Holmes awoke the next morning to his familiar, pounding headache. He reached blindly for his bottle of brandy which was usually within arm's reach. He groaned in frustration as he groped around for it, only to discover that it wasn't there.
Unwillingly, he sat up in bed and opened his eyes, squinting against the harsh afternoon light.
All too soon, the cogs of his mind started turning. As he looked around the room, his eyes began to notice every minute detail of his surroundings, and it was not helping his throbbing headache. Such was his curse.
He had the feeling he had dreamed of Watson the night before, but the hazy memories were already slipping away like sand through his fingers. It was not unusual for him to dream of his old companion, however, so he did not give it any more thought.
Heaving himself from the bed, he staggered to the drinks cabinet. There was very little left and Mrs Hudson refused to restock it for him.
As he shifted the bottles, two of them collided, causing a loud clinking noise. The noise hit his ear as if it had been a sledgehammer, his head pounding in protest. The sooner he could start drinking again, the sooner this hangover would go away.
He continued to move the bottles, more carefully this time, searching for something strong enough to take the edge off his depression.
Eventually he came across some vodka he had procured when a case of his had led him to a cold, snow blanketed Russia.
He was just readying himself to spend another day in an alcohol induced stupor when something made him prick up his ears.
He could hear Mrs Hudson talking to someone on the floor below. It was not often that she had visitors. He could not make out what was being said but he could distinctly hear a man's voice talking back.
It only took him a few seconds to realise that it was Watson.
What was he doing here? Holmes quickly went through all the possible reasons in his mind for Watson's presence. He filtered out the least probable and was left with only two.
Either John was here to collect some of his belongings or he was asking Mrs Hudson to look after Gladstone for a few days.
He briefly entertained the idea that Watson had changed his mind and told his wife that he did not want to spend his life without Holmes.
"How flattering it would be," he muttered sarcastically to himself, "to be Watson's second choice of companion."
To his great surprise, he heard Watson's uneven gait as he climbed the stairs and approached Holmes' room.
Holmes hurried to his chair beside the unlit fire, casting aside his vodka bottle and attempting to tidy his appearance slightly before Watson entered.
He heard the familiar click of the door opening behind him.
At the sound of the door, he had a flood of memories from the night before. He had not dreamed of Watson, he had actually seen him. They had fought. He did not know the subject of their row; the mist of inebriation still clouded his brain.
Watson hadn't said anything on entering the room. Holmes turned around to face the doctor. He had to do no more than glance at his old friend to discover the reason for his visit, and it was something Holmes had not even considered. Mary was dead.
"Oh, my dear Watson," he said, standing to face his friend.
"Holmes," he said, a little curtly.
"Join me," the detective said, gesturing to Watson's chair beside him.
Watson obliged, not quite meeting Holmes' eyes.
"I want to talk to you about something."
"Talk away, old chap,"
"It's about Mary," he said, his words laden with sorrow. "She -"
"Died only a few days ago," Holmes interjected.
"Yes," Watson said, frowning a little at Holmes, no doubt wondering how he knew this. Of course, Holmes could tell so much about Watson from his appearance alone. His mannerisms provided the detective with even more information about him; where he had been, what he had done, how he was feeling.
Watson continued. "It was -"
"Typhoid fever," Holmes finished.
"Yes... She must -"
"Have caught it while she was in Cornwall? Yes, I quite agree."
"Holmes, would you please -"
"Stop finishing your sentences?"
They fell silent for a moment.
"Could I interest you in a drink?" he asked finally.
"If you wouldn't mind," Watson replied.
Holmes glanced to his woefully empty drinks cabinet and finally resorted to the vodka he had previously discarded.
After pouring himself and his companion a drink, he sat again, fingers pressed together, waiting for Watson to begin talk of his emotions.
Of course, Holmes would listen, silently making notes in his head of everything the doctor said, his tiny facial expressions revealing his feelings, the way his eyes changed when he spoke of something close to his heart, but Holmes would not often contribute to the conversation. He had lost his own dear Irene less than a year ago, so on some level, he could relate to Watson's pain, but they grieved so differently.
Eventually, Watson began to speak.
"I came by last night. I wanted to speak with you but -"
"I was too inebriated to engage in conversation." Holmes said.
Watson frowned at him for, yet again, finishing his sentence. Holmes felt a stab of guilt - not an emotion he felt often - for not being there for his friend when he needed him.
"What kind of a doctor can't save his own wife?" he choked suddenly.
"I'm sure you did everything you could."
"I knew she was ill the moment I saw her. I should have done something sooner," Watson continued as if Holmes hadn't spoken.
"Now, now," Holmes started, in an attempt at comforting the doctor, but consolation had never been a strong point of his.
Watson let out a long sigh, resting his forehead in his hand for a moment, before divulging the reason for his visit.
"I came to ask if you would accompany me to the funeral."
Holmes paused for a moment. An entire day of grief stricken, weeping families was his idea of Hell, but this was no time for his opinions. Truthfully, he was a little touched that Watson would want him there, especially after the way he had treated the doctor the night before.
"Of course," he said.
Watson nodded his gratitude but seemed unwilling to continue the talk of his late wife.
"How did you -"
"Know what you were going to say?" Holmes finished, reflexively.
"Will you stop that?" Watson asked, irritation lacing his voice. The mood between them was still a little strained; their conversation felt stiff. More calmly he asked, "How did you even know she had died?"
Relieved to have moved the conversation away from grief and on to his own genius, he happily answered.
"It began with the way you entered the room," Holmes started. "As something of a gentleman, few things mean more to you than good manners, so for you to walk in without knocking was my first clue that something was wrong.
"On top of that, if you don't mind me saying, dear fellow, you have the gaunt appearance of someone who has not eaten in a few days. This was confirmed to me when you sat beside me and I detected a sweet smell on your breath, a sure sign of someone who has been starving themselves.
"Now, in my extensive experience, there are only two reasons why you would stop eating. The first is that you have been so wrapped up in your work that you have forgotten to eat, or you are upset. The former was disproved when I noticed the lack of ink stains on your fingers which I so often see when you have been tirelessly writing medical notes.
"Usually if you were upset by something, your wife would ensure you still had something to eat. Since that was not the case, it was clear that she was not with you. As for the typhoid fever, I had read recently that there was an unusual outbreak in Cornwall and the surrounding areas.
"Mary has been back from Cornwall for nearly four weeks, long enough for the disease to manifest itself and to ultimately kill her."
Watson blanched a little when Holmes said that, clearly not used to hearing someone else speak of her death.
"Furthermore, it is customary for you to wear shades of brown or grey but - be it subconsciously or otherwise - you have opted to wear black today, the colour so often worn by the grieving."
"You are right on every count, as always," Watson said. After a heavy silence, Watson spoke again. "God, Holmes, I miss her."
"I know." That was as far as Holmes could venture in to the land of consolation and sympathy, but he could tell that Watson appreciated it.
The pregnant silence appeared again, to be broken several minutes later by Mrs Hudson entering his room.
"Sherlock, you have mail," she said, not even looking at the detective as she threw several envelopes on to the ever growing pile of correspondence by the door.
"Thank you, Mrs Hudson," Holmes replied, politely.
She stopped in her tracks.
"You're..." she started, staring at him in complete shock.
"Sober?" he asked. "Yes, I am. And I intend to stay so. Would you mind passing me those letters?"
Still completely taken aback by Holmes' sudden sobriety, she handed him the envelopes.
"Shall I bring some tea and crumpets?" she asked.
"That would be wonderful," Watson answered, looking at his glass of vodka with slight disdain.
Holmes could not be sure, but he thought he saw the landlady give a little smile, perhaps of relief, as she left the room.
Holmes tore open the first of the letters. He scanned it once, twice and a third time to ensure he had understood.
Dear Mr Holmes,
I am writing to request your assistance with the disappearance of my father.
Only two nights ago, he vanished from his bed. He took none of his belongings, nor did he leave any clues of his whereabouts.
Holmes stopped reading to scoff at this. There were always clues to be found. But his interest peaked when he read the next paragraph.
My father is the fifth man to have disappeared from our town in little under a month.
There is much talk in our town of Satanic rituals and demonic beings, and I can't help but wonder how much of it is true.
Holmes felt almost giddy at the idea of disproving an entire town's theory, replacing their wild accusations with his rational, intelligent, reasoned explanations.
Holmes looked to Watson. Ordinarily, he would have started on this case immediately, but for the moment, his friend and the funeral he had to attend were more important.
"What is it, Holmes?"
"The game's afoot, Watson," Holmes said, pleased to see the flicker of a smile on the doctor's face when he heard the familiar phrase.
As the two old friends locked eyes, they both knew, for the first time in a long time that things were going to be alright. In the midst of everything else, they had each other.
A/N Thanks to any of you who have stayed with this story even after the long wait for this final chapter. Please leave a review if you have a few moments.