When John gets home that night, Sherlock isn't in the sitting room. He must have gone to bed early. John has to admit he's a bit relieved.
Jeannette was just leaving when he got back to the cafe. Understandably, she dumped him. Again. And it's all Sherlock's fault. She told John he didn't have to abandon her to go following him around, but what if Sherlock had actually been in trouble?
He went to the pub after she dumped him. just for a drink or two to take the edge off the thing. He ran into Harry there, and they got to talking, and now it's rather later than John had planned to get home. He's not extremely drunk, but he isn't entirely himself either (all the more reason to be glad Sherlock's not out), and he decides to head in for the night.
When he gets up the next morning, a Sunday, Sherlock's gone out already. John does, however, find a pot of coffee already prepared. He has to wonder whether this is Sherlock attempting to make up with him or Sherlock attempting to perform some crazy experiment on him. But it smells like coffee, and maybe John had a bit more to drink last night than he realized, so he pours a cup and sits on the couch to read the paper.
It's an uneventful day, as Sherlock doesn't return to the flat until after John goes to bed. In fact, John sees precious little of his friend for the next week. He's always gone before John wakes up, and either returns after John goes to sleep or hurries through the sitting room to his bedroom without looking at John. However, John does consistently find a pot of coffee waiting for him. As it hasn't poisoned him or caused him to grow extra appendages so far, he continues to drink it.
On Saturday night, one week since he walked out on Sherlock and Jeannette dumped him, John stays up late reading and loses track of time, eventually dozing off. He wakes up when he hears Sherlock closing the door to the flat. He stands up, brushing the wrinkles out of his shirt. "Sherlock," he says.
Sherlock appears not to hear him, brushing past him towards his bedroom. "Sherlock," John says again.
Sherlock continues walking, weaving around the furniture and haphazard piles of god knows what that seem to be a permanent part of the room. John catches him by his sleeve.
"Sherlock, this is ridiculous," he says. "Why are you avoiding me?"
Sherlock gives him a quizzical look. "I thought you were angry at me."
John sighs. "Yes, Sherlock, I was angry at you. Did you really think avoiding me all week was going to fix that?"
"I don't know!" Sherlock says. He throws his hands in the air, exasperated. "I never know with you, John!" It's infuriating, but it's true. He can never tell if John wants to be left alone or not, and he can never tell if John is annoyed at him or not, and he can never tell if John is tired of putting up with the crazy life they live or not.
"Sherlock, what are you talking about?" John asks, trying to keep his voice calm.
"You, John! I can read everything about you, but I can never tell what you want, and I can't stand it!" This is what he's been thinking about ever since John left the flat a week ago. How he never knows with John, and how he's never sure if John's going to suddenly walk out on him, and-though he'd never say it out loud-how afraid that makes him.
John still doesn't understand, really. "Sherlock, I don't know what you're talking about. Just tell me what you mean and we'll work it out, okay?"
But Sherlock can't tell John what he means because Sherlock hardly knows what he means, and if he did, he wouldn't be able to tell John. "I don't know!" he says again, angrily. "I don't know and it's infuiating! How do you put up with those damn girlfriends when there's so much not knowing?"
" John says, but he can't go on. He can't go on because maybe, just maybe, something in the corner of his mind is beginning to comprehend what Sherlock still doesn't understand.
"I need to think," Sherlock says curtly. He turns around and heads to the door of the flat.
It suddenly becomes very important that Sherlock doesn't reach that door. If he's being honest, he's not sure why it's so important, but that would only add to his consternation, so he's not being entirely honest right now.
By some miracle, John reaches the door before Sherlock, blocking the exit. "Don't leave, Sherlock," he says. He says it because, for once, his mind is working quicker than Sherlock's, and the thing that Sherlock has taken a week to begin figuring out is becoming clearer to him by the minute.
Sherlock looks down at him. "Why not?" he asks, genuinely confused.
" John tries to give words to the thing that is surging into his consciousness. But his mind has not wrapped itself around this thing enough yet for that, and so he says, "Because it's late. Where would you go?"
Sherlock shrugs. "Mycroft's. Somewhere like that. Not important."
"It is important, Sherlock. I'm not letting you leave and go God knows where in the middle of the night!"
"Fine," Sherlock says, and the irritation in his voice shows that the thing John is realizing remains a mystery to him. "Fine, I'll stay here, but I need to think. I need to be left alone."
It's the word alone that finally makes it click. Before he met Sherlock, John was alone. And he experiences a thrill of nervousness at the thought of being alone again.
And suddenly it hits him. Suddenly he understands why the girlfriends never last. He understands why he always rushes home when Sherlock texts him. He understands why it's so important that Sherlock doesn't leave.
And all at once, the thing that he's been trying to understand for the last few minutes, but really for much longer, is crystal clear.
Sherlock is just turning back towards the door to his room, but John stops him. "Sherlock," he says, holding the man's shoulder and gently turning him back around so they're facing each other.
"Sherlock, please stay with me."
It's the phrase stay with me that finally makes it click. Before he met John, nobody wanted Sherlock to stay with them. And he experiences a thrill of nervousness at the thought of nobody wanting him to stay with them again.
And suddenly it hits him. Suddenly he understands why the girlfriends irritate him so much. He understands why he calls John home for the tiniest thing. He understands why it's so important that John doesn't leave.
And all at once, the thing that he's been trying to understand for the last week, but really much longer, is crystal clear.
Neither of them gives the other any indication to move, but their next motions seem prearranged. Simultaneously, they lean forward, John reaching up and Sherlock bending down, and then there they are, closer than they've ever been, hands tangled in each other's hair, kissing like they'll never get another chance. And it's not perfect and it's not like a fairy tale and both of them are too surprised to be any good at it, but it has a feeling of at last about it that can't be denied.
Neither of them will know how long they stand there, together, finally understanding what's going on.