The spiral of Deductions Past built itself in a Davinci maze, a circular arrangement of rooms giving way to an inner layer, and and inner layer, and finally the Most Imporant One sat in the centre. This was a position that was easily allocated to any of the condiments of any room. Importance was something that often changed according to the events in the material world outside of the Palace, and according to whether or not a detail repeated itself and needed the most attention. However, when there was no practical use or sensible need, the same event found its way back to the throne, to the Most Important One.
'Afghanistan or Iraq?' I whispered as I slipped in through the door, having missed the play of details. The repetition was hardly necessary. My mind had memorised the unnamed stranger's existence exquisitely.
The soldier's forehead crinkled slowly. There was a scar there almost invisible to normal light, but visible under the right conditions and perspective, curved slightly like the ghost of a waning moon.
Upper right incisor. Wide jaw. Male, possibly Caucasian. Weathering and colour suggest at least two decades of exposure. A fighter even in schooling years. Hot-blooded? No. Protecting someone? A figure of honour, integrity?
These were deductions I had made in silence, keeping them to myself as personal judgment of his character and his potential use to me. They were thoughts I had formed in a time when I had not yet known that he was essential, and that in his absence it was almost impossible to control logical trains of thought.
Every second I spend without you -
Human sentiment is irrelevant.
I knew the pathways well, but sometimes sinkholes grew in places that I had not placed proper trapdoors. This particular one drained through a long tunnel until it threw me into the echoing halls of If Only. There were no memories here; wishes and dreams ricocheted off stiffly stacked bars that smelt like black paint and freshly wrapped orange peels. Golden light danced on unforgiving tar, making the shapes in the semi-dark so much greater than they truly were.
Shadow puppets. Illusions. Love: the promise of it.
'Take my hand!' I commanded, streams of thought pulling through the heavy adrenalin.
His fingertips were not as rough as the heels of his palms, which were scattered with the slightest of bumps. Something in me recollected sight of the feature in full light, that the skin in some areas were not evenly coloured.
Burns. Second-degree. Voluntary contact. Immediate treatment. How many bombs have you touched? Hundreds? Thousands? How many fires have you tried to put out?
His teeth were gritted more for habit than in the effort of the run. John had raced through many an alley before, at times overtaking my pace although I was at an anatomical advantage. This was the resonance of the brutality of a soldier's irreversible road, and the impossible tragedy of running although there was no promised finish line. His breath was rhythmical, almost precise enough to use as a metronome.
'Now people will definitely talk,' he noted. There was desperation under his humour, a strain below the smile and the slight chuckle. John risked everything to fall with me, which was precisely why the final topple was something I had to prevent him from following.
Even if the soldier dreamed of gunfire, his afflictions would be better than a dreamless, eternal sleep.
We were never running at all but standing quite calmly in the soft light, alone. John's smile quivered too much. 'You should have understood while you had the chance,' he scolded playfully. His breath formed rings on the cold air. A Davinci spiral of rooms.
The Most Imporant One.
I shook my head. 'I don't know what the chance was,' I protested, but I was pulling him into the way of a bus and it was too late.
The Woman looked up at me, the smile beginning to fade. Mycroft seemed alarmed, but pleased. Of course he was pleased. 'Caring is not an advantage', his eyes reminded me. The words change. The idea never does. He is locked in his icy cage and he will never escape.
'This is your heart,' I sneered, finger resting above her pulse. Her lifeline. Her very life.
Her words. Not mine.
'And you should never let it rule your head.'
Mycroft tapped his hand on the table impatiently. 'Hypocrite,' he remarked casually, although he said nothing then, when this actually happened, when I rectified my stupid mistake by saving England a fortune in Ms Adler's silly little requests.
I was far from the better-tread areas, entering into the room of That Which Arouses Inexplicable Amounts Of Dangerous Emotion. There was a quiet, syncopated beeping filling the sound of tired silence and muffled drips. A television rolled through an attempt at relaxing scenery, achieving nothing more than a set of horrendously photoshopped pictures of flowers that were far too saturated in colour. On the other side, She sat folded in blankets, like a faded photocopy of Herself, with Her head wrapped with a thick red scarf to replace the colour of her curls.
Even at the time, I had ensured that I entered the situation with an acceptable amount of background research, and I knew that this type of cancer was one that was not easily cured. That was as much of the perplexing terminology as I could allow. It was too dangerous to know how She would decompose, how the blood cells would turn against each other.
She beckoned for me to approach, so I did. There was a chair that was too low for me to view her adequately, so I clambered onto her bed. Her hands trembled slightly when they covered mine, and they were very cold.
Below room temperature. Death. Decay. Morgues. Bodies floating in the Thames.
My heart hammered in my chest, my body remembering the moments I had scurried past inquisitive adult eyes, my mind remembering the possible price I would pay for this. 'The other teachers told me to visit you,' I explained calmly. 'I thought it was a good idea, so I came.' In a child's perspective, the journey had been endless, but upon repeated inspection, I found that it had barely been a breath away.
Even with the emptiness under Her eyes, She laughed. 'Mycroft will be so worried,' She warned with a faded voice and a brilliant heart.
Violin discarded in the wrong place, hiding the map. Circled bus stations with red pen. Red for urgent. For come now. Come soon.
'Good,' I said out loud. 'He should be.'
In the next few hours, I pretended to fall asleep, timing the rising and falling of my ribcage precisely. Mycroft was good at observation, but Her presence aided his distracted state. He entered awkwardly, holding the umbrella She'd given him in front of his body like a profane offering, cigarette ash clinging to the tip of his leather shoe.
'I thought I might as well return this,' he explained.
Her hands threaded through my hair, the iciness of Her fingers warmed by the feverish temples of a child braving through mid-Autumn weather. On retrospect, that may have been the beginning of my incurable disinterest in my own wellbeing for the sake of various missions. 'Oh, it's alright,' She replied softly, the edges of disease blurred with something thick and beautiful, and yet entirely intangible. 'Keep it. I won't need it anymore,' She added, the last syllable dipping low.
With the lights cut off by strips of roofing, and a splash of galaxies stretched across what was visible of the sky, it was like a contained planetarium. A sliver of the human interest, captured in nature itself.
Cultures believe certain elements in the human body are affected through planets and stars. Studies have shown suggestive evidence. Research inconclusive. Must investigate. John participate? Too soon. Lipstick on ear. Swiftly advancing relationship, woman in control. Sarah? Was it? Irrelevant.
'Beautiful,' I noted, 'isn't it?'
I could almost hear his confusion, the turning of his head, the stretching of his tendons. Of course he would be confused, we were walking down an alleyway having a conversation about stars. It was almost romantic - and that would never do, not then, not ever. I had been taught that lesson a long time ago. They taught me well, the women. Ms Adler, and Her.
John lifted his eyebrows. 'I thought you didn't care about-'
'Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it,' I retorted smoothly. Because smoothly was all I could produce on the surface. Why would I impress him? He was not exactly clever or talented. Over and over again I attempted to bring out the human in me, to compress myself into something which was acceptable, while I was still Not Good. Bit Not Good, Yeah.
John lowered his head, digging his hands further into his pockets.
Clenching and unclenching of fists. Stress. Discomfort. No limp. No unhappiness. Happiness and discomfort equate lust, perhaps, love, perhaps. Lust? Lust?
The corner of John's mouth twitched as he looked round the corner of the street. This part is not real, just a refraction of what I wanted, wrapped in an insignificant memory I somehow forgot to delete, but here it is. 'Don't be an idiot,' he grinned.
'I am not,' I replied quickly. Simply. But that was not how things were. Not anymore. Not since.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
'So maybe it's time,' John added, reading my mind, but he can't in real life, never could. It was infuriating, and now I just miss it.
Blunt force. The handle of a fireaxe. Some post-mortem. Passion, anger, either or.
'It is,' I confirmed. 'And I don't know what you will do.'
John smiled at me. We were no longer walking, no longer chasing children's tales or monsters in the dark. The door waited me, breaths away, the letters glistening in the rain. 'So come upstairs,' he ordered.
I'm not dead. Let's have dinner.
'And,' he added, fumbling in his pockets for the keys, 'I'll stay.' But the rain grew heavy and John did not know I was watching, I was an awkward teenager with a hood drawn over his head, silent headphones in my ears, and he opened the door to the flat and went in. Because he could not leave. Because he would not.
This is your heart.
And you cannot forcibly remove a vital organ from your ribcage.
'You look sad sometimes,' the girl, Molly Hooper, notes in a low voice, 'when you think he's not looking.' There is a slight difference between false empathy and actual sympathy. Hers was the latter.
Unbidden, my eyes catapulted my gaze onto him as he moved about silently, captured in thought. He was trying to save me, my doctor, even when his own life was clearly on the line, yet this was not the first time John Watson had laid his mortality on the table.
For the first time in years, I understood Her words, Her terrible, terrible words. The space that existed between us slammed us together with brutal force.
Sometimes you can love a person, and they can love you back, but you can never really be together.
That was not the first time the emotion had struck me hard.
Solar plexus. Breathe. For God's sake, man, breathe.
It was, however, the first time the words themselves illuminated in dark capital letters in the inside of my forehead, pushing all coherent thought elsewhere for later inspection. In the sliver of epiphany, only one thing mattered, and that was John.
His smiles, his laughter, his sighs, the shadows he made on the floor, the sounds the floorboard made under his slippered feet.
Mycroft's voice drowned. The words that remained retained their original importance.
Human sentiment is.