The slice on my arm prohibited me from my usual outlets - holding the violin was simply too aggravating to it. I discovered my shag could only be smoked for so long before the visibility was obscured - Watson providing several theatrical coughs before I tapped out the dottle and opened the window in resignation. The seven per cent solution beckoned, but I had little enough time with my biographer before he decided he was well enough to finish the move to his new rooms. Where he would preen, and feather his nest, and await his lady bride.
I stopped myself from pursuing that line of thought. It had been Her suggestion that Watson return to Baker Street for recuperation, realizing that her own responsibilities - almost ended though they were - for her young charge would restrict the attention she could pay to her future husband's recovery. She had asked me privately, as a favour, to keep a watch on her fiancé. There was no way I would not have said yes, though I pretended to consider the situation. She regarded me with a warm affection, seeming to know exactly what I was doing. That affection was almost…sisterly.
I evaluated her request as a master evaluates a chess move. Doubtless it was part of her position as governess to know basic psychology, to be able to obtain the response she desired – or perhaps it was something she wasn't even aware of, certainly she could not see me as anything but a rival…
And then she took my hand in hers, mindful of my injury and the myriad small huts attendant on a brawl, and she said quietly to me that she could not replace me in Watson's affections, but neither would I replace her, and that love only increased the more it was given. That my friendship with him was part of what made him the man he was, the man she loved. The man we both loved.
It was simply a measure of my fatigue, the concern for Watson that had leapt to the front when I saw that Blackwood held my friend's cane in his hand - I had pushed it to one side to deal with that charlatan, and then discharge my duty to Irene; truth be told, I was afraid of what I might find below - I turned my hand in hers and returned the grasp. I did not speak. For the second time in her presence, I had no words.
I watched her as she helped him dress again, speaking to him quietly. I stood in the door and saw them as two in love – a state I had never aspired to, but could not now fail to recognize. And yet his gaze to me was warm and pleased when she formed the words 'Baker Street', and he reached for his cane and laid a friendly hand on my shoulder briefly as he left the room. Our ride home – for still it was, for him, for now – was quiet and amiable.
I tapped my chin idly, surveying the room. Watson was finishing some notes on the case, for posterity as I could not foresee permitting him to publish it, and I knew he would be occupied for another half-hour at least.
I stood and made for the drawer wherein I kept my revolver, and the attendant muffling experiment.
"Fire that thing and I'll write that you really did kill the dog," came the warning comment.
I did not reply, smoothly reaching past the drawer and grasping the first thing that came to hand. It was the tooth of the lion. I held it up and regarded it, remembering the strange journey I had taken. After I'd returned home, before Watson had been released to join me, I had attempted to write down some of the insights I'd gained during that night, some of the dichotomous issues of science and religion I had resolved.
Nothing had lingered. No vestige of insight remained.
I surveyed the rug. If I were to embark on such a journey again, I mused, with Watson noting what I said, and…
"…and you're not dosing yourself again with that rot, Holmes." Watson had laid down his pen and was watching me.
"It was just a thought." I placed the tooth down again and sat, sighing.
"You know me well enough, old man, take a guess."
Watson surveyed the room, understanding, looking for something to which he could direct my mind. This is a responsibility I would need to take on for myself, I realized, and sighed again.
"Tell me more about this - Moriarity." He retrieved his pen.
I nodded and slouched, steepling my fingers.
"What little is printed is this - he is a professor of mathematics, and was so for a prestigious university we are familiar with. He retired from there for reasons unknown but is evidently still involved."
He looked expectant.
"That is the sum of my knowledge."
He tossed his pen down again.
"Irene must have told you more."
I frowned slightly. "She did. She told me he was as brilliant as I, and ruthless. She told me he sought out weaknesses in his associates and enemies, and exploited them to turn them to his will."
Watson's brow was furrowed. "Weaknesses, Holmes?" He turned his gaze to the Moroccan case that held the syringe. "I would say that caution would be your watchword should you choose to indulge again. Be wary of anyone you meet in the ring, as well. And please, please remember your revolver. I won't be here to remind you, you know."
I smiled ruefully. "I will, I am, and I shall from now on, I promise you."
"Good. Give me a few more minutes and then perhaps a stroll? I have a desire for some well-prepared chips."
I nodded and slouched in my chair. Indeed, my Watson knew me well, as I knew him well. I knew he hadn't mentioned it by design. We were both aware, I could tell, as he found his own revolver and tucked it into his coat, and then held mine so I didn't have to strain the injury donning it.
We both knew. We had now garnered Moriarity's interest. Irene Adler's weakness was me. For myself, I only had one true Achilles heel and he was stumping down the stairs behind me. I could not but assume that Moriarity knew of our bond of brotherhood. My strength – and my weakness - was my Watson.