John was still getting used to going back to Baker Street again. He'd gone to say goodbye to it, in preparation of proposing to Mary. To close that chapter and start again. But the chapter refused to be closed. The author refused to finish it.
He gave a gentle rap on the door jamb to the kitchen.
“You don't need to knock,” Sherlock said. “You are welcome here at any time, whether or not you live here, and also it's pointless, as I knew you were here when you opened the front door.”
John nodded and gave an awkward smile to his back. “Right,” he said. “Erm, hi.”
“Hello,” Sherlock said. He turned to look over his shoulder, and smiled, then stood up to work on something at the other side of the table.
“Listen, er, I was wondering if we could talk,” John said.
Sherlock paused. “We are talking, so that must mean you want to talk about something bad, or you would have just said whatever you want to say,” he said.
“I just want to talk,” John said. “And I'd like your attention, so, I thought I'd make it clear I was going to do it, so you knew I was talking.”
Sherlock nodded, looking a bit suspicious. “Very well,” he said. “Can I put out the fire first, or is it urgent?”
“What?!” John leaned in to find a growing flame covering part of the table. Sherlock stood expectantly, waiting for a response. “Oh, yes, Christ. Yeah, put it out.”
Sherlock grabbed the flaming objects with his flame retardant gloves, and went to the loo with them. John could hear the bath running, and sizzling, and then Sherlock emerged, making a gesture toward the living room. John made sure nothing else was ablaze before he went in, and took a seat in his old chair. Sherlock took off his gloves, and sat opposite him. John could see his eyes looking over him for a clue as to what was coming.
“Have you come to break up with me?” he asked.
“We're not dating,” John said.
“I don't know what you call it when a friendship is terminated,” Sherlock said.
“It doesn't matter,” John said. “I'm not here to terminate it. At least, that isn't what I came to do.”
Sherlock nodded, and leaned back, looking reassured. He steepled his hands and crossed his legs; the pose he used when he was listening to clients. John knew he had his full attention.
“Okay, here we go,” John said, after taking a deep breath. “Right, so, I was talking with Ella and—”
“Your girlfriend's name is Mary,” Sherlock interrupted.
“Yeah, I know,” John said. “She's my fiancée now, actually. Finally found a moment to do it properly. She said yes.”
“Congratulations,” Sherlock said, with a quick smile. He looked confused. “Your sister is Harry. So...I don't know who Ella is. There are no other relevant women in your life.”
“She's my shrink,” John said.
“You have a psychologist?” Sherlock said.
“Yeah,” John said. “The one I saw when I came home from Afghanistan. I'm seeing her again.”
“But you stopped,” Sherlock said. “You didn't see her when we worked together.”
“Yeah, and then you died,” John said. “And I needed someone to talk to.”
“Oh,” Sherlock said. “Yes. I suppose...yes. I keep forgetting I was dead. I wasn't. So, I thought of it as being away. It made things...easier. To think that it wasn't final. I needed something to focus on. I'm sorry, I've diverted you. Carry on.”
John was a bit taken aback by the sudden notion that Sherlock hadn't had the easiest time of it, either. Mary had tried to point that out, how he must have been alone and afraid. John was too angry to see that. He just had this image of Sherlock watching him via CCTV footage and laughing for two years, like what had happened at Baskerville. Some great experiment on Sherlock's part. That wasn't realistic, he supposed. Sherlock had been on his own, just like John had been. John was still too angry to feel very sorry for him, but it was an idea. Something to keep in mind.
“Right,” John said. “Erm, so I was talking to Ella, about all this...back from the dead stuff. And she asked me how I felt about it, and I sort of...yelled, a lot. And she thought, and I think, too, that we need to...erm, talk properly. About why you did it, and your reasoning, so I can deal with it and...'process my feelings'.”
“Oh, God,” Sherlock said, looking terrified.
“Yeah,” John said. He gave a small chuckle. “But Mary is quite insistent on it, too, and I think they're probably right.”
“What if you don't like me at the end?” Sherlock said.
“I don't like you much, now,” John said. “So, you can't make it worse, really. I just want to know why. If you can explain it, even if it doesn't make sense to me, I'd like to know.”
“I thought I did explain it,” Sherlock said. “Didn't I?”
“Maybe,” John said. “But I was a bit busy punching you, and you were a bit busy insulting me, and then I was busy trying not to die because someone threw me in a fire, and then you decided to pretend a bomb was going to kill me, so, I think it's worth a bit of a retread.”
“You're yelling,” Sherlock said.
“No, I am raising my voice,” John said. “And I might do it again, before we're done. And the very least you owe me is to sit there and let me do it.”
Sherlock scowled, but nodded, reluctantly. “This feels like when my family 'expressed their concerns about my drug use',” he said. “No one liked me much there, either, though they all claimed it was because they loved me.”
“Diverting again,” John said. “Back on point. Why?”
Sherlock sighed. John gave him a few moments to collect his thoughts. Sherlock looked around, as though contemplating throwing himself through the window to escape, and then took a breath, and began. “Moriarty needed me to die to complete his story,” he said. “The world needed to see me disproved as a genius. That's how he wanted to win. He killed himself, it gave me no options to reverse what was happening, the assassins would—”
“Assassins,” John interrupted. “What assassins?”
Sherlock frowned. “I could have sworn I mentioned the assassins, are you sure you were listening?” he said. “It was the moustache, I was very confused by that. It kept distracting me, I couldn't process you properly.”
“Assassins, go back to the assassins,” John said.
“Moriarty hired three assassins,” Sherlock said. “One for Mrs Hudson, one for Lestrade, one for you. Yours was a sniper. If he didn't see me jump, he would signal the others. It was what Moriarty's motivation was for me, what he thought—knew—would make me do it. Moriarty had a recall code, that he would use after my death. Supposedly—it's unlikely he would have. I thought, while he was alive, that I could persuade him to give me the codes. He killed himself, eliminating that possibility. My only option was to jump, or all three of you would be killed.”
John felt the world spinning around a bit at this. “You were trying to save us?” he said.
“Well, yes,” Sherlock said. “Did you think I jumped for the fun of it?”
“The way you've been behaving, yeah, that's what it seemed like,” John said. “Why...why not fake your death, then, and get the assassins to think you were dead, and then come and explain you weren't?”
“Two reasons,” Sherlock said. “First, it wouldn't work. My turning up alive was dangerous. There was no way of knowing when the kill order would be dropped. I had to assume that you were being watched, and if I approached, that you would be attacked. I would never be able to know for sure, until I had taken away all possibilities. Which leads to me to the second reason: my being dead allowed me to go around and quietly dismantle the network.”
“I could have pretended,” John said. “I could have acted it out. If you had let me know, I wouldn't have told. You know I wouldn't have told.”
“I know,” Sherlock said. “But you would have come. You would have tried to come. You would have wanted to help, and you might have been killed. It was my fault that it all happened. I allowed myself to be played, and I got the upper hand, but barely. All that happened was due to me. It was up to me to put an end to it.”
“Nope,” John said. “Nope, don't go noble on me. Don't pretend your being a fucking arsehole was really you being noble. You could have told me. You could have said something.”
“I don't pretend it was noble,” Sherlock said. “Heroes don't exist, you know that. It was just necessary. Not just to save you, but to get rid of all that Moriarty was doing. He had threads all over the world; they needed to be severed. If I could have done it a different way, I would have, but under the circumstances, with the time I was given, that was what I chose to do.”
John was silent for a long time, trying to reconcile this. He went from 'that sort of makes sense' to 'no, it fucking doesn't, he's mental' to 'he was trying to save you' to 'he did it in the most cack-handed manner possible' to 'that's Sherlock, though isn't it?' to 'that doesn't make it acceptable'. Sherlock sat and let him think, though his pinkie kept flicking against his thumb, and his foot bounced in the air, agitated.
“Yeah,” John said, eventually. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Sherlock echoed. “You mean...okay?”
“No,” John said. “No, I don't mean okay. I mean...it's an answer. I asked, you gave an answer. A real one, I think. That's what I wanted. Not you being clever at me, just you explaining it.”
“Oh,” Sherlock said. “Well, that...wasn't hard.”
“Nope,” John said. “No need to fucking lock me on a train and pretend we're going to die.”
“You weren't willing to talk, I needed to make you,” Sherlock said. “I was trying to...to bring the fever to a crisis, and break it, so it could heal.”
“That's what they did in Victorian times,” John said. “It killed people.”
“It was a kill or cure situation,” Sherlock said. “You weren't...it wasn't how I thought it was going to be.”
“What do you mean?” John said.
Sherlock made a few vague, helpless gestures. “When I was away,” he said. “I had an image of...home. I had image of the people here, in my head. You and Mrs Hudson and Lestrade, and London, and 221B, and work. I kept them in storage. I never thought about time passing, here, because it didn't here—” he pointed to his head. “But when I came home, it wasn't like that. It was different, and I didn't want it to be, and I didn't know what to do.”
“And you don't think I'd understand that?” John said. “I'm soldier, Sherlock. I came home from Afghanistan, and I had panic attacks on the Tube because there were so many people there. I tried to buy a coffee and I couldn't figure out the bills and coins to pay for it. My parents were dead, my sister was a drunk. Nothing was how I left it. You've come home from war. I get that. Of anything out of this, I get that.”
Sherlock cleared his throat. “Yes, well,” he said. “I may have miscalculated. This is not my strong area, emotions. I do them wrong.”
“No fucking kidding,” John said.
“I am,” Sherlock said, carefully. “Extremely sorry for what I did to you. I still believe that it was the right thing to do, but I do regret that it was, in my opinion, necessary. I had no idea you would be so overcome. I am sorry for that.”
John felt, for perhaps the first time since he'd met Sherlock, that he was seeing Sherlock without walls up. This was sincere. This wasn't acting; tears for effect. This was plain and simple Sherlock.
“If you ever do that again,” John said. “I will never, ever forgive you. You cannot do it again, okay? Never again. In the future, when there is something going on, you tell me about it. We decide together what to do. You don't force my hand, you don't play games. You just tell me.”
“I really don't think I could get away with faking my death again,” Sherlock said. “It would be a bit old news, wouldn't it?”
“Sherlock,” John barked.
Sherlock dropped his walls again. “If I can help it,” he said. “I will never betray your trust in that manner again. I would like, with your permission, to still be your friend. Or begin to be your friend once more.”
“Permission granted,” John said. “But not forgiveness. Not yet. I'll work on it.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock said.
“You're still an arse,” John said.
“I can live with that,” Sherlock said.
“I think I can, too,” John said. “In time.”
“I will try to be patient,” Sherlock said. “Now, I do have something in the microwave that should be dealt with before it drips any further onto the work surface. Mrs Hudson is really very tiresome about that. I can't see why I missed her. She was always much more adoring in my head.”
John smirked, and then full out laughed. “I did miss you,” he said. “And I am glad you're back. I just wish...”
“Me too,” Sherlock said. “But my mother says something about wishes and horses...which I can't remember exactly...They don't buy bread? You can't make them drink? You can put them in clothing, but they'll still be stupid? But the point is that they are useless. Better to move on.”
“I know,” John said.
“You're getting married,” Sherlock said, with false brightness. “That will be...fun.”
“Yeah,” John said.
“Am I invited?” Sherlock asked.
“We'll see,” John said. “Better go and deal with your crap in the kitchen. Dismissed.”
“Right,” Sherlock said. He stood up, pausing by John's chair. “I missed you, too.”
“Don't get gooey,” John said, sternly.
Sherlock smirked. “Sorry,” he said. He clapped John's shoulder. “Do you want a beer?”
“Yeah,” John said. “Yeah, let's start there.”