John stands outside 221B Baker Street and takes a deep breath. He drops the keys three times before he finally gets the door open and practically runs up the stairs.
“Sherlock!” he calls. “Sherlock, you here?”
John dumps his bag on the sofa and hunts around the flat. Sherlock’s room is quiet and empty, as is his own. He calls downstairs to Mrs. Hudson, but she must be out. The dark and the quiet start to prickle in his belly. He knows that Sherlock’s just off somewhere sulking, knows he hasn’t been captured, knows he isn’t off sacrificing himself again, but…
“Hello, Greg? Hi, it’s John. I was just – well, I was wondering if Sherlock’s with you.”
“Hi, John. Actually yes, though I seem to have lost track of him at the moment. Are you home early, then?”
“Oh, well, it’s just… Sherlock said that he wasn’t going to be available when you came back. Made a bit of a point out of it. Said something about needing to be there. Wasn’t really clear on why, but… I guess he kind of forgot. Well, you know how he gets.”
Lestrade thinks that Sherlock forgot about John coming home in the excitement of a new case. John suspects that there’s another reason Sherlock isn’t here waiting for him, and that he knows what it is.
“Ah, right. Well, it’s no big deal. So… where are you?”
Two hours later, John finds himself pounding down a dark alley after Sherlock’s billowing coat, panting hard and wishing desperately for his gun. He’s rounding a corner, so close, just about to catch up with Sherlock when something hits him hard from behind and everything goes dark.
* * *
The first thing that he’s aware of is the pain. John feels it, but he doesn’t move yet. Too disoriented. He opens his eyes, and blinks hard at the piercing light.
“John! John, do you hear me!”
Blurry shapes form above John’s head, but they refuse to resolve into an image. He tries to shake his head; tries to say “no”, because he understands what the question really is. A groan slips out of his throat instead, and long fingers slide under his shoulder.
“Sherlock, you can’t move him,” an anxious voice says. John’s awake enough that he recognizes it as Lestrade. “He might have a neck injury. Gotta wait for the paramedics.”
“No,” John croaks, and this time he hears the words leave his mouth. “O… okay.” He wants to say more, but he still can’t quite see, and isn’t really sure what’s going on. But he is sure that his neck is fine. His head, on the other hand, might actually be split in half.
“Oh, thank God,” Lestrade says. “Glad you’re with us, John. See, Sherlock? He’s fine. He’s fine.”
John blinks hard and focuses, and finally colors and shapes align and he can see the two men hovering over him. Lestrade has his hands on his hips, a relieved smile is tugging at the corners of his mouth, and he’s looking off to the side. John looks too.
Sherlock – damn, it’s been awhile since John’s seen him, and a warm feeling of familiarity and something more unfamiliar settles in his stomach even as his head pitches in pain – is staring at him, blue eyes wide and mouth slightly open, and possibly even more deathly pale than usual. His fists are clenched so tightly at his sides that John’s sure he’s going to start bleeding in a moment.
“Hey,” John tries to brush off the dizziness and confusion, “Hey, it’s fine. Don’t…” he gestures towards Sherlock’s hands.
John sits up, despite Lestrade’s protests, and gingerly touches the back of his head. Yep, nasty blow. His hand comes away bright red. Well, head wounds do bleed a lot. John’s just grateful not to be seeing gray matter.
Sherlock makes a strangled noise and John tilts his chin to grin and tell him that it’s really nothing, but when he looks up all he sees is a blur of dark curls. Then a weight – shoulders – hits John’s torso (flare of pain ohgodohgodohgod), long arms wrap around his waist, and John looks down in blurry shock at the top of his flatmate’s head. Because Sherlock Holmes is kneeling next to him and his face is buried in John’s chest.
And John thinks that he can actually hear the small, fragile wonderings of the past week collapsing. How could he ever have been so… The two of them are far too messy and broken and there simply isn’t time with all the not dying they have to do.
Sherlock mumbles something into John’s chest, and John’s pretty sure it’s his name.
“Christ,” Lestrade sums up. John rests a tentative hand on Sherlock’s back, and a far-off corner of his brain is amazed that he’s holding up this well. It’s for Sherlock, of course. Even in the current painful tumult of his brain, John knows without question that Sherlock needs him to be okay right now. So he will be okay.
“Sherlock,” he says, his voice a dry rasp. “Sherlock, it’s alright. I’m fine.”
“No, John.” Sherlock’s fingers dig into his waist, but his voice is steady. “No, it is not fine.”
In a fluid, graceful motion that belies the urgency of his previous actions, Sherlock draws back from John and looks him in the eyes (probably checking for signs of concussion). For a few seconds his hands rest on John’s legs, and for the briefest of moments – so swiftly that John isn’t even sure it really happens – he touches his forehead to John’s.
Then he’s on his feet and the paramedics are here and Sherlock is pouring information down the ears of an EMT who rolls her eyes and begins the standard procedure for blunt-force-trauma victims. Sherlock whirls away in a swirl of long limbs and dark coat, purposefully walking somewhere. And Lestrade is still goggling.
“Christ,” he repeats in a mutter when the EMT finally lets John sit in peace. “Never thought I’d see that.”
“What, me taking a blow to the head?” John gives him a weak smile. “Can’t have much imagination, then. Most people assume I’ve already had a few to willingly live with Sherlock.”
Lestrade shakes his head, deadly earnest in spite of John’s feeble attempts to lighten the mood. “No, him. Sherlock… like that.”
“Well.” John is out of his depth and confused and concussed, dammit, and people should really just leave the awkward conversations until he can handle them a bit better. “I suppose it was a bit of a shock to him after everything that happened.” His throat tightens at the thought. “Be like it happening twice.”
John and Lestrade have never really talked about Sherlock’s fall; they fell immediately out of touch once it happened and when Sherlock came back, they resumed their working relationship with an easy camaraderie that willfully ignored all the hard times that had gone on in between.
John had thought they could avoid this conversation altogether. But it’s looking like maybe not.
Lestrade rakes his fingers through his silver hair and stares at the ground.
“Know you got on okay, but it must’ve been hard,” he says roughly. “For him, too. You didn’t see… I knew you were probably okay, but I don’t think he did. He looked like he was watching something he’d been waiting for. Looked a lot worse than you did.” Lestrade pauses and there’s a twitch of a policeman’s grin, all sleepless nights and gallows humor. “And let me tell you, you look bloody awful.”
Maybe it’s the suddenness, or the concussion, or the gnawing feeling of watching Sherlock storm away, but John finds himself being honest without meaning to.
“Don’t know if okay’s the word,” he admits. “I got on alright with work, and talked to people, and all… But it was like, I don’t know, watching things go by. Everything went gray. Sort of pointless.”
Lestrade’s face is intent and serious, and John ducks his head, ignoring the pain that spikes through his skull at the motion. This is the most he’s talked to anyone about the time without Sherlock, and he’d be quite alright if this was the most he talked about it ever.
“Look, John…” Lestrade shifts his weight from foot to foot and looks down at the ground. Then he steels himself and looks John dead in the eyes, because he’s about to say something difficult, and Lestrade is both a brave man and a good one.
“Now that he’s back, now you know he’s okay and it’s not weighing on you, maybe this would be a good time to get some distance. Move out; get a wife; start a family. I know you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie but there’s theme parks for that, aren’t there, and this arrangement you’ve got going with Sherlock, well, it can’t last forever… can it?”
If this was too much before, it’s about to short-circuit John now. Like any good Englishman, he detests emotions and prefers a healthy dose of denial and tea. But it seems like the universe is insisting on him confronting all his demons in one fell swoop.
John opens his mouth to respond and then his mobile beeps. He snatches it out of his pocket and stares at it gratefully.
8:26 PM: I am afraid that you are going to have to move out. This association is becoming burdensome to me and affecting my work. I do apologize, John, but I hope that you understand. You may come by in the morning and pick up your belongings. SH
“Is that…?” Greg cranes his neck toward John and John just flips the phone so the D.I. can see it. He wonders if he ought to be more annoyed that his phone is rapidly becoming public property.
“Ah.” A meaty hand settles on his shoulder. “Sorry about that, mate. Maybe it’s just as well.” John nods and Lestrade walks off toward Donovan with one last sympathetic look.
John stares at his phone for a long time before typing one word and hitting “send”.
8:40 PM: Okay.