Three years. Three years to the day.
My flatmate and colleague, Doctor John Watson, left for Afghanistan three years ago. He had been relieved of duty originally for his bad leg, but it healed, being only a psychosomatic condition. He never suspected that he would be deployed again. He should have never been deployed for a second time.
Six months later, I received a very short, official letter that read as followed:
Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
This letter is to regretfully inform you that John Watson has been declared MIA (missing in action). He has been declared as a casualty and will no longer be searched for.
We are sorry for your loss.
The rest of the document simply stated that I was listed as one of John's family members and an emergency contact. At the bottom, there was a signature, but it was all rather boring. The note didn't tell me anything, but my heart felt heavy in my chest and my lungs stopped working for a moment. I couldn't breathe, because the only thing this note told me was that John wasn't dead and if nothing else, there was hope that he was still alive.
People were always so obvious. They were quick to jump the gun, so to say. Everyone was so willing to accept the first solution that popped up. Instead of looking for John, they just assumed him dead and left him because it was the most obvious answer and because he was just one person. The military didn't believe that one person, or even a small group of people, was a huge loss. It was much easier to declare them missing in action and leave them for dead, not even giving their loved ones a body for closure.
I never accepted the obvious solution if there was the possibility, or better yet the certainty, that there was another option. As it was, when I received the letter saying John was as good as dead, I didn't believe it. There was absolutely no way that John was killed in Afghanistan and I would never accept that as fact until John's body was laying before my eyes.
It wasn't just that someone had gone missing in action. No, soldiers went missing in action all the time. The fact that John Watson, an army doctor, had gone missing in action was what seemed so off. Yes, as a soldier in an active war, he had the potential to meet an untimely end, but for an army doctor to go missing and be the only one in his troop to go missing? I didn't buy that rubbish for a moment. There had to be more than what the military wanted to tell me. When dealing with the military, and people in general, they usually barely told the truth, let alone the whole story.
To accept that John was dead was just not something I was willing to do and I had been working for over two years to locate John and explain his suspicious disappearance. My wanting to find John had nothing to do with the challenge of solving the mystery, nothing to do with the chase or the game. John had become the one person in my life that was actually able to break down my barriers and now that he was gone I almost felt lost.
"John, I'm telling you, I can get you out of this. You don't have to go!"
"Sherlock, we've been over this! I can't get out of it and I have to go! Okay, I know you're a super genius and you probably could get me out of this, but I just don't want to do that. I'll only be deployed for a year and I would rather just serve my time and be proud of it instead of chickening out and letting my genius flatmate bail me out. I'm sorry if you don't like this, Sherlock, but I have to go!" John exclaimed, a freshly pressed and never worn military uniform clinging to his small, yet developed form.
"Sherlock…" John sighed and walked towards me, slowly reaching forward to take my hand in his. "I'd say it has been a pleasure," he said, squeezing my hand. "But that makes me sound like I'm never going to come back. I will be back Sherlock. I'll be back in one year and we'll be flatmates again. We'll be living together again and we'll be working on cases again." John smiled at me, that sort of awkward smile he had when we were trying not to giggle at a crime scene. "Besides, you probably won't even notice that I'm gone. You'll just go on and on talking about your brilliance like you always do in my absence. I know it seems like a long time, but it won't be."
My eyes fell onto our hands. John had never taken my hand before, not like this and I absolutely knew that it meant something more than just a friendly, reassuring gesture. "I…" I blinked, the words that I wanted to force out so badly getting stuck in my throat. "I need to—" An obnoxious horn blew from the street. "Shut up!" I shouted but John just smiled and squeezed my hand one more time before he let go.
"I have to go, Sherlock…" he said, giving me a little smile. "Catch you later." His hand lingered for only a moment before he dropped my hand and turned away from me, walking through the door to go down to the car that was waiting for him.
For a moment, I stared at the closed door. John was right. Normally I didn't notice when John was gone, but he was walking out of our flat and out of my life for the next year. "John! John, wait!" I shouted, leaping forward to rip the door open and run to the car that was taking John, but they were already turning off of Baker Street.
"John…" I muttered to myself, before literally jumping from the steps leading up to my flat and chasing after the car. After all, chasing a car wasn't a foreign experience to me.
I chased that car across London, but it was very early in the morning and there wasn't any traffic clogging the roads, so I was never able to catch up to it. There came a point when I had to accept that I wouldn't catch up to the doctor, even if I hailed a cab for myself.
I returned to my flat, chilled and obviously getting sick from running around the city in the early morning without my coat. I was in such a desperate rush to catch up to John, I didn't have time to grab the one article of clothing I wore everywhere. Evidence of a cold setting into my system was obvious, even before the symptoms started showing, but it just didn't matter. Getting a cold was boring, dull even, and I wouldn't allow it to disrupt my day-to-day activities.
John not being in the flat for a long period of time definitely did affect me though. John had said that I never noticed when he left the flat because I was always lost in my never-ending train of brilliant thought. Most of the time, it was true, I didn't notice when John wasn't there if it was a short period of time. I had a bad habit of going off on these long rambles of different thoughts that really only made sense to me. Nothing I said was hard to comprehend, at least, I didn't believe it was, but I found that normal people had a hard time following my line of logic.
However a year wasn't just a night out or a few days out of town, a year was a pretty significant amount of time and I couldn't just ignore my flatmate's absence. Since I was a child, I had been rejected by almost everyone. When I was young, it always hurt. I had nothing but good intentions in my heart, but other children and adults saw me as a freak. They didn't understand me, so they pushed me away like all humans do. As I got older, my peers changed but they didn't change. Everyone still rejected me, pushed me away for being so incredibly brilliant and so unbelievably bizarre. When I got older, I realized that no one's opinion mattered. Friends and family were just crutches for the weak and I didn't need anyone but myself. Having other people in my life only held me back from my full potential and until I met John, that had always held true.
Yes, I had Mrs. Hudson. My mother was never a really loving caregiver and when I met Mrs. Hudson, she sort of filled in that role in my life. Aside from her, I didn't have friends; I only had colleagues and clients. I, obviously, was a consulting detective, the only one in the world, and with that, I helped so many people who later felt indebted to me for my work. No one understood that I didn't need him or her to play nice for me because his or her "friendships" just didn't matter to me. I wasn't even close to my own brother, let alone other people.
John… John was different from almost every single person I had ever met. I didn't forget important names or faces, but even the people I deleted from my memory were never like him. John never treated me like a freak or a psychopath; he never shoved me away because of my overwhelming intellect or my obnoxiously odd habits. I wouldn't say that he never got annoyed with me, because he did, all the time and he assumed that I never noticed, but I always did. John was the one person who got through the wall I subconsciously built around myself and wasn't driven to insanity by everything that made other people hate or fear me.
I had several letters from the doctor sitting on the side table next to my chair in the living area of the flat. He wrote me every few weeks, telling me that he was all right, that things were boring and mostly slow, that he would rather be solving cases with me because at least I knew how to pick out interesting things. He would tell me how much he missed me and how he wanted to be back at the flat with me. I wrote back to him. I would always end up writing a letter with the words I wanted to tell him before he left, but I would tear it up and toss the pieces away, leaving me to write a note that pretty much mimicked John's. I never lied to him because I did miss him dearly, I just didn't tell the entire truth.
That just had to be done in person; there was no other way.
When John's letters stopped coming and he was declared missing in action, I had done a tremendous amount of research on Afghanistan, the war, John's unit and where John was when they decided to leave him behind. I had pinpointed the exact spot that I believed John was last spotted and things just didn't add up. John had gone missing in a dead area of Afghanistan. The troop had just been passing through to get to join with another British unit and there shouldn't have been anything dangerous where John went missing.
I had even gone to the extent of researching the members of John's unit and finding the ones who had been discharged for injury to see what they knew. Their answers about my flatmate always varied, but they all left me with the conclusion that John wasn't dead. I couldn't explain why he would have gone missing, but no one saw him die. No one saw any enemies in the surrounding area. There were no explosions and no ambushes. There was no explanation as to why John would suddenly go missing. Everyone said it was illogical but that was just because all people were idiots.
There was always a logical explanation.
After all of the work and research I had put into locating John, it had truly been long enough. Two and a half years of John being gone with no explanations was long enough and I couldn't justify sitting around London any longer. Doing research had giving me a starting point, a way to locate John and solve this case, but research wasn't going to bring John home. So I went to the only man that I thought could help me.
"Sherly?" Mycroft said into his phone, rather shocked by the sound of it. I was sure he was shocked because I hated talking on the phone. I always preferred texting. When I was forced to talk on the phone, I was never the one to initiate the phone call. My phone's outgoing call log was almost at a count of zero. I only called other people in serious emergencies.
"Mycroft," I answered. I hated when he called me Sherly, but I just learned to ignore it at this point in my life. Mycroft was never going to stop calling me Sherly and there was no point in trying to fight it. My older brother was as stubborn as I was.
"What's wrong?" he asked. I could hear a light echo of footsteps on the other end of the line and I knew that Mycroft had left a public area to gain some privacy. He knew that when I made phone calls, it was serious. "You didn't have another break in did you? You don't need me to take you to the hospital?"
"No, Mycroft, I'm fine, but I'm calling because—" As silly as it sounded, it was hard to admit to my older brother that I needed help with something. I wasn't close to him in any respect and he already kept such an annoying watch on me, I didn't need to give him any more reasons to watch over me. I didn't like to feel like I had to rely on Mycroft for help. "Because I need your help."
There was a long pause but I knew Mycroft hadn't dropped the call or hung up on me because I could hear his light breathing. "You need my help?" he asked, sounding truly amazed by the fact that I was asking him for help. He would hold this over my head for the rest of my life.
"Yes, Mycroft, yes, I'm not sure who else to go to," I admitted, ruing every last word. "I know that John isn't dead and I need to get to Afghanistan. I can't just waltz into a country we're at war with, so I need you to get me in."
"Sherlock… I don't think that's a very good idea. Just accept that John is gone. You know I can't get you into something like that, I don't have that kind of power," Mycroft said to me with a very disapproving tone to his voice. He knew how much I missed John and how him being gone was affecting me, but I knew he didn't want me walking into a war zone. Even if we held onto our childish feuds, he was my older brother and he tried to protect me whenever he could. However I knew he didn't really believe the missing in action claim in the slightest. We were too much alike for him to be so stupid.
"Don't lie to me. You are one of the most powerful men in the British government and you can make the arrangements to get me there," I said, trying not to sound demeaning or accusing. I was, after all, asking him for help. "Mycroft, I need you to do this for me… Please."
There was another pause before Mycroft sighed melodramatically. "All right, Sherlock. I'll make the arrangements and get back to you… But if you die, I won't feel guilty."
"Love you too, dear brother," I said and hung up. It didn't sound like it, but what we had just said to each other was really more like 'I don't like this, Sherlock, I don't like it at all but I know you have to do this and because I care about you, I'll help you. However you have to know how dangerous this will be'. My response was short, simple really.
'I know it will be dangerous, don't worry about me. Thank you, Mycroft.'