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The Boundaries Of An Event Horizon

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The day of Amelia Grace Watson’s funeral is unseasonably warm and improbably sunny for March in London.

They shouldn’t be here. One minute sooner, just one minute, and they wouldn’t be here, burying a dead child on a beautiful spring afternoon.

Behind his impassive facade, Sherlock is incandescent with rage and shame and grief.

He almost solved the mystery in time. He and John had found Mary, unconscious from a blow to her temple, and were carrying her out of the warehouse when it exploded, sending the three of them flying, showering them with chunks of burning debris.

They thought they had all escaped largely unharmed, until Mary’s vitals had crashed on the way to the hospital and she began to haemorrhage. Placental abruption due to blunt force trauma.

Mary survived. The baby did not.

Sherlock and John sit on either side of Mary now, one last show of unity in the face of unbearable tragedy. But it’s an empty gesture; Mary is revealed now to her husband. That last night, the night of the explosion, John finally learned of her work for Moriarty, her presence at the pool, her culpability. She had fallen in love with him through the sight of her sniper rifle, and John refuses to forgive her for that.

“I can’t anymore,” John had said to Sherlock as Mary still lay in the ICU. “There’s nothing left between us, and I can’t forgive her anymore. Not tonight, not ever again.”

But today, the Watsons sit together one last time, silent and still as stone as they say goodbye to their daughter. Sherlock sits next to them and mentally enumerates the ways in which he has failed all three of them, over and over.

The coffin is impossibly, heart-stoppingly tiny.

One minute sooner, Sherlock thinks for the hundred thousandth time. If I had solved it one minute sooner.

John Watson’s only child is buried. Sherlock knows there will not be another.

***

The first time it happens is a week after they put John’s stillborn daughter in the ground.

Sherlock hadn’t heard a thing from him for those entire seven days.

(Later, Sherlock will tell himself he didn’t see it coming, but that’s not really true. He saw the clouds, he gathering thunderheads, he saw the signs of what was between them, but he didn’t know enough about human desire, he didn’t know enough about the evidence, he didn’t know what he was supposed to observe. He knew something was coming. He just didn’t know the nature of the storm.)

It’s close to midnight when Sherlock hears the front door open, hears John’s slow, slightly uneven tread on the stairs. He isn’t surprised; Mycroft had called earlier to let him know that Mary had left the city, left the country. Mary, wherever she is, isn’t even Mary anymore.

(Sherlock amends the thought. The mother of John Watson’s child was a killer and a manipulator and in the end a pawn in Moriarty’s game. She loved John, in her own way, but she was never Mary Watson. Not really.)

Sherlock raises his head from the microscope; John’s footfalls are heavy with intent, telegraphing danger with every step. Adrenaline floods Sherlock’s body as he schools himself into stillness. Waiting.

John is framed in the doorway. He’s been drinking, not at home, but alone in a pub; three, possibly four drinks in the past two hours, not enough to be fully drunk but enough for emotional disinhibition. Enough for liquid courage. His stance is aggressive, his eyes gone almost black in the low light of the kitchen lamp.

Grief and anger roll off of him in waves that are almost palpable.

“Get up,” John says. It comes out as a growl.

Sherlock remains still, assessing, calculating best how to repin the human hand grenade that is John Watson.

“I said fucking get up, Sherlock.”

Sherlock stands, careful to neither inflame nor appease with his body language. He removes his dressing gown, places it carefully over the chair.

John takes a step towards him. Another.

The punch is expected. Sherlock’s head snaps back with the force of the blow, scattering stars across his vision. He shakes it off, eyes John with an evenness he doesn’t feel.

“Feel better?” Sherlock asks, lips curling into a humorless grin.

“No,” John says, and hits him again. It hurts. Sherlock touches his hand to his cheekbone. His fingertips come away wet and red. He breathes out the pain, shakes his head.

John grabs him by the throat, slams him into the wall. “Fucking fight back, you arsehole,” he snarls, scotch on his breath.

Sherlock gives John what he wants, what he needs. He fights back. He knees John in the solar plexus and lands a hard left hook to his jaw.

John grabs him by the collar with both hands, throws him against the refrigerator. He’s panting, out of breath, pupils blown wide and black. The two of them are close, in each others faces, breathing each other’s air.

“Just do it,” sneers Sherlock, goading him even as he can’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. “You know you want to, you coward, just do it already.”

John’s burning eyes hold Sherlock, pin him down, and then a mouth crashes into his, a collision of lips and teeth, and Sherlock tastes blood as he lets John consume him, devour him whole as they tear at each other’s clothing. John tugs, hard, at his shirt and Sherlock hears the patter of buttons hitting the floor.

“Tell me to stop,” John says, breath hot on his neck, and it sounds like a dare, a challenge, a plea for help. “Tell me to stop.”

Sherlock shakes his head and covers John’s mouth with his own to keep more words from coming out as his shaking hands undo John’s belt and the button on his jeans.

"Horizontal,” mutters John against his lips, dragging Sherlock down. “Bloody giant bastard.”

They end up on the grimy linoleum with their trousers and pants bunched above their knees, grinding desperately against each other, hard and wanting, seeking contact and friction and heat. Sherlock comes first, a noise torn out of his throat that sounds almost like a sob as his world contracts into shuddering bliss. John follows soon after with a long drawn-out groan as he shakes and stills underneath him.

After, their breathing sounds harsh and too loud in the stillness of the room. Sherlock comes back to himself all too quickly, and his pleasure curdles into mortification as he becomes aware of their position and the copious amounts of physical evidence covering each of them.

John stirs. “That wasn’t--I shouldn’t have-”

Sherlock scrambles up, pulling up his trousers and turning away, suddenly desperate to put space between them. “No, it’s fine,” he says, stupidly, and retreats into the bathroom, feeling flayed open and terrified. He’d never done this before and if he has to hear John apologize for it, say it was a mistake, he thinks it might really kill him.

He peels off his clothes, folds his trousers haphazardly (the shirt is ruined), wipes away the evidence, washes his face (gingerly; his eye is darkening and he feels like he might have bitten through his lip) and hands, and pulls on his spare dressing gown from the hook on the door. Steels himself for the inevitable conversation about what took place. Opens the bathroom door.

The flat is empty, the faint smell of exhaled scotch still in the air.

Sherlock sits heavily in his chair in front of the fireplace.

“So,” he says to no one. “That just happened.”

If he were a different kind of person, Sherlock might think he wanted to cry.

***

“Jesus, mate,” says Lestrade. “Someone took quite a swing at you. Pissed off the wrong guy, eh?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Occupational hazard.”

***

Three nights later, it happens again. John arrives unannounced, yanks him out of his chair, and slaps him twice across his face, viciously, openhanded. Sherlock punches him, hard, narrowly missing a direct hit that would have likely broken John’s nose. John grabs him by his throat and forces him to his knees on the faded sitting room rug.

“Tell me you want this,” he says, his voice ragged from grief and need.

“I want this,” Sherlock says, and opens his mouth to take John in.

John is rough, pulling his hair, making him gag and drool, and Sherlock hates it and loves it and wants it and doesn’t. He’s hard, achingly so, and he slides a hand into his pyjama bottoms and strokes himself. His jaw is sore and his lips are numb and he has no idea what he’s doing, just holding on for dear life as John fucks his mouth. John comes without warning, a flood of hot bitter salt, and Sherlock sputters and gags and swallows.

“I want to see you come like that,” John says, “on your knees for me,” and Sherlock does, pulling his cock out so John can see as he fucks his own hand, dry and harsh, pulsing all over himself as he climaxes with a choked, gasping cry. He sags to the floor, breathing heavily, and John tucks himself away and turns to the kitchen, finding a tea towel and lowering himself to the floor next to Sherlock. John cleans him up efficiently but not unkindly, and drops the towel to gather Sherlock into his arms.

For several minutes neither speaks. The silence is heavy, oppressive.

“Why am I doing this?” John wonders aloud, his voice hollow.

“For the same reasons I’m letting you, I suppose,” says Sherlock.

***

Sherlock texts John, asks him to come to crime scenes. He never answers.

***

The next time John turns up he’s sober, or very nearly so. He pours himself a drink and sits in his old chair, blank, staring at nothing at all.

What Sherlock wants to say is, I love you, I need you. Tell me how to reach you. Come back home so we can fix this.

What comes out is, “Self-pity is terribly unattractive, John. Honestly, it’s becoming tiresome.”

“How dare you,” mutters John. “You unfeeling, cold-hearted, piece of shit bastard. How dare you say that to me.”

“I can say whatever I want,” Sherlock sneers. “Unless, of course, you think you can stop me.”

John tackles him at the knees; Sherlock lands hard on his back, wind knocked out of him and John is on top of him, punching him over and over, every blow landing true.

“Fuck you,” John snarls. “Fuck. You.”

“Please do,” Sherlock gasps out with as much contempt as he can muster while having the shit beaten out of him.

John flips him with military precision, pinning him down with one knee while undoing his belt with the other. He binds Sherlock’s hands behind his back with the belt tightly, almost too tightly. Sherlock tells himself he could get away if he really wanted too, but he’s not entirely sure that’s true.

“Arrogant...fucking...bastard,” John huffs out, hauling Sherlock up, manhandling him over the arm of the sofa. He yanks down Sherlock’s pyjama bottoms and huffs a short, humorless laugh.

“No pants,” John rasps in his ear, making him shiver. “How convenient.”

Sherlock nods. “Under the cushion,” he gasps. He bought and stowed the bottle there three days earlier. He’s not an idiot.

John digs around under the cushion and finds the lube. He laughs without warmth, and it’s a terrible sound. “Aren’t you a sodding boy scout tonight.”

His fingers are cold and invasive, the touch of a doctor rather than a lover, and Sherlock whimpers and tenses.

“Shut up,” John growls, pushing his head down into the couch cushion. “I’m so tired of your fucking voice, so shut. The Fuck. Up.” Sherlock swallows his cries as John stretches him efficiently, then pulls his fingers out and unzips.

“I don’t want anything in between us,” John hisses in his ear as undoes his trousers and pulls himself out. “I want to feel every inch of you. Tell me yes. Tell me you want it.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, humiliated by the need in his voice, the desire that is making him take whatever John gives him. “I want it.”

The preparation was desultory at best and it hurts, it burns when John’s cock breaches him, pushes into him harder than he’s ready for, and Sherlock cries out despite himself. John doesn’t apologize but he slows, pulls back, rubs circles into Sherlock’s back with one hand while he grips his hip with the other.

“Shh,” he says. “Shh. Relax and let me, just let me,” and Sherlock breathes out and relaxes, lets John inside him, lets John fill him, and the burn subsides and the pressure and slide transmute into something more pleasurable.

“Is it better?” John asks

“Yes,” Sherlock hisses. “Yes, Jesus, it’s so good, it’s so good,” and it’s true, it feels hot and tight and full, it feels like John loves him. “Fuck me,” he pleads and John does, fucks him hard into the sofa and Sherlock moans and gasps, muffling himself against the cushion, but he can’t stifle the ragged sob when John licks his palm and brings it to Sherlock’s cock, jerking him off roughly as he pounds into him.

“Come for me,” John growls, his voice like crawling over glass. “Come for me, goddamn you, give it to me.”

Sherlock comes harder than he ever imagined possible, the pain and pleasure fusing and lighting white hot phosphorous through his spine, his entire body shaking with spasms as he pulses over John’s hand and his own belly, wave after wave leaving him shaking and gasping for air.

"Fuck, yes,” John moans, pounding into him with abandon now, hands tight on his hips. He bends himself over Sherlock’s back, skin sliding against skin as his rhythm stutters, becomes erratic. “Sherlock, Jesus, fuck--” he grinds out and goes rigid, letting out a single strangled cry as he comes, shivering as he spills deep inside Sherlock's body.

Their breathing slows as sweat cools against overheated skin. John pulls out of him, and the emptiness makes Sherlock feel momentarily bereft and unmoored. John unwinds the belt around his wrists and pulls him down gently onto the floor.

Sherlock lies curled on his side, devoid of words, devoid of thought. It is a novel feeling. It’s not unpleasant.

“Jesus, Sherlock.” John winces and touches Sherlock’s eyebrow, making him realize he’s bleeding. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” Sherlock nods mutely and watches John’s legs as he get up. He is distantly aware of water running.

John’s fingers brush his shoulder. Sherlock hadn’t even realized he’d come back. “Come on. I’ve got a bath started. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

***

“You’d never done it before,” says John, not meeting his eyes as he cleans Sherlock’s abraded wrists gently with a wet flannel. It’s not a question.

Sherlock shakes his head.

John cries, then, silent tears sliding down his cheeks as he wipes blood from the cut over Sherlock’s eye.

***

It’s the first text John has sent him since the night Amelia was born.

We have to stop.

***

Sherlock holds out for five days before he goes to John’s house.

He’s high on coke, almost dangerously so. He’s not entirely certain when he started using again.

John’s front door is locked; it’s flimsy and substandard, and gives way to a single well-placed kick.

John is on the couch, nursing a scotch. Sherlock is across the tiny sitting room in two strides, grabbing him by the front of his t-shirt and throwing him into the wall like a rag doll, the glass shattering in a far corner unheeded.

“You think we just stop because you said so?” Sherlock growls, truly angry, and in the back of his mind he is becoming frightened of himself. “It doesn’t work that way, my dear John.”

John gathers his wits then and fights back, and they tear each other apart, hitting and shoving and biting and screaming, a punch to a kidney, an elbow to the face, a kick aimed at a kneecap, a maelstrom of anger and grief and need made manifest in flesh, and it’s a miracle the neighbours don’t call the police. It ends with probable cracked ribs and a loosened tooth and a sprained wrist and numerous smaller injuries, and John sucking Sherlock’s cock on the living room floor, messy and inexpert and frantic, and Sherlock comes hard in John’s willing mouth as their mingled blood seeps into the floral rug.

“You’re oxygen,” John says later, quietly, holding a bag of frozen peas to his swollen cheekbone as they lay naked next to each other in the dark. “The rest of the world is outer space, and you’re oxygen, and God, I hate you for it.”

We’re going to kill each other, Sherlock realizes.

They don’t stop.

***

Sherlock ducks under the tape and strides towards the body sprawled on the pavement, the blue lights strobing and reflecting in the dark.

Lestrade looks up at him, and the question that was on his lips dies when he sees Sherlock’s face. He stands and comes up to Sherlock, grasps his elbow gently, and leans in to speak softly in his ear.

“Go home,” he says, not unkind but brooking no dissent. “Go home, and don’t you dare show up at my crime scene again until you’re clean.”

Sherlock has no conceivable defence, so he goes home.

He doesn’t stop.

***

Sherlock ignores his phone. John never calls or texts anymore, so there’s no point. It might was well be a brick.

***

Mrs. Hudson hovers in the doorway one afternoon after bringing him tea. Mrs. Hudson is perceptive, and they have been ridiculously indiscreet, and Sherlock knows that she knows, or at least suspects, something deeply unwell is going on.

“Do you have something to say?” Sherlock snaps at her.

“You and John, dear. It’s just that… I wanted to ask you...you seem to row whenever he comes over.”

“He’s grieving, Mrs. Hudson. If you recall, we buried his daughter eight weeks ago and his wife left him soon after, and John is notoriously short tempered under the best of circumstances.”

“I know, dear, but some of the rowing seems…” Mrs. Hudson fidgets, looks down. “Well, rather...rhythmic. And the noises. I’m a certain age now, love, but I wasn’t always.”

Sherlock schools his expression to one of polite horror and wishes the floorboards would swallow him whole.

“Mr. Hudson and I got up to some things in our day, and nothing is better after fighting than making up, but…” she trails off, unsure how to continue. “It doesn’t seem like a good idea, Sherlock, taking up with him again so soon after he lost his wife and daughter. I mean, I don’t know what you’re fighting about but,” she gestures at him. “Your poor face, Sherlock. I don’t just mean the split lip. You look terrible.”

“Mrs. Hudson, some things are decidedly none of your business. I apologize for any disturbance we may have caused you, and it won’t--”

“I don’t mind the noise, love, and I don’t mean to embarrass you. I’m just concerned, is all.”

“Goodbye, Mrs. Hudson.” Sherlock opens the paper, both to hide his burning humiliation and the split lip he hadn’t even known he had.

“Sherlock, darling--”

“GOODBYE.”

Sherlock hears her jump and scurry. When he’s certain she is gone, he stands up and looks in the mirror. The face staring back at him looks ill, sallow, with a puffy sore lip and a healing abrasion to his right cheek.

It is a bit startling. He hadn’t realised.

Sherlock goes into the kitchen, finds his phone, and composes a text.

You’re right. We have to stop.-SH

His finger hovers over the send button. He can’t bring himself to press it.

They don’t stop.

***

Sherlock doesn’t even know how they started this time. It doesn’t matter anymore.

“Arrogant bastard,” John seethes. He’s got Sherlock pinned face-first against the doorframe, hand wrenched up behind his back. “Sodding fucking pretentious prick.”

“Oh, come now. That's the best you can do?” Sherlock drawls lazily, as if his shoulder isn’t on fire, a quarter of an inch away from dislocation.

“Heartless manipulative cocksucking faggot,” John spits, wrenching Sherlock round and shoving him hard with both hands, knocking him off balance, sending him flying into the side table. Something shatters onto the floor.

Sherlock looks at him, deadly calm, tasting blood. “Really, John. That’s all you have? Honestly, if I want to deal with a self-loathing queer I can look in a mirror.”

John flies at him then, enraged, and Sherlock takes him down easily, sweeping his legs out from under him, and they end up in a tangle of flailing cursing limbs on the floor and then he’s on top of John, straddling him, pinning his arms above his head, biting his neck as John curses and moans and ruts against him.

“I don’t mean it,” John whispers later against Sherlock’s mouth as Sherlock is deep inside him, fucking him into oblivion. “I don’t mean any of it.”

“Yes you do,” Sherlock says, “you fucking bastard,” and he wraps his hand around John’s cock and strokes him, making him arch and gasp and plead and come. Sherlock watches John as his pleasure overtakes him, eyes shut tight and his mouth open and panting. He looks as if he’s in agony.

It’s not until it’s over and they are shaking and spent on the floor that Sherlock realizes he’s dizzy to the point of passing out, and John realizes Sherlock is bleeding copiously all over the both of them from where a piece of broken mug carved a four inch gash in his lower leg. Several towels are utterly ruined trying to staunch the flow.

“This needs stitches. We should to go to A&E,” John says.

“But we’re not going to,” Sherlock says, and John shakes his head, his face ashen and grim.

“You’ll come up dirty on a tox screen,” he starts, and Sherlock looks at him-- “Of course I know you’re using, I’m a walking disaster, I’m a human tyre fire, but that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. I’m a selfish prick and I haven’t made you stop, but of course I know.” John lifts the towel to check the wound, sucks air through his teeth in a disapproving noise, and reapplies pressure. “Also, if we went to A&E like this, one look at us and we’d both get arrested for domestic violence. Quite rightly, too.”

“It’s not--” Sherlock says, and stops, uncertain how to finish the sentence.

“Yes, it is,” John says quietly, almost to himself, not making eye contact.

The bleeding finally slows, and John stitches him up with one of the many disposable suture kits scattered throughout the flat. The cut is deep, into the muscle, and the suturing is slow and agonizingly painful without anesthesia, but Sherlock takes the pain and locks it away and tells himself it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt, until it becomes true and he doesn’t feel it.

John finishes clipping the last knot, puts the kit aside, and pulls Sherlock into his arms, kissing his lips, his forehead, his hair, and Sherlock doesn’t feel anything at all.

***

A hundred lifetimes ago, Sherlock watched a documentary about outer space, simply because because he couldn’t be arsed to change the channel.

(Or maybe it’s because ever since that blog post mocking his supposed ignorance, astronomy has always reminded Sherlock of John, and although it has nothing to do with crime or London or anything interesting, he has almost unintentionally devoured and retained every passing fact about space for just that one reason.)

He remembers now the colourful computer renderings of far flung galaxies, alien solar systems.

In a different time, a more naive time, Sherlock thought he was the star and John the satellite, circling him in worshipful orbit. He knows now that was never true. John was always the sun, bright and fierce, and Sherlock was the pale, cold moon, his only heat coming from the light he reflected.

And then his sun went into supernova. Moriarty said he would burn him and he has, and John is the fire, his rage and grief incinerating Sherlock, burning the heart out of him in the end, turning him into nothing but cinder and ash. And now the supernova is collapsing, a black hole born where there was once warmth and heat and love, and Sherlock is being pulled down, down past the event horizon, into the endless frozen void where nothing can ever escape.

***

John cleans both of them up and takes Sherlock to bed, holding him tightly, stroking his hair.

“I can’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore,” he whispers.

“I know,” says Sherlock, too exhausted for anything but honesty.

Sherlock sleeps without meaning to, and John is gone in the morning when he wakes.

***

He doesn’t see John for the next ten days.

***

Sherlock can’t take the emptiness anymore, and late one Wednesday night the itching need under his skin drives him to make the trip to Kew (And Sherlock realizes suddenly, out of the blue, that a GP and a nurse shouldn’t have been able to afford to live in Kew, stupid, stupid not to see that earlier, when it could have helped, when it could have made a difference) out to John’s house.

The car is gone, the windows dark. Sherlock isn’t (as) high this time, so he picks the lock instead of kicking the door in. It somehow never occurs to him to knock.

The house is completely bare. Every stick of furniture, every scrap of clothing, every picture on every wall is gone. It doesn’t even smell like John.

It’s as if he never existed.

Sherlock stumbles outside and throws up in the hedgerow.

***

WHERE THE FUCK IS HE -SH

Where are you? -MH

WHERE THE FUCK IS HE -SH

TELL ME HE’S NOT DEAD -SH

He’s not dead. Stay where you are, I’m sending a car. -MH

***

“He’s in Yemen,” his brother says, the alarm plainly visible to Sherlock just under the standard-issue chilly surface demeanor, and he realises that he’s scaring the absolute hell out of Mycroft.

Sherlock forces himself to take a calming breath. “Why is he in Yemen?”

“Because I sent him there. Doctors Without Borders is in dire need of physicians in that area, and I arranged for John to leave immediately.”

Anger flares red-hot in Sherlock’s gut. “You utter arsehole. You have no goddamn right to interfere in--”

“He asked for my help, Sherlock.”

The red flame is extinguished, and Sherlock sags into a side chair by the fire, suddenly boneless and exhausted. “Why would he do that, Mycroft?”

“To save himself. And you.”

“We don’t need saving,” Sherlock says reflexively.

“Yes you do,” Mycroft says. “Have you looked at yourself lately? You look like a corpse. An abused corpse. And Doctor Watson doesn’t look any better. I’m just glad he came to me for help when he did, as I was very, very close to stepping in unasked.” His brother comes over to the chair where Sherlock sits and places one hand on the back of it, leaning close to him. “The fact that he stopped what was going on before I had to stop it is a mark in his favour. The only mark in his favour, at the moment, and the only reason I allow him to live.”

“If you ever laid a hand on John, I would destroy you,” Sherlock breathes. “No forgiveness. Not ever.”

“I know,” Mycroft says, and his hard eyes soften just a fraction. “And yet, I would do it anyway, to ensure that he never hurts you again.” He straightens, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a cheap white envelope. He drops it onto Sherlock’s lap. “I’m late for a meeting.”

“It’s two a.m.”

“Not everywhere in the world.” Mycroft adjusts his cuffs. “I’m sending in tea and breakfast. Try to eat something, Sherlock. Right now a vulture would decline your stringy remains.”

***

Dear Sherlock,

By now you know I’m gone. I didn’t want you to find out this way, but I knew if I told you in person you’d try to keep me from leaving. Forcefully. And likely succeed.

And I have to leave. Because this has to stop. We’re destroying each other, and if it doesn’t stop now it won’t end until both of us are dead. We both know this.

I want to say, I don’t know how this happened. But that’s a lie, a cowardly lie. I did this. I made this happen. I took all my anger and grief and turned into a weapon to use against you, the one person I truly care about in this world, and I did it because I knew you would let me, that you would let me rage and hit and hurt and you would still be there, you would take it and take it and come back for more.

I’m not saying you’re passive in all this. We’ve always, always brought out both the best and the very worst in each other, and I know you have never been anything other than a willing passenger in this descent into madness.

However. None of that changes the fact that I am the one to blame. I came to you first. I hit you first. This all, in the end, lies squarely at my feet.

You and I together may be a loaded gun, but I pulled the trigger, and I can’t ever let myself think otherwise.

(Sometimes I remember I’m a doctor, I’m supposed to heal people, and I think about what I’ve done to you, and I hate myself right into the centre of my soul.)

The past three years have been more than human beings are meant to endure, I think. I’d like to believe that we wouldn’t have ended up in this place if we hadn’t both been broken in ways that most people never have to experience.

But then I remember, you once said I am attracted to a certain kind of person. I think maybe I am a certain kind of person, also.

I know now, at the very very least, that I am not a good person. That’s a hard, bitter, brutal pill to swallow. But I want to be better, I do, and I hope that counts for something, somewhere.

I have to put some space in between us right now, some breathing room for both of us to heal. I miss you already. I will always miss you, every single day I’m alive and not with you I will miss you. I want to promise I will come back, but I can’t, I won’t until I know I can be the person you deserve. Because you deserve everything, Sherlock. You deserve to be loved, not hurt and used.

I said so many terrible things to you--especially that last night, I said horrible cruel words I can never take back, and even if you can forgive me I will never ever forgive myself, not until the day I die--but there are two things I always meant to say and never did.

I love you.

I am sorry.

John

***

Sherlock declines a car and walks home to Baker Street.

The rain allows him to pretend he’s not crying.

Some tiny part of him, though, is relieved it’s over.

He goes home and sleeps for sixteen hours.

***

He tells himself it’s for the best, as he stares for hours at the yellow smiley face that mocks him from the far wall.

He’s not bored anymore. He’s dead inside.

***

Four days later, Sherlock has tentatively mastered showering and drinking some of the tea Mrs Hudson makes him. He can’t help but feel this is progress.

Lestrade appears in the doorway while Sherlock is busy studying the ceiling and trying to convince himself breathing is really worth the effort it requires.

“So you’re never answering your phone again,” Lestrade says.

“Nope,” Sherlock drawls, popping the p, insolent, a comforting charade that fools neither of them.

“I, um--” Lestrade has the decency to look uncomfortable, scratches the back of his neck. “I talked to your brother.”

“I’m sure it was the highlight of your day.”

“He said--look, he didn’t speak out of turn, okay, but he told me John left the country. Joined some kind of volunteer doctor thing.”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry,” Lestrade says sincerely. “I mean, I know you think I’m an idiot, but I’m not, I’m actually a pretty good detective, and things seemed to be really out of control there at the end and I’m sorry.”

Sherlock is embarrassed by how close he is to being moved, so he remains perfectly still to avoid giving himself away by any minor detail.

“Just so we’re clear,” Lestrade asks, “Mycroft didn’t...volunteer work isn’t some kind of code for “had him killed,” is it?”

Sherlock is surprised at the laugh that huffs out of his chest.

“You know my brother better than I thought, but no.”

“Well, that’s good.” Lestrade shifted his weight. “So, then...are you okay?”

Sherlock hears the real question underneath the words. Are you clean? He turns his head to look Lestrade directly in the eyes.

“You’re such a good detective,” he says, raising an eyebrow, “you tell me.”

Lestrade looks at him, really looks, and after a moment he nods. “I’ve a string of homicides in Hammersmith. I could really use your help.” He pauses, setting the hook, thinking he’s being clever, “Pretty sure it might be a serial killer.”

Sherlock suddenly realizes, with blinding clarity, that Greg Lestrade is a much, much better friend than Sherlock has ever given him credit for.

“Address, Gordon, if you please,” he says, jumping to his feet and shucking his dressing gown, “and I’ll be along shortly.”

***

The Work helps. Sherlock is shocked he had forgotten that. The Work makes everything else recede into background noise, dulls the hurt to an almost tolerable level, a dull roar in the back of his head.

But one day, after he solves a case, a brilliant case, and there’s no one there to share it with, Sherlock is at first devastated, then shockingly, furiously angry at John Watson.

it had never occurred to him to be angry before. It’s exhilarating, burning bright and clear in his heart.

It’s a refreshing change, he thinks, methodically destroying every single thing John left behind in the flat. He enjoys it.

***

Sherlock receives a letter on stationery from a hotel in the coastal city of Aden. It has no salutation and no signature.

I delivered a baby girl three days ago. She was perfect and whole and alive.

I had the luxury of two days off in a row, so I came down to see the coast.

I sat in a hotel room half a world away from home and cried for my daughter for the first time.

I raged at the unfairness of the universe and what it had taken away from me, and then I thought of the miracle I was once given, the miracle of you coming back to me, and I thought of how I squandered that gift so thoughtlessly, and for the first time I had the decency to truly feel ashamed.

I don’t know if I’m going crazy or I’m going sane.

I can see the ocean from my balcony. It reminds me of your eyes.

I miss you with every breath. Always know that.

And the anger is gone, off like a flipped switch, and the space where it lived under Sherlock’s ribs is replaced by an empty, hollow ache.

***

Sherlock fills the space by obsessively recalling every detail of that last night, of the every decision he made, how he tracked down the clues that finally led them to Moriarty, what he could have done differently, what he could have missed, what he could have done to get back that minute that would have changed everything, the minute that would have saved John’s daughter.

He doesn’t find anything, and it’s done and gone and far, far, far too late, but he traces the patterns over and over in his mind and he can’t stop.

***

Days blur into weeks and Sherlock doesn’t notice.

He takes every case, even the threes and fours, hell, even the twos, and he never sleeps and he forces himself to eat only when his blood sugar plummets so low he starts shaking.

He doesn’t feel lonely, or empty, or sad. He doesn’t feel anything. He’s a machine, a machine that solves crimes. That’s his utility.

“I think you’re depressed,” Molly says to him, one day out of the blue, as he’s carefully filleting the kidney of a poisoning victim.

Sherlock looks up at her, confused. “I’m not depressed.”

“You just seem...so distant. Like you’re frozen inside.”

Inwardly Sherlock feels exposed, like he’s walking around with cling film for skin and everyone can see the workings of his beating heart. He realizes, dimly, that he’s not nearly as mysterious and unknowable as he wishes he were, and it makes him literally want to hide under the workbench until Molly takes pity on him and goes away.

Outwardly he just waves a hand at her. “That’s ridiculous. I’m always distant.”

“You’re always rude. You’re not even bothering with that. Like it’s too much work.”

“I’m not depressed. That would mean I’m sad. I’m not sad, Molly.”

“Then how do you feel?”

Sherlock finds himself considering the question momentarily before he recovers his composure.

“I feel like we’re done having this conversation,” he says dismissively, returning his attention to his kidney.

Molly hovers for a moment as if to say something, then just sighs a little and touches Sherlock’s shoulder, briefly, before leaving him in peace.

***

He does some online research and learns that he is, probably, extremely depressed.

He’s fine with it. He feels nothing, truly nothing, for the first time in his life. It’s actually a relief.

***

He receives another letter, written on pages torn from a ruled notebook.

It’s almost impossible to drink alcohol in Yemen. I find that’s a very good thing for me.

Talk about a blindingly obvious deduction. I wish I had figured that out seven months ago.

I want Chinese, and there’s no Chinese food here. I remember going to Mr. Wong’s after a case, and he would always give us extra egg rolls, and you would read the fortune cookies in your Alan Rickman voice. It recently occurred to me to wonder how you claim to have deleted everything about popular cinema and yet you know who Alan Rickman is, let alone perfected an impression of him.

I think about you every day, about little things like fortune cookies and about big things, like what happened to you while you were gone and how you got the scars on your back. I saw them so many times, but never had the courage to ask. I never had the courage to do a lot of things I should have done.

Because you were right about this: I am a fucking coward, in a fundamental way.

I hit you because I am a coward.

I hit you because I was angry at the unfairness of the world that took my innocent baby away and let her murdering, morally bankrupt parents live. I hit you because I knew you would hit back, and I wanted someone to hit me back. I hit you because I was scared of how much I feel for you. I hit you because I was so angry at you for so long, and inside I’m a three year old who doesn’t know how to use his fucking words.

I need to use these words: I will never, ever hit you again. I will die before I ever physically hurt you again.

This is me, trying to become brave. Trying to deserve you. I am trying.

I miss you so much it hurts.

The ice inside Sherlock breaks, like an iceberg calving, like an avalanche, and Sherlock cries, just flat out gasping sobs alone in his room, and he can’t stop until there’s nothing left at all, until he’s completely drained, spent and exhausted and oddly calm.

He almost feels at peace.

***

The holidays pass. Mrs. Hudson makes noises about putting decorations up in the flat and Sherlock growls at her, literally bares his teeth and growls, making her yelp and flee.

Mycroft sends a car around to take him to his tailor for new suits, his gift every year, and Sherlock thinks about sending it away, but he reconsiders and goes anyway. It’s one thing to carry around a broken heart; showing it in public (any more than he already does, which is apparently quite a lot) is another.

He selects new suits, charcoal grey and black and something in a subtle black-on-grey pinstripe that he really quite likes, and the tailor suggests a slightly updated cut, and Sherlock is surprised to find he's enjoying the excursion in spite of himself.

On New Year’s Eve, Sherlock takes out his violin for the first time in months and thinks about the people that were once part of his life and now out of his reach, flung to the four corners of the earth.

Victor. Irene. Mary. John.

Always, always he is thinking about John, with every beat of his heart. The hurt is still present, but Sherlock can see now that it will fade in time, as everything does.

He could, someday, get over John Watson. He would never be whole again, he would never be the same, but he could get over him, somehow. If he wanted to.

He plays Auld Lang Syne, thinking of how nostalgia is sorrow tempered by time.

***

Mrs. Hudson brings him a Sacher Torte, his favourite.

“Good Morning, Sherlock!” she trills.

“Why are you so cheerful?” he inquires, a bit snappishly since it’s well before noon.

“It’s your birthday, Sherlock! Your fortieth birthday! Don’t tell me you didn’t realize. You’re still much too young to be so absentminded, dear,” Mrs Hudson teases him.

Sherlock looks in the mirror, really looks for the first time in months, and there are lines he didn’t have a year ago and here and there his dark hair is threaded with grey.

He never expected to reach forty, he thinks, and he mentally shrugs. The pages in front of him are blank, and he has no expectations anymore. It’s freeing, in a way.

Sherlock finds himself phoning his brother, half expecting him to be in Belgrade or Toronto or Reykjavic but he somehow has a free evening and comes over to Baker Street to have cake with Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock promises to be on his best behaviour with Mycroft and only makes one or two snide comments about Mycroft’s weakness for cake and Mycroft rolls his eyes and actually eats a slice for once, probably for the first time since Blair was PM.

After, they play Cluedo and Sherlock knows they let him win, but fuck it. It’s his birthday.

The rest of his life stretches in front of him, grey hills of days to be taken as they come.

***

One day in late spring, Sherlock does the math and realizes John’s been gone almost a year.

Time marches on.

***

The sun is bright and hot here everyday. You’d hate it.

Actually, maybe you wouldn’t. I picture you here, with a tan that brings out the freckles you like to think you don’t have. You’d be dressed like the goddamn GQ model you were born to be, in khakis and a linen shirt that costs a thousand pounds and aviator shades, with your hair overlong and fluffy like it gets when there’s not enough humidity and you don’t have access to your hair product, and you would look just perfect, because you look perfect no matter where you are. I make fun of you, but only because it’s a talent I’m in awe of.

I would tease you about how groomed you always have to be but I’d secretly think how beautiful you are and behind closed doors, away from prying eyes, I would run my hands through your hair and pull you close and kiss you. I would kiss you like my life depended on it.

I think my life may in fact depend on getting to kiss you again, and properly.

Please forgive me so I can kiss you again.

***

“I forgive you,” Sherlock says aloud to an empty room. “I forgive you.”

***

Sherlock is coming back from Tesco when he sees the silver-haired man in front of 221b.

Sherlock doesn’t recognize him at first. John looks different--he is very tan, more tan than when they first met, and thinner, and his hair is longer and gone completely grey, a lovely soft steel colour that Sherlock desperately wants to touch. But then his heart catches up to his mind and of course he recognizes him, Sherlock Holmes would know John Watson anywhere, anywhere in the world, and his insides do a flip that makes Sherlock feel somewhere in between giddy and ill.

How could he ever think, even for one second, that he could get over this man?

John looks nervous, tentative and a little scared, and Sherlock hadn’t realized he had been freezing, dying in the cold and the dark, until this very moment. The rest of the world is outer space, and John is the sun, bright and warm and alive, and Sherlock loves him, oh, how he loves him.

He thinks he might actually collapse, but that would be dreadfully embarrassing so Sherlock remains upright through sheer force of will.

He tries desperately to think of the right thing to say, can’t think of anything at all, so he says the first thing that comes into his mind.

“Did you mean it?” Sherlock asks.

“Every single word,” John says.

Sherlock realizes John still has a key. John didn’t have to wait out here for him.

As if reading his mind, John reaches into his pocket and pulls out his key. it glints dull grey in the afternoon light.

“Take this,” John said.

Sherlock looks at him, confused.

“I don’t deserve this,” John said. “I need to earn it back. I need to earn you back.”

“John, you don’t have to.”

“Yes,” he says. “I do. Take it, Sherlock. Please.”

Sherlock takes it, drops it in his pocket.

Both men are silent for a moment.

“I do, you know,” Sherlock says. “Forgive you.”

“You shouldn’t,” John says. “But I’m very glad.”

“I. Um. I have tea,” Sherlock offers awkwardly, holding up the shopping bag.

John smiles at him, and his smile is so beautiful, and it sets the moon that is Sherlock Holmes back on his proper axis.

Harmony is restored to the cosmos.

“Tea would be lovely,” John says.

~fin~