Title: After the Fall
Rating/Warnings: T, for disturbing images of war.
Ship: Possible preslash for John/Sherlock, but only if you are that way inclined.
Notes: Sherlock's second season is on Netflix, and my heart is a little broken for them. Since I am mourning, I thought they might be too. Two tiny ficlets on how I think Sherlock and John would deal with loss.
The things Sherlock knew about John Watson had a specific amount of allocated space on his internal hard drive. Unlike almost all his other subcategories of knowledge, John's data allocation had to be adjusted from time to time. As John's relevance and usefulness increased, so did his share of Sherlock's memory, until New York's subway system took up the same amount of space as the many subtleties of John's jumpers, and all the notes Vivaldi ever played could be stored in less memory than it took to catalogue all the ways John could say his name.
John had always stayed firmly in whatever space was allotted to him, however, so after the Fall, when John began to spill over into numbers theory and the history of the English monarchy and how Sherlock takes his tea, Sherlock was more intrigued at first than anything else. It was an anomaly, as so many things about John tended to be, and he loved anomalies. They were not boring.
But soon, John's refusal to stay where Sherlock had stored him became more troublesome than fascinating. Sherlock's finely tuned mind could not function properly if, when he attempted to access the human skeletal system, he found John there instead, asking if they needed more tea while he was at the market. John on the sidewalk in front of Bart's, looking up, seemed particularly intent upon hiding wherever Sherlock kept his most vitally important data, and it was very hard to properly analyze the interrogation of Moriarty's Moscow ring members when all of Sherlock's Russian vocabulary had been displaced by "you are."
Most troublesome of all, however, was the day when Sherlock heard some children singing a nursery rhyme about the London Bridge, and he went to access a memory of John humming the same tune. The data was gone, however. There was only a blank space where the off-key frequencies of John's tuneless rendition had once been, and Sherlock felt less like it had been accidentally deleted than like the file had been corrupted. A quick investigation revealed that the names of John's grandparents, the chemical composition of John's laundry detergent, and the precise cadence of John's voice the first time he'd told Sherlock he was brilliant were also gone, and Sherlock did not have a name for the sensation in his chest. He thought John might have told him the word once, but he was suddenly afraid to look for it.
Sherlock thought he might be losing John, the way one loses change in one's pocket or socks in the laundry, bits of the whole going missing and then turning up again in unexpected spots, if they ever turned up at all. His memory, the one truly ordered thing Sherlock had ever known, now gaped empty in some places and bulged malignantly in others, and John was never where he was supposed to be.
Sherlock wondered if this was what it meant to mourn.
When John was in Afghanistan, his unit had once been pinned down outside Gereshk for six days. Men had died under John's hands, screaming, and he remembered all of them. He also remembered how he had felt under the hot Afghan sun, with the water two days gone, when he had first realized he was actually dying. He would be found shriveled up, his lips split with fissures that would have seeped blood if he'd had any left to give. He had woken up a few days later with an IV in his arm, but every once in a while he still ran a hand over his mouth, feeling for those bone-dry wounds and the rattling death he'd thought they were bringing with them.
John had known hunger, too, during long patrols and missions gone awry, hunger that knawed uselessly on his innards with dull teeth. He had gone so long without sleep on a few occasions that his exhaustion had been indistinguishable from madness, and once he had spent four days on the front lines slicing gangrenous limbs from boys insensate with fever, and had only discovered afterward that six bones in his foot were broken and had gone untreated the whole time.
John knew what it was to go without the things a person needs to survive. He knew it so intimately, he even felt comfortable distinguishing between different kinds of deprivation, so that needing water, food, rest, and healing each meant different things to him, rather than simply all meaning: "I am dying. Please."
After the Fall, John decided missing Sherlock most closely resembled wasting away of thirst in the desert. His grief did not have the slow, terrifying creep of hunger, or the quiet, almost undetectable decay of exhaustion, or even the searing, infectious pain of a wound untended. His waves of mourning came with the swiftness of death by dehydration. Not having Sherlock, like not having water, was characterized by the shocking realization of fragility that came with knowing John could be broken by mere hours of not having. It was the helpless, debilitating feeling of loss inherhent the knowledge that only one thing, irreplaceable, could save him, but was forever beyond his grasp.
When John thought of Sherlock, he almost always ran his fingertips over his lips, sure he would find them full of cracks with dry edges, too long without what they needed to even bleed out their loss.
Sometimes, though, his subtle understanding of deprivation failed him, and those times, when he thought of Sherlock, he just said, "I am dying. Please."