After my abysmal failure in America, nothing pleased me more than to return to London. It's foggy weather and crowded familiar streets were a comfort after the relative isolation, extreme heat, and dryness of the Minnesota pineries. I fervently hoped that I would never have occasion to set foot in that wretched state again.
I closed my eyes and I could still feel the heat from that raging inferno against my skin and stinging my eyes. So many people died in that fiery holocaust because I was not fast enough. The Red Demon defeated me in that he wrought the destruction that he wished. Yes, I sent him to his death but events should not have escalated as they did. It was my job to stop him and I failed. He manipulated me as if I were a puppet on strings from the beginning and I did not see it soon enough.
Too many innocents perished due to my blindness. The days immediately following the tragedy, I could not face my part in the devastation. I could not bear my own reflection in a mirror and stayed in bed with only the newspaper accounts of the number of casualties for company.
While I tried to hide from the carnage, Watson worked tirelessly in the Duluth hospitals. It was his duty to help those in pain and he never gave a thought to himself. I could not get the hideous deaths and destruction I had witnessed out of my mind and I could only imagine what it was like for him to be surrounded by the dead and dying in the overflowing hospital wards. He treated their burns, inhaled the scent of burnt flesh, listened to their cries, and tried to provide comfort. He found reserves of strength where I could not.
Every night, Watson came back exhausted to our darkened hotel room after his late supper. He never pressed me to eat because he knew that I would not. He never lit the lamp or said a word, simply letting his presence comfort me as it always had.
Watson followed the same pattern of quietly stripping and then sliding under the covers next to me. I was already nude, yearning to feel his skin against mine. I turned towards him and buried my face in his neck while he wrapped his arms securely around me.
Watson kissed the top of my head and the same question came from his lips each of those long nights. "Will you show your face to the world tomorrow?" he whispered.
My response did not vary. "We shall see. I am not yet certain."
Watson rubbed my back and his tone never turned judgmental. However, he had every right to be frustrated with me. He had witnessed all that I had and much more and still kept working to alleviate the victims' anguish. With all of the compassion he expended for others those trying days, he still had plenty for me in his kind heart. "Go to sleep, my dear Holmes. Perhaps you shall feel able tomorrow."
To my surprise, I had no trouble sleeping in Watson's arms. His comforting embrace made me feel safe and kept my demons at bay. The case left me drained emotionally and physically and I could not have made it through that terrible time without him. I drew my strength from his and his love.
I finally pulled myself together after almost a full week of watching him grimly yet resolutely leave me in the morning and come back extremely fatigued late at night. I was in awe of his endurance and guilty over my own reaction to our circumstances. I knew that I could not hide in that hotel room forever and I was sick of my cowardess. It was time to face our employer and then go home.
Mr. Hill insisted on paying me even though I failed. He explained that he hired me to unmask the Red Demon, which I did. I took the money although I had no intention of keeping it. I donated it to the victims of the fire, anonymously of course. It was the least I could do for them.
A week later, Watson and I were back home in Baker Street. We did not speak much about the case during the journey. The memories were too raw for the both of us.
Our first night back, I went to bed first, expecting him to soon follow. I waited restlessly for forty-five minutes before I went back out to the sitting room to find him at his writing desk. His journal was open in front of him and I noted his tense posture.
I stood behind him and put my hands on Watson's shoulders. "Watson."
Watson looked up at me in troubled sadness over his shoulder. "I know that we promised Mr. Hill that we would keep the Red Demon a secret but I think I shall have to put the events down on paper for my own peace of mind."
I kneaded Watson's shoulders and felt the rigid muscles loosen under my fingers. "Then do so and send it to him. I am sure he would find it a most interesting read." Watson rested the back of his head against my stomach and I leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Come to bed and tomorrow we will see what London has in store for us."
Watson sighed, closed his journal, and stood up. "It will be good to sleep in our bed again."
A few minutes later, I was resting in his arms, soaking up the soothing warmth of his presence. I gave him a lingering kiss on the lips. "Thank you, John."
"For what, Holmes?"
I held his gaze. "Everything."