A/N: I'm sure the idea has been done somewhere on the vast internet, and if it truly has, then I apologize, because I haven't seen it, so I didn't mean to steal it. However, this is a oneshot based on the concept of John being the one to take the plunge during Reichenbach, not Sherlock. Angst will ensue, along with plenty of Johnlock feels. Enjoy!
ALSO: I would be eternally grateful if you all looked at a fic i collab'd with a girl by the penname of 'aerorolo', entitled, "Counterclockwise." It's Johnlock, but also Benedict/John, because it features a John who temporarily switches places with Martin Freeman. Please check it out!
It begins as an idea, but it slowly blossoms into a desperate plea.
(The five stages of grief: bargaining.)
'I believe in John Watson.' Five words that Sherlock writes in his own hand (with a calligraphy pen) on a sheet of scrap paper (a manila folder).
He clings to those words like one might cling to a life preserver. It's an idea that shines like a beacon of hope, one that Sherlock fabricates for himself amidst a maelstrom of despair. It's a concept that keeps him tethered to his sanity, because Sherlock Holmes absolutely refuses to believe that his one and only friend on this godforsaken Earth can genuinely be dead, or worse: forgotten (because he wasn't important enough to anyone else).
Sherlock, you must speak to someone about this. -MH
Leave me be. -SH
I know you are against therapists, but if you would please only go to one for a single session, I swear not to pry into it and get a hold of your file. –MH
I don't trust you. And I don't need one. I'll be fine. –SH
Sherlock, please. At least consider it. You aren't at your best, and that worries me. –MH
Sherlock receives this final text, and for a moment, he does consider it. (The text, not a therapist. He wouldn't sink to the level of pointlessness that is therapy.)
Sherlock isn't at his best, and he knows it. Sherlock is all too aware of his current state, and quite frankly, it frightens him. He probably should speak to someone about his sentiments regarding John's suicide (at Moriarty's hand).
However, his skull (his old friend) will have to do for now.
Sherlock has thoroughly researched the matter. He's located all the evidence he could, all the hints he could gather. And from what he can deduce, the scene that occurred while he was absent on that fateful day went something analogous to this:
Moriarty, leading John to the rooftop of the hospital, convincing John to tell Sherlock lies (John had been oddly cold that day, and for once, he had ignored Sherlock, and muttered something about not needing friends, and that was red flag numbers one, two, and three) in order to save time.
On the rooftop, they spoke. Moriarty must have said something along the lines of, "You're Sherlock's heart, Johnny-boy. I've got it all worked out. And so, I'm going to burn you. Burn you straight from his chest. You'll disappear, Sherlock will break, and I'll have won. He won't be a threat anymore, and everyone goes home happy. –Well, at least I will, and I'm really the only person who counts here, aren't I?"
To which John most likely responded, "You're not going to get away with this, Moriarty. I know what you've done, how you've framed me to be an unreliable, insane doctor, and him a babbling fool. I know your true identity, and it's not Richard Brooks."
"Ah, well, that is a shame, isn't it? Gives me all the more reason to kill you," would have probably been Moriarty's response. They would have talked in circles around the rooftop, feet tracing here and there – the disturbed pattern of the gravel and the occasional scruff on the concrete from John's shoes (ones Sherlock has memorized to a tee) and Moriarty's shoes (ones he's only got a true glimpse of before, at the pool, but is recognizable enough) tells him as much.
"Not unless I kill you first," Sherlock mouths, replaying the reenactment of the scene over again in his head. He's seated in his usual chair across from John's empty one, all of the gathered photos and evidence scattered on the walls and floor and tabletops around him (but none in John's chair; no, he can't put them there).
Here is where John would have pulled his gun from his back and pointed it at Moriarty, and Moriarty would have looked falsely surprised and amused. "No, I don't think you'll be using that. Don't want a murder charge on you for the slaying of someone whom everyone else thinks is an innocent man, do you? Because that is what it'll look like if you shoot me."
And 'round and 'round they went, reasoning out plans and answering clues left behind, threats slipped in here and there, until, finally…
"See that ledge there, John? If you jump, I'll spare Sherlock's life. He'll be ruined by your death anyhow – no one's been as close to him before, no one, which makes you special. Makes him dependent on you, whether he knows it or not. So, without you, he might seek revenge for a while… but after that, he'll get tired. And finally, his grief will consume him."
"You'll kill him anyway if I die," John would have challenged. He knew how these hostage situations went; he's been on the battlefront, after all, both doctor and soldier. "So what are you going to achieve?"
"Everything," Moriarty would whisper in John's ear from behind him. "Because you don't know his mind like I do. His mind is my mind. We're the same. Mirrors of one another. And I know that even he can be touched by someone important."
"And how would you know?"
"Because I have someone important, too."
Sherlock knows this last bit whether or not it was said directly. He knows because, when he did attempt revenge in the beginning, he went after the sniper that had been planned for him in case John didn't… didn't do what Moriarty wanted.
His name was Sebastian Moran, and Sherlock can safely say that it affected Moriarty very much (because shot as he appeared to be, Moriarty is not dead) when Sherlock slit the sniper's throat during a particularly complex, strenuous, and heated battle with the rifleman. But in the end, Sherlock came out victorious, and Moriarty was thrown off his game.
It boils down to this: in the end, something convinced John to do it. Something between the moments when Moriarty stole John's gun and shot himself and Moran was hailed to trace Sherlock with his sniper-scope. Something forced John to do it, forced him to see it through.
Sherlock is still trying to figure out what, and why.
But it was the phone call with John that preludes the event that Sherlock hasn't deleted from his memory like any other phone call with John that he might delete (and most he has deleted).
He instead chooses to replay it over and over again, because he knows that he's missed something during it, something vital that will give him the answer he needs, as to what and why.
"Sherlock, hey," he had said with a shaking voice. A shaking, quiet voice, too hushed to be real. "There you are. Been wondering when you'd figure out where I went off to. Did I almost outwit you?"
And it was a joke, but Sherlock hadn't laughed. "Stay right there, John, I'm coming up to get you –"
"You can't," John had replied, and his voice had sounded so off, so strange, and to this day, Sherlock can't pinpoint why. "My mind's made up. I… I can't do this anymore, Sherlock. I can't go on in a life like this. I can't stand being your useless lackey, and having everyone think poorly of us. I can't live knowing that Moriarty will win. He's too clever, Sherlock, even for you. Look how he fooled you. I can't put my faith in you any longer, and I can't escape you. So here I am."
Sherlock had had a calm panic about him, his voice, for once, wavering. "No, John, he won't win. I can beat him; this was merely a setback. And you are anything but useless, you hear me? So wait. I –" (He didn't know what he was going to say here, and now, Sherlock wonders if it hadn't been something close to, 'I love you.' Not his area, love; but perhaps if he had only thought to say it then, make it as true as it is now… things could be different.)
"I'm sorry, Sherlock. But this is goodbye." And he had tossed his phone down, Sherlock saw him do it, and it shattered on the sidewalk, jarring a few people walking by to look up and gape and scream at the man they saw up on the ledge of St. Bart's.
"John, don't! John –!" Sherlock had screamed, half into the phone, and half up at the wind. John closed his eyes, hung his head. Sherlock's breathing had stopped for a fraction of a second; his heart stopped along with it, and his body had gone rigid.
And as Sherlock was reaching up toward John, bursting forward in a race toward the building in long strides possibly classified as leaps, John stepped off. His body hardly moved as he plummeted, the only motion being the billowing of his clothes and a slight wheeling of his arms and twitch of his feet, his hair stirred from its usual part.
Sherlock was struck by a car on his race toward the hospital, and couldn't see John hit the ground. He stumbled on wobbling legs (he had been fortunate enough, it seems, to have rolled over the hood and back onto the street again) toward his only friend.
And seeing John bloody and silent and unmoving and blank-eyed crushed something inside of Sherlock he didn't even realize was there.
…Coming back to himself from the painful revisit, Sherlock opens his eyes. He rubs a hand over his face (troubled when he finds his palm wet with tears) and sniffles loudly, the echo of it resounding not only in the warmth of the flat and its fireplace, but within Sherlock's mind as well.
His brain has never felt so empty. It seems, these days, with the lingering grief of loss in his system, Sherlock's mind palace has more bare rooms than cluttered ones. And the shift between the two is so vast that it startles Sherlock. He jerks forward in his chair, eyes blinking rapidly for a moment. Did he delete all of that – all those processes, all that information, all the stored knowledge of past cases saved for reference to any new cases that might be similar – is all of it gone? Or hidden, like the ghost files and folders one can make on a computer?
Sherlock shakes his head at himself. He glances over at his skull, the only companion he has left. "What do you think? Am I going mad with grief, or simply letting grief make me average?"
The skull doesn't answer. But then again, it never has, and Sherlock would be alarmed if it did. But it listens to him, and that's all Sherlock needs right now.
He sighs loudly.
Standing, Sherlock begins pacing the room, very careful not to touch John's chair. It's always been there, even before they became flatmates; it was a means of having extra sitting room for company or for when Sherlock wanted a different perspective from where he was currently stationed in the room. But now it holds significance, and he doesn't dare disturb it.
Part of Sherlock wonders (hopes) that John has the potential to be as clever as he. He's curious (wishful) to see John reappear one day, out of the blue, alive and well and explaining how he faked his suicide.
But the rest of Sherlock, the more rational bit of him (which is a massive bit, a clear majority of him), is well aware that John will never come back. He would have needed the aid of someone like Mycroft to fool Sherlock, and Mycroft would have no reason to help. So John is dead. Sherlock identified his corpse, felt his wrist, touched his cool cheek. John is dead, and while Sherlock couldn't stand to go the funeral, he's sure of the gravestone, and that is all he needs to know.
…Or, perhaps, it isn't.
The doubt has been growing for a long while now, and it's making Sherlock itchy. He longs to go dig up John's grave and pry open the casket just to be sure, to be absolutely positive, that John is in there, gone and dead. But what would that prove? Most likely only Sherlock's insanity. Because if John is there, he would have committed a crime based solely on pain dangerously mixed with wishful thinking. But if John isn't there…
Well, there are only two options. Either John is alive and that's why his casket is empty, or he's been stolen from it. The first is more probable, after all these months, because Sherlock would have noticed during the fifteen times he's visited the grave if it had been disturbed.
(Unless John was stolen while the ground was still brown and fresh. But Sherlock doesn't want to think about that, think about why someone would thieve John's body. What would that accomplish, aside from wounding Sherlock further?)
But it's this thought that sends an electric shock through the consulting detective, because yes, of course, why didn't he remember that the whole point of all of this was to wound Sherlock over and over again until he is a damaged, average-minded man that can do no harm to stop Moriarty from succeeding in essentially ruling the world's crimes for his benefit. Which means, alive or dead (because, knowing Moriarty, he wouldn't shoot himself with John's gun unless he had a plan to rise again or have someone follow in his footsteps), Moriarty could have done so. Could have had someone remove John's body, waiting for the right moment to use it for ransom, or as a backup plan, or –
Sherlock trembles, fists clenched, because this, right here, he knows, is the boundary between sanity and insanity, between being a high-functioning sociopath to a true psychopath, and it's a very, very thin wire separating the two.
He walks it like a tightrope, pitching to and fro, his body quaking with the effort.
(What do to? What to do?)
Without further hesitation, Sherlock grabs his coat and scarf, donning them hastily. Then, with an unusually steady hand, reaches for his shovel before heading out the door, the wooden stem of it weighted and guilty in his hand.
Sherlock takes all the care in the world of loosening the soft dirt, careful to cut the grass and sod layer in a way he can place back atop the grave without it appearing too terribly suspicious. He gets dirty, of course, but is careful to make sure it isn't rushed, isn't too filthy and obvious. He spends half the night digging up the grave, layering earth carefully in piles on either side. And then, finally, once he has wiped it all carefully away, he opens the coffin at his feet.
An intermingling of emotions rush through him, every single one of them outlandish, and he swallows thrice. He blinks back a sting of tears behind his eyes; John isn't here.
John wasn't cremated (his sister, Harry, made sure to that, according to the records. She couldn't stand the thought of him being ash). John might not have been buried at all. But what is clear – what is absolutely clear – is that the possibility of John being alive is all the more likely.
And this fills Sherlock with something like light in his hollow chest.
Sputtering a laugh of relief, his breathing shallow and weak, Sherlock smiles and spends the remainder of the night reburying the grave carefully, hiding his shovel in a place the police won't find it (not that they could link it back to him anyhow, no matter how likely a suspect he is due to the nature of his relationship to the owner of the grave), and patting John's tombstone fondly with gloved hands.
He might still be stolen, but part of Sherlock thinks this isn't the case at all, only his paranoia acting up. Part of him is sure that John can be as clever as he if he truly tries and uses the right connections to aid him, and he believes (because he wants to believe) that this is the true reason behind the emptiness Sherlock just finished reburying.
A problem Sherlock faces is being able to simply ask John that he's alive. To text or call his number and have John reply. But they gave Sherlock John's busted-beyond-repair phone, and Sherlock took it upon himself to return the SIM card. So John's number, what Sherlock knew it to be, is no longer associated with the doctor, and for that, Sherlock is a bit annoyed. In this case, he wishes it were that easy. (Nothing is ever easy, and Sherlock does, admittedly, fancy a challenge.) It would spare him all this pain, pain Sherlock didn't even realize he could feel, because isn't everything else just transport?
Thus, being a man of (albeit peculiar) method as he is, Sherlock takes it upon himself to contact John in another way: he spray-paints and leaves posters all around London that read: I BELIEVE IN JOHN WATSON.
The beacon is back, and with a public show of vengeance. Sherlock takes pride in his idea; this will certainly catch John's attention and lure him back to Sherlock's (arms) side once again, in better or worse wear.
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes a fad with the media instead.
It spreads around the Internet like a virus.
John's blog suddenly becomes more popular than ever, its hit counter off the charts. People leave over a thousand messages on John's final post before he died, saying things like, "We trust you, Dr. Watson." "Sherlock wasn't a fraud, John; we see that now." "We miss you, doctor." "I believe in you, John!" and so on.
Videos are made and posted to YouTube. Pictures are taken with words written on signs and bodies and shirts: I believe in John Watson. I trust John Watson. Sherlock was right. Moriarty was real. John didn't die in vain.
The last one is the one Sherlock hates seeing. He didn't mean for things to go this far at all, for John to become a media fad; he only meant for John to know. For him to see that Sherlock knows he's alive and out there, somewhere. But that last one… it makes his confidence wobble. Makes his hands falter when they type onto his own website once people ask him about John in his forum, about how he feels concerning all of this, and asking, always asking, if he started it (which he denies, of course; he can't help John if he gets a vandalism charge and is tossed into jail for a spell, or fined with money he doesn't have to spare).
He doesn't want to think that this media attention truly is because people love pathetic souls who turn someone's death into a hero's or martyr's death. He wants to believe that John is alive, and that this will still grab his attention. The message is clear, yes, but Sherlock can only hope that all this publicity doesn't drive John further away. That's the last thing he ever wanted by doing this.
And so, Sherlock avoids the telly and his laptop for a while. He refuses to leave his flat for just as long.
He hardly eats; he lives off of tea, coffee, and nicotine patches. But this isn't too very different than how he was before he met John.
(It's just that, upon meeting and living with John, Sherlock was forced to eat more, and it gave him more strength.)
He gets a text from Mycroft after three months following the first copycat of the 'Believe in John' campaign. It reads:
I found something you should see. Meet me at St. Bart's as soon as possible. –MH
Normally Sherlock would ignore his brother. But this is regarding the hospital. And the only deduction to be made here – because for something to be associated with the hospital relevant to Sherlock these days is everything having to do with John Watson – is that, somehow, Mycroft found John.
It isn't John. In fact, it's a woman, someone with short blonde hair and a kind face and who smells faintly of alcohol.
It can only be Harriet Watson. Obvious. She even has John's grey-blue eyes.
Mycroft clears his throat and gestures at the woman. "Sherlock, this is –"
"Harry; yes, I know," Sherlock says quickly. He shakes her hand and feels the softness of her palm, but notes the chewed and torn cuticles around her chipped, painted nails (so she has anxiety issues, then. Nerves she can't control, so she has the nasty habit of gnawing and picking at her own skin). He feels a little breathless, and a lot disappointed. But at the same time, his curiosity is sparked, and he needs to know why she's here, and why she looks so… vacant (aside from having lost her brother over a year ago, that is).
"How did you know?" Harry asks, but then she forces a smile. "Kidding. I know who you are, so of course you know who I am. It's… well, I would say, 'nice to finally meet you,' but all I want to do is punch you in the face. You didn't even attend his funeral, you know." And her eyes are like shards of glass, clear (despite the scent of a pub on her) and sharp, drilling into Sherlock's own eyes.
"I know, and I apologize for that," Sherlock murmurs, and Mycroft sends him a questioning look, as if to say, 'I didn't know you were capable of genuine remorse.' He looks away from her (God, she looks more like John than either of them must realize, especially with that haircut and the way she holds herself, and it's downright unfair). Instead, he trains his focus on his older brother and knows he's pulling an impatient, irate face as he asks, "Why am I here, exactly?"
"I'm not wasting your time, I assure you," Mycroft says casually. "Shall we?" and he motions the pair forward, down the corridor before them. "Need to ride the lift a couple floors up."
Sherlock walks silently beside the stoic Harry Watson, and watches her out of the corner of his eye. She is angry with him, clearly, and judging by her demeanor and the way she keeps touching her mouth with her fingers, nibbling at what little cuticles she has left, Sherlock knows that she is clueless about their required presence here as well. Mycroft most likely picked her up like he does everyone else, assistant being vague in the vehicle and all. Did they tell her anything?
No, they didn't, Sherlock sees. She only assumes it has to do with her brother for similar reasons Sherlock assumes as much: because of the location (the hospital, St. Bartholomew's, the place of his death and a frequent visit of his while he was alive) and the presence of the other person (for him, John's sister; for her, John's flatmate). So far, so obvious.
They enter the elevator, and Mycroft pulls out from under his arm a file. "As one, both, or neither of you may be aware, Dr. Watson's grave has been recently dug up. We uncovered it ourselves, and found his body missing from his casket. However, judging by the test results of the fabric within the casket, no body has been rotting there at all. In fact, it's oddly clean. Now, either the casket was replaced, or…"
"Or John was never dead," Sherlock states, and it makes Harry choke on her own breath for a moment. She covers her mouth with a hand as she turns to look at the two Holmes brothers. Sherlock carries on, "Yes, I was hoping for as much, but I didn't think to sample the cloth and test it. Stupid!" he scolds himself. He would have known better if this were any other case involving anyone else. He bashes the heel of his palm into his forehead a few times until Mycroft stops him with a hand to Sherlock's thin wrist.
"Easy, little brother," Mycroft soothes with a less condescending tone than usual. "I told you that you weren't at your top game as of late."
"Oh, bite me, Mycroft," Sherlock sneers, tearing his wrist from his brother's grasp and folding his arms tightly over his chest, turning his eyes to the rows of buttons near the elevator doors.
"Yes, well," Mycroft goes on, looking to a rather shock-still Harry, "There's more that we've been looking for since we found this out. It has quite a lot to do with the recent media outburst regarding your brother, Miss Watson."
The elevator pings then, the doors sliding smoothly open. The trio steps out and paces hurriedly down the corridor, following Mycroft's swift and graceful lead. Sherlock stuffs his hands into his coat pockets and watches the two from a couple steps behind, observing any tells he can. (It's difficult, however, with Mycroft; even after growing up together, Sherlock is forever at a loss with his brother, because as much as he hates to own up to it, they are both proper geniuses.)
"I thought that whole bit in the media was a sick joke at first," Harry remarks quietly. Her arms are wrapped around herself, one untangling from the other just long enough for her to pick at her cuticles again. Her body language says she could use a drink. Alcoholic or not, Sherlock doesn't blame her. He could use one, too, to an extent. "Something the world was using to conspire against me. My brother and I didn't get on most of the time, but he's still my brother. It hurts, this business. It hurts that he wouldn't talk to me before he offed himself, and it hurts that it's being brought up all over again as some weird campaign. I hate it."
"Yes, I've been leading up to telling you about what's become of that: it got quite a few people's attention. People who worked for Moriarty," Mycroft informs the two, and Sherlock says nothing. He had been afraid of this possibility, but he had risked it, selfishly. Now Sherlock fears the worst; have they found and killed John, leaving all hopes and purposes dashed? It's a thought overwhelmingly excruciating enough to make Sherlock want to vomit. To think, if that's the case… then Sherlock is to blame all over again for John's death.
(Because if Sherlock had never gained interest in John in the first place, never cared much for him, never got to know him, even, then John wouldn't have been confronted by Moriarty, and none of them would be in this situation. Stupid, stupid! He should have known better. He shouldn't have been so desperate for a sign. He should have let John come to him. And now… now John could be in the morgue, or dying in a hospital bed, and it will be entirely Sherlock's fault, again.)
They enter a room in the ICU. A man lies, bandaged and wired, on a hospital bed. He's dying. He won't live through his wounds, that much is evident. His heartbeat is blipping slowly on a monitor, and there are tubes keeping him breathing.
"We've been able to keep him alive long enough to question him," Mycroft says as Harry gapes, white as a sheet, at the man in the bed.
But it isn't John.
The panic constricting Sherlock's chest, along with the illness unsettling his stomach, ebbs away. His face calms and he brings his hands behind his back, clasping them. "Who is he, then? One of Moriarty's?"
"Yes, from what we've gathered," Mycroft states, referring to himself and the government as one entity, like he always does; an irksome habit. "He told us, in detail, that a man tracked him down. The man you see before you is the last of Moriarty's string of assassins who have been given orders to kill all those associated with John Watson and Sherlock Holmes – namely you two, of course – if John didn't kill himself, or resurfaced after faking killing himself."
"And let me guess," Sherlock says with a half-smile taking over his features, "The man he described as his attacker fits our beloved doctor's description?"
"To a tee," Mycroft grins. He seems to be enjoying this, as if he's made a drawing for Mummy and wishes to show it off, have it magnetized to the refrigerator. He takes out the file from his arms again and opens it to a page near the back of the folder. "We have it on tape, but this is the written copy.
"Here, and I quote, 'He came outta bloody nowhere, jumped at me, wrestled my gun from me. He was shorter 'an me, fair-haired, middle-aged. He wore this stupid jumper and a leather jacket. It was dark, real dark, 'nd raining, but I swore he was the man from the telly, the one who jumped, the one I was s'pposed to kill fer Mr. Moriarty. He knew 'xactly where to hit me to fuckin' paralyze me, the bastard. Knew how to leave me bleedin' and whatnot without dyin'. He called me an ambulance, you believe that? He wanted me caught, I know it!'"
Harry looks bewildered. Her eyes are wide and barely blinking, and her mouth is ajar. She's tearing up, and any second now, the dam will burst and those tears will flow freely down her face. A sob erupts from her, and she drops to her knees, weeping.
Mycroft, just as awkward as Sherlock but with more consideration for social etiquette, bends down onto one knee and pats her upper back comfortingly. Sherlock takes a step around them and heads for the hospital bed. "You're positive you saw John Watson?" he demands. He needs to have this down as a fact, not a confused (but guilty) witness spewing lies to save his own skin. "Absolutely positive? If you're lying, I will pull the plug on you right now."
"Mr. Holmes!" Harry cries, and immediately stands. "You can't –"
"Don't you want the absolute truth? We need to be sure that this is fact, that this isn't a false lead. Don't you want to know, definitely, that your brother is alive?" Sherlock challenges, and he stares directly at her over his shoulder, his gaze piercing.
"Of course I do," Harry snaps, the fire in her burning brightly. Sherlock likes seeing that; it means he has an ally. "I disapprove of threats, that's all."
"So did your brother, but look where we are now," Sherlock replies with a gesture toward the man lying in the cot. He returns his attention to said assassin, leaning over him. "Now then, are you positive or aren't you?"
"Po's'ive," the man sputters, and there's blood forming around his mouth as he gags on the tube keeping him breathing. It splatters Sherlock's face, but Sherlock is grinning now, and can't be bothered by it.
"Excellent. Yes, so clever. Good boy, John. Good boy," Sherlock says in triumph, his voice subtle and personal; no one hears this except for the dying man. He turns from the man and sweeps out of the room, coat trailing behind him like a cloak. He takes the cloth from the breast pocket on his brother's jacket and dabs the blood from his face before tossing the cloth to the ground at his brother's feet. "The chase is afoot, then."
"Chase? What chase?" Harry inquires as she whips around, still trying to let this all sink in.
Sherlock stops in the doorway and lets out a laugh. He spins on his heel and grips the doorframe as he tells her, "The chasing down of John, of course! He's given me a lead, a sign: he's alive, and he only wants myself and Mycroft to know it. He's been saving us all this time, hunting down Moriarty's henchmen, and now that he's gotten the last one, he's telling us that he's ready to be found."
And with that, Sherlock leaves the hospital, smiling to himself with exhilaration, liberation, and delight. John's alive, John's been indirectly helping Sherlock with this case of Moriarty and his threats, and John is being clever, actually trying to think. ("Why don't people just think?" – It seems John took that to heart. Sherlock is so proud of his assistant, his doctor, his friend. Good boy.) And it's working.
Sherlock claps his hands together as he leaves the hospital. He has something to go after, now, something to live for again, and his problem – that depression or whatever it was, that foreign sense of sluggishness and nonchalance unlike his usual nonchalance, that grieving – has passed. He feels like himself again.
Now all he has to do is find John. The record will be straight and all will be well if he can only locate the ex-military man.
On his way out of the hospital, Sherlock's shoulder is very purposely struck by someone walking by in a hood. He stops, tenses, and watches the man disappear into the crowd. He looks around himself, feels his pockets, and there it is, by his foot: a note.
Sherlock stoops down and quickly unfolds it. The message reads, You're looking for me now, as I thought you might. Follow the homeless man who dropped this if you can. He's one of yours, after all.
Sherlock immediately turns and finds the hooded man walking down the block. Sherlock pivots and breaks into a run, jogging after the surprisingly quick walker. The homeless man, he realizes, is one of his usual network; he's seen him many times before in the hub Sherlock often travels to.
They wind through roads and alleyways until, finally, they are in the back lot of Angelo's. Sherlock feels his body shiver with an abnormal sort of chill, and he embraces it as he slows to a languid walk and paces forward. The homeless man nods to a corner behind the restaurant, and Sherlock nods his understanding. Then the homeless man traipses off, most likely to receive or spend his payment for this errand.
Sherlock steps around the corner and finds someone exactly John's build (and he would know; he's seen John more regularly than any other person, and knows his shape like he knows the exact shape of his violin) is hunched against the wall, eyes downcast, hat covering most of his face.
"John?" Sherlock ventures quietly. He takes a few cautious steps closer. But something is wrong. "John!" he says again, and this time, he rushes to the doctor just as John pitches forward. He catches him and finds him bleeding through a hand-sewn set of stitches on his ribs.
"From the tussle with the man in the ICU," John explains. "It's nothing. 'M just a bit weary, is all. But I had to meet up with you, and I couldn't risk waiting for you to return to the flat. Could've been too late."
"Why didn't you go to the hospital yourself? Used a different name?" Sherlock says, stabilizing John with his arms around his shoulders and waist.
"Too many people there know my face, Sherlock. Couldn't risk it, in case there are still people out there on Moriarty's side; or worse, if Moriarty is still out there himself. I refuse to believe he killed himself so easily, and right in front of me like that. He's clever, and trickier than you," John grunts. He adjusts his weight and leans fully into Sherlock, and the detective finds that he doesn't mind in the least. It's gratifying to feel John's warm weight on him, even under these circumstances.
"Well, forget that, then. I'm taking you back to the flat whether you like it or not. We can take the back way, and I can run out and get more supplies to help fix you up properly," Sherlock offers. "We can't afford to be foolish about this; you've already done enough damage doing that yourself."
John laughs vaguely and closes his eyes, head resting on Sherlock's collarbone. "Well, I tried. I tried to be clever about it, like you. But let's face it, Sherlock: 'm not you."
"No, you're not. You're a bloody average, dull fool who couldn't even find a flatmate for himself until Stamford came along and introduced us. But…" and Sherlock is walking John now, hiding the blood from sight and telling anyone who sends him a look that his friend is pissed drunk, yet he continues talking in a near-whisper to John, "But you're my bloody average, dull fool, and I'm going to fix this mess you've made for yourself."
"It's your mess, too," John replies, and if anyone heard this conversation without context but knew they were flatmates, they would think the pair were discussing the state of cleanliness in their flat. And somehow, Sherlock almost wishes this were the case, that it was that boring and droll. John inhales shakily – clearly in pain, and Sherlock mentally adds painkillers to his list of supplies – and goes on, "If it weren't for you being my flatmate and all, I wouldn't have a thing to do with it."
And this stings in a way that makes Sherlock inwardly wince. He nods his head slowly, turning a corner into another alleyway, keeping his word on taking the backroad path to their flat. A cab would be faster, but there is always having to go through the front door, then, and having their neighbors and Mrs. Hudson spy John and the state of him if they did so.
"I'll agree that this is probably entirely my fault," Sherlock admits (but he won't do so again if asked or even if forced to, and still adds, "probably"), "Because I had to attract the attention of someone like Moriarty, but honestly, John, would you have it any other way?"
"Any other way without one of us dying, yes. But we aren't dead, so I guess you've a point," John snorts sardonically. "Still don't like it, though. Do you know how many people I've had to kill for you and everyone we know? A lot, Sherlock."
"I got Moran for you," Sherlock points out as they make their way slowly home.
"That's one against about five other snipers, but all right," John says dryly. Sherlock feels John's grip loosening on his shirt, and that's not a good sign. "Had to… kill 'bout a dozen more thugs, too… Backup plans."
"John?" Sherlock says after John goes quiet. He feels heavier. "John, you need to stay conscious. Given the circumstances of how you must have patched yourself up, you could have an infection, and if you fall unconscious while infected and with this much blood loss –"
"Hmm," John hums, stirring slightly where he leans on Sherlock. His words slur together as he adds, "Yeah, I know."
"Dammit," Sherlock grinds out. They'll have to chance a taxi, then. They don't have the time it will take to get to the flat from where they are. Sherlock sharply turns a corner and heads for a main road a few paces up. He hails a cab, struggles to get John in – claiming him smashed, once again, when the driver asks what's wrong with Sherlock's friend – and gives his address.
It takes less than ten minutes this way. Traffic's good at this hour.
Finally at 221B, Sherlock drags John out of the cab and pays the driver, waving him off. Once he's gone, Sherlock slaps John across the cheek.
"Yeow!" John yelps, startled into awareness. "For God's sake, Sherlock, I'm not dying!"
"Could have if I hadn't slapped you awake," Sherlock retorts. He violently does the lock and hauls John up the stairs. He drops the man off on the couch before turning immediately out the door again and down the street to a corner pharmacy. He grabs all that he needs – disinfectant, antibiotic cream and edible medicine, bandages, painkillers, the whole lot – and pays quickly, dashing out again. His long legs move faster than usual as he skips every other step on the stairs of the flat and idly locks things behind him. He slams the door to his and John's living room and dumps the contents of his bag onto the coffee table near where John lays.
"You have a fever." Sherlock curses under his breath. "Now I know for a fact that your body is fighting off infection. For a decent doctor, you did a shoddy job of tending to your wound, John."
"Didn't have much to work with," John mutters, eyelids drooping low and forehead glazed in sweat. "Not even floss, you know. Had to use the thread of my shirt and push the thread through with part of my Swiss army knife." He groans in pain as Sherlock gets to work cleaning the wound and removing the poor stitching. John's just lucky Sherlock has an entire kit already in his cupboards for stitches and wounds like these.
"Hold still!" Sherlock commands, and John struggles to obey. He's in a lot of pain, and it's getting worse by the second. "Dammit, John, I am not going through the trouble of losing my assistant all over again. It's difficult enough to find anyone remotely up to par with your skills."
"Good to know I'm – gah! – not entirely average, then," John says, and Sherlock suspects he would give a small smile if he weren't under the careful, bloodied, stitching hand of the taller man.
So Sherlock smiles mildly for the doctor. "You aren't entirely average, no. I often underestimate you and your rare compatibilities for someone like me."
There are very few people in the world that Sherlock has met who appreciate his genius instead of feeling inferior to and offended by it. Mycroft appreciates it to an extent, and Moriarty was a bit too keen on it. Mike Stamford is amused by it, and John is awed and fascinated by it. Even The Woman, Irene Adler, was in a similar boat as John. Molly seems unnerved by it most of the time, but also a bit awed as well. Add them all up and it makes six people who actually don't mind Sherlock being himself. Six out of six or seven billion in the world. (He would add his mother, but Sherlock knows that Mummy doesn't count because she would love him and appreciate his mind even if he were a simpleton.)
"Compatibilities," John murmurs, bringing Sherlock out of his thoughts. He hardly noticed the silence he made in retreating to them while he worked on healing John. "Yes, that's one way of putting it."
"Nearly finished," Sherlock speaks softly after a long pause. He doesn't know what to make of John's statement; it feels too close to a confession of sorts, and Sherlock doesn't want to dwell on sentiments at the moment. John's needs come first. "And… there. Done. Here, I have medication for you: one for the pain and one to help your immune system do its job. I'll get you some water."
Sherlock assembles the pills, props John's head up onto pillows, and aids him in slipping the pills and water into his mouth.
"Alright," Sherlock says offhandedly as he cleans up the medical supply mess, "Feel free to succumb to sleep, now. It's safe."
"Thank you, Sherlock," John whispers. His eyes close. "And I wanted to tell you before I changed my mind: I'm sorry. You know, for putting you through thinking I was dead. Thanks for… well. Believing in me."
And before Sherlock can think of a rational response, John is asleep, his breaths deep and even, body lax. Sherlock allows himself, then, to relax as well. He sets aside the supplies and drops into his favorite armchair.
It's been a long day, so Sherlock forgives himself for also drifting off to sleep.
When Sherlock stirs, he feels a weight on him; a throw blanket from the couch. There's rustling in the kitchen, and when Sherlock looks in that direction, he spies John making coffee and looking around, most likely at all of the changes made since he faked his suicide.
There are papers, files, photographs, and police records (copies, of course) scattered about, the yarn used to make connections between the ones on the walls and over the mirror being the most obvious pieces to study.
John's face is mostly unreadable as he gazes upon each thread and photo and article. Devoid of expression, that is, save for the way his eyes flicker or his nostrils flare with a sharp inhale on occasion. These tiny, nearly-impossible-to-spot tells are what allow Sherlock to deduce that John is possibly flattered by all the work and stress Sherlock went through for him, and also possibly a little awed by Sherlock's determination.
But Sherlock doesn't dare bring it up. He waits for John to, if John wants to talk about it at all. In the meantime, Sherlock stretches and brings the blanket over his shoulders. He stands, holding the blanket in place, and moves to rest beside where John is stationed in the room, gazing at the walls and floors.
"Was all this to find me? …Or avenge me?" John mutters, his question a delicate one. Sherlock has to answer carefully, but truthfully.
"A bit of both at one point," Sherlock confesses, "But mainly to avenge you. I didn't know for sure if you were alive until I finally dared to dig up your grave."
John's lips quirk into a small smile. "I knew that was you. Only you would be eccentric and persistent enough to dig up a dead man's grave to be positive that he was dead."
"I'd think you be angry with me. Isn't that how people would normally react if they discovered their grave was disturbed?" Sherlock frowns.
John shakes his head. "Not me. I was hoping you would get around to that, but not too soon. I didn't want you to find me just yet," John says as he mindlessly brings a hand to his wound and covers it with his fingers, "To keep you safer longer, but I hoped you would at least recognize that I wasn't actually dead."
"It took me more time that I would have liked. The shock of you acting the way you did, and with what I saw…" and here Sherlock drifts off, because he isn't sure he wants to voice it.
John has a puzzled expression for a moment as he absorbs this. "Hang on, were you actually… traumatized by my suicide?"
"Traumatized? I wouldn't go that far," Sherlock retorts. He sees the look John sends him, though, and he sighs. "…But I was a bit… ah…"
"Devastated?" John fills in (hopefully).
"A bit, yes," Sherlock reluctantly admits. "For lack of a more accurate, less severe word."
"So you were sad. Depressed, even. Over me. Over losing me," John says, and he's beginning to smile in a way that Sherlock doesn't like.
"Not particularly! Look, don't let it go to your head," Sherlock huffs indignantly, forever an overgrown child. "You just happen to be my only companion. Life's too boring without someone to pester, and too annoying without someone around to pick up my ego by saying things like, 'brilliant' and 'fantastic,'" Sherlock adds in his defense. "That's all."
"Of course it is," John laughs. He pats Sherlock's shoulder. "Love you, too." And then the coffee finishes brewing, so John moves into the kitchen again.
But Sherlock is a little thunderstruck. Did he hear that correctly? It could be a joke. No, it most likely is a joke, and there are different kinds of love, Sherlock reminds himself, so John could have meant that in a, 'yes, yes, you bugger; I love you too, mate,' sort of way.
(But it doesn't feel like that.)
Shaking it off, Sherlock takes the coffee offered to him, sugar but no cream, made by John's hand, as if John had never said what he had to during that mobile phone call, had never faked his death, had never gotten hurt. It's casual and normal, and feels oddly comfortable, like the blanket around Sherlock's shoulders: familiar and warm.
Sherlock sinks into his chair, watches John fill his, and together, they enjoy their hot beverages and exchange their stories of their past year a half or so. Sherlock, of course, leaves out all the bits of missing John so passionately that he longed for so much as a glimpse of the other man, some shred of proof that it was all a lie, and, of course, John withholds similar information; Sherlock can tell by the way John changes topics so quickly, cutting off fluid thoughts in exchange for something less emotional.
(They are dancing around one another. Sherlock had never thought much about that phrase in the past, but now it makes sense. They are avoiding the issue at hand: the fact that they both realized they couldn't stand to be apart from one another permanently, or even for extended periods of time. They balance one another out too well to be separated now that they've met and grown to be as fond of the other as they are.)
After coffee and conversation, John turns on the telly and Sherlock gets up, deciding to pass his time by cleaning up the mess he no longer needs now that his case has been solved, essentially. The only lose end that remains is dying (or dead by now?) in a bed at St. Bart's, so it hardly matters. It's time to move on to other things.
So Sherlock gets the rubbish bin and starts tossing papers and strings into it, untacking and untaping it all to pieces. At some point – Sherlock hadn't noticed the change until John's fingers brushed his on a certain article in the manila folder for the 'I Believe in John Watson' campaign – John joins him in cleaning, the telly shut off and the silence of their flat being filled only with the rustle and crinkle of papers.
"I'll get a new bag," John says, and Sherlock dismissively nods. They fill two and a half bags up with paper and string and folders alone, and Sherlock takes it all down to the dumpster (he plans on burning it later tonight; no one needs to know what he's been researching, nor do they need to know or begin to guess why he's ceased activity regarding said research).
After the mess is cleared, the flat looks a lot more like itself when John was around. Tidier, more organized. Sherlock clears away their coffee cups and spoons, moving entirely in silence.
The consulting detective pauses, dishes being set beside the sink. "Yes, John?"
"Did you miss me at all?" John asks, and his voice is composed, but his eyes speak volumes.
"More than I can bear to say," Sherlock sighs, dropping John's gaze. "This feeling of, I don't know, routine we've just done… I missed that. I didn't think I could miss something so trivial, but I did." Sherlock looks confused as to why he's voicing such unusual thoughts as he goes on, "I missed everything about you."
"Oh, Sherlock," John says gently, stepping forward and timidly reaching up to touch the taller man's face. Moriarty was correct, then, it seems: without John, Sherlock is in ruin. He needs John. Needs him as a doctor, as a friend, as the only person who will deal with all his moments of being an ass, someone who reminds him to be a bit more compassionate, and needs him as his only attachment to an otherwise boring world. Because even the puzzle and game of murder and serial killings and arch nemeses isn't as fun unless John's there to share in all the danger with.
And John sees that, now. He understands it. He lifts himself up, socked heels leaving the floor, a hitch in his breath from the pain in his side, and he presses his lips to Sherlock's jaw, just off center from his chin.
Sherlock closes his eyes and tilts his head downward, locating John's mouth. He kisses him, arms wrapping around the shorter man's shoulders, and he indulges in this. This… very human, very plain action of lips on lips, of affection, of contact, of statements of fondness. And he declares it, then, to himself: Sherlock loves John Watson, even if he isn't entirely definite on the how and why and what sort, but a fact is a fact is a fact.
When they part, John smiles knowingly, and Sherlock feels a tad flabbergasted, because it's peculiar, this whole thing. And yet he wouldn't trade it for a hundred serial killer cases (and those are his favorite).
"Love you, too," John says again, and this time, the meaning is clear.
Sherlock grins, teeth and all. "Let's have dinner."
"Still not your date, though," John agrees with a nod. He slips out of their embrace and moves for his jacket. "And if anyone recognizes me, you get to explain. I'm sure your clever mind can come up with some speedily-worded speech that will confuse them and convince them simultaneously that I'm dead and just happen to look like the John Watson they knew."
"Can do," Sherlock concedes. "But it would help if you wore one of my disguises; perhaps the crooked teeth or false nose? Those are my favorites."
John deadpans. "No."
"Why? Always thought you disliked your nose," Sherlock remarks with a quirked brow, cocking his head in the slightest at the other.
John sputters, "I like my nose just fine, thank you!"
"Ah, alright, then. At least wear a hat, perhaps?" Sherlock suggests as he slips into his own coat and follows John out the door, locking it behind them.
"It's poor etiquette to wear a hat in a restaurant," John reminds.
"I said 'dinner;' I never said 'restaurant.' I was proposing we get take-away and come back here. Or go to a location of some sort; you would like that, wouldn't you, because it's supposedly tender or romantic? Of course, I would prefer staying at the flat…"
John shakes his head at the other man. "…You are hopeless, Sherlock." He steps to sideways once they reach the sidewalk to purposely bump Sherlock's arm with his shoulder. "I mean it, you really are. Sometimes I wonder if you're some sort of reclusive automaton."
"Reclusive? Yes. Mm, lacking in empathy for others... Mainly, yes. High-functioning sociopath, remember? But I am not completely devoid of emotion, John; I'm not like an unfeeling computer. I thought we just proved that."
John puts his face in his palm and sighs, smile tugging the corners of his mouth. He changes the topic. "…Chinese?"
Sherlock grins and looks straight ahead. "Yes, perfect."
"And we are eating at a park. I like parks," John informs his partner while he shrugs his hands into his jacket pockets and also looks directly ahead.
"Just fine," Sherlock nods once.
John smirks. "Good, it better be."
"It is," the taller man assures. He walks down the street, spirits lifted higher than they have been in a long while, and poses out of curiosity, "But when are you going to see your sister? Judging by her rising anxiety I spotted from her gnawed cuticles, she's possibly on medication for her worries. Doesn't mix well with alcohol, either."
The doctor sighs loudly, a hint of a frustrated groan in it. "…When I think she's ready to handle it. Not this soon, though. But I will."
"I trust you will. You're a man of high morals, after all," Sherlock concludes. And the whole exchange might not be deleted from his brain like these little moments usually are. This one feels like the start of – no, more like the renewal of – something splendidly fantastic.