A year after Sherlock Holmes died, you could find him living at apartment 34 in a tall building at the intersection between Maiden Lane and Gold Street, downtown New York.
Of course, you couldn’t actually find him unless you already knew where you were looking. And you couldn’t possibly know where you were looking unless you knew what you were looking for, and if you knew what you were looking for, that would mean knowing that Sherlock Holmes was still alive. If you fulfilled all of these criteria, then you would be either Molly Hooper or Mycroft Holmes, and if you were either of these people, then Sherlock had no interest in being found by either of you anyway.
He had gone through all the other obvious, dull processes that creating a new identity entailed. He had changed his name. He adopted a grating but nevertheless frighteningly accurate Brooklyn-esque accent for moments in which it was necessary to speak to people. He had created a backstory for himself; an intricate lie constructed mostly from half-truths from his real life combined with snippets of plotlines from television shows he had semi-watched with John on Sunday nights at Baker Street. That task had kept him amused for a while, and the kick of satisfaction he got out of telling his landlady the ridiculous and implausible story of his fictional past was almost comparable to the time he had solved a case for Lestrade in the time it took for the traffic light they were waiting at to turn green. But other than his landlady (a cold, uptight woman, clearly a failed actress with two (possibly three) divorces behind her and who wore cheap perfume to disguise her smoking habit (she was not a patch on Mrs Hudson)), there were not many people around to appreciate Sherlock’s imaginative and carefully fabricated past, which was something of a shame.
Still, despite what newspapers, official paperwork and Mycroft Holmes would tell you, and what the new accent, new haircut and new collarless coat would make you believe, Sherlock remained Sherlock in all important aspects. He still played his violin, he still performed experiments with human bodyparts in his small kitchen, he still went for days sometimes without sleeping, eating or speaking. The difference now was that there was nobody around to notice, nobody to remind him of his inescapable human bodily needs, nobody to care. Sherlock had been alone before, and he had never doubted that he would be alone again, but for a brief period inbetween, there had been John Watson, and that was a very hard period to erase from the hard drive. Companionship, far from being irritating and hindering to Sherlock’s genius and focus, had been marvellous. Revelatory. Companionship had been the greatest insight into the lives of normal people that Sherlock could have ever wanted.
It was actually rather addictive, having an audience. The first night Sherlock stayed in apartment 34 in the building at the intersection of Maiden Lane and Gold Street, he had been struck by a brilliant idea about the hormone production in tree-frogs, and when he realised there was nobody around to share this revelation with, he was stunned for a moment. He set his mind to deducing the previous residents of his apartment, but when he had already concluded that the list went: ballet dancer -> construction worker -> single mother -> twenty-something aspiring musician -> the world’s only consulting detective within 4.8 seconds, Sherlock realised he was going to go very insane, very fast without companionship. At least, more insane than he already was.
So, in what could only be described as an uncharacteristic moment of startling sensibility and self-awareness, on his second day in New York, Sherlock bought a dog. An honest-to-God dog; 15lbs of canine bounciness and slobber (Sherlock had not anticipated the slobber). The conversation with the pet store owner had been excellent purely for its entertainment value, if nothing else (because Sherlock had been allowed to be Sherlock for so long with John, he was a little out of practice at being normal, and the results were alarming and amusing):
Man: Hi there sir, can I help you?
Sherlock: Yes, hello, I’d like to buy a dog.
Man: A dog?
Sherlock: Yes, a dog. That’s what you sell, isn’t it? Pets? Animals? Dogs? In fact, I know you sell dogs because there are four distinct hairs on your Walmart polyester blend trousers that are evidently canine, could be either Terrier or Beagle, but I’m going to go with Terrier, more out of hope than anything else because I’d rather not have a Beagle, their eyes make them look permanently self-pitying and I can’t bear self-pity, terriers have a much more resilient look about them, probably because they were generally bred for their sturdiness and speed rather than for their appearances, which is generally not something that I pay much attention to anyway.
There was an agonisingly long silence.
Sherlock: I mean, yes. I would like a dog.
Sherlock had walked out of the store with a small, sturdy, perfectly resilient-looking border terrier that the man told him was called ‘Bingo’ but that was certainly not going to be called that by Sherlock or by anyone in Sherlock’s presence. Perhaps inevitably, the name the dog eventually began to respond to was ‘Watson’, and if there was anything odd or revealing about that, Sherlock chose to ignore it. But the name was never important, anyway. It was the companionship, the partnership, the two-for-one package that Sherlock had gotten comfortable in. When you asked for Sherlock, you got Sherlock-and-Watson, and that, he felt, was as it should be. Naturally it was going to be difficult for him to return to solitude so abruptly. Naturally he would need someone (or something) to ease him back into it. Sherlock understood this as a comprehensible human need, and certainly NOT as a weakness or as ‘sentiment’.
Besides, the dog was extremely useful. When Sherlock spilled milk or bolognese sauce on the floor and neither John nor Mrs Hudson was there to insist on him cleaning it up, Watson (the canine version) was there on cue, licking the floor spotless again. When Sherlock had shut himself up in the apartment for longer than should be healthy, Watson would start howling and whining until Sherlock was forced to take him out for a walk just to get some peace and quiet (they went to Central Park, which was not Hyde Park, nor was it Regent’s Park, but it had to suffice). Watson sat obediently still and listened attentively when Sherlock needed to run a theory past someone, with his tongue out and his tail wagging which Sherlock took as a sign of approval, and Watson was the warm, fidgety weight on the sofa next to him as he sat and watched television in the evenings (a mindless habit which John had trained him into, and Sherlock was trying to train himself out of). The dog followed Sherlock everywhere he went, clearly thought he was the best human of all the humans he had known and provided him with a very demanding combination of distraction, warmth, and company. Yes, Watson filled the role that Dr. John Watson had performed before him, and that Sherlock’s skull had performed before Dr. John Watson. Companionship came in all shapes and sizes.
The dog also cemented Sherlock into his new life. Which, on prolonged reflection (an activity which Sherlock had plenty of time for), was not so very different from his old life. During the day, he experimented and contemplated and read textbooks and dictionaries and streetmaps. He stayed very still, curling up into a ball or sitting cross-legged or lying completely flat on his back on the sofa (which he had tried to place in the same position adjacent to the window that it had been in Baker Street but the angle of the wall was just wrong, wrong, wrong and it didn’t feel the same at all), and moving only when necessity demanded it, such as to make the occasional cup of tea (canine Watson sadly could not replace John in this respect) or walk the stupid, needy, slobbery dog. But other than that, Sherlock lay still, and (sometimes) Watson lay still next to him.
But at night… oh, at night they came alive.
New York at night, Sherlock was pleased to discover was not dissimilar to London; flickering, humming, positively throbbing with life and happenings and disappearances and murders. And although he was not quite as well-acquainted with the NYPD as he had been with Scotland Yard (he had yet to even meet a single one of them), he was finding ways to be of silent, ghostly assistance, largely through the use of the police radio he had deftly stolen from a police car stopped at a traffic light whilst the uniformed man inside was buckling his seatbelt. Sherlock would lie in the apartment and listen to the radio until something vaguely interesting seemed to be happening, and then he would put his coat on and venture out into the cold darkness, chasing and deducing and calculating faster and better than the police ever could. Most of the time, the NYPD barely knew what was happening before they came across whoever or whatever they were looking for, sitting stunned, handcuffed and practically giftwrapped on the steps of their headquarters, spouting stories about a tall man with ice blue eyes and a border terrier with a nose for crime scenes.
Because of course the dog accompanied Sherlock on these adventures. Like it or not, Sherlock’s enjoyment of working on cases had come to depend upon an endlessly loyal, endlessly excitable wingman muttering ‘brilliant!’ and ‘that’s amazing… just amazing’ at his lightning deductions. The real John Watson had used to proclaim these statements out loud when they first met, but a combination of getting sick of the sound of his own voice and a reluctance to give Sherlock the satisfaction of knowing he had impressed him once again had beaten him into silence. That was a shame, but it didn’t really matter, because Sherlock could still hear the muttering exclamations of awe inside John’s head all the time. He could hear them so loud and so clear, like a police siren at dawn. Of course, he couldn’t anymore, because John was somewhere 3464 miles away and was convinced that Sherlock was dead, and even Sherlock’s knack for telepathy couldn’t overcome obstacles like that. So Sherlock superimposed them onto the new Watson, convinced himself that he could hear the silent exclamations of amazement and approval echoing around his small-but-fiesty friend’s shaggy head and it was almost almost as good as the real thing.
As time wore on, Sherlock began to wonder why he had ever thought it a good idea to walk the streets without a dog by his side. Watson was excellent, he barked at people who got in their way, and bit people who really got in their way, and Sherlock wondered if he had accidentally managed to somehow train the stupid dog to behave like this, or if he just instinctively knew his place, knew his role and his purpose in this game, this dance of madmen. He knew how to fall into step next to Sherlock and how to keep up, what to do, how to cope.
Had Sherlock ever taught John how to keep up, what to do, how to cope? No, he supposed not. Medical school, the army and John’s own nightmares had done that for him. Sherlock had just been the lucky recipient of the end product; a hardened, fearless soldier with terrifyingly good aim and an unfathomable capacity for kindness. Sherlock had not taught John how to cope. The obvious logical deduction from this was that John could cope without Sherlock. This was the reasoning Sherlock used to justify his abandonment of his friend. The phone call, the faked suicide, the newspaper headlines… it had all been so overdramatic, so untidy, such a disgustingly rude way to say goodbye to someone as straightforward and pleasant as John… but never mind, never mind, John would cope. John would Keep Calm and Carry On in that quintessentially British way of his, and he would cope.
A pointless smile would tug at Sherlock’s lips whenever he thought of John coping, when he pictured him exhaling slowly, squaring his shoulders and soldiering on. This was unfair; it shouldn’t make him smile, because he knew John would be sad, and John’s sadness shouldn’t result in Sherlock smiling. But Sherlock couldn’t be sad, couldn’t bring himself to be sad, because at this very moment Dr John H Watson was still walking the face of the earth in all his rumpled glory because of what Sherlock had done. Sherlock was pleased, because that was a ‘good thing’. Even if it had meant considerable expense for Mycroft and even more considerable inconvenience to Sherlock’s own life, John had lived because Sherlock had ‘died’, and if that wasn’t cause for smiling, then Sherlock didn’t know what was.
It was also much better this way, Sherlock discovered whilst on one of his periods of prolonged reflection. It was much better that Sherlock had left John in such spectacular, destructive style before John had found a much quieter and more sensible way to leave him, because it gave a nice finality to the whole ordeal. John would never go looking for Sherlock again because he thought he could not be found, and Sherlock could not go back to John because he knew John would never look at him the same way again, and if John couldn’t look at Sherlock like he used to then Sherlock didn’t want to be looked at by him at all.
(There was also the obvious fact that if John had left Sherlock, Sherlock probably would have died anyway. Really died, this time. Not by throwing himself off a building, too much chance involved in that and certainly not by a bullet through the brain Moriarty-style, because honestly, how painfully unoriginal. Sherlock’s provisional plan was drugs, he knew of some spectacularly interesting and effective ones that would do the job just fine… but anyway, the point was that if John had left Sherlock, he would have ended up being the cause of Sherlock’s death rather than the mourner of it. And then he would have felt guilty, bless him. He wouldn’t understand that Sherlock was glad to be free of it all, and Sherlock wouldn’t be around to explain it, and small, sturdy little John would have felt so guilty, and Sherlock had learned somewhere that guilt was a much more damaging emotion than sadness, and it seemed to Sherlock that to damage John even more after all that just wouldn’t be fair.)
Yes, it all made perfect, obvious sense to Sherlock. Which is why it had been confusing and irritating back when he had asked Molly and Mycroft to help him with his plan, and their first question had not been ‘why is Moriarty doing this?’ or ‘but Sherlock, what will London do without you?!’ but ‘what about John?’
What? Sherlock had wanted to ask. What about John? It wasn’t as if John hadn’t seen death before, after all, he was a doctor; he had seen it, breathed it, lived it for almost all his life. People were always dying, as Moriarty had so eloquently pointed out; it’s what they DO. People died, and other people stayed alive.
The excellent thing about Sherlock’s plan was that this way, they both got to stay alive, and as an added bonus, Sherlock got to fulfil every person’s morbid fantasy of attending his own funeral (he was only mildly disappointed by the sparse turnout, and definitely not surprised). This way, Sherlock played dead forever, and those snipers would never get near John or Lestrade or Mrs Hudson, and they would honestly all lead much simpler, happier lives without him anyway. This way, Sherlock died a disgrace, and nobody would ever be interested in him or his story again, and it was far easier to work without people asking questions and putting cameras in his face. Far better to be another anonymous face in a big city, far better to be alone with his mind palace, far better to be an isolated sociopath in an apartment with a mongrel dog rather than having people around who… cared about him. People who cared about him had always caused Sherlock vague twinges of anxiety. Why did they care? Why should they care? Was he supposed to care? Cutting them loose let him breathe a sigh of release. Nobody cared now, they all thought he was either a criminal or a fraud or a coward and, most importantly, dead, and Sherlock didn’t care either.
To revise that final statement, it might not have been entirely accurate. Sherlock might have cared a little. Sometimes he thought back to his funeral, which he had observed from behind a tree (the oldest of techniques, if anyone, anyone, had even bothered to observe in the slightest they could have spotted him), and considered what he had seen, and how he ought to feel about it. He was fairly sure he ought to feel sorry for Mrs Hudson, who was a lovely old lady and who shouldn’t be sobbing so inconsolably into a handkerchief over the brusque, disruptive, untidy man who had rented a flat from her, but he didn’t feel anything. He also supposed the sight of Lestrade’s haggard expression and hunched shoulders should have sparked some kind of sympathetic emotional reaction within him, but it didn’t. He also knew that watching John tight-jawed in the throes of such obvious denial and disbelief should have made him feel guilty, or impressed at his friend’s loyalty, or fond of him, or anything other than what he did feel, which was very, very annoyed. It was annoying that John couldn’t just let him go, like everybody else. It was annoying that John was so set on putting Sherlock on this ridiculous, uncomfortable pedestal. It was annoying that he somehow made Sherlock want to be the person John thought he was. Sherlock had scowled at John from behind the tree.
Come on now, John. Don’t be stupid, don’t be difficult. Don’t be too loyal for your own good. Accept it, believe it. I’m dead. I’m dead and gone.
And then there had been John’s little speech to the gravestone once everyone else had gone. And in regards to that, Sherlock had absolutely no idea whatsoever how he was supposed to feel.
So Sherlock did care a bit about John, just because he was standing in the way of Sherlock’s perfect plan, the plan where everybody forgot about him and carried on with their colourful, interactive human lives in which his tall, dark presence only featured in stories told to the grandchildren one day in the future (or the present, in Mrs Hudson’s case). Sherlock wanted to melt away to begin again, to dissolve into memory, to take the latter of Hamlet’s two propositions and not to be. But John, John the fighter, John the friend, was clinging on tightly to him, and making this process unnecessarily hard.
Which is why Sherlock could not remain in London very long after he was declared officially dead. Not because he would be recognised (he was far, far, far too clever for that) but because remaining in London invariably meant remaining as close to John as he could possibly be without being seen (which was ridiculously close, John could be so amazingly oblivious sometimes). And being close to John often seemed to bring with it an urge to speak to John, to touch John, to co-exist with John, to let John know that Sherlock was still alive and that he had beaten Moriarty at his own game, and that he, Sherlock Holmes, was brilliant, more brilliant than even John could ever have imagined, and wasn’t it a great day, and was he hungry? Should they go to Angelo’s? Did he have enough biscuits in the cupboard?
Obviously this couldn’t happen. It would ruin everything.
So Sherlock went cold turkey on his addictions to London and to John Watson, and moved across an ocean from them. If one thought about it that way, analogised London/John with cigarettes (which was the way Sherlock liked to think about it), then New York and the dog were nicotine patches. Fulfilling the role, satiating the need, quelling the desire… but not the same. Never, never, never quite the same.
And so, a year after Sherlock Holmes died, that is where you would find him. Lying on the sofa in a small but serviceable apartment in downtown New York, doing what he had always done; solving crimes and dealing with addictions.