Langstrom wheeled me into the funeral; I was too ill and frail to walk even from the car.  When I had heard, I had wanted more than all else to be there; upon arrival, I would gladly have been any place but there. 

I recognised no-one save the guest of honour; his fourth and most recent wife had passed the year before.  He lay in the simple oak casket, his skin sunken and yellowed.  Those graces that age had not yet seen fit to eat away from his person had been consumed by the ravages of a tumour, which had grown within him with neither his knowledge nor consent.  In that body, I saw precious little of my friend.  Where there had once been muscles and lines proud enough to challenge any god of ancient Greece, now there were only sagging folds and liver spots.

I regarded my own frail hand where it rested upon the edge of the coffin.  It appeared every bit as withered and spent as the two that lay within.  It was an eerie feeling, to say the least.

The still air of the chapel was thick with the predictable scent of chemicals inadequately concealed by the cloying scent of vulgar perfumes. Once I could have identified each odour with a sniff and matched it to a selection of samples from my chemistry bench.  Now each noxious inhalation made me gag and choke upon my own phlegm.  My chest had long since been betrayed by its intimate association with my pipes, much as the fire in the pipe-bowl must ultimately smother upon the ashes of the flame which first gave it life. 

My chest heaved in futile effort; my spine creaked under the sheer force of the cough.  My arms shook so with my effort to raise my lungs away  from my waist that Langstrom interceded and wheeled me outside in alarm. 

In the yard the country air was cold and damp; dirty rain fell in a grey, impotent drizzle.  It was a good day for death, I thought as my breathing slowed to the point where I could talk.  A fitting day indeed.

"Do you want to go back in?"  Langstrom asked when only my usual wheeze remained. 

"No. No, I'm quite finished here."

We'd said our good-byes long ago, if not precisely in word, then in deed.  For better or for worse, that had always been our way; all the most important thoughts--and feelings--remained unvoiced and unconsummated within us by mutual mute agreement.

As it stood with Parliament, our affections could offer us nothing but the dock, therefore he married with my blessing. When that marriage failed, and the next, and the next, he came back to Baker Street.  By then it was quite intolerable; no bee could sting sharper than the silence that had grown between us, and so I left Baker Street behind for my bees.

After the war, I saw him scarcely at all.  Each time we parted, it was with the promise that the next visit would come sooner, but they only grew further apart.  It would relieve my mind to say that it was Watson who permitted the drift despite the fervour my most valiant efforts, but I could never balk from the plain truth during my career--and I am far too old to change my habits now. 

"We came a long way. Would you not like to speak to the family and friends, sir?"  Langstrom jarred me back to the rain.

"I would--very much--however those friends we had in common have all preceded him.  If I am to be given to speak with some of them again, it will be in a better place than here.  There is no-one there whom I know."

He looked at me oddly.  The two things which had not failed me to date were my mind and my ears.  With the latter I frequently overheard his whispers with Martha as to their joint fears for the state of the former.  To my infinite regret, those fears were groundless.

Given the choice, I would have gladly allowed brain to pass before body; it is a hard thing to watch one's self grow old.  But it was my brain that I chose to cherish and nurture for these many years at the great expense of the health of my flesh, and that choice could not now be undone.

"Home, sir?"  He arranged me in the seat of my car.

"Larkspur cottage, Langstrom."  It was my residence, but 221b would ever be my home.

Langstrom settled me in my bedroom within easy distance of the bed.  My nightshirt lay out waiting, like a ghost beckoning me to the last sleep.  It needn't appear so eager, I though as another round wracked my chest; it would be a short wait--a short wait at best. I was so tired already.

"Will there be anything else, sir?"

"Just one thing--my syringe, then you may go."

He spoke to me as one would a child.  "I can't sir.  I promised the doctor."

"The doctor is dead.  It is unlikely in the extreme that he will have anything to say on the matter."

"I think he meant--"

"I know what he meant!"  We waited for the next attack to abate.

I caught my breath.  "I know more of the doctor's whims than any man who ever lived.  And now that doctor is gone along with everything I have known or valued in my life.  So, if it is not too much trouble, will you kindly fetch me the morphine?"

Langstrom nodded and brought the phial without another word. He brought also carbolic acid and a tourniquet. I had no need for the latter; I could easily fashion one from my garments--they hung loosely enough on my frame--but I took the gesture for what it was nevertheless. 

If it wouldn't have cost me several breaths, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the former.  Applying an antiseptic in preparation to administer a toxin.  That it was on the advice of a certain late physician--an early proponent of the theories of Doctor Lister--I had no doubt.  His loyalty would be such that despite our separation of over a year, he still looked out for me from the grave.

The rheumatism in my hands nearly confounded my efforts with the tourniquet, but such lonely skills are not easily unlearned.  I flexed my arm and pressed the plunger home.

Christmas Day 1929 was the last time I had taken morphine purely for release.  That was three years ago, but the sensation immediately wrapped me with the comforting familiarity of a threadbare jacket.  From the prick to the skin to the flash of back-blood to the glow as it permeated my cells, I knew this friend, Morphia, and I welcomed him back with alacrity.

The bottle dropped from my hand.  I leaned back in my chair and to savour the welcome nothingness.  Once that bottle had contained both joy and euphoria, but that was many years and milestones ago.  Now the needle brought only an absence of pain and loss and regret.  I was scarcely in a position to be particular; I would accept any peace that I would be allowed.

A sudden spasm wracked my stomach and it tossed precariously in my throat.  I pushed for the washbasin, tipping my chair in the process.  I reached up for it, but my stomach failed me first, and I retched onto the Daily News.  The retching brought on choking, and the choking, gasping.  I pushed myself back with my elbows and collapsed upon the rug, waiting for the effect to subside. 

My first few experiences with the drug had wrought similar effects upon my digestion, but I soon mastered the fine art of dosage.  In Über Coca Dr Freud had written of the phenomena of tolerance and withdrawal, and the perils of overdosage upon later resumption of use.  Dr Freud is a brilliant man, and I saw no cause to doubt the veracity his words. 

I tried to crawl for my telephone, but my limbs chose not to accede.  Perhaps they were the wiser of us.  I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.  There was blood--from my mouth?  No, from my arm.  From the puncture wound ran a rivulet of thick, dark red. I was so very tired and the morphia more seductive than any lover--any lover real or imagined. I lowered my head to sleep.


A voice that I hadn't heard in decades jolted me awake. I rolled to my side.  "John?  John Watson, is that you?"

He chuckled.  "Naturally.  Who else would abide you in such a condition?" 

He knelt down beside me, and the finest hands I had ever known cradled my chin.  The sweetness of that caress was everything I had always dreamed. Why now, so very many years too late?   I shuddered.  Perhaps he mistook it for a spasm, for he cradled my head upon his knees and stroked me until it passed.

"Watson, how can it be you?" I murmured into his lap.

"The wisest man I have ever know once noted that whatever was not impossible, must be reality."

"You are imprecise as ever, Watson.  Those were not my words at all."

"And you have not changed either; you presume I spoke of you."

His tone was kind and gentle and I laughed to banter with him once again.  This time there was no cough to follow.  

"Holmes, there's something I have come to tell you."  He soothed my face with the heat of his hands.  I sunk into the moment, lost in the mingled rapture of the hold of the morphine and the hold of my only friend.  All at once, it was too much and not enough both at the same time.

I twisted my face away.  "Oh, Watson, not now.  For pity's sake, have some compassion.  What's done is done.  We had our chance.   That was half a century ago; we were ahead of the world then, and we still are, my friend.  Nothing has changed in all that time."

Watson arose to a stand. "I suggest you not be so sure."  He chuckled in the manner I had missed so keenly and so often.  "I did have something to tell you, but I perhaps I should show you instead."

He extended a hand down to me.  "Come, Holmes."

I sagged back to the rug.  "I cannot.  I cannot move my legs."

"Try."  He touched my knee.

To my surprise, I arose in one easy motion.   There was neither pain nor wheeze; my joints made no protest whatsoever.

"Your medical skills have improved, I note."  I tested my body and found it sound and limber. 

He smiled.  "I had a modicum of help this time."  He took my hand and pulled me closer to him. 

"Where do you propose to take me?" I asked.

He gave me what I could only describe as a scandalous leer--most unbecoming of a gentleman--and my heart flipped and seemed to stop. He bent down and kissed me with the unspent passion of fifty years, and I know my heart did stop then.

Then I could breathe easily once more.

"You'll find out.  Come."  He tugged at my hand. 

I looked down where our fingers joined.  His hand was thick and muscled, mine lean and pale, unmottled by time or disease.

"Where?"  From a very great distance I thought that I should be afraid of this wonder, but what could there be for me to fear when Watson held my hand?

Watson shook his head and chuckled  "No.  Good gracious, no!  I've waited fifty years to be the one to lead you into a mystery.  You can't possibly believe I would spoil it now."

He tugged on my hand again, and this time I went willingly.  He led me through the wall and into the streaming sunshine of my little garden patch.

"Come, Holmes; the game is afoot."