The first month was the hardest.
The first night I returned to our flat, I sat in my chair for hours in my bare feet, just staring at the empty chair across from me. I fell asleep staring at his chair, memorizing the little creases and the faint indentions in the leather. I couldn't cry. I couldn't move.
For a month I crawled into Sherlock's bed each night, crying silently and inhaling the faintly familiar smelling sheets. It was not how I had pictured my first time sleeping in his bed—I could no longer think on such things. Suddenly such normal things became so very difficult: moving was tedious; my leg refused to cooperate; the tea stayed in its canisters; the laundry piled up.
The next month I left the flat. Mycroft paid Sherlock's share of the rent and I took a job at the hospital. The daily gore of the trauma ward distracted me during the day. Sewing up the wounds, stopping the bleeding—all of it was a hopeless attempt to fix what had broken that fateful morning.
The heart is an elusive creature. The military had given me the composure to handle the daylight hours—after all, I had served in Afghanistan. I had seen good people die before and carried on, fixing what I could, comforting what I couldn't.
There was no one left to fix me.
My limp had returned, and no one bothered to tell me that it was psychosomatic. I was Poor Doctor Watson, the limping ex-army ex-detective ex-boyfriend. I couldn't even think about having a girlfriend. It somehow seemed unsacred or disrespectful; besides, there wasn't a girl alive that could fill the shattered spaces he'd left behind. One melancholy evening I got drunk, and I swear I fell asleep in an alleyway, but somehow I woke up in our old flat. I didn't go there often anymore and generally slept at the hospital. Someone had left out a pot of tea that was still warm when I woke up, and Mrs. Hudson swore that she hadn't brewed it.
I started to question my sanity.
Eventually Lestrade stopped calling to check on me, and I saw Mrs. Hudson less and less frequently. Mycroft never telephoned me again after I punched him at the funeral. "He loved you, John," Mycroft said though a bloody tissue held to his nose. "I'm so sorry," I heard him whisper as Lestrade pulled me away. I was so angry at Mycroft—I felt that his wanton story telling had cost the world far too much. I couldn't help but to blame him for Sherlock's death—I tried to blame Sherlock, and they were calling it suicide, but I couldn't make it stick. It was a closed casket funeral—the last I saw of his face had been covered in blood. I was angry at him for leaving me like that, or at least I wanted to be. Staying angry at Sherlock was damn near impossible; it felt wrong. I trusted him, Lestrade trusted him, Molly trusted him; we knew he was real. Still, sometimes he seemed to pass over me like a dream, a figment barely out of reach, something I didn't quite understand. Even if he had taken it to his grave, I felt that his secret was somehow all around me, and that I was simply too inane to assimilate the clues. Molly avoided me as much as she could, and I stopped bringing her coffee in the morning. After all, we worked on different floors now anyway.
Three months later the nightly crying had stopped. The nightmares persisted for four more months, but I grew accustomed to them. I was almost sad when they stopped—I was afraid, so afraid of forgetting that he was real. I had taken the skull with me to my new flat and told him things I could never tell my therapist. I felt morbid at first, but soon we settled into an easy routine. He was an amiable enough skull once you got to know him.
Nine months later I started to see people. I threw myself into a pitiable attempt to be social with my coworkers. I watched trash telly and went out for drinks. I was miserable.
A year later I met Mary. We started going out, and it seemed to be going pretty well until the first night she invited me to her house. I was trying so hard to lose myself in kissing her, just losing myself in the feelings it all. I was overwhelmed and I started saying her name.
She stopped. "Who is Sherlock?" she asked, drawing back. "You were whispering 'Sherlock.'" God, no, I thought, realizing that I was crying out of shame and embarrassment and grief. Shaking, I tried to explain, to apologize, but it was no use. I couldn't say the right words. They all seemed too shallow and empty to describe him.
I dated Mary on and off for two more years. She was understanding of my loss—Lestrade had called her and explained what I couldn't. Going out with her almost seemed peculiar at first—no criminals to be caught, no gunfire, no brilliant deductions—I could actually finish a spaghetti dinner. She didn't turn up her collar and gaze into the distance or insult the other people at the restaurant. No one insinuated that we were gay. I never forgot my cane when we got up to leave, and no one would have bothered to return it if I did. "John," she was saying. I almost didn't recognize my own name when she said it. "John, you're spacing out again." I couldn't help it—as much as I tried to keep him in his corner, he did as he pleased. He walked all over my mind whenever he felt like it, and I was helpless to stop it. It had been nearly three years. Would it ever stop?
Sometimes I thought he just didn't know what he meant to me. What killed me was the senselessness—I knew there had to be a reason for it all, but I couldn't figure it out. It was classic Sherlock—always mysterious, even in death. "Bastard," I said to the skull.
It stared at me quietly.
"I didn't mean it," I sighed. "I loved him, you know."
The skull smiled sadly, casting me a glance of pity from its perch upon the mantle.
"Harry says I should settle down. She thinks getting married would be good for me."
It threw me a skeptical glance.
"I know, but maybe I should try. I don't know how much longer I can last like this," I whispered.
So that Christmas I asked her to marry me. We planned our wedding for the spring, and for a while things were looking up. Mary was so busy with planning and decorating everything; I tried to savor the last days of my bachelorhood. I invited some of my coworkers to my bachelor party at the local pub.
I got plastered. "Confirmed bachelor! Can you believe that?" I shouted. "What are they implying? Confirmed bachelor," I spat. "Looks like I've shown them now! I can have a boring domestic life too!" Eventually everyone left, but I kept drinking and shouting at strangers until the manager threw me out. I stumbled forward, hoping to get a cab, but suddenly I was tasting cobblestone and I heaved and coughed and—
"John, you've got to stop this," said a faint voice. He made a little noise of exasperation that sounded vaguely familiar, but I blacked out before I realized what was happening. When I woke up at Baker Street I thought I must have been dreaming, but I decided that I wasn't on the account that I've never experienced a hangover in any of my dreams. Everything was just as we had left it in our old flat; Mrs. Hudson refused to go up there and Mycroft kept paying the rent. I sat up in Sherlock's bed and checked the time. I had several worried text messages from Mary, who had expected me to come home last night. It was already noon, and my wedding was tonight. I felt groggy and strangely reluctant to return to Mary's flat and get ready for my wedding, but I did. I pulled myself out of those old memories and threw myself into the cold London air. My whole body ached and I almost began to cry when I noticed the scratches on my old phone—Harry's old phone. It had been fantastic, the way he looked at my phone and told me who I was. Even though it was getting old, I couldn't bring myself to get a new phone. Sentiment, you know.
And here I was on my wedding night, listening to the preacher give a speech about husbandry and thinking about Sherlock. Christ, I thought. Why am I thinking of him now?
I glanced nervously at Mary, smiling slightly before looking away to escape her ensnaring gaze. I resented him for ruining the moment. I shouldn't be thinking of him—this moment was for me and Mary. Besides, it had been three years; I had moved on with my life. There was an audience of friends watching me now, most of whom had never known Sherlock, waiting politely through the dull sermon. The preacher customary asked for objections, and the air was silent and heavy with anticipation. The moment was so close; I was sweating; they crowd was smiling; Sherlock was running down the aisle—
"I object!" He yelled, dashing towards me.
I gaped at him, thinking I must be dreaming. Lestrade stood up and gasped; Mrs. Hudson shrieked; the congregation stared blankly, uncomprehending. I sighed in relief as I realized that I wasn't hallucinating, that others were seeing him too, and suddenly he grabbed my hand and I felt his slender, cold fingers—
"See, John? It's okay. I'm real," he was saying, gently keeping me from stumbling over backwards.
"Sh— Sherlock— how?" I breathed. "What the hell are you doing?" I gazed up in confusion.
"Shhh," he whispered. "Saving you from making a big mistake."
"John, who is this man?" Mary was saying somewhere behind me.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade was yelling in confusion. "How did you—" he paused.
But Sherlock had already closed the space between us, and I smelled him, warm and very much alive. I slowly realized he was kissing me on the altar on my wedding night.
I was vaguely aware of the preacher exhaling in disgust, of Mary dashing out of the room, of Lestrade's mouth hanging open as he tried to process the situation—but mostly I felt him, and I knew I would be whole again.
Then it was over and I drew back as the situation dawned on me. "You bastard!" I spat, punching him in the face. "You faked your own suicide, and now you have the nerve to ruin my wedding!" Another punch. "I cared about you—" Sherlock caught my firsts mid-swing, his dark puppy eyes paralyzing me.
"John, I didn't think you'd be so affected…" For once, he seemed to be at a loss for words. "I can explain…" he murmured, collecting himself.
I exhaled sharply. "You can 'explain'? You've been gone for three years!"
He frowned. "Let's just go back to the flat—"
I froze. "Oh God," I sighed. "It was you. You're the one who took me there last night—"
He smiled wryly. "I've just been trying to protect you, John…Besides, you were utterly wasted. I've been watching over you this whole time…"
Overwhelmed, I ran my fingers through my hair. "Let's just go back to Baker Street and talk about this over a nice cup of tea," I suggested.
His crooked smile answered me, and we strolled down the aisle together towards the exit, laughing at our own absurdity.
"Evening, Detective Inspector," Sherlock shouted to Lestrade on the way out the door.
The cold night air hit me square in the face and I inhaled excitedly as I resumed my post next to Sherlock. It seemed so natural, and I realized that I was happy again. He had somehow madly answered my miraculous wish to return to my life.
He didn't get very far in his explanation.
I didn't cry this time when I fell asleep in his bed.