“Just, you know, if you need anything or… well, if there’s anything I can do…” Lestrade reached across the table, nearly knocking over his half-full pint, and clapped John briskly on the shoulder.
John nodded, his mouth a grim line, his face ashen.
Three days since… it.
Felt like three minutes. And three centuries.
Was he even on the same planet as before? Did it even bloody matter?
He downed the last of his -third? fourth?- scotch, and he drew in a hiss of breath through his teeth.
The buzz of a mobile broke the silence. Lestrade fished it out of his pocket and looked at it with a pained expression he didn’t think to hide until it was too late.
“Right. Sorry; I need to get back. Can I give you a lift back to your…place?”
I don’t have a place. Not anymore. And I don’t care, either. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
“No, thanks. I’m fine. Mike’s meeting me here in a bit.”
“Okay, then. Just…look after yourself, all right? I’ll be in touch.”
Say something nicer, dammit.
Another sharp, blinding pain through his heart.
Those last words… Christ was it going to hurt like this every time someone said it?
He nodded again and forced a hollow smile.
Greg took his coat, nodded back, and headed out the door.
John looked down at his glass.
Like me. Like everything.
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
A few seconds later, when he opened them again, he saw that a beautiful woman was sitting opposite him. She pushed a full glass in front of him and raised her own.
“This round’s on me.” She had a gorgeous smile, amazing light-blonde, curly hair, and sparkling, dancing eyes. But there was pain in those eyes, too. And not just pain: loss. Loss almost as great as… It made John gasp. Then he swallowed, recovered himself, and raised the glass he’d been given. “Thank you.”
“Absent friends,” the woman offered as a toast.
“Yeah,” John whispered.
Both of them drank down about half a glass in one go, and the woman didn’t even flinch.
She merely swallowed and smiled again. ”I’m Dr. Song,” she said, reaching out and stroking the knuckles of John’s hand with an elegant finger. “But please do call me River. You don’t mind if I call you John?”
It actually didn’t sound that much like a question, but all right. Something about her made him feel they’d met before, but he’d have remembered her, surely. His eyes scanned down the front of her low-cut navy-blue dress, took in the curve of her waist, then traveled back up to that delicious-looking mouth. Oh, God, yes; he’d have remembered her.
“Have we met before? Were you one of…” He cleared his throat. Too early. Too early to utter that name unless it was medically or legally necessary. “One of his clients?”
Probably the second-most seductive smile John had ever seen crept across those red lips. ”A friend of a friend, really. Friend of several friends.” She unwrapped John’s fingers from around his glass and took his hand in hers. “Now. Why don’t you tell me how you’re really doing, hmm? We can go somewhere just the two of us, and you can talk.”
After fighting down the tightness and pain in his throat, John managed to let out a small huff.
“Are you here to console the widow? Is that it?” He tried to pull his hand away but he found that her grip was much stronger than he expected…and his willingness to let go of her was much, much weaker.
“You need to let some of it out, John. And you need to do that with someone who understands how you feel right now.”
Tears began to well up in John’s eyes. “Nobody…NOBODY…. on this Earth…understands how I feel right now.”
His voice was shaky but defiant, and he hoped she could see the outrage in his eyes, not just the pain.
River leaned closer and put her other hand on the side of John’s face. ”You. Are. Wrong.”
She stood up, pulled John close, and kissed him gently on the mouth. John’s hands instinctively wrapped around her waist, as if he’d done this… exactly this, with this particular woman… many times before.
“Surely, now that everyone has seen us, you wouldn’t do me the dishonour of letting me leave alone?” River whispered into his ear. “I have my reputation to consider, John Watson. And you have yours. We mustn’t disappoint.”
John felt the corner of his mouth lift in a smirk.
How was this possible?
“Who the HELL are you, really?” He asked, awestruck.
“Shhh, Sweetie.” she replied. “Spoilers.”
As they walked back to River's posh hotel, both of them noticed a flash of heat lighting racing from one cloud to another in the darkening sky.
River looked up, smiled for a moment at the brief spectacle, and then allowed her smile to turn impossibly sad. John didn't understand what was happening.
But he didn't understand anything that had happened, really, in the past few days. Most likely he never would.
It doesn't matter. Nothing matters anymore. It's over. All of it.
What am I even doing?
River took his arm and wrapped it tightly around her waist. John automatically pulled her close.
"How's the shoulder these days? Better or worse?"
"Umm...the same? Sorry, how do you know..." He stopped and looked up and down the street. His mind whirled, angry and hurt. "Am I going to see a big, black car pull up?" One of his hands balled into a fist. "Because if this is Mycroft's bloody idea of an intervention, I swear to you, I don't care if I he's the fucking British Government or the entire European Union...So help me.."
His pulse was racing; he was trembling with rage. And what was worse, tears were threatening at the corners of his eyes again. He was not.. NOT.. going to weep. Not here, not right now.
River put a hand on his chest, over his heart. "Calm down, John. This is nothing to do with Mycroft, I promise. John, look at me."
Short, quick breaths stirred the curls at River's temple as John turned to face her fully. He could feel the veins in his forehead and neck standing out.
"Just hold on, John. We're nearly there, now. Trust me."
"Why?" John snapped. "Why the hell am I here? Why should I trust you? Listen, this was... a mistake. I can't do this. I'm flattered, but this.."
"..isn't me.... wait... Stop it. You don't..
"...know the first thing about you? About what you've just been through?"
"...know the first...." John bit off the rest of the sentence, stared, closed his mouth, and swallowed hard.
"I know that the best man you ever knew has died. And people are calling him some kind of monster. And you feel cheated, angry, empty, confused. You're not even sure what to believe anymore, because your whole life for the past few years might have been a lie." River leaned closer, "only you know it wasn't one. So you feel you have to keep going, no matter how much you want to stop, because you can't let that good man's memory be destroyed."
River's fingers brushed softly through John's short, sandy hair. "You see, that's MY story as well. And that's why we need each other right now."
"But I don't..." John could only breathe out the words, "I don't know who you are."
"You do, John. You just don't remember, and that's fine. Someday, you will. For now, for tonight, think of me as another version of you. Are you able to do that for me?"
Slowly, John nodded his assent.
The beautful smile came back to River's lips; it even traveled as far as her eyes this time. She took his hand and squeezed it tightly.
"Good. Come along, John."
With a sharp turn and two quick, long strides, she managed to pull John off-balance before he caught up.
The hotel room was so luxurious, John had to ask himself again if Mycroft might not be behind this mysterious woman's appearance. Who else could afford this (aside from someone internationally famous or incredibly powerful)?
River took off her earrings and laid them down on a marble-topped table next to the plush white sofa. "Amazing what Atraxi gold sells for in today's market. These accomodations are practically a steal. Oh, I ordered Pad Thai for you, and hot tea. Or are you sticking with Scotch for the night?"
"Tea is fine, thanks. And when, exactly did you order it? Because you haven't been on the phone or spoken to anyone since we left the pub." If this really WAS Mycroft, there would be more than Hell to pay. In fact, John would make sure Hell would seem like a pleasant diversion when he finished.
"When did I order it? Let me think, now..." River kicked off her shoes and dropped onto the sofa, tucking her knees up underneath her. "Strictly speaking, mind you, I suppose I ordered it something like three years and two months ago. But in my experience of it, it was twenty minutes before I joined you at your table."
"Ah." John raised his eyebrows and grinned.
"You have absolutely no idea what I mean by that," River laughed.
"I have absolutely no BLOODY idea what you mean by that, no," John chuckled.
How on Earth did I just chuckle? After everything-
He closed his eyes for a moment, folded his arms across his chest, tried not to think.
"Come here, John. Sit down beside me."
John strode over and sat down quite close to River. With a confident, practiced ease, he placed the arm nearest her along the back of the sofa. His eyes searched hers, but he couldn't say exactly what he found there, or why he felt he'd seen it before, dozens of times, here with this woman.
"You are one of the bravest and most loyal men I've ever met, John. It's why I come back to you when I worry I won't be able to do what must be done." River unbuttoned John's checked shirt and slid her fingers along his throat and neck. Her thumb stroked the hollow at the base of his throat. "I look to your strength, and it gives me courage." She placed a kiss just below John's ear, and he could sense her smiling against his skin when he shivered.
He reached out and wound his fingers through her gorgeous blonde curls. "I wish I had the slightest idea what is going on right now," he murmured.
River smiled and leaned in closer. "No you don't."
John smiled back. "No, you're right. I don't."
Without thinking, he pulled her toward him and lost himself in her kiss.
What John Watson's mind couldn't understand, couldn't fit into his idea of reality, John Watson's body had no problem accepting. More than accepting, really. One of his hands twisted in the blonde curls, the other hand swept down the curve of River's waist, rested on the small of her back.
And their kissing - it was unlike any "first kiss" he'd had with a woman (or a man). Instead of awkwardness, there was familiarity, ease. His mind was reeling from the excitement of discovery, but his mouth was meeting hers perfectly, with almost military precision. How in the hell?
"Sense memory," River laughed as she broke the kiss. She followed the curve of his eyebrow with one finger, then trailed it down to his cheek, across his lower lip, down his chin and to his neck. "Your body remembers, even if your mind can't. An automatic physical reaction."
John traced slow circles on the small of her back. "Like riding a bicycle?" he grinned.
"Oh, Sweetie, I'm nothing like a bicycle." River pushed John backward down onto the sofa and stretched her lovely form over him. Winking, she took the hand at the small of her back, and she moved it lower onto the swell of her gorgeous arse. It made John moan appreciatively into her kiss as he squeezed and stroked and pulled her tightly against him. Every small movement of her hips elicited a perfect, matching movement in John's. It was almost like it had been with...
John pulled his face back and exhaled, shutting his eyes tightly to stop the threatening tears. "God. Sorry. I'm sorry. Jesus..."
With the tenderness and compassion of a long-time lover, River kissed John's eyes before settling her head and her body next to his. "Don't be sorry, John. Never be sorry for loving him. Or for missing him. That's why I'm here; you need to let yourself feel this pain, and you need to let yourself know it's not a crime to still be alive." She stroked the greying hair near his temple. "It's also not a crime to enjoy this life. He wouldn't want you to spend the rest of it alone and in pain."
"Really?" John huffed out a wry laugh. "And who told you that?"
River pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down into John's pained eyes. "You did, my friend. Once when I needed to hear it most."
"I really, really don't understand how..." John's words were cut off as River captured his mouth again in a slow, sweet kiss.
Most of the pain ebbed away, and in its place John felt...reassurance. Safety. Hope.
He wrapped both arms around her and pulled her tighter, tight enough to hear her ribs squeak, before he loosened his grip to kiss her neck, her collarbones, the swell of her breasts just above her low neckline. Even her taste was comforting yet exciting.
Slowly, they undressed each other, kissing and nipping each newly-bared area of flesh. Oh, yes, John knew (must have remembered) River would use her teeth, but only just enough, only enough to make him remember that this was life, full of pleasure and pain together.
River stood up, gloriously naked, and offered John her hand. "I think we should move to the bed, now, John. They'll be up with your dinner any moment, and I'd really rather not share you with the room service staff... at least for tonight." She helped him up and took his earlobe between her teeth before walking backward a few steps toward the adjoining room of the suite.
John closed the gap between them and kissed her before letting her turn him around and ease him out of his remaining clothes and onto the bed. As she climbed up above him, he couldn't help but smile. He had no idea what was happening, and he truly did not care.
"Will I remember this? Tomorrow, I mean. You said my body remembers..." he drew in a sharp moaning breath as River moved her hips and positioned herself perfectly on top of him, "....But my mind... my mind forgets?" Christ... who could forget this?
"Yes, my dear. I'm sorry, but by tomorrow morning you will have forgotten this night."
"In that case, Doctor Song," John held tight to her hips and expertly flipped them both over, kissing her neck as he did so. He grinned at the peal of laughter it caused. "I should do my best to be sure that YOU remember it for me."
"You should try to eat something, John," River said softly.
John raised one eyebrow.
"I mean something else. Your dinner will be getting cold out there, and you need your strength."
John rolled onto his side and brushed a few blonde curls from River's face. "D'you think the room service staff is still out there? Unconscious, I mean. From shock." He kissed her forehead and smiled. "Because you were a bit loud...."
"Oh, I'm quite the screamer, I'll admit. But I wasn't the only one who was loud, was I?"
"No," John laughed. "No, you weren't. I'll, um.. I'll just go check, shall I? Won't be a minute."
"Mmmm...take as long as you like, darling." The muscles and soft curves of River's body undulated beautifully as she stretched. It made John think twice about leaving the bed at all, Pad Thai be damned.
"In fact," she continued, "I think I'll draw us a nice bath. You won't believe the size of that tub. Not that you'll have much time to consider it after you join me." She winked, pulled on a plush, terrycloth robe, and started toward the en suite bathroom.
John reached out and took her hand. "I......Well, I just..." He stopped and let go again, unsure of what it was he'd meant to say.
Beautiful, slender fingers buried themselves in his short hair. "I know." River bent down and kissed his forehead. "Now, Go. Eat. We still have time."
Lucky for John, the covered dishes had kept the Pad Thai reasonably warm, and the only indication that the room service staff had heard the … activites… in the adjoining room was a napkin with a lipstick kiss and a phone number scribbled beneath it.
“Wonder which of us this is meant for?” John muttered, then he set it aside.
One dinner. One place setting. Guess I’d better get used to this again.
Sadness flooded over him; he rested his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands.
It was several minutes before his the tightness in his throat eased enough to let him swallow his food.
Three hours, one luxurious bath, and six chocolate-dipped strawberries (and a few other chocolate-dipped…items…) later, John and River held each other tightly in the deep, warm bed.
“Are you going to tell me why?” John asked softly.
“I always do, John. Well, more or less.” She answered, smiling.
“Then… why?” he felt the tightness creep into his throat again, and the tears beginning to fight their way out, despite his struggle to keep them hidden. He raised himself just enough to drink the half-glass of water on the bedside table, then he relaxed back into River’s arms once again.
River sighed, and traced gentle patterns on John’s chest and along his scar. “Why do I visit you? I told you that I need your strength, John. But I also need to share mine with you. This is one of the most difficult times for you, but you need to be strong, my friend. And even if you forget them, these moments of comfort rebuild your strength. Your mental and emotional strength, at least; you’ll probably be sore tomorrow, and you’ll have no idea why.” She kissed his nipple.
“Why do I forget? I can’t …. I can’t believe I’m accepting the idea that we’ve met before. Maybe I’m legitimately insane right now. Which would make a bit more sense, actually.”
“You forget, John, because I make you forget. It’s a drug, called RetCon. My good man, The Doctor, is a friend of Sherlock’s. He’s your friend, too, later on. As I am. He has access to science and technology beyond the reach of most people.”
“What, even Mycroft?”
“Even Mycroft. And don’t think Mycroft doesn’t hate it. They do argue so over their toys, those men. The drug is harmless, tasteless, untraceable, causes minimal side-effects. In the morning, you’ll wake up in that horrid bedsit, alone, and you won’t even have memories of your dreams. I know… it sounds awful, it does, my darling, but it is the only way to protect you.”
John shifted so that he could look into her eyes. “Protect me from what? What could be worse than…. Than what I’ve just gone through? Do you think I really care that much about my safety, or my…” John clamped his mouth tightly, fought back a sob, “my life?” he added, his voice hoarse with emotion.
The sadness and pain in River’s face mirrored John’s almost exactly, so much so that he felt the need to reach out and stroke her cheek, despite his hurt and confusion.
He was almost too tired to do it, however.
“Your safety, and your life, are the most important things to him right now. And I’m sorry; I really am. It isn’t fair to you, but this is his choice, and he made us swear to abide by it.”
John felt a bit dizzy. “Whose choice? Your Doctor bloke? Why would he….”
River stroked John’s forehead. “No, my dear friend. Not The Doctor. It’s Sherlock I mean. He’s still alive, John.”
Everything in the room started to grow blurry. John desperately wanted to leap from the bed, shake this woman if he had to, only make her tell him she wasn’t lying. Make her tell him where Sherlock was. Right. Fucking. Now.
God. God! Why can’t I move. Christ! No!… I need to go… I need to see him… I need..
“Shhh, now. I know. I know, my darling. This is the worst part. But it is also part of what will keep you alive. Even in the darkest moments, when you think you will give in and let go of this life, your heart will remind you that he is out there. That he loves you, and he’s coming back to you. He IS coming back, John. It will be a few years, but he WILL come back.”
John couldn’t stop the tears, now. He didn’t have the strength. He was so sleepy… so sleepy…
“I put the RetCon in your glass while you were eating dinner. Only a few more seconds.” She kissed him, tenderly, and he felt her tears falling against his face, mingling with his own.
“Sleep, John. You need to sleep. Let your heart remember: he loves you. He will come back to you, because he loves you.”
John’s eyes fluttered closed. He wasn’t sure where he was… whose warm body was next to his… the last thing he heard was a strangely familiar female voice.
“And I love you, too, my friend.”
The sounds of traffic filtered in to John’s unconscious mind, and he slowly opened his eyes.
He’d only been in this drab little bedsit for three…was it four?...days, now. Waking up was always a bit of a shock.
But he needed it, because it prepared him a bit for the bigger shock that followed.
Sherlock is gone. He’s dead.
Pain flowed into his heart and through his blood stream, out to his extremities, and back again, bringing more sadness, more distress along with it.
He got up to make tea. Strange he bothered with it, really, but it was the one thing he’d managed to do each day since….
Each day since… that day.
Christ, I feel beaten up. How drunk did I get yesterday?
How the hell did I get home?
He was still wearing his clothes, a bit rumpled, now. He stumbled toward the mirror over the sink in what passed for a bathroom.
Were those… were those love-bites on his neck?
What in God’s name…
He reached into the pocket of his jeans, and found a slighty-crumpled napkin. There was a lipstick kiss on it, and a phone number (the last three digits were faded out thanks to a spill of some sort (he sniffed it: scotch) that had bled onto the edge.
Below the number was a message:
Lovely time talking to you at the pub. Lovlier time kissing out back.
Shame the scotch got to you before I could.
One of my mates found out your address and helped me get you back home.
If you ever fancy a proper date, please do call me sometime, Sweetie!