He stands in the doorway, arms wrapped as tightly around John as he can manage. He feels the needle tracks twinging in protest but he ignores it, just holding him, holding him because if he doesn’t he’s afraid John will hurt himself: throw himself out the window, claw his eyes out, give himself a heart attack, because John is still babbling wildly against his shoulder and the heartbeat that Sherlock feels against his chest is hammering and erratic and out of tune with his own in a way that it had never been before.
He mumbles things in John’s ear, inane things, things that mean everything and at the same time mean nothing because he’s not even sure that John can hear him. Sherlock has come back into his life like a ghost and perhaps that’s what John thinks he is, maybe that’s why those strong arms are pushing against his narrow chest and maybe that’s why John keeps saying no, and that’s exactly why Sherlock keeps talking because if John says no then it’ll be Sherlock who’s losing his mind.
“I know I’ve been gone, John,” he hears himself saying, “I know I’ve been gone, I know it’s seemed like forever for you. I know, but I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.” He buries his lips into John’s soft, sandy hair, his own mind so aflame with thoughts he can’t direct and feelings he can’t understand. John is still shoving against him and it hurts, it hurts like it did that day on the rooftop when he looked down and saw John’s lips creating the intimate shape of his name.
It had been that—his name out of John’s mouth, his name in a scream, his name in anguish, wrenched from John’s chest with his heart—that convinced Sherlock that what he was doing was the right thing. As John’s mouth and voice and soul screamed out to him Sherlock was thinking only of John, John who loved him, John who took care of him and laughed with him and never told him to piss off. It was John who deserved life, and Sherlock gave it to him as he plummeted downward, knowing John would see nothing but a blur of motion and then him on the ground with a pulse tricked into nonexistence.
“You were dead, you great fucking git, dead, goddammit and goddamn you!” John brings him back to now, shoving hard. The heels of his hands thrust sharply into Sherlock’s sternum, forcing the breath out of his lungs and forcing him to let go of John. He lets go because he has to, because he can’t breathe, because John’s mouth is wrapping around his name again and this time he can hear it and feel it instead of just see it: all the love and hate and anguish and confusion. It’s all there as John’s voice breaks over the sound of Sherlock’s name.
“Sherlock,” he says, and then brings one trembling hand to cover his lips, turning his ragged breathing into something harsh as his chest heaves. “Sh-sherlock…”
Sherlock stands straight, his breath flowing back into his chest as John breathes his name into the palm of his shaking hand like it’s a secret he wants to keep. Sherlock can’t speak, can’t talk, can’t grab any of the racing thoughts in his brain to bring them to his lips because everything in there is either a meaningless, clinical deduction about John that his mind has made out of sheer habit or something so terrifyingly emotional that there are no words in any language Sherlock knows that could even begin to encompass it. He stands stuck in no-man’s land where he’s hardly ever been and the only word he can force from his lips is John’s name in a broken and shuddered whisper.
“Bloody…” John drops his hands to his sides and then doesn’t know what to do with them. Sherlock watches as he closes them into fists and then opens them up and then closes them again, more mindless observations, more mindless data that Sherlock can never, ever shut off.
“Why, Sherlock?” John finally asks, looking up at him with eyes that are all pupils blown wide and tears that don’t fall. “You…I can’t…dead, you great fucking bloody…three years, dead, I was so alone—“
And it’s there that Sherlock breaks, because he can’t hear that again, can’t hear it on this side of three years with the dead men behind him and John alive in front of him. He can’t hear it without hating himself, because he’d given John misery and isolation, hell and heartache when he’d given him his life. It was a broken gift but the best he could do.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and the words are more than inadequate. They are useless, inconsequential, dust in a gale and teardrops in the ocean, and Sherlock says them again. “I’m sorry, John. I’m so…I’m so sorry. There was no way, no other way, I swear to you. If there had been, don’t you think I would have taken it?”
“I don’t know,” John says, and scrubs a hand down his face. “I don’t know, I don’t know, just…why, Sherlock? Goddammit, why, it’s the only word in my fucking brain besides your name so why?”
“So you could live,” he answers. “So you could be alive, John, so I could go into hiding and kill the bastards that had you and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson in their sights. So I could know that you were still alive and well and breathing and being, and so maybe one day if I didn’t actually die, I could come back and…and see you again.”
He’s sinking down the wall now, too exhausted to hold himself up anymore. The cocaine crash is creeping into his abused veins, his mind is spinning in circles of too much information and he looks up at John’s lips and wants to feel them breathe his name against his own. He wants to mumble John’s name as he kisses him and gives him all that he felt up there on that edge when he took the step. He knows his thoughts aren’t making sense, knows that he’s more open and vulnerable and exposed than he’s ever allowed himself to be, and he doesn’t care. Still he buries his face into his hands, because he knows John doesn’t want to look at him.
So when he feels the warmth of John’s fingers closing around his wrists, feels John pulling his ghostly hands away from his haggard face, he’s expecting to be punched. He already knows that it’s what he deserves, but no blow lands and he opens his squinted eyes to find John kneeling between his legs, holding Sherlock’s limp hands in his own. John’s hectic eyes are flowing tears and his lips are parted as if he wants to speak but can’t grab the words. The air around them is suddenly thick with potential. Looking into John’s eyes is like looking over an entirely different kind of precipice, one that promises to give instead of threatening to take. Sherlock doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t even blink his eyes as John touches their foreheads together, one hand curling behind Sherlock’s head into the disarray of his curls. It isn’t until John whispers Sherlock’s name soft against his lips that he dares to move.
“John,” he breathes. “John.” And then there is no need for the words that neither of them can find.