For a man who had once insisted “nothing happens to me,” John Watson’s life was marked and molded by a series of cliffs.
…..The steep incline of medical training’s learning curve, with the fathomless horrors and victories of the human body and spirit lapping at its feet.
……Jagged shards of weather-assaulted rock and smooth boulders worn to steady perfection by the same storms – the terrain and team he’d landed and rolled with at the foot of his military training and service.
……The murky bottom of the sudden drop from military to civilian life, obscured by a nearly impenetrable fog; a bottom not so much revealed as it was glimpsed through therapists, thrashing nightmares, and a cold hatred for treacherous muscle.
John had never been a passive man, whether as a patient advocate, soldier, or patient himself. As if wired into his genetic code, he refused to allow falling’s inherent fear to take hold of him. Rather than permit that terror, or worse, suffer the incapacitating helplessness of being pushed, he chose to take control. To take a deep breath, match his mind to his steady hands, and jump.
Each jump, of course, left its marks – vivid experiences with intimate details of the human body’s limits; the uncaring chaos of war branding him with a hole in his shoulder and a cane to support his limping psyche; the frustrated uselessness and crippling loneliness of life outside his areas of training. But they were just that: marks. None of the jumps broke him because John, if anything, was stubbornly, unfailingly adaptable. He healed from what he could, dealt with the rest, and survived.
Waited for the next cliff.
Then he met Sherlock – an experience not so much a cliff as Everest personified. An impossible challenge of a man shrouded in mystery and local legend; all twisting angles, hidden depths, and clever traps underneath a dark coat and superior air. Sherlock was a never-ending free fall; dizzying hypoxia mixed with an adrenaline born of never knowing whether the ground even existed. But there was no fear in that uncertainty, that seemingly endless rush. It was exhilarating, aggravating, fascinating, frustrating, fantastic.
And, in the end…… breaking.
Because somewhere during that whirlwind plunge, he and Sherlock had become one – so much so that when Sherlock jumped from a place of healing, it was John who broke. And not just bone, but heart, soul, will. Everything. When Sherlock hit the pavement, they both did; that thrilling, therapeutic free fall coming to a jarring stop, a bottom - whether through denial or sheer hope - neither of them saw coming.
Yet in the crushing emptiness that followed, the heavy pall of grief muting his darkened world, John didn’t regret a thing; would make that jump again in a heartbeat. Because it was all worth it. Sherlock was worth it; worth even this brokenness.
John had been here before, broken and alone. He knew what to do.
One last fall.
One final jump.
He couldn’t help but think that Sherlock would know what to call this; the place where his only friend now stood. It certainly wasn’t a cliff. After Everest, death hardly seemed to warrant such dramatic exaggeration.
But with the familiar breath of balance shifting beyond correction, John realized that he did have a word for it.
The disappearing ground under his leaden feet, that final, steady jump, even death itself. It was just…. nothing.
Nothing at all.