Mycroft invites John to his club once a week and after four months John finally accepts. He takes the chair and the whisky he's offered and asks about the family. He's obviously not coping well with his grief; he doesn't look well. He's not sleeping - there are dark shadows under his haunted eyes - he's not eating properly - his face is more gaunt than it was, his clothes too loose.
He swallows half his whisky and says, "I keep thinking I see him," mostly to his drink, "out of the corner of my eye; on the tube, on the street, even in the... churchyard." It's the only other thing he says.
Mycroft says nothing. He knows John thinks it's just the ghost in his imagination. He knows better.
"He keeps thinking he sees you," Mycroft parrots, voice raised, body stiff with anger. Sherlock gives him a withering look and goes back to whatever he's doing with his sandwich - presuming that's what he's making with those two slices of bread and what, it can only be hoped, are sausages covered in what, pray to God, is ketchup. "Because he is seeing you, isn't he? You're following him. Dammit, Sherlock, I told you! This will only work if he believes you're dead!" He's aware he's shouting but he's at his wits end. How John lived with Sherlock for so long is frankly beyond him.
Sherlock puts down the knife he's been using to (hopefully) spread the butter and stands up straight behind the counter. "I'm going home."
Mycroft rolls his eyes as his young brother stalks out of the family estate's largest and most modern kitchen. Sherlock's heavy footsteps are halfway up the stairs before a thought dawns and he shouts, "What do you mean 'home'?"
"I want to see Dr Watson."
"I'm sorry, his first free appointment..." Sarah looks up, and for a second she can't breathe. Then she slaps Sherlock Holmes across his cold-flushed cheek. "How could you?" He regards her steadily and says nothing about the momentary violence. She knows she should make him wait until the end of surgery, knows that allowing him to see John will mean having to take all of his other patients for the day, but she can't bring herself to keep his existence from John for a single second more than she has to.
The door of his consulting room opens and seventy-two year old Mrs Anderson limps out. Sherlock holds Sarah's gaze and she has no choice but to nod, looking away as she realises all those half-conceived fantasies and hopes are about to go down the toilet.
He hears a quiet knock on the door and calls for his next patient to come in. It's been a busy day, thank God, because the quiet days are unbearable. If he stops to think he starts to feel sick, like something's died inside him and is festering, rotting away. Some days he looks at his gun on the mantlepiece in Baker Street and considers how a single bullet could end the suffering.
But he's a determined man, and he washes his hands as the door opens, admitting his next patient. "I'll be with you in a moment," he tells them, his back turned for the moment.
"There's no hurry, John."
He's imagined it, he thinks. Someone with a voice that sounds a lot like Sherlock, and his mind has just shifted the tone and timbre to match the one he misses so keenly. Like when he sees Sherlock out on the streets or on the tube - it's just his brain playing tricks. He turns, and has to admit that it's a really, really good trick, one so good his brain can't see how it's being done and has to reboot. He feels the darkness at the edges of his consciousness and strong, sure hands that catch him as he falls.
John is hunched over in his usual chair in front of the fire in Baker Street, silent sobs shaking his shoulders, hands covering his face. Sherlock kneels in front of him, hands on John's knee, waiting for John to calm, for the tears to subside, hoping that when they do there will still be something of his best friend still left inside.
He's left it too long. Mycroft kept asking him to wait - two down, one to go, he would say and Sherlock listened. He curses himself for listening. He hates himself for doing what his brother told him to do, for doing this to John.
"I'm sorry," he tries to say but his voice cracks and breaks. It doesn't matter, because without warning John is leaning forward, arms around Sherlock's neck, saying,
"Don't you ever, ever do that to me again. You hear me? Ever. Not ever."
Sebastian Moran turns up dead in a Holborn skip three weeks later. Lestrade receives a text from Mycroft Holmes that says, 'He held a gun to John's head until Sherlock jumped. He isn't worth the tax payers' money. Bury him. Sherlock's home now.'
He tries to call but no one's answering. So he drives over to Baker Street in a patrol car with the full soundtrack and light show, and finds them eating breakfast. He just stands and stares at a living, breathing Sherlock Holmes while John gets up from the table and makes tea.
"You didn't think you should tell me?" he asks after a couple of attempts, not sure which one of them it's aimed at. Sherlock answers.
"He couldn't. Not until Moran was dead. Mycroft dragged his heels on that one, I suspect he was enjoying having me home and 'off the grid' as he so ridiculously put it. John and I were both still in danger while Moran was alive. I promised Mycroft we'd remain here for three weeks and tell no one until the coast was clear."
Lestrade turned to where John was waiting for the kettle to boil. "Leaving aside the part where you died four months ago, have you two really been cooped in this flat together for three weeks?" John nods as he drops tea bags into three mugs. "Doing what?"
When John doesn't answer, Lestrade turns to Sherlock who shrugs. "Talking, watching daytime television, playing Cluedo."
"I didn't think you did any of that-"
"Does it matter?" Sherlock asks sharply, and Lestrade supposes that it doesn't even though he's sure that the TV hasn't been on much and he can see the Cluedo board's still nailed to the wall at knife point. Part of him wants to know, part of him doesn't. Part of him thinks he'll see soon enough. He takes the mug John offers him and sits down in John's chair, marvelling at John's capacity for forgiveness, and Sherlock's capability to ask for it.