The real reason Holmes didn't come straight home after The Final Problem? A certain Time Lord still can't land the TARDIS properly...
The Adventure of the Blue Box - Part III
Holmes’ first thought, of course, is to have the TARDIS drop him off just outside Meiringen, moments after he left. But he and the Doctor later agree this would be a mistake. Switzerland, as he left it, was not at all safe. Better if he returns to London, say, three days later, which will give him just enough time to have plausibly reached home. He can deal with Moran from there. Watson will have thought him dead for those days, which is unfortunate – well, it is worse than unfortunate, of course. But better than if he were dead in actual fact.
The detective and the Time Lord shake hands on the threshold of the TARDIS and Holmes steps out into London.
And immediately, he knows something is wrong. He swings round and calls “Doctor!” and sees the swaying willows solidifying through the TARDIS’ fading shape and then he is alone in the middle of Regent’s Park.
The air is wrong. The leaves are barely budding on the trees. When he left, it was the fourth of May.
A couple of months early, he thinks. Please, God, let that be all. He would only have to keep out of his own way for eight weeks or so and then pick up where he left off.
He runs across the park. A pair of young ladies strolling across the bridge cause his lungs to clench on a breath, because their clothes... dark colours, skirts cut daringly high above the ankle... surely no one was dressed quite like that in the spring of 1891...
. A businessman is passing with a copy of The Telegraph
; Holmes cannons across the grass and almost knocks the hapless man over as he snatches it from under his arm.
The paper’s indignant owner is left trying to make up his mind whether or not to attempt retribution with his stick. He is, on the whole, too alarmed to risk it, especially when the wild-eyed newspaper thief barks “No
,” drops the paper on the grass, and charges away at an extraordinary pace towards York Bridge, before slowing, as if at a loss.
* * *
Hollowness spreads through Holmes as he realises he does not know where to go or what to do. But he is so close to Baker Street and he has no other ideas, so he wanders along to 221b and stares up at it wretchedly, like the ghost he almost is.
The door has been repainted, a little over a year ago from the look of it. Pointless to go in. He knows someone else must be living in his rooms now. And yet his feet carry him up the steps to the front door as if of their own accord. This was his home for so long, he could feel its pull when he was galaxies away. He is far too close to drag himself away from it now.
Poor Mrs Hudson goes into violent hysterics.
Holmes, who is shaken enough himself, pats her clumsily and babbles something about having to pretend to be dead, and fails to fully consider that whatever story he produces now, he will be stuck with.
His rooms, it turns out, have been kept just as they were, as a kind of shrine
to him. It is an extraordinary relief to discover that he still has a home after all, but it is any number of more painful things too. Mrs Hudson has actually placed a framed photograph of him on his desk with a little posy of early violets in front of it. Holmes’ mouth falls open at the sight of it and he turns to Mrs Hudson with a searching, stricken look she is still too far gone to notice.
“Oh the poor Doctor,” says Mrs Hudson, when she is calm enough to speak coherently. “You must go and see him, Mr Holmes. He will be so delighted.”
The words “poor Doctor” have been a bugbear to Holmes for most of the last three months, now they turn him cold. “Mrs Hudson,” he asks, apprehensively, “Is Dr Watson well?”
Her face drops. “You didn’t know about Mrs Watson?”
Two minutes later Holmes is back in Regent’s Park, beating at the ground where the TARDIS stood with an umbrella grabbed from the hatstand, shouting, “Come back! Three years! It was supposed to be three days!”
* * *
If making a spectacle of oneself in Regent’s Park is never a very rational course of action, it is particularly ill-advised when the second most dangerous man in London still has agents scattered all over London watching for one’s return. Holmes lurches back into Baker Street, ruefully rubbing his throat after an unpleasant if unchallenging run-in with a garroter named Parker, and takes it as a sign that he must start to consider matters logically and in the proper order.
He throws himself into his old armchair and stares at Watson’s on the other side of the rug.
Well. If he is going to address the Watson problem, he will have to be alive to do it. Therefore Moran must be the first order of business.
In any case he cannot
face Watson yet.
He slaps together a hasty disguise from his costume trunk, and scrambles out of 221b through a rear window and over a fence. Outside in the alley he contorts himself into an rheumatic hunch and limps out into London.
In the Reading Room at the British Museum he hunts Moran through back issues of The Times and finds what he needs far more easily than he expects. Moran has just commited a murder. Holmes is certain his fingerprints are all over the Ronald Adair case, and is not even ashamed at the pang of triumph he feels. He can see the shape of the trap in which he can snare Moran already. Camden House is standing empty opposite 221b... a visit to the dead man’s house at Park Lane, and later one to Oscar Meunier’s... yes, he will soon have everything he needs.
He also orders up old copies of The Strand
, and reads a piece called The Final Problem
, and has to grip the edge of the desk and clench his teeth to stop himself from uttering another cry of rage and guilt.
* * *
The library gives him an idea, and he picks up a stack of obscure books in Holborn on his way to Park Lane. There is already a small crowd of gawpers on the pavement outside the Adairs’ , clustered around some charlatan who fancies himself a detective. Holmes joins them, and studies the window above. The books have given his role more of a personality, and a profession, he feels safer in it now. Nevertheless, that is surely one of Moran’s men watching the crowd from across the street, and there is a cudgel inside his coat, and probably a jack-knife in his pocket...
Someone – stepping back to get a better look up at the windows – knocks into him and he drops his books. Holmes growls with genuine annoyance and stoops to gather them up, while his inadvertent assailant tries to help, apologising all the while.
“I’m so sorry,” says a voice he is not ready for yet. Holmes stares at the familiar hands offering him back The Origin of Tree Worship
, for a moment unable to lift his eyes to Watson’s face.
Watson looks shocking. Oh, not to anyone else, he has not become a drunkard or a derelict; he is as neatly groomed and respectable as ever, and he is smiling down at Holmes in kindly apology. But the weight he gained during his marriage has dropped off him completely; there are dreadful shadows like bruises under his eyes, and the spring sunshine picks out threads of grey at his temples that were not there when Holmes said goodbye to him on the path to Rosenlaui. Three months ago. Three years ago. Holmes stares at his friend, winded all over again by the fact that he has not been merely missing
all this time. I have been dead for three years
And it is all very well thinking that it is all the Doctor’s fault, and that he never meant for this to happen. But he did
mean to plunge to his death in a blaze of glory. Or at least, he had been far too willing. It had seemed such a fitting, almost a poetic, conclusion. He did
deliberately walk away expecting never to see his friend again in this world.
And it was a sacrifice on behalf of his country, yes, yes – but why on earth did he not at least carry a weapon to defend himself? He is only thirty-seven years old (although now, as far as the world is concerned, he will have to get used to being forty). After a few months in the company of a man who is well over a thousand, that seems very young indeed to have decided to throw away the rest of his life.
Holmes snatches his books back with a snarl, for there are dangerous men about and he has already resolved he will attend to this later.
Then Watson shrugs and walks away and Holmes curses to himself and rushes after him.
* * *
Much later, Moran is in a cell in Scotland Yard, a wax dummy has a bullet through its forehead and Holmes is in his own bedroom at Baker Street. He does not like the thought that Watson has gone home to an empty house any more than he likes being without him here. Tomorrow he will suggest – he will all but insist
– that Watson moves back in with him.
He is alive, safe, free. And so very angry.
A pulsing, rushing noise fills the room. The shadows change. Holmes stiffens.
“Holmes,” says a low voice behind him.
Holmes wheels. The TARDIS appears to have swallowed up his wardrobe and is standing in a dark corner as if it had always been there.
“Take me back,” says Holmes.
“I’m sorry,” says the Doctor.
Holmes ignores him. “Correct this. Three years! His wife died
, did you know that? She was not yet thirty-two. He lost his best friend and his wife within a year. Can you imagine how that must have felt?”
“Yes,” whispers the Doctor. And Holmes thinks sourly, God forbid anyone should know more than the Doctor about loss or anything else. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Stop saying that
. God, your apologies
!” Holmes brandishes a copy of The Strand. “Have you seen this? ‘A void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill!’ ‘The best and wisest man I have ever known!’ And I have been gallivanting around the cosmos with you
.” The Doctor flinches. “Put this right
,” Holmes scowls at the sight of the Doctor’s sorrowful, wide-eyed expression. “You are going to tell me you cannot.”
“I can’t,” confirms the Doctor, gently. “You’ve entered events. I can move you forward from this point, but... not back. Not to change anything you’ve already done. I really, really can’t.”
Holmes is very tempted to disbelieve this, and contemplates making a dive into the TARDIS and trying to find out for himself.
But even if he managed to get past the Doctor and succeded in operating the TARDIS, the last thing he can risk now is vanishing God knows where and never coming back.
“What did you tell your friend?” asks the Doctor.
Holmes sits down on his bed and puts his face into his hands. “I told him I staged my own death in order to survive. What else could I say? I had already told Mrs Hudson the same thing, so... I said it was imperative that he should believe it was true. I said Moran had somehow
contrived to drive me away from my homeland, and terrorised me so very thoroughly I did not even dare send my only a friend a note mentioning that I was alive.”
The Doctor sticks his hands in his pockets and makes faces as he considers this story. “Well. I think that sounds pretty good.”
“It sounds like the abject nonsense it is!” shouts Holmes, “And that is not the point! It does not undo three years of grief!” he rubs at his forehead. “You are telling me nothing can.”
The Doctor says nothing. Holmes sighs in sheer exhaustion. “Tomorrow I shall have to go through it all again with Mycroft.”
“Oh, he knows you were alive,” says the Doctor.
Holmes’ head snaps up. “What?
“Well, yes. Well, he will know. He will have
known. He got telegrams, asking for money and stuff. I haven’t sorted it yet. Kind of a loophole, think I can swing it...”
Holmes seizes on this, desperately, “ Then you can do that for the Doctor – that is, for my friend – surely –”
“I can’t,” repeats the Doctor gently. “Everything a time traveller does, everything he’s part of, becomes fixed. As soon as the two of you saw each other ... ”
“No,” moans Holmes, letting his head fall back into his hands. So if he had only been patient a little longer Watson could have had at least that much comfort. But how could he have known the Doctor would ever return – he doesn’t
, as a rule, after all.
There is a silence, then the Doctor asks, “What did he do when you came back?”
“He fainted with shock,” says Holmes curtly.
“And after that?”
Holmes closes his eyes, which have begun to sting at the memory of Watson’s joy. “He forgave me,” he breathes. “Instantaneously. He accepted my excuses without recrimination and almost without question. God knows why. But that is what he did.”
“He knows he’s lucky,” the Doctor says suddenly. “His best friend came back after he lost him forever. Hardly anyone in the universe is as lucky as that.”
“He is not lucky,” retorts Holmes passionately. “I
am unreasonably, disgracefully lucky to have a friend who refuses to abandon me even under such dire provocation.”
The Doctor sighs, and gazes at him as if across an immense distance, “Yeah,” he murmurs, “That too.”
He’s smiling, but he’s got that tragic look on his face again, the oh-poor-me-all-the-universe-to-play-with-a
look that usually makes Holmes want to tear his hair out. But on this occasion, quite suddenly, it deflates him.
“Oh, never mind about it, Doctor,” he says, as kindly as he can, “We are both alive, at least, and improbable as it seems to me, we are still friends. I suppose we shall manage.”
“I know you will,” says the Doctor.
He’s stepping back into the TARDIS when Holmes says, “Doctor.” He lifts his head, and, half-grudgingly, meets the Time Lord’s eyes. “I was not ready to die.”
The Doctor grins.
“Told you so,” he says as he disappears.
Holmes shakes his head. The Doctor would have to have the last word.