The words cut through the deafening silence in the room, for a moment drowning out the heavy rain outside the wide windows. Two figures sat in chairs opposite of each other, mirroring each other almost symmetrically. Ella, his therapist, looked at him with a mild patience, waiting for his response. It was a patience that was slowly driving him mad. His first reaction was to blink at her in disbelief, as he let the meaning of the question sink in. She wanted him to cave in.
"Do you want to hear me say it?" he asked, his voice holding contempt for her. She was unfazed by his tone, trying to approach his stone-cold protective armour from a different angle. "It's been 18 months since our last appointment." she pointed out, giving him a knowing look, as if she knew what game he was playing, even before he had begun. The statement reminded him of their last meeting, before everything had taken a turn for better, then worse. Before Baker Street and the adventures. Before him.
"Do you read the papers?" He asked, almost sarcastically, breaking his calm façade. It was appalling to ask him such a question, now, of all times. Surely, she knew about his current situation. She was his therapist for crying out loud, she had to know. It had been all over the newspapers and media for days on end. If she had missed any sort of information in that area, she would have had to live under a rock.
"Sometimes." she answered calmly, with a dignified, somewhat respective pause. Like an adult listening to a child. "And you watch telly?" he continued, probing her for answers, reversing their roles. Some boy-like vendetta inside him had set its sight on her. An eye for an eye. He needed to let her know how it felt to have someone poking through his mind, determined to make him suffer at the hands of a professional, even if only for a few seconds. He was tired of it.
"You know why I'm here." he stated, irritated that he had to point out the obvious. "I'm here be..."
The lump in his throat made it impossible for him to finish his sentence. It had been stuck there all day, waiting for the opportune moment to strike and choke the remaining life out of him, crushing everything inside him that still felt remotely human. Flashes of memories came streaming back to him, and he closed his eyes to shut out the world around him. He did not want to show himself as a weak man, even in front of a woman who was used to seeing broken people everyday. He was a military man through and through. He was used to pain. So why did it feel like someone had ripped out his heart?
"What happened, John?"
He opened his eyes to see her leaned forward in her seat, legs uncrossed and fingers interlaced, waiting for an answer. Her eyes held a significant amount of curiosity, along with some empathy that he hadn't previously detected in her. She seemed to be really worried about his present situation. Her body language suggested she was indeed listening to him, and not just pretending to be attentive of his needs. The bags under her eyes suggested she had had a rough night, most likely staying awake over something troubling her, could even have been a date gone awry, as her chapped lips and slightly swollen cheeks suggested. He realised to his horror that he had picked up more than a few tricks from his friend over the short amount of time they spent together.
"She-" he said, almost pleadingly, more to himself than his therapist. The lump in his throat grew larger, making it harder to breathe. Please come back. "You need to get it out." he heard her say, as he shut his eyes and felt the prickling of tears behind his eyelids, desperate for release. When he opened his eyes again, they were glazed over with an unbearable sadness.
"My bests friend... Sherlock Holmes... is... dead."
The words felt like a different reality. His entire body shuddered, and he felt an enormous wave of sadness roll over him, contorting his features into something unrecognisable. To his annoyance, Ella was still calm, not saying a word, instead waiting patiently for him to regain control over himself before changing direction again. "You said Sherlock didn't have any friends."
'I know you're for real. No one can fake being such an annoying dick all the time.'
He fought back a strange mixture of a smile and a cry, cursing himself for his morbid reactions at the memory. He didn't want to feel human. Not now. "He wasn't exactly socially compatible with anyone." John mumbled, seeing Sherlock in his mind grabbing an elderly woman and practically shaking her to get information out of her. Sherlock's cold demeanour during Jim Moriarty's cruel game. Sherlock.
"Why do you think that is?" Ella asked him. This was in all fairness a very interesting question. Why did Sherlock behave the way he did? Had John ever really been told? Of course, growing up in a certain environment will have it's consequences, everybody knows that. Sherlock never spoke of his family, not really, which was why it had taken John a couple of days to find that Mycroft and Sherlock were brothers, though they hardly wanted to acknowledge this fact themselves. He knew this train of thought was all just a trick, naturally. The point of this session was to gradually manipulate him into concluding what many others had been convinced of from the beginning. To give up.
"I know what you're thinking." John spoke up, trying to come off as collected. He didn't want to give anything away that she might use against him. "You're wrong." he stated, slowly setting up his walls again, staring Ella straight in the eye. "Despite all evidence to the contrary?" she asked him calmly.
"I thought your job was to help people, not tear them down." John shot back, holding back the urge to break her pretty face. Ella was still calm, not moving an inch, even though he was sure the building anger was rolling off him in waves. He was impressed with the fact that she wasn't the least bit terrified of him. She knew what he was capable of. The thought of him wanting to harm her, a civilian who only wanted his best, frightened him. He faintly remembered Mycroft's words. 'You're not haunted by the war, Dr. Watson. You miss it.' "I am helping you, John." "No, you're pushing me towards a truth that you believe is the right one for me." he defended himself, raising his voice ever so slightly. No one was to tell him what was and what wasn't real; He knew perfectly well how to tell two worlds apart. "It is a truth the whole world knows is real." Ella stated, her voice as steady as ever, though gentle. She had gone back to parenting him. He hated it.
"Not me." he denied forcefully, shaking his head. Ella did her best not to sigh, and tried to change direction yet again. "The stuff that you wanted to say. But didn't say it." Her words brought him back to that fateful day. Sherlock on the rooftop. The phone call. The strange disconnection in Sherlock's voice, as if he wasn't really there: just an illusion. His note. His selfish action that destroyed what humanity John had thought he still had left inside him. "Yeah." he confirmed, his voice cracking. "Say it now." Ella suggested, immediately getting a negative response from her patient.
The thought of him saying goodbye to such a delightful, albeit violent life he had had, was painful. Letting those unspoken words past his lips would mean the end. He wouldn't cave in like the rest of them. He still believed in Sherlock Holmes. "Sorry, can't." he added, seeing his therapist still studying him. It was clear to him that she wanted him to give in to everyone else's "theory" so to speak, wanted him to acknowledge what he could never bring himself to say out loud. To him, he was right, and everyone was wrong. One person knowing the truth was enough to him, however sad and lonely an idea that was. "Why not?" she asked him gently, her attention still focused solely on him. He liked it better when she had been passive back then, writing symptoms on a piece of paper.
"Why should I?" he almost snapped, crossing his arms in defiance like a small child angered over losing an argument. Ella glanced briefly down at his arms, then up at his face again. "Are you really asking me, John?" The question forced him to calm himself as he nodded, making sure to come off as collected as possible. The frustration was tearing at his insides. Why couldn't everyone see that Sherlock was – had been – alive?
Ella leaned forward in her seat, wrists dangling over the edge of her knees, as she made eye contact. "You're a soldier, John." she said, repeating the words he had heard during his first session 18 months ago. "Civilian life is hard on you. You've fabricated a new world, adapted it to your surroundings, combining the two and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. In your head, you have unfinished business that you have played out in games instead with this imaginary character, Sherlock Holmes. It has been your way of finding closure."
"Are you finished?" John asked, uncrossing his arms, fisting his hands at his sides, the anger inside him flaring. The momentary shift in Ella's gaze revealed she had noticed. "I know this is hard for you to come to terms with." "No. you have no idea how this feels." John said resolutely, getting up from his seat. Ella sat unmoving. "All you do is sit in your chair and analyse people, and manipulate them into thinking what you're thinking." "I'm not manipulating you, John." "What the hell do you call this then?" he snapped loudly. To his astonishment, Ella still didn't move, and he found himself wondering if she had handled this type of abrupt violence in a patient before.
"John. We are only conversing. I'm trying to get your opinion in all of this." "You already know my opinion." he said violently, considering pacing across the floorboards, so as to focus his attention elsewhere. "But you haven't explained why." Ella said calmly in contrast to his outburst, still looking at him with the same amount of empathy as when they started the session. He looked at her, shrugging and gesturing towards her. "What is there to explain? Either you believe in Sherlock Holmes, or you don't, and clearly, you really don't." "I'm a realist."
The absurdity behind the answer made John snort, and he felt the need to break something. A chair, her, anything.
"Post traumatic stress disorder is a very serious disorder, John." He rolled his eyes and turned away from her. "No, you only think it's post traumatic stress disorder." he defended himself, refusing to let her turn him into a victim of his own being. He was stronger than her, damn it. He was a soldier. Despite his outburst, she continued. "It's a disorder more commonly known in the battlefield as 'shell shock'." she said. He shook his head, not letting her through. All of this was getting out of hand. "The name 'Holmes' is a derivative of the Scandinavian 'Holm'. It roughly translates as: an island in the river. A place of solitude." He turned to face her again, lips twisted into a disgusted shape.
"You've created Sherlock Holmes in your own mind. He is a part of your disorder."
"Don't you dare."
"You can easily take the man out of the war, John. It's a lot harder to take the war out of the man."
Only then, in his thundering outburst, did Ella move, her eyes following him as he was towering over her despite his small size, a trace of fear evident in her eyes. She sat unblinking, staring right back at him, as he felt himself shaking all over, hand fisted at his side, the fingers on his other hand wrapped around her throat. A part of him saw himself from the outside, saw how the monster inside him had lost control of itself as it almost pounced on the innocent woman, baring it's vicious teeth, snarling. Horrified, John jerked back from her, hand outstretched, as though he was hoping that this thing at the tip of his arm was not attached to him. Ella was frozen in her seat, staring at him with as much control as she could muster. He wanted to hurt himself for losing it, wanted to scream, wanted to die.
He wasn't ready to sit down yet.
Instead he went over to the wide windows, looking out at the rain still pouring down on the other side of the glass. The garden beneath him was a dark and gloomy green, and the sky above had turned into a mushy grey. No doubt the rain would still be at it's strongest long after he left this session. If it'll ever stop, he thought to himself. The tension, the silence, wrapped around him like a cocoon, making it almost impossible to move. He closed his eyes, trying to bring himself under control again. He didn't know how much more he could take. It was all too much. Sherlock, the bastard, had left him behind to wallow in his own misery, not caring in the slightest what would happen to him, he was sure of it. The feeling of betrayal, hurt and loneliness had brought him to attack his therapist. He would never forgive his friend for this.
Sherlock who always knew best, and always presumed everyone else did. The thought triggered another memory. He wanted to stop it, realising he was too exhausted to do so, instead letting it wash over him like a bucket of water, both freezing and burning.
"Don't do that." John sighed, irritated. Sherlock, completely unaware, despite how attentive to detail he usually was, looked utterly confused. "Do what?" "The look." "Look?"
"You're doing the look again." John stated, his tone revealing that this wasn't the first time he had caught him. "Well I can't see it, can I?" Sherlock said perplexed, as John indicated for him to look into the mirror on his right. Sherlock studied himself momentarily, not seeing it. "It's my face?" he spoke, posing this as a question, no doubt wondering what the big deal was. John felt like slapping his hand against his forehead. For a genius detective, he could be so stupid. "Yes, and it's doing a thing. You're doing a 'we both know what's really going on here' face." "We do." Sherlock said in an obvious manner, proving John's point. "No. I don't, which is why I find 'the face' (he gestured towards Sherlock) so annoying."
Something unrecognisable flickered across Sherlock's face for a moment, suddenly gone as soon as it had come. John hadn't paid much attention to it then, concentration on keeping his annoyance in check as Sherlock blabbered on about Moriarty's plan. He now knew what he had seen that day.
That strange emotion that had come across Sherlock so violently during the case of the Hound of Baskervilles had taken over him again momentarily, replaced in another split second with a trace of sadness, then disappearing all together. It had taken John all this time to interpret the emotions paired with the enigma that was Sherlock Holmes. In a strange way, it made sense. Sherlock had known something John hadn't; something secretive, something life-altering.
That one little memory tied together with so many events, that he was unsure of where to start. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to finish the puzzle.
Mrs. Hudson asking him if he needed two bedrooms. Jim Moriarty as Richard Brook, Richard Brook as Jim Moriarty, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Sherlock mentioning how he sometimes wouldn't speak for days. Sherlock, who practically never ate. Sherlock's last words.
"I'm a fake."
It was a punch in the gut, far more horrible than his years during military service. Far worse than his falling out with Harry. Much harder than having to swallow up his pride and beg for his life on his knees with a gun pointed at his head. There was so much evidence against his belief, and it horrified him. Without so much as a word, John moved away from the wide windows, towards the door, the wooden floorboards creaking beneath him. Walking in a haze, he made it outside, down the street, past a few blocks and then a little further. He would send her a written apology, along with the appropriate amount of money for the session. He would find a new therapist; Probably one located outside of London. He would seek help, and he would isolate himself. He knew he would not be able to outrun his shame this time.
The headstone was black and smooth, with golden lettering.
Never in a million years had he imagined the name of his best friend being written upon any stone, yet there it was, clear as day. Except it wasn't. They had told him it wasn't real. Nobody was lying six feet under, no one was dead, except for that one part of him that had once felt human.
Mrs. Hudson had wanted to tag along, most likely to keep an eye on him. It angered him, but he kept it deep inside him, even though he felt like screaming at the top of his lungs, cursing whomever thought it would be necessary to suddenly start nursing him. He was broken, but he was still a man. It was of the utmost importance that he kept his emotions in check this time. He would never lose control again, even if it would cost him his life.
They had stood in silence before the headstone for a while before Mrs. Hudson had said something about being just as angry as he, to which he replied that he really wasn't that angry. In some ways it was a lie, though in the end he felt more hopeless then angry he supposed, but he'd never tell her that. Some things would be better left unsaid. All things considered. After all, they had decided to play along with his so called disorder, but that didn't mean they weren't hurting on his behalf. It made him feel ashamed that they had played this game with him. All this time.
Mrs. Hudson had left him alone after a short while, and he found himself staring at the letters before him, saddened that he was supposed to find no meaning behind them any more. There had once been a brilliant man behind that name. Arrogant, conceited, positively anger-inducing, but brilliant. A friend. The lump in his throat was back, doing it's best to make sure he wouldn't survive much longer without shedding any tears. It was only a matter of minutes, possibly seconds. He inhaled the air around him deeply, smelling pine needles, rain, earth. Death.
"You... You told me once that you weren't a hero."
For a moment he felt ridiculous, realising he was talking to a headstone. In a green field full of dead people, he was the only one alive there. Conversation was pointless. Nonetheless, he needed to say this. He had to get it out before it consumed him, tore him to pieces and swallowed him up in a dark pit, forever drowning him in the river. His island was gone.
"There were times that I didn't even think you were human. But... let me tell you this. You were the best man, and the most human... human being that I've ever known, and no one will ever convince me that you were a lie, so... There." His voice cracked at the last syllable, and he felt the lump rising, his body shuddering, eyes burning. He took a deep breath, trying to mentally prepare himself for what he had to say next. With legs like jelly, he walked up to the headstone, gently placing his fingertips on the top of it, feeling his hand shaking slightly.
"I was so alone. And I owe you so much."
Taking another deep breath, he turned his back on the headstone, walking a few feet, his heart breaking into a new piece every time he took a step. The panic was taking over, his palms were sweating, the tears pressing on, daggers stabbing at his eyelids. It was getting harder to breathe. His feet felt like boulders stepping in quicksand. He didn't want to let go. He couldn't. Horrified, he turned around.
"There's just one more thing, one more thing. One more miracle, Sherlock, for me." he stumbled over his words, hurrying towards the grave, fighting his emotions that were raging inside him. The next words would determine his fate, but he couldn't deny it. He couldn't let go. It was too hard. "Don't be... dead. Would you do...just for me. Just stop it. Stop this." he nearly whispered, the words pouring out of him, tumbling over each other, expressing the child-like hope inside him that had been crushed the day his hero fell from the heavens. The tears burned in his eyes, and he hung his head, ashamed of himself as they slipped between the cracks of his shut eyelids, down his cheek and down onto the grass under his feet. He was a broken man.
He let himself be vulnerable for a few more seconds before he reached up and dried the tears from his eyes. He raised his head and looked out in front of him, nodding slightly to himself, forcing himself to be elsewhere. Forcing back the brave soldier, refusing to be himself. The man he had once become with the help of Sherlock didn't exist any more. Sherlock didn't exist any more.
With a strange numbness running through his body, with the exception of his broken heart, which felt painfully present in his chest, he turned on his heel and walked away from the headstone, leaving behind a piece of himself.