After Mary Died
Sherlock is at home, for once. He doesn't spend much time at 221B these days, since the rooms are now his alone. His public explanation, too quiet, is only an approximation of the actual reason, too lonely, but Sherlock knows better than to share that kind of information with just anyone.
Plus, it might get back to John. And he doesn't want John thinking him lonely. John has a wife to care for, and as he has told Sherlock several times since the wedding eight months ago, Mary comes first. Sherlock understands this, logically. How he feels about it emotionally is immaterial.
But tonight there are no cases to pull him away from these rooms, so he lays on the sofa, inert, bored. It would take an Act of Parliament for him to get up now. Actually, hadn't Mycroft tried that once?
His phone, resting on the mantelpiece next to the skull, begins to ring. Sherlock can't be bothered to rise from the sofa. Everyone knows if it's really important, text.
Moments later the phone rings again. Sherlock crooks an eyebrow. Odd. He still doesn't rise.
A few minutes go by, and his phone chirps. Ah ha, that's a text. Sherlock rises and takes up the phone.
11:15pm: Missed call from John Watson
11:17pm: Missed call from John Watson
11:38pm: Text from DI Lestrade
Sherlock opens the text.
Bart's, now, you idiot. John needs you.
Sherlock sprints into the ICU at Bart's, coat billowing behind him, heedless of the orderlies attempting to make him slow. He rounds the corner. Lestrade is the first familiar face he sees, and one of the only ones, he notices, not covered in tears.
Lestrade sees him and separates himself from the crowd.
"He's in the room, just there, Sherlock. Harry's with him, and Mary's parents too. Just give them a moment."
Sherlock suddenly feels a very familiar emotion—anger—directed at a very unusual source—himself. If he'd picked up his stupid phone, he'd have been the first one here, he'd have been the one with John, not stuck out here in the hallway. He'd be where he belongs.
Sherlock inhales. "What happened?"
Lestrade shakes his head. "Heart attack, if you can believe it. Apparently some sort of genetic thing, weak heart valve or something, she was born with it. But no one knew."
Sherlock furrowed his brow. "So no foul play?"
"God, no, thank goodness."
"Then why are you here?"
Lestrade shoots a look up at him, and Sherlock hears John's voice in his mind. Not Good.
"I've got friends on the paramedic team, they messaged me when they got John's emergency call."
Even Lestrade knew before Sherlock did. Sherlock feels the anger at himself grow stronger, and suddenly the hallway is wrong, all wrong, just wrong, and stupid, and he needs to be near John, he is pushing past Lestrade, elbowing nurses out of the way ('that poor young woman, that poor young woman,' is all he can hear them say), shoving open doors and standing in the doorway of the sitting room and John is looking at him and Harry (Harry, he remembers Harry from the wedding, wore a suit, she did, wearing pajamas now, odd) is looking at him and two older people Sherlock feels must be Mary's parents (doesn't remember them from the wedding, didn't really pay attention to Mary or anything having to do with Mary unless it directly had to do with John) are looking at him and there are tears in all eyes but the only two that matter (everyone's crying, John is not crying, John can't cry, John is beyond crying) and Sherlock crosses the room in two strides and kneels at John's feet (John is pale, John is never pale but right now John is paler than I've ever seen him and I can't fix it and I can't fix this and I don't know what to do and I never don't know what to do) and John's brown eyes meet Sherlock's grey ones.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock manages.
"Oh, Sherlock…" John whispers.
Sherlock digs his hands into John's shoulders and feels him shaking.
Mycroft was an idiot. Mary Morstan-Watson was royalty (because John was royalty, in all ways that mattered, anyone could see that), there was no logical reason, Sherlock had argued, that they couldn't hold the funeral at Westminster Abbey, or at least, St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, but Mycroft pointed out that no matter how much the Holmes family cared about them, the Morstan family hardly warranted a state funeral. So the wake and funeral were held in a normal funeral home.
Mycroft was an idiot. He had, though, Sherlock notices, sent a beautiful display of flowers.
Sherlock stands in the corner, the one farthest from the coffin. Odd. Sherlock has seen dozens, hundreds, of dead bodies. They were one of his favorite things, usually, the secrets they could tell, the delightful puzzling out of lives and histories and causes and motives.
The body of Mary Morstan-Watson, though, preserved and prepared for an open-casket viewing, is not one over which he desires to linger. This is both Odd and Not Odd.
Mourners file past him, past where John is sitting with Mary's parents (the family sitting area, what a stupid tradition, stupid because it meant Sherlock wasn't to sit there), offering condolences, paying respects, saying a prayer at the casket (John was not religious, John had asked for no displays of religion, people were praying anyway, people were handing John prayer cards, people were stupid).
Sherlock's eyes rest on John. John looks smaller than usual and very, very far away. Sherlock wonders where he's gone, wonders whether he'll come back. Sherlock wants very badly to bring him back.
This death business. It's not nearly as fun when you're on the other side.
Movement from the family area. Mary's father stands, moves toward the casket. Some spirit has seized him, a break in the fog of grief, and he prostrates himself in front of Mary (what had once been Mary) and begins to sob.
"My girl, my beautiful little girl…"
All mourners but two take a step toward Mr. Morstan. John shoots out of his chair and makes a break for the exit. Sherlock follows.
In the hallway of the funeral home, Sherlock finds John leaning, facing the wall, resting his head on his arms. He stands next to John for a moment, listening to the smaller man draw heavy, ragged breaths. John is still not crying. Sherlock is not sure whether or not this is Odd.
They simply stand together, one man against the wall, the other just inches away, as the mumble and rustle of the wake proceeds in the room opposite.
Sherlock raises a hand (the impulse to do so is definitely Odd, but Sherlock acts on it nonetheless) and places it on John's shoulder. John looks up, turns and faces Sherlock (my God those eyes are so, so far away) then hurtles himself into Sherlock's arms.
He does not cry. He simply shakes. "I can't Sherlock, I just can't, I can't…"
Sherlock gives John a deep sideways squeeze and, without thinking, a quick kiss on the forehead that both will immediately forget and then, a long time later, remember. "I've got you, John."
John has decided to move back into 221B. John's family thinks this is a bad idea, they say things like "John, isn't it too soon?" and "John, you don't want to keep the flat you shared with her?" and, more quietly, when they think Sherlock isn't listening ,"John, are you sure living with Sherlock is the best thing for you right now?"
But Sherlock knows. Sherlock stands next to John as he packs up the small flat he had shared with Mary. Sherlock notices what others don't. He sees the hair on John's arms stand up when he walks in the door. He sees the awkward stiffness in his movements as he picks through the shared belongings of married life. He sees John's complete inability to even look at the closet that holds Mary's things, and the bathroom—the bathroom where Mary had collapsed—where John had performed his frantic, terrified, and ultimately useless CPR-
-John's been using the bathroom at the WH Smith's down the street for four days.
Sherlock thinks John's family must be even stupider than average if they honestly think John could live in this flat another day.
So Sherlock helps John settle back into 221B. Harry arranges for a storage space for Mary's things, until such time as John is ready to sort through them. Sherlock visits the space with John as he packs up the last of it, marvels at how a person's life can be reduced to a closet-sized storage compartment on the outskirts of a not-particularly-nice part of London. He'd never really considered this before, the after part, what happens after the body had been dusted for prints and lifted for clues and all the information was gone and there was only the feeling left behind.
He does not share this thought with John. He does, however, pay for the cab ride back to 221B, open the door for John on the way into the flat, intercept Mrs Hudson so John can head upstairs in peace—
-and he makes room on the mantelpiece for a very small blue glass box, heavy for its size, with the name Mary Morstan-Watson delicately engraved. And, as a result of a passing thought about the difference between Good and Not Good, he moves the skull to his bedroom.
Sherlock isn't sure how the argument started. He'd been playing his violin, John putting the kettle on for some tea, and whether Sherlock had hit one too many sour notes or John had heard something dark and uncomfortable in the music or whether hot water had splashed unexpectedly or who knows what, now John was facing him, raw and seething and shaking with fury.
"You could try, Sherlock, you could TRY to be a little more thoughtful, just a little! It's been, My God, it's only been…"
"John, I assure you , I had no intention of…"
"Oh sod your intentions, Sherlock, take your bloody intentions and your bloody violin and go throw yourself in the Thames."
That hurt, Sherlock notes. Words normally didn't hurt, but those did. "You don't mean that."
"Yes I do!" John was screaming now, his entire body vibrating with the force of his anger. "Go, and while you're going, I'll go with you, why am I even here, why are any of us even here when she—" John stops and gasps for breath, brought to a stop, choked off by his own rage.
Sherlock tries to process this. "John, I don't think you're serious, but on the chance that you are, I want you to know that I truly do not want you to speak about harming yourself. I would be—" Sherlock pauses. "I would be very much distressed if you were to come to harm." John says nothing. "And I will try to be more thoughtful, since I am…I am enjoying having you back in the flat."
John looks at him, eyes wide. "You're—you're enjoying—" he swallows, and Sherlock realizes that in trying to be kind he has possibly made a grievous tactical error. "You're enjoying this? My WIFE is DEAD, you heartless FREAK!"
Freak. The word hangs in the air, echoing off the walls and striking keenly inside a part of Sherlock that he takes great pains to keep shuttered away. That hurt a lot. Sherlock winces. John catches his breath.
"Bloody hell," John whispers, then bangs down the hallway to his bedroom and slams the door. A "good gracious" from Mrs Hudson wanders upstairs, but Sherlock barely hears it. He sits, lost in his own mind, violin and bow laying slack and unmoving in his frozen fingers.
Data, data. Try to think about the data. Five stages of grief. Stage two, anger. Stupid psychological theory, absolutely no evidence to support it, but it fit. Yes. This is a stage of grief. Of course John would be angry. He doesn't mean what he's saying (please please God don't let him mean what he's saying). He'll calm down. Best to just leave him alone. That's right. Just leave him alone until—
A heartwrending moan from upstairs, and Sherlock leaps off the couch and is at John's bedroom door before his violin bow stops skittering across the floor. "John! John, are you all right? John, don't hurt yourself!" Sherlock doesn't bother to knock; he throws the door open, winded and frightened.
John is sitting on the edge of his bed, hugging his arms to his chest, slowly rocking back and forth. "She's dead, she's dead, she's really dead…"
And then Sherlock wraps his long arms around John, cradling him, digging his thin fingers into John's jumper, and John falls into Sherlock, howling and shaking and crying and crying and crying.
Hours later, when John has cried himself into a soporific stupor, the two men lay together on his twin bed, still entangled, John's cheeks still wet with tears, Sherlock's hands entwined in John's jumper and in his hair. Sherlock gazes down at his sleeping friend, who has finally, finally stopped shaking.
"John…" he whispers to himself, quite by accident.
"Mary…" John replies in his sleep, out of a dream.
Sherlock tells himself this doesn't bother him.
Sherlock hears John's steps on the stairs as John returns home from work.
(A week ago: You're going back to work? Sherlock, I think I have to. Sherlock has no trouble understanding.)
"Evening," John breathes as he enters the living room, sounding remarkably like regular old John.
"Mail for you," Sherlock answers, gesturing toward the coffee table with his left hand, texting furiously with his right.
Be careful when you get to the house. There's probably an asp in the air ducts.
Sherlock hits Send, listening to John remove his coat, fish the kettle out of the sink, fill it, set it on the stove, and ease into his chair. John picks up his mail as Sherlock's phone vibrates.
An asp? In a townhome in Bloomsbury? Impossible.
Sherlock rolls his eyes, hears John tear the envelope open.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however mad it might seem, must be the truth. Call Animal Control before you get there.
Sherlock waits for Lestrade's response, relaxing into the sofa. He is about to close his eyes, satisfied at another case cracked, when the flutter of a falling piece of paper catches his eye. He turns.
John has Gone Away again. That faraway look is back as his flatmate stares into the middle distance, an empty envelope in his lap.
Sherlock sits up and takes the paper from the floor.
Dear Mr. Morstan-Watson; it read,
Please find enclosed the life insurance payout for your deceased spouse, Mary Elizabeth Morstan-Watson. We are truly sorry for your loss and we hope that our insurance services have been of use to you in your time of need. Please contact us if you have any questions.
Royal Life and Casualty, LLC
Folded into the letter is a check—an absurdly, almost embarrassingly large check.
Sherlock blinks. Is this how a person ends? A tiny blue glass box, a storage compartment in Brixton, and a five-figure check. And John. John, who is sitting very still and very quiet in his favorite chair. It seems the Oddness is never-ending.
The kettle begins to sing.
"I'll get that," Sherlock says, rising.
"Yeah," John manages, "Yeah, thanks."
Sherlock's phone buzzes four times as he prepares the tea for himself and John.
My god, you were right. Damn thing nearly got a taste of Donovan. Thanks for the tip about Animal Control.
And no smart remarks about Donovan. It's been a long night.
Well, anyway, thanks again. How's John?
Sherlock picks up none of these until the next morning.
John is doing better. Sherlock knows, he knows for a lot of reasons, but mostly he knows because John is coming out on cases with him again.
This time they're in laboratory at Bart's, Sherlock sifting through some forensic evidence that the police had missed. How the police ever managed to get anything done when they still didn't understand the importance of basic things like mud stains is utterly beyond him.
"John, pass me the next slide," Sherlock says, raising a hand toward John.
"Sure." Sherlock takes the slide and replaces it on the microscope without looking up. An opening door and a click click click of high heels. Faint scent of freshly applied lipstick.
"Hi Molly," John offers. Sherlock doesn't move.
"Hello, John, Sherlock," Molly says, pausing just a moment for Sherlock's reply, then continuing when it wasn't forthcoming. "Getting anywhere?"
"I think so. Sherlock's narrowed it down to three possible places in North Wales, we're just testing the samples now."
"That's amazing," Molly says. A beat. "So, John, how have you been?"
There's a particular weight and cadence to this phrase that Sherlock has come to notice over the last few months, a meter to it that people use with John, now, that they didn't before. Sherlock knows John has noticed this too, and he definitely knows that John doesn't appreciate it. Sherlock identifies it, internally, as pity. He grasps the scope tighter.
John, for his part, shows his discomfort with Molly's tone by only the slightest shuffling in his posture. "I'm fine, Molly. Fine."
Molly smiles. This is the answer they all want, Sherlock knows, regardless of whether it's true. "I'm glad to hear that," she continues. "Back to solving cases, I see?"
"Yes, yes, it's going very well."
"And your work at the clinic?"
"Good, good, it helps, you know, being useful."
"Right. And are you seeing anyone?"
The question lands clumsily. Sherlock raises his eyes from the scope. John's breath hitches, and Molly shifts, realizing she's the one, this time, who's done something Not Good.
John scratches the back of his head. "Um, no, Molly, no, I…"
"Because you could be!" Molly offers, a bit desperately. "I mean, you can, you will, someday, you could…"
It is Sherlock who now responds, whirling into Molly's personal space.
"Dr. Hooper, the work we're doing here is extremely delicate and we really cannot be bothered with your awkwardly timed and socially inappropriate banter right now. Why don't you dither off down to the cafeteria and have a second piece of chocolate cake? Judging by how much of the first piece is currently residing on your lab coat instead of in your stomach, you must have fairly inhaled the one you had for lunch."
Molly turns and runs.
John and Sherlock stand in silence for a moment. Sherlock suspects that particular tirade veered into Not Good territory, so when John speaks, it surprises Sherlock that he does so with a laugh.
Later on, in the flat, after Sherlock had finished his analysis (it had been Dolgellau, of course the killer was from Dolgellau, there were clear signs of a mining family background), they sit together on the sofa. It is John who broaches the subject first.
"I'm not sure I could do it, you know. The dating thing,"
"After all this, starting again, starting with someone new, it just—" John searches for the right words. "I just can't imagine being with a stranger. Someone who didn't, you know, know." He looks at Sherlock, weariness in his eyes.
It is with great effort that Sherlock keeps most of the strain out of his voice when he replies. "Well, there's no hurry."
John had bought the plane tickets a month ago—at least the insurance check had been good for something. At the time, he had again been treated to the now familiar chorus of John-are-you-sure, John-isn't-it-too-soon, John-are-you-really-ready, and Sherlock knows that John is getting rather fed up with that kind of reply.
Maybe that's why John brought only Sherlock along.
They stand together on a beach in Greece, which John tells him is near the hotel where he and Mary had stayed during their honeymoon. It is sunrise, the beach deserted except for the two men.
John opens his backpack and takes out the tiny blue glass box.
Despite his fiery curiosity, despite the fact that for six months he has been drawn to that little glass box, desperate to knowwhat human ashes look like (Are they really ashy? Would there be bones remaining? Think of the implications for his criminological studies), Sherlock keeps his promise to John.
Listen, mate, I want you there, but just…let me do my own thing, OK? I'll let you know if I need anything.
So Sherlock quashes his curiosity and stands back as John approaches the breaking waves.
Over the breeze, he can hear John talking, but can't make out the words.
A few moments pass. Sherlock watches as John lifts the lid off the box and gently tips it to the sea.
Ah, Sherlock thinks. It looks like sand.
The sand-that-is-not-sand swirls around John's ankles, and he holds the now-empty blue glass box in his hands, standing and watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean.
Sherlock lets a few minutes go by before wading out to join him.
John's expression startles Sherlock. Sherlock had been expecting tears, or at least signs of grief. John rarely cried anymore, really, he had rarely cried at all except for some major and very memorable breakdowns in the flat, but he had thought this activity would have brought on crying, if anything would.
But John's face is completely peaceful, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth as he watches the horizon.
Sherlock wonders if he should say something. "So…this was Good?" he asks carefully.
"Yeah," John sighs. "Yeah, I didn't know what was going to happen, but yeah, this is Good."
Still watching the sunrise, John lets his hand drop and does not pull away when Sherlock takes it in his.
The blue glass box does not come home with them.
It was inevitable, really. The only surprising thing was that it hadn't happened sooner.
Sherlock and John are at a crime scene, a shoot-out on the South Bank. Nothing overly remarkable about the crime, but it had been quiet for a few weeks and Lestrade knew Sherlock was getting restless, so Sherlock and John are invited to check things out.
What neither realize is that the widow of the victim is still at the scene.
The police are attempting to lead her away from the area, shielding her from the sight of the body, as John and Sherlock hover over the dead man, but somehow (god the police could be such idiots) she maneuvers past them, manages to get right up to the crime scene tape, and lets out a shriek.
"No! Danny, my Danny, that's my Danny! My husband, oh my husband, let me go I need to be with my husband!"
The police grab her and, more forcefully now, lead her to a waiting ambulance to be treated for shock.
It takes Sherlock a moment to realize that John is no longer next to him, and only a few moments longer to find where he's gone. John is standing not far off, around a curve in the river, staring across the Thames, breathing heavily.
It no longer feels any kind of Odd for Sherlock to ask, "Are you all right?"
John takes a deep breath. "Yeah, I'll be all right, I just…" He shakes his head. "It brought me back. To that night, to that time…" He looks up at Sherlock, brown eyes wide. "I'm not there anymore, Sherlock. I'm not in that place. I miss Mary, I think of her all the time, but I'm just not…there anymore." He pauses. "And I don't want to be. You know?"
No, Sherlock doesn't know. For the last nine months, there's been nothing about any of this that Sherlock knows. Facts and calculations have abandoned him, reason and logic can get no purchase on the steep slope of grief that John has been sliding on all this time. But yet, when Sherlock responds, it's not a lie.
Because somehow, even in the absence of any reliable data, he knows.
Sherlock is surprised at how few people have remembered. Sure, John got a card from Mary's parents (a card, Sherlock noted but did not point out, from the five-and-dime, clearly there had been no love lost between John and his in-laws). Mycroft had sent a text: How's John? – MH. Bugger off, you idiot, he's fine. –SH. But that was it.
John was remarkably unaffected by this, shrugging and saying "Of course they don't remember, Sherlock. Who wants to remember things like that, if it doesn't affect them?"
So Sherlock decides to be indignant for the both of them. John stays home, Sherlock walks the streets of London, restless, vaguely angry, not certain at what.
It is only when he passes Big Ben, hears the bell strike the hour, that he realizes why he's angry. It has nothing to do with the blinkered idiots in his life who don't know what to do for John.
It's because he doesn't know what to do for John.
Hours later, he walks into the flat, John more or less exactly where he left him. "Hey, Sherlock."
"Here," Sherlock thrusts a brown paper bag at John. "I had to do, you know, something."
John searches Sherlock with quizzical eyes, and takes the bag. A silver pocketwatch slides out and onto his lap.
Breathless, John takes it in his hands. "Sherlock, this looks—this looks expensive—why…" He turns it over in his hands, the engraving catching his attention.
To be wise and love exceeds man's might. –Wm. Shakespeare
But I'm trying anyway. –SH
John holds him for a long time after that, long enough to be Odd, but somehow it's not Odd. And he thanks Sherlock, for the past year, for the watch and everything else besides, and if he says it with more emotion in his voice than normal, that's not really Odd. And when, later, headed up to bed, John brushes a light kiss on the top of Sherlock's head, that's not Odd either.
It comes, when it comes, out of nowhere. John is washing up the kitchen, Sherlock fiddling with his violin. The skull has been moved back into position on the mantelpiece, a few pictures of Mary hang in the hallway, some carefully-chosen pieces from the now-closed storage space decorate the flat, and John's pocketwatch is never far from his sight.
"Sherlock," John begins, "are you in love with me?"
Sherlock stills his hands and rests them on his violin. He knows the answer, he's known the answer for years, since before John's marriage, possibly since that first breathless chase around London together, so many years ago. But he never lets it be real. It flits around on the edges of his mind like stars winking on the horizon that disappear when you look at them straight on. Never really settling long enough to be real. Saying it aloud makes it real.
He says it. "Yes, John, I am."
Sherlock stares at the floor, John at the ceiling.
"What would you think," John offers, "if I told you I think I'm falling in love with you?"
"I'd think it's a strange turn of events, but not an unwelcome one."
John smiles. "Strange, yeah. You'd think so. Except."
He crosses the room, joins Sherlock on the sofa, gently removes the instrument from his hands. "Sherlock, when you've been through what I have, you start to think, maybe, that love is love, and that's kind of all that matters." He gingerly takes one of Sherlock's hands in his, and smiles. "Love is Good."
Sherlock feels very still, except for his hands, which are suddenly shaking. "Love is…Good."
And then John is kissing him, and Sherlock learns that kissing is Good, better than Good.
After that, Sherlock is surprised to find that very little about their lives actually changes.
John occasionally talks about Mary, fondly. Sherlock doesn't mind. That Love was Good, and their Love is Good, and it's all, as John is so fond of saying, Fine.
Sherlock and John continue to take on cases. If anything, Sherlock gets even better at his work, John more loyal, more protective.
Lestrade still texts often. Mycroft is still an idiot.
Their days still end with tea and take-away, and now, often, other things, other activities, that Sherlock is increasingly thinking are not merely Good but absolutely Extraordinary and warrant much, much further examination.
And if anyone thinks anything about the two of them or the way they finally came together was Odd, they know better than to say so.
And John, though occasionally taken aback by the turns his life had taken and the changes that had been wrought, always comes back to that rough kiss on his forehead the night of Mary's wake, and the deep baritone voice telling him "I've got you, John."
Because that is love.