Title: I Do Believe
Characters: Angelo, Raz, Anderson, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, John, Sherlock incognito
Word Count: 11,000ish
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for The Reichenbach Falls, though again hardly spoilery if you know the books so I'm not cutting the summary. No other real spoilers other than basic series details and some speculation, as well as mentions of the I Believe in Sherlock Holmes movement.
Summary: Written for this sherlockbbc_fic meme prompt: Sherlock is a master of disguise (just like every version of him ever) and he's not just going to spend his 'death' ignoring the people he cares about. So - 5 times Sherlock used a disguise to watch over the people he left behind and one time he revealed himself.
A/N: Lines in italics in the last portion are from the book Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Angelo has better things to do with his time than reading the tabloids and the tripe they broadcast, thank you very much, and so he has no idea about the drama which is slowly sucking in one of the few people in his small world he trusts completely. Doesn't see the news reports (by the time he finishes at the restaurant, he's too tired to turn on the battered telly), doesn't read the papers (an unnecessary expense, and finances are a bit tight right now), doesn't hear the gossip (busy in the kitchen, because he trusts only a select few to prepare his culinary masterpieces).
Doesn't realize what has happened until he sees a man enter the restaurant just before closing on a pouring-down-rain-enough-to-make-him-rethink-running-to-the-shops evening. He's no detective like his blessed Sherlock, but one look at the man's face and the cane he's now leaning on tell him more clearly than anything else what has to have happened.
John Watson looks utterly and bewilderedly lost, as if it never occurred to him to choose the table he wants in a restaurant, and Angelo wisely steers him clear of the boys' usual next to the window. He instead sets the drenched doctor in the corner closest to the warmth of the kitchen, and hovers nervously for a moment, before vanishing to break out a bottle of the strongest red wine he has.
The poor man obviously wants to tell him what happened, but hasn't quite gotten up the nerve to do so, and it's more telling than words the look on John's face when he orders the half-sized portion of the pasta carbonara, and then explains in a choked laugh that Sherlock never ordered food but always ended up stealing half of his, and so they'd come to a sort of agreement months ago. He also uncharacteristically orders extra mushrooms; Angelo knows Sherlock hates - hated? - the things, and that's another nail in the probably not-proverbial coffin.
John barely blinks when Angelo sets the plate down and refills his glass, only stares with a worrisome blankness at the empty chair opposite. He goes to lock the doors (no other customers, and that's been an unfortunately frequent complication of the new, larger Italian restaurant which went in up the street), and then returns, and after a quick, thin smile from the man opposite sits down, and pours himself a glass.
They talk for three hours. Angelo tells John the story of how he met Sherlock, and coaxes John to eat at least part of his pasta. John tells him what happened from start to finish, and picks at the remainder after it goes cold. Angelo informs John in both Italian and its more vulgar English equivalent what the tabloids and news casters can do with themselves, and John chokes on a piece of pasta as he bursts out laughing for what is probably the first time all day. John finally smiles at him, and dashes away a tear or two with his napkin. Angelo leans across the table to put a hand on the man's arm, and tells him he will never stop believing in Sherlock Holmes.
John almost breaks down then, and blinks furiously in an effort to not do so. Angelo wisely sends the remainder of the bottle home with him, and uses his entire tips for the evening to pay the cabbie in advance.
It's what Sherlock would have wanted him to do, after all.
Three months go by, and he sees John Watson only twice. Both times he refuses to take payment for the meal, despite John's protests, and though financially even that small loss hurts him he does not regret taking care of Sherlock's friend. John in return advertises his restaurant on his blog, and business picks up for a bit before slumping again in the wake of his inability to properly advertise against the face of the more powerful franchises.
In short, he will be broke in another three months, and there is really nothing he can do about it besides to pray for a miracle. He does, but holds out no real hope that a guardian angel is watching over his little cafe close enough to give him several thousand dollars. He's a practical man, is Angelo, and so he makes preparations.
The next time he sees John Watson, the man comments on the lack of customers, and after Angelo matter-of-factly tells him his financial woes the doctor makes another, more urgent, endorsement on his blog, which helps him make the rent that week and the next - but it cannot last forever, and another fortnight sees him preparing to lose his restaurant.
And then, inexplicably, John finds him late the next day, mystified and smiling for the first time in quite a while. Over beef ravioli and breadsticks Angelo finds that his rent for the facilities has been paid up for the next year, by a benefactor who commented anonymously on John's blog to inform him that he "would be happy to endorse anyone who took care of John during the months since Sherlock's death."
He has always believed in Sherlock Holmes, and Angelo finds it heartening to find that someone else believes in him.
He finds out because some litterbug tosses a copy of the Sun in the gutter, and just because he prefers the company of junkies to the more "privileged" members of society doesn't mean his mum raised him to be an illiterate moron like most of his peers. Raz can read quite well, when he gets the proper incentive, and a picture of Sherlock plastered across the front page with a headline about the man being a phony is certainly incentive enough.
Sherlock was a bizarre sort of bloke (rumour has it he was once a dealer, but Raz knows most of the dealers and he can't see them being the type that even a desperate genius would hang with, so he thinks it's probably just street cred), but the detective paid well for services, and he's never had cause to trash-talk the man for anything. They all know, his little network, that Sherlock will play fair and deal straight if you do the same, even if it comes down to leaving his patient doctor friend holding the bag (literally, Raz remembers with a snigger) for the police to find instead of his informants. Sherlock has their backs, and helps out a bit with pocket cash, and the Irregular network returns the favor when asked and never regrets the investment.
So this headline makes him more angry than anything else he's read in his life. Anyone as brill as Sherlock Holmes didn't need to make up an arch-nemesis (he sniggers at the melodramatic article and adds the word to his vocabulary for use later) to become famous; the doctor was doing a decent job of that already with his blog.
Watson's not a bad sort, either, and it raises his hackles that the paper's trashing not just a dead man but the survivor as well. John Watson's a good man, if a bit too tight-laced for his tastes, but then Raz did stick the man with an ASBO a year ago and he can't really blame the doctor for not liking him much. But they're all survivors of a war here, Sherlock's Holmes's little network, and survivors hang together when society tries to come down on them.
He picks a posh overcoat pocket, and an hour later goes into battle with six cans of the finest paint he can buy without arousing suspicion from already wary shop-keeps.
John Watson comes to find him later the next day, and informs him that defacing a historic building is not the way to gather public sympathy for Sherlock's cause, and it's only the naked agony of grief shining out of the doctor's eyes which prevents him from telling the man where he can get off. He agrees to stay away from historic sites and government buildings, which gets him a weary word of thanks and twenty quid from a man who probably can't afford to give it, judging by the fact that Watson looks to have already lost a bit of weight in the last week. He's got the look of a man who's trying to get rid of a ghost, and has no idea how he's going to survive in the meantime.
Raz uses the twenty to buy a sandwich and ten more cans of paint.
He and a mate are nearly caught shortly after two in the morning spraying a bridge with I believe in Sherlock Holmes, and the scuffle and run through foggy London midnight is completely worth it when he starts seeing the graffiti pop up everywhere, almost overnight, during the next week. John Watson's smile the next time he glimpses the man makes him more satisfied than the knowledge that he's responsible for the trend which has nearly amassed a cult following in a matter of days.
Time passes, and he makes sure that even when the furor dies away and Sherlock's name is in the process of losing its stigma, that he always signs his work with I believe in Sherlock Holmes. It's his signature now, and he's actually quite proud of it.
His luck runs out when he gets caught in the wrong part of town one night, on his way back from a party. He's been stupid, walking home alone after the events of the week, but that's nothing new. Raz used to deal for one of the syndicates, before he met Sherlock and was rudely awakened to the effects of the drugs on a brilliant mind, and he hasn't seen or touched even the fringe of the network in years - but he ran into an old enemy last week, and refused to deal for the man once again. He was threatened, but again that's nothing new; he's just not stupid and he has no intention of doing something that could land him in prison if he's caught.
Said enemy has just run into him in the semi-darkness, and has had several too many beers for one night and too many hits to know what he's doing. Raz carries a shiv just like any of them do, but he's no match for a man twice his size, and before he can even run (because only an idiot stays to fight when he can run and hide) he's got a blade coming at him and he realises squeamishly that he's really not ready to die but he probably is going to and he wishes he'd had that last cigarette because he might as well have, you know?
He freezes, back against the nearest dingy wall and shaking just a little, when two gunshots crack out of the darkness. His old "friend" staggers and then collapses with a wheeze that's not countered by an inhale, and Raz knows the goon's stone dead before he even hits the pavement.
Someone's just saved his life, and no one in this area of town carries a gun when a quieter weapon is just as effective; this is really, really, weird. Weird is even less safe than predictable murder, and he doesn't wait around to see his saviour, only hightails it back to behind his own people's lines.
He is passed an envelope holding three fifty-quid notes the next day, and on the inside of the flap is the printed inscription For services rendered. Keep believing in Sherlock Holmes. It's not the Doctor's writing, he doesn't think, and anyway he knows the man has better things to do with his time than shoot dealers on the streets to save one kid's life (not to mention the man hasn't got the money to shell out like this).
Okay, so he buys himself an iPod Nano instead of paint cans this time, but after all this he thinks he's a bit entitled.
Anderson hates Sherlock Holmes. Well, he hated the man, anyway; it's a little hard, and in pretty bad taste, to still hate a dead man whom you and your colleagues drove to suicide, if the papers are to be believed. Sherlock could get under his skin like no one else in the world, and weirdly enough now that the man is dead he finds himself missing the acerbic personality he got to occasionally boot off his crime scenes. He finds it strangely, bizarrely gratifying that Sherlock's last act between them was to call for his expertise - a far cry from "I won't work with Anderson/that idiot/your sniffer dog/vulgarity-of-the-week" which usually issued from the amateur's mouth. Sherlock had asked for him, and not someone else on Lestrade's team.
Perhaps it's that which finally dispels the fog of revulsion which has clouded his judgment ever since the very first time the insufferable amateur nicked evidence from the labs and disregarded his orders to don protective gear before contaminating a crime scene. Now, in 20/20 hindsight, free of the hatred he's harbored for so many years, Anderson can see how Sally's deep-rooted bitterness clouded her judgment - and he was fool enough to go along with her even though all forensic evidence screamed to him the gaps in her logic.
Sally's been his weakness for as long as he can remember, but he draws the line now - too late, far too late, but better late than never - and stops her cold when she makes a comment about how the world is "better off with one less psychopath" in it. That's it for their relationship, because she doesn't accept being corrected by a man in any area, including this one, and while he can fundamentally understand her viewpoint (Sherlock was horrible to her, and that's no secret) he will no longer let her trash a dead man who can't even defend himself. Out of respect to Watson, at least, he draws the line in the metaphorical sand and plants himself firmly on Sherlock's side, and thereby on the opposing side of the Chief Superintendent, who is out for blood - mental note to buy John a drink next pub night, because punching the CS in the nose took nerve - and Lestrade's badge, if they all don't watch their step.
That's what really triggers his fury with Donovan. Even if Sherlock was the worst person he'd ever met to work with, this whole fiasco might be costing the Boss his job. And Greg doesn't deserve that, not by a long shot, but Sally doesn't appear to really care about anything other than her own satisfaction at the moment. The Super's making it out like Sherlock is responsible for the DI's rise in the ranks (which is actually quite a bit less than one would think, if the man were really puppeted by Sherlock), and it's really starting to cheese Anderson off.
He finds an up-and-comer in his forensics department, a far too eager youngster named Hopkins who is an avid lurker on John Watson's blog, and under cover of research for Lestrade's upcoming evaluation assigns him the unofficial task of sifting the evidence from the child-kidnapping which set fire to Donovan's vitriol, as well as reviewing the major cases in which Sherlock worked with them.
Hopkins's youthful glee at a covert operation within the NSY is disgustingly X-Files-esque, but if the kid gets the job done without damaging any of their careers Anderson will be pleased. As a forensics expert (and the best Lestrade has, thank you very much, no matter what Sherlock ever said), he knows Sherlock is innocent after just a cursory review of the evidence. There's just no way the man could have faked that many cases, nor did he need to invent the crapload of bull that's floating around the press, and Anderson will be the first to admit it.
What bothers him now, is why did the man have to go and off himself if he was innocent? That's the action of a guilty man, not an innocent one - and it puzzles him to no end.
Hopkins agrees with him after very little research, and they begin to build a case to bring to light when the Boss's review comes around, because Lestrade's in real danger of being sacked if they can't convince the powers that be that Sherlock is innocent and thereby Lestrade really hasn't done anything but bend procedure (and far more honestly than the crooked DIs in other departments, they all know). At first, it seems a hopelessly vast task, and time and the media are working against them.
Then, the tide gradually begins to change. More and more people are questioning the existence of Richard Brook - Anderson has never before loved internet hackers, but he adores these idiots who have nothing better to do than research and defend - and the guilt of James Moriarty. Questions are being asked and conjectures fly thick and fast on internet forums. Everywhere, the words I believe in Sherlock Holmes are becoming a by-word, publicly acknowledged in the more sensational papers and websites. John Watson refuses to become involved in the movement, only posts one line about it on his blog, but that is not stopping the public from their righteous outrage. Sherlock Holmes is innocent has been graffitied for twenty feet in every direction around the Yard, and Anderson laughs when some idiot actually makes t-shirts and starts selling them outside on the corner until he's promptly dumped in a cell for violating city ordinance.
It does his heart good to see, and even more so when the higher-ups begin to take notice and actually start digging to figure out what's truth and what's error. Lestrade begins to lose the haunted look and the worry wrinkles around his eyes lessen, as the threat looming over him slowly eases. Donovan Anderson ignores completely, which only serves to turn her hatred onto him - but that's all right with him, as he has his hands full trying to patch up his failing marriage in addition to everything else.
He's been a fool not just in that area, and he knows it, but there is little at this point he can do.
The movement grows, escalates, gathers more reputable attention when Kitty Riley is sacked for being unable to produce further proof of her claims. Rumor has it that a government bigwig is working behind the scenes to threaten or destroy everyone who attacked Sherlock, and given the abrupt turn in media tide Anderson's fully prepared to believe a conspiracy. But he's unable to do much personally, only tries to uncover the Truth to the best of his not-inconsiderable ability.
Until one day an adventurous reporter catches him off-guard when he exits a crime scene behind Lestrade, and shoves a microphone in his face.
"Mr. Anderson, as forensics expert to Detective Inspector Lestrade, what is your opinion of the recent rumours that the amateur consultant Sherlock Holmes was actually innocent of the charges leveled against him six months ago?"
"No comment," he mutters the usual platitude, trying to keep his boss in sight as they move through the crowd (stupid public, couldn't be more interested in a gory murder if they paraded the decapitated corpse through the streets on a pike).
"Your boss, Detective Inspector Lestrade, is he in danger of losing his job because of Sherlock Holmes's association with him?"
"No comment." Where on earth was the rest of the team, and why was he surrounded by these vultures anyway?
"Sir," and it's another reporter, a young man he recognizes from one of the more reliable papers - not a tabloid, an actual investigative journalist whose highly influential paper has actually steered clear of this whole mess until now. "Sir, you were the forensics expert on the cases in which Sherlock Holmes aided the police - in your expert opinion...?"
He knows better; it's basic procedure, and he knows better. But after six long months of watching the Boss worry constantly about watching his back, and floundering under what is undeniably a loss of expertise, unofficial though it may be, six months of regretting every hateful word he had ever said toward an undoubtedly innocent man he helped - no matter his lack of motive - to drive to suicide...after that long, he is slightly past caring and more than slightly past thinking.
"In my expert opinion?" he repeats, focusing on the reporter from the influential paper.
"Yes, sir?" The young man's expectant face is actually alight with honest curiosity.
"In my expert opinion, then," he says bluntly, and without flowery fanfare, "...Sherlock Holmes is innocent."
Someone blinds him with a camera flash, and it all goes to hell from there.
He's suspended for two weeks without pay, and while he's frustrated with the Super's reasons he knew full well the consequences for breaking procedure like that. The fact that Donovan's furious with him doesn't bother him, though he is slightly weirded out by Lestrade's overly emotive reaction when he hands over his badge temporarily. Hopkins appears to now worship him with a puppylike adoration which is just one shade past psychopathic, and John Watson sends him an embarrassingly emotional email of thanks; Anderson's not quite sure which one is more disturbing.
He didn't do it for them; he did it for the sake of Truth - but it still is rather a nice feeling, all things considered, and perhaps it makes him feel a bit less guilty for his part in the events leading up to the amateur's suicide leap.
Whatever he was expecting during his suspension (half-expecting to be served divorce papers, and the other half expecting to starve to death), it was not to have a tall, blond man named Sigerson knock on his door the Sunday before the suspension was to take effect, and inform him he'd won a sweepstakes for two, a fortnight in a lodge on the coasts of Norway, all expenses paid.
He'd thought the fellow was an unashamed con, but after researching as only a policeman can he discovered the notice was apparently legitimate; his wife had long ago gotten one of those "redeem this code at random website for a chance to win" and apparently they'd gotten the luck of a lifetime. Sigerson's enthusiasm regarding the place was infectious, and within ten minutes the representative had utterly charmed Anderson's understandably intractable wife. There was peace in his house for the first time in months, and he almost felt like hugging the man before he left with a wink and congratulatory handshake.
The vacation saves his marriage, a feat he'd never thought possible, and by the time he returns to work two weeks later Lestrade is off the hook and so is he; evidently the mysterious Mr. X in the government has decided enough was enough and fired the Superintendent overnight, threatened to shut down any television station which trashed the dead man's name any further, and caused a selective internet blackout for twelve hours while the people hacking into the police mainframe for evidence of Sherlock's guilt were dealt with.
When he asks, appalled, just who that man is, Lestrade only groans and tells him he's better off not knowing. Nodding, he wisely decides to forget the whole business, and they both raise their I-believe-in-Sherlock-Holmes mugs in a silent toast to a man whose absence left a gaping hole in their lives, however unwilling he might be to ever admit it.
Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade, currently Detective-Inspector-on-Probationary-Leave Lestrade, thinks that his life can hardly get much worse, though he has learnt that every time he says such a thing he is inevitably proven wrong. It's pouring buckets outside, he's already soaked to the skin, and he's halfway to the Yard before he even remembers he was told not to come in today as he's still being reviewed for using Sherlock Holmes on his cases. Even minimal collateral damage is going to count against him, regardless of the cases' outcome, and he's in hot water no matter how you look at it.
Disillusioned, disappointed, and dripping wet, he ducks into a Starbucks and starts raiding his pockets in the thin hopes he has enough change to get a cup of coffee before returning home to do absolutely nothing but think about past events.
Anderson, he believes, is on his side, surprisingly given the circumstances, but then Anderson is good at what he does and Lestrade knows as well as his forensics expert that the evidence against Sherlock would never stand up in court against a half-competent lawyer (and Big Brother no doubt would have a more than competent one). Even resisting arrest and becoming a fugitive doesn't warrant more than a slap on the wrist in light of Truth, but Truth appears to have plunged off the side of a building along with the one man he knew could always illuminate the way to it.
The tall barista in front of him, back turned while he stirs a latte, has a shock of wild, curly dark hair, and it suddenly hits him with all the force of a cement lorry – Sherlock's dead.
He feels vaguely sick, because even after two weeks he still finds himself of an evening idly pulling up his text messaging feature to shoot the insufferable idiot a text about a case, and catches himself just before hitting Send because God knows that's all John needs right now, some sappy idiot texting his dead flatmate's phone. He hates himself for seeing Sherlock everywhere, because he barely even knew the stupid, intolerable, wonderful fool – and yet, his senses betray him just like any friend's would.
If only he could know whether or not Sherlock even considered him one, it might make it just a bit less painful.
He finally locates a pound coin in the lining of his jacket (hole in his pocket, but the wife, God love her, works hard enough and he doesn't want to ask her to do just another tedious chore) and sighs with relief; he's soaked, miserable, and unemployed at the moment, and even a text from Mycroft Holmes assuring him that his career is not in as terrible jeopardy as it looks does nothing for his state of mind. Sherlock is dead, and with him went a good portion of the work they both lived for.
He realizes now, just too late, that he should never have employed Sherlock in the first place. Not because he didn't think Sherlock was capable of becoming a good man – but because he had no idea it would hurt this much to lose him once he became one.
The woman behind him clears her throat loudly, snapping the cover on her tablet closed with a huff. He shuffles forward to fill the gap between him and the gent paying for his sandwich, and hopes he doesn't look as embarrassed as he feels about being caught daydreaming about a man who probably never really cared that Lestrade even existed unless it was to bring him work.
He gives his order, the cheapest cup of horrendously overpriced coffee they have, even though he could really use the extra caffeine and sugar at the moment in his usual macchiato; he won't charge stupid things to his chip-and-pin, not with his job in precarious standing as it is, and with his wife doing the finances in the house. Not that he can't afford an expensive drink, or that she'd even say anything about it – but he's not going to give her cause to worry more than she is about his standing in his job. The Superintendent is out for blood, and no matter how much Anderson vouches for him and the elder Holmes interferes, the initial damage has been done and he will always have this stigma on his career.
He supposes, with wry sadness, that he is lucky to not be either dead, or mourning his best friend.
He makes a note to call round and see John later, because it's coming up on two weeks and the doctor still looks like he's half-dead himself. Lestrade doesn't really understand – because who could? – what ties held the two together, but he recognizes the agony of soul-loss when he sees it, and he sees it in the shadows which always seem to linger around a personality which never failed to brighten a room and lighten tension when Sherlock got too dark to handle.
The barista, a lanky, ginger-haired youth with a truly spectacular assortment of freckles, sloshes his drink down onto the counter in front of him without saying his name. He glances to either side, because it's not his small (re: the kiddie cup) coffee, but the others are paying him no mind, engaged in their papers and iPhones and only having ears for their own drinks to be called.
"Ah…this isn't mine," he tries, gesturing to the massive macchiato (the smell is already driving his taste buds insane).
"Sure it is, 's the usual, right?"
He'd never seen the kid before, but that didn't mean he (or his name, more like, scribbled on the side of cups on Donovan's frequent coffee runs) wasn't remembered, Lestrade supposed; bit odd, though. "Well…yeah, but I only ordered a small black," he replies, scrubbing a hand through his hair.
"Ehhh, take it," the youth calls over the sound of a grinder. "We'll just pitch it in the bin, house policy."
"Look, you're backin' up the line, mate. Take it," the kid encourages him, smiling at his hesitation. "Seems like you could use it."
Well, he's not too proud to accept a gift horse, and while it is a bit too sweet for his tastes the drink is certainly preferable to his tiny little coffee. "Well, cheers, then," he murmurs, savoring the taste as he lifts the cup in a salute to the lanky youth. The young man flashes him a quick, almost familiar quirky grin, and turns back to his culinary chemistry; and Lestrade heads back out into the rain, armed with upturned coat-collar and an enormous dose of caffeine and sugar.
An hour later, he tosses the empty cup into a recycling bin, never seeing the Believe :) written on the side in a barista's black marker.
In retrospect, she should have known better. But then, as her mother used to say when she was a child, if good intentions were stones man could build a highway to heaven.
Getting about, even with a bad hip, isn't usually a problem for her, because she's not about to become dependent on someone else because of a little bit of pain. The boys have always marveled at it (back in her day, she'd have another good quarter-century left, thank you very much) and have in turn made certain she lacks for nothing.
Sherlock hangs her pictures on the walls, John calls her from Sainsbury's to ask if she needs sugar. Sherlock washes her floors when she can't get down to reach in the corners (ostensibly under guise of needing to experiment on the drying times of different solvents, but they both know the real reason), and John apologises for the dear boy when he's an idiot like only Sherlock can be. Sherlock plays the brave hero when there's a monstrous spider in her kitchen, and John grins and hugs her when they both entirely overdo it on the praise, leaving the detective so puffed up and proud of himself for being a "normal bloke" that he struts about for days. Sherlock threw a man out of their upstairs window for touching her once, and John saw to her hurts and the next day showed her where he kept his illegal gun and how to load, clean, and shoot it if need be.
Sherlock evidently set up his will to pay her the full amount of rent for twelve months after his death, and half thereof for the rest of her life. John brings her the check from Sherlock's trust fund every month, and stays for tea and biscuits and sometimes a good cry.
She isn't sure if it's the fact Sherlock made sure the doctor didn't have to pay even his share for twelve months that breaks her heart, or the fact that John left the flat after that first horrible, awful night, and said he was going to stay in a hotel for a few days, until he could come to terms with his memories.
The few days turned into a week, and then two, and then three, and a month, and before she knows it three months have passed and John is still living somewhere else. She's tried talking to him, but he only looks more sad every time she sees him, and just says he needs a bit more time. The memories are too strong, he told her last month, and Mycroft Holmes finally suggested she just preserve the rooms in 221B as they are for now at least, in hopes that John will someday change his mind and decide to come back.
John still comes 'round every Sunday for dinner, and they share horrible and hilarious stories about Sherlock, and sometimes John stays to repair a leaky faucet or broken step, because after Mycroft showed them the footage of their flat's surveillance and the gun in their last handyman's toolbox, neither of them's inclined to call around to agencies. And they meet every day on the fourth of the month to go to Sherlock's grave - she knows John goes every Sunday after he leaves her, but she can't stand to go more often than that, not with the damp weather and the fact that she loved him like the son she never got to have - but it's not the same, and she misses both her boys so much it hurts, sometimes.
And then it happens, the curse of any elderly woman living alone, however self-sufficient she may be under normal circumstances. One Sunday morning she is reaching up to put a mixing bowl on the top shelf of the pantry and realises that up until now she has always had Sherlock's long reach to do so for her. She's foolish enough use a sturdy enough kitchen chair after making sure the floor is clear of debris, and nothing would ever have happened except that she's startled on her way back down by the telephone's ringing (probably John, calling to see if she needed him to bring anything for luncheon). She comes down heavily on the wrong foot, and the next moment is a jumble of painful incoherency and the knowledge that a second fractured hip is very much Not Good, as dear Sherlock would have said.
When she's able to see again through the haze of shock and surprise and pain, she can't move without an all-too-familiar, excruciating grinding in her already bad hip. She can't reach the landline and while she has a mobile she rarely remembers to carry it with her (John quite adorably gave her a military-fashion admonishment for that last week when he was here, and she rather wishes she'd done more than placate him with empty promises). She can't move, and it will be four hours before John shows up for lunch; she was up early today, making a batch of fresh scones for the man to take back to his flat with him (losing weight again, she notes each time with a fretting sigh).
She's far enough inside the house that there's no possibility of someone hearing her call for help, and while she knows she is not in serious danger until John arrives she really, really would like to not have to lie on a cold kitchen floor in a haze of throbbing pain until he does so. She spends the first half-hour making a mental list of things which need to change if she is not going to have either of her boys around the house anymore, and the second half-hour in reliving those initial days when the two of them were so silly and giddy and utterly enchanted with each other - days she misses, dearly, and which she wishes so much could happen again. Her boys were all the family she really had, and Sherlock was especially dear to her heart despite all his horrible carryings-on at all hours. She would replace the wallpaper a hundred times over if it just meant that he would be around to destroy it again, and she knows poor dear John feels the same.
And then, the door to the flat opens, and she dimly hears voices. Realizing she's begun to drift off, she sternly tells herself to stop daydreaming and is as awake as she thinks she's able to be by the time the door opens to admit three paramedics...how...
Ah. That terribly rude older brother of Sherlock's, no doubt he was watching the house still like the horrid little busybody he was. She mentally shakes herself, because that was impolite, especially considering that the man probably just saved her several hours of agonizing pain.
One of the medics, a towering, sharp-featured young man, is across the room in a dramatic swirl of flourescent jacket before she can even realise who they are, and is kneeling beside her with a look of concern that to her motherly eye seems a bit more than just professional; possibly the poor lad is reminded of his own grandmother or something?
"It's okay, ma'am," the young fellow tells her, in a staccato delivery which indicates high nervousness (dear, she sounds like Sherlock now, and isn't that ridiculous). "It's okay now. You're going to be okay."
She chuckles despite the pain, because the boy sounds scared out of his mind. One of the other medics has given her an injection that is starting to numb the pain, which helps immensely. "You sound as if you're trying to convince yourself and not me, dear," she says to the lad, and receives a brilliant and utterly surprised smile in return.
There's a loud thump behind her, and she looks past the paramedic to see John dropping a plastic bag (tuna cans roll loudly into the hall) as he shoves past the medics in the doorway, terror clear on his features and panic building in his eyes. "Let me through, please - someone called me, I live here -"
The young medic turns on his knees to glance up, and something flickers momentarily through his eyes, before he's being brusquely shoved aside by a very scared ex-army doctor.
"Out of the way, I'm a doctor - her doctor! - now let me - Mrs. Hudson!" This last in a breathless half-shout, as the man drops on his knees beside her, skidding a bit on the shiny lino.
"Inside voice, dear," she says quietly, smiling as he takes her thin hand gently, and she sees some of the panic leave his face when he gulps in a shuddering breath.
"Nothing life threatening, Doctor. Fractured hip, most likely," the medic interjects from off to the side, where he vacated his position in deference to an implacable Captain Watson in full soldier-mode. "Given the history of - that is, ah, based upon the cursory examination of the placement of the swelling..." Mrs. Hudson hears the slip and the change, and is just trying to figure out why the medic would break off and switch like that when John's face suddenly turns white as a sheet, and the poor dear suddenly gasps and hastily scrambles to brace himself against the wall.
The medic's hand is pushing John's head toward his knees before he even starts to do so himself, and she watches curiously as the young man kneels before the panicking doctor, hands on both shoulders and only inches from his face, guiding him through a breathing exercise. John's left hand is shaking, but he's calming under the gentle guidance, and she hears enough of his embarrassed apology and its calm, clinical reassurance to know that the idea of losing both her and Sherlock in a matter of months would completely wreck the poor man. John needs a hug, she thinks, but she's hardly able to get up and give him one and the stubborn man wouldn't take it anyway - but the handsome young paramedic has one arm around him and is helping him to his feet so that will have to do.
She's being seen to now by the two others, being prepared to be moved, and she spares a thought for poor John not getting any home-made cooking for the next several weeks while she's in surgery and therapy...before everything starts to muddle into a lovely watercolour painting-version of her kitchen and ceiling and a strangely familiar pair of blue-grey eyes.
It has been five months, fourteen days, and around eighteen hours since Sherlock Holmes committed suicide by jumping off the roof of St. Bart's Hospital. John knows, as a doctor, the textbook Kubler-Ross model for the stages of grief, and he is also aware that he is the classic textbook case for those stages. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - he's run the gamut of all of them, sometimes several simultaneously, and now while he doesn't feel that he's truly dealt with the Event, he at least knows that Sherlock is not coming back, that he's not faking his own death like Irene Adler did or some other magic trick.
He's given up asking Sherlock's headstone for a miracle, stopped trying to hope that the man had some contingency plan, has quit asking the man to stop pretending and come back. Acceptance of what he can't change is the final stage, and it breaks his heart to know he's coming to the end of his period of mourning - it feels disloyal somehow, even if it is only the normal stages of grief manifesting themselves. He's stopped trying to drown out his pain with fourteen-hour shifts at the clinic, has started going to pub nights again with the boys from the Yard, has had a few dates here and there, and he can finally look at a blue scarf or a model skull in shop windows without feeling like someone's trying to wrench his heart out of his chest string by string.
He's moving on; and he thinks Sherlock might be pleased. Or else extremely irritated that it took him so long.
He still visits Sherlock's grave once a week, every Sunday after he leaves Baker Street and Mrs. Hudson's loving but somewhat cloying attempts at comfort through food and conversation, and he tells the cold, unforgiving stone about his week, and about how he's trying his best to clear Sherlock's name even if the man didn't care about his reputation. John cares, and while he's not going to endorse vandalism he's nevertheless a tiny bit glad to see that someone else out there believes in Sherlock Holmes. John himself knows better than to get involved in the media and internet frenzy, but that doesn't prevent him from doing his bit to clear Sherlock's name (by extension his own, but that hardly matters now that Mycroft apparently has gotten involved) and restore his reputation.
He begins to write up cases again, at his therapist's suggestion, and while the first few make him so sick to his stomach he nearly vomits from emotional stress he soon finds that they are more cathartic a release than any outburst could be - and so he writes, and he writes, and he writes, long into the days and nights, until he realises one day that he could easily take the last hundred entries from his blog and with a bit of embellishment make them into a book. With the media frenzy, he knows he could land a publisher with very little difficulty, and even if not, he could at least publish through Kindle or another e-book company with very little trouble.
Mrs. Hudson has an accident in her kitchen, falls off a chair and breaks her hip, and he is so distraught that he wasn't there that he agrees to stay in his old bedroom in case she needs something during her convalescence. The memories are painful but not agonizing now, though he has a few bad moments and even more few bad days. Sherlock's things have all been packed up and stored in his old bedroom, as the rent is paid and no one really wants to touch them yet. Mycroft had suggested making his room into a museum and John not-so-politely told him what he could do with himself; not his finest moment, but a satisfying one, especially as it was done in front of a half-dozen of the elder Holmes's men in black who looked horrified at his audacity.
He sees Mrs. Hudson safe to bed and then sits up late one night in the too-quiet lounge, writing up the Matilda Briggs case in story format. He proofreads it and tweaks details here and there, weaves words and paints a picture of Sherlock that only he can truly see, and publishes it as a test on his blog. The trolling and spamming of his blog has stopped, thanks to a bit of extreme and probably barely legal government firewall software courtesy of Anthea, and so he tentatively re-enables comments for that entry, and goes to bed dreaming of rooftop chases and moonlight and steel.
His hit widget will apparently always be 1895, but when he logs on in the morning his story has over nine hundred comments.
He suddenly realises he now has a purpose - he has a voice, and he can make himself heard, make Truth heard. He was lost when he came back from Afghanistan, and more so when Sherlock died - but he has a purpose now, a goal, a drive: and it's to make himself heard, make people see and hear and read the truth. That is his war, and he now has a chance - a small one, but a chance! - of turning the tide in favor of Truth.
He moves back into Baker Street to make preparation for battle. Mrs. Hudson frets about his eating and sleeping habits, his coworkers at the clinic tell him he's got an unhealthy obsession, and Greg Lestrade has to pry him out of his chair of evenings to get out-of-doors before he becomes so sedentary that he makes himself ill, but none of it matters, because he will be heard, that much he promises Sherlock's headstone every week. John Watson's voice will be heard above the clamor of the papers and the tabloids and the slanderers - even if he loses his own health to do it.
He still works twelve-hour shifts at the clinic where he met Sarah (they're friends now, and good ones, despite the rough breakup long ago; she's dating a young intern now and it's all fine), and pops in and out of police cases when Lestrade can bring him in without anyone knowing since he's still not out of the woods with the Sherlock fiasco. But his evenings are spent in writing, long hours of poring over details and twisting words and wresting sentences to do his bidding, to paint a picture of a man who was genuine, brilliant, pure genius.
He believes in Sherlock Holmes, and he wants the world to do the same.
Mrs. Hudson told him he was going to work himself into the ground, and he refused to listen, more out of not caring than self-confidence. A nasty streak of influenza coupled with various viral infections and a spattering of bronchitis (freezing rain for days on end, not good) in the clinic and a depleted immune system conspire to lay him low, and by the time he stumbles home one dripping Friday evening his head is throbbing and his lungs are burning, and he feels like he's about to either cough or throw up a lung or two. Mrs. Hudson has gone to her sister's for convalescence now that she can at least walk about a bit with a walker, and so he's unfortunately alone in his less-than-spectacular state.
He takes one look at the stairs and how they're wavering in front of his eyes like a pool shimmering (nightmare fuel, that, he hates swimming pools now), and decides he can deal with the ghosts for one night at least. He trips over a box of miscellanea in Sherlock's room, crashes headfirst into the wardrobe, and basically drags himself the last fifteen feet into the bed. The sheets smell clean but musty from disuse, but he is in too much pain to care. He knows he should call 'round to the clinic for someone to come check on him if he doesn't feel better in twelve hours (he took a cough suppressant before leaving, but he knows that's only going to help him sleep, not recover), but he can't find it in himself to care and besides he left his mobile in his coat pocket which is much too far away, across the room.
He falls into a restless, painful doze, which does nothing to ease his discomfort. It's only when, about three hours later, he registers the bedside lamp is apparently talking to him (in Russian, he thinks) that he realises he's probably very sick, and at the least has a fever high enough to mess up his thinking processes. He stumbles across the room for his mobile, ends up on the floor on the way back from dizziness when the carpet rears up to trip him, and decides he can just take a nap there for the time being after he fires off a text to Sarah to send someone 'round with some antibiotics and a fever reducer, because he's starting to scare himself and the lamp really will not shut up, doesn't it know he needs his rest?
He doesn't realize, in the haze before he slumps back to the floor, that his fingers hit S to search for her contact name and accidentally selected Sherlock from the list instead.
When he wakes again, it's a struggle to rise from layers upon layers of fog and cobwebs, thick and nauseous and choking, and his dreams of a cold Afghani night are mixing with the warmth of a pool and the smell of chlorine and someone's dragging him off the battlefield but he can't fight back and -
Ohhh, that's lovely. Soft, cool pillows and sheets. No longer on the floor, then, and what was he thinking, because heaven only knows what could be growing on the floor of Sherlock Holmes's bedroom. He will be lucky to wake up with all his parts not having been eaten away by something.
Someone laughs, thin and familiar, over his head (he's babbling, he vaguely realises but he can't really stop, now can he?), and he figures he can lose nothing (except possibly the meager contents of his stomach) by opening his eyes - so he does, and promptly screws them closed against this new hallucination. He wants to cry hysterically at the knowledge that the person his mind would conjure up for comfort when he's sick would be the one man he's tried very hard to get over during the last six months. And he was doing so well, too...
Questions, he thinks, sound in his ear, a hand - cold! - smooths against his forehead, and he ignores it in favor of falling asleep again, because that's far more preferable than lying awake trying to decide if he's just sick or losing his mind completely.
He never hears the worry in the familiar tone, or the guilt.
It's a good twelve hours later, he estimates (though it could be thirty-six, he doesn't know), when he wakes again, because it's again sunset, he can see the reddish light filtering 'round the edge of the blinds. He blinks drowsily against the soft light, and vaguely hears the sound of a violin in the other room. Bach, he hazards a guess, or possibly Beethoven...he would know for sure, except he's not got Sherlock anymore educating him about the wonders inherent in classical music. The music fades in and out, and he knows that this probably means he's still very sick. At least the lamp isn't talking to him anymore, and Sherlock's ghost has left the building.
He tries to get out of bed, because he's either hearing music or the radio just turned itself on (why it took him this long to realise that, he doesn't know), but barely has he taken a shaky step when his legs turn to rubber and he braces with a groan to hit the floor. Hard. Very hard. The floor is cold, even through the carpet, and there's a sheet twisted 'round his ankle, and he knows he had better get up and get some water before he makes the illness worse from dehydration. But his arms are weak as half-cooked noodles when he tries valiantly to push himself up, and he finally collapses back in a fit of coughing that threatens to turn his stomach lining inside out and knot up his bronchial tubes.
It's not that bad on the floor, he decides, limp and exhausted after the fit has passed. He was less comfortable in the army, after all. It's not until he lets his head fall back against his crooked arms that he realises the music has stopped, probably because the shock of falling dispelled the hallucination. Small favors.
He falls asleep again before he sees the bedroom door open, before he feels strong arms returning him to his borrowed bed, tucking limbs in and layering cold cloths.
He thinks it's probably several hours, in which he drifts on a sea of remembered voices and half-seen images, angels and demons and ghosts and any other spectral beings his mind can conjure up in an effort to rid his body from the virus which is burning its way through his lungs. The last time he felt this ill was that winter in Uni, when he had pneumonia - this is much more painful, and he is starting to weary of the fever-dreams.
Sometimes it's music, a screeching concerto or just a pop song butchered in classical style. Sometimes it's a remembered face, pale forehead and dark hair and blue eyes that are uncharacteristically concerned. Sometimes it's a case file, that dances before his eyes and makes him want to type in his blog - his book! it will be a book someday! - about how brilliant Sherlock was and how the man is not a fraud. Sometimes it's a horribly garish yellow smiley face which grows larger and larger and larger until he wants to hide under the bed from its relentless curved mouth and bullet-pocked eyes. And through it all, he sees the blue of Sherlock's scarf and the pink of a mobile phone and the yellow of the words I believe in Sherlock Holmes, and the scarlet thread of blood - so much blood - drenching it all against a backdrop of grey.
But sometimes the dreams are pleasant, peaceful. Sometimes it's his favorite songs on a violin in the hands of a talented musician. Sometimes it's a voice, droning pleasantly about inanities and just reassuring with a presence. Sometimes it's just a pleasant silence, and the knowledge that someone is watching over him - a guardian angel, perhaps, or else someone just caught on to the fact that he hasn't shown up to work today and sent a nurse 'round for him.
And once, toward the end, when he's a bit more lucid but still in that twilight between reality and fever-dream, he hears someone reading to him.
Her voice was so low that at first he could not make out what she said. Then he made it out. She was saying that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies.
Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.
He knows the story, has loved it from a child (especially as one of the Darling children is named John) - and oddly enough, he knows it's Sherlock's favorite childhood tale, no matter how many times the man will deny it. Swashbuckling pirates and a boy who is not bound by society's stringent requirements - it's no surprise to John why the man loved the book so. Odd, that his still hazy mind would choose this one to read as distraction and comfort. Strange, too, that it is this particular passage about which his subconscious chooses to read to him.
"Do you believe?" he cried.
Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.
She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn't sure.
"What do you think?" she asked Peter.
"If you believe," he shouted to them, "clap your hands; don't let Tink die."
A few beasts hissed.
The clapping stopped suddenly; as if countless mothers had rushed to their nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved. First her voice grew strong, then she popped out of bed, then she was flashing through the room more merry and impudent than ever.
He remembers seeing a play as a child in one of the London theatres, of clapping his hands as loud as ever he could, and shouting I do, I do, I do believe in fairies! until he was hoarse, and seeing the tiny light on the stage flicker into a warm glow as Tinkerbell lived. It was one of his few cherished childhood memories when the whole world just seemed right, somehow, and he learned as a boy that night, that the combined power of love, faith, and trust could conquer any and every other force in the universe.
"Do you believe, John?" the same voice is quiet, almost a whisper, and it takes him a muddled moment to realise Peter Pan is no longer being read. "Even after all that happened, after all I did and more - are you still so foolishly loyal, to believe in someone like me?"
He wants to respond, because even a hallucinatory Sherlock doesn't deserve to sound that despondent, but he can do little more than murmur a sleepy protest, head twitching to one side under the haze of half-consciousness. A cold hand briefly smoothes the frown wrinkles from between his eyebrows, lingering for a moment before the presence is withdrawn. The blankets are tucked around him snugly, for he is actually cold now instead of burning up as he has been, and he senses something looming over him, feels the gust of a silent sigh. The bed creaks as someone leans down, one hand close to his head, and speaks in his ear.
"You asked for a miracle, John," it says softly, and he tries his best to recognise the voice but he's just simply too tired. "But in order to have one...you must keep believing. Can you do that? For me?"
Believing in what? he wants to beg, because he has the feeling that this is important and he may not be lucid enough to remember tomorrow when he's not out of his head on painkillers and weak from exhaustion.
Something hard, papery - a book? - is slipped into his hand, tucked snugly under the coverlet. "Just for me," the voice whispers. "Keep believing. Please, John."
Then the voice is gone, and so is the presence which has hovered over him for the last however-long-it's-been. The violin begins anew, and he falls asleep, oddly enough, to the sounds of Auld Lang Syne.
The next morning, he awakes, slightly chilly, hungry, and feeling like something died inside his mouth. He tentatively makes it to the loo and back to bed, much relieved, before remembering with a jolt his fever-dreams of the last few hours...days? Days? Apparently three days, if his mobile's clock is to be believed (and he doesn't remember plugging it in to charge during those three days, either, which is worrisome).
He smiles, just a little, because for the first time he can think of Sherlock without pain, and that's an accomplishment to be celebrated. He decides to clean up a bit and see if he can make the trek down to Speedy's for a coffee and pastry, to mark the fact, but as he tosses the twisted sheets up onto the mattress something thumps to the floor, narrowly missing his toes. He bends down (cautiously, still a bit light-headed), and picks it up.
It's a well-worn, well-loved tome, that much even he can see (no deductive ability, just a mutual love of favorite childhood books). A child's favorite, one which was carried everywhere and read at every opportunity, one so well-loved that the cover is discoloured and the title barely legible (he has a battered Horatio Hornblower set himself, somewhere in a box). He brushes the dust off from the rug, and cracks the spine of the book curiously.
It's a copy of Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, but that's not what makes his breath catch in his throat, his pulse quicken, the fire of adrenaline banish any pretense he had entertained of thinking these last few days a dream. No, it is the scrawled This book is the propertie of Sherlock Holmes, Stay OUT Mycroft, scribbled in blue crayon on the inside cover.
And, below it, in a much more familiar, strong hand, is another line of manuscript, in ink this time.
No problem is final if you keep believing, John.
He drops heavily onto the bed, staring at the missive in his hands, and wonders if he dares.