Again, I am ashamed of my appalling slacker-dom. I hadn't realized it had been so long since I'd posted a chapter. What must you guys think of me? I really am a dedicated Holmesian. I'm just an incurably lazy devil, that's all. Anyway, I'll shut up. You don't want to hear my whining, anyway.
So: now for something just a little unusual and outré: a series of five short vignettes, which together make up chapter nine.
Disclaimer: Holmes is the property of the estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle. Though in my mind, he really belongs to the whole world.
The Light of Pure Reason
Chapter Nine, or I Am Glad to Have a Friend
Holmes watched as the raindrops slid in meandering paths down the window in Maggie's room. In the corner, the small television flickered quietly. He had no control over it, of course, but Maggie usually left it on because she knew he enjoyed the programs about forensics. At the moment, however, it went unnoticed. Instead he glanced at the clock on the wall, for the third time in less than an hour: half-past six.
She really should have been home by now.
It was her roommate Thea Byron's custom to take food home to the rooms — apartment, he corrected himself — during her break from her job as assistant chef, in order to share a quick dinner with Maggie before returning to the Italian restaurant for her evening shift. Today, however, Thea had already come and gone, and Maggie still had not returned.
It was unlike her to deviate from her usual schedule. She knew very well how Holmes' mind worked, the conclusions which he was inclined to draw. He had become so accustomed to tragedy and misfortune in his line of work that he almost invariably expected the worst. She really ought to be more considerate.
Unless, of course, something had happened to her. And he was unprepared to contemplate that possibility.
He glanced at the television, which was currently showing some sort of program about extracting DNA from human teeth. Under normal circumstances, Holmes' interest would have been captured completely; he could still scarcely believe the technology that now existed to aid the official force in apprehending criminals. But tonight he was distracted; he could not help but be anxious over Maggie's inexplicable delay.
"What has happened to me?" he demanded of the empty room.
It had been so vastly different when he had shared rooms with Watson. As much as he had always valued the doctor's friendship, he had also valued his privacy. There had been times when he absolutely had to be alone in order to preserve his sanity. Holmes, you're an incurable hermit, Watson used to tell him with some asperity.
And yet, somehow, it had proven to be the complete opposite with young Maggie. Holmes' day was dull and colorless until she came home, and not merely because of her brightly hued outfits. He looked forward to seeing her. He enjoyed talking with her, hearing her voice, watching her various facial expressions. He, Sherlock Holmes, was irreversibly attached to her. To a woman.
It was not with any sort of romantic feeling that he regarded Maggie, of course. But there was no denying that he was fond of the girl. No doubt this was partly due to the inescapable fact that she was his one and only companion, after what had seemed to be an interminable period of solitude. Nevertheless, there was something truly refreshing about Maggie Hill. She was unlike any of the women of Holmes' past acquaintance. She was sweet-tempered, and level-headed, and had a devilishly mischievous sense of humor that resonated with his own.
She was not merely a woman. She was a friend.
And she was also damnably late.
At last, just before seven o'clock, Holmes heard the familiar sound of a key being turned in the dead-bolt. To satisfy himself that it was not Thea, returning for some crucial forgotten item, he called out, "That you, Maggie?"
In the next room, a pleasantly low voice answered, "Why, yes, I believe it is me!"
The immensity of Holmes' relief was thoroughly embarrassing as he emerged from the bedroom to see Maggie bustling about in the small kitchen, putting away groceries. On the kitchen table, she had placed a large, somewhat battered cardboard box. "Here I am, signed, sealed, delivered," she said genially. "And how was your day? Not too boring, I hope?"
Holmes watched her broodingly for a moment. Along with his relief at her return had come a sudden rush of irritation at her cheerful mood. He knew it was illogical; a fact which only served to annoy him more. "My day was as eventful as one might expect for an apparition," he finally said acidly, approaching the other side of the kitchen counter.
Maggie stopped what she was doing and looked up at him with wide eyes, clearly surprised by his harsh tone. "Is something wrong, Holmes?" she asked.
"Evidently not," was his flat reply. "No doubt you have some perfectly feasable explanation as to why you are nearly two hours after your usual time."
She blinked. "I'm sorry, I didn't think my errands would take so long." Her eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement. "Wait a minute. Were you worried about me?"
She spoke as if she could scarcely believe him capable of worrying about anyone. He sighed. "Not in the least, Maggie," he said in a dull monotone.
"Holmes..." Maggie maneuvered around the counter to stand beside him, craning her neck to meet his gaze. "I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you, not knowing where I am, and not being able to reach me. I should have been more considerate. I'm really sorry."
The detective had never been one for harboring grudges. At least, when the apology was sincere. He sighed again, shaking his head at his own pettiness. "Think nothing of it, girl," he said in what he hoped was a sufficiently placating manner.
"Does that mean I'm forgiven?"
"Against my better judgment, you are forgiven."
Maggie grinned. "Good. Because I brought you a present."
Now it was Holmes' turn to blink. "I beg your pardon?"
But she was beckoning him into the kitchen, where she had left the cardboard box on the little table. Now she opened it and began lifting out items, placing them in a row beside the box: a Bunsen burner, a retort, several beakers, a set of pipettes. Next to these she deposited a handful of brown glass bottles, each with labels on the side: Sodium Hydroxide, Silicon Dioxide, Magnesium Sulfate.
Holmes looked in amazement from the objects on the table to the girl next to him. "A chemistry set?"
Maggie laughed, obviously delighted. "Surprise! I was driving past an estate sale on the way home, so I stopped and had a look-see. And they were practically giving this away." She held up a pipette to the light and looked through it. "Isn't it great? I know technically you can't use it yourself, but you can show me what to do, and we can perform little experiments, whee!"
It was with mixed feelings that Holmes regarded this new development. On the one hand, he was touched by the gesture — more deeply touched than he cared to admit, even to himself. Maggie was so clearly eager to do things for him, to make him happy. Perhaps a little too eager.
Holmes had known very well the danger to which he would be exposing the girl in the near future, and yet he had offered little protest when she suggested a collaboration. He had been too gratified, too pleased to object. But there would be no talking her out of it now. She was far too dedicated to the idea, and to him.
And now this.
Maggie was placing a pair of test tube clamps on the table when she realized Holmes hadn't said anything. She looked up at him slowly, and her smile faded. "You don't like it," she said in disappointment.
"I do," Holmes replied quickly. "Very much. It is... quite perfect."
She frowned. "But...?"
"Girl..." He sighed in exasperation. "You are altogether too kind to me."
"What are you talking about, Holmes?" she asked, genuinely confused.
He shook his head. How could he tell her of his concern that she was giving too much of herself, that she was allowing him to take over her life completely, without a single complaint? He knew she would only deny it. She would argue that it had all been her own choice. And sadly, she would be right.
Instead, he forced himself to muster a smile. "Nothing of consequence, Maggie. It is a wonderful gesture, and I thank you." Her own smile returned. "Now," he continued briskly, rubbing his hands together, "have you any sodium carbonate there?"
She looked through the assortment of bottles. "Yep."
"Excellent. In that case, I can show you an amusing little trick. Have you ever wondered, my dear, how to turn water into wine?"
Maggie chuckled. "Have I ever, Mr. Wizard! Do tell."
The music in this infernal place was enough to drive a sane man to suicide. That was assuming, of course, that he wasn't already dead to begin with.
Holmes had finally come to the grudging conclusion that there was no other explanation for his current incorporeal state, and was willing to accept the fact with equanimity. But even a dead man had his limits. And the hellish noise that the proprietors of this coffee shop insisted on blaring through their sound system was too much to bear. Holmes had always prided himself on his open mind, but this was not music. It was sheer torture.
Unfortunately, Maggie had taken a liking to the oddly-named Zombie Joe's after their first visit some months ago. On being forced to return to the shop in order to replace the coffee which had adorned her motorcar, she had been pleasantly surprised by its quality. Since then she had come back a number of times, though thankfully she had not asked Holmes to accompany her.
On this particular day, however, he had been just bored and desperate enough to accept her offer to come along. To Holmes' surprise, Thea had also been invited. Usually, if Maggie left the apartment with Holmes, she did not ask her roommate to come, if only to avoid the possibility of accidentally speaking to him in her presence. The young chef already seemed to have growing doubts as to her friend's sanity.
Maggie was undoubtedly planning something. Holmes attempted to deliberate on what it might be, before ultimately giving up the idea. There were far too little data at present to be bothered with, and the music was driving him mad.
Didn't anyone listen to Sarasate in this blasted century?
He stood irritably to one side as Maggie and Thea chattered away with Niko Louverdes, the young man who appeared to be a third-generation descendant of Greek immigrants, a Catholic, an owner of a small dog, and incidentally also left-handed. He was obviously taken with Maggie, as he continued to lean farther across the counter toward her. How very subtle.
She laughed at some remark he made. "No, the kids aren't that bad. At least, none of them have made any attempts on my life yet. I'm just looking into another line of work."
"Oh, yeah? What's that?" Niko asked, drumming his fingers on the counter.
"Detective work," Maggie said with a conspiratorial glance toward Holmes.
Thea rolled her eyes. "She's gone a little crazy with her Sherlock Holmes obsession. I'm hoping it's just a phase."
"Pshh, not me!" Niko exclaimed fervently. "That's awesome! You could go around wearing a fedora like Sam Spade, calling everyone 'sweetheart' and narrating your life aloud."
Maggie laughed again. "Sorry, but I get enough strange looks from people already."
"Hey, I think you're pretty cool," he said with a smile.
Holmes observed the proceedings, along with the young man's fidgeting, with a derisive snort. "Either the lad is unduly agitated by your proximity," he remarked, "or he is under the influence of some form of stimulant."
Maggie scoffed under her breath. "You would know," she muttered.
The other two young people simultaneously stared at her. "Know what, Maggs?" Thea asked, a dark eyebrow raised quizzically.
Maggie looked as if she wished she could melt into the tile floor. "Umm, you would know, uhh... which... beans make the best espresso," she stammered.
Not the most well-executed recovery, all told.
"Right," said Niko slowly. "Well, if you're making espresso, then you want to look for arabica beans, never robusta. And make sure it's a Full City, or Italian roast." He cleared his throat delicately. "A certain massive international coffee chain which shall remain nameless invariably uses French roast, which leads to the espresso tasting burnt and kind of disgusting."
"Really?" piped Thea. "That's interesting. I didn't know the roast made such a huge difference. I thought it depended more on the way it was prepared — the temperature, and pressure, and the grind of the beans and whatnot."
"Well, it does," agreed Niko. "You're right about that. In fact..."
Apparently Maggie had heard enough. After excusing herself with a polite mumble, she trudged off to a corner table of the eerily lit coffee shop. Holmes followed her as she sat down under a luminescent picture of a group of skeletons playing poker, pulled out a textbook on private investigation, and pretended to read.
She was doing her best to glare at Holmes in disapproval, but apparently her heart was not in it, for the most it could be called was a slight contortion of the eyelids. "Do you ever feel bad for making me look crazy?" she growled.
Holmes made a show of deliberating on this for a moment. "Briefly, but it passes."
Maggie sighed. Peering over the top of her textbook, she watched as Thea and Niko continued their conversation about the fascinating procedure of pouring hot water through beans. "They seem to be hitting it off pretty well." She tapped her fingertips together with a vaguely sinister air. "Eeexcellent."
Now Holmes understood why Thea had been invited along on this merry little excursion. "It is your intention that the two young people should become romantically involved, then?" he asked.
The girl shrugged. "Why not? Thea deserves someone like Niko. He's sweet, funny, intelligent... and they both love to cook." She cast a glance at Holmes, before adding, "And, if they do end up together, and Thea moves out, I won't have to ignore you anymore. It'll be a lot easier this way."
"Ah," said Holmes knowingly, arching his eyebrows, "so there is an ulterior motive to your noble errand of love."
Under the glow of the ultraviolet lamps, Maggie's grin was blinding. "Oh, wipe that smirk off your face," she said in mock reproof. Her smile faded, and she propped her chin up with her hand. "You don't know how hard it is sometimes, Holmes. I hate pretending that you don't exist."
"I know it has been difficult," he said quietly.
"No, I don't mean that." She blew out a frustrated breath. "Everyone thinks... that you're just a character in a work of fiction. I wish people knew the truth."
Holmes sighed and took a seat in the unoccupied chair beside her. "They would never believe the truth, Maggie," he said in a low voice. "Of that I am more than certain. And I hate to think what would happen to you if you tried to tell them."
She smiled wanly. "Don't worry," she murmured.
As his gaze drifted over to Thea and Niko, who indeed seemed to be developing an instant rapport, Holmes experienced a sudden rush of possessiveness toward the diminutive redhead at his side. With her natural beauty and easy-going personality, it seemed unlikely that she would remain single for much longer. It would be most unfair to deny her of any male companionship. Nor would he even have the right to do so.
All the same, if Maggie were to marry... what would become of him?
Holmes was restless. Outside, it was late November, and there was a heavy rain. The bare branches of the enormous beech tree in the courtyard below scraped against the windowpanes. In the past, he would have picked up his violin, or organized his case files, or indulged himself with one of his clay pipes... or failing that, the cocaine bottle. In his insubstantial state, he felt no desire to smoke, but he at least would have preferred to be doing something with his time. He felt utterly useless.
He prowled the bedroom like a caged tiger, his quick eyes darting everywhere. He glanced at Maggie, who was currently sitting on her massive four-post bed, deep in her textbook. She was taking a correspondence course in order to obtain her private investigator's license, and most of her free time was occupied by studying. He was somewhat resentful that she was occupied with a task while he racked his brain to pieces.
Holmes had offered to help her more than once in her studies, but she'd stubbornly refused, insisting she would rather do it on her own. This had surprised him; he thought she had been merely completing a formality, since he would be doing the actual detective work.
But apparently she cared about the work, too. Odd.
Holmes started slightly as Maggie's pencil was suddenly hurled across the room. The girl was groaning and rubbing her eyes. "Enough studying," she said decisively. "I need a beer."
He concealed his amusement as the girl marched past him out of the room, heading straight for the kitchen. As he continued his nervous pacing, he noticed that Maggie had left her textbook lying open on the bed. Curious to see what she was studying at the moment, he leaned over and peered at it.
The chapter appeared to be dealing with the Maryland judicial system. Little wonder that Maggie become frustrated, he reflected with a wry smile. Though it was crucial to possess a practical knowledge of the law, there were times when it was as much a hindrance as a help to the independent investigator. Hence Holmes' regrettable but often unavoidable tendency to act as his own police.
In fact, the more he dwelt on it, it was really quite surprising that he had never been arrested.
As he perused through the paragraphs, his gaze lighted on something which had been scribbled in the margin toward the bottom of the page. It was a short sentence, in Maggie's small, neat hand:
"Danger is part of my trade."
The sight of that brief notation startled Holmes. He could hear it in his head, being spoken in his own voice. He remembered uttering those exact words to Professor Moriarty in his rooms at Baker Street. He could recall with perfect clarity where he had been standing as he had uttered them: beside the breakfast table, his hand within reach of his pistol, haughty and defiant in the face of pure malignant evil. It was so long ago, and yet the moment was forever etched into his memory.
Of course, Maggie knew all that very well. She also knew precisely what had happened to Holmes shortly after that interview.
Could she be having second thoughts? he wondered.
He stepped back quickly from the bed as Maggie returned, beer in hand. She raised the bottle toward him with a smile. "Cheers," she said tiredly.
Holmes' eyes followed her closely as she yawned and flopped down on her bed once more, retrieving a tattered paperback out from beneath her pillow. She took a sip of her beer and began to read, serenely oblivious to his inner turmoil.
He paused for a moment in indecision, then approached the foot of her bed. "Maggie," he began.
She looked up at him. "Yeah, Holmes?"
Holmes wanted to tell her that she did not have to go through with this. That he would understand if she had changed her mind. That she was young and vibrant and full of promise, and he did not want her to throw away her life for a dead man.
But he could not say it.
He cleared his throat, mentally berating himself. "What is it that you are reading?"
In response, she held up the book. "P.G. Wodehouse. My favorite Brit. After you, of course," she added with a grin. "I've been reading far too much about criminal behavior lately. I needed something a little more cheerful. The worst that happens in Wodehouse's stories is the occasional cow creamer or policeman's helmet getting pinched."
"Ah." Holmes was hardly listening. What was the matter with him? How could he be so selfish?
Maggie noticed him gazing at her, or rather through her, and smiled. "I can read it aloud, if you like," she suggested mildly.
It took a few seconds for her offer to register in Holmes' mind. "Oh, no," he said quickly. "That is, I would not presume..." On second thought, it would serve to distract him. Anything had to be better than this insufferable self-recrimination.
"Unless..." He hesitated. "Unless you are offering."
She chuckled. "You must really be bored." She patted the mattress. "Come on up here and sit a spell."
Suppressing a sigh, Holmes sat down beside her on the enormous bed and stretched out his long frame. He couldn't help but smile as Maggie cleared her throat with much ceremony and began reading aloud in a surprisingly convincing facsimile of an stiflingly upper-class English accent.
"'Now, touching this business of old Jeeves — my man, you know,'" she read aloud, "'how do we stand? Lots of people think I'm much too dependent on him. My aunt Agatha, in fact, has even gone so far as to call him my keeper. Well, what I say is: Why not? The man's a genius. From the collar upward he stands alone....'"
As Maggie read, Holmes watched her lips move, and then her green eyes as they followed the words on the page.
He wondered if she knew just how much she had given up for him.
The man was in his late forties. A retired military man of some sort; a sergeant of the United States Army, perhaps. A widower, obviously, with two children, both girls. Though now, it seemed, he was attempting to win the affections of a woman much younger than himself.
Those were the main points Holmes deduced about the man he happened to spot as he emerged from the grocery store and out into the parking lot where Maggie had parked her own unsightly motorcar. That, and the obvious fact that the man was near-sighted, but too vain to wear his spectacles.
The actual process of turning the observations into deductions took him a mere matter of seconds. Nonetheless, it was a welcome exercise for his mental powers, which tended to stagnate if they were not put to regular use. A month ago, Maggie had suggested that they come here on a regular basis, to keep his mind sharp, and he was grateful for it. But the one thing he regretted about his companion was that she caught on to his methods rather quickly, and therefore was seldom surprised or impressed by his feats of logic. Regrettable. He would have given a great deal to hear one of Watson's exclamations of amazement just once.
Good old fellow. He could always count on him. He hoped that his friend had not mourned his death for too long. At least the poor chap had had his wife to comfort him. Mary had been a good woman, better than most. She would have taken care of Watson.
Holmes was brought out of his reminiscences by a sigh from the driver's seat. He looked over at Maggie, who was filling out an application for her private investigator's license. "Having difficulties, are we?" he asked.
She shook her head, red curls flying every which way. "Not especially," she replied. "There are just way too many questions. Like this one. Listen to this." She pointed to a line on the application. "'Have you ever been confined or committed to a mental institution or hospital for treatment or observation for a mental or psychiatric condition on a temporary or permanent basis?'" She laughed. "That's a lot of or's. Guess they're trying to cover their bases."
"Well, have you or have you not?" he jested.
Holmes chuckled as he sat back in the passenger seat and continued his observations. A teenage mother still in school walked slowly though his field of vision, and he shook his head to himself. Technology may have made an astounding leap over the past century, but society's morals had certainly taken a painful step backward.
"'Are you addicted to or have you ever been addicted to controlled dangerous substances?'" Maggie humphed. "Good thing you're not filling this out."
The detective gave her a hard look, which she pointedly ignored. She had made it no secret that she disapproved of his former cocaine habit. He could understand her viewpoint, but he rather wished she would let it go.
"Wuh-oh. 'Will your agency have any employees? If so, print his or her name or names below.'" Maggie wielded her pen and bent forward over the application. "Sher... lock... Holmes..."
"I'm kidding, I left it blank," she said, laughing. "Looks like I'll be lying indirectly to the U.S. government. Oh well, can't be helped."
Holmes tried in vain to suppress a smile. If the idea were not so far-fetched, he might have suspected the girl of being one of Watson's descendants. They certainly seemed to share the same pawky humor.
He was just attempting to satisfy himself as to whether the woman who was getting out of the car adjescent to them was a vegetarian out of necessity or personal choice, when Maggie broke into his thoughts once again: "Hey, what's your middle name?"
The corner of his lips twitched. "Sherlock."
Maggie turned to him. "Your name is Sherlock Sherlock Holmes?" she asked dubiously.
"My dear girl, pray don't be facetious," he said sententiously. "You know perfectly well what I meant."
"Yes, I know." She chuckled. "So if your middle name is Sherlock, then what's your first name?"
Holmes smiled faintly. Even Watson had never asked him that question. "William," he replied.
"Really?" Maggie looked somewhat surprised. "William Sherlock Holmes," she said slowly, as if trying to decide whether she liked it.
"Actually," he amended, for he preferred accuracy whenever possible, "I was christened William Sherlock Scott Holmes."
Maggie grinned. "That's quite a mouthful."
"Indeed," he said dryly. "However, you see why I chose to be known by my unfortunate soubriquet. William Holmes is simply too commonplace."
"No, he isn't."
He smiled. "And you, Maggie?" he asked. "I don't believe I ever learnt your middle name."
Abruptly, the girl's gaze returned to the application form in her hands. "Well... that's because I don't have one," she said evenly.
"No middle name?" Holmes frowned. "Dear me, that is certainly very unusual. Why is that?"
Maggie sighed in irritation. "Because I was never given one," she said, suddenly very terse. "New subject, please."
But Holmes could not simply allow such a singular point to be dropped so quickly. "How is it that you were never given a middle name?" he had to know. "Maggie..." He leaned forward in his seat and regarded her intently. "Why is it that you never speak of your family?"
Her green eyes flashed at him. "Why don't you speak of yours?" she shot back.
Touché, thought Holmes, but did not give voice to it. Instead, he tried to appeal to her innate common sense, which had secretly always impressed him. "Come now, Maggie," he said kindly. "Is it not possible that you could be exaggerating slightly in your opinion of them? Surely they are not as terrible as you seem to think."
The haunted expression on her face disturbed him more than he cared to admit. He could not recall her looking so... unlike herself. "You don't know them, Holmes," she said quietly. "And yes. They are."
Holmes sat back in silence as she returned to her application. Not for the first time, he suspected that something truly dreadful had been done to his young friend in the past.
And for the first time, he was uncertain whether he really wanted to know.
Holmes had already been aware that he was somewhat well-known in this century. There seemed to be no end to the cultural references pertaining to him. Scores of actors through the decades had played him on the stage, on the radio, in the cinema, or on television. Some of them were decent — Rathbone and Brett came to mind — and others completely laughable. Nearly all of them portrayed him with a perfectly ludicrous hat.
And then there were the other references. Elementary was a word which apparently belonged exclusively to him, though he could not remember uttering it all that often. The Great Detective was another phrase which had been coined for him alone. And to his private amusement, a common synonym for a detective was a "Sherlock". If Lestrade had ever found out that little tidbit, he more than likely would have choked on his own rage.
But until now, he had never suspected that his own humble name would be the final question on Jeopardy!
Truly this is fame, he thought with an ironic smile.
He sat on the sofa, for once not confined to Maggie's room. Thea was out and would not return until later that night; she had gone to dinner and a movie with young Niko Louverdes. It was a pleasant change, spending the evening alone with Maggie, not worrying whether her roommate would catch her talking to thin air. Holmes often wondered if Thea had ever made any connection between Maggie's odd behavior and the acquisition of his old magnifying lens. If he were in her place, he would certainly not have dismissed it merely as coincidence.
It mattered little in the end. Thea, while quite a pleasant young lady, was not exceptionally bright. Thank goodness that Maggie had a good head on her shoulders. He had grave misgivings as to whether he could tolerate living with a woman who had fluff for brains.
Speaking of which, some brainless game show was on now, in which contestants had to guess letters to spell out a word or phrase. Abruptly Holmes remembered he had wanted to watch a program about the infamous Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, Oregon. But it was airing on a different station. To his annoyance, he was unable to change the channel.
What the deuce was taking Maggie, anyhow? She had retreated to the bathroom earlier to take a shower, but that had been some time ago. Surely she was finished by now.
He stood up and strode down the hall to the bathroom door. The sound of water had stopped, and all seemed to be quiet inside. He lifted his hand to rap on the door, then caught himself at the last second, chastising himself for his blunder.
Instead he cleared his throat. "Maggie?" he called in a clear voice.
There was no answer. He frowned, and called her name a little louder. Still, there was no answering voice from the other side of the door. Peculiar.
"Maggie!" he shouted.
When there was still no response, Holmes began to grow concerned. Perhaps she was ill. She had not looked especially well when she had returned home from the elementary school. Was it conceivable that she might have fainted?
Holmes did not care to find out. Nor did he care to violate her privacy by coming in without her permission. But if she was ill or injured, he certainly could not ignore her.
Hoping she would forgive him if he was proven wrong, he steeled himself and walked through the closed door into the little bathroom beyond.
And then he froze.
Perched on the toilet, clad in only a towel, Maggie sat bent over with her back facing him, painting the toenails of her left foot, which was resting on the edge of the bathtub. Her long hair was pulled up into a loose twist, and the earphones of her little portable music player were jammed into her ears. She was humming along softly to herself.
But that was not what had caused Holmes to stop in his tracks. All over Maggie's upper back, and extending under the towel, ran a series of long, shiny scars on her otherwise smooth white skin.
"Dear God, Maggie," he said hoarsely.
She twisted around and placed her foot on the floor, and as she did so, her gaze fell on him. "Holmes!" she cried in indignation. "What the f... flying buttress are you doing in here!? Get out!"
Holmes couldn't seem to bring himself to move. Angrily, Maggie stood up and yanked out her earphones. "Are you deaf?" she snapped. "I thought we had an agreement, Holmes! Now get out!"
Hardly aware of what he was doing, he moved slowly forward, his hand reaching toward her scarred back. "Who did this do you?" he asked softly.
Maggie glared at him. "I don't want to talk about it." She edged around him, threw the door open on its hinges, and stalked out of the bathroom.
But Holmes would not be swayed. He followed close behind her down the hall, examining the scars as objectively and impersonally as he could. "Those marks are old," he said. "A decade old, at least; perhaps older. You would have been only a child."
A child. Just an innocent child.
"Was it your father?" he pressed urgently. "Is that why you never speak of him? Did he do this to you?"
She growled in vexation. "I said I don't want—"
"To talk about it," he said impatiently. "Yes, I know. But would it not be wiser to tell me?"
Maggie shot him a look of disbelief. "Why?" she demanded.
"Well..." Holmes hesitated. "You might... feel better. The benefit of confiding in another, of... relieving yourself of a burden—"
The girl scoffed in disdain. "Yeah, right," she said bitterly. "Don't give me that. Be honest, Holmes. You don't care about any of that. You just can't stand not knowing."
Before she could retreat to her bedroom, Holmes quickly stepped in front of her, cutting her off. He drew himself up to his full height and spoke in a low, cold voice. "Do not make the mistake of assuming that my regard for my fellow men — and yes, women — is motivated by mere intellectual stimulation. I did not endure days at a stretch without sleep and sustenance, did not put myself in mortal danger, and did not, for that matter, give my very life simply to satisfy my curiosity. If that had been all I desired, I would have become a chemist. I did what I did because I believed that all of humankind has the right to feel that justice is being served, and I shall continue to believe it. So kindly do not imply that I don't care."
For a moment, Holmes feared he had said too much. Maggie seemed unable to meet his eyes. Instead, she stared at a fixed spot on his waistcoat.
"I'm sorry," she finally whispered.
He sighed and shook his head. "Go and get dressed," he said hollowly.
Maggie nodded silently, and turned and padded softly to her bedroom, giving him another view of her ravaged back. Holmes shut his eyes to block out the sight.
Several moments later, the door opened again, and Maggie slowly emerged in a gray shirt and a pair of faded trousers, in contrast to her usually colorful clothing. She came forward, until she was only an arm's-length away from Holmes. She was so very small.
"Watson got you all wrong, you know," she said.
"What do you mean?" he inquired quietly.
"A brain without a heart. That's what he called you." She smiled sadly. "I wonder what he could have been thinking."
"Please, Holmes." Her voice suddenly broke. "Please, don't make me tell you."
Holmes stepped close to her, wishing he could pat her hand, or stroke her hair, or do something to comfort her. "Shh, it's all right," he murmured, as soothingly as he knew how. "If you do not wish to tell me, then I will not press the matter. I've no desire to cause you grief. Not to you, my girl." He cleared his throat. "My friend."
Maggie raised her head and gave him a watery smile. "Thank you, Holmes."
She stood on her toes and kissed the air next to his cheek. As she turned away, leaving him to wonder why she would do such a thing, she stopped. "I will tell you one thing."
It took a moment for Holmes to find his voice. "Yes?"
"It wasn't my father."
There was a long pause, and Holmes wondered if that was all she would say. And then she spoke again, in a low voice.
"It was my mother."
Aaaand we end on a downer. Wow, that was long. At least, it seemed long to me. Anywho, how'd everyone like it? I know it was a somewhat different format than usual, but I like experimenting with my narration. Well, my fingers are sore from typing, so I will bid you adieu. Feedback would be greatly appreciated. :)
P.S. I may be a dork, but for some reason I find the idea of Holmes watching Jeopardy! to be endlessly amusing.