Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: Not mine, although actually in the public domain. No profit is intended.
Summary: After World War I, Holmes and Watson find each other again.
Author’s Note: Thanks to haldane for the wonderful beta job.
I had many of the ideas for this story in my head for a while, but then everything came together when I saw spacefall’s beautiful "old dude love/pron" pics. Thanks for the inspiration.
The Final Road
The dismal grey sky and the driving rain made it a perfect day for a funeral.
I sat in an automobile besides Sherlock Holmes on our way to the cemetery. Our driver followed the gun cart which carried the casket. Although it had been a long time since I had been allowed certain liberties with Holmes’ person, I nonetheless clasped his hand in an attempt to comfort him. I was surprised when he continued to hold me firmly as he gazed out of the rain-splattered window at the mostly deserted streets.
The few people milling about completely ignored us. After all, in a city that had lost so many of its young men in the Great War and was then further decimated by the influenza epidemic, a funeral procession was hardly a thing of interest.
I glanced over at Holmes. I had not seen him for a few years. He looked older, certainly greyer, and much graver. I could still read him, even after all this time, and I could tell that he was deeply affected by this loss.
It was just two days prior that I received an unexpected telegram from him.
“Brother Mycroft is dead. Will you attend funeral? SH”
Although I had seen Sherlock Holmes sporadically throughout the War, and had met his brother only a handful of times, I would still follow Holmes whenever I could. I met him at the service, planning to offer my condolences and then stay out of the way. Holmes was having none of it.
“My dear Watson,” he said, shaking my hand and offering a brief yet genuine smile. He then sat me next to him and refused to hear of my leaving his side. I still hadn’t left his side.
The cemetery was wet and soggy when we arrived, although the rain had let up a little. A small group followed the casket, and a brief, somber service was offered. Then Mycroft Holmes was lowered to his final resting place.
The attendees began to disperse until only Sherlock Holmes and I remained. I squeezed his shoulder quickly and then made to leave so as to offer him some privacy for his last farewell.
Holmes turned to me. “Stay Watson,” he whispered. “Please.”
“Of course, my dear fellow.”
Holmes turned back and looked down upon his brother’s grave. I took a half-step backward and reflected upon the fact that I had seen far too many funerals in my life. Death always walks hand in hand as a constant companion if you are a doctor, or even a biographer of an independent consulting detective, I thought wryly. My own personal losses had been devastating, but nothing could prepare me for the horror of the Great War and its aftermath.
Although I stayed in London caring for the returning soldiers, their horrific tales from the trenches wounded my soul. Warfare had been terrible when I had been in Maiwand, and it seemed that it had grown even more terrible still. Finally, when the War was over, we were dismayed to discover that the dying had only yet begun. London was caught in the worldwide influenza epidemic, and thousands after thousands died. I heard that 250,000 people had died in Britain alone; I shudder at the horrific enormity of that figure. Patient after patient I tried to save—patient after patient died.
“Does it always feel like this?” Holmes asked, breaking into my melancholic reverie. “This loss, this sadness.”
I refrained from stating that he had been around death all his life and thus should know the answer, for his eyes were turned to me and showed his honest confusion. I also knew, first hand, that Holmes was not as cold-hearted as he seemed, and that his emotional detachment was in some ways a means of self-preservation. Besides, I knew of no one who Holmes trusted with his emotional fragility save me, and I was still honored that he held that trust after all these years.
I gently squeezed his shoulder. “Yes,” I said, knowing that lying would be unacceptable. “But it does become more bearable.”
He nodded. “Is this how you felt when Mrs. Watson, the first Mrs. Watson that is, passed on?”
“Yes. And my brother. And…” you, I didn’t finish. I would never forget that feeling of icy horror and unbearable loss as I gazed down the chasm of Reichenbach Falls.
But Holmes could always read me. “My dear Watson,” he said, his voice strained. “I owe you far more than a thousand apologies. How ever did you forgive me?”
I smiled briefly at his stricken face and his realization, twenty-five years later, of the unintentional pain he caused me. “That’s easy, Holmes,” I said gently, squeezing his shoulder once more. “The joy of having you back in my life, alive, far outweighed my anger at your deception.”
“You have been far too good to me.”
“Holmes, if your brother was to come strolling across that knoll, or to reappear in your rooms three years from now, wouldn’t you forgive him for any pain he caused just for the chance to have him back?”
He closed his eyes and I could see dampness forming on his lashes. “Yes,” he whispered, reaching up and clasping my hand still upon his shoulder.
He opened his eyes and looked into mine. “I’ve missed you all these years, my dear Watson,” he said. I could hear the truth of his statement.
Suddenly I was desperate to keep him near me. “Where will you go now?” I asked. “Do you have rooms in the city?” I realized sadly that I didn’t know the answer.
“I have returned to my villa in Sussex, and am in town for a fortnight or so to handle Mycroft’s affairs.” His voice broke slightly on that statement. “I am planning to engage a hotel for the evening, but will likely move to Mycroft’s rooms so as to clear them out.”
“Holmes, I will not hear of you staying in a hotel. You must stay with me,” I insisted.
“I could not bear to be a burden to you or the current Mrs. Watson.”
“The former Mrs. Watson moved to America during the War, and you are never a burden to me.”
He blinked. I have only utterly surprised him a few times in our lives, and this was one of those times.
“My dear fellow…” he began.
“It’s quite alright, Holmes. She has a sister living over there, and she left at the beginning of the War to be safe. She doesn’t wish to return and I don’t want to leave. And so, I believe she went to one of the Western states and was able to finalize a divorce. I only received the papers last week.”
Holmes looked dumbfounded. “I’m sorry,” he finally uttered.
“I’m not,” I said with a sad little smile. “Well, not too much. She’s happier there, and I have little to offer her here.”
“Don’t say such things! If anyone doesn’t see how great of a man you are, then they are a fool.”
“My dear Holmes,” I said, clasping his hand once more. “You flatter me. Please, I insist that you come and stay. I have a comfortable spare room, and I won’t hear of you staying at a hotel.”
He looked at where our hands met. “Are you sure that’s wise, John?”
I dropped his hand as if burnt. “I have no intention of making you uncomfortable.”
“Your intentions have never made me uncomfortable, per se. I just don’t want to burden you at this time.”
“Holmes, I don’t want to lose you, your friendship, after finding you again after all these years.” I glanced down at the grave. “I also don’t think you should be alone right now. Please, Holmes, come and stay.”
He nodded and took a deep breath. “Yes,” he whispered and gave me a fleeting smile.
He then looked down at the casket. He stood in silence for a few more moments, before bending down and grasping a handful of dirt. He threw the dirt into the grave.
“Good-bye, brother mine,” he said in a quiet, broken voice. He turned to me. “Lead the way, Watson.” He followed me from the cemetery and never looked back.
My housekeeper had prepared supper when we arrived, and Holmes joined me in the meal. I smiled as he picked at his food, for that was one aspect of his behavior that hadn’t changed.
The housekeeper readied the spare room and helped Holmes to unpack. I could tell Holmes was still in shock over his loss, which was only to be expected. I sat him in a chair beside the roaring fire in my sitting room and provided him with tobacco for his pipe. I sat across from him. The scene was so reminiscent of our life at Baker Street that I was torn between smiling at the memories and weeping at the melancholy sense of loss.
My housekeeper looked in on us once more. Assured that we required nothing else for the evening, she then left to go home for the night.
“His heart finally gave out,” Holmes said suddenly into the silence.
“He lived through the War, and his activities were crucial to our success. And now he’s just gone.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing how meaningless my words were.
He continued to look into the fire.
“You were working for him during the War, weren’t you?” I asked.
“Well, never directly ‘for him’, you understand, my dear Watson. But I was working under his suggestions and directions.”
“So you, too, helped the war effort then?”
“In my own small way, I like to think I had some success.”
I smiled slightly.
A few more moments passed in comfortable silence. Yet I was ever curious. “What now, Holmes? Do you plan to remain in Sussex with your bees?”
“My bees have long since deserted my hives. But yes, I think I will remain in the countryside. With brother Mycroft gone, there’s no hold on me in London anymore. Or in any future government work. Besides, I think I’ve earned a bit of a rest.”
We sat quietly for a while by the fire, smoking our pipes.
“What of you, Watson?” Holmes finally asked. “Any plans to return to practice?”
I sighed. “I don’t think so. I worked hard to help the returning soldiers. Those that made it home, anyway. And to help keep people alive as influenza swept our land. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more helpless in my life.”
“I’m sure your efforts were great,” Holmes said soothingly.
“They were. Only they were not successful.” I sighed again. “It’s 1919 and I’m sixty-seven years old, Holmes. I’m weary and I think that I, too, need a rest. A practice in London is hardly that.”
“You should move to Sussex. The sea air would do you good, and a small country practice would not be too taxing.”
He continued. “A few patients, walks on the beach, swimming in the ocean pools. Plenty of time to write and relax.”
“That’s an idyllic picture you paint. What a lovely dream.”
“I was serious,” Holmes said, his voice brittle.
“My dear Holmes…”
“Move to Sussex with me, Watson. You have nothing here. No wife. No work. Just terrible memories.”
“I can’t just move to Sussex with you, Holmes!” I said, trying to remain reasonable.
“Why ever not?”
“Because the laws haven’t changed! It’s been more than 15 years since I was forced to marry so as to preserve our freedom, and the laws haven’t changed!”
“No, I can’t do it, Holmes. Do you think, even after all this time, that I can see you day in and day out and not want you?” I leapt to my feet. “Do you think that I won’t still burn for you, as I have for decades? That’s why you had to leave London in the first place, remember? Seeing and not touching became unbearable for us both.”
“The laws be damned, then.”
“We tried that once. It almost landed us in gaol.”
Holmes stood and faced me. “It would be different now,” he argued.
“In what way?”
“No one would pay attention to two elderly gentlemen living together, especially after the War. And you’re a widower. No one would question it.”
“I think that’s a naïve assumption, Holmes. Furthermore, that didn’t work the first time we tried it.”
“We’re a lot older now, Watson. No one knows, or cares, about us in Sussex.”
“It’s a lovely dream.”
He would not be stopped. “Besides,” he continued to argue, “wouldn’t it be expected that my biographer be close by so that he can immortalize my stories?”
I smiled wryly. “Holmes, you hate my writing.”
“Not true, my dear Watson. I just disapprove of your tendency to romanticize. However, I would gladly put up with all your romantic notions if I could have you in my life.”
“I think you’ll find that my sense of romance is gone.”
“I don’t believe that.” And with that comment, he kissed me.
It was the sweetest kiss of my life.
It had been more than fifteen years since I had last kissed Holmes. It felt like it had been yesterday.
We finally broke apart. He leaned his forehead against mine. “Please Watson,” he whispered. “I’ve only ever wanted a few things in my life—the ability to make a living with my wit, for my brother to be proud of me, and to have you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have all three at various times. But now, with Mycroft gone, I am utterly alone. As are you. Please, move to Sussex.”
I made one desperate, last attempt. “Holmes, why are you doing this now? We’ve spent years apart. In fact, you didn’t even want to stay tonight in my home. Now you wish me to believe that you want me to live with you. I—“
He cut me off with one of his long fingers to my lips, which he then gently traced. “It’s as you said, Watson,” he explained. “Do you think that I am immune to the desire between us? Do you think that I can see you without wanting you?”
I gently kissed his finger and then turned away from it. He traced my cheek.
“You’re not thinking clearly,” I argued. “Your grief for Mycroft—“
“Has nothing to do with my desire for you.” He continued to stroke my cheek. “Please, Watson, move to Sussex.”
I already noted that I would follow Holmes anywhere that I still could. “Yes,” I said quietly. Then I took him in my arms and kissed him again.
His eyes closed and he leaned into me. I gently pulled him closer. “Sherlock,” I whispered against his lips. He shuddered and our lips met again, the tip of his tongue seeking entrance. I gladly granted it to him.
We kissed for a few moments of bliss. We broke apart slowly and I clasped his hand. He said nothing as I led him to the spare bedroom. I knew he would be uncomfortable in my marriage bed, even though the marriage was dissolved.
We entered the room and I was pleased to see that the housekeeper had lit a fire. Holmes pulled me toward him and we kissed again, a slow passion burning through us. “Please, John,” he said, breathless and needy. I trailed kisses down his neck and he gave a soft moan.
He began to remove my jacket, his slightly rheumatic fingers working slowly on the buttons. I returned the favor. Our movements were slower, less hurried, than they had been in the past, but whether that was a sign of our age or our almost frightening anticipation I wasn’t sure. We continued to kiss as battered, wrinkled bodies were revealed.
We lay on the bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. I could feel his arm underneath me, his hand stroking the back of my neck and shoulders. I drew him closer and kissed him deeply.
I had missed this. Dear Lord, how I had missed this. I broke our kiss and held him to me, almost overwhelmed with my desperate joy. He kissed my forehead, my eyelids, my neck. His hands caressed my body.
“Sherlock,” I whimpered as he took my heated rod in his hand.
I did the same for him and kissed him fiercely. We stroked each other slowly, gently, luxuriating in taking our time, as if we were trying to make this one night last forever so as to compensate for our fifteen lost years.
When we finally came to glory, our quiet cries were filled with joy and sadness.
I held him to me and kissed his brow. “I’ve missed you, my love,” I said in a trembling voice. He merely drew closer, kissed my chest, and fell asleep in my arms. Smiling slightly, I allowed myself to follow him into Morpheus’ realm.
I awoke in the middle of the night, or more accurately early morning, as dawn was rising over the horizon. The bed was cold and empty. I looked around the room; the fire had burned to embers, and Sherlock Holmes was standing at the window, watching the birth of the new day.
I went to him and stood behind him, drawing him into my arms. He resisted slightly, then yielded to my embrace. I looked over his left shoulder and watched the dawn.
“A new day begins,” Holmes said, “with brother Mycroft gone and Dr. Watson at my side. I don’t know if I live this day as a dream or a nightmare.”
“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.
“Will you really come to Sussex?” he asked instead.
“Yes, if you want.”
I felt him stiffen. “The question, Watson, is what do you want?”
I understood what he was really asking. He had been quite insistent the night before, and I quite reluctant. He was allowing me, under the light of day, to make my choice freely and with no pressure. I also knew he would accept whatever I decided.
I thought seriously for a while, of all the pros and cons. Holmes deserved the utmost consideration, and my decision would have to be what I considered best. He waited, patiently, in silence.
I came upon one simple truth, over and over again.
I kissed his brow. “In all my life, Holmes,” I whispered, “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more. Yes, I will move to Sussex.”
He gave a quiet sob and I clasped his hand, holding it to his chest. We both watched the sun continue its ascent.
“Then I live this day in a dream,” he said, turning toward me and kissing me. “A happy dream. Come take this final road with me Watson, perhaps the final journey of our lives, to wherever it may lead.”
“Yes,” I said softly and kissed him once more.