I Pray to God This Soul to Keep

He was there at the end.

He saw the fall.

Saw that great mind splattered across the pavement in a grusome slash of red.

For days he told himself that it wasn't really true. Sherlock was so clever, so very, very clever, it couldn't possibly be his brains littering the roadway.

But days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and John still hadn't thought of a way Sherlock could have survived, and surely Sherlock, even Sherlock, wouldn't allow John to think him dead for this long without leaving some sign, some clue…

What was he talking about? It was Sherlock. Of course he wouldn't be bothered to leave John a clue. It would never occur to him that John's life had ended too that day.

The Day of the Fall.

Perhaps Sherlock wouldn't even think of John until he needed help with something. A phone handed to him, or milk picked up from the shops. Someone to walk nearby so that it wouldn't look odd when Sherlock spoke aloud.

John settled himself in his customary chair in the lounge and picked up a newspaper, mostly because it was half covering his whiskey bottle. He'd promised he wouldn't drink before noon today. He'd said he'd change his clothes and maybe even shave, and if he was feeling very ambitious, he might go collect the mail.

But he didn't want to be sober, he didn't want to change his clothes, or shave, and he sure as hell didn't want to get the mail. Somehow people still sent things addressed to Sherlock Holmes, and every time John saw a letter or a package he wondered if Sherlock had sent it himself as a clue he was alive, and John was just too thick to get it.

He was going mad.

He put the whiskey bottle to his lips and drank. Mrs. Hudson would cluck and scold him later, tell him he wasn't being healthy and that Sherlock wouldn't have wanted this. And she was right. It wasn't healthy, and Sherlock would be the first to tell John every reason why his behavior was ridiculous because shouldn't John be over this by now?

But he didn't care.

He just wanted to sit here in Sherlock's flat among Sherlock's things and be a pathetic bugger.

Maybe tomorrow he'd try limping. A good psychosomatic limp might be just what the doctor ordered. Of course, to limp he'd have to get up. Maybe he'd try it out on the way to the loo.

It was dark by the time he heard the sound of boots on the stairs. When he mustered the strength to turn his head, he saw that it was Sherlock in the doorway.

He must have fallen asleep at some point without realizing. He'd had this dream before.

Sherlock would walk in the door, and John would get up and punch him as hard as he could. And then because it was a dream and John had stopped thinking labels like 'straight' and 'gay' were that important after he saw Sherlock fall to his death, he would hoist Sherlock back to his feet by the lapels of his coat, and then John would give him such a kiss that even Sherlock was moved.

He heaved himself to his feet, absently noting that he usually wasn't quite this drunk in his dreams. But he plunged forward, following the dream script, because this was what his life was now. Periods of melancholy punctuated by dreams in which Sherlock was alive.

The punch part went off without a hitch. He knocked Sherlock flat, and then hauled him back up. Before Sherlock could open his mouth to say something no doubt dry and witty, John pulled him into the kiss.

And this part… this part was new and different.

Usually in his dreams Sherlock returned the kiss, took charge of it even. This Sherlock stiffened in shock, his lips pressing into a tension filled line before going completely slack.

That was infinitely better than any of the passionate embraces from earlier dreams, because it was utterly Sherlock and so much more real than before. In fact… John leaned forward, resting his cheek on Sherlock's chest to listen to his heartbeat. He smelled of cigarettes, and there was the faint taste of nicotine lingering on his lips.

John smiled. "You've been smoking."

Two strong hands lifted to grip John's shoulders, and a deep voice he'd missed more than he knew said, "And you've been drinking."

John laughed. It was a mad cackle, just shy this side of tears. "Seeing as you're dead, I don't think either thing really matters."

"John – "

"Don't." John raised a shaking hand to Sherlock's face, swaying on his feet. "Just let me have this. Let me have it, please. Just for a little while."

And now he was crying. He could feel the wetness of his tears on his face, taste the salt on his lips. "Just for tonight. Let me believe it," he begged, not knowing if he was pleading with Sherlock or himself. In the end it amounted to the same thing, didn't it? Sherlock was just a figment of his mind.

Sherlock moved and John stumbled and nearly fell. Was that his leg, acting up? He had wanted to try out the limp again.

"You're drunk," Sherlock told him. He sounded quite proud, really.

In a dance that was familiar and all too real, Sherlock put John to bed. They'd done this hundreds of times, though in reality it had usually been Sherlock who couldn't walk straight, high on some concoction or other, or just delirious from staying awake for days on end.

They veered toward the stairs, and John shook his head, then thought better of it when the room swam. "No. Not up there. I stay in Sherlock's room now."

"If you stay there now, it logically follows that it is now your room."

"No!"

John let loose with another punch, but this time Sherlock didn't let himself be hit. It was decidedly humiliating, to be put in a headlock by a figment of one's own imagination. Though this dream was particularly vivid. He could feel the scratchy wool of Sherlock's coat, smell the cigarette smoke, and even his whiskey headache was entirely accurate.

A trill of fearful joy coiled in his belly, but John wasn't ready to face it. Wasn't prepared to believe it. So he tamped it down and let Sherlock manhandle him into the bedroom and toss him down on the bed like a sack of potatoes.

"I'd put your pajamas on you, but you appear to already be wearing them."

"Mmph," John agreed, rolling onto his back. That took all his energy for the moment, so he was content to lie there, watching Sherlock.

Maybe he'd finally gone completely round the bend. God knows, he was tired of fighting it. Maybe even at this moment he was wandering Baker Street talking to himself, and tomorrow Lestrade would have to cuff him and haul him off to Bedlam.

Was Bedlam still in operation?

Sherlock would know.

John almost asked him before he remembered that this was a dream, and this Sherlock wouldn't know anything that John himself didn't.

He sighed.

"What is it?"

"You don't know about Bedlam," John informed him.

Sherlock's brows went up, but he said nothing. Instead he turned around and reached for the violin on top of the dresser. John held his breath, not sure if he wanted to stop his subconscious from disturbing the sanctity of Sherlock's violin, or if he desperately wanted to hear the music again, even if it was a delusion.

"Sherlock," he heard himself say.

"Yes, John?"

"Lie with me."

"Are you requesting that I join you in a fabrication, or that I join you in bed?"

John laughed. "Don't be a twat."

Sherlock shucked his coat and boots, and then after a moment's consideration removed his shirt and trousers as well. In just his pants, he joined John on top of the covers. And even though it should have been enough, this sweet illusion, and even knowing that Sherlock didn't like to be touched when he slept, John curled his hands around Sherlock's arm.

Long fingers brushed over the veins in his wrist, and John amused himself with the thought that Sherlock was taking his pulse. He could almost see it now – Sherlock approaching sex in the same way he did everything else. He'd call each encounter an experiment, and probably insist on taking John's vital signs before and after. Maybe even during. And he'd likely record it all on that website of his, and John wouldn't care because it would mean Sherlock was alive.

His fingers spasmed against Sherlock's skin.

"John?"

God, how he loved that voice. Hearing it now was the best kind of torture. Each syllable was delicious, and utterly, utterly painful. Daggers in his heart, or something equally Shakespearean.

John hadn't ever been superstitious or religious, and he hadn't been much of anything at all since Sherlock died, but now he squeezed his eyes shut.

And prayed.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God this soul to keep. And should he be dead when I awake, I pray to God my soul to take.

-l-

John woke to the sound of Mrs. Hudson screaming.

He groaned, his head throbbing and stomach roiling, and tears already gathering at the corners of his eyes. From the light, he was sure. Or because waking from that dream was like losing Sherlock all over again, but if anyone asked he would say it was the light. Be a proper man about it.

"Do shut up, Mrs. Hudson. If you make John sick up on the bed, I will expect you to clean it up."

John wrenched his eyes open, manfully shoving his hangover aside.

"Sherlock?"

"Of course," Sherlock said in that unflappable way of his, like he bloody rose from the bloody dead all the bloody time.

"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson gasped, her face red.

That was when John started to believe.

"How?" he demanded around a tongue that felt like it had grown fur.

"I'll explain later. Once your head isn't splitting open."

"Bastard," John declared, rallying enough to strike Sherlock in the arm. "Utter, utter bastard."

"You'll forgive me."

"You sound awfully sure of yourself." He was smiling. Why was he smiling? He was supposed to be in a rage.

"Well, you are in love with me, John. People forgive their lovers for things they really shouldn't all the time."

It really was him, the insufferable prick.

"Who said I'm in love with you?" he asked, not because it wasn't true but because it just felt so good to be bantering with Sherlock, despite the military band marching through his skull.

"You do. It's very clear, if one bothers to pay attention."

"Mmhmm," John agreed, since nodding was probably a terrible idea. Carefully, he dragged himself over to place a kiss on Sherlock's cheek. Sherlock neither encouraged nor discouraged, but he did run his fingers over John's neck. John had never been sure if Sherlock experienced things like sexual attraction, but that was fine because John was fairly certain that he still wasn't gay.

And yet he was in love with Sherlock, all the same.

They'd figure it out.

"I still don't understand love," Sherlock told him as if he were remarking upon the weather.

"I'll explain again after I've had a nap," John promised.

Then he closed his eyes.

In a way it was comforting that Sherlock couldn't grasp things like basic emotion. If he was good at everything he'd go from being merely difficult to totally impossible as a companion. And besides, John clearly had enough sentimentality for the both of them. Perhaps together they could be an almost whole person.

"Not now, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock was saying. "Later. Once John is fit to speak."