The cool London air whipped around him, locals and tourists alike walked past, and the traffic buzzed on by, but John Watson knew that the world wasn't paying attention to him. He figured there might be a security camera or two nearby aimed specifically in his direction, but he pushed the thought from his mind, deeming it irrelevant. It didn't matter to him what Mycroft saw or what he thought or did, because as far as John was concerned, that part of his life died when Sherlock jumped off the roof of Barts.
He sucked in a shuddering breath at the thought and leaned a little more heavily against the railing, peering down at the Thames beneath. It had been three months, but every time he thought of Sherlock Holmes, he felt the same dizzying, breathtaking sickness he'd felt as he watched Sherlock jump and all he saw behind his eyelids was Sherlock's blood across his face, sticking his hair to the pavement.
The rushing water below helped anchor him, and he closed his eyes, leaning over just a little bit more. It made his heart pound in his chest and reminded him that he didn't die when Sherlock died – he still had a life, and that life had to be lived. He hadn't felt that urge to jump since his first night with Sherlock, and his stomach turned at the thought. The urge to jump was there, of course, powered by a lack of Sherlock, but it felt different now, tainted by fear, uncertainty and something else unpleasant that he couldn't quite place. His head began to spin slightly, and just as he realised he'd been holding his breath, a voice startled him back to reality and away from the railing.
"It's a bit cold isn't it? To just stand here watching the water, I mean."
John glanced sideways, taking in deep, deliberate breaths of air, though he was desperately trying to hide his panic. A woman around 30 years old was leaning lightly against the railing, smiling brightly at him, though the corners of her eyes were tinged with worry.
"Mmm. I hadn't noticed," he said quietly, once he felt sure his voice wouldn't shake.
He flashed her a reassuring smile in return and was surprised to find it feeling more sincere than he'd anticipated. Now he looked properly, he noticed that she was quite pretty, despite being relatively plain at first glance.
"Suppose you had bigger things on your mind, hm?" she took a small step towards him, as though she were approaching a spooked horse. "If you're not careful, you might fall in."
Her tone was light and joking, but John could still see the concern behind her smile. A small laugh escaped him and he shook his head, glancing away briefly before properly locking eyes with her, a ghost of a smile still lingering on his lips. He didn't resent her concern like he did with most – in fact, he rather liked the fact that, despite her concern, she didn't feel the need to fuss over him or express her worry openly. It was refreshing to be able to joke with someone who wasn't Mrs Hudson, instead of having everybody tread on eggshells around him, as though he would break if someone so much as tried to be happy.
"I'm sure I'm not that clumsy," he said lightly, glancing over at the water again.
She glanced down briefly, brushing her hair back from her face, and smiled at him again, the moonlight catching her eyes and making them sparkle.
I feel lighter than I have since Sherlock. The thought sent a surge of guilt through his body, making his smile falter, and he glanced away again, looking over the Thames again, telling himself on repeat that he shouldn't feel guilty for feeling happy.
"I take it you're not busy, then?" she asked quietly, her voice tinged with worry now, and he hated himself for it. "Only, I was thinking maybe I could buy you coffee? There's a place open nearby, and there's no use both of us being lonely when we could be in each other's company, right?"
His eyes snapped back to her, mild shock written in his features before he could mask it with a smile, albeit a hesitant one. He couldn't help but want to go with her; she was pretty, and bright, and she made him feel happy even though he barely knew her.
"Not busy at all, no," he said quietly, clasping his hands behind his back as he took a step towards her. "Lead the way."
As relief flooded her features, John felt a warmth swell inside his chest, and he left behind the call of the void for now, as he walked with her.
It wasn't until they were settled with their coffee that they exchanged names, and by the end of the night they each had a new number stored in their phone.
Mycroft Holmes glanced down at the invitation on his desk next to his computer before returning his eyes to the screen in front of him. He would be wearing a smug smile on his face (John would send him an invitation, despite not wanting him there, just because he knew he'd be watching anyway) if it weren't for the fact that he was watching John standing on the balcony in his wedding suit, eyes closed, body leaning forward slightly, as though willing himself to just fall.
It wasn't the first time Mycroft had felt like sending someone out to intervene and take John away. It also wasn't the first time he had contemplated telling John that Sherlock was, in fact, alive and nearby, and would actually be coming home right this instant because this has gone on long enough. Instead, he leant back in his chair, eyes still fixed on the screen for any slight change in John's behaviour, and raised his brandy to his lips. For now, he seemed stable enough.
Mary could see from the next room that John's entire body was trembling as he clutched the banister of their balcony, fighting for control over his emotions. She knew he preferred to be alone, but she so desperately wanted to be able to sweep him into her arms and hold him close and remind him that it's okay, it's all okay, everything is okay.
But it's not. Not really. She had come to understand that what John experienced was something known as l'appel du vide; the urge to jump, especially from high places; the call of the void. He had explained to her before they got married that since Afghanistan (and even before, though not quite so much) he had had that urge to jump, but it wasn't a desire to die. He had explained that it came with his need for danger and excitement, and he was okay, really, he was, it had just returned after Sherlock died.
She could piece together the things he hadn't said, now, but she wished she'd been able to see them before she took him out to go bungee jumping, which had resulted in a full blown panic attack. She could see now how the urge to jump was different, and really, she felt rather stupid for not having even thought of it. Watching someone you love jump off a building and seeing their blood all over the pavement, oozing from their crushed skull, would never leave you. It wasn't something they really talked about, but she should have known.
When John's grip on the bannister loosened and his body slumped in mild defeat, Mary walked over to him, making sure he knew she was there before wrapping her arms firmly around his middle, resting her head on his back. Her hand ran gentle, soothing circles against the fabric of his jumper until she felt the tension in his muscles relax, and his breathing return to normal.
Nothing was said. Nothing had to be said. Mary knew, and John knew she knew, and she was here, and she knew he knew that too, and that was all that mattered.
Greg Lestrade sighed gently as he spread the information concerning his latest case out on John's coffee table, running a hand over his face. He kept in regular contact with John, but most of that contact was either talking about his cases, or actually working on his cases (because for all John denied it, he was actually helpful and had picked up a few things from Sherlock in the time they'd spent together; and there was a subject they never spoke about). He'd tried to do the 'casual friend' thing with John, but it didn't really work. John had always seemed a bit off unless they were talking about work, and really, work was all Greg had, especially since his last breakup with his wife.
"Christ," he heard John breathe out beside him, and hummed in agreement, his eyes scanning over the mutilated, photographed corpses once more.
A mother and her two children, all murdered in the children's bedroom and left to be found by the Nanny the next morning. Neighbours had said they'd heard fighting, and all signs pointed to the husband. And yet they had no evidence, even though he confessed they had a row before he left to stay at his sister's for the night, and his alibi held up.
After a couple of hours poring over the files, discussing their options and throwing ideas around, ultimately coming up with nothing new, Mary's soft voice broke through his hazed mind, reminding him that it wasn't just he and John.
"Would you like tea or coffee? Or something to eat?" she asked softly, her hand resting gently on John's shoulder.
"Coffee would be great, thanks," he replied with a small nod, still managing to feel disappointed that it was Mary standing behind John, glancing at the files in front of them, instead of Sherlock.
Guilt rose up inside him at that thought and he cleared his throat, looking away, as though he was afraid she'd be able to read his thoughts on his face.
"Mmm, coffee, thanks love," John said softly, and Lestrade turned his head just in time to see John arch up off the sofa to kiss her, a soft smile easing itself onto his face.
He sighed gently and scrubbed his hand over his face, not allowing jealousy mix in with what he was already feeling. It was pathetic, really, to miss a man who had been gone for two years.
"Look, maybe we've missed something," John said quietly, the frustration and determination set back on his face again.
"I've been over every inch of that place – we all have – but you're more than welcome to go there yourself. All our questioning has been transcribed here for you, you've read over it all. I can't let you question them officially, not that I can stop you questioning them unofficially, I suppose, but I don't see what good it will do." Would for Sherlock, his mind supplied, but he resisted saying it.
"Well maybe they're lying. Christ. I don't know. Sometimes I really wonder why you bring these cases around here, as though I can actually do more than you and your team. I'm not fucking Sherlock Holmes."
Lestrade noticed John flinch, his skin paling slightly, and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"The file says marriage problems, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was abusive. Friends and neighbours say things had been rocky for a while, and sometimes he wouldn't come home for days. What if you're missing someone? Someone who isn't a friend, or a neighbour, or a relative?" Mary's gentle voice eased the tension in the air slightly as she placed a tray on the coffee table, ignoring the files, before standing behind John again, her hand on his shoulder once more.
"What? If you're suggesting the Nanny, it –"
"No. No someone out of the picture completely. I mean… Well, it could be nothing, I don't know what it's like to have a marriage fail," her hand tightened slightly on John's shoulder, pointedly not meeting Greg's eyes now, " but surely one of them must have done something to start problems. And you said his sister said he doesn't normally go to her when they have a falling out… I… Well… Question is, where does he go then, if not to her?"
Mary seemed hesitant, but John was now gripping her hand, staring up at her with something akin to encouragement, and Lestrade couldn't help but be somewhat impressed. He hadn't even realised she'd been paying any attention to what they had been talking about, and he couldn't believe he hadn't even thought of that as strange.
"A lover, maybe? A jealous lover? I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it? She said she was busy, apologised, so he had to go elsewhere. She decided that this was her chance to get rid of them permanently."
Greg stared at Mary for a moment, silently cursing himself for not even thinking of that. He ran a hand over his face, shoving the coffee aside to gather the files, sifting through them again, as though a confirmation of some kind would jump out at him from the pages. He sighed heavily and looked back up at Mary, opening his mouth to speak, but the words got lost on the tip of his tongue when he saw the look of open admiration on John's face as he twisted in his seat to look at her properly. It was a look he hadn't seen for two years; a look he thought he would never see again, if he was completely honest. John's eyes were alight and he suddenly looked years younger as a broad smile broke out across his face. Greg felt his own smile forming in spite of himself as he realised he didn't have to worry about John; not really, not when he had Mary, because Mary was able to surprise him, and amaze him, and keep him alive, and read him the way no one other than Sherlock Holmes could ever do. He knew it wasn't the same, but he knew it was enough to keep John afloat, and for a brief moment he was glad that Sherlock Holmes wasn't around to see that look directed at anyone else, because a jealous Sherlock Holmes was something no one wanted to face.
Sarah Sawyer locked eyes with Mary, unable to watch John as his face crumpled. Mary just smiled tiredly, almost apologetically at her, which made Sarah wonder what she had to apologise for.
She'd moved to oncology the moment she got notification at St Barts, and she'd known going into it that it would be hard, always having to break the news to somebody that they were probably (most likely, definitely) going to die, but she never really thought it would be this hard. Mary was just another patient, and that was fine, that she could handle. But John was her friend; had always been her friend, in fact, right from the first moment they met, even when his best friend (sometimes she wondered if boyfriend was a more accurate term; partner, lover, soul mate) almost got her killed twice in one evening.
"Is there any hope of treatment? Any at all?" Mary asked, reaching for John's hand.
"We can try, but a tumour that size, especially in the brain… It's inoperable. I'm so sorry," her voice cracked on the last word, her throat tightening at the sight of John's hand trembling in Mary's.
Luck just didn't go his way, it seemed, and for a brief moment she felt angry at the world for it. Of all the people she met, she was sure John Watson deserved something decent to last in his life. She watched as they rose to leave, her vision slightly blurred, and gave John a tight smile on his way out which he didn't return.
John's eyes were burning, his head was spinning, his hands were shaking and he just needed air. He pushed the door open and took a deep, shuddering breath in as the fresh air hit his face, but it didn't help. He tried again and again, but his lungs just burned as though he was breathing in acid.
The word repeated itself inside his head like a broken record, 'round and 'round, over and over, and he wanted to shout back that he understood, he knew what it meant, he'd been faced with it all his life so why on Earth would it stop now?
A sound, almost like a sob, wrenched itself from his chest, his lungs, his throat, burning and scratching and tearing its way out, but John Hamish Watson did not sob.
He looked down at his hands that had been holding hers only moments before. Good hands, strong hands, hands that had saved lives and taken lives and held life as it faded away. He'd held her hand a lot, every chance he got, especially towards the end.
He'd held her hand for hours the day they had been told her cancer was inoperable, and she wouldn't live past three months. He hadn't spoken – he couldn't have, even if he wanted to – so they just lay in bed for hours, just holding hands, because John couldn't bear to do more. He didn't cry, and neither did she, but every time he tried to speak, just to say "I love you", the words couldn't push themselves past the lump in his throat.
John sighed and looked up at the clouds, feeling the sun beat down on his face, and it felt wrong. It felt like better, happier times, when things made sense. It felt like holidays to the beach with Mary's family, and cases in the country with Sherlock, and summer holiday's as a child when Harry was innocent and sober, and it hurt.
"John, it will be okay," Mary said quietly one evening, exactly three months after that day.
John shook his head slightly, giving her a sad smile. Right now, he was just grateful that she was still alive, exceeding the doctor's expectations. He knew it wouldn't be long, but he didn't want to think about that too much. She'd survived her three months, and she was still very much there.
"You're strong. You've dealt with your sister's alcoholism and you were a soldier in Afghanistan. You survived a gunshot wound and you survived Sherlock Holmes," he flinched at that, but she continued, "and his death. And then you met me, and even then you weren't broken. Not completely. You were still very much alive. You just needed someone to show you. And you will survive this, John, because you are strong."
The tightness grew in his throat, but he refused to look away, filled with the need to memorise her face completely, because sometimes he forgot the exact colour of Sherlock's eyes, or the way his lip quirked up just slightly when he said something clever, and he couldn't stand the thought of forgetting those things about Mary.
"I love you."
She'd whispered it, so quiet that he wouldn't have registered it if he hadn't been staring at her. He gave a small nod, swallowing around the tightness in his throat.
"I love you too," he whispered hoarsely before drawing her close.
John swallowed again as he glanced over the edge of the roof, down at the few people filtering in and out of the hospital. His throat felt suddenly dry as he leant over, gripping the cement so tight his knuckles went white, his stomach dropping with the same feeling of dread and loss and disbelief that he'd felt when he watched Sherlock jump. This was the spot – the exact spot – and amongst all the other feelings swirling through his mind (stomach, heart, soul) he felt oddly free. A strange, distorted laugh bubbled up from his chest, bursting from his lips, and he shook his head, forcing it down before it began to sound like sobs again. And suddenly there it was. The urge to jump.
"L'appel du vide," Mary said quietly as she slipped her hand in his, dragging his attention from the railing beside him. "It means 'the call of the void'. It's the desire to jump from high places."
He stared at her then, a mixture of amazement, wonder, and, dare he admit it, fear, flooding through him. He was sure that if Sherlock hadn't known, then no one else could possibly pick up on it, and if they did, they would merely think he was suicidal (which he didn't care about – it was none of their business, and he was quite clearly not suicidal at all).
"Don't look so worried. It's okay. It's actually common, and it makes sense, what with your love for danger and excitement and all. I didn't understand, at first. I thought, when we first met, that you were going to do it."
"So you asked me to coffee out of pity. I see how it is now," he teased in response as he gave her hand a light squeeze.
"Yep," she teased back lightly. "That's what all this is about. We're on our honeymoon, walking on this beautiful mountain trail, just because I took pity on you and couldn't seem to let go."
He laughed softly and brought her hand to his lips to kiss it before wrapping his arm around her, tucking her close to his side, feeling somewhat relieved, as though a weight he hadn't even know had been there was now lifted off his shoulders. Someone knew, and understood, and loved him for it all the same.
John stood up on the edge of the roof, looking down his vision darkening as all sound around him faded out to practically nothing, the sound of his own heartbeat filling his ears once more, singing, beating, calling him down, down, down into bliss and freedom and blackness. He closed his eyes, breathing the air right into his lungs for what felt like the first time since Mary's diagnosis, and he felt alive; terrified and thrilled and insane and manic and hysterical, but definitely alive. He knew he could never jump – never end up like Sherlock – and he knew that once this moment of mad freedom was over, he would have to step back inside that hospital and talk with Mary's family and make arrangements, but right now none of that mattered, because the void was calling and he was standing on the edge of life and death, with his arms spread wide, daring the darkness to take him completely.
He lifted his head skyward, letting the sun beat down on his face, watching red bloom into the darkness behind his eyes, filling him with momentary panic (blood, blood, so much blood), and he felt his head spin, but before he could even think about losing his balance, a weight was on his chest, wrapped around his torso, pulling him back, dragging him down to the cement of the roof, holding him close and tight.
He opened his eyes, dragging in huge lungfuls of air, his hands groping at the arms around him. He could hear whoever grabbed him talking, muttering, something about being an idiot, but he could barely hear their deep, breathy voice over the blood rushing in his ears.
"John, what were you thinking?"
That voice turned his blood to ice, making him freeze entirely. That voice was impossible, long gone, and completely unfair. It had been three years since he'd last heard that voice. A burst of anger flooded through him and he spun around, his eyes briefly meeting those impossible grey eyes before his fist collided with that impossible, pale, sharp cheek.
"Oh God. Oh my God," John heard himself saying, his voice sounding far too weak to be his own, so he swallowed, and tried again. "You bastard! You… You actually… No. You know what? Fuck this."
He lunged at the impossible man, dragging that impossible, thin (too thin, thinner than he remembered) body towards him, burying his head into the crook of his neck, and breathed out.
"Sherlock," he whispered over and over like a mantra, his body trembling against his will as his head spun, too many emotions fighting for dominance all at once.
"John," Sherlock whispered into his hair, running a soothing (somewhat hesitant) hand down his back. "John, don't you dare ever think of doing something like that. Never. And don't bother lying to me because I know, John. I know. Mycroft told me and I know, and you can't, and I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry, John."
Sherlock's voice cracked on John's name, and that's when he knew to look up. Sherlock, ever cold and sure and demanding, suddenly so lost and confused and unsure and scared.
"Sod off, you prick. I wasn't going to jump. I couldn't. I could never. Not after I watched you…" He broke off, lowering his head, desperately willing himself not to cry.
It had been a long, tiring, emotional day, and Sherlock showing up was so very unfair, and yet so very, very right, and he decided that right now, he didn't care. Explanations and fights and long conversations about right and wrong and good and bad could come later, because right now, all John wanted to do was go home and sleep.
This doesn't happen to normal people. Normal people's friends don't come back from the dead after three years. Normal people's friends don't come back from the dead the day their wife dies. Notmal people's friends don't come back from the dead.
"Since when have you or I ever been normal, John?" Sherlock asked gently, drawing him close to rest his chin on top of his head.
John hummed his approval, closing his eyes and allowing himself to feel his overwhelming grief and relief at the same time, not even bothering to question how that was possible.
He felt Sherlock rubbing small circles on his back and realised that, though it may hurt, Mary was right when she said it would be okay (it wasn't right now, definitely not right now, but it would be, he knew). But then again, she always was, wasn't she?
A/N: So this sequel turned out a lot longer than I expected, but I'm rather pleased with the way it turned out. Thanks again to pyrzqxgl (and girlfriend) for fixing up my grammar and such.
This sort of made me want to write a third, much shorter part from Sherlock's POV set some time after the end of this in relation to John mourning Mary, and Sherlock coming to some sort of understanding about how important she really must have been, or something. But I'm not entirely sure. I'm also thinking of writing a fic for John and Mary's time together, because her character grew so much more inside my mind than I had intended it to, and it makes me want to explore her and her relationship with John and yeah... That might happen in the near future too :)