Title: Hold On
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Pairings/Characters: John/Sherlock friendship.
Word Count: 1300
Spoilers: The usual.
Summary: Alternative ending to Reichenbach Falls - John knew all along.
It is not usual to see your best friend standing under a tree immediately after you've buried him - unless you've lost touch with reality of course - but John Watson managed it anyway, and there was no one, really, who was more in touch with reality than he.
He saw Sherlock standing under a tree in the cemetery, saw that coat and that hair and those crystal grey eyes staring right back at him, and it did not once occur to him to wonder if he was imagining it. Of course he wasn't. You couldn't imagine someone like Sherlock, not even if you were completely bonkers. He was entirely inconceivable.
John walked towards him, because there was nothing else he could do. When he stepped into the shade of the tree, he could see Sherlock's face better, and the indefinable emotion laid bare on it made all his words choke up inside him…all except one.
"Hello," he said. It seemed like a good place to start. He hadn't meant to whisper it, but he did.
Sherlock looked down at him. "Hello," he said quietly.
John opened his mouth to make some sort of quip, because it was the British thing to do, to make some dry, ironic joke at the very point when things were most strained, something like 'well, that was a waste of coffin then', but nothing came out. He would have been happy, or he would have been angry, except that he knew Sherlock had done this for a reason, was doing this for a reason, and that was why he looked so awfully grave and sad.
"Mycroft doesn't want me speaking to you," Sherlock said. "He thinks I should let you believe the lie until I'm finished doing it all. But I couldn't."
These sentences answered none of John's questions. They only opened up the horror further and further, like a hole in his stomach, and inside it was only darkness and empty space.
"Doing what?" he asked, although he knew.
Sherlock locked eyes with him. "I've got to go."
John felt his left hand start to shake. "Go where?" he asked, as if it were a throwaway question, as if Sherlock had suggested some sort of holiday.
Sherlock shook his head once, tightly, tersely. "I can't tell you."
Now it was his bottom lip that was starting to shake. "For how long?" he said, and this question sounded far more strained, because it was, because Sherlock couldn't be doing this -
There was a longer pause. John watched Sherlock swallow again, harder, and knew he was battling the same panic down, and for some reason this knowledge made the whole thing both better and worse. "I don't know," Sherlock said, still so calm, so calm. "Maybe years."
"Years - " The end of the word left him in a strange sort of sigh, didn't sound like it had come from him. Don't - he thought, and bunched his shaking hand up into a fist, nails digging in.
Don't - "Can't I come too?" Let me come too.
Sherlock didn't even shake his head at this one. "I need you here. I need you to do something for me."
His whole life, Sherlock had been making John do things for him. "What?"
"Stay here and convince the world I'm dead." And then, for some reason, that sentence made something in Sherlock break and he leaned forward, crossed that cold distance between them briefly, grasped John's hands in his own.
John's hands stopped shaking and Sherlock's started.
"I have asked you," Sherlock said serenely, despite the trembling in his fingers, "To do so many things for me, John. I have asked for you for more than anyone should be able to give. I have been unforgivable, and after this you never need to do anything else if you don't want to, nothing at all. But I need you to do this one last thing for me. I need you to stay in this place and have a normal life. I need you to have a boring, dull, terrible life and work and eat and sleep and repeat, and tell the world I'm dead, and wait for me, always wait for me. For as long as it takes. That's what I need you to do." He paused. "Will you do it?"
There would only ever be one answer. "You know I will," said John.
Sherlock made this terrible face, like he was trying to smile but couldn't quite manage it. For some reason it made the lump in John's throat double in size.
"I won't be able to contact you, will I?" he said.
Sherlock shook his head; now it was he who could not speak.
John felt everything start to crumble away, like pieces of wet sponge. "Nothing?" he asked desperately.
Sherlock shook his head again, as if he was trying to shake off the whole feeling. The world started to blur; John pulled his hands out of Sherlock's suddenly loosened grasp. He was a soldier. He carried on; he always carried on. He was not going to fall apart now; he had come this far.
"All right," he said, more confidently than he felt. "I'll do it. As well as I can."
Sherlock actually managed a smile this time; it was like the sun had come out. "I know you will."
He knew he would. It was a confession of trust - of love - more than John had ever imagined Sherlock could admit. It was progress. It was what would keep him going, John knew it instantly.
Sherlock's phone bleeped; he took it out of his pocket and looked at it. "I've got to go," he said, again. "Walk with me?"
"All right," said John, again.
They walked together through the silent, downcast graveyard and John couldn't stop staring at him. It was as if - now that their time was so strictly limited - he could finally see everything in Sherlock that Sherlock saw in everyone else. He noticed everything; the tiny, stray strands of fabric attached to the arm of Sherlock's jacket, the slight bunching up of his fingers into his palm, the minute narrowing of his eyes, every flutter of his eyelashes. Every movement or noise he made. Everything.
Everything was Sherlock, and Sherlock was everything, and he was leaving.
There was a long, black, sinister car sitting just outside the cemetery gates. Sherlock stopped just before they reached it, and turned to look at John, and John was lost for words all over again. Sherlock's eyes could go a sort of sea-green colour sometimes, he realised suddenly. He'd never noticed that before. Oh god, how many things had he missed about Sherlock, how many things had he not seen? And now it was too late, it could be too late -
Sherlock bent down, pressed dry lips to the base of John's forehead, to the spot between his eyebrows. It tingled and John closed his eyes against the sensation; he knew he'd feel it forever.
"Hold on," Sherlock murmured, and John wondered later if he was actually talking to John at all. "Hold on."
John couldn't nod; it would dislodge Sherlock. He squeezed Sherlock's arm instead, slowly, and when Sherlock moved away it was like he was losing air.
They stared at each other, in cold, empty silence. Neither of them could say goodbye.
The car beeped its horn. Sherlock let go of John properly and stepped back, elegant, musicians fingers trailing in the air, like they were lost.
"Goodbye," he said.
He'd actually said it. That was what terrified John the most afterwards; that he'd felt he needed to say it, just in case, just in case he never came back.
Sherlock vanished into the car, like smoke into the dark, and John waited until he could no longer hear the engine of the car before he allowed himself to cry.