The knock comes just after six in the morning. Harry has been up for nearly an hour already and is sitting at the dining table with her coffee and toast and the morning news, the shoulders of her dressing gown damp from where he wet hair has been hanging limply.
There aren’t many people who would come calling at six in the morning. A delivery person with Harry’s recently ordered (and backordered) iPad. Clara, maybe, but they’re in the ‘not speaking to one another’ phase of the divorce right now. John, if he needed somewhere saner to stay than with his mad flatmate.
She doesn’t expect the middle-aged stranger on the doorstep, warrant card already out and held just below eye level.
“Harriet Watson?” he asks.
“Yes?” she says, cinching her dressing gown tighter, eyes flicking between the warrant card and the man’s face. She’s not sure she wants to hear what this man has to say.
“My name is Detective Inspector Lestrade,” he says, tucking his warrant card into the breast pocket of his jacket. “May I come in, Ms. Watson?”
“Has something happened to John?” Harry asks, not budging from her spot in the doorway.
Inspector Lestrade’s eyes flicker away from Harry’s face and she knows, she knows that she’s right, that something terrible has happened to her brother.
“Please, Ms. Watson, I’d rather not discuss this on the street,” he says, still not quite meeting her eyes.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Harry says. She’s gripping the doorframe hard enough that her hands and wrists hurt, but that’s all that’s keeping her on her feet right now.
“Tell me!”She surprises even herself with her volume, sees Inspector Lestrade flinch as if she had slapped him. “Please,” she begs.
He hesitates for a moment longer before his shoulders slump. “We need you to do a positive ID on some of his personal effects.”
“Why?” she asks. “Why not identify his body? What aren’t you telling me?”
Before Harry is even aware that the Inspector has moved, he has a firm grip on her upper arms and is steering her into the house and down onto the closest chair, the straight-backed chair she keeps next to the front door.
“There was an explosion. We’re still waiting on dental records and a positive DNA match,” Inspector Lestrade says, crouching in front of her, his hands still firm against Harry’s arms. “There’s not enough of a body left to identify otherwise.”
Harry has always known, even when she was so far into the bottle she couldn’t see out of it, that she would outlive John. Ever since John fell and broke his arm climbing out of his cot before he could even walk properly, Harry has known that her brother would always live life dangerously. He played rugby at school, he went away to war, and he eventually ended up joining Sherlock Holmes on his mad adventures.
Despite the drink, Harry has always been the less self-destructive of the two of them, and doesn’t that just say it all? Harry would live long enough to die of liver disease and John would die a violent death before the age of forty.
Isn’t it funny how those things work out?
There’s no funeral; John’s will is very clear on that point. His body is cremated as soon as it is released by the police and Harry takes his ashes north to be scattered on their Nan’s farm. However, when Harry returns to London and after Sherlock is released from hospital, there is a wake.
There aren’t many people there, which is just as well since 221 isn’t very big, even with the landlady’s door open to any and all mourners. Sherlock is ensconced on the couch, his arm propped up on a stack of pillows, the bright blue of his sling standing out in stark contrast against his black shirt. No one approaches him, not even Harry, because no one there is that stupid.
Harry spends most of the day standing, speaking to John’s friends, until it’s suddenly too much. Too many people, too little space; she hasn’t had a drink since before John died and the world is too bright and too loud in its absence. She has to get away.
There are only so many places to hide in a flat this small and only one place no one will come looking for her.
John’s former room is small and tidy. The only evidence that someone ever lived there are three half-unpacked boxes stacked in a corner and a pair of reading glasses, the ones that John never, ever wore unless he absolutely had to, resting on top of a battered copy of The Maltese Falcon on the nightstand.
Harry sits on the edge of the bed, rumpling the duvet. When she stretches her legs out, her feet end up barely a foot from the side of the wardrobe.
She thinks about her brother’s room when they were kids, the walls plastered over with posters and cluttered almost to the point of being unlivable, and she wonders how that little boy could grow up to be a man who would willingly live in a room like this. She supposes it must be all that time in the Army, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear the dawning awareness that she didn’t know her brother at all, that up until his death, she’d persisted in her recollection of him as a scrawny kid desperately in need of a haircut instead of seeing him as the man he had become.
There’s the scuff of a foot on the stairs and Harry is already looking when Sherlock limps through the doorway. She watches him survey the room before he slowly, so slowly, crosses the room to sit a handbreadth away from her. He looks exhausted, like the climb up the stairs took all his energy, like his friend just died to save his life.
Harry looks away and takes a deep breath. She says, “I didn’t know my brother at all.”
There’s a long silence before Sherlock releases a barely audible sigh. Harry looks at him out of the corner of her eye. He looks defeated.
“Would you like to?” he finally asks, his eyes on the boxes in the corner. Harry turns her own gaze to John’s nightstand and the glasses she helped him pick out.
“More than anything,” she answers.
When John first tried to describe Sherlock’s abilities to her, Harry hadn’t even tried to hide her disbelief. Clearly, her baby brother fancied his new flatmate and was distorting parlor tricks into some sort of actual magic trick. It was cute, in a pathetic sort of way.
Harry continues on with her disbelief up until the moment she actually meets Sherlock Holmes, pale in his hospital bed and only awake for a scant few minutes before he’s rattling off Harry’s morning routine and how she’d varied from it after Inspector Lestrade knocked on her door and threw her entire world off its axis.
She’d be impressed if she wasn’t trying so hard not to collapse in a heap on the floor until the world started making sense again. She has a feeling she’d be there a very long time waiting for that to happen.
John’s birthday rolls around not long after his death and Harry preemptively takes a personal day from work. She longs desperately for the bottom of a bottle, for alcohol to numb the pain and the grief of knowing that her brother’s dead, that she’s well and truly alone now.
She’s contemplating the state of her bank account and whether or not it could survive a bender and wondering if sobriety is really all it’s cracked up to be when her phone pings with an incoming text message. No one really texts her anymore, so she’s a bit surprised to see Blocked Number on the screen. She clicks on the message.
From: Blocked Number
There is a car waiting
outside to take you to
Harry looks towards the front window and can vaguely see a dark car through the sheer curtains. She glances at her phone and then back towards the car.
“What the hell?” she mutters. Her phone pings again.
From: Blocked Number
Sherlock does not
but I cannot imagine
that he is finding today
an easy day to bear
And now Harry is starting to get angry. Some nameless person is trying to emotionally blackmail her to care about how Sherlock is handling today when it’s her brother who’s dead?
From: Blocked Number
You are not the only
person grieving your
brother, Ms. Watson.
Please get in the car.
The car is empty save for the driver, who doesn’t deign to answer Harry’s questions about who he works for or why she’s being politely kidnapped from her home. He doesn’t even bother to turn on the radio, so after Harry tires of trying to get him to respond, she spends the rest of the drive in silence, watching London slip past her window.
The car lets her off right in front of 221 before slipping back into traffic and disappearing around the corner. Harry rings the bell for upstairs and when she’s still standing there three minutes later, rings it again. She leans on the bell for five seconds and then fifteen and then thirty and eventually, the door is swung open by Sherlock’s landlady.
“Oh, dear, today’s really not a good day for him,” Mrs. Hudson says, firmly holding herself in the middle of the doorway to try to block Harry from entering. It’s funny, really; if Harry wanted to come in, it’d be the easiest thing in the world to push her aside, but she lets the woman think she can keep Harry from entering.
“I know it’s not a good day, believe me,” Harry says. She wants to explain why she’s here, wants to say, I was taken from my home by a very polite kidnapper whose only communication with me was by text and I brought here in a very nice car mostly against my will and please just let me up because I know, I understand part of his pain. What she says is, “Please, I think I can help him.”
Mrs. Hudson sighs, but steps aside and Harry forces herself to step across the threshold and she’s almost worked up the will to head up the stairs when Mrs. Hudson’s hand on her arm stops her in her tracks.
“He misses your brother terribly, you know,” she whispers as if afraid that Sherlock will overhear her. “I try to get him to talk, but you know Sherlock. Won’t admit to having emotions even if his life depended on it.”
Harry wants to tell her that no, she doesn’t know Sherlock, that she probably never would have met the man if John hadn’t died a stupid, noble death, but she manages to reign herself in. She just nods and shrugs off the old lady’s hand and moves up the stairs like every step gained is one step closer to her own death.
She finds Sherlock sitting in the leather chair next to the fire, blank eyes fixed on the horribly patterned arm chair across from him. He’s wearing black trousers and a button down shirt, but his feet are bare and his hair is lank and greasy and Harry wonders when he last showered and if he’s even moved recently.
Harry makes her way across the room and kneels next to Sherlock’s chair and sets her hand atop Sherlock’s on the armrest and quietly, so very quietly, says his name.
Sherlock doesn’t respond, just keeps staring at the other chair, but Harry would bet half her salary that he’s not even seeing it, that he’s completely lost in that mind of his. She’d bet the other half that there’s not a single thought in Sherlock’s mind that doesn’t somehow involve John.
After a glacial age of silence, Sherlock finally says, “You’re sober.” He’s still hasn’t so much as glanced in Harry’s direction.
“Almost wasn’t,” Harry says, and she can still feel that itch under her skin for the short-lived oblivion granted by drink.
Sherlock doesn’t reply. Harry pushes herself to her feet and stumbles through making tea in an unfamiliar kitchen, but when she holds a mug in front of Sherlock he takes it, so she counts that as a win.
Sherlock only speaks again when Harry is stepping through the door to go back to her own empty flat just after midnight. He speaks so quietly that Harry almost doesn’t hear him and she wonders if he meant to say the words out loud. She’s almost certain he didn’t mean to be heard.
“I miss him, too,” she says. The click of the latch when she closes the door behind herself is deafening.
A year gone and it’s almost like nothing has changed. Harry still forgets that texting John stupid jokes will get her an error message instead of a sarcastic reply. She still visits his blog, expecting to see an update about how Sherlock’s managed to alienate his latest client.
A year gone and everything has changed. Harry doesn’t drink anymore, dumped all the bottles down the sink when she got home after scattering John’s ashes. Sherlock texts her at random hours of the day and night but can’t be arsed to acknowledge her on the few occasions they actually meet in person.
It’s comforting and jarring all at the same time and Harry can’t help but wonder if this is how her life is going to be from now on, forgetting and remembering in turn and having her heart ripped out of her chest in increments.
She’d almost be okay with it if she just knew that things would never get better, but it’s the hope, the hope that one day remembering that John’s gone won’t make her breath catch in her throat, that’s tearing her apart.
It’s the sound of breaking glass that wakes her up. It’s still dark and a glance at her alarm clock confirms that it’s definitely the wrong side of dawn for anyone to be awake, let alone attempting to break into Harry’s flat.
She’s more angry that someone’s trying to rob her than scared that the intruder might want to hurt her and that’s wrong, isn’t it? That’s what John would think if he were here, but he’s been dead sixteen months and shouldn’t be affecting Harry’s thought processes anymore.
There’s not much in Harry’s bedroom that could be used as a makeshift weapon, but that very quickly turns into a moot point when the door flies open, the handle crashing through the plaster wall and sticking there, and there’s Sherlock swaying in the doorway.
“Jesus Christ, what are you doing here, Sherlock?” she asks, throwing aside her blankets and approaching him cautiously. She shivers in the cool air of her bedroom, her pyjamas not doing much to keep her warm outside of her bed.
“My flat is too quiet,” Sherlock tells her. His gaze when he meets her eyes is electric and so very, very exhausted. “All I can hear is my own thoughts. I need them to stop.”
“And this required that you break into my flat?” Harry asks. She very gently rests her hand against Sherlock’s arm and slowly turns him and leads him back into the living room. She deposits him on one end of the couch and grabs the knitted afghan off the back and wraps it around her own shoulders before curling into the other corner of the couch.
“The window in your kitchen door will need to be replaced,” Sherlock says, “but you might as well replace the entire door. The one you have now is pitifully easy to break into.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry tells him. She pulls her feet up onto the couch and tucks them under a corner of the afghan and watches Sherlock watch her. She wonders if he’s trying to figure out what she did today or if he’s realized that John’s the one who knitted the afghan that’s tucked around her body and that she cherishes every dropped stitch and run in the yarn.
She doesn’t mean to drift off, but it’s the middle of the night and she’s finally warm again. The last thing she’s aware of is Sherlock’s eyes on her and then she’s drifting through a weird kaleidoscope of actual memories and things she wishes had happened and things that might someday actually happen. John’s there and Nan and Clara and Sherlock and it’s confusing and comforting at the same time.
When she wakes up, sunlight is streaming weakly through the window and right into her eyes and Sherlock is slumped over sideways, the weight of his head on Harry’s calves cutting of circulation to her feet.
She doesn’t realize she’s smiling until after she’s shoved Sherlock off her legs and tottered into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee and she sees her reflection in the window over the sink. She touches a hand to her mouth for a second and then shakes it off with a sigh. She hopes there’s enough bread left for toast for two.
Harry doesn’t believe in second chances because second chances very quickly become third chances become fourth chances. Clara does (or at least she did) believe in second chances, and that’s part of the reason Harry left for good after the first time; she didn’t want her life to become a revolving door of leaving and coming back all because Clara wouldn’t give up on the possibility of things between them getting better, or at least not worse.
John believed in second chances, too, but that’s because he was a better person than Harry will ever be. He gave people the benefit of the doubt only so long as it was deserved and then he moved on with his life. He wasn’t a pushover, no matter how many times Harry called him that when he would drag her out of the bottle time and time again. She has a feeling that if he’d lived much longer, he would have cut her out of his life for good.
She wonders what he’d think of her life now, sober for two years and four months and grudging friends with Sherlock Holmes of all people. She hopes he’d be proud.
Harry’s phone pings an incoming message alert from deep in the recesses of her purse one Saturday while she’s stepping through her front door juggling the shopping, her keys, and the mail. Everything gets dumped on the kitchen table and Harry digs her phone out and opens her inbox.
From: Sherlock Holmes
Come to Baker Street
Harry snorts at the imperiousness of Sherlock’s message and sets her phone down on the table to start sorting through her groceries: milk and vegetables go in the refrigerator, pasta and quick rice in the cabinet, fruit in the bowl on the counter.
Her phone pings again.
From: Sherlock Holmes
And that is unexpected. She’s never known Sherlock to show anything resembling manners in the two and a half years she’s known him. A little ball of worry takes up residence in her stomach and she tosses her phone back in her purse and grabs her keys and is out the door fifteen seconds later.
Her cab seems to catch every red light and traffic snarl between her flat and Sherlock’s and this is taking forever; she must have found the worst cabbie in all of London. When they finally reach Baker Street, she tosses just enough cash at the driver to cover her fare before she’s rushing across the sidewalk and leaning on the bell for 221b.
It’s not Sherlock who opens the door, though, nor is it Mrs. Hudson or even Inspector Lestrade, who she’s seen once or twice since he came to her flat the day John died. No, it’s none of them on the other side of the threshold.
“You’re dead,” she tells him, grasping at the doorframe to keep herself upright. “You died and I scattered your ashes by your old tree fort at Nan’s and you’re dead.”
“I’m sorry,” he says and he reaches for her, but Harry jerks away and misses the step down and ends up on her arse on the sidewalk. John steps down and kneels next to her and rests one hand on her shoulder and says, “Harry, I am so sorry.”
“How?” she asks. She wants to ask Why? and Who knew? and Am I the last to know? but she’s not sure she can get any more words out without either bursting into tears or bashing John’s head against the pavement.
“It’s a long story,” John says and pulls them both to their feet. “Why don’t you come up and have a sit down and a cuppa and I’ll explain everything?”
“Don’t you dare leave one second out or I’ll kill you myself,” Harry says, leaning against John and letting him guide her into the flat. “And I’ll make sure it sticks this time.”
“Promises, promises,” John laughs and Harry smiles, but she’s crying, too, and she can’t remember ever being this happy before.
Sherlock insists on celebrating John’s rebirthday every year along with his actual birthday, which shocks precisely everyone who’s ever met him. Harry grumbles that it’s not fair; it’s not like anyone else gets twice the birthdays.
Still, twice a year she’ll post a ridiculous card with an Amazon gift card inside, and if she and Sherlock meet one day a year between John’s two birthdays and sit quietly together in her flat and remember all those days without John, that’s okay, too.