Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: This is the sequel to Tell Me. Thank you to regan_v for the advice, and bethbethbeth and msilverstar for catching my typical glitches!

The thought of returning to Baker Street gave him the dry heaves, so John Watson paid a moving company to pack up his room and dump all his stuff in Harry's spare bedroom. Two weeks later—after their tenth screaming match in fourteen days—he knew that he had to move. A bachelor apartment near Bart's fit the bill. In need of a good clean and on the third floor—an issue as his leg was deteriorating with every passing day—he took it none the less. The first box he opened had a pack of cigarettes on the very top, the stash he secreted from Sherlock and only to be used in dire emergencies. He closed the box.

After that first box, he didn't bother with any of the other boxes. He'd unpack at some point. The boxes weren't going anywhere. He bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, disposable razors, shaving cream, and some new clothes to get him through the work week. Leaving the boxes where the movers had dumped them, he flopped his mattress on the floor. Hopefully the radiators actually worked, because he didn't want to pile through boxes looking for blankets.

He took on extra shifts, did an obscene amount of on call, and shifted to the ER because it was boomboomboom. Case after case. Rushing from room to room, always moving. Busy was good. Busy was the ticket. Because the minute his mind wasn't on a compound fracture or a case of hives or a gunshot wound, it was on that afternoon. Where he was clutching his cell phone, listening to Sherlock lying to him. Sodding bastard. The most outrageous and horrible thing Sherlock had ever done, even worse than subjecting him to that drug that made him hallucinate that gigantic hound. But then the lie paled, became completely pointless, as John watched Sherlock tip himself over the parapet.

It was stupid, insane, and self-destructive in the extreme, but every day at 8:04 am he returned to the very spot he had stood where he watched in disbelief as Sherlock went over the edge. He would stand there, waiting for Sherlock to appear, begging for a humongous glitch in the time stream, begged with everything he had that Sherlock would magically appear. And not go over the edge. After five minutes, he'd leave and go back to the hospital to throw-up the remnants of his morning coffee that hadn't digested yet.

He didn't believe and he believed. It had to be another mental chess move, perhaps the final checkmate in "who's the smarter genius race" with Moriarty. But the doctor in him calculated the distance from the roof to the sidewalk and the blood oozing from Sherlock's ear and… If only he'd been able to feel a pulse.

He kept replaying all the facts, over and over again, and then found they didn't matter. What mattered was that Sherlock had an ego the size of Australia. There was no way that that superego could have committed suicide. How many times had he heard Sherlock say that he didn't care what people thought of him?

And John believed him. How many times had John tried to mop-up after Sherlock had subjected innocent people to his tasteless, unfeeling remarks? Sherlock didn't care what people thought of him. If stupid buggers whose idea of literature was the front page of The Sun wanted to believe that Sherlock was a fraud, that he'd masterminded all those cases so that he could be front page news, let them. John could hear him now: "Idiots," he'd sneer and then go on checking his mobile. Most days John believed Sherlock was alive because he honestly couldn't fathom someone with Sherlock's ego committing suicide. On the days he didn't, there was a pub in the basement of his building, and he drowned out the clinical opinion of his doctor self with lots of bitter topped off with brandy chasers.

So, yes to extra shifts and as much on call as he could humanly stand. It was being like a resident again, which had been hellish the first time around and now he was fifteen years older. But if he stopped, for just a minute, the visual of Sherlock's hand stretched out toward him and then Sherlock's coat floating behind him…

And when he couldn't move any more, every molecule screaming exhaustion, the only way to stop his brain from seeing that over and over and churning the doubt over again and again was to down an obscene amount of booze to the point of passing out.

John was still enough of a professional that he never missed work and never went to work drunk. Molly basically adopted him, forcing him to eat lunch, which was increasingly becoming his only meal of the day. They'd sit in the canteen, and she would hold his hand while they made small talk. Nothing more than hospital chit-chat. Once a week, she'd call him up before he start the serious boozing for the night, and ask him join her for some Chinese and a movie. She had appalling taste in movies, always silly romantic comedies, but it wasn't like he could handle anything grittier.

The first time he went to be polite. The second time he tried to beg off, but she wasn't having any. The third time he actually got shirty with her, snarling, "I don't need a bloody babysitter."

With a steel in her voice that shocked him, she said, "I promised him I'd look after you, and that's what I'm going to do. I'll swing by your place in fifteen. Be ready."

One morning while loading up on coffee for his shift, that slimy bastard Forbes sidled up to him, elbowed him in the ribs, and whispered in his ear, "Sticking it to our Molly, are we?" The smell of kippers and overwrought aftershave had his empty stomach roiling.

One of those bean counters who really wasn't very bright and yet was surrounded by doctors who were, Forbes tried to compensate for his lack of brains by spending an effing fortune on his clothes. The tie he was wearing probably cost a couple of hundred quid. Of course, wearing Armani did bugger all for increasing one's I.Q. points, so he also made a point of trying to puff himself up by undermining the authority of the professional staff with a constant barrage of snide remarks.

John debated throwing hot coffee on him, but that would get him fired, and he really needed this job or he'd go mad.

"None of your business, Forbes. If you tended to your job as opposed to spending the majority of your day gossiping about people, you probably wouldn't fuck up as much as you do. Excuse me."

John made to elbow his way out of the room, and if in the process he spilled a little coffee on this bastard's shoes, all the better.

"Wouldn't have pegged you for a switch hitter Doctor. You and the detective, and now you and the doctor."

John whirled around.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me," Forbes narrowed his eyes and smirked.

"I'm reporting you, Forbes. For creating a hostile work environment. You've made sexual insinuations regarding two senior staff, and there are rules against that. I will make sure that there is a reprimand in your file by the end of the day."

John pushed past him into the corridor because if he stayed in that room another minute he'd probably be up on murder charges in the morning. The shout of "Fucking prick," followed him down the corridor. John kept on walking, his hand above his head, his middle finger pointed up in the unmistakable gesture of contempt.

At lunch that day they'd barely unfolded their napkins before John said, "Look, we can't have lunch together anymore. People are gossiping. About you and me."

"There isn't a you and me. So?"

There it was again. That steel.

"Molly, listen. I don't want you—"

"John, you're talking rubbish. You're my friend, all right? That smarmy arse Haggerty from accounting already came up to me last week and did his wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more. Did he lay way you, too?"

"No, Forbes, his equally smarmy mate. He'd had kippers for breakfast and was whispering shit in my ear. Don't know why I wasted my time shaving this morning. His breath practically took my skin off."

"Ignore them. I do. Catsup for your chips? Must be some sort of pool. Lazy buggers. Don't know when they work, actually. Always gossiping in each other's cubicles. I told Haggerty you had a twelve-inch dick the width of my wrist. That shut him up."

John laughed for the first time in two months.

Mycroft insisted on dinner on Friday nights. The second John walked out the door, a black government car would pull up to the curb. Bart's had roughly twenty different exits and he tried them all to no avail. Apparently there were fleets of these cars—he'd begun to call them Mycroft's Mariahs—stationed at every possible entrance and/or exit.

The first couple of visits John sat there mute. Mycroft asked how he was doing, talk about the weather for a good fifteen minutes (how English of him), ask if he'd unpacked the boxes yet, did he like working in the ER? John refused to respond and concentrated on drinking copious amounts of excellent red wine to wash down the overcooked steak. The Diogenes Club might employ deplorable chefs, but their wine steward was a god.

On visit number three, Mycroft lost his temper.

"What in the hell do I have to do, John? I've already said I'm sorry!" Mycroft threw down his napkin and began to pout.

John acted like he was thinking about it, tilted his head and tried to look speculative, and then said in a clear voice, because this was what he had wanted all along, and he was shocked at how stupid Mycroft was being. "Quid pro quo, Mycroft. You did it for Moriarty, now do it for me. Every Friday night. Twenty minutes."

Mycroft's brought his eyebrows together in that pinched vee that usually signaled his extreme irritation. Then he blushed and looked away. Perhaps it was shame. Perhaps it was anger. Sometimes it was hard to read these Holmes boys.

John signaled the waiter for more wine. Before the glass reached his lips Mycroft said, "We grew up in Cheshire."

Then he waited.

John put his glass down. "Nice country that."

"I think so. Sherlock never referred to it as anything but 'that revolting hellhole.' My intelligence opened doors, while his closed them. As different as chalk from cheese my father used to say. Anyway, as you know there's seven years between us…"

As he listened to the pronounced cadence of Mycroft's Cambridge drawl, John wondered if Jim Moriarty had been so obtuse as to only ask about Sherlock. Because this wasn't one man's story. It was most definitely two. One ridiculously intelligent child entered government service as a way to constantly receive the approbation of authority figures that he never received from his parents. Someone of normal intelligence would have become a country magistrate with a bossy wife and a bunch of unruly children. The other ridiculously intelligent child was the opposite side of the same coin. What was initially indifference to authority figures because they were indifferent to him, blossomed into active scorn based in part on Mycroft's successes and endless pandering. And although John could see Mycroft's future as a country squire type quite clearly, John couldn't see Sherlock as being anything but Sherlock.

Not for the first time did John actually bless his nothing more than solid intelligence.

At two and one half months, John realized that he needed to stop drinking and he needed to move forward. If he kept this up, at some point he'd do something idiotic because he was hung over or exhausted. If he was lucky, he wouldn't actually kill someone. The not-drinking part wasn't working out very well, but he did start picking up the pieces of his life, albeit it wasn't so much moving forward as nudging the static a millimeter or two. He had high tea with Mrs. Hudson at Brown's every couple of weeks and listened to her natter away about the new tenants. So boring they were. She missed him and Sherlock so much. To which he managed to respond with a tense smile. If he had to leave the table and lunge for the loo to combat a full-blown anxiety attack, so be it.

He managed to unpack one more box, the one containing the tea kettle. The rest he couldn't be arsed about.

He had dinner with Harry every now and then and only fought half of the time.

He restarted therapy for all the good it did him. Despite forking over a hundred pounds for each session, he still couldn't talk about what happened and didn't think he could ever talk about what happened. They spent the entire hour with him choking on his words, and her encouraging him to vocalize his anger, his rage toward Sherlock.

The thing was, he wasn't angry at findamentally . No, he was lost and so lonely that it gnawed on him constantly. It was like his internal map had been erased. Sometimes he hurt so much that he went numb, like he was dead and no one had bothered to tell him. He'd reach for his wrist and search for his pulse because he wasn't really sure he still had one.

The person he was furious at was Moriarty, so angry that if his death turned out to be an elaborate hoax, then John would spend his entire life hunting down that evil son-of-a-bitch, and once he found him, John would kill him with his bare hands. Even if he had a gun, John wouldn't shoot him. No, he'd tighten his hands around that bastard's neck. And squeeze. Squeeze until his eyes popped out of his head. Not that he could talk to his therapist about his fantasies of killing the world's premiere criminal mastermind. She'd Google Moriarty's name and find he didn't exist, and then they'd have to discuss why John was conjuring up fake personas to blame for Sherlock's suicide.

The why of it all nagging at him constantly. None of it made sense and yet it also made horrible sense in a way. Flat out John couldn't reconcile Sherlock's colossal ego with suicide. Sherlock had an id the size of Wales. But. How would that id react if Jim Moriarty had actually won? Had Sherlock's enormous ego taken such a beating that he couldn't stand the thought of being bested by a total lunatic? But one couldn't define Moriarty's intelligence without relating it to his truly astonishing insanity so how could one rationally compete against the irrational? And Sherlock was maddeningly rational, even pathologically rational.

John began investigating. He cut back on the call to spend what little free time he had searching Google and stalking the key players. Naturally, he couldn't stalk Mycroft. John was expending an enormous amount of energy trying to get away from the man. But everyone else was fair game. He unearthed a load of information, but none of it relevant. For example, Lestrade's marriage was now truly on the rocks, but that had nothing to do with Sherlock.

Six months earlier at a gang-related slaying where there were so many bodies it took three ambulances to carry away the murder victims, no sooner were the two of them settled in a cab than Sherlock began rattling off a list of why Greg's marriage was in serious trouble. Mismatched buttons on his dress shirt, a nick on left ear from an inept shaving job, and a catsup stain on his tie all boiled down to the Lestrades being on the verge of divorce. At the time John thought that Sherlock was overreaching but apparently not. John's sleuthing had revealed that Greg had moved in with his brother, who was also in the middle of a divorce. On the alternate weekend Greg didn't have the children, he'd spend his free time in front of the telly watching endless re-runs of World Cup matches. His soon-to-be ex-wife was dating a dentist, a man who had none of Greg's decency and honest charm, but who made piles of money and didn't work nights and weekends.

Donavan's mother was dying of cancer. When she wasn't working, she was at the hospice. Anderson was cheating on his wife with two women, one of whom looked exactly like Donovan.

John bought a police scanner and listened to it non-stop, knowing instinctively which cases would entice Sherlock out of hiding. John would then conceal himself in the shadows of the crime scene, straining for a glimpse of him. Because while a master of disguise, the one thing Sherlock couldn't hide was his height. The couple who moved into their flat seemed innocuous enough. Stealing their mail, he steamed open their bills and on paper they looked legitimate. He was a teacher; she sold hosiery at Harrod's. To date, all his investigations had turned up nothing, but he didn't stop. He kept opening their mail and following Mrs. Hudson to the grocery store. While the scanner blared, he read five newspapers a day, cover to cover, for any hint that Sherlock was alive.

One night as he sat in his one chair, cradling a bottle of brandy between his legs, he thought, I just need to survive this until it's over. Until Sherlock comes striding into this room or in the hospital or wherever. I just need to wait it out.

And then Greg Lestrade came over with some news. And if John had thought he was shattered and broken, he really hadn't known broken. Even worse, he had had no idea what shattered was.

After enduring yet another romantic comedy whose plot seemed to be limited to a dog that apparently never met an object it didn't want to eat, John waved good-bye to Molly and then threw away the leftovers of their Chinese into the nearest rubbish bin. He'd been Sherlock's errand boy for far too long because short of being blind, he'd know an unmarked police cruiser anywhere. He made for his front door.

The door opened and he heard Greg Lestrade shout out, "Dr. Watson."

John had been ignoring Greg's phone calls for weeks now, and he had no intention of talking to him tonight. To be honest, John was still royally ticked off at him for being blind-sided by Donovan (who had always hated Sherlock with an unholy passion) and Anderson (who always kow-towed to Donovan in the hopes of getting into her knickers). Refusing to acknowledge the sound of a car door opening and slamming shut, and the rush of footsteps behind him, he put his key in the lock and began to turn.

"John," a hand stayed his wrist. "I need to talk to you. Please," Lestrade added in a low voice.

"No, I don't think so."

"Please," Lestrade repeated.

"Christ on a bicycle. Two minutes."

John shook off the hand and opened the door, Lestrade following behind him as John slowly made his way up to the third floor, leaning on his cane, and using his free hand to pull himself up.

Not much shocked Lestrade, but the sight of all his unpacked boxes in haphazard piles and equally haphazard piles of dirty laundry in various corners of the room did.

"Jesus fucking Christ, John."

John ignored him and took the only chair. His leg was killing him. Once he settled in, he reached under the chair cushion, pulled out a bottle of paracetomol, swallowed four, and then chased down the pills with a slug of brandy from the bottle next to the chair.

"You've got two minutes. That's all."

"It's about Sherlock." Lestrade began pacing back and forth in the tiny aisle between the boxes and the front door. "I know you don't believe it, and I don't, well, I didn't believe it either. Thought the crafty bastard had yet another one up his sleeve. But… Oh Christ… Mr. Holmes and I… Well, he asked me to his club. Apparently they sweep for bugs every day. As safe as houses it is. Fuck, I'm rambling. Anyway, his people tracked down the remaining two assassins. That slender brunet and the Russian blonde?" John nodded and began digging his fingernails into the bottle. "There was also a third bastard we didn't know about. Romanian hit man. Not Moriarty's people but guns for hire. They sweated them a bit," which John took to mean they tortured them incessantly in some secret prison in Gibraltar. Lestrade was pacing and his fists were clenched and it was obvious that he didn't want to say what he had to say, because every single word sounded like it was being beaten out of him. "And apparently Moriarty—and I'm telling you right now, I never believed any of that shit about Richard Brook or any of the rest of it—he set it up." John raised his eyebrows in question. "To off us. You. Me. Mrs. Hudson. If Sherlock didn't jump off that parapet, then they were under orders to take us out. Just like the other two. Three bullets, here, here, and here." Lestrade thumped his heart, his forehead, and his liver with a pale hand. "He did it for us. That smug, arrogant insufferable S.O.B. did it for us."

Now it all made sense. It wasn't the defeat of Sherlock's id that propelled him over that parapet. It was the triumph of his heart.

John didn't remember Lestrade leaving. He didn't remember much of anything for the next three weeks. The investigating stopped, as did the inedible dinners with Mycroft and lunches and movie nights with Molly and tea with Mrs. Hudson and dinner with Harry. Aside from the professional duty to his patients, he stopped talking. He began living at the hospital, knowing with certainty that the moment he stepped out the door, government thugs would hustle him into a car and off to some secret place to pow-wow with Mycroft. He was done with pow-wowing with Mycroft. Getting booze was tricky, but he commandeered a few poverty-stricken residents to pick up a fifth here and a fifth there for a bit of a fee. He slept in the room reserved for residents or kipped out on the odd gurney, a fifth of brandy tucked under his arm.

They came for him on a Wednesday night. Fortunately for them he was sleeping on a gurney. All they had to do with prick him with a needle, cover him with a sheet, and then roll him out the door. Easy. As he felt the needle ease into his arm, before he blacked out he thought, I hope they kill me.

This is what alcoholism does for you. He was clearly hallucinating. As a bonus to the mental cloud he was floating on, a state of constant half sleep, he smelled wine. He was either on mountains of tranquillizers to stop the DTs or he was in that half second between life and death where it was a mental free-for-all. Even in near death he was pining for a drink. He sensed that bodies were hovering around him non-stop, but he didn't bother opening his eyes. Tightening up into a fetal position, John waited for the inevitable. At one point he thought that Molly was wiping his face with a warm flannel and singing him nursery rhymes. At another time he thought he heard Sherlock and Mycroft nattering at each other as they used to do, that venomous back and forth that constituted the backbone of their entire relationship. Something about things taking time and they were working on it and bloody well get a move on. Not that he cared—although the hallucination with the warm flannel was lovely—but basically he just wanted whatever was happening to be over and done with. For good.

Curling up into an even tinier ball, the half-second of eternity seemed to go on forever until a voice—such a familiar voice that he couldn't help but raise his head in response even though he knew it wasn't real—said, "John, open your eyes."

John curled up even tighter, willing the voice to stop because this wasn't pleasant. It was terrifying. There is nothing worse than having your hallucinations turn on you. Maybe Molly singing and the flannel would come back if he thought about it really hard.

"John Watson, open your eyes right now," that voice shouted. Sherlock's voice. But he didn't move until a hand, with very long fingers, grabbed his shoulder, yanked him over, and slapped one side of his face and then the other. Hard. He didn't imagine that. It hurt too much, even through the drugs.

John opened them. There he was. Even thinner than he remembered. Dear God, Sherlock. To blot out the previous memory, to replace it with something life affirming as opposed to a final gesture of friendship, he stretched out his hand to make sure that it wasn't alcoholic dementia fueling this vision. Sherlock took his hand in both of his and squeezed. John pulled away.

"I'm sorry. I had no choice."

He struggled to sit up but couldn't quite manage it. The drugs left him as limp as a noodle, plus that sodding I.V. stuck in his arm. Sherlock looked tired and, well, older. Was that a wisp of gray hair at his right ear?

"We're in the wilds of Cheshire, in case you're curious. Makes Baskerville look like a metropolis. Fieldings, the family manse. We thought about putting you in the ballroom, but there are too many windows, so you're in the wine cellar. Bloody stupid Mycroft, considering the circumstances. I absolutely hate this place, but Mycroft insisted. Said you were family and that this was the safest place. I opted for Reading Gaol—the Scarlet Letter approach to witness protection—but he ignored my suggestion. Place Mycroft within thirty miles of my mother and he turns into the most annoying twit imaginable. His inner twelve-year old boy emerges fully intact."

John opened his mouth to say what he'd been dying to say for the past three weeks but then Mycroft walked in.

"Had your tea with Mummy?"

"Sherlock, don't be so tiresome. It wouldn't kill you to make an appearance every now and then. John, it's good to see you up. I'm afraid you're going to have to stay here for a bit until, well, you're back to your old self. Hmmm?"

For some reason John thought that Mycroft in the country would be different. But he wasn't. Wearing his usual uniform of expensive suit, custom-made shirt, and a pair of shoes that probably cost as much as a small car, his public and his private persona were the same. Maybe he didn't have a private persona.

He was about to respond when Sherlock muttered, "Thank Christ there's Wi Fi or I'd go mad."

"I don't believe we were talking about you, Sherlock."

The bickering and petty sniping between them had the same level of immaturity and spite. It was as if nothing had changed. Except John had changed.

"Shut your fucking gobs, both of you!" he shouted, pulled the covers over his head, and curled up into a ball again.

It took him a good two months to dry out. On the morning he could hold his hand out without the telltale tremor of the raging alcoholic in need of a snort, he took a shower, got dressed, and informed one of Mycroft's minions that he was leaving. They could either give him a ride back to London or he'd walk. If they tried to stop him, they'd have to shoot him because he wasn't staying in that house another second.

He didn't bother to wait for them to access their comlinks. He just walked out. Two miles out of the front gate, an unmarked police car pulled up with Lestrade driving. The front passenger door swung open. John hesitated for a few seconds and then got in.

"Where to?" was all Greg said.

"My flat, I guess. Do I still have a job?"


That was the sum total of their conversation.

His flat was as he had left it. He called the medical chief at St. Barts and was told that he was already on the schedule, the eight pm to eight am shift in the ER. Three shifts a week. John had a moment when he debated shrugging off all of these fixes and catching the first international flight out of Heathrow—clearly, Mycroft's fingerprints were everywhere—but he didn't have the energy.

In the past two months, John had read eighty-four books, half-filled in forty-three crosswords puzzles, had worked up to finally eating three meals a day, and had had his hair cut twice. He had refused to speak to Mycroft or Sherlock, and had told the psychiatrist they brought in to kindly fuck himself six different ways to Sunday.

Interestingly, after that initial outburst Sherlock didn't speak to him either. No, he watched John. Like John was a problem. A puzzle to solve. John ignored him. Sherlock kept watching. He'd sit watching John reading book after book, and would solve the crossword puzzles John couldn't finish, and still said nothing. John might have imagined it, but as he cleared the sweep of the Holmes family manse, he felt eyes on his back.

Molly stopped by St. Bart's at some point during his first shift. He had dinner; she had a cup of tea. They talked about the movies she'd seen and the books John had read over the last two months. She tried to bring up Sherlock but John cut her off.

"You say one more word on that subject and I will get up and walk out. I don't know why you did it; I don't want to know why he did it. Are we clear?"

She nodded and started to cry. John handed her a napkin and asked her if she'd read the latest Tana French thriller. He thought the first half was great but then the plot fell apart.

He wasn't surprised but it still pissed him off. Sherlock had moved in while he'd been at work. Well, moving in was overstating it. Sherlock was hunched over his laptop, his back against a wall. John ignored him, drew the drapes, flopped down on his mattress, and went to sleep. When he woke up, a cup of some beverage was sitting next to him. John ignored it, took a shower, and went for breakfast before heading off to his shift.

This became a pattern of sorts. Sherlock would be working on his laptop when John came home from the hospital. They didn't say a word. John signed up for an inordinate amount of call again, but on his odd off day, they'd spend the day in John's flat in silence, John's ignoring the sandwiches, fish and chips, cartons of take-out, and the odd cup of tea. Although John never caught him at it, Sherlock was still watching him. Mycroft stayed away, so thank God for small mercies.

After a month of this Sherlock said to him, "Are you going to be angry with me forever?"


"Can we at least not speak to each other at Baker Street?"

John didn't see any reason why not.

Mrs. Hudson was speechless with joy to have her "boys" back "in their proper place." John knew she wasn't in on the charade, but she also didn't seem to harbor the same fury that John did. In fact, the only comment she made was that John was looking a bit "peaky," and she had a new recipe for fairy cakes that would set him right.

John doubted it.

And then one day Sherlock stopped watching him. Stopped leaving tea and plates of Mrs. Hudson's biscuits. The bags of fish and chips stopped appearing and the cartons of take-out from that curry place John liked was no more.

After his shift one morning, John slipped his key in the lock, determined to sleep for a minimum of twelve hours, grateful that he had the next two days off. His leg, which had begun to heal again while in detox, was acting up.

So much for sleeping. Sherlock sat on the couch, Mycroft was standing near the couch, fingering a old-fashioned pocket watch, and Greg Lestrade had cleared a bunch of debris off of the one of the kitchen chairs to sit down. Mycroft had an irritated crunch to his forehead, Sherlock had that glow that only a particularly gruesome case could elicit, and Lestrade's suit had that rumpled, tired look indicating that whatever was prompting this visit, it had meant that he hadn't slept in a good twenty-four hours.

"John, we really don't have time for this snit. There's a serial killer on the loose. A Ripper copycat, which happens more than even you can imagine, and which I could care less about, except that the real killer has planted clues that implicate the Prime Minister. We have a meeting with important personages in," he glanced at pocket watch and sniffed, "forty minutes. You have time to take a quick shower and do shave. You're looking a little scruffy. Oh, and brush your teeth."

At that he left.

Greg Lestrade shrugged his shoulders and followed in Mycroft's wake.

John waited, because it was now Sherlock's turn to say something. When he didn't, John snapped, "Well, are you going to tell me that I'd better hop to it for Queen and country? As if my being there will make any bloody difference."

"Of course it won't. But I would like you there."

"Sorry, I don't do that anymore. If you haven't noticed," he said with deliberate cruelty.

"John, I have now mourned you for as long as you mourned me. In fact, I have mourned you for six days, five hours, and three point seven tenths of a minute longer."

John sank into a chair, bringing a hand up to hide the fact that for some stupid reason he was fighting back tears.

"It's not a contest."

"No, it's not. I know that this will probably enrage you, but I would do it again. And again. And again. Let's talk about contests. Let's talk about comparing your grief at my suicide versus my grief at deaths of you, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson. Because if you think that your distress at my alleged suicide would be anything to me bearing the knowledge that my role in your deaths was nearly as direct as pulling the trigger, then you are the most stupid man I have ever met. And also a contemptible hypocrit."

"How dare

"Because you would have done the same thing in my shoes." This was Sherlock at his most uncompromising, his most vicious, his voice so sure, and his contempt for John's stupidity absolute. "You would have demanded that Molly manufacture your death, and let me mourn you, and let everyone else mourn you, just so that they could be alive to mourn you. Now we're even. You mourned me and I have mourned you."

John rubbed his face with both of his hands and closed his eyes. Did it work like that? Was that the solution? He was so tired.

"Six days, five hours, and three point seven tenths of a minute longer?"

"Now six days, five hours, and six point fourteen minutes longer."

"I worked all night. I'm knackered."

"Sleep in the car. Lestrade is waiting."

"Do I have time for a shower? Why did you wait so long to tell me?"

"Jim Moriarty was nothing if not thorough. Much like a phone tree, he had an assassin tree. It took time to prune, as it were."

"It nearly killed me."

"I know. I was there."

At the sharp bleat of a car horn—signaling Lestrade's impatience—Sherlock held out his hand. John could refuse it and that would be that, or he could reach out and they could begin again. More than friends, less than lovers, he didn't know what they were exactly. He did know that he'd missed Sherlock dreadfully, and funnily enough he did believe that Sherlock had missed him just as dreadfully.

How typical of Sherlock to reduce mourning to a mathematical equation, where it was all about cancelling out each other's grief so that the sum was now zero. So they could begin again. The game afoot.

John reached out.