i miss the rewarding gaze of a friend from my younger days,
didn't mind 'bout my selfish ways,
but as he died, i was miles away...
"so much for everyone", dan mangan
He's in Vancouver when he gets the news.
It comes through from one of his less than reputable contacts, a wasted shell of a young girl, some poor runaway who'd left home for better things and found only hard drugs and despair instead. She hands him the paper, the paper with just three words, three words printed in that style of handwriting long given up, all fine point and proper penmanship, like writing used to be.
John is dead.
He doesn't cry. He simply packs a bag and locks up his apartment, taking the train down to the airport and boarding a plane, never to return. Why would he, when the last of those he knew (loved) were gone?
It's a long flight. Hours and hours spent under the pulsing vents blasting recycled air at his face, an endless loop of stale oxygen up at thirty thousand feet. The young girl next to him seems to have a bladder the size of a small pea, and he grits his teeth every time he has to rise to let her by. Up, down, up, down – his knees can't take the movement like they used to. Perhaps the body wasn't just merely a vehicle for the mind after all.
They land at Gatwick, still little more than a giant field in the middle of smaller fields, and through the tiny window he can see the skyline of London on the horizon, rising up like an island from the great depths of the sea. He and John had never flown anywhere together. Maybe they would sometime. Then he pauses, and he remembers.
Maybe not, after all.
London is much the same. Busy streets, busy cars, busy people. Young women in short skirts, men in officious ties, mistresses rushing off to meet their lovers while a man in a trench coat purchases a copious amount of drugs. Could be anywhere, really. Anywhere in the world.
He doesn't go to the old flat. It wasn't theirs anymore. Mrs. Hudson had died years and years before, and John had moved away, marrying a woman with blue eyes and blonde hair and a name he had never bothered to learn. Maybe she'd be at the funeral? Was she even still alive? Does it even really matter?
He wishes it was thirty years ago, when they'd been young men, young men with power and joie de vivre, young men in the prime of life. They'd solve mysteries and crimes, and there was always something going on, something deliciously complicated and complex. They were a duo, a famous duo, two halves of a whole, Sherlock and John, Holmes and Watson, two men against the world.
But then he plunged off of a roof and the world he knew slipped away, and he never got to come back home.
It rains at the cemetery. There are a lot of people there, dressed all in black and crying silent tears. All the players are present – the sobbing widow, the silent and stoic son, the confused and squirming grandchild. So many of them. So many faces. Who'd known that John had been such a popular fellow?
He waits out of sight, beneath an old elm, shielded from the worst of weather by its drooping leaves. He'd dressed in black but hadn't bothered with a disguise – after thirty years, who would still be looking for Sherlock Holmes? Besides, it didn't really matter anymore, did it, since they were all gone. He'd disappeared to protect them, to keep them safe, so who did he have to protect anymore?
It takes ages for them all to leave. First the children, the excitable, bored children. He decides that he likes them, those tiny little humans with John's smile and the same floppy hair, all sheer energy and movement, nothing like the downtrodden others all gathered round. The colleagues and associates and acquaintances all leave next, filing down towards the parked cars, making their way quickly in order to get out of the rain. Then the family, the no-longer-estranged sister and the American-cousin, the old aunt and the even older uncle. His heart nearly skips a beat when John's son makes his way past, a nearly spitting image of a man he'd once known thirty years ago.
The widow and the grave-diggers take their time, but they soon fade away, disappearing into deluge that the rain had become, the weather finally bringing them in.
And then it's just him.
Just him and John, once again, as it was before.
He smiles to himself as he walks towards the freshly dug plot, a smile that reaches back through the days and the months and the years, a smile that reminds him of days spent running through the alleyways and the streets, wandering through apartments and warehouses, always on the move from somewhere to somewhere else. Always never alone.
He winds his way down from the elm to the tombstones, and he (nearly) regrets not wearing his glasses, still refusing to acknowledge the fact that his eyes are not quite what they used to be. So he squints to make out the pathway to the final resting place of his friend, and when his eyes finally lock on to the marker he nearly stumbles with surprise.
He had not expected that.
His breath hitches in his throat as he looks down at the tombstone, sunken letters in the stone spelling out the words John Hamish Watson in an elegant white font on the dark marble, mirroring the print on the neighbouring stone. He leans out a shaky hand to support himself on the carved rock, his damned knees suddenly unsteady once again. His fingers trace the letters on the second marker, a sequence of letters that he's known by heart since he was four years old.
The rain on his face feels strange now, warm instead of cold, and he reaches up with his free hand to brush the tears away, but there's too many of them, and he lets his fingers fall back away, leaving them alone. The sight of their names side by side is too much for him to bear, so he closes his eyes and remembers his friend as he used to be, smiling and laughing with those twinkling eyes, the only real friend he'd ever known.
"John," he whispers once, his voice catching in the wind. "Goodbye."
He stands there until the sun goes down, a silent figure in a long dark coat, scarf wrapped around his neck, one last vigil for the last person he ever loved.
after the day is done,
i will be on the run –
so much for everyone,
so much for everyone.