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Penny Rolling Up The Walls

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Somewhere, perhaps in the depths of not-Anthea’s Blackberry or at the very end of the file on Sherlock Holmes, there are pictures of Doctor Watson wearing a woman’s cloche hat. Harry brings it to the funeral, respectfully the closest to sober that John has seen her in twenty years, and pins it to his dull blonde hair in a bleak attempt at jest. John, however, has lead weights in his fingers and so it remains there throughout the service—in odd keeping with a silent agreement that has designated him de facto bereaved wife. The netting hangs over his eyes and divides the world evenly, a geometric neatness that satisfies some stabbing ache for order. No one comments.

Molly is there, sniffling into a handkerchief, thankfully spared the duty of sorting out the corpse. Or not? John was more than happy to leave certain arrangements to Mycroft—he knows only the truth of a body cracking on the pavement but no more than that and he does not ask after the closed casket. Lestrade has somehow grayed overnight, silver hair catching the half-hearted sunlight of the cemetery and offset by his dark, sharp suit. He brings Sherlock asphodel bound up in ribbon and John catches Mycroft’s tiny approving nod. Sally and Anderson hover at the periphery of the group, faces a study in resolution and guilt; a bouquet of carnations drip between them and neither seem quite sure what to do with themselves. Lestrade’s DCI does not attend and there is assumedly a watch on the headstone to assure that the man doesn’t piss on it.

The stone itself is simple, bearing none of the witty epitaphs John has occasionally thought of in moments of pique. He learns Sherlock’s middle name, which makes him wonder what other little details have escaped him in his seeing yet failing to observe and the world slants sideways as suddenly they are inside a crematorium and just as quickly they are not. He is handed an elegant urn by a spotty-faced attendant and attempts a vague motion with it in Mycroft’s direction; the government wordlessly rebuffs him and opens his brolly against the threatening drizzle. Not-Anthea’s phone returns to her hand. Molly, leaking mascara, leaves with Mrs. Hudson for a cuppa. Lestrade takes him home and fucks him.

John processes all of the above outside himself in the strictest progression, as if a secretary inhabited his shell throughout the entire affair and took detailed shorthand notes—he comes the closet to being teased back into his body when the steady thump of headboard demands his return and then he is screaming—

still nothing doing

—clawing at every part of Greg that he can reach and kicking out as if dragging the whole thing into some sick realm of pseudo-rape will be enough trauma to coalesce the black mass of squares into a cohesive whole—

still nothing doing

—and he can faintly taste asphodel on Greg’s fingers when they are shoved in his mouth and wonders if perhaps he can touch those sweet fields of nothing if he is fucked hard enough makes a note to see if Sherlock penned a will thinking wildly of the abandoned urn on Greg’s coffee table and whether shoving that last bit of Sherlock up inside him would help because John’s bodily eviction feels like forever and he cannot seem to re-inherit his flesh—

still nothing doing

—and he screams and screams and presses his face to the pillow until his lungs rent themselves apart in want of air and the sweaty cloth becomes something else and in the moment before blindness the world goes sweet and he swears he feels flowers brushing his face.

He wakes hours later, groaning, to the steady drum of rainfall.

Every muscle he owns is aching in concert and the pain leaves him breathless at his first attempt to stand—his leg is on fire, as if someone has soaked a needle in capsaicin and pressed it through the skin. His head swims, pinpricks of red dotting the edges of his vision and it takes several minutes of blinking to realize they exist: blood, dotting Lestrade’s pristine sheets in vague patterns. Their color, dried and deoxygenated yet stark-bright against ashen cloth snares his attention until the smell of coffee wafts up the stairs.

“Brought you something stronger than tea, John,” says the man himself, cradling a red mug. His dressing gown flutters about him like half-hearted wings, gentler than the dramatic billow that John is used to yet another commonality between inspector and detective.

Detective. Dead detective. Sherlock. And there it is again: John’s face pulls without his consent into a rictus to rival the skull on the mantle and Greg sighs at the sight, pushing the mug between his fingers. “Probably wasn’t the best idea,” he says in the voice used to inform clueless widows and goddamn, John thinks, if the comparisons aren’t just piling up. “You lost it midway, almost couldn’t fight you off.” He rises to dress, black fabric pooling on the floor. “Never know it though, looking at you in those jumpers.”

John smiles at that and Lestrade’s expression takes on relief. “You okay?” he offers, as Greg turns his back and the hollowed-out gouges on his shoulders glow pink. He’s attractive, close to the sturdy frames that populated John’s bed in medical school and bitterness urges up his throat. “I didn’t mean—I can look at them, if you want.”

“Don’t bother,” is the gruffly kind reply amid the rustle of cloth. “Not a doctor or anything but know enough—need to, don’t I?” He pulls on a black blazer and meets John’s eyes, stately and solemn. “Listen, I knew Sherlock six or seven years and before you showed up he was an absolute nightmare. Genius, yeah, but coming off drugs. What he does—did—to Anderson is child’s play compared to the way he used to torment my team. But I’ll tell you what—never saw someone that desperate for a friend whether he admitted it to himself or not.”

“Greg—” He can’t finish. Lestrade crosses the room in three strides and kisses him and John watches the could-have-beens break off. “You killed that cabbie for him,” is pressed into his mouth, “with that gun you fancy I don’t know about. You made him good, and that’s more than I ever hoped for.”

One red moment passes where John wants to cleave Greg’s wrist in two because none of that changes the still nothing doing that greedily suckles the air from his lungs. The Inspector’s face stops him: tired, resigned to longer days with the death of a genius and the lot of his caseload under departmental review, deeply chiseled lines of grief. John is many things, but selfish is too new a development for him to do else but swallow the words; their weight, at least, keeps his atoms in place. “Yeah,” he agrees, huskily. “Yeah.” The answering smile stops just short of enough.

“There’s donuts and tea—don’t say a word—so just lock up when you leave. Left the urn on the table.” A delicate cough. “Best be off, but don’t be a stranger—call, stop by the Yard. We like you for more than what you were to Sherlock. Just hope you know that.”

John wants to ask where Lestrade sees the line between the two of them because he seems unable to find it himself; instead, he rouses himself to the window just long enough to watch Greg’s abduction by London fog and then curls up on the bloody sheets.