No one John Watson tells seems surprised when he says that he's moving out of Baker Street and into his own place. He's spent an agonizing month maneuvering carefully through the flat he can't quite believe he doesn't share anymore. Everyone nods, and their eyes are full of infuriating kindness--he's so tired of having that conversation--so John just tiredly returns their tight-lipped smiles. He'd called in favors to get the place at a price he can afford (there were still a few people who felt they owed him and his previous flatmate, even after all that's happened) and everyone tells him it's a great idea. His therapist is adamant. A change of scenery will do him good.
His new flat is different to Baker Street: all new furniture, tall ceilings, bare white walls. When the movers have gone, he sits on the brand new sofa and just stares at the wall. He knows that new places never immediately feel like they're yours, but it's shocking to him how much this doesn't feel like home.
He sends a text to everyone in his address book: "I have moved. Here is my new address." Then, a single text a half hour later, almost furtively: "Mrs Hudson can't bring herself to let the old place again. Your things are all still there." He gets no response and deletes it from his sent messages, feeling stupid.
John thinks he's doing better after a while, he honestly believes it and even tells his therapist so. He starts volunteering at the hospital. He travels to see his sister. He even goes on one slightly disastrous date. It doesn't hit him until his new neighbors find him with an untouched cup of tea opposite him on the table and ask if he's expecting someone that he realizes that he's been lying to everyone, himself included. The table's set up for two people; he's using half of the refrigerator; there's an armchair in the front room he's never even sat in; the spare bedroom is arranged just so. To cover up his discomfort and the hard little lump that's building in his throat, he repeats the question back to them: "Am I expecting someone?" His voice sounds more normal than he'd hoped.
The neighbors are a young couple, a nurse and his pretty wife. John had been terse but friendly when they rang the bell. He'd invited them in to sit; he gets so few visitors. "Yes, it looks like you're expecting someone, unless you intend to just slide around the table and drink that second cup of tea yourself," the woman responds.
"Amy," the man admonishes quietly.
John struggles for a second to figure out how to answer the question. Then he thinks: Sod it, these people are strangers and I am definitely not going to the party they've come to pity-invite me to, and he clears his throat and tries to explain. "Yes. Well, sort of."
The neighbors exchange a look.
"I have this friend," John begins, and he notices the present-tense verb and files it away for dealing with later, "He's very clever, but he's always had a...tenuous grasp on things like social conduct and punctuality. He wouldn't admit it, but he needed somebody to look after him, and for a while, that was me. And then one day he's just...gone, and even though I haven't seen him in ages and really shouldn't expect to..."
"You set a place for him, just in case," the young woman interrupts.
John barely notices the interruption, just continues. "We shared a flat--not this flat, just a flat--and when I made tea, I made it for both of us. And today I accidentally made him tea. I couldn't tell you how long I've been doing that; I honestly don't know. I guess I just expect him to show up at any time." He trails off, looking up and away from his neighbors, taking a deep breath and trying not to think about the day at the cemetery, when he begged his friend to stop this. There's a part of John Watson, the one the therapist is slowly trying to rid him of, that is sure his friend had heard. "Because it's hard to believe he's ever going to stop being there, no matter what people say."
He looks back to the neighbors now. He expects pity, confusion, kindness: the typical reactions, the looks that say he's crazy but he's grieving and so they're going to give him room to come to his senses. Instead, the husband is staring at him like a kindred spirit and the wife isn't looking at him at all. "Then, when you're not supposed to expect him back, you still do," she finishes quietly, staring at the cup of tea.
At one point, the therapist had asked John what emotions he'd been feeling since that day outside St. Bartholomew's. Joy hadn't even made the list. Now, he feels a surge of it as the woman looks up at him and says plainly, "He'll be back, you know."
"You don't even know who he is," John responds, a surprised chuckle escaping his throat.
"Maybe not, but we know the type," the man says, his voice sympathetic. He exchanges a look with his wife again; this time, they smile at each other.
"Dr. Watson," the young woman says firmly, "We always set an extra place at dinner for our friend, just in case he shows up. Tonight, Doctor, you're coming to dinner, and you're going to tell us all about your friend."