Mycroft keeps calling John once a week, saying that he should get out of the flat and that if he doesn’t, Mycroft will have to resort to a more direct form of kidnapping than previously.
John tells him to send the MI6 and hangs up on him.
John thinks that if he sits very still in his chair, eyes trained on whatever happens to occupy the television screen at the moment, he can imagine Sherlock lying on the sofa just out of his peripheral vision, breathing quietly with his eyes closed and his pale hands pressed together under his chin. Like nothing is wrong.
He refuses to turn his head to actually look and stares at the screen until his eyes water.
Some of the excess spills over, but John doesn’t make a sound.
It’s been four weeks since Sherlock's suicide.
The whole idea is so ridiculous that it makes John want to punch walls. In the short time that he has known Sherlock they have both been shot at, stabbed, poisoned and nearly blown up, but in the end the thing that kills Sherlock Holmes is some diabolical plan of Moriarty's that kills them both.
John recalls Sherlock's voice on the phone, teary and near desperate when he tries to convince John that everything has been nothing but a lie, a magic trick – a thing John never believes. He saw how Sherlock fell, the long coat flapping behind him like wings, and he saw dark blood spread on the concrete, but he doesn't believe Sherlock was a fraud.
It may not be the healthiest thing to do – both Ella and his rational side, the traitor, tell him that a great man died that day – but it is all he has. The only way he can stand the sight of the skull on the mantel, the chemistry equipment in the kitchen, is to constantly tells himself that Sherlock must have found a way out of the situation, that he cannot actually be dead; if anyone could be that clever—
It has been four weeks and two days since the incident when John’s phone beeps on the bedside table. He sighs and summons the energy to reach for it, thinking that if the text is another one of Harry’s thinly veiled attempts to get them to meet, he’ll change his number. It’s not like many people want to contact him these days.
Some fresh air
wouldn’t go amiss.
John stares at the glowing screen. He’s sure that his eyes are wide as saucers when he turns the phone away from himself and then back, blinks rapidly and squeezes his eyes shut. The text doesn’t go anywhere.
“What the hell?” he whispers, clenching the phone so tightly his knuckles turn white.
The second text arrives a few days later, just as John is about to step into the shower to wash his hair for the first time in entirely too long.
Go eat something next,
you’ve lost at least
John spins around stupidly, expecting to find another hidden camera – he knows that he won’t see Sherlock, he won’t, the man is gone – or something, anything to indicate where the texts are coming from. He doesn’t fear that it’s Moriarty but he recalls the sight of Sherlock ending the call and tossing his phone to the side.
If it's one of the police messing with him, having a laugh at the dead fraud's expense, John is going to fucking murder them.
The living room looks the way it always has; messy, littered with both his and Sherlock’s belongings since he hasn’t had the heart to throw out anything else but the experiments well past their best before date. There is no one there, and John turns his attention back to the text.
He recognises the terse tone and Sherlock’s way of signing his messages even though John told him at least a dozen times that he had Sherlock’s number saved. Sherlock merely looked at his friend like he’d failed to grasp the obvious yet again and said, “That way you’ll know if I’m in trouble. Anyone who doesn’t know I do that will not bother with signing the texts.”
Anyone who doesn’t know... John stares at his phone, the shower forgotten.
“Is this your idea of a joke?” John hisses at the man, eyes dark with anger as he thrusts the phone in his direction. “Or, God help me, are you trying to make it easier for me? Is that it? Because I need you to stop, right now. It’s not helping, it’s cruel.”
He almost buys the puzzled expression.
“Doctor Watson, I have no idea what you are talking about.” Mycroft clasps his hands on top of his umbrella and tilts his head curiously. “Not going round the bend, are we? I told you that getting out of the flat might do you some good.”
“No,” John shakes his head, “not that, this!” When his phone goes again in his pocket, he nearly throws the thing at Mycroft who swiftly snags it from him and turns only mildly interested eyes to the screen.
How’s the diet?
The umbrella clatters onto the marble floor, the harsh sound echoing in the empty lobby.
“This is...” Mycroft clears his throat and glares. “What are you playing at, Doctor?” His voice is ice cold, steely, and John has no trouble believing what Sherlock once said - The most dangerous man you’ve ever met, John - because Mycroft looks much too calm for someone who has just been presented with a recent text message from his dead little brother. “What are you trying to gain?”
“I’m not trying to gain anything,” he protests, hoarse; it feels like there is not enough oxygen in the air. “I haven’t written those messages. I don’t even know where Sherlock’s phone is, I thought it was bagged as evidence after he...” He can’t make himself say it.
Mycroft studies him, measures him for long seconds until he replies, “It was.” He glances at the screen again and his expression turns almost fond although the small smile playing on his lips is sad. “When Sherlock was young he had trouble pronouncing my name, so he shortened it to Mykie.” Mycroft clears his throat and John tactfully looks away for a second. “Mummy didn’t approve, of course. It was a very short-lived habit.”
“Of course,” John repeats.
Mycroft hands him back his phone. “I will find them, whoever it is that is doing this,” he promises solemnly. “Meanwhile, I assure you that it will be for the best if you ignore the messages.”
“Yes,” John says, the phone a heavy weight in his hand. “Yes, of course.”
He sees from the pitying expression in Mycroft’s eyes that he’s not fooling anyone.
The texts continue coming at an increasing rate. First there’s at least three days between them, then only one, then when it’s three months after Sherlock’s death he gets two or three a day. John gets used to waking up to a message waiting for him and having at least one accompany him to dinner.
He tries numerous times but he can't make himself delete them. They sit there in his inbox and on the nights when he misses Sherlock, he reads them again and again.
They are always short and sharply worded. It’s much the same as if Sherlock was there to comment on everything John does and sees. “Your sweater is under the sofa” and “Lestrade hasn’t been home for three days, see how wrinkled his shirt is” and “The carnivorous plant in my room needs watering” and “Your date has a boyfriend, observe her necklace”, even “Buy more milk”, and finally,
I miss you.
John doesn’t know what to think. So far he has come up with two different conclusions; either someone has got their hands on Sherlock’s phone after all, or they’ve hacked the system somehow to make it look like the texts are coming from Sherlock’s old number.
Those are the more likely options, the ones that don’t make sense but are at least possible.
The unlikely, fantastical option is that John has gone bonkers but that one doesn’t hold since Mycroft has seen the texts, too. Yet they keep coming, and when they are occasionally peppered with observations on things John does in the privacy of his own bedroom (“Your leg will begin to hurt in 2.45 minutes. SH”), he starts to think that he really has gone bonkers because it seems more likely every day that Sherlock is actually haunting his mobile phone.
It is such a ridiculous idea.
John is all too ready to buy it because the alternative hurts too much.
It takes John a while to realise that the messages aren’t solely a good thing.
On some days he forgets Sherlock is dead, and only remembers it when he opens the door to 221B and the long woollen coat isn’t on the coat rack. The absence of it hurts, fills his stomach with lead that won’t disappear for days.
It’s so easy to forget how empty and quiet their flat has become, to imagine that Sherlock has merely gone away for a while. John doesn’t need to be a doctor to know that this isn’t exactly healthy behaviour but he’s…
Grieving, he thinks, is the correct word.
Mycroft doesn’t come up with anything useful despite the apparent time and the effort he puts into the investigation. The men he employs claim that the signal is either coming from nowhere, or bouncing around; it appears to depend on the weekday and in which phase the moon is currently.
The elder Holmes is visibly frustrated the one time John meets him, and the meeting doesn’t end particularly well. John fumes as he walks all the way back to Baker Street, having refused Mycroft’s cool offer for a ride, and the sound of a text message coming in just as he’s about to open the front door is more than a little welcome.
He always hated it
when I beat him.
He finds himself smiling at the text, and for a moment it feels like he can’t breathe.
It’s a quiet night at Baker Street, a quiet night in London; the rain has coerced everyone to stay inside. John is sitting in his chair - he can’t, he can’t sit on the sofa - watching the telly, a carton of half-eaten Chinese cooling on the coffee table, when his phone rings.
He slowly turns his head to look at it. The screen flashes pale blue and the vibrations make the phone turn slowly on the table. It’s too late for Mycroft to make his weekly call, but not late enough for Harry to call, dead drunk, to tell him that she loves her brother very, very much.
John stands up, goes over to the table and freezes. He doesn’t have to bend down to be able to make out the caller’s name. The telly is still on but suddenly its sound is somehow muted, drowned out by the sound of John’s own heartbeat in his ears.
With a perfectly steady hand, he reaches for the phone.
The voice on the other end of the line is wonderfully, terrifyingly familiar. “John! I was hoping you’d pick up.” Sherlock sounds out of breath, like he has been running. “Are you alright?”
John feels faint, has to sit back down. “You’re dead,” he cuts off Sherlock and automatically expects a mild insult and a roll of eyes in reply to stating the obvious, even though he can’t see the man.
Instead Sherlock hesitates. “I—Yes, of course. Yes. I suppose I am.” There’s silence for a while. “You’re not, though.”
“No,” John closes his eyes and chokes back a sob, his eyes burning, “no, Sherlock, I’m fine. It’s—”
“—All fine,” Sherlock finishes for him, and he can hear the faint amusement in the younger man’s voice. “Yes, I thought as much. Please make sure you stay that way.”
John keeps his eyes closed, pretends that Sherlock is just out of reach; in his own room, at the Chinese restaurant, at the morgue. “Why?” he whispers. “Why the texts? Why did you send them? Why couldn’t you just—” Why couldn’t you just do whatever the hell you are doing, why did you have to make me remember, why does it hurt so goddamn much?
“I couldn’t...” He can hear Sherlock swallow, imagines the uneasy shuffle he does when embarrassed or nervous.
The silence lasts for ten seconds and then it is as if a floodgate has been opened. Sherlock sounds frustrated like he does when Lestrade has restricted his access to evidence or one of his experiments isn’t going as planned.
“I couldn’t leave you like that,” he rushes out. “I thought it would—but I’ve seen, and I never thought it would...”
John fancies he can literally hear Sherlock’s words catch in his throat. “And?” he asks, numb.
“And... you.” The word is pitiably quiet and broken. “John, I—If I’d known, I wouldn’t have... left you behind like that.” Sherlock swallows audibly, and there is a disturbance on the line, some kind of a static sound. “I assure you, if I’d known that I would die within the week, I would have let you know, made arrangements to ensure that you can stay at Baker Street.”
The choked sound John makes might have been a laugh in some other life. “I’m sure you would have,” because that is so Sherlock. The man probably would have picked out his own coffin, given the chance, to be efficient and to make sure it was to his liking.
“John, I don’t—I’m reasonably sure that it won’t be too long now. Are you…”
It’s unnerving to hear Sherlock hesitate so much. John wishes he was back to usual, almost reading John’s mind and always three steps ahead in every direction. “I’m okay,” he hears himself saying.
“Liar.” A smile, a real smile, is audible in Sherlock’s voice. “You never could lie to me, did you know that? You make the classic eye movements and clear your throat when you’re lying, and your voice—“
“Sherlock,” John cuts him off. “Why are you calling me?”
This time, the silence lasts for so long that John checks if the call has ended.
“I wanted to make sure that you’re all right,” Sherlock confesses eventually. “John, I honestly hadn’t intended to die like that.”
“I know,” John says and presses his head into the cushions of the chair, squeezes his eyes closed and feels his throat burn. “I know,” he sighs, trying to decide whether he should tell Ella about this. She will think he's finally lost it but he needs to talk to someone.
Sherlock makes a low sound, like he's in pain. “John, I have to go. I... take care, alright? You deserve better.” There is another crackle of static, the hum of silence, and the line goes dead.
John stares at the phone for a long time before shouting and flinging it at the wall. The cover breaks off and the battery disappears under the sofa, but John can’t see this because he’s hidden his face in his hands.
The irony of the situation doesn’t escape him. His friend, his dead friend calls him on the phone to see if he is all right, and yet John still fails to say goodbye.
He gets the feeling he won’t be given another chance.
Mrs Hudson gives him a concerned look when they run into each other in the hallway the next morning.
“You should eat, darling,” she says. “God knows I didn’t grieve my husband passing away, but—”
“He wasn’t my husband!” John snaps and instantly regrets it when Mrs Hudson’s gentle eyes tear up and turn away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. I’m sorry.” He expects a sharp retort, knows he deserves one, but she approaches him instead, slowly puts her arms around him in a comforting embrace.
“But you see, my dear,” she corrects him quietly, “I rather think he was.”
There are no more texts after that.
One day, John stops waiting for another text, another call. He buys a new mobile phone and makes a trip to Brighton to throw the old one into the sea.
He doesn’t regret it.
(Half a year later, Sherlock sneaks in a hug before John can gather his wits enough to punch him. Neither of them lets go.)