Mary was gone. The baby had been someone else’s, a stranger. John was finally coming home, and yet he was coming home changed. He was quiet as Sherlock helped him carry his boxes up the stairs, hardly speaking a word. His shoulders slumped with the weight of many heartbreaks upon them. His face was unshaven. His jumper hung off his frame, the threads poking out and the hems stretched from one too many goes in the washing machine. The soft wool, once a bright creamy color, was faded and grimy with age and maltreatment. His eyes were black around the rims and the bags around them seemed to drag his whole face down in an eternal grimace. His movements were robotic as he came up and down the stairs, bringing box after box of clothes and knick-knacks that he didn’t care for, and a gun buried in the depths that he feared.
When all of the boxes were finally in their approximate locations, the two of them began to sort through the items and put things where they went. First the bedroom, and then the bathroom, and then the sitting room, and finally the kitchen. Sherlock sat on the ground, handing up assorted plates and utensils for John to put away.
They both went through the motions in a state of mindlessness, neither one paying any real attention to the task, until Sherlock reached in to pull out another mug and felt something.
He felt around the cool ceramic, attempting to identify the mystery object before finally just pulling it out. The mug was simple, a boringly simplistic, aggressively cylindrical, shiny black mug. Inside it was a plastic bag. Sherlock lifted out the bag, hearing the faint clinking of ceramics as he set it gently in his lap. John turned around to reach for another dish just as Sherlock was pulling out the first of many shards from inside the bag. He froze, taking in a sharp breath as Sherlock twirled the gleaming white ceramic between three fingers. He set down the first chunk and pulled out another, white with a fragment of design on it.
“John, what happened? This was always your favorite mug.”
John shut his eyes tightly as flashes of not so distant memories came back to him in a blur.
John stood in the flat. Mary’s flat. An empty flat. The silence echoing across bland white walls. Clinical and stoic they mocked him with their purity and their cleanliness, untainted by heartbreaks and pain and suffering.
He took a sip of his tea, only to find it long gone ice cold, bitter with age. He looked down at the mug, R-A-M-C, around the insignia that had once been his only family, his only home. He watched as the dark brown liquid rippled inside the mug, his hand shaking gently, just enough to be bothersome. Just enough to make him a liability. Just enough of a slight, shivering quiver to bring his whole life to shambles. Just enough of a quiver to almost end his life, to end Sherlock’s life, to end it all. He watched as the ripples went from a gentle shaking to a violent tremor, the tea nearly sloshing over the sides of the mug. He gripped his hand tighter around the handle in an attempt to control his hand, but still it shook.
When finally some of the tea came crashing over the sides of the mug, splattering across the pristine tile floor, the last dregs of his control snapped. “DAMN IT!” He shouted, face contorting with an inexplicable rage, and he hurled the mug across the room. He watched, almost in slow motion, as the ceramic hurtled through the air, slamming into drywall with a sickening thud and a sharp crash as the mug shattered against the wall and fell to the floor. John watched as shards flew across the floor in every direction, dribbles of tea sliding down the wall leaving amber stains on the paint in their wake.
His legs seemed to give way beneath him as he watched the tea pool among the fragments, reminding him almost of blood oozing across pavement, of bits of skull scattered amidst the chaos.
Slowly he slid down the cabinets, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks, his body wracked with silent sobs. His breath came high and choked. His hands grappled with the wool of his jumper. His chest jumped with every tear-soaked hiccough. His head thudded against the hollow wood with a slow, rhythmic tap tap tap, attempting to gain some semblance of control over his revolting body.
Many minutes passed in the gasping silence of solitary tears. Finally his breaths began to steady, the tears slowed to nothing, leaving only the slick, greasy saltiness of grimy tears, his hands began to calm. He stumbled to aching feet, his legs numb from the awkward position huddled on the hard, cold floor. He grabbed his broom and dustpan, as well as a few rags. He swept up the mug bits, wiped away the tea on the floor and the now stained, dented wall, and poured the mug bits into the sink. He rinsed them, dried them, and one by one dropped them into a plastic bag. After he sealed it he pushed it into the very back of his mug cupboard, unable to throw away his one last connection to the most stable force in his adult life, yet also unable to look past the failures and the pain inexorably tied into that same experience.
When he came back to himself Sherlock was peering at him, eyebrows scrunched together, mouth set in a grimace, head cocked to the side like a puppy in a way that would have made John laugh out loud if he hadn’t seen the deep concern hiding behind Sherlock’s eyes. Both men were silent though. Sherlock continued to stare, waiting for John to explain rather than initiate the conversation himself.
“A lot of things happened, Sherlock. I couldn’t bear to throw away the pieces, but I can’t do a single damned thing with the remains except to mourn them, just like I always do. I’m sick and tired of mourning Sherlock. I’m just . . . so tired. Can't we rest now?”
Sherlock held out a hand to John as he raised himself from the floor. When he was standing completely upright John took it, allowing Sherlock to lead him to the sofa. They huddled together on the worn leather, the coolness of it seeping into their skin as it warmed beneath them, a stark contrast to the searing heat of the two bodies joined side by side, each clutching at the comfort of the other. Neither spoke, both allowing their bodies to do what a million tomes could never achieve. The silence turned warm with the air around them as the late afternoon sun filtered in through the dusty windows. Dust motes swirled in the still air as a calm over took Baker Street. Even the street below seemed to still.
The air of Baker Street had seen pain, it had seen heartache, it had seen death come creeping in through the shadows, only to rejoice as the light came to force it back. The air had once been cold, it had once even seen the cruel purity of an inviolate existence. It had once been empty. Yet it had seen the pain, and the sorrow, and the misery, and with that came the warmth of comfort, of forgiveness, of remembrance.
221B Baker St, and its occupants, could finally see the goodness in their misery, the light beyond the shadows, and they could rest, easy in the company of those around them.