Alone on the Water

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Title: Alone on the Water
Author(s): Madlori
Date(s): April 16, 2011
Length: ~7,500 words
Genre: deathfic
Fandom: Sherlock
External Links: @LJ;; Archive of Our Own

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Alone on the Water is a John/Sherlock fic by Madlori. The story is rated G. Written after the first series had aired, the story focuses on the aftermath of Sherlock's diagnosis with an inoperable brain tumor, and John and Sherlock's responses to it. It is one of the most well-known fics in the Sherlock fandom and has spawned numerous pieces of fanart and vids, as well as its own TV Tropes page.[1]


Sherlock Holmes never expected to live a long life, but he never imagined that it would end like this.

Alone on the Water has come to be considered a rite-of-passage for new Sherlock fans, who post their distraught responses.

Author's Notes and Requests

The story was posted to the author's LiveJournal page on April 16, 2011 with several author's notes and requests.

  • "Author's Note: Well, I don't normally write this much angst. For real! Usually I write romantic plotty adventurous happy fluffy things. But what can I say, this was the first plot bunny that came a-biting. I hope you enjoy it in all its AngstWhoreness."
  • "I highly recommend you listen to the song by The National from which the title and opening epithet is taken. It captures very well the mood of this story."
  • "AUTHOR REQUEST: I really appreciate all the people who've recommended this story to others and perpetuated it by word of mouth. The fact that you enjoyed it enough to pass it along is great, and makes me feel I've done something right as an author. But I'd like to request that you NOT tweet this story, or any other fanfiction of mine, to anyone involved in the show. I prefer for fanworks to remain within fanspace. Thank you very much for your cooperation."
  • "Author's Note: I continue to be somewhat overwhelmed by the response to this story. Typically I try to respond to every comment I receive; however with 200+ comments and more coming in, it's gotten away from me a bit. Please know that I see and read and greatly appreciate every comment that I receive, and I thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. If you have a specific question I will do my best to respond. Thank you all very much."
  • "A note about translations: I receive many requests to translate this story into other languages. Please consider this blanket permission to translate into whatever language you wish; you do not need to contact me directly to ask. You may post your translation where you like as long as my original authorship is preserved. I'd advise you to Google it first; many translations have already been done."

Emotional Fan Responses and a Comment by the Author

Many fans post their distraught responses to the fic on Tumblr, LiveJournal, and other platforms. This is something the author reluctantly commented on in April 2018:

Okay, it’s enough.

I have loooooong resisted writing about this because I feared it would sound like the ultimate douchebaggery to complain about something having anything to do with getting reviews, and people reacting with emotion to something I wrote.

But you know what? I’m done. I’m going to complain about it.

Do you have. ANY IDEA. How many times I have been told to fuck off, told “I hate you,” told a wide variety of hostile-sounding things because of “Alone on the Water?”

Tonight’s quote, the one that really sent me over the edge:

I hate you. I hate myself. I hate the internet. I am weak, I am empty, and all that I know is that I. Hate. You. I am finding it hard to breathe, and I can’t see.

Thank you, Spawn of Satan. Stratch that, you are something worse than Satan.***off.

Yeah, okay.

Before you dogpile me, I am 100% aware that this person is saying this because the story affected them. In the weird world of Tumblr opposite-speak hyperbole, this is a GOOD review. But reading those words with my own two eyes still doesn’t feel great.

When you post about how Chris Evan’s latest photoshoot is ruining your life and you hate him, when you really mean the opposite, Chris cannot hear you saying that. I CAN FUCKING HEAR YOU. I see and read every single review on this story, and all the other stories. I hear it every time someone tells me to fuck off and die, that they want to kill me, that they hate me SO MUCH because they’re crying SO HARD.

Great. I’m glad the story worked for you. Can you not fling those words at me? Maybe? If it were once in awhile, whatever. But it’s every. damn. day.

I hate saying this because I should be happy that people are still reviewing with such frequency a story I wrote eight years ago. And I am. It’s gratifying to know the story still finds new readers.

I can think that and still not be thrilled to be told to fuck off on the reg.[2]

Sample Reviews & Reactions

Archive of Our Own

It was posted June 12, 2011 to Archive of Our Own where, as of September 2019, it has 1175 comments and 9878 kudos.

[2011]: This was...beautiful, painful, and left me unable to breathe properly through my nose. I cried silent screams of agony and wanted to curl up in a ball and just sob for hours. I haven't cried this hard over a fanfiction in forever...if ever. I feel so bad...and it killed me. But you wrote it so wonderfully, I can survive. Thank you for this. Just thank you.[3]
[2011]: You wrote this with such diginity to the entire tearful process. The best I can do is bookmark it. You deserve much more.[4]

Fuck you and fuck this fic and fuck my unending stream of tears.

Seriously, it is hours later and I am still struggling to keep it together in public. Absolutely perfectly done, you've nailed John's emotional evolution here so well that I couldn't not put myself in his shoes with regards to my own hetero life partner (tearful lol!). Congratulations on this beautiful piece of work, even if it has destroyed my soul for today. Bravo.[5]

Oh god why do i hate myself so much??? Why have I read it? WHY????? It hurts, IT HURTS!!! Damn!!!

My heart is irreparably broken oh god oh god send help

I hope you are happy! I'm crying my bloody eyes out!!

Just one sec..(wiping away the waterfalls from my face, blowing my nose and trying to recollect myself in order to write something rational!)

Ok. This is a beautiful piece of art. Really. Lyrical, profound and so so delicate.

The writing is just perfect. Perfect.

One of my favourite fic ever, even though it's probably the most tragic thing I've ever laid my eyes upon!

Thank you, you are amazing! [6]
[2013]: Oh my god. I don't know whether to praise this for being so well written and touching or reprimand it for breaking my heart. Either way, this is this fourth time I've read this and I'm still not tired of it.[7]

Someone recommended this to me months ago when I asked them for some good fanfics. I finally got the time and mental strength to sit down again and read a fanfic. I was warned this would be a sad fic. Something bad happened in my family a couple of months ago, which is why I just couldn't finish this before. I read the beginning a couple of times before deciding to wait for a little longer.

Now, I have to say this was an interesting fic to read. Not just because my uncle died some years ago of the exact same reason as Sherlock here, but also because of how well your description fits the image I have about the characters. Personally, I think Sherlock's character is incredibly hard to write the "right" way, meaning it doesn't say OOC with big, red letters on his forehead. You succeeded, and I appreciate your skills. Your writing is lively even though (or maybe bacause) it doesn't include tons of describing but is still full of new ways to describe things and interesting choises of words.

This fic was also very emotional and very sad, but I'll not go into detail about it since I noticed hundreds of other people have said the same thing already. All I want you to know is that it truly made me cry internally and left a kind of heavy weight into my chest. Thank God this is not canon! I simply couldn't handle that.

Thank you for writing this amazing fic! [8]

God, i already forgot how to speak. Oh, hell, if you can look at me right now you'll see tears, a mess and a speechless girl, that's the perfect description of me. Just like John when he is mad or sad or... well, you know what I mean. The story is simple: put the cards on the table, show you how everything it's going to be and give you free pass to choose if you read it or not. See? Simple. But when you choose go ahead... the pain it's so tangible that: 1. You can not keep reading. 2. Destroy you. 3. Give you some time to breath, put yourself together again and, light green, keep reading again. And those were the most difficult three steps that I had to do in my reading life, I swear.

It was beatiful. Amazing. That are the characters that we love, you made an impersonation of them so damn incredible that I just... God, here we go again with the tears.


Anyway, thank you so much for creat this, for letting us read it and feel so deep about the things that happen in life, for being able to connect with us and blow up our minds til no end. Thank you. Beatiful... just beautiful.[9]
[2019]: I remember reading this years ago and also leaving a comment in a different account and I still love this. This is truly one of the saddest johnlock fanfics out there and is definitely a fandom classic that I will always feel like rereading over and over. When I first read this I remember crying and even now I still feel sad about the what ifs that could have happened if Sherlock hasn't died. I love how you wrote John and Sherlock's relationship. The way you wrote them is very intimate and you can tell that they are both important to one another. The ending was just so heartbreaking and at the same time beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story that will always be so close to my heart.[10]

i think this might be the most popular angsty johnlock fanfic in the world. i heard about it, but i’m not good at dealing with angst so i put it off. until now. i couldn’t resist the pull. unfortunately.

the last line got me big time. the fic broke my heart; the last line shattered it irreparably. ouch. thanks for my wet pillow and grief-filled heart and stuffy nose from crying. and thanks for blessing the internet with this amazing story.[11]


The oldest Goodreads reviews are dated May 19, 2012, where it has 78 reviews.


Alone on the Water is consider a right of passage and a required-read for every member of the Sherlock fandom. If you just say “Alone on the Water” the almost the entire fandom will know what you’re talking about, and about 3/4 of them will burst into tears and incoherent screeches on the spot.[12]

[2013]: “Alone on the Water,” the only thing that will be slashed is your feels.

So why read it?

Because it’s a beautiful exploration of just how deep the Holmes/Watson relationship is, and how much devastation it causes when one has to say goodbye.

It’s exquisitely written [...] and now matter how many times I read it (which is probably about a dozen now), I find little intricacies that the author imbues into the story to give these characters life, and it leaves a hollow sense of melancholy lingering in my chest long after I’ve finished reading.

Yes, this is the best fanfiction I’ve ever read–in fact, it’s just one of the best things I’ve ever read. Period. So I’ll forgive MadLori for chopping up my heart and feeding it to the sharks, because this piece is just that damn good.[13]


Clearly, despite the 'warning', I can be a masochist

The writing is gorgeous. The story is gorgeous. The ending is gorgeous (despite the fact that it successfully made me cry). The only reason I can't give it 5-stars is because I kind of wish that there's more to it in the middle; because it's a little bit too short to describe the length and significance of Sherlock and John's friendship (and love).

Still ... impeccable and darn moving.[14]
[2013]: I never should have read this--14 years and I managed to find that pain again. May sleep allow me to forget.[15]

Well, then.

This was good.

Really good.

Beautiful writing, great (mind you, though, I didn't say perfect) characterisation and heart-wrenching story. But it didn't really hit all that hard or deep.

I honestly don't know if it's me or the story, but it seems to be the former, because everyone seems to dissolve into puddles of tears on the parquet everytime they read this. I, however, need more time to really get invested, and this is short. I feel a bit like I did at the end of Let's Hear It for the Boy - raw and saddened, but in a strangely detached way.

I do have to point out two things though.

The first is that I was sort of forced by a friend to read this fic right the fuck now or I'll gouge your eyes out with a pen because I'm suffering and why should I be the only one, and even though I'd been wanting to read it for a long time, this method isn't really conducive to full appreciation of a story for me. I need to be in the mood for it, and feel the impulse to pick it up myself, without external influences. People tell me it's weird. Whatever - that's how I function.

The other thing is that objectively, this story is great. So, you know, give it a shot, see if it makes you cry or not, angst about love and death, angst about your own insensitivity, because it's one of the fundamentals of this fandom. You can't really say you ship it unless you have the guts to read this one.[16]

This was the first fanfiction I ever read, of any show, any pairing. I remember wondering about the hype over fanfiction, previously never really had any fascination about it, but this fic introduced me to something beyond what I see on screen. The portrayal of characters is something that still makes me weep every time I return to this, and something that made me continue to read more; the vast variety of interpretations of by different people across the world, over the same character, the same lines, the same behaviour draws me further in.

Nevertheless, this is an incredible story, from any perspective. It's wonderfully written; the characters are portrayed true to their liking and behaviour; the plot is so artistically carried out, I fail to stay dry eyed. One of my favourite thing about this is the dynamic between their relationship, because at the end, it's all there is to the story: a deep love (platonic, romantic, you decide) between two men who grew to depend on each other greatly. It's poignant, it draws you in and cuts you deep, just how a story of this type should be. I don't read this often, mostly because I end up incredibly distressed, and in a sorrowful heartache. Needless to say, it's because of the ending. It's startling as it's so normal, grief - many suffer this daily, though the style it's written truly reflects this particular case of grief, something not many have managed I think. I can't say enough about how much this fic means to me, how much I truly adore it, I can't praise it enough.[17]

This was recommended to me as a 'try not to cry challenge' and I have no shame in admitting that I failed at it tremendously. Although, if someone reads these 16 pages as a short story, they may or may not cry. But I was coming from a state where I had 4 seasons as a prequel to this.

Your amount of involvement/investment may have a big affect on your experience.[18]

It's been almost two years since I've read this and I'm still not over it...this story has broken my heart in ways I wasn't expecting at the time. I wouldn't be able to deal with another reading, not with His Last Vow coming soon.

Do read Alone in the Water, even if you are not a fan of fanfictions. Actually, ESPECIALLY if you think these things are "a waste of time for teenagers", because they definitely aren't. It's the other way around, some can become masterpiece.[19]

I'm shocked to see a fanfiction work on Goodreads, but if any short story deserves to be here, it's this one. This story will make you cry buckets. I mean literal buckets people. This story deserves all the praise and recognition it's had over the years, simply because it's a masterpiece. I will read anything by MadLori, and will read anything that resembles their work.

Seriously, even if you don't like Sherlock Holmes, read this!!! It's beautiful. <3 [20]


I don't believe there are words to describe the immeasurable beauty of this story. I read this as a baby Sherlock reader and it has stuck with me all this time, never failing to reduce me to tears. It's cleansing, in a way, to read something that hits you so hard. The tears this brought to me were unexpected and much needed and as much as it hurt, I would read this 100 times over, and I'm sure I will. This will remain on my bookshelf for a long, long time.[21]


It was posted April 16, 2011 at LiveJournal where, as of September 2019, there were 719 comments about this story. See Alone On the Water, one-shot.


It was posted April 17, 2011 at where, as of September 2019, there were 5,561 comments about this story. See

Tagged Reactions on Tumblr

See the #aloneonthewater tag on Tumblr.

Works Inspired by "Alone on the Water"

Further Reading


  1. ^ [1], "Fanfic: Alone on the Water", TV Tropes.
  2. ^ Okay, it’s enough., Archived version (April 14, 2018)
  3. ^ Catilin at Archive of Our Own (June 12, 2011)
  4. ^ Vesca at Archive of Our Own (June 12, 2011)
  5. ^ Flax at Archive of Our Own (April 12, 2012)
  6. ^ CL23 at Archive of Our Own (April 26, 2012)
  7. ^ motherfuqueer at Archive of Our Own (March 13, 2013)
  8. ^ silagul at Archive of Our Own (October 11, 2017)
  9. ^ Dear Rosie at Archive of Our Own (August 7, 2018)
  10. ^ sunnypatatas at Archive of Our Own (February 10, 2013)
  11. ^ isayyoucrazy at Archive of Our Own (July 21, 2019)
  12. ^ The Fic Reviewer, "Featured Fanfic: 'Alone on the Water' by Madlori," Lexi McAllister, The Fic Reviewer, March 26, 2013.
  13. ^ Fanfic Wednesday: 'Alone on the Water,' The Collective Mind June 12, 2013.
  14. ^ Ami at Goodreads (March 29, 2013)
  15. ^ Vivian at Goodreads (April 8, 2013)
  16. ^ Nina at Goodreads (March 26, 2013)
  17. ^ Annie at Goodreads (April 8, 2013)
  18. ^ Samridhi Malhotra at Goodreads (March 28, 2013)
  19. ^ Elizabeth at Goodreads (January 11, 2014)
  20. ^ Michelle at Goodreads (May 28, 2016)
  21. ^ Mary-Catherine at Goodreads (February 14, 2014)
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