John visited the flat again.
He did exactly what Sherlock knew he would do—he packed his belongings perfectly, precisely, and completely and then he went away. He kept his back straight throughout, his jaw clenching and unclenching against the emotions he always felt so strongly and showed so quietly.
Sherlock waited around the corner. He didn’t need to stand at John’s elbow to know where he went. He would gather his own bedroom first because that was easier. It would be neat and short work because John never owned much of anything. Then he would grimace and make his way into the common areas. He’d hesitate in the kitchen, probably open the fridge half out of habit and half out of a mad hope that there’d be some piece left behind, something for him to fix.
He always liked to fix things, didn’t he?
John would sit in his chair, he would look over at the empty one. He had habits, they were dyed in his character and it was too late to shake them now. He would sit in his chair, fold his hands in his lap, and wait. He would have it in him to wait a moment or two and then it would be too hard to stay still.
Sherlock’s hair was dyed and cut military short. He turned the page of the newspaper he wasn’t reading and hemmed about “the state of things” just to keep his cover up. The man at the next table had been looking up over the edge of his paper—only reasonable, Sherlock wasn’t doing it quite right, but this man wouldn’t be able to put his finger on it, throw him off with the newspaper.
John would throw a couple of things into his bag. It wouldn’t be neat now; it would be as fast as he could manage. He’d be trying to leave quickly now, jaw probably beginning to buckle under all that clenching.
What would he take? Sherlock quickly flicked through his catalog of the flat’s contents in his mind. Would John take the tea? He might. He might need it while he stayed at Harry’s. Maybe he’d run through all of hers already (it’s not like that was her chosen tipple, was it?) and maybe the utility of the action would overrule his impulse to flee. Would he take a keepsake? Maybe the skull. Sherlock would have taken the skull had their situations been reversed. If it was Sherlock throwing things into the dufflebag and John missing—
The man at the table next to him raised his eyebrows, tilting his head vaguely at the paper in Sherlock’s hands.
“They’ve made a bungle of that, haven’t they?” he said companionably. “There’s the season. That’s what I say.”
Sherlock nodded sagely and fought back the urge to roll his eyes. Keep the cover, keep it up, he told himself. You don’t need to know what he’s talking about, just fill the air with stupidity. Just think: what would Anderson say?
“Just how things are these days, I suppose,” he agreed vacantly.
The man huffed a laugh and went back to his own paper.
John would be leaving the flat now. Sherlock folded up his newspaper and drained the cup of coffee. He stood slowly, left slower. He was trying a new gait to his walk, making the left foot shuffle ever-so-slightly. Even Mycroft wouldn’t have been able to recognize him, but best not to put this disguise to the test. Best to stay just out of sight.
He loitered at the corner, pretending to look up directions on his phone.
John looked...smaller. He looked like “staying alive” was heavy work, just like Moriarty had said. Sherlock shielded his eyes against the sun and pretended to look up at a street sign. John didn’t look over. His bag was smaller than Sherlock expected and less full. Surely he could have claimed something more. Surely there was more of worth in that flat that John could want?
John shifted the bag’s strap onto his good shoulder. His bad one was drooping a bit, it must have begun to ache. Would the psychosomatic limp return? Can one relapse a psychosomatic limp? If anyone could be dogged enough to do it, it would be John.
If their situations had been reversed, if it were Sherlock packing up their flat, he’d have had room for more of it. He could have spared some space in his new flat for some of the books, maybe one with an inscription or some highly agitated note in the margins, or one of the teacups with the crown on the side that they only had in the first place because Sherlock forgot to put his cup down once and had forgotten all the way home and hadn’t that annoyed Mycroft deliciously—Sherlock would have room for that. If he had been John. Or—if it were John who fell—if Sherlock was looking smaller and John was gone, he could have found room for one of those hideous sweaters or that jacket with the patch on the shoulder, something just to keep—
John looked older too. The steps looked harder to manage, like he was getting creaky.
(Stiff, maybe, too many sedentary evenings and no more chasing down alleys. No gun—where had he left it? In the old flat? In his new one? It would have to be locked away. John wouldn’t forgo the laws and conventions anymore, not without a reason to keep it close at hand. Leaning heavily on one side, aching somewhere—what was it? Aching where, John? You can’t ache everywhere, John.)
Sherlock replaced his sunglasses and watched John disappear awkwardly down the street. The lenses were pure reflection; John would have been able to see himself disappear in them.
There were many things Sherlock Holmes could have felt guilty for. The tally of his sins was immense. It spanned from the mundane—the thoughtless, the too-busy, the oftentimes cruel—to the heinous—the crunch of a skull against cobblestones, the sound of splatter. He could have flicked through his own sins, scrolled through them in increasing order. He wouldn’t have felt a thing.
But there was something in the hunch of John’s shoulders—
—if it had been me; if it had been you, John, you would have fallen harder—
—there was something in the emptiness of John’s tiny bag, the smallness, the aging—
—there are sins, John, that are worth committing.
Sherlock waited until John was completely obscured by the milling crowd. There would be time later.