Title: Green Eyed, Grey Eyes, Hazel, and Everything Inbetween
Rating: T (for drug use, violence, and angst)
Summary: Fulfilling additional wish 11. I wish for (1): A fic, early in the partnership, where Watson's way with the ladies provokes a bit of jealous pique in Holmes. No slash, no death, optional drug use.
A/N: This was for the 2009 fic exchange for Watson's Woes. I didn't make a wish, just fulfilled some fic dreams. This was supposed to be a nice, easy, fluffy short to go between my two epics I'm working on, but this rabid plot bunny rode me to the ground right in the middle of finals week. Whatever, biocalculus is for chumps, anyways.
Happy Solstice, darlings.
All dramas are considered to fit into one of two categories: comedy or tragedy. However, the drama of life itself in all its infinite complexities is able to irrevocably affect both simultaneously when enabled through the device of irony. Take for instance, the idea that one never knows what they have until that thing is gone and take for granted what they have until it's lost. Never was there a wiser thing spoken or such sage advice dispensed. However, it was not the wise who came by this knowledge, but a great many fools instead.
And for once, I must be counted amongst them.
The circumstances that lead to this harrowing assessment are as follows. It was December the twenty-third in the year 1881, some five months after Watson and I had become roommates and had taken to assisting me on many of my cases, though none during this time had been quite as intriguing as the Jefferson Hope case. However, with Christmas fast approaching it seemed as if Père Noël had come early to deliver me a singularly bizarre and gory case. Miss Abigail Kelly, a recent debutante, had nearly found herself destitute as a bastard son of her late father came forward to claim his rightful inheritance. Not only that, but Miss Kelley's most likely suitor, a Mr. Clark Evans had been brutally murdered around the same time. Craig Taylor, the late Mr. Kelly's bastard son, had naturally become the primary suspect though he denied having anything to do with it.
The simplest answer would be that Taylor was lying and that he killed Evans to ensure he would receive the optimum amount of money before it was funneled into Miss Kelley's dowry. While there are a great many simple answers in the world, I flatter myself in claiming that I am one of the few people who can see the much greater and more complex answers, answers that no one would even think to consider.
It also became clear to me that Evans had been stabbed fourteen times by someone who was right handed, while Taylor was definitively left handed due to a childhood accident that partially crippled his right. Honestly, there seemed to be little hope for Scotland Yard. Consequently, Watson had noted that Taylor suffers from the early affects of the recent medical discovery of a condition described by Dr. George Huntington, a disease which is hereditary in nature where either one or both parents must also suffer its effects. The late Mr. Kelly did not have it nor, after some gentle questioning from Watson, did Taylor's mother. We were quite assured of his candidness, seeing that growing up in a rural town outside London with little to do with even the few country doctors that existed, he would have little knowledge of an inherited degenerative disease that had only been seriously studied in the past decade or so.
After I made some additional inquiries, it was irrefutably determined that Taylor was not even an illegitimate son of the late Mr. Kelly and once that was established, Taylor admitted that his near solid evidence against that fact was provided to him by another source, who was in all likelihood the one who murdered Evans. Taylor was unaware of this person's identity although it was obvious it would have to be someone close in the Kelly's acquaintances.
Thus, our investigation—for Watson had become my unofficial partner to my fledgling, made-up business though around this time he had begun working part time at St. Bart's—had led to us observing said acquaintances during a winter fête or even more torturous, a Christmas party. To be fair, although that party would forever be remembered as one of the worst nights of my adult life, it had started out quite splendidly. The only reason I had even considered attending was because I was in such high spirits at the wonderful success of our investigation so far. Additionally, Watson had finally regained a goodly portion of his constitution, or at least enough that his formal dress wear did not hang off his frame as all his clothes had earlier in the year. In fact, I remember quite clearly that I had remarked on how grand the two of us looked that night in our finest suit and tails, two men not even financially solvent enough to maintain a proper roof over our heads without depending on the other, attending a soirée with some of London's social elite at their invitation to solve their petty problems. I found the whole thing rather laughable, even more so because my companion acted unduly nervous over the whole affair.
However it seemed he had nothing to fear at all for barely an hour into the festivities, whereas I was surreptitiously eyeing the crowd for a likely suspect, flitting from conversation to conversation to glean one ounce of useful information while putting some of my best acting skills at work to convince those around me I was entirely bored with their excruciating dullness, Watson made his way through the room not with the ease of a born actor like me, but someone who was readily accepted and immediately liked by those around him. Whenever I deigned to check on him, he was never without company, talking, laughing and engaging in a whole manner of things that I was quite sure was not furthering our investigation, though I let it alone as Watson was not a natural investigator, unable to recognize the parts without the strings that attached them together.
It irked me nonetheless, especially when I had desired to discuss my preliminary findings with him, only to discover him by the piano listening to one of the ladies play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Watson was listening with all the attentiveness he normally paid during my performances, meaning he was unlikely to pay me any heed even if I did approach him, which was profoundly vexing since the lady's performance was appallingly mediocre. If he was going to ignore me, it could at least be for a worthy pianist. I have discovered that Watson, although possessing no musical abilities himself, has a profound spiritual appreciation for it, which obviously allows him to overlook the noticeable absence of the piece's difficult third movement. Nor could I see how he could be truly be paying attention to the performance when he was attending to another woman who had her arm about his as they stood by the seat of the grand.
I decided to focus my attention on five of those I suspected most as culprits, which also allowed me to keep a better eye on Watson. When the lady had finished on the piano, Watson was then set upon by several others to take to the floor. The Doctor proved to be quite an accomplished dancer. He treated his partners like they were the most delicate flower, gentle but firm as he led them through the various turns and twists of the dance, his naturally masculine form leading the softer graces of his feminine partners of which he was never in wanting for. It seemed like he could not even make it halfway through a dance before attracting another to his side and although he soon gave up one for another, each of his partners bestowed him with a glowing smile.
I had never before seen Watson this way before and it was then that I suddenly realized that I had never seen Watson so well before either. This was the first major social event he had attended since regaining his health. Indeed, his limp, which only now became profound in exceptionally foul weather, was nowhere to be seen as he glided along the dance floor.
Despite my musings on my fellow lodger, I was still devoting the majority of my brain power in determining the killer who was still at large, very possibly in this same room. I still only suspected, but it was the intimate bare touch of his hand against hers that confirmed my theory. The under butler, an upright rather sturdy young man around my own age tenderly pulled Miss Kelley aside and offered to polish her silver tiara, has hands already bare as he reached into his pockets to remove a small bottle of silver polish. I had a flash of insight, remembering that of all the hired help Miss Kelley had referred to that under butler by his full name and that I had found splashes of ammonia present around Evan's body, most likely to clean or disinfect the blood from the killer's knife or hands, ammonia that would be in a household recipe for silver polish, a bottle of which was currently being held in the under butler's hand, unlabelled, meaning it was an original mix. I had my man.
I hurriedly made my way to where Watson was still dancing, not caring if other couples had to waltz out of my way to avoid collision, the heat of the chase thrumming in my very blood.
"Watson, come along now. This investigation is about to reach a stunning end!" I said excitedly, already practically bouncing on my feet to give chase.
Watson, for his part, blinked in mild confusion before reluctantly pulling away from his partner. "Ah, I see. Do you require me then for the conclusion of the case?"
Require, I repeated in my head incredulously. No, I did not strictly require him to be present, but I would have thought—it was our investigation, after all! I naturally thought that he would want to also be present at its conclusion. He had helped to solve it, had willing come along with me from the start.
He had only turned his head to answer me, the rest of him was still facing his partner who was glaring at me as if she fully expected me to beat a hasty retreat so that she could monopolize Watson once more and continue dancing. Watson waited expectantly for my answer, hands still wrapped around hers like he fully intended to do just that.
The truth hit me harder than any brick could. Watson was now on his way to becoming as healthy as he could ever hope to be and with the return of his health marked the end of his dependency on me for companionship and diversion from his convalescence. With his renewed vigor he could now lavish his generosity and humor on those of whom it would not be entirely wasted. Indeed, it had already begun. His new position at St. Bart's was the result of several acquaintances he had made at a club he was just admitted to. He had lunch with them, last Friday at Simpsons, in fact. He was now free of the confines of Baker Street and thus had the ability to attract to him a great many other friends just as tonight had shown.
He was no longer required to put up with me, no longer needed to grudgingly accept my eccentricities and foul moods. I may be more intelligent, more musical, and more interesting than any other of his companions, but none of them would inflict the casual cruelty when too engrossed in a case to notice, nor knock him up at all hours of the night, or show a general lack of manners whenever present. It seemed that only by the barest of margins, he was still willing to accept my company if only for my skills as a detective.
"Yes, I require your assistance. As a pensioner and a doctor you lay claim to only a few specific uses, therefore I would hardly ask for your help otherwise," I snapped, snatching his hand out of that of his partner's and dragging him along after me, trying not to notice how he resisted me or that several others in the crowd chirped up to inquire where he was going.
If this was the only way he would have me, then I would take it in an instant because I am selfish and an overall pathetic excuse for a human being.
And because I had considered John Watson to be my best and only friend in the world and it seemed apparent that he did not share the sentiment.
I curtly informed him of my discoveries as I led him over to the closet where our coats had been checked in. I had managed to stow a revolver in the pocket of my great coat and was in the process of rifling through the dozens of other coats, hats, and scarves to retrieve it when I heard the click of that very same gun sound from behind me.
Both Watson and I turned slowly to face the gunman who was no other than Jeremy Richards, the Kelly family's under butler and who would have had access to the closet and the power to search through anything there. The coat closet was far from the main hall and all of the serving staff would be helping with the festivities. Help was not likely to come.
His face was suffused with rage. "You two ruined everything. My chances with Abigail are gone, finished! I loved her, dammit, and now I haven't got the slightest chance in the world!" He shifted the gun to the left, the fatal bullet inside it aiming now at Watson. "And you, if you hadn't opened your mouth, everyone would have accepted Taylor's story. Abigail would have lost much, but I would have been a good husband to her! Now I can only remain her servant," he snarled bitterly, finger ominously tightening over the trigger.
I laughed, forced the sound out of my lungs even though my chest was constricting with fear. I arranged my face into a cold mask, easily managed through considerable practice.
"Doctor Watson hardly brought about your downfall Richards. I knew it was you from the start," I mocked because no mastermind likes to be informed he was not one. "It was all quite apparent once you killed Evans in a fit of jealous pique. You threw away your own chances. Very sloppy. Amateur." I let a sneer curl around the word for added effect.
Richards' plan had been nothing of the sort. It was cunning and well played. He used his intimate knowledge of the family's secrets and devised a way to conveniently place him back in the running as an eligible suitor. He most likely would have succeeded if jealousy had not clouded his judgment.
It seemed jealousy had ruined both our evenings.
My words blessedly reached the desired effect and when Richards' murderous rage finally caused his finger to press down on the trigger, the gun was once again aimed at me. My own plan had succeeded, as it often does.
However, unpredictable to the utmost degree, I had not counted on the Doctor flinging himself in front of me at the last possible moment.
It was instantaneous. Richards' angry bellow was accompanied by the deafening bang of the gunshot and then the sickening sound of a bullet ripping into flesh and Watson being flung forward into me by the force of the shot.
I am not very often compelled to initiate physical closeness and if I am it is usually a great deal hesitant and uncomfortable, but in that moment I caught Watson in my embrace with nary a thought, holding him to me and supporting his weight as I sank numbly to the ground.
Miss Kelly materialized from somewhere further down the hall, pulling on the under butler's arm with a look of both shock and horror, the smoking gun clattering to the floor.
"What have you done? My God, Jeremy, why?" she cried. "I wanted to marry you. I swear to you, I did! Money or not, but now—"
I freely admit to losing track of just about everything except for the slick feel of blood running over my hand and the breathless sounds of pain in my ear. I focused on nothing else but the person currently pressed against me. I hadn't been hit myself and couldn't feel any additional wetness on my own person, meaning that there was no exit wound. With a trembling hand, I forced myself to feel for the point of entry.
Watson jerked reflexively, shuddering away from my touch. He cried something out. It could have been my name. I can't honestly recall, though my memory is usually quite pristine.
"Steady on, old chap," I whispered, struggling to keep my touch as gentle as I could possibly manage.
The bullet wound was about two thirds of the way down his back on his right side. Filed in my brain attic was unsystematic knowledge of the human body. Most likely kidney damage, possible liver damage if the bullet penetrated further. I could feel bone fragments just inside the wound. Splintered ribs, nine, ten or eleven. He could live. If he got immediate medical attention and he didn't bleed out, he could live.
I needed help.
Watson needed help.
I didn't realize I had said it until I was practically screaming it. Just down the hall was a room with ninety three guests in it, thirty-nine male and forty-four female, all with higher education. The statistical probability of one being a doctor must be at least a twelve percent chance of getting immediate medical aid. I would have to do something in the four minutes and eleven seconds it took for someone to reach us. I lowered Watson to the ground, curled up slightly on his side. I really had nothing with me. It was usually Watson who brought supplies. He's the one to bring his doctor's bag. I remove my pocket square and my handkerchief as well as Watson's and press them against the wound to staunch the flow of blood, slowly pooling on the black and white marble tile beneath him.
"H-Holmes…" his voice is so weak the only reason I can hear him is because I'm kneeling very close, hovering above him.
I shushed him. "Don't speak, dear fellow. Everything will be—" I choked on the words, shaking my head angrily. "Where's that bloody doctor? Stay awake, Watson. Don't—"
"H-Holmes, can't. I-I…I'm so…I'm sss…" he hissed and spasmed a little.
If he said he was sorry, God help me, I would strangle him into silence. I, who could think of no one but myself, who had insisted he accompany when he didn't need to. I, who had been selfish and unworthy of the attentions for which I was jealous of. If anyone was sorry, I was. I was profoundly sorry.
"C-can't, s-slipping in-in…t-to sss-shock," he stuttered.
With my free hand, sticky from his drying blood, I checked his pulse, eyes, and hands. Thready pulse, dilated pupils, clammy skin, shallow breaths.
"Don't die then," I insisted. "Just…don't die, Watson."
A doctor arrived, two in fact. Watson was rushed to the nearest hospital and to surgery. Watson's blood was left on the floor, the part where he had laid partially smeared. My previously white pocket square, now saturated crimson, laid in the middle of one of the black tiles, mirroring the way the white tiles were awash with shining pools of blood. I left everything behind. My coat, my gore splattered handkerchief, the investigation, and my jealousy.
I had no right to be jealous, to begrudge Watson the right to make much better friends than I, friends that would never land him in such a dire mess as I had.
The first twenty-four hours were crucial. If he survived those twenty-four hours, he could have chance at recovery. He was kept under anesthesia. I decided I hated the smell of chloroform and of hospitals in general. While others passed the day preparing for Christmas, shopping, cooking, traveling, and spending time with family, I only marked its passage with the gradual waning of the sun.
Inspector Lestrade stopped by to update me on the conclusion of the Evans murder investigation. Richards confessed and committed suicide inside his cell. It was suspected that Miss Kelley had slipped him something during her brief visit. He offered his condolences and best wishes on behalf of the Yard. I wondered rather bitterly if anyone was anticipating a grand payoff tonight. That there had been bets within Scotland Yard on how long Watson would stay on as my roommate was no secret. I know quite a few had already lost money since Watson had lasted nearly five months with me, but I doubted anyone had been banking on Watson's swift exit as a result of death. If they did, I would find them and maim them permanently for life.
The hospital attendants forced me to leave promptly at nine. I stalked around the outside of the building for about an hour before I broke in through the basement window. I sat in the armchair by his bedside and pulled up my knees to my chest so that the orderlies on their nightly rounds would see only the high back of the chair. I watched the flickering flame of the single candle upon his bedside, but eventually my gaze arrested on his pale, motionless face.
John Watson in the five months I had known him, still remains a complete enigma to me. I could guess a man's profession in the first few minutes, his general livelihood within a week. Watson, however, I could not fathom to any degree. He would kick up a horrible fuss whenever I wasted our good brandy for my experiments, but found my propensity for indoor target practice laughable. He didn't turn a hair when he discovered my occasional use of cross-dressing in the course of an investigation, only remarking that I should increase my breast size if I intended for men not to notice my spare hips. He readily trusts his fellow man, though he is hardly naïve. His eyes hold too much grief for that and yet his smiles are not a rare occurrence. He smiles at fine weather, to the boy whose knee he patches up in our sitting room, when he reads books, when he listens to me play my violin…
He is the only person I have ever met that asks, 'How are you?' and means it, actually listens to your response because he genuinely cares about your state of being rather than just asking out of politeness. He is the ideal physician because he works in every way to heal a person. He's intelligent in his own way, loyal, brave, and reliable. An anchor to my otherwise storm tossed ship.
I had counted myself lucky to know him and felt it nothing short of a miracle that we had built a tentative friendship. I never told him as much, trusting that my actions spoke louder than words. Now I add regret to my already choking guilt.
"Sir, how did you get in here?"
I was so exhausted that I did not visibly start. I turned my head towards the speaker, who was revealed to be a nurse with iron grey hair, mid forties to early fifties, four children, a house somewhere near Chelsea, spent the morning baking cinnamon bread and French croissants.
I would have normally rattled off such deductions with a flourish, but there was no point when my audience lay silent.
The nurse shook her head. "It doesn't matter, young man. I'm just here to check on him."
"How is he?" I asked as she went about her examination.
"He's been through the wars, this one. His vitals are still weak, but there's still a good chance."
"He's survived once before. He can do it again," I said with as much conviction as I could muster.
"It seems to me that what you need is a Christmas miracle. I advise you start praying, young man. You're in luck, it's nearly midnight and the Lord listens twice as hard the night before the holy birth."
"God has nothing to do with any of this. It could have all been avoided through mortal means. If I had simply been better than I was…" I trailed off, dropping my gaze to the floor. "At any rate, Christ would have been born in April or March. No miracles will happen tonight."
"Yes and the pagans danced around naked to make sure the sun would rise. Seeing that the Earth hasn't yet been plunged in perpetual night, there must be something to it all. Now pray. If you have made a mortal mistake, divine intervention should do the trick. If you aren't too arrogant to ask for help, maybe God will take pity on you and fix it. Good night." The nurse nodded imperiously to me and strutted out from the room.
I sat there, weighing my options and slowly, very slowly, slid out of my armchair and onto the floor, on my knees with my forearms resting on the mattress of Watson's hospital bed.
I knelt there like a boy during his bed time prayers. For several minutes I did nothing and it wasn't arrogance that made me hesitate to ask God to deliver my friend back to me, but fear because I deserved no such mercy.
Perhaps you think me maudlin or overly dramatic, but it is not so. Everything that was good in me was lying in that hospital bed, dying. I relied on Watson for many things, to follow my exact orders, to notice the subtle nuances of emotions I was wont to miss, to carry extra bandages, to be a crack shot even in the dark and fog of London nights, and I relied on Watson to find something more in my capricious soul and act as a mirror to reflect the good he finds in there and proving its existence through the utter loyalty he devotes to me.
I wasn't sure if his near sainthood made up for what I was lacking. I wasn't sure if it would be enough.
By the time church bells all across London chimed midnight, I had finished my prayer. Despite what anyone may think, I believe in God, if only because when John Watson walked into my life those few months ago, I'm wise enough to know it was a blessing.
In the early morning of Christmas day when the doctor came to check on Watson, it was with a pronouncement that his vitals had vastly improved and had begun operating once more at a normal level. It was one in the afternoon when he finally stirred. I aided him in drinking water, gently helping him get the straw to his no doubt, parched mouth and throat.
"Have you been here all night, Holmes?" Watson asked after satisfying his thirst.
"Yes," I answered simply.
Watson, you see, isn't inquiring after the obvious. He isn't stupid, I would never have tolerated him as a companion if he could not deduce that much. He is asking much, much more. He was asking if I was worried for him, if I cared, and if I was alright, only he knew that these questions would have been impossible for me to answer aloud, so he refrained from saying them. He also knew that I knew this, so when I gave my reply, he answered it with a gentle smile. As I said before, Watson is nothing less than all that is good in me.
I stood up, mentally marveling at the weariness I felt at doing so. I collected my coat, hat, and scarf, turning only when I had reached the door and put one hand on the handle.
"I request that you recover as quickly as you are able, so that we may repair back to Baker Street as soon as possible. I am certain you are about as keen on hospitals as I am, if not more so considering your history."
He frowned. "If you are not returning to Baker Street, where are you going?"
Good heavens, I thought, had the exhaustion of the past few days make me so transparent as to let slip I had no intention of returning to Baker Street while he remained in the hospital? But no, surely not. It was Watson, after all.
I treated him with a look of perfectly executed incredulity. "Why I am going to mass, dear boy. It is Christmas day, though I can understand if you haven't exactly noticed. You have been quite ill, I'll grant. I shall be back within the hour."
The shock on his face was priceless. Watson knows me better than any other man on this earth and it is for that reason that I derive so much pleasure in surprising him.
Watson was allowed back to Baker Street the day after Christmas for the rest of his recovery. This only occurring after many assurances that as a doctor himself, Watson would know if he needed to opt for additional care. A nurse was also to come by every few days seeing as I had enough medical training to recognize the signs of infection and how to regularly change bandages. If he had an internal hemorrhage I would be relatively useless, but by then only divine intervention would save him at that point and as I had totally exhausted my resources in that quarter, I decided that if he were to die, he might as well die at home for he was absolutely miserable at the hospital being prodded by doctors and asked questions he already knew the answer to and the smell. The smell, he said, was the worst. Apparently even hospitals in India smell the same. Ammonia and stale urine, laudanum and formaldehyde. Even I, who have no negative memories to which to associate, was more than glad to leave it.
For the next few days he did little more than sleep. He could barely move at all without being in pain and he refused to take more than less the minimum amount of morphine and only then when breathing became an agony. I brought him his books and played for him proper renditions of Beethoven's works and took my meals with him, though I was working equally to settle the Kelly inheritance scandal and as always, scouting for another interesting case.
I was telling him about some promising findings in the agony columns when Mrs. Hudson intruded to hand over half a dozen calling cards. Two were for me, the other four were from females and they were all for Watson.
He twice injured doctor sighed as he read the names. How he could even remember those women without perfect photographic memory such as I possess, I had no idea. He spent one night, perhaps only even one dance with them.
"I am doomed once more to convalescence without any visitors whatsoever, I'm afraid," Watson grumbled miserably. "I'm not very much up to having guests." He rested his gaze on me, hazel eyes reflecting the blue of his pajamas. "At least I have you, old chap. I think I'd go mad otherwise. I hope I'm not too much of a bother."
"You aren't. Excuse me for a moment," I mumbled, legging it out of the room as quickly as I could manage without practically fleeing.
I didn't have very far to go. Watson was currently installed in my room on the first floor since it was closer to the water closet. I flung myself in my armchair and drew up my knees, staring hard into the cheery flames of our fireplace. It seemed the antithesis to my mood and I had half a mind to snuff it out and leave it as a pile of sodden ashes.
Why are you being so churlish, a voice in his head whispered snidely. You have what you wanted. Watson is entirely at your disposal once more. Soon his new friends will forget him and you shan't have to compete for his attentions.
Admittedly, a corner of my mouth did quirk a little upwards at this.
It's better like this, just as it used to be. What shall you do when he gets better again, I wonder?
I can always push him down the stairs, I thought mildly.
The moment it entered my mind, I wanted to be rid of it just as quickly. I nearly flew into a panic as I tore open my desk drawer and retrieved my morocco case. By whatever means, I no longer wanted to be myself. Desperation made my hand shake as I loaded the syringe with the substance Watson could so easily deny himself. I couldn't be bothered to check the amount or ascertain whether or not there was a danger of any air bubbles entering my bloodstream. If I didn't purge myself fast enough, I would remember how disgusting a human being I am. I would remember what it felt like to hold Watson's bleeding body in my arms and feel the protruding splinter of bone through ruined flesh. If I lost myself in the drugs, I could forget that for a fraction of a second I was actually contemplating causing such a thing again and all for the sake of emotions I continuously professed to not be affected by.
Blessed relief was a depressed plunger away when something other than my own cursed mind entered my thoughts.
"Holmes, I have already taken my morphine for today and at any rate, that is far too much. That is a lethal dose."
I squeezed my eyes shut and eased the needle from my arm. "Of course, I must have been mistaken."
"Holmes," even though I could not see his face, I knew he was choosing his words carefully, "if you are having problems taking care of me, I can…"
"It isn't that!" I snapped. "Nothing so simple or so easy as that."
Watson wore a carefully blank expression as he shuffled painfully from the bedroom doorway and sitting gingerly upon the settee beside me where he rested his shoulder against the back to keep the pressure off his back wound.
"You shouldn't," he was looking so deeply into my eyes I was forced to look away, "you shouldn't blame yourself for what happened. I took the bullet willingly."
"Why?" the word was torn from me before I could even begin to try and stop it.
He blinked, genuinely confused by my inquiry. "Why? You are my friend. I would not see you hurt for anything."
But it hurt to see him with other people, hurt to know that the moment he was healthy enough, he would leave me without a moment's notice.
When my silence dragged on, Watson reached out a tentative hand and placed it atop the hand that still loosely held the syringe. "Holmes, your friendship is worth more to me than you can possibly imagine. You are a very special and unique individual."
"Special," I spat. "As if I need to be reminded that if I did not possess such singular talents, my company would hardly be tolerated by you or anybody else, that if I weren't an interesting enough past time while you had no one else to turn to, our friendship would have no base at all."
There, I had said it and in doing so revealed thousands of tiny pains I had desperately been trying to hide. That I could not bear to share that which I had been searching my entire life for was one. That all of my acquaintances had deserted me before Watson was another. And of all the things to consider special, it was he who I thought was special, but in the end it turned out he was exactly the same, only worse because I had begun to care for him and rely on him. He was inexplicably more to me than just his various uses like others I had known. I just…didn't know what to do or what to say because I never really had a friend before.
"Holmes, I took a bullet for you. Is that not proof enough?"
"You would do the same for a stranger. That is simply a part of who you are," I said.
I couldn't simply let the issue lie. I am not a man who does anything in halves. Either Watson was my friend or he was not. It was as simple and horrible as that.
"True, I would not hesitate to lay down my life for my country or my fellow man. It would be my duty to do so, but the reason I rushed to stand in the path of Richards' gun was because you had been willing to do so first. That bullet was meant from me from the start. Don't deny you had purposefully goaded the killer into focusing his attention and his wrath on you."
"It is merely reciprocation, then," I replied dully.
"No and yes. These things aren't so simple as your puzzles, Holmes. I gladly risked life and limb because I didn't want to lose you, as my friend. You who were my friend while I was still unnerved by thunderstorms and tea cups that were set down too loudly. You who looked at me and for once explained to me just how I received my injuries and did so like it was a mere statement of fact, like it hardly effected me as a man and while others looked at me with pity, you decided to bring me along on a murder investigation. Yes, you were a grand diversion, thankfully one that kept me from drinking myself to death or destitution. Did you think I would give you up the moment I could find better company?" he exclaimed and when he said it, it certainly did sound rather absurd. "True friends are the ones who stick with you when you are sick, not the people glad to spend time with you when you show no trace of it. I had no idea you had such a poor opinion of me."
"I hold you in high regard. That is why, I must admit…" my cheeks flushed. "The other night, at the party, when you were with all those ladies, I was somewhat…jealous of your attentions."
Watson cocked his head slightly in amused curiosity. "You are quite handsome yourself, Holmes. I don't see why, with a little effort, you could not be as successful as I in such matters."
I spluttered. If he was not already injured I may have challenged him to a round of fisticuffs. "Watson, that's appalling. I care nothing about whether those odious women think my hair is the brightest ebony or my body is wonderfully svelte. I simply do not like the idea that I must compete for your attentions. I may be handsome, but I assume it has little effect on you."
Watson chuckled appreciatively. "Holmes, you are the only man—the only person who could request anything of me and I would follow with little to no convincing. Even I would question if a woman asked for me to come to her country estate at once to investigate a haunted broom shed and would inquire into the specifics before going. I will not lie, Holmes. Someday, I may take a wife, but the tribulations of marriage are much different than the adventures I happily share with you."
It was a lot to take in, having a true friend for the first time in my life.
I was still rather new at it so I said, rather inelegantly. "I have a Christmas present for you. I meant to wait until you were recovered, but—"
"Ha! I knew there was a simpler explanation for your disappearance than you setting foot in a place of worship."
"Now, now, Watson, you know my methods. Though improbable, it is not entirely impossible that I would do such a thing and rest assured I did indeed attend Christmas mass. My purposes simply took less than the usual allotted time. Honestly, you didn't expect me to stay singing the hymns, did you? The man beside me was tone deaf and more than a little 'merry'," I drawled.
I had said my grudging thanks and left. I still rather suspect Watson's outstanding fortitude had as much to do with it, but I did promise I would try and treat him better and Sherlock Holmes is nothing but a man of his word.
Fatigued, Watson merely gazed at me with open fondness as he unknowingly slumped forward to rest tiredly onto my upper arm.
"I have a gift for you as well," he murmured sleepily. "It's—"
"Hidden inside the yellow striped hat box in the entry hall closet," I finished.
He harrumphed into my sleeve. "You better not have peeked."
"Of course I did not," I replied.
I was telling the truth. I had merely weighed it, shook it to listen for its contents, examined the wrapping paper under my microscope to determine what store it originated from, and tried coercing Mrs. Hudson into telling me what it was. It all amounted to nothing, however. Watson had made sure to buy generic paper, had padded the inside with some unidentifiable article of softness and weighed it down with rocks. Mrs. Hudson had only told me it was going to be a pile of coals if I kept harassing her.
Watson sighed. "You exhaust me, Holmes."
"I apologize. Sleep if you must, old boy."
"Bed's too far," he mumbled.
"It's fine," I replied and very tentatively wrapped my arm around his shoulders to keep him pressed against my side.
It was not unlike the embrace I held him in after he had been shot, however less urgent.
Watson's breathing evened out and I devised a new and improved strategy to monopolize his attentions.
I would simply tell any imposing female that I had slept with him.
And so it passed that by New Years there were some very strange rumors circulating around.
Only Mary Morstan would hear the real story.