Baker Street is busy, irritable with the roaring of lorries, cursing cyclists, ill-tempered motorists remonstrating with each other. The drizzle is grey, oily and cold. In other words, nine o’clock on a normal Monday morning.
The pavement outside number 221 is blocked; someone has dumped what looks like a large heap of cardboard boxes, old cases, piles of paper hastily thrust into plastic bags and, of all things, a harpoon gun. Pedestrians glance at the mess, uninterested, and meekly walk around the obstacle. No one disturbs it.
The net curtain twitches at the window of the ground floor flat and an anxious-looking woman’s face peers out, shaking her head at the scene. She lets the curtain fall and goes through into the hallway.
“Sherlock!” she calls, “Those delivery man – they’ve left your stuff out on the street. You can’t leave it there all day and besides, it’s started to rain. Sherlock, are you awake?”
She shakes her head at the silence, sighs and goes to put on her raincoat.
On the first floor, in the room at the back of the house where the traffic noise is damped and the light dim, a man lies supine on an unmade double bed. Around him are open packing cases, boxes and strewn clothes as though he has very recently moved from another place, started to unpack then abruptly lost interest in the proceedings.
He doesn’t strictly need pharmaceutical assistance for this, but sometimes it helps. This time it’s nicotine patches, two of them. Soon he’ll forget about them and turn to something more brain-altering; it’s an inevitable progression, and Sherlock regrets it but he also knows he has no choice.
Sherlock dreams about John: John Watson MD, late of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, currently sitting on his neatly-made bed in his neat, Spartan little bedsit, wondering whether to update his blog or make comprehensive use of the pistol currently nestling in his desk drawer, illegally obtained against this very possibility. Sherlock knows he won’t – or hasn’t depending on which way you look at it.
Sherlock dreams fitfully, wandering through his mind. He opens doors and enters rooms, opens cupboards and drawers, removes items and studies them, allowing the flood of memories to drench him and strengthen his bonds with the events that caused them.
A brown, panelled door opens into a sitting room, daylight bright through the tall, sash windows, an eclectic mix of furniture, Zoffany wallpaper and an open, empty grate. Sherlock stands and breathes it all in:-
Yes. Yes, I think so, my thoughts precisely. So I went straight ahead and moved in.
Soon as we get this rubbish cleaned up. So this is all...
Well, obviously I can straighten things up a bit.
Sherlock smiles, picks up the skull:-
What do you think, then, Dr Watson? There's another bedroom upstairs, if you'll be needing two bedrooms.
Of course we'll be needing two.
Oh, don’t worry, there’s all sorts around here. Mrs Turner next door’s got married ones.
Sherlock shakes his head, closes the door softly.
Another door, this time glass, revolving and etched with a business logo:-
How are you, buddy? How long’s it been? Eight years since I last clapped eyes on you?
This is my friend John Watson.
Sherlock picks up Sebastian’s mobile phone from the desk and scrolls through the Contacts. He is unsurprised to find details of Eddie Van Coon’s secretary, Amanda, although he does not recall making the deduction at the time. Sherlock is quite sanguine about leaving this room; he does not anticipate visiting again.
The next door opens into darkness and a narrow alley between two filthy tenements. Sherlock looks up at a narrow strip of night sky twinkling with thousands of stars:-
Beautiful, isn’t it?
I thought you didn’t care about things…
Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.
Sherlock shakes his head and chuckles. Strange that this tiny exchange under Vauxhall Arches should have been preserved, packed and squirrelled away for safekeeping.
He pauses at an ill-fitting cubicle door with a sliding bolt and averts his eyes; the smell of chlorine is difficult to ignore but he grits his teeth and walks away; he knows only too well what lies in wait for him there.
Sherlock pauses at an imposing street door, Georgian and freshly painted in black gloss. His lips twitch slightly as he leans forward to open it:-
D’you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.
You think I’m a vicar with a bleeding face?
No, I think you’re damaged, delusional and believe in a higher power. In your case, it’s yourself. Oh, and somebody loves you. Why, if I had to punch that face, I’d avoid your nose and teeth too.
Could you put something on, please? Er, anything at all. A napkin.
Why? Are you feeling exposed?
I don’t think John knows where to look.
No, I think he knows exactly where. I’m not sure about you.
If I wanted to look at naked women I’d borrow John’s laptop.
You do borrow my laptop.
I confiscate it.
Sherlock’s lips stretch into a smile; he remembers his own naiveté, his awkwardness when faced with John’s greater experience. He looks around him; The Woman had good taste in décor, he has to admit. He was sorry when she finally died – but that was in another country and besides… He grimaces briefly at the bad taste of his own sub-conscious.
Sherlock wonders how long he’ll allow himself to wander today. He isn’t exactly achieving anything concrete but, after all, today is an important day, one of the most important in his life.
The next door is oak designed to look old and worn; it fastens with an iron latch and a Yale lock. Sherlock raises his eyebrows as he remembers that although the Cross Keys couldn’t give them a double room, the two adjacent with the bathroom in-between was perfectly satisfactory:-
Problem, John? I really had no idea about your streak of prudery – unusual in a man who has spent the past decade or so in the armed forces.
Piss off, Sherlock. Just make sure you lock my side next time.
When Sherlock really thought about it, that was probably the first time John had wondered.
He is tempted to just walk past the next door, an ordinary, day-to-day door such as one would find in a hospital laboratory, but behind it…
Thinking. I need to think.
You need to ...? Doesn’t she mean anything to you? You once half killed a man because he laid a finger on her.
She’s my landlady.
She’s dying ... You machine. Sod this. Sod this. You stay here if you want, on your own.
Alone is what I have. Alone protects me.
No. Friends protect people.
Sherlock closes his eyes, squeezes them tight shut even though he knows he can scarcely hope to block out the product of his own mind. However, he tries and tries because the door further along is from a church and he knows exactly what lies behind it:-
The sky is grey and the grass is brown and patchy. Evergreen shrubs and spiky pine trees frame the quiet corner with its black marble slab, its edges new and sharp.
Sherlock gives a mental sigh; these were very bad times, and John suffered so much. He needed solace and comfort for so long that… well, Sherlock doesn’t want to think too deeply about that, but approaching the next door he is certain that he is going to have to:-
… to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part…
Sherlock tries to look away so he doesn’t have to see Molly’s sweet face and trembling lips as John bends to kiss her, but the whole scene is played out for him for the hundredth time in HD. Sherlock wishes and wishes that he had never sneaked into the church that day, curious but also driven by an odd, masochistic urge to witness as John pledged himself to another. The wave of self-discovery that followed had been deeply unwelcome and try as he might, Sherlock knows he can never escape any of this ever again.
Back in the corridor of his own mind, Sherlock leans his shoulder blades against the door and tries to hold it closed. He knows the hope is a forlorn one; the door (wooden, gloss paint, peeling at the edges) bears bruises and splinters from his previous efforts, all vain, to lock it away, to prevent it ever opening again – to Delete it, if you like. Eventually, he gives it up as a bad job and turns away to continue.
Sliding doors, opening wide without his volition; a lift, empty except for a thin figure leaning on a cane, chin raised stubbornly:-
John, I had little choice in the matter…
You faked your own death; you disappeared for over a year – a year, Sherlock; you spent that time identifying and tracking down the hitmen hired by Moriarty to take out Lestrade, Mrs Hudson and me; you took them out yourself (my god, how did you…? Never mind, I don’t want to know) and you came home, only to discover that you’d killed the wrong man…
He was still a murderer, John; he wasn’t a very nice man…
… and the right man then came after me and by a total freak chance he missed, but instead he killed… he killed…
John, I’m sorry…
Don’t talk to me, Sherlock. Don’t ever talk to me again.
Sherlock hangs his head, turns and leaves. He sits in the corridor, unsure if he can continue, but unwilling to abandon his journey; this is, as he has said, a red letter day and he needs to prepare for it properly.
The next door he reaches is small, tiny; hardly large enough to accommodate a child. Sherlock stoops down and enters, shuffling across the threshold on his knees.
The room is – warm. He is in a café, sitting at a formica-topped table against a white tiled wall. He reaches out to pick up the ketchup bottle and toys with it briefly:-
Don’t forget the Injunction.
I’d rather, if you don’t mind. Mycroft’s doing, I take it?
Please. My brother does have his limitations.
Really? I suppose I should be grateful I’ve yet to see them. Seriously, Sherlock, just leave me alone now.
It’s been twelve months, John.
And you think I should get over it, do you? You think I should be able to push everything aside and welcome you back into my life again? Your arrogance beggars belief. I don’t want to talk to you.
John, please. Just listen for a moment…
Go away, Sherlock. Just… go away.
The café door closes in Sherlock’s face; the bell jingles. Even though he knows he is in his own mind, these things are not really happening, he feels phantom tears prickling at the backs of his eyes.
The next door is from the holding cells at the Yard, although it opens once again into the sitting room at Baker Street. Sunlight is pouring in through the windows but the atmosphere is hostile:-
Why are you here?
You called me.
I’ve been calling you every day for eighteen months.
Yeah, I know. I hope your phone contract has unlimited texts.
Doesn’t everyone’s? So why today, John?
I … don’t know. Maybe I just don’t like storing up bad karma.
So you came to bury the hatchet?
In a way. Lestrade told me what you did to Anderson. He won’t let you back until you have a partner.
A minder, you mean.
If you like. Anyway, I’m here. God knows why, but I’m here.
I know only too well why you’re here, John; you’re bored.
That’s not true, I…
Of course you are. You’re fed up with signing prescriptions, doling out antibiotics and taking blood pressures. You see the future yawning bare and beige in front of you, and you figure that even Sherlock bloody Holmes would be better than that.
It’s not that…
You can’t see a point to it any more, can you? And you think that if you come back to Baker Street, I’ll give you a point; I’ll take you straight back into that bright, colourful, dangerous world where madmen strap explosives to you and gunmen shoot at you and they don’t always miss. No, John.
What the…? Sherlock, you’ve been on my case for months…
The law in this country may be an ass as regards assisted suicide, John, but I draw the line at being implicated without my consent.
There’s nothing more to say.
The echoing clang of the door and the scrape of the key forces Sherlock back into the corridor again. He takes a deep breath and continues on.
The next door draws him in before he has a chance to resist. It’s a solid, wooden affair with tubs containing bay trees on either side and a lit sign over the lintel. The letters are just blurred enough for Sherlock to be unable to identify the name.
The noise inside is fierce, shockingly elemental. The strobe lighting robs his retinas of any sensitivity; the sea of gyrating bodies threatens his sense of self, stripping away any pretence of civilised behaviour. He blinks under the triple assault and begins to focus:-
Good evening, John. It’s been a long time.
Sherlock? God, what the hell are you wearing? On a case, are you? I can’t think of any other reason for you to be in a place like this looking like that.
The music here is a little loud for conversation.
What makes you think I want to have a conversation with you?
You are not sure that you do. However, curiosity wars with anger and is currently winning. What’s your poison?
You’re offering to buy me a drink? In a place like this, that’s tantamount to a proposition.
I’m quite sure you’ll cope.
A faint smile flits across Sherlock’s lips. He remembers the case, the time, the drink he bought for John and the conversation they had that evening. Sherlock did indeed catch his prey later on that week – a serial date-rapist armed with copious quantities of home synthesised roofies, who preyed on vulnerable young men in gay clubs – by luring him into the alley behind the club where, of course, John was waiting with his gun.
Sherlock moves around the room and through a small metal door with a sliding window… into the interior of a taxi:-
Very little changes, John, we just get more so as we grow older.
I must be out of my mind running around with you again.
It keeps you off the Prozac.
I ought to land one on you for that.
Probably, but you won’t. Instead, you’re going to come home with me.
Now, why on earth would I want to do a crazy thing like that?
Because you’re not quite sure whether he got me with that tiny little blade or not, and you know I’m not about to tell you, so the only solution is for you to tail me. Give it up, John; we can split the taxi fare.
I don’t know why I bother.
Yes you do.
Something twists in Sherlock’s chest. It feels good revisiting the memories in their correct order, but it is bittersweet like dark chocolate, and too much is making him feel brim-full and pained. The memories are coming thicker and faster now and the doors are closer together. He knows he does not have the time to visit all of them, but he finds himself scanning them closely, looking for the signs of the one he cannot walk past.
Finally, he sees it, nestling in a recess set back from the wall. He identifies it by the ironwork door knocker in the shape of a double scroll and notes that the door is in fact ajar, unlike any of the others.
Beyond it is the sitting room of 221B once again, strewn with Sherlock’s usual detritus but lacking any evidence of John’s presence:-
Move back in.
You haven’t even thought about it, John!
I don’t have to; no.
It’s ridiculous! Your flat is a long tube journey away, it’s further away from the surgery than Baker Street, you have to change three times to get to…
Okay, okay, I get it. But the answer’s still no, Sherlock.
Is this still about what happened?
No! God, no, that’s – in the past. I wish it were different but, well, it wasn’t all down to you, Sherlock. After all, you suffered too.
Yes. So why won’t you move back?
I can’t, Sherlock. It would be – inappropriate.
Are you talking about your lifestyle? Because if you are, that’s really no problem, John. Mrs Hudson has no objections, in fact would probably welcome…
Yes, yes – thank you. I realise that her wildest fantasies would probably be made true.
Well, not the wildest ones, perhaps.
What do you mean?
Oh, John, don’t be naïve. The ones where she imagines herself talking with Mrs Turner about her own “married ones”?
Yes, well, that’s – pretty much the problem.
Mrs Turner’s married ones?
No, Sherlock; Mrs Hudson’s.
Sherlock smiles and leans against the wall, letting the scene play out in his mind.
Can I take it that you are proposing marriage to me?
Proposing…? For god’s sake, Sherlock, keep your voice down!
Mrs Hudson is out, if that’s what you’re worried about.
No, that’s not what I’m worried about! I’m worried about you jumping to totally unnecessary conclusions!
I see nothing unnecessary in matrimony between two like-minded people.
Yes, well. That’s assuming that you and I are like-minded. Knowing your mind as I do, that’s a very big assumption.
Stop putting up gratuitous barriers. If matrimony means that you will move back into Baker Street, I’m prepared to give it serious consideration.
Wha… I don’t believe I’m hearing this. Sherlock, we’re not even dating! You’re not even interested in sex or relationships, you told me that yourself.
No, I didn’t, John. I said I wasn’t looking, which at the time was perfectly true.
Alright, alright. So what are you telling me?
Sherlock’s eyelids flutter and the set of his body becomes languid as he remembers how he kissed John’s surprised mouth, how he walked him backwards through the living room door and into his own bedroom He remembers how he took the clothes from John’s body with his fingers, and the words from his lips with his own and then, having John spread out and trembling against Sherlock’s dark blue sheets, taking a deep breath and putting his hands, then his mouth, on John’s skin.
Sherlock’s eyes drift closed as he relives John’s hesitancy, his doubts and fears, and his eventual passionate surrender when Sherlock makes it clear that inexperience does not necessarily mean ineptitude, especially when your partner has intimate knowledge of your body spiralling back over thirty years. Sherlock finds he is breathing rather more heavily than usual, despite the fact that he is still inside his own head and does not need air here.
A certain sense of urgency creeps into his mood and he realises that he has lingered too long in this room. Time waits for no man, not even him, and he has an appointment with destiny. Sherlock walks down his endless corridor until he stops in front of another door, this one rough-hewn oak with a black iron latch.
There’s no crime here, John. Well, apart from the fact that this place is not being lived in right now; that is probably a crime of the first water.
What do you mean? Who owns this house?
I inherited it.
Oh, don’t tell me; a grateful client?
Not at all – a grateful uncle; grateful that I stopped visiting him when I was seventeen. Both his wives divorced him after I exposed his infidelities. I was seven and ten respectively.
And he still left you his cottage?
Certainly. He spent a very contented retirement shacked up with his valet. Happy as Larry till the day he died. Did you notice that there are beehives at the bottom of the garden? Bees are fascinating creatures; I might consider conducting some research on their behaviour. After I’ve finished my paper on the polyphonic motets of the Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus.
Sherlock – wait a moment. Are you suggesting we live here?
Well, yes, John, of course I am. After all, it’s the perfect retirement place. And you know with your increasing deafness, you’re finding the traffic noise at Baker Street more and more intolerable as the years go by.
Well, yes, that’s true but…
And whilst crime and criminals are truly fascinating, I confess that it’s been a very long time since I came across a truly original crime. Boring and pedestrian, most of them.
So let me get this straight; you want us to relocate from Baker Street to this little cottage. Sherlock, what are we going to live on?
My trust fund, John, same as always. What, you didn’t know? Where did you think the rent came from when we weren’t earning? Or when you moved out?
I suppose I… didn’t really think about it.
That much is true. No, this is perfect for us – quiet, rural but with decent access and facilities.
You’re intending to go back to London occasionally, then?
Of course. We’ll let out the other two flats at Baker Street, but we’ll keep ours as a pied a terre for when we want to go and annoy Lestrade.
He’s up for retirement soon too, you know.
Yes, I know. I’ve invited him to the ceremony; Donovan too.
Yes. Do keep up, John. The Civil Partnership ceremony, on Tuesday at the Registry Office. I’ve had a new suit made for you, you just need to come with me to choose a shirt…
Sherlock smiles, remembering John’s bewildered expression. He glides down the corridor at a slightly slower pace, skimming past the doors until he finds the one he is looking for: a plain wooden affair with an ivy wreath hung over the knocker.
… We have entrusted our brother Gregory to God's mercy,and we now commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust: in sure and certain hope…
Yes. At least the Address was short.
I meant his last illness, Sherlock.
No death is good, John, just inevitable.
That’s very philosophical.
It’s a day for philosophy. Shall we?
For a little while; I could do with a cup of tea. Don’t forget, our train’s in two hours, unless you want to spend another night at Baker Street?
Too many memories?
I’m sixty-eight, John; the mattress is hell on my joints.
I’m even older and it doesn’t bother me.
Then be grateful for your good fortune; without your hearing implant we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Well, not without a tablet and stylus, certainly. Greg had a good life.
Clichéd nonsense; that’s what people say when they want to comfort themselves against their own mortality.
My, we are in a snit today, aren’t we?
It’s no good pretending, John.
You’re just worried that I’ll go first, aren’t you? Sherlock?
I – don’t think this is something I want to discuss now.
When and where else are we going to discuss it? Come here.
Losing you would be like excising my brain; the pain would be unendurable.
I think you’re going to have to resign yourself to it someday, Sherlock. After all, I’m betting you wouldn’t want to miss such an important event in my life, hmm?
The closing of the door echoes around the corridor with a resounding boom. Sherlock continues to walk but his step has lost its spring and his face is serious and thoughtful.
The door is smooth and ergonomically-designed, made of a lightweight alloy with an unfamiliar gleam. He pauses, his hand on the lock, then opens it and walks into a hospital room.
John is in the bed, to all intents and purposes sleeping. He is older here and evidently very ill. His skin is as white as the bedlinen and somehow transparent as though his spirit is impatient to fly free and is trying to take his body with it. As Sherlock gazes at him, his eyes open and he coughs weakly.
No. You’ll have to try harder.
Bored with me already? That didn’t take long.
Only ten years – most marriages don’t last that long.
That’s not true, Sherlock.
Prove it. Get out of that bed and come with me. We’ll go down to Somerset House for the afternoon; they’ll have all the data we need to come up with an answer.
Nice try, but I think I’ll stay here if you don’t mind.
As a matter of fact I do. If you’re too lazy to move your backside out of this bed, I’m stuck with keeping you company.
You could log on to the hospital wifi.
Already on, nothing interesting. Correction: nothing more interesting than you.
Than watching me die?
It’s a natural process, John. Natural processes always were infinitely fascinating to me.
Nice to know that the nearer I get to my maker, the more consideration I’m going to get from you.
You always were an attention-seeker, John.
Sherlock lowers his eyes and stares at his shoes. He turns and leaves the room very quietly although he knows that nothing in heaven or on earth can disturb or Delete those memories now.
He stands for a long time, just looking down the corridor of his mind. To the left runs the myriad collection of doors that represent his memories; large and small, decorative and plain, rough and smooth. He sighs and turns to his right where the corridor runs on, blank and featureless; no more doors, no more memories.
He turns back to the hospital door and runs a curious hand over it; these are his oldest memories, the ones he began his life with. It isn’t a big leap to deduce why that might be.
The voice is quiet but insistent. Sherlock sighs and retraces his steps along the corridor. He passes each door in turn, nodding occasionally at one he didn’t visit this time round but may return to in the future, and lingers trailing thin fingers over the double scroll of a certain door knocker.
Sherlock knows he must leave this place now. In fact, that presence of that voice probably means that he is overdue. He walks briskly down the corridor, past the brown panelled door he entered first and turns a sharp left into daylight.
Sherlock opens his eyes to see the familiar features of his brother. He scowls and turns over on his side, facing away from the bland, expressionless face.
“It’s time, Sherlock,” the beautifully modulated tones fall on his ear like snow in winter; beautiful and inexorable as ice.
Sherlock sighs. He turns over and rolls off the bed, skimming past his immaculately-dressed visitor and into the bathroom. When he emerges some time later, he is dressed in a sharp black suit with a white shirt and his hair is curled, shining with some kind of product.
Mycroft gives him the onceover with a faint smile.
“You’re not intending to seduce him at first meeting, Sherlock,” he says chidingly, “There’s no need to try quite so hard.”
Sherlock brushes past his brother and throws himself on the sofa.
“I made you tea,” Mycroft says, sipping from his own cup.
The silence is deafening. Finally Mycroft sighs, sets his cup on the coffee table and comes to sit next to his brother.
“There truly is no other way, Sherlock,” he says quietly.
Sherlock flings himself violently off the sofa. “I don’t need your pity,” he spits scornfully. He paces the room.
“Nevertheless, you have it anyway,” Mycroft’s tone doesn’t change, “as does anyone with your form of chrono-displacement.”
He rises from the sofa unhurriedly and moves over to where his brother stands by the window motionless, staring unseeingly into the street.
“Research continues,” he says quietly, “but progress is of necessity slow.”
“Too slow for me,” Sherlock grates, “In fact, it’s too late for me now. The part of my life – the only part – worth living is now finished.”
“Indeed,” agrees Mycroft, “and all you can do now is grit your teeth and try to live out the next thirty-four years as you have done the last.”
“The lack of control…”
“Is maddening, I know,” Mycroft interrupts, “and there is no way of halting or reversing it.”
“I can’t even die.”
“No,” agrees Mycroft, “although that will happen in the future, at least for me. For you, it has already happened and you cannot change it.”
Mycroft lays a gentle hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Sherlock, I promise I will look after you and your Doctor throughout my future, as I have done in your past,” he says solemnly. “Now, I think you need to depart for St Bartholomew’s Hospital. You don’t want to be late for your appointment.”
Sherlock snorts derisively but shrugs on his greatcoat and knots his scarf. He exchanges a long look with his brother then turns on his heel and careens down the stairs of 221B.
Tomorrow, Mycroft will kidnap Doctor Watson to a disused warehouse somewhere in Camden Town to have a detailed and personal conversation with him about his relationship with his brother. Tomorrow, Sherlock will go back to his miserable little flat in Montague Street and cook up enough explosive material to take out the ceiling. He will be summarily evicted and will only escape criminal charges because he knows about his landlord’s sideline in stolen laptops.
The day after, Mycroft will read in the tabloids the details of the successful solving of the serial suicides by Scotland Yard detectives and he will send an ironic little text to his brother. The day after, Sherlock will flush the last of his cocaine and smoke the last of his cigarettes before embarking upon his quest to finally get clean.
And so it will go on, and on. Mycroft will proceed smoothly into the future, knowing that Sherlock has already been there and that nothing can now be changed, and Sherlock will delve back into the past, having already discovered what to expect from it.
But for now, Sherlock has this one day, this one final day, to say hello and goodbye to Doctor John Watson, and he intends to do it well.