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Everything is empty.

When there’s been a murder, the scene is stripped. Everything has to be catalogued, the victim’s possessions boxed up.

Sherlock is surrounded by boxes, only this time; they’re his.

A bookshelf is strange when empty, bereft; robbed of all purpose. The books are orphaned now, hidden away with no order; such a terrible waste.

221B Baker Street has always been busy, practically spilling with movement and sound. All Sherlock’s clutter and crap gave it character, filling it with so much life; made it a home. There’s something inherently sad about an empty old building, full of empty, hollow rooms.

The furniture remains, covered by white sheets and a thick layer of dust; but every other space has been gutted. It’s exactly how you’d imagine an abandoned flat should look. He’s never seen anything so fundamentally wrong.

The bare floorboards upset him the most, though why them in particular he’s not quite sure. The whole flat reeks of loneliness and abandonment. The hollow space distresses him much more than he could say.

Brown cardboard boxes, without so much as a label; that’s all he has left of his home.

Unpacking them will take hours, re-homing each item into its specific place. Because 221B shouldn’t be clean, it shouldn’t be lifeless, and he wants it all back; exactly where it was, exactly how it’s meant to be. Of all the things that change, of everything lost; home is never supposed to be one of them.

Sherlock never expected re-building would be so literal.

If Mycroft were aware of his arrival in London, this surely would have been taken care of in advance. But this is one last task he needs to complete himself. He’d only have to reorganise the whole lot anyway.

~

Shedding his coat, Sherlock hasn’t the energy to breathe. Fresh off a flight from Luxemburg, the sensible thing to do would be sleep. But he can’t wake up to the emptiness; Sherlock will not rest until he sees these boxes burn.

He starts with the bookshelf.

~

Six o’clock in the morning feels like midnight, the sunlight out of place; circadian rhythms overlapping and dissonant.

The bedroom is last, and at this point his back is aching, and all his joints are stiff. But he laboriously re-constructs it all; every piece slotting back into places only they belong. Inside the boxes, socks and underwear are thrown in with no index, or structure. Shirts are folded, but he has to find a hanger for each and every one.

They’re unreasonably difficult to find; who packs coat hangers with bed sheets?

He hangs the judo certificate, levels the periodic table of elements in its frame; and passes out on the bare mattress.

~

Sherlock sleeps 21 hours straight, and panics immediately upon waking.

But he’s home. For the first time in two years. There’s no screaming, no need for fear.

He starts to laugh; because he’s alive, he made it. Six weeks ago, it would have been cruelty to even suggest it; some sick, false hope.

Naturally, it’s not long before laughter becomes hysterics; and hysterics turn to sobs.

For a long time, the pain was a justice he deserved. But Sherlock’s penance has reached its end. He’s free.

His time away opened his eyes to some of the true horrors of the world, and if there’s the one thing they taught him, is that no matter the circumstances, or how bad things get; it can always be worse.

For too long, there has been nothing but fear and death constricting him. But now Sherlock is free; free to run as far and as fast from the ghosts as he can. To seek out warmth, and trust; to immerse himself in the opposite side of the spectrum, and never look back.

Living like that for two years is indescribable. It left him craving the more basic creature comforts, wanting something human, a shield to cancel out the pain. He wants to be touched, to be held, to be comforted; protected and secure. Love, intimacy, fulfilment; anything and everything he didn’t have before.

He may just allow himself that much.

There’s a greater appreciation for life than before, and less zest for it. He came back sad; older. Having seen parts of the world that few have the misfortune to encounter. Matured in many ways, the good parts, the human element inside him, has faded. He's lost the excitement, had all the curiosity beaten out of him.

But at least now, he can choose his own path. And if he’s lucky; it might just lead to healing.

~

John Watson is going to hate him. Quite rightly.

Sherlock has more than enough broken bones, but he’s prepared for a few more.

He’s thought about it constantly.

They’ll reunite, and John will hurt him. It’s something he both deserves and doesn’t at the same time. Either way, he understands. John has a right to feel and to grieve; they need to express these things to have any chance of moving forward. Weeks will go by without a word, and it will hurt; but he has to believe that John will come around.

Sherlock is desperate to see him, but Serbia left him weak. He wants to do this properly, for John’s reaction to be natural. No manipulations, or pulled punches this time; if John wants to hit him, so be it. Only, he’s not sure his body can be trusted.

If he collapses before John says his piece; John will hold back, the doctor in him forced to push that anger down. Eventually it will explode, and he’d rather it does as soon as possible, because with every day John holds back; the anger can only grow. Collapsing after would have the same affect; John’s guilt will curb it, and the resentment will continue to simmer.

So Sherlock must have strength enough to get through it.

~

It’s the reason he ran.

After checking himself out of the hospital against medical advice, escaping Germany; Sherlock continued to hide. A reprieve of privacy on a Paris balcony; away from his brother and everyone he knows.

God knows he’s been alone enough for a lifetime, but this is what he needs; just one moment to breathe.

Time to reflect. Time to reclaim his life as his own, and decide how to move forward; un-manipulated, unhurried, and un-coddled.

Evading Mycroft is child’s play now, literally; like teaching a child how to play hide and seek, and then being surprised when you cannot find him.

Paris is a beautiful city, especially at night. He thinks if he ever had to leave London forever; this is where he’d go.

He both hates and loves his first weeks of freedom. He loves the Parisian coffee, the cigarettes, the air. But sorting through his mind is messy, and he so very much hates that he must do it here.

Two weeks of recuperation is as much as he can stand. London is calling, and Sherlock is tired of not answering; tired of being weary and adrift.

Discretion is still important, and as hard as it is not to opt for the quickest and most direct route; a dead man can afford no chances. Three different flights, and two passports later; Sherlock’s feet touch English soil.

~

Now he’s home; time is still not on his side. The longer he stays in London, the quicker Mycroft will be to catch on. And John should be the first to know.

For all the time he’s had to think, Sherlock is still not sure how to approach it.

Patience was never his strong suit.

~

After another week of thinking, he concludes there is no right way. The only criteria, is that they must be alone.

Doing what he’s learnt, what he knows, it feels wrong here; dirty. But he does his research anyway, schedules, reconnaissance; track the target. Sherlock stops short at trailing and stakeouts, because John is not some enemy to be stalked.

He follows John’s movements, but is careful not to see him in the flesh. He won’t have his first glimpse be from some vantage point.

~

By London’s standards, this is about as cold as it gets. They’ll be frost and black ice by morning no doubt.

But Sherlock is wearing a Belstaff coat.

No hoodie, torn to pieces, no leather jacket falling apart at the seams; no khaki, or sweat pants, or military boots. He’s wearing the coat; Sherlock Holmes is back.

And this time, he’s chasing forever.

Oxford shoes, Gucci shirt, covered by one of Armani’s best jackets. The jeans help some in blending into the crowd, but they’re still top of the range. He even found a blue scarf.

It’s the first time he’s worn himself in two years, and it’s sentimental; but this coat; it feels complete.  This is something he can do now; walk through his city and be exactly who he is. No one even registers him, even as he walks in plain sight. The fifteen seconds of fame are long gone now, and it’s liberating. No one is hunting him, and, soon enough; he’ll be able to introduce himself, and have it not be a lie.

It’s not an ideal part of town, and the building across the street is old; not quite council flats, but not far off the mark.

The door he’s searching for is the same hideous shade of blue as all the rest. In an open walkway, it boasts a view of more the same. But Sherlock didn’t come here in search of ordinary; he came to grant a desperate wish.

He’s about to perform a miracle.

~

John is already home. Sherlock doesn’t break in, he doesn’t lie in wait. He makes sure John is there before him, and heads straight for the front door. To knock like an actual human being.

John answers.

Looking at each other is heartbreaking, because Sherlock has absolutely no idea what John sees when he looks back. He can’t read him. They’ve spent too long apart, and it kills him to see how much he has forgotten.

“I don’t understand.”

The blank stare constricts Sherlock’s chest to the point of physical pain. Despite everything, a small part of him dared to hope. But there’s no joy here, no fireworks. Only logic, and that right now, is the very last thing Sherlock wants.

Grey hairs are starting to eclipse the blonde, and it stings. John’s lost weight, he’s older; he’s numb. Disconnected from the world around him, just like the day they met.

 “You’re dead.” John shakes his head slowly, “This can’t be happening.”

The surge of emotion hits him, and Sherlock doesn’t stop to care for the consequences. He surges forward and wraps John in his arms. He smells the same, and Sherlock hates that they’ve never done this before. John is the most important person in his life; and they’ve never even hugged.

He whispers that he’s sorry until the word no longer sounds real. At first, he doesn’t even register he’s speaking.

Too overwhelmed, he doesn’t even know if John hugs him back. This line is not one he’d intended to cross, certainly not right away. Personal space is usually something he respects; but one look into John’s eyes, and pride never stood a chance.

There’s never been a more honest embrace; strong arms, protective pressure, and the gentlest of hands. An affection as powerful as it is unfamiliar. Sincerity in its purest form. Fuck everyone who said he couldn’t care.

It’s impossible to let go.

John pries him away to arm’s length, holding onto his biceps. Sherlock is allowing that vulnerability to shine through, exposed and ready to be ripped apart. Whether John takes it or leaves it; he’s trying. It may be their first and final embrace, and that experience is worth any rejection. Sherlock has nothing left to lose; and absolutely everything to gain.

Anything and everything.

The planet spins too fast for defences and games. As long as he has life enough to run; he’ll never stop chasing.

John stares at his hands, still holding onto Sherlock, fingers tightening in the wool. Watches Sherlock’s chest, his lungs expanding and contracting with each breath.

Sherlock swallows past the lump in his throat, and manages to force out a whisper.

“I missed you.”

John looks up at the sound of his voice, and lets go. Sherlock’s arms are suddenly very cold. Taking a big step away, he turns his back, and walks inside. But the open door is the closest thing he’ll get to an invitation, so Sherlock follows where John leads.

~

John stands in the middle of the living room, fingers pinched on the bridge of his nose. Sherlock’s shoes don’t make a sound on the carpet, but John registers him anyway.

“I watched you cave your skull in; die right there at my feet.”

The words are still too even, too low, and too empty. It’s like he’s sleep walking, like he’s dead inside. But John is only too present; it’s not a dream, and he knows damn well what Sherlock has done.

“John, you…at my grave; I kept that promise.”

I’m not dead. I came back to you.

John explodes, and it’s deadly quiet. His hands are clenched into fists, and he’s furious; but he doesn’t rail or scream. John Watson is distraught.

“I thought you were dead; and you let me. Suicide, Sherlock. You let me believe you’d taken your own life.”

There’s contradiction spinning round his head. The guilt is swallowing him whole, and he wants to beg, to plead his innocence, to cry, but at the same time he wants to laugh; laugh until he cries, because he made it. They’re standing here; in the flesh. It’s not his mind caving in to protect his heart, not a dream, not a repeat of some desperate fantasy.

That’s John’s hair, his eyes, his skin. John’s voice; full of rage. At last, the picture is real.

John Watson is alive to hate him.

“I don’t expect you to believe it, but it was the only way; the only way to protect you. I promise John; the only choice.”

“You lied to me, used my pain. That’s not protection. Dying didn’t keep me safe Sherlock, it was more danger than I’ve ever seen.”

Sherlock swallows, and tries to explain.

“Instant death John. A bullet to the brain without warning; any time, any place. It was you or me. That lie; allowed me to save us both. Without it; I’d be six feet underground.”

John doesn’t seem to hear the implication, or if he does; he chooses to remain wilfully ignorant. Now if not really the best time to say, ‘I’d die for you.’

John shakes his head.

“I don’t care how you frame it Sherlock; I lost you.”

Sherlock is not thick. He knows every impact, every consequence, every knife in the back. Leaving John was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, but however difficult that was for him; pain is a two-way street. It’s not just arrogance to say that Sherlock was the most important person on Earth to John as well.

It’s both sides killing him.

Because Sherlock hurt him in the worst of ways, but in breaking John, he also broke himself. John lost him, but, well.

“I lost you too.”

It’s barely a whisper, but the world seems to stop still, the heaviest silence, stretching out. John stares at his audacity, Sherlock stares at John, desperate for him to understand, eyes watering with his determination to never look away.

“You didn’t lose me. You didn’t. You left me behind, you threw me away!”

Hearts can break.

They break when a valve fails, when a clot restricts the blood flow, muscle weakness, arteriosclerosis. But that’s human physiology; emotions can’t change anatomy; sadness won’t cause a build-up of plaque, pain won’t stop the beating. He knows it. Because if they could; Sherlock would be dying now, right here on the spot.

“This is me John. You know me; not the man I am with Scotland Yard, or Anderson, or anybody else. The person I was with you, at Baker Street. You saw me; the real parts, the human side. That’s who I am. You mean more to me than anything in the world John. Tell me; how could that man ever do that, to you, if he had any other choice?”

By Sherlock’s standards, it’s laying out his soul; words he’s never spoken to anyone, words only meant for John; more than anything in the world. The only man to see him for who is really is, fighting past his walls to recognise the heart pumping in Sherlock’s chest.

Sherlock is finally big enough to admit that he needs him. Being weak is what made him strong, the pain shattered that denial, and he can never take back the words that escaped his lips in his darkest moments.

Anything and everything he didn’t have before.

And that everything is John.

“I don’t know you. I thought I did, but I was wrong.”

No defences; Sherlock allows his eyes to say what he cannot; not now, not yet.

“You weren’t wrong. John, you’re the only one who does.”

The clenching in John’s jaw is restraint, the steel in his eyes a warning.

“I don’t want to. You hear me? I don’t want to know you. Whoever you are; we’re done here. You’ve overstayed your welcome. Get out of my flat.”

Sherlock nods, taking a moment, drinking him in; just in case. Because John is standing right in front of him, just two paces across the room. He draws it out just a little too long. John takes a step forward, and his heart screams to meet him in the middle.

It takes everything to walk away.

~

As predicted, Sherlock continues to be empty.

He updates the phone number on his website, clears his email, and turns the volume up to max. Not once does he allow the battery to drop below 50%. John’s blog is his homepage. He waits at the bottom of the stairs until mail time, ripping the envelopes out of the man’s hand before they even make it through the slot.

The doorbell rings; and he’s there in seconds, hand shaking on the latch. He looks through the peep hole, and it’s never him. He won’t open it for anyone else.

Mycroft gives him two days, and then even the chain on the door can’t keep him at bay.

No composure can mask his fury.

It means nothing to Sherlock. It’s hardly his fault his brother couldn’t keep up.

“Fractured ribs, knuckles, humorous. No spleen, compromised lungs, and half a liver. You didn’t even wait for the stitches to come out, what in god’s name were you thinking?”

Sherlock stares back with impassivity; entirely unmoved.

“I thought Paris would be nice in the Autumn. I was right.”

His brother growls in frustration.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”

Oh.

“That’s what you thought.” Sherlock’s voice sounds gentle, even to himself. “I never intended to survive? I fought for life, only to find that I no longer wanted my own. Is that it?”

Mycroft is uncomfortable, and no matter how hard he tries to hide his fear, it’s shining bright beneath the cracks.

“Of course not.”

Sherlock raises his eyebrows.

“Mycroft.”

His brother deflates; hanging his umbrella on John’s hook with exaggerated calm, he sinks into the armchair. John’s chair.

“Is it such a leap?”

The worry crinkles around his eyes, compounding on lines of repetition. Lines that Sherlock caused. Because he has to admit, the thought did cross his mind.

He looks away; a confirmation Sherlock didn’t want to concede.

“I fought for two years Mycroft. They haven’t broken me just yet.”

His brother studies his face for a long time. He wants to believe it, but by the looks of it, it’s a question that will haunt their relationship for a long time to come. Mycroft knows what happened; the significant emotional toll. He suspects Sherlock is suffering from post-traumatic stress. Suicide is a well-documented risk. That worry is not something that ever fades when the fear is for those you love. And while Sherlock is not denying the reasoning as impossible, he has no intention of an attempt upon his life.

Mycroft nods, and moves on as if nothing ever happened. He knows a lot, has almost limitless power; Mycroft runs Mensa, controls the government, the military; the country. His brother understands sentiment and its effects like the back of his hand, and he uses it; the tool of a puppeteer.

Only Sherlock has the power to scare him.

Sherlock is family. At heart, that’s what it boils down to; the fear of a brother. No one understands him better, no one understands his mind; how he thinks, what he feels. No one but John. There’s nothing that could stand in his way. Mycroft would do anything in his power, if only to keep him safe. His little brother, with his sparkling potential, constantly under threat; head compromised by a beating, bleeding heart.

Mycroft’s biggest fear is not Sherlock’s death; it’s his suicide.

“Legally; you’re safe. But public opinion has weight.”

Sherlock scoffs. But it’s play acting; Mycroft is right. The media hold significant pressure over the police force. Assets only matter so much when you have slander breathing down your neck. Sherlock could solve a hundred impossible cases; but they won’t work with him if every sighting could end up in the morning papers. Cowards.

“What do you propose?”

~

For Scotland Yard, it’s an absolute shitshow.

Public apologies are always a nightmare for the police, and with a case as big as this one, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. There’s an excruciating press conference that basically consists of the Detective Chief Inspector gritting his teeth, and admitting they fucked up.

From Lestrade’s point of view, it can never be enough.

“In regards to the case against Mr Sherlock Holmes; an independent investigation has concluded unanimously, that his innocence on all counts is undeniable, and the charges against him completely without merit.”

He pauses under the scrutiny; the room is absolutely packed, with every journalist in the city desperate for the scoop. This is a big deal, and there’s even some interest internationally. Sherlock’s celebrity has made the situation exponentially worse, and despite the fact he’s dedicated his life to this job; Greg wants the force to pay. Especially for the shit they pulled when he was dead and unable to defend himself. It’s vindication.

The one person, conspicuously absent; is the man himself. Because he was invited; a desperate attempt to salvage the Met’s public image. Sherlock probably never even opened the letter. Lestrade doesn’t blame him; the whole thing’s a bloody farce. Why should he make it easier for them? Sherlock always hated the cameras, the requests for interviews; trashy news articles popping up after every time he leaves the flat.

In Greg’s opinion; his not showing up is the best outcome for them. Because if he did, it sure as hell wouldn’t be in good faith. He’d end the Detective Chief Inspector’s career in a single sentence.

If they want his forgiveness, they’ve got no chance. Sherlock would rather die than stand up at a podium and shake that man’s hand. John Watson had the right idea in giving him a bloody nose, Lestrade wishes he had the guts to do the same.

“The Metropolitan Police extends our deep, and sincere apologies to Mr Holmes for the damage and defamation these false accusations inflicted upon him as a result of this investigation. “

He looks up, accidentally making eye contact with Greg. The apology is meaningless, and he knows it. It’s an empty delivery; by a man who hates Sherlock’s guts, and took perverse pleasure in ruining his life.  Spouting some official bullshit drafted by a clerk and cut down to pieces by one of the soulless communications officers in PR.

At least there’s some satisfaction in seeing that bastard eat his words.

“On Thursday, Mr Holmes was awarded a full and official pardon on behalf of the Supreme Court, and a spokesperson has requested privacy on his behalf. We will not be taking questions at this time.”

The press go bonkers as Lestrade takes his chance to slip from the room.

~

Sherlock turns off the television, and unplugs the radio. Newspapers are recycled without so much as a glance at the headlines. The influx of mail keeps coming and coming, and his email is bursting. His number is quickly re-deleted from his website.

Triple glazing right now would be invaluable. The windows remain shut, and the blinds drawn; but the cacophony below still makes it through.

He may never be able to walk the streets again.

This was anticipated, but it’s impossible to know John’s reaction. Sherlock didn’t bother to watch the conference, but John certainly will have.

Resurrection is a necessary evil; but has left him with exactly zero options.

In his dreams, he’s cornered; clinging to the branches of a tree, while the crocodile waits patiently below. Staying put is a death sentence; dehydration, starvation. The alternative too horrifying to imagine. Crocodiles maul you, slowly, brutally, with not a shred of mercy. Definitely not a good way to go.

So he’s still empty; exactly as anticipated.

Mycroft’s visit is a study in obvious. The monotony continues to chew through his skull, and still no word from John.

The waiting is eating at his bones.

Weeks were anticipated, and only days have past.

What if he never comes?

Doubt grows in his chest.

Time never passes as fast, or as slowly as we expect.

The chance of John reaching out is being pushed further and further away; Sherlock’s inbox impossible to navigate now. Hundreds of letters arrive every day, and his phone remains silent; Sherlock doesn’t have John’s number, and John doesn’t have his.

Mycroft is away in Ukraine, uncontactable, and John arriving on foot is out of the question. Mrs Hudson is at her bloody sister’s, so her phone is off. Everyone seems to have a new number now; and Sherlock thoroughly abuses the strangers who answer. Lestrade is so technologically catatonic he doesn’t have a fucking email, and as for Molly’s; he hasn’t the slightest. They never had the need.

Even Molly’s Facebook is private, the message feature on her blog deactivated, and John’s blog archived. He can’t even walk to the post box. The age of communication; bested by a salt water crocodile.

Things go downhill from there.

Despite what Mycroft may think, Sherlock isn’t falling apart; He just wants.

Anything and everything he didn’t have before.

It’s still missing. And it hurts.

He’d scream at the top of his lungs until the point of asphyxiation; but without the triple glazing, his pain will make the most tantalising headline of the year.

Not falling apart, but definitely going insane.

~

Life is simple; we just make it feel more complicated than it really is. It’s easy to say that Sherlock is lonely. It’s more difficult to feel that you are missing every worthwhile facet of life.

Genuine human contact; it’s what everyone needs. Just one conversation, one touch of the hand, one night of passion; it doesn’t matter what form that contact takes. And once you admit it; that’s when the emptiness settles in.

Empty.

It’s not the flat now; it’s Sherlock.

Just pure innocence; an arm over his waist in the night, sharing a meal in silence, two toothbrushes by the sink. Isolation has left a starvation no meal can fill.

One hug. In two years. That’s all he has left to hold onto.

The only consolation is the music; finally breathing life into the compositions in his head. The sound stutters, the bow wanders, and notes slur when they shouldn’t; not a single one in tune. The instrument feels wrong against his collarbone, his arm shakes and fingers bruise. But not once does he give in.

Every millimetre the G slips sharp, each twitch of the fourth finger, the moments his grip on the frog loses traction; they fuel him to be better. The music keeps him sane.

Up-bows and Down-bows flow more naturally, rhythms sync with melodies, and his hand no longer slips sharp on the fret board. Dynamics begin to take form, staccatos become crisp again; crescendos soar, and muscle memory takes over.

He finds himself in the major, and plunges with the minor.

Once, it would have been enough to hear it; the pain, the joy. Teasing the emotion from his heartstrings, bring it to life, allow it to soften and fade; released into the noise of the London air.

Anything and everything.

He plays less and less as the loneliness grows.

~

Sherlock contemplates the contents of the cupboard. He’s deciding if he’s going to start smashing plates.

Just so angry, so frustrated; trapped.

Just as his fingers brush the rim of the first victim; his hand freezes on the plate.

The noise is familiar; he hears is every day, once a night, trying to moderate the dwindling stash of cigarettes. The bedroom window rattles again, and he feels himself changing. The bone china is not the only bone getting broken today.

Someone has broken into Sherlock’s home; and they really should not have done that. Frustration has been festering for two weeks; and now there’s a single point of focus. The Sherlock of the last two years is being brought back into play.  It’s a disturbing feeling; but the pushing is relentless. He wonders if anyone ever considered the moment he would push back.

He smiles.

Sherlock is going to kill the crocodile.

~

Not literally of course.

This mistake is a step too far, but never that. Not ever again. That said; Sherlock fully intends to hurt them. Because people in the city seem to have forgotten; Sherlock is not an actor in some reality show. He isn’t in a band; doesn’t play football, or walk the catwalk. And he will never be their hero vigilante.

They need a reminder of who he really is.

This intruder has no idea what he’s done.

Coat on, he stands at the end of the hallway, fingers clenching and unclenching at his side.

There’s a faint ‘oof,’ as the intruder falls clumsily through the window. Sherlock waits calmly until he hears him move to leave the bedroom; the tip of a shoe visible round the doorframe.

“If you’re here for an interview; I have no comment.”

He channels all the distain he has into that one sentence until it is dripping with warning; no disguising the undercurrent of his intent.

“Not an interview; I want an explanation.”

The Sherlock from two years ago evaporates into ash.

John.”

He’s covered in dirt, and monumentally pissed off; but he’s here. Then he notices the machete.

“What the fuck is that for?”

Sherlock deadpans; “You broke into my flat.”

John just shakes his head and pushes past him to the sitting room.

~

Sitting across from John; he still can’t tear his eyes away.

“You’re filthy.”

John glares at him, but inexplicably; it lacks bite. This atmosphere is not full of hate, and it almost feels like John is angry about a mould culture in the rye bread, or the time Sherlock fostered a python. Well; stole from a suspect’s house after his arrest, but it’s the same difference.

It’s not every day the police come and arrest your pets as evidence. It was funny how long it took Lestrade to catch on.

“I just climbed over a fucking wall, and crawled through your window like a bloody teenager. I climbed out my window, and wore sunnies at 7pm just so the bloody cab driver didn’t tip of the paparazzi. I used my cane and pretended to be fucking blind! Of course I’m bloody filthy.”

Sherlock starts to laugh, because honestly; it’s ridiculous. And because John wants to be here, he went to those ridiculous lengths; just to see him.

John glares, and still doesn’t mean it; but he doesn’t smile either. Sherlock stops laughing.

“I’m sorry. And not just for the paparazzi.”

“Yeah, I got that the first six times you said it.”

Sherlock winces, remembering his face buried deep into John’s jumper.

‘Sorry, I’m sorry John, god, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. Please…’

He lost track of how many times he said it; stuck on that one word, a litany, a chant, a prayer. It’s hard to tell if John believed even one of them, but at least this time; he’s listening.

Sherlock scoots to the edge of his chair, his interlocked fingers fidgeting in a way that almost mimics a beating heart. John’s trying to read him, and Sherlock hopes he notices the ruins of every wall Sherlock bulldozed to let him in.

“What do you want to know?”

A deep inhale.

“Explain to me again why you had to go.”

It’s either confirmation or a test; he wants to understand, but also to see if Sherlock has changes his story. Sherlock looks away, and whispers;

“I didn’t want you to die.”

John taps his fingers on the arm of the chair, over and over; it’s captivating, Sherlock’s mind trying to read a message in the patterns. Always looking for the deeper meaning.

It’s your weakness, you always want everything to be clever.

“Right. And pretending to splatter yourself all over the pavement was, what, a way to stop me from dying? Tell me how the fuck that’s supposed to work, because I’m really not seeing the connection.”

Sherlock leans forward on his knees, practically looking up at John, almost like he’s begging. Which is fitting really, since that’s exactly what he is doing.

“You remember at the pool? Moriarty wasn’t the one holding the guns. His people, his hitmen. You, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade; all in their sights, there was one for each of you. In exchange for your life; I complete his story, my fall from grace. That was the deal.”

Sherlock waits. And waits.

It’s John staring him down now, and it’s a complete trade off; John can see everything Sherlock is projecting, and Sherlock can see nothing of John.

“How did you know he wouldn’t change his mind, top us anyway?”

That was exactly his own fear on that rooftop, before Moriarty slipped his tell. Jim was the type to keep his promises, but if he got bored? If he got angry at Sherlock for dying and ruining his fun?

Changeable. So changeable.

“You can’t have a change of heart if it’s not beating. He’s dead John; he never made it off that roof.”

John frowns; “You killed him?”

Sherlock swallows and breaks that eye contact for the first time. It’s something he never wanted to admit, not even to himself. Because Sherlock could never kill him; he knew exactly how he thought and where his actions came from. And that could have been him. Sherlock sympathises with the enemy.

“I never wanted James Moriarty to die John. But I was the only one. Staying alive is boring, that’s what he said. I think he thought we couldn’t exist together, that one of us had to die. But without the other, we’d be bored. And if neither of us could win; it had to be a draw.”

John looks horrified.

“A suicide pact.”

Sherlock nods at the carpet.

“He wanted us to go down together, whether I wanted to or not. And when he died, so did my only chance of calling off the dogs. Live or die; they had to see me jump.”

“And after? You’re telling me it took two years for you to come clean?”

Sherlock sighs, because they could have spent those years together; if only he’d managed to keep James Moriarty alive. The teacup handle on the wrong side, the difference in muscle mass between the left thumb and the right. He knew when he accepted that handshake, that Jim was left handed, but the connection just didn’t occur.

He didn’t look closely enough to see the gun. He didn’t link the obvious mania to such a desperate need to die. They both risked their lives at the pool; Sherlock for the game, and Moriarty because he’d found what he’d been looking for; his arch enemy, one final way not to be bored. Sherlock committed himself to a suicide pact without ever glimpsing the end game.

“A hit never expires John, you know that. I had to neutralise the threat of his people before it could ever be over. One whisper, one slip from either you or me, and four people die. No one can truly fake grief John, and people were watching for any hint, any mistake. Do you really think I could let you carry around Mrs Hudson, and Gregory Lestrade’s lives on your shoulders? My life? I’m sorry John, but that responsibility wasn’t yours.”

Now they’re both staring at the carpet, imagining what it might have been like if John knew.

It could only have ended in disaster.

Sherlock mumbles a bit about where he was and what he did, and another twenty minutes are spent lost in their heads.

“I’d have never let you go alone.”

“I know. And I could never risk your life.”

Stalemate.

There’s a high chance John Watson is about to cry. He knows Sherlock is right, and he also knows Sherlock doesn’t want to be. John understands now.

“You did lose me. We lost each other.” John whispers.

John scoots down to the edge of his seat too, but Sherlock knows their hands won’t reach.

John watches as tears roll steadily down Sherlock’s face.

~

John stays the night on the couch. He doesn’t have the energy to make up his old room, Mrs Hudson is away, and Sherlock isn’t going to do it because he’s Sherlock. So he steals a pillow that smells of very expensive shampoo, and curls up with the throw rug from his chair.

Sherlock ghosts about the room trying to look busy for about 40 minutes before he is satisfied John isn’t going to sneak out. And because John tells him to stop lurking and sleep. Mainly the latter. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway, and it’s not like John is going to waltz right out the front door with a million cameras parked out front.

Sherlock locks the window and throws the key down behind his dresser.

~

He’s dozing, just enough to almost be content. It’s a work in progress, but Sherlock’s subconscious is finally beginning to believe it might be okay to relax. For a month, his mind screamed every night that if he closes his eyes, it might be a dream.

The bed is warm, and he’s tired, but still has trouble sleeping. It’s frustrating, but nothing new. After 37 years of practice, it’s something you get used to. Four hours of this is Sherlock’s version of a good night’s sleep. He’ll take a light nap over the nightmares.

They’re something else he’s accepted. Bad dreams happen regardless of what you think of them, and if you consider the chaos of the last two years, it makes perfect sense.

It’s painful; trembling alone in the middle of the night, but if he can survive it in the flesh, he can handle the simulation. Crocodiles and all.

Sherlock likes to think he’ll be okay.

John half wakes him from his half-sleep. It’s not difficult to see that what he needs is comfort. Sherlock will give him anything; and everything too.

Sherlock knows if the world had been different, he might never be okay again. If they hadn’t met, if John followed in the footsteps of everyone else who left, if he died that day at St. Barts, or didn’t climb out of his own window; just to have an argument.

Sherlock is not John’s miracle, it’s entirely the other way around. And at least for this one night; Sherlock will know without a shadow of a doubt; that John is alive and safe.

Sherlock watches John Watson crawl under his sheets, as uninvited as he is welcome. He surprises Sherlock by speaking.

“Do you ever wonder, with all of the variation; billions of people in the world, how just one less, can make you feel so lonely?”

“No, I don’t wonder that.”

John sighs long sufferingly, and the familiarity is a comfort.

Moments always tend to have the strangest eccentricities. Certain details stand out where they could just as easily be nothing. An image you remember, despite it having nothing to do with anything at all.

For Sherlock it’s the sheets. The way the duvet rests over their hips to dip in the middle, the way it’s pushed down to show the space between their chests. It’s that the sheets are wrinkled, and how it makes them look warm.

That he’d chosen white tonight feels fitting; meaningless and utterly perfect at the same time.

Rumpled white sheets. The way they look is powerful. An outsider might say romantic. It’s unlike anything he’s seen before, and Sherlock hopes John sees them too.

“I’m trying to say I missed you too.”

They’re so close; and Sherlock can’t remember a time he lay down with another in open conversation.

“I hear you.”

Out of seven billion people, in hundreds of countries; it’s John’s thoughts he hears. And this time; it’s real. There was never a doubt in his mind as to why it was John who made him lonely.

John looks at him hard.

“Is this uncomfortable for you?”

Sherlock looks at the little tufts of hair standing up in odd places, rumpled from sleep, and the depth to John’s pupils. He thinks about them, lying face to face in the middle of the night, whispering softly, trying not to wake their sleeping defences.

“You could never make me uncomfortable John.”

~

Sherlock has a lot of sharp words. He is as a person too, with the bone structure to match.

There are ups and downs, but that intensity never fades. It’s a weird contrast; because those eyes could cut through bone, even now, when John has never seen him more relaxed.

It’s only after they murmur their goodnights, and Sherlock shuts his eyes, that John realises how content he feels. A handful of minutes after panic, after two years of grief; John is no longer lonely, and Sherlock sleeps like the dead.

Sherlock read him loud and clear. I hear you.

~

Sherlock wakes up in the night and his back is towards John.

He’s always preferred sleeping on this side, but tonight he’d forbidden himself from rolling over. It’s not true, but to turn his back feels like a rejection, like he’s trying to ignore John, like he hasn’t always wanted him exactly here.

It’s probably not something he should do, because there are boundaries. John might be angry. John might be upset.

Sherlock will say he was asleep if he asks.

Sherlock’s body moulds itself to John’s back like plasticine, in the way that cats will fit perfectly into a space that seems bizarre to us. Just because can, because they want to. Sherlock just wants to be as close to John as possible.

He falls asleep, nose buried into the pillow under John’s neck.

~

John wakes up in the night, to find himself pillowed on Sherlock’s chest. There are arms wrapped around him, and they’re limp, but they don’t fall off. John begs with the night to never let them.

~

Sherlock wakes again on his back.

One of John’s arms is wedged underneath him in a position that absolutely cannot be comfortable, but with the other arm; John holds his waist. Just like Sherlock; reaching out for what he never could before.

~

John wake up again almost suffocating.

They’re facing each other, so close their stomachs press together, and legs are wound in knots. Sherlock is like a fucking octopus.

His face is jammed right up against Sherlock’s sternum, and Sherlock’s nose is exhaling directly into his ear, his head actually on top of John’s own. It’s absolutely horrible.

John shoves him lightly, and Sherlock grumbles in his sleep, rolling away. John can breathe now, and he shuffles back over, following him.

It should be weird that he’s spooning Sherlock Holmes.

~

In the morning, Sherlock wakes up fuzzy, and slightly irritated, unused to actual, proper sleep.

He accidentally kicks something, and it groans.

John Watson is in his bed.

It’s new. Warmth that brings fulfilment. It makes him hurt less to know John doesn’t hate him. At least not until he wakes up.

~

John showers without even thinking about it until his shampoo is not on the ledge.

Someone has laid out clothes for him; old ones he’d asked Mrs H to throw out.

Sherlock is sitting at the table drinking a mug of warm water.

“Tea?” John asks hopefully.

Sherlock passes him a mug of slightly less warm water.

“Uh?”

Sherlock shoots him A Look.

“There’s no tea bags, remember what it tastes like in your head.”

Sherlock is…using his mind palace to try and trick his tastes buds into thinking water is tea. Then again, it’s not like he can leave the flat with all the cameras; not even for tea. John decides it’s only fair to have gone a little insane.

John sips at his water, while Sherlock has his not-tea. It’s unclear whether it’s actually working for him, or if his pride is pretending for an audience. Breakfast consists of stale cheese crackers and jam.

“Do you know what my favourite part of it all was?” Sherlock muses.

“You’re fucking what? You have a favourite part?”

John’s half furious and half concerned as Sherlock stirs two sugars into his second cup of ‘tea.’

’No one can fake being such an annoying dick all the time.’”

John snorts, and quickly snatches the sugar pot from Sherlock’s hand before he can add spoonful number five.

He pokes at the cracker crumbs on his plate.

“I’d never forgive you for choosing my life over your own.”

Sherlock looks up, with nothing but pain.

“I’d never forgive myself the alternative.”

John grimaces, but lets it go. It’s terrifying to know that Sherlock Holmes would die for him, for ordinary John Watson. Even now. But to object would make him a hypocrite. In Sherlock’s place he’d have done the same; only they both know he’s not clever enough to plan his own ‘Icarus.’

There was no other way, and John hates the universe for it.

~

Sherlock closes his eyes, listening to the distinctive sound of John’s thumb turning the page.

18.

Seeing as John never reads either the business, or the sports sections; that leaves only 4 pages left to go. They’ve got up, showered, and had breakfast. That means, once the newspaper closes; the morning routine is done.

Things could get tricky after that.

Awkwardness and overthinking might get in the way.

Sherlock will not wait around and let that develop.

“John.”

He looks up absent-mindedly, but you can pinpoint the second he realises; it’s time to have The Talk.

Sherlock feels fragile, so very small.

It’s hard for him to open up to people; even John. All this time they’ve been friends, Sherlock has been afraid. So afraid of what John could say. He’s a stubborn man, determined to live his life a certain way. Counting on nothing, untouchable; never admitting that there was something more, something he might be missing.

The world has damaged him, but that pain made him understand. Sherlock found what that something was; happiness. And the possibility that he could have it. All he has to do is stop hiding, stop keeping that secret from himself.

He doesn’t have to be miserable. There’s a choice.

Anything and Everything.

“John, I’d like to know…if you’d be open to starting over; over from scratch. To giving me a second chance.”

He rises, and stops in front of John; holding out his hand and his heart.

John stands too, and he looks just as afraid, just as small. Sherlock wonders what he’s thinking. Does John know what Sherlock is really asking?

“Only if you give me one too.”

Sherlock lets out all the air he didn’t know he was holding, and his face crumples, nodding desperately.

“Oh god yes.”

John’s smile is just as broken as his own.

“So…Afghanistan or Iraq?”

Sherlock laughs.

Their faces are so close, having gravitated towards one another; lost in the intensity of the moment. Sherlock doesn’t think he’ll ever stop wanting to look at John.

“Afghanistan,” he murmurs, voice so low, it’s barely more than a rumble inside his chest.

Now.

Sherlock slowly cups John’s cheek in his palm, feeling the softness of his skin, still soaking in the disbelief that John is here for him to touch. To take that final, terrifying leap.

Sherlock kisses John as slowly and softly as he can.

Inexplicably; John’s lips move against his.

Arms wrap around Sherlock’s waist; the conscious mimicking the intimacy of subconscious embraces in the night.

And when they break apart, Sherlock sees himself in John’s eyes; just how much he loves this man, mirrored perfectly back.

His miracle.

Sherlock smiles, and John opens his mouth to speak-

Sherlock’s phone goes insane on the kitchen table.

“You’d better answer that. It’s probably important.”

“Probably.”

Very few people have that number. Sherlock doesn’t move. Because John is smiling, and that smile is for him.

His lips against John’s, John kissing him back. Hours of screaming, electrocution, beatings, whippings, waterboarding, bullets tearing through his liver; it was worth it. Their moment has finally arrived. It’s possible; anything and everything.

But the obnoxious ringtone he doesn’t remember choosing goes off again and again, until he’s furious enough to tear his eyes away.

What.”

“Sherlock, listen, I know it’s probably too soon, with the press conference and all,” the sound of Lestrade scrubbing at his eyes is almost audible, and Sherlock puts him on speaker for John to hear.

“But I’ve got something for you. If you want it.”

Sherlock glares.

“What sort of something?”

Lestrade grumbles in frustration.

“The dead kind. I can text you the address”-

“I’ll consider it.”

Sherlock hangs up, and stares at John.

The press are still howling out front. John is wearing tatty old clothes, Sherlock is almost two stone lighter than he should be, and has bags under his eyes the size of Australia. John has also miraculously moved from one side of town to the other.

Sherlock deadpans;

“I’ve seen enough terrible things for six lifetimes. I’d love to see some more. Join me?”

John grins from ear to ear.

“I have one condition.” Sherlock adds.

“Oh yeah?”

“We go through the front door this time; together.”

John seems to think this is both mad and hilarious; but his eyes are soft as down.

“They’re going to love this you know.”

Sherlock caresses John’s cheek.

“So will I.”

Xx