I pressed my ear to your chest
And heard something personal,
A whisper that knew my name.
Is it how your heart treats all strangers,
With love and affection?
Then I feel cold and empty.
And there's nothing stranger
Than to love someone.
I heard the water beat at your skin
A shower of discipline, as heavy as iron,
And I imagined the hand that gripped mine
Now gripping the gaps in the tiles,
Just holding on tight.
-White Lies, Strangers
"Fifty three kilograms... you've lost even more weight, Mr. Watson. As your doctor-"
"As my doctor, you're worried. I may have specialized in military medicine, but I'm not an idiot. I'm severely emaciated, my weight almost that of a clinical anorexic. Things have progressed much more quickly than we'd previously assumed."
Heaving the sigh of someone who knows the battle is lost, the GP nodded, rolling his chair back so he could level his critical gaze at his patient's face rather than his nearly concave gut. He was unsurprised when it was met with one of his patient's own; two blue eyes looked back at him with the same heavy dignity they had had since the moment the two had first met. It was something he had grown used to when dealing with John Watson. It was as though the man had made his peace with death even before his diagnosis.
"How much longer have I got, then?"
Squinting, the GP ran the calculations through his head, going over the progression of symptoms and severity of them.
"No more than four days."
"You don't really believe that, though, do you?"
"So what do you really think?"
"This is a rare disease, Mr. Watson, one not found often in humans. There haven't ever been any other cases in Great Britain, so I can't be one hundred percent sure, but..."
"But I can only lose so much weight, my symptoms are only worsening and I've developed aspirational pneumonia, haven't I? That's what you've got in that folder you're reluctant to open: my lab results." Again, he could only nod. "What's your clinical opinion, then?"
"In my clinical opinion... you won't make it through the night. I've never seen seen a disease progress so quickly, nor weaken the subject so..." he trailed off, realizing what he was saying and to whom, but the response he got was a dark chuckle.
"When I was younger, my sister informed me that I'd never see fifty. Admittedly, she'd said that because I'd stolen something from her and wouldn't give it back, but it seems my sister's a bit of a prophet." The two men shared a small laugh at that, neither particularly happy but needing to find a way to breathe in the cold, dead room. Just as the silence became uncomfortable, there was a small chime from John's pocket. With a snort, he looked at the screen, then typed a quick response. "Is there anything else? I've been summoned to a crime scene and really ought to be going..."
"No, go ahead."
As the man stood up and prepared to leave, making it all the way to the door, the doctor felt a strange need to speak.
"John. Call me John."
"John, then. I'm sorry, truly sorry. I wish I could do more..."
The man looked at the doctor, deep sorrow in his eyes.
"No, there's no reason to apologize. After all, in a few days, I'll be dead and have no memory of this. You, though? You'll have to live with these memories for the rest of your life. I don't envy you that." Shaking his head, the last sentence was almost inaudible. "My decision to come to you was the right one."
Another small chime echoed through the halls as the man made his way out the clinic.
John sat down heavily on the chair that had, through habit, become his. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, studiously ignoring the way his flatmate was glaring at him. The moment they had returned, Sherlock had slunk to the sofa and flopped onto his back, only to sit back up immediately and watch him as John had made tea and puttered about the flat, waiting for the water to boil. Once ready, he had made himself a cuppa, even made Sherlock one- which currently sat cold and untouched on the table next to the man's pale hands- before finally going to his chair and sitting down to wait, knowing that Sherlock had begun to catch on.
"You've lost weight," was the first question.
"I've been eating less," was his mild response.
"Your weight is now low to the point that if it were my weight, you'd insist I go to hospital." Suspicious, now.
"Well, you're taller and younger, so of course you should weight more." Not completely logically sound but still mild.
"Despite the more welcoming attitude of Scotland Yard, you've been reluctant, almost violently so, to spend time with any of them, yet when pursued even lightly, you lose your temper. John, you have rarely lost your temper in the past, even when I've said something... very not good. If you are left alone and not directly engaged by someone- tasks rarely retain your attention- you lose your expression and become completely listless; the last time that occurred, it took me four minutes and thirty eight seconds to recapture your attention. Also occurring when left alone, you start to wander aimlessly, most often in circles and figure eights. The man I know wouldn't do that. He's far too purposeful for such a thing-"
With each observation, Sherlock grew more intent, more impassioned, and John allowed his friend's words to wash over him, allowing himself that final pleasure. It was one of those rare times that John was allowed a glimpse of the man beneath the cold mask. That he was the reason for Sherlock's ardour... It meant a great deal to him to know that his presence was something that mattered to his reserved friend, that their friendship- concern for John's well-being, even- could penetrate the enigmatic man's heavily guarded heart.
"...listening? John? John!"
"Yes, Sherlock, I was listening."
"No, you weren't."
John sighed, knowing that there was no evading Sherlock when he got a case, and at that moment, John was a case. It probably ought to have bothered him, that he was being treated like one of the many corpses and puzzles that came to his friend, but he could not quite find it in himself. He felt warmth wash over his skin and gloried in it, reveled in the way Sherlock's attention was focused solely on him. It was as though the earth had made a second sun whose only purpose was to keep him warm. It would eventually fade, just as Sherlock's focus on him would, the knowledge of which made their final moments together, though Sherlock did not know them as such, all the sweeter.
He would cherish them even as he felt himself slipping away.
"I'm fine, Sherlock, just got a cold."
"John, you can't hide things from me. I know that that's a lie." Sherlock's temper was rising; he always hated the rare times when John argued or withheld information.
"No, it isn't."
"You're being unreasonable."
"So what if I am? I'm allowed to be unreasonable, Sherlock! I'm unwell! I'm sick, and I'm tired of you lording over me and acting as though you're any judge of what's reasonable and what isn't! Christ, Sherlock, just... just piss off for a while."
"I will do no such thing. You're clearly not thinking rationally."
"I don't have to be rational, Sherlock! I'm a human, and sometimes humans aren't rational! You'd know if you actually were one!"
Sherlock sucked in a quick, whistling breath, his eyes cold and flashing with rage. "Very well. I'll be off, then. Lots of cases, important witnesses, interesting things to do."
John watched him leave and felt the cold fingers of guilt dig into his gut. He knew that it had been unfair- cruel, really- for him to have said that to Sherlock. It had been the one thing he had never said to him; he had attacked Sherlock's actions, his words, his mind set, even his ignorance, but never his humanity.
It had to have been done, though, because John could not risk having Sherlock for his final hours. That would be more than he could to bear.
It was eleven o'clock at night, and John was in Sherlock's room, making a mess as he searched for the box he knew his friend had hidden and not caring about trying to make it look as though he had not been going through Sherlock's things. Neither would be much bothered, come morning.
In the end, it took him thirty four minutes to find the Moroccan case, complete with a new syringe and two bottles- one light and one dark, one of morphine and one of cocaine. On their own, each contained more than enough for his purposes, but he wanted to be sure. Like everything involving Sherlock, there was no room for error. He closed the case and slipped it into the bag on his arm, ignoring the unsealed envelope already inside as he made his way to Sherlock's bed.
The sheets were cool against his legs as he slid between them, his hands stacking pillows from his bed behind his back. His breathing was already quite labored, and his hands were shaking. The case seemed to call to him from its place in the bag, but he needed a few more moments of life, a few more moments with to think with a clear mind.
He had taken care of his post-death matters years ago. Harry would get his money and whatever Sherlock felt would not be useful to him. John himself had been, at best, a faulty conductor for Sherlock's genius, so he was hopeful, in the way that dying men tend to be, that there might be something he had owned that could replace him. He had a few items from Afghanistan that he was relatively sure had escaped his flatmate's prying eyes that might capture Sherlock's attention.
There were other things for him to do before thinking about that.
Fifteen minutes went by, and John was barely conscious. His phone was on speakerphone and cradled against his face. The finger he raised to it was barely strong enough to press the send key to call the number he had entered earlier. Four rings later, a voice answered.
"John? What's wrong, mate? Sherlock gone off again, has he?"
"No..." He had never realized how difficult it was to speak before, or how hard it was to breathe... "I... need to report... a suicide." Each word was harder to say than the last, and the pauses between them grew wider and wider, his body struggling against sickness and and drug-fueled sleepiness to give Lestrade the information he needed.
"What? What's going on?" Lestrade's voice was rising, part in fear and part frustration. It always rankled him when there were things he could not see or understand, and being unable to be where John was, to see exactly what was happening, was undoubtedly getting under his skin.
"Sherlock's... gone... for now... and I need... you... to get here... before he does..."
"What do you mean? What's going on, John?"
"He can't... find... me... by himself."
"I'm not following you. Did something happen? Are you all right?"
"Just... come. Two Two One B Baker Street."
Sherlock arrived at the flat at six o'clock in the morning, anticipating the sound of John shuffling around the flat, most likely uncomfortable and guilty about the night before, which was understandable, and it would be Sherlock's duty to ignore that guilt. John must have been genuinely unwell to have said what he had. Unless... unless that had been what he had truly been thinking the whole time? That went against the facts, however. John had been adamant when coming to his defense, had yelled and even attacked people who had said things that, while nothing that Sherlock had not heard a thousand times before, were... uncomplimentary. For some reason, whenever he was insulted, John would adamantly leap to his defense, yet the night before, he had echoed the same sentiments as those of the people he had claimed angered him.
Sherlock shook his head angrily. He had spent the entire night reflecting on everything John had ever said or done, dissecting his every word and deed, trying to find a way to understand whether or not there was something else behind John's words.
Instead of John, however, he found Sally Donovan and Anderson standing outside the door to the flat. He jogged up to them, demanding to know what was going on. Sally immediately turned away, making a choking sound, while Anderson looked at him with a pained look on his face that Sherlock had never seen before.
"What are you doing here? Lestrade didn't text me, so there's no case on. This isn't another of your 'drugs busts,' is it? And where's John? Surely he's around here, telling Lestrade to piss off, undoubtedly."
Sally suddenly ran away, her hands over her mouth, Anderson merely hanging his head.
"What?" Sherlock asked. John had never said that asking any of those questions was 'not good.' "Well, Anderson, what's got you here today, stinking up my doorstep and lowering everyone's IQ?"
Instead of Anderson's voice, however, it was Lestrade's that answered, stepping through the doorway as he spoke. His face was grave and his tone reluctant. "Sherlock, I..."
"What's going on, Lestrade?" he nearly shouted. All these people at his flat, the flat he shared with John- who really should have been at his side by now- were holding something from him, and it was irritating.
"Look... maybe now isn't a good-"
"I won't ask again! Now let me through. John, at least, will tell me what's happening."
"That's just the thing. I really don't think that you should go in there right- Sherlock!" Halfway through the sentence, Sherlock took off, sensing that Lestrade was a) holding something back, b) not going to tell him where John was and c) trying to keep him outside the flat.
Once inside, he came upon Mrs. Hudson. The moment she saw him, she burst into tears, making her already soaked face still wetter. She extended her arms, and he allowed her to wrap her arms around him, even rocked back and forth as she sobbed into his coat.
"Mrs. Hudson, where's John? Has he left?"
That only made her cry harder, but through her tears and thick murmurs, he managed to make out that John was in his- Sherlock's- bedroom.
He immediately swept away, off-balance from the outpouring of emotion around him and lack of his companion to explain them. How John had become so essential in so little time without him noticing was equally interesting and frustrating. He would have to ask him once he found him. John always knew about the strange things ways in which people interacted, the ways that went beyond murder and thievery.
As he opened the door, he discovered John asleep in his bed. He must be quite ill to have wandered into the wrong bedroom.
Warily, Sherlock approached his sleeping doctor, fully aware that even when he seemed to be completely incapacitated, John was hardly weakened. If anything, the veneer of vulnerability only increased how dangerous he was. He suddenly recalled the time he had sought to rouse John from one of his post-case naps and ended up with a sprained wrist and broken nose, both of which had occurred within seconds of his hand touching the older man's shoulder. John had been incredibly apologetic afterwards, of course, had even made a great amount of tea and not complained about the gallbladder nailed to the ceiling for a week and a half.
When John still failed to wake with him at his side, something twisted in Sherlock's gut.
"John...?" he called softly. Up close, he could see that John's features were oddly slack, as though his muscles were no longer working. His head had, at some point in the night, lolled to the side and was nearly hanging off the side of the bed. "John, have you taken something? John!" The silence was irritating and unfamiliar. John was supposed to be awake and making noise. Sherlock squatted down next to his friend's face, so close they were nearly nose-to-nose. "John?"
He heard soft footsteps coming toward him- Mrs. Hudson, by the sound of them.
"I'm sorry, Sherlock," she whispered, her voice raw and cracking as she laid a hand on his shoulder, "but he's not going to wake up."
"No, no, you're wrong. He's fine, Mrs. Hudson- probably just accidentally took one of your herbal soothers-"
"No," he said harshly. He reached out and took hold of John's dangling hand. He gripped it tightly with both of his and brought it to his face, smiling a watery smile when he saw how his hands dwarfed John's- so much shorter and broader, yet so very skilled. "Look at this, Mrs. Hudson. Do you see how perfectly formed his fingers are? He served as a surgeon, yet his hands show only minor indicators of the strain typically found in surgeons."
"He was a good boy, wasn't he, Sherlock?"
"Is. He is a good boy, the very best boy. He is..."
"Leave us, Mrs. Hudson." That grating voice, so rough and tired, could not possibly belong to him. "Please." Neither could that tiny, broken one.
She might have responded, or she might not have. He couldn't know, not with his entire being concentrated on the person on the bed.
"John. John Watson, what are you doing? Wake up, John. Lestrade's outside and acting like the fool he is, and Donovan and Anderson had the indecency to show up here, too."
He pressed John's hand to his forehead, ignoring the "three mortem" as he had once seen them called in an old textbook.
Rigor mortis, "the stiffening of death," the body becomes stiff, though it eventually begins to loosen slightly.
Livor mortis, "the blue-ish color of death," the blood pools in the lowest extremities.
Algor mortis, "the coldness of death," the body cools after death.
Evidence gathered: John's body was stiff, blood pooled in the side of his face and no heat to be found in his hand.
Facts: John's body was loose, only occasionally stiff when his shoulder bothered him. The only pools of blood on his body were haematomas, most often small, generally because he had fallen or gotten hit while following Sherlock, and he was never cold, not even in the winter. There was always the warmth of blood rushing through him and off him.
Conclusion: This was not John.
Conclusion: This was John.
Extrapolated conclusion: John was dead.
"John," he moaned, noticing that as he opened his mouth, a liquid and salty substance entered his mouth. His face was wet. His eyes stung. He was crying. Again, he was crying, but only John was there to know. "John, John..."
He whispered his friend's name until his voice disappeared and he saw nothing but the darkness behind his eyelids.
The letter sat in Sherlock's hands, as immaculate as the moment John had slipped it into the bag. It had taken him a while to find it- though he'd known it had to exist, as John would not leave without explanation. John was a man of habits; he left notes saying he was off to get milk or that, should Sherlock need him, he'd be at the clinic. Death was weak; it had no power to break the habits John had collected during his life. Explanations were John's specialty, and he would not leave his friend without one.
Unlike his usual, romanticized blog entries, John's farewell was short, but it contained the same amount of affection the man had nearly always displayed.
I'm sorry being cruel, more sorry than I can express in this note. You truly are a human, more so than I think you'd like to be and certainly more than anyone ever recognized.
You're my best friend, you know, and I wouldn't trade my time at 221B for a single moment more of life.
Know that I am eternally yours,
Sherlock's hands trembled as he carefully re-folded the letter, slipped it back into the envelope, then tucked it into his shirt. The thick paper scraped against the raw skin of his chest as he walked to his bedroom, the scratch and slide of John's farewell a confirmation of the man who'd once lain in the very bed in which he, too, was about to lie.
The bed was still frigid, though. A letter from John could not breathe as he had, could not have a heartbeat or a pulse. It was just one more corpse for him to bury.
The morgue was cold, but not as cold as the place beside Sherlock. All the warmth had been stolen from the air and placed on the only occupied table.
He looked at the body before him and shivered. The Watsons had not objected to his letter requesting that he be the one to do the autopsy; if anything, their response- which he had yet to read in full- had been worded in a way that suggested they had understood, a reaction which he felt came from John's sister. She had faxed him a signed copy of the waiver that gave him the power to perform John's autopsy. She had simply stated that, afterwards, the body was to be returned to them.
He had yet to decide if he was willing to comply with the Watsons' wishes, or if he was going to take John and run.
John's body was small on its spot on the table, much smaller than when it had been filled with breath. It was oddly vulnerable, completely exposed in a way that far surpassed mere nudity. It was as though John himself had been ripped apart, his secrets spilled out and his body seamlessly molded back together- an empty shell, a small reminder of what once had drawn breath but had now been crushed.
In a moment of sentiment, he put a hand on John's cheek, steadfastly ignoring the wrench in his gut. He smoothed his fingers across John's slack skin and ran the soft pad of his index finger towards John's eye, an area he had theorized to be one that John would rather not be touched, but he knew that if he wished to, John would let him. With a whisper that stirred the short hairs around John's ear, he asked,
"May I, John?"
The silence was an assent as much as a refusal.
Only his index finger touched the sensitive skin, gently rubbing small circles around the heavily-lidded eye. With a final, quick swirl, he dragged his hand away, only to replace it with his lips. He left a quick kiss in the outer corner of John's eye, then risked a single, tentative lick from the crease between John's lips across his upper lip.
It was too little. Without John, it meant nothing.
With a sigh that caught in his throat, he laid his forehead against John's and closed his eyes, allowing himself to take another moment of selfish rest from John. As he always was when it was important, John was silent, though still obtrusive, still forcing his presence on Sherlock's. It was his one cruelty, his unabating existence.
The indulgence was only permissible for a few moments; he still had to take John apart, then put him back together again. He sighed and unhappily removed himself from John's face, but though he felt their bodies slide apart, he could still feel the places where he had clung to John and where John had once clung to him in return. It was less painful to focus on those places than the way his gut churned with every passing moment.
He put on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them sharply before he picked up the scalpel and began the journey to disassemble, then build the doctor anew- as though there were a way to erase the cuts that split John into two hundred parts. With each incision, he thought of the myths of returning life to the dead and deals with the devil, and for a moment, found them understandable. He wondered what he would do if he could wash away the death that bled through the skin and have John back again, his foolish grin and pedestrian observations once more filling the flat and his fingers squeezing the trigger of the gun, the weight of which Sherlock knew to the gram.
They were ridiculous sentiments, things that John would write in his blog, not Sherlock's own cold cynicism. He permitted them to remain, however, because they images were John's gift, sweet metaphors to keep him company.
Sherlock had spent hours hunched over John's body, mindlessly taking samples and recording his findings, but his hands were trembling with the force of his greatest realization.
This was not John. It looked like him, the identifying marks- freckles, scars, even an old tattoo- claiming it was him, but Sherlock knew better. John was far more vital; this was a corpse, something still and broken. They could not be the same person; they could not.
Therefore, John was missing, hiding somewhere, waiting for Sherlock to find him.
It was the only logical conclusion.
A/N: A few people have asked if they could translate this, which is a huge thing to me. The only problem is that if you review anonymously, I can't reply to you. Therefore, I'd like to put this out there:
If you'd like to translate this, go right ahead! The only rule I have is that I'd like our stories to link to each other. The original and the one in the new language. This way, there's a greater chance people can enjoy it in their languages of choice, and (selfishly) there's no confusion over authorship (which does get a bit confusing over translated works).