The plant arrived two days after Sherlock jumped.
John remembers this because he remembers everything that happened after. He wishes he didn’t, but every detail, every minute of those first weeks is still there, hovering below the surface of things, like wallpaper under paint, the pattern only showing through when the light shines on it in just the right way.
He only kept it because unlike the other flowers that were delivered to Baker Street in the days after Sherlock’s death – lilies from Molly, a small arrangement from Sherlock’s parents, white tulips from Anthea – this one was addressed to Sherlock. He sent all the others downstairs to Mrs. Hudson. The gift card, tucked into the wrapping, was white vellum, the five word message written in a barely legible scrawl.
The game is never over.
He traced the delivery to a flower shop in Shepherd’s Bush where the order had been placed by a young man.
“He looked a bit dodgy, if you ask me, but he paid cash,” the florist said. “Copied the message off a crumpled bit of paper. Told me to deliver it in three days, not before. I almost didn’t bother, not after what I read in the paper. How your Mr. Holmes topped himself. But it was paid for, so I did.”
Everyone, including Mycroft and Lestrade and Molly, told him the plant came from Moriarty – one last turn of the screw before he killed himself and Sherlock.
But John’s heart, bruised and battered as it was, chose to believe something else.
One morning two weeks after Sherlock pulls off his Lazarus act, John takes a cab to Baker Street. He pauses on the landing, trying to decide whether to forget the whole thing. After a moment, he squares his shoulders, takes a breath and knocks.
Sherlock opens the door. He’s back in his blue silk dressing gown and John’s stomach does that same flip-flop it always did. “You don’t have to knock, John.”
John holds out the plant. It’s two feet tall now, and almost as wide across. “This is yours. It’s time you took proper care of it.”
Sherlock looks confused but takes the pot from John and carries it into the flat. He sets it on the floor by his chair. “I don’t have plants, John.”
“What you really mean is that you only have one.” He smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
The flat is the same, yet different. Like a violin with no strings. John moves the plant to the window ledge. “It needs sun. Lots of water. Fertilizer at least one a month. If you don’t treat it right, it might look elsewhere . . .”
“I’m sure Mrs. Hudson will take excellent care – ”
“No. You’ll take care of it.” It comes out angrier than he means it to. “I bloody well kept it alive for two sodding years. You can do the same.”
“Am I allowed to ask where it came from? And why you are so determined to make it mine?”
John sits in his chair. He wonders when – if – it will stop feeling like his chair.
“It was delivered to you. Three days after – ” In his mind, that sentence always ends with “you left me.” Instead, he just sighs and says again, “After.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small card. The edges are worn and the top left corner is torn. He hands it shakily to Sherlock. “Here . . .”
Sherlock takes it and stares at it for a moment. His shoulders drop and he wipes a hand slowly across his face. John recognizes the gesture, it’s what Sherlock always does when he can’t think of anything to say.
“Oh,” is all he manages in the end. “I am sorry, John.”
“Why did you send it then? Was it your plan to leave me with just enough doubt to make me think I was going mad?” He stands to face him, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. He feels the now familiar urge to hit him. “Or did you just want to make it impossible for me to get over you?”
“And yet you did. Have you and Mary set a date yet?”
John feels the heat spread across his face. “You bastard. You sodding – ”
Sherlock leans forward and catches John’s mouth in the middle of a word, the middle of a breath, the middle of a heartbeat. It's everything John remembers and everything he’s lost.
It heals his heart and shatters it all over again.