In the end not much had changed, even though Sherlock’s plane landed after only five minutes after the take-off. It was as if he had left.
As soon as the plug door of the plane opened, Sherlock was taken hostage by his brother: the two Holes brother left the tarmac talking animatedly, while Sherlock’s eyes were fixed on the Moriarty video that played in loop on Mycroft’s phone.
Sherlock looked briefly in John’s direction and gave him a small, apologetic smile, before disappearing in a big black car that moved away quickly, leaving he and Mary alone.
Dazed by the shocking video of Moriarty, once again John had failed to reach to Sherlock, he didn’t even raise his hand in a gesture of greeting, he just stood there, watching the car that pulled away, with a heavy heart for the umpteenth separation.
Once again he had taken a step back, like at the Appledore, and let Sherlock to take on his shoulders the weight of the events.
"John? John, let's go. I'm tired and want to go home."
His wife pulled him by the sleeve of his jacket, peering into his face
"Oh yeah, sure, sure" John replied, absentminded.
"Aren’t you happy?” Mary asked, quite surprised “Sherlock hasn’t left and when when he has sorted this out, I’m sure that his brother will find a way to keep him in London."
Mary's speech was logical and reassuring, but for some reason John couldn’t share her optimism, as if that handshake on the tarmac had decreed the end of an era, the era of the consulting detective and his bloggers, as if henceforth they would have led separate lives.
He, in particular, had to come to terms with his new priorities and his life choices.
He looked at his right hand, the one that had grasped Sherlock’s hand just few minutes before, and closed it into a fist. Now there was only emptiness in his hand, and John felt like he was already thousands of steps far from Sherlock.
Sherlock didn’t return to live in Baker Street during the Moriarty crisis: chaos was rampant in the Country, because every now and then there was a new message from the criminal, so Sherlock was working from a secret location. Even Mrs. Hudson didn’t know where he was, his cell phone number was disconnected, and John’s phone calls to Mycroft remained unanswered.
Only once Anthea showed up to his clinic, and announced him with detached politeness that Sherlock was fine, so there was no reason to worry about him, and no, there was nothing John could do to help, but of course she would have call him if there were news.
That said, Mycroft's assistant left, and it was clear to John that there wasn’t room for him in that game: Mycroft, or even Sherlock, didn’t want for him to be there.
The end of an era, as said.
He looked down on his medical record and called the next patient on the list.
The first sign that there was something wrong with him was a small thing, and John gave it no importance.
Mary had the first labor pains a week later, so John took her to the hospital immediately: because she hadn’t yet the breaking of the waters and the contractions weren’t strong nor too painful, they had to wait in the emergency room with a green code and the promise from a nurse that she would seek a monitored bed for Mary as soon as she could.
A burly man with a bloody hand, bandaged as best, sat down in the row of plastic chairs in front of them, and soon after Mary began to give signs of nervousness: she constantly touched the leg of her husband with the tip of her shoe and made strange grimaces, but John didn’t understand why she was suddenly so nervous.
Eventually Mary rolled her eyes and whispered: "Can we go outside for a moment to get some air?"
"What if they call us?"
"We stay close to the door, so we will hear them. John, let's go."
Mary got up and when she was certain that no one could hear them talking, chuckled.
"I didn’t know how to make you understand that I wanted to get away from there."
"Why? Were you uncomfortable in the chair?"
The woman rolled her eyes again, "You're kidding, right? John, the man sitting in front of us stinks terribly, I couldn’t be next to him!"
The doctor had perceived a slight smell of sweat, but nothing so bad. And after all it was afternoon, the poor man was a construction worker, judging by his clothes, he certainly couldn’t smell like a rose.
"I am not! Didn’t you notice that all the other patients have moved away from him?"
"Because people are snobs and intolerant" he grumbled.
"Ah, thank you very much!" His wife snapped, crossing her arms over her chest as much as her belly would allow her.
John dropped the argument shaking his head: Mary was about to give birth, clearly she had the hormones in turmoil and was hypersensitive to every smell, he couldn’t argue with her for such nonsense.
The monitored bed was available shortly after.
Mary gave birth around midnight, after only two hours of labor and the delivery was safe and smooth. As he watched his daughter fussing and crying in the nursery, in sync with another dozen babies, he received a terse message of congratulations signed by Anthea, so John immediately typed another message:
We called her Mia. Will Sherlock come to see her?
That was important to him: if John still had a family, it was only thanks to Sherlock, but his phone remained silent until the next day.
Not immediately. Sherlock is very busy.
When John read it, he was still in the hospital, in front of the nursery window again, but the view of the babies didn’t cheered him anymore, unlike the other parents around him, who exploded in squeals of ecstasy every time a baby yawned.
Certainly for Sherlock it was more stimulating to find Moriarty or whoever was that man frightening the city with those messages, rather than to look at sleeping babies, that was for sure.
Now Sherlock was walking on a different path from John’s.
The end of an era had come.
On the cab that was bringing them home, John noticed that Mary continued to smell Mia.
"What are you doing?" He asked, laughing.
"She smells good, don’t you think?"
John leaned on the baby and breathed: he could smell the detergent from the cover that enveloped her and a residual of the disinfectant of the hospital: nothing sensational, nor particularly pleasant.
"She smells like cleanliness" he commented neutrally.
"What? Have you caught a cold?" Mary pushed him to a safe distance from the daugther.
"No. I'm a doctor, I would know if I was sick."
Also the second clue went unnoticed in John's eyes.
It was evening and Mary was juggling between eating the soup and giving the bottle to Mia (she hadn’t had milk, and this wasn’t a surprise, given her age).
John, after the first spoonful of soup, was seasoning it with everything he found in the kitchen: grated cheese, olive oil, pepper, salt. Mary's cooking had always been good, never so insipid, but perhaps, as happened to many mothers, she had become a health fanatic after reading some magazines about the dangers of too salty foods, pesticides on vegetables, growth hormones in meat and other bullshits.
"You’re a doctor, you should give a good example" Mary said, with one eyebrow raised in open disapproval.
John looked bewildered at her. “What do you mean?”
"You put a lot of salt in the soup, too much indeed: it’s not healthy at all."
Here, exactly what he said: delusions of a health fanatic.
He wasn’t exaggerating, the soup really didn’t taste of anything.
The self-service cafeteria close to the clinic, where he went regularly to grab a bite of lunch, had never been a Michelin-starred restaurant, but its food had never been bad, either.
And yet now it was.
"No, not bad” John thought wrinkling his nose as he chewed a slice of bread that had the consistency of sawdust “It’s tasteless, it doesn’t even taste like bread."
Even the roast beef, usually very tasty, was insipid, and the salad tasted just like grass. However, as he couldn’t afford to eat in a better restaurant, he simply had to adapt to it.
Just as he had to adapt to everything else.
He finished the sandwich reluctantly, drank a glass of water and went back to work, after checking his phone again: still no message from Sherlock.
Mary entered a book club, attended by two other mothers with babies, and she was very pleased, because she could compare their experiences and ask for advice.
Mia was in excellent health and she grew up regularly, the only problem was that she cried a lot and not only when she was hungry or wanted to have the diaper changed. The pediatrician suggested that she had particularly troublesome colics and they had only to be patient: growing up, the colics would pass.
When the book club met at their home, John disappeared to the pub for a few hours, and if Greg was free, he joined him for a beer. Even the detective inspector had no news from Sherlock, if not for sporadic reassuring messages from Mycroft, but nothing significant.
After some time, anyway, John stopped to call Greg: he was no longer on crime scenes with Sherlock, so they hadn’t much to talk about and, moreover, at that pub they served a very bad and tasteless beer.
"Aren't you hot, Dr. Watson? You make me sweat just looking at you!"
The nurse who replaced Mary during the maternity leave was looking at him like he was an alien; she was wearing a shirt with short sleeves and was fanning herself with a newspaper. "The general thermostat is broken and we can’t adjust the temperature, it’s desert hot" she explained.
John was wearing one of his usual sweaters beneath the white doctor coat and shrugged, "No, it doesn’t seem particularly hot to me."
"There’re at least thirty degrees in here!" the woman exclaimed.
"Yes, so what?" John snapped, before closing the door of his office: lately it seemed that everything he did, from food seasoning to the choice of his clothing, arouse unmotivated criticism and he was tired of it.
He learned of the arrest of the criminals who had used the name of Moriarty from the morning news: it was a group of four fanatics willing to replenish the organization of the Napoleon of crime.
Sherlock's name didn’t appear anywhere, nor of course that of Mycroft, but John didn’t doubt that the Holmes brothers were behind their capture.
John elated: that investigation was over, and maybe Sherlock was already at Baker Street!
He didn’t even end his breakfast, got dressed and rushed down the stairs, heedless of Mary shouting at the top of the stairs with their baby in her arms, who was trying to shout louder than her mother.
"At least put on a sweater, John, it's freezing outside!"
But the former soldier was already out of the door and on the bike before she had finished speaking, pedaling fast in traffic.
Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the heart that was pumping blood faster than normal, but the city looked brighter, the sounds were louder than usual and the smell of the city stronger.
Now that Sherlock was back in London, they could start again with their usual routine made of clients at any time of day or night with their incredible stories, and Lestrade asking for help because his superiors were breathing down his neck, and hope was blossoming in John’s heart: everything was fine now.
Mrs. Hudson was leaving to go to the grocery store when John stopped the bike in front of her.
"Is he already here?"
The old woman blinked in surprise, "Who?"
"John, dear... I have already told you that Sherlock has gone several months ago, and since then I haven’t seen or heard from him."
"But he has solved the case of Moriarty, I thought he'd be right back here."
"No, I'm sorry. But why don’t you try to ask Mycroft? He surely will know something."
"Yes, I will."
The doctor went straight to the Diogenes Club, where Mycroft spent his days when he wasn’t busy to bring down some foreign government.
John had to wait for a while, but in the end Mycroft admitted him in his private office.
"John, what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
The former soldier let out a mirthless chuckle of disbelief.
"Are you kidding?"
"Mh, I guess you saw the morning news" Mycroft commented with a neutral voice.
"Exactly! Now it's all over, and the threat of Moriarty’s followers finally neutralized, right?"
"Oh” Mycroft said nonchalantly “Yes, that investigation ended two weeks ago, but it wasn’t appropriate to disclose immediately the news."
"Then where’s Sherlock? Why he’s not here?"
"My brother is working on another mission that I have entrusted to him."
John, who until then had been standing, slumped in a chair, "I thought that after he solved the case of Moriarty, he would be back in London."
"You forget that my brother is an assassin: he can’t remain unpunished, this seems quite obvious to me."
"He was forced to shoot Magnussen!"
John banged his fists on the precious briar of the desk that separated him from elder Holmes, but the other man remained impassive.
"Not at all. It was his free choice, and now he must face the consequences” Mycroft pulled out a pocket watch from his suit and checked it.
“It's late, Doctor. It's time that each of us goes back to our responsibilities and commitments."
"Can I at least have his phone number?"
"Sherlock is working undercover, he’s currently not in possession of a cell phone. I will say him that I saw you and that you send him your regards."
Mycroft pointed to the door and John, resigned, went out, suddenly feeling devoid of any energy, and went home pushing his bicycle by hand as he hadn’t the strength to get on it and ride.
Probably he would never see Sherlock again, as his best friend was now living at his brother service, in a prison without bars, but no less punitive.
Their past life together wasn’t coming back.
He parked the bike in the basement of their small condo and, when Mary saw him, covered her mouth with one hand.
"John! You'll catch pneumonia!"
"What it means ‘why' ? You're soaking wet.”
His wife ran to the bathroom and took a towel. “If you had called me, I would have brought you an umbrella."
"I didn’t realize it was raining" John replied, rubbing his wet hair.
"Come on!” Mary shook her head in disbelief “You've been under a cold rain for hours and you didn’t noticed it?"
"That 's what I said."
"Aren’t you cold? You must take off those wet clothes immediately" she urged.
No, he wasn’t cold, he wasn’t shaking and had no chills, as well as a few days before, at the clinic, he hadn’t feel the too high heating. It was as if his body had suddenly become indifferent to the outside temperature.
It wasn’t a normal thing, but at that moment, as he thought that he would never see Sherlock again, it wasn’t important.
"Lately you're weird." Mary said, handing him a dry shirt.
"Yes, so what? Is it a crime?" He said, grabbing the garment hastily.
Mia, in her bedroom, began to cry, and Mary dropped her speech to go see what her daughter needed.
Mary was watching some kind of reality-talent show full of kids who were screaming and laughing at each nonsense uttered by the tv host, and John was having really a hard time in focussing on the book he was reading: the host spewed vacuous speeches often interrupted by sharp cries of rapture that were extremely annoying.
When the camera cut on some agitated young girls screaming as if they were burned alive on a gridiron, he could no longer contain himself and burst out, "Is there anything better than this shitty show?"
"You're not even watching it!"
"Yes, indeed: I'm trying to read, but this bunch of screaming idiots prevents me to do that."
Mary’s answer was to turn up the volume by two notches.
"It's not a shitty show: all my friends like it."
"A talent show to put together a new boy band: high culture, sure" John quipped.
"At least I have some hobbies" Mary stated.
"What does that mean?" John closed the book and got up to pour himself a brandy: he didn’t want to fight with her, but lately everything was scratching at his nerves, making him nervous and touchy. He took a long swig and the strong liquor burned his throat and stomach, without leaving any flavor behind.
Mary spread her hands in a theatrical gesture that left John so irritated he had to pour a second glass of brandy.
"I’m saying that I have my book club, I have many friends, I bring Mia to the park and to the swimming pool. Why don’t you find something to do, too? You leave our house only to go to work and then you don’t do anything all the time. Go see a football game at the pub with your friends! I can’t believe you’ve anything you like to do!"
"I had it" John hissed, turning away to avoid to be heard, because when they ended up talking about Sherlock, they fought seriously: Mary thought that John should leave everything that happened behind him and forget Sherlock, so he accused her of being ungrateful and heartless, and they didn’t speak to each other for days.
Mia’s cry came from the other room, muffled by the closed door, and immediately Mary got up from the couch.
"You shouldn’t pick her up from the crib every time she cries, you know? She has just ate and the diaper is clean, it's probably just a whim: if we keep on to take her in arm as soon as she emits a cry, then it will be increasingly difficult to tell her ‘no’ and educate her."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Mary asked, skeptically.
"It's in many childcare manuals and my mother has always done so, too."
His mother had raised alone he and his sister, since their father disappeared somewhere when they were really young, and then, when the same fate befell their neighbor, a young woman who was left alone with two twins, John's mother helped her to raise them, babysitting the babies every time their neighbour was at work.
His mother was good with babies and kids, but, if necessary, she could be severe and didn’t listen to the babies whims: she put them in the crib for the afternoon nap and didn’t take them in her arms even though the two were whining, and in the end the babies fell asleep.
"Otherwise” John explained to his wife “She will never get used to sleep alone in her bed and she will always afraid of something."
Mary dismissed his theories with a bored wave of her hand.
"Nonsense. First of all we’re no longer in the Dark Ages, and then I don’t think your mom has done a great job with your sister."
When she emerged from the bedroom with Mia in his arms, she noticed that John had left.
"He'll get over it” she said, cradling the child “After all mom was only telling him the truth. Sooner or later he will understand."
The former soldier walked in the night without any aim, he bought a kebab from a shop still open at that ungodly hour, and ate it sitting on a bench at a bus stop: the kebab should have a strong, spicy flavor and his nostrils should have be filled with the exotic smell of curry, instead it was totally odorless, and it seemed to be made of sand, flour and rubber.
That kebab was exactly as his life: tasteless.
The few people who came down and went up on the buses in transit were wearing heavy coats and looked astounded at John, who was wearing only a polo shirt with short sleeves and sat there, indifferent to the cold weather.
By now, John was aware that something strange was happening to him, but he couldn’t force himself to react or investigate what it was, he just didn’t care.
He was living in a small plastic bubble that had completely surrounded his body, preventing him from feeling the most basic sensations: smells, tastes, physical and human warmth, all of this was precluded to him, and he perceived things and people as distant, dull, insignificant.
This was his new era.
He didn’t even feel desperate. He felt… nothing.
He sat on the bench until dawn, regretting an era when his life was a continuous overload of emotions.
He and Mary made peace, or rather, they avoided to talk about what happened, circumventing another potential argument.
John recognized that Mary had her point of view and her reasons about raising children, friendships and hobbies, as well as John had his own, neither of them wanted to withdraw from their positions, so they avoided to talk about it, because it would be useless.
Besides it looked like a very common tactic among spouses: pretending that there were no problems to defuse unpleasant conflicts. It didn’t make the problems disappear magically, but at least now the atmosphere in the house was quiet, and they managed to behave civilly towards each other, so John started to believe that their new arrangement would work.
It had to work, because John had no other choice, nor anything else left: he had long realized that married life alone wasn’t enough to him, but what he had once had with Sherlock would never come back, now he had only his life as a doctor, father and husband.
However, in the middle of the night, things were very different. Now, when they went to sleep, John avoided to cling to Mary, and if it was his wife to snuggle close to him, John waited she was asleep, then he moved away and spent the night on the edge of the mattress.
It wasn’t that suddenly he hated his wife, but he could no longer feel the warmth of her body, therefore she was no longer a sweet and reassuring presence at his side.
It was like holding in his arms a corpse.
It was horrible to think at her in that way, but the idea of embracing a lifeless body was even more horrible, so he turned on his side, tried to sleep and not to think about it.
It wasn’t just Mary, he couldn’t feel anymore the body heat of any person he touched, and when he shook hands with his patients, it was like touching wax figures.
The only human being who was still warm to him was his daughter Mia, when John cradled her in his arms while watching tv, or when he fell asleep on the couch with her curled up on his chest.
John believed it couldn’t be anything worse than thinking of his wife as a dead body, but then one day the fog came in his eyes and didn’t go away anymore.
One night Mia woke up about three a.m., reclaiming her night bottle of milk. John claimed that, after all these months, it was time to stop the nightly meals, but Mary, supported by the pediatrician, was following another line of thought, and she kept on feeding the baby whenever he was hungry.
Mary prodded John between the shoulder blades.
"The other night I got up” she mumbled sleepily “now it's your turn."
John threw off the covers and searched for his slippers.
"You know, this is one of the reasons why I want to stop with the night bottle: eight hours of sleep for the both of us."
"We have already discussed it and I definitely don’t want to talk about it at three in the morning" Mary sighed, burying her head under the pillow.
John snorted irritated: in the end they always ended up doing things her way and he hated it, but she was right about it: three a.m. wasn’t the best moment to argue.
Holding the baby on his hip, John poured the milk in the glass bottle and then put it in the bottle warmer. He took a sip of water in an attempt to shake off the drowsiness, but his eyes threatened to close, so he started walking back and forth in the living room. Instead Mia was more awake than ever, kicking and tapping with her chubby hands on his father's shoulder, claiming her night meal.
The timer of the bottle warmer ringed and John picked up the bottle, but then he stopped: what if it was too hot? He tried to pour a bit of milk on his wrist, as Mary did when she tested the temperature, but obviously he felt nothing. For him it was just warm, but it could be very hot instead and, not wanting to risk to hurt Mia, he went into the bedroom.
"Mary, can you feel if it’s hot enough?"
"Why, aren’t you able to understand that?" She sat up, poured a bit of milk on the back of her hand and gasped.
"Good God, John! It’s too hot! How did you not know it?"
"This is why I asked you to try it."
Mia was more and more agitated, so John put her on the bed, went into the bathroom and turned on the cold tap to cool the bottle.
"That is a very bad..." Mary began as soon as she understood what her husband wanted to do, but it was too late: the contrast between the hot milk and the cold water broke the glass bottle to pieces.
"...idea” the woman concluded with a heavy sigh “Now what are you gonna do?" She asked belligerently, as their daughter kept on crying because she was hungry.
"I'm going to buy another one" John muttered, taking off his pajamas and grabbing his jeans.
There was a thick fog outside, so John decided not to take the car or the bicycle to get to the drugstore, as it was too dangerous: he couldn’t see almost anything but faint spots of orange light under the street lamps, and after all the drugstore was quite close to home.
He asked for a baby bottle, put a ten pound note in the metal box and took the new bottle and the change. At the sound of coins that slipped into his jacket pocket, a harmless homeless man emerged from the fog and asked shyly to John if he could have some coins.
The man was trembling, probably because of withdrawal symptoms from alcohol or drugs, and that money would have been spent on a bottle of cheap vodka, but John couldn’t remain indifferent to the man's request, not on a night so cold and ugly.
The doctor pulled the coins from his pocket and tried to place them on a trembling hand, when the homeless man drew back frightened, pressing against a wall.
"Hey, man, are you all right?" The doctor asked with a professional and reassuring smile.
"No, no” the man raised his hands in horror, as if he wanted to protect himself from a nonexistent threat, then he fled screaming into the night “You're dead! You are dead!"
John stood on the sidewalk with his hand raised in the air and an expression of genuine surprise on his face, then shrugged and walked toward his house, trying not to give too much weight to the words of a man with delirium tremens, but in a way that bum was right: it wasn’t Mary or all the other people to be cold as corpses, he was the one who didn’t feel anything anymore, the one who was a dead man walking in the fog.
When he returned home, all the lights were out and Mia had stopped crying: Mary was asleep with her in their bed and the baby was surrounded by pillows so she wouldn’t fall, but there wasn’t any more room for him.
John sighed, went to lie down on the couch and closed his eyes.
John was awakened the next morning by his wife, who was making breakfast in the kitchen, and opened his eyes with difficulty, because he slept bad and was still tired.
Before his eyes, John still saw the white veil of the fog of the previous night; he snorted and rubbed vigorously his eyes, but when he opened them, the fog hadn’t gone away, it was still there, dancing in his living room in dense whitish spirals, winding lazily around furnitures and objects.
"Oh Christ..." he whispered in panic.
"Ah, you're awake! I'm sorry you had to sleep here, but if we had woken Mia again to take her to her room, it would take ages to put her to sleep again. I hope the couch wasn’t too uncomfortable for your back."
The figure of Mary, hidden behind the fog, became clear only when she was a few feet away from him.
"Oh Christ..." John repeated. He reached out to touch the mist, but his hand just sliced through the air: it wasn’t true fog, it was neither cold nor wet. It was just a white and silent veil, which probably existed only in his eyes.
"John?” Mary asked, touching his shoulder “What’s happening?"
"There's the fog." He said.
Obviously Mary dragged him immediately to the hospital: the doctors performed dozens of exams on him, but there was no damage whatsoever to the retina, the vitreous humor was clear, the optic nerve wasn’t inflamed, he hadn’t suffered a brain ischemia or other brain damage: from a physical point of view he had nothing, and the doctors didn’t know how to explain his visual impairment. Eventually they surrendered, clinging to the only word that seemed to make sense of his condition: psychosomatic illness.
Nothing new to John, in fact.
Besides, John too didn’t believe to have a neurodegenerative disease: in the medical texts he had read, he hadn’t found any cases similar to his and he appeared to be in perfect health. So, according to Ella, if a problem existed, it was all in his head, but the psychotherapy sessions, that hadn’t helped in the past, didn’t help him now.
John was very conscientious, so he didn’t drive the car anymore to go to work, but since he could still see clearly people if they were close enough to him, he continued to practice.
Mary was surprised that he wasn’t more agitated and upset about this strange condition, but she didn’t know that his gradual isolation from the world had begun much earlier: first smells and flavors, then human heat and finally the fog in his eyes.
John had had time to grown accustomed to his bizarre condition and was resigned to the fact that his life was that, now.
Even colours abandoned his life. It happened rather quickly, actually, and within a week the pigments of things and people that emerged from the fog became more and more dull and opaque, like an old photo of the beginning of the twentieth century, and eventually they disappeared altogether, leaving John immersed in a world of monotone shades of gray, from pearl to slate and anthracite.
He said it to Mary, but when she insisted to take him again to the hospital, he refused, as he knew it was totally useless: doctors were clearly incapable to find an explanation or a cure for the new symptoms of his strange condition.
And so John continued to carry on his life: he worked at the clinic, but between a patient and the other, he kept thinking of Sherlock and how his own life had dried up since his friend was gone.
Then he came home and found Mary with Mia in her arms as they were leafing through an illustrated book of Peppa Pig, or sitting on the carpet scribbling on sheets with chalks and crayons. John had no doubt that the colours used by his daughter were bright as those of a cartoon, he was the one who couldn’t see them. He listened at Mary talking about the daily progress of Mia, he put her to sleep in her crib, went back in the living room to watch some random program on TV, eating food that had no flavor, and then he went to sleep next to a body cold as a corpse.
The next day he started again, mechanically: he shaved, ate breakfast and wished Mary a good day if she wasn’t on duty in the clinic, or they went to work together, she drove and he pretended to look out the window, even though he couldn’t see anything but fog, fog and fog again, concealing gray shadowy figures.
John survived immersed in a perpetual autumn, lived a half-life devoid of future perspectives, with the only goal to get to the end of the day.
His wife asked him every day if the therapy sessions were working, if the fog had finally disappeared from his eyes and if he was all right. Every damn morning. And every morning John replied that no, everything was still shrouded by the fog, and that yes, he was fine.
It wasn’t even a too much big lie, because he didn’t have any kind of physical pain, only a deep yearning of his life with Sherlock, so acute that it was like his heart was wrapped in barbed wire.
His only desire was to have back his old life with Sherlock, and that was impossible.
Sometimes Mary got angry with him, it seemed as if she was trying to fight on purpose, to shake him from his apathy. She screamed that this wasn’t the life that she expected when they got married, she didn’t want to slip into a life routine so dull and boring, she wanted back the brilliant man, full of energy, that John was once.
"That era is over" John sighed from time to time, but sometimes he didn’t answer her at all and just shrugged: he didn’t care anymore about what Mary said or thought.
Months ago, he would be angry, he would reply in kind and spend the night away from home to let off some steam, but now Mary insults slipped on him and he was totally indifferent to her shouting, like he was indifferent to everything else in his life.
How could he feel emotions if he was living in a world where everything was flat, gray, dull?
How could he feel emotions if his source of excitement and happiness was gone?
"Mrs. Dunn is here." Mary announced over the intercom and then added, after a slight pause, "Her son is with her."
John groaned, hiding face in his hands, summoning all his patience before telling Mary to let her pass.
Veronica Dunn was mother of the most restless and obnoxious child John had ever met: he wasn’t able to stay still for one second, and even if his mother shouted and tried to calm him down, the boy wriggled, grabbed and slammed to the ground everything that came within the range of his little arms. Indeed, it seemed that the more the mother screamed, the more the little three years old scamp challenged her and disobeyed. During the last visit, eight months before, while John diagnosed without too much difficulty a heavy nervous breakdown to the mother, the child had decided that the screen of John’s computer had to be crushed to the ground and when the doctor removed the LCD screen from his hands, the little boy was outraged to the point to sink in anger his teeth in John’s wrist, because John was guilty of having deprived him of his toy.
Mrs. Dunn came into John’s office hand in hand with his son, then knelt in front of him.
"Ricky, now you sit on that chair and play with your toy car, while Dr. Watson visits your mom, okay?"
"Okay" the boy answered, then put a gaudy fire trucks on the desk and began to make it move back and forth, imitating the noise of the engine.
John looked at him for a moment and prayed that the child hadn’t a lighter with him: knowing him, he wouldn’t hesitate to set fire to the paper bin because he was playing at being a fireman. However, Ricky didn’t seem willing to provoke any apocalyptic disaster, and John looked surprised for a moment, before turning his attention to his mother, who had a nagging sore throat for some days.
"It's pharyngitis” John said after the visit “and since the symptoms are already present for some days, I prescribe you the cephradine, it will be more effective than amoxicillin."
The woman thanked him, tied Ricky’s coat, who let her without protesting, as he continued to play happily with his truck.
"He’s very good today" the doctor remarked.
Mrs. Dunn put the recipe in her purse and smiled, embarrassed, "I don’t know how to apologize for what happened last time."
"No need, it’s water under the bridge. And now I see that your son is much more peaceful and serene. Am I too indiscreet if I ask if in these months something happened to you?"
"I divorced" she admitted without problems. Through the veil of the fog, her eyes were fixed on John’s ones without any hesitation.
"Ah, I'm sorry" He said right away, because it seemed the right thing to say given the circumstance, but Ms. Dunn shook her head emphatically, "I’m not, not at all."
"Then I'm sorry if things weren’t going well in your family. Did your husband happen to be violent?" Thinking about it now, the maddening and rebellious behaviour of little Ricky could depend on domestic violence.
"No, no! Frederick has never lifted a finger on Ricky or me, and nor I did. The truth is that we got married because I was pregnant and our families wouldn’t have given respite if we hadn’t done. But the marriage was a huge mistake: if it wasn’t for my pregnancy, I’m sure we would have breakup in a few months. I realized it almost immediately, and perhaps Frederick too, but we preferred to ignore the feeling and we stayed together just to be able to accuse each other of having scuppered our marriage."
"It shouldn’t have been easy for you."
"Yeah, you can say it: Frederick and I continued to tease each other with accusations, sarcastic jokes and small vexations. The only thing I regret is having waited so long to get the divorce, as Ricky has suffered because of our behavior,” she gently stroked her son’s hair before she spoke again “I realized that our society is led to believe that babies and young children don’t understand the world of adults or our conversation, thinking that they are too complicated for them, but it’s not like that, you know? Children are like sponges and they absorb everything: moods, tones of voice, looks, positive and negative vibes. If the atmosphere in a family is ruined, they feel it. I don’t want to justify Ricky for all his whims, I know that he behaved very bad, but in our house there was always so much tension that you could cut it with a knife: Ricky felt it, absorbed it and acted accordingly."
"My ex-husband is gone living on his own: he pays for the spousal maintenance , keeps Ricky with him whenever he can and, paradoxically, the two of them have a much more strong relationship than they have when we lived together. I know that Frederick loves him and is a good father, as I am a good mother, but two of us didn’t work together: now he is serene and so am I, and, above all, Ricky is happy."
"I see. However I imagine that it isn’t easy being a single parent" John said.
The woman shook her head.
"Much less than you can think. At first all my friends treated me like I was crazy and said things like: 'What the hell are you doing, you can’t get divorced, you have a child, you're irresponsible, don’t you think about Ricky?' ” She sighed, driving away those bad memories with a shrug “Everyone was against me and it wasn’t an easy choice, but you know what, doctor? It was the right choice, especially for my son, I couldn’t stand to see him suffer anymore. I mean: look at him right now."
The child continued to play quietly, he hadn’t risen from the chair even once and hadn’t knocked anything off the desk.
"But I've stolen enough time to you. Come on, Ricky.” She took the child in his arms and left “Have a good day, Dr. Watson."
As soon as they walked away from the desk, the two figures were enveloped by the fog, but when the door opened, the smoke dispersed momentarily and mother and son appeared coloured in soft pastel tones, before returning to the grayscale when the veil of mist covered them again.
It was then that John understood: mother and son were happy, and happiness was in colours. Soft colours in his eyes, because that wasn’t his own happiness, but the one of two strangers, but for the first time John wondered if he hadn’t given up too soon to his new era and his condition, he wondered if there was a way to get out from the gray world of fog and come back to see, to feel, to taste.
Not a medical way, but a complete different way.
He remembered the last words that he and Sherlock had exchanged on the tarmac at the the airport.
"The game is over."
"The game is never over, John."
It was only when he thought about Sherlock that feelings resurfaced inside him, Sherlock was the only thing that wasn’t indifferent to him, the only one John had always wanted, no matter if Mycroft had made it clear that his brother wouldn’t return to London.
He grabbed his phone and opened the photo gallery: he didn’t have many, as Mary was the unofficial photographer of the family, but after a brief search he found the one he was looking for: a selfie of him and Sherlock during his stag night.
They were in a club and the lighting was poor, they also had to be already quite tipsy because the photo was blurry, but it was in colour. The blue and green lights of the club dying their skin made them look like weird aliens and objectively the picture was bad, but the shock of having found again the true colours of Sherlock’s bright eyes and his pink lips stretched in a genuine smile, made John shake violently; he covered his mouth with one hand to stifle a sob, but then he surrendered, allowing himself to cry without restrain.
"I want it all back” he thought, unmindful of how childish those words sounded “I want the colours, I want my life, I want Sherlock."
Hearing his sobs, Mary opened the door, but stayed in the doorway, without approaching him. She was shrouded by the fog and John couldn’t see her, but probably right now she had the face of someone who was thinking: "Here we go, my husband has completely lost his mind."
John wiped away the tears and calmed down just enough to explain himself.
"I get it, Mary: now I understand what's happening to me."
"Oh, that’s good. And do you think there could be a remedy for your condition?"
"Yes, I'm sure there is. Look."
He handed her the phone so that Mary could see the photo. The woman came over and stared at the screen blankly.
"It's a picture of you and Sherlock, so what?"
"It's in colour."
"No, you don’t understand!” John shouted, agitated “I see it in colour."
Mary sank down on the chair in front of him, with a contrite expression that hardened her features.
"This hurts, you know?" she murmured.
John licked his lips and nodded, knowing that the revelation would be painful for her.
"I know, but this is the reality: I see this photo in colour, bright colours, while the rest of the world is gray to me."
"I don’t give a toss about the rest of the world!” Mary said in a dry voice “I care a lot more than my husband see me in black and white, while Sherlock, who left London one year ago, is still in colour to him. You have always been restless, since the day of our wedding” she accused him “Like you were perpetually dissatisfied, looking for something else. You know John, I was happy when you told me that Sherlock would be working away from London and that he wouldn’t return, I was hoping that, once he was gone, your restlessness would have evaporated and you'd be happy with what you had."
John looked at her, realizing that he and Mary had met at a wrong point of their lives; Mary was perfectly happy with what they had now: caring about Mia, going out with friends, or just staying at home lazing all day, and she didn’t regret at all her past life.
Instead he was living his daily life routine just because he had to, without finding any pleasure in the things he did, and he still craved the adrenaline fuelled adventures with Sherlock.
When they found themselves, Mary was oil and he was water, and even if they tried so hard to blend, in the end they were still two separated fluids.
If he had known her when she was still a spy and a hired killer, he and Mary could have been the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
If he had never met Sherlock, John would have been happy to retire with his wife in a quiet village in Wales to be just a country doctor.
But these were only speculations, things that hadn’t happened.
He had known Sherlock, and only Sherlock made John’s life complete. Water with water.
He didn’t say 'I'm sorry' to Mary because he respected her too much to say it, he didn’t say 'This is our reality' because they both knew it already, so the silence stretched between them.
Then Mary asked him if Mia was in black and white too, and John nodded.
"But she’s warm” he added “She’s the only person of whom I feel the body heat. I love our daughter Mary, and I'd do anything to make her happy."
"How? Going away to look for Sherlock? Because this is what you're going to do, right?" she spat.
"Do you ever wonder why she cries so much, especially every time we fight?"
Mary leaned back in the chair, threw her head back and sighed, "Yes, I’ve wondered, a lot indeed."
"I don’t want to hear her cry, not because of me."
"Taking upon you all the fault and making yourself a martyr is useless, John" her wife muttered wearily.
They stood in silence for a while, she stared at the fire alarm on the ceiling, and he at the photo on his cellphone, the nostalgia clear in his eyes.
"I'm not warm, John? Not even a bit?"
The former soldier shook his head, unable to face her.
"And do you think that Sherlock can heal you from this strange... sickness?" She asked with a hint of uncertainty: she had never been able to give a proper name to John’s condition.
"Yes" he asserted confidently.
"I see. When are you going to look for him?"
"Now, if I can."
Mary got up, "Okay, I'm going to see if Erik is free and can cover your shift."
The woman raised her hands in an imperious gesture.
"Don’t, John, I don’t want to know anything else, I don’t care. It’s over."
The doorman of the Diogenes Club made him wait on the sidewalk and then told John that Mr. Holmes was too busy to receive him, but he renewed the advice he had given him the last time.
"Busy... sure!" John snapped: in that strange place the only occupation permitted was to read in strict silence and, from his perspective, it didn’t seem such a pressing commitment.
"I must see him" he insisted, trying to circumvent the doorman, but he laid a hand on his chest and held him.
"Sir, this is a private club and you’re not allowed in. Please, don’t force me to call the police to drive you away."
"Ah, Mycroft puts it that way? Perfect."
The former soldier walked away, but he had no intention to give up, not now that he had found hope.
In a nearby square, a group of punk guys was listening heavy metal from an old boombox and John approached them.
"How much you want for the boombox?"
"It's not for sale, you nutter" one of the boys said with a chuckle of disbelief: what the hell did that absurd guy want?
John didn’t get upset, took the wallet from his pocket and pulled out all the notes that there were in.
"I've 355 pounds, that’s enough?"
"Holy shit! You can buy ten of those with all that money, Tommy!" said a girl sitting on the ground.
The boy turned off the boombox and handed it to John, "It 's all yours, my friend."
The doctor returned in front of the Diogenes Club and positioned himself in front of the windows of the reading room. The doorman appeared again on the front door, this time accompanied by two other butlers.
"Sir, I told you that you can’t stand here."
"That's a private club, but this” John pointed to the sidewalk with his finger “it’s public land and, until proven otherwise, you can’t do anything to stop me from staying here."
That said, John raised the volume of the boombox to the maximum and turned it on, letting a shock wave of electric guitars and drums hit the quiet white building. He standed on the sidewalk, arms folded, quietly challenging the three men with his gaze.
That was his breakthrough.
The three men exchanged a puzzled look, confabulated briefly with each other, came back in the Club and, five minutes later, Mycroft went out to meet him, looking extremely annoyed.
"Eventually someone will be exacerbated enough by the noise to call the police and make you arrest" he said, turning off the boombox with the tip of his umbrella.
John shrugged his shoulders, as to say that he he didn’t give a shit about that.
"I will pay my fine and return here again, bringing some water balloons full of ink to paint these beautiful white walls; the next time I will break the windows with a slingshot, then I will find something else to do. I’m an inventive man, believe me."
"Can I know the reason of this sudden childishness of you?"
"I want to know where Sherlock is."
"No! No more Johns , no more excuses! Enough! Where's Sherlock?" He shouted, and for the first time, Mycroft seemed to really observe him.
John didn’t see anything in colour by now, but he had no doubt that, even in the eyes of people who could see normally, he should appear gray and dull. And in that moment, with his short and hard breathing, also completely crazy.
"Please” he continued with a low murmur and desperation clear in his eyes “I need him, I need to see him, I'm willing to do anything."
"Have you thought about my brother? Have you thought about what he needs, John?"
"Are you telling me that Sherlock is happy to work for you? Happy with his life now? Away from London, from his world?"
“Away from me” he thought.
Mycroft smacked his lips in disapproval and leaned heavily on his umbrella.
"Your association didn’t bring anything good in my brother’s life, it drove him to do things I didn’t believe he could do. I thought that far from here, he would have found other interests, but it didn’t happen. The cases that I find for him are all extremely complex and interesting, but there is no trace of excitement in him when he solves them. He does what he have to do..."
"Just because he must" John concluded: he knew that feeling very well.
"So, if I must express an opinion, I'd say no, my brother isn’t happy."
"Does he asks of me?" John asked, not daring to look into Mycroft’s eyes.
"Everytime we speak."
John clenched his fists and pleaded again, "Please, Mycroft, tell me where he is."
"Why now? It's been over a year since Sherlock had left London."
"Because I realized it only now."
"That is Sherlock the most important person in my life. This time I will not abandon him, I will not stay a step behind just observing him, without doing nothing. I swear" he said, raising his eyes on Mycroft, looking sincere and confident.
"The idea of the two of you together again doesn’t make me smile, but after all I don’t think I can prevent two adult men to reach out to their downfall. My brother is located in Duluth, Minnesota."
John spun around, got down from the sidewalk and squinted his eyes to find a cab in the fog: he had to go to home to get his passport, and then directly to the airport to board on the first flight to the United States. If he was lucky, he could be in New York in the evening, and from there he would take a domestic flight to Duluth.
Behind him he heard Mycroft calling his personal assistant and asking for his private car.
"Anthea will accompany you home to pick up your passport, once at Heathrow go to the ticket office of Delta Airlines: you’ll find a ticket for you."
"Just don’t make me regret my decision."
During the flight John didn’t take his eyes off from the note that Anthea had given to him, with the address of a motel in the suburbs, Sherlock’s current residence.
John saw only those few words traced with ink on a piece of paper torn from a notebook, and as the plane approached the American soil, that note became more and more real, more concrete: he was going to Sherlock, he was really doing it.
He looked at his watch so many times that eventually the old lady sitting next to him, suggested him to relax in a good-naturedly voice, ‘cause unfortunately looking at the watch wouldn’t make the plane go faster.
When the doors opened, he was the first one to go out, he ran across the hall to the cab parking with his small hand luggage on his shoulder, and promised the driver a substantial tip, if he did get to the motel as soon as possible.
He got into the motel parking lot and looked around, scanning the few people who moved like dark ghosts in the mist.
Where was Sherlock?
Then, suddenly, a man emerged clearly from the dense fog: he was standing in a snowy field, with his hands clasped behind his back, like someone who was waiting for an old friend. His curls were smoothed, not wild like they used to be, he looked older than John remembered, and instead of his usual Belstaff, he was wearing a trench coat, but he was undoubtedly Sherlock.
"Sherlock..." John murmured, taking a step toward him, uncertain, but this time forward.
He would no longer step back when it came to Sherlock, he promised himself.
"Sherlock..." he repeated, softly.
At the third step, the travel bag in his hand fell to the ground.
At the fifth, the murmur became a shout.
At the ninth, the steps became more confident.
At the twelfth the steps turned into an unstoppable sprint that saw him lose for a moment the balance on the snow, and then he throw himself against Sherlock with his arms outstretched.
Sherlock looked stunned and barely had time to untie his hands clasped behind his back before John was on him.
The instant when John impacted against Sherlock, the fog dissipated completely and his world exploded with colours and sensations.
Sherlock saved him once again, blowing away the fog from his life.
They ended both lying on the ground, the blogger on his consulting detective, an hysterical laughter that shook him all over, as he hugged Sherlock and buried his face against his chest.
Sherlock's hands on his back were firm and tight, the trench coat he wore had a light blue colour and smelled of seal fat; John lifted his face, just to hide it against the bare neck of his friend.
"You're hot, Sherlock, you're so hot." he whispered feverishly against his skin, overwhelmed for a moment by the sensory overload that he hadn’t felt in over a year. Instinctively he stuck out his tongue and tasted the salty skin of Sherlock’s neck and jaw, bitter with the strong smelling aftershave.
He heard Sherlock sucking in a surprised breath and then exhaling it along with his name, John .
There was disbelief, regret, nostalgia in Sherlock’s voice and it was like hearing his name spoken for the first time, it was like having his identity back through that single syllable.
He raised himself on his elbows and looked Sherlock in the eyes, that were so green, intense and focused solely on him, and, among the thousand thoughts that were fighting each other to emerge on his lips, John chose the one that came from his heart, "Kiss me. Please, kiss me. "
Sherlock's eyes widened in surprise, but his hands slipped away from John’s back to come around his face: he stroked it as if it was something precious, then he closed his eyes and lifted his head to meet John’s lips, that parted impatient and eager to taste Sherlock’s flavour. After more than a year of absolute insensitivity, and it was the most good taste in the world, although on Sherlock’s tongue still lingered the aftertaste of a too sweet coffee and, not too surprisingly, that of nicotine.
Sherlock was paralyzed for a moment under the ungainly impetuosity of John’s tongue, but soon he answered with equally repressed desire and reversed their positions with a back thrust, crushing John beneath him in the snow.
When the snow slipped under the collar of his coat, John pulled away laughing and Sherlock looked offended.
"I know I don’t kiss very well, but there is no reason to be so rude."
"No, no!" John took Sherlock’s face in his hands and hugged him, kissing him on the cheekbones that were blushing.
"I'm laughing because the snow is icy" he said, but Sherlock didn’t understand. "It doesn’t matter” John reassured him “We have time and I'll explain everything, but not now, now-" he trailed off when his gaze slipped away from Sherlock’s face to the blue and clear sky of Minnesota.
"The sky is wonderful" John whispered, moved, then he began to laugh loud and he didn’t care if he seemed crazy, because he felt as if he had been holding his breath for more than a year and suddenly he had been allowed to breathe again, and there was an unstoppable flood of emotions inside of him that were re-emerging.
"You have no idea, Sherlock” John confessed with his mouth next to Sherlock’s ear, as he continued to stare at the bright sky “You have no idea what my life has been."
"I deduced it as soon as I saw you” Sherlock replied, rubbing his nose on John’s cheek “Mine was the same."
John watched his face: the skin was too taut on his cheekbones, and when John stroked his sides, he could feel the ribs under his fingers, despite the layers of clothing: Sherlock had lost at least fifteen pounds.
"This is not good" John thought: he hadn’t taken care of himself, he didn’t live, he had just survived, exactly like him.
"Why didn’t you come back to London?” John asked, stroking his hair “Mycroft would have granted to you, if you had insisted."
"We said goodbye on the tarmac, and I thought your priorities were changed."
John sought Sherlock’s lips and kissed him frantically, over and over again.
"I thought so, too, but when you were gone, everything went to hell. Everything, Sherlock. I felt nothing, I wasn’t living, not for real, god, it was horrible..."
"Shh..." Sherlock reassured him, kissing him on the forehead “It’s okay now.”
They stood there, lying in the snow, breathing and hugging tightly, to get accustomed again with each other, until a blast of icy wind reminded them that the temperature was several degrees below zero.
"I have a room here at the motel" Sherlock said almost casually, but John sensed the desire that vibrated in his voice.
"Has it a bed, this room?"
They didn’t make it to the bed.
Sherlock had barely time to close the door behind him, before John pushed him against the wood, unfastening the trench with impatient movements and slipping off his sweater and shirt together; Sherlock tried to do the same with John’s clothing, but the doctor shook his head.
"You first. I want to look at you, I want to touch you” he put his hands on Sherlock’s chest, letting them slide slowly towards the waist, and looked at him with hungry eyes “I want to eat you."
Sherlock swallowed hard and nodded slightly, unable to formulate even just a 'yes'. John pushed him on the carpet and ascended astride on him, freeing Sherlock of trousers and pants, leaving him naked and excited, exposed to his gaze.
"You're a bloody wonder, you’ve always been” he sighed in awe, sliding the back of his left hand on a hip bone “Even when I didn’t think of you that way, I couldn’t help but think you were beautiful."
"Stop it" Sherlock muttered, turning his head to one side, but he could do nothing to hide he was blatantly blushing again. John thought that Sherlock’s white skin tinged with pink was a delightful view, and from now on he would have covered him in compliments and flattery only to see it happen.
John grabbed his wrists, bringing them above his head and marked his neck with a purple hickey that would remain for days.
Sherlock invoked his name like a prayer.
"Say it again" John urged him, licking the reddened skin.
A wet kiss below the Adam's apple.
A bite on the collarbone that made Sherlock shiver.
The doctor slided down along his chest, pausing to kiss each freckle.
John's lips closed voraciously around his right nipple and Sherlock arched beneath him, shocked by the violent and unexpected contact; he grabbed John’ shoulders, unsure whether to get away from the source of the too much pleasure, but John decided for him, tormenting him with lips and teeth, until Sherlock’s arms tightened around him, and then he was demanding more, more, more.
Relentless, John continued his descent, accompanied by Sherlock’s fast breathing and hands that squeezed John’ shoulders every time his lips touched a too sensitive spot, but Sherlock’s entire body seemed to be a single, infinite erogenous zone, judging by his muffled moans.
John stood over his navel, breathing a few millimeters away from the skin, licking the salty sweat.
“Say my name, I need it."
He needed to feel called, saved.
"John, John, John..." Sherlock spelled slowly, but the name on his lips became increasingly uncertain, until it turns into an amazed ‘OH!’ when John did something that no other person had ever done to him, kissing the tip of his moist and slippery penis. The feeling reverberated throughout his body up to explode in his brain and Sherlock’s fingers raked the dusty and worn carpet, his pelvis lifted as having its own will, in search of John's mouth, which opened to welcome him as far as he could, without any hesitation or shame.
Sherlock’s taste was strong, like his smell, and it was almost intoxicating for John, who had just rediscovered those sensations after a year of absolute nil; the former soldier felt the penis throbbing against his palate, the blood pumping faster through the veins, while Sherlock was losing his self control, pushing himself inside John’s mouth, moaning his name along with inarticulate and deliciously obscene sounds.
The sensation of power that John was experiencing was intoxicating.
Sherlock had brought his legs on John’s shoulders and pressed the heels on his back, allowing John to creep under him and welcome the hot testicles in the palm of his left hand, but then Sherlock wriggled away from his touch. To John it was unacceptable: he crawled over him, ready to kiss away his insecurities, but Sherlock shook his head slowly, so John stopped.
“What is it?”
"You too" Sherlock said, opening the button of his jeans and fumbling with the zip.
Only then John noticed he was hard, as hard as stone, and the feeling of the zip pressing against his penis was definitely unpleasant. Needless to say, his sex life had been non-existent in the last year, and the first touch of those long violinist fingers on him was almost painful: he knew that he would never be able to undress in time, it was a miracle that he hadn’t come on the spot when Sherlock’s thumb had caressed his swollen glans. John almost collapsed on him, blindly seeking again his soft mouth, and kissed him until he lost his breath, trapping Sherlock to the ground with the weight of his body.
Their erections came to contact almost by accident, and the two moaned in unison.
"John..." Sherlock's eyes were wide, almost feverish, and John knew he looked exactly the same.
"Yes, God... yes."
He spat on his palm, under the watchful and inquisitive eyes of his lover, and wrapped it around their erections, pumping hard and fast: he needed release and he needed it now.
Sherlock sobbed in disbelief, overwhelmed by the feeling of frenulum against frenulum, the hard friction and the testicles crushed together: he had never felt anything like this.
John planted his knees on the floor for leverage and began to push harder, his forehead pressed against Sherlock's shoulder, surrounded by his warmth, his desperate moans, the smell of his skin, and when he felt Sherlock sperm moistening his fingers, he capitulated. He opened his mouth and shouted, shouted aloud, completely subjugated by the power of his orgasm, barely aware of Sherlock’s little kisses through his hair. He accompanied the aftershock with slow pumps of his hand and then stopped, trying to catch his breath.
"Your sweater stings" Sherlock complained petulantly after a while.
John looked up and saw that Sherlock skin was terribly flushed because of rubbing.
"Forgive me” John apologized, stretching languidly on him with satisfaction “I promise you that the next time I undress too.”
Hearing the words 'next time' Sherlock’s lips stretched in a smile for a moment, and John noticed it.
"Of course there will be other times, Sherlock, as often as you like."
Sherlock cleared his throat before continuing, almost shyly, "Are you always so...?"
"So what?" He asked with a sly smile.
John chuckled, then left a trail of little kisses from his neck to the ear, where he murmured "Why don’t you check it by yourself, let’s say in fifteen minutes?"
After a long shower together, finally they managed to reach the bed, a narrow single bed, that forced them to be stuck together. But not a single protest arose for the accommodation.
John looked for something to eat, complaining when he discovered that the only edible things that Sherlock had in the room were Oreo, tea and honey, and he was forcing him to eat one biscuit after another.
"You're too skinny” John disapproved, running a hand over Sherlock’s face “You smoke too much and eat too little, I don’t like it."
"Neither you are in your best shape, you know?" Sherlock retorted with an adorable pout.
John sat up, looking in the mirror that covered one of the cabinet doors: he was so used to see himself in shades of gray that at first he didn’t understand, then he noticed that his hair now was much ash than blond, there were marked wrinkles around his eyes, and even his skin was unhealthily pale: that year had left deep marks on him.
"What happened to you, John?” Sherlock asked, placing a hand on his chest to make him lie down again, so he could lay his head on John’s good shoulder. “Mycroft told me that your life was peaceful, so what happened to you?"
"I believe that the peace has been one of the problems. It was too much and it was absolutely hateful, although I haven’t realized until it was too late.” He stroked absentmindedly his lover’s hair, now curly and rebel again after the shower, “But if I told you what happened, you’ll never believe me."
Now, with Sherlock in his arms, his warm body against his, the experience of spending an entire year in a monotonous gray world, devoid of feelings and surrounded by a dense white fog, seemed distant and unreal, despite the colours were back in his life for less than an hour.
"I want to know, I want to know everything about you."
There it was, the insatiable curiosity of the consulting detective that was coming back in full force. John knew that he couldn’t escape it.
"You’ll laugh at me, think that I'm crazy and make me shut in a psychiatric hospital."
Sherlock’s right arm held him tighter and he slipped a leg between those of John.
"Only if they’ll shut in me in the same hospital. And in the same room, of course."
"Hmm, seen from this perspective, it isn’t so bad."
"John, don’t change the subject."
The former soldier sighed and, gathering his thoughts, began to tell his bizarre story, starting from his insensitivity to heat and cold, and the food without any taste or smell, to the fog, which had kept him segregated from the rest of the world, in a flat and surreal dimension; he told Sherlock about Ms. Dunn and Ricky, about the photo in colour he found in his cellphone and how all that horror dullness had disappeared when he had hugged him in the snow.
Sherlock didn’t stop him even once, didn’t mocked nor accused him of lying, and didn’t say that John story was impossible and ridiculous. Eventually he lifted on his elbows, rested his forehead to John’s and whispered "I'm sorry."
"So you believe me? You don’t think I'm a visionary or a-"
"I think that you, John Hamish Watson, are the bravest man I've ever known" Sherlock said, interrupting him.
The doctor frowned: he didn’t see anything heroic in the way he lived, indeed he had always thought of himself as a coward, from the moment when, at Appledore, he had taken a step back, leaving Sherlock alone to face the consequences of it.
"I would have never survived, if I were in your place” the consulting detective said, deducing John’s thoughts “Then you aren’t the coward here."
"But neither are you."
The silence that followed made him arch his eyebrows, "Why do you think you are a coward, Sherlock?"
"Before I wasn’t completely honest, when you asked me why I didn’t come back to London. You're right: I could have put pressure on my brother to return, but I didn’t" he paused, reluctant to continue and John encouraged him, stroking Sherlock’s arm around his waist.
"You’ll not like it."
The doctor laughed. "Try me."
Right now to be angry with Sherlock seemed the most unlikely thing in the world: he was so happy that whatever Sherlock had said, it wouldn’t change anything.
The consulting detective puffed out his chest with a sigh and confessed: "It hurt thinking of living in our apartment without you. I hated the fact that you weren’t there anymore with me and your wedding day was the worst of my life."
Sherlock expected a vehement and outraged reaction by John, because that wasn’t something that anyone wanted to hear from the person he had chosen as his best man, but the doctor said nothing, nor moved away from him.
"It was too much” Sherlock went on “So, when Mycroft asked me to follow his business in the United States, I accepted."
"You wanted to forget, it’s normal" John remarked. Of course he didn’t blame Sherlock, how could he?
But Sherlock shook his head.
"John, you're in every room of my Mind Palace: I never hoped to forget you, but I thought it would be easier to live far from you."
"But it wasn’t, right?"
"Even his world was gray." At that thought, John wrapped Sherlock in an almost suffocating embrace. "Christ, I'm sorry, I'm sorry Sherlock."
"So aren’t you mad at me?"
"No! Why should I?"
"Because I told you that I was happy for your wedding and I was honored to be your best man, but it wasn’t true."
"And I told you that nothing would change between us after my wedding, and yet I disappeared for a whole month. I told you that you were my best friend, but when you killed Magnussen for me, I left you alone. It was my first mistake and I’m still ashamed about it."
"I was the one to tell you to stay behind."
"It doesn’t matter: a true friend stays by your side, even if you don’t want."
"You had other priorities..."
"But that was the moment when, slowly, my world began to fade, because I made the wrong decision: inside myself, I never wanted our era to end."
"Now stop to justify me” John warned him, ruffling his hair “I want my Sherlock back, the one who calls me idiot, orders me to make tea and insults me when he's bored."
"Yes, I want to watch the sunset with you, I want to see the sun reflecting in your eyes, enlighten them, I want the warmth of your body to be the last thing I feel when I close my eyes and the first when I wake up in the morning, I want to listen your deductions for hours with my head resting on your chest, I want you to play the violin for me, I want you to take me by the hand and dragging me around London, I still want to do again ridiculous and crazy things and I want to do them just with you."
John thought all these things, but what he said was: "I want to live with you, in a world without fog."