Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.
Macbeth. Act 3, Sc. 2, 8-12
There is a need to breathe, even as the air is knocked from Sherlock’s lungs, even as his whole body deflates with the delightful lack of it, even as he closes his eyes to John’s face and finally realizes that there is an even greater need for the sight of him.
Sense memory tells him that the space between his teeth and lips tastes of crisp, sweet fruit, and he can smell it, but there’s only dirt and gravel in his mouth and nose, and the iron tang of blood, and the sick mouth-feel of a serpent’s false promise of all things revealed in time.
Later, alone in the morgue, he stands.
There’s a glitch, he thinks as he loosens the muscles in his abused limbs, some fatal error in his hard drive that blanks out his view-screen and, to whatever shame he has left, displays one stricken face over and over, like a virus that cannot be erased, cannot be deleted.
Molly brings him coffee – C8H10N4O2 (John) – in a polystyrene cup – (C8H8)n (John) – and then takes him home (John) for the evening.
The light is gone when Sherlock leaves a week later, and Molly (along with most of London, presumably) is still asleep, blissfully unaware that a ghost walks lost among them down orange-bathed streets, heart black and head heavy.
It is just gone four in the morning when he arrives, sore and stiff, at Mycroft’s.
It is half past when he’s let in, led to a sitting room, and made to wait, cataloguing plush chairs and polished woodwork; each item noted with one more beat of Partita on his kneecap – another virus, another bug in his system that refuses eradication, and so he succumbs to it with almost giddy abandon.
Someone offers him tea, and maybe the caffeine – C8H10N4O2 – is meant to restart his heart (John).
When Mycroft enters, plush and polished like his furniture, he says, “When you’d thought Ms. Adler had initially died, you said she gave her phone, her heart, to you for safe keeping; a bit sentimental coming from you,” so Sherlock simply says, “Watch over him,” and leaves.
He’ll work his way through the Ukraine, and Russia, and then down through China until his feet run out of land and his hands run out of blood to spill and his predator-mind runs out of prey to hunt, and he can sink into the ocean like a very tired stone and let the salt and the water scrub him clean of it all, let it wrinkle him grotesque.
And then he will wash up on the sun-baked shores of California, blank and new.
Autumn finds him with blood red leaves and blood red sunsets and blood red fingertips in Amsterdam, John’s name on his lips while some woman (waitress, two cats, takes care of autistic brother, two weeks pregnant) tells him to relax.
There is no heat in her voice or in his eyes or in the alcohol – C2H6O – on his lips and tongue, but the burn in his chest (John) will suffice to keep out the slight chill.
Plans change and he finds himself in Kiev much later than he’d anticipated, blown in on the frost-laden winds to let the snow soak up the blood (four dead, now, the easiest to track, and only two left), black cherry red and thick and scent suppressed by the cold of it.
At night, or in the early morning, Sherlock goes to bed feeling like he’s floating, suspended in the drug-like haze of bloodlust that makes him contemplate Afghanistan’s hot red sand and whether he could find a particular bit of blood, of DNA (John) in all of it to keep with him, always, in a vial around his neck, close to his heart.
He takes up smoking again, and it makes his chest ache emptily, like he’s starved for something else, something purer to fill the insides of his withering, neglected organs – and he only remembers to eat or to sleep when John’s face rises unbidden and handsomely scowling in his mind’s eye.
At the bottom of the Nanputuo Temple stairs in Xiamen, the final target falls and Sherlock does not sink into the sea, but instead phones Mycroft and just breathes into the mouthpiece for three minutes until the line goes dead.
Over a year has gone by, he’s told (debriefed) later that evening, and Mycroft has booked his flight back to London in two days time, and wouldn’t it be funny if, after all of this, the aeroplane crashed?
The woman – one of Mycroft’s – stares at him blankly when he points this out, which is a pity; John would’ve said something, would have clung to their shared dark humor like a lifeline, like new leaves in spring.
No one has ever accused Sherlock of having too big a heart, not even Moriarty, not quite; rather the opposite, in fact (heartless, soulless, egomaniacal, narcissistic, arrogant) , and yet all he can think on the long journey home is how much longer it feels now, flying through the air, than it did when he’d walked and rode over the endless expanse of land.
John is not at Heathrow when he lands, and he’s not at the flat when he walks in, and Sherlock had seen stretches of barren land blanketed in white that seemed fuller of life and optimism than this.
But Mrs. Hudson shouts, slaps him, and then hugs him tight, which is astonishingly lovely.
There is a young couple next door with a crying baby, and the father sings “Celia, don’t cry, don’t cry, Celia” like he’s on a revival tour in the West End; the baby giggles and Sherlock hates that he’s smiling even though he still can’t decide whether it’d be better if John came home or stayed away forever.
John walks in at half four.
He drops a heavy bag (his kit – Sherlock isn’t shocked that he’s able to recognize the sound so readily, but he is surprised that the detail hadn’t yet been deleted) and grabs a heavy jacket and shuffles back out, brusquely passing Mrs. Hudson in the doorway – one hand on her hip, the other clenched tight over her mouth –and lets the door slam behind him.
“He’s angry,” Mrs. Hudson says, and then, “poor dears,” and she hovers for a moment; Sherlock can feel her eyes watching him as he sits, staring blankly into the spotless, empty kitchen.
There are seventeen possible places that John might have gone, including the flat of the woman (brunette, one small dog, vegetarian) he’s not-really been seeing for the past two weeks (only two emails sent in the past four days – both only vaguely pleasant, no pictures on the laptop, open beer in the sitting room), and it never used to bother him as much as it does right now.
John returns less than two hours later (pub then, possibly with Lestrade, possibly with Stamford, most likely alone) and says, as he walks straight into the kitchen, “Will you be eating, then?”
John checks Sherlock’s eyes and mouth with a penlight after they’ve eaten leftover curry and pathetic, wilted salads, and then takes his pulse, and his temperature, and asks him how he feels, but he doesn’t really see him, as though looking at Sherlock might somehow be hazardous.
“You’ve already spoken with Mycroft,” Sherlock says, and John nods, so he doesn’t bother to fill the void growing between them with careful, delicate apologies, which means there’s really nothing left for Sherlock to do but kiss him, so he does.
Out there, in Lanzhou, the skies had opened up and the air became warm and wet until it filled Sherlock’s lungs, weighed them down with lead, and he feels a bit like this now with John pushing him away at the same time that he chases Sherlock’s mouth.
“You still left,” John says with a deep breath that takes all of the air from the room, leaving Sherlock to suffocate brokenly and barely choke out, “I know,” eyes closed tight.
There are seventeen places where John could go now – they haven’t changed from earlier (though he probably wouldn’t return to the pub) – but for some reason he doesn’t move, seems stuck to the sofa until, with a half-quirked smile in his voice, he whispers, “I think you’re supposed to bring flowers,” and suddenly they’re both laughing.
(There are ways that emotions seep through skin to appear etched in lines on a face, or take control of muscles until the arch of an arm becomes desperate in its meaning, but Sherlock thinks he has eliminated his tells, and John is sure he can’t possibly have tells if he isn’t even certain what it is he’s feeling himself, and they’re both so achingly wrong, which is a good thing because they’d never get anywhere otherwise.)
The shirt falls off of Sherlock’s shoulders, silken water movement, to land in a puddle at the ground, and his trousers – belt-heavy – collapse from around his legs; it’s a bit like shedding his skin under John’s watchful eye, a bit like becoming something new and different and terrifying.
The air had been thick and biting in Perm, and the snows deepest there (deeper than Sherlock had ever seen them before) and he thought he’d thawed out from the cold, but apparently he hadn’t, because John’s hands on his arms, neck, jaw, chest positively burn until a bit of that hidden ice melts away and then evaporates.
“Where were you?” John asks (after the treaties have been negotiated and they’ve settled, spent, for a shared pillow and duvet), and Sherlock knows that Mycroft has explained everything relevant already, so he only answers, “Too far away.”
It isn’t until he wakes up, John’s leg thrown over his own (keeping him from floating, keeping him from being torn away) and his mouth half open, that Sherlock actually begins to thaw in earnest until there’s a stream in place of the hard frost.
Four days later, John says “eat” and then “sleep,” and then, “For God’s sake, Sherlock, it’s two in the bloody morning!” and Sherlock ignores every word, and keeps them locked up somewhere inside of himself in case John is ever not there to tell him these things.
Lestrade welcomes him back, better briefed (or less invested) than John had been, but grateful and relieved all the same, and even Donovan lowers her eyes and Anderson nods, once, and Sarah looks ready to punch him and laugh (which is a rather peculiar look that she seems to have picked up from her continued friendship with John), and Mrs. Hudson (bless her soul) reminds him that he owes back rent, that it isn’t fair on poor John, the dear – and then she clasps her hands together and sighs happily, before bustling back into her kitchen to put the kettle on.
They spend three days in bed after Sherlock reestablishes himself as alive, and the proper paperwork to raise the dead is filled out, and the world is right again, and the air in John’s bedroom (their bedroom, perhaps, Sherlock muses) is balmy and humid with sex; it feels like they’ve been there a week, a month, ignoring food and sleep and social obligations, like they’re on holiday somewhere rich and tropical.
“What the bloody hell do you mean, you told Molly?”
John’s face is contorted and red – the peace: shattered – and Sherlock stares at him, terrified (not of “What will he do to me?” but “What does he do to me? What has he already done?”), and he apologizes and explains and clutches John’s hands tight in his own, remembering cold nights and hot days and blood on his hands and chemical formulas and JohnJohnJohn (“I’m sorry, I’m sorry; it had to be her, you had to believe I was dead, and I hated it, and I’m sorry” against John’s stiff shoulder, his skin there all salt and water, leaving Sherlock blank and new).
John silently disappears for a day; when he comes home, his face is drawn and pale and his eyes are wild in a way that says ‘Mycroft,’ and he sinks at Sherlock’s feet, looks up at him, and says, “Oh God, what did they do to you?” which Sherlock assumes means that he’s forgiven.
Sherlock Holmes has cried (legitimately) six times in his entire life: when he was three and his pet mouse had died; when he was eight and his father had left them; when he was sixteen because he was sixteen and tired of it; when he was twenty and Mummy almost died; when he was almost thirty-five and standing atop the roof of an historic hospital; and now, at almost thirty-six, with John holding his head against his chest and meticulously washing the blood from his hands.
“You’re home now,” John murmurs, “I’m here,” and these are all obvious statements because Sherlock knows that this is their flat, and John’s presence is obviously apparent, and redundantly stating these facts shouldn’t be as comforting as it actually is.
Time passes and brings with it a cold snap and the seasonal scent of pine-and-holly; the BBC says record lows (somewhere around -5), and snow, and it’s strange how Sherlock still feels thawed and loose in the middle of December, with only phantom tendrils of a distant cold sneaking in to be banished by warm eyes and hands and lips.
Two years ago, they all stood here, in this room, but something drastic has changed; Molly bounds in smiling and hugs Sherlock tight (and then Mrs. Hudson, and then John, and then Lestrade) and passes out gifts that are all similarly wrapped, and Sherlock stands behind John, hand comfortably on his shoulder, and Lestrade helps Mrs. Hudson bring in two platters of crackers and cheese and pickles and cakes – and there is still some blood on Sherlock’s hands, stuck permanently around the cuticles and the dry patches of his knuckles, but this same room, this same flat, is very different, very much more, from the wood and paper and paint it used to be…and a bit of permanent staining on his skin is a reasonable price to pay.