"Sherlock, what on earth do you think you're doing?"
Mycroft's voice was reflecting the wretched condescending look he bore as he watched me storm through my bedroom, throwing clothes at the open brief-case on the bed. I grumbled at him and only got a scoff for my trouble. I couldn't bring myself to care as I went on, going through my wardrobe for my (Watson's) waistcoat. "I'm going back to England." I stated, giving a shout of triumph as my hand closed around the desired object and put it somewhat ceremoniously in the briefcase.
Mycroft sighed. "Brother mine…" he started.
"No." I said firmly, "You are not going to talk me out of it this time, Mycroft. I'm going."
"I'm afraid I have to insist, Sherlock. This is too risky."
I stopped my comings and goings at once and sighed in frustration. "Have you read this?" I asked, picking up and waving the newspaper in his face.
My brother nodded. "Yes I have, and yes I saw. Listen, I'm sorry about the good doctor's wife, but I hardly see what you can do."
"Well for one I can be there for him, as a friend should be."
"You haven't been there for him in two years, Sherlock."
This was a low blow, and my brother knew it as well as I did. I knew he had some reserve as to my plans, but it was the first time he had voiced it and, to be perfectly honest, it cut deep. I dismissed Mycroft's repartee with a huff and resumed packing. "Say what you will, Mycroft, I'm leaving. I've been away too long as it is."
I heard him shuffled and give way to another sigh. "Very well," he said, "I just thought you valued his life more, is all." Then his footsteps retreated and the door closed quietly.
He was right, of course. If I followed my instinct and ran back to my dearest friend, I would sign his death warrant. But I simply could not leave my Watson to face this alone! I punched the wardrobe in frustration. If only I could find a way to…
The usual epiphany came to me and I felt my lips curl in a smile. I started rummaging through my belongings again, though in an entirely different design.
Seldom have I felt so lost as when my beloved Mary was taken away from me, and the sheer shock of it was hard to recover from. Of all the rare diseases I've been able to treat in my career, an epidemic of influenza is what robbed me of her. Losing my wife two years after seeing my best friend plunge to his death had shaken me to the core, and I'm still surprised I even survived it.
I say "survive", not "live", because what I did in the weeks that followed her passing could not possibly qualify as living. I'd fallen into a mechanical pattern: eat, work, sleep, repeat. I had taken up my practice the day after my Mary's funeral, and all of my patients seem to bear the same sympathetic (pitying) look. I gave them no mind. I didn't have the energy to.
A week after the funeral, I opened the door to my waiting room to find a strange-looking old man. Was it my experience with Holmes' methods? I could tell at a glance he was not who he pretended to be. And the brief handshake we shared as I admitted him told me all I wanted to know.
As soon as Watson opened his door, I could tell how hard the past weeks had been for him. Dark circles underlined his eyes and stood stark against an unusually pale skin, he had lost a few pounds and his limp was more pronounced than ever. I suppressed the urge to sigh, stood and slowly made my way towards him, hunched over a walking stick. He extended a hand which I grabbed and shook perhaps too long, but nothing in his composure told me it had disturbed him. "Good morning, sir. Pray come in."
For the next minutes I sat on his examination table and told him about a migraine I had supposedly been plagued by for weeks, complete with muscle pain and fatigue – I was supposed to be an old man, after all. He listened and then examined me, finally diagnosing me with some type of exhaustion. "It's very common as we're aging, I'm afraid." He said with a slight smile. "I'll prescribe you a very mild treatment." With this he went back to sit at his desk and took his prescription pad.
I sat there for a while, listening to the slight scratching of pen against paper as he wrote. "I hear that you're the best physician in London." I finally said with some detachment.
"I don't know about that." He said without turning, and I couldn't help but smile. Ever the modest, is my Watson.
"Well I do." I said sincerely. He briefly turned to me, nodded his thanks and got back to work. I took a breath and prepared for my next, not quite as tactful, approach. "I've read about your wife." There the scratching came to an abrupt halt and his shoulders tightened, only to relax again the next second as he resumed writing. "I want to offer my condolences, for what they're worth."
I heard him make a noise situated halfway between a laugh and a sob. "Thank you." He simply said. Clearing his throat, he turned back to me, holding his prescription, which he carefully folded in half. He didn't give it to me, though. He just held it in his hands and stared at it, apparently fighting to maintain his composure.
A handful of minutes passed before he finally looked up at me. "I've lost my best friend two years ago." Said he.
My breath caught in my throat. "Yes," I said as calmly as I could, "Sherlock Holmes, is that it?" He raised his eyebrows. "The wife and I read the Strand." I said in lieu of explanation.
This seemed to satisfy him and he nodded. "My wife supported me through the loss of my friend." He said, "But now…" he trailed off and sighed, looking down at his hands again.
"Now you wish you had a friend to support you through the loss of your wife." I finished for him, feeling my heart grow heavier by the second. I don't fancy myself as an overly affectionate person, but never before had I felt such a strong urge to reach out and grasp someone's hand. I would have given anything to offer him any type of comfort, but any gesture of the sort would have given me away.
Watson raised his head again and gave me a polite if slightly embarrassed smile. "Pardon me," he said, "I didn't mean to bother you with my états d'âme."
"Not at all." I said, sensing our appointment was reaching its end, and dreading it. But he just gave me his prescription paper, and I reluctantly followed as he showed me out.
"You know," he said as he shook my hand, "my friend always accused me of giving myself no credit. But sometimes I rather think he is the one underestimating me." He smiled. "Was." He added, though not as sadly as I would have expected. I smiled, nodded, shook his hand and bade him a good evening.
I spent the journey back to Mycroft's deep in thought, puzzled by my friend's last statement. Why would Watson speak so easily to a perfect stranger? I quickly dismissed the thought though, as I had offered him an open ear and he had probably needed to talk.
"How was the doctor?" Mycroft called out to me as I stepped in the rooms. I didn't bother to look astonished or ask how he had known.
"As well as can be expected." I said, echoing the answer he had given me for the better part of two years.
I walked up to my bedroom, disposing of my disguise before going to look out the window, though my thoughts went to my dear friend, who was probably smoking by the fire, as was his habit at this hour. I smiled briefly as I thought back of one of our evening conversations and found myself putting my hands in my pockets.
I frowned when the fingers of my right hands met crumpled paper. This I took out and immediately recognized the prescription. My smile came back, though much grimmer.
To this day I still don't know why I unfolded the piece of paper, which could only contain medical terms I didn't understand or need. Was it out of curiosity? Was it to glimpse at my friend's handwriting which I dearly missed? I do not know, but whatever made me do it couldn't prepare me for what I read.
Did you really think you could fool me, old boy?
I'm glad to see you're back to London. I trust you enough to know you never do anything without a good reason, so I won't try to convince you to do anything as of now. But when it's safe again, do please come back. I've missed you terribly, my friend.
John H. Watson
P.S.: You've lost a few pounds again. I know I'm not one to talk right now, but do remember to eat once in a while, there's a good fellow?
While I always knew Sherlock would disobey me and go to see his best friend again, saying what reaction I expected from him upon in return would be hardship. But I also knew trying to hold him back would only have accelerated his department, so I merely sat there and pretended not to hear him sneak out.
I stayed in the comfort of my armchair, waiting and worrying. When he came back from his journey, he seemed all but worn out. I couldn't resist telling him, in my own way, that I knew where he'd been, and as I predicted it didn't surprise him. I mentally followed him then, counting his tired footsteps as he went to lock himself up in his bedroom.
I kept listening for a while, expecting at any moment to hear his Stradivarius express the sorrow he would never talk about in words. I mentally went through all the saddest pieces I knew, wondering which one would have Sherlock's preference to-night.
What I didn't expect was the surprised shout that sounded, and I certainly wasn't prepared for the bout of hearty laughter that followed. I almost dropped the book I'd been pretending to read, taken aback as I was by this reaction. What is Heaven's name-
And then it dawned on me. I sat back, chuckling to myself. "Ah, Doctor Watson," I said aloud, "Will we ever see your limits?"
I wrote this a while ago but didn't dare post it at the time because, well, old English. But I figured I might as well give it a try. Please let me know how I did.