A/N: To those who have reviewed, thank you very much, it means a great deal to me. New Reader, welcome, and if this story moves you in any way I would be very happy if you would tell me!
Much love from the author.
I Know Him So Well
I observe you as you push the silver pin into the gray silk tie you're wearing. The pin is there to make sure the tie doesn't move during the ceremony, or the following reception. It must be kept in place. Everything must go smoothly. After all, it is your wedding day.
You stand in the sacristy of this city church, straight-backed as you look at your reflection in a tall mirror. You shouldn't feel so unsure – you wear a tuxedo better than most men and this one is cut to perfection. Your hair is cropped short for the occasion and now you drag your fingers through it, making sure it's flat. It makes me smirk and your eyes meet mine in the mirror with a slightly quizzical expression in them.
I approach you then, stopping before you and finally allowing myself to touch you as I make sure the lapels of your jacket are straight, tugging on the fabric as your gaze search my face for a moment. Looking for reassurance? You must know I've none to give you in this instance. I move my hands away, making them rest along my sides as I take your face in, all those well-known lines and grooves that have been mine to guard over for all these years and that are now to be released to be loved by someone else completely.
"Ready?" I ask.
You can't manage a smile and look mostly ill before you turn from me.
"A minute," you mumble. "Just need one minute."
I give a nod, my eyes lingering on the short strands of hair at the base of your neck as the collar of your shirt eases itself underneath them. I want to touch the spot, just once, but instead I move to the door, closing it behind me.
"I'm thinking about asking Mary to marry me."
I'm not sure why I'm telling him this. I haven't even decided yet what I want to do, but it's been on my mind for the past three weeks and perhaps I'm saying it out loud because I need to know his reaction; I want to know how he feels about it.
We're in the sitting room, me in my chair with my feet on the pulled up chair of the desk – he hates when I uses it for a footstool – and him lying on the sofa, his lank form stretched out in its full length, his hands placed palms together on his chest, his eyes on something too far away for me to even comprehend. I wonder if he's going to react to what I just stated and it does take another few seconds before he turns his head to me.
"What?" he says.
I clearly have his full attention.
"I said..." I begin, but he sits with a quick movement.
"Never mind what you said," he deflects my repetition of previous sentiments. "What do you mean 'marry'?"
"It's something people do when they're fond of each other. To show everyone else their fondness."
"Archaic, nonsensical ritual," he scoffs, rising to his feet, his robe billowing out behind him as though wanting to underline his agitation. "Tying yourself to one person for the rest of your life? Really, John, I thought you much more practical than to actually consider something as improper as marriage. Why would you want to get married?"
I watch his absolutely nonplussed expression and it pains me that he doesn't understand why I would want to know that the person I am sharing my life with has chosen to share their life with me as well. That they won't disappear for weeks on end, not let me know when they may be in mortal danger, neglect to inform me of simple things like where the spare stash of bullets have been moved or why they've chosen to rearrange the paintings on the walls for no apparent reason.
"Improper?" I ask, eyebrows rising.
He's impatient in the blink of an eye.
"Yes, a wedding ring is nothing more than a superficial token for a union that never can promise to last forever. Two thirds of married spouses cheat within five years, over half of all marriages end in divorce – and all because you need to label what your relationship is, bake it into a mold befitting society, which may kill what made it what it is in the first place. Marriage is a dying institution, John. You love Mary, fine, alright, so love her. Chaining yourself to her makes it a duty instead of something you do of your own free will. It's unnatural. Unacceptable. Improper."
I listen to the rant patiently, watching him pace across the sitting room floor, watching the light catch in the movements of the robe, making the blue silk shimmer invitingly. I take in the conviction in his deep voice, in his gaze as he catches mine, in the way he moves his hands – expressively. He's always been so expressive. I've never known anyone who can express so much with a simple shift of their head the way he can. One raised eyebrow tells me more of his state of mind than a thousand words ever could and I know he wants me to hear him now, to see only the truth of what he's saying, but I have to speak against him, because his opinions aren't my own in this instance.
"Mary deserves a husband," I say simply.
It makes him stop, something frustrated in his stance as he eyes me.
"And you want a wife?" he then asks.
I feel there are a thousand questions behind that simple one, but I can't quite grasp at them. They slip away. His gaze intensifies before he looks away from me, shaking his head at me.
"Yes," I therefore say. "I think it'd be nice. To wake up with her. Make a home with her."
"You have a home," he snaps, eyes back in mine.
I clench my jaws together. A part of me wishes desperately that I hadn't stalled moving out for this whole year I've been together with Mary. I've known for a long time I can't stay in Baker Street, living as some sort of shadow to this engaging, infuriating, demanding friend of mine. I've known I've needed to leave and settle something of my own, because the truth is I find it too easy to lose myself in the everyday I've created with him. The truth is I don't want to leave.
But I have to, before it becomes an agony, his ignorance of what he's become to me. His ignorance of how much he's grown to mean to me. There's a gap that won't ever be breeched. He will never feel what I feel, will never want what I want. I have to let this go. He doesn't make it easy, though. He never makes anything easy and he does need me on some level. He does appreciate me, I know that. But it's not enough.
"Sherlock," I say and he practically glares at me, "there's security in marriage. There's a promise you make to that person that whatever comes you'll choose them."
"You spend half your time with Mary, she stays over here, I don't understand..."
"No, I know you don't," I interrupt him and he grows quiet, looking as though I just slapped him. I need to stay strong and so I rise. "It's been fine. A good arrangement. But it can't go on. She has to come first. I have to put her first. She wants a family. So do I."
He stares at me as though he can't believe what I'm saying, but then the expression melts away and something else is there, something not far from acceptance.
"You're right," he acquiesces, sadness in his eyes before he offers up a quick smile.
My eyebrows rise again and I press on the pain until it turns into a dull ache somewhere near my heart as I realize this is actually happening. I'm taking the first tentative step away from him.
"I am?" I ask.
My voice is a little unsteady and I wonder if he picks up on the waver that's there, but he doesn't seem to as he gives a nod.
"Well, you're better equipped at judging these things anyway," he says. "Your priorities, I mean," he adds. "When it comes to Mary, that is."
Oh, God, why do I wish I could make him see why he's been my foremost priority for nine years and why I now have to find some way to rearrange my needs and wants?
"You think I should ask her then?" I wonder.
There's a hesitation on him that I can't quite read and then his eyes meet mine and I can hardly breathe as I for one moment think that he's going to tell me no, tell me he doesn't want me to go anywhere, that he has to have me with him or he'll shatter into sharp, unruly pieces that won't be put back together for anything or anyone else.
"If it's really what you wish for yourself," he replies with a slight tartness that makes a smirk appear briefly on my mouth.
I know the tone of voice is there because I won't simply listen to his arguments against marriage and be done with it.
He will support my decision, though. He's a good friend. He's always been a good friend. No matter his selfishness, impudence, impulsiveness, stubbornness and arrogance. He has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known, even though he hides it incredibly well. He seeks the thrills of solving a murder and catching the murderer, but there's a great care for human life behind it, as well as a great mind for justice. He never took a case that would have him aid someone guilty of breaking the law in any way.
I know he has sometimes worried about whether he could have tilted over to become the kind of man James Moriarty represented, but I'm also certain that this has never been even the slightest possibility when it comes to him. He isn't seduced by the thought of power – he's enticed in the puzzle of what power represents in the world and how corrupted power is wielded like a scythe, cutting down and destroying what the uncorrupted has strenuously managed to create. It infuriates him. He would never succumb to it.
"Well," I say, "I suppose I'd better go ring-shopping."
Sherlock observes me for a moment and something's there now that wasn't there before – the realization that our era is drawing to an end. That this is the first of the last of my nights in our rooms. That everything will change.
A burst of panic rises through me at the thought and I suppress it immediately.
This has to be done, I tell myself, eyes in his for another few seconds and then I head passed him to the door.
"John," his voice says and I pause, turning my head back to him. "Congratulations," he adds, something soft in his gaze and it makes me feel a sorrow rise through me that reflects what I felt as I grasped his wrist after he had fallen from that roof's edge something of a life time ago now.
There's an incredulity in that sorrow that is more acute than the emotion itself.
I know it will take me a long time to come to grips with the fact that my leaving has been set in motion and that very soon I won't see him every day, seated in the chair reading or scribbling down observations; that I won't hear him play the violin at all hours or have to even think about finding disgusting, half-putrid body parts in the fridge; I won't hear him come up the stairs to knock on my door and ask for me to aid him in whatever excursion he needs aiding in and I won't be asked to run the most ridiculous errands for him.
I give him a small smile as thanks before I leave the room, trying my very best not to let the sorrow choke me as I close my bedroom door behind me, wishing he would follow.
I walk into the vaulted hallway leading me into the church entrance where Harry, looking smart in a charcoal suit, comes up to me.
"Where's John?" she asks, a hint of stress in her tone.
"He'll be along," I say with a quick smile, hoping I can set her at ease as we stand together, eyes on the opened double doors before us; she seems to relax.
A light summer breeze moves across the floor and the air smells sweetly of budding flowers and newly opened leaves, as though nature decided to dress up for this occasion and make sure it's as memorable as you hope it to be.
The guests have begun to arrive and as I've been informed it's expected of me I stay by Harry's side in order to greet them. Some of them I know – Mrs. Hudson, Mike Stamford, Lestrade, Molly – most of them I don't and very soon I want to leave the spot for the sacristy and you; for a few more moments with you – I need them, I realize, more than I have been willing to admit to myself.
I think of all the moments I've shared with you and feel somehow desperate at the thought that there could've been more of them, that I've squandered them away as though they were as common as grains of sand on a beach. They're not common. I've taken them for granted, but they've been anything but common.
I slipped into a life with you with such ease I barely even paused to think about it. The fact that it was so easy should have given me pause to think about it, but it never did. I should have known it wasn't going to last, undisturbed and perpetual, as though too habitual to ever be encroached upon. How am I supposed to live now, without you? My mind can barely even take the idea of it in, it sounds too ridiculous. A bad, putrid joke that's been festering in my head for these past two months, ever since you brought the word marriage into our shared vocabulary. And this is the punch line? This church, this bride, this ending?
I've left Harry behind and have walked back into the short hallway taking me to the door behind which you're standing.
I wish I knew how to tell you not to do this without it marring our friendship. I wish there were some way of making you stay with me without it being the most selfish thing I could possibly do. I don't want to be selfish. I can't be: I know I would lose you over it this time around. You want a family. You deserve a family. And Mary is a wonderful woman. But the thought of not having you with me has been like a monotone beating about the brain for eight weeks and I never would have imagined losing you in this way, having to give you up.
I'm giving you up.
My fists clench at the powerlessness I feel.
Then you open the door, looking mildly startled at finding someone standing just outside it before your face relaxes into a smile. You seem more at ease now. Whatever speech you just gave yourself in there must have worked to fill you with conviction because the uncertainty has drained off of you. I return your smile with a tremor in my chest.
This was never about giving you up because when it comes down to it I have no say in the matter; if I asked you, pleaded with you, argued with you to change your mind and put us first, put this, what we share, above everything else, you wouldn't. You need more and though there have been times when I've wondered what it might be like to rest my ear to your chest as you've fallen asleep in your chair, listen to your heart beat, feel your breathing, scent you in full breaths instead of in passing by, I've never allowed myself to slip out of the control I've always managed over my own heart. I'm not what you need and I'm even farther from what you want. The space was never mine to fill, and you should have more. You should have everything.
I follow you back into the church entrance, where Harry makes a fuss over how handsome you look and I can do nothing but smile my agreement to her observations. Your eyes meet mine then and for a beat I think I see something more there: a mixture of appreciation and something not far from longing that quickens my heart and makes the control slip.
I can't give you up.
But then you turn your eyes on the couple stepping in through the doors and your smile is so genuinely warm and welcoming that I quickly catch hold of my wayward emotions and pull them back where they belong. You're happy. I will be happy with you.
It's been two weeks since I got the ring and one week since I placed the box between Mary and me on her kitchen table with a wondering expression. She looked at me as though I was crazy, but then she opened it and smiled that smile of hers before kissing me. She wants an April wedding and the date has been set for six weeks from now. It's moving so quickly I've barely had time to register the fact that I'm about to be a married man.
I'm proud at having snagged one of the best girls out there, I'm content in knowing she's eager to plan a future with me, but I'm not overjoyed, and I should be. I do feel happiness when I think of her, but then I think of him and such a pointed, harrowing misery overtakes me that I feel it might drive me out of my mind.
I love Mary. I love everything about her: her looks, her quick wit, her pleasant way, her openness and honesty, her laugh. But my love for Sherlock runs so deep it's imbedded in my bloodstream, in my nerves and tissue, and to get rid of it I'd have to cut out everything that makes me who I am.
It took me a long time to understand how something so impossible had actually clasped itself to a fixed part of my chest and refused to let go until it had spread to every other part within me.
The first notion of it came when I watched him fall to his death. The second came when he returned to me. The actual knowledge didn't begin to dawn on me until years later – two years later, three years ago now – when one night he was sitting stock still in his chair, not a very remarkable thing since it is something he does often, his eyes narrowed with the focusing of his mind, but this time the difference was that I realized I found him beautiful.
With it came the growing need to touch him – which, of course, I never got to do, not the way I would've wanted to, just to try it, just to see his reaction as well as my own. I was curious. With the need came the questions of why the need was there and then I couldn't turn away from it anymore, I had to allow myself to understand that I somewhere along the way had fallen in love with him.
It was the strangest thing when all the bits of this knowledge finally clicked themselves into place. It felt inevitable, somehow. And for all my denying it, for all my years of denying it, the acknowledgement of it filled me with calm.
I tried to find some way of approaching him with it, but every time I cowered out of it. I couldn't do it. I had gotten to know him well enough to understand that this wouldn't be acceptable to him. I had a slim hope live inside of me for two years that perhaps the gossip wasn't wrong, that whatever people were reading into our relationship might actually be read into it for a reason. And I thought of Sherlock – of how I'd begun to think that it wasn't so much that he was averse to sentiment as much as it was him protecting himself from the muddle of it. And somewhere I'd begun to suspect my friend was scared. And if that was all there was then perhaps I would be able to appease him.
But I couldn't. Because I was a coward and I have been a coward on the basis of my own fear of driving him away. And the pain it was beginning to cause me was quickly growing unbearable when I met Mary. She took my mind off it and I was grateful, then I felt myself begin to care for her, and then I did love her. I do love her. I will have a good life with her and I'll work hard at keeping us both happy. I will let the memory of Sherlock fade. It has to fade.
"Sherlock," I say and he looks up from the book he's reading, seated in his chair opposite me. "Will you be my best man?"
He cocks an eyebrow, still unimpressed with the whole debacle. It's a double-edged sword, this need to have him by my side at the altar to steady me and yet knowing he will be an immediate distraction. I must have him there, though. It will bring finality to it for the both of us. I know him: if he can persuade me to leave my honeymoon in order to help him on a case he won't even hesitate. I need him to see me slip the ring on Mary's finger. I need him to let me go. I can't resist him. I never could.
"Do I have to wear a hat?" he asks.
"You've never been to a wedding before?"
"Yes," he says, eyebrows raised, "and I had to wear a hat."
I smile then.
"You can wear whatever you want," I assure him.
That makes him smile as well, as though I'm presenting him with a challenge. I give him a look.
"Behave," I warn him and the smile turns into a smirk before he looks back down on the pages he's holding.
God, how I'm going to miss him.
"I'll start packing tomorrow," I say.
He doesn't look up at me.
"I've made arrangements for my boxes to be picked up next week."
"Mh," he merely murmurs.
I watch him for another few seconds before I sigh and rise to my feet. I think I feel his eyes on me when I exit the room, but I'm fairly sure the sensation is nothing if not a byproduct of wishful thinking.
The church is filled with chatting people seated in the pews. Flowers decorate the stone walls, have been hung along the aisle and are dripping from the altar. It's quite beautiful. I look at you where you stand next to me. There's something restless in your stance and I suppose you're eager to see Mary in her dress.
"Sherlock," you say quietly, turning your eyes in mine.
There's something terrified there and regret, there's regret there.
"It's fine," is all I can think of to say.
Then I'm simply unable to keep myself from grasping your wrist with my hand as reassurance and your free hand moves to my arm, your clasp tight as you hold my gaze.
I get the feeling there's something else you want to tell me, something else that's on your mind, that the terror and regret doesn't have to do with worries about what exactly you're getting yourself into with this marriage business, but rather something else entirely.
Then the music starts up and we let each other go as you face the doors at the back of the church and they open to reveal Mary, looking truly stunning in white. I can't quite appreciate her, though, because of everything she's taking away.
If only you could've been satisfied with life as we've led it for nearly a decade. If only you could've thought it was enough. That I was enough. But you wouldn't, would you?
There have been times when I've come close to opening myself up to you without inhibitions, when there's been something in your eyes that have made me think that perhaps you'd want me to, but then I've reminded myself that you've always made it clear to anyone interested in listening to you that you don't favor men above women. Taking that into the context you wouldn't have favored me telling you. Telling you how you've inadvertently come to teach me of needing another human being. How you've centered yourself within me, become second nature to me, and how now you're tearing yourself away from me in a way that makes me feel hollowed out. No, John, you wouldn't favor me telling you how much I love you.
And even if you did, I could never offer you what Mary can offer you. A quiet life. Peace. I didn't think that was what you wanted, but since it's what you're choosing I conclude it must be. A house with a yard and a dog and children playing on a swing-set. The image does nothing to enthrall me – I wouldn't be able to seclude myself in it. But then, Baker Street without you holds no sense of home to me either. I don't know what place is supposed to now.
Mary stops by you and you face each other, her eyes aglow with adoration and it sends a blade of anguish through me that makes me feel guilty. I am standing at your side for a reason – to show my support of this union. It's a charade in every sense. I cannot understand this rite of bondage anymore than I can easily pretend to be pleased about you leaving me behind in order to enter into it.
I don't listen to the priest droning on, instead I think of you. You're berating me, chuckling with me, laughing, yelling at me, angry, happy, sad, shocked, terrified, running with me, walking beside me, listening to me, speaking to me, telling me of the war, telling me of Harry, telling me of your childhood, showing me new ways of looking at things, becoming the only person in my life that I rely on without hesitation and my trust in you is absolute, you're always there when I need you, you're never wavering, never more reproaching than you are forgiving, never more frustrated than you are understanding, and you accept me as I come without complaint. I loved you from the start, I think. Hopelessly, foolishly, unwittingly.
"And do you, John Hamish Watson, take this…"
I close my eyes. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I close my eyes and remind myself to stand straight and be silent. Be silent.
Then your voice tells me:
And the hollow will never be filled again.
I sit on my bed, looking at the tin box in my hands. It's filled with case notes bound for the blog. I'll bring them with me, type them up. I'll be some part of his life, I can't not be. Have Sherlock over for tea. Watch him awkwardly try to navigate my first child on his knee. The thought makes me smile, though the melancholy is stale and bitter and I don't want it contaminating me.
I mustn't mourn what might have been – what might have been doesn't exist. Could I have given Mary up? Could I have chosen to stay, lived the confirmed bachelor at Sherlock's side for the rest of my life? No, it would've been absurd. I would've broken myself against him eventually, I would have cracked and confessed and it would've ruined it. This is better, I keep telling myself. This is right. Sherlock will be fine without me. He was fine without me before, he'll do perfectly well now.
I put the box on the bed as I rise. The room is almost completely emptied of personal belongings. The bed is the only piece of furniture remaining and it came with the room. I head downstairs.
He's in the sitting room. I didn't hear him come home.
"Oh," I say, meeting his gaze as he turns to me from where he's standing by the window. "You're back," I add.
"Thought you were working," he replies.
"Got out early," I say. "Just wanted to get the last of it."
He eyes me now and I don't know what to tell him. What should our parting words be? Baker Street has been the address connected with us for as long as I've known him and it feels odd to not have it as my own anymore. I have to confess I don't feel entirely ready to leave just yet. Not just yet.
"Dinner?" he asks.
I look at his face and I wonder at how he doesn't seem to age. He looks exactly like he did that first afternoon in the lab at Bart's, all dark locks and smoothness, full mouth and piercing gaze, as though he could literally nail me to the spot. He sort of did. Placing this fascination in me that has only grown with time – with his intellect and his person and his heart. I've tried to understand his heart and I feel perhaps I've gotten close enough that I can at least feel certain that he does care about me.
I smile now.
"Chinese?" I ask.
He merely gives a nod, but I can tell the corners of his mouth are quirking up as I head for the door to retrieve the food for us.
I shouldn't feel such sadness at leaving him, I think as I walk down Baker Street toward our standard Chinese restaurant. It's not as though I'm never going to see him again. He will be around for tea and for babysitting. That makes me chuckle to myself. What a disaster that would be. Sherlock Holmes babysitting.
He's my friend and even though he won't be my flat mate or my colleague, he will still be just that – my very good friend. And this need I have of him will change with time, with fitting myself into my new role in life as husband and father. I've always wanted a family.
I return to Baker Street and call Mary before I head on in, telling her I'm staying over in my old room for one last night. She says she understands, tells me she loves me, asks me to give Sherlock her best and I tell her I love her, too, before I hang up.
At times I get the notion in my head that Mary knows perfectly well how I feel about Sherlock and that she has patiently overlooked it as she's also known perfectly well how I feel about her. She's never said a word, it's just a notion, and perhaps that's why I felt it necessary to propose and make this change. Because she wasn't always going to put up with coming in second and Sherlock never gives two thoughts about not coming in first – he always anticipates it, expects it, without giving anything back. I just need something back. But I know he doesn't believe in fully giving himself over to another person: he needs his freedom, would be suffocated without it.
I look up at our windows... his windows... before I enter through the door.
He's seated by the desk, writing furiously on his laptop.
"Blog?" I ask.
"Mh," he mumbles, not looking up. "Did you get dumplings?"
I raise my eyebrows as I find the question completely unnecessary – of course I got dumplings; heading into the kitchen I halt as he's made a mess in the twenty minutes I've been out. Probably writing up whatever the experiment just rendered on the blog, then. Jesus.
"For God's sakes, Sherlock," I grumble, stepping over a puddle of what looks like blood and glancing over at him.
I can swear he's taking pleasure in my dislike, but ignore it as I grab some plates before heading back into the sitting room. I have a seat on the sofa as our chairs are littered with opened newspapers that look as though they're serving some important purpose or other. He finishes typing, sitting back on the chair, eyes on me.
"Have you settled at Mary's?" he asks.
I toss him the box of dumplings and he catches it with ease, opening it up and leaning down to pick the chopsticks up as they missed their mark and thudded onto the carpet instead of into his hand. He pulls them from their paper wrapping, splitting them and bringing a dumpling out of the box, putting the whole thing in his mouth and chewing it, clearly enjoying it. My gaze rests on him before I realize he just asked me a question and I say:
"Where does she live?"
"Queen Anne Street."
He nods slowly, observing me.
"I'm thinking of going to Spain for a few months," he says casually.
My heart sinks.
"After the wedding," he replies, glancing up at me.
"Oh," I say, some sense of relief filling me: at least he's not leaving on the next plane. "Why Spain? For a few months?" I then add, suddenly realizing what he just said and he smiles briefly.
"They're conducting a serious inquiry into a historical case that's rather fascinating. They've invited me. I've accepted."
"That sounds very... Good. That's good," I murmur, looking down at my food.
"Well, you'll be busy," he offers. "And summer is always so slow in London."
"Yes. Yes, it is slow. Not enough murders."
He chuckles at that and brings my eyes in his again. There's warmth there now and it relaxes me. We'll be alright. It'll be alright. He'll be gone for the summer; I'll be house hunting with Mary – I won't have time to think about his absence. And it will give me time to adjust. My mind has begun to catch up to the fact that Mary is my future now, but my heart is slower. I've handed a lot of it over to her, but this one part of it... I don't think it could ever be occupied by anyone but him.
"Did you solve the Kettleman case?" I wonder.
"Matter of time," he says. "I believe the strange coagulation of the blood was caused by a mixture of Maldives honey and a ground nut originating in the Amazon. There's a third component that should be provided by testing the puddle on the floor in about four hours."
I shake my head, slightly amused despite the puddle.
"Of course there is," I say.
And so I spend my final night at Baker Street the way I've spent all of the ones before it. In conversation with him which at times propels itself into an argument, sometimes stills with contemplation. We look at the sample of blood around eleven and put in a visit to the Yard, handing over the results as it will undoubtedly convict the victim's uncle, who's apparently already in custody. We ride a black cab back to the flat and as it's only twelve-thirty we stay up for another few hours, discussing old cases.
I don't want to go to bed, and Sherlock rises, picking up his violin as my head begins to droop on the backrest of the sofa, the soft tones of the instrument following me into sleep and I dream of that first year with him, of the novelty in everything he did, of the rush of it and finding myself so included in his life, including him in mine as well. It's a good dream.
The reception is held in a large tent in the grounds of a cottage to the north of the city, the garden decked out with lights and flickering candles, the darkening sky beginning to get studded with stars, a perfect set-up for a romantic evening. Your first as husband and wife.
I stand to the side of the dance floor, watching the commotion. Dinner was nice – good wine. The speeches ran a little long.
I told you very early on that I wouldn't be one of the ones giving one and it made you laugh until you had trouble breathing. I didn't think it was that funny, I thought perhaps you would've liked me to deliver some sort of anecdote and tie it in with a display of sentiment. But you just shook your head, smiling broadly at me, telling me that no, you had had no such expectations and it was enough that I was going to be there. Then something had changed in your gaze as you observed me and I had been about to ask you what it was when you looked away from me and the moment passed me by.
Molly is dancing with Lestrade, looking as though she's having a marvelous time. They share a smile and I assess immediately that they're clearly sleeping together. The ease with which they both move around each other, how they're trying to look casual, but are unable to keep their bodies very far apart. It's new, I can tell that as well. Molly's fresh faced with excitement – rosy cheeks, glossy eyes, puppy love. And Lestrade looks ten years younger. I suppose their wedding will be next.
I look over at you where you're speaking to your mother and father in law. You laugh at something Captain Morstan says and I wish I could pull you away from them, sweep in and have your attention on me, have you follow me away from this place. Neither of us belongs here. But it's useless. It's careless to want you now.
I see a young woman pull a packet of cigarettes out of her purse and I saunter over to her.
"Bum one?" I ask.
"'Course," she says.
I grab one of the slim, white smokes, steal a stick of matches from a nearby table and head out into the darkening gloom of the garden.
Apple trees surround me, grass underfoot, and the scent of approaching summer is in the dewy air.
Spain. Running away? Possibly. It's better than this state of barely being. I feel the need to fill my head more markedly than ever before and I'll drive myself insane if I have to sit with nothing to do in Baker Street.
I reach a low stone wall and have a seat, looking out at a landscape where the rising moon is drawing shadows across a short field, a forest in the near distance. I strike fire on a match, the light flaring red in the blue of night before I bring it to the cigarette between my lips. The tip soon glows and I drag smoke into my lungs, closing my eyes as I let it circulate and fill them entirely before I breathe out slowly.
I am a little surprised at how I seem to have been waiting for you to change your mind. Even up until the moment of you standing by that altar I was waiting for you to change it, to turn to me and tell me you'd made a mistake.
You saying my name, your hold on me just before Mary entered the church, it comes back to me and I have another drag on the cigarette, trying to blot it out as unimportant. You just needed me there to steady you, as your best man, as your friend. It still feels like some kind of madness, though – that you're out of Baker Street, out of my everyday.
Then I hear someone approaching me.
I excuse myself as I can't seem to locate Sherlock anywhere in the crowd. For a second I think he might be dancing, but I quickly get rid of the image, smiling to myself as I give a wave to Molly and Lestrade, who actually are dancing, and head across the tent and out into the evening air. I look back at my wife, who is seated at our table chatting with her sister and Harry, laughing loudly. The wine is getting to her. It makes me smile again. My wife.
I stroll slowly through the apple orchard, hands in my pockets, lost in thought of how tomorrow will begin, when I see his slim back, silhouetted against the silvery grass stretching itself out before him. Smoke encircles him in twists and twirls, like a contorted halo, and I shake my head at him.
I feel better now. It's done. The final step has been taken and now all I can do is appreciate the fact that I've been a part of his life for this long and that he'll continue to be a part of mine. No one is with you constantly, especially not him, and this may be good for us, this separation. It must be good for me. It will be.
"I can't believe you're smoking," I tell him as I stop behind him.
"Just the one," he assures, holding it up before turning his head to me.
I smile then and he returns it. I sit on the stone wall, swinging my legs over it in order to seat myself next to him and we both fall silent.
"You know you can always call," I begin and he waves a hand noncommittally, having another drag on the cigarette.
"I know," he then says, the smoke leaving his mouth, making him seem like some formidable, unearthly being before he smiles and turns back into Sherlock, gaze in mine. "I will," he adds.
"Good," I say.
"There'll still be the odd bits that need fetching," he adds, but his smile deflects the statement and my smirk widens.
"Count on me to fetch them," I say and there's a bit more emotion in my voice than I'd anticipated.
It makes him look at me again and we grow serious before I turn my head away from him.
"I'll always count on you," he replies.
The honesty makes me feel weak, but I simply nod, unable to meet his eyes.
"John," he says and I have to look at him.
There's a soft frown there, a question I don't know the origin of, then his brow smoothes and he stabs the cigarette out against the stone before jumping off it. I look at the soft locks at the nape of his neck and then push the desire for him away – it's meant for someone else now.
"When do you leave?" I inquire.
"At six," he answers.
I hadn't expected it to be quite so soon, but he never was one to waste time.
"So you won't be staying, then?" I wonder.
He looks at me over his shoulder.
"I'll catch the train at four. Plenty of time."
I nod, jumping down as well and we face each other. Years of going through things people who weren't there could never understand is placed between us, but it feels strengthening. He won't be replaced, not in that respect; and neither will I. I wonder for a moment if he might acquire a new assistant. It makes me feel sick to my stomach and it urges me to walk around him and head back toward the party. He follows.
"So, what did you think of the ceremony?" I ask.
"John," he says; something reproachful there and I sigh.
"What would you rather talk about?" I wonder.
"Nothing," he replies softly and I understand: what more is there to talk about now, here. "Go be with your wife," he encourages and I look at him, the lights of the tent falling across his tall frame, illuminating his handsome face and I almost step into him, I almost wrap my arms around him just to have him close once.
But then I think better of it and adhere to his encouragement as I enter the tent to search for Mary.
I watch you go. I stay outside on the grass, observing; not really cut off from the festivities, but not inclined to partake in them either. I can't quite get rid of the sadness now. I can't get rid of the numbness. I can't take my eyes off you as you bring Mary onto the dance floor and take her in your arms. I can't help but relish in your joy, because as much as it pains me to let you go, it still makes me happy that you're happy.
"Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson says and I turn my head to her as she comes up to me. "Why aren't you dancing?"
I smirk at her innocence and she threads her arm through mine, patting it gently.
"The old place won't be the same without him," she sighs.
"No, it won't," I agree.
"I suppose I should advertise for a new tenant," she says.
"That won't be necessary," I tell her.
"Oh? Have you found someone?"
I shake my head, eyes on you as you dip Mary dangerously low, making her laugh before you pull her back up and she kisses you. I swallow.
"I don't want anyone else," I murmur, catching myself and looking down at Mrs. Hudson's quizzical face as I add: "Too complicated. Why not keep it simple? Mh? Besides, John was one of a kind, wouldn't you say? Who'll put up with me for more than a week?"
That makes her laugh, her hand stroking my arm now and suddenly there are tears in her eyes.
"It'll be fine," I say.
"No, I know," she nods. "It's just... the mess, Sherlock. I'll have to hire a housekeeper."
I smirk then, kissing her cheek before I lead her back into the tent.
Mary throws her bouquet into the throng of screaming single women and then we have to shake a hundred pairs of hands as we head toward the front door of the cottage and the car waiting for us outside. I smile and shake and nod and thank whoever is next in line. I get hugs right and left and I barely register them.
Where is he?
Then I see him, watching me from across the room, and I rest my eyes in his, feeling something of an understanding pass between us, some sort of goodbye that isn't a goodbye because the truth is I will never say goodbye to him. I smile a small smile and he mirrors it. Then I'm moving through the doorway, Mary's hand grabbing mine and pulling me to the opened car door and in through it and for a moment I have to close my eyes.
Then I smile, waving at the people outside the windows as the car begins to pull out of the driveway.
I watch Mary toss the bouquet into a mass of ecstatic women, raising my eyebrows at their belief in aged superstition, before I watch you begin to make your way through the crowd, every single one of them seemingly wanting to pat your back and wish you luck. I see your eyes not looking at them, though, and it's pleasing to know that your thoughts are with me.
Then your gaze finds mine and you rest it there. I know then that this really isn't a goodbye. I'd feared it more than anything. That we'd become those people who say we should call and never do. Acquaintances. Superficial and detached. I would sooner let you go completely. You give me a small smile and the warmth that spreads through me makes me mirror it. Then you're being pulled and pushed out through the doorway and I watch until there's no trace of you left and I have to close my eyes for a moment. Just a moment.
I hear the car begin to pull out of the driveway and I draw a breath, open my eyes and step forward to make my way up to the door as well. A cab will be here in ten minutes to take me to the station. In ten hours I will be in Madrid.
My phone buzzes and I bring it out of my pocket. The message is from you. It's short and to the point, but it makes me smile.
See you soon. JW