For my dearest Paula (Exceeds Expectations). Happy Birthday, love. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
Thanks go to Izzie (the drowsy poet) for beta-ing this.
It's fragments of stained-glass memories, bits and pieces all jagged and charred around the edges. It's this is my note and keep your eyes fixed on me and goodbye, john. It's grey skies and black coat flapping in the wind and oh-so-scarlet liquid staining the pavement and those dark curls. It's everything and nothing all at once, as your world shudders to a screeching halt even as around you the gears keep on turning at their relentless pace. It's the end of everything and the beginning of nothing, nothingness. It's the sickening crack of flesh hitting pavement. It's sherlock! and denial and no no no no no.
It's the end of the world as you know it.
You wake up and for just the slightest instant you've forgotten, but then it hits you all over again and you crumple because what now?
Now? Now comes funeral arrangements and empty condolences and trying to learn how to live again. Now comes a vast emptiness. Now comes pain and grief and trying to breathe past the lump in your throat.
Now comes the rest of forever without him.
You can't breathe as they lower the casket into the ground.
You feel like you need to stand up and make a speech — you were his best friend, his only friend, if he's to be believed, and Mycroft is looking at you like he expects you to, but you can't. You can't, because how do you stand up and explain to people that he was a mad bastard but you wouldn't have him any other way? How do you explain Baskerville and Irene and that night at the pool? How do you explain coming home to a head in the fridge and milk cultivating bacteria and thinking this is home? How do you explain the little things and the big things and the things that made him sherlock, made you sherlock&john?
You can't explain gunfights and back-alley chases and bomb detonations. You can't explain circuses and Angelo's and Bart's. You can't explain him in the space they'd give you; you can't explain him at all, because he's untouchable, indescribable, transcendent.
Was, you correct yourself. He was those things. All he is now is dead.
You let Mycroft speak and he spins some shit about brotherly love and how Sherlock Holmes was a great man and you don't think Mycroft believes a word of it but you? You know it's true. You know Lestrade was wrong, that day oh-so-long ago, and that he was already a great man when you met him — it just took a persistent mind to see that.
You saw him.
You saw the man behind the mind. You saw the human being, buried so deep under the façade of machine.
God, you hate yourself for that word. It bounces around in your head like it's made of rubber and you can't get it out. You machine machine machine machine machine.
You don't believe your own words. You doubt you ever did. You might be the only one.
You don't cry because you can't, because you hear his voice in your head, that detached curiosity, sentiment? and you can practically feel his disdain — but still, it's a close thing because how do you not cry when your world is breaking and each fragment feels like it's slicing through to the bone?
You beg him for one more miracle, sherlock but you know best of all that while he may have been sherlock, he was still human and dead means dead.
You nearly drop the shopping as you juggle it and the keys and an oath escapes your mouth as you fumble with the lock until finally you give up and slide down the wall, hugging the shopping bag to your chest.
You tell yourself it's ridiculous; it's been over a month — forty-two days, whispers the part of your mind that's keeping track and you hate it because it's just one more sign that you aren't letting go.
But how do you let go of greatness? How do you let go of the blazing comet that lit up your night sky, leaving you blind and dazzled in its wake?
You tell yourself that moving on is not forgetting but it doesn't help. You're stuck in quicksand, only you aren't struggling. You don't struggle to escape his hold on you; instead, you slowly sink deeper because you aren't sure who you are without him anymore.
You're too old to be breaking and too broken to be young, and all you are is trapped, stagnant. Alone.
Time heals all wounds, they say.
You aren't sure you believe them anymore.
It's been almost three months — eighty-seven days, it whispers — and the wound is as raw and gaping as ever.
You thought you saw him, standing on a street corner yesterday. The bearing was all him. Haughty posture, through-and-through. The hair was somewhere between amber and blonde, though, and the coat was too short, too normal, and–
but that was where you stopped yourself because those weren't the reasons of a sane man. Because a sane man's first thought would have been dead, because that's more than a hair colour; it's proof. Dead men don't walk the streets of London.
You aren't sure you believe in your own sanity anymore. This should scare you, probably. But it doesn't.
You aren't sure you're afraid of anything anymore. What else do you have to lose?
three hundred and sixty-five
You stand in front of a headstone and tell him that it's been one year but it doesn't feel right, this doesn't feel like him. He isn't a headstone in the cemetery.
You leave. You take a cab to a seedier part of London, pay the cabbie, and watch him drive off. You breathe in the thick air and you look around and you see him. You see the vigilante who claimed not to have a heart chasing after a pickpocket with the audacity to steal from a single mother barely supporting her kid. You see the man in the great coat leaning over the homeless woman, learning her name and slipping her a fifty — he says it's for information and you aren't stupid, you know that's true, but you also know that's not the full story.
You think of the man who could have done anything with his life but chose to be a detective, chose to help people.
You hear him in your head; will caring about them help save them? but you know he says a lot of things. You know that the puzzle mattered more than the lives but the lives mattered more than he showed; you know that he wore masks like most people wore pants (and sometimes wore pants as often as most people wore masks). You know that he never wanted to care because caring could get you hurt but you also know that he was human, much as he tried not to be.
You know that he saw it as weakness and you saw it as strength.
You speak to all of London — because, really, he's more here than in some headstone — and you tell him that it's been a year. You feel stupid, because either he knows already or he knows nothing at all, depending on what you believe, and either way he doesn't need you to tell him.
You can practically see him, staring at you with that look where you can tell he thinks you're being supremely idiotic but for once he's being too kind to mention it and the pain of the image tears a hole right through your chest.
You whisper your i miss yous to the wind and hope that wherever he is, there are plenty of serial killers, and then you laugh, because in some ways hell is his heaven.
four hundred and forty-four
She's screaming at you — and Christ, doesn't this feel backward? — but you're hardly listening because who is Harry to lecture you about moving on? And you've heard it a hundred times already, from her, from Lestrade, from your therapist, Ella.
Maybe that should tell you something, but it doesn't seem to matter how much you know that you should have moved on by now, doesn't seem to matter how much you know that he's gone and he isn't coming back. Logic isn't winning here, and there's a Sherlock-shaped hole in your chest where he used to be, and all the tape in the world can't patch it up.
You go to work at the surgery and you can't pretend that you don't see the irony in that — you spend your days patching up other people's wounds when you can't even patch your own.
six hundred and seventy
Flowers would be stupid. Sentimental.
But you want to do something.
You go back to Baker Street. You talk to Mrs. Hudson — she's so glad to see you back it almost hurts — and she tells you the flat's still empty, has been since you left — in a way, that hurts, too. You feel as stagnant as ever.
You climb the steps slowly, leaning too heavily on your right leg and counting all seventeen steps. You knows as you do that this might be a very, very bad idea. Pouring salt into a wound that already refuses to heal is… stupidity at its finest.
But you never claimed to be a genius and you're sick of people expecting you to be him when you aren't. You're allowed to be stupid sometimes. You push open the door.
It smells like him. Two years later and this room still smells like him, smells like home.
The smell tears right through you, the molecules of scent scraping the raw, open wound and you absolutely crumble; one step inside the door, and you're already on the floor. You curl into yourself, protective.
You stay for too long and not long enough. You tell yourself you won't come back and you return the next day, and the next. Six days later you move back in and it hurts more than you can fathom but you feel closer to him than you have in a long time, so you don't care about the pain.
seven hundred and eighty-two
You are frozen. You cannot move. You cannot breathe.
This can't be happening. Your fist collides with his face and you hear her voice in your head; if I had to punch that face I'd avoid your nose and teeth too and you grit your teeth because you're angry, furious.
Alive. Alive. Alive, your brain stutters, and you can't accept it but there he is in front of you and how do you ignore what your eyes are telling you?
And then you wake up gasping and the ache in your chest throbs and you hate yourself because he's dead and he isn't coming back.