Ch. 19-It Draws to an End, It has Only Begun
I am not entirely certain there is a valid reason for me to continue this journal, but John assures me that there is. He is convinced that it will alleviate the frankly alarming amount of nightmares that I have suffered as of late, but I fail to see the logic of it. To which he replies that when it comes to emotions, especially fear, logic holds little sway. There is a rather rebellious part of me that wishes to ignore my John's advice and continue on as before (which consisted of me insisting that he was all that I needed). The first time that I made this point, my John gifted me with a most beautiful smile and a hand squeeze.
"You may be certain that you have me, Sherlock, but you still have fears and you need to work through them. I know you are not ready to talk to me about them, not yet, but you must let them out in a safe manner. Stuffing them away in a bottle just because they are unpleasant is how we landed ourselves in this situation in the first place and I can honestly speak for both of us, I believe, when I say we are not ready to go through that foolishness again."
Just the thought of my John being lost from my side again is enough to send chills throughout my entire body, and a panicked chant of 'nonononono' through my brain. Even if it costs me the very last breath in my body, I will stop that from ever happening again.
As my doctor clearly has more experience in these matters than I, I have bowed gracefully to his suggestion and lifted my pen to fulfill his request. After making a mental review of my nightmares, it is a safe conclusion that they revolve around my first meeting with John in the hospital after my deplorable behavior towards him. That meeting could have gone wrong in so many ways—so many—and my brain has been ceaseless in its efforts to calculate each and every one.
Ah. Perhaps this is what my John was trying to communicate with me. If I were to place on paper exactly what did happen, then it is entirely possible that I will begin to believe it.
Right then, from the beginning.
The note that was given to me by the maid of the Lion Hotel, which I keep safely tucked in the back of this journal, was short and concise.
That which you seek now resides at the Royal Hospital under that hidden name. Come with an apology in hand or do not come at all.
It was not signed and though I was clearly occupied by the contents of the message itself, another part of my brain was busy deducing all it could from the note. Good weight paper without being overly expensive. Curiously an English manufacture, not French. The hand was male, weak but firm, possibly from age or illness, or more likely both. The smell that lingered, despite residing in the maid's pocket for well over two days, was the scent I had come to associate with hospitals.
What was most telling and that lent authentication to the note was the fact that the man had used my doctor's pen. I would know the stroke of John Watson's pen, even when not used my him, before I would know my own.
I was moving even before I realised it, dismissing the maid from my thoughts as I rushed to the streets to hail a cab. It was only once I was safely seated and in route to my destination, that I began to wonder how the author of that note knew that I would be in that hotel. It was quickly chased away by the more crippling thought of what I was going to say to John once we were face to face. I had given it some thought, but none of the results were satisfactory and John deserved the very best I could give him.
My John, my noble John; what could I possibly say to him that would be adequate enough to convey that I think myself a fool and unworthy of forgiveness, but that he is the very thing that keeps my heart beating? Much as part of me disdained at the thought of the romantic drivel I was contemplating, another part did not care, for John would like because John is a romantic. That is what two people who love each other do for each other—they are romantic.
So how did I go about being romantic enough to win John back? Assuming, of course, that he forgave me.
It was this my mind chose to dwell on as we rattled ever closer to what ultimately would be my salvation or demise. My hand sank into one pocket and I was somewhat startled when I encountered the warm fur of the kitten I had rescued. It, apparently, was quite content as the vibration from its purrs leaked through my glove. Quite rebelliously my fingers began to stroke the small animal, the action inexplicably calming in its execution.
Would John be pleased that I had found her? He was obviously at least moderately attached to the beast if the excellent collar she sported was any indicator. Even as my mind overturned his possible reaction at her presentation, my attention was snared by a young couple on the street. The young fellow, like countless before, was wooing his fair maiden with an impressive bouquet of flowers. The maiden was clapping her hands in delight and the young man looked inordinately pleased with himself. Obviously still an early stage in his courtship plans.
Courtship! The resulting thunderbolt of an idea was rather impressive and it was all I could do to keep myself from squeezing the kitten by mistake. Of course, I thought triumphantly, that was how I would win my John back! I would court him. He was such a wondrous creature—it was the sort of behavior he deserved. His attention should be courted, by man or woman, though if I have my way, no other than I shall ever have the privilege to do so. It would allow me to demonstrate how I believe he should be truthfully treated, like the prince among men that he is.
But will he allow me that honor?
That thought brought me crashing from my hopeful heights and the thought of my doctor not forgiving me reestablished its strangle-like hold. Why would he? I certainly have not given him reason to.
But I would.
My cab ride came to an end and I sprang forth, taking the stairs two at a time. Once inside I accosted the first nurse I could find and enquired into the whereabouts of my missing companion. My distress must have moved her, as I spared no energy in attempting to mask it, and she immediately led me up three floors, explaining that the man in question was resting in the sun room. Just shy of our destination, however, we were brought to a halt by a small nurse that possessed, if I am any judge, a formidable temper. Even now, she reminds me of our own remarkable Mrs. Hudson.
"What is the meaning of this, Nurse?´" she demanded in clipped French.
My escort was clearly startled and, to my dismay, very guilty.
"He is here to see Monsieur Jameson," she admitted with a quick glance in my direction.
The small woman drew herself up to her full height, which admittedly could have been no higher than my chest, and dismissed the young girl with a glance. I will admit to a sharp flair of annoyance that caused the involuntary clenching of my fingers. John was so close, and it took every bit of my self-control (a much tried thing through this entire affair) not to swat the woman aside and search for him alone.
"Monsieur Jameson is extremely ill and should not be disturbed," she stated with such finality that my response exploded from me before I had time to examine it.
"I must see him!" It was desperate and anxious and louder than I had intended.
The deep disapproving frown that I received as a result was not at all reassuring. "And what is your business with him?"
I sucked in a deep breath, forcing my rapid heart to slow and to channel that desperation that would not be denied. "Madame, he is a good friend, one that I am sorry that I ever lost sight of and frankly I was horrified to learn that he was ill. And also, quite frankly, Madame, it will take more than you or any personnel within this hospital to keep me from his bedside."
Despite my passionate response, I received little sympathy. "He is very ill, monsieur, and has slept very poorly these last few days and I will not have him disturbed!" Again I was reminded of our stout landlady with this turn of phrase, though at the time there was no connection.
My body was beginning to vibrate with the sheer force it took to hold myself in place and I am afraid that what mask I had been able to erect was beginning to crumble.
"Madame Nurse, please, I beg of you…" I inexplicably found myself at a loss for words. Her expression continued to be unrelenting.
"Do you fail to undertand the meaning of the word 'no', Monsieur…?" she trailed off, obviously waiting for me to supply my name.
"Sherlock Holmes." It did not even occur to me to supply a false one.
As if my words were a missing key, her face unlocked, though she still regarded me with some wariness. "Monsieur Holmes?"
"Yes," I confirmed, now cautiously optimistic, if wary of the cause of the change.
"I have been instructed to allow you to visit with Monsieur Jameson, should you happen to come." Her fingers twitched in her skirt, clearly not happy with the order, and only reluctantly obeying it. "If you will follow me, I will take you to him."
My relief was clearly displayed by my sigh, if not by my expression. "I will do my best to make certain that I do not disturb him overly much," I promised, though judging by the disparaging glance thrown in my direction, she was no way convinced. We had not far to travel, merely around the next corner. She halted just outside the open doorway and pointed to an invalid chair not three feet away.
"There are others here, Monsieur Holmes," she reminded me in a whisper, "please make certain that you do not disturb them."
I bowed, murmuring my obedience to this one stricture. Mouth set in a thin line, the Head Nurse left me, and I waited until the smart click of her heels faded into the background.
There he was. There he was! My Watson, my John, the one being I would have—had—traversed Hell for in both the literal and figurative sense. Here lay the most critical juncture of my journey and all that need be done was for me to take a few short steps.
And yet I could not command my legs to move.
What was I to do? What was I to say? I had only just now decided on how I would attempt to win him back and even so, how did one go about courting another man? Should the same rules apply as those would for a woman? Research, I decided, research needed to be done and advice requested.
I should leave; return only when I had sufficiently prepared myself. John deserved no less. But I am self-aware enough to admit that if I were to turn my back now, I would be too much of a coward to return. For when it comes to matters of the heart, that is exactly what I am—a coward. It was my cowardice and inexperience that plunged us into this mess and by God I would see us out of it!
If only I could take that first step.
It was the near physical draw that I felt of having my beloved so close that eventually set my body in motion. At such a distance that I had previously stood, I could determine nothing of his condition. As I drew ever closer, my mind was thrown into overdrive, deducing every bit of evidence that came within view and (against my own cardinal rule), wildly speculating about so much more. It was a defense, an automatic reaction to which I had trained into myself. It was what created order in this world of chaos. But not now, not today, not when he looked like this.
I had not witnessed his body in such a ravished condition since we had first moved in together and the enteric fever had hardly released him from its grasph. He was dressed in light linen trousers and a shirt that was not fit to be worn in public, but certainly did not seem out of place here. Over that was his dressing gown, but you have never have known it for he seemed to drown within it. The white of the pillow beneath his head was a near perfect match for the pallor of his own skin. The contrast was all the sharper for the darkness of his dyed hair.
My eyes trailed down from the crown of his head, cringing at the dark bruises under his eyes that spoke of how little he had slept, grimacing at the hollowness of his cheeks. I will admit, I nearly missed it but when I realised what was absent from John's face, my knees gave way beneath me. I was forced to a nearby chair to stave off my imminent collapse.
His moustache! How could he? I understood the logic behind the decision (just as I understood why he would choose to flee in the first place), but in my near distraught state, its loss was the harshest blow of all. My John has little to no vanity when it comes to his appearance, even if he took special care to always make certain that he was presentable. I had known why of course; during his recovery it was especially important to him for it was one of the few aspects of his life over which he had complete control. Once he had recovered sufficiently that I felt it was unnecessary (Heaven only knew that I did not dress when the fit struck me) for him to maintain such a habit, I inquired into the reason. His argument was beautiful in its simplicity.
"I am a doctor, my dear Holmes, and as such might be called out at any time. I do not want the care I might provide to be delayed simply because I did not wish to dress that morning!" The stern glance at my own attire at the time I am certain was meant to illustrate that point.
But his moustache! It was fine, full-bodied, and always trimmed to military standards. It was his one vanity when it came to his appearance. As for myself, I had always secretly coveted it and at the oddest moments, when the morning light would strike it, it seemed to transform into spun gold and I had the most absurd itch in my fingers as I resisted the urge to stroke it.
It seemed as thought, now, I was no longer able to resist the urge as my hand rose unbidden to stroke the bare upper lip.
"John." It was little more than a whisper, but it contained so much. Why did you leave? What do I do, John? How I can I make this up to you? What must I do? How can I do it?
Is there hope for us?
I wanted to be hopeful, to establish that certainty within myself that we could overcome this, that we would not be defeated by such a misunderstanding.
But when I witnessed the depth of the pain in those pale eyes as they snapped open at my touch, I felt that hope begin to falter and I sucked in a breath, flinching. Every question I had put to myself during this entire debacle rose once more to the surface. How? How could I have done this John whose loyalty I had never before doubted? As disgustingly poetic as it was, I was certain that I could see the very heart that I had broken reflecting back to me through those expressive orbs.
It was just a split second, but I had to look away, my chest constricting, and I found it especially difficult to breathe. What did he see with his doctor's eyes? My John had the unconscious practice of examining each person he met, assessing them medically even when there was no need. It was an automatic reaction, one at times I knew he was entirely unaware of. As one who had had it employed upon himself nearly every day of our acquaintance, I knew with absolute certainty that he was doing so now. Even if he were to deny it I knew it to be true. It was also true that I had used myself rather freely these last few weeks and it was my body that had suffered for it.
In my own turn, since I could no longer gaze upon his face, I found my eyes tracking down his body, a rather poisonous voice noting every little change (all for the worse) and calculating the numerous ways in which this was my fault. It was as I was losing myself in this activity that John broke the stalemate we had fallen into by grabbing my chin and forcing my head up till our eyes met.
"Sherlock." His voice! A much missed sound, roughened and low, but instilled with that inherent command he retained from the military. "Speak." It was Major Watson who was speaking to me, not my gentle doctor, and despite myself I flinched, closing my eyes so that he might not witness my shame.
"What would you have me say?" I gasped, unwilling and unable to not follow his command. What was I to say? Every speech that I had prepared had either fled or seemed entirely inadequate now that he was before me.
I was entirely surprised when he gave my head a little shake as though I were a recalcitrant child and growled a rather stern, "Look at me!" My eyes opened at once to lock with his and I was entirely at his mercy.
"Now say what you have come to say." Still Major Watson was speaking and it was easy to see that this commanding officer was not to be disobeyed. Briefly my mind conjured up images of him on the battlefield, expertly directing the troops to victory or safety with each and every soldier following him implicitly and without fear that he would lead them wrong. It was, I am ashamed to admit, an arousing line of thought, but one I banished as quickly as I could for this was neither the time or the place for such things.
Despite the order, however, and my urge to obey it, my lips remained sealed. I simply did not know what I was going to say (as I believe I have stated more than once already in this account) and as it had throughout this entire affair, my mind simply failed to produce anything of use.
As if sensing my dilemma, Major Watson retreated from the room and my gentle doctor came to the fore. He released my chin and enfolded my face within his gentle hands, one thumb stroking my cheek.
"Please, Sherlock," he pleaded, "I am listening."
Oh how have I resisted him for so long? My Watson, my doctor, my John! How can you be so kind to this wretched soul after all that I have put you through? My saint, my angel, how I do not deserve you! My eyes slipped closed once more, unable to view the gentle expression even one second more and latched onto the thin wrists, making certain they remained exactly where they were.
"I am a fool," I whispered the all too true statement. The immediate confusion and sound of protest was gratifying, but I shook my head, releasing a rather bitter chuckle, before I finally found the strength to meet his gaze. "I have not done one thing, one damn thing in my entire life to deserve a person such as you."
The total, utter confusion pulled another morbid chuckle from the depths of my chest as finally, the words that I feared were beyond my grasp welled up to the surface.
"John, I fear you have been lying to the public for years with your stories—and I must confess that I have read every one—for how can I claim to be a master of deduction when I was completely blind to what was before me, and have been so for years?" Oh how he must have suffered! How had we inadvertently caused each other this pain and all the pain before it? It was only now, when I reached this final stage and John was there before me, when every bit of anguish and torment he had endured was written from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, that I was able to properly piece together the scraps of clues I had collected from those that who were involved in this had reluctantly released.
My hands fell from his wrists (I would not make him uncomfortable if I could at all help it) and reached for the one object that had helped to keep me on a somewhat even keel through this entire search. It was warmed by the kitten who continued to slumber beside it; no doubt she too drew comfort from it (I am certain she knew it was John's despite all of my handling). It was this, a handkerchief, that I drew from my pocket and succumbed to the habit that I had fallen into this last few days. What was once a fine piece of craftsmanship had been reduced to a mere scrap that was soiled and stretched nearly beyond all recognition. My fingers immediately fell to rending it further, completely unable to help myself. I would not be ashamed of this habit, I told myself, for truly it was all that kept me from indulging in the cocaine once more. The withdrawals this time had been horrendous, though thankfully I had still been in London though the worst of it. It had, however, made the train rides all the longer for the nausea that persisted.
The confusion cleared momentarily from my John's face as he realised what it was that I held, but swiftly returned when he began to wonder, no doubt, why I had his handkerchief. I dipped my head, the words once more scrambled and unattainable. How was I to explain that this was the first step in the process of giving up the drug? Without my work my mind would descend into a chaos of sensory input of which it was difficult to climb back out of. My work, my puzzles, allowed me to focus and the chaos recedes somewhat. Before John, only the music that flowed from my violin was a worthy substitute, but with my doctor…Before I realised where my feelings had strayed, he was enough to keep me afloat. If I filled my senses with him, I was unlikely to slip into my odious black moods.
At least, that was true before I realised I was in love with him.
Now I would need to explain this at some point in the future, but if I held any hope in mending this, I would need to lay all before him and allow him to pass judgment. But where should I begin?
"I meant what I said!" burst forth and I managed to contain the internal cringe of what I just allowed to leave my mouth. That was not how I wished to begin, but I ploughed onward, hoping to make the best of it.
Afraid that confusion would become a permanent fixture on John's face, I attempted to clarify. "That day, when I drove you away, I meant everything that I said."
The effect was immediate, and all together not what I hoped for, but how could I expect a better result with such a pitiable beginning? The effect of which I speak was the doctor immediately releasing my face, the shock and pain identical to that Day. Dear God, I am a fool, and one that has no business being in the doctor's presence, but I would fix my mistake, by Jove, if it were the last thing I were to do.
I lunged forward, grasping his retreating hands within my own. The handkerchief drifted forgotten into my lap. "No! That's not what I …what I truly meant to say was…" They would not come; the words simply would not form and I honestly believe, even now, that I have never been so frustrated in my entire life. I tightened my grip and pleaded with him to understand. "These emotions will be my downfall, for now they have stolen my prepared speech and replaced it with garbled nonsense." As far as excuses stand, I felt it a rather poor one, but I offered it nonetheless. As we descended into silence, and I gathered myself for another attempt, I found myself slipping into observing my Watson once more.
I had always taken great comfort in the knowledge that I was able to deduce any information that I wished from him. Now it was as though I were viewing an abstract painting of emotions, though if it were actually an abstract painting, I could have made more sense of it. While I have dealt with the worst of the emotions in my line of work, when they were applied to those familiar features, I found myself at a loss on how to identify them, never mind dealing with them. But for John, I told myself, I would make every effort.
"That day," I began much more calmly, "I did mean what I said, because at the time I was operating under false assumptions."
"You never just assume anything," he observed and I ducked my head in embarrassment.
"You would be correct in most instances. My emotions clouded my judgment and led me to false deductions in regards to our situation. I then acted on those erroneous conclusions which led me to harm you in ways I did not believe myself to be capable of." I began to stroke his knuckles with my thumb, despairing over the thinness of his skin. It was thrilling, in its own right, how he allowed me to touch him and I promised myself then and there that I would never abuse the privilege. I was pleased to see that my bare bone speech had produced a thoughtful expression.
"What was it that pitched you into such a fever?"
Now that was an easy enough question to answer! Of their own accord, my lips began to turn upwards. "You." So simple and so true. "It has always been and ever shall be you, my dear John." My eyes fell, uncertain if he would be shocked by this next part as I had been so unsuitably unfair in my judgment towards him. "For weeks after my return I waited. Surely, I thought, surely you could not forgive me so easily. I left you! I abandoned you at those wretched falls with the belief that I had died! I knew you would blame yourself for having left me to my supposed doom to chase what was nothing more than a wild goose." Watson's expression was all I needed for conformation on that point. "But I had to!" I had to make him understand. "Moran was hunting us and I could not allow him to turn his sights upon you!" The pain of our separation slammed into me once more, and I could no longer look at him. "So I ran as far and as fast as I could, knowing I was the central game, the ultimate tiger for the old shikar."
When John failed to respond, I did not look back up at him, at least, not yet. This was not proceeding in the direction that I wished and I was uncertain as to where to go next. As always, when my mind found a task too difficult to contemplate, it turned to the practice that restored order to the chaos in my world. Deducing.
His hand was still within my own, and I soon found myself turning it over so that I might test the feel of his skin, follow the creases of his palm, trace the nail with mine, examine the joints for their limberness. I kept my touch light and, I hoped, soothing. I was infinitely more pleased than I care to admit when his limbs seemed to drain of the tension they were holding, even if conversely it was disheartening to see just how tense he had been. When he sighed, I knew my pleasure was on display for him to see. Perhaps I could go on, but to where?
"I did my best to be rid of them, you know." It was quite the non secquiter, I will admit, but it seemed to return my doctor to the present.
The look of fond exasperation that he gave me warmed my insides in pleasant ways. "You speak, as always, in riddles."
"It is no riddle," I insisted earnestly, "merely a continuance. You wanted—want—to know what has caused me to treat you in such a villainous manner and I am attempting, rather poorly, to do so." I drew in a breath for I was approaching the moment of truth. "I worked myself into such a state, after which I contrived that dastardly plan, because of my feelings for you."
There it was, stated plainly, even if it was not the whole of it. I waited rather impatiently to see what he would make of that, for he was to be my guide on how I was to continue. I must say, though, that the confused wariness that I had induced was rather disconcerting.
"Just what feelings," he demanded at last, "were those?"
Though my expression was no doubt doing a rather poor job at this point of hiding anything from him, it was disturbing to me how I jerked at such a question. I intertwined our fingers once more, giving them a tight squeeze. Time now, it seemed, to reveal all.
"My hope, my fear, my joy, my admiration," my voice stuttered to a stop and I drew in a deep breath for fortification before revealing what was in my innermost heart, "my love."
My eyes were drawn to his, witnessing every emotion as it flashed across his face faster than even I was able to interpret. Oh, would that I were not a novice at this! My entire life I had abstained from such attachments, sneering at those (yes, even my John) who would allow themselves to be entangled in such a manner. Now I am bemoaning my ignorance for what it has done to us both. John would be my guide in this matter and all matters of such a nature forever and always in the future. If only I knew what he thought on the matter, but silence had reigned since I had made my announcement.
When I could stand it no more, I squeezed hi hand. "Please," I pleaded, "say something!"
When the only response I received was a blink, I gripped his shoulder, giving it a little shake. Surely my announcement had not caused that great of a shock?
"You are lying." His pronouncement hit me with all the delicacy of a careening cab and I reared back as though he had punched me. I think, even now, I would have felt better if he had hit me. It was…not an answer that I had foreseen him giving despite the numerous scenarios I had contemplated. I could not let that stand, he could not be allowed to continue to think in such a manner. But it was more difficult than I believed possible.
"No! I would never…How could you say such a thing?" I freely own that I wish it had not come out sounding of an accusation.
His face took on an mulish expression (and as ridiculous as this sounds, I found it appealing) before he wrapped his arms around himself. "It would not be the first time," the bitterness that dripped from his tone was like acid, "that you have done so to achieve your ends. I am heartily tired of being cast the fool in your melodramas and I would thank you not to do so now."
I could see the tears rising, his valiant fight to hold them at bay, and do nothing to help.
And—worse yet—he was not done.
"If you have finished, I must ask you to leave. I am very tired and wish to sleep." He presented me with his back, dismissing me from his presence with his actions as well as his words, and shielded himself—there is no other word for it—with his blanket.
I had his decision—he had forsaken me.
I knew this had always been a distinct possibility, but that it had happened was nearly too unbelievable for me to comprehend. I had, rather imprudently I suppose, held out the hope that my John would forgive, or at the very least allow me the chance to make it up to him. But this ultimate banishment from his presence resembled the very worst of my nightmares.
And, perhaps worst of all, he believed me to be lying to him. Even if I was to leave his company forever, I could not do so while he continued to think that.
I rose from my seat and moved stealthily around the invalid chair. The tears were slowly rolling down those pale, hollow cheeks and I could not—would not allow this to continue. I bent low and clasped his head between my hands, mirroring his action from earlier.
"I do love you, John Watson, possibly more than I ought and whether or not you choose to believe me, I am not lying. I have been a fool not to see what was right in front of me all along, but you must understand, I have no prior experience with the notion of love. But, I am certain, if there ever existed the perfect match for me, it is you. I would hope that you would believe the same and yet I would not blame you if you didn't. I have treated you vilely—for that all I can do is apologize and beg that you will allow me to make it up to you. If you are unwilling to allow this and wish that I would vanish from your sight, I will certainly do so." Taking my courage in hand, I leaned a bit further and placed a kiss upon his forehead.
"I will leave you now to think for I have upset you enough for one day. I am staying the Lion," I felt a smile trying to surface, for even I can appreciate the irony of the situation, "the very room in which you stayed. There, your queen and I shall await your answer."
It was all beginning to overwhelm him, I could tell, but he still managed to ask one more question. "My queen?"
"I believe you named her Regina. She is, indeed, very…" I paused for a moment, attempting to summon the correct adjective that would encompass the impression the feline had imparted to me, but could only manage, "queenly."
Rising from my bent position, I released his face in favor of one of his hands and placed a kiss upon the knuckles. I had observed others performing such acts towards those whose attention they wished to court (even if the players involved in those situations had been men and women). I had never felt the compulsion to do so myself, but now…now I wanted to. John, my John, deserved such acts and many more. The thought that I might get to perform such acts sent a breathtaking thrill down my spine, but I clamped down on that bubbling excitement. I would have to await his answer before I allowed myself to contemplate such a future.
"Whatever your final answer may be, John Watson, remember that I love you." With my final declaration, I removed myself entirely from his sight, not wishing to distress him further.
But I found, as I stood at the threshold of the room, that I could not leave, not just yet. I turned, clutching the doorway for support as I observed him from the distance. I had not the vaguest notion, until that very moment, exactly how much our separation would hurt. After I had searched, questioned, threatened, and been threatened, I had found him—found him! Why was I not allowed to keep him? No—no—while it seems rather an absurd notion, for John is clearly his own man, I did wish to keep him. His health, his happiness, his safety and security—I wished to make certain that he had all of these, at all times. A fool's wish, but a true one. I was uncertain, if he were to say no, if I would manage to return to England at all. I am certain if I were not, Mycroft would draw the inevitably correct conclusion of my failure.
But I did not want to fail—not in this. If I did, then I would go to my grave with the knowledge that I had destroyed us both, for there was little doubt that the responsibility lay squarely on my shoulders. And he was so miserable, it did not take a deductive genius to make that leap and I wanted to take that away, to bring that handsome smile to those hollow cheeks.
Is this what it means to be in love with another? To ache when they do, share their happiness and their pain, to have every waking moment filled with thoughts of them? If it is so, then I have fallen prey to what has destroyed men and kingdoms alike through the centuries. I pray that I survive the fires of this emotion, but if I were to go down in a blaze of glory, I would gladly do so for him.
As my brain is able to maintain multiple tracks of thought, even in my somewhat diminished state, I was not just contemplating this inward line of thought. My eyes and my focus were still trained on the huddled figure not three feet from me in the invalid chair.
That wretched chair! I knew not what illness had driven him to it, but I would see him out of it again!
That notion was set aside for later contemplation as I became (if it were possible) even more concerned for my doctor. Something was wrong; my fingers clenched around the door frame and my eyes narrowed. It was not any one thing that clued me in to this fact, merely, I hesitate to pen, a hunch. Despite the fact that I was not one to allow myself to fall into the trap of theorizing before I possessed the facts as logic would dictate, I knew that I had hopelessly abandoned logic in the case of my doctor.
Unable to bare the worry any longer, I scurried back to his side. The absolute chaos of emotions that dominated that white face conjured up my concern to the fore once more.
"John? What is it? What's wrong?"
The words that spewed like a cloud of hate and self-loathing from his bloodless lips momentarily stilled me.
"What is wrong," the laugh that followed those few words was the vilest one I had ever heard, "is that you are nothing but an illusion; my mind conjuring up its greatest of tricks to further torment me! I cannot have you and my sanity…"
No more, no more! The depths of the pit my doctor had fallen into were never clearer than that moment and there was an internal shift within me. It was an absolute necessity that I halt the unmitigated bile that John was heaping upon himself and so I found myself giving into an impulse that I have long denied myself.
I kissed him.
I have kissed very, very few people in my life outside my mother and –once—my grandmother, both upon the cheek. I had never enjoyed the activity for its own sake as my few partners in the past had. To be entirely truthful, it all seemed vaguely—unsanitary. While I will be the first to admit that bodily fluids do not bother me, I have no wish to share with others. The prospect of sharing with John, however, did not fill me with that faint feeling of disgust as it had with others.
His lips were terribly chapped, but I detected faint moisture just beyond. This close, the smell of the hospital was nearly overwhelming, but was still there lurking underneath. I did not find the exercise at all distasteful; in fact, I was somewhat alarmed to note, I wanted more. I wanted John to flood my senses, washing away the rest of the world as no one or nothing, even cocaine, had ever been able to do before. I broke the kiss before I became carried away and captured one of his hands, flattening it against my chest.
"Feel my heart, Doctor!" I pleaded, for I could not allow him to continue on in such a manner, "I am as real as you and most grieved that you believe that the only manner in which this might happen is in your fevered dreams. It speaks of just how deep and grievous the wound I have inflicted upon you is. Please believe me, John, if I could erase it I would, but since I cannot, I will employ all my powers to seeing it, and you, healed."
My heart beat a rapid staccato beneath his palm, betraying not only the fear I still held, but how much the kiss had affected me. And I could see it, that moment of realization that yes, I was truly here, it was really happening. I had come to him figuratively on my knees (though I promise it would have become literal, if the situation so dictated) to beg his forgiveness or, if he could not grant it, a chance to earn it. Now that he believed, perhaps I could learn where I truly stood.
"You're truly here."
The wonderment of that permeated from that statement was nearly enough to bring tears to my eyes, but I held them in with a valiant effort, allowing a smile to surface instead.
"I truly am."
"Holmes, you hurt me terribly and by all rights, I should never wish to see you again."
This plain, frank assessment sent a renewed set of chills down my spine and I knew, just knew, that he could see my fear. "Is that what you wish?" I believe that I can take some pride in the knowledge that my voice was perfectly steady.
John withdrew his hand from my chest and rubbed his face with it, releasing a very heavy sigh. "I have been asked if I could forgive you by more than one person," he began and my breath stilled, knowing that we were approaching that cardinal point once more, "It is that question, along with why you would do this and what I was to do with myself now, that has plagued me since the beginning. So much of what I am is tangled with that I sometimes lose sight of where I end and you begin."
Too true! At the beginning of our acquaintance, John was merely one of the background players of my life, only marginally more important than Lestrade. By the end of the first month, he had risen to be a staple in my life in Baker Street; at the end of the sixth, he was an extension of myself; by the first year, I wasn't entirely certain how I had ever lived without him. Once I understood the shape that my feelings had taken for him, it seemed as though the puzzle was complete. It was only now, after all that we had been through together, did I see just how ill-fitted my conclusions were in the case of my doctor. Now, how to explain that to him?
But, as before, John was not finished.
"And yet…when I should not care in the slightest, I wish to know how you would make it up to me."
I cannot describe, without descending into the depths of hyperbole, with any accuracy what I was feeling at that moment. But since I know that I am guilty of this and every other literary transgression that I have ever accused my doctor of, I suppose I shall just continue as I have. Happiness, then, was the predominant emotion, of that I can swear to. I was suddenly…warm where I had not been before. I knew that my face was split into a wide smile, but I did not care, because he was willing to give me a chance! I knew that he had not forgiven me, not completely, but my John has a big heart, as well as a forgiving one. As I had made the effort, he was willing to give me the chance. Would that everyone was so lucky. Now…now I needed to be worthy of that chance. Which meant more research into this business of courtship. Perhaps it would be prudent to question Lestrade on the matter as he has a wife.
Not that my Watson could in any way be construed as a woman! No, he is the height of masculinity, but, perhaps, if I were to know the proper steps, I might be able to adapt them to our situation.
Capturing one of those hands once more in my own, I placed a careful kiss upon those too white knuckles. "Thank you," I said with gratitude that came from the very depths of my soul. "My first order of business would be to remove you from this wretched establishment." I sniffed, the imperiousness of old filling my tone. "It is little wonder you have had minimal success in healing."
"Holmes," he protested my rather high-handed remark at once, as was his habit, "this is a perfectly acceptable hospital. It is exceptionally clean and the staff is both caring and confident."
High praise indeed from my doctor, but I would not let once point pass. "But you are not getting any better."
The smile that had previously threatened to take over his face broke through, though I was sorry to see that it was a sad one. "I had no reason to."
"And now?" Please, please my John.
"Now I do."
"Then you have no objection to my plans thus far?"
He shook his head.
I went on to outline my plan for removing him from the hospital and into the hotel of which he had previously occupied, believing him to have enough strength to withstand the move. England, however, was entirely out of the question at the moment.
When he expressed his private fear that he might never see our home again, I was quick to reassure him.
"You will." Come hell or high water, I would see this man established where he belonged once more. I could only hope that my confidence was infectious. "Once you are home and safely ensconced in your room once more…"
"My room?" His interruption was a startling one, for he usually did not do so. "But I had thought…" He failed to finish that statement, but the stain of red that coloured his cheeks was enough for me to hear what was unspoken.
What was maddening is that my cheeks too began to heat. John thought…immediately? Not even in this private journal can I put into words what I wish us to do together. It is not that I am embarrassed by such acts even if I had only infrequently engaged in them in the past, but to speak of such things, it would be necessary to do so in a clinical fashion and I would not reduce my Watson to such terms. My doctor deserves romance and I will do everything that I must to make certain I get this right.
Now, how to communicate this to John?
"While it is gratifying to know you wish to be there, it will not do, at least, not yet." That should set him straight.
"And why not?" Or not, I thought with a frown. Such a maddening creature, that man.
"John, I thought you would know considering…" I trailed off, and I could feel my cheeks gaining even more heat, momentarily stymied as to how I should continue. "That is to say," I eventually managed, "is it not customary to court one's beloved first? My research into this matter has led me to that conclusion."
If one could consider observing a couple on the Parisian streets as research, of course, but he did not need to know that.
When only silence greeted my question, I began to doubt myself. Was there perhaps a step before courtship that I had missed? As I said before, I sadly lacked experience in this arena. My liaisons of the past were of a physical nature, not an emotional one, so the approach was entirely different. As always, I will consult the expert.
"While I will be the first to admit that I am entirely out of my depth, was I wrong for drawing such a conclusion?"
He was quick to assure me that yes, my conclusion was not wrong and, in a distinctly sly manner, asked how I intended to court him.
I gathered my wits quickly, arranging my expression in such a manner as to ward off further questioning. He did not need to know that I had not thought beyond the point that I did want to court him.
"For now, I believe, that shall remain my secret."
"In other words," a voice interjected from behind, "he does not know yet, for he has not gotten that far with his research."
Idiot! Fool! I am the worst sort of bumbler for not making certain that we were alone. The fact that my reunion with the man had completely overwhelmed me and that this situation has me entirely out of sort is no excuse. John's safety is paramount and any part of our conversation was enough to damn us both as sodomites. In the eyes of the law it was an unforgivable crime. I would not let John be touched by such a scandal, I would die first!
I whirled to face the intruder, murder in my thoughts, but found myself faced with a gentleman of considerable years who sported, if I am any judge, a very smug smile. I had thought that the surprises that I had endured during the course of these happenings had come to an end now that I had found John.
Alas, it seems I was destined for one more.
"Grand-pére? Grand-pére Vernet?"
This cannot be possible, was all that my mind would helpfully supply as I examined the man before me. He must be nearly ninety, if I were to estimate for only was I uncertain how old my grand-mére had been when she had given birth to my mother, I did not know how much older he was than his sister, my grand-mére. It is true, he was Mycroft and mine great uncle, but since we had not known our true grandfather, he had taken on the role.
He was one of the few pleasant memories of my childhood, for he did not mind the strange child who followed him around and asked incessant questions. He did not, in fact, find me strange at all, unlike my father. He had been the one to encourage my interest in art. He had been the one to gift me with my first violin and, later, my Strad. I told John that I had bought it from a Jewish peddler, when, in fact, it had been a gift from my grand-pére who had told the same story. I have no doubt that it was exactly that—a story. My father was never pleased by how I would behave, or the behavior grand-pére would encourage in me. He would allow me to sit at his feet for hours as he was painting, challenging me to follow his train of thought as his brush caressed the canvas.
The last time I had seen him after my father banished him from our home for stating that he believed my father to be an "Overly pretentious lump of foul deformity who was false of heart, light of ear, and bloody of hand and had not so much brain as ear wax." He rounded it off with the final proclamation that my father was "A mountain of mad flesh," as well as "An infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker," and that it was his greatest wish that they would "be better strangers."
Grand-pére always held a great appreciation of Shakespeare.
When I entered Oxford he presented me with my beloved Stradivarius and bade me to play it "for fun and the curing of the grays of life." Not long after I had received a telegram from Mycroft informing me of our relative's death.
He was certainly the most alive dead person I had ever seen.
His chuckle snapped me from my stupor and the growing amusement shown through that wrinkled face. "Tell me I am wrong, Little Lock." The mischief simply oozed from his tone and I felt my arms cross reflexively in defense, a scowl asserting itself upon my features.
"You cannot trick me so easily anymore, une vieille," I sneered, earning a delighted laugh in return.
"That is likely true, Little Lock, but at least you followed my instructions very well."
Instructions? What instr…Oh! I am a double fool! I withdrew the note given to by the maid from my pocket.
"You sent this," It was a statement.
He inclined his head, laughter lurking in those dark blue eyes. "Come with an apology in hand or do not come at all. I see that you found what you seek."
My eyes trailed back to my John who was certainly drawing a great deal of humor from the exchange and could not halt the smile that overtook my face. "That I did."
There is not much more to relate. John could not be extracted from those doctors' sadistic clutches for a whole seven days more. I made certain, however, that during that time that he was hardly ever alone. More than once I was chased from his side, while others (when I was playing my violin) I was allowed to stay as long as I wished. When he was resting, I often found myself moving only two beds down to my grand-pére, who took it upon himself to instruct me in the art of courtship. When I pointed out I was unaware of his marriage, he whipped back with, "Just because I never took vows does not mean I lacked in companionship, or that my bed was empty. Now listen, as you have proved you are all eyes and no sight, and you might actually succeed in this."
Thoroughly chastised, I took notes, both written and mental. I would not fail in my quest.
We both visited the hospital one last time when we were ready to return to England, each saying our separate good-byes to the man who had lent his aid in bringing us together once more. We both knew it would be the last time either of us would ever see him. I had not remarked upon the bloody handkerchiefs, but I had seen them, and knew that my grand-pére was not long for this world. Aged or not, we knew that he would whip us both if we were to mourn him before he was in the ground, so it was a happy and hopeful good-bye and one that grand-pére followed with the promise to, "keep an eye on our progress."
We are in Baker Street once more and while all has not returned to what it once was, I believe that we are on the path to something even greater. My John is improving by leaps and bounds and it fills me with great satisfaction and, yes, joy, to know that I am in part responsible for that. I have learned, however reluctantly, that in order to make certain that he recovers, I must as well. I have treated myself very poorly over the years and if I am to give my body to him, I wish it not to be a too large sack of bones. I feel better for the attention I have given myself and I can tell that my John approves, it clearly shines from his face each time he sees me put away a decent meal.
As for the cocaine, it was the first thing to go. The moment we were in our sitting room alone, I retrieved the Moroccan case and, after smashing each and every vial in the fireplace, consigned the case itself to the same fate.
The look upon John's face is one I will forever cherish.
There is no more to relate and the hour has grown late. My eyes are drooping with exhaustion, but I feel satisfied. I believe that now I will be able to sleep unburdened by nightmares. I must be fresh and at my best for tomorrow…tomorrow my courtship of John Watson begins.
Sherlock Holmes, 1984
A/N: And that, as they say, is that. I hope that tied up all the loose ends for everyone!
*Puppy dog eyes* Tell me what you think? Reviews are the fruit of life!