There is the faintest suggestion of a sigh, a whisper of cloth, perhaps, but it is enough to wake John. Dust floats in the glow of early morning sunshine coming through the blinds and he stretches lazily, smiling to himself, before it comes back to him. Sherlock. Sherlock is home.
He sits up in a rush and sees Sherlock sitting in the chair by the window, light playing across the glow of hair now a burnished copper instead of his customary sable. It lights up his curls in a halo and, unexpectedly, John feels the tears coming again. He’d mostly kept them in check the night before, when Sherlock showed up all thin and bruised and tentative, hair a riot of copper curls and in a too-small jumper that further emphasized how much weight he’d lost.
John had kept in the tears while he paled, dropped onto the sofa in shock, drank the tea offered, shouted, pleaded for understanding, demanded answers, and finally dissolved into helpless tremors that had racked his body without releasing any of the pain or tears.
He’d lost track at that point, his head hurting so badly that he could barely see, hardly remembered taking the medicine offered or Sherlock helping him to his bed, a flood of words that John didn’t want to hear or comprehend washing over him.
But he does remember waking in the night, choking on sobs, shaking the bed with them. He remembers arms suddenly around him, remembers clutching at the fabric of Sherlock’s shirt, screwing his face up and howling like a child as he buried his face in the curve of Sherlock’s neck until Sherlock was shivering and frightened and begging John to stop. Sherlock had carefully laid down, bringing John with him, curled into him like a comma and still clutching fabric in his fingers as he slid back into sleep.
And now it’s the morning after all that and John is afraid of what happens next. Afraid to start again, afraid to try to go back to “normal,” afraid that he still doesn’t understand why or how or what it all means. Or meant. Mostly he is afraid that he is going to reach out and Sherlock will dissolve into the dust and glowing sunshine as another dream.
There is another faint sound, and John realises that Sherlock is weeping. He trembles and gasps very softly, like a child trying to cry themselves asleep without anyone hearing. John’s breath catches in his throat and Sherlock turns to look at him, hurriedly dashing at his face. “I didn’t,” he begins, and his voice catches so that he has to clear his throat, “I didn’t want to wake you but I didn’t want to leave. In case. You. You know.”
“Woke up and you weren’t here?” John says, marveling at how calm his voice sounds. Sherlock nods quickly, his face crumpling again for the briefest moment. He opens his mouth, shuts it, takes a breath to say something and John interrupts, “Don’t. Whatever it is… just.” He stops, trying to think about what he really wants to say, “Come here.”
Sherlock unfolds from the chair and John is struck again at how thin he is and how the copper curls make him look both younger and more angelic than usual. He sits up a bit, back against the wall, and Sherlock gingerly sits on the bed beside him. “Do you… do you have more questions for me?” he asks softly.
John lets out a snort of laughter at the irony but shakes his head, smiling a little so that Sherlock can see to relax. The right side of Sherlock’s mouth curves up, briefly, and John suddenly reaches out and smooths a wayward curl back from Sherlock’s forehead, eyes filling again and he can’t even be arsed to care at this point if Sherlock sees or not. This has been returned to him: this skin, those eyes, that mind, and even this new coppery-curled head. It’s been returned to him and he doesn’t really care to ask any more questions right now, thanks very much.
Sherlock freezes, pale eyes enormous under those riotous curls, looking lost and confused and for a moment John thinks he’s going to get up, to run from all the thoughts written on John’s face. And then Sherlock takes in a gulping breath of air and practically dives at John, throwing his arms around John’s chest, pushing his head into it as though he could bury himself into John’s ribcage. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry and I couldn’t say anything and I was so cold and you weren’t there to talk to me, to talk me down, to help me with it all, god…” His words come out in a choking flood, shivering in John’s arms and shaking himself to pieces.
“Shhhh, Sherlock, just don’t…” John begins but Sherlock stops him. “I know what it was doing to you and I knew what it would mean and I couldn’t think without you there and it took me so much longer than I thought and I wanted to come home and be done, to go back to us as we were.” His shaking gets so bad that his teeth are chattering and John is momentarily at a loss as to what to do with this new, emotionally fragile, definitely apologetic Sherlock. He runs his hands into Sherlock’s hair, soothing, and shifts Sherlock so that his head is lying more comfortably against John’s chest. Sherlock’s arm goes naturally around John’s waist and he tries to slow his breathing, his shaking.
John rubs gentle circles into Sherlock’s shoulder as the words begin to come out again, “I talked to you, you know. Aloud. Often. I could hear you answer, sometimes.” Sherlock’s breath hitches for a moment and he has to stop to clear his throat again. John can feel the slow slide of tears down his cheek at this display of grief, of loss, never thinking he’d hear Sherlock say such a thing. Sherlock continues, “And it helped, sometimes. Sometimes it would help me find an answer more quickly, sort something out. Most of the time, though, I’d… I’d hear you telling me to eat something, put out that cigarette, something like that.”
They both laugh a little, and if it’s tinged with tears, neither care anymore. “I drank a fair amount,” John offers, “At first. And then I could hear you sniping at me about falling into “family habits” and I got pissed and broke a bottle against the wall. And then I could hear both you and Mrs. Hudson in my head,” he laughs again, and surprises himself when it comes out in a sob. “Jesus, you idiot,” he gasps into Sherlock’s hair and Sherlock clutches at him more tightly.
“Don’t,” Sherlock whispers against his chest, “I’m home, you’re here, it’s all right, please, just don’t… don’t,” he finishes lamely, apparently unable to continue this baring of souls. He seems to finally realise his position and rapidly starts to unwind his arms from around John and John grabs at him.
“No, you don’t. Don’t you fucking dare act like nothing gets to you, not anymore you don’t,” John hisses and before he’s thought about it, he’s taken both hands and wound them into those ridiculous curls and is kissing Sherlock for all he’s worth. For every time he’d wanted to since the day he’d met Sherlock, and never did. For every moment he spent since Sherlock left, wanting this and thinking he’d never, ever be able to. And Sherlock hesitates only an instant before he’s grabbing at John’s waist and kissing him back, fiercely.
John pulls back to steal breath, dazed, and Sherlock drops his forehead against his hard enough to hurt, babbling again, “I wanted to phone you, I wanted to see you so badly but I couldn’t, and I had paid someone to take a photograph of you and I carried it in my pocket every moment, and I kept thinking that if I could just be done, just come back, that we could go back to everything…”
Sherlock pauses for breath and lifts his mouth to be kissed again, but John holds back. “Back to everything? Exactly like it was?” He is staring into those opalescent eyes, wanting to know if this is momentary weakness brought on by the circumstances, or exactly what he’s been hoping for.
Sherlock tsks and rolls his eyes and John feels hysterical laughter welling up in his chest at this so-typical Sherlockian reaction. “John, I do currently have my arms around you and I think I’m right in assuming that most flatmates don’t…”
John neatly and succinctly cuts him off by lowering his mouth again and is rewarded with a soft moan as Sherlock proceeds to curl around him like a vine, kissing back for all he’s worth. He pulls back only long enough to gasp, “I missed you, oh, god, John,” and then he’s running his hands over John’s skin and John is gasping back and it becomes a thing of skin and sweat and morning light, and if either of them are weeping through most of it, neither of them care to comment on it.
Later, arms curled around each other and watching the Sunday afternoon sun cast shadows on the wall, Sherlock lazily remarks, “I’d considered getting a tattoo or something, but it seemed a bit excessive,” and John laughs so hard he falls out of the bed and spends the next several minutes wheezing both from the pain and the insanity of it all.
And in the end, it really is back to the way it was. Normal. Insane. Beautiful.