Title: Agreement and Disputation (17/?)
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (ACD-verse)
Summary: "Perhaps the most delightful friendships are those in which there is much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking." -George Eliot. A budding friendship, seen through the private diary of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Sequel to Worth & Choice.
A/N: I'm not even going to attempt the impossible; namely, to apologise for leaving this for over a year, and a year before that...anyway. If anyone's even still reading this story, here you are. I would recommend you re-read from the beginning and read the prequel, Worth and Choice, if need be, to catch up.
July 26, 1881
I am not a gentleman, I daresay, who requires constant companionship and relentless inconsequential chatter to entertain himself on a systematic basis. In childhood I was ostracised by my less-intelligent and therefore unworthy peers, and outside my brother's occasional benevolence I found myself without the millstone of esprit de corps 'round my neck up to and throughout young adulthood. With the sole exception of Victor Trevor in my transitory university days (and his brief acquaintance was tolerated only because the fellow was so keenly persistent and the situation at home so unpleasant, that summer I visited his estate), no one has ever expressed more than a passing interest in remaining in close contact with my caustic personality for longer than a few weeks at maximum.
Entre nous, this makes one Dr. John H. Watson something of an anomaly, and all scientists know well that radical factors will destroy the most carefully calculated equations, and can shake established theories to their very foundations.
I do not much appreciate my brain-attic reforming itself to accommodate a new section which will have no real bearing on my work, but no scientist is quite able to control a radical factor, and I cannot place the blame fully with myself. Being forced to delete certain things in order to incorporate the new space is beyond my control, and I can only presume that the items deleted are not of comparative importance to me or my work. No doubt my selective ignorance will shock Watson to no end, but as he is to blame he has no right to be affronted at my lack of societal niceties or knowledge of celestial bodies and their movements.
But to return to my initial sentiment – I am not a man who requires the continual presence of others in order to function in my capacity of the foremost criminal investigator of our time; nor do I need reaffirmation of what I know to be true: namely, that I am the aforesaid foremost criminal investigator, one who is unmatched in his field.
It therefore mystifies me somewhat, to realise that the endorsement of this curious and altogether bewildering individual with whom I currently reside is far weightier to me than all the public accolades I could accrue through judicial press and official sanction. L'art pour l'art, and yet after all this time to hear imbeciles such as Lestrade, Gregson, and co. receive the credit for my off-stage puppeteering becomes tedious, and somewhat disenchanting.
This last case is no exception to this unfortunate rule; due to Gregson's bungling of the trap two nights ago, the gang of statue-defacers nearly escaped, but for the timely reaction of myself and my ex-military companion. And yet, the papers yesterday morning and this only sing the praises of a select few idiots, saying nothing of me and my cerebral prowess which brought us to the successful conclusion. I freely admit to being slightly annoyed by the floridity of the praise lavished upon an undeserving Scotland Yard inspector, while I was forced to resort to almost physical violence to extract my fee from the aforementioned imbecile – a poor thanks indeed, for a sweltering night's work and four hours of deductive investigation.
The Doctor appeared to concur with me, for I had the dubious pleasure of seeing his formidable temper detonate (there is no more descriptive word choice for the action), for the first time in my acquaintance with him - and over something so utterly innocuous as the biased newspaper article about the case this morning. Entirely speechless at the vehemence of his righteous indignation on my behalf, I was unable (meaning I did not dare to so much as blink) to do more than sit back and watch the pyrotechnics with a unequivocal fascination that most likely did not aid matters once he had exhausted himself and wound down into a sheepish apology for his display of temper.
It is no wonder the Doctor survived one of the bloodiest and most tragic battles of our recent inglorious history; surely no Ghazi or even the most foolhardy of enemy soldiers would be so irrational as to step within striking distance of that particular army doctor when he is in a temper. Certainly it would be a more valiant man than I who would brave such a thing, and I am no coward.
But this observation brings me to my real purpose in this desultory journalism; chronicling for future reference the events and consequences of this particular day's significance, if I am to again safely navigate the drama this time next year.
The source of his frustration was not, as it at first glance appeared over breakfast, the news article about Gregson's supposed accomplishments; this ridiculously overcompensatory reaction was merely an indication of a far more volcanic drama erupting – no doubt one which has been mounting in pressure for the past week or so.
I was cautious enough to ride out said eruption, rather than trying to stem the flow – only a fool attempts the impossible and extremely dangerous – because I had spent yesterday in avoiding the man for the sole purpose of discovering what, precisely, was fueling this bizarre combination of depressive mood swings and unaccountable irritability.
Upon re-reading, this sounds rather like the chronicle of a hopeless busybody, but in the absence of a stimulating case I believe my curiosity can be quite reasonably excused.
And I had my answer, late yesterday afternoon, after another near-fruitless visit to my brother and the conclusion of my research into the material gathered from the British Library, among a few other sources. Recent history, especially war history, is certainly not an extensive portion of my considerable knowledge; it has no relevance on criminal performance, and frankly is of no interest to me whatsoever except where my flat-mate is concerned.
Obviously, a knowledge of his background is of use, if for no other reason than to avoid becoming collateral damage by doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time (a more likely occurrence than not, given my singular gift for complete frankness). It is an essential sacrifice of brain-attic space, simply by virtue of domestic necessity; nothing more.
I discovered late last afternoon that this date, July 26, one year ago today, was the date of that fatal battle of Maiwand, the one in which my fellow-lodger nearly lost his life and/or limb during what was by all accounts (sparse though they are) one of the worst defeats in British military history. Indeed, after perusing what information I could discover regarding the casualties, I find that even I am not quite able to remain detached from the chilling knowledge that the scales of Fate could so easily – so very easily! – have tipped the opposite direction, depriving me of this unique opportunity to become acquainted with one of the least irritating individuals I shall ever hope to meet. Certainly, I would not be sitting where I am, in my comfortable lodgings, today, had whatever Providence permits atrocities like the Afghan conflict to continue, not decided to smile unaccountably upon me one year ago today.
But this is not about me and my pathetic ruminations regarding the existence of a deity or universal driving force; rather, this entry is to document my actions of today; solely for research purposes, as it has been rather a success despite my not knowing precisely how to go about diffusing a small volcanic eruption in our placid little Baker Street rooms.
As previously mentioned, the Doctor exploded over a most excellent breakfast from our estimable landlady (which enabled me to at least have the enjoyment of a well-cooked omelette whilst being subjected to a force majeure in the person of my thunderous flat-mate), over the fairly harmless, if a bit inflammatory, article in the Standard about the Kensington Gardens vandalism case.
Somewhat astonished at the outburst, I wisely chose the better part of valour and continued munching my toast in silence, nodding meekly at appropriate intervals, while the man ranted and raved like a positive lunatic about the injustice of 'incompetence claiming public accolade over [my] hard work,' both physical and cerebral.
(I freely admit to never having had a champion of my own before, as my work stands on its own merit and needs none – but despite the admittedly redundant defense I found it was not entirely disagreeable, having someone indignant on my behalf over what has become an all-too-common slight of my considerable abilities. Certainly this novelty will bear further examination at a later, more convenient, time.)
Finally, the thunder and lightning ceased as quickly as a literal storm does this time of year, and the Doctor fell silent, scowling hard enough at his plate to set the poor kippers afire with the incendiary glower. I cautiously pushed the coffee urn toward his clenched right hand, and soon received a mutter of thanks, coupled with a blushing expression of regret for the outburst.
There was no need for an apology, as it had been a most instructive (and entertaining) discourse, and I said so with more amusement than any other quality. This earned me another look of mortification from my sheepish companion.
"I did mention I had a terrible temper, when we first met," he murmured, red-faced and hiding behind his coffee.
"Indeed, and I took the liberty of doubting your word for the first few months; I have since become…enlightened," I replied dryly.
A rueful chuckle was the only response I received, though I did not sense any real amusement in the man. I must tread lightly, as I knew by now that any indication on my part that I was aware of the fellow's ghastly anniversary would be rebuffed as both unwelcome and invasive. As I am quite competent at accidentally being so intrusive under my own steam, I was not about to willingly commit such a domestic faux pas.
About an hour later, I was saved from having to invent a strategy (which would most likely have been suspicious at best, disastrous at worst, as I am by no means adept in the art of compassionate distraction) by the very welcome arrival of a letter from a prospective client. A case I could have – and indeed had – solved before I was finished reading the postscript, but it would serve.
Watson was not appreciative of being almost forcibly dragged out into a sweltering heat just before noon, but I was not about to permit him to remain moping indoors and suffer in some ridiculously misplaced sense of self-flagellation over surviving when so many of his comrades had not. I do not profess to understand such illogical emotionalism – but I do recognise its effects, now that I have shared close quarters with them for over a half-year.
Some might have tried to discuss the matter with the Doctor; I, conversely, knew better. Not only would the intrusion upon his thoughts be unwelcome and considered decidedly offensive, but more importantly there would be no possible way I should know what to say. The probability simply lay in my making things an hundred times worse than they already were; and I am not so imprudent as to go in against such probabilities in the odd hope that a miracle might occur despite my clumsiness. No, the only avenue open to me which I could conceivably pull off was that of distraction – physical and mental, to overcome the emotional.
Granted, I had not anticipated the placid little case (that of an unfaithful wife, the most mundane and lackluster of all domestic cases) turning into a double attempted murder which resulted in both of us taking an impromptu plunge into the Thames to escape being knifed and involuntarily dumped into said river – but then Mycroft always did say I was an over-achiever.
More later this evening, as Watson is practically beating down my bedroom door informing me that I am going to eat today or else face his formidable wrath (again), and I had better have changed out of those wet things because he has other responsibilities than attending to my illness due to my own disregard for personal health, etc., etc.
As I am by no means a fool (last I skipped three meals in a row, he held my favourite pipe for ransom), I shall return.
Thus suitably refortified (I have never in my life eaten such regular meals as I have since taking up residence in this house) and having just now performed my expected duties satisfactorily in the matter of luring my flatmate out of his sulk and expressing my support for his unpleasant memories, I shall be able to return tomorrow to my own self-centric world of study and work without any niggling of remorse whatsoever (a substantial achievement).
I believe I surprised both of us with my tact before turning in for the evening. A not-unpleasant feeling, the knowledge that I have succeeded in effectively navigating those extremely treacherous waters!
Watson is neither stupid nor unobservant; this much I learned to my chagrin during the first week of our acquaintance. He therefore no doubt had his suspicions, as to my needing to bring him with on a case which became obvious before long that I had already solved before leaving Baker Street. Our unexpectedly violent conclusion to the business (the unfaithful wife was evidently taking up with one of the worst opium-smugglers in London at the present time), ending in an adrenaline-fueled chase through the docks and a disgustingly filthy plunge into the Thames (though the temperature outdoors was certainly hot enough that the dip itself was not altogether unpleasant), was merely an added bonus on my projected five hours of distraction.
I was found out, as I had half-expected to be, though the Doctor did not appear to be offended. Rather, he merely looked thankful and said so, as we sat before the unlit fireplace, finishing the bottle of claret I had opened with our evening meal.
"I know what you have been trying to do, Holmes," said he, after a long fortifying draught from his glass. "And…your efforts are appreciated."
"Yes, well." I waved off his obviously uncomfortable attempts at gratitude, as I would be a poor acquaintance to do otherwise. "I presumed you did not wish to talk about the events."
"You presumed correctly." He stared into the dark hearth, unseeing. "I do enough reliving by myself to last a lifetime, without being forced to expose myself in front of another."
Said reliving was no doubt happening at night, judging by his poor sleeping habits the last week, but I was not so ungentlemanly as to mention the fact.
However I was fast approaching the end of my self-imposed tether, as I am no expert (and have no aspiration to be one) on matters of the emotions, especially those which I have no hope of understanding – such as the Doctor's feelings about his experiences. I therefore bowed from the stage while I had hopes of retaining my own saturnine image, bidding him a good-night as I placed my empty glass on the sideboard for Mrs. Hudson to remove later.
And yet I paused in the open doorway of my bedroom. I had today successfully addressed the matter of his depressive listlessness, and the morose lack of purpose – but it did not take observation or deduction to perceive from his current expression that I had done nothing to address the unfounded guilt which obviously preyed upon him still. A basic understanding of human psychology is necessary to my profession, and while I do not see the logic in self-castigation over the very human instinct to survive, I do nonetheless recognise the signs.
Well, then; one can never say Sherlock Holmes is disinclined to attempt the solution of a problem, however complex said problem might be.
"For what it is worth to you, Watson," I mentioned quietly, as I paused in the doorway, and I was surprised at my honesty, "I for one am…quite grateful, that the casualty toll did not include your name in its regrettably high number. Good-night, my dear fellow."
I saw just before the door closed his unaccountably astonished expression, which was a clear sign of victory – for it had totally eclipsed the guilt that had clouded his gaze all evening.
I therefore thoroughly declare this day's experiment a coup de maître.
Am I hopelessly arrogant, if I admit to being inordinately pleased with myself?