Sherlock stood outside of the nice, unassuming, unsuspecting townhouse and tried to keep himself from entering cardiac arrest. He wasn’t even sure if he should be here but, in the end, he was an incredibly selfish man and whether or not he should be there bore no relevancy to the fact that he simply had to be. So it stood to reason that Sherlock was frustrated with himself for hesitating just in front of the steps leading into that nice, unassuming, unsuspecting townhouse. Sherlock was many things, but ‘hesitant’ was not one of the many attributes on the list. His mind was usually so far ahead that decisions were made before the ultimatum was ever given. Now he stared at the (perhaps not quite as much as he’d earlier thought but still) nice, (ominous might be a better word but it’s been a long time since he’s needed an extended vocabulary) unassuming, (this place is evil, drawing him in this way) unsuspecting townhouse, one foot just above the bottom stair.
Sherlock put the foot back down so it stood next to its counterpart, turned on his heels and stomped across the street, face flushing crimson. John would have laughed at this hysterically out-of-character moment, but that was the whole problem. John was the whole problem, the best problem, the hardest problem, the final problem. God, why hadn’t he seen it sooner?
Sherlock’s hair had grown longer and now his curls obscured his eyes, like an overly emotional teenager. He flung his hair out of the way to better grimace at the façade of the house: Boring, utterly boring, was all he was able to make out of it. White with a painted brown wooden door. An old fashioned chimney decorated the top, only just visible above the peaks of the roof. It looked…weird. Too right, too perfect. Too much like what John should have wanted, if John was anybody else but Doctor John Watson, Captain Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.
‘Boring’ was what Sherlock first expected upon meeting John. He was only looking for a flatmate because Mycroft had convinced mummy to cut Sherlock off. Sherlock neither knew nor cared what his reasons were. He’d struggle through having a flatmate and scaring him off, and hopefully that would show Mycroft how ridiculous it was to expect Sherlock to actually live with another person. But instead of being insulted when Sherlock deduced him, John was amused, amazed, and even seemed flattered by Sherlock’s attention – something no one had ever been before. Sherlock realized he was running around in circles around himself and acting like a schoolboy with a crush on an older, unattainable student. He felt his heart flutter like it hadn’t in years when John enquired as to Sherlock’s romantic interests. He knew it was all for naught, because he knew that while John was very defendant of his heterosexuality, Sherlock himself was absolutely smitten. He waited for his infatuation to die away, throwing himself onto the puzzle that was Moriarty and perseverating on the visage of The Woman, but nothing moved his affections from John. But now, how would John react? He’d heard John begging him to come back, but that didn’t mean that in the year and a half (his initial plan had taken him three years, but he didn’t eat or sleep and John’s words echoed in his head) he’d been gone, John hadn’t moved on. Because move, at least, he did.
Without realising Sherlock had been gravitating toward that front step; the sudden opening of the door had him gasping for breath.
John stood, outlined by the light from the inside, eyebrow arched. ‘Are you going to come in, or would you prefer to continue muttering to yourself like some sort of nutter?’
Sherlock didn’t need telling twice; he threw himself up the stairs and nearly launched himself at John, before thinking better. John huffed at Sherlock’s speed, stepping back to allow him in and shut the door. Sherlock took in the surroundings with an immense sense of sensory overload: wooden floors, bright lights, a piano in the corner. Someone in the kitchen was baking. Sherlock could hear high heels clanking on the linoleum as the person – presumably female – made her way to where John and Sherlock were standing. It shouldn’t surprise Sherlock anymore, but John holds his gaze, smiling fondly as the woman clack clack clack’s down the hall.
‘John dear, who was –‘ The woman, a tall blonde, comes to a halt and stares at Sherlock, jaw setting heavy. ‘Oh, right.’ She swallows, and turns to John. ‘What is he doing here?’
John’s smile expands and he places his hands in his back pocket. Without turning from Sherlock, he informs (his girlfriend, anal and strict, a decent cook but can’t play or sing to save her life) the woman – Mary Morstand, Sherlock finds out later – ‘Sherlock will be staying the night, at least.’ Sherlock looks down when he feels John’s hand slide down his arm like a caress.
‘John,’ Mary is looking down, cleaning out her nails. Sherlock knows already that he’s not welcome in their home. ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’
‘Of course,’ he nods. ‘Be there in a second.’ Mary looks up and nods curtly before turning back into the kitchen. John turns, smirk still in place, and lifts his chin to Sherlock. ‘By the way, Sherlock, this is for leaving.’ The punch that comes is a welcome surprise to the other surprises Sherlock has encountered tonight. Another thing that should never have been a surprise.
‘Welcome back,’ John whispers, standing on his toes to throw an arm around Sherlock and embrace him tightly. Sherlock is still so thrown that he imagines John pressing lips to his cheek.
John knew he was grinning, but he couldn’t have cared less. If the house started falling down around him, John was certain he’d start laughing. Sherlock was back. Sherlock was back.
And Mary was frowning. ‘Why is he here, John?’
John shrugged. ‘Don’t know, don’t care. Why are you so angry about it?’
Mary gave him a tense look. ‘You’ve just gotten over him, John,’ they both knew this was a lie. ‘Why would you let him back into your life after all the things he’s done to you, John? Using you like a guinea pig, disrespecting your space, pretending to kill himself, basically making you dump every girl you ever dated –‘
‘You knew when we started dating,’ John cracked his knuckles unconsciously. Mary’s eyes didn’t waver. ‘I told you when we first met that Sherlock was a part of my life, come Hell or high rain, and that was something you were going to have to accept.’
‘Yes – in your stories, John, and in your memories. Clearly one of us miscalculated,’ it was meant to be menacing, and to anyone else it might have been; to John, who had been dealing with Mary’s tempers for a while now, it was a clear bid for attention.
But John was quite tired of Mary’s clear bids for attention. ‘Clearly, it was you,’ John says, and walks back into the sitting room, where Sherlock is leaned back in a pose that looked absolutely unnatural. He also had John’s manuscript in hand, and was staring at it the same way he might look through a microscope at a type of synthetic fiber he’d never seen before. That is to say, with the sort of warm affection that normally surrounded his eyes when he looked at John.
‘I see you found my manuscript,’ John blushed.
Sherlock didn’t look up, but the corners of his mouth tilted further up. ‘A Study in Scarlet, set in the Victorian era.’
‘Yes. And I, er, embellished. A bit.’ John shuffled awkwardly. He hated to ask for Sherlock’s opinion, as it very nearly was always negative. ‘So…what do you think?’
‘It’s interesting. Good way, interesting’ Sherlock clarified, eyes shooting up to meet John’s for only a moment. ‘I assume you based my character in part on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?’
John nodded. ‘He is the grandfather of forensic chemistry, after all.’
John and Sherlock smiled at each other for a few moments. John had felt Sherlock’s re-emergence in his gut, knew it was coming, and yet he worried about that awkwardness would permeate the air they breathed and poison their relationship. But as they sat and talked and laughed (Sherlock described to John in great detail the environs which he visited in his travels, and John told Sherlock of the progression and regression of his own life), John’s fears dissipated, and he wasn’t sure why he’d ever thought there would be a tension between them. The only marks of anxiety were from Sherlock, when John described the deep depression Sherlock’s death put him through. Sherlock’s knuckles visibly whitened.
‘It’s not your fault,’ John breathed.
Sherlock glared shortly at him. ‘Come on John, we both know that isn’t true.’ Both men were leaning toward each other on the couch. John briefly considered leaning closer and kissing him, feeling if his skin was as soft as it looked; but John wasn’t one for cheating and he wasn’t entirely sure his rush of affection for Sherlock was not entirely sentiment formed from Sherlock’s return.
‘I did it for you.’ John could feel the rumble of Sherlock’s words through the fabric of the couch, as it travelled to his upper arms and titillated him. ‘They wanted to kill you, John.’ John had an angry feeling in the pit of his stomach, the feeling like he was about to do something extremely inadvisable. He was being torn toward Sherlock, like the pull of two magnets.
John forced himself away and lifted his manuscript from Sherlock’s lap. ‘I had a feeling it was something like that.’ He stood and deposited his manuscript on his portable writing desk. He could feel Sherlock’s eyes tracing his outline and his brain shorted out. What he felt wasn’t arousal – not yet, but something deeper that felt darker, and something he couldn’t explain. It made his head, stomach and chest hurt.
John felt Sherlock moving to stand beside him and John turned on them quickly. Sherlock’s movements would have been predatory if it wasn’t for the genuine smile on his face.
‘We should go to the kitchen now; I think Mary’s done making dinner.’
Dinner had been an awkward affair, very tense. Mary had been gripping her fork so hard that she actually bent it. John laughed when it snapped and Mary snarled at him in reply. Sherlock watched it all happily; John might never be his, but maybe one day Mary would get over whatever her weird hostility toward him was, and he could still be a part of John’s life – maybe an extended sort of family.
To be honest, though, Sherlock only trusted Mary and only liked her about as much as Mary trusted and liked him. She told Sherlock, in a rather curt voice, that he could sleep on the couch. She hadn’t offered any blankets or the like, in fact insisting that she and John didn’t have any to spare; ten minutes after this snark, however, John reappeared with a tattered old blanket that Sherlock recognized as John’s from 221B.
Over the week Sherlock spent at John and Mary’s, things never got better. Even when Sherlock and John talked one-on-one, Sherlock had a deep sense of something akin to regret. Sherlock felt as though he was invading someone else’s territory. Mycroft had continued paying for his rooms at 221B all the time he was gone (explaining to Mrs Hudson he was keeping it open for John’s sensitivities; Sherlock was sure he’d receive a smack from the landlady once he returned home and uncovered the lie), but any time Mary suggested Sherlock return to unpack his things, John gave her a look mixed with stern resolution and desolate anger, and Sherlock wasn’t able to interpret either of these things.
He decided, however, to alter his relationship with John, although John seemed put off by Sherlock’s adjustments. Sherlock attempted to talk less with John, stare less at him, and sit farther away. He tried to lower the intensity of their glances and not ask him such trivial things as ‘Could you get my phone? It’s in my coat pocket.’ Sherlock and John had both been told many a time that their relationship was much closer and intense than normal friendships were, and Sherlock figured this was probably the reason everyone assumed them to be in a romantic relationship (aside from Sherlock’s rather obvious and bumbling crush on the doctor). Since Mary had never viewed their relationship first hand, Sherlock decided the intensity of it was frightening her.
The final straw, however, was when John brought up the subject of cases.
‘So,’ he began on Saturday after dinner. ‘Has Lestrade called you yet? They’ve been having some pretty nasty serial murders for several months now, and they still haven’t caught the guy.’
‘Yes,’ Sherlock smiled across the room at him brightly. ‘They want me to stop by the morgue tomorrow to examine a body. Care to join me, Doctor Watson?’
An audible crack came from kitchen, in where Mary was scrubbing plates. (Sherlock noted probable Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but said nothing about it; instead he offered to help her with the plates, and his suggestion was returned with a cold frown.) ‘One moment, please,’ John asked, getting up and walking to the kitchen. Sherlock followed as John walked, not even denying to himself that he was blatantly eavesdropping.
‘John, no,’ Mary hissed. ‘I won’t allow you to do this, John!’
‘I think you’ll find, Mary, that I am a fully grown adult and don’t exactly require your permission to do anything.’ Normally, John’s voice would have sounded irate or at least irritated, indignant. Instead John sounded tired, and Sherlock wondered how often he and Mary had this conversation, or ones like it.
‘This is a madman’s job, John; let the madman deal with it.’ Sherlock heard John breathing heavily through his nose, counting to ten before replying.
‘He’s not a madman, Mary. Don’t call him that.’
‘Are you really going to choose him over me, John?’
‘I’m not going to choose either of you, Mary, so quit trying to make it out like it’s impossible for me to remain friends with him when I’m with you.’ Mary growled under her breath, but didn’t say anything. Sherlock frowned at the ground, trying to deal with the fact that he actually cared if John saw him as a nuisance.
That night, John and Mary had sex. Or, to be more slightly more accurate, Mary had sex while John laid there. Sherlock couldn’t hear John participating, although he’d always figured John would be louder in bed (and being a very auditory person, Sherlock had many a satisfying night from the mere thought alone). Yet Sherlock heard Mary’s screams of pleasure (over-exaggerated, he would have thought, had he been fully awake at the time; clearly, they’re faked), but it was as though no one else was in the room with her, let alone John (who was, in fact, taking a late night shower, so that he would be ready for work in the morning).
It was on this night that Sherlock decided, for better or for worse, he was moving back into 221B. Perhaps Mary was right, and John had reached a point in his life where he needed to choose between normalcy – normal job, a wife, children – and the life he and Sherlock led. Mary might not be willing to give up with fight, but Sherlock was rather unused to fighting to begin with and tired of it after his time spent in other countries, tracking down Moriarty’s men.
Besides, Sherlock thought, heart heavy and mind sluggish, What hope can I possibly have against her?