The kitchen table was clean. There was no clutter or scientific equipment; no unidentifiable objects or ones that John really wished he couldn’t tell what they were. All in all it looked like a completely average kitchen table.
John hated it.
He had spent the last few days tidying the flat; putting all of Sherlock’s things into boxes. It was something that his therapist had recommended. John had started seeing her again after Sherlock had...now that Sherlock was gone. He had agreed with her at the time; that it would give him some form of closure. But now, seeing 221B so empty of Sherlock’s influence, it all seemed so wrong. John hadn’t even been able to face coming back until today; he’d been staying at a hotel. He’d thought he’d been ready to come here but he’d been wrong.
It made it seem more real, more believable. That maybe it was possible Sherlock really wasn’t coming back from this. John choked back a sob, leaning heavily on the table and collapsing into one of the chairs. It couldn’t be true. Sure he had been there, watched it happen...but he had been confused, disorientated. And Sherlock was good at tricking people, maybe he’d...
Tears streamed down John’s face, he couldn’t even convince himself anymore. It had been four months. The flat was still empty. Sherlock wasn’t here and he wasn’t coming back.
John didn’t know what he was supposed to do without him.
“Oh you poor dear,” Mrs Hudson sighed. “I’ll put the kettle on and get the biscuits out.”
She bustled off, thankfully leaving John to compose himself. He was sure his eyes were red-rimmed with heavy bags underneath from lack of sleep. He hadn’t slept properly since that day. Sometimes in his dreams he relived what had happened; sometimes he dreamt that he was on a case with Sherlock, that life was going on like normal. John wasn’t sure which dreams were worse.
“Right, here you are,” Mrs Hudson said putting a plate down in front of John on the table. “Now let me make us some tea.”
“Thank you, Mrs Hudson. I...” She waved him off.
“That’s perfectly alright dear. It’s what I’m here for, well not really but for you I can make an exception.” She sat down with a sad smile, setting down the tea. “It looks very strange in here like this, doesn’t it? I didn’t like to move anything before, thought it best left to you.”
“Yes, well. I thought it might help, but now it just looks...” John gestured around helplessly. Mrs Hudson nodded sadly, seeming to understand what he was trying to say despite his lack of words.
Sherlock had called John a conductor of light, had said John stimulated his brain but it wasn’t just Sherlock that had felt different, better, when they were together. John had felt so much more alive too, more so than he had even in the Army. And now that Sherlock was gone, he was shutting down again. His mind was a muddled mess with nothing to focus it, no one.
“I just don’t understand why he would do it, why he would just give up like that. It wasn’t who he was!” John said heatedly, tea forgotten in front of him. “And no matter what bullshit he tried to tell me, he wasn’t a fake. He was real. It was all real.”
“Yes, he was. And we know that, even if some people don’t,” Mrs Hudson tutted. “They should really know better than to believe everything they read in the papers. He-”
She was cut off by a heavy knocking at the front door.
“I suppose I better go see who it is. You just sit here dear, and drink your tea.”
John watched with a smile as she left the flat and hurried down the stairs. At least some things were still the same. He sipped absent-mindedly at his tea. John had forgotten that he wasn’t the only affected by Sherlock’s death. The genius liked, had liked, to pretend that he had no friends, that there was no one who cared about him but it wasn’t true.
John wasn’t the only one with rights to be upset, Mrs Hudson did too. And Molly, and Lestrade, and probably Mycroft as well in his own way. John knew he probably wasn’t helping himself trying to deal with it all on his own, but most of the time the pain felt too raw to be sharing with anyone.
A shriek from downstairs snapped John to attention. He rushed down to the front door, his hand moving to the gun he still carried out of habit.
“Mrs Hudson?!” he shouted in alarm as he drew close. The old woman was leaning heavily against the wall by the door, trembling violently.
“Are you alright? What happened?” John asked, tucking away his gun having not seen any immediate danger. He began assessing the situation as a doctor would, painfully aware that the landlady was far from being young. “Mrs Hudson, can you talk to me please? Let me help you.”
“John, it’s...he’s,” she stumbled out. John frowned in confusion, aside from the shaking and slight paleness she appeared to be mostly ok. In fact, it looked like she was just in...
The voice came from behind John, in the still open doorway, and it was achingly familiar. John screwed his eyes shut and took a deep steadying breath. Turning around slowly and hoping, praying, that this wasn’t just his mind playing tricks on him again, he reopened his eyes.
He was there. Or at least it certainly looked like him, the figure stood in front of John. But then it always had before too, when John had seen him; that didn’t necessarily mean it was real. Staggering forward slightly, John reached out a hand. He tried to quash the hope rising quickly within him; he didn’t think he could take being disappointed again.
His hand inched closer, and closer, until it touched something solid; the flesh and bone of his shoulder. John gripped it tightly and let the emotions he had been damping down overflow. A noise halfway between a sob and a laugh of disbelief escaped him. They both spoke at the same time.
Sherlock clamped his mouth shut, obviously waiting for John to continue. Clearly Sherlock’s ability to express his emotions hadn’t improved much. John wasn’t sure what kind of far-fetched explanation the other man had but he didn’t want to hear it right now. Instead, he raised his hand from Sherlock’s shoulder towards his face and slapped him...hard.
“You utter bastard. I thought you were...you let me think you were dead! Did you even care about how that would make me feel?” John paused in his rant to huff in annoyance. “Of course you didn’t. Because you’re Sherlock bloody Holmes and we’re just the insignificant sidelines to your life.”
John could feel his anger building up but for once he didn’t want to rein it in. Because it was zeroed in on this man in front of him, and he deserved it.
“You hit me,” Sherlock said with a shocked and vaguely pitiful expression on his face, stating the obvious for possibly the first time in his life. John wasn’t about to let that stop him now though.
“Yes, yes I bloody did! And do you know why? Because you left me! You left me here with nothing,” he spat out, thumping on the taller man’s chest. “You made yourself the centre of my world and then you tore yourself out of it.”
And with that realisation, the anger left him as suddenly as it had arrived. John sagged forward, feeling wiry strong arms wrap around him and pull him in close.
“John, I...” Sherlock started again and John could feel him shudder as he spoke before gathering himself together. “I’m sorry I hurt you. That was never my intention. In fact, everything I did was to try and prevent that from happening.”
Sherlock let out a wry chuckle.
“Unfortunately, that seems to have backfired somewhat. As you well know, I’m not the best with people.”
With those words, John softened into the embrace and the two men stood there, lost in the comfort of the moment until a movement behind John startled them out of it.
“I think I’ll need to put another pot of tea on,” Mrs Hudson said faintly, straightening upright and heading towards her own flat.
John immediately felt guilty, watching her walk slowly away. He had completely forgotten she was there, caught up in being near Sherlock again. And clearly she was struggling to cope with this too, if her unsteady walk was anything to go by.
Carefully, he extracted himself from Sherlock and cleared his throat feeling awkward.
“I better go see if she’s alright. Not every day someone comes back from the dead,” John said as he walked backwards, not quite willing to let Sherlock out of his sight yet.
For once, it seemed Sherlock was in tune with someone’s emotions because he followed John towards Mrs Hudson’s flat. Or maybe it was just that he didn’t want to let John out of his sight either.
“Yes, good idea. Besides, I owe you both a proper explanation.”
The whole thing seemed vaguely ridiculous but it was so utterly Sherlock that John couldn’t help but believe every word he said. This was his life now, and Sherlock was back, and despite his lingering anger John felt ok again for the first time in months. It would take time, he knew, to get back to the way things were before, if they ever did. God knows, he was nowhere near ready to forgive Sherlock for everything quite yet, no matter what his reasons were.
But things would get better. Because he had Sherlock back and suddenly rebuilding his life seemed easy, just like it had the first time they’d met when he’d just returned from war. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest way to live, so reliant on someone else to feel alive, but he could work on that too.
Eventually, John broke the quiet and looked over at Sherlock with a small smile that the man returned hesitantly,
“Guess you’ll need to unpack your stuff again then.”