Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: Not mine, although actually in the public domain. No profit is intended.
Summary: Four years into the Great War, as influenza begins to sweep the land, Watson receives a visitor.
Author’s Note: This is a sequel to August 1912: Separation, August 1914: Reunion, and August 1916: Desolation, and is the fourth in a 5-part series titled The August Series, which captures moments in time, every other August, from 1912 to 1920 (from the time Holmes leaves for America through the aftermath of the World War I).
I finally finished this chapter. Now I know why I don't do WIP's -- it takes me forever to update. Sorry!
August 1918: Renewal
The young man finally stopped coughing. I handed him a cloth and patted him on the shoulder. “Here you go, Johnson.”
He tried to smile. “Thank you, Dr. Watson.”
“You’re doing remarkably well,” said I as encouragingly as possible.
Both of our eyes darted to the empty bed next to him where a fellow soldier from his unit had succumbed to the dreaded Spanish influenza the night before.
“I hope so,” he whispered. I could hear the fear in his voice.
I did not like to make predictions, especially with a man’s life. I felt confident that young Johnson would recover, but there were too many complications and too much could go wrong. Besides, I had been wrong before. So I patted his shoulder again.
I felt utterly ineffectual.
My weariness threatened to overwhelm me. We had been fighting the flu for so many months now and with such limited success. I was also exhausted, I knew, both from my current 24 hour stint in the hospital as well as the four years of slogging through the War itself. I took a deep, steadying breath and then forced myself to turn my attention back to the young soldier before me.
“I am sorry to bother you, Dr. Watson,” the night nurse said as she interrupted my examination. “But there is a gentleman here to see you.”
I glanced to door that she indicated and there, standing at the entrance to the ward, was a tall, thin man whose dark hair had gone grey. He was wearing a surgical mask, as was required of anyone who was entering this flu-infested ward. I recognized him nonetheless. My heart gave a little beat.
I swallowed around the sudden dryness in my mouth as the bright grey eyes of Sherlock Holmes met my own from across the room.
I looked down at my patient, and gave him another attempt at encouragement. “I think we’re finished here, Johnson. Just cooperate with the nurses when they give you those fluids.”
Both the young soldier and the nurse smiled at me, the nurse’s eyes crinkling above her mask. “We’ll take care of him, Doctor,” the she replied. “Why don’t you go meet with your visitor?”
I nodded to them both, then turned and made my way toward Holmes. I tried not to hurry, or to at least make it so that my quickness was not too noticeable.
I came to stand before my dearest friend, the man I had not seen for four years during this long, painful War. We both observed each other’s eyes closely, noting the changes that the years had wrought. It seemed that neither of us could speak.
“Holmes,” I finally managed to croak.
“Are you free for supper?” he asked, the well-remembered voice sounding slightly raspy.
I frowned slightly, about to refuse, knowing I had a responsibility to my patients, before that wonderful night nurse interjected herself into our, to be honest, rather lacking conversation.
“Yes, he is,” she said firmly. “Dr. Watson has been here since yesterday, and it is high time to leave the hospital and head home for some sleep, after a good meal, that is.”
“Excellent!” Holmes exclaimed.
I looked quickly between the two of them. “I have a duty to my patients,” I said quietly and controlled.
“How will you be any good to these men if you work yourself until you collapse, Doctor?” the night nurse admonished. “When was the last time you rested? Or ate?”
Holmes looked utterly amused to see me being the one bullied.
“My body is here to be used,” I replied calmly, with a quick glance to Holmes.
The increased crinkling around Holmes’ eyes were the only signs of his suppressed laughter. The nurse, however, looked like she was going to fly into a rage.
“That is preposterous,” she exclaimed. “You need some rest, Doctor.”
“The influenza…” I began.
“Will still be here in the morning,” she responded. “Get out of here. The nursing staff is here in full force, and Dr. Garris can help out if we need him.”
I met Holmes’ eyes again. “Well, as I am essentially being chased from my duties, give me a moment to wash up and I will be right with you.”
I could feel myself trembling as I quickly washed. I do not know if it was from exhaustion or excitement. Holmes was waiting for me when I was finished. I could see his full face now without the mask. He picked up a bag he had with him and then smiled at me. “Shall we go, Watson?”
I nodded and led the way, still barely able to speak. I glanced at him, frequently, as we walked, almost as if I believed him to be an apparition that would disappear into the ether as unexpectedly as he had appeared.
“Is there someplace to eat at this hour?” he asked, his voice quiet.
I looked at my watch and was surprised by the late time. “There’s a pub about a half mile from here that will usually feed the hospital staff at all hours.”
“Lead the way,” said he, and then made as if to link his arm in mine, stopping himself suddenly as if deciding his gesture was inappropriate.
I could not stop myself. I completed the gesture, linking my arm in his. I could feel his tension melt from his limb. He flashed me a quick smile.
The pub was dark and a bit overcrowded, considering the time. It was also warm, although not surprising for a summer night. Yet there was a feeling of comfort about the place, an almost refuge from the trials of the times outside its doors. I breathed in the cigarette smoke and listened to the dull noise. I turned to Holmes, who looked surprisingly at home.
We managed to procure a corner table, emptied from a fellow physician who was departing. Holmes and I sat across from each other in a tense silence.
“The shepherd’s pie is acceptable,” I finally said, “but I would warn against the beef stew. It is… rather interesting in flavor.”
“The shepherd’s pie it is then,” he said with a slight smile.
Our food and ale arrived and we looked at it in silence. It appeared that neither one of us knew what to say.
“What have you been doing?” I finally blurted out. “Where have you been?”
I managed to avoid asking, ‘Why haven’t I seen you?’, but only barely.
Holmes looked at me in surprise.
“I am sorry,” said I, my face flushing. “I am certain there are many aspects of your current activities that you cannot tell me. I just merely…” missed you, I almost said. “…wanted to know how you are,” I finally completed lamely.
Holmes looked down at his plate as if contemplating what to say. I am certain he could discern the question and comment I had not made.
“I am currently working with a government agency formed by my brother,” he began quietly, almost hesitantly. “You remember Mycroft, of course.”
I nodded. “He must be getting older.”
Holmes smiled. “Yes, but aren’t we all? His mind is the same and his ability to sort information remains sans parallel.”
“So you gather information? Similar to what you were doing in America then?”
“Yes, in a way. There is always information that is being sought, especially during a war. A little bit of deceit, a little bit of misdirection, and a little bit of truth, all combined together, can lead to the discovery of fascinating strategies.”
Holmes put up a clever front, but I could detect a sense of quiet discontent.
“You seem troubled, my friend,” I said to him.
His smile was genuine. “Only you, Watson, have ever been able to read the secrets I keep. There are parts of me that not even my brother can detect that you somehow sense.”
I swallowed around the sudden lump in my throat. “What is bothering you, Holmes?” I asked.
He leaned back and took a swig of his ale. “For the most part nothing, Watson. There are times, however, when I believe that some of the people we… observe… are a waste of our resources and time.”
I must have looked puzzled.
He continued, “Anyone who opposes the fighting has become suspect. While some may have their loyalty, potentially, in question, a good many are simply tired of the long war. Yet the organization for which I am currently engaged, which began as small and under Mycroft’s control, has become large and now has too many leaders occupied with their own personal agendas.”
“You shouldn’t be telling me this, should you?”
Holmes shook his head. “Of course not.” He then gave me his little half smile, which always had the ability to melt my heart. “But who else would I tell, my dear Watson?”
I reached out and took his hand. “Thank you. I appreciate your confidence.”
His hand closed around me. I swallowed, hard.
“Is there anything you can do about the situation?” I asked.
“No, Watson, not really. We’ve all become far too paranoid, and any attempt to question our practices brings about scrutiny. Besides, there are times, many times in fact, where the information we do gather is absolutely crucial. You must forgive me, Watson. I seem to be feeling a bit melancholy tonight.”
“Are you in much danger with what you do?” I enquired, dreading the answer but needing to know.
His head shook slightly. He squeezed my hand once more briefly and then let go. “No more than I have been in most of my life. I continue to take care, after all. I did promise you I would.”
I smiled and blinked away tears that I was sure were caused by the smoke in the pub.
“What of you, my dear Watson? What news comes from the respected medical community?”
I sighed, feeling slightly morose. “Influenza. Influenza is our big news.”
“Are you currently working on an influenza ward?”
“Fairly soon the whole hospital will be an influenza ward.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Probably worse. We are essentially powerless to cure it and it is spreading, fast. It also effects the young and healthy, and the damage is devastating. I fear that the death toll from the flu will far exceed the death toll from the fighting, and that is a terrible outcome to contemplate.”
“We had heard rumors that it was widespread. I had not, however, realized the extent of the danger.”
I took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. “I have never felt so ineffective, Holmes, as I do watching these men die,” I found myself admitting. “They are so frightened, sometimes more frightened than they are from the battle, and I can do nothing.”
This time it was Holmes who grabbed my hand. “I am certain that you are doing all you can, Doctor.”
“Yes, but it will never be enough.”
We sat there in silence for a moment, yet it was both comfortable and comforting to have Holmes nearby. The pub continued on with its own busy life around us.
Eventually my weariness threatened to overwhelm me. “Holmes, my sincere apologies, but I honestly cannot recall the last time I slept. I must make my way to my bed.”
“Of course, Watson.”
A realization suddenly hit me as I eyed his bag. “Holmes, where are you staying?”
He started a bit and then smiled falsely. “I had not made plans yet for the evening. Perhaps the proprietor of this fine pub can point me in the direction of lodging.”
“Don’t be silly. Come home with me.”
He actually looked a bit startled. “Won’t that be difficult?” he asked cautiously.
“I am currently in a boarding house, not far from here. My landlady is a lovely widow; she reminds me a bit of Mrs. Hudson, but without her tendency to try and mother me. You would like her, I think. Nonetheless, because of my strange hours with the hospital, I have the only bedroom on the ground floor, so it is unlikely that we would disturb anyone. Besides, we have certainly shared quarters before during your cases, as well as other times.” I actually found myself blushing slightly, but continued on. “It would be no hardship now to have you as my guest, Holmes.”
This time, it seemed that it was Holmes who was moved to the point where speech was difficult. “Lead on, friend Watson,” he finally rasped.
We strolled through the now mostly quiet town, in which most of the residents had long since sought their beds. We made our way to the boarding house where I was staying. I led Holmes into my room.
He looked around, his quick grey eyes taking in the starkness of the place, scanning the bed, my army trunk, the wardrobe, my little writing desk. I realized that nothing in the room reflected my personality. Although I had been here for four years, I had never made it my home. The only memento I had displayed was the framed letter Holmes had written me at Reichenbach Falls, all those years ago.
Holmes looked at me quizzically.
I tried to smile. “It was the only thing that I could bring that reminded me of you,” I explained in a hushed tone.
“How is Mrs. Watson?” he suddenly asked, and I could hear the concern in my voice.
I realized then that Holmes did not actually know what had befallen me two years ago and how my now former wife had found new love in America. Instead of answering him, I walked to my trunk and pulled out a stack of letters, all addressed to Holmes. Four years of correspondence, with my thoughts, my feelings, my fears all plainly exposed. I quickly walked back to him before I could change my mind. “These are for you,” I said quietly, holding out the stack.
He hesitated for a moment.
“Unless you don’t want them,” said I.
He snatched them from my hand.
“They are probably quite maudlin,” I warned.
He smiled. “As well as sentimental, I am sure. I would expect nothing less.”
“You will probably have to burn them after reading them.”
“I shall take that into account.”
We stood there for a moment, watching each other, with an odd feeling of awkward comfort. “Let me get ready for bed,” I said finally. “There is a washroom down the hall. I shall just be a moment and then you can use it.” I turned to go.
He grabbed my arm. I looked back into his eyes.
“Watson,” said he, “I cannot repay you for this.” He indicated the letters. “I have no such record of my time during this War.”
I nodded. “I understand, Holmes.”
“I will, however, tell you that I am heading to France. We began an offensive there earlier this month, in Amiens, which actually seems to be quite effective. I will not go near the fighting, I promise you. But I will be gathering more information, as well as infiltrating any secret organizations in France and rooting out potential spies.”
“You are not supposed to tell anyone that, are you?”
“No. Only Mycroft and a handful of his most trusted advisors know what I am doing.”
“You will be careful.”
I clasped his shoulder. “Thank you for letting me know. I think that not knowing where you were, or what you were doing, made the past few years more difficult.”
“My apologies, my dear Watson. Unfortunately, I was not free to make my own decisions during this time.”
He lifted the letters up and considered them. “Also know,” said he, “that I will not be able to keep these on my person for fear that they would expose my true identity. I will, however, assure you that I will read them, all of them, before I find a way to safely dispose of them.”
He pushed me gently. “Go get ready for bed, Watson. You look ready to collapse.”
I hurried through my toilet, and then sent Holmes down to the washroom. I was already in bed, half asleep, when he returned in his nightshirt. He looked momentarily uncertain.
I held up the sheet. “Come here,” I said coaxingly, my voice slurred with weariness.
He turned down the light and slid into the bed next to me.
I felt his warmth beside me. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “So tired…” I was asleep before I could even finish my thought.
I could not see their faces, but I could feel their hands upon me as they attempted to drag me to the ground. I could make out their uniforms, covered with soot, and gunpowder, and blood. Always blood.
“You didn’t save me,” one cried, his accusations reverberating through the silence. “You call yourself a doctor, yet you let me die.”
I tried to defend myself, but no words would come.
“You let us all die.”
One face became clear—the man who had died last night, succumbing to influenza. I realized that I did not even remember his name.
I tried to scream, to escape, but to no avail. I could feel their cold hands upon me, pulling downward, ever downward—
I awoke with a start to find the worried eyes of Sherlock Holmes looking down upon me.
“Watson?” he said, quietly this time.
I gasped for air and found myself both profoundly relieved and terribly embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Holmes,” I finally managed to rasp. “I should have realized I would disturb you. Let me—”
I began to struggle with the bedclothes in an attempt to rise, to get away from my humiliation at Holmes’ witnessing of my weakness. Holmes, however, pulled me to him, placing my head upon his chest and holding me tight. Despite myself, I began to feel my tension drain.
“As you know,” he said quietly, his hand gently stroking my hair, “I am no stranger to nightmares. How long have you been suffering so?”
I snorted. “Four years now. Give or take.”
His hand stilled for a moment and then resumed its caress. “You deal with the day-to-day horrors that I never see, my dear doctor. I think, of the two of us, you really are the hero in this tale.”
I did not know what to say. I raised my head to look at him, our faces inches from each other. He looked at my lips as I looked at his, then our gazes met once more.
The first kiss was gentle, tender. Holmes cupped my chin and brought his lips to mine. I breathed a sigh of relief mixed with longing. I felt more comfort lying in that bed with Holmes than I had at any time since the War started, possibly even longer than that.
Our kisses remained slow and gentle. It was, after all, the middle of the night, and we moved at a pace appropriate for both our age and our bone-infused weariness. Yet kissing Holmes was, as always, a sensual delight. I thought, briefly, about how very appropriate it felt when I lay with Holmes and how there had been no one else in my life who had made me feel so complete. I was more than myself when I was with Holmes, whether assisting on his cases or reading in our sitting room. Or even, as like now, making love.
Then Holmes’ kisses began to trail down my neck and I ceased thinking at all.
He helped me to remove my pajamas and then tenderly kissed my chest, my nipples, my stomach, moving his way inexorably down my body. My breath was faster and my passion rising. When he finally took my manhood in his mouth, slowly teasing me, I was mad with desire for him.
But it wasn’t enough. I needed to feel him, to taste him, to be one with him. I managed to convince him to turn around and remove his nightshirt. As he returned to his endeavor, I took him in my mouth, reveling in the fact that he was as hard and needy for me as I was for him.
Time stopped. All thoughts of war and horror and nightmares faded away. I was one with Holmes—my lover, my partner, my friend. We held each other in a tight line, suckling each other, fueling our desire, our lust, our need, and, ultimately, our love.
I have always enjoyed having Holmes in my mouth while I was in his. It felt like a complete circle of passion, of longing. Our pleasure spiraled, and I lost myself in this moment of brief perfection.
Eventually it had to end. I lay back, sated, content, yet slightly bereft as reality came crashing back again. Fortunately Holmes turned around and lay back down beside me, kissing me gently. I would not have had the energy to make such a move.
I do not know if I clung to him or he to me, but we held each other tight as I lay my head upon his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
The next sound I heard was the unpleasantness of my alarm clock. Holmes looked startled as he awoke. I turned off the bell then smoothed his brow. I ran my fingers through his hair.
“Hush,” said I. “Go back to sleep. I just have to get ready to return to the hospital.”
“It is awfully early,” Holmes complained, glaring at the darkness out the window.
I smiled. “I know. Believe me, I know.” I kissed his forehead and slipped out of bed, making my way to the washroom to prepare for the long day ahead.
When I returned, Holmes was sitting up. The grey light of pre-dawn was now shimmering through the window, illuminating his pale bare chest, his grey hair, his grey eyes. I stopped at the foot of the bed to take in the sight. He looked utterly beautiful to me.
He gazed at me quizzically.
“You’ll be gone by the time I leave the hospital tonight, won’t you?” I managed to ask.
“I will not see you again during the War, will I?”
He shook his head. “It is doubtful.”
A painful lump developed in my throat. I came to the head of the bed; Holmes watched me closely all the while. I leaned down and kissed him violently, passionately, desperately.
“I do not know how much longer I can do this,” I admitted brokenly.
He grabbed my hand, twining our fingers, then reached out with his other hand to stroke my face. “Do not give up hope, Watson. You always provided me with such an unending supply of it. This War will end. I swear to you. Our offensive is working, the end will come. Just hold on a little bit longer and have faith, my dear Watson. For me.”
I smiled and nodded. “For you, Holmes. I would do anything for you. Even continue to hope.”
He leaned up and we kissed again, more gently this time, an affirmation of our commitment to each other.
“I will see you after the War, Watson.”
“I will be waiting for you.”
I turned to leave but stopped at the door. “Stay here as long as you need to, Holmes. No one will bother you.”
“Thank you. Take care of yourself, Watson.”
I smiled. “You too, Holmes.”
I turned and left the building, walking out into the breaking dawn. My step was lighter than it had been in years.