John Watson faints for the first and last time in his life when he fetches the prescription from the printer and turns back to find his elderly heart patient has transformed into Sherlock Holmes. It’s a brief lapse, and Sherlock is suitably chastened by his unnecessarily dramatic return. But really, Sherlock’s been dead for 18 months, so any return is necessarily going to be dramatic.
John’s too happy to care about thoughtlessness and the shock. Sherlock has pulled off the miracle. (The one John asked for: perhaps his subconscious suspected things his conscious mind didn’t dare to hope for.) John’s too overjoyed to be angry over everything he’s been through, especially when it’s clear that Sherlock has been through his own brand of hell. He’s lost weight he could not afford to lose, and while his eyes are as piercingly bright and sharp as ever, the dark circles under them, the new lines around them and around his mouth, the strands of grey in his dark curls, speak of a long period of strain and sleeplessness.
So when Sherlock says: “We have to take down Moran, and then it’ll be truly over at last. Are you coming?” the answer is, of course, “Oh God, yes.”
The trap is set, and it’s government agents - Mycroft’s people - who are there to take the assassin of young diplomat, Ronald Adair, away. John is not at all certain that due legal process will occur, but he is utterly certain that he doesn’t give a damn.
Mrs Adair, there at the end, does not care either. But she doesn’t want revenge. She just wants her son back. She wants the nightmare to end. But it never will. That bullet through the brain cannot be undone.
John knows how she feels, except that eight hours ago, his own nightmare ended, and he got the missing part of his own heart back, and Mrs Adair never will.
So while the black car disappears, and Sherlock waits (less impatiently than he might have done 18 months ago), Mrs Adair and her despair collapse into John’s understanding arms. He doesn’t try to tell her that everything will be all right. He just lets her sob into his jumper, and he says to her “I’m so sorry” until her brother arrives to take care of her.
Sherlock and John go back to John’s new place, a tiny flat that is comfortable enough, but never home like 221b was home. There are no new tenants in 221b. Many of Sherlock’s things had been boxed up, but Mycroft never found the time to sort through them. He kept paying the rent until he could make the time.
John thought he understood Mycroft’s reluctance to finish the job. John couldn’t bear to stay in 221b himself, hence this horrid little flat, but then John wonders if Mycroft knew all along.
Not exactly, Sherlock says. “I needed money. I wired under an alias of one of Mycroft’s own European agents. Mycroft wired back funds. I assumed he knew it was me. Though he did seem surprised when I saw him at the Diogenes Club this morning. Not fainting surprised. But… very surprised.”
Despite Mycroft’s part responsibility for this whole situation, John feels a bit sorry for him. Maybe Mycroft really just couldn’t face seeing his little brother’s life deconstructed into things in boxes.
Sherlock talks for a long time, explaining what happened, describing his life since then. He seems set to talk all night. But Sherlock, John sees, is almost dead on his feet from exhaustion. The detective has no clothes but the travel-worn suit he is wearing, so John shoves a spare pair of pyjamas at him and sends him to shower and sleep. It’s a measure of Sherlock’s exhaustion that he doesn’t resist.
While Sherlock is in the shower, John calls Mycroft. It’s the first time in eighteen months he’s used that number, though he has ignored the occasional call from it.
“He’s home,” John says, “At my place.”
“Yes.” Mycroft sounds utterly calm, but John knows the voices of the Holmes brothers too well. This Holmes is not nearly so calm as he’s making out.
“You didn’t know he was still alive, did you?”
“I had… suspicions. But no. Nothing I could prove. Nothing for sure,” admits Mycroft, “Not until this morning.”
There is a long silence.
“Is he well?” asks Mycroft. “He didn’t look well when I saw him.”
“He’ll be fine,” says John, “It’s better than being dead.”
Another long silence.
“Mycroft,” says John, “It’ll be all right.”
“Oh, I doubt that, John,” says Mycroft, “Not between Sherlock and me. It has not been all right for a very long time. But you’ll look out for him?”
“With my life,” says John, and he wonders if it’s too much, a vow like that. But then he thinks that, no, anyone wanting to get to Sherlock will have to go through him first. And he will kill and he will die before anyone touches that man again.
Mycroft sighs, like it’s taken a weight off. “Thank you, John.” And he hangs up.
Sherlock does not sleep well. For a long time, he doesn’t sleep at all. John gets an inkling of how much harder the intervening time has been for Sherlock than it has even been for him. John has been grieving for his friend, and fighting for his friend’s lost reputation. John never lost a moment worrying about his own reputation, because he honestly did not give a shit what people thought of him any more. It has been a very solitary fight, and he stopped hearing the whispers and innuendo and words like ‘dupe’, ‘patsy’ and ‘idiot’ a long time ago.
But Sherlock has been fighting for his life, every bit as alone as John but with more at stake. Every single day, he’s been trying to stay alive and looking for a way to come back, without endangering the people for whom he died in every way that mattered to him.
Sherlock is only able to sleep once John comes in to sit beside him on the bed, leaving his loaded gun on the dresser. John sits up against the headboard, a silent promise that he will keep guard, and that’s when Sherlock, in his ill-fitting pyjamas, finally subsides into restless sleep, curled on his side, his back against John’s thigh.
John watches him. Eventually, he drifts into a light doze, the familiar catnap from the battlefield, one ear out for danger. When Sherlock jerks his limbs in his sleep, a faint, anxious sound escaping him, John is instantly awake. Sherlock twists and sweats and fidgets. He reminds John of a young soldier he once tended. Not fatally wounded, but hurt and terrified while the bombs dropped and the gunfire stuttered all around them as they waited for evac. And John does now what he did then. When the doctoring can’t be about sutures, morphine and bandages and it’s all about the bedside manner.
Where Sherlock’s back is pressed against his leg, John places a hand on Sherlock’s hip, so that the touch extends from existing comfort. Nothing sudden. Nothing startling. Then John moves his hand, against Sherlock’s back, to the man’s shoulder. Sherlock shudders and mutters, so John squeezes the muscle under his fingers, then slowly strokes Sherlock’s arm.
“Shhh,” he says, “It’s all right, Sherlock. It’s only me. It’s John.”
Sherlock twitches and a makes sound between a sigh and a whimper. As he did with his soldier-patient, John slides down alongside Sherlock’s long body, murmuring reassurance and stroking Sherlock’s arm soothingly. Then he curls an arm around Sherlock’s waist, firm and steady. His arm curls up over Sherlock’s arms, which the detective has wrapped around himself in his sleep. His hand takes one of Sherlock’s and in this position, their clasped hands are held over Sherlock’s racing heart.
“It’s all right,” John says quietly into Sherlock’s ear. Not a whisper, exactly, but calm and reassuring. “Everything’s all right. You’re home, Sherlock. It’s over. You’re safe, now.”
Another faint gasp, but Sherlock’s fidgets cease. John does something he did not do with the soldier. He leans to place a fraternal kiss on Sherlock’s temple. The way Harry had kissed John, when she visited him in hospital, his body broken by a sniper’s bullet.
“It’s going to be all right, Sherlock,” says John, softly as a prayer, “You’re home. You’re safe.”
And Sherlock sleeps.
Sherlock is not in bed when John wakes up. John steps from the bedroom to the living room, where Sherlock is staring out of the window. He glances at John.
“It’s been a long time,” he says, “Since I’ve had an uninterrupted sleep. Or,” he adds, a little disconcerted, “Since I dared stand at an uncurtained window.”
John knows what it’s like to avoid windows and doorways and wonder where the snipers are. “Tea?”
Sherlock is still standing, looking out on the day, when John returns with two cups.
John starts to giggle. Sherlock raises an eyebrow.
“You look ridiculous,” says John.
Sherlock glances down at the pyjama pants that are ten inches too short, the t-shirt that barely covers his stomach, leaving pale hips and a belly button exposed.
Sherlock blinks. Grins. Laughs, and it’s a glorious sound. “My things are still at 221b, I understand.”
Sherlock dresses in yesterday’s grubby suit, but John won’t let Sherlock give Mrs Hudson the same kind of exquisite fright that he and Mycroft received. He calls his former landlady, who he still takes for afternoon tea each month (during which he eats little, and lets her talk about her hip, and they only sometimes speak of Sherlock. She, like John, believed all along, and thus she has been the only one whose company he could bear for more than ten minutes at a time).
John tells her to sit down; tells her the miracle has happened; tells her that Sherlock is alive, and back.
Mrs Hudson doesn’t believe him at first, and is hurt, then angry, and then worried, but finally, in a small voice, she says “Do you mean it?”
“I absolutely mean it. Can we come around?”
“John Watson, if you don’t bring that young man around this very instant, I’ll be so very cross with you!”
She is waiting at the door when Sherlock and John arrive, and she doesn’t even wait for the privacy of indoors. She wraps Sherlock in a limpet-like hug and scolds and blesses him in turn. Sherlock lets her, his arms around her shoulders, until the words are used up, and she’s laughing, and he’s laughing with her. And John watches them, grinning, because he’s always loved the way those two acted like favourite auntie and fond (though wayward) nephew.
Then Sherlock is bounding up the stairs, leaving John to hold Mrs Hudson’s hand as they follow him in.
“Oh John,” says Mrs Hudson, and like Mrs Adair she is suddenly folded against his chest and sobbing, and John is patting her back. John thinks he understands the otherwise inexplicable flood of tears. So unnecessary, because Sherlock’s home and there’s no need for grief, now. But he can sense a certain complexity behind his happiness, and imagines that Mrs Hudson is likewise having complicated feelings. It reminds him, a little, of how he’d wake, crying from nightmares, the adrenalin still flooding his body although the danger was long passed and, in any case, imaginary.
Mrs Hudson dabs her eyes and apologises for being silly. John kisses her brow and jokes that she might start crying again if Sherlock resumes shooting holes in her walls. Mrs Hudson looks unexpectedly fond at the memory.
Sherlock is pulling clothes out of boxes, noting which receptacles were packed by Mrs Hudson (neat, tear-stained, why did she put the ash samples in with the black suit, it’ll never get clean) and those by John (rolled, military fashion, to save space in the duffel bag, and Sherlock isn’t amused, and John pointedly does not point out that he didn’t think Sherlock would be needing them again) and those by Mycroft (perfectly neat and tidy, providing Sherlock a challenge to find things to complain about, which he rises to).
John is watching him, just watching, and his phone rings.
Molly left St Bart’s not long after Sherlock’s… death. John knows what she did for Sherlock, now. Sherlock spent a lot of time explaining on the way to the Adair house. At first John was hurt that he wasn’t told, wasn’t part of the plan, but Sherlock was right. John’s not a good enough actor to have convincingly portrayed a grief-stricken friend, and lives depended on his being convincing, including Mrs Hudson’s. Greg’s; Sherlock’s; his own. So John has already and instantly forgiven Sherlock for his impossible choice. Sherlock’s clever, but he could either spare them or he could save them, and he chose to save them.
Molly, however, does not know that in the space of a day, John has learned all, and forgiven all.
Sherlock texted her over breakfast, using John’s phone, to let her know of his return. So Molly calls, and she is the strangest mixture of relief, joy and the most piercing distress.
“I’m so sorry, John. I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you. I wanted so much, but I couldn’t. He didn’t tell me everything, but I could see that so much was at stake. He didn’t want to do it that way, but he had to, and he was so sad… oh, I wasn’t meant to tell you that bit, but he was, and I’m so sorry. He didn’t want to go, but he had to, and he needed help, so I helped him. But then I had to leave St Bart’s. I couldn’t…. see you, when I knew and… oh, I’m so sorry…”
John has to say her name three times to interrupt the storm of words. “Molly!” he shouts and she’s stunned into silence. “It’s all right,” he says, trying to take the sting out of the shout. “It’s okay.”
“But I didn’t tell you, and I could see what it was doing to you, but he asked me not to tell. He told me. He said terrible things would happen if…”
“Molly. It’s all right.”
And he has no idea why she’s crying, really, because it’s all over now, at last, but she doesn’t deserve to be feeling whatever she’s feeling.
“Molly, you saved him. You saved us. Without you… If you hadn’t helped him fake his death… He’s right. He’d be dead, or we would. But here we all are. You saved everyone.”
The tears end in a gasp and stillness.
“You saved everyone,” says John again, because he’s only now realising it’s true, “Thank you, Molly. Thank you for saving Sherlock.”
After the stillness, Molly gives a little surprised gasp of laughter. John thinks that maybe she’s only realising it’s true now, too, and only the relief and the joy are left in her voice. “Oh John, you’re so very welcome,” says Molly in a voice like sunshine.
John wasn’t expecting Lestrade to show up at 221b and isn’t sure how Lestrade knows that Sherlock is back. Perhaps Mycroft told him. Maybe Molly did. Perhaps Sherlock texted him over breakfast, too.
Still less is John expecting Lestrade to bring Sally Donovan with him. But there she is, as smart, as strong and as sardonic as ever.
Sherlock looks pleased to see Lestrade, but oddly ambivalent to see Donovan. John is not ambivalent. John does not like Sally Donovan. She may have been an unknowing tool of Moriarty’s, but she wasn’t a particularly unwilling one.
John knows he’s not being fair, but he doesn’t care. He knows that Donovan was part of the team that went through every one of the cases that Sherlock had been involved in, looking for evidence of his fakery, and only proved that he’d been right. Believing that Sherlock had engineered all those crimes to boost a crafted persona was infinitely less probable than his genius. Donovan had given evidence to that effect. She’d certainly helped to save Lestrade’s job.
The truth about Sherlock has been out for months now. That he was never a fake, that Moriarty was real. It had been a small comfort to John that Sherlock’s reputation, at least, had been restored. Not that the tabloids bothered or cared. But those who mattered knew.
And John could forgive Molly, and Sherlock, and Lestrade, but he could never forgive Donovan for planting those seeds and nurturing them. He couldn’t forgive her, because Moriarty was dead, and he needed someone to blame.
And there she is, at 221b, behind Lestrade, her expression defiant and uncomfortable, and after Lestrade has shaken Sherlock’s hand, and Sherlock stands there apparently at a loss (can you imagine?) for words, Donovan says in a half-hearted way, “Hey, Freak.”
And something breaks in John.
“Get out.” His voice is a parade-ground bark. He has never used that tone in her presence before, and in the back of his mind he’s thinking he’ll never speak to her in another tone again.
“Get. Out.” John is small, but as he draws himself to a military stance and he voice deepens, he seems a lot bigger than the space he occupies. “You come here, uninvited, after everything… After everything you did. Everything Sherlock did. Had to do. And you still call him that. You still…”
And the parade ground is gone and now the words are growling out of him, rising in volume, and if he could he would set the fucking world on fire.
Donovan has stepped away from him as though he is on fire, and he is telling her to get the fuck out of my home, get the fuck out… and he is only half aware of his own words as she attempts a defence.
He is yelling something that sounds like You didn’t watch him fall!
And John can’t breathe, and he can’t hear anything but the roar in his ears or see anything but a tall, thin figure, coat billowing like a cape as he falls, falls, falls….
His breath is hitching and all that complexity under the joy is falling out of him like a Gordian knot. He doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to feel it, or how to say it, and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe.
But he can feel a hand curled over his shoulder and long fingers across the back of his neck, pulling him gently towards… a safe place. A forehead presses to his and the voice he thought never to hear again is talking gently. John can’t make out more than words at first: “John”, “home”, “safe” – but they resolve into sentences.
“Steady, John, steady. It’s all right. It’s going to be all right, John. Steady. Breathe. It’s over. I promise, it’s over. It’ll never happen again. I promise. It’s all right, John. You’re home. We’re home. We’re safe.”
John can feel a palm against his jaw, a thumb against his skull, beneath his ear, the forehead against his own. Those points where Sherlock’s skin meets his are his only anchors, and John is shaking. His hand is trembling and his chest is heaving with the effort to breathe. He is gripping Sherlock’s forearms as though they are the only things keeping him above water.
Sherlock is still saying his name, still telling him that it’s over, they’re home. Telling him to breathe… and he can’t.
With the smallest shift, John feel’s a mouth ghost against his temple; a hesitant, gentle kiss, as though it’s part of a procedure only recently learned. The hands pull him closer to safety, the hand on his shoulder curved around his back, the one on his neck holding his head, and John leans in. His tight grip shifts to Sherlock’s upper arms and his forehead is against Sherlock’s sharp collarbone.
So close to Sherlock’s heart now, to his lungs and his mouth, John listens to Sherlock’s breathing and tries to learn from it. John breathes in, holds, exhales, in time with the taller man. Breathe. Hold. Exhale. Breathe. Hold. Exhale. Until it’s no longer a struggle. Until the tremor leaves his hand. They are leaning against each other, breathing in unison, and John slowly comes back to the world.
John is aware of a cheek pressed against his head. Lips beside his ear ghost a barely heard “John?”
One of John’s hands detach from Sherlock’s bicep, shifts so the palm lays along Sherlock’s jaw, thumb against his earlobe, fingers gently around the back of Sherlock’s neck. His fingers move, an awkward pat, because he hasn’t found his voice yet. “I’m here,” say his fingers against the pale skin, “It’s all good. All fine.”
John and Sherlock hold like that moment, mirroring each other, becoming steady.
John draws away, his mouth twitching in an awkward, embarrassed way. But Sherlock’s smile is fond and a little uncertain. John relaxes, a broader smile finding purchase on his mouth. Sherlock’s smile broadens in response. There is a kind of manic laughter in both their eyes, which may spill out at any moment, but doesn’t.
A few moments longer, and John stands straighter, releasing Sherlock’s arm and neck. Sherlock’s hand slides away from John’s neck, but the other gives John’s shoulder – the unwounded one – a final, reassuring squeeze. Then Sherlock’s hand drops and they look at each other, without a word, because, after all, it’s not really necessary.
John is finally aware that Donovan and Lestrade are staring, but he doesn’t really care. He just needs to centre himself. So he stands there, breathing deeply. He closes his eyes again, gathering calm to him, while Sherlock thanks Lestrade for coming.
Miraculously, Sherlock thanks Donovan for her part in restoring his reputation, the least she could do after her participation in its ruin, and she takes both comments in silence and discomfort.
“John and I need some time to settle back in to 221b,” says Sherlock, “I expect it will take a week or two. I’ll be in touch, Greg. Good day.”
Lestrade says warm and almost affectionate things, though John is not really listening. He feels the DI’s hand brush against his arm, and he nods acknowledgement.
Lestrade takes the hint, and John, eyes still closed, listens to his friend and his…enemy?... leave. He listens as Mrs Hudson comes up the stairs; hears the rattle of china on the tray.
John opens his eyes, and takes his old seat while Sherlock pours tea and Mrs Hudson dishes out large slices of cake, and laughs because Sherlock is deducing something trivial about her shoes and her recent trip to Southampton.
Sherlock looks pleased with himself, grins at John with dancing eyes, and John can’t help but grin back.
For the first time in a very long time, John knows that everything really will be all right.