PART I: THE ARMY SURGEON
Devastated, I sank to the floor of the bedroom. The shock of these news made it almost impossible for me to breathe. After a few moments, I heard the door open. Holmes came up to me, and knelt down to look into my eyes.
"Watson?", he said cautiously. "Whatever is the matter?"
My throat felt terribly dry when I tried to answer. "I...-"
With my glance averted to the floor, the message was slowly crumpling in my hands. Holmes reached out and with one finger gently tilted my chin upward for me to look at him.
"Watson... What does the note say?"
In his usual logical manner, my friend had at once deduced what my state was to trace to. I silently handed it to him, and he quickly read it over. "Oh dear...", was all he said, and upon looking at him I saw he had turned deadly pale.
The note had been sent to inform me that they'd draft me to serve in the impending war.
To me the mere idea of another military conflict was most nauseating. Unlike many others who were positive- almost euphoric- about it, I have never approved of the war. The Afghan campaign years ago was still present in my memory- and this alone was totally sufficient to convince me not to change my mind now.
"But- you have been wounded in the military service- and now...- why do they...?", Holmes murmured, and I shrugged. "How much time do we have?", I asked.
Holmes looked it up, and answered: "Two days. That's a very short interval- unusual." He paused, and said: "But then the date is not a recent one..."
I had to admit that the note already had arrived some time before now, but it had, unopened, disappeared in a heap of papers on my desk, and I had only found it again this morning. "Well...", Holmes said, "what are we to do now, my friend? I cannot possibly let you go. What if... you die?"
I again shrugged helplessly, and then felt how tears which I could no longer hold back ran down my face. Holmes rose, and began to pace up and down the room, while I couldn't muster up the strength to even get up. He was murmuring to himself, mentally acting out different plans to avoid the impending danger.
"I honestly wish the royal family would still owe me a favour."
I could recall that he had indeed already mentioned to me to have been of service to them in the past.
Suddenly I was angry at him for his overly logical way of acting, while I was subject to my emotions.
"You're so much of an... automaton!" I burst out, viscerally choosing the most blasphemous expression I could think of, but at the same moment deeply regretting my lack of self control. A look of affliction and distress passed over Holmes' face.
"Oh, Holmes..." I hastened to say, "I'm incredibly, terribly sorry. I just..." When he did not say anything, I managed to stand up although I was still shaken due to the contents of the note, and went over to face him.
"It was a slip of the tongue, really. I don't know whether I'm coming or going myself. Please, my dear Holmes-"
He, though without actually looking at me, reached out to softly touch my cheek. I was sure he could sense the traces of dried tears, and also the welling up of new ones.
"It's... alright, Watson. I don't want us to separate in quarrel."
His voice sounded a little tired, while mine was shaking with a feeling of being extremely sorry. I leaned my head against his chest and whispered:
"You're not an automaton, I know this well. I never truly believed that you were."
With closed eyes, I felt how Holmes hesitantly passed his hand over my hair.
"I know, my Watson."
The other day Holmes brought me to the station. With packed bags we stood on the platform, silently waiting, until I suddenly realized that we had not even had a proper goodbye. In a low voice I asked: "Holmes, is there some place where we can- talk?"
He understood my meaning and nodded, after thinking for a moment. He took one of my bags and led me across the platform to a small abandoned hut or something of that sort. We both stepped in and found ourselves in an old waiting room for passengers which was obviously no longer used. Holmes closed the creeking door, and came over to me, putting my bag onto an chafed seat. "No one will see us here.", he assured.
I bit my lip, insecure what to say, now that the hour for farewell had actually come.
"Holmes...", I finally managed to utter, "I don't want to. I'm afraid." My words sounded like those of a child. But Holmes seemed as affected as I was when he answered: "...So am I, my Watson." In the dim light I couldn't be sure, but he appeared to actually look somewhat scared.
When I realized that we probably had but a few minutes left, I stepped forward and leaned in for a passionate last kiss. "If you must leave me, you also must come back to me, Watson. What should I do without you?" Holmes said, in a most reluctant voice.
When we were back on the platform- nobody had noticed our little manoeuvre- I was just lifting my bags for the train had already arrived, Holmes looked around and decided that we could risk a short embrace. My arms around his lean form, he put his lips to my ear and whispered:
"I'll miss you terribly, my dear Watson."
And once we had separated, he even called out aloud after me:
"Take care, Doctor- and please: don't die!"
PART II: LOSS AND LOVED ONES
Watson had already been gone a terribly long time. Once in a while I received some letters from him, in which he described in his typically vivid style- probably more vividly than I cared for- the horrors of the battlefield.
Usually I hardly ever dreamt, but now I had dire and frightful dreams almost every night. He was always in them. Before my inner eye I saw him die a billion times: how unfaithful comrades left him wounded and helpless on the battlefront; how his heart still pumped hot blood through a wound in his chest. I always awoke out of breath and condemning myself for allowing Watson to go. Every day he was not with me, my anxiety and fear that I might not see him again grew more intense.
The many reports of all the dead soldiers which were published did not make it better, on the contrary. And when I suddenly no longer received letters... I feared the worst.
I was only waiting for something to confirm it.
Indeed I did not have to wait for long. On this fateful day I opened the newspaper and found a large headline of an article which covered half of the page blaring at me:
"INVASION OF BRITISH CAMP- ACT OF REVENGE?- NO SURVIVORS"
These two last words alone were enough to instantaneously make me feel cold and sick, and hastily I began to read. To my shock and horror I found what I had feared to be true: that the article was indeed speaking about the very camp where my dear Watson was deployed.
The paper in my hands sank back onto the table where I sat. My strength wasn't enough to enable me to continue reading after so much was already certain.
The very moment we said farewell on the platform, I had already subliminally known that I probably would never see him again. But now I did not allow myself to believe it.
This evening I went to bed quite early- what else could I have done? I could not sulk around in the sitting room all night, a glass in my hand and an empty armchair, now forever abandoned, opposite mine. In the darkness the cushions soaked in the tears I cried.
I had, just as I predicted, lost the only person I...
Afraid to close my eyes due to the dreams I had lately, I stared into the void until the gloom of the chamber started to give way to even more sombre pictures building up before my inner eye.
His lifeless body, with shattered limbs lying on a forlorn battlefield. Inanimate eyes which no loving hand ever had a chance to close.
These were the things I saw before me when I finally fell asleep.
Suddenly I was awoken by a sound. Quickly I opened my eyes, and a shadow fell across my face.
What was this- a burglar?
Alarmed, I wanted to move and readied my voice to yell out, but before I could react, a cold hand covered my mouth.
"Shh. It's me."
To hear this voice made my heart stop for a moment and my lips beneath his fingers parted in surprise.
"Watson? But- you're... alive..!"
A second later I lay in the arms of my friend who was supposedly dead, full of disbelief and being infinitely happy. I couldn't help to clutch him to me, promising to never let him go again.
"So this is how it feels." Watson murmured close to my ear. "What?" I asked him, and he, just managing to somehow get a smug grin under control, answered: "To tell your friend you've been alive all along. It had been your priviledge up to now."
I smiled so broadly that my cheeks almost hurt: "So, my Watson, how does it feel?"-
"Hm, I understand now why you are so fond of playing tricks on me then followed by revelations of this sort. This feels like the best thing in the world."
"I am so glad to have you back.", I said, brushing my fingers over his lips.
His voice sunk to a whisper: "My dearest Holmes..."
Never before- and probably for the only time in my life- have I been so thankful for our premature, sensationalist and, most important, wrong news coverage.