Actions

Work Header

Life's Opportunities Misused

Work Text:

John watched from the safety of the shadowed windows as Sherlock’s shoulders slumped. For the umpteenth and hopefully final time, he watched the detective turn away from John’s door.

A small part of John, the part that quietly longed for the comfort of his friend, the man he lo…no. He was done with that. But that repressed corner of his mind still noted Sherlock’s increasingly haggard and unhealthy appearance. The other man’s desperate attempts at mending the rift John was determined to enforce were painful in their sheer emotive strength. Sherlock’s famed disdain of caring was nowhere in sight.

You know damn well it never existed, especially with you, love.

Mary’s voice whispered teasingly against his ear, bringing all his rage, guilt, and self-hatred boiling back to the surface.

No. What Sherlock did to himself was not any of John’s business. He was the reason John was a widower, a single father. He’d broken his vow to keep the Watsons safe. John was done.

If only John could have understood that forces were at work and were most definitely not done with him.

As he trudged wearily back for a final check on Rosie before he succumbed to his usual fitful sleep on the sofa, he was completely unaware of the presence that watched him closely.

Once John was safely asleep, or as unconscious as he got these days, that presence swirled into a form that until recently, had called that same place home. Mary, or what used to be a corporeal being known as Mary Watson, grimaced at the state of her husband.

And the bloody house.

Her irritation rose as she glanced around at the dirty dishes, spare baby paraphernalia, and critical paperwork scattered around her previously tidy and cozy living room. But what really fed her ire was the sight of the uncapped and half empty bottle of rotgut sitting in plain sight next to one of her daughter’s favourite toys.

How dare John let his life slip this badly! It was a life she’d lied and fought for, and here he was, practically letting it slip through his fingers. Not to mention subjecting their precious Rosamund to an increasingly distant father and unhealthy living conditions.

She’d known he’d take her death hard, but he had Sherlock, for God’s sake! The man who would willingly cut open a vein, if only John asked. How could John be such a pig-headed SOB to not only wallow in his suffering, but to push Sherlock off the precarious ledge he trod daily.

They’d had more than one conversation about the necessity of John to Sherlock and vice versa, for fuck’s sake.

This was inexcusable.

Oh, she knew a large part of John’s reaction was his guilt over that little text-friend of his. Of course she knew about it. She had been a highly competent agent for the majority of her life, after all; noticing John’s increased attachment to his phone and his slight change in pattern was hardly rocket science.

It hadn’t even really bothered her, to be honest. Okay, so she had gotten a little of her own back with her dying words, but that was really more a poke than anything. She hadn’t even stretched the truth, just…worded things a bit more dramatically than was her wont.

If she’d known John would take it to heart and throw two, no three, lives into complete chaos, well, she probably would have done the same thing, but at least made sure to push him back to Sherlock’s protective arms.

And that was part of the reason her husband’s little flirtation hadn’t had much of an impact. John was rabidly loyal, so their marriage vows and his silent acknowledgement of Sherlock’s vow at the wedding had probably jumpstarted his guilt even before she died.

He also had just as much of a problem with trust as Mary or Sherlock, possibly even more because he lacked trust in himself. Mary always acted with full confidence in her own choices, to say nothing of Sherlock, but John couldn’t bring himself to ever throw himself into something whole-heartedly without waffling and trying every possible path. His partnership with Sherlock notwithstanding, that is.

His unhappiness with her after her little peccadillo in shooting Sherlock had only exacerbated his underlying fear of his feelings about Sherlock’s ‘death’ and return. It wasn’t a stretch for him to look outside their increasingly domestic life for some form of excitement, even or especially after resuming a regular diet of Sherlock’s cases. She grinned a little to herself at the thought of his determined denial. Or was it really denial if he was fully aware of his feelings, but pushed them aside for some unholy reason?

Of course, she was the direct beneficiary of that denial or repression or what-have-you, and she had no complaints on that score. John did love her; she had no doubt of that. And the Watson-Holmes family would have settled down eventually into easy comradeship, no matter how the final chips fell. So really, John might have thought he needed an outside shoulder to lean on, but nothing serious would have ever come of it.

All that aside, John needed a serious wake-up call. Or he’d come out of his tantrum cum depression only to find Sherlock dead for real. Mary wrapped her arms around herself, trying to ward off the memories of her recent check-in on Sherlock that threatened to overwhelm her.

Right. She was there for a purpose.

It wasn’t as if everyone got to stick around and haunt their loved ones after death, after all. No, she had cut a deal that would only take effect if she got to work.

Approaching the uneasily resting figure of her husband, Mary stretched out a barely present hand to run down those beloved features.

“Oh, love. This is going to hurt.”

With a twist of reality, Mary pulled several threads of possibility together, weaving a new strand of fate. She was ready to get on with it, but uncharacteristically hesitated at the final moment.

Looking down at John and his unhappy form, she sighed, regretting her softened emotions. She knew she wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t at least give him one more little push. Blasted John Watson and his ability to twist anyone around his finger.

Setting aside her handiwork, she brought both hands up to frame John’s face and concentrated just enough to enter his dream. In a completely unsurprising twist, John was dreaming of his last battle before getting shot and setting off on the course to Sherlock, not to mention Mary.

She looked around, piercing curiosity about this part of John’s life momentarily overriding her sense of duty. The sights and sounds of desperate fighting brought back so many of her own memories that she almost didn’t notice the lone figure darting out from cover to scuttle over to a prone body.

That had to be John.

Sighing again, this time in exasperation at John’s inherent valor and honor, she sauntered over to where John was frantically trying to revive a memory.

“John.”

No response.

“John.”

A little twitch of his head suggested she was getting through to his subconscious.

“John Watson, you look at me right now.”

Ah, that worked. Although, to her chagrin, that had been a bit more of her Mummy voice than her command voice.

Her poor John looked dazedly up at her, bullets still whistling around them.

“Mary?”

“That’s me. Hello, darling.”

“What…but, no, Mary, you can’t be here! You’ll…wait, you’re already…”

“Dead?” she chimed in cheerfully. “Quite dead. But I have a serious bone to pick with you, John Hamish Watson.”

She let him shrug off the pull of more familiar patterns as her words sunk in.

“But, no, I’m dreaming.”

“Yes, love, you’re dreaming. And no, Mycroft has not invented dreamshare technology, nor am I currently faking my death while actually going off on a secret mission to eradicate a deadly criminal.” She paused for a moment. “Actually, Sherlock may have a point about your taste in films, if that’s what your first thought was. Life with Sherlock is more than enough action and psychological thriller.”

John’s face darkened at either the reference to Sherlock’s ‘death’ or her daring to mention his name, something he’d forbidden Molly and Greg from in recent days.

She didn’t let him build up a head of steam, knowing that never led anywhere pleasant. “And where do you get off, blaming Sherlock for the fallout from my own actions?”

John sputtered as he tried to refute the point, but Mary simply talked over him. “No, seriously. I realize you’ve gotten used to Sherlock bloody Holmes and his mystique, but better than anyone, you know exactly how infallible he’s not. How on earth could he have possibly foreseen my jumping in front of a bullet aimed at him, when I didn’t know myself until that nanosecond? Not to mention the last time we had quality time together that included a gun, I was the one putting the bullet in him.”

Ah. That one got him. Mary saw his very obvious tell in his clenching fist. She hoped reminding him about his choosing Sherlock over her for that seemingly interminable stretch would put things back in perspective.

Apparently, it was not.

Mary knew before he opened his mouth what John was going to say. The storm cloud that descended over his features was evidence enough.

“No. Mary, that is quite enough. Sherlock swore to keep you, us, safe. He’d be the first to tell you how he can predict someone’s actions hours in advance, so no, I cannot and will not absolve him of being complicit in your death.”

Damn the man and his stubborn Watson nature.

“All right, John, then how about we talk about the fact that you are completely in pieces and dragging our daughter down with you?” She really was quite incensed about that. Her bargain may have focused on getting John back to Sherlock, but nothing in the fine print said she couldn’t try to fix everything. She always was an over-achiever.

“God, Mary! Of course I’m a mess! You’re dead! You died and left me, and Sherlock’s fault or not, I can’t do this without you.”

She had to clear her throat quietly, a wealth of emotions choking her at John’s touching testimonial to their relationship, possible cheating and Sherlock notwithstanding.

“I know, love, but this isn’t healthy. Molly’s been trying her best and God knows Greg has gone above and beyond. I need you to pull it together, for my sake, and for Rosie’s. You are so strong, John. I know you can do this. You need to let go of the guilt and focus on the happier times.”

She took a swift step forward to embrace her shaking husband, who had gained a horrified look as he realized she knew about his little tart. The alacrity of his arms coming around her threatened to drown her composure.

Mary stole a moment to simply enjoy being held by possibly the best man in her storied life. All too soon, however, she felt a nudge from those forces holding her contract. Time was marching on.

Pulling back, she gripped John’s arms, forcing him to meet her eyes.

“And I know, I know you don’t want to talk about him, but John, Sherlock is falling apart, too. He’s falling and this time there isn’t a hidden cushion to ease his landing. I can’t see how he’ll recover without your support. For pity’s sake, the only reason I’m able to be here is because Some Ineffableness has a bit of a soft spot for you both and wants to give you fair warning of how your behavior is causing problems. Take the opportunity life has handed you and make the most of it. Stop making things worse!”

“Mary, honestly. Christmas is long past now and I’m hardly in need of a ghostly visitation to make me more caring toward my fellow men.”

Mary simply raised an eyebrow, letting him work it through for himself.

A slight reddening of his ears indicated the lightbulb moment. “I’m not convinced you’re actually Mary, rather than my subconscious taking shape just to torture me.”

Oh, spare us the Dickensian parallels, she thought, although that was a handy segue to get the ball rolling.

“Since we’re in a bit of a Dickens mood, I’ll give you a quote. ‘”Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”’ Therefore, husband mine, since you’re ever so fond of mixing plots, if this life displeases you, I’ve been authorized to show you the other option you claim you’d rather have. Believe me, It’s a Wonderful Life has nothing on this one.”

John started to say something, but Mary again overrode it. “So, please, John, just try to learn something. Please?”

She choked back a sob, but let the tears flow, giving John one last minute of honesty in a relationship fraught with untruths. “And know that I have loved, do love, and always will love you. I’ll watch over you and Rosie. Make sure she knows how much Mummy loves her, okay?”

Not wishing to linger anymore, knowing it would only add pain, Mary grabbed that twist of fate she’d woven earlier and wrapped it around John’s subconscious.

As the alternate web took hold and John was thrown into experiencing an alternate path, Mary felt a great lightness as her bargain was fulfilled. She was confident that John and Rosie would be, if not fine, then well-looked after. With a joyous sense of peace overcoming her, she once more returned to that from which all life begins.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The day of the funeral was quite the contrast to the last one. John hazily mused on how seldom the same person could claim two funerals. And how apt it was that even here, Sherlock had to stand out. It was almost enough to bring a slight smile to his face. Almost.

Mary never left his side. From the moment John had rushed in to the aquarium, only to see his beloved friend fall, dead instantly, Mary hadn’t left him alone.

She had continuously tried to talk to him, coax some response out of him, even as he found himself on the ground, clutching Sherlock’s body. It would have been annoying, had he been able to feel anything other than sheer emptiness.

John did manage to pay some attention to this, though, their final parting. Last time, the very sky had wept along with him as he lay, or thought he lay, Sherlock to rest. This time, the sun was shining, the air was calm, numerous birds chirped in the cemetery’s landscaped trees. All in all, it was just the kind of day Sherlock would declare boring and sulk on the sofa.

This time also included more people. Many more people. That too would have irritated John, but he only had a vague sense of discontent. The first time had just been John, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, and some of the homeless network. Mycroft had tried to commandeer the arrangements, but John and his fist had convinced him it wasn’t in his best interest. Greg, likewise, was warned off.

Now, however, there were droves of people, from former clients to devoted blog followers to the expanding group Sherlock Holmes had called friend. His parents, too, were there, looking pale and shrunken and quite exactly like John felt. He couldn’t bring himself to do more than nod, however, definitely not up to apologizing for his wife needing to have Sherlock sacrifice himself to save her life.

John wanted to hate everything and everyone, but he could only stand, Mary at his shoulder, as Sherlock was laid to rest in a hero’s burial.

The following few weeks or so, John wasn’t keeping count, passed in the same numbed haze. Every now and then, something dark and heavy would move through him, usually in Mary’s presence, but John remained unmoved. Mary, he knew, was increasingly irritated with his non-responsiveness, but then, she hadn’t been around for this part last time. No, she’d only come in, riding to the rescue, when the grief was muted and the loneliness run rampant.

John finally came back to himself, losing that shell of muted disinterest, in time to hear Mary mutter something about only having two children to look after instead of three.

The flash of resentment that tore through him was almost welcome after not feeling anything for so long.

“What did you just say.” he demanded.

Mary looked startled at his sudden return to life. Something flashed over her face, too complicated for him to follow, but she gave him a gentle smile. “There you are! I was wondering if I’d have you back again.”

Resentment flared into temper. “Oh, forgive me for not quite being able to get over the fact that my best friend just died, this time for real! And let’s not forget the little fact that he died to save you. No, I’m sorry, I realize I should just be able to soldier on. Good old reliable John Watson. Loses one of the most important people in his life, but what a solid, dependable chap he is to just carry on because his wife is annoyed by his grief!”

John was bellowing by the end, relishing the dark look growing on Mary’s face. They’d rarely had real domestics, each preferring to simply freeze the other out for a bit until they rationally got over the hurt.

But John could never be rational about Sherlock. Never Sherlock.

Mary opened her mouth to say something, probably cutting, but John just stormed out of the house. He wanted with every fibre of his being to go to Baker Street, to wallow in the sights and smells of the place he still called home in his heart. Instead, decided to feed the rage electrifying his veins, he headed to the nearest pub.

He wasn’t much for daytime drinking, fearing the Watson tendency toward alcoholism, but if there was ever a time he needed to get pissed, it was just then. Maybe he could let go all of his swirling guilt and the ache Sherlock’s absence caused. John rubbed his chest, right where Mary had shot Sherlock, trying to soothe the phantom pains. No, a drink or six sounded just about perfect.

And so that became the pattern in the Watsons’ lives for the foreseeable future. John would prickle and bark at anything vaguely irritating, from the decorations in the house to Mary’s overbearing perfume. Mary would shoot zingers back about his lack of usefulness or his complete disinterest in marital relations. Things would escalate until John would storm out to go drink. Increasingly, Mary made small, snide comments about Sherlock, setting off the fireworks that much faster.

On those days, John would drink until he managed to engage someone in a knock-down brawl. The brief catharsis of hitting someone and being hit was relieving, much like he imagined Sherlock had felt when he indulged in drugs. The only problem was that he seemed to keep being thrown out of pubs and was rapidly running out of ones in walking distance.

He and Mary were deteriorating. He knew she was sleeping with someone else. He wasn’t stupid. There was no comfort to be had from her husband to soothe her guilt about letting John’s best friend take the bullet originally meant for her. Months of John as a practical zombie, followed by fighting over every little thing could lead the strongest woman to seek solace elsewhere. He had felt that way himself not that long ago, and that was even when the bloody love of his life had still been alive.

Oh, yes, he could admit now, when it was far too late, because wasn’t that just the Watson way, that he loved Sherlock. Probably had for quite some time before the fall, if he was honest with himself. He’d been a right coward to hide behind his shield of ‘not gay’, sure that the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes would never see dull John Watson as more than an amusing tool or perhaps at most a partner in crime. Then came the fall and his complete shattering. By the time Sherlock came back, miraculously rising from the grave, John had a new, safe, comfortable shield in the form of Mary to hide from any more hurt.

Fat lot of good that did, in the end. John felt as if he was dead alongside Sherlock, only his shell still lingering on in torment.

The fighting, both with Mary and with strangers, became his only outlets for grief, and he began to willingly seek it out. He knew exactly how to spark Mary’s temper and did so eagerly. But never about Rosie. No, his precious Rosamund was the one area silently declared off limits by both combatants. John cared for her during the day, allowing Mary to go to work. Not that they apparently needed it, as mercenary work seemed to pay very well and Mary’s nest egg was easily enough for neither of them to work again. Something that John took ruthless advantage of in his total lack of desire to resume his life. During those short hours with Rosie, however, John felt something other than grief and rage. The lighter emotions were bittersweet. He found himself picturing the life he could have led if he had found the courage.

He’d play with Rosie, but end up talking to Sherlock about how they should introduce her around Bart’s, maybe start teaching her critical words like ‘client’ or ‘experiment’. He’d be so immersed in his imaginary family life with Sherlock and Rosie that Mary sweeping in after work, or increasingly ‘work’, shattered the image abruptly, striking the match to his ever present temper.

The worst finally came when Mycroft’s minions dropped off boxes of Sherlock’s things from Baker Street. The git didn’t even come himself, just sent a note that simply said, “Sherlock wanted you to have these.”

John’s heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest with even a glance at the boxes. He couldn’t bear to have them anywhere near him, but he also couldn’t bear to think of where else they might have gone.

He turned to the bottle, for the first time drinking at home. Rosie was out with Mary, so at least his vow to never drink in front of her could hold true.

He would never know what set him off that final time. Mary had come home, smelling of cologne and beer, with a cheerful smile and Rosie perched in her arms. She may have said something about the boxes, that was the only thing John could think would have had such a strong reaction.

But somehow, he found himself on the business end of Mary’s handgun, Rosie sobbing for dear life, and an ache in his knuckles that probably matched the vicious red mark on Mary’s cheek.

Neither Watson moved for innumerable moments. Mary finally lowered her gun, staring at John with empty eyes.

“I want you out of this house. You have thirty minutes to pack whatever you need and then you will leave this house and this marriage.” Mary’s voice was deadly quiet. Even Rosie had stopped wailing, hiding her face in her mum’s neck.

John muzzily felt the world slipping, losing his last tenuous hold on his past life. He knew better than to offer any excuses and frankly couldn’t find any to offer anyway. He could only watch as Mary, his wife of less than two years, collected her wallet and keys, keeping a wary eye on him, and swept out the door, carrying John’s daughter and his life with her.

He staggered to the bedroom, hauling out his old army duffle that was still packed in preparation for a jaunt with Sherlock. He glanced around, feeling more sober by the minute, and grabbed a few essential and personal items. Dropping them into one of the boxes of Sherlock’s things, he called a taxi.

In the end, he only took his duffle, with its spare clothes and toiletries, and the three small boxes Sherlock had been condensed into.

The dull, dingy walls of the bedsit John found himself in after that last row with Mary never changed, never grew any more interesting, yet John dutifully stared at them for hours at a time. Of course, he wasn’t really seeing the sad taupe walls covered in cracks and peeling paint. No, he was replaying the scores of memories of happier times with Sherlock.

Every now and then, he would move. He ran out of cheap whisky often enough, after all, and that required a trip to the shops. People would determinedly avoid him in his unkempt and often unwashed state, but that suited John just fine. It was faster when people got out of his way.

His daily cycle never changed. He would wake up flailing with a nightmare, sit up staring at either the walls or Rosie’s plush bee which had been a present from Sherlock, lose himself in happier memories or fantasies of a life with his Rosie and his Sherlock, have the inevitable headache kick in, and then drink himself into oblivion only to start all over again.

The only change was the delivery of a small, padded envelope, which occurred some six days after he had moved in.

He glanced at it as it was slid under his door, but couldn’t muster the curiosity to actually walk the three steps to retrieve it.

It sat there, watching his routine and his infrequent comings and goings, for another ten days, before the most vicious nightmare yet woke him. Knowing his usual pattern wouldn’t shake off that one and wishing again that he’d remembered to pack his gun, John resignedly trudged over and picked up the envelope.

It was unremarkable, really, simply addressed to Dr. John H. Watson in an unfamiliar hand. John shrugged to himself and proceeded to open it. He slid the clear jewel case out, noting that there was an unlabeled DVD inside.

Briefly weighing his options, John decided it wasn’t going to cost him anything to watch it. He hunted up his battered laptop from one of his hastily packed boxes and waited for it to boot up.

Swearing to himself when it didn’t, he went rooting for the power cord.

Eventually, he had the computer on and the DVD loaded. He hit play, telling himself he had nothing to lose.

But he was in no way prepared for what played.

“John. If you’re watching this, well, that’s a bit of a cliché, but you know what I mean. I’m sorry. Yes, you heard me. I’m sorry for leaving you again. Know that I tried everything in my power, or even in Mycroft’s power to avoid breaking my vow to you, and to Mary and Rosie.”

John could only watch, stunned and on the precipice of endless grief, as Sherlock’s image swallowed harshly.

“John, I need you to know that it’s no one’s fault. Well, all right, it is someone’s fault if I was shot, or stabbed, or strangled, or locked in a refrigerated lorry handily stripped of all useful objects, or…”

John choked out a laugh as Sherlock continued to enumerate the multiple and increasingly creative ways he may have died that would, in fact, be someone’s fault.

Nowhere on that list, however, was being shot to death in an aquarium by a little old lady secretary after calling her murderous attention off John’s mercenary wife.

“Anyway, the point is, John, that you have a terrible tendency to blame yourself for the situations others get into. While the world would be a much more enjoyable place if I were always to have my blogger at my side, I know that that sadly isn’t feasible. Mary, for one, would have quite a few things to say about that, I’d imagine.”

That one nearly stopped John’s heart. Mary had, in fact, recently had quite a few things to say on the subject of his inescapable grief for Sherlock and how he should have just told him the truth before he ever dragged her through the emotional quagmire of a marriage where only one party was fully invested.

“And if you were with me, God, John, I’m even more sorry. Sorry to have gone like that in front of you. I can only hope it was in the cause of saving your life, because that is the only justifiable manner I can think of for leaving you again.”

Sherlock’s image turned away from the camera then, forcing John to note an increase of tension in his friend’s thin frame.

“John. John Watson. My John. I need you to do one last thing for me. Please. If you could, could you find it within you to forgive the horrible trespass I’m about to lay upon you. My only excuse is that I hadn’t ever wished to burden you with this, yet I feel it imperative that you know, now that I’m no longer there.”

John recognized the sight of Sherlock girding himself for an unpleasant prospect, heretofore reserved for cleaning the kitchen or talking to Mycroft.

“I have to tell you, that you are loved, John Watson. I hardly know when it began; I only recognized it when I was away. I never thought myself capable, nor susceptible, but there was no other explanation for the depths of my longing to have you with me, the feeling that I wasn’t quite whole without you in the thick of things or in the quiet moments between. So, regardless of how that makes you feel, please, just know that you are indispensable to me, that you are quite possibly the only thing in existence I cannot live without, that you are loved.”

Tears streaming down his face, John tried to keep the sobs in, determined to get through the video in one sitting. He was quite certain he’d never be able to watch it again.

“So yes, I, William Sherlock Scott Holmes, do love and will love you, John Hamish Watson. Please do not think poorly of me for it; being part of your life has been the greatest honour I have known. I hope this doesn’t burden you further. I had to take the chance to tell you, now that I don’t have to face your reaction. Cowardly and selfish of me, but now I can rest in peace.” Sherlock glanced down briefly, before looking up with the most open expression John had ever seen on his face. Every thought and feeling was there, making John’s breath catch.

“Take care of yourself, my John. Give my love to Mary and Rosie.”

The bastard ended the video there. It wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.

Finally losing the battle with his sobs, John cradled his head in his hands and wailed out his grief. Too little, too late. God damn him, John had lost his entire life when Sherlock’s was snuffed out, only to find that they could have had everything, if only John had spoken up at any of those moments. There had been innumerable moments where things between them could have changed. Any of those that would have led to a different path, one that didn’t culminate in an empty, bloodstained aquarium.

The endless tide of grief exhausted him. John may have been sobbing for hours before his body simply shut down in self-defense. His last thought before sleep overcame him was that perhaps he’d dream of Sherlock and happier times.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

John woke abruptly, jerking enough that he fell out of his chair. He lay in a heap, tears still streaming down his face.

God. Sherlock.

The image of Sherlock’s defeated face as he whispered his feelings, like they were something to be ashamed of, brought bile to the back of John’s throat. His nausea was only compounded by the remembrance that he had only seen Sherlock’s video because the great detective was dead.

Oh, God, Sherlock was dead!

John sobbed, finally letting out the great well of grief he felt he’d been carrying since Sherlock’s first, faked death.

Who knew how long he lay there, purging himself of grief, before other, lighter cries intruded. Quieting himself, he strained to hear that other sound again, only to realize it was Rosie, crying to herself upstairs.

Rosie!

Rosie was here, with him! John looked around, recognizing the house he and Mary had made their home in, not that dingy bedsit he last remembered.

He stumbled up the stairs, truly seeing his daughter in her cot. He leapt forward, snatching up the baby and hugging her close, soothing her sleepy whimpers. He relished every moment of taking care of Rosie, knowing now how it felt to not be able to even see her.

At last, she settled down, content to go back in her cot with her animal friends. Not seeing her favourite, a small plush bee from Sherlock, he dimly recalled seeing it downstairs. Or in the unwashed sheets of his lonely bedsit. Certain Rosie would be content for at least a few moments, he headed back downstairs, the memories of two distinct lives threatening to overwhelm him.

Shaking his heavy head, he forced his soggy brain into action. Regardless of Mary and Sherlock’s opinion, he wasn’t an idiot. Most of the time. Okay, emotionally, he was a bit slow. But right now, he could put two and two together and get either the mother of all nightmares as his subconscious worked something out or a visit from the ghost of his wife and experiencing six months of a wretched alternate universe.

The fact that he could even think that last proved his life was insane.

Still, if he was here, in his home, with his precious daughter right upstairs, that meant yes, Mary was dead. Had died saving Sherlock. It was a horrible, horrible thought, and John nearly went back to hating himself for it, but his first instinctive reaction was that her sacrifice made up for all the emotional turmoil she’d forced him into by not being who she said she was.

On the heels of that thought, though, came the realization that no, he was not a miserable drunken wreck refused visitation with his daughter. No, Rosie was upstairs, safe and sound. He was not a drunken sot nor a wife beater. He had many happy memories of Mary to look back on, and yes, his guilt was still there, but it was more distant, less oppressive. He hadn’t actively cheated on his wife and he could finally remember the reasons he had pledged his life to that vibrant personality.

And no, Sherlock was not dead!

An upwelling of joy swept through him at the thought, a force so strong he could only laugh in relief. And as he did so, an appropriately Dickensian quote crossed his mind. 'Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years it was a splendid laugh!'

It truly felt like years since he’d last been able to laugh. The last time had undoubtedly been with Sherlock…

How could he have been such an arsehole the past few weeks? He’d actually reveled, well, as much as his guilt-deadened emotions allowed, in how low Sherlock had fallen as John had withheld the forgiveness the detective was so desperate to receive.

He had time now, though, time to change things. The thought that he’d have time to beg Sherlock’s forgiveness for those past few weeks and hopefully make more memories of laughter carried him buoyantly throughout his morning.

John heartily attacked the mess he’d made, murmuring an apology to Mary and swearing not to let things get that bad anymore. He brought Rosie down to play on the freshly hoovered carpet and let her baby babble sweep over him. He was so in the zone that the post clattering through the slot in the door startled him badly.

It was definitely a sign of renewed interest in life that post was exciting. With a small grin, John bounded over and swept up the contact from the outside world. He sorted through the bills and leaflets absentmindedly, already looking forward to checking his email for more personal contact, when a padded envelope caught his eye.

There was nothing sinister about it; it was a bog standard padded manila envelope addressed to Dr. John H. Watson. There was no reason for John’s blood to be freezing in his veins.

Dropping all other envelopes, he tore that one open and shook out a DVD in a clear jewel case.

Surely the déjà vu was only a coincidence. It was to be expected after living through an alternate universe, right?

With severe trepidation, he grabbed his laptop and popped in the disc. Waiting impatiently for it to load, he passed the time by amusing himself with thoughts of Sherlock attempting to use his badly outdated computer, as he used to do when they lived together.

Nothing, nothing could have prepared him for what began to play.

“John. If you’re watching this, well, that’s a bit of a cliché, but you know what I mean. I’m sorry. Yes, you heard me. I’m sorry for leaving you again.”