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“John,” the voice seeps through the static but John knows exactly who it belongs to.

“This stopped being funny years ago,” John snaps and hangs up. He drops the phone onto a stack of patient reports and takes a breath before shaking his head and looking back at the computer.

The phone buzzes again. John looks at it. It buzzes twice more before John snatches it up.

“Stop calling me.”

“I’m not a recording,” the voice says quickly, “If you would just give me a moment to explain--”

But John’s already hung up.

_____

Will you please answer your phone? -SH

Would you meet me somewhere? -SH

I’ve left you a voicemail. You know how much I detest doing that. Will you listen to it? -SH

I might be at Springfield on Thursday. Will you have time for a coffee? -SH

_____

John opens the door and automatically reaches for a pair of nitrile gloves as he says, “Good morning Mr. Adams,” before he stops. Mycroft turns from the window and John steps back until the heel of his shoe hits the closed door.

“Good morning,” Mycroft says, “You’ve a very elusive man these days, Dr. Watson.”

“I’m done,” John says, “I don’t care what you have to say. I don’t care what he has to say.” His fingertips are on the door handle and he’s half a moment away from leaving.

Mycroft smiles humourlessly as he leans against the patient table. “That’s not quite true, is it? You do care, or you would have changed your phone number the moment he contacted you.”

“I’ve had this number for ages,” John says, “I’m not going to--”

“My brother doesn’t know I’m here,” Mycroft says.

John looks over Mycroft’s shoulder out the window. “And why isn’t he here now?”

“Scared,” Mycroft murmurs.

Silence. John keeps his eyes trained on the window. He keeps his breathing even. He won’t fall for this, not after being tossed aside and lied to for three years. Not after the grief and the hollowness. All for nothing.

“I care for my brother very much,” Mycroft says, “And I can tell when he’s, ah, hurt.”

John’s back straightens. “I’m sure you do--” he says, “--after throwing him to Moriarty.” And then he leaves.

_____

It’s the fifth time in the last two hours that someone’s tried to call him--another unknown number. John snatches the phone up and answers with a, “Look, stop trying to reach me, alright?”

“Dr. Watson?” It’s a female voice.

“Oh.” John lowers his voice. “I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else.”

“Not a problem,” she says, “I’m Cathy Tran with the Daily Mail. I was wondering if I could interview about the return of your friend, Sherlock Holmes. At your convenience, of course.”

“I don’t have time,” John says, “How did you get this number?”

“Your blog, Dr. Watson. You were close to him before his faked death, weren’t you?”

“No,” John says and hangs up.

_____

John buys a new mobile. He texts his number to the several army mates who have returned from Afghanistan and the roster for the rugby club he joined a year ago. Harry texts back asking him if everything’s all right. She must have seen the news coverage about Sherlock’s return. John doesn’t watch television any more. He also doesn’t text Harry back.

He doesn’t throw the old one away. He keeps it on the kitchen counter of his one-room flat where it blinks with new messages every morning. It’s an exercise in self-control not to touch it.

_____

They meet by accident--or maybe Sherlock’s been following him for days without him noticing. John doesn’t know. He also doesn’t care.

Fridays, John buys lunch from a sushi place in Balham where he sits in a window seat and watches the pedestrians pass. He eats salmon and avocado rolls and sips on ginger ale for twenty-five minutes before he goes back to work. He likes the soy sauce mixture that this restaurant drizzles over the sushi--even as he thinks about cutting down on his sodium intake.

He recognizes Sherlock halfway down the other side of the street, even with all his curls gone. John leans away from the window and hopes he hasn’t been spotted. No such luck. Sherlock looks down the street for approaching cars before he hurries across it. John actually gets off the stool and turns with the intent of asking the woman behind the cash register for a takeaway box when someone raps at the window.

John can’t help himself. He turns to meet Sherlock’s eyes through the glass.

Sherlock looks awful. There are circles under his eyes and his cheekbones are even more pronounced than John remembers. He has a new coat--no less dramatic than the last one--and it looks too big on him.

John stays frozen--he can’t leave if Sherlock is outside. But he can’t stay in here either, not if Sherlock is going to come in too.

Sherlock has a palm against the window and he just stares at John. John stares back.

Eventually Sherlock digs into the pocket of his coat and pulls out a notepad. He writes something and presses it up against the glass. John can read the looping scrawl with far too much familiarity. You look good.

John’s eyes jump from the notepad to Sherlock’s unreadable expression.

Sherlock pulls the notepad back, flips the page, and writes something else. John reads it through the glass. I’m sorry.

John fights the urge to laugh hysterically. Sherlock tucks the notepad back in his pocket and nods, once. He gives John something like the parody of a smile before backing away from the window and continuing down the street. Maybe it’s the last time John will ever see him in person.

He sits down and clenches his hands around the edge of the stool to keep himself from running after Sherlock. There is a faint handprint left on the glass.

_____

Dead detective infiltrates criminal underworld
March 21, 2015
By David Aaron

Almost three years ago, it was widely accepted that Sherlock Holmes had taken his own life after being exposed as a man who had schemed his supposed brilliant deductions at crime scenes. The creation of Moriarty was generally considered to be his greatest deception, but new evidence suggests that Moriarty might have been real after all.

Last Monday saw the miraculous resurrection of previously-thought-dead detective. Pictured here leaving the Palace of Westminister two days ago, Holmes has been in frequent contact with government officials and SIS agents alike. Although no official statement has been released about Holmes’s return, sources close to him say that his three year sojourn involved retaliation against the real Moriarty.

“He’s fought incredibly hard to clear his name,” a source says, “He’s really a brilliant man. If anyone was capable of destroying Moriarty’s network, he would be top of the list.”

Just how far Holmes has infiltrated into the world of illegal activities is not yet known, and with good reason. Much information might still remain sensitive in the fight against crime and terrorism. Yet already a few are hailing Holmes’s return as the homecoming of a hero, going so far as to camp in front of his old address in hopes of a glimpse of the man. Thousands have flooded his website with comments.

“He’s gone through a lot,” a source close to him says, “He’s exhausted and he has years of catching up to do. People should respect his privacy.”

_____

You let me think you were dead for three years

I’m sorry. -SH

If you’re in the area any time let me know

Tomorrow. Lunch? -SH

11:30 front entrance.

_____

“You cut your hair,” John says because it’s the easiest thing that John can think of to say. Sherlock is loitering among the discarded wheelchairs off to the side of the hospital entrance. He touches his fingertips to his forehead at John’s words.

“It was too recognizable,” Sherlock says, shoving his hands into his pockets again, “It used to be blond.” He falls into step next to John.

“Don’t they need you at Vauxhall?” John asks, “I imagine Mycroft would be keeping you on a short lead. Can’t read two pages of the Guardian without running into an article about something you’ve dug up.”

Sherlock looks away from John, across the street. “It wasn’t exactly easy for me.”

“You could have called,” John says, “I would have come.”

“I’m sure that conversation would have gone over well,” Sherlock says, “Hello John. I’ve had five Russian snipers tailing me in the last three days. Would you like to come join me? Oh by the way, I’m not dead.”

“And how’s this conversation going, right now?” John asks, the words rising on a shout.

“You haven’t hit me.”

“Are you asking me to hit you?”

“No. Don’t you think I deserve it, though?”

John speeds up. “Shut up, Sherlock.”

_____

John drinks his entire glass of ice water. Sherlock sits back in his chair and doesn’t touch anything on the table. The strains of Asian pop music floats in from the open kitchen door, mingling with the dramatic intonations of the daytime soap playing on the old television mounted in the corner.

John stares at the television screen determinedly. A fly buzzes near Sherlock’s left ear but he doesn’t take his eyes off John.

The waitress sets wonton soup down in front of Sherlock and pepper steak in front of John. John thanks the waitress. Sherlock doesn’t move.

“I got a phone call last week,” John says. He picks up the fork. Sherlock shows no indication of having heard. “Reporter from the Daily Mail. Wanted to know if she could interview me about you.”

“You said no,” Sherlock says.

“What would you have liked for me to say about you?” John asks, scooping rice into the sauce. He presses it down with his fork, watching the brown bleed into the white.

“Would you have actually come?” Sherlock asks instead.

“Yes,” John says, “No. I don’t know. If you needed my help.”

Silence. John can’t stomach the thought of eating. He takes another sip of water. He looks back up at the television in the corner and wishes Sherlock would stop looking at him, just for one goddamn second.

“I don’t know what you want,” John says finally, after a few minutes.

“I live in 221B again,” Sherlock says, “There’s a spare room.”

John looks at Sherlock. Sherlock is staring at his soup but doesn’t show any interest in eating.

“You’re kidding me,” John says, “I put your coffin in the ground. I spent three years getting better. I spent three years getting used to the idea of you dead. And now you want me to come and live with you.”

“It’s just a thought,” Sherlock says, eyes down.

“No,” John says, and goes to pay for their food. He doesn’t look back at Sherlock when he leaves.

_____

u inivted me 2 lunch so u could ask me to move bak in with u?

You’re drunk. -SH

GOOD FUCKING DEDCTION!!fuck u

I also wanted to see you. -SH

take a good fuking look???

Don’t drink any more. -SH

Alcoholism runs in the family. -SH

fuck

you

_____

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: (none)

I had to find out from the fucking TELEVISION. You didn’t even give me the courtesy of a visit or even a bloody warning before I turned on the morning news and saw your face.

I hate you for jumping. I hate that you made me watch. You made me watch and believe that you fell to your fucking death, Sherlock. I fucking saw you swan dive from that rooftop a million times in my sleep. I had a fucking therapist for two goddamn years.

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: Re: (none)

I thought it would be the best course of action at that time. If a better choice had presented itself, I wouldn’t have hesitated to take that instead.

I’m sorry you had to find out that way. I wanted to come to you the moment I landed in London but there were protocols to be followed.

SH

__

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Re: (none)

When did Mycroft know? How long have you been working with them?

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: (none)

Two months in.

SH

__

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: (none)

Why don’t you stop with the platitudes and say it to my face: you didn’t ask me to come because you thought I was a crippled, useless waste of space. Was I too cowardly to come? No, I would have probably held you back.

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: (none)

Lies and self pity don’t suit you, John.

SH

__

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: (none)

Fuck. You.

_____

John’s phone buzzes and he can’t help but pull it out. Colin looks at it over the top of his lager and says, “Didn’t you get a new phone?”

“Yeah,” John says, still looking at the message. It’s one of many from Sherlock that he hasn’t answered.

“Thought you said you lost the old one,” Alec says with his eyes on the football game being played on television.

The phone buzzes again. John puts it away.

“Is Holmes bothering you again?”

“Nah,” John says and pushes his chair back, “Next round on me. Same?”

“Get George one too,” Alec says, “He’s probably having a shit or found himself a pretty barfly or something.”

“Right then,” John says and hurries off to buy the drinks.

_____

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: Would appreciate your assistance

Could you look at the attached and tell me what kind of poisoning or allergic reaction might cause the type of rash shown?

SH

Attachments: DSC01258.JPG, DSC01259.JPG, DSC01260.JPG

__

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Would appreciate your assistance

The lighting is shit. Just ask me to come with you next time.

_____

Lestrade texted. Clapham South. -SH

_____

Lestrade excuses himself from a conversation with one of the evidence collecting crew and immediately heads towards John. John shoves his hands into the pockets of his coats and starts towards Lestrade to meet him halfway.

“Hey,” Lestrade says, ducking under the crime scene tape, “Thought you’d eventually show up. How’s the rugby club faring?”

“Second to last,” John says pushing his hands in deeper, “Claude tore his ACL. You were smart to get out while you could.”

“I should send him an email. How are you and Sherlock getting on?”

John shrugs. “I’m here.”

“I think we should talk. What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Nothing.” John looks over Lestrade’s shoulder at the rest of the crime scene.

“I’m just.” Lestrade waves a hand. John looks back at him. “A little worried. You know?”

“Yeah.”

“Same old?”

“Tomorrow,” John agrees, “Where’s Sherlock now?”

_____

“Hand me that screwdriver,” Sherlock says when John enters the room. He’s kneeling in the corner of the room, examining a socket on the wall. John bends to pick up the screwdriver next to the corpse and approaches Sherlock.

“I hope you have gloves on,” Sherlock adds belatedly.

“I’m not stupid.”

Sherlock doesn’t look at him as he takes the screwdriver and carefully unscrews the socket. John looks back at the dead man.

“Asphyxiated,” Sherlock says, “Paralytic poison. No family, no friends, no enemies, clean record. Mystifying.”

“Which is why you’re taking the man’s house apart.”

“The screwdriver was found on the ground next to him.”

“Did I just tamper--”

“They’ve already taken photographs of everything.”

“And the socket because--?”

“Gouged plastic.” The second screw comes undone and Sherlock pulls the cover away from the wall. There is a folded up piece of paper inside and a key.

“That’s pretty good,” John says in spite of himself. Sherlock looks at him with a quick startled smile. John struggles to regain his composure. “What does it say?”

Sherlock stills as he unfolds the paper and the slight smile slips from his face. He gets slowly to his feet and refolds the paper. He heads toward the door.

“Sherlock,” John prompts.

“A phone number,” Sherlock says and disappears down the stairs.

_____

Sorry I’m running late, just left Vauxhall and still have to finish up some paperwork at the Yard.

Vauxhall?

ETA ~1hr, I’ll explain later.

_____

John’s been rolling the cardboard coaster across the sticky table for several minutes when Lestrade drops his coat on the back of the chair across from John and takes a seat.

“Sorry,” he says as he looks around for the waitress. John lifts his hand and lets the coaster fall over onto its side.

“Vauxhall?” John asks, “Sherlock?”

“The victim,” Lestrade says, “Sherlock recognized a series of phone numbers found in the man’s house. Guess he was connected to the organization Sherlock was after.”

“Lucky find.”

“Lucky Sherlock was there,” Lestrade replies and thanks the waitress who set a beer down in front of him. John rubs at the condensation on his own mug with a thumb.

“Look,” Lestrade says, “I know Sherlock’s been a right prick, pretending to be dead for three years and I know it’s barely been a month since he’s been back and you need time to adjust--”

“Did you forget that he got you sacked?”

“Demoted,” Lestrade says, “But I worked my way back up now, haven’t I? Look John, I’m just worried about him, alright?”

John takes a drink.

“He seems depressed,” Lestrade continues, “I’m not really supposed to let him back onto crime scenes to consult but he keeps texting me about it or he just shows up unannounced. He doesn’t insult the intelligence of my team, he hasn’t told me how much of an idiot I am since he got back. He just goes in, looks at the victim, tells me his deductions and leaves. He looks awful John--you’ve seen that.”

John shakes his head minutely. He doesn’t know how to reply.

“He’s been through a lot.” Lestrade lifts his mug. “Maybe you could cut him some slack.”

“He called me repeatedly,” John says, “After that day they showed him back. I never picked up.”

“I know how hard you grieved.”

John laughs humourlessly. “I don’t even know where my parents are buried.”

“He just needs a stabilizing influence,” Lestrade says.

“I can’t pretend that everything’s all right.”

“No one’s asking you to do that. Just. Cut him some slack maybe.”

John rubs a hand over his face. “I’m trying.”

_____

Saved in Drafts

To:
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: (none)

At the start of every June I would go to your gravesite and weed around your headstone.
For the first year I was convinced you weren’t dead. I saw your face walking the other way on the street. Disappearing around the corner. Everywhere.
I was ashamed to have been in denial for so long. I was ashamed to have been the fool for so long. You played me for the fool again.

__

Email deleted

__

Do you still play the violin?

I’m rusty. -SH

What are you doing tomorrow night?

Nothing. -SH

Baker St? I’ll bring dinner. I assume you stocked up on tea.

I will. -SH

_____

The Baker Street tube station hasn’t changed at all since he moved away from 221B. John’s only caught glimpses of it through the train window since then.

The door to 221 is a bit more faded than John remembers and the numbering has lost its lustre. He hasn’t seen Mrs. Hudson in almost half a year. He knocks. It takes a few minutes before Sherlock opens the door. He looks even thinner in his bathrobe which he wraps around himself as he gestures for John to come in with a tilt of his head.

“I brought Indian from down the street,” John says as they go up the stairs. The banister gets dustier the higher it goes. John stops in the doorway as Sherlock moves into the kitchen. It’s like nothing has changed. Surreal.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be back here,” John admits.

“One sugar?” Sherlock calls out.

“Yeah.” John sets the takeaway boxes on the table and goes to sit in his old chair. He leans forward with his elbows on his knees. There is still a layer of dust on Sherlock’s old chair. He sits back and rubs the palm of his hand against the armrest of his chair. Barely any dust.

“John.”

John turns his head. Sherlock holds out a mug of still-steaming tea.

He takes it. “Thanks.”

Sherlock settles in his own chair without any concern for the dust.

“Lestrade says you’ve been walking in on his crime scenes,” John says, “SIS not keeping you busy enough?”

“Dull,” Sherlock says, “I have to clarify every other sentence on my status reports before any of the imbeciles understand the conclusions I’ve drawn. And then they go do the opposite of what I suggest.”

“I’m sure you waste no time telling them exactly what you think.”

Sherlock shrugs and looks down at his tea. A silence stretches.

“Are you okay?” John asks.

“I am impressed, truly,” Sherlock says as he shifts his grip on his tea, “By the number of times someone has asked me that exact inane question. Do you people not bother to observe any more?”

“So, no.”

“I’m fine.”

John smiles unhappily. “I recall someone saying something about lies and self-pity to me once.”

Sherlock doesn’t answer.

John gets up and walks into the kitchen. The kitchen table is surprisingly clean. He takes a sip of the tea. Sherlock didn’t use hot enough water to brew the black tea and added too much sugar. John keeps drinking it anyway. He touches the familiar worn handles of the drawers and pauses a moment before opening the refrigerator. Nothing--not even experiments.

“I didn’t sleep much.”

John turns and the refrigerator door falls shut. Sherlock leans against the wall separating the kitchen and the living room.

“When I was gone. I didn’t sleep much. But I dreamt about this kitchen often.”

He moves, bare feet against the tiled floor. He reaches out and trails his fingertips against the drawers. John stays frozen next to the refrigerator, watching him.

“Sunset coming in through the windows. Me, working methodically through pathology slides on the microscope. You at your chair, out of sight. Listening to you typing.”

He’s barely a few feet away. John keeps his eyes on Sherlock’s face, keeps his breathing steady.

“All too often I’ve laughed at the idea of domesticity,” Sherlock murmurs. He’s not touching John but he’s too close.

“Sherlock,” John says eventually, “I’m not going to--”

“I know. I’m not asking.”

“You did though. Before.”

“Yes. But I’m not asking now.” He turns away and pretends to clean up the few things he’s dirtied in the course of making tea.

John looks at Sherlock. There’s a scar on the back of Sherlock’s neck, half hidden by the hairline of his now-short hair. Two jagged lines cut diagonally across. John finds himself taking the three steps forward and reaching up before he’s even aware of it. Sherlock tenses at his touch but doesn’t move away.

“Where--?”

“Bulgaria.”

“Where else?”

“I don’t remember all of them.”

“Okay,” John says and finally moves his hand, “Okay.”

_____

It’s been ages since he had last seen Bart’s. He doesn’t know whether it’s masochism or vindictiveness that makes him take the entrance where Sherlock jumped--maybe a bit of both. He doesn’t recognize the security guard but she must recognize him because she smiles and says, “Have a good day, Dr. Watson,” when she hands him his visitor’s badge.

Molly’s office connects both from the hallway and the morgue. She’s typing on the computer when John knocks on the open door.

She smiles when she sees him, “Hi John. Come in. Give me a second to send this email off.”

John takes a seat across from her and puts his hands on his knees, looking around the office.

“Can I help you with something?” she asks, turning away from the computer.

“You knew about Sherlock.”

“Oh,” she says quietly.

“You’re going to tell me that it wasn’t your secret to tell.”

“Yes,” she says, “Well no. I mean yes. I’m sorry John.”

“I don’t blame you.”

Molly fidgets with her badge on the desk. “Still.”

“Were you in contact with him?”

“Not after the first month. I tried emailing him but he didn’t answer, so--not after the first month.”

“Do you know why he never told me he was alive?”

Molly drops her eyes to the keyboard in front of her. She shakes her head.

“That was an unfair question. Sorry.”

Molly looks back up at him. “Have you tried asking him?”

John exhales. “I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

_____

May I come to your rugby match? -SH

?? Why on earth would you want to do that?

Just a thought. Never mind. -SH

You can do whatever you’d like. Next one’s @ Tooting Bec, Thurs 7PM.

Would you like to get dinner afterward? -SH

Why not?

_____

The pasta is a touch too rich for John’s usual liking but he’s generally hungry after losing rugby matches.

Sherlock had showed up halfway into the game and sat under a tree away from the women who had come to cheer on their boyfriends. He had watched a tiny bit of the game before pulling out a torch and turning his attention on a book instead. John was honestly surprised he had showed up at all.

Sherlock stabs at his buttered noodles more than he bothers to eat them and half of the farfalle has been shredded. John’s gaze is drawn to the hollows of Sherlock’s cheeks.

“Not hungry?”

Sherlock meets his eyes. “I don’t eat much.”

“You didn’t have anything in the fridge when I visited.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I do loathe repeating myself.”

“I mean,” John struggles for the right phrasing, “You know there’s a minimum of calories we need to consume every day just to stay alive.”

Sherlock pointedly stabs at the pasta and eats a mouthful.

“Better,” John agrees. Maybe he can convince Mrs. Hudson to shop for Sherlock once in a while. He entertains the thought of dropping by unannounced with groceries.

“I’m done,” Sherlock says as he sets the fork down, “I’m going to the loo. Get the check will you?”

John reaches into his pocket but can’t find his wallet. He checks his coat pockets. Nothing. Damn. Must have accidentally left it at work.

He eyes Sherlock’s coat and debates with himself before getting up to check its pockets. He finds Sherlock’s wallet. As he pulls out Sherlock’s chip card to check if it’s the same one from three years ago, a small photograph flutters to the table. John picks it up and realizes that it’s of him.

He’s laughing and looking off to the side--someone must have taken a candid of him because he can’t place where or when it was taken. It’s worn at the edges, one corner stained with something a rusty brown. Dried blood.

Jesus.

“It’s the same one.”

John drops both the card and the photograph onto the table, springing out of the seat. “Sorry. I didn’t mean--”

Sherlock takes the seat John had just vacated and hands him the card, “It’s the same card.”

John stares at the card blankly before taking it, “Right. I’ll just. Go pay.”

He watches Sherlock slip the photograph back into his wallet out of the corner of his eye.

_____

To: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Appointment

Do you have any free time? I would appreciate an appointment.

John

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Appointment

John,

I will send someone to collect you after work.

MH

_____

“I want his files,” John says the moment he enters Mycroft’s office.

“Hello John,” Mycroft says, “Take a seat.”

“Sherlock’s files. All of his status reports, hospital visits, whatever. I know you have them.”

Mycroft folds his hands on his desk, “I’m sure you realize that you’re asking for highly classified information. I’m afraid you don’t have the clearance for any of his files.”

“So redact whatever you need to before giving them to me.”

“This isn’t possible, John.”

John leans forward, palms on Mycroft’s desk, “You want me to help your brother? I need to know what he’s been through.”

“Have you tried asking him?” Mycroft suggests and it takes all of John’s willpower not to punch the man in the face.

“Why do you think I’m here?” John asks in reply, knuckles whitening. “I’m not going to probe. I know PTSD when I see it.”

Mycroft looks at him and remains silent. John blinks away his glare and exhales.

“I just want to help,” John says, “Who else can help him?”

_____

Leaving for Washington DC, back next week. Possibly no communication. -SH

Well, I’ve had years of practice with that one.

That was a joke by the way. I’m not angry.

Yes, humorous. -SH

_____

John’s toweling his hair when the doorbell rings. He drops the towel on the back of a chair and hurries down the stairs to get to the front door.

“From Mr. Holmes,” the man behind the door says. He’s carrying a medium-sized cardboard box. It’s heavier than John expects it to be.

“Thanks,” he says and the man nods before leaving.

He sets the box down next to the table and goes to fix himself a cup of tea. He takes a drink of the tea as he leans down to cut through the packing tape. It’s nearly full to the brim. There’s a note on top in Mycroft’s handwriting:

I had my assistants compile you a small sampling of the most relevant documentation surrounding SH’s work. You will mostly find in here patient charts and reports SH wrote himself. Everything classified has been redacted; I hope you will not find the wide swaths of black too frustrating.
MH

John drops the note on the table and reaches for the first folder.

_____

ID: 15596
DATE: [REDACTED]
REFID: 06OSAKA1956
ORIGIN: OSAKA

SUBJECT: OUTBOUND SHIPMENT OF EXPLOSIVES FROM OSAKA JULY 2014

Classified by: Officer Larry Adolph
Reason: 1.3.2

[REDACTED]

_____

ID: 15483
DATE: [REDACTED]
REFID: 09SEOUL1827
ORIGIN: SEOUL

SUBJECT: MOVEMENT OF COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE FORCES IN SEOUL JUNE 2014

Classified by: Officer Larry Adolph
Reason: 1.4.5

[REDACTED]

_____

ID: 13700
DATE: [REDACTED]
REFID: 01NAPLES1720
ORIGIN: NAPLES

SUBJECT: DISPATCH OF SNIPER ASSOCIATED WITH MORIARTY FEBRUARY 2013

Classified by: Officer Milo Graeme
Reason: 1.9.1

[REDACTED]

_____

Most of the hospital records are in Italian or Czech or Russian and John has to make do with the accompanying photographs of infected wounds in isolated parts of Sherlock’s body. It’s all too easy to dissociate these photographs from the warm skin and incessant texting of the man who had suffered them, all too easy to fall into clinical detachment.

He comes across a photograph of the back of Sherlock’s neck, two angry raw welts corresponding exactly where John had seen the scars. The next photograph shows the welts closed up with stitches. John looks at the corresponding written documentation but he can’t read Cyrillic.

He sets the photographs back down into the folder and closes the folder. He puts his face into his hands and remembers to breathe.

_____

John stays awake through the night, putting together a timeline of Sherlock’s activities using the subject headers in the redacted reports. He digs out a box of pushpins, and when he runs out of those, he uses tape to stick the front page of each report to the wall.

The sun is coming up when John pulls out the pictures of Sherlock’s injuries. He identifies when they were taken by the language in the written documentation since all of the dates have been redacted. Some of the medical documentation doesn’t have any accompanying photographs but he pins those up too.

When he’s finished, he steps back and stares at the new wall in his flat: blocks of black ink and gruesome photographs.

He still has half the box to go.

_____

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: (none)

Americans are even duller than I remembered.

SH

__

Saved in Drafts

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: (none)

I should have believed you when you said that the three years weren’t easy on you. I don’t know how you managed it. Sometimes I don’t think you’re even human. How do you travel to three countries within a month’s span? I can’t stand looking at all of your injuries. I want to look at all of your scars. I’m fretting about how many times you could have died and I thought you were dead for these last three years. I feel like I’m going mad.

I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for not taking me with you.
Why didn’t you take me with you? I don’t understand. Why di

__

Email deleted

__

To: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Re: (none)

If you antagonize them, they’ll just give you a harder time. Smile and play nice. It’s easier for everyone involved.

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: sh@thescienceofdeduction.co.uk
Subject: Re: Re: (none)

Boring.

SH

_____

John can’t forget it: the worn picture of himself in Sherlock’s wallet. The smudge of blood in the corner.

How Sherlock didn’t comment on it at all.

_____

Mrs. Hudson lets him into the flat with a hug he can’t return because of the bags he’s carrying. She goes off to fix him a cup of tea and John makes his way up the stairs.

The fridge is just as empty as the last time he had opened it--not even the traces of rotting vegetables or old takeaway boxes. John unloads the shopping: eggs on the bottom shelf, milk on the door. Broccoli and cabbage were on sale so he throws those into the crisper. Halfway into putting everything away, he realizes that he’s been subconsciously avoiding all the spots in the fridge where Sherlock had let his truly revolting experiments sit.

The rubbish bin beneath the sink only has plastic packaging in it. John hesitates, and then he pulls it out. There’s a trace of tea dust across the bottom of the plastic. It’s been nearly two weeks since John suggested Sherlock buy tea. John lets it drop back to the bottom of the bin and stuffs the plastic bags into the space next to it.

He hears Mrs. Hudson’s footsteps on the stairs and moves into the living room. She sets the tray on the table and hands him a cup.

“How is he?” John asks as he raises the teacup.

“Truth be told, he’s not here very often. Comes in late at night, leaves early in the morning. I’ve been trying to tell him to get more rest, poor dear.” She holds out a tin of biscuits and John takes one.

“He’s not doing any experiments any more?”

“The government’s got him so busy. And you should have seen the first two weeks--all of the people hanging about hoping to talk to him. Reports calling at the oddest of hours. Had to disconnect all the phones to get any peace.”

“Does he seem--” John tries to think of a better word but has to settle, “--depressed?”

“I’m getting old,” Mrs. Hudson sighs, setting her teacup on the saucer as she turns. She puts the saucer on the table and even though her cup is still half full, picks up the teapot and fills it to the brim. She picks it up again before she speaks, “I don’t sleep very well any more.” She looks at him and pauses again before she says, “Sometimes he shouts in his sleep.” She bites her lip. “Sometimes when it’s very quiet, I can hear him crying.”

John sets his tea on the table. Then he sits down in his old chair and pushes a hand through his hair.

“Are you going to move back in?” Mrs. Hudson asks.

“I don’t know,” John answers.

_____

He’s draining the pasta into the sink when he hears footsteps on the stairs. He sets the pot back onto the stove as Sherlock rounds the corner into the living room.

“How was your flight?” John asks.

“Tedious,” Sherlock says as he drops his duffel bag and unwinds his scarf.

“I’m thinking maybe ten minutes before dinner’s ready,” John says, lifting the lid on a smaller pot, “I don’t know if the sausage is cooked all the way through.”

Sherlock nods and takes off his coat which he throws on the couch. John doesn’t think Sherlock’s looked away from him once.

“Did the Americans want stuff on Moriarty?”

“No. Possible terror cells. As if they’re interested in anything else.” Sherlock finally looks away as he crosses the kitchen to wash his hands. The plates are a little dusty so he rinses those off too. John stops himself from asking when he had last used them.

Sherlock sets the table. John doles penne onto the plates while Sherlock looks at his face. John wishes he would look away and give him some breathing space.

“I’ll make tea,” Sherlock says, finally looking towards the cabinets.

“Okay,” John says and goes to pour the sauce.

Sherlock rinses out two mugs. John looks at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. The sleeves of his dress shirt are pushed up to his elbow and John can see firsthand the remnants of the injuries Sherlock suffered in the last three years. A burn shines on his wrist, the graze of a bullet against the back of his forearm. The shirt hangs on his body. His tailored pants from three years ago are loose around the curve of his arse.

John snaps his eyes forward and wills himself not to redden. He goes to serve the steamed broccoli.

The electric kettle gurgles. Sherlock sets the mugs of tea next to their plates. John sets the pot back on the stove and sits down. Sherlock pulls his chair back and pauses for a moment before lowering himself.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock asks. He’s making eye contact and he’s not smiling.

“I came to drop off some shopping. Ended up chatting with Mrs. Hudson longer than I thought I would so I thought I’d come and actually make dinner since I didn’t think you would.” Sherlock didn’t need to know that he’d sat alone in the flat for nearly three hours.

Sherlock spears a bit of pasta and puts it in his mouth. John runs his fork through the sauce.

“I asked your brother to see your files.”

Sherlock doesn’t reply but he keeps his eyes on John as he eats a piece of broccoli.

“He gave me some of your reports. Redacted, of course. And some of your patient charts from the hospitals you were at.”

Sherlock eats more pasta.

“If Mycroft knew,” John says, “Why didn’t he tell me?”

“Protocol,” Sherlock says and takes a sip of tea.

“I would have kept it a secret,” John says, “You both knew that I would have.”

“Because, John.” Sherlock lowers his fork as he leans forward. “We all knew that after you had gotten over your initial anger, you would have tried to find me.”

He leans back again and spears a piece of sausage. He keeps his eyes on his plate. “It was an unacceptable risk.”

_____

I can drop by for lunch. Sushi? -SH

Please. 11:30?

See you in two hours. -SH

_____

“Where’s your bloke?”

John wipes the sweat from his forehead and turns to face Robbie who drinks half of a sports drink in just a few gulps. “Sorry?”

“The quiet guy. Brings a book and torch and waits for you to finish.”

“Sherlock?” John had never heard anyone describe Sherlock as “quiet” before.

“Thought he looked familiar,” Robbie says as he collects his things, “He’s that detective fellow, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” John says, “Dunno, he’s probably busy.”

_____

SIS keeping you overtime?

Guess they are. Don’t let them irritate you too much.

Lunch today, maybe?

Sherlock?

Wow I think this is the longest I’ve gone in the last three months without receiving a text from you.

_____

To: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: Sherlock

Is he all right?

John

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Sherlock

John,

Sherlock is currently out of the country on business.

MH

_____

Hey, thanks for the heads up.

I hope you’re okay.

Nothing permanent. -SH

_____

The cab drops him off in front of 221B and John thrusts a few notes at the cabbie before hurrying to ring the doorbell. Nobody answers for a few minutes and John wonders if Sherlock is even back when the door is pulled open. Sherlock is on crutches with his ankle bound up in a brace. John stares.

Sherlock shakes his head as he gestures for John to come in with a crutch, “I did say it was nothing permanent.”

“I thought you were understating it,” John says, stepping inside. Sherlock pushes the door closed with a crutch. John locks it while Sherlock starts to hobble up the stairs.

“Stupid, really. Sprained it trying to dive behind a car. Humiliating.”

“And why were you diving behind cars?” John has the irrational desire to check the bandaging and tightness of the brace even though they were difficult to botch.

Sherlock doesn’t answer and hobbles into the kitchen. John follows him and takes the kettle out of his hands.

“I’ve only got a sprained ankle, I’m not an invalid,” Sherlock says.

“Sit,” John says, “You’re shite at making tea anyway.”

Sherlock hovers behind John instead as John pulls out mugs and tea bags. John turns and nearly collides with Sherlock who steadies him with a hand at his elbow. John looks up at him. Sherlock has an unreadable expression on his face.

“It’s not like my leg is broken,” Sherlock says, “It’s just a sprain. I’ve had loads worse.”

“I know,” John says and it surprises him how raw his voice sounds.

Sherlock draws his hand away but John catches it with a renewed determination. He turns Sherlock’s hands over, and traces the faint scars on the knuckles. “Bremen.” He slides his fingers along the back of Sherlock’s hand, over the heel of his thumb and onto the burn scar on the inside of his wrist. “Mokpo.” He traces the tendon of his wrist up his forearm, pushing the sleeve of Sherlock’s shirt up, past the faded track marks on the inside of his elbow to a twisted bit of skin at the back of Sherlock’s bicep. “Kabul.”

The kettle is gurgling. Sherlock doesn’t look away from John’s face. John picks up his Sherlock’s other hand and touches the knob of his wrist before sliding his fingertips to rest on the dip of skin where the bullet had grazed his forearm. “Bogota.”

“John,” Sherlock murmurs.

John steps forward until his face is barely inches from Sherlock’s. He touches the back of Sherlock’s neck, runs two fingers over the parallel scars and whispers, “Plovdiv.”

Sherlock stares at him. John inhales and sinks his hands into Sherlock’s hair as he pulls Sherlock down to kiss him.

Sherlock kisses back tentatively at first, then with growing urgency as he cups the back of John’s head, opening his mouth and tilting his head like he wants to devour John whole. John presses up against him, fingers winding through the short hair at the back of Sherlock’s head until they slowly draw away. Sherlock’s crutches have fallen to the ground but it doesn’t stop Sherlock from taking two small steps back to lean against the kitchen table.

John touches the top button of Sherlock’s shirt. Sherlock looks down at him, eyes dark.

“May I?” John murmurs. Sherlock hesitates for a moment but then he nods almost imperceptibly.

John unbuttons Sherlock’s shirt and slips it off his shoulders. Sherlock lifts John’s chin and leans down for another kiss. John smoothes a thumb over Sherlock’s collarbone and mouths at the corner of Sherlock’s jaw. He has his tongue pressed against the swell of Sherlock’s Adam’s apple when Sherlock seizes his arms and says suddenly, “Against the table.”

John pulls his mouth away--Sherlock is working on his belt and trousers with a frenzy. “I need,” Sherlock says, throwing the belt on the floor, “I need--John, please.”

“Okay,” John says and he moves against the table. Sherlock immediately limps over so that he’s caging John with his arms and with an effort, lowers himself to his knees. John’s half-hard cock gives a visible twitch of interest. Sherlock presses his face into John’s hip for a moment, then he unzips John’s trousers and pushes them down around John’s ankles. Sherlock presses a open-mouthed kiss on John’s cock through the briefs and looks up at John through his lashes. John feels a violent spike of arousal and his cock is pushing against the cotton, towards the heat of Sherlock’s tongue.

“You can’t imagine--” Sherlock growls as he nuzzles the wet cotton, “--how long, John.”

Whatever coherent answer John might have had turns into a stifled moan as Sherlock pulls down the briefs and takes John’s cock in one hand. He mouths the top, teeth covered and tongue pressing against the underside. John’s breathing shakes, nails digging into the kitchen table. Sherlock tightens his grip, a combination of exquisite pressure and Sherlock’s tongue sliding against the sensitive tip.

A moment later, Sherlock manages to take over half of John’s cock in a single swallow. He slides down and does it again, a wave of pleasure rising in John’s spine. Sherlock looks back up at him, catching the way that he’s biting his lip. He pulls back a moment to undo his own trousers and slips his other hand beneath. John wants to protest, wants to touch Sherlock but his thoughts are swallowed by another wash of pleasure as Sherlock’s lips hollow with the effort of sucking. Oh god. John squeezes his eyes shut a and tries to stifle his whimpers by biting his knuckles.

It doesn’t take long before the slow slide of Sherlock’s tongue against the slit of his cock is just too much and he’s pulled into a crescendo with his own pulse rushing through his ears. He settles back into himself in time to see Sherlock wipe the saliva and a trail of come off his chin with the back of his hand. Jesus.

“Are you--?” John asks as Sherlock pushes himself back to his feet with some effort. Sherlock holds out a hand, sticky with come.

On impulse, John circles his fingers around Sherlock’s wrist and tugs gently. Sherlock limps forward a step, John looks at the substance on Sherlock’s hand for another moment before he makes a decision and touches his lips to it. It’s salty and a little bitter. He glances up. Sherlock watches him with undisguised interest.

“Come here,” John murmurs. Sherlock bends his head, and ends up smearing his own come over the kitchen table when John presses close and kisses him.

_____

Triple homicide depressingly mundane. Dinner? -SH

Supposed to be celebrating a coworker’s promotion tonight.

Skip. I’ll cook. -SH

You can cook?

I’m not a complete imbecile. -SH

_____

John stops by an off-licence to grab a pack of IPA before walking the last few streets to 221B. The hazy heat of summer is approaching and even though it’s getting late in the day, the last traces of sunset haven’t yet disappeared. John hasn’t really strolled through this neighbourhood in a long time. It’s nice and strange all at once.

He stands and looks at the door to his old flat for a long time. He’s not sure what he’s doing. He’ll have to apologize to Cynthia tomorrow for telling her he’d come and having to cancel last minute. It’s a pity because he actually likes her. She’s lovely with children.

The door opens before he can make up his mind whether or not to knock. Sherlock’s discarded his crutches somewhere and he’s walking on the brace. His hair is getting long enough to curl at his forehead and John wants to run his fingers through it. “Are you coming in?”

“It smells like real food,” John says and steps into the doorway. The moment the door shuts, Sherlock crowds him against the wall and kisses him, fingertips pressed to the side of John’s cheek. John runs one hand up Sherlock’s side, the other one accidentally banging the beer into Sherlock’s hip. They pull apart and Sherlock cups John’s face as they laugh breathlessly.

“Cooking is just applied chemistry,” Sherlock says, pulling away and half-limping up the stairs at a surprising speed. John follows him into the flat and sets the beer onto the kitchen table.

“You’ve never applied yourself before,” John points out.

“The steaks are in the broiler,” Sherlock says and lifts his injured foot.

“I find it hard to believe you had Mrs. Hudson put them in for you,” John says but he takes the tea towel anyway and bends down to pull the steaks out. He feels Sherlock’s hand pass over the curve of his arse, palm settling against the small of John’s back, fingers slipping beneath the waistband of his trousers.

“Ah,” John says as he sets the meat on the counter. Sherlock’s breath stirs the hairs behind his ear.

“We should let them cool down,” Sherlock’s murmurs and tongues the skin behind John’s ear. His palms are pressed against the skin of John’s arse, thumbs idly rubbing at the hollows of his back, and John is having a hard time thinking.

“Okay,” he manages and Sherlock kisses his ear.

_____

Sherlock covers John’s entire body with his own as he moves slowly, sweaty skin against sweaty skin, trapping John’s cock between them. His forearms cage John’s head, and he’s panting hot air against the side of John’s jaw, eyes open and never once wavering from John’s face.

It took a while for Sherlock to find the angle that would send a thrum of pleasure sparking up John’s spine but he hits it every time now, his cock moving inch by slow inch in and out of John’s stretched hole. John’s breath comes in shuddering gasps, his hips moving of their own volition, leaking pre-come onto his own stomach. He stares unseeingly at the slivers of Sherlock’s irises in the dim bedside light.

“Every part of you,” Sherlock whispers and John tightens his fingers against the back of Sherlock’s neck.

_____

The steak is cold, the courgettes have congealed, and the beer is warm. It’s still the best dinner John’s had in years.

_____

Hey John, just wanted to make sure you were OK since you didn’t show up at practice today.

Sorry about that! I didn’t feel too great at the end of the day so I just went home.

Sorry to hear it. Hope you feel better!

_____

Someone knocks at his office door, waking him out of his doze. John blinks himself into alertness and looks towards the door.

“Cynthia. Can I help you?”

She smiles. “Tired?”

“Out on a case last night,” John agrees, “Not as young as I used to be.”

“That detective fellow? I think I read your blog once.”

“Yeah,” John says, and then, “Look Cynthia, I’m really sorry about not making your dinner last week.”

She shakes her head. “Don’t worry about it.” She has dimples. John’s never noticed before. “Don’t let Yvonne catch you sleeping.”

“Thanks,” he says, watching her disappear around the corner of his door.

_____

“This is a horrible idea,” John hisses as he and Sherlock hide around the corner of a building. He’d pulled the Sig out from where it’d been gathering dust in the bottom drawer of his desk, on top of his old non-functional laptop. Cleaning the pistol had come like second nature.

Now they’re chasing down suspects and risking getting shot. Just like old times.

“Second door to the right,” Sherlock says and slips around the corner. John touches the inside of his jacket for his gun just to make sure before following Sherlock down the alleyway.

“We should wait for backup,” John whispers but Sherlock ignores him. There’s something different about this Sherlock: confidence in his every movement and unerring accuracy in focusing on the right details. This Sherlock had spent the last three years on the run while John was nearly five years out of training. John can’t deny that he’s a little jealous.

“No time,” Sherlock says in belated response, “Follow me.” The door is still open. John clenches his jaw and draws his gun out of his jacket, wishing he had spent any time at all at the range over the last three years.

Sherlock moves like a fluid shadow with his back to the wall. There’s the clatter of printing machinery from deeper into the building and the strain of accordion music. Sherlock glances back, their eyes meet, and John barely catches the slide of Sherlock’s eyes to behind his left shoulder before Sherlock jerks him forward, forcing him to stumble against the wall. His head hits the brick with a scatter of stars in his vision but he whirls around within moments, gun outstretched and blinking his vision clear.

The suspect is doubled over in pain. Sherlock throws him against the wall face forward and uses both hands on his neck, squeezing.

“Sherlock,” John says, “We can tie him up, wait for Lestrade.”

Sherlock doesn’t seem to have heard. The man starts to struggle even more, legs kicking back against Sherlock pushing violently against the wall.

“Sherlock!” John yells, scrambling forward. He presses the barrel of the gun against the man’s head. “Look, I’ve got him, you can let go.”

The expression on Sherlock’s face is utterly terrifying because there’s almost nothing there at all. Blank except for the fury in his eyes.

“Sherlock!” John shouts in his face and only then does he let go. The man slumps to the ground, unconscious or dead.

_____

“He could have hurt you,” Sherlock says.

The suspect isn’t dead but John has the feeling that Sherlock would have choked him to death if given the choice. The ambulance wails away into the distance. John wants to go home.

“That would have been unacceptable,” Sherlock concludes and takes hold of John’s wrist. John lets him.

They take a cab back to 221B where John puts antiseptic on the scratches the suspect had left and lets Sherlock fuck him into the mattress.

_____

In the morning, John goes around the room picking up his discarded clothing with the slightest of limps and a pleasurable ache in his arsehole. He rubs at a smear of blood on the sleeve of his shirt.

“Peroxide in the bathroom cabinet.”

Sherlock is watching him from the bed. “I know,” John says.

“You could move back,” Sherlock says, “It’d be more efficient.”

John steps into his briefs and pulls them up his legs. He pulls on his trousers.

“John?”

John keeps his back to Sherlock as he pulls on his undershirt. “I’m still thinking about it.”

Silence. John looks over his shoulder at Sherlock. Sherlock is still propped up on one elbow, watching him.

“Give me some time,” John says and walks back over to the bed. He leans down and Sherlock tilts his head up for a kiss.

“See you later,” John says and heads off.

_____

Saved in Drafts

To:
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: (none)

Was that why you didn’t want me to come?
I was just a liability to

__

Email deleted

_____

Hey John. Missed you at practice again. Are you OK?

Shit. A lot on my mind recently. I promise I’ll be there Thursday.

_____

John wakes to a shout. It takes him a few moments to register the reason why he woke but he rolls over. Sherlock’s shoulder is almost vibrating with tension and he’s muttering things under his breath that John can’t make out.

“Sherlock,” he whispers. Sherlock shouts again, a half-strangled “no!” that breaks John’s heart. He presses himself against Sherlock’s back, hand settling on Sherlock’s side and says louder, “Sherlock.”

Sherlock snatches his wrist in a vicelike grip but the muttering stops.

“It’s just me,” John murmurs, pressing his nose into Sherlock’s hair, “Just me.” Slowly, the grip on his wrist loosens.

John drops his chin onto Sherlock’s shoulder and slides the hand on his side onto his stomach, pressing close to Sherlock’s back. His other hand moves to stroke the back of Sherlock’s head, tangling in the medium-length hair. He listens to and feels Sherlock’s breathing slow down.

He keeps stroking Sherlock’s hair until Sherlock’s breathing evens out into the quiet rhythm of sleep and then he finally closes his eyes.

_____

“You’re moving?” Colin demands, “I thought you said your flat was a deal?”

“It was,” John says, “I mean it is. But I think I’m going to move back.”

“Hold on,” George cuts in with an emphatic thump of his beer bottle, “Move back? As in Holmes?”

“Holmes!” Alec repeats, finally looking away from the game, “The twat who pretended to be dead? No fucking way. You’re better off without him.”

“Men can do some fucked up shit to each other,” George says with a shake of his head, “But what he did to you is pretty close to the top of the list.”

“Oh come on. You guys don’t have all the details.”

“Details,” George says, leaning forward, “You want details? We didn’t get back till--when was it?” He looks to the others.

“February. Two-thousand thirteen,” Colin prompts.

“So like what, a little over half a year after Holmes fucked off? Sorry to say it John but you were pretty FUBAR.”

“That,” John says, “Is a complete exaggeration.”

“Sure thing mate,” George says, “Practically had to drag you out of your flat or ambush you on your way back from work to even get in contact with you. If it weren’t for Alec seeing you in hospital, we wouldn’t have known you were even in London at all.” Alec grunts at the mention of his name, his attention back on the television.

“Everyone’s allowed to get a little depressed about their friend dying,” John says.

“Except he didn’t die,” George says, “He probably buggered off to fuck a few pretty girls--”

“That’s ludicrous,” John says.

“--and did god knows what for three years and now he’s back and he says that he’s sorry and you’re moving back in with him?”

“I know what he did those three years and it wasn’t any of that.”

“Bully for you,” George says, slapping his hand against the table, “The fact remains that he lied to you for three years and he’ll do it again. He doesn’t respect you, you shouldn’t fucking respect him.”

John stares down at his own beer, shaking his head.

“This is a bad idea, John,” Colin says.

“Sorry John,” George says, more quietly. “But it’s all bloody true, isn’t it?”

_____

“It’s such a relief to have you back,” Mrs. Hudson says as she straightens papers on the living room table, “You’ve been such a dear. Sherlock looks much better now, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah,” John says, hauling his suitcase from the top of the stairs into the living room.

Mrs. Hudson pats him on the arm and smiles as she leaves, “I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need any help. It’s a shame Sherlock isn’t back to give you a hand.”

“Will do,” John says and she’s gone. John rolls the suitcase over to the bookshelf and mentally starts rearranging the books to make room for his medical textbooks. Sherlock probably won’t mind.

When he pulls his suitcase of clothes up the stairs, he hesitates in the hallway before going to check the space in Sherlock’s closet. It’s almost bare--a couple of suits and a jacket hanging in a corner. The dresser is half empty. John shuts the drawer and straightens. He exhales and stares at the back of the closet. Was he really going to...?

He goes to get his suitcase.

_____

Doing the shopping. Do you need anything?

That’s generous. -SH

I moved in.

Oh. Orange juice and nail clippers. -SH

I won’t be back until late. -SH

_____

Hey John. I don’t want to nag about this but at this point you either need to commit or leave. Fourth in a row you’ve missed. Let me know. Cheers. - Gale

_____

“Fuck,” John mutters.

“What?” Sherlock says. They’re sitting in a hallway at the Yard, waiting for Lestrade’s team to set up an interrogation.

“I’m getting kicked off my rugby team,” John says.

“Well,” Sherlock says, “It was kind of a boring sport.”

“Seriously, Sherlock? Not the best time.”

“You could take up fencing,” Sherlock suggests, “Or a martial art. Much more useful.”

“I like rugby,” John says.

“If it’s the exercise you’re worried about,” Sherlock says, “You could always take up more sex. With me, specifically.”

“Git,” John says, but he’s smiling.

_____

He’s waiting for Sherlock at the foot of the SIS building with his hands in his pockets when Sherlock exits the building with a familiar someone--

“Hello John,” Irene Adler says.

“You should be dead,” John says. Irene glances at Sherlock and her smile widens when she looks back at John.

“No,” she says, “Just fled away to America.”

“Irene is here to provide intelligence,” Sherlock says.

“I spent three months in Italy with him,” Irene says, “And then another two in Japan. We were quite the pair, weren’t we, Sherlock?”

John swallows and forces himself to control his breathing.

“Nothing was quite as exciting as the two weeks in Romania, though,” Irene says with a smile back at Sherlock.

John walks away.

_____

“John!” Sherlock finally catches up with him and grabs the back of his arm. John tears it out of his grasp.

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Stop.” He slips past John and in front of him. Fuck Sherlock and his fucking long legs. John tries to move past but Sherlock grabs his shoulders. “John, stop.”

“What do you want?” John says, “What the hell do you want from me?”

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Irene--”

“Do you want my blind loyalty?” John demands, “Fucking take it. You already have it. Do you want me to forgive you all too easily for a entire year of crippling depression and grief on top of all the lies? I’ve done that.”

“John--”

“Months ago,” John says, “My very first question to you was why didn’t you take me with you? You led me to believe that you were so deep you had to operate alone.” John’s voice shakes with rage. “Tell me Sherlock. Did you find Irene more trustworthy than me? Did you find her more useful? No chance of falling behind on a bad leg or getting attacked from behind?”

“That isn’t--”

“Move.”

“John--”

“Move!” John shouts.

The pedestrians around them pause to stare.

“I don’t care,” John says, and then he says it louder, “I don’t fucking care.” Then he turns and runs in the other direction.

_____

I didn’t want to work with Irene, she found me by chance and we just started to work together. I never asked for her help and I didn’t want it.

Italy, Romania, Japan, that was it, it was barely five months total. I had no intention of seeking her help.

Come home John.

_____

Cynthia passes by his open office door and then backtracks. “I can’t tell if you slept in the office or didn’t sleep at all.”

“Both,” John says, jabbing at the backspace key on his keyboard listlessly.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” he says and even musters a smile.

Silence as she considers him. Then she smiles back and says, “I’ll be in my office if you feel like you need to talk to anyone.”

“Thanks,” he says but she’s already gone.

_____

What do I have to say to convince you? -SH

If you didn’t want to work with her, you could have told her to fuck off after the first day. You’re a right prick most days so I know you have it in you.

It was hardly that simple. Don’t trivialize my situation. -SH

I really couldn’t care less. I’ll be by to pick up my things later this week.

You can’t move. You already cancelled the lease on your old flat. -SH

I’ll make a new one.

I don’t remember you being this irrational, John. -SH

You can fuck. Right. Off.

_____

John sweeps the clothes he’s hung up into his arms and throws them all on the bed. He unzips the suitcase and kicks it onto the ground.

“John.”

John doesn’t look around. Fuck, he had been so sure that Sherlock had been out of the flat. Where the hell had he been hiding?

“John,” Sherlock says again and moves into his line of sight. John pulls open the dresser drawers with more force than necessary.

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting a bit?” Sherlock asks and that does it. John whirls on him.

“I’m overreacting?” John snarls, “I don’t think I’m reacting enough. Who else knew? Did the entire fucking world get to know that you were still alive before you found the time to tell me?”

He advances on Sherlock, clothes hanger clutched in one hand like a weapon, “Oh wait, you didn’t even fucking have the decency to tell me yourself.”

“That’s not fair,” Sherlock says, grabbing John’s wrist so he can’t wield the clothes hanger. “I already told you that I wanted to come see you first. That was out of my control.”

“Mycroft said you were too scared,” John hisses, trying to wrench out of Sherlock’s grasp, “Of what? That I’d react like this?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says and grabs his other wrist.

“I should have never started talking to you,” John shouts as he struggles out of Sherlock’s grip, “I should have never let Lestrade--fuck you Sherlock Holmes! Let go!”

“In Kabul,” Sherlock says, his voice low and steady, “I hallucinated you for five nights. You were wearing your uniform and you cleaned up my wounds.”

“I don’t care,” John says but he can’t pull away from Sherlock. Sherlock stares at him without blinking, the same unnerving stare from when they had first seen each other again.

“Winter in St. Petersburg--”

“Shut up.”

“--it was freezing, obviously, but I imagined that you were there and I told you everything in an abandoned warehouse and you--”

“Shut up.”

“--told me that I had to finish, that I had to persevere--”

“Shut up.”

“--to get back to you. In Seoul I dreamt of you here, in London--”

“Shut up!”

“--under the umbrella in the rain, laughing about the lack of cabs--”

Sherlock’s holding him too tightly. John wants to punch him in the face.

“I kept your picture in my wallet for three years but you kept me alive.”

John kisses him. Their teeth clack and the inside of John’s lip stings. There’s the taste of blood in his mouth on top of the pain. The back of his legs hit the bed. Sherlock kisses him back desperately.

_____

John lies on his side, staring at the open closet. Most of his clothes have been kicked to the ground but one of his jumpers is twisted around his ankle.

Sherlock strokes a fingertip along John’s spine and presses a kiss to the back of his neck.

“Stay,” he whispers, “Please stay.”

_____

The flat is empty when John gets back from work. John drops his briefcase next to the living room table and turns on the television for background noise. He lies down on the couch and ends up falling asleep.

When he opens his eyes again, it’s dark outside. The only light in the flat is the flicker of the television. John checks his watch and gets up to turn on the light. He’s too tired to make dinner so he rummages through the papers on the kitchen counter for a menu to the Thai place down the street and orders pineapple fried rice and pad thai. He checks to make sure his phone is set to ring and notes that he missed a call from Colin. Nothing from Sherlock.

There’s an oncology paper in his briefcase that Cynthia suggested he read. He could finish the write-up of the case they had solved last week.

He checks his phone again. It’s nearly nine. Why hadn’t Sherlock at least sent a text that he’d be home late?

John ends up washing the few dishes that are in the sink and wiping down the kitchen counters. The food arrives before Sherlock does.

At ten-thirty, John puts the pineapple fried rice in the fridge and goes to brush his teeth. He checks his alarm and goes to sleep on his side of the bed.

_____

John wakes up to an empty bed.

He goes to make tea for one.

_____

To: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
From: jhwatson@gmail.com
Subject: (none)

Is he away on business again?

__

To: jhwatson@gmail.com
From: mholm5592@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
Subject: Re: (none)

John,

He should be back Thursday if everything goes well.

MH

_____

Are you still alive or what?

Yeah sorry

Holmes keeping you too busy to see your mates?

Keeping me exasperated

Come tonight. George loves bitching about the prat.

Can’t. Sorry. Next time?

Dear lord, you’re becoming more elusive than the queen. Should we ask to get pencilled in now?

Sorry. Next time. Promise.

_____

John can hear the faint strains of violin from upstairs when he opens the front door. He stands in the doorway and entertains the idea of closing the door and walking away into London. But he closes it and walks up the stairs instead.

Sherlock doesn’t turn around when he enters, just plays to the open window. John stands in the doorway and thinks again about leaving.

The song comes to a close. John still hasn’t set down his briefcase.

“We need to talk,” John says.

“I’ll do my best to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Sherlock says.

“This isn’t the end of the conversation.”

“You overestimate the amount of control I have over my role with the SIS.”

“You’re overestimating my patience.”

Sherlock opens the violin case and runs a cloth over his bow. “I’ll make it an imperative that you’re notified next time. There’s nothing else to discuss.”

“Sherlock,” John says, hand clenching around the handle of his briefcase more tightly. But Sherlock keeps his eyes on his violin and doesn’t say anything more.

_____

“You’re joking,” John says.

“Not at all,” Yvonne says, “I can put in a good word for you. I think you would be an excellent fit. You do good work here.”

“I,” John says, shaking his head and smiling, “I have no idea what to say. Thank you so much.”

“Frankly, you’ve earned it,” she says, “Let me know what you decide. But don’t take too long. I can’t keep them on hold indefinitely.”

“Thank you,” John says again, and he means it.

_____

They’re in Regent’s Park, retracing the steps of a victim when they’re stopped by two young women.

“Excuse me,” one of them says to John when Sherlock is preoccupied with examining a park bench, “But isn’t he--?”

“Sherlock Holmes,” the other one interjects, “The detective?”

“Yeah,” John says against his better judgment. Petty retribution maybe. John hates how passive-aggressive he’s becoming.

“I told you!” the first one says to the other.

“Let’s go,” Sherlock says as he finishes with the bench and strides back over to John. He doesn’t spare the women a glance.

“Hi Mr. Holmes,” the first one says, thrusting her hand at him. Sherlock looks at it and doesn’t move. She ploughs on anyway. “I never once thought you were dead, you know. I believed in you. Moriarty was real after all, wasn’t he?”

Silence. Sherlock looks from her to her friend who is beaming at him. John has his hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers and he refuses to help.

“Yes,” Sherlock finally says.

“You’re brilliant,” she says, “I’ve read all of your cases. Is it true that you’re an MI6 agent now?”

Sherlock glances at John. John stares back. “That’s classified.”

“Wow,” she says breathlessly, “Can I get your autograph?” She holds up a pen and a notepad.

“It must be so amazing, being friends with him,” the second woman says to John.

John doesn’t answer. Sherlock’s annoyance at scribbling his name for an overenthusiastic fan should be funny but John just feels faintly nauseous.

_____

Are you going to be home for dinner?

Out on classified case with Lestrade. Eat without me. -SH

_____

“Hold on,” John says, “I can’t believe I left my wallet in the office again.”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, just follows him as he turns and heads back down the hallway. They’re halfway down the cardiology wing when John spots Cynthia walking in the other direction and smiles a greeting.

“I heard about the offer,” she says with a grin as she approaches them. She touches his arm as she passes. “Congratulations John.”

John is shuffling through the papers on his desk when Sherlock says, “She’s attracted to you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” John says as he finds his wallet under a pile of training protocols Yvonne dropped off earlier.

“I don’t like it,” Sherlock says, “Does she know that you’re not available?”

“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,” John says and turns off the lights. He shuts his office door and nearly jumps when Sherlock slips his hands into John’s front pockets from behind, bending his head to put his mouth next to John’s ear.

“Maybe I should help you clear up any misconceptions,” Sherlock growls.

“Jesus, Sherlock,” John says, fighting the shiver that crawls up his spine. He grabs Sherlock’s wrists and pulls his hands out of his pockets. “I’m at work.”

Sherlock nips at his ear but lets him go.

_____

John rubs the towel in his hair as he pulls a shirt from the ones hanging up and opens the dresser drawer for underwear. He can hear the coffee brewing in the kitchen and he’s not late for once.

“What did she mean by offer?” Sherlock asks from the bed.

“Hm?” John tosses the towel across the room and it lands on the bed. He starts pulling on new pants.

“The woman yesterday who’s attracted to you,” Sherlock repeats, “What did she mean by offer.”

“Royal Berkshire is looking for a new director of A&E,” John says, pulling on trousers and buttoning his shirt. “My boss said she’d recommend me if I wanted the job. She apparently has connections.”

“You said no, of course.”

John turns to look at Sherlock. “What?”

“That’s in Reading,” Sherlock says, “That’s nearly an hour away.”

“No,” John says, “I didn’t say no.”

Sherlock sits up, “You can’t be serious.”

“Why?”

“I need you here,” Sherlock says, “In London.”

“What if I want to go?” John asks. He turns, and pulls the sock drawer open.

“Why would you want to go?”

“Oh I don’t know,” John says, closing the drawer again with excessive force, “Maybe because it’s a huge promotion from my current role? Maybe because it’d be more of a challenge? Maybe because I’d get paid more?”

“But you wouldn’t be in London,” Sherlock says as if that was supposed to be the fucking end all of all arguments.

“I can’t have this conversation right now,” John says, shoving the socks onto his feet and his feet into his shoes. He’s in such a hurry to get out of the flat that he doesn’t care that he’s wearing Sherlock’s socks or that he didn’t get any coffee.

_____

John blinks awake to the smell of food. He sits up on the couch and rubs at his eyes. Sherlock is cooking.

John pulls the filtered water pitcher from the refrigerator and shakes an aspirin out onto the palm of his hand. Sherlock doesn’t look up from the book he’s reading, one hand moving the wooden spoon in the pan. John swallows the pill dry and chases it with a sip of water. He stares at the back of Sherlock’s neck in silence.

“Wild mushroom risotto,” Sherlock says without looking at him.

“Okay,” John says and wonders if it’s some form of apology.

_____

Sherlock falls asleep curled around John.

John lies awake and stares at the wall.

_____

I haven’t seen you around in ages. Are you and Sherlock fighting?

We’re fine? Sherlock told me he’s been working on classified cases with you most of this month.

Classified? Like SIS? Haven’t had one of those since April.

_____

John takes the Metropolitan Line out to Chesham without calling ahead of time. It’s nearly nine by the time he arrives. John hasn’t eaten all day but he doesn’t feel hungry so he heads straight to Harry’s house.

“John,” she says when she opens the door, “What are you--?”

And then she leans toward him, actually takes a look at him, and asks, “Are you okay?”

“Is Clara in?” John asks.

“She left for her night shift,” Harry says, “Come in. I’ll open a bottle of wine.”

“I just,” John says, “I just kind of needed to get away.”

“Tell me,” Harry says as she pours white wine into a glass. She glances at him, pauses, and tips more into his glass.

“I’m sorry,” John says, “I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Shut up, John,” Harry says and hands him the wineglass. “Shut up, sit down, and tell me what’s going on.”

_____

Sherlock texts six times before John falls asleep on Harry’s couch. He texts another three times before John wakes up.

“You should leave him,” Harry had said, “I always thought it was a bad idea in the first place.”

“He’s dragging you down,” Harry had said, “You’ll feel so much more like yourself when he’s gone.”

_____

John learns that it’s hard to explain to other people the sort of love that dug its claws into the soft flesh of his belly, the sort of love that worked its way into his ribcage and wore his skin. The sort that dragged him through the dirt and tore apart his veins and left him gasping for more.

_____

John stares at the front door to 221B for a long time before he finally inserts the key and unlocks it. Seventeen steps up. John feels like he’s going to his own execution.

Sherlock is silhouetted in the window. John wonders if he watched him stare at the front door for as long as John had stood there.

“You were at Harry’s,” Sherlock says.

John doesn’t answer.

“Why?”

“Lestrade texted,” John says, “I’m done, Sherlock.”

“Done,” Sherlock repeats, turning. His voice is pitched low and John’s sure that he’s playing dumb solely to fuck with him. “Done with what?”

“This,” John says, gesturing, “Us.”

“I’m not done,” Sherlock says. His voice is level and his eyes are fixed on John’s face.

“You only make up half of this,” John says, “The other half is done.”

“You’re not going to get that job in Reading,” Sherlock says.

John steps forward. “You’re threatening me? After you lied about your death, after you lied about working alone, after you lied about your classified cases--you’re threatening me?”

“How many countless years will I have to continue to beg for your forgiveness?” Sherlock sneers.

“None,” John says, and turns to head into the bedroom.

“You’re not leaving,” Sherlock says, catching up in only a few strides and grabbing the back of John’s arm. John whirls around and scrambles out of his grasp.

“Don’t you touch me,” he hisses, “Don’t you fucking touch me.”

“You’re not leaving,” Sherlock repeats, advancing on him.

John grabs the bedside lamp and throws it at him. Sherlock ducks and the ceramic base shatters against the wall.

Sherlock grabs him by the arm. John punches him. Sherlock goes down with a hand to his mouth. John turns and grabs a duffel bag from the top shelf in the closet. Sherlock grabs him by the neck and slams him into the carpeted floor.

John is winded and struggles to breath. Sherlock wipes the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and says, “You’re not leaving.”

“You’re fucking insane,” John wheezes out and rolls towards the bed so that he can push himself back up into a stand. Sherlock only laughs--a horrible sound.

“I’m not some fucking prize you won,” John says as he tries to catch his breath. He reaches into the drawer of the beside table and--oh thank fucking god--levels the gun at Sherlock.

“I’m not your reward for three shitty years,” John says, keeping his voice level even as Sherlock comes closer, “I’m not whatever fucking incarnation you have of me, set up on some pedestal in your fucking head. I can’t be that.”

He moves towards the door but Sherlock won’t stop coming closer.

“You need help,” John says, “You have some serious mental issues and I can’t help you with that. I can’t do this any more, Sherlock.”

“Yes,” Sherlock breathes, “Let’s make this about me. Let’s make this all about me and completely ignore all of your issues, John. Or do you think I’ve been completely blind to your flaws since I have you up on a pedestal in my head?”

“You’re so eager for the truth, John. You can’t stand the idea that anyone else could replace you. But the truth? Yes John, I was better off without you distracting me, without you slowing me down, without having to stop and explain every step along the way. Yes John, Irene was far more useful than you could have ever been.”

John remains frozen in the living room, gun still trained on Sherlock. Sherlock’s smiling now, terrible and beautiful with blood smeared at the corners of his lips like some feral beast.

“Who could you possibly be without me?” Sherlock murmurs and bends to put his head against the barrel of John’s gun.

“Go on,” Sherlock says, “Shoot.”

_____

He leans his head against the window of the train and forces himself to think about nothing.

_____

“John,” Harry says, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” John says automatically.

“How’d it go?” She looks at the lone briefcase in his hand. “Are you getting your stuff later?”

“No,” John says, “I don’t want any of it.”

_____

He calls in sick to work three days in a row and doesn’t do much except sleep on Harry’s sofa.

He wakes up once to the sound of Harry and Clara having a quiet argument in the kitchen about him. He decides that he doesn’t care and goes back to sleep.

_____

Colin lets him crash for two weeks as he ties up the loose ends at Springfield and prepares to transfer to Royal Berkshire. He doesn’t ask John too many questions which is why John chose him. He must sense something’s wrong though because he doesn’t push John too hard to join the rest of the crew on pub nights.

John goes straight from Colin’s flat to the hospital and back again. Any time spent out in the cold London air was time spent out in the open where Sherlock could find him.

_____

He boards the London Paddington to Bristol.

He tells himself he won’t miss London.

He doesn’t look back.