A/N: Wanted to explore a stronger John. Feedback is lovely.
Disclaimer: Don't own.
-Dictionary: capable of having the desired result or effect; successful as a means to a particular end or purpose
-Colloquial: job bloody well done.
John can't slice to the bone quite like Sherlock does, but his understated-yet-pointed forthrightness does the trick every time.
"One month for every year," Mrs Turner says simperingly, clasping John's hand in a claw-like vice. "I always used to hear - when I lost my William - it took a month for every year you had him."
Behind her, Mrs Hudson is busying herself making tea, not interrupting this train wreck of hapless, well-intentioned comfort befalling John in her kitchen.
But John doesn't need her to. He isn't angry. He isn't pleased, either, but he isn't angry. If Sherlock has taught him anything it's that people can be brilliant (the detective forever misses this; John must remind him) and they can be clueless (the detective typically sees nothing but this; John must defend them).
"Might need more than two months, I'm afraid," he says dryly, and calmly takes a sip of tea.
Despite the stinging at his eyes that he must force away by thinking about the cracked floortile and floral wallpaper and why is everything always beige in old ladies' homes?, he enjoys the awkward silence that follows.
He always did have a knack for shutting people up.
-Dictionary: a) the methodical reduction of a given set or quantity by precisely 10 percent; b) militaristic - the act of queuing up hostages or prisoners of war and executing one out of every ten standing
-Colloquial: I'll break you; he's declining fast; how much is your life worth?; don't bother trying to tell - they'll never believe you; you're so tight; she's worthless; he's not coming back
The Yarders don't know quite how to act around him. Perhaps they expect he's made of glass, now, even though he never was before. Perhaps they assumed he drew his emotional fortitude from a man they'd all alleged to be incapable of feeling. Perhaps because they knew John loved him, it must automatically give way to decimation.
John smiles wryly while Lestrade's back is turned; it's a funny feeling - but a familiar one - when someone is right about him but simultaneously not right at all.
John doesn't feel destroyed. He's still there, he's still himself. He hasn't shattered. Sherlock was everything to John, yes, but Sherlock and John weren't one and the same. John exists without Sherlock. A painful, muddled existence, it's true - but it feels insulting to throw away his life and give up his chances and destroy his possibilities and ignore his needs just because Sherlock isn't there to do the same.
Can't John's life still have meaning? Can't John give his life meaning?
John stares out the window, suddenly very tired. The answer to those questions is obviously yes, but...he needs rebuilding first.
After all, John would be lying if he said only 10 percent of him died that day.
-Dictionary: a) to diminish the physical strength, stamina, or vitality of; b) as observed in human and animal models of addiction - to diminish or eliminate the conditioned responses or behavior patterns, pre-existing or artificially conditioned, in an animal, human or mechanical subject through the process of eliminating or transferring stimuli
--Colloquial: stop doing that, stop wanting that, stop feeling that [way]
Sarah pulls him into a tight hug and implores him to let it out, talk about it, stop hiding.
"You can't keep bottling this up, John," she says, looking at him seriously. "I know you loved him - I don't know how, but it was obvious to anyone you did. You're acting fine but you can't possibly be, not after just three weeks."
He looks at her incredulously. "Well of course I'm not fine," he says. "I just don't need to have a cry, that's all."
"Blokes can cry too, you know," she reminds him.
"It's not that," he replies, trying not to snap at her.
It's not her fault. He has to remember that. She didn't do anything wrong. She can't help the way she grieves; she could try to be more understanding that this isn't how he does it, true, but that doesn't make it her fault and it doesn't give him the right to be a prick. It's just - how can he explain this feeling to her? It's gnawing, wanting, like a raw wound or a snapped limb improperly set...but doctoring the ill won't do much good: it's already begun to heal.
It's like losing an appendage, or a sense, or a piece of his liver. The mind learns to adjust to loss; the brain rewires; life feels insurmountable at times but perfectly ordinary at others - and there is continuous change and growth and repair. It will take time to become whole again but the idea he's irreparably damaged is laughable: Sherlock hadn't seen him as handicapped; why should John see himself as so now?
Still. There are moments when even breathing feels like an imposition (which John supposes, in his understated way, is actually a codeword for "crushing depression constricting his lungs and swelling his heart until it breaks his ribcage" - but he doesn't think about that; that's too messy), and he knows healing has to bloody hurt before it gets better.
He knows it, but he doesn't have to like it.
John remembers, vaguely, that oft-repeated mantra in the study of physiological and psychological effects of conditioning, deconditioning and reconditioning in mammals:when conditioned stimulus is eliminated and no additional additional unconditioned stimulus is introduced it takes approximately thirty days for conditioned response to fully disappear.
John studies the carpet - Sarah is talking but he ignores her, thinking instead about addiction and Harry and brain growth and loving that stupid impossible man.
Because, yes, it's cliched, fine, whatever. But the fact is, it's not that he feels he can't live without Sherlock. Because clearly he can.
It's more that he doesn't want to.
-Dictionary: a)having unrealistic beliefs or opinions; b) maintaining false beliefs despite being presented with repeated, thorough evidence to the contrary
-Colloquial: you bloody idiot; you're barking mad; you think I'm fool enough to fall for this?; and to think I loved you; we will never work; in my head I can be anything, and everything, with anyone I want [and no one can stop me]
Sometimes, John thinks Sherlock might not be dead.
The man is clever and also phenomenally stupid, and he's done so many reckless things and isn't afraid to die. But dying and suicide aren't synonymous. John supposes Sherlock would be fine with suicide on his own terms (John ignores the wave of vertigo he gets at this thought) because that includes some measure of control; and dying during a case would, similarly, be acceptable because it was a death in the throes of doing what Sherlock loved: solving puzzles.
But this doesn't feel right. The puzzle isn't solved yet, John is beginning to suspect. Too much doesn't add up.
Beyond that, Sherlock is terribly obsessed with himself, and a needless suicide doesn't seem up his street. There must be a reason. There is always a reason.
Not to mention, even Sherlock (oblivious though he is, most of the time, to human emotion) must have realised the potential PTSD effects of committing suicide in front of his best friend. Presuming Sherlock cares about John (and John needs to presume he does), he must have viewed this act as more important than John's mental health.
Ergo this act was very important indeed.
Understatement, John snorts. Best friend's suicide. Not good? Bit not good.
Truth is, John realises, suddenly feeling very tired, he understands Sherlock enough that he would gladly forgive the detective for all of this mess if he were given the opportunity to punch Sherlock a few times in the face. What does that say about him, he wonders?
John swallows, suddenly feeling ill.
He taps his fingers on the kitchen counter, willfully ignoring the pang in his chest as he stares at the empty mug that was once Sherlock's - and, like a fixed point in time, still is.
-Dictionary: a sudden, alarming amazement or dread that results in utter confusion; dismay
-Colloquial: something isn't right; I need help; stop helping me; stop touching me; what the fuck?; who are you and how did you get in here?; this can't be solved; I don't understand; this reaction is unheard of; I'd like another go; ...bollocks
It has been thirty days and John is still hopeful.
John should find this comforting, but...oddly, he doesn't. It would be easier to move on if he could just accept Sherlock is dead, raise a glass to him, rant fondly about the severed limbs, cry (in a manly way) and move on.
But he can't. He can't give up hope yet, and he doesn't know why.
He goes to the surgery each day, tired but smiling, throwing himself into work and pretending he won't go back to the flat he can't afford and sit in silence for hours, wondering what's wrong with him or if there's anything wrong with him or if he should do something or if there's anything he can do and maybe he should just have more tea because that's the sane solution and sane is good when he's clearly insane and -
He's always been the voice of reason. For all Sherlock's logic, the detective was bloody unreasonable, but he forced himself to occasionally see reason for John.
So what is John worth if he isn't reasonable?
What is the point of John?
Oi! Keep your head about you, John chastises himself, eyes narrowed and hands steady. Undead best friend doesn't necessitate existential crisis.
Then he breaks into hysterical laughter, because Sherlock isn't a bloody zombie and John isn't a soldier anymore and even if by some impossible twist of fate he's right about everything, he knows he's going to drive himself mad if he continues torturing himself like this and being utterly, inexcusably ridiculous.
So he gives himself permission to not judge what he's feeling. It's feels a bit like trying to teach himself to breathe.
That first breath is heaven.
-Dictionary: a) the act or state of inverting and producing a mirror-image; an image, representation, counterpart so produced; b) cogitation, fixating one's thoughts [on something]; c) an unfavorable remark or observation; the casting of some imputation or reproach; d) in physics -the calculated force and energy of a wave (light/heat/sound) following collision with a surface; e) in maths - the replacement of each point on one side of a line or plane by the symmetric point on the other side of the line or plane; f) in medicine - the bending or folding back of a part upon itself
-Colloquial: I think too much; I don't think enough; I know every inch of my skin; I see a stranger; I know you like I know myself; just because I see you doesn't make you real; you are my equal and opposite
The bench feels cold and hard against his back. It's oddly pleasant. He wonders vaguely why he doesn't get outside more.
Mums walking dogs; children wearing too few layers for the weather; joggers wearing practically nothing at all. Ducks who like bread but aren't picky - in fact, are vicious if you don't fork over something. Gravel cruching. Familiar mud. First frost. The grateful smile of a young boy, homeless, whom John had give fifty pence to on his way here.
He walks everywhere now. He doesn't have money for cabs and it's good for his leg, besides.
John thinks about the boy, all bright eyes and drawn face and dirty clothes. John wishes he could have given more, but he's practically always skint these days - he never realised how much Sherlock took care of without his knowing it. John doesn't mind it; he realises he'll have to move out soon as paying rent comes first, and that's rather inhibiting his ability to eat. But at least he has a home, and it's one he's loath to give up. In case -
At any rate, he should look into finding a new flat. He's rather growing tired of living off cheese toasties and apples. Only...he can't help feeling like that would be quitting the game early, and he isn't the type.
John clears his throat for no reason; just to hear noise, to hear his own voice, to know he could shout and sneer and apologise and comfort if he needs to. If the situation arises - he wants to be ready. The grinding together of vocal cords makes a hesitant, uncertain sound that is swallowed up immediately by park air and ambient noise. It is a ghostly thing, a whisper, a wraith, and for a second it almost doesn't prove anything, but then it does, because it's his and he is there.
John smiles again. He has always been stronger than they give him credit for.
Cheese toasties aren't so terrible, he thinks, watching a small child feed a particularly insistant duck. The duck squawks rather ominously and without a second thought John nods to himself, gets up and leaves. Because he's not heartless, but he is learning some degree of selfishness and self-preservation. And he mostly doesn't want to be there when the mother yells, "Is anyone here a doctor?"
NHS. So much red tape.
John rolls his eyes. Yes, he knows. Bit not good.
But bit not good suits him, he's decided. He can't be good all the time - he wasn't before anyway, he was just more consistent and quiet about it. And now he doesn't have to set an example for a sociopath so he feels less pressure to be perfect. Being bit not good from time to time is refreshing: John wears it well, and he's sure Sherlock - wherever the idiot genius ended up - heartily approves.
-Dictionary: a) a proclamation made as to follow some course of action; b) unwavering purpose or intent; determination
-Colloquial: I can do it; you have what it takes; she's strong enough; we don't need more; they'll get there; I know I'm right; we won't make the same mistakes; she's willing to compromise; trust me; he is worth it
He sits on his bed, tapping at his chin thoughtfully. He doesn't understand - he'd torn through Sherlock's books and read them cover to cover, soaking up every word and neatly reshelving them as if he hadn't felt the manic energy that so desperately showed on his face. And yet, aggravatingly, he doesn't know any more now than he did before.
He vaguely wonders if Mycroft still has the flat bugged.
Then he wonders why he wondered that, why his thoughts jumped to that, and why he doesn't hate Mycroft when he should. He thinks he should hate Mycroft still. But he doesn't. Shouldn't he? Why doesn't he?
John's heart is beating with unnatural speed, but his head is astoundingly clear. He would hate Mycroft, he knows, if he thought Sherlock were really dead. Therefore he honestly and truly believes Sherlock isn't dead.
I can't tell anyone, he thinks furiously. They'll think I'm mad.
Is he mad?
Does it matter?
A bit, yeah.
The question is unshakeable, ineffable, jagged edges and molten core. John draws strength from it and does not judge.
-Dictionary: a) an act of taking or receiving something offered; b) favourable reception; approval; c) an act of assenting or believing, or the expression of said assent/belief
-Colloquial: it's fine; he's trying; she didn't mean it; they don't need to feel the same way; nothing's different; I support you; I don't like this but I won't ask you to change; it'll be okay; I love you just as you are; fuck off - we'll be all right; this pain serves a purpose and, if dealt with safely, may help you heal
Why should it matter if he's mad or not?
He isn't seeing things, hearing things. He isn't expecting Sherlock to return (though god knows he wants him to). John hasn't broken to pieces or self-destructed. He goes to work; he eats and sleeps. Yes, sometimes he cries...sometimes he feels hopeless and angry. Sometimes he shoots the wall. And he's a touch more sarcastic and cynical than before.
But he's still John. He's still fully there and not dribbling or demented or decimated. He's just...thinking more. Maybe too much. Maybe that's okay. He has is the glimmer of an idea, a shard of hope, and intoxicating little rush of possibly. But he has no plans surrounding that possibly. It's a security blanket, not a gun. He takes comfort in its presence but keeps it tucked away like a childhood relic: he's too aware and complex, at his age, to find such a possibly effective. He's loath to relinquish it because it matters to him, has sentimental value - but to his rational, adult mind the idea of it actually protecting him or hurting someone else is laughable.
John's not like that, really. Too detached. He can believe at a distance.
If Sherlock is out there, he has a reason, and John has to trust that the man isn't just a complete prick and actually has a plan, and that he can execute this plan without dying for real.
John hadn't been given instructions here. He hadn't been given a purpose.
But you don't need one. You're living it.
John's chest feels tight - that "imposition" again - but he isn't sad or scared or angry now. He doesn't feel like shooting the wall and nothing is clawing at his stomach lining. He feels...like a drowning man come up for air: that breathing thing again, oxygen so sweet; the colours are different and he takes in everything because he doesn't know when he'll go under again. He understands, now. He isn't scared. This moment is not the next is not the next, and he will take each new hurdle as it comes. He will go on with life as if nothing has changed, because nothing has.
Sherlock is and was and is still the best thing, the very best, to happen to John, and John isn't disturbed or twisted or weak for believing that. He's still stalwart and true; he's still ferocious and safe and strong; he's got his marching orders, and he isn't going mad.
And he isn't going to stop believing Sherlock is alive, either, and that's brilliant too.
And so it is with a brilliant, everything smile (it is efficacious decimated deconditioned delusional consternated reflective resolved accepting and it pulls at his lips until it turns into a smirk) that he sets about making tea.
He has a lot to do today, after all, and he'd hate to keep his patients waiting.