This story is set after the reunion of Sherlock and John, but I don't consider it to be a typical post-Reichenbach fic. Please also note that it ignores all spoilers floating around the internet.
If you mind angst and fluffy stuff and romance and sex, you should probably not read this. :-)
Serious warning, though: if depression or mention of suicide are triggers for you, you should REALLY not read this.
Eternal thanks to GoSherlocked for more reasons than could be listed up here, extended beta-ing only being one of them. Also love to Tobe, Harriet, Grizziesmom, the Doc, Bev, Suezanne and NoPlastic for providing ideas, opinions and criticisms.
Looking back later in life, John always felt that he should have seen it coming sooner. But the first weeks after the Heroic Return had been so filled up with moving back in and press conferences and recovering from the recent months and explaining and forgiving and soothing hurt friends and solving that case Lestrade had brought to them probably just to come to terms with Sherlock again that John only realised something was seriously wrong with his friend when it was too late for an easy way out.
Of course he hadn't given it too much thought when Sherlock slept in after solving the case. It had been a demanding one, with running down the streets all day and spending nights in bizarre pubs and an unhealthy amount of nightly hours hiding behind a container at the harbour in the cold rain. All that was added to the bad shape Sherlock had been in when returning. Actually, John had been rather happy that Sherlock finally got some rest.
And of course he hadn't given it too much thought when Sherlock had been more irritated by him than usual the other day. He had rather expected him to be, for they needed to get used to living together again, no matter how much they had missed each other.
There was nothing to worry about when Sherlock spent the first really quiet day after the Heroic Return in his pyjamas and dressing gown, playing the violin for hours and hours, filling the flat with melancholic and bitter-sweet songs. John had made himself comfortable on the sofa, laptop on his knees, listening to the tunes, just taking in the full meaning of the word "Return".
He was mildly surprised though when Sherlock went to bed rather early that night. But then, who knew what he was up to in that room. He had taken John's laptop with him, so probably he simply wanted to spend some time without John secretly checking up on him to make sure he was still there.
When John woke up the next morning, Sherlock was nowhere to be seen. John went through his own morning routine telling himself he would under no circumstances be so concerned about Sherlock Holmes that he would check out his room to find out if he was there or not. Of course he was only lying to himself. When he quietly opened the door to Sherlock's room an hour later, he found the consulting detective deep in slumber. So he had really been up late yesterday, John thought.
When Sherlock finally got up around noon he looked tired and grumpy and complained about John's every move. For a full day, John was able to face those complaints with good-hearted humour. When it went on the next day he became a bit annoyed. When Sherlock went to sleep in the afternoon after elaborating on how dull everything was, John started to worry.
The next day began with a debate on whether John was tired of making coffee for Sherlock or not. The trigger had been a small sigh of John's when he realised he had made only one cup, just like he had when he had been alone. He cursed himself silently, handed the cup over to Sherlock and started to brew another one for himself.
"I'm sorry if my presence causes you too much extra work," Sherlock said icily.
John looked at him, mildly surprised, "What?"
"Oh, don't think I can't see it when you're annoyed. Really, if brewing two cups of coffee is too much work for you, I'll just unburden your life by extracting myself again."
With that, Sherlock got up and went straight back to his own room. John remained standing at the kitchen sink for a long time after that. There was a bad feeling in his stomach he couldn't get rid of. It was not Sherlock's irritating behaviour that shook him deeply, he was used to that. It was the fact that Sherlock had deduced John's sigh completely wrongly that really alarmed him.
A few hours after the coffee incident John carefully sneaked into Sherlock's darkened room, finding his friend asleep in his bed. He stood in front of him for a while, not sure whether to wake him up or not. Then he made up his mind. This was too important to be ignored. He sat down on the edge of the bed and softly patted Sherlock's shoulder.
"What?" Sherlock moaned, not sounding really sleepy. Had he been awake, just lying in bed? John became more alert now.
"Are you all right?" he asked, his hand still on Sherlock's shoulder.
He felt him shrugging. "Who cares?"
Remembering how easily Sherlock seemed to be insulted at the moment, John swallowed down the first remark that crossed his mind. "I do," he simply said instead.
He felt Sherlock shrug again. "Really? It took you four hours and thirty-eight minutes to come in and check on me."
Okay, this was not going to be easy. But then, when had John ever aimed at easy? He decided to ignore the bait. "What can I do to cheer you up?", he said instead, hoping to sound a little more cheerful than he felt.
"If you have to ask you don't really have to bother," Sherlock huffed, but there was more to his voice than just sarcasm. Could it really be insecurity?
All right, one more try. "I thought the apple crumble I've made for you would do the trick. Want some?" His hand still on Sherlock's shoulder, he felt him stir a little, then the movement stopped again.
John silently sighed once more. He gently nudged his friend again, then got up. "All right, I'll let you sleep. The apple crumble will be in the fridge if you want some later."
When he was already at the door, he heard Sherlock's voice, a little too soft, a little too insecure for comfort, "You are going somewhere. Will you come back?"
Something stirred inside John's stomach, something that touched him profoundly. "Of course," he said. When there was no more reaction, he continued making his way out of Sherlock's room. He nearly missed him saying "Good" just before John closed the door.
Mycroft's office was as far from being comfortable as could be, at least if you were sitting on the wrong side of the table. Which John was doing right now. He involuntarily raised his chin in mild defiance when Mycroft's searching glance wandered over him from head to feet.
"You are concerned about Sherlock," the older Holmes swiftly deduced, looking mildly intrigued. Not a nice expression on any Holmes' face. At least not when you were the reason for it. Which John was right now. God, he hated being here.
"That you are coming to me with it means that Sherlock does not respond well to being worried about, not even when it's you."
John tried not to show his discomfort, and a flicker of recognition on Mycroft's face told him he had failed hopelessly. "Do you want to do all the talking, or shall I chime in every now and then?" he asked, harsher than he had intended to. Mycroft smiled slightly. Another thing that was not nice if you were at the receiving end.
Mycroft steepled his hands under his chin. "Tell me, John," he said, sounding almost sincere. "What causes your concern for my little brother?"
"He's not himself," John started, and when Mycroft just looked at him blandly, he went on. "He's sleeping way too much, and when he isn't sleeping, he's tired or grumpy or melancholic. He feels insulted by nearly everything I do or say or don't do or don't say."
Mycroft still did not respond, so John went on. "I think he's depressed." Still no reaction. "I mean … not like just sad ... um … more like … clinical, you know." He ruffled his hair fighting to name what had been a sound diagnosis in his head.
"I'm talking about a so-called atypical depression. He shows a lot of the symptoms, sensitivity to rejection, hypersomnia, and he moves like he's suffering from leaden paralysis as well, at least sometimes. And it fits what I know about him. Many of the possible causes show up in his personal history, especially during his time … away."
Something in Mycroft's face fell, ever so slightly, but clear enough for John to see. "What?" he demanded, holding the other man's gaze now.
To his surprise, it was Mycroft who broke it first. There was disappointment in his voice when he remarked, "So, it finally has come to that. I hadn't expected you to do that, John."
John silently counted to ten and then felt calm enough to go on talking. "What am I doing?" He was downright angry now. The last days spent in Sherlock's edgy company had brought him to the edge as well, and Mycroft was extremely … well, Mycroft-y today.
"You are putting a label on him when he gets a bit difficult." Yes, there really was disappointment in Mycroft's face. That tipped John over. He stood up so abruptly that the heavy ebony chair nearly fell.
"Damn it, Mycroft, I'm not here because I feel a bit uncomfortable at home at the moment. I'm here because I'm seriously concerned about Sherlock," he yelled, not wanting to calm down at all. "Atypical depression is a serious mental disease, and one with good chances of healing if treated properly. There is no reason for him to suffer like that!"
At that, Mycroft's face turned to stone. "Well," he said acidly, "so you think it is a good idea to prescribe drugs to a man with Sherlock's past?"
"I didn't … I'm not talking about drugs, Mycroft," John explained, forcing himself to calm down again. "Talk therapy is also an option, one that could ..."
Mycroft regarded him coldly. "What you are telling me, Dr. Watson, is that my brother is sleeping a lot and makes sharp remarks occasionally. Why would these minor occurrences bother you enough to come here?"
John looked at him sharply. Because it hurts me to see him like that, he thought. "Because I'm a doctor. I can't watch him suffer without helping him," he said instead.
Something in Mycroft's expression grew softer. No doubt he had seen the real reason flicker across John's face. Reluctantly, John sat down again. "You know that my brother's brain is constantly working at the highest level," Mycroft explained, his voice now without any sign of hostility. "Every few years, it seems to … get out of sync for a while." John watched the older man's eyes drifting off, getting lost in unpleasant memories.
"The first time it happened when he was thirteen. The constant sensory overload triggered a migraine so severe we had to admit him to a clinic for three weeks because his body started to shut down from constant pain. The last time it happened, he nearly killed himself twice on an overdose of cocaine trying to kick his head back into action. You will understand that sleeping, moving slowly and being grumpy does not concern me to the core."
They looked at each other for a while. This time it was John who broke the gaze. "I'm just concerned," he repeated weakly.
Mycroft nodded with something close to sympathy. "He'll be fine, John. Give him some time and he will soon be his old, charming self."
John tried to smile, still not appeased at all. Mycroft might have his flaws, but towards Sherlock he was nothing but over-protective. If he did not worry, John felt like he should let down his guard a little, too. If only he could.
Already on his way out, he turned once more and asked "Why do you think that this time will be less dramatic than the last two?"
In response Mycroft regarded him with a look that was so similar to Sherlock's "How-stupid-can-one-person-be"-glance it sent a shiver down John's spine. "Well," the older Holmes said, his tone of voice matching his glance, "this time he's got you."
When John came back home
(walks slowly, steps thoughtfully, away for one hour thirteen minutes, took cab, heavy traffic on Park Lane at this time, means he spent at least thirty-two minutes at Mycroft's office, where else would he go when concerned about me, I needed ten minutes to figure that one out, brain's too slow)
Sherlock had made it from his bed to the sofa
(really planned to get up and look through cold cases file Lestrade had brought yesterday, but too tired, brain too sluggish, thoughts too slow, I've failed)
but not to the kitchen to eat.
(too tired, legs heavy like lead, arms too, brain won't work properly, can't think)
He pretended not to notice his friend going into the kitchen, opening the fridge
(checks out if I've eaten, why can't he leave me alone why does he have to find proof that I've failed to get up properly why does he have to make himself disappointed by me?)
then approaching the sofa slowly
(carrying a tray? Still feels the need to take care of me will get sick of taking care of me soon everybody always does how can he stand me like this no one can not even Mycroft not even I can)
and placing the tray on the table.
(should turn around and thank him too tired head too heavy to move he'll be disappointed can't too tired)
"Here, maybe you'll feel more like eating later," he heard John's soft voice.
(always soft when taking care, how can he not see that I don't deserve it? he's not an idiot he will find out soon)
When Sherlock did not react
(better he finds out sooner than later saves us both time but I don't want him to leave me if I just ignore him he won't find out too soon and will stay another while before turning away)
John patted his shoulder
(feels soothing should say something too tired disappointed him again)
and settled down on his chair to write something on his laptop.
(watching me should eat to show good will but arms won't move body refuses to move too heavy too tired need to sleep he'll be only more concerned if I won't eat concern will become obligation, obligation will become annoyance, constant annoyance will make him move out)
With the soft clicking noise of the keyboard in the background, Sherlock drifted into another dreamless, restless sleep.
Over the next few days, Sherlock's moods more and more resembled a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes he would be up and running and in a better mood for a few hours if intrigued enough by some experiment or whatever, but from one second to the next he would become irritated and sour and would finally retreat to the sofa or his bed again.
No matter how often John told himself to remain indifferent to the insults thrown in his direction it became harder each day as the insults became more fierce. He had always considered himself a patient man, especially when it came to Sherlock, but he felt his good-will running thin.
There were those very few occasions where he snapped back at one of Sherlock's meaner remarks. That always left him feeling guilty, wishing he could forget the hurt he was forced to see on his friend's face afterwards, knowing it would make Sherlock even grumpier. But it was a vicious circle, and John was not really sure of how to break it.
They finally reached the point of no return when Greg came over to present a case he was working on. He must have had a chat with Mrs Hudson, most likely asking her about Sherlock's condition, for they entered the flat together, both getting into the line of fire instantly. Sherlock was up and even nearly dressed, but in a dark mood, lashing out at each and everything he could reach.
John had taken cover in his room about two hours before, and only came down once more because he felt obliged to prevent Sherlock from hitting both the DI and their landlady at point-blank. A stupid mistake, that. "... but you could surely solve more cases on your own if you worried less about your non-existent sex life and more about alibis," he heard Sherlock grump.
Not a second too late, John thought. "All right, boys," he joked, "stop fighting or you'll all get sent to bed without dinner." Not his best line, but it had only been meant to lighten the mood a little. What happened instead was that Sherlock turned around to face him, focusing all his anger completely on John now. Not good.
"Oh, decided to come out of hiding?" Sherlock snarled coldly. "If you had done that more often in your life your father wouldn't have been that contemptuous of you before he died, you know?" John just stared at him for a moment, not knowing what to say. He heard Mrs Hudson draw a breath. He felt himself flinch, trying hard not to let his hurt show on his face. It did hurt, of course. Sherlock knew him better than anyone else, and he knew exactly which buttons to push.
"Well, when you've made up your mind about the case ..." Greg bravely tried to stop Sherlock, but it was too late.
Sherlock's eyes were literally blazing when he went on, "But then, if you had hidden less, you would have been home before he died, right? Could have brought him to hospital in time."
"Sherlock," John said quietly, ignoring the nagging pain in his belly, remaining calm, completely concentrating on remaining calm. Ignoring the fact that his face was burning, that his fingertips were prickling. Blocking out the unwanted pity in Greg's face, the sympathy Mrs Hudson seemed to feel for him.
"And just in case you all were wondering ..." Sherlock went on, a cold smile on his lips, that kind of smile that was usually used to convict criminals.
"Sherlock, stop it!" John pressed out more urgent now, really fighting for his composure.
"... yes, John, your fear has been justified all the time ..."
"Don't!" But there was no stopping now.
"... your mother did favour your sister on her death bed even though Harry was drunk while you ..."
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" John yelled, his whole body shaking with rage. He stared at Sherlock's arrogant mask for what felt like an eternity, even in his angry state still looking for a sign of regret in his friend's face. All he found was that terrible smile and an expression in his eyes he'd never seen there before. Without saying anything else, John turned on his heels and left the flat.
Mrs Hudson's words followed him out: "Oh, look what you have done now, love."
"I knew he would leave eventually," was the last thing he heard Sherlock say before slamming the door shut.
When John came back much later
(four hours fifty-two minutes, soaking wet because of rain, preferred staying out in the rain to coming home, perfectly understandable)
he went straight up into his room without even coming into the living room where Sherlock was curled up on the sofa.
(crossing the landing in only two wide strides still angry no affection left rightfully so)
Sherlock listened to his steps for a while.
(three steps, pause, three steps, pause, stop-go between bed and dresser, packing, steps pause steps pause again and again, packing lots of his things, dresser must be nearly empty now leaving for longer period, now five steps pause five steps pause stop-go between wardrobe for winter clothing and bed, too warm for wool jumpers now, he's leaving, steps pause steps pause packs to leave for good
now down the stairs with heavy suitcase, into my room, must be searching for his things that are scattered all over the place, still doesn't look at me or talk to me why should he, he's leaving)
Sherlock's eyes refused to stay open, his mind trying to force itself into slumber again
(can't help it anyway might as well get over it already so tired)
and he felt part of himself drifting away while in the background he still heard John rummaging around his room.
(so many things how can he separate his things from mine so much stuff so intertwined with mine shouldn't be separated he's really leaving me)
Despite his inner turmoil he must have dozed off, for John's voice
(coming from my room, still packing, can't tell his mood, brain too sluggish)
made him wake up with a start. "Where's the green suitcase?"
(storeroom behind the kitchen on the second shelf next to the Turkish sabre and the bowling pin it's mine)
"It's mine," Sherlock said, just loud enough to be heard inside his room.
(never thought about whether something was mine or his any longer need to separate it now he's the one who's leaving it's his task to separate them)
"I know that," John answered,
(muffled, carrying something heavy, could deduce what but to what end? Won't complain if he takes my possessions away I hurt him that's why he's leaving only fair that leaving me hurts me in return)
"but where is it?"
(but I don't have to help him finding my possessions)
Sherlock blocked out every other comment from John for a while.
(hurts even more than I thought hurry up finish it so I can get over it can I get over it? Do I need to rearrange my mind palace or can I just seal John's room for good?)
Finally another one of John's question sneaked its way into Sherlock's consciousness, "Do you prefer the black boots or the brown ones?"
(trying to find out how to hurt me the worst? That's not like John even leaving-John would not be that cruel but why does he want to know why does he want to take my boots anyway they don't fit him his feet are too small)
Curiosity finally got the better of him, and with a huge amount of effort Sherlock heaved his leaden body
(so heavy so tired)
up from the sofa, slowly trudging towards his room, leaning heavily against the door frame.
What he found there took him by surprise, and his brain simply refused to make sense of it.
(John packing my clothes into the green suitcase, most of my shirts and trousers all my socks my only two warm sweaters four of my pyjamas why?)
He just stared at John, completely clueless.
"Hey," John said, a wry little smile on his lips, "did you make up your mind about the boots?"
When Sherlock did not answer
(am I the one who's leaving? But he packed his clothes too, why why why?)
John's expression showed concern once more
(saw that way too often over the last weeks, why is he still concerned he's leaving isn't he?)
and he shrugged, "Well, it's all right, don't bother. I'll pack both pairs and you can decide which ones to wear when we're there."
Sherlock just stared at John, still uncomprehending
for what seemed like forever before he forced himself to ask, "Where?"
The concern on John's face grew deeper. "To Achitlibuie.
(North-western Scotland, Highlands, 10 miles north-west of Ullapool, Tom Longstaff, Scottish Gaelic: Achd Ille Bhuidhe)
I told you so when I was packing your stuff. Weren't you listening?"
Then his brain picked up a few of the straws.
(two suitcases, we, lonesome village at the coast, we, going there together, he's not leaving is he not leaving? why not why should he take me on a trip instead of leaving me he's not leaving he's staying I did not lose him why isn't he leaving?)
The full impact of this hit Sherlock with brutal force
and he felt his knees buckle.
Slowly he slid down the door frame.
(so tired not leaving)
A pressure he hadn't noticed before seemed to be lifted off his chest all of a sudden, and he gasped.
(breathing's difficult, eyes burning, too tired to hold back sobs, wet cheeks, shoulders shaking, steps coming closer, a hand pressing my head against a chest, another hand pressing against my back, stroking, rocking me, inviting to let go, not leaving, never leaving)
Cuddled against John like this he cried and cried until a deep and dreamless sleep finally pulled him into oblivion once more.