The moment he looks up and sees Sherlock atop the building, he feels the adrenaline flood his veins. Sherlock’s voice is barely audible over the sounds of his blood rushing through his ears, strong as a river.
“It’s all true,” Sherlock says, but John doesn’t believe it and no one will ever be able to convince him that it isn’t a lie.
Eventually, Sherlock says, “No one could be that clever,” and not even a second passes before John responds, “You could.”
Sherlock makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob and there’s only a short pause before Sherlock continues lying.
It’s a bit maddening, like when Sherlock sees something and thinks it must be as obvious to everyone else as it is to him. Beneath all the emotion, something nags at him, asking for attention he can’t spare.
“This phone call, it’s my note,” Sherlock states and John can’t even comprehend what that means. “It’s what people do, don’t they? Leave a note.”
“Leave a note when?” John asks, playing dumb as he scrambles for more time, better words, something, anyth...
“No, don’t,” he pleads.
But there’s only silence and staring and when Sherlock throws his phone away, John can’t move, let alone think. And then Sherlock jumps, he actually fucking jumps, and there’s a sickening thud when he lands.
A bicycle knocking him down is the only thing that breaks the trance. Cracking his skull against the road doesn’t stop John, but it does make everything even slower than before, like the push-pull feeling of swimming upstream. He can see the blood flowing from the open head wound and John knows. He’s a doctor, he knows it’s bad. He barely manages to grip Sherlock’s wrist and feel a thin, thready pulse (maybe he just feels his own, but he can’t believe that, jesus, god no) before he’s ripped away by doctors and nurses, people who aren’t in shock.
For awhile, it’s like he’s on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. There’s nothing he can do, but wait for a sign of life. When Molly comes out, John can see it in her eyes. He feels like he’s falling and it’s not until there’s pain in his knees that he realizes his legs had given out.
His words weren’t enough.
He wasn’t enough.
He doesn't attend the funeral; the idea that his face might end up in The Sun with some sensational headline about him being a "grieving secret lover” borders too close to truthful and therefore, is too painful to consider bearing.
Instead, he drinks his cheap whiskey straight from the bottle and watches crap telly until he's so plastered that he passes out.
The next day, with rain coming down hard and practically flooding the streets, John has a session with his therapist, the one he hasn’t seen in eighteen months.
She plays dumb, makes him say the words out loud, words he doesn’t want to believe in, and then asks him if there’s anything he regrets. He can practically hear Sherlock’s voice. “Boring,” it says. “That’s really not a good question,” it continues. The voice, it’s memories, he knows that; the words playing in his brain have been said before, but he won’t hear them again and what if he forgets what they sound like and aren't those some rather depressing thoughts? And christ, of course, he has regrets. When the man you...no, no, don’t got there, he thinks. No, when someone you care about dies, of course you have regrets.
The thing that's gotten under John's skin is that their last real conversation (the phone call doesn't count, it can’t count) was an argument. And not just a typical "why are there eyeballs in our fridge" type row. No, John was needlessly cruel, calling him a machine, being just as bad as most of the people around Sherlock. He abhors the memory, the person he was when he said it. Being angry or worried isn’t an excuse; there were plenty of times where he was angry or worried where he didn’t even think these things or where he at least had the decency to hold his tongue until the moment had passed.
“I don’t have friends, I’ve just got one,” Sherlock had said, months before. Just him. How good of a friend was he really then, that John would say that to him, even in the heat of the moment? How could he have possibly said that to the man he...?
He can’t even finish that sentence in his own bloody mind, for fear of how untrue it sounds, in light of that last fight.
He's wrapped the lie up in the truth.
He’s just as bad as everyone else.
Instead of saying any of that, John tells her that he has things he wished he would have said.
“The stuff that you wanted to say, but didn’t say it,” she starts.
“Yeah,” he says. If she’s going to play dumb, so is he. He won’t just say it, he’s not even sure he can. If his own mind stops him from even thinking it, how can he...
“Say it now,” she prompts, as if she's in his head.
“No.” He pauses as he tries to think of why, why he won’t just say it. “Sorry, can’t.”
And he realizes if he couldn’t say it to Sherlock, if he can’t tell Sherlock how he really felt about him, what would be the point?
He leaves, feeling like there’s not much of a point to anything anymore.
Mrs. Hudson is kind enough to taxi over to the bedsit he’s been staying at, to go with him to the cemetery, doesn’t even mind when he tells her he can’t go back to the flat at the moment.
John thinks he can stay composed and he does as he...apologises? Does it really count as an apology if you say the things you meant to say to a headstone? He’s not sure, but that’s what he wants it to be. He wants forgiveness, even as he realizes there can no longer be any; a headstone can’t forgive and neither can a corpse.
As he turns to go, he finds he can’t bear to leave without...trying. So he begs for Sherlock to make a miracle happen, to be alive. For him.
He knows it’s greedy, he’s not the only one who needs or wants Sherlock to be alive, but John selfishly wants Sherlock to do it for him.
And then, instead of saying the three little words he means to, tears rush to his face and fall without his permission. His throat closes up and he knows, he knows now that he really can’t say it.
Mrs. Hudson calls him up a week later and asks him to come back. She can’t stand the flat being empty and she can’t stand the idea of renting it out to anyone else.
In truth, he misses the feel of the couch, the messes in the kitchen, and there’s a tiny hope within him that if he stays close, his wish for a miracle will come true. So he moves back to the flat; it's unusually quiet and empty and he doesn't quite know what to do with himself.
But it feels better to be somewhere familiar than in an anonymous bedsit.
It takes him a bit, but when his card continues to work when he’s sure he’s overdrawn, he realizes that Mycroft's guilt has shown up in the form of a bank account that never dries up. As if he thinks an endless stream of money could apologise for what he's done or bring Sherlock back or make John's pain truly stop.
He uses it mostly to go on a bender.
He knows it’s a bad idea, given his family’s predilections towards drowning their feelings in the bottom of a bottle, but the knowledge isn’t enough to stop him from letting himself slowly sink down, down, down. Dulled pain is highly preferable to the real thing.
Lestrade, Donavon, and even Anderson approach him about it, but he tells them to sod off and stops taking their calls. Harry tries a guilt trip, which he easily ignores (it's not like she listened to him). Molly checks on him every few days, quiet and unassuming, and it feels vaguely like he’s disappointed her in some way.
The only person to almost convince him is Mrs. Hudson. He lets her have a good cry about Sherlock, promises to try harder, and when she leaves, drowns his guilt in far more whiskey than he means to.
After all, she'll be the one coming around with the groceries in the morning.
In the rare moments when he's sober, his feelings for Sherlock seep in.
Before Sherlock died, John had been carefully testing the waters. He was sure Sherlock had noticed something peculiar about his behavior, but had said nothing, leaving John to wonder if Sherlock hadn't pieced it together or if he just wasn't interested.
He was sure it was the latter, but now? It’s far easier to pretend Sherlock hadn’t gotten around to solving John’s puzzling behavior than it was before.
Because now? Both answers lead to a dead end.
He's not sure anything can stop his downward spiral until he starts hallucinating. That's the only thing it could be because Sherlock is dead, John watched him die, so he can't possibly be following John back to his (empty, oh so empty) flat from the pubs. It doesn't stop him at first; if being drunk is the only way to see his dead friend, John's perfectly happy to keep on with his regular habits.
But then he wakes up from a few too many pints in a cold, damp, gritty alleyway next to a pile of what is likely his own vomit with the hallucination staring down at him and that's a bit of a shock. John can’t be sure, but his alcohol soaked brain thinks the hallucination looks concerned.
"Oh John," the hallucination whispers (and christ, it sounds just like him), hauling John up and steadily helping him walk. Either John was closer to Baker Street than he realized or he's losing time (again), but it isn't long before he's being carefully dropped onto his bed. John opens his eyes to see the hallucination sitting in a chair across from him, its fingers steepled and its eyes are blank, deep in thought.
"Why did you do it?" John asks.
"Someone told me that friends protect people.”
"Didn't want protection, wanted more," John states.
"What more could you...?"
John bitterly laughs. "You do see; you just don't observe."
The hallucination grimaces in response. "Oh, 's not playin' fair to use your words against you, eh? Shoulda bloody thought o' that before running your mouth," John mutters.
"You couldn't have more if you were dead, John."
"But I can't have more with you dead either! Hell, even if you were real, I couldn't have more, could I? Too fucking married to the job, as I recall."
The hallucination doesn't answer and maybe its face goes blank, maybe not, but John won't know for sure. He just closes his eyes and lets the silence sit, angry and hopeless.
Just as he's drifting off, sleep pulling him under like the tide, the hoarse voice startles him. "This can't happen again John."
He woke expecting to see a chair across from him, the flat disturbed, or really any tangible proof to convince him what happened the night before was real, but everything is exactly where it was when he went out (as far as he can tell). There’s not even a single dark, wavy strand of hair on his coat or his pillow or some other nonsense to confirm that anyone was in the house besides John.
Still, he spends the day gathering all his alcohol and he sets about the rather large task of dumping every single bottle down the drain.
Because if there's one person in the world capable of not leaving a speck trace evidence, it's Sherlock.
And if nothing else, he’s willing to believe in a lie that’s preferable to the truth.