No. No, it can’t…
The house was empty. Utterly, terribly, completely empty. It echoed around him in a way it never had before, in a way that jarred painfully on every nerve and every memory that he possessed. It shouldn’t be like this - his world may have been this empty once before, but that problem had been fixed, it had been better once John arrived. Once John had come into his life, his home had no longer been a solitary place but one that thrummed with the sounds of life and happiness and contented togetherness. The whistle of the kettle, the gentle tread of solid steps, the rustles of newspapers and books all came together to create the music of life and the sounds that spelled home.
But they were gone now. The only sounds in the flat were the hollow thuds of his slow and unsteady footsteps as he entered the flat with nervous trepidation. It was obvious from the thick layer of dust that coated every surface and the empty floors barren of furniture that the flat had been unoccupied for years now. Not just unoccupied though, abandoned. No one had set foot in this flat for at least a year his treacherous brain told him, whispering with vicious certainty that the lone set of dusty footprints had definitely been made over a year ago but had not been touched since.
His knees trembled, threatening to give way underneath him as the thoughts swirled and tumbled in his head with disorienting swiftness. The last three years flashed before his eyes, everything he had sacrificed and everything he had accomplished vanishing in an instant. It had all been for this moment of homecoming, this moment of triumphant return to a warm and happy home. But it was all for naught. There was nothing here for him now.
The sound of slow footsteps echoed in the stairwell behind him, feet placed on narrow steps with careful consideration. Mycroft did not want to enter the flat, that much was obvious. He had done everything in his power to keep Sherlock from coming back here once he returned to London, but it of course had not been enough. Nothing could have kept Sherlock from Baker Street - and John - not even the stern warnings and meaningful glares of the man who pulled the strings of the entire British government. But it was so obvious now, so clear why Mycroft had acted with uncharacteristic consideration and care for his little brother’s feelings.
Sherlock’s knees finally gave out from under him, and he came crashing down with no care whatsoever for the pain that blossomed and spread throughout his body as he hit the floor with a sickening crack. He could only feel the burn of tears in his eyes, the crushing agony that descended on him at the sight of the empty flat, the utter disbelief and despair brought by the cane and scarf left in the middle of the floor like a votive offering. The scarf was wrapped tenderly around the battered metal cane and partially obscured the scrap of paper laid next to it that Sherlock had not been able to stop himself from reading. A sob clawed its way from Sherlock’s throat, raw and primal in its pain and and brutality. Now that he had started to cry he could not stop, each sob more powerful and wracking than the last. A gentle hand came to rest on his shoulder, cool and impassive even as it offered tentative comfort.
“I’m sorry Sherlock, I didn’t want you to see this. He made it for a year without you, but it became too much for him.” The hand tightened into a sympathetic squeeze, a pathetic apology for a life that had been lost and a life that was now shattered beyond all repair. “I’m so sorry. But, if it means anything, he was thinking of you. Even at the end, when he gave up, John was thinking of you.”