It's been weeks now, Sherlock. When are you coming back?
John pressed Send, and from the kitchen, he heard the electronic chirp of Sherlock's phone as the message arrived. They'd given the phone to him at the hospital, afterward, in a red plastic bag along with everything else that had been in Sherlock's pockets. He'd brought it home and kept it charged, and every now and then he sent a message, as if Sherlock could still receive it, as if Sherlock hadn't died with his spine broken and his head smashed open. He could close his eyes now and see it all over again: Sherlock's face white and still, blood soaking his hair, blood spreading out in a dark puddle across the pavement. The image was like a bruise he kept prodding at, knowing it would hurt every time.
“Stop it,” he ordered himself, in a voice rough with lack of use. “Stop it right now.”
He'd seen people die before, of course. Hundreds of them. They'd been blown to bits in front of his face and slipped away under his very hands, their lungs full of his useless breath as he tried to force life back into them. They'd haunted his dreams and put grey in his hair, but none of them, not one, had ever left the vast empty space in his life that Sherlock Holmes had left. He'd thought of moving out of the flat at once, to get away from that emptiness, and from the feeling that Sherlock might burst through the door at any moment, carrying a dead monkey or a stack of old newspapers or a bottle of something so toxic that its fumes had etched the glass. In the end, though, he'd had to bow to reality and admit that he couldn't afford to go just yet, and would have to take Mrs Hudson up on her offer of an extra month's grace. (But no more than that, dear, she'd warned him. I wish I could, but I'm not made of money either, you know.) If only it weren't so quiet—
His phone bleeped loudly into the silence, and for a split second he thought Sherlock, but of course it wasn't, it couldn't be. Still, he had to poke at the button twice, with a clumsy shaking finger, to see that the message was from Mycroft.
Sending crew to collect S's things. 0800 tomorrow. MH
“Oh for Christ's sake,” John said. He wasn't sure whether to be outraged that Mycroft couldn't be bothered to come and collect his brother's possessions himself, or glad that he would be spared having to see Mycroft and punch him in the face. Not that Mycroft's face wasn't spoiling for a punch—one that would make the blow he'd delivered to Sherlock look like a lover's caress—but he was just too tired. All the vitality in him seemed to have been buried along with Sherlock, or perhaps Sherlock had been the source of that vitality; perhaps having too much of his own, he'd transferred the rest of it to other people around him. Certainly the vibrating, electric excitement that John had always felt when in Sherlock's company had gone. Now he felt a thousand years old, and by his reckoning, it was at least half Mycroft's fault, the Machiavellian bastard.
He started to tap out a terse Fine in response to Mycroft's text, but before he got past the 'i,' the phone chirped and delivered another message.
Choose something to keep for yourself. MH
Something of Sherlock's? John sent back, confused.
He frowned at the screen. This seemed uncharacteristically sentimental for Mycroft, who for all his delight in pointing out his brother's faults, was hardly a shining example of emotional aptitude himself. Then, too, the offer smacked a bit of the lord of the manor bestowing a reward on a faithful retainer for his service, and if it were that, Mycroft could take his noblesse oblige and go fuck himself with it. He thought of telling Mycroft so, but then it occurred to him that he did, in fact, want to have something of Sherlock's—what, he wasn't sure, aside from getting Sherlock himself back in all his wonderful, terrible, infuriating glory. But something.
Thanks, he sent grudgingly to Mycroft, and then tucked the phone into his pocket and had an appraising look around. Sherlock's mess was still everywhere, he hadn't moved a thing, thinking--even as he told himself what a stupid thought it was--that it would all need to be in place when Sherlock came back to use it. Where should he even begin? He turned over scraps of paper with Sherlock's impatient scrawl on them, and packing slips for strange things Sherlock had bought online—a Dakota IV Detail Flesher, whatever that was, and a fork mount, which sounded like a move one might attempt in Olympic-level pornography. He found a half-empty box of nicotine patches amid the jumble of laboratory equipment in the kitchen, and had to stop and swallow hard because now Sherlock would never need these again. Sherlock would never wrestle with his addictions again; would never do anything again. His story was finished, cut off at the middle of a sentence, with no hope of ever continuing.
John shook his head and wiped his eyes--he was past the all-out sobbing phase, more or less, but he kept leaking at unexpected moments, and he never had a handkerchief. Maybe he ought to take one of Sherlock's? No. And clothes were no good either; they wouldn't fit him, and even if they did, he couldn't pull off the Utter Toff look that had been Sherlock's speciality. Those beautifully tailored shirts, and the overcoat-- But that
brought an image of Sherlock's body silhouetted against the cold, pale sky, the dark coat fluttering just a little as he fell, and John nearly bolted from the kitchen, looking for something to distract himself from it. Maps, field glasses, books the size of Bibles, floating things in jars, a barometer, the skull, and near the window, the music stand and...oh.
How could I have forgotten that? he wondered.
Gently, he touched the violin's smooth, polished wood, and tried drawing the bow across its strings, but he couldn't coax music from it the way Sherlock could. It would be useless to him, not to mention that with his luck it would probably turn out to be a priceless Holmes family heirloom, and Mycroft would send someone to break his kneecaps and take it back. But Mycroft hadn't said anything was out of bounds, and he wanted this. He could see the rubbed places on the neck where Sherlock's hands had been, a partial fingerprint in the varnish, a trace of oil on the chin rest. It was the only object on earth that still held an impression of Sherlock's living, unbroken body, and as such, the closest thing to Sherlock himself.
He bit his lip. Years in the military had taught him to act quickly or be killed; even when Sherlock had invited him along on their first outing, he'd made up his mind to go on the instant. Indecision was not a feeling he was used to, and he didn't like it. Before he could waver any more, he snapped open the violin case, laid the instrument in its plush nest, tucked the bow into the slot inside the lid, and closed the latches again with a smart double click. He carried the case into his own bedroom and slid it under the neatly made bed, where he could get to it easily, and then he pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped at the buttons.
I've got your violin. I'll keep it safe for you.
In the kitchen, Sherlock's phone bleeped with the incoming message--a tiny, faraway sound-- and in a café in the next road over, Sherlock watched the words scroll up on his laptop screen and smiled a little.
"I know you will," he said.