This Living Hand
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
Take my hand, Sherlock said from the pavement, his handcuffed arm outstretched.
John obeys. For Sherlock, John runs.
Every Wednesday, at twelve thirty p.m., John Watson visits a gravestone with Sherlock Holmes inscribed on it.
John stands in front of that gravestone for twenty minutes (for that is the amount of time he’ll allow himself to be there, no more or less), before turning away stiffly, every time. Sometimes, he speaks, although there is no-one there for him to speak to.
Every Wednesday, at twelve thirty p.m., Sherlock Holmes watches John do this from the shade of the trees and the unfaked tombs. Sherlock does this because he wants to know if John is able to function.
Sherlock does this because he needs to know if John still cares.
Sherlock is bored.
He cannot solicit cases like this, a nonperson shut up in this grand soulless house like he’s a child once more. His bedroom – austere, toys he had swiftly discarded stored away in dusty cupboards – remains unchanged.
Nothing to do. Dangerous. Reduced to solving fictional cases on the television, yet there are no cast iron facts in falsehood – he cannot deduce correctly when fiction is fallible, if formed by inferior minds, if featuring the wrong clues, if starring an over-acting actor.
He is incensed that it is emotion that traps him here. So full of fault. So commonplace. So human.
Week twenty seven. John does not bury his head in his hands.
Sherlock knows that he should make himself known soon, yet vows to wait a little longer. Will John’s emotions stay like this, he wonders. Will John be better off without him after all.
Left alone again, Sherlock tries to plan.
It is untenable, the way he waits at the graveyard, just out of sight. But he needs to hear more than what John is saying. He considers whether John wouldn’t just kill for Sherlock, but if John would-
But he doesn’t want John to die.
Troubling. Life was invariably inferior to knowledge, before. Before Sherlock met John. Billions and billions of ordinary lives, life, everywhere, but only ever one right answer.
People die all the time (mother, father); caring is not an advantage. All lives end, he’d been told aged four and thirty four, as if he’d learnt nothing in all that time.
In Mycroft’s eyes, perhaps he hadn’t.
Week forty eight. John has stopped looking as if he wished to linger amongst the autumn leaves, the decaying arrangements of flowers on the graves of those least loved in life.
Week eighty five. John has a gold ring on the fourth finger of his left hand.
Week eighty eight. Sherlock sees her. She waits by a blue Ford Focus just outside the cemetery. She has her dark hair back in a practical ponytail, a dress a little too small for her, two children from a previous relationship waiting beside her. From John’s meagre descriptions, he recognises her. John’s therapist.
Of course he married his therapist. Of course.
(He hadn’t thought it important, at the time, to remember her name.)
He can’t solve it – not like this, not alone. He doesn’t know how to come back.
John will be angry, might not want to see him again, certainly won’t want to live with him. Sherlock doesn’t know how to return from the dead.
“Some people say an orgasm’s like dying,” John had said once, lying in bed afterwards.
“How can anyone know what dying feels like?” Sherlock had replied.
Well. Why don’t you tell me?, John could say.
Lazarus had it easy, not being lumbered with the logistics.
Week ninety two. John sees him. As predicted, John thinks it’s more likely he thinks he’s seeing things, ghosts in his head from the loss; time to talk to his wife about it again.
It’s been too long for John to still believe he’s alive. Grief has cycled through to acceptance. Sherlock has left it too late, and all because he cares.
“I could die now,” Sherlock drawls idly, one evening. “It would be easier.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Mycroft says. “I’m already implicated in far too many events of suspicious circumstance.”
(It’s no use him lying; Sherlock knows, try as he might, that Mycroft cares too.)
Week ninety nine. John is nowhere to be seen.
He finds out why from the internet a few hours later.
“It wasn’t a suicide,” John’s wife says (they don’t print her name), in a voice creatively described as ‘dulled by shock’. “The car hit him, it was an accident, but then he didn’t really mind about living enough to fight back.”
Caring is not an advantage, Mycroft had said, but Mycroft had assumed that everyone cared for themselves sufficiently to stop themselves giving up.
But, yes, correct on one count. All lives end.
This is what John must have felt like, he supposes. When John thought Sherlock was dead, but he wasn’t, not really. Not like the body the slide into a grave in a different cemetery, cold and unalterable, no miraculous bringing back however clever you are.
Sherlock isn’t God.
John is dead.
When Sherlock joins the funeral party, the only member not dressed all in black, the freshly-dug hole in the ground is ignored as journalists fumble for their cameras.
Sherlock’s ego means he gets two deaths whilst John gets none, and for the first time in two years, Sherlock is alive and Sherlock is ashamed.
Stay exactly where you are, Sherlock said from the top of St Bart’s, his shaking arm outstretched.
John obeyed. For Sherlock, John stops.