John had grown accustomed to living a life of extremes. Extreme depression was a familiar companion, as were extreme lethargy and extreme anger. Once in a very rare while there was a flash of extreme joy, a moment when he forgot, and then memory would crash down on him again and he would be plunged back into painful reality.
If he could be said to look forward to anything during that time, he looked forward to finding if not a happy medium, at least an indifferent medium. A point at which getting up in the morning, alone, wasn't a chore but simply a necessary action with no emotion attached to it.
He thought he might be getting closer. He'd made it through the holiday season. Of course, he'd had help from Mrs Hudson, who despite everything remained seemingly indomitable, and from Greg as well. Unexpected help had also come from Winnie over the bitterly cold Winter Solstice; he couldn't begin say how much he had appreciated it, but he had no doubt she knew. He'd not seen or heard from Asha since early November and hoped, when he thought about it all, that she was alive, well, playing her violin, and making peace with her incarcerated father.
In January, he threw himself into his work at the clinic, taking every extra shift that came available. It pleased his therapist to see him, in her words, "taking an interest again." He didn't tell her that "interest" wasn't really his motivation. His goal, and he often achieved it, was to work himself to the point of exhaustion so that coming home to an empty flat felt less shocking to his system. He was almost used to the silence, could sometimes pretend Sherlock wasn't dead, but rather only sulking or brooding in the other room.
But all that only went so far. It was the end of February when Sarah told him he'd been working too hard and ordered him to take a few days off. He'd protested, but she was having none of it.
"You need a vacation, John. If you keep on the way you have been, you'll burn out and be of no use to anyone." Her eyes told the rest of the story: You're a wreck. If you don't sort yourself out, you're going to get sloppy, and when doctors get sloppy, patients suffer.
He couldn't argue with her sentiments, spoken and unspoken, so he didn't try. "Okay. I'll be back in a week, then, if that's all right with you?"
Sarah had nodded, frowning slightly but like John, choosing her battles. "All right."
The first day of his "vacation" he slept until he couldn't sleep any more. He rose in the afternoon, showered, and dressed even though he had no where to go and no plans to speak of.
Around 4:00, he could no longer ignore the gnawing hunger in his stomach. He found nothing but tea and stale bread in the flat. All right, he thought. Shopping. He could do that. It was ordinary. It was easy.
And that was how the week progressed. He rose earlier each day, found something like a routine in trips to the shops, chats with Mrs Hudson, writing on his blog. One evening he even went for a pint with Greg. That had been awkward at first, but it wasn't long before they'd both relaxed into their old ways. Each man was keenly aware of the empty third chair at the table, but each found a way to look past it.
The next week, he returned to the clinic and found yet another routine, despite the variable hours. Every day included waking up, leaving the flat, seeing other people. Living.
In spring, Asha surprised him with a visit to 221B. She didn't carry her violin case this time. It was strange to see her without it; even when he'd accompanied her to the prison, she'd brought it along like a security blanket. Like she was afraid to let it out of her sight. Her hair was cut shorter now, and she looked as healthy as he'd ever seen her.
"You look well," he said, giving her a genuine smile.
"You, too," she replied. "We're neither of us so skinny as we were before."
John nodded. "And a good thing, too. Do you want to sit down?"
"I can't. I just have a minute, actually. But I didn't want you to think I just disappeared. I had to see you before I left."
"Yeah. I'm moving to Dublin. I'm-- I'm going to university, of all things. To study music." She seemed almost embarrassed to say it. Like she didn't quite believe the words coming out of her mouth. John, on the other hand, wasn't in the least surprised.
"So you're still playing violin?"
"Yeah. I'll be studying performance and composition, actually. I don't start right away, but--" She shrugged. "There's not really any reason to wait. I'm staying with a cousin who lives there until I can find a place of my own, and I've got a line on a job in the meantime."
"What about your father?"
"He's all right. We're all right. We can email and even call sometimes."
She nodded and then smiled. "Yeah. It is, actually. Look." She took a steadying breath and ran a hand through her hair. "I need to thank you. I know I've said it before, but I really mean it, okay? I know we'd never have met if not for...you know."
"Sherlock's death." The fact that he could say it aloud surprised him. That he could say it to another person was revelatory.
"Yeah. Without that, without you, I'd probably be dead by now or at least still on the street. So, I'm sorry you had to go through all that, but... I'm not sorry how it's been since. You know?" She shrugged again, apologetic but matter-of-fact. "So, yeah. Thanks. You sort of saved my life. Not sort of," she corrected herself. "Seriously. You saved my life."
For the first time in a long time, the tears that pricked at the backs of John's eyes and the lump that filled his throat weren't motivated by sorrow or self-pity. He swallowed hard before he could answer.
"Call it even."