These rooms were Holmes' before they were theirs. Even after Watson's arrival, they remained very much his in every way. He permeated the walls, even when he was not perforating them with bullets. And now, Holmes lies lost at the bottom of Reichenbach Falls and Watson stands lost at the door to their sitting room, unable to even turn the knob to enter.
He thinks of what he will find beyond the door when it opens. There will be nothing there. Or, rather, there will be everything there. Everything exactly as it was when Watson had left it. Which was hours after Holmes had left it, climbing out of the back window in the middle of the night to avoid being seen by Moriarty's men. Watson had wondered then if that would be the last time he would ever lay eyes upon Sherlock Holmes as the man clambered over the sill and disappeared into the darkness. It wasn't. That day came later.
The doctor locks the door behind him when he finally makes it inside. He locks himself inside and the rest of the world out, away. But it only takes a moment for him to realize that he has made a terrible mistake in returning here. This room is haunted; he can already feel it. Ghosts live here now, Holmes' ghost and the ghost of the man Watson was when he was with him.
It is all he can do to keep standing, with his back pressed hard against the door. Every leaden breath he takes fills him with the musk of shag tobacco and the astringent smell of ink on newsprint. He is breathing memory. He is breathing Holmes.
Holmes is everywhere in this room and nowhere at all. Where he is, Watson knows, is at the bottom of a frigid, roaring waterfall, not here in the warm, still quiet. But everything here sings of him, shouts his name. Everything here bears his imprint.
The front file cabinet still stands cockeyed, jostled out of place by Holmes' frantic dash into the corner to be hidden from the light. Dirt and grime from the street had dusted his square shoulders gray. He explained that he had survived three attempts on his life already that day as he braced himself in the corner of the room by the cabinet to prevent a fourth.
"Air guns," he had said with a fleeting gallows smile.
On the end table lay the yellow box of matches Watson had used to light Holmes' cigarette when his hands were shaking too badly to do it himself. The best he could manage was to tear his gloves off and throw them unceremoniously to the floor with a muffled "God damn!" under his breath. As he lifted the flame, Watson could see his knuckles were split open and bleeding. Holmes scoffed, called them scratches, called them nothing, and brought the cigarette back to his lips as if his life depended upon it.
Across the room, there is little light left to be had from the candle that burned between them while they waited for darkness to fall. It is but a stub, having burned almost completely out as Holmes casually advanced the notion of a jaunt to the Continent with Watson in tow. In the flickering light and with his mind in a haze, Watson agreed to the mad idea without understanding it and then watched his friend vanish into the night air through the window. He would not return.
"You left him alone," Watson whispers out loud, and the break in the silence is deafening. The image of the last time he had seen Holmes, his figure tall and dark against the stark white patches of Alpine snow, flashes agonizingly again in his mind for the thousandth time. He had turned and abandoned him, his friend, led astray by some flimsy story of a dying Englishwoman and Watson's own unremitting gullibility. And Sherlock Holmes was left alone to face his greatest enemy, alone to battle him, alone to struggle and die.
Holmes is dead.
Watson snaps his eyes shut to block out this room and all the things in it, as well as all that is lacking. At once, the world spins askew and his knee suddenly refuses to continue holding his weight. Blindly, he reaches out, flailing for purchase of any modicum of stability. He finds the sideboard by the door and grasps it with both hands and all of his might. His entire frame shudders with his open sobs.
It is all lost now. All of it. All of their work together and all of their time together, lost. And Watson is alone. He left Holmes alone to face his fate on the side of that mountain and now he is alone, forever. He feels hollowed inside and cold. The greatest mind, the finest man he has ever known, that the world has ever known, is lost forever to the pitiless, churning gyre, never to return. Sherlock Holmes is dead and gone. Dead and gone and everyone now must find some way to go on without him. Watson too must find something, somehow. There must be a way to go on without him. There can be no other logical answer. He is quite sure Holmes would have concurred with him on that point. A way to keep going surely must exist. It is simply that Watson cannot yet imagine what it could possibly be.
He wipes the cool tears away from his face with the back of his hand and rubs his eyes. He is so very tired. Deep breaths help ease Watson's shaking, but they catch hard in his throat the instant he opens his eyes once again. Between his hands on the sideboard sits Holmes' beautiful, beloved Stradivarius.
The violin is a work of art, a most treasured possession, crafted by a master and wielded by a gifted savant. Skilled hands willed sound into being with it; clever fingers sculpted movement and vibration into elegant, entrancing music with it. And he will never play it again. Never.
Without thinking, Watson shoves the violin away from him, desperate to force it from his sight. It is too close, too painful. Too much to bear. The instrument slides off its perch and tumbles to the ground with a cacophonous crash.
For Watson, this happens so terribly slowly, the violin first teetering precariously, its veneer shining in the waning daylight. Then it falls, twisting and turning in the air. He reaches out for it urgently, to stop it, to catch it, to save it, but the violin is beyond his grasp. It lands roughly on the floor, its wood and strings wailing under the strain before it finally comes to a rest face down and silence fills the room again.
There is a moment of sheer horror that passes before he can even move. Then Watson rushes forward and kneels beside the violin, his doctor's hands floating just above it. Delicately, he lifts it from the ground and turns it over with the greatest care to examine the damage. By some miracle, there is none to be found.
A soft cry of relief breaks the quiet as he runs his fingers over the neck and body of the Stradivarius, along its angles and edges. It is still perfect somehow, unblemished and unbroken. It is astonishing but somehow, gratefully, the violin is no worse for wear.
The same cannot be said for Watson himself, however, who sighs and drops to the floor to sit. Every piece of him, every bone in his body aches. In his hands lies Holmes' prized violin and all around him lie the remnants of the adventures of one Mister Sherlock Holmes and one Doctor John Watson. In another life, he would have been patiently waiting for the detective to return from one investigation or another, brimming with information and found connections. In that life, he could be back through the door at any given moment. In this life, Watson just sits on the bare floor, stares at the violin in his hands and waits for the last light of the setting sun to fade into shadow.