The idea struck John as he sat in the dim of their - the- flat. The idea to replace John’s last image of Sherlock inside his head. Because every time he closed his eyes all he could see was Sherlock’s pale face covered in blood too bright to be real. He needed something to wash away the stain of death from Sherlock’s face. He needed reminders of happier times.
Which is why, drunk on half a bottle of scotch, John was desperately digging through old boxes in the middle of the living room. After an hour of searching, he finally found the photo album Mrs. Hudson had put together for Sherlock years ago, insisting that the man needed a proper storage place for his photos. He heaved a sigh of relief and stood from his crouched position on the floor. Clutching it to his chest, heedless of the dust clinging to his jumper, he went to fix himself another drink.
Drink in hand, he settled in his chair. A deep breath in and out, a sip of scotch. Then, with a shaking hand, he opened the heavy leather cover and looked down on Sherlock’s life before John. He saw pictures of Sherlock as a baby, being held by his parents and by Mycroft. There were pictures of weddings, graduations, and holidays. With each turn of the pages he watched Sherlock, and Mycroft, grow from children to gangly teenagers until they were the grown men he knew.
It was only when he had gotten to the end of the album, the pictures stopping shortly after Sherlock graduated uni (not that John wanted to think too hard about why), that he noticed there were no pictures of he and Sherlock together.
That can’t be right , John cried insistently. He’s too important to me. How could we never have taken a picture together?
It became an obsession. He asked Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Greg, even Mycroft, desperate for just one picture of the two of them together. He needed something tangible to commemorate the time they had spent together. Something to cling to. To prove to himself that it wasn’t all just a dream.
Finally, after a few weeks of frantic searching, Mycroft dug up a picture of them from an old newspaper article. Sherlock stood in center frame, smiling stiffly as a reporter held a mic to his face, while John stood behind him for moral support. They weren’t even really in the picture “together”. It was almost an accident. But there it was, the proof John really needed.
He put the picture in his wallet, hidden behind a picture of his parents and his sister. Locking his memory away with the rest of his family who had left him.
And he began moved on.
Two years of grieving and sorrow and moving on and he had the gall, the nerve , to show up as if nothing had ever happened.
John hit him. He wasn’t proud of it but rage had surged through him like lightning in a storm and he tackled Sherlock, needing to know for sure he wasn’t a hallucination. Then afterwards, after being kicked out of the restaurant and moving to a deli down the street, Sherlock had to open his big, bloody mouth again. John had hit him then, too. Headbutting him, as if he could knock some fucking consideration into that thick skull of his through sheer osmosis and determination.
After that, being around him became easier. John had let it all out. He had let Sherlock have it, railing against him, telling him how simply unfair his deception was. How hurt he’d been. And after hearing about his involvement, Mycroft received a scolding as well. Not that he winced at all at John’s monumental tantrum.
But it felt good nonetheless.
And then the dust settled.
Mary moved on; she had taken one look at the two of them and saw that John would never leave Sherlock, no matter what he’d done. John moved back to Baker Street, and life continued as normal.
Then, when John was cleaning out his wallet of old, useless junk, a little piece of paper fluttered out. He picked it up off the floor and unfolded it. Suddenly a knot found its way into his throat.
The old newspaper clipping of the two of them. The one that initially helped him move on. Tucked away, hidden from view, then surprisingly unearthed. The immediate stab of pain eased and the longer John looked at it, the warmer he felt. Back then, he had wished for a second chance. He had wanted to have more of Sherlock and had prayed to a God he wasn’t sure existed for him to come back. And magically, he did.
After seeing the old picture, John did the only thing that made sense to him: he began documenting the two of them.
It started with a quick candid one morning, Sherlock reading the paper over his tea and toast.
Then a hasty selfie with him in a cab after a good chase through London.
There were pictures of them at dinner and at NSY during cases. He snapped hundreds of candid shots of Sherlock living life in their flat, looking through his microscope, organizing his mind palace, bringing in the take away, playing the violin.
One month into his photo taking, he realized and came to turns with the fact that he loved Sherlock. Two months in, he talked himself into keeping it to himself. He wouldn’t upset all their hard work at repairing their friendship for a selfish grab for more.
It took six months of John documenting their life before Sherlock finally spoke up.
“Why are you so interested in photography all of a sudden,” Sherlock asked after John had taken a selfie of them while watching a James Bond film. Something he would never have agreed to Before. But these days, he seemed to want to be around John just as much as John wanted to be around him.
“Since I learned how to use the camera function on my phone properly,” he responded sarcastically.
“You’ve always known how to, John.” He narrowed his eyes at John. “You were never this...concerned with documenting us before. What’s changed.”
John swallowed thickly. “A lot’s changed.”
Sherlock nodded. “I know.” He didn’t apologize anymore. It didn’t change anything. Instead, he asked, “you didn’t start taking excessive photos until about six months ago. But I’d already been back for four months. Something happened to change your behavior. What was it?”
John decided to be truthful. “I found an old picture of us.”
“There’s an old picture of us?” John nodded and told him about the newspaper clipping, even showing it to him, taking the fragile paper out of his wallet. Sherlock held it gingerly in his hands like it was a rare document; which in some ways it was. “This was the only one you had of us, isn’t it?”
“And now you’re taking more so that in case something happens again, to me, you’ll have more to-”
“To remember you by,” John finished for him.
They stared at each other, silence enveloping them. The only sound the ticking of a distant clock and their even breaths.
Finally, Sherlock broke the silence. “I’ll never leave you again, John. Not if I can help it.”
“You don’t know that, Sherlock. You couldn’t control it then, what makes you think you can control another situation like that?”
“Because there was only one Moriarty and he’s dead. No one will trap me that way ever again,” Sherlock replied with conviction. “I did everything I could to avoid that...regrettable outcome. And I fought hard, so hard, to come back to you John.”
“Why,” John whispered. “You had a chance to start anew. Why come back?”
Sherlock’s eyes moistened and John instantly regretted asking the question. He didn’t want Sherlock to clam up on him, to shrink back. But before he could apologize, Sherlock said in a broken whisper, “isn’t it clear by now?”
Hope sprang up in him. He needed to ask, needed to know. “You know I’m an idiot,” he said, trying for levity. “Tell me.”
Sherlock swallowed hard, licked his lips, gathering his courage. John stared on, watching him as the gears worked in his head. John Watson was a brave man but he needed to be sure before he let loose the words that had been sitting on his tongue for months.
At length, Sherlock finally said, “I needed to come back to you because…”
“Say it,” John whispered softly.
“Because I love you,” he said, voice barely a whisper.
Without replying verbally, John leaned forward, cupping Sherlock’s head in his hands and kissing him deeply. When they pulled apart for breath, John said, “I love you too. Always have.”
Later, after all the tears fell and all the words had been spoken, John took one more picture that night. This one would be for just them. A picture, taken in dim lighting and at an odd angle, but clear enough. A picture of the two of them sharing a kiss, smiling and content.