I came home forever.
Every Monday morning John Watson told himself that this was the week he would actually do something. Find a job. Find a flat that wasn’t 221B, that wasn’t haunted by a permanent and persistent ghost, that wasn’t, despite it all, the only place that felt like home. Or possibly he would just climb to the top of a very tall building [blimey, come to think of it, St. Barts would probably work nicely] and jump off. A precedent had been set, after all.
And then every Friday, he would realise that another week had gone by and he’d really done nothing. Nothing that mattered anyway. Perhaps he’d gotten a haircut. Always did a quick run through Tesco. Visited the grave. Hoovered. Refused to get into the damned black limo that sometimes shadowed him. Turned down a pub evening with Lestrade, because, really, what would be the point? Visited the grave. Watched the football without caring who won. Did some laundry. At the weekend, regardless of the weather, he would always take a long walk to nowhere in particular, trying to ignore a steadily worsening limp. He hated the limp more than ever, because it seemed as if by letting it come back, he was rejecting the person who had cured it previously. And, of course, Sunday afternoon was a traditional time to visit a grave, so he did that.
Those Sunday afternoons were quite a social time at the cemetery, actually, as he had become a familiar face to the other regular visitors, who were mostly elderly widows [and a few equally elderly widowers]. He could tell that some of them were a little bewildered by the precise nature of his relationship with the man whose grave he tended, but no one probed. Occasionally he would spend some time wondering just what he would have replied had anyone probed, because, hell, he was as bewildered as everyone else. It amused him when the old dears glanced his way curiously. Well, in a way it amused him, as much as he was ever amused nowadays. And, of course, it also broke his heart.
And on the days when he chose to be ruthlessly honest with himself John knew that he was not bewildered at all about what he felt for Sherlock Holmes. He was in love with a dead man. What he was supposed to do with that information remained a mystery.
Someday, John supposed, the money would be gone from the joint account they had set up to manage income from the cases and when that happened he would have to make some decisions. But sufficient unto the day, as his gran used to say.
John was not a stupid man. He understood [at least on some days] that the life he had now wasn’t particularly good, but it was the life he had and so what was he supposed to do?
It was as he was making his way home from Tesco on a rather gloomy afternoon that it happened. A homeless person, of the sort that Sherlock had often had dealings with, sidled much too close and handed John an envelope. “What the hell--?” But the girl was gone as quickly as she had appeared.
John just sighed and dropped the envelope, which seemed to be of rather higher quality than might be expected under the circumstances, into the bag with his bread and milk. Probably an ad for something in which he had no interest. Or, more possibly, some religious tract in which he would have even less interest.
He limped the rest of the way home, unpacked and put away the few items he’d bought and then settled on the sofa with a cuppa. He always felt vaguely comforted when he sat there, almost like the way it felt when he donned a favorite and cozy jumper.
It was then that he picked up the envelope and looked at it properly for the first time, realising with shock that his name was written across the front, written in a swirling, dramatic scrawl that was strangely and somehow frighteningly familiar.
John ran a fingertip along the writing, wondering who had managed to imitate the handwriting of a dead man so well. It made him feel quite sentimental and for a few minutes he just enjoyed the feeling.
Finally he ripped the envelope open and took out a single sheet that was written on in the same flamboyant style. It looked like a poem. Remembering his school days, for some reason, John decided to read the words aloud into the quiet of the flat.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.” *
John sat there for a moment before reading the words again, silently this time.
Then he folded the page with precise care and returned it to the envelope. He stood and walked into the bathroom, where he promptly threw up the tea he’d just finished, his breakfast from earlier, and quite possibly everything he’d eaten for the past week.
Still moving in a deliberate way, he washed his face and brushed his teeth, then finally checked himself in the mirror. He decided that he looked…not insane, which was about the best he could hope for at the moment, because he felt as if his sanity was balanced on a very thin edge. Although he’d never been reluctant at all to have a flutter on the horses or a football match, John would not be willing to place any wagers on which side of that edge he’d eventually land on.
He went for his coat, picking up the envelope as he passed, and limped down the stairs, very glad that Mrs. Hudson was nowhere to be seen. He would not have wanted to explain himself at the moment.
It was no surprise at all to see the black limo sitting in front of the building. The passenger door opened silently and John got in. There was no sense in depleting his Oyster card unnecessarily.
Anthea was on her Blackberry. So the whole world hadn’t actually gone topsy-turvy, just his part of it.
“I won’t even bother asking you any questions,” John said, “because I know that you won’t give me any answers.”
She only smiled.
He settled back for the ride, the envelope crinkling in his pocket.
Somewhat surprisingly, their destination turned out to be not the Diogenes, but a large house in Mayfair. Anthea led the way inside and took him into a nicely furnished library-cum-office. “Please make yourself comfortable,” was all she said before exiting.
He sat on a vast leather sofa, fingering the envelope in his jacket pocket, but not taking it out. He didn’t need to see the words again.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.
It was less than five minutes before the door opened again and Mycroft came into the room. He looked uncharacteristically tense. “John,” he said, not sitting.
For an instant, John foolishly wondered where the man’s brolly was. It seemed unnatural for him to be without it.
“You must be---”
John lifted a hand and rather surprisingly, Mycroft actually stopped speaking. It took a moment before John could say anything, however. He licked his lips. “Is…is he…?” That was all he managed.
Mycroft sighed. “This is not exactly how things were supposed to go. Although I suppose there is no perfect plan for such a thing. Events overtook us and---”
John was very much afraid that he might actually pass out. He gripped his knees tightly until the room settled down and broke in again. “Sherlock?”
“Is alive, yes. There is an explanation and you will hear it all, but---”
“Where is he?”
From the expression on his face, the British Government was rather accustomed to finishing his sentences. “Upstairs. He fell ill with a very bad case of pneumonia in Siberia, it nearly killed him, in fact, and I had to have him extracted urgently before the mission was quite finished, but…” Mycroft shut up on his own this time as he realised that John was already on his way out of the room. “The third door on the left,” he called after the departing man.
John went up the wide staircase as quickly as his leg would allow. He paused outside the third door on the left, taking a very deep breath before turning the knob and stepping inside.
An excruciatingly thin, paper white Sherlock Holmes was sitting up in the bed. “John,” he said in a painfully raspy whisper. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it was---”
It seemed to be National Interrupt the Holmes Brothers Day. “Shut up,” John said.
He walked across the room to the bed and then his legs just seem to give out. He sank to his knees. “Sherlock,” he said. “I’ve missed you. Very much.”
“Not as much as I missed you,” Sherlock murmured, before a fit of coughing shook his whole body.
John put a calming hand onto Sherlock’s arm.
“I want to explain,” the ghost said urgently, every word obviously an effort.
But John shook his head. He stood and dragged a nearby chair closer to the bed. Once seated, he reached out again and this time he took Sherlock’s hand between both of his. “Later,” he said. “Later you can explain and I will get angry and you will apologise and I will forgive you. But not now.” He squeezed the other man’s hand carefully. “For now, just let me sit here with you.”
Sherlock sighed deeply, as if a tremendous weight had at last been lifted from his chest, and collapsed back against the pillows, falling asleep almost immediately.
John watched him breathe until his own eyes closed and for the first time in months he slept deeply and peacefully.
Nearly an hour later, Mycroft, having heard nothing from the room, silently opened the door and looked in.
John was slumped onto the bed, one arm thrown across Sherlock, who had a hand resting in John’s hair. Both men were sleeping.
Mycroft just stood there for a long moment, before closing the door carefully and walking away.