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Penny Rolling Up The Walls

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

John has, on many occasions, wondered after Mycroft Holmes: over just how much his camera eyes intimate the city, over the scores and old resentments keeping him and Sherlock apart. The eerie truth of Big Brother took time to settle in his bones, but some sense of loyalty—or more accurately, Sherlock’s gnashing—kept him from admitting to finding Mycroft’s overhead presence a comfort. A bit akin to the army, John thinks, military command chains extending forever upwards—always someone to lift the problem from your hands. And while some might protest the utter mindlessness of that, those some have never watched a man’s brain blown apart.

Still, he begins to reassess his feelings when he finds the first umbrella two weeks later, just about when he has started fingering his gun at night. Perhaps it was Sherlock’s buffering presence all along that kept John’s current sense of chafing away, because then the umbrellas don’t quit—pressed into his hand at the Tesco, swept over his head at tube stations, sitting in the office he now haunts because hypochondriacs are preferable to 221b. It’s almost a relief when he staggers home by Sarah’s command after a double shift and finds the man in his parlor, because it at least means the watchers will stop.

(Or rather, stop interacting with him so he can return to his former state of selective awareness.)

Mycroft looks diminished, although a man unlearned in the language of Holmes would be distinctly unable to tell: he stands at his usual imposing height but the lines of his suit are too sharp, freshly tailored to fit a shrinking middle. The same stubborn resolve to persist on minimal sleep that John has scolded countless times lurks beneath eyes that stare clear as still pools, lingers in the meld of his thinner body to the chair. There is no Sherlock to bicker with, not anymore, and so his presence in the flat feels distinctly wrong—lacking the same relaxed elegance able to make John’s frumpy couch into a proper throne. Only the irritatingly familiar umbrella remains unchanged, sitting faithfully by its owner’s side. “John,” he greets as the doctor emerges with a tea service, resigned to the government’s company.

“Are we still going to do the whole you-not-calling thing, Mycroft?” John asks dully, pouring for them both in practiced motions before shuffling to the mantle. “What do you want, anyway?”

“I sought to give you advance notice of my visit, this time.” The man’s eyes follow him as he returns with the urn and folds into a chair. Together they avail themselves: three sugars for Mycroft, half a teaspoon of Sherlock for John. The doctor adds milk, watches the dark speckles swim about like goldfish in a bowl, sips, warming him from outside’s nip and pleasantly rough down his throat. Mycroft is utterly still save the most minute twitch of his fingers about the cup. “How are you faring, Doctor Watson?” he inquires, carefully.

“Haven’t sorted through his stuff yet,” John replies. “Busy at the surgery, and I’m not quite sure what’s hazardous or not with the things he used to keep around. Digestive?” A box of chocolate ones sits on the tray, Mrs. Hudson’s ploy to tempt his appetite. He chooses one, dunks it carefully in his tea until bits of ash stick to its surface.

“No thank you, John,” says Mycroft, face a curious shade of gray. “Tell me, have you been eating?”

“One of your people caught me at Tesco, didn’t they?” The doctor bites into it, frowning at the taste. He hasn’t added enough. Sherlock falls into the cup again, pinch by pinch. “You could make that a thing, Mycroft—government umbrellas. Nice altruistic segment for the telly.” He laughs: a low, quavering thing. “No, I’ve been eating. Cooking more.” The plethora of restaurant owners who owed Sherlock favors have sent a slew of coupons that sit untouched beside an abandoned beaker.

“I see.”

“You should stay for dinner,” John offers politely, halfway through his tea. He has never conversed with Mycroft without the creeping feeling of being looked down upon and its absence makes him cheerful, magnanimous. “Might do noodles, I think.” He envisions it, Sherlock churning in a red sea of thick bloodlike paste and decides he likes the bright image. A second biscuit crackles from the plastic package and John submerges it, crunches in, relishing the grit between his teeth.

“Unfortunately, I have prior commitments and must decline, John,” is Mycroft’s low reply. “Thank you for your hospitality; it is most appreciated.” He leaves his tea untouched on the table and stands with stately grace, reaching out after a pregnant second for a handshake. His kinesiology is a study of its own, echoes in John’s brain and he meets Mycroft’s grip with a certain hunger: warm from the teacup, sharing lines and depressions with the touch John remembers—it takes several tugs and the working of fingers for the doctor to let go and his hand hangs uselessly in the air between them. He hears each deliberate step, standing frozen, and collapses into his chair like a snipped puppet at the closing of the door.

The afternoon passes in the crumble of ashy biscuits in cup after cup of ashy tea: an assembly line to his mouth, crunch and swallow. His hands soon forget how to do much else and they dangle helplessly in the air hours later when footsteps thunder upwards and Lestrade appears. “John?” he calls out, catching sight of the doctor and something like horror nestles deep in his face. “Come on, up you get.” He feels himself hoisted and wobbles on his feet, but submits quietly to his jacket until Lestrade glances about the room and moves the urn.

Then begin the screams put him back put him back fucking hell put him back and the room explodes in motion—there are men holding him down and a kind-faced doctor wearing his outfit with a syringe that glints in the sudden light and swells across his vision until the needle is thick as his arm and lodges itself therein like the sting of a wasp—blood ballooning like bubble gum from the egregious hole. An orange blanket settles heavy atop him and he twitches bloated fingers to grasp it, babbling nonsense about dim sum and door handles until the usurper in his system smothers him to silence—he splutters in fright, voice gone and saliva streaming down his cheeks in wet tracks. The doctor wipes his face, expression concerned and then the ceiling shudders backwards into stairwell-black and he is bleeding to death, John realizes, before he is wrestled down to darkness.