The morning paper gave the date as the thirtieth of June. It had been exactly ten months, three weeks, and four days since the infamous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes had last darkened the doorways of 221 Baker Street, London.
Dr. John H. Watson, current resident of 221B had, received a text message earlier, as he did almost every morning at 7:30am from a blocked number. The phone had chimed, vibrated twice and fallen silent. He looked over, scooping up the battered, pink-cased mobile and unlocked the screen.
I'm still alive. Not done yet. SH
Such had Doctor Watson been sustaining himself: six simple words, broken into two sentences that were concluded with familiar initials. Initials which belonged to the man that turned his life backwards, upside down and then blinked out of existence in pursuit of one James Moriarty without so much as a by-your-leave.
It had become his habit to rise a few minutes earlier than usual, grab the paper from the stand on the corner, and then make his tea while awaiting the morning text message. While waiting for his tea to finish steeping, John would note any odd bits from the overnight report, making notes on a legal pad about anything he thought bore further research or was worth poking at Lestrade for more information.
He took a sip of the tea he had clutched in one hand, resisting the urge to retrieve his service revolver and add a few new holes to the bullet-ridden smiley face still on the drawing room wall. It wouldn't make him feel any better. While Mrs. Hudson was no longer walking on eggshells around him, she probably wouldn't take it well.
Ten months, three goddamn weeks, and four painfully normal days had passed since Sherlock Holmes had sat down across from him. His long arms already stuffed into his coat despite the current unseasonal heat, the self-proclaimed high-functioning sociopath and best friend to John had quietly told him he was leaving.
It had been ten days since the 'Great Game' ended in a death-defying leap into a pool to avoid an explosion and the subsequent hospital stay it entailed. Apparently, to err on the side of caution, the consulting criminal Moriarty had only used one block of actual explosives. This resulted in a loud, but relatively small explosion that had knocked both the detective and his blogger into the pool, saving their lives from snipers by nearly drowning them. Moriarty - the shrill, psychotic bastard - escaped, though most of his snipers were not so lucky.
Life was finally returning to normal, or as normal as things can be in the company of Sherlock-bloody-Holmes, consulting detective and maniacal flatmate of the long-suffering John Watson.
John shuffled into the kitchen, slipper clad feet barely leaving the floor as he trudged forward, having waved a semblance of a 'good morning' in the chair-perched Sherlock's general direction as he headed for the tea he craved. With a sleep-fogged glance at the clock over the mantle, John noted it was quarter past seven and he was due at the clinic in little over an hour and a half.
Swinging his gaze back towards the kitchen, one can only imagine John's surprise when, instead of a hodgepodge of dangerous chemicals, random experiments, various body parts, and an empty tin of chocolate biscuits, the kitchen was…normal looking. There was a kettle already steeping on the stove with his mug and a spoon on the counter beside it; a peek in the icebox to grab the milk proved there to be no decomposing head. The jar of eyes normally in microwave had found themselves in the freezer, already frozen in their jar.
"I straightened up," Sherlock informed him in a neutral tone from the doorway, "and any time-sensitive experiments have been discarded."
"Where are we going then?" John had inquired, the air of false calm maintained by a level, steady hand raising his mug of tea to his lips. He eased into his chair, his eyes still glued to Sherlock as the taller man sat down across from him. "I reckon we should probably do something about that flamboyant fop of a consulting criminal."
"Not we, dear Watson, me. I am going after Moriarty." Silence met his proclamation, eyebrows being raised in a combination of surprise and disbelief. Sherlock returned the look with an arched brow of his own. "You would think that having explosive accessories would serve as a deterrent to further your association with-"
"Please," John had cut in, desperate to lighten the mood that was strangling any sense of normalcy with an iron grip. "You would think that having decomposing or otherwise randomly appearing body parts would serve as a deterrent to ever eating normally, or even opening the icebox. Never mind the microwave that has a tendency to be filled with eyeballs! It's a wonder I can enter our kitchen at all."
Sherlock had offered a wan smile, staring into the open air over John's left shoulder to where just last night the experiment to see the reaction between human skin and brackish water had been developing. He fiddled with the button on his right sleeve. It would need to be mended shortly.
"You're intent on leaving me behind?" John waited until Sherlock's gaze swung up to him. "Is there any reason I should stay?"
"You are my friend."
That simple phrase, while seemingly contradictory, made John smile; not in a great stretch of lips and teeth that expressed great glee, but in that softer manner that implied perfect understanding. Echoes of Moriarty's words chased thoughts around both men's brains.
"Yes, I am. And you are my friend," John agreed. "But I do wish to come. I could be of assistance, couldn't I?"
Sherlock shook his head side to side in denial. "I do believe that there is a once-a-month limit on kidnappings, Watson, and a bi-weekly cap on death-defying feats of courage. I believe that should you accompany me, those limits will be quickly torn asunder."
"But it might be dangerous!" His objection was met with a stony glare. The sharp eyes that caught every overlooked detail the Yarders missed seemed intent on memorizing him.
"Not much cop, this caring lark, Watson." Sherlock frowned, as if weighing the benefit of his next words carefully before they escaped his mouth. "It would do wonders for my peace of mind to know that you were not a piece that could be used against me, John." Sherlock pressed his fingers together, the steeple of his hands resting against his lips. "And that you maintained something of a regular paycheck; one of us has to pay the rent, you know."
John scowled, knowing that even if he protested, he would be left behind in the wake of Sherlock-bloody-Holmes, even if the infuriating man had to drug him to make him comply via unconsciousness.
"I'll stay," he agreed on a sigh.
"It may be a long while before I return."
"I said I'd stay, didn't I? You'd be lost without your blogger, you said so yourself." John took another sip of tea, attributing the great ache under his breastbone to the now-empty state of the cup, not the imminent departure of the man who saved him from normalcy. "Sherlock…I…" The loss for words was a bitter taste on his tongue. He hoped to convey even a fragment of the maelstrom choking his words through his eyes and expression alone.
Whatever he saw there, the sharp-eye detective seemed to take heart at it, a small quirk of his lips. "I'd be lost without my blogger," Sherlock gave a nod as if in agreement with John, before standing from the table. "John…" The gangly man seemed reluctant to turn away, to actually voice the farewell lodged in his throat.
"I'll be here when you return, Sherlock," John said, standing as well to embrace the compassionate, possibly insane, definitely irritating, brilliant man. "Don't worry."
Long, long arms banded round him and violinist hands fisted in his housecoat, clinging fiercely.
"Just, just remember to eat every now and again, all right?" John mumbled into the crook of Sherlock's neck, eyes shut tight against the burn of tears. If they never fell, it would be for the better. "Even when the game's afoot, you need to sleep and eat regularly."
"My dear Watson..." Sherlock's voice didn't sound any steadier as they pulled apart.
"Dearest, dearest John, try not to become too bored while I am away. Last thing we need is you to be dull when I return." The tone was almost haughty, thick with emotion Sherlock would normally deny with every breath.
John had no more words, simply a weak smile he could offer, as he refused to say 'goodbye' even though the words practically hung in the air between them. Sherlock's hands slid up, over his shoulders and cradled his face between his palms.
"John, I promise that I will return as soon as I am able."
So swearing, Sherlock gave in, lowered his head to John's and their lips met in a soft, not quite chaste, kiss. Their moment was soon interrupted as Mrs. Hudson called up the stairs to alert Sherlock to the arrival of the taxi.
"You better," John told him firmly as they stood, inches apart and breathing the same air. "Text when you can?"
"When I can," Sherlock promised, grabbing the duffel from beneath the mantle, now devoid of a grinning skull, and headed out the door, calling a farewell to Mrs. Hudson as he walked out the front door to the waiting taxi with none of his usual energy.
And so, Sherlock had departed 221 Baker Street with single duffel in tow, leaving his blogger behind, sending the same message every day from a blocked or unknown number.
Mycroft had taken to dropping in once a week or so, when he was able, chatting aimlessly and bringing John up to date on his budding romance of a woman he would not name. It was obvious, at least to John, that the woman he spoke of was none other than his assistant, still nicknamed 'Anthea'.
"I hear he's in the Swiss Alps these days," Mycroft said suddenly, still staring out the window of the drawing room to Baker Street. They had been discussing the dreadful heat wave and John's quickly approaching birthday.
John had been waiting for Mycroft to get to his point. It was only 8:42am, far too early for most low-level British government workers to be out and about, especially since it looked like Mycroft hadn't slept at all in at least twenty-four hours.
"Oh?" Sherlock's name seemed to have become something sacrosanct, not actually to be spoken aloud but simply inferred and known by common assumption. John took another sip of his tea.
"Yes. Somewhere near the municipality of Meiringen . Anthea is there on holiday with her sister." Mycroft spun the umbrella handle, his tea still untouched before him.
"Anthea has a sister?" John arched a brow, somewhere between doubtful and surprised at this knowledge.
Mycroft offered a slight smile, shifting in his chair and flicking a wrist to check the time. "Three, in fact, but you never heard that from me. In any case, it-" Mycroft cut himself off as his phone rang.
A glance at the screen had his expression going blank. "Holmes here." The elder brother's gaze flicked to John as he listened to whoever was on the other end.
He noted the sag of Mycroft's shoulders, the tightening of lips, the agitated spin of the brolly in his hand as information was conveyed. John reached for his phone to text Sarah, planning to let her know he wouldn't be into the clinic today. She would understand, he hoped, despite the short notice.
"Reichenbach Falls?" Mycroft nodded, making a noise of assent as he rose from his chair. "We shall be there."
John was rising, stuffing his phone into his pocket.
"I suppose, Doctor Watson, that I could offer you a ride to the airport? It seems that you and I have a most pressing need to visit the Englischer Hof."