We sat in silence as the mariah lurched over cobbled stones, each one of us doubtless brooding on the events of the evening. Anything and everything that could go wrong, did, through a catalogue of errors, bad timing and sheer misfortune. Even the weather had been against us. As I sat beside Holmes, my gloved hands tightening upon the head of my cane, I could not help but castigate myself for my own bungled role in the evening's disaster.
Beside me, Holmes sat in silence, eyes downcast. I knew that however I blamed myself for the failure of the operation, it was likely nothing compared to the blame he would take upon himself; it was upon his advice and direction that he and I, Inspector Lestrade, Clarky and the other three officers were present. He had been running himself ragged upon this case for the past month, and he had reached the limits of his endurance. As I cast a brief glance sideways, I was unsurprised to see his head nod slowly towards his chest, eyes drifting shut.
I turned my gaze to my hands, but started slightly when I felt the pressure of Holmes leaning into me and resting his head upon my shoulder. I glanced back at Holmes again; eyes closed, he was snuggling against my shoulder, a peaceful look upon his face. I exchanged a brief glance at Lestrade who gave a philosophical shrug. It wasn't entirely unexpected that Holmes should fall asleep in this manner. I shrugged back (as best as is possible with a man using one's shoulder for a pillow) and dropped my gaze back to my hands.
Until Holmes sighed faintly and wrapped his slender arms around my waist. Startled, I jerked my gaze up to Lestrade who raised an eyebrow at me. I tried to convey by raised eyebrows and widened eyes that the situation was as unexpected to me as it was to him.
Clarky suddenly cleared his throat and stared talking slightly loudly to the constable opposite him, who sat on Holmes' other side, distracting him from what was going on beside him whilst I disengaged Holmes' arms from my person. I gently leaned Holmes back and placed his hands back in his lap. I patted his hand awkwardly then turned away -
And froze as Holmes sleepily flung his arms around mine and snuggled against my shoulder again with a faint whuffling noise of contentment, nuzzling his nose against my neck. I tried to shrug him off, but he only nuzzled closer. To our right, Clarky was animatedly discussing the state of the Scotland Yard drains with his colleague who was thus thankfully distracted. To our left however, the other two constables were beginning to take notice of Holmes' decidedly inappropriate somnambulistic affections. I could feel my face beginning to burn with embarrassment.
"Wilson, I hope your wife's not going to rag me again about keeping you out late," Lestrade suddenly piped up, distracting the constable immediately to my left. His colleague on Lestrade's right snickered; this was obviously a standing joke at the Yard. "Yes, Wilson, can't have the little woman harassing the Inspector, can we?" Wilson looked discomforted - and oblivious to what was going on between Holmes and myself, thankfully,as the inspector and the other constable continued teasing him.
Gratefully I turned my attention to attempting to extricate myself from Holmes' grasp, but it seemed to be a fruitless task; he was all clinging arms, intent in his sleep on snuggling up to me, draping himself against me, face turned into my neck as he cuddled me, face sweetly trusting and peaceful in sleep. It would have actually been quite endearing had it not also been so been so thoroughly embarrassing to me. The ride back to Baker Street had never seemed so long; I might almost have suspected the driver of deliberately taking a roundabout route had that not been so patently ludicrous an idea.
With hindsight, I can appreciate the humour of the situation, but at the time it was anything but amusing. I was profoundly relieved when finally we arrived at Baker Street. I managed to release Holmes' arm from my waist and draped it over my shoulder as I hauled us both to our feet. He roused as the back door of the mariah was opened, the cool air reviving him somewhat.
"Watson?" he murmured drowsily, blinking. "Where are we?"
"Home, old chap," I replied, helping him down with a little help from Clarky. I nodded my thanks to he and Lestrade, who gave me a knowing smile and nod. "Come on, just a little farther and then you can rest."
Slowly we made our way up the stairs; once we were safely inside our sitting room, I eyed up Holmes and realised he was all in. He was sleepwalking rather than moving with conscious thought, and even as we stood there he cuddled up close to me again, nuzzling his face against my throat. With a sigh, I dragged the throw off the back of the couch and laid us both down together upon the rug before the fire. As I drew the cloth over us, Holmes sighed contentedly, snuggled up against my side, his head upon the hollow of my shoulder. He reached up to sleepily kiss my cheek, then settled down again with his face nuzzling against my cotton shirt with a contented little sigh.
"Oh, Holmes," I sighed, stroking his face; but he was already asleep.