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Those Things the Heart Believes

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Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland.  At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty on 4 May 1891.

5 May 1891

The morning after Holmes fell, Watson awoke in a sweat, praying it had all been a dream.

He remembered the empty path, the spray hitting his face, the feeling of distance, finding Holmes’ note. He vaguely remembered the days that followed, waiting in the Swiss hotel, a parade of solicitous people asking him if he was all right, offering him brandy and tea. He remembered the chief of police bringing him the results of the police investigation that concluded both men had fallen to their deaths. Those days were like a waking dream, a nightmare he could not escape.

He barely remembered the trip from Switzerland back to England, the cab he must have taken to Baker Street. He felt dazed, most likely the after-effects of some drug he’d been given to calm his nerves, probably laudanum. A haze hung over him, blurring one hour into the next.

Sitting opposite the empty chair, he felt as if he’d been reading a story that had taken an odd turn, a story he no longer could bear to read.

People said soothing things that did not console him. They kept patting his shoulder, telling him it’s all right.

It wasn’t all right. None of it. He wasn’t sure why people thought they had to tell you it’s all right after something horrible happened, but he wasn’t buying it. Nothing about it was all right. He wasn’t fine. Holmes was dead. He would never be fine, not if he lived a hundred years.

He might have slept for days, so groggy and disoriented did he feel. Lestrade was in the sitting room, waiting for him to wake up. When Watson stumbled down the hall from Holmes' room, having slept in his bed (their bed), Lestrade stood and looked at him, not knowing what to say.

Mrs. Hudson quietly brought in his breakfast and made the tea. He did not eat.

Nor did he talk. He tried not to think. Quite simply, he had no words. He was awake, but half-hoped he’d hallucinated the entire episode. He would rather be mad than for this to be true. He’s all right. Moriarty’s dead, and Holmes has escaped. He’ll be back. But nobody said these things. They just looked at him with sorrow, then averted their eyes, understanding that there was nothing that could be said.

For a few days, this was his life. People speaking quietly when he was awake, people sleeping in the sitting room at 221B, watching him with concern, bringing over food that was not eaten. The funeral was arranged by Mycroft (no burial— there was no body to bury, no grave where Watson could lie down and wish himself dead). Once prayers were said, tears shed, and the final hymn sung (Sherlock would have hated it), everybody went back to what they’d been doing before it all happened.

He kept expecting to wake up, but he didn’t. He thought about killing himself, but something stayed his hand.

It was anger.

Of all the possible endings, this was the least imagined. It had been heroic, sacrificing himself to put an end to Moriarty. But it was all wrong! Heroes should limp back with their shields at their sides, or possibly come back on the shield, their bodies prepared for burial. Heroes should not go headfirst over a waterfall and disappear into the mist. Had Watson written the story himself, he could not have delivered a less satisfying conclusion to the life of Sherlock Holmes. Let him die facing his greatest foe, let him die a hero! But there was no conclusion here; it was all meaningless. This— this! — was almost an insult, for him to die when it could easily have been prevented.

Watson could have prevented it.

But he hadn’t even witnessed it. This disturbed him greatly. He should have been there, protecting Holmes. The note from the hotel, the English lady who needed a doctor — how could he have not seen through it? Well, Watson was aware of his own limits. He had trusted the note— but Holmes! How could he have been so obtuse? Surely he realised what Moriarty was planning and could have avoided it. How had Death found Holmes strolling along the path, oblivious? Why so reckless? Why had he sent Watson back? It seemed like a the plot device of an unskilled author. Or perhaps one who’d grown tired of his hero and wished to kill him off. If Holmes had been suspicious (and Watson knew he’d been as nervous as a cat about their trip abroad), how could Moriarty surprise him?

Oh, Holmes, he thought, that was not the final act you deserved.

But no amount of revision, no altering of details could change the end of this tale. Watson eventually wrote a brief account of the event for The Strand after Moriarty’s brother began bashing Holmes’ reputation. No, Holmes was not responsible for this. Fate was a poor author.

He didn’t count the days. He sleep-walked through them. After a while, he turned the page of his calendar and noticed that it had been a year since it happened. He felt a million years old.

221B Baker Street was empty. He lived like a ghost there amid the clutter that had been his former life — their life. He knew he should move on, but could not. Not yet.

He resumed the practice he'd broken off to follow his friend to Europe, saw patients, but eventually found himself reverting to what he’d been before meeting Holmes: a man broken by life. The legacy of Sherlock Holmes had been Watson’s own revived energy, his craving for danger and adventure. But now, he could not pretend that he would continue that legacy. He was not the John Watson who had run down alleys, across rooftops, up the steps of 221B, his revolver tucked into his pocket, in the wake of his best friend. He was not that person.

It was painful to realise, but he had to leave. It had been over two years.

 

He married and moved to a house in Kensington. His wife was a woman he’d met on a case with Holmes. Mary was her name, a sweet, pretty woman who was content to have a distant husband. His patients never kept him very busy. The work was easy, his patients never very sick. Occasionally he ran into people he’d known before, but it seemed that the best part of his life had ended. He still had dreams of running up seventeen steps and finding Sherlock in the sitting room, smoking his pipe.

Five years went by. Mary had died, leaving him no children. He continued on as before, visiting patients, eating toast and eggs while reading the newspaper, sitting in the evenings reading a novel or a journal, a cigar in hand and a glass of port in his side.

After a few months, he married again, a sweet, pale woman much like Mary. Her name was Constance. She sat with him in the evenings, reading or doing a bit of fancy work.

His practice did not thrive, but it kept him busy enough. His days were comfortable, unvaried. The rest of his life stretched out before him like a landscape barren of any features of interest. He tried not to think about what could have been.

More years went by. He looked up Mycroft Holmes and found that he’d died a year earlier. Heart attack. Sudden, not unexpected, considering his habits.

He sought out Lestrade and learned that he’d retired. Gregson and Dimmock seemed surprised to see him. “We thought you were dead,” Gregson said.

“So did I,” he replied.

His second wife died. His third wife was a lovely, fair-haired woman who sometimes called him James. He called her my dear. Her name was Elizabeth, he thought. Or maybe Alice.

He went to Baker Street and walked the steps up to their old flat. The building had gone from Mrs Hudson to Mycroft Holmes. On Mycroft’s death, the property went to John Watson. For several minutes he stood at the door, listening for ghosts. Mrs Hudson had been dead for over ten years. There were no new tenants. An agent was now being paid to take care of the building.

He walked into the flat. Someone, probably Mrs Hudson’s nephew, had long ago packed up the papers and books and paraphernalia. The boxes were piled against one wall. The bed was stripped of its sheets and blankets, the bathroom held no linens. In the kitchen, the icebox stood empty, smelling vaguely of bleach. No kettle on the hob, no experiments on the table.

The furniture was dusty, the upholstery and curtains sun-faded. He imagined a client sitting in the third chair, Holmes leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, smoking as he listened to the story. He saw himself, pen poised over his notebook, ready to take down the essential facts of the case. He imagined their conversation, rambling on late into the night.

It hardly felt like the place where he’d spent the best years of his life. There was no evidence of Holmes and Watson, no indication that anyone was expected.

He looked inside a few of those boxes and did not find himself there, either. He saw old notes he’d taken, found Sherlock’s microscope, but it felt as if he were looking at historical artefacts.

It hollowed him out, made him feel as if he were a living relic. He could not live here again. It was once his home, his heart. Now, his heart still broken, it was a tomb of that life he’d once lived.

Eventually he looked in the mirror and realised that he didn’t look a day older than the day Sherlock fell. He’d been thirty-nine when that happened. He remembered his younger self thinking how old that was, how he’d expected to be married with a house full of children by then.

And he knew that the only person he’d ever loved was Sherlock Holmes.

 

He made an appointment to see Stamford. They’d known one another for so long, he couldn’t even remember how they met. In fact, he couldn’t remember the man’s first name. But it had been Stamford who introduced him to Holmes, and for that he felt grateful.

“I’m mostly retired now,” Stamford said. “Just a few patients. How about you?”

“Same,” he said. He still saw patients sometimes, but he hadn’t found it necessary to work for a while. His bank account, unlike during his younger years, never seemed to empty out. He’d given up his worst habits, drinking and gambling, so perhaps he’d finally found a balance.

“You look wonderful,” Stamford commented. “Hardly aged a day.”

“Yes. That’s what I wanted to ask you about. Can you think of any reason why a man might stop ageing?”

Stamford chuckled. “Whatever it is, you should bottle it and sell it. You’d make a fortune. What are your eating habits?”

He tried to remember what he’d had for breakfast. Toast, he thought. And tea, of course. And last night— what had supper been? He still had his nightly glass of port with a cigar. “I don’t eat a lot,” he said. “I rarely feel hungry.”

“Well, I’m sure it hasn’t hurt you. Carrying too much weight is not healthy. How about sleep?”

He sat up reading most nights. In bed, he sometimes slept, even dreamed, but more often, he lay awake, listening to the house, thinking about Holmes. “I get a few hours. Enough that I’m not tired during the day.”

“No physical complaints? How’s the old wound?”

His shoulder— or was it his leg? In any case, he did not notice any discomfort. He carried his cane, but that was more out of habit than anything. “No complaints.”

Stamford listened to his heart and lungs, checked his reflexes. “Well, I’m afraid there’s nothing wrong with you, old chap,” Stamford said jovially. “You’re just lucky, I suppose. Good genes.”

Was it luck? Genes?

Or was it a curse?

“How’s the wife?” Stamford said with a wink.

“Dead,” he replied.

Stamford put on a look of awkward concern. “Sorry, old man. I hadn’t heard. My deepest sympathies.”

 

The world had gone grey, all the detail and colour leaked out of it, leaving him a life where one day was much the same as the next. He felt himself fading slowly into this drabness, as if all his edges were being erased. There was something he missed, barely remembered. It had been bright, vivid, interesting. It was happiness.

He tried not to dwell on that.

Sometimes he thought about his father and mother, but they were shadowy figures who scarcely seemed real. They’d been dead for many years now. Whatever influence they’d had on his development had long faded. He’d had an older brother whom he’d scarcely known. The gold watch he carried reminded him of Harry, who’d died too young.

As he went about his day, walked down the street, and visited patients, he felt Holmes just around the next corner, ready to fall in step with him. Sometimes he imagined his arm through his as he walked.

 

After the turn of the century, he sailed to America as a tourist, seeing the sights he’d only imagined before. Once he’d thought about doing that with Holmes, who had always been fascinated with America and its people, but now he did it by himself. Nevertheless, as he took pictures with his new box camera, he found himself commenting as if Holmes was at his side. That was the wonder of it all, that he still talked to his friend, still expected that he would return, taking him by surprise. Often, in his fantasies, he imagined that reunion. Holmes would reappear— in a public square, at a restaurant, at Scotland Yard, on a train, or sipping coffee in a shop.

He returned to England as the war was breaking out. Though he was sixty-two years old, he looked thirty-five. He enlisted, found that the government wasn’t that picky about birth certificates and health records. He served as a surgeon once again, as he had in Afghanistan, and began to think that war had become something different. If there ever had been anything noble about it, now that was gone. The first time he’d enlisted, over thirty years earlier, he’d been pulled in by a sense of adventure, then crushed by the reality of injury and death that surrounded him.

Now he had no illusions, but only hoped to make a difference for a few souls. He found himself overwhelmed by the gas attacks, seeing how inhumane it had become. No more brave soldiers heroically facing their enemies and fighting hand to hand; now destruction rained down on the courageous men who had answered the call of King and country. Watson felt as if humanity had failed to learn anything from centuries of warfare. War may never have been noble, but now it had become something barbaric.

 

He returned to London and married once more, a petite, kind woman whose name he never remembered. They had no children, but lived quite contentedly in the suburbs. Sometimes he talked about the old days, chasing criminals with Holmes. She would smile when he reminisced like this, but never asked questions. She died in the spring before their first anniversary, in the influenza outbreak.   

The 1920s brought short skirts and cloche hats for women, fedoras and pinstriped suits for men. On the street, people sometimes smiled at his bowler and the good tweed suit he still wore. The same clothing that he'd worn for decades hung in his closet. He had always believed that quality clothes were made to last.

Men were now mostly clean-shaven, but he still kept his impressive moustache, fastidiously groomed with the beautiful tortoiseshell and silver comb Holmes had given him for Christmas 1883.

He married twice more during this decade. One died of tuberculosis, the other of a brain aneurysm.

There were moments when he felt like a character in a story that had been abandoned by its author.

 

The stock market crashed in 1929, leading to a depression in Europe and America. Every morning he read dire predictions in the paper. He had already lost so much that the loss of mere money did not seem catastrophic. His bank balance did not plummet. He ate his toast, drank his tea, and went out into the streets, bringing free medical care to his poorer neighbours. This distracted him enough that he sometimes felt content.

Things had started to change, not only in the world, but inside himself. He supposed that the war had accelerated the changes. He felt uneasy, dissatisfied with human nature, which never seemed to improve. Holmes had always acknowledged that humans were barely controlled by law and that consequences, natural or legal, did not change behaviour much over time. Watson was an optimist by nature, a realist by experience. After so many years of living, he looked for things to restore his faith, and found his optimism had gone cold.

His discontent made him restless. If he was doomed to outlive everyone he'd known, including the one person he’d truly loved, it deserved to be an interesting life, not one of endless tedium and pessimism. He would not be a flat character; he could be dynamic.

His eighth wife was run over by a bus. He left for Europe after the funeral.

 

He'd kept a journal for years. He used to go through it, reminiscing about his years with Holmes. After Holmes died, he stopped recording his days. What was the point?

The stories he'd written about their adventures lived on in reprinted editions. They were somewhat fictionalised versions of what had really happened, but the bare facts of those events required no dramatisation. Holmes used to complain of how he romanticised their cases, but there had been an underlying romance in everything they did together, in their very lives. What Watson perceived, he had written.

Now he thought about his unending youth and its implications. If he had continued to fill notebooks chronicling the days of his existence, he might have filled several bookcases by now. Many men might pay to have their vigour restored, to go through nine wives in forty years, or even just to avoid the pains of old age. Why this gift had been given to him, he did not know.

What he did understand at last was that he'd wasted these bonus years so far. Would Holmes have wanted this bland existence for him? Surely, he would not. If such a life had been granted to Holmes, Watson wondered what his friend would have done with it. His interests had been many, his energy for inquiry limitless. And while Watson's ordinary brain was no match for that great mind, he might at least live out some of the dreams of his youth. His very life might be a great poem, an homage to the man who'd brought adventure into his life.

Instead of writing stories of things that had happened or might have happened, he began to live his life.

I may be immortal, he thought, but there is no real way of knowing my destiny. Life is precious, no matter how short or long. Mine might end at any time. I must live and not wait for that to happen.

A second Great War disillusioned him further. The world had gone mad, it seemed. How could evil be so misunderstood? After the last war, he had imagined humanity improving, evil defeated— and here it was, darkening the world once more, requiring good men to die. The horror of weapons that could destroy the planet woke him up at night. He imagined a time when people would look back on all of this travail as the follies of humankind’s youth, but a part of him wondered whether humans could survive their self-destructive tendencies.

But though the author of time might not listen to his suggested edits, surely Watson could edit the tale of his own life, leave an impression, however small, on the world. As he approached his one hundredth birthday, he felt a freedom he’d never known before. It was time to be the author of his own fate.

He traveled, learned other languages, lived in many countries. He sailed on the Queen Mary, flew in an aeroplane for the first time. He visited Asia and the Far East, saw what had become of India and Afghanistan, sought out the place where he’d briefly lived in Australia as a boy. He learned to drive a car, but still preferred trains, planes, and boats.

He was kind to waiters and bartenders, cab drivers and hotel clerks. As his bank account never seemed to empty, he always left good tips. He put money in the cases of street musicians (especially the violinists), and in the tin cups of blind beggars. He had coffee with homeless people, listened to their stories. He no longer carried a revolver, but opened his wallet even to thieves.

In his travels, he met many interesting people, but never one like himself. He was an anomaly, as far as he could see. He once allowed a doctor who studied genetics to examine him and draw blood so that they might understand what he was, but there were no answers. At other times he met with priests and scholars, but no one could tell him why he did not die like other men. He suspected that they did not really believe him. He looked thirty-nine, and nothing in his physiognomy contradicted this. What he knew of history, he might have learned from study. He gave up trying to explain it.

He did not write, but he began to understand why progress ultimately failed and humans always burned down what they had built. What one generation learned, the next generation had to relearn. Victoria’s reign had seen rapid change, but change had accelerated to a hectic pace over the decades following, and the failure to grasp cause and effect was wreaking havoc. That and human nature, which always reverted to cruelty, conflict, and self-interest.

He was lonely. Surrounded by other people, he felt alien. I will see them all die, he thought. I will be alone.

He moved around. When his thirteenth wife died, he took it as an omen and did not marry again, thinking it unfair for a woman to age, seeing her husband remain young. His other wives had died before that had happened, but people tended to live longer now, when there were antibiotics and operations that he could scarcely have imagined as a young doctor. People did not expect to lose so many children these days, or to die young themselves.

He turned one hundred and celebrated his birthday alone. He went to 221B Baker Street and drank a toast to Sherlock Holmes. He sat one more time in the chair that had been his, talked to the other chair. He remembered Mycroft and Lestrade and Mrs Hudson. He thought of all the cases they had solved, all the adventures he had chronicled. He stood at the window where they had often stood side by side, and looked over a town that was grown, full of artificial light and the exhaust of gasoline-powered vehicles. He raised his glass. “Cheers, old man,” he said to himself. That would be his last trip to London, he decided.

In the boom after the second Great War, a new generation arose, promising to right all the wrongs of previous generations. Having seen so many generations, Watson was a bit cynical, but he loved the energy. It made him think of his youth, all the progress of the Victorian era. There were tides that seemed to ebb and flow in time, and this liberal spirit was a welcome one. In 1967 he moved to California and shared a small flat in San Francisco. A quiet man by nature, he found his voice and used it. He marched at protests, grabbed the mic and worked the crowd up. He talked of transcendence, love, and brotherhood. Maybe the world could figure out how not to destroy itself. Maybe people would finally grow up.

Sometimes his mind traveled without his body. He didn’t need drugs to make this happen. His mind trips took him back many years. He awoke at 221B, hearing Holmes’ voice: The game is afoot! Watson, come here! I need you! From a dingy room in Hait-Ashbury, he saw and smelled London,1890. He heard Mrs Hudson setting down the coal scuttle, heard the kettle come to a boil, smelled Holmes’ cigar and felt the silk of his dressing gown. He could almost feel the man’s warmth beside him. He heard the creaking of the stairs as another client came, seeking their assistance, Holmes’ silky baritone, going on about the science of deduction, the nature of humankind, or possibly beekeeping.

No matter what else he'd done in his life, all the many experiences he’d had, the memory of those small, domestic scenes still had the power to devastate him. He went to a concert once and heard a violinist perform a piece Sherlock used to play, and fell to pieces, weeping for the sweet notes hovering in the flat, the long, talented fingers on the violin, the blissful expression on his face as he played.

And he remembered the anxious days when he first realised that he loved Sherlock Holmes, his regret that he’d never said so, his sorrow that it was too late. Since his friend’s death, Watson had shared his life with many women, but never another man. He supposed that was because he hadn't truly loved any of his any wives. No woman could ever capture his heart, and he would not let any other man try.

The sixties ended and the seventies began. His nature had always been orderly. He had been the one that tidied up the flat, kept the clutter from taking over. What ever its flaws, the last decade of the nineteenth century had been a time of civility. Now he began to hate the chaos, the unending clash of ideals that played out in the streets. People were much as they had been, even when they said, war is not healthy for children and other living things. Or when they chanted, make love not war. Or when they sang, give peace a chance… On the other side of the street, dressed in the same torn bell-bottoms and tie-dyed t-shirts, they were chanting, burn baby burn and kill the pigs and anarchy rules

When the spirit began to wane, he saw what was coming: cynicism, self-indulgence, then a return of conformity and intolerance. Once again, the world had spun awry.

 

He moved to Canada, bought a small farm and lived there for several years. Even though I might be immortal, I cannot write change on a large scale, he thought. Maybe some memory of peace and love would linger, but humans had short attention spans, he’d discovered. Even knowing history, they were doomed to repeat its worst parts.

The years went by. It had been over a hundred years since he met Sherlock in the lab at Bart’s hospital, since they’d shaken hands and agreed to share a flat. The memory of that day was crystal clear in his mind. He remembered the smile Holmes had given him, the words they exchanged. He recalled his first view of the flat, the moment when he knew, this man will change my life. I will love him as long as I live, and longer.

And it had been over a hundred years since Holmes had died. He still remembered the feel of the spray on his face, the roaring of the falls. Sometimes he woke at night, feeling as if he’d heard Holmes’s dying cry, falling and falling through the years.

At other times, he dreamed that it had never happened, that they had returned to Baker Street together, solved cases as before, and finally lived out their years in a cottage in Sussex. Holmes tended bees, and he kept the garden. He imagined them lying in bed together, arms around one another.

He read more these days, sitting in his small cabin now, smelling the wood smoke. Now that his life was history, he found he enjoyed reading other authors’ thoughts on the century just past. He wondered what Holmes would have made of the twentieth century, the devastating wars, the social revolution, the technology. Like Watson, Holmes had always seemed a man of his own time, an Englishman in a city that ruled the world. Holmes belonged in a London where the streets were lit by gas lamps, not LED, where the fog swirled yellow past the windowpanes and one could still hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn hansom cabs along the cobblestones. 

Instead of becoming lost in the flood of the years, his time with Holmes remained clear, undimmed. He wished that when things happened, they would announce their importance so that one could take proper notice. He remembered his petty annoyances — how Holmes left his experiments over every available space, how he could be rude to clients, how he would stay awake all night, playing his violin. Had he known, he might not have grumbled.

“Ah, Sherlock,” he sighed. “If only I’d realised how short it would be.”

 

A new century began. He spent his one hundred and fiftieth birthday hiking in the mountains of a foreign land. He had climbed some of those peaks, his still-young body holding up to the strain of altitude and exertion. He talked to his guides. From them he heard of a group of monks who had supposedly discovered the secret of immortality.

“That is something I would like to know,” he told them. “I have a few questions for them.”

They directed him to the monastery where those monks lived. He was disappointed when he saw that the oldest among them was just ninety. But he wasn’t impatient; he had all the time in the world to figure it out.

They bowed; he bowed. They all sat. Tea was served.

“I’ve lived a century and a half,” he said. “And I still don’t understand why.”

“A life such as yours,” the eldest of them said, “has been written by a great author.”

“What author is that?”

“Most men begin their lives as if someone else has written their pages. They live a plot not of their own devising. You have been given time to read the truth, to become the author of your own fate.”

He hadn’t heard people talk like this since the sixties. It made him wish he hadn’t given up smoking. “What are you saying?”

“What is it that you wish you’d written?”

“I wish…” He wished Holmes hadn’t died, that he hadn’t missed him for so many decades. He knew that there was a barrier between life and death that could only be crossed once, but he had stood at that barrier for so long now, waiting, that he wondered if he had understood life and death at all. He had never wished immortality for himself, but since he was here, he wished he might have shared it with Sherlock Holmes.

“There is one thing,” he said after a long pause. “I wish that I’d loved him better, enough to keep him. I wish I’d written the story differently, that I’d been there to save him.”

The wise men were silent, looking at him.

“I wish that so much time hadn’t passed before I understood this.”

The wise men looked at one another. The eldest spoke. “If this is what your heart truly believes, that is the story you must write.”

And finally, he understood. His heart told him the truth.

 

He returned to 221B Baker Street. It had been over fifty years since he’d visited, over a hundred since he’d moved out. Still undisturbed, though covered with the dust of decades, the boxes of lab equipment and books kept their watch. The building was cold; no one had modernised the system of hearths that had warmed the rooms over a century ago.

He did the cleaning himself, pleased as the layers peeled off, revealing the home he’d once abandoned to grief. The chimneys were swept, the carpets cleaned, the furniture polished. He lay sheets on the bed, put linens in the bath. The books, unpacked, filled the shelves. Sitting at his old desk, he filled his fountain pen with ink and opened his notebook to a fresh page.

It was a story he’d never tried to write, believing it impossible.

He closed his eyes. He could smell wood smoke, tobacco, and Mrs Hudson’s scones. He could hear sounds drifting in from the street, horse-drawn carriages and footsteps, the voices of people passing on the sidewalk below. He heard the carriage wheels splashing through the rain, smelled the wet pavements.

Opening his eyes, he saw that everything was as he remembered it— the two chairs, the fireplace, the violin, the Persian slipper. The yellow light of gas lamps filtered through the curtains. He sat at his desk, writing. It was in the spring of the year 1894…

A knock at the door, the footsteps of Mrs Hudson as she went to open it, quiet conversation floating up from the lower hall. Footsteps on the stairs, a light tap on the door.

“A gentleman wishes to see you, sir,” she said. He heard the familiar steps ascending, the creak of the stairs.

And then Sherlock Holmes was standing before him, smiling at him across his study table. “My dear Watson,” he said.

“Is it really you?” Watson whispered, rising from his chair. “Can it be that you’re alive?”

Sherlock’s arms went around him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “So sorry, John. I won’t leave you again.”

He felt the warmth of that familiar, angular body, smelled tobacco and Macassar oil. He leaned into him, hearing the heart that had never stilled in his memories now beating in his ear, wholly alive. “I love you, Sherlock. I should have said before.”

“And I love you, John,” Sherlock whispered, holding him close. “I'm happy to be home.”

A clock began to strike the hour from a tower nearby. Church bells joined in. He heard voices in the street cheering, singing.

Watson drew a deep breath and pulled away so he could see the beloved face. “What year is this?”

Holmes smiled. “It’s 1895.”

He smiled back, glad to be home. All the years in between seemed remote, like a story he'd once tried to put into words.

Leaning down, Sherlock caught his mouth in a kiss.

 

221B

Here dwell together still two men of note

Who never lived and so can never die:

How very near they seem, yet how remote

That age before the world went all awry.

But still the game’s afoot for those with ears

Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:

England is England yet, for all our fears–

Only those things the heart believes are true.

 

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane

As night descends upon this fabled street:

A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,

The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.

Here, though the world explode, these two survive,

And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

— Vincent Starrett