A/N The first scene takes place at the end of the finale as John walks away.

The Case of the Small Pebbles

John would never deny the tears that were there, heavy in his eyes as he walked away from the grave. He would never deny the ache, the massive hole in his life that the grave represented. On some days, the bad ones, he wished he was there too.

One Week Later

Sunday came more quickly than he'd planned. Of course, he'd been laid up half the week with the flu, so John was not quite himself when Mrs. Hudson called for their weekly trip to the graveyard. He honestly didn't know why he'd agreed to these, it was just torture for him. Every time it was like the first, every time he relived those last moments, every time he… John cleared his throat and walked down the street. He could see Mrs. Hudson waiting for him. They always went to the grave together, then she would leave him alone for a moment or two and then they would leave, she would always try and get him to come back to 221B and he couldn't… not even for tea.

It was the same. The headstone cold, words marking the passing of the life of John's friend. Mrs. Hudson was crying softly again, John put his arm over her shoulder. She leaned against him for a moment, then walked away leaving, him alone at the grave. There were no words today, he felt empty, more empty than he had the week before. Each day seemed to take a little more of the eighteen months away, as if they had been a passing dream and his life was what it had always been.

As he stood there, eyes on the headstone, he noticed a small rock sitting on top of it. Stepping closer, he picked it up. It was an unusual stone, black with a ring of white, the kind he had collected as a child. A small smile crossed his lips as he remembered picking one up one day when he was out with Sherlock, then trying to explain away why he kept it. Sherlock with his usual grace had extracted the answer by evening.

Looking at the rock now, it seemed fitting to leave it here, to mark that memory. He bent over and tucked it at the base of the headstone so no one else would see.

One Week Later

The graveyard was quiet as they walked across it. Mrs. Hudson was already sniffling long before they got to the plot. It was hard to hear her softly hidden sobs. John knew she missed Sherlock nearly as much as he did, despite her attempts at humor about how there were no strange smells emanating from the flat any longer.

For John this was getting harder, not easier. He had started dreading this trip on Friday. Seeing Mrs. Hudson was always nice, but he wished they could stop these weekly trips—at least part of him did. The other part needed that small moment of connection, however fleeting, he had there. That sense that Sherlock was there with him, and might somehow hear him. It was another childish fancy he had never quite rid himself of, in fact he'd held on to it tightly during the war, it eased the days when a close friend had been lost. Of course, none had ever been as close as Sherlock, none had ever given his life purpose in the way Holmes had—maybe because when they met there was very little of John Watson left, and Sherlock had somehow seen through that and offered him a chance at life again.

He didn't even realize Mrs. Hudson had left for several long minutes. He was completely lost in thought. The time was coming when he would have to make a decision about what to do with his life. It was something he hadn't really considered for all that time he was at 221B. Even through a string of girlfriends, he'd never looked farther ahead than the next day—which was generally a good thing since the next day might suddenly become "not boring" and all hell would break loose. He missed it. Sighing, he stepped closer to the headstone to pat it goodbye and stopped, staring at it.

A small black pebble with a ring of white was balanced on the stone.

John picked it up and looked down, the one from the week before was still there where he'd left it. Bending over, he tucked the new one in beside it, all the time wondering what was going on. Was someone playing a joke? Had one of Moriarty's many contacts started this? There had been a break in at 221B three days after Sherlock had died, maybe someone had noticed his collection of stones in the jar in his room. As he walked away, he wondered if he should call Lestrade about it.

One Week Later

It was raining, a cold drizzle that covered everything. John held his umbrella over the two of them as they stood at the grave. Mrs. Hudson had her own, but she'd put it down so they could stand together. She leaned against him, the warmth on his side comforting for the moment. They stayed there for a long time that day, he wasn't sure why, they just both needed to be there with the rain softly whispering on the umbrella. Finally, she pulled herself away, put up her own umbrella and walked away. John stayed. He'd run into Greg Lestrade by accident two days before. It had been awkward for a moment, then they had stepped into a pub together. They weren't close friends, but they were bound together, even now that the main part of the bond was gone.

Sighing, he stepped up to the headstone, this time he'd spotted the small rock as they'd approached. It was in the same place as the other two. Glancing left and right, trying to figure out who was leaving them, he picked it up. This one was grey, flecked with mica and had the ring of quartz around it. This time, instead of burying the stone, he reached down and picked the others up, they were all still there, all nearly the same size, all perfect examples of the stones he'd been collecting since he was six.

As he looked at them, something began to flutter in his chest, he wasn't sure what it was, wouldn't call it anything like hope, but… He cleared his throat, patted the headstone and walked away.

One Week Later

He was looking for it, his eyes glued to the headstone as they walked towards it. John's heart was hammering when he realized there was another stone there, in the usual spot. It took everything he had to wait for Mrs. Hudson's quiet grief to pass and for her to turn away before he went to pick up the pebble. He smiled, a conversation with Sherlock suddenly popping into his head when he'd found a similar rock when they were out by Baskerville. It was red, the ring a bright white. He knew it wasn't his, the one he'd found was larger. This one was the same size as all the others that has been left, as if each had been carefully chosen. Looking around, he could see no one in the area. After one more glance, he took a stone out of his pocket, one of his own, slightly larger, that he'd found one night while they were prowling the streets looking for… John couldn't remember the case, but it hadn't been boring. With a small laugh, he set it on the headstone and stepped away. He had no idea what he was doing, but somewhere deep in the middle of a sleepless night, he'd decided that whoever was leaving the stones meant no harm.

It was the hope that was hard to fight.

Still, he shoved it away and left his rock and, with a final pat, turned and walked towards Mrs. Hudson.

One Week Later

John was alone this week. Mrs. Hudson had caught a bad head cold. It had taken everything he had to walk into the building so he could check on her. His eyes strayed to the stairs to the flat, but he refused to go up. He'd checked on Mrs. Hudson, left her some cough syrup and left as soon as he could without seeming to hurry. The whole time he was there he kept expecting Sherlock to appear and tell him it had all been a bad joke, an attempt to alleviate the boredom—anything would do. When John left, he had glanced up the stairs one last time, and they were as empty as they had been when he'd walked in.

The graveyard was as quiet at the staircase at 221B. It was odd to be there alone, but in some ways easier. He didn't feel like he needed to hold himself together quite as much. He tried to be strong for Mrs. Hudson, today he could just admit how much it hurt and how the gulf in his life was getting ever larger. The stray thought that he wished it could have been him and not Sherlock ran through his head for the thousandth time. It hadn't happened, though, he was here and his friend was gone.

So was the stone he'd left.

John didn't hesitate this time, there was no need. He walked up to the headstone and immediately picked up the small piece of serpentine, this one had two rings, one dark and one light. John looked at it for a long time. He pulled a leather bag out of his pocket and opened it. All the pebbles that had been left for him were in the pouch, and this one, like all the others, was the same size, within the smallest margin they were all the same size. The more he thought about it, the more he realized what a monumental task finding those stones in that exact size must be, how long the person leaving them must be searching for each one.

The graveyard was still, not even wind moved around him as he pulled a rock from his pocket. This one was special. He'd found it overseas and it was one of the very few parts of him that had come home intact. It meant a great deal more than a bit of rock should. Taking a deep breath, he set it down on the headstone. John looked around, there was no one within earshot, just a solitary mourner further along.

"This one is special," he said to the headstone. "I brought it back with me. I found it one day on a quiet road. That's not exactly true, it had been quiet, but the convoy I was with was attacked. It was the first time I was wounded. It was nothing all that serious, but as I lay there waiting for help—or death—I spotted this rock. I made it out that time, so did this." He cleared his throat, wondering what the hell he was doing. He gently patted the headstone, that traitorous hope hammering in the chest, then straightened and walked away, ignoring the wet on his face—his mind already searching for the next stone he would leave and the tale he could tell. His hand tightened on the small bag of stones. This time he tried to fight it. But part of him wondered if this was one of those times when you eliminated all else whatever remained was the truth.

XXXXX

The solitary mourner watched him walk away. He'd heard every word said to the gravestone, every nuance of the voice, the pain that was there. Waiting until he was sure he was alone, he walked over where the other had stood and picked up the rock off the headstone. He grasped it tight in his hand, holding it until he felt it cutting into his hand. Taking a breath, he dropped the stone in his pocket.

With a final glance at the grave, Sherlock pulled himself to his full height. He knew how much this small stone meant to John, he would need something special for next week. It was still too soon to reappear, but maybe he could at least offer his friend this small hope.