“I don’t want to fight,” said Sherlock, feeling threadbare and tattered, already sensing John’s rising ire. He had almost lost his best friend—the last thing he wanted was to argue over trivialities and semantics. He just wanted for his friend to shower, have a safe place to stay, and be able to care for his daughter. He didn’t think that was much to ask, and he wasn’t sure why John would be disagreeable to any of those wants. It seemed like he wanted to be disagreeable merely for the sake of it. “Let’s just get you and Rosie somewhere safe.”
John looked at Sherlock as if he didn’t even know him anymore. “Right,” he said, eyes edging towards the ground. His voice sounded far away and foreign. “You’re right. Sorry.”
The cab ride home was excruciating. John said nothing of his experience in the well, and Sherlock didn’t dare ask about it. The cabbie looked at Sherlock in the mirror occasionally, seeming like he didn’t know why these two blokes were taking a cab together to begin with. It was as close to a slap in the face as a look could be. It seemed to say, Why do you even try anymore? You and John, that’s an archaic, dead thing. He blames you for Mary’s death. He blames you for endangering him, for badly influencing Rosie.
It was preposterous that so much could lay in a single unspoken gaze from a complete stranger. Surely Sherlock was in simple shock.
They stopped at Baker Street first. The vehicle pulled up to the kerb, the familiar 221B gleaming faintly in the moonlight. It seemed to beckon him as much as it seemed to dissuade him. John was looking at the knocker as if it were something more—as if there was some answer to the world’s unanswerable questions in the curve of the metal. Still, however, he didn’t speak. Silence seemed to strangle him.
“Will you be alright?” said Sherlock, surprised at himself for asking.
John’s brows furrowed and his mouth grew taut. “No, I don’t think I will,” he said, avoiding Sherlock’s gaze. Something like steel was infused in his voice.
Sherlock opened the car door as if to put a barrier between himself and John, as if the action could act as a buffer to prevent an argument from arising. He looked at John, rigid in his seat, strategically avoiding his gaze. His whole anatomy collectively screamed his discomfort. Sherlock wondered when John had started being reserved with him, when his best friend had begun keeping secrets, holding grudges, refraining from praising him. Was it fair of him to wonder any of that at all?
Sherlock was surprised when he realized that he missed John, even though he was right in from of him. When had he lost his best friend? How had he let that happen?
“Oh,” said Sherlock, unsure how to proceed. It was hard to deal with other people’s feelings when he could barely contain the avalanche of his own. His wrists itched, as if the blood in his veins was toxic.
John said nothing in response.
“We’ll talk later?” asked Sherlock, hating how he had to phrase it as a question, wondering when John had become so distant that the answer was no longer an immediate yes —when he had become so tentative in his relationship with John that he couldn’t predict the answer on his own.
“Yeah,” said John, finally, to which Sherlock sagged with immense relief. “Yes,” he repeated, almost as if to solidify the promise to himself. “We’ll talk later.”
Sherlock nodded and finally shut the car door. He watched as the car peeled away from the kerb and sped off into the night.
Later apparently meant very later.
Two weeks went by before John visited Sherlock at Baker Street, little Rosie tucked in his arms.
Sherlock ignored how John’s visit seemed to be borne only from necessity rather than desire; how John had only turned to Sherlock’s company as a last resort; how when Rosie seemed to toddle, John didn’t trust him to watch her; how nothing seemed to be the same; how his best friend had managed to slip through his fingers like water; how whenever he thought of their relationship in the past, the present one seemed like some miserable approximation in comparison—some parody of it, taunting, jeering.
“How’ve you been?” said John, stiffly, without much warmth or any intimation at caring to hear a proper answer.
“Fine,” Sherlock lied. He yearned for something he couldn’t quite define.
Rosie’s pudgy arms reached towards him, and although once John would have passed her off to him with familiar warmth and genuine fondness, he now pulled her more closely into his chest.
“And how’ve you been, Watson?” said Sherlock, pushing aside the sting and instead smiling at her bubbly face.
She gurgled as means of response, giggling slightly at Sherlock’s broad smile, of which she seemed especially fond. John seemed to retract her, impossibly, even further into himself.
“That’s good,” said Sherlock gently, though his smile faltered. “Only the best for such a smart cookie.”
John nodded like he agreed, though Sherlock felt they were agreeing about very little. He ignored his own discomfort—how John seemed irrevocably foreign. The way he paced around Baker Street as if it were a museum exhibit, hadn’t been his home for years.
“So,” John finally said, after several moments of uncomfortable silence had passed. Sherlock straightened in response, cocking his head in indication that he was listening. “I have a favor.”
Sherlock could barely conceal his surprise. “Oh,” he said with interest. “Anything,” he said, sincerity bleeding into his voice. Anything for family, mused Sherlock. He had told John he was family, hadn’t he? So why did he seem more distant than when they’d first met, when they had been simple strangers, barely flat mates, and only tentatively friends?
John shifted on his feet, readjusting Rosie’s position on his hip. “Well,” he said with a certain finality, although he hadn’t even started, “I’ve been alone with Rosie for the past couple weeks and…” There was an inarticulacy to his thoughts, mirrored by a seeming unease and incompetence in his movements. He fluttered about the flat, toying with the edge of the fireplace mantle, scuffing his foot against the carpeted floor. “And...now that Mary is,” he paused, then waved his hand in an all-encompassing gesture, “y’know...The house has been very lonely and, frankly, I can’t afford to be there without her, and…” He trailed off, looking lost and perturbed.
Something ached deeply inside Sherlock’s chest. “You’re always welcome here,” said Sherlock.
John’s expression softened. A breathy laugh exited his throat. “Thank you,” he said, sounding sincere. His voice was touched with gratitude and warmth, and sounded hauntingly like John’s voice once had when he and John had lived together once, without Mary, without Rosie, and without grief. “I don’t have much furniture, but I’m bringing a child into this now.” His expression became gravely serious, as if he expected Sherlock not to know the situation’s gravitas without some physical manifestation of it. “Will that be alright with you?”
“Of course,” Sherlock said. He didn’t voice his offense, that John’s insinuation stung him deeply. “I adore little Watson.”
The last of John’s unease seemed to melt away, but a sense of detached professionalism still seemed to cling to him. “Good, that’s good,” he said, awkwardly shuffling. “Alright. It might not be for a bit, still stuff to...sort out. Y’know, demons as they say…” He laughed uncomfortably.
Sherlock swallowed, feeling dry mouthed suddenly. His heart settled in his throat. “Yes, I understand, take your time.”
Initially Sherlock had chalked up the uneasy amount of tension between he and John to geographical inconvenience. After all, John, Mary, and Rosie had lived in a house on the other side of town. They had jobs and their own obligations—Rosie was only a child and didn’t need to be transported and jostled from one edge of town to the other simply because Sherlock desired it. He thought, perhaps, that the physical distance had thrown a wrench in their communication. They both had separate obligations to tend to, and had fallen off somewhere along the way.
However, once John and Rosie had settled into Baker Street, there was something about it that Sherlock couldn’t quite place that bothered him still.
John’s presence began to once again fill up the flat: his coat hanging on the hook by the front doorway; Rosie’s toys nestled in the corner of the living room; the collection of vintage CDs stacked on the end table; baby formula occupying the pantry; schmaltzy romance novels tucked in the bookshelf; every item of John’s was a staunch reminder that he was back physically—but what Sherlock couldn’t convince himself of was John’s actual presence—not just the tangibility of his furniture, but his mental and emotional existence within the flat.
When he and John had lived together years ago, there had been a comfortable quietude in the morning. John would make tea for the both of them, and they would sit in the living room together, preoccupied with their own devices.
John only made tea for himself now. He drank it at the kitchen table, head bowed against the cool granite top, as if mentally preparing himself for the moment Rosie deigned to wake up crying.
Sherlock quietly lamented the distance between them. He lassoed John with mental ropes, urging him closer. He cast a neuron net over his figure, concentrated so wildly on hauling him closer. What had changed, thought Sherlock, why can’t you even look at me? He yearned for John’s hand on his shoulder, John’s eyes focused solely on his. It was selfish, his wanting. He had always wanted, hadn’t he—before Mary and Rosie? God, he had wanted so badly to reach out his quivering hands and run them reverentially over John’s face, to breathe his name like a prayer.
There had once been a time where, maybe, maybe, that could have happened. Before he faked his death, before John moved on, perhaps. All Sherlock knew for certain was that it could not happen now.
Sherlock had hoped John could slyly reinsert himself into the narrative of their life together, that the transition would be easy and carefree, like their interactions used to be. Of course, as per usual, Sherlock was denied simple pleasures.
It used to be that John and he had a mutual look. John would look at Sherlock, and somehow both would know what it meant. The same raised eyebrows and pinched mouth could be discontented or amused or exhausted, and the subtle nuances were burned into Sherlock’s mind. He would hand John the morning paper without being told; John would make him breakfast and set it on the table, or hand him his phone without being asked; Sherlock would place Post-It notes on the containers in the fridge so John would know which were leftovers and which were experiments. They used to peacefully coexist.
Silences were comfortable and common. John would sit in his armchair, scanning the morning paper, tapping his foot to some melody which was stuck in his head as he sipped his mug of Earl Grey. Sherlock would lay on the sofa, hands steepled under his chin, tucked away in his Mind Palace reviewing some recent case.
They had been so close that people often assumed they were a couple. They worked in a steady push-pull fashion, give and take. John would push Sherlock to talk about his feelings, and when he received snarls and disdain, he would pull back. Sherlock would deduce something about John which was particularly raw and painful, to which he would hastily backtrack.
One night John would go shopping, the next Sherlock would take up the responsibility. Sherlock would order takeaway and John would pick it up. One would get sick and the other would take care of him. It was a precarious balancing act, with an unspoken precipice. It was such an undefinable thing that most people who met them could never quite put it into words, or at least not ones which even managed to do it justice.
Sherlock and John. John and Sherlock.
They had become grafted together, inseparable. One couldn’t exist without the other. To only say one’s name was to elicit that vaguely unsettling feeling like one had missed something quite obvious and quite pertinent; like there was something you were forgetting, right on the tip of the tongue.
Sherlock wondered how long it would take to fall back into step with one another—to return to whatever they had been, whatever they were before. Sherlock had no way to put their relationship into words, no way to quantify or qualify or explain, but he recognized that whatever they had been once, they hadn’t been in quite some time.
He missed it. It had taken losing it to realize how much he had felt at home then.
Yes, Sherlock lay now, alone on the couch. The refrigerator hummed; early morning sunlight blurred through the window; the floorboards creaked as the flat settled; and Sherlock was cold.
John had been distant for some time. Sherlock felt like an outside observer in the inner workings of his own life. He prepared tea in the morning with shaking fingers, pushed the mug into John’s hands, to which he was only thanked stiffly. He held Rosie until she fell asleep against his hip, swaying around the flat, to which John merely watched. He rarely spoke to John unless spoken to, for fear that something he said would push him off some unspoken precipice. It felt dreadfully like walking on eggshells. It seemed imperative that he do something but he couldn’t decide what to do. Having no other alternative, he delegated the ball to John’s court.
Often times, when the uneasy tension constricted his throat and stung his eyes, he went out alone on a case to loosen the noose. John didn’t even seem to mind.
“Lestrade needs me,” Sherlock would say, flicking up the collar of his coat like he always used to.
“Fine, that’s fine,” John would say, not even looking up from his newspaper, or Rosie’s baby food, or whatever trinket had captured his attention.
Once, John would have gotten offended at any insinuation of being left behind to banalities and domesticity. He would have jumped at the chance to come with Sherlock on some intriguing adventure or go to Scotland Yard.
“Okay,” Sherlock always said, hiding the dejectedness behind his popped collar. John never looked anyway, or at least not long enough to catch the lonely, desperate look. Not enough to see the Ask me to stay etched in Sherlock’s features.
Sherlock shook himself as if he could dislodge the shards of memory, then rolled over, tucking his arms into his stomach. The duvet was draped over his emaciated form. He had given John his room so both he and Rosie could have their own beds. It was fine, Sherlock thought, sleeping on the sofa was an old friend. Before John, he had often occupied the couch rather than a bed, feeling some strange comfort in the fireplace mantle and the large bay window. His room had never been his own anyway. It was a place to sleep, but it wasn’t a home.
Sometimes, in the quiet of early morning, something snarled under his skin. It felt like an old friend, like muscle memory, like sinking into a warm bath, or returning home after a long day. It was a feeling he remembered quite clearly, one which had imprinted itself in his mind and which he couldn’t shake. He watched his veins in the faint sliver of light which shone through the drawn curtains. Blues and greens slithered along alabaster, prominent, pulsing. They seared and ached, and something in Sherlock’s chest opened up like a chasm with wanting. Something primal and intimate surged in his abdomen.
Smack. God, Sherlock thought, when was the last time he had gotten good smack? Not since he’d gotten clean—rather, since Lestrade had forced him into NA.
There was one lady at those meetings, he remembered, who always complained about her children. How misbehaved they were, how she sometimes wanted to strangle them, sometimes went into the bathroom and had forgotten why she’d gone, only to remember she used to escape and do drugs there in her youth. Another man had lamented about how when he watched the telly, it felt like he was putting the newscaster off. How he cut rails of sugar with a spoon and stared at it for several beats too long before remembering that, of course, it wasn’t coke.
It wasn’t so long ago when he had related to them. He hadn’t touched smack for what must’ve been eleven years now, Sherlock thought. He and Lestrade had made a deal—if Sherlock got clean and attended his regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and didn’t relapse, Lestrade would give him cases with Scotland Yard.
It had been hard. No, it had been excruciating. Smack and speed and coke had been the only thing that made him feel okay. To have that security ripped away, and to have to share that feeling of devastation at some silly meeting, with a striking inarticulacy reminiscent of a newborn, among stupid people he loathed, was absolutely horrid. He had gotten Mrs. Hudson to promise to properly dispose of his hidden stash, had taken up frivolous hobbies to quell the intense ache which had emerged from the lack of high.
Of course, all that work and effort and Sherlock had still managed to relapse several times throughout his acquaintanceship with John. He hadn’t resorted to the use of heroin again, not since just before those first NA meetings, but he had used morphine and cocaine, even a bit of speed. John had found him a few of the times—he’d gotten angry, disappointed. Sherlock was a difficult person after all. It was a miracle John had managed to tolerate him so long.
Yes, he’d had his fair share of relapses, but he hadn’t wanted a hit so dearly as he did now in a very long time. He wondered if the rush might be different now than it had been just a few months ago—when he’d used in the aftermath of Mary’s death. If, perhaps, his veins would remember the surge of pleasure, or if they might simply collapse at anymore stress; if the euphoria was as captivating as he remembered.
Experiencing the rapture of a heroin high made sober life gravely miserable. Once one has experienced the rush of smack in their veins, the overwhelming surge of pleasure—the feeling of being whole, safe, warm, happy—anything other than that feeling seems to never be enough. Life after heroin could never be the same as it had been before it. Even starting in the first place was something Sherlock regretted deeply, even when he had still been shooting up. Every time he succumbed to his urges, or couldn’t overcome withdrawal, or bought more smack, shame nipped at the edges of his mind. The only thing that made that shame abate and settle was the high. It was a vicious cycle: feel guilty for doing drugs, take drugs not to feel guilty, then go through withdrawal wanting drugs again.
He still had dealers he could contact—even despite that after every relapse, Mycroft tried to goad him into severing contact with enablers of his “disease.” His homeless network ran deep, and much of the drugs he had scored back at his worst were from them. He had enough money saved up somewhere, he thought, enough to score just a few grams of coke and a few syringes.
No smack, he swore as he staggered off the couch, preening at his immense self-control.
He sheathed his arms in his overcoat, hastily slipped into his slippers, and dove for his reserve of cash hidden in a loose piece of the fireplace mantle. He made sure to tread lightly as to not wake John or Rosie from their slumber. For good measure, he left a note on the kitchen counter saying that Lestrade had needed him to swing by for a case. That was believable, Sherlock thought, although he couldn’t help looking anxiously upstairs and straining to hear any noise.
“Fuck,” he said, shame and desire warring within him.
He was about to break his sobriety. Again. His very tentative, only several month long sobriety.