This is a story I originally wrote as an ending to my 'Word of One Syllable' 'At a Loss' words series, but it did not fit so I've decided to spin it into a fic of its own.
Sherlock's hair was so matted with blood it looked like he'd bathed in it. An arm hung at a bad angle, clearly broken, but the man wasn't writhing in pain and his eyes were open. John knew what that meant, but he pushed his way forward anyway. He had to check, it couldn't be, he'd been talking to the man just two seconds-
He got through the pushing crowd and grabbed Sherlock's arm. He couldn't get himself to grab the broken one. The skin was warm against his fingers, but too still. Death was so obvious – most people didn't know that. He held on to the arm too long but he couldn't believe it. He'd been talking to the man just ten seconds ago, proud of the man's brilliance.
There was no pulse. John felt his brain stutter to a halt as the crowd pulled him away. He had no doubt of it. There was no pulse. John let himself get pushed down to sit on the warm concrete before he fainted. It was the only reason in the world he'd let anyone take that body from him. He'd felt for a pulse for ten seconds and there'd been nothing at all. The paramedics were wheeling away a body, nothing more. Sherlock was that blood smeared all over the concrete that he couldn't put back.
The world blurred around his eyes and someone gripped his arm. He needed to breathe more.
Oh, god. He couldn't do this.
His Browning was at home. John started to get up but a hand held him down. He had to be sure, first. Sure Sherlock was – John closed his eyes as bile rose up in his throat. He forced it down. He had to know.
He sat on the concrete, utterly unsure of what to do or where to go, as the crowd slowly built up around the blood and slowly dissipated again when there was nothing more to see. It started to get cold and he had no idea where to go. He had a feeling he was waiting to see Sherlock come striding back out of those hospital doors. Ridiculous, and Sherlock would mock him for waiting.
A black limo pulled up at the kerb beside him. John stalled, unsure what the hell he was supposed to do but stand in the middle of the street and break down. Sherlock had brought him raging back to life. John turned around, wanting to go back to the bloodstain, to double check. Sherlock couldn't be dead – it just didn't happen that way. The limo was idling, waiting for him. He got in and for once, no one was in the back seat with him. He was left alone and dropped off before the front of 221B. No doubt Mycroft had been informed. Anger cut through him for a moment, remembering Mycroft's idiotic involvement. This was why you didn't fucking negotiate with terrorists – you never knew what you were handing them.
John stood outside the door for too long and the limo idled again. He should call Ella. She was supposed to keep him from doing anything abrupt. She would be the only one who'd understand; it wouldn't be rash. It'd have been a long time coming, from long before he'd met Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had just postponed it.
No doubt the driver was watching him, ready to report in to Mycroft. John cursed and fumbled with the front door. He needed to get inside.
"Here again, John? What's all this rushing about? What's Sherlock done now?" Mrs. Hudson complained, sticking her head out of her flat.
John closed his eyes and started for the stairs.
"Call-" he swallowed. "Call Mycroft."
He started up the steps, hoping to hell she wouldn't say anything else.
"Is it Sherlock? Is he alright then?" she called.
John kept climbing.
Why did he jump?
"John!" Mrs. Hudson yelled and John slammed the flat door closed.
The flat wasn't quiet enough. He could still hear Mrs. Hudson scrambling around downstairs, the bus outside loudly announcing its route. Two people were laughing together below their window. It was just their flat and John found himself wanting Sherlock to get home so the man could scoff at the tragedy, tell him mourning was futile, an excess of emotion that by definition could do nothing to affect its cause.
John fell into his chair stiffly.
What the fuck just happened?
John pressed his fingers against his mouth, struggling not to start. Everything. Sherlock was everything. He gazed around the room blankly. Sherlock's belongings were everywhere here. He couldn't move them. He let his face fall into his hands but he couldn't cry. Shock, probably. He didn't want it to pass. It'd be worse, after. He couldn't imagine it being worse.
He heard Mrs. Hudson screech downstairs. He started to get up but the sound of sobbing followed. Right. He sat back down, trying to wrap his brain around what he'd been unable to say aloud. Jesus. John dropped his head into his hands again. Jesus.
He packed a bag of clothes before he went to the therapists' office. He couldn't stand straining every moment to hear Sherlock on the stairs, ready to berate him for not seeing through the marvelous scheme. He brought clothes, toiletries, and his gun. He sat in his therapist's office, knowing there was nothing she could do to make it better, and she made him say it aloud. He obeyed and didn't know what use it had been.
He went back to the temporary flats he'd wandered into his first day out of Afghanistan. He'd been grateful for the mattress, the seat, the desk back then.
That genius, that captivating man, had held everything that mattered. John dropped his bag in the closet and left the flat again. He couldn't sit ; he knew himself better than that. He walked to the park and wanted to visit Sherlock's grave but the man wasn't buried yet. It was just as well; he didn't want to see Molly. He sat down on a bench and pulled up Sherlock's number.
:How'd you do it?: He wrote and sent it before he let himself think too hard. He regretted it a moment later when he realized he was waiting for a response.
:Why'd you do it?: He sent next, to remind himself that he was texting a dead man. It was the right question, anyway. Why the hell had he jumped?
Sherlock didn't care about his public reputation; not really. And he hadn't been bloody remorseful. John cursed at the thought and pushed himself up from the bench to stride deeper into the park. No, there was nothing on this earth that could convince him Sherlock had pulled some conspiracy-theorist-level scheme over him and the world, pretending to be a genius in a world of idiots. Sherlock had needed everything to have a point and that didn't have one.
John stopped, resting an arm against a tree. He pushed his face into his elbow, trying to force his brain above his emotions again. He couldn't break down here.
John rubbed his hand down his face, trying to breathe normally. For once he knew what Sherlock meant by needing a puzzle to be solved. This one wasn't optional. Why did Sherlock jump?
He started back for the bedsit, knowing he was falling apart again. He needed privacy.
Okay, what do we know? He heard Sherlock repeating in his brain, staring off at the skull and listing the facts, telling him to shut up and stop thinking; it was distracting, what were the facts?
Sherlock wouldn't have jumped because of his reputation and he wasn't a fraud, John had no doubt of that. But Sherlock had jumped, knowing full-well the probability that he'd die at the bottom.
John forced himself to look straight ahead as he marched up the steps to his flat. Christ.
He'd lost John. Sherlock let his body scream in pain and focused on it. Molly was pushing his arm back into its socket before she set the bone. He felt it snap back into alignment and his pain lessened slightly before he focused on his broken arm. Molly worked on him quickly, knowing the stakes.
He made himself stare at the ceiling and ignore how it was blurred. He couldn't stop crying; that was evident, so it was irrelevant.
There was no way to go after Moriarty's men without risking John, and no way to return while the assassins still existed. It wasn't worth it if there was any chance at all he'd come back only to find John with a bullet in his brain, the back of his head sprayed out over the couch. He couldn't come back.
John sat up, blinking rapidly. Christ, he needed something to do. He wasn't going to fall asleep. He needed to get out.
John rushed putting his shoes back on and walked out. There was a dull quiet hanging over the street around the block of flats. 9:23 PM – too early for the bars and too late for most children to be outside.
John walked away from it, heading deeper into the city, toward the crowded strip of bars and shops he'd seen half a mile down the main road.
Sherlock. He'd go to the bar first.
Christ; stop. Just – stop.
He kept walking. As long as he was in public he couldn't break down, and his mind managed to stay above it all. He just had to stay out and keep walking.
Sherlock must have been coerced. That knowledge felt like it was set into his bones. Sherlock was not ashamed or a fraud; he must have jumped under duress. That would explain the telephone call, the lie that Sherlock had faked his own genius. But what could threaten the most brilliant man of his time? He was coming to understand just how little he'd known of the game Moriarty and Sherlock had been playing.
John cursed and ran his hands through his hair. Suburban London was endless, all shitty conjoined homes and tall blocks of flats, offices and shops. It hummed with traffic and footsteps and voices. He hated it, wanted it all to stop so he could think.
Is this how Sherlock feels, all the time?
John slammed his fist into the wall beside him. That genius brain was spilled over the concrete; he'd seen it happen. Why couldn't he even bloody remember what he was mourning?
Felt. How Sherlock felt.
If Sherlock had had the choice to jump or get shot he'd have chosen the gun every time. John was sure of it. He'd want his killer to do it for real, get his hands dirty, and would never give Moriarty the pleasure of watching him lose, watching him jump.
John stopped in the middle of the street, letting some teenager with an ugly handbag smash into him where she'd tried to cross behind him. The assassins. How had he forgotten? Mycroft had mentioned them, a whole gang of paid killers living in their street for no apparent purpose. And there it was, to make Sherlock jump. Had Mycroft seen that coming, when he'd asked him to take care of his brother?
John started walking again, slowly heading for the park. The snipers hadn't been trained on Sherlock, not if the goal was to make him commit suicide, but they could have been trained on anyone else, people Sherlock could see, a pregnant woman or a little boy. It wouldn't matter who, Sherlock would not hold any more sentimental value for the one over the other.
Still, John wasn't sure Sherlock would have jumped. He could just imagine the man sneering.
To save people so dull John? Would that really improve the world? People die every day; what would be the point?
But then.. maybe he would have, just to save a stranger. Sherlock could care so much sometimes and put such little value on his own life.
That was for the game though, some part of John's brain argued. Sherlock would sacrifice anything to play the game, but for the puzzle, not for people. John found a park bench and sank into it.
Nothing added up; it was too simple. Moriarty had already played that game at the pool, threatening him to control Sherlock.
And it'd worked, John thought. Moriarty would have known with absolute certainty that Sherlock would jump if he pointed a gun at him. John leaned his head back on his neck, resting it against the cold metal behind him. It was too simple, if he'd thought of it; Sherlock would have seen that move coming and he'd have planned a solution.
John started home, feeling exhaustion drag at his mind. He knew what to do with grief. He'd go to work the next day and insist on staying there until he was too exhausted for safe practice, and then he'd file paperwork in the back, and then he'd walk around the city until his bones ached and he could fall asleep without feeling that overwhelming need to throw up. Nothing had changed at all since the war.
John rolled over on his cot and picked up his vibrating phone.
"John, it's Mycroft. How are you?" his voice sounded polished, smooth, concerned. John felt hate lick at him. "Right," Mycroft answered, like he'd said something.
"I have been wondering how involved you'd like me to be in arranging the funeral -" he started. John felt the tide rising up. They weren't doing this. He cleared his throat, cutting the man off.
"Right. Yes," he said.
"Should I handle it then?" Mycroft asked.
"Yes," John answered. Mycroft didn't reply. The silence was horrible. John swung his feet down from the bed and sat up. He wasn't getting any more sleep. Sherlock Holmes, backing up, his eyes sparkling; welcome to London. John choked out a laugh.
"John?" Mycroft asked.
"Yes, alright," John answered. He wanted off the phone. "Goodbye,"
"I'll see -"
John hung up. He had to get to work.
"Christ, John, what are you doing here?" Sarah demanded as soon as he got to the front desk.
"I need to not think," he ordered. Her face softened. Yes, then. Good. He started for his office and she walked around the desk to grab his arm.
"Are you sure? I took you off the schedule for weeks," she said.
Give me work.
“No, John. I’m not sure you're safe to diagnose anything right now," she ordered.
Right. John nodded. Paperwork. He'd do paperwork. That was fine.
Molly dropped a padded envelope on his chest. Sherlock sat up from the couch, careful not to jar his arm or ribs, and peered at the package, the sound of Moriarty's laughter ringing in his ears, crowing that he'd been too slow to keep up yet again. Unlikely.
The envelope's address was typed in a classic font; no information there.
Mr Kennish, C/O Dr M Hooper, Flat 2, 5323 Little Hanging Road London SW4 7EV
The whole thing could have come from a bank, complete with a return envelope inside. If Moriarty had predicted his actions, he'd predicted them perfectly. Mycroft was more likely.
He poured the envelope's contents into his hand and felt himself nod gratefully. A mobile phone, passport, birth certificate, Spanish and French ID cards, a bank card, and £1000 cash. And a return address, already paid postage. Sherlock shredded the envelope in his fingers, leaving the bits over Molly's floor. She'd clean them up before anyone visited.
:I trust you'll make this quick? MH:
A/N: Please let me know what you think!