Morning, Vast. Imprecision. Fog has covered everything in gray absolute. This has lasted. Doubt looms over the mind. Absence is harder to accept than death.
-Etel Adnan, "Sea"
He leaves his flat in the morning and walks down the street to get a coffee, and there are eyes on his back. He doesn't know why he feels this, not now. Logically, there is no one looking for him, no one at all. One self, the one he was, the one he sometimes remembers he was, he is dead, he is gone, nobody is looking for Sherlock Holmes, that's over. And the fifteen people he has been since then, each of them is distinct, each of them can be tied to no more than three separate events (that is what he calls them, events, because he cannot call them what they are, because if he does he will act like a mass murderer and mass murderers get caught, they always do, even if there are no dead men to catch them, so he is not, he does not, he will not) and never more than one per name per country, and never two events in a row with the same identity, the trail left by the personae his body has worn is untraceable, he is sure, he has been sure, he is very, very sure. There is no one looking for him.
There are eyes on his back. He wonders, vaguely, if this is the paranoia setting in. He hasn't suffered from it in almost a year, but then it wasn't eyes, then it was the notion that he'd wake up in the morning and find himself back in London, not dead, not dead at all but everyone else is, and if he closed his eyes he would be back there and six years would have gone by where he was alone in London, and not alone everywhere else. And it would be worse, to be alone in London, to be Sherlock Holmes and be alone because you had failed everyone, that would be worse, so it is not so, because he is not Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes he cannot remember who he is for long stretches, but finds he can interact with others appropriately even then, nobody knows that he has no idea who he is, it is as if his body can continue playing the part until his brain, such as it is now, can catch up to it. This must be how normal people live, he thinks, but they have not used murder and cocaine to lobotomize themselves into this state. Dull.
So he knows no one is watching, and yet he feels it prickle up his spine, feels it wind its way around him, over and over and over, there is something there his spine tells him, the thing he used to be. Because Adam Kingston doesn't see a damn thing, but the corners of him used to be Sherlock Holmes, and the corners notice things. If he could think, if he could just think, he would be able to say what they are, but he can't think, Adam Kingston doesn't think, so he just accepts the corners' deductions for what they are, lets them hover around him in a faint cloud, invisible. He sees through them, like he never could before, because these are Adam Kingston's eyes (and before they were David Gardner's, and before that Edward Munro, and he can't quite remember the order before that, not without more thought than its worth), and Adam Kingston's eyes don't see that way. So they don't. They don't. The cloud hovers around him like gnats and he doesn't see it, because his eyes aren't his, not that-his, no, not anymore.
There is someone watching him, and he does not see it, not at this time, not with these eyes. If someone comes after him, he will--there will be an event, and that is not a problem, there have been many events. He does not know if there will be more events, because he has run through his first list, and then his second, and Adam Kingston does not know how to make a list like that, so now he is not sure that there are more events to be had. But this worries him, it worries him that he might wake up one morning and there will be blood under his fingernails and he will not know what event took place the night before, or, worse, much worse, he will know, he will know exactly what event it was, and he will have had an event because he's gotten good at it, brilliant actually, he's the best they've ever seen, he would tell them this if they would ever bloody notice, or if he were himself, that-himself, the old himself, the dead man. The first event. He's never counted that among the events, but maybe he should.
He does not see things. But sometimes he remembers.
Sherlock was sitting on the sofa, making notes in the margins of Science and Justice. (He believed without exaggeration it was the worst journal in the entirety of contemporary scientific publishing; all of his marginalia were corrections.) His knees were drawn up, because John was on the other end of the sofa, holding a carton of cold lo mien two inches from his face and poking at it with chopsticks. John's laptop was on the table in front of the sofa, and its fan was making a hideous noise. (Sherlock was sorely tempted to replace its hard drive and processor one day when John would be out of the house for a significant stretch of hours, because it was ridiculously underpowered, and the noises it made when it tried to perform basic tasks were annoying.) Because of the hideous noise, the volume on the episode of Doctor Who John was watching was turned up, but that wasn't so bad. John was making his way through all the episodes he had missed when he was deployed; he was a completist, which Sherlock appreciated, even if he himself had no particular urge to be similarly completist in his own viewing of any particular television show. Though Sherlock did not like the voice of the actress who was in this series (the buxom ginger, not the Scottish ginger; he hated that he retained these things, but he was exposed to them so frequently that it had become tedious to delete them over and over again, so he had a file marked "USELESS" where they all could go), he was still able to ignore it, turn in into a background hum that is the soundtrack to his pen scratching at a patently ridiculous article about new uses for luminol.
Then a noise intervened into his consciousness. He looked up, and saw that John had set down his cardboard box, was leaning on the arm of the couch, and had tears running down his face. Sherlock glanced at the computer. It was the episode with the giant millipede thing on the woman's back (he'd not minded that one so much, because the insect had been interesting; in a fit of terrible boredom he'd sketched out notes on what actual arthropods it was based on, and then given up and decided the art designers on this bloody show had spent all their pocket money at uni on cheap hallucinogens), and she was walking out into the street, standing there, her face blank, in front of oncoming traffic.
Sherlock flicked his eyes back to John. John sniffled and blinked, and more tears emerged from his eyes and followed the tracks of the others. "Are you crying at Doctor Who?" Sherlock asked. He managed a little bit of scorn mixed in with the genuine curiosity, which made him feel better.
"Sod off," John said, and sniffled again.
Sherlock kept glancing between the laptop and John. He was holding himself curved inward, a little, protecting his vulnerable spots, but still crying openly, watching as the universe snapped back into place for the ginger woman and everyone went to pieces about a wolf of some sort. "I didn't realize you got that emotional about it."
"I don't, normally," John said. He dug around in his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, which he used to wipe his face and nose. "I mean, I like Donna fine and all, but--it's just this one."
"Do you have a phobia of millipedes?" Sherlock asked, scrunching up his face. John was a mystery to him, and much more interesting than the terribly wrong journal, so he dropped the volume onto his chest.
"What? No, it's not the whatever-it-is." John shook his head sadly, still looking at the laptop, which was now showing a blank screen. "It's just that, well. Donna's so brave, and noble, and just--she goes out and fights monsters with the Doctor, and she gets to be so wonderful. And when she doesn't meet him--she's same person, just as brave and noble and all, but she's so--so ordinary--she never gets to be who she could have been. And then she just lays down her life in the bloody street, and it's just--such a waste." He sighed and shook his head. "I'm being maudlin. Ignore me." He put the handkerchief back in his pocket and stood to take the Chinese food back to the kitchen.
Sherlock watched him go. John was talking about himself, he realized, after a stupidly long moment. Because John was ordinary, he was lost, he was slipping away, but he found a madman to drag him through the world, and now he was brave and noble and wonderful, John was simply marvelous. He was thinking about who he'd have been if he hadn't met Mike Stamford that day, if he'd turned left, metaphorically speaking (or even literally, he hadn't fully mapped out the possible paths between John's old bedsit and the park near Bart's, a right turn might have been involved somewhere). Sherlock felt a crawling sensation behind his sternum at the thought of that path. He might understand John's tears.
The click of the kettle turning on. He blinked, and looked up; he could just see John's elbow. "If this one affected you so much, then I wonder how you will react when--"
"If you bloody spoil the series finale for me," John said, "I will shoot you."
"If I'm not around to cover your tracks, you'll be convicted," Sherlock said airily, turning back to his wrong journal.
"This is England. I'm pretty sure they'd call it justified." The sound of water coming to a boil, and then the sound of it being poured into the pot. The pot meant John had made enough for Sherlock, so Sherlock smiled to himself and kept reading, waiting for his murderous flatmate to bring him tea.
Maybe this is what he feels, the eyes on his back. Maybe they aren't eyes at all. Maybe they are the long spindly legs of possibility, of the idea that it might have been different, it could have been different, there might have been a way. He'd believed, then, that it was the only way things could turn out, that he'd followed the path the right way down to the ground, but maybe not. Maybe this is the life where he turned left, the life where he missed something, where he made the wrong call and now he never gets to go home again, never gets to be himself again. Adam Kingston is the wrong person, he should not be Adam Kingston, but now Sherlock Holmes is a non-option, a pile of stranger's ashes increasing the alkalinity of the soil in the churchyard, a hard black stone. (He remembers John's hand brushing the shoulder of stone, and feeling it like a touch against his skin.)
In the mirror in his flat in Melbourne, he tries to see what's on his back. It is white and clear, all the pink scars faded to echoes now. He looks to see what shape they form, whether they have become the form of this monstrous future. He thinks about making them look like it, the razor in the cabinet. He thinks about walking out into the street and wondering, if he closed his eyes and waited, how would the world snap back, would there be a Sherlock Holmes again, would that touch trace across his skin and not his stone, would everything be right. He thinks about it. He has thought about it. He will likely think about it again.
Are you alright? the barista asks him when he goes to order his coffee.
I'm fine, he says. He is. It's just that there's something on his back.