A/N: A million thanks, kudos, awards, and hugs to my beta who did everything a beta should and more, from saving me from being a punctuation Nazi because she was one to listening to my emotional rants at all hours to reminding me that I am, in fact, in possession of some modicum of writing ability. Ongreenergrasses, a brilliant writer in her own right, but the only person I will ever want to beta my work. She seriously amazes me with her patience.
Enough fawning, I know. On with the show!
The last time John encountered me, and the first time he actually met me, I'd been following their trail for some time. Or rather, they'd been following mine. Serial killer. Nearly a decade had passed since I'd seen him last, forced him to wait just a little longer for Sherlock. (If you're wondering, Sherlock returned two weeks later.)
I had almost come to believe in John's invincibility; after all, five meetings with me? Five separate moments on the edge of the abyss and coming back, intact, from each? That's incredible. Miraculous, even.
In the end, it was his heart that did him in, not his body.
Funny thing is, this time I was here for Sherlock. John wasn't even a blip on my radar.
They'd gotten themselves into trouble. Tagged along a little too close to the killer, been caught. A little torture, nothing major, but it weakened them both. Brought them down to the level of ordinary mortals. (I was there; a third victim hadn't been as lucky as they were.) Then, they were locked in the trunk of a car. The car was driven into the Thames. So cliché.
I had already come for Sherlock while they were still in the trunk of the car. It was cold, dark, my favorite sort of a place. Close quarters, if you've got a body, but I'm not nearly so hindered.
"I remember you." John's voice was loud, almost like it was inside my head. Maybe because it was. "I know what you feel like. Look - " here his voice faltered a little. "Look, don't take him. Not without me. We've got to be together. I can't - I can't live without him, not again."
This was it, then; this was how John Watson died. Because, while I can sway the vote either way, I can't actually give back the dead, once they're well and truly dead. I can, however, take the still-living, the ones who are clinging to life, should they choose to sever the attachment and their body be so disposed. Sherlock was well and truly dead; his gag had been just that much too tight, his lung capacity not quite enough. John had been able to take one last gasping breath before the car sank into the water. With the CPR he was being given, he'd make it, but only if he wanted to, only if I refused him this request. Sherlock, no matter how long the young EMT pounded into his chest, didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. DI Lestrade had only arrived in time to save one of them.
I'd seen John without Sherlock; I'd seen him vulnerable, beaten, abused, shot. I'd seen him try to take his own life out of abject misery because he didn't have Sherlock. I couldn't condemn him to a life that painful. But was it fair to take him, knowing he could live?
I never had this sort of moral quandary before I met John.
I didn't have a lot of time to decide. If I waited too long and they revived John, he would be too attached to this world; he wouldn't be able to let go, even if he could remember his request to me. If he couldn't remember his request to me, he'd still never see Sherlock again, not alive. I knew what kind of life that would bring him, the daily agony of existence, knowing Sherlock Holmes was really dead this time, and he was left behind. Again.
I'm a bringer of mercy. I am morphine times a thousand. I take away more pain than you've ever imagined. That's what did it, in the end. I couldn't leave him in that pain, knowing I could stop it. It's my job to stop it. So I did my job.
Sherlock had been with me for several minutes now. I wasn't carrying him, he could stand "quite well on my own, thank you". I walked over to John, gesturing for Sherlock to stay where he was. This was something everyone did alone, just me and that person. It's how I get to know you so well. It's why I know John so well.
I leaned down near his ear and whispered, coaxing his soul away. I knew it would take a while. It always does. John took a shorter time than most, even with all of the hurdles we had to clear. Sometimes, his soul would panic and blindly catch hold of whatever was closest, frightened of leaving. It was a primal fear, nothing John could fight in the least, and I talked him through it. Everyone encounters it at some point, so I was ready. (I never said this process was easy. Just that it could be done.) I kept talking to him, reminded him of his request, reminded him that he could go back if he wanted. I told him a lot of things, some I probably shouldn't have. I told him anyway.
In the end, it was very easy. Like pulling a loose thread from a seam; like a sigh when you're drifting off to sleep. One moment, John remained in the world of the living, like so many other times, and the next, he was face to face with me.
"You look different," was the first thing he said to me.
"Yeah, well, forty-something years can do that to you." I chuckled wryly. I hadn't changed a bit - John had.
"Thank you. For everything."
I took his hand and led him over to where Sherlock was standing. I took Sherlock's hand. This was one journey we'd make, just the three of us.
A/N: Um... thank you so much for reading. I never thought it would get this kind of a response. Truly, you're all phenomenal. Like, seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.
This fic took a bit over three months, from my first idea to now, but it's been a lovely trip. I hope this last chapter has lived up to your expectations, and if it hasn't, be sure to let me know. I'm open to playing in this 'verse a bit more. Maybe even keep an eye out for a parallel Sherlock or Moriarty piece. No promises, but the possibility is there. ;)