It takes three years for Sherlock to return; years in which John continues to visit his psychiatrist, looking miserable (he does have to use make up now and then, however, because honestly, no one has yet managed to look pale when he actually has the time of his life pretending to be what he is not, no matter how good an actor he might be).
Years in which John leads, by most standards, a normal life, and even he must admit that it is refreshing. He eats, sleeps, goes to work (at another clinic now, because a person who could feel would probably not work at the place where he’d watched his best friend take his own life), watches a lot of telly. He gets married too – Mary is a nice girl, the sex is good (and continues to be good, which is in itself a surprise to John, no woman has held his interest for more than four weeks until now) and he figures that it would make sense to normal people, the grieving widower slowly moving on. Not that he really is Sherlock’s widower – he’s still rather cross with the detective for living a life so awfully celibate. And Sherlock’s alive, of course. He mustn’t forget about that.
It takes Mary a whole year to come to her senses; while nobody might suspect that he’s a psychopath, after a while people always seem to feel that something’s amiss. They don’t think he’s to blame – they never do that – but, still, they usually prefer to keep him an acquaintance rather than become close friends with him. Except for Sherlock, that is, but then again, he gave Sherlock and the world his best performance to date in the eighteen months he was close (as close as John can get to another person) to the consulting detective.
What he wants to say is: Mary leaves him. Eventually. Naturally, he isn’t sad because he can’t be sad. The sex stopped being good about six months into their marriage. Plus, it gives him even more opportunities to play the poor, sad army doctor who’s left alone by everyone.
Mrs. Hudson calls now and then and tries to feed him, make him tea, that sort of thing. He knows she doesn’t have the heart to let the flat again – which is a good thing because where else would Sherlock and he want to live?
And he’s decided that he will live together with Sherlock again.
He didn’t make this decision out of the blue; rather, slowly, very slowly, a new plan began to take place, after he’d realized that his life was infinitely more fun with the detective around. John knows what he’ll do once Sherlock returns.
But in the meantime, he is the sad, poor, lonely doctor. He makes a big show of finally forgiving Lestrade (and really, the poor man is at the end of his wits, almost begging because he feels so guilty). But then again, the DI has enough on his hands with the inquiry why he trusted a fraud – though John doesn’t doubt for a second that Mycroft will take care of it, which he does.
He occasionally meets Stamford for a drink, Stamford who still tries to be supportive, but can’t hide his secretly sadistic side properly, because eventually, they always end up speaking of the Fall – as John’s so-called friends have dubbed it so he might suffer less when it is mentioned.
Now and then he meets Molly and enjoys watching her squirm; it didn’t take a genius to find out who Sherlock had asked to assist him in faking his death, she is the morgue-mouse for a reason, and still infatuated with Sherlock, for that matter. So he not only gets to see her guilt, but also her jealousy, because she (like everyone else) is clearly convinced he and Sherlock were more than friends (if only, but he intends to change that through the plan he has for Sherlock’s return).
He takes his time with Mycroft, though. He hasn’t forgotten that the older Mr. Holmes seriously inconvenienced him now and then in his plans – Mycroft’s not stupid, after all, he just has his Archilles’ heel, like everybody else (except John), and this heel was his brother, and John found it. Or him, to be precise.
During the first few kidnappings Big Brother arranges after Sherlock’s Fall, John stays silent and just looks at him contemptuously. It’s only after months, when he gets the distinctive feeling Mycroft is about to break, ice is not diamond, that he starts to talk to him again. And he makes him wait for John’s forgiveness. Oh, those delicious moments when he senses Mycroft thinks it’s about to happen, and then it doesn’t.
He waits until the first anniversary of the Fall to forgive Mycroft properly and by then the man is in such a state, he almost cries from relief. Mycroft Holmes almost crying. Wonders will never cease. He must remember to share this with Sherlock, once everything else has been dealt with.
And because John’s puppy dog eyes are still irresistible apparently, Mycroft’s assistant, who’s never really spared him a glance before and whose name he still isn’t supposed to know (of course he does, but likes to call her Anthea anyway, it just sounds so aristocratic), decides to... console him. In a special way. John must remember to share this with Sherlock, too; he’s sure the consulting detective will be quite as amused as he is.
But nobody can totally change his personality and/or lifestyle – John wouldn’t even if he could, as a matter of fact – and so this normal life includes checking which parts of his empire Sherlock has now brought down (he didn’t expect him to start in South America, but he doesn’t mind) and now and then slipping out in the night to earn money or commit a murder – he still needs those, there’s nothing, aside from using Sherlock Holmes a s a part in his game, that he enjoys quite as much as a good murder – and, well, without Sherlock, Scotland Yard certainly doesn’t solve nearly as many cases – now, really, DI Lestrade, three undetected murders just won’t do.
He still misses Richie, there were some upsides to have a face to his name, and the man was a brilliant actor, if of unsound mind.
On the other hand, now that Moriarty is dead, he has to find new ways to intimidate people or commit crimes or Mycroft will catch on, and John has always enjoyed finding new ways to do anything. Plus, he’s not bored anymore by his criminal endeavours – not when he finds new and exciting ways to hide them every day.
Occasionally, he spends time building up a new persona – a new ultimate foe for Sherlock. An old friend of Moriarty’s; he decides to call him Moran (he still has a thing for the whole “la mort” idea, and he loves the way Moriarty and Moran sound together).
He does this because he knows that if he only manages to make Moran seem enough of a threat – and he takes care of that, and ex-military man without a conscience (oh, the irony), living in the same city as Sherlock’s best friends, what could be more threatening? – Sherlock will save him for the last, and he will want John’s help for bringing him down.
And it happens according to John’s plan. He’s been expecting Sherlock to show up soon, after he took care of John’s last network in Russia; once he’s done that, John kills a nice, honourable young man by means of a new, long-distance rifle, so Sherlock will think he knows that Moran did this and can now return home.
He’s not expected him to look so bad, however. The consulting detective has lost even more weight (how unfair, John has to keep his weight in check by exercise and diet plans), looks pale and there is this haunted and sad expression in his eyes... well, some people can’t handle the killing, and Sherlock’s heart is just too big for his own good.
After John has melodramatically fainted, cried, first hit and the hugged his best friend, Sherlock tells him he expects Moran to try to kill him tonight, so all they have to do is lie in wait in the abandoned house opposite 221B (it’s been abandoned ever since John had the one flat explode at the beginning of The Great Game, as he called it on his blog).
And that is when John finally, finally sets his plan in motion. Because it’s not Moran who shows up, but a homeless man from Sherlock’s network (the things people will do for money – even come to an abandoned building in the middle of the night to meet a stranger) the detective remembers well. So after they’ve knocked him out, Sherlock stares at the man, and then wants to raise his hand to give Lestrade – who’s of course waiting in the street, the good, faithful man, God bless him – the signal. John stops him.
“Why not?” Sherlock asks, and for once he is truly confused and doesn’t know what’s going on. John takes his expression in for a moment, and then he says: “Because that’s not who you were expecting. That’s Shinwell Johnson, who’s assisted you in your cases in the past, because he knows where all the small-time criminals like to spend their time. He also knows every prostitute in London, which is always useful.”
Sherlock stares. “John – how do you...”
“And something else. Moran isn’t coming. He doesn’t exist.”
“But – that’s impossible...” Sherlock can only stare. Oh, how John loves this moment.
“And Moriarty never existed either. Richard Brook, however, did exist. He was hired by the person who was behind it all. He was hired to give a face to an organisation of twenty years’ standing.
This person killed Carl Powers, and several others. This person ruled his criminal empire until he was bored and decided he wanted to be someone else... The only friend of the World’s only consulting detective, to be exact.”
He sees the comprehension dawn in Sherlock’s eyes (he is smart, John will give him that), and also the panic, and the plea for all this to be a dream. But he’ll never wake up from this dream. Never.
“This person’s name is John Watson. And he’s standing in front of you, Sherlock... The best friend you ever had. Your worst enemy.”
Sherlock is desperate, grasping for straws. “John, no... that can’t be, that’s...”
“Do you really want to insult my intelligence and yours – I see you are already solving the riddle, putting the pieces together – by asking proof at such a moment? No, it’s not my time to prove anything. It’s my time to tell you how things will be between us, from now on.”
Sherlock’s almost crying by now, and staring at John like people usually stare at aliens in movies. John knows his voice has gone cold and his face has assumed the expression it always has when he’s not acting – the expression of tranquillity, at peace with himself. He continues.
“We will be what we always were; the consulting detective and his faithful blogger. Now and then, we will solve cases I’ve arranged – that’s not to be avoided. You will never tell anyone about me. First of all, nobody would believe you – you almost didn’t, a minute ago – and secondly, if you do... Mrs. Hudson will be dead, Lestrade will be dead, even Mycroft and Molly” – Sherlock jumps at the mention of their names – “Yes, I know you have a soft spot for them as well, who do you think I am? Will be dead, before you can even finish the sentence. Think about what I’ve done until now, Sherlock, and you know I am right. Oh, and just so you know: The same thing happens if you kill yourself or try to fake your death again. I’m impressed, by the way; didn’t think you could fool me. But you did. Once. It will not happen again.
Oh, and one last thing... If I chose to... bring our relationship to a new level...” – his eyes rake up and down Sherlock’s body, making Sherlock more than uncomfortable – “you will not resist me. So, you do as you’re told, and nobody gets hurt. And we get to spend the rest of our lives together, isn’t that nice? So, do we have a deal?”
He sees Sherlock looking for a way out and failing to find one – because there is none, simple as that – and then, he nods. John almost doesn’t see it – it’s quite dark, and it’s only a small nod – but it’s enough.
“Good. Call Lestrade.” Sherlock – most likely because he’s in shock, and who can blame him – does as he’s told. Lestrade takes “Moran” away – and he will be tried and sentenced as Moran, John has made sure of that – they give Mrs. Hudson the shock of her life, and then they are home.
John has Sherlock under his control, and he enjoys it. He’ll never enjoy something as much. Later that night, he takes hat he’s wanted to take for a while now. Sherlock lets him, he has no other choice.
And so life goes on. Sherlock acts the way he’s always acted, John told him to. They solve cases, they lie to Mycroft, John makes Sherlock eat and sleep. Sherlock never contradicts him anymore, which is a bit of a disappointment, but the fear and hatred he reads in his eyes more than make up for it.
John has to climb down the wall no longer if he wants to meet or kill someone (by now, he’s started to build a new web). He simply tells Sherlock he’s going out. Afterwards, he tells him exactly what he did. Sherlock has to be silent and obey. Even if John wants to do... other things with him. He has no choice.
John is happy.
Life is wonderful. They are Dr. John Hamish Watson and Sherlock Holmes, and they will continue to be partners in crime – now in every meaning of the word.
John has won the ultimate game – one he can continue to play.