You wander down the lane and far
away, leaving me a song that will not
die. Love is now the stardust of
yesterday, the music of the years
gone by, my stardust melody, the
memory of love’s refrain…
-Nat King Cole
That is what John said when any of the people suddenly surrounding him asked how he was feeling. He meant it. And the facts justified the word.
He was the older by four years.
He was the one who’d been living with a dicey ticker for nearly twenty-five years.
So it stood to reason, didn’t it, that he should have been the first to die. That was what he had rather prepared himself for. So. Surprised, yes.
The other word, the one he kept tucked away inside his head, was Grateful. And he was. Grateful for the way the day had played itself out. And in another way, he was even a little grateful to be the one left behind. The thought of Sherlock being alone was almost too painful to bear.
Of course, he was also completely broken-hearted.
The day started slowly as many of their days did now. John rolled over in their bed to find Sherlock already awake as usual, both arms folded beneath his head as he stared at the ceiling.
“Deep thoughts?” John asked as he moved to rest his head on Sherlock’s chest.
“Do you remember the case of the Bellingham emerald?” Even at seventy-nine, Sherlock’s voice still had the deep timbre that had always caused John to melt a little.
He thought for a moment and then frowned, shaking his head.
Sherlock sighed. “The one you called The Case of the Nodding Princess.”
Memory returned. “Oh, with the dozen bobble-headed Kates? Yes, I remember now.” What he mostly remembered at the moment was his own uncontrollable giggling at the sight of all those ridiculous dolls. He wondered if Sherlock was remembering the same thing. “What about it?”
But Sherlock just gave him a small smile and then shrugged. “Nothing, really. My mind is simply wandering this morning.” He pressed a kiss onto the top of John’s head. “Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Since the day of his heart attack all those years ago, they had started every morning the same way. Sometimes, if they were in the middle of one quarrel or another, the words would be said with gritted teeth, but they were always said.
Sherlock relaxed back against the pillows again. “I want to see if my new yellow rose honey is ready to collect. If it is, I will telephone James.” It had been a tense time in the cottage when it became obvious that Sherlock needed help in extracting and collecting the honey from his hives. Luckily, James, a young man from the village had an interest and was deemed acceptable for the purpose. “Will you come out with me?”
John rarely accompanied Sherlock to the apiary. He was not fond of the bees, although he did appreciate the honey and even more than that he loved to watch Sherlock work with the hives. The bright eyes and boyish enthusiasm reminded him so much of the young man he’d fallen in love with as they vanquished crime on the mean and beautiful streets of London.
So this particular morning he looked into his husband’s eyes and could not resist. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll come with you.”
Now Sherlock beamed a big smile at him.
Still, they were not quite ready to leave the haven of their bed just yet. As they did almost every morning, the two men curled together in a comfortable, familiar way and talked quietly about nothing in particular. It was John’s favorite time of the day.
Finally, however, they rose and showered before going into the kitchen for tea and toast. Sherlock still seemed a bit lost in his own thoughts, but that was no new thing. Several times he seemed about to speak, but no words ever emerged.
John reached across the table and rested his hand on the top of Sherlock’s where it lay on the table. “All right, love?” he asked quietly.
Sherlock blinked. “Fine. Yes, I’m fine.” He seemed to gather himself. “Time for the bees,” he said cheerfully.
John collected his book and a bottle of water before heading out the door just behind Sherlock. Then his husband stopped and turned to look at John. “Thank you,” he said.
“Just for coming out with me today. I shall be glad of the company.”
John only smiled.
They headed for the cove where the hives were kept. Once there, John sat on the bench that Sherlock had installed years earlier, hoping to lure him out more often. Sitting there now, he felt a little sorry that he had not been more accommodating. But Sherlock had never fussed at him about it and he always seemed happy to have John there on those occasions he did come out. This was especially true today. He planted a firm kiss on John’s lips and then set off to check the honey.
John had intended to read, but instead he found himself watching Sherlock. His grace around the hives was always a pleasure to see. In only a few minutes, Sherlock removed his gloves and veiled hat and walked back towards the bench, a small jar in one hand. “It is even better than I anticipated,” he said proudly. He lowered himself to his knees in front of John and then dipped a finger into the golden honey. The finger moved to John’s mouth and he licked it slowly, tasting sweetness and sunshine and Sherlock.
“Oh, that is nice. Brilliant, Sherlock,” he said.
Sherlock smiled at him; he never tired of hearing John’s praise. Then a look of bewilderment crossed his face and one hand pressed against his temple. “John?” he said in a suddenly small voice.
Abruptly, he fell forward into John’s lap.
Somehow, John knew immediately. Still, he felt for a pulse at Sherlock’s neck and found none. He managed to ease them both to the ground and checked again for a sign of life. He even tried some CPR, just because he knew that if he didn’t, it would haunt him.
Finally, he settled with his back against the bench and pulled Sherlock into his lap. He nuzzled silver curls and kissed the familiar face. “Oh, Sherlock,” he said. “You’ve left me all alone here.” Then, absurdly, he felt a little bit guilty. “It’s all right, my love,” he whispered. “I’m not angry. I understand.”
After some time, he reached for his mobile and hit 999.
Then he just waited, whispering, “I love you” over and over.
So. Surprised to be the one left behind.
Immensely grateful that he had been there, so that Sherlock did not die alone.
And so very, very broken-hearted.
That evening, when everyone had finally gone, John walked slowly back to the apiary and sat again on the bench. It was late enough that the stars had appeared and a yellow moon was overhead.
For a few minutes, John just sat and watched the phantom figure of a tall, thin man moving gracefully amongst the hives. Then he spoke quietly.
“I do not know much about you, although he tried to teach me over the years. But one thing I do understand is that you all need to be informed that he has died. The man who cared for you, who loved you for what you are, is dead. I am sure you appreciated the remarkable creature he was. You will miss his tender care.” John ignored the tears that were streaming down his face. “So will I.”
After sitting on the bench for five more minutes, John pushed himself to his feet and walked slowly back to their cottage. His only real comfort lay in the fact that as well as being broken-hearted, he also had a heart that was, in fact, broken. He’d kept secret his growing realisation that for a month or so, things inside his chest had not felt quite as they should have, not wanting to worry Sherlock.
Suddenly John chuckled, as it occurred that the arrogant git had undoubtedly deduced the truth anyway and decided to take things in hand himself.
In any event, if someone had to be left alone, better it was John Watson. After all, he was the soldier. He had always been the strong one, although it was not clear that anyone save the two of them understood that simple fact. If anyone doubted it, all they had to do was take a look at the hiatus. Sherlock always had hope, during his time away, that one day they would be together again. Had he lost that hope, he would probably not have survived and Sherlock himself had said as much many times. John, on the other hand, had no hope. All he had were memories and guilt and grief. But he survived, somehow.
Wearily, he knew that he would survive again, but at least it would not be for as long this time.
Before going into the cottage, John paused to enjoy the night air just for a moment longer. As he stood by the garden wall, he almost thought he could hear the faint sound of violin music, a melody from long ago. A memory of love that would not die.
John Watson hummed the tune as he made himself a cup of tea before bed.
The melody haunts my reverie
and I am once again with you
and our love is new…
-Nat King Cole