Author's Note: You've all been so kind with your reviews and your watches and favorites. Thank you so very much if I haven't responded to you personally. The reason for the delay in this chapter is because I'm currently in a creative writing course and my professor is making me think twice about myself and my abilities. I hope that this chapter was worth the wait with all the semi-good things that happen in it.
Also, if you want an excellent song to listen to while reading the very last section, I highly recommend looking up The Cinematic Orchestra and their songs: Arrival of the Birds and Transformation. There's something existentially beautiful about it.
Since humans are not born with wings, the sensation of flying did not last for long.
It made coming back down to Earth the hardest thing imaginable because reality was stark and tangible, leaving the two of us standing there amongst the ruins of that place we had only temporarily escaped. Here, we had returned to the pain and the anguished waiting and the words we had said and yet to say and the weight of all those things we had done. The music had stopped playing some time ago and the candles had burned out and it was far too past eight for Sherlock to have done anything but overstay. Outside, the traffic increased with nightlife; laughter and music wafted up to the third floor where we stood in that flat, trying to deal with the fact that almost was not now and it was time to say goodbye again.
We did not use words because they were unnecessary. We fell in sync like it was yesterday and the years had not passed. I knew this because I felt that sensation of connection, where I could tell Sherlock just as much as he could tell me without uttering a single syllable. He straightened his coat and put on his gloves and the way that he looked at me told me without a doubt that he would not change his mind on the matter of me joining him. I wanted to be angry, but I could not bear to feel that way with Sherlock so close to me and the taste of him still lingering on my lips. Even if I wanted to feel angry and cheated, I knew I could not, because Sherlock had stolen it from me; he had robbed me of that emotion when he kissed me with all the passion and possessiveness in the world that meant mine. Perhaps it was that, and the way he touched my face and kissed me again, saying without saying I'll come back soon.
I tried to give him his scarf at the door, but he wouldn't take it and asked me with only his hands on top of mine to keep it so that I wasn't so lonely. I didn't know how he knew so much about me even after all the years of separation, but I chalked it up to the fact that Sherlock was Sherlock and there were some things that I would never truly know. So I kept the scarf and stood in the doorway with him for a few seconds longer, where we did not really talk or do much of anything except breathe the same air and listen to the sounds of fading music and traffic. And then finally he had to leave for good, but his hands would not let mine go and I was the one who had to be strong and release him.
Go I said wordlessly, squeezing his hands before releasing them. As much as I wanted Sherlock to come home, I had to let him leave. But my heart felt lighter than the last time because my lips were still tingling and warm where he had kissed me. I knew that it meant he understood my loneliness and that I, in return, comprehended his. I knew that it meant with more certainty than last time that I would see him again and maybe next time, almost would be now and we would be smiling like old times instead of abandoning each other again. Just thinking about it, I managed to smile at him with a vestige of my old self.
The corners of Sherlock's lips quirked a bit, but he did not smile back because it was past eight and Moriarty was still out there and now he had a little bit less sadness but a lot more anxiety behind his eyes. It was all because Sherlock was thinking about me and him and us and what that meant in the great scheme of the Game. Would we both live to see the end of it? I could see all these thoughts racing behind his eyes as they moved back and forth, already thinking seven, ten, twenty steps ahead. I watched him and drank it in because watching his mind work faster than any ordinary person was fantastic and amazing to witness and I had missed it more than I realized. And then I felt guilty because all of this had become another factor with which he had to concern himself. The word hindrance came to mind and I tensed my jaw, squared my shoulders and swore again that I would not be one.
I seemed to continuously make these resolutions I could not keep.
"Stop," I said, breaking the silence between us. It settled between our feet like shards of broken glass, but it had to be done. Sherlock stopped, mid-thought, and looked at me and it was then that I knew how deeply I had affected him. My voice had never been something to drag Sherlock out of his thoughts before, because only Sherlock would do that when all the work had been done and he decided to return to the real world. The fact that I could reach him and make him come back to reality meant that Mycroft had been right all along. I felt a weight on my chest and on my shoulders and that selfish, guilty feeling began gnawing at my heart.
Because I would be the one who killed Sherlock Holmes.
"Don't," I said and breathed, somehow, through the ache in my sternum. I was all but begging him don't think about us, not yet, not now, not until you beat Moriarty at his own game. I managed to verbalize only half of that. "Not until it's over."
Sherlock looked at me with a stare that went so deep, I had to look away.
"Don't let me interfere with the work. I never have and I'm not going to start," I said, because I knew how Sherlock viewed the world: the work was all that mattered and everything else was transport. I knew that and I accepted it and I needed Sherlock to understand that I always had valued his mind over my heart. Even now, with that self-condemning, angry thing eating away at me piece by piece.
The work had to come first, or else Sherlock would cease to be Sherlock.
"John," he said, and I really, really wished he wouldn't say my name like that. I was trying to help him and every time, every single time he called, I went rushing to him on my selfish impulses. I was addicted and I knew it, but I couldn't stop, even when I knew I should. Even when I knew it was only going to hurt him in the end. I told myself I had to be strong, because I had to make sure that Sherlock made it back home.
Even if it meant waiting alone again.
"No," I replied, and stepped back, putting some distance between us and the broken pieces of our previous solitude. It took all I had to hold up my head and look him in the eyes as I asked: "Remember what you once told me? 'Caring is not an advantage'. You were right." I swallowed and crossed my arms over my chest as I turned Sherlock's words on him. "Will caring about me help you save me? Save the both of us?" I stopped and shook my head. "No, it won't. It's just going to get in the way." I took a breath. "I'm just going to get in the way. So, don't think about me. Don't let me interfere. Just do what you need to do... and come home."
I had no sooner taken a breath when Sherlock said two words I had never heard him utter before:
So shocked at the admission, I couldn't move, just as I couldn't get away from the hands that pulled me closer by the collar of my coat. The distance between us shortened and we were so close again that I could feel Sherlock's breath and his warmth and the slight shudder of his exhale. His expression came across so raw that I could barely comprehend it, just as I could not even begin to understand every speck of irregular colour in the deep oceans of his irises. I had to stand on tiptoe and my knees were shaking as Sherlock spoke, his lips brushing against mine with every word.
"I tried, but I can't," he said, and he breathed like it hurt. It made me feel like breathing hurt too, because his vulnerability came across like an open, bleeding wound and even though I was a doctor I knew there was nothing I could do to ease his pain; I could only increase it. "John...You're invaluable to me." He paused and I could see the anguish so clearly that I wanted nothing but to ease his agony, but at the same time I felt my heart lift with a selfish bit of joy at the confession. "So much, that I cannot factor you out of the equation...not anymore. You have to be a constant in the equation, not a variable. Not anymore. Do you understand?" I couldn't answer even if I wanted to. Sherlock's breath quivered over my lips. "If I don't think about you..." He stopped and he looked so vulnerable that I felt embarrassed, as if I had seen him stripped naked and bare before me. In a way, I suppose I had, because it was only with self-hate that he asked: "What if I miscalculate? What if I...make a mistake?"
"You don't make mistakes," I said, and even though it was forced, Sherlock gave me a ghost of a smile.
"You're wrong," he replied.
I looked away.
"I'm sorry," I said, and I meant it. I curled my fingers around his coat lapels, idly twisting them into the fabric. "I...didn't want to do this to you..."
"But you did," Sherlock answered, and I felt the flicker of his eyelashes against my temple. I shivered in his grasp. "So, for scientific purposes, I will test a new hypothesis."
"What's that?" I asked, turning my head so that I could see him in the half-light, which illuminated the rings of gray around his enlarged pupils.
"You know," he said, and I did, but I wasn't about to say so. We were so close and I could feel him against me. And even though it was far, far past eight, I was selfish. Another resolution broken, because all I wanted more than anything in the world was to let his quick words of deduction wash over me like waves on a beach.
"Tell me," I replied.
And he did.
He explained about the phenomenon of caring and his hypothesis concerning the theory that perhaps it could be beneficial to The Work in some way. He cited cases from the military, where it had been observed that soldiers fought more efficiently and effectively due to personal attachment towards other members of their unit. If it could work to the benefit of those struggling in abnormal situations, certainly it could apply in ours. It was beautiful to hear him speak with such fervor and excitement, as if this new angle could possibly be a breakthrough into something he had never dreamed of experiencing. I did not want to bring him down from it, because it was contagious and catching and I was smiling for real this time instead of forcing it like all the others. But even still, I felt that dark thing gnawing, tearing away inside as I thought of the negative outcomes of the experiment. I knew from experience the loss of a member of my unit: the bonds of attachment left a kind of hole in you when they passed and that abyss could never be whole again. It persisted, empty and raw and ever-present, whether awake or asleep. I couldn't tell Sherlock these things because I knew there was no point.
He already knew; he knew the risks and he wanted to take them anyway. He wanted to try.
So, I would try too.
His speech cut short at the buzzing of the mobile in his pocket. It broke him out of his soliloquy and brought him back to reality, where Sherlock suddenly realized where we were and what time it was and all his responsibilities again. Our time was up, but it was almost, almost, over.
"Go," I said.
His lips lingered over mine momentarily and then he was gone.
After Sherlock had left and I had gathered enough strength to leave, I went downstairs to the kitchen. Angelo was waiting for me, seated on a wooden stool in the corner, where an ancient television set spouted sports statistics at the cooks and servers in the kitchen. He smiled at me and put one of his warm hands on my shoulder. I felt relief, because now I was not the only one who knew Sherlock was alive. He was not a hallucination or a dream, because Angelo had seen him too and he was one hundred percent on our side. He said to me "I believe in you two," and then pushed a white take-away box into my hands. Then he said nothing more and winked at me and sent me on my way. By the time I arrived back at the flat, it was late and I was hungry for the first time in ages. I sat the plastic box onto the kitchen table and immediately tucked in. Surprisingly, eating dinner that night was less of a chore than it had been.
It was the first time I had been able to taste food since Sherlock had left all those years ago.
I savored it and thought about everything that had happened and wondered because of it what sort of person I had become. Sherlock had made me into an addict without knowing it, and even though it was so dangerous for the both of us, here we were: prepared to try a new experiment that could get us both killed just for the sake of trying. After all those years alone, had I truly longed for such destructive behaviors? When had I forsaken safety for a few blissful moments alone with Sherlock, just to hear his voice, feel his hands-lips-on me? When had I become this selfish person who cared not for the danger Sherlock placed himself in for my benefit? Why did I not fight him more on the subject? Why did I not push him away to protect him?
My fork stopped mid-air and the answer came:
Because I was not strong enough to do what Sherlock had done to me, for me. I knew the pain and loneliness and so did he, which was why I could not bear to do it again. If I had to push away that man and force him away from home for a second time, what kind of monster would that make me?
After dinner, I made tea and then did something that I had not done in a long time.
I went and got my gun.
Over the three, now nearly-four, lonely years, I had often looked at it. And I won't lie: certain thoughts had crossed my mind when the nights became too unbearable and stretched for far too long without sleep. I always thought that it would be so easy and so fast, but then I would feel the weight in my palm and think about it and decide that it was not worth it. Sometimes, though, the thought would overtake me and I would sit on the edge of the bed with the gun, loaded and cold and ready in my hand. The soldier in me always resisted because that part of me did not believe in giving up while the other part of me was so damned tired that my constant weariness had turned into numbness and given way to apathy. But then I thought that if I did it, it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair to Ms. Hudson to find me that way or to Harry, who would have to bury me with all kinds of shame. It wouldn't be fair because the flat would be sold and my old friends would feel remorse, but perhaps the worst part was knowing that I would have failed to be as strong as everyone believed me to be.
But in the end, what always stopped me was one thing: the fact that if I did it, it meant that I had stopped believing in Sherlock. It meant that I doubted him.
And I did not, would not, could not, would never, ever doubt him.
So, sometimes I would look at my gun and hold it and feel the weight of it, but I would never, ever point it at myself with intentions to end my life. It always ended up in the drawer of my nightstand.
I brought the gun down to the living room and sat at the desk. I unloaded it and cleaned it and then put it back together with all sorts of different thoughts in my mind. This time I was thinking about Sherlock's eyes boring into me and the lips pressed possessively against mine and the taste of his tongue still lingering sweet and tangible and mysterious... I thought of the way Sherlock looked at me with his eyelashes fluttering over my skin and the way he said to me You're mine and You're invaluable because that meant everything to me.
I belonged to Sherlock, now, heart and soul.
He had done all of this to keep me safe. He had kissed me in that way to mark me as his and his alone. And it was not a one-way street, for Sherlock now belonged to me as much as I belonged to him. He was my daylight and my breath as much as I was his sword and his shield. I picked up my gun and cocked it, holding it out in front of me. I could feel the weight of it in my hand. It felt natural, even after four years.
My hands did not tremble.
Sherlock was mine and because he was mine, it was my job to protect him in anyway I could. If I was his heart, I would ensure my own safety at all costs. And because he was my heart, I would protect him until my last breath.
I had no sooner made this declaration to myself when my mobile vibrated in my back pocket. Surprisingly, I was not surprised by the message, knowing that I had most likely been under surveillance for longer than I could possibly feel comfortable knowing. And it was like a window had been opened to my old life: a portal through which I could return to those days I missed so much. Because there was something empowering and thrilling and right about the text on the screen:
It's good to have you back, John.
And it felt good to be back.
Afterwards, life was awash in colour and vitality again.
I knew it was because Sherlock was in the city, breathing life into London's gray streets and I was inhaling it as if I hadn't breathed in nearly four years. In a way, that was the truth, so I took in as much as I could in order to feel closer to Sherlock while we were apart.
With the return of life came the return of something that I had not experienced in my monotonous world: danger. The entire city seemed to shimmer with it, taunting me with the possibility of adventure and the thrills I had so desperately missed. I went out into it everyday without fail, without pause, because the gun at my back made me forget my limp and tremor entirely and I was walking straighter than I had since Sherlock disappeared.
Even still, I knew this would not be a fun game.
Since Sherlock had returned to London, so had Moriarty. He had eyes on me everywhere: on street corners, peering at me through shop windows, from atop tall buildings. I altered my routes and kept my head down and stuck to heavily crowded areas. I did not go out at night and during the evening stayed far away from windows. I bolted the downstairs door twice over after Ms. Hudson went to bed just to keep the both of us safe.
I played it smart in those respects, but sometimes, the danger gave way to a thrill and I felt as an addict to a drug. I needed that stimulation more than I thought and craved it. Each day that I was not confronted or shot at was another day I felt victorious and powerful again. After feeling so helpless for so long, it was a breath of fresh air.
And then there was Sherlock.
Sometimes, a few days would pass and there would be no word from him, but then floods of messages would come and I went running. I chased his clues down back alleys and through abandoned buildings and atop rooftops just to find him.
I always did.
Those moments were ours and they were few, but they were ours and that was all that mattered. They were the moments when I saw Sherlock's train of thought needed to slow down, so I would cup his cheeks and kiss him until he relaxed and kissed me back. For just a few minutes we could be somewhere else.
One day, I met Sherlock in an empty lab room at St. Bart's and he did not say anything at all, too focused on something with his microscope and his chemicals to pay me any mind. I did not ask what he was doing or break his concentration, because watching him work was enough for me. He asked me to fetch him such-and-such solution or to send a text during that time, and I made sure to audibly grumble about it like usual that he had two perfectly good arms so why not use them? He did not say anything, but when he was finished, Sherlock put his arms around me and held onto me like I stood as the only thing that anchored him in this world.
I supposed that I really didn't mind doing things for him like I used to, so long as he used his arms to do that more often.
But sometimes, it was too dangerous for us to meet, so we would have to play the game of catching side-long glances at each other through glimpses in the crowd. Sometimes we would walk right by one another down a street bustling with people and I would brush Sherlock's hand with the outside of mine and then he would be gone. A few times, we arranged to sit at cafes on opposite sides of the street, where we would glance but nothing more to show we knew one another. Despite not being able to smile at one another or be together for too long in public, I think we both enjoyed it in the sense that we were rebelling. We were in Moriarty's backyard and it was so dangerous but we were still alive.
The fear of danger had always been manageable because we had each other and this time, it was no different.
However, the war came too close to home.
I realized I had been dancing along that fine little line between safe and suicidal and that I should stop because the danger had become too real. They were small things at first: Ms. Hudson's back door being broken into, mail stolen, windows broken. Then they escalated to become worse. Ms. Hudson had taken in a cat over the winter and even though it stayed outside, she fed it every morning and every night. One day it went missing and we thought it would come back, but it never did. Then three days later it appeared in our front foyer: dead with its stomach cut open and wrapped in its own entrails.
It took a while to calm Ms. Hudson, and when she had stopped crying, I wrapped the cat in an old shirt and buried it out back in the small garden Ms. Hudson had let overgrow years ago. I knew it was a threat, but I lied to Ms. Hudson and told her not to worry because I would tell Lestrade about it and he would probably find the mean kids who did it. But I never phoned Lestrade, just as I never told Sherlock about it.
He already had enough to worry about.
"Why paper cranes?"
We were standing on a bridge overlooking the Thames. We had three minutes and two yards between us. I wanted to be closer to him: lean against the wool of his coat, seeking his body heat and presence. But I was banished to his right and had to rest my arms on the cool steel of the railing and pretend like I was not freezing to death. Then when he asked that question, I thought of Georgia and how, sometimes I liked to take walks around the city that would end at her grave, where I would leave little offerings: tiny paper birds in dull Post-It Note colors on the dewy grass before her headstone. I knew it would not be something he wanted to hear, because wishes and magic and hopes and things like that were for ordinary people. There were some things that I knew Sherlock would never understand.
"I just see no correlation between birds and wishes," Sherlock answered, and he looked at me, sidelong, only for a second. I smiled.
"Wishes are like birds, in a way," I said, and looked up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Sherlock did too. There were high-flying birds over the Thames, so far away that I could not tell what kind they were. "Think about it. Birds are the symbols of freedom, because they can fly away, wherever they want; whenever they want. Wishes are kind of like that, because sometimes they can make us free."
Sherlock said nothing, and I did not know if he understood or not. But then he reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper crane I had given him all those months ago. Even from far away, I could see that he had touched it often: the blue ink bled into the paper and faded into different shades of cerulean. I wondered if, had I been closer, I would have been able to see the residual remnants of blue ink upon Sherlock's fingertips.
"Freedom," Sherlock said, and he wasn't looking at me or the sky or his watch. He was looking at the crane as if something beautifully interesting had come to mind.
I hoped one day he would be able to share it with me.
A few days later, I woke up from disjointed dreams with a bad feeling I could not shake.
I was out of tea and other essentials which only added to the mood, but I was not about to let it bother me too much and donned my coat, grabbed my keys, and set off towards the store. On the way, I decided to stop in a corner cafe for a coffee. It was a Tuesday and relatively early, so there were businesspeople about in their suits and college students working on their social networking pages instead of studying. It smelled of cinnamon and pastries and bitter coffee. People were talking on their mobiles or messaging in line. All of it came across so ordinary, but that bad feeling would not go away. Something was wrong and it was seriously wrong.
The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end.
I was afraid and the fear was almost suffocating. Why? Why was such a civilian setting triggering alarm bells in my head like it did back in Afghanistan, when the men would always want to go into the one house that looked like all the others but felt wrong?
In my pocket, my hands were clammy and shaking and I wanted to run away.
"Good morning. What will it be today?" asked the pretty young girl behind the counter. I did not even realize that I was next in line until she spoke. She could not be a day older than twenty-three. I wondered why I feared she would not live to see her twenty-fourth birthday. "Sir?"
"Ah, yes, uhm..." I paused and looked up at the board. The people behind me were agitated, probably wondering why I had not decided earlier. It made me so nervous that I could barely read the sign above her head. Finally I gave up and settled on a regular coffee and paid with my card. I was just putting it back in my wallet when I felt my phone buzz in my pocket.
One unread message.
"Sir? Your coffee," said the girl, distracting me as she slid the red cup towards me.
"Thank you," I replied, taking the cup with my free hand. I had no sooner turned away from the counter when I dropped my coffee onto the floor at the sight of the message in front of me:
Get out now.
I looked around and saw people looking at me and the mess I had made. I pocketed the phone quickly and, without even hesitating, pulled out my wallet to show my military identification to everyone in the room. Some people who had noticed this appeared alarmed and I could not believe what I was about to do because inciting panic had not been on my Top Ten Things to Do Today List.
"Everyone, please, can I have your attention," I said authoritatively, surprising even myself at the calmness I displayed in such a moment of fear. It made people stop to listen. I didn't want to make a hysterical scene, so I came up with the most plausible lie I could think of on the spot. "Please evacuate the premises immediately. We have a severe gas leak in the area. Get out now, leave all of your things behind...Please make your way to the exit calmly," I instructed as seriously as I could and thank God I looked trustworthy because they all swarmed the doors to get out, including the staff. Everyone stood on the sidewalk outside and I held up my ID a little higher as I tried to get people to move away from the cafe, but they were reluctant to step into traffic. I was trying to persuade them when I heard a high-pitched wail ring out from above. It came from the building diagonal from the cafe, on my right side, and the whizzing of a bullet went right by me, burning my cheek as it went.
It missed by only a centimeter.
Someone with that good of aim could not have missed. And because I hadn't moved and there was no wind, I knew it was a threat. My life was in their hands now-Moriarty's hands-and the next bullet would certainly be through my head if the sniper's employer wished it. But perhaps today was the wrong day to die, because I heard no more shots. Everyone had evacuated safely, making their way quickly across the street. Definitely the wrong day to die then. I breathed a sigh of relief.
And then the building behind me exploded.
The war was in my backyard now.
Some people had still been on the retreat from the gunshot while passerby had lingered too close to the building, where I had also been standing. The blast sent us all to the asphalt with a force that left me discombobulated and bewildered for a moment. The explosion left a ringing in my ears that sounded like bells. When it faded slightly and I could hear the world again, it was chaos: it was like Afghanistan again with the smoke and the confusion and the fire. The smell of sulfur lingered heavily in the air. People were screaming. Cars screeched to a standstill.
All of the confusion put my mind into a state of strange calm.
Without pause, I began to perform triage on the sidewalk and helped pedestrians move the injured away from the burning building. The police came in swarms a few moments later, then the fire trucks and ambulances. I aided the paramedics the best I could while the fires were put out, checking people for shock and other injuries, draping blankets over those that sat on the edges of the sidewalks in their torn business suits and school blazers. Finally the scene came under control and they took the injured away and made me sit for a while with a blanket over my shoulders. The medics cleaned up the scrapes on my hands and knees and put butterfly stitches over the cut on my cheek. Then the police asked questions and I pretended not to know what had happened.
"They said you helped to evacuate all these people," said one of the Yarders on duty.
"Must have been someone else. I have one of those faces," I replied, and they grumbled and made notes on their notepads before leaving me alone.
The medics were grateful for the help I had provided, but they wanted me to check into St. Bart's for my injuries. I politely refused and said I was going home. However, the second time they asked, I had to be crafty about it, because I think they were planning on taking me against my will. So, when their backs were turned, I dropped the shock blanket and disappeared into the crowds still lingering behind the police tape around the scene. I had no sooner stepped out of the range of the paramedics and police when I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket.
It did it once, then again, and again.
Incoming Call...Unknown Number
So I ducked into a storefront where it was relatively crowded, but quiet, and answered my mobile.
"Hello?" I answered. The caller did not answer, but I could hear traffic and wind and the sound of people talking. "Hello?" I said again, and then stopped and dropped my voice. "Sherlock?"
He never called because he preferred to text and it scared me because I could hear him breathing but not talking and I didn't know how I knew, but I could tell that he was afraid.
"Where are you?" he asked, and his tone came across as something I had never heard before. It was just as small as it was high, and the consonants were clipped so short that the vowels barely had a chance to escape.
"I'm fine," I said, and kept my voice calm because I could hear the edging panic in Sherlock's tone and it was so disconcerting that I could barely keep upright. It felt like the world had decided to begin tipping on its axis, throwing us all off balance while it did so. But I had to stay calm because if I didn't, then Sherlock couldn't either, and that could not happen. Sherlock had to stay himself and the best way to do that was for me to be me. "It's alright. Nothing happened. It's all fine now."
"There was an explosion," he said; his voice was all sorts of wrong.
"There was, but you told me about it in time," I replied, and tried to soothe that agitation I could feel rising on the other end of the line. "I got out. Everyone is alright."
"There was a sniper," Sherlock said, as if he hadn't heard me.
"Not a very good one," I said, trying for humor. "He missed me by a mile."
"Where are you?" he asked again, and the sound on his end quieted as if he had gone inside a building or gotten into a cab.
"Sherlock, I'm fine," I said, and clutched at my phone as I sank down onto the stoop of the shop. People were still standing about despite the smoke and the sirens, and I felt safe among the crowd for a moment. "I'm fine," I said for the umpteenth time.
"I'm coming," he replied, once again, as if he had not listened to a word I said. "Tell me exactly where you are."
I thought about the bomb and the sniper, who was not a very good shot but maybe it was because he had been ordered not to kill. Not to kill me at least. Maybe he had been ordered to do all of this to lure Sherlock out into the open. My heart began beating so fast that I had to do everything I could not to let it affect my breathing. If I slipped up, Sherlock would know and he would come to find me and then it would be just like Moriarty wanted.
"No," I answered, with all the strength I had. "Turn around right now. Don't you dare come out here."
"No," I said again, and it came out as a whisper instead of a shout. "Don't. They don't want me, Sherlock. They want you. And if you come here, you're giving them exactly what they want. So turn around right now. Don't come here, Sherlock. Don't."
He didn't say anything, but I had a feeling he was not listening.
"Sherlock, do you hear me? Are you listening?" I asked, and it was with more anger this time. He had to know that I was serious, because if he came out here and got shot at, it would be all because of me. I could not let that happen.
He said nothing.
"If you care about me at all, you will not come here," I said, as much as it hurt to push him away. But it was for Sherlock's own good and it was not as if I planned to disappear for several years and pretend I was dead. Just a few days until the severity lessened to that day-to-day fun tip-toeing of the line between us and Moriarty in the Game that was almost, almost over.
Nothing on his end, so I kept talking to fill the void. "You will not go to Baker Street. You will stay away, just for a few days. Just until it's safe." I stopped, held my phone so tightly that I thought I might break it because I was more afraid than I had ever been in my life, even trumping those times in Afghanistan when things were really bad. And then I begged quietly: "Please" in the same way I had whispered Please, God, let me live under a scorching summer sun, years and years ago.
Silence, and then his voice came across stronger and clearer than before, tinged with a bit of annoyance I knew well enough to easily deduce that it had been faked:
"Just this once."
And even though I was shaking, I somehow managed to smile.
I danced around Ms. Hudson for a day or two until my hands healed up, because she was all abuzz about the explosion and I had to pretend like I did not know anything about it. Luckily my name and face were not in the papers, so she had no idea about my involvement. However, she did see the cut on my cheek and I had to make up a story about slipping when getting out of the shower or some such nonsense so that she would not suspect anything. After a few days, she stopped fretting about it because my cheek had healed mostly, leaving only a thin, scabbed-over line right beneath my right eye. I touched it often and thought about, had the sniper angled himself a bit more to the right, I would probably be dead.
I tried not to dwell on it, just like I tried not to think about Sherlock. Since the explosion, he had not texted me. I even waited a few days before trying to text the last number in my recent calls list, but the message returned, undelivered, and I was left to wait. Apparently, he had taken to heart my warnings and stayed away, even on the other end of my mobile. During those days of silence, I could only hope that Sherlock had understood why I had said those things. But then the thought of his intellect failing him, causing him to actually be human and act stupidly without thinking, made me worry he had gotten himself into more trouble than I could possibly know. Instead of giving me a sense of relief, I only felt anxiety, and wondered constantly when the tiring waiting would come to a final end.
But even though I wondered about it, I did not expect it.
It was not even a week after the incident, during an afternoon walk to the co-op, when I saw the sleek black car following me. Upon noticing it, I stopped. I stood rooted to the pavement as the Mercedes pulled up next to the curb with all its tinted windows and polished chrome detailing and I could feel the encroaching coldness starting at the fringes of my consciousness. He's dead. Sherlock is dead. Sherlock is dead and it's my fault the feelings bled, like ink into paper, and there was nothing I could do to quell my shaking. The back door opened and Anthea emerged from the backseat, standing there with her eyes glued to her Blackberry and the back door open in invitation. Dead. He's dead, isn't he? Isn't he, Anthea? I wanted to ask, but the words wouldn't come and she wasn't looking at me, so I swallowed and stiffly climbed into the car.
The empty backseat felt large and cold, even when Anthea returned and sat on the upholstery across from me. She texted without looking up and so I kept my eyes down: on my knees, on my shoes, and clenched my fists in the pockets of my coat. My left hand gripped the orange bottle of pills so tightly that I believed I might crush it.
It was over.
It was finally over.
I did not have to brace myself or steel my nerves to deal with this simple truth like I had always imagined. On the contrary, a beautiful wave of calm rushed over me. It stopped my shaking, soothed the tension in all my body, and my hands unclenched, relaxing against my sides. There was no despair or loneliness or regret like I thought there would be. Instead, I laid out the next steps in my head with surprising clarity and ease. I would go to where Anthea took me and then I would see Sherlock's body and then I would go home and afterwards throw myself into eternal oblivion because it was over.
The car stopped. Anthea got out and I followed her, eyes on the ground, hands still in my pockets. I listened to the echoing click, click, click of her heels as we walked across the dark pavement of a damp parking garage. The elevator dinged as it came to our floor. Anthea went inside and so did I. She still did not look up from her texting; I was somewhere else entirely, so I did not mind. Making conversation would have been harder, I decided, and tried to keep that serenity tight around me like a blanket so that I would not fall apart. I could fall apart when I was alone and sure that Sherlock was gone for good and that there was absolutely nothing left for me in this life. Then, and only then, could I break down.
In the meantime, I could only breathe and wait.
When the elevator stopped, the doors opened smoothly with a pneumatic purr. With my gaze on the ground, all I could see was the rich design of a carpet in a dizzying pattern of reds and yellows. Anthea did not make to leave the lift, and not even looking up from her phone, she said: "Straight ahead. The door is open."
I nodded numbly, forcing one foot in front of the other. My shoes sunk into the plush carpet. Behind me, I heard the elevator doors close and then the sound of the lift descending. And then it was just me in a carpeted hallway with high windows and one door and the thought Sherlock is dead weighing heavily on my heart. It increased its weight as I stepped through the fading beams of afternoon sunlight on the carpet because I knew I really was nothing without Sherlock. I had somehow existed for the years without him, just because I knew him to be alive. When he was dead, there was nothing. I was a shell and I had already checked out and gone and I didn't care, because Sherlock was dead and I was too.
Without regard to formalities, I did not knock on the door. I put my hand on the silver knob and turned and walked inside without an announcement. Even though I had started to retreat into myself as my only method of self-defense, I did notice that the floors were marble and that the sound of my entry made an echo on a high ceiling. I blinked once, twice, and lifted my head to look around. I stood in the entryway of some posh high-rise apartment or hotel room with floor to ceiling windows that stretched out to provide a beautiful view of London. The city was fiery and red and burning with the fading day and I never saw it more breathtaking.
Because Sherlock Holmes stood before it all: alive and half-smiling in that way that brought me back to myself faster than the breath leaving my lungs.
And then it seemed like in the span of another breath, Sherlock was there before me with his hands on my face. I felt the calluses on his fingers-years of playing the violin in combination with numerous instances of abuse experimenting with corrosive materials-smooth over my skin, the thumb paying particular attention to the healing laceration along my cheek. He did not say a word to me, just touched my face, my fringe, my lips, and I let him because he was alive and I was alive and the colours of an ending day had never been more serendipitous.
"It's going to scar," he said, after observing for an amount of time that I knew Sherlock did not need, but hoped he wanted.
"Yes," was all I could say, because it would. Not badly, of course. It would fade into a single white line across my cheekbone and perhaps with time, would become almost invisible. But there would be a scar there for the rest of my life, just like the rest of the scars on my body, and that was something that did not trouble me. It would be another story, another memory, in the rich compendium of my life with Sherlock Holmes. So, no, the scar did not bother me; I felt more concern in regards to the final chapter of our lives and when that would be completed. How many more days did we have? Hours? Minutes?
Were years too selfish to ask for?
"He's dead, you know," Sherlock said, as if knowing the course of my thoughts. His thumb moved over the scab on my face so gently that I felt a tremble take root in my spine.
"Who?" I asked.
"The sniper," Sherlock replied. I looked at him. Had Sherlock done it himself? Had he gone to that place after I had told him not to? I almost became angry, because not only had Sherlock gone and gone alone, after I had asked him not to, but also because the thought of Sherlock with all that blood on his hands made me uneasy. My hands were already stained; his were too beautiful to be so tainted. Sherlock shook his head, like my eyes were open pages in a book that he could read with little difficulty, and put me at ease almost immediately. "Mycroft's men." The way he did not look away from me attested to his innocence. So I nodded and Sherlock continued: "His name was Sebastian Moran. He was Moriarty's, how would you say it? Second-in-command."
I waited for Sherlock to add the words I hoped to hear, but he did not.
"We're closer now," Sherlock said, and this time, he did look away.
"But not yet," I said and I looked away too. I stepped to the side and went to the window to watch as the reds and oranges and yellows descended upon rooftops. My arms wrapped around my own body and I held myself there, literally balancing on the edge of what could be a great plunge. "Almost, right?"
Sherlock's presence suddenly appeared behind me, but he did not touch me.
"One more week," he replied.
I turned away from the shining windows and shimmering buildings to look at Sherlock: a contrasting form of black and white and gray all there before me.
"A week?" I asked, feeling as if I swallowed a stone. Or several stones. This was the first time I had been given a definitive timeline. It felt final and wrong and I wanted to be happy because I would know with certainty both our fates, but I just couldn't muster up any semblance of joy. It took me forever to ask the next two words: "And then?"
"And then it's over," Sherlock answered. I couldn't tell how he felt about the end of the Great Game because his eyes and his voice and his body gave nothing away. Maybe it was bittersweet for him: something so exciting that had turned into something else entirely. I hoped it was, because I could live with bittersweet.
I couldn't live with disappointed.
"Okay," I said, watching as the day began sinking along the wall behind him, sending cabinet pulls and door knobs and mirrors into nothing but refractions of colour and light. It did things to Sherlock's eyes that I had never seen before, and I was content to stand there with my back to London while the rest of me plunged into those multi-hued irises. "Okay," I said again, and for the first time since entering the room, touched Sherlock with my own hands. I put them over his, slid them along his knuckles, then down to trace the fine curves of his wrists. He let me do this without a word, without complaint, allowing me to trace the lines of his arms up to his shoulders and then down the smooth angle of his collarbones. I let the tips of my fingers trail down the buttons of his shirt, pausing halfway before sweeping them out over the smooth fabric. He seemed smaller in just a dark maroon button-up with no jacket or scarf to hide him from view. It was then that I realized this was the first time in four years I had seen him without his coat. That made the moment felt more intimate than ever, and I thought I felt his heartbeat, but it could have been mine.
"You're not going to let me help," I said, not asked.
"No," Sherlock replied, but his voice came lower, softer than before.
"Why?" I asked, and looked up at him. The darks of his eyes were the blackest I had ever seen.
"You know why," Sherlock said.
"What if I say no?" I asked, and the stare Sherlock gave me held no humor or mirth.
"I don't care," Sherlock replied, and I knew he didn't. I wanted to look away, but his gaze would not let me break free. "Tomorrow, you're going to leave London. You'll be allowed to return when it's over."
"You're sending me away?" I asked. The moment broke. I did not take that news passively and jerked my hands away from Sherlock as if he had burned me. Simultaneously, I felt all the sunset's colours filling me with red and orange and yellow anger and I propelled it towards the cool grays of Sherlock's face. "Sending me away like I'm some sort of child? Afraid I'm just going to get in the way? Sherlock, you can't just banish people when you don't want them around! It doesn't work that way!"
Sherlock reached out and grabbed my upper arms, digging the tips of his fingers into the muscle so hard that it hurt. Still, I didn't make a sound and didn't try to get away. I was held captive by his gaze, because his eyes were serious and the light made them almost unbearable to look at.
"I'm sending you away for the same reason you told me to stay away," Sherlock said. Once his message had been conveyed in a straightforward manner, the grip on my arms lessened, as did the intensity in his eyes, his voice, as he continued: "John...you're not a child and you're not in the way..." He paused and then looked as if he were searching for the right words, and when he found them, his voice came quickly, but softly: "Moriarty is trapped. We have him cornered and he's going to lash out. Maybe do something drastic. He might take you. He might kill you for fun. And then what, John? What's it all for if he takes you away?"
I felt the anger seep out of me, like water in a sieve, because the blue of Sherlock's eyes turned that sad, same sort of indigo as the night he returned. It was that begging, pleading sort of blue that made me want to kiss the sorrow out of Sherlock until his entire body consisted of nothing but those half-smiles I loved and the laughter I craved more than anything else. I hated myself for making him feel any less. How was it that I always became so selfish that I forgot the reason why Sherlock had done all of this: why he had abandoned me for so many years? It was all for my protection.
It always had been.
"I...I just..." I stopped, let my shoulders droop a bit in acquiescence. "I just don't want you to be alone in all this, Sherlock. I've...been here from the start and leaving you now..."
"John," Sherlock said, and I paused, and he looked at me. I knew what he was going to say and I knew that once he said that one word I would not be able to do anything but agree.
"No," I said, and he was so close that I could feel him everywhere, like he had wrapped himself around me entirely and I had no escape. His eyes were drawing me in, the pupils pulling me deeper and deeper into their depths so that I could barely draw a breath because I was drowning in him. I was drowning and I could not even begin to remember how to swim.
"Please," he murmured, and it was so honest and sincere and he was begging when he said it. I broke because I could not oppose him now. Not when Sherlock Holmes looked me right in the eyes and said please because he never said please.
"John, please," he said, and I closed my eyes and resigned myself to my fate. When I opened them again, Sherlock was still there, waiting, his breath held somewhere between his chest and throat.
"Just this once," I replied, and he smiled at my choice of words. A real smile: one of his not-too-big and not-too-fake smiles, but one of the small, quiet ones I think he reserved for me and only me. It filled the hole in me left by his absence: expanding with warmth and light and life. Half of me had been missing. Only when I was with Sherlock did that sense of loss disappear. The thought of living forever without it-returning to that empty, dark place-made me want my own heart to stop beating. That was not even being over-dramatic. That was me being honest. "On one condition, of course."
"What's that?" Sherlock asked, and his eyes were half-lidded and gorgeously darkened as the soft colours of twilight began to replace the harsh pigments of sunset.
"That you live through this," I said, smiled, tried to make a joke that I felt only came out half-hearted: "I'll kill you if you don't."
His lips quirked at the corners, but did not lift further.
"What will you do if I don't?" Sherlock inquired, because he had seen past the joke and deeper, to that thing I desperately wanted to hide from him. I tried to pretend that it wasn't there, but then his eyes were there and they were looking like they did at crime scenes and cadavers and I hoped to all the higher powers that he did not deduce what I would do if he died. But the Fates were not in my favour. It took him less than a minute to figure it out, and I knew because his eyes widened that fraction of an inch like they would when he discovered something relevant and then his lips parted marginally as he took in a small breath. In any other situation, it would have been nothing short of tantalizing, erotic even. But it was this situation and he was there with all the knowledge of what his death would do to me, and I wanted nothing more than to cover his eyes like I would a child, hoping he would un-see those terrible things; those monsters that fed on empty despair and that could only be banished with poison.
"Sherlock," I began, but he stopped me. His eyes swept over me from head to shoulders, down along my waist, where he stared at my left-hand pocket like he could see right through it. I could not tell if he was angry or afraid or both.
"Will you take those pills in your pocket, then? Follow me in death? Very poetic, John. And so dreadfully boring," he said, and I could sense the extra force he used to try to make it cutting and sharp to hide his fear. It did hurt a bit, I thought, because I never wanted Sherlock to look at me for what I truly was: pedestrian, ordinary. I always feared that one day he would wake up and discover this and, becoming tired of me, would push me out of his life all together. It never happened and probably never would, and that security made me a bit stronger than everyone else in Sherlock's world. But sometimes-and there were times-Sherlock became human and scared and he said things to try to hurt me, but those were the words that I knew I must take with a grain of salt. Even when he drawled it out like it something distasteful: "You're not supposed to bore me, John."
"And you're not supposed to die, Sherlock," I answered, not ruffled in the slightest. I stared at him levelly, not allowing him to have the upper hand. I was going to do as he asked and I would leave London, but I would not abandon him just as much as I would not allow him to take away my final choice.
"What are they? Cyanide tablets? Planning on overdosing on Oxycodine?" Sherlock asked, and he looked a little crazed when he reached for my left pocket. I stepped away from him, effectively keeping his fingers away from the little orange bottle that held the end of my life. "Arsenic? Methadone? Barbiturate?" Sherlock kept asking, kept inching closer, and I clenched my hand around the bottle to ensure it remained in place.
"Mine," I said, and looked at him with the coldest expression I could manage. I had to let him know how serious I was about it, and how little he could do to change my mind. "They are mine. They are my choice, Sherlock." He stopped coming towards me, let his pale hands drop to his sides. The retreating daylight gave way to an eerie lavender and cerulean palette on the walls; upon Sherlock's skin. "If something goes wrong... if you die..." I had to look down and off to the side. I couldn't look at him and say it, because we had a week and then all the speculation would become reality and then perhaps there would be two graves in Rosemont Cemetery instead of one. "If you die...I...I have nothing at all. You've taken it, Sherlock. You've taken all of me." I smiled, just a little. "And whatever you didn't take, I gave to you. That's what you do..." I stopped and clutched the pills and wondered when all my strength had deserted me, because it was like the night on the stairs when Sherlock looked at me and waited but I couldn't say a word. It took a second for me to think of the syntax and the syllables and the breath so that it came out the way I wanted it to: "That's what you do when you love someone, Sherlock." And then the words tumbled out like a wave I could not hold back: "When you love someone...you give them everything... because you're not just this singular being anymore. You're not just yourself anymore. You're two people and it's the fucking scariest thing to realize that you're nothing without that other person. The prospect of losing that person and becoming nothing..." I squeezed the pills and heard them rattle in their plastic prison. I felt as if I could barely breathe and the words came out softly, so softly that I almost didn't hear myself. "Dying is better than being alone, with only half of yourself and all the memories of what it was like when you were happy and whole and alive."
The columns of shadow upon the carpet had turned softer around the edges, beginning to blend into the gray-white carpet with the fading light, my fading words.
"So, if you die...if you're gone... you're taking me with you. Understand?" I asked, and I finally looked up even though I knew Sherlock's closed-off expression would tell me nothing of how he felt about what I had just said. So I kept talking, because he needed to know.
He needed to know that someone loved him so much that they would die without him.
"So this is my choice. This is my final choice. You can't take that away from me." I smiled, even though I felt some heat prickling at the corners of my eyes. "Besides, I've been following you from the moment I met you. And if I haven't been following you, I've been waiting and believing in you. So I'm not going to just stay behind...and let you go on alone."
My words hung in the air as the pinks and and light purples of twilight gave way to the deeper blues and blacks of night. Sherlock was there before it all, transforming with the absence of light and the perpetual silence that made me feel as if I had said too much or perhaps not enough.
Then finally, Sherlock closed his eyes, as if it pained him, and when he opened them again, it was as if he had made some sort of peace with himself.
It was all he said, and I felt a bit of relief that somehow trumped my rising disappointment. At least he agreed to that. And although I had not been expecting Sherlock to respond emotionally to my admission, the fact that he had completely omitted any sort of comment left me unsteady and unsure of myself. Had I misjudged Sherlock's actions over the past few months? The desperate touches and needy kisses that lasted only moments? Those beautiful, quiet moments where we did not have to say anything, but could feel each other as if out of pure instinct? Did they all mean nothing to Sherlock? Or did he just not know how to say it?
"Okay," I said, and unclenched my fist around the bottle, easing my hands out of my pockets. I felt awkward and a bit exposed, so I turned around and looked out the window again. Already the buildings had lit up with their golden and soft-white hues. Hundreds upon thousands of blinking windows that looked into hundreds upon thousands of lives so very different from ours. What was it like to not have a deadline on the life of the person you cared most for?
Sherlock moved away from me. I heard his footsteps on the carpet retreating. The shifting of his coat. I did not want to turn around and see that he had put it on and had started straightening it out in preparation to leave. There were only so many times I could watch his back disappear out of sight before I could not take it anymore.
"The room has been booked for the entire evening," he said. "It's safe."
"Wonderful," I replied dryly, and leaned against the window frame. I would apparently be spending the night in a very expensive condominium, alone and under high surveillance while Sherlock went off on his own despite the danger waiting for him. I would have much rather been back in Baker Street, pretending to watch the telly while feign-drinking tea like I did almost every night.
"In the morning, a car will come for you," Sherlock continued.
"Looking forward to it," I said with absolutely no enthusiasm, closing my eyes against the lights of the city. I couldn't look at London because it was so beautiful that I could only think hateful thoughts about it. One week, one week, one week kept bouncing about in my head, pounding against my temples and it was so unfair I wanted to break every shiny, perfect thing in the vicinity.
"You'll have to leave your mobile behind."
"Excellent," I answered, because with every sentence, I felt like sinking to the floor and falling into a deep coma. It would be better than being awake with the gorgeous view and the security cameras pointed on me and the knowledge that I would not be able to look away when Sherlock walked out the door and left me staring at his back again.
"John," Sherlock said, and he was close and smelled good, like the soap he used to use, but it had been so long that I could not remember the name. It started with an S and came in a red bottle. At least one hundred times, Sherlock had left it resting precariously on the edge of the high shower shelf we shared, and at least one hundred mornings it had fallen right on my foot, which left me with a over one hundred swears about that damned bottle that I could not remember the name of no matter how hard I tried. The nostalgia threatened to crush me against the glass where the lights of the unfairly luminescent city would smother me until I died, sobbing and gasping.
"John," Sherlock said again, and he was right there in my ear, his chest against my back. His arms moved around me, loosely, from behind, and it felt so right that I wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Why would he do something like this to me when he was just going to leave? It just wasn't fair.
"What?" I asked, trying to sound like myself, but my voice did not come out normal at all. It emerged past my lips as if someone was trying to strangle me. And I really did feel like someone was trying to suffocate me because Sherlock had never held me like this before and it felt so good and so right and why, why did Moriarty want to take this away from me?
Sherlock's arms tightened a bit around me, and somehow I felt safe and untouchable and strong again.
"I'm not dead, and neither are you, so let's have dinner," he said, and it was so perfect that I felt my heart swell so large I thought it might burst. Perhaps it did, because a laugh escaped my lips, surprising me.
"You never eat during a case," I said.
"I'll make an exception."
"You don't make exceptions."
"Yes I do."
"No you don't."
"I do for you."
I felt a smile tugging at my lips, but it didn't last long. I glanced down at the arms around my waist and placed my hands upon Sherlock's.
"Whatever you want."
"You don't have to run off somewhere?"
"No. Tonight is mine," Sherlock said, and then leaned forward a bit so I could feel the exhale of his breath against my ear and neck and shoulder. "Ours." It came across sensually and I wanted it to be that way, because our proximity was something I had yearned for for years and then suddenly we were together overlooking the city cast in night and light and stars and the thought of making love to Sherlock in front of all of it felt perfect.
"So, dinner," I said, mouth a little dry. I felt Sherlock nod against me. "And then whatever I want?"
"No need for the repetition, John, you know how useless it is," Sherlock replied cheekily, and it was all in jest, but I elbowed him softly in the stomach anyway.
"You're incorrigible," I said, and I felt myself smiling a full smile.
"I am not," Sherlock retorted.
"You are too," I replied.
"I assure you, I am not. I've altered my behavioral patterns in the past, at your insistence, to better conform to social norms of civility in the presence of other dull-minded persons-"
"Incorrigible and cheeky."
"I prefer your usual astute observations of brilliant and amazing."
"Narcissistic. I should add narcissistic to the list."
"Your attempts at compliments toward my character are sadly lacking for someone who calls himself a writer," Sherlock said, and he sounded half-amused, half-annoyed. I laughed and it felt good. So, so good.
"I missed you," I said, simply, openly, with no trace of the previous humor. It came out as a solid, honest admission for which I felt no embarrassment. Sherlock moved his body closer to mine, and I felt him pressed so solidly against me that I believed I could fall right into his flesh.
"I...missed you," Sherlock said quietly, and I felt his forehead drop to rest on my shoulder, as if he had become tired upon realizing just how long we had been apart. I reached up, touched his hair with my fingertips. Soft, dark curls smoothed under my fingers. I wondered if the rest of him would be that soft..?
I dropped my hand.
"I'm not hungry," I murmured.
"You're too thin," Sherlock said, his breath warm against my neck. His arms pulled me closer against him. His own frame was several stones lighter than I remembered. Pot calling the kettle black.
"I'm not hungry," I said again, turning around in his arms. Then, I looked up. Sherlock's face was still all those beautiful angles and pale lines, but now with a softness around his eyes and lips. Was he thinking about tomorrow, when I would leave him and London behind? About my planned suicide should the Game end badly? About the admission of love that he had not returned? I touched his cheek. "Sherlock," was all I said, and it brought him back to the world where we existed, finally together, perhaps this one last night together. All the words, the soft and the angry from before, disappeared. We clicked, falling into that same sort of synchronized wavelength that we had experienced back in Angelo's flat. It was a stretch of time where tomorrow did not matter because we were alive and breathing and then Sherlock's lips were on mine.
And then I knew without a doubt that Sherlock loved me without saying a word.
pqpq(The Arrival of the Birds)pqpq
The city lights were golden and blue and violet.
They came in through the windows and splayed across Sherlock's skin, his hair, his eyelashes and made shadows and highlights that were mysterious and elusive and breathtakingly beautiful. London's vibrant life filtered into Sherlock's eyes, saturating the pale gray canvas with hues I had never seen before and never could have imagined. And then I touched him, kissed him, slowly began to unbutton his shirt to expose pale skin one centimeter at a time. His palms rested on my cheeks. His lips pressed, warm and heated against mine. I could feel his fear and his anxiety by the gentle tremor of the thumb resting under my jaw. I could sense the urgency in his shoulders, sitting taut all the way down his spine. He was already thinking about tomorrow and the colours were so beautiful that I was not about to stand for it.
I bit his lip and tasted a bit of blood. He pulled away and looked down at me with a gaze that stretched into eternity.
"Don't," I said, and gripped his shirt, pulling Sherlock back to where he had been on top of me. I brought him close so that I could see the soul of London filtering sephia and violet through his eyelashes. "Don't think about tomorrow. Think about now. Think about right now: tonight." I brushed my lips over his, tasting the bitterness from his wound. "If this is our last night, we can't waste it. We just can't." It came across as begging, and in a way, I think I was. I couldn't bear the thought of Sherlock thinking about tomorrow, because I was doing all I could to not think about it either. And if we were both thinking about tomorrow, then our last few hours together would be nothing but imprisonment. I thought back to the way Sherlock stood on the bridge overlooking the Thames, holding my paper crane in his hand as he whispered freedom. And then I knew I could never accept that we didn't live to the fullest.
That we didn't love to the fullest.
"Sherlock," I said, but he stopped my words with a kiss that held more of him than before and I fell into it. I needed that feeling of him surrounding me, pulling me in, holding me close. It meant that he was there and alive, even if just for the moment. It made the transience of our existence all the more meaningful.
"John," he said, when we needed to breath. He whispered my own name over my skin and I felt possessed by the desire to be taken by Sherlock in every possible way. He already owned me mind and soul. The only thing left was my body.
So I gave it to him.
It felt like he kissed every inch of me, not flinching away from the scars of battle: the white lines on my arms, my waist, my legs from errant shrapnel. He took no detour around the mess of scar tissue on my left shoulder; around the bruises the past week had let heal into patterns of blue, black, and yellow. When his exploration was complete, Sherlock stopped and looked at me.
His pupils seemed to extend forever.
I didn't care about swimming or surviving, just drowning as far and as deep as I could. I gave myself over to him, clung to his back and clenched my fingers in his hair. Even though there was pain, I barely felt it, because I was too focused on Sherlock's breath and skin and the connection of our bodies that I think somehow linked our spirits. I felt that feeling of completion, of wholeness; I had been reunited with the half of me I thought I had lost. I did not want it to end, but I felt myself losing my grip and falling headfirst into the blinding lights of the city. And then there was only lightness, like feathers, like thousands upon thousands of birds.
And I felt free.