It was about a month after everything settled down and Baker Street was back in order that John came to the horrible, but not entirely shocking revelation that he absolutely hated the way his life turned out.
John had just put Rosie in her crib when he walked to his empty bedroom, feet slowly shuffling along the floor, head down, heart heavy, shoulders hunched, mind clouded with misery. He climbed into bed, stared up at ceiling, and it felt like someone violently snatched his heart and squeezed it. His eyes squeezed shut and he let out a soft, but anguished cry. He slapped a hand over his mouth, not wanting to make enough noise to wake Rosie, and began crying into his palm.
Hot tears pooled slipped out of the corners of his eyes, trickling down his temples and into his hair. John’s sobs broke the oppressive silence of the room, of the room he and Mary used to share, and he hated how pathetic and weak he sounded. He turned on his side, curling up and pulling the duvet over his head, as if hiding himself would change reality. His shoulders heaved with each sob that tore from his throat, and each beat of his heart was painful, like a punch to his chest.
This feeling hadn’t come out of nowhere--in fact, it had been building up for quite some time, and he knew it. If he had to sit and really think about it, then he would say he started hating his life after he found out Mary shot Sherlock, but he wasn’t exactly happy before then, either. John didn’t think he had been truly happy since before Sherlock fell.
He felt horrible admitting that, because that meant he had not been happy since long before Rosie was born. Rosie wasn’t the problem, though. He loved her, really, he did. She was his flesh and blood, and a genuinely sweet baby. She had nothing to do with his unhappiness; if anything, she was one of the only things in the world that made him get out of bed in the morning.
The other thing was...
By this point, John realized that he was breathing too harshly, too quickly, and these were the early signs of a panic attack. He gasped sharply, opening his eyes to the darkness under the duvet. He forced himself to get his breathing under control, but the air under the duvet hot and stuffy. He whimpered into his pillow, the fabric of the pillowcase damp from his tears, grateful no one could see him like this. He gulped.
The only other thing that made living slightly bearable was Sherlock, but it was that very situation that made him want to scream and throw things and curse the world.
Everything between him and Sherlock had gone woefully, drastically wrong. They were still friends, he supposed, but their relationship was still strained from Mary’s death (not just her death, but her entire presence in their lives), and John wasn’t sure their relationship was ever going to be the same, and he fucking hated that. It was his fault, too. John was so angry at himself for cheating on Mary and never getting to come clean that he took all of his rage out on Sherlock, and fucking hell, he didn’t deserve that. Then, when Sherlock was practically dying from being high on god-knows what for weeks, John hit him. He really thought Sherlock was going to attack Culverton Smith, and John felt like he needed to snap him out of it, but he was so bloody angry, and once he started hitting him, he couldn’t stop.
John’s breaths were shuddering and he was shaking so badly that he was starting to feel sick in the stomach. He hurt Sherlock because of he couldn’t handle his own issues. Sherlock forgave him, and he honestly had no idea why. A part of him was glad, but another, larger part of John would never forgive himself, and could not act like their friendship was the same as it was a year ago, or even six months ago. He hurt the man who put himself through hell in an effort to save him, and how did John repay him? By doubting his suspicions of Culverton Smith, hurting him, and leaving him alone and vulnerable in that hospital bed. What’s wrong with me? He was a monster.
Sherlock might try to act like everything was fine, because he abhorred emotional confrontation, but John could not. He thought that things would never be fine again. What the fuck am I doing with my life? he asked himself internally. He was 42 years-old, turning 43 next month, and he felt like everything went irreversibly wrong. He was nearly middle-aged, damn it, and he felt like a failure. His marriage was an absolute disaster from start to finish, he was barely married for a year before he was unfaithful, and he screwed things up with his best friend. More than best friend, his mind corrected, and John’s throat felt so tight that he gagged. He took a long, deep breath. Vomiting in bed was not good. He pulled the duvet off his head, hoping cool air would fend off the wave of nausea in his gut and throat.
John breathed out of his mouth, trying to slow down his hammering pulse, but the tears still poured from his eyes.
They were supposed to be together, he thought with a small sob. He loved Sherlock so much, more than he could possibly love anyone else (and, to his great shame, he would admit that included Rosie). John didn’t believe in fate or soulmates before Sherlock, but he felt like Sherlock was the missing piece he had been subconsciously searching for his whole life. He remembered the days before Sherlock’s jump, when it was just the two of them in the comfortable domesticity of 221B, solving crimes and bickering about whose turn it was to do the shopping. John’s lips began quivering and he clamped his jaw shut. Those were the best days of his life. If he had known those days wouldn’t last, then he would have savored them more, and wouldn’t have yelled at Sherlock so much for keeping toes in the fridge.
If he had known, then he would have told Sherlock how he felt.
But the chance to tell Sherlock was gone before he knew it, thrown away when Sherlock hit the sidewalk in front of St. Bart’s, and that was what John regretted the most about his life. He missed his chance. He had been so afraid of rejection, so convinced that Sherlock didn’t feel things that way (maybe he really didn’t? John still didn’t know), that he kept it all inside, thinking that maybe, down the road, they could work things out. John thought he had all the time in the world. Even if he never told Sherlock, John thought they would have been able to happily live together for the rest of their days, and although he would have been harboring unrequited feelings, John would have spent his life with Sherlock on strictly platonic grounds in a heartbeat.
The only reason why he even dated Mary in the first place was because he was so bloody lonely after Sherlock died. John didn’t really blame himself for getting together with Mary, because she was the only support in his life during his two years of mourning, and he had no idea that she was a bloody psychopath, but he wished Sherlock came back sooner, before he basically proposed to Mary and couldn’t go back on it.
John wished he would have left Mary after she shot Sherlock.
She did nothing but lie to John about her entire identity since the day they met, then tried to murder the man who offered to help her, and John took her back. He started crying into his pillow again. What the fuck had he been thinking? That she would change? That she actually wasn’t that bad? What she did was inexcusable, and after they got back together, she still kept secrets from him, leaving him and her baby daughter to run away. She was selfish, and her bullshit justifications for her actions made her cruel. If she hadn’t died, he was going to divorce her. He knew their relationship couldn’t work out. He wanted so much more than what Mary gave him, and he still did. He wanted it from Sherlock.
John felt trapped. He wasted two years of his life with Mary, and he felt further apart from Sherlock than ever. He sighed shakily. Out of all people, why did he have to fall in love with Sherlock Holmes?
John felt like he messed up every step of the way since the moment Mary shot him, and the knowledge that he couldn’t change a single thing killed him. He wept for all of that lost potential, for the life he and Sherlock could have had together, romantic or otherwise. (But especially romantic. He wanted to love Sherlock openly, but at this point, John felt like he didn’t even deserve him.) Why did everything have to go so horribly wrong?
If he could go back and change it, he would. He wouldn’t take Mary back and spend the rest of his life with Sherlock. He wouldn’t blame Sherlock for things that weren’t his fault, and hurt him, treat him like utter shit. He wouldn’t put the woman who told countless lies above the man who cured his limp in a single evening.
John swallowed thickly, bile threatening to rise up his esophagus. He wished he could go to 221B, take Sherlock into his arms, and never have to move. He wanted to see Sherlock’s eyes light up and glisten with glee when he solved a case, but they didn’t anymore. Sherlock was so quiet now, much more reserved, and John knew it was because of all the shit he had put him through. He thought of the way they laughed when they ran home to 221B for the first time, catching their breath between giggles before Angelo arrived to deliver John his cane. Regret made John’s heart twist painfully.
After crying for half an hour, John felt completely exhausted. He closed his eyes, but dreaded the morning, because he knew that when he would wake up, he would be back in the world where Sherlock, the missing half of his soul, was forever unavailable.
The darkness behind his eyelids consumed his vision, and he wished the blackness could swallow him whole.
The blackness slowly faded when John opened his eyes, distressingly slowly, and when the fog finally cleared, he felt completely disorientated. His head was swimming, and he groaned and rubbed his temples. What the hell? Was he getting sick or something? He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, hoping to clear the fuzzy feeling in his brain, and realized that he wasn’t in his bed. In fact, he wasn’t in his house at all. Blinking rapidly in confusion, John shook his head. This couldn’t be. He was at...a restaurant? Since when? Something about this restaurant looked familiar, too, but his brain felt like it was made of pudding, and he couldn’t remember it at the moment. He placed his hand on the table and opened his eyes again. He was still at the restaurant. How could this be? People didn’t just teleport from their beds to a restaurant, and a high-end one at that.
John’s upper lip itched, and he scratched it, but froze when his index finger met coarse hair.
What the fuck?
There wasn’t a mirror, around, but John needed to see his reflection. Something was very wrong. He grabbed a spoon and tried to see his reflection. Although the image was small and blurry, John could make out the shape of a moustache. He dropped the spoon and held his hand over his mouth in shock. He felt the moustache beneath his fingers. He shaved this off years ago! Back when--
“Are you okay?”
John looked up, mouth dropping open, blood running cold.
But she was supposed to be dead! He saw her die. He put his fingers in her bleeding bullet wound. But John immediately recognized her lavender dress, and he knew where he was: The Landmark. He was at The Landmark, and this was the night he was supposed to propose to Mary. Ignoring her question, his hand darted to his trousers pocket, and sure enough, he felt the hard outline of the jewelry box. John let out a shuddering breath, looking down at the table, his breathing turning fast and shallow. How could this be?! This felt so real--how could he be dreaming? Better question: how could he not be dreaming?
“John,” she sat in the chair across from him and touched his forearm.
John flinched away from her touch, and Mary looked hurt and confused. “What is it? What happened?” she asked.
What happened? He had no fucking idea what happened! He had to be dreaming. He pinched the back of his hand hard, felt pain, but remained exactly where he was. He pinched himself again, but nothing happened. Being able to feel pain meant it was real, right? He had countless dreams before, and bloody nightmares, and he never felt pain in any of them. This had to be real. But it was impossible. Did he finally go insane? Did years of misery finally tear his mind apart? That had to be it. He was probably in a mental hospital somewhere, locked in a padded cell with a straitjacket. He had to be utterly mad.
Mary was looking at him like he was a lunatic, and she might have been absolutely right.
He had to say something. John swallowed, and asked in the calmest voice he could muster, “What year is it?”
Her eyes widened. “What year? John, it’s 2014, November of 2014.”
John put his head in his hands. “Oh my god,” he whispered. Hearing his suspicions confirmed was weird. No, not weird. It was terrifying.
Mary grabbed his knee. “I’m worried about you! What’s going on? Please tell me.”
John wanted her to stop touching him. Now was not the damn time to dwell over how he felt for Mary, but he still didn’t want her hands on him. It felt like a block of ice was in the pit of his stomach. He suddenly felt the urge to flee. He had to get out of here. He lifted his head from his hands.
Mary’s dark eyes were filled with concern, and John thought of how, at this point, she was lying to him about everything from the major events of her past to her very name. It may have just been a hallucination, or whatever the fuck was going on, but John felt his lips pull down in a scowl.
Mary let go of his knee, pulling her hand to her chest. “John?”
His chest was heaving. He didn’t know what to do. He--he had to be alone. At least for a moment. He looked around wildly and saw the door to the restroom. “I’ll be right back,” he said shakily, standing up and stalking to the door on unsteady legs. He pushed the door with enough force that it hit the wall with a bang, and he practically fled to a stall and locked himself inside. John put his arm against the door and leaned his forehead on his forearm, breathing heavily out of his open mouth. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
This felt too real. He could feel the heat from the ventilation system, smelled the foul odors of the bathroom, felt the solid door of the stall, and could feel his heart pounding, knees trembling, skin sweating. Feeling emotions in dreams was normal, but being able to use his senses of smell and touch were not. Being thrown back in time was not normal, either.
John pressed his lips together, and he couldn’t help but wonder: if this were real, was this his second chance? Was he getting his wish to start over? Why tonight, though? Why was he sent back here? It was difficult seeing Mary again, especially when she was lying to his face. Thank god he hadn’t proposed to her yet. Knowing that she was not who she said she was, and that she would almost kill Sherlock, John absolutely could not propose. John stood up straight and his arm fell to his side, a kick of anticipation in his heart. There was something more important happening tonight, and he remembered it vividly.
Sherlock. This was the night Sherlock came back, at least in real life. Was Sherlock going to be here in this version of events, too? But why couldn’t he be sent back before the Fall? He still had no idea what was happening, but he had to go outside and see if Sherlock was there. He didn’t want to mess this up, and somehow, he thought Sherlock’s presence would ground him a little.
John unlocked the stall and exited the restroom, but he stood outside of the door, not wanting to go back to the table with Mary. His eyes darted around the room. Where are you?
He was starting to worry that this timeline wouldn’t have Sherlock here, but then, his eye landed on him.
Sherlock was standing about nine feet away, and he was looking around the room, too. Was he looking for John, surprised he wasn’t at his table?
John stood perfectly still, heart beating so hard that he could feel it in his throat, palms sweating profusely. He felt like he was going to take a panic attack. He brought his fist too his lips and bit his knuckle.
Then, Sherlock’s eyes landed on him, and he froze.
John stared back at him. The first time around, this was when John tackled him to the floor and started choking him. Even now, John didn’t feel sorry for that--Sherlock let him grieve, damn it, and he didn’t care at all! John’s knees felt wobbly like pudding. He had no idea how to react to any of this, but Sherlock was standing there, eyes locked on him, in that stupid, piss-poor disguise, looking like he had no idea what to do.
John had to go to him. He walked to him, stumbling once, not thinking about Mary sitting alone at the table for a single moment. Sherlock stood there in the middle of the room, and neither cared about the customers or waitstaff. He stopped in front of Sherlock, biting his lip hard, desperately trying to keep his breathing under control.
Sherlock’s lips parted, but then he closed his mouth and swallowed, eyes cast downward, looking abashed. He looked back up, a small, nervous smile on his lips. “Surprise, John,” he said softly.
John didn’t know what to do. He was somehow back in time. Or hallucinating that he was back in time. Whatever! But here Sherlock was, looking so young, before Mary’s bullet nearly killed him, before he nearly killed himself with the drugs, before John beat him.
John felt his jaw clenching and lip trembling, and there was no way he could stop it. He couldn’t process any of what was going on, but his throat felt tight, and he thought that if Sherlock had never jumped, none of the misery after his return would have ever happened. His head was spinning, his stomach was churning, and his hands were shaking by his side. Instead, the weight and trauma of the two years after Sherlock’s return was shattering John’s heart.
“John?” Sherlock asked, all attempts at nervous humor gone and replaced with worry. “John, are you ill? Are you going to faint?”
Fuck, he didn’t know. Maybe. John opened his mouth to speak. The first time this happened, he was furious, but now, John was just sad. He spent so much time being angry over this, but always, no matter the situation, his anger was merely a shield for his sorrow. The anger was gone. Now, he felt like he could cry. He didn’t know if any of this was actually happening, but he wanted to voice what he wanted to say this first time. “You left me,” John said, voice trembling. “You left me for two years. How--how could you do that?”
Sherlock’s eyebrows furrowed. “John...I know you’re very angry with me, but let me say one thing, one thing.” He paused. “Are you really going to keep that?” Sherlock gestured to his own penciled moustache with a fake smile and weak laugh.
Something about reliving this made John feel like someone was crushing his heart. “Why is this just a joke to you?” he asked seriously.
Sherlock’s face fell, and he blinked dumbly.
John licked his lips, cursing internally when he felt the corners of his eyes start to sting. “Do you really have nothing to say?” His throat was too tight, and his voice was beginning to crack. Sherlock was staring at him like a deer caught in headlights, and John recognized that look. Sherlock wore the same expression when Mary died and John looked up at him with fury, accusing him of not keeping his vow. John choked out a cut off sob that startled them both and drew the attention of people from the nearby tables, but John pressed on, “Do you have any idea what I went through?” But the question hurt, because he wasn’t talking about the two years of mourning from the Fall, but Sherlock had no way of knowing that. He didn’t know of what their lives would turn into after this, and it was too much for John.
“John?” someone touched his shoulder.
It was Mary.
He couldn’t do this. Not here. Not now.
“I gotta go,” he muttered, walking past them, ignoring Sherlock and Mary calling his name. He practically fled from the restaurant, and realized that Sherlock and Mary were probably going to try to find him, so, feeling absolutely mad, he ran. He ran until his lungs burned and his feet hurt from being in dress shoes, and he stopped by a bus stop with a bench, panting. He collapsed onto the bench, elbows on his knees and face in his hands, holding back bitter tears.
He got his wish, didn’t he? Weren’t wishes supposed to feel happy? Why was he running away? Why was he fucking this up again?