Dying was not what he thought it would be.
John Watson had always presumed some sort of violent end for himself where there would be blood and fire and his eyes staring up at the sky, watching as the world slipped out of his reach forever. He thought there would be pain and then cold before the plunge into absolute darkness for all eternity. He imagined the desperate struggle to cling to life, fingers barely scraping at the last vestiges of humanity before going numb and then finally, finally disappearing.
But that was not how John Watson died.
There was no blood or fire or violence or letting death take him slowly to the next world. There was only the painful, ringing hollowness of knowing that his best friend was gone forever: that Sherlock Holmes had jumped and fallen and was now dead and buried. There had been a funeral and a coffin and a grave and Sherlock did not come back when John begged for one more miracle. There was nothing except the fresh dirt beneath his feet and the smell of rain and wilting flowers. Sherlock was no longer alive, and neither was John.
And because of that, it was easy to die.
All John had to do was kiss Ms. Hudson goodbye one last time and call Harry and Lestrade and the others to say that he was going to move on because he was dealing with things and yes, of course he was alright. This was all before pretending like he was just going out for another one of his aimless walks that led him nowhere and everywhere all at once. Not a single one of them knew he would never return and it was better that way, John decided. It was better that they didn't know he planned on ending his life entirely, because they would not understand. They could never understand that a world without Sherlock Holmes was a world in which John Watson could not bear to live. And so on that day, John took his gun and his wallet, placed them down onto the mahogany desk that separated him from Mycroft Holmes, and said:
"Make me disappear."
And Mycroft Holmes did.
Because John Watson died, he ceased to be who he was and instead became a number on a piece of paper that had such a high security clearance, even the Queen herself could not read it. His death had been legitimized somehow and people had probably attended a funeral and put flowers on his headstone and maybe even cried for him because that was what people did. John did not know exactly how the arrangements had been carried out and did not want to know. Sometimes, though, John wondered if his grave was situated next to Sherlock's, because he thought that, if he really had been dead, he would have liked that.
But John was not dead, merely nameless. He had no past and no friends: there was only a manilla folder with his next assignment and an array of passports that allowed him to freely travel from country to country with a different name and a different face.
And then there were the guns.
John lost count of how many guns he had been trained to use, just as he lost count of the number of people he had killed without blinking. When he went on assignment, there was not even the slightest hesitation before he pulled the trigger, because the men and women he went after were Moriarty's men and Moriarty was the one who caused Sherlock's death. John justified it this way so that he did not question his actions when heads of corporations got down on their knees and begged for their lives. Some even begged please God, let me live like he had done so long ago. But that was before: when John had been alive and cared about other people and loved Sherlock Holmes more than he could ever say. That was why John did not think about his moral obligations or his Hippocratic Oath or just plain human decency before shooting with all intents and purposes to obliterate life. In those moments he only had one thought: that Sherlock was dead and so was John and there was only one thing he could do about it.
And afterwards, there would always be another name with another plane ticket to another country and John would pick up another gun to go kill another person that had inadvertently caused his death. Every single time it felt like he was not doing enough and could never do enough to end all of it for good, so that he could finally follow Sherlock into the next world.
When would it be enough? He wondered, and then answered: It would not be enough until every last trace of Moriarty had been wiped clean from every corner of the earth.
So, he picked up his gun again.
"You make a terrible redhead, John."
That was how the conversation began: at an outdoor cafe in Rio de Janeiro while John was on undercover reconaissance. He had been minding his own business—watching the comings and goings of the Brazilian bank across the street—while sipping Colombian coffee with all the other international industrialists and investors at the cafe. He fit in with the crowd down to the Armani button up and expensive Blackberry and the stylish cane at his side, which is why he could not understand how he had been singled out at first. But the voice belonged to someone he knew and when John turned in his seat, he found himself staring at a beautiful woman in a white suit jacket. Her blond hair had been tied up under a white pillbox hat, exposing the pale curve of her neck and face, highlighting the only bit of color on her: a pair of very familiar red lips. Before this life, John might have dropped his cup in surprise or some other emotion while stumbling through some sort of response to the comment.
But that life was over: gone and buried.
"Blond is not your colour, Irene," he replied simply, though it hurt because of how much his directness reminded him of Sherlock.
If Irene noticed, she didn't say anything. Instead, she sat down and had coffee with him and told him things that he did not want to know about her life since her faked death in the Middle East. Mycroft's intelligence had been wrong about her, which was something John was only half-surprised to hear. Apparently, faking one's death was catching.
And if you were good at it, no one knew the truth.
"How are you?" she asked, and her eyes were no longer hiding behind her sunglasses, but looking at John like she really meant it. She wanted to know how are you in the context of Sherlock is dead and you loved him, I know it, don't lie, so how on Earth are you managing? He could see it in her eyes and at the pull of her mouth and it made John wish for the days when the most he had to worry about was the fear of Sherlock leaving him for someone as gorgeous and interesting as Irene Adler. But that life had disappeared the day Sherlock jumped, and John berated himself for thinking about the past.
It made his left hand tremble uncontrollably.
"Dead," he answered, hiding his hand under the table. Her face exposed nothing of her thoughts at his words, which were the honest truth. He was dead in more than one sense of the word and he did not appreciate her picking her perfectly manicured nails into his still-healing wounds.
"So am I," she replied, and there was something mysterious in her eyes that made John want to run away, like he had the first time they had met. She was dangerous and she was beautiful and Sherlock had probably loved her which meant John could not trust her as far as he could throw her.
She used her thumb to wipe a bit of lipstick from the rim of her cup as she smiled.
"So what do you think that says about Sherlock Holmes?"
He turned back to look at the bank and did not answer her, because there was too much hope welling up in his chest to be healthy. The thought was something he could not dwell upon, because John had killed himself on his first mission, when he killed a Ukranian minister in Kiev who had been aiding Moriarty in transporting guns across European borders from Russia. It was not the first time he had killed for Sherlock Holmes, but it was different. Sherlock no longer needed protecting; it was all about revenge. And revenge stripped people bare, right to the core, until there was nothing left but anger and hurt and the lust for retribution.
So even if Sherlock was not dead, John Watson was, and there was no way to bring him back.
John felt nothing but emptiness by day and full of broken glass at night.
He would wake, barely breathing, from dreams that left him retching and shaking for hours. Then John would lie in bed until dawn with nothing but his heartbeat and the slow return to an empty existence. It was all because the dreams were about falling and rain and blood and Sherlock. John hated it more than anything else in the world. He hated it because now when he thought about Sherlock, it was the Sherlock from his dreams and not the one from his memories: the bright, vibrant, beautiful Sherlock that he loved.
What colour had his eyes been again?
He laid awake for hours in a Paris hostel with this question ringing in his own ears.
John could not remember.
John hated cigarettes because they were terrible for the body: all that tar and nicotine wrecked havoc on the delicate functions of the lungs and nervous system and brain. He had hated cigarettes for as long as he could remember: the smell, the taste, the tickle of ash that always made him want to cough. But after a while, he found himself thinking of the way Sherlock loved them and yet, tried so hard to quit. His weakness for the rush, the high, of the nicotine was something that John honestly never found repulsive despite his hatred for the drug. Instead, he thought of the addiction as strangely beautiful because it proved that Sherlock Holmes had been just as average in his wants, needs, desires as everyone else. It made him more human: all the more touchable and palpable in John's mind.
It was the Sherlock that John had accepted and adored and loved without boundaries.
He hated cigarettes, but every year, on the anniversary of Sherlock's death, he smoked one.
Just for him.
John had scars.
He had always had scars and after his death, that did not change. The only thing that changed was that John kept getting more and more upon his body as time passed. They started out small, upon his fingers and hands before growing larger: a gash on his arm from a fuck-up in Prague, a hole in his thigh from a knife-fight-gone-wrong in a back alley in Brussels. Then there were the bullet holes he had cleaned and sewn up himself in less-than-sanitary hotels and the remnants of road rash that had nearly torn the skin on his back clean off after a high speed chase along the Audobon.
And then there was the single white line across his right eyebrow: just a small chunk of flesh missing from a stray bullet that would have taken out John's eye if he hadn't shot the offender first. It was just a jagged little line that made the hair not grow there anymore and gave John a fiercer gaze.
He had scars and they were ugly, but the deepest, ugliest ones were the ones inside.
The ones no one could see.
In St. Petersburg, John beat a man to death with his own hands.
Covered in hot blood, with adrenaline racing through his veins, John stood over the broken man's body for the longest time. John caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window: his own face distorted in shadow, dark and twisted. It stared back at him with the eyes of a stranger. Deep down in that place where his heart used to be, John Watson wondered what had become of him.
As a year turned into two, John began leaning on his cane with more frequency.
It was good cover, because no one expected a cripple to do much of anything, and if they did, he had a sword hidden inside to take care of the ever-curious. He knew that the pain was all in his head, because while on an assignment, his leg did not hurt when running away from bloody crime scenes and his hand did not shake when he had a target in the lens of his scope and pulled the trigger. There was only adrenaline driven thoughts of avenging Sherlock, leaving no room for pain. It was only the in between times when the agony took hold of him so badly that it felt like glass and syringes had filled up the entirety of his thigh. It left John sitting on park benches for hours to deal with it the best that he could. Those were the times he tried to distract himself with thoughts of flying over rooftops and running without fear of falling, because he was chasing the hem of a gray coat and the fringe of a blue scarf.
And Sherlock was always just a few steps ahead, smiling and laughing and calling out to him to hurry along. Sometimes John could not see his face, but sometimes he could with perfect clarity. And then he would put his head in his hands and wish he was dead enough to no longer want to cry.
One night, John thought he saw Sherlock standing on a street corner of a Lithuanian suburb.
And then he was gone.
John shot people and got shot at.
From time to time, they missed and from time to time, they didn't. It was one of the times when he hadn't been so lucky and he was running over rooftops with his heart hammering in his chest. John lept from building to building, soaring over alleyways and fire escapes like he owned the night itself. But he was running out of time and he knew it because no matter how he held the hole in his side, the blood would not stop flowing. Sharp breaths escaped from his lungs raggedly, begging for reprieve, but the preservation instinct in John's mind urged his body to keep going. Eventually the footsteps of his pursuers faded and he slowed down, gasping for air, but the cold midnight was unyielding and John could barely breathe.
Now, he had run out of rooftops and there were only stars above and over the brick ledge: an expanse of black, inky water.
Heated blood ran down his side, soaking through his shirt and jeans. The gun was so heavy against his back that John could hardly remain standing. This death of his had brought nothing but heaviness and loneliness and desperation and a burden that he could not carry any longer. It had brought him too many scars and dreams and broken bones. Too many hopes that Sherlock Holmes was somehow still within his reach.
Such unattainable things were unfair.
Sherlock Holmes was dead and not coming back. He had fallen and died because there had been no pulse and instead only the rain and the blood and it was like he couldn't stop drowning in it no matter how hard he tried to forget. Even dead, John's heart belonged to a man who would never hold it; it was the property of a man who never knew he owned it. And because Sherlock Holmes was dead, so, too, was John Watson.
He stood on the edge of the roof and looked down at the river—black and endless—below him. It called his name like the sweet caress of a lover. Jumping was always easy, but falling was the hardest part. Wasn't it? John put out is trembling, blood-covered arms. He felt the cold wind gnawing at his skin and the hot blood burning out of his body and the way his heart tried to tell him it was wrong to give up because just wait a little longer. But he was tired and Sherlock was gone and so was he, so there was nothing wrong with falling. Nothing at all.
So John closed his eyes...
But he could not die just yet.
It is impossible to kill a dead man.
That was how John had succeeded in bringing it all to an end. Three years and three months later and it was over. Case closed: file folders burned. Moriarty was finally gone for good after a seven month global pursuit of Sebastian Moran. And that was the day John put down his rifle and his handgun and forfeited his passports to go back to London.
It was just as he left it.
All the buildings still stood, the people he knew from that other life of his were living and growing old and doing all the things John could not. Harry was happy with another lover. Lestrade and his wife were reconciling; Lestrade was able to see his children more often. Sally had left the force for a lover in Scotland who was not married and perhaps respected her more than anyone else ever had. Anderson was still Anderson, though one wife less, John discovered, but could dredge up no sympathy.
Molly was still Molly: all awkward laughs and elbows and knees. She had been dating a normal man for two years who made her smile. When John passed her in the park, he saw her, but she did not see him. He also saw a ring on her finger and felt a surge of happiness for her. The same feeling came to his chest when he found that Ms. Hudson had moved on and was active as ever, nagging with all the love in the world at her new male friend who owned the shop next door. She still lived in 221 Baker Street and John wondered if it was because she hoped one day Sherlock and John would come home so she could constantly badger them with her endearing complaints of their noise and mess and keeping odd hours and for goodness sake, not your housekeeper. He discovered that he was smiling, but his cheeks were damp and cold and not soley from the rain.
It was in those moments of seeing familiar faces and smiles that John momentarily missed living.
But only momentarily.
There were two gravestones in Westpoint Cemetery that proved Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were both dead: side by side, just as they had been in life.
John went there even though it was cold and raining and he had no umbrella. He didn't care because he knew he had to say goodbye for real and no longer ask for miracles or continue to believe that he occasionally saw Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. Holding his breath, John reached out his hand and touched Sherlock's grave, much in the way he had years ago, begging for that miracle which was never granted. Don't be dead...can you do that for me? He could still hear himself pleading and it made his fingers tremble over the cold granite.
I'll be there soon.
There was nothing left: no Sherlock, no Moriarty. No more manilla folders and passports and guns. No more scars and cigarettes. No more dreams and no more pain. It was all over and all of John Watson's life and death was rooted there in that moment, when he had the choice to use the gun in his belt to finally leave the world behind.
It was better than waking up alone again; waking up alone again in a world without Sherlock.
John reached for his gun and brought it around in front of him. He checked the clip and the chamber. He removed the safety. He looked ahead at the two graves in front of him. And he smiled because finally, finally—
He could disappear.
And he did.