"Sleep well, Watson?"
The words tumbled out of his mouth as I came down the stairs, knotting the sash of my dressing gown.
"I slept fine, Holmes; I slept quite well. In fact, it looks as if I'm late for breakfast."
"No no, everything's hot, I haven't even started. You do like toast?"
"Um…yes, I like toast."
"To be sure, I thought I remembered your liking toast. It's a little dark, perhaps?" He had bustled to the table and now lifted the lid of a breakfast tray, poking nervously.
"As long as it's not burned to a crisp, I'll eat it. Holmes, did you sleep well? You look tired." I sat down at the table.
He pulled out a chair and settled himself fussily. "I still have so much to unpack and sort and catalogue. You know I'm not a tidy man, Watson, but even I have my limits and it would be nice to lie down sans the crackle of old receipts. So, I did some organizing last night."
"Make much progress?" I took a mouthful of toast and gestured at his breakfast.
He sighed and picked up a fork. "Yes, but I'm still gathering my possessions from all the four corners of the world. Mycroft should be sending another box of odds and ends to-day. I suppose during my solitary travels it was inevitable that I lose things right and left, Watson; it's so different not having—ah well, but that's in the past. Shall I pour us some coffee? Here you are, then, and here I am, and it's a fine spring day by the looks of it."
"It does look that way," I murmured, gazing out the window as I stirred my coffee. "Fancy a walk after breakfast?"
"I suppose I could spare the time."
We finished breakfasting quietly, listening to the wind wrapping around the flat and the usual London noises of cab wheels and shouts, though they seemed somehow distilled and purified by the wind. The same sounds I'd heard before felt more innocent to me, but not an innocence of the past. It was a new feeling, one I did not recognize. I was disoriented, and felt that everything was hidden in the dark by the very lightness of the wind and cheery shouts.
"Watson." Holmes collected specks of egg with his fork tines. "There were so many fantastic things I saw over the last three years. I know you would have enjoyed many of them."
"I would have joined you, wherever you were--if you had asked."
"But we've been over that already."
We went to get our coats and hats.
Holmes took my coat off the hook, and seemed to lose himself in the worn material as it fell about his hands in folds; he ran a finger along the seam, following some map to the past. There was no scientist in his eyes, just a stranger.
I had to tug the coat from him before he came to himself; he handed me my bowler straight away, then put on his own coat with flourishes of old.
He looked to me, but I didn't feel like laughing.
Holmes put on his top hat, and we started the descent to the front door.
I was still near the top when Holmes stepped off the last stair and turned back to me with an uneasy grin, hand on the doorknob as I caught up. "All seventeen steps still accounted for, Watson?"
I looked quietly at him, then we went outside.
"Shall we take Oxford?"
He removed his hat and fiddled with the brim a moment before resettling it carefully. Then he looked at my arm, and I looked at it too, finding nothing unusual.
Holmes scratched at the back of his neck.
The light dawned. I raised my arm, just as he did—our knuckles collided.
"Sorry, Watson," Holmes chuckled, rubbing his hand and colouring up. "We really are out of practice, aren't we?"
"I'm afraid so."
He held his arm out to me, his grey eyes twinkling. "Shall we try again?"