Was lamenting the fact that my two current WIPs would not be ready to post for our little fandom Sherlock day (22113, 221B, yeah, you get it) when I found this unpublished piece buried amid my files - something that, ha, I actually meant to post for the anniversary of John and Sherlock's meeting on Jan. 29th but wasn't able to finish in time! Seems I'm not good with deadlines, but at least we can resurrect this one :) Entirely unbeta'd, all mistakes are my own, etc, etc.
For Bobby xx
The morning light slants across the car door as John slams it shut. In the moment it takes for his eyes to adjust, he breathes deep, lungs expanding with the scent of early dew, the sun, the air. One year.
Walking over the gravel path, his boots settle into a familiar cadence. It's taken time, but he knows this path as well as any of London's familiar streets. It gives him the chance to watch the golden morning scatter itself across the grass and the sky, watch it filter through his shadow as the soil steams under rising heat and the birds begin to secret themselves away in the shade.
He rounds the bend. Smiles.
"Brought you something."
He brandishes a book and picks up his pace. At last John stands before the rounded headstone and its familiar, plain pronouncement.
In those first few weeks he'd been angry about it - the simple epitaph said nothing of the man beneath it. There had been entire stories written on the bones of him lying beneath the ground, and only his name had made it to the surface. In the first few weeks, there'd been lots to be angry about.
But these days, it gets easier.
It takes a bit of effort - he's got a few more aches to carry with him, now - but soon he's settled with the cool press of marble at his back and his legs sprawled out before him. He can feel the damp earth, cool and hard against his jeans, and knows it's going to soak through if he stays here for long. He doesn't have much time as it is - job. Chores. Life calls. Just a quick visit. Keeping promises (these are promises he mostly makes to himself, but promises nonetheless).
The book falls open on his lap as if in eager anticipation, the dog-eared pages shivering against the wind. John thumbs to the proper page and, for a moment, just stares at the text, soaking it in. He doesn't divine anything from the words, not yet, not really - he's in the space between each letter, the breath poised over the comma. This moment is the pause before reader reads and listener comprehends; the fractured instant in which words alter perceptions of reality, in which small infinities are stretched.
He purses his lips. Clears his throat. Far above, a bird interrupts with a shrieking cry, and he can't help but smile. How typical.
"'The spotted hawk,'" he reads, smoothing the pad of a finger down the page, "'swoops by and accuses me. He complains of my gab and my loitering...'"
John reads, and the infinity of these seconds, of his mouth shaping around the words, stretches wide inside his chest.
Some great, cavernous space had taken up residence behind his sternum in the grey weeks and months after Sherlock's death; Sherlock's death, which he couldn't even bring himself to say out loud for ages. Dark, consuming, it ached its remembrance and John had tried hard to fill it, only to realize it wasn't that sort of space: it was a space already full. It was an attic, or a basement - somewhere all the dusty, once-loved things were kept and hidden. It was too full, memories and feeling overflowing in the midnight hours to choke him in his throat.
But he's learned. He pushes the edges of the space and he learns of cosmology, how the universe is constantly expanding on all sides, how there's always going to be enough room if he just allows it to go.
This meadow, this graveyard, this free air and unfettered grass - they flow through the space and push it wider, probing tendrils whispering out into the universe. John grieves and, unobstructed, it sings throughout a galaxy that has been desperate (welcome arms and the infinite space inside them) to hold it.
"'Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another," he pauses, breathes, and the oxygen echoed in distant stars burns devastating and beautiful in his lungs.
"'I stop somewhere waiting for you.'"
There are wet spots on the page, little drops, but he doesn't brush them away, instead pressing them inside the book like dried flowers. The pages brush up alongside each other and preserve something else between them entirely. Something unknown to language. Something infinite.
His head tips back against the stone, eyes shut tight. He really needs to go, but a last few seconds here... Yes, here, with his friend, where he knows Sherlock watches and waits.
He opens his eyes.
A sky blown soft and sad slants toward heavens of which he knows nothing - the embrace of the earth, the gravity of her skein, keeps him here as they revolve. But he's felt weightless and winged before, on the coattails of an impossible man.
He'll be borne into the earth someday yet. And he has the surety of constant energy on his side - he knows someone will be there to lead him home.
"See you. Hope it kept the boredom at bay," he whispers, rising and dusting off his jeans. He hesitates, and before he can think to stop himself he lays the book gently against the tombstone and heads back for the road empty-handed.
John will not think twice when it disappears - funeral and graveyard staff keeping up with the parks; he knows how it goes.
But John also won't know that, as he drives off with the light skating over the space he left behind, a figure emerges through the trees. Finds the messy pages and the honest words. Smiles, even as a new space tears itself whole inside him - a space filled with the pounding echo of a heart (a heart, two hearts) that beats forward bravely into the day.
"See you soon," he whispers back, face lifted to the sun.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself LII