003

I stepped through the door of 221B Baker Street, the only place that I have ever truly loved.

Worn, dirty, and full of useless junk – the place hadn't changed in years. But the chemical stains, dust on the windowsills, papers strewn across the floor, and cluttered furniture reminded me that this was home, and it always would be. I loved everything about this place.

The air here was thick with memories, and nearly every sight brought back some reminiscence from the past – from the old, worn arm-chairs sitting next to the fire to the faint cigar ash swept under the side-table, everything was there for a reason.

Everything and everyone.

As I set down my medical bag and removed my jacket, I felt the arms of the only person I have ever truly loved wind around my neck.

"Watson," Holmes breathed into my hair, "You're late."

I smiled. "Yes, Holmes."

I continued to remove my gloves and scarf, Holmes' arms still around me, his breath on my neck.

Turning his mouth to my ear, Holmes murmured quietly, "Mrs. Hudson is going to step into this room in approximately five seconds. What do you think she would say if she caught us here?"

My eyes widened and I shook Holmes off just as Mrs. Hudson stepped through the door.

"Your tea, Mr. Holmes?"

He gave a hearty laugh, eyeing me with a smile as my cheeks flushed with red. "Yes, thank-you, Mrs. Hudson!"

He took the tray from the oblivious landlady and ushered her out. As the door closed behind her, Holmes gave me a little smirk.

"My God, Holmes," I said, my heart fluttering with nervous worry. "One of these days, if you're not more careful –"

He grinned and set the tea-tray down on the nearby table. "Relax, dear Watson. It's been nearly a year, and she doesn't know a thing."

I rubbed my face in exasperation and then proceeded to pour myself some tea, bringing the cup over to my arm-chair and taking a seat.

Holmes stood across from me, behind his own chair, leaning on the backing. He held his tea casually, the misty white vapors of steam floating up from the heated drink.

I could see Holmes studying my weary face as I blew on my tea to cool it a little.

Eventually, he furrowed his brow and asked sternly, "What is it that's troubling you, Watson?"

I was a little slow to reply to Holmes' inquiry, my voice heavy with exhaustion. "Work was difficult – very tiring and busy. They kept me a bit later than usual so that I could help out. That's why I was delayed returning home."

I could see him think for a moment, but it didn't take long for Holmes to understand what I meant by 'difficult.'

"How many?" he asked.

"Seven. Seven more died, and that was only to-day."

Influenza had been spreading recently, much to the city's horror, and my work-place was overloaded with sick patients nearly every day. At present there were more patients than free beds. It was chaos, frantic mothers looking for help for their children, husbands trying to save wives, and other men and women deteriorating at such horrid speeds that we could only hope to save them.

The daily number of deaths was rising steadily, and seeing the fear and depression on the faces of those who had lost loved ones was hard. Their cries and sobs haunted me. It was sometimes difficult to sleep, my brain overcome with the deaths of the day.

It was very heavy on one's conscience, seeing the pale lifeless faces that myself and my fellow doctors had failed to save.

Though it was not easy, I faced work every day, along with my co-workers, and we fought the dreaded influenza as best we could. We wore masks, of course, but there was always the danger that one of us may catch the sickness – in fact, recently a surgeon had contracted influenza and was in as grave of a danger as the folk who were suffering right beside him.

Oh, it was horrid.

My face was awash in sadness and worry as I continued to Holmes, "A young boy died early this morning. His mother came to me and cursed, crying, 'Why did you not save my son? He is only a little boy, so young, so helpless, and you did nothing to save him!'. The other doctors had to drag her away, the poor woman. I mean, we did our best to help her and her son, of course, but he was too far gone, and there are so many other poor people…"

I set down my tea and buried my face in my hands. My mind rushed with all the deaths of to-day. Presently, I noted Holmes' lack of reply to this sad tale, and I glanced at his face. He was expressionless as he sipped his tea.

He noticed my glance and, in a feeble effort to seem concerned, he said in a vague tone, "Hm. What a shame. Very terrible."

His response was so pitiful that, even I, who had lived with him for years, was shocked to hear such lack of emotion. I set down my tea and stared at him, open-mouthed. "Holmes," said I in a bewildered voice, "I know that you can be a little lifeless at times, but do you really feel nothing toward this harrowing tale? These poor people, the mother whom I saw to-day… her only child had died, Holmes! Does this not sadden you, even only a little?"

He gave me a strange look. "I don't know these people. Why should it bother me if they or their kin pass away?"

I shook my head and was speechless for a moment before saying, "You really are just a machine, Holmes. How, pray tell, can you not at least feel a little sympathy for others, especially the sick people who are in so much pain?"

Much to my irritation, he made no reply.

I continued, my voice rising. "Have you ever really been depressed, Holmes? I know you can get into your black moods at times, but that is usually over cases, not humans – I've never seen you really and truly unhappy because of something personal."

He glanced disapprovingly at me. "My cases are personal, Watson. They're extremely important. After all, without these cases I would probably already be dead from a cocaine over-dose."

I glared at him, and then said rather bluntly, "I bet you've never shed a single tear, have you? Not even one."

He shrugged. "I've never really found it necessary."

Again, I shook my head. "Never a single tear, really? Have you ever even cried, Holmes? You astound me."

He was quiet for a moment, sipping his tea. "What, dear Watson, could possibly happen to me that would bring me to tears? Surely, nothing comes to mind."

"What does it take? What if your own brother were to die, Holmes?"

He furrowed his brow. "Hm, I suppose that would be rather sad. I would mourn, indeed, but I don't believe that I would cry. You're silent now, Watson, is that all you can think of?" Holmes smiled triumphantly.

I didn't answer him, annoyance and frustration silencing me for the moment.

Holmes continued. "Well, Watson, returning to your previous comment, I should think that you, of all people, would know that I am most certainly not a machine. Am I correct?"

He gave me a wry smile.

My face flushed red as I quickly stood and set my empty tea cup down on the table. Taking my walking-stick in one hand, I murmured in exasperation, "Really, Holmes."


Later that day, Holmes went off on case work, and I stayed behind, lest I was again summoned to my work-place. I didn't have a lot of extra time, and I couldn't leave Baker Street unless I was only away for a few minutes on small errands.

It was all very tiring, but it was my job – though occasionally this last fact was much to my dismay.

At present, I was taking some well-earned free time to sit back and relax in my arm-chair. I wished that Holmes was here, considering I would probably be called back to the hospital at some point later to-day, and I wanted to spend time with him.

My mind wandered, and I pondered pleasantly over Sherlock Holmes. I never thought, when I first met the eccentric man, that years later everything I loved and cared for would be him, but it had happened, and I was happy.

I shook my head and gave a little smile as I sat back and took the newspaper, mulling over the news of the week. None of it was really all that attention-grabbing.

As a result, I didn't pay attention much and was not too absorbed in the paper, so I was quick to notice the quiet creaking of the door below, the muffle voice of Mrs. Hudson, then the sound of steps upon the stairs.

I set the paper down and sat up, dearly hoping that it was Holmes who was coming to me, back from his little adventure. It was either Holmes, or –

"A telegram for you, sir," said the man who stepped through the door.

Damn.

I took the little paper with reproach and saw the man out before turning over the telegram and gazing down at the message with tired eyes.

Doctor Watson –

I'm sorry to call you back so soon, but we need your help back at the hospital. There has been a large rush of patients over the last hour, and we need as many doctors as we can get. Please come as soon as possible.

The writing was sloppy and rushed, and the note was not even signed. I guessed whoever had written it was indeed very busy.

I stood and stretched, my aching back cracking loudly. Rubbing my eyes, I gathered my work-things together again and headed downstairs, bidding the landlady a tired good-bye before heading off again.

It was going to be a late night.