Chapter Eighteen

Equilibria

I woke up with the planks of the bridge digging into my right shoulder. I groaned inwardly and rolled over, taking some of the pressure off my bad shoulder. The stars were coming out, white sparks against the dark blue velvet of the sky.

Head trauma and poetry was probably not a good combination. I suddenly became aware of another person on the bridge, leaning against the railing with the tip of his cigarette glowing like a huge orange star.

"Holmes?" The figure started and turned.

"Russ?"

I'm afraid I threw myself at him. The sudden display of emotion took him by surprise and we both nearly went over the rail and into the Isis. The cigarette was not so lucky, tracing a glowing arc over the dark water before extinguishing with a hiss. I ran my fingers through his familiar greying hair and was surprised to encounter a mortarboard on his head. I took a step backwards and realized he was in full Oxford robes, cap and gown and all.

"I thought I'd attempt to blend in with the local populace. The species Scholastica Oxfordia are wary of strangers in their midst."

"Holmes. Explain. What day is it?" Holmes, my own dear Holmes, knew exactly what I meant, and answered without prevarication.

"Professor Jensen appeared in a London hotel room last night, startling the life out of the newly-wedded couple who were occupying the suite and demanding to know what had been done with his notes. You've been gone ten days."

"Oh Lord."

"Quite. I happened to be in the area at the time and was able to convince the good professor that he had merely imagined the past week's events during a bout of hallucinations brought on by overwork. Lestrade mentioned, in a deeply suspicious tone, that you were on the case in Oxford, but that he had not heard from you in a week."

"What did you tell Lestrade?"

"That you had asked me to look into it for you whilst I was in London on other business."

"And Jensen believed that he had gone temporarily insane?"

"Russ, he had just arrived from a week-long holiday in another decade. It wasn't that hard to convince him."

"So it wasn't a dream. Damn."

"Pardon?"

"I was rather hoping you'd tell me that I must have been having some strange hallucination brought on by the concussion."

"It would be simpler." Holmes agreed.

"So you knew all along?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" I nearly wailed, confused and more than a little angry. I had lived and worked with this man for the better part of seven years, only to find now that he had known me all along. The foundation for out relationship was a week thirty years ago that I had not lived until now.

"Because I didn't know all along until yesterday." This simple statement stopped my inward spiral of impending hysteria.

"Because it hadn't happened yet?" I ventured.

"Yes."

"Dear God." I pressed my palms to my temple, trying to ward off the impending headache. "If the temporal paradoxes don't get us the verb tenses will."

"It was if I remembered you in London all those years ago, but I never made the connection between you and her until last week. Quite a shocking failure of logical faculties."

"Which is why you impersonated a don to wait for me here. You knew where and when I would appear again."

"I deduced it, yes."

"Your calculations must have been a little off. How many cigarettes did you smoke while you were standing here?"

"Time allowed for six. Perhaps seven." Holmes admitted with some chagrin. I sighed, but kept my wifely naggings to myself. "Incidentally, we should move before the proctor arrives and demands some awkward explanations."

I said something rude about the college proctor. Holmes chuckled.

"Nevertheless. And you seem to be ill dressed for the occasion, yet again."

I glanced down at the governess outfit and cursed softly. Sometimes I thought that we should just give it all up and go back to fig leaves and not worrying about fashion. Holmes did have a point, however, so we adjourned to my rooms in the town.

It was not until some time later, the next morning in fact, that I remembered to ask some of the less pressing questions on my mind. It was an unseasonably chilly fall morning, and I was wrapped up in the bedclothes while Holmes got the fire going.

Jensen's notes were spread out on the bed in front of me. His equations seemed to have been chasing themselves in circles. Unless Jensen managed to accidentally propel himself into the future, intentional time travel appeared to be purely retrospective.

"I can't believe you saved these for thirty years." I said. The paper was a bit yellowed, but otherwise it had fared well.

"I am surprised that they survived the trip to Sussex intact." Holmes said, with just a touch of sourness. I had heard before how a few sets of case files had disappeared during the move to Sussex. One box eventually turned up at a farmhouse down the road, and another had been purposely stolen by one of the movers with the intent of selling them off. He had been foiled by Holmes' complete and utter lack of organisation and managed to steal only a box full of loose newspaper clippings.

"It took me all day to find them." He added, straightening from the hearth.

"I've no doubt." I replied absently. "This will be interesting to try and explain." I sighed. I allowed Holmes to drag me away from my books on occasion, but I usually left notice, rather than simply disappearing.

"I believe you have been in Sussex for the past ten days. There was a sudden family emergency, which you had to tend to immediately. A Miss Stephens rang the day after you, er, left." Holmes explained to my questioning look.

"What sort of family emergency?" I asked.

"I did not elaborate. She seemed rather excited at the idea of being allowed to 'investigate a nifty mystery' with you." I winced.

"I suppose I can make up a cousin with a bad case of hypochondria. Poor Lily. She has more enthusiasm than ability."

"An enthusiastic amateur may accomplish what a disinterested professional cannot."

"Only when determination makes the difference between success and failure."

"It's strange how often that is the case."

Trading aphorisms with Holmes was like settling into a warm bath after a hard day; soothing, familiar, and oh so welcoming. No more feeling as if the world had spun off its axis; no more jolting realizations that no matter how things might appear, I was a stranger in a familiar land.

"What was your first thought when you saw me?" The question slipped out almost on accident. I half expected some glib answer, but Holmes considered the question for almost a full minute, turning his unlit pipe over in his hands.

"I was intrigued. You looked as if you were drowning, and the rescue ship had just floated into sight." I was startled by such raw emotion, but Holmes continued without noticing.

"You hid it well, but I couldn't forget that first look. I was baffled by how your attitude towards me vacillated wildly between the intimate and the stiffly formal. And then there was your story. Perfectly logical except for the impossibility of time travel. I would have followed you even if I had a more pressing case than that twit Sauvignon, if only to see what would happen next."

I chuckled softly. Curiosity, pure and simple. If I had managed a glib story about being mugged, Holmes wouldn't have given me another thought.

"And what did you think of me?" Holmes asked softly.

I looked up sharply. His back was toward me, but I caught his reflection in the windowpane. There was the faintest hint of a self-deprecatory smile on his lips, and it nearly broke my heart. Not many men had to compete with their younger self for their wife's affections; at least not directly.

"I thought you looked exactly the same."

"Russ, I am a grown man. There is no need to spare my feelings."

"Really. Your hair was darker, of course, and there were fewer lines, but that all seemed rather secondary at the time. It was very hard to remember that you weren't, er, you." I admitted.

There was another long silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire. The flames found a particularly knotty section with a loud crack, and my awareness jolted back to the present.

"Who was that man that you had me spy upon in the park that day?" I asked. Holmes got a faraway look on his face and I thought for a moment that perhaps he had forgotten entirely.

"Ah." He said softly, and a peculiar look crossed his face. "The clerk worked at the Old Bailey, shuffling papers about."

"And the man he met?"

"It was Moriarty." Holmes coughed. "I was going to have one of the Irregulars do it, but they would have stood out among the middle class crowd, and I did not trust that I could disguise myself well enough to fool Moriarty."

"Moriarty?" I repeated faintly. Suddenly I was very glad that I hadn't known who I was observing. I don't know how I would have reacted to seeing the source of so many evils in person, but I believe "murderous rage" would have been near the top of the list.

It was a long time before either of us spoke again.

"What will you do with those notes?" Holmes asked at last. I glanced down at the papers scattered across the bedclothes. The sudden urge to sweep the whole pile into the hearth came over me.

The sociological, theological, historical and personal implications of time travel were endless. The sheer power of having this sort of control over the past was mind-boggling. I remembered the devastation of the War. How much greater would that devastation be if a time travellers from each side attempted to influence the outcome? The war would be breaking out before it even started.

I did not want this. I should have burned it all in that instant. But I couldn't. As powerful, as deadly, as dangerous as this knowledge was, I could not bring myself to destroy it. It seemed unlikely to me that humanity would ever be ready enough to deal with time travel in a responsible way, but I could not pass that judgement.

"I should destroy it all." I told Holmes. "But I can't. It's too important."

"Into the attic then." Holmes said, and I thought I detected a note of relief in his voice. "Along with your memoirs."

I started and, to my great annoyance, blushed. I didn't think Holmes was aware of the slowly-growing bundle of paper in one of my trunks.

"You don't mind then?"

"How could I object to another Boswell? I do seem to collect them. I hope you are not going to send them to Doyle for approval?" Holmes added, with a warning glance.

"Don't be silly, Holmes. Anyway, it's more of a journal than anything."

"Hmph. I shouldn't think you'd need to write anything down to remember it." Holmes said only slightly mollified.

"What were you doing going through my Oxford trunks anyway?"

"I was looking for that chemistry journal I leant you." Holmes replied, now on the defensive.

"I shouldn't think you'd need to read anything twice in order to remember it." I said sweetly.

"Oh very well. I was snooping. It is what I do."

"So I should start putting little labels on my things: 'Don't touch. This means you Holmes'?"

"Only if you want to be very sure I'll look. Don't pretend you've never poked your nose where it doesn't belong, Russell."

"A good student learns all from her master, Holmes."

"A good student wouldn't show such cheek."

"Very well. Then I won't ask where you got that photo of me in your wallet."

The look of astonishment mingled with embarrassment was ample compensation for the past week of misery.

"Layers upon layers, Russell. Any more surprises you'd like to spring on me?"

"None at the moment, Holmes. I shall have to come up with some more."

"Please do."

FINIS