Many thanks to my amazing beta thyla23! For those who care, I have this story on A03 now since I can't update it on FF.N from my ipad...hence updates on here will be less frequent, but since I started it on here I figured I may as well complete it on here too! :)
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. –Mark Twain
15, MAY 2011
Last night, he dreamt he stood in a china shop so crowded from floor to far off ceiling with shelves of porcelain antiques that moving even a muscle would send some of them crashing down to bits. Exactly what happened, but instead of a crashing noise, each sound that should have been the sound of glass breaking was nothing more than eerie silence. He's had that dream every night now since the Fall and every night he prays and prays that he doesn't have it again. Although he would never admit it, the dream unnerves him somewhat. Is it foreshadowing or just a metaphor?
He can't decide.
He's spent the last week and a half in his pyjamas and dressing gown; there's really no point to getting dressed in real clothes anymore. For the last eleven days, he has sipped his coffee (five times a day, like clockwork) and idly twiddled with various objects around the tiny flat. He's read an inordinate amount of books (some good, most dull). A few days ago, he had even painted a yellow smiley face on the wall. He had frowned upon completion. Even with bullet holes in it, it didn't look like the one in 221B.
Tonight is the last night of his self-imposed incarceration. After the Event this evening (which he so unceremoniously is denied attendance due to the lack of expected turn out. The irony would have been riveting) he has been granted permission to roam about the city again, hiding in plain sight. For how long he will continue his ruse, he has not yet determined. Until its all fine again, he supposes.
It's late and it's raining. Dark outside. Sherlock lounges in his chair facing the window, bare feet resting against the windowsill, watching the raindrops barrage the glass panes. He's dressed in his loose fitting pyjamas, cup of coffee in hand (his fourth, need a fifth soon). The unnamed London street in front of him is wet and reflective from the rain. There is minimal traffic and so Sherlock watches the people stream on by, umbrellas raised, unknowing of the dead man, who now lives above and watches them, thinking. He looks on down, thinking about-how did he once put it? "The crushing tedium of boring people with their boring everyday grievances"? And inevitably with that, he thinks about the one thing, the one and only thing that saved him from his own crushing tedium of boring everyday grievances-
Stop it-stop thinking. It will be fine, it will all be fine someday. Stop thinking. Just be.
But Sherlock Holmes cannot just be. He restlessly taps his fingers together in unconscious concordance with the raindrops hitting the window. While doing so, to further distract himself, Sherlock looks over at the clock, hanging sadly upon the grey wall. All so grey, all so boring in this tiny little God-forsaken flat. 8:31pm. The Event is finally over (well, mostly over) and so Sherlock knows that now is the finally ideal time to do what he has been aching and aching to do for the few hours:
The new mobile phone given to him eleven days ago utilizes advanced technology that does not yet exist outside of government testing facilities. In addition to being heavily encrypted, Sherlock's new mobile phone wipes its conversation memory once a text has been received and read. No record at all. There are several numbers programmed in the phone, but the one and only one that he can text right now has the exact same encryption and its conversation history wiped as well. A ghost of a phone for a ghost of a man. He had sworn up and down that it would strictly be used for emergencies only until after tomorrow. They had agreed before the Fall; he hadmade Sherlock agree to lie as low as possible until after tonight's Event. It had been the one time in his life that Sherlock had actually acquiesced to his requests with minimal protestation. Since he did go to all of the trouble to fake his own death, he might as well follow through all the way, right?
Sherlock had already texted this other person earlier in the week and much to Sherlock's displeasure, no response. How predictable though. Boring. He knew that the other party had received the texts (he always receives the texts), and his lack of participation made Sherlock irritated, if only for a few moments. After irritated, Sherlock would go back about pacing the flat, turning on the telly, lying upside down on the couch with his feet on the wall, just anything to stop the thinking.
So what was the harm in texting this specific person again tonight? None, none at all. After tomorrow it wouldn't really matter any way. And so Sherlock Holmes reaches down from where he is still languishing, picks up the sleek phone currently resting on the windowsill and impulsively begins to text the one and only number he is allowed to text until tomorrow with the single word-
He smiles a perfunctory smile to himself (of course to himself, who else would be here?).
Regarding the person on the other side receiving that text, Sherlock believes that if he provokes him enough, tonight, of all the nights, he might just get a bite. Like fishing (had he ever been fishing? Maybe when they were boys, but clearly those memories had been deleted if they actually ever existed.) He knows that the Event should be mostly over by now and that that person on the receiving end will most likely be standing dryly in the corner, omnipotent and unemotional as always. The person who never texts when he can talk, but he can't talk now can he?
Three minutes go by and no response. He drums his fingers restlessly against the now blank screen. Sherlock knows the Event is mostly over-he knows-and is slightly irritated that out of sheer principle this other party won't text him back unless entirely necessary. He always did stand on a ridiculous amount of principle. However, unshaken in his resolve, Sherlock tries again.
If the other party doesn't respond eventually, he might as well just go about texting Molly, or Mrs. Hudson for that matter, or even-
No. Stop thinking. Focus on something else instead. Just be.
Sherlock instinctively knows, he knows the exact question he has to ask in order to increase the propensity of getting the person on the receiving end to react. It's like fishing, really, right? He knows the question but instead, tonight of all nights, he wants to have a little fun first (and why not? With the Event, how deliciously ironic.) He wants to imagine the person on the receiving end who, normally so calm and unemotional, is now panicking silently at the frequency in which their secret phone is going off.
But texting wouldn't be any fun without subject matter. So, sipping his coffee, he first tries vague insults:
You only sent me six books today and I've already read five before.-SH
Really, why on earth would you leave me with anything written by Chaucer?-SH
Bad move on your part.-SH
You've always had horrid taste in literature.-SH
Five minutes go by without a response. Next, he tries being annoying:
So, so bored.-SH
I. AM. BORED.-SH
Is this what having a real life is actually like? Being bored all the time?-SH
You did get my violin today, right? You did promise.-SH
If you'd been by to drop it off earlier, this wouldn't be happening.-SH
Do you mind if I light things on fire here? This flat is under your alias after all. -SH
Seriously, fire. Fetching the matches now.-SH
Another three minutes go by and still no response. He knows at this point, the other party is most likely trying his hardest to ignore the constant buzzing in his pocket and continue on at The Event as diplomatically as possible. So next, Sherlock tries the one incident that he knows will elicit at least some response.
If I hear that you told the story about when we went to Scotland for that summer holiday and encountered those...sheep, so help you.-SH
He waits five minutes this time. But the fish is not biting, not snapping at any of the inflammatory and superfluous messages (Fair. He didn't earlier in the week, why would he now? Maybe he was counting too much on the effects of The Event) Finally, now starting to get bored again, Sherlock tries the approach that he knows (heknows), should elicit a response. With the person on the receiving end now primed and ready to go after Sherlock's barrage of texts, this should be relatively straightforward:
How is my funeral? -SH
Penny in the air. This time, barely thirty seconds pass by before the fish finally bites:
He can hear Mycroft's wry smile in the answer. Perhaps his brother has texted back out of mere frustration (probably), but he has broken the silence at last. However, Mycroft's next text is almost instantaneous and of a very different nature:
Are you mad?-M
Always a trickier question than it looks.
I doubt it-SH
Sherlock takes a sip of coffee as the next text vibrates through.
We agreed that this would be for emergencies ONLY until after tomorrow; your new phone technically does not exist.-M
Hah. Only Mycroft would use a semi-colon in a text. Sherlock can feel the first grin in over a week and a half slowly grow over his features as he types out his response. It's surprisingly painful, smiling again, and the thought of how much it hurts to smile suddenly makes him feel inexplicably sad.
He always knew how to get Sherlock to smile. He knew. He didn't have to even do anything, anything at all, all he had to do was be himself. Just be-no, no. It's fine, it's fine. He was fine. It was all going to be fine.
Sherlock distracts himself by replying to his brother.
It is an emergency. I'm dead. You should be worried.-SH
The parry comes back a little too quickly. Mycroft is obviously irritated:
And somehow, I'm not. -M
Really Mycroft? You arse. Sherlock can imagine Mycroft, dressed in black on black, leaning against his umbrella, surreptitiously (and exasperatedly) texting his dead brother as he tried to fend off mourners and well-wishers who wanted to talk to the ostensible British Government. In his mind, he could see Mycroft sigh after sending that last text, slip his secret phone back into the pocket of his trousers, check his pocket watch, and give the next customary smile and nod to whoever wished to talk to him next. Mycroft was always so good at playing politics, but Sherlock didn't yet want their conversation to end.
And so before he even knows he's doing it (is he doing it now? Yes he is, how funny), Sherlock begins to instinctively deduce. It's like a case, only less complicated. He knows the victim and the perpetrator both all too well. Holmes against Holmes; and only one could win.
Deduction: His insulting/annoying/inflammatory attempts didn't work; Mycroft only responded when asking about the funeral, therefore he must be feeling slightly sentimental going through a superficial grief cycle (or something of that nature, isn't that what normal people do?). Or, he's hungry (probably that too), but for the sake of the argument, we'll go with sentiment.
Sentimentality was always his brother's weakness and so Sherlock plays upon that card. He puts on the disguise of the dead brother who after having a taste of his own mortality is now sad and alone and wondering if he's even made an impact on the world in which he had lived.
Not too far off, actually (but he'd never admit it.)
Sherlock pulls his knees to his chest and perches on the chair excitedly, much like he used to always do in 221B. It's a game now, finally a game and one that he can play after eleven days of virtual solitary confinement. He glances down at the mobile phone and then chooses his next words carefully to continue the facade that is not so much a facade. He wonders if Mycroft knows that he's lying (he deduces that he probably does. Mycroft always knows.)
Are a lot of people there?-SH
The answer comes faster than Sherlock would have expected. Maybe Mycroft is still irritated, or bored, or just simply tired of pretending to be sad. Maybe Mycroft misses him (Yes? No. No.) None the less, Mycroft is an actual participant in the conversation and that is all that matters to Sherlock at this instant.
Lot of press earlier. Now, only the ones who matter are.-M
The ones who matter? Let's see. Who was that? The ones who matter to Sherlock, he can count are on one hand: Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, Molly, Mummy and-
A sharp intake of breath.
John Watson. Dr. John Hamish Watson. After days of denial, it felt so good to think it, to feel it, to say it (is he saying it out loud now? He is.)
JohnandJohnandJohnandohGod, only John.
When he said he could the ones that matter on one hand, he really only meant John.
And there, he had said his name. And look, Sherlock was fine. Just fine. Absolutely fine living in a world without his best friend, his rock, and anchor. The man, who, in a perfect world, he would have wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with. But the man, in this world, that for the very reasons of protecting him, he cannot. The man who he so drew in with his ultimate final act of the Fall—(Oh he didn't want to think about this now—he had been doing so well)-to make the stakes even higher and make the grief even more indelibly real. And it was tragic and real-the grief was real, it was so very real and so very raw for both of them. But it was worth it, it was so, so worth it all to keep John alive. After all, Sherlock told himself time and time again (and time and time and TIME again), a world with John Watson alive in it was a far more beautiful place than a world where he was dead. Right?
But for the moment, addictive personalities (his) breed addictive behaviours (smoking/deducing/faking his own death), and so, at the moment, instead of Sherlock being able to focus on something else-anything else-(and not the Fall. No more tonight.), all he can focus on now is one word, and that one word is John. The one word that currently means more to him than any other word on the face of the planet. With the self imposed limitations of denial now lifted, Sherlock suddenly wants to know more than anything in the world-no, not wants-has to know more than anything in the world how John Watson (his John), is coping (or lack thereof.)
And so Sherlock obsessively begins to type the question he cannot ask into the text box of his mobile phone over and over and over again, each attempt sounding wrong.
How is-no. Delete. That's stupid.
What is- No. Idiotic.
Is he- Even more redundant.
Sherlock pauses, frustrated at himself as he grapples with the correct wording. He had always said that caring was a disadvantage and now if he didn't phrase it right, Mycroft could read the subtext and see exactly how deep the disadvantage actually ran. And it was deep. Unfathomably, inexplicably deep.
...because he didn't just care for John Watson, you see. No, he lov-
No. Don't say it (it hurts too much, for both of them.) Actually wait, yes, do say it. Just type it in and send it to Mycroft and be done with it. After all, as Mummy always said, an implausible truth can serve better than one plausible fiction.
However, the problem at present is that too much time has gone by between his texts. The problem is that Sherlock knows Mycroft too well and Mycroft will know what this pause in conversation inevitably means. And Sherlock knows that despite an inkling of sentimentality, Mycroft is still his brother, ever-taunting and ever-mocking and probably the one person who really knows how to play Sherlock for who he is. And so, after five minutes of staring numbly at his mobile phone and not quite finding the right words (would he ever find the right words?), Sherlock receives the much dreaded (and half way expected) verbal parry from his brother-
Do you want to know what we found when we went to pick him up at your little flat today?-M
Sherlock doesn't respond.
He could count the times in his life when he didn't want to respond. The Woman's texts, yes. Those unnerved him and threw him off of his usual game. He had let the rest of society chalk it up to latent sexuality (which they really knew nothing of. Really, it should be so obvious as to who he was keen for.) In actuality, Sherlock had felt nothing for The Woman, besides the fact that he disliked the feeling that someone could have actually been smarter than him. Someone could out manipulate the ultimate manipulator (really though, once all of this was over, he would have to try her no clothing tactic the next time he met an arch nemesis. That was good.) During that time of uncertainty with The Woman, John, yes John, had been his touchstone-the one thing he could look to for steadfast support. John, the predictable jumpers, those understanding eyes, that knowing smile that lit up his entire face (and Sherlock's entire world), tea and coffee in on a rainy evening. During that time of uncertainty and instability and the questioning of his very foundation, in Sherlock's mind, John Watson had been home.
John Watson is his home.
And now Sherlock is aching, surprised at the amount of raw emptiness that thinking of John brings about. He sips his coffee and looks at his mobile phone, growing more numb by the second. The ache is dull and hollow and something that he has been forcing himself not to think about for the entire week and a half, but he's thinking about it now and it hurts.
Another full five minutes pass by before Mycroft's next text arrives. Sherlock doesn't even realize he has been staring at a completely blank screen until it lights up with another message from his brother.
You really don't want to know?-M
This was not the way that this conversation was supposed to go. It was supposed to be him playing Mycroft, not the other way around. Another text-
So talkative and now so silent. -M
Mycroft, always turning the tables. Sherlock should have seen it coming, but as usual, he always misses something.
For curiosity's sake, I've attached a picture.-M
Sherlock pulls his knees up on the chair, defensively now, curling into a ball as he watches the screen wipe itself clean. He hears the distinctive beep of a received picture message but instead of checking it, he sets down the mobile phone on the windowsill and turns it over. If he can't see whatever Mycroft sent him, it doesn't exist (kind of like, if he doesn't think about John, he won't realize how insurmountably empty his life is right now.)
Besides, he was out of coffee anyway.
No more time for texting, instead it was time for another cup of coffee, his fifth and final for the day. Sherlock stretches in his chair (and checks outside, still raining? Good. Dramatic!) He stands up and makes his way to the kitchen, trying his best to ignore the phone sitting on the windowsill. However, Mycroft knows this and knows his brother's ultimate weakness is curiosity and so the phone vibrates again as Mycroft resends the picture.
And again. And again. And again. Sherlock is in the kitchen now, pouring himself his fifth and final cup of coffee for the day and he can hear the damned phone vibrating against the plaster on the windowsill. Mycroft has turned the tables and is sending him the damned picture over and over again until he knows that Sherlock can't take it anymore (and he can't, he really can't.) It was only fair, really. He did provoke Mycroft earlier with the same behaviour, right?
And so, Sherlock returns from the kitchen, and settles back down into his chair, pulls his knees close and takes a sip of fresh coffee. He listens to the rain for a moment and stares as the phone, now ominously full of pictures.
Damn you, Mycroft.
Sighing with resignation, Sherlock reaches one arm down and turns his mobile phone over. He scrunches his brow and mentally braces himself for the worst before clicking on the image. However, instead of a picture of something like Sherlock had expected, like John dead, John disheveled and haunted, John looking like more of a ghost than the actual dead man himself, the picture is somewhat more confusing. Sherlock's eyes narrow unconsciously as he looks at the mobile phone screen. It is a picture of their living room at 221B Baker (really Mycroft, what are you playing at?) Structurally, it looks exactly the same, nothing has been moved around or taken out of place. The smiley face, John's desk, the Union Jack pillow, his chair, their skull portrait, their couch. Check, check and check. Nothing has been changed (right? Right.) Predictable, the usual.
Really, Mycroft, what-
-and then Sherlock's eyes open wide as he observes what exactly is covering floor, the coffee table, the desk, and the chairs, and almost every available surface in their living room at 221 B Baker-
Coffee cups, approximately 50-55.
They are of varying types, colours, shapes, and sizes. A few Sherlock recognized are his own from the kitchen (he should have asked Mycroft to retrieve that Loch Ness one, he rather liked it), some are from the cafe down Baker street several blocks where he and John tended to frequent on weekends and/or lazy rainy mornings. Several are brown paper cups that he doesn't recognize maybe from the north side of town (why would John be going up there? Oh wait, Harry lived up there, didn't she?) However it doesn't matter where they're from, because upon all of the paper cups, scrawled in black marker on the sides, always different handwriting, are different variations of his name. Some correct, some incorrect, but it's always there. His name written almost 55 times by various baristas: "Sherlock", "sherlock", "Sherlok", "Sure-lock", "Sherlock."
55 coffee cups, 5 X 11, five times a day every day since he had died.
Mycroft's next two texts follow before Sherlock can register the unfathomable emptiness that the image so strongly evoked (caring was a disadvantage, it was a disadvantage because it hurt so damned much.)
In case you can't use your usual skills of deduction from afar, brother, John Watson has brought you your coffee five times a day over the last week and a half. -M
Does that answer the question that you can't bring yourself to ask?-M
Another text? What was Mycroft doing? Shouldn't he be busy mourning right now?
However, this one makes Sherlock smile:
And now Mummy says I look like an insensitive idiot texting at my dear brother's funeral. Will meet with you tomorrow, as planned.-M
Despite the fact he feels like he's hollow inside, Sherlock can't resist having that last final word.
Any more than three pieces of cake tonight and they'll know I'm alive. -SH
Oh, good. That one was good. Sherlock smiles to himself and keeps smiling until approximately thirty three seconds later when he receives the unexpected reply:
There's no cake at your funeral, Sherlock-M
His eyes narrow after reading Mycroft's final words. No cake? How criminal. He would have thought that every funeral should have cake. Especially his funeral (his fake funeral.) If John Watson had organized his fake funeral as opposed to Mycroft, he would have had cake there because he would have known, he would have known that seeing Mycroft struggle not to eat it all throughout the night would have made Sherlock laugh, which would have made John laugh. And hearing John Watson laugh was perhaps the greatest sound in Sherlock's world, ever.
But Sherlock would never hear that laugh again.
Or would he? He would, right. One day he would, right? It would all be fine one day, somehow and they would be reunited and everything would be back to normal. Just he and John Watson and 221B Baker and everything beautiful and perfect just the way it had been (since he had met John.)
But for now...
For now he has to be fine with things the way they are. Right? He has to be fine with it all. And as much as Sherlock wants nothing more than to go to 221B Baker tonight, throw his arms around John, to hold him and cry with him and tell him (tell him!) how he is actually alive and how it's all going to be fine because they're together-
And Sherlock is fine, just fine (or so he tells himself. He tells himself over and over and OVER again just as he has for the last eleven days; the last eleven days while John Watson has been bringing him coffee and pretending that he's fine, just fine, as well.)
Sherlock looks at the clock. 9:36pm. The Event is over, finally. He sets his now empty cup of coffee back down on the windowsill, stretches, and finally flops from his chair to the couch. Sherlock curls up in a ball on the couch, legs tucked to his chest and prays for sleep to come early. He does so because he truly believes a world with John Watson alive in it is a far better place than a world without John Watson at all (absolutely. He believes in that more than he's ever believed in anything before.)
But John Watson is still bringing him coffee and Sherlock Holmes is still pretending that he can survive in a world without him.
That night, he dreams of the china shop again so crowded from floor to far off ceiling, but this time, his movements bring not some but all of the porcelain figures crashing down. Exactly what happened, but tonight, each sound that should be the sound of glass breaking is only the sound of his name-
John and John and John and John.