It was three months after the wedding that Inspector Lestrade came to call upon me in my consulting room at Cavendish Place. The visit was not without precedent; Lestrade had had occasion to request my services as a professional witness on a number of recent cases since I had left the rooms I had formerly shared with my esteemed friend and colleague, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes himself had been engaged in a number of cases both within London and further abroad in the first six to eight weeks after we had parted ways, but I had not seen him recently since the wedding, at which he had presented a demure and withdrawn countenance quite out of keeping with his usual demeanor. Even Mary, who was not overly enamoured with Holmes, noted and remarked upon it, but Holmes himself would not be drawn into conversation and had excused himself at an early stage of the proceedings following the ceremony itself.
Lestrade had kept me abreast of Holmes' activities however, often in the process of engaging me in investigations in my capacity as consulting medic; though my path never quite seemed to cross that of my former companion, until I began to feel that perhaps Holmes was deliberately avoiding me.
Thus it was that there seemed nothing out of the ordinary about Lestrade's visit that evening. I waved him to the chair opposite my own, and invited him to sit down.
"Good evening, Lestrade; might I offer you a drink?" I inquired as we both sat. The Inspector shook his head gravely.
"I must decline, Doctor - my visit is not a social one, I'm afraid," he replied.
"Ah, I see. Then it is my professional services you require," I noted, setting down my cigar and reaching for my bag. Lestrade nodded.
"It's Mr Sherlock Holmes." There was something in his voice - concern, yes, but was that a note of warning also? I straightened up in my chair and raised an eyebrow. Lestrade shook his head, not meeting my gaze with his own. "It's - well, I think you'd best come see for yourself, Doctor," he sighed.
A chill settled over my heart and I rose to my feet. "Give me two minutes, Inspector, and I'll be right with you," I answered. Lestrade got to his feet also and nodded.
"I've a cab outside waiting," he said over his shoulder as he made for the door. I nodded, packing a few things I thought I should need, and then I ran up the stairs calling for Mary. She stepped out of the drawing room with a look of alarm upon her sweet face.
"Why John, whatever is the matter?" she asked. "Your face is quite pale!"
I took her slender white hands in mine and brought them to my lips, kissing them. "It's Holmes, dear one. I fear something terrible has happened to him. Lestrade is waiting for me."
Her eyes widened in alarm. "You must go to him," she nodded firmly. "I understand." Tilting her face up to mine, she kissed me gently then pushed me away. "Go to him," she urged me. "He needs you."
"I love you," I breathed, touching my hand briefly to hers once more before turning to run down the stairs, taking them two at a time in my haste. Snatching up my hat, I grabbed my bag and then followed the Inspector out to the waiting hansom at the curb. It pulled away smartly almost before I could be seated, and we sped on our way towards Baker Street.
Lestrade would not be drawn further on the topic of Holmes, only repeating that I must see for myself as the hansom clattered swiftly through the streets; after a while I resigned myself to silence and sat back against the worn black leather seat, pondering sombrely what could have happened to my former companion to occasion such a summons. But try as I might, nothing could have prepared me for the sight that greeted us as we alighted outside the steps of my former lodgings which I had shared with Holmes for so many years in our bachelorhood together.
The front door stood wide open, and my former landlady the redoubtable Mrs Hudson stood upon the doorstep, wringing her hands in a most wretched way and looking most piteous indeed as two uniformed bobbies looked on, clearly ill at ease.
"Oh, Doctor Watson, Doctor Watson!" she wailed as I stepped forward, and she threw herself at me, sobbing. "If only you had not left him, I know this would not have happened! He has not been the same since you left - oh, it is all so terrible, ghastly!"
I stared down at her, bracing her with my hands. "Mrs Hudson, please calm yourself! What has happened?"
She only shook her head and sobbed harder. I stared at Lestrade, who seemed as discomforted as I. He gestured to one of the bobbies, who came down the steps and gently assisted me in disentangling myself from the hysterical woman's grasp. Then I raced up the stairs, dreading what I was to find.
The door to Holmes' room stood open. Pushing forward, I pulled off my hat and then stopped upon the threshold, arrested by the sight before me.
Clarky was kneeling beside the still form of Holmes, who lay supine upon the floor. He was clad only in a pair of trousers and his tattered old dressing gown. Clarky held one of Holmes' hands in his own, staring down at him with an expression of confusion upon his face. He looked up at me, and his expression changed to one of relief.
"Mrs Hudson found him like this, sir," he explained as I dropped my bag and fell to my knees beside Holmes. I took Holmes' hand from Clarky; it was cold and chill to touch. I stared down into Holmes' face. His eyes were closed, his soft black hair damp with sweat, his face white and wan, lips pale with a bluish tint; and I felt my heart go cold. Clarky held up two empty bottles; one had held absinthe, the other morphine. I shook my head slowly, no, not this, not again...
"Holmes..." I breathed, and laid a hand upon his chest. It was still; there was no sound or movement of breathing. "No," I shook my head, trying to deny the evidence of my own eyes. "Holmes. Holmes!" I felt at his wrist for a pulse with trembling fingers; finding none, I checked at his throat. Nothing.
"Sir?" asked Clarky, and then he shook my shoulder. "Sir, are you alright? You've gone grey, sir!"
I heeded him not at all as I took hold of Holmes' shoulders, marvelling at how thin and fragile he felt through the tattered cloth of the dressing gown. I shook Holmes hard; his head lolled, bonelessly, his body a dead weight in my hands.
"Holmes! Damn you Holmes, Wake up!" I cried. Clarky pulled at my shoulder, and I shook him off roughly. "Damn it, Holmes - Sherlock! Open your eyes, for the love of God!"
"Sir, sir!" protested Clarky. "Easy, sir..."
"Holmes!" I screamed, and then I cradled him against me, his body limp and cold. I felt again for the pulse at his throat, but still could feel nothing; I pressed my face against his lips, but felt no ghost of breath. I was dimly aware that Lestrade had entered the room and that both he and Clarky were watching me with horrified sympathy, but I cared nothing for their gaze as I rocked Holmes' body gently in my arms, my cheeks wet with tears.
Holmes was dead.