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Title: Chasm (1/4)
Word Count: 6000 (this chapter)
Characters: John Watson, Sally Donovan, Molly Hooper, Greg Lestrade, Ella Thompson, Mycroft Holmes
Rating: T
Notes: Thank you to [personal profile] persiflage_1 for the Brit-picking!
Spoilers: Through the finale, The Reichenbach Fall.

Summary: Everyone has a grieving process. John's just happens to involve subterfuge, conspiracies, and violence.

"You're making progress, John," Ella says. She leans forward, and he tries very hard not to think about what that particular gem of habitual body language means, because that gets him to thinking about what Sherlock would make of it-

"Right," he says, tugging at a loose thread on his sleeve. "Progress, yeah."

Her face softens, except the eyes, which are always hard and piercing and searching. He looks away for a second, pretending to check his watch, but she tilts her head, and the movement draws his attention again. "A week ago, you could barely say it."

"That Sherlock's dead?" He keeps his voice steady. Dead-steady. His lips twitch. "I know. Progress."

She straightens her posture, relaxes that unforgiving gaze. She sighs. She stands. "Same time next week, John." It's not a question.

He slaps his hands against his knees, false-hearty, like there's someone in the room he's kidding, and pushes himself to his feet. "Same time next week."

He walks out into the street and the noise and the crowds and drowns himself in them.

Lestrade comes to see him, eventually, with a stiff, apologetic air. He stands in the doorway, and John catches himself looking past him for the flashing lights that aren't there. He looks older and more tired than he's any right to be.

"I, uh," says Lestrade, and holds out a small box. "The last of Sherlock's personal effects finally came back from the lab boffins. I'm sorry I couldn't bring them earlier, but, well, you know how it is, with the inquiry and all. I thought you might want them. His brother didn't, and-"

John stares at the parcel, half-reaches for it, a ghost to haunt the palm of his hand. Convenient. He takes a step back. "No, thank you."

Looking a little lost, Lestrade drops the box back into his pocket. He licks his lips, clears his throat. John pointedly does not try to read anything into the fidgeting beyond the obvious, the ordinary. No guilt. "How are you holding up, Doctor?"

John flashes a grimace of a smile. "As well as can be expected, I suppose." For a carefully calculated moment, he pauses, then raises an eyebrow. "I'm not about to go on a violent crime spree or become a vigilante superhero or anything like that, if that's what's worrying you."

That startles a grin out of Lestrade, and a chuckle. "No, no, of course not. It's just that we're all, well, we're all a bit worried." He offers a shrug, then glances away towards the kitchenette. When no offer of tea seems forthcoming, he clears his throat again and turns back to the door. "Well. I'd best be going."

John sees him off into the main foyer, then returns to the hotel room's impersonal blankness and sits at the small desk staring at his closed laptop. He hadn't really expected Lestrade to brush off the idea so blithely. Was it such a ridiculous notion, so unbelievable that he could be on the point of doing something stupid or reckless or brave? Solid, dependable John Watson, the dupe, the easily-led. Thrill-seeker, but only by proxy.

He goes over to the window, looks out at the street far below. He thinks about cobblestones and asphalt and the six most common types of soil found in the greater London area. He thinks about the people who walk, unknowing, on bloodied ground.

That night, he dreams about the war.

It takes a while before he starts reading the papers again.

The first time he sees a by-line by Kitty Reilly, one night, he expects a surge of anger, or frustration, or something, but instead he just skims the article – she's back to more pedestrian fare, something about thieves stealing the private art collection of a Mr. Throgmorton – and flips a few pages to the classifieds, looking vaguely for a job of some sort. The advertising money from the blog's recent deluge of hits won't last forever, and certainly not if he keeps living in a hotel. He's not sure he wants to put in the effort of looking for a fully-fledged medical career just yet. Something simple, mindless, for a while. Ella would probably think that's a good idea.

He sees an advertisement for a job as a roofer, and chokes out a laugh, picturing himself up high, with all those ledges and sheer drops surrounding him. Maybe Ella wouldn't approve, after all.

He's on the point of throwing the newspaper onto the pile he's accumulating – it's been a couple weeks since he called down for housekeeping, and the clutter is beginning to reach epic proportions – when a small paragraph in the "Personals" column catches his eye. It's been printed upside-down, and while he can't fault the advertiser's attention-grabbing strategy, the message makes little more sense when turned right way up.

H3y, 9-gig usb 1ost, gr8 date. See me Underground at 11:30, next Monday.

"Look at this, Sher-" He's halfway through the word before it hits him again, and he snaps his mouth shut and closes his eyes, rubbing them with his palms until sparks dance before his vision. "Right," he says, more softly. "Right."

He taps the words with the tip of one finger, then taps the numbers, hating the part of himself that's already thinking, already hoping. You can't have it both ways, John, he thinks, a little wildly. Either you accept that he's gone, or you accept that he's still alive, even if it makes you insane to think it, even if he's dead and buried, even if you saw him- He shakes off the thought.

Three numbers in place of letters. No, four – the "1" in lost. 3918. He opens his laptop, runs a quick search, comes up with a nebula and a chemical compound that gives him pause, N-acetyl-D-mannosamine, compound ID 3918. Of course, aiding in the synthesis of sialic acid is likely not the mark of a criminal mastermind. Certainly not a message from beyond the grave. Another hit sends his heart pounding into his throat – 3918 Holmes Street, in Kansas City. A message? A coincidence? He bites back a ridiculous urge to book a cross-Atlantic flight. Coincidence, surely.

Is it an address? The last four digits of a telephone number? The typographically suspect consequences of submitting a classified ad via iPhone?

He hesitates a moment longer, then tears out the advertisement and sticks it to the fridge. He's still staring at it when a rapping at the door nearly jolts him out of his skin, and he stumbles on his way to open it, feeling shaky and weak. Adrenaline, he thinks. He's been running on adrenaline for too long.

"Hey," says Sally Donovan. "You look like hell. Come with me, we're getting a pint."

She doesn't apologize, not really, and he's sort of grateful for that, all in all. He reminds himself that she thinks she was right, and if she does have guilt hanging around, it's because Sherlock killed himself, not specifically because she was the one who exposed him, so he does his best not to look at her with accusation. Likewise, she doesn't look at him with pity, poor easily-led John, John-the-dupe, because she knows he still believes in Sherlock. They don't look at each other much at all, actually, and they don't talk much at all, and he finds that strangely comforting.

They stay like that a while, drinking in the roars of laughter and too-loud pub-conversation every bit as much as the bitter, but as the night goes on, they transition gradually from the half-comfortable stillness to a more relaxed, pleasant drunkenness. He's staring off into space, so she flicks a pork scratching at him to catch his attention. "Hey," she says. "I kinda miss the Freak. Sherlock, I mean."

He sighs, notices his hands have balled into fists, and flattens them against the table with an effort. The table feels like it's a bit wobbly. Same with the walls. "Yeah."

"Don't get me wrong, he was a complete dick most of the time."

Why, John wonders, blearily, does everyone feel the compulsive need to insult Sherlock every time they bring him up? And then he grins, for what feels like the first time, because that's exactly the kind of effect Sherlock had on people. "All right," he says. "I'll give you that."

That startles her into a smile, and she raises her glass. "To Mr. Sherlock Holmes, whoever the hell he really was."

John raises his glass in turn, then stumbles outside to be noisily sick in a gutter.

He shares the cab ride home with Sally, and he rather ill-advisedly tries making a pass at her, which she deflects with an are-you-serious expression and a snort of laughter. He sways up the stairs after that less-than-promising goodbye, and pours himself into bed, where sleep comes slowly, by inches. He doesn't dream at all.

In the morning, in the midst of his frantic, fumbling search for coffee, he glances at the fridge door and sees the advertisement again. "See me Underground," he reads, and opens a map of the Tube on his laptop, caffeination temporarily lower on his list of priorities.

3918. 3-9-1-8. The number of stops on each line? He'd need a starting point for that, wouldn't he? Three transitions. He tries following potential routes from Baker Street, just in case, but the possibilities seem endless, and he doubles back and forth enough times to hit nearly every point on the map. He makes a list, anyway, just in case.

The number of letters in each word of the station? Nothing fits. A substitution cipher? 3 is C, 9 is I, 1 is A, 8 is H. CIAH. Or 3-9-18, CIR. Nothing. 3, 9, and 18 are all multiples of three. Offset everything by three? No, that's going in circles. He catches himself wishing for one of Sherlock's cryptography textbooks, probably in a box somewhere, maybe halfway to a school by now if Mrs. Hudson's done as promised. He shakes off the thought and starts rearranging letters, numbers, looking, searching.

His mobile rings, and when he glances at the call display, the time catches his eye first. Three-thirty in the bloody afternoon. He's missed his session with Ella. He sighs and accepts the call. "I'm sorry, I misread the time, can I make another appointment next week?"

"Hi," says a voice that doesn't belong to Ella's receptionist. "There's a car waiting outside."

"Oh, for-" John hangs up as emphatically as possible on a mobile, and contemplates just not going outside. He hasn't seen Mycroft since, well, since the funeral, and after all he did to Sherlock, after all he exposed... "Now you want to talk."

But the notion of talking to someone, anyone, who knows the truth about Sherlock, about who he really was-

He sighs, heaves himself to his feet, and forgoes the lift in favor of the stairwell, a stalling tactic worthy of Sherlock at his most stubborn. Might as well take the small, juvenile victories where he can.

Sitting in the car is Mycroft's assistant, Anthea or whatever her name really is. She flashes him a vague smile, then goes back to texting. Grimacing, John leans back and tries to relax. "We really should stop meeting like this. People are going to talk."

"People always talk," Anthea says, with a small, delighted smile.

"Okay," says John, and leans further back against the seat, crossing his arms, trying to ignore how comfortable this feels, what a relief the subterfuge and mystery is. "Okay."

He's kept waiting even once he arrives – of course he is – and when the door to Mycroft's office finally opens, he jumps up, looking automatically over to where Sherlock would sit, languid and pretending to be completely uninterested in the latest mystery. No one there, of course. Fighting a strange chill down his spine, he turns to step into the office and nearly runs into someone coming the other way.

"Oh," says Molly Hooper, and goes pale. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you there."

"That's-" He blinks at her, off-balance. "That's all right. Molly, what are you doing here?"

She must catch the explosion of hope behind his eyes, because she lowers hers. "I, ah, Mr. Holmes has notes from Sherlock, to all of us, that he wrote a while ago in case he-" She shrugs, a miserable little twitch of her shoulders. "You know."

"Notes," John says, hollowly. She has a thickly stuffed envelope clenched tightly in her hands – he can see the whites of her knuckles.

"It's, ah, it's good to see you." She flashes a smile, but he's already moving past her, into the office where Mycroft is sitting, watching their exchange with his head cocked to one side, assessing, calculating. The expression is achingly familiar.

John waits until Molly leaves, closing the door behind her, then takes a step forward, with the vague intention of- of what? Finally, a target for his anger, his rage, the stuff that's been bubbling up inside and waking him up at night and making him see faces that aren't there, ghosts that aren't there, and he can't make out what to do with the opportunity. "It's your fucking fault he's dead," he says, because it sounds good in his head. He's shaking, badly.

Mycroft says nothing, but his lips thin into a line, and he holds up a slip of paper, folded over once, with John in familiar handwriting along the outside. "Read it or don't. It's up to you."

John's breathing hard, hyperventilating, and he wants this, God, he wants to throw something or hit something or break something. Too many endings, everything ending, and he wants to start something. His hand, shaking with tremors, traitorous to the last, extends, snatches the paper from Mycroft's hand. He opens it.

I'm dead. Get on with your life, John. -SH

That's all. No great insights, no stunning revelations, no miracles here. He crams the note into his pocket, turns on his heel, and marches out the door and to the waiting car.

When he gets home, he turns the note over and over and over in his hands, looking for something, anything, a clue, a hint, a message, then lights a match and burns it. He regrets it instantly, picking at the uncaring ashes long into the night, then calls Ella's office in the morning and schedules an emergency appointment.

He opens the window, stares out at the city's first glimmers of daylight, then dusts the remains of the note's ashes from his fingers, watching them fall.

"I don't know," he says, and he really doesn't want to have this conversation right now, but Ella's being quiet and understanding, and he's starting to think that maybe that's what he needs after all, more than anything. "I don't know which is worse. I know I can't go on thinking I'll see him around every corner, but if I accept he's really dead, if I understand that beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's like I'm betraying him."

"He was a clever man," Ella says. He hears the past tense in her voice, sees it like it's writ large in the air between them. "It's hard to accept that he might have been a bit less clever than you thought." He wants to bristle at that bald statement, but he knows she's just quoting the things he's going to have to face every day for the rest of his life. He's followed the news long enough to know that if enough people say something, they can make it true.

He wants to stand up and pace. His head is pounding. "I saw him make leaps of logic you or I would never fathom, and then sometimes he'd stoop to taking me through, step-by-step, and it was real. I know it was real. And it was brilliant. He was- is-" He stops talking, with a frustrated exhalation. "I just want to get on with my life."

"That's what he wanted for you. And, for what it's worth, I think it's a good idea. You have Sherlock Holmes so inextricably linked with this city that every street corner is reminding you of him. You might try getting out of the city for a few days. Or the country. Take a trip to America."

John feels his breath catch in his throat, and just like that, his mind is spinning another impossible conspiracy, the house in Kansas, Holmes Street, and Ella in on it-

He meets her concerned gaze and realizes he's been quiet for way too long. No. Coincidence. "I'll think about it," he says. "Can't afford to go too far."

"Any luck on the job front?"

He shrugs.

"Well," she says, "I suppose you just have to keep trying."

He looks down at his hands. "I feel like he's left me a puzzle, you know. Clues, breadcrumbs. If I don't follow them, it'll be like I let him down."

"I think it's pretty clear what he left you. The only way you can let him down is by putting your life on hold."

It's such an easy answer, so plausible, so almost-real that he can see himself doing it, going on with his life, Sherlock fading from memory gradually, painlessly. The worst part is how desperately he wants to forget.

3918, he thinks, and gets to his feet. "The usual time next week?"

He's buried in a semi-relevant book about cryptography, trying out a series of ciphers on his four-number combination, when a knock jolts him out of his reverie. Another in his endless series of well-wishers, no doubt, but he still feels a chill at the thought that it could be someone else-

He opens the door. Sally Donovan smiles crookedly back at him. "Hey again. Just wanted to let you know that most of the crimes reopened – you know, the ones Sherlock had his hand in – have been closed due to lack of resources to pursue them, especially since the first few show every signs of being otherwise by-the-book. What's bad news for me is good news for you, I guess."

"Oh," he says, not quite hiding a smile at the news, and steps back. "Can I get you a cuppa?"

"Ta." Her eyes are sweeping the room, a copper's instincts, and he watches them hone in on the piles of papers on his table. She drifts closer as he puts the kettle on to boil, glancing at his laptop screen, shuffling through the nearest stack of calculations. "What's all this?"

He flushes, feeling unaccountably embarrassed. "Just a theory. A game. Weird paragraph in the paper, hidden message, that sort of thing." Extemporizing wildly, he adds, "My therapist thought it would help, to have a mystery to solve."

"Ah," she says. "Mind if I have a crack at it?"

He nods to the clipping on the fridge. "Knock yourself out."

When he comes back to the table with two cups of tea, he's absurdly pleased to see that she's got a Tube map open as well and is working through all the same possibilities he considered. At least all that time spent in the company of detectives wasn't entirely in vain. "Thanks," she says, when he hands her the cup. "And this was just supposed to have been in the paper as-is?"

"That's right," John says, then frowns. "No. Wait. It was printed upside-down."

Sally shrugs. "Probably just a way to draw attention to the secret message. Now, maybe-"

"Wait. 3918." Something is ticking away in his head, accompanied by a shivering giddiness he hasn't felt in months. "Maybe we're meant to look at it the other way around, upside-down. 816- well, can't do much with a 3. 8163."

"No four-word Tube stations starting with an eight-letter word." But Sally's face is brightening, she's following his logic.

"Letters, then. 8 is H, 1 is A, 6 is F, 3 is C. No. 8-16-3. HPC."

Sally zooms in, and gives a triumphant crow. "Hyde Park Corner. The meeting's at Hyde Park Corner station, at 11:30 on Monday. That's today, isn't it? Tonight."

John grins. "That was a hell of a lot simpler than I thought it'd be."

"It's just one possible interpretation," Sally says. "You can muck around with these numbers and letters, and make them into whatever you like. But it's a pretty neat solution. Do you get a prize?"

It takes him a second to stop planning ahead, to stop imagining what could be waiting, who could be waiting. "Sorry?"

"This exercise. Does your therapist give you a gold star or something?"

He clears his throat. "Something like that."

She furrows her brow at him, contemplatively, so he goes off on a tangent, telling the story about the little boy who came to Baker Street convinced his pet snail had been stolen. By the end of it, they're both laughing fit to burst, and John feels lighter, somehow, when he sees her off.

"Come back anytime," he says, and holds up his hands, defensively. "That wasn't me trying to flirt, I promise."

She rolls her eyes. "Famous last words. I've read about you in the papers, John 'The Bachelor' Watson." A grin pushes through the facade of exasperation. "This was fun." Her smile fades a little. "A lot of people have been giving me a wide berth since, well, you know."

"You did what you thought was right," John says, and thinks, What Moriarty made you think was right.

"You too," she says, and he knows she's thinking the same thing about Sherlock's powers of persuasion. It's a strange sort of stalemate, a truce, and he thinks he could get used to it, given time.

He goes back to his room, pulls up a schedule for the Hyde Park Corner station. Closed for repairs from 6PM, Sunday through Thursday. Interesting.

He watches TV most of the afternoon and evening, mindless crime dramas. He guesses the endings to all of them. When the clock flips to 10:30PM, he rolls to his feet, puts on a light jacket and, on further reflection, takes his service pistol out from hiding.

For a while, he contemplates calling a cab, but the growing precariousness of his financial situation finally shifts the balance in favour of taking the Tube to Piccadilly station and walking from there. Ella's words come back to him – seeing Sherlock in the shadows around every corner – and he hunches his shoulders, walking faster, ducking into the underground entrance to Hyde Park station.

It's all blocked off, locked up, but after a moment or two of frustrated pacing, he sees two men in the reflective suits of construction workers walking through a door, and strolls right in behind them, like he belongs. They don't even turn around, and he darts further into the shadows, trying to move away from the noise of construction and deeper into the clandestine heart of the station. His heart is pounding, and he pulls his suddenly cold fingers from his pockets, rubbing them together. He hasn't a clue what he's looking for, and for all he knows, he's in the wrong place altogether.

He checks his watch – 11:19 – then glances back at his now-closed escape route. Well. Worst-case scenario, he pretends to be a lost and baffled tourist who got locked in. "What the hell kinda place is this, anyway," he mutters under his breath, trying an appallingly bad American accent on for size. It'll do, for a plan B. Still, he can't shake the uneasy feeling. It was nerve-wracking enough, strolling with Sherlock into certain danger, but alone? Alone, all the thrill is gone. He realizes he's seeing shapes in every shadow, now. He's terrified. He takes a long, deep breath.

Eventually, he finds what seems to be the quietest part of the station, manages to wedge himself in a corner behind a pillar, then settles in to wait. His legs are already starting to cramp from his uncomfortable position when his watch ticks over to 11:30. Seconds later, the shuffle of footsteps and murmured conversation echo down the line.

He feels a wave of excitement, stifles a ridiculous urge to jump out from hiding and shout Sherlock's name - you can't be sure it's him, you can't be sure, you can't. A moment later, he sinks back, deeper into the shadows, shivering. Not Sherlock. Three men, well-built, wearing hard hats, accompanied by a fourth, a small, weaselly man in a nice suit.

"The money," one of the hard-hats says. "You said you'd have it."

"Don't let's slip into clichés, eh?" the suit's whispering, a little frantically. "Give me a week."

"No deal. No money, we start talking."

"Hell," the suit murmurs. "Throgmorton needs to get the insurance money before he can pay you. The coppers are taking their fucking time on this one. What more do you want from me?"

The name tweaks something at the back of John's memory, and his stomach drops. Kitty Reilly's latest story. Art thieves, and now, apparently, an insurance scam. John stifles a groan. So much for getting on with his life.

"Did you hear something?"

John freezes, but they're looking the wrong way. A distraction, he thinks, and before he can do any more thinking, his body intervenes, some sort of heroic muscle memory falling into place. He raises his pistol, points it at the four men, and steps towards them. "All right," he says, loudly. "That's enough. You're nicked."

They stare at him as one. "Who the hell is this guy?" one of the hard-hats murmurs.

"Search me," the suit says. "Uh. Can we help you-" He eyes John up and down, hazards a guess. "-Inspector?"

Good enough. "Down on the ground, now," he snaps, and it takes him a moment to realize it's Sally Donovan's voice he's imitating, which is a little disconcerting. It seems to work, though, because they all wobble a bit unsteadily to their knees. "Right. Hands behind your heads. Cross your ankles. Good. Uh." He stares down at them. Stalling would be a good tactic about now. He raises his voice. "Right. Suppose you tell me what you're doing here, eh?"

"Just out for a stroll," the suit says.

One of the hard-hats shoots him an embarrassed look. "Really? He heard the whole thing, and that's the defence you're going for?"

"Shut up."

"Right," says John. A bit belatedly, he pulls out his mobile, and manages to draw on some military-bearing-induced menace to stare them into silence. He dials Sally Donovan's number. "Yeah, right," he says, as soon as she picks up the phone, before she can get a word in edgewise. "They're here, right where we talked about. The Throgmorton gang. I've, uh, I've rounded them up for you. You want me to bring them in with my boys, or does your group want them?" He realizes he's lowered his voice by about an octave in an effort to seem more official-copper sounding. The whole thing is so ridiculous, he finds himself on the verge of breaking into giggles.

There's a silence on the other end of the line, then, "I thought something was up. You have no idea how to go about being a normal person, do you? I'll be there in ten minutes. Try not to get killed in the meantime." And then, fondly, "Freak."

"Right," John says, and pretends to hang up, placing the still-open line to Sally in his pocket. "You boys are having a bad night. Turns out Donovan's team wants you, and it's no skin off my nose."

The four men are silent, staring at him with carefully constructed expressions of boredom. Too carefully constructed, he thinks, and then he catches a small twitch, just a tiny flicker, in the suit's eyes, a glance just over John's right shoulder.

He turns.

At first, he thinks he's been shot again, because it feels like a punch in his back and the pain washes through him so fast he's on the ground before he knows what's hit him. But there's no sound, no ringing in his ears, everything clear as a bell, a grunt of disgust and then running footsteps, further and further away, drowned out by the cheerful clamour of construction, his own gasping breath, and he reaches back, fingers slipping past blood and torn fabric to the hilt of the knife.

"Shit," he whispers, and tries yelling for help, tries getting up, then tries harder to get up, because his heart's racing and the grubby floor is feeling a lot like sand, like Afghanistan all over again. His legs are still working – God, they're still working – but his breathing's all wrong, too short, too fast, and he slumps, resting his forehead against the ground, trying to stop his mind from spinning into panic, into places he'd really rather not remember.

Things get a little fuzzy around the edges. He looks up and sees Sherlock crouched over him, and it's a weird kaleidoscope of mirror-images, John fighting his way to the body on the pavement, then falling, falling, and then his ears are ringing again, and he's there again, drowning in afterimages of blood and half-open, glazed-over eyes.

"John," Sherlock says, his face too close, too real, too alive. John jolts back with a yell, Sherlock fades, and Sally Donovan is standing over him, shouting orders to somebody.

She glances back at him. "You look like hell." She's got blood on her hands.

He sucks in one breath, then another. They're not coming fast enough, he thinks, and some much-abused part of his mind spits out, Collapsed lung. He wheezes, then does it again, uncontrollably. He's laughing.

"What's so funny?" She winces, then crouches down to put pressure on the wound. "No, wait, don't answer that. You'll probably make your heart explode or something. Just lie here until the paramedics arrive, all right?"

That sets him off again, and the pain seems to fade a little. "Alive," he says.

"Yeah, well, the jury's still out on that one." She smiles, but it's a bit frayed around the edges.

"Not me."

Her face tightens, something strange and thoughtful settling over it. "Yeah," she says. "I know."

He blinks at her, blearily searching for answers in her unreadable expression until the medics take over and give him the really, really good painkillers that let him fade away.

When he wakes up, he's in hospital, which doesn't exactly come as a surprise.

There's nobody around, so he drifts in a half-doze for a while before reaching for the remote next to his bed. He lets his brain glaze over still further with the parade of blurry daytime telly on the tiny black-and-white screen up in the corner. He's very nearly in a self-induced coma before the nurse comes in to check on him, that evening. Pausing occasionally to catch his breath, he subjects her to an interrogation about the state of his lungs, his spine, his prognosis – just as he suspected, there was a pneumothorax, and the chest drain would have to stay in for at least another three or four days.

"You're here for a week," she says, firmly. "At least. There was tissue damage as well, though you were lucky enough to avoid spinal damage. You twisted just as it happened, right?"

John nods, a bit blearily.

"Well, there you go." She smiles. "Could have been much worse."

"Have I-" John grimaces, tries to shift to a more comfortable position. "Have I had any visitors?"

"Your sister was here, I think," the nurse says, leaning down to check his readouts. "It's late now, but I'm sure she'll be back tomorrow. And an older woman. She said she was family, or as good as. She seemed oddly insistent that she wasn't your housekeeper."

John grins at that. "Right."

"And some police. A Sergeant Donovan, actually – she's waiting in the lobby now, come to think of it."

"Can I see her?"

The nurse pauses. "Pulse ox is low. Take a few deep breaths and try again for me, would you, dear?"

Irritated, John sucks in a massive breath of air, and regrets it at the jolt of pain through his side. The nurse beams. "There you are." She unclips the oximeter from his finger. "Yes, I suppose I can go fetch her, being police and all."


It takes a few minutes more of tests before the nurse delivers on her promise, ushering an exhausted-looking Sally Donovan into the room.


"Don't say it," John moans. "I look like hell."

Sally shrugs. "I'm getting used to it. How do you feel?"

John cycles through a series of smart-arse responses, then settles on, "Confused, mostly."

Sally slips into the chair beside his bed. "I know the feeling."

The hospital blankets are itchy. Nice to know some things never change. John twists the corner of his bedsheets between his fingers, over and over, then blurts, "I think I saw Sherlock. I mean, I thought it was him. When I was hurt."

"Yeah." Sally takes a deep breath. "You still had your mobile on, yeah? I heard everything that happened."

John feels his breath stop in his throat, hears the quickening thrum of his heartbeat. "And?"

Sally throws up her hands. "I don't understand it. I don't know how it's possible. But I heard him, John. I heard him say your name."

John closes his eyes, giddy and dizzy and shaking. "Oh, hell," he breathes, "Oh, Christ." After a moment, he adds, "I am going to kill him," and it's mostly a joke buoyed by his relief, but later, he knows, he'll feel hurt again. Betrayed.

"Get in line." Sally smiles, but the expression flickers a little. "Why is he doing this? Pretending to be dead, still?"

"I don't know." John's mind is racing. "I don't know. Maybe he's in danger."

Sally raises an eyebrow. "Maybe you're in danger."

"Maybe," John agrees, and barks a laugh. "I can't believe it. He's alive."

"Maybe you shouldn't believe it. It's just a voice on the phone and a pain-induced hallucination, at this point."

"I know what I saw."

"And I know what I heard."

They meet each other's eyes for a long moment. John looks away first. "Have you, ah, have you told anyone yet?"

"That you're a hot-headed idiot with a death wish? Yeah, I think a few people have figured that one out." He shoots her a mock-glare, and she laughs. "The other thing? No. I figure the Freak generally has a good reason for doing whatever the hell it is he does. And if he's doing this to protect you, well, maybe there's something halfway good in him after all." She stands, abruptly, as though embarrassed. "Anyway."

"Anyway," John echoes. A pleasant weariness is starting to drift over him again, probably a new round of drugs from the nurse's last visit. "What happens now?"

She pats his leg, awkwardly. "Now," she says, "you do some healing and I do some police work. We'll get this sorted out."

"Good," John says. He yawns, hugely, and settles back among the pillows. He's still got the vague sense that he's lying in an uncomfortable position, but it bothers him a great deal less, just at the moment.

Sally moves to the door. "G'night, then. I'll stop by sometime."


She pauses. "Yeah?"

He thinks about what he wants to say, trips over the words as they come out of his mouth. "I think we're making progress."

With a laugh, she turns off the lights. "Right, John. Progress."

He watches the void behind his eyes, and for once, when he hunts down the memory of Sherlock's face, it's very much alive.

Alone in the dark, John Watson smiles.

Chapter Two

Date: 2012-01-17 02:37 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
Ohhhh, this is so good. YES.

Date: 2012-01-17 05:36 pm (UTC)
kickair8p: Microscopic Utah Teapot (Tiny Utah Teapot)
From: [personal profile] kickair8p
Yeah, this works.


Date: 2012-01-17 11:18 pm (UTC)
kickair8p: Microscopic Utah Teapot (Tiny Utah Teapot)
From: [personal profile] kickair8p
Glad you wrote this! Donovan's been getting a ton of crap from both the fandom and canon when (or maybe because) she's the only one shown on screen to be doing her job both competently and the way it's supposed to be done. This shouldn't make her one of the villains, minor or otherwise. Anderson, now -- I'm perfectly fine with him being shown up as the asshole he so clearly is. Sally deserves better.

You wrote her better.


Date: 2012-01-17 07:21 pm (UTC)
infiniteviking: Hug icon: Sam Hannah and G Callen from NCIS: Los Angeles (7)
From: [personal profile] infiniteviking

/adds to headcanon

Date: 2012-01-17 10:21 pm (UTC)
minim_calibre: (Sally)
From: [personal profile] minim_calibre
This was fantastic.

Date: 2012-01-18 01:01 am (UTC)
sophia_helix: Sepia-toned London (ETC: like a dream)
From: [personal profile] sophia_helix
Aug, so excellent. And bless you for that wonderful Sally.

Date: 2012-01-18 05:48 pm (UTC)
misspamela: (Sherlockandjohn - forsaken_muse)
From: [personal profile] misspamela
Oh god, this is fantastic. I was so completely sucked in to the mystery of it, and I was right there along with John, wondering if he was going crazy or not.

Date: 2012-01-30 07:08 pm (UTC)
venturous: (john loves u)
From: [personal profile] venturous
awesome! I am on the edge of my seat, and avoiding work (baaad Ven!)
a sympathetic Sally is good - she needs some redemption after her terrible role in the TRF debacle. looking forward to more!


eponymous_rose: (Default)

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