Playing the Fool

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Chapter One


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There was a time when John thought the game would never end. Reality just didn't apply around Sherlock Holmes. Days bled into nights. Memories unfurled. The doctor recalled chasing London shadows in the street; their footfalls still haunting the cobblestone alleyways when John paused to listen. Those sleepless nights, followed by quick breakfasts with Sherlock staring at him, waiting for the moment they both could fly out the doors again in order to save the world from some arrogant sod with a master plan.

There were the dark restaurant stake outs, and knocks on witness's doors, and spontaneous cover stories concocted without a word. John remembered scared laughter at gunpoint, loud arguments over impractical social conventions, and the smug expression on Sherlock's face whenever he made John smile. He still had the ashtray Sherlock nicked months ago from Buckingham place. John didn't know why he didn't pack it up with the science equipment and clothing all neatly stacked in the detective's room.

There was just too much to remember – now, when remembering was all he could do. Moments were falling like raindrops through his fingers and it was all he could do but try to hold onto them, draw them tighter in his grief stricken mind and soak in them.

Those moments with Sherlock were when John couldn't remember what day of the week it was… or even if he had seen a bed in the last twenty-four hours. They were the moments when Sherlock forced everything to fall into place, and John knew innately that his place was right beside the incorrigible detective.

Now he stared at the wall - not knowing if it were a Monday, or a Friday. He stared at the wall – knowing that he hadn't slept in days. He stared at the wall, wondering why this time it felt so different when essentially it was the same.

The yellow smiley-face stared back at him, and John groaned to kill the silence.

The doctor closed his eyes - tired. Beneath the calm exterior he felt a tremble at his core. A bright fire was dancing in the grate, attempting to lighten the mood, but John was having none of it. His head bowed and he rested it in his hand. Mrs. Hudson came by, silent as a ghost and just as pale, to set down a cup of tea at the side table. She left quietly, her footsteps dying in the dust she couldn't bear to clean at the moment.

When Sherlock died, everything changed.

He had lost friends in the war. Good friends. Friends whose faces he could remember shining in mess hall lights, grinning over a beer. John recalled the sadness he felt then, and he tried to compare it to how he felt now, but confusion dominated everything. The contrast between the past and present was striking, and it made John wonder if he had ever felt true sorrow before now. Losing Sherlock wasn't like losing one of his mates, it was something more. The emotion had no place – no label readily available. John was trying to hammer a piece of a jigsaw into a hollow space that would never fit.

The practical man in him made an appointment to see his therapist. The practical man in him told John that he needed to get as far away from this flat as he could. The practical man in him would have been silenced by a gunshot if John could will it. He wanted his mind empty. He wanted to feel nothing, because this emotion was too heavy to deal with right now.

The funeral came and went so hastily that John barely had time to adjust. He said his piece. He had humoured himself by choking up at that polished tombstone. The words sounded silly now that he was away from the grave and the weight it put on his mind.

"You told me once, that you weren't a hero… there were times I didn't think you were human; but, let me tell you this - you were the best man, the most human… human being that I've ever known."

So human. So fallible in his last moments when the he wanted so desperately to be anything but. John didn't want to remember Sherlock's arm reaching out – reaching to touch something almost tangible between the two of them. A bond, the likes of which the world had never known.

"John…"

He didn't want to remember Sherlock's voice, coated in grain from the mobile phone and the breeze that kicked up his coat on the roof of St. Barts. It was full of doubt and fear. It had to be an act, it had to be; Sherlock never sounded like that. His deep voice erupted with lies, telling John that everything he knew was magic and trickery. Sherlock would have known John wouldn't swallow it. Then why did he bother? Why?

"No one will ever convince me that you told me a lie."

The sad smile that John swore he heard in the man's tones when he protested swam in his mind now – quirky and subtle. That beautiful goodbye. The sound of the detective's phone clattering against the gravel making John scream out his name.

"I was so alone… and I owe you so much."

John recalled the feeling of his heart being drawn from his throat as Sherlock leaned forward and tipped himself over the edge. Graceful – as always, even when destined for a messy end.

"Please… there is just one more thing, one more miracle… for me Sherlock."

Gravity. So much gravity. The sound - oh god, the sound of flesh hitting sidewalk. The ringing in his ears. The sight of blood blossoming around Sherlock like it was reaching out to the cracks in the concrete for help. John managed to fumble for a hand in the chaos of stunned bystanders, but it was taken from him the moment he touched the chilled skin. Taken forever.

"Don't. Be. Dead."

Sherlock's eyes were like discs of moonlight, staring into nothing - and why would they? There were no clues left to search for. Pale blue in a halo of red. In the seconds John had to take in his face, it looked peaceful, as if he didn't mind losing everything – as if he didn't leave his best friend alone in a world that didn't make any sense anymore.

He was a perfect picture of death.

"Just for me… just stop it… stop this."

It was like snapping out a dream. John found himself sitting across from Mycroft at a gleaming table, barely hearing the words coming out of the elder Holmes' mouth. He looked around, disoriented and a little frightened to find himself lost in familiarity. Some part of John knew he was there because Sherlock left a will and Mycroft was resolving it, but the doctor didn't remember what was in it. He had nodded at all the right places and signed various lines highlighted with convenient Xs by the look of it. There was a fraction of his mind that felt close to Sherlock in this madness, for it used to be he that zoned out of reality to jar himself back to the present.

John was losing track of time – forgetting where he was or who he was with.

Mycroft analyzed John's face, impassive as ever. "Are you all right?"

"Are any of us…?" He whispered, surprised to find his voice a higher pitch then he recognized. His eyes were hollow and bruised from lack of sleep. He rubbed them, the pen he was using to sign documents still in his hand. He noticed it and went to put it down before he stabbed himself in the eye, but there was too much finality in the movement.

"Where are you staying?"

John forced his fingers to drop the pen and moved from the table to his coat. He knew full well that Mycroft was aware he had been spending his nights at Harry's. This conversation was a poor excuse to get into his head - or to see if John still had one.

"I'm staying at my sister's, and before you ask, there's nothing you can do to help."

"John…"

"I don't blame you Mycroft. If that is what you're wondering."

The silence between them festered, for they both knew that was a lie. Had Mycroft been more careful, Moriarty wouldn't have had the means to undermine the world's only consulting detective.

John threw himself out the door and onto the streets, not caring if Mycroft was staring after him with a hawk-like expression. The elder Holmes had been trying far too hard to make things right over the last few weeks, and John resented it with a passion. It was almost as if he took up Sherlock's bitterness towards his brother, just to keep some part of the man alive.

John didn't care where he was heading; he just felt the urge to move. The doctor had gotten into the habit of walking until he was too tired to continue, but much to his chagrin, he found he was never tired enough to sleep. He was at this point when he sat himself down rather heavily at a park bench and went back to his new hobby of staring at nothing in particular.

The weather was overcast and there weren't too many people around to see him lean back and turn his face up at the sky. His eyes were closed and he was taking a long drag of cold air like a man psyching himself up for a plunge. Images played through his mind of his life over the past eighteen months. The memories were well worn into his head now that he's gone over them a thousand times. The emotions they evoked made John feel like he was drowning.

It was a struggle not to scream out - to get angry at the world for everything. Rage was so much more bearable than despair. Rage would allow him to walk forward when every fibre of his being wanted to go back in time; back to the days when Sherlock would spell everything out for him and clarity would break upon him like cold water.

"Are you all right?"

John opened his eyes to see a hale old woman with a sympathetic expression stop on her way by. She had no remarkable features, but the lines of her face reflected a subtle shared understanding. John could swear he heard Sherlock's voice in his ear as he took in her stooped back and hollow eyes.

"This woman has seen loss before."

"No. I'm not." The words came unbidden from his mouth, and John regretted them the moment they hit the open air.

The woman nodded and hobbled over. With some hesitation she sat down next to the man and awkwardly folded her wrinkled hands onto her lap. Every articulation looked painful and John wondered if he could get her to leave if he wrote her a prescription for an analgesic.

"I don't usually talk to strangers young man… but at my age that's all you got left."

John gave a sarcastic smile. He wasn't up for conversation with the elderly. He just wanted to be left alone.

"I've seen that expression before lad - on faces that are older and wiser than yours. Was it family you lost or a lover?"

"A friend."

There was a pregnant pause before the woman went to put a hand on John's shoulder. The man had stiffened at the prospect of touch, and she retracted it before it even made contact. It was obvious he didn't wish to be comforted by a dodgy newcomer.

"Must have been one hell of a friend."

"Yeah." John said with a bit of annoyance in his voice. He refused to make eye contact in the hopes that the woman would just go away. It was awful, but he was suppressing the urge to just scream at her to mind her own business.

She watched John for a moment before shifting her posture to make herself more comfortable. John wanted to shoot himself at this point.

"When my husband died, I thought I lost everything. I couldn't find anything to live for… I had no purpose you see."

John closed his eyes to try to shut her out.

"Obituary said 'survived by his loving wife Hilda' but that wasn't true; Hilda the wife died with Bill the husband. All I had left was Hilda the mother and Hilda the lab technician. I poured everything that once was considered wife into those two things. It was the only way to keep moving forward." She turned her head to stare at John as if she weren't self aware. "Do you have any children?"

"No."

"Work?"

John opened his eyes and took in a deep breath. "I'm a doctor."

A slow smile worked its way into the elders face, "Aa! A doctor! My son Sam is a doctor here in London as well. Gone into private practice. Keeps him out of trouble, though I dare say he needs some help around the place now that I'm getting on in years. Where are you working?"

He could sense the set up and wanted nothing to do with it.

"I work part-time at a clinic when they require it, but I'm not interested in anything right now." His voice was terse now.

"Of course. Not now… when there is still so much left to heal." The old woman got up with some creaking and dusted off her floral dress. "But once you feel like moving on and healing others… you can call this number if you like. My Samuel has a heavy patient list, and I'm sure the kind of man who was willing to listen to this old lady ramble on would be an instant hit with our clients."

John took the simple white business card that was offered and tucked it into his coat pocket. "I'll think about it." He gave a false smile. "It was nice meeting you…marm."

"It's Hilda. Hilda Spencer. Nice meeting you too Doctor Watson." She inclined her head politely and moved along, her shuffling gait making her seem older than the wrinkles let on. John was left alone with his thoughts and when Mrs. Spencer finally left his field of view, he let out a breath he didn't even know he was holding. Her talk had rubbed him the wrong way; after all, what did a stranger know about his life?

Then John did a double take and slowly drew the business card back out of his pocket and gawked at it with uncertainty. What did a stranger know about his life? Apparently his name, even though he didn't give her one.

He flipped the card over to find green ink on the back of it.

"For when you feel like moving on."

"What in the…?" He muttered as he shifted about to see if he was being watched. She must have written that before she met him, there was no other explanation. That coupled with knowing his name, must mean that this conversation was staged. Everything about the last five minutes felt very Holmes, and John was not pleased.

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Author's Notes:

So I'm back again since I've just finished gushing about the second series. I was debating posting this story on the back of 'Exception to the Rule' but I think I'll let it stand alone. Gives me more freedom to muck about. This story will be multi-chaptered and like BBC Sherlock, it will pay homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works more often then not. Please read and review, I'm rushing these chapters so that I can go back and edit them when inspiration dies, or I get stuck - feel free to point out anything that sounds funny or the many many grammatical errors fraught throughout the thing. I need feedback to live - or more literally, this fic needs feedback to live.

PS. Moffat says that fans are missing something critical in the last episode and I think I found it out... so keep a sharp eye and see if you can catch it too before I write about it.

- GinTsuki