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Last letter

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 12: angst, implied character death, implied slash

Spoilers: none
 

 

Sherlock hesitated for a long time as he stood in Mycroft's office, turning the envelope over and over in his gloved hands. Not that there was much to deduce from it. Standard white C5 envelope, bulk indicated several folded sheets inside, stapled by their feel, no postmark, the only inscription on it a scrawled 'Sherlock' in black biro. He opened it at last, very carefully, so he didn't tear the envelope. The sheets inside were handwritten as well. He began to read:

(1)

Dear Sherlock,

If you are reading this it will be because I'm dead. It's something of a tradition for soldiers to leave last letters behind in the event of them dying suddenly. The next bit, however, is less traditional. Before you read any further, you need to be quite sure I am dead. In particular, don't take Mycroft's word for it. I would say DNA tests carried out by you on my body or whatever remains of it is probably enough of a check. But if there's no body, don't believe I'm dead, however much circumstantial evidence there is.

IF YOU'RE SURE I'M DEAD, TURN TO PAGE 2

***

(2)

Apologies for this being handwritten, but I'm sure you've deciphered worse. I didn't write it on my laptop, because I'm convinced you check that regularly. And it would be quite hard to sit in an internet cafe and write this kind of thing. I'd probably make a mess on the keyboard, and they'd object. But I presume you won't mind if this letter ends up with a bit of sweat or snot or tears on it. Think of it as an extra bit of reference DNA.

Onto the main apology – this letter's largely going to be apologies and explanations. I'm sorry I never said 'I love you'. This is mostly because I'm repressed, and boringly inarticulate, and have really poor timing, but also because you almost never stop talking, and always interrupt at crucial moments. So I decided I was probably better  at saying 'I love you' in code. By making you meals, and patching you up, and following after you, and looking after you, and giggling a lot, and putting up with the things in the fridge, and that kind of stuff.

I don't know if you'll have cracked the code, because that was the other problem, of course. That if I did say 'I love you', that only 66.67% of the words would make sense to you. The best I can suggest is that if you look up some of the definitions in the dictionary and substitute in the relevant proper nouns, you might get the general drift:

1) [John] has a great attachment to and affection for [Sherlock]

2) [John] has passionate desire, longing and feelings for [Sherlock]

3) [John] likes or desires (to do something) very much [with Sherlock]

IGNORE CROSSED-OUT PARAGRAPHS BELOW, TURN TO PAGE 3

***

(3)

The other disadvantage of writing this by hand is that it's a lot trickier when you have to update the letter. In version 1, I had to explain why I sometimes behaved so strangely around you. In version 2 I can just say the sex has mostly been great. There are lots of people who are good at separating out sex and love; I'm still not sure about you on that score. I just know I'm not good at separating them out. I offered you my body, as I offered you food, partly as a way of showing I cared, saying 'I love you'  without words. But it did have the advantage over food that you were less inclined to lose interest halfway through, and it was more fun for me than cooking. A lot more fun. You know now how to turn the next bloke on.

 I should possibly have said about the next bloke on the previous page. I wasn't sure if he should come under 'love' or 'sex', I suppose ideally both. In fact, you might find it easier to chop up this whole letter into individual sentences and rearrange them until you get a coherent and logical structure. It'd probably make more sense then, and I wouldn't annoy you so much with my woolly thinking.

But for now, it's my letter and you can't interrupt. I think there ought to be someone else after me, because you need someone to look after you, and it would be a bit of a waste after what you've learnt about relationships from me not to build on that. You may be a bit distracted  and not know what to look for, so here are the important things:

1) Physically fit

2) Knowledge of first aid

3) Good sense of humour

4) Reckless, but not stupidly so

5) Not squeamish

6) Tolerant and practical

I suspect if you ask around at Bart's, you'll find someone. Or get Mycroft on the case. There will be someone else out there, and it won't be the same as with me, but that doesn't mean it can't be good. And a practical, tolerant bloke won't mind that you had someone in your past, someone maybe quite significant, because he'll be thinking more about the future.

TURN TO PAGE 4

***

(4)

If you're reading this bit, it means I still haven't got onto version 3, which is not entirely good. Because version 3 is the letter I'm going to write if we're married or partnered or whatever word it is for permanently together. Formally together, as opposed to now, when they'd have to remove me from your side by surgery, but there's officially no commitment on either side. That's one of the reasons I've never talked to you about it: the reciprocal bit. If I'm in love with you, you haven't, technically, got to be in love with me. Whereas if I'm married to you, you're really supposed to be married to me back. I don't know what you think about that, though I presume you've probably actually never thought about it.

I realise that I'm getting my tenses confused here, and forgetting that when you read this, it's going to be too late to make a difference either way.  So what I need to say is that I would have been happy to marry you if that had been what you wanted, but I presumed you didn't, and that was, is, fine. Because I knew that your feelings at time t weren't going to be changed at t+1 just because there'd been a wedding intervening. And that 'till death do us part' was never going to be that much of a long term commitment from me anyhow. But it might be worth checking with the next bloke after a year or two if he'd like marriage, because you might end up with someone else sentimental.

It doesn't make that much practical difference not having a civil partnership, because I don't have that much to leave anyhow, and Mycroft's lawyers have sorted out all the paperwork. You get everything of mine: keep it, give it to our friends, dismantle it, as you see fit. But I'd like you to keep Harry's old phone, even though it's third hand and rapidly becoming obsolete. Because it was the first thing you ever borrowed from me, and I'm weird and sentimental like that.

Officially, the will leaves my body to medical science. Actually, it's to medical science and you. Depending on how I've died, the hospital may not want it, but I'm sure you can get some useful data. Just nothing so dubious that it upsets Molly. And if you do keep any bits of me, be careful how you label them. Because even a non-squeamish bloke might object if you kept a dead boyfriend's heart in a jar, or his spleen, or his fingernails.

You'll have guessed the password on my blog: delete it or keep it as you choose. No major loss to the internet if it goes.

I don't want anything fancy for my funeral, so don't let Mycroft organise it. Lestrade will probably know a reasonable undertaker. Mrs Hudson should be asked to do the catering, if only so she has the chance to refuse. Don't give the eulogy yourself: you're a lousy public speaker at the best of times. Mike Stamford's your best bet: dull, but sound, which is probably what you want on these occasions. I leave the choice of music up to you.

There's probably more I should say, but writing by hand like this has got my tremor starting up again, so I'm worried it will be completely illegible. And if I go on much longer, you'll get bored or distracted anyhow. So I'll end by saying what I should have said much earlier: I have loved you from the start, I love you now, and in the unlikely event of there being an afterlife, I will always love you.

Yours faithfully,

John

PS: If you're somehow managed to get hold of this before I'm dead, you are a devious bastard, and I will be very pissed-off with you.

***

Sherlock put down the letter and picked up his phone, punching in the message without hesitation:

Prepare to be v. pissed off & write Last Letter 3.0. [Sherlock] has inexpressible but determined feelings for [John]. Your devious bastard forever. SH

Comments

( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
irisbleufic
Oct. 14th, 2010 07:35 am (UTC)
Well, hell: you've managed to push just about every button I've got with this. Gorgeously written; John first-person would be, I think, tricky, and this is just right. And I'm glad it ends the way it does; otherwise, I'd have been pretty somber at work all morning.
et_cetera55
Oct. 14th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Oh that was beautiful. I was tearing up reading it (and v v grateful for the happy ending!)
marysutherland
Oct. 14th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid the ending proves I'm just sentimental as well, but I can at least claim that you can always trust Sherlock to find even the most carefully hidden things.
fengirl88
Oct. 14th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
this one really hurts, even with the happy ending.

believing J's letter entirely; it is so like him.

it is just as well in this instance that S. is no respecter of other people's privacy.
marysutherland
Oct. 16th, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
I was inspired to write this partly by the memory of this amazing, but *VERY SAD* real-life post (which being real, can't be fixed with a happy ending).

As for privacy, I'm sure Sherlock would point out that the letter was addressed to him, so how could it possibly be a breach of privacy? He's not stealing or intruding on anything, he's merely anticipating events (which is something he's rather good at doing).
fengirl88
Oct. 16th, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)
mostly not reading the very sad real-life post (beyond glancing at it to see what it was) - but will go back to it at some point when I am in a better state for reading such things.

this whole business of posthumous letters saying what people wouldn't or couldn't say while alive is exercising me. what must it be like to receive something like that when the writer is dead and beyond reach? especially if the letter sketches a whole other dimension to the relationship that could have happened and didn't because the letter-writer did not speak while he was alive. think this would be /very/ hard to bear, in addition to the bereavement itself.

does part of J know that S will find and read the letter, and how does that change the meaning of the letter if so? not sure about this.

also wondered why he suggested till death us do part would not be a long time with him. health broken by military service? some other reason?



marysutherland
Oct. 16th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC)
I think that it's a very different matter writing a posthumous letter to someone with ordinary emotions and writing one to Sherlock. At the risk of going on forever, and over-explaining the story, I think that at the heart of it is John's belief that Sherlock is a sociopath or at least emotionally lacking in some way. I don't know how actual sociopaths behave, but in the fics I write where Sherlock is implicitly a sociopath (and that's not all of them) I imagine him as having no instinct for what other people might feel. If he is observing and concentrating he can calculate reasonably accurately how they will feel and behave, and even be able to manipulate them, because he's trained himself to do that, but whenever he gets distracted or absorbed by other things, other people become opaque to him.

So John sees part of his job as explaining people's behaviour to Sherlock in the terms that Sherlock can understand, and giving him hints on how to deal with other people (hence the dictionary definitions of love, the crossed-out paragraphs on 'how to tell that your flatmate has the hots for you' , and the idea of offering marriage to the 'next bloke'). He doesn't demand that Sherlock change his character, anymore than he demands that he grows three inches or stops being gay. Sherlock is what he is: John is trying to help him cope with being that, and the rest of the world cope with Sherlock.

And the complicating factor is that Sherlock is opaque to John, because Sherlock's acting skills mean that John can never be certain what Sherlock really feels. John knows that Sherlock enjoys having him around and likes having sex with him. He doesn't know if he means more to him than that, and he's got no way of finding out. It's a heightened version of the dilemma we've all been in. If someone says 'I love you' do they mean it? If I say 'I love you' to someone, do I mean it? If John tells Sherlock 'I love you' or 'I want to marry you', is he going to get incomprehension (which is embarrassing) or socially acceptable platitudes, like 'I love you, too' or 'Of course I'll marry you' (which are meaningless) or discussions of the mating habits of baboons or whatever tangential topics stirs in Sherlock's mind? It's safer for John to stick to actions to show his own love, and not try and force something from Sherlock that Sherlock may not be capable of. And since he believes that marriage will make no difference to Sherlock's feelings, and knows they will not change his own commitment, he doesn't raise that.

And this version of John is also fatalistic. He doesn't, deep down, believe that Sherlock loves him, which is part of why he ends up talking so much about the 'next bloke' (who maybe even has his sympathy), because he thinks Sherlock will get over him more easily than a normal person would. And John also believes, knows, that sooner or later (and probably sooner) his number will come up and there will be the bullet or the bomb-jacket or whatever with his name on it. That is what happens in a war: you can't beat the odds forever. (There's definitely an air of that pervading the swimming pool scene).

As for Sherlock finding the letter, that's an afterthought for John. There is a small part of him that is proud of himself at his own tough-mindedness at being able to write about his death without flinching, and a part that then abruptly realises that this heroic gesture is going to look awfully embarrassing if it doesn't actually come off. Especially when you've got a flatmate who may criticise the letter for its handwriting or its prose style and pointedly ignore or even snigger at the emotional content. John is not trying to manipulate Sherlock, because that would be undignified, and almost certainly futile. That the letter does have some effect on Sherlock is going to come as a terrific surprise to him.
fengirl88
Oct. 16th, 2010 12:28 pm (UTC)
no, I'm sure you are right about all this. I found his fatalism painful and hard to take, but I know that's partly for reasons that have nothing to do with your excellent fic. it pushed a lot of buttons for me and my response comes from that more than from anything rational or considered.
marysutherland
Oct. 17th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry if the fatalism in that story pressed some of the wrong buttons for you. I think there is quite a strong undertone of fatalism and melancholy to the TV series, which I suspect is why some of us are drawn to it and writing about it. It's obviously there in the 'people die' theme of The Great Game, but right from the first episode there is the clear possibility of John either shooting himself or becoming an alcoholic, and of Sherlock recklessly endangering himself once too often. Part of the importance of the friendship between John and Sherlock is the sense that together they may be able to curb the different self-destructive instincts of the other. (On the other hand, Lestrade is clearly aiming to make it to 90+, at least if he can stay off the smoking – is that part of his appeal to you?)

In most of my angsty fics, I try and have my characters hold firm against this melancholy, keep soldiering on even when the prospect is bleak, partly because stoicism stops the angst getting over-wrought. But I think because this story is quite static (and because I knew I wasn't going to kill John in the end), it's harder to know how far to push the mood.

On the other hand, with my fic, if you don't like this John or Sherlock, there'll always be a different version along in a few days time (unlike you, I tend to start from a situation and adjust the characters to fit). So if you don't like Fatalist John, you may prefer Getting Seduced by Mycroft John (first part up soon) or Really Pissed Off with the Eighteenth Century John (currently under development).
fengirl88
Oct. 17th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
looking forward to both of these Johns - particularly the latter! fond of the eighteenth century myself but happy at the thought of John being really pissed off with it.

as I say, I'm aware how much my response to Last Letter was because of personal things (bad experiences with self-destructive types and fatalists, or both) and not the fic itself. which seems unfair to you and to it. this is also what happens if I insist on ignoring warnings and reading angst when I should only be reading fluff...

I agree with all you say about fatalism in the series. and I like the idea that J and S may curb each other's self-destructive tendencies.

the appeal of Lestrade? well, partly they've solved it in the casting! it may also be a matter of age, since I'm his generation rather than Sherlock's.

and I like the sense I get of Lestrade's sanity as well as his grown-upness. as that icon you were thinking of making has it, good mental health is sexy.
stellary
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Not a S/J shipper but was very touched and grateful for the ending.
Trust Sherlock to find all things secret indeed.
stellary
Oct. 15th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
Wait, so - John made Mycroft the keeper of the letter?
marysutherland
Oct. 16th, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
I think you've got the problem with the letter of "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" - who guards the guards? Who else does John leave the letter with but Mycroft? Harry's unreliable (and so is Mrs Hudson, in a very different way), stuff held by the police obviously isn't safe from Sherlock, and the implication of John and Sherlock hanging onto each other's bank cards and cheques is that anything at the bank is pretty much open access as well. Mycroft is probably actually one of the few people who might be able to keep the letter without Sherlock getting access to it.

Except, of course, that Mycroft's office is an obvious magnet for Sherlock's investigations and/or that Mycroft is another devious bastard who probably has the equipment to read people's letters without even opening them, and the wish to use them as he chooses. I leave it entirely up to the reader as to Mycroft's role in all of this.
lucifer2004xx
Nov. 1st, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
the ending... was brilliant. thx for that.
marysutherland
Nov. 1st, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it - I haven't yet been quite merciless enough to kill off either Sherlock or John in my fics.
fantomeq
Dec. 13th, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
It was all I could do not to squeal out loud at the end of this. That must be the strangest marriage proposal I've ever heard. The list of helpful attributes in a future mate was touching and practical. Clearly John understands Sherlock well and doesn't plan to change him. Very sweet.
marysutherland
Dec. 15th, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed this, because not all my readers thought the story worked. But I rather specialise in bizarre forms of romance, there's one story which ends up with a rather battered Mycroft and John having hysterics over Jeremy Bentham before going off to live happily ever after.
mysterypoet66
Jan. 17th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
Well that's just. . . it's got that slightly incredulous, practical, but completely *JOHN* tone down, which is remarkable. And the last bit made me heave a sigh of relief.
Well done, you.
innie_darling
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, John. This is wonderful.
bwblack
Jan. 17th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
"This is mostly because I'm repressed, and boringly inarticulate, and have really poor timing, but also because you almost never stop talking, and always interrupt at crucial moments. "

Awww John. This felt really very real, though!

Love John's requirements for future sex and or love partners include a knowledge of first aid and general lack of squimishness.

And because I believe that John could have gone on for a very very long time in this particular vein I'm equally as happy that Sherlock is a nosy prat when visiting (breaking into?) Mycroft's office.
marysutherland
Jan. 18th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)
I always enjoy playing round with the way Sherlock and John can't talk about what they feel for one another, or can only express it obliquely. And I'm sentimental enough not to give them a tragic ending, at least not yet.
pjordha
Jan. 21st, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
OH, I love it! So sweet, and so glad that John's not dead! (Big smile on face!!)
stupid_drawings
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, you mean person! I have been procrastinating reading this since it popped up on my f-list because I was waiting for a time when something horribly sad would not interfere with any plans, I don't want to mope about if I have something important to do. And then it ends so freaking happily and adorably that I feel silly for having been scared to read it.
marysutherland
Jan. 25th, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
I only really like having bucketfuls of angst in a story if everything ends happily, and my fic reflects that. Glad to have fooled you!
luniak666
Feb. 2nd, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
Oh God I cried so much
Oh bloody hell.
The truth is that when I began reading this fic I scrolled down just to check if John is alive. Because I though "Taking this letter before John's death is sooo Sherlock". And if it would be it I didn't wanted to cry.
But I did anyway. That was just so touching. The way you wrote it is Amazing (yes - big A). All those things in the letter are so realistic.
Sherlock's message is just... perfect.

PS.
Sorry for my English. I hope I didn't make many stupid mistakes OTL

Alos I think John will call Sherlock "stupid bloody git".
marysutherland
Feb. 3rd, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh God I cried so much
Glad that you enjoyed the fic even knowing the ending. As for what John says about Sherlock, I have a feeling he would call Sherlock all sorts of things in the aftermath to this story. But I think that the letter's postscript was a sudden realisation by John that his big emotional gesture might end up looking rather stupid, and he couldn't think of much to say in that case.
kikainausagi
Apr. 20th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
I just found this, and I was initially not going to read it - don't like death fics, especially when there's unrequited angst (I am a giant softie) but I clicked on the link anyway. Iread through it with a growing sense of trepidation and desperate wish for John to somehow not be dead. Sherlock's text at the end is PERFECT and recasts the whole story in completely different (adorable) light. :D Great job.
maggie_conagher
Jun. 20th, 2011 06:13 am (UTC)
Fengirl88 recced you. I think i exhausted her having read and commented on her exclusively for one week. She was gracious which makes it worse.

I want to cry over this fic but that seems disrespectful to John somehow? So holding it in. Lots of blinking.

And on further examination, I mostly feel punched in the gut like I did when I went on my home fic board and one of our admins had died in the night, no warning. Still doubles me over a year later.

As to what do they know/not know and really cool discussion above. I am an intuitive, psychic, whatever you want to call it. It is a blessing and curse, mostly curse. I don't actively pursue it but often end up knowing things that science can't explain. I am not smart like Sherlock but I relate to ppl always telling him to piss off because he has "read their mail."

I can never tell what ppl feel about me though. Always thought that was a cheat. In the really important relationships, it's like everybody is wearing ski masks. None of my skills or abilities or whatever the hell it is apply. maddening.

I also relate to John not wanting to ask and get the stock answer. Truth is the rock we stand on, not social convention.
Sherlock offers what he can.

I love how much this one has made me think. Glad fengirl sent me over here. Hope you won't regret it.
marysutherland
Jun. 23rd, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
Glad to have you on board. I've just updated the master fic list, so that will give you an idea of what I write: I switch between a lot of different pairings. Most of the stuff here is angst with happy endings, though there's some pure comedy.

I have absolutely no intuition myself, not good at reading anything about other people. What I am better at is reading texts, so I'm reasonably good at picking up clues about people from their LJs.
zevbaldwin
Aug. 6th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
Wonderful!
saathi1013
Aug. 15th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
First I was all ;_;
...and now I'm laughing like a loon, because: of course! :) Well done!
verob2002
Sep. 23rd, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Loved this!!!!
mariole
Jan. 15th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
Hah, loved that!

Reminds me, I ought to write one of these, before it's too late. Good old John!
lunchy_munchy
Jan. 19th, 2012 01:04 pm (UTC)
Marvelous! Got here through a RecDay post on the sherlockBBC comm, so unfortunately I already knew John was alive going in, but that didn't stop the story from being amazing. Oh John, he's much more articulate than he gives himself credit for ♥
snowrose
Jan. 24th, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
<3
faithintheboys
Jan. 26th, 2012 01:30 am (UTC)
So so so good.
idri_fic
Mar. 13th, 2012 11:12 am (UTC)
Oh my. My nose was all fizzy and I was starting to feel so angry/sad that John hadn't been able to get to version 3 and then it was all okay! Oh my. So relieved. Still, I need a tissue. Goodness.

Me oh my John's going to be annoyed. And frustrated. And married! That makes me smile.
masterchica
Mar. 30th, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
Aaaadorable and very moving
obsessionality
Apr. 13th, 2012 05:22 pm (UTC)
UGH OH MY GOD. This is so sweet I'm literally swallowing past lumps in my throat. I don't. Oh god. *bawling*
(Anonymous)
May. 6th, 2012 01:19 am (UTC)
Sequel? Please!
marysutherland
May. 6th, 2012 08:35 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed this, but I think a sequel's unlikely. Looking back, I'm not entirely happy with the sentimentality of this fic, and I don't think I can get in the mood to continue it. But I have written a lot of other Sherlock/John, if any of that appeals.
grey853
Jul. 20th, 2012 02:11 pm (UTC)
Lovely job. I'm so glad that Sherlock is a devious bastard and John's not dead at the end. Thanks.
catko
Dec. 1st, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
Hah, finding this two years after, and it is just wonderful. Love this John, and as commented above, rather unusual and potentially difficult to have a first-person John, so that is a treat. It totally comes across that this is early-ish in their relationship, so there may be a lot about Sherlock that John hasn't quite discerned, or makes assumptions about.

All in all, though, all is revealed, and not posthumously, and with plenty of time to act on it. Terrific.

And...from the interchange above with fengirl RE: Lestrade, that good mental health is sexy. Oh yes.
keerawa
Dec. 23rd, 2013 08:25 am (UTC)
I find this very, very believable. Well done!
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )

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