Sherlock has imagined various scenarios for his return from the dead while forced to stay in hiding. He imagines John crying with joy or punching him in anger or even fainting in shock. He imagines shouting and screaming and emotionality. He can’t imagine how he would react to any of that, though. Human emotions are still a mystery not yet completely unveiled - at least those concerning him.
But what use is theorising before one has data? The easiest and most reliable way to ascertain John’s reaction is simply to return to the land of the living. Sherlock has everything planned out meticulously (he’s had enough time while waiting for it to be finally possible to conduct this experiment): John is obviously still living in 221B Baker Street, so Sherlock just has to sneak in while John is at work, avoid Mrs. Hudson and wait. So far, so easy.
John takes longer than expected to come home from work, though. Sherlock starts pacing in the living room impatiently, picking up various items and putting them back moments later without really seeing them. He had observed everything of interest during the first minutes after entering the flat anyway.
Finally, Sherlock hears hushed voices from downstairs. John talking to Mrs. Hudson, obviously. Sherlock throws himself down into his chair again, carefully draping his coat over the armrest. Then he waits, fingers folded under his chin, counting the steps on the stairs.
When John enters the flat, he doesn’t notice Sherlock immediately. So Sherlock has enough time to take in every detail of John’s appearance. His hair is streaked with grey and he has dark circles around his eyes. He seems to have aged far more than he should have in the time Sherlock was gone and he looks tired.
Eventually, John spots Sherlock and he freezes on the spot. His eyes – wide with shock – lock with Sherlock’s for what feels like an eternity. Then he blinks hard once, clears his throat and shakes his head in a barely visible motion. Sherlock feels his heartbeat quicken. This is it – the moment of truth. Sherlock has developed forty-one theories trying to predict John’s reaction. He can’t wait to find out which one will be correct!
It turns out they are all wrong.
John simply continues walking through the room, then tosses his keys onto the table and greets Sherlock with a small nod while crossing the living room to get to the kitchen. Sherlock sits dumbstruck for a moment, wondering whether he has accidentally waited in the wrong flat. But no, it’s definitely their flat and this is definitely John. Who is standing beside the conspicuously clean kitchen table, making himself a cup of tea. He hasn’t even asked Sherlock if he wants tea as well. Sherlock doesn’t want tea right now, but wouldn’t that have been appropriate behaviour?
Sherlock frowns, gets up from his armchair and follows John into the kitchen. Something is decidedly off here. He pauses at a distance of just more than arm’s length and asks in a quiet voice so as not to disturb his test subject: “John?”
John hardly looks up from pouring boiling water into a mug. “Yes, hello, Sherlock. Glad to see you are in the mood to talk to me tonight.” He sounds weary and just the faintest bit annoyed.
This is unexpected and thus intriguing. John not being surprised might change all the parameters of this experiment. Sherlock needs to gather more data. “What other sort of mood would I be in?”, he asks cautiously.
“Well, you know.” John waves his tea-free hand around in a vague gesture. “The one where you sit on the sofa all evening long, thinking or sulking. I can never tell the difference. Or the one where you simply keep playing your violin until early in the morning when all sensible people including me want to sleep. You haven’t been this talkative in quite a while.”
With that John takes his mug of tea and turns around. Sherlock expects him to finally fully acknowledge his presence – tea-making no longer on his mind - and puts on his friendliest smile. John does indeed hesitate for a moment and Sherlock almost gets the impression he wants to hug him.
But John shoves past him with a small sigh and goes straight to his chair to sit down heavily. “Mind if I turn the telly on?”
“No?” Sherlock stares at John for several minutes before following him back into the living room. There he stands in the middle of the room, forgotten and forlorn. This isn’t how he has imagined the outcome of his experiment. John not being surprised is one thing, but how can John not care about his return at all? Sherlock wants to shake John - shout at him - make him react! All he manages is “Don’t you want to know how I did it?” and he hates how pleading it sounds.
John shrugs and doesn’t even lift his eyes from the telly. “If you insist on telling me. But don’t bother to pretend you are real this time. I know you never are.”
Almost involuntarily Sherlock casts a glance at the mirror. Both their reflections are there. So why shouldn’t he be real? Then the realisation hits him. This is it. The result. John Watson has finally lost his mind and it’s entirely possible that this is Sherlock’s fault. Sherlock searches John’s unmoving expression, frantically trying to deduce his thoughts and confirm his suspicions, feeling almost physically sick.
Then he sees the smallest twinkle in John’s eyes, the slightest spark of mischief. Oh, clever John. Suddenly Sherlock has to smile and can’t stop and when he catches John’s eye again, they both burst into laughter. It gets louder and evolves into slightly hysterical giggles, but neither of them cares.
After a while they have to stop laughing to catch their breaths. Sherlock’s whole body aches with muscles that haven’t been used in months. He almost reaches out to touch John’s shoulder, make sure he is real after all, but he catches himself in time. Instead he fiddles with his shirt and remarks in his best nonchalant voice: “I’ve always wondered whether you would actually manage to go mad with me not here to help you exercise your mind.”
John gives him a lopsided smile and a stern look, bordering on an eye-roll. “Yeah. Like you were the one that had to be worried.”