before I remember
Sherlock is staying in a place he does not think John, his brother, or an unfortunately nosy Lestrade would ever think to look for him: a small, hideous Tudor cottage in Guilford, outrageously overpriced for a weekly stay. The interior is fitted with every technological creature comfort man has yet invented, though he uses only the teakettle and, with reluctance, the six-headed shower that is simply too appealing to avoid on principle.
Mycroft, Lestrade, and John do not associate him with creature comforts, nor the countryside, nor pretentious, well-to-do towns in Surrey, which is precisely its appeal. He can be in London relatively swiftly, he can slip away elsewhere with ease, and the wealthy sods have some of the fastest broadband in the county.
He doesn't sleep. Not that he ever slept much anyhow, there were always far more interesting things to be doing even in a boring world rather than look at the inside of his eyeballs and count the nanoseconds of his mortality away. No, in Guilford he builds himself a murder board, the sort of thing they do on the many copper shows John liked to watch after a shift at St Bartholomew's that speaks more to the inability of the character's mind to organize itself than any real tool. But Sherlock has time, an awful stretch of unbroken time, and he has not yet been able to convince himself to make for the continent and find some tangled skein of Moriarty's to unwind.
Until his subconscious delivers its theory to his rational mind, he builds a murder board.
At the center, Moriarty, and careful pushpin-and-string links to all the terrible acts committed in or because of his name.
Perhaps seeing it laid out will provide some banal insight. Or perhaps it will only remind him of John's beer-and-Law and Order routine. Sherlock winds the string around his thumb until it turns faintly blue.
middle of the night
It is difficult to lurk outside a second-story flat, but Sherlock manages.
The key is to befriend the elderly lady down the road and across the street, Mrs. Nakamura, by bringing her pastries and allowing her to chatter on endlessly about things of little consequence. It is thus easy to mount and position a telescope to view directly into their flat at 221B, through the dirty panes with the malfunctioning blinds.
John does nothing of interest, apart from the two times he has wept silently in the dark and the one time he had fucked some nameless girl in the kitchen without closing the curtains. Sherlock watches him religiously nonetheless, his cheeks slightly flush with involuntary arousal, the rare crinkle of his eyes when Mrs. Hudson elicits a small smile or minor laugh, the bend of his previously well-postured shoulders. Sherlock is not so mad as to write John's every twitch and flinch down on Mrs. Nakamura's floral shopping list paper, but there are moments when he is tempted, and that is emotion enough.
Three months into his vigilance, Sherlock takes the copy of Mrs. Nakamura's key he made and slips into her flat. She is snoring, insensate, in the bedroom and he is as quiet as wishes to be.
John is sitting at his computer, typing, and Sherlock watches the soundless tapping of his fingers against the keys. After a few moments he pauses, his hands falling to the table, clenching in fists much like his jaw. John looks for one moment in the direction of Sherlock's bedroom, and Sherlock shudders with what he thinks must be grief.
He takes the train to Paris that morning.
to the kitchen, smiling
There are a lot of drugs.
He does not need to list them all, though he could if he wished. Pills and papers, pipes and plastic cups. John would call him a proud man, but Sherlock has never thought so of himself. Heaving the contents of his stomach in the back of some club in Berlin, Sherlock thinks he never much cared for other people's opinions of him. Nonetheless, when he has cleaned himself up and is looking out on the watery city night from his hotel window, he wonders if having John's opinion of him was worth the trouble.
He knows the answer, of course, but leaves the question anyway.
"John," Sherlock says, watching the play of shock and emotion across John's face with desperate relief, "I'm sorry."
John thrusts his hand out, as if to repel Sherlock backward while checking that Sherlock is real both at once. Sherlock steps into it, and the gasp of John's breath sends a line of fire through Sherlock's body.
"I'm sorry," he says again, but John is unseeing, unhearing, as if he can't believe Sherlock is there.
The side effect of staging one's own death, Sherlock thinks. When one is too talented at it, one's reappearance is a matter of concern and disbelief.
Sherlock is shaking with release and want, and John is shaking too. Sherlock raises his left hand, uncurls his fingers from their fist, and places it carefully over John's own hand. John is warm to the touch, callous rough and fingers thicker than Sherlock. Sherlock wraps his fingers around John's in an awkward hand-hold, feeling the tremors John is trying to suppress.
With more care than Sherlock had ever bothered to show before, he brings John's hand away from his chest and up to his lips, pressing lips to hand. There's the smell of hand sanitizer and latex gloves, the feel of clean, cut nails and warm skin. John lets out a low noise, and Sherlock says "I'm sorry," again. The degree to which he means it threatens to undo him.
I smell coffee
In the morning, Sherlock is sitting at the kitchen table when he hears John wake on the couch in the living room. There is a clatter of footsteps, and Sherlock meets John's eyes when he nearly skids through the door frame.
"You're not dead," John says, and Sherlock says, "No."