There was no body to be found. The only thing that would have kept Dr. John Watson would have been his duty to identify the body. Instead, he took a plane out of the country just a day later.
In England, he made a conscious decision not to go back to London, but he tried not to dwell on the reasons why. At Gatwick he almost phoned Harry. His thumb hovered over her name and then passed her by, heading towards the number marked ‘Mum’. John tried not to think about this either. At times of great crisis, the Watson siblings relied on Mum to make the necessary communications between them.
John hired a car and drove to his parents’ house. He made occasional calls to Sarah and managed to get a few weeks’ more leave.
“That’s all I need. Say, just two more weeks,” he told her. Just two more weeks of living out of a suitcase somewhere unfamiliar (Mum and Dad had sold the place he and Harry had grown up in long ago). He stretched out the weeks in his mind, making them last months, years, one ten-year-old’s Sunday afternoon after Sunday afternoon.
Sarah hummed sympathetically. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come and see you?”
“No. No, you’re busy. I’ll be fine.”
“I could take the train up next Saturday…”
“You told Alison you’d cover for her on Saturday.”
There was a pause.
“Damn, you’re right. How did you remember that?”
“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Okay, John. I just wish… I just wish I knew how to talk to you.”
John began to say, “I love you” but Sarah had already hung up.
Despite the two week barrier he had put up, John soon found himself back at Baker Street. Mycroft Holmes was waiting for him at the top of the stairway. They talked sporadically. Mycroft seemed somehow relieved to see John. John only had the uncomfortable feeling that Mycroft knew everything that was going through his mind. How he was putting off the moment when he would have to put his key in the lock. How he’d ignored all Sarah’s calls in case he started crying whilst he talked to her - which was ridiculous, because crying, full-on crying, was something he found pretty much impossible to do. How he just wanted to leave the flat as it was, as it had been on the day they’d left for Switzerland. As if that way he could make himself believe that he could just open the door whenever he liked and Sherlock would be there, hunched studiously over his chemicals or jumping up from the sofa with an exclamation of triumph. He just chose not to.
Eventually the discomfort of standing opposite Mycroft drove him to unlock the door.
John headed towards a pile of books and files. With the briefest glance around, he saw that the flat wasn’t quite as he and Sherlock had left it. Mrs. Hudson had been in and had left them some boxes to pack Sherlock’s belongings in. She and John hadn’t discussed John’s tenancy. John, of course, hadn’t considered whether he should carry on living in the flat. Or, at least, he hadn’t considered it beyond deciding not to consider it yet.
Mycroft passed him a pink envelope that had been sat on top of one of the boxes. John opened it, perplexed, to find a card from Mrs. Hudson. There were lilies on the front and curly gold writing that said, “Sorry For Your Loss”.
“Bless her,” laughed John.
Mycroft peered over his shoulder and smiled.
It was while sorting through Sherlock’s possessions that John realised a great and significant thing. He’d had moments in the past, as everyone does, when he’d thought of the kind of person he’d been a few years previously and had realised that he and that person had become completely separated. Usually this knowledge came gradually, unexpectedly, if at all, a long time after the change had taken place. Even the change was a gradual thing. But John knew that this time the change had come all at once, and the knowledge with it. Six years of his life had ended. The person he had been couldn’t exist without a Sherlock Holmes. He would have to be someone else now.
John went into his own room, just to sit and be quiet for a while. Then he crossed to Sherlock’s room. He’d seen it so rarely that it seemed like a strange privilege to sit down on the bed. Sherlock had slept there sometimes (John unconsciously ran a hand over the pillow) but he’d just as often spent the night on their sofa. More frequently, he would come into John’s room, climb gracefully over John and secure himself in the gap between John’s body and the wall. John’s personal space had always been full of Sherlock, but there was nothing of John in that room. Thick academic books, box files, newspapers. It was, essentially, a cupboard with a bed.
John took a file at random from the shelf above the bed. It contained clippings from a case predating John. He put it down next to him. Maybe Mycroft would know if it was important or not. He took another. The next one was much lighter. John opened it, curiously, and watched as two photographs fell onto his lap.
John held up the image of two figures in a leafy garden. It showed a very attractive, serious-looking lady in a floral Laura Ashley dress and, on her lap, a small boy in a smock. “With Mycroft, 1973” was written in tidy, greying letters on the reverse.
John reached for the next photograph and found, to his surprise, that he recognised it, could even recall the day it had been taken. It had been for a case, of course. Sherlock had been trying to take a picture of an office block when John had stepped out of someone’s way and into the shot. He had presumed that Sherlock had deleted the photo but here it was - printed and neatly cut so that John, blurred within an inch of recognition, was the focus.
From the living room, John heard music. Mycroft had obviously picked up Sherlock’s violin. Of course, you could immediately tell that Mycroft was the more proficient musician. Sherlock had been astoundingly good when he was in the mood to play something other than noise. But his brother clearly had the edge on him. He was more polished. More… consistent. A jarring noise broke the civility. Mycroft began to scrape.
John closed his eyes. Sleep. Don’t think. Don’t think.