John had a plan.
Find Sherlock bloody Holmes, and beat the hell out of him.
Forestalled by, to the surprise of absolutely nobody who had ever met him even once, Mycroft.
Mycroft. Who, after a week of black cars and Anthea or whatever the hell her name was this year, had kidnapped him to another fucking warehouse and had threatened, in no particular order, being taken into MI6's custody, removed from the country, quietly assassinated in a back alley, and buried in an unmarked grave, if he so much as laid a hand on his brother.
It wasn't actually the threats that got to him. John was a soldier- he could take threats.
It was the tired look on Mycroft's face, after John had punched him instead, bloodying his nose to hell and back.
The tired shadows on Mycroft Holmes' face, and so much infinitely worse than that, the dark worry, lurking in his eyes and every rhythmic tap of his umbrella.
John thought about what that meant, about what that might possibly mean for Sherlock, Sherlock, who was still not here, and suddenly was twice as sick as he was angry.
John, therefore, had a new plan.
Lose his mind. Already in progress since 2012.
This one was forestalled by, of all people, Molly Hooper.
John had been mid-probable-nervous breakdown, and Molly had been trying to calm him down without any success whatsoever, and it had just- come out. Sherlock's name had just come out, because Sherlock Holmes was legally dead and very much a state secret and Mycroft really hadn't been joking about warning him to keep quiet, but John had been running on counting two weeks of no respite and his name had just come out.
Instead of looking at him as if he'd lost his mind.
Instead of asking him if he'd been drinking.
Instead of watching him that that dammed, miserable, tearful pity.
Molly's hands had flown to her mouth, eyes going wide, and against the blood draining from her face, she gasped, "You know?"
Which was how John learned, two years after his best friend had not-died in his arms, that Molly Hooper had known the entire fucking time.
Having someone available to talk to helped.
It also rekindled the urge to punch Sherlock, but that was neither here nor there.
New, new plan.
Fuck Mycroft Holmes, and tell someone else, just because he fucking could.
This one was not forestalled by anyone at all. This one, he actually carried out.
He stormed to Greg's flat at half-past midnight, blood pounding in his ears and hands shaking, fuck; he flipped off every camera he saw, and never well mind all the looks he got for it. And he pounded on Greg's door until the harried inspector answered it, still pajama-clad and hair-mussed, and he finally said it, he opened his mouth and the words came out and after three weeks, they were fucking real.
Greg gave him all the looks that Molly hadn't. The suspicion. The search for signs of alcohol. The sadness. The pity.
Didn't matter, this time.
John knew he wasn't crazy.
He showed him his phone, the message that'd started it all, the message that he'd screenshotted five times and emailed to himself and hugged to his chest to make himself believe this is real. Then he showed the texts from Mycroft, the ones that never would've come if this wasn't real, and Greg was busy pacing and tearing at his hair with trembling hands when it was the inspector's phone that went off, and his face went pale as sour milk.
This information Dr. Watson has just told you is classified, Inspector. You will keep your mouth shut about it. -MH
OUTSIDE. BOTH OF YOU. NOW. -MH
"He's-. He's alive. He's alive." Greg had sunk downwards on shaking legs, clutching his own phone back to his chest, smiling the ecstatic, breathless way that John wished he could, and next breath he'd been tackled in a bear hug, Greg still just gasping, "Sherlock, you bloody mad bastard, Sherlock," and none of it mattered.
Three weeks since Sherlock had texted him, and one week since Mycroft had told him we've lost contact.
I'm coming home, John. -SH
In a fit of bloody spitting mad rage, four weeks after the fact, John finally texted back.
Then where the fuck are you
I'm home right now. Where the fuck are you?
There was no answer.
Mycroft, for the very first time in all the four years that they'd known each other, called him.
When John saw The British Government flashing across his screen, not because that was Mycroft's nonexistent contact but because Mycroft could fucking do everything and that included hacking the caller ID system, John dropped his stethoscope mid-exam and answered, right there in the patient room.
"I am on my way to attempt an extraction."
"You've found him. You've-." He stopped, choking once on the burst of a lump on his throat. Oh, god. "So he's-"
"We have a lead on an unknown spy captured in the area that I expect Lazarus was working. That is all." He coughed once, clearing his throat, and then: "Dr. Watson, you understand: this is not license for you to tell anyone the truth. You will continue to keep your mouth shut."
"No- I'm coming with you. I'm coming with you! I can help, Mycroft, I'm a soldier, a doctor; whatever the situation is, I can-"
"I am well aware of your resume, Dr. Watson." Another clearing of the throat. "The helicopter takes off in five minutes. We are not waiting for you."
A cold, black well opened up underneath him, and John's mind blanked to red.
Sherlock can't wait for you went unsaid, because he didn't have to hear it.
Because Mycroft had done this on purpose.
He'd known John would insist on coming, and he'd known the easiest way to nip that in the bud was to just up and leave, before he ever could get his own feet off the ground.
John, for the fifth time in as many weeks, wanted to sock Mycroft bloody Holmes in the face.
Mycroft bloody Holmes hung up without prelude, and John began phase two of the worst weeks of his life.
Mycroft, for the very second time in all the four years that they'd known each other, called him again.
This time there was no patient interview, because this time it was during the day, and John had switched to the night shift. Because he couldn't sleep, and hadn't been for weeks. Because he hadn't been able to bear another night of tossing, turning, and imagining another grave.
Because he'd known it was most likely that he'd get news during the day, and he'd wanted to be ready.
For whatever reason, John's phone went off next to his bed at precisely 12:37 PM, and John, his heart in his throat, yanked it to him midway through the second ring.
"We've got him."
that was that, then.
Oh god, bloody hell, Jesus Mary and Joseph, oh god, that was that.
"He's-" he choked once, burying his face into his free hand. "So he's-"
"Alive, yes. I waited to inform you until his condition was stable."
John's stomach lurched. So his condition previously hadn't been stable, then. So Sherlock was in bad enough shape to have not been stable before. Fucking Mycroft Holmes. Goddamned British Government, god-
"We are currently in hospital, out of the country. The specific details remain classified, Dr. Watson; all I can tell you is that we will return home when Sherlock is in a fit condition to do it. His mission is now over, and you and the other two principals are safe." There was another pause, a short, prickly rustle of static over the phone. "While his status is no longer a state secret, I do have to ask, for my brother's privacy, that you proceed with discretion. We are going to wait until he's in a better state to schedule an interview with-"
"I don't- I don't care. Mycroft. Please. I could not fucking care less about-." John almost choked on the lump in his throat; head spinning faster than a twister and, god, he couldn't stop it.
This couldn't be real. Two years of this, of sleepless nights and survivor's guilt and cemetery visits, and now-
This couldn't be real.
There was a short silence, again. John had obviously interrupted whatever planned speech Mycroft had had for him, throwing him off balance, and for for a breath the elder Holmes said nothing and John was left shaking on the edge of his bed, feeling as if his entire world had toppled against a precipice and was about to fall apart.
"I have to see him," he heard himself say. The words previously fumbling hard against a dam, and now suddenly they were out in the open and he couldn't take them back. "Or- talk to him, at least. Mycroft, please."
"Impossible. He is currently not awake, and this is a government facility, Dr. Watson. The sort of government facility that you can not find on a map."
"Mycroft. Mycroft. Shut the hell up, you sodding clot, Mycroft, your name opens doors, don't tell me your name can't open a door in a hospital for a doctor, I swear to god, Mycroft, I'll call the Guardian myself, I'll give a tell-all interview tomorrow night, I'll, I'll-" He broke off to swallow and gasp and cough, clutching at the roots of his hair. Because threatening the British Government really wasn't his wisest move, but he just couldn't care. He couldn't. He couldn't.
He was furious and terrified and shaking and stressed and after two years of apparently being stepped on by both of the Holmes brothers, stepped on and stepped on and stepped on, John couldn't take being stepped on for one moment more.
There was another brief silence. John considered the wisdom of threatening Mycroft Holmes, and found himself morbidly wondering if he was about to get kidnapped by an Anthea clone and wake up in the boot of a car headed to some secret MI6 prison.
"In preparation of this sort of response, I have prepared a contingency plan, Dr. Watson. A compromise, if you will."
The knot in his stomach, somehow, tied off even tighter than before.
John choked, "I'm listening."
"To forestall my brother's inevitable whining when he recovers to find that I have had to go to extreme measures to keep you quiet: I will video call you now. As I've said, he is not conscious, so you will not be able to speak to him, but you will be able to see him. This should be enough proof to you that I am telling the truth, and that you will be able to speak to Sherlock when he is ready. Would this be a serviceable compromise, Dr. Watson?"
This wasn't about whether Mycroft was telling the truth or not. This wasn't about just getting proof that Sherlock was alive, this was about John seeing him. Being able to speak to him. This was about the fact that Sherlock had just gone missing for five weeks on a covert mission and now all Mycroft would tell him was that he was in a secret hospital and only now in stable condition. This was- this was-
"Yes," he heard himself give, and then, coughed. "Yes. That's- serviceable. Yes."
Mycroft was calling him Sherlock, again, he realized distantly. This entire time, it had been Agent Lazarus. Now, it was Sherlock.
It really was over.
A few moments and a button press later, and John was accepting a video call from The British Government.
Mycroft's pale, pinched face materialized on his screen. His hair was in minor disarray, an actual sign of the apocalypse, as far as John was concerned, and there was a cut on his forehead that had already been stitched shut.
For the third time in as many minutes, John's stomach lurched.
"Down the hall, then," Mycroft said, absolutely no room for preamble and introduction, and started walking.
A sparse few seconds after he'd started, chaos broke out over the phone, instead.
John couldn't see what it was, the phone still aimed carefully at Mycroft and giving him a view of nothing but his three piece suit and a fraction of his face, but he could hear it. He heard it in the sound of sudden shouting, none of it English, none of it calm; he heard it in the sound of Mycroft's low intake of breath and the squeak of his shoes as he came to a stop. He heard a voice screeching something, eastern European, maybe- some language that John did not know, in words that he could not understand.
He did not need to, to translate the primal desperation and anguish, bleeding through every last syllable.
He saw it, there, in the faintest twist of Mycroft's pale face.
He heard- he heard-
"I apologize, Dr. Watson," Mycroft said, and there was strain in his voice now, too, the politician abruptly picking up speed and the camera shaking. "It seems this conversation needs to be put on hold-"
"No, Mycroft, wait-"
The screen cut to black, and John, once again, was left alone.
Alone to desperately stare at his phone's dark gone dark screen, waiting for it to ring, and to think about the voice that he'd heard on the phone. That off-screen, low baritone howl of flawless not-English, that was familiar in the last way that he could not bear.
[Unknown Number]: Angelo's. Come if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway. -SH
[Unknown Number]: I apologise for the melodrama. I understand this might be presumptuous, but tonight the nostalgia is somewhat overwhelming. Sentiment? -SH
[Unknown Number]: I apologise. Let me try again. -SH
[Unknown Number]: I know that your schedule is free tonight. If you want to come, I'll be here, but know that I do not consider it an obligation. If you don't want to come, I will understand. -SH
[Unknown Number]: I would appreciate it if you did. -SH
The messages were nothing like Sherlock Holmes.
Seriously. Nothing at all.
In a way, they almost made John miss that one short, impossible text from eleven weeks ago, because as unbelievable as it had been, as terrifying and shocking and the weeks of sheer anguish that it had set off, at least that one, he'd been able to recognize. At least that one he could stare at, and in those few precious words, he could see Sherlock.
In those five new messages on his phone now, John did not see Sherlock.
He saw hesitation.
He saw second-guessing.
He saw a fierce, unwavering, bloody brilliant confidence that had turned on its head, into I'll understand if you don't come.
He saw someone that he didn't know, and once again, he thought of that haunted voice on Mycroft's phone, screaming in a language that he did not understand. He remembered the look on Sherlock's face, as he'd spread his arms and dropped from that hospital roof.
And he still wanted to punch Mycroft Holmes in the face.
John got up, grabbed his cleanest jumper, and headed for the door, adding the new number to his contacts on the way.
And that was how, two years and a few odd weeks after John had watched his best friend throw himself off a rooftop, crack his head open on the pavement below, and died in his arms, the universe finally performed his miracle after all.
Face to face with Sherlock Holmes.
Alive and- not well.
John had had eleven weeks to prepare, and that was the only reason that, standing there in the doorway to Angelo's, staring to the table he'd once limped to two years ago and seeing his actual, honest-to-god, alive and breathing Sherlock there waiting for him, he stayed on his feet.
It was still a near thing.
Sherlock's pale, blue-grey eyes flickered over him, those stomach-wrenchingly unique eyes that struck him now clouded and expressionless. But they were clear. Awake. Alive. Alert. And his eyes met John's, and there, in that instant- he smiled. Sherlock smiled, too, a faint twitch of one, but it was one that made John's stomach sink straight to his toes. Sherlock recognised that a smile was appropriate and expected, societally obligated, and he deemed the situation with enough important that he abided by its rules. That was all.
It wasn't genuine.
The smile wasn't, but, John was pretty sure that that soft whisper of hesitation flickering in his eyes was.
Half of John wanted to collapse. The other half just wanted to hug him.
He split the difference, and approached in silence instead.
"Hey," he said.
Sherlock's plaster of a fake smile broadened tentatively, just a little more.
"Thank you for coming," he said back. His voice, just like his pale eyes, remained totally calm, and entirely, utterly inexplicably, unreadable.
There was another short, uncomfortable silence.
Finally, John decided that he was going to have to be the one to start.
The detective- former detective?- raised a slight eyebrow, head tilting. His hair, John realized with a jolt. His hair was shorter than before. There was a story, there, a reason for why he'd cut it, for why he'd changed, and John didn't know it. "Before- this gets off the ground... can I say something?"
"Hm. Ah. Yes. Of course." Sherlock's gaze swept over him in what amounted to little more than a passing glance; in what, John knew, told him more than an hour of conversation ever would. "I'm afraid I was unable to prepare a coherent speech for you tonight, so if at any point you have something to say, then... you ought-"
"Sherlock, my boy! Sherlock Holmes, as I live and breathe! I can't believe it; just as your brother said- alive and well! Here you are!"
And just like that, the moment passed.
Angelo strode straight for the table; straight for Sherlock, a huge grin on his face and a light in his eyes as if the detective had just handed him the bloody sun. He hugged Sherlock, just like he had that first night, all smiles and cheer with arms around the shoulders and hands squeezing tight.
Sherlock looked so uncomfortable that John no longer second-guessed his decision not to hug him after all.
"Angelo," Sherlock said, through a smile that was all gritted teeth and pale skin. "It's good to see you again."
"And Dr. Watson, too!" Angelo went on, as if Sherlock hadn't said a word at all. "I never thought- oh, you boys-" and it was like he was Mrs. Hudson, fussing over them like it was 2011 and a simpler world and Sherlock wasn't scarred and John wasn't half-broken, and fuck all he wanted to do was get that silent, squirrely look off of Sherlock's face.
The discomfort passed, finally; Angelo's arm left his shoulders, and Sherlock looked less like he wanted to disintegrate on the spot and a little more like he'd just swallowed a golf ball. He was gone, promising to bring them a candle and a bottle of wine, on the house, a gesture they both tried to protest against but got nowhere. And then the candlelight was flickering between them and two wine glasses set down, and it was four years ago and John almost could not do this.
There was another thick, heavy silence.
"Do you want a glass?" Sherlock asked, finally. He wasn't quite meeting his eyes, pale gaze shifting away as he handled the bottle himself, with a hand that was too thin and fingers that were too long. "I wasn't planning on it, but I believe it is considered impolite to leave a gifted bottle of wine un-opened."
And that, well, that was nearly enough to make John laugh, and not in a good way. Sherlock Holmes had never given one single flying fuck about impolite. Sherlock was Sherlock Holmes, and therefore had known the instant he'd looked at him the he'd spent the last two years trying to stuff himself down a bottle, and therefore a glass of wine was a supremely bad idea. Sherlock looked at him quiet and unsure and John didn't recognize him and it was all too much to matter.
"No," he heard himself rasp back. "None for me."
Sherlock's mouth twitched a little, knowingly, but he said nothing. Just nodded, gaze flitting down to his own glass, and John took the opportunity to pounce as Dr. Watson.
"And what about you, then? Are you sure you should be drinking?"
Sherlock laughed shortly, a sound that came out as dazzlingly fake as his smile. "John. I can guarantee you, my absolute last wish for tonight is for it to end with you calling me an ambulance because I have fallen into respiratory distress." He tilted his glass back and forth, watching the wine fall back and forth, swishing it in a rhythmic, borderline elegant circle. "I am not currently on any opioid painkillers, no. Mycroft stuck his meddling nose into matters, and wouldn't allow the prescription."
John's eyes narrowed. "If you're in pain, Sherlock-"
But his friend merely waved a hand; too at ease, too calm. "I agree with the decision. The withdrawal and risk of relapse would be significantly more troublesome than whatever minor relief they would bring." With another half-smile, one that was still too easy to be believed, he ducked his mouth back behind the rim of his glass, his eyes overbright in the flickering candlelight. "Besides, I'm sure you remember- morphine clouds my mind. No. Much too tedious a drug to be considered at this juncture."
John pursed his lips again. That was... regrettably, true. For all his vices concerning addiction, he'd never had to actually worry about an injury and legal prescription prompting a relapse, for Sherlock- always just the opposite. Sherlock hated having his thoughts dulled even more than he hated being in pain, and had tolerated morphine only so much as his physician had forced it on him.
Whatever injuries Sherlock had, now, hidden underneath an agonizingly familiar designer suit and beloved Belstaff, yielded only in a faint scar along his jaw and a new gauntness that warned of more than just a few missed meals-
John knew he ought to be grateful, that they were not so severe that Sherlock's legendary stubbornness had given way for him to accept pain relief.
Somehow, looking at him now, all he could feel was an ever tightening knot in his stomach.
Unhappy quiet settled between them again. Angelo came back over to take their orders, radiating a barely suppressed aura of glee; John went for what his usual pasta, from a lifetime ago, and Sherlock went for the salad that he remembered he'd favored. Not because the detective had liked it, particularly, but it had managed to make it look like he was eating a solid meal when he was barely managing a quarter of it, giving him lots of empty calories to push around a plate and not much else.
A lifetime ago, John would've chided him for it.
Well, he thought, swallowing hard at the lump in his throat.
Now, John rubbed his hands together, trying to will the chill away, and stared silently back down to the table.
"...So," Sherlock prodded, when the silence between them felt like a corpse that had crawl between them to die three weeks ago, rotten and filthy and slowly, insidiously, killing them both. He coughed, once, clearing his throat. "I believe you were going to say something, before being interrupted?"
"That-" It took John a moment, to recall his train of thought from before- like Sherlock had shaken up his head like a snowglobe in the last five minutes alone and left the insides tumbling against each other irrecoverably. He'd missed that, actually. The way Sherlock could leave him spinning, racing to catch up, loving every second of it.
Somehow, his mouth still tasted bitter, as he leaned forward to meet Sherlock's eyes and proceed on.
"Sherlock. First thing's first: I'm really, really angry right now. Some of it is at you."
Sherlock hid his mouth behind the rim of his glass, utterly expressionless. He nodded, once.
"Mycroft did already explain why- everything. Why you had to do it, why you had to leave me out of it. I-" John broke off to swallow hard, willing himself back to calm. "I'd like to hear it from you some day, but all that matters now is I don't need an explanation right this second. I'm still really, really angry. You won't have any magic words to make that go away overnight, so- please don't try."
Sherlock, once again, just gave one single, quiet nod. "All right," he said, the words muffled slightly into a too-big sip of wine.
For a moment, John wanted to touch his hand. His arm. His pale face, to chase that new shadow away from his eyes.
He'd spent eleven weeks wanting to punch both of the Holmes brothers in the face, and he'd be a liar if he tried to pretend that part of him wasn't still there- but ever since he'd heard Sherlock's voice screeching on the phone, there'd been another part of him, too. Another part of him that had worked very hard to swallow that anger, that had realised no matter how mad he fucking was there were some things more important than that, and Sherlock was one of them.
He'd realised that, the moment he'd realised that he could lose him a second time. For real.
Unhealthy? Yeah, probably. Probably codependent and screwed up and really, really not healthy. More than a bit not good.
But the universe had performed his miracle after all, and John didn't have it in him to turn it down.
"So," John went on, forcing himself to meet Sherlock's steady, inscrutable eyes. God, those eyes. "A little lesson, about how friends act when they're really angry: sometimes, they say really terrible and cruel things. Really hurtful things, things that come up in anger, things that they say to try and hurt you- things that they don't mean. That doesn't make it okay, and that doesn't mean you deserve it. But- if I say or do things to you, in the next few weeks, months, whatever. Whatever I say tonight. I want you to keep in mind that no matter what, you're still my friend, and I am very, very glad you're back. Okay, Sherlock?" John wanted to touch him, somehow, to punctuate and drive that point home- to touch that motionless, white hand, or maybe at his too-short hair and ask what happened, to say please don't ever leave again you fucking idiot, and why didn't you tell me, just one word, Sherlock, why, why, WHY.
The memory of just how bloody uncomfortable Sherlock had looked with being hugged by Angelo lingered, and it took very little effort for John to keep his hands to himself.
It's still just the two of us, together against the rest of the world, he might've said, but in the end, he didn't know if that was true, anymore. He didn't know this Sherlock, and he didn't know if he could say it to him.
Sherlock, for his part, remained utterly inscrutable and entirely unreadable.
The detective blinked once, his sharp eyes still lingering on John in a way that was entirely uncomfortable. "All right," he said guardedly, a second time, now, mouth still hidden behind the rim of his glass.
And Sherlock's bland, aloof indifference was really just one blow too many for John to stand.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, narrowing his eyes to look closer. Or tried to, but Sherlock's sleeves were long, and his collar buttoned and scarf positioned just so, and his coat was big and bulky and definitely strategically placed, so literally all there was for John to see was the scar on his jaw and the crutches settled by his side. "I mean- whatever you can tell me. Mycroft keeps going on about it being classified- I get it, if you can't-"
"John," Sherlock interrupted. "I am in no way qualified for a security clearance. Still, I have enough classified secrets in here," he tapped his head, "to topple the entire commonwealth, just in time for afternoon tea." He smirked and John couldn't help it, he smirked with him; it was horrible and alarming but funny, funny in a Bit Not Good sort of way, in a way that was undeniably Sherlock, and it felt like the claw clenched about his lungs was just now finally easing as the detective, smirk still in place, went on. "More to the point, my physical condition is not classified, either. Perhaps how I got that way is, but you probably don't want to hear that, anyway. It's dull, really- tedious."
And John- doubted that. He doubted very much that was the story, and suspected more Sherlock was trying to spell it as no big deal and boring because it wasn't John who did not want to listen, but Sherlock, who did not want to say. But he'd gone into tonight not expecting anything at all. He could do baby steps, he considered, as he stared hard at Sherlock, letting silence demand his answer. He could do baby steps, for now.
Some of the color faded from Sherlock's already sallow face, when John did not rise to his bait of laughing it off. The grip about his wine glass tightening, and the discomfort from before made a comeback. "Yes," he sighed, seemingly stalling for time. "Well." Another quick swallow of too-much wine, this time on the tail ends of a grimace. "It's- really nothing serious, John. A few bruises, here and there. A cracked rib, but I'm convinced Mycroft watched that one happen on purpose." He offered a conspiratorial smile, pressing a finger to his lips. "Just don't tell him that- I'm saving it for when I can really milk it."
"Mmm," John said, smiling genially. "Right."
He thought of the secret government hospital for intelligence agents and international mercenaries, where his friend had been kept for three weeks, now. Of Sherlock not being stable, and the low voice over the phone, screaming something not in English and very obstinately terrified.
Of the look on Mycroft's face, when he'd video called him that day, to say he's alive.
"Of course," John said easily again, still smiling.
Sherlock looked relieved by barely an inch, a finger loosing against the stem of his glass, and John was abruptly hit by such a powerful reminder of how much he had missed this stupid, brilliant man it was all he could do not to lose it then and there.
"And the leg?"
Sherlock's mouth twitched, his eyes clouding. "Mycroft," he grumbled, settling back in a way that was achingly careful, leaning so it was against a shoulder rather than his back. "There was nothing wrong with it. Nothing pressing. Apparently, there was an old break or- or a few- that didn't heal well, and they wanted surgical correction and reconstruction. Mycroft signed off before I was conscious enough to be consulted." He scowled deeper, pouting like a child being told to eat his vegetables. "Now I've got two months stuck with this bloody thing."
John raised an eyebrow, barely able to keep the smirk off his own face. So you've broken your leg how many times, in the past two years? he didn't say. So how badly did those few bruises put you out of it, then, for the doctors to be taking you into surgery without your consent? he didn't point out. Thank god for Mycroft Holmes, he did not say aloud.
Just: "Unless you power saw it off early, again," and he grinned sharply, wishing he could give the cast a nudge under the table; wishing for that familiarity back. "Which I'm not going to let you do, so you can stop planning on it now, Sherlock."
Sherlock tsked with his tongue, looking even more put out than before. "Tedious," he muttered, sulking, but there was just a splitsecond of a pause there that spoke volumes all the same.
Which I'm not going to let you do, John had said.
I'm still going to be around, two months from now.
I'm still here, Sherlock. If you stay, I'm staying, too.
He wanted to ask about Baker Street, for a breath- the room was still there, Mrs. Hudson had never been able to bear renting it out again, and she'd be over the moon, she'd take Sherlock back in a second- but that was a step too far. He didn't even know if Sherlock was going back to Baker Street. If Sherlock still wanted a flatmate. If Sherlock still-
Well, John no longer knew that much about a lot of things.
That was fine, so long as Sherlock would just stay.
A discomforting pause stretched on. Sherlock drummed his fingers on the table in an unsteady cadence, now looking just about anywhere but at him. And Sherlock had always been a fantastic actor, but perhaps it had been so long since he'd had to act for John, for someone who actually knew him, that mattered, that he'd slipped, a little. There was something under the surface, there. Something that hadn't been there before; something that John did not like.
His eyes lingered on that scar on his jaw, and the too-short hair, and the weight he'd lost that he hadn't had to lose, and John wondered how much of it was really under the surface after all.
Angelo came back, in the silence. Food for John, not enough food for Sherlock, all smiles, another hug for Sherlock. This time John watched closer, and he saw the discomfort, the tightening of his mouth the instant he was touched by the gritting of his teeth only at the hand that rubbed his back. John filed that neatly away for later.
Silence again. This time broken with nothing but the clatter of silverware, Sherlock's fingers twitching shiftily, gaze glued downwards while a chunk of anxiety solidified in his throat. He didn't know what to say. There was so much to ask, two years' worth of questions, of accusations, of anger to spill and the sense of betrayal to air, maybe a punch to throw (except that wasn't true, John looked at Sherlock and he saw his brilliant friend and he saw him hurt and he'd never want to hurt him again, not ever, never ever) but- here? In public, at Angelo's, with-? This wasn't the place for any of that. But two years gone and John didn't know how else to fill the silence. Two years, of him wishing for just one more chance, one more phone call from Sherlock, a re-do of that bloody awful last phone call, pouring out his heart into his stupid phone- and now he had his miracle after all, and just had no idea where to start. Stupid- stupid-
A sudden bang of Sherlock's fist made him jump.
Fist on wood, his hand curled and corded and something raw flickered across his face, a slice of earnest something that was so raw in the angry light in his eyes, the desperate clench of his teeth, it made John's heart skip and start and Sherlock's breath hissed. "I'm sorry," the detective growled lowly, pale eyes flashing like a knife's edge in the dark. "I am sorry, John."
"That's..." He stopped, struggling once to clear his throat. His last bite went down tasting like sandpaper and dust. Well, how the hell was he supposed to respond to that? "Um." He swallowed again, this time tasting nothing but air.
He would've liked to say that he had nothing to apologise for, but-
That wasn't really true, was it?
"What are you saying sorry for?" he asked at last. Gauging it; testing it. He looked at Sherlock, who looked hard and testy and squirrely, twitching like he was three days into trying to quit cigarettes again, and-
"What for?" Sherlock snapped, his eyes flashing. "Well, firstly, the- hideously premature text-" He gestured at John with a wild hand, one that was at once too thin and too steady. "Honestly. I only intended to be in Serbia for two weeks. I never intended to leave you in the dark for so long, John; I can swear to you that. I wanted to finish it all with a bang, to come out standing- but I got sloppy, there, sloppy, too sloppy, stupid- it's hateful. Mycroft's probably told you how stupid I was and for once, he was right."
John winced, at Sherlock's snarl, the vicious twist to his voice as he sat back with an aggressive huff, self-loathing radiating in waves. Mycroft had not said any such thing. Mycroft, even John could tell, had been worried about Sherlock. It was that worry, honestly, that had terrified him most, not the stretching weeks of silence, not the look on his face when he called or the tidbits of hospital and surgery and intensive care, but that Mycroft had been worried about him.
John had known, then and there, that whatever mistake Sherlock had made, the most brilliant man he'd ever met had most certainly not been stupid.
But he opened his mouth to say it, and Sherlock, out of control rocket that he'd always been, had already rocketed on.
"And then, there is- that. Ah." Sherlock coughed, clearing his throat, and made an approximation of a gesture that clarified exactly and totally nothing. "My intention was never to- this. Of course. I miscalculated. I had not expected this eventuality, and- it was a miscalculation, John, and I am sorry. I may not always understand the intricacies of human relationships, clearly not enough to accurately predict-"
"-this turn of events, and I recognise that you are angry, and I think I am failing to fully understand why, but-"
"-it occurs to me that an apology is-" Sherlock lurched to a halt, blinking several times. He did a double-take back to John, staring as if honestly hadn't heard him interrupt at all, and it was only now catching up to him. "John?"
"Sherlock, you're going to need to get used to slowing down for us mere mortals, again, because I have actually no idea what you're talking about." He tried for a smile, but all that came out was some sort of pale approximation at one as Sherlock continued his wide-eyed twitching, his mind surely racing still somewhere miles away from here. "Maybe try starting from the beginning, instead of- I don't know; by the sound of it, somewhere near the very end?"
But Sherlock did not smile back, pale and now increasingly impatient. "This!" he proclaimed, waving up and down with a hand so dramatic he might as well have been Shakespeare. "I did not predict you being so- affected, by my suicide. You weren't supposed to be, John."
It took a moment for John to catch up, still- Sherlock, pull off at the next exit, please, the rest of us are still several hundred miles back. But then the words made sense, and then. Well. Oh. And then.
The anger he'd spent eleven weeks trying to muffle, strangle, and suffocate to death, started crawling its way right back.
"Sherlock," John said again. He curled his hands together for a breath, bowing his head against them, focusing on just steadying his voice, his fist, because the worst way to react right now would be to start yelling. Well, that wasn't true, the worst thing to do would be to sock a punch to the face, but he was pretty sure he'd tamped that reaction down under control the moment he'd seen the detective's reaction to being touched on his back.
He breathed in deeply again, tightening his fists in his lap, and started a second time.
"Sherlock: you jumped off a rooftop in front of me. You didn't just jump- you called me. You gave me a chance to talk you out of it, and then you jumped anyway!"
"Well- yes." The detective merely looked confused, at that, his eyes flashing against his pale, flawless face, the face that John could blink and remember seeing splashed from the hairline with dripping blood. "I was a tad concerned, about that last part- I understand ordinary people often experience intense feelings of guilt, after an acquaintance's suicide, but I believed this would not be an issue, in my case. I was not actually suicidal, so there was nothing for you to feel guilt over. No signs for you to miss."
Oh, god, bloody hell, god damn Sherlock Holmes, and god damn John Watson for falling for an actual sociopath. A sociopath who had no right to sit there looking vulnerable and giving apologies, because John had sat there on that sidewalk next to a pale and speechless Greg, and he'd just been numb, staring at the spot where his best friend's head had cracked into concrete- and Sherlock had not anticipated, that he'd be upset-
"Do you," he rasped, "have any idea-" John's voice broke and the words went rough and bleeding, like he'd been force-fed serrated glass. "Sherlock- how many times I went it over, how many times I tried to imagine what I could've said to keep you from- from- you bloody mad git-"
But Sherlock was already going on, too, and John knew well enough by now that when Sherlock's brain was on a roll, there was no stopping it. "But I had anticipated difficulties, which was part of the reason for the phone call, of course. You were meant to be angry with me. Why would you be upset that a lying fraud had died?" He shrugged a little, eyes glazed as if to be entirely lost in thought. "Oh, sure, you'd be a little distressed, that you'd been fooled so thoroughly, but Mycroft and I agreed it was sure to be preferable to the alternative. Ah- Mycroft," he sneered again, as if his brother's very name was a foul curse. "I should have known- neither of us are at all adept at comprehending sentiment. Of course any plan concocted between the two of us would be a disaster-" and he went on, of course, still gesturing, but John was now hardly listening.
That was why Sherlock had lied, then.
There were other reasons, too- Moriarty's snipers, the danger to all their lives if it had ever leaked Sherlock Holmes had made it out of that hospital alive; John was not disillusioned about just how dangerous the past two years had been. Not just for Sherlock, but for him, and Mrs. Hudson, and Greg, too. But the pair of Mycroft's resources and Sherlock's determination could have gotten the truth to him, at some point. They could have risked it and told him that grave was empty.
And he hadn't been part of the plan, because they hadn't realized he would matter.
Sherlock had told him he was a fraud on that rooftop and thrown himself off it and believed it'd be enough. He'd believed it would make John mad enough that the blow of his suicide would be softened into nothing but foolish sentiment. Sherlock, like on so many occasions during their two years as flatmates, had not acted to hurt him. He had also not acted to see John seriously hurt as collateral damage, and termed John's hurt as an acceptable cost.
He had analysed, evaluated, and then, acted- as Sherlock would say, on an incomplete dataset: not understanding that his actions would seriously hurt John, because he did not understand how important he was to John.
Sherlock hadn't left him grieving for two years out of indifference, but out of ignorance.
It was bloody infuriating and unbelievable, was what it was, and John could already tell he was going to spend a lot of the coming weeks wanting to scream himself hoarse at Sherlock for it. But, looking at Sherlock now, his enigmatic, manic, still off the rails and marvelous and gloriously human Sherlock, he knew the important thing was that it was also forgivable.
"-but then you started texting me, or, more accurately, Mycroft chose to let me know, the bloody wanker-" And Sherlock was still going on, still gesturing, as always going a mile a minute. "-and I recognised I had miscalculated, but it took me unforgivably long to understand how, and- that is what I believe deserves a proper apology. Your texts provided a great amount of emotional stability and-"
"Hang on, what? Come again, Sherlock?"
"-and- ah, yes; did Mycroft not tell you?" Sherlock sat back again, still fidgeting and grimacing as he evidently tried to find a position that jostled his shoulder and not his back. "He forwarded along all the messages sent to my old number. He never outright said why, but I suspect he believed they would be beneficial towards my mental state." His thin mouth twitched again, all disarming charm and annoyance at his meddling big brother. "I- loathe to say that it appears his prediction may not have been- entirely misplaced."
Sherlock, somehow, seemed entirely unbothered, now. As if completely unaware of the gravity of what he'd just dropped on John like it was nothing more than a mention that they were out of milk again.
It was enough to almost make John second guess himself, and wonder if it really was all that big a deal after all- or would have been, if he wasn't still so familiar with Sherlock's mannerisms and tricks all the way from two years ago.
It was almost dizzying, sitting there entirely sober and still. It was- oh. Okay. Oh. John had sent hundreds of texts over these past two years, drunk texts, sober texts, sad texts, just-checking-up-on-you texts, nonsense texts, earth-shatteringly important texts-
He'd sent those texts out into the ether, typing in a contact over and over that he'd believed to be buried six feet under the ground. He'd typed them explicitly and only for himself, so often an expression of grief that he had no other way to release.
And now, come to find out, Mycroft bloody Holmes had been forwarding them on this entire time.
Sherlock had been fucking reading them.
A cold silence stretched between them. John's hand fisted tighter, trembling against his water, and god damn it did he want to punch the table in half.
"You're... angry," Sherlock evaluated slowly. The detective finally quieted, his off the rails rambling softened for him to just watch in silence with those evaluative, careful eyes.
John laughed, once. It was short and angry and somewhere between incredulous and mocking. "Yeah. Yeah, Sherlock; good job." He pushed to sit back himself, breathing hard through his nose. "The genius detective gets one right."
Sherlock blinked again, once more only managing to come across as utterly baffled. "I- am... sorry?"
God. The hell. "Those were private, Sherlock!" he cried, and Sherlock was perhaps the only one not in their general vicinity to flinch when his fist slammed against the table in a flare up of disbelief. "Those were private!"
Sherlock blinked a third time; then, abruptly, clarity cleared across his face as easily as a smile. "Ah," he said. "You are angry because Mycroft read them? John, I do not think that Mycroft actually-"
"No, you tosser, I'm angry because you read them!"
Sherlock's little smile vanished like smoke in the wind. His confidence visibly flagged, mouth slipping into a vacant little confused o. He didn't understand. Very, very clearly, he did not understand.
It was the same endearing sort of confusion that had used to drive John mad and warm his heart all in the same breath.
Right now, really, it was just driving him fucking mad.
For two fucking years, he'd been losing his mind, grieving, texting hopelessly into the ether- and Sherlock had been on the other side the entire time. So many stupid messages, horrible messages, grieving messages, John half-drunk and half-sobbing into his stupid phone, only to come to find out this. Sherlock had been on the other end. Probably laughing at him, at how stupid he'd been, at his foolish sentiment, his feet kicked up at the beach or some posh safehouse, snickering about sentiment to Mycroft- oh, god, he'd said so many ridiculous things. So many things he never would say to Sherlock for real, never would've sent if he'd known there was someone on the other line- he'd had bloody nervous breakdowns and now it turned out there'd been an audience-
John breathed hard again through clenched teeth, his shoulders corded tight and his fists clenched. Equal parts humiliation and betrayal swept through him in waves, and if they hadn't been in public John would've slammed a fist to the table again.
Sherlock, meanwhile, looked uncomfortable enough again to rival Angelo's hugs.
"I... apologise," Sherlock said again. He cleared his throat, then finished off the rest of his wine in a swallow that would've made John gag.
"You don't know what you're apologising for, do you."
Already pale, the detective now looked little better than bone white. "...I'm afraid not."
Another careful few, deep breaths. In and out, through gritted teeth. Count to ten, Captain Watson. In and out. In and out.
"...bit not good?" Sherlock tried next.
Count to ten again.
"Yeah," John gave, finally. His chest was still just a little bit too tight to laugh, and he ducked his face into his hand again, rubbing hard at his mouth. "Yeah. Bit more than a bit not good, yeah."
Another thick silence passed. Sherlock remained unearthly still across from him, his face as smooth and unreadable as marble, and John was left to just sit with his face against his hand. Still mad. Hell, still mad as fuck, and, really, Mycroft was going to get punched next time he ran into him. Goddamned British Government, reading his phone-
And all the shit he'd said. John swallowed hard, his mind racing. Sherlock had had to have read so much- deduced so much. How much drunken rambling had he done into his phone...? Oh, hell, this was terrible. His face warmed, just the thought of it sending humiliation flooding through his cheeks. So Sherlock knew, then. He knew he'd spent the last two years trying to swim his way out of a bottle. He knew he'd shunned Mrs. Hudson, because it'd hurt too badly not to. He knew about Mary. He knew how pathetically John had fallen apart. he knew- well, he was Sherlock. He knew everything. He knew-
John choked on his own water.
That last round of texts he'd sent him came back to him, what he'd intended to absolutely but the last ones, before Sherlock had risen up out of his grave and replied. He'd said ridiculous things, then, things that had been meant to be private, for god's sake, things like I need to move on and goodbye, Sherlock, and I love you.
And Sherlock had read them.
Sherlock had been reading them this whole time.
Another wave of heat washed over his face, this one on the heels of a blow of confusion. Sherlock had ben reading them, yes, but- did that mean Sherlock actually knew? The detective might've been about five times too smart for his own good, but as he'd admitted himself tonight alone, human relationships and sentiment weren't exactly his area. He'd never been able to tell how much Sherlock was just oblivious, and how much he hadn't cared, but at a certain point it had been obvious that he really wasn't joking, when he asked John to explain it to him.
There was a solid chance that Sherlock had read John's drunken, moronic I hate you and I still somehow love you text barrages, and come away without a clue as to what conclusion to draw.
John hesitated, again. Chanced another glance back across at Sherlock.
The detective opened his mouth again, looking to be about to try and apologise a second time. John raised a hand up to stop him. There'd be room for that later, when Sherlock actually understood what he was saying sorry for, not just saying it because he trusted John to tell him when he'd done something wrong; something a bit not good. There'd be plenty of time for so much later- but now, there was just this.
"Two things," he said, smiling a little weakly. "First: tell Mycroft I'm going to kill him if he doesn't keep his nose out of my bloody phone."
Sherlock's eyes flashed warmly, flickering in the light of Angelo's ridiculous candle. "I fully support you in all such endeavors. Though I think we both know he doesn't fear death, and the only thing that would stop his spying is the eventual heat death of the universe itself."
"Well, tell him anyway. And maybe threaten to kick his arse if he doesn't agree." John allowed himself a teasing grin, then, wanting him to know it was halfway a joke, wanting him to know please, don't actually murder the British Government Itself on my account. But then the moment passed, and John breathed in deeper, then, willing the flutter in his chest quiet through the deep inhale through his nose, and he clenched his fists under the table, and he forced himself steady, and he said, "Secondly. Sherlock."
The detective remained wary, and honestly, John considered, for good reason. He clearly understood John was still angry because of something that he'd done, even if he didn't quite understand why. He didn't know what possibilities Sherlock was imagining he'd say, but he did guess not one was positive.
So, John squashed the stupid fluttering nerves in his chest, and forged on.
"I'm going to kiss you now," he said. "If you don't want me to, then say so, and I won't ever bring it up ever again."
He waited. Counted it up, a solid three seconds. Gave Sherlock more than enough time to stop him, or throw his drink in his face, or splutter what? or, more accurately, perhaps, make this into some sort of snarky punchline that would have earned him a pop in the mouth.
Sherlock said and did nothing at all. Just continued to just sit there and blink like a deer in the headlights.
So John followed through with his part of the bargain, and pushed around the table to take his face in his hands, and kissed him.
John had not kissed another man since- ever. Sherlock was bigger than him, scrawny and wiry and all high cheekbones under his hands, his jaw itchy with the just the slightest scratch of stubble. His mouth was warm and soft and it wasn't romantic, exactly, because Sherlock wasn't responding at all, but he wasn't frozen or pushing him away, so John kissed him and Sherlock didn't kiss back but Sherlock was warm and alive, and that was enough to make it the best first-kiss John had ever had.
Three more seconds. Pull back. Stare back to Sherlock's utterly blank, unwavering eyes. Try and figure out and really hope he hadn't just made a huge mistake.
"...Was that okay?"
Sherlock's sharp gaze continued to pierce straight through his. Whatever the hell it was that was going through his mind, his face was currently about as expressive about as a brick wall.
Okay, try again.
"Because-" John cleared his throat, trying to clear the waver from his voice. "Because- okay, this is getting a bit scary, now-"
"Yes." Underneath the knot of his scarf and popped collar, John could just barely glimpse the move of Sherlock's throat as he swallowed; there was something there in his eyes, now, but he couldn't tell as to what. "I mean- that. That is- yes. Very okay."
Okay... try three...?
"I ask, because people usually- you know. Say something more than okay. Or, kiss back. Not that- you have to, but-"
Sherlock kissed back.
It came so suddenly that John spluttered right into Sherlock's mouth, turning their second kiss as immediately un-romantic as their first. At least our teeth didn't smash together like schoolboys, but then Sherlock Holmes was kissing him and the weight of two years' grief crashed down on him and John kissed back.
He kissed back because he was angry, and still grieving, and betrayed and miserable and fucking shit, he had a miracle in his arms. Sherlock was alive and in that heartbeat nothing else at all mattered. John's hands slid from that warm face to his narrow shoulders, sliding over his back at the last second, then to his hair, fingers wrapping in the ridiculous curls. And he wanted to be happy, to not just off and lose it, but Sherlock kissed him again and John's breaths hitched and it was over. It was over.
"John?" Sherlock stiffened abruptly, freezing the way he'd been afraid of but now for all the wrong reasons. The detective jerked backwards, switch flipped in an instant, and John could only shake his head at the near alarm that burst into his eyes. "What is- what's wrong? Did I do it wrong? John, I-"
"No, you wanker. It's not you. I-" He squeezed his eyes shut, breaths hitching a second time, then just fuck it, guess he was going to be the one to ruin their second kiss if Sherlock had ruined their first one, and he'd promised himself he wouldn't do this, but now he was hugging the stuffing out of Sherlock with his head pressed to feel the beat of his heart in his neck and it felt like Sherlock had taken a sledgehammer to his heart, and for the first time in two years John just welcomed it and let it break him.
Seemed eleven weeks hadn't been enough to prepare him after all.
Sherlock had gone as still and solid as a rock, now. Letting himself be hugged, and seemingly without a clue as to what to do in response. And John remembered the unseen hurts on his back, the look on his face when Angelo had hugged him unawares, the screaming voice on the phone, and he knew he should let him go, but just-
He couldn't. Not yet. Not so soon. Not now.
He needed to feel Sherlock was alive like he needed to breathe.
John sniffed once, eyes still squeezed shut to focus on the warmth and the breath and the pulse of a heartbeat. He took in a deeper breath, as deeply as he could manage when it still felt like he was having to fight off an encroaching panic. "I'm fine," he promised, the words lost somewhere into the collar of that dammed bloody coat. This coat. He loved this coat. "I'm sorry. Just- just give me a second. I'm- I'm fine."
Come on, John. Captain Watson. Come on. Pull yourself together. He'd already had any number of nights for stupid, senseless sobbing; tonight wasn't about this, tonight was about Sherlock. He was not going to wreck this by dissolving into tears; he was going to be a man and sniffle in the cab later but right now he was going to hold himself together and look at Sherlock and smile, because this was exactly all that he had asked for and he'd be dammed if he was going to waste it.
So John took in another shuddering gasp, this one that he determined would be the final one. He tightened his hands back on Sherlock's shoulders, allowing himself that much, allowing himself one moment more of listening to this precious heart beat. He took that one second to tell himself, once and for all, this is it: he's alive.
So don't waste your miracle, John Watson.
Then, his voice that same low, thrumming baritone that John had once heard say goodbye to him from a rooftop through a bloody phone, Sherlock said:
"I know I'm not as experienced as some, but, John- I know I am not that bad at it."
John's throat tried to close, and his eyes burned, but he coughed and shook his head and smiled with every bit of himself that he had. "No. You're not. I'm fine, I- I promise, the next time you snog me unawares in a restaurant will end less- badly." He sniffed again, drawing a sleeve across his face, then forced himself to face Sherlock back eye to eye. "It's fine," he promised again; stronger this time, because he knew underneath the veneer of suave smoothness and smirks and confidence, Sherlock was worried, Sherlock thought he'd done it wrong, and that just wasn't on.
"You're fine, I'm fine, and this is fine," John told him steadily, and he gave Sherlock's shoulder one last squeeze before he pushed back, retreating into his own personal space. "But we're going to move on, because I'm pretty sure Angelo is getting ready to jump for joy and bring us a celebratory cake, and I don't know about you but I think I've embarrassed myself enough for one night."
Sherlock smiled again, with a tentative edge to the white flash of teeth, uncertainty that only John could recognise because he knew Sherlock so well. "I wouldn't mind cake," was all he said, but it really was the first genuine smile John had seen from him all evening, and that was enough.
We're going to be okay.
"Then we'll get cake. For now, though." John returned the smile, settling back into his own seat across the table. "I'd like to make you a deal."
"Mmmhm." John pulled Sherlock's half-eaten salad closer to his cooling pasta, and utterly ignored the quirk in the detective's eyebrow as he started pushing a sizable portion onto his plate. "You're going to eat some more, because you look like the last solid meal you ate was Mrs. Hudson's casserole that she made three days before the damn trial." He paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow, daring him to protest, but at the sulky petulance on Sherlock's face knew he'd gotten far closer to the truth than he wanted to admit. Smiling, then, John continued on. "And in return- since apparently, you already know just about everything I've been getting up to, these past two years- how about you start to tell me just what you've been doing since you left?"
The grimace at Sherlock's mouth was too small and quick to be anything but genuine. The flicker in his eyes, again, the faintest shadow of something darker, something wounded, was more than John was ready to even start to acknowledge.
"Those both sound like things for you," was all he said, head propped up on a fist. Plate, now utterly untouched and ignored.
"Yeah? Well, the first is actually for you; you're just too mental to accept it." John clattered Sherlock's fork into the plate and nudged a water glass closer and did his best for his Captain Watson persona, again, to pronounce this is not something you can squirm out of, Sherlock. Not the food, and most certainly not the talking.
Well, he didn't try to protest, at least. Didn't use his silvertongue and striking eyes for the purpose of distraction or stalling or procrastination. He didn't try and stop this from happening, at least, one long finger twitching along the fork as he worked his jaw, but the look on his face was anything but comfortable. He looked like he honestly did not know what to say, and for Sherlock, that honestly had to be a first, in all the years that John had known him.
The detective, again, would not meet his eyes.
John was just starting to second guess himself- to think it was too soon, for this. Just starting to reach out to maybe take his hand, again, and tell him he did have to eat but he didn't have to talk about it, not if he didn't want, when Sherlock went on again.
"There's... so... that is a very vast amount of data, John." He covered a mouth behind a blue-veined hand, one that was long and spidery and had just been twitchy all night long, and his gaze skittered away again in a blanket refusal to meet John's. "I have not properly sorted a great deal of it. You... you are asking for answers that I am afraid I am not entirely sure how to give."
For most anyone else, this answer would have been completely inscrutable.
Luckily, John had learned how to translate Sherlock into plain English a long time ago.
Translation: There's so much.
Translation: I don't know how to deal with it.
Translation: I'm not ready to talk about it.
John, for several moments then, just thought.
"Okay," he said, trying to will his voice warmer when he saw something in Sherlock's eye that made it look as if he was about to bolt. "All right. We don't have to do it all tonight. Not unless you want to talk yourself hoarse, anyway."
He said it with a gentle, easygoing sort of smile, but if anything, this seemed to make the disquiet flickering in Sherlock even worse. He twitched and made a fist and even sent one darting glance towards his crutches in a move that made John's heart stutter and lurch in his chest. "John-" he started, an element of helplessness there that was foreign and unwelcome and wrong and okay, okay, this had not been a good idea, this-
"Or we don't have to talk about it at all," John rushed out, and it took every fiber of his being to stop himself from reaching for Sherlock's hand. "We've got time. We've got all the time we need, right now. Just-"
But this did not help chase the look on his face, not at all, and that was John's cue to consider that his earlier translation might just have been a bit wrong.
Sherlock was not saying I'm not ready to talk about it.
Sherlock was saying I don't know how to talk about it, but I need to, and I need your help to figure out how.
Okay. He could do this. Okay. Okay.
"All right," he said, warmly again. He fished his phone out without looking, calling up the phone conversation with barely a glance. "It's okay, Sherlock. Like I said, I don't need everything now, but- maybe just some of it, yeah?" He scrolled upwards in the conversation, passing by dozens turned to hundreds of texts, months passing him by, months and months and maybe even years. All the words that he'd said to no one, but that had somehow managed to worm their away to Sherlock, a thousand miles away.
It was going to be a long while before he was completely okay with that.
But, John could tell, watching the blur of blue pass him by, someday, he would be.
He ended on one by sheer random. Then, with a steady smile, handed the phone across to Sherlock.
"Where were you," he asked, "when I sent you that?"
Finally, Sherlock's eyes cleared.
"Oh!" he said. "Afghanistan. Kabul, to be precise."
"Afghanistan? Well, how was that?"
"Oh, absolutely spectacular. It was Christmas, and I didn't have to fend off anyone at all trying to serve me eggnog. I got shot."
"God, don't look like that, John, it was just a scratch- barely a flesh wound. I showed it to Mycroft and he told me to stop being such a drama queen."
"I think I'm rekindling my old hatred for your brother."
"Yes! Back on my side, I knew it, properly aligned against my arch-enemy- I knew there was still sense somewhere in your funny little head, John, just had to poke about to find it..."