Sally Donovan was not a cruel woman. She kept telling herself that. Kept reminding herself of all the times when she had comforted someone.
That rape victim who wasn't even twenty yet, the one who threw her arms around Sally and sobbed into her shirt for a half hour before her statement could be coaxed out of her. The little boy who was kidnapped and clung to Sally's leg until his parents arrived. The elderly couple who just barely escaped a carjacking because she was nearby and had time to stop it. The man had given her a kiss and the woman had given her a hug. They send her cookies for Christmas.
There were so many more.
It was just something about Sherlock Holmes that unsettled her, make her prickly like a porcupine whilst she was around him.
She'd known Sherlock for far longer than she would have liked by the time Doctor Watson showed up, a man who Sherlock introduced as a colleague the first time he brought him to a crime scene, which turned out to be only shortly after they met. She'd known what he was like. Seemingly calculating, cold, and ruthless. Perfectly capable of carrying out some of the more gruesome crimes that he seemed delighted by while the rest of Scotland yard looked on with disgust.
She'd tried to warn John about the man he met, about how Sherlock was no good, perhaps even dangerous. But he didn't listen.
"And you know what, one day showing up won't be enough for him. One day we'll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes'll be the one that put it there."
"And why would he do that?" John had asked.
"Because he's a psychopath. And psychopaths get bored."
She still stood by what she said. Except now... there was the guilt and the tiniest bit of doubt.
Had she actually said that? Should she have?
It had been only in the interests of looking out for the poor man, she liked him, as much as she liked anyone when she first met them. He seemed capable, although perhaps a little naive.
So she attempted to warn him, perhaps a little harshly, but he didn't listen.
Looking back on it now, she wondered if it was because he was a reckless fool, or a braver man than she could ever imagine.
And then... again in the flat after he was arrested. She reminded John of what she'd said when they first met. How it was finally coming true. Perhaps not in the way she'd predicted, with a body, but it was close enough that she could rub it in his face.
"Solving crimes won't be enough. One day he'll cross the line. Now, ask yourself: what sort of man would kidnap those kids just so he can impress us all by finding them?"
But for some reason, the pleasure she thought there would be in being right was absent.
But then her entire prediction came true. They were standing around a body and Sherlock was the one who put it there.
But no one, least of all Sally who predicted it, suspected it would be Sherlock himself.
She'd told him the day before he did it.
"Brilliant work you did, finding those kids from just a footprint. It's really amazing." Sherlock had thanked her, perhaps not sensing the sarcasm or the deeper meaning. He often missed out on little clues like that. "Unbelievable," she added.
She wondered if she had anything to do with it.
If, perhaps, by not saying that, by not alerting Lestrade to the possibility, by not talking about it with Anderson, who loathed Sherlock with a passion, by doing any or all of those thing, if it could have made any difference.
She hated that she would always wonder, would always feel that guilt. This wasn't her fault. If the Freak decided to jump off a building, it had nothing to do with her.
But that's not true... her head whispered at her.
She ignored it.
But what she heard of their conversation, the last conversation... John had to give a statement. He was a bit of a mess, not really able to remember much, but for some reason, likely that mysterious brother of Sherlock's, the conversation was recorded. She peeked at the transcript one day, but had to look away. It was too personal.
She felt bad for John. Because even though she'd warned him, he still got caught up in the mess and had become enthralled with the man. Anyone could see that.
But that conversation. Sherlock's last, and he'd chosen to have it with John...
"It's all true. Everything they said about me. I invented Moriarty. I'm a fake.
Tell anyone who will listen to you that I created Moriarty for my own purposes.
Nobody could be that clever.
It's a trick. Just a magic trick.
It's what people do, don't they? Leave a note.
It made her chest feel funny.
She couldn't think about it.
John was a broken man.
She'd seen him at the funeral.
She'd gone. She didn't really know why, because she didn't owe him anything. But she did.
It was a simple ceremony. It was quiet that day, and the sun seemed reluctant to come out, just the way Sherlock would have liked it. As long as Sally had know him, he'd never been one for bright sunlight, warming himself in it, welcoming it, basking in it. It was like he'd arranged it to be cloudy.
It was suiting. Cloudy day, cloudy faces.
Except for John's. His told a different story.
John Watson was a broken man.
And against all odds, it seemed that Sherlock Holmes had been the one to fix him, patch him up with adrenaline and murder cases and experiments and deductions, and now that he was gone, John was falling apart again.
It was in his eyes. Sally could see it in his eyes.
He didn't cry, not at the funeral, just held their landlady while she did. Lovingly.
Sally wondered if Sherlock ever held her like that. If he ever felt anything for her.
(There was that once. Sherlock had been practically sick with panic that Mrs Hudson had been poisoned by one of his experiments, even going so far as to make Lestrade drive him home in a police car, sirens blaring. So, Sally supposed, he did care for her. Deeply. He just had a funny way of showing it.)
Sally made it through the funeral, not shedding a tear. After all, she figured, why should she?
She hated herself that night.
But she wasn't sure why.
That was how she found herself at his grave one evening some weeks later, the sun setting in the distance and the tree branches bare and reaching to the sky like arms.
She wasn't sure why she was there, or what she was supposed to do.
So she went around to the back of the stone and sat down, leaning against it. She didn't want to sit on him, that would be weird. She watched her breath appear in the air, and finally decided to say something.
She'd never been one to talk to dead people, she just didn't see the point, but this was as close as she was going to get to apologizing.
"Hello Freak," she began, but there was no bite to what she said. It was now a term of affection. "You are an idiot, you know that? It takes a special kind of selfish bastard to kill themselves while their best friend watches, you know. The kind of special only you could be." She laughed bitterly, and it floated away on a cool breeze. She shook her head. "If you could see him now... He's broken. Despite what anyone suspected, it seemed he actually cared for you, and now he's broken."
She sat there for a while longer, feeling the damp of the ground seep through her pants.
"I believe in you," she said suddenly. And it was true. "Even though I said all that stuff..." She shook her head, not sure of what she wanted to say, or even why she was struggling to say it to a grave that held a dead man who was no longer listening. (Who wouldn't have listened even if he wasn't dead.)
"All that stuff... Even though I'm still not sure how much of it was real, and how much was just research or looking clever... " Sally took a deep breath, trying to gather her thoughts. "But the kind of person I thought you were... would never so something so human as this."
She was feeling the bite of the cold now.
"Even though it was the damn stupidest thing you could have done, because we're the one who have to live with it. Live with the 'what if's. But most of all, we're the ones who have to clean up your mess."
She struggled to her feet now, stalking around to address the front of the tombstone.
"And I'm not just talking the mess on the sidewalk, because that is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm also talking about Lestrade and his career, your fabulous landlady who can't fathom the idea that her tenant was suicidal, but mostly I'm talking about John, who everyone is walking on eggshells around, because they're all afraid he may fall to pieces if we don't tread lightly."
She folded her arms over her chest, exhausted by this ridiculous argument and the whole notion of speaking to someone dead.
"So Sherlock. Freak. I believe in you. I believe you were an actual ass, not some made up brilliant detective. Because when it comes down to it, what's the difference?"
She stomped her feet to restore feeling to them, and turned to go, but not before adding one last thing.
"I hate you for what you've done. And I hate me for my part in it. And I hate that I have to hate anything."
With a final nod, she trudged off, her eyes absolutely not glistening at all.
It was just the breeze.