Ahh, it feels great to be writing again. Here is another piece that I had started while daydreaming in Spanish class, but never got around to finishing, due to my horrendous schedule. This one is another heartwarmer, and hopefully you will enjoy. My only fear is that it is too similar to my last one...well, we'll let you decide. As per usual there is male/male innuendo. Watch out, you might catch cooties. Heheheh.
Disclaimer: If I owned, A.C. Doyle would die a second death.
Riding home from Lincoln that summer was to me like waking from a hazy dream to be thrust into the painful reality of the corporeal world. I was departing just as how I had arrived: alone, and despite my greatest efforts, I could not accustom myself to the suffocating silence in the hansom that hastened me away, nor the empty cushion next to mine. The rich farmland and rolling hills I passed without notice, and although the warming rays of the sun streamed generously in through my window, I nevertheless felt an occasional shiver crawl down my spine. Grief, it seemed, continued to reign supreme over my body, no matter how vigorously I endeavoured to chase it away.
Mrs. Hudson had been the orchestrator behind my trek to Mycroft's summer home; nestled within the forested glens of Lincolnshire, she was convinced that the change of scenery was just the remedy for the terminal melancholy that had plagued my soul for the past months. Following her good-natured advice I took her letter to Mycroft's office in London, allowing it to explain my situation for me as I could not do myself. He graciously obliged, and there I was privy to every pleasure that any proper gentleman could ask for. The meals were homegrown and delicious, the air was sweet and unpolluted, there were horses for riding and ponds for fishing. Even the environment seemed bound and determined to cheer me; the blossoms and buds burst colorfully forth from the loamy soil as if heralding my arrival. Nothing, however, could wash away the indelible stain of sadness upon my heart.
Now I was headed home, my body relaxed and sated but my mind troubled. Seeing Mycroft happily settled with his family made me remember all that I had lost. What was worse, I knew that second I drew closer to a man that I had not spoken to for nearly a year, a man whom I could have once called my dearest, closest friend. Holmes and I had barely laid eyes on each other since our last adventure together, and my marriage and career had taken up much of my concentration, putting an odd strain on our relationship. My letters had become clipped and impersonal and in return, his had become scarce and vague. At times, I had found that I had nearly forgotten him altogether, my energies focused upon the cultivation of my new life, rather than tracking Holmes' adventures as I once did. How this reunion would result, I could not tell. I could only hope that I would not be ousted onto the street as soon as I arrived. To be rejected by him would only compound my calamity.
Regardless of my personal gloom, the rest of the country had gone about its merry way. Spring had fully overtaken the land, and the youthful earth buzzed with life. Mother birds instructed their chicks in the arts of feeding and flight, bees hummed busily as they whizzed from flower to flower, fish danced to the river's incoherent song. It reminded me of what I had been missing while in my reclusive state of mourning, drowning myself in work to forget my personal losses. I glanced out my window and saw from a worn wooden sign that we had arrived in London's city limits, and immediately felt a new wave of anxiety mount in my chest. It was only a short jaunt now to Baker Street, and, inevitably, by rapprochement with Sherlock Holmes.
London, at least, had changed very little since I had been gone. The streets were still damp and clogged with traffic and argillaceous earth, the wharf lined with clippers and dinghies of all shapes and sizes, the construction proceeding endlessly as the cloud of smog grew, looming steadily over it all like an angry storm cloud. The city folk hurried along to their various destinations, the men tipping hats and spouting pleasantries and the women clinging to their arms and patting their carefully braided locks with dainty fingers. Bakers and butchers and fishmongers all advertised their wares with bellowing cries and watched the lingering urchins with keen eyes. The cacophony of voices and bells and whistles filled my ears and made my solitary ride less lonely, almost coaxing a smile to my lips.
Soon enough, I saw my final destination in the distance: 221B Baker Street. That familiar stoop, once such a comfort, now made my stomach flutter with nervous anticipation. How he would react to my sudden visit after such a long hiatus I could not guess. His moods were so unpredictable that it would be impossible to foresee how I would be received. The hansom cab stopped at the curb and I stepped out, avoiding the standing puddles and pulling my suitcases down from the top of the carriage. I had not brought all of my things from Cavendish Place; my trip to Mycroft's was announced to me at the last moment, but that inconvenience was the least of my worries. I climbed the stone steps ponderously and rapped the black door with the head of my cane. It only took a moment for it to swing open, and I was greeted by the lined face of Mrs. Hudson.
"Doctor! What a pleasure to see you again. I can see that I was right in asking Mycroft to accommodate you. You look splendid!" I nodded and took the good lady into a warm embrace. "I hope your journey treated you well?"
"As well as can be expected, my dear lady. It is always a pleasure to see you, Mrs. Hudson. It had indeed been too long." As I spoke, I allowed my eyes to flit across the foyer, searching almost desperately for any sign of my old friend, but there was none to be found, save for one of his hats, tossed carelessly onto the seat of the chaise lounge. My chest coiled tighter, and I attempted to swallow the lump that was beginning to form in my throat.
"Come along now, I have made some tea. I am sure that you are due some refreshment after so tiring a journey." I obliged her, and after a short chat consisting mostly of nodding and sipping on my part, I summoned up the courage and forced the question that tormented me from my lips.
"Mrs. Hudson, where the devil is Holmes? I would have thought that he would meet me at the door when I arrived. It has been quite a while since…" Her gaze dropped to her lap, and immediately I sensed that something was amiss. I could feel my stomach lurch in foreboding.
"Mr. Holmes…is unwell, Doctor." I sighed in relief.
"Well, so much the better! I will head up right away and give him a look-see." Before I could rise from my seat, Mrs. Hudson raised a hand and shook her head gravely.
"You misunderstand me, Doctor. Mr. Holmes is…well…" Her voice dropped to a low whisper. "I do not believe he is right in the head, Dr. Watson. He has refused to heave his room for nearly a month." I raised an eyebrow in mock surprise, refusing to acknowledge that the situation could indeed be quite serious. I, of all people, knew that Holmes was prone to periods of extended lethargy, and the damage that he could have done to himself while I had been away worried me greatly.
"Has he taken on any cases?"
"He stopped taking them about the same time that he confined himself to his room, but the number had been on a decline for a great deal longer than that." She paused, breaking her biscuit up into her saucer. "Doctor, I do hate to lay the responsibility upon you, especially given your situation, but…I cannot deny that he has been behaving most irregularly since you moved away with Miss Morstan. And after the affair with Miss Adler, I…" A sharp pain shot through me. I had tried not to think of that woman since Holmes and I had laid eyes on her. Even though Holmes had never admitted it, I had harbored suspicions of his feelings for her ever since they had met. Hearing her name only served to confirm them. "Please, Doctor, go speak with him. I…I am almost afraid to." Before I could respond, Inspector Lestrade, looking far wearier than I had ever seen him before, burst in with his battalion of officers, his eyes full of worry.
"Mrs. Hudson." He removed his hat and bowed, but when his eyes fell upon me he straightened and grinned. "Why, Dr. Watson! What a relief. Perhaps you can knock some sense into him."
"Lestrade, sit, please! You look as if you should faint." Mrs. Hudson guided the poor man to a chair and he panted, trying to catch his breath, his face red and damp with sweat.
"Mrs. Hudson, Doctor, I apologize for bursting in so rudely, but we are in dire need of Holmes' counsel. It simply could not wait." She shrugged helplessly, her hands wringing around each other in her lap. I was struck with the sudden urge to wrap my arm around her in comfort.
"I have done all that I can do to convince him to return to his work, Inspector." As she spoke, her lips curled into a tiny smile. "Perhaps you are right, though, and our good doctor can coax the dumb ox out of there." Every eye in the room turned to me, and I sighed heavily. I had barely been home for five minutes, and already my mind was exhausted.
"I will certainly try, but perhaps we should discuss your request first." Lestrade nodded, cleared his throat, and begun.
"This morning my men found the bodies of a wedded couple tied together on the shore. Someone had apparently murdered them and cast them out to sea. Their bodies were impossible to identify, but thankfully, the wedding ring of the young lady remained upon her finger, and from there it was found to have been purchased by a Mr. Richard Gainesborough three weeks ago." I shivered in revulsion. What could possess someone to murder s newlywed couple? So many hopes and dreams, dashed in a single act of violence. I understood that feeling all too well, and I felt the sudden urge to find the heathen myself and strangle them, Holmes or no Holmes.
"I will talk to Holmes at once. We must find this killer and bring him to justice."
"It would be greatly appreciated, Doctor." The inspector sighed heavily and rose from his seat. "If anyone has a chance of talking some sense into him, it is you." I stood and shook his hand, taking from him the satchel containing the case notes. As Lestrade made his way to the door he paused, turning cautiously back to face me. "If you don't mind my asking, Doctor Watson...what was it that made you return to Baker Street? Surely—" I interjected before he could go further.
"Perhaps another time, Lestrade. The case requires your attention, not I." He said nothing more from there and awkwardly backed out the front door, disappearing in the midday crowd. Running my hand through my hair, I closed the other tightly around the dossier. It was as if nothing had changed; my life had picked up right where it had left off when I had left.
"Doctor…are you really alright?" Her eyebrows knitted in worry, Mrs. Hudson placed her hand, thin and fragile as a bird's wing, upon my shoulder. I turned and smiled cheerily, the anxiety mounting in my chest hidden behind it.
"Of course. I was just…thinking." Before she could inquire further I moved past her to the staircase, my footsteps heavy with trepidation. It was strange how, despite the fact that I had known Holmes for so long, the idea of confronting him still frightened me. I reached the door and turned the handle quietly. As I pushed it open, I saw him almost immediately, as though my eyes had been drawn to him, and I had to resist the urge to run to his side. My physician's instinct was flaring inside my head; something was very wrong, indeed.
In his favorite chair he sat, staring out the window aimlessly, his eyes unmoving. Wrapped around his narrow shoulders was a heavy tartan blanket, draped over his lap so as to conceal much of his body. Despite his half-hearted efforts to hide himself I could see that upon his knee he cradled his left arm carefully, as if it were a wounded child. It was clear that he was in need of my attention.
"Holmes?" I ventured, and his eyes alone moved toward me, the dark pools locking on to my face with their hawk-like precision. For a moment, he simply stayed like that, staring, and I took his silence as an invitation to continue. "I've come home, old friend." Sighing, Holmes finally rose from his chair, letting the tartan fall from him absent-mindedly.
"Have you, indeed, old friend?" The bite in his voice made me flinch. Seeing this, as he saw everything, he sighed and shook his head. "Forgive me, my dear Watson, forgive me. I did not mean to hurt." Walking toward me, he placed his hands upon my shoulders. "It has been too long since your last visit."
"I agree whole-heartedly." I tried to catch a glance of the bruises that no doubt stained the crook of his arm, but he had deftly unrolled his sleeves while my attention had been diverted, concealing them under the white fabric of his chemise. "May I sit down?"
"Watson, you really have been gone too long; you know very well that you are as welcome here as my own brother." His laughter reassured me; perhaps I had been wrong in assuming his displeasure. All the same, a tiny voice inside my head reminded me that he and his brother were on terrible terms with one another. I sat gingerly in the chair that I had once practically lived in, writing our tales of mystery and adventure with Holmes handing over my shoulder, his breath upon my cheek and his voice in my ear.
"So, Holmes. I should tell you that…Lestrade has asked for your assistance in a case." Holmes waved his hand, shaking his head in displeasure.
"No,no; what an awful way to begin our conversation. Besides, I have no taste for detecting anymore. Lestrade can go elsewhere." He paused to fiddle with his tie. "Hum, rather persistent, is he not?" With a half-hearted chuckle, he took his pipe into his thin fingers and filled it. Lighting a match with the tip of his thumb, he lit it, the smoke rising to the ceiling in sluggish, graceful curls.
"No…no taste for it?" I could hardly believe it. How could Holmes cease to care about that which gave his life meaning for so long? "Whatever made you tire of it? You love—"
"I loved it, yes. But the chase grows tiresome when you are forced to make the journey alone…especially having been accustomed to such an exceptional degree of companionship." A that, I could see that he did, indeed resent my departure. My fears had been realized. "Why did you decide to return after so long, Watson? Grow tired of the married life, did you?"
"Well, Holmes…it is rather…complicated." A snide snicker from the opposite chair made my blood bubble with agitation.
"Anyone with eyes could have predicted the result of your marriage, my dear doctor. I know your mannerisms far too well for you to fool me. Did I not tell you that you would miss the life of the bachelor? You enjoy it far too much to abandon it forever." At this, I could take no more. This sudden, flagrant assault upon my person had broken the final straw of my composure. I rose from my seat, the guilt in my chest set aflame by hurt and anger.
"Now, listen to me, Holmes! You cannot possibly determine my motives! Your judgment is totally unwarranted!"
"Of course I cannot! You have been gone for months! I am a detective, not a psychic!" He threw his hands into the air and growled. "I was clearly mistaken in my former appraisal of you; married life has changed you for the worse. You are absolutely insufferable."
"I?" My rage had nearly taken me over. "YOU, sir, are the one cooping yourself up, sulking and pouting because I refused to stay by your side like a dog!" The look upon his face could not have been more aghast had I smacked him full across the face. He sat blankly, his pipe slipping from his fingers and falling to the floor. Shaking with fury, I eased myself back into my chair, my body recovering from the sudden rush of adrenaline that now pumped through my veins. "You…are being completely unfair. As ever." Silence filled the room to the brim for what seemed like an eternity, until finally he spoke, his voice cracked and devoid of that scornful tone that had so enflamed my temper.
"John." It was the first time he had used my given name since I had arrived. "Please…you must understand—"
"Understand? Understand what? My wife died, Holmes! Can you not understand that? Everything that I had built, that I had planned…" I had to pause for a moment; I refused to let my emotions get the best of me. He did not respond, nor did he look me in the eye. I supposed that I had shamed him into silence, although I truthfully did not think that such an act was possible. I sighed heavily and let my head fall back onto the cushion of my chair. "That is why I returned to Baker Street, Holmes. The one person that I loved more than life had left me. I need companionship; I needed a friend." Finally, Holmes lifted his gaze to mine; his eyes were full of pain, a pain that reflected perfectly my own.
"If that is the true reason for your return…then surely you must understand my own feelings." I rubbed my temples and sighed heavily.
"Holmes, I really don't think that—" With the suddenness of a summer storm, it became clear: his reluctance to see me leave Baker Street; his scorn for Mary and indeed all women; his current state of mind. When I had thought him so selfish, so unfeeling…the truth of the matter was that I had behaved very much the same. "Holmes…" He curtly shook his head.
"It does not matter. I can see that this conversation is at an end. If you will excuse me…" He tried to rise from his seat, but I intercepted him, placing my hand upon his chest and pushing him back into the chair. Beneath my hand, I felt his pulse quicken and the exposed skin peeking out from beneath his shirt grow hot; his reaction only served to confirm my suspicious. Holmes stared up at me, quizzically, trying to decipher what I had done with his scientist's mind. Before he could speak, I took advantage of his parted lips, enveloping them in mine.
The taste of them was inexplicable; they had the sweetness of wine and the bitterness of the tobacco from his pipe. They were neither soft nor pliant, but I pushed urgently further nonetheless. Taking his head into my hands, I pressed my lips harder against his, and a dulcet moan escaped them, vibrating against my teeth. The odd sensation only inflamed my desire for him, already so fervent from years of being doused by notions of propriety and duty. Finally, he pulled away from my vise-grip for air, his black eyes glazed and his pallid cheeks flushed pink.
"John…" As he panted for air, a small smirk rose to his lips.
"I…forgive me, Holmes, I—" I felt my eyes sting with unbidden tears, a painful harbinger of the feelings that I had forced down for so long. I had expected him to react coldly, to scold himself and me for such unreasonable displays of affection, but instead he flung himself from his chair and wrapped his arms around me, clinging like a drowning man.
"How can I forgive, when I myself stand guilty of the same crime?" A tear dropped from my cheek onto his arm, and he wiped my hot cheek with the back of his trembling hand.
"So…" Holmes raised a dark eyebrow. "Shall…shall you welcome me back, then?"
"My dear Watson..." He laughed and placed his forehead against mine. "It would be my pleasure."
Oh, indeed it was...