I sat there nervously, for how long I did not know for certain. Long enough to become thoroughly chilled at any rate. Finally I saw Watson stand and turn to walk toward me, his head down against the wind.
The bench was sheltered by some evergreens and was not directly in the biting nip of the breeze, for which I was grateful.
Watson did not meet my eyes but sat beside me on the bench, the small vase between us. I could not tell if he were shaking from the cold or if he were crying – but I was going to find out, no matter how uncomfortable it was for me. This was not a time to stick at personal comfort.
I set the vase on the ground and slid across the bench closer to him, weighing in my mind something I could say that was not an empty, trite platitude.
He was shaking far too violently to be merely shivering, and I instinctively put a hand on his shoulder. He flinched at first as if not expecting it and then relaxed, dashing away a few remaining tears, his face flushed either from the cold or from embarrassment. Knowing him, I suspected the latter.
"There is nothing shameful about grief, Watson," I said finally, "you have no need to be embarrassed about showing it, certainly – and especially not to me of all people."
Finally he cleared his throat and turned slightly to look at me.
"Thank you – for coming back," he said a little unsteadily.
"I – I should have stayed in the first place, Watson; I just did not know if you wanted to be alone or not," I replied with uncertainty.
He smiled a little at me. "I am not entirely unaware of your intents for this day, Holmes. It was a very thoughtful gesture to try to get my mind off of things."
I stared at him in some dismay – he had seen through me? How?
Watson chuckled softly and said nothing, the smile fading as his gaze fell back upon the stone a few feet away.
I cleared my throat.
"I – I brought this, I did not know if you – well -" Why the devil was I stammering like a nervous schoolboy?
Watson saw the greens in the vase and smiled once more, tears welling up again in his eyes.
Oh, dear heaven – I did not know what I should do if he started weeping.
But he swallowed and blinked, standing to his feet with me and taking the vase. We began to walk together over to the stone.
"Did you know – the circumstances?" he asked softly.
"Pneumonia, was it not?" I replied gently.
He nodded sadly. "It was a bitter winter – worse than even this weather right now."
"And the ice and cold does not help with the memories, does it."
"No," he whispered, stopping at the stone.
As he settled the vase into the cold ground, pressing it firmly into the packed cold earth so it would not fall over, I gently brushed the snow off the grey stone and saw the small inscription. She really had been so very young.
It was only then that I noticed the smaller stone beside it, half-covered as well in the icy flakes swirling past us. I brushed that one off as well while Watson was arranging the greenery –
And stopped short, my breath catching in my throat.
Mycroft had not told me that.
I was still staring when Watson crouched down beside me, glancing sadly at my face.
"No one – no one told me," I said, my voice more shaky than I would have liked.
"You didn't know?" he asked softly.
I shook my head, my eyes unable to leave the tiny stone and its tiny inscription.
John Sherlock Watson, aged four months.
September 15, 1893-January 18, 1894.
"I thought you had been told," I heard him say quietly, standing up from the cold ground.
I followed a little shakily, and not from the cold.
"No," I returned, still looking at the little inscription, "I did not find out until this morning that – that you even had a child, Watson."
I finally turned to meet his gaze, my mind in rather a whirl. He – he had named his child, his first son, after me? Not after his brother, his father, or anyone else – he named the boy after me?
"Holmes, I'm f-freezing – can we go somewhere to – to talk, perhaps?" he asked hesitantly, and I knew he was not wanting me to have to listen to his emotional outpourings if I were not willing.
Just because I was not given to emotional displays myself did not mean that I would be loathe to listen to another's, especially his, and I said as much to him. He looked at me oddly for a moment.
"Are you wishing I had said that earlier?" I asked ruefully.
"Actually, yes," he replied, dashing away a tear from either the wind or the emotion I could still see struggling for mastery in his face.
"I – I am so sorry," I stammered, feeling like a very low friend indeed.
"Do not be – I was too stubborn to ask," he admitted, hesitantly slipping his arm through mine as we turned to leave.
I bit back a causal agreement, knowing this was not the time for any type of lightheartedness, and we both looked back for one moment. But I knew this would not be the last time we would stand here in this fashion. It was just too bitterly cold to remain here any longer at the moment.
"There you are," I said, handing Watson a hot drink and seating myself on the settee beside him.
We had made the journey back to Baker Street in silence for the most part, too chilled to speak much, and upon our arrival Watson had hastily coaxed the fire into life and I had made us each a hot toddy and grabbed a couple of afghans, for the fire was not yet doing its job well in warming the room up any.
I sat there beside him as he stared into the fire, not sure of what to say, wishing desperately for Watson's gift of wordplay – as a writer he always seemed to know exactly how to phrase things. I was completely clueless.
Finally he drained the glass and set it on the floor, looking back into the fire for a moment longer.
"It was so cold that winter," he finally said aloud, more to the air than to me in particular, "colder than I had ever seen in England. My surgery was filled with patients from morning til night with bronchitis, pneumonia, and various injuries cause by the cold snap. I was working 12 hours a day to help the people and did not realize Mary was growing ill until she was already well on her way to a fever."
He stopped, staring down at the rug, impatiently dashing away a tear. My heart panged for him – he had probably run himself into the ground during that spell, for I knew his self-sacrificing nature all too well. It would not have been his fault if he had not noticed his wife's illness. Especially since I knew Mary Morstan was an exceptional woman and would have hidden the fact well so as not to worry him.
But he obviously was blaming himself for it.
"I didn't notice until I heard the baby coughing one night as I left my consulting-room around nine – I went straight to the nursery and found them both ill…" here his voice broke and he stopped, scuffing at the rug with the toe of his boot.
"It – it was only four days after that…I didn't even have time to prepare myself," he whispered at last.
"Oh, my dear fellow – I am so sorry," the words came unbidden out of my mouth as I sat there helplessly.
"It was so sudden, so quick – Mary never had been overly strong and that was just too much," he whispered, "if I had not been so wrapped up in my work I might have been able to –"
"Don't say it, for it isn't true, Watson!" I said fiercely, "you are a doctor, not a deity. By no stretch of the imagination can you front the blame for her death."
He glanced at me sadly before dropping his gaze once more.
"And then – and then I did all I could to save the baby, but it was t-too l-late," his voice cracked again and he finally broke down, putting his head into his hands with a muffled sob and leaving me helplessly watching, wondering what to do.
So I did the only thing I thought might possibly be of any comfort to him – I slid over and put an arm round his trembling shoulders and said nothing, just waited for the grief to run its course.
Which it did after several minutes – the tears ceased but I did not remove my arm as he continued to sit there, shaking slightly. I still said nothing, not knowing what exactly to say, and in a moment he continued without my prompting.
"I do wish you could have seen him, Holmes," he whispered.
"Your son?" I asked softly.
"He was a most inquisitive child – lived up to his name, certainly," he said, glancing at me with a teary smile.
I swallowed hard but was not quite able to return the gesture.
"He was always getting into everything – crawling about even at four months and grabbing anything he could get his little hands on," he went on.
I let him talk for several minutes, knowing that it was a sort of therapy for his grief, and finally he looked at me.
"I hope you do not mind," he said hesitantly.
"About naming him after you, Holmes. I – well, I wanted to name him after you and Mary agreed with me, but…well, I did not think I could stand to hear your first name so often round the house as we would be calling the boy, so I made it his middle name instead," he said softly, staring back into the fire and sighing softly.
"My dear chap – I've never been so honored in my life, I promise you that," I said sincerely and speaking from the heart at least for once.
He smiled a little sadly and sat back, his eyes on his hands which were twisting nervously in his lap.
"You – you've been very patient, Holmes," he suddenly said, glancing at the clock.
I was shocked to see that we had been sitting here talking for well over an hour.
"Patience had nothing to do with it, Watson," I said indignantly.
Then, taking a deep breath, carefully choosing my words, I went on.
"I – I am not very good at understanding these things, Watson. I promise you it pains me to see you hurting and I want to help any way I can – but the only thing I am very good at doing is listening, I am afraid."
"That is all I needed, I think," he said softly, glancing at me with a faint smile.
I frowned in thought.
"What is it?"
"Well, I – " I stopped abruptly, not knowing exactly how to phrase my question.
"Go on," he said curiously.
I shifted position so that I was looking directly at him, fidgeting nervously.
"Well, I have never of course been in your situation, Watson," I began.
He nodded, a faint twitch of a smile crossing his face at the very thought of my marrying and having a child.
"And – well – well, I was just wondering," I stopped. Blazes, why could I not phrase a simple question?
"Wondering what, Holmes?"
"What exactly – if you don't mind my asking, Watson –"
"For heaven's sake, Holmes," he said in quiet exasperation.
"I – I am just trying to understand, Watson," I said nervously, "what – what exactly does it feel like?"
He started, staring at me.
"Grief, you mean?"
I nodded. I genuinely wanted to know, for I perhaps might have a better idea of what I could help to combat it in the future – for there were sure to be future days such as this one.
His face darkened and his eyes glimmered slightly in the firelight.
"How would you feel if you suddenly were deprived permanently of your brother, Holmes?" he asked.
I considered for a moment, not without a shudder.
"Very – very lost," I replied, "almost as if – as if –"
"As if a part of you were suddenly missing?"
"Yes," I replied slowly, a tiny realization sparking in my mind.
"You feel empty, Holmes, as if part of you were dead as well – and it stays with you; no matter how hard you try to forget it, it is always there, that empty hole inside you," he said softly. "Multiply that feeling by a hundred and you have the pain that accompanies the loss of a wife and child."
I did not want to even attempt to think about it. I briefly considered what I would feel like if I ever lost Watson – and promptly rejected the thought as being only fit for my nightmares. It was unspeakable.
But that had to be no worse than what he had felt when his family had been taken from him.
"Tell me – tell me what I can do to help?" I finally just asked the question – deduction was not going to aid me any further in solving that problem.
"You already have," he whispered, sitting back against the couch with a small sigh.
I felt my forehead wrinkle, but he appeared to be genuinely serious. What had I done, anyway?
That was thought for another day, another evening. For now, I simply tightened my grip on his shoulders and we sat there like that, he occasionally talking and I just listening, watching the crackling flames slowly fill the room with a cheerful glow.
And there was a certain odd warmth in the place that did not originate in the glowing coals.
It certainly was a mystery – one that I should have to solve someday at my leisure. Someday when there was not as important and vital a problem on hand as I had at the moment. The most important case I had yet encountered since my return to London, with the most important of clients.
And apparently he was satisfied with the solution I had blundered my way through. I should endeavor to do better in future, however. Much better.
Finis! Thanks for reading - reviews are greatly appreciated!