One Night's Morning
My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is alive.
I'm not insane and I'm not dreaming. My cheek and ear are pressed to his shoulder, above his heart, my arms wrapped around him. My hands are clenched in the soft fabric of the back of his shirt, and I can feel warm skin under my fingers. I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. The movement of air in his chest sounds like the rush of the sea, but that can't be right. It must be my ears. My teeth are clenched and so are my eyes. I'm holding him so tightly I'm afraid I might snap him in half. He's tense, but he's breathing, moving, living.
I say his name out loud, just once, just so I can hear it.
I've got you. It's okay now. You're alive. You're okay. I've got you.
"I…got your text," I say, still dopey with shock. I dig in my jacket pockets to show him my phone, for proof, but I guess I left it at the clinic. I don't really remember leaving, or the ride to Baker Street, just the blood pounding in my ears on the way. If it wasn't him who sent me that message—and it couldn't possibly be him—I would kill the person who had. I wouldn't need my gun to do it.
It is him, though. Sherlock. Alive. Since I finally let go of him, he's been restlessly prowling the outer edges of the sitting room while I stand in the middle, practically spinning in a circle so that I'm always facing him. I don't, won't, can't take my eyes off him.
Sherlock throws me a pained expression, achingly familiar, the one that says I've said something idiotic. And something else. Something strange. If it wasn't Sherlock—and it is, because I see him there—I would say that beneath it he looks wary…uncertain…of me?
He pauses in front of the fireplace, brushing a hand along the edge of the mantle, and says carefully, "I'm sure you have questions."
I feel my eyes widen, my mouth open to draw in a deep breath. I hold that breath until my chest starts to hurt, then exhale it in a loud gust of bewilderment. "How? Why?" That's a good place to start.
Sherlock nods once, tightly, and begins.
It's too much take in. It's too much. It's incredible. It's terrible. It's heroic. It's brilliant. It's cruel. It's Sherlock.
He's talking and talking at me. He can't stand still. He's wheeling around the room, growing more animated with every minute, his pale eyes and his white hands flashing. It makes me dizzy. I look away from him, down at the rug, in order to rest my eyes and my brain.
I blink. The rug looks very clean. In fact, it smells clean in here. I lean slowly forward in the seat of my old chair, my fingers tightening on the upholstered arms. I look around the room, finally seeing it. There are sheets of music on Sherlock's music stand. His violin case is propped up next to it. There are books on the bookshelves—books I remember being packed up and stored. There's a small stack of newspapers on the coffee table. The one on top is yesterday's.
"How long have you been here?"
Sherlock stops short in the middle of a sentence about falsifying records and frowns. "What?"
I stand and take a step toward him. I speak slowly. "How long have you been back? Here, at Baker Street?"
He breathes in quickly through his nose and faces me. His chin tilts up just a little, defensively. "Five days."
"Five days." I narrow my eyes at him. I feel the muscles in my forearms tighten as my fingers curl in. I take another step toward Sherlock, and he takes a step back. "All this time. All this time. And then five more days. No hurry, then? Put your feet up, cup of tea, watch the telly?"
Sherlock raises his hands to chest level, palms facing me. "John, you don't understand." He widens his eyes and tilts his head to the side. "I wanted to get it right." He makes a sweeping motion with one arm, gesturing across the sitting room. "Do you see? I had to—"
"You didn't have to," I snap. "You didn't have to. Not like this."
His hands drop to his sides and his mouth drops open. He shakes his head, confused. "John, haven't you been listening? I had to—"
"Yes, I've been listening." I nod pleasantly, as if this all makes perfect sense to me, but the back of my throat feels hot and raw and not at all pleasant. "You had to do it. You did it for me. You did it for all of us."
"Yes. And I did it well, and it worked." He turns abruptly away from me and takes a deep breath, head bowed, hands on his hips. "This isn't right," he mutters. He's talking to himself, not to me, in that dissatisfied, impatient tone he uses when he hasn't quite figured out a case yet.
When Sherlock turns back to me, his face has taken on an expression that is both resolute and awkward. "John. I realize that, imperative as they may have been, my actions both Bart's and in the ensuing time will have caused you significant distress, and while I deeply regret—"
"Where's Mrs. Hudson?" I interrupt him again, sharply.
He blinks, then shrugs disinterestedly. "Out." He settles into his resolute expression again. "While I deeply regret the necessity of subjecting you—"
"Did you really do it for us?" Five days. Mrs. Hudson, before me. Molly, instead of me. Blood on the pavement. All this time. I want to blow a hole in that composure. My palms prickle with adrenaline, like they're filled with spikes, but my hands are steady. "Or did you do it to win the game?"
Sherlock stares at me with his mouth open. He looks confused but not offended. I can't break through, and he's just standing there, staring, with his stupid mouth hanging open. "I don't understand. I did both," he says finally, drawing himself up with pride.
For so long, far too long, I've wanted nothing but to see his face again, and now I can't, can't stand to look at it for another second.
I turn around, pick up my jacket from the arm of the sofa, and walk out.
I push my heels angrily into the pavement, propelling myself at military pace past the other human-shaped grey blurs. Baker Street is cast in the shadow of the low, late afternoon sun. The chill autumn air makes my eyes sting. My breath is coming out too fast in white puffs. When I was little, my father told me those white puffs were smoke from my inner fire. I felt powerful, like a dragon. Then I noticed that everyone blew white smoke into the cold, and I realized there wasn't anything special about me after all.
On Marylebone Road, I turn the short corduroy collar of my black jacket up against the wind, put my head down and march with my hands balled into fists and tucked into my pockets. I came away from home this morning without my gloves. I expected a short mid-day walk back to my flat from the clinic. Not…any of this. The cars roar at me with their headlamps flashing in my eyes.
Just past the Regent's Park tube station, I realize where I'm going and I leave Marylebone for a smaller, quieter street. I slow my pace a little so I can more carefully scan the dark corners where the buildings seem a little too close together. Close sometimes means dangerous—I've learned that. I wish something would jump out at me from one of those dark recesses. Come on. Try it. I dare you. Nothing happens.
I may not have Sherlock's memory for maps, but I know this part of the city—close to my old stomping grounds—well enough to take a less direct route through some narrower side streets as well as the wider roads. There are shouts and horns and the occasional shivering of dying leaves on a tree. Cyclists hiss past. Red double-decker buses whine and cough and their brakes engines purr. I pass boisterous groups jabbering away outside pubs. I pass quietly murmuring couples leaning into one another as they walk. I pass restaurants that smell spicy and delicious and welcoming. It's all thoroughly familiar. I could blend in here. I could blend in so easily I disappeared.
Instead I'm drawn toward the thrill of the danger that beckons from the fire escape stairs that cling to the sides of the buildings, the rooftops, and the alleyways that disappear into darkness. I hear echoes there; I see ghosts there. One is tall, dark-haired, theatrical, and intense, and the other is short, fair, and dazzled. They run through the city and laugh like two boys skiving off school. They look at each other and gasp for breath and smile and understand.
I stand looking up at the top of Bart's pathology building. I have been back here a few times since that day, thinking I might understand better, find some closure if I looked at it all again. It didn't work. It's not so dark that I can't still make out the words PATHOLOGICAL DEPARTMENT OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S HOSPITAL incised into the stone just under the roofline. The image of Sherlock's silhouette on that rooftop lives in my eyes, and if I close them the sky is grey again and I can see him there even now, standing with his arms outstretched like an Olympic diver directly over the word Pathological. I snort a laugh. Never was a more appropriate description carved onto the side of a building. "No one will ever convince me that you told me a lie." Right. Hilarious.
At the entrance, the duty guard waves me through, and I give him an Insider's Nod in thanks. Notoriety has its privileges—he still knows me, still thinks I should be here. He's a nice man. I think his name is Eddie.
I find my way to the roof. I've never come up here. It's surprisingly quiet, the sounds as small and distant as the people and objects I can see below. The dome of St. Paul's presides over the lesser architecture of the city to the south, my left. The view in front of me is nothing special—other rooftops, squat and unremarkable brown and red brick buildings. Construction cranes are perched here and there in the distance. If I look down, I can see the ambulance station. And there's the bus stop. It looks like a long way down from up here. Fear trembles in my stomach. What were you really thinking, looking down there? Looking down at me? Did I look small to you? I felt small. I felt helpless. I felt useless. You made me useless again. I feel sick.
I sit down carefully and let my legs dangle over the ledge. The sun has almost completely set. There's a faint strip of gold in memory of the sun along the part of the horizon I can see, being pushed away by a low, heavy blanket of purple clouds. I'm not sure how cold it's supposed to get. At least I have on a heavy jumper under my jacket. I hope it isn't going to rain.
I can breathe now. I don't have to talk. I don't have to listen. I settle into place, folding my arms. I close my eyes and breathe.
And, God, it hurts. I forgot how much. You bastard. I hate you for this. I thought I was part of something. I thought I was your friend. I thought... But you don't have friends, do you? You have tools. Pawns. Excuses. Do you know what you put us through? What you put me through? Do you have any idea how hard it was? Nobody ever laughed when I was around. I couldn't feel it when anyone touched me. How can you say you did this for me? I didn't want this. I don't want this.
I look up, hoping for enough of a break in the clouds to see a few stars, but no such luck. The strip of gold is gone, and the purple in the clouds has turned to dark grey. I focus on breathing, just breathing.
When the rooftop access door bangs open, I jump. I don't need to turn around to know who's there, but the hairs on the back of my neck still stand on end when I hear that low, sonorous voice in the darkness. "John?"
Go away. I'm so tired. Go away. There are footsteps behind me. There is a rustle of fabric.
"You followed me," I say, and I'm pleased at how calm I sound. But then I've had a lot of practice with that.
"Of course," he replies steadily.
Sherlock doesn't answer. Instead there is another susurration of fabric as he drapes a rough, heavy blanket over my shoulders. He sits down beside me, swinging his legs over the ledge with none of his typical grace of movement. He doesn't look down. Were you afraid? You must have been afraid. You must have. Even you, with your perfect plan. You looked small, too.
He pulls his coat tightly around himself and reaches into one of his pockets for something that he holds out in offer to me. His gloves. I stubbornly shake my head no, so he pulls them onto his own hands. He's close enough that his shoulder presses against mine. I glance at his face, but he is looking straight ahead, his profile cold and pale.
The cold from the concrete ledge is starting to numb my backside. I might have been falling asleep. Not the wisest course of action when you're sitting on a ledge. I wipe my running nose surreptitiously on the edge of my blanket.
St. Paul's is lit by a dramatic white light, emphasizing the dome's architectural details. A random checkerboard of warm yellow window lights have come on in the residential buildings, while the office buildings have hunkered down in dim, cool fluorescent sleep.
Sherlock, who has been still as a statue since he sat down beside me, stirs and turns his head to watch me as I look around at the night view.
"John," he begins, "I want to tell you—"
"Don't," I sigh. "Just don't."
He subsides, pushes his chin down into the nest of his scarf, and lowers, then closes his eyes.
I thought it was quiet before, but it is much more so now that the wind has died down and most of the city is asleep. I'm alone again, for the moment. The glow of the city lights has tinted the still low clouds faintly yellow. I shift my blanket so I'm sitting on a couple layers, making a softer, warmer seat. I'm adjusting to the cold.
The access door thumps and Sherlock returns from a trip inside with two steaming white mugs. He sets mine down on the ledge next to me and waits for me to pick it up before he resumes his seat beside me.
I hold the mug of wonderful hot tea close to my chest, let the steam curl under my chin, and breathe in the comforting earthy scent. I say it at last, the thing I need to say. "You hurt me."
Sherlock is quiet for a long time before he responds. "Yes."
Our shoulders touch, our upper arms, beneath all our layers, touch once more. It's not an accident, and it's not pressure. It's presence.
The cloud cover is starting to break a little and I see a faint star peeping through the haze.
"The stars were incredible in Afghanistan," I reminisce aloud. There was a time before I knew Sherlock Holmes. There was another world I used to live in. "If it was a clear night, if it looked like it might be a quiet night, sometimes I'd find a private spot. Take some coffee, make a cocoon out of my blanket, and just sit and watch the stars. It was like...floating in the sky, like not being on Earth at all." I speak quietly, as if I'll scare that timid star away if I'm too loud.
Sherlock turns to look at me, his shoulder shifting slightly against mine. "Were there many quiet nights?"
I look away, my body tensing—body memory. "Some." I close my eyes, but I feel him watching me for a long time afterward.
Faint sounds of morning activity are starting to stir the air—the hum of cars, the occasional swell of a distant voice. As the sky begins to lighten, Sherlock grows more restless, twisting his hands together in his lap until finally he erupts into speech. "I built a model ship when I was a boy."
He pauses to look at me. I raise my eyebrows.
"It was a custom model wooden ship kit for a sixteenth century galleon. Ebony, rosewood, teak. It smelt good. Mother sent it back from Paris on one of her visits. Her note said all the pieces were hand-crafted."
He pauses again, watching me for a response. I nod at him to proceed but I wonder where this is going.
"I thought it was wonderful. I worked on it in my room the entire term break. I was young, seven or eight, and it was intricate work, but I was careful." He pauses for breath, frowning down at his gloved hands. "Then Mycroft came in to 'inspect it,' he said. To make sure I'd done it right. I told him I didn't need his help, but he still had to get his hands on it. His fingers were too big. Clumsy. They got tangled in one of the shrouds and snapped the foremast and the boom."
Sherlock pins me with a hard stare. "He apologized. I think he meant it, but that didn't make any difference. The ship was ruined and I hated him for it. Being sorry wasn't going to change that."
I bite my lower lip. Chew on it. "What do you think he could have done? That might have made a difference."
"I don't know." He sounds defeated. He sounds as lost as I feel.
The sun is rising behind us, and I stretch my arms up into the hazy golden rays and take a long breath of morning. My spine makes a popping noise that feels quite pleasant and I let out a little groan. Sherlock arches his back in a small stretch of his own. The dawn light is starting to tease highlights from his dark curls. I pull one leg up with another groan at the stiffness in my limbs so that I can turn to look at the sunrise. The dissipating clouds above us are glowing with gold and orange, and I can't help but say, "Beautiful, isn't it?"
I look back to Sherlock, who has only turned far enough to look at my face. His expression is self-aware and slightly bemused. He answers me with a tentative half-smile. "Yes. It is."
And apparently it's my turn to look confused.
He rises awkwardly to his feet and adjusts his coat and scarf, then glances down at me. He pulls off one of his gloves and offers me his hand. I take it, and let him pull me up. He doesn't let go, just stands for a moment staring somewhere over my shoulder, his forehead creased with apprehension. "Home?" he asks, and looks back to me, eyes narrowed as he studies me, openly hoping for—what? There's sunlight caught in his eyelashes.
I missed you. I missed you so much.
I know the moment when he reads it in my face by his indrawn breath.
"Sherlock." I say his name just so I can hear it, and I think about what "home" meant before Sherlock left, and how I missed it and longed for it when he was dead, and what it might mean now that he's back. Fresh, hot tea, toast with beans, rudeness and shouting and, God, laughter again, a fire in the hearth, music in the middle of the night, and horrible things in the fridge. And maybe something else, now. Something new.
"It's not all right," I tell him, swallowing down the bubble of emotion rising from my chest. I don't say yet, because I don't think I have to.
"I know." Sherlock's face is drawn as I have never seen it, but his eyes have the spark of a new day in them and a warmth deeper than that of his hand clasping mine.
Thank you for reading.