Sherlock wakes up alone in the bed. Where John should be as they've fallen asleep together earlier is only a cold, empty spot. Sherlock gets up, puts on a dressing gown and goes into the living room.
‘John?’ he calls softly.
The room is dimly lit – light from the kitchen where John is sitting at the table, looking at something he obviously finds interesting, an intense and sad look on his face, as if the answer to all of life’s questions were displayed in front of him.
Sherlock doesn’t understand why a teacup would elicit such a response. Why hasn’t he thrown it away? It is merely a teacup, cheap and battered, worn down china which he is surprised John hasn’t thrown away and replaced.
There is an appalling flower pattern on the outside of it – definitely belonged to someone else as John is not the type to possess any such item of tasteless, garish design. John did not acquire it. It must have been given to him.
The old, cracked paint is suggestive of an aged person.
The room is silent around them with only the humming noise of the fridge in the background. John doesn’t utter a word. He’s not even drinking tea. Sherlock ponders on that – why?
John’s phone is lying next to him on the table. Screen down. Bad news.
There are new wrinkles on the sides of John’s eyes, his face is tense and his body posture straight. Sherlock notices only now that John is wearing proper clothes – not the nightwear he favours when waking up and reading a book or the newspaper, a cup of steaming tea in hand. Needs distance. Doesn’t want to address the news at night when he’s more vulnerable.
John clenches and unclenches his left hand. Inhales – barely audibly. Exhales - sharply. Not just bad news, distressing ones.
He closes his eyes as Sherlock observes him, commits his tired, exhausted and haunted expression to memory. There’s the faint trace of interrupted sleep at the corner of his eyes, the slow, slower than is the usual rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest suggestive of emotion kept in check.
John is a soldier, used to traumatic experiences, has a stronger endurance to them although their intensity is not diminished – he simply has more control over their impact than the every day man.
Sherlock reviews the deductions the sight before him offers and comes to a very likely conclusion, the only one that would fit here, in this instant, in this context, for this particular person.
Loss of an old family member – maybe an aunt, possibly a grandmother given the pattern on the teacup – resulting in strong negative emotions and sad, intense staring into said object.
Sherlock is at a loss for words, has no frame of reference, no guide to deal with this, with the pain and its permanent aspect. He only walks closer to John and softly, gently puts the palm of his hand on his shoulder. An appeasing gesture. A silent demonstration of affection and support. An admission. An apology.
A promise to help.
He knows that John will not find words helpful – the ones ingrained in him since childhood all the more so. He says nothing and just stands there, his warm hand on John’s shoulder, an anchor to ground him, a reminder that he will not let him face this distressing event on his own.
‘John,’ he murmurs softly, tenderly, his voice firm and unwavering as he brings both his arms around John’s chest, holding him tightly, offering him strength, a shield against the storm building up in his chest. He can feel his heart beating fast.
John lowers his head and takes hold of Sherlock’s arms. Sherlock holds him tighter. You’re not alone. I am here for you.
John’s eyes are humid – humid enough to leave a trace on Sherlock’s sleeve. He couldn’t care less and buries his head in John’s hair, breathing loudly in a slow, soothing rhythm. He imagines John’s grieving for him had been like this one – multiplied a thousand fold if there can be any such thing as quantifying emotion.
John’s breathing is still tight, controlled. Sherlock understands why John hasn’t made himself a cup of tea or a glass of whisky as he would in times of upsetting happenings, in times when reassurance is needed. He doesn’t pull back, doesn’t offer either.
He pulls him closer to his chest, hoping his own steady beating heart will help John, provide a lifeline to the reality of his senses so he doesn’t drown in his feelings. Together. I will always be there, he promises silently.
John lets go of the restraint he held onto his breathing, of the cage he kept his feelings in – too violent for them to have been felt for only one person. In John’s broken sobs he hears the pain he’s held inside, insistently bottled down for too long a time for anyone, even him, to have remained unscarred by any of it.
Sherlock wants to join him – but this is not his pain, his torment, it’s John’s pain and he would be an intruder were he to join in, were he to mix the hurts and toils of his broken heart with John’s. So he doesn’t and merely listens and takes John’s pain in, becomes what John needs him to be: a constant support to rely on, an unyielding, unwavering force to draw strength from, the comfort of unfaltering love in times of need, sadness and joy, health and sickness, for better or worse – Always, he vows.