John isn't enough for Sherlock, but he wishes to bloody Hell he were.
He does know, on a rational level, why that is. Just because he could have would have did loved him, it wasn't like Sherlock had lived his life with a John-shaped hole in his affections that would make him stronger and make him what he would have considered weak had he found the one to fill it, because Sherlock was never like that. What there was instead was more like a missing hemisphere of the brain – everything else moved to compensate, but that didn't stop there being a gaping, ravined emptiness that could block out the sun.
John was never enough for Sherlock, but had he been, he would have been damn good at it. He would have put up with anything, though it's not like he didn't already. He would have withstood every earthshaking, groundbreaking challenge to reality, to the very fabric of his being, and he would have risen for each occasion as it came, because there was something about Sherlock that made it all incredibly worth it.
It started with his sexuality, of course, except it didn't, because somehow that was never a problem. It never even started to be a problem, because John knew that he was doomed from the moment he saw Sherlock, the moment they started talking and everything he believed in well not everything but quite a lot of it was mostly false. So he found a new world, worked his way into it with his new friend, new guide and protector and love, and he thought that he would be enough.
But he never was enough, and it was foolish to hope, and when did he start thinking that it was foolish to hope and so there was three a.m., and there was the cocaine binge, and then there was the screaming and the tears and the ambulance and the indisputable fact that there was never anything John could have done about it.
John isn't enough. It would have been nice if he were.
John likes to torture himself, sometimes, because the worlds in his mind are magnitudes easier to live with than the world where there is a great, horrible, Sherlock-shaped hole not just in his affections but in his life, because John was never going to be enough but Sherlock was, always was, was from the beginning, was then and ever would have been, world without end, amen. It wasn't an equal kind of thing, and it certainly wasn't fair, but when has love ever been?
Sherlock said it himself, when it was still early days but John knew already, knew in his bones that he was completely, unfailingly in love. Sherlock was married to his work, was consumed entirely by the search for truth. It was more important to him than his own life, his own safety, anything he could ever have claimed. To think that a mere man, any mere man, could replace that, would have been folly.
But then there was Moriarty, and John doubted everything.
It was all a game, he knew that for sure. Not when he was first with Sherlock, because then it seemed like it might be something more like a hobby or maybe a passion, something to fill time and make life worth living. He could understand that. But as it turned out, no, it was a game, and John never had the hope of being anything more than a pawn.
He could have left. He certainly wanted to, when there was the flirting and he told himself that they didn't mean it and knew that yes, they definitely did, but he didn't. He put his life on the line, time after time. For Sherlock. It wasn't a very clever thing to do, but then, he was never very clever. Not in that way.
It was a world he could never compete in, though, an arena he wouldn't even be able to enter, and for a while, he envied James Moriarty. Oh, how he envied him.
If there were any one man who could have made complete Sherlock's life, it would have been Jim, every time. Sherlock could smile and look pretty and cheekbone-prominent and fucking God-level gorgeous and deny it all he liked, but James Moriarty could have been The One, in a different world maybe. John could see that.
He could have been the one too, maybe. But that would have necessitated a different world, and he didn't have one.
Sometimes he forgets Sherlock's not there. It's not in the little ways, which he doesn't mind as much because he's seen them in his patients and in his fellow survivors of a war that he doesn't know he ever really believed in. What scares him are the long spans of time.
What scares him is the buying too much milk and making dinner for two and getting upset when Sherlock isn't there at dinnertime, not because he forgot that his flatmate was dead but because Sherlock is late and it's not until he's fridged the food and gone to bed in a huff that he realizes and then he breaks down and cries, curls himself up until he could almost be fetal, in a nightmarish, overgrown way, and he cries until he has no more energy and then he sleeps, and the dreams are back with a vengeance.
He doesn't know why he thought they would be anything else. He doesn't know why he thought he would be anything else.
He doesn't know why he thought Sherlock could ever have been anything else.
There was no revelation, no four-in-the-morning realization, no come-home-from-work-and-find-the-bastard-himself-lying-on-the-sofa. Not like that. There was never any hope for it, either, because he knew. He had been there, after all, and he knew a dead man when he saw one.
Except apparently he didn't, or else he knew it in his head and not his heart and God how he had always hated people who drew the distinction, but it was true, because if he had known that Sherlock was dead, knew it in every sense of the words, then he would have been able to move on.
He did try. God, how he tried. He spent his nights replaying every moment, pressing it into himself like a brand of some sort, trying to sear in some kind of understanding, any at all, to couple with the knowledge. It never really came.
He never really did move on.
James Moriarty and John Watson should never, in any universe, have been equals, and it unnerves them both that that is the case now, because that is the case, and the truth of that is something larger, grander and far more terrifying than either of them is prepared to admit.
They meet over Sebastian Moran's grave, where Jim is standing and staring and hating himself for every moment spent here without his next twelve, his next twenty moves planned. He should be over this by now. He should have been long over this.
He should have been expecting this, ever since that one afternoon appointment with the doctor with the sympathetic smile and the X-rays pinned to the walls and the words that Jim has since been thinking to himself at night until they cease to hold any meaning at all but at that first moment meant nothing less than that his world was ended. He should have been expecting this, but he never did, because there were so many more important things. He might have been more apt to forgive himself had those things been Sebastian and making every moment count, but no. They were schemes.
They seem empty now, unlike Sebastian's coffin which is most decidedly not empty because Jim had checked, of course he had checked, even though it had been stupid and risky and possibly pointless, like the fact of him standing here now, feeling numb and also somehow cheated.
John knows why he's here, why he's here, and he knows what his first action should be, and the next and the next until the whole thing's over and done with and he can have some Goddamn closure because he's still being summarily haunted by Sherlock no matter how much he wants it to not be true but somehow it doesn't happen.
It takes a glance to see what's happening and then he stops thinking because even though there's always something missing, even if you take more than a glance, that's the difference between him and Sherlock: he doesn't care that there's something missing, something wrong, because he takes no pride whatever in being able to see lifestories in seconds, because that's something that he'd give up in a moment to go back to an existence untroubled by all these complications.
He could have died today if it weren't for the fact that Moriarty isn't thinking either. Not now.
And that really isn't strictly true because if Moriarty had been thinking then he wouldn't be here and if he weren't here then John would have had a Hell of a time tracking him down (though he would have managed it eventually, or died in the attempts), but the only way he wouldn't have been here would have been if Sebastian had been alive and had Sebastian been alive then John might not have been anyway and this is exactly the kind of thing that John doesn't lie awake at night working himself into circles over because that is not a path he wants to go down. Not now. Not while there's work to be done.
Because it's just a slippery, slippery slope from there to constructing worlds in which Sherlock had lived, and it's a short trip from there to a very real world that contains neither Sherlock nor John and maybe that's going to happen anyway, before it really should, but that's not going to happen until he's finished with this. He doesn't know if he's going to end up in Heaven or in Hell, or if he's going to end up in Heaven or Hell, or even if either exists, but he knows that he couldn't die content knowing he hadn't done his damnedest to do this.
So he's here, and the words have left his tongue and his mind and his hand has moved to cover Moriarty's and the other man turns to look at him with eyes that are so, so not bored.
There's almost a moment there where John jolts out of it, backs up into his military training and his newly honed mind and the plans, the perfect plans and diverges into a world where he's pulled off his mission and doesn't quite know what to do next, and that moment is when he's wondering what it would have been like if Sherlock had ever looked at him like that. The moment passes, though, and the world has become just a little bit simpler.
At first, they don't speak, as if they're scared that breaking the silence will break this truce, this strange, tense truce that seems somehow negotiated though there was never any negotiation. They find the words written on each others' faces instead, know what they would be were they spoken. John finds himself in disbelief at the fact that this is actually happening as they make their way to a hotel that charges by the hour – neutral ground.
What John remembers of Moriarty is manifold, but what he's thinking about mostly is the way he talks, the way he twists the world into a story where there's only one clear thing that can happen even if there are really hundreds, because he's just that good at manipulating people, and what he finds himself in awe of, simultaneously, is that Jim doesn't even need the words to do that, can transfigure the reality of those around him into his as easily as blinking, and that John knows exactly what's going on and could fight back at any moment.
He does, after a while, but not with any particular sense of impetus. He enjoys having his universe rearranged, in a way. It reminds him of Sherlock, in an odd way.
They both know the truce is going to end at some point, know that it must, but somehow it doesn't. Not quite and not at all quickly, in any case, because it's Jim that leaves first, looking somewhat perturbed and almost tripping over himself in his rush, and as he watches the other man go, John can see his plan playing out in his mind, still as perfect as it was at the moment of its conception. He still has time to carry it out, but it doesn't.
He spends the next few days wondering if he should be expecting some sort of a grotesque peace offering from Jim, or if the silence will keep up. In the mean time, though, he manages to finish clearing away Sherlock's things. He feels at peace now. He no longer forgets, at least, and that's something.
The next time they meet is years later.
It's raining and John is trying to forget the license plate numbers of every car he saw the last time he was in London. They're hardly important now, he thinks with some irritation, and if he can't forget them, then he'd settle for them vacating his mind, pure and simple.
That day had been a gray one too, with the sun tinting all the shadows just a bit off and the clouds glorious in their melting pot of confusion and he remembers looking out of the windows of the cab, the rainwater streaming down them so thickly that the exterior looked like an impressionist painting, looking for one last glimpse of Jim Moriarty, because that was really the only thing he'd had left to look for. There were others, of course, farewells that were said in their due course and debts settled as neatly as possible, but those were never complicated, and Jim Moriarty was nothing if not complicated.
He'd seen nothing, as he'd expected, but at least he'd looked.
It's raining and John is holding up his umbrella and listening to the sound of his shoes being ruined and imagining the plants in his garden breaking up the earth on which he had put the license plate numbers, cracking them into their individual components and spitting those out as compost. Keeping a memory palace has become second nature, but making it into a garden was a new thing. He thought it made the whole thing a little more tranquil. He knew that it was what proved to him that he still wasn't Sherlock.
All around his working patches he keeps poisonous plants, all sorts of them. It's in those that he's put the cases. The ones he's finished blogging are neat, simple, placed on those where the flowers or the fruits are enough to kill. The ones he's still nowhere near ready to comb through are tied inextricably to those with roots or stems that are best described as fatally toxic.
He knows it's silly, but it's his mind, and who's to say he can't be sentimental at times? He keeps spruces, maple, ebony, all the trees that go together for violins, and in those he stores all those other Sherlock-related memories.
He was surprised, when he was sorting through them, rooting out his childhood home to get everything moved. He would have thought that there were a lot less that weren't linked to cases, expected maybe a day or two here or there where there was just peace, stillness. But there was so much.
It was odd, he'd thought, the things he'd held onto. The little glances and the smiles that transfigured his face into something completely different. The way his skin felt, or how his hair curled, or the sweet, tiny gestures.
There were a lot of them, so he planted more trees.
He has broken down all but five of the license plate numbers when he sees Jim leaning against a lamppost, head tilted at an angle that suggests he might be somewhat bored but open to changing that. Unbidden, John's plans swim up to the forefront of his mind, distracting him from the numbers and making the last three he worked on spontaneously reform.
He has started changing the plans, editing them to fit now that so much time has passed, and he's making new ones now, in case his presence here is in no way amiable, and he keeps on with this, bringing himself up to a standard even Sherlock might have been proud of until he looks Moriarty in the eyes. Sees the smile. Knows that there's no need for plans – not right now anyway.
This time, their quiet isn't that of desperation, but of memory and constant comparison, updating what they knew. John resolves to one day ask how things worked out with Mycroft, while Jim thinks that he shall someday have to puzzle out how it is that John's making his money now. These concerns are swept away quickly, though, because not that much has changed.
Time passes, and the rain stops. They start talking, though there are some things they don't discuss – not necessarily because they hurt, but because there's really no need. John doesn't ask why Jim's given up a career of crime, because it's obvious in the way his ankles twist sometimes and in any case any doubts about that were dispelled all those years ago in the graveyard, and Jim doesn't ask why John has a shelf of handwritten sheet music in his home, because that one's just obvious.
They don't talk about Sherlock. Not directly, but they don't need to. It's not that it's not important, because they know, sometimes, in a humbled, terrified way, that none of what they've built together around the gaping, ravined hole that their lives have led them to could exist without Sherlock, that none of this strange sense that they are somehow equals, that they somehow are compatible, could have even been dreamt without the involvement of the world's only consulting detective. It's just that it's not something that needs any more words to it.
So they have instead tea and deductions about passersby, little games and contests that make things fun, and John enjoys being able to take away the look of ennui from Jim's eyes and Jim adores the challenges set to him, not grand ones like he might have dreamt once, but puzzles that are far more satisfying, or so he thinks when there's the warm of the hearth and his ankles are aching and John is telling him about gardens and they are content just to coexist.
Neither of them was ever enough for Sherlock. They didn't need to be.
A/N: Just in case anyone reads this who doesn't know me from other fandoms, hello, it's very nice to meet you, here's some background about this story.
Pretty much all my fanficcing life, I've shipped weird pairings. Most of the time they just seemed that way because I have an inherent difficulty with shipping anything het, but I honestly do ship some honest-to-God is-this-from-a-pairings-generator type things.
And the thing is, I thought that was going to stop when I got into fandoms like this one, where the main shiptease is gay and cute anyway. I honestly thought my sojourn in the world of Sherlock would be simple and johnlock-y.
This morning, I forced myself to wake up at twenty past five because I had just had a dream about Watson/Moriarty. A full-fledged love story kind of thing, with background music and weird vintage-anime-style-animation but Western artistic sensibilities and it was a little bit perfect and no, I definitely am not finished liking odd pairings.
I spent pretty much the whole day working on this. The graveyard scene I cobbled together in church, actually, which is quite amusing because we had a sermon about how "it is not what goes into a man's mouth that makes him unclean but what comes out of it" (and as a Margaret Cho fan, I automatically appended a "so basically, swallow" to that), and everything before that was written in the dark from five thirty to six at which point I fell asleep again. I'm still not sure about the ending, because it does feel a little too idyllic, but the dream itself was pretty idyllic in a weird way.
I actually think I'm nervous about this story. How it turned out and if anyone's going to read it, kind of thing. It's the only plausible explanation for why I've been rambling on for so damn long, which is a habit I thought I grew out of years ago. Feedback would be greatly appreciated, thus!
Thank you so much for your time.
~Mademise Morte, September 2, 2012.