Chapter 1: The Watcher
One month after Sherlock's death, John visits his grave.
At first it's awkward; he doesn't know what to say, and he almost just turns around and leaves after a few minutes of silence. Then he steels himself; he survived Afghanistan, he survived being abducted by Chinese gangsters and almost being blown up by Moriarty, he can do this. His therapist's voice rings in head – there are things you never got the chance to say...if you can't say them here, go say them to him – and he sighs. He can't say those words. He never would have said them while Sherlock was alive, why should he say them now?
Suddenly, John laughs, an easy, light laugh, at the thought of Sherlock reacting to those words, and just like that the awkwardness is gone, and he starts talking: about everything, about nothing. Telling Sherlock about his day, about the past month. He mentions how Sarah has been walking on eggshells around him at the clinic and an image pops into his head – clear, vivid, unbidden – of Sherlock rolling his eyes at this news. John laughs, then chokes on his laughter, lets out a heaving sob. He pulls himself together, standing at attention for a full minute, then walks toward Sherlock's headstone. He touches it lightly, whispers “I miss you,” and quickly walks away.
That night, he goes back to Baker Street for the first time in a month.
After that, John visits Sherlock's grave once a month, every month. Sometimes he brings the newspaper and reads Sherlock the articles, so Sherlock can make his deductions. Sometimes, when things are going well, he tells Sherlock about his life, what he's been up to since the last time he visited. More often that not, things aren't all that great, and John begins his visits by weeping silently at Sherlock's grave. On these occasions, John is sure to only allow himself five minutes of this – as he thinks of it – carrying on, then he squares his shoulders and soldiers on. Sometimes he brings a book with him, and sits leaning with his back against the headstone, reading to himself, taking comfort in Sherlock's “presence.” He always concludes his visits by touching the headstone gently and murmuring softly, “I miss you.”
Six months after Sherlock dies, John makes his trek to the graveyard as usual. Today has been a relatively good day, so John has packed himself a sandwich, and sits next to the headstone telling Sherlock about his day at the clinic, about his disastrous – you should have been here, you would have known right away it could never work – date a few nights ago with the woman who works at the Tesco, about the headlines pertaining to the mysterious deaths of men thought to be associated with Moriarty's network. He tells Sherlock that if he were here, he would love the case, the police are completely baffled as to who is killing these men.
John's monologue falters when the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand on end. All at once he feels exposed, vulnerable, and with a sudden clarity he realizes he is being watched. He looks all around him, studying the headstones, peering into the shadows of the trees, but sees no one. Still, he can't shake the feeling, and his uneasiness leads him to cut his visit short. He whispers his by now customary parting words, and walks away, muttering to himself. Bloody Mycroft.
The next day, John calls Mycroft to give him a piece of his mind. Their relationship since Sherlock's demise has been rocky at best. John blames Mycroft for what happened – quite right too , he thinks – and while Mycroft has never outwardly taken responsibility, he suffers John's cruel remarks and blazing anger with no argument, which John figures is as close to accepting the blame as he'll ever get.
Today, however, is not about who is to blame for Sherlock's death. Today is about Mycroft respecting John's bloody privacy and allowing him these moments with Sherlock unobserved. He knows damn well that Mycroft's people are always watching him – for your own protection, John – and he just wants a few bloody moments of peace with his best friend. When he gets to Mycroft's office, he berates Mycroft for not respecting his wishes or his privacy, and Mycroft, damn him, tells John he has no idea what he's talking about. John rolls his eyes and laughs sarcastically, then stops. Instead of his usual haughty indifference, Mycroft actually looks concerned for John, so John asks him right out, and Mycroft tells him no, John has requested privacy on the occasions when he visits Sherlock, and his people have been instructed to respect that wish. John huffs, confused – who was it, then – and abruptly turns on his heel and walks out the door, slamming it on his way out for good measure.
Chapter 2: Waking Up
Ever since that day, John dreams of Sherlock.
Six months later, on the one year anniversary of Sherlock's (he still can't bring himself to even think the word suicide) death, John brings Sherlock flowers. He knows exactly how his friend would react to this obvious act, but he does it anyway. As he lays the flowers beneath the headstone, he can almost hear Sherlock's disdainful half-snort, half-sigh at John's display of sentiment. No, wait, he did just hear something. Did he? John had all but forgotten the row with Mycroft six months ago, but it comes flooding back now, and suddenly he feels as if he's being watched again. John shakes his head; Mycroft promised, and while he is a selfish git, he did promise. John is sure this is not Mycroft's people. He is constantly under their surveillance, and while it may seem impossible, he knows what their watchful eyes feel like, and they don't feel like this. He looks around, but again sees nothing; there is no one else here.
That night, John dreams of Sherlock. Well, John dreams of Sherlock every night, which is why he hasn't slept more than four hours a night since the last time he saw Sherlock alive. Sherlock has replaced Afghanistan in John's dreams. Instead of gunfire and screaming, he hears I'm a fake and Goodbye John. Instead of deserts and night turned daylight by explosions, he sees Sherlock on the rooftop in that last instant before he jumped, Sherlock's broken body lying on the pavement, Sherlock's bloodied face and blank eyes. Instead of adrenaline and terror on the battlefield, he feels the horrible sickening sensation of realising he is witnessing his best friend's last moments alive, and the blinding, helpless panic of knowing there is nothing he can do to stop it.
Tonight however, the dream is different. He dreams of the first case he and Sherlock were together on, running behind Sherlock as he chases the cab through London, his ridiculous coat billowing out around him. He dreams of the hallway, where John learned he didn't need his cane as long as he had Sherlock, and of the pool, when Sherlock showed John a bit of his heart. Then the dream changes, and John's heartbeat speeds up and he stirs in his sleep. He is in a corridor with hundreds of doors, and he knows with a sudden, clear certainty, that if he can just find the right door, Sherlock will be on the other side, grinning his manic grin down at John. He walks slowly down the corridor, not trying any of the doors, just studying each one closely, examining them, looking for the right one. Then he sees, at the end of the corridor, the inside of the door to his own flat, to 221B Baker Street. Suddenly John knows, he knows , and he runs down the hallway, laughing and calling out to Sherlock. He stops in front of the door, reaches out to open it,
And wakes up.
He lays there for a few moments, still and quiet. He feels as if he has actually been running, and realizes that he is smiling. His heart flutters with a faint hope, and he jumps out of bed, rushes down the stairs, and stops in front of the door to Sherlock's bedroom. He opens the door, and there is Sherlock's room, just as he left it. John didn't have the strength to get rid of anything, and he was too proud to ask for help, so nothing in here has changed, except....no Sherlock. John sighs. Stupid. What was he expecting?
Chapter 3: Alive
John has good days and bad days.
For the next year, John goes through the motions of a normal life. He goes to work, makes tea, flirts with the girls in the cafe and at the corner store, goes out on a few dates that invariably do not lead to second dates, and continues to visit Sherlock's grave. John gives all the outward appearances of a man moving on with his life, but John knows better. He has felt that presence again on several occasions in the graveyard, and the one time he brings it up with Mycroft, a look of genuine concern comes over the man's face. Mycroft suggests that John call his therapist, and John never brings up the subject again.
The feeling isn't there every time he visits Sherlock's grave. A few months will go by, in which John is able to convince himself he was making the whole thing up, and then there it is again; that feeling of being watched, of being observed. John's mouth goes dry when he thinks of this word. He thinks maybe he really is going mad. But he can't shake the feeling, and realises he doesn't want to, that the presence in the graveyard, whatever it is, is actually comforting. Like a favorite pair of slippers or a cuppa after a wretched day. He can't allow himself to hope, he can't, and yet he does. One bright sunny day in May, when the sky is blue and the sun is shining and birds are singing, he feels that presence, and it may be a load of bollocks, but it feels like Sherlock. Hope is born in John's heart, and for the first time he allows himself to think maybe.
Over the next few months, John fluctuates between thinking he's insane and really, truly believing that somewhere, somehow, Sherlock is alive. At first, he wouldn't let himself think that word, alive , because too much depended on that one little word. But now, now he can't stop thinking it. It's the first thing on his mind when he wakes up and the last thing he thinks before he goes to sleep. All day, at the clinic, at the Tesco, watching telly, in the shower, one thought, clear and bright, eclipses all the rest: Alive .
Some days the word makes him so happy he can't stop grinning; the silly, idiot grin of one who is in love or just won the lottery. That's what it feels like on those good days, like he won the lottery. Like he is the luckiest man on earth because somewhere, somehow, his best friend, the man who saved John Watson from himself, is alive .
Other days the word drives him mad. He saw Sherlock lying on the pavement, broken and bloodied. It was Sherlock; no one else it could have been. He felt the man's (absence of) pulse. Sherlock is dead. Dead dead dead. And no amount of wishing or pretending can change that. So why won't that word just leave him alone? Alive. It is a curse. John Watson's curse upon himself.
On those bad days, John does his best to shut out the word his unrelenting brain insists on foisting upon his mind. He thinks about work, about sex, about anything but Sherlock, but even after all this time, Sherlock is all there is. He is all there ever was.
On the good days, John tries to put the puzzle together. He keeps coming back to one idea: Sherlock was not a fake. John knows it, will die defending him, so why did Sherlock take his own life, if not out of shame? John doesn't know, but it's this idea that keeps his hope alive, even on the worst of days.
Two years after Sherlock's (apparent) suicide, John again feels as if someone is watching him at Sherlock's grave. This time he knows who it is. He looks around, even calls out, but gets no answer.
John talks to Lestrade. He talks to Mrs. Hudson. He talks to Molly. He even talks to Mycroft. He tells them: Sherlock is alive, alive damn it. Each time, with each person, the response is the same: a sad, sympathetic smile, and a suggestion to call his therapist – it's been a while since you've had an appointment. Molly cries.
John doesn't need a bloody therapist, he needs his best friend back. He feels as if he is coming apart at the seams, wonders if maybe they're right, and he is really truly losing his mind. He sees Sherlock everywhere now. Walking down the street, he sees a swirl of black coat slipping into an alleyway. A dark curly head of hair disappearing into a cab. One day he comes home to Baker Street and hears violin music wafting from the flat. He rushes up the stairs, bursts through the door...but the flat is empty, Sherlock's violin still sitting in its case. He realises belatedly that the music is coming from Mrs. Hudson's flat. He goes down to talk with her and maybe have a cuppa, only to burst into tears when she answers her door. She holds him and comforts him as best she can, knowing that nothing she does will be good enough, and worrying about this man who she has come to love like her own son.
Chapter 4: Doubt
John's friends are worried.
The more John thinks about it, the easier it is to convince himself that Sherlock is still alive. The facts are just too tantalizing: Sherlock knew (knows) he is not a fake, so was not feeling guilty or shamed...if he was (is) even capable of those feelings in the first place; Sherlock had (has) an acquaintance – friend may be too strong a word for Molly – who works in a morgue, it would be easy to get a substitute body, Molly would have done (would do) anything for Sherlock; Sherlock's brother IS the British government, he could cover up anything...
Mycroft fucking Holmes.
If Sherlock is alive (Sherlock is alive), then Mycroft must know, must have helped.
Had known this whole time.
John just may have to kill the man.
John is losing control. John is coming apart at the seems. John's friends are worried about him. John's therapist told him he may be delusional. John has been prescribed medication that he does not take. He is not deluded, damn it, and if he is, well then, it's a pleasant delusion, and he'd rather hang on to it, thank you very much. John that his friends are uncomfortable around him, because they offer to help him come to terms with Sherlock's death. John refuses their help, because Sherlock is alive. They look at him sadly, and he knows they don't believe him and they feel helpless, so he stops talking to them.
When Molly phones or texts, John ignores the calls. When Lestrade stops by, John pretends he isn't home or that he's asleep. Mycroft calls him constantly, until John sends him a text – piss off – and Mycroft stops calling. Mrs. Hudson is harder to avoid, but she's stopped trying so much. It's painful for her, the way John is spiraling, and he is sorry for that, but glad that she mostly leaves him alone. John goes to work three days a week, he buys groceries when necessary, he goes for runs in the park when the weather is nice. John still goes and visits Sherlock's grave every month, hoping. But mostly he keeps to himself in the flat.
Sherlock's presence is everywhere in the flat, even after almost three years. John walks into the kitchen and sees Sherlock's microscope, which John never had the heart to move. Sherlock's violin is sitting in its case in Sherlock's armchair, where John placed it one rainy afternoon when he was feeling particularly lonesome. Sherlock coat, which John insisted on keeping, is hanging by the door, waiting for the mad genius to throw it on and swoop out the door. It's as if John is just waiting, his life held in limbo while he waits for Sherlock to come back.
A horrible thought occurs to him: what is Sherlock never comes back? What is John waits for decades, for the rest of his life, and never sees Sherlock again. What if Sherlock does not want to see John? The idea makes John sick to his stomach. He hadn't realized he needed the detective so much. Sherlock had saved John, had rescued him from his hideously boring life and depression and – if he was being completely honest with himself – possible suicide, and deposited him into this world of crimes and serial killers and psychopaths. John would be forever grateful to Sherlock, more so than he had eloquence to describe. But what if Sherlock had bored of John? John wasn't so proud as to think Sherlock faked his death to get away from John, but what if it gave him a good excuse to never see the aging, dull, idiot ex-army doctor again?
John shudders at the thought. No. Just, no. He'll just sit here in the flat until Sherlock comes back. And if he doesn't come back, if he doesn't want to see John again? Well, John will always just assume that whatever pushed Sherlock into this madness in the first place is keeping him from coming back.
John hasn't really spoken to anyone in weeks, except Mrs. Hudson, when he pays his rent, and on the (very rare, now) occasion when she brings him biscuits or some baked thing and tries to talk to him, and his patients and coworkers. He feels like he's losing touch with the outside world, but somehow that comforts him. Life with Sherlock was never normal, and being not-normal is the closest thing John has to having Sherlock with him.
John wakes up this morning, goes downstairs, and gets Sherlock's coat. He moves Sherlock's violin, and seats himself in Sherlock's chair. He wraps himself in Sherlock's coat and takes a deep breath, inhaling the faint scent of Sherlock that somehow still clings to the fabric. Without being aware that it's happening, John starts crying. Then weeping. Then outright sobbing. He misses Sherlock. Misses the ridiculous, amazing life the built up for themselves. Misses the screeching (but sometimes, when he thought no one was listening, breathtakingly beautiful) violin playing at all hours of the night. Misses the crime scenes, the jabs at Anderson, the inappropriate deductions, the foot chases through London, even the damn body parts in the fridge. He wishes Sherlock would just come home already.
Three years of his life, wasted on waiting for that damn man. Three years older, three years sadder, three years angrier, three years lonelier. He is using he cane again. He is not sure when his limp came back, but there it is, psychosomatic or not. His sobs wind down, and eventually he pulls himself together. He hangs up Sherlock's coat, washes his face, and heads out the door.
John is standing in front of Sherlock's grave yet again, just looking at it. Three years is a long time to wait, and John wonders if he should stop waiting and try to start over. The thought makes him ill. It's probably time to face the truth: if Sherlock is alive, and if he was ever going to come back, he would have done it by now. Even someone as heartless as Sherlock couldn't leave people like this, the very few people in the world that he actually gave a damn about, that actually gave a damn about him. How could he do this to them? How could he do this to John?
Maybe he really is dead, and John has been fooling himself this whole time. Maybe everyone is right, and he is delusional, and he needs help. He hasn't felt that presence in the graveyard for some time, and he's beginning to believe in the possibility of his own madness. He is just so tired.
He opens his mouth to speak, but doesn't know what to say. He's run out of things to talk about with a headstone, the only thing he can think to say is what he said on that first day. Don't be dead. Please. John closes his eyes, listens to the leaves rustle in the wind, and bends all his will toward one thought: come home. Just come home to me.
He gets, of course, no response from the silent cemetery.
Chapter 6: Openly and Honestly
John dreams of Sherlock and his violin.
John comes home, grabs Sherlock's coat, and flops down on the couch. He chuckles a little to himself at this utterly Sherlockian display, but the laughter is cut short by the sobs threatening to surface. He takes a few deep breaths, pulls the coat over him like a blanket, and rolls over onto his side, with his back facing the room. He doesn't want to see this flat right now. He doesn't want to see the lack of Sherlock in 221B Baker Street. Baker Street without Sherlock is unbearable, and John just does not want to look at it. He drifts off to sleep.
John, as usual, dreams of Sherlock. But this dream is unlike any he's had before. Sherlock is at the window, playing his violin, Vivaldi maybe, John is not good at recognizing classical composers. It is light and cheery, something John very rarely heard from Sherlock's violin in reality. It makes John smile. Then the music changes to something John can't place. It may be a Sherlock original, or an improvisation. Is is a plaintive, haunting melody, and exquisitely beautiful, like the man himself. Sherlock plays and plays at the window, looking out on London and swaying with the music. John sighs contentedly.
When John first wakes up, he thinks he is still dreaming. The music is still playing, a remnant of the very pleasant dream he had been having of Sherlock being alive and whole and home. John opens his eyes, and just lays there, still as a stone. The music is still playing. The music is not coming from his sleep-addled mind.
The music is inside the flat.
John dares not hope. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head a bit, trying to wake himself up. The music stops, and John doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, or shout. Then he feels it.
Just like he felt in the graveyard. That feeling of being watched. Of being observed.
John's mouth goes dry. His heart begins beating wildly in his chest, and butterfly start flitting around in his gut. Slowly, keeping his eyes screwed shut, he rolls over to face the room. He takes a deep breath, opens his eyes,
And finds himself staring into the unfathomable eyes of the world's only consulting detective, who is currently kneeling on floor, eye-level with John.
John stares for a full minute, still unbelieving, convinced that he's finally cracked. But the apparition before him does not disappear.
John starts, then stands. So does Sherlock. He looks unsure, as if he thinks John may yell at him or hit him.
Suddenly, John face breaks into a wide grin, his first pure, true smile since this whole nightmare began three years ago.
He looks up at Sherlock, throws his arms around the very surprised detective, and hugs him for all he's worth.
He whispers three words, and they are muffled against Sherlock's chest, but Sherlock hears them anyway.
He closes his eyes, smiles, and hugs John right back, inhaling his scent. All his doubts and fears fade away. All those times watching John in the graveyard, wondering what the good doctor would do when (if) he came back, wondering if he could possibly be forgiven for causing so much grief in someone so good. He knows there will be questions. This is not something a person can just let go, and he is prepared to answer any question John throws his way. He will answer them openly and honestly, which will be hard for someone who has convinced everyone, including himself, that he is a sociopath. John will want an explanation. And Sherlock will give him one. Sherlock will give John anything he wants, he will do anything for John. Of everything he learned in the past three years, this is the most important. John will be angry, and hurt, and confused. But for now, in this one moment, Sherlock knows that all is forgiven.
He is home.