"As anyone who has been close to someone that has committed suicide knows, there is no pain like that felt after the incident."

Peter Greene


Chapter One

It hasn't even been a week since Sherlock jumped, and already the old things are coming back.

It's strange. Even coming back from Afghanistan, battling one of the worst cases of PTSD he'd ever seen, John could function reasonably well. He could get up and make himself tea. He could remember how to put shoes on. He could walk down stairs and open doors and go out into the world. But it's like the perverse silence that Sherlock's left behind is thrumming through his eardrums, pushing in on his brain and causing a slow hemorrhage that's erasing his ability to work like a normal human being.

The limp is returning. John's used that as his excuse to sit in his chair all day long, since Sherlock did God-knows-what with his cane a few months back. It's almost like the hours slide through his fingers, the shadows on the wallpaper fading in and out of focus as time escapes his notice. At one point, he knows Mrs. Hudson is around. He can smell the vague musk of her perfume, feel the breath of soft hands on his shoulders, hear her quiet voice thrumming in the back of his head. Whatever she's saying eludes him; the sounds she make don't really translate into anything his mind can interpret. John Watson is dull.

Dull.

God. Sherlock. John could sit here for the rest of his life.

A crashing at the door snaps him out of his self-protecting haze, and he whips around, expecting a gunman, an assassin, a client, something. Instead, he sees a cardboard box spilling personal possessions everywhere, and a slender, feminine hand grappling around on the ground. A curse floats through the air and she fumbles.

And then, suddenly, she's in view, standing, hands on her hips, glaring at the mess. A word leaves John's mouth before he can stop it.

"Anthea?"

This takes her attention away from the box, and she looks up with a blank look on her face. "Oh," she says. "Didn't see you there."

John is sure his face is equally as vapid. The woman tagged in his head as Mycroft's-sexy-texting-addict-assistant is standing in his doorway with a frizzy ponytail and sweatpants, frowning down at her belongings splayed over the carpet. She looks back up at him. Seeing her without makeup and high heels is a somewhat out-of-this world experience.

"You going to help me or what?"

For the first time all day, John is standing, his legs cramping in protest, and then kneeling beside her, helping her shove all of her things back into the box. Books, toiletries, a binder of sheet music. All the things that make someone human. His hand begins to spasm uncontrollably as he shovels in a tube of shampoo.

"Looks like the limp isn't the only thing that's back," she comments. "Mycroft told me about the nervous twitch."

"Fantastic," John replies shortly. "Why are you here?"

She blinks. It's unsettling to see her without her normal immature composure. "You weren't told?"

"No," he says bluntly. "Look, Anthea, I don't want to talk to Mycroft right now, so you might as well leave."

She sighs, shoves her hands under the box, and pulls it upward, heaving it through the doorway.

"Didn't I tell you my name wasn't Anthea?" she asks, exasperated. "And I'm not here to take you to Mycroft — I'm your new flatmate."

Immediately, John is on his feet, following her in as the drops the box on Sherlock's couch. "Hold on," he says, snatching it right back up. "New flatmate? Are you being serious?"

She gives him a withering look, ripping the box right out of his hands. "No, I just packed up everything I own and came over here looking like shit for no reason." She drops the box on the couch again. "Of course I'm being serious, you idiot. Someone has to look after you, after all."

John feels his brow furrow, settling into its familiar lines. "Excuse me?" he asks. "Mycroft thinks I need a babysitter?"

She rolls her eyes, stuffing her hands into her pockets. "No," she says. "Mycroft knows that you need someone to make sure you eat and not burn your flat down." She sniffs deeply and wrinkles her nose. "Case in point."

John follows her gaze to a full ashtray, stolen from Buckingham Palace, a cigarette propped up and slowly burning away. He vaguely remembers lighting it for the smell. Sherlock always smelled faintly of cigarette smoke.

"Get out," he says as politely as possible.

"Can't," she replies.

"Why not?"

"I already payed first month's rent," she answers with a quick shrug.

"Fantastic," he repeats.

"Right," she says. "I've got a suitcase and a backpack downstairs, so I'll be right back. Try not to do anything drastic while I'm gone."

She's back up in a moment, huffing and puffing and hauling a gigantic suitcase and a rucksack worthy of a college student. John don't offer a hand, watching her drag her load through the door and onto the couch in silence. She pushes a few frizzy hairs away from her forehead, glancing around the flat, and places her hands on her hips.

"Okay," she says briskly. "I'll put on some tea. Mind picking up a bit?"

"You can't have his bedroom," he says sharply. "I understand that I'm not going to get you to leave, but you can't have his room."

"I know," she replies, making her way around piles of books and papers toward the kitchen. "I've been sleeping on a couch for the past year anyway. It doesn't bother me."

John stares for a moment, wondering what this woman did with the sexy, snippy girl from Mycroft's car, before his feet kick into gear and he follows her into the kitchen. She's searching through the cupboards like she owns the place, tossing on the flaking red kettle like she's lived here for her entire life.

"So do you have a real name, Anthea?" he asks, supposing he should at least let her do her job. After all, he highly doubts being here is high on her to-do list.

"Claire," she replied shortly. He's surprised by the plainness of it. The woman in the car was something unachievable, something far more than a Claire. Away from business, though, she's far more normal. She smacks her hands on the counter, irritated.

"Where do you keep your tea?" she asks.

"I don't know," John replies, taking a seat where Sherlock used to stare into his microscope. "It's wherever Sherlock left it when he made tea for Moriarty."

Claire stares at him for a moment before returning to her search. She looks in drawers, in the breadbox, rechecks cupboards. She screams briefly when she opens the fridge, falling back against the table.

"All right?" he asks, unconcerned.

"There are feet in your refrigerator," she says dumbly.

"Well spotted."

She glances at me. "So he was a difficult flatmate, yeah?"

John stares at her.

"Right," she says. "Bad question. I think I'll let the tea go until I can get in a trip to Tesco." Gingerly, she takes the kettle off the stove. It's to her credit that she finds paper towels and forces herself to scoop the feet out of the fridge, tipping them into the bin with nothing more than a grim scowl.

"Why are you here?" John asks again, drumming his fingers on the scratched wood tabletop. He's really awake for the first time since he saw Sherlock's body on the ground. Energy pulses through his body. He's surprised to realize that he wants her out enough that he's willing to hurt her.

She sits opposite of him, folding her fingers. "Mycroft sent me," she says simply. "He's my boss and he's feeling guilty. I don't ask questions."

"Yeah, but I don't believe you," John replies. "Mycroft might be your boss but he can't control your life."

Claire raises an eyebrow, and her face immediately resembles the patronizing glances John would get from her in the backseat. "You have no idea what Mycroft can control," she says, and leaves it at that. They sit in silence for a long while, and John's eyes start to drift to little things that remind him of Sherlock; the deep marks on the table, the hint of rotting meat rising from the bin.

"Look," she says, yanking his attention away from a bloodstain on the counter. "I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm not a grief counselor or therapist. I'm just going to try and make sure you don't starve yourself or anything."

"Why aren't you texting?" he asks, ignoring her.

Claire cups her cheek. "Because I don't have anyone to text."

"Really? Like that nobody you were texting when I was in the car with you?"

"That was Mycroft, and I was acting. But thanks for noticing." She twiddles with a stray curl, twirling it around her index finger until it's purple.

John isn't convinced. "But you were laughing."

Claire shoots him a withering glance. "Because Mycroft was being a tit. No different than usual. And before you ask, no, there's no family to text, and the only other people on my contact list as my ex-flatmates and my ex-fiance. So now that I'm stuck here, not acting, not dressed up, and not giving a shit, I would like to be free to do what I want without being questioned."

"You're the one who barged into my flat without warning," he counters.

She shrugs. "Not my fault. Mycroft was supposed to let you know. Have you checked your mobile?"

John's lips form a flat line. No, he hasn't checked his mobile. He doesn't have a mobile. He dropped it onto the asphalt when Sherlock hit the ground. Claire cocks an eyebrow and looks away.

"Right," she says. "So you and I need to get food so that I can make dinner, because you're obviously not going to do it."

Dinner hasn't even crossed his mind. His hand twitches. He snaps it closed, trying to stop it, but Claire's already seen it. Her eyes flicker to his leg.

"Or maybe takeaway," she adds.

"No," John replies quickly. "Not takeaway." She seems confused, but he's not going to open up and share his deepest, darkest feelings just because they're unfortunately living in close quarters. But all Sherlock and John ate was takeaway. He don't want anything from the old places.

"Okay," she says. "There's a Tesco Express right up the street. Right next to an Eat, if you'd rather."

In the end, they walk side-by-side down Baker Street to the Tesco. It's strange to be out of the flat, walking alongside someone who's not Sherlock, but Claire doesn't force John to pay any attention to her. He watches her buy tea and the makings of dinner, and then they're going back up the stairs and back into the flat. After being outside, he nearly vomits from the reek of cigarette smoke that has filled the flat over the course of the day. Claire shows no such signs of nausea, but, noting how pale John has become, opens a few windows without a word.

The rest of the evening is just vague. Claire throws together a salad and sandwiches, and John eats like he's never eaten before. It strikes him that he hasn't really eaten in the past week. His body has been wasting away just like Sherlock's.

It's only during nighttime that his mind becomes sharp again.

It's a living nightmare on repeat; he's out of the taxi, running — and there, Sherlock is calling him. John's heart pounds — I'm on the rooftop — and his world shatters into fractals as the lies and truths begin to peel away from each other — this is my note — and no, no, Sherlock...

"Goodbye, John."

"Sherlock!"

The scream that rips out of him is the most horrifying sound that the world has ever witnessed. And Sherlock has tipped like a terrible statue, arms out, flapping wildly as he rushes toward the concrete, and no, no, no

Hands grip John's shoulders as everything goes silent following the crunch of Sherlock's bones —Oh, God — and John begin to run for him — Sherlock, no —straining to reach the crumpled form on the pavement — Sherlock — and they shake John, tearing him away from the horror he's trying to reach.

"John! Wake up!"

His fist flies out before he can stop it, and something crushes under his knuckles. Instantly, the hands disappear, along with Sherlock, St. Bart's and the blood. Slowly, John sits up, and it takes him a moment to register the guttural sounds of pain Claire is making.

"Oh, Jesus."

He untangles himself from his sweat-dampened sheets and kneels down next to her. Claire's hands cup her nose, blood pumping down her arms and coating the carpet. She shies away from him when his hand brushes her shoulder.

"Let me look," he says softly. "I'm a doctor."

Let me through — I'm a doctor, let me through. He's my friend.

She tilts her head up, and John peers up her nose through the darkness. When he begins to prod gently at the injury, her eyes reflexively tear up.

"God," he says. "It's definitely broken. We need to get you to a hospital."

Claire sits curled on the floor as John fetches her a towel, cupping it gingerly to her swollen nose. He pulls the sheets off his bed — they're splattered with her blood anyway — and begins to wipe her off.

"Sorry," he mutters once she's about as clean as he can get her. She shrugs, taking the towel from him and holding it herself.

"You served in Afghanistan," she replied, her voice muffled and distorted. "I should have figured that you'd be jumpy when you sleep."

John's not entirely sure that that's why he punched her, but he lets it slide. Instead, he calls for a taxi and helps her into her coat. Outside, cold rain whispers down to touch the street, turning everything foggy and antique. Claire stands on the soggy sidewalk, letting the drizzle tangle her hair, the towel clutched to her nose like a lifeline.

The cab shows up within a couple of minutes. He opens the door for Claire (he does feel guilty, no matter how much of an intruder she is) and she stares into the cab for a minute before climbing in. John follows without thinking, remembering his first week of sharing a flat with Sherlock and shooting a stranger to save his life. It's not until he's given the request for the closest hospital and the cab is headed down Baker St. that he realizes who they're sharing the cab with.

"Jesus — Mycroft, what the hell are you doing here?"

Mycroft, who sits on the opposite side of Claire, turns away from the window, looking entirely out of place in a cab and far too put together for the time of night. "Don't be like that, John," he replies. "I heard a cab was leaving 221B at 2:30 in the morning, and I was understandably concerned."

"You could have called," John growls, gritting his teeth.

"Ms. Yerby informed me that you no longer have your mobile, and your flat doesn't have a landline."

"Mycroft," he sighs, trying very hard to keep his temper. "What do I have to do to get it through your thick skull that I don't want to talk to you?"

Mycroft sniffs. "A little more than lose your phone, John," he quips. "I do have my secretary living with you, after all. Speaking of which, how is that going? Enjoying your new flatmate?"

John stares disbelievingly at him. Apparently Mycroft likes this answer.

"Good," he supplies. "Ms. Yerby, you look a bit under the weather. Are you feeling all right?"

"Oh my God," John moans, kneading her temples violently. "I broke her nose, Mycroft! Of course she's not all right!"

Mycroft's brow furrows. "Now why would you do something like that, John? She's been nothing but kind to you."

"You — oh, sod this. Stop the cab!" John exclaims, and they slowly draw to one side of the street. He reaches across the backseat, opening the door to the sidewalk. "Out, Mycroft. Get out of this cab. Now."

"Excuse me, but I haven't paid my fare," Mycroft says indignantly.

"Look, I don't bloody care," John shouts. "I'll pay the cabbie! I'm the one who broke your secretary's nose, anyway! Now get out!"

"Now, John —"

"You sold out my best friend — your own brother, for God's sake — and now he's dead," John spits out. "What I did to Claire was an accident. What I can do to you when I have actual control over my motor skills is far worse. Get. Out."

Mycroft holds his gaze for a moment before he lowers himself out the open door. "We're at the hospital anyway," he says. "Ms. Yerby, call a car for me."

Claire looks up miserably, the blood-soaked towel dark next to her pale face. "I can't, sir. I don't have my phone."

Mycroft raises his eyebrow.

"Let it go," John grumbles, pushing Claire out of the cab and handing the cabbie his card. "She needs an IV and a transfusion now, so if you'll kindly get out of our way, we'll get going."

Mycroft clears his throat pointedly. John looks up, observing their surroundings for the first time, and stops cold, feeling ice leak through his veins.

"No," he chokes. "Back in the cab. Not here."

"I thought she needed medical attention 'now,'" Mycroft says, inspecting his fingernails, and John swears he could kill him. He looks away from the facade rising up before them, fighting down bile.

"I can't — I'm a doctor, I can take care of her until — No, God."

"St. Bart's is fine," Claire mutters, shoulders hunched.

"No, Ms. Yerby," Mycroft says, staring him down. "Not for John. He's giving in to fear and sentiment instead of caring for a patient."

"No! Fuck you, Mycroft!" John yells, spit flying from his lips. "Your brother killed himself here last week! What's the matter with — no. We're going in, Claire. C'mon."

"Good job, John," Mycroft calls after them as John takes Claire by the wrist, thankfully staying where he is.

"Bugger off, Mycroft," John snaps, and he drags Claire through the automatic doors to the Emergency Room. It's full — apparently, London has been busy tonight. Within minutes, Molly has come up from the morgue, looking exhausted and half-crazed. She pales when she sees John.

"You're here," she says quickly. "Your name popped up on the computer and I thought —" John raises an eyebrow and she cuts off, nervously fingering the cuff of her coat. "Are you okay?"

"Managing," he says simply. She offers up one of her awkward half-smiles.

"I can get you to the front of the queue if you want," she says. Claire closes her eyes and nods, and Molly finally seems to realize that she and John are in the ER together. "Who's this?" she asks, tipping her head toward the woozy secretary.

"My new flatmate," John says shortly. "I punched her in the face."

Molly's smile dims, confusion flickering over her features, but she nods, unsure. "I'll push your priority," she says. "But I've got to get back to the morgue — I've got a weird respiratory thing going on that pretty much ate my cadaver from the inside out."

Claire grimaces. Molly shifts from foot to foot and then gives John an uncomfortable wave before scuttling away.

True to her word, Molly's has them past the enormous queue in the waiting room and into the treatment area in under fifteen minutes. John is mildly impressed, and within an hour they have X-rays.

"This is one of the worst breaks I've ever seen," the doctor says, glancing over at Claire, who is now being gifted with a very swollen, very crooked nose and two horrendously black eyes. "What was the cause?"

"Assault," John says absently, studying the break. He's seen far worse. When he looks at the doctor, he realizes what he's said.

"Do you need to file a police report?" the doctor asks Claire, subconsciously shifting away from the soldier. Claire shakes her head vehemently, and winces as blood rushes to her nose.

"It was an accident," she insists. The doctor doesn't seem convinced, but he lets it slide. Within a few more hours, the paperwork is worked out, Claire's nose has been realigned and braced as well as possible, and the two are climbing back into a cab.

"Sorry," John says after a few minutes of silence. "I hope your face is all right."

Claire shrugs, and when she speaks her voice is slightly slurred by painkillers. "S'fine," she says. "I've had worse. Just not for a while."

John raises an eyebrow, offering up a confused glance, but she looks out the window and doesn't move until they're back at Baker Street. The mist has turned to all-out rain, and John stands in front of the building for a moment before steeling himself to go inside. He makes sure Claire has water and painkillers and crawls back in bed, ignoring his lack of sheets. Within moments, he's asleep.

This time, when he wakes screaming, there's no one to meet him in the watery morning light.