“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered.”
-Neil Gaiman, American Gods
“The first step to eternal life is you have to die.”
-Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
There was a time once, when gods walked this Earth, long before the pillars of belief cracked and crumbled under the weight of progress and technology. A time when heroes were born and legends lived, long before they were carved into the memory of mankind. A time when the stories of this world were still being written, long before they were woven into the fabric of the universe.
Perhaps your mother told you of King Arthur and the Round Table and the Lady of the Lake. Perhaps she told you of violins and the fall of the Roman Empire and how Juliet loved her Romeo, then died for it. Perhaps she told you of Snow White and the making of the world and the bastard children of Zeus. Or perhaps she told you of the life of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; of Baker Street and how they met; of Irene Adler and Reichenbach Falls; of treasures stolen and lost and the death of Professor Moriarty.
Forget everything you ever knew; it is irrelevant.
This is the story of how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson became immortal and this is how they died.
Inspector Lestrade visited them a few times after they had retired and left London, mostly to consult Holmes about a case or other, and if either of them suspected that this was more out of a desire to see old friends than an actual need of Holmes’s assistance, they never mentioned it.
“You’ve become a bit of a legend, eh?” Lestrade grinned as they saw him off at the station, drawing awed looks and a few hushed whispers from onlookers. The lines around the Inspector’s mouth were more prominent than ever, momentarily deepening with every smile and providing a snapshot of what he might look like in another ten years, and Holmes wondered when he had begun to smile so freely and so openly or if he had always done so and simply failed to notice it.
Watson chuckled, even as Holmes snorted, his breath fogging in the cold November air.
“I should hope not, Inspector,” he said, and then to clarify, as identical looks of confusion appeared on the faces of the other two, “You see, in order to become legend one must, by necessity, die and I am not quite ready for that yet.”
Later that evening, when they were alone, Watson asked softly, “Do you truly believe that? That one must die to become a legend, I mean.”
Holmes’s answer did not come immediately, in fact, it did not come at all that night. And when it did it was low and hushed, with his knees drawn up to his chest and his eyes fixed on the flickering fire: “I do not think I should want to be a legend, Watson. And if I were one, I do not think I would do a very good job.” Fragile fingers twisted into the fabric of his dressing gown as he rested his head on top of his knees, “Legends are born when they die, Watson, for only the dead are no longer subject to the whims and weaknesses of mortal men.”
The last was said with a wistful smile and a tender expression, grey eyes misting over, and Watson wondered whether it was only a trick of the firelight, but reached out to take Holmes’s hand anyway.
“They would have liked this, I think,” Lestrade was saying as he arranged the flowers on the graves, “To rest here, by the sea, next to each other.”
Gregson scowled, prodding a lump of dirt with his cane, “The doctor, perhaps, but Mr. Holmes? He would have wanted to be buried in London, I reckon.”
“Oh?” Lestrade paused to look up at Gregson with what might have been a quizzical expression had he not been squinting against the salty wind.
“The city was his life, his heart,” Gregson frowned and shifted uncomfortably, not looking at him, “I should think he would have liked to be buried close to the thing he loved most.”
His eyes were fixed on the headstones, carved out of rough stone and faintly damp with saltwater, and so he did not see the smile Lestrade failed to suppress.
“Perhaps you’re right,” he sighed, straightening slowly and wiping his hands on his trousers, “But the London Sherlock Holmes loved died with him, and I, for one, like to think that he was buried close to what he loved most.”
They spoke no more and did not look at each other as they walked from the cemetery with their arms linked, tasting the sea and a hundred roads they never took.
--gets easier to believe that all my stories are just that: stories, fairytales, figments of my imagination. It is hard, almost impossibly so, to remember that they are true, that once upon a time, not that long ago, heroes still walked among us--
--He is slipping away from me, and not just from my memory. It -- like we are the remnants of an era that ended a long time ago, the only living proof that a legend lived here, breathed here, walked this city’s streets--
--he became history long before he died and it killed him.
“I found this letter among your things,” Gregson was saying, holding it tightly, the yellow paper crackling in the harsh wind.
“The ink is blurred and smeared in places and entire pages are missing, but it still makes sense,” he didn’t raise his voice above the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs, not caring whether his whisper was heard or, perhaps, knowing it wasn’t. “I didn’t understand what you meant, at the time, but now, now I think I do.”
Faintly he could hear the cries of the seagulls, carried to him through swirling snowflakes and cold air.
“I don’t agree, though. I don’t think he ever truly died--neither of them did--and as long as mothers still tell their children of the great Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion, Dr. Watson, his London, too, will live on.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face and, with a sad little smile, admitted, “And I hope that, every once in a while, someone remembers Inspector Lestrade and the good he did,” and, addressing the snow-covered grave for the first time, he added, “For I should miss you terribly, if you were gone forever.”
His words were blown away by the salty wind and lost in the frozen rain.
No one now can tell for sure how they met their end. Some say that they went to sleep in each other’s arms and did not wake up. Some say that Holmes died first, years of cocaine use and mistreating his body finally catching up with him, and that the day Holmes’s eyes closed for good was the day Watson’s heart ceased its beating. And some say that Holmes and his Watson were dead long before they drew their final breaths.
There is, however, one thing that they can all agree on; that they did not, as heroes are so often wont to do, die in battle or go down with guns blazing; instead they retired to Sussex and lived there for many years and in peace until they died at last, at an old age.
The reason for this is simple: they did not die heroes, because they did not need to.
“You’ll kill yourself, one of these days,” Watson admonished, even as he cleaned the cut on Holmes’s forehead, though perhaps not taking as much care as he usually did, judging by the way Holmes winced. “We’re grown men and perfectly capable of saving our own lives, Holmes.”
“Not like he actually cares about that; he just wants to make sure that if someone is to die a hero, it’s going to be him,” Lestrade mumbled in an attempt to ease the tension and was gratified to see the corners of the doctor’s mouth twitch.
“There is no such thing as heroes, Inspector,” Holmes said with his eyes closed, “And if there was then I should hope I wouldn’t have to die a hero, but rather live as one.”