I didn't see Sherlock Holmes again for a very long time. In fact, I completely forgot him and how he'd apparently risen from the dead. Perhaps my brain had just eventually rejected him as the ghost of a caffeine-deprived mind. Maybe because thinking about him made me feel funny. Not romantically or anything stupid like that, but apprehensive, or that nervous sort of excitement you get before doing something really stupid or dangerous. Or both.
I did do what he asked. Threw his name around a bit and hoped for a bite, but no one seemed to recognise him, or at least not when I was around.
In the end, I just gave up. He'd vanished completely, swallowed up by the city. Perhaps he'd taken my advice and left for somewhere quieter where no one would look twice at his face. Either way, there were more important things for me to do - I didn't have time to sit and daydream, I had to work hard to stay alive; to get first servings at the soup kitchens; to watch my back; to guard my few, actually pretty useful possessions from thieves with keen eyes and swift fingers.
Six months had passed when I found myself on a street corner in the blinding August sunshine, calling out piteously for passers-by to spare me some change. I'd gotten lucky today; an exceedingly pathetic whisper of "any change?" had earned me a pat on the head and a five-pound note pressed into my palm, although I didn't appreciate being patted like a stray dog. The crisp paper on my skin reminded me that there would be a hot package of chips for tea tonight.
A shadow fell overhead as I dreamed about hot grease and dollops of ketchup, and a gravelly voice asked, "how much?"
"Sorry?" I squinted up into a sharp, pale face with intense grey eyes that met my bewildered gaze with something like amusement. A bell rang dully in the back of my mind. Where had I seen him before?
"Sorry, have we met?" I struggled to my feet as I continued to try and place his face in my memory. It was the eyes, I was sure of it. Those fierce cold eyes that burned with such intelligence, and how they made me feel so vulnerable…
He tutted. "Surely I didn't leave you with such a fleeting impression?"
"Well it has been six months." The words came out automatically as his identity f finally clicked into its remembered slot. "Sherlock Holmes?"
He nodded. "You've been counting."
"You owe me an apology and an explanation."
He looked hurt. "An apology? What for?"
"For being so unforgivably rude."
"Well I can't help it if you find my personality a little abrasive. You get used to it after a while."
"Hmph." That I highly doubted. My eyes fell on his clothes: an expensive suit, polished shoes, and a huge black trench coat that seemed to swallow him up, the one from the photographs. "You're not masquerading as homeless anymore?"
"So everything's been sorted out I assume. That whole business of you throwing yourself off a building."
He rolled his eyes. "You're still going on about that?"
"Well no one gave me any answers. They all went clam-faced as soon as I brought you into the conversation."
"That's probably my fault. Sorry. I pay a lot of your sort to run errands and find information for me. I also buy their silence on such matters."
"Homeless network. Invaluable."
Homeless network. Right.
"You still haven't explained."
He huffed in annoyance. "People, all the same. Look, it's a very long complicated story, which you would most probably not understand a word of, so I'll just say I had hired help, a plan, and a ride. Alright?"
That was hardly enough to enlighten me, but I had a feeling that was all he was going to give away freely, so I nodded reluctantly.
"Sherlock!" A man came puffing up to us through the crowd, then stopped short suddenly, looking back between me and Sherlock uncertainly. "Sherlock…?" he queried.
I eyed him up. Thin greying hair and blue eyes, and a haggard face that looked like it had been through a lot of pain. Somehow, he seemed familiar too…
"Oh, this is John Watson, a friend of mine. John, this is… someone I know."
"I do have a name you know. Nathalie," I said pointedly. So that was it. John Watson, the other man from the photograph. He seemed to look older and more tired than I recalled, but then I remembered Sherlock's stunt and no doubt how much stress it might have caused friends and family.
"Problem?" Sherlock said airily.
"Yeah, a bit. Lestrade is livid that you've run off with that triple kidnapping," John said.
"Well I was bored, and someone was being delightfully interesting. How was I supposed to leave it alone?" he pouted sulkily. "I haven't been on a case like this since that Hound. Now that was a case," he grinned.
"I'll say," John chuckled quietly. "Either way, we've been summoned to the station on threat of charging you with fraud."
Sherlock grimaced. "He found out I pinched his ID card again, didn't he?"
"I knew he'd ratted me out. Better go then. Could you get a taxi?"
John muttered something incoherent and probably including several choice cusses, but wandered down the road in search of an empty taxi willing to give a lift. No mean feat.
What a brave man.
"So you're back to solving mysteries then," I jibed.
"Murders rather than mysteries, but yes." He sighed heavily. "Good to be back. I almost went insane locked up in Molly's dingy little flat."
"Did you two hit it off then?" I waggled my eyebrows suggestively.
"I see you haven't lost your primitive sense of humour."
"And you your eight-foot ego."
"Touché." He fumbled in his coat pocket for a moment, before pulling out a twenty-pound note, which he casually proffered in my direction. "Have some change. On me."
"That's not change."
"Do you want it or not?"
I hastily snatched it and shoved in my pocket. Twenty pounds! There would definitely be chips tonight, and possibly a kebab, or a burger.
"Do me a favour," he said. "See what you can find out about the Nightmare."
He rolled his eyes. "No, no, no. Not a nightmare, the Nightmare. A world-renowned assassin. I have a theory he's back in London, probably lying low somewhere."
"Well I'll certainly sleep well tonight," I mumbled nervously.
"Don't ask outright, that'll only attract attention. Be subtle, listen to the whispers and rumours that people share at night."
"And how will I even relay these 'whispers'?"
He winked. "I'm very easy to find. 221B Baker Street, but only if you're desperate. Can't have criminal networks finding out about my sources."
"Sherlock!" John had found a taxi. He gesticulated wildly for Sherlock to hurry up before the taxi driver got bored and drove off.
"Bye." Sherlock turned away, black trench coat sweeping around his ankles sinisterly. It seemed strangely reminiscent of the last time we parted ways.
"So what, am I now part of your 'homeless network' then?" I called.
"Everyone is. You're just one of the few who know about it." He raised a gloved hand in farewell before the taxi swallowed him up and drove away, weaving back into the herds of traffic that plodded through London's sprawling metropolis.
The Nightmare. Right. That funny twisting feeling in the pit of my stomach was back, only this time stronger than ever. If I took this thing on, my life would get twice as scary and dangerous as usual. And there would be no going back. But I'd caught a glimpse of Sherlock Holmes' world, just one tantalising peek, and I knew that there was no way I would refuse this offer. And he might continue to pay me, which would be a huge result.
I brushed the edges of the notes in my pocket, a private grin growing slowly across my face. The feel of paper on my skin reminded me that I was done for the day – I wasn't going to squat on the street corner into the early evening if I could help it. I shouldered my bag, and headed off round the corner to the nearest shop that sold proper cups of coffee, and possibly some pastries if I could spare the change. The sun beat down on my shoulders, and lit the world up around me in a wondrous golden glow.
This was only the beginning of my associations with Sherlock Holmes.
And things were about to change forever.
And I'm done! Phew, this took a while to round off, as I got stuck on the ending for ages. I'd be really grateful if you took the time to write a review! And, well, just thanks for reading!