A brother noble,
Whose nature is so far from doing harms
That he suspects none.
"Well?" I cried impatiently.
I had burst through the open door of Holmes's bedroom and was now standing in the doorway, arms out from my sides demonstratingly.
"Well what, Watson?" he asked, looking at me in his dresser mirror as he fastened his white silk tie.
"Well what can you deduce from my appearance, Holmes?"
He whirled to face me, a large grin crossing his features, his eyes flashing in good humor.
"Might it be a safe deduction that you finally were able to take the bandaging off your wrist, Watson?"
"Amazing, Holmes! I do not know how you do it!"
He chuckled, throwing on his jacket and elbowing me good-naturedly as he brushed past me into the sitting room.
"Aren't you going to tell me how you arrived at that stunning conclusion?"
He lit his pipe with another smile and jabbed the stem in my direction, playing along with my facetious game.
"This is the first time in three weeks that I have not had to fasten your collar and fix your tie for you," he said pointedly.
I grinned at him.
"You did, however, miss a button again, as you have been doing occasionally," he went on, peering at my starched shirt over his smoking pipe.
I flushed with embarrassment and glanced down – only to find that he had been mercilessly teasing me; the shirt looked perfectly normal.
My friend glanced over my shoulder, cocking his head to one side.
"Do come up, Mycroft!" he bellowed.
I winced at the so very vocal outcry, and I heard some grumbled remonstrance from the stairs.
"It is only seventeen steps, Watson," Holmes addressed me, answering the question in my eyes, "and I know of no other gentleman who has to stop and rest halfway up that few in number."
"I heard that, Sherlock!" said gentleman growled, his great bulk appearing in the doorway.
I tried desperately to wipe the grin off my face, but it was of no use – I was in too good a mood this evening. We were back in London, our injuries had finally healed, Mary and I were to take our first country outing together in nearly a month tomorrow morning, and Holmes and I had tickets to the theatre tonight.
Nothing could take the smile from my face now.
"Well, brother mine, is Whitehall going to give you a vacation after bringing that anarchist group to justice?"
The elder Holmes collapsed on the couch and moaned dismally.
"Far from it – from the amount of paperwork that piled up while we were running about Edinburgh, one would think that no one else in that office does anything whilst I am away!"
Holmes snickered and seated himself in his armchair. I leaned against the mantle, my hands in my trouser pockets, the complete happiness that was washing over me from the lack of pain whatsoever in my ribs bringing a large smile to my face. Mycroft turned and scrutinized me.
"You are looking very much better, Doctor," he observed.
"I rather think that is a deduction even my poor skills could have made, Mr. Holmes," I replied, trying to keep my face straight.
Holmes snorted behind me and laughed at his brother's expression. Mycroft rolled his eyes and fished in a large pocket.
"I did not come here merely as a social call, gentlemen."
"Have you ever?" Sherlock asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No," the man admitted, scowling at his younger sibling, "and that is why – your confounded sarcasm, Sherlock, will one of these days get you into trouble! How have you stood him all these years, Doctor?"
"I should like to remind you, Watson, who is paying for dinner tonight?"
"Er, yes. Well, I was going to say, that I can stand it because – it is more habit now than anything else?" I said, glancing at Holmes.
"Oh, very funny, Watson."
He sent me an extremely childish face and turned back to his brother.
"Tell me then, brother, what pray tell have you for us that would bring you here tonight?"
"I have nothing for you, Sherlock," the man replied, glaring at Holmes, "so do cease to flatter yourself. I have a missive here for the Doctor."
"For me?" I was surprised, and the man nodded, handing me the thick, stiff letter.
When I turned the envelope over and saw the crest on the back, my face drained of color, and I collapsed heavily in my chair opposite Holmes, staring at Mycroft in disbelief.
His watery grey eyes held a look of great pride as he spoke.
"Your brother is being awarded a medal, Doctor, for his prevention of that assassination attempt. Posthumously, of course – therefore the next of kin shall be the one to accept the honor at the ceremony. Do please make sure you and Sherlock are on time, Doctor?"
His attempt at lighthearted humor in that last statement did not detract from the import of the message, and I was speechless for a moment. Holmes got up and looked over my shoulder as I stared at the envelope.
"Thank you," I said at last in a low voice, still stunned by this shocking turn of events.
"Thank you, Doctor. You proved your extraordinary mettle throughout this entire case, and England is in debt to you as well as to your late brother."
I was still trying to find my tongue when Holmes gave me a congratulatory wink and went back to his chair.
Mycroft heaved himself regretfully out of his seat and started for the door. I followed to show him out.
"I have other calls to make, so I must wish you both a good evening," Mycroft said, putting his hat back on his head.
"Evening, brother," Holmes called lazily from his seat, not bothering to get up.
Mycroft glanced at his younger sibling and shook his head, rolling his eyes once more at me. I smiled in sympathy.
"Thank you again, Doctor," he said, extending a large hand. I shook it firmly, very glad indeed that I was now able to use that arm fully.
"Good evening, Mr. Holmes."
"Good evening, Doctor. Oh, and Watson?"
"Yes, sir?" I asked, as the man turned on the stairs and looked up at me.
"Please, do continue to call me Mycroft?"
I smiled, a sudden warmth spreading over me.
The elder brother's wide face broke into an equally wide grin as he nodded to me and then exited the front door, amiably waving off Mrs. Hudson's flurrying ministrations.
I turned and re-entered the sitting room.
"We probably should be getting on, if we are to eat dinner before the performance," he remarked casually, "what time is it, Watson?"
I out of habit reached in my waistcoat pocket but then remembered that Andrew's watch had been destroyed in the struggle to round up the anarchists. A frown crossed my face as I recalled the fact – but then I realized – there was still a watch in my pocket?
Deeply puzzled, I pulled the chain and extricated the timepiece from my pocket. And I stared at it in bewilderment – I had certainly not put it there. It was roughly the same style and size as my brother's, and I curiously opened the cover to see an inscription inside.
To my dear Watson,
Whose nature is so far from doing harms
That he suspects none.
My friend continued to amaze me with his knowledge of the classics, but more than that I was astonished at his continued thoughtfulness throughout this whole dreadful business. He had realized that the loss of the main clue of the case, the item I had inherited after Andrew's death, had bothered me very much.
I looked up, only to see that his chair was empty, and he was staring moodily out the sitting room window with his hands in his pockets. I snapped the cover of the timepiece shut with a soft click and rose.
"Half-past six," I said softly, walking over to the window and standing beside him.
He started. "I beg your pardon?"
"You asked me what time it was."
"I did? Oh, yes. Well. We had better get started then, don't you think?"
Holmes was refusing, as he usually did when either nervous or embarrassed, to look at me directly. I had seen the same uneasy flush on his face in the cemetery at Rathclythe, when he was so unsure of himself.
I glanced out the window, and saw that he had been watching his brother rather gracelessly chase down a four-wheeler on Baker Street. I had a feeling I knew what he had been thinking about.
"You know, Holmes, for all your bickering, I believe you and Mycroft do truly love each other under all that deduction and brain-power," I said quietly, a smile turning the corners of my mouth.
Again he started, and this time he looked me in the eyes with amazement written upon his features.
"My dear Watson, I did not realize the gift of deduction was so contagious," he replied, a little uneasily.
I laughed at his discomfort, but then my face sobered and I turned away from the window, pacing slowly over to the fireplace.
"It is not much of a deduction, Holmes," I said quietly, "a business such as this makes a man re-evaluate what God has seen fit to grant him, does it not?" My hand clenched around the watch in my pocket as I spoke, a soft sadness coming over my previously happy countenance.
"Yes, my dear chap. Very much so," I heard him sigh, and then his footsteps were evident coming up behind me.
"I – I am truly sorry that the whole thing was so shoddily handled."
That made me turn round, and I could see guilt in his eyes.
"It was not shoddily handled, Holmes. And – and I for one am glad of the case," I said, gulping down my discomfort at this personal discussion, "for – it has also made me re-evaluate things, as well."
Holmes nodded in perfect understanding.
"And – thank you," I continued, "for there is no possible way I should have made it on my own, physically or emotionally. I am forever in your debt, Holmes."
He smiled, and I saw the guilt disappear and be replaced with warmth as he put both hands on my shoulders as we stood there.
"I told you on the train, Watson – it will always be my pleasure to serve you, now and forever."
I met his gaze with a shaky smile, blinking back the sudden tears that stung the back of my eyes.
"Now, what time did you say it was?"
I was heartily relieved, and so was he I believe, to revert back to our former jollity – this was the first real relaxation we had had since we returned, and we were going to enjoy it to the very fullest.
"I think I said half-past six, Holmes," I laughed, pulling the watch from my pocket again and swinging it in front of his nose, "but I got that from the mantle clock – you forgot to wind this before you sneaked it into my pocket!"
He stared at me and snatched the offending article from my hand, scrutinizing it with a scowl.
"Powers of observation and attention to detail, indeed!" I snorted, eyeing him for his reaction.
I am sure that Mrs. Hudson was wondering if the two of us had suddenly gone mad when she heard the near-hysterical shouts of laughter pealing from the sitting room.
Holmes was still chortling ten minutes later as we were preparing to exit the flat for our favorite restaurant in the Strand.
"You know how good the feeling is, Holmes, to be able to laugh without worrying about hurting oneself?" I cried, reveling in the fact.
"And how grand it is to walk without help, old chap," he replied, carelessly mashing his top hat down onto his head.
"Yes, I was rather glad when your leg healed as well," I said dryly, putting on my own hat, "you are the most perfectly dreadful patient a doctor could ever ask for!"
Holmes snorted, opening the door and gesturing me outside with a wide smile. Even though the wind was chilly, we cared naught for it, too glad to be back home to care about anything else.
We were back in London, back in Baker Street, having laid all my ghosts, and perhaps one of Holmes's, to rest back in Scotland. Andrew's tarnished reputation had been mostly cleared of his former less-than-desirable character, and I had faced my fear of the past and had overcome it with Holmes's help.
And as he slipped his arm through mine as we walked along the Baker Street and began to make rather embarrassingly personal deductions about the people we passed, I could not repress a laugh of delight.
"What? It's true – that man did have an extraordinarily long nose!" Holmes said defensively.
I laughed even harder.
And although I should always miss my brother Andrew, Providence had sent me a pointed reminder in this case to not take for granted the things I still had in this life. I had learnt a valuable lesson, and I would never forget it.
"I'm sorry, Holmes, I was not listening?"
"I said, did you see that horrid looking woman back there, the one that weighs at least thirteen stone? I do believe she's going to poison her husband in the next fortnight or so!"
I stared at my friend, shaking my head, once again laughing aloud.
Even through the upheavals of life's complicated twistings, some things would never change.