"I suggested he do it alone." Mycroft sighed, handing John the flask he had hidden in his coat. The search party had given up the hunt hours ago, and here he was still out by the river. A few of the people who had helped with the search had remained as well, chatting in the cold night air. The brandy that burned Watson's throat as he took a swig tasted expensive. "Holmes, I mean. That you and Mary come to my home and be safe, but when I said it he almost seemed panicked. He didn't want you out of his sight."
John swallowed, "He said that?"
"Not in so many words… He said that he was more likely to survive if he brought a partner. He would have no one but you." John chuckled for a long moment after that, taking another swig of brandy. "I wanted to thank you. For the longest time I was sure Sherly would never make a friend. Not after Vincent."
"He may have been a rubbish friend. But he was mine."
Mycroft pulled a piece of folded paper from his pocket. "He said to give you this, once it was over."
John stared at the paper, frightened beyond belief. "Burn it."
Mycroft tsked, "Burn it yourself." He dropped it in the doctor's lap and left with the last of them, leaving him alone at the base of the mountains. This was not over, there was no need.
He opened it, and his brow furrowed, curious. It seemed to be torn from a book, half a page of verse.
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;-then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
"Keats?..." He thought Sherlock had no room in his mind for poetry. It was then he noticed Sherlock's neat cramped handwriting at the bottom.
Goodbye, my doctor.
If I am never to speak to you again, know that I would have spent my life conversing with you- until my last breath.
John read and reread the note. "What does that even mean?" He stared at the paper as if it would be able to reveal to him the inner workings of the mind of Sherlock Holmes. "Holmes."
That selfish bastard.
He really was gone this time and this was his goodbye to John.
Tears streamed down his cheeks, he tried wiping them away but they just kept coming.
That bloody idiot.
He sat there and cried out into the dark, the loss finally weighing on the poor doctor's heart.
When he got home he began to write. He wrote how wonderful Sherlock really was, beyond being a selfish idiot. Mary kept her distance, gave him his space. She was so patient, so understanding. At the funeral he couldn't even sit with her. If he did, he knew he'd lash out. He'd do something or say something to hurt her so he could escape the pain. The dull ache ever present in his chest fueled his memoir. The real turning point came when Mary asked if he wanted her to proofread it.
"It's always good to have a fresh eyes look over it." She reached for a page and he jumped, snatching it away.
"No!" He held it close, out of her reach and they stared at each other a long moment.
"John." She said in a hushed, calm voice. "Let me see."
For a moment, he was going to refuse. He wasn't ready to share Holmes yet. All he wanted was to wallow in his grief alone for a little longer. But Mary was his wife. Hadn't he persisted in the importance of his love for her every time Holmes would harp on his want for a family? Tears welled up in John's eyes as he handed the paper over. Mary smiled, already forgiving him. When she read the page, she looked concerned.
"John… You said Holmes was the most disheveled, irresponsible and selfish person you had ever known. I don't want to sound critical but you make him sound much more wonderful then I know you actually think he was."
He sighed, "Despite himself..." John thought a moment then smiled, thinking back on his day with Holmes: the cases, chasing criminals through the dark alleys of London, nights at 21B with brandy and a cigar. "He was the most wonderful person I ever knew. He only became those things when-" He stopped, remembering the beginning of the change. "When I stopped taking care of him." The lie rolled of his tongue and felt like strange in his mouth. It was when he started seeing Mary.
"Alright. I will take your word for it. You knew him best."
"No. I don't think I knew him at all." John buried his hands in his pockets, clutching the poem and the last thing Sherlock ever wrote.
John knew he had been a fool. It was so obvious now. Sherlock had not wanted him to go because he was losing a partner. Holmes didn't want him to go and be in love with someone else.