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John gets the first email within two hours of his last journal post, but that is the only notification in his inbox. It has been nearly two days since he has posted it. He is not surprised at the lack of comment traffic or his near empty inbox because, really, what is there to say? Meaningless platitudes, pixelated text on a screen, cold and distant, something Sherlock would laugh at, question over its worth in a social context. Anyway, John has said everything he wants to say on the matter, He was my best friend and I'll always believe in him, and it was hard enough to type those words out, twenty blank minutes with a shaking tremor in his hand and a ringing in his ears and he just can’t breathe.

As a doctor and a soldier, John has seen death, but none quite so heart-stopping as Sherlock’s; white alabaster skin, porcelain like a doll’s face, glassy unseeing eyes and a chest unnaturally still, a non-existent pulse beneath his fingertips and so much blood, watery arterial red against the sidewalk, and he doesn’t think he’ll be able to walk near Bart’s ever again. The flat is too quiet, only the faintest whir of his laptop discernable to his ears, the drip of a leaking tap, and somehow that fills him with an echoed sensation of claustrophobia. Everything is too small to hold in what left of Sherlock, his spirit and presence a forbidding force that could only be contained by that lanky stretch of a human being; just a broken corpse, now.

He has to plan a eulogy, but John has no words, scrabbling at the air for purchase but finding none, slipping and falling, and it just hurts, in a hollow way that aches like a slow burning fire. Eleven words and he presses post, the best he can manage for now, and he has to leave the flat, too full of memories. Except outside, fresh air tainted with smog and warm car exhaust fumes, the streets of London crowded, cars racing and people chattering, bustling along, cheerful, and everything is the same and entirely different than it was a few hours ago. A fractured lens has fixed itself over John’s eyes and the world is washed out in shades of grey.

The headlines have come off the print, stark black and red ink against white and John’s knees buckle underneath him, but he does not fall. He runs, instead, as fast as he can but not as fast as he ran when he was with Sherlock. Papers seem to line the corners, televisions blaring reports of the suicide and the groundbreaking revelation. Reports churn out a tale of a victim and a madman, but they don’t know how wrong they are, positions switched in this game of chess, trail of breadcrumbs and a worthless paper trail to lead them all astray.

Once, twice, all the times John thought he was going to die, he thought, dear God, let me live, but when Sherlock, Sherlock, was standing at the precipice of a building’s edge, the building they met and the place they would last see each other, talk to each other, in person and then over the phone. Their eyes met, not quite able to make out anything but edges, except that was enough for John to see Sherlock take that last step. John has nearly died several times, but with Sherlock falling, John could only think, Sherlock, don’t die, not quite praying unless Sherlock counted, and perhaps he did, if only to John. Only to John. In the end, it might well have not counted at all.

FRAUD , a headline declares, aggressive all-caps, a picture of Sherlock hiding underneath a deerstalker, annoyed expression captured perfectly, cold eyes just hidden from sight in the shadow of the cap. He feels almost as though he’s being watched by them, an eerie feeling that sets the hairs on the back of his neck on end. It is almost as if Sherlock is following him, body barely cold on the slab and already following him like some haunting spectre, worse than a ghost or a ghoul because all of the headlines taunt John—a sham, a con, the greatest detective of our age proven false. The taste of bile is at the back of his throat, and John wants to find these people and scream at them, scream how wrong they are.

Like vultures, vicious and heartless, the media swarm to cover the suicide, ripping feathers from the wings of an angel in an ever growing attempt to smear his name, bring him down to the broken pillars of man and laugh over the fact that a man so odd, so abnormal, could ever possibly be better, be so much more than brilliant, overcome the limitations of the word genius and bypass that entirely. They think they have found the truth but they only perpetrate the lie, the falsehood they would all so readily swallow because the truth leaves them inadequate.

John goes home and comforts Mrs Hudson, feisty in her agony, turning from anger to melancholy so quickly it gives him flashbacks to some of Sherlock’s mood swings. John speaks where appropriate, ranting alongside her anger and quietly musing alongside her pain, the pot of tea never emptying, never running cold. However, the anger only can last so long because both of them have always been terrible at holding grudges at a man whose many flaws were so often outshined by his brilliance, by the glimpse of a heart beneath the indifferent veneer, and both of them seek rest, battle weary and shoulders heavy with loss.

He cannot find sleep though, and in an effort to distract his mind, John opens his laptop whilst in bed, not quite able to muster true curiosity at the new email notification. Far off, he can hear the faint sound of sobbing, Mrs Hudson most likely, and he tries his best to ignore it, allow her a moment of private mourning. It breaks his heart, and he needs a moment to find his breath again.

The email has the subject line, Sherlock didn’t lie to me. John has a moment where he thinks Mycroft, then Lestrade, but the email address is not one he recognises. He considers the sender being Moriarty, but with Sherlock dead that man has all he wants, and what is John worth without Sherlock? That question is uncomfortably close to the truth of the fear that John has sometimes entertained at his doorstep even when Sherlock was alive, so sure in the early days that he would one day be forgotten, an old toy in a skip forgotten in a rush of brighter and better things, and he had gotten complacent, considered that they might have a couple more years together after all, friends who didn’t make sense but worked.

Opening the email reveals a short narrative describing an old case of Sherlock’s, before John, before the cab driver and the bullet wound and the beginning of a new chapter. Even before he is finished, John knows why this case has never been mentioned to him before; it is boring, relatively simple, and nearly all of the deductions were performed over emails. No point in my leaving the flat for anything less than a seven. It is almost anti-climatic, except he has used all his adrenalin many hours before, and he wonders, why am I reading this?

Sherlock had solved the crime, the jewels stolen by the cheating husband’s mistress, evidence recounted with his usual brand of cutting words, direct quotes harsh and not bothering to muffle his idea on the wife’s idiocy. The proof is undeniable, yet impossible, and a familiar type of unbelievable. The wife quotes parts of her return emails back, clearly not happy with his implications. John is beginning to think she is happy that his best friend is dead—it is not so hard to think that anymore, but the words are still near impossible to force past his throat, closed tight with denial, like the man would come in through that door any moment now, coat flapping and collar turned high—and he does not feel anything for this woman until the end of the email:

Sherlock Holmes solved this for me, without asking for payment or ever, to my knowledge, publishing the details of the case or our correspondence. I approached him for his help. He did not seem pleased to have solved it, merely annoyed that I had taken up his time. I do not see what he could possibly have to gain from organising my case, which leads me to believe he did not do so, despite what those journalists report. I have been brought up to respect the dearly departed, and nothing disgusts me more than this feeding frenzy on a man who has not yet been dead two days.

So, to the dear doctor he left behind, this may seem insubstantial, but you have my full support. If you are compiling a counter-argument to the media’s horrendous accusations, I would be more than willing to speak for you.

The words ‘counter-argument’ strikes a chord in John and for a moment a spark of life forces him to sit up in his bed, look closer at the screen, a team of cogs and gears twisting and turning in his mind. This is beyond tempting, the idea of waging war with society, with the media, with everyone who has ever dared utter a cruel word against Sherlock. All the more cowardly to speak against a man no longer here—dead, dead, dead—to twist their words against them, to build up a case and pledge his innocence. It is tempting, but it is madness, and not the insanity of an adrenalin fuelled chase, but the desperate pursuit of closure where there will be none.

Money , John thinks. Fame. This correspondence is nothing but a disgusting attempt to include themselves in the flurry of publicity and John grabs on tightly to the anger that flares, weakly but steadily, in the hollow under his sternum, holds it and thinks of nothing else. This is not the time to fight, anyway, a funeral on the horizon and he still needs to talk to the police, to Lestrade, leave a statement about Sherlock, about punching the chief superintendant, about running, about everything that night the world went to hell. Without replying to the email, John closes his laptop and turns out the lights. He lays on top of his sheets, palms flat down, limbs feeling heavy, everything feeling dark with the hint of a creeping chill in the air.

He misses the light.

-

A week has passed and the mud is soft underfoot, earth freshly turned and the tombstone gleaming with fresh rain. It is a black pillar commanding attention, encircled with wreaths and elaborate flower arrangements, a stray beaker filled with scented oil, and even a deerstalker. John is standing away from most of the crowd, far larger than he’d expected, most of whom still paying their respects, taking hats off to bow and say their goodbyes, their thanks, and some final murmurs of admiration.

Looking at them, if only so his eyes do not obsessively trace the fine lettering of Sherlock Holmes once again, John realises he does not know almost all the guests, and it’s a strange feeling, a punch in the gut with only half the force, both a sadness and a strangeness and a happiness that more than a handful of people cared for Sherlock, care for him even now; dozens upon dozens, ranging from those dressed in clean rags—the least paranoid of his old homeless network—to those dressed in the utmost finery, professors and others who had earned the hard-won respect of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps extended family, John wouldn’t know, but none of them offer introductions and he isn’t inclined to approach them.

There are a few familiar faces. Mrs Hudson, obviously, came up with John and would not miss this even if her hip flared up again. Molly hovers in the background, dressed in black, skin too pale white to be healthy, eyes constantly wide as if she isn’t a mortician, as if this death is her first. Stamford is there, genial face unusually sombre, and John remembers that Mike knew Sherlock longer than John did; after all, he introduced the pair of them. No one from New Scotland Yard has appeared, not entirely surprising, but John did expect more from Lestrade, at the very least.

Mycroft stands with his umbrella open above his head, directly across from John, the coffin equidistant between them, and they make the briefest of eye contacts, broken quickly by Mycroft’s polite nod. He looks sombre, dressed in clothes finer than anything John has seen in the years gone by, tie coloured midnight blue. By all accounts, Mycroft could have read the eulogy, blood thicker than water, a lifetime trumping the year and a bit John had, but Mycroft only paid for the funeral and organised his own special brand of security to keep the ceremony private, lockdown free from journalists. He never asked for the role and John didn’t offer.

John thinks he should perhaps say something, to the brother who cared too much sometimes, to accuse or to console he still isn’t sure, but his voice is still fragile from the eulogy, and he wants to get out of the suit feeling two sizes too tight, and everything is happening too quickly or not quickly enough at turns. Time has lost all feeling, broken from its chains and racing at its own leisure, paying no mind to John Watson, who once more needs a cane and has a tremor in his hand. The limp comes and goes, but he is getting used to walking with an angle to his torso, once again used to eyes darting to the cane before his face.

It takes him a moment to realise that the faint drizzle has ceased from falling onto his head, into his eyes—because those really aren’t tears, he is unashamed to admit that he has cried himself dry days ago, nothing left for him to give to Sherlock but words, and even those broke when the time came to deliver them—and John feels sluggish as he looks to see Angelo look back at him, the faintest of smiles on his lips, though his eyes are quietly mourning.

“I liked Sherlock. He was a good man,” Angelo says in an undertone, as though divulging a great secret when it was anything but. When Sherlock visited, he was served with a vibrancy that bespoke happiness, not a debt owed and repaid. “I should have fed him more, he was so thin.” A wry smile, and then a pause of hesitation. “John, I just want you to know, my offer still stands for you. Free meals whenever you want. I don’t care what people think; if they truly believe that Sherlock made his cases up, then they are too stupid to be listened to.”

Somehow, the funeral grows quieter, as if everyone was holding their breath to hear John’s response. John can only slowly nod, once, and says, “Thank you. I appreciate it. Sherlock would, too.”

“That first night we met,” Angelo says, shifting his grip on the umbrella. “Sherlock told you that he proved me innocent by proving my alibi was across town, breaking and entering.”

“Yes, I remember.” John could never forget that night if he tried, stark details burnt against the retinas of his eyes. That first case with Sherlock was like Alice and the rabbit hole, John falling head first into a world of madness. He went gladly, the rush of urban warfare and the wonder of pure genius an allure impossible to turn away from until it was taken from him.

When Angelo continues, his voice is soft, but enough to break through John’s ever growing melancholy. “Well, what worth could Sherlock bring from a poor man like me? He never asked for pay and I could not have offered it. Without him, I would be in prison, not owning a restaurant.”

“Some would say he tricked you for free food,” John replies, voice mechanical in its delivery, unfeeling.

Angelo chuckles softly. “Sherlock never told you then. He only came into my restaurant to sit and think at the seat by the window. ‘The view,’ he told me, ‘was amiable to his thought processes.’ You were the first time he took up an offer of food.”

There is a moment where John does not know what to say, but Angelo spares him by clapping a warm hand on his shoulder and handing him the umbrella handle in the hand not occupied by the cane. John swallows his words down and tries to smile. It feels wrong on his face, but Angelo nods, grave, and wishes John all the best. “Sherlock deserved better,” he says, less to John and directed more towards the tombstone. Angelo leaves without saying anything else, without taking his umbrella, walking calmly away as his back soaks up the rain.

Somehow, in the haze of drizzle, under an umbrella that isn’t his by the body of his dead best friend, John has become a receptor for stories, Angelo providing a successful precedence for everyone to work on, a queue forming of people, strangers, all connected by the light of one man who thought he could take on the world. John hears stories that are too mad not to be true, some stories John remembers being vaguely referenced by Sherlock in the midst of another case; then there are the lists of deductions and terrible impressions of Sherlock’s quick wit alongside accurate impressions of his rapid-fire recall that makes something in John’s heart clench tightly. Soon enough, all the stories begin to end the same way:

“We believe in Sherlock, too.”

Thirty stories later, John still can’t find the words to react to that, to describe how much it means to him to hear that. So he says nothing and most take it as their due to leave.

It is late afternoon by the time the crowd has nearly dispersed in its entirety, the last being a small, wizened old German man, wide eyed with a soft chin, who had finally finished detailing the recounts of Sherlock running around Amsterdam looking for a thief who turned out to be a killer, and John cheeks are hurting from smiling (Sherlock being ridiculous, even on cases, seems like a trait he was born with, not one acquired for John’s torment) and John feels as though he is almost about to start crying again.

The sensation is overwhelming, almost crushing, because Sherlock is dead; buried underground despite the fact he probably would have preferred to be dissected like a laboratory experience, donated for the sake of science, an idea that Mycroft gently refused, insisting he had to be cremated and buried near the rest of the family for tradition’s sake. John did not argue, not his place to, not for this. His best friend is barely six feet away from him, but he might as well be stationed on Pluto for all that it matters. The rains have stopped completely, but now the winds are bitter cold.

Small hands are tugging at the crook of his elbow, and John finally lets the umbrella drop down closed. Mrs Hudson is looking up at him, looking years older dressed in black satin and fine lace with an expression of a parent who has lost a child, and she asks gently, “Would you mind terribly if I told you about how I met Sherlock? I know you must be so tired—”

“I would not mind in the slightest, Mrs Hudson. Please, go on.”

They are the final two standing in the graveyard, and the sun is setting, the air growing ever colder, ripping through layers of clothes to press icy fingers toward skin, but Mrs Hudson’s voice stays firm, wavering only once before tears started to fall. John still could not cry, but he listens, carefully, in awe at the story from one of the few people Sherlock would die for.

As they walk home, towards 221B Baker Street, still nowhere else capable of inciting that emotion of home just yet, and possibly never will, the idea of vacating the premises both a possible relief but more likely a horrible nightmare, to remove himself from the last concrete tie to Sherlock; John is thinking, stewing about the injustice of it all, that a man who has clearly done so, so much (John’s inbox has over a hundred unread emails now, all of which for Sherlock) being treated like someone forgettable, disgraceful. John knows Sherlock’s cruelty better than anyone else, which has given him the right to say he knows Sherlock’s kindness exists in equal measure, if only slightly more subdued.

The knowledge that all of Sherlock’s accomplishments have been swept away, filed as the egotistical madness of an ordinary maniac, a digital record being swept clean—wait.

That gives John an idea.

-

The small flicker of warmth John feels, despite of the end of the funeral and the rains, splutters and fades to something closer to resentment when John sees Lestrade standing in the middle of his flat.

“Why weren’t you at the funeral?”

Lestrade jumps, shoulders twitching in surprise, close to a flinch but not quite. It is unlikely that he would have missed the slow drag of John’s footsteps up the stairs, or the sound of the opening door, but the weight of memories hang heavy in the room, echoes of a Christmas serenaded by violin and the hustle of drug busts gone by. Perhaps it is not that, but the fact that John’s voice is completely stripped raw, parts anger, parts scathing, part accusation.

“Where were you?” John asks, less a question and more an order to answer promptly and the line of his spine straightens as the tension in the air winds up, his grip on his cane tightening until his knuckles stand out white skin against tan.

“I couldn’t go, John,” Lestrade says, softly. He looks as though he has aged ten years in the space of a week, haggard eyes and deeper wrinkles. “Sherlock’s still listed as a possible terrorist, I—I might lose my job as it is, seeing you here. I couldn’t go to his funeral. I couldn’t.”

“Bullshit,” John says, but without heat. They are two tired men standing knee-deep in misery and it is too much right now to call upon anger, not when neither of them is to blame, not really. “Do you want something to drink?” he asks instead of beginning a fight, because he could do the latter, it would be too easy to shout something that would hurt them both, but John decides that isn’t the path to take.

Lestrade’s frame slumps with something like relief. “No, thank you, I don’t feel like any tea right now.”

“I wasn’t offering tea,” John corrects mildly, walking into the kitchen to grab a dusty bottle of fine wine—a gift of appreciation from a successful case, John is ashamed to admit he can’t remember the details of—and two glasses.

In the living room, Lestrade is still standing, not so much a shining silver as a worn, dull grey, and John motions for him to sit. The inspector sits without the slouch he wore from that first drugs bust, a defiant sprawl as he argued for Sherlock’s compliance; without the friendly casualness from the Christmas get together; Lestrade sits with his head bowed and hands clasped underneath his forehead. John sits in his usual chair and pours them both a generous amount of alcohol.

Wordlessly, they begin to drink—the wine too tart for John’s usual tastes, but he can’t be arsed to go out and buy something else—and it is a long moment before Lestrade starts speaking again. His voice is calm and steady, no hint of a slur or a rasp. He sounds strong, but his eyes are averted, not quite meeting John’s.

“The last time I saw Sherlock, I was arresting him.”

“I know.” John was there.

“I keep thinking, what if? What happens if he jumped because of that, because I—getting a warrant and—” and Lestrade stops himself and drains all that’s left in his glass, breathing heavier, runs a calloused hand across his face, rubs his temples as if warding away an encroaching headache.

Just don’t commit suicide,” Lestrade murmurs, almost in an undertone to himself. “I can’t believe Sherlock would...”

John raises an eyebrow. “You can’t believe Sherlock jumped off a building, but you believed that Sherlock was possibly a terrorist or a fraud?”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” Lestrade finally meets John’s eyes, frantic with desperation and asking for redemption, forgiveness, things John cannot give. “Sherlock was my friend, he really was, but I’m detective inspector. I had no choice but to investigate Donovan’s accusations, it was—is—my duty, and I couldn’t show preference, not when leniency due to friendship is as good as corruption.” The line of Lestrade’s neck bobs as he swallows heavily, a deep frown etched onto his face. “I don’t believe Sherlock would orchestrate crimes for his own amusement, I really don’t, but I had to try prove it.”

The thing is, John understands. He understands being honour-bound, he understands duty, he understands loyalty, comprehends the sheer importance and magnitude and strength of all these things and knows why Lestrade feels so torn, questioning whether he did the right thing or the wrong thing. After taking the Hippocratic Oath, after wielding a gun and pulling a trigger, John knows there are things you must do, no matter how else you may personally feel.

Refilling both their glasses, John says quietly, “I’m sorry. You’ve let Sherlock into crime scenes for years and you’ve known him longer than I have.”

“You lived with the man for over a year,” Lestrade almost laughs, sounding a little choked up. “I may have known him longer, but you certainly knew him better.”

“Sometimes I wonder how well I knew him at all,” John replies, remembering glassy eyes, frozen and unseeing; a story of a hound loose on the moors and a cup of fresh coffee; the plucked notes of an in-progress violin song composed for a woman, the woman, never recorded, never to be played again, never to be played to completion.

It hits John, then and there, that he really never will hear Sherlock again, not his voice, cutting remarks and scathing words; not his music, the frustrated clash of tormented strings or the elegant sounds of the classics; not even the dramatic swish of his heavy coat or the heavy pads of racing feet belonging to a longer stride. Enjoy the little things in life, such a very true statement, one that John thought he could understand when he nearly died, when he passed out from blood loss and there was a bullet embedded in his shoulder, but somehow, now, it seems so much more relevant than then. When someone dies, they really do leave an empty space behind them, a cut-out in the shape of their silhouette, but Sherlock’s absence feels like a missing country, the entire map of the world left wrong.

“I met Sherlock before he went into rehab,” Lestrade mentions absently, lost in thought. “He seemed half mad on drugs, deduced my life story, informed me that my wife was happily cheating on me, and I locked him up for the night until his brother bailed him out.”

“Didn’t Sherlock tell you she was still cheating on you at Christmas?”

“Yes, and it was true enough, but I love her. What can you do? She promises to change, turn over a new leaf, but I’m starting to get that she won’t, not really, just as I can’t really leave her,” Lestrade says. “It’s almost sick, how we use each other.”

“People use each other all the time,” John says, and tries to shake the cobwebs from his mind. The tremor in his hand makes the wine wobble in its glass. “How long did it take before Sherlock wheedled his way onto crime scenes?”

“Not long,” Lestrade admits, almost smiling but not quite managing it. “Questionable method, but impeccable results. Also, he has the single minded determination of a charging bull sometimes.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” John snorts.

“You know, I still sometimes reach for my phone when a particularly interesting case makes its way to my department.” Lestrade is looking into his drink and shadows cling to him like ghosts. “He’s trained me like Pavlov’s dog, almost.”

“I don’t think he ever thought of you that way.”

“It was hard to tell, with him.”

Sherlock wore shields as if they were sown into the very skin of his being, cool blue eyes, expressionless, blank, deadpan voice, all so easily switched and erased and rebuilt into an artistry of human mimicry, leaking tears and shaky voice, the bark of an order, the smirk of flirtation, an actor on a world’s stage, all lies performed in order to seek the truth. Truly, he was one in a billion, extraordinary, unique, irreplaceable, yet gone, faded into the patchwork of history.

“Are you in deep trouble at work?” John asks suddenly, trying to force his mind away from such maudlin thoughts. “Sherlock wouldn’t want you to lose your job for him, certainly less so for something he didn’t even do.”

“The chief superintendant has me bringing up every single case that Sherlock’s ever worked on, even the cold cases he looked over when he was bored. He’s making me go through the evidence again, putting aside any that even hint at the possibility of being rigged by an outsider. A lot of people are going to be trialled again, some might walk free,” Lestrade confesses, and John is suddenly struck by the fact that every moment at work is one of conflict for Lestrade. There is three-day old stubble on his face, stains on the collar of his shirt and heavy bags under his eyes. He looks like a mess.

“How many cases did Sherlock work on, before me?” John asks, curious.

“Hundreds,” Lestrade answers grimly. “If not reaching a thousand. We had worked together for quite a few years, and he occasionally multi-tasked cases.”

“Damn.” The number is overwhelming and the repercussions near unimaginable.

“My thoughts exactly,” Lestrade says. “New Scotland Yard is getting hit in the media shitstorm. Before, it was questions of why we never used Sherlock enough. Now, they’re demanding answers for why we used him at all, even on a purely consulting level.”

“You can’t exactly tell any of those journalists to go fuck themselves, can you?”

“Unfortunately, no. Otherwise my life would be a lot easier.”

“I suppose Anderson and Donovan are beyond pleased that Sherlock is forever out of their lives,” John says bitterly, snorting when Lestrade does not say anything in response. “They were both so quick to call him a freak; it makes me wonder how long they were hoping for this to happen.”

“If it makes you feel better, there were those in the force who’ve come up to me and asked to pass on their condolences to you. Dimmock was particularly vocal against the accusations, believe it or not.”

“Thank you. It does help, a bit.”

“I also wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

“For what?” John asks, surprised.

“For everything regarding that arrest,” Lestrade says. “That was a complete nightmare.”

“Because we escaped?” John asks wryly, sipping at his wine. “Or because I gave your boss a bloody nose?”

“No, it was handled poorly. I’m sorry I made you and Sherlock go through that.”

“I can’t forgive you because I never blamed you for that,” John admits, leaning back in his chair and feeling exhausted, wrung completely dry. “I thought I did, in the beginning, but that was just shock. You did what you had to, and I get that. Whatever resentment I had left for you disappeared when I saw you standing in the middle of my flat.”

“Between you and me, and for what it’s worth, I think my boss has deserved a decent right hook to the face for a few years now.”

John chuckles faintly at the recollection. “Thanks, Greg.” He picks up the bottle and is surprised to find it nearly half empty already.

“It’s alright, John,” Lestrade says, holding up a hand. “I’ve imposed on your hospitality long enough, and I’ve said what I wanted to say.”

“I’m glad you came.”

“So am I.”

“If you get into any trouble for this, or for visiting Sherlock’s grave, if you so wish, I strongly recommend you get into contact with his brother,” John advises. Mycroft owes Sherlock this, if not more, for his monumental screw-up. “He’ll be more than willing to help you, I should think.”

“I’ll think about it,” Lestrade says with a shadow of a smile.

They both stand up and shake hands briskly, before John mutters “hell with it” and pulls Lestrade into a brief one-armed hug. Stepping back after a moment, Lestrade looks suspiciously watery-eyed, but John doesn’t mention it.

Instead, John asks, “By the way, how did you get in the flat? Mrs Hudson came home the same time as I did.”

“Sherlock—he gave me a spare key a few months ago. Actually, do you want that back?” Fishing in his inner coat pocket, Lestrade pulls out a keychain, unhooking a small brass key. “I think Sherlock only gave it to me just in case of emergencies, but I’ll understand if you feel differently.”

He holds the bronze-coloured key between them, an offer and a silent promise to leave John alone if he so wishes. But John shakes his head, pushes the key back towards Lestrade.

“Keep it,” John says, and Lestrade nods, sombre, slipping the key back into his pocket.

As Lestrade walks towards the door, he pauses to add quietly and earnestly, “John, whatever people tell you, whatever they think, I know that Sherlock was a good man. With you, he became a great one.”

Finally, John is alone in his flat, 221B Baker Street silent but for the leaking tap, drip drip drip, red wine in his hand and the heavy weight of loneliness encroaching into the edges of his vision once more. The idea still bounces in the back of his mind, but he decides to sleep instead, and come morning, he forgets it entirely.

-

The rains have started pouring in earnest by the time John makes it back to his therapist. Two weeks have passed since Sherlock’s death, a week since the funeral, and it is like admitting defeat, but John is still broken and all he can do is seek help and hope for the best. His skin burns all over, live with an electric current, feeling gutted and raw, itching for Sherlock, unable to even visit his grave, not yet, waiting for the rains to disappear and the sun to come out, as if the golden rays of light could ever hope to chase away the darkness lingering within John.

Ella looks almost the same from the last time they had spoken, eighteen months since our last appointment, a time when John was drifting, no identity, no course, no meaning, and once again he finds himself in the same seat of a rocking boat, the rope that tethered him to solid ground broken, leaving him alone. The ocean is a great expanse of endless blue and he can’t find his way back, not without Sherlock, the only one who could read the stars and the winds. The room is purposefully open and airy, a good place as any for therapy, he supposes, but he can’t help but feel a chill run down his spine.

Her eyes look on with sympathy as he finally chokes out the words—“My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead”—and it hurts, hurts in a way he can’t really articulate because speaking the fact aloud gives it more substance than acknowledging it in his head. He had assumed, before, that there would be some modicum of relief from the admission, but there is none, only an increase to the weight bearing down on his shoulders and he rubs absently at his numb leg, wishing for an adrenalin rush to kick it back to life.

In his pocket, his phone buzzes, and John pulls it out, sees Harry flashing on the screen, and he ends the call without picking up, returns the phone to its place without hesitating. A part of him twinges with guilt, but he doesn’t even know if she is sober this time, and he has enough to deal with right now, thank you very much. Harry couldn’t even come to Sherlock’s funeral, the date of which unfortunately aligning with the day after Clara had left and Harry had fallen off the bandwagon to drink herself in a stupor, ending up too hung over to even think about lending John some moral support. Sixteen missed calls and two shouting matches later, John has decided that he has had enough for now.

Family is family, she held him when their parents fought and he patched her up when she scraped her knees, and he will always love her, flaws and all, but he doesn’t think he could handle being in the same room with her right now.

“Who was that?” Ella asks.

“My sister,” John replies, unsmiling.

“Ah,” Ella says. “How is Harriet?”

“Harry is the same, drinking alcohol like water and very close to losing her job,” John sighs and rubs at his face, as if that could somehow erase the deep set lines in his forehead. “Couldn’t even turn up to Sherlock’s funeral; even if she never took to him, I asked her to come with me, for my sake if nothing else.”

“Do you feel betrayed, in a way, for her absence?”

“A little bit,” John says, quiet enough that he is nearly drowned out by the sounds of the rains, “but I’m not so surprised. I guess I’m just tired. Lately all I’ve been feeling is tired.”

“Would ‘drained’ be an accurate description?”

John nods, and Ella clasps her hands in her lap. He appreciates that she doesn’t write anything down during their sessions anymore, waiting until he has left to jot down appropriate notes. It helps him relax a little, though not entirely, the words psychosomatic and trust issues swirling around in his mind.

There is a long stretch of silence before Ella probes, gently, “You mentioned the papers and the television earlier. How are you reacting to the media attention?”

“Not well,” John confesses. “They keep showing his face everywhere, front page, prime time news, so I keep stumbling over it and it’s like getting slapped with a cricket bat.”

“Is their portrayal of Sherlock upsetting?”

“Of course it is!” John exclaims. “They’re calling him a fraud!”

“I’m sorry,” Ella says sincerely. “I shouldn’t have phrased the question like that. How exactly does it upset you?”

A heavy exhale escapes John and he casts his thoughts out to find the right description. “I feel... helpless. If I tried to argue my case, they would only argue back that Sherlock was clever enough to orchestrate everything, but not enough that he could really solve them without prior intervention. They can’t choose both! They can’t!”

John slams a closed fist against the armrest of the chair, but Ella doesn’t jump, only looking on serenely. It’s enough to force John to take a deep breath and purposefully bring himself under control, calm himself down and tone down the anger.

“You’ve never lost faith in him once, have you?” Ella asks, and there is a spark of curiosity in her eyes, intrigue at John’s loyalty.

Straightening up in his seat, John says, “I told you how Sherlock and I met, right?”

“Yes.”

“When he called me before—” he killed himself “—he jumped, Sherlock told me the call would be his suicide note. He said that all the allegations were true, that he was a fraud... that he researched me before we met to impress me.”

“Go on.”

“He practically told me my life story with a quick glance at me and my phone. The only mistake he made was assuming Harry was my brother, not my sister.”

“Have you considered the possibility that he consciously made an error?” Ella asks, and John shakes his head, having expected the predictable question.

“To what end? For me to think he were more believable?” John asks in return. “If that were the case, he wouldn’t have used Afghanistan or Iraq? as his opening line of questioning. In any case, if he wanted to impress me, he could have found some way to insert that detail and really blow my mind; he’s egotistical enough to have tried that.”

“Egotistical to try research you beforehand?” Ella challenges, attempting to rouse a reaction from John.

“No, he would have thought that cheating,” John says. He looks outside towards the windows blurry with rainwater, changing the scenery to a slate grey. “But if he could see it in the lining of my coat, or, I don’t know, in the genetic markers of my face, he would have mentioned Harry was my sister.”

“What are you trying to say, John?” and it occurs to him that Ella works a little like John did to Sherlock, not quite a conductor for inspiration, but a stimulator for discussion, forcing subjects to the surface to be dissected and dealt with. She never quite tells him what to feel, instead leading him to acknowledge what he has thought this entire time. The realisation is freeing.

“He got everything right because he was brilliant and he made a mistake because he was human,” John answers slowly, but with conviction. “He was a show-off, but rightly so; the results were from his own merits, not fabricated ones.”

“That’s what convinced you?”

“In the beginning, yes. After a lot of thought, I realised there were so many cases Sherlock couldn’t have meddled in, cases that occurred when Sherlock was a child—the Baskerville Hound case comes to mind—or cases that offered no reward to him solving them, either in rewards or to boost his own ego.”

“Sherlock was very fortunate to have acquired such a loyal friend,” Ella comments, and something tightens in John’s chest, and he has to clear his throat a few times before he can continue.

“Thank you.”

Crossing her legs, Ella leans back in her seat, eyes still sharply trained on John. “There’s stuff that you wanted to say, but didn’t say it.”

“Yeah,” he says, because they’re no longer talking about faith and loyalty and trust, they’re talking about goodbyes and that’s one thing that has kept John up at night, last words and final farewells and how everything was so much yet completely and utterly not enough, not fair at all.

The tone of the room’s atmosphere suddenly changes, switching back to something heavier and more sombre, clouds outside darkening to a shade off black and the air conditioning feels too cool, hairs on the back of his neck and arms standing on end. He swallows, mouth dry, and his tongue feels too big in his mouth.

“Say it now,” Ella encourages gently, but even before she finishes speaking he is shaking his head.

“No. I’m sorry,” John says, voice breaking. “I can’t.”

“You want to, though, correct?”

“Yes, I do.” So, so much, he’d give his good leg and an arm just to be able to see Sherlock again, alive and high off the adrenalin of a solved case, beaming at his own cleverness and winding down for the night. Hell, John wouldn’t mind seeing Sherlock irritable and in a fit, shooting from a stolen gun or screeching tortured notes from his old violin until the bowstrings snapped, spinning dramatically in a fit as he searched endlessly for stimulation, entertainment, anything to keep away the boredom.

Somehow, in the year of near death experiences and idle domesticity, Sherlock had become family, nearly integral to John’s life, and living without him still sends him reeling. On his knee, John clenches and unclenches his hand a few times, trying to get rid of the sudden ache he feels in his bones.

“I understand if you won’t say these things to me,” Ella says. “However, I do suggest that you visit Sherlock and get these words off your chest, or at least keep writing in your blog.”

“If I can, I’ll try,” John says, because he cannot promise anything, not yet.

“May I make one more suggestion?”

“We have five more minutes in the session, and I wouldn’t stop you.”

“Talk to Harry,” Ella says, and John’s frown deepens. She continues, undeterred, with, “Can you tell me the last words you said to Sherlock? Can you remember the last things to said to your sister?”

Despite the mild tone, the words are cutting, finding their mark. Friends protect people, he had snapped, just after calling Sherlock a machine, too busy to censor himself, worried sick over Mrs Hudson, forgetting for a second that Sherlock was in danger, too; then there was the rooftop and John stuck on the ground screaming his best friend’s name as Sherlock plummeted downwards in a freefall.

The last thing he had said to Harry, more a shout than anything else: You’re a drunkard and I wish you could clean up your bloody act, for one sodding time in your life

“Try not to regret anything, doctor.”

Ella finishes with a soft smile, and she really looks kind when she smiles, better than when she pastes on a mask of cool professionalism, but there are reasons doctors have to distance themselves from their patients and John doesn’t comment on it. He leaves her with a firm handshake—“Until next time, Ella”—the limp back in his walk and the cane making a thump in beat with his footsteps. He holds his phone in the palm of his hand for a heartbeat before stowing it away. He hails a taxi and tells the driver his sister’s address before leaning back and letting the hum of the engine soothe him. Enough with the faceless calls, John is going to see Harry and figure out where they stand with each other. And perhaps apologise for some of the things he said, needlessly cruel.

The rain is still falling heavily enough to warrant an umbrella, and nothing has really changed in the grand scheme of things, but maybe, just maybe, it isn’t so hard for John to breathe today.

-

It takes another two days before the rains finished and the sun showed its face, and when he asks Mrs Hudson to accompany him, she just touches his cheek gently and says, “Of course, dear. Just let me change into something more appropriate.”

Once out of her cherry red dress and into a deep plum purple—“It was one of his favourite colours, and not too garish for a graveyard”—they walk down the streets to the closest florist, spend a moment choosing something to take, both of them managing a laugh when they realise if Sherlock were alive, he’d probably better appreciate an offering of cigarettes than cut flowers, but they end up selecting a pretty enough bouquet of lilies. They are quiet on the ride there, because being in a taxi makes John inevitably think of Sherlock. Actually, there are few things now that are incapable of reminding John of Sherlock, but he tries not to analyse that too much.

Mrs Hudson leaves John alone without needing to be prompted, and she leaves with such confident steps that he wonders who else is buried here that she has lost. He doesn’t dwell too long on it though, because he’s finally alone with Sherlock, for the first time in over two weeks, which is the longest time they’ve spent apart in all the time they’ve known each other, to be honest. This is not the first time he has attempted to speak to someone who was dead—his mother, his father, fellow troops and several memorable patients in his internship—but words don’t come easily to John, speech punctuated by long pauses and many hesitations.

“Um. You... You told me once, that you weren’t a hero,” John says, a space hanging for a reply that would never come. “Um, there were times I didn’t even think you were human—” he still regrets calling Sherlock a machine, “—but let me tell you this: you were the best man, ah, the most human, human being that I’ve ever known, and no one will convince me that you told me a lie, okay, so, there.”

Awkwardly, John moves forward and touches his fingertips to the cool stone, trying to feel something, anything, that can connect him to Sherlock, but really, it is only a headstone, and John almost wishes he believed in ghosts, if only so he could truly entertain the notion that Sherlock is still with him, a haunting spectre in the background.

“I was so alone and I owe you so much,” John says, because that is the core of it, the raw truth of everything, and he has said it, turns to leave. He pauses, feeling a bit ridiculous but not caring enough to stop, so he adds, “There is just one last thing, one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me: Don’t. Be. Dead. Would you do—just for me, just stop it, stop this.”

As if listening to himself from far away, John can hear the cracks in his voice, the faint gasps as he breaks down. Training kicks in, shutting down everything but the basics, forcing his breathing out to something deeper and more even, stopping the sobs before the tears can fall, straightening his spine to a military posture and he very nearly salutes, but that doesn’t feel right. He turns and walks with a stiffness to his gait, no pain despite the fact he left his cane at home, body moving ever further away from where Sherlock rests as a pile of buried ashes. John heads for Mrs Hudson, a faint figure in the distance, and tries to hold himself together.

His phone rings when he is halfway there, the screen displaying Lestrade and John picks up the call almost warily. Right now, Lestrade would be working and he’s not quite sure whether he’s ready to face off with the police force again. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he’d end up punching another superior officer.

“What is it, Lestrade?” John asks without preamble, his voice guarded. He pauses beside a grave marked by a tall angel statue, concrete grey wings outstretched and arms raised high, forever ready to catch rain and snow in its upturned palms. “Or is this a situation where I should call you detective inspector?”

“I’m calling you in my lunch break,” Lestrade replies. “Feel free to call me anything you want, but Greg would be okay.”

“Oh, okay,” John says. “I thought I’d be in trouble. What is it?”

“Do you have computer access?” Lestrade asks.

“Not right now. Why?”

“Check your email,” Lestrade replies. His voice is harried, rushed, and there is the sound of clacking typing in the background. “There’s something you need to see.”

John’s heart leaps, a familiar sensation that once marked the beginning of a case. Instead, the excitement is short lived, fading to a bubble of mild curiosity. If it were truly important, Lestrade would have called during work or would have shared the information over the phone.

“Right, I’ll call you back as soon as I’m able.” The call ends without any further preamble, and John makes his way to Mrs Hudson. She is standing in front of a well-maintained grave plot, headed by a modest grey headstone. The flowers left before it are wilting, but the colours are still sharp against the blue-green of the shadowy grass.

John hesitates to ask, but Mrs Hudson beats him to it.

“My mother,” she says. “Egregious and energetic, she lived life to the fullest until her dying breath. She was quite the troublemaker, if I could believe my father. It’s been about twenty years since I last saw her. I still miss her.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Mrs Hudson says, turning around to face John with a small smile on her face. She looks fragile beside him, but her eyes are burning brightly. “Everyone dies, some earlier than others.” Her gaze darts over John’s shoulder, to Sherlock’s grave, and she shakes her head. “Come now, we’ll head home and I’ll fix something nice for tea.”

Unfortunately they luck out on the cab ride home, the seats smelling of stale cigarettes and spilt coffee. It is a relief to come home, even if home is shrouded in painful memories. It hasn’t even been a month yet; John still expects the flicker of movement in the corner of his eye, the sweep of a blue robe or the exaggerated arm movements from frustration. Dust is eloquent, and nothing has been moved.

Whilst the kettle boils, cups and the makings of sandwiches are being put on a clean table stripped free of laboratory equipment—all in boxes now—John logs into his computer for the first time in weeks. To his shock, he finds that there are nearly five-hundred emails in his inbox, over three-quarters with Sherlock’s name in the subject. Despite the temptation to do otherwise, John opens Lestrade’s email first, (no subject) but containing several images attached.

This was found and reported this morning. I thought you’d want to see it.

John downloads and opens the attachments, each image making his eyes widen just a fracture more. There are over half a dozen of them, photographs of brick walls, concrete paths, shop windows, a wooden picket fence; all of them defaced with spray-painted slogans, alternating between I believe in Sherlock and Moriarty was real.

“What are you trying to tell me?” John demands as soon as Lestrade picks up his phone. “Am I a suspect of property damage now?”

Mrs Hudson walks into the living area and sets the tea and sandwiches in front of him, and John spares her a quick, grateful smile. She leaves the flat, closing the door behind her, and John tunes back in to catch the tail end of Lestrade’s response.

“—and despite the old ASBO charge, you’re not a suspect.”

“Why?” John asks. The messages could have been taken directly from John’s mind, and with all the media attention, it wouldn’t be a stretch for the police to blame him.

“We have conclusive CCTV footage showing it was a team of young people,” Lestrade explains. “They are probably in their late teens, several girls and boys roughly hitting their targets late at night over the past two weeks or so. Their faces are hidden, and the damage is minimal enough not to require an active police force searching for them yet.”

“I don’t understand,” John says finally, because without Sherlock he’s pretty sure he’s no longer invited into police scenes. That standing invitation may have been revoked the day he ran off with Sherlock in a pair of handcuffs.

“I told you. I sent you them because I figured you’d like to see them,” Lestrade says. “Not everyone is taken in by the headlines. I hoped you’d find it comforting.”

“It’s certainly interesting,” John replies, something about the vivid shade of yellow familiar, the scrawl of lettering in one of the images... “Can I get back to you?”

After he hangs up, John looks more closely at the image of the defaced brickwork and it suddenly clicks where he’s seen it before, over a year ago, just his first date with Sarah ending in a disastrous kidnapping, a wall located by train tracks, and a boy—his name began with an R, though he can’t remember much else—who abandoned him with a bag of spray paint. Glancing at the time, one o’clock, John decides it’s too early to go and search for the vandals—for answers—so he settles back down to drink his tea and attempt to work his way through the hundreds of unanswered emails.

A small handful of them are comment alerts from regular visitors to his blog, Bill and Mike and Harry, but so many more turn out to be emails following the same vein as that first email weeks ago, an outpouring of gratitude and stories, recounts of Sherlock’s brilliance and behaviour in turns; several providing him links to a site called believeinsherlock.org, a small but ever growing collection of individuals sharing tales of solved cases that never made it into public or official channels. A majority come from within the United Kingdom, but a notable number from outside, general Europe to America to New Zealand to Asia.

One says:

I’m in Australia and he helped me find out who stole my football from three photographs, whilst staying in England. As if he could have orchestrated that – how stupid would you have to be to pay my neighbour to take my footie for no reason – he’s a true fucking legend, I tell you...

Another reads:

Sherlock told me my life story from my hat and my shoes and the mascara around my eyes, and I wasn’t even relevant to a case, just in the line of fire, and I will never forget how brilliant he was, even standing near him for five minutes.

There are dozens upon dozens upon hundreds of stories—because cases are not open shut, one-man missions, they include family and friends and acquaintances and witnesses and bystanders and victims and so the legend spreads—and John recognises a signed message, Henry Knight, who calls Sherlock both impossible and undeniable, and has donated a significant amount of money to keep the servers running. I believe, he wrote, because Sherlock believed in me and helped me discover the truth.

It is really quite shocking to see how many people don’t hold value in the word of tabloids, most demanding that Richard Brook show his face to the crowds, others digging to find proof that he ever existed. Moriarty was thorough, but it seems like several dozen Internet hackers have already found gaps in his credentials; old television guide clippings lacking his program slot, scanned images clear proof that The Storyteller never existed despite the Wikipedia page telling otherwise; Amazon’s listing of the DVD lacking reviews from real accounts, all found to be sock puppets; supposed ‘co-workers’ on the television show either never existing or having died decades before production would have even started.

The site is still underground, and it seems like none of the evidence has yet been shown to either the media or the police, but the crowd seems to be growing. It’s really beyond John’s capabilities to read and respond to everything, but he gives it a good try. He would have thought this would be more painful than anything else, but the stories is cathartic in its own way, a positive feeling spreading at the idea that this could be Sherlock’s true legacy, instead of a series of rumours and a dull red splatter against the concrete.

This is like the idea John had days earlier, forgotten before it could be made to fruition. The Internet connects people better than any form of communication before it, and John had thought that maybe he could band a few people together, those few who really knew Sherlock Holmes. He hadn’t, however, ever considered such a concept to grow to be so huge.

Before John knows it, hours have flown by, windows outside dark, the pot of tea grown cold and the sandwich soggy, left uneaten on the plate. A revolution is taking place, and whilst John has felt like he has been standing alone, they’ve been working only a mouse click away, supporting him. And where has he been this entire time? Sherlock’s right hand man out of the fray this entire time—leave him alone, he’s just lost his best friendhe should be fighting with us, helping clear Sherlock’s name!—and John finds himself already writing up another blog post.

Sherlock is dead, an irreversible fact. His reputation is left in tatters, but that, John decides, is something he can work on.

-

2nd July

BELIEVE IN SHERLOCK HOLMES

I have been offline for the past fortnight, well, mourning, for lack of a better word. Can you imagine my surprise at checking my emails and finding believeinsherlock.org? It’s absolutely brilliant, everyone. I don’t think I can really express my gratitude. I had feared that no-one would remember Sherlock as the genius consulting detective, that most would take in that Riley article as fact, but the outpouring of genuine support is astounding.

Without a doubt, if we work together, we can clear Sherlock’s name and get Moriarty back onto watch lists. The truth must come into light eventually. Again, I cannot begin to word how much I appreciate all of this help. It’s really wonderful.

However, I must request that everything remain online; the graffiti is technically illegal, and despite Sherlock’s flippancy to the law, I don’t want anyone ending up slapped with a fine or an ASBO. I think your heart is in the right place, and I understand what you’re trying to do, but Scotland Yard are hostile enough towards me without adding fuel to the fire.

Cheers, everyone, I think you’re bloody brilliant.

Edit: Apparently there’s a thing on Twitter about “hashtags” and #believeinsherlock? Sorry, I’m not exactly ‘net savvy, but apparently that’s trending now? I’m thinking that’s a good thing, so go forth and spread the hashtags!

-

It takes three nights of waiting before John gets the chance to call out, “Your name is Raziah, right? Your, er, tag is ‘RAZ’?”

The man turns, brown hair longer and shaggier than John remembers, but the same narrow, pale face. He’s wearing a dark hoodie with a sports bag thrown over his shoulder, the sound of metal clinking with every shift of his body. “What’s it to you?”

John stands up laboriously, trying to shake off the cramp in his leg and wiping the dust of his hands on the knees of his jeans. “I’m Doctor John Watson. We met, once, a long time ago.”

“Oh,” Raziah says with dawning realisation. “You’re Holmes’ friend from that case with the spray paint.” He gestures vaguely to his face, trying to pantomime the picture of the banker with the eyes sprayed over.

“Yes,” John confirms. “And you were the spray paint expert.”

“Still am, if I do say so myself,” Raziah grins, but there’s a sharp edge to it. “Now what can I do for you, mister?”

Wordlessly, John hands over a printed version of the photograph depicting the graffiti on the brick wall by the tube station. I believe in Sherlock. It’s still there, John had checked earlier, though the colour has faded slightly. Raziah looks at it with pinched lips, and when he looks up at John again, his expression is guarded and wary.

“Yeah? Bit of paint brightens that part up. Graffitti happens everywhere,” Raziah says coolly, feet spreading slightly towards more of a fighter’s stance. “D’you want me to try find out who did it or something?”

“I know who did it.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“Why would I need proof?” John asks. He needs to lean against his cane a little more and it scrapes against the gravel. “I’m not going to the police.”

Raziah’s expression doesn’t change, but his posture relaxes by a fraction. The air is particularly cold this evening, most the stars hidden by a thin cloud layer, but the moonlight still shines brightly enough to illuminate his face; all pale skin and dark eyes and high cheekbones.

Sighing, John says, “If I were to hypothetically speak to the graffiti artist responsible, I would tell them thank you.”

“Why?” Raziah asks, a flitter of surprise passing over his features. His hands fiddle with the straps of the bag, feet shuffling in the gravel. “I mean, I’m sure this hypothetical artist responsible would want to know why.”

“If that were the case,” and John can’t keep away a small smile as he speaks, “I would explain to them that my very good friend, Sherlock Holmes, died nearly a month ago. I would say that the media has been smearing his name ever since. And I would say that it was that piece of graffiti that inspired someone who was sitting in a train to start up a site called believeinsherlock.org. I’d tell him how that essentially connected a community of people who’ve all known Sherlock to get together and prove the papers wrong.”

“Huh.” Raziah pauses and one side of his mouth quirks up in a lopsided smile, crooked front teeth. “Is it too late to admit to being the artist in question?”

“I knew it was you,” John says, shaking his head and taking a step forward. “Unless having that exact shade of yellow really was an uncanny coincidence.”

Raziah shrugs. “Holmes likes the details.”

“Why did you do it?” John asks. “How well did you know Sherlock?”

“I guess I knew the guy better than some,” Raziah says. “I was part of his ‘homeless network’, after all.” Catching John’s surprised expression, Raziah scratches the back of his neck and explains, “Me mum caught me dealing and kicked me out. Could deal with the vandalism, she said, but not drugs. I drifted for a while—my only real skill is with art, and how much can an artist make with no supplies?—and somehow I got roped into Holmes’ group.”

“Are you back home now, or has that bridge been burnt?” John queries.

“Was back home before we met, actually.”

“Can you tell me how?”

“Funny that. I saw Holmes on drugs once, completely fucked outta his mind. When we met the other times, the guy was so put together; he’d just look at me and figure out whether I’d stolen crap or if I’d gotten into a fight again without asking. Like goddamn Big Brother or a bloody mother hen, it was ridiculously creepy,” Raziah says, tucking his fingers underneath his armpits to ward off the cold. “Then I saw him lying in the dirt with his eyes rolling into the back of his head and I figured, nope, I can’t do this shit, I can’t sell this to people if it does this to ‘em.”

Unable to stop himself, John has to ask, “You didn’t use yourself?”

“No,” Raziah snorts derisively. “I’m stupid, but not stupid. Fastest way to dig your grave is for a dealer to start using. Soon enough you’d get addicted and burn though your own supply.”

“Surely you knew before Sherlock the dangers of drugs,” John commented mildly, making sure his voice stayed neutral and non-judgemental.

“I dunno,” Raziah admits. “It seemed more real to see this, you know, genius Einstein of a man break from it. What hope does that give us mere mortals?”

For a heartbeat, John wonders about that, because in the year and a half he had lived with Sherlock, he had never seen him in the possession or under the influence of cocaine. However, he had seen the man driven into a complete frenzy from a lack of cigarettes, tonight’s a danger night, hiding stashes and passing over patches or cases instead, and that was with nicotine, the idea of something far more volatile like cocaine is difficult to picture.

It seems he always ends up loving the addicts, his sister and Sherlock both able to succumb to substance abuse, no matter how many Alcoholics Anonymous she went to or how many patches he would wear. In the end, time wore their resolves down and John just felt so damned helpless.

“Your mother must be glad you’ve stopped, at least,” John says finally.

A lazy smile creeps onto Raziah’s face and he lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. “I didn’t stop with the vandalism though. A guy’s gotta find his own fun somewhere, am I right?”

“But the whole ‘I believe in Sherlock’ wasn’t mindless fun,” John points out. “You wanted to make a message.”

“Me and a few others I knew from the network wanted to do something, but we’re not exactly... connected.” Raziah laughs, the noise loud in the silence. “Well, not anymore without Holmes.”

“You really didn’t believe the papers.”

“Nah, man,” Raziah shakes his head. “You can’t fake half the things Holmes did. He knew me mum was preggers again before I did—before she did. This whole fraud bullshit is exactly that; bullshit. So it’s nice to hear I’ve helped. I guess every rebellion needs a spark of anarchy.”

John pauses and says, “I saw a new ‘Moriarty was real’ on the walk here. Am I right in guessing that telling you to stop won’t do anything?”

“D’you want me to stop?” Raziah challenges, standing straight and raising a single eyebrow.

The moonlight shines off John’s teeth as he smiles widely. “Just don’t get caught, alright?”

“If that’s what the doctor orders...” With that, Raziah half-bows in a mocking salute, fingers touching his hairline, before racing off into the dark shadows, the fading sound of footsteps the only thing he leaves behind.

-

“Oh, John! I didn’t expect you back so soon,” Sarah says, and John shakes his head.

“I’m sorry for not being in sooner. Time sort of slipped away from me for a while,” he says and she nods along sympathetically. Sarah really is too kind; she called John in the days after the fall—the jump—and told him to take as much time as he needed.

(“It’s hard to lose someone you love,” she had said over the phone, and John didn’t bother correcting her assumption that he and Sherlock were together because John was too tired to bother and what did it matter anyway? They were flatmates and best friends, falling into a comfortable stasis point where they both understood one another, and they had each been willing to die for each other so many times over the year and a half—and Sherlock was dead and perhaps John did love Sherlock, in his own way, not quite family, not quite simple friendship, something other entirely, because otherwise that fact wouldn’t have hurt him as much as it did right now.)

Sarah looks worried, and John knows he looks a little haggard, but he’s really feeling a bit better. Not fixed, but he’s slowly getting a few more minutes of sleep each night, and his nightmares aren’t all about Sherlock plummeting to his death, more memories of Afghanistan surfacing and it’s close to balancing, to becoming another tragedy in his history to shoulder; it’s just not a bullet or a leg, but a heavy weight on his heart. Still, he can walk and life is less of simple going through the motions as it was a month ago.

Despite that, John wasn’t lying when he said time had been slipping away from him, water from cupped hands, dripping before he could catch them. It had only been when John had been buying groceries the other day that he realised something was different with his bank account and for a moment he feared he had gone broke, having missed work for so long, spending not compatible with his income, but instead he checked and his savings had trebled, if not more.

The ATM’s screen froze and a message popped up: For a man who acted like he could outlive death, Sherlock kept his will surprisingly up to date. Part of his trust fund has been left to you, along with the majority of his belongings. Keep well, doctor. Whilst it was unsigned, it wasn’t difficult for John to figure out who had done this, and he had spent the rest of the night within 221B Baker Street, alternating between checking the website, his blog, and reading various medical journals he’d forgotten about.

John didn’t need to work, but he decided without it, he would probably go mad. It’s been a month and life needs to move on.

“I’m fine,” he tells Sarah, and they both know he’s lying, or at least lying by omission, but she nods anyway, lets him through to do his job. It is never quite tedious, being a doctor. Of course, it could never match the excitement of chasing after a criminal on foot in the dead of night, but the job has its own merits, talking to people and helping them with whatever problems they may have. One young woman asks about using contraceptives to alleviate the flow of menstrual cycles, an old man makes him laugh as they talk about Viagra, and an expectant mother drags in a little boy who has a rash on his arm and John prescribes a cream and gives them both a lollipop and a wide smile.

During his quick lunch break, Sarah knocks on the door and holds two turkey sandwiches as a sort of peace offering. John agrees and they have lunch together, sitting outside on a bench close to the clinic. There is a smog layer in the air but the sun shines brightly enough, and John feels a little freer. As they eat quietly, John can’t help but eye up strangers who pass and wonder what Sherlock could have seen from them, the ladders in stockings and breadcrumbs on collars and the signs of habitually chewed fingernails—

“John,” Sarah begins cautiously. “I want you to know despite the fact our relationship fell through, I still consider you my friend, and if you need to talk, or anything, please don’t hesitate.”

“I’ve got a therapist,” John replies without thinking. He quickly backtracks when he sees the hurt expression on Sarah’s face. “No, I didn’t—look, I really appreciate the offer, I really do, and I consider you my friend, too, but I still don’t feel comfortable talking about Sherlock yet.” It’s different with Mrs Hudson, who knew Sherlock, but Sarah was barely an acquaintance with the man when he was alive.

“Of course, I understand.” She places her hand over his, the gesture platonic but comforting nonetheless, and adds, “I don’t think he lied.”

“You don’t?”

“If I thought he were a fraud, it would mean you were flatmates with a man insane enough to hire a troupe of Chinese performers to steal something then lose it, only to kidnap us to find it,” Sarah laughs, the sound sweet in the air. “He was a bit deranged at times, but hardly psychotic.”

“Never going to let that go, are you?” John replies, but his tone is light.

“As first dates go, that was pretty memorable,” Sarah agrees, finishing the last bite of her sandwich. She smiles, and it’s nice to see how she can finally joke about that night, as though the terror of nearly dying has faded enough with time.

“Now,” Sarah says, “how about you choose the topic of conversation?”

John thinks for a moment before bringing up a recent article he had read only the other night, and they spend the rest of the lunch discussing the possible medical uses of Rhododendron ponticum. After that, apart from sending one patient with severe chest pains to A&E, John has a quiet afternoon. It’s nice, as much as it is familiar, and it reminds him he can function without Sherlock.

-

It’s not dark by the time John is let out, so he decides to walk home, see how much he can test out his leg. The pain comes and goes, psychosomatic limp, and for the beginning of the walk, he doesn’t need the cane, but as he draws closer to home, he finds himself leaning against it heavily, feet dragging a fraction longer with every step. He’s done this for the past fortnight after work, and sometimes thinks there may be the smallest signs of improvement. Really too soon to tell.

He is looking at his feet as he walks, so he doesn’t notice until the very last moment that someone is sitting on the steps to his home, half dozing. It takes him a moment to place the face, but when he recognises her he feels his entire disposition souring.

“Miss Kitty Riley,” he says loudly, and the reporter jumps up suddenly, awake and alert and her eyes narrow when she sees John.

“Doctor Watson,” she replies, somehow managing to place an accusation within two words. “Did you do this?”

“Do what?” John asks tiredly.

“Don’t play coy with me,” Kitty barks back, enraged, thrusting a newspaper into John’s hands. “It’s your fault!”

Blinking several times, John’s eyebrows crawl up his forehead with increasing surprise as he reads the headlines: RICH BROOK, MISSING. In a smaller print underneath, reads: Sherlock Holmes, possibly innocent? That last sentence makes John swallow heavily, but Kitty’s burning gaze stops him from reading the article in full.

“My fault Moriarty has gone back underground?” John says calmly as he hands back the newspaper. He can buy his own copy later, tomorrow, or maybe the article’s up online at the website already. “I don’t remember doing that, sorry.”

“Not Moriarty,” she hisses. “Brook. I saw you and Sherlock chase after him that night. You did something to him!”

“I didn’t get a chance to see Moriarty after he disappeared from your place.” John’s grip of his cane turns almost painful, but he does not lose control of his voice for a second.

“He’s been missing for roughly the same amount of time that Sherlock’s been dead.”

She spits out the word like a curse, and it takes a lot of John’s self control to prevent himself from growling at her. Instead, he takes a deep breath and says, “Well hurrah for you then. I guess you can write up some radical conspiracy story for the headlines and cash in on it. Now, I’m tired, please let me go home.”

Kitty stands and spreads her arms out, blocking the path. It wouldn’t be difficult to push past her and go inside, but the last thing he needs is to be accused with a blown up charge of assault. He maintains his distance.

“No,” Kitty says. “I need answers.”

That stops John for a moment. He mentally rewinds her words; need instead of want, and his eyes take in the bags under hers, dark smudges, the way of collar is skewed awkwardly and that she was so tired that she was half-asleep when John finally arrived. Perhaps he will never have the rapid fire intelligence or observational skills of the world’s only consulting detective, but there is something to be said about a methodical approach.

“Your sources don’t check out anymore, do they?” John asks. More and more people have contributed to believeinsherlock.org, to disproving the lie of Richard Brook’s existence, and it was nearly enough that John was going to approach New Scotland Yard with the information. In all honesty, those sources never should have checked up in the first place, but now Moriarty is done with Sherlock, John supposes there’s no need to maintain the cover.

“How—” she starts before cutting herself off. “That isn’t relevant. What is relevant is what you’ve done to Richard!”

“I’ve done nothing to ‘Richard’; I haven’t even done anything to Moriarty,” John repeats. “But I’m guessing that your boss wants another interview to counter all the stuff on the Internet calling you—and your newspaper—a liar and you can’t deliver.” Kitty’s face pales even further and her eyes are blown wide. “I’m guessing you might be fired, so you come and bother me about it in the hopes of finding something else to write about.”

John grins, purposefully showing enough teeth to be predatory. “Sorry to burst your bubble, Miss Riley, but you’ll find nothing interesting happens to me.”

“You know what, Doctor Watson?” Kitty challenges whilst drawing herself up to her full height. “The truth cannot be stopped. You can try deny Sherlock’s a fraud for as long as you want, it doesn’t stop that fact that—”

“—he’s no longer here, and apparently neither is Brook, meaning that you’re in deep trouble?” John finishes. Sighing, he rubs his temples and says, “I’m asking one last time. Will you please move so I can go inside?”

She doesn’t move, so John pulls out his phone and calls Lestrade.

He answers promptly with, “John, I was about to call you.”

“Good, because I need your advice.”

“What on?” Lestrade seems surprised, and John is reminded that they haven’t spoken since that call and email weeks before. There was a time they spoke at least three times a week for over an hour at a time, not even always about cases. Sometimes it’s like Sherlock isn’t the only person John lost.

“If I have an annoyingly persistent reporter refusing to allow me access into my own property, can she be arrested?” John shoots Kitty a dirty look and she frowns, staring at him intensely as if that would allow her to suddenly hear the other side of the conversation.

“Maybe,” Lestrade says. “Depends how aggressive she is. Do you need me to come down?”

“Give me another five minutes to try convince her to move and we’ll see,” John says. He is about to hang up before he remembers, “What did you need to talk to me about?”

“We need you to come into the station,” Lestrade says grimly.

“Is this going to be a scenario where I call you detective inspector?”

“Sorry, mate,” Lestrade says, sounding sincerely apologetic. “It turns out—”

“That the so-called ‘Brook’ is missing, right?” John guesses. “That’s what this reporter is harassing me about.”

“Yeah,” and Lestrade’s tone is almost pleased to hear John is on top of things. “Again, sorry, but—”

“Understandably I’m a suspect, yes, I get it,” John says. Kitty is smiling triumphantly, but John only gives her a disinterested shrug. “If you want me to come to the station, can you come pick me up? I’m flat out of cash to flag down a cab and I don’t think Miss Riley here would let me pass to grab some more.”

“Sure, no problems. I’ll see you in a tick, John.”

“‘Bye, Greg.”

Slipping his phone back into his pocket, John asks Kitty, “Can you budge over a bit on the steps? I want to sit down. My leg’s cramping up a bit.”

Kitty laughs, high and tinny, and says, “See? Even the police are onto you. Sherlock was one thing, but you, a doctor and war veteran?”

“So, you’re not going to move then?” John asks, ignoring her accusations. “Right, well. I’m just going to sit down on the floor then, don’t mind me.”

The ground is cold, but sitting down removes the weight from his leg and gives him a chance to rub some feeling back into the muscles. His jeans are old and won’t mind getting a little dirty. He props his cane against the stairs and watches the passing traffic. The café besides them were having a relatively quiet evening, and John wonders absently about whether the owner ever did address the issue of having two wives to his respective spouses. If Mrs Hudson’s attitude towards the man is any indicator, he hasn’t. Good on her, he thought. She deserves better anyway.

“How did you live with him and not know?” Kitty asks, voice stripped of its aggression and dissolving to pure curiosity. “You don’t strike me as particularly naïve—”

“Miss,” John starts politely but firmly. “Either we spend this time waiting in a peaceful silence, or I give you a real piece of my mind on that article you wrote. To be quite frank, I don’t want to do the latter, I really am tired, so don’t test me.”

“I just want to know.”

John sighs. The woman is persistent, he’ll give her that. “You went out of your way to slander the name of my now dead best friend. Forgive me for not believing that you ‘just want to know’.”

“It’s hardly slander if it’s true.”

“Look,” John says, turning around to face her properly. She is still standing, so he has to crane his neck. “From the way you spoke to him, that night, it seems like he’d spoken to you before. He probably looked at your shoes or your makeup and insulted you. Chances are, since your reporting seems very in-your-face, you had annoyed him. Am I right?”

Kitty nods mutely and John continues.

“I can apologise for him making you feel three-inches tall. He does—did—that quite a bit, and he could be a bit of a prick at times. Still, journalists are meant to remain unbiased. But didn’t you ever think it was odd that his ‘Brook’ fellow—Moriarty—went to you for the ‘reveal all’ interview?” John can’t keep the derision out of his voice. “That he went for a reporter who had a standing grudge against Sherlock and something to prove? That he conveniently held onto all this information for months after his trial to release to you just before Sherlock kills himself?”

“I—” Kitty starts, but John holds up his hand.

“Stop,” he says. “I don’t need to hear you tell me that your sources were all viable when you published. You’re smart enough to properly doubt them now anyway. Just – please stop.”

They spend the rest of the wait in silence. It is a relief to see finally Lestrade, who smiles at John and then shoots a questioning glance at Kitty.

“Now, ma’am, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you really can’t stop a man from entering his own property,” Lestrade says.

“This is Kitty Riley on the scene. Is it true you’re taking Doctor Watson in for questioning over Brook’s disappearance?” Kitty demands, recording stick outstretched. Blimey, she’s a fast one, John thinks. “Anything you’d like to say, Detective Inspector Lestrade?”

John stands and grabs his cane, making his way to the car. As he slides into the passenger side seat, he can hear Lestrade say exasperatedly, “The police are just going through all the possibilities, but there is no evidence pointing towards foul play. Good day, miss, and I hope you won’t be here when John gets back.” Lestrade nods briskly at her and gets into the car, and Kitty watches them until they turn a corner and disappear out of sight.

After a moment of driving, Lestrade says, “I’ve never liked reporters.”

“I’m starting to see why,” John says.

Lestrade muses at a set of lights, “Kitty Riley... the name rings a bell.”

“She’s the journo who had the big tell-all story about Sherlock,” John explains. Shaking his head, he asks, “So, Lestrade, are you the one questioning me or what?”

“Sorry, it’s not my department,” Lestrade confesses a little apologetically. “But bringing people in for questioning is pretty standard, and I figured you’d prefer a familiar face.”

“That’s all right,” John says. “You still have that crappy coffee machine in the staff room?”

“Yeah.” John thinks he can see a hint of a smile in Lestrade’s profile.

“Unfortunate, but hopefully I won’t be kept long,” John says. “So how is your search for the elusive ‘Richard Brook’ going?”

“All I’m going to say is that the paper trail is starting to run dry,” Lestrade replies, scratching his eyebrow. “I overheard someone the other day saying ‘Moriarty was real’, which was pretty brilliant. Anyway, an innocent man would have shown up by now.”

“Unless they were dead,” John says, but Lestrade doesn’t say anything.

John’s fingers trace the edges of the leather seat, smooth and coloured copper brown. “Did you see the website people have made?”

Believeinsherlock.org?”

“That’d be the one.”

“It’s impressive,” Lestrade says. “I wonder how much my team would’ve gotten if I’d put them on the same case, digging up all this garbage.”

“When people on the Internet band together, it’s a force to be reckoned with.”

Lestrade pauses to change gears and then says, “The graffiti is getting a little out of hand, though.”

“They’re still doing that?” John is surprised that it’s been going on for so long, actually, Raziah’s support notwithstanding, surely people would want to spend their money and paint on more creative outlets. He had assumed it had stopped a while back.

“Oh yeah,” Lestrade says. “When one gets painted over, it feels like three spring up to replace it. The same message over and over. I believe in Sherlock or Moriarty was real. Soon enough they’re going to sell these things on shirts and mugs.”

“Has there been anything really damaging?” John asks as they drive around a roundabout. Traffic is fairly busy at this time of day and their progress is hindered several times. It isn’t too bad though, neither of them in any particular rush for once.

“So far they’ve kept it in the industrial or commercial zones,” Lestrade says, “so it hasn’t been too bad. The police are keeping a closer eye on the situation, but really, we don’t have enough manpower to actively hunt down a spot of property damage.”

John feels himself grinning. Casually, he asks, “Do you happen to be the only officer who doesn’t think it’s too bad to leave these taggers alone?”

“Dimmock seems to be unquestioning in his support,” Lestrade says. “After all, there are real criminals on the streets. Yesterday we got another call that Sandford’s swan has gotten loose again.”

“A swan?” John repeats, incredulous.

“Serious business, that swan,” Lestrade affirms, biting the inside of his cheek, completely deadpan delivery.

For a moment they sit completely still before John barks out in surprised laughter, Lestrade soon following. John’s forgotten how nice it is to fall into fits of laughter with someone else, how you can feel breathless in a good way, a hum of amusement running all over his body like a live current.

“Sorry to break the mood,” John says faintly, “but you never answered me earlier. Is this a scenario where I can still call you detective inspector?”

“What?” Lestrade asks. “Didn’t I tell you that I’m not going to be questioning you?”

“No, I’m trying to ask with a bit of tact whether or not you’ve still got your job.”

“Oh yeah, I guess my brain’s starting to switch off, I’ve had a long shift.” Lestrade twists his head and cricks his neck. He still looks tired, but not completely drained. “I think the chief superintendant is starting to see how much Sherlock helped over the years. There’s a damn lot of paperwork for him to go through and he’s honestly getting a bit sick of it.”

They finally arrive at New Scotland Yard, and it doesn’t look any different to all the other times John has been dragged here. It feels different though, something in the air, like seeing a world in colour until it has been washed to a dirty greyscale, like music missing from a movie scene, a gap that should be filled but isn’t. Perhaps it’s the distinct lack of panic, of danger, of the need to rush whilst adrenalin floods his veins and he can hear his heartbeat in his ears. More likely it’s due to the absence of a tall, imposing companion, whose presence drew the attention of all those in the area; more than just a man, he was a commanding figure who could knock people down with his eyes alone. John needs a moment to adjust, closing his eyes tightly against the wave of memories that threaten to flood him, but he breathes deeply and retrieves his cane, closing the door with a gentle click.

Living with Sherlock Holmes had been a constant learning experience, and one thing John learned was to fine tune his self-control. He quickly plasters on a neutral expression as he walks beside Lestrade through the doors and asks, “Have you reviewed a single case where Sherlock’s been wrong yet?”

“Not one,” Lestrade says, and there is the faintest trace of pride in his voice. Most of their walk is in companionable silence when John notices Lestrade eyeing his cane. It’s the silver-grey metal model he had received from the hospital but never quite found himself returning. He likes it better than a wooden one, but it does occasionally give the impression he’s just returned from being invalid.

“Psychosomatic limp,” John explains unashamedly. “Shot in the shoulder whilst deployed in Afghanistan, came back home to find out the brain works in mysterious ways.”

Lestrade’s eyes never hint at pity, only a mild curiosity. “How come I’ve never seen you with it before?”

“In a strange way, Sherlock... fixed me,” John says, shrugging. He recognises the path they’re walking and knows they’ve nearly arrived; they’ve just passed the staff room and John has seen the ancient coffee maker and laments the lack of decent caffeine.

“Sherlock knew something you didn’t, doctor?”

“When did Sherlock not know something I didn’t? The man was a walking encyclopaedia with holes missing for pop culture, the solar system and politics,” John says fondly, and he does not think about how it’s getting easier to refer to the man in the past tense. “But that wasn’t it. He tricked me into leaving my cane whilst pursuing a criminal and I guess I forgot that I was meant to have a limp at all. He outsmarted my bloody subconscious, would you believe it?”

“Without him, it’s back, the limp?” Lestrade asks, pushing open a door and letting John walk through first.

“Yeah,” John replies, speaking a little thickly past the sudden lump in his throat. “Never mind it though. We’re here?”

“Yep,” Lestrade says. “I’ll wait for you outside.”

John moves over to one of the empty chairs and sits. There is an officer in uniform sitting across from him, stern faced with narrow pale eyes and an angular jawline, and only vaguely familiar, as though seen from the peripheral of his vision in a long gone memory. They slide over a folder with several pictures of Moriarty playing ‘The Storyteller’.

“Tell me, John,” the officer says, “what do you know about this man?”

“His name is James Moriarty and he’s one of the biggest criminal masterminds on earth,” John says without hesitation.

“Actually, records say his name is Richard ‘Rich’ Brook,” the officer corrects, “and he’s been missing for just less than seven weeks now.” They nudge the folder of images closer to John and clear their throat. “Please take a good look through these.”

John suppresses a sigh and turns it into a heavy exhale. He straightens up in his seat and makes an effort to look attentive. So it begins, he thinks tiredly.

-

It turns out the bread has long passed its use-by date, and John can see the beginnings of mould, a fuzzy pale grey-green patch on the crusts. Looks like he wouldn’t be having toast for breakfast this morning. He hesitates before throwing out the entire loaf.

“Hey, Sherlock, do you want thi—”

John cuts himself off and can only hope that Mrs Hudson didn’t hear. A stinging sensation builds behind his eyes and he has to blink several times before it leaves. He chucks the bread away with a little more force than necessary and searches the kitchen for something edible, gritting his teeth and trying to think of other things; he has work again today, and this evening there’s meant to be a documentary on reptiles narrated by David Attenborough on the BBC.

The bland cereal is soggy after soaking in too much milk, ultimately tasteless mush. The tea is tepid, the tap is still leaking, and the house still echoes with the knowledge that there is something missing. This morning, John had a shower that lasted longer than five minutes because there was no one to use up all the hot water. This morning, John was able to eat at the kitchen table because it had been cleared of all the scientific laboratory equipment; the morning peaceful as it lacked the surprise discovery of human body parts. This morning, John woke to the sounds of his alarm, rather than Sherlock’s racket.

Most would think that sounds better, but John thinks of it as reverting to the mundane, and he wonders how long he can stand this... normality.

Life has been this way for over a month now and he should be getting used to it, but there are times, moments throughout the day that he forgets, for a heartbeat, about what happened at St. Barts, and he reaches for his phone, listens for a text, sees something horrifically idiotic on the television and thinks of Sherlock. The ghost of his flatmate haunts him, like a phantom limb, so much of John rewired to live around Sherlock that he still hasn’t discovered all of his little ticks yet; the way his eyes flit upwards, sideways, searching for piercing blue eyes and a cocky expression; the way he always opens his laptop with the grumbling thought, he better not have guessed my password again; and there is the way he brings out two mugs every morning when he just needs the one now.

The doorbell rings, followed by a sharp rap on the door. John leaves his breakfast and hurries down the stairs. It is with no little surprise that he opens the door to find Molly standing there, hair up in a ponytail, bag slung diagonally across her chest and shivering slightly despite her thick cream cardigan.

“John,” she says with evident relief. “Good. He—I was worried about you.”

“Worried? Whatever for?” John asks, surprised, and then quickly shakes his head. “Where are my manners? Come inside. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Molly declines the tea but accepts a glass of water. When John sits down at the table, she rummages through her bag and brings out a newspaper, handing it over to John. He gets a wave of déjà vu, and opens his mouth to say, I’ve seen the story about Moriarty, when he catches a glimpse of his name in the headline with today’s date on the front page.

JOHN WATSON: PARTNER IN CRIME? Below it in smaller font reads, Blogger John Watson taken for questioning over Richard Brook’s disappearance. The picture they chose is when he was wearing a hat, a shadow casted over his face like a caricature of a criminal, completing the article. He is not surprised to see Kitty Riley’s name attached to the story.

“I checked your blog, but you hadn’t commented on it or anything, and I was worried you’d been taken into custody,” Molly explains quickly, a nervous tremor in her voice. Her cheeks are still a little flushed from the cold, though she looks a little peaky, perhaps stressed. “There were a whole bunch of people at the other website saying you’d been arrested with murder charges.”

“Don’t worry, Molly,” John says. “I was just asked a few questions. I wasn’t charged with anything. Let alone something as serious as murder.”

“Oh, thank God,” Molly says, her frame slumping into the chair like a puppet whose strings have been cut. Her eyes quickly glance over the flat, taking in the small changes since Christmas. A notable lack of clutter, for one, though she pauses on the violin case still resting on Sherlock’s seat.

“Must be a slow news day,” John muses, looking away from her face, opening the paper and rifling through the pages. There’s a double spread chronicling Sherlock’s time in the limelight decorated with various pictures of Sherlock in a deerstalker, the sight of his friend’s face making something in his chest tighten uncomfortably. He quickly turns to the article regarding him, which is relatively sparse in terms of concrete information and is padded with a lot of hearsay.

He closes it and puts it on the table face down, but Molly doesn’t move to take it back.

“How have you been, John?” she asks, pulling on a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I have seen you since the funeral. Closed casket, wasn’t that a bit odd? Normally closed caskets are for corpses that don’t look human anymore—oh dear, sorry, I shouldn’t talk sometimes, it’s like my brain-to-mouth filter’s a bit broken—”

“No, no,” John says. “It’s fine.” He was used to the disjointed way of speaking, a train barrelling down the tracks, a bit like Sherlock but not as eloquent or alarming. “Mycroft asked for it to be closed casket, for a cremation, and something about everyone remembering how he was when he was alive.”

That, in hindsight, had probably been a decision for the best. John still remembers the ghostly white pallor stark against rivulets of dark cherry red, and if he saw Sherlock cleaned up, eyes closed and arms crossed in some strange mimicry of sleep, well, it might have been too much. He might have snapped and shaken the man then and there, demanding for him to just wake up, just not be dead. Clearing his throat, John drinks the last of his tea, ignoring how it tastes how it is stone cold.

“What about you, Molly?” John asks, purposefully changing the subject. “How’s work?”

“Dead boring,” Molly says, a choked half-giggle in her voice, and John has to smile. The conversation shifts to where they studied and stories about the cadavers in Med school and John talks to Molly in a way they should have months ago, except Sherlock had always been there, a blazing sun that outshone the rest of the stars in the sky.

They spend about half an hour talking before Molly excuses herself, and it’s nice to talk to someone about life before the army, and she is not quite the same as Sarah because Molly was always there when Sherlock was around, a fly on the wall. It was interesting to speak to her without Sherlock dividing both their attentions. Perhaps it’s good to be able to occasionally peer up at the wonders of the Milky Way, red giants and white dwarf stars and the rings of Saturn, but John really wishes for the sun to come out and blind him once more.

-

25th July

MORIARTY WAS REAL

But Richard Brook certainly wasn’t.

To address the concerns, yes, I was taken in for questioning last night about Brook’s disappearance. I had nothing to tell them. At this point in time, I think the police aren’t going to find him until they start searching for Moriarty again; it looks like Jim is bored of playing mind games now Sherlock is dead.

The police didn’t do anything but keep me for a while; in fact, the worst they did was give me some really crap coffee, but that isn’t their fault, they’ve needed a new coffee maker for a while now.

But hey, let’s see if we can give those at New Scotland Yard a hand. There are a couple hundred of you with impressive searching skills. Can any of you find “Richard ‘Rich’ Brook” (a.k.a. James ‘Jim’ Moriarty) for them? Credit cards, passports, sightings, etc. Stay safe though, I don’t want any of you digging too deep and getting into trouble.

Thanks for all your support, everyone. It means a lot to me.

-

The tone of the media begins to change as they investigate Brook’s sudden and mysterious disappearance. The phone number he had given is no longer in service and his email address only returns a generic message telling the sender that Brook is out of town without access to his email or phone. It has been over two months and the tabloids are tentatively exploring just how legitimate Richard Brook really is.

It also helps that a few media outlets have found the website, believeinsherlock.org, still kindly being funded by Henry Knight. A divide is starting to appear, a debate over which side to take in this war of reputation. The battle is not just limited to the papers or the television, arguments spilling over into Internet forums and splashed across the sides of buildings.

Unlike with the I believe in Sherlock graffiti campaign, the Brook is Innocent tags are appearing in residential districts, in violent blues and reds, resulting in a five minute spot on the six o’clock news. John has been accosted by so many reporters wishing for a sound bite that he had to release a statement on his blog and prepare a comment if confronted in person. So far, they have respected his wishes to refrain from disturbing him at work, but that doesn’t stop them attempting to bother him after his shift. He no longer walks home, instead spending money on taxi rides there and back.

When he asks the cab driver to drive around aimlessly for fifteen minutes, the man gives him a strange look but obligingly humours him. They pass the London Eye and Big Ben before John feels assured he is not being followed. He gives the instructions to be taken to New Scotland Yard and hopes that there aren’t any paparazzi watching the entrances.

Thankfully, he makes it inside without any drama and finds Lestrade waiting for him.

“What is it?” John asks, referring to the cryptic text he had received earlier. Come see me at 3:30pm, don’t be late. “Is this another round of questioning? Because you really need to stop scheduling them after I’m tired from work.”

Lestrade shakes his head. “Rufus Bruhl and his daughter want to talk to you. He’s moved his entire family back to Washington after what happened, so we’re doing a video chat.”

“Bruhl...” It takes John only a second to place the name. “The American ambassador whose kids were abducted?”

Lestrade nods but his expression is grim. “Max has recovered mostly from the ordeal, but he isn’t taking part in the video call. However, Claudette, the little girl, apparently insists on joining her dad. Bruhl has warned us about that in advance.”

As they walk towards the elevator, John can’t help but think: The abducted daughter who screamed at the mere sight of Sherlock insists on a conversation?

They eventually arrive in small clean room, a window open wide to let in a cool breeze; the only furnishings a table and several chairs, a framed photo of the seaside on the cream-coloured walls. A laptop is already set up, but the screen remains dark. John takes the middle seat directly in front of the laptop, sliding his cane underneath, whilst Lestrade sits to his right.

The door of the room opens and Sally Donovan slides in. John doesn’t stop himself shooting her a dirty look, but says nothing when she sits beside him on his left. It had been her suspicions about the screaming that had led to Sherlock’s arrest and she would undoubtedly have her own curiosity regarding the call. Whether she belongs here is ultimately Lestrade’s decision, and the detective inspector hasn’t turned her away.

“Ready?” Lestrade asks, and John nods. Lestrade taps a few keys and the laptop screen reveals a gruff, heavy-set man dressed in a suit, dark brown hair and neatly trimmed moustache. He is squinting at them, as if they aren’t quite in focus for him, and John notices a small, shiny American flag pinned to his lapel.

“Good morning—or well, afternoon, over there,” he says in a lower voice than John expected. There is a trace of an accent that is neither American nor British. “My name is Rufus Bruhl, and I do apologise about the inconvenient timing of the call. My schedule is rather busy in the afternoons and my daughter has school, so this is the only free time we have that coincides.”

“It’s no trouble,” Lestrade hurries to say, but Bruhl waves him off. Before either of them can say anything, a little girl appears, brunette hair tied back neatly into small pigtails. She is unsmiling, but there is a healthy colour to her cheeks that was missing the last time they saw her. She climbs onto her father’s lap, and he lets her, looking fondly at his daughter.

There is no hint of warmth in his expression when he turns back to the screen.

Bruhl clears his throat and there is a bit of strained formality in his tone when he speaks. “Let me start off by saying whilst I do have complete faith in the British justice system—”

John quickly interrupts, saying, “Mr Bruhl, we appreciate the effort but you really don’t need to. These aren’t peace talks.”

From beside him, John can feel Lestrade and Sally’s mild shock, but Bruhl nods firmly and says, “Yes, right, we’ll just move on from the pleasantries then. I’ll get straight to the point. Sherlock Holmes didn’t abduct my children.”

John’s eyes widen and there is a quick intake of breath from Lestrade. He’s pretty sure neither of them really ever thought Sherlock did it, but to hear such a confident declaration against the notion is still quite astonishing.

“With all due respect, sir,” Sally says, “how can you know that for sure? Your daughter did scream the moment she laid eyes on him.”

Bruhl looks at them all coolly, stroking the side of Claudette’s head gently. “My daughter couldn’t speak properly for weeks afterwards. Any mention of the incident would cause her to clam up and break into a cold sweat. So when you told me that the likely perpetrator was the man I had requested to find them, I had to take you at your word. I would hardly force my daughter to answer a series of questions about her captor when she was not ready. However, I did have several of my own men researching what happened that night and they showed me several clips of CCTV footage that acted as a solid alibi.”

“Easily could have hired someone to take them,” Sally counters.

“Yes, he could have,” Bruhl agrees. “But if he were really the fraud you papers so readily claim him to be, wouldn’t he have told the man to leave more clues behind than a footprint in linseed oil?”

“Sherlock had always been a show-off,” John says in neutral voice, but his heart is beating double time. This had been the one thing he had been truly curious about, a constant aching thorn in his side. What could have Moriarty done to make a child react so negatively towards Sherlock?

“You must be Doctor Watson.” Bruhl turns to him and smiles pleasantly. “The reason I had requested Sherlock Holmes attend to the case of my missing children was due to both your blog and my son, Max. He loves your stories; always called to talk to me about Sherlock Holmes and his latest solved case. That boy has quite the avid imagination, always telling me he wishes to grow up to be the next James Bond.”

“Certainly he would be clever enough,” John says. “Leaving a trail with oil was really quite an inspired idea.”

“Undoubtedly he read that in one of his spy books,” Bruhl says with pride. “Though yes, he was very smart for him to take that and apply it to a real world scenario. Anyway, while I was away in Washington, he would send me newspaper clippings of Sherlock, and I dutifully read them and filed them away for safekeeping.”

The connection falters for a second, the image pixelating and the sound distorting. It realigns quickly, though the miss out on the beginning of Bruhl’s sentence.

“—pletely forgot about them until the other day,” he says. “My daughter found them though, and I found her crying over one of the articles.”

Bruhl holds up a newspaper clipping. JEWEL THIEF UNDERGOES TRIAL, the headline reads, and there is a photo of Sherlock in his suit and one of Moriarty breaking in to steal the Crown Jewels amongst the text.

“My daughter did not recognise Sherlock here, but pointed out that this man—” Bruhl taps the grainy image of Moriarty, “—had been the one to offer the poisonous sweets to her and her brother.”

“Moriarty,” John exhales, sound less than a whisper, and slumps back into his chair.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” Sally says. “We know that Brook was paid to act as Moriarty.”

“Not quite,” Lestrade corrects, side-eyeing John. “There is evidence coming to light that Brook never existed.”

Bruhl nods and nudges his daughter softly. “Claudette, sweetheart, would you like to tell the police officers what the man said to you?”

For the first time, Claudette looks up directly at the screen. She swallows hard before speaking. Her voice is so faint they all need to lean forward to catch her words.

“He came to us after we were dropped off at the place,” she says, and John remembers the dark cold rooms of the warehouse and wonders how afraid they would have been. “Gave us candy and told us we could eat as much as we wanted, but if we left the place he would—he would hurt us.”

Claudette’s breaths are coming in short, panicked bursts, and John’s training kicks in. “Claudette, put your hands on your knees and look at the ground, concentrate on taking big deep breaths. You don’t have to tell us this story if it’s upsetting you.”

The little girl shakes her head, pigtails swinging, but obligingly carries out John’s instructions. She gathers herself up a moment later, and continues.

“The bad man told us to call him the Storyteller,” she says, and John shares a significant look with Lestrade, “and he warned us that if we saw anyone else in those big coats that they were coming to kill us because we broke the rules. I didn’t want to break the rules! But she—” Claudette points at Sally, “—took us away from the place and then we couldn’t get back!”

Sally’s face has grown worryingly pale, but Lestrade asks softly, “‘Big coats’? Could you describe that to me?”

Claudette looks at her father, who holds up another article. It’s a shot of Sherlock with the deerstalker and his coat with the collar drawn up high. She points at it and says, “This one. Not the Storyteller, not this person with the silly hat in the photo, but a brown-haired man wearing the same coat took us that night. He smelled of cigarette smoke. It wasn’t nice.”

“Thank you, Claudette, for being so brave and telling us all these things,” John says, smiling at her, and she nods back. She still doesn’t smile and he wonders how long this incident will stay with her.

“One more thing,” Claudette says. “Max told me I screamed at the wrong person. That Sherly was a good guy and he was wearing the coat because he was an undercover spy. Is that true?”

John speaks around the lump in his throat, voice thick with emotion. “Yes, it’s true. He was a very good man. He found you both and saved you from the Storyteller.”

“Oh,” Claudette says. “Can I see him and tell him I’m sorry and thank you?”

Bruhl shoots them all a warning look over the top of her head and says to her, “Sorry, sweetheart. Mr Sherly is not there right now. He’s overseas, doing work.”

“Like you, daddy?”

“Just like me, sweetheart.”

“Okay, just make sure he knows I said thank you. Mummy always says to mind my manners,” Claudette says, and there is the sound of knocking from their end of the call. For a moment, both of them disappear from the screen, but John can’t bring himself to say anything just yet.

Bruhl comes back to his desk, brow set in a stern line. “I keep up with the news in England. It’s my job, I have to. I know what happened, I know about the fall and accusations, and God save that man’s soul.” He sighs heavily. “If I understand correctly, the main reason he’s still under criminal investigation is because of my daughter’s scream, and though none of it is her fault at all, I felt obligated to clear this entire mess up.”

“Thank you, Mr Bruhl,” Lestrade says, “for taking the time to call us and explain everything.”

He waves the words away irritably, rubbing at the spot between his eyes, his moustache bristling. “I owe Mr Holmes a great debt for saving my children from a slow and painful death. Feel free to take the recording of this conversation and put it on the record if need be.” His eyes slide over to John, adding, “Doctor Watson, if you ever need to contact me about this case, feel free to do so. I’ve read a few of your stories and you must have been close friends with the detective. I’m sorry for your loss.”

John nods mutely, and Lestrade exchanges final farewells before the screen cuts to black once again. He turns to Sally, who is looking at him, wide-eyed.

“I can’t believe it though,” she says. “It made sense! He was such a—”

In a calm voice, John says, “Have you ever considered the fact that calling Sherlock a freak doesn’t automatically make you a better human being? Just because he sometimes acted heartless didn’t mean he was.”

“I didn’t—” Sally begins to say, but John shakes his head, standing up to leave without looking back at her. He does not have anything more to say to her at this point, and thankfully she doesn’t make an attempt to follow him through the halls. Lestrade does though, but his company is infinitely more tolerable at the moment.

“I’ll draft up a press release about Sherlock and we’ll publicly request Brook—Moriarty—to turn himself in for possible criminal charges.”

“Good,” John says, feeling a little faint now that the indignation has faded and only fatigue is replacing it. “That sounds good.”

Lestrade asks whether John needs any help getting home, John firmly, but politely, declines the offer. He is finally alone once the elevator doors close and his shaky legs give out from under him, his entire body flooded with relief.

John’s faith had never wavered, not even when Sherlock professed being a fake in the final phone call, but it is one thing to believe in a man, another entirely to get an entire country on board. People believing in Sherlock won’t bring him back, but John thinks that Sherlock, of all people, deserves to leave a legacy, not to die in shrouded infamy and scandal.

Even seeing a Brook is Innocent tag when flagging down a cab can’t bring his spirits down. The tide is turning, finally, and for the better.

-

A few days later, John comes home to see Mycroft sitting on the sofa with a relaxed air and a pot of tea sitting in front of him, a cup and saucer in hand. It seems as though he has taken out the fine china, gold rim and patterned with the delicate rendition of small wildflowers. Anthea is standing beside him, skin a shade darker than his memory recalls, her fingers flying across the screen of a new touch screen phone. She ignores him but John isn’t exactly in the mood to have a flirt.

“Helped yourself, have you?” John asks Mycroft, too used to the antics of the Holmes brothers to even bat an eye on what is technically breaking and entering. Neither he nor Sherlock ever gave Mycroft a key, though that never stopped him before.

“I’ve made some for you,” Mycroft says mildly, indeed sliding over another cup of hot tea, swirls of steam rising from it. John nods and grunts out a thank you as he sits, but makes the mental note not to drink it. He didn’t see Mycroft make it, so there’s no telling what’s in it.

“Next time, would it be so hard to just call me?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Mycroft asks with a plastic smile.

John rolls his eyes. “What do you want?”

“I happened to let it slip to the editor of a particular newspaper that I could possibly sue them for slander,” Mycroft says. “Whatever the evidence, I did consider the terms psychopath and the like to be a little excessive. My lawyers, of course, agreed with me, especially with all of the new information surfacing from your little Internet movement. I believe in Sherlock, an admirable message to spread.”

“Mycroft,” John says reprovingly, “you can’t sue news outlets for reporting on things you don’t like. That defeats the purpose of free speech.”

“Oh, we worked out an accord of sorts that did not require me to send my lawyers to the courtroom,” Mycroft says agreeably, voice otherwise calmly bland. “I merely suggested that if they allowed me to submit an interview with John Watson, it would counter-balance the damage they’ve done to my dear little brother’s name.”

“Did it ever occur to you to ask me first?”

“I merely assumed you would like a chance to set the record straight.”

“I write in my blog.”

“And pray tell, how many direct quotes do the journalists use from that, John?”

For all the physical differences Mycroft and Sherlock have, there is an eerie similarity to the quickness of the gaze, something bright and sharp burning behind dark pupils. Something in his nose, the curls of his hair, perhaps merely the way he holds himself, comfortable and smug in the knowledge that he is smarter than you.

Sometimes it’s like Mycroft forgets that John is not quite like everybody else. John purses his lips and then frowns. He knows what question to ask.

“Why are you doing this?” and something shutters over Mycroft’s expression, closing it down and raising walls to guard him. Sherlock does something similar, except with long silences and aggressive sulking sessions.

“My position in the government allows me certain luxuries, such as a particularly skilled assistant and the command of a small army,” Mycroft says in a soft, faraway voice. Without prompt, Anthea stands and leaves the room, walking downstairs. John thinks he can hear the front door open and close. “However, those benefits come along with restrictions. There are the usual safeguards, such as changing my citizenship without the correct authorisation could invoke a lifelong jail sentence, or the fact that my estate is closely monitored in the case of corruption. Those are hardly trials, and if I so wanted, blockades I could circumvent with relative ease.”

John bites the inside of his cheek to stop himself from asking questions. In all honesty, he’d really prefer not to know.

“One limitation is that I must, at all costs, prevent my person from undergoing any public attention, even if only mentioned in the passing,” Mycroft says, and John thinks he is beginning to understand. “I have stopped my name from appearing in several articles in the past year wishing to mention my relation to Sherlock. That effort does not stop with Sherlock’s death. If you can recall, I allowed you to present the eulogy at Sherlock’s funeral because I knew such a position would be reported.

“Regardless, Sherlock considered you his friend and I, his enemy. It would hardly be fitting for me to—ah, but never mind that now. I briefly considered creating a false identity and using that to write an interview, not difficult and much cleaner, but that felt horribly impersonal. It also struck me that I may have already done enough damage talking about Sherlock. You, John, are the logical conclusion to this problem.”

“Me?”

“As I said, you considered Sherlock your best friend, and still retain such a commendable sense of loyalty that I believe I could trust you with his story.” His smile widens a fraction to show teeth, and he pauses to drink some tea.

“I—well, um—you just manipulated me there, didn’t you?” John asks, finally, torn between annoyance and sympathy.

Mycroft laughs. “It only counts as manipulation if it works. Did it?”

“Yes,” John admits after a pause. “Damn you. How much of that spiel was even real?”

“That is up for you to decide, I’m afraid,” Mycroft says and John shakes his head, not even bothering to swim through that particular sea of ambiguity. There are footsteps coming from the stairs and Anthea appears through the door, phone out of sight and her hands clasped awkwardly in front of her, as if she isn’t quite sure of what to do with them without them busy typing or tapping away. She hovers in the doorway, awaiting instructions.

“My assistant will play the role of inquisitive journalist,” Mycroft explains. “No one more reliable with secrets and quite a good writer in her own right.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I think I shall leave you to it then,” Mycroft says, standing smoothly and tucking his umbrella into the crook of his arm. “Until next time, John.”

Anthea moves to Mycroft’s recently vacated seat and sits down. She reaches for John’s untouched tea—eyes asking for permission—and he nods, letting her have it. As she drinks, John realises Mycroft hadn’t done anything to it after all.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” John says to break the silence.

“The Libyan revolution needed attending to,” she answers flatly and he isn’t sure whether to take that at face value or interpret it as a joke.

After she has taken her phone out, she looks up at John and smiles faintly. “If you were wondering, no, that wasn’t a joke.”

“Right, then,” John says, very purposefully stopping himself from probing. The faster they finish this interview, the faster John can fall asleep, shower and eat, in that order.

“Anything you’d like to clarify before we start?” Anthea asks, sitting up straight, phone at the ready to type; almost a picturesque model of professionalism.

John pauses to think, and he can only come up with one thing. “Don’t make Sherlock sound like an idiot,” he says. “One paper called him an amateur detective and he sulked for an entire day.”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve done PR releases,” Anthea says, tucking a stray piece of hair neatly behind her ear. She looks far too modern to be sitting in John’s shabby little flat.

“One more question, actually,” John says as the thought occurs to him. “What name are you crediting? Am I right in guessing you wouldn’t put down something like Anthea?”

“Very good,” she says, nodding. “None of the names on my work roster are put through. As I said though, this isn’t my first time doing something like this. Normally I use the penname Mary Morstan, though, if you’re interested in trying to have a search.”

“If you were cleared to tell me that information, I strongly doubt there would be anything very interesting for me to find using it,” John says.

Anthea only smiles before indicating to the phone. “Now, John, please tell me a little about yourself...”

-

Walking past newsagents, John pauses to look at the warring headlines on display. Sherlock’s name is shown in a more positive light than a negative one these days, and the media is beginning to move on from the entire scandal altogether. To be honest, John’s surprised it has gone on this long, three long months to strip away the lies and rebuild the legend. His interview, as short as it was, helped people see the human side to Sherlock.

He smiles, faintly. The ache in his chest is not so persistent now, thoughts of Sherlock not making a tidal wave of grief hit at him again. If John could never move on from death, he could never have been an army doctor in the first place. A light rain starts to fall in a sunshower, and John tugs his leather coat around him tighter, holding a hand to shield his eyes from the heavens.

As he walks home, not quite paying attention to his surroundings, John is bumped into by an excessively tall young man. Their hair is a strange ginger shade, falling down over his face in greasy locks. He’s wearing dark sunglasses, a silver patterned scarf, and purple jeans so tight they look like they’re cutting off circulation. John would normally be more annoyed, but the bloke is stumbling around and stinks of alcohol and John can sympathise with the hangover of a serious bender. Instead of letting the man fall, John grips his upper arm and helps stabilise him.

“Hey mate,” John says, letting go once they didn’t look like they were about to fall face first into the concrete. “Do you want me to call you a cab to help you get back home?”

The man shakes his head, but murmurs a hoarse-sounding, “Thanks so much, but just let me go. I’ll be right on my own.”

John lets him leave, but only turns away when he sees that the stranger doesn’t appear in any immediate danger. The sunshower changes from a light spray to a heavy downfall, and John rushes to catch one of the last free cabs before he’s trapped walking home.

Later that night he forgets about the bump in the street—he won’t remember it for a long, long time afterwards—and it takes several more days before John wears that coat again, slipping his hands into the pockets to keep himself warm. His fingers brush against something metal and foreign, and he pulls it out in surprise.

The object is a large round button pin, handmade with a glossy cover. John blinks, stunned, tries to figure out where it came from but coming up blank. His grip around it tightens. The pin reads:

I believe in John Watson