Folding myself up into the soft leather of my armchair, I close my eyes against the hollow presence of your own chair. My stomach churns as the image, so alien and discomforting when this picture lacks your body, burns a negative beneath my eyelids. You were supposed to come home with me. You were supposed to kneel at the hearth and kindle a fire while I made tea. You were supposed to sit across from me listening intently, hard lines forming around the soft corners of your mouth as I filled you in on the new case. I shut my eyes tighter, feeling as though the harder I squeeze my lids together the quicker this vision will exit my mind.
A moment later, I swear I hear someone at the bottom of the stairs. My gut lurches and my eyes pop open as I think it may be you. I straighten myself up from my chair. I call out your name after striding across the room to the front door. Gazing down the steps, squinting through the dark of the hall, I can just make out a halted figure on the landing, a man with a short build clenching his fists by his sides, and I know then it really is you. My voice is hoarse and pleading, begging you to come back to me with the single syllable of your name. When you make no response, I step forward, your name escaping my body like breath. I’m two steps away from you now, still just a silhouette blanketed in shadows. Finally, you reach out to me, but you mean to stop me coming closer. Turning to face me, you clear your throat preparing to speak. The sound is harsh and stern and I know you want me to keep quiet, so I do.
“I can’t stay,” you tell me, your voice grating against the lump in your throat, “but, Mary, she said some things that just made me think—” You pause and draw in a sharp breath. I remain silent, waiting for you to finish. Again, you clear your throat, and my body tenses as I watch you press your palms to your eyes. “Look, Sherlock. Do you even realize what kind of hell I’ve been going through these two years you’ve been away?” Your eyes pierce through me as a sliver of light escapes from behind the doorframe and settles like diamonds in the tears you’re holding back. Seeing you like this, I can’t help the jagged hitch in my breath or the rib-damaging rhythm my heart pounds out in my chest. I realize how hurt you are, and I am reminded how broken I am without you.
“No,” you warn me, slowly shaking your head and making another gesture with your hands telling me to stop. “Just listen please. Like I said, I can’t stay, so just let me get this out, alright?” I nod, letting you know I understand, and you continue. “There are so many things, Sherlock. So many things I wanted to tell you. Even now, even though you’re back, I can’t bring myself to say them. I just… I can’t believe you would leave me like that. After everything we had been through. Everything we had together.”
“John, I’m sorry. I am, but I told you why I couldn’t say anything. It would have ruined everything if you had given even the slightest indiscretion.”
“This is not my fault, Sherlock!” You’re shouting now, so I decide to shout too.
“I never said any of this was your fault! Damn it, John. They were targeting you. If you had known where I was, do you know what they would have done to you?”
“What? You think I couldn’t have handled it?”
“Oh, hell! For god sakes, don’t you see what I’m telling you here? They would have killed you, John. Killed you. You say you’ve gone through hell these past two years, well it hasn’t been easy for me either. Do you even understand what it would do to me if you were—” I stop myself, realizing what I had just been about to say. A familiar softness and a hint of confusion dances along the lines of your face, and suddenly, I’m embarrassed. This whole evening has been a whirlwind of feeling. I am wilting beneath the weight of all the emotions, too many for me to repress I realize, so I turn away from you when my eyes begin to sting.
“Sherlock, wait,” you call to me, following me up the steps and into the flat. “I told you. I can’t stay.”
The hurt and anger I’ve been suppressing all night begins boiling in my chest. I turn to face you, and I can’t stop myself from spitting it all out at you. “You know, you keep saying that, but you’ve been here for about twenty minutes now. Not to mention, it’s three in the morning. You have nowhere to be. You can stay, you just don’t want to.”
I can see the rage burning under your skin. For a second, I wonder if you might punch me again, but suddenly your expression changes into something I can’t read. Something more tender. Sympathy? Or pity? I’m not sure. You remove your coat and toss it onto the back of the couch. “Alright,” you say, your eyes finally meeting mine full on. “I’ll stay. And I’ll hear you out. I’m sorry. I didn’t think…” Your voice trails, and your eyes dart away as if suddenly you’re self-conscious.
“Thank you. It’s… It’s fine. Sorry too.”
“Do you want to sit down?”
You respond with a nod, and we tread over to our chairs, both of us sitting rather stiffly. All is quiet for a few minutes, neither of us knowing quite what to say. You clear your throat one more time. I look up at you, but you aren’t looking at me. I take in the sight of you across from me, so different from what I had imagined. The space between us is cold and foreign, a few feet morphing into a distance of endless miles. So unlike what I had wanted.
“May I tell you something?” I ask.
“Uh, sure. Please,” you say, turning your eyes to me.
“When I said that I wanted to tell you, that there were so many times I wanted to make contact, I really did mean it. John, I know I’ve hurt you—”
“Yeah,” the word sounds as soft as air but feels sarcastic when it hits me, and my anger returns, black and twisting in my ribs.
“I thought you said you wanted to listen,” I bite at you. I don’t try to mask my irritation.
“You know, I did, but if you’re going to act like a prat about it—”
“Oh, I’m the one acting like a prat right now?”
“Yes, Sherlock. You bloody are!”
“Why did you even come here tonight?”
“I don’t know. I suppose I just—“
“You said Mary said something to you. Did you even want to come? Or did you just feel obliged? You know, regardless of what some people may think, I’m not a machine, John. This has all hurt me too.”
“Or maybe you just don’t like that you aren’t getting your own way.”
“Do you honestly think that?”
“I don’t know, Sherlock. I don’t. This night has been completely fucked, you know that right? I honestly have no idea what all I’m thinking except that I’m pissed off with you.”
“You aren’t even trying to understand, though. I’m trying to explain it all, but you won’t listen to me. Do you just not want to, or is it possible you’ve gotten thicker than you were two years ago?” Once the words leave me, I can see I’ve made matters worse. You rise from your chair and gather your coat from the sofa. A protest begins to form on my lips, but you cut me off before I can say anything.
“This was a mistake,” you say. You won’t look at me, and you’re halfway out the door.
I reach out for you, grabbing your arm harder than I had meant to.
“Sherlock,” you warn me. “Let go of me.”
I am aware of my grip on you, callous and severe, yet I’m unwilling to let you go. I find myself thinking how much I’ve longed to touch you again. I’m distracted by how different you feel beneath my fingers, how much softer your bicep is, how much colder you are.
“No,” I say, barely a whisper, my gaze unmoving from where my hand connects with your arm. “Stay with me, John.”
With your free hand, you wrench mine away from you, and I take a step back, shame creeping in on me.
“You can’t do this kind of shit anymore, Sherlock.” Your voice is low and austere and I feel as though I may fall to the floor, crippled by my humiliation. I reach out to you again, but not with the intention of hurting you. You, however, don’t see that, and you push me away. “Jesus, Sherlock!” you’re yelling now. “You know what? Just fuck off, alright?”
“John, please. I’m sor—“
And you’re gone, down the stairs and out the door, slammed behind you. I look over at your empty chair and, for a moment, I think I might move it upstairs and out of the way. Why have it if you aren’t going to be in the picture anymore? I walk over to it and lean down, ready to push the bloody thing out the door and up to your old room, but I stop as the smell of your cologne on the cushion caresses my senses. Sentiment, I think, and I can’t bring myself to move it anymore. You may not be staying, but the chair can.
I go back to my own chair, curling up in it the same way I had done before you arrived. I stare at your chair and think maybe it would be nice to see the kitchen. Perhaps I really should move it. I close my eyes hard, trying to stop the flow of memories, the two of us sitting here together in rapt conversation or contented silence. I want you to come back. Maybe you will come back, and for once in my life I decide to hold on to hope. Just for you.
I won’t move your chair, John. Not tonight.