John bolted upright in his bed.
'I'M NOT GAY!'
The words screamed in John's head, bouncing off the inside of his skull until his temples throbbed. A knot tied itself around in his gut, and he winced as he doubled over in actual, physical pain. 'I'm not, but I...' the unspoken words faded away; John unable to complete the thought, even in the privacy of his mind. He pulled his knees to his chest, planted his face in his hands, and sobbed.
John's morning had started just like any other. He had slept well enough, to a point. That was disturbing to him. His PTSD had been pushed aside when Sherlock came into his life, and when he watched his best friend fall, no, jump, to his death; the night terrors, the limp, and the shaking hands had returned with a vengeance, seemingly angry that it had been pushed away and was relishing the new opportunity to torture him with fresh images of his latest trauma. Lately, though, the nightmares had just stopped, for no apparent reason. John was afraid to analyse this new development too closely, for fear of waking the beast sleeping inside his mind.
Lately new dreams filled his sleep. Not the terrible visions of death and destruction from his days spent in Afghanistan and not the vision of his best friend plummeting from the rooftop of St. Bart's and lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk; just a vision of Sherlock. Talking to Sherlock, laughing with Sherlock, running behind him, behind that goddamned flowing coat. John found comfort in these dreams, but would often wake with the expectation that Sherlock would be there, home, on Baker Street. The moments between being asleep and fully awake were the moments John clung desperately to each morning. These were the moments in which Sherlock was still very much alive in his mind. Coming fully awake, to the realization that Sherlock was not there and was never coming back, crushed him, every single time.
His latest dream had taken a troublesome twist. While most of his new dreams of Sherlock were simple replays of actual events, this one had taken on a life of its own. Sherlock had turned around in the middle of some crowded crime scene, which one John wasn't even sure now, placed his unnaturally long fingers on the side of John's face and tilted his head to lean in for a kiss, simply whispering 'trust me' as his perfect lips drew nearer and nearer to John's. Their lips had not met when the panic stricken John woke from his uneasy slumber.
He sat on his bed while the words crashed around in his head, with him not knowing what to make of this new development.
After his brief breakdown, John managed to pull himself together and head towards the bathroom. 'I'll feel better after a hot shower' John thought, trying more to convince himself rather than just making the statement. The hot water ran over John's scarred and tired body, as he tried to rinse the cobwebs from his mind.
He leaned against the cool tile wall of the shower with his eyes closed, trying to understand what was happening to him. 'I'm not gay', he repeated internally after replaying the dream in his mind, 'so why am I dreaming this about Sherlock?' His shoulders slumped as the next thought swirled into his head. 'It doesn't matter anyway, he's gone.'
John stepped out into the cold air of the bathroom. He quickly set about getting himself ready for work. Oh how he just wanted to go back to bed, wanted to dream again of Sherlock, even with this strange turn of events. As he got himself dressed, an odd thought popped into his mind. 'I wonder how that kiss would have tasted.' Quickly, he shook it off. 'I'm not gay!'
John instinctively grabbed his cane as he started for the door, though his feet didn't feel quite so heavy this morning and the ache in his leg seemed a bit milder. 'It will be back' he sighed as he opted to take his cane with him anyway.
Work was long and tedious. Running noses, sprained wrists, flu shots... just boring everyday life with boring everyday people. How John longed for the company of his absent friend.
John finally managed to find the end of his work day, and not a moment too soon. His eyes were tired and heavy and he wanted nothing more than to return to the friend waiting in his dreams, even if he wasn't gay.
When he reached his flat on Baker Street, John was sure something was not right. Nothing looked off, the door was locked, just the way he left it, and there were no marks on the large, opposing door. Something just didn't feel right.
John unlocked the door and slowly made his way into his flat. Nothing seemed out of place, so he set about making himself a cup of tea. 'This will calm my nerves' he thought as he put the kettle on.
John fixed his cup and decided to have a walk about the flat, just to ease his mind. He peeked into his room and then the bathroom. Finding nothing, he made his way to the closed door of Sherlock's room. He put his hand on the cold knob. John felt a knot rise in his throat. He had not been in this room, not once, not since... He took a deep breath to steel his nerve and threw open the door. The overwhelming scent, Sherlock's scent, filled his nostrils and he felt light headed. He set his cup down on the bedside table; afraid very much he might drop it, and set himself down on the edge of Sherlock's bed in an attempt to regain his senses.
John looked around the room and his eyes began to water. His head spun and his chest started to tighten. John just eased back against the headboard and let the emotions swallow him.
Sleep overtook him.
Once again he was at a crime scene, some generic crime scene. Sherlock was there, spinning his deductions like a web of fine silk. John just stared as Sherlock flitted and bobbed around, his normal, hyperactive self. Sherlock suddenly spun on John and looked him directly in the eyes. John was startled, but didn't look away. 'You really should just trust me' Sherlock said, and then he was gone. John woke with a start and panicked, not realising where he was. He was cold, but he was covered. As he slowly pieced together the previous night, he realised where he was, but why was he covered? He looked down to see what was covering his body and was overcome with pure horror. Sherlock's coat.
He threw the coat off his body onto the bed and sprinted from the room. He only just made it to the bathroom before he vomited. He slid down the wall onto the cold tile floor, shaking.
'Sherlock is dead' he repeated to himself over and over. 'But how?' The last time John saw that coat, it was wrapped around the broken, lifeless body of his best friend. John believed Mycroft had been in possession the coat, and he knew that even Mycroft wouldn't do anything as sentimental, or cruel as this. He squinted through blood shot eyes at his watch. 'Bugger, it's time to get ready to go back to work.' He made a conscious decision to just not think about where the coat had come from, or why, until after work.
Another tedious day at work. BORING. He found himself using that word often, too often, these days. Boring co-workers, boring patients, boring illnesses, and boring little lives. John smirked, thinking how much it would have pleased Sherlock to know that he had finally arrived at that conclusion.
Unanswered questions coursed through John's head as he walked home from work. Where had the coat come from? Who would have been so heartless as to place it over John for him to wake and find it there? John didn't care for the answers that popped unwelcome into his brain.
John decided he would have a chat with Mrs. Hudson when he got home.
John tapped on the door that led to Mrs. Hudson's flat. He heard her stir and soon she was opening the door beckoning him inside. "Oh dear, don't you look a sight." Mrs. Hudson said as she ushered him to a chair. "Sit and I'll make you a nice cup of tea."
"Thanks, but no, Mrs. Hudson, I just wanted to have a quick word."
Ignoring the no, she busied herself with tea-making. "What do you need love?" she asked, "besides a good night's sleep", she added.
"I was just wondering," John began slowly, "if you had seen anyone come or go from my flat? Besides me, that is."
She placed the steaming cup of tea in front of John and set herself across the table from him. "No dear, is something wrong?"
"Are you sure?"
"I've not seen a thing." she said, though she appeared to be deep in thought. "Well, sometimes I hear things."
"Well, just last night, probably around three, I thought I heard the door close, but I decided I must be hearing things, because you would have long been asleep. I was certain my mind was just playing tricks on me, so I went back to bed."
"But you didn't see anything?" he pressed.
"No dear. I didn't see a thing," Mrs. Hudson regarded John thoughtfully and realised how thin and gaunt he had become. "When did you eat last?" she asked him, the look in her eyes was unmistakably worry. "You've lost so much weight, that's not healthy and you know it, seeing how you're a Doctor and all. Sherlock wouldn't have liked you this way."
Anger filled John's heart and body and he lashed out at the kindly woman. "Then he should have bloody well stayed alive to make sure I eat!" he screamed at her.
He instantly felt remorse for his words, but couldn't bring himself to say anything else. John looked at her apologetically and ran out her door, and out the door of 221B Baker Street.
As John walked he tried to calm himself. Suddenly he realised he was standing in front of Angelo's. "Oh bloody hell," he muttered under his breath and stepped inside the restaurant.
John hadn't been to Angelo's in almost 2 years, since Sherlock... It hurt too much. Angelo spotted John the instant he crossed the threshold. Even Angelo knew why John had been absent, and he approached him quietly and easily, not in his usual boisterous manner.
"Evening mate, been a long time. It's good to see you." Angelo made quiet small talk as he ushered John to a table. "Looks like you've not eaten since the last time I saw you" he said with a slight chuckle, trying to lighten John's mood.
"I don't think I have" John replied, managing a weak smile.
"Let me get you something." he didn't wait to ask John what he wanted; he simply rushed to the kitchen and quickly came back with some food. It didn't really matter, everything at Angelo's was good, and John wasn't really hungry anyway.
But he ate.
Mrs. Hudson was right after all. So he ate.
John slowly made his way home. 'Home' he thought, 'what a joke, house then' he decided, knowing full well family is what make a house a home, and his family, his best friend was gone.
John walked back into his flat. He took off his jacket and threw it at the back of a chair. He missed. He didn't care. His thoughts had turned back to Sherlock's coat, wondering now if it had been real, or if it had been an extension of his dream. He wandered back to Sherlock's room.
There lay the coat, crumpled on the bed, just where he had tossed it off his cold body that morning. He became angry. "Why the hell can't you just stay dead?" John shouted at the innocent coat, imagining it full of the spirit of his departed Sherlock.
"Because I'm not." The deep baritone voice behind him sent a jolt of electricity across his skin and John spun around to see, a very not dead, Sherlock standing before him. He collapsed.
Sherlock caught him at the waist, lowered him to the bed and stepped back.
As he started to regain is senses, he began to panic, to wonder if he had fallen asleep in Sherlock's room again.
"You are not dreaming John." Sherlock stepped closer.
"How? John stammered. "But I saw..." he couldn't finish.
Sherlock stared at his best friend, shaking and stammering before him. He had imagined the day he could come home and though he expected John would be angry, the John in his mind had never reacted like this. He also didn't look so... so frail. Sherlock sank to his knees, overcome, for the first time in his adult life with emotion. He rested his head in John's lap. John reached out a trembling hand and ran his fingers through the wild locks of hair on the back of Sherlock's head, half fearing that if he touched him, he'd vanish. All he could manage to get out was a timid "Why?'
Sherlock quickly straightened up and out of John's lap.
John instantly regretted snapping Sherlock out of this state, because he desperately needed, wanted the contact. He desperately wanted to be angry, but he didn't have the strength. Not right now anyway.
Sherlock looked at him, eyes swollen and red and simply replied, "Because I had to."
John wanted to argue, wanted to demand more, an explanation, a fight, anything to convince him he was not just torturing himself in the depths of another dream, but not now. Right now he was going to chose to believe in Sherlock. He was going to chose to trust now and get answers later. If this was a dream or nightmare, he was going to fight to stay asleep forever. He scooted himself over on the bed and motioned for Sherlock to lie beside him. Sherlock threw his coat over his friend and moved close to him. They lay side by side and eventually fell into a restless sleep.
John woke first. He lay quietly in the bed with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He didn't want to wake up. He didn't want to once again find that his dreams had been so cruel as to let him imagine a living, breathing Sherlock. He couldn't face the reality again that Sherlock was gone and never coming home, he just couldn't.
The bed moved.
John quickly realised he wasn't alone. Panic swelled in his chest. 'Was I not dreaming? Is it possible? But I saw him... die.' John's eyes snapped open. He turned his head slowly, but no one was there. His heart sank again as the tears fought to escape his eyes. He reached a hand out to where he had imagined his friend had been. It was still warm.
It was too much for him. He couldn't keep going like this. 'I'm going mad' he decided. The name "Sherlock" drifted quietly from his lips.
Being the military man that he was, John managed to pull himself up from the pits of despair yet again. He sat up, tossed the coat aside and got up, silently thanking the powers that be under his breath that it was his day off. John stumbled into the sitting room, "damn leg" he muttered under his breath as he headed for his chair. He stopped short, realising someone else was there. Sherlock sat quietly on the couch.
"I" John paused, "I thought I had dreamed it." He continued to his chair and sat down. Fully awake, all the questions that had troubled him for two long years fought for their chance to be voiced, but John finally settled on his previous question. "Why?"
"Why what?" Sherlock replied in a familiarly impatient voice.
John was angry now. His face was hot and flushed as he started screaming at the man before him; this man, this complete stranger, right in front of him. "What do you mean 'why what'? Why the bloody hell did you let me think you were dead for damn near two years? Why the hell did you do that to me? HOW the hell could you do that to me?" John wanted so badly to just strike out at Sherlock, to cause him physical pain, but he knew nothing he could do would cause Sherlock to experience the pain that had been his these last two years. At least that's what he thought.
Sherlock looked beaten, John suddenly realised. He looked, for lack of a better word, miserable. But that couldn't be. That would have to mean that Sherlock had also been in distress. He ignored it and glared at Sherlock, waiting for answers.
Sherlock sat with his elbows on his knees, leaned over with his head in his hands. "I didn't have a choice." he said quietly, more to the floor than to John. "I didn't want to." he confessed as he slowly looked up into John's waiting face.
"Certainly you had a choice" John shot back loudly. "You always have a choice. You're Sherlock 'Bloody' Holmes. You always come up with an idea."
"Not this time John, not this time."
John's anger waned when he heard, no- felt, the sadness in his friend's voice. John moved to sit by Sherlock on the couch. He placed a wary hand on the long, slender arm; still half afraid he might not actually be alive and sitting there. John spoke quietly, "talk to me."
Sherlock rose up slightly and twisted on the couch to face John. His eyes were still bloodshot and swollen, the way John thought he remembered them from the night before, but there were no tears. John wondered if he was capable of such a thing.
"Moriarty" Sherlock said as he breathed a heavy sigh. "It was his plan all along to ruin me, to destroy everything I am, or was, or at least thought I was."
John looked at Sherlock, a bit confused, but it didn't interrupt.
He continued, "I deduced the direction that he was pushing me. He wanted me ruined and he wanted me to die, but he was sadistic enough to force me to do it myself. He made sure he left me no other alternative. My friends... either I had to die or they would. Fortunately, I had already formulated a plan to allow him to think that he had accomplished his goal."
"I thought you didn't have friends," John offered. No malice or judgment in his voice and a sad but comforting smile on his lips.
Sherlock looked at up at John and weakly returned the smile. It was then that John noticed the bright light that had always shone behind Sherlock's eyes, was so very dim. For a brief moment he wondered when he had so closely examined Sherlock's eyes to have noticed something was missing. He thought back to the day he saw those eyes empty and lifeless. The memory caused a lump to form in John's throat. It was at that moment he realised he was lightly stroking Sherlock's arm. He forced himself to stop.
"I didn't believe I had friends." Sherlock continued, "I know you believe that I saw friends as a weakness, something that could be used against me, something of no value, but there was much more to it than that. I was never able to believe that anyone wanted to be my friend. I'm not a trusting sort you know. I thought anyone who appeared to be a friend was only in it for what they could get out of me, like in the past."
John hated to admit how very little he knew about Sherlock's past. He only imagined that the brilliant man had had a dismal life. John had completely let his anger go for now. He was now feeling, well, he didn't know what, but it wasn't anger.
Sherlock did not volunteer any more about his past. "I first started to see things a little differently the day you saved me from taking that stupid capsule. There was nothing in that for you. You hadn't known me long. Shooting that man put you at great risk, but you did it anyway. Still, I kept looking for a reason to believe that this wasn't really friendship."
John was listening, but his thoughts were still reeling out of control. Sherlock had never been so honest and open with him before, about anything.
"I started thinking about how I had done nothing to deserve your loyalty and that confused me as well. Finally I decided that your military background and strong moral principles had caused you to react the way you had, I also deduced that your sudden reinsertion into civilian life was too much of a shock to your system, so you attached yourself to me as a surrogate to the action. I didn't have to acknowledge a friendship as long as I could rationalise it away."
"So what changed?" John offered tentatively.
"I'm not sure. Maybe it happened at the pool. For a brief moment, I thought you were Moriarty, or at the very least one of his men. My mind clouded over for a moment, but then suddenly it all clicked. So, that was why you had gotten so close to me so quickly, to break down my walls and invade my mind, but then I saw the explosives. I suddenly hated myself for doubting you, and I was terrified. Terrified that my only friend was going to die before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Then when you grabbed Moriarty and told me to run, there was no way I could leave you behind." Sherlock broke down and hung his head, "Friends are indeed a liability."
"But what happened at St. Bart's?" John asked after allowing the tired man at his side a moment to regroup as it were.
Sherlock took a deep breath and continued. "Snipers."
"What?" he asked, not understanding.
"Three snipers, one for you, one for Greg and one for Mrs. Hudson."
John started to grasp what this meant. "It was us or you."
"So what has taken you two years to come back to me?" John was immediately embarrassed at his choice of phrasing.
"I had to eliminate the threat. I couldn't lose you, I just couldn't."
"But it was OK for me to lose you? And what about that rubbish you spewed at me on the phone from the rooftop?" John fired off the questions quickly, briefly allowing his anger to resurface.
Sherlock straightened himself on the couch and regarded John with a puzzled look. "I" Sherlock stopped to gather his thought, "I thought it would make it easier for you to move on. For you to just hate me and get on with your life" he hung his head again.
John reached for Sherlock's hand. "Not much of a life for me to get on with if you're not in it" he whispered.
Sherlock didn't pull his hand away from John's touch. He needed it as much as John did. He leaned back into the cushion to think.
They sat quietly, hand in hand, for a good half hour before either of them spoke again. Both minds busily sorting the new data they had just collected. John bemused how much like Sherlock he had become when attempting to organise his thoughts.
Sherlock was the first to break the silence. "I've dismantled Moriarty's network, with the help of Mycroft, of course." I'm here to ask you if I can come home."
John was taken aback by the question. Surely the confident, arrogant, superior Sherlock he knew would just come back without asking. Since when did he consider anyone's feelings?
"It's your flat too. Why do you feel the need to ask?"
"I thought you may not want me here. I thought you may hate me for putting you through this when you found out I was alive."
"It’s going to take me a while to wrap my head around this, but I’ll get there. If I didn't want you in my life, I would have moved out of here a long time ago, I just couldn't bear the thought..." his voice trailing off to nowhere.
Sherlock stood, "tea?"
"Sure." As Sherlock set about making tea, John moved to a kitchen chair. He couldn't help but be mesmerised by his graceful, friend. 'He's still so beautiful' John heard inside his head, half frightened that he may have actually said it aloud. He began to question his thoughts. 'What the fuck am I doing?' echoed in a panicked tone through his brain.
John had always thought of Sherlock as an extremely attractive man. Often he found himself quite irritated with the fact that Sherlock seemed to know it too, and knew when to use it to his advantage. He also remembered the pangs of jealousy that he had felt when Sherlock was pursued by Irene Adler, and even now the thought of her still sent a wave of hate through him.
He watched as Sherlock made tea. He found himself staring at the ebony curls at the back of Sherlock's head and imagined running his fingers up the back of his impossibly long neck and through them. He licked his lips at the thought, just then, Sherlock turned.
The pale beauty eyed John knowingly and John felt his face flush. Mentally he was kicking himself for his thoughts. Sherlock moved slowly around the table to sit beside John. "Tell me what you are thinking."
"You're Sherlock Holmes, can you not deduce what I'm thinking?" His tone was short and flushed.
I'm thinking maybe you're thinking the same thing I am." His reply was followed immediately by a kiss. It wasn't a long or particularly notable kiss, but it set John’s world tumbling end over end. His thoughts were spinning out of control. I'M NOT GAY started to rattle around inside his head again even as he found himself returning the kiss.
John broke the kiss.
"Bloody hell, what are you playin' at?" was John's sharp response as he pushed himself up from the table and stumbled backwards, away from Sherlock.
"How have you found your life without me in it?"
"Unbearable." John's response came instantly; he hadn't needed to think that one through.
"As has mine. Have you dated?"
"No" another easy to come by answer.
Ah, John couldn't answer this as quickly. For the first time he really began examine why this might have been the case. John reflected for a while and finally responded. "Because they weren't you." John realised this was as truthful as he had ever been with himself on the matter. Since Sherlock had died, well gone, there had been many interested women, all of whom John refused to ask out because he kept finding major flaws with them. It was then that he finally recognised the only flaw they truly possessed. They were not Sherlock Holmes. It was only then that he started to understand that his friendship with Sherlock might be so much more than just that.
John bolted and ran to his room, closing the door behind him. 'I'm not gay, I'm not gay.' The words rolled around in John's head like a broken record. John stilled himself and tried to think it through. 'What if I am gay?' John hadn't asked himself that question before. 'Would it be so bad? Why am I fighting this so hard?' John stretched out across his bed and tried to sort his thoughts again, finding this time that he was not having much success. 'Why does this freak me out so?" Those gorgeous ebony curls. Shit. Maybe my self-perception? No, that sounds too much like Sherlock. Sherlock. He's so beautiful. Concentrate John. What would be wrong with it? His perfect lips. Dammit I can't think!' John finally got up and went back into the kitchen, determined to ask Sherlock to help him sort it once and for all.
Sherlock was sitting at the kitchen table having tea and toast. Apparently John's extensive jam collection was no longer out of bounds in Sherlock's way of thinking.
John approached him warily. "Why did you kiss me?"
"I thought you wanted me to."
"Did YOU want to?"
"Of course I did, I would not have done so otherwise."
"WHY did you want to?"
It was only then that Sherlock looked up from his cup. His deep voice rattled John's senses as he spoke. "I don't know."
John could not remember ever hearing those words from the lips of the great Sherlock Holmes. He was sure he must have sometime, but he just couldn't remember it. "So if you don't know why, and I don't know why, what are we going to do about it?"
Sherlock looked up at his friend. "You've lost weight. When did you eat last?"
"I ate last night before I came home. You're not exactly a candidate for Wellspring yourself. And stop trying to change the subject."
Sherlock looked away from John and continued, "I've had feelings for you for a long time, even before I left. Feelings I didn't know what to do with and feelings, to be quite honest, I didn't want. I also know that you have always found me attractive. I'm no idiot, I'm sure you are aware."
"Oh, I'm keenly aware of that fact."
"But now, I suppose, it is too late."
"What makes you say that?"
"Trust. I'm sure you'll never be able to trust in me again. I've let you down in such a grand fashion. You'll always have a doubt lingering in the back of your mind."
"And you know this how?" John asked, feeling a bit flustered.
"It's only logical."
"Damn your logic Sherlock!" John struggled to regain his composure. He lowered his voice and continued. "You're right about trust being difficult to restore. I can never trust that you will always make the RIGHT decision, but I will ALWAYS trust that whatever you do is with the best intentions, and that those intentions are NEVER to hurt me. I suppose it is inevitable that they sometimes will, but I will ALWAYS trust in you because you are my friend."
Sherlock had needed to hear this. Tears began to bite at his eyes. Emotions he had not allowed himself to express since he was a small child exploded in his chest and the room began to spin. "Breathe Sherlock, breathe!" he faintly heard John shouting at him above the pounding of his heart. Suddenly, everything went black.
When Sherlock woke, he was in his bed. John was sitting in a large armchair in the corner of his room, watching patiently over his friend.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching after you, I'm a doctor after all."
"Oh." Sherlock was more than a little displeased at the disappointment he heard in his own voice.
John moved from the chair to the edge of the bed. He took Sherlock's delicate wrist in hand and tried to take his pulse. Sherlock pulled away instinctively, and scooted up towards the headboard.
"I just wanted to take your pulse."
"I'm fine, well, I will be fine." Sherlock said, almost mournfully.
"We still need to talk about this."
"What is there to talk about, I'm an emotional cripple, and you're not gay. That doesn't leave us much of a future. Well, at least not as anything more than we were before."
"Look, I'm confused too Sherlock," John was quick to answer. "There are a million things I don't know, and a million more I know but don't understand. As for your being an emotional cripple, you have come a very long way by even admitting you have feelings for me. Who's to say what you will be ready for in time? As for whether or not I'm gay, I've decided I will not label myself. I've always been attracted to women, but now, they somehow aren't enough. I seem to have developed an unhealthy attachment to a madman." The smile that spread across John's lips suddenly took on a slightly wicked edge.
Sherlock decided he liked it. Sherlock leaned forward on the bed, placed a hand on either side of John's face and pulled him in for a gentle kiss. As they broke free of the kiss, John stared into Sherlock's eyes. The light behind those eyes that just a short time ago was barely flickering had once again begun to glow; only this time the light was brighter than he had ever seen. "We didn't get to this point overnight" John added, "and we can figure all this out together."
Sherlock pulled John down onto his chest as they both lay back in the bed, each one content to just quietly listen to the heartbeat and breathing of the other.
Time would tell what was in store for the two, but as always, whatever happened, they would face it, together.