“I can’t be of much use,” he began in slow voice, fighting off the tremble that threatened to steal his words completely. “It won’t be enough, and I know that and I’m sorry – I just – “
There was an unspoken agreement within the floors of 221B Baker Street. An agreement that would prevent far too many sleepless nights, an agreement that would keep hair from being pulled out, and more importantly, an agreement that would hopefully keep the last shreds of his sanity from breaking completely. Sherlock was simply not to be mentioned. The few photos John had collected of either or both of them would not be turned down, but the darling older knew that there was an invisible string that ran straight through John Watson, through his heart and brain, that kept him moving, breathing, standing and thriving. Sherlock had cut that string clean in two. Three years, two weeks, four days and six hours awake, John, whom had never been particularly religious, was reminded yet again that there was no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole. He pinched his eyes shut and silently begged anyone or anything who might listen to make him realize that he was insane, that this was a hallucination, a nightmare – anything but this.
Three months after he found himself unable to pass by St. Bart’s without feeling as though he might faint, he found himself fumbling in front of Mrs. Hudson, trying to explain that while he couldn’t afford the entire rent he would do anything if she permitted him to stay. In the end, it left him her errand boy, even years after the event. His limp had returned, he slept even less and while his nightmares from when Murray had saved him had disappeared, but he marched on like a good little soldier. He let Ella and Harry convince him this was what Sherlock would have wanted, but he couldn’t deny that when his sister asked where he kept that ‘damn gun’ of his, he told her he had moved it under his pillow. He also couldn’t deny her the fact that on some nights, he scared himself with how much he stared at it. The only thing more startling than that was that even John didn’t know what he wanted to do with it. At times, both the idea of pushing it against his temple or taking it up to pursue the man who had caused the discredit of Sherlock seemed just as equally tempting. Or stupid. He had conversations with the mailman a mailman over it now and again.
“Don’t do nuffin’ rash,” John was urged by the man with chubby cheeks and dark eyes that clashed horribly with his pale blond hair – bleached, John had decided. It wasn’t until he rationalized it that he felt the irony of it all sink in. It had taken until long after the death of his friend for him to be able to make use of his ‘methods’ that they always discussed. The mailman seemed to take note of the sudden pained expression that crossed over the doctor’s face and never returned.
In fact, John seemed to chase away everyone who came near him if the thought of Sherlock entered his mind. Mrs. Hudson had a young electrician she was rather fond of making bustle around the house after discovering the wiring and switch board in the flat were faulty. He didn’t look a day over twenty, even though he had clearly grown out long sideburns in attempts to look older. Somewhat shaggy ginger hair, the same shade as Harry’s, was pulled back into a small ponytail. John could hear him explaining something to Mrs. Hudson but when he came into the kitchen, they both fell quiet. John had taken up a habit of still making two cups of coffee or tea daily, setting the extra out on the counter and day after day, deluded himself with hope that it would be gone when he came back from clinic duty. But today he disillusioned himself far too quickly and limped into the downstairs kitchen to return the mug he had borrowed.
“Wot’s wrong with ‘im?” the electrician asked. John pretended as though they weren’t there as he started to rinse the mug out.
“Oh…” Mrs. Hudson had dropped her voice to a whisper. “His husband,” she began, still very much under the impression that Sherlock and he were married. “… took a nasty fall – “
“Wasn’t an accident,” John cut in quickly, breath suddenly ragged. “Did it on purpose – he … I wasn’t enough.” He pinched his eyes shut. “My fault.” The electrician tried to argue that that couldn’t have been true, Mrs. Hudson joining in to soothe him when his body threatened to give way into another fit of the shakes, but he would hear none of it. Mrs. Hudson scolded him later for chasing off another decent employee.
It wasn’t until the next week, when Lestrade out of pity had called him in to inspect a corpse found along the Thames that John began to grow earnestly hopeful yet again. He was on the way to the scene when he spotted one of the children Sherlock would sometimes slip five quid into their hands after they whispered something to him with a mischievous smile. Wiggins, John vaguely recalled. Wiggins was watching him very intently and the moment John noticed, the boy turned to take off, curls bouncing in his face. “Hold it!” John shouted as he darted after him, once again, his limp forgotten. He was faster than he remembered being and caught up with the boy easily enough by the scruff of his shirt. “Why have you been following me?” he demanded.
“I ain’t been doin’ nothin’ like – “
“Liar. Tell me.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“…not supposed to. He told me I couldn’t.”
John felt the air leave his body. He felt like he had just taken a sucker punch to the solar plexus. Wiggins broke free during his daze but John remained firmly in place. (Sherlock had always chided him about not noting the subtext when people spoke or remained silent.) There was a difference between not doing something and being told not to do something. One involved free will, and individual’s choice and coincidence. The other involved being instructed. John had never seen anyone give orders to the homeless… “Where are you?” he choked out suddenly.
[two months later]
The streets hadn’t been kind to him. That much, John could remember. When he failed to meet Lestrade along the shore, he had flown into a wild, searching fury. Every scrape of the London underground he could find was something he clung to. Another mask, another layer of dirt. He might have been doing it for nothing, but by this time, he didn’t care. All that mattered was another chance, another toke on his drug and medicine of choice that was the great Sherlock Holmes. Mrs. Hudson by now no doubt had filed a missing person’s report for him, but John knew better than to assume that was why he was slowly coming to on a worn out cushion rather than the cold, wet cement he remembered passing out against when his head made contact with it.
“You’d be foolish to move,” came a voice John struggled to place. “You’ve several fractured bones, some nasty bruises and I do feel that burning in your arm may be from a dirty needle carrying the muscle relaxant you were drugged with. Most people have enough common sense not to chase after gangs and old drug dealers they threatened for selling too close to home.”
Despite the warning, John heaved himself up with a groan and forced his eyes open. They immediately started to burn in protest of all the lights being turned on. Slowly, the remnants of 221B, near exactly how it had been left before Sherlock and he were arrested, came into focus. John spotted the freshly shined shoes before he did the umbrella. Mycroft. He tried to form the name, but his body seemed to disagree with the idea of being interactive.
“I wonder, doctor, how one such as yourself could grow so careless about his own body.” If Mycroft was fishing for a reaction, he would receive nothing other than John’s labored breathing an empty stare. Still, the older man seemed to be waiting for something, as he checked his watch several times before continuing. “You’ve let yourself go. At last, the man reflects the madness within.”
John didn’t need a mirror to know what Mycroft was referring to. It was the endlessly dark circles under his eyes, it was the wrinkles that fell into heavy lines in his brows, the drag in his step and the cringe deep in his shoulders whenever he spotted a happy couple gallivanting along. “Sod off.”
“Don’t believe me? You should check in that mirror of yours.” It sounded less of a suggestion and much more like an order. For that alone, John neglected him, huffed and rolled over to place his back towards Mycroft. A few minutes passed in silence, aside from the obvious sounds of Mrs. Hudson coming come and doing her best to remain quiet in case, by some miracle, John had fallen asleep. “There is a theory,” John could hear Mycroft say, “amongst cliché romantics and those who study animal nature; that of ‘swan love’. Much like morning doves who can’t tolerate being parted from their mate, they say that when one swan dies, it’s partner too shall pass. They never last long without each other.”
“Didn’t die,” he found himself saying, voice a mess of emotion that even he couldn’t decipher. “He left. He – abandoned, Mycroft. Gave up on everything.”
“And that’s why, with sustaining injuries, you’ve dragged yourself back home? Back here, back to your den like some feline, to die in comfort than risk the chance that you might suffer more through life or death?”
“I told you, sod off, Mycroft. Leave me alone.”
“Like he did?”
“Shut up, will you?” John was upright now, a sharp, heated pain wrapped around him from his waist up to his throat. His eyes burned and both hands were suffering tremors as he gripped uselessly onto the cushions of the sofa.
Rather than look fouled or disapproving of John’s outburst, Mycroft gave a rare, smug smile. “You’d rather not think of him like that. You want to do everything in your power to welcome that memory of him. A precious notion. Romanticizing everything through you denial, though as you said…”
John inhaled sharply. “He left,” he repeated, fully intent on continuing that sentence with something to the effect of ‘and you should as well’. He was cut off instead.
“He never went far.” A new voice. One that gave him goosebumps up his arms effortlessly. A voice that he had dreamt about for years. A voice that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end and made him freeze up so uselessly after turning around and he could see - …. Christ, he could see he was being studied, that every serving of liquor he used to get to bed some nights was being filed away for a comparison against his sister’s alcoholism. He could see that everyone in the room was well aware that he had begun to breathe faster than he had chasing down crooks or homeless children. And he could see, dear god he could see him… He could see….
“My dear John,” said the well-remembered voice, “I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.”