Coming Home

Part One

As the newsboy hawked his wares in a shrill voice, I stood on the street corner and gaped witlessly at my face on the front of the newspaper he held in his hand. At least it appeared to be my face. Though it was far better groomed, it certainly resembled the face I'd seen looking back at me from every shop window I glanced into as I slowly made my way across the city of London. I fished in my pockets for the proper amount of change, hoping that I had enough left. When I found that I did, I quickly exchanged it for the paper that I suddenly had to own.

The caption under the picture urgently requested any information leading to the whereabouts of a Dr. John Watson and promised a sizable reward if anyone who knew such information would present themselves at 221b Baker Street immediately and share what they knew with a Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

My hands tightened on the fragile sheets of newsprint as I raised my eyes and gazed unseeingly across the busy street. As far as I knew, I'd come into being a mere three days ago in a medical ward with two shillings and three pence in my pocket, and absolutely no idea of who or what I was, in my mind. Those who'd been treating me seemed to have no more information than I, except that I'd been involved in some sort of accident involving a hansom cab, which had resulted in my receiving a rather severe blow to the head.

Once I'd felt capable of moving, I left the hospital for the wide and terrifying world outside. I probably should have remained in their care for awhile longer, if for no other reason than I didn't have any idea where I should go, but some irresistible impulse drove me back out into the streets. In the back of my mind, I knew that someone was counting on me to complete a task, and I couldn't bear the idea of failing him. Unfortunately, I no longer had the slightest idea what that task was or who I might be failing if I didn't complete it.

So I wandered, hoping that something would come back to me, and grateful that the weather was warm enough that sleeping out of doors didn't become a fatal hardship. I'd virtually exhausted my meager funds and was beginning to feel rather desperate when I came across the newsboy with my first glimmer of hope clutched in his somewhat grimy hands.

I stared down at the newspaper once more. Dr. John Watson. Carefully, I considered the name, hoping for some indication that it was indeed my own, but after thinking it over for a time, I reluctantly had to admit that as far as I knew I'd never heard it before. Equally unfamiliar were the names of Baker Street or Sherlock Holmes. Somewhat disheartened, I folded the paper and tucked it under my arm. Even if nothing about the names it held seemed familiar, I decided that it was still the best lead I'd found to discovering my identity, and it hardly seemed as if I could lose by inquiring about it. So I asked directions at a nearby tobacconist and, upon discovering that the address was quite close, I struck out for Baker Street as swiftly as I could.

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A few minutes later, I found myself standing in front of the address from the newspaper. I stared at it intently for some time, hoping that I might recognize something about it. However, to my disappointment, this particular residence didn't appear any different from any of the other buildings that made up the block. Its stone façade was clean and well cared for, and its black door was shiny with fresh paint. It certainly seemed a pleasant and comfortable house, but it held no more familiarity for me than any other place I'd seen over the past few days.

A sense of gloom settled upon me as I stood on the pavement, trying to decide what to do next. Perhaps what had seemed at first to be such a great clue to my identity was going to turn out to be nothing but a dead end after all. Surely if this was my home then I ought to recognize something about it, but I didn't. So bitter was my disappointment that I almost turned away without ringing the bell. But as I started to leave, the plain fact that I had nowhere else to go turned me back again. Having come this far, I told myself firmly, it wouldn't make sense to leave without at least speaking to someone inside.

So I stepped up to the entry and rang the bell. The wait was only a moment before the door was opened by a young girl in a maid's apron and cap. She stared at me in amazement then her face broke into a wide smile, and she seized my arm and pulled me inside.

"Oh, Dr. Watson, sir! Thank heavens you've come back. We've all been ever so worried!"

Once inside with the door shut behind me, the girl released my arm and propelled me toward a staircase on one side of a dim hallway giving me no time to get a proper look at my surroundings. "Mrs. Hudson and Mr. Holmes are upstairs in your sitting room. You should go up right away and tell them you're back, sir. Mr. Holmes has been clear out of his mind. Everyone has been looking everywhere for you." Her tone took on a slightly chiding edge, and a momentary feeling of embarrassment washed over me as if I'd been caught doing something I shouldn't.

Still, encouraged by her certainty that I was indeed Dr. Watson, I gave her a slightly hesitant smile and started up the stairs. I glanced around as I climbed, but, as was the case outside the building, I had no sense that I'd ever seen any of it before.

When I reached the top of the staircase, I found myself confronted with several closed doors and no idea which one of them would lead to the sitting room the maid had mentioned. As I was trying to decide which door to try first, I realized that I could hear voices coming from behind the one directly in front of me.

I took a step closer to the door and listened intently. The voices were clearly a man's and a woman's. Though I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying, their tone seemed to indicate that they were arguing about something. As I eavesdropped unashamedly, trying to understand their conversation, the man's voice began to seem somewhat familiar, the first thing in days that had. Could this be Mr. Sherlock Holmes? Did I know him after all? Perhaps all I had to do was open this door and everything would come back to me, and this nightmarish existence would at last be over.

Now greatly encouraged, I knocked, and when that splendid voice called out for me to enter, I opened the door and stepped inside. My first impression of the sitting room, what I could see of it through a cloud of rather poisonous smoke, was one of extreme disorder with papers strewn everywhere, clothes hanging off the backs of chairs, and books piled in untidy stacks on every available surface including the floor.

Amidst this chaos were a man and a woman. The woman, well-dressed and of medium height, stood by the fireplace with her hands clasped in front of her and a somewhat exasperated expression on her open face. She seemed a perfectly amiable, yet ordinary sort of person, not so different from many others I'd passed on the streets of London over the last few days.

The man, on the other hand, was a very different animal indeed. I could not recall ever seeing anyone quite like him, though I admit such an assertion didn't really mean much under the circumstances. Still I truly believed that the man I was now looking at would appear exceptional to anyone who saw him. He was tall and lean with a sharp featured and expressive face. His thick, dark hair was wildly disheveled as if he'd been running his fingers through it for hours. Currently, he was pacing back and forth in front of a large bow window with his tie askew and a cigarette dangling from one long-fingered hand.

There was something intensely alive about him. His movements were as fluid as a stalking cat and even as he turned to look at me with a pair of truly remarkable gray eyes, he never ceased moving. As compelling as I found him, to my deep disappointment, neither he nor the woman were known to me. Unsure of what to say to them, I simply stopped and stood awkwardly in the open doorway. As both of them looked at me, their faces lit up with identical expressions of joy, and they began to move toward me as one, their excited cries of welcome filling the air.

"Oh, Doctor!"

"Watson! Thank Heavens!"

As they converged on me, I experienced a sudden moment of panic and quickly held the picture in the newspaper up in front of me like a shield, blurting out, "Is this me, then? I…I'm not sure, you see."

At my words, they both ceased moving forward and simply stared at me. The woman covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes wide as could be. While the man, who'd been so full of energy and motion, became as still as a statue for as long as it took me to breathe in and out three times, then he murmured almost too softly for me to hear. "So that explains it. Oh, my dear Watson, what have I done?"

"Then I am John Watson?" I asked. "You're sure? And you are Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Hudson? The maid said that's who I'd find up here."

The woman was the first to collect herself. She bustled forward and took me firmly by the arm. Favoring me with a soothing smile, she led me to the sofa by the fireplace, as the man hurriedly removed a pile of newspapers to clear a spot for me to sit down.

"Of course, you're Dr. John Watson. No one who knows you would ever doubt it," she said, the slight burr in her speech giving a comforting feel to her words. "I'm Mrs. Hudson, your landlady, and this gentleman is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, your friend and fellow lodger for nigh on three years. Do you really not recognize us?"

As I shook my head regretfully, the man tossed his handful of newspapers aside and swept a similar pile off of a nearby chair before throwing himself into it and staring at me intently. His eyes, rimmed with dark smudges of fatigue, were full of concern as they raked over me from head to toe, pausing to take note of the now rather disreputable bandage that covered my brow, my torn and blood spattered clothing, and the several days' growth of beard on my cheeks.

He pressed his fingertips to his lips for a moment before speaking.

"As Mrs. Hudson says, there is no doubt that you're John Watson, though clearly much has befallen you since you left here three days ago to run what should have been a simple errand."

I stared at the man. I wanted to believe him, yet I needed more evidence than the word of a man I'd never to my knowledge seen before. "I don't mean to doubt you, but I'd really like to have proof of what you say."

"Oh, Doctor, really…" the woman began, but the man cut her off with nothing more than a raising of his hand.

"All right," he said softly. Reaching up he tapped his left shoulder. "John Watson has a rather spectacular scar, here, on his left shoulder. It's a reminder of his military service and was obtained during the Afghan war."

Automatically mimicking his movement, my hand rose and caressed my left shoulder, feeling a slightly prominent knot of flesh beneath my clothing. I vaguely remembered seeing a scar there when I was being checked for injuries after the accident. "Yes," I admitted. "I noticed a scar and wondered how I'd come by it, but many people have scars."

"Not like that one," said Holmes. "But there is another proof I can offer you. Something no one else has." He jumped to his feet and crossed the room to an appallingly messy desk. Rummaging around in it for a moment, he extracted a small box file. Flipping the file open, he fingered the contents, and removed a small card. Then he grabbed ink and a sheet of writing paper from amidst the chaos and took everything to a table near the window, on which the remains of a morning meal still sat.

Shoving the plates and dishes aside, he beckoned me to join him. When I did, he placed a hand on my shoulder, gently pressed me down into a chair and placed the card before me. Mystified, I stared down at the small card and tried to make sense of what I saw. It contained the name John Watson and several dirty black splotches that were a total mystery to me.

I glanced up at him in confusion. "Should this mean something to me?" I asked.

He lightly squeezed my shoulder, then pulled out the chair next to my own and sat in it. Instead of answering me, he turned to the woman. "Mrs. Hudson, would you please remove these dishes and bring something for Watson to eat? Are you hungry, Watson? Forgive me, but you look as if you haven't eaten in days."

I hadn't had much to eat recently and the thought of food set my mouth to watering. "Actually I haven't eaten anything today, though I did yesterday, once. I didn't have very much money with me, and I had to be careful how I spent it," I admitted.

"My goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Hudson as she cleared the table and put all the dishes onto a tray. "You must be starving. I'll be back in a moment with something good for you both." She eyed Holmes shrewdly. "You haven't exactly been eating as you should the past few days either, Mr. Holmes." Picking up the tray, she swept out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Once she was gone, I returned my attention to Holmes, who was staring at me as if he wished he could see inside me. For some reason those clear, bright eyes of his made me a bit uncomfortable. It felt as if they were trying to convey some message that I was just too slow and dim-witted to understand, so I avoided them by dropping my gaze to the small card once more.

"What are these smudges?" I asked.

"Those smudges are your fingerprints, my dear Watson."

"What are fingerprints?" I asked, further perplexed.

Holmes held up his hand palm toward me and pointed to the tip of his index finger. "The lines and whorls on the tips of your fingers have a distinct pattern. So far as has been determined, and I will admit the science of identification by fingerprints is still in its infancy, every person, without exception, has a set of prints that are unique from those of any other. So far Scotland Yard has not officially embraced the technique of using fingerprints as a means of identification, but I have no doubt they will come around in time. Evidence of its usefulness has been mounting for years all around the world. I myself have made a study of the theories and techniques involved, and I am convinced of its usefulness as a tool in the solving of crimes."

"Are you a policeman then?" I asked. For some reason, such a profession didn't feel quite right for him, yet it certainly sounded as if he had quite an interest in criminology.

He shook his head. "No, although, I do collaborate with the police from time to time. I am an independent consulting detective, the only one of my kind, to my knowledge. I take on cases that intrigue me, that provide a difficult challenge or pose an interesting puzzle, cases that often hold little interest for the more mundane views of the police. For some time now, you have assisted me in this venture, and your assistance has always been invaluable."

Nothing he said sounded the least bit familiar even though he was crediting me with aiding him. "I wish I could remember helping you. It all sounds rather exciting." I admitted.

A smile flitted across Holmes's face so fast I wasn't quite certain I'd seen it. "At times it has been exciting, occasionally a bit too much so, and I, too, wish you could remember it all. We will find a way to retrieve your memory, never fear, but in the meantime, let me give you the proof you seek that you truly are Dr. John H. Watson, my dear friend and colleague."

"All right," I said. "What do I do?"

Holmes took my right hand in his left and cradled it gently. "Allow me," he said, as he carefully inked the tips of my fingers and pressed them firmly to the blank sheet of paper creating marks that looked like those on the card in front of me. Once he was finished, he gave me a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the excess ink from my hands. While I was doing so, he produced a small magnifying glass from yet another pocket and bent to look at first the marks we had just made and then at the ones that the card identified as John Watson's.

"As I said, the two sets of prints are identical." He passed me the glass and insisted that I examine them myself, which I attempted to do. Although I had no experience in making such a comparison, it certainly seemed to me as if the marks on the paper corresponded in every detail with the marks previously imprinted on the card from the file.

I straightened up and handed him back his magnifier. "They do seem to be the same."

Holmes nodded. "Then do you accept that you are indeed John Watson, who has resided here with me in these rooms at Baker Street for some years?"

"I suppose I must, though I still don't recall any of it."

Holmes seemed pleased that I'd accepted his proof. "One step at a time, my dear boy, one step at a time."

At that moment, Mrs. Hudson returned with plates piled high with food, and I was grateful not to have to think about anything for a brief while except how hungry I was and how mouthwateringly splendid was the food now placed before me. Eating my fill occupied my attention for some time, and I noticed that Holmes ate with an appetite that equaled my own.

Once my hunger was assuaged, Holmes insisted on removing the horrid looking bandage from my forehead and, when he'd satisfied himself that the wound beneath was healing properly, he replaced it with a fresh wrap. Then I was bundled off to soak in a warm bath and divest myself of several days' growth of beard. As soon as I was again dressed in wonderfully clean clothes that fitted me impeccably, I took a proper look at myself in the mirror and had to admit that I was the spitting image of the face in the newspaper.

The entire body of evidence presented to me all pointed incontrovertibly to one single truth. I was definitely Dr. John Watson of 221b Baker Street, London, to continue to doubt it would be ludicrous. As happy as I was to once more have a name, I wished even more fervently to remember who John Watson was, yet somehow I thought that wouldn't be as easy a thing to accomplish.

A shadow crossed my features. What would I do if my memory never returned? Was I to spend the rest of my days wondering about my past, living off the charity of others, searching each face I saw for some speck of familiarity? Could anyone live that way? Could I?

I turned away from the mirror and looked around the small bedroom that I had been told was mine. I recognized all the items in the room for what they were, yet none of them felt as if they belonged to me in particular. The clothes fit, but they raised no feeling of possession in me. Neither did the furnishings of the room, and I had to admit that if I'd slept for years in this specific bed, I certainly had no knowledge of it. Neither the books on the shelves nor the pictures on the wall struck a chord of familiarity within me. I might as well have been standing in any anonymous hotel room for all my surroundings meant to me.

With a sigh, I left the room and headed downstairs once more, trying to reassure myself that things would get better. It hadn't been that long since the accident, and I'd only now begun to surround myself with things that I ought to know. I shouldn't give up hope too soon.

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When I reached the bottom of the staircase and stepped into the sitting room, I found Holmes engaged in conversation with yet another stranger I probably ought to know. Indeed the man leaped to his feet upon my entrance and came forward to speak to me immediately.

"There you are, Doctor! You led us quite a merry chase around the city. I'm glad to see we've finally caught up to you."

I turned my mystified gaze to Holmes, hoping for both an introduction and an explanation for this curious speech. I was not to be disappointed.

"Ah, Watson, this is Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard," he said by way of introducing the small, dark man, who was now hovering by my right elbow. "He's been leading the search for you for the past few days." Holmes smiled at me. "You look much more yourself now, a shave, a bath and a fresh change of clothing seems to have done you a world of good. Are you feeling better?" he asked as he too came forward to stand at my side.

"Yes, thank you," I replied. "I do feel much better." Then I turned to the detective and extended a hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Inspector. Did you and your men really trail me across London?"

Lestrade exchanged rapid glances with Holmes as he hesitantly reached out and took my hand in his. I imagine that Holmes told him that I'd lost my memory, but seeing the truth of it firsthand seemed to throw him off his stride for a moment. He recovered quickly however.

"Er…yes, Doctor, we did. We were told about the cab accident, of course, though at the time, we didn't know that you were the gentleman involved in it. Once we'd cleared up at the scene, one of our men went in search of the injured occupant, but when he arrived at the hospital, they told him that you'd slipped out as soon as they turned their backs on you."

I nodded. "I don't really remember much about that except that I felt an overwhelming need to leave. I thought I had something important to do. The problem was that once I got out into the city again and began to walk, I realized that I couldn't remember what that important something was."

"Neither the doctor nor the nurse who attended you mentioned that you had lost your memory, and, of course, they didn't know your name which slowed us down a bit, as you can imagine," said Lestrade.

"Yet you realized it was me somehow?" I asked. "You said you were tracking me across London."

"We didn't know you were missing until Mr. Holmes reported it the next day. Putting that information together with the physical description we got from the staff at the hospital, which matched you very well, we thought it likely that you were the victim of the accident, but by then, you had quite a lead on us, and we were never able to catch up. As near as we could tell, you did seem to be heading for Baker Street though."

"Really?" This information interested me greatly. I knew I was reasonably close to Baker Street when I saw my picture in the paper, but I put that down to coincidence. If I really was heading for home in such a literal manner, it was done quite unconsciously. The idea was encouraging though, if I subconsciously knew where home was, perhaps everything else I now couldn't remember was still locked in my mind, and all I needed to do was find the right key in order to release it.

"It certainly appeared so to us, and since you apparently found your way home on your own, you must have known where home was, at least instinctively. Hopefully that means your memories are still lurking in there somewhere," said the inspector with a smile.

I nodded in agreement. "I was just thinking much the same thing myself."

Inspector Lestrade glanced at Holmes who had remained rather quiet through this exchange. "If they are still in there, I'm sure Mr. Holmes will find some way to reach them. I've never yet seen anyone quite as good at pulling rabbits out of hats as he is."

"Ha!" exclaimed Holmes in response to Lestrade's comment, then he summoned a quick smile for the Inspector and a slightly longer lasting one for me. "I shall certainly do my best to spark Watson's memory, but unfortunately memories are not like your garden variety rabbits, Lestrade, and pulling them from the injured brain may not be an easy thing to manage. Still, I will not rest until Watson has been returned to us in mind as well as body."

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Once Inspector Lestrade had gone, Sherlock Holmes and I were left alone in the sitting room. In my absence, some semblance of order had been returned to the room, the clothing and stray papers had been tidied away and the dishes from luncheon had been removed as well. Holmes had tidied his person also; I noted that his hair was now neatly combed and his clothing was immaculate, the signs of fatigue remained, but they could hardly be remedied without a good restful sleep.

Unsure what to do next, I crossed the room to the window and stared down into the street. Outside, the world bustled along in much the same manner as it always did. Carriages drove up and down the street in stately procession, pedestrians moved about in front of the shops, entering some, exiting others, wandering in groups, pairs and singly. Their movements ebbed and flowed in a hypnotic rhythm, like blood moving through the heart of some gigantic beast. I could clearly remember being part of such a crowd, but for now I felt quite grateful to have found my way out of it.

Turning back to the room behind me, I found Holmes standing by the fireplace, smoking a cigarette and watching me. It was understandable that people would watch me closely at the moment and I supposed I would get used to it in time, but it did make me rather uncomfortable. It was yet another reason to hope that my memory returned sooner rather than later.

I sat down on the settee, and Holmes came forward and joined me, offering me an open cigarette case. "Would you care for a cigarette, Watson?"

"Yes, thank you," I said impulsively, though I didn't actually remember smoking. The case seemed to hold more than one brand of cigarette and Holmes smiled and nodded to himself when I selected one marked Bradley, Oxford Street. He didn't remark on my choice however, instead he simply offered me a light and then sat back and made himself comfortable next to me.

Smoking seems to be one of those actions that once learned can be done completely by rote because my body seemed to know exactly what to do and once I'd taken that first drag on the cigarette, it all felt completely natural to me and I continued without thinking any more about it.

Once the silence had stretched as far as I could stand to let it, I turned to Holmes and said, "I'm sorry, but I don't know what to call you. Mrs. Hudson introduced you as my friend Sherlock Holmes, and said we'd lived here together for almost three years, which would seem to indicate that we know each other fairly well, yet we don't seem to be on a first name basis. Since I arrived here this morning you've invariably referred to me as Watson, never as John. Why is that?"

"Yes, I suppose that would seem to indicate a lack of intimacy between us, but I assure you that isn't the case. We are… friends. In actuality, you are the truest, closest friend I have, or am ever likely to have, yet what you say is perfectly true. We fell into the habit of referring to each other by our last names when we first met and never fell out of it. Mostly my fault, I suppose, as I've never been overly fond of my first name and tend not to enjoy hearing it from anyone. The sole exception to that is my brother, Mycroft. As my elder brother, he insists upon the privilege of addressing me as Sherlock and so far, I've found no way to break him of the habit."

"Well, that explains that," I said with a smile. "You have a brother. Do I have any family?"

"You had an elder brother, as well, but he and your parents are long dead. I can give you the bare bones of your history, my dear Watson, but I'm afraid I am sketchy as to many of the details. We've never spent a great deal of time discussing either our upbringings or our general histories before we became acquainted. I know you spent your early years somewhere in the south of Scotland, near Edinburgh, I think, earned your medical degree at the University of London, joined the army, where you studied to become a surgeon, shipped out to India and on to Afghanistan. Once there, you served valiantly for a relatively short period before you were severely wounded, honorably discharged and sent back to London to live on a rather meager stipend.

"You were not long back, I believe, when a casual, common acquaintance, of whom I will always think fondly, introduced us. Since we were both somewhat lacking in funds at that time, we pooled our resources and took these rooms together. You concentrated on regaining your health and began to assist me with some of my cases as I built up my consulting business. That is a very short version of your history and ours together."

"I see. So, although I am a doctor, I don't currently practice medicine?"

"Your poor health kept you from pursuing your profession for some time, but lately, as your health has improved, I do believe you've been contemplating beginning to practice once more."

"Well, if those were my plans, they will have to wait until I regain my memory. I certainly can't practice a profession about which I know absolutely nothing." That thought discouraged me and I sat back and drew deeply on my cigarette.

Holmes, seeming to sense my bleak thoughts, leaned forward, placed a hand on my arm, and spoke most earnestly to me. "My dear, Watson, I told you I will find a way to restore your memory and I meant it. On this, you have my most solemn promise, and I always do my utmost to keep my promises. I intend to devote all my energy to this task and this alone until it is successfully completed."

His gray eyes stared into mine with a fiery intensity that spoke of something I didn't immediately understand although I was suddenly certain there was a deeper meaning behind his words, deeper and more personal. Clearly there was more to his determination to help me than could be explained by simple friendship, no matter how close. A suspicion began to nag at my thoughts. Could it be?

"Holmes, what was I doing when the accident occurred? You said I often assisted you in your work. Was I performing some task for you?"

Guilt flared hot and deep within his eyes in the instant before he veiled his gaze and turned away from me, and I knew that I'd discovered the true reason for his intense need for me to recover my memory. He believed my current condition was his fault.

Before he could speak, I hastened to add, "Because even if I was, that doesn't make what happened your responsibility."

Holmes got to his feet and crossed to the fireplace, tossing the remains of his cigarette into the grate and leaning for a moment against the mantle before turning abruptly to face me once more.

"I would not expect you to blame me for anything, Watson, as it is not in your nature to do so, but I cannot help but blame myself for your predicament. If I had not once again involved you in my work, you would not have been injured.

"Yes, you were on an errand for me. One that should have been relatively safe, one I could have sent any stranger to do, but instead I laid it on your shoulders because I've become too used to taking advantage of your amiable nature."

"Oh, surely I volunteered to go," I said. "If I was accustomed to assisting you and you were accustomed to allowing me to do so, why should you think to enlist a stranger when I was there and willing to help? It was a carriage accident, Holmes. Such a thing could befall anyone at any time. There's no way you could predict such an event. You are not at fault!"

Holmes sighed and lit yet another cigarette, flipping the spent match into the hearth and taking a deep drag before looking at me again.

"Logically, I know you're right. However, this incident has forced me to acknowledge that logic and rationality do not always make up the totality of any event. Although I know intellectually that I could not have possibly predicted what happened to you, nevertheless, I do feel responsible. At the very least, I should have put the hounds on your tail much more quickly. The failure on that point can be laid squarely at no one's feet but mine."

He returned to the settee, his abrupt movements clearly expressing his growing agitation. "You were to deliver my message and then meet me at a prearranged location. From there, we, in concert with Inspector Gregson and several of his men, were to move in on the criminals once they took the bait. The criminals showed up, but you did not.

"Since the message you were to deliver was sent to an innocent third party who could be relied upon to pass it on to our quarry, I knew that you were unlikely to have come to harm at our enemies' hands, so I assumed that some other matter had delayed you, and we proceeded with our plans without your help. But I should not have done so, Watson. I should have known better!"

As his voice rose, he jumped to his feet once more and began pacing in front of the fireplace, smoking furiously.

"I should have been more concerned at your absence, knowing that only something of grave consequence would have kept you from meeting with me as we'd planned, but I was too caught up in the culmination of my case. My single-minded compulsion to bring my plans to fruition kept me from giving proper attention to that which should have held premier importance for me.

"It wasn't until much later, when I returned to Baker Street to discover that you weren't there, that I truly began to worry. Mrs. Hudson knew nothing of your whereabouts, and there was no message from you to explain where you'd gone. I paced the floor for hours until the light of dawn finally arrived without you. It was only then that I went to the police. I never should have held off even that long. I should have raised the alarm the moment I returned home and found you missing. My delay was unforgivable."

"Nonsense! Of course it's forgivable. Indeed, there is nothing to forgive! You acted as you saw fit. Calling in the police earlier rather than later would have made no difference. The accident had long occurred, and I was already trying to make my way through London by the time you returned home. Changing your actions in any way would not have changed the outcome." Impulsively, I rose and went to him, grasping him by the arm and squeezing it lightly. His agitation and distress bothered me greatly and I instinctively wanted to comfort him.

He stiffened in my grasp very briefly before hesitantly placing his hand over mine for an instant. The warmth of his touch, the brief caress of his fingers on mine, felt wonderful and when he removed his hand a moment later, I felt its loss keenly. Suddenly his nearness overwhelmed me, and I ached for something I couldn't name. I didn't understand the quick surge of longing I was experiencing, so to cover my confusion, I removed my hand from his arm and stepped back. We stared at each other in a silence full of unspoken meaning until he broke the mood and retreated to the fireplace.

"Thank you for your generosity, Watson," Holmes said softly, and I marveled at the level tone of his voice. I doubted that I could speak as calmly at the moment, but then I had no reason to think he'd experienced any of the same confusing feelings that I had just felt.

I took my place on the settee once more and carefully cleared my throat. "I just don't think either of us should waste our time with recriminations. I don't blame you for anything that's happened, and I don't want you to blame yourself either. What's done is done. Now we simply need to find some way to deal with it."

"You're quite right, my dear Watson. Looking to change the past is no good. We must move forward and hope that by doing so we can find a way to make things right once more."