Sherlock stood, at a loss, in the middle of the sitting-room. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. It was ridiculous; it was all over, it was all right.
“They can’t all go perfectly smoothly, you know,” John said, putting on the kettle. He moved in an unbroken rhythm, from hanging up his jacket and kicking off his shoes to standing in the kitchen. Sherlock must have seen John’s routine on coming home two hundred times, before; but since his return the most familiar sights were the ones that stopped him cold.
“I know,” said Sherlock.
“And after almost two years it’s not surprising they’d redeveloped that block.”
“Why do they build cul-de-sacs?” He would have to relearn that part of Bloomsbury.
“And Greg is all right. And Colin will be fine, it was a sprain not a break.”
“I went to school with his older brother. He was a prat.”
“Everyone’s older brother is a prat. Tea or cocoa?”
“Why on earth would I want cocoa?”
“Sweeter. You’re flirting with shock.” John came out of the kitchen, wrapped the afghan around his friend’s shoulder and pushed him onto the couch. “Take off your shoes and curl up.”
Sherlock did as he was asked. John’s bossy mode had become…denser? More assured? than Sherlock remembered from before. As Sherlock felt less decisive, John became more. Had that always been true? “What about you?”
“I’m on military time; I’ll relax when the people I’m responsible for are secure.”
“Huh. ‘Relax’, how did that go, when it wasn’t routine?”
“We’d come back to the base, I’d make sure anyone who needed medical help got sorted. They were idiots, like you.” John glanced at him, smiled. Sherlock was reasonably certain he was uninjured tonight; if he’d been bleeding someone would have mentioned it by now.
John continued. “Then I’d shower. Change. Get drunk, have sex if there was anyone. Sometimes I’d go for a run; getting all the adrenaline and the twitching out would help me sleep. It was different there, we knew we’d be back on patrol with exactly the same risks the next day. When we were on leave, we were clearly somewhere else; that never seemed real. That was some relaxing; a wonder we survived.”
“Now you just come home.” And so did Sherlock. Home. Fear and excitement snapped him out of his lingering disbelief that that…his…. death? was over. With Lestrade and the others, moving in on a small a gang of bank robbers of an evening had seemed normal while it was happening; only when he stopped did the strangeness of being himself come upon him once again.
“That’s right,” John said. “ And tomorrow we’ll both go to NSY and make our statements, and I’ll get a haircut. A day off is a wonderful thing.” He put a hot mug into Sherlock’s hand. “Could be weeks before anyone tries to kill us again.”
Despite the emptiness of two-thirds of the couch, he seated himself as close to Sherlock as possible, leaning into him. John wasn’t shaking, which made Sherlock notice that he was; little ripples propagated across the surface of his drink. He sipped at it.
“You put single malt in the cocoa.”
“We didn’t have anything cheaper. Don’t tell the Scotch police.”
“You’re still underweight.” John didn’t ask if he were all right. Sherlock knew perfectly well that he wasn’t, John knew he wasn’t. It was all right. They were safe. He breathed a bit more successfully.
“Thank you for being responsible for me,” Sherlock said. “I missed that while I was away.” He said it as lightly as he could. Words about the time away came to his lips more and more often, but he still wasn’t sure how John heard them. The weight next to him (against him) didn’t flinch; John didn’t turn to inquire or demand. They both stared into their mugs. “Secret services aren’t much for aftercare, not for mysterious consultants. And I always wanted to go onto the next place as soon as I could.”
“How did that work?”
“Mycroft’s people and their counterparts had a list. A website, really. I wasn’t the only one working on it or posting documents to it, but I was probably the only one using it as a checklist. I’m sorry I couldn’t come home sooner.”
John gave a small surprised laugh. “Good, thanks, but right now you don’t need to apologise.”
“I can’t tell,” Sherlock said. “I really can’t.” The first weeks he had been home, it seemed as though everything he said to John had needed to come topped with remorse.
“I know,” John said. “It’s better than it was, Sherlock. And you’re welcome. I’ve always reckoned being your support crew was …though sometimes it’s been all I can do not to shoot you myself, just to keep you safe.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Somewhere non-fatal. Just enough to slow you down.”
“I was slow enough tonight. I should have realised they were behind that van.”
“Leave some second-guessing for the rest of us, all right? Christ, do you have to be responsible for tactics and strategy?”
“I see the patterns.” He still saw the databases in his head, flowcharts, dotted lines of conjecture and solider lines of probability, money—energy—in different forms flowing from one operation to the next; the interconnections of a consulting criminal with an obsession for detail. Without Moriarty himself constructing and maintaining it, his web would have fallen apart, but it had been vital enough to remain too dangerous—that moment tonight when he saw Lestrade fall and roll--
John’s mug clicked against Sherlock’s. He startled.
“Come back to here,” John said. “It’ll get cold.”
“You’re still exhausted, you know. And you’re still stressed as though you were—deployed. On that mission. Mycroft told me once you lived in a battlefield here in London, but he was wrong. This is your home ground, and even if people do try to hurt you fairly often it’s not the same kind of operation. You’re not behind enemy lines any more.”
“Is that how you think of it? Was I ‘missing in action’?” Sherlock felt his friend shudder. He knew that both of them were thinking of a patch of bloody pavement; him looking up, John looking down. Both seeing, both sightless.
“I’m hoping it will fade to something like that,” John said. “It helps now I’m clear it wasn’t your usual ‘I’ll-go-ahead-by-myself’ pig-headed stupidity. I noticed you didn’t do that today. You actually called Greg and explained where you wanted to go and why."
“Perhaps some of the habits I learned are worth keeping.” Sherlock felt the whiskey binding to his haemoglobin; tendrils of calm began to curl around his nervous system, dialling back the arousal of the chase.
John’s phone chimed softly. He read the text and pushed a button; Sherlock could hear the trill in the flat below. “Of course we’re decent, Mrs. Hudson. Really? Come and watch it here? Lovely. Door’s open.” He put the phone back into his pocket. “She says they’re about to cover the disturbance tonight near the British Museum, and your name was mentioned before the advert.”
“I suppose there were a lot of sirens.”
“I’m glad we got away before the press got there.” John reached for the remote and muted the television as he turned it on.
“You’ll have to overcome your antipathy sometime, John.“
“I don’t see why—ooh, Mrs. Hudson, let me help—you didn’t have to—“
“No, no, stay there, John—“ she put a plate down on the coffee table and perched carefully on the arm of the couch. “I brought some—“
“--Plum cake,” said Sherlock. “I’m glad you did.”
“You’re all wrapped up, Sherlock, are you all right?”
“John thinks I’m in shock. So I must need both pieces of cake—“
“You do NOT,” John said, forestalling any attempt on his slice. “Please don’t ever stop trying to buy our good behaviour, Mrs. Hudson.”
“This is a reward, dear, you’ve been ever so quiet since the yelling finished—oh, look, turn the sound up.”
They listened to the reporter review the four bank robberies of the past two weeks and turn her attention to Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade. He looked tired but cheerful (“Poor man, they should let him go home—“) as he agreed with the reporter that the capture of eight men and the recovery of several hundred thousand pounds was a good thing.
“I understand you had some help?” prompted the reporter.
“Yes, we did. We’d have had them sooner or later—“
“Later, considerably later,” murmured Sherlock.
“—But the directors at Barclay’s particularly asked whether we would consult Sherlock Holmes, and I am happy to say it was a very fortunate collaboration—”
“ ‘Fortunate.’ Fortune wasn’t in it—“
“He and Dr. Watson—“
“Hey!” John and Mrs. Hudson high-fived over Sherlock’s head.
“—Were able to help us pinpoint the gang’s next target and apprehend them as they were attempting to gain access to the vault through a disused sewer line.”
“He’s not going to mention the four of them outside.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t either.”
“Are you going to, on the blog?”
“Not sure yet. I’d rather focus on the way you figured out where they’d be tonight.“
“Detective Inspector, was this the first case Sherlock Holmes has worked with New Scotland Yard since his return?”
“He has been helping with some of the enquiries surrounding the circumstances of his, ah, death, but this is the first new one, yes.”
“I imagine you’re glad to have him back?”
“They send them to journalism school for this?”
“Shut up, Sherlock—“
“I can’t imagine anyone in London or indeed the country—“
“English-speaking world, more like—“
“Is unaware of Mr. Holmes’s efforts over the past few years to secure the safety and well-being of people who were eager to believe the worst of him—“
“Yeah, Greg! Don’t hold back!”
“Being able to call upon his expertise once again is both a welcome professional resource and a personal honour. We are not jealous of him at Scotland Yard; I’m happy to say there isn’t an officer, in uniform or out, who wouldn’t be proud to shake his hand.”
Baker Street was momentarily silenced, as was the reporter. She pulled herself together and thanked Lestrade for speaking with her; John muted the sound as they cut back to the studio.
“Cleaner sweep than I thought, if that’s the case,” John murmured.
“Someone has annoyed him deeply,” Sherlock said. “But for the moment he’s politically secure. Ascendent. Interesting.”
“It was a lovely thing to say, and I hope it’s true,” said Mrs. Hudson. “They should be glad to have you back helping again. And it must be nice for you, dear, all three of us in the same room, if you count the telly. Alive and well and happy, now you’re back here with us. It worked out in the end.”
John wasn’t saying anything; Sherlock looked at him. Difficult to control for biassed perception, but he did seem to be looking better. He smiled more easily now than a month ago. “I’m sorry it was so hard in the middle,” Sherlock offered.
“Me too,” said John. “That it was hard on you, I mean. I know. Both of us.”
Sherlock snorted softly, dismissing something he’d briefly been afraid John would never take into consideration. He’d finished his cocoa.
“Want anything else?”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine, thank you.” Sherlock crossed his hands on his lap and smiled. 'As a man might', he thought, 'who has won salvation for himself and his beloved.'