"Well, we really should have done this earlier."
Mr. Holmes kissed my outstretched hand, smirking knowingly at me as I stepped around to take my seat at the three-person table tucked away in a corner of the crowded Royale dining room.
It had been three weeks since the end of that terrible Blackwood mystery, and John and I were happily married and living quietly (so far) in a little place of our own. I hadn't seen or spoken to the detective since the day John moved his last items from their shared rooms.
John had said this little dinner was a bit of a "try again" in meeting Holmes and actually sitting somewhere public with him. I wondered if John simply wanted to see if the man could behave himself.
I hadn't know him for more than a month or so, but even I knew the answer to that was a resounding no.
But John seemed hopelessly optimistic.
He drew back my chair for me, casting Mr. Holmes a pointed look over my head that he was naïve enough to believe I didn't notice. "Well, lets all hope this goes a bit smoother than last time."
Mr. Holmes shook out his napkin, widening his eyes innocently at John as he settled with a bit of difficulty into the seat opposite my own. "I thought we weren't going to speak of that?" he mock whispered, adding a blocking hand to the side of his mouth for effect.
John glared, "We aren't."
"Then why did you bring it up at all?"
"I purposefully worded my first remark to pretend as if this was our first dinner together as a happy little . . . threesome, but you-
"Gentlemen!" This was quite adorable and all, but it could last all night if I didn't put a stop to it. When I had both their attention, I shook out my own napkin and deliberately laid it across my lap. "Are we having some wine?"
"Of course. Of course," John smiled, giving the detective one last warning glance, to which Holmes merely smirked, an absurd look of glee suddenly brightening his face. This man was truly insufferable at times.
I tapped his arm to get his attention, a little surprised when he twisted quickly to stare at me, almost on his guard. I wondered if that inherent distrust stemmed from so many nefarious people trying to take his life. Or he was simply socially inept - the latter of which I felt was more likely.
"Let me guess, Mr. Holmes," I declared, trying to sound confident in the face of the most intelligent man in London, "you like a nice Bordeaux with your steak."
He quirked an eyebrow, glanced once more at Watson with an amused air, and pursed his lips. "Well done," he responded, putting his chin in his palm and giving me his full, and slightly patronizing, attention. "May I ask how you came to this conclusion?"
"There was a bottle of Bordeaux on your side board in your rooms, and the last time we were here during that unfortunate incident that shall not be mentioned," I smiled, "and I distinctly recall looking back as I left last time and seeing you eating a steak. Very simple, actually."
He glanced over my head for a moment and then nodded at me. "You'd make an admirable detective." He clapped lightly, and even through the condescension, I could sense something grudgingly respectful in the gesture. "Though," he continued, staring back again at John with that strange mix of affection and desire to rankle, "I'm afraid I ordered duck this evening."
"Oh, well," I shrugged, "I suppose I need a bit more practice."
John's eyes darted between us and then he abruptly stood. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment."
I couldn't even respond before he was hobbling between tables, disappearing to god-only-knows where.
Mr. Holmes didn't seem so surprised. He watched his friend depart with a shrewd eye.
"He is still favoring his shoulder," he finally commented.
I caught a look of guilt. "I am sorry -"
"Don't be," I cut him off, "You are not his mother."
He smiled, wide and bright and actually genuine. "Good god! You would make an admirable detective."
I laughed. This man was insufferable, but he was also irritatingly charming when he wanted to be. "Yes, yes, my observational skills are not inconsiderable." I took a drink of my wine. He eyed the glass with a bit of distrust, probably remembering the last time he, a glass of wine, and I had all been in close quarters together.
"But really, Mr. Holmes," I began, more seriously this time, "you are not his keeper. Following you on your adventures makes John happy, despite his grumblings to the contrary. It adds excitement to his life and, quite honestly, I don't think he could survive without keeping an eye on you. He told me about what happened in the lab, when those men attacked you. If he hadn't been there-"
"I would have survived somehow. As you said he is not my keeper," he sounded insulted. He drank his own wine, much faster than I had mine. I realized I had upset him.
"No, but he loves you," I said, slowly, as if approaching a wounded, very feral animal, which I suppose, in a way, I was, "And he worries about you. Even now I catch him worrying about what you are doing and whether or not you are safe. It's quite contagious, I must say. I was walking near your street a few days ago and almost stepped in just to see if you were still alive."
His dark eyes scrutinized my face for a harrowing moment. I knew he was trying to read me for any trace of lies or deception. There wasn't any, I knew, but I still did not know how affected I could be by a simple look.
"Is that so?" he finally murmured, almost to himself, "I was under the impression you didn't like me?" He gave me one of those quick, brief smiles that was really more of a twitch.
I ducked my head to hide my blush. Lord knows why I was blushing, but I felt a bit shamed at the thought that he believed me so antagonistic towards him, especially after our talk by John's bedside.
"Was it the wine?" I tried to laugh off. My attempt was a bit awkward, but he smiled at me.
"Being left in jail, actually, concreted it in my mind."
"Oh!" I hadn't even given that a second thought, "I apologize, I do. I was a bit angry with you but I only left you there because I had no more money for your bail. I had to dip pretty deeply into my savings even to gather the money for John's release."
"Ah." He didn't seem to believe me, but he wiggled his head and took up his drink once more, this time downing it all in one swig. I wondered if he was nervous, underneath all that sarcasm and wit.
"No problem, really," he assured, "being on that side of the bars was . . . educational, to say the least."
I grew quiet at that, not sure how to respond. I didn't really even know if he was being sincere or trying to make me feel worse. At this point, I knew he was capable of both, but I was still at a loss as to how to distinguish between the two.
Oh, how I wished John would hurry back.
"Perhaps I could take this opportunity," he suddenly stated, quite loudly, so loudly I jumped, "this almost premeditated opportunity," he stole a glance to where his former flat mate had disappeared, "to . . . apologize for something else, then."
"And what would that be, Mr. Holmes?"
"For my previous . . . blunder."
It took me a minute to understand him. Then I realized he meant the dinner that shall not be mentioned. Even more specifically, he meant that last and very unfortunate deduction he had made about me.
"It's quite alright," I stammered, "I understand why you behaved the way you behaved." This was not something I really wanted to discuss at the moment. I cast another hopeful glance towards the back to see if John was returning.
He was not. Damned man had done this on purpose.
"Really? And why did I behave the way I behaved?"
I took a breath and decided to plunge in, "Because of John. Let's be honest with each other, Mr. Holmes. Had I been Queen Victoria herself, you would have tried to find something amiss with me-"
"I assure you-"
"Because you wanted John to stay with you. I understand this - I love him as well. I wouldn't let him go that easily either."
He looked a bit affected. More than a bit, actually. He looked downright crestfallen at my words - at the thought that he had, indeed, been forced to let John go.
"Still," he continued, though quieter and more deliberately, "my deductions were woefully erroneous and insulting."
"You had no way of knowing about my . . . about his death."
"Oh, but I did."
"Really? And how would you have deduced something like that?"
"It's quite simple." He leaned forward. I could see his mind getting caught up in the workings of his fine-tuned deductions. He enumerated his points for me on his long, well-worn fingers, "First I can narrow down a broken engagement to four impetuses. One, a man breaks off the engagement .. . for whatever reason. . . But I can dismiss this possibility based on you - even within only a few moments of making your acquaintance I could see that you were well-read, intelligent, beautiful, good-natured, and wholly pleasant in almost every possible way - all which lead me to conclude that no man would ever break off an engagement with you."
I blushed and opened my mouth to ward off his compliments and accept them gracefully at the same time, but he gave me no chance, continuing on quickly, "Second, a woman may call off a wedding because she realizes she made an error in judgment concerning her betrothed's character or personality. I can quickly dismiss this as well, for the aforementioned reasons that you are intelligent - I don't believe you are capable of such an error. Third, you may have, as I . . . implied before . . . broken off the engagement for more selfish reasons such as reaching for better prospects. But my reason for dismissing this - as I should have done - is Watson."
I stared at him. I was not following his logic. "Watson?"
He shrugged nonchalantly, but began fiddling with the corner of his napkin and looked everywhere but at my face, "Watson loves you. That should be enough to assure me of your selflessness and pure character."
There was a heavy silence. I could have made a number of quips about John's judge of character, since he was so attached to Mr. Holmes, but I felt too flattered and overcome by this man's obvious depth of affection for my husband. It was quite daunting - and lovely.
So I settled on a soft and inadequate, "Thank you."
He ran a hand through his messy hair - really now, did this man's hair stay perpetually disheveled? - and continued on, "And then the fourth reason for a broken engagement is . . . death. So you see, whenever one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, must be the truth."
We were both silent, allowing the hustle and bustle of the restaurant invade our space for awhile. Mr. Holmes poured himself some more wine, studied the walls, the people, even the silverware, and then leaned back in his chair and finally looked at me again.
"John is certainly taking a long time." I commented.
"He left us here on purpose - he wanted me to apologize."
"You know, Mr. Holmes, you shouldn't tell someone that you were ordered to apologize to them, it really takes some of the meaning out of it."
"I wasn't ordered. I was . . . pushed," he flashed me an impish smile, "and now that I have, apologized, that is, I hope we can. . . get on better than we have before. At least for Watson's sake."
"Pfft," I scoffed, "John loves our bickering, makes him feel as if he were long the long suffering mediator between us. I don't think he'd know what to do with himself if we truly began to enjoy each other's company."
He laughed, "Well, then we must put on a bit of a front for him, hmm? Wouldn't want him to feel unneeded. In fact," he put a finger to his lips, shushing me and nodding his head quickly in the direction of John's returning figure, "I'd say we better keep all this good feeling to ourselves."
And so we did. And at the end of the dinner, when Mr. Holmes graced me with a sudden and insensitive remark about the quality decline of my jewelry from when he first met me, I threw my drink in his face.
Water, though, this time.
And he smiled.