Hello again, 1800
"You alright, John?"
John stopped pinching the bridge of his nose and looked up at Greg Lestrade who was watching him in concern.
"Yeah, just a bit tired, that's all," John replied, closing the file he has been reading and putting it back on the coffee table in front of the DI.
"Yeah, seems it. You look as if you've not slept in days," Lestrade commented.
"Feels like it." John sighed and leaned back on his chair. "I think you better check the building's caretaker again. He's lying about being in Brighton on the day of the murder."
"Oh?" Lestrade said in a surprised tone, "What makes you say that?"
"You said the local police took him in for causing a public nuisance, yeah? They went through his things and found the usual - clothes, wallet, hand-phone... but no pills or medical ointment in his pack of toiletries."
"Pills and medical cream? What for?"
"For extreme irritation and itchiness," John said, "I saw the news covering the murder yesterday and when he was being interviewed, he kept putting his hands in his pocket and you know when guys put their hands in their pockets..."
Lestrade waved his hands in a motion for John to continue as he gave the doctor a wry smile.
"I doubt he'd get that excited when being interviewed a few feet away from the scene of the murder so he's probably rubbing or scratching the area of his crotch because he can't help it."
"Maybe it's a nervous habit... or maybe he has the hots for the reporter," Lestrade started. When John gave him a look that says really?, Lestrade replayed the interview in his mind to remember what the reporter looked like and quickly said, "Yeah, alright. So he's got a... non-sexual itch or something."
"My guess is eczema. The symptoms get worse the more the skin gets sweaty so I assume he got nervous and sweated enough with the police all around him, to trigger the itchiness. Find out if he's got any skin irritation problems in his medical records. If he does, he wouldn't be travelling without his medication and if his affliction is serious enough, he would require topical steroids which can only be acquired through prescription which is all the better for you to make your case."
"So you think he has someone stand in for him while he stays to murder his tenant?"
John shrugged. "I'm suggesting that you re-check the fingerprints for his processing in Brighton."
Lestrade stared at him for a while before forcing his mouth to close again. "That's... that's brilliant, John. Even if what you saw wasn't what you thought it was, it's still a lot compared to what my officers and I could get running around out there when all you did was sit in your chair watching tv."
John smiled. "Thanks. Living with Sherlock for years, it's bound to seep in no matter how often he said that it was hopeless."
Lestrade gave John a sad smile, not the one he gets when remembering Sherlock's various past deceptions (annoyance) or the one he gets when remembering the consulting detective's past social faux pas (amusement), but the one gets when he remembers Sherlock as the person who was an amazing detective and a dear friend to the man sitting across him.
"Well, I'll get right on it tomorrow and tell you what I find as soon as I do. For now, you need to sleep," Lestrade said, standing up to put on his coat which he has draped over the back of the chair, before picking up the file and slipping it under his arm.
John nodded and as he stood up to show Lestrade to the door, he gave a wince.
"Leg acting up again?" Lestrade said, nodding to the aforementioned limb.
"Yeah, just a bit," John said, rubbing at the length from thigh to knee, "sometimes, when I sit down too long."
"Well, you can just walk it off until the landing then," Lestrade told him, "Mrs Hudson can lock the door behind me."
"Yeah, okay. Goodnight, Greg," John said opening the door and as Lestrade trudged down the steps, Mrs Hudson appeared at the foot of the steps, no doubt hearing the the DI on the stairs to see to his departure.
John left Mrs Hudson and Lestrade chatting at the front door and went back to the common room where John would spend hours watching telly on the sofa where in the past Sherlock would usually occupy when he wanted to think or go in a tremendous sulk. The first few months of Sherlock's death, the sofa smelt like the detective but nowadays it has faded away, leaving only John's scent on the cushions. Although it eased a little of his heart-break from being reminded of his best friend every time he sits down for a rest after a monotonous yet mentally-draining day of work, he gets sad that bit-by-bit every little thing that reminds him of Sherlock has started to disappear.
He knew he should get out of Baker Street, if not because he couldn't afford the rent without a flatmate, it was also because it wasn't healthy for his state of heart and mind.
Slowly, John went into the kitchen to get a glass of water and his sleeping pills that Ella prescribed to him yesterday, the bottle sitting on the counter, glaringly incongruent with the other items in the room. It has been a shit day in the clinic with an eight hours shift and as he opened the pill bottle, he vaguely had a moment of deja vu before shrugging and popping the pills in his mouth and chasing them down with water. Then with a sigh, John shuffled tiredly to the stairs that would lead him to his bedroom and as soon as he reached his bed, he flopped onto the sheets without changing his clothes and was instantly dead to the world.
John groaned as he was slowly pulled to consciousness by the sudden chillness in the room. He slowly sat up in the dark, head groggy and his heart thumping quickly and loudly than was normal, before walking down the steps to go the kitchen with the intention to wash his face in the sink and immediately start counting his pills to see whether his suspicion that he might have taken more than he ought, is right. He didn't bother to hit the switch, remembering the route to the kitchen by memory and the fact that he knew that it would give him a splitting headache if he put on the lights.
His mind must've been more affected by the medication than he thought because he kept bumping into walls and things on the way to the kitchen that he could've sworn weren't there before.
When he reached the common room though he was surprised by the total darkness of the room caused by the lack of light from outside. John figured that there must be a power outtage that affected the street-lights and the heating in the flat and he was still dizzily thinking if he should just crash on the sofa or make his way up the stairs and back into his bed when he suddenly felt a hard object poking him in the back.
"An intruder," a rich cultured voice spoke to him in the darkness. "I advise you not to do anything unwise or I will shoot you where you stand," the man warned when John made a small move, a left-over instinct from being constantly in danger running around with Sherlock.
"Now sit," the man said, pushing John hard that he stumbled and fell onto what he thought ought to be the well-worn but soft cushions of the sofa but was instead onto something that has hard corners and thin padding.
Then there was the sound of a match being struck and when a slow glow began to permeate the blackness, he winced and squinted his eyes against the golden light coming from an old-syle lamp on a table. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he took a good look at his surroundings and gaped. It wasn't 221B, that was for sure, but he has a feeling that he has been here before.
When he looked up at the person who has caught him unawares, green eyes met his rusty grey, in surprise.
John stared at the man in the neatly pressed shirt and pants, dark hair smartly pushed back to show the pale face which looked a bit older and gaunt compared to when John saw the man last.
John & Holmes catches up.
John placed the cup back onto the saucer and sighed. Tea, he thinks, is always better with steeped leaves. If he had the time and funds for a tin of these, he'd steep his own tea every day; morning, noon and night and would happily chew off Sherlock's grubby hands if they go anywhere near them for one of his experiments.
"How have you been, doctor, since I last saw you? You've disappeared without a trace that evening 10 years ago."
Holmes sat across him, both of them sitting in Mrs Hudson's sitting room with the landlady already retired for the night. There was a small fire burning in the fireplace and although it was enough to warm the cramped room they were in, John still took great delight in the soothing warmth and smokey taste of the tea settling easily in his stomach.
John Watson leaned back on his chair, cradling the cup of tea close to his chest. "I'm well, considering. I thought it was a dream until I woke up with a set of clothes I haven't owned before. And my black jacket-?"
"Safe, I should think," Holmes said carelessly, "Now the question that begs to be asked is this - how have you managed to land yourself back here?"
John gave a wry smile at how stubborn Holmes still is in not wanting to wholly accept that he came from the future by not using the word future.
"I think I took too much pills than I was supposed to-" Suddenly John sat up straight. "Good God! I hope I didn't overdose. They'll think I've killed myself. I don't think 'depressed partner' is any better than 'confirmed bachelor'."
Holmes arched his eyebrows. "Explain yourself, doctor" the man ordered.
John sighed and leaned back again before he began to narrate the story of how an enemy of Sherlock's has framed the consulting detective as a fraud which ultimately lead to the young man's demise. "And the bad part is that people remember him as a criminal now, believing that all the amazing thing that he has done was not real. It was real, at least to me."
"My dear boy," Holmes said finally, "I am so sorry to hear this."
"I don't believe him dead though," John said harshly. "They believe that he is, but I chose not to."
"Why is that?" the dark-haired man asked.
"I just... I don't. But I still can't figure out why because for a man like him, being called a fraud is inconsequential," John said, "He's always doing these brilliant things that are unbelievable. To fake his death? It'd be a walk in the park for him. "
Holmes tilted his head in thought. "Did you see his body?"
"I think I did. They said I did but it was too quick..." John said, frowning. "There were too many people and I was in a state of shock." He laughed bitterly. "I've seen soldiers lose their limbs or mortar punching a hole in a man's stomach, and still I was able to function on the field. But this... I was close to passing out."
"You've lost a friend," Holmes said, leaning forward on his chair to fix John a compassionate look, "Shock and disbelief is to be expected when facing the death of a loved one."
John snorted. "Then comes what? Anger and depression?"
Holmes shrugged. "Normally."
"Well, thanks but no thanks," John said, "I'd stick with disbelief for now."
Holmes gave John an inscrutable look and asked. "For how long?"
The doctor turned away to stare at the the fire but not before Holmes saw the small tremble at the corner of his mouth.
The 19th century consulting detective quietly took out a cigarette from his case in his pocket and lit it up while waiting for the other man to gather himself.
After a few minutes, John rubbed his cheek and with a tone of contrite mixed with weariness, asked, "And what about you? What've you been doing since I saw you last?"
Holmes took a deep drag from his cigarette and let the smoke curl out of his lips before fully exhaling in a measured sigh.
"Running," Holmes told him with a wry smile, "I still am."
John smirked. "Running is a tiring thing."
"Tremendously," Holmes replied, giving the doctor one of those small crooked smiles. "But I had to. To keep the people I care about safe, I had to run away."
John took a look at the bags under the brunette's eyes made darker by the flickering shadows from the fire. But even then, Holmes' eyes haven't lost its clear gaze even in the face of exhaustion.
"Will the people you care about forgive you for running away, you think?" the doctor asked.
Holmes rolled his eyes. "Mrs Hudson was in hysterics when I appeared before her. Right now, she is the only one who knows of my presence. And after you have left, I acquired a friend to share the flat. Do you know he has the same name as yours, same occupation and has been to a war as well? I would've called foul when I first met him if not for the fact that I have not told anyone of you except to have written it on paper, locked away from prying eyes."
"Good bloke then?" John asked.
"He's a good man and a very good friend," Holmes said proudly, "He would forgive me for my deception."
John laughed. "That's where our similarities end then," he said, "If I find Sherlock alive, I would sock him a new one for making me go through the terrible business. Then maybe, just maybe, will I forgive him."
Holmes chuckled. "What a unforgiving man you are, Doctor Watson. And spirited. Which leads me to ask if you would like to join me in meeting a business associate of a man I met in Grenoble who has helped sent a package by train from Paris. This is a part of the process wherein I would be able to flush out my enemies out in the open and finally eliminate the danger set upon me."
John felt the stirrings of excitement in his blood as Holmes fixed upon him a piercing look that he would've been at home on Sherlock's face.
"Before you agree, I have to warn you, Doctor Watson," the man said, "that my enemies are everywhere and they will not rest before I am dead. Any threat to expose me will need to be disposed of. What say you, doctor? This will be a dangerous undertaking."
John gave Holmes a smile which held a hint of feral and said, "My favourite kind."
Holmes: "Call me Mr Sigerson"
"Doctor Watson, wake up."
John reluctantly opened his eyes and had to squint for a bit at the sunlight streaming into the window of the room, before they settled on Holmes. At least, John hoped it was Holmes.
The displaced doctor blearily regarded the old man with the weathered face and the grey-yellowish teeth behind a wrinkled grin, with a frown. "Holmes?" he croaked.
"Ah, good," Holmes said, pleased that he did not have to calm John down at having a stranger hovering over him in his sleep, "As you can see, a disguise is needed to fool my pursuers especially now that I intend to go out to collect a package at the Bell & Ives in Piccadilly. Come along, Doctor. We best be leaving if we want to be back before noon."
And with that the man walked out in a twirl of musky, age-old great coat without another word, leaving John to slump back onto the sofa where he was put for the night, with a groan.
John yawned and rubbed the lids of his eyes to chase the sleepiness away. He was back to wearing the many layers of Victorian menswear and like before he couldn't help but fidget with the hard collars but was too lethargic to properly complain. Across from him, Holmes - in his old man get-up - was staring contemplatively at the passing scenery, not speaking from the moment they boarded the train other than telling John the seats they should be sitting at, in his shaky and querulous old-man's voice.
Holmes did an amazing transformation upon himself, changing everything from his clothes, his hair, his face, his teeth, his voice and even his posture which John assumed was very straining on the man's back by bending his lean form in a hunched manner to make himself shorter and frail.
Before they left the flat, Holmes warned that they should not be using their real names; that Holmes was to be called Mr Sigerson and John as Mr Evans.
"So..." John began quietly, "We're being followed, then?"
"Hmm," Holmes murmured, "A young man in his early 30's, brown-coloured hair, who has been following us since Baker Street - a garroter by the name of Parker. They are not leaving it to chance. I suspect the stories of one of my adventures after my disappearance from London have reached the remaining members of my old enemy's circle and if they have not discovered that I am the man they are searching for, then they must have at least suspect that this old man is tied to Sherlock Holmes' continued existence."
John looked at Holmes sceptically. "Because you've moved to 221? How could they have tied you to that?"
"The fact that I'm using the name Sigerson which I have used during my travels in Tibet," Holmes replied nonchalantly, "If they have followed me from London to Tibet, they would know of that name."
The doctor gave Holmes an incredulous look. "Why would you do that?"
"You are a man of war, Mr Evans," the detective drawled, "how would you entice your enemy to come out of hiding?"
John's eyebrows knotted. "Offer the enemy easy pickings."
Holmes grinned, displaying the moulty coloured teeth. "Exactly."
Holmes and John arrived at the Bell & Ives an hour later. The store only had one customer perusing the wares so it was easy for them to obtain the attention of the manager who instantly knew which package Holmes required as soon as he dropped the name of Monseiur Oscar Meunier. He brought Holmes and John to the back room where the man brought out a box and placed it on top of a table in front of the two men. When he opened it, John stared at the object inside in surprise.
The doctor blinked. "It's- it's..."
"It is an exact replica of our friend, is it not?" Holmes said, pleased that the wax bust turned out so well.
John made a sound of affirmation and with Holmes' nod, the manager closed the box again and handed it over to John who accepted it after a nudge from the consulting detective.
As soon as they left the store, Holmes gave a wheezy cough and took out a handkerchief to cover his mouth. From behind the piece of cloth, the consulting detective discreetly whispered to John, "It seems that our man, Parker, has no more patience to hide in the shadows. Prepare yourself, doctor. He may make a move soon."
John gripped the box tighter and followed Holmes entering the quiet side-street which they already went through to get to the store from the train station. After a few minutes of walking, the sound of footsteps on the walkway got closer and quicker and by mutual agreement the two swiftly made a detour at a corner where John carefully placed the bust on the ground and readied himself for their pursuer. As soon as Parker appeared at the corner, John made a move, clothes-lining the man to the ground. The garroter was made of sterner stuff than John has expected because as soon as he hauled the man off the ground, Parker quickly broke off John's hold on him before ducking the doctor's fist and twisting himself around that he was able to hold John by the neck with choke-hold. The two scuffled but John could not get away and his eyes widened when he saw the man pull out a line from under his sleeve and attempted to strangle John who managed to place his fingers quickly under the twine before it managed to touch the skin of his throat.
Parker was strong and John was finding it difficult to free himself when suddenly the man's hold loosened. John quickly recuperated to elbow him hard in the gut before punching his face, knocking the man unconscious on his third hit.
"Are you alright?" Holmes asked, holding John by the shoulder while the doctor coughed, trying to get air back into his lungs.
"Yeah," John wheezed, "Thanks for that."
Holmes, who John knew had distracted Parker long enough to loosen his hold on the doctor, patted John's shoulder and walked towards the box to pick it up before handing it over to John. "Back to Baker Street, my friend. The wheel has started to move quickly. They've made their move. Now, it's our turn. "
Life in the Empty House
When they arrived back at Baker Street, it was already dark. Holmes divested his disguise before calling out to Mrs Hudson who appeared at the bottom of the stairs with a look of worry on her face.
"The game, Mrs Hudson, is on," Holmes announced.
The house-keeper's lips quickly acquired a hard line and with a decisive nod, went back to her rooms and not long after, appeared again with a key in her hand.
"It's not been disturbed Mr Holmes, just as your brother has requested," Mrs Hudson says, opening the door to Holmes' old room and letting the two men inside. Upon lighting the lamps, John noticed that the room it has not changed much. Other than the musky smell and the cushions and curtains looking more worn than when he last set foot in the room all that were different were odd knick knacks on top of the mantlepiece as well as a new carpet in the centre of the room.
Holmes gave Mrs Hudson what John would think was a grateful smile before his bright eyes took a sweeping look at the room and asked, "Is the table pedestal here, Mrs Hudson?"
"Right at the corner, Mr Holmes," the woman says, pointing to the table which comes up to John's chest. Together, John and Holmes carried the pedestal a few feet away from the window overlooking the street and when they managed to steady it on the floor, Holmes went back to the box they carried from Piccadilly and took out the bust to place it carefully on top of the pedestal.
Mrs Hudson gasped. "Oh my word..."
Holmes stood beside the bust now standing at the same height as the man himself, turned to the house-keeper with a smile. "You need not be intimidated by it, Mrs Hudson, because soon, you will hold a part of equal importance."
Mrs Hudson raised her eyebrows in question.
That same night, Holmes and John laid down in the extra room of 221 - Holmes on the bed and John again on the sofa - just beside Mrs Hudson's living quarters.
Unable to go to sleep yet and guessing that Holmes was as wide awake as he was, John spoke, "You think they'll take the bait?"
"I don't think, Dr Watson," Holmes' deep voice rumbled, "I believe."
John rolled his eyes in the darkness. "So you believe it, then?"
"Yes. That, I do, doctor. That I do."
John made a thoughtful sound. After a few moments, he cleared his throat in an attempt of nonchalance. "So.... we'll be going out to see your Watson-friend tomorrow?"
"No. We need reinforcements first. Only then will we see Watson," Holmes replied and if John didn't know any better, he would've thought he heard a tone of affection in the man's voice when he said his friend's name, "It has been so long...."
There was another moment of silence before John spoke again, "How long have you been away? A month? Two?"
"Longer," Holmes replied somberly.
"Go to sleep, doctor. It starts tomorrow."
The next day, John Watson, the 21st century man, doctor, captain, was no where to be found. Mrs Hudson swore she hasn't seen the doctor since last night and Holmes found no signs that would indicate John has gone out of the room in the few hours Holmes managed to get some sleep. The only possible reason was that the other man has gone again to return to where he came from, leaving Holmes alone to resume the plan. Quickly, the consulting detective shrugged into his disguise before stepping out of 221 to head to Scotland Yard. He needs to see Lestrade.
Back in the 21st Century
John opened his eyes, finding it a little bit disorienting. Slowly, he sat up and realised why. He was back at 221B in 2011 where the world felt noisier, brighter and sharper. He got out of bed and went through the motion of brushing his teeth, shaving and putting on his clothes in a mechanical manner while allowing his mind to process his second time-travel experience, knowing that it was not a dream since he again found himself wearing a shirt and a pair of pants that he would not have bought unless he was invited to a fancy-posh costume party set up by Mycroft because only the observant and meticulous 'civil servant' would be impressed by the genuinity of the articles of clothing.
When he stepped out of the apartment building, John lifted his face to the sun and took a deep breath of the crisp, cold fresh air. Suddenly, the phone in his pocket sounded and he took it out, seeing Lestrade's name on the screen.
John answered. "Hello."
"Hi, morning, John," Lestrade greeted, "I told you I'd tell of any progress in the case that we talked about last night.."
"Yeah," John said, walking forward to head to the clinic to start his shift. "And?"
"Mr Spencer, the caretaker is gone," Lestrade told him, "We went to the flat a few hours ago and one of the tenants said that she hasn't seen him since last night."
"You think he made a run for it?" John asked.
"He may have. I've got my sergeant to wait for him outside-"
John didn't get to hear the rest of Lestrade's sentence because, engrossed at listening to the DI's words, he accidentally walked into another person going the opposite direction who looked as startled as John felt.
"Watch it," the man growled as John stuttered an apology.
The man walked quickly away and it took John a few seconds to realise why he looked familiar. The doctor held the phone back to his ear and heard Lestrade calling out to him.
"Greg," John said, cutting off Lestrade's query, "Can you send someone to Baker Street asap? I think I just bumped into Mr Spencer a few seconds ago. Or his doppelganger, I don't know."
"Shit, seriously?!" Lestrade exclaimed before barking a few orders to someone on the other line, "How long ago again?"
"Not long, but he's going fast," John told him, turning around on his heels to tail the man, "I'll follow him until your people can reach me."
"John! Don't do anything stupid!" Lestrade ordered, "He might be dangerous!"
John felt the irritation that Lestrade thought that he would do something idiotic. Before he could say something about it, he saw that Mr Spencer was suddenly walking faster and as John matched his footsteps while struggling to look normal, the man suddenly broke into a run, making John curse out loud.
"And he's off!" John announced, giving chase.
"You're running after him?!" Lestrade yelled incredulously.
"Yup!" John huffed.
"But, your leg-!"
"Never better," John panted, "Better get your people here quickly. As you said, he might be dangerous!"
"John!" he heard Lestrade's voice call out to him before he cut the line off.
As John caught up to the suspect by barreling into him before he could cross a busy intersection, his thoughts has already acquired a quietening calm amidst the adrenaline pumping in his body. And in one of those thoughts was that even with Sherlock gone physically, the consulting detective has already seeped so deeply into his life that he will forever carry the spirit of Sherlock in him. And that thought was enough to make him feel alive.