It hadn’t been clear to him for some reason, not until the moment he saw Sherlock’s head fall back onto the pillows in the ill-lit hospital room. Even though he should have known, should have seen it all this time. Perhaps, part of him always had known, but he chose to be blind and deaf to it, because he had never felt worthy of Sherlock’s love, it had to be love, didn’t it? Perhaps not the love that most people think of when they think of love, and just maybe the intensity of it was like a wavelength of colour he couldn’t see… no, he had chosen, chosen to be blind to it, and now it was too late. It was too late because no matter what Sherlock had done in the past, he didn’t deserve what John had done to him. He was certain he didn’t have the words to make up for what his fists and feet had done to the man he loved.
He finally admitted it to himself.
He loved him. And it was far too late.
It didn’t matter that Mary was gone, there was no way that Sherlock could or should ever forgive him.
“Sit down,” Sherlock grumbled quietly, startling John out of his thoughts.
“John. Stop pacing, you’re adding to my headache.”
“Sorry.” He dropped into the chair next to Sherlock’s bed and tried to wrap his coat tighter around himself; hospital rooms were always too cold or too hot. He should have bought a coffee, or a book, something he could hold onto -
“And stop apologising.” Sherlock’s voice was weary, but not angry. He was never angry.
“I - why aren’t you ever angry?” John asked quietly, just loud enough for Sherlock to hear.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and sighed at him, then managed a lopsided grin. “Does getting angry help, John? Will it change anything if I get angry?”
“It’s a normal response to -”
Sherlock chuckled then grunted in pain, as if he had somehow forgotten the cracked ribs. John moved to get up to help him somehow but Sherlock shook his head, and slowly caught his breath. “I think you, of all people would know by now, I don’t have normal responses to events or people.”
John couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “I need to -”
“John. I don’t want to hash it out. As you know, when I’m on a case, I take risks; usually calculated risks, this time - this time I allowed my personal feelings to interfere with the case. My client, well, actually, I’d have to say that you were my client this time, Mary may have hired me posthumously, but, you, essentially were my case. And, as I have demonstrated in the past, I tend to go overboard when it comes to the work and more specifically, you. I did know how angry you were, how guilt and a bit of shame played a role in your actions, and I do appreciate how you must feel about what you did. If I had been in better shape, you know you would presently be in another bed next to me instead of in that chair.”
He took a shallow breath, then glared at the ceiling, and his next words came out as an exhausted mumble. “You know I would never hurt you, at least, not physically, John. I have found a multitude of other ways to hurt you over the years, but I would never lay a hand on you, not like - you do know that, don’t you, not even for a case, not ever again.”
To his surprise, John blinked back tears as he nodded. “I do know that, Sherlock.”
“Good. That’s something at any rate. Damn. I’m tired.”
“Sor - I should go, I’m sure visiting hours were over hours ago.”
Sherlock turned his head to look at him and reached out a shaky hand. “Please, stay? I’m sure if there’s an issue, Mycroft can deal with it, issue some command from on high-”
“Are you sure your brother would want me to -”
“Mycroft can piss off. He is well aware of his inability to understand. Wait. You still, even now? Even you, don’t -?”
John took Sherlock’s hand carefully in his two smaller hands and shook his head. “No. I do. I’m sorry - yes, I’m sorry - you’ll never know how sorry I am for what I did to you in the mortuary, but I’m also sorry for not seeing, not acknowledging your feelings sooner.”
“Please? Let me finish, I need you to understand, or at least I need to try to tell you -”
Sherlock sighed but nodded and kept his eyes locked onto John’s face.
“I’ve always known, deep down, how you, how you care for me. No. I know it’s more than that, and I’ve acted like, no. I have been an idiot all this time, not to tell you, not to say the words to you. I think I’ve always believed that actions always spoke louder than words, and I have been - I was angry at you for such a long time, for leaving me like you did, and then to have you back - and I was confused. You seemed the same, but you weren’t, and I think I was afraid to ask you, to know for certain -”
“When you came back, and I hurt you, it broke something in me. That I could hurt you like that - I had spent the first year and a half after you jumped hoping that it was all a lie, a joke, a magic trick, but then you didn’t come back, and you waited until the night - no, I know it wasn’t something you planned, but to see you, to have my grief for you used against me, treated as a punchline - I didn’t know how to trust you, or my feelings. I didn’t know, Sherlock.”
“I saw the records, Sherlock. Tonight, I made Mycroft show me, he didn’t want to, but he understood I needed to know, as he finally saw that I didn’t know anything. I knew nothing about what you’d been through, when you were gone, because of -”
“Please? John. I can’t.” Sherlock shook his head, then his breath caught as John pressed his lips to Sherlock’s trembling hand. “John?”
“I’m sorry for waiting so long, to tell you. I know it’s too late, but, I do love you, Sherlock.”
“No.” Sherlock shook his head, and John looked away and nodded to himself, then turned back in astonishment as Sherlock whispered, “it’s never too late, until it’s actually too late, John. Please, stay, only if you -” John watched a single tear slip down Sherlock’s raw and bruised face as he finally closed his eyes and tumbled into sleep.
John opened his eyes startled to find Sherlock studying his damaged knuckles on his left hand and tried to pull it away from him, but stopped as Sherlock lifted his hand to his lips and kissed the hand that had just recently knocked him to the floor. “I hadn’t, in all the years I’ve known you, had time to just study your hand, John, until now. It’s fascinating.”
There were no words John could say to him, and Sherlock expected none, but turned to face him and whispered, “do you think we could try again, John?”
John bit his lip to stop from smiling, and murmured, “we don’t know a thing about each other, I don’t know where to meet you. I don’t even know your name…” He got to his feet slowly and using his right hand to gently move an errant curl from Sherlock’s eyes, brushed the lightest of kisses on his forehead. “Forgive me, love?”
Sherlock let out a sigh that nearly broke John’s heart, then pressed his scraped and battered knuckles to his cheek. “Will you take me home, John? Please?”
“Yes, of course I will.”