It always starts the same. His dream. First comes a feeling of eerie calm. It's surreal, this feeling, like memories of childhood half-lost, buried under the gauze veil of time. Everything is slow, hazy.
It's a completely different set of sensations than those that filled his dreams of the war. Here, there is no taste of sweat nor a pounding pulse running through him nor deafening earth-rending explosions. Just calm.
Underneath the calm, inside his own mind, he always begins to feel the stirrings of fear. Such fear. Worse than the boiling hot terror of the desert and the threats of being imminently torn apart by pieces of flying metal- bombs and bullets and shrapnel. Boys playing with toys, it all seems a game when compared to this. This fear is like slow suffocation, like drowning.
Time is frozen, that's why everything is still. Time has stopped in this moment and John had known, from the very first time he had dreamt this dream, what this moment is.
He resists looking. He tries. He fails. Eyes drawn up or world repositioned so he has a prime view, it never makes a difference.
Wakeupwakeup, you stupid idiot, you shouldn't have taken those pills. So tired. Can't wake though. Waking up is it's own kind of nightmare these days.
No. There is no escape.
Black coat against the old building facade, like a crow in flight. Arms spread, head down. Faceless, from here. Faceless, until it's done.
John can still hear the echoes of his voice, feel the vibrations through his mobile. He shouldn't. All this happened months ago.
He will never stop hearing that last goodbye, he knows. He doesn't know if he wants to.
The dream continues on, merciless.
The crow flies, but it's not a crow. It's Sherlock and he's falling. Always falling. So fast, too fast.
John can never do anything but watch. It all ends here, in a few seconds, a handful of them, like sand running through his fingers. Not hot desert sand, no, cold sand like ground up glass and each grain leaves little, bleeding cuts on his hands, little pieces of themselves left behind inside his skin so he will always feel those seconds. It isn't enough. It will never be enough. They were supposed to have a lifetime, a lifetime, and they only have these diamond edged seconds dripping away.
Sherlock's life goes with them, spilling out. Here, while he falls, his heart is still beating, fast, no doubt, from fear and adrenaline and despair. Or is he calm, is he cool, is he as sure as always that this is the only course, the best course? John will never know. He will never stop wondering. What are you thinking why did you jump why did you lie whywhywhy?
John didn't think of those questions until a long time after, when he finally, truly realized his best friend had gone and left him to a life in tatters, a life that was only a question mark stained in blood and a feeling of being abandoned, left behind.
Now, in this moment, even in his dream, all he can think is,
He tries to stop the fall, it's his bloody dream, can't he control it? But he can't. As useless and helpless in a fucking dream as he was in reality. There is no magic solution, no bouncy trampoline, no sudden sprout of feathered wings. Even in a dream.
Wasn't he supposed to protect Sherlock, even from himself?
This is gravity, now, gravity is the greatest threat. No, Sherlock is the threat here, gravity is merely his weapon, his tool, like all else in the world, there to be used by the great Sherlock Holmes to suit his purposes. His heart still beat (fast or slow, were you scared Sherlock? I saw your tears, I heard your voice trembling, I hear it still. Did you know how much it would hurt? No, you were never afraid of pain. Did you give up, were you beaten, when everything was taken from you? Everything wasn't taken, though, Sherlock. Your heart was still beating then, you had that, and you always, always, had me.) but he jumped, he jumped, and that decision meant he was already set on dying. Once the mind of Sherlock Holmes has decided on a course of action, it will be done. Sherlock decided to fall.
So he falls.
John never sees this part, it is a blur of pain and not-pain but a numbness that overcomes everything, that is worse than everything. Except for what comes after the numbness.
John is suddenly there now, beside him. Sherlock's face is so visible, harshly delineated as though lit by a spotlight. No mistaking that face, those cheekbones, that nose. No possible mistake.
A crowd was there in reality, soft, blurry obstacles in his way, hands clutching at his arms and holding him, detaining him, trapping him. They are gone in this dream, it's just him and Sherlock (as it always had been, as it should have been for always) and the blood and the slow suffocation as time stops once more. There are no words for the poison that twists and claws inside of him at the sight of his friend's face covered in blood, broken. There are none. It is unspeakable, this evil, this cruelty.
Then, suddenly, there is. Just one word. Death.
A cosmic joke. Infinity and emptiness shoved into a single, hard sound with the finality of a gun's recoil, a knife's silvery swiftness, the closing of empty eyes. A word that means so much, it means nothing. Not until you see it, not until you know it.
Captain John Watson knows death. He has met it many, many times, in England, in Afghanistan. He has dispatched it, he has mourned it, he has honoured it, he has cursed it, he has mocked it. He also knows blood. Blood is familiar. Blood means he needs to focus and get to work and save lives. Blood is a red flag, a warning signal, pay attention, doctor, something is wrong, something you need to fix. It's all on you. Yes, Dr. John Watson is familiar with blood. even this blood, a friend's blood, not just a friend's, Sherlock's blood. He can't stay calm, though he tries. He can't focus, he can't work. He can't fix this
He's a doctor, an army doctor. A very good one.
Dr. Watson. Seen a lot of injuries? Violent deaths? Yes, yes he had. Enough for a lifetime, far too much.
He'd wanted to see more.
How is this, then? Is this enough blood, now, finally? Enough suffering? Enough casualties? Enough loss? He wanted more well, here was another one. Just one more violent death, Dr. John Watson. Just one more.
You said dangerous, and there I was and now look at us.
This is too much Sherlock. This is too much.
Sherlock's hand was still warm in reality, still warm and John felt it like a spark of life to the touch, it burned him straight through, he felt that, through his shock and his numbness. In the dream, even this dubious comfort is pulled away from him, denying even the comfort of illusion. Sherlock's hand is cold in a way flesh should never be. John's hands turn to ice.
Sherlock's eyes. John knows everything about those eyes, their clarity, their shifting moods and colours, thunderous and mellow alike. The way they look when Sherlock has a new case, when Sherlock is bored, when Sherlock is playing the violin, when Sherlock is grudgingly eating because John told him to, when Sherlock is sad, when Sherlock is about to viciously ridicule someone, anyone. Temper, temper, Sherlock. Those were the eyes John knew. So many nuances, fleeting changes. Not these. These are wiped clean, blank orbs the colour of a raindrop with as much life as a cold mirror. Dead eyes. There's nothing of Sherlock in there. Not anymore.
Why can't John just see behind them to the spark, no, the brilliant, raging flame, that used to live there, that used to make those eyes burn?
Gone and gone and gone.
Stop this. Stop.
But Sherlock doesn't move, Sherlock doesn't stop being dead no matter how John pleads for a miracle.
So John is dead too, and this is where he ends up, this dream, a death that is not physical but something else. John sits, collapsed, so tired and so heavy, beside Sherlock and wishes he could follow him to wherever he has gone. Follow that mind, that brilliance, that light, as he always had. You are the light and I am the conductor. We shouldn't be separated, then it all goes dark. Why did you leave me here? You idiot, we could have fixed it all, together. We could have fixed it and now we never will.
All of time is just a quiet endless vista of grief and horror, a placid horror worse than anything he'd ever known because he is helpless in the face of it. Helpless, immobile, frozen.
This is a dream of grey time and red blood and dead blue eyes and a crumpled crows coat.
This is how John Watson dreams of death.
It used to be so different. Everything was so different and nothing will ever be the same. Nothing will ever be recognizable or familiar again. Not in the way Sherlock's eyes were. Never again. Nothing except death.
When he wakes up, it is with tears on his face and a silent scream lodged in his throat. It's been stuck there since he first fell asleep, when the dream grabbed at his heart and lungs and sleeping, vulnerable mind and pulled them down into itself like a hungry beast from the deepest, darkest pools of his grief. He folds over and gasps into his worn brown blankets, he clutches at them like he would a black coat, with strength enough to pull a grown man back from a ledge. His hands, doing their part, desperately re-imagining the scene. It brings him no relief.
He shakes in the night when all is quiet, that very quiet a reminder, and his dream becomes a waking one, replayed behind closed eyelids. There is no helpless calm here, no blood, no eyes, no last seconds. Only the stark reality: John is alone and this is no dream.
He carries it with him, the desire to wake up, a constant litany, pleasewakeuppleasewakeup, and a sense of belated panic and terror that's heavy as a corpse, the corpse of a friend. He still thinks, 'when I tell Sherlock how scared I was, how much I missed him', and then he remembers and it's unreal how the brain can make you feel like you're experiencing something over and over and over again without becoming hardened to it.
He straightens, spine snapping, a soldier coming to attention in his crumpled bedclothes with tear tracks still wet on his face and releases the blanket with a controlled exhale. He tells himself this is not like letting go of that black coat, of letting go. That already happened, it's the past. He hadn't had as firm a grip as he'd thought then anyway, or the fall never would have happened. He would have held on, if only he'd known. He would never have let Sherlock go. He didn't know, and he let go. Somehow, somewhere along the way. He must have. His failure.
He gets up to get a drink of water, cold, real. Drown it out. Never works, not water, not alcohol. His limp is back, worse than ever.
He knows it is psychosomatic.
His wound is in his heart, after all.