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Part Three: The Conclusion
The next day dawned bleak and wet and my head began to ache as soon as I opened my eyes. Just like every other time I'd awakened in that bed, I couldn't quite recall my dreams, though I was firmly convinced that I had dreamed and that once again Holmes was the one I dreamed about. After my epiphany of the evening before, however, I wasn't sure that I needed to remember my dreams in order to make an excellent guess as to their contents.
A glance at the clock on my mantel, told me that I'd slept a bit later than usual, but even so, the pain in my head made it difficult for me to drag myself up and get dressed. I persevered, but, in the end, I left off my coat and tie and shrugged into a dressing gown that I found in my wardrobe before heading downstairs with slippers on my feet.
I found Holmes still sitting at the breakfast table reading a newspaper. He looked up as I entered, and I really hoped that he was not going to start up again where he'd left off the night before, because I did not feel up to avoiding his questions, and telling him the truth was something I simply could not do.
I needn't have feared, however. Apparently I looked even worse than I felt, because he lowered his newspaper, took one look at me and exclaimed, "Good heavens, Watson! Whatever is the matter? You look positively gray."
"I awoke with a rather detestable headache, that's all. Eating breakfast will probably help."
I made my way to the table and took my seat. After a moment's hesitation, Holmes raised his newspaper once more and said quietly, "I hope you're right."
While I ate, he continued to read, shooting enigmatic glances at me over the newspaper from time to time. He didn't speak however, and I found that the combination of food, a strong cup of coffee, and some companionable silence did seem to help my headache which had subsided to a much more manageable level by the time my plate was clear.
"Is there anything of interest in the paper today?" I asked, searching around for a neutral topic.
Holmes closed the newspaper quickly and tossed it aside with a shake of his head. "No, London is totally devoid of anything interesting at the moment, just the usual social scandals, a rather tawdry murder, common variety political wrangling, and a few petty thefts."
I smiled. "Nothing worthy of your talents, you mean."
A fluid smile flitted across his face and was gone in the blink of an eye. "No, but then I am not in the market for a case at the moment. I told you that I was going to devote all of my attention to helping you regain your memories, and I meant it, however dismal my showing has been so far."
"On the contrary, Holmes, you've been a great help to me. Much of what I saw yesterday seemed slightly familiar to me, and I definitely remembered the bench in Hyde Park and the carriage accident."
"And the violin music," he added swiftly. "You did say you recalled one or two of the pieces."
"Yes," I admitted cautiously, realizing that, quite accidently, I'd strayed onto dangerous ground.
"Did my playing spark any other memories, not directly related to the music itself?" he asked shrewdly.
I sat back in my chair and twisted my napkin between my hands. "Nothing definite," I admitted, which was perfectly true. I didn't actually remember anything at all, which was my main difficulty. If I knew for certain how Holmes felt about me, I would know how to act and what to say, but without that answer, I was left wandering around in a mire, one misstep away from disaster.
"I vaguely remembered you playing for me in the past, but it was an impression only. I can't recall any details," I added, hoping desperately that he would let the subject drop.
"I see," said Holmes, and for the briefest moment I thought I saw disappointment in his eyes, though he looked away before I could be sure. After a pause, he asked, "And how is your headache? Did eating help? Your color has improved."
I nodded, grateful for the reprieve. "Yes, it's not gone, but it's much better. Thank you."
"I think the dressing on your forehead should be changed, don't you?"
I touched my forehead gently and grimaced. "I suppose it should."
Holmes got up and retrieved a black medical bag and a hand mirror. He gave the mirror to me and began unwinding the bandage that encircled my brow. His fingers were gentle, his touch sure, and I enjoyed the brief moment of closeness. When he finished and my forehead was bare, he said, "There, Doctor, what's your professional opinion? Does it need to be wrapped up again?"
I held up the mirror and stared at my face. My forehead was deeply purpled with bruising, and over my left eye was a partially healed gash that had been expertly closed with four very neat looking stitches. "Whoever stitched up the cut did a very nice job of it," I said quite sincerely.
"Yes, almost as neat a job as you could do yourself, I'd say," said Holmes in agreement.
"The stitches will need to come out pretty soon, to minimize any disfigurement, but I don't suppose I'll be able to avoid adding another scar to my collection," I said ruefully. I'd already noted several smaller scars on my person in addition to the spectacular one on my shoulder. Clearly my military service had left its mark on me in the most literal manner.
"Once it's faded somewhat it won't be overly noticeable," Holmes replied. "Perhaps you should change the way you wear your hair and allow some of it to drape rakishly over your left brow a bit more."
I laughed, somewhat unwisely, and winced at the resulting twinge of pain. "I'll consider it," I replied. "I think I can manage with a much lighter bandage."
Holmes handed me the medical bag and reclaimed the mirror. Then he slipped into the seat beside me and held it up in front of my face. "Would you like to do the honors, then, Doctor? You are the expert, and it is your medical bag."
"The expert, yes," I murmured as I looked down at the black satchel I now held in my hands. Of course the medical bag would be mine, I'd accepted that I was a doctor, it was only logical that I would have a bag of instruments that I used when I practiced my profession. I wasn't sure why I hadn't sought it out before, but now that I had it, would I remember what to do with what it contained?
Determined to find out, I opened the bag and looked inside. There were a variety of instruments all of which I was happy to realize that I could put a name to. I pulled out a stethoscope, a scalpel, a syringe, a thermometer, a pair of tweezers, and a couple of hemostats, and I knew what to do with each of them. Greatly encouraged, I delved back into the bag. There was also a case containing a couple of needles and some surgical thread, rolls of bandages, scissors, vials of various useful substances, and a small bottle of brandy.
After handling each item carefully, I repacked what I didn't need and deftly re-dressed my wound with a much lighter bandage. When I looked at Holmes, he lowered the mirror and cocked his head slightly to one side. "An excellent job, Doctor. How did it feel to bandage a wound again?"
"Quite natural," I admitted. "All I had to do was look at the contents of my bag and I seemed to instinctively know what each item was used for and how to manipulate it. I guess not all memory returns with the horrible vividness of the cab accident."
"That's probably for the best," he said. "Your memory may very well return to you gradually over a long period of time, but I can't help thinking there might be a single trigger that would bring more of it back all at once. We just haven't hit on it yet."
He set the mirror down on the table and returned all his attention to me. "I have done a bit of research since your accident, but unfortunately, none of it has provided me with the answer we've been seeking. The acknowledged experts in this area all seem to have widely differing thoughts on the subject. It appears that there isn't one single effective treatment for amnesia. Nor is there any guarantee that memory can be restored. Sometimes it comes back and sometimes it doesn't, and fairly often, some memories will return while others never do. Often it's the memories that occurred just before and after the injury that are permanently lost. Though in your case, memories of the accident itself did return."
"Yes, some of them, but they still aren't clear. They're more emotional impressions than coherent memories, and I have no real memory of the aftermath at all. The first thing I can truly recall is leaving the hospital. My memory of what happened during my treatment is quite vague, and I have absolutely no idea how I arrived there in the first place. Even most of my wanderings across London aren't really clear to me." I sighed. "Mainly I just remember feeling very lost and alone."
"Well, you are not alone any longer," said Holmes quietly.
"No, I'm not, and I'm very grateful for that," I answered him warmly.
The silence that followed this exchange was somewhat weighty, and Holmes stirred restlessly in his seat before speaking again with a distinct air of disgruntlement. "The study of the human brain and how it works is truly a very inexact science."
With a smile, I got to my feet and crossed to the desk to replace the medical bag. "Not your sort of thing at all then."
Holmes got up and headed for the fireplace, where he took a cigarette from a case on the mantle and lit it before turning back to me. "I do prefer things to be more quantifiable. Problems for which there are no concrete solutions, and no clearly defined path you can follow to give you an answer, are maddeningly frustrating. I work best when I can gather evidence, sift it through my brain, weight it carefully, and select the clues that will lead me to the truth. Fact, reason, logic…these are the tools I'm used to working with. This is where my expertise lies."
I set the medical bag down and sat in the chair in front of the desk. "And none of that is helping with this situation, is it?"
Holmes blew a stream of smoke into the air and shook his head. "No, my dear Watson, it is not. I very much fear I am out of my element in dealing with this problem, though you must not think that I have given up."
"Don't worry, Holmes," I said as cheerfully as I could. "There may not be one definitive answer that will return my memories to me, but that doesn't mean that they won't return. Many of them have already, and I know you haven't given up. You never do until you solve a problem." And as soon as I said those words, I knew them to be true.
Idly I opened the drawer in the desk and glanced inside. A pistol lay atop some papers, and it was the surprise of coming across a weapon when I'd thought only to find pens, paper and ink bottles that caused me to be slightly taken aback. After a moment's hesitation, I picked up the gun, and as I handled it, I felt that it was mine and not Holmes's.
I turned and held the weapon up to Holmes. "This is mine, isn't it?" I phrased it in the form of a question, but I was actually seeking confirmation for that of which I was already quite certain.
Holmes joined me at the desk. "Yes, it's your service revolver. You keep it in excellent shape and having it has come in handy once or twice during our cases. Can you remember using it?" he asked the question with a note of hesitancy in his tone as if perhaps these were not the memories he wanted me to recall.
Suddenly not at all certain that I wished to remember actually firing the thing, I thrust it back into the drawer and slid it shut. As I did so, I felt Holmes's hand close gently on my shoulder, and was grateful for its steadying warmth. "I don't have any exact memories concerning the revolver," I said. "I just somehow knew it was mine."
"Well, here is something that might amuse you," said Holmes, deftly changing the subject by pulling forward a small stack of magazines.
I picked one up. "The Strand magazine?"
"If you look inside, I believe you will find a familiar name among the list of contributors."
He was right, and I was quite astonished to discover a novelization of one of Holmes's cases apparently written by my own hand.
"Perhaps reading what you yourself have committed to paper will spark more memories than my much drier recitations of last evening produced. You seem to have a flair for writing, though you have shown a rather distressing tendency to romanticize people and events while trivializing the true facts of a case. Make no mistake as you read these, my dear Watson, they are works of fiction with only the merest kernel of truth at their heart."
Amused, I glanced up at him with a smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Good man," he said firmly as he released my shoulder, clapped it companionably and turned away from the desk. "Now, I must go out for a time, so I will leave you to your reading and, with luck, I will see you at luncheon."
I quite happily spent the rest of the morning sitting by the fire and reading the articles in the Strand. There was a definite familiarity to them, and although I didn't actually remember writing them, I found myself occasionally recalling a certain turn of phrase, or the way a particular paragraph was constructed, and I found, even without having been given all the details, that I always had an inkling of what was going to happen next. I finished my reading with a smile and found that my headache had completely disappeared.
Holmes had not returned by the time I had read through the small stack of magazines, and I got up and stretched muscles that had stiffened while I sat. My shoulder, in particular, ached dully, and I had a feeling that it often did on a rainy day. I crossed to the window and looked out. The rain was coming down in sheets, and I hoped that wherever he'd gone, Holmes was safe and dry.
Finding myself at loose ends, I drifted around the now familiar room and ended up in front of Holmes's bedroom door. This was the only room in the flat that I hadn't been in yet. Curious, I turned the knob and, finding it unlocked, I pushed it open and took a look inside, hoping he would forgive my effrontery.
Holmes's room was every bit as cluttered as the sitting room. Papers of all sizes, loose and tied in bundles, untidily covered the top of a small table, spread themselves across his mantel, interspersed with an assortment of pipes, tobacco pouches, penknives and all manner of small objects, and were piled high on the top of a large tin box that stood near the foot of his bed.
No papers marred the bed itself, however, which stood central in the room, and was larger than mine with posts that were sinuously carved. His dressing gown was casually draped over the rail at its foot, and without pausing to think about it, I crossed the room and brushed my hand gently over the silky fabric as I'd wanted to do while he was wearing it.
As I reached out and grasped one of the bedposts, running my fingers up its smooth polished surface, I had a sudden sharp vision of Holmes lying on this bed as naked as I'd yearned to see him. He was every bit as beautiful as I'd imagined him to be, and instinctively I knew that this was no wishful figment of my desirous mind. This was Holmes as he truly was, as I knew him to be. I shivered, and my hand gripped the bedpost more tightly as other, similar, memories filled my mind in a rush.
Suddenly I remembered years of passionate caresses, ardent kisses, and all manner of highly intimate moments. I recalled incidents of deep tenderness, the sharing of confidences, working together, the arguments, the apologies, in short, I remembered all of the things that make up a loving relationship, and I had my answer at last.
The sound of a step in the doorway intruded into my consciousness, and I turned to see Holmes standing there, his hair and clothing damp from the rain and a cautious, questioning expression in his gray eyes.
"Watson?" he whispered softly.
Just as I hadn't before him, it was clear that he didn't quite dare to ask the question that was foremost in his mind, but the subject no longer held any fear for me, for now I knew the truth, and my life was mine once more.
I smiled warmly and turned to face him, letting my hand slowly slip down the bedpost which had become my anchor in a sea of uncertainty. "Since I've been here I've wondered why I didn't feel at home in my room, sleeping in my bed. Now I know the answer. It's because that's not where I sleep, is it? I usually spend my nights here in this bed…with you."
"You remember?" Holmes's voice was a whispered prayer and his eyes gleamed with cautious hope. From his expression I could tell that as much as he wanted to think this meant the end of his nightmare, he wasn't yet certain he could believe it. And I was determined to wipe any last doubt from his heart.
"Yes, my dear Holmes. I remember living here, sleeping here, and loving you with everything I am capable of, and I remember you doing the same for me. That's really all I need to remember. Isn't it?" I spread my arms wide in silent invitation.
Unfettered joy spread across his features, and I wondered how I could ever have forgotten such a lovely expression or ever doubted that he had the deep capacity to love. Because his feelings were written so plainly on his face at the moment that anyone would know the truth simply by looking at him. Not only could Sherlock Holmes love, but I now knew for a certainty that he loved me every bit as much as I loved him.
I'm not sure who moved first or faster, but it hardly mattered, for in the end we found ourselves clasped in each other's arms, and I knew I was finally back where I belonged. I kissed him with every drop of passion I held within me, loving the feel of those perfect lips pressed against mine, reveling as his clever tongue urgently caressed my own, and we dueled for supremacy in a battle where neither of us could possibly be the loser.
I slid one hand behind his dark head, pulling him closer, while my other skimmed down the planes of his torso to rest in the curve of his lower back. When he released my mouth and began to kiss his way down my throat, I threw my head back and gasped in delight at the remarkably wonderful feeling of having his body once again pressed tightly against mine.
Suddenly, he drew away for a brief moment, just long enough to pull me back across the room, around the corner of the bedpost and push me down onto the bed. Then he threw himself on top of me and his weight pressed me deep into the mattress. We lay like that staring, eye to eye, for the space of a heartbeat, before we both seemed to decide at the same time that the other was wearing far too many clothes. The next few minutes were spent swiftly divesting each other of dressing gown, shirts, trousers, undergarments and every other scrap of clothing until we were face to face once more, entirely stripped of everything but our desire for each other.
Afterwards, as we lay curled together, his head on my shoulder, my leg thrust between his, I knew peace as I hadn't known it for days.
"Watson, do you have the slightest idea how much I've missed you?" said Holmes suddenly, as he traced my mouth with a gentle finger deliberately brushing through the bristles of my moustache, making it tingle and drawing a smile to my lips.
"Those days without you, when I had no knowledge of where you were or what had happened to you, were agonizing. Just the thought that I might have lost you forever, and never have known what happened, chilled me to my very core. I devoted my every waking moment to tracking you down, but it did no good! I'd solved hundreds of cases where my success wasn't half as important to me, but this time, when you were counting on me, my feelings kept getting in the way of my ability to reason."
"I'm sorry, Holmes," I said quite sincerely because the very last thing I'd ever wish to do was cause him pain. "I came home as soon as I could."
"Yes, of course you did, my dear fellow, and I never meant to imply otherwise, but when you returned and didn't remember me, I realized that even though you were here again, you were still lost to me, and that led to an entirely different sort of agony. I knew I simply had to find a way to get you back completely, but retrieving lost memories isn't as simple as finding a misplaced necklace, catching a murderer, or recovering stolen goods. I was ill prepared for this sort of quest."
He pushed himself up on his elbow and gazed down at me solemnly. "I was afraid, my dear Watson. Afraid that despite my best efforts, I might fail, and if I did, that I'd never have you, all of you, with me like this again. I am not a man who is accustomed to dealing with my own fear, and that thought terrified me more than any other ever has."
I reached up and ran my hand along the side of his jaw. "Oh, Holmes, I'm sorry I put you through that."
He raised his hand and captured mine, bringing it to his lips. He kissed it gently and, laying it against his cheek, he smiled a slightly more mischievous smile as if he wished to lighten the mood a bit.
"That was another trial, you know." He ran one long finger down my forearm, making me shiver once again. "Having you here, so close, and not being able to touch you has been incredibly difficult. You must promise never to do anything of this sort again. My nerves simply won't stand it."
I nodded and solemnly promised, as if both of us weren't quite well aware of how futile such a promise was.
"When you returned from your ordeal, as I sat and talked with you, I was struck by the most absurd notion, and I could not banish it no matter how hard I tried. Your clothes were rumpled and torn, and you'd lost your collar and tie. You really were a mess, my dear fellow. I was quite concerned."
"I know." I gazed up at him fondly, enjoying just being able to look at him to my heart's content.
Holmes continued in a softer tone and his eyes darkened as he looked down at me, "With your shirt open at the neck, I found myself constantly noticing this sensitive spot at the base of your throat. Just here…" He reached out and touched my neck gently. "…all I could think about was how you always sighed in pleasure when I did this…" His fingertip skimmed lightly along my collarbone and dipped down into the soft hollow of flesh beside it as I willingly sighed in response. "And I desperately wanted to make you sigh again."
"I missed you, too, you know, Holmes. Even before I understood what my feelings were, I knew that something wasn't right. Then when I finally realized that I loved you, I was afraid to say anything. Afraid that what I was feeling wasn't a memory at all, but was something new, something I had no way of knowing whether you shared."
"That's what you wouldn't tell me last night, wasn't it. I had hoped that the music might draw out some of your memories."
"Oh, it did, most definitely. Ever since I laid eyes on you again, I've been having feelings for you that didn't fit with thinking of you simply as a friend. It was while I was watching you play that I suddenly knew that what I'd been feeling was love, but I was terrified that you might not love me back. I didn't know what to do. If I admitted my feelings and you didn't feel the same way, I could lose you forever. I didn't think I could face that, so I held back, hoping that something would come back to me that would show me what the true nature of our relationship was."
"And it was seeing this bed that brought it all back to you?" he asked.
"Well, not all… I still don't remember everything, but the bed was definitely the missing piece of the puzzle and seeing it, touching it, gave me back my memories of you and of us together."
Holmes bent down and kissed me once more. "Then I for one have never owed so much to a simple piece of furniture."
I smiled my agreement, and as we lay together in our bed and listened to the cold rain lashing itself against the window pane, I closed my eyes and knew for a fact that at last I'd found my way home.