Crucial

4 May, 2013

PRESENT: Monday, 4 May, 2015
221b Baker Street

"John."

A plaintive, hushed estimation of the battered, bone-weary man drowsing on the sitting room sofa. Sherlock hovered in the doorway to the flat, a plastic bag laden with Chinese food in one hand, observing his friend. Concussed, bruised, bloodied, fractured, dislocated, and sprained, the doctor sagged back into the cushions, eyes closed, breathing evenly.

Was it possible for someone to look thoroughly miserable, yet altogether peaceful, at the same time? Leave it to John Watson.

Thinking his flat mate to be asleep, Sherlock placed their dinner on the coffee table, adjusted the cushion under John's leg, and retrieved a blanket from the back of the arm chair. "You are the single most complex human being I have ever encountered, John. How do you bear to put up with someone as insufferable as myself?" Sherlock mused absently as he gently draped the blanket over the other man.

"I manage alright," John mumbled, eyes still closed, but unable conceal the slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

With a gasp Sherlock froze, startled, mid-tuck in.

"What're you doing?" It was more of a yawn than an actual question. John awkwardly tried to rub the sleep from his eyes, but the wrist brace severely hindered his ease of movement and he winced in pain when he brushed against a bruise on his face.

"Ah... yes..." Sherlock fumbled. "Thought you were asleep. Wanted to make sure you were comfortable. Lean up." When John complied, Sherlock adjusted the cushion behind the doctor's back.

"Hmph. Supposed to be my job," John pouted. "I hate this."

"Indeed. I am as disinclined to provide care as you are to receive it. Yet, here is where we find ourselves." Sherlock retreated to the kitchen and could be heard opening and closing cupboards, and generally making more noise than was entirely necessary for one person to make in such a small space.

"Um, Sherlock?" John called, not really expecting an answer, which is exactly what he got.

Sherlock emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later with a loaded serving tray. Placing the tray gingerly on the table between John's cushion and the bag of food, he arranged a cup of tea and a glass of water to be within John's reach. Without looking up from what he was doing, Sherlock stuck his hand out to John. "Peas."

"Peas?" John laughed.

With a sigh, Sherlock pointed at John's shoulder, "Yes, hand me the bag of peas serving as an ice pack on your shoulder."

"Oh! Right."

Taking the slightly mushy bundle from John, Sherlock wrapped the towel around a fresh bag of frozen lima beans and turned up his nose. "We really ought to invest in several of those gel ice packs."

"Every time I buy more, you cut them open for experimentation. Frozen vegetables work just as well." John eased the lima beans under his sling, trying valiantly, and failing, to not flinch when the cold came in contact with his aching shoulder.

"But, lima beans and peas?" Sherlock shuddered with disgust as he placed freshly wrapped cold packs on John's knee and ankle.

"Guaranteed Sherlock proof. We've managed to keep those particular ice packs for four months now. That's a new record," John smiled victoriously at his flat mate.

"Seems congratulations are in order. Well done, doctor." With a laugh Sherlock returned the thawing cold packs to the freezer before taking his place on the other end of the couch. He pulled the bag of food to him and glanced at John. "Hungry?"

It was John's turn to pull a disdainful face. "Not really." Sherlock shot him a sharp look. "I know, I know. I force you to eat, especially when you're unwell. I really don't think my gut, in its current pulverized state, can handle anything too heavy right now."

"Egg drop soup it is then," Sherlock pulled the clear plastic container from the bag. John sighed in resignation and reached for a spoon from the tray. They realized at the same moment that John didn't have another free hand with which to hold the soup. For a moment they just stared at one another; the brains of one genius consulting detective and one military officer/doctor scrambling to solve this most troublesome of puzzles.

"I wonder if Mrs. Hudson has one of those tall tray tables?" John shrugged his good-though-not-really left shoulder.

At the same moment, Sherlock murmured, "I don't have to feed you too, do I?"

"NO," John shook his head emphatically. "Absolutely not. No. God no. Not ever." He tossed the spoon back to the tray. "Just pull the lid off for me, yeah? Here," John took the open container from Sherlock, and raised it slightly as if giving a toast. "Cheers." With slurp he took a sip of the broth straight from the container and nodded. "Mhmm."

"How very dignified doctor," Sherlock shook his head. He pulled a pair of chopsticks from their paper sheath, and fished a carton of lo mein from the bag. "We've got lo mein and fried rice, if you decide you'd like to try. How's the soup?" He pointed to John with the chopsticks, unintentionally flipping a noodle onto the laptop resting between them.

"Oh God, it's the noodle incident all over again," John chuckled. Sherlock grinned that genuine, unassuming grin. Clearing his throat, John suddenly turned serious. "You... Uhm... You wanna watch another?" He pointed to the laptop.

"Only if you're certain. It's getting late. You're exhausted. There really is no hurry." Sherlock offered John a variety of excuses to choose from, though there was an eagerness in his eyes that immediately gave him away.

"It's fine. It'll be fine," John's voice grew quiet. "This one is..." He sighed, "please don't panic. Please. And don't run away. Just, please, stay here with me." John's eyes searched Sherlock's face, imploring him silently. The consulting detective cautiously removed the soup from John's hand, and wrapped his own fingers around those of his blogger, applying just the right amount of pressure to make his presence known, but not enough to cause undue pain to the injured hand. No awkward pretext or underlying... anything... implied. Yet an infinite amount of reassuring devotion was transferred in that most simple of gestures.

John took a deep breath, smiled weakly, and nodded to Sherlock to click on the next video link.


CCTV Footage
04/05/13
St Bart's Hospital
External Camera C
Rooftop

The sun was just beginning to rise, the first vestiges of daylight barely staining the low hanging clouds vivid pinks and fierce oranges.

John Watson had been awake for hours. Felt like days. Not that it really mattered anymore.

He burst through the rooftop door and stumbled a few steps before barely righting himself. Disoriented, he looked around the rooftop and squinted into the sun. Bad idea. His head was killing him. If he didn't know better he would have thought he was hung-over.

No. He couldn’t be hung-over.

He was entirely too drunk for that.

A few halting steps and he found himself staring down at the spot where… uhm… Jim? Yeah, Jim. James. Moriarty. The spot where Moriarty died.

At least he thought it was the spot. The blood wasn't visible any more. A year's worth of London's dank climate had erased his presence forever.

"You." John shook his finger, as if scolding a child, at the spot and shook his head with a contemptuous laugh. "You. Even dead, you're cleverer than everyone, aren't you? You knew all along. The whole bloody time. Well, good on you. You won." He considered spitting on the spot. It's what they did last time, he and Greg. But last time was different. Last time he had hope. Instead he pulled the largish bottle, though only half full, of scotch from his coat. "Cheers." He downed a large gulp and turned to face the ledge.


PRESENT

John blanched.

He pried his left hand free from Sherlock's, wrapped his good arm rigidly around his middle, and gasped for air as he doubled over, eyes squeezed tight.

"Oh god." His voice was smaller, more stripped raw, than Sherlock had ever heard it, including that day exactly three years ago.

Sherlock was aghast, too afraid to say or do anything. He found that while he was nauseated by what he had just seen, he was well and truly terrified by how it had affected John. This was clearly a traumatic reaction triggered by the stress of the memories. It was a different response from his military stressors, but damaging nonetheless.

"John," Sherlock spoke as softly, and annunciated as clearly, as possible. "John? It's me. This is Sherlock. John, I need to know you're listening to me. Can you nod for me?" A slight tip of the other man's head. "Good. Very good. John, I'm going to place my hand on the middle of your back, okay? Gently. It's just me." He placed his hand softly on his friend's back. "Can you feel that John? It might be hard to feel through the bindings," Sherlock hadn't even considered that the doctors would have wrapped his chest to bind his cracked ribs. God, this was going to be difficult. "Can you feel my hand?"

"Yeah..." John mumbled. "Sorry, sorry," he repeated over and over.

"Don't apologize, John. Just take deep breaths. In, hold it, and out, hold it. And again. Hold. Out. Hold. Good. Good John. Keep going." Sherlock slowly rubbed his hand up the middle of John's back as he was inhaling, paused, and rubbed back down as he would exhale. He would maintain this motion as long as it took for John to regulate his breathing.

He wasn't sure how long they stayed there like that, John mumbling apologies and Sherlock helping him breathe, but eventually John unfolded himself. "Would you like some water?" Sherlock asked cautiously.

John nodded, his voice wavering. "Yeah. Yes please." Sherlock helped him steady the glass to take a sip. "Thanks, Sherlock. I thought I was ready, but obviously I wasn't."

"Think nothing of it, John. You are attempting to dredge up the past, a task you find daunting under the best of circumstances, and with that effort came traumatizing memories and emotions. You have nothing to be ashamed of, nor to apologize for. It was I who asked to see the videos, therefore it is I who owe you an apology." He slid his hand from John's back, and once again took John's left hand in his own. "Why don't I clean everything up, and then..."

"No, I want to go on," John squeezed Sherlock's fingers, as if trying to reassure himself that his friend was still there.

"What? No, John. I must insist you rest now," Sherlock pleaded.

"If I wait until tomorrow, or even next week, it will just happen again. I've already gone off the deep end tonight, I may as well finish the job."

"John," it was impossible to mask the concern in his voice, so Sherlock tried to use it to his advantage. "Please, John. For me. Don't let's do anything. It's safer."

"Safer? Sherlock bloody Holmes wants to play it safe?" John's smile didn't make it to his eyes. "Push the button."

"If it's what you want, John. But I must express my deep displeasure at your choice."

"Noted."


CCTV Footage
04/05/13
St Bart's Hospital
External Camera C
Rooftop

"Cheers." He downed a large gulp and turned to face the ledge. Time to go pray at the Altar of Sherlock. Or so he had named "the spot," all of 20 seconds ago.

He stumbled to the ledge, and placed his hand reverently on the last place he had, with certainty, seen Sherlock Holmes alive. He stood there for what felt like ages. Not thinking. Not remembering. Not seeing. Not really even being.

He closed his eyes and dropped hard to his knees. He tried to remember how to pray. How to believe. If not in God, then in anything. He thought back to his old Gran. She had taken him to church when he was small. He never really understood what all the fuss was about, but he remembered the stories and songs being comforting and lulling him nearly to sleep. Gran always said praying brought her peace. He didn't know if he believed all that, but then, his lack of faith hadn't stopped him asking God to not let him die when he'd been shot.

He knelt there, hands clasped together as Gran had taught him when he was so young. But it didn't seem right to pray to the God his Gran had trusted. It had been too long. So, he talked to the only one he ever really wanted to talk to anyway.

"Sherlock, it's me. This is John..." God, he felt so stupid doing this. "I, uhm, I just wanted you to know, in case you didn't already, we got your name cleared. Greg and me did. I found your clues, and it was enough. It was all there. And we had to go to court, and testify there. But we did it. And then everyone was sorry. So sorry. It's probably wrong of me, but it felt so good to hear Sally Donovan apologize. She bloody cried, can you believe it? God, and Anderson went right off his nut at a crime scene, trying to deduce like you, and the idiot just snapped, and they canned him right there. But none of it matters really, because you're not here."

John didn't even attempt to hide the sobs. "Sherlock," he wept, "Sherlock, please. It's been a year. Just stop this. Please. I found your clues Sherlock. I believed. I told everyone Sherlock. I said it so many time. I believe in Sherlock Holmes. And they would look at me like I was crazy, or shake their heads sadly. But it was true. I believed in you, that you were bloody brilliant, and the best friend I ever had. I believed in you harder than I have ever believed in anything or anyone. But it wasn't enough, was it? Me believing. "

Knees aching, John turned to sit down flat on the roof, leaning back against the short wall. "But I can't any more Sherlock. It hurts too bad. It's been a year. A whole year. I guess if you were ever going to come back, you would've by now. I always knew you'd leave me eventually. No one ever stays. I just didn't know that when you left, you'd take everything with you. I've got nothing. I'm fresh out of hope, Sherlock. I used it all up those first couple of months. Poured every last ounce into clearing your name, and reminding myself it was all just a trick, a magic trick. Because that's what you said, Sherlock. You did. And I took that as a promise, but I was wrong. I believed in you, and I was wrong. So, that's it for me then. Nothing left to believe in. There was a I time when I thought the entire rest of my life would be spent believing in you Sherlock, but I guess I'm just too weak. A failure. Because a year was all I had in me."

Slowly he pulled himself up to sit on the ledge. He turned to dangle his feet over the edge and leaned slightly over to watch the people moving below. Sitting up a little straighter, he took another swallow of the scotch, a desperate man's communion he supposed, secured the cap, and set it off to the side for Greg. He fished the pack of cigarettes and small matchbox from his pocket. John tore the cellophane away from the pack and let it float away on the breeze. He took out a single cigarette and a single match, and set the rest next to the scotch. Striking the match against the building, he watched the flame burn down until the match was little more than a nub, and then quickly lit the cigarette, drawing on it only long enough to get it lit properly. He set the lit cigarette reverently off to the other side of him, as if he were lighting one of the prayer candles at Gran's church all those years ago.

John dug in his pockets once more, until he found the neatly folded piece of paper.

His apology to Greg.

He tucked it securely under the bottle of scotch.

The poor man had done everything he could to help John, but as the weeks stretched into months, John could see the toll he was taking on his friend. God. Everyone could see it. And Greg deserved more. He had come to terms with Sherlock never coming back months ago, and had been ready to go on with his life. But John only kept dragging him back down.

And John couldn't do it anymore. He was killing Greg, and he just couldn't watch his friend willingly sacrifice himself over and over as he tried to pull John from this deepening pit.

He hadn't been enough to keep Sherlock from leaving. He clearly wasn't enough for Sherlock to come back to. And he wasn't worth the price that Greg was paying.

John remembered the promise they had made to each other, that if one ended it all, the other would too. So John made sure to absolve Greg of that responsibility in his note, certain it would come as a relief to the other man.

It had been year.

And he was done.

A year.

God.

Wasn't it truly astounding when one considered what could happen in only a year's time.

Or not happen.

Depending on the year in question.

Also upon the individual doing the considering.

God, it was all just too much to think about.

But not really enough.

And that bloody well didn't even make any sense.

Then the memories flooded in. But they weren't organized and tidy, because God knows that might have actually been helpful. No these memories were chaotic and jumbled, and just when it seemed there was a single coherent thought, something was always just kind of... off.

Always something.

Rivulets of blood carrying sun bleached desert sand, mingling with blood pooled on damp, dreary pavement.

Wrong.

The very first wounded soldier, from the very first tour. A fatigue clad figure. Lieutenant’s insignia. Left leg blown to shreds below the knee. He'd lose the leg, but he'd live. Check the vitals. No pulse. Blue eyes suddenly lifeless. Pale, angular features, unexposed to the harshness of Afghani sun. Dark mop of unruly hair, matted with blood from the crushing head wound. He's my friend.

Wrong.

A standard patrol. The sun was glaringly white and blinding. The sky a brilliant cerulean, so clear it was possible to see for miles. God. Miles. But it was so hot. Like the very gates of hell, they joked. Speaking of which... Screaming. A suicide bomber in the marketplace. No detonation, but the device was present. They scrambled, searching madly. A breeze meandered through, and the faint scent of chlorine lingered. He looked to his left. Then his right. They'd backed away from him, terror etched on their faces. Instead of radio chatter he heard the mocking sing-song voice of a mad man through an ear piece. There was a countdown. His hands flew to his chest to ensure his body armor was secure, and he nearly choked on the overwhelming smell of chlorine, because instead of kevlar he was strapped into a bomb. And everyone was going to die that day.

WRONG.

God.

GOD.

What was that? Was that insanity? Yes. He was losing his mind. Not losing. Lost. Had lost.

Nothing left now.

Had there ever really been anything there to begin with?

It had been a year. A bloody year. And there was still nothing.

Alone suited him just fine.

He looked over the edge one more time. Not everything had changed. He still didn't have the stomach to jump. He was aware of the weight of the Sig tucked at the small of his back, and gingerly he pulled it out and held it, as in offering, before him. He examined it closely, though he knew every detail intimately. After everything, this one inanimate object had served as a totem, an anchor to reality. He had spent hours dismantling and reassembling it. He could already do that in his sleep, faster than anyone in his unit, it had been drilled into him. There was something comforting in the repetitive motion. Knowing that this one thing had never failed him. Not once. And if he needed it, it would not fail him one last time.

It was time to put the Sig to the final test.

He scooted forward so his knees jutted out over the ledge, and leaned slightly forward so that gravity could do what he was too weak to do himself once his body went limp. This way his bloody, cowardly remains wouldn't taint the spot.

John checked the clip. Just to make sure.

Closing his eyes he leaned forward, just a tiny bit more. He had long ago decided, before he had even met Sherlock, that if it came right down to it, he was going to eat the bullet. He'd seen too many failed attempts with the gun pointed inward toward the heart. It was a romantic notion, but always proved too awkward to handle the weapon properly. The side of the head also left too much room for error. The recoil alone could cause the hand to shift, and leave the poor soul damaged and trapped in their own useless body. That seemed a fate worse than death to John.

He pressed the gun to the roof of his mouth, and he couldn't help his tongue instinctively attempting to taste the cold metal. He swallowed hard and inhaled deeply.

And then Greg Lestrade, that bloody clueless idiot, swung the rooftop door open.

It couldn’t be 7:30 already.

John whispered a vulgar tirade around the gun in his mouth. He hadn't wanted Greg to be the one to find him, much less witness this. But, what else could he do?

Steeling his nerves, John inhaled deeply once more. And then he hesitated.

God.

Why did he hesitate?

Greg strolled smoothly up next to John. The cigarettes immediately drew his attention, and he sat on the ledge, facing the opposite direction as John, paying only a little attention to the fact that John had not shifted his posture since he made his approach. "Been here long, mate? From the looks of that scotch bottle, seems like it. It's only now 7:30 though, so if you were up here catching a chill, that's on you."

Perhaps the D.I. noticed more than he let on. His voice was a touch too chipper, and his movements had become very slow and deliberate.

John watched Greg from the corner of his eye, waiting for him to strike his match, hoping that would distract the detective long enough for him to click the safety off. A moment later, and John had his opportunity.

The metallic click was unmistakable. Greg had heard it a thousand times.

It was the stuff of nightmares.

John Watson dreamt of war. Greg Lestrade dreamt of cold gun barrels being pressed into his back and the safety being taken off.

The soldier sat stone still, acutely aware that he had been found out. He didn't look at Greg. He maintained his coiled stance, daring the detective to move.

The detective sat frozen as well, cigarette dangling between his fingers. He didn't hide the fact that he was staring at John.

"So, that's it then? We're doing this today? I usually leave this at home, but for some reason, I thought I might need it this morning," Greg pulled a gun from his jacket pocket. "Illegal to have, you know. It's a Sig, just like yours. Can't tell you where I got it, but I managed to get my hands on one about a month after we signed that suicide pact. Figured if we were going all in, I better do it right."

"God, it's beautiful, yeah? Just look at it." Greg inspected his gun, just as John had, checked the clip, and flicked the safety off. "I have no idea what you're waiting for. I've been ready to do this for a year. Remember, John? Remember that day you talked me down? If it's all the same to you, though, I'll not be facing down when I go. Heights make me a bit squeamish." He scooted back a little farther on the ledge in order to give gravity the advantage. From his position he could see John's face. The doctor looked completely decimated. Greg sighed. "Well, off you go then. This was your plan; I'll let you take the lead."

Placing the barrel of his own gun in his mouth, Greg closed his eyes and waited. He mumbled something nearly unintelligible around the gun in his mouth.

"Wh... What?" John whispered. He had pulled the gun from his mouth, but still held it hovering near his lips.

Following John's lead, Greg pulled the gun from his mouth, but left it poised near his chin. He moved forward now, away from the ledge and sized up the distance between them; John was only an easy arm's length away.

"Just, something I had memorized for this occasion. Learned it back in school for a class play, thought it was appropriate:

"'Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus, I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And, in despite, I'll cram thee with more food!'

"Can you believe I remembered that? From the end of Romeo and Juliette. He thinks she's dead, so he's going to follow her in. I played Romeo. Me.Romeo" With a shrug and a disdainful laugh, Greg stuck the gun back in his mouth.

John blinked in surprise. He lowered his gun just a fraction more. "God, Greg. What the actual..." In a flash, the supply of oxygen to John's lungs was cut off and in his disoriented state it felt as if he were tumbling backwards, but that couldn't be right could it?

That blink. It was all the indication Greg had needed.

Greg Lestrade was a very good detective. He was an even better friend.

107.

The number of ways Greg had come up with to save John Watson's life. Over the past year he had employed 36. Three of the tactics used so far had involved physical harm (one resulted in John needing stitches, but Greg had no regrets). A dozen or so were blatantly obvious misdirections. One long con. On twenty different occasions Greg's plans had been so devious John didn't even know he had been saved until he woke from fitful sleep the next morning.

Shakespeare was number 82 on the official list, and had been developed for just this event. The plan was simple. Since the situation was always going to come down to John trying to off himself, Greg would make his intentions clear. Either they both die, or no one does. If that didn't convince John to back down, then the D.I. would pull out his secret weapon: Shakespeare. He had armed himself with a variety of sonnets, soliloquies and monologues, varying in length and subject matter.

His favorite had always been the King's St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. He suspected John, as a soldier, would appreciate it too. Greg decided to save that one for another day, as double suicide was on the program for today. Romeo and Juliette seemed fitting.

Depending on how John responded to the poetic interlude, Greg would decide his next course of action. If the performance garnered no reaction, Greg would know his friend was too far gone. Were that the case, death would be a welcome release for them both. But, if John so much as blinked in reaction, Greg was prepared to diffuse the situation by any means necessary, and with extreme force if needed.

He blinked.

Sometimes Greg was a little slow on the uptake. That was not the case when it came to saving John Watson. When the matter concerned John, Greg was as calculating and precise as anyone could be.

John blinked.

Greg dropped his cigarette.

John lowered his Sig just a fraction.

Greg clicked the safety on his own Sig, and lowered it as well.

John opened his mouth to speak.

Greg covered the distance of the easy arm length between them, using his left hand to grasp John's throat with enough force to stun him and push him up and back onto the roof, away from the ledge.

John's face registered only shock as he landed hard, flat on his back, momentarily stunned and breathless.

Greg wrenched John's Sig from his hands, and in one quick motion clicked on the safety then removed the clip. He removed the clip from his own gun as well.

John lay still, not breathing, a host of emotions playing across his face.

Greg shoved the clips into his jacket pocket and tossed the guns off to the side. "God. Breathe already, would you mate?"

John gasped for air. Eyes dark with rage searched Greg's face. "You..." he rasped.

Greg retrieved the scotch, shoving John's note deep into his pocket, the cigarettes and the matches. With a groan he sat down on the roof next to John's feet. "Don't talk, just breathe. You know the drill. In and out. In and out. And again. Good, John." He took a drink of the scotch, and lit a cigarette.

John growled, but matched his respirations to Greg's spoken encouragement. He balled his hands into fists and pressed them against his eyes.

Greg smoked his cigarette in a silent vigil at John's side. He waited patiently. He wanted to yell at John for being an idiot. Or cry and wail because John had almost died. He had almost died. And there were so many things that needed to be said. But he didn't say any of them, because John wouldn't want to talk right then. John hadn't said as much, but they'd been in this situation too many times before, and Greg just knew. This time was different though. This time, this time John had something to say. Greg could see it, whatever it was, hovering, just below the surface. He just needed more time. So Greg waited, smoking patiently. His free left hand found its way to rest gently on his friend's denim clad ankle as a point of contact, a reminder that neither one was alone.

A tear managed to escape from behind the fists pressing into John's eyes. Then another, and a third. Suddenly there was a torrent, and it was all just too much. John sobbed one word, "Sherlock." He shuddered, gasped once more for air, and lay there weeping unashamedly.

At the sound of John's despair Greg released a breath he felt that he'd been holding for an entire year. Finally. He hadn't spent every 24 hours of every one of the past 365 days with John, but he had been with him enough to know that John had never truly mourned Sherlock. Whether Sherlock was actually dead, or not, as John had fought so hard to believe, two undeniable truths remained: Sherlock Holmes was gone, and John Watson had spent a full year in denial.

"John?" Greg scooted forward and held his hand out. John opened his eyes enough to see the familiar hand, and with a few heaved breaths, he reached forward and use Greg's strong arm to pull himself up. He drew his knees toward his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs, and hung his head.

Still wracked with sobs, and avoiding eye contact, John asked the question he had been terrified to know the answer to. "He's not coming back, is he?" His voice cracked, and the tears started falling heavy once more. John finally worked up the nerve to look into Greg's eyes.

Greg had to look away from John's gaze. He'd seen those eyes before. Too many times. They were the glassy, unseeing, eyes of a dead man who had been caught off guard when confronted with his own mortality. Hundreds of crime scenes, and the victims whose eyes remained open were always the most unnerving. How much worse now that he had seen those lifeless eyes in the face of his friend? He cleared his throat.

"I just... John I wanted to believe like you, I did, but I... I just don't think..."

"Me neither. Not anymore." John's chest heaved as he fought another wave of sobs.

"Don't do that. Don't you dare. It's been a year, John, and you haven't mourned properly. If you need to sit up here and cry, then you cry. Curse and scream. I don't care. I might even join in. But please, for the love of God, don't close in on yourself."

"Greg, I'm sorry," John whispered.

"John, don't," Greg warned.

"Please, Greg. Please, I... truly am sorry for today. Not for wanting to eat a bullet. I still... I'm sorry I tried to break our pact. I figured you'd had enough of me, and would be happy to be rid of me. I should have known you're a better man than I am. That you wouldn't let me get away with that. God. I have never been more terrified in my life than seeing you with that bloody gun in your mouth. And then I realized I was the one who put it there. I just... I'm going to try harder, Greg. For you. Sherlock was my best friend, but you... You've become like a brother to me." John shrugged, and buried his face in his hands.

Greg scrubbed his hand over his face. "Brothers," he nodded with a sigh. "Just, let me help you, yeah?"

Looking up slowly, John nodded. "I... I'm probably going to try again. This I mean, with the gun, or whatever."

“I know," Greg sighed.

"I'm just so tired. And I can't shut my brain off, and I feel like I'm losing my mind. I don't even know what I'm trying to say." John rested his forehead on his knee.

"You're admitting you need help, and that it's going to get worse before it gets better. And that's fine. Because I'm going to help you. We're going to help each other, yeah?" Greg shifted to straighten out an aching knee.

"You... You're not leaving? Please..." John's voice waivered.

"No way. We're staying right here until we're both ready to go down there and face all that." Greg waved his hand in a broad sweep of the city. "Together."

"Together?" uncertainty flooded John's voice.

"Mhmm. Together. 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.'" Greg lit another cigarette.

"Henry V?" John asked, a slight smile sneaking to his lips.

Greg nodded, downed a gulp of the scotch and handed the bottle to John. "Cheers."


PRESENT

The flat mates watched each other warily.

John closed the lap top.

"That's not the end? You... You were still up there." Sherlock spoke carefully.

"We finished the scotch, Greg finished the cigarettes, and I cried. A lot. We didn't talk at all after that. I guess you can watch it if you want, but I'm pretty well done." John sighed.

"John?"

"Yeah, Sherlock?"

"You'll let me know when it's okay for me to ask you questions about all of this? I can see you are exhausted, but, I... I want to understand. I want to make it right for you. I... God, John, I'm so sorry. I..." Sherlock ran both hands through his hair frantically, and jumped up to start pacing the sitting room.

"Sherlock? How about we both get some rest tonight, and then tomorrow we'll talk? We can both sort our thoughts, and try to make some sense out of this for you, yeah? That one, that was the worst. There are only two more, and you've already seen one." John's voice was even and calm, but Sherlock could hear the twinge of something deeper there. Possibly exhaustion, but more likely sorrow.

"John, you shall have all the time you need. Thank you for sharing this with me. One day, soon, I think, I would like to tell you about my time away." Sherlock sat thoughtfully in his chair.

"I would really appreciate that, Sherlock. Thank you," John nodded with a small smile and a yawn. He glanced towards the stairs to his room. "I think I'm going to crash here on the sofa tonight."

"Nonsense." Sherlock stood quickly. "You always wake up stiff and aching when you sleep on the couch, even when you're well. I'll not tolerate you being more miserable than you already are. For the next several weeks, we will simply switch rooms. Mine will be easier for you to access, and is nearer the toilet."

"And my room has all my stuff I've never let you dig through. Hmm. Bloody brilliant, that. Works out perfectly for the both of us." John attempted to sound put out, but his grin betrayed him.

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