The linoleum in the clinic is a revolting shade of pea-soup green. It's peeling up under the desk, and John keeps catching the curling edge with his shoe. He's been working here for a few weeks, the hours are horrid and the environment is revolting. It pays just enough to cover the rent on the cheap bedsit he moved the bare minimum of his possessions to a while back. Baker Street is still full of the signs of his life - their lives - and he can't bring himself to go back and clear the rest out. Mrs. Hudson's told him not to worry, someone (and here John can only assume Mycroft, because who else would do it?) has paid the rent through the end of the year.
He brings his mind back to the present, buzzing in the next patient. This is his life now; an endless stream of runny noses and embarrassing social diseases. The most exciting thing to happen recently was the man who came in coughing up blood and turned out to have a pushpin wedged in his oesophagus. John tells himself repeatedly that he likes the insipid sameness of it all. John knows he's lying.
For a while, he tried selling his stories to any medium that he thought might accept them. Print, radio, online. Tried to clear Sherlock's name. He sold a few, at first, but his elation at the idea of setting things right vanished as soon as he saw what they'd done - edited the pieces to make them sound as though he were a victim in all this, a deluded idiot with Stockholm Syndrome, taken in by the fraudulent detective. He bought every issue of the filthy rag he could find at all the news-stands between work and home, and burned them in an empty bin in an alley.
Every so often, he goes out for a few pints. He's not trying to pull, but something about him must scream lonely, tragic figure because plenty of women, and more than a few men, have thrown themselves at him. At first, he'd head back to their flat, and after a bit of sloppy snogging, things would start to get serious. Inevitably, something would remind John of him. The way a dark curl of hair hung just so, a certain smirk on a pair of enviably full lips, a sharp cheekbone casting a dramatic shadow. And just like that, he'd feel himself going limp. Then came the series of awkward apologies; I'm tired, I've had too much to drink. The responses varied from understanding sympathy to snide mockery, and on one memorable occasion, an offer of some off-label Viagra clone, declined with an awkward stammer. Eventually he stops engaging people at the pub, and soon enough the patrons learn to leave him alone.
He meets Greg for lunch a couple of times. He's been demoted since the... incident, and he's got a fair bit of free time lately. At first, it's not so bad, sharing that awkward companionable silence before they catch up. Eventually, unavoidably, the conversations turn to Sherlock. Always Sherlock.
"I miss him too, John. Maybe it'll do you some good to talk about it."
"Thanks for lunch, Greg. I've got some errands to run."
Not long after that, he stops calling. John doesn't really mind.
The marble of the stone is cool and smooth against John's cheek; a sharp contrast to the hot, tight tracks of the tear that slides down his cheek, catching him by surprise. He jerks a little as he feels a solid hand on his shoulder. He didn't hear anyone come up behind him – Mycroft then, only a Holmes could sneak up on him like that.
"Not now, Mycroft. I just need to be alone today."
The elder Holmes, no, the only Holmes, John finds himself thinking, merely tightens his grip on John's shoulder. Irritated, John wipes his face with the back of one hand and lifts himself gingerly from the ground, dusting the dirt from his knees. His joints crack and ache, and he finds himself realising how much he's aged these past few months.
He turns, ready to give Mycroft a piece of his mind, and comes face to face with the ghost who's haunted him every minute of every day since... John still can't bring himself to put it into words. He takes a step back, his eyes roaming over that thatch of rich curls, those ethereal eyes, those damned cheekbones. He steps back, leaning against the grave for support. His knees feel like jelly.
Sherlock takes a step forward, closing the gap, and smiles. That rare, genuine, heart-breaking crooked little smile of his.
John tries to skitter further backwards, away from the apparition that seems all too real. He's stuck, his back pressed against the grave marker. Sherlock drops to his knees, the look on his face one of utter repentance and heartbreak. Tentatively, he reaches out to John, who fists the lapels of Sherlock's great absurd coat and pulls him close. Suddenly, John is crying in earnest now, deep wet sobs wracking his body. He thinks dimly that he should be ashamed of himself, but can't bring himself to care. Let anyone who sees him think he's mourning the loss of a loved one.
It's then that he realises it, that's exactly what he's doing. Not once did he grieve properly for Sherlock, not once did he well and truly let himself believe that he was gone. Now, faced with irrefutable proof that the man did survive, it's as though the moorings around John's heart have come loose, and it's rattling around in his chest. He gasps in one shuddering breath and tries to compose himself.
"Sherlock." He gasps, hands still balled up in the fabric of the taller man's coat. If he lets go, Sherlock will disappear again.
"Sherlock." John pulls himself up into a standing position, dragging Sherlock with him.
"Sherlock." He keeps saying it, repeating his name like an incantation.
Finally, slowly, John feels himself coming back down to earth. He opens his mouth to say something. To start yelling. Crying again. He's not even sure. Closes it again. Before he has a chance to figure it out, Sherlock's pressing his lips against the side of John's mouth, hesitatingly at first. When John doesn't pull away, Sherlock drags his mouth gently across John's, lining their lips up with infuriating precision, as if he's done this a million times before.
John feels the fight draining out of him, the emotional tension of the past few months sliding off his back like a heavy, wet blanket. He loosens his death grip on Sherlock's coat, flattening his hands across the man's broad, flat chest. He's about to push him away when he realises he's already kissing back. Drinking him in like a man possessed, water after months in the desert. Minutes, hours, years later, they pull apart, gasping for breath. Somehow, the look on Sherlock's face is enough of an apology for the betrayal, the anguish he's caused John.
There's a strange sensation spreading across John's face, it takes him a moment to realise he's forgotten what it feels like to smile properly. The kind of smile that brings the crows' feet out around his eyes, creases up his forehead. The kind of smile he hasn't had need for since...
"Come home, you idiot."
"Yes, John. Yes."