I'm not a magician; I have no endless scarves to dazzle with, and no snowy pigeons to release. And I can't vanish in a puff of colored smoke, which is what I most desperately need right now.

Here I am, blinking in the sudden lamplight, utterly ashamed and disgraced…it was a simple task, and necessary, and he could not do it because he had a thousand other things to do.

He's always needed…by so many people…

I'm never needed.

My head aches, but I try not to let my mind unravel. Though this case is yet to be absolutely completed, the answers to it all are obvious to me; I am already living in tomorrow.

I can see the newspapers with headlines of my success.

I can smell the morning coffee, mixed with the stale smoke of the cigarettes I will be smoking all this night, and I can hear Watson's quiet sighs as he watches me.

The blackness is nearly upon me, and I do not welcome it.

That's why I sent him to complete the last task, I needed just a moment--

I didn't want him to see me sink into despair—I'd rather drown alone.

Choking on water in front of people is so degrading.

He would never, he would never, lose his head in this situation. He would think of a dozen biting and clever retorts, prove his point easily and be gone with a dramatic swish of his coat tails, like some mysterious hero.

And here I am, a horrible flush heating my neck and face as they wonder…what is a respectable Doctor doing collecting dirt from a front yard? Have I gone mad?

"It...it was…necessary." I begin to tremble, hot and cold.

They haul me to my feet, perhaps he's ill? Perhaps he was delirious, or sleep walking? Ah well, let's take him back, Mr. Holmes will know.

Of course he will; he knows everything.

I have the chemicals ready; I have everything ready. I only need the dirt, and it should be here any minute. I rest my head against the wall and run through light-hearted remarks to distract him from noticing any dip in my mood when he returns.

At any rate he seems to enjoy collecting my witticisms and that's one thing I can offer--if only one.

It's my private theory that he stands my habits and character because I provide him with unending writing material.

A pet laboratory rat, really. Always there to take notes on, quite convenient…

I find myself laughing and wonder why, nothing is amusing in this situation…perhaps that's why I laugh. Still, I don't like it, though I do perk up at the rough sound of the door being torn open and the syncopation of steps on the stairs.

I snatch up my revolver and head for the door, feeling the pressure ease up inside me.

It's a welcome distraction.

They respect him. They may not like him, but he has earned their respect and his sitting room is not a place for rudeness and violence. The buttons on their uniform seem to march a little straighter, even, as we come closer to the door and they knock…colour is raging in my face and I almost wish I would faint, just to escape the impending humiliation.

Oh lord, here come his footsteps…I'm grasped on either side like a common criminal…knees of my trousers stained with dirt and grass, lost my hat…ruined, the case is ruined, I can't breathe at all…and here the door's opening already…

I've not usually come across thieves and murders who ask permission to enter a sitting room. Still I keep my revolver at the ready until I see clearly that it is several Yarders, with a tight grip on my flatmate.

"Thank you, but I really don't mind if he gets out of the house occasionally. He's very well trained off-lead, you see. No worries."

He colours even deeper as they laugh—curse my clumsy tongue.

"He was scraping up dirt in a sidestreet yard. Middle of the night, too; we found the whole business quite odd. Thought maybe he was delirious, or some such thing."

I smile blandly and take Watson's arm, drawing him into the room. Idiot, I'm an idiot…how could I have put him to a task like that, without showing him first—to be sure, I explained, but—fool! I should have known he needed more practice at playing the criminal, he has no natural darkness in him…not like I…

I flinch under Holmes' patronizing hand on my arm; I want to crawl under the couch like a whipped dog.

Meanwhile, Holmes is easily smoothing the matter over—yes, I had been running a bit of a fever but, well, he hadn't thought I was quite so delirious.

A few more words and they're gone, along with every shred of my pride and self-respect.

I shut the door as quickly as I can, without being rude to the Yarders.

As I turn back, I see his face a moment before he looks away from me. His eyes—I may not know how to respond to emotion, but I can read it. I can see it and he is torturing himself with disparaging thoughts.

I could not loathe myself more at this moment of darkness, when I haven't even a candle to offer him.

I fetch an envelope and sterile bit of cotton, then kneel before him; I carefully scrape the caked dirt off his trouser knee. Once it is collected in a paper envelope, I straighten and look carefully at the contents I've gathered. "Excellent, Watson; I see you were in the north side of the yard, as I told you. You did well." Now smile, please smile…say it will be all right. It will—won't it?

The absurdity of this whole evening is driving me close to hysterical laughter.

I am smothered with my own shame, incompetence.

Why am I always more harm than help?

Watson bids me goodnight and starts for his room, strangely mechanical in voice and movement. His arm falters in a sudden return to the organic, even as it is reaching for the doorknob.

Humiliation is one of the few things I know which turn even me into a child, wanting one thing only: to burrow under the blankets and forget everything.

Agoraphobia is a potent sensation...even a stair landing can be repugnant.

But what to do?

My mind is numb.

I am numb all over; it is with surprise that I find myself sitting on the sofa. I hold a cushion tightly.

Holmes kneels before the sofa—he needs more dirt, perhaps? Mutely I point to a spot where there is yet soil clinging to the fabric. When he makes no motion to take it, I look up.

His dark eyebrows are drawn together, his mouth—I never saw a sadder smile.

"You're not angry?"


"They caught me, I..." Nothing is left in me, I sink forward, arms on knees, and let my head hang.

He is silent for a bit. "We've gotten the dirt, unconventionally perhaps but that is our signiture method. Nothing is ruined."

I look up. "The case isn't ruined?"

"Of course not. It will soon be over." His voice sinks to a whisper, and his brows furrow deeper as he ends his sentence.

The black inside me dawns a subtle yet lively rose. "We'll find lots to do tomorrow afternoon, when the case is closed. I hear they've gotten a new cheetah at the Zoo, just last week, and I don't suppose anyone's done a study yet, to develop a mathematical formula of where the spots are on the creatures."

I never saw a happier smile.

Holmes squeezes me by the knee and gets to his feet, grinning and drawing me to mine. My spirit is freed from its chains, together we go to the deal-top table, where a lecture on soil analysis begins.

Perhaps I am a magician after all.