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...Abetted by the war was a major outbreak of witchcraft persecutions. This violent wave of witch-hunting first erupted in the territories of Franconia following the first phase of the war. However, the hardship and turmoil forced on the population by the conflict enabled the hysteria to spread quickly to other parts of Germany. Residents of areas that had been devastated not only by the conflict itself, but also by the numerous crop failures, famines and epidemics that came with it, were quick to attribute these calamities to various supernatural causes. In this tumultuous and highly volatile environment allegations of witchcraft against neighbors and fellow citizens flourished. The sheer volume of trials and executions during this time would mark the period as the peak of the European witch-hunting phenomenon. The persecutions began in the Bishopric of Würzburg then under the leadership of Prince-Bishop Phillip Adolf Von Ehrenberg. An ardent devotee of the Counter-Reformation, Ehrenberg was eager to consolidate Catholic political authority in the territories he administered. Beginning in 1626, Ehrenberg staged numerous mass trials for witchcraft in which all levels of society, including the nobility and the clergy found themselves targeted in a relentless series of purges. By 1630 it is estimated that 219 men, women and children were burned at the stake in the city of Würzburg itself, while elsewhere an additional 900 people were believed to have been killed in the rural areas of the...

John pushed the laptop off of his legs, not bothering to read the rest. He had been reading about the Thirty Year War, and could only take so much tiny Wikipedia print before his eyes began to hurt tremendously. The doctor passed a hand over his exhausted face before hauling himself to his feet and trudged slowly to the kitchen to make himself of tea.

It was well past one in the morning on a Saturday, and John was having trouble sleeping. He had been having issues for quite a few weeks now, but since he was on leave from surgery and made a point to not let anyone see him, it's not like he needed sleep. He wasn't tired. From the desk in the corner of his small flat, he briefly glanced up at a newspaper clipping he had tacked up on the wall, but quickly turned his back on the cold, cruel face in the photograph.

The face wasn't actually cruel. It was a friendly, familiar face that made John Watson's heart ache something fierce with rage and pain and so much love that some nights, he felt it wrapping itself around his throat and choking the life out of him. It was a face that he hated to love and loved to hate, but that the same time could not bring himself to hate. In the beginning, there were nights he'd look up into that news clipping and stare at the photograph for hours, assessing, analyzing, just wanting to feel something. Other nights, he'd get so angry and tear the newspaper down and throw it away, only to return to it ten minutes later with a calm body and shaking hands. He'd straighten it out on the desk, removing the new damage, then carefully tape it back, fingers just barely brushing over the face, as if he were afraid to hurt it. That was in the beginning. Nowadays, the news clipping stayed on the wall, untouched, just existing in the background, and some nights, John could actually pretend that the light scraping of the paper on the wall from a light breeze in the flat was actually the sounds of paper being rustled in the living room during a busy night like they used to. But it was always only a dream.

John knew he should have gotten rid of it a long time before. You'll never get better if you don't. His mind would scream at him some nights. You'll never get over him by having his face plastered on your wall. Some nights he agreed with the voice-that was so oddly similar to his-but others he'd argue it until his brain was a jumbled mess of screaming and the poor doctor could hardly think without a throb of pain. How could he get rid of it? Call it grief, nostalgia, whatever you wanted, but he needed something, just something to remind John of the once great Consulting Detective of 221B Baker St.

Sherlock Holmes was dead.

Two years earlier, after torment from the police who had begun to doubt him, the detective threw himself off of the rooftop of Bart's to his death on the concrete below. He confessed like a sinner to the doctor, who was forced to watch him fall. There were still nights that John would wake up with nightmares about that day and scream the detective's name into the empty room. There were still nights he didn't believe it was true, but it happened in front of him. He saw it happen. It still didn't seem real, even after all this time. But, everyone else had already moved on.

The kettle began to whistle and scream from the other side of the room. John, who had taken to reading a book on his bed, got up from the bed to pour his tea, when the buzzing of his mobile phone on the desk stopped him. John put the kettle aside and picked up the phone, briefly glancing at the number. It was not one he recognized, but he decided to answer anyway.

"Hello?"

"John?" Came the scratchy reply.

The blood in John's veins turned to pure ice, and he felt his knees go weak. He had to grip the desk for support. No. Not possible. He knew that deep baritone voice. He could have pulled it out of a crowd without a problem, but there was no way that that voice could be on his mobile phone at one twenty in the morning. "Sherlock..."

There was a soft noise in the background that sounded like a sniffle, as if the phantom on the phone was crying. "Hello, John."

John Watson dropped to the floor, unable to concentrate on anything. His head was spinning. He felt nauseous. He wanted to scream and weep and punch something all at once, but he couldn't even get off of the ground. He felt gravity pressing down on his chest, and it soon became hard to breathe. "This isn't real." He choked out. "I'm dreaming."

"No, John-"

"This is a trick. You're dead. I watched you fall." He shot back, although he could barely hear his own voice. John had been haunted by this before; Sherlock calling him, Sherlock showing up at his flat in the middle of the night, Sherlock coming home in general, but he was certain he was awake this time. "I'm hanging up."

"No!" The detective on the other end of the phone cried out, his voice echoing in the background. He suddenly sounded frightened, which was incredibly uncharacteristic for Sherlock Holmes (who he still didn't actually believe was speaking to him). "John, please, please don't hang up on me." He was almost begging.

John blinked, surprised by the sudden appearance of tears. He leaned back against his bed. "Sherlock." He said the name slowly, the syllables tasting like venom in his mouth.

A sad, breathy laugh came though. "Yes, it's me, John. Not dead." The detective's voice cracked.

"Prove it."

There was a pause, and the detective seemed to be trying to keep himself from crying. “Tell me how, and I will.” He answered, his voice breaking twice.

“Tell me something only Sherlock would know.”

There was another pause, followed by the sound of scuffling across dirt or gravel. “You uh… Back when we lived together, you kept a First Aid kit for me under your bed if I ever injured myself during experiments, you keep your dog tags in a lock box, there is a short story that you wrote on your laptop about a murder based on the..."

John, who was now on the verge of hyperventilating, let out a noise that was a mix of terror and relief to cut him off. “Jesus Christ, Sherlock.” He hissed, hunching over and placing his spinning head in the hand that wasn't holding the phone. “You’re…”

“Yeah. Not dead.” Sherlock finished.

Through the waves of shock and the relief, the doctor was overthrown with rage. His vision turned to red, and he couldn’t stop the furious tears that pricked and burned at his eyes. “Two years.” He choked. “Two years, Sherlock. How could you...”

He was cut off by the sound of a pained cry. “John, please, I know, I’m so sorry, I just… Look, I don’t have a lot of time, I…” He could barely get the sentence out before he sucked in a sharp breath.

John took in the sound of his voice, trying to understand what he meant without asking directly. Sherlock sounded like a terrified child with monsters under the bed. Not many things actually scared Sherlock Holmes, but yet, here he was on John Watson’s phone at half past one on a Saturday morning, and he was crying. There was something wrong.

John let out a ragged breath. “Sherlock, what do you mean you ‘don’t have a lot of time’?” He asked carefully.

“I uh… That’s a long story. To be exact, I only have three minutes.” The detective rasped.

“Three minutes to what?” John asked. When there was no answer, panic, much like the panic that coursed through him the day he found Sherlock on the roof of Bart’s, began to spread throughout his chest, leaving a tingling in his limps. “Three minutes to what, Sherlock? Where are you? Look, stay where you are and I'll come get you, whatever trouble you're in, it'll be okay, just let me help. Where are you?”

There was another shaky laugh, which was something that Sherlock never had unless he was acting. “I appreciate the sentiment, John, but I'm in Serbia.” He replied simply, although it was barely audible. “I got captured and I’m currently sitting in a holding cell that is more like an oubliette than an actual holding cell.”

John’s breathing started to increase rapidly. Sherlock Holmes was a lot of things, but sentimental was not one of them, so obviously there was more than what he was letting on. Sherlock was incredibly careful, he could fool anybody, he never made mistakes... So why call now? Holding cells were like fun little children's puzzles for him, so why call John now? He never called unless there was something terribly wrong. The last phone call he made to John was on the roof of Bart's. He wouldn't call unless he was dying. “Sherlock… Sherlock, what’s going on? What do you mean, three minutes? Tell me.”

“Well,” He cut off suddenly, as if he didn’t want to say. “I’m uh… I have three minutes until the C4 attached to my chest goes up.”

The world around John Watson shattered. Memories flashed by him over and over and over, just the fall on repeat, as if it were a skipping record. “Jesus Christ, Sherlock.” He whispered, desperation flooding his voice. No, no, no, no, no, no, not again. don't do this again. “Why are you calling me? Call Mycroft, he can help you more than I can!” He shouted, suddenly becoming the soldier on the battlefield again.

Sherlock let out a bitter laugh, and the doctor had to refrain from scolding him. “I already have. But… Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that my brother and his men will get here in time. I just…” The detective’s voice trailed off, as if the words left a bitter taste in his mouth.

John swallowed hard as he tried to rack his mind for something to say. “You called me for a reason, Sherlock. Why?” He demanded, though it came out a lot harsher than he intended.

“Because... it’s my last chance.” Sherlock replied, his voice suddenly weak. He didn’t let John say anything before continuing on. “John, I… I know you’re furious with me, and you have every right to be, I understand, I do. I am a cruel man, I’m manipulative and a terrible excuse for a friend, if you even still consider me to be one, but I only have two minutes left and-“

“Don’t.” The doctor ordered, his words coming out as a growl. “Don’t you dare say that.”

A loud, audible sob brought John to tears again as he realized the gravity of what the detective was saying. “John, please, I need to say this, just… Please, do this for me.” Sherlock begged. This wasn't a trick, this wasn't Sherlock Holmes being manipulative to get his way, this was actually happening. He was really in danger, and he wanted John to hear his final words.

The words punched a hole right through his pounding heart, but John complied. “Alright.”

Sherlock exhaled deeply, as if he were trying to compose himself. The hesitant silence made it clear that he was trying not to appear vulnerable, not because of his image, but because he knew that if John realized he was breaking down, he might run or leave him to fight on his own. Sherlock had always known what his death would do to John, and he didn’t want to destroy him twice by breaking down in their last moments. He just wanted a chance to redeem himself in John Watson’s eyes before he went up.

“John…" He began softly, unsure. "I want you to know that everything I did… I did it for you. He would have killed Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade… and you. While we were on the phone, Moriarty had a sniper aiming for your head and if I didn’t jump, that gun would have gone off, and you would have been killed. Because of me. Because I was too selfish to die for you.” He took a moment to breathe. He was beginning to breathe too quickly, which wasn't helping the situation. “He found the weakness I didn’t know I had. That day at the pool, he told me he was going to burn the heart out of me, and I didn’t understand what he meant until that day.”

John hesitated. “What do you mean?” He asked carefully, although he was certain he already knew.

"He knew how cruel it was." The detective snarled suddenly, making him flinch. "He knew how cruel it was to do that in front of you, but I had no choice. He knew how to hurt me."

"Sherlock." The doctor pressed. His head was reeling. "What do you mean?"

"You, John."

Everything came crashing down at once. The world splintered, his breathing stopped, and for just a minute, he was a deaf man. Just a magic trick. I'm a fake. Nobody could be that clever. Over and over the man's final words played through his head, and he couldn't turn it off. "You... You died for me?" He felt his heart crumble. To know that his best friend jumped off of a building for him, and was now sitting in a holding cell with explosives strapped to his chest because of him... He wanted to take every word back. He wanted to run. He wanted to smash his phone to bits and never, ever speak to anyone ever again.

But, he could never do that.

Not to Sherlock Holmes.

No matter how angry he was.

"John?" The detective whimpered in a mangled tone. "John? Come back, please?"

The doctor ran his fingers through his hair and swallowed hard. "I'm here, Sherlock." He rasped, attempting to sound strong.

He heard him breath a sigh of relief. "John... I've only got a minute left and I... I need to tell you something. I should have told you this a long time ago, although I couldn't prevent this, I just... I need you to know that I would have never left you if I had known what it would put you through... Or what it would me through. If I had a choice, I wouldn't have done it. If it hadn't been your life on the table, I would have stayed, but I had to keep you safe." Sherlock paused and took a deep breath, not even trying to hide the tears from John anymore.

The doctor was sitting against his bed, listen to Sherlock Holmes fall apart on the other end of the phone, and he couldn't even bring himself to be angry with the madman anymore. The last two years never happened. He couldn't hate Sherlock, even if he wanted to. All he wanted was to be able to tell him the truth, but they only had a minute left to be together on this Earth, and all John could ask for was another miracle. He silently begged and pleaded for someone to allow that brilliant man to live, just for him. "Sherlock..."

"If I could take everything back, the last two years, all of my mistakes... Could you come to forgive me?"

John let out a strangled laugh, as the question confused him. "You git. Of course I forgive you." He told him honestly, the emotion breaking his voice. "I'd let you do it to me a thousand times over if it meant that I could stop this." No longer able to keep the tears at bay, he let them fall and drench his cheeks.

There was another broken sob, then the scratching of something against the phone, as if he were wiping his eyes. "I'd never do it again. I'd burn down nations if it meant I could come home to you, John." Sherlock admitted sadly. "But you're safe now. That's all that matters."

Suddenly, something inside the doctor snapped. John's fist came down on the floor with enough force to leave a bruise while rage welled up behind his eyes. "No, Sherlock it doesn't work like that! You can't leave me twice, dammit, now think of something and get out of there and get your ass back home!"

"I've tried, John, but I can't disarm it. I can't do anything, I'm useless." He whispered.

John wanted to respond, but... They had less than a minute now. There was no time. If this was really their last conversation, he wouldn't spend it screaming at him. Instead, the doctor only sighed. "Why didn't you tell me before? I could have helped you." He tried to sound less angry than he actually was.

"I had to make sure you were out of harms way."

John scoffed. "I was a soldier, Sherlock." He reminded him.

Sherlock sighed. "I couldn't risk your life again."

"Why?" He demanded, a little too harsh.

Sherlock Holmes was silent for a moment, as if gaining the courage to speak. "Because I've fallen in love with you, and it's scaring me to death."

And just like that, John's voice was seized and carried far away from him as he relished in the words that had just came out of the detective's mouth. Over 1,025,109.8 words in 6,906 languages on planet Earth, and John could not think of a single thing to say. All he could do is stutter and gasp for air that was no longer available to him. "Sherlock." He choked out. It was all he could muster.

The detective sighed. "You don't have to say anything, John, I just... I just figured I'd tell you the truth before I-"

"Oh, Sherlock, shut up!" John ordered, suddenly on his feet and panicking. He quickly scrawled a text to Mycroft as he paced around the room. It was the first he'd sent in months. If you don't save him, I swear to god, I'll put a bullet between your eyes. -JW It read. He knew it would get the point across. "Sherlock, listen to me," He hissed after pressing the phone back to his ear. "I forgive you. I forgive everything that's happened, just..."

Suddenly, from the other end of the phone, he could hear loud, thundering voices, as well as Sherlock yelling in some foreign tongue that he couldn't recognize, then the line went dead.

John Watson stood frozen in the middle of the room, unable to comprehend what was happening. With trembling hands, he pulled the mobile away from his ear and smashed his thumb down on the redial button.

We're sorry, but the number you have dialed is not in service. Please--

With a mighty scream of rage and anguish, the doctor hurled his mobile across the room to the opposite wall, then turned around and punched the wall with such force that he made a crack in the drywall. He tore the room apart in a rage, screaming and cursing until he was certain that someone would hear him, but he no longer cared. Once the room was destroyed completely and he had screamed himself hoarse, John fell to his knees and pulled himself weakly to the corner of the room where he wrapped his arms around his knees and locked his eyes on the wall. He remained stationary for hours as the numbness set in again.

________________

It was well past five in the morning John Watson moved again. His phone buzzed across the tile floor one time, indicating a text message. He ignored it the first time, but when the reminder went off, he decided to check it, although he knew that it wasn't him. He pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the horrible creaking and aching of his exhausted bones as he picked the half shattered device on the floor. He had done a number on it when he threw it and he was quite surprised that it didn't break completely. John could just barely make out the text message behind the splintered glass.

There is a car outside your front door. I'm waiting. -MH

You'd better be conscious. -MH

The doctor groaned, followed by the sound of another text message.

Don't make me come get you. -MH

With a heavy sigh, John pulled on a pair of jeans and his favorite jumper, and made his way outside. The door was already open, and John slid into the car beside the elder Holmes brother, who was staring at him with a grave expression. The doctor made a point to sit as far away from Mycroft as he possibly could.

After a few minutes in silence, Mycroft looked John over, taking in every single detail about him. "You haven't slept yet." He commented, noting the deep bags under his eyes.

John hmm'd a reply.

"Your left hand has stopped bleeding, however, I suggest you clean it out."

"I honestly don't care." He snapped.

Mycroft was silent after that.

John watched the buildings on the sides of the road pass by, his mind blank. He couldn't think of a damn thing to say, not that he wanted to say anything to begin with. Although he felt that it was strange that Mycroft himself would pick him up, when he normally sent Anthea whenever he decided to kidnap him. Perhaps they were going to the grave. The thought sent an unwelcome shiver down his spine. "Where are we going?" He growled.

"I don't believe that is the only question you have for me."

Irritation flared through the doctor's bloodstream. "No, it isn't. How long have you known?" He demanded sourly, whipping around to glare at the umbrella wielding business man. "Did you know he was alive, or were you just as surprised as I was?"

Mycroft Holmes pursed his lips and shifted in the fancy leather seat. "Of course I knew." He replied simply, making John snort and turn away. "We planned everything out the day of. Up until last night, he was safely tucked away in various parts of the world tracking down the remainder of Moriarty's network."

"And why the hell did no one think to tell me?" He thundered in the man's face. "I wouldn't have needed much, just a goddamn phone call or a letter, shit, I would have been fine with a post-it note with 'Vatican fucking Cameos' written on it." John realized he was well on his way to becoming hysterical, but he didn't care. At this point, he wanted take Mycroft's stupid face and slam in multiple times into the glass window until he felt the amount pain that he had for two long years. "He was my best friend, Mycroft, I deserved to know!"

The elder Holmes brother glowered at him. "I recognize, Dr. Watson, that this is not an ideal situation, but it was necessary at the time."

"Necessary." John sneered, his voice thick with sarcasm . "So, it's necessary for you two to let me grieve over him for two fucking years, when he was actually alive, risking his life in different parts of the world? That is the most selfish-"

"Who are you really angry at, Dr. Watson?" Mycroft interrupted, his eyes boring holes through John's. "Are you angry at my brother for deceiving you? Or are you angry at me for keeping you both safe?"

John let out a bitter laugh. "Keeping us safe?" He demanded. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "He got himself blown up because of this! You call that safe?"

Mycroft hesitated. "Before he left for his mission, my brother gave me one instruction. He told me to keep you safe by all means. My little brother's infatuation with you had put you in danger. Love is such a pesky disease, isn't it?" The man smiled bitterly, obviously wanting to say more.

John swallowed hard and tilted his head downward to stare at the floor. He had lost a lot of energy by screaming at Mycroft, and when he tried to speak again, it came out as a raspy whisper. "Yes. I suppose it is." He could say nothing more.

Over the eighteen months they worked together before he died, when people talked, they often talked about John and Sherlock as a couple, and John was always quick to dismiss the claims. Admitting to being in love with your 'married to his work' flatmate was stupid and pointless, and of course, not realizing that you're in love with someone until you're standing at their grave on their birthday with flowers and the bottle of bourbon they kept in the kitchen cabinet made things harder. But those were things he'd never say out loud now.

"Where are you taking me?" John finally asked weakly.

Mycroft said nothing as the car turned down empty streets. They were reaching the countryside now, and John could see the clouds rolling in on the horizon.

John sighed exasperatedly. "Fine, either tell me where we're going, or I'm jumping out of this car."

Silence, but with a hint of unmistakable tension.

"Dammit, Mycroft, tell me..." As they rounded a corner, through the trees, John could see a military base runway, and a plane descending. His heart skipped a beat and he whipped around to face the elder Holmes brother. "Where are we?" He stuttered.

Mycroft only gave him a satisfied, one-sided grin and got out of the car. With trembling hands, the doctor pushed the door open and stood against the vehicle with his hands behind his back. His heart was racing. He wondered if Sherlock was on the plane waiting for him. In his mind, he imagined the plane landing, and the door coming down, and out would walk Sherlock Holmes with his fancy dress suit and coat, smiling as he breathed in the sweet London air, and the two of them would run to each other and have a happy reunion like it always happened in the films. But it was impossible, Sherlock had had less than a minute when they got disconnected, it would have taken a miracle for him to survive. One more miracle, Sherlock, for me.

But, if he had learned anything from being in the army, even as a doctor, it was to never put your faith in miracles. The thoughts of the gravestone came back, and John cringed. Mycroft wasn't that cruel. But... He had made no indication to let John believe that Sherlock was indeed alive and well. Maybe they were visiting a grave.

When the plane landed, the door opened, and the doctor waited anxiously to see if anyone was coming out of it. When no one did, John felt the happy, hopeful feeling that had welled up in his chest disappear. Sherlock wasn't on the plane. He felt Mycroft's hand on his shoulder. "After you, Dr. Watson."

John furrowed his eyebrows. "Where are we going?" He asked gravely.

"You'll see."

Against his better judgement, he pushed his feet forward and climbed into the plane. Mycroft sat in a seat on the other side of the isle, leaving John to himself. The doctor suddenly felt exhausted, and he leaned his head against the back of the seat, allowing sleep to take him over.

__________________

When the plane landed, John and Mycroft were huddled into another car, and were taken away from the waiting plane. Having slept through most of the flight, John had no idea where the elder Holmes brother had taken him.

"Where have you kidnapped me to this time?" He asked, his voice heavy with sleep. His slumber had been restless, filled with nightmares that he couldn't actually remember anymore, but he remembered having.

Mycroft sat back against the leather seat with him umbrella planted firmly on the car floor like a walking stick. His eyes were fixed on the window ahead, and he seemed to be paying attention to everything in his line of vision. He made no point, however, to acknowledge the doctor's question. Instead of pressing further, John gave up and decided to just watch the passing traffic.

The car pulled up outside a large, private hospital in Zürich. John's heart was already pounding when he saw the sign outside. The puzzle quickly pieced itself together in his head, and John barely allowed the car to stop moving before he kicked the door open and sprinted inside, ignoring Mycroft's protests. He was already running, passing by each room, searching for the detective. He knew his way around a hospital, and knowing the state that Sherlock was in the night before, he was more than likely in intensive care. Not bothering with the elevator, he sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time, the adrenaline already kicking in. The blood was pounding in his ears. All he could think was he's alive, he's alive, he's alive.

John finally slowed to catch his breath at the top of the staircase. He debated asking someone about Sherlock, but quickly reconsidered, knowing that he was probably here under a false name. He checked the rooms one by one until he came to a small room at the end of the hall. He took one look inside, and just like that, John's knees buckled underneath him, his chest burst, and the entire world seemed to come to a halt.

The detective hadn't changed a bit. He was lying absolutely still in a hospital bed that was elevated ever so slightly, his fingers covered in bandages and slightly curled at his sides. There was an oxygen tube in his throat, and John could see cuts and burns covering his milky white skin. His curls were matted and messy against the hospital pillows, and just above his hairline, there was a large gash that had been stitched up. He was hooked up to an IV, and John could see deep purple bruising along his forearms. Under his eyes, there were bags that indicated that he had not slept in at least a week, if not longer. He looked exhausted. The deep bags made his eyes appear to be sunken in. If it weren't for the soft beeping that indicated his heart was beating, John would have assumed that he was just a well kept corpse. He was obviously unconscious still, but he was alive.

Sherlock Holmes was alive.

John Watson had to support himself on the doorframe to keep from falling to the ground. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the detective's face. Two years. Two long years had gone past, and John could still remember every detain of his face. Two years had past, and everything had blended together. John felt as though he had aged fifty years, with his aching chest and his old limp that had returned a few months after Sherlock's death. But now, as he stared into the detective's face, it was as if none of that had ever happened.

He felt Mycroft's presence as the business man stepped into the room behind him, but he couldn't bring himself to turn around. "How?" He croaked. "How is he alive?"

"My men found him in the holding cell with thirty seconds left on the clock. They were able to disarm the explosives and complete the mission before getting him out. He had to blow the place, which he did, but unfortunately, he was caught in the after effects of the blasts, earning him some awful burns." Mycroft sighed and walked past the disbelieving doctor, who was still having trouble believing his own eyes. His hand hovered above Sherlock's arm, but he pulled away. "He's unconscious for now. There's no permanent damage, nothing that will leave him disabled for any reason, but he will need to remain in the care of a doctor for a while. I was hoping that you would be-"

"I'll take care of him." John quickly finished for him.

The elder Holmes looked up in surprise, obvious not expecting John to agree so quickly. He pulled away from the man on the bed and nodded once. "I'll leave you then. I suppose you two will have a lot to talk about." There was a touch of dark humor in his voice, and John felt himself blush a deep scarlet as he pushed past. "My brother doesn't know that we're here. I suppose that it'll be a nice surprise. I'll be downstairs if you need me." And with that, he was gone.

John Watson stood resolute in the middle of the hospital room, his eyes fixed on the broken man on the bed. His legs suddenly felt like they were made of pins and needles, and he staggered forward, watching the detective's face. He examined the damage he could see, knowing that it was probably much, much worse under the pale hospital gown he wore. He reached out gingerly to gently stroke the bruise on Sherlock's forearm, being incredibly careful not to wake him. The detective stirred and his head lulled to the side, uncovering a terrible burn right on his collarbone. John winced at the sight of it. "Idiot." He muttered, low enough so that he would not be heard. "Look at you, you peach. That's what you are, you're an incredibly bruised, idiotic peach." He cracked a smile as he reached up to brush one of the detective's curls off of his forehead. "You're in so much trouble when you wake up, you know that? Sherlock Holmes, you are in so much trouble." John felt a lump rise in his throat, and he sat down in the chair by the bedside. He kept a hand on Sherlock's arm, right on his wrist, taking his pulse. He didn't completely trust the monitor, although the reading was the same.

Once he was convinced that his heart was beating, he pulled away and continued to watch him. He had forgotten how young Sherlock looked in his sleep. Despite the damage, he resembled that of a young boy, and John couldn't stop the beautiful ache in his chest. He let out a light chuckle, still trying to keep his voice down. "You can come home, now." He whispered, the thought of it making him lightheaded with joy. "You get to come home. Now, you have no choice but to wake up. You have no choice but to wake up now, because I know you're alive. Leaving me again is not an option." He paused. "I'm still furious with you, I hope you know that." John informed the unconscious man. "That won't change any time soon. But, I forgive you."

There was no response, not even from the heart monitor.

John let out a sigh. "I know that you can't hear me right now, and frankly I don't want you to, because you I'm not good with this sort of stuff." He started to say, fighting against the lump that rose in his throat. He knew if there was a time to admit to everything, if would be right then. You don't want him to never know if he doesn't pull through. He quickly pushed those thoughts away. He couldn't even bear to think about it. "I'm angry at you, you know that. I'm angry because you lied to me, I'm angry because you deceived me for two years... But, I'm mostly angry because you never said anything to me." He paused to assess the damage on the man's body again. "Why did you never tell me where you were? I could have helped you, I could have..." His voice came out as a mangled whisper, and he tried to start over. He didn't want to cry now. "I would have helped you, you idiot. I would have done anything to help you, you know that, Sherlock, you fucking know that. You're my best friend, whether you believe it, and I would have done anything if it meant that you were alive. You're not the only one who suffered."

A single tear began to roll down the doctor's face, and instead of wiping it away, he leaned forward and lay his hand on Sherlock's arm once again. "You have to pull through now." He ordered in a soldier's tone, as he had done many times on the battlefield. "You don't get to die on me twice, Sherlock Holmes. Not after what you told me last night. We're just getting started now." John didn't even try to control the tears now. He was already a mess. "If you meant what you said, if you really, really meant it, I accept it." He let out a tired sigh. "You were better than me in the end, I suppose, you said it first. I realized the truth too late. If I had realized how much I needed you, how much I actually... loved you earlier than I did, maybe I could have done something. Because Moriarty didn't just burn you, Sherlock, he burned me too. But I realized too late, and now you're in a hospital bed, covered in bandages and plaster, and I can't do a damn thing." His voice was suddenly angry, and he had to keep himself composed enough to mask the fact that he wanted to break down completely right then. Instead, he gave the detective's hand a light squeeze, hoping to get a response. "You have to wake up, Sherlock. Don't you dare leave me now. I'm scared too, you idiot, I've fallen in love with the most insufferable, heroic, amazing man that I have ever known and I'm afraid that he's going to slip through my fingers again. Don't you dare leave me, Sherlock. Please." The words were nothing but sobs now, and the man collapsed down, head in his hands.

The minutes went by like centuries, and every passing second was a piece of John's heart being snipped away.

Then, in the quietness of the room, the doctor felt a weak squeeze at his fingers, and his head snapped up, only to lock eyes with a very pale, very tearful, very alive Sherlock Holmes. John's heart burst, his entire body feeling warm and weak with joy and all he wanted to do was cry and sing. He let out a noise that closely mimicked a whimper, and suddenly he was on his feet, leaning over the bed and holding the detective's face in his hands, cradling him there. He sent a silent thank you to anyone who was listening.

"John?" Sherlock's voice was very hoarse and barely audible, but his hands were gripping John Watson's jumper like it was a lifeline, and continued to attempt to whisper, but the words were scrambled and raspy. "John, you're-"

He was silenced by the doctor laughing at him in the most relieved, loving way. "Don't try to speak, you git." He whispered through his tears as he again held Sherlock close to him, just happy to know that he was alive.

They stayed that way for several minutes until a nurse came in and tried to chase John out of the room, which was met with some terrified, pleading cries of protest from Sherlock, and a death glare from John who insisted that he wasn't leaving. The nurse stuck her bottom lip out in a pout, but just finished her vitals check, then exited the room.

The moment she was gone, Sherlock reached for John again, and the doctor took his hand with a reassuring smile. "I'm here, I'm not going anywhere." He told the mute detective cheerfully. "How are you feeling?"

Sherlock opened his mouth, but was immediately interrupted with a loud cough and a low, pained whimper. "Been better. I'm exhausted." He replied.

His voice alone was enough to send another trail of tears down John's face. It was like hearing heave sing. He ignored his lightheaded feeling and squeezed the detective's hand. "Get some rest then. I'll stay." He got to his feet and turned up the morphine, which was just what Sherlock needed. The man's eyelids drooped, and he lay back against the sheets, not once letting go of John's hand.

Although John knew that he'd get in trouble for it, he didn't care one bit. He climbed up into the hospital bed and lay down beside Sherlock, who seemed to stiffen at the contact. He gave John a glazed over glance that was full of confusion. "You're going to sleep with me here?" Sherlock asked weakly.

John only smiled. "There's more room in my bed back home, but you have to get better first." He answered sweetly, the words making the heart monitor got erratic for a moment, which made John laugh. "Just get some rest. We'll talk later. I'll be here when you wake up, I promise."

A small smile broke out across Sherlock's face as he closed his eyes and nestled his face into John's shoulder. With his free hand, the doctor gently pushed his hair away from his temple, then very, very lightly pressed his lips to the bandaged on the detective's hairline.

There are experiences, positive and negative, that we feel most deeply, and through which, we truly live. For some, they are wedding days, first meetings, or elegant nights filled with love. For John Watson, it was the feeling of Sherlock Holmes curled into his embrace, warm and safe, and complately his. The years had been dark and trying, but to know they had finally come to this, being this way with each other, it was headtbreakingly beautiful, and more than either man could express. 

John was still angry, he would be for a while, and he knew that he and Sherlock had a lot of talking to do, but in that moment, he could have cared less. Sherlock was alive, he was in John's arms, finally safe and sound after two long years.

From the hallway, Mycroft Holmes stole a glance into the hospital room, a small, yet defined smile playing at his lips as he took in the sight of his little brother and the ever so sweet Dr. Watson asleep side by side on the bed, Sherlock's face buried in the soft jumper on his left and John's chin just above his curly mop of hair. Even in sleep, they looked so happy and fitted, like they completed each other in the best and worst way.

Mycroft took the A.G.R.A. case file in his hand and threw it in the trash on the way out.

It could wait.