I swear by Apollo the Healer and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses...
By gunshots and the bright metallic flare of shrapnel – by blood spilling needlessly over desert sands, and the explosion of breath upon impact (all just red-and-white targets, indistinguishable, inhuman) – please, God, let me live – by psychosomatic limps, a whirlwind of madness, “want to see some more” (oh God yes) – by kidnappings, masked assassins, the weight of a Semtex vest – by Queen and country and the British government –
By this John swears; to this he surrenders.
that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant...
And it may be instinct which drives the bullet down the barrel, and it may be a soldier’s sacrifice to stand straight, the smell of chlorine in his nose and bearing the weight of a laser sight, but it’s not loyalty, or friendship, or love, or any other simple one-word label that joins John to Sherlock in an inescapable bond, but all-of-the-above, or perhaps none-of-the-above, encapsulated in something indefinable that the English language lacks, the solemn promise at the very core of John’s being.
I will keep him from harm and injustice.
Harm from his enemies (many and varied); harm from himself (a long-ingrained habit); harm from the unknown (never before a woman like Irene Adler, and never after, either), and most of all harm from the sharp, sharp world, because he’s hurt and been hurt (the twist of his mouth; we all hated him; “that’s not what people normally say”), and John’s just one man, but he can try. (Brilliant. Amazing. Fantastic.)
In purity and holiness I will guard my art.
Because the care of Sherlock is a sacred trust, and there have been caretakers before him (Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, to all a silent thanks), and there may be caretakers after him (this is a game rife with danger), but right now right here it’s just the two of them, and every day Sherlock stays alive John considers a miracle (of the body, of birth).
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice...but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.
And the unfading memory of a long-coated figure tumbling off the roof of Barts is a physical, shattering reminder of his failure (“Sherlock!” always, ringing in his ear), but the others tell him that he’s wrong, that Sherlock had lived and laughed, loved and been loved, been both a great man and a good one, and there is no tragedy in that.*
And perhaps there isn’t.