Title: As It Happens
Author: cathedral carver
Disclaimer These characters do not belong to me.
Warnings: A deathfic, of sorts.
Written for venturous1 in the 2012 Summer Holmestice.
Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.
The funeral, as it happens, is lovely, as funerals go, not that I expected anything less. Mycroft’s handiwork, I’m sure; only he could pull off something so organized, so proper, so sombre. But official, to boot, with all those suits. A bit too stuffy for my taste, but I’m not really in any position to complain, am I? The flower arrangements are nice, I have to admit, and surprisingly touching. Funny how they’re no longer nearly as morbid when they’re for you. They make you realize how many people actually cared. Besides, if you think those things are cheap, you’re mad.
It’s unseasonably warm for mid-autumn and some mourners (I have mourners!) look tired and sweaty and slightly dazed, their shiny faces mildly confused: What are we doing here? I wouldn’t know what to tell them, because I’m as confused as they are. I wasn’t that important, was I? I mean it’s flattering, but I don’t think my simple death deserves all this spectacle, and looking around at the packed room, I recognize very few faces. The one I’d really like to see is suspiciously absent, but I’m not even that surprised, to be honest. You might think I’d be hurt that he couldn’t be bothered to show, but I’m not. I’m really not. He’s hardly a funeral type person, is he? Can you imagine him sitting here with all these strangers, a raven among the peacocks, tall and dark and alien: Would he cry? No. No. Never. Roll his eyes? Well. Of course. Sigh heavily and correct the minister on important dates and data? Yes. Definitely. Then what? Would he be shushed? Glared at? Pitied? Escorted bodily from the church? I can’t even picture it, so I stop trying.
I can hear the occasional sniffle, spot a few actual tears here and there, but these events tend to do that to people, don’t they? It’s always sad, the ending of a life, even if you didn’t know much about that life, after all. Some of them seem to be feeling something though, something genuine, so that’s nice. I should be touched, but I feel nothing at all. I wonder if that’s normal. I have no idea. Nothing really prepares you for this. I thought there might be someone here to, I don’t know, welcome me? Give me a tour, maybe? But no, nothing. Just me, a dead man wandering aimlessly amongst the living, lost and alone, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for that one certain person to appear, to show me the way. It’s strange, I suppose, but waiting and watching seem to be the only things I’m good at doing at the moment.
And, when I think of it, it’s not really that different from when I was alive.
I wish you hadn’t been there when I died. If I have any regrets — and I do have a few — that is definitely one of them. Watching someone you know die in front of you, someone you have feelings for, whether it’s friend or foe or otherwise, holding them in your arms and watching them give up the ghost, ha ha, and being able to do nothing to stop it is a horrible thing. Believe me, I know. I know.
I get shot, of all things. Again. Lightning really does strike twice, apparently, except this time it’s my stomach. Gut shot. Horrible way to go. Painful. Slow. I can feel the blood leaving my body and it seems to take such a long time. Hours. Probably doesn’t, I can’t say for sure, but by the odd look on your face, it isn’t pleasant.
Of course it isn’t.
But, you hold me, very tightly, and you say nice things, things you’ve never said before.
“John. John. Please. Please.”
“This is ridiculous. You cannot die. Class III hemorrhage involves loss of 30 to 40 percent of your circulating blood volume. You’re nowhere near that.”
“It’s going to rain. I can smell it. I think you left the windows open in the flat.”
“You’re testing my patience. Stop it. Now.” (Well, to be honest, you had said that before, more than once.)
“The ambulance is coming. I can hear it. Can you hear it? Hold on.”
“Rent is due this week. I hope you have your share.”
“John. John. John. John. John. John.”
You sound so broken, I feel like I need to apologize, even now. Sorry I got shot. Sorry I wasn’t paying enough attention. Sorry I quarreled with you about the moldy toast at breakfast. Sorry I died.
Sorry I left you so alone.
There are a lot of things I want to tell you right at the end, but god, it is so hard to speak, to focus. I remember your face, your beautiful, sorrowful face and your fingers pushing into my skin, very hard. I remember that. Then everything gets very big and then very small, and then big again. Bigger than everything, bigger than the whole world, millions of colours and then white, so white it blinds me, but it doesn’t hurt. Promise. But, I can’t speak. All those words trapped in my mouth. I can feel them on my tongue. I try. I really do. I try. I open my mouth to try once more, but then I’m gone before I can say a single word. I’m sorry.
It’s so ridiculous, all of it, life, everything.
But, I am sorry, if that means anything. I like to think it does.
Ghosts, as it happens, have even more regrets than humans.
Attending your own funeral is an interesting affair; I highly recommend it if you’re able.
People fantasize about it, don’t they? Or is that a bit morbid? Maybe so. But wouldn’t we all like to see how people would react, what they would say?
Harry is there, sober, mostly, but sipping from a silver flask she has stashed in her bag. She’s in shock. She simply cannot believe she has outlived me. No one else can believe it, either. I mean, the bloody war didn’t kill me but chasing after Sherlock Bloody Holmes has done me in, once and for all.
Everyone else comes, too, the important people. I mean, important to me, the ones I know. Knew. Mrs. Hudson weeps, openly. Molly dabs her eyes. She knows all about death, of course. She expects it, accepts it. Lestrade’s chin quivers from time to time. Mycroft keeps the stiff upper lip. He’s too busy making sure the service proceeds as planned to do much mourning for me. Later he might drink, a little too much. Poor Mike, however, is devastated. He introduced us, though, didn’t he? So he feels responsible. I laugh. I want to tell him not to worry, not to waste the time or energy on guilt because I had the time of my life with you, but then I realize I can’t, and I feel…well, I feel nothing, but I know I’d feel depressed if I was still alive.
You don’t come, as I’ve mentioned. I didn’t expect you to, but still. You don’t. I don’t wonder where you are until later, when I go looking for you. And I find you. And later still I almost wish I hadn’t.
There doesn’t seem to be anywhere for me to go, so I stay with you. Where else would I go, anyway? I follow you around, much the same as I did in life, except now you don’t do much, do you?
For days after the funeral, weeks, you don’t leave the flat. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, and you certainly don’t shower. It’s even worse than when you thought Irene was gone and I can’t help but feel slightly pleased by this fact.
You miss me. Terribly.
I lived with you for years, watched you “die,” witnessed your “miraculous” return, left my fiancée for you. Always for you, and yet I had no idea how you really felt about me. And it didn’t even really matter. At least, that’s what I told myself, because of course it did matter, very much. I wanted to matter to you, terribly.
And now, in death, I see I did. God, we’re all so bloody stupid.
You sleep in my bed. My bed! Well, you don’t sleep, but you lie there, every night, ramrod straight, on your back, fingers steepled against your lips. You don’t speak. You don’t move. Night after night after night I sit at my desk and just watch you. I don’t know why. It doesn’t really matter what I do at this point, so why don’t I do what I really want?
So, one night I do. I lie down next to you. I wish I could put my arms around you but I don’t dare. I don’t know why. I’m scared, I guess. I wonder if you’d feel it if I did. You’re just lying there, staring at the ceiling, staring at the wall, staring at nothing at all. You’re so still and quiet you could be dead, but I can just hear the light whisper of your breath, in out in out. For the thousandth time I wonder what you’re thinking. I wish I could ask you. We lie like that for a long time, side by side in my room until it grows dark. You don’t move, not even once.
Finally, I roll on my side and put one arm around you, across your chest. I can almost feel you, the warmth of you, the solidity. I wish I’d tried it sooner. But, as soon as I touch you, your body starts, jumps, quivers. You sigh and put your arms down by your side. You shake your head. We lie like that for a time. Then you get up, you look around, shake your head once more, and you leave.
You shut the door behind you, hard.
You receive my ashes on a cold and grey Wednesday afternoon in November. Horrible month. Horrible, horrible. The clouds hang so low they seem to scrape the tops of bare branches. And it’s damp. Even I can feel the damp, down to my bones. Well, that’s funny, isn’t it? Ghost bones. Molly brings what’s left of me, for some reason. It’s fitting, I guess. You turn the urn over and over in your hands for 15 minutes before you speak.
“What about Harry?” you say at last. Your voice sounds hoarse.
“She didn’t want them,” Molly says. “I asked,” she adds quickly. “But she said…she said they belonged with you. That he belonged with you.”
“Ah. Did she.”
Molly nods. I’m not sure you’ve seen. You turn the urn over and over and over.
“I’m not sure she’s right,” you say at last. I frown.
Of course I belong with you. Where else? Are you daft?
“Of course he…they belong with you,” Molly says. “To you.” She’s puzzled. You place the urn on the table in front of you. You no longer want to touch it. She sees the look on your face, the look I’ve been seeing for weeks.
“What can I do for you, Sherlock?” she whispers. Her voice is ragged, the voice of someone who desperately wants to help.
“Bring him back,” you say. You raise your head and look directly at her for the first time since she arrived. “Bring John back.”
“You need to return to work,” Mycroft says quietly. “You need to…occupy your mind.”
“My mind is occupied.”
“It needs…” Mycroft sighs. “A different occupation.”
“What do you suggest?”
Mycroft sighs. “Therapy.”
I try not to laugh.
You’ve never been much of a cook, to say the least, but these days you can’t even be bothered to order takeaway, much less open a tin. I follow you around the flat, imploring you to look after yourself.
“You need to eat, Sherlock.”
“You’re still alive, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Keep this up and you’ll be joining me sooner than later.”
Sometimes — it’s the oddest thing — you stop when I’m talking. You stop right in the middle of a step and you put your foot down slowly and you cock your head, much like you used to do in the middle of a case when you’d suddenly thought of something clever and ingenious and obvious. You hold your breath and you scan the room and I swear, I swear you sometimes see me, see me standing right in front of you. We hold our breath together for a moment until your human lungs give out and you sigh and close your eyes and shake your head in frustration and impatience and the name you whisper when you expel air is always mine.
You stop going out. You stop answering your mobile. You stop living.
And so we both become ghosts, in our own ways.
You read the newspaper and scowl. You watch telly from time to time. You yell occasionally, but are generally sullen and silent.
I putter around the flat. I pick up your clothes; you don’t notice. I watch and wait.
Some things never change.
Right around the six-month mark, you have a complete breakdown.
I’m not sure what brings it on, but I’ve been watching and waiting. I spend a lot of time watching and waiting these days, and I know you haven’t cried yet, not once. Not that I expected you to, but still. Not one tear. It’s not…normal. Not sure why I’m surprised, though. Nothing about you has ever been normal, has it? No.
It’s a dreary afternoon in late spring, a bad time of year. Suicide season. I’ve been watching you more closely than usual, not that you’d notice, but still. It starts to rain, drops slapping against the windows of the flat like clapping hands. It’s an irritating sound, but not intolerable. You put your hands over your ears and growl. You rock back and forth on the chair, then leap to your feet and stalk to the bookshelf. You grab the first book you touch. It’s one of mine. You’ve not gotten rid of any of my things yet. Not a single thing. My coat is still hanging on the rack by the door, my dirty clothes are in the hamper. When you get this book in your hands you stop, growl louder, throw it across the room with all your considerable strength. It hits the wall and slides to the floor.
It’s not enough, though. It feels good, right? But it’s not enough.
You’re in the kitchen now, picking up bits and pieces of a long-abandoned experiment and throwing them against cupboards, against the floor. Shattering glass is a rather pleasing sound, I admit, but I’m worried about the look on your face, the frenetic energy of your long limbs. I’m not sure where this is leading.
You pick up another beaker, smash it. Another.
Another, another. There’s glass all over the floor now. You’re not wearing any shoes. Or socks, for that matter. I’m worried you’ll cut your feet. I’m worried you’ll bleed, and there will be no one to patch you up.
“Sherlock, stop it now!”
You don’t hear me, of course. You don’t hear me. Or, maybe you do but you ignore me. You were always very good at ignoring me when you chose. Your face is twisted and enraged, your mouth dragged down in a snarl, your eyes wild. You’ve smashed everything on the table now, so you’ve moved to the cupboards, presumably to start on the plates and cups.
“How is this helping anything—”
“You don’t understand!” you shout.
Wait a minute. What?
Smash. Smash. Smash.
“I need you here! How dare you leave. How dare you—”
Your fingers curl around my mug. My mug. The one I reached for first for my morning tea. Just a plain white one with a chipped handle. Don’t know where I got it or why I fancied it, but it was Mine and we both knew it. As soon as you touch it you stop. Just like that. You stop and stare at it like it’s a vital piece of evidence. Maybe it is. You stand there holding it. I’m not sure you’re breathing. I come close. I put my arms around you. You start to sob. Really sob. Body-shaking, noisy, snotty sobs. You clutch my mug to your chest and put your other hand to your mouth.
“We didn’t have enough time,” you whisper into your hand. Your mouth is pressed hard against your palm but I can still hear your. I’m standing right in front of you, trying to hold you and I think my heart is breaking. Do ghosts even have hearts? “Not nearly enough time.”
“I love you still,” I say into your ear and you jump.
The door swings open and Mrs. Hudson is standing there, at last. Dear god, woman, what took you so long? You let out a sort of tortured howl and slide to the floor, sobbing against your knees, my mug still tight against your chest. The room is not big enough for all of this.
“Do something, Mrs. Hudson!” I yell, my frustration filling the space between us. I can feel it, can grasp it in my fingers. It’s choking me. She cowers in the doorway, half in half out. She’s debating, I know. Call Mycroft, or, even worse, call 999.
“Mrs. Hudson!” I scream. “He needs you. Sherlock needs you!”
Finally, finally, she unglues herself from the doorframe and crosses to you, kneels down next to your, puts her arms around your shaking shoulders. You resist for a moment, then lean all your weight into her. She stumbles, then finds her balance, takes your weight and holds you mostly upright. Your sobs fill the entire flat.
“My poor boy,” she croons, patting your back and then patting your hair. “My poor, poor boy.”
She says this over and over and over until you finally, slowly stop.
I stand above you both and watch. I might be crying too, but with ghosts it’s hard to tell.
I’m a lonely ghost, and a jealous ghost, as it happens. The night you bring a bloke (short and blonde and rather stocky, but I don’t even register that fact, much) back to the flat I watch, seething and red-faced from the corner. I’m sure my face is red, but how would I know?
I swear I’m not going to watch, but of course I do. I watch him undress you, touch you, kiss you, whisper all the things to you I’d like to whisper myself. I watch in the darkness and wait for it to end. I watch your back arch off the bed as you come with a ground-out whimper. I watch him hold you for a bit after, watch him kiss your cheek, hurriedly dress in the dark and leave. You awake alone.
Well, not entirely alone.
You groan and push your face into the pillow. My pillow. My room. My bed.
“Billions of people,” you whisper. “Billions of people in the world, and not one of them is you.”
Because you’re you, you do go back to work, eventually. It’s good for you, the puzzles, the games, the thrill of the chase.
You get slower, with time, of course, but no one will ever be as good, ever. You’re the best.
You always will be.
You live much longer than I expect. Much longer than anyone expects, I think, but not for lack of trying. Bullets, near drowning, asphyxiation. Poisoning. Some suspect you have a death wish. I know better. You definitely have a death wish.
You never, not even once, visit my grave. I should be insulted, I suppose, but I’m not. I understand.
Graves are where dead people sleep.
You retire in your 60s, though I’m not sure that’s the right term for it. You leave the flat at last, move to the country, stop trying to kill yourself, mostly.
You keep the bees, and they keep you.
You walk often, you eat as much as you can, nap every afternoon.
At night you dream of me, of us, of the life we once shared. Sometimes you awake with my name on your tongue.
It’s a lonely, solitary life.
70, 71, 72.
Waiting. Still waiting.
If nothing else I’m learning patience in my ghostly state.
Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. Fall. Winter.
People say life is short. It’s too short, they love to say.
It happens quietly in the middle of the night, when it finally happens. Nothing catastrophic, nothing that will be recorded in the newspaper or reported on the telly. One elderly former consulting detective passes from this life to another, predeceased by his parents and his brother.
No spouse. No children.
No friends of which to speak.
Your funeral is a strange affair, and I’d expect nothing less. A few shopkeepers from the stores you frequent. Your gardener. Old ladies who like to attend such things and gossip about them afterwards.
I can hear the occasional sniffle, spot a few actual tears here and there, but these events tend to do that to people, don’t they? It’s always sad, the ending of a life, even if you didn’t know much about that life, after all.
I’m so keyed up I can barely stand. I don’t trust my voice. Mycroft appears, of course, because he’s meddling like that. Some things never change. I’m too excited to be irritated.
“Do you want me to wait with you?” he asks. I shake my head.
“No…thank you. I’d like to meet him alone, if you don’t mind.”
Mycroft bows slightly. “Of course.” He smiles. “Give him my regards.”
“I will.” I pause. “Thank you, though. We’ll see you soon.”
He nods and wanders off. Soon, not soon enough, you’re here, standing right in front of me. You look…perfect. You look the same as you did the day I died, the day you held me in your arms, the day you pleaded with me not to leave. You also look completely bewildered.
“John,” you say. It might be a question. I’m not sure.
“You’re here,” I say. I sound like an idiot. I can’t stop smiling.
“It appears so,” you agree.
“Took you long enough.”
“Had a few things to do.”
“You always were the most stubborn bastard,” I can’t help saying.
You cock your head. You’re still so puzzled.
“Just had to outlive us all.”
“Oh.” You pause. “Well, of course.”
“Hello, Sherlock,” I say. I can’t stop smiling. I can feel the smile stretch my face so wide it hurts. How long has it been since I’ve smiled like that? Years. Years and years.
“Hello, John.” You move closer. You smile a little. “I’ve missed you. Very much.”
“I know.” I feel giddy.
“You do?” You raise an eyebrow. “And how do you know that?”
I shrug. “I’ve been…around.”
“You—” You pause for a moment, as if realizing something you’d realized long ago. You almost look surprised, but you cover it well.
You sniff then, look at me down your nose. “As it happens, I knew it all along.”
“Knew what?” I can’t stop bloody smiling. “What did you know, exactly?”
“That you were there. You were always there.”
I nod. I nod my head, keep nodding so hard my teeth click together.
“Yes. Yeah. I was. Good…good deduction, that.”
You look around. You look at me. You smile just a little. “Well. This is rather boring, isn’t it?”
I nod. God, I’m so happy. “It is. It is at first. Until you get used to it, that is.”
I grin. “It’s even more boring.”
And you laugh. And dear lord how I’ve missed that laugh.
“I have so much to tell you,” I say. I open my arms and you walk into them with no hesitation.
I open my mouth and the words just come pouring out.
Summary from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle