THE GHOST AND MR. HOLMES
Sherlock Holmes paced the sitting room of his Baker Street flat like a caged panther. Six strides from the fireplace to the window. Eight from the window to the settee. For the fifth times in as many minutes, he pulled his watch from his waistcoat pocket to check the time, snapping it closed when it stubbornly refused to tell him he was mistaken.
“Damn it!” He threw himself onto the settee, the fingers of his right hand drumming nervously on his knee. “Damn it, Watson; where are you?”
He lunged to his feet and began to pace again. “It isn’t like the doctor to be late,” he grumbled. “He must have had an emergency case. It’s the only reason he’d be late.” Eight paces to the window again, and he glared out at the rapidly darkening street.
“Why tonight?” he snarled. “Why tonight, of all nights? It was all arranged. Dinner at Marcini’s, the concert – they’re playing Mendelssohn; he likes Mendelssohn. Back here, brandy by the fire, and I tell him. God knows we’ve been dancing around it for years. I finally get my nerve up, and he’s late!”
Just as he turned to make the circuit from window to grate, he heard carriage wheels stop below. Heaving a sigh of relief, he had just reached again for his pocket watch, murmuring, “We can still…” when the bell sounded, arresting his movement.
“The bell? Dear God, not a client.” He shifted back to look out the window, scanning the street below, and caught sight of the police wagon just as Mrs. Hudson screamed his name.
Holmes dashed across the room, vaulting the settee as he went, and snatched open the door. He rounded the top of the stairs to see Mrs. Hudson staring up at him, her face ashen. “It’s the doctor, sir; they’ve taken him to hospital.”
Shedding his dressing gown as he went, Holmes raced down the stairs to meet a young constable in the hallway. “What happened?” he demanded as he jerked on his overcoat and snatched up his hat and stick.
“I don’t know for sure, sir,” the policeman replied. “The inspector went with him, and sent me to bring you 'round to Bart’s.”
“The inspector?” Holmes demanded as he dragged the bobby through the doors. He called back to Mrs. Hudson – “I’ll send word” – then the two men were in the police wagon and away.
* * * * *
Lestrade met them at the door to Watson’s room. “What happened?” Holmes snapped again. “Where is he? Why were you with him?”
“Slowly, Mr. Holmes,” the Inspector replied. “He’s in there,” he put out a hand to stop Holmes, “They’re cleaning him up, stitching up his head. And you bursting in there won’t do him any good.”
“His head? And for what I sincerely hope is the last time, what happened?”
Lestrade took Holmes’s arm and pulled him away from the door. “It was pure coincidence that I was there. I was coming out of a shop across the street when I saw him fall. It looked like he slipped on a patch of ice. His leg gave under him and down he went. It wouldn’t have been anything, except that he hit his head on the corner of the building as he went.” Lestrade raised his hand to his own head. “Right about here.” He gestured helplessly. “I ran across to him; he was bleedin’ like a stuck pig, but you know how head wounds are. I did what I could for him, whistled up the constable, sent him for you in the wagon. And I brought the doctor here in a…” He broke off as the door opened and a weary-looking older man emerged. “Doctor Goodman, how is…?”
Holmes pounced on him, demanding, “How is he? When can I see him?”
The doctor passed a tired hand across his face. “And you are…?”
“This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” Lestrade broke in. "Dr. Watson's friend and flatmate.”
“Ah.” The other physician nodded. “He… he’s still unconscious. He’s taken a severe blow to the head, but it doesn’t appear there’s any fracture. We’ve… stopped the bleeding, stitched him up. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for him to awaken.”
“May I see him?” Holmes asked.
“If you are very quiet,” Goodman cautioned.
Holmes started across the corridor, then turned back. “Lestrade, could you get word to Mrs. Hudson?” Lestrade nodded and Holmes disappeared into Watson’s room.
As the door closed behind the detective, Lestrade raised an inquiring eyebrow at the doctor, who sighed. “It depends,” he said heavily, “on whether there’s intracranial bleeding. And we have no way of knowing that.” Lestrade nodded. “We simply have to wait and see.”
* * * * *
John Watson woke to the worst headache he had ever known. Far away, he could hear someone talking, and the more he forced his way through the pain, the closer the voice came. Finally he managed to open his eyes and discovered his dearest friend Sherlock Holmes by his bedside. The voice was his, and the words resolved themselves into some nonsense about missing their appointment for dinner and rather extreme measures to avoid a concert.
"H… Holmes," he whispered. "Do shut up, please."
Holmes' eyes snapped open and met his, a smile of relief curving his lips as he reached out and took Watson's hand. Oddly, his touch seemed to give the doctor strength, and he continued. "What…?"
"You fell," Holmes replied, his voice a mere whisper. "Lestrade said it appeared you slipped on some ice."
Watson closed his eyes a moment, then opened them again slowly. "Stupid thing to do. Don’t remember… anything after leaving the surgery."
"You were almost home. I was waiting for you, for dinner and Mendelssohn. And I was going to tell you…." He smiled. "But I'll tell you now, and if you're horrified, I'll simply insist you dreamed it." He raised Watson's hand to his cheek. "I love you, John Watson."
His friend smiled up at him drowsily and sighed. "Finally. Love you, too…" His whisper trailed off as his eyelids closed and darkness rose up to take him, first into sleep and then into a darker oblivion.
* * * * *
When Watson came to himself again, he was standing at the foot of a hospital bed. A lean, dark haired figure knelt by the bedside, his face buried against a sheet-shrouded figure, sobbing his heart out. From outside, Watson could hear snatches of conversation.
"…getting better…?" A woman's voice.
"…bleeding into the brain; we couldn't tell…" A man.
"…the poor man…" The woman again, and then the man.
He looked down at the bed again, recognized the kneeling man. He stepped forward to put a comforting hand on Holmes' back and stared in confusion as his hand passed first through Holmes' shoulder, then the bed itself. With an almost physical snap, Watson's memory returned. He'd fallen, hit his head….
"Holmes? Holmes!" His tone was urgent, almost desperate. "Move the sheet. Move the sheet, Holmes, please…."
Almost as if he'd heard, Holmes sat back on his heels, wiped his face with a handkerchief and rose. He folded back the sheet and leaned down to lightly brush a kiss across his almost-lover's cold lips.
Watson stared at his own face, and the darkness rose up yet again.
* * * * *
How long he had stood at the window, staring down at the plane tree in the back garden, Watson had very little idea, but he thought at least three suns had risen and set. Around him he had heard the quiet bustle of a house preparing for a funeral - the bell as friends visited, the soft murmur of offered condolences, but nothing had truly impacted him. Nothing, that is, until one afternoon, as the shadows grew longer beneath the plane tree, a small figure in black slipped into his room and quietly sat on his bed.
He paid her little attention other than recognizing her as his former landlady until suddenly she spoke, her voice quiet and reassuring. "I know you're here, Doctor; I can feel you."
He turned and raised an eyebrow, but didn't speak.
"I think," she continued, "that if you want badly enough for me to hear you, I will be able to."
The doctor thought a moment, cleared his throat experimentally - Damned stupid thing for a ghost to do, he thought - then spoke. "Mrs. Hudson?"
Nervous tension seemed to bleed out of her as she replied. "Yes, Doctor, I hear you." She smiled and looked around the room. "But I cannot see you."
"I am by the window."
She shifted so that she faced him, but shook her head sadly. "I still cannot see."
"Mrs. Hudson," Watson asked urgently, "why am I here? What happened to heaven and hell and everything we were always taught? Do you understand it? You seem to know more than I do."
"No, sir," she said apologetically. "I don't. I only know that, sometimes, a… a part of a person remains behind. Why, I cannot say. Some think it is work left unfinished, a word unsaid. Others say it is to watch over those left behind. Sometimes it is merely an echo of some event so important that it cannot be left behind. I suppose we shan't know for you until you find it."
He crossed the room and knelt beside her. "Mrs. Hudson." She turned in the direction of his voice as he continued carefully, "How is Holmes? I thought I saw him, in hospital, but…"
"He is not well, sir. He doesn't sleep, he doesn't eat." She chuckled dryly. "He's never been regular in his habits, but now… The only regularity is that he doesn't do it at all." She clasped her hands together in her lap and sighed. "I am very concerned about him, sir. Frankly, it is what brought me up here this afternoon. I wouldn't have disturbed you otherwise."
"Do you… do you think he would be able to hear me?" Unseen, he grinned wryly. "Not that he would listen if he could hear."
"I think a part of it is belief - belief that such a thing is possible. And you know how Mr. Holmes is."
"The world is big enough for us," he quoted softly. "No ghosts need apply."
The landlady nodded. "But… I do wish that you would try. He's going to put himself into his own grave at this rate."
"He never listened to me about such things when I was alive. But, for whatever good it will do," Watson agreed, "I will try. I shall have to find some way to make him hear me; otherwise it is impossible."
"Perhaps if you simply tried," Mrs. Hudson offered. "Or… made him see in some way that you are here."
"How?" Watson asked. "Floating trumpets in the air? Clanking chains and the ghost of Christmas past? He'd put it off as a 'bit of undigested beef'."
Mrs. Hudson smiled. "He can't, sir. He hasn't eaten any to be left undigested."
Watson broke into a laugh and shook his head. "Mrs. Hudson, you are a wonder. What would we do without you?"
* * * * *
After Mrs. Hudson left, Watson decided to follow her suggestion and see exactly what it was he could do. He began by simply sitting down on his bed. That worked, he thought with satisfaction. What else?
Trial and error showed that certain things - those things most closely connected with him - he could affect if he tried. As he experimented, he realized that several items were missing from his room. His cigarette case. His pocket notebook. The cuff links he'd been wearing, although their ethereal echo still adorned his wrists. He made a mental note to ask Mrs. Hudson about them, then drew up his courage and reached out for the doorknob. It turned easily under his hand, and Watson smiled in pleasure. As he began to open it, however, he heard movement in the corridor outside and paused. Don't want to terrify the maid, he thought. I wonder… He reached out a hand and gingerly laid it on the panels of the door, concentrating. It passed through, and the rest of him followed.
Downstairs, he drifted as easily through the sitting room door but stopped in dismay at the condition of the sitting room. At his worst, Holmes had never been this disorganized before. The room was strewn with newspapers, telegrams, correspondence, case files, abandoned brandy snifters, tea cups and various articles of unknown function and provenience.
"Good Lord, Holmes; it wasn't this bad even in Lyons!" he complained, directing his words to the figure hunched over his chemistry apparatus, but there was no reply.
"Holmes, are you ignoring me, or can you not hear?" Still no reply. Watson crossed to Holmes' side, leaned over and shouted "Holmes!" into his ear. When there was still no response, he sighed and straightened. "I take it that means no."
Wandering around the room, touching various things experimentally, revealed that his pocket notebook lay on Holmes' desk, as did his cigarette case. When he opened the silver case (it was his, after all), he discovered that, rather than his own, it now held Holmes' brand. He turned and looked wonderingly at the detective then, with a grin, snapped the case shut with as much noise as he could.
Holmes turned to look but, seeing nothing, merely sighed and turned back to his microscope.
"Observant, my arse," Watson muttered. He strode over to the table, determined to make Holmes acknowledge his presence, but, as the chemical apparatus was Holmes', not his, was unable to touch any of it. Finally he dropped into his usual chair and said, "You might at least tell me what you're working on."
There was no answer.
"You look like hell, my boy. Mrs. Hudson is right; you need to eat, to sleep."
Still no response.
"Well, if you're not going to hold up your end of the conversation, I suppose I shall have to. It's rather interesting being dead, you know. So far, I've discovered that for some reason, I'm still wearing the suit I had on when I fell. Perhaps it's because I've always liked this one," he mused, brushing at his waistcoat. "Good thing, since it appears I'll be wearing it for eternity, and it's certainly better than a hospital gown. And speaking of which, I seem to have misplaced a pair of cuff links. I wouldn't complain, but it's the set you gave me for Christmas two years ago." He stood and began to move about the room. Finding the discarded Times on the settee, he asked, "Anything interesting in the…"
Holmes stood up with an abrupt ejaculation of disgust.
"Sorry, old man, but…," Watson began.
The detective clenched his fist, almost as if he were going to strike the microscope, then took a deep breath and deliberately opened his hand. Very slowly he stepped away from the table, then strode into his bedroom. Emerging sans dressing gown but shrugging into his coat, he stormed out the door and down the stairs. A minute later, the front door slammed.
Watson raised an eyebrow and snorted. "Having problems with our experiment, are we, Holmes?" he inquired of the empty room. "Perhaps a stroll around the park will clear your head. Would that I could take one."
He drifted around the room for a short time more, then discovered his unfinished sea novel on the mantle. He tapped it experimentally, then lifted it and settled into his usual chair to read.
* * * * *
Several hours later, his book finished and on the floor beside him, Watson lay back in his chair, in whatever state it is that passes for sleep with ghosts. Roused by Holmes' entrance into the room, he merely turned his head to watch as the detective, hands in his pockets, walked slowly back into the room. Holmes dropped into his chair, pulling his feet up underneath him, and sighed. "Watson, why is it everything I see reminds me of you?" He let his head fall back, his eyes closed.
"Are you speaking to me, Holmes, or simply asking rhetorically?" Watson inquired. When there was no response, he nodded. "Still can't hear me."
Holmes slumped in the chair, stretched out his legs and gazed morosely down their length. His gaze was unfocussed until something caught his attention, something on the floor, and he sat up. It was Watson's book. He looked from where it lay beside his accustomed chair to the mantle, where it was supposed to be, and back to its actual resting place on the floor. He pursed his lips for a moment, then bounded from his chair and across to the door. "Mrs. Hudson? Mrs. Hudson! Who has been in my rooms since I went out?"
The landlady replied as she came down the stairs from the second floor. “No one, sir. Why?”
“Someone has been in my rooms, Mrs. Hudson, and I want to know who,” Holmes insisted. Mrs. Hudson followed him into the sitting room, where he pointed out the offending book and declared, “When I left, that was on the mantle. Now it is on the floor, where I did not put it. Someone has been in my rooms.”
“My fault, Mrs. Hudson,” Watson admitted sheepishly.
The lady glanced in the direction from which Watson’s voice had come, then gave Holmes a piercing stare. “Perhaps the doctor wanted to finish his book,” she said, then started for the door.
Holmes stared after her. “That is not humorous, Mrs. Hudson.”
She paused in the doorway, one hand on the knob. “It was not meant to be, sir. When will you be pleased to dine, Mr. Holmes?”
“Seven-thirty, the day after tomorrow,” he snarled in reply, and she shut the door behind herself.
“A trifle hard on her, weren’t you, Holmes?” Watson asked. “After all, she was right.”
Holmes stood for a minute with his arm laid along the mantle, his face hidden against it. Then he drew in a deep breath, straightened, and walked slowly into his bedroom.
Watson followed, still talking. “Did you decide anything about your experiment on your walk? I wish I could tell you where you went by the mud splashes on your trousers, but I couldn’t do that even before.” He watched as Holmes stripped off his coat and tossed it onto a chair, then his waistcoat and tie. When he unfastened his cuffs, Watson nodded. “So that’s where my cuff links got off to. It’s all right; I would have wanted you to have them.” Holmes’ shirt followed his coat, and he poured some water from the ewer into the basin. As Holmes washed his face, Watson said, “You really are quite beautiful, you know. I think that’s the only thing I regret – that you and I never admitted anything until it was too late.”
Holmes’ face was buried in the towel, his head bowed, and Watson reached out to carefully run his hand, not quite touching the skin, down the curve of his neck. Holmes shuddered, and Watson asked eagerly, “Did you feel that? Is it possible I can touch you, after all?”
He reached out, but his hand passed again through Holmes’ shoulder and the doctor sighed and closed his eyes.
“I was wrong; this isn’t Baker Street, it’s hell. My own personal hell.” As Holmes unbuttoned the flies of his trousers, Watson murmured, “Get some sleep, man. Please,” and passed back through the door into the sitting room.
* * * * *
Three days passed slowly for Watson. After asking Mrs. Hudson to raise the blind, he spent much of his time sitting on the window ledge, watching Baker Street below him. He sat there now, this time watching Holmes, his dressing gown flaring out behind him, pace the sitting room, when Mrs. Hudson arrived to take away the untouched luncheon dishes.
Sighing, she loaded the dishes onto her tray. "Mr. Holmes," she begged, turning to him. "Please eat something. You cannot go on like this."
He barked out a laugh. "Or what? I'll waste away to nothing? Die? Tell me again why that would be bad? At least then…" Holmes broke off, wrapping his dressing gown tightly about him, and turned away from her.
Mrs. Hudson turned to go, but then her temper, reined in far too long, got the better of her and she faced him again. "At least then what? At least then you won't have to listen to me? At least then you won't have to concern yourself with eating? At least then," she continued coldly, "you'll be with the doctor?"
"Mrs. Hudson, I…," he snapped, his face flushing.
"You're wrong there," she insisted. "You won't find him that way. And even if you did, what would he say to you?"
With a swirl of skirts she turned and stomped out the door.
"She's right, you know," Watson offered. "You'd be dead, out there," he gestured toward the windows, "looking for me, and I'd be here. I'll always be here."
Downstairs, the front door closed as Mrs. Hudson left the house. Holmes slammed his fist onto the desk and the items on the top danced.
One of them caught his eye. A black morocco case. He stared at it, stretched his fingers toward it, stroked it thoughtfully.
"Oh, Holmes," Watson sighed. “That poison is going to rot your brain.”
Holmes dropped exhaustedly into his desk chair, still fondling the leather box. "Would it be so bad?" he asked the supposedly empty room thoughtfully.
"Go back to work, Holmes," Watson continued, propping an unseen elbow against the mantle and reaching out to stroke his pipe with one finger. "Lestrade’s been here at least three times, and you won’t even see him. You have to go on, man. Forget me, forget about… what could have been."
With Watson still unheard, Holmes continued. "To be dead? To know nothing, to feel… nothing? I should very much like to feel nothing. It would be better than this torment… this… emptiness inside, where the best part of me has been torn out." He opened the case, looked down at the glass vial and syringe. "It would be so easy. Just… just a little too much, and then… nothing."
"Holmes, no," Watson pleaded, crossing the room to crouch unseen beside the detective's chair. "Don't do this, Holmes. Please…."
Slowly, carefully, Holmes unfastened one cuff and rolled up his sleeve.
"Holmes? Holmes, I'm begging you." Spectral tears began to trace unseen down Watson's cheeks as he watched in impotent horror, unable to stop the scene unfolding before him.. “Don’t do this.”
Holmes uncorked the vial, inserted the needle, precisely drew his usual dosage, half-filling the syringe. A moment's pause, then he nodded decisively and filled the glass barrel completely. Almost dreamily, he pulled the rubber tourniquet from the drawer and wrapped it around his arm, snugging it tight with one hand and his teeth.
"Holmes! No…" Watson staggered to his feet, shouting. "Mrs. Hudson! Please, help me! I can't stop him, he's…" The needle moved inexorably toward the vein pulsing in Holmes' forearm. "Holmes, no… You…" A sudden thought flickered into his mind. "You're wearing my cuff links! Oh, please God, let this work," he ended fervently.
Just as the needle touched Holmes' skin, Watson lunged for the cuff link, jerking it - and the sleeve it held closed - away from Holmes' body. The syringe flew from his hand, landing with the tinkle of broken glass against the hearth. Holmes stared at his hand, at the smashed syringe, then back at his hand. A sob burst from his lips, and he buried his head in his arms on the desktop.
"Holmes! How many times am I going to have to ask you to stop using that poison? It is going to kill you!" Watson's voice got progressively louder with each sentence. "And if it doesn't kill you, it will…"
"Enough, Watson!" Holmes snapped, his head coming up off his arms. "I hear…" His voice trailed off and he said, very quietly, "I hear you. Oh, God, I've gone mad."
"No, no," Watson reassured him hurriedly. "You've not gone mad; I'm here, really I am."
Holmes continued in the same soft voice. "He said I would, and I have. I've gone mad." A harsh laugh tore from his throat. "If only he were here to say 'I told you so.'"
"I am here, Holmes. And although I did tell you so," he added with a smile, "You aren't mad. I truly am here. And you need to loosen that tourniquet before you lose all circulation in that arm."
The detective looked down at his arm, mechanically removed the rubber tubing, and got up from his chair very slowly. Using the furniture on his route for support, he walked into his bedroom and carefully shut the door.
Watson followed, drifting through the door.
Holmes sat down on the bed, lay back and slowly curled himself into a foetal position. As he closed his eyes, one lone tear slipped down his cheek.
Kneeling by the bed, Watson said, very softly, "Oh, my dear Holmes…. I want so badly to reassure you, but all I have is my voice, and it's hearing me that has made you think you're mad." He reached out and, almost touching his skin, slid an insubstantial finger down Holmes' cheek. "Sleep now, and we'll deal with this later." He stayed by the bed until Holmes' breath evened and deepened and he slept.
* * * * *
The next day Holmes, unshaven and still dressed in his clothes from the night before, stumbled out of his bedroom to find Mrs. Hudson kneeling by the hearth, carefully picking up pieces of broken glass. She raised an eyebrow at her tenant, then finished brushing the last shards of glass into a dustpan. Rising, she sighed and said, "I'm to tell you you're not mad."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes replied absently as he searched the mantle for a cigarette. "It's always nice to know you have confidence…." He turned and caught her eyes with his, that hooded glare that had frozen criminal and client alike. "What did you say?"
"I am to tell you that you're not mad," she repeated, then added. "Although where Dr. Watson got that diagnosis I do not know; I've thought you were mad since the day you moved in, but…."
Holmes stepped forward and caught her by the shoulders, his eyes wide. "How did you know to say that?"
She sighed and looked pointedly down at his hand, then back at him. He released her with a murmured apology.
"Dr. Watson was waiting when I returned from market yesterday afternoon," she explained slowly. "He said you were asleep and I shouldn't disturb you. He said there was broken glass on your hearth and I should be careful cleaning it up because it was… contaminated. And he asked me," she added, "to tell you that you aren't mad. Now, will you be wanting breakfast? Or," she glanced down at the watch she wore pinned to her blouse, "luncheon?"
"You spoke with Watson," he asked slowly, more of a statement than a question.
"Oh for pity's sake, Holmes. Yes, I spoke with her, and she’s not mad either." Watson's exasperated voice came from by the window. "We're all not mad here. You're not mad, she's not mad, and I’m not the Cheshire Cat…."
Holmes jumped at Watson's first words and stared at the window.
"You hear me, she hears me…. Look, I can move things around." His cigarette case rose from the desk and floated around the room; Holmes watched it warily. "I moved my book the other night. You thought someone had been in the room, and you shouted at Mrs. Hudson. That wasn't very nice." The silver case crossed to hang in front of Holmes, then tapped him gently on the nose. "I'm right here."
Mrs. Hudson stifled a giggle. "Shall I leave the two of you alone? I'm sure you have a great deal to talk about."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," Watson replied. "Could you bring up something for Mr. Holmes' breakfast?"
"Of course." She smiled and, dustpan in hand, left the room.
* * * * *
Holmes and Watson did talk, both that day and many others, as well as determining through experimentation just what Watson's limits - which Holmes had never gotten - were. It appeared that without some possession of his with which to anchor himself, he couldn't leave 221b, but if Holmes carried the doctor's cigarette case, or wore his cuff links, he was able to move around Marylebone Village easily.
Pall Mall was, sadly, out of the question, but when Holmes returned from meeting with his brother that Wednesday evening in June, Watson had been busy.
"Holmes," he said conversationally. "I discovered something I found quite interesting today."
"Hmmm…?" Holmes was bent over his microscope, examining the dirt he had retrieved from Mr. Melas' cuff.
"I believe you will find it interesting, also."
"Hmmm?" Holmes didn't lift his head.
"I was thinking about… touching things. What I can and cannot touch. And it occurred to me that, as I can touch such personal things as my cigarette case and my pen, I might be able to touch my clothes. Are you listening to me, Holmes?"
"Yes, yes, touch your clothes…," the detective replied absently.
"So I went looking for the gloves you gave me that last Christmas…." Watson's voice came from directly behind Holmes and held a decided note of triumph. "Close your eyes, Holmes."
Holmes sighed, but sat up and did as he was asked. "Watson, I am really rather bu…." His words trailed off in a gasp as he felt the light touch of fingers on his cheek and he shuddered with pleasure as they trailed across his jaw and down his neck.
"I only found the left," Watson murmured sultrily, "But my theory does appear to work." His kid leather clad fingers stroked their way back up Holmes' neck and around the curve of his ear. Unconsciously, Holmes tilted his head to allow him better access. "Do you like that?"
Holmes' only answer was a soft whimper, deep in his throat, and one hand fisting as it rested on the table.
Watson continued to stroke Holmes' face and neck as he whispered in his ear. "Fine manipulation seems to be impossible, and I can't lift anything with it - at least not anything I couldn't lift before - but I do seem to be able to," he slid his hand down Holmes' chest, "touch things."
"Ah, Watson…." Holmes trapped the glove against his waistcoat buttons and lifted it to his face. He cradled his cheek against the palm, then turned his head to leave a kiss against the leather.
"It isn't much, I realize, but at least now there's… something tangible of me." He brushed his thumb across Holmes' lips. "You can't take my arm as we walk together, but you can hold my hand, in your coat pocket. And we'd just have to see what else."
The detective turned off his Bunsen burner and rose.
"Through with your experiment?" Watson asked teasingly.
Holmes caught the "floating" glove to his lips again. "I have a much more interesting experiment in mind." Gently grasping the disembodied hand, he led Watson into the bedroom.
* * * * *
As time progressed, Watson's connection to Holmes grew stronger, and he could venture further afield. He didn't appear to be able to leave London, however, so when Holmes went to Devon in search of a race horse, Watson stayed behind. Upper Swandam Lane was not at all difficult, but the seven miles to Lee, in Kent, was seven miles too far.
Croyden and its severed ears were easily handled, but Holmes traveled alone again to Devon to face Stapleton's hound on the moor. Commissionaire Peterson arrived with his Christmas goose and its bonny bright blue egg, the red-headed Mr. Wilson came and went, and the wicked Mr. Milverton was defeated. Watson became the perfect assistant - invisible and able to go anywhere, no matter how hidden or secure the lair, within the radius of his confines. Holmes' client list and his reputation grew with each instance of "uncanny" knowledge, knowledge actually obtained by Watson.
Holmes went alone to Meiringen and was thought to be lost, but Watson denied it. Holmes couldn't be dead; Watson was still in London. Three years later, his unswerving confidence proved correct, and Col. Moran assassinated Holmes' wax bust.
Case after case passed, with Watson assisting in the ones he could reach, and dissecting the others afterward in their sitting room.
Even after years had passed, Yorkshire and Sussex proved to be too much, and pursuing Lady Francis Carfax through France was out of the question.
Occasionally, when confronted with what he considered an unbelievable blunder, Holmes threatened to retire to Sussex and keep bees, but the years passed, and he remained in London. However, around the time of the matter of Culverton Smith, when Holmes so completely terrified both Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade by pretending to be dying, he began moving more slowly, his joints aching in the mornings and when it rained. Watson suggested a warmer, drier climate, but Holmes adamantly refused to discuss retirement.
Then, on a rainy winter's evening in early 1904….
* * * * *
* * * * *
“You’re going to catch your death of cold out here in the rain, Holmes,” Watson said conversationally as he peered over the detective’s shoulder toward the pub door.
“Hush,” Holmes murmured.
“Why? They can’t hear me.” Unseen, Watson gestured at the police inspectors hiding in a doorway across the narrow alley.
“No, but I can.”
Watson sighed. "I'm going to take another look around."
Concentrating on the door opposite then, Holmes nodded.
Within minutes, Watson returned. "He's in there, all right. At the rate he's drinking, you'll have to pour him out the door. And a woman was watching from a window in this building here, but she's gone now."
Holmes nodded again, and unseen, Watson rolled his eyes. "I'll go watch Saunders."
Within minutes, Watson's voice came from across the street. "He's coming out." Holmes signaled the police officers, and when their quarry, leader of a ring of petty thieves, emerged, they converged. Lestrade snapped the cuffs on him, and whistled for the Black Maria. They were standing talking as the constables searched Saunders when suddenly Watson's voice rang out. "Holmes! Down!"
Holmes tackled Lestrade just as a revolver cracked and a bullet struck their prisoner. Saunders screamed and hit the pavement. The bobbies dove for cover and Holmes and Lestrade scrambled under the police wagon.
“Where are they?” Lestrade demanded, dragging out his own revolver.
“There, sir!” One of the constables pointed toward the window of the building opposite as the flash of a second shot flared. The bullet spanged off the cobblestones near Saunders as Watson said, “It’s the woman who was watching earlier!”
One more bullet struck the side of the Black Maria, then there was silence, except for Saunders’ whimpering. Then Holmes heard Watson’s dry voice: “You can come out now, Holmes. She’s gone.” He started to roll out from under the carriage, then froze as pain shot through his back. He gasped and both Watson and Lestrade, who was directing two of the constables to pursue the shooter, asked, “What’s wrong?”
He answered slowly, his words punctuated by short gasps as he carefully got to his feet. “I seem to have injured my back in some fashion.”
“Were you hit?” Lestrade moved to examine Holmes’ back. “There’s no blood…”
Holmes shifted carefully. “It only hurts when I move a certain way.”
“Do you want to see the police surgeon?”
“No.” A cautious stretch, and Holmes continued, “I’ll be all right.”
“Not like you don’t have your own physician waiting at home,” Watson interjected.
Behind them, the constables had bandaged Saunders’ wound and were loading him into the wagon. Lestrade waved them on, giving them instructions to send the first cab they saw. “I’ll take you back to Baker Street,” he told the detective, “but if you are still in pain tomorrow, you should see a doctor.”
Moments later, a hansom drew up beside them, and Lestrade assisted Holmes into the cab. Holmes held himself carefully, wincing several times as the wheels went over a rough patch, or when the cab rounded a corner. When they reached Baker Street, the inspector helped Holmes down and ordered the driver to wait. Just as Holmes reached for his keys, Mrs. Hudson opened the door, dressed in her nightgown and robe, her hair braided down her back.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said reproachfully.
“Mrs. Hudson,” he replied mockingly in an almost identical tone, then carefully started up the stairs. “Thank you, Lestrade. Good night.”
“Good night, Mr. Holmes.” As Holmes made his way upstairs, the Inspector began to explain to Mrs. Hudson what had happened. Just as Holmes closed the sitting room door behind him, he finished with, “I’d have been the one shot if he hadn’t knocked me down. And it was the oddest thing. I would have sworn that, just before, I heard Dr. Watson call out to him.” He shook his head. “I’m getting old, Mrs. Hudson.”
“We all are, Inspector. Good night,” she answered as she escorted him to the door and locked it behind him.
She waited until she heard the sound of the cab departing before calling up the stairs, “Doctor? Do you need anything?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Hudson.” Watson’s voice came from the top of the stairs. “I think that a hot bath and bed are the only medicine he’ll need. If not, I’ll let you know in the morning.”
Mrs. Hudson nodded, then turned to make her way back to bed.
Watson bullied Holmes first into the hot bath and then into bed, but even after the detective slept, he kept watch at his bedside.
* * * * *
The next morning, Watson was waiting in the kitchen when Mrs. Hudson came in to make breakfast.
"He has to retire," he began abruptly, causing Mrs. Hudson to start and almost drop the tea kettle. "I am sorry, Mrs. Hudson; I didn't mean to startle you, but I have been thinking about this all night. He has to retire. His body is finally beginning to betray him."
"And how do you think you're going to accomplish this?" she asked, making the preparations for tea.
"I thought about that as well," he replied. "He doesn't know it, but … There have been a few times that I have been able to convince him of something, in his sleep." He continued sheepishly. "I've done it primarily to get him to eat or to rest, but I think… I think I can make him forget."
"Forget?" Mrs. Hudson turned from rinsing the pot and looked toward the table (from whence came the doctor's voice). "Forget… what?"
"Me. My involvement in the past… what is it now? Fifteen years? He'll still remember what happened, but any part I might have played will seem only a dream."
"When will you do it?"
He sighed . "Now. While he's still asleep."
"And…." Mrs. Hudson blinked away a tear. "What of my memories?"
"What would you prefer?" he asked softly.
"I think I'd prefer to remember."
* * * * * * * * * *
Martha Hudson smiled as she rang the doorbell at 221b Baker Street. It still sounded the way it had years ago when it had heralded the arrival of who knew what sort of person – Scotland Yard, murderous stepfathers who bent pokers, innocent girls in need of protection, nobles and blackmailers, politicians and street urchins, criminals and kings. In some ways, she missed those days, the excitement, but in others she was very glad to have left it behind her. She enjoyed her quiet life, keeping the cottage in Sussex for Mr. Holmes.
As she stood musing on the stoop, shivering slightly in the early April breeze, the door opened and a young lady stood there. “May I help you?”
“My name is Martha Hudson, and I…”
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve heard my mother speak of you many times. Please, come in.” She stepped back and Mrs. Hudson joined her in the foyer. “Just let me get Mum.”
She was back in mere moments, inviting Mrs. Hudson back into the kitchen, familiar territory. In many ways, it was the same, but in others it had changed. The huge iron stove had been replaced with a smaller enameled gas one. The oak icebox was now a gleaming steel refrigerator. But it still felt like home and Mrs. Weatherby greeted her as if they’d parted only days before, rather than over a decade.
Tea was quickly forthcoming, and they talked for some time before Mrs. Hudson posed her rather strange request. “Might I… go upstairs for a few minutes? Just to… remember?”
Permission was swiftly given, and within minutes Mrs. Hudson sat at the top of the upper flight of stairs, outside the room that had been Dr. Watson’s. For a long moment, she simply sat, remembering. Then she murmured, “Dr. Watson? Are you here?”
“I’m here, Mrs. Hudson,” came the soft reply. “It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you. And Holmes. How are you both?”
“I’m doing well enough, Doctor, but… Mr. Holmes is not. He’s gone back to his old habits – the black moods, the horrible scrapings on his violin, the… the drugs. Sometimes he doesn’t eat for days, then it’s like he can’t get enough. And there are days he doesn’t even leave his bed. He’s taken to smoking a different kind of tobacco; it smells very… sweet, not at all like his old brand. He still smokes it as well.” She turned toward the place she knew Watson sat and her eyes gleamed with tears. “I’m very worried about him, sir. At the rate he’s going, I don’t know that he’ll live out the year. Perhaps not even the summer.” She wiped at the moisture now coursing down her cheek. “I do so wish you could be with him again, but I don’t know how I would convince him to come to London. He used to come up occasionally, to see Mr. Mycroft Holmes, but not even that in half a year.”
“My dear Mrs. Hudson.” She felt the air around her hands chill and knew he was holding them. “I should dearly love to see Holmes again. I’ve been very worried about him myself the past few months. It was as if I knew something were wrong - as if we had some sort of… connection still.”
“Tell me how, and I’ll get him back up to London. His brother has tried; I know he’s rung the house at least once a week, but Mr. Holmes refuses to budge. Please, sir,” she begged, “what can I do?”
“I’ve gotten stronger, Mrs. Hudson, it seems, through the years. I can go almost anywhere in London, even without anything to focus on,” he replied reassuringly. “Perhaps I can go to Sussex now. “I would have tried before, but I… I didn’t think I could see him again, and,” his voice caught, "and not be with him." A pause, and he said swiftly, "Maria is coming. Do you still have anything that was mine?”
She nodded. As the sound of footfalls on the seventeen steps approached, she asked quickly, “Will you try, Dr. Watson? For me, and for him?”
“Go back to Sussex, Mrs. Hudson, and when you get there, call for me. If I can hear you, I’ll come.”
* * * * *
Mrs. Hudson stood gazing out her window, watching Holmes, his fine grey hair blowing slightly in the breeze as he puttered in the garden. She looked down at the journal in her hand, then closed her eyes, and began to concentrate. "Dr. Watson? Dr. Watson. Come to me, please." She whispered the words, holding the leather-bound book tighter. "Come to me, please. Come to me, Dr. Watson. This feels so absurd. Come to me, Dr. Watson. I sound like one of those spiritualists." Her tone changed to more conversational. "Come to me, Dr. John H. Watson. You know, we never did find out what the 'H' stood for. Come to…"
She broke off with a gasp as Watson's voice replied laughingly, "Hamelyn."
Her eyes popped open, but she was still alone in the room. Or at least as far as she could see. "What?"
"Hamelyn. My middle name," he replied. "John Hamelyn Watson. I was named for my maternal grandfather."
"Oh, Doctor," she sighed. "You're here. Oh, thank God."
Watson's voice continued from by the window. "You did the right thing, Mrs. Hudson. He doesn’t look good. How long has he been like this?"
"He seemed fine when he came back from his last trip for Mr. Mycroft Holmes. But then, he was gone almost two years on it. That was… August of last year. Then, as the year dragged on and the holidays came, he became more and more depressed. He took a cold, and it settled in his chest, just after the turn of the year, and… He still has the cough. He tires so easily. And then, in early February, just after… just after when you died… he began going downhill rapidly. There was an unexpected freeze in mid-March, and he lost two hives of his bees. At first, he spoke of replacing them, but… Not any longer."
They both watched as Holmes trudged over to a chair in the shade of a tree at the foot of the garden. Slowly, he lowered himself into the chair, and leaned his head back, his eyes closed.
"Is… everything… arranged?" Watson asked slowly.
"Yes, sir. He did that before left for America," Mrs. Hudson replied, a slight catch in her voice.
"And has he provided for you?"
"Yes, sir, most generously." A tear traced its way down her wrinkled cheek.
"Good. Because it's his time."
* * * * *
After a parting word to Mrs. Hudson, Watson walked across the terrace to where Holmes sat drowsing in the late afternoon warmth. Smiling down at him, he spoke Holmes' name. "Come, walk with me."
Holmes squinted up at the figure standing beside him. "Watson? But…" He sighed. "I'm so tired."
"It's all right, Holmes," he said reassuringly and reached out to him. "Come along, my dear," he said with a chuckle. "The game's afoot!"
Holmes echoed his smile and put out his hand. Watson grasped it tightly and pulled his lover - tall and lean, with night-black hair - to his feet and, for the first time, into a kiss.
* * * * *
Another wind was blowing from the East, this one also cold and bitter, and again carrying the scents of smoke, blood and death. German bombers were in the skies day and night, and German bombs fell on the English cities and countryside. The East End docks were in flames, and never was so much owed by so many to so few.
A young couple, out for an afternoon ride before he returned to the radio base at Beachy Head, pedaled their bicycles down the lane and past the cottage overgrown with honeysuckle and roses. The lieutenant braked to a stop, looking back at his girl. "Do you hear that?"
"Hear what?" She too stopped, one foot on the ground to balance her bicycle. "The violin?" she asked. "It's probably some gypsy, or a tramp looking for a place to sleep. No one's lived in that cottage for twenty years."
The young man nodded in agreement. "Odd sort of tramp," he mused as he pushed off again. "He's playing Mendelssohn."