As always, I own nothing here but my own ideas. Everything else belongs to ACD and the BBC—I just like to play here. This has not been beta'd or Brit-picked, so as always, all mistakes are my own.
It wasn't something John had ever planned to do—or been interested in, really.
He'd been happy building furniture and carving little wooden knickknacks. He had enjoyed the challenge of expanding into things for spinning (he still blamed Mrs. Hudson and Sally Donovan for that). It had been a pleasure, this last year, to feel the skill in his hands again. To relearn the accomplishment of making things. It didn't compare to the enormous satisfaction of saving a life as a surgeon (or as the mad bloke who chased criminals with Sherlock Holmes), but still … it was satisfying.
Working wood gave him a way to relax when he was still wired on adrenalin after a long day. It gave him something to do with his hands other than throttling his frustrating flatmate. It gave him a place to channel the creativity he'd almost forgotten he had.
More than that, it gave him a way to remember.
Working with wood always made him think of his father—the man who had taught him how to wield a chisel. He remembered the long, peaceful hours in his Dad's workshop, the patient way his father had guided him without ever making him feel pressured. It had taken him years (and a war) (and life with Sherlock Holmes) to get past the grief, the loss he'd felt when his father died. It had been so encompassing, he had practically run for medical school, far from the work they had both loved, and had not picked up a chisel or wood-working tool of any kind until a year ago, when Mrs. Hudson's shelf had broken.
It had been in repairing that, that he had rediscovered this part of himself and—more importantly—found that link to his father again. Now, years from the grief of losing him, years in which thinking of him had grown less painful, John had found a way to feel close to him again, spending his spare time doing the work they had both loved.
It had been a complete surprise to him that Sherlock was actually supportive of this endeavor. As long as his hobby didn't interfere with Sherlock's Work, the man had been remarkably forbearing about John disappearing for hours into his workshop in 221C. He had joined him sometimes, to pace or rock in a chair on the sawdust-covered floor, never minding the noise, or that John's attention had been split between him and whatever piece he was working on.
It had meant a lot.
Everything had meant a lot.
But now John stood in his studio, panting, looking at the shards, pieces, splinters that had been a beautiful hand-crafted desk not ten minutes ago. He weighed the hammer in his hand and let his eyes pass over the other broken pieces scattered about the room. Why bother with any of it, anymore? What did it matter?
He had turned his back on his hobby once before, when his father, his mentor had died.
What was he supposed to do now, when his best friend, his flatmate … Sherlock … was dead?
Was he supposed to sit here and happily churn out tables and chairs and spindles while Sherlock rotted in the ground? What right did he have to do anything, to be anything at all, when for the second time in his life, he had failed to save the person he cared most about?
Over the years, he had saved countless people—soldiers, crime victims, patients at the surgery. But the two who mattered the most? He had failed them.
What was the point?
He hadn't meant to destroy anything when he came down here. He hadn't even planned to come. He had only come back to 221 long enough to pack a bag. He couldn't bear the memories. Not yet, at least. Before leaving, though, he couldn't resist taking one more look—if only to remind himself of which customers he needed to contact to tell them their orders would be delayed.
Or, well, more than delayed. He had taken one look at the cozy, wood-scented room where he had spent so many pleasant hours and something had snapped.
Really, all those crime scenes … he had obviously paid more attention on how to truly wreak havoc on a defenseless room than he'd realized. Months of work, destroyed.
He could feel tears running down his cheeks, though he didn't feel like he was crying. He was far too empty for that. He could barely feel the rage that he knew was burning under his heart—rage that Sherlock could do this to him, that he'd been this selfish. (Because, there was no question that Sherlock had been a selfish man, but to deliberately cause John pain of this magnitude? He wouldn't have thought him capable.)
Still gasping for breath, John sank down to the floor, hammer dropping as his hands came up to cover his face. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He couldn't … he couldn't. The workshop was no longer a sanctuary. It was just another place that John had tried to carve for himself but instead was a symbol of failure. Failure to save his father. Failure to save Sherlock.
After a time, he pulled himself back to his feet and, without looking back, turned and limped away.
The next few months were … bad. About the best that could be said for them was that they were mostly a blur.
John supposed it was something that he had not succumbed to the family addiction of alcohol. Or the soldier's escape of suicide when everything you'd seen, everything you'd done all got to be too much. No, John just … existed. He didn't leave his dismal bedsit any more than he had to. (Not even to earn rent money, which somehow kept being paid. He could only assume it was Mycroft—a thought which would have infuriated him if he had had the energy.)
After three months of staring blankly at the empty wall in the featureless bedsit, John finally woke up enough to realize that this was a Bit Not Good. Maybe nobody believed him when he said Sherlock was absolutely not, not ever, a fraud, but maybe it was time to start thinking about doing … something.
Besides, he was getting tired of being stalked by smooth black sedans every time he went out for food. Tired of faux-cheerful calls from Mrs. Hudson (who he knew missed Sherlock, too). Really, he was just tired, but he knew nothing would change that unless he actually did something.
Surprisingly, the real kick he needed didn't come from a friend—or not really. It was an unexpected visit from Sally Donovan.
He hadn't spoken to her since that last night. The night when she'd stood in their flat and spouted bitter words about Sherlock Holmes, all but thumbing her nose with sheer, stupid, hatefulness. All the cases they had worked together, all the time John had spent with her talking about their hobbies—none of it had mattered that night when she come not only to arrest Sherlock, but to stomp gleefully on the remains of his reputation.
So, when she showed up at his door three months after Sherlock's funeral, it was unexpected to say the least. "What are you doing here?"
He saw her eyes widen in concern as she looked at him, and then grow even bigger as she glanced past his shoulder at the featureless room. "I need to talk to you. Can I come in?"
John took a deep breath. At least she was asking this time. He held open the door and stumped back to his chair. He wasn't offering tea. He wasn't being hospitable. If she had something to say, she could say it, but that was it. He wasn't going to pretend that he was happy about any of this.
Hesitantly, Sally sat on the edge of the couch, concern informing every line of her body as she watched him. The silence stretched out for a long moment and then she said, "I've got two things I need to tell you, John."
"I hope one of them's an apology."
She swallowed. "Well, in fact, yes. The first thing … and, I want you to know I asked to be the one to tell you. Greg wanted to, but he's still on probation—though that's likely to change now. And I know we haven't been friends …"
John snorted. That statement was probably the funniest thing he'd heard in months. No, he and Sally Donovan were certainly not friends. "What do you want, Sally?" he asked again.
She cleared her throat. "Right. We found his phone … Sherlock's. He recorded what happened up there on the roof and … I don't know if you want to listen to it, but…"
"It proves he's innocent, doesn't it?" John said flatly. "He outsmarted you again."
"Yes." She took a deep breath and he could see the effort it took to keep her face neutral. "Do you want to hear it? It's … hard."
John just nodded. Did she really think that would matter? Did she really think hearing Sherlock's voice would be harder than not hearing it every long, endless hour? She gave him another long look and then gave a brisk nod and pulled out a recorder from her purse. "It's a little muffled at times. We think he had it in his pocket."
Another nod. "Just play it."
Several minutes later, John sat with his head in his hands, tears streaming down his face. He'd been wrong. Listening to that recording had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. Harder than trying to smile at his father's wasted body when he'd visit him in hospital. Harder than seeing Sherlock jump.
Or, no, he hadn't jumped. For all intents and purposes, he'd been pushed.
Pushed to save John. John and the others. Sherlock had sacrificed himself and knowing that … John had no idea if it made any of this better or worse.
He lifted his head and tried not to glare at Sally. "Not exactly the act of a psychopath, was it?"
Her eyes were bright as she shook her head. "No, John. It wasn't. You were right about him and we were wrong. I was wrong. I should have believed him. I'm truly sorry."
He stared at the open remorse in her face and just dropped his head again. He didn't know how to deal with any of this.
He heard some rustling and then footsteps as she moved into the kitchen, but John didn't pay attention. He was too busy trying to absorb this new information. Knowing how Moriarty had manipulated Sherlock explained so much of that final phone call, why he had lied. But it also tore his heart right out of his chest, thinking how hard Sherlock had tried to save all of them. How close he had come.
And, again, John had been useless. Worse than useless. He'd been a liability. No wonder he'd been lured away by that fake emergency call.
Footsteps again, and then there was a cup of tea in his hands. "Drink that," Sally told him. "It's good for shock." And then to his relief, she leaned back on the couch and just sat, sipping from her own cup.
After a few minutes, John said, "So, his name will be cleared?"
A nod. "We're releasing the recording tomorrow. It seems the least we can do."
John made a noise, just this side of a snort.
"I really am sorry, John."
There were so many possible responses to that. Throwing her out. Yelling. Bursting into tears. But John just sipped his tea, hands cupped around the warmth of the porcelain. All he said in a quiet voice was, "You should be."
He glanced up at her, noting the play of emotions on her face as she considered trying to justify herself. (He could see the pride in her face, the need to always be right.) But she just looked at him and forced it down with a nod and another swallow of tea. "When's the last time you ate? Or slept?"
He shrugged. It really didn't matter. He wasn't starving himself, not really. He just wasn't interested in eating, much like Sherlock on a case—except, rather than needing to focus because he had too much to think about like Sherlock had, John couldn't be fussed to deal with the vast emptiness that had become his life.
He expected her to protest, to urge him to eat or rest or move on or whatever platitudes she would choose. He'd never seen Sally exhibit any real signs of empathy, but she knew the motions, knew how to deal with distraught people at a crime scene. (Not that John was distraught, oh no, but his entire life did very much have the feel of a crime scene. It was murder, pure and simple.)
He sat and waited, knowing she had something else she needed to say and they she would go and he could sit and absorb this new, world-shaking information.
When she did finally speak, it wasn't what he had expected.
"What are you doing here, John?"
He lifted his head to look at her, surprised to see compassion in her eyes. "What?"
"I mean, I know … I might not understand how you could be friends with … Sherlock … but I know that you were. And obviously, he felt the same."
"Because he jumped off a building for me?" John almost winced at the bitterness. "Yes, Sally, we were friends. What's your point?"
"So then … why are you here?" She looked around the dismal, sterile, depressing flat.
"221B is too … painful," John said wearily. "I can't go back, not yet."
"You blame yourself somehow, don't you?"
He felt like he'd been punched. Even Ella hadn't shown that much insight. "Obviously I'm right, yeah? If it weren't for me, Sherlock wouldn't have needed to jump."
"It wasn't just for you." Her voice was sharp, laced with vinegar. "But even so—he made his own decision. I'm not saying he had many options, and I'll never forgive myself for my part in forcing him to that, but … it's not your fault. You more than anyone, John … you believed in him. So why punish yourself?"
John almost wanted to laugh. A life lesson in guilt and forgiveness from Sally Donovan of all people?
Her voice was soft when she continued. "You told me once that you'd had to rebuild your life more than once—when your father died, when you got shot and had to leave the army. How is this different?"
Now he did chuckle, though it was barely recognizable. "A person can only rebuild so many times, Sally, before the foundation is shot."
"I thought you didn't give up? Didn't fold when the cards were bad?"
"When you taught me how to spin. You told me that everybody gets dealt lousy hands by life, but that you weren't the kind of man who folded at the first bad hand. You said … you said you can't give up on the game."
John just shook his head. "That's different, Sally…."
"No, no it's not." She was leaning forward now, as if by narrowing the space between them, her words would hit with more force. "I'm not denying this is hard, John. It is. It's awful. It's unfair and terrible and I'm sorry it happened to you. But you're honestly one of the most decent men I know and for as long as I've known you, you've practically been the embodiment of 'don't give up.' So you can't start now."
John just stared. "To not give up, you need something to work for, Sally. I've got nothing left. Hell, if I hadn't meant Sherlock when I did, I probably wouldn't have lasted the week, I was so depressed."
He could see her shock at that, but she didn't let it faze her. "So find something. What about the blog?"
"What's the point? The only thing that made it worth reading were the cases, and there won't be any more of those."
"Why not? Make yourself the next Consulting Detective—you're a smart man, you lived with … Sherlock … for months. You must have picked up something." He started to shake his head. "Or turn some of those case studies into real stories. Make the Sherlock you knew really live. Show how good he really was."
"I'm not a writer, Sally," John said. "The blog was just an exercise my therapist insisted on after Afghanistan. It was only Sherlock that made it work, and me? Trying to turn our cases into real stories? You vastly overestimate my talents."
Now she gave a sharp laugh. "Again, you're the one who told me, John—you do what you have to do."
"I'm not the man I was when I told you that," John told her wearily, putting the half-empty mug down on the table and then leaned back, rubbing his forehead. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but…"
"How about the wood-working, then? You know that you love that, John. Your entire face lit when you'd talk about it, how it reminded you of your Dad, how you liked working with your hands."
"Right, my dad. He taught me to build things and then he died. Sherlock encouraged me and got me making things again, and now he's dead. You encouraged me to make spindles, Sally—you'd best watch out. It's obviously not safe being too close to me."
"Don't you dare say that, John Watson!" He opened his eyes to see her standing right in front of him, looming in front of him. "I know you're hurt, I know you're grieving, but don't you dare give up! Sherlock loved the fact that you made things. Did you never notice the way he watched you? Didn't he help at that craft show? He even took up spinning, for heaven's sake, because he thought you'd enjoy it."
"No, Sally. He suffered me doing that. He put up with it. He helped at the craft show because it was for a case. And the spinning? It was just something new to learn."
"You're wrong. You were his best friend—probably the only person who really understood him, because God knows none of the rest of us could stand being near him long enough. But even I could tell that he tried to be a good friend to you, and he certainly proved that three months ago at Barts." John winced, but she carried on. "He would have hated you giving up like this."
"I haven't given up, Sally, not really." John was just so tired. "I just haven't found anything to do. The press still follows me half the time when I go out—and that's going to get bad again as soon as that recording is released. I can't face … I can't face Greg and Mrs. Hudson, especially now. I just … I need …"
"You need something to do to honor his memory."
He felt something loosen, just slightly, in his chest. "Yes."
Sally crouched down in front of him. "Then just think … with the skills you have, what could you make that Sherlock would have appreciated? There must be something. He didn't chase criminals all the time, did he? Find something you could make for him and then, when it's done, maybe you can find a way to move forward for your own life again."
He just stared at his hands, trapped in his thoughts, lost again as he thought of Sherlock at his microscope, Sherlock pacing the room as he wielded his spindle—a means of aiding thought that thankfully didn't make as much noise as …
John drew in a sharp breath and blinked, looking up at Sally and seeing a hint of a smile in her eyes as she watched him. "Yes," she breathed. "That … whatever that was. Do that."
She patted his hand as she stood. "Right. I'm going to make you a sandwich and then I'll be on my way."
"No, it's okay. I've got some thinking to do," John told her, ushering her toward the door. "Thanks, though, for … the recording."
She studied his face a moment and then nodded. "Let's just say it reminded me of how important friends are. You sure about the sandwich?"
"I'm sure, but … thanks for coming." John closed the door behind her and then went back to the couch, thought of a sandwich already forgotten. He had so many things to think about, but most importantly, in at least one way, he had his friend back. Sherlock might still be dead, but Greg's old hope that he might become a great man?
Sherlock had exceeded all expectations.
And he would never forgive John if he let this gift—Sherlock's unfathomably generous act of supreme faith that John's life was somehow worth more than his own—go to waste.
Sally was right about one thing. He needed to make something. Since boyhood, it had been his preferred way of working out problems and he had allowed it to be taken from him when he lost his Dad. He wouldn't let that happen again, but he needed to do more than just start building furniture or turning spindles again.
He needed to make something Sherlock would have appreciated.
Something Sherlock would have loved.
Really, there was only one possible choice, and it was perfect. It would challenge John's skills to the utmost and force him to think of … well, other things for a while. An engrossing project would be just what he needed, and he would be able to picture Sherlock's pleasure in it—the chance to watch John learning something new for a change, something Sherlock himself had loved.
John would make him a violin.
Note: I blame Jane Mays for putting this in my head. After John's hobby inadvertently got Sherlock into spinning, she asked for John to make Sherlock a violin. Naturally, I protested—making violins is an exacting task with lots of esoteric knowledge and skills needed just to make them, forget about making one that sounds good. And with Sherlock already owning a Stradivarius? Well … even if the thought crossed John's mind, he'd toss it away—why have hamburger, no matter how lovingly made, when you can have prime rib? Besides, how could he possibly do any of this without Sherlock knowing? It's not like poor John ever gets to keep secrets. But then this angle occurred, that it could be John's way of honoring Sherlock's memory and … here we go. But really, it's Jane's fault.