Actions

Work Header

The Second Closest Sun

Work Text:

 

 

"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

-Sylvia Plath, A Mad Girl's Love Song

 

PART 1

. . .

January : Adrift:

A week after Sherlock steps from St. Bartholomew's rooftop, a week after Molly's forges a death certificate and Mycroft feigns a funeral, one of the detective's central theories is proven correct: living is much harder than dying.

If he had actually died when he jumped from that building, his mind would be blissfully silent; worry would be a distant, intangible notion and his emotions would be rotting right along with his corpse. Images of John's hollow eyes and the sound of his name being shouted would be dead memories held in the mind of no one. If he had died, he would be at peace.

But, as it stands, Sherlock is very much alive and very much disturbed—peace is a silly daydream at this point—because it turns out that faking one's death is a rather complex endeavor. If he were to speak objectively, then it is the maintenance of continuity that makes 'dying' so difficult: covering tracks, taking up a new alias every weekend, burning documents, hiding in shadows. However, those things are mere tedium. The truly hardest part is the guilt, which claws at his nerves like bilge rats scavenging an old attic, and fills his mind with bees that sting the insides of his skull.

His name on John's lips plays in endless loops like a broken record, and although it is well within his mental ability to drown it out with louder thoughts, he feels that in a way he deserves this punishment, this constant reminder of what he has done, so he allows the screams to rattle on.


February: Streets of Munich:

Though he is hiding from the world and currently donning bleached curls (the dark hair was too recognizable, Mycroft said) he does not stop working; he doesn't know how to. Every morning after he checks out of his latest motel—paying in cash of course—he slips a pair of sunglasses over his eyes and a large sweatshirt over his thin frame, and makes his way to Mycroft's nearest hidden station for his next case.

Today, it's a pretzel stand in Germany.

The woman running the cart is young and rosy-cheeked, equipped with pale blonde pigtails and somber hazel eyes that seem fiercely out of place on her otherwise blithe visage. She smiles at him and holds out a greasy white bag in question. "Möchten Sie eine brezel?—Do you want a pretzel?"

He doesn't smile in return, just turns up his collar against the wind and exhales ghosts into the cold air. "Alles zu seiner Zeit--all in good time." It is the code phrase Mycroft sent him last night, one which took Sherlock an entire thirty minutes to decode because the smarmy git decided to add his own personal twist to their usual transposition ciphers, rendering the whole thing nearly incomprehensible.

At his words, the woman immediately stops smiling and her features fall in sync with her joyless brown eyes. "52 Lord Avery Craves His New Ebony Ring." She stares at him. "Verstehen Sie—understand?"

Of course he does, the code is exceptionally obvious: LACHNER Straße  52. It is the address of Mycroft's current (and vastly temporary) location. He nods at the woman, receives a sober gesture in return, and then strides down the frosty sidewalk with his fists curled in his coat pockets, fervently craving a cigarette despite the early hour.

. . .

"I trust you understand the importance of this particular mission?"

Sherlock glares at Mycroft from across the desk. "No," he drawls, "I faked my own death because I don't understand the importance of this whole operation." He flicks his lighter open, holds the small flame against the clean white end of his fag and sucks a mouthful of tar into his lungs. "Do not patronize me."

"I wouldn't dream of it." Mycroft brushes an invisible piece of lint from his lapel, expression pinched in such a way that makes him resemble a wet cat; clearly he isn't too pleased with the cigarette smoke curling through the clean, filtered air of his office.

Sherlock stretches his legs and takes another drag. Too bad.

"Moriarty had a secret informant in a very influential company in Wiesbaden who has been recently uncovered by one of our covert agents; for understandable reasons our agent could not 'apprehend' him at the moment of discovery, but he must be taken care of soon otherwise he will continue to provide valuable information to Moriarty's global web."

"Hm."

"Yes, he has his fingers in very many pies, but if we can uproot him, several of his lower chains of command will follow."

A shadow of a frown jumps across Sherlock's face. "Uproot?"

Mycroft clears his throat and straightens a stack of papers. "Indeed."

His mouth grows dry as the crux of this whole meeting begins to dawn on him. "And what is my role in this?" The cigarette burns forgotten between his fingers.

His brother at least has the decency to glance away in shame. To the velvet drapes, he says, "You will be in charge of infiltrating the group and—disposing of the informant."

"Disposing of him," he repeats to Mycroft's profile. A wild, anxious thing rages inside his belly and threatens to break free. His palms sweat; his temple aches.

"Yes."

"Don't mince words, Mycroft; you want me to kill him."

Pregnant pause, and then: "Yes."

Sherlock stands up, knocking his chair over in the process and not caring in the slightest. Anxiety roars through his veins like cocaine, pumps his heart fat with worry as it thuds erratically against his ribs.

"Since when was that part of the plan?"

His brother tears his eyes away from the curtains and meets his gaze, fire flickering behind his irises: a mere glimpse of the emotions he holds beneath the thickness of his skin. "Do not accuse me of deceit, brother. You knew full well what this mission would entail and we unanimously arrived at the conclusion that situations such as these could not be avoided." His words snap at Sherlock like a rubber band: rough, immediate, and fleetingly painful. Sherlock knows his brother is right—they did discuss the extent of Sherlock's involvement, but only hypothetically, and he'd never given the notion enough thought to make them real—but the fear that gurgles in his throat at the prospect of murder is enough to make him shelve his logic for the moment.

He paces across the burgundy carpet, his fallen cigarette a flickering fire hazard on the ground. "You have men trained to do these things, Mycroft; you do not need me to be an assassin!"

"Yes, but do those men have your intelligence and abilities of deduction? Can they learn new languages within hours and masquerade as fabricated personalities with ease? Can they scan a room and locate its immediate exit routes, potential dangers, and vital intricacies? Do they have brains that thrive on fact and precision, allowing them to accomplish a task without error? Do they, Sherlock? This mission—Christ, this entire operation—requires more than any blithering idiot with the ability to shoot a gun! This requires you."

There is no argument Sherlock can present that would render Mycroft's words invalid, because what his brother is saying is true. And Sherlock didn't throw his entire life down the drain just to refuse to participate in the measures necessary to Moriarty's downfall; he'll do what he must.

His throat is rubbed raw with the things he can't say, so instead of responding he just clenches his jaw and sits down. Mycroft peers at him broodingly before reaching in his desk drawer and removing a stack of binders and manila folders. He slides some of them in Sherlock's direction and leans back, silently waiting.

The file says VIKTOR PETERSEN and contains several CCTV photos of a shady man speaking closely with another equally ambiguous silhouette. Mycroft crooks an eyebrow.

Sherlock takes a deep breath, flips it open, and starts reading.


March: Headquarters of Allianz International Business Firm:

The first time he meets Viktor, Sherlock is wearing an expensive chocolate-colored suit, glasses, freshly-dyed brunette hair, and someone else's identity. Strangely, the first thing he notices is that the file was incorrect about the man's eyes—they're blue, not green. Distantly, Sherlock supposes that the 'men up top' do not care for the unimportant minutia of potential targets.

(Sherlock wonders why he does)

"Welcome, Mr. Weber," Petersen greets, taking his hand in a hard shake that Sherlock immediately recognizes is overcompensation for his 5'5" height. His face isn't the most memorable, but his brightly-colored eyes pop out like neon signs; aside from being a startling cornflower blue, they are narrowed in either suspicion or puzzlement, framed by swollen, exhausted bags of skin, and swathed in an awning of pale blonde lashes. Viktor is twenty-nine years old, richer than men three times his age, charismatic to the point of seeming duplicitous, and apparently neck-deep in the shady, tangled web of Moriarty's global informants. The stiffness of his shirt collar suggests frequent starching—in his occupation, physical presentation is key—the cold smile on his lips indicates a certain duality—pleasant one moment, heartless the next—and the way he holds himself up—shoulders straight, eyes direct, feet planted—speaks undeniably of an extensive background in upper-crust business.

Sherlock nods. "Lovely to meet you, Mr.…?"

"Petersen. I'll be here to show you around during your time with us. I've heard marvelous things about you, Weber, I can't wait to finally work together." The man's teeth are blinding white when he grins—professionally bleached no doubt—but there is no trace of expression in his strange, metal-blue eyes. "I see great things in store for the two of us."

Sherlock smiles back, says "I look forward to our business association as well", and tries to imagine where along Viktor's forehead the bullet will go


April : Allianz International Business Firm:

Sherlock is thoroughly uncomfortable in his temporary life; the glasses never stop slipping forward on the bridge of his nose, the pressed business suits itch, and the ridiculous gelled-over hairstyle he is forced to wear makes him want to grind his molars to dust. Whenever he forgets his role—the guileless office worker, intelligent but not worryingly so—and slips up by saying something too smart or too pointed, he erases any suspicions by chuckling disarmingly and sliding seamlessly back into his borrowed identity. They invite him to work parties, allow him to examine high-tier files, speak to him about personal matters; they begin to trust him.

And while Sherlock smiles and feigns ignorance, he snoops, he learns, and he plans. His mission is never far from his mind.


May: Mycroft's Private Shooting Range:

"Always aim for the head or the heart," the instructor tells him, leveling the weapon at one of the wooden targets. "Remember, you're going for a kill-shot." Then he blows three perfect holes through the cut-out's frontal lobe. "Now you try."

Sherlock dislikes the weight of the gun in his palm; it feels about as heavy as the responsibility it carries. One bullet, a life; two, three, four, five bullets, a perforated corpse

(Sherlock doesn't sleep much that night)


June : Petersen's Personal Office:

Through the clear, perfectly wiped window of the man's poorly lit office, Sherlock can see Viktor filing papers at his desk. He is calm, unperturbed, and his mind has clearly ventured elsewhere as he leafs through bland file after bland file; twice he glances down at his gold-faced watch, three times he bites the inside of his left cheek in thought. In the process of straightening a stack of papers, he accidentally knocks over a cup of pens, sending writing utensils spilling across the desk like runaway marbles.

Sherlock is outside in the cold: a shadow perched by the window, an invisible man lurking in the hidden crevices of night. This is the perfect spot because in the darkness one cannot see the glint of gun metal nor smell the stink of gun powder. No one knows he is here; even the moon has turned her luminescent eye away from him, casting him into absolute anonymity.

(If a bullet fires in the middle of obscurity and no one hears it, does anyone die?)

Deep breath—

The shot is clean, precise, and leaves minimal evidence splattered against the back window. On Viktor's forehead there is a small, ruby colored hole—the entrance to a tunnel that leads past broken nerves and shredded grey matter, straight to the bullet buried in his brain—which serves as the only indication that the man is not merely napping. Sherlock watches as a single thread of scarlet runs down the white slope of his nose, snags on his lips, then disappears into the wide cavern of his mouth.

The gun feels heavy in his hands.

Sherlock digs out his mobile, tells Mycroft the deed is done, and then disappears into the cover of night: chin tucked to his chest, hands buried in his pockets, relieved that he cannot see anything in the darkness, least of all his shame.

. . .

When Sherlock dreams, he imagines that he is drowning in red oceans: salty, thick waves crash over him, suffocate him, asphyxiate him—kill him. The air smells metallic and sharp, like gun mental and dead bodies, and there is no land or possibility of rescue in sight.

When he wakes up, he scrubs his hands with soap for an hour, attempting to wash away bloodstains he cannot see.


July-August : Delphi:

He doesn't answer his phone at all in July, and in August he takes a trip to Greece, where he wanders the sunbaked streets and smokes himself halfway to lung cancer.

(he spends each of those eighty thousand-something minutes trying to forget what he has done)


September : Sochi, Russia:

Reality returns to him in the form of a phone call:

"Sherlock, you cannot continue running."

Sherlock grinds the ashy tip of his cigarette into the brick wall to his right, and then continues his walk down the pavement, mobile pressed tightly to his ear. "Actually, Mycroft, I think I can."

"Brother, I understand what this is about, and I am endlessly sorry to have put you in that situation, but you and I both know that we couldn't afford to take less severe measures. You mustn't forget that he was a criminal, Sherlock, he assisted in the deaths and thefts of many good people; I should think you'd be pleased to be rid of him."

"I killed him," he says bluntly. "I shot him through the head and just—left. As if it was just business as usual!"

"These days, it is, I'm afraid," Mycroft replies darkly. "This is all just means to an end, brother."

The sky overhead bleeds coquettish pinks and lavenders, the faint indigo of night seeping in behind the rapidly setting sun. "I'm not a killer, Mycroft. I can't…I can't continue with this."

"Sherlock, have you forgotten what our purpose is? Have you forgotten why you leapt from that building and why we've been jeopardizing our lives for over a year? Have you?"

This is not a conversation he'd like to continue whilst standing, so he slumps down onto a park bench and hunches in on himself. Strangers with meaningless faces pass by without so much as a glance. "No, I have not."

"We," Mycroft says anyway, "are doing this to destroy Moriarty's web, so that you can return home without risking the safety of those close to you. We are doing this in order to dissemble one of the largest, most far-reaching crime organizations in Europe, to better the lives of the general population. And to accomplish such things, we must all make sacrifices. I have lost more than a handful of agents to this cause, so know that you are not the only one suffering."

There is a long pause in which Sherlock stares unseeingly at slow-moving strangers, his mind unsettlingly quiet. Minutes tick by, the earth turns.

Sherlock thinks about what it will be like to return to Baker street, shoulders heavy with all that he has done (and will do), but feeling comfortable in the knowledge that John will help him carry it. He imagines sweeping John in his arms and pulling him so close that their hearts have no choice but to beat in sync; he imagines the flat in all of its messy discordance, John's impossibly warm jumpers, and the smell of sweet, pale tea wafting from the kitchen. Now he imagines the way the sniper's scope haloed John's head, the scattering of red lights all across John's chest, the doctor's precious life held in the balance of a mad man and his equally mad counterpart—and Sherlock knows he cannot risk John's life again. Never again. And if that means bloodying his hands and scarring his soul, then he is willing to wield the gun himself.

With a deep breath, Sherlock asks, "What is my next mission?"


October: Discreet Organized Crime Base (Alleyway in Aberdeen, Scotland):

The door is plain and unassuming—as all secret things are— and hidden in the dirty nook of an old alleyway, partially covered by trashcans and old garbage from the eatery next door. Sherlock glances over his shoulder, peers down either end of the alley in search of possible spies, and then carefully snaps on a pair of latex gloves. With surgical precision, he uses a small knife to cut along the seam of the door, carefully feeling around for any sensors or traps. It seems to be a normal door, but one can never be too cautious. After discovering that it is indeed normal—for the most part, anyway—he turns his attention to the dirty keypad just above the doorknob. Typically it would be quite easy to decipher the code, judging by flecks of dead skin left on frequently used keys or the unscratched paint on the numbers used least often, but since this particular keypad is covered with grime and dirt from the garbage surrounding it, it will be much more of a challenge. Sherlock hunches down to examine it closer, all the while thinking to himself that Mycroft is a fool for telling him this case would be too dangerous to walk into without a plan. Admittedly, he doesn't have one—though he's made sure his brother doesn't know this—but things are going fairly smoothly so far, and he has made sure he wasn't followed at any point.

He brushes a bit of dirt away from 'three' with the corner of a cloth, already planning out what he'll say to Mycroft when he has the case wrapped up a week in advance (thanks to Sherlock's plan—or lack thereof).

He's halfway through figuring out the last two digits, when a sharp jolt followed by a strange swooping sensation suddenly overtakes him. He clutches his forehead in numb confusion, steadies himself against the wall, his thoughts suddenly as scrambled and blurred as an ink letter splashed with water. What the—

Then he pats his neck, his big hands clumsy and inelegant, and finds a small dart plunged into the side of his throat. He has the chance to recognize what a truly fucking stupid plan this was, before a stranger's shadow stretches down the alley and unconsciousness swallows him whole.

. . .

"Are you sure we shouldn't just kill him?"

"Do even you bloody listen to me? No. It's better this way. His mind's his greatest tool, right?"

"…Yeah."

"Right, and how useful do you think he'll be once we take that away?"

"I guess…but, I just—"

"The boss would've wanted it this way, alright? He would've found it—fun. Interesting."

"But he's not here anymore, Moriarty's dead."

"Don't you think I know that? Doesn't matter, Cliff. We're doing things the old way, take it or leave it."

"…fine. But if you ask me, it's safer to just kill him."

"Then it's a good thing I didn't ask you, isn't it?"


October (?): Location Unknown:

He wakes up briefly, and the lights are bright. Blinding, really, like giant stage lamps peering down on a recital or a lighthouse scouring the black seas for lost boats. His spit tastes like copper and his mouth feels ragged and torn, all covered in scabs and little split seams, as if he's been biting down on his lips for days. Ropes dig painfully into his wrists, and when he weakly attempts to move out of them, a bracelet of scabs breaks open, slicking his palms with warm blood.

The pain, although unpleasant, serves to sharpen the fuzzy edges of unconsciousness and firmly deliver him to his typical, alert state. He opens his eyes, squinting against the painful brightness, and scans the room to the best of his ability: it is small and white—almost clinical-looking and impeccably clean, save for the flecks of blood gathered by his feet—but something about it feels indescribably off. As if the strong scent of cleaning fluid and sterile walls are masking all kinds of unimaginable horror. He quickly assesses his own damage—infected open-wounds on his wrists, broken rib, multiple cuts on his mouth, possible concussion, sprained ankle, extreme dehydration—but it becomes a difficult endeavor as his thoughts grow wooly and vague. Consciousness trickles in and out, and he is on the brink of recalling what day it is, when his chin falls to his chest, his body suddenly too weak to support his head.

He blearily registers the sound of a door opening behind him, then the rustle of material as someone bustles in, and, without preamble, places latex-gloved hands at his neck, pinching his carotid artery and then injecting it with a long, sharp syringe. "Go back to sleep, Mr. Holmes", the stranger soothes, pressing what seems like an entire jar full of fluid into his bloodstream. What he can only assume is drugs pumps tangibly through his system, making all of his muscularity and mental processes shut down one by one. He needs to get out of here—needs to shake off the numb feeling spreading through his body and leave—and it is this desperate, frantic urge that claws at his sluggish mind and salvages a few dwindling bits of consciousness. His last valiant attempt at escape is a weak twitch of his right hand—his middle and index fingers reaching upwards like the legs of a dying spider—before the drug finally seizes his mind and sends him careening back into oblivion.


Date Unknown: Location Unknown:

Minutes, hours, days—he loses all concept of time. Each instance he wakes up is the same: blinding brightness, a myriad of new injuries and sensations, the barest amount of time to contemplate his situation, and then that painfully familiar needle plunging into his neck, stealing away his consciousness. By now he's used to it, so he can use his precious minutes of consciousness wisely.

His ribs are badly bruised, the gashes along his legs are still bubbling with fresh blood, and he suspects that his broken wrist has only worsened in his time here, but for the most part he can still manage cognitive functions, which he is immensely grateful for.

What he is not grateful for, however, is that he was stupid enough to blunder into this mess in the first place. If he'd listened to his brother's bloody warning, he would probably be wandering the streets of Noweheresville, Britain right now, aimlessly planning his next mission, smoking his way through a stale pack of fags. Admittedly, it is not the ideal situation, but it surpasses his current one by miles.


Date Unknown : Location Unknown:

The moment he opens his eyes, he can sense that something has changed; the room looks dim and the air smells like gun powder. Broken light fixtures hang from the ceiling by shredded wires, swaying to and fro like drunk acrobats, and there is an unexpected draft hanging in the air—a drastic change from the typically stuffy temperature of the room. It feels as if someone has opened a window.

He blinks his bleary eyes and notices crumbling plaster hanging from a yawning hole to his left.

Or perhaps a wall.

Men in dark clothing pour through the opening like ants flooding from a crumbled hill, guns strapped across every inch of their Kevlar-clad skin, eyes shaded by opaque glasses. The sound of boots thumping around him remind Sherlock of a stampede of horses.

"Mr. Holmes!" Someone grabs his shoulder—strong grip, calloused palms, clearly a physically adept man, probably some sort of lower-ranked agent—and shakes him hard. His consciousness flickers weakly like a dying candle and he finds that he has a difficult time focusing on the dark, wobbling form in front of him. Fingers grip his jaw, steadying his lolling head. "Mr. Holmes, we're here to save you. You're okay now, alright?"

A vague response dribbles out without his consent—something along the lines of 'about time' and 'thank you'—before his chin falls to his chest and he passes out entirely.


October : Recovery Base (?):

In this new place, the lights aren't nearly as blinding. The room still looks clinical and akin to some sort of infirmary, but it seems far more benevolent than the harsh whiteness of his previous quarters. He notes that his wounds have been properly tended to and his broken bones have been correctly set. He gets the sense that he is safe here, so when someone with a blurry face offers him a cup of water and a pill, he swallows it without complaint and slips comfortably into unconsciousness.


November : Recovery Base:

In between bouts of consciousness, Sherlock hears snippets of conversation; on some days the voices comprise of several serious-sounding people and a familiar-sounding man—who he eventually recognizes as his brother—and other days, it's just a mess of noise and sensory detail. Sometimes, when the pounding in his head doesn't allow him to sift through each separate word, he gives up entirely and allows oblivion to claim him.

Today, however, he snags onto an entire legible conversation. It starts with: "I've never seen anything like this in my life."

It's a female voice; she sounds worried and a little bit afraid, but the tinge of fear in her tone is nothing compared to the blatant fury in the man's voice. "There must be something you can decipher. How is it that Moriarty's filthy underlings are more neurologically advanced than this entire unit? Explain that to me, Dr. Novak, because frankly I'm starting to question why the government so generously funds you and your research team, when the lot of you cannot even diagnose a simple malfunction of the mind!"

"Nothing about the mind is simple, Mr. Holmes," she huffs, "but my team and I are doing our best to—"

"Then do better, Rosalind, otherwise I will find a more apt group of scientists to work with, and I assure you, that will not sit well with your superior. Would you care to know how I know that?"

"Mr. Holmes—"

"Because I am on my way to have tea with him. So I suggest you make some kind of progress by the time I return."

"…Yes sir."


December : Recovery Base (Glasgow, Scotland):

Sherlock wakes up on a Tuesday, and as soon as he is able to sustain consciousness for more than ten minutes at a time, a team of doctors and scientists immediately set upon conducting tests. If he were in a more stable set of mind, he would perhaps contribute to their research, but as it stands, the world is still just a little too shaky and his words trip out of his mouth a bit too unsurely, so he holds his silence while they pinch and prick at him.

Through overheard bits of information and sporadically answered questions, Sherlock discovers that he was captured by Moriarty's men (specifically, the gang he'd been so carelessly investigating) and held prisoner in one of their secret bases for over a week. After two weeks of examinations, the head scientists—Rosalind Novak, Samuel Clearwater, and Daniel Wells, all hailing from Europe's most prestigious universities—are able to identify the poison he was administered and asses its damage accordingly.

"Now isn't this a nasty mix," Novak mutters, crinkling her nose up as she examines something under her microscope. From his hospital bed seated across the room, Sherlock watches her raptly. "Those men perfectly engineered a poison to alter perceptions of the mind," she says, and then glances up at him with a grave expression. "You are immeasurably lucky your brother found you as quickly as he did, Mr. Holmes. This is not the sort of concoction you want anywhere near your bloodstream for a day, let alone an entire week."

Sherlock's hands flutter anxiously against the sheets. "Will any of the damage be permanent?"

She plucks off her rubber gloves and sets aside her goggles, perching herself on the edge of his bed with a hesitant expression. "Nothing long-term, no, but…"

"But?" He says sharply, annoyed at the unfinished thought.

"But, even still, I am quite surprised that you have had such a mild reaction to it. This kind of poison should have at least induced some sort of hallucination or loss of memory, yet according to your charts," she glances down at her clipboard, "your body's vital signs returned to normal as soon as you purged yourself of the superficial damages. As in, vomiting, cleansing your system with water, and a bit of bloodletting. I don't understand how you have remained so unaffected, Mr. Holmes." She regards him warily, as if she isn't entirely certain he's human.

"Perhaps it is because my body is quite conditioned to drugs," he suggests bluntly. "I'm sure my past has allowed me to build up a considerable resistance to them."

"Perhaps," she muses, eyes glossing over in thought. "I suppose just consider yourself lucky, Mr. Holmes. You truly dodged a bullet, as they say—"

"Though, the poison could be intended as a delayed reaction," he interrupts. He isn't sure why he says this, but figures it can be attributed to the dark, perpetually irked part of his mind insists on being cynical.

Novak purses her lips. "We've run every possible test we can, and your health has checked out every time. Your brother even stopped by earlier and signed off on your exit slip, so I'm sure if Mycroft Holmes says you are safe, then you are."

Sherlock offers her a dry smile in return. "Well, Ms. Novak, though I do not share your idealistic view of my brother and presume he is capable of deeming the extent of medical ailments, I do believe he is correct in this case; I am as healthy as one could possibly expect to be, given the circumstances."

She nods, then hands him a paper and a pen. "Kindly sign yourself out, will you? Mycroft went through the trouble of bringing you some clothes as well as means of transportation, so once we have your signature feel free to get dressed and head to the black car out front. However, Mr. Holmes…"

"Yes?"

"There may be side effects," she tells him. "You must alert someone immediately if they begin to appear so that we can treat them accordingly."


PART 2

. . .

January: George Square Hotel, Glasgow:

Two weeks after Sherlock is released from the recovery base, he is convinced he is being followed. It's ridiculous of course, because his hair is now red, prescription-less glasses sit on the bridge of his nose, all of his modes of identification are fake, and Mycroft has assured that his trail will be dusted over by nothing less than his best men. Sherlock makes sure to pay only in cash and doesn't stay any one place for more than a few days. He is impeccably cautious; when he sleeps he has one hand resting on the Sig-Sauer handgun beneath his pillow and the other on the Rampuri blade strapped to the underside of the nightstand.

But he can't shake the feeling.

It makes the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand and gooseflesh ripple across his arms even when there is no chill to cause it. This feeling—this mounting paranoia—makes him duck his head, shove his hands deep in his pockets, and walk twice as quickly down the street. It makes him peer over his shoulder even when he's alone in his motel room and check behind curtains despite the unlikelihood that an assassin would be hiding there.

Then one morning he finds the source of his mounting paranoia, when he wakes up to find someone sitting beside him in his bed (well, not his bed, per say, technically it's the hotel's), watching dolefully as he clambers into wakefulness.

"John?"

However, since he knows this must be some mad side effect, he doesn't hold out much hope for a response. The hallucination languidly watches as he stumbles around the room, frantically searching for his misplaced mobile. As soon as he locates it beneath one of the chairs, he phones his brother.

"Mycroft," he says, somewhat out of breath from his harried search.

Immediately, Mycroft assumes the worst and launches into: "Are you injured? Tell me your location, I'll send—"

"Mycroft, I'm not injured. However," he darts his eyes to the other side of the room, both relieved and startled to find the bed still occupied. "I—I would like to know John's current whereabouts."

There is a pregnant pause. "Sherlock, if you intend to contact him in some way, I must insist—"

"No, brother, I'm not a fool." he snaps, cutting Mycroft off. He clears his throat and fidgets somewhat anxiously. "Kindly answer my question."

"He is exactly where he was last you checked, Sherlock," Mycroft says exasperatedly. "In London!"

Sherlock clenches his jaw. "And you're sure of this?"

"Yes, of course I'm bloody sure; I have over seventy live-feed cameras surrounding Baker Street as we speak, and they all show that John is currently in the sitting room."

Right, so that eliminates the small possibility that this isn't some kind of mental breakdown.

"Yes, of course he is," Sherlock murmurs absently, eyes fixed uneasily on John's painfully real-looking form. "Mycroft…" he begins; Sherlock knows he ought to tell his brother what he is currently looking at, since it is undoubtedly a side effect of the drugs he was administered during his time in captivity, but something prevents the words from leaving his lips…Is this really so bad? Having John near him like this, even if he isn't truly here? The logical portion of Sherlock's mind shouts that this is a horrendous idea that will only end in pain and perhaps even more mental conflict, but his heart says something far different.

His heart says that the only person who matters is currently sitting within arms-reach for the first time in a year, and he ought to do anything in his power to keep it that way. So, with a falsely carefree tone, he clears his throat and says, "Never mind, sorry for troubling you, brother. Contact me as soon as you have my next mission. Goodbye."

. . .

It takes Sherlock one hour to discover that John can only speak one phrase: I love you.

John says it in several different tones, ranging from adoring to dejected, depending on Sherlock's mood and the direction of the conversation

"John, you are not corporal."

John curls his knees to his chest and lets his head fall against the backboard, his face tipped up at the ceiling, eyes closed. "I love you," he murmurs wearily.

"You're not real, you're not really here. I am the only one who can see you because you're in my head."

John opens one eye, looking equal parts fond and annoyed, as if Sherlock has just woken him from a pleasant nap. "I love you," he states, apparently exasperated that he has been forced to repeat himself.

"And that is how I know this is not real," he says with forced composure. "The real you wouldn't say something like—that." He clears his throat and casts his gaze to the floor. John watches him with calm, patient eyes, expression utterly devoid of judgment.

"I need to go," Sherlock tells him, grabbing his coat and heading blindly for the door, intending to lose himself in Scotland's bustling streets and suffocating, noisy air—anything to get away from this room and the careful scrutiny of those beautiful, navy-blue eyes.

. . .

When he wakes up the next day and John is still there, perched on the other side of the bed with a fond smile, Sherlock makes a decision. Despite the voice in his head that warns him of how badly this will end, despite the sick twist in his gut that reminds him of how fragile his mental state is, and despite the cold realization that the man before him is no more than a product of neurological poisons, Sherlock sits up and whispers, "Good morning, John."

And then, heartbreakingly, "I've missed you."


Business, as Mycroft said, carries on as usual. Missions come and go like order tickets in a diner, and Sherlock takes careful measures to perfectly execute each one (execute perhaps being an operative word). Sometimes he spies, other times he solves mysteries, but more often than not, he is forced to draw a weapon and eliminate the perpetrator is a far less savory manner.

(Guns no longer feel as heavy in his hands and the sound of shots doesn't provoke more than a small twitch)

Everything carries on in much of the same manner, only now he has John by his side at all times. At first it is a gift, but it quickly becomes painful when he is forced to face the solemn, sad eyes of his friend after every mission; perhaps Sherlock is smart enough to lie to himself and convince his conscience that all of this is necessary, but it is far more difficult to do the same to John.

The guilt festers like a rotting wound, and though John keeps saying those three lovely words, they are tinged with a distinct sadness that even Sherlock cannot ignore.


February : Drug Den of Infamous Cartel Leader (Barcelona, Spain):

"I'll share nothing," Alexander spits, cheeks reddening with fury. "How dare you come into my home and demand such a thing! I would not give away the names of my customers if you tortured me." Sherlock watches the man's fingers stealthily crawl towards a drawer behind him, where he has presumably stored either a gun or a very impressive knife, and absently thinks to himself how futile it is. He deduced the location of the man's contact book minutes ago, and his request that Alexander give it to him was more of a courtesy than anything; he supposes his innate matters have yet again proved to be useless.

"Torture will hardly be necessary," Sherlock replies coolly, drawing his weapon.

In three seconds flat, two well-aimed bullets rip through the breast of Alexander Jimenez's fine, champagne-colored dress shirt and send the man careening to the floor. The holes bleed into the material, which is actually quite tragic since the shirt is silk and those stains won't come out easily.

John watches dolefully from the corner, arms crossed tightly over the striped front of his jumper. "I'm sorry," Sherlock tells him, as he plucks the little black book from the dead man's pocket. "John, you know why I'm doing this, these men worked for Moriarty and if I let them live they'll only hurt others. You want me to save lives don't you?"

John mournfully replies with his customary, "I love you," but it sounds like a sad, reluctant yes, I understand, and you're right, but I don't like this.

"I know, darling," Sherlock soothes, as he flicks through the pages and commits every informant and phone number to memory. "Neither do I, but we do as we must."

. . .

Later, as Sherlock hunches over the cracked sink at Holiday Inn, scrubbing rusty stains from the whorls of his fingertips, he catches a glimpse of John standing behind him, eyes dim and disappointed. Sherlock stares into the basin at the wavering red reflection, his somber face wiggling and distorting within the pool of dirty water and blood.

"John, I—" but then he stops, because what can he say? That he's sorry? He's already said that, and repetition steals the significance from a phrase.

"I love you," John says slowly, faint sorrow tinging his voice. He moves into the threshold and grips the doorframe with white knuckles. "I love you."

That aches like nothing else: those beautiful words being uttered in a tragic tone, as ceaselessly as a broken record—it bites at Sherlock, chips away at the soft matter clustered behind his ribs.

John waits for him to respond as he always does, but when the moment stretches on in silence, John leaves like a ghost, and Sherlock goes back to washing his hands.

An hour later the blood is still stuck beneath his nails and the scarlet crescents glare like reminders.


March : Soaps N' Suds, (Florence, Italy)

The launderette is dirty and lifeless: roofed with fluorescent bulbs that flicker on the ceiling like dying fireflies and heavy with the stench of cheap cleaning fluid and cigarettes. However, Sherlock does not have the luxury of preference at the moment, so he tosses his bloodied clothes into the washer without complaint. John sits on top of the dryer two feet away, swinging his legs and knocking the backs of his heels lightly against the machine every so often.

Thoughtfully, John says "I love you" and his tone reads: This is something, hm? Never thought we'd end up in a dump like this.

"Neither had I. But we do what we must to survive," Sherlock replies absently, digging in his pockets for change to feed into the machine. No one else is here—save for the hearing-impaired old woman behind the counter—so Sherlock speaks to John without the fear of being presumed mad.

Are you unhappy?

The question is out of the blue, and it makes Sherlock freeze in the motion of pushing coins into the slot. He retracts his hand and stares blankly at John. "I…I don't understand?"

It's simple, Sherlock. Are you unhappy? Sometimes you look it, other times you don't. I'd just like to know for sure.

To stall his answer, Sherlock averts his gaze to the spinning, glass-paned mouth of the washing machine, watching unseeingly as his blood-stained shirts and trousers are tossed about in suds. He glances down at his hands and finds familiar scarlet crescents underneath his nails, then a few more flecks of red against the dark leather of his shoes. Along his calf there is a pathetically-healing knife wound and his back is marked with a crude, white, X-shaped scar, like some kind of perverse treasure map. His head hurts. John continues staring.

Is he unhappy?

The thing is, he has been feeling this way (whatever 'this way' is) for so long that it's difficult to remember anything else. Perhaps last year he was happier—back when he was in 221b drinking pale, sweet tea with John in their sitting room, bantering over which cases to entertain—but at this point, he can hardly place himself back in that mindset or emotional state, so it is impossible to know if he was better off back then.

The washer chimes and he mechanically removes the sopping clothes, all clean and fresh and devoid of bloodstains or dirt. In fact, if he didn't know better he'd say these clothes belonged to a normal man with a normal, nonviolent life. Without comment, John obligingly hops off the dryer so he can toss the bundle of wet material inside.

So?

The dryer hums, his head throbs, and the fireflies on the ceiling continue flickering. John tilts his head and looks at him with soft, liquid blue eyes. Something about him glows brightly—too brightly, to the extent that it's painful to look at him.

"I don't know," Sherlock answers truthfully. "I don't know."


April: Highway Ronda Del Litoral (B-10), Seville, Spain:

The agency-issued car's trunk is the perfect size for a duffel bag of weapons and 20,000 pounds worth of heroin—their recent spoils from a successfully apprehended drug cartel—which pleases Sherlock greatly because it means he will have no need to request better accommodations from his brother. With the careful precision of one handling a bomb, Sherlock places the bags inside, making sure the zippers are all shut and each of the guns have their safety on; meanwhile John stands behind him, whistling something unnamable under his breath and rocking on his heels with his hands in his pockets.

On the road, the windows are rolled down and sunlight streams in, baking the leather seats and making the blonde hairs on John's head nearly translucent. John grins and tips his face towards the warm rays, his eyes as bright as jewels.

I love this song

Sherlock hadn't noticed the song until John mentioned it, so he turns it up to get a better listen. It's something old and catchy, light-hearted and breezy, and although it isn't something Sherlock would ever listen to, John clearly enjoys it, which is more than enough reason to blare it as loudly as possible.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it's alright

John turns to him and grins: a beautiful smile that encompasses his face in increments, until his entire being is shining like a sun. He's so bright that it hurts to look at him, but it hurts more to look away, so Sherlock just keeps staring—feeling so in love that it sears his skin and tangles his heartstrings into knots—allowing himself to drown in the sight of John and the sensation of sunshine seeping into his bones.

Little darling, I feel the ice is slowly melting, little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear

Something ecstatic bubbles under his skin like a swarm of bees—something cloying and lovely—and because of it, he finds himself sticking his head out of the window and calling, "I love you, John Watson!" So loudly that is scratches his throat and burns his lungs, and makes him feel lightheaded and drunk. John is still grinning at him, still singing the song, still blazing like a star; the moon waxes and wanes, planets bend and twist, and his smile spills flecks of stardust across the universe like powdered sugar. John's eyes are bluer than the sky, bright and tangible and undeniably here, and Sherlock is so happy that it hurts, that it burns.

Sun, sun, sun, here we come


May : France:

"Before I left, I was in love with you," Sherlock tells John one night, as they lean against the wet, dirty walls of one of Bordeaux's many hidden alleys. It is midnight, and although the overhang from the restaurant next door conceals the roof of stars suspended above them, the puddles on the damp ground mimic the sky perfectly. Idly, Sherlock runs his fingers through the reflected constellations.

Why didn't you tell me? The stars reflect in John's eyes as well, and their shimmering, navy-color reminds Sherlock of the ocean.

Fear, uncertainty, and weakness, he thinks.

So many trivial things kept him from saying what was desperate to leave his tongue, and he regrets it keenly every morning he wakes and every night he sleeps. Though literary trash might lead one to believe otherwise, unspoken love is not poetry, it is cowardice.

"If you didn't love me back, it would have killed me," he whispers to the moon, eyes half lidded in the dim light. "I would have been destroyed."

A fireworks show begins overhead, and Sherlock wonders if it's for some obscure French holiday he doesn't know about. Bright explosions of orange and red burst inside Orion's belt; blue sparklers electrify the Big Dipper. He feels as if he is witnessing the destruction of the universe, because suddenly the sky is filled with red giants, supernovas, and half-shattered suns; that yellow detonation is a dying star and that purple blast is an imploding galaxy.

"I'm still in love with you," he corrects. The admission pools wetly at his feet, soaking into his skin like ice. "I don't know how not to be."

John smiles at him and closes his eyes against the bright lights of the fireworks above, the colors dancing across his pale face like fire: his lips bleed indigo, his eyelids glow bright green. Sherlock does not think he has seen a more beautiful sight.

I know, John murmurs. I know.

Over their heads, the universe continues dying, bits of stardust stick to the black backdrop and fizzle there like flies being held down by their wings, and Sherlock thinks to himself No, you couldn't possibly.


June-August : Europe:

He and John wander the world, solve crimes, save the civilians and incarcerate the criminals—just as it used to be. The only difference between Then and Now is that there is an inedible ache throbbing in the pit of Sherlock's soul, and John's voice chimes only within the confines of his mad, brilliant mind.

"I love you," John consoles, and Sherlock tells himself it is enough because it has to be.


September : Hotel Paradise (Nowheresville, UK):

"I'm mad," he tells John one night, a glass of whiskey in one hand, his head in the other. "I'm mad and delusional and worst of all, I'm illogical. You're not here, John," he whispers, but it's a tired argument and the conviction is absent from his tone. "Or maybe you are. I don't know anymore, and that is what frightens me."

John crosses the room in the calm manner he does most things, eyes as warm and inviting as an embrace. Without a word, he perches himself on the edge of the bed—far enough to prevent the notion of contact, but close enough for comfort—and smiles. He opens his mouth and the words "I love you' flow out, lush as champagne and velvet. In another world, hearing this would a great comfort, but right now it just burns his skin, as if the words are handfuls of salt being sadistically ground into his open cuts and half-healed lacerations.

"Stop," he begs, his voice breaking off like brittle flint, the sweating glass of whiskey slipping in his white-knuckled grip. "Please, John, say something else for once. Please."

"I…I love you?" John looks hurt; he wraps his arms around himself like a flower curling its petals inward.

"No. You don't," Sherlock chuckles brokenly, half between a sob and a choked laugh, though there is nothing funny about this situation. "I know you don't. How can you? I left you. I died and left you without so much as a clue of where I went. I'm sorry, John. I'm sorry."

"I love—"

"John, please—"

"I love—"

"STOP. I can't do this anymore, I can't do this!" The low buzz in his head becomes a fierce roar, John's eyes scream sincerity and hope, and before Sherlock has a chance to consider the situation, he has flung his drink across the room; he watches it shatter beautifully against the wall, whiskey-slick shards of glass splintering in every direction like some deadly rendition of confetti. It leaves a dent in the plaster, where amber liquid oozes down like blood from a festering wound.

He doesn't feel better, though.

So he grabs the lamp on the nightstand and flips it over too, then steps across the resulting shards with bare feet and makes his way over to the bathroom, where he laughs and sobs and begs into the mirror, into the wall, into his palms. He curls up on the cold linoleum and interlaces his fingers behind his head protectively, as if he's in the middle of an earthquake and his hands are strong enough to protect his neck from falling debris. "I can't do this," he tells John, who is now sitting on the floor in front of him, his knees drawn to his chest. "I don't know who I am, or what you are, or where I'm going…" Sherlock rambles on and on, the words seeping from his lips like poison. "I don't know anything anymore, John."

The soles of his feet are covered with blood and ceramic shards from the lamp, but he doesn't feel a thing. The only sounds in the cold, dim bathroom are his own labored breathing and intermittent dry sobs, which echo off the walls and come back to him sounding like a stranger's.

Eventually John begins to hum something quietly—an old Irish lullaby, Sherlock thinks—and whispers those three little words ceaselessly, until Sherlock finally stops fighting and allows oblivion to claim him.

. . .

When Sherlock dreams, he imagines that he is falling down an endless pit. Cold, dark, bitter blackness cloaks his entire being like tar as he plummets further and further to a destination he knows nothing of. He screams but his throat is too tight; he flails about but there is nothing to grip; someone's hand reaches out to help him but it disappears into the darkness before he can take hold.

Help me, he thinks, for the words will not release themselves from his lungs and unsaid things boil under his skin like magma.

Help me, he begs, but no one answers.


October : Doncaster, England:

The work comes in endless streams, until one day, it doesn't.

. . .

On Tuesday he receives a letter on crisp, eggshell-colored cardstock, penned in expensive Indian ink, and without looking at the address he knows immediately that it is from his brother. With shaking hands, he unfolds the paper and drinks in the words, unsure of how to feel. He rereads over and over until the single phrase is branded on the backs of his eyelids.

Your work is done, Sherlock. Time to go home. –MH

When he looks up, John is blurrier than he remembers, and he finds he can't recall the exact shade of John's eyes. "Home," Sherlock whispers to him, testing out the word. "Home."


October : Mycroft's Office (England Base):

In celebration, Mycroft prepares an extravagant spread equipped with fine china, imported spicy tea, delicate silver thimbles of honey and milk that almost look too pretty to disrupt, and little dishes of pure-white sugar cubes.

Sherlock stares dully at the banquet and eats precisely none of it. Instead, he stares out the window to his right, transfixed by the sight of the endless downpour. To the rain, he says "I am not coming home."

Mycroft puts down his tea with a loud tink.

The silence that follows this statement reminds Sherlock of the first time Mycroft found his needles and case of cocaine solution; the empty air is similarly thick with unspoken words and impending lecture.

But then his brother surprises him.

When Mycroft eyes him from across the desk, his gaze is calculating and sharp, but not cruel. He is not looking at Sherlock as if he has suggested something foolish or unwise, he is looking at Sherlock as if he is complex equation he can't quite suss out. Without tone, he asks, "Where will you go?"

Sherlock has no wanderlust, but he thinks he can learn to drift from one place to another without complaint—he's been doing it for two years, why stop now? "France, Italy, somewhere, I don't know. Perhaps New Zealand, maybe even the States." Read: anywhere but London.

Unsurprisingly, Mycroft hears the unspoken latter end of that statement. "London is your home, Sherlock," he reminds, taking a draught of tea. "I would think you'd be pleased to return. Whatever is keeping you away?"

There is no use jumping round the subject, so with his usual cavalier bluntness, Sherlock says, "John will know I'm back and I don't want to see him."

This catches Mycroft's attention. "You don't wish to see John?"

It is then that the lacey pattern of the tablecloth catches his eyes and prompts him to pour every ounce of his attention into studying it. After a long moment, he tells it, "No."

"And why is that?"

Sherlock doesn't point out that the reason is because John is already here, sitting patiently in the corner with his hands folded in his lap and his gaze fixed comfortably out the window. As if sensing Sherlock's thoughts, John looks to him with a small, content smile. 'I love you' he mouths, meaning it as reassurance. Unconsciously, something in Sherlock's chest loosens. He exhales deeply and lifts his gaze.

"It doesn't matter, Mycroft. I just can't"

"Won't," Mycroft corrects bluntly.

Testily, he replies, "Why does it matter to you if I return or not? I've done your bidding already, brother. Moriarty's web is thoroughly destroyed, our association is no longer necessary. Congratulations, you are rid of me."

Instead of looking pleased with this admission like Sherlock expects, Mycroft looks infuriated. He sets his tea down with a deliberate clink and leans forward, his dark eyes glimmering with both hurt and fury. "Is that what you think of me, Sherlock?" he asks, in a deathly-low voice. "You really believe I'd just wash my hands of you, now that you've helped me complete a task? Do you truly think so little of me?"

Outside, the rain pours harder and thunder roars in the distance. Sherlock feels suddenly quiet tired. His bones ache and his heart is wistful for things he can't name. "No," he says without much conviction either way. He doesn't care if Mycroft is upset nor does he care that he himself is upset. The only person who matters to him is currently sitting in a worn recliner at 221b Baker Street and simultaneously gazing out the window of Mycroft's office. Nothing and no one else matter.

Silence stretches on like scenery in the window of a long car drive, dull and unending, but Sherlock is too busy staring hollowly at John's profile to register the lack of words.

"Sherlock," Mycroft says at last, his voice careful and soft in a way Sherlock has never heard before. "Sherlock, something is wrong. Please tell me."

He isn't really listening. John is too busy mouthing promises at him, a grin creasing the corners of his blue eyes. (I love you I love you I love you) "I don't know," is his absent reply, the words dribbling out unsurely and slow. Mycroft speaks again; it is an urgent demand judging by his slightly panicked tone, and Sherlock catches a few words like 'okay' 'you' 'please' brother' and a few other meaningless, unlinked phrases. He hums Here Comes the Sun under his breath, mostly for John, but partially to comfort himself with something familiar.

I love you!

"I still see John," Sherlock says finally, out of the blue, with no preamble or segue or hint of emotion. "He's right there."

As he says this, Sherlock realizes he cannot remember exactly how John looks when he is worried—there is a very precise crease that develops between his two eyebrows, somewhat L-shaped but no so harshly defined—or the smell of his clothing right after he washes them—that familiar cozy scent he carries on his skin with a slight twist of cinnamon and laundry soap—or the way his voice sounds outside of Sherlock's lonely, longing head. Suddenly, the man at the window is almost unrecognizable in his foreignness; the angels of his face are not right, his eyes are not bright enough.

That is not John, and for the first time in two years, the extent of his own loneliness dawns on him


October-December : Everywhere and Nowhere:

"Allow me to help you, Sherlock, it's time to let go." Mycroft's words float to him like dandelion seeds in summer. He closes his eyes, reclines back into his messy, tangled thoughts.

"It's time to let him go."

So Sherlock wades through the confusion, swallows down the sorrow that threatens to drown him, opens up his mind, and does exactly that.

(Goodnight, my love.)


PART 3

. . .

January: Home:

The brass knocker and address on the front door haven't changed in the slightest, but there is something decidedly different about the flat building. There is something absent from the air: perhaps John's laughter or the crooning of Sherlock's long-untouched violin. Or maybe it lacks something simpler: something like happiness.

Sherlock stands on the steps, knocks, and then waits.

The door opens slowly and suspiciously, as if the man behind it has lost all of his faith in the outside world—and, considering the situation, maybe he has. When John opens the door completely, Sherlock finds himself suspended in time, lost in the achingly familiar glint of those blue eyes and soft honey-wheat colored hair. He finds he can't say anything at first because all of a sudden the gravity of his actions falls upon him and lodges itself within his throat; he had not realized how much he missed John until right now. John too seems to be in complete shock because he looks at Sherlock like he can't quite believe his eyes; he rubs at them to make sure he isn't seeing things, pinches his arm to check if this is a dream. When he speaks, his voice is low and scratchy, broken in the same cadence that Sherlock has often heard in his own. "Sherlock?"

And within that one word, millions of unsaid things reside, all bundled up inside a few mere letters. Most of them are I missed you and How could you and I forgive you anyway, but one little phrase snags his attention like a neon sign or a shooting star. It is, plainly, I love you.

"John," Sherlock croaks. He speaks his name with reverence and relief, as if the word is a prayer, a promise, and a treasure. He steps forward and grasps the sides of John's face in his hands, cradling the angles of his jaw within his blistered palms, relishing the warmth that radiates from John's skin and seeps into his own. "John."

He knows there are cracks along the seams of their beings: wounds and tears that will take time to heal and lacerations that will perhaps never close. But, hidden beneath the blood, the pain, the unspoken apologies and ripped hearts, there is a glimmering beacon of hope that shines through like a tiny star amidst a dying galaxy.

"I love you" he tells John, because he needs to say it, has waited all this time to say it. "I love you."

At that, John makes a strange choked sound—something between laughter and a sob—and then drags him inside, pushes him against the front door, and just rests his face in the curve of Sherlock's neck, breathing hard against his skin, his shaking hands twisted in the material of Sherlock's coat. "I—I need," the words knot up inside John's throat, obstructed by emotion. "I need you, Sherlock. Please."

Need is something Sherlock comprehends. He understands the sharp sting of want—has felt it buzz beneath his skin for so long that it is as familiar as his own name—and thus wastes no time in wrapping John in his lanky, unsure arms, pulling him against his heart, and asking "what do you want from me, John?"

I will give you the moon if you so desire.

"Everything," John breathes, and when he leans in and crushes Sherlock's mouth against his own, Sherlock wonders how something so seemingly small can make him feel as if he is being created and destroyed all at once. John parts his coat and reaches for his waist, pulls him flush against his body, and rests his fingertips against the sharp juts of Sherlock's hips, thumbs pressing into the warm dip of his spine. Sherlock splays his hands across John's chest, his palms absorbing each thump of his heartbeat, fingers hungrily clutching to the material of his jumper.

"You," Sherlock murmurs, against the soft swell of John's bottom lip. "You are the sun."

Sherlock cups the doctor's face within his shaking grasp, presses their mouths even closer, and chases John's taste along the seam of his lips and backs of his teeth. John is a star, his mouth is the universe, and the world is a jumble of light, sound, and exploding supernovas; Sherlock kisses John as if he is insatiably hungry, as if his soul is a black hole trying to imbibe John's essence, drinking him down and filling his own empty spaces with starlight. And Sherlock feels no shame because John kisses back with equal fervor; his fingers tangle in the black curls at Sherlock's nape; his mouth devours Sherlock's as if the detective is oxygen on an airless planet or deliverance from a pernicious world. He holds onto Sherlock's hipbones, his arched back, the slim circumference of his waist, as if he thinks Sherlock will disappear if he lets go for a second. There is desperation to John's kisses: relieved, starved, impossibly vast desperation that leaps from John's lips onto his own, igniting an inextinguishable fire in the pit of Sherlock's soul.

He wonders if John will learn to forgive the blood beneath his nails and the guilt that stains his heart; if he will help Sherlock unpack the immense burden he has been shouldering for two years; if he will embrace the scars that crisscross over Sherlock's skin and kiss them until they heal. He wonders if John will hold him close when nightmares come stampeding into the gentle quiet of slumber; if he will press his lips to Sherlock's heart and bless the beat that echoes there; if he will open his chest up and invite Sherlock inside, allowing him to roost within the warm hollows of his soul.

Sherlock wonders if John's love knows any bounds, or if it just stretches on endlessly in all directions like the wide reach of the universe. He wonders if John knows how brilliant he is, if he knows that he is the only star in Sherlock's infinite, illimitable galaxy.

He wonders.

But there is time for questions later, so Sherlock just smiles against John's lips, tugs him impossibly closer, and swallows down the sun.