Goodbye is the Hardest Word
John enters the room in which he's often met with Mycroft, only this time, a different Holmes awaits him.
It's for that very reason that he isn't sure whether to hesitate or hurry forward. Upon seeing that familiar figure rise from a chair before the fireplace, he involuntarily chooses the latter.
An honest smile is upon Sherlock's face as he comes forward to meet his friend and is wrapped in a hug before he can protest. John holds him tight for a long moment, suppressing the tears he has more than a single reason to shed. After a moment, Sherlock pulls away till he's looking the doctor in the eye, his composed face betraying concern.
"What's wrong?" he asks in a deep, low voice.
The doctor diverts his gaze as all the words with which he'd thought to answer that inevitable question leave him. "Sherlock," he says softly, reaching to embrace his friend once more but the detective grasps his shoulders, preventing the motion. John looks at his long-missed friend with a wry smile. "How did you…"
"You hesitated," Sherlock explains, studying his face with an intent expression.
John fondly shakes his head. "Gosh, I've missed you."
"John." Sherlock holds his gaze sternly, while adopting a kinder though equally urgent tone. "You have bad news and you're afraid to tell me."
At first, John can only stare back at him. "It's true," he then whispers in a dry voice. "It's true."
Still clasping his friend's shoulders, Sherlock gives a single nod. "Tell me."
With a steadying breath, John surrenders. "I still get those migraines, Sherlock- worse recently. …I visited a specialist two days ago, and…" John gazes past Sherlock's shoulder, determined that his voice shouldn't remain strong as he finishes.
Sherlock for once has no words with which to prompt, but he rubs John's arms in a calming fashion, and the doctor forces himself to continue.
"I have a malignant brain tumor, Sherlock, and- they don't think I'll see out another week." John allows himself a deep breath as one truth-telling tear rolls down his face.
When his vision has well enough cleared, he sees that Sherlock's expression remains as solemn and set as before, though the effort behind it is visible. At last he speaks, though with the voice of one fighting to retain his dispassion. "There isn't possibly a mistake?"
"No," John answers.
"You're sure?" Sherlock presses, the desperate pitch to his voice disrupting his firm countenance. "You're absolutely certain?"
"Sherlock, there's no mistake!" John cries, because it hurts and frustrates him that his friend should be so helpless with nothing the doctor can do to relieve his pain. He sighs to observe Sherlock withdrawing the signs of his emotions once more. "I'm sorry," he says, massaging his remotely throbbing temples. His medication only does so much for his own pain.
He looks up again to see an expression more disturbing than the last, for now Sherlock's face is completely void of feeling. Those brilliant eyes are empty now, and John is sure that he's seen few things more worrisome. He's never witnessed anything that so truly shocked the detective.
Deeming it the only thing within his power to do, John again hugs his friend, an action that Sherlock cautiously mirrors.
"…There's no possibility of a cure?" he asks in a low voice that is no longer so deep or masterful.
John shakes his head against Sherlock's shoulder, closing tear-filled eyes. "Nothing permanent. Nothing that wouldn't require me to d-… to die slowly in some hospital bed." He strengthens his grip around Sherlock as his throat begins to tighten. "I don't want to die slowly, Sherlock," he confesses miserably. "I'd rather it was sudden… and over quickly." John sniffs deeply before proceeding. "Do you understand that, Sherlock?" He pushes away when his friend fails to react.
Looking down at John, Sherlock's eyes hold a glint of tears, as well as an honest fear. "I'm coming with you back to Baker Street," he tells the doctor, who is already shaking his head.
"No. You know that would be too dangerous," he patiently replies. "We can't risk your safety."
"A calculated risk, John; I won't let-" Sherlock pauses briefly, to resume with more control. "I want to be with you."
"Sherlock, I'm not about to let you put your life in danger just so that-"
"I don't care."
At his tremulous and meaningful words, John is stopped short.
"These past months have been bearable for the thought that once everything was taken care of, my life would return to normal. You're my normal, John."
"Sherlock," John whispers, searching for words that will comfort. "You'll still have your work, Sherlock; I know what it means to you."
"No aspect of my work could ever replace you, John. …Anything I do will be…" Sherlock frowns, blinking glassy eyes. "So empty."
John avoids that hurt, piercing stare, feeling laden with guilt for something he can't control, and unsure how to handle it. "Sherlock, I'm- I'm sorry," he says, wishing he wouldn't sound so hoarse and weak. "I'm sorry about this. And I certainly don't want to leave you again…" His voice cracks, and, aware that he's working with the last of his composure, he hopes that Sherlock will remain collected enough for them both, as one would have reason to expect.
The doctor is naturally startled to discover that this is not the case at all- but that tears have already begun to fall down his friend's ashen face, seemingly unnoticed.
"Don't speak as if this is your fault somehow, John." Sherlock gestures toward the chairs in front of the fireplace. "Why don't you sit?" He proposes gently, to which John finds himself chuckling in a disheartened manner.
"Taking excessive care of my health would only delay the inevitable, Sherlock," he replies, and assumes a stronger face. "I'm not afraid to die, you know. Though I regret that it had to work out like this. I wish you could be there with me, of course, but I'd rather be able to know that nothing can happen to you. Your safety is my priority."
"As yours is mine," Sherlock says- and in a voice that John can swear is choked, "where does that leave me, John?"
The doctor isn't even sure that he's meant to answer that, and he certainly doesn't know what he should reply. As the taller man takes a step backward, John gets the impression that more than physical distance is being put between them.
"You found out before today." Sherlock's tone is accusing, and John can't help the defense that enters his own.
"I only got the call yesterday," he tells his friend.
"You should have told me yesterday, then," Sherlock reprimands.
"Sherlock, don't-… I did think of it. …I thought of it, and I dismissed it, because in- in person-. I thought that this would be easier."
"What- this is easy?" the detective exclaims.
John winces at his harsh tone, and goes to take the seat previously offered. "Sherlock, please," he says, in a voice equally gentle to the one he used before. "Try to understand." He bends forward in his seat, elbows resting on his knees as his fingers interlace. "I wanted you to know, but… I didn't know how to tell you, and I didn't want to entirely ruin our meeting."
"I'd consider it enough so anyway," Sherlock tells him with a mild quiver in his words. "…But I do. Understand."
It's only as John looks up to meet his companion's eyes that he sees just how full they are of the pain Sherlock is making an immense effort to keep in check. All his bitter words- they're his defense mechanism.
Sherlock comes slowly to sit across from John in from of the fireplace, mirroring his friend's position. "Forgive me, John," he whispers at length- words that capture the doctor's attention. "I know how selfish I must sound to you- cruel, even… I'm sure." His eyes appear briefly distant while tears roll unwarranted down his face. He returns his gaze to John who is at once stricken with pity. "I've never known anyone else like you, John," Sherlock is saying now, clearly suppressing what can only be an instinctive reluctance to open up and discuss what he's feeling. "I've never… loved anyone so dearly. It follows that I've never had anyone whom I care about this much taken away from me, and… John, I don't want to lose you."
For several seconds, John isn't sure which is more concerning- the desperation on his friend's face, or that he's bothered stating so obvious a fact. He decides that the two are too closely linked to be of differing importance, and so thinks no more of it but reaches both hands to cover his friend's clenched fists.
"I know," he whispers. "It's okay."
Sherlock searches his face with a distinct frown. "How can it be okay, John?" he asks between deep, troubled breaths.
John shakes his head. "It's not," he admits. "You're right. …I just didn't know what else to say."
Yet the following silence isn't so uncomfortable as John expected. His best friend is alive, and right now they're together, for however short a time.
"Where is it, John?"
The doctor looks up at this timid question, still holding his friend's hands. Then he understands. Evading Sherlock's penetrating stare, he indicates the part of the right side of his skull beneath which his tumor lies.
Surprising him, Sherlock gets out of his chair to kneel in front of John, extending a hand to the place his friend has pointed to. John shuts his eyes upon the contact, though Sherlock's fingertips are exceedingly gentle.
There's nothing to be felt on the surface, of course, but- after his hospital visits- John does find it nice to be touched in that spot by someone who personally cares about him for a change. He leans into the touch, once more meeting tearful, desperate eyes.
"Does it hurt, John?" Sherlock inquires, worried by the idea.
"They gave me a medicine to help with the pain."
John works up a reassuring smile though he knows that Sherlock will see right through it. "I'm alright," he replies, hoping that his friend won't point out this other elusion of the truth.
Sherlock says nothing, however it's clear that he sees through the façade. His fingers brush the edge of John's ear, making him smile involuntarily.
"That tickles," John whispers.
Sherlock's face remains the same. "I'm sorry," he replies, but when he begins to pull his hand away, John grabs a hold of it.
"Don't be," he says. "I needed that smile."
Sherlock shakes his head as if unable to understand. "Oh, John," he says in a pale voice, sinking back on his heels. He shifts closer and rests his forehead against John's knee while covering his own taut features with his free hand.
John brings an arm around Sherlock's shoulders, shutting his eyes when he hears a harsh sob.
"It's okay. It's okay," he whispers gently, resting his head over his friend's. Sherlock now clutches John's hand, his thin frame vibrating while he cries as silently as he can manage.
A few minutes pass this way. Though John is troubled by his friend's grief, he remembers that they've a deadline of sorts, and wipes his own tears on his cuff, taking a breath to speak.
"Don't," Sherlock says abruptly, gripping his hand with greater force. "Don't go yet, John. Please."
Stroking his friend's disheveled hair, John can only sigh. "It's just going to get harder, Sherlock."
"I don't want you to go." Sherlock has lifted his head and stares with intensity into the doctor's eyes. "Because I'll never see you again, will I? …When you walk through that door, John, it will be the last that I ever see of you."
As much as John would like to disagree with him, he knows that Sherlock is right. This won't be easy on either of them, and yet they must part ways. "I need you to be strong, Sherlock," he says softly; "can you do that for me?"
Sherlock's face seems to ask if the doctor is truly conscious of how great this is a request, but with a deliberate effort he nods. "For you, John."
He helps John to his feet, one hand lingering behind the doctor's shoulder as they exchange wordless glances.
"I'll call you tomorrow, if you won't mind it," Sherlock suggests at length, his voice still hoarse with emotion.
A pained smile is the most that John can manage. "I'd like that," he answers. When he steps forward for a hug, Sherlock- reading his mind, as usual- immediately obliges.
The detective's arms hold him so tight that John's breath comes short and shallow, even more so than it already would. Trying to speak is little good, he knows, yet all the same…
"Goodbye, Sherlock," he chokes out, sounding fragile as well as muffled with his mouth against his friend's shoulder. However Sherlock seems easily to understand him, and rubs John's back with a care that the doctor once thought foreign to him.
"Goodbye, John Watson," Sherlock whispers into his ear before pulling away to look at him. "I will never, ever forget you, John," he assures. "…And I'll never stop missing you."
John wants to say something; needs to respond to his best friend because he's hurting so. But what words of comfort can there be? As he looks down in despair of the thought, Sherlock's arms are about him again with as much strength as before, and John can't help but to return the gesture.
Then, abruptly enough that he escapes eye contact, he tears himself away and turns to leave. He can't bring himself to look back upon his friend, fearful of the pain he'll find on Sherlock's face- and it is easier this way.
That evening John sits alone in the detective's chair when he remembers a few of his friend's words that he'd not thought much of until now."I've never loved anyone so dearly."
He sighs to himself. Spoken by any other person, those words would be special- but because they were from Sherlock, to John, they mean the world.
A/N- Please nobody freak out. ;) Will update soon! Again, I use the 'L' word platonically, because it works for me.
Oh yeah- that awkward moment when the computer wants to substitute "Microsoft" for "Mycroft"- I can't be the only one who's experienced that! ;)