In the land of England, specifically the city of London, is where our story begins– although it ends in quite a different place. In London, if you are a man in possession of quite a bit of wisdom, then you are well off indeed. Those who are able further to wrap their wisdom with infinite wit are treasured above all, so even a man who is in the least intelligent, seeks to also have a bit of wit about him. But Mr. John H. Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers (formerly of Afghanistan and India proper) found that he lacked wisdom and never had a knack for wit, so when he found himself back in his old college stomping ground after many years abroad, he felt quite out of his element. But with a pensioner's pay, and no family ties, he did what any English gentleman would do in London: spend all of his time playing cards at the tables of his local gentleman's club. The hotel at which he was staying was abysmal at best, so he spent as much time as he could cooped up in the warm, smoky atmosphere, losing all of his money in comfort.
But his habits could only outlast his purse. At the rate he was going, Watson would have had to succumb to borrowing money from some unsavory characters if he hadn't had the very good luck of running into an old college friend at the club, Stamford. Watson quickly divulged to his friend about the dire circumstances. "I cannot afford to live in the hotel any longer," he admitted. "But solving the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price is quite difficult." Stamford looked as if he was about to say something, but was unsure of whether he should or not. Watson raised an eyebrow. "What is it?" he asked. "Do you know of somewhere?"
"I do," Stamford admitted, sounding extremely hesitant. "Although I'm not sure if you would be interested. Sherlock Holmes is rather... an eccentric sort." But when pressed further, Stamford could would not go into detail. "You'd simply have to meet him" was the only explanation that Stamford would give, so Watson resolved to do just that.
The apartment at 221B Baker Street was much grander than Watson had imagined. From what he could manage to get out of Stamford, he had not expected this Sherlock Holmes to be living in such a fine place. It was a three level townhouse with a charming exterior and even more so interior. Tidy and charming, the house was quite inviting. The landlady, Mrs. Hudson, was most welcoming. She smiled the instant Watson introduced himself. "Oh, I do hope you decide to stay, Doctor," she said, kindly. "Mr. Holmes is ever in need of a new companion. I do worry about him, always up there alone." And while he was worried about his leg and the seventeen stairs leading to where the rooms were, Watson was already half convinced to take the apartment, regardless of this Sherlock Holmes and whatever his eccentricities.
After knocking on Holmes‘ door, Stamford looked over to Watson with a brief nervous smile. Before Watson could ask what the matter was, the door was open and Sherlock Holmes was standing before them.
Holmes was a tall, lanky fellow with extremely pale coloring indicating that he didn't go out in the sun much. Yet his expression was world worn, experienced. He was not from the same mold as Stamford; the traditional English gentleman whose most important labor in life is hiding one‘s own self-importance with a façade of modesty. An air of superiority and intelligence radiated off of Holmes, and Watson, to his never-ending regret, found himself overwhelmed by it. "Stamford," Holmes nodded, but his eyes were locked on the face of John Watson. Holmes' fierce grey eyes chilled Watson to the bone. "I do not know you." Watson's face flushed as floundered to say something. But Holmes did not give him the chance to reply, "But I perceive that you have been in Afghanistan," Holmes said flatly.
"How on Earth did you know that?" Watson asked, his eyes wide. Although in the back of his mind, he knew that he should be outraged that Holmes had not even had the courtesy to allow the trade of introductions.
Holmes shook his head. Chuckling to himself, he said, "Never mind. Come in gentleman. Please, sit down." He opened the door wide, allowing Watson and Stamford to pass the threshold.
The confident feeling Watson had about taking the rooms vanished when he saw the state of the sitting room. The floor was littered with papers, books, newspaper clippings, a violin and bow, photographs, monographs, and several cups of tea, all of which did not look like it had moved for some time. It was hard to believe the this apartment belonged to the same planet, much less the same building! Walking into the room was impossible to do without stepping on something. But as they moved into the room, Watson saw far many worse things. There was a VR inscribed on the far wall in bullet holes, for example, with dubious green liquid leaking through some of the holes, which led Watson to believe that perhaps they were not made by bullets after all. On the mantle place there was an odious skull that seemed to be looking directly at Watson; a small dagger which had be driven into the wood, and held a small collection of envelopes; and a slipper stuffed with tobacco, which hung from the end of the mantle and was held in place by a collection of five or six smoking pipes. Closest to the door, there was a long table with a vast array of chemicals haphazardly stored, some smoldering, that encouraged both Stamford and Watson quickly to the seats that were as far from it as possible.
If it were not for the fact that Watson had needed the room ever so desperately, he would have turned right around and left the place. But as it stood, it was either here or the streets, so he decided to look past the mess and try to make the best impression that he could on Sherlock Holmes.
Stamford sat on the settee and Watson decided to take the wicker chair closet to the fireplace, which he found odd to be burning midday near the end of Summer. It seemed the safest distance from the chemical table despite the radiating heat from the fire. Holmes stood before them with a large smile on his face but said nothing as Watson tried desperately not to stare.
Clearing his throat, Stamford was the one who broke the silence. "Holmes, this is an old college friend of mine, John Watson. He is in the process of looking for a room to rent and I thought..." he coughed. "Well, I remembered that you had said something to the matter that you were looking for someone to go halves in these, er, lovely rooms."
"Indeed," Holmes replied, still staring at Watson, but the smile had vanished. He was now looking at the doctor as if he could see into his very soul. And based on what he had already deduced, Watson wasn't quite sure that was exactly what Sherlock Holmes was doing.
But then, with a blink, Holmes' attention turned away and he was the smiling man again. "Forgive the mess," he said with a great flourish of his arms. "I've just finished a complicated matter, and Mrs. Hudson has yet to grace the sitting room with her forces of cleaning." He laughed briefly, only making Stamford and Watson all the more uncomfortable. Holmes turned his attention back to Watson, although in a much more friendly matter. "Tell me, doctor, do you mind tobacco smoke?"
"Not at all. I always smoke 'ship's' myself," Watson replied. "But how did you know that I-"
"Tell me," Holmes interjected, clearly ignoring the obvious question, "Are you adverse to violin playing?"
"Not particularly, so long as it's well played."
Holmes clapped his hand together and smiled widely. "That settles it then! You can move in tomorrow if you like."
"Nonsense, doctor," Holmes shook his head. "There's nothing to fret over. I don't have any other shortcomings, besides the occasional chemical experimentation. I can be a very amiable person, when I set my mind to it." After a second's more consideration, and in the process looking over Watson once more, Holmes nodded. "I think we'll get along just fine."
Watson was seriously beginning to think that Sherlock Holmes could actually read his mind, with his undercutting replies that addressed exactly what he was thinking. "I haven't-"
"No need," Holmes said reassuringly. "Well, I do hate to cut this interview short, but I still have a very busy day ahead of me, and Scotland Yard is expecting me, so I have to say good morning to the both of you." He offered his hand to Watson.
They were rushed out of the rooms just as quickly as they had been rushed in. Mrs. Hudson saw them to the door, visibly concerned for how short of a time Watson had taken in his inquiries. Although she did give him a brief smile before wishing Stamford and he a good day.
"I warned you," Stamford chuckled after the door shut behind them. "Strange fellow."
"Is he always like that?" Watson asked, still completely astounded.
"Not always." Stamford shrugged. "When his mind is preoccupied, he can be a bit... brief with people. But he is always as polite as could be expected of someone in his situation."
"And what, pray tell, is that?"
"Well, you saw the rooms with yourself. What do you think?"
Watson shrugged, "He's a bit eccentric. Very puzzling. Something about his eyes, though... I can't put my finger on it."
The two began to walk away from 221B Baker Street. Watson hoped that some distance would clear his head to the strange encounter. But it only made things worse. When Watson could not stand it any longer, he stopped and turned to Stamford, "How the devil did he know that I had come from Afghanistan? And a doctor?"
"That's just his little peculiarity," Stamford said with a strange smile. "A good many people have wanted to know how he finds things out." After a glance, Stamford could make his own conclusions. "I know that look. You're going to take it, aren't you? You always did enjoy a good mystery."
"He's intriguing, you must admit."
"You'll find him a knotty problem, despite your best efforts. He is quite heartless."
Watson moved in the very next day.
Not that there was very much to move. His army habits meant he retained very few possessions which barely filled the large trunk he owned. Living quarters needed to be easily and quickly moved. Nothing was ever permanent. His possessions barely filled the large trunk that he was issued: clothes, his journals from the war, a few worn yellow-back novels that he had since purchased and read through several times since arriving in London, a few boxes of cigars, and his brother's watch.
But whatever expectations Watson had about moving into the upper-level rooms of 221B Baker Street were forgotten as soon as all his belongings were moved into his new room. He quickly learned that with Sherlock Holmes, you could have no expectations, except perhaps to welcome the most unexpected.
Having seen the state of the sitting room during their introduction, Watson had assumed that what Holmes had said was true– and that the ever-kind Mrs. Hudson would have the sitting room in top condition the following morning when Watson rang. From what he could tell, there had been a serious attempt to pick up the flood of papers that covered the floor. However, it seemed a new mess had taken over the sitting room, this time with chemicals, scribbled notes, and scientific books spread out on the floor. Holmes showed no sense of shame when he welcomed Watson into this newly made mess, smiling widely just as he had the day before. The trunk that Watson drug behind him shifted the sea of papers. He would have apologized if it weren't for the fact that Holmes looked as if he didn't care at all. So there was no method to his messes? They were just there. That was something Watson resolved, to himself at least, to change then. He could not tolerate a mess just for the sake of having one.
The two men worked together to tote Watson's cumbersome trunk up the small stairs where Watson's new room lay. The entrance to Watson’s new room was a small narrow staircase of ten or so stairs. At the top of the slight, there was Watson’s room to the right and a storage closet to the left. It was a small room, but Watson was never one who needed much space. The smirk on Holmes' face did not once disappear as quickly as it had the day previous, but he remained silent. Watson, attempting to fill the void with any kind of conversation as they worked their way up the stairs, finally said, "Have you known Stamford long?"
"Not long," Holmes replied easily. It was baffling to Watson that the man had taken much more than an even share of the weight of the trunk, but yet his voice sounded as if he were perfectly at ease. "We have attended some of the same lectures at St. Bart's the last few months," he added, once again anticipating Watson's forthcoming question.
"But you aren't studying to be a doctor."
A small chuckle came from Holmes then as they finally reached the top of the stairs. "Admirably spotted." They lowered the trunk to the wood flooring, Holmes with much flourish of his hands. Holmes moved his hands around quite frequently, Watson noticed. They were like an outlet for pent up energy, moving constantly like Holmes’ mind, while the rest of his body could not perhaps keep up. Holmes smiled at Watson and added, "No doubt it was from an observation you have made about my character in the few minutes of our acquaintance."
Waving Watson aside, Holmes knelt down and pushed the trunk into Watson's room. "If you would enlighten me, doctor. I am extremely interested in how you came about this conclusion."
Watson followed him into the room, slightly annoyed. He nodded to the trunk and said, "You know, I could have done that, Mr. Holmes."
"Certainly you could," Holmes replied with another wide smirk. "However, you will find that I do not condone people with severe injuries making them worse by doing things they should instead ask for assistance. Especially when someone can so readily available. Now, as you were saying?"
Unsure on how to follow that remark, Watson stared at his new roommate for a moment. There was no doubt in Watson's mind that his gait gave nothing away about the limp in his leg. He had practiced for several weeks, once regaining the ability to walk, to hide his injury just so. However Holmes had seen through him so easily, as so many other things in their very brief acquaintance that Watson couldn't help but begin to suspect Holmes was a wizard.
Watson's silence only made Holmes' smirk wider. "Forgive me for saying something about it, doctor. I can see it is not a subject you like speaking about," he gave a slight bow in show of wanting forgiveness. "Sometimes, in my observations, I have a tendency to go too far, as I am sure Stamford already warned you of. It would not be the first time or certainly the last. Please say that you forgive me. I would hate to ruin your opinion of me so early in our acquaintance."
Nodding, Watson replied, "Certainly." Then, with a small laugh, he added, "But I would dearly like to know how you do it."
"It's nothing more than what I am sure are the same powers of observation that you have used on myself," Holmes said flippantly, shaking his head.
"Yours powers are much sharper than mine," Watson observed.
Holmes thought about that for a moment, tilting head to the right. "More practiced, perhaps. But that comes in my line of profession."
"But if you are not a doctor, then why are you attending lectures at St Bart's? Stamford tells me you also use the labs they provide as well. So it pertains to something in the medical field, surely."
At this Holmes' shoulders shook in a kind of silent laughter. "Not exactly." When Watson opened his mouth to inquire further, Holmes interrupted him with a raised hand. "Perhaps I may be so good in pointing out that you came to your conclusions based on the fact that I am perhaps too detached to be a good practitioner of medicine," he added. "Ergo my expertise is in other areas that require the use of some medical knowledge."
Holmes gave Watson a firm pat on the shoulder. "I have no doubts you will work it out, doctor. But for now I must leave you to your unpacking and thoughts. My presence is required in the sitting room in precisely, three, two..." There was a loud knock downstairs. With another flourish of his right hand, Holmes backed out of the room and closed the door, leaving poor Watson feeling more confused than he had been when their conversation began.
As he did not have many belongings to unpack, it did not take long for Watson to become settled into his new quarters. He did take some time, however, relaxing on his new bed, absorbing his new home. It had been a long time since he truly belonged anywhere. Traveling in the Army, the hospital treatments, and then living in a small hotel room in London– he had been like a ghost for the last several years of his life.
With his trunk unpacked, and it being close to lunch time, Watson slowly made his way down the narrow steps to the sitting room, listening carefully for whatever it was that 'required Holmes' presence.' Watson still was not sure what to make of Holmes' announcement, but he could only assume it had something to do with Mrs. Hudson.
Upon opening the door to the sitting room, it was clear that he was very much mistaken. Holmes was sitting down in the chair closest to the fireplace (again, the fire was blazing on such a warm day), in conversation with a plump fiery red-headed man that Watson had never seen before. The stranger looked very distraught, although Watson could not tell whether it was about the conversation, or having to be so obviously overheated by the heat from the fire.
Regardless of his curiosity, Watson's face flushed as he stammered, "I'm so sorry. I've interrupted–"
Holmes regarded him with another one of his large smirks. "You could not possibly have come at a better time, doctor!" he said cordially. When Watson moved to shut the door, Holmes leapt from his chair, and over the settee, to stop Watson from closing it.
"I was afraid that you were engaged," Watson replied quietly, looking uncertainly at the red-headed man again.
"So I am," Holmes nodded. "Very much so."
"Then I can go back–"
"Not at all," Holmes insisted, pulling the door to the stairs fully open. He turned to the red-headed man, who now looked positively confused, and gestured to Watson. "This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, shares my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. I have no doubt that he will lend us some assistance in your problem." He turned back to Watson, "Try the settee, doctor. It is quite comfortable."
"But, Mr. Holmes-"
"I assure you, you will not regret it," Holmes replied in almost a whisper that caught Watson's breath. Clearly his words had multiple meanings. Something shone in Holmes' eyes then, Watson noticed.
Watson would later realize that the moment he walked over to the settee, thus giving into Holmes' whim, was the moment he was truly thrust into Holmes' world. Had he stayed upstairs, safe, with his sea novel adventures and painful memories of the war, things would have never become so complicated. He and Holmes would have shared rooms for some months, sharing polite, but vacuous, conversation that would result in some kind of stronger acquaintance, but would have never moved any further. Eventually, Watson would have met a nice woman, and moved on, never knowing the depths of mystery that Holmes was truly hiding behind those grey eyes.
But Stamford was right. Watson did enjoy a good mystery. And Sherlock Holmes was the biggest one Watson ever encountered. Thus, he never regretted sitting down on the settee, waiting for Holmes to bring him into the mysterious world of 221B Baker Street.