frown he receives. "It's a bit like when you called me- that first time last month."

The smile on the doctor's face couldn't be less congruous with Sherlock's feelings, but months have passed since he last saw something as pleasant as John's honest smile. He can't bring himself to harbor true annoyance.

"I was so grateful to have you back that-…" John hesitates, but when he continues, it's in earnest. "You know I've always cherished your companionship, Sherlock, but when you- when I thought you died, I just wanted you back more than anything. When I found out you were alive… I'd never been so happy. And now, for myself, I can appreciate just living more than I ever did before. For both reasons." With a breath of laughter, he shakes his head. "I can't be angry, Sherlock, when I've never been this happy."

Sherlock wasn't sure at first why his eyes stung while John spoke, being unfamiliar with the sensation. Now as his friend watches for his response, he attempts to blink his tears back without the action's purpose being clear.

This shouldn't be so difficult, Sherlock tells himself. Fact: John is alive. Simple, observable fact. It's not hard to believe because there was a mistake- a stupid, predictable mistake… But there's another fact that he's been trying to ignore. The death of his only close friend would eventually have caught up to him- it would have struck him hard when it did- and he can't appreciate the discovery of the truth without facing that first.

It's with stubborn will alone that he clears his tight throat, enabling some semblance of speech. "I-" A tear falls. "I thought you were dead, John."

How has so obvious a statement managed to fall out of my mouth?

"I know," John sympathizes, reaching over to squeeze his wrist. "I'm sorry." To his credit, he actually looks a bit sorry, though his peace is unmistakable. Perhaps Sherlock could share in that peace, did he not remain so shaken.

John rubs his wrist. "I understand, you know."

"You can't-" A moment too late Sherlock catches his error. Warily he brings his eyes back to his friend's face, but there's no anger to be found there.

"I understand," John repeats.

Sherlock turns his hand to wrap his fingers around John's arm. At the resumption of the burning behind his eyes, he holds them both closed, determined that they shouldn't open until he can trust himself not to cry.

"…Tired, I know I am."

Sherlock's eyes flick open, but a glance at the clock tells him that not a half-hour has passed. "What?" he asks.

"So you can hear me." John chuckles at him. "I said you must be tired."

Looking down, Sherlock sees that both his hands have a fierce grip on John's arm, and consciously, he releases it. "Yes," he replies.

John flexes his- probably numb- hand. "You are going to stay, aren't you?" he asks, worry crossing his face. "Or would that be too dangerous?"

"I've been successful, John," Sherlock answers with little feeling. "There's no danger anymore." John seizes his arm again. "I'll sleep on the sofa," Sherlock says before he can begin describing how proud and glad he is of the detective's accomplishment.

"…You can if you want to," John answers, unable to keep his relief off his face, despite an air of awkwardness now. "But… your room is still made up, you know." He shrugs a bit, avoiding Sherlock's eyes. "Mycroft's been paying," he explains with a grin. "There was no reason-"

"Four months, John," Sherlock remarks.

"I know," John says, looking back with determination. "I never claimed to be above sentiment, Sherlock."

It's true of course, but either way, Sherlock isn't in a position to admonish such feelings.

A/N- I hope this part of my plot wasn't made too cliché by the 'mistake'. I know Sherlock fans expect more! ;) Having one character think another to be dead is a very old favorite of mine- and I suppose I wanted to explore Sherlock's reaction to a situation that was similar to the one John had gone through.

Also, hope you all understood the part where Sherlock basically zoned out. As it's from his POV, that was a little awkward to write.

The next part is largely fluff- because they've earned it. ;)

P.S. Read "The Final Problem" today. ;'( Depressing, and rather abrupt. You can tell that Doyle was eager to get Sherlock killed. lol