The knock on the door comes at seven in the morning, just as the sun is full risen. I am waiting. It is hard not to be, having known this morning was coming for what feels like a long time.
"Come in." My voice is calm as I look up from the desk and turn towards the private who stands awkwardly in the doorway, hat in hand. "That time already?" I glance across at the clock on the mantelpiece and my mouth feels dry. "Is there time for a cup of tea?"
"No Sir." The nervous private looks at me. "The Commander would like to speak with you sir."
I smile gently at him. Most of the men here were good sorts with no good choices. "Let me put these in the right envelopes then." He watches as I slide pieces of paper into separate envelopes and addressed them in my scrawled hand, the product of years of writing under pressure. Sealing them, I stand and walk towards the door. "Shall we?"
The walk to the Commander's office is quiet, only footsteps echoing on the flagstone floors. The old door sounds solid as the private raps, the wood warping with the paint on the bolts.
"Enter." The voice is gravelled and worn. The private opens the door for me, closing it behind and staying outside. "Doctor Watson" He nods his head from behind the desk.
"Commander" I return, sitting in the chair in front, looking over at the photographs of his children and the children's children. "How is Michael? Over his chicken pox?"
"Not quite, but he is better. Tea?" I nod and accept the cup given to me. We've met like this enough for him to know how I like the staple drink by now.
"Paperwork still out to get you?" I gesture to the mess of his desk. "This lot looks substantial."
The Commander shuffles some of it aside. "Most of it is concerning your..."
"Yes." I put down the tea and drop my hands into my lap to hide the shaking; watching him flick through the pile guiltily. "What time?" I feel my heart starting to race and take a deep breath to force my pulse down.
"Seven thirty." He watches me glance at the clock on the wall, a sympathetic expression on his face.
"Twenty minutes. So little time." I think I make a funny broken noise and I freeze, the terrible reality settling in. A great exhale and I am back, taking a sip of tea and looking directly at him. "I have a favour to ask of you: these are for my family." Is that the word? It will have to do. "See that they get them, please." I hand the envelopes over, hand barely shaking. But there's a fine trembling and when he takes them he squeezes my hand, trying to help me regain control. It works.
"I will ensure it." I nod in thanks. It's all I can do. "We need to leave in ten minutes." I feel myself blanch but I doubt it is visable past the tan on my skin. This is happening. Really happening.
"There will of course be an audience." My voice is bitter and for a second I don't recognise it.
"I am sorry."
"I know you are. And I shouldn't have snapped at you. None of this is your fault."
"This shouldn't even be happening to you." He scrubs a frustrated hand through grey hair. "Lord Moriarty ordered this especially. He's panicking because he knows this is nearly over, thank god."
"I am many things Daniel." I use his first name for the first time. "Doctor, teacher, rebellion leader, killer, and all before fourty. I think in this case, the most important is cousin." I chuckle as the Commander splutters around his tea.
"Yes" I smile a twisted smirk that feels out of place on my face. "We were born on the same day, and brought up together for the first fifteen years. I am older by half an hour. It always did make the world of difference to him and he has hated it for our entire lives."
"He's your cousin and he's sentenced you..."
"Poor Jim always was a cold boy. Now he is a colder man. Anyway, I suspect he shall be going the same way as me in the next few months." We sit in silence, only the restless passage of time, marked by the clock and pages being turned to accompany us.
"It is twenty three past." I say after a period of the deafening silence. I smile softly. "Time to go?"
"Yes" the Commander sighs. "Time to go."
The corridors we walk through are both empty and silent. "Daniel." For the first time I sound desperate. I feel desperate. "Please, Jim will want to burn my body. Don't let him. Give me a proper grave, please. Sherlock will want somewhere to go."
He looks at me for a long second and nods. "We will see to it. All of us will." Looking sideways at me he asks "are you scared?"
"Yes" I answer and I know he sees it for the first time. "Terrified."
"It will be quick" he reassures me. And in a way it is. Reassuring, that is. "They are all excellent shots." He checks his watch, seeming to weigh up an internal dilemma. "Who is Sherlock?"
I smile, thinking of him, something I know makes my face light up.
"He is everything" I say simply. I remember being filthy, dirt streaked across my face as Sherlock yelled across the fire fight 'Don't you dare die on me John, don't you dare' as I was shot. I remember lifting my right hand to his face and saying 'I wouldn't dream of it' and then shooting one of my cousin's men over his shoulder as we laughed and it hurt and my torso jarred.
"Well." The Commander holds out his hand and rests it on my shoulder. "Peace find your soul John Watson. May you rest at last."
"I'm glad I met you Daniel. Even if it was in the wrong circumstances." I gift him a small smile, eyes glittering with humour and let him hold my shoulder and open the door.
Every small detail is apparent to me. From the disrupted dew on the grass, to my own hurried heartbeat and legs that want to give in. I won't let them. Three minutes is all I have to last and I will not let Jim have the last word. Even breaths, I remind myself. Commander Roberts' hand is heavy on my shoulder and as I pass the men lined up outside they take their hats off and bow their heads in a wave of unprompted movement. My heart clenches at the obvious show of support. Above the murmurs of the crowd at the gesture of respect I can hear a sound that defines some of the worst moments of my childhood: Jim's displeased hiss.
We stop walking. I'm in the centre of the grass, the dew only just starting to evaporate as the sun rises over the high stone walls. Commander Roberts holds out a black offering of cloth.
A corner of my mouth quirks. He lowers his hand, still holding the fold of fabric and steps away into formation. I met the eyes of each of the three men who stand ten paces away from me, trying for something I don't know. "I forgive you" I say and mean it. They look straight at me and raise their rifles as I briefly close my eyes and look up. The first tolls of the half hour have started.
I sigh slightly, a rush of air that leaves my nose and a small smile flickers into existence as I remember the last time I felt morning sun such as this. It had been dawn, Sherlock and me, each wrapped in the other and hidden from the world by a corpse of trees, sweat on our bodies rising with the sun, oversensitive skin being kissed by grass and hands and mouths, storm clouds and clear skies meeting in our eyes, gold and black hair stuck to our faces and acres of tan and pale skin. We'd cried, knowing what would happen the next day.
My eyes flutter open with the last chime and the bullets are a surprise as they crash into my torso, even though I'm expecting them.