In the Lab
As soon as I heard the door click behind me, I felt my whole being sag with relief. I turned to Russell, who was just now realizing that there was no new chemical experiment and was watching me with wary eyes.
"Hello Russell." I said, and this time I meant it.
For a moment she looked at me and I was struck with the reality of how much I had missed her. Then she shut her eyes and turned away. I saw her hands clench and her body go rigid and I realized that this was as difficult for her as it was for me. It made me ache. Softly, I tapped twice on the door behind me, our old signal of truce. I saw her spine loosen and her shoulders relaxed. I pushed out a lab stool and she took it, but I would be forced to speak to her back.
"We have perhaps five minutes without it looking odd." So little time…
"You are watched, I take it." She responded.
"Every move, even in the sitting room. They've made some arrangements with the neighbors," Dirty bastards, "telescopes in the trees. They may even be able to read lips. Will tells me that rumor in town says they have a deaf person there."
"Patrick says they were asking about me, and you. They are city people and don't know that you can't hide anything in the country."
"Yes, they are sure of themselves. I assume you are being watched."
"I only saw them two weeks ago," That made me start. Only two weeks ago? Surely they were following her before then. What happened to make her so unaware of her surroundings? "Two men and a woman. Very good too. Five cars followed me down here. The lady has money."
"We knew that." I had been studying her more closely and she didn't look well. She looked smaller, more frail, more vulnerable and it disturbed me, "Are you all right, Russell? You've lost half a stone since January and you aren't sleeping." God, had I meant to sound so accusing?
"Her back straightened again, "Only six pounds, not seven and I sleep as you do. I'm busy." Those last two words were bitten off, as accusing as my words had been. Oh God, Russell, I'm sorry. I wish this all were done.
She slumped a little, "Holmes, I wish this were over."
Her whispered words so echoed my own thoughts. Oh, just to touch her, one finger on her shoulder, one short embrace, one chance to brush my lips against her forehead, just to know that she was real and safe. Hell, even a handshake would do! I stepped up behind her, just to feel near, to breathe her in, maybe wrap my arms around her shoulders, even kiss her soft blonde hair, feel it like spun gold on my cheek.
But as soon as she sensed my presence she shot off the stool, "No, don't come near me. I couldn't bear it." My spirit felt crushed beneath sorrow, "And I don't think I can do this trip again. I'm fine when I'm at Oxford, but don't ask me to come again until the end. Please."
"She sounded so strong, so sure of herself and her limits. But my heart ached with her words, words that were logical, that should have been coming from my mouth, but that I couldn't seem to say. Because truth be told, damn it, I needed her! She was my anchor in the roaring madness, my microscope on the world, helping me see the tiny details and put them in logical order and pulling them out when I needed them most.
Perhaps it was then that I knew. Or maybe it was sometime in Palestine. Hell, it may have been the first moment I laid eyes on her making her winding way across the downs, her mind engrossed in Virgil, oblivious to the world. Maybe I had always known. But I needed her. I loved her.
And, of course, that was why I couldn't see her. That was why she needed to be away. The game was well afoot and one slip would end everything, including our lives. But for some reason, not defined by my considerable intelligence, the knowledge and the logic didn't dull the pain.
"Yes," I said, my voice hoarse with unshed tears, "Yes, I understand."
I took a deep cleansing breath and plunged back into the matter at hand.
Shortly after six o'clock, the front door of my cottage slammed shut and I heard her car roar to life, flinging gravel carelessly as she flew out of my driveway. I sat for a moment at the table, contemplating my empty tea cup. Mrs. Hudson came rushing in.
"What was that all about?" Her eyes were wide in disbelief and hurt. Russell had not even stopped to say good-bye to her.
I put on the angry persona and glared in the direction of the front door, "It seems she truly has better things to do than spend time with old friends, Mrs. Hudson."
I could still hear the sound of her engine gunning down the road. I slammed down my cup and made a great show of stalking into my laboratory and slamming the door dramatically behind me in the face of my stunned housekeeper. I leaned against the door and for a moment I felt numb, completely numb. My limbs folded under me and I slid to the floor where I covered my face with my hands.
And for the first time I wondered how long I could live without her.