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The Mirror

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“Brother, you got my message.”

The dark secluded alleyway didn’t inspire confidence but was at least some sort of protection.

“What is it Mycroft? This better be important,” Sherlock sighed, looking around frantically. “Is it a lead? This is a bit more public than I’d like as a meet up place. I thought we‘d discussed this.”

“No. Unfortunately that trail has gone cold already. This is much more urgent than that. Hence the location.”

“More urgent than Moriarty?” Sherlock was incredulous.

“It’s…John,” he said and everything stopped. The nervous energy he had been expelling slowed right down and his whole demeanour quieted.

“What about John?” He asked nervously.

“Just come this way…”

Mycroft ushered him into a door from the alleyway, and Sherlock followed, not having taken in the location properly. Once inside, they walked quickly up a bland cement staircase, their long legs enabled them both to take it two steps at a time. When they reached the second floor, they entered a corridor from the fire exit door. The ugly off-white floor tiles that had been neglected and drab, faded ice-blue walls screamed police headquarters, but the floor they were on seemed deserted with none of the hustle and bustle of a police headquarters. The fluorescent lights above beamed down on them, hurting Sherlock’s eyes after so long hiding in dark spaces. One of the lights hummed incessantly, creating a sympathetic buzz in his right ear which was driving him to distraction. With his increased nervous heart rate and the sick feeling in his gut, Sherlock was unsettled.

“Mycroft…” he checked, but Mycroft was walking quickly and not speaking. This did not instil confidence.

They rounded a corner, and Mycroft opened a wooden door shooing Sherlock inside without a word. He found himself behind a two-way mirror. The room visible through the glass, was another equally bright, sterile room. It was dark on this side of the glass and looking in on the other room, Sherlock could see the grey cement walls hadn’t been decorated or painted even, giving it a very dull and depressing appearance. In the centre of the bright room was a cheap table with metal legs and a wooden top. Sherlock suspected it had nothing to do with aesthetic design choice. There was a recording device on one side of the table and he already recognised two familiar figures inside.

On one side of the table, was Detective Lestrade, with another female police officer he did not recognise. On the other, he could tell immediately it was John Watson. He knew that man anywhere, despite his back being to the mirror and his posture slouching onto the table, leaning on one arm. Sherlock had to step in closer to the glass to really look though, as John was almost unrecognisable. He had lost so much weight. His hair was longer than usual and scruffy, unruly. As he turned his head slightly, Sherlock could see he had quite long stubble – not enough to be a proper beard, but enough to look almost homeless and unkempt. He was wearing a grey hoodie, way too large for him, it looked like a sack on him, in fact. It was not John’s usual style and Sherlock suddenly realised it was actually one of Sherlock’s own hoodies. From the back of his wardrobe. One he hardly ever wore himself. It had a stain on the left arm which was recognisable even through the glass and the realisation caught Sherlock off guard and unsettled him even more than John’s appearance. John was wearing his clothes? He looked like he hadn’t showered or changed clothes in at least a week. The way his head was lolling about, he was clearly not in his right mind. Drugs or alcohol, or both had taken a toll. Sherlock had never seen John out of control in all the time he’d known him – aside from in anger and frustration. John was always so clean, and well groomed. Tucked shirts, ironed pants, neatly laced shoes that were well kept. John wasn’t one to miss brushing his teeth twice a day. He was meticulous. Fastidious. What was going on? Sherlock froze in place, unable to speak.

Mycroft looked over at him to gauge his reaction.

“How long?” Sherlock asked without even looking at his brother, eyes fixed firmly on John.

“It’s been a good couple of months he’s been like this. Lestrade phoned me this time – it’s the fourth time he’s been brought in. Got into a brawl at a bar with a drug dealer. Chinned the security. They had to bring him in. His wrap sheet is getting fairly decorated of late.”

Sherlock shook his head quietly to himself in disbelief. John.

“We thought we could help him, but you can see he’s falling down hill pretty fast now. At first it was just a bit of the usual grieving, anti-social behaviour, a bit of drinking even. But he was still in touch. Still accepting visitors. Now, he’s not eating, not sleeping, not seeing anyone. It’s getting dire. He lashed out at Mrs Hudson last week. We’ve actually sent her away to stay with her sister this week while we try and sort him out. Of course, that only made John feel worse, guilty, which is probably in part what’s set this little event off tonight.”

“Does Lestrade know everything?” Sherlock finally looked at Mycroft.

“About you? Not yet. He just thinks I’m concerned, looking out for John on your behalf, posthumously.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “He really is an idiot isn’t he?”

“Yes well he’s one of the only friends you’ve got.”

-----

 

“John just take a breath,” Lestrade said gently.

“No, you listen to me, Greg. I don’t want to talk,” John said viscously, “put that on record.” And he nodded at the other officer. Greg turned and shook his head at her to ignore it.

“You can’t just go around attacking people,” Greg replied, “what was it this time?”

“He…I needed a hit…and he…he knew who I was…he used to sell drugs to Sh…” John shook his head for a moment, “…and I just couldn’t…he kept making comments about us…so I decked him,” John said, crossing his arms defensively.

“John. Honestly,” Greg huffed. This was not like John. Not like John used to be anyway.

“That matches the statement we have on file from him,” the lady officer said.

“He was asking for it, I couldn’t help it…” John said unapologetically.

“You thought knocking him out was a good plan?” Greg retorted.

“He was rude. And he said his name Greg…I couldn’t…” John let it trail off.

“John…” Greg sympathised. He felt bad for John and how much he was clearly suffering.

“And the security guard?” The policewoman asked.

“Well he was asking for it too. I mean, he was using unnecessary force.” John tilted his neck and it cracked loudly.

“Mate, you knocked a random stranger out at the bar, I think he was within his rights as security to restrain you,” Greg argued.

“Well, then he needs to learn better defensive skills. I didn’t have to try hard.” John was feisty, even with that much alcohol in his system.

“John, I can’t let you out. Not this time. This is the fourth time in two months. Twice this week. They aren’t going to just release you on bail any more, I don’t think,” Greg appealed to him, pleading almost.

“Who do we have to pay? I mean you know there’s money there…” John said with disgust.

------

 

“Mycroft have you been…?” Sherlock turned to him.

“Well technically you died, Sherlock. You wouldn’t leave John stranded if you really died would you? I made sure he had some funds. From your supposed will,” Mycroft said a little defensively.

“And he’s wasting it by the sounds, on bail outs, alcohol and drugs? Excellent decision.” Sherlock wasn’t happy with this. Not at all.

“So it seems,” Mycroft sneered, very unhappy that he had been unable to contain the situation alone. He had been loathe to call his little brother and admit defeat, but John was a law unto himself at the moment and he feared Sherlock may be the only one capable of making an impact.

“Why is this the first I’m hearing of all of this, anyway?” Sherlock was annoyed.

“Because I thought we could handle it without you,” he said simply.

“We?” Sherlock checked.

“Well, Greg’s been helping out,” he admitted

Greg?” Sherlock was confused.

“Lestrade.” Mycroft could never understand why Sherlock struggled with his name so much. After all their history.

“Oh…you two have been…?” He asked suggestively.

“Just helping Sherlock. Put that thought back in there, if you don't mind,” Mycroft bristled with a blush.

Sherlock smirked, looking back through the mirror but gave him one more sideways glance, observing the blush. It seemed they might both have a bit of a kink for men in uniform. Interesting.

“Why is Lestrade doing this and not another policeman then?” Sherlock asked.

“Greg got demoted. After your stunt,” Mycroft said and Sherlock looked back at him briefly in surprise, before returning to watch John struggling through the mirror. He didn’t want to take his eyes of John. “He is not at the Yard any more, they wouldn’t keep him on after the media went to town on you and they were found to be using you on all their cases. He’s back here working with the London police. Still a senior role, but he’s been stripped of his detective title. Anyway, he has a mate in processing that makes sure to call whenever John is done in. And Greg lets me know. I’ve told him I want to keep a silent eye.”

Sherlock just stood there. He had heard everything his brother said but he just couldn’t grasp what he was watching in front of him. He knew he was the one to always be messy, and unpredictable and a bit of a menace, not John, never John.

“How have you all let him get… like this. Look at him,” Sherlock finally said in despair.

“Brother, I know it’s…difficult. But he is dealing with a heavy loss. Remember he doesn’t know what you know. He’s grieving you. We discussed this. It’s what you wanted,” Mycroft said more gently than usual.

“I didn’t want this,” Sherlock whispered, and Mycroft could see the pain in his eyes.

“Well it’s what we discussed might happen. I know you didn’t want to think about that when we talked through our plans, but it was always a possibility.”

----

 

“John you can’t do this to yourself. What would Sherlock say if he knew? This isn’t how he’d want to be remembered,” Greg finally said, calmly.

Don’t you say his name to me,” John growled through gritted teeth.

“John…”

“No, I don’t want to hear it Greg,” he said, dropping his head to the table and covering his ears and head with his arms to block out any contact.

“Can you just give us a minute?” Greg said to the other officer. “We’ll be okay. Maybe grab us some coffees?” And she took a look at John crumpled on the table, decided he was not a threat, and nodded silently, leaving the room, so Greg and John could be alone for a moment.

Sherlock watched from behind the glass, biting at his fingernails, his feet twitchy, not enjoying what he was seeing.

“John. Look at yourself. Look what you’ve become,” Greg said pointing at the mirror on the wall.

John lifted his head and turned to look at himself in the mirror, and he suddenly felt so tired. He barely recognised himself in the reflection. His face was drawn and so thin, dark circles under his eyes. How did his hair get that long? When was the last time he shaved or even showered? Jesus he was a mess, he thought as he took in the sight of himself.

Sherlock had the opportunity to really look at John, to take in his appearance and a gasp escaped his lips, his eyes tearing up at the sight. What have I done?

“Honestly though, John, what do you think he’d say about all this?” Greg, asked. He could see John cataloguing his appearance, assessing himself in the mirror and slowly shrinking into himself in disgust, the expressions crossing his face so clearly. Greg thought that being hard on him would help. Little did he know Sherlock was right there watching.

“Well? What do you think Sherlock would say about this?” Greg pushed.

“Don’t Greg, don’t say his name. Besides, he’s not here, is he? He wouldn’t care whether I lived or died.” John said quietly, but the rage under the surface was clear. Greg knew he should tread carefully but a part of him wanted to break John, to get through to him. He knew Sherlock was his only real weak spot, even in death.

“I think we both know that’s not true, John,” Greg said, in a calculated attempt to break through.

“Do we though? Do we both know that?” John’s anger bubbling just under the surface, dangerously. “He didn’t care enough about me to stay. To live.”

 

Sherlock started pacing in the room, Mycroft watching him from near the door, realised this may not have been a good plan to bring him after all.

 

“He didn’t care enough to tell me what was going on with Moriarty. The whole time. I followed him around for days not understanding. And then…he told me he didn’t have friends, he didn’t need friends. He didn’t need me. He didn’t want me around. I was just some…thing. Some kind of amusement when it suited him. We all were,” he spat at Greg.

 

“No John,” Sherlock whispered from behind the glass, coming closer to put his hand to the glass as if he could touch John through it.

“Sherlock you know he doesn’t mean it.” Mycroft tried to keep him calm.

 

"I don't believe that, John. He needed you," Lestrade encouraged.

“He didn’t want me to help. He didn’t need me there. He let me leave and say those awful things to him and then he just…he said he lied about everything. He told me he was a fraud but I believed in him… so much…and then he just…jumped and it was over. I believed in him. I was an idiot. John’s voice gave out at the memory.

 

“Please don’t,” Sherlock begged, stroking at the glass.

“Sherlock we need to figure out what to do for John…focus on that.”

 

"You don't really think that do you?" Greg was shocked.

“Oh but I do. He was a liar, and a cold bastard and he never gave a bloody second thought to anyone else. He didn’t care about anybody but himself. He most certainly didn’t care about me.” John was cold and angry now.

 

“John why didn’t you listen to what I said?” Sherlock asked louder. “It was a trick.”

“Sherlock you have to focus now.” Mycroft tried to redirect his thoughts.

 

“Nobody really cares if I live or die, so I’m choosing this. This is me now. I already had nothing before he came along. And that’s where I am again. Only now, I have to see that…that image in my head every day. It won’t leave. His head… the pavement…and his words…” he let that thought drift away briefly looking lost in those memories before shaking his head to clear it, looking skyward to stop the tears from showing. “I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t take it anymore. It’s the only way I can get it to leave my head. And you think…you think he gave a bloody damn about me?! You’re even stupider than he said you were!” John yelled banging his fists on the table.

"John..." Mycroft was taken aback.

 

“NO!” Sherlock yelled, slamming his fist on the mirror in frustration, angry at the things John was saying. He was incensed that John thought those things and he had no way to change that. Why had he thought this was the right decision, to leave John behind when of course he wouldn’t have understood? Standing back outside the situation it was so much easier to see this had been such a terrible mistake. Now. But it was too late to fix that. How was he going to fix it now?

Mycroft leapt forward to stop him making any further noise.

 

The noise echoed between the rooms and John and Greg looked up, startled.

“Who’s behind there?” He asked to Greg suspiciously, realising they were not alone, before turning and looking at the mirror. But Greg looked shocked too, he hadn’t realised Mycroft might be there already. He didn’t usually come to the precinct.

“Is that you Mycroft? You getting your kicks out of seeing me fall apart? This is what you always wanted isn’t it? You wanted me to stay away from him. You wouldn’t help when I asked. Well now we’re nowhere near each other! Are you happy? Show yourself you pompous bastard!” John yelled at the mirror.

 

“I have to go in there.”

“No Sherlock, you can’t.” Mycroft grabbed his arm.

“I can’t leave him like this,” Sherlock said, ripping his arm away from his brother. “That’s why you brought me back isn’t it? To see this? To work out how to help. This is how I help.”

“It’s not safe,” he tried to convince him desperately. “Brother.”

“Well you should have thought of that before you brought me here. What did you think I’d do? Do you think I will be able to do what I need to do now, when I know this is going on?” He pushed past his brother and out of the room.

-----

 

“Who’s watching me? Show yourself you fucking coward!”

“John there’s no one there. It’s just you and me here.”

Suddenly, the door to the interrogation room flew open and Sherlock stood in the doorway. It was almost ridiculous, like a super hero's entrance. John almost laughed aloud, sure that the mix of drugs and alcohol in his system had finally snapped his mind. But he didn’t make a sound, he just sat there wide eyed, unable to speak.

Sherlock didn’t move either, just taking in John properly, without the grain of a two-way mirror between them. He could have emptied the contents of his stomach right then and there at how John looked, at seeing the way he was looking at him now.

“Bloody hell,” Lestrade finally let out on a breath of air.

“What the hell is this? Am I…? Are you telling me you’re seeing this too?” John said to Lestrade.

“Sherlock, what the bloody hell is going on?” Lestrade asked.

John glared at Lestrade, “Did you know?!” But from the look of shock on Lestrade’s face, he realised he was not alone in the deception.

Sherlock walked into the room and John’s eyes couldn’t have been any wider in pure shock. He was breathing fast, unable to process what he was seeing, unwilling to move in case this moment ended up being a hallucination.

“John” Sherlock leaned across the table past Greg to touch his hand on the table, to show he was really there. The physical contact made John leap up out of his chair and it clattered loudly to the floor.

“Stop this!” John yelled putting his hands over his face, finally sure he had snapped. It must be a trick, a clever trick Lestrade was pulling to try and break him, like some kind of fancy intervention. Admittedly this actor was very good – so much like Sherlock it hurt his chest. The voice was even impressive. How was he doing it? He couldn’t bear to look any more, but it also hurt so much to look away. He crumpled backwards to the corner of the room, sliding down the cement wall in a cowering mess.

Sherlock stood there shocked by his reaction. It had not occurred to him that John would be unable to process the sight of him, to be upset, or confused, or angry. He thought there would be relief, that seeing him would fix everything. Another miscalculation.

“Greg…” Sherlock began to explain.

“Sherlock? I don’t even understand how…” Lestrade was trying to get his head to process what he was seeing.

“I know, Lestrade, but just… can you give us a minute?” He directed his eyes to John cowering in the corner and Lestrade understood.

“Okay, but I’m not done with you, and I’m posting a guard outside.”

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere do you?” Sherlock said, raising his eyebrow. Oh how Lestrade missed Sherlock’s suave confidence. He didn’t look nearly as unflappable as usual, though. Clearly he was distressed about the state John was in but trying very hard to not look affected by it. “Mycroft’s in the other room – he can fill you in,” he directed.

Greg started to walk out, knowing when Sherlock was dismissing him, and always being obedient to this madman, god help him. But before he could leave, he threw his arms around him, just to check Sherlock was real, just to make sure. The relief of knowing he was okay was immense. After the quick hug he cleared his throat awkwardly, spotting a little smirk of satisfaction on Sherlock’s face.

“Right, I’ll leave you to it,” he said, walking out to find Mycroft in the other room.

Sherlock walked slowly and silently closer to John. John was sitting with legs bent up and arms resting on his knees, his head flopped in the crook of his arm in complete defeat, almost collapse, muttering to himself.

“John…” he tried, crouching down closer.

“Don’t…” John didn’t lift his head, his voice muffled but the intent clear in his voice. It was a strong warning.

“John… listen to me, I don’t have long,” Sherlock said more urgently.

What is this?” John whispered, looking up at him and the confusion in his face was clear.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said gently.

“You’re what?” He began to raise his voice. Was that was the best he could do?

“I’m sorry, that I couldn’t tell you. It was for your own good,” Sherlock said sheepishly.

“Sorry, what? Good? Does this look GOOD to you?” He spat out the words slowly.

John made a good point. He did not look good. Not at all.

“No. No it doesn’t. That’s why Mycroft…”

“Oh of course Mycroft knew. Is he in there? Was I right?” John tilted his head to the mirror. “Are you in there Mycroft? You smug bastard!” He yelled at the wall.

“John…”

What the hell, Sherlock?” This time his voice was a threat. He was exasperated and furious.

“It was Moriarty. I’m undercover now – destroying his network. I shouldn’t even be here. I shouldn’t be seen anywhere near you, but I asked Mycroft to…”

“To what? To spy on me? Have you had cameras on me this whole time Mycroft?! You would have got quite the show!” He yelled at the wall again. “You two are unbelievable.” He glared at Sherlock, who straightened as if he had been actually slapped.

“John,” he tried to connect again. 

Stop saying that,” he sighed on an angry huff.

“What? Your name?”

“Yes, stop saying my name. I can’t bear it. I can’t,” he said, his voice cracking, his heads going back into his arms. Sherlock sat down on the floor now, in front of John’s legs, and really took the sight of him in. The smell was the most obvious thing. The state of his clothes, unironed and stained. He was a mess. Sherlock couldn’t help reaching out to touch John’s hair, he just needed to touch him just once. For a split second John leaned into the touch before he caught himself and looked up, startled and angry.

I missed you,” Sherlock said on a sigh.

“You don’t get to say that. Not to me. Not now,” John said in a low growl. But the look in his eyes said differently.

“It’s true though,” Sherlock maintained eye contact, watching carefully.

“You left me,” John said his face starting to dissolve into emotion, unable to hold the anger any more.

“I had to.”

“You…broke me,” John said sadly.

“I can see that. I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know?”

“That it would do this to you. Or I would have planned differently,” Sherlock tried to explain.

“You didn’t think your best friend would be destroyed by your death – by your suicide?”

“No, of course not. I thought you would…wait, I’m your…”

John looked at him, sadly.

“…best friend?” Sherlock finished.

“Of course, Sherlock.” John looked confused. How had he not known that already? That was the least of what he was to John. This man who deduced the most ridiculous things and yet he had no idea. Five minutes ago, this man was dead and now he was right here. “How many people have you seen me spend time with? I don’t have many friends either. We lived together, went through…everything together. Of course you are my best friend. Do you think I could just watch you jump off a building – if you even did jump off a building - and it wouldn’t upset me?”

“But you’re an army doctor…”

“And you’re an idiot,” he said frustrated. They both looked at each other. Sherlock could hear the affection in his voice, despite the anger.

“Do you want me to tell you how? Would that help?” Sherlock asked finally.

“NO. No I really don’t want to hear that.”

They sat quietly together. Sherlock didn’t know what to say, to help John, to fix this. If he didn’t want to know how he survived, what could he say that would make things better for John? He didn’t have long to make this better.

“I called you a machine,” John said quietly, laced with guilt.

“What?” Sherlock couldn’t even remember that happening.

“Before you… I walked away from you and I called you a machine and then you…” John shook his head at the memory. He had always regretted that moment.

“John it wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t really jumping. It wasn’t a suicide. It was a mission.”

-----

 

“Now you know everything, can I ask you to keep a better eye on him?” Mycroft said with warning.

“I just can’t believe it.” Greg was still lost, looking through the glass watching Sherlock try to negotiate with John. God he hoped Sherlock could get through to him. Someone had to.

“Detective. I’m asking you to look after John Watson. For my brother’s sake. Can you do it?”

“What? Sure, yes of course.” Greg finally came back into the conversation.

“The stakes could not be higher. Sherlock needs to focus and he needs to know John is safe or he will put his own life in danger,” Mycroft explained.

“Understood. I never really noticed until now,” he said as he watched them again.

“What?”

“How much they love each other.”

“Sherlock always said you were a bit slow,” Mycroft said kindly.

“Hey!” Greg turned to look at Mycroft, offended. It was one thing for Sherlock to say it, but that he told others was a bit annoying.

“Well honestly, how could you have missed that? You’ve known Sherlock for years, seen him at his worst. Can you honestly say you didn’t notice how much he’s been changed by John?”

“No, you’re right. I had noticed that. I just thought… I guess I just didn’t realise.”

“Well, in any case, now you know. I will make it worth your while – compensate you appropriately for your time. If you can keep an eye on him properly.”

“Don’t insult me. You may be Sherlock’s older brother, and you may have money. Lord knows you’ve been feeding John’s habit well enough. But Sherlock and John are my friends. I’ll do it for them. I don’t need money.”

“Well, at least call me if you need extra …resources. Anyway, we’ve stayed too long already, I will need to take him now. I trust I can leave John in your care now.”

“Consider it done.” Lestrade said with a nod, and followed Mycroft out.

-------

 

“That’s all everything is to you isn’t it? The work? You always said it but I thought…”

“No. No John. Not everything was about the work,” Sherlock was losing control of this situation and he could feel it. John might not forgive him.

“Look at me Sherlock. I’ve destroyed…everything. I don’t want to know how you did it. I want to know how you could do it…to me.”

“I told you it was a trick. I thought…all that time working together…you might have understood the clues. You might have figured it out.” Sherlock was frustrated, but more at himself, with the realisation that John had missed them. All of them. How could he think Sherlock would really do that to him?

“Well I guess I really am the idiot then,” John said, depressed.

“No John. No,” Sherlock said, putting his hand on John’s arm to get his attention. “You’re just human. You’ve always been the heart of this operation. But to do it, to do what I had to do, I needed to cut the heart out or I couldn’t have gone.”

“Sherlock…” John felt like there was more meaning in what he was saying, and he was missing that too.

“John, I can’t stay.”

And as if to punctuate the point, Mycroft opened the door to the room and stood waiting at the open doorway. Lestrade stood slightly behind, craning his neck to see what was happening.

“What? You’re leaving? Again? You only just got here!” John’s eyes became frantic again, looking between Mycroft and Sherlock, pleading, terrified at the realisation he was on a short timeframe all of a sudden.

“I just needed you to see I was alive. Because you can’t keep on like this,” Sherlock scolded him.

“Sherlock, please don’t,” he begged.

“John, if they find me here, I’ll never get them all. They have to think I’m still dead and you’re still mourning, so I have the element of surprise. Don’t you see?”

“Take me with you.” John’s voice was soft and pleading.

“I can’t.” Sherlock didn’t even hesitate. It made John angry, but he was so tired. He didn’t have the strength to argue.

“I don’t think I can keep on, without you here,” he said weakly, dropping his head again.

“Of course you can, John. Now you know I’m not really dead. You must. But you can’t let anyone know. I will be back,” he promised, rattling at John’s arm to sink the point in.

“How do you know?” John asked, looking back up at him, hoping for some sort of reassurance he could believe.

Sherlock smiled then, knowing now what he had to say. “Because I plan to come back to you, and that’s what’s keeping me alive.”

John looked at him confused, and Sherlock’s expression was intense but now there was something new there, something different he had never noticed before, and he thought he understood finally.

“Really?” He checked, uncertain.

Sherlock nodded shyly. “It’s always been for you. You keep me right, John Watson. At some point I will be able to return and I’ll need the heart back - my heart. And yours I hope.”

John’s heart felt like it stopped beating for a brief moment. All this time they had been living together and rescuing each other from ridiculous situations and he had been completely enamoured with this amazing man and his brilliance but he never dared hope to have anything more than his friendship. He never dared say anything. Suddenly he was pretty sure he understood. He reached out and put his hand on Sherlock’s face. “You’re really here,” he said, reverently, and full of wonder. The sensation of touching him like this, with affection was overwhelming. He never thought that would ever happen.

“Yes. I am. Now promise me, you’ll look after my heart and I can come back to you,” Sherlock said firmly.

John nodded gently, not able to make words form.

“I know I never told you before. But…”

John looked at him hopeful for the words.

“…you’re my best friend too...” Sherlock said with a smile.

John smiled back at him but looked a little disappointed at the sentiment. And the smile was hollow - not lighting up his face the same way it always used to. Sherlock was saddened by the knowledge that John was a shadow of his former self right now.

“...And… I love you.” He finished.

John sighed. The relief was all over his face. That’s what he had always wanted to hear. “You do?” 

“Obviously.”

“I don’t know when it happened but…I love you too,” John finally said and it felt so amazing to say it aloud.

I can see that. John, please promise me you won’t do this to yourself any more.”

“Just take me with you and I won’t,” John tried again.

“You know I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I just…can’t. You will still need to grieve on the outside, for appearances. But I am alive, I’m okay. Lestrade or Mycroft will be able to keep you informed. I expect to be able to return to you but it will take some time. You will need to wait.” Sherlock said, the formality and business of the work back in place.

“I promise. I’ll wait as long as it takes.” John looked down at his arms, suddenly shy.

“I’m coming back,” Sherlock reassured him, and John’s eyes flicked up to get the promise from Sherlock’s.

“You better,” he huffed, his eyes dropping again.

Sherlock leaned in unexpectedly and planted a gentle kiss on his lips, his hands cupping John’s face gently. It was too short, but it was a promise, and John closed his eyes savouring the feeling, wishing he had a mind palace to commit it to memory in.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said from the doorway, indicating it was time to go. John blushed a little at the idea that Mycroft and Lestrade would have seen all of this, but it was worth it.

Sherlock looked at John waiting for him to open his eyes again. Finally when they locked eyes, Sherlock nodded at John, to confirm it would all be okay and to check John would stick to his promise. Before John could say another word, Sherlock stood abruptly and twirled around, his coast swishing dramatically as he left the room and suddenly everything felt cold and empty and so much smaller with his absence.

Lestrade was left in the doorway looking just as stunned, as the brothers moved quickly to exit the building again unnoticed.

“Well that was something,” Lestrade said, entering the room and walking over to John in the corner.

John couldn’t speak. He just sat there staring at the space where Sherlock had disappeared from.

“You okay?” He checked, reaching out to give John a hand up.

“I’m not really sure,” John said honestly, getting up with a loud groan, “but I’ll give him one thing: the man knows how to make an entrance and an exit.”

They both chuckled at that.

“Come on then, let’s get you to processing. Mycroft has managed to secure your release again, we just have to do the paperwork and then you can go home. But John, let’s not do this again.”

And Greg led him out of the room as he nodded to himself.

No, from now on things would definitely not be the same again.