Sorrow’s my body on the waves
Sorrow’s a girl inside my cave
I live in a city sorrow built
It’s in my honey, it’s in my milk
Don’t leave my half a heart alone on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
Cause I don’t want to get over you.
I sit and I hear the words. I am numb.
Inoperable. Deep. Intracranial pressure. Terribly sorry. Options. Arrangements.
Sherlock sits next to me, legs crossed. He is calm. “How long do I have?” is all he asks.
The neurosurgeon is a classmate of mine from Bart’s. He’s a good man. He is looking at me with sympathy, presuming what they all do. I don’t mind so much. “A month. At the outside.”
I have more questions but Sherlock is on his feet. “Thank you, Doctor. Come, John.” And he is out of the room. I start to follow.
“John – I’m so sorry,” says my old friend. “We can make him comfortable.”
I laugh. I’m surprised to hear it come out of my mouth. “He’s never been comfortable in his life. No need to start now.”
We say nothing on the cab ride home. I am staring out the window. Look at that. Look at the world, still turning. I feel like I’ve fallen off. Sherlock’s fingers drum on his knee. He is out of the cab before it’s hardly stopped and into the flat, running up the stairs. Then he’s into his files. Looking, tossing, stacking. I have no idea what he’s doing.
I just stand there. “Sherlock.” He doesn’t respond. “Sherlock!”
“I’m not interested in examining my emotional state right now, John, which is clearly your object.”
“Then how about your physical state?”
He snorts. “Given what I’ve just been told, what could possibly matter now?”
“We need to talk about it.”
“About what?” He tossed down a folder and turns to face me. “That I have a month to live?” The words strike me like the deep thump of heavy gunfire, at the base of my spine. “I suspect that it’s you who needs to talk about it.”
“Yes, all right, I do. Sherlock…”
“My only concern is how long I’ll be able to continue my work before I am incapacitated.”
I’m incredulous. “Your work?”
He stops, finally, and faces me. “I depend on you for truth, John. So give me truth now.”
I take a deep breath. Detach. Float it away like a balloon. Tether it to you so you can draw it back later. “Your headaches will get worse. You’ll begin to experience aphasia and difficulty speaking. Your balance will be affected, soon you won’t be able to walk or stand. Your cognitive processes will be impaired and your vision will begin to go. You’ll experience nausea, vertigo, pain and muscle weakness. Eventually you will lose consciousness.”
He nods. “You are no doubt aware that the balance problems and aphasia have already started.” I nod back. “I have no desire to go through all that, John.” He meets my eyes. He looks calm, but I know him as no one else does, perhaps as no one ever has. And I can see right now that Sherlock is scared.
“And I can’t watch you go through that.” Worse than the thought of losing him is the idea of watching his mind deteriorate, vaguely aware that it once was special and amazing but unable to remember how or why. Seeing his boundless energy trapped in a body that will no longer obey his commands, laid low in misery by the foreign growth deep inside his brain.
I know what he wants. God help me, it’s a relief. “I’ll take care of you.”
His face softens minutely. “I know you will.” Then his granite composure is back. “No injections.”
I’m momentarily puzzled. “That’d be the simplest way.”
“I won’t have any suspicion cast upon you. It must be believable that I did it myself. Are there pills?”
“Yes. They’ll take a bit longer. Half an hour. But it’ll be painless.”
“Good. Lay in the pills and we’ll take it one day at a time. I will continue to work and you’ll tell no one of my condition, understood?”
I understand. I understand that I can’t obey this request and he knows that I can’t, but that everyone will preserve the gentle fiction that no one knows. “All right.”
“We’ll decide when it’s time. Whoever wishes to see me, I suppose I ought to allow it, but I will spend the last day alone.”
My throat tightens. “Alone?”
“Yes. So I hope you’ll be able to beg off the surgery that day. It’ll be short notice.”
Relief swamps me. “Ah. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
He hears something in my voice and takes a step closer. “John. When I said ‘alone’ what I meant was…” He clears his throat. “Well. I hope that’s acceptable to you.”
Acceptable. My best friend has just informed me that he’d like to spend his last day on earth alone with me. There is no part of that which is acceptable.
My mind has not yet touched the reality that he is leaving. I can barely remember life without him in it. He’s slyly inserted himself into all my memories, as if he’d been there all along. He’s there in Afghanistan, sitting on the next cot, commenting on the other men, bothering me when I’m trying to stitch someone up. He’s at Bart’s, interrupting my study time to drag me over to the morgue, stealing my textbooks and marking them up in red pen when he finds errors. He’s at school with me, at home, in the park I played in as a child.
I stand in our living room and watch him go back to his files. At some point over the past two years he and I have become a hybrid. Sherlock-and-John. The graft has been so complete that even when we’re separated, for days or weeks as has occasionally occurred, I still feel the invisible seam that joins me to him. For a moment, I’m angry. Because he won’t be the one who’ll have to cut away half of himself and go back to being a singular entity. John-and-[redacted]. The seam will remain, though. I will bear the scar down my center to remind me of what I’ve lost.
We introduce each other as flatmates. What we really mean is that we’re friends. People sometimes assume that we’re lovers. None are accurate descriptions. I’m not sure the English language has a word for what we are. Harry once called us “hetero life partners.” Sherlock liked that. It made him laugh. I don’t know if that covers it, either. We’re just – well, we’re just us.
All I know is that there is a deep pit in my chest and it’s yawning wide and hollow and in a minute it’s going to swallow me and I can’t let him see that. “I need to go out for awhile,” I say. My guilt at leaving him alone given the news he’s just been given is mitigated by the knowledge that he’d rather be alone than have to deal with me expressing any emotion.
He just gives me a terse nod. “See you later.”
I turn and clatter down the stairs. My stomach is cramping. I have to hold onto the wall for a moment. I make it outside and hail a cab.
I keep it together until I get to Sarah’s. Yet another relationship in my life that defies categorization. Girlfriend? No. Friend? Yes, but more. Shag buddy? On occasion. These terms might apply, except she’s been more privy to what I go through with Sherlock than anyone. She knows about the seam. It’s made us unable to have what we started out hoping for, but yet unable to retreat into a safe zone of friendship. So we hover here in the land of undefined. She dates other people. I just have Sherlock.
She sees my face and pulls me inside. “What’s happened?”
I’m shaking. “Sherlock.”
“What’s he done now?”
“He’s gone and gotten himself a bloody brain tumor.”
She holds me while I have an honest-to-God sobbing breakdown of the sort that I probably ought to be embarrassed about, but somehow living with Sherlock’s perpetual detachment has left me remarkably unselfconscious about whatever it is that I feel myself. I’ve become an avatar for his humanity. I must express all the emotion that he suppresses, so I end up doing double duty.
I tell her about the pills I need, and about Sherlock’s plan. I half-expect her to object, but she just nods and offers her assistance.
“How long do you think it’ll be before he’s – had enough?” she asks, quietly.
I am holding a cold washcloth over my swollen face. I can’t go home looking like this. “I don’t think more than a couple of weeks. It’s going so bloody fast, Sarah. I first noticed he was having headaches just last week, for fuck’s sake.” I hear my voice cracking.
Sarah smooths the hair back from my temple. “I’m so sorry, John.”
“It isn’t fair. Why him?”
“But he’s – we need him. People don’t know what he does, how much he does.” I scrub at my face with the damp cloth and let my head fall back to the couch. “I’ve got to get back. I need time off work. He shouldn’t be alone. He may need medical help at any time.”
She shakes her head. “Of course. But that isn’t why.” I just look at her. “It’s okay to admit it.”
“That you want to spend as much time with him as possible before the end.”
My lip trembles again. The end. The end of him. God, it can’t be true. “I thought there was all the time in the world.”
Sarah hugs me again and I cry some more. I feel silly but it’s best to get it out now. I can’t do this in front of Sherlock.
And she’s right. As soon as I’m back home, I won’t be leaving his side again.
He works. I don’t go to the surgery. We take case after case. He doesn’t sleep, so neither do I. I catch quick naps when he’s taking a bath, or when he’s busy with something I can’t help him with.
I take Lestrade aside and quietly explain the situation. He looks stricken, but he pulls it together quickly. I promise to let him know when the decision is made. I do the same for Angelo. I know that he’ll spread the word.
Sherlock is adamant that we not tell Mrs. Hudson. For once, I agree. If we do, we’ll never keep her out from underfoot. We’ll wait until it can’t be put off any longer.
Sarah brings me the pills. Two pills, white and smooth. I keep them on me at all times. He will not take them without my assistance, and it’d be like him to grow frustrated and just say to hell with it, swallow them down in a fit of pique, and the notion of coming back from the shops and finding him – well. I keep the pills on my person.
For a few days he seems no worse. Then, that tightness in his face that signals a headache stops going away with the painkillers I give him. He stumbles now and then. I stand closer to him when we’re out at crime scenes.
One week after his diagnosis, I find him throwing up in the bathroom. He is pale and sweaty. I give him some compazine and it seems to help.
That day he has his first significant aphasia episode. He stands there ready to lay it out, and suddenly the words won’t come. I see his jaw working, his eyes, his mind ready to show us how the clues fit together, and words won’t come to him. He looks up at me with panic behind his eyes, just barely visible behind the veil that always cloaks Sherlock’s emotional state, the veil that normally only I see behind, and then only rarely. “John,” he stammers.
“What’s that?” I say, pointing to something, anything not related to what he was about to say.
He looks away. “It’s a late-model Citroen.” And he takes a deep breath, comes back and is able to lay out his deduction for us. Sally is frowning. Lestrade sighs and we exchange a quick glance.
I’m coming home from the shops and I meet Mycroft coming down. He looks pale and worn. “Oh, John,” he says, mildly. “Sorry I missed you.”
“Then you shouldn’t have waited until I went out to come by,” I say, irritable. If Mycroft thinks I’m that stupid then he hasn’t been paying attention.
“Sherlock had some business matters to discuss with me.”
I nod. “I’d better get upstairs.” I don’t have time for him right now.
Sherlock is sitting in the leather chair, his legs folded under him. He motions me into the other chair. “Sit down, John. There’s business. I dislike wasting time on such things, but it seems to be necessary.”
I sit down. “What is it?”
He holds out some paperwork. I recognize it. It’s a durable power of attorney agreement. “In the event that our plans go awry,” he said. “Should I collapse or have a dramatic downturn, you’ll be empowered to make medical decisions for me.”
I would have thought that I’d have some feeling about this, but I don’t. It’s as he says. Just business. The business of dying. I sign the papers. “There.”
He’s frowning. “I didn’t expect you to be so – equitable.”
“We won’t need it. You’ll do this on your terms.”
“I hope you’re right.” He clears his throat. “I’ve updated my will. You get everything, except a few items of family sentiment that will go to Mycroft. Feel free to distribute anything of mine to any acquaintances as you see fit.”
I sigh. “I don’t want what was yours, Sherlock.”
“Then burn it all,” he says, an edge coming into his voice. “What difference does it make? Everything of mine is yours anyway, none of it matters, and I won’t know what’s done with my possessions either way, so take what you like of me and put out the rest for the dustmen.”
I just look at him. He looks back. I am deafened by the noise of all that we’re not saying.
Two days later Sherlock stumbles twice and nearly falls. The second time I guide him to a nearby bench and sit him down. He has been very quiet this day.
“I can’t see out of my right eye, John,” he whispers. I can hear a tremor in his voice. “It went away about half an hour ago.”
I just nod. “We should go home.”
“This case is almost done. Let’s finish it.” He looks at me, pleading.
“I wish I could stop this,” I whisper.
He reaches out and grabs my hand. I grip it tightly. I profoundly do not care if anyone gets the wrong idea.
We finish the case. Sherlock hangs on to me as we climb the stairs to our flat. His balance has gotten alarmingly worse just in the last day.
I sit him down and take his blood pressure. It’s high. His pulse is racing. He has a temperature. His pupil response is uneven. He can read the results on my face. I start to get up and he holds me back. “John,” he says, and I know what’s coming.
“Not yet,” I murmur.
I meet his eyes. “Please, Sherlock.”
“It’s Wednesday, isn’t it?”
He sighs. “Friday night, then.”
This is the plan. Two days’ notice. The first day will be for the people in his life to just happen to drop by to ask him a question or give him something. The second day is for us.
The pills feel very heavy in my pocket.
The next morning, Sherlock’s headache is so bad he can barely withstand light. I’ve laid in some stronger analgesics for this, and they help. He insists on wearing his normal clothes. He pretends that he isn’t planning on seeing anyone today, but he knows what’s coming.
Our first order of business is the one we dread the most. It’s time to tell Mrs. Hudson. We go downstairs to her flat and sit her down.
She weeps and clings to him. Sherlock hugs her back and assures her that he isn’t in pain, that it’ll all be very peaceful. She hugs me, too. She wants to come upstairs with us and look after us but Sherlock is insistent. We promise to call on her again tomorrow. She deserves an exception to Sherlock’s “alone” stipulation.
Molly is our first visitor. She’s making an extra-special effort to be cheerful and pretend that she’s totally ignorant of everything she’s not supposed to know. “I’ve been collecting some more tattoos for you,” she says, handing him a stack of photographs.
“Thank you,” he says.
“I’ve made notes on the back with the information you always take, so you can file them.”
“How thoughtful. I’m sure these will come in handy.”
Molly is biting her lip. “So – I’ve got a John Doe in. If he isn’t claimed, you can come do that experiment with the kneecaps if you like.”
“Grand. When will that be?”
“We have to wait a week.” She knows what she’s saying.
Sherlock smiles. “I’ll see you then.”
Her face crumples a bit, but she recovers quickly. “I must be off,” she says, jumping up. She looks down at him for a moment, then bends and kisses his cheek. “Goodbye, Sherlock,” she manages.
He seems a little touched. “Best of luck, Molly.”
She turns and flees with barely a look at me. I hear her start to cry as she reaches the door. Sherlock fetches a deep sigh.
“I hope the others put up a better front,” he says.
Unfortunately, Sally Donovan is our next visitor, and she’s a terrible actress. She’s far too cheerful and can’t seem to bring herself to insult him as she normally would. It’s unnerving. She leaves after only a few minutes, looking disgusted with herself. I corner her at the door. “You could have made an effort,” I say, under my breath.
“He doesn’t deserve this,” she says.
“All the more reason. I made it very clear that you all were to treat him normally. That wasn’t normal.”
“How’m I supposed to call him ‘freak’ and insult him when I know that tomorrow night…” She trails off. “I don’t know how you’re doing this.”
“I’ll do what I have to.”
She snorts. “Some things don’t change. Goodbye, John.”
Anderson shows up just after lunch. “Here,” he snarls, tossing a paper bag at Sherlock. “The fiber samples you wanted. You’d better work some kind of miracle of deduction on them, too, because it’s all we’ve got.”
Sherlock smirks. “I’m sure it’ll be more than enough evidence even for you, Anderson.”
“It boggles the mind that you’re allowed anywhere near an official inquiry.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth.”
“I’ll not stand here and be insulted by you!” Anderson snaps.
“Then take a seat, you’ll be more comfortable!” Sherlock snaps back, looking almost gleeful.
“I don’t have time for this.” He stabs his hands back into his gloves. “You are an insufferable bastard.”
“And you’re a walking redefinition of ignorance.”
“Have a nice life.” Anderson stalks out of the room. I follow him to the door.
“Thanks,” I murmur.
He looks at me and I swear he looks almost regretful. “Take care of him.”
We barely have a moment’s peace that day. Sherlock is glad for it. I’m less so. I’m jealous of the time he has left, every precious minute that goes by is one I don’t get to spend with him, not as long as there are other people trooping through, one right after another. Some people he’s helped stop by, just to bring him some pastries, no reason, just thought you might like these, oh I was just passing a florist and saw this bouquet and thought it might brighten things up in here, oh, these silly chocolates, I was taking them to my sister, you don’t happen to want them, do you?
Night falls. Sherlock hasn’t been out of the chair much today. I need to see how his balance is, so during an intermission I get him up and watch him walk about. He seems more or less steady. I make him tea.
Lestrade shows up just past eight. With him, we can’t keep up the front, because there is some level of official business we must attend to.
“I’ll do what I can to make sure there isn’t an inquiry.”
“I’ll take the pills myself, of my own free will. But John could still be blamed for not stopping me. He’s a medical professional, he has an affirmative obligation to prevent others from doing themselves harm.”
“All he has to do is say that he was out of the room and didn’t know you’d taken anything until it was too late.
Sherlock nods. “I suppose that’ll have to do.”
“I’ll take the risk, Sherlock.” Good Lord, I’ve thrown myself in front of bombs and bullets and rampaging Vikings for this man, now he’s worried about the risk to me?
“No,” he says, sharply. “I won’t have you risk anything.”
“Look,” Lestrade says, “I’m about 98% that I can quash any kind of investigation. It’s illegal, yeah, but in cases like this – most of us would just as soon look the other way, anyhow.”
Sherlock doesn’t look satisfied by this. “I want your assurance that John won’t come under any suspicion.”
Lestrade nods. “You have it, to the best of my ability.” He gives us a slantwise smile. “Mind if I run a few things by you?”
Sherlock perks up. “By all means.”
Lestrade spends the next half hour outlining clues, circumstances, situations, and taking down Sherlock’s thoughts. I sit on the arm of Sherlock’s chair, interjecting when warranted, mostly just listening to the sound of his voice. At one point I look down to see that Sherlock is holding onto my jumper, just a slight pinch of my sleeve between two fingers on his right hand, as if he’s just reassuring himself that I’m there – or perhaps that he’s still here.
I pick up from contextual clues that many of the cases Lestrade is mentioning are very cold ones. Years back, even decades. I realize that it’s his last chance. It’s Sherlock’s, too. I wonder if it’s going to be harder for him to leave life, or leave his work. Is there any distinction between the two in his mind?
We’re expecting Mycroft at ten. Sarah slips in at nine thirty. I’m surprised to see her. “Didn’t you know?” she says. “He texted me. Asked me to come.”
I’m puzzled. She and Sherlock haven’t had the most amicable of associations. I’ve had moments when I felt like the flag at the center of the tug-of-war rope. My few male acquaintances always ragged on me because Sherlock inevitably won. They didn’t understand. Sherlock always wins. He’s like a celestial body with his own gravity well, trapping me in orbit.
Sarah comes upstairs with me. Sherlock brightens to see her, and beckons her to come sit with him. He looks at me pointedly. “John, could I have some tea, please?”
I nod. He wants to talk to her alone.
I linger in the kitchen, peeking out at them, their heads close together, talking intently. They don’t talk for long, though. She stands up and I see her squeeze his hand. I pass Sherlock his tea and walk her to the door.
When she turns around there are tears in her eyes. She hugs me tightly. “What did he want?” I ask.
“What do you think?” She pulls back. “He wanted me to look after you. He said, ‘John will take it hard.’ Wanted me to see that you eat and sleep. Right after, you know.”
“Hmm. Someone’s certainly sure of his importance.” I go for levity and it falls extremely flat.
“I think it’s more that someone’s got no more time for pretenses,” she said. She meets my eyes. “John, you must do what you think is right. I can’t tell you how to feel. I can’t tell you what’s true. I can tell you that he’s dying and you’re all he’s thinking of.”
Sarah leaves and for a few minutes, we’re alone. “Are you tired?” I ask, sitting across from him, our knees almost touching.
“I’m all right.”
I take a deep breath. “Sherlock, I have to ask one more time. Are you sure about your mother?”
He meets my eyes. “I’m sure.”
He and Mycroft have decided that she isn’t to be told until it’s over. Sherlock’s thinking is that it will be less cruel, less painful to her not to know anything until it’s done. I think it’s more cruel to deny her the chance to say goodbye. But on this point they are firm and in agreement as they rarely are about anything. I make one last-ditch effort. I’m rather fond of Sherlock’s mother, and I have a feeling she’ll never forgive me for this. Not just for not telling her, but for having a whole day with him when she got nothing. “She ought to have the chance that all these other people are getting,” I say.
“Mummy despises goodbyes, she’s crap at them. She wouldn’t know what to do. No, it’s better this way. And it isn’t just for her,” Sherlock says now. His head is weaving a bit. Painkillers. He meets my eyes. “I can’t, John. I can’t do it. I can’t look in her eyes and do this.”
On impulse I reach out and grasp his hands. His long fingers twine around mine tightly, gratefully. “I understand.” I do, in a way. Sherlock has two equally horrible options. I suppose he has the right to choose the one that’ll cause him the least anguish in his last hours.
Then Mycroft is there, and I move aside to make room for him. Sherlock asks me to stay with his eyes, so I resume my perch on the arm of his chair.
I feel that small tug at my jumper again. Hanging on by his fingertips.
Mycroft seems a bit broken as he leaves. I’m not sure Sherlock sees. He actually embraces his brother before he departs. He’s not totally phobic about contact like that. He hugs Mrs. Hudson all the time, and he hugs me on a fairly regular basis. But he and Mycroft just aren’t like that.
Mycroft pulls me into the hall. “I hope you know what I’m trusting you with,” he says.
I nod. “You don’t have to worry.”
“Oddly, I never have. Not where you’re concerned. Hmm. Interesting, that.”
When I come back upstairs, Sherlock is on his feet. He looks relatively steady. “I think I ought to sleep,” he says.
I grin. “There’s something I never thought I’d hear you say.”
He smiles a little. “What else does a man do when his work is finished?”
My grin falls away. Finished.
I help him into bed once he’s changed. “John, I…” He stops, his mouth open, then waves it off.
“No, what is it?”
He sighs. “I think I don’t want to be alone.”
I nod. “I’ll be right back, all right?” He just looks up at me with large eyes. His illness and medications are stripping off some of his defenses. It’s impressive he’s retained as much of himself as he has. What he’s been through, most people are reduced to blubbering shadows of their former selves.
I change into pajamas and go back down to his room. I climb into bed with him. It does not feel strange to do so. He scoots closer to my side, just so he can rest his temple against my shoulder. We lie there for awhile, not sleeping. Eventually, Sherlock drifts off. I stare down at his slack face. I can’t seem to look away. I can’t think about the fact that in twenty-four hours I will never see this face again. It is all strange angles and hollows and unearthly pallor, made worse by his condition.
I don’t sleep. I just watch him. I watch the rise and fall of his chest with his breath and I can’t stop imagining the moment that I am soon to witness, and I catch the merest glimpse of the pain that is in store for me later. I can’t allow myself to feel it now. I have to be present for him, for these last hours, I have to push it far from me until it’s over, but I know. I know what I am in for.
I hate the universe. I hate whatever forces govern it, be they deities or fates or the tides of randomness. Whoever or whatever they are, I hate them for bringing me into his orbit. I hate Mike Stamford for introducing us. I hate whoever it was who shot me and brought me home from Afghanistan. I hate Britain for the size of my pension that made me need a flatshare. I hate this flat for being charming enough that I didn’t turn round and leave the first I saw it. I hate him for being interesting and drawing me in so thoroughly that I didn’t say to hell with you, and find a boring flatmate.
A boring flatmate. Do such things exist? Could I have had one? What would my life have looked like these past two years if I had? I don’t know if I would trade life with Sherlock for anything.
Even if it meant that my heart wouldn’t be breaking now.
He seems better in the morning. A temporary reprieve, but well-timed. We don’t rush. Today is the day. His last day.
“What do you want to do?” I ask. The idea of choosing how to spend one’s last day on earth is so horrifyingly complex that I’m sure it would paralyze me, but I’m equally sure that he has a plan.
He is looking out the window, fully dressed, and for just a moment, it’s as if nothing’s happened. All is well.
I hate everything.
“I’d like to go out,” he says.
“Out? Where?” I feel that jealous pull again. I need this time, damn it all. Where does he want to go?
“Out. Into the city.”
Oh. That might be all right. “Take a tour around? Your favorite spots?”
“Just so.” He turns from the window. “There are three things in the world I really care about, so I’d like to use this time to say goodbye to each. The first is my work. I took care of that last night. The second is this city. So let’s do that now.”
I know the answer but I have to ask. Damn my insecurity. “What’s the third?”
He looks at me, vaguely scolding. “John. Surely you don’t need me to tell you that.”
We head out. We take cabs so as not to tire him. We go to Trafalgar Square. Hyde Park. We walk in silence. Sherlock’s balance is tolerable, but he holds onto my arm. He looks around, taking everything in.
We stop to rest on a bench by the river. I go to the railing and look down at the water. “Are we going to talk about it?” I finally say.
I laugh, derisive. As if there’s another topic on hand. “The fact that you’re going to die tonight.”
“What’s to say?”
“A great deal! Sherlock – I’m…I don’t…”
He grabs my sleeve and pulls me back to sit on the bench. “I’ve made my peace with it.” He meets my eyes. “I never expected to live a long life, John. Always thought I’d meet my end at an early age. Never thought it’d be like this, though. Thought I’d be shot, or blown up. Thought at the very least I’d take someone with me, someone the world needed gone. The idea never troubled me. It’s only of late that the idea of leaving this life began to be – distressing.”
“I never had anyone to leave behind. Anyone who’d miss me.” He looks at me again and there is something raw behind his eyes. “Will you miss me, John?”
My throat feels pinhole-thin. I swallow hard. “Till the end of my days, Sherlock.”
The flat is quiet. We stop in to see Mrs. Hudson. She’s keeping her composure. She hugs Sherlock again, then me.
We go upstairs. I shut the door behind us. Night has fallen and I’m adrift. I don’t know what to do, or if there’s a plan. He sits in his chair. I hover nearby. He looks up at me. “Will you get the pills, John?”
My heart turns to ice and my stomach drops. “Now? But…now?”
His voice is gentle. “What’s the point of delay?”
“The point? I don’t know, I just – does it have to be now?”
“Let’s just get the pills. So we’re ready.”
I go into the kitchen on numb feet and draw a glass of water. The pills are in my pocket. I put them in a small dish and go back into the living room. He is watching me. I sink to the floor in front of his chair, kneeling between his feet. I am holding the glass and the dish but I make no move to hand them to him.
He reaches down and takes them from me, but he sets them on the table at his side. He leans forward, hands folded before him. “No, I shouldn’t mind dying, John. It’s what we all owe. And I’m glad to be able to choose my terms.” He pauses and waits until I look up at him. “I don’t mind, except…” He swallows hard. “Except for you. I regret whatever pain this will cause you. I don’t claim to know its nature. I only know that I have spent some time imagining how I would feel if our places were reversed.”
I am trying to memorize his face. I don’t know what I’m going to say until I hear it emerge. “I really thought I’d be spending the rest of my life with you,” I say.
He smirks a little. “That’s all you planned? Rather limited, isn’t it?”
“No, I mean – no matter what else happened, who else I met, or what else I was, before anything else I’d be – this,” I say, making a vague motion in the air between us.
He nods. “I suppose in some sense, I am fortunate.”
“I do get to spend the rest of my life with you.”
I am undone.
I feel his hands on my hair as I weep, my forehead resting on his knees. I’m helpless. I have failed. “I’m supposed to keep you safe,” I say through my tears. “I can’t stop this. I’m sorry I can’t fix this.”
“You have fixed it, John. It’s because of you that I can go out this way, the way I want.” He slips a hand beneath my chin and tips my head up. He holds my face between his hands and rests his forehead against mine. I hang onto his wrists because I have to hang on to something. “I am not a man to make pronouncements or confessions,” he says, quietly.
“I don’t need any.”
“Good. I trust my actions speak well enough.”
I nod. He releases me and backs off. He reaches for the dish and the glass. I get out my mobile and send two texts. One to Lestrade, one to Sarah. This is the arrangement. I send the texts when he takes the pills. They will each come to the flat in one hour. Lestrade will come for Sherlock. Sarah will come for me.
Sherlock meets my eyes once more, then he swallows the pills with a drink of water. He sets the dishes aside with an air of finality.
It’s done. Over the next thirty minutes he will drift away.
I stand up and his eyes follow me. I reach out for his hand and pull him to his feet. He is looking at me, puzzled. I lead him over to the couch and sit down in the corner. He gets the idea and sits next to me. I keep hold of his hand.
He is breathing slowly, deliberately. I want to talk but I don’t know what to say, or if it will help either of us. He looks at me. “John…” he begins, and I see the fear in his eyes. “I thought I was ready for this.” His voice shakes.
“I’m here, Sherlock.”
“I’m afraid, John.” I have never heard his voice so small.
Nothing I ever do will ever be this important again.
I pull him into my arms and tuck his head down to my shoulder. He is so thin. He folds into an unbelievably small space, fitted into my lap; my arms can encircle him completely. He grasps a handful of my jumper and lets out a shaky breath. “Just relax,” I whisper.
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“I don’t want you to go.”
We are skating near the edge. Dull horror floods me. I desperately don’t want to hear it. Just as desperately, I don’t want to say it. Right now, I am losing my best friend, and that is bad enough. I don’t know if I could stand to lose more. I cannot look at the future that we’re now being denied and admit that we could have had anything other than the friendship I already know. If I look down that road which is now closed and see something else there, always glimpsed but never reached for, never acknowledged, it might really break me for good.
But this isn’t about me. If he needs it, then it’ll be said. And God help me.
I feel his limbs loosening. “John,” he says, and the word is slurred. “Need to see you.”
I shift him around in my arms until we’re face to face. His eyelids are slack. He is shaking. “Sherlock, just look at me. Don’t think. Don’t try to hang on. You just look at me, okay?”
He does. His eyes flick over my face like he’s trying to do what I was doing earlier, and memorize me. I know that I won’t be spared, because he hasn’t been.
I kiss his lips, gently. I feel the tension sag away from him and his hand on my face. I hold him close, our foreheads together again. His eyelids are flickering now. He kisses me back, straining like it’s taking the last of his strength. His hands clench in my jumper and his eyes blaze as he looks at me. “I want you to be the last thing I see,” he rasps.
I hold his gaze. I feel every second like a blade against my skin but I hold it. I won’t look away because this is sacred and I’m long past the point of salvage anyway. He takes a few deep breaths and sags. His eyes close.
He is sleeping now. It won’t be long.
I gather him close, wrap myself around him. I kiss his face over and over. I’m aware that I’m talking to him but I don’t know what I’m saying. I may be telling him I love him. I may be telling him I’ve never loved anyone else and never will. I may be cursing him for leaving me. I really have no idea. It doesn’t matter. Those things are all true, whether I am telling him or not.
He takes his last breath a few minutes later. Exhale, and then – nothing.
I stare down at his face. It is not real.
He can’t hear me now. So I say it all again and this time I know I’m doing it. I talk to him until my voice gives out.
Lestrade and Sarah are there. When did they arrive? They are leaning over us, their faces sad. Sarah is crying. Lestrade has come with the men from the funeral home who’ll take him away. I won’t let them. Sarah has her arm around me and finally she and Lestrade coax me into releasing him. I can’t watch. I go to the window and Sarah hugs me from behind. I hear the rustlings and the wheels on the stairs and the clanking of the gurney and they’re nearly gone before I stop them.
“Wait. One moment.” I must sound calm enough for them to stop when I say so. He is covered with a sheet. I go to the gurney and peel the sheet back.
I just look. Perhaps I had something to say but it’s gone now. It’s too late. The man I’ve lost wasn’t just my best friend, not now.
They take him away. Lestrade hugs me, and it’s a bit alarming, but I need it. He leaves, and Sarah watches me like a hawk.
I walk across the living room toward the couch. I make it halfway there. My legs slowly buckle and I am sitting on the floor, staring into space. She joins me there and holds my hand.
I feel nothing.
His funeral is well attended. This does not surprise me. Many people admired Sherlock. Many more couldn’t stand him. But nobody who ever came in contact with him ever forgot it, and it seems as if all of them are compelled to be here.
I am being treated as the grieving widower. Mourner in Chief. It really ought to be his mother, but everyone seems to think this arrangement entirely appropriate, including the woman herself.
Despite my fears, she doesn’t blame me. Mycroft says that she hates goodbyes and wouldn’t have known how to handle Sherlock’s, so it’s just as well. She seems to understand this. She hugs me and tells me she’s so glad that he had me with him in his final hours.
I stand up to give his eulogy. I only do it because I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. I talk about his brilliance, his dedication to his work. I talk about the people he helped and the criminals he brought to justice. I don’t talk about how he made me feel alive, or the way his eyes glowed when the sunlight slid behind them from the side.
I tell the mourners that he was my friend, and I am honored to have known and worked with him. I don’t tell them that I loved him, and that I love him still, and that if I had one wish in the world it would be that I could make it stop.
Sherlock’s left me everything. He had more money than I suspected. He certainly had never needed a flatmate. But I’d known for some time that my presence served many purposes, the very smallest of which was financial. I find myself well off for the time being. I take some time off from the surgery. I spend it reorganizing the flat.
One night I open up one of his scrapbooks. Collections of crimes, deductions, examples. His notes scrawled everywhere in his spidery handwriting. I sit with it and I hear him taking me through it. I read the whole thing. Then I read the next, and the next.
Within a month I have read everything of his in the flat. I’ve brought in filing cabinets to organize his messy clippings. I can put my hand to any piece of reference I need within seconds. I don’t know why I feel I must have that ability, but I have it, nonetheless.
Lestrade calls me about six weeks after the funeral. “Strange case,” he says. “Man found dead, not a mark on him. Locked room, no windows.”
“And?” I say, puzzled.
“Will you come?”
He sighs. “You’re the next best thing, John.”
So I go. Everyone stares. I must look terribly out of place without a tall, black-clad figure by my side. I shut my eyes before I enter the room, and when I open them again, he is there with me.
I look, and I see things I would not have seen before. I don’t fool myself that I see all that he would have seen. But I see a great deal. It turns out that I see enough.
I turn to Lestrade as I leave. “I’m not like him, Greg. I’m glad to help if I can. But I’ll be charging for it.”
He grins. “As you like, Doctor Watson.”
The next time, I am faster. The time after that, I am more thorough.
I sit at home with casefiles, and we talk it out. “What do you make of the wallet?” he asks me.
“He was at the gym the night before.”
“How can you tell?” He’s dubious. Sherlock never set much store by traditional routes of inquiry. Wallets, diaries, phone calls. Too obvious.
“He’s got a thick stack of cards in here. Credit cards, membership cards, bank cards. His cheque card is second from the back. That’s the card most people use the most frequently, so he must have been in the habit of using his cards and then sliding them to the back of the stack. The gym card is at the very back, so he must have used it after he used his cheque card the last time. Most people don’t go very long without using their cheque card, so he probably was at the gym the night before he died.”
“Hmm. I’m impressed.”
I smile. “You’d never say that if you were really here.”
“I am wounded by that accusation, John.”
Sometimes I can almost see him. I shut my eyes and picture him. “I love you.”
He doesn’t answer. He never does when I say that.
Six months out, I resign from the surgery. I have new business cards. John Watson, M.D. Consulting detective.
Still the only one in the world.