For Tilly


15. Part 7

~~The flat is quiet. We stop in to see Mrs. Hudson. She’s keeping her composure. She hugs Sherlock again, then me.

We go upstairs. I shut the door behind us. Night has fallen and I’m adrift. I don’t know what to do, or if there’s a plan. He sits in his chair. I hover nearby. He looks up at me. “Will you get the pills, John?”

My heart turns to ice and my stomach drops. “Now? But…now?”

His voice is gentle. “What’s the point of delay?”

“The point? I don’t know, I just – does it have to be now?”

“Let’s just get the pills. So we’re ready.”

I go into the kitchen on numb feet and draw a glass of water. The pills are in my pocket. I put them in a small dish and go back into the living room. He is watching me. I sink to the floor in front of his chair, kneeling between his feet. I am holding the glass and the dish but I make no move to hand them to him.

He reaches down and takes them from me, but he sets them on the table at his side. He leans forward, hands folded before him. “No, I shouldn’t mind dying, John. It’s what we all owe. And I’m glad to be able to choose my terms.” He pauses and waits until I look up at him. “I don’t mind, except…” He swallows hard. “Except for you. I regret whatever pain this will cause you. I don’t claim to know its nature. I only know that I have spent some time imagining how I would feel if our places were reversed.”

I am trying to memorize his face. I don’t know what I’m going to say until I hear it emerge. “I really thought I’d be spending the rest of my life with you,” I say.

He smirks a little. “That’s all you planned? Rather limited, isn’t it?”

“No, I mean – no matter what else happened, who else I met, or what else I was, before anything else I’d be – this,” I say, making a vague motion in the air between us.

He nods. “I suppose in some sense, I am fortunate.”

“Fortunate? How?”

“I do get to spend the rest of my life with you.”

I am undone.

I feel his hands on my hair as I weep, my forehead resting on his knees. I’m helpless. I have failed. “I’m supposed to keep you safe,” I say through my tears. “I can’t stop this. I’m sorry I can’t fix this.”

“You have fixed it, John. It’s because of you that I can go out this way, the way I want.” He slips a hand beneath my chin and tips my head up. He holds my face between his hands and rests his forehead against mine. I hang onto his wrists because I have to hang on to something. “I am not a man to make pronouncements or confessions,” he says, quietly.

“I don’t need any.”

“Good. I trust my actions speak well enough.”

I nod. He releases me and backs off. He reaches for the dish and the glass. I get out my mobile and send two texts. One to Lestrade, one to Sarah. This is the arrangement. I send the texts when he takes the pills. They will each come to the flat in one hour. Lestrade will come for Sherlock. Sarah will come for me.

Sherlock meets my eyes once more, then he swallows the pills with a drink of water. He sets the dishes aside with an air of finality.

It’s done. Over the next thirty minutes he will drift away.

I stand up and his eyes follow me. I reach out for his hand and pull him to his feet. He is looking at me, puzzled. I lead him over to the couch and sit down in the corner. He gets the idea and sits next to me. I keep hold of his hand.

He is breathing slowly, deliberately. I want to talk but I don’t know what to say, or if it will help either of us. He looks at me. “John…” he begins, and I see the fear in his eyes. “I thought I was ready for this.” His voice shakes.

“I’m here, Sherlock.”

“I’m afraid, John.” I have never heard his voice so small.

Nothing I ever do will ever be this important again.

I pull him into my arms and tuck his head down to my shoulder. He is so thin. He folds into an unbelievably small space, fitted into my lap; my arms can encircle him completely. He grasps a handful of my jumper and lets out a shaky breath. “Just relax,” I whisper.

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“I don’t want you to go.”

We are skating near the edge. Dull horror floods me. I desperately don’t want to hear it. Just as desperately, I don’t want to say it. Right now, I am losing my best friend, and that is bad enough. I don’t know if I could stand to lose more. I cannot look at the future that we’re now being denied and admit that we could have had anything other than the friendship I already know. If I look down that road which is now closed and see something else there, always glimpsed but never reached for, never acknowledged, it might really break me for good.

But this isn’t about me. If he needs it, then it’ll be said. And God help me.

I feel his limbs loosening. “John,” he says, and the word is slurred. “Need to see you.”

I shift him around in my arms until we’re face to face. His eyelids are slack. He is shaking. “Sherlock, just look at me. Don’t think. Don’t try to hang on. You just look at me, okay?”

He does. His eyes flick over my face like he’s trying to do what I was doing earlier, and memorize me. I know that I won’t be spared, because he hasn’t been.

I kiss his lips, gently. I feel the tension sag away from him and his hand on my face. I hold him close, our foreheads together again. His eyelids are flickering now. He kisses me back, straining like it’s taking the last of his strength. His hands clench in my jumper and his eyes blaze as he looks at me. “I want you to be the last thing I see,” he rasps.

I hold his gaze. I feel every second like a blade against my skin but I hold it. I won’t look away because this is sacred and I’m long past the point of salvage anyway. He takes a few deep breaths and sags. His eyes close.

He is sleeping now. It won’t be long.

I gather him close, wrap myself around him. I kiss his face over and over. I’m aware that I’m talking to him but I don’t know what I’m saying. I may be telling him I love him. I may be telling him I’ve never loved anyone else and never will. I may be cursing him for leaving me. I really have no idea. It doesn’t matter. Those things are all true, whether I am telling him or not.

He takes his last breath a few minutes later. Exhale, and then – nothing.

I stare down at his face. It is not real.

He can’t hear me now. So I say it all again and this time I know I’m doing it. I talk to him until my voice gives out.

Lestrade and Sarah are there. When did they arrive? They are leaning over us, their faces sad. Sarah is crying. Lestrade has come with the men from the funeral home who’ll take him away. I won’t let them. Sarah has her arm around me and finally she and Lestrade coax me into releasing him. I can’t watch. I go to the window and Sarah hugs me from behind. I hear the rustlings and the wheels on the stairs and the clanking of the gurney and they’re nearly gone before I stop them.

“Wait. One moment.” I must sound calm enough for them to stop when I say so. He is covered with a sheet. I go to the gurney and peel the sheet back.

I just look. Perhaps I had something to say but it’s gone now. It’s too late. The man I’ve lost wasn’t just my best friend, not now.

They take him away. Lestrade hugs me, and it’s a bit alarming, but I need it. He leaves, and Sarah watches me like a hawk.

I walk across the living room toward the couch. I make it halfway there. My legs slowly buckle and I am sitting on the floor, staring into space. She joins me there and holds my hand.

I feel nothing.

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