Work Header

You Paid Me Well In Memories

Work Text:

John Watson sighed as he looked at the grey clouds floating threateningly above him. He pulled the warm black coat that hung loosely off his thin frame closer to him, as if it were the only comfort he had in the world. He tried to ignore the soft drops that began to fall around him.

It would rain on his birthday.

John slowly limped up the hill to the cemetery, the light snow softly crunching under his feet. Hearing his name called, he looked up to see Mycroft who was just leaving the cemetery so John stood still, letting the man approach him.

"Hello, John, it's good to see you. I'm glad you came," Mycroft said wearily, holding out his umbrella to the smaller man. "Take this."

He looked older than John had ever seen him as he handed John the black umbrella. John, surprised at the kind gesture took it silently, finding himself unable to look into the older man's eyes. It wasn't that he didn't want to; he just didn't have the strength to take what was in them today.

"It looks like rain, you both might need it," Mycroft said softly, silently understanding the man who stood before him. He patted John gently on his good shoulder and as Mycroft turned to leave, he stopped himself and gently asked over his shoulder.

"Coming for tea tomorrow?"

John forced himself to find his voice. "Yes," He whispered, looking down at his worn out shoes. Mycroft nodded and made his way to the black car waiting for him.

When John found what he was looking for, he brushed a layer of snow off the top of the headstone and draped the blue scarf he had carried with him carefully over it and lowered himself stiffly to the cold ground; he didn't care about the snow.

He held the umbrella over the headstone, positioning it where it protected Sherlock and himself from the rain.

"Hello, Sherlock," he whispered, laying his hand on the cold, smooth surface of the headstone. "I brought you something, I know you were never one for sentimental things but I think you would have liked this."

He opened the photo album/scrapbook that he and Mrs. Hudson had made together. They were compiled from photos of a few of their cases and the ones taken at random and on the sly. Sherlock was never one to stay still for unnecessary and sentimental pictures and it took all the ninja photography skills John had to get these.

He was going to give it to Sherlock for his birthday, but Sherlock's death had stolen the chance. John smiled sadly as he heard Sherlock's bored voice float through his mind. Death is such an inconvenience, John.

John lowered his head into his hands and a shaky laugh escaped through his fingers as the memory touched him.

He lifted his head and feebly wiped a stray raindrop from Sherlock's name. "I can't go to the house today, you know. It wouldn't be the same without the smell of burning birthday cake and us yelling at each other.

"Remember that day?" John asked the headstone, tears choking the laughter in his throat. "You were so mad that I finally discovered when your birthday was that we got into a huge row and the cake I was baking for you burned to a crisp."

"What's this, John?" Sherlock asked as they stared at the blackened, round lump before them. "It's your birthday cake, you idiot," John replied.

John shook his head as he ran his hand along the picture he had taken of the charcoal lump. "You were so surprised that I would make you a cake that you pestered me into letting you help make another one."

A fit of coughing came over John and he tried to catch his breath, he could feel the coldness of the snow starting to fill his already unwell body. John knew he was sick, he had been since the beginning of November. But he couldn't let a cough keep him from Sherlock, not today. It might be his last and only chance to give him this gift.

Wet drops unrelated to the sky fell onto a picture of Sherlock glaring at the camera and trying to look inconspicuous while scraping the cake batter bowl.

The cold wind blew through the cemetery, pushing the brown leaves across the snow-covered ground, sweeping over John. He clutched the book tighter, afraid the wind might steal it from him, taking away the last bit of color and memories he knew.

"I made a memories book for you, well Mrs. Hudson and I did, it's filled with different things that I have learned and written down, pictures of the people and times we had and that I never want to forget..."

John's voice broke and he pressed his trembling fist to his mouth, trying to collect his thoughts from their grey prison. He lowered his hand and traced it over a picture of Sherlock and John sitting on a swing set and laughing at each other. Lestrade had taken it at a crime scene with his mobile and sent it to John a few weeks ago.

"You asked me one time what love was. It surprised me, that question and that day, I had no idea how to answer it in a way that would make sense to you or to not make you sneer at it even more than you usually do.

"But I know what it means now, Sherlock. That word called love."

John paused, taking a shuddering breath, coughing slightly and tried to blink away the tears burning his eyes. He looked down at the notes he had carefully written in the tear-stained pages.

Each note came with a memory that was clear as if it had happened yesterday.

"Love is staying up all night watching crap telly with your flat mate who wouldn't admit that he was scared to go to sleep because of nightmares."

Sherlock handed him a startling orange shock blanket and calmly stated that he had accidentally over dosed on 'A few caffeine patches' and they watched a whole season of Doctor Who that night, while John held onto the blanket and Sherlock silently twitched beside him on the settee.

"Love is not burning your flatmate's jumpers or tossing out liver experiments found in the toaster." John laughed at the memory of Sherlock's face when John held the toaster over the rubbish bin. "Love buys a new toaster and labels it John's only and tries to burn only the most hideous jumpers."

There had been lots of yelling and settee flopping that day from the both of them.

"Love is letting someone teach you how to ride a bike and getting in a row about whose fault it was you crashed while you let them bandage you up while ignoring your insults and protests."

Sherlock had yelled the whole time, even before John had started to apply the antiseptic and later Sherlock drew a diagram to prove it was John's fault and that John had indeed made him crash. John just tore up the diagram.

John laughed and paused his rambling at the picture of a scowling and annoyed Sherlock, wearing a pickle designed plaster on each elbow, and the memories washed over John, bringing new tears. He wiped his cheek with his trembling hand; he had given up fighting the tremor months ago.

"I need these adhesive pickle plasters, John," Sherlock stated or rather pleaded, holding a box of pickle plasters. John let him have them as a reward for behaving half decently during the shopping trip.

"Sherlock and his beloved pickles," John whispered to the wind, smiling as he turned the page to the next group of writing.

"Love hides the cigarettes and replaces them with nicotine patches. Love bails his friend out of jail. Love is waking up your flatmate in the middle of the night to make him promise that he would be the one to claim him at the morgue.

Shocked and still half asleep, John was surprised by how serious and adamant Sherlock acted about the morbid idea, but John agreed and Sherlock just nodded, quite relieved and satisfied with the arrangement.

John never imagined he would witness Sherlock's death and not even get the chance to claim him. John closed his eyes, trying to erase the images of that day from his mind. It never worked.

"Keep on going, Watson," John whispered to himself, wiping a tear off his chin.

He skipped over the picture of him sitting on a street curb, his head in his hands with Sherlock's coat draped over him.

Lestrade walked up to him, Sherlock's bloodstained coat in his hands. He looked down at John who was staring blankly into the distance. "I thought you might like to keep this," Lestrade whispered, tears making his voice thick and he gently draped the coat over John's shoulders.

John didn't know who had taken the picture, but he had seen it on Mycroft's desk one day and for some reason that he couldn't explain, John wanted to put it in his book.

He turned to a picture of an umbrella hanging undignified, upside down from their bullet riddled ceiling, open and filled with paper airplanes and used tissues.

"Love is punching someone in the nose after they insult your friend. Love is helping to steal an umbrella and being kidnapped and suffering the wrath of a British official without breaking a sweat."

It was worse than Afghanistan but after five terrible hours Sherlock finally rescued him or stole him back to be more exact and cheerfully gave him a pickle for his bravery and silence against the enemy.

John laughed as he turned the page. His thin laughter broke the stillness of the cemetery and broke into a rough cough as the wind rustled through the trees and joined the sound.

"Love is taking your reeking flatmate outside and turning the water hose on him because he was being too nosy on a case and got sprayed by a skunk."

Sherlock was raging and he shrieked indignantly the whole time, while John was busy trying not to die of laughter and skunk perfume.

Mrs. Hudson had taken a picture of them through the window and would not delete it, no matter how much Sherlock, begged, threatened; whined and yes, actually cried.

"You looked liked a wet, enraged puppy. I still do not know how we ever survived solving that case in America, "John chuckled and turned the page to a picture of Sherlock and Mycroft sitting stiffly together, John hadn't noticed before that Mycroft's shoelaces were tied together in a perky bow.

"Love is insulting your brother after he has had a bad day just to see if he will insult you back to prove he's alright. Love leaves the jam on the lower shelf for the short person.

"Good old Mycroft," John whispered. Sherlock's brother had 'Kidnapped' John several times since Sherlock's death, "Just for a social visit and some dinner," he always said.

John didn't think that he could ever make himself eat if Mycroft didn't show up with a jar of strawberry jam and a ham sandwich in his coat pocket every few days.

John turned the page and his breath caught in his throat at the next set of pictures. One was taken at a crime scene by Donovan; she had given it to John at Sherlock's funeral.

"He would have wanted you to have this," she whispered hesitantly as she held out the picture, trying to not let this image of John Watson make her cry.

"Love..." John whispered, tears making his voice stutter. "Love is letting his friend bend down at a crime scene and tie his shoe laces for him after an experiment gone wrong, involving burned hands and disintegrated eyebrows."

John had punched Anderson in the nose twice that night.

"And love is letting an old lady hug and kiss him. Love commits his life to helping people." John smiled at a snapshot of Sherlock and John standing beside Mrs. Hudson. They were actually smiling and looking half decent and happy in that picture.

"Come on, boys, I want to have a picture taken with my family."

John hugged his knees to his chest, another cough shook his body and he forced himself to look at the silent headstone, the cold memorial of the best man he had even known. It's strange how some memories can slip out beneath your lashes and roll down your cheeks.

He gently closed the book and laid it down before the headstone, surrendering his memories. John couldn't even feel the cold anymore. His heart and his body all felt the same now, just numb and lifeless without his conduit of warmth and light.

"There are many versions of love, Sherlock. But, I think the one that we knew was the best kind and one that we understood and was all we ever needed. The ideas of love that people have, well they never made sense to you and always made me mad when they got to talking about us like that.

"I guess not many people are fortunate to know or understand that kind of love, they always have to complicate it and make it be a conversation topic and steal the innocence because they can't imagine something as simple and strong as a love like that..." A coughing fit interrupted John and it took all of his weak energy and will power not to let it completely steal his breath.

"But, it was just... simply us; nothing more nothing less. It is... It was us. And I hope I never forget how it goes, because it truly was the best love I have ever known. And I think... I know that you realized it too, somewhere along the way..."

John's voice broke as sobs shook his body. He laid the umbrella aside, not caring anymore about the rain, maybe the snow and rain would do him a favor and worsen the cough he already had so that he could join Sherlock and get it over with.

He curled over, covering his face with his hands, resting his head against the cold stone and just let the tears come. You have never really cried unless you have cried like your heart was broken and for the very first time since Sherlock's death, John Watson cried like his heart was broken and there was no chance in the world to repair it.

A while later, as all the tears deserted him and left exhaustion in its place. John lifted his head, wiping the tears from his face, "I'm... I'm not doing very well, Sherlock," John admitted, defeat in his trembling voice, "Everyday gets harder and darker, I... I don't think I'm going to make it, Sherlock," John gasped tearfully as he drew the back of his hand across his eyes as the last of his tears dropped into the snow, "I tried, so hard I tried. But to tell you the truth, I don't mind stopping. I'm tired, Sherlock, so very tired."

John straightened, taking a deep breath as if the burden he had carried for so long had been lifted. He sighed as he looked at the clouds, the sun lightly touching his tear-stained face. The rain had faded and the sun had started to set, setting the snow on fire everywhere it touched. He dreaded having to leave his friend alone again but he made himself get to his feet, the simple action taking almost all of his strength and leaving him breathless.

With numb, trembling hands, John folded the umbrella. Using it as a cane to steady himself and as a support to lean on, he pulled his dog tags out of his pocket, gently placing them in front of the headstone beside the photo album.

"You gave me your world, Sherlock, so here is mine. I'm sorry it's all I have to give you on your birthday, but I know you don't mind, and one day, I... I won't need them."

He looked down at the last possessions he ever held dear to him, and he knew that day was coming soon.

"Happy Birthday, Sherlock. I'm glad you were born," he whispered as the wind stirred around them, returning the farewell of the dying man.

He straightened into his military stance, saluted the headstone, turned stiffly and walked through the snow-covered cemetery without glancing back, even though every step seemed to make his limp even more prominent and his shadow fade.

In the small, Swiss hotel room, Sherlock watched John walking through the cemetery, he was limping badly and his hand was flexing with the tremor.

Sherlock had lost count of how many times he had replayed the footage Mycroft had streamed him live a week ago. "Don't go, John," he begged the screen. "Please, just turn around, just once. Just so I know that I'll see you again."

But John never turned around and Sherlock, with heart breaking grief, realised that he wouldn't see John at the grave again.

He reached up and felt the flat, metal discs hanging from his neck. John's image melted away on the screen as tears blurred Sherlock's eyes.

He would give anything just to able to run after his friend, hug him tight and say it was all just a bad dream and he didn't have to limp anymore, he didn't have to be alone again and he didn't have to give up. That he couldn't give up.

But all he could do was sit there and watch his friend limp away until the screen turned black.

He felt something warm drip down his face and onto his hands. He looked down to see tears falling on John's birthday gift.

Sherlock pulled John's memory book from underneath the shabby pillow. Laying across the worn out hotel bed, Sherlock clutched John's gifts to his chest and he let the bitter tears come.

You have never really cried unless you have cried like your heart was broken and for the very first time since Sherlock's faked death, Sherlock Holmes cried like his heart was broken and there was no chance in the world to repair it.

Love is wearing your best friend's dog tags.