He doesn’t remember what’s real, what’s important, but he has this dream. Water. In raindrops and in torrents. Heartbeat racing in his hands and ears. Dust and stone under his eyes. Flashes of white light. Then it starts over. He knows the pattern like Mrs. Hudson’s grocery list. It’s nearing the end now, because the pain in his leg begins. And then there’s him.
He walks up the path, knocks twice.
A mother and daughter quarrel next door. He hears them but tries not to. Nothing he can do about pocketed makeup and midnight meetings on street corners.
He waits. Right hand on his cane, left hand inside his coat. Then he switches.
Harry takes a peek from behind the curtains and scowls. She means for him to see it, but he stays, still. The door swings open after a moment.
“We don’t need our carpet cleaned. You can leave—”
He swings his cane and the door catches with a dull thud.
“What do you want?” She stomps up the stairs, knowing he’ll follow her inside.
“It’s the 28th,” he says, feigning an easygoing pace. His leg doesn’t care much for being noticed.
The sitting room is as bare as he remembers it. Two lounge chairs, half a rug shoved to the corner. Nothing on the mantle.
“Heard you’re seeing a therapist now.”
“It’s the 28th, Harry.”
“That you’ve gone over. Mad. Have a little piece of cardboard with scripture on it.”
He dusts off the chair nearest the fireplace. Smell of bleach and rust and cigarettes. It doesn’t creak under his weight and he wonders why he’s disappointed.
“You’ve come to talk then?”
“Hang on.” Harry grabs a six-pack from inside the freezer.
He smiles, and asks her if she’s expecting company.
“This is my personal stash, so don’t go pulling at it like, well, like I do.”
He gives his word and waits for her to take a swill.
“Reckon you’d be the type to do anything for a free beer.”
He plunks his already empty bottle on the coffee table between them and reaches for a second. He spots Harry staring at him, and he wonders what she sees.
“Oy, if you’re looking for someone to trudge up to the cemetery with you, you know I hate that shitty place.”
“You’re lying,” he says, and it slips out easier than he intended.
“Where’s Emily?” He hesitates, but opens a third bottle.
Emily left two weeks ago. The ‘One’s are all over the flat. One pair of slippers. One bathrobe. One teacup in the sink.
He doesn’t mock her for it, and she knows he’s pretending to be too drunk to do so.
“Are they gonna lock you up?” She turns to face him.
He quirks an eyebrow.
“In the loony bin, I mean.”
“They won’t take me,” he says, and they have a short laugh over it.
“You know you haven’t visited in over a year,” she says.
“Exactly a year. And the last one didn’t count.”
“Since it was a funeral, yeah.” She says it so he won’t have to.
The hour passes, heavily.
“Great man, he was.” And they’re having the same conversation again. “Not a lot of them knew.” She turns the bottle by the neck, looks at him. “I could never understand how you lived with him without going crazy. Never imagined…”
“He would have made a horrible banker,” he says.
Harry rolled the bottle between her palms.
“He gave me six years,” he says, and stops. A car drives past and the sunlight that steals into his face blinds him momentarily.
The silence stretches, and both of them feel sorry that Harry polished off the last bottle.
“He would do it again” she says. “For you.”
He smiles, wearily.
John wondered when he would get used to being knocked out on the doorstep of 221B. He thought about sending invitations.
The gorilla who took him stank of sewer and murder. Being around Sherlock for as long as he had, the idea of crimes having scents wasn’t as mad as he feared.
They shove in an earpiece.
Sometimes, he can convince himself that everything is in its proper place. Then he opens the freezer and finds the severed head still there but no one’s nagging about food. There’s two chairs, two rooms, two revolvers, and maybe – he thought of this in one of his silly moods – if he moved quick enough, he can pretend that there are two people using them.
The front door opens before he can touch it.
“I’ve been looking for you all over, dear—”
“You never left the apartment, Mrs. Hudson.”
“—you have a visitor.”
He stops mid-enter, and works out how to hobble away before getting caught. “Is it Lestrade?” His voice comes out fearful, and he glares at Mrs Hudson as if to blame her for the exposure.
Mrs. Hudson shook her head. “It’s that young lady." She leans closer, whispers in a too-loud voice. “From the funeral, dear.”
He’s on the first floor landing when Mrs Hudson shuts the front door.
“I brought you some fruit,” Sarah says.
Sarah in the sitting room with a basket. Sarah sitting on His chair. Sarah with His coat, His gloves, His scarves.
“I just wanted to see how you were doing. Today’s the anniversary—”
“I don’t like fruit.”
Sarah stretches. She finds the stacks of tabloids and the side of her mouth picks up. “See you’re all up on who’s sleeping with who then.”
“Apparently I am to benefit from it.” He gives her his most polite look of condescension.
“He used to love the tabloids. Devoured them.” She chuckles. “We had this running gag where I accuse him of having an affair—”
“I’m sure there’s someone else you can have this conversation with.”
“He wanted to stay, you know.” And he does know. “With me.”
“I didn’t notice,” he says.
“You didn’t notice?”
His glare makes her wince.
Sarah pops a grape in her mouth. “There’s been a string of murders over in Culmstock. A little three traffic light town. Must be interesting.”
“Ghastly.” He leans his cane on the doorframe and hobbles to the sofa. When he kicks off his boots, he half-wishes that they would hit something that would cry out in pain, but they don’t.
He stretches out his arm and waits for Sarah to hand him an apple.
“Does Inspector Lestrade have anything for—”
“Not worth my time.”
“Surely you have a case in mind.”
“But what of your work?”
“It wouldn’t make any difference.” And he stills himself, shocked.
She looks away, and this does not do anything to ease his mood.
“You do have a reason for coming here, don’t you? Don’t answer that. Judging by the excessive amount of makeup you have on, and your neat little idea of buying scandalously bright clothing to make sure I and the entire city know that you’re ‘up for a change’, you’ve given an awful lot of thought into looking like you’ll be off on a date after this. Makes me wonder why you’re so keen on inflicting me with your presence.” He draws in a long, shuddering breath. If he could bottle the adrenaline thrumming through his veins, he would. Or if he could talk like he used to, like he just did, someday.
“I—I don’t know, really. Maybe a bit of a talk, I guess?”
“What about that lovely therapist you recommended me? Doesn’t waste time in agreeing with everything I say – I’m starting to like her.” He yawns.
"I talk to him," Sarah says. “Every day.” She slouches in her seat and he takes comfort in seeing a repentant dog who wouldn’t know better if he shoved her nose in her own filth.
“Do you ever wonder—” Sarah breaks off and drops her chin. He wonders if tears stain the carpet and whether Mrs Hudson knew how to remove it.
“Do you ever wonder,” she begins again, her breath catching several times, “what you’d do if you saw him?”
“You’ll be late for your date.”
She stares at him.
The front door slamming shut is today’s brand of aural perfume.
He takes a moment to drown the roaring in his ears, and then he limps over to his desk. Colliding with the fruit basket was an accident.
“Pity,” he says.
He picks at the wood and feels dirt under his nail. Dirt, dust and ash. Ash that could be His.
Sarah is seven streets away when he realises the windows are open for the first time in a year.
“I expected more from you, Sherlock.” A tilt of Moriarty’s head. A grin, feral. "What's it gonna be?"
"'Going to,'" he whispers.
The grin widens, is devilish by now.
He levels his gun.
“I’m bored, Sherlock. Doesn’t Johnny-boy know any tricks? Maybe a little Argentinian tango? We-ow.”
Moriarty goes on, but Sherlock hears only John. John breathing.
Sherlock tries, but he can’t. He finds brown eyes and blinks.
That hesitation -- a heartbeat -- and John understands.
No half-baked apologies. No stammers of thanks.
All is quiet.
And all is still.
When nothing comes, Sherlock betrays himself with a spark of hope. Then he pulls the trigger.
The last he is aware of is of being shoved away far too soon, and then nothing else.
First to leave is his breath, then his gun, and then – he would laugh about it afterwards, in the hospital, in his study, under the sheets – his leg. Then John.
After waiting several minutes for another visitor to turn up, Sherlock lets go of the death-grip on his cane. He tells himself he wouldn’t have hesitated giving Lestrade a sound whack across the face if he showed up with a fruit basket and ‘wished him well’. He laughs at the image and the sound is immediately unfamiliar and shameful, like giggling at a crime scene.
He reckons soon he’ll be able to take John’s cane out of the fireplace, and he’ll be able to use the damned thing again – the fireplace, not the cane. He’ll be able to pass by the self-checkout without wanting to go at it with a cleaver. He’ll finally take the severed head out of his freezer, not because his experiment failed, but because John would have wanted him to eat something other than Chinese takeaway. He’ll open John’s room.
These will come gradually, unnoticed. Another change that’s only a little more welcome than the rest. Soon he can talk to Mycroft or to Lestrade again, and the anger will be gone. Soon.
“He pushed me.”
When the drugs wear off in time for him to recognise Mycroft standing at the foot of his hospital bed, he knows nothing else to say.
“John bloody pounced and—”
A flash of red hair, a jumpy little nurse takes a peek from the door.
“John Watson.” He pulls himself up with shaky hands to yell at the nurse. “Don’t give him painkillers; he’s allergic to painkillers, some species of mollusc and the occasional mushroom. He was shot in the shoulder—
Mycroft offers a polite smile before sliding the door in her face.
“What the hell did you just do? If those idiots so much as give him facial cream his face’ll blow up like a balloon.”
Mycroft opens his mouth then closes it.
“Did he get shot?”
When Mycroft doesn’t say anything, he repeats the question. Again. And again.
“We have no way of finding out, Sherlock,” Mycroft says, finally.
Sherlock sits, and waits.
He thinks about a lot of things. Things that may or may not include yelling, tearing off the needles, shoving bedpans down his brother’s throat. Maybe that will change things. But for most of the time, Sherlock thinks.
“There was no other body.”
It was a joke; it had to be.
“That man you came to see. He wasn’t there.”
A crash trolley wheels past. Someone else dying, he muses.
“It was a fairly small explosive.” Mycroft pulls out a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, dabs his forehead. “He obviously came prepared for… Whatever it is that you planned to do.
“Your leg will heal, given time. Among other things.” Mycroft smiles as Mycroft always smiles.
Sherlock pretends not to hear the last part.
“You should have told me, Sherlock.” Mycroft turns to leave.
“What – is that it? ‘You should have told me, Sherlock.’ That’s it? You can do better than that. Go on.”
Mycroft silent is no better than Mycroft smiling.
Mycroft slides the door open. “I’m afraid, Sherlock, that you’re far better than I am in that department.”
They decide not to rebuild the pool.
The papers go on about open investigations and safety committees before leaving it alone.
He sees Mycroft in every corner.
The explosion site is empty now. Even the homeless shun this place. He has a faint recollection of that being his doing, but he’s not entirely sure of what he did anymore.
Sherlock walks in and makes sure to step on the cracks in the tiles with every step. There is a small space which he tells himself he remembers. He dusts off a spot in the middle of it all, like Harry’s lounge chair, like his desk. Sherlock sits, lets his cane clatter to the ground beside him.
There is not enough light to see across the street when he remembers what he came here for. Inside the deepest pocket of his trench coat, there is a photo. Sherlock sighs, and takes it out.
He stares at the air behind the photo. Runs his index finger along the sides. John is grinning in this one, Sherlock’s scowl firmly set. Mrs Hudson tipsy, her arms snaked around Lestrade and his sheepish grin. Sarah has her arms around John, too. Party hats on every head. New Year’s Eve. There are a lot of photos like this one, of John amused at Sherlock’s disgust with posed shots and holiday celebrations in general. This is their only photo together.
Sherlock pockets the photo and breathes.