John Watson grumbled at the array of crisp, white envelopes strewn inside the front door of 221 Baker Street. Bills. Several with angry red lettering spelling out "Final Notice," or other threatening language that made John feel even worse than usual. He couldn't seem to get ahead of the bills now that he was paying the full rent and all of the expenses alone.
Yes, logically he knew he should move or get a new flatmate, but he couldn't bring himself to do those things. He didn't like the thought of someone else sleeping in Sherlock's room and even though the flat evoked many memories that were painful, John had decided that, for now at least, those memories were the most important things he had.
He trudged up the stairs, but not fast enough to avoid Mrs. Hudson, who chuntered on about the weather, her hip and the effects of the weather upon her hip. She was a dear thing and John was fond of her, but tonight he just wanted to sit down and not think for a while. He made his apologies, drug himself up the 17 stairs and entered the flat, while looking down and sorting through the bills in his hand.
Which proved to be a mistake, as he slipped on something while crossing into the sitting room. Well, rolled, would be a better way to describe it, he thought to himself as he was flailing backwards, his feet having shot out from under him. It must have taken less than a second, but while he was airborne, already anticipating a hard landing, he saw the object that caused this dramatic entrance – a small, round ball. "Where have I seen that ball before?" he wondered as he hit the floor, ass first, followed by elbows and then the back of his head. Stunned, he lay there motionless for a moment, his mind and body adjusting to this trauma. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the ball continued to roll, and was now gently rebounding off the wall and coming toward him.
It was stopped by a crease in the carpet, just inches from his face. A small, round ball. Blue. Made of rubber. Like the kind they used in hand ball. But John didn't play hand ball. It wasn't his ball. How the hell had it found its way to middle of the floor?
Groaning, he reached out to pluck it from the carpet. The instant his fingers made contact with the smooth rubber, a memory popped into his mind. Sherlock sitting on the floor at St. Bart's, bouncing a ball. A small, blue ball. Exactly like the one in John's hand. "Strange," he thought. "Why had Sherlock been bouncing a ball?" John tried to remember other times when he'd seen Sherlock do something remotely sporty and came up empty. He started to feel that bouncing the ball had been very out of character for Sherlock.
John was able to sit up now and stare more closely at the ball. Again he wondered how it got into the flat and the middle of the floor. He pulled himself up to standing, picked up the bills (which had scattered as he was flying through the air moments ago) and stuck the ball in his pocket. Probably best to not think about it anymore. He tried to not dwell on Sherlock, he tried to just do the best he could with each day, each moment. It was always there, of course. Right below the surface. It took almost nothing to recall standing on the ground, looking up at the sky as Sherlock flew closer and closer to the earth. He had gone over that telephone conversation a thousand times in his mind, always wanting to say something else, something different that would have changed the outcome. But he never had the right words and Sherlock always fell and there was nothing to be done about it except to put the kettle on, heat up something in the microwave and sit in front of the tele to waste another night.
He went through the motions without thinking. Turned the hob on, microwave, tea bag in mug, milk at the ready. He stood, waiting for the whistle of the kettle or the ding of the microwave, leaning against the counter with a happy absence of thought. The microwave dinged first and as he turned, he could feel the ball in his pocket again, caught between his body and the kitchen counter. Pressed against his body like that reminded him of being in school when he and his friends would try and squeeze a tennis ball between their upper arm and their torso, so as to make their arm go numb. It was a fun trick, but as a kid he didn't realize that squeezing the ball was stopping the blood flow to the arm, which is what caused the numbness. Now, as a medical doctor thinking back all those years ago, it was amusing to think how stupid he and the other boys were. It was a miracle none of them had any permanent damage, considering they were essentially stopping their own pulses.
The cup in his hand crashed to the floor, shattering. Could it be possible that Sherlock knew this trick with the ball? John pulled the ball from his pocket and looked at it again, his heart pounding in his chest. He slipped the ball between his upper arm and his chest, squeezing as hard as he could on the main artery in his arm. Almost immediately he could tell that the blood flow was substantially reduced because the arm felt cold and numb. The fingers of his other hand fumbled to take the pulse of his numb hand. He squeezed the ball against his chest and his fingers felt no perceptible pulse. No perceptible pulse. When he had reached out to Sherlock, poor broken Sherlock, there was no perceptible pulse in his thin, ghostly wrist. Was this because he was gone from this earth, or because the blue ball Sherlock had been playing with earlier was now squeezed between his arm and chest so as to make his pulse imperceptible?
John's head was swimming and his legs were weak. He had begged Sherlock to not be dead, to have found a way to cheat death. Could this be it? He clutched the ball in his hands and held it to his chest. He had hope. For the first time in all the months since he saw Sherlock fall from the sky, he had hope.