by elfin

I went twice a week to his grave.  I probably would have gone more often but people, friends, conspired to keep me busy. 

Greg popped in for a beer after work when they weren't too busy, came to drag me out of the flat I was living in, close to Russell Square.  Not Baker Street.  I planned to return there eventually, to live there again when I could walk through the rooms and not feel as if my heart was breaking all over again. 

Lestrade never mentioned the rest of his team, the traitors - in my mind - who had turned on Sherlock at the end.  He never mentioned his cases either and I felt more and more as if that chapter of my life was closing with every visit.  Molly invited me to share sandwich box lunches, not at St Barts - because I could no more return to the scene of his death as I could to where he lived his life - but on park benches in green leafy squares of London.  She acted strangely, always looking as if she had something to say but not the words to say it.  I put it down to grief.  I thought I knew how she felt.

And Mycroft....  He would turn up in the strangest of places, on random occasions; finding me in the quiet of a pub in the late afternoon, in the grease of a common cafe early in the morning, coming for me in a black car and waiting outside my therapist's building to give me a lift back to the flat he was generously paying for until I could face returning home.  He was paying for that too � the rent on Baker Street.  He told me it was what Sherlock would have wanted, for him to look after me.  He never mentioned a will and I never asked.  Sherlock's possessions were mine to do with as I wished, was all he'd said.  On each occasion that he sought me he would barely say a word to me, just sit with me and read the paper or play with his phone, as if he just wanted to be around me.  If he'd have asked if I minded, which he didn�t, not even once, I wouldn't have been able to answer.  He reminded me of Sherlock so intensely it hurt to look at him, but at the same time he was my last connection and I couldn't bear to lose him too. 

Immediately afterwards, after Sherlock�s fall, someone from St Barts took me back to Baker Street.  I sat in my chair and stared at Sherlock�s empty one, not crying, not thinking, not feeling.  I was blissfully numb for a few hours, until Lestrade turned up, eyes red and wet like he had been crying in the car on the way over.  Definitely not in front of his team.  For a minute or so he just stood in the doorway with his hands in his pockets and looked at me as if he didn't have the first clue about what to say.  I thought that if he tried for sympathy I might start to cry and never stop.

�We found Moriarty,� he told me to my relief, �on the roof top, dead.  Looks like he shot himself, put a fucking canon in his mouth and pulled the trigger, it was inches from his hand�.�  He seemed to lose himself for a moment.  �There is no such person as Richard Brook.  We checked.  I�m sorry.�  I�d never entertained the idea that there had been.  Well, maybe just for a second, because there had  been that one detail....

"She said... that reporter, Katy... she said she had a DVD...."

"We've check Amazon, Play, eBay, IMDB even....  There was a kids tv presenter in the early 90s called Richard Brooks.  He looks nothing like James Moriarty.  I mean... how easy is it these days to rent some studio time, mock up a DVD?  Everything can be faked and I imagine he could be very persuasive." 

It fitted.  He'd almost convinced me, just for a moment, back there in her home, just for a second.  Then I recalled the odd expression on Sherlock's face; defeat.  He knew he'd already lost.

�We found his phone too," Greg was saying, "Sherlock�s� phone.  He must have dropped it ��

I shook my head.  �He threw it.  After he spoke to me I saw him throw it.�



�Why would he have left it there?  Unless.... he didn't want it to be destroyed when he�."  Greg shook his head as if replying to some internal monologue.  "The problem is, it�s an iPhone and he didn�t have a bumper on it so it broke when it landed on the rooftop.  It won't switch on.�

�There�s no way you can get anything from it?  I mean, in the same way those laptop people can salvage data from a hard drive...."

"I can try.  I'll get the lab boys to take a look, see what they can pull off it.  What do you think's on there?"

�He wanted us to have it, so... a message?  Or a recording�.  Perhaps he recorded the conversation with Moriarty.�  I sighed, suddenly tired.  "Or maybe nothing.  Can I have it, when you've finished with it?"  I remembered Sherlock asking for Irene Adler's phone and felt a sudden and intense pulse of jealousy.

"Of course."

He rang the following morning, at 3am during Celebrity Big Brother Live and a bottle of cheap brandy.  He was wired on coffee and strung out from having no sleep.  I took a taxi to Scotland Yard and we listened to the recording in Greg's office.  It was most of the conversation between Sherlock and Moriarty, bad quality, too quiet in places to hear, but the police lab boys cleaned it up and we listened to it in Lestrade�s office.  If I hadn�t already been broken, hearing what was said on the roof would have taken me apart.  There were tears in Greg�s eyes when the tape ran out, a moment after the gun shot that had killed Moriarty.  It cleared Sherlock's name and I was determined to use it.

I wrote a three-part article about Sherlock, about his work and the cases I'd shared with him.  The Guardian published it in the paper and online, and within a few weeks the tide began to turn as the truth was told about the circumstances in which my best friend was forced to kill himself. 

Lestrade gave me the phone back a week later and I carried it with me for a month before I put it on the little table next to my bed.

And twice a week I took a taxi to the church and sat beside his grave and talked.  All those things I'd never said, everything that might have taken a lifetime, poured out of me.  Other stuff too, irrelevances he would have called them, but he was dead so he had to listen!  He had no choice....  Sometimes there were tears.  My heart was broken, not only because he was dead but because of the way he�d died, the reason for it, the way the papers had reported it before we found the recording, the terrible things they said.  But the worst thing of all, the thing I couldn't get out of my head, was the emotion I'd heard in his voice over the phone.  I couldn�t stop thinking about how scared he must have been.  He hadn�t jumped because he was a fake � I didn't know why he'd lied to me in his final moments � he'd jumped to save us.  Suicide had been his only option because of us - because of me.  He'd seen no other way out, I was certain, because Sherlock would never have killed himself if he had.  His ego was too inflated, he loved life like no one else I'd ever met.  And he wouldn�t have done that to me, I was certain, as certain as I could be of a man who had only just been starting to understand the meaning of friendship.

When I closed my eyes I saw him die, over and over again, and when I tried to sleep I saw his broken body, lying in a pool of blood mixing with the rain on the pavement.  It wasn�t just that he was dead, it was the horror he�d suffered in the days, the hours, the minutes and the seconds before.

Five weeks after Sherlock's death, Greg came to the flat with a bottle of single malt, and a quarter of the way down the bottle he told me that a man had been found at the bottom of some stairs in an East London tower block.  Interpol had identified him as a Russian assassin, a suspect in at least five deaths internationally.  I didn't know why he was telling me and I didn't ask, I was too caught up in my own grief to care.  But four weeks later, he told me that an admin clerk, who had worked for Scotland Yard for six months leading up to Sherlock's death, had been found stabbed in an alley outside a notoriously violent club in Brixton.  It was a tenuous connection, but a query again through Interpol confirmed he was a known gun for hire from America.

Sherlock would have put two and two together and not only have come up immediately with the right answer but he'd also have shown his working as he went.  I didn't even know to try. 

Three months after losing him, on a warm but cloudy morning, I took white roses to his grave.  I saw them in the window of the florist I�d taken to using, opposite the gates of the church.  I often took flowers, to show the world that there was someone who cared, who�d... loved him.  Still did.  He would have rolled his eyes, dismissed such sentiment with that careless waving of his fingers.  But he wasn�t there.

I saw the card as I approached the grave.  It was a vivid white in front the black marble headstone, sticking out from amongst last week�s fading flowers.  At first I thought Mycroft had visited, I had no idea if he did or not, or if Mrs Hudson had come on her own.  I crouched to the left hand side of the stone and plucked it out between my fingers.  Even before I�d read the words, my pulse was racing; I knew that handwriting, the unusual mix of flowing italics and chicken-scratch.  It could have been a joke but still it was impossible to resist the sharp pull of hope it engendered in me.

�Hold on just a little while longer?  S.�

Every thought I�d forbidden myself from having flooded into my head, every way in which I�d imagined he could have faked it, everything he�d taught me, every trick I�d seen him pull.  It hurt, oh God it hurt, to think he could have done that to me.  I couldn�t imagine anything crueler.  But if there�d been a reason, a damn good reason....  The hope overrode the hurt; the desperate, aching need to see him again, to hear his voice, to just have him back.  I read the words on the card over and over, turning it in my fingers, trying to find more clues where there clearly weren�t any, or any that I could see.  Sherlock would have probably been able to tell me how long ago it had had dinner and when it had last been abroad, but it was simply a white rectangle of card, used to leave messages in flower arrangements.

The moment the thought stuck in my mind I was on my feet and running, back towards the florist.  She saw the flowers in my hand, the roses I�d forgotten to leave on Sherlock�s grave, wanted to know if there was anything wrong.  Had she sold the white card to someone, I wanted to know, someone maybe who looked strange? Or had she given it to someone who�d asked for it, charmed her?  She shook her head.  All of her cards had images on them: white lilies, pink daises, teddy bears for children.  She apologised like somehow it was her fault she�d dashed my moment of brilliance and I apologised in return, assured her that the roses were beautiful and returned to the church yard to crouch once again at his graveside.  Only I wasn�t so sure any longer that it was his grave, however faint the hope.  The card could so easily have been a trap for me, a cruel joke in horrifically poor taste.  But at the same time it could be real.  It could be him.

I went back to Baker Street that night for the first time since the funeral.  Mrs Hudson made me tea in her downstairs flat and we talked briefly before I went upstairs alone.  She�d packed up the lab equipment, as she�d told me she had, but she�d touched nothing else, as if that alone had exhausted her or upset her enough.  The flat was musty, a million specks of dust playing in the streaks of light coming in through the closed curtains.  I opened them, looking out onto Baker Street, staring down at the road until I was sure I could turn around without tears blurring my vision. 

The flat smelt of chemicals, warm tea and cigarette smoke.  Even after three months of neglect Sherlock was everywhere; in the papers scattered over the table, the knife thrown carelessly into the wall to the left of the fireplace, one of his scarves hanging over the arm of the sofa....  I picked it up, took a deep breath and wrapped it around my left hand, tangling it through my fingers, wiping away a stray tear.  Then I took my tea and sat down at the kitchen table, something I�d only rarely been able to do in the time I�d lived here. 

The light faded as night fell, I drank my cold tea slowly, and as I sat in the silent, empty kitchen in Baker Street with the small white card in one hand and his scarf still in the other, I looked up into the lounge and I made a promise to the ghosts in the darkness, �If you come back, Sherlock, I swear I won�t be angry, I won�t ask questions.  I�ll just be happy.�


My heart was hammering two days later when I returned to the cemetery, and the disappointment was crushing when there wasn�t another card, no further communication from my dead best friend.  I stayed for a while, walked between the graves reading their sad messages before I left again.  I�d moved back into Baker Street, with no idea really of what to do next or whether I wanted to stay.  Greg called me from outside the other flat (I�d informed Mycroft of my move, but hadn�t thought to tell Lestrade) wanting to know where I was. 

Not wanting him inside 221B, as if having him there would somehow be an insult to Sherlock�s memory, we met in a pub further along Baker Street, away from the tube station.  He bought me a pint and if he recognised the scarf hanging around my neck he didn�t mention it.  He told me that a body had been found that afternoon, a third assassin who�d died, strangely enough, falling off a ladder in front of an insurance company in Ealing.  It sounded bizarre, bizarre enough to start me thinking, to suddenly glue together a chain of ideas; three bodies, three killers, three months. 

�What made you move back in to Baker Street?� Greg asked me, disturbing the chain.

I hesitated to show him the white card I was carrying around like a talisman, wasn't sure I wanted to share my fragile hope.  But in the end I needed a second opinion, because I couldn't carry on like this indefinitely, in the end if would be the death of me.  I took it out of my back jacket pocket and handed it to him.
"I found that on his grave."

He stared at it, obviously recognising the handwriting.  "Well... it must be a sick joke, something someone had from when he was alive, or someone copying an old note."  He looked at me, and my hope must have been staring him in the face.  "You don't think he's alive?  That he... faked his own death?"  Greg sounded horrified.
I shook my head once, quickly, decisively lying.  "No.  I can't, for the sake of my sanity.  I mean, you saw his body, the state of him.  How do you fake that?"
"I didn't."
"Didn't what?"
"See his body."
"But... you must have done.  In the morgue."
"I didn't."  He put his hand down on the sticky bar, spread his fingers and gazed at them.  "I saw the blood on the pavement, spoke to a couple of eyewitnesses who said they saw him jump.  There was an old guy who described in great detail how he'd watched it all, start to finish.  After that... I didn't want to see him like that.  He was my friend, sort of." 

There was something I'd missed, something nagging at me out of the hundreds of things not said.  "What did you do with his possessions?"

Greg looked confused.  "What possessions?  Everything at Baker Street... "

"No.  I mean, his wallet, the clothes he was wearing... his watch?"

"I thought you must have been given them.  Or possibly Mycroft as next of kin."

"Given them by who?"

"Molly Hooper.  She was there, that morning.  It's her signature on the death certificate.  Maybe she kept his things... she always was quite hung up on him."

That made some sense, didn't it?  All those lunches when I'd thought she'd been waiting to tell me something.  I was trying to build up my own hope, I realised, make my own miracle.  But it had been three months.  Surely he'd have let me know if he'd still been alive....

Greg picked up his pint.  "Remember me telling you once how he was a great man?"
I nodded.  "You said... one day you hoped he'd also be a good man."
"He died a good man, and the change in him was down to you.  Never underestimate how important you were to him, how much of a difference you made."  I squeezed my eyes closed, fighting back sudden tears and when I opened my eyes again, he handed me the card back.  "He would never have deliberately hurt you, the rest of us maybe but not you."

What if he didn't have a choice? I wanted to ask.  Three assassins dead in three months.  Was that a coincidence?  Instead, I finished my pint and slid off my barstool.  Greg got the message, didn't take offence.  I wasn�t being rude, I just had good days and bad days and he knew that.  I walked back home uneventfully, let myself in and having poured myself a generous whisky, I dropped onto the couch, closing my eyes, fighting the memories and the familiar loneliness that I�d almost drowned in so many times over the last three months.  I thought instead about the dead assassins, and I couldn�t help but wonder if the same person who�d written the card left at Sherlock�s grave had a hand in the three killings.  Of course they could be separate incidents, nothing but coincidence.  I just didn�t want to believe they were.

I fell asleep and woke up two hours later, with a sore neck and a sticky patch on my jeans from where the whisky had spilt.  I thought about bed, but instead of heading up the stairs I went through to Sherlock's room without really thinking about why, stripped and slipped beneath the crumpled, musty sheets.  His pillow still smelt of his citrus shampoo, cigarette smoke and chemicals.  When I finally fell back to sleep it was thankfully dreamless.

I resisted the pull of the cemetery the next day, but not the day after that.  I caught a taxi at just after one, telling myself the would be nothing waiting for me there just as there wasn't on my previous visit, that the white card had been a cruel trick, and trying to make myself believe it.  I walked through the church gates less than half an hour after leaving Baker Street. 

It was a beautiful day, warm and clear.  The white roses were doing well, had opened completely in the sun and I sat down on the dry grass to the left of the still patchy rectangle of earth, bent my knees and wrapped my arms around them.  I stared at the name stamped in gold into the black marble and told myself that he was in the ground, at some sort of peace; that he wasn't coming back.

�I�m sorry.�

I think my heart actually stopped, just for a moment. I knew that voice, that beautiful voice. A hand touched my shoulder and I couldn�t turn around, couldn�t move, could barely breathe. �You�re the last person I wanted to hurt but I still hurt you.�

Somehow I managed to lift my hand, to move it to my left shoulder, and when I touched cool skin I broke apart. Tears filled my eyes, ran down over my face. My whole body started to shake. I expected him to vanish, to have imagined his voice and his hand. Then he was there, a wiry figure in black kneeling beside me, his arms around me pulling me in.

�I�m so sorry, John, so� so sorry. Please forgive me.�

"Eventually," I managed on an almost hysterical sob, face pressed into the rough wool of his coat, fingers clutching at his shirt. I would, because I would keep the promise I�d made in the flat. I would because I knew what it was not to be with him. Besides, I couldn�t find it in me to feel any anger, not then. Later, probably, I�d be throwing things at his head, but only when I was sure he wasn�t going to leave again, only when others had seen him and I�d seen the shock in their faces that would assure me I hadn't just lost my mind.

�I had to,� he was saying and I realised he was explaining. �You were in danger. There were assassins, that afternoon, ready to kill you, and if I hadn�t jumped....� I finally got a hold of myself, managed to lift my head and pull back just enough to get a hand on his chest, to look finally at him. To my surprise there were tears in his eyes too, sliding slowly a slightly gaunter face. I found myself suddenly wanting to laugh, just for a second, just before my fingers clutched at his blue scarf and my other hand grabbed his arm. I stared at him, such a beautiful sight; miraculous, impossible. There was so much I wanted to say but all I could manage was, �I missed you.� It sounded as if I�d swallowed razor blades but it brought a nervous, hopeful smile to his face and I mirrored it through my tears. I whispered, �God, I missed you.�

Squeezing his eyes closed, then wiping them with the heel of his hand, he said, �I missed you too, John.�

Tears continued to fall, utterly unstoppable.  I should have been embarrassed but he was equally as ill composed, his tears falling to my head as he pressed his face into my hair.  I could feel the movement in his jaw as he spoke

"I thought you'd be angry with me."

"I probably should be."  That urge to laugh was back and a chuckle - more hysteria than humour - bubbled up.  "But I made a promise."

He was genuinely confused.  "Who to?"


There was a long pause and I could feel his thumb rubbing absently against the small of my back.

"You might be when I tell you how.  And who."

I already knew. Suddenly I was back there, at St Barts, my phone in my hand, cold shock through my body, watching him fall, running, the cyclist that hit me and knocked me to the ground, the staff from the hospital so quick to attend, keeping me away from him, his body whisked away so quickly.

"Molly."  I felt him stiffen against me, then his head lifted, his arm came up around my shoulders and he held me so tight against him, perhaps as much for his benefit as for mine.   I caught a glance of his face, eyes screwed tight.  "It's all right," I told him, "I do understand, however much... however painful it is."

Molly had obviously provided the means of his escape; distraction, misdirection, and then I remembered the blood, not his blood apparently but that still didn't change the image that had haunted me for three long months.  I'd seen blood before, of course I had; I'd seen friends with such horrific injuries I might have imagined myself once immune to it.  But Sherlock... my best friend, that incredible, unique head smashed against the pavement, broken bones in the hand I took (imagined, obviously) and no pulse... no pulse.

I started to shake, dropping my head into my hand. He hugged me impossibly tighter, as if trying to pull me inside him. His sense of personal space had always been lacking but I didn't care; I needed to hear his heartbeat, I needed to feel him breathing.

"I knew Moriarty wouldn�t stop until I was destroyed.  Up on the roof I hoped I could get him to call his men off. But when he shot himself I knew it was over, I was out of options." I didn't bother to point out that obviously he hadn't been or he wouldn't be sitting here now, but it seemed petty, and I could barely give voice to the things that really needed saying, never mind the stuff that didn't.

"Your grief had to look real," he told me, and that hurt, "because if there�d been any question about my death his men would have killed you.  I couldn't risk your life. I wouldn�t.  And I know, John, I know if I'd given you the choice you'd have chosen any amount of risk over what I've put you through but I couldn't be the death of you.� He took a deep breath.  �At the same time I selfishly didn't want to die.  I faked the phone call that took you away because I thought if you tried to get between us he�d kill you without hesitation. But I wasn't sure it would keep you away for long enough so..."

"You arranged the cyclist to hit me, just at the right moment."

"The men in the truck needed a moment to remove the air bags, and Molly's team needed time to pour the blood on the pavement and on me although I'd already opened a bag of the stuff into my hair."

"You had no pulse."

"It's an old trick, small rubber ball squeezed tightly in the armpit - stops the flow of blood. I knew you'd need to check for yourself. I felt your fingers on my wrist. You wouldn't go for the pulse in my throat because it would have meant getting my blood on your hand and I knew you wouldn't want that. Besides, I doubted you'd be in a fit state to trust anything but the evidence of your own eyes...." There was nothing of his familiar triumph in his words, thank God, no pride in what he'd accomplished in faking his death, fooling the world. Fooling me.  If there had been I might have been enraged but as it was there was only sadness and regret. "I'm sorry, John...."

He kept apologising.  I remembered a time when I couldn't get the word out of his mouth and I'd heard it four or five times in the space of what? Fifteen minutes?  It wasn�t like him although he�d probably spent time working out his best approach when it came to revealing himself to me. �Tada!� had, I hoped, been ruled out early on.

But finding out about Molly did hurt, even if I'd half-suspected, and I didn't know if I could explain it to him in terms he'd understand. "Molly had you," I said, "and she never said a word."

"Had me? John, we never...."

I shook my head. "I meant, she knew you were alive and kept it from me."

"I haven't seen her in three months. I've spoken to her-" that was bad enough, "-to ask about you. I swore her to secrecy, for your sake and for mine. If there had been any other way...."

He left that hanging and said nothing more, giving me time, waiting for me to ask the questions I needed immediate answers to, such as, "Where have you been?"

"I've been staying in Brighton.  Molly's sister has a flat in the town but she's away volunteering on humanitarian missions in South Africa." A spark of his old self came through in the tone of the words. "I've been coming up to London... to see you, to do what I needed to do to make it safe to come home."

"Getting rid of Moriarty's assassins."

He nodded, smiling slightly, pride in me not in himself.  "I knew you'd work it out.� His smile faded. "You kept coming back here and you always looked... so sad, so lost. That�s why I left the card.�

�But you didn�t understand.�

�Actually, I did although I�ll admit it took me a while. The flat in Brighton was so quiet and so lonely. There was nothing to do, no one to talk to. I don�t know how to make friends, John, I�ve never been any good at it. I don�t know how to make small talk with my own family, never mind complete strangers. And I couldn�t work for the obvious reason. It was a physical pain, and when I started to analyse what exactly was causing it I realised I was missing being me, missing life and missing having you in mine.� It was the most intimate thing he�d ever said to me, the best declaration of friendship that I�d ever heard.

Neither of us spoke for a time after that. It was so peaceful there, with the world not touching us.

"Who... or what did we bury?" I asked eventually, recalling the funeral; a simple affair, no service, just a formal burial. Mycroft had left the arrangements to me. I wondered if Sherlock knew that, what he'd make of it. The headstone was a gift from Lestrade, a temporary one until I'd decided on the final wording, but he'd wanted something more than a wooden cross and I�d agreed although I�d known it would make no difference to Sherlock.

"I honestly don't know. Molly dealt with that. As soon as I was back inside the hospital I was smuggled out the back of the morgue. She promised me she'd deal with the details and she did." He leaned forward, although not too far that he had to move away from me, and touched his fingertips to the turned earth. "I've never died before," he murmured, mostly to himself.

"Please, please don't ever do it again."

He seemed to remember himself, or rather he remembered me, and he tucked himself back close into my side. "Am I homeless?" he asked tentatively and of course I shook my head.

"No! Mycroft's been paying for... everything. He rented a flat for me and he's been paying the rent on Baker Street."

"You haven't been living in Baker Street?" he sounded entirely bemused and that was the Sherlock Holmes I knew. And loved.

"I went back the day you left the card here. Before then... I couldn't. Too many memories."

He turned his head, brushing the tip of his nose through my hair and as out of character as the gesture was, I didn't think anything of it until he asked, "But... aren't they good ones?" And there was something in his tone I couldn't decipher.

"Most of them, but that's what made it impossible. Can you understand that? To know it's over, that you would never be there, ever again, that I would never see you smile, hear you play the violin, watch you... destroy the flat just to find your cigarettes." I felt his move his head again, mouth stopping close to my ear. I shivered and put it down to shock.

"I am sorry."

"Don't do anything like that ever again. Promise me."

He lifted his head. "John, I can't...."

"Promise me." It was as close to angry as I was going to get that day. "Because you're worth any amount of risk. And I don't... I can't live through all that again."

To my surprise, he nodded and mouthed the words, "I promise." I let him off, because as stressful as this was for me, I was starting to understand how stressful it was for him too, how uncertain he'd been of his welcome. "Can we go home, John?"

Until that moment I hadn't thought of what his resurrection would mean out in the real world. I was about to find out. "Yes. Yes, we can."

We stood up together, but as he stepped back and away from me, I felt a surge of panic and reached out, grabbing his wrist through his coat. His head snapped up, possibly expecting me to change my mind, or even tensing for a punch in the face. But I said nothing, didn't hit him, took a hold of his hand and he allowed it, squeezing back. Then he let go, and I was about to protest when he stunned me by sliding his arm around my shoulders. I hesitated to put mine arm around his waist, but it was difficult to walk next to him otherwise and he seemed to be encouraging it. We made our way through the graveyard, and the idea that I wouldn't be returning any time soon hit me hard, made me tighten my arm and gave me the courage to spread my fingers over the pronounced point of his hip.

Stepping through the gates, I flagged down a taxi, taking my arm from his waist and sliding my hand into his, pulling him with me into the back seat. I heard him laugh and caught a brief flicker of real happiness in his eyes.

"Baker Street," I told the driver, then turned to my friend. "Did you really think I wouldn't welcome just the sight of you?"

"I deceived you. I denied you... me." Again, there was no ego in his words, just abject sadness and a deep regret. "It took longer to track down Moriarty's assassins than I thought it would. Each time I imagined revealing myself to you I imagined you angry..." he dropped his voice, "even after you'd asked me to stop being dead."

At first I couldn't place the words, then I remembered, a couple of days after the funeral, going to the cemetery with Mrs Hudson and having a mad moment when she left me alone, talking to the black marble headstone and asking Sherlock to stop being dead. "You were there." I didn't know how I felt about that. "You were watching me...."

He said nothing. What could he say?

I didn't let go of his hand and he didn't let go of mine.  We sat in the back of the taxi, holding hands, and I couldn't have cared less if the cabbie was going to call The Sun newspaper the moment we got out.  He didn't say anything, presumably he didn't recognise Sherlock, and that was a relief simply because there were people we needed to tell before reporters got hold of the story. That we were safe he couldn't have doubted or he wouldn't have revealed himself.  But at the very least Mrs Hudson and Lestrade needed to be told, and gently.

"Is that my scarf?"

I glanced at the dark blue scarf I'd picked up off the arm of the couch two days previously.  I couldn't recall being apart from it since then, except for being in the shower, and I nodded.  "Yes." I glared at him, expecting something more as I was practically daring him to make something of it but he just smiled with the same new found joy I'd seen as we'd climbed into the cab.

We were dropped outside 221 as instructed and I managed to pay the cabbie along with a substantial tip before Sherlock pulled me out of the backseat.  He bounded up the stone steps but waited for me to unlock the door.  "Gently," I whispered, referring to Mrs Hudson, and he nodded, sobering somewhat.

"Maybe you should speak to her first?  I'll wait upstairs."

"No."  I shook my head.  "I'm not letting you out of my sight."

He frowned but I could see the humour behind it.  "Come, John, that's going to get increasingly impractical."

"I don't care.  I'll relax once a few more people have seen you and I've got photographic evidence that you're alive."

So when I knocked on Mrs Hudson's door, we were standing side by side, still holding hands. I half-expected her to faint, and I wouldn't have blamed her for a heart attack, but instead her eyes widened and she slapped his face, hard enough that the snap of skin against skin seemed to reverberate through the narrow hall.

"You bastard!" Despite everything, I was shocked to hear that coming out of her mouth.  "How dare you put John through that?"  He glanced at me and I could see so clearly the guilt in his expression. "And me!"

"I had to," he said, gently as I'd asked, absently rubbing his undoubtedly stinging cheek, "I didn't have a choice."

"Moriarty had men set to kill us," I added, "if he didn't jump."

The anger melted from her eyes and she looked at him mournfully.  "Oh, Sherlock."  Reaching up, she hugged him and he hugged her back with his one free arm.  I might have let him go but he was grasping my hand tightly and I got the idea that he didn't want me to so we stood like that, an odd little threesome, for what felt like such a long time. When she stepped back, she caught the connection between us and smiled at us through her tears with a wistful look.  "Now why did it take you dying for the two of you to work it out?"  I opened my mouth to correct her, but closed it again.  I didn't know, right at the moment, what I was feeling, it was all such a jumble.  I was living one second to the next.  "You boys go on upstairs and I'll make you some tea."  She let her eyes linger on his face.  "It's good to have you home, Sherlock.  And if you ever do anything like that again, I'm throwing you out on your backside."

He led the way to the bottom of the stairs but once there he looked anxious.

"Nothing's changed," I assured him, "well, almost nothing," I corrected, remembering that his science equipment was all gone.

I followed him up, having little choice as the fingers of my left hand had gone to sleep trapped between his.  At the top he pushed open the living room door and took a deep breath, breathing in the air that was so distinctly 'our flat'.

He took a step forward then stopped and lifted our hands.  "I promise I won't disappear."

I nodded, stretched my sleeping fingers and he let go too.  At that moment at least I trusted him but I kept him in view as he walked through the rooms, touching things here and there, reminding himself.  Mrs Hudson brought up two mugs of tea and I finally sat down on the couch, putting my mug on the floor beside me, watching her go back down the stairs giving us space, watching him looking around as if familiarising himself with his home again.

He stopped in front of the kitchen table.  "Where's all my lab equipment?"

"Ealing Community College."  He looked at me over his shoulder, I smiled and he smiled back.  "Mrs Hudson, not me."

"But she left everything else."

"I told you, Mycroft stepped in, starting paying the rent and more I suspect."  An idea formed. "Does he know too...?"

But Sherlock shook his head.  "I couldn't trust him.  He had Moriarty in jail years ago and released him, despite knowing he was a danger to me.  Mycroft can stew."

"You're not going to tell him you're alive?"

"Not yet."

�Sherlock, he�s your brother. He loves you, in his own way.� I thought of all the silence we'd shared.

�None of this would have happened if he�d kept Moriarty locked up, or at least warned me about the lunatic earlier.�

�Okay, yes, you�re right. But... he looked after me, Sherlock. He signed over power of attorney to me.�

�Left you with my debts, you mean?�

�You don�t have any debts. And I mean... he left all the arrangements, the details to me.� I could tell that meant nothing to him. To him, that was Mycroft washing his hands of any responsibility. �Sherlock... it meant everything to be a part of the final arrangements for someone I... care about very much. He could have shut me out but he didn�t.�

He sighed softly, maybe not understanding but seeing how much that had meant to me. �All right, I � we � will go and see him in the morning. If he doesn�t already know by then.�

It was enough of a compromise. "But we are telling Greg." He rolled his eyes, eyebrows rising. I ignored him, pulling my mobile from my coat, calling Lestrade's mobile.

He answered on the third ring.  "John, I'm about to go into a press conference...."  

I wondered what I'd missed and didn't really care. "You'll want to get over to Baker Street."

"Can we make it later?"

"You'll really want to come over to Baker Street."

I heard his sigh, knew he was stopping, at least considering ditching a press conference for me. "Can you come to me?"

Sherlock, I knew, could hear the call, and at that he shouted loud enough to be heard on the other end of the line, "No, because the next time I see Donovan and Anderson I'm going to punch them!"

I heard the pause, the caught breath.  "Oh my God... is that...?  Jesus." He said some other things too, which I missed, then the line went dead.

Sherlock shot me a smile, one still tempered by wariness and I hoped that would go sooner rather than later.  He left his tea on the table to go cold and dropped into the couch beside me, so close we were touching all the way down from shoulder to foot.

"Is he going to slap me too?" he asked, rubbing his hands together between his knees, and I couldn't work out if he was joking or seriously nervous.

"Punching's probably more his style."

"You called him Greg."

I rolled my eyes.  "It's his name."

He was silent for a moment. "I know I hurt the people I was trying to protect."

I didn't know what to say to make it all right or even if it was place to.  I figured it was just going to take time to come to terms with everything that had happened. But I did slide my right hand between his two and thread my fingers again through his.  "I didn't believe you, you know, when you told me you were a fraud."  I felt his fingers tighten around my hand.  "Why did you say that?"

"It was my suicide note, I told you. I had to give you a reason for killing myself or you'd never have believed I'd taken my own life. You'd have continued to believe I was too egotistical, too in love with myself." He smiled a little. "I didn't know if Moriarty's men would back off when I died, or if the lie had to stand for you to be safe. I knew I'd only be buying hours, maybe days, until they found the recording but I had to make sure there was enough doubt in your mind that you wouldn't go looking for another explanation."

"You honestly thought I'd believe you?"

He turned his head to look at me and I did the same, trying to read him through the so-called windows of his eyes.  "You didn't even contemplate it, just for a second?"

"No! I never doubted you, not during... everything and definitely not afterwards.  I know you.  I...."  I stopped myself, bit my bottom lip and set off again in a different direction.  "I punched a Chief Inspector for you."

Sherlock frowned. "Yes, you never did tell me what he said."

"He called you a wierdo."

"You're going to get a very sore hand if you punch everyone who calls me a weirdo." Going to - future tense. I'd thought that I'd never again hear of Sherlock in those terms.

"You'd just been arrested for kidnapping two children, which was ludicrous in itself. And... and I don't want to talk about... then until I've come to terms with now."

"Can I help you do that?" His tone surprised me, low and sad and offering... I wasn't sure what. I found myself just staring at his face, so familiar to me for two years then gone for three long, lonely months, during which I hadn't done anything to move my life forward from where I'd gone cold; kneeling on the pavement, held back from touching him, from getting too close. Because he'd stopped the pulse in his right wrist but he'd still been breathing and I was still a doctor, even if I was at that moment a distraught one. Some part of my mind, and all of my heart, was only now unfreezing from that moment. Before I'd lost him, I was content to live with him, to share his life, to be his only friend and his blogger. Now I wasn't willing to let him out of my sight, was barely able to stop touching him.

'I'm not gay.' How often had I said it? I remember giving up protesting eventually, as if everything before that awful day was one life, and this was another.

All that had really changed was the pain that was slowly easing, the emptiness inside me that was slowly filling, I was returning to life along with him. When I moved, I moved slowly, not wanting to spook him although I wasn't sure he'd react the way he might have once done. He'd already given me adventure, friendship in his own fashion, a reason to live. Maybe there was anger inside me at the three God-forsaken months I'd spent mourning him, maybe in the next couple of hours, or sometime over the next couple of days it would come bursting out of me. But he'd pulled off the miracle I'd asked him to, he'd stopped being dead, and that went a long, long way towards an apology.

He moved, twisted his body to face mine, our fingers still tangled together, hands tucked between us. His eyes were sparkling as he waited for me to do something, anything; slap him, hug him. I kissed him. Gently, achingly slowly, just a touch of my lips against his. Then he did something wildly unexpected; he put his free hand against my face, opened his mouth and kissed me back, a real kiss, something so sensual I'd never imagined he had it in him.

It genuinely shocked me, stunned me, so that I hesitated and he was pulling back....

"John..." he sounded breathless, or maybe panicked, "is this all right?"

"Yes. God, yes." Why the hell not? I'd missed him so much, my whole being was so aware of him now. I showed him how all right it was with a hand on his head, pushing my fingers into his thick hair, bringing his mouth back down on mine, sliding my tongue over his, tasting nicotine and coffee and something sweet.... I wasn't sure how much I wanted, how much I could take, but it was definitely all right.

"I take it you've forgiven him then."

Sherlock broke away from me as if we'd caught fire, but the expression on his face wasn't one of embarrassment, it was guilt. Greg sounded angry in a way I couldn't find it in my heart to be. He rose slowly from the couch and I let go of his hand at the same time as he let go of mine, rising to stand next to him, putting myself between them I realised.

"How could you, you heartless bastard?" I could see his fists clenching.

"I had no choice-"

"Don't give me that!  You put us through hell, you put John through hell." He emphasised my name and Sherlock glanced at me, but he already knew how very much I'd missed him, how desolate my life had been without him.

"There were assassins-"

"I know!  Three of them.  You could have called us from that roof instead of calling John to subject him to more lies he was never going to believe!  We could have done something, we could have intervened."

"There was one in the building across from St Barts!  I could see him!  He had a rifle, he could have put a bullet in John's head before you ever got close!  A single footstep on the stairs up to his position, he would have fired."

"You don't know that!"  He was so angry, so upset.  I could see Sherlock physically restraining his own reaction, wanting to shout back at the insinuations, at the interruptions, but he didn't and I wondered what would need to be said in order for him to lose control.

"I wasn't willing to risk John's life."

"No.  You just destroyed it."

That, apparently. He took a step forward, stepping in front of me, fists clenched.  "How dare you?! It was the worst moment of my life, an impossible choice."

"Don't give me that!  You'd made your choice, you knew you what was about to happen, you'd planned it all!"

"I'd put contingencies in place!  I tried to get Moriarty to call off the assassins but he shot himself in the head!  I knew I was going to live but I knew what it would do to John, I'm not completely inhuman!  I knew it would hurt him but I also knew I could deal with the assassins, make it safe to come back. I jumped off a fucking building! I knew if I put a single step wrong, I would die. One error in calculation when I jumped... if my head had actually hit the pavement Molly wouldn't have needed the blood, I would have provided my own." My heart actually ached for him. "It wasn't an easy thing to do. I was scared. Those were real tears up there. Looking over the edge and knowing I had to go over it was the most terrified I've ever been."

He was half way between shouting and pleading, and despite everything I knew I would always come down on his side.  Greg knew it too, with one glance at me.  I had what I'd so desperately wanted for the last three months, if I was going to get angry it was going to come later when the wounds weren't so raw and the pain of loss still sharp.

Greg took a deep breath, clearly trying to calm down before they came to blows.  "The man in my office... his desk was ten feet from mine.�

That broke the tension. Sherlock backed off, and I said in a voice I could only hope would stay level, "Sit down.  Both of you. I'll make tea."

"Actually I could do with something stronger."

I glanced at him for a moment - the man who'd become my friend in the weeks during which I'd been trying to pick up the shattered pieces of my life and failing.  There was a bottle of fine whisky in the kitchen, a present from Mycroft which had never been opened.  I fetched it, and three cheap tumblers, half-filling each of them before perching on the wide, flat arm of Sherlock�s chair. His hand settled on my thigh as if it was the most natural thing in the world and I covered it with my own.

�We�ve missed you,� Greg admitted after emptying his glass in a single gulp and reaching for the bottle to refill it. �When we found the recording - mostly thanks to John - Donovan and Anderson were mortified.�

�Did they apologise to you?� I looked at him, wished I could say yes, but they hadn�t spoken to me, even texted me, in three months. My silence was enough to answer his question and he looked back at Greg. �You let them sell you Moriarty�s bullshit.� And he was right, even if it had only been for a few hours, they were an important few hours, time that had led inescapably to the events on the roof of St Barts, and to three terrible months without my best friend.

�Finding the recording allowed us to set the record straight,� Greg clarified, staring into his second glass of whisky, �with the media and with the public.�

�And with your team,� Sherlock pointed out. I could hear him deliberately keeping the accusation from his voice. �Did they honestly think I�d... created a psychopath? Just to further my own career?�

�They don�t like you,� Greg told him bluntly. �You made them look like idiots over and over again and they saw a chance to get revenge.�

�I never put them in danger.� He sounded so sad, I glanced down at him, watched him slowly swirling the whisky in the glass in his hand. He was tired, I realised suddenly, understanding in that moment that it really had been as hard on him as it had on me. There must have been moments when he�d thought I too was gone from his life forever, times when he�d thought he�d never be able to come home. I held his hand tighter and Greg noticed it.

�Just to let you know,� he said pointedly, �if you two ever break up, I�m quitting my job and leaving the country.�

I smiled, and Sherlock smiled, the clouds leaving his face. I wondered at the time I�d spent denying my own feelings, nothing sexual because until this afternoon I�d never even thought about kissing him, but certainly that I loved him. He�d brought me back to life, the least I could do was return the favour.

�What actually happened that day? By the time I arrived they'd taken your... you away but there was all that blood...." Greg sounded a little drunk, and when I looked up he was refilling his glass again. I could understand the need to finally hit the bottle. He'd known Sherlock for much longer than I had, but as Mycroft had once said, I'd got so close so quickly. Up until that day we really had been just friends, close friends, flatmates who saw each other during the best and worst moments. And then I�d lost him. Just like that, without warning, I�d watched him jump to his death from the roof of the hospital where I�d trained, where I�d first met him.

He reached to put his glass on the table, the alcohol untouched, and when he sat back again he leaned into me, his head against my side. I wondered if it was solely for my benefit or if he was needing the contact too. I swallowed half my own whisky. Sherlock didn't like to drink anything stronger than lager, didn't like to do anything that slowed his mind. I almost laughed when Greg leaned forward and picked up Sherlock's discarded glass, tipping the liquid down his throat before putting it down again and refilling his own. I didn't say a word, glancing at Sherlock and at the complex expression on his face. The guilt was still there, a slight fear perhaps, and he was trying to keep the bemusement out of his eyes, maybe because he didn't think he deserved to be amused by anything quite yet.

Lestrade seemed to have forgotten his own question, and for once in his life Sherlock apparently didn't feel like showing off.

"It may be an idea to get a takeaway," I mused out loud although I was mostly just talking to myself.

Sherlock perked up immediately. "Chinese!"

"Curry!" But by the look on Greg's face I knew he knew he'd lost this insignificant round. I twisted around, hunted through the dusty papers on the table before I uncovered the first take-away menu. Taking my phone from my pocket, I phoned the number without having to pry my hand from Sherlock's, and ordered half a dozen dishes that I knew Sherlock liked, enough egg fried rice for six and two bags of prawn crackers. I gave the address and rang off before the guy at the other end could ask questions. I'd only just rung off when a text popped up on the screen.

Tell my brother, welcome back to life.

I handed the phone to Sherlock and he stared at it. "Why am I not surprised?"

The phone buzzed again, a new text.

If you ever do anything like that again, Sherlock, I'll kill you myself.

It wasn't surprising that Mycroft knew. I'd always assumed he saw everything that happened in London. The bigger surprise was that he truly hadn't known what Sherlock had done and I realised then that it was impossible. If he'd been moving through London, even in disguise, surely Mycroft would have known, seen, worked it out. "He knew, didn't he? Or at least suspected."

"Probably." Sherlock looked up at me, considering before he shook his head, "Don't be angry with him. He wouldn't have wanted to share his suspicions with you if he couldn't substantiate them. He's an arrogant sod but he isn't a cruel man. If he'd known for certain I think he would have made an effort to get the evidence he needed just to get one over on me. Or maybe he suspected and thought it better not to get involved, although I doubt his ego would have allowed that."

"There is one thing I don't understand." Sherlock looked across at Greg and I expected him to at least raise an eyebrow, the old Sherlock would have done, but he did nothing, said nothing, waited. "Any one of Molly's team could have given the game away."

He shook his head now he had the question. "They weren't Molly's team. They were my homeless network, nameless and faceless to the majority of people in this city, who would believe them?" He looked at me. "You were the one who mattered, John. You are - were - my best friend -"


A smile touched his lips. "You were at my side for two years. You were the one who mattered, your reaction, your grief. I knew they would watch you and I knew they would kill you if they thought I was still alive. I'm sorry...."

"You need to stop apologising."

"I thought you'd want me to apologise."

"And you have, many times. If - when - I want another one, I'll let you know."

Another phone buzzed, breaking the moment, Lestrade's this time, and he pulled it from his pocket, stared at the screen for a second, then answered it.

"What? .... You'll have to sort it out, I'll be back in the morning. .... I can't. .... Because I've been drinking, copiously, if you must know." I considered taking the phone from him before he wrecked his career. "I'm celebrating, Donovan, celebrating having my favourite detective back, my friend...." I snatched the mobile from his fingers and ended the call. It rang again but I turned it off.

The urge to argue with him was almost overwhelming. Sherlock only has one friend, I wanted to say, and that position's taken. It was pathetic, childish, and I emptied my glass to stop myself from speaking.

"Friend?" I heard Sherlock ask, curious, and I reached for the bottle.

"Yeah," Greg confirmed, "and friends don't put... friends through hell just because they think it's the right thing to do."

I expected a replay of the earlier argument, but he just said, "I'm sorry."

"I should think so." He dropped his head to the back of the chair - my chair - and settled his eyes on Sherlock as if he was expecting him to disappear at any moment.

"Do you want to tell me what I've missed?" Sherlock asked quietly after a few long minutes of a fairly comfortable silence.

Greg nodded slowly. "Yes, actually." There wasn't much for Sherlock - a missing child who'd turned up after five days alive and well and hiding in her aunt's basement, a theft from a small branch of the Post Office in Notting Hill, a drugs bust of note in Brixton. He could maybe have helped with the Post Office job but as no violence was involved and it was an opportunistic theft from the back of a truck in a quiet road in broad day light, I doubted he would have taken it even if he'd been here and Lestrade had asked.

But it passed the time until the doorbell rang, and a few minutes later Mrs Hudson came upstairs with a box from the Chinese at the end of the road and a bottle of chilled white wine by which I took to mean she was staying but instead she poured three glasses and announced that she had a date. At least one of us had continued to live following Sherlock's 'death'.

I fetched some plates and forks and we opened up the plastic cartons, helping ourselves to a selection of the dishes. Even Lestrade seemed to come back to us for a while, despite consuming a quarter bottle of single malt.

"How about you, John?" Sherlock started as he shovelled egg fried rice into his mouth. He'd ever really bothered employing the manners I'd always assumed he must have been taught as a child.

"How about me what?"

"Are you... dating anyone?"

Had Greg not been there, maybe that would have been the moment my anger chose to erupt from inside me, but Greg - bless him - almost choked on a mouthful of noodles as he started to laugh and Sherlock shot him a hard look.

"Jesus Christ, Sherlock! How can you even ask?"

"I'm... interested!"

Greg shook his head. "You just don't get it, do you?"

"Don't get...." Then he looked up at me, and whatever he saw in my face made it make sense to him. "Oh."

"You great idiot."

He looked away, around the room as if looking for something but I knew he wasn't. "Sorry, John... I'm so sorry." I knew what was coming and instead of allowing it to happen, I swung my legs up and planted my bare feet on his thighs. He lifted his plate in surprise, spilling some rice on my feet. "John!"

"You're not going to sulk."

He frowned and I thought he might anyway, but he shrugged and carried on eating, hooking one arm around my ankles in order to hold his plate in place.

I switched on the television, just for background, and we half-watched the news for a few minutes before switching it off again. I wondered how the press would respond to the news of Sherlock's return, remembering how they dealt with his death, remembering how painful it had been to switch on the television or radio, or pick up a newspaper and hear or see more lies made up about my best friend. I hadn't been able to protect his name then and I wasn't stupid enough to think that I could do anything different now. But if the press were going to make a story out of this I was damn well going to a part of it. He didn't ask me to move my legs, he worked around them to Greg's amusement, hooking his index finger into the King Prawn Chow Mien carton and pulling it to the edge of the table to spoon some onto his plate.

"Were you two like this before?" Greg asked, slurring his words a little, waving a fork at us with a noodle hanging from the prongs.

"John isn't gay," Sherlock pointed out before I could open my mouth, and I nodded.


Greg laughed. "Yeah, right."

It wasn't late when Greg finally fell asleep where he was sitting, half a bottle of whisky and half a bottle of wine inside him.

I don't know how long it was before Sherlock, who'd been practically hugging my legs to his chest for most of the evening, looked up at me and said without a hint of humour, "About bed." I waited, but when nothing else was forthcoming, I asked,

"What about bed?"

"I'm assuming as you don't yet have photographic evidence and your only credible witness is drunk and asleep and can't be trusted to remember anything about tonight, you're still not willing to let me out of your sight."

I didn't ask why Mrs Hudson wouldn't be credible, and I hadn't actually thought about it, but he was right. "You assume correctly."

"In which case we can either sleep in here, or we can share a bed."

I didn't let myself think about that either. "I've been sleeping in your bed for the last couple of nights."

"Then it's decided." He released my legs and I swung them from his lap, stretching.

"What about him?" I nodded down at Greg. He was going to have an aching neck in the morning.

"There really isn't room...." I slapped his arm as we stood up and he caught my hand, lifting it to his mouth, kissing my knuckles left to right. He caught my gaze too and held it. "I owe you, John, I know, and I'll keep trying to make it up to you. I missed you... a great deal and you might have noticed earlier that I've developed something of an attraction to you. I'm not asexual, John, no matter what some people might think, and I'm not a virgin, but I've never been in anything you could call a relationship and I don't know how good I'll be at this, at us."

His words made me feel so warm, so... loved. "You don't owe me, and you definitely don't owe me this. You risked your life, gave it up for a time, to save mine and I do understand that even if I don't like it. I just need to be able to open my eyes and see you, otherwise I won't believe this wasn't some grief-induced dream. Beyond that..." I wrapped my fingers over his hand. "I think I'd like to see how 'us' goes, but one day at a time, okay?"

He nodded, smiled, "Thank you."

In his room, he pulled a blue stripy pair of pyjamas from a drawer and handed them to me with barely disguised hope in his eyes. I honestly had no idea why. "I'm not immune, John," he explained quietly. "You're the best friend - the only real friend - I've ever had. And as I said, there's a large part of me that's attracted to you, otherwise I wouldn't have kissed you earlier. You said we should take it slowly and I'm in complete agreement with you, I don't want to upset things by getting an erection at an inopportune moment."

I stared at him, I couldn't help it. Then I started to laugh and couldn't seem to stop. After a minute, he smiled, then grinned, then started to laugh too. I sat on the end of the bed, hiccups bubbling up from inside me on top of the almost-hysteria, and he sat beside me, hand clutched at his chest, tears leaking from his eyes. Finally, when neither of us could breathe, we dropped back to the messy sheets I'd left unmade that morning, a lifetime ago, back when Sherlock Holmes was dead and I was alone.

It took us some time to pull ourselves together, and when we were calmer I turned my head to look at him, into the face of the man I might possibly be deeply in love with, put my hands on his cheeks and pulled him towards me, into a quick kiss.

"I was in the army," I murmured, keeping my voice low, "and three months ago I watched my best friend jump off a roof and fall to his supposed death." His eyes flicked away from mine. "So I think, Sherlock, that I can handle your morning hard-on. So to speak." Sherlock's eyebrows lifted suggestively. "Behave."


Life couldn't just go back to the way it was, not after something so huge. But it righted itself at least, tipped slowly back to something John recognised. Lestrade soon fell into his old routine, once he'd recovered from his hangover, inviting Sherlock onto cases they had no leads for. Mycroft acted as if Sherlock had never been away, also falling into familiar patterns of politely abducting one or both of them at the most inconvenient times when he needed his brother's help.

John felt the differences keenly though, and not just because he was dating a consulting detective with a penis, which in itself was a first for him, or because he was sleeping every night in the same bed as a gangly man with long limbs who liked to snuggle.

The real differences were in the ordinary things; toast, jam and tea in the mornings, the sound of a violin played with remarkable skill, evenings in front of the fire reading in a companionable silence or running around London like madmen. Familiar things invoking very different reactions, every moment with Sherlock feeling like a second chance. Sporadic kisses turned to evenings spent necking on the couch, nothing sexual happening in bed until weeks afterwards, until a meaningless word from Sherlock one Tuesday night spared a fire in John and he let all the anger, all the terror and the fear and the grief come exploding out of him, breaking Sherlock's laptop in the violent rant. Sherlock didn't shout back, didn't argue, let him get it out of his system, waited until he collapsed into his chair, exhausted and spent. Then he pounced, literally, like a cat on heat.

Neither of them had time to think about 'first times' or 'no experience', they acted on instinct, moving it to the bedroom with just a single word, stripping, kissing, touching, learning. After over two years' foreplay it felt natural for John to climb on top of him, to take Sherlock inside him, to be as close as they could possibly be. Natural too, apparently, for Sherlock to take control before his body could make a fool out of him, wrapping his arms around John's back, pulling him down to his chest and rolling over, placing John almost but not quite beneath him, knees bent against his hips, moving slowly in and out of him not as deep but so much more intimate, kissing John's throat and shoulders, murmuring words dragged straight from his soul.

John came against Sherlock's stomach, unbearably turned on by the intensity of it. Sherlock came inside him, body shaking, groaning low in his throat as John bit his collarbone lightly at the very moment of his orgasm. It was more than worth the wait. John knew he was spoilt, that no one else would ever be right or enough. But then he'd felt that way, one way or another, ever since they'd met.