Everything was broken.
Torn apart, so hot that it burned cold, so cold that it felt like flames.
Everything was exactly the same, but completely different, and everything, most of all, hurt.
Everything was back to normal. The normal that John had tried so hard to get away from.
The insanity that John had quite happily let into his life was torn apart by the madman who just so happened to be the only thing John feared.
Moriarty was the only man who could take Sherlock away, and the only man who could make John try his very best not to shake in his coat.
Sherlock had been John's anchor to life. Sherlock stopped John from killing himself, from boredom, from everything awful that wasn't mere annoyance and flatmate problems. Sherlock was there – he was always there. There to make John feel real emotions: To make him laugh, grin, worry, yell, sigh, everything. John was content with being angry, as long as it was Sherlock's fault. Sherlock was John's anchor to life.
Moriarty took John's anchor away.
And, God, it stung so much. It burned deep and there was nothing John could do about it. Every song, every show, every inch of every part of London reminded John of Sherlock. He wanted to toss it all away, wanted to start from scratch, wanted to forget everything just so he could feel better.
Just thinking about forgetting Sherlock hurt John like his insides were being carved with a rusty knife. He scrapped that idea before it was even fully formed in his mind, not that it wouldn't come up again maybe for split seconds at night while he was trying to sleep.
Nights were the worst for John. He couldn't sleep, couldn't stand being in the flat, but couldn't stand leaving it. Leaving the flat would be leaving Sherlock. Leaving the flat would be admitting that Sherlock was gone for good. He was told again and again that Sherlock was gone and that he needed to deal with it.
He eventually let people believe that he "knew Sherlock was dead and wasn't coming back."
He eventually was able to return to work, though he checked his phone every few minutes for a text from Sherlock – or anyone, really – to get him out of there.
John wasn't ready to move on, but there was a point, six months in, where he figured he should start trying harder. He was used to the silence, he was used to letting himself cry before he slept – in fact, it helped him sleep to get it all out at night. He was used to all of the differences in his life, but that doesn't mean he liked any of it.
There was one perfect morning where John woke up and thought things might start to be okay. He smiled at a show on the telly as he ate his breakfast, he actually tasted and enjoyed his tea for the first time in those long months, and he could only question briefly what had changed before he went for his daily visit to Sherlock's grave.
"You're still gone, you bastard," John said aloud to the beautiful black grave. He put a hand on it, running his thumb over the stone. "I've done so much for you; you can't do this one thing for me? I-" John stopped himself as his voice cracked, taking a calming, shuddering breath. "I know you better than you think I do. I know you're not dead."
"You checked my pulse, you saw my body, you went to my funeral," came a soft voice, drifting by John gently. The voice was so soft that it could have simply been in John's own head. He gave a shuddering sigh.
"I believe in you, I'll always believe in you," John whispered. "There's nothing you can do to stop that. Nothing you can try to get me to believe- You would never kill yourself, you're too damn," John broke off and gave a soft laugh. "You're too damn self-absorbed. You're not a fraud, either. I'm not that much of a moron, Sherlock."
"You're incredible," came the voice again. John closed his eyes for a few seconds, concentrating on every word he thought he heard, drinking in the deep voice and hoping he would never forget how it sounded. He had told Ella about the voice. She made him promise not to reply. She made him promise not to dig deeper. It wasn't healthy to pay any attention to it. John did the best he could.
Occasionally, the voice asked him questions while he was working on paperwork he had brought home. He would answer, not even thinking about it. It would take a couple of seconds, but eventually John would realise his mistake, realise he had forgotten about the incident, and he would break down.
"It's alright, John," the soft wind would whisper to him. "I'm here, I'm not gone, I'm coming back." Sometimes, he would even swore he felt a pressure on his back, comforting him.
Sometimes the voice would speak to him at night, which was always the hardest. He was trying to sleep, there were no distractions, he was alone, quiet, in the dark with his mind wide open.
"I like when you answer me, John," it muttered one night, as if Sherlock was lying on the bed next to him, sharing the other pillow. John swallowed audibly and kept his eyes closed. "I like every sign you show that helps me believe that I exist. Without those, I fear that I would have no anchor, that I'd simply… float away and cease to exist."
"You're not real," John had muttered in reply. "I'm not supposed to pay any attention to you because you're not real and I'm not supposed to be hearing you or feeling you and I'm only doing exactly what you just said. Anchoring you to my mind. It's... It's not healthy."
"I see," said the deep wind. Silence filled the flat for a few long moments. John opened his eyes and looked next to him. He grimaced. Sherlock was there, leaning on his arm and studying John with that look he always had on his face.
"It's gotten worse," John said. Sherlock smiled at him.
"I'm not a hallucination, John." John groaned, but he couldn't look away. Sherlock reached out and put a hand on John's cheek. The warmth of Sherlock's hand went straight to John's heart, causing his throat to go tight, his eyes to sting with tears, and his voice to croak out.
"Close your eyes, John," Sherlock whispered. John didn't. He searched Sherlock's face, his hands grasped Sherlock's wrists, his heart ached. "Close them," Sherlock repeated, with a small laugh in his voice.
"You're a complete bastard," John whispered, his throat still tight, his eyes closing and managing to squeeze out tears he hadn't let fall. The hand on his face wiped his tears away, the warmth of that hand held his heart in place as it began to beat fast enough to leap out of John's chest.
"Good morning, John," Sherlock muttered. A press of lips on John's forehead shocked him and his eyes flung open.
The room was light, the air was cold, and the bed beside him was empty. John pulled the covers over his head.
Every step that day felt like a step back.
John talked to Ella about it, told her everything about the voice, but nothing about how the dream was a dream. It didn't feel like a dream, he still didn't believe it was one.
"You can't keep doing this to yourself, John," she had told him. "You're enabling him. You're pulling yourself in, letting his image run your life."
"He ran it while he was alive, why did I think he wouldn't run it dead?" John winced at the horrible joke, looking out of the window.
"Do not talk to him, John. Don't enable, don't let him control you, don't let this get to you."
But the day came, two and a half years later, when John was sitting in his chair, reading his book. He was wide awake, he was absorbed in the crime book, trying to guess what about their personalities the people were leaving out of their questions that could have helped the crime be solved quite quickly. Something about their facial expression that would have spiked a hit of inspiration in anyone who had ever worked with Sherlock.
The door opened. He heard it, he heard the soft footsteps. He assumed it was Mrs. Hudson.
"John, I'm back," came a deep, slightly nervous voice from the doorway. John froze, eyes not moving on the paper, face determined. He could see Sherlock's figure in the doorway from his peripheral. He saw his arms lift slightly and go back down. He saw them lift again, a bit more determined. "Come here," Sherlock demanded, need in his voice.
"Bugger off," John snapped. Sherlock's arms dropped with a huff.
"I understand why you'd be angry at me," Sherlock started slowly as he walked over and stood in front of John, his voice annoyed, "but I've been gone for three years. I would at least expect a hello. Or for you to look at me."
"I promised Ella that I wouldn't look or talk to you if you came back," John said in a tight voice, swallowing and not letting his eyes stray over. He pulled the book in front of his face. Sherlock dropped to his knees in front of John, a whimper escaping his lips.
"John, please… I can't take this, at least look at me, please-"
"I can't!" John snapped, wincing when he felt Sherlock's hand on his own, trying to lower the book. "Go away!" Sherlock forced the book away from John's face, but his eyes snapped shut. "Stop tormenting me!" he croaked out, chest tight.
"But, John-" Sherlock protested.
"You're not REAL!" John suddenly yelled, tears managing to escape from his closed eyes. Sherlock's shock was palpable. "You're never real," John stammered after a second, feeling he owed an explanation. "I've seen visions so many times, but it's never you and God, Sherlock, it hurts so much! Please leave me – I can't handle seeing your face, hoping you'll walk through that door as if nothing happened. You will never walk through that door again. Please, Sherlock. Please don't make me look at you again."
"John. Please," Sherlock whispered, hand on John's face. "Just look." John's eyes opened without his consent. Sherlock's bright blue eyes shone with tears, his face in a grimace of pity and guilt. "I'm so sorry," Sherlock said, his voice managing to waver just as it had done on the building. "I never wanted to hurt you – I wish I could fix it all. I'm so very sorry. My wonderful, brilliant, loyal John Watson, I don't want you to cry over me. Please, please don't cry over me, John. Do this for me."
"You unbelievable bastard," John whispered.
"I love you, John," Sherlock replied, face close to John's. "I don't want to leave you. I- don't want to leave you, John."
Sherlock's lips fell onto John's, passionate, sad, mourning, everything John had felt in the past three years, everything built up into one passionate kiss. Sherlock's hand left John's face and their lips parted. John opened his eyes, but Sherlock wasn't there.
"But you always do leave," John whispered, book dropping from his hand onto the floor with a thud. His arms wrapped around his stomach and he prayed he wouldn't throw up. "And the visions are always wrong," he gasped out, tears falling from his eyes. He gave an uncontrollable, loud sob. "I should know better by now." His hands covered his face. "You were never that compassionate."