A/n: Just a simple story of a couple of great mice. ^^
"That case was a worthy challenge, eh Dawson? We've really earned our dinner, and a good night's sleep as well." I dipped a steaming mouthful of soup and started to blow on it, lifting my eyes across the table.
Dawson was stirring his soup, chin in paw.
"Aren't you hungry? You haven't eaten since breakfast."
"I didn't have breakfast," he mumbled, dropping the spoon into the plate. A flush of colour rose to his cheeks.
"You're ill! Why didn't you—"
"No no, I'm all right," he hastened to assure me. "It's just, something has been annoying me."
"I deduced as much. But surely it's some trifle that can be easily fixed?"
"Oh, don't trouble yourself over it. It's nothing, really, some trifle as you say…I'm sure it will come right. Do finish your soup, I'm just not hungry. I…I think I'll go to bed early."
"But you must be hungry," I insisted. "And it's one of your favorite soups. Do tell me what is it, old chap? I'm sure it can be cleared up quite easily. A patient isn't paying, perhaps?"
"Nothing at all like that, Basil; fortunately for me, I rarely have that problem." He drew a breath and then suddenly looked me straight in the eye. He seemed to be reading something on my face of which I was unaware. I glanced away.
"Dawson, you would tell me if--"
"Basil, you have done nothing wrong, I assure you!" He cried fretfully, and threw his napkin to the dining room floor. "It's all me, it's nothing to do with anyone. A stupid mistake!"
"This isn't like you, Dawson." I stood and picked up the napkin. "You're always such a gentlemouse, what has gotten into you?"
He flinched, then quickly put on a transparent mask of a smile. "Nothing, I can't imagine...You're—you're right, I should eat." He glanced at the napkin in my hand, then timorously at me.
I folded the napkin and lay it beside his plate with a sigh. "My apologies; I am in no condition to talk, I must eat. Afterwards we will go to the sitting room, and you'll tell me all about it. And you will stay here while I eat?" I gave him a smile, which he returned bravely and made a great effort to drink his tea.
When the strained dinner was over, we adjourned to the sitting room. I threw another log on the fire and took to my armchair, lighting my pipe and watching as Dawson sat gingerly on the edge of the couch. I noticed the tip of his tail was twitching at a quick rate that his heart matched, judging by the rise and fall of his chest.
"Basil…you know I am, as you say, a gentlemouse. I have never wronged anyone, never treated anyone with disrespect."
"Just so." I drew up my knees, pulling on my pipe and allowed a smoke ring to waft into the air. "And yet you do not seem so sure of this yourself."
"Well…sometimes things happen too fast…and I don't always follow, as well as you anyway. Something…something happened, a bit ago, that I don't quite understand, yet I'm sure you must understand it. You understand….everything," he finished sadly.
"Only nearly everything," I corrected lightly, but my insides were growing cold with unease. What was this leading up to? It rang no bells…
"This—thing--happened on the very first case."
"The kidnapped toymaker?"
"Exactly. It was…" His paws fidgeted nervously, "During the latter part of the case…when we were trying to find Olivia…"
My mind raced over the events of the case, starting with the kidnapping of the toymaker's daughter. My outburst? No, he'd said it had naught to do with me. The chemical analysis? It had gone without a hitch. The tavern…he hadn't exactly praised my choice of his costume, but he was badly upset tonight, it had to be something else…what else had happened, we had ordered drinks and…
"Oh! don't tell me you're still bothered because you drank your ale without inspecting it? That's a testament to your trusting nature, my dear fellow. It's only because I am so jaded that I thought to check for some added substance…"
"'Added substance'?" He looked at me with a tired but curious face.
"Drugs, drugs Dawson! The bartender drugged our drinks when I mentioned Ratigan, and by the time I warned you, you'd already drank the whole…Didn't you know all that?"
He shook his head slowly, eyes wide.
"But—but Dawson—" I leaped to my feet. "You must have known! How else could you account for…"
He shrugged sadly. "I couldn't. I've been so confused…it's like some strange dream. All I remember is…well…and then…I remember so clearly…" he turned absolutely crimson, flushing until tears came to his soft eyes. "I saw your face…that's the one thing I remember clearly, seeing you look away--Basil, you were so ashamed of me!" He turned away and scrubbed the back of his paw across his eyes.
"I've been so confused!" He continued relentlessly, eyes fixed on the wall. "I felt so strange, like someone else was controlling me; even the colors and furniture and mice in the tavern were melting together…for a while I had no thoughts. Then there was gunpowder and shattered glass everywhere…I couldn't understand why everyone was fighting, and we were hurrying away. I was dizzy and a little ill, but I knew you must know what was going on, and I thought you would tell me what that nightmare was—but you never spoke of it, and it seemed…like I couldn't, I just couldn't bear to bring it up!"
"Dawson. I had no idea."
I could see from his tortured expression that he was struggling to put the missing pieces together.
"So I was drugged—and you knew not to drink," he said in a tight, strangled voice, pausing frequently to bring his emotions under control. "And then I--the stage--why didn't you STOP ME!" He screamed, whipping around and searing me with a glare.
I couldn't breathe. I was frozen to the floor, numb to the lips, my pipe had fallen from my nerveless paw and bounced on the stone hearth. "I was…I was looking for…I was looking…I looked away from you because I heard Fidget, I heard his peg leg. I was watching him, and when I turned back to tell you, you were--gone."
"And you couldn't grab me off that confounded stage and knock some sense into my head because...?" His eyes, normally open and kind, were ice.
"You were ashamed of me! Admit it! You didn't want to be seen with me!" He was leaning toward me now, chest heaving.
"Yes," I said hollowly, feeling myself completely detach from any sensation, exception a burning numbness and a rocking of the floor. I felt as if I was giving my last confession before the gallows. "In a way I was, but the main thing was that—I couldn't bear to admit it was really happening, that you were…made to look foolish. I thought that ignoring it would be the most decent thing, but I now I know—well, I just know now.
And Dawson—please believe me—" I crossed the tilting floor to stand before him. "It was not my intention to leave you in the dark. I spoke vaguely of the tavern to Olivia and Flavisham because I didn't want to scare them or disgrace you! To my knowledge I was keeping no secrets from you; I simply thought neither of us would want to bring that night up."
He glared suspiciously a moment more; then the ferocity melted and I caught a glimpse of misery before his paw covered his face. "Basil, I'm so ashamed!" He choked out. "I feel so low, so mortified, I can't forget that night; I should have been better than that…"
I bent over him. "Don't you understand, it wasn't your fault! The drug and alcohol likely each doubled the effect of the other. Dawson, no mouse, no matter how strong of mind, could withstand that. In fact, you're fortunate you even survived that dose." At that thought, I looked at him with horror and found his eyes wide as well. We absorbed the thought for some time in quiet.
"Do you understand now, are you quite clear on what happened?" I asked softly at last. "We went to the tavern, after completing the chemistry experiment. The tender drugged our drinks, thinking we were scoundrels, and you, my poor fellow, didn't realize in time." I gauged his expression carefully, ready at the slightest furrow of a brow to expound on what he should have been told long ago.
"Yes." He looked out the window at the dawning moon.
"And do you hold it against me, that I--that I didn't--"
He took a deep breath, held it, and let it free before turning to face me. "No," he said with a tired smile. "I hold nothing against you, Basil."
I grinned for a moment in relief before turning my expression serious once more. "Thank you. I really believe I did all I could at the time."
The smile faded as he met my eyes with a dead exhaustion, and I knew that the words about to leave his lips had aged him in the past months, had run over and over in his mind in the dark of his room. "It's not that, that has me so bothered. I can accept an honest misstep on my part, I can accept that. It's just that—it's only--"
"What is it, old fellow?" I put my paw on his trembling shoulder.
"Basil, I need to know: have I lost my dignity?" His sensitive face was drawn with nerves as he waited for my response.
I pressed his shoulder before stepping back and beginning to speak quietly. "Dignity is not something you can lose. It's something that you choose to keep, or throw away. That's different from respect, Dawson. Respect is not in our control, for we cannot influence how others see us, you understand? Dignity is tripping in a puddle, losing your hat, and still walking with your head high, though you're dripping wet and your fur is in complete disarray. It's—choosing to go on, you see."
"I suppose I can understand that," he said at last, slowly. "And I know what choice I'll make, the choice I've always made. It's only—I wish I could forget it all."
"No no, you don't really wish that," I said, stooping to retrieve my pipe. "After all, if we forgot embarrassing memories, what would there be to talk over on winter nights?"
He raised a brow. "Basil, you've never told me of anything embarrassing that's happened to you, and we've had quite a few winter nights."
I rubbed my pipe on my sleeve with an air of drama. "It has to be a specific type of winter night, Doctor, before I open the vault on that."
"And—is tonight one of those nights?" He leaned forward, eyes twinkling at the levity.
I peered out the window with grave seriousness to inspect the falling snow, then turned back to face him abruptly. "By Jove it is! Are you quite comfortable? It is truly a long yarn to spin, Dawson, so I imagine we'll need to refresh ourselves with biscuits somewhere in the middle of it. Biscuits, you see, go along with this specific type of winter night."