John had purposefully avoided the internet and the tabloids. He knew what he saw would only enrage him and make him do something rash. Like punching someone. Or setting light to something. Or offending old ladies with his language.
He couldn't help it. The injustice. The pain. The abject misery. It was consuming him to the point where he wanted to scream. He often did scream, in the confines of the new bedsit, where nobody could hear him.
"Please," he would weep, after he had done screaming. "Please, come back. Please come back to me. Please don't be dead."
People would recognise him in the streets in London. They would eye him furtively. Sometimes he would visit Lestrade, whose own guilt made John even angrier. Where were you? Where were you when he needed you? You needed him so much, and he was there for you. Where were you?
Sometimes he would visit Molly, but she was so unresponsive and cut off. He thought she pitied him. She probably did.
He never visited Mycroft. If he had visited the elder Holmes, there would have been chaos, and no amount of secret services would have been able to contain the volatile mess that was John Watson.
He resigned his job at the clinic, and moved away from London, after a few months. He couldn't take it anymore. He got a job in a hospital in Croydon, which was good. It was a healthy distraction, and was close enough to get a tube into central London. Every four Sundays he would go to the graveyard after work, and lay down flowers. Each time, he would tell himself he wouldn't cry, but each time, he did.
One Sunday, about seven months after the incident, he was working in the ER, and his shift was just about to finish. There had been a stabbing, and he'd gotten a sort of thrill from the blood and the excitement and the adventure of a new crime. He had discussed at length with the patient who had stabbed him, going by the wound, the pressure, the direction in which the blade had entered the abdomen, until a nurse told him off for unprofessional behaviour. The patient hadn't minded. He had laughed, even if he had been high on meds.
"You're Dr Watson," he said, blinking heavily. "We know about you. There's a girl up on the floor above me, lives with her parents and grandparents. Tells us how Sherlock Holmes came to investigate her uncle's murder a few years back. Says it was like magic. She refuses to read anything against him. Was he really a nutter?"
John smiled sadly. "As mad as they come."
"Was he a fake?"
The boy, because he was only a boy- barely sixteen, grinned. "She'll be glad. I'll tell her next time I see her. If I get out of here alive."
"The wound is superficial. You'll be fine to leave in a few hours."
The boy snorted. "Yeah, right. They're waiting for me outside. As soon as I'm away from the hospital, I'll have to leg it. God knows they want me dead bad enough."
"Yeah. I owe money. And shit like that."
"Well, I'll drive you home if you need," John offered. "My shift ends in an hour."
"Alright," the boy agreed easily.
"Trust me," John looked at the file, "Mr Hainsley, I know if you're messing with me. Try and draw a knife or anything, and you'll be out of your arse on the road before you know it."
The boy grinned again. "Call me Danny."
John signed off on his shift, and went to get Danny. He gave him back his hoodie, having grabbed it from the nurses, and told him to keep his head down.
Indeed, there were at least five boys waiting in the dark on the outskirts of the hospital wall. They had bicycles and were smoking. Their hoods covered the faces, and they slumped away from John as he approached, hiding Danny from view, as they made their way to the staff car park. John ensured the boys weren't coming for them, before he got into his rusty Vauxhall that he'd purchased for a low price, and started the engine.
"Where do you live?" John asked, and Danny gave him the name of his estate.
They were on the road, and it had gotten dark. Danny noticed the sunflowers in the back seat.
"Are they for a girlfriend?" he asked.
"Not quite," John replied. He'd chosen sunflowers because Autumn was quickly dissipating and turning to Winter, and he'd wanted some colour near Sherlock's grave. Sherlock had always been colourful.
"Aw, I bet they are," Danny grinned. "You got a girl, Doctor?"
"Well, you should. Otherwise a guy gets into trouble, right? I know if I was more focussed on the important shit, I'd not get into so much fuck, right?"
John just nodded. He parked his car as close to the CCTV cameras as he could, and got out to escort Danny to his flat.
"Thanks a lot, Doctor," Danny told him. "Bet it'll hurt like a bitch tomorrow."
"Yes, probably," John agreed. "Try and, well, be good. Although I can't really say that. Don't want to be a hypocrite."
Danny led him through a long corridor with doors with increasing numbers on them and a staircase on the far end. A girl came running down them.
"Danny? Christ, Danny, they swore you'd been done in!" she cried out. She looked older than Danny, but was shorter. Her eyes widened as she saw Doctor Watson, and she shrieked.
"Courtney, Courtney, Doctor Watson's my doctor! He stitched me up!" Danny told her excitedly, pulling a key out of his trouser pocket, and turning to the door that said in silver numbers 14.
"Oh my god!" Courtney shrieked again. "Doctor Watson! I read your blog! I've met Sherlock Holmes!"
John smiled sadly. "Yes, so have I."
"I'm so sorry, Doctor Watson," she said. "I tell them, I tell them every day! I tell them, I believe in Sherlock Holmes. And they believe me too. I showed them your blog. I told them not to believe the rubbish in the papers. I told them he was real!"
John smiled, and clapped Danny on the shoulder. "Keep out of trouble," he told him. "Hopefully I won't see you again."
Danny grinned, and went into his house. The door shut, and John was left with Courtney in the corridor.
"Doctor Watson!" she cried out, jumping after him as he turned to leave. "You lived with him! Surely you saw him! It was unbelievable, what he did, Doctor! I was baffled! I told them all! I told them what he did! We believe, Doctor! We believe!"
"That's very kind of you Courtney," John muttered, hoping she'd leave. "But he'd dead now. You have to move on."
"No! You have to ignore the papers, Doctor, otherwise they've won! You have to continue telling his story! Isn't that what happens to all the great heroes?" Courtney grabbed his arm before he could leave the building. "Isn't that what you're supposed to do? Spread the truth about him! Tell everyone exactly what he was!"
John felt touched, he really did, but there was a time and a place. One little girl wasn't going to change the world.
"Let me show you! Let me show you what we think! We know Sherlock Holmes here, Doctor Watson. Once Uncle Ray died, we all saw him solve it! I'm here with you, Doctor! I'm telling everyone too!" She grabbed his arm and pulled him outside. He let her lead her around the huge block of flats, and to the square full of dilapidated buildings. There were a few figures dotted around.
"Look, Doctor. And that ain't me that did that, either," Courtney said, and pointed to a wall covered in graffiti. John blinked a few times to try and make sure he wasn't seeing things, and felt a twinge in his heart.
I believe in Sherlock Holmes was sprayed in bright yellow, in huge words, across the wall. Near it, some had repeated the words in smaller letters, or in a different colour.
"Wow," he muttered. "Wow."
"Please Doctor," Courtney said. "Don't give up. We all believe in him too. You're not alone."
Courtney's words rang true with John as he drove towards the cemetery. His phone buzzed, and he glanced at it, trying not to get distracted whilst driving. It was from Lestrade.
Have to see you. Tonight. Please ring.
John ignored it. Lestrade could go stick it. He hadn't tried to put a stop to the tabloid articles. He hadn't tried to disprove Rich Brook. He had simply stood by the gravestone and said a few words about Sherlock's "ability". Hopefully the remorse would eat him away.
John arrived at the cemetery, and made his way to the gravestone. He didn't like it here. It felt as if the dead were watching him. He had his sunflowers clutched in one arm. He was surprised, however, when he saw some people had already been putting flowers down. A bunch of tulips were wilting somewhat at the base of the gravestone. There were also envelopes and pieces of paper held down by rocks. John hurried forward to read them.
I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
There it was again. In yellow, also. This time written in what looked like Sharpie, and the piece of paper had been put in a plastic sleeve to protect it against rain. It had been propped up against the headstone. There were lots of cards scattered about too, also bearing the same message. A large framed photograph showed a class from a Coventry primary school all wearing deerstalkers and grinning, holding up a banner with We Believe in Sherlock Holmes written on it. John felt tears forming, hot and stinging in his eyes.
"Look, Sherlock. Look at this," he whispered, and wiped at his eyes.
Sherlock must have helped all these people.
He heard footsteps behind him, and looked around. There were two women and a man, late forties at a guess, approaching him.
"Oh! Look! Isn't that-?" one of the women started, when they saw him.
"It is!" said the other.
The man stepped forward. He was holding more flowers, this time geraniums, with a stretch of fabric draping from around the stems. "You're Doctor Watson."
This was getting strange.
"Yes. Yes I am."
"I- I'm sorry," he said at length. "We all are. We- we believe. We all do. Ignore what the papers say."
He dropped the flowers next to John's sunflowers, and then lay out the piece of fabric. Painted on it, again in yellow, was that message again. I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
"That's- that's really. I can't-" John started, choking up. He was startled when the man embraced him.
"It's okay. We saw on Twitter, and then we saw your blog. I'm so sorry."
John fidgeted under the man's hug, wondering if he was one of those weird touchy feely types.
"Twitter? What does it say on Twitter?" he asked, thankful when the man pulled away.
The first woman piped up. "It's all over Twitter! It's gone viral! Someone called Henry Knight launched a campaign. It must have cost loads but look!"
She pulled out an iPhone from her pocket, and fiddled with it for a second, before showing John. John blinked at the screen.
"What's trending?" John asked. He wasn't too familiar with Twitter.
"Look!" She pointed to the screen.
The hashtag at the top of the list read:
"As I said, viral. There won't be a person in the world who won't know the truth. The real truth," the man said proudly.
John was dazed as he drove home. The experience with Courtney, then the strangers in the cemetery, it was all too much. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn't so alone after all. The memory stayed alive.
When he got to his tiny flat, a police car was waiting for him.
"Oh, what now!" he grumbled, and huffed in annoyance as he saw Lestrade get out of the car and head towards him. He stormed up to his front door and got out his key.
"Yes, that's me!" John said irritably.
"John, please! You have to come with me! The community support officers have gone mad! There have been over fifty phone calls complaining. Five arrests for indecent behaviour. Henry Knight has been arrested for incitement of terror. It's crazy!"
Lestrade looked desperate. He seemed so upset and remorseful, and John's anger was short lived.
"Fine," he accepted, and followed Lestrade to the police car.
Lestrade drove in silence to New Scotland Yard, and by this time it was fully pitch black. Sally Donovan, oh how he despised that woman, was outside in her coat, smoking. When she caught sight of him, she hastily put it out, and retreated back into the building. Good. The more terrified she was of him, the less he had to look at her.
Lestrade led him up to his office, and sat down at his desk. In front of him were several photographs.
"Look at these," Lestrade said, pushing them in front of John, who also sat.
They were pictures of locations, buildings, walls, screens, billboards, and more. They all had I believe in Sherlock Holmes scrawled across them in yellow spray paint, but in different hand writing.
John hadn't meant to speak, but his heart was swelling.
"The five arrests were of three men and two women, who had taken it upon themselves to preach to the community with a megaphone. They started using violence and burning newspapers, and managed to form rallies and crowds. All in the space of one day. The trending on Twitter has caused an uproar! There have been Facebook groups made, and other blogging sites dedicated to rebuilding his name. Hyde Park has a huge crowd of people, all with tents and banners and signs. They've arrested Henry Knight, unfortunately, for funding it all, including the Twitter thing, and for encouraging violence and aggression. It's...John- it's mad! There are thousands, literally thousands. Not just in London, too. There's been a small gathering in New York, because apparently he did something high profile there a few years ago. The Manchester police, and the Cardiff police, and the forces up in Edinborough, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Tunbridge Wells, Newcastle, they've all been reporting the same thing. People are adamant, and they're making their mark."
John closed his eyes, and he could picture Sherlock in his mind, all billowing coat and smug expression. He wished he could hold the man now, and show him how much he was loved.
Lestrade looked baffled, but John could detect some features of the DI that were lifting up to a smile.
"What do you want me to do?" John asked truthfully. "I can't tell them all to stop."
"I dunno, John, but you have to do something. They need, I don't know, a leader, I suppose. Someone they can listen to. Maybe put something on your blog?" Lestrade looked desperate. "Apparently it's my case because he was my consultant. I can't deal with something on this level, John. I don't want to deal with it. I don't want to tell them to stop."
John shrugged. He looked down the list of locations people had been vandalising, and memorised it. He knew what he was going to be doing tonight, and hoped he had money on his Oyster card, as he definitely wasn't going to walk all over London.
"John!" Lestrade exclaimed, begging. John stood and went to the door.
"What can I say, Greg?" he asked the DI. "I believe in Sherlock Holmes."