It's been thirty-seven hours, fifteen minutes, four point nine, ten, eleven, twelve seconds—a lifetime—since he last slept. Bags under his eyes; dark, heavy. The skin of his face hangs loose and pale. Hands shaking; trembling; dropping things, losing things, losing track of time, losing it.
Sherlock. Sherlock. Sherlock. Sherlock.
Repeat the word over and over in his head; spread it over his tongue and press it into the roof of his mouth. Sounds meaningless. Nonsense, jumbling out past his lips, caught between sobs and bitter curse words.
After the news, he doesn't know what to do; doesn't know what he's supposed to do, how to react. He sits; puts his head between his knees, tries to breathe. Deep, even, level breaths. But they come out too fast, too loud, too shallow; leave him unbalanced and sick, head spinning and dizzy, the world twisting and tilting on its axis. Vertigo.
He paces. But it only serves to remind him of longer legs; of lighter feet hushing over the carpet. Of a velvet voice, too fast, such a know-it-all. Lovely, lovely.
He sits. Stares into next Tuesday. Days pass, slog into months; years tick by.
Year one, he meets a woman. A lovely, smiling woman with a slight curl to her cocoa-brown hair. Her name is Mary, and she doesn't look at him like he's broken, even though he is. Instead, she takes his hand. Holding it gently, unassumingly, she leads him into life.
Year two they marry. Simple ceremony; small. Mary's family is gentle smiles and clasping hands that grip his shoulder firmly. They welcome John Watson as one of their own, no questions asked. The only people John invites are his sister, and Greg Lestrade. No one else. There is no one else.
Harry casts him looks at the wedding. Glances askance at her brother, as if he might collapse to the floor; shatter to a hundred thousand million pieces, a suncatcher caught spinning on a lopsided axis.
Only Lestrade seems to understand. He stands at John's side as best man, awkward in elegant dress clothes, knowing he doesn't fit the shoes of the man who would have been there in his stead, if not for the dreadful unfairness of life.
Year three brings bell-like laughter, and tiny fingers that fit perfectly around John's, trusting and vulnerable. A round face smiles innocently from a silver frame on the desk at his job as Chief of Surgery.
He's fine. At peace. Not ecstatic, no, not happy, but the closest thing to, given the circumstances of his life. He hasn't thought much of Afghanistan in almost a year; the dreams of rattling gunfire and screaming bullets no longer riddle his head, no longer wake him in the dead of night.
He's not whole, not yet, but he's healing; always healing, getting a little closer to happy every day. There's still a part of him that gapes, an open wound across and through his chest, carving off part of a metaphorical heart. But each year it hurts a little less.
‘John Watson’ sounds incomplete; will always sound wrong and empty and uneven, without the addition of 'Sherlock Holmes' stamped in front, held in place and anchored with a simple three-letter-word: and.
They buy a house, he and Mary. Small, quaint; set in the countryside, among brambles and rambling heath. A big backyard, with tall, sturdy trees for climbing, and a tire swing. Perfect to raise a family.
It's time to leave it behind, that old life. The life of a man fresh from the fires of war; a man who couldn't function without the burn and rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins. The life of crime-solving, of brilliance; life with a man who ran like mad, and hid burning intelligence under a head of unruly black curls.
Time to say goodbye to Baker Street and the grinning skull over the fireplace.
Goodbye to 221B.
To Sherlock Holmes, the one and only consulting detective the world had ever seen and would now never see again.
Time to close the book, crack open a new spine, and start over anew, ink crisp and fresh.
Goodbye to the perfect team. So long and take care, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.