The nurses were still on their rounds and no one was monitoring my actions. I looked at the morphine drip connected to my vein. I knew that the dosage level was set to be low, so as not to inadvertently cause my demise. I struggled to sit up, ignoring the sharp pain in my chest. With trembling fingers I increased the dosage level to a point that I knew the outcome would be inevitable.
I fell back with a soft groan as I felt the morphine begin to take hold of my body. I closed my eyes and let the past reclaim me.
I did not see Holmes for several days after the events in my bedroom. A few mornings later, I received a summons from Lestrade. He stated that he was unsure as to whether foul play had been involved in the death, and asked me to make haste so as to examine the body.
I crumpled up the telegram and threw it into the rubbish bin. With a sigh, I grabbed my medical bag and turned toward the door.
The ghost of Sherlock Holmes was standing there.
“It’s a complete waste of time, Watson,” said he, while pacing around the room. “I have no idea why Lestrade is even bothering you. It’s completely obvious that there was no murder.”
“Holmes—” I began.
“Of course you must go,” he interrupted. “You can easily solve the mystery. Frankly, I despair of Lestrade’s detective skills. You would have thought, after all these years, that he would improve.”
“Holmes, we must talk.”
“I suppose that’s not fair, since he has solved some of his cases. But he completely misses any subtle clues.”
He stopped pacing and looked at me. “Don’t.”
“We cannot ignore this,” I insisted.
“We must. No good can come of this discovery, Watson. Nothing can change between us. The only thing we can do, the only way to maintain our sanity, is to ignore what happened.” He looked utterly forlorn.
“I do not wish to,” I whispered.
He smiled sadly. “We must. We shall never speak of this again. Go to Lestrade now. He needs your help.” Then he was gone.
I took a deep, shuddering breath, locked down the feelings in my heart, grabbed my medical bag, and headed out the door.
I felt a great lassitude as the morphine made its way through my body. I also heard a strange rushing in my ears which I discerned as my own blood desperately trying to go on pulsing through my veins. I closed my eyes as my memories became stronger.
Mrs. Gladys Smithson was a young widow in my professional care. I believe she first consulted me for a bronchial condition, but other than that she was actually quite hearty and hale. I learned that her husband, a solicitor, had died tragically in a freak accident a few years back. Mrs. Smithson was perhaps in her early thirties—about a decade younger than I. She was also, I must admit, quite flirtatious.
There was no sense of impropriety in her examination; I am, after all, a consummate professional. Afterwards, however, she lingered a bit longer than was necessary, asking me about my practice, my history, my family. She acted quite dismayed to learn of Mary’s tragic demise, but was careful not to remain too long on that topic.
She was fascinated to learn of my work as a police surgeon in addition to my private practice. She even asked questions regarding the stories published in The Strand once she came to learn that I had, in fact, written them. It was very strange to discuss Sherlock Holmes with someone who knew of him only through my tales.
As I was bustling her out the door, pleading the need to prepare for other patients, she declared that she felt it necessary to consult with me again. I informed her that she only needed to return if she was still feeling unwell, but she insisted upon a follow-up appointment. I found myself suppressing a groan when she finally left my office.
“You should marry her, you know,” the ghost of Sherlock Holmes said to me, appearing in my consulting room.
I sat at my desk wearily and shot him a disgusted look. “You really shouldn’t pry into doctor-patient confidences, Holmes.”
“However else would I learn anything of interest? Besides, my dear Watson, you’re avoiding the issue. You really should marry her.”
“I have no desire to remarry. I would have thought that rather obvious,” I snapped.
He shot me a penetrating look and I felt myself flush with embarrassment. He then looked away. “You’re being quite stubborn, my dear fellow,” he admonished. “It’s 1897 and time is moving inexorably forward. It’s been almost five years since your wife’s demise; over three since my own. This sitting around and sulking in loneliness is not healthy.”
“I do not sit around and sulk in loneliness,” I argued.
“Watson, you spend most of your evenings with a ghost for company. That is hardly being social. Especially from you, who was among the most sociable of men I have known. You spend no time at your club, you cultivate no new friends. This is quite worrisome.”
“I am far busier now, Holmes, with my practice, the police surgery, and your investigations, to spend all my time at my club. Furthermore, I hardly have any control as to whether I spend an evening with a ghost; it is the ghost who appears to spend time with me. Besides, since when have you cared about my social calendar? Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that you were lamenting that I was too busy to take on a case you had found?”
“I’m concerned about you.”
“Since when?” Even I could hear the bitterness in my own voice.
“Your wellbeing has been a concern of mine for years, but I had not realized the consequences of my actions. You’re far too alone, John Watson. This is partially my fault. I’ve encouraged you to spend time with me and to focus on these investigations, much to the detriment of other parts of your life.”
“I enjoy them, Holmes,” I interrupted. “As I enjoy your visits.”
He waved away my words with his hand. “Yes, I know that, Watson. Yet you should have a family, and friends, around you.”
“I spend the occasional evening having a drink with Lestrade. As well as my time spent with you. I’m content with my life, Holmes.”
“You should have a wife… and children.”
I looked at him sharply. “That dream died years ago with Mary.”
“You should revive it. Mrs. Smithson would be a very good match for you.”
I looked directly into the eyes of the ghost of Holmes. “She’s not the one I want,” I whispered hoarsely.
He looked away and I could sense his incredible sadness. “She’s here, John,” he said quietly. “She’s alive.” He met my gaze, his look wistful. “Don’t spend your life alone.”
“I’m not when you’re around.”
He shook his head slightly. “Get married, Watson. Raise a family. Your life did not end when mine did.”
I swallowed and reluctantly agreed. “I’ll meet with her.”
Six months later, I felt his ghostly presence was at my side as I married Gladys Smithson, now Gladys Watson. At the reception celebrating our nuptials, I smiled sadly as I raised my glass in his direction. He nodded me and then disappeared, leaving me to the privacy of the wedding night.
I felt my breathing grow shallow. The sounds of the hospital slowly faded away.
My son was actually born in this hospital where I now lay awaiting the inevitable. Our baby boy was born 10 months into my new marriage. The birthplace was quite unusual at the time, for most births still occurred at home. I suppose it was my natural anxiety after Mary’s traumatic death, but I wanted Gladys to have the best possible care available. She accepted my meddling good-naturedly, far too thrilled at the prospect of a child to argue with her husband’s concerns. Of course he was born in a different ward than where I currently found myself, one dedicated to welcoming new life instead of waiting for death.
My relationship with Gladys has been, throughout the years, fairly easy-going. Holmes was right in his choice of wives for me. Gladys was looking for security and stability and I was, unbeknownst to me, looking for a sense of belonging. Ours was not a burning love affair, but a comfortable companionship. We both understood, and accepted, that our great loves had come before. I knew that I could never take the place of Gladys’ deceased husband and she, God bless her, knew that my life’s love was gone. That knowledge gave her a great understanding of me. Of course, she assumed it was Mary; only deep in the attic of my own mind could I admit to myself that the loss I mourned most was Holmes.
That is not to say that our marriage was not without its ups and downs. Our first major blow-up was when it came to naming our son.
“You cannot possibly actually want to call him Sherlock.”
“I cannot think of a better honor to my son than to be named after the greatest man I have ever known.”
“John, it is a rather… unusual name.”
“It served Holmes quite well.”
“I don’t like it. I would prefer that my son have a more common name.”
“My son will be named Sherlock.”
“All you do is talk about the great Sherlock Holmes. He’s been dead for how many years now? John, it’s as if you’re still living with his ghost.”
I started. “I would prefer to live with the ghost of Holmes than with anyone else I could name.”
She looked as if I had struck her. I suppose that in a way I had.
Her voice held perhaps as much bitterness as mine. “All I’m saying is that you should not straddle your son with expectations to live up to such an impossible figurehead.” She stormed from the room, well as much as a woman who had given birth only three days earlier could storm.
“She’s right, you know,” the ghost of Sherlock Holmes said from behind me.
“Where have you been?” I demanded as I spun to face him.
“Watson, the birth of your son should be a joyous occasion, not a time of family discord,” he responded, ignoring my question. “Whatever are you thinking trying to give that poor child my atrocious name?”
“It’s hardly atrocious, Holmes. In fact, ‘Sherlock’ actually sounds quite dashing.”
He tried to hide his smile, but I could tell he was secretly pleased. “Perhaps,” he said with slight laugh. “Yet you must admit that it does not slip easily off the tongue.”
“You are my friend. My greatest friend. I wish to honor you.”
The ghost came to stand before me; our gazes met. “You already have, my dear friend. Really, it’s an awkward name and hardly worth marital discord. Find a compromise with your wife, dear Watson. Then we can continue our investigations. I feel there is a new case brewing. Lestrade’s going to stop by to congratulate you, as well as tell you quite a tale regarding Napoleon busts.”
A few weeks later, after the mystery surrounding Lestrade’s case was cleared up and the six Napoleon busts were laid to rest, so to speak, John Charles Sherlock Watson was baptized. John after me. Charles after my wife’s father (and deceased husband, if the truth be known). Sherlock after, well, Holmes of course. My wife planned to call the baby Charles. I planned to call him Sherlock. He ended up being known as little Johnny.
In fairness to Gladys, the arguments with her were few and far between, and we enjoyed a sense of domesticity raising Johnny. As I lie here in my hospital bed, in the deep quiet of the dead of night, a small part of me regrets that I would not see her again. I also regret, more deeply perhaps, that I would not see my son once more.
My regrets were not so strong that I would hold on.
I began writing again so that Johnny would know more about Holmes, and about me as well. I used to read him my stories and I found an enthralled audience, my to my wife’s dismay. She would roll her eyes and leave the room, and I would tell my young son all my tales.
“Tell me more stories,” he would demand.
“I’ve read you all the ones I’ve written,” I would reply gently.
“Then write more.”
Eventually that idea took hold. I contacted Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle, who was thrilled to hear from me. He assured me that there would be no problems publishing further works. I always published my works through him in order to create a sense of privacy, which was especially important now with my family.
My wife seemed indifferent to the idea. She was busy with our son and her social circle and my odd quirks did not affect her. She did buy me, however, a beautiful journal to record my thoughts. “I look forward to reading your stories when you’re done,” she told me with a little smile and a kiss to my cheek.
I locked myself in my study, my patients gone for the day, no investigations pending. I looked at the blank page and had no idea what to write.
“So you want to record more stories about us,” the ghost of Sherlock Holmes stated with a resigned tone.
I smiled at him. I had seen him less of late and I found that I truly missed him. Man or ghost, there was always an emptiness about my life when Holmes was not around.
“Yes,” said I. “It’s been a while since I’ve written, but there are more stories to tell.”
“Watson, you must get tired of me.”
“Hardly, Holmes. Besides, if I knew that picking up my pen would draw you out, then I shall be writing each evening.”
He shot me a quick look, half disgusted and half amused. “So what great tale are you bringing to your readers?”
I looked at my blank page. “I have no idea.”
He started to laugh.
“Any suggestions?” I enquired.
“Watson, you’re the artist. I would never dream of interfering.”
“Come now, Holmes. There must be some story you’ve longed to have me romanticize.”
“If you’re going to tell a romantic tale,” the ghost of Holmes replied with a smirk, “then you must write of the events at Baskerville Hall.”
I blinked in surprise. I remembered that night on the moor, the joy I felt at being reunited with Holmes. I should have known then that my feelings for him had strayed from the appropriate. “That’s a wonderful idea!” I exclaimed as a way to cover my confusion.
Holmes looked at me quizzically. “That really was one of our best cases.”
I met his gaze. “Yes,” I whispered.
“I wish we had more times like that,” he admitted very quietly.
“I wish you had lived.” I reached for him, the strength of my sudden desire almost overwhelming.
The pain of his own longing crossed his face, and then he disappeared. I knew that it would be some time before I saw him again.
I buried myself in my writings, and my memories.
Memories. Memories had formed my life. Memories were now shaping my death. Memories of who I am, John H. Watson, M.D., father, husband, friend to the great Sherlock Holmes, and I would like to think an accomplished man in my own right.
The nurses had returned. I can hear their hushed voices as they checked on the patients in the ward. They did not notice the lacking morphine.
Memories called to me again.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” was very well received, and Mr. Conan Doyle strongly suggested that I might want to consider publishing more works. While there were still many cases from the early days of my association with Holmes, there were few that I felt drawn to immortalize. Instead I wished to tell the stories of our more recent cases and to give Holmes the credit that he was due. I thus wrote “The Adventure of the Empty House”, and gave it the ending that the events should have had.
Mr. Conan Doyle was thrilled because he could see future for many more of these “creative” fictions. The public loved it and celebrated Holmes’ “Return”. My wife, however, was a little disapproving.
“Why, John, do you not take credit for these cases yourself?” she demanded to know one evening. “After all, you are the one who solved them.”
“Gladys, I would never have solved any of these problems without the techniques I learned from Holmes.”
I could hear the ghost of Sherlock Holmes scoff in the background.
My wife looked at me speculatively. “I would like to see you receive accolades for once.”
“I have had far more accolades than I am due. These stories are about Holmes, and the praise belongs to him.”
She shook her head slightly but agreed to let me be.
For many years I wrote, and practiced medicine, and continued to investigate various mysteries with Holmes. It was, perhaps, one of the most rewarding periods of time in my life, at least since Holmes had died.
The investigations were fewer than they had been, but I still got to spend time with the ghost of Holmes which was, to be honest, one of the highlights of my days.
The cases would come to us in the most unusual manner. Such was the situation when one of my patients, Mr. Nathan Garrideb, told me of his search to locate another Garrideb since there was an American inheritance to be shared if he could.
“That’s rather suspicious,” Holmes remarked, appearing after my patient had left.
I had long given up on chastising him for listening in on my consultations. Instead I asked, “What is suspicious?”
“Your man’s story about the Garrideb benefactor. Very suspicious indeed.”
“Enough to investigate?”
“Why not, my dear Watson?”
Our investigations determined that my patient was victim of a scam by the notorious criminal, ‘Killer’ Evans. Fearing we did not have enough information yet to go to Lestrade for a warrant, Holmes and I made a serious blunder—we entered Mr. Nathan Garrideb’s home, while he had been conveniently sent away by this confidence man, in an attempt to determine the nature of the scheme.
I was not expecting ‘Killer’ Evans to be already be there, and I was certainly not expecting to be shot. I could feel the searing pain in my leg as the bullet hit its mark and I looked up in horror to see his revolver pointed at me.
“I don’t know who you are or why you are here,” the murdering fiend said to me, “but you shall not leave this room alive.”
I could see the ghost of Sherlock Holmes looking on in horror, and I closed my eyes and awaited my fate. Suddenly, it was as if there was a maelstrom around me.
I looked up to see Holmes commanding the environment, causing a great wind to erupt, and literally forcing objects upon the criminal, as if they were attacking. ‘Killer’ Evans screamed in terror, dropping his revolver and covering his head as he tried to protect himself. But there was no safety for him; the objects kept flying until he lay unconscious on the floor.
The ghost of Holmes turned to me, and I could see his love, and fear, and loyalty as he sprang to my side. “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say you are not hurt!”
I was awed by what I had seen—both at what he was able to do to protect me and at his obvious love for me. “It’s nothing, Holmes. It’s a mere scratch,” I whispered.
I then looked around the room, which appeared as if a cyclone had gone through it. “How did you do that?” I asked.
“I do not know.” He was looking at my leg, and then breathed a huge sigh of relief. “You are right. It is quite superficial.”
Our eyes met. “I thought you would have wanted me to join you,” I said very quietly. “I would not object.”
He shook his head, looking fierce. “Not like this, my dear Watson. Never like this. I vowed I would protect you. I will keep you safe. It is my only purpose, Watson, and I shall not fail you.”
I swallowed hard and looked away.
After making a call to Lestrade at Scotland Yard, the Inspector came and made the arrest of ‘Killer’ Evans, who was babbling about the supernatural. The police, of course, ignored him.
Lestade looked me over before he left and examined my leg. His eyes met mine. “I think you should retire, Dr. Watson,” he said pointedly. “We’re all getting to old for this, and the criminals are becoming far too vicious. You have been a tremendous help to the Yard throughout the years, but there is a whole new generation of policemen who want nothing to do with the old ways. I’m retiring at the end of the month, and I suggest that you end your investigations as well.” He then squeezed my shoulder briefly and walked out.
I made my way home in a hansom that Lestrade had provided. I limped with difficulty into my house. To say that my wife was less than enthusiastic about my injury would be a vast understatement. “You must end these investigations,” she declared heatedly. “They are certainly not worth your life.”
My son was also quite upset to see my wounds. “Father, please be careful,” he begged me. “I don’t want to see you end up like Mr. Holmes.”
His pleas almost broke my heart.
Late that night I sat in my study, my leg propped up, a brandy in my hand. I contemplated what I should do.
The ghost of Sherlock Holmes appeared, looking far more somber than I had ever seen him. “Are you all right?” he asked.
I nodded. “It was a mere scratch.”
He sat in the chair where he had first made his remarkable appearance, close to a decade ago now. “They are all correct, you know. Lestrade, your family. These investigations must stop. I will not have you harmed.”
“Holmes, it was a fluke, a freak accident. We will be more careful from now on.”
“No, Watson, we will not be. I am leaving you.”
“What?” I demanded, sitting up straight.
“The only way I can keep you safe is to not drag you off on these little cases. The only way I can curb your enthusiasm is to not bring these problems to you. Thus, I cannot see you again.”
“Holmes, this is ridiculous. You don’t have to have cases to see me, do you? Besides, I enjoy your company.”
“I do not think I can trust myself, Watson. I enjoy working on these investigations with you far too much. It is the only time I feel human. I am terribly selfish, you know. I fear that I will drag you down this dangerous road again and again. You have responsibilities now, and a family. You should not be living with my ghost.”
“Life is all about living with ghosts, Holmes,” I snapped angrily. “I live with the ghost of you, the memories of Mary, the ghosts of my regrets and my mistakes, the ghosts of my past. My life is filled with ghosts. You are far too important to me to just disappear.”
The spectre of Sherlock Holmes looked at me with such profound sadness. “I should have done this years ago. I fear that I have caused you inexcusable pain that I truly hope, one day, that you will forgive me. Please know that you have my profound regret, and my profound admiration… and my love. Be well, my dear, dear Watson.”
“Don’t you dare leave!” I exclaimed, leaping to my feet.
He smiled sadly and, with a little wave, disappeared.
“Holmes!” I roared. “Get back here this instant.”
I was met with only silence.
I shifted in the hospital bed, the pain I felt in my chest had nothing to do with my heart condition. The morphine made sure I did not feel that pain. No, this pain had to do with the fact that Holmes had left me. I had done everything I could think of to force his return. I kept looking for him, expecting him, but he never reappeared.
The years wore on. I raised my family, educated my son, socialized with my wife. I wrote. My stories were a call to Holmes, sometimes praising him, sometimes berating him, always begging him to come back.
I remembered the first time I realized I no longer expected to see Holmes anymore. I almost broke down and cried.
I clutched the sheets, wishing that my trip through my life’s events would quicken its pace and reach its ultimate end. Yet distressing memories rose again to the surface.
My son was 16 years old when the Great War broke out. At first, the British Army maintained their policy of recruiting men who were over 19, so I had hopes that the situation would have changed by the time little Johnny was of age. I had no desire for my son to experience the horrors of war, which still, decades later, haunted my dreams. I was devastated when he announced his intention to serve when he was still 17.
“How on earth were you recruited?” I demanded. “You’re too young.”
The determined boy, no, young man, looked at me steadily. “I have to do what’s right,” said he. “The British Army needs more troops.”
“What about medical school?” I enquired, knowing he planned to follow in my profession.
“I’ve enlisted with a medical corps,” Johnny said reasonably.
“You’re too young,” I insisted again. “It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m going, Father. I’d prefer your blessing, but I’ll go without it.”
What could I do? If the British Army wanted him, I could not stop it. A few months later I told myself that Johnny was lucky to have enlisted when he did, before mandatory conscription of all 16 to 41 year old men. Johnny at least had a choice as to where he was sent. Those poor souls did not.
I had thought that the most difficult day in my life was watching my son go off to war. I later discovered that it was not. The most difficult day was visiting my son in the hospital when he returned, two years later, injured and ill.
Johnny had been shot in the arm, the bone broken, and shrapnel had also wounded his chest. He was lucky that the arm was not lost. He had finally been brought to a hospital in the English countryside to recover. I used every possible connection I had to be able to go and see him.
He lay on the bed and looked pale, and thin, and quite sick. He was dozing when I arrived. I watched him for a moment, feeling my heart constrict, and then called his name softly.
He opened his eyes and smiled at me. I held his hand and sat by his side.
Our conversation was kept to simple topics. I told him how much I, and his mother, missed him. I told him how proud I was of him. He apologized for getting hurt and I told him that I could certainly not blame him. He looked remarkable, I lied. I told him that he should have seen how sick I was after I had been injured.
He looked at me quizzically for a moment, and then said in a very low voice, “I saw your friend, Mr. Holmes.”
“What?” I questioned, thinking I had misheard.
“I don’t expect you to believe me, but I saw Mr. Holmes. When I was injured.”
I must have looked dumbfounded, so he continued. “I was shot at night. I was trying to reach the injured soldiers so as to pull them to the Regimental Aid Post. There was an explosion, and I got separated from my partner. Then I felt the shot.
“Everyone was scrambling and no one had seen where I had fallen. I think they assumed me dead from the explosion. The men pulled away from my location and I could hear the distant fighting, but no one was near me.”
He took a deep breath. I held his hand tighter. “I thought I was going to die there, Father. Alone. I almost gave up and let it happen. And then… then Mr. Holmes came to me.”
He looked into my eyes, expecting disbelief. Instead I nodded encouragingly. “Go on,” I said gently.
“I could tell it was him. He looked just like you had described in your stories, and in the illustrations. He stroked my hair, and told me to hold on, that help would come, that I had to be strong. I told him I did not think I could. ‘Of course you can, Johnny,’ said he. No one had called me Johnny since I enlisted. Then he said, ‘Unfortunately I never met your mother. I do, however, have plenty of stories about your father.”
Johnny looked at me. He smiled faintly. “He was trying to distract me from my pain. Mr. Holmes told me story after story about you, Father. He told me how ill you were when you came back from Afghanistan. He told me how lucky he felt to have met you. How you helped him in case after case. He even told me about the Giant Rat of Sumatra. He stroked my hair and talked to me through the night, and I just listened to his voice and held on.”
“At dawn I was found,” Johnny continued. “I think they were astonished that I was still alive, although I was probably closer to death than not. As they were putting me on the stretcher, I could still see Mr. Holmes, standing there, watching them care for me. He looked at me once and gave a faint smile. Then he disappeared.”
I could barely breathe. A tear ran down my face. I held my son’s hand tightly.
“You probably think I’m crazed,” Johnny said in a resigned tone. “Or that I imagined it.”
“No,” I croaked. “I don’t think either.”
My son frowned slightly, as if thinking deeply. “Mr. Holmes was a remarkable man, wasn’t he?” he finally said.
“Yes, he was,” I agreed. “As are you, my boy.”
I departed soon after. It was all I could do while walking the street to not lose my composure and sob in relief.
I stopped briefly, leaning against a building, my head in my hand. I missed Holmes terribly at that moment, and would have done anything to see him again. But mostly I was grateful to him keeping my boy alive. “Thank you, Holmes,” I said, not caring who stared at the strange old man talking to himself. “Thank you for saving my son.”
I like to think that I felt his hand caress my hair, but I am certain it was only the wind.
The world was beginning to grow dark around me. I could barely hear the din of the hospital sounds now, the nurses’ voices a distant murmur. I embraced the darkness.
Johnny was sent back to his unit once he was healed. He was fortunate as he managed to avoid further injury. He survived the Great War, unlike so many young men around him, and returned home. He threw himself into his medical studies, determined to save as many people as he had seen die. He also urged me to write more about Holmes. “It seems there are far more stories to tell,” he said conspiratorially. I could deny my son nothing, and I took up my pen once more.
I keenly missed Holmes’ presence, but his ghost did not appear again.
Years passed. Johnny became a successful doctor, and then met a girl he seemed to deeply love. Gladys and I stood side by side just three days ago and watched as our son married. He and his lovely bride left for their honeymoon. Gladys left for the seashore, extracting my promise to join her soon. I, however, ended up here in this hospital.
I could no longer hear the sounds of the hospital. I opened my eyes briefly, but everything was dark. My breathing was growing quite shallow. I closed my eyes.
Then I heard a voice. “Watson,” it said. I ignored it.
“Watson,” it said again, more insistently this time. I continued to ignore it. There was no hold left on me in the mortal world. I was not going back.
“Watson, this just won’t do. Pay attention now. The game is afoot.”
Only one person had ever said that to me. I opened my eyes and found myself looking into worried grey ones.
“I thought you’d abandoned me,” I said weakly. I could hear the accusation in my voice.
The ghost of Sherlock Holmes looked down on me and shook his head. “Not one day has passed, Watson, in which I was not with you.”
“Then why couldn’t I see you?” I said angrily, my voice growing slightly stronger.
“I was doing you no favors by my appearance,” he said sadly.
“That was not for you to decide!” I was furious at this point. “How could you leave me? I needed you.”
“You needed to be with your family,” he said in a placating tone.
I was so angry that I actually leapt from my bed. “I needed you more. Every day I looked for you. Every day you did not come. I’ve spent my entire life waiting for you.”
I went to push against him in my frustration, even knowing that my hand would pass right through him. I was shocked when I connected.
“I can touch you,” I whispered in awe.
“It’s all right, Watson,” Holmes said soothingly.
“I can touch you,” I repeated.
“It will all be over soon.”
I reached out and grabbed his face. He was too startled to pull away. “I can touch you,” I said one last time, and then I pulled him in for a kiss.
He resisted for one moment and then he surrendered to me. I do not know if the taste of him was real or simply what I had imagined for years, but pipe tobacco and claret combined to be uniquely Holmes. I pulled him tightly to me. Our kisses grew in their intensity. I backed away slightly and began to kiss his cheek, his neck, feeling his smoothness under my lips, holding him against me.
“Watson,” he said with a shuddering voice, pushing us apart slightly. “While I have longed for this for years, I would prefer that our first instance of physical intimacy does not take place on your deathbed.”
I blinked then swirled around. I could see my body lying on the hospital bed, doctors and nurses engaged in a flurry of activity around me.
“It’s all right,” Holmes said gently behind me.
“Don’t let them drag me back,” I pleaded and clung to him.
“I shan't,” he promised.
I turned to face him and looked into his eyes. They had a soft, tender expression that I had never seen before. He kissed me gently.
“This is my end,” I whispered.
“After all these years you waited to come back to me at my death?” I did not know if I was grateful or resentful of that fact. I just knew that I wanted him close to me.
“You held me as I died, Watson,” he murmured as he reached out to stroke my face. “I felt that I could do nothing less than return the favor.”
I felt a sense of peace at that statement. Holmes was here for me, now, when perhaps I most needed him. “So where to now?” I asked curiously, still clinging onto to him. “Do we stick around and haunt others? Or do we go someplace else?”
He continued to caress my cheek. “There’s a white light that I’ve seen since my death, always on the periphery. I suppose we should head toward that.”
“Holmes, why didn’t you go to it before?” I admonished. “Suppose it leads to heaven?”
He held my shoulders and looked at me, his eyes fierce. “If such a place exists, it would be meaningless without you.”
I grasped his arms tightly.
He looked away. “I do understand, however,” he said, his voice low, “if you would prefer to meet someone else to take you across. Or perhaps to wait for another. I’m certain that either would be acceptable.” He glanced up and me and quirked his little half smile. Then he looked away again.
I looked toward the ceiling and said a silent prayer. I hoped that Mary, and Gladys, and my little Johnny would all forgive me, but I knew that I would not change my mind even if they did not. I looked at Holmes again. “I’d be honored to go with you.”
He met my eyes. His answering smile was beautiful. “You’ll come then?” he asked, almost as if in disbelief.
“When you like and where you like,” I assured him.
“Excellent, Watson! It will be just like the old days.”
“Only better,” said I. I leaned forward and kissed him again.
“Only better,” he agreed when we broke apart. He took my hand. “Are you ready?”
I glanced at my body on the hospital bed and I could see that all the revival efforts had been fruitless. The doctor was closing my eyes and then a sheet was pulled over my face. I knew that it was time to leave that shell. It had been a good life, all in all, but the next adventure held quite a bit of promise. I smiled sadly and then looked back at Holmes. I squeezed his hand. “Yes,” I whispered. “I’m ready.”
Holding my hand, he led me from the room.