Familiar. This is too familiar. John gets an odd sense of déjà vu, like he should remember this moment but something is stopping him from doing so, like this is very important, so, so very important, and he just can’t remember it.
“Sherlock, what are you doing? Sherlock!”
“I’m a fake,” Sherlock is choking out, a heart broken plea for life through a dead telephone line. “I’m a fake, John.”
Run straight for the building – No. Bicycle coming from right. Will get knocked down. Consider, a millisecond of decision. Dive – over the bike, into the road, right where Sherlock should land. Arms outstretched, must stop him must stop him must stop him, head tucked in.
You’re too late.
Young woman rams into his side. A few moments of disorientation. Last thing he sees – Sherlock’s head hitting the pavement.
The second time, he’s better. Smarter. He can’t remember what, but he knows that something bad is going to happen today. Instead of leaving to find Mrs Hudson, he calls Mrs Hudson straight away; she laughs and tells him she’s fine, Sherlock’s probably just having one of his moments again. John immediately returns to the lab after the phone call, but there’s nobody there.
Where could he be?
He could have left the building – No. That doesn’t seem right, somehow. Second floor? No, nothing for him there. Third? Hmm.
He’s proud of himself for making this connection, proud and terrified. He runs up flights of stairs, past men and women who look at him strangely and whisper about that Sherlock bloke, up a ladder – onto the roof.
There’s blood. Everywhere. Moriarty is splayed across the roof, mouth gaping open. He sees Sherlock standing there, eyes narrowed, coat flying up. His toes curled around the edge of the roof. He looks like a hero. He is a hero, John realises, one of the very best. He’s cold and brisk and lonely and cruel, but Sherlock Holmes is a hero, through and through, and the idea that anybody could think any less makes John feel sick.
“Sherlock!” John yells.
Sherlock doesn’t appear to hear him. The man takes a deep breath, fists his hands together, and jumps.
The 3rd time, John doesn’t even get out of bed. Sherlock drags him out, they end up running around London, and, finally, at Bart’s. Sherlock jumps. John can’t do anything to stop him.
The 4th time, John tries to tell Sherlock. “You’re going to die today,” he hisses as they enter the journalist’s flat. “You need to go – somewhere. Hide. Anything.” Sherlock looks at him oddly, before turning around and walking into the journalist’s house. Later, John will stare up at Sherlock as Sherlock falls through the air, and John will stagger forward, empty and helpless.
The 5th time is different, because John’s ready for it, not just mentally, but emotionally. Which sounds like a cheesy line from Cosmo, not that he’s ever read Cosmo (okay, whatever, he was fifteen and he was curious).
He remembers little bits. Like, that he’s been here before, that Sherlock’s going to die today. He doesn’t remember how, but it comes back to him more and more as he lives the day over and over again; round and round and round, like a tape stuck on repeat.
So, the 5th time is different, because John’s ready for it. Kind of.
“Sherlock,” he says urgently, “I need to tell you something.”
Sherlock doesn’t look at him. He’s too busy fiddling with some suspicious substance in a bottle that looks far too delicate beneath Sherlock’s probing fingers. “What is it, John?”
“I---” he begins, and then chokes on his own words, because, really, what the fuck was he supposed to say?
He doesn’t remember that the Mrs. Hudson thing is a ruse, because his life hates him. Sherlock dies, again, and John stands at the bottom of the roof, again, pale and withdrawn, and, wow, this is never going to hurt any less, is it?
“You’re going to die.”
“Everybody’s going to die, John.” Sherlock sniffs arrogantly. “Even me.”
“No. Today. You’re going to die.”
Sherlock looks at him, but he doesn’t doubt John, strangely, because, well, this is his best friend, his only friend, the only man he’s ever trusted, he supposes. “Tell me more.”
Sherlock still jumps, and John still aches right to the bone, but at least this time, he doesn’t do it alone.
Sherlock’s confidence in him is strangely reassuring.
“So you’re telling me,” Sherlock says, thoughtfully, “that you’re stuck.”
“Well.” John is determined not to look at him, focusing on the fabric of the sofa beneath his fingers. “Yes. Stuck in a loop. A time loop, kind of.”
Sherlock hmms, and then stops, cocks an eyebrow. “Does this mean I’m not real?”
Only Sherlock could make that sound like the best thing he’s heard all day.
“Well,” John says again. “Yes. I mean, no. Well, yes. Well, kind of.”
“Hmm... interesting,” Sherlock murmurs, and John can practically see the gears turning in his head.
They do an experiment, of sorts. If Sherlock writes John a note, puts it in John’s pocket, will John still have it when he wakes up tomorrow (or, today? Yesterday? God, stop thinking about it like that, it will only give you a headache)?
John doesn’t fall for the whole ‘Mrs Hudson’s in hospital’ thing, not just this time, but the building next door gets lit on fire and John has to help a family out. Of course Sherlock would know that’s exactly the type of thing John would do.
Sherlock still jumps. John still aches. Time still stutters and rewinds, like a buffering tape that’s never going to get past that one spot.
John wakes up the next morning with the note in his pocket. It says, I have faith in you, in Sherlock’s unmistakable handwriting. John will never admit it, but he’s a little late getting up that day, too busy trying to wipe the tears from his cheeks.
He tries, of course. Every time. He tells Sherlock the story so many times it wears away at him, breaks him down, leaves him tired and weary and feeling old. Sherlock believes him. Sometimes John thinks that he could tell Sherlock he’s an alien from outer space with a time travelling machine who wants to employ Sherlock as his companion and Sherlock would believe him straight away.
“Of course not,” Sherlock sniffs when John mentions this to him, “I just l- I just trust you. That is all.”
John doesn’t mention the slip of tongue. He’s too busy trying to stop Sherlock from killing himself.
It doesn’t work, of course. It never does.
Sherlock gives John a note, a gleeful look on his face. He says, “I have faith in you,” and “The only person I ever,” and “Best friend”
And then throws himself off the hospital roof.
You need to let go, the note says, and John frowns at it, because, come on, this is so not the time for sentimentality.
He scrunches up the note, shoves it in his pocket, forgets about it.
Sherlock dies, over and over and over again.
Never hurts any less.
This time is different. Sherlock is sad. Slow. He listens as John tells him and then says, “Okay. Okay. What’s that?”
He grabs the note out of John’s pocket. Looks at John. Back down at the note. Back up.
“Oh,” Sherlock says. And then, “Oh.”
“What—” John begins, but then Sherlock is kissing him and, oh.
“Prepared to burn,” Sherlock says, with that fake smile.
“Take my hand,” Sherlock says, but that’s a real smile, the one he keeps just for John.
“Goodbye,” Sherlock says, and then he smiles, a watery smile. And John thinks that maybe he gets it.
That’s what John tells himself, anyway, so he doesn’t feel as bad when he doesn’t even try to save Sherlock this time.
You need to let go, the note says, so that’s what John does.
John sits up sharply in bed, scrambles for the door. There’s a loud banging noise coming from his living room, from the front door. His heart leaps, practically dives out of his throat, and he throws open the front door.
“Hey, John,” Harry says, holding up a paper bag of what smells like Chinese food. “I brought you something.”
John frowns. “Where’s Sherlock?”
Harry freezes, but not like she’s surprised, like she’s been expecting this for a long, long time, but was never really prepared for it. “John,” she says, slowly, calmly. “Sherlock’s been dead for two years.”
He doesn’t cry.
Later, John sighs, sits down in his chair, wondering if it had all been a dream. Maybe he really had lost his mind. He runs a hand through his hair, then drops it to his pocket. Something rustles. John frowns, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper.
You need to let go, it says, and John just sits there, staring stupidly, not even paying attention to the tears that have pooled on the sofa. You need to let go, the note says, and yeah, John gets it now, two years too late.