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I didn’t love her.

Words. Echoed. Faded. Revisited a thousand times between lonely nights and a glass filled with Brandy. He didn’t love her. It’s true. He never did, in fact. Maybe at some point, in his darkest of days. When the revolver in his desk would rattle and call him to open the damned drawer. Maybe, then… She might had been a sliver of light pushing through the clouds.

He didn’t love her.

The secret was out. The silence severe. John had finally told him. I didn’t love her. Ten days ago, Friday the 6th of January. His birthday. All because Sherlock Holmes was too trusting and too blind to see the truth. All because Sherlock believes in John Watson. The noble soldier. Always.

He remembers the blank look of utter confusion that he got at those words and he finds himself almost laughing. Pained and sarcastic but it’s still laughter all the same. Naturally, he missed the wince of pain and heartache from the broken figure; sitting unmoving in that armchair before him. Naturally.

They got back to 221B after that. Him and Rosie. Moved in. Needless hassle. Sherlock let them move back in, actually. John doesn’t even remember the look on his face when he showed up with the pushchair and the boxes. He was ashamed, looking at his feet. What an idiot. Coward.

He wasn’t the only one. Sherlock didn’t look at him that day either. But John wouldn’t blame him. He had every right to close off. The oh-so-noble doctor had beaten him to pulp three weeks before. How could anyone be expected to open up after that? Trust? No, that was out of the question. How could Sherlock know when John will snap next? How could anyone? Plus, the former -for the moment- detective wouldn’t even discuss it -or anything regarding feelings- after that day. No. He wouldn’t dare. Even if John wanted him to.

That’s right. Keep good old Doctor Watson calm.

Awkward. That’s what it was afterwards. Awkward and impossible. How could a coward ever find any courage to speak to a man that didn’t even look at him anymore? He had offered tea. Back to normal as always. Pretending nothing happened. Dancing around at the edge of thin rope. Broken hearts, the only resolution waiting at the bottom of the ironically bottomless pit underneath them.

Mm? Yes, sure.

The singular reply. Even if there was already a half-finished mug on the coffee table. John hadn’t stopped to look. All he truly remembers now is the glimpse he got at the tensed up, long figure, contemplating him knowingly. Was it hurt he saw? Surrender? A posture suggesting the simple fact the owner had given up on life itself? John pushed it all away. Yet again. Coward.

I didn’t love her.

One of the less important secrets that were unearthed that day.

John told him, tried to reason with him, shouted at him although it might had been that he mostly shouted at himself. He told him why he reached the hospital in time. How Mrs Hudson had shown them all where to find the DVD with the recording of the woman John did never love. Purposely left there. In 221B for John to find, for John to see, for John to play the hero without being one.

It wasn’t some valiant effort to save a friend. Neither John’s oh-so-caring-and-protective nature. It was a damned DVD left there by his dead wife. A message to send Sherlock to his death. Because maybe she wanted to finish what she started. Because she never truly believed in John Watson. Not like Sherlock Holmes continues to irrationally do beyond all hope.

Sherlock hadn’t known but he didn’t seem to mind either. He was apathetic at best. He should have known, damn it. He should have. How could he not? He had everything planned even with his mind shooting up on drugs. It was Sherlock! Sherlock, who let his chances pass by one after the other and doesn’t care. Sherlock, who is meticulously stubborn on not having any emotionally charged human contact at all. Frankly, John was sick of this. He couldn’t let him do that anymore. So, he told him so. Multiple times. The damned genius just wouldn’t listen.

You are doing yourself a disservice.

No. John wouldn’t take that crap. Sherlock didn’t actually know him anymore. They weren’t the same as before. They never would be. John couldn’t be the same. Not after everything. Not after Bart’s. Ever. He didn’t love her. He never did. If that’s not a clever comeback, then what is? It’s cruel and sharp and painful and he’s shaking with his skin rubbed raw, clawed open bit by bit. He could never be the same with Sherlock looking at him. Just like that. That look. That damned look.

And it was only then that it finally came into view. The truth. His one truth. John Watson’s truth.

The want. The need. John presses his palms inside his eye sockets with a grunt. In the silence of 221B a man could hope. A man could despair. A man could love. He wasn’t that man. He wasn’t the man Sherlock thought him to be. He told him so. But that was the point, wasn’t it? That’s what one should get when pursuing… a relationship? The belief. In each other. Only John hadn’t believed. John had given up. He was a poor excuse of a man beating up his best and only true friend. Or whatever they were.

Called him a junkie. Slapped him. Doubted him. Lost faith in him.

That’s the whole point.

“I didn’t want her. To be my wife. My daughter’s mother. Nothing” Plagued by nightmares, this isn’t the first time or last that John will go over this conversation in his head and with hushed whispers against his pillow just to take his mind off the terror.

Nothing.

“She didn’t want it either but does that make it alright?” His fingers curling up in his hair, tightening around tufts and bite the skin, blocking the sob inside his chest. Guilt clogging up his throat.

I wanted to cheat on her. I wanted something. Something more.

Cold. Frozen. John Watson muffles another sob. Rosie still asleep at the cot beside his bed. He knew the next part all too well. The desperation of wanting to feel. To surrender. For someone. Anyone. No. Not really… Not exactly anyone

I wanted more. I still do.

There it is. The look. That damned look… Sherlock pining him to the spot with his eyes. Speaking without words. Accusing without accusation. Still believing. Still holding on. But now actually asking for an explanation. An action. A relief. Reprieve. Something! As if all this could be erased if John just would…

I never could be… Who you thought I was… Is the man who I want to be…

If John Watson would just go on and be that man. Because he could do that. Because Sherlock believed he could. What the hell was he waiting for? Why hadn’t he got on with it already? Why hadn’t he given in to those blue irises full of promise? Why?

Oh. Yeah. That’s right. One of those irises was looking back at him darkly without meaning to. There was a red stain all around it and the worst of it all was that he could still feel it. His knuckles itching. His fist colliding with soft skin and breaking arteries. His fingers rubbing instantly with stubble. His whole arm vibrating from the impact. Pain travelling up his elbow and bicep, coming to a screeching halt at the numb nerves of an old wound at his shoulder. Sending shrills of anger and weird satisfaction that shouldn’t be there. All over his body. And the look is still there. Steady and resilient. But John can’t be that man… I can’t be anything anyone deserves, he thinks as he collapses into the tears. Not now… Not ever…

***

Ten days. Ten whole days. John thinks it’s fine. It’s all fine. Presses himself to believe it is. Pretends it is. Baker Street is more like… No. Not home. He’s not entitled to call it that. Equally though, the house he got back to ten days ago… was just a house. A place where him and his daughter could live for the time being. It strikes him as weird that they had actually lived there for almost three years. It should have been homely, warm, a place to unwind and relax. Protected. Both of them. But it isn’t.

Maybe it is because a large part of those two and half years was spent between there and here. 221B Baker Street. Either way, Rosie doesn’t like it and neither does her father that got back half-drunk on the 6th of January 2017. He shouldn’t have bought the whole bottle at that cake place Molly got them to celebrate the happy day. Oh, so happy day. The legendary consultant’s birthday.

Apparently, John was the only one not aware of the date’s existence. Birthday… Of course, Sherlock would shrug it off. Of course, it wasn’t important. As expected. Why would he care? Did he ever care anyway? Still, the whole affair irked John. He had spent seven bloody years of his life with Sherlock being the centre of it and him being praised of how he was the only one ever to know the detective so well. He would snort at that if he wasn’t drunk, finishing the half-empty bottle hanging from his hand while lingering on the long unwelcome corridor. His daughter upstairs sound asleep.

In retrospect, he really shouldn’t have done that. The hired nanny that he couldn’t very well afford for long, had given him a wary look. Drunk parent, yeah, he knew. She could easily contact social services next time. Or now. He didn’t care. At that moment at least, she could do as she wished. All that he saw was the booze in his hand and how he couldn’t do this anymore. He had lost his job temporarily because of heavy drinking a couple of months ago. If he slipped again… Fired. Done with. Veteran with a tremor and a hurt shoulder. No more a doctor. They would take his license away. Then his pension. Then they’d take Rosie. His little girl. The little girl that deserved so much more than him as a father.

Still, it didn’t stop him. He had managed to drink his full in that unimportant dinner (which could have been important… for him… If Sherlock just talked to him… If he just as much as looked at him…). It had been dull. Slipping more whiskey in his glass when no one was looking. He wasn’t successful on keeping it a secret of course. It was difficult enough to escape the gazes of three companions that rarely spoke, even without one of them being Sherlock Holmes -exhausted-, the other Molly Hooper and the third an overprotective housekeeper that had taken on the role of his grandma. As much as he’d like to be discreet about his drinking habits, nobody was buying it.

They got back when Molly decided Sherlock was in no fit state for more. John couldn’t forget - even in mid-drunkenness - the rebuking looks he got for that. He shrugged it off, rolled his eyes exasperated. It wasn’t his responsibility to notice the ragged breaths and shivers shaking the detective’s body. Or maybe it was, but he wasn’t fit for it. Poor excuse of a man… Letting himself believe he could actually take care of the damage he’s caused. Just a goal for redemption with no follow through. Look what he has become…

John should have known. He should have seen the signs, diagnosed it himself if he had to. But he kept making excuses, kept holding on false beliefs when awake or just drunk that he could fix this. He should fix it. Kept pretended all was fine. He should have known though… He should have remembered the moment Sherlock got out of Mrs Hudson’s boot and the doctor couldn’t even tell if he was faking drug addiction or not. Evidently, not.

John wasn’t fit to take proper care of the detective and his friend - and maybe something more - that he had almost beaten to death. Yet, he made it his purpose and promise to himself to do so that quiet Saturday morning, after the whiskey had dried from the bottle and the headache it caused came as a welcome reprieve. That’s where it all started, after all. A bad hangover and you suddenly believe you’re thinking straight for once.

***

Movements mechanical. Lifeless. Methodical. The precision of surgery thrown over them even when his fingers are trembling. Three boxes. Two suitcases. The accuracy of each action underlined with impartiality. Every little part of his and his daughter’s life handled as a body on the surgical table, cut off from the reality of it all, overpowered by the need to just finish the act with a certain correctness about it. Auto-pilot.

Eventually all their belongings gathered, all their lives packed away. John called the cabbie, feeling like doom itself. Didn’t even say goodbye to the house he -mostly- shared with his wife and daughter. Three boxes. Two suitcases. The cabbie gives them a sour look but doesn’t mind. They get in.

He doesn’t want to think of what will happen to the house. He hasn’t even figured out if it was legal they stayed there. Bought with Mary’s money, that and all furniture could be sold but most of it is gone since her death anyway. He doesn’t think the authorities would ever let him sell any of it. Illegally obtained money after all. He supposes Mycroft has kept it quiet to give him time to grieve. He scowls. Let bloody Mycroft take care of it then.

He doesn’t think. He doesn’t want to. Everything he needs is with him. Almost as little as he had when he came home from the war. Most of it is Rosie’s. His daughter. Still asleep against his chest. Baker Street. That’s where all his medical journals and books or anything that his wife didn’t fancy are anyway. The upstairs bedroom. He feels like a refugee. A refugee trying to get home. Knowing when he gets there nothing will be the same.

He barks the address. They get on. The road quiet. Cabbie doesn’t ask questions. He kicks the boxes around the pavement later, frown at the fullness of them with his daughter’s cribs and cradle, baby-table and toys. He has no idea how he’ll manage to get them up. If he’ll be allowed to stay. It’s just after 6am. He has no idea if Sherlock’s waiting. Or even if he’s awake. Or if he remembers. Withdrawal can’t be good for sleep. John knows. He hasn’t slept more than two hours himself, despite the whiskey.

Up the steps he goes. Knocks. Then waits.