As with most experiences in our youth, those habits we form during that time of life tend to stay with us throughout the following years. For some, their speech is forever altered by the way they speak as they grow; for others, it is their way of walking or their mannerisms. For still others, it manifests in some rather embarrassing ways. Unfortunately, my youthful habit that stayed with me was an embarrassing one.
I never grew out of the habit of needing something to hold onto as I slept. Were it only that, the habit would not be such an uncomfortable one to endure. It was not. The habit that I had kept was that of sleeping with a child's toy in my arms, specifically a stuffed bear. I was given the bear that I slept with when I was born; it was a gift from my maternal grandmother, I was told. I kept it close by my side even through the war until the battle that had the dubious honor of being my last.
In the mess of trying to send me back to England in one piece, someone had seen the bear and thought it was merely a child's toy, so it was buried with a child who had lost the battle against his wounds. The loss of the bear was almost as crushing as the wounds I had gained. Upon my return to England and subsequent installation of my person into the dwelling at 221B Baker Street with my roommate Holmes and his housekeeper, I hardly slept a wink. My recovery was suffering, I knew, from the lack of sleep, but I had no way of getting a bear of my own. I had no plausible excuse to buy one, either; I had no family, no little children I knew for whom I could say the bear was bought.
I resigned myself to not recovering as I ought due to lack of proper rest until the angel known as Mrs. Hudson woke me late in the night a short while after I took up residence at Baker Street. Mr. Holmes, as I knew him then, was gone for the evening, and I had fallen asleep on the settee, as was my wont when I could not make my way upstairs without assistance. I had apparently been crying out and whimpering my sleep, as she told me, calling out for someone named Bernard. A flush stole over my cheeks at the name, and I attempted to brush her concern off politely as I had done the other times she had woken me from a fitful sleep.
Mrs. Hudson, however, would not be brushed off so easily, and I found myself spilling out the whole tale to her of the bear, Bernard, including how I had lost him following the Battle of Maiwand. She had simply given me a soft look and helped me up to bed once the explanation was done, leaving me to feel as though I had looked so abominably pathetic that she could think of nothing to say. I pushed the conversation with her to the back of my mind, resolving never to think of it again.
When Mrs. Hudson did not continue our discussion the next day, I believed she had done the same with the memory as I and was comforted. It came as a shock then, as you may imagine, to find a stuffed bear on my made bed that night when I went to retire. I saw no note, but I knew instantly from whom the gift had been sent. I picked up the stuffed toy, holding it close to my chest for a moment before disrobing and sliding beneath the covers. I held the bear up to examine it as I lay in bed that night, holding it with my right hand and bringing my left up to gently stroke its chest, feeling the soft fabric from which it had been made.
A small smile quirked the corners of my mouth, what felt like the first in many months, and I turned on my side, holding the bear close to me as I fell into a restful slumber. I woke well past my usual time the next morning, but Mrs. Hudson had left me some tea and toast on my bedside table under a cover in readiness for whenever I should wake. As I took down the tray once I was done, I pressed a kiss to her cheek as I handed her the tray, whispering quietly, "Thank you."
Mrs. Hudson gave me that soft look once more and took the tray from my hands with nary a word. From that moment on, I was her protector, even from Mr. Holmes.
I was able to keep my bear, newly christened Ben, a secret for quite some time after that incident, always taking care to stow him away after I woke in a place only I would think to look. Even when we took trips for cases after Holmes and I became friends, I was able to keep my bedtime companion with me, stowed carefully away in my baggage.
On one memorable occasion, my secret was unwillingly divulged to Holmes. For some time, Holmes had been more than a mere friend in my mind, but I dared not speak of my feelings to him. I had heard him say what utter nonsense romanticism was, especially the kind he detected in my writings of our adventures, so I kept my feelings to myself.
I was rather good at hiding how I felt, and I never worried that I should act inappropriately towards him because we always slept in beds separated by a good distance, even on cases. The one time we could not take our rest in separate beds was indeed the selfsame time my secret became common knowledge between us.
It was in the winter, I remember, and we had to stop at an inn for food and lodgings for the night because our carriage was in desperate need for repair as we made our way back to London. We enjoyed a hearty stew and hot tea while we tried to regain our normal body temperatures from being exposed to the frigid weather outside before inquiring of the innkeeper if there were any rooms available. "Sorry, gents. We've only got the one room," he replied regretfully. We assured him that was no problem, and I believed that until he continued. "It's only got the one bed, though." My mind and body were frozen once more, this time from a horrible mixture of apprehension and longing instead of cold, so I could not deny the offer.
Holmes, of course, had no problems whatsoever accepting for the both of us. The innkeeper shot me a look as he walked away, and, at the time, it was quiet unreadable. Now, as I look back, I must faintly flush at the thought that he seemed amused at my plight and had noticed the look on my face, even though my brilliant Holmes did not. There was little I could do after that but accept defeat graciously, even if only to myself, for I could not go back on the offer of the room. There was no explanation I could think of offhand that would have explained my reluctance, so I trudged upstairs after Holmes, bag in hand and resignation on my face.
I quickly masked that particular emotion once in the room or else Holmes would have asked questions I was not prepared to answer. Apprehension once more coiled in my gut as we decided how to go about sharing the narrow bed, though this time it was because of my secret, my Ben. I could not very well grab my bear from my bag to hold as we slept, but I was so very tired that I thought it would not matter if I went without him in my arms for the one night. With that thought in mind, my thoughts began to race as Holmes realized what I had known as soon as I saw the narrow bed tucked into the corner of the room: two grown men of our respective sizes could only sleep on a bed like that on their sides.
As I need to sleep on the edge of the bed in readiness for the times when my leg pains me, and I need to get up and move around, Holmes had to sleep next to the wall. Because Holmes slept on his right side as I did, we wound up sleeping with my back to his chest. Strictly speaking, we could have slept farther apart, but that night was a dreadfully cold one, and he pressed up against my back for that reason, winding an arm around my waist and holding me close to him as he dropped immediately into slumber.
I expected to do the same, and relaxed my tense muscles in preparation for sleep. For what seemed like hours, however, sleep eluded my grasp quite well. I could not even toss or turn because of Holmes' arm around my middle prevented my movements. After a time of lying there fighting the urge to move restlessly, I resigned myself to what I was about to do, and I carefully moved Holmes' arm from around my middle and slid from the bed. I looked over my shoulder at Holmes to gauge whether he had woken, but he simply made a small snuffling sound and burrowed deeper into the blankets.
Heaving a silent sigh of mixed relief and dread, I padded quietly over to my bag, rummaging as quietly as I could until I found Ben. I closed my bag as quietly as I could before wriggling back under the covers with my bear in my arms. No sooner had I brought the blankets up over my chest with Ben underneath them in my crossed arms then Holmes' hand resumed its place on my abdomen and his cold nose pressed against the nape of my neck. I soon dropped off to sleep with Holmes' warmth at my back and my Ben in my arms.
The next morning I woke alone with the covers around my waist and Ben still in my arms. My sleep muzzy mind did not quite grasp why that was something I did not want until Holmes reentered the room dressed for another day of traveling and holding a tray of breakfast. A blush flew over my face at a ridiculously rapid rate as I saw his keen gaze take in the image of me with a child's toy in my arms and obviously still half asleep.
Conversationally, Holmes said to me as he turned away to prepare the tea in our respectively favorite ways, "Did you know, old chap, that you talk in your sleep?" I made a small noise that I knew to be one of horror, but he seemed to take it as one of affirmation because he continued in that same relaxed tone. "Indeed, you do. Did you also know that you happen to make declarations of love to your friends in that same state?"
What little color that was in my face after I realized he had seen Ben drained forthwith from it as I attempted to form a coherent sentence. Holmes stopped my attempts rather effectively by gently plucking Ben from my arms and turning him away from us to face the wall as he pressed his lips gently to mine. I froze briefly before my hands moved up to tangle in his hair as I sat up, pressing our lips together more firmly and opening my mouth to run my tongue over his bottom lip in a silent request. Holmes opened his mouth in reply, his own tongue darting out to entwine slowly with mine in a kiss that gradually slowed into a gentle probing one.
When we broke away from each other, Holmes rested his forehead on mine as we attempted to regain our breath. I opened my eyes to see him fix me with an indulgent stare as he moved to pick up Ben, holding him up so the bear rested just under his chin and he looked at me over Ben's head. His eyes asked the question, and I rolled my eyes slightly before explaining Ben's presence to him. I let it slip who had given me the bear in the first place, and Holmes could not contain his mirth.
"Nanny gave you a stuffed bear?" he gasped out between guffaws, causing me to fix him with a withering glare as I grabbed Ben from him.
"Yes, she did, and if you wish to see where that kiss could lead you, then you will cease and desist at this very moment," I snapped. He appeared properly chastised and leaned down to give me another kiss, his fingers moving to undo the fastenings of my dressing gown. I allowed it, lying back on the bed to allow him between my legs once he had gotten the garment undone before realizing I still had Ben in my hands. With a small flush, I put the bear on the side table, giving in to the rather childish urge to turn his face away from us so he could not see as I welcomed Holmes into my arms and, later, into my body.
AN: Bernard is brave bear in the ancient Germanic language. Found that out after I picked the name. XD Ben is a derivative of the name Bernard, so, Ben is the new one. This info is courtesy of behindthename(dot)com and very amusing. To Iohcha, who reviewed my other Sherlock Holmes story, "Tactility", thanks for your kind words, darlin', and here's some more Sherlock Holmes fic for you. ^_^