Watson could not get to sleep. He was too angry, too full of pent up frustration, so he sat in his study all night, getting drunk on bourbon.
"Blast him", Watson hissed into the empty room.
Then he added
because there was nobody to hear him swear.
He emptied his glass and reached for the decanter, swaying slightly in his seat. Normally, two glasses was his limit, where he would feel slightly merry but still in complete control of his facilities, but tonight was for getting roaring drunk alone and cursing the worlds existence. Pathetic he knew, but he felt pathetic.
He should not have let Holmes talk to him like that. He should have said something, fought back, told him to shut up at the very least.
And he should not have let Holmes' words frustrate him as much as they did. That was the honest and true reason why Watson found himself very inebriated at four in the morning.
On the surface Holmes' words sounded ridiculous - the ramblings of the jealous and spurned friend.
Yet that voice was sounding in Watsons' ear again. Buzzing like an irritating fly. That voice - saying all the things that Watson did not want to hear.
"Holmes is right. You are not as happy here as you were sitting in that parlour."
"A long life of monotony lies ahead of you, dear Doctor. No more adventures."
"Every morning you will wake up to Mary. No more Holmes sitting across from you, dishevelled from lack of sleep."
"But I want to wake and sit across from Mary", he slurred sulkily
"And who - exactly - are you trying to convince", the voice buzzed in his ear.
"I don't have to convince anybody", Watson answered out loud. His study had started to spin making his stomach queasy, so he pressed his forehead against the cool wood of the desk. In a matter of seconds he had passed out.
The next morning the good doctor was a woken by a short, sharp prod between the shoulder blades. He sat up suddenly and instantly wished he had not done so. Sleeping with his head against the desk had left him with a pain flowing down his neck.
"Holmes!" he snapped, "There are more mannerly ways to get somebodys attention."
"Is there indeed, sir?"
Remembering that he no longer lived in Baker Street and that it could not possibly be Holmes how awoke him, Watson gingerly turned his head and found Mrs. Cuckold looking down her rather long nose.
"Oh I apologise, Mrs. Cuckold. Eh, good morning."
The housekeeper merely made a displeased noise in the back of her throat before she marched to the windows behind Watsons' desk and flung open the curtains, sending daylight flooding into the room. It may have been grey and raining outside but even the muted brightness set Watsons head pounding. As he climbed the stairs to wash and dress for the day, he felt the hangover that started to radiate through his body was something akin to torture.
The surgery that morning was just as busy as the day before but instead of helping Watson concentrate on something other than his problems, he found them thrown into greater relief. Every patient seemed to want to know how his and Marys' plans were coming along, how the new house was bearing up.
"Isn't it wonderful to be away from that odd Mr. Holmes? That is no place for a gentleman doctor", an elderly patient spoke in earnest as Watson examined her arthritic hands.
"He investigated that Mr. Dalkins insurance fraud, right by where my eldest girl lives. I would see him pacing up and down outside the house. So rude and strange and unwashed." She wrinkled her already withered nose in disgust.
Watson felt the need to defend his friend but instead gave the old lady a non-committed smile.
"And that Mary is such a sweet girl. I knew her grandmother all those years ago. She will make such a charming bride."
Watson kept his smile firmly affixed as he continued with the examination. He had the vaguest feeling that the walls were closing in on him but he ignored it as best he could.
The woman said no more until she was being helped out of the surgery by her companion.
"Well thank you , Doctor Watson. I wish you and Mary the very best for the future. She is a lovely creature and I am sure she will make a good wife and mother."
And in that instant, the walls that Watson felt were closing in on him came up and slammed him in the chest. He could not take in a breath and his head started to spin. Watson sank into the nearest chair not trusting his legs to keep him standing.
A good wife and mother…
As incredible as it may seem, Watson had never envisioned the latter. He had often imagined married life with Mary. But he had imagined going to parties, introducing her as "Mrs. John Watson", sitting in their drawing room, drinking tea and reading newspapers. Eating dinner and chatting about their day. Quiet domestic companionship.
His thoughts had never strayed to the other aspects of married life. Sharing his bed with her, perhaps naked, making love to her, creating a family with her!
There was no air left in the room and Watson thought he would suffocate if he stayed moment longer. He rushed out of the surgery, snapped at Mrs. Cuckold that he had been called out on an emergency, flung open the front door and half-ran into the rain.
Watson did not even notice the direction he was going, he had just absently picked a path and started walking. The rain was soaking through his clothes toward his skin, his hair was already plastered to his scalp, not that he cared much. If he had he would have remembered his over-coat and bowler.
When had everything become so bloody complicated? Last week it all had seemed so simple, all set out in a linear plan. He was to move out of Baker Street, establish a general practice, marry the young governess, become a respectable man of society and live happily ever after. Watson had never questioned that before. He had always assumed that that is what he wanted and now he was not so sure anymore. He was groomed for this! This life! It was meant to be his! Yet now he had this unquenchable urge to just keep walking. Keep walking out of the street, out of London, out of England. Just to keep walking and leave this whole sorry mess behind him.
"Aye, the cowards way out", he mumbled. He was not a man to take the easy option but as he walked he could not see a solution to his problem.
"Was there even a problem?" he thought to himself. "Could this not just be a case of cold feet?"
He was making some dramatic changes to his life. It was only natural to question those changes, to be scared going into the unknown but Watson knew, deep down, this was not a case of cold feet. This was something much more.
Still he kept walking with all these thoughts swirling in his head, unable to find a solution but unable to let the problems go.
Watson, immersed as he was in his thoughts, did not notice the two men following him. One as tall and as wide as a building, with hands to match. The other, smaller and wiry, keeping to the shadows. On any other day Watson would have been fully aware of his stalkers but he was so lost within his problems that the good doctor just kept going in the rain and led both men down a blind alley that ended abruptly in a cul-de-sac.
"So? Wha' we go' 'ere, den?"
Watson turned around to leave the dead-end alley and found himself face-to-face with the human house. Problems forgotten, Watson assessed the situation and quickly came to the conclusion that he was in big trouble. The thug was two feet bigger than Watson in every direction, and was drawing a rather sharp blade from the confines of his coat. Watson still walked with the aid of a cane and had left his trusted pistol in the second drawer of his desk in the study. As he tried to think of possible strategies, the man slowly advanced, with a smile showing green teeth.
"Alright, lets not do anything too stupid", Watson raised his hands in the universal sign of peace, his cane still clutched in his right fist.
"You mean loike, takin' tha' dagger ou' of its little 'idey 'ole?" The big man kept advancing.
"I have money". Watson tried a different tack, his element of surprise very obviously in ruins. "Its yours - just let me walk out of here unharmed." Perhaps he could get in a lucky punch if he could get close enough.
Unfortunately the assailant seemed to have thought of that as well and with speed that seemed almost impossible for a man of his girth, he relieved Watson of his cane, pinned the doctor against the wall of the alley with the blade pressed against his throat.
"All in good time, Doctor! But first we shall leave a little message for your friend, Sherlock 'olmes", the man was leaning flush against Watson, breathing rancid breath. "I'm thinkin yer life-less corpse strung up out-side the Dog and Tower sounds gun'n'proper. Should ge' 'is attention!
"Or perhaps, kind sir, you could you just tell me yourself."
In the mouth of the ally stood the shorter, wiry man, aiming Watsons gun.
The distraction of having a loaded pistol pointed at his forehead gave Watson the opportunity he needed to work his good leg up, and using his foot, sunk it into the would-be assassins stomach. He was able to get enough purchase to send the man stumbling, allowing Watson to make his escape.
Holmes threw the pistol towards Watson as the doctor took his place beside the detective, who, in turn, had taken out his trusted stick. He would be lethal with it if necessary.
"So, about this message?" Holmes twirled the stick between his fingers, taunting the trapped hulk. "I would rather like to hear it now."
Both men took a fighting stance, Watson cocking his pistol, well aware that the man they were facing could tear them limb from limb if he got close enough.
Then, like a charging bull, he advanced and as Holmes and Watson prepared to engage him, he barrelled right through them, sending Holmes into the alley-wall and Watson sprawling onto his back.
By the time either man had gotten to his feet the cockney with the blade had vanished.
"Are you alright, my friend?" Holmes turned to Watson and gave his friend a visual check-up making sure that no obvious injuries had been sustained.
"A little shaken. But that is all, thanks to you." Watson gratefully grasped his comrade about the shoulders. Never in his life had he been so glad to clap eyes on that unshaven form.
"Anytime, old friend. Though I fear I have let that creature abscond with your walking stick."
Looking around him, Watson realised Holmes was right.
"Well blast him! At least he has not made off with my throat."
"Come", Holmes offered his arm. "You may lean on me. I must go back to Baker Street to process these new events and I am sure a glass of port is much needed. Wouldn't you say, Doctor?"
"I would say it is absolutely vital." Watson took the offered arm and the two men set off toward 221B.
Watson was slightly amused to discover that the alley was situated only a stones throw from his former home, as if his feet had, sub-consciously, been bringing him there. However, he did not allow himself to dwell to much on that fact as he really was feeling quite shaken after the encounter. He fancied he could still feel the blade pressed against his neck.
Mrs. Hudson was standing in the hallway of the house as both men walked in, dishevelled, wet and spattered with mud and though she looked worried, she had long since learned not to ask questions. The men trooped up Holmes' rooms where the detective helped ease Watson into his old arm-chair. The parlour smelled vaguely of stale air and Watson noted the chill. That meant that Holmes had not yet lit the fire that day, nor perhaps, the previous night.
A flash came through his mind of his previous nightmare. Holmes sitting immobile in his armchair, in front of the empty fireplace. But instead of being nailed down in place, a syringe was sticking out of his forearm.
"I thought a change of clothes and some hot tea would be more appropriate than that glass of port, right now." Holmes broke the day-dream and threw some worn but mercifully dry clothes into Watsons lap.
"I promise I won't look."
Holmes left the room, most likely to bully Mrs. Hudson into making that tea. Watson changed into the articles of clothing, which he discovered were pieces of his that he had "misplaced", and a number of questions began to occur to him.
"Holmes", he said as the detective walked in with the tea laden tray. "Not that I am not grateful that you were there to rescue this afternoon, but I can't help but wonder why you were there at all?"
Holmes put the tray down and went to the fireplace to start building the fire.
"Maybe we should get some heat before you catch pneumonia and utterly undo all my good work this afternoon." Holmes said. "Then I shall answer any questions."
The warmth of the fire was welcome as was the tea, though Watson was looking forward to that promised glass of port, Holmes took his seat on the opposite side of the table, facing Watson.
"So?" Watson prompted. The detective looked at him in puzzlement as if to say, so what?
"Why were you in the alley" Watson tried not to sound exasperated with the man who had saved his life.
"Oh yes". Holmes settled back into his seat. "Simply put, I was following you."
Watson looked over the rim of tea cup.
"You were following me?" he allowed some measure of exasperation creep into his voice. "Why were you following me this time?"
"After our slight to-do last night I saw a man, from my window, follow you on the way to your house. I thought perhaps he was a mugger, so I too followed. Yet, to my surprise, all he did was walk behind you and let you enter your house unmolested. Though he kept your house under surveillance. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I sat out all night watching the man who remained there watching you."
Watson sat listening, feeling slightly sick at the thought of that man sitting outside his house all night.
"I was afraid your stalker might try and enter your house, posing as a patient the next morning. But then you bolted from your surgery and he took off after you. I had deduced you had neglected your pistol as you had your hat and coat, so I had your housekeeper let me in and I retrieved your gun. I must confess I was a trifle worried you would discover your overly-large shadow before I caught up to you, but you seemed so lost in your own world you never noticed."
Watson grinned sheepishly.
"And now all you have to do is deduce why that man was sent to kill me in the first place."
Holmes steepled his fingers and concentrated his eyes on nothing for a moment.
"Well the most obvious thing we know is however sent our friend today, knows us well enough to know where you live and that the most effective way to get to me is through you. They are ruthless. They are willing to let you die, though they do not need you dead. Most certainly they need me very much alive, that being the only reason our friend fled the alley without putting up a fight. I shall need to investigate further of course, before I can draw anymore conclusions. One thing, however is crystal clear."
Watson had been gripping the arm rests.
"What, exactly, is crystal clear?"
"That you cannot return to your house. I highly doubt that they will make a second attempt upon your life, but I cannot rule out that possibility.
I have already sent men around to collect your things."
"You propose I stay here!" Watson sounded truly exasperated now. "This is no longer my home, Holmes."
"No, my dear Watson", Holmes spoke as one does to an unreasonable child. "But your home is where they spied on you and followed you and ultimately tried to kill you to get to me. You will be much safer here."
Watson knew he was right so he just sat back in his chair and nodded his head once. Though he would never admit it, the tension he had been carrying on his shoulders and in his chest lessened at the idea of again taking rooms at Baker Street.
"I have asked Mrs. Hudson to get word to…. Mary…. about the recent events and subsequent change of plans", Holmes practically spat out the sentence like a bad taste.
Watson let out a loud pained groan.
"When are you going to let this go Holmes?" He really did not want to enter into this fight now. Not after all that had happened and also knowing how unsure and uncertain he was about everything. He still needed much time to figure it out.
Yet, he still heard himself arguing against Holmes.
"You need to accept that this is happening!"
Watson felt his stomach drop at the realization that he didn't like those words. But he could not give Holmes the satisfaction of being right. This was their dynamic.
"And you need to accept that it should not be happening! That it is a very bad idea indeed." Holmes spoke calmly and rationally and that infuriated Watson. He took to his feet and started to pace the room, making sure he kept his eyes anywhere but on the man in the armchair.
"Who are you to deduce this? You do not know what goes on in my head, Holmes! What makes me happy and what does not. You are only projecting your own unhappiness onto myself, wishing that I would want to give up this engagement to the point where you have convinced yourself that it is the truth!" Watson ranted toward the book-case.
"Or perhaps, my dear Watson", Holmes still spoke in that maddening calm and factual voice. "Since I have lived with you for these past years I have learned what you are like in happiness and in sadness."
Watson kept his eyes firmly averted, but said nothing.
Holmes stood up and walked over to the fire. He kept talking.
"Do you think I have not noticed the slight sag to your shoulders and the shadows under your eyes as if you are carrying the weight of the world. You have not shaved as close as you used to, nor are your clothes as neat, tells me you are in a depression, your mind clearly on other things."
Holmes paused for a moment but Watson remained silent so he continued.
"You talk about Mary and your marriage as a soldier talks about taking up his duty.
And do you not think I don't see your spirits lift when you sit in this room. You smile and your eyes gleam but they start to fade when you return to that house."
Watson was still resolutely staring at the bookcase but could see Holmes making his way toward him.
"And last night, my friend, you finally realised what the future held if you continued on with the engagement. That is why you stayed up all night drinking bourbon."
Watson was about to ask how Holmes knew that, when the memory of the attempt on his life came flooding back and Watson took a moment to wonder when life would cease to be quite so complicated.
"And, I shall hazard a guess, that the reason you left your house so abruptly today was that it finally became too much for you and you needed an escape. No matter how brief."
Holmes was standing right in front of Watson now.
"What makes you draw that conclusion?" The doctor now looked straight at the detective. Holmes just chuckled.
"Because, Watson, you left without your hat and coat. Nothing short of the imminent collapse of the world as we know it would cause a respectable Englishman to leave his house in the rain without such important articles."
Watson could not suppress a small laugh of his own. Of course Holmes would have seen all the clues and solved the case.
"Your home shall always be here, Watson, even after this case is solved."
Watson stopped laughing and gave a small sad shake of his head. He had made up his mind about what to say while Holmes had been talking.
"I could never do that to Mary, Holmes." And for the first time he spoke out-loud what had been weighing so heavily on his mind.
"No matter how much I want to."
Then like a flash of lightening and over just as quickly, Holmes' lips were on Watsons' and he pressed them softly before withdrawing.
Watson was so shocked he could not think of anything to do or say in response. He could just stare at Holmes, who seemed just as shocked by his rashness. Neither knew how long they stood there, staring, but the silence was broken by a sharp rap at the parlour door.
"Come in!" Both men yelled, breaking the trance.
Mrs., Hudson walked in.
"Dr. Watson, your fiancee is waiting in my sitting room. She is in a bit of a state."
"Thank you Mrs. Hudson." Watson regained use of his vocal cords. "I will go to her directly."
As he went to follow the landlady out, he glanced back at Holmes who was still standing, dazed.
Watson walked down the steps to his bride-to-be and he could swear he still felt the wetness of the other mans kiss on his lips.