The days and nights of John Watson in the year after Sherlock’s death had blurred into a repetitive, gray haze. He got up, went to work, came home. Heated up a frozen dinner in the microwave and watched some telly in his chair, resolutely ignoring the empty one across from him. He then went to bed, usually between 2 or 3 in the morning, bleary eyed and with a head full of negative, roiling ideations, tossed and turned for a few fitful hours, then got up and did it all over again. He was numb. He knew it was the effect of the grief he felt over Sherlock’s passing, mixed with the trauma of having witnessed Sherlock’s black clad form plummet from the roof of St. Bartholomew’s hospital as John’s own heart plummeted to his feet and smashed into a thousand pieces.
He dutifully went to see his therapist every Thursday evening after work, sat across from her with his hands clenched in his lap and his eyes gazing hollowly out the window at the tops of the buildings across from her office, at the birds flitting through the sometimes slate gray, sometimes bright blue sky. He answered her questions as clearly as he could. He resolutely avoided talking about Sherlock until she pressured him into it, and when he finally did speak up, it was out of a sense of obligation, because he truly liked his therapist and didn’t want to be a difficult patient. He hated being confrontational, perhaps just a tiny bit more than he hated talking about his feelings regarding the death of his dearest friend. And so, at least once in a session, after they’d chatted about his work stress, his non-existent home and dating life and his family issues (usually involving Harry’s struggles to stay sober and John’s extended, three hour phone conversations with her, often at 3am), the topic always strayed back to Sherlock.
“Are you feeling up to talking about it today?” His therapist asked. She didn’t need to specify what “it” meant. Her large brown eyes full of sympathy, she leaned forward in her chair to give John every ounce of her attention. He really respected her kindness and her professionalism, but a small part of him hated her for poking at his wound this way every week. Still, he knew that he could only grieve aimlessly for so long before he moved forward with his life. It had been a full year. A listless, anguished, depressing year without the person he cared about the most in all the world. If he didn’t get past this eventually, it would do him in.
“I suppose so” he remarked glumly, bravely tearing his eyes away from the buildings and the sky outside the window to look in her general direction. He trained his eyes on her left earlobe, taking in the details of her small, gold earring and the curly dark hair that surrounded her ear. “What do you want to know?”
“Well John.” she began with a sigh. One he knew was sympathetic, rather than long suffering. “It’s been almost a year since he passed”
“Since he killed himself” John amended with a bitter tone. “Can we not say ‘passed’, like it was a peaceful death in his sleep? He dashed himself against the street after leaping from the roof of a very tall building”
“Of course John. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to minimize the circumstances of his death” John felt a pang of guilt over having snapped at her.
“No. no. I get it. You’re just trying to do your job. I didn’t mean to be difficult” he mumbled out, hands twisting together in discomfort.
“It’s alright John. You’re entitled to a lot of frustration and anger… and grief. What you feel is never wrong and I understand why you’re upset” She was always so understanding and patient. “I just think it’s high time we dug a bit deeper into that grief so that we can start to break some of it up.” She could also be quite direct and quite persistent.
“Ok. fine. Dig” John somehow found the courage to meet her eyes and saw calm, sympathetic support there. He took a deep breath and prepared himself for the feelings he usually kept tamped down to come bubbling to the surface.
“John, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it doesn’t feel as if you’re actually living your life right now. It feels more as if you’re going through the motions. I’m concerned that your grief over Sherlock’s death might be transitioning from a natural way to express emotional pain, and may in fact be becoming harmful to you.”
“No kidding” This was nothing John himself hadn’t struggled with, hadn’t been aware of already. Why the death of his best friend had affected him so much more strongly that even the death of his parents, more than any breakup with a girlfriend. He knew he was disproportionately hung up on Sherlock’s absence, but lacked the words to explain why.
As if reading his mind, his therapist asked “Why do you think it is that this has hit you so hard?” her voice careful and soft so as not to scare John away from the emotional work she was trying to draw out of him.
John took another deep, shaky breath and did his best to marshal his thoughts into words. He’d had a year to process and go over his feelings surrounding his friend’s death, and he knew a few things to be true that he still struggled mightily with expressing out loud. Maybe now was the time to try and get them out?
“There’s a lot behind why Sherlock’s death has hit me so hard” he began tentatively. “I’ve told you about how insanely intelligent he was. How he pulled me out of my inertia and dragged me into his crazy life. I told you about how hard I worked to get along with him and how insufferable he can be. Jesus, everyone knows how insufferable he can be. The guys at Scotland Yard, the press, even the people who’s mysteries he solves can barely stand the bastard” John felt a small smile make its way across his face at the memory of all of Sherlock’s startlingly rude comments and his cocky attitude. “He woke me up in a big way” he continued, feeling a lump rising in his throat and swallowing it down resolutely. “He made me want to enjoy life again. To take an active part in the world around me. That was a big deal” He couldn’t help but feel he was validating his connection to Sherlock. As if he needed an excuse for caring as much as he did.
“But despite the fact that he was a genius and the fact that he got me out of a tough time in my life, he was truly my best and dearest f-friend” He stumbled a bit on the last word and looked back out of the window again, gathering his courage.
“Go on” his therapist prompted gently. She clearly didn’t want John to sink back into silent worry. Wanted to push him to emote or express what he was hiding inside. John hated her a little bit, but he knew she was right.
“He was hard to get close to” John continued. “Always pushing everyone away as if he couldn’t bare to be known, to be… l-loved” He hated the way his voice shook as he got closer to the crux of his anguish and pain. He’d always prided himself on emotional stoicism. An army doctor had to, or the gore and grief would eat you alive. But he acknowledged that in this instance, transparency and vulnerability were integral to growth.. To him getting past this. He trusted his therapist too. Trusted her not to judge him or scold him. “But..” he continued in a voice thick with emotion. “He actually let me in. Just a little at first. Let me into his life with him in Mrs. Hudson’s flat. Let me in on his job with the police. He let me listen to his genius deductions and shared his suspicions with me. And that was… that was…indescribable. To be that close to someone so on fire with genius. Someone so very electrified by.. by … inspiration . He was so intimidating and glamorous, and he picked me.. Me , the nondescript army medic who just wanted a flatmate.. He picked me to share his life with.”
As he spoke, the words came more easily to John. He felt emotion well up in his chest, and for once, he didn’t tamp it down. He felt tears fill his eyes at the memory of life with Sherlock and how good that had been, and he let them well up and slowly tumble down his cheeks. He’d broken out of the bounds that kept him from speaking his true thoughts and feelings, and now there was no going back. He sincerely hoped this would result in a lessening of the grief and anguish he felt, because he already felt flayed open and he hadn’t yet gotten to the core of his feelings.
“But then, as the months went by, he let me in more and more. He told me about his childhood and his issues growing up. He let me see his problems with addiction. He let me see his vanity and his rage and his vulnerability. He let me see how isolated he’d become, always being the smartest person in the room and simultaneously being the biggest bastard about it, and how that drove everyone away, when he desperately needed people to stick around. To see him. To help him.
“And more than that, he listened to me about my issues too. He counseled me on how to deal with Harry. He let me lean on him when things got rough. He leaned on m-me” John stopped for a moment to suppress a sob he felt welling up inside his chest, then swallowed it down and continued, not because he was opposed to crying, that would be part of the grief process.. More because he didn’t want it to derail him before he could finish.
“After a while, he finally let me pretty much all the way in. Let me see the real him. The him that was scared of not being the smartest one in the room. The him that felt lonely and misunderstood and the him that needed other people. Needed Mrs. Hudson. Needed Lastrad. Needed Molly. He let me see how much he needed… me”.
And now came the most difficult part. The thing that made losing Sherlock hurt the most. He had been hiding it from himself and from his therapist and from everyone else he knew for a long time. “It wasn’t until after he died that I realized something about our connection” he began, marshalling his courage and looking resolutely down at his well worn, brown loafers as he spoke, unable to meet his therapist’s eyes.
“I realized that my feelings for him went… went beyond friendship. I… well.. I loved him. I still.. love him. I…” He found the sturdy emotional wall he’d built around these feelings deep inside and pushed against it, felt it give a bit under the onslaught of his need to come clean.
“I’ve always considered myself a heterosexual person” he continued, knowing that the words would immediately clue his therapist in to where this confession was going and not caring anymore. “But.. I think it’s high time I acknowledged that I was... attracted to him. Very attracted in fact.” He risked a glance up at his therapist’s face and saw understanding and kindness there, instead of the confusion or distaste he almost feared he’d see. It gave him the strength to continue.
“It took me a long time to recognize it for what it was, this feeling. Even though Mrs. Hudson and virtually everyone else joked about us being a couple, I always corrected them with reminders that nothing like that was going on. That I was *straight*. I felt I had to be pretty adamant about that and I wondered why.
“It started out as affection. I liked spending time around him, even if he made me want to throttle him every five minutes with that insufferable attitude of his” and now he did smile, broadly, at the memories of Sherlock casually tossing out hurtful comments in his deep baritone and of himself, yelling at the man with his fists clenched. It was a daily occurence, and somehow it didn’t make him like Sherlock any less overall.
“But eventually, as we got closer” he continued, “it turned into something else. Something that made me pretty uncomfortable. I spent a lot of time in denial. I dove into my dating life with extra fervor, not that it did me any good. I think I had a lot of internalized homophobia. The army isn’t all that understanding of same sex attraction, and I’d honestly never been attracted to another man before this. So it was rough to come to terms with it. But there was still no denying the fact that I thought about him in that way, quite often.” He paused here, unsure of how to continue.
His therapist saw an opening “John, what you’re describing is very natural and perfectly normal. It’s a common occurrence for people who’ve always considered themselves straight to become strongly attracted to a person of the same sex. It happens all the time. Nothing wrong with it.”
“Yeah.” he replied, grateful for the encouraging words, but still feeling uncomfortable about his confession. “Yeah. I’m aware of that, but I just never thought it would happen to me. Still, it did happen. Boy did it happen. I fell pretty hard”. There . He’d said it out loud. He felt a rush of relief at finally getting it out. This thing he’d wrestled with for so many days and nights.
“So you see… the reason I can’t get past this. The reason I’m struggling so much is because he wasn’t just a friend . Not just a companion. He was… He was… so much more than that to me. I was… In love with him. I’m still in love with him.”
The tears were flowing steadily now, in hot tracks down both of his cheeks. He let them flow. He looked up again and saw his therapist had a small smile on her face and a sad look in her eyes. “John” she began gently. “Thank you so much for opening up to me. This is really good, what you’ve done here by telling me about these feelings. I suspected something of the sort, but didn’t want to presume. I hope that getting this out will help you to process more of your grief, instead of holding onto it.” She had reached down next to her chair to grab tissues with a cheerful pattern of daisies printed on the cardboard of the box and offered them to him. John gratefully grabbed a few and wiped at his face, blew his nose. He felt a bit embarrassed, but also, deeply relieved. He’d finally gotten it out, and in a safe, supportive environment. A private place where he could finally unburden himself.
He suddenly realized that he felt light and free in a way he hadn’t felt since before Sherlock’s suicide. He took a deep, cleansing breath and gave a genuine smile. “My!” He exclaimed with a sniffle “It felt good to finally get that out”. His therapist returned his smile. She was clearly glad he’d turned this corner. He felt a flush of gratitude for her. She had been ever so patient and supportive over the past year.
Their session was almost over so John bid her a nice evening, and after her reassurance that he was welcome to discuss his feelings for Sherlock with her anytime he felt the need to, he left her office and headed home. He couldn’t help but notice that he had a small spring in his step and a lightness in his heart that hadn’t been there in the longest time. Not since the moment he looked up, cell phone plastered to his ear with shaking hands and had seen Sherlock, standing like a forlorn, dark raven up on top of the hospital roof. It felt good. It felt like he was alive again.
He realized that he’d been hiding his love for Sherlock for so long that he hadn’t had the chance to truly grieve. He’d been keeping it inside and letting his pain turn into a cold, hard boulder in the center of his gut. How could he cry over a friend in the way he truly wanted to cry over Sherlock’s death? Why had he felt so bereft and so broken over Sherlock’s death if they were simply friends? The truth, that he’d been rather deeply in love with the infuriating detective, lent validity to how ripped up inside he’d become. And he hadn’t allowed himself to see that, and as a result, had not allowed himself to grieve.
That night, as he lay in his bed and looked up at the darkened ceiling above him, lit fitfully with the headlamps of passing cars, he’d finally let loose and cried. Had sobbed uncontrollably, clutching a pillow to his face so as not to alarm Mrs. Hudson. The tears kept coming and the sobs wracked through his body with a physical force that scared him a little bit. He’d never cried like this in all his life. Not from the horrors of the battlefield. Not from any other loss.
He cried for everything that could have been if Sherlock had lived. If John had ever summoned the courage to confess his feelings to the man. Perhaps they could have found happiness? They’d at least have had honesty between them. And if Sherlock hadn’t returned his feelings (god only knew what that strange statuesque man with the ice blue eyes ever felt on the inside), they could have remained friends. He could still have warmed himself with Sherlock’s rare smiles. Could have kept assisting him on cases. Kept yelling at him for driving John round the bend with his snarky condescension. Anything would have been better than no Sherlock at all.. Forever.
Eventually, John’s sobs slowed and ceased. He was exhausted and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.