Chapter One: Aftermath
A/N We have that sword of Damocles hanging over us, so I thought I'd get my two pennies worth in before the final show in the series is broadcast. This is my take on the aftermath of Reichenbach.
Please note, I wrote this story back in the summer, just after a family bereavement, with the intention of externalising some personal grief. It's pretty raw and angry, but then I think that is what grief is.
Eagle eyed readers will note the homage to Pratchett's Foul Ole Ron and his famous, or infamous, Smell. Sorry, I couldn't help it, it just came out.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sherlock, or the Conan Doyle canon. Oh, if only I did!
Mycroft brought him back from Switzerland in a private jet. Afterwards he found he could not remember anything about the journey. He went to the memorial service that Mycroft organised, and stood as chief mourner beside mother and brother, too numb to be touched by their acceptance of his precedence, of the depth of his loss. He was amazed by the number of people who came, not just friends of the family but people who had reason to be grateful, and others who had genuinely liked a difficult man. Everyone agreed it was a tragedy that they had no body to bury. Even Sally Donovan came forward at the end, hugged him, and told him she was deeply sorry for his loss. He didn't know what to say to her. He had no words for any of them.
To begin with, he just sat in the darkened living room, surrounded by the clutter, experiments left half finished, piles of newspaper clippings, case files. Mrs Hudson brought him plates of food that he poked at for her sake, and then scraped into the bin when she had gone.
Sarah was very kind. She put him on sick leave immediately, since it was clear he was completely unable to concentrate on anything, let alone his patients. She was even understanding about the end of their relationship.
'It's alright, John. I knew from the start that you were in love with him, even if you didn't.'
Greg Lestrade looked in on him occasionally, bringing six packs of beer and DVDs. John did his best to be sociable. Mycroft would come too, but not under any pretence of trying to cheer him up. They would sit on the sofa and stare at the television, too broken to make any effort at conversation, too united in their grief to pretend that they heard or understood the quacking voices in the soap operas or documentaries they watched. At 11pm, Mycroft would get up and embrace John sadly, and then without a word, disappear into the night.
Eventually it was decided by someone – though John was at a loss to recall who – that he needed some kind of occupation to fill his time. He began to go for a few hours every day to help Molly Hooper at the Barts Mortuary. She gave him little jobs to do, manual tasks that did not require him to think. He found her company undemanding. She sniffed a lot, but she was almost as destroyed as John was, so she did not try to make idle conversation or to comfort him.
John did not want comfort.
Through each long night, he sat at the kitchen table, his gun carefully prepared and cocked, set on the melamine in front of him, its cool steel giving off an invitingly terminal sheen. Every morning, he wondered how he had made it through another night, how he had managed to convince himself that the world was still worth living in, without that wonderful, infuriating, brilliant, beautiful man in it.
Sarah convinced him to see a bereavement counsellor, despite his arguments that the PTSD counsellor he had seen when he had come out of the army had been of little or no help at all. He went twice a week for an hour. He talked. He sank into his memories, all those wonderful, irritating, exhilarating moments they had shared. Eventually the woman told him that she thought he needed to move on from reliving their life together, and start thinking about rebuilding. After that, he did not go back.
At first, he thought he saw that familiar, horse-like face everywhere. In the street mostly, staring out from buses, disappearing around corners in the supermarket, head and shoulders above the crowds in Oxford Street. He began to wander in busy areas, hoping to catch a phantom glimpse, even though he knew it was a common symptom of grief, and an illusion. One day he thought he saw him getting into a taxi, and he raced through the crowd but the cab had already pulled away, and he stood there on the kerb, sobbing and impotent. An old lady came up to him, rested a kind hand on his forearm, asked if he needed any help.
'I've just lost the love of my life,' he told her, through his tears, and she nodded and embraced him tenderly. She was a widow too, she explained. Would he like a cup of tea – they could talk about it together, and perhaps it would help both of them. But he couldn't face it, though he was grateful. He would have had to explain, and it was too much.
As the months wore on, he would look into the mirror in the morning, forcing himself to shave, and not recognise the shadow of the man that looked back at him, the shrunken face and hunted eyes. He was becoming a ghost, drifting into the veil of the un-living. He had lost the will to die as well as the will to live.
Six months on. A homeless man had started living on the corner just up from the flat, a tall stick-figure of a man with a huge mat of knotted, filthy hair and beard, and a shambling gait. He shuffled up and down the street, muttering. The knees of his soiled grey jogging pants bagged. He smelt atrocious. Sometimes he would stand outside the flat on the pavement at night, just staring at nothing. John would watch him from the window, knowing that was how he would end up himself soon enough. He would give the poor sod a tenner every now and then, when he walked past his cardboard box. Eventually, the residents association complained, so the police made him move on, and John found that he was sorry.
As the winter deepened, the hallucinations faded. John walked through the crowds but never saw the comforting face. He would sit on the bus home from Barts, and find his cheeks wet with tears.
One windy afternoon, he came across the violin under a pile of papers, and lay with it in his arms on the sofa through the long night, cradling its wooden curves, breathing in its deep, waxen scent. The scent of his loss. He tried to pluck it, hoping for comfort, longing for it to sing again as it has once done, but all that came out were a few wretched twangs, like the snapping of heart strings.
The nights lengthened. Twinkling lights began to appear in windows. Slade blurted out of every shop doorway. John hid away again, climbed under his duvet and decided he would not get up again until February. Wretched in the midwinter gloom, regrets crowded in on him, along with the shadows.
'I never told him,' he snarled at himself. 'Why the fuck did I never tell him?'
Sarah insisted on prescribing him sleeping tablets, but he did not get the script made up.
March came, sharp and frosty, but with bright, clear skies, and John began to walk again, stomping through the parks as he had done long ago to escape the flat and its infuriatingly selfish inmate. Now he did it because he was afraid to stay inside with his memories. The pain in his chest where his heart used to be had taken on a frenetic, buzzing quality that made his hands shake, made him so restless he could barely sit still. Now he would walk and walk and walk until his legs would no longer hold him up, and he had to stagger out into the road for a bus to take him home. He couldn't take taxis any more. The memories were too much.
One day, he was yomping through Hyde Park, his brain blank save for the pain, when a familiar figure shuffled up to him. He was even more hairy than before, but it was the same homeless man who had been the thankful recipient of his money in Baker Street.
'Spare some change, doc?' He croaked.
John dug in his pockets. He had a five pound note. He held it out to the man. Filth-rimed fingers took it, and a hand reached out to pat his arm gratefully. The stench was as strong as ever. Then the figure limped away into the trees, stuffing the money into his pocket in a vacant, confused way.
John watched him go, glad to have seen him, glad he had survived the worst of the winter, and then set off again. He had only gone a few steps when he stopped. Something was bugging him. Something had been wrong about that encounter. He rummaged hard inside his own head, suddenly desperate to know what was wrong. It took him an embarrassingly long time. His darling would have been appalled at how atrophied his brain had become. And then, of course, it was staring him in the face, and he could not believe he had not seen it at the first.
There was no way the man could have known he was a doctor.
John whipped around, scanning the line of trees, and then took to his heels after him. But the figure had gone, lost in the immensity of the park. John ran helter-skelter for a while, but he knew it was hopeless, and he ended up breathless and aching and confused. Then he realised his mistake, and went through his pockets for his wallet.
Sure enough, it was gone.
In its place was a small fold of paper. John undid it with trembling fingers. Printed on the inside in regular, anonymous, handwritten letters, were the words:
'MILLENIUM BRIDGE 10PM TONIGHT'
His heart was thudding.
Moriarty. It must be him. Somehow.
Well, fair enough. If it was time to die, then he had never been more ready. He would take that little Irish bastard with him. He went straight home and cleaned his gun.
Tomorrow, a meeting under the bridge…