"Hello?" John presses his phone to his ear as he closes the door to the taxi.
"Hey, Sherlock, you okay?" Sherlock sounds different. He can't quite put his finger on it, but there's something off about his voice.
"Turn around and walk back the way you came." John looks around. He can't see anybody, but he wouldn't put it past Sherlock to be hiding somewhere.
"No, I'm coming in."
"Just do as I ask! Please." Now he's worried. Sherlock sounds panicked. Not the usual kinds of panicked, either; this isn't 'I need to solve this now' panic, nor is it 'I need a fix of something' panic. John's chest constricts- something about this is wrong. Very wrong.
"Where?" John walks around, looking.
"Sherlock?" He keeps turning, inspecting the windows now- he still can't find him.
"Okay, look up, I'm on the rooftop." What? John turns towards St. Bart's hoping that he's misunderstood- but no, there he is, standing on the ledge. He's standing on the ledge.
"I- I- I can't come down, so we'll just have to do it like this."
"What's going on?" John asks the question but something is telling him that he doesn't want to know the answer.
"An apology." Sherlock pauses, and John isn't sure what to say. Sherlock rarely apologises and when he does, it's usually to get something he wants rather than because he actually means it. "It's all true."
Well, John knew that already. Why would Sherlock be telling him again? "What?"
"Everything they said about me. I invented Moriarty." No. This wasn't possible. John can't process what he's hearing- it just doesn't make any sense. Everything he's seen since the day he met Sherlock has been unbelievable...but real. He's sure. No. There's something else. There has to be something else behind this. There always is.
"Why are you saying this?" he says, but what he wants to say is 'who's making you say this? What's going on? Could you just for once let me in on your little game?'
"I'm a fake." He sounds broken. The man on the other end of the phone looks like Sherlock, his voice is similar, he's wearing the coat and the scarf, but he's not Sherlock. Sherlock has never sounded like this. He sounds like the world has shattered around him and John doesn't know why.
"The newspapers were right all along. I want you to tell Lestrade, I want you to tell Mrs. Hudson and Molly. In fact, tell anyone who will listen to you that I created Moriarty for my own purposes." John's head is spinning. He can't understand what's going on and it hurts, but it won't stop.
"Okay, shut up, Sherlock. Shut up. The first time we met-" when you dazzled me, when I knew you were something else, when I knew you were what I'd been waiting for but I didn't even know I was missing something- "the first time we met- you knew all about my sister, right?"
"Nobody could be that clever."
"You could." And John believes it. He believes it more than anything and nothing that anyone can say- not even Sherlock himself- will convince him otherwise. Sherlock is impossible but the only thing more impossible would be it all being a lie. It has to be true. It wasn't just a dream.
Sherlock laughs a little. There's a pause, and John thinks he's stumped him. He's proven it- Sherlock is lying now but John still doesn't know why. "I researched you," says Sherlock, sounding cavalier, "Before we met, I discovered everything that I could to impress you. It's just a trick. A magic trick."
It can't be. Even with research, how could he have known about Harriet's drinking? It wasn't exactly a matter of public record. John decides it's gone far enough and starts off towards the hospital. This game was too much. No more, now.
"No, all right, stop it now."
"No! Stay exactly where you are! Don't move!" Sherlock sounds panicked again. Not wanting to provoke him into doing anything stupid, John stops walking.
"All right," he says, raising his free hand. He looks up and Sherlock has stretched out his arm.
"Keep your eyes fixed on me. Please, will you do this for me?" John feels sick. Something is wrong.
"This phone call, it's...it's my note. That's what people do, don't they? Leave a note." He sounds detached. John understands but doesn't want it to be true, he wants to be wrong but he knows he isn't.
"Leave a note when?"
"No, don't-" He sees Sherlock hang up and throw the phone aside. "Sherlock!" he shouts, but he knows he's too late. Nothing feels real as he watches everything unravel around him- Sherlock, throwing his arms out; stepping forwards and falling...John's feet won't move quickly enough as he tries to run...then something hits him and he falls, ears ringing...he can see that he's hit the floor but he can't feel it, he knows he needs to get to Sherlock but his limbs won't respond.
After what feels like an age, he staggers to his feet and somehow gets over to a crowd of people huddled over a crumpled figure.
He's standing over a body, it's wearing his coat and his scarf and it's the right size and shape; but it can't be him because there's all this blood, so he takes its pulse and there's nothing- no life, no heartbeat, it's all gone. His brain has shut down and won't let him think because if he thinks then he'll finally understand that his friend, his best friend, the best thing that's ever happened to him is d-
John woke with a start. He blinked, looking around his dark, dingy hotel room. He thought that if he left the flat, the nightmares would stop; but they only seemed to have increased.
It was colder than he was expecting. He looked over at the window and saw that it was open- but he couldn't remember opening it. He was too tired to examine this closely. Recently he'd been absent-minded enough that it was difficult to remember much of his day. He couldn't remember checking in to this hotel, for example; and yet here he was. He went over to the window and closed it, stopping there for a few seconds to collect himself. He drew the curtains and went to sit on the bed.
Outside, a shadowy figure stole from underneath the large tree opposite and vanished into the night.