Author's Note: This story begins immediately after The Reichenbach Fall.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sherlock. I don't make any money with it and don't intend to do so in the future.
Rating: M for mentioning of suicide, drug abuse and torturing in later chapters
Edit: Just eliminated a few mistakes, thanks to the amazing help and encouragement of GoSherlocked, Liz Night and beasly_beans. Thank you so much! :-)
He was pushed into the hospital soon afterwards, gently but determinedly. Didn't know by whom, avoided looking into their faces. Eyes down, John willingly stumbled along, his head still drumming from his fall. Then sitting on a bed, ignoring the people around him, eyes down, down. Looking at the tiles. Images of blood and empty eyes and drenched curls in his head. He forced himself to keep these images vivid in his mind, seeing them again and again.
Someone checked his vitals, someone wrapped him in a blanket, as if that would help. He heard murmured words, but didn't listen to any of them, didn't look at any of them. Time went by, minutes or hours, stretching endlessly, with meaningless people and meaningless actions. Someone checked his pupils for signs of a concussion: reasonable, but meaningless as well. The floor tiles were old and worn, greyish with a stain of green, bleached. John doubted he could ever forget those tiles.
Only when someone reached for a syringe did he show a flicker of life. "No tranquilliser", he begged, with a slight amount of panic in his voice. He looked up for the first time since entering the hospital, directly into the face of a young doctor. "No tranquilliser, please, I..." He collected himself with force. "I don´t want to stop feeling the... I..." He stopped, just looking at her. "Please don´t!" he finally whispered. She nodded and left him alone. Eyes down again. Grey tiles. Blood and eyes and curls...
Time passed. The door was opened again. Lestrade, pale, shaken. Not as pale as... Was he blaming himself? John looked away again. While he was listening to the D.I.´s murmurs half-heartedly, things to say sprung to his mind, like "It wasn't your fault!" and "It was all your fault!" and "Leave me alone!". But John only looked to the ground, and thought of blood and curls, and after a while, Lestrade left.
Time continued to pass, the staring went on. The joints between the tiles were black, but frayed. The world left John alone for a while. After another eternity, the door was opened once more. Molly. Shaken and sad, eyes red and swollen. Again, he looked away after a fraction of a second, realizing that he was simply not able to stand looking at her.
"I'm sorry!" she stated, voice weak from a trembling body. John stared at the ground. The tiles were bleached, but clean. She sat down next to him, wrapping her arm around his shoulder, leaning against him so hard he could feel her shaking. The staring continued for a while.
"Do you want to see him?" she asked then, so softly that John barely heard her. He nodded in silence and left the sanctuary of the hospital room for good.
Being at the morgue without an endlessly talking Sherlock by his side felt wrong, as if he did not have any right to be here on his own. Molly guided him to one of the tables, constantly touching his arm or his back or his hand, a hopeless attempt to offer solace where none should be possible. Or was she seeking for it? Anyway, John couldn't bring himself to respond to it.
The tiles had changed during their journey through the corridors, becoming newer, whiter. At one point his steps had been so reluctant that Molly literally had to pull him along. At least she didn't talk to him. When they stopped in front of one of the tables, John knew that there was no way to avoid it any longer. It needed to be done. He gathered all the strength he had – was he supposed to have any, under these conditions? But then, he was a soldier, wasn't he? That´s what he had learned to do – keep soldiering on, no matter what.
He took in a deep breath, and finally looked up.
So peaceful, was the first thought that crossed his mind. It seemed like someone had washed the hair, arranged the curls to frame the face, cleaned the face, closed the eyes. Covered the naked body with a white blanket. So peaceful. John´s mind was almost empty now, and he had no idea how long he simply stared at the... the body. Because that was what he should consider it to be, he told himself. A body. No matter what. A body.
He knew he couldn't cry. So he kept biting his lip, taking slow breaths through his nose, not taking his eyes from Sherlock for a second. From the body! Could Molly hear how unsteady his breathing was? The peaceful appearance could not overlay the dead eyes and bloodied curls inside his mind. Nothing could. Nothing should.
His back was turned to the door, but when it was opened, he felt no need to turn around to see who was entering this cold and gruesome place. He heard soft, but steady steps, punctuated by the clicking of metal on tiles. Was it accidental that Mycroft was showing up right now? Well, it was hard to imagine Mycroft doing anything accidental. Wasn't it?
You need to do it, a little voice inside him said, you need to do it now. And then you need to get the hell out of here, and never come back. So he did it, he soldiered on. Stretched out his hand, touching the body gently, first its chest, then its cheeks. Jesus, the skin was cold, so cold... Then the curls. His hand rested there, his fingers taking in the softness of the hair, his lip hurting from having being bitten on. He needed to say something. Needed to speak. Needed to say something.
"I..." he started, and stopped almost instantly. Oh God, this was terrible. His heart started to beat violently all of sudden, his breathing became hollow, which made his voice sound even more broken than he thought was possible, when he pressed out "I'm so sorry! I.. I should have...I..." The sentence hung in mid-air, never to be finished. Instead, John shook his head slowly, withdrew his hand from...the body and turned around sharply.
Mycroft was standing so close that he almost bumped into him. John gave him the coldest stare he could muster. "Don´t you dare to talk to me. Ever." And without waiting for the inevitable reply, John left.
The cab took its time to reach Baker Street, the traffic being rather heavy (what time was it, anyway?), and John kept thinking about eyes and blood and curls. Not the peaceful, easy version from the morgue, the cruel one from the pavement. Again and again, it went around inside his head. When he realized that this image no longer hurt him that much because he had gone numb inside, he thought about the note. About Sherlock crying, about himself, obviously unable to stop the inevitable. About an outstretched hand from the roof. Sherlock crying.
He himself couldn't cry. Should he have cried? He couldn't. He had never cried, though, not when his mother had died of cancer, not when his father had drunken himself to death in the aftermath of this, not in Kunduz. Not after Kunduz.
Standing in front of the green door, he knew that the hardest part was yet to come. He needed to tell her. He needed to break her heart. He felt the irrational wish to stay right here for ever. If he simply didn't go inside, it would never happen... Again, in the end, he soldiered on. Knocked at Mrs. Hudson´s door, steeling himself for the task at hand.
When did he become so tired, anyway? He felt barely able to keep his eyes open. His whole body screamed for sleep, for forgetting everything, for a short moment of oblivion. But there would be no sleep, he knew. Not now, not today. Not enough sleep for a very long time. It was incredible how mundane your thoughts can turn out to be in the middle of a disaster.
He had had no idea how to tell Mrs. Hudson, but it turned out to be unnecessary to say something anyway. She opened the door, looked at John, and her face fell almost instantly. Later he was holding her, comforting her, only that there was no comfort, letting her cry until her voice was harsh and her eyes fell dry.
Then he softly told her about the roof and the so-called note and how he had been completely unable to stop him and how he should have been able to stop him and how he does not know just how much time had passed since then and how he does not know how to carry on now. And then she was holding him, talking to him, while he nearly drifted away to a state of semi-sleep, just lying in her arms for a while, just drifting.
And then he was in the apartment, all alone. He'd realized his shoes were covered with blood, his socks were drenched as well, and had taken them off, and was sitting in his armchair, barefoot, staring into the lonely nothingness around him. It was so tempting, just to fall asleep now, but he couldn't. There was one more thing he needed to do, one little action that would be waited for impatiently if it was not done now.
He heaved himself out of the armchair and dragged himself into the bathroom – the only truly surveillance-free room in the apartment. He opened the tap and let the water run down the sink, just to make sure none of the many bugs from 221b would catch any noise from inside the room. Then he sat down, leaning against the bathtub, and took out his mobile. Not his regular one, the new one, with the prepaid card and the faked list of contacts and the faked texts on it, placed there just in case someone else would get hold of it. Which really, really should not happen!
"Back home again, still alive." he typed, and then added, "Plan working so far. Be careful!" Then he picked one special contact from the list, the only one actually connected to an existing mobile number, but covering its owner with the fake name of Mary Morstan.
Pressing send, he briefly wondered if he should have encoded the message, but then they had agreed not to, at least not the first one. At this very moment, the other mobile was still lying in a safe deposit box somewhere in Berne, and this message should be deleted as soon as possible after being read. For the first time since the whole insanity had started, John felt some of the tension slipping from his shoulders. He was still alive. No assassin had shot him so far. That was good.
He had fooled the enemy. Now he must find out if he had also been able to fool the friends.
He slowly returned to the armchair, allowing himself to feel the tiredness that was tugging at his body, knowing being tired would make him look worn and miserable, eyes again on the ground. Too many cameras in this flat to be himself anywhere but inside the bathroom. This was going to be a long, long summer.
Again, time passed and John stared on. He knew there was no way Mycroft would fail to turn up at 221b today. To look after John, the way his dead brother would have wanted him to. To seek forgiveness for betraying Sherlock by providing Moriarty with so many details from Sherlock's life. Or so he would pretend.
His real mission would obviously be to find out if John really believed in Sherlock´s death, and if John really believed that Mycroft was involved in it. So all John had to do now was play out a double bluff on the British government. Jesus, he thought, next time I'm going to be the one to jump off a building, and you can do all the save-the-day-by-lying-to-everyone-stuff.
Mycroft took his time to arrive, probably busy helping to get Sherlock out of the country one way or the other. When he finally showed up, all serious and subtly grieving, John had been awake for nearly 48 hours, not counting the little naps he had taken at the laboratory, and he really didn't need brilliant acting skills to appear broken. He was still wearing the same clothes he had on when Sherlock had jumped, still neither shoes nor socks, hadn't washed or shaved, had done nothing other than sitting in his chair, staring at the carpet.
When the door opened and Mycroft came in, he barely looked up. Clenched his fists, though. (Mycroft was to notice the little things, and John was supposed to be angry at Mycroft. That was the whole point of Mycroft telling him about how he "accidentally betrayed" Sherlock, after all.) So he dutifully clenched his fists and his jaw and waited for his prompt.
"John..." Mycroft started, and John spontaneously decided that this was all the prompting he needed. He exploded out of the chair and planted himself in front of the tall man, staring at him with as much hatred as he could muster. "How dare you come here?", he shouted, "How do you dare? It's your fault he´s dead, and you know it. You failed to protect him. You helped Moriarty to bring him down. You said you're constantly worried about him but in the end it was you who caused all this! Get away from me, Mycroft Holmes, as fast as you can. You've never been worthy of having a brother like him. He would despise you even more now than he did before. Leave. Me. Alone!"
The last sentences were yelled from the top of his lungs, and he was shaking with artificial rage. Mycroft just looked at him, nearly unimpressed, but with an ever so subtle sadness in his eyes, an ever so subtle tremble of his bottom lip. (He was cleverly acting to fool him, John realized, which meant he hadn't gotten the fact that John was only acting as well. Or was he trying to fool him into believing he was fooled? What comes after triple bluff? Quadruple bluff?)
John shook his head slightly, allowing his body to sag. "Leave me alone!" he repeated gently, more pleading now, sounding like he was too exhausted to be angry any longer. He held Mycroft's gaze for another while, then looked away, eyes down once more, wondering how broken he really appeared to be. He fell into his chair once more and didn't look up when Mycroft turned to leave. (And he didn't as much as twitch when this new mobile he kept in his trouser pocket softly vibrated to signal an incoming text.)
Of course, no Holmes could leave a room without having the last word, so John was not surprised when he heard the footsteps come to a halt. "I am aware of my guilt, John" the older man declared quietly. "However, I know that my brother...cared for you, for reasons I can fully understand, and he would expect me to make sure that his...demise would not impair your current lifestyle. Consider your financial interests to be taken care of, John, whether you like it or not. I know that there is nothing more you would allow me to do for you at this point."
John, (who had slightly theatrically closed his eyes at "demise" and opened them again in disbelief at "financial interest") didn't bother to respond to this, and so Mycroft finally left. Aware of all the cameras, most of them installed by Mycroft, some surely by Moriarty, a few probably by yet unknown opponents, John staggered once more to the relative sanctuary of the bathroom to look at the text he had just received from Mary Morstan.
"Brilliant performance," it read, "keep mourning for the two deceased. Dasvidanya!"
Sherlock was heading from Switzerland to Russia, to start tearing down Moriarty´s net. And Moriarty was dead, but John still needed to appear mourning. He resisted the urge to send another "Be careful!" Instead, he cleared the message, wavered back to his chair and continued to give his impression of broken, lonesome John Watson.
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