25th September, 1889

"Watson," Holmes addressed his friend as he wound his timepiece to his satisfaction, "is your old leg wound causing you grief?" The partially distracted question came as the two friends, out on an early evening constitutional following Watson's dropping by Baker Street for a late lunch, walked together down Marylebone Road, intending to turn up by York Gate for Regents Park.

The doctor sighed a little, glancing down at the leg that carried his old bullet wound from Afghanistan, and which had been niggling at him all day, albeit not to the degree he would have thought noticeable, but then his colleague always had a way of noticing things others missed. "Yes...I think we shall have rain soon. It always twinges a bit a day or so before hand," he replied with a nod.

"I thought as much." Holmes slipped his watch back to his pocket, and glanced up at the darkening blue of the clear twilight sky on a fine balmy evening. "The scent of it is in the air. And not before time too. This summer has been exceedingly hot and dry. London has not profited by it. Heat waves often bring out criminal excesses. The lethargy and desire only to be cool makes the general populace careless, and the less scrupulous can thrive. And that is without taking into account the excessive alcohol consumption such weather can bring, and its ripple effects. Yes, all in all not before time."

"Well, we're into autumn now, old man, though I dare say I shall prefer the mild weather a bit longer to the bitter cold," the older man returned, before glancing down the street, and spotting the familiar shop that was the target of an errand he was meaning to run and the reason they had walked in this direction.

Passing Madame Tussauds, busier now then ever after moving there five years previously from its original site in the Bazaar in Baker Street, they closed on the superbly stocked tobacconists Rosenbaum's, which had just been acquired by Carlin's of Oxford Street but remained under the management of the dignified and immensely knowledgeable Mr. Rosenbaum.

On the doctor's lead, they crossed the road in the wake of the Omnibus's passing. The open door of Rosenbaum's allowed the rich scent of tobacco to filter into the evening air, and both men happily stopped to look at the items on display in the front bay window before Watson glanced quickly over at his companion. "Holmes, I'll just be a moment...stock up the home supplies, as I told you..."

"Of course..." his friend replied, happy to indulge a fellow enthusiast's tastes.

"Is there anything you want?"

"No thank you," said the detective, holding up a hand. "However...I recommend the new Will's Virginia Blend. Quite your style."

As an intrigued Watson disappeared into the shop, Holmes returned to his perusal of the shop front, admiring the sleek Calabash Rustique and Belgique Smooth pipes displayed amongst the temptingly overflowing containers of finest tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes. The selection of matured, black shag tobacco began to woo him to the idea that perhaps an extra ounce or two of that and some red flake might not go amiss for the lengthening evenings ahead. Autumn was, as Watson had quite rightly said, here, and colder, darker nights beckoned.

Raising his head, he peered in through the window to see Watson in conversation with the dapper Mr. Rosenbaum, who was in the process of showing him a bewildering display of new American and Turkish products that had the good doctor quite distracted by choice. A small smile of amusement touching his lips, and pleased by his friend's presence this evening, as well as his return to a happier demeanour following the poignant death of his unborn child, Holmes made a move to join him.

As he did, however, a movement in one reflected pane of the convex glass window caught his eye, causing him to pause. The familiar figure mirrored there, her graceful step as she traversed the pavement on the far side of the street, heading in the opposite direction to that he and Watson intended, instantly recognisable to him after a year of her acquaintance, was one he had not seen for some weeks now.

Not since he had to hastily abandon her in the midst of that fine performance of Lucia di Lammermoor to pursue an urgent case. An action he regretted. On reflection, he knew, of course, that he should have least had the courtesy to put her in a cab, but such details when faced with the immediacies of his work slipped his mind on occasion. As a case in point…even before Watson had berated him for his second such inattention to Helen Thurlow, he had meant to write and offer his apologies to her, but had forgotten or rather rescheduled it, his work offering him new several opportunities at once.

Subsequently, he had decided that, after so long a period had elapsed, it would be better to apologise in person when next they met. However, his intentions to contact her had been halted by Watson, who informed him that Miss Thurlow's commitments were keeping her at home for the time being, and that even his meetings with her had been postponed for a short time.

Despite enquiries as to her health and that of her family, Holmes had ascertained little further information about her absence from his friend, who soon showed a marked reluctance to be pressed on the subject, changing it rather too speedily, and displaying all the hallmarks of a man engaged in obfuscation.

The reason for that obfuscation was now patently clear.

The traffic that passed between Holmes and the subject of his thoughts kept her oblivious to his presence and his observation of her. Her hat was new, or at least new in that he had not seen it on her before, its deep blue with pale blue flowers complimenting her auburn hair curled beneath it, and she appeared considerably less drawn and tired than last he had seen her. Other than that, she looked in every way the same as she had always had.

Save one.

The soldier with whom she walked, and around whose arm her hand was gently curled.

His eyes moved from her to better observe this man. He was about thirty or thirty-one. A Captain from what he could discern of his officer's braid, for his insignia was too small and distant to make out, but his bearing was unmistakeably that of a cavalry officer; the extra swagger and tell tale signs in the walk of a man used to life on horseback self evident to him. Taking that to be the case, the officer's uniform tunic's colour told him that he was from the 16th Lancers - a prestigious regiment with a proud history and a man, from the number of ribbons on his chest, who had both seen action and had proved himself.

Tall, six foot two inches perhaps, dark, of handsome aspect, broad shouldered, slender but solidly built, his hair unusually flowing and long, his sideburns unique for a man his age, he smiled, what seemed to Holmes, a great deal and talked even more, and his inclination towards leaning towards his companion was sufficient indication of both his enjoyment of her presence and a growing comfort in its being there. It was not the first time they had strolled thusly.

No. His eyes returned to her face, and noted the happy smile and barely restrained laughter there as she glanced up at her jovial companion. No. Not the first time...nor the second.

A relative? No. She had said often enough there were none she liked well enough to be close to. And the expression on his face when his eyes found hers and the demure dip of her head at some comment or other spoke clearly of intent and flirtation. The permitted intimacy was clear in its silent declaration to him - he was calling upon her. They were courting.

Placing his cane in front of him, he leaned on it, watching them as they moved on.

And so it had happened.

He had long suspected it would only be a matter of time. It was well within the range of achievable mathematical probability that sooner or later a zealous friend or relative would introduce her to a man who was not dull, nor avaricious, and who would be charming enough to catch his dear friend's attention. His eyes turned down to the pavement for a moment and then up at her gradually retreating form. And she was a dear friend…had become so.

She was far too charming, bright, and kind to be alone in this world, and like every woman, desired not to be. She was not the epitome of her gender in any way, and yet, as he viewed it, the sum of her parts gave her a kind of uniqueness that like Mary Watson subtly made her stand out from her fellows, and also like his friend's wife, she had flowered under the adversity and challenge. Such women did not by their nature turn inwards, and men around them seldom let them.

His hands clasped the top of his cane tightly, and relaxed accordingly; his only movement as he stood statue still outside the shop. He had thought, he had to admit, that on one or two occasions, her thoughts in that regard might be turning to him, but such brief thoughts were common between men and women who had a friendly connection and fleeting ideas that did no harm. Looking down again, he contemplated that before smiling a little to himself - she was too aware and intelligent a woman to ever let it go beyond that, and would seek out someone far better suited to her needs than he…as this new development proved to him.

Although… His gaze moved to the smart, scarlet uniformed back. While he was full sure this would come to pass, he was surprised at her apparent choice. A soldier was not whom he had envisaged in that little time he had afforded thought on the subject. Rather an entrepreneurial business man or a man of the arts, either one clever, vibrant, with a wide breath of knowledge, an open mind, and respectful but warm heart. Soldiers, he had found in his experience, seldom fell into that category.

The distant laugh of the officer under scrutiny crept to his ears as they stopped by Tussauds to take in the advertisements, and Holmes quirked an eyebrow on being able to hear his amusement, even vaguely, at this distance across a busy London avenue. Vibrant, at least, he certainly seemed to be, the detective noted, the fingers of one hand thrumming soberly against the others on his cane.

In any event, he straightened, slipping his cane under his arm. Whatever the merits of her choice, she had succumbed as he knew she must, and he now knew the precise reason for her behaviour at the Opera that night...her distant air, her evasion of his question...her desire to tell him something she never had the chance to, and why he had heard nothing since. She had obviously met this man, and was trying to find a way to tell him she could no longer accompany him as she once had.

That she had never had the chance was hardly her fault, and the manner of his departure meant that by all rights he should have been the one to approach her afterwards as the wrong doer. But he never had, so her opportunity had been removed.

Perhaps it was just as well. He was sure she would have found it difficult to say, and his visage softened a little on the remembrance of how flustered she would sometimes get around him on the subject of personal issues, even though invariably, she would always get her point across quite well on that and any other subject. He would miss that.

He would miss…

"Holmes? Is everything all right?" came the familiar voice next to him, as Watson regarded his friend's face curiously at the immersed expression he saw there. "Something the matter, my dear chap?"

Looking around at the man now by his side, the detective pondered on whether his friend had known and kept this from him, but for the moment, shook his head. "No matter," he replied, as the... couple... moved on, and inhaling deeply and with a smile, he voiced in a philosophically light hearted manner, "Just stray ruminations. This time upon how women always fulfil what one of expects of them. No matter how well suited to a life of amiable friendship they appear...inevitably their nature takes them towards the life of arrant romance. They are compelled to it like a salmon is upstream."

Arching an eyebrow at his friend, the doctor gave him a bemused look. "I see..." he returned, when quite the contrary was the case, wondering what had occurred between the recommendation of Will's Virginia Blend cigarettes and the purchasing of them to bring on thoughts such as those, but knowing better than to even bother to attempt to debate such a subject with his friend. "Yes, well...never mind. Shall we continue?"

"Of course! Of course!" Holmes pronounced with a nod, pointing his cane in the direction of York Gate, and casting a smile at the other man. "By all means, let us, you and I, continue on as we have been doing."

Tucking his neatly wrapped parcel under his arm, the doctor did so, turning and moving to cross the street, while by his side, as they waited for the carriages to pass, the detective's eyes drifted back to his left and the last glimpse of auburn hair by that scarlet tunicked shoulder.

For a moment, the composed brow creased, the hawkish eyes below flickering at the sight once more of intertwined arms and closely spoken happy words, as the faint sound of a waltz drifted down on a breeze from somewhere undefined. When they disappeared amongst the others on the street, Holmes shook himself slightly, shifting his eyes from the empty spot on the far side of the street to that occupied by his stalwart colleague with him, and with a step, moved after him and back to their prior routine.

Authors' Notes: Thank you to all who have read, reviewed, and stuck with us through this tale. We heartily enjoyed both writing it and bringing it to you, and have appreciated everyone's thoughts and comments...and thank you for bearing with us with our much necessary vagueness. Now…it is over…or is it?

That said, I would like to direct your attention to this link (due to this not showing up...grrrr...go to our Author page here and I'll put the link up there...cool?)…where perhaps you will find an answer to that question…let the games…begin! - Aeryn (of aerynfire)