Watson was ill.
Holmes held himself partially responsible. In hindsight, perhaps it had not been the most rational idea to pull a recovering war veteran all over London in pursuit of a criminal when his health and nerves were still very much on the mend. He was not entirely sorry he had done so; the illness did not seem to be too threatening, and he was found he enjoyed the doctor's company.
Having never taken much stock in "Physician, heal thyself", Mrs. Hudson had made sure the fire was heartily stoked with no mind towards kindling prices and fixed a large pot of her best tea for the man, using fresher leaves instead of the dried bags. The landlady only tutted when Watson insisted she was spoiling him; mothering was in her nature and Martha Hudson had never been one to deny her nature.
The two men sat in the sitting room, as the name of the room implied they should, Holmes in an armchair and Watson on the settee, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, the pair sipping their tea in silence.
What troubled the detective most was not his new companion's physical illness but the empty look that had come back into his eyes after the case had ended. He supposed that the doctor lacked a role since returning to London and thus lacked a purpose. Assisting on the arrest of a criminal had given him a distraction, but now he was brought back into reality with a crash as his worn body reminded him that he was a sickly ex-solider.
He needed to be given a lifting of the spirits, that much was certain, but Holmes was not quite sure how to go about this. His friends were few and far between, and being the youngest he had never needed to comfort a little sibling. How exactly did one go about cheering a fellow up?
Glancing down into the dregs of his teacup, he noted that Mrs. Hudson had not used a tea strainer and his cup was spotted with dark leaves.
"You know," spoke the detective, cringing when the sound of his voice caused the recovering man to jump slightly. "I used to know a woman who read tea leaves."
Watson glanced up, a tilt of his head implying a question.
"When I was in boarding school, there was this matron who was a house mother and all the boys said she was a witch. Looked the part, really. Always wore an excess of black and her hair had the frizz of a scarecrow's… She was harsh, as well. Not unfair, but any boy caught with a frog in his truck or some highly inappropriate drawings under his mattress was going to wish for some ice shortly after."
The good doctor was sitting up now, interest obviously in his eyes. It made sense that after expressing such admiration of his new friend's powers of deduction that he would be anxious for any part of his past leading up to the person he was at present.
"Her name was Miss Jessamie, I believe… Was never married and was too vain a woman to just take the title Missus without the ring, I suppose." Holmes rolled the teacup about in long, dexterous fingers, thinking back upon those early days. "She never really discouraged the witch rumours, mostly because boys and even teachers would pay her to read fortunes. She had decks of cards and stones she'd toss up in a bowl… But mostly she did tea leaves."
"Did you ever have your fortune read?" questioned Watson, a tired but entirely genuine smile on his tanned face. That was one of the things about the man that made his flatmate marvel; every one of his gestures was so truthful, so honest. He was an honest man in general, which made him wonder why such a fellow would ever want to be a soldier.
"No… I never held much stock in the like even as a boy, I'm afraid."
Another smile, this one wider. "Why am I not at all surprised?"
Holmes smirked, draining the last cold drops of his tea. "Because you already know me so well. I was, however, motivated by her presence to look into fortune telling and occult acts and the like, largely to learn to unravel their tricks, and I remembered a fair bit of it."
Watson's brow lifted, a smirk coming upon him as well. "Are you suggesting I would benefit from what you yourself consider to be a silly superstition? You hardly fit the role of some swami or… Or a hedge witch." He was holding off laughter, which Holmes took as a sign that his "cheering up" was working.
"I'm not saying it's going to be accurate, I'm saying that we hardly have anything else to do but indulge in novelties." He set his own cup aside and rose, long legs stretching out like the appendages of a crane, striding over with the grace of such a water bird and seating himself next to the doctor. "The cup is empty now, correct? Let's see it."
The man handed over his cup, bare save for the smattering of leaves suck about the sides and bottom. He could not help but smile at the thought of Sherlock Holmes playing the role of the mystic.
"Now let's see here… If I remember right, the leaves on the sides tell of things that may change in your life, and the leaves clumped at the bottom are the most important prediction."
"Clumped? Is that an ancient holy word?"
"I believe it is, coming from the Aztec word 'cluptae' meaning 'gathering of little gods'." Only Holmes could say such a blatant folly with a perfectly straight face. "Now, this particular clump looks like a butterfly, does it not?"
"Or a clump of tea leaves. I've mistaken the two often enough."
"A butterfly is a symbol of much expected happiness. Quite a positive image to have as your most important sign."
"Either expected happiness or a hurricane. What was that saying about a butterfly flapping its wings…?"
"It means happiness, but I'll be sure to keep an eye on the weather section in the paper just in case. Now around the sides… Ah! An oak leaf! A sign of health, something you need, Watson."
"It looks a little like a leaf, but an oak leaf?"
"It must be an oak leaf, it's the only kind of leaf that holds any importance."
"Besides the tea leaf."
"Humorous. And here's a spider… I believe that's success in business. You'll find a good job yet, doctor. … Though he does look a little squashed… I'd be happy to loan you your part of the rent until it happens, of course. And what's this last little smudge?"
Watson leaned forward slightly, face set in a squint. "An acorn? From the oak leaf, I'd assume."
"No, it's more of a cherry sans stem…"
"It's too pointy to be a cherry, tilt the cursed cup up a bit and…"
As Holmes rotated the teacup in their inspection of the mystery spot, it had managed to slip from his hands, and gravity beat out the detective's reflexes. The sound of china smashing was a distinctive one that made boys, even grown boys, cringe guiltily.
"What do you suppose that one means?" inquired Watson, surveying the bits of cup upon the hardwood.
"That I'm going to have a surcharge attached to my rent this month."
It was worth the price of the cup and Mrs. Hudson's wrath to finally hear him laugh.