Sherlock stands at John’s words, turns and looks down to the street. It only takes him a couple of seconds to find John. He’s across the street, near the building opposite Bart’s. His back is to the wall, as though he needs the support to hold himself upright.
An echo from a few weeks ago resurfaces in Sherlock’s mind.
I used to go to yours, before. Your grave, then Bart’s.
He went to Mary’s grave, Sherlock is suddenly sure of it. Sherlock forced her and the guilt he feels to the front of John’s mind, and as a result he went to her grave. But why does he still come to Bart’s, why does he still complete that two-part journey even now that he knows Sherlock is alive?
All that rises to his lips is, again, John’s name, although this time it’s little more than a whisper.
John’s breaths are still coming in too fast, too loud through the phone.
“Sherlock if this is your idea of a joke I swear to God—”
There’s too much pain in John’s voice; Sherlock can’t bear to let him finish.
“No, no, nothing like that. James. I told James about Moriarty’s death. He needed to hear it.”
“And he needed to hear it up there?”
Back to anger. Sherlock isn’t sure which is worse, the anger or the pain. John’s pain resonates in him, tightening his heart, pushing his stomach to his throat, while his anger sends cold shivers down his back.
“It just… felt right to do it here,” he says.
When he decided to tell James, he simply couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else, but he’s suddenly aware that there’s nothing logical about it. Was it his subconscious at play? He never stopped to actually consider where John might have gone, but if he had wanted to, Mary’s grave and then Bart’s wouldn’t have taken him very long to figure out.
“Get off that roof,” John says, biting each word. “And take the bloody stairs!”
Sherlock could swear he can see him shaking even despite the distance between them. His hand rises for a second then falls again. There’s no comfort to be offered from here.
“John, calm down, I would never—”
“But you did!” John shouts. “You did, Sherlock. You jumped. And I don’t care that you were shamming. I watched my best friend throw himself off a building because I couldn’t find it in me to say the right words to talk him off the ledge. I watched him jump not even an hour after I had a row with him and called him names.”
And Sherlock knows, suddenly, why John came to Bart’s for three years. His grave, he could understand before; grief. But Bart’s? The place where, as far as John knew, Sherlock had died? Not so much grief as it was guilt.
The same kind of guilt Sherlock made him confront this morning. Not just survivor’s guilt, but the certainty he had a direct responsibility in the death of someone he cared about.
But what does it mean that John still comes here now?
“There was nothing you could have said—” Sherlock starts, but John interrupts him again, this time with a whisper that sounds like he’s speaking through a mouthful of crushed glass.
“I could have said I loved you.”
Sherlock’s mind goes blank. His head feels too light, and he has to take a step back from the edge of the roof. He must have heard wrong. John can’t have said… that. He cannot possibly have said that.
Except he says it again, a little bit louder.
“I could have said I loved you. If I hadn’t been so bloody scared, I could have said it. Would it have been enough?”
Sherlock’s the one shaking now. After his epiphany, he often thought back to the two years he and John had spent as flatmates, starting from that odd conversation at Angelo’s all the way to John getting himself arrested along with Sherlock. Some days, he could find a dozen, a hundred clues to this very thing John admitted. And some days, he knew, with no possibility for doubt, that he was just fooling himself.
But no. He said ‘loved’. Past tense. Done. If it was true at one time, it’s not anymore. It can’t be. Not after Sherlock went away for so long, not after he lied to John, not after John found comfort in Mary. Past tense only.
By the time the name has passed his lips, Sherlock doesn’t know anymore what he was going to say next.
“Just tell me, Sherlock. Could I have saved you? If I’d said I love you. Would you still have jumped?”
Warmth floods Sherlock along with memories. This time, it’s not the past tense anymore. They’re still talking about three years ago, but the feeling is still there. It has to be. John wouldn’t be right here, right now if it had faded, would he? He wouldn’t have forgiven Sherlock so quickly for three years of lies. Wouldn’t have answered every text he received while he was on honeymoon. Wouldn’t have slipped back into Sherlock’s life as though they’d never been apart.
“Yes,” he says quietly, never taking his eyes off John. “I’d still have jumped. I’d still have faked it. I had to. To protect you. Because lying to you was better than being the cause of your death. I’d still do the same today if it meant keeping you safe. Because I—”
Sherlock’s voice breaks. Of all the ways he imagined telling John, this was never one of them.
“I do, too,” he finishes, his pitch suddenly a little higher. “Even if I couldn’t say it either.”
Down in the street, much too far away, John pushes away from the wall for the first time since this call started. Sherlock holds his breath waiting for him to say something. When he speaks, the words are much steadier, though nothing Sherlock expected.
“Technically you still haven’t said it.”
Sherlock’s breath comes out in a quiet burst that could almost be a laugh.
“Do you want the memory of me saying those stupid words while standing on top of this roof?”
“No. No I really don’t. Come down.”
John is crossing the street, taking those steps Sherlock didn’t let him take three years ago. Sherlock watches him a few more seconds then turns around to get to the exit.
“On my way,” he says.
“Don’t hang up.”
He keeps the phone to his ear, but can’t hear anything anymore over the sound of his feet striking the staircase.
“John? Are you there?”
He slows down to listen more closely. A handful of seconds pass before John’s voice returns, wavering and breathless.
“Yeah, I… I’m trying not to have a meltdown.”
Sherlock grips the handrail with his free hand and slows down a little more. He wants to join John, he really does, but not before John is ready.
“You. A meltdown,” he says, and if the words are teasing, his tone stays gentle. “You went to war, John. I’d have thought it’d take more than three words to cause you to have a meltdown.”
John huffs into the phone. “It’s not the words. You haven’t even said the words. It’s what comes after. What came before. What happened this morning. It’s rushing into God knows what with a complete and utter lunatic when I’ve been a widower for a month.”
As he reaches a second landing in the staircase, Sherlock stops, leaning back against the wall.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” he admits quietly. “Not the lunatic thing. The widower bit.”
In his ear, John takes a shaky breath. Somewhere down the staircase, steps are coming up toward Sherlock.
“She knew,” John all but whispers. “About… about my feelings for you, I mean. Our third date. I kissed her. And then I told her she should ditch me because I was in love with a dead bloke. I’d never admitted it to anyone before that. Not to my therapist. Not to your tombstone. Not even to myself. And I just blurted it out to her before I even knew what I was doing. Do you know what she said?”
Sherlock closes his eyes. On his cheek, he can almost feel the phantom touch of Mary’s lips when she kissed him at the wedding. She knew, and still she was fine with him being there as John’s best man, with John spending so much time with him. That first night, she was the one who let him in, who told him to give John time. He feels a little sorry for being so jealous of her.
“I really have no idea,” he finally answers John’s question.
John’s throat clicks wetly. “She said she understood. Said it was okay to love two people. Better than not to love at all.”
Just because he’s my best friend now doesn’t mean he can’t still be yours, too.
“She was a good woman,” Sherlock whispers.
John replies just as quietly. “She was. And I loved her so much.”
Silence again. The steps are growing louder. In a minute John will be there. There’s one last thing Sherlock needs to say, something that will be easier this way than face to face.
“John? You said I never said sorry but… I am, you know. I’m sorry I had to make you believe I was dead. I had to do this alone, and I never thought it’d take so long, or that you’d be so hurt. And I’m sorry she died. If I could make it so she was still alive for you, even if it meant not having you in my life anymore—”
His phone beeps when the call ends. John’s next words come from just an arm’s length away
“Shut up. Please shut up.”
Sherlock’s eyes open as John’s hands grab the sides of his coat and pull him forward, away from the wall. He just has time to slip his phone in his pocket before John’s arms slide around him. He returns the hug at once, vaguely realizing that John is shaking – and that he is, too.
“This…” John says against Sherlock’s collar. “None of this changes the fact that I just lost my wife.”
“I’m not going to jump in your bed.”
“You already sleep in my bed.”
John’s body shakes harder, but this time it’s from a quiet laugh. “You know what I mean, you berk.”
Sherlock holds him a little tighter. “Yes. I know. There’s no rush. No rush for anything.”
“Okay. Good. If you ever get on that roof again I swear I’ll kick your sorry arse across London and all the way to your bloody grave.”
After a few more seconds, they pull apart a little without letting go of each other. John’s face shows the same kind of awe Sherlock feels himself. Did this really just happen or is it all just a dream?
“May I kiss you?” he blurts out, needing confirmation quite as much as he needs air. He’s already leaning down though not quite touching John’s lips. “Please say I can kiss you.”
John lets out a breathless chuckle that caresses Sherlock’s mouth. “You just said there was no rush.”
“I did, yes,” Sherlock says, pulling back again. “Sorry.”
John shakes his head and brings a hand up to the back of Sherlock’s neck, tugging gently. He kisses him, a brush of lips against lips, barely a kiss at all, and still more than Sherlock thought he’d ever get. As tentative as it is, it’s still quite enough to cause the world to tilt ever so slightly on its axis. Maybe John feels it too, because rather than pulling back he lets Sherlock press their foreheads together. Seconds pass as they simply watch each other until John finally says, “I’m still mad at you for shoving that video in my face.”
Sherlock winces. He’d almost forgotten about that fiasco.
“I’m sorry. I was trying to help.”
“I know you were. But you should have let me decide whether to watch it or even when.”
“You were in pain. I wanted to make it stop, not make it worse.” Lower still, he adds, “I’ve been trying really hard.”
John’s thumb brushes against the nape of Sherlock’s neck, tangling in a curl of hair and tugging ever so gently.
“I noticed,” he murmurs. “I didn’t understand why, but I noticed.”
Steps are echoing down the staircase, someone coming down toward them. A look passes between them, a question easily answered. They pull away from each other, severing contact although remaining side by side. If Sherlock were a betting man, he’d say John moved back for the same reason he did. Because this is new, and fragile, and precious, and theirs, and he’d rather keep it between them right now than share even a glimpse of it with strangers.
A woman passes by them and continues down. When she has disappeared, John asks, “What now?”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock says, and for once he doesn’t mind admitting as much. They can figure it out together. “I’ve never done this. Relationships. Is that the word?”
A half smile curls John’s lips. “If that’s what you want to call it.”
“What would you call it?”
John certainly has a point there.
“So you’ll stay?” Sherlock asks, unable and unwilling to keep the hope from his voice.
John’s half-smile wavers. “I’ve still got a lot of baggage to deal with.”
“I can help.” Sherlock says at once. “I want to help.” And then, he remembers the mess he created the last time he tried to help and has to ask, more diffidently, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
John shrugs. “I don’t know. Some of it I just have to come to grips with on my own.” With a twisted smile, he adds, “Also your kind of help can be rather brutal.”
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock says again. Now that he’s said it once, he can’t seem to stop. “I never thought—”
“I know,” John cuts in, laying a hand on Sherlock’s arm. “It’s okay. You don’t have to keep apologizing. I probably didn’t react in the best way either.”
Sherlock could swear he can feel the warmth of John’s hand through his coat, jacket and shirt. He shivers when it falls away again.
“You still haven’t said if you’ll stay.”
Their eyes lock; whatever John sees in Sherlock’s, he gives a small nod. “Yes, I’ll stay. Just… no rush, right?”
“No rush,” Sherlock agrees, a smile bursting to his lips.
They fall silent again, the importance of what is happening sinking in a little more. Nothing might change outwardly if they’re taking things slow, but everything is still going to be different.
Though Sherlock allowed himself to imagine what might happen if something like this ever took place, he’s never dreamed of such a strange scenario, with John grieving his spouse and a child living in their home. It’s like the most bizarre dream he could have come up with, but he still he can’t wait to see where it’ll go.
“What are we going to tell James?” John asks suddenly, and Sherlock wonders what path his thoughts took to make him think of James too.
John snorts. “About us, idiot.”
“Oh. No need to say anything. He’ll figure it out. He already knows half of it. My half.”
“You told him?” John asks, raising an eyebrow.
Sherlock shakes his head. “Not a word. I even tried to deny it, for all the good it did.”
“He’s too smart for all our sakes.”
“Definitely. We should probably go get him. He’ll be wondering where I am.”
“Where is he?”
They start down the staircase together. “With Molly. She promised him a book.”
“Ah, Molly. Of course.”
Judging from John’s small smile, he’s noticed James’ crush, though he doesn’t say anything more. They go to her lab side by side. For a second, Sherlock considers taking John’s hand when it brushes against his own. In the end, he doesn’t. They’ve held hands before, but it’d feel odd to do it now. They don’t need that, don’t need to be touching constantly, do they? They’ve already taken a step closer to each other.
They end up finding James and Molly in the morgue. There are no bodies in sight, but Molly must have relaxed her ‘not appropriate for a child’ stance somewhat as she is showing him a pair of diseased lungs. Whatever she’s explaining to him, he seems captivated enough that Molly notices them coming in before James does.
“Hi Sherlock. Hi John.” Her smile wavers suddenly. “I’m showing James some lungs. Is that okay? I should have asked, shouldn’t I?”
Sherlock shakes his head. “If he’s okay with it, that’s fine.”
“Smoker’s lungs?” John asks as he gets close enough for a proper look. “Not pretty at all.”
The last is said with a pointed look at Sherlock, who huffs in reply.
“I haven’t had a cigarette in months.”
“Almost two months,” James corrects with a small smile. His eyes are still a little red, but they’re the only evidence left of what happened on the roof.
When Sherlock huffs again, Molly hides her amusement behind her hand while John chuckles lightly. James’ gaze goes back and forth between Sherlock and John. After a slow blink, he lets out a quiet, “Oh.” Sherlock has no idea how he figured it out, but it’s clear he did.
“Terrifying,” John says, and while Molly missed the byplay and thinks he’s still talking about the lungs, James grins at him with something that just might be pride.
They soon say goodbye, and James thanks Molly profusely for the pathology textbook she’s lending him. When they walk out of Bart’s, the cloud cover has broken, and a bit of sunshine warms the October air. James walks in between the two of them, looking at Sherlock, then at John, a question clearly on his lips.
“Yes?” John prompts him.
It ends with five words.
“Are we going home now?”
Or maybe, that’s how it starts.