There is a moment in every person’s life that changes forever who and what the person may be. In fiction it would be a point where a second reality would be created. In life, it was often the moment that stayed with a person forever.
John Watson happened to have three.
There had been other moments of course, graduating from med school was one, joining Her Majesty’s Service another—but really those were simple steps leading to a much larger portrait.
It is difficult to take in the ramifications of life to the fullest without first knocking at deaths door. Finding oneself bleeding to death in the middle of a desert has the impact needed to change a person’s life forever.
Of course while “post-war” was the first of John’s metamorphosis, it was Sherlock that brought upon the second and far more intense change.
Perhaps then it made a certain amount of sense that it was “post-Sherlock” that he came as close to the John Watson prior to his later term in Afghanistan. But the problem lay in the man he had been before the war, something his therapist had missed altogether and if the Holmes brother’s had ever known they had never dared hint at.
John Watson before the war was not an admirable man. It was true that he had always been imbued with traits such as loyalty, bravery, honor, and other virtues that often set men apart from their peers. He had protected his sister from the other students’ taunts and ridicules by beating the main bully to a pulp. He had faced his father’s drinking problems by throwing him out of the house.
And Harry wasn’t the only one battling her addictions.
He loathed his limp and intermittent tremor in his hand. He hated the nightmares that plagued him, and the knowledge he would never continue what he began.
In the wake of the war, John Watson had never wished to return to the man he had been before.
After Sherlock, he couldn’t keep away.
Falling, tumbling, slamming into the side of every jagged stone in the unfathomable drop into the abyss and the whole while Moriarty struggling in his arms.
John stood immobilized. His gun was in his hand, but there was nothing to be done. The drop was too far, and the two bodies were too intertwined to risk a single shot.
A wrong turn at the wrong moment and he could just as easily kill Sherlock as Moriarty.
“Sherlock!” The tone was the same as the one he carried in his days from the service, sharp and quick although there was a lining of worry in the single word that spoke more than the command. He couldn’t quite bring himself to care about the red dots that danced along his body. Who the fuck gave one ounce of thought to his actions when the two men that mattered most were tumbling over the side of a bloody waterfall?
It was impossible not to see the moment that Moriarty realized it was over. The look of disbelief and enthusiasm that his eyes glowed with undeniable even from that distance. Another two minutes and the man’s body would be nothing more than splintered bones and a broken neck.
Sherlock had just barely dragged himself from the wretched man’s grasp. There was that cocky look of triumph on his face as he leaned down to whisper something towards the soon-to-be dead man.
But there was always something, always the missing link, and in this case there was no rational reason. The damn coat, the damn coat that it was far too warm for the detective to be wearing at all.
It played out in slow motion, John trying to get the shot out before it was too late.
The trigger was pulled, but the hand had already tightened on the hem giving the last momentum needed as Sherlock slipped on the damp rocks, dragged over the edge by the triumphant if now dead Moriarty.
“Sherlock!!” the name was ripped from his throat this time as he nearly threw himself over the edge as well. “NO! You can’t! Dammit! Sherlock! Sherlo-”
He sat up in an empty bed, the dead man’s name still on his lips. Sunlight poured in through immaculate drapes, and John felt trapped under layers of soft comforters and down pillows. He shut his eyes, listening intently to the sound of his heart rattling within his chest. It wasn’t enough, but there was little else to be done.
“John!” the soft voice trailed from the sitting room, “John you must get up and look!”
He hadn’t yelled in his sleep then. Thank God for the little things.
It took longer to find a pair of pants and a jumper than it should have, so that by the time he made his way out of the room Mary had removed herself to the kitchen to
Presumably the package had arrived at some ungodly hour, not by any normal postal service that John could discern either. The monstrosity was grotesquely large and impeccably wrapped (no doubt by some ridiculously overpriced wrapping service.)
The whole ridiculous scene caused John’s heart to stop the moment he saw it.
He waited for the tell-tell ticking sound that he knew would emanate from it at any moment. It was obviously a bomb or some other god awful trap come to life that would blow the flat to bits the minute he touched the wrapping. There was no other explanation for it, after all he’d been under the impression the last of their gifts had been received a week past.
He thought of asking Mary if she happened to know where the bloody thing had hailed from, but he saw no reason to worry her with his paranoia. He could hear her humming from the other room, and the package didn’t seem to be giving off any signs of hazardous materials. He’d survived the war, he’d survived Sherlock, and he could surely survive an overly pretentious package sitting on the dining room table.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so difficult if there hadn’t been hideously garish flowers on his bed table in the hospital after being blown up by the Semtex.
Or the package sent to the house on February the 14th with a woman’s hand clutching a blood red valentine.
He could still remember he sickly sweet scent that accompanied the invitation for that final meeting.
Impossible though, as John had been the one to officially declare Moriarty dead. He’d seen the body, and while it may have taken weeks to recover the battered and nearly unrecognizable form of the man there had been no doubt in the assessment. DNA matches had been formed, just like the broken neck, the severed artery’s, the bloated skin from sitting in the water far too long had assured John that the man was as dead as a person could make him. Shot, broken, and drowned.
The months had continued, but part of John couldn’t help but feel relief that the only remains of Sherlock’s had been the damn coat.
“Well?” he turned to see Mary standing in the door. Her smile was contagious, and somehow his suspicions seemed absurd as she walked towards him. “Are you simply going to glare at it all day or open it? I am rather curious if it’s all the same.”
“Of course,” he smiled back feeling like a very different man then the one who had been brooding several minutes before. The package was obviously not from Moriarty, and there would be no bomb stashed inside. It was obviously nothing more than a belated wedding gift, and the paranoia was precisely the reason he’d let everything go from his days of running with Sherlock.
Nothing on the inside of the box, although there were several carefully wrapped ones that lay inside, and those were beginning to be recognizable.
Of course, a thirteen place setting of the china Mary had seen, a passing fancy that she had whispered to him knowing quite well they’d never be able to afford it. They’d ended up holding off anyway until something similar appeared within their price range.
Her face was flush as she nearly dropped the first plate, “John? You didn’t—“
“I didn’t,” he confirmed as he set down the teacup he was holding rather unceremoniously. Looking inside he found what he’d been looking for, a small piece of stationary with elegant penmanship that said:
Or condolences, I personally have never seen past the
value of a marriage for anything more than a political maneuver.
Next time do send an invitation around will you?
This explained the wrapping and the stealth, and spoke volumes more than a simple wedding gift of expensive china.
John wondered just how questionable his sanity was if knowing Mycroft Holmes was still watching him on the CCTV actually made him breathe easier.
“John?” there was a hint of worry in her tone, and for the third time that morning he was dragged out of memories that were best left buried.
“Just an old friend,” he said forcing a smile, and placing a careful kiss on her cheek. “We’ll send a card.”
He thought he was going crazy the first time it happened. He was watching the telly while Mary prepared dinner, and there, right in the corner of a report concerning another stumped murder, was the swirl of a black coat.
His mouth went dry, and he nearly dropped the cup of tea he had been drinking.
It was a little thing, paranoia he knew, there was no way it could have been Sherlock. But for a second he thought he caught a glimpse of dark hair, a tall thin body, and God yes it had to be the same coat.
“John? Are you alright?” Mary’s voice came from the doorway, and he found himself jolted out of his thoughts.
“What?” He turned from her and back to the telly, “I thought—“ looking back at the report; however, he got a better glimpse at the man. Not as tall, not as thin, eyes not the right shade, and just some passing witness to the crime.
“Nothing love,” his heart was still pounding in his chest, and even he couldn’t help but notice the tremor in his hand was completely stilled.
“Well dinner’s ready when you are.”
“Of course,” he shut the television off with one last glimpse.
“Thank you again for coming,” the DI said as he took another swallow from the pint.
“A second eye really and damn but I hate Anderson some days.”
John laughed taking a sip from his own. The pub was on the other side of town, further from his new home but far closer to Baker Street then he would have preferred. It was near where the case had been concluding though, and they had both been in serious need of a couple pints after the bloodbath it had proven to be, “Of course I didn’t mind. It was a bit like the old days, although I’m not certain what I’ll tell Mary.”
“Ah yes, the married life, you will accept my condolences of course,” Lestrade gave a wry smile, “My first wife wasn’t very fond of my hobbies either.”
Like being back in his school days really, a pint in hand with the mates as John laughed, “No I dare say Mary is too understanding. She will likely want to hear all about it. A blessing really.” Which was quite true, mostly, if a bit mundane. It was precisely the thing a young John Watson had always wished for, a pleasant home, a beautiful and understanding wife, and a good career.
“How are you then?” John looked up startled and Lestrade raised an eyebrow, “Please don’t even consider saying ‘fine.’ God knows I haven’t been fine, and I wasn’t near as close to him as you were.”
“It’s been nearly two years Lestrade,” said John slowly. “Mary’s a saint. She handled the whole affair quite well, and I would think it’s obvious I’ve recovered.” Another half-truth, he wondered what gave it way to the DI. He thought he’d been clever in his deception. After all, wasn’t his life the picture of marital bliss?
“Probably not, none of us do—“Lestrade smiled before taking the last swig in his pint. He turned around to motion towards their server for another round. “At least your practice is booming if what I heard was true, he did say you were a good doctor. Must be more exciting than the clinic at least?”
John laughed, “As good as expected I suppose. Little reason to continue the temp work now that I don’t have to worry about cases. Mary doesn’t always appreciate the irregular hours, but at least it keeps us busy.” He swirled the dregs in his pint. “I would have been daft to not take the opportunity.”
It took very little for Lestrade to put two and two together, “Bored?”
“Oh God yes,” said John before slamming down the rest of his drink. “You have no bloody idea! The pay’s better than the clinic of course, but it’s still the most mundane problems you’d have ever believed.”
What he didn’t tell Lestrade was about the time he’d had a case of apparent Ebola, or better yet the incident of bird flu from the man who had just returned from Asia.
They’d had to sterilize the entire building, and the entire time John had been in an exquisite mood.
“You’re helping people though, something you obviously excel at. You’re not Sherlock after all, you care,” John wasn’t certain how much that statement was true anymore though. At one point perhaps, but it was difficult to care when most of the problems were nothing more than a particularly bad bout of hay fever.
“And meanwhile Mary keeps me sane,” he let out a long sigh burying his face in his hands, his left one trembling just slightly.
A pretty red headed barmaid brought them their second round and slipped it in front of John, “Think you could use it.” Her smile was infectious, and he took a deep breath sitting back up.
“Ah thanks,” he caught the way her eyes glanced over him, and he threw her a wink that did not go unnoticed by Lestrade.
Their glasses clinked with a death toll.
It happened on the street this time. He was coming back from a match when he caught sight of a man passing him by on the street.
His hair was too short and stature not quite right, but there was something in his strides and the way his long coat wrapped about him that caught John’s attention.
Perhaps he’d had one too many pints, he couldn’t have told anyone what possessed him, but his night had been bad enough so why not risk it.
After glancing innocently enough in a shop, he turned back around strolling after the man. It was difficult keeping up the pace, but then he had to be certain.
There had been no body after all.
He continued his following for nearly three blocks when a voice caused him to stop,
“John? Hey! John Watson?”
Sally Donovan darted across the street stopping him, “It is you! I thought so. How have you been? I heard about you and Mary—“
He was torn, his eyes still trained on the main who wasn’t-quite-Sherlock, but sighed and let the matter go. With a smile he turned to Sally with a nod, “Yeah. Cases good then?”
“Suppose. As good as they can be things considered-“of course. Now she missed the Freak , part of John took comfort in that. “Look I was just heading for some coffee. Don’t suppose you’d care to-“
One last glance, but the man had already disappeared in the London throng.
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
Maybe he was going crazy.
“Bloody Hell John, what in God’s name were you thinking—“she threw stood in the doorway with a distinct look of disgust as she took in the flat. “You’re not twenty again in case you had some misconception.”
John looked up from his place on the couch with a bleary eyed reaction. The half opened bottle of wine sat next to him, as did his third pack of cigarettes. He lay on the couch barely giving her so much as a passing notice, “What’ya doing here Harry?”
His voice slurred slightly and he wanted nothing more than to lie back on the couch and pass out back into oblivion.
“Cleaning up your fucking mess, that’s what,” well she always could curse like a sailor even at the best of times. “Awful hypocritical if I do say bro.” She grabbed the wastebasket and began stuffing the old take out boxes, bottles, and other misdemeanors into it.
“Who’s hypocritical? I'm simply following the proud Watson heritage,” he slung back the bottle just before she ripped it out of his hand. There was a moment when he thought he might fight her for it, but some things were too ingrained even when he hit rock bottom.
“John, be serious, you’ve never drunk like this. God knows you barely drink at all, even in uni, and look I’m willing to accept your other vices, but this is going too far.” She walked to the small kitchen pouring out the rest of the bottle as he lit up another cig.
By the time she returned the smoke had formed about his head and she could see the remnants of the others in the ashtray at the table. Harry felt a headache coming on,
“Just how many have you had today anyway?”
A giggle slipped from his lips, dark and perverse that nearly sent Harry stumbling back out of the flat completely, “Three pack problem—“ the joke was lost on her, but the words were brittle enough to hurt.
“Shit John this is ridiculous. What if I went and downed one of these bottles hmm?” She held up what was left of the scotch. “You know I could. Here I’m going on two years sober, and perhaps I should just pour myself a glass-“she paused watching her now angry brother, “Would you stop if I did that.”
“Stop it Harry. Not fair, different situation,” his voice was harsh and he turned his back to her.
“It bloody well is not! You screwed up! Just like I did, and Mary loved you, and don’t you dare tell me she wasn’t everything you wanted. I know you John, right down to your idiotic jumpers and your teen fantasies. I think I know when someone screws up like that. Shove over will you,” he grunted as she forced him over on the couch running a hand over his back. “Johnny—“
“I think I’m well aware Harriet.”
Her fingers ran in circles along his back, just like the time he came down sick when he was fourteen and Mum had been out of town. Harry had done the same thing, making some terrible soup concoction and forcing ginger beer down his throat. She’d rubbed his back, and watched over him for hours. He’d protested he was too old to be coddled, but they both seen through the lie.
Just the once, but it was a good memory—even when it turned into a bout of pneumonia and he’d landed in the hospital for three days. She’d done her best, and he could remember her crying when their Mum had told her they’d have to take him to the A&E.
“Do you miss him that much?” her voice was soft and her fingers never stopped, even as his body grew taut. He was like a bullet ready to be shot, and Harry was worried he might shut off again. “You don’t have to tell me Johnny, but—“
The shuddering breath was all she needed to know. She could feel his heart speed up, and recognized the symptoms even as the nearly inaudible reply came.
“Yes. I suppose I do.”
It was a bit ridiculous when you began seeing a dead man everywhere you look.
Glimpses on the telly, on the street, in half hidden shots in the post, there was a while when everywhere he looked it was all he could do to not see Sherlock.
Even after his marriage fell to pieces, and then Harry, God help her, helped patch him back together, that much hadn’t changed.
Like tonight, when the man he saw looked very little like the consulting detective at all. For one, his hair wasn’t even the right color, it was ginger , John didn’t even like gingers.
Perhaps it was the second drink he’d had at the bar, or the fact he was far too old to be frequenting a bar like this. Except his dates had grown boring, and he couldn’t bring himself to watch another woman get hurt.
It wasn’t what he really wanted right now anyway, rather a quick fuck sounded genius.
So he’d talked himself into the club, and now he was being plagued by ghosts again.
The ginger didn’t as much as look at him. Tall, skinny, and at least the hair was the right length. He couldn’t quite catch his face, although he could tell the faint scars on his arm from using. Light, barely perceivable in the dark club, but he could recognize a high when he saw one.
He considered walking over knowing very well the man was too young, too dangerous for his tastes, but it was then that another man slid up next to him with an intrigued look in his eyes, “I wouldn’t get involved if I were you, that one’s trouble.”
John turned with a snort, “Who’s to say that’s not what I’m looking for?”
The man laughed, “Maybe so, but I can promise you I’m just as much with half the baggage he’ll give you.” A wink as he waved to the bartender, “Another round for me and my friend here!”
A glance at the man’s dark hair, light complexion, and warm eyes and it was enough.
John turned away from the ginger, it was what he came for in the first place anyway, and it was enough.
“Harry tells me your practice is doing well.”
John had always found it remarkable how easy it was to talk to Clara compared to his sister. Easier even now that Clara had been wiped nearly completely from his map. Too similar to Mary, too many memories.
He took a sip of the tea, his eyes glancing out the window as he nodded, “I suppose. Better than before at least.”
“You really should stop in sometime. Harry would love to see you,” he could hear the rest of what she didn’t say. The bits on how well he was doing after the break down the year before, and that his sister wanted to show off their new flat and how well she and Clara were patched up.
Better even than the first time around.
He loved Harry, he really did, but sometimes she just needed to leave well enough alone.
“I’ll try Clara, no promises, but if work lightens up a bit we’ll see. Difficult to get away, influenza season and all,” it was a shoddy excuse but partially true. Too bad most of the cases were just colds and infections. Nothing as serious as that and if anything his left patients angrier once he told them he couldn’t do more than prescribe bed rest and fluids.
It was days like this that left him at the matches, at least giving him something to risk. Too safe, that’s what his life had become again, safe. Even his break with Mary had provided some sort of excitement in his life, wrong or no.
She reached out and brushed his hand, sisterly affection that even his own kin barely knew how to impart, “It gets better John. I promise. It’s only been a year, and I’m certain you’ll find someone. You’re too sweet not to,” her laugh was infectious when she added, “Much sweeter then Harry ever was.”
Even he had to laugh at that, “Have to agree with you there. I don’t think ‘sweet’ was ever something Harry was accused of being. Passionate, tyrannical, a horror—“
He grinned, “Which is why we love her. I know Clara, I know, and I’m trying.”
God knows he was, too bad the problem had nothing to do with his ex-wife; somehow he thought it would make the situation far simpler.
He’d finally stopped jerking his head every time he saw a dark coat on the street.
But it didn’t stop him from staring at the man outside Scotland Yard. Just a glance, a catch of dark hair, a battered coat, a shine in his eyes…
And then he was gone.
“Bloody hell,” his arm ached, his leg ached, it had been too long since John hadreally assisted on a case. The current one had been intriguing though, and Lestrade had offered to let him come along asking if he’d be willing to take a look at some of the wounds on the body.
Dangerous, a mystery, it was everything Sherlock would have loved in a case, so much so that when he’d opened the front page and read about it the whole thing was impossible to ignore.
He’d texted Lestrade, and while he might not be Holmes, John felt it might be interesting to attempt to apply his methods.
His clinic was closed for the day anyway, and he might as well do something beyond watching rubbish television for once.
The whole case was as fascinating as he had expected, although both he and Lestrade had come up empty handed. He told the DI he’d return the next day to look over the body once it was in the mortuary, but now it was as though all his old injuries had come back tenfold.
No making dinner then, better to simply pick up something on the way home.
A ten minute fight with the chip-and-pin machine, and he was headed back to the flat when he ran completely into an old man.
The groceries fell, and the parcel the other man had been holding fell to the ground as well. He’d been just outside his door as well, and now he found himself helping the older man up who grunted as though in pain.
“Christ,” he said helping him up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” he’d still been thinking of the wounds on Adair’s body.
The older man glared, sharp eyes behind the deep wrinkles and heavy eyebrows. A light beard touching his face, and white hair that looked rather wild all things considered, perhaps a professor then given how he was dressed and the books under his arms.
“Should watch where you’re going boy,” hissed the man causing John to wince. “Got enough aches without being run down on the pavement.”
John felt he could hardly be called a boy, but let the comment go. He saw the old man favoring his hip and frowned, “Listen. I am sorry—“
“Sorry?” he snapped. “Should be glad I didn’t break something.” He rubbed his wrist with a look of pain on his face.
John considered his options for a moment, but perhaps it helped that the case had put him in a relatively good mood.
“Look. If you’d like you could come in and I’ll give you something for the wrist,” he paused seeing the man’s skeptical expression, “I’m a doctor, and I do feel bad about the whole thing. If it’s hurting you that much I could take a look to double check.“
The man grumbled something under his breath, but after a longer moment nodded, “Fine. I imagine a spot of tea might make up for it.”
Which was an odd thing to say, but John let it drop as he opened the door to his flat.
“Take a seat wherever,“ he said before setting his things on the kitchen table and going to heat up water. He could hear the man shifting in his living room, and by the time he’d come back out the man appeared to be examining his bookshelf. John let it pass and began setting out a pot and turned to fetch the paracetamol.
“You really should work on your collection, it might assist with your writing,” the change in the voice caused John to swerve as his eyes flickered to the man. “Although of late you seemed to have stopped writing altogether to my utter disappointment. While I still find your notions far romanticized, I admit to finding the stories both nostalgic and far more interesting than any dispatches that Mycroft might provide. Although admittedly less accurate.”
The bottle slipped from his hand, and he felt his mouth go dry. There was a buzzing in his ears, and for a brief moment John thought he may very well pass out completely. He nearly did anyway, if Sherlock hadn’t darted across the room to help him to a chair.
He’d discarded the disguise, the latex and wig lay in a pile by the door, and funnily enough without him John was half surprised he hadn’t noticed the damn coat and suit first.
The too thin face, the bright eyes, although his voice resembled nothing in either accent or texture to the old man.
Sherlock moved away, and John grabbed for his hand. The detective paused, and brushed a quick hand through John’s hair, “My dear John, I am simply fetching a restorative before you pass out completely. I did not quite expect such a dramatic reaction.”
John could feel a giggle rising in his lips, by the time the man reappeared from his kitchen with both a glass of water and a tumbler of brandy; he was nearly doubled over in laughter.
“John do try to breathe,” John grabbed for the brandy first, drinking it down without so much as a second thought. Sherlock placed a hand on his shoulder as John’s laughter turned less hysterical and began calming. “Let me try to explain…”
“My God is that even possible?” Another chuckle as John stared at Sherlock, “My dead flat mate’s talking to me. Obviously I’ve cracked well and good, suppose it should have been expected given recent events.” He paused reaching out to brush Sherlock’s cheek, “Rather solid for a hallucination though.”
“You’ve seen me before?” the detective raised an eyebrow skeptically.
“Yeah, suppose you could say that, usually when I’m helping Lestrade. Course you’ve never spoken to me before, this is rather new…” He chuckled again, “What am I going to tell Harry, she already knew I was nuts—“
Sherlock paused and grabbed both of John’s shoulders forcing him to look at him,
“John, whatever idiot assumption you have going on in your head I am quite real I assure you. I regret that I was unable to inform you of the events after the falls, but both Mycroft and I agreed it would be impossible to keep up the ruse if you had been aware.” His lips pursed and John could swear he saw a faint tint in the too pale detective’s cheeks, “I find that I did want for you company, however.”
Sherlock turned his head slightly aside, and John felt the breathe run out of him. His body went numb and he said softly, “It is you.”
“That’s what I have been trying to tell you.”
“No shit,” it was hard to breath and his hand tightened around the arm chair. “Sherlock-“
Sherlock turned his head and before John could say another word the man pressed his lips roughly against the doctor’s. It was swift, or would have been, John suspected, had he not threaded his fingers into Sherlock’s hair dragging him closer. He could taste left over cigarettes and stale coffee, not necessarily the most pleasant but then he was kissing Sherlock bloody Holmes which was really all that mattered at that moment.
“You started smoking again,” of course that would be the first thing Sherlock said when he pulled away. “You never even used patches when we shared a flat.”
“Yeah well things change in four years,” the words had more bite then he’d meant them too.
Sherlock seemed to take the response in stride, and nodded again, “Yes I suppose they do.” He bent down, this time a quick kiss followed by a smile, “Obviously not all for the worse though. Mycroft’s kept 221 B for me, although I am afraid I may have given Mrs. Hudson quite a shock. I was worried a bit for her heart when she saw me.”
“I can only imagine,” John said as his own nerves had still not quite recovered.
“You can move back in tomorrow if you like. She misses you I believe. I am afraid; however, that I shall have to fill you with the rest of the details later. There is a case that has a dire need for assistance, and it is imperative that I finish some final business before I am able to look into properly.” His eyes were bright and excited, and John felt his body tremor in anticipation.
“Might be dangerous,” Sherlock’s smile was infectious. “Want to come?”
“Yes. Oh God, yes.”