A/N: Inspired by a prompt by KCS (thanks for letting me use it!)
#33 – Never He had seen war-comrades massacred, lost every family member prematurely, participated in the Ripper investigations, met death at every turn with a respectful conscience and firm control – but not now; no previous horror could compare with not being able to find the body of his closest friend.
Rating for character death. And I apologize in advance for the depressing mood to it all.
My first published fanfiction. Please read and review!
I frantically scrambled up the mountain-side, my heart pounding in my throat. The message, the entire story, was all a fake. I had left my friend behind and now I was going to pay dearly for that mistake.
Panting heavily, I reached the path and stopped, frozen by fear. Before me, at the very edge of the cliff, two silhouettes struggled against each other. I raced forward to aid my friend, but even as I moved, the men fought and, losing their footing, toppled over.
I leapt forward and dropped to my knees, desperately peering over the ledge into the drop. Far below me, a body hit the water, his cries still echoing wildly against the rocks.
"Watson," a voice panted. My friend had somehow managed to stop his descent and now clung to the rocks, his eyes fixed upon me, silently pleading for assistance.
"Holmes!" I ejaculated, spying him at last. Sliding onto my front and inching forward as far as I dared, I reached down for the man's hand. My heart plummeted with dread as I only spanned half the distance between us.
Pressing himself against the sheer wall best he could, Holmes gave a final attempt at getting out, pulling himself up and scrambling for my hand. It was unsuccessful, decreasing the distance by only a few inches. His wild action threw him off balance and terror flickered across his face as his grip loosened. His expression seemed to pin me in place.
"Holmes!" I shouted again. My friend started to say something, scrabbling for a purchase, but his movement only made things worse, causing him to dangle, one-handed, from the cliff wall. I watched in horror, unable to look away, as he fought the inevitable for a few minutes longer.
"Watson. I-I'm sorry-" he said quietly, guilt reflecting in his grey eyes. The sincere apology, so rare in any situation, hurt more as I watched him struggle.
Without warning, the situation I had been unconsciously preparing for arose. Holmes could not restrain a cry as his hold shifted and he fell, plunging into the abyss below. Around me, his yelp and accompanying screams reverberated long after he had disappeared from view.
"No," I breathed belated. I had been so close, but he was gone again. The scene around me blurred as I got back to my feet and stumbled away from the drop. Stopping beside the rock which his alpine-stock leaned, awaiting the man who would never return, my composure shattered and I sank to my knees, grief overwhelming me.
"John! It's just a dream. John, wake up."
I sat up with a start in pure darkness. It was only a dream, a nightmare. But, the situation was all true. I had foolishly gone back to the hotel and my friend had been lost. It was my ignorance, my folly, my mistake, my fault. Entirely mine.
Twisting, I collapsed back, burying my head in my pillow, which was wet with tears. I shuddered as I thought of the great detective, still lost in the running waters of Reichenbach where no one could find. Nothing I had experienced previously, from the brutal slaughter of the Afghan War to the many cases I had accompanied Sherlock Holmes on, could elicit such horror and pain as this.
We had faced danger before- it is unavoidable in our profession- but we had always done so together, as a team. We'd always been with one another, until then. I had turned my back on my companion when he needed me the most, leaving him to face Professor Moriarty alone. My own return was far too late. The only communication I could receive by then was a short note, a final explanation and farewell from my dearest friend.
Though shaken, I had not, could not, truly comprehend the implications or the effects the loss of my stoic comrade would have upon me until later that night. Sitting in our-my- hotel room, I'd expect my friend to return triumphantly, as he had done before, only to be reminded with a pang that Holmes would never return. The trip back to London was filled with similar painful reactions.
So varied were our adventures that there was not a place in the city that couldn't remind me of my friend. Even surrounded and focused on my practice, a glimpse of the Scotland Yard or of a former client's home would bring back memories that hurt to remember. I was never a stranger to loss or pain; my entire family died prematurely and as a physician, I have encountered patients whose deaths I could not prevent, only at best postpone. I have seen how simple it is to take a life and have been compelled to do so more times than I would like. I am not new to loss or death, but none I have previously experienced can compare to my sudden bereavement last year. This was cruelly multiplied by my own feelings of guilt on the matter.
Since arriving from the military, I had made few close friendships in London. Before the Afghan War, I had not lived in the capital and, since returning, I had joined Holmes and met through him the officers of the Scotland Yard. Yet, nobody had been able to affect my life the way he did. To lose someone, a friend, so prominent in my normal life, left me alone.
Not entirely alone, I remembered as my sweet Mary lit a candle and smiled rather sadly at me. My sweet wife was also the result of a case with my late friend, but unlike anything else, she was a treasure, a golden memory. Her understanding to any strange situations and patience for spontaneous leaves were unmatched by anyone.
"John?" she murmured, the unspoken questions reflecting in the depths of her warm blue eyes. Are you all right? Do you want to talk about it? Is it about Holmes?
"Yes," I sighed. There was nothing else worth saying. She knew of the fiends thriving in the realms of my subconscious and that nothing but time had any chance of reducing them.
Sitting up, I wrapped my arms around her, holding close to me the only comfort I had last, the one person who could still bring a smile to me. She was my last friend and my only love. As we both lay back down, I promised fiercely to myself that I would do everything to keep her safe.
Tears blurred my vision as I took the small, emaciated hand in my own. I blinked them away, refusing to let them deter the sight of my Mary. Her straggled and limp blond hair dully reflected the lamplight beside me. Her haggard face, once so alive and flushed, was as pale as the pillow supporting her.
My wife squeezed weakly, her tired eyes fixed on my own pain-filled ones. "John..." she rasped.
"Don't talk. You'll be all right," I promised rashly, wishing it to be true. She shook her head slowly, knowing it would never happen, that her time was reaching its end.
"No." The comment, so plainly stated, shot through my heart. She had given up fighting, was awaiting the inevitable. "Promise me... one thing..." she whispered.
"Anything," I replied brokenly, forcing the word around a lump in my throat. My eyes and throat burned, but I managed to keep the tears at bay for a little longer.
"Promise that... you won't... grieve," she coughed. Her eyes took on a hint or their former light. "Promise..."
I swallowed. How could I not? How could I refuse her anything? "I promise," I pledged, my voice nearly inaudible.
She smiled one last time, a warm, loving smile, and squeezed my hand again. I looked back at my Mary, fighting back tears, knowing it would be the last time I could do such. For all my skills as a physician, I couldn't even save my own wife. I did not deserve this title.
"Thank you," she whispered, closing her eyes. As she slowly stopped breathing, a look of peace filled her face, erasing the lines of weariness from sickness creasing her face.
Losing the fight, tears streamed down my cheeks for the third time in my life. I'd lost the last person in my life that I loved. To prevent this from ever happening again, from ever feeling such pain, I vowed to never get so close to someone again. I could not have prevented the bond to my family, but they were all gone and I had a choice now. I was alone, and pledged to be so from then on. My relationships with Mary and Sherlock Holmes taught me that much.