colebaltblue: (sherlock)
[personal profile] colebaltblue
Part 1

It took me a few minutes to convince Miss Smith's friends to let me into her room. Identifying myself and stating that I had come from Scotland Yard did not convince them, nor did mentioning Lord Wotton's name. Apparently reporters had been here already and had tried both tactics before. It wasn't until one girl piped up from the back of the growing crowd that Miss Smith had mentioned my name as the doctor that took care of her problem that the girls all nodded and let me into the room.

"Honore said you were kind to her," they said by way of explanation. Altruistic kindness was a rare commodity in the lives of these women, apparently. I thanked them and requested that a few help me determine if anything was out of place. With their help we found a broken jar under the bed, identified by one young lady as "Her favorite perfume, a gift from an admirer." The absence of any money indicating that Miss Smith had been robbed of all her savings, including the coins and bills in her secret hiding places. A few items of clothing and other practical items were also gone, but her satchel was still sitting on the floor of the room's wardrobe. There were other items out of place. Her vanity had been swept clean, and the bedclothes were torn from the mattress to reveal a blood-stained mattress.

I asked the girls about Miss Smith's health and the assured me she was quite well and, even after my surgery, she was fine with no complaints at all. None of them had heard anything amiss, but said that Miss Smith had gone missing in the late afternoon, after most of the girls had left to prepare for their evening engagements and it was possible no one had heard the struggle that had obviously occurred in the room.

I looked around myself and took notes in my notebook. The money was missing, but other small items that could have been easily hawked in the second-hand shops or on the street were there, including a second nearly full bottle of scent lying abandoned against the wall. I knew that it was not an inexpensive bottle having purchased the very kind once for Mary as a gift. And although her jewelry was clearly paste, even costume jewelry could fetch a price on the street for someone who cared enough to raid the meager savings of a struggling actress and part time escort.

Curiously, I also noticed that although the mattress was stained, the bed clothes were not, indicating the blood had been spilled after the sheets pulled back. The blood had pooled evenly before it soaked in, and there was no spray pattern or drops to be found anywhere else, just a symmetrical patch of tacky, mostly dried blood on the mattress. I estimated that no more than two cups of blood had been lost, and the stain was too high on the mattress to be the result of post-surgical bleeding.

There were a few books missing from the stack next to her bed. I could tell because the tea cup that had surely sat on top of the stack was moved and a few books were aligned as if someone had lifted them off, and then put them back to remove a book from the center of the pile of novels.

"Miss Smith enjoyed reading?" I asked.

"Oh yes," chorused a few of the girls. Domestic novels and the magazines. She saved for those and spent most of her money on them. Interestingly enough she was missing three issues of The Strand from last year, but had both the preceding and succeeding issues. Aside from the scattered belongings, an overturned chair, the violence done to the bed clothes, a few smashed items, the broken mirror over the vanity and the pool of blood, there was little real indication that a struggle had occurred. A young woman such as Miss Smith being taken against her will would have done far more damage if she had been struggling.

The absence of blood anywhere else in the room puzzled me and the pool didn't speak of any sort of violence. If she had the sort of wound that would leave behind a blood stain like that, she would have either bled quickly and voluminously, leaving a trail as she left, or she would have had to be lying there a long time and have suffered from some sort of blood disorder that prevented it from clotting.

I was beginning to believe that we wouldn't find Miss Smith's dead body, but rather her healthy, unwounded, and quite alive one - that is if she wished to be found., Based on the condition of the room and the missing items, I highly doubted she wanted to be found nor had any intention of returning.

I left the flat and wired Lestrade from the corner telegraph office my suspicions about Miss Smith's disappearance and before setting off for Baker Street. I had not been to my former flat since just before my wedding. Holmes and I had remained friends after I moved to Kensington with my new wife, but our friendship had changed. It was hard for him to wake me by looming over my bed at night shaking me with his cold thin fingers and talking a mile a minute about whatever case solution had come to him in the middle of the night when I was at home with my wife. My days were soon occupied by working the practice I had purchased and setting up house and spending time with Mary and no longer with sleuthing and therefore no longer with Holmes himself. It had shocked me when I realized at his funeral that I had not been back since I had left to become a married man, but by then it was too painful to return and I wished only to remember as I did, with Holmes occupying his usual perch in his chair, ruminating over a three pipe problem.

It was with a sense of sweet sorrow that I mounted the steps and rang the bell at my former home. Mrs. Hudson was exclaimed repeatedly how delighted she was to see me as she ushered me into her sitting room and got me seated into a chair with a cup of tea into my hand. I spent a good quarter of an hour updating her on my married life and inviting her 'round to dinner as soon as we could both manage it. We said the usual things between friends who had not seen each other for awhile. It wasn't long, though, before she asked me if I was here to collect things from upstairs.

I was surprised. I had intended to merely ask if she had happened to know where Holmes's things had ended up. With his brother was my assumption, but I felt more comfortable calling on Mrs. Hudson unexpectedly than Mycroft Holmes as I had never been to his home, and only to meet him at his club a few times and only in the company of his brother.

"Upstairs? You mean to say Holmes's things are still up there, these two years later."

Mrs. Hudson looked at me with surprise, "Why yes, of course, Doctor Watson, I would have thought you'd known. His brother maintains the flat just as it was and is a much better tenant and much more prompt with the rent than Holmes ever was. Everything is just as it was the day you two left for the continent."

"Well, then, yes, if it isn't too much trouble, Mrs. Hudson, I had hoped to take a peek at Holmes's journals."

"Doing a bit of sleuthing, Doctor? I had thought you were done with those days." Her voice was gentle and teasing but it still stung. My life was so different now.

"I wouldn't call it sleuthing, Mrs. Hudson, I leave that to Holmes, but I am looking into the disappearance of a young woman."

Mrs. Hudson gave me a small sad smile and I thought of what I just said.

"Left. I never had the gift he did," I whispered, staring at my hands.

Mrs. Hudson took a deep breath and said firmly, "Doctor Watson, you were always as keen to solve a mystery as Holmes, himself." She stood abruptly and headed for the stairs. I followed her, a bit puzzled.

She let me into the room and left me there dumbstruck in the doorway. The room was as I remembered it, Persian slipper and all. It was as if I stepped back in time. I half expected Holmes to come thundering up our seventeen steps behind me as if he had just been delayed by paying the cab driver. It even still smelled like him. I stepped cautiously into the room, wondering for just a second if it was an illusion that would shatter around me and disappear in a wisp of smoke.

Although it was as cluttered as ever, the room was remarkably clean and I had to wonder if Mrs. Hudson had been up here, keeping the dust under control. I didn't smell any moldering experiments so surely someone had cleaned out anything that might rot at some point in the last two years. The curtains were drawn back, letting plenty of late afternoon light into the sitting room.

I made my way over cautiously to Holmes's desk. It was cluttered as ever, but I didn't recognize anything immediately. I wouldn't, I realized, because I had not lived at Baker Street the year before he died, instead I was across town in Kensington minding my practice. I did see a clipping affixed to the side of the desk with a ladies hat pin, just a few words about my practice published The Sun. Under it was pinned a picture that had found its way into The Illustrated London News from our last case together. The photographer had caught us when we were leaving a crime scene with Lestrade who had called us both in to investigate because of the unusual nature of the crime, a body found half dissolved in a bathtub of acid. It had not taken Holmes long to determine the exact type of acid used,, the chemist that provided it, and the likely identity of the murderer and we had left after being there only a short while.

Unfortunately the photographers from the newspapers had been doing their jobs, as it were, and had already arrived to wheedle, lie, and sneak their way in before we had a chance to leave and one of them had caught us on the way out. Much to his annoyance, Holmes's name had been splashed across the headlines the next day and this very same photo was in the next edition of The Illustrated London News.

I smiled at the fact that he had kept a photo of the two of us, although his face was partially obscured, right here on his desk. My moment of reminiscence over, I turned to one of the many book shelves that lined the wall. I searched for a few minutes before I located his index on People, Alphabetical and a few minutes longer before I located the W's, which I found halfway down a rather precariously balanced stack underneath a chair which in turn had been balanced on upturned teacups. I shook my head and dug it out.

Lord Henry Wotton's entry was remarkably public for a man that Sherlock Holmes was purported to know privately. Like most entries, it stated the basic biographical information of his name, circumstances of birth, parents, education, and a few points of interest in his life. The only thing that appeared to be an addition based on personal knowledge was two notes in Holmes's short hand that took me a moment to translate to 'never says a moral thing and never does a wrong thing,' and 'his cynicism is simply a pose.' Perhaps Lestrade was correct in his assumption that Wotton wasn't involved in the young woman's disappearance.

However, I was more curious about the list of known associates to be found at the end of the entry. I scanned through them quickly, but nothing stood out in particular. I read through it again, eliminating the names of his peers which I recognized or individuals I had met. I surmised that if I had never known of his association with Holmes, it was unlikely that I had met anyone else that seemed to belong to that particular circle of friends. Only two names from the admittedly short list stood out - Alan Campbell and Basil Howard. Both with notations clearly made at a date later than the original entry marking Campbell as deceased and Howard as disappeared. Most surprising was that the disappeared notation was crossed out and deceased written beside it.

It took a bit more time to locate the C and H indices. The former was found in a violin case that didn't hold a violin, but rather bottles of chemicals, and the latter inside a leather folio in which a few miniatures had been tucked inside. I looked up Basil Howard first. The man was a painter, "of uncommon talent" Holmes had written and I wondered if the paintings in Wotton's entry hall were his. Curious to display those instead of family heirlooms in the entry hall meant to impress and intimidate visitors. There were no clues about the manner of Howard's death, and only a handful of known associates, Wotton, Campbell, and Dorian Gray. The name was familiar to me, but only because it marked one of the first times that Holmes disappeared for a few days with no clue as to his whereabouts. I had arrived home one evening after an afternoon spent playing cards in my club to find Holmes escorting a well-dressed young dandy out the door.

"The work of Dorian Gray, no doubt," Holmes had muttered, mostly to himself, before he had disappeared into his room. He emerged a few moments later, leather case in hand and his summer coat thrown over his arm. I thought it odd at the time and had committed the name to memory the next evening when Holmes still had not returned home. I had wanted some clue to give Lestrade should I have to declare Holmes a missing person. I was relieved to receive a telegraph the next day, unsigned, but clearly from Holmes saying, 'water the lily.' I had spotted the lily on the window sill in his room and had dutifully watered it. I had tried to ask him when he had finally returned home a few days later, but he had brushed me off saying I was lucky not to know the man and had said no more.

I looked at the entry on Alan Campbell and this one struck me as a bit more personal than the others. There was the usual biographical information, but that in itself was unusual for a man that did not seem to be connected to anyone other than Basil Howard, and presumably Sherlock Holmes. And it was odd to find biographical information at all on a chemist, especially one that did not appear to be in any way remarkable at all. There were no citations of monographs, or award, honors or recognitions. He was not a cousin of an earl nor did he appear to be tied in any way to someone in government. All-in-all he appeared to be a nobody based on his entry in the indices.

Through my long association with Holmes though, I had learned that if something struck one as odd, it most certainly was. I sat down in his chair and caught a whiff of his tobacco smoke and smiled to myself. I did not smoke his pipes, but it was almost as if he was there puffing away encouraging me to apply his methods and reach a conclusion myself. No doubt the wrong one, but not that far off the right one either.

I looked around the cluttered sitting room, with piles of box and manuscripts, indices and folios scattered about. This was the true record of our time together, here contained in all this paper. I wrote heavily altered versions for The Strand and had made the man famous, but this was where Sherlock Holmes really lived on, in the incredibly detail of his case notes and cross referenced indices that contained an immeasurable amount of information about the great and mundane of all London, and perhaps the world beyond. On the footstool in front of his chair I found a book on the Norwegian language, another on the Pyramids of Egypt, and what appeared to be an original journal written by a traveler who had once found his way into a forbidden city in Arabia. I set them back down with a snort.

I knew where I could find the information I sought on Campbell, but I was reluctant to make both the physical and metaphorical move into Holmes's private abode - his room. He would let himself into mine on the floor above whenever it suited his fancy, but there had always been a barrier to his room and although he never said it, I knew that while I wouldn't be thrown out if I went in there, neither would I be welcomed either. I had already been in 221B for an hour and knew that if I had any hope of making it home in time to have dinner with Mary I need to make a decision soon.

Finally, I stood and made my way over. The man was dead. Dead and had left me screaming his name into a ravine until I was hoarse. What did he care anymore if I went into his room? Under his bed, Holmes kept a trunk of his private notebooks. I had seen them a time or two when he had dragged them out to consult for a case. I knew that they contained scribblings of his chemistry analysis, notes on what he would eventually compile into a monograph, the details of cases he worked alone for anonymous clients, and a time or two I had caught him scribbling madly away in them huddled in his chair in front of a long dead fire, fingers nearly ice, fueled by a seven-percent solution injected into his veins.

I had never seen the inside of these notebooks, but hoped they would have some sort of organization. I was pleased to see that they followed the same conventions as his other indices and was quickly able to collect a few of which I hoped contained more information about Alan Campbell.

I stopped in to see Mrs. Hudson before I left, reiterating my invitation for dinner sometime soon and letting her know I was done upstairs and borrowing a few things, but that I would return them when I was done, before I headed out the front door to catch a cab back home.

That night I settled in to a chair at the table across from Mary in our small private living room below stairs and spread the books out along with a fresh notebook of my own. She had some mending to do herself and we both found the warm room more comfortable in these chilly evenings. Because of Mary's lingering cough I insisted we had keep to the warmer and less formal room downstairs far later in the year than was usual.

I had explained my day to her over dinner. She had smiled, nodded, asked insightful questions, and agreed wholeheartedly that she simply would love to see both Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson again soon and promised to extend formal invitations to them more regularly.

Now we sat in companionable silence as I delved into Holmes's journals. I found notations next to chemical equations marking them as "Alan's" work, a note about a visit to Liverpool the two must have taken together, and another one to Wales. Next to a chemical equation I found a note that said, 'invisible ink?' and below that 'M. v. impressed' and wondered if Holmes was referring to his brother. It was clear that Holmes and Campbell had collaborated together on chemical work, and frequently, it appeared, during his years between University and meeting me.

Campbell also appeared to have had his work shown to Mycroft if the man hadn't been introduced himself. The 'Alan' notations were most curious. In all our years together, Holmes rarely had referred to me as John, and although I found my name peppered here and there in the journals it was always as 'Watson'. I concluded that Campbell had been a close friend of Holmes's.

Finally I found an entry regarding his death. It was made only a few years ago and I remembered, based on the date, and the mad scribbling it was written in that it had clearly occurred during one of Holmes's black moods. I read the entry and was struck by the intimacy of it. Campbell had come to see Holmes and request his help over something to do with Basil Howard. I had no idea of the specifics since Holmes did not elaborate. I gathered from the writing that Holmes had offered Campbell no more than friendship and had seemed upset by what Campbell had told him. When I turned the page I found a note tucked in there and opened it curiously. It was from Campbell and I read that he was sorry that Holmes would be unable to reveal the true circumstances of Howard's death without bringing great damage to himself, but that he could no longer live with it and that Dorian Gray had won.

I was surprised for it seemed to imply the man had killed himself because he had been involved in Howard's death at the behest of Dorian Gray. I quickly scanned the page and what I saw made me gasp aloud in shock. Mary had taken herself to bed quite some time ago otherwise I don't doubt that she would've enquired as to exactly what had troubled me and there was no way I would have ever been able to tell her.

Dorian Gray had threatened Alan Campbell with blackmail. And it was clear as day written in Holmes's notes exactly what that blackmail was - he had threatened to reveal that Campbell was a practicing homosexual and that Sherlock Holmes had been his lover at one time. 'I can't help but wonder if Alan was protecting me as much as he was atoning for Basil's death,' Holmes had written. 'I am forever indebted to him - if only for John's sake and not my own.'

I sat there stunned for some minutes, staring at the irrefutable proof on the page in front of me. The man I had lived with for eight years had indeed kept a secret from me, and quite well at that. He had always been a queer man, but I had believed his solicitous distance from the fairer sex to be about his devotion to his work and his faint hint of distaste when I spoke of Mary before our marriage to be about me leaving Baker Street behind, not an actual aversion to women.

I wondered how many other people had known of Holmes's proclivities. I had never seen anyone I would have called his friend at our flat, but he did disappear for days at a time and I knew he kept rooms in other areas of town to allow him to work his cases continuously in disguise. I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps they had served other purposes as well. The man had never expressed any desire for or sought more than companionship from me, and of that I was sure. I had been in the Army, and at school before that, and had, at times, been the object of such interest. And such things often amused rather than angered me, although I could never understand why men would indulge themselves with other men when women were available and always turned down such invitations firmly but clearly.

My own brother had been destroyed by his inability to love woman and his attempt had destroyed his wife and children as well. He had always had to use alcohol to bring himself to touch his wife and before long, he had to use it continuously to cope with the fact that he had a wife and didn't want one. Although I in no way approved of the blatant way some men conducted themselves, and I strongly disapproved of the way Wilde had carried on so publicly with men making a mockery of it all, losing a brother to it had at least made me realized that some men were homosexuals against their own wills and desires not to be. I just never had suspected that Holmes was also so accursed. However, he had certainly conducted his affairs so privately that I could not bring myself to find any fault in it if that truly was his nature.

I gathered up all the notebooks and rushed them into my study, locking them in a drawer and pocketing the key. I had no wish for anyone else to find out and knew that I would protect this secret of Holmes's that I was never meant to have with my life and reputation if need be, and not for my sake, but for his memory.

The next morning, as I was greeting my first patient, one of Holmes's old Irregulars appeared on my doorstep with a note in hand. I had greeted Joseph by name, surprised to see him washed up and dressed respectably, but still just as small as ever. A lack of early nutrition often left these boys small throughout their entire lives. He had been one of our smarter ones, although they were all clever, and Holmes had taught him to read before sending him off to a boys school to learn to be a clerk. For some of the more talented boys, Holmes would finance a respectable education and assist them in finding an apprenticeship.

I opened the note and found summons inside, to the Diogenes Club, for lunch today, signed by Mycroft Holmes. I quickly scribbled my acceptance and handed it back to Joseph, who left immediately to deliver it. I saw my patients in a sort of daze that day, brought on by a lack of sleep since I had tossed and turned all night wondering about Holmes and Campbell and how I had stumbled across this information and had been so distracted while trying to find out what happened to Honore Smith.

I finally left in barely enough time to get me to the club. I was shown in and seated across from the great bulk of Mycroft Holmes.

"I do hope you won't mind, Doctor, if we take only a moment for polite pleasantries, before we discuss why I called you hear today?"

I nodded, a bit off balance. Did Mycroft Holmes know about his brother? Surely he must if he had the greatest deductive mind in all of England, according to Sherlock Holmes himself.

"Excellent. I hope your wife is well, and your practice appears to be thriving. I am glad to see you renewing the friendships that were sadly abandoned after my brother died. And speaking of those friendships, I am curious as to why you visited my brother's flat yesterday."

I had long ago learned that while perfectly capable of following the rules of society, the Holmes brothers only did so when it was necessary, otherwise they both believed quite fervently in "getting to the point" as Holmes liked to say.

"I was hoping to find some information in his notes about someone I recently met and discovered had been a friend of his."

"Lord Henry Wotton, Harry to his friends, the numbers of which seem to be dwindling. I find it curious he hired you, but perhaps the man is finally finding a conscious after all this time."

"Yes, I suppose." Our soup was served and we both took a moment to eat. It was clear that the elder Holmes appreciated his meals, and I appreciated the moment of silence that allowed me to attempt to get back on an even keel.

"I very much doubt you'll find the answers to Miss Smith's disappearance amongst Lord Wotton's friends. It has nothing to do with them, or with you, or with Wotton himself."

"You are aware of the circumstances involving her disappearance?" I asked, surprised.

Mycroft waved his hand as our next course was set in front of us. "Only in passing. One of her," he paused, "benefactors was a minor government official. I do like to be aware of what is going on with my colleagues if it could potentially affect my ability to do my job."

Holmes had managed to consume half his plate in what felt like mere moments.

"In fact, if you are interested in the circumstances of her disappearance, I suggest you make it to Waterloo for the evening train to Portsmouth. I believe you'll find your answer boarding in second class."

"She's alive?"

Holmes looked at me with a bit of consternation. "Surely you deduced that for yourself, Watson. The young lady is bound for France, Paris specifically, to try her luck. She'll need it to make up for her lack of talent."


Holmes sighed impatiently as he cut the last of his meat.

"Doctor. My brother thought very highly of your skills and I am sure that you are perfectly capable of figuring out for yourself the details given enough time, but for the sake of expediency here I shall explain. As you are well aware, Miss Smith found herself more adept at her secondary career, to the point where it was becoming her primary. After finding herself facing the consequences of those choices and knowing that her clients would not pay to see her on stage if they weren't seeing her back stage as well, she concluded that she would need to start over, in Paris."

"Why Pairs?"

"Her mother was French, Honore Martin Smith, speaks passable French and I believe she hopes her French relatives will provide some support if needed. She will be disappointed in that respect of her plan, but she will find that the line between her two professions is less clear in Paris and that her talents may yet make her a star."

I shook my head and stared down at my half full plate. I set my fork and knife down and let the waiter clear it. We didn't speak until dessert and coffee were before us.

"I did not ask you here to speak of Miss Smith, Doctor Watson, but rather I wished to speak to you about my brother. I suspect you may have discovered something last night in the items you took from Baker Street you might find troubling."

I sat, considering, as Mycroft Holmes stared at me from across the table.

"I did discover that Holmes was…" I searched for a word that would carry my double meaning well, "close, with a man named Alan Campbell, and that through him may have been involved with the deaths of Basil Howard and Dorian Gray, two friends of Lord Wotton."

Mycroft Holmes sat back and folded his hands across his large belly, the food in front of him ignored for the first time since we sat down.

"Since you accepted my invitation, I gathered that the information, although surely a shock to you, has not irreparably harmed your opinion of my brother. I am concerned, nonetheless, Doctor that such information may still prove hurtful in the long run."

"Sherlock is dead," I said softly, staring into the dark depths of my coffee. "I hardly think we need concern ourselves with the long run."

Holmes nodded and sat up to take a bite of cake.

"I will return the journals to where I found them, but I worry that another may discover them."

"You needn't Doctor, only three people have permission to enter even the sitting room. If they are returned to their proper place, I am sure all will be well."

I sat silent for a moment.

"Does it bother you, Mr. Holmes, to know that your brother was aware of parties responsible for a murder did nothing to bring them to justice?"

"Justice need not always be served by courts, Doctor Watson. Do you not think that Basil Howard got his justice when Campbell could not live with what he had done? That justice was not served when Dorian Gray faced what he had become and destroyed himself over it? My brother's decision to not reveal the truth did not prevent justice from being served."

I nodded, not sure what else I could say.

I took myself down to Waterloo Station early and sat on a bench and watched the crowds. I tried to play a guessing game, imagining I was Holmes and deducing what people did with their lives, who they were hurrying to, or from, where they were going and why, but I was just as terrible at it as I had always been. I caught the flush of a child's cheeks and his snotty sleeve and knew he was sick with a fever but would recover. I saw the scars of pox, and the signs of arthritis, but I couldn't see what Holmes could see, what he surely would've seen in Miss Smith's apartment. The telltale clues that would've told him she was fleeing to France and the struggle was staged. He would have noticed clues in the missing clothes and books, not just that they were gone. Perhaps he could have even deduced something in the cracks of the mirrors on the vanity.

My sharp eyes and keen mind made me a good surgeon. After being broken by Afghanistan and put back together again by Holmes, my renewed sense of optimism and belief in the fundamental good of the individual made me a good doctor. But I would never be a good detective - only a good biographer of great detectives. But I needed to be here today, to see this through and perhaps discover why Miss Smith did what she did. Holmes may have been able to deduce a reason from a stray hair, but I would need to ask the young woman myself.

I saw Miss Smith hurrying to her train. She hadn't made an effort to disguise herself, clearly not believing she would encounter anyone she knew. I fell into step beside her and she startled when she saw me, eyes flashing first in fear, then in defiance. I took her elbow to escort her to her train.

"I have no desire to stop you, Miss Smith, or even reveal to anyone that I have seen you, but I am curious as to why?" Mycroft Holmes had shared his deductions with me, but neither of the Holmes brothers were infallible when it came to matters of the heart.

She stopped and turned to face me. "Doctor Watson, I appreciate what you did for me. And I do not deserve your kindness, but you see-" she stopped and looked over her shoulder at her train. "You see, that is the life I have here, and I don't wish to have it any more."

I nodded and reached into my wallet, removed what notes I had on me and pressed them into her hands. I appreciated the startling simplicity of her motives, and her rather resourceful stubbornness that led to her faking her own death in order to start afresh. It was clear she loved the stage and had no desire to be corrupted from it by the likes of Lord Wotton. Perhaps in France she would not have to have only one or the other.

"I don't know anyone in France, Miss Smith, so I'll offer you what assistance I can here, and of course wish you the best of luck."

She offered me a gorgeous smile and I found myself returning it before tipping my hat and offering her my hand to step onto her train.

"Oh and Miss Smith," I said before relinquishing her hand, "Next time you choose to use pig's blood to fake a wound, splattering it about will disguise both the small quantity and appear far more dramatic."

I winked and turned smartly away, leaving before the train did and made my way back to New Scotland Yard.

"I suppose you've come to tell me you've solved the case, Doctor Watson?" Lestrade asked with a smile as I sat down at his desk.

"I have indeed, although not without a bit of assistance."

Lestrade gestured for me to proceed.

"I believe that Miss Smith staged her own disappearance in a scene that was supposed to lead us, you, to believe she had died. But seeing as she doesn't have any family, and was likely entirely responsible for her disappearance herself, I hardly think the CID should waste valuable resources pursuing it."

"You know where she is, don't you?"

"I couldn't say."

Lestrade snorted, more in amusement than anything else, I hoped.

"I will see you for dinner then, Tuesday next, Doctor. Please give my regards to your wife."

I accepted my dismissal and headed back home to my practice. I had sorely neglected it over these past two days and felt relieved to be done with my sleuthing.

To be on the case, as it were, finally had allowed me to mourn my friend. It saddened me to know that he had kept such secrets, but to realize that that my friendship had meant so much to him, to know he had friends, and yes even lovers, that had cared for him in life comforted me for I was no longer carrying the burden of missing Sherlock Holmes by myself. While I missed the man keenly, what I finally was able to realize was that it was never the detective work I missed, but rather his steady friendship and the excitement, danger, and adventure we had together. My friendship with him had made me the man I am today - a better man for it - and a man capable of loving and being loved by a woman as perfect as Mary.

In my grief for him I had forgotten the others, Lestrade, Mycroft Holmes, and even Mrs. Hudson and I wondered what their friendship with Holmes had meant to each one of them. And if it had taken them so damnably long to figure it out as well. Lestrade had to certainly miss Holmes's intellect and assistance when it came to his more challenging cases, but I couldn't help but now wonder if he had missed his friend as much as I had. His knowledge of at least one of Holmes's secrets now made me believe that their friendship had been deeper and truer than I had ever considered.

The elder Holmes's maintenance of his brother's flat and careful consideration of him even after his death spoke to a deeper affection between the two that I had failed to understand that had been underlying every rude comment Sherlock had ever made about him. Even Mrs. Hudson, for all her exasperation and threats to evict him while he had been alive, clearly missed her tenant deeply in a way that spoke of friendship and not merely the affection of a put upon landlady.

My step felt lighter as I made my way home. Knowing that Holmes had such true friends and that he wasn't just a consulting detective, but rather a friend and brother, and yes even a lover, to people and that these people had cared for the man as deeply as I had made me feel less alone. I shed the last of my grief as I approached my front stoop and looked forward to the future in store for myself and Mary and my restored friendships with three so very dear people to me.


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May 2014

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