Title: One Thousand Paper Cranes
Summary: John Watson once heard that if you make one thousand paper cranes, you get one wish. Post Reichenbach. John/Sherlock.
A/N: Don't judge me for this.
My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, was dead.
Or at least, that is what I was told to believe after what had happened. That was also what I wrote on my blog so that people would stop filling my inbox with questions and speculations and letters of empty apology. Writing it seemed like the right thing to do, because people told me he was dead and I knew I had to make the social decision to act like I believed them. I could not go around saying that Sherlock Holmes was not dead, because it was bad enough talking about him in the present tense sometimes; people worried about my sanity and my ability to cope. So I had to write the words My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, was dead just so that I could mourn in my own way. Sherlock Holmes was not dead, I knew, but he was absent, and I mourned more for that instead. Because of that, people thought I had accepted it and was dealing with it like I should.
However, they did not understand that just by saying the words did not make it the truth. There was no body. There was no evidence that proved without a doubt that Sherlock Holmes had died. There was only what people said and speculated and then wrote down in the papers to solidify it in people's minds. But Sherlock would have laughed about all the idiocy and jumping to conclusions because everyone was just so stupid and how on earth did we live with such boring minds? Just thinking about it, I laughed too, sometimes, because I could hear his voice and it was like those times I missed more than I could ever say. Once or twice, Ms. Hudson had caught me in the middle of these hysterical fits of laughter that made me cry and almost immediately had dispatched a familiar face to come to my aid. Her concern was endearing, but I hated it all the same. Everyone tiptoed around me for the first few weeks like a bomb about ready to explode.
But I did not explode, because there was nothing to explode about. Call it denial, but I knew for a fact that Sherlock Holmes was not dead. It was just about waiting for him to return. He always did come back for me in the end, so I had to hold out on my end by being the person to which he could always return. That was the nature of our relationship and that was why I did not vacate 221b Baker Street. Mycroft covered Sherlock's part of the rent as usual and perhaps a bit of mine as well so that I could remain there. I wasn't sure why he would do such a thing, because Mycroft wasn't one for sentimentality. But the last time I had seen him, there was a sadness that had not been there before. It was not anything terribly noticeable: just a heaviness to his eyes, a darkness to his irises, and a frown deeper than usual. Close or not, they were brothers, and because of that I never asked if Mycroft really believed Sherlock dead. It would be too much of a wound to pick at if he truly believed that to be fact.
So, I existed while Sherlock was away. For the first month I believed him to come home at any time, racing up the stairs like a loon with tales of adventure and rapier wit on his lips. The second month, I had to throw away his experiments that had been abandoned, ready to face the wrath when Sherlock came home. But he did not come home and by the third month I had stopped racing to the door every time I heard a key in the lock downstairs. By the fourth month, I began straightening the things that Sherlock would never let me clean before. He would be so angry, and I did this with a smile on my lips. By the fifth month, the flat was clean and orderly, and whenever I looked at it, I was smug that Sherlock would have all sorts of words at me for it. By the six month, I was no longer looking forward to his anger, but rather angry that there was no anger on his part towards my actions. In my rage, I went into Sherlock's room and vindictively messed up his sock index just to get it out of my system.
Seven months passed and soon I found myself standing in one room of the flat for hours, wondering when Sherlock's presence had disappeared. The kitchen and the living room were orderly and neat and over-characteristically mine. The fridge was too clean when devoid of body parts. The walls were not riddled with bullet holes or newspaper clippings tacked up on every available surface. It did not smell continuously of noxious fumes and decay. No, his presence was gone completely and instead of feeling relief at some of these developments, there was only a sense of loss.
It was the beginning of the eighth month that I felt some despair. Why was Sherlock not back yet? Certainly he could have come home by now? The nightmares that had plagued me since his disappearance came strongly and more violently than before, keeping me up all hours of the night in fear and anguish. Some nights, I could not bear it, and would sneak down to Sherlock's room where the last few vestiges of him existed. I knelt next to his bed and rested my head against the side of the mattress, not wanting to lie in his sheets and erase his scent entirely. This was all I had left of Sherlock.
By the ninth month, I felt like a ghost. It was colder than ever out. Christmas was spent alone with the company of drink, because I couldn't bear anyone coming into the flat to see what I had done to it. I could not even put it back into its usual disarray, because I couldn't remember how Sherlock had scattered his things. If I did it, it would be merely superficial and the lack of its authenticity would hurt me more than it could ever help.
The tenth month and it was already a new year. It was with a heavy heart that I realized I could not continue to wait in the flat any longer. If Sherlock was alive, maybe he did not want to come home. Maybe he had run off...run off to find Irene Adler, whom I knew for a fact could not be dead, just like I knew Sherlock not to be dead. Maybe they were together somewhere, having an array of adventures without me. I smiled, but it hurt deep in my chest. Not really jealousy, but loneliness. (Well, perhaps a bit of jealousy, then.) I missed his text messages always encouraging me to come along on one scheme or another with the simple phrase it could be dangerous because he knew that those words were all I needed to hear.
But now, there were no messages on my phone. Every month on the anniversary of his "death" I would text his old number, just to see if I would get a response. Always: Please tell me you're alive. JW.
Always: Number no longer in service
At the beginning of the eleventh month, I went back to work for something to occupy my time and thoughts. It was a clinic close by, much like the first I had been employed at so long ago. I treated sore throats and arthritis and prescribed drugs for menstrual cramps and gout and eventually the days blurred into strings of moments without meaning. And the days all ended at the flat, where I struggled to keep Sherlock alive in my mind.
One year had passed and I was still alone. Lestrade called me and we met up to have a pint and toast to "Sherlock's memory".
"How are things?" Lestrade asked, like he always did when we met up. Our lives had diverged completely without Sherlock to bring us together, so I had stayed out of his social circle for the past year. His brown eyes were warm and worried, saying without words everything that Ms. Hudson said regularly: you're too thin, you don't smile enough, why don't you go out with a nice girl and have some fun?
"As well as they can be. And yourself?" I asked, because I didn't want to consider my doubts.
"As well as they can be. The wife and I are patching things up, I think, so it might be a good year this time," Lestrade said, and I could only think of what Sherlock would say about Lestrade's attempts at repairing his marriage. Something along the lines of She's doing the PE teacher again. I smiled to myself at the joke, but it was strained. The thought of Sherlock was no longer an inspiration to me, but something becoming more and more painful.
A year and one month later, I was back to clinic duties and trying to make friends again. Learning to socialize, be friendly and easy-going, but it all felt forced and unnatural. I tried to go on a few dates, but I was told that I was "emotionally absent" which was probably the best description of me by this point. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I had no idea who was staring back at me. I had lost weight and my eyes were too sad to look at. After a while, I stopped looking in the mirror all together, afraid of what I would find.
A year and two months later, my leg started to hurt more than it didn't and the tremor in my hand returned so that I could barely hold a mug of tea without spilling. Fear gripped me for the first time since Sherlock's disappearance: I was alone again and faced with this dismal life of merely existing without cause and without passion. Sherlock had given me a purpose and the adventure-the challenge-I needed. Without him...I was back to where I was over two years ago: crippled and angry and alone.
A year and three months later, I was in the clinic working a double shift while one of the nurses was on maternity leave. A mother and her daughter came into the clinic for the first time. I handled the transfer of their paperwork from another clinic in Saxony so that I could begin filling the prescriptions required to treat the girl's cystic fibrosis. I kept Ms. James and her daughter, Georgia, in my office as I did this, asking general questions as I began reviewing her file. On the corner of the desk, I noticed Georgia folding paper into different shapes while I wrote out her thirty day prescriptions for her usual antibiotics.
"What is it you're making, there?" I asked, because I had never seen an eight year-old attack something with such concentration before.
"A crane," Georgia replied simply, as if it was the most simple thing in the world.
"A crane?" I inquired, puzzled by the response. Georgia finished her folding and then pulled on the two triangles on the opposite sides. The paper expanded into the shape of a bird. "Wow," I said upon seeing it, and even managed to smile authentically. "That's quite impressive."
"She's been making them non-stop," Ms. James said, putting her hand on top of her daughter's head, stroking through the strands of her auburn hair with all the love and sadness in the world. I felt like I should not be witness to such a private thing.
"I read a book," Georgia said, holding out the crane to show it to me as she explained. "It was about a girl who was really sick in Japan after WWII. She heard a story about these cranes...if you make a thousand paper cranes then you get one wish. So she started making cranes because she wanted to get better." Ms. James looked like she wanted to cry. Georgia folded the wings back up on the crane and put it in her pocket. "She died though. She only made six hundred. That's why I'm going to make one thousand and get better." She looked at her mom and smiled so widely that I only felt pain. There was no cure for her illness, just practices to manage it, but sometimes even those practices were too taxing on the body...
"You'll see, mum. I'll get better."
It was with a heavy heart that I ripped off the prescription from my pad and handed it to Ms. James. "With enough cranes, positivity, and modern medicine, she might have the right idea," I said, and manged to smile. So did Ms. James.
"I hope so," she said and I hoped so too.
We talked for a little while longer before I showed them to the door with the promise to see them again in one month. As they were leaving, I asked Georgia: "What number crane are you on now?"
"Number three hundred and forty-eight," she said, but it was with confidence as she added: "I've got a lot more to finish."
"That you do," I said, and watched as they left out the main door. For some reason I was reminded of the way Sherlock had left the flat for the last time: that same determined stride towards an unknowable fate.
"That you do..."
It was a year and four months later that I learned how to make an origami crane.
The notion had been silly at first, but after seeing how much joy and purpose it gave Georgia, I couldn't help myself. I made my first crane out of green paper. The wings and tail came out crooked, but I thought it was good for my first attempt. I put it on the mantle above the fireplace and thought that it looked a little lonely, so I made a second one out of blue paper to join it. The blue one came out much better: straight and tall and proud. I put it next to the lopsided green one, which leaned against the another. It was then that I thought about how much I missed Sherlock. I had been leaning on him all along and hadn't realized it until now.
That month, I made fifty-nine cranes. They took up the mantle and ranged from as small as a shot glass to as large as my mobile. I did not make them all out of origami paper from the craft store, but out of whatever had been lying around: newspaper, prescription pad paper, receipts, and post-it notes. Every single one of them had been a sort of therapy for me. Whenever I thought of Sherlock, I tried to make one. I thought about something I missed about him and put it into the folds of that paper bird so that it wouldn't hurt so much to remember, or to forget.
I continued to make cranes for the next year. My leg still hurt most days, but the shaking in my hand was less than it had been. I managed to go out and meet more people. I dated a girl named Mara for two months, but it didn't work out. It had nothing to do with her, but more to do with me and all my preoccupied thoughts. I had always been preoccupied with Sherlock before when dating, and now was no different. Except for now, Sherlock was not there, and I woke up in the middle of the night sometimes with my heart hammering in my ribs when I realized with nothing but dread that I could not remember what color his eyes were.
By the end of that year, I had five hundred and six cranes. There were so many that I could no longer display them on the mantle above the hearth and began putting them wherever I could: into the desk and bureau drawers, folded into shoe boxes, shoved into cabinets. When those places were exhausted, I started putting them in Sherlock's room, where I knew he would be disturbed by all the clutter in his semi-organized space. Already the dust had settled over his things, but his scent still clung to the sheets and the things in the closet, so after I had dispersed little birds all over his room, I knelt down next to the bed and rested my forehead against the side of his bed. It smelled like Sherlock under the tears I had shed before: all those nights I could not remember his face, or the sound of his voice, or woke up thinking that he would be there and he was not.
"You're not coming back, are you?" I asked the empty room. Liquid heat burned under my lids, but I would not cry. I would not cry yet. I still had to cling to the hope that Sherlock was alive and coming home. I had to believe that the stupid birds I kept making would somehow bring him back to me. "Please...Sherlock..." and I hated the way I begged and heard my voice crack. Why was I so lost without him? Why was I so empty?
My own voice answered before I realized.
At the beginning of the third year without Sherlock, I felt the weight of my confession.
I loved Sherlock Holmes.
Had I loved Sherlock all along or had I learned to love him in his absence? I did not know the difference between the two, but I was pretty sure I knew that a good friend would have moved on by now. I was a good friend-Sherlock's only friend-and so I should have, but here I was clinging to him desperately and staying up all hours of the night to make paper cranes for this man who probably did not know what loved entailed in the slightest. I laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed because I did not know what else to do with myself except go to work and fight with the machine at the co-op every time I wanted milk, only to come home and not sleep at night to fold paper cranes until the sun came up.
Three years and one month later, I was coming up with reasons to not love Sherlock Holmes. I even wrote them down so that I could keep track of all the things that I had hated about Sherlock: his mess, his arrogance, his secrecy. But then I realized that all the things I hated so much about him were the things that I could not not love about him. The list turned into all of the things I loved about Sherlock and it killed me so much, but I could not stop.
It was my own kind of therapy to keep the tremors away and the dreams at bay. I couldn't keep going to Sherlock's room because it was desperate and wrong for me to do so. Plus, it was losing its smell and Sherlock's presence with it. What would I do when it was gone? What would I do when there was nothing left of Sherlock at all?
Three years and two months later I had eight hundred and seventy-three cranes. I had beat Georgia by two hundred and sixty-one, but that was just because the poor girl was dying of illness instead of what was killing me. Her optimism in the face of a dark future made me try to hold on a little longer. Once I made my wish and my wish did not come true, then I could let go.
I could finally let go.
Three years and six months later, I went out for coffee with a colleague after work. She was nice and trying to keep me interested, but I was politely civil and that must have been an effective hint. Eventually, she left me alone and I was left sitting outside in the weak sunshine to finish my drink alone. When I was finished, I folded the check into a paper crane.
It was crane number one thousand.
The last paper crane I would ever make sat there on the table before me, between my palms, with all its ugly blue lines and indecipherable scribbles. My heart constricted because this was it: time for my wish that would not come true and then launch me into a world without Sherlock Holmes. My hand shook, but I closed my eyes and breathed to calm myself.
Even if it's just for a moment, I want to see Sherlock again.
That was all I wanted: I wanted a moment to see his face and hear his voice and just to know that he was alive. That would be enough for me, even if he would not stay or visit ever again. Just to know that Sherlock was alive would be enough for me to live again.
I don't know what I expected to happen when I opened my eyes: maybe that Sherlock would appear in the chair across from me like three years hadn't passed and he was already on a case with which he needed my help. The thought of him being within my physical reach was overwhelming, but I would have welcomed it just to have him here again.
With me again.
But Sherlock did not come and I even waited several hours before moving. I pocketed the crane and straightened my back and told myself: John Watson, you're fine. You're free, now. You're free.
Hands in my pockets, I left the cafe and walked down the street in the direction of Baker Street. At the corner, I waited for traffic to pass so that I could cross. And it was in that moment that a cab made a turn through the caution light and pulled in front of me. I would not have noticed it otherwise: just another black cab in a sea of identical taxis. But this one I noticed because it cut me off and made me step back onto the sidewalk and look, really look, at the cab.
In the back seat, Sherlock Holmes' face stared back at me.
All the air left my lungs and I was frozen as if I had been plunged into the Thames in the dead of winter. Sherlock's steel-gray eyes were staring back at me beneath the dark sweep of his curls. The collar of his jacket was pulled up, but not so much that I could not see those characteristic cheekbones, the defined jaw and chin, and those lips that had entertained my own private, desperately shameful thoughts. I couldn't breathe or think or move, just stand there staring with my eyes drinking in all of this detail in the few seconds that the cab passed by. And then, it was gone. Sherlock was gone: into the mess of traffic on the street crowded with black cabs moving in all directions. I jumped over the safety railing on the corner and into the street without regards to safety or other vehicles or bicyclists. I did not even notice that for the first time in over two years, my leg did not hurt as I ran as fast as I could in the direction that cab had taken. I ran until my lungs were on fire and my chest felt as if it were about to crack open under the strain. In all that time, I did not catch a glimpse of Sherlock anywhere.
It was in that moment that I realized I had gotten my wish: I had gotten my one moment to see him and know that he was alive. But that was all I was allowed. Those twenty seconds had been the culmination of over two years of folding cranes and over three years of waiting. That was all I was allotted and I felt cheated and wronged and so angry at my helplessness that I wanted to scream to whatever God was listening that it was not fair.
But I did not.
I hung my head and got out of the road, put my hands into my pockets, and continued walking home. There were tears falling from my eyes, down my cheeks unbidden, and I wanted to hide away somewhere where no one could see me and my despair. But I was out in the open walking home with my hands clenched into fists in my pocket, the left smothering the thousandth crane with all my might.
By the time I reached Baker Street, I did not want to go home: into that flat that reminded me too much of Sherlock and our life together and all those feelings that made no sense at all and all that hope sitting on the mantle above the hearth. I went to the corner pub instead and drank until I had a headache and wanted to throw up for three days and forget everything that had ever happened. After all, I had promised myself that I would move on whether or not I got my wish.
And now it was time to say goodbye.
Tomorrow, I would pack up all my things from Baker Street and leave for good. Sherlock would keep me here no longer: in this state of mine still bewitched by him even in three years of absence. It killed me heart and soul to do it, but I had to let go, or be torn apart by longing and memory and love for a man who had abandoned me.
"To Sherlock Holmes," I said to myself as I held up the last bit of my pint. I could see my sad reflection in the golden depths and closed my eyes. This person was a thing of the past, much like the man I was toasting to in the corner of a dark pub by my lonesome. "The best man I ever met."
And the only man I ever loved.
A/N: Because we all know that John totally did not move on with his life after Reichenbach, like I will not move on with my life after the Fall. So I guess the question is...should there be a second part to ease our pain? Or just leave this sad excuse for a fic alone like this, so that it can just rub salt into the already open wounds?
BTW: For those of you who don't know from where this story originates, I highly recommend researching Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. I read her story as a kid and cried buckets, then I saw her memorial in Hiroshima and cried more buckets.