I had rarely been so homesick in my life; as I stirred uneasily in my bed, I felt as if I was a student all over, missing my family and feeling myself out of place. I felt it like an ache in my stomach, and the strangest thing was that I was home, was I not? I lay still, listening to the Sussex breeze whisper in the curtains. I had dropped the little habit of counting how many days I had been living with Holmes again now; the numbers became meaningless and blew away on the night air. He was teaching me all he knew about the surrounding land and wildlife, but of late I had lost a little interest...of late, I had been feeling strangely removed.
As I glanced out the window and thought sadly that I had seen far too many sunsets, I caught a new scent mingled in with the ocean breeze: cigarette smoke.
I pulled on my dressing gown and follow the scent to the sitting room. Holmes was stretched out on a couch.
"What's keeping you awake?"
He shrugged. "Yourself?"
"I don't know." I rested my hand on the back of an armchair. "I feel my time is over. I've nothing left to do. It's—a feeling of completeness."
"Hm." He watched the smoke spin and writhe, the spirit leaving the dying cigarette. "And what prompted this?"
I rested my forearms on the top of the chair. The red-orange flicker from his cigarette dimmed my thoughts. "I don't know. I simply feel that I am empty, Holmes. Not in a bad way, I don't feel angry. No, I'm very calm. But I do feel that I've done everything I was meant to do. I finished my list, I'm done. But what now, Holmes?"
Holmes was quiet a long time.
My legs were getting tired, so I sat down and watched the smoke write longitudinal secrets up to the ceiling. "I mean—some people seem to feel that life is a great process of building up—cresting like a wave, and then they do some great action, some feat, in their final years. They buy a business, they make a name for themselves, become a philanthropist. I just don't see it that way, I don't believe that's how it is.
I think every moment is the most important moment, because that's the time you have to act in, to help people. I gave to everyone I could, and I'm glad of that. I don't regret my choices and the paths I took. But I have run out, I'm empty, Holmes, and I have nothing left to give anyone."
"That does not necessarily mean your life must now come to a close."
"How's that, Holmes?" I stayed looking at the smoke; it seems too much effort to look at anything else; besides which, objects had seemed removed from my heart of late, by the width and opacity of a dragonfly wing. After a while, though, the silence brought me climbing down the smoke loops and I rested my sight on his face.
"Watson, I know your usefulness isn't over."
"How d'you mean?"
He ashed his cigarette. "I still need you."
"Do you really?"
He sat up stiffly and nodded at the space beside him; I came and sat.
"How could you need me, Holmes?" I protested, though a smile was beginning. "I've finished writing up your cases; you don't need anyone to help with cases now, you probably regret inviting me to move here."
"Don't be absurd."
"But how, Holmes, how can you need me?" I pressed him again, eager to hear the answer, in fact—desperate to hear the answer.
"Well—it's like flowers, Watson, or the colours. We wouldn't die without them, they feed us spiritually, not physically, but to wake up one day in a colourless world, naught but grey, with no flowers to perfume the air and refresh the mind…it would not be really living." He brought the cigarette to his lips mechanically, breathing smoke in a sigh. "Inner exhaustion is not an altogether unfamiliar sensation to me. Go back to sleep, Watson, and who knows but the morning will warm your spirits."
"Why are you still awake, Holmes?"
"I was simply thinking."
"Both gloomy and bright. My mind followed no particular thread of discourse. It is a little something I engage in now and then, mental stargazing; more so, I find, now that I have entered my later years."
"I don't want to go back to sleep. Can I stargaze with you?"
"Certainly." The kindly look he gave me filled me with content.