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The Half Life of a Strange Quark

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John Watson sits at the kitchen table, having cleared a space for himself amongst all the experimental detritus, and lets his oatmeal go cold. Since the incident with the Baskerville drug, he’s been on edge. Nightmares of the effect it had on him are bad enough, but it’s the nightmares of Sherlock – Sherlock blind, Sherlock deaf, Sherlock nearly lost to him – that really haunt him. And the nightmares of what he’d done to get him back.

He jumps when he feels a hand on the back of his neck, spins and blinks when he realizes it’s just Sherlock and he’s speaking to him.

Sherlock is fine. Sherlock is right here, all wounds healed, healthy and happy or at least himself, which is the most that can be asked for.  It’s over. Isn’t it over?

“John, did you hear me?” Sherlock cocks his head, looking him over for any evidence of what he might have been contemplating.

“Yes. I mean no, sorry.” John shakes his head to clear it. “Didn’t sleep well. What was that?”

Sherlock's eyes narrow at John but he doesn’t comment. “I said, if you’re going out would you stop by the bookshop later, I’m expecting a special order.”

"Um, yeah. Sure, of course.” John tries to sound normal, then wonders why he has to try. He gets up and goes to put his bowl in the sink, still full.

Suddenly he feels hands on his waist from behind, warm breath smelling of toothpaste on the side of his face. He forces himself not to tense. “But, um, won’t be until this afternoon, is that all right?”

“Fine…” the baritone voice murmurs suggestively against his neck. “I can think of ways to stay occupied until then...”

 John’s heart leaps into his throat as Sherlock pushes him gently, insistently into the edge of the counter.

He wants this but it’s wrong, so wrong. It’s never been wrong before but he’s spoilt it now. What if it happens again, what if he loses it again and hurts Sherlock for real this time?

John forces a weak smile, “Me too, loads of work to catch up on.” He spins around to face Sherlock, kisses him carefully on the cheek, and ducks under his arm before Sherlock can catch him again.

He grabs his laptop and flops into his chair, typing studiously away at his latest piece. It doesn’t work. He manages to pretend for nearly five minutes that his friend isn’t staring at him with unblinking grey eyes, boring into the side of his head. But if there’s man born who can resist that gaze longer, John isn’t him. Swallowing hard he looks up. “Yes?”

Sherlock’s brow furrows at him. “Have I done something wrong?” he asks, in that nearly childlike way he has when he’s out of his emotional depth.

John’s heart constricts painfully. He should have known that’s how Sherlock would interpret his standoffishness of late. “Oh, no,” he breathes. He wants to take Sherlock’s hand but he doesn’t move. “You…you’re perfect. It’s me, I’m just… the past few weeks were frightening, I guess I’m not over it.”

It’s a weak lie and he knows it won’t hold.

Sherlock frowns deeply. “Are you still ill? I know the drug took some time to wear off. Just you’ve been… flickery. And when I touch you, it’s like a hurricane lamp in the storm – flaring and nearly going out. I thought perhaps something I’d said or done when I was… not well…?”

He lets the question hang there, anxiously and it makes John want to cry. He can’t take it anymore, he grabs Sherlock's large, elegant hands and put them to his lips.

“I’m sorry, Sherlock, I’m so sorry you thought for a second this is your fault,” he whispers into them, unable to look the other man in the eye.

Sherlock looks even more troubled at this development. He’s quite used to being the one at fault for relational misunderstanding. This is uncharted territory.

“John,” he offers nervously, stroking John’s shoulder. “Perhaps if we were to go into the bedroom, you could explain it me?”

That’s the problem right there. The physical is how they communicate, how Sherlock shares what he feels and learns how John feels. And now John’s violated that sacred space and he’s not sure if he can ever trust himself to go back there.

John cringes and Sherlock withdraws, hurt.

“No, Sherlock, it’s not…” John pauses. He doesn’t know how to say any of it but he can’t allow Sherlock to think for a moment that John doesn’t want him anymore. He closes his eyes and lets out a long breath, sliding out of his chair to sit on the floor. Sherlock sits beside him, close but not touching, legs crossed, watching John breathe. He waits.

“Sherlock,” John starts again with difficulty. “When you were… at your low point. When I thought I would lose you. I did something unforgivable. At least, I’ve not been able to forgive myself for it. I went to a place I didn’t know I could go, and I almost went too far to come back. I’m afraid… afraid it might happen again. I might hurt you again. I can’t risk it.”

Sherlock’s clear eyes are watching him intently, going from worried to relieved by the end of his speech. He half-laughs, but curtails it when he sees that John is deadly serious. “Is that all? John, I explained to you, it’s fine, you did the right thing. You’re the reason I’m here. You can let it go.” He looks at John expectantly, as if something so simple will fix it.

He remembers the boundless, white hot anger at Sherlock, at the universe for inflicting this on them, at himself for feeling so helpless. He remembers raging at Sherlock, forcing himself on him because he didn’t know how else to reach him, he remembers wondering if he would have stopped, could have stopped.

John’s stomach turns. “No, Sherlock, I can’t. I know, you’ve explained to me it was what you needed and you think that I just knew you so well that I sensed that and here we are so it doesn’t matter. But it does, Sherlock. I always knew there was a monster inside of me, but I never thought it would turn on you.”

Sherlock looks concerned again. “I’ve told you before you didn’t hurt me. You saved me. Why is that wrong?”

John hangs his head, avoiding Sherlock’s eyes. “There were other ways, there had to have been. What I did… that can’t have been the only solution.”

“And what if it was?” Sherlock demands, harshly. “How would you know? I was out of my mind, I needed something drastic to bring me back. I know you think you were just out of control, but you know me like no one ever has. I’m yours and I know you never would have hurt me, not in a way that matters. If you can’t trust your own judgement…trust mine?”

John forces himself to look up at his friend. Sherlock’s face is earnest, and afraid.  He still hates himself for what happened, for what he did, that’s not going to go away in a conversation or in a day.

But Sherlock’s eyes are vulnerable and begging John to listen. Anything else he does would only hurt Sherlock further, and that’s the last thing he wants. There doesn’t seem to be a way to punish himself for this without punishing Sherlock. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness, but Sherlock deserves rejection even less.

Sherlock must be able to see him wavering because he tries again. “May I touch you? Please? You don’t have to control yourself around me, I don’t want you to. I just want you.”

Sherlock’s voice is plaintive in a way John rarely hears and, not without trepidation, John melts. He nods and he can feel the relief pouring off Sherlock as he gathers John in his arms, nuzzling his face into John’s hair. “Mine,” Sherlock whispers almost uncertainly.

“Insecure brat,” John forces himself to say, still shaken from recent events but too selfish to keep putting up walls.

He tells himself it’s for Sherlock’s sake but he couldn’t have kept himself away much longer. The fear has lessened but he still feels the darkness in him and wonders what it will do next. Whatever it is, he won’t let it touch Sherlock again.

Sherlock all but purrs at the insult and John lets himself be manoeuvred into the bedroom, unresisting. Sherlock pushes him back on the bed and straddles him, more gently than usual. He leans down to kiss John’s neck and when John still tenses, just a little, he whispers, “Why don’t you see how you can make it up to me?” and rolls off John to lay next him, eyes wide and guileless.

John hesitates, still not fully sure of himself. But Sherlock is there and warm and wanting and his. He gives in, fully this time, pulling Sherlock to him and once more letting their bodies do the communicating for them.

 

 

It might be hours or days later when they surface, John doesn’t know or care. Sherlock is next to him in their bed, body humming in pleasure and keeping a death grip on John with one hand.

He’d forgotten, somehow, in the mess and the fear and the danger, what it was like to be together. How little everything else mattered. How well they understood each other. Maybe Sherlock was right, about everything.

John sighs happily, almost at peace. “Sherlock,” he says tentatively. “Can we stay here today? Like this?”

Sherlock makes a pleased noised tinged with relief. “Doctor Watson, is that a prescription?”

For the first time in weeks, John grins unselfconsciously. “Definitely.” He pillows his head on Sherlock’s chest, grateful beyond measure to be nowhere in the world but there.

 

 

It is only the next day when the Crown Jewels are stolen, announcing the return of Moriarty. It all ends so fast after that.

They still have months together between the trial and the waiting and the trail of breadcrumbs, and blessedly John at least doesn’t realise it’s the end until almost the very day.  Not until the last second really. He wonders, later, obsessively, if he had realised whether he’d have been able to stop it.

But it still goes too fast, and in hindsight is tainted by Moriarty’s tentacles infiltrating their lives, almost unnoticed at first.

John’s last few days with Sherlock are painful and frightening; he knows something is not right but Sherlock has asked him trust him. And he does. John never believes Sherlock won’t figure out how to catch the villain and save them both, never believes they won’t end up back in 221b holding each other against the cruelty of the world – perhaps a little more battle-scarred, but safe and together.

John goes right on not believing it until Sherlock’s feet leave the roof of the hospital and John is screaming into a mobile phone that connects to nothing. He doesn’t believe it once there’s a body on the ground, and he doesn’t believe it for a long time afterwards. The world moves in sickeningly slow motion around him as he scrambles to his friend’s side and when it starts up again he is standing in the rain, alone, in the place where Sherlock Holmes died.

 

John has the wild urge to put his lips to the pavement and taste the blood, diluted with rainwater, to confirm that it truly belongs to Sherlock.

He’d know, of course he’d know, no two other people could possibly have explored each other more intimately, he knows the taste of Sherlock’s blood, of his sweat, of his tears, of his semen and saliva, of the insides of his mouth and his nose and his ears and his deepest, most private crevices, the smell of his elbows and his armpits and his hair and his toes, there’s not a part of him John couldn’t recognise with all five senses…

But the rain is coming down harder now, and the puddle that was the last of his friend is all but gone. Slowly, the cold water on his face brings him back to his senses, enough to think.

They’d taken Sherlock away, why had he let them do that, he’d been stunned, his head isn’t right, maybe Sherlock is still alive, maybe that wasn’t really him, John had only had a glimpse, he’d been fumbling for the pulse, still reeling from shock and the bump on the head, he might have gotten it wrong, Sherlock could have been taken in for treatment, there could have been a mistake…

John springs into a run and bolts through the A&E doors, almost crashing into the reception desk. “There was a man… just now… a bad fall,” he pants desperately. “Where did they take him? Surgery?”

The receptionist gives him a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, sir, but they took him straight to the morgue. Is there anyone I can call—?”

But John is already sprinting for the elevator.

Molly would straighten it out, she’d know better than to think Sherlock could really be dead, she’d take care of him, he just has to get to Molly and it will be all right again…

He bursts out of the elevator doors and casts around until he finds her face. Molly looks ashen at the sight of him.

“John,” she begins. “I am so, so sorry.”

“Where is he?” John begs. “There has to have been a mistake! Show him to me… why isn’t he here on the table? Did you send him back up once you realised?”

Molly approaches him carefully and the look of pity on her face is sickening. “No, John…I didn’t… He’s not… There was nothing to be done…”

“Then where is he? Show him to me.” John’s eyes light on the door to the autopsy room, behind Molly. “No, don’t tell me you’re that stupid!” he exclaims, and jumps for it.

It’s too soon, they can’t have started already, they’d need his permission, and anyway you can’t do an autopsy on someone still living…

Molly tries to stall his progress at the door. “John, please don’t, it’ll just make it worse,” she cries, blocking his way.

He pushes her away thoughtlessly, too hard, she stumbles back several feet and crashes to the floor. He barely notices, pushing into the autopsy room, holding his breath. It’s empty, clean and scrubbed and silent with the lights turned out, smelling only of antiseptic. John turns around. “Where. Is. He?” he demands of Molly, still on the floor. She cringes and a detached part of him notices that she is crying silently.

“John… I… there was nothing I could do. Mycroft came and took him, just moments before you came down. I didn’t have a choice. But I checked John, I checked and double checked and he was gone.”

John’s knees go weak, and he feels nauseous again, but not from the head wound. “No, that can’t be right… we did all the paperwork together, months ago. To be completely sure that if one of us was injured or... I have his power of attorney, not Mycroft! And he has mine. Nothing could have been done without me! Why did you let Mycroft take him?”

Molly shudders again at the anger in his voice. “John, I swear I tried to stop him, to at least wait for you. But Mycroft had his will. There was an overriding clause in it that in case of death by…by…suicide… the body was to be turned over to Mycroft Holmes immediately, without examination or consultation of the inheritor… of you… I’m sorry…”

“Suicide…the… body…” John feels all the strength and anger begin to drain out of him, leaving him an uncomprehending shell.

Sherlock Holmes would never, could never commit suicide, not now after all they'd been through, why had he jumped, why had he lied to John, over and over, and he wasn’t a body, he couldn’t be a body, he was Sherlock Holmes, a spectacular mind, he could never be stopped or stilled…

John leans against the wall, slumping, unable to quite hold himself up anymore. Molly gets cautiously to her feet. “John, I can’t even tell you…” She puts a hand on his forearm and speaks with a gentle voice, more confident than she sounds normally. “I can only imagine what you must be feeling.”

John’s head snaps up. “What could you possibly know about it?” he hisses at her. “How could you possibly imagine anything that I’m feeling? You had a crush. It didn’t matter.”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Molly slaps him across the face, drawing blood with fingernails. He freezes, staring at her furious, determined face and coming out of the insanity that had been possessing him.

“Oh, Christ, Molly. I’m so sorry… I can’t believe I… Did I hurt you?”

Shame floods him, temporarily overriding grief, how had he come to a place of such cruelty, verbal and physical, he’d never laid hands on a woman before, and sweet Molly Hooper, he’d been so blinded, it hurt too much for him to know what he was doing, to think of anything but getting to Sherlock, but that was no excuse…

Molly’s face crumples, and she puts her hand back on his arm. “It’s all right… It’s… I know you didn’t mean it. Any of it.”

It’s too much and he feels a wail building inside of him, something screaming to be set free that can’t be contained only by words. He tries to keep it down, keep it back but something escapes anyway. The force of it, the very thought, unmans him.

“I loved him.” The words are a strangled, choking cry, not much louder than a whisper. Words he’s never said out loud to anyone, words he tried not even to think for fear they might slip out by accident. “Oh, God, Molly, I loved him.”

How he loved Sherlock, how he still loves Sherlock, does it become past tense just because the object of it has, it can’t work like that, perhaps it just transforms into pain, into the terrible burden sitting on his heart, all the joy of it gone now, but the love must go on even if now it’s sharp as needles under his fingernails or jabbed into his spine….

He’s on the freezing floor of the morgue now, collapsed under the weight of it all, back to wall. He’s crying, weeping, gasping huge gulps of air because suddenly there’s not enough of it, tears and snot rolling down his face and he doesn’t care. He hasn’t cried like this since he was a boy, not even when his parents died, not even when his comrades were blown to bits before his eyes, not even when shrapnel twisted hot into his body and he lay delirious in the unforgiving sun waiting to die.

Suddenly he feels a hand slip into his, cold and dry and birdlike. Molly is sat beside him and is leaning her head on his shoulder, squeezing his hand, saying nothing. A distant part of him knows he should pull himself together, that sitting here crying like a child won’t change anything. But he can’t stop and he doesn’t even really want to try, it just pours out in retching sobs and the involuntary repetition of the words “I loved him” between them.

His companion, his partner, his lover, his colleague, his flatmate and bedmate and lifemate, his brother, his comrade in arms and husband of his heart, the man who had saved him and who John had saved, his own very dark thing, and always, forever, before and after anything else, his friend, everything John had, and now he will never have any of those things again…

Molly makes soothing noises but doesn’t attempt to talk him down other than the occasional murmur of “I know you did. Everyone knows you did.”

Eventually John reaches the place where he physically can not cry any longer. As a doctor he understand the exact mechanisms that cause the tears to run out and the tightness in the chest to grow to the point where nothing else can come, but at the moment all he knows is that he feels hollowed out, empty and fragile and sharp as an eggshell. He realises he is gripping Molly’s hand to a point that must be painful, though she has not tried to move, and eases up.

She looks at him with unbearably kind eyes.

“I just don’t understand,” he tells her, hoarsely, voice nearly gone. “He lied to me… he tried to keep me away, then he called and told me everything he’d ever told me was a lie, but that was the real lie, and then he…he… jumped. I can’t believe it. Any of it. I have to find out what really happened. I won’t be able to rest until I know.”

Molly tenses beside him. “John…”

“What?” his tone regains a slight edge.

“I know it doesn’t seem… like him… I can scarcely believe it myself. But he told you things he really wanted you to know. And he… he wanted you to talk to him, he wanted you to be there to see it. I know it doesn’t make sense…it’s so awful to think about… but he needed to you know those things, to believe him. That was his last wish and maybe… you… should.”

John looks at her as if she has just turned into a viper. “Molly, tell me you’re not saying you believe he was a fraud? That he actually just committed suicide. You know him, Molly! You’ve seen him work! How can you even think…?”

Molly looks ill, but she forges on, her voice quavering. “I hate it, I hate the thought but… why would he say all that? Why would he jump off a building if it wasn’t…true… He wanted to confess to you before he did it, he needed you to know. You should…honour… that last request. Let it be. It’s what…what he wanted.” Her last words are barely a squeak.

He pulls his hand away like he’s been bitten, betrayed, feeling nothing but disgust for her now. “I thought you cared about him,” he says, horrified. “I thought you would do anything for him, that you were loyal!”

“I did,” she stutters. “I would… I am. I just… we have to be realistic…”

“No,” John says, scrambling to his feet, unable to bear the sight of her any longer, queasy in her very presence. “No, don’t… don’t you ever speak to me again! Do you understand me? I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again. You’re a disgrace.”

He turns and flees the morgue, not at a run but at a precise and stiff military walk, letting his body remember how to get him home when his mind is all but gone. He does not see Molly put her head to her knees and begin to weep silently.