Author's note: The characters aren't mine, and the story is. This ficlit is pretty much my way of testing my writing abilities in the fandom and setting the stage for a much larger, angstier fic (which is alluded to here).
John Watson was in the midst of a fitful sleep as Big Ben indicated that midnight had arrived. He did not hear the clock tower, but he had known what its significance would be; he had planned for today the previous night. A wreath was laid out in the next room, a black ribbon upon it bore three words: "I still believe."
It was now one year to the day that Sherlock Holmes jumped from the roof of St. Bart's. His best friend—more like family than even his own family—gone. John had never understood why; he knew Sherlock had been lying about being a fake—never once had his faith in Sherlock's abilities wavered. And the question as to why Sherlock had done this to himself—and to John—would haunt John for the rest of his life.
But that wasn't the only thing haunting John Watson tonight. He didn't even realize what was haunting him; his sleep, albeit fitful, was deep. He did not sense the other presence in the room—a cold, malevolent spirit.
John did not know that Sherlock Holmes was really alive. But someone else had died on this day, one year ago. And that spirit now stood beside the doctor's bed, sneering at him.
"Hello, old friend," Jim Moriarty whispered, his voice laced with menacing sarcasm. The man's transparent form leered down upon John as he continued to speak. "Does it still hurt, Johnny-boy? Do you still miss that insufferable genius?"
John shuddered, but did not awaken.
"Look at you," Moriarty sneered. "You really never stopped believing, faithful to the end. But you don't know, do you?" He leaned in and whispered four words into John's ear—the four words that John had been praying to hear for a year, but not from this source: "Sherlock Holmes is alive."
Moriarty stood up, pleased to see that John hadn't reacted; as he had thought, he had been in too deep a sleep to consciously process the revelation.
"I don't mind telling you now," he said, casually. "Come morning, you won't remember. And even if you do, you'll think it was all a dream. I bet you've dreamed of it so many times by now, it won't even register. And that's the beauty of it. Oh, I know it's not fair. But you want to know what else is not fair?" Moriarty's voice suddenly increased into a bellow. "That he's alive, and I'm not!"
His voice echoed through the room. John shuddered again.
"He and I had an agreement, Johnny-boy; you would be fine if he died. So he faked his death. He cheated. But, I'll be honest… I expected him to find a way out of it. Yeah, really; he is Sherlock Holmes, after all. But I'm Jim Moriarty. And that's why I had a backup plan ready. And it's just waiting to be put into action once Sherlock thinks it's safe to return—because nothing will be more devastating than having his hopes built up, only to have them crushed in to a thousand tiny pieces.
"You know what my plan is? It's me, keeping up my end of the deal from beyond the grave. You're going to suffer, Johnny-boy—and I mean suffer far, far more than you're suffering now. In order to break him, you need to be broken. I'd say that I'm sorry about it… but I'd be lying, wouldn't I?"
He chuckled, amused with himself, and then his chuckles broke into sadistic laughter.
"I wouldn't have found a way to break him if it hadn't been for you!" he chortled in mad glee. "The look on his face at our confrontation at the pool confirmed it—you were the key! Thank you, Johnny-boy; thank you for existing! Thank you for giving the great Sherlock Holmes his one and only weakness! Oh, I know you think you did him a favor by giving him someone to care for—giving him emotions… But you'll soon see that, in doing so, you've made him breakable. So, you see, in a way… What happened one year ago, and whatever happens to you and to him now, is your fault entirely."
The spirit cast one last look at the doctor.
"Just keep that in mind," he taunted, as he faded away.
When John awoke the next morning, the chill in the room—the sheer tangibility of the malevolence—was all too noticeable. If it had been any other day, John probably wouldn't even have gotten out of bed. But today, he had to; he had things to do. He had someone he needed to talk to.
One year… an entire year had gone by, and yet the pain was still as fresh as it had ever been. Was he the only one who felt that way? Most of the world probably didn't care; why would they care about someone the media had painted as a fake? But what about those who had known Sherlock? Well, Mrs. Hudson would probably be crying; whether or not she'd find a moment to visit the cemetery would probably be contingent upon her bad hip. And then there was Molly, whom John hadn't really seen much of since that day, but she would, most likely, make some time to visit. Lestrade? Well, maybe he'd think about Sherlock, but John couldn't really picture him grieving for him. Mycroft? Heaven only knew what that man would think; Mycroft had alluded many times to the fact that John had been closer to Sherlock than even he had been, despite being his brother by blood. In the case of the Holmes brothers, blood, clearly, was not thicker than water.
Other than them, John doubted that anyone else would care. But it didn't matter; even if he was the only one who did care, it wouldn't stop him from caring—or believing.
Nothing ever could.
As soon as he was dressed, he picked up the wreath from the other room and exited out the door. It was a long walk to the cemetery, but he didn't mind; it gave him a chance to get lost in his own thoughts—a world full of "what ifs" and a world where he still had his best friend by his side.
John could feel his heart breaking with every step he took as he reached the cemetery. No one ever truly got over this kind of pain, no matter how much time passed.
At last, he came to a stop beside the granite headstone which bore his best friend's name, not registering what Moriarty's spirit had told him during the night, still convinced that this was Sherlock's final resting place. John's vision was blurred by his tears, and his throat was so very tight, yet he forced himself to speak.
"Hello, old friend," he said, softly.
He didn't question his choice of words, even though he had only known Sherlock for a few years. It felt like the right thing to say, just like it had felt right when Sherlock had shown him the flat in 221B; the feeling in his heart as he had stepped through the doorway in that little flat was a warm feeling of déjà vu, as though somehow, some way, in a different lifetime, they had both been there before. His first meeting with Sherlock at St. Bart's had truly felt like meeting an old friend he hadn't seen in a long time. And that had made their parting at St. Bart's one year ago all the more painful.
John now knelt before the headstone, placing the wreath against it.
"I mean it," he said, referring to the words on the ribbon. "I still believe. I'll always believe in you, Sherlock. I know you weren't a fake. What I don't know—what I'll never be able to understand—is why did you want me to believe that you were? Why did you feel that this was the only way out? Why, Sherlock? Why!?"
The tears fell from his eyes, but he did not move to dry them.
"Why didn't you tell me what was really wrong? I could've helped you. Don't you remember what I said? 'Friends protect people.' Of course, I didn't exactly follow my own advice. I don't know what happened to you when I left, but… God knows I… I regret ever leaving…"
He shook with a silent sob, but then tried to regain his composure.
"I thought you'd want to know that Harry's gone sober—for good, we both think. She… she said that if I could get you off the nicotine, then there was no reason why I couldn't get her off the booze. I believe in her, too. I'm so glad I was able to help her, but I just wish I could've helped you, too…"
He exhaled, suddenly gripping the edge of the tombstone.
"It hurts, Sherlock—it's never stopped hurting, not even for a minute. It hurts knowing that I couldn't help my best friend when he needed me the most—especially since you always found a way to help me when I needed you the most. But there's something I want you to know—something you need to know. All this hurt… In spite of it all, if I had it to do all over again, I would—in a heartbeat."
He fell silent, his piece said, but he did not move. He continued to kneel in front of the stone, his head inclined forward in reverence.
As far as John was concerned, he was alone in the cemetery. He could not see the lone, solitary figure hiding not too far away—a figure that, though alive and breathing, was dead to the world. Sherlock always had an intuition as to when John would visit the cemetery, and so he would coordinate his own visits to hide and receive the messages intended for him. Today, of course, it was a given that John would be here, and Sherlock was willing to stay as long as he was.
More than once, during his vigils over John, he had been tempted—so sorely tempted—to call out to him… to free John—and himself—from this world of pain that they had both been in since the past year. It took every ounce of his will and rationality to order him to wait. It was not safe for John yet; only when he was absolutely certain that John would be safe could Sherlock return to the world of the living. Until then, he was, for all practical purposes, dead—dead inside without the company of his best friend standing only yards away… And the wish to call out returned tenfold as the thought returned to him.
He bit his lip shut. He couldn't do this—he simply couldn't. He knew that it would be useless to reunite with John now, knowing that someone would tear them apart permanently. And, indeed, there was always the risk that John would never forgive him, and things would never return to the way they had been. He wouldn't blame John in the slightest if that was the case. He deserved it after everything he had put him through.
And he deserved all the pain he was feeling with every move that John made and every word John spoke—the sheer, unbridled agony in his best friend's posture and voice felt like a thousand arrows striking the heart that Sherlock once denied ever existed.
What hurt the most, though, was hearing John's anguished declaration that he would gladly go through all of it again. Oh, that fool—that sentimental fool! How much longer would he go on thinking with his heart?!
He let out a quiet sigh as John finished speaking, but did not budge from his position. Even though he couldn't talk to his grieving friend directly, it didn't mean that Sherlock couldn't reply.
"Hello, old friend," he softly uttered, allowing one, solitary tear to escape one of his hazel eyes. "Your devotion during this past year hasn't gone unnoticed, nor has your pain. I should know; I feel it, too. And I am so, so sorry.
"John, I told you—warned you not to make me a hero. Now look at the pain it's brought you—the pain that I brought you. Of course, I'm hardly one to talk, seeing as though I didn't take my dear brother's advice about caring not being an advantage. He was right, just as I was right. I guess we're both fools in the end, in that respect, anyway. Neither of us regret it, either, I'm sure."
He paused, recalling what John had said about his sister, and a new wave of guilt rose within him.
"I regret to inform you that I've since fallen off the wagon; I've gone back on the nicotine patches. I guess we can sort all of that out when… if… this whole business finally ends."
It will always be up in the air as to when he'd be able to return—and if John will accept it.
"I am sorry, John. Truly, I am. You know I'm not generous with apologies; you'd understand, then, the significance of this."
He sighed again, and then shook his head slightly as he recalled John's last words, replaying them in his mind in and endless loop.
"I can't really blame you for being willing to go through all of this again, John. I am just as willing, too."
With those words, Sherlock Holmes fell silent. He, too, was thinking of a world where he could stop hiding and have his faithful blogger by his side once again. And he would be willing to wait as long as he had to for just a chance at having that world again, no matter how long it took and no matter how heavy the risks were that, in the end, it would be denied to him, one way or another.
Until then, though, he vowed to find ways to watch over his grieving friend. He owed him that much.
And as the minutes ticked by, neither of the two men moved from their spots. Only birds interrupted the silence as two best friends remained where they were, only yards apart from each other—yards apart, and also worlds apart, waiting and praying for a chance to be reunited once again.