Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: Not mine, although actually in the public domain. No profit is intended.
Warnings: AU (Sherlock Holmes is a ghost); Character Death (um… Sherlock Holmes is a ghost).
Summary: Watson remembers.
Author’s Note: Many (many) months ago, nlr_alicia said that she wanted to read something along the lines of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but with Holmes and Watson. This story immediately popped into my head. I could see it all, from beginning to end. It just took me a while to write it.
Sadly, Alicia seems to have disappeared from the fandom. I do hope she comes back someday, and reads the story she inspired.
Thanks to my beta reader the_callum for all the editing, comments, suggestions, and encouragement. You rock, my twin!
Living with Ghosts
I could hear the familiar din of hospital sounds as I lay in the stark, sterile bed. My labored breathing echoed through the dark ward. Sleep was elusive. I lay there, my mind racing, as thoughts and memories danced through my head.
The night nurses were speaking quietly, their voices an almost soothing lull. I realized with a start that they were discussing me.
“Oh yes, that’s Dr. Watson,” one of them was saying. “I remember him from when I first started working here at St. Bart’s. He was always very kind to the staff, as I recall. Of course, I think he was pretty close to retiring from practice around that time. It was right after the War, you know.”
“Dr. Watson,” said the other nurse, who sounded younger. “Why does that name sound familiar? Was he well known here at the hospital?”
“Not really,” said the first. “He was really better known for his work as a police surgeon, and he had a private practice too, I believe. However, it is a little known fact that he was the real author of all those Sherlock Holmes tales.”
“That’s where I heard the name!” the second one exclaimed. “I read those stories when I was young. I hadn’t known that Dr. Watson was a real person. Was Holmes real too?”
“I believe so. But he had died years and years earlier. Most of the accounts were fiction, written to honor his friend.”
“I didn’t know that. Did Holmes die like that one story said—at that waterfall in… Switzerland, I think it was?”
“No, that wasn’t it. I think he actually survived that like the stories said. But he died soon after his return to England. Sorry, I really don’t remember.”
Their voices drifted onto another topic, but their words lingered like a stab wound, painful and poignant. Holmes. Dying.
It was as I had written in “The Adventures of the Empty House”. Holmes had indeed survived his encounter with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls and, three years after he was incorrectly assumed dead, he reappeared in my consulting room and caused my fainting spell. Our conversation was the same as in my story, his plan to use the wax decoy was the same, our vigil at Camden House the same. Everything should have gone as I had reported; instead, it went terribly wrong.
Colonel Moran appeared as we lay in wait for him. He used the air gun to shoot the wax bust. Holmes leapt upon him, bringing down his prey. The events happened so fast.
I rushed to Holmes’ aid as Moran pulled out a knife. Before I could even cross the room, Holmes was stabbed in the femoral artery. Moran turned to me, knife in hand, when Inspector Lestrade and his constables burst through the door. They quickly subdued the villain.
I knelt by Holmes’ side and applied pressure to his wound. His eyes met mine. We both knew that the hemorrhaging was too severe.
“Holmes,” I whispered hoarsely.
He used his remaining strength to pull me toward him until my face was mere inches from his. I could feel tears welling in my eyes. He croaked out his final words: “Moran killed Ronald Adair.” Then Sherlock Holmes died in my arms.
Even in death, his last act was to bring a killer to justice. But I will not deny that a part of me wished that we had just a moment to say good-bye.
I clutched him to me and rocked his body.
“So does he have any family?” the younger nurse was asking, cutting through my memories.
“Dr. Watson?” the older nurse responded. “Yes, his wife and son are on their way here. His son had just got married this past weekend, or so I understand, and they are on a honeymoon on the Continent. The doctor’s wife had gone away to the seaside for a holiday after all the excitement. He was supposed to join her in a few days.”
“Oh, how tragic,” said the young nurse. “When will they get here?”
“They are both supposed to arrive some time tomorrow.”
“I hope they are in time,” the younger nurse said, her voice hushed.
I knew they would not be.
Funerals are always strange events. Sherlock Holmes’ funeral [his second one] took place on a dismal, rainy April day in 1894. I stood solemnly through the service at his graveside, yet I fear that I was even more devastated than I had been the first time I believed him dead. This time there had been so much possibility surrounding his return. I had been so excited, so happy. I now felt crushed. My grief, a constant part of my life for these three years, was refreshed, and I could feel it tearing me apart.
I watched the dirt being thrown into the grave as all his admirers and colleagues bid him adieu. Finally, only Mycroft Holmes and I were left.
The elder Holmes brother looked far more grief-stricken than he had at the first memorial service. I realized then that Sherlock Holmes was truly gone.
“You know,” Mycroft Holmes said. “He came back for you.” There was a distinctive tone of accusation in his voice.
“Whatever do you mean?”
The elder Holmes brother turned to me. The same steel grey eyes I had known so well looked into mine, but these eyes held none of the joy, or laughter, or friendship that I remembered. These eyes were cold and angry. “I warned him not to return, that it was too dangerous,” said he. “But after Sherlock learned of your wife’s death, he was insistent upon coming back to England.”
“I did not know that,” I stammered.
“Of course not. He would not have had time to tell you.”
I was becoming slightly indignant. “He did say,” I insisted, “that his life had been dangerous for these past three years.”
“He was safer there, Dr. Watson,” Mycroft Holmes all but spat.
“Perhaps he was, Mr. Holmes. He also said he had been pursued for years. Perhaps this horrible, unfortunate tragedy was, in fact, inevitable. ”
“This would not have happened if he had not returned.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said sincerely.
“My brother is dead because of you.”
“I am sorry to hear that as well.” I was shaking slightly, both in anger at the accusation and in grief that it may have been true. Hot, unbidden tears rose in my eyes. I turned and walked from Sherlock Holmes’ grave, and from his anguished brother, and did not look back, even as my tears began to fall.
The memories kept coming, crashing over me in waves. I could barely hear the nurses now over the buzzing in my ear. I closed my eyes and I could clearly see that fateful day as I left the cemetery grounds.
I made my way back to my home near Paddington Station. I decided to keep my medical practice closed for the remainder of the day. After informing my housekeeper that I did not wish to be disturbed, and ignoring her entreaty to eat, I locked myself in my study. I poured a large whisky, which I drank in one go. I knew that I was drinking too much of late, but frankly at that point in time I did not care.
I looked around the room and recalled Holmes’ dramatic reappearance just days before. I placed my head upon my desk and fought off my grief. I believe that I may have cursed, rather emphatically, both the Holmes brothers—Sherlock for getting himself killed and Mycroft Holmes for his accusations and anger.
“Oh, buck up, Watson,” I heard a voice say. “Brother Mycroft is surprisingly grief stricken and thus far from polite. What happened was not your fault. Nor would I have chosen differently, even knowing the outcome.”
I wearily raised my head and saw the figure of Sherlock Holmes sitting across from me.
“Holmes!” I roared.
“You can see me?” he cried in shock.
“What trick is this?” I demanded, infuriated beyond belief. “How can you be so cruel to do this to me again? Whose body did I bury this time?” I leapt to my feet and rushed around the desk toward him.
“Watson, it’s not like that—” he began, but I was beyond reason. I drew my hand into a fist and punched his chin with all my might.
My hand sailed right through him and hit the chair behind him.
I clutched my now rather aching hand to my chest and looked at the figure before me. “What is this?” I shrieked in anger and, I must admit, quite some terror.
“Watson. Calm down.”
“You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Then you’re a —” I could not complete the sentence, since the idea was so absurd.
“A ghost. Yes. So it seems.” Holmes tried to quirk his half smile at me, but I was turning from him.
I poured myself another whisky, drank it immediately, and sat heavily back in my chair. “I’ve finally gone mad,” I exclaimed.
“Watson, no. I truly am a ghost.”
“Well, it was inevitable. There’s only so much a man can take before his mind finally snaps.”
“You are not mad.”
“I wonder what bedlam will be like.”
The figure of Sherlock Holmes rose to his feet, looking quite annoyed. He leaned over my desk and stared down at me. “Watson, stop this pathetic display of self pity. You are not going mad. I truly am a ghost. Now pull yourself together, man.”
I stared at him for a moment and then, struck by the absurdity of my insane mind trying to convince me of my sanity, I burst out laughing. “Oh this is too rare,” I chortled. I looked at the figure before me. “It’s too bad you’re not real. I would love to know what my friend Sherlock Holmes would have thought of this.”
“I think you’re being ridiculous.”
I continued to laugh.
“Watson, stop this. I can prove to you that I’m real.”
I got my laughter under control, but I was still gasping for breath. “And just how do you plan to do that, my dear ghost?”
The specter before me actually had the audacity to look momentarily chagrined. Laughter threatened to overwhelm me again. He glared at me, well, as much as an imaginary ghost can glare. “I’ll tell you something that only I know and that you know nothing about,” he offered.
I was still amused. “Wonderful. Now I’m making up stories about you.”
“I can corroborate it,” he countered.
“This is ridiculous,” I muttered, quite annoyed with myself.
“That’s what I said. Come on, Watson, what do you have to lose? I can prove that I’m a ghost. If I’m right, it will relieve your anxiety about your mental state. If I’m wrong, well, you’ll think that I was a hallucination brought on by drinking, and then you can sleep it off. What do you say?”
“What do I have to do?” I queried.
He looked around my consulting room and began to pace. I sat, watching the apparition, feeling bemused by the whole situation and wondering what new strangeness my mind would concoct.
He stopped pacing and turned to me. “Ah,” he exclaimed, “I’ve got it. I’m sure you did not notice when I was last here before we fled Moriarty, but I hid a snuff box in your lower desk drawer. Inside it was a list of several of the Professor’s criminal associates.” He looked quite pleased with himself at this revelation.
I gave a bitter chuckle. “Oh my poor deranged mind,” I told myself, looking at the manifestation of my insanity, “surely I should remember that the box in question was discovered years ago. In fact, the list was handed over to the police and assisted them in their prosecution.”
I looked closely at the seemingly surprised ghost. “Frankly,” I said aloud, “I’m a little disappointed with myself. Surely I could have come up with something more creative than that.” I sighed almost tragically.
The ghost looked chagrined. I wanted to laugh again.
“All right, Watson,” the apparition of Holmes said hesitantly. “What about the disguise that I hid in your spare bedroom? It was at the bottom of a trunk, I believe, and I planned to use it as a way to leave your fine home without drawing attention to myself.”
I closed my eyes and sighed heavily. “I don’t even know why I’m discussing this. That disguise was, as I know, found by Mary when we turned that room into a nursery. You know, right before she died during her pregnancy. Frankly, I’m getting rather tired of these unpleasant trips into my grief. I’d prefer to go mad more quietly.”
I opened my eyes. The ghost of Sherlock Holmes was looking at me with an expression of pain and sadness on his face.
“You’re still here,” I said accusingly.
“What about the letter?” he whispered.
I have to admit that information about a letter was news to me. “What letter?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
“The letter that I hid in the Catullus.” He indicated the book that was still sitting upon my desk from his remarkable reappearance. “The letter that I wrote to you during the Channel crossing.”
I snorted in annoyance. “There is nothing I would rather receive than additional words from my friend. My insane mind is actually quite cruel, I find.”
“I swear to you, Watson, there is a letter in that book. Just… look. Please.”
In a fit of annoyance, I grabbed the book and shook it violently. An envelope dropped out. It said, “To Dr. John H. Watson,” and was written in Holmes’ distinctive hand. I stared at it in surprise.
“I wrote that on the ship, coming back home,” the ghost of Sherlock Holmes was saying.
I looked up at him.
He continued. “I wrote of our friendship and how much you had come to mean to me through the years, Watson. I told of how I had taken up the pen, so often, throughout the years to write to you, but I never sent you the correspondence. I apologized for deceiving you and for abandoning you during your most difficult time, and I think I begged for you forgiveness for the pain I caused you.”
I was surprised by the sadness in the ghost’s grey eyes and how they perfectly reflected my own feelings.
“I never planned for you to see that,” the ghost said, pointing to the letter still on the desk, “especially not after you so graciously forgave me and accepted me back into your life. Although I did plan, I swear, to make things up to you and to ensure that you did not regret your decision.”
I sat there in silence, too shocked to speak.
“Go ahead and read it,” he urged. “Let me prove my words.”
I took up the envelope with a slightly shaking hand and drew out the letter inside.
My dearest Watson:
This boat brings me closer and closer to my beloved England, and to you, my dear friend. As each nautical mile traveled shortens the distance between us, I find myself far more nervous at your greeting. How will you receive me?
I cannot tell you, my dear Watson, how many times I took up my pen to write to you these three years. Many letters written; none sent. I could not, in good conscience, contact you. As I hope you will let me explain to you when we meet in person, I have been a marked man. The compatriots of Professor Moriarty have expended countless energy in an attempt to hunt me down and destroy me. I am certain that if they thought you had any inkling as to my whereabouts, or even that I lived, then your life would be forfeit.
Please forgive me, Watson, for causing you one type of pain while trying to protect from another. A thousand apologies for my deceptions, and a thousand more for not being with you during your times of utmost grief. You deserved better, my friend, and I vow that I shall not forget that. I pray that you will allow me back into your life.
I remain, throughout the years,
Very Sincerely Yours,
I put the paper down and slowly raised my eyes, stunned not only by the words but by the figure before me who had led me to the letter and so accurately predicted what I would find. A startling revelation was taking hold that perhaps I was not mad but that the apparition before me was real.
“I am real, Watson,” the ghost of Sherlock Holmes said quietly.
“But how?” I whispered.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I am here or why you can see me when no one else can. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. All I do know is that I am real. Please, Watson, I beg of you, believe in me.”
“I have always believed in you, Holmes. I suppose I should not doubt that you would defy the very laws of nature, for if anyone could, it would be you. Yes, I believe in you.”
We smiled at each other.
A great wave of pain made me shift in my hospital bed and pulled me from my memories. The nurses had moved on with their rounds and I could no longer hear their voices. I knew, however, that they would be back soon enough to recheck on the patients in this ward, who all slept near me, dreaming whatever dark dreams took hold of their consciousness. My memories called me back.
I had been called in as the police surgeon in a murder investigation Lower Norwood. It seemed that a young solicitor, Mr. John Hector McFarlane, had killed his previously unknown benefactor, Mr. Jonas Oldacre, and burnt the remains after finalizing Mr. Oldacre’s will, which, not so coincidentally, left everything to McFarlane as the beneficiary. Lestrade was quite excited about the certainty of his case, even though young McFarlane vehemently protested his innocence.
The burnt body was out by the woodshed and I went about the grim task of examining the remains. I must have given a surprised gasp, for suddenly the ghost of Sherlock Holmes was beside me.
He had been flitting in and out of my life for the past several months, although rarely would more than a few days pass without my seeing him. He never told me where he went; I suspect that he was observing his brother and former colleagues, for he would often regale me with complaints regarding the incompetence of both the government and Scotland Yard. It seemed, however, that I was still the only one who could see him, and I think he enjoyed just sitting in my presence as I smoked my evening pipe, engaging in quiet conversation as we used to in the old days.
He actually tried to convince me to move back to our old rooms in Baker Street, and said there was a young Dr. Verner, a distant relative of his, who would buy my medical practice. I refused, of course, pointing out that I actually needed to maintain my practice as a source of livelihood and that Baker Street was an inconvenient location. I did not say, for it would have been too painful for us both, that I would have agreed to his proposition in a heartbeat had he lived. He admitted that he could see the logic of my argument, but I could tell he was disappointed that our lives would never return to the way they were.
I asked him once if there was something else that he should be doing, for he was the only ghost to my knowledge and I had seen many men die in my capacity as a doctor. He got this queer, far-away look, as if his gaze was fixed to a distant point although we were seated within the confines of my sitting room. He met my eyes with a wistful expression in his own and smiled sadly, then stated that he believed he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I did not understand his meaning but I vowed, after seeing that look of profound sadness, that I would never press him again.
“Whatever is wrong?” the ghost of Holmes demanded, bringing my attention back to the body before me.
“These remains are not human,” I responded without thought.
“What?” Holmes exclaimed.
“These bones are from some sort of animal, not a human,” I explained, holding up a leg bone. “See here, this is hinged incorrectly to fit into a human hip bone.”
The ghost of Holmes looked at the bone carefully. “I see,” he said thoughtfully. “But then how do you explain—”
Lestrade suddenly appeared as if out of thing air. “Do you need any help, Dr. Watson?” he asked. “I heard you talking out here.”
I quickly put down the bone and smiled nervously. “Just thinking out loud,” I stammered. I could see Holmes still examining the body out of the corner of my eye. “It helps me to think,” I continued on, “when something is confusing. I’m fine.” I realized I would soon begin to babble and so forced myself into quiet. Holmes continued to look at the bones.
Lestrade looked at me dubiously. “What could possibly be confusing?” he asked with annoyance.
I could see Holmes indicating to me that I should tell Lestrade of my news.
“Well, Inspector, it’s just that these bones belong to an animal, not a man,” I said with my most confident doctor voice. “Which would, of course, make your charge of murder a little hard to prosecute.”
Lestrade looked quite annoyed. “Are you certain?”
“Absolutely. A first year medical student can tell the difference between human bones and rabbits.”
“This is more dastardly than I thought,” Lestrade cried out. “Obviously McFarlane has kidnapped the old man.”
“I don’t think his suspect is guilty,” I heard the ghost of Holmes say.
“Are you certain of McFarlane’s guilt in this matter?” I asked the Scotland Yard inspector. I could tell he was even further annoyed by my inquiry.
“Of course he is. I’m going to go question him now. I’ll have the truth out of him yet.”
He turned and strode from the yard. I let out a frustrated sigh.
Holmes stood next to me. “Come, Watson, we have to get out of here,” he declared.
I was silent as I gave him a reproachful look. I did not think it would behoove my professional reputation if I constantly had to explain why I was talking to myself.
Holmes ignored my look. “There’s a mystery to be solved, Watson, and we know that Lestrade lacks the competency. Hurry now, before an innocent man is convicted of a crime he did not commit.” He strode into the house, walking through the door as if it did not exist.
With a sigh, I quickly cleaned up the tools used for my examination, and then hurried after him.
Holmes led me on a merry chase, suggesting the questions that I use to interview the suspect’s mother and directing me here and there to gather information. While all the evidence pointed toward McFarlane’s guilt, Holmes was steadfast in his belief of the man’s innocence.
Of course Holmes was right, and everything came to a head the next day. Oldacre tried too hard to frame the young man, and once Holmes realized that the bloody thumbprint was planted, he got that familiar gleam in his eyes. I knew I was in trouble.
“Do exactly as I say, Watson,” Holmes instructed me. “Tell Lestrade that there is an important witness he has not spoken with.”
I gave Holmes a reproving look, but the ghost was insistent. Believing that I was about to ruin my career, I nonetheless did as Holmes demanded. Needless to say, Lestrade was less than pleased when I had his constables carry straw upstairs and set it on fire. I honestly thought he was about to arrest me. However, the appearance of Mr. Jonas Oldacre from his hiding place quickly shifted Lestrade’s anger from me to the culprit who had tried to frame an innocent man.
“I don’t know how you did, Dr. Watson,” Lestrade said to me as his men escorted the criminal away. “That was a trick worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself,” he added.
I flushed at the sudden accolade. Lestrade went down the stairs, leaving me and the ghost of Sherlock Holmes alone on the top landing.
“Next time you could give me a warning of what to expect,” I muttered under my breath.
“Oh Watson. I delight in surprising you too much to ever give that up completely.”
“Yes, well, that could have gone terribly wrong. If I’m supposed to be knowledgeable, then at least give me a clue.”
Holmes laughed, delighted at his success. “You know what this means, don’t you Watson?”
“I shudder to think.”
He ignored me. “It means we can be successful partners again in crime detection.”
I blinked. “I’m not so sure that is a good idea,” I said hesitantly.
“Nonsense. You know you’ve missed the thrill of the chase. With my talents and your ability to convey sincerity, we can be unstoppable.” He laughed again. “Finally, Watson, the game is afoot once more.” With that, he disappeared.
I stood there, shaking my head for a few moments and wondering what I had just gotten myself into.
I shifted in the hospital bed and smiled slightly, despite the pain in my chest. I felt my memories envelop me again.
Holmes’ idea for us to team up to and perform detective work was, as usual, brilliant, as well as successful. I would be called out as the police surgeon on various cases, or my patients would mention dilemmas of their own. Holmes would investigate, I would act knowledgeable, and cases would be solved. My newfound abilities to solve mysteries certainly amazed my friends. I took a small bit of delight in my new reputation, but I always insisted that it was thanks to Holmes and his methods that I had any success at all. Holmes allowed me my little fiction (for what else, truly, could he have done). For him, I think the joy was investigating again, and feeling useful. He seemed determined to solve as many cases as possible, and to help as many people as he could, as if time was rushing by and he had to do everything at once. I suppose that, in a way, it was.
I, too, enjoyed feeling useful again, and I enjoyed the thrill of the chase with Holmes, even though I was the only one who could see him. Watching him search for clues and listening him extrapolate on his theories brought me such happiness that I could almost convince myself that he was still in my life as a living, breathing man and that everything was normal.
Certain cases, of course, stood out more vividly than others.
My new success certainly caught the fancy of Scotland Yard, and I found myself being called more and more often as a police surgeon on their cases. Thus I was not surprised when Lestrade contacted me about a body that had been found on the railway tracks. I was quite shocked, however, to find Mr. Mycroft Holmes already there and waiting for answers, although, to be honest, I am not certain which one of us was more startled by the other’s appearance.
“Dr. Watson,” he greeted me coldly.
“Mr. Holmes,” I returned, my voice just as icy.
I examined the body of Mr. Arthur Cadogan West, who appeared to have fallen onto the tracks from the train. During the examination, the ghost of Sherlock Holmes appeared.
“I say, Watson,” he exclaimed, “what have we here?” His eyes then widened in shock to see his brother standing there.
“Obviously a case of monumental government importance,” I muttered, more to myself than to anyone.
“Yes,” Sherlock Holmes agreed, “it must be in order to have Jupiter leave his orbit.”
“What was that?” Mycroft Holmes demanded, obviously having heard my muttering.
I stood from my examination and looked him straight in the eye, refusing to allow him to intimidate me. “I was merely thinking aloud, Mr. Holmes, that this man must have some important government position.”
“He was a clerk at Woolwich Arsenal,” Lestrade supplied helpfully.
“His importance is no concern of yours,” Mycroft Holmes said angrily.
“Oh, Mycroft,” I heard Sherlock Holmes sigh behind me.
Oddly, the elder Holmes brother narrowed his eyes and looked at me strangely.
“I think you should tell Dr. Watson the circumstances of this man’s death,” Lestrade said. “He’s been quite helpful of late, and there is not a more trustworthy man in London.”
I flushed slightly at the compliment.
Mycroft Holmes looked at me with obvious disdain. “You’ve hardly learned anything of my brother Sherlock’s methods,” said he. “I cannot imagine that you would be of any assistance at all.”
“Mycroft, you’re being impossible,” I heard the ghost of Sherlock Holmes say with exasperation.
I smiled faintly and then glanced back to where the ghost was examining the body. I turned back to his brother. “I’ve spent many hours with Holmes in his investigations,” said I, “and while I will never have his abilities, I have indeed learned something through the years.”
Mycroft Holmes looked at me with an odd expression again. “Anything to report?” he asked, he tone clearly indicating that he doubted anything I had to say.
“Yes, the cause of death appears to be a massive injury to his head.”
“No doubt caused by falling off the train,” Mycroft Holmes scoffed.
“Possibly,” I concurred. “Yet the fact there is no blood anywhere on the metals seems inconsistent with that theory.”
“Well done, Watson,” I heard the ghost of Sherlock Holmes say.
“Go on,” Mycroft Holmes said, his eyes narrowing.
“He’s been dead for several hours now,” I continued, “since late last night I would say.”
“And you’ve noticed that there is no train ticket among his belongings,” the ghost added. I conveyed Holmes’ observation.
“Yes, that is curious,” the elder Holmes brother agreed. “What do you make of it?”
“Follow me, Watson,” the ghost ordered and began to walk down the rails. I shrugged and told Mycroft Holmes that I did not have an answer yet. Then I followed the ghostly specter.
“Look here, Watson,” he said, pointing at the tracks. “Look at the points. The track curves as well. Do you know what that could mean?”
I whispered no.
“You can see by the blank walls that the body could not have fallen from above, but must have come from the train. Yet there was no ticket and, as you know, one cannot reach the platform of the Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket. Therefore, it begs to question how our young man fell onto the track if he was, in fact, not a passenger on the train. If he was, however, placed on top of the train, when it hit the points and curve—”
“Dear Lord, he would have just fallen off,” I exclaimed.
“That would also explain the lack of blood, if this was not the place he was killed.”
“What’s this?” Mycroft Holmes demanded, having heard my outburst. I quickly conveyed the ghost’s theory. Sherlock Holmes watched his older brother the whole time, and I could sense quiet regret emanating from him.
“By Jove, that is a valid explanation,” Lestrade ejaculated.
“Yes, it is,” the elder Holmes said thoughtfully. “It is an explanation that is worthy of my brother.”
I could see the ghost tense. Even I could sense Mycroft Holmes’ grief and I knew that he still missed his brother Sherlock.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“I think we should tell the Doctor what we know,” Lestrade insisted. Mycroft Holmes reluctantly agreed.
Thus I came to learn of the theft of the Bruce-Partington plans and was brought into their confidence. The investigation was quite satisfying, especially since, with the ghost of Sherlock Holmes’ prodding, I broke into the home of the foreign agent and thus helped lead to the capture of the true spy.
After the foreign agent was led off to prison, Mycroft Holmes sat beside me in the smoking room of the Charing Cross Hotel. We smoked cigars and drank brandies. The ghost of Sherlock Holmes was beside us.
“That was very clever, Dr. Watson,” the elder Holmes said. “I can see now why Sherlock so admired you.”
I flushed slightly. I disliked accepting praise for what was essentially Holmes’ work, even though he was a ghost and could therefore find no other way to convey his discoveries. It did, however, make me feel like somewhat of a fraud, especially in front of his brother.
“Do you—” Mycroft Holmes began and then broke off, looking away.
“Go on,” I said encouragingly.
“It really is nothing,” he said, a little too quickly.
He smiled slightly, and turned those remarkable grey eyes that were the Holmes family trait toward me. “You will probably think me mad, Doctor.”
“I promise to do nothing of the sort, Mr. Holmes.”
“It’s just. I—” he faltered, and I could see he was troubled.
“Please, tell me,” I whispered. “I promise I will not judge.”
“Do you ever get the feeling that Sherlock is still around?” He asked rapidly, then flushed and looked away.
I could see the astonished look on the ghost’s face. He shook his head slightly, but I think it was more in dismay than a command to me to convey any denial.
“Yes,” I said quietly. “I get that feeling quite often.”
Mycroft Holmes’ eyes met mine again. I could see his astonishment and disbelief. “Do you really?”
“Yes. I am certain of it.” I think he could sense my sincerity.
He smiled at me slightly. “I wish that was true. There is so much I never told him,” Mycroft Holmes continued in a broken voice, “much to my never-ending regret. Sherlock was young when our parents died, and I feel that I was an inadequate guardian.”
The ghost reached his hand out toward his brother, then pulled it back sharply when he realized that he could never touch him. “Please, Watson, tell him how grateful I am for everything he has done for me. Tell him how much I regret what has come to pass.”
“Mr. Holmes,” I said quietly. The elder Holmes looked at me. “I am confident, utterly confident, that your brother is grateful to you and that he appreciates your care. I am certain that he wishes things had been different.”
The ghost nodded and the elder brother met my eyes. “I appreciate your sentiment, Dr. Watson.”
“I am convinced of its truth.”
“You speak of him in the present tense, I notice.” Mycroft Holmes looked at me with penetrating eyes.
I swallowed hard. “I feel that he is still a part of my life.” I realized how crazed that sounded.
The ghost looked back and forth between us. I glanced at him quickly, then returned my gaze to his brother.
The elder Holmes looked at me closely for a few more moments, and then looked to where my eyes had drifted to the ghost of Sherlock Holmes. “I feel that he is still a part of my life as well,” he admitted quietly. “I just wish that I could hear him.” His expression was of sadness, and longing, and ultimately regret.
“I am sorry,” I whispered.
Mycroft Holmes gave me a wistful look. “I am pleased that Sherlock had you as his friend, Doctor, even with his untimely demise. He was far more content in his life when you were a part of it.”
I could barely swallow around the lump in my throat.
The elder Holmes stood and held out his hand. I took it in my own and we shook hands warmly. “Thank you,” said he. “I do not think I will see you again, but I thank you for your assistance on this matter of grave national security, as well as your counsel on far more personal matters.” He turned and walked out the door.
The ghost of Sherlock Holmes watched his brother depart and then finally looked at me. “Thank you, Watson,” he said quietly. Then he disappeared.
I sat in silence for a while, finishing my cigar and my drink.
The quiet in the hospital was almost absolute, an unearthly stillness descending upon the suffering. I knew from my medical experience that the hours before dawn were the most difficult, and the most feared. Death stalked the night, it seemed.
Yet my memories drove me from the world of quiet fear into one of longing.
I had been exhausted by the events of the day and I thus lay in my bed at home, trying to sleep. I had been brought in as the medical examiner for the murder at the Abbey Grange and, with Holmes’ prompting and prodding, I was able to determine the falsehoods in Lady Brackenstall’s story as well as discovering the extreme measures that her defender, Captain Crocker, was forced to go to on her account. Holmes had told me afterward that he was proud that I had released the two accomplices and had not reported their crimes. But how could I do otherwise? Captain Crocker had simply protected the lady from her evil brute of her husband. Yet I had to confess to myself that my heart weighed heavily on allowing a murderer, even a righteous one, to go free.
It was a cold winter’s night and the roaring fire provided much needed warmth. I thought again of Captain Crocker and Lady Brackenstall, of his rugged handsomeness and her fine beauty, and I imagined them together. What a gorgeous couple they made. I realized then that I was feeling quite lonely.
My hand wandered under the blanket and lifted up my nightshirt before finally finding its ultimate, hardening goal. I began to give myself over to the fantasy. But it was not the lady’s delicate features that I imagined before me, nor even Captain’s firm body. No, I pictured pale grey eyes looking into my own.
I imagined the taste of him, pipe tobacco and claret, and the feel of his thin lips upon my own. I imagined his wiry body on top of mine, the feel of his skin on mine, its smoothness under my lips. I imagined his little breathless sounds urging me toward my completion.
“Watson,” he whispered.
I moaned in delight.
“Watson,” he said, far too firmly. I opened my eyes to find the ghost of Sherlock Holmes looking down at me.
He gave me his little smirk and I could tell that he was delighted by my discomfort. “I was going to remark again,” he proceeded to inform me, “how well you are doing with your deductive reasoning and how pleased I was with your decision. It seems, however, that you are indisposed at the moment.”
“Holmes,” I groaned, “please, may I have just a modicum of privacy?”
“Ah, my dear Watson, it’s hardly anything to be ashamed of. Lady Brackenstall was quite a charming specimen of the delicate sex, or so I’ve been led to understand.”
I still do not know why I replied the way that I did. “It was not her that I was thinking of, Holmes. Now, get out.”
He blinked in surprise. “Not the lady?” he commented with an amused tone. “Well, the Captain certainly was quite handsome.”
“Holmes! Get out!”
“So it was the Captain,” he remarked, sounding a bit shocked. “I had never taken you as an invert, Watson.”
“It wasn’t the Captain,” I said through gritted teeth. We both noticed, however, that I did not deny the second part of his assessment.
Holmes continued to smirk. “Well, whoever he is, you must enjoy his company.”
“Usually,” I replied without thinking.
He blinked again, more slowly this time, and tilted his head quizzically. “Watson—” he said uncertainly.
My cheeks flamed in embarrassment. “Please,” I begged. “Leave me.”
Instead he lay on the bed next to me. I had no idea how he managed that. I, of course, could not feel him.
“Remove your blanket and do as I say,” he instructed, his voice husky.
“Holmes, I don’t know—”
“John. Do as I say.”
I was surprised by the use of my Christian name, but I did not question him. I have long since gotten used to obeying Holmes’ orders, even after his death. I removed the blanket.
“Now the nightshirt.”
I complied. I lay naked on my bed.
“Close your eyes,” Holmes continued, his voice a low growl, “and move your hands over your chest. Imagine they are mine.”
My breath was shuddering as my hands moved, as if by their own volition, to obey his commands.
“Pinch your left nipple now. Roll it between your thumb and forefinger in the way you know that I would.”
I whimpered as electric sparks spread from my chest to my groin.
Holmes voice was right by my ear. “Imagine my lips on yours, kissing you, tasting you. Imagine me kissing your neck, your cheeks, your eyelids, your ears. Imagine my hand moving downward, downward, stroking your stomach, moving lower.”
My hand, which was his for that moment, followed his instructions.
“Grasp yourself firmly,” he whispered.
“Imagine me kissing you, John. My one hand on your chest, my other stroking you. Feel me.”
I imagined him around me, above me, as part of me. I imagined the feel of him, the taste of him. I imagined him holding me strongly as he stroked me. I shuddered and found my release. I lay there for several moments, catching my breath and wondering what the hell I had just done. I was reluctant to face Holmes. I had just laid myself open to him and feared to see his mocking expression. Yet I knew that I could not avoid the inevitable. I screwed up my courage and, with great trepidation, opened my eyes.
Holmes was looking down at me as I expected, but his expression was one of wonder, pain, and longing. I gasped.
“You must understand, Watson,” he began, his tone low and fervent, “that I have accepted my fate. My death, while inconvenient, has occurred, and I cannot change that. I cannot pine to be living, and I must do what I can within my limitations.”
He looked me straight in the eyes, his expression fierce. “Yet I find, now,” he continued, “that I would give anything… anything… to be able to touch you.” He moved his hand toward me. Without thinking, I raised one of my own to meet his.
Our hands, poised less than half an inch from each other, never touched. He finally lowered his hand and looked away.
“Holmes—” I whispered.
I did not even attempt to stem the flow of tears as I lay in bed, thinking of regrets and lost opportunities.