A/N: Many thanks to all you who gave me such positive feedback about this thing – I freely confess it's been a monster to write, and such volatile subject matter too. Your encouragement makes me glad I took the trouble to do it, though; so I hope you all enjoy the last chapter, and many thanks once again. Until a plot bunny strikes me, ta-ta for now and God bless!
For probably fifteen minutes we sat in the arbour, taking in the lovely cool atmosphere and letting the clean sea breeze blow away the remaining effects of that horrible hallucinatory drug. But the longer we sat, the more curious I grew about whatever it was that I knew Sherlock Holmes was keeping from me.
I was about to ask him outright, when Dr. Leon Sterndale came walking up the path towards us. Holmes sprang up to intercept him, as the atmosphere in the cottage was still rather close, and I sighed wearily. My questions would have to wait, as they always did.
I refer readers to my story I have entitled The Adventure of the Devil's Foot for the full details of the mystery's denouement which took place at this point in my narrative, for I have no wish to repeat the entire sequence of events in this particular tale; the more important solution of a more important mystery is the subject of this particular foray into what Holmes delights in terming my 'incurable romanticism'.
Sterndale left with both our blessings, and Holmes seemed unusually contemplative after he had left, walking back to the cottage without a word to me and throwing open all the windows as well as the back door to aid the place in airing out completely.
I remained outside with my thoughts, trying to decide what to do.
Holmes despised my prying into his private affairs – but I desperately wanted to know what had become of his drug supply and where it was. I also wondered what exactly had happened to effect such a change in him. It could not be the case, for he had been in this wonderfully…free, for lack of a better word, mood early in the morning before Roundhay had come to see us.
I frowned in thought, but my musing was interrupted by a violent peal of thunder and I realised the sun had disappeared behind the clouds and a mist was starting to fill the air. I beat a hasty retreat to the cottage to find that there remained no more traces of the drug we had so foolhardily exposed ourselves to, and we could close the windows now in preparation for the approaching storm.
Holmes poured us both a glass of water, and I gratefully drained mine, still a little shaky from the whole tiring ordeal.
He disappeared without a word into his bedroom, probably to get into his dressing gown if I had to guess, and I tiredly made my way to my room as well, rubbing my temples absently as I considered whether or not to broach the subject of his drug's disappearance to my friend.
I was saved from further debate when he knocked lightly on my door and poked his head in – I had deduced correctly, he was in his dressing gown.
"Since when has Sherlock Holmes started knocking and asking if he can come into a room?" I asked amusedly, shrugging out of my jacket and into my own dressing-gown, closing my window against the heavy rain.
Holmes snorted a laugh, but I could see that he was nervous about something from the way he kept his hands in his pockets and his unlit pipe clenched between his teeth. He seated himself in the chair beside my writing desk and I took the chair next to him, waiting expectantly.
Waiting for nothing, apparently. He sat there, absently fiddling with the pen and inkwell I had left on the polished wood, for the better part of five minutes. Finally, as I reached over and acted as if I were going to roll the top down on the desk he jumped slightly and turned a guilty smile to me.
"What's troubling you, Holmes? If it's that infernal Devil's Foot affair, do try to put it from your mind," I said gently.
He frowned. "I am trying, Watson, but I doubt I shall ever forget what a stupid fool I was – I could have murdered us both!"
"I admit I can think of less painful ways I would prefer to go, should you ever take it into your head to try such a thing again," I replied, keeping a straight face with difficulty.
I felt a sense of relief when he broke into a howl of welcome laughter.
"Wherever did you pick up that morbid sense of humour, my dear Watson?"
"Probably a side-effect of living with the world's only consulting detective for too many years," I responded dryly.
He chortled softly and leant back in his chair, glancing over to meet my eyes.
"I – have something for you, Watson," he said hesitantly, running a finger round his collar with nervousness, dropping his gaze for a moment.
I sat up expectantly, watching him, my curiousity very much aroused.
Holmes tugged on his collar urgently, then finally dropped his twitching hand back to his pocket, pulling out a familiar leather case and shoving it across the desk to me.
I recognised the Moroccan case at once – it had been empty in his bedroom for the last few days. Why was he…
I glanced at him, but he was looking at some invisible spot on the wall and so I turned my attentions back to the object in my hands, finally sliding the catch and opening the case.
It was no longer empty.
I curiously picked up the one syringe it contained and held it to the light – then stopped in astonishment.
It was filled…with sand?
"Holmes?" I asked breathlessly.
"You will remember I had two of them, Watson," he said slowly, carefully avoiding meeting my eyes.
He was silent, and I could see his eyes rapidly darting from object to object in the room, an obvious sign that he was in deep thought, deciding what he wanted to say. Finally he turned back to me, a sudden warmth filling his normally cold grey eyes as he looked at me.
"Two things were instrumental in my decision, Watson, and so I have divided the proof of my sincerity to both of them," he said slowly, tapping the syringe with a rather unsteady finger. "This one is in your hands, the other buried in the sand where you found me on the beach the other morning."
I was speechless – that was why he had been so happy the other morning, he had been out there burying that devilish drug and its instruments!
I must have been sitting there with my mouth partly open, for Holmes glanced at me and laughed softly.
"Don't tell me you of all people haven't a word to say? And you, a writer?"
"Wh-when I get my breath back," I gasped, the sudden joy in realising exactly what he meant in his gift to me spreading over me like a warm wave to fill my heart.
He chuckled, then met my eyes a little shyly, a firm strong glimmer of pride shining through them at what he had done – and on his own too; I had no part in the final decision, it had been all his doing and no one else's.
When I finally found my voice I said as much, congratulating him in a voice that I wished could be more steady but was impossible for it to be in that situation.
"No, Watson," he said firmly, laying a strong hand on my arm, "you entirely under-rate yourself. I owe you my life, for what you did that very first night as well as this afternoon due to my stupidity, but –" He halted for a moment, searching for the correct words. "But also for giving me back a measure of my life by your support – there is no possible way I – I should have done this without you, and that is the honest truth, my dear fellow. I had to have been the very devil himself for you to deal with."
"I won't deny that," I said a little shakily, "but it was well worth it, I assure you."
The corners of his eyes crinkled in a genuine smile as he patted my arm in a rare gesture of affection.
"Well, you brought me back, you know, and I shan't forget it this time, I give you my word," he said, then stopped, realising what he had said. "Or actually, I shall swear it on your word, since it is rather more trustworthy," he went on ruefully.
I laughed aloud at that, feeling the back of my eyes stinging.
"Welcome back, old fellow," I said sincerely.
He smiled, withdrawing his hand to reach once more into his pocket and pulling out that journal I had practically forced upon him over a week ago.
"I have something else to show you," he said hesitantly, flipping nervously through the pages.
"Oh?" I tried to peek over his arm and he pulled the book back, shooing me off with a grin and a swat as if I were a pesky insect.
"Well, hurry up!"
"Patience, my dear Watson, does not seem to be one of your virtues."
"And speed does not seem to be one of yours."
He evidently had found the page he wanted, for he sat there for a moment looking at it with an odd half-smile before glancing back up at me.
"Holmes, don't be so infuriating!" I exclaimed, my curiousity now thoroughly piqued.
He smiled and shoved the book over the desk at me, then turned his nervous fingers to drumming on the desk-top while I picked it up and stared at the simple sketch in wonder, my breath suddenly catching in my throat.
"Do you – do you like it?"
"It's wonderful," I said softly, gazing at the simple black-and-white drawing of the two of us standing on what I could recognise immediately as the Cornish beach where he had buried the last traces of that infernal drug. The sun was rising behind us, and every wave-cap and gull were perfectly traced round us as it had been that gorgeous morning. And the detailing was flawless, down to the woolen scarf I had worn that morning and the smile on his face as he had greeted me that day.
The entire thing spread over two pages, and I could not imagine the time and effort that had to have gone into it, and without my ever knowing he was sketching me.
"When in the world did you find the time to do this?" I gasped in wonder.
"It wasn't easy, I assure you; took five days and I only finished it last night. I had to sketch you when you weren't aware of it – that night that you could not stay awake when I was discussing the Tregennis case with you so animatedly, remember?" he replied with a shy grin, flushing slightly under my awe-struck gaze, "so if you look half-asleep, that is why – I couldn't get you to keep your eyes open!"
I laughed in delight, feeling a lump come into my throat at this astounding gesture.
"I'll frame it as soon as we get back to Baker Street," I said softly, finally tearing my eyes from the drawing back to my friend, who was once again staring in some embarrassment at that invisible spot on the opposite wall.
He snorted, but flushed with pleasure at my praise and squirmed a bit in his chair in obvious discomfort at all this emotional display. Time to bring us both back to normality.
"I have to say, I much prefer your drawings to that Paget chap's in the Strand Magazine," I said mischievously, inspecting our figures in the sketch more closely.
Holmes threw back his head and laughed outright at that, and I joined him a moment later.
"You should illustrate for my stories from now on!" I said suddenly.
The look of abject horror on his face sent me into another peal of laughter.
"I'll die before attaching my name to such romantic drivel!"
"Holmes." I said dryly. "Think about what you just said."
He paused, his eyes narrowing as he did so. Then he scowled good-naturedly.
"You know what I mean! You may put my name in there all you like but I shan't be publicly endorsing the rubbish!" He pulled a very childish face and rose to his feet.
"You know, we could have rather a lot of fun with this newly-discovered talent of yours," I said slyly as we exited my bedroom and headed for the fire, the storm rattling our windows but not able to dispel the warmth within.
"Come on, let me see you draw Lestrade."
"How about Mycroft?"
"You'd need a bigger notebook."
"Not very kind of you, Holmes; he has been rather an encouragement to me of late," I said, trying not to laugh at the barb as Holmes snickered and we sat by the glowing fire.
"I own that distinct privilege of all younger brothers - to be annoying when I so choose."
"You don't just own it, you have a monopoly on it!"
Holmes merely laughed and lit his pipe, curling up comfortably in his armchair.
"Tell me something, Watson?"
"Mmhm?" I asked, lighting my own pipe.
"Moore Agar. Was that scene in Baker Street a performance?"
I cleared my throat.
"Well, yes and no – he told me he had something up his sleeve but refused to tell me what. I was just as surprised to see him as you were. That reminds me, I must thank him when we get back home."
"I must as well," Holmes mused, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
For a long while we sat there in a perfect, comfortable silence befitting two men who have known each other for as long as we had and had come through so many things together. Then finally Holmes broke the silence hesitantly.
"Did I ever actually say thank you, Watson?" he asked softly.
I was startled by the unusually emotive question and smiled at him.
"You know you're being frightfully candid, for you anyway, Holmes."
He snorted, shooting me a sly look. "Well you were the one that told me irrationality is a by-product of a cocaine overdose, Watson. I am not responsible for anything I said or did this week."
"You are not going to be able to use that excuse from now on, Holmes," I warned happily.
"I'll think of something."
"I don't doubt it!"
Holmes arose as the temperature dropped to put more coal on the fire and then went for two warming drinks, motioning me to remain where I was when I would have risen and helped. He returned in a few moments and handed a glass to me before sitting back in his chair by mine.
"Well," he said with another of those enigmatic smiles, "you are the man of letters, Doctor. What shall we drink to?"
I thought briefly of the events of the past weeks; the battle for control that had raged in that most formidable mind, of the final triumph that I and this solitude had managed to help in bringing about, of the power of true self-sacrificing love and tolerance and support, of the strength of a friendship that would not disintegrate even under this kind of pressure, of the deadly habit that had been broken and the syringe that would forever remain buried on the Cornish coasts.
Then I turned back to my waiting friend, smiling and touching the rim of my glass to his.
"To demons broken and buried, may they remain so for the rest of time," I said quietly, and Sherlock Holmes nodded in complete accord.
To the previous reviewer who mentioned Holmes's drawings probably being better than Sidney Paget's – cyber kudos for guessing what I had already planned from the beginning as part of the finale!
Thanks for reading – hope you enjoyed it!