There wasn’t much to it really. One day he’s there, the next day he’s gone. But time was relative when in shock and a month was a day just as sure as an hour. And it had been six for John but he hadn’t noticed.
Work was work, life moved on. He made tea for only one. He did not listen for Sherlock’s violin. He met Molly’s eyes even when she could not meet his. And he lived. Just as anyone else. He understood the calamity of suicide and how to talk over it. Because he had met the mothers of his fallen comrades. He met them and shook their hands and told them their sons and daughters were brave while remembering the images of the bullet they’d put through their own temple. John had done many illegal things when Sherlock was alive but the ones he never regretted were those made in uniform.
He was a liar. And a thief. And he bore those badges as surely as he brandished his cane. He stole Sherlock, stole the one part of him that no one else knew and he held it and saved it and possessed it till the man died and in the end he would not give that up. He heard the sorrow and humanity in his voice and he saw it as the man stood atop that building like a wicked gargoyle plucking demons from the sky. He saw Sherlock at his most profound as well as his most insidious and he saw the human while others saw only the man. But he kept it, selfishly and greedily, with the hands of a five year old and the heart of a sinner. He’d lied to mothers and officers just as he was lying to friends and family because while he’d spoken about the greatness of Sherlock’s mind and the demanding wonder of his cleverness he never spoke of the fragility of his heart and that was how it would stay.
He had a new flat mate now. It was called progress. He’d pulled a gun on him twice within the first week. Once when he told him who he was. Twice when he touched Sherlock’s violin. Rooming with the man hired to kill you turned out to be more therapeutic than expected. Because as much as John spoke of the hero Sherlock was, he vilified him in his head and in his heart because only a monster could tear your soul out with his charm and then make you watch him destroy it on stage. Sherlock was a showman just the same as Moriarty and while John had once aimed his gun at the guilty and Sebastian at the true, John saw little difference in the grievances of two discharged soldiers.
To everyone else Sebastian was Charlie, a mate from boot camp. Sherlock and Jim weren’t the only ones capable of putting on a performance. John and Sebastian executed their roles so well they even began to believe them. John still ran through London, though no longer with shield and sword. He brandished his gun at contracts. He was the hero no one wanted. The killer with a dotted line. Two years of radio silence and John still saw the battlefield. Now it was just made on his own terms and by his own decisions.
When year three was on the horizon, John saw his first and last ghost. Could a bullet cut through ectoplasm? He desperately needed to find out.
“What have you become.”
Four words, one sentence. Punctuation as an accusation, throw away vowels that cut right to the burrowed resentment three years in the making. The gun was on the ghost before he could disappear.
“I’ve become what you made me, Sherlock. You showed me the battlefield but left me in the trenches.”
“This isn’t you.”
“Check your records again. I’m not the one who died.”
“Yes, you did.”
A bullet leaves the barrel and misses. The ghost is gone but the chill remains. John considers buying rock salt but deems it unnecessary. He returns to the flat, sets his gun down, and goes to make lunch.
“You’re short one round.”
“Shooting at birds.”
“I heard. I didn’t know birds were now six feet tall.”
“The dead ones are.” He looked over his shoulder and Sebastian was watching him with a question in one hand and his gun in the other. John turned back around and shook his head. “The magpie leaves with blue-black feathers and royal jewels but comes back with stinking flesh and syrup words. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the return will ever be better than the flight.” Sebastian looks angry, away, but John recognizes the silence of understanding and knows his flatmate won’t go looking for his ghost.
Sebastian is arrested on criminal charges three days later. Fraud, larceny, triple homicide and arson. John doesn’t get to say goodbye. He doesn’t get to go to court either. His cab takes the long route and the hearings are over when he walks in. His ghost was up in those stands. He doesn’t need to see him to know he was there.
And then 221B was empty once again.
John throws Sherlock’s violin out the next morning.
He’s a guilty man on any scale, in for a feather, out for a pound, but his record is spotless and his name is clean. He knows who to thank but won’t make the effort instead deciding a vacation is in order. He packs his bag for Ireland but ends up in Russia. His bag becomes a rucksack and his name becomes Lev and he learns enough Russian to buy him a plane ticket to Poland. From Poland to Scotland. From Scotland to North East Asia. Australia to Japan. Japan to Brazil. Brazil to Quebec. His passport is more traveled than an airline company but he’s caught in India wearing emerald and eating couscous with his fingers. He had been happy. But the game he didn’t know he was playing was over and Sherlock had finally caught up.
When he was thrown up against the wall he laughed. When he was slapped he shoved. The kiss tasted like vinegar and the hug made him weak. “I’ve been chasing you for nearly two years.” The words run through his hair like fingers and down his spine, into his stomach and are thrown back up again on John’s tongue.
“Dying isn’t so difficult when you learn from the best.”
Another slap, another kiss and John dies just as surely as Sherlock, with a whispered goodbye and an ingenious fall. Stories are rewritten. One ghost becomes two. And names are lost in the fabrics of Mumbai.