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Three Stages

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John dreams about Sherlock every night until he doesn't.

Several months go by before he realises that the dreams have stopped because he spends most of his waking hours trying not to think about Sherlock.

***

John speaks at the funeral, then goes home and starts boxing up his things to move out of Baker Street; he can't be there anymore and keep his sanity. He takes everything that's identifiably his and leaves what he thinks may be theirs. When all is said and done, everything he owns fits inside one car.

He has fewer possessions than he did when he moved in, and isn't that just a perfect metaphor for him these days. He's less than he used to be. Less than before.

It takes a few months before he can remember Sherlock without simultaneously seeing his body on the ground, eyes open, blood everywhere. Except that what he's remembering now is just as bad:

Sherlock, the most brilliant man John has ever known, proclaiming himself to be a fraud. Demanding that John tell everyone Sherlock was ever friendly with.

John can't bring himself to tell any of them that he'd said it was all Just a magic trick

***

John could have sworn that he's unpacked everything in his new flat in the first two days, but one night he comes home with the shopping to find one more box in the corner, half tucked behind the new chair that he hates but likely won't get rid of. He hates it for what it isn't. Just like he hates his new bed and his new flat and his new life.

It's a box of books; most of which he remembers buying, but the one or two titles he doesn't recognise don't give him too much pause. He was never all that good at tracking the contents of his own library, having accumulated and dumped several cases worth of books in his lifetime as he's moved around.

He's mindlessly stacking them into the new, small case he'd bought to store the few books he'd brought from Baker Street that hadn't been Sherlock's when he stops to look at the last title.

Abracadabra!, it reads. Secret Methods Magicians & Others Use to Deceive Their Audience.

Instead of shelving it, he leaves it on the arm of the chair and goes to put away the rest of the groceries and make tea. There's no rational reason for him to have bought that book. He'd never particularly liked magic; there's even less of a reason for him to have accidentally acquired it from Sherlock's shelves. The book looks far too simple for Sherlock to have owned, and he probably knew everything in it anyway.

Maybe that's why John flips it open and starts leafing through it while he drinks his tea. Some force is driving him to find out why that particular book has made it's way to his possession. He flips past the prologue and goes straight to the first chapter. All the talk about types of misdirection reminds him of Sherlock's maddening habit of twiddling every object he touched, testing the balance of it, running his fingers around the edges and learning its shape.

He's skimming more than reading, but when he gets to the chapter on The Art of Chicanery she stops and takes notice. He can almost hear Sherlock's voice inside his head as he pores over the page, looking for clues in the text, but also evidence unrelated to the words. The slight curl on the corner, as though someone had been worrying the page. A slight smudge in the ink from sub-quality printing and a damp or greasy thumb. He reads the chapter carefully and then sets the book aside, lest he be tempted to hit himself over the head with it.

Because it was all right there.

Sherlock had trusted him with the secret, even as he proceeded to break John's heart. Sherlock hated magic, but he'd proclaimed his deductions to be just a trick. He knew, he bloody knew that John wouldn't believe him. John had told him that already. So why make his confession to John, of all the people he could have called. Surely not because John had been there. Sherlock wasn't a man to cater to convenience.

And then he'd laid everything out, obvious to anyone who was listening to his words, and not just hearing them. He'd told John what he was doing, where to stand, where to look as he'd jumped off a building.

Sherlock was blunt, yes, and not prone to mincing words or hiding the truth, but John had never known him to be deliberately cruel without a reason.

Which only left one option. That damned call was a note, alright, but not a suicide note. In typical Sherlock fashion, it was his way of saying that everything was alright. Or at least, it would be, eventually.

Giddy with relief in the wake of his deduction, John ventures out for a long walk, looking for signs of Sherlock's presence in the city. Day after day, he looks, he observes everything around him, but what had started as a hope-filled game dims exponentially each day that passes without a sign. After the third time John stops a stranger in the street because he's tall and slender, or because he's got an upturned collar and high cheekbones, he stops searching.

He donates the book to a nearby charity shop.

***

Six months after the funeral he goes to have tea with Mrs. Hudson. They visit the grave together and John can't resist one last plea, hoping that Sherlock will somehow hear it.

"There’s just one more thing, okay, one more thing: one more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don’t be dead."

The cold of the stone overwhelms him when he touches it, and he can't help but cry, for the lost hope as much as his lost friend.

"Would you do? Just for me, just stop it. Stop this."

When there's nothing more to say, he dries his eyes and goes back to the car where Mrs. Hudson is waiting for him.

He's out of options.

He will always believe in Sherlock, but he has less faith in himself. And so, for the first time in his life, John lets himself believe in magic.