No Longer a Constant
They never expected it, none of them. Not Mary, not Mycroft, not even Sherlock. Because John Watson always got back up, no matter how many times he was pushed down. Because John Watson always found it in his heart to forgive, no matter how many times he got the short end of the stick. Because John was – well, John.
But they shouldn't have forgotten that he was not only a soldier – the steadfast and the stoic – and a doctor – the forgiver and the caretaker – but also just a man. A man who could break. A man who could hurt. A man who could reach the end of his limit and decide that no, he wasn't going to take it anymore.
Things had happened so fast.
One word, Sherlock. That is all I would have needed.
I've nearly been in contact so many times, but I worried that, you know, you might say something indiscreet.
Oh, so this is my fault?
You have missed this. Admit it.
Why am I the only one who thinks that this is wrong – the only one reacting like a human being?!
But she wasn't supposed to be like that. Why is she like that?
Because... you chose her.
Why is everything... always... my fault?
You won't love me when you've finished, and I don't want to see that happen.
How could I not see that?
You did see that... and you married me. Because he's right. It's what you like.
And John, he did try at first, to forgive them. To go on as normal. He reasoned with himself; he tried to convince his aching heart that those that he loved deserved at least that much from him. But how can a man, betrayed and blamed and burned time and time again, fall back into the arms of those who precisely did all those things to him?
Despite himself, he feared the day that they would leave him again, for what they argued was for his own good. He flinched away from the affection that held no promises. From what he could tell, the two people he loved and trusted most in the world had no love and trust for him in return. And so he faded away, more and more each day.
Still, no one noticed.
And if they happened to catch a glimpse of the cracks appearing on the man they thought could not break, they assumed that somebody else would pick up the pieces.
Love is selfish, they had each explained to him in a consoling tone. It makes us do things. But we did it all for you, John, can't you see that? We love you, and we keep things from you to keep you safe. That's why our relationship works. Can't you appreciate it? We saved you. We did this to protect you. You're my best friend. You're my husband. You're John. You chose this. It's your fault, your choice. You like this sort of thing, right?
Why was everything always his damn fault?
John decided he owed them nothing.
He couldn't take it, not anymore. He didn't wait to hear any more excuses, take any more blame.
So John left. Without a word.
A suitcase in his right hand, and his baby girl cradled in his left.
Sherlock and Mary and Mycroft did search for him. Of course they tried. They tracked down official records, hacked databases, contacted old friends with powerful connections, and put the missing man on alert on every police station and airport and indiscreet agency all over the world.
No such luck.
For all their efforts, the man John Hamish Watson and his little daughter did not exist.
Mary cried and cried, clutching a photo of her in the hospital bed with a pink bundle at her chest and John, the proud father, by her side. She wondered if he had been planning to leave her at the time the photograph was taken. Somehow, every time she looked at his captured expression in the photo, his eyes seemed a little harder, his smile more fixed. And she cried some more, missing his easy laughter and their silly banter that had once seemed so permanent.
On their anniversary the first year after his disappearance, she went back to the overly-fancy restaurant John could barely afford, where he had first tried to propose, and imagined him sitting across from her, grinning nervously with that stupid, stupid moustache she had pretended to like for his sake. She left before the waiter could come back with her glass of wine and went to a shop to purchase a pair of baby shoes.
A couple months later, an album was sent to her house – the home that John and Mary had once occupied together – from an anonymous, untraceable source. But she knew, oh she knew who it was from. In the album was a week-to-week snapshot of a baby girl – her baby girl. A tiny figure with her thumb stuck in her perfectly pink mouth and a knitted cap on her head; a drooling baby with large, curious blue eyes and wispy blond hair comically fashioned upon her head in a way that said 'single father'; a waddling toddler in a striped jumper, giggling with joy and innocence as she clumsily made her way toward the man behind the camera.
On the back of each was a date, along with the weight and height recorded, down to the hundredth decimal point, for a certain Elizabeth Mary Watson.
Every day, Mary couldn't help but impulsively check her post box for more packages.
Sherlock went back to the rushing high of drugs for a while, to keep himself occupied while Mycroft's hired men searched for his friend. He frequently imagined John coming to get him like he once did, pissed off as usual, but lightly exasperated in that way he was with Sherlock. He started taking more and more dosages, just hoping, please, that a doctor in soldier mode would come striding in and break his nose again, if that was what it took.
It didn't last long, these take-drugs-for-John experiments.
On a particularly dull day when he was particularly high, he was startled out of his haze by a petite blonde woman who grabbed his bicep in an unyielding grip and dragged him out of the drug den. As he stumbled unsteadily in his drug-induced daze, she slapped his unshaven face without remorse.
What if John saw you like this? Don't you remember last time?
I want John to come back.
... I know, Sherlock. Me too.
Please, Mary... How are we going to get him back?
We – we treated him in a way that can't be easily forgiven.
We should have realised. But we didn't. We didn't realise.
No, we didn't.
It's too late now, isn't it? I should have... I should have deduced...
I wouldn't be surprised if he never wanted to see us again. But...
But it's John. He always manages to surprise us.
So Sherlock dropped his habit, cleared his brilliant mind, and went back to the way he was before John – but a little bit better, like he was after John. When Mary came to him with the album, tears of joy and pain mingled in her eyes, he asked for a photo. The same day, Mrs Hudson gave him a wooden frame and a kiss on the forehead. He put the framed picture of Elizabeth, licking an ice lolly, at the side of his bed, next to the one of him and Mycroft at the beach, both pale and gawky and lonely.
Elizabeth stared at him through the photograph, and if it was held at a certain angle in a certain light, Sherlock could identify so much of her father etched into her young face. He memorized the twist of her lips, the flush in her cheeks, the curls in her hair, and the sparkle in her dark-blue eyes, so much like her father's.
Sentiment, John explained patiently in his head.
He wondered if he would have been her godfather if he hadn't done that, if he hadn't said this.
And he couldn't help but stand at the foot of the stairs at 221B once in a while – and it would forever be their flat – hoping that one day, John would be waiting at the top of the stairs.
Hoping that, like always, John would manage to surprise him.
Three years later, he did.
Fatherhood had softened him – and those words were the first words Sherlock Holmes said to John Watson after three years of no contact. And John's lips quirked up in amusement.
John had knocked on the door at 221B, and it was Mrs Hudson's cry of happiness and welcome that had sent jolts of hope and denial and shock and disbelief into Sherlock's heart. He had dropped a test tube of rare bacteria in his haste to open the door because maybe, maybe it would be John Watson. And he was right.
At the top of the stairs, there stood his old friend, looking thinner but still fit after years of chasing an energetic little girl who, by the rips in John's trousers, loved exploring the woods. He sported his black jacket with the elbow patches, which was now looking rather worse for the wear and discoloured with suspicious stains. He had clearly worked hard as a doctor for the past years to support his small family, judging from the faint smell of disinfectant and the man's perpetually dry hands. More grey hairs, more lines of stress – yet more laugh lines as well, and, most importantly, he looked more content than Sherlock could remember since he himself had returned to John all those long years ago.
Yeah, I've gone soft, haven't I? I dropped Liz off at Mary's, you know, so she could meet her mother. She's so open, so perfect, so innocent. She'll have no problem with getting used to Mary.
I've... I've missed you.
I would have hoped so.
I'm sorry. For how I treated you.
To be blunt, Sherlock, I wish you could've told me that three years ago.
I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
You know what? I've thought long and hard over the past three years, and I guess that's what I needed: time to mull things over without people telling me what I should or should not feel.
We didn't realise how you felt. Neither me nor Mary nor Mycroft nor...
I know, I know. I had a nice long chat with Mary as well.
Are you – are you back for good?
I think... yeah, I think I am. I missed London. But I still haven't forgiven you, you know.
I still need time. It's been three years, I know, but I just... As a human being, I need time.
And I should apologize as well, for worrying you. I'm pretty sure I saw Mycroft's car following me from the airport. I told Liz to make faces at them through the cab window.
Can I meet her?
Elizabeth? 'Course. She'll love you. I told her lots of our cases together as bedtime stories. She loves The Elephant in the Room. She's going to grow up to be great, my little one.
You love her.
Of course I do. She's been my constant, my rock. I know I sound like a mushy, sentimental father, but I don't know what I would have done without her.
Where were you for the last few years, John?
I've been kind of off the radar, haven't I? I admit I was rather proud to have outwitted you Holmes'. I was in Canada – a lovely little house near the Rockies. I had to live without Internet for a while, which was a pain. Couldn't keep up with the news. But Liz, she loved it.
Where are you going to stay?
I think Liz and I will find a flat of our own, for a while, at least. Then we'll decide which direction to go. Know any good primary schools 'round here, mate?
I think you're asking the wrong person.
You're right. What I am doing asking a genius consulting detective who doesn't even know the Earth goes around the Sun?
I – ah, there's the door. Come on, John. Time to greet the Queen.