John moves back in on a Saturday.
When Sherlock emerges from his bedroom in the early afternoon, dressed in his pyjamas and his blue dressing gown, John is sitting in his chair, staring blankly into the empty space in front of him. Sherlock notices the slight impression the wedding ring has left on his finger.
“Good morning,” John says without looking at him.
“It’s half past three,” Sherlock answers, running a hand through his own sleep-tousled curls.
“Yes.” John’s vacant stare turns into a sad smile. "But I know you, don't I?"
“Hm.” Sherlock wanders over to the kitchen table, puts on his safety gloves and busies himself with adding a drop of sulfuric acid (38 per cent) to each petri dish with lactate producing bacteria. No need to ask any questions. It has taken him precisely two seconds to figure out what happened.
“Mrs. Hudson let me in. I took my suitcase upstairs. Is this-“ John clears his throat. “Is this alright?”
“Yes.” The ‘Of course it’s alright, you complete imbecile’ remains entirely subtextual. It’s more than alright and the question is unbearably stupid, but then, John is an idiot. Naturally. No point in being upset about the fact.
Sherlock finishes his experiment in silence, carefully taking notes in his lab journal. John still doesn’t move, which starts to worry Sherlock a bit. He blinks at John's motionless form and makes a decision.
“Lestrade texted me, around three hours ago. Murder suicide, apparently, but some painting has gone missing and no one can quite explain why. Boring.” Sherlock wanders over to the door, grabbing his Belstaff on the way. “Come with me?”
John raises his head in slow motion. Their eyes meet for the first time. The corners of John's mouth twitch slightly.
“Thank God,” he murmurs, and gets up to follow Sherlock into another round of ridiculous, life-endangering, glorious insanity.
The game is back on. Or, as a matter of fact, this specific round has just been won. They have found a painting and caught a murderer. Considering the footprints in the flowerbeds it was obvious that the suspect had only one arm, anyway.
When they return to Baker Street, their catecholamine level is high and something in their heads is spinning in a not-at-all-unpleasant way.
John puts the kettle on, makes himself comfortable in his chair (i.e. where he belongs) and tries to solve the crossword. Turns out that’s impossible, since Sherlock has conducted an experiment on ink splashing patterns every single ballpoint pen in 221B has fallen victim to. For some reason, John doesn’t look too upset. He appears to be rather calm, actually, coming down from a decent adrenaline high, the tension vacating his body, leaving him relaxed and slightly exhausted.
Sherlock realises that staring at John (who is decidedly not solving the crossword) could be considered vaguely inappropriate. He walks over to the fridge to fetch a plastic bag full of frozen maggots, mostly because he wants to look occupied.
Seconds later, he drops the bag onto his right foot, howls in pain and jumps gracelessly around the kitchen on one leg, cursing under his breath.
“Oh, Christ,” John gasps out in shock, realising what happened. Sherlock glares at him, freezing mid-jump, his aching left foot in the air, steadying himself on the counter tops.
John laughs. Laughs until his cheeks are damp with tears, and Sherlock tries his best to be furious about it. It ocurrs to him, though, that he hasn’t seen John laugh like this in months. Years, maybe.
“I’m sorry, Sherlock.” John gasps, wiping a tear away. “Can... can I help you? Are you hurt?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer. John Watson’s laugh may be the one sound he loves and enjoys most in all this world. Almost as much as he loves John himself. Being the subject of John’s laughter makes something in Sherlock’s abdomen glow in a quite agreeable way, which doesn’t actually make sense, since Sherlock doesn’t enjoy being laughed at in general.
Pretending to sulk is very much the next order of business. Sherlock huffs audibly, collects his maggots and proceeds to cut them in accurate slices in order to test the effect of alkaline substances on defrosting flesh.
John returns to his newspaper, still giggling a bit.
They both feel strangely relieved, like someone has taken a weight off their chests. Outside, London moves in its own strange ways, hurried and turbulent. Inside 221B Baker Street, something has mercifully come to a halt.
“I really shouldn’t drink,” John announces, taking another sip of Scotch.
Sherlock, upon returning from purchasing seventeen different types of chlorine bleach, halts in the doorway, freezing in the middle of taking off his scarf. This is new. John slouching in his chair, drinking alcohol at four in the afternoon without a specified cause, that is.
“Scotch?” John offers, and Sherlock has no idea if a) it’s by courtesy, b) John has an unaccountable desire to get drunk with Sherlock, or c) he originally intended to get drunk by himself and Sherlock represents a welcome/unwelcome intrusion. Before he has properly determined what to do, Sherlock nods warily. John pours him a glass.
Sherlock cautiously hangs his coat and scarf up and walks over to the sofa. He sits down next to John, wondering if he’s sitting too close or maybe not close enough to offer whatever John is expecting him to (comfort? consolation? company?) and takes a small sip. It’s pretty disgusting, but then, Sherlock is not sure if you’re actually supposed to enjoy Scotch or if Scotch is to be interpreted as a metaphorical liquid landfill to get rid of unwanted emotions. He frowns. John is determinedly looking at the floor, not facing Sherlock, who decides to do the same.
“It’s been a year since I got married. That means the divorce has been finalised today,” John tells him after several minutes of silence.
Sherlock makes a vague sound of acknowledgement. It’s a bit of a predicament, to be honest, constantly not knowing how he’s supposed to react. The silence (that is not strictly speaking awkward but also far from comfortable) continues. Too long for Sherlock’s liking.
“Truth be told, I am a bit glad. That it’s… over. Officially.”
Sherlock contemplates the seriousness of the situation, taking several factors into account. John’s clenched jaw, his countenance, his body language, the consumption of an addictive substance despite his questionable family history. He does not come to a useful conclusion.
John clears his throat. Repeatedly. Bites his bottom lip before continuing. “That last appointment with our divorce lawyers-… I didn’t hesitate before signing the petition. She didn’t, either. That was the last time I saw her before today. It’s weird, because I… really used to love her. And now – you know how they say that when you see someone again after an extended period of time, you realise how much you’ve missed them?”
Sherlock nods. Something cold and entirely unpleasant starts to bubble in his stomach.
“I just… realised that I hadn’t missed her at all. Strange, isn’t it?”
The bubbling stops abruptly. Sherlock doesn’t know what to make of it.
“It has never been the same after… you know. She was not the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She never had been and I- I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact. I really thought it could work. Jesus, I was so, so – wrong.”
John sounds genuinely upset about this. Sherlock contemplates offering consolation in some way, because that would be a publically accepted reaction to John’s state. Perhaps. He deposits his glass on the coffee table and observes John cautiously. (He’s not going to force one more drop of Scotch down his throat. He’s already getting drowsy, after all.)
“In the end it felt like being caught in a bloody nightmare.” John takes one last gulp. A huge one, sufficient to empty the glass. “I was afraid to leave the house because I couldn’t figure out what she was up to when I was away. I was afraid to stay at home because I couldn’t quite look into her eyes. It was… agony.”
“I’m glad you’re home, John,” Sherlock hears his own voice say. He isn’t sure if this statement is appropriate for the situation, which upsets him for around five seconds. Then he contemplates that now he’s already said it, and ruminating about it serves no purpose whatsoever. Time to observe the consequences, then.
Surprisingly, John lifts his head and smiles. Hesitantly, reluctantly, but he smiles. “Looks like you've missed your little sidekick.”
Sherlock snorts. “Don’t be preposterous,” he barks out, because a self-deprecative attitude doesn’t suit John at all. “While I agree on little as a suitable self-description, I recall having stated the reasons why I appreciate having you around. In case your long-term memory is still intact, you will remember that it is not merely because I require a… sidekick, as you so eloquently put it.”
John lets out a deep breath that sounds like repressed laughter. “This,” he murmurs, gesturing at the sofa, the coffee table, Sherlock or nothing in particular. “I missed this.”
Sherlock nods. Obviously.
It’s silent for a long time, so achingly quiet that they can hear water dripping into their kitchen sink. Someone (John) will have to call a plumber shortly. The pipes must be rusty again.
“There’s something,” John attempts to recommence the conversation, glaring into his empty glass, and all of a sudden it seems like he is very deliberately not looking at Sherlock. Sherlock frowns at him. John swallows heavily. “Something I have to… come to terms with.”
He deposits his glass next to Sherlock's and remains in a bent forward position, covering his face with his hands. “Never mind,” he adds after a while.
During the following weeks, they don’t talk about the fact that John drinks alcohol on a fairly regular basis when he’s alone. They don’t talk about the fact that he doesn’t waste a second on thinking about alcohol when Sherlock is around, either. And, most importantly, they don’t talk about the fact that John eventually forgets his Scotch, and that the bottle gets dusty in the corner next to the fireplace, never to be opened again.
They settle into their strange kind of domesticity. Their windpipes-in-the-fridge-and-strychnine-in-the-sugar-bowl domesticity, their chasing-murderers-along-rooftops-and-eating-omelettes-at-3am domesticity. It closely resembles their life together before The Fall, before everything, frankly, except this time, it feels a tiny bit more fragile, just like they’re trapped inside a bubble that could burst with one wrong word, one inappropriate action. They dance around each other with so much caution that Sherlock feels like the world is covered in a layer of cotton wool that’s softening every word, every accidental touch.
It’s strange to know how it feels to lose each other.
They both need time to adjust to a feeling that could possibly be described as contentment. Neither of them is very good at not being miserable.
The fact that Sherlock has just been thrown against a metal wall (headfirst) seriously impedes his ability to concentrate. Something in his head keeps throbbing in a profoundly unpleasant way and his right upper arm feels like it’s on fire. Must be a nasty, deep cut, judging by the knife that caused it.
“You really shouldn’t have chosen my little residence to look for a body, Mr. Holmes. Now you’re going to end up being the next one.” Charring chuckles over his own little joke and tightens his grip around Sherlock’s wrists that are pinned above his head, pressing Sherlock against the wall of the dingy little boat house with his whole body.
Sherlock groans in a mixture of pain and annoyance. “Your sense of humour bores me beyond belief. Lovely. Now if you’d kindly let me go so we can... talk about this like grown-ups.”
“No,” Charring grunts, drawing the syllable out with something he might consider a threatening attitude, while he’s, in fact, barely able to restrain his own nervousness. Well, it was worth a try. “I’m going to have to kill you.”
Rupert Charring is one among hundreds of mindless minions in a rather deadly business who merely does what he’s told. In other words, a complete moron with a gigantic knife. Said knife is currently being pressed against Sherlock’s throat, due to a minor miscalculation concerning the location of a corpse on the one hand and Charring’s on the other. Stupid.
Sherlock doubts that Charring has ever killed anyone himself, which is not exactly reassuring. Being the first victim means having an inexperienced murderer. Amateurism is dreadful, in all situations. In killing, it always leads to a lack of efficiency. Unclean cuts, extensive bleeding, lots and lots of pain. Sherlock closes his eyes, trying not to breathe in Charring’s mouth odor, and wonders why he is so unwilling to accept his own impending murder, when a few months ago, he wouldn’t have given a damn if he was dead or alive.
All he needs are three seconds of distraction. He has effortlessly catalogued Charrings’s countless weak spots, the problem is that, in his current position, he doesn’t have access to any of them. Within three seconds he could not only disarm Charring, but also reduce him to a whimpering mess on his knees. (Two broken ribs, fractured left radius, blunt abdominal trauma.) Three seconds.
The door flies open with a crack. Charring gasps in surprise, involuntarily turns his head, briefly loosening his grip. Long enough.
Sherlock struggles to free himself, rams his knee into Charring’s gut while simultaneously twisting his arm until the knife drops to the ground and the moron is begging for mercy in the most pathetic way imaginable. Once Charrings legs have given out, Sherlock aims several precise kicks at his ribcage and the area of his kidneys before stepping away. Charring moves into a bent-forward position and surrenders to his dry heaves. Idiot.
“Jesus Christ, Sherlock,” John yells, hurrying past several stolen yachts, barely noticing the headless corpse on the deck of one of them. “If you ever run off without me again, I swear I’m going to kill you myself, because you’re basically asking for it.”
“Shut up, John. Hand me your phone.” Sherlock really doesn’t feel like being lectured on safety right now.
“I already bloody called Lestrade,” John snaps impatiently, his eyes widening as he notices the blood soaking through Sherlock’s clothes. “Hang on, what happened to your arm? You’re… Sherlock, you’re bleeding.”
“Yes, I am. Your powers of observation never fail to underwhelm me. Now, would you kindly be a bit more convenient and hand me the damned phone?”
“Nope.” John makes his way up to Sherlock, manhandles him out of his suit jacket and straightforwardly tears his shirt sleeve apart to get better access to the cut. Sherlock sighs dramatically when John starts to examine it.
“Right. S’not as bad as it looks.” John finally announces, sounding oddly relieved. “No trip to A&E, but you’re going to need stitches. We can do that at home.”
Charring stirs a bit on the floor and John gives him another kick for good measure, glaring down at him like he’s the scum of the earth personified.
It hits Sherlock (without warning, as always) that he loves this unassuming and infinitely brave man so much, that, even though every part of his body hurts, he feels like he’s going to explode from the red-hot sensation inside his chest cavity.
Lestrade turns up about five minutes later, along with a few officers. Charring (who is definitely going to betray his employer as well as his fellow henchmen, the coward) is taken into custody. Sherlock pretends to be texting someone (while in reality he has no reason to use John’s phone at all, he’s just being decidedly stubborn and proving a point), and waits for everything to be over.
Lestrade, annoying as he is, has questions. John informs him that Sherlock is in need of medical attention which he is inclined to provide in the foreseeable future, and that due to this fact they are unable to a stay any longer. Lestrade merely sighs and lets them go.
Half an hour later, Sherlock is sitting on the lid of the loo in the safe shelter of their bathroom and John is busy tending to his wound.
“Hold this,” he orders, handing Sherlock a roll of dressing material and a tube of ointment.
“You know what pisses me off?” John asks, sounding a bit more furious than Sherlock would prefer. He was silent during the whole cab ride, and Sherlock’s reflection on possible reasons has yet to be conclusive.
“It pisses me off that after everything we’ve been through you still think you can run off and get yourself killed without even asking me if I’m okay with it.”
John disinfects the area of Sherlock’s wound, then proceeds to open the little package with the sterile surgical needle. Sherlock grits his teeth as the sharp piece of metal pierces his flesh.
“Are you trying to tell me that I need your permission to die?”
“You’re completely delusional.”
“Yes, I probably am. And you’re the most selfish, arrogant prick I have ever met, and you're all I bloody have, so would you kindly consider thinking about me for an instant?”
Sherlock jerks in spite of himself, blinking rapidly, not knowing what to say. John has his arm in a death grip while stitching him up.
“Sherlock, I’ve watched you throw yourself off a building…”
Unbelievable. Sherlock huffs in exasperation. “For God’s sakes, John, not that again! I said I’m sorry, remember?”
“Yes, you fucking said you’re sorry! But for God's sakes, I spent two years convinced that I had heard the sound of your… your skull cracking open.” John pauses, swallows, squeezes Sherlock’s arm so hard that it’s beginning to hurt. “And... and everything that happened with... Mary, the baby that’s not even mine and I… Do you think that's easy for me? Do you think I can... go on as if nothing had...-” John pauses again, searching for the right words. John is much more intelligent than Sherlock has ever given him credit for, of course, but he's never been an eloquent man. (And, as it transpires, his conversation skills are not improving.) This is getting tiresome.
“Then you went and almost died on me again," John murmurs after a small eternity. "I had to watch them perform CPR on you and you weren’t responding, and...“
“That’s because your wife shot me,” contributes Sherlock matter-of-factly, and realises a moment too late that this probably wasn’t the ideal thing to say.
A vein on John’s forehead swells dangerously. He looks a lot like he’s going to punch Sherlock in the face. He doesn’t, though. He just starts to shout incontrollably. Sherlock wonders if Mrs. Hudson downstairs is already having a panic attack.
“Shut up! Fucking hell! Fuck, I... Didn’t… Didn’t you think about... for a fucking bloody second today, didn't you-“
Sherlock is on the verge of getting profoundly irritated. Really, seriously, profoundly irritated.
“Would you consider communicating like a human being?” he yells, knowing perfectly well that he is being rude and possibly a bit unfair. He finds that he doesn’t care.
“Now I have given up everything I had. Everything, do you understand? The only thing that’s left is you. Are you entirely unable to grasp that I couldn’t possibly bear losing you again, you complete and utter dickhead?”
“John, I hope you are aware of the fact that I will never ask you for permission to do anything, just because you’re emotionally compromised and under the temporary impression of being... in some way dependent on me. You should probably reconsider compensating the loss of your wife with... with something else,” Sherlock snaps and it sounds even harsher than intended.
John licks his lips. Neither of them speaks while John applies ointment and tapes Sherlock’s arm up.
“You know,” John murmurs while packing their first aid kit back together. “You’re right. Perfectly right. I’m condemned to lose every single goddamned psychopath I hold dear. What’s the sodding problem? That’s what everyone in their right mind would expect in the first place, isn’t it? Maybe I should make my peace with it. Maybe I’m not supposed to have… anyone.”
Sherlock exhales heavily, squeezing the left-over dressing material in his hand. That’s not what he was trying to convey. Because even though he may not be the right person to judge interhuman relationships, he realises that if there’s someone in the world who doesn’t deserve to be alone, it’s John.
Sherlock is just not the one to make things right. His whole life, Sherlock has never been the one to make things right. He’s a problem solver, someone who reveals secrets and uncovers the unattractive truth, who hunts people down and leaves a gigantic mess behind. He’s not someone who pieces broken people together. He would try, though, for John, if only he knew how. He would also move the sun and stars to Baker Street for John, if only he knew how.
It’s rather scary, being in love like that, but then, he’s never had a choice.
“John.” he says tentatively. “You’ll never know how wrong you are.”
Their eyes lock. Sherlock squeezes so tight that his knuckles turn white. Something in John’s eyes lights up for an instant as he begins to understand.
Anderson is on sick leave. God (i.e. abominable, destructive concept made up by lesser minds) bless the influenza virus and its ability to mutate.
He is being replaced by a young forensics technician. Said young forensics technician possesses a set of aesthetically pleasing female secondary sexual characteristics. Furthermore, she has long, slightly curly brunette hair, blue eyes and is marginally less annoying than the idiot she is currently taking the place of. She is the quintessential embodiment of John’s Pre-Mary type of woman.
Her name is Leslie, she insists on being called by her first name because we’re colleagues after all, and she has been flashing John a bright smile whenever he has turned in her direction since the moment they have arrived at the crime scene.
Sherlock isn’t even entirely sure why he despises her from the depth of his heart.
He eyes her out of the corner of his eye while carefully palpating the hem of the cotton shirt currently worn by the victim (Caleb Anthony Wilks, 37 years old, barbiturate poisoning, clearly not self-inflicted). If Lestrade stopped wasting his time with his idiotic suicide hypothesis, he would be able to concentrate for a second. What a wonderful world that would be.
Leslie runs a hand through her curls while pocketing her examination gloves, demonstratively batting her eyelashes in John’s direction.
Sherlock doesn’t approve of this.
John, meanwhile, doesn’t even seem to have noticed Leslie. He ignores her in favour of observing Sherlock. John watches him examine the corpse, smiling slightly, looking fascinated, completely in awe, maybe even more than usual. It doesn’t make any sense. It occurs to Sherlock that John has not dated any women for an unusually long period of time. He hasn’t been looking for one-night-stands, either. It’s not due to erectile dysfunction or a lack of sexual appetite. Sherlock knows that. He keeps track of John’s masturbatory habits for a reason, after all.
Be that as it may, even though Leslie is female and obviously available, John has yet to respond to her flirting. This fact is way more interesting than the frankly not-at-all-boring murder mystery in front of Sherlock, and thinking about the John/Leslie equation significantly decelerates his thought process, which is counterproductive. He needs to focus.
Sherlock regains control over himself eventually. (He does so by insulting the entire team, including John, and ordering them to shut up. Leslie looks thoroughly taken aback, everyone else just complies. Standard procedure.) Ten minutes of quiet concentration enable him to solve the goddamn murder.
He delivers his deduction (poisoned by step brother who was being blackmailed for having sex with his own sister). John calls him brilliant and incredible, and a quite agreeable fluttering spreads in Sherlock’s stomach.
“She asked me out,” John announces cheerfully when they’re seated in the back of a cab heading towards Baker Street. “while you were busy sniffing Wilks’ fingernails.”
Sherlock experiences a sensation that resembles being punched in the gut.
“Boring,” he says, not quite succeeding in sounding disinterested.
“Exactly,” John agrees. “I declined.”
The weight on Sherlock’s stomach disappears abruptly and is instantly replaced by the familiar fluttering. “Why?”
John clenches his jaw. He places his hand on the backseat, pressing his fingertips into the leather. His hand is shockingly close to Sherlock’s. John’s fingers are twitching slightly, moving closer. For a brief instant, Sherlock is almost sure he is going to place his hand on top of his own.
John exhales heavily. “Just... because?” It sounds like a question.
Sherlock shakes his head slowly, clenching his hands and turning away to look out of the window.
He could imagine things right now. Things that would inevitably turn out to be wrong. Sherlock has dared to imagine things before and it has never ended well. He won’t try this time.
He realises too late that he has already started.