Chapter 3! Sorry about the delay, and I'm afraid I'm having issues with Chapter 4 so that might be a minute in coming too. Right now looking like it's going to be 4 - 5 Chapter total.
Again I apologize that it's un-Britpicked. If anyone wants to offer their services to this American I'd be much obliged. :)
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
John will never remember much of that initial week- a concussion will do that to you. It's all nausea and white hospital walls and irritating questions he has to answer to make sure his brain's working properly. It's police and more irritating questions while they decide whether to charge him with anything (they don't) and phrases like "damage control". It's friends and colleagues and, naturally, even more irritating questions about his well-being and pitying looks when they tell him they're sorry. He knows they're not talking about his concussion.
The pity is the worst, because even after he's released from the hospital it doesn't stop. No one really knows how to approach him, so they just keep repeating what he's heard a thousand times: that Sherlock was a bastard for what he did to him.
John finds it strange that they all focus on Sherlock's betrayal rather than the other crimes he's been accused of. Never mind kidnapping children or strapping innocent people to explosives. All of that goes right under their radar when they're with him. They buy him drinks or sit with him over tea and offer their support as if John was the only victim. They let him know they're there if he needs to talk and express their outrage that someone would work so hard to gain another man's trust when it never meant a thing.
At least they call it "trust". John understands from the way they say it, the way they look at him, that they mean something else entirely. Something deeper. Has he always been so obvious?
He smiles politely and thanks them. When required, he nods or gives vague, non-committal responses. If they want to hear how he's doing (which is often) he tells them he knows he has a long road ahead of him, but he's improving and will get there one step at a time. It satisfies them because it's what they're expecting to hear. He says he appreciates their support. Really, he wishes they'd all just leave him be.
He escapes 221B as quickly as possible. Just remaining there long enough to pack his things is a challenge; in the familiar surroundings it's far too easy to expect a tall figure to come bounding through the door at any moment, shouting at him to grab his coat because Lestrade needs them at a crime scene.
John takes a flat on another side of town. It's small and yet hovers at the very edge of what he can afford on his soldier's pension. He panics briefly when the bills begin piling up and he thinks he may finally be forced to leave London altogether, yet somehow he finds he gets by. Try as he might he can't quite get the numbers to add up, and he suspects Mycroft might be giving him a hand, but doesn't examine that thought too closely. For now he's just grateful he can stay.
The media eventually grows bored of Sherlock's story. His name features less and less until John can finally get through a whole week without hearing it somewhere. He's expecting this to be a relief. It's not; it just makes him feel strangely empty. It's all in the past now: Sherlock, the cases…their friendship. He can't even say it's just a memory, because that would imply his memories can be trusted. In the meantime he's back in a dingy little flat, back to being John the ex-soldier with trust issues and a psychosomatic limp.
The one thing he doesn't have this time is a therapist. At first he tells himself it's because he can't be sure someone (namely Mycroft) isn't reading her notes (again), but that's not it. When he's honest with himself, he realizes he doesn't go back because he'll have to open up. She'll expect him to tell her what he doesn't tell his well-wishers, what he can't tell her either because he knows she will respond exactly as everyone else would. No one can know, because there is no one alive who will understand.
It's this thought, nearly a month later, which drives him to visit the cemetery in the first place. He's spent the afternoon avoiding Harry's texts and thinks it best to get out of the flat for a few hours in case she comes looking for him. He just can't deal with playing the victim right now. He's never had any desire before, nor does he have intention now, as he hails a cab, of visiting Sherlock's grave. But when he clambers into the back seat and is asked where he'd like to go, it strikes him suddenly as the right place to be. Maybe his subconscious is telling him he needs to talk to someone who won't try to fix him. Even if that someone happens to be dead.
John is surprised when the cab stops; weaving, as he was, between deep thought and total numbness, he hardly remembers the journey at all. He pays the cabbie and sets out among the headstones, finding Sherlock's in a matter of minutes. It's simple: black with "Sherlock Holmes" engraved in bold lettering with the dates of birth and death underneath. No epitaph. No sentiment.
He stares at it for several long moments, unsure how to start. He'd been expecting to feel…what? Anger? Sadness? Something? At the moment all he feels is tired. He considers saying all this, but he could tell his therapist as much. No, best to start with the things otherwise left unspoken.
"The last time we talked," he begins, but has to pause here for a moment to gather his thoughts. He wants to make each word count, though he couldn't explain why if asked. "You asked me if I thought we were friends. I told you I did. Granted, you were never the easiest person to get along with." He lets out a short breath of laughter at the understatement, but the moment of good humor is short-lived as the meaning of his words- the reminder of their last conversation- sinks in. He swallows hard and presses on.
"But let me tell you this: I could spend the rest of my life second-guessing myself, trying to figure out if you meant all those things you said. But I'm not going to. Because I was there when you…when it happened. I tried to save you." It isn't intended as an admission of defeat, but to John it still means acknowledging that he failed. His voice wavers and he has to stop again, blinking furiously, looking everywhere and at anything but the dark stone bearing Sherlock's name. "I told them to let me through because you were my friend. It was true then, and it's just as true now. So…there."
He looks around just to be sure he's not being observed before taking a few tentative steps forward. He reaches, hesitates, then resolutely presses his fingertips to the top of the grave, seeking something tangible, something that will bring him physically closer to the man buried, unreachable, beneath his feet.
The stone is cold and unyielding. But it's perfect, he realizes, because that's exactly how the man himself would react if he could hear John's words now. This should dishearten him. Instead, it strengthens his resolve, because it's just so typically Sherlock: Cold, distant, and apparently unfeeling. Yet all the while a part of him, the human part, experiences fear and joy and grief just like anyone else. It's the part Sherlock tried so hard to keep hidden from the world, and even when John's mind told him he had every reason to doubt it was real, his heart had said otherwise. As a soldier and as a doctor, he's learned to trust his instincts. Between his heart and his head, there is no contest.
"You were my best friend," he continues, "the best man I've ever known, and no one will ever convince me you told me a lie." He sees his hand begin to blur, pale against the black stone, as the tears he's been fighting rise to the surface and come dangerously close to spilling over. "Not even you."
That's it. He feels a small weight lift from his chest now that he's spoken the words aloud. They're the ones he has never allowed to reach living ears because he knows they'll be met with more pity, more assumptions that Sherlock was simply a sociopath who also happened to be an actor skilled enough to trick his poor sod of a flatmate into believing he actually cared. Instead, John knows Sherlock had been an actor skilled enough to very nearly convince his poor sod of a flatmate that he didn't care.
"Please," he whispers, aware of just how quickly he's falling to pieces. "One more miracle, Sherlock, just for me: Don't be dead." He feels the first tear make its way down his cheek and lets it fall. "Would you do that, just for me? Just stop it. Stop this."
He can't continue. There is more he wants to say…a lot more, in fact. But every word met with silence is a reminder that he and Sherlock have already spoken their last; no matter what John says beside his grave, the last thing his friend ever heard him say will forever be, "Fuck you."
He buries his face in his hands, shoulders shaking with repressed sobs as he allows himself a moment to acknowledge how desperately he wants a second chance. He wants to ask Sherlock all the questions buzzing inside his skull. To be angry and not feel guilty about it. To apologize for his final words and assure him that there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone as important in John's life or as necessary for his happiness as he was.
There is one more confession he could make; the words are on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn't say them. Sherlock knew, in his own way, that John loved him. No point pretending he has to keep it hidden because it seems the rest of the world already knew as well. He's even more-or-less voiced it once already. He doesn't need to repeat now it to understand the enormity of what he's lost.
John stands there for several long moments, allowing that knowledge and the resulting grief to wash over him like icy water- weighing him down, freezing him to the bone until he's sure he'll never be properly warm again. Then he sniffs and draws a deep, shuddering breath, trying to bring himself back under control. He wipes his eyes furiously before standing straight at attention, eyes fixed on the gold letters of Sherlock's name. He feels a powerful urge to do something…some sort of gesture. Saluting wouldn't feel natural, so he simply nods once, acknowledging with a singular motion that he would've followed this man into the depths of hell itself. Maybe one day he'll get the chance.
Then he turns away, (he does a military-style, 90-degree turn as he would after having been formally dismissed, a sign of respect) and the moment passes. Suddenly he's back to being just John: the tired and lonely ex-army doctor with a psychosomatic limp and a Sherlock-shaped hole in his heart. And yet it's different now- the wound is still fresh and raw and painful, but there's no longer a danger of it bleeding him dry. One day it may even heal.
He feels a spark of something like purpose as he starts toward the cemetery gate. Not much, but it gives him direction. There's something he has to do.
As he walks, John focuses single-mindedly on returning to his flat and getting hold of his laptop. As such, he doesn't bother looking around a second time for anyone who might recognize or bother him.
It makes no difference, because no one watches him as he limps across the grass toward the main road. He is quite alone.