Thank you to Azolean for Beta-ing.
I don't know how many times I'd heard him sigh during his four-day visit. It wasn't one of those playful sighs, which I had come to understand as his attempt not to laugh at something I did or said. It was usually accompanied by a smile, but he had not done that more than once since he'd made a quick change of plans and come to visit me. I had not expected him for at least another week, but was happier to see him than I would openly admit.
It was not an exasperated sigh either. He was not frustrated or agitated, so far as I could tell. Quite the opposite, I would say, but I'm no expert on human emotions.
I didn't think he was ill. He looked fairly healthy, for his age; the difference in our ages was small. Granted, he looked older than I; but while he once complained that I had retained my youth and vigor, I knew better. Old wounds ached most mornings, and sometimes I struggled to get up if I was kneeling by one of my beehives for too long. It was not bad enough to tell him. Let him get used to his own infirmities before he need know—and consequently worry, as most doctors seem to do when it comes to the health of others—of mine.
It was like the sighs that I only heard from him a few times during the first few anniversaries of his wife's death. He had grown to accept that she had passed, and missed her still; but he focused—or so it seemed—on the good memories. The sighs I heard were closest to those pain-ridden ones back in the early years of my return. But these ones held no pain or sorrow. These ones held only… remorse.
I was loath to let him return to London, since it was obvious there was something he was bothered by. Something he either wasn't telling me or felt he couldn't tell me.
He was to be returning this evening. I contemplated faking an illness. I had done it once before to keep him in 221B during a blizzard instead of him going out to see a patient. I knew I could rely on him to stay until he was certain of my health.
My only problem was what to fake. It was a wonderfully mild summer with no epidemics. Besides, faking laryngitis due to a mild cold I'd been fighting and complaining on paper of a sore throat was only enough to keep him around for an extra half-hour; and he called in another doctor to see to his first two house calls. Then he went out to see his third, but fortunately the storm had weakened in that time.
I didn't want to keep him here for an extra half-hour; though, if he missed his train he would be forced to stay an extra three to await the next. I wanted him around for as long as it took for him to be the cheerful old John Watson again—my loyal friend and Boswell.
I needed a more realistic and time-consuming diversion.
Some humorous ideas came to me, including various situations involving my winged friends outside. None of them would be any good.
What if I just asked him? I thought. Maybe the mere fact that I want him to stay would be enough for him to extend his visit to include the rest of the week.
Resolved, I decided it was time to get out of bed. On my first try, my back flared with a bolt of pain was so sharp and unexpected that I gave a short cry of pain. I bit my lip, hoping Watson had not heard.
"Holmes?" I heard him call.
Well, back to the first plan.
He knocked on my bedroom door. "Are you all right?"
I tried moving again before answering. This time, I managed to move just right so I could get out of bed. I opened the door, and he smiled at me.
"I thought I heard you shout," he said, putting it delicately.
"Minor accident. Everything is fine," I reported.
"Glad to hear it," he said, backing away from the door a little.
"Breakfast in five?" I asked.
I still needed to change. He was already dressed. He looked somewhat well rested. Better than when he arrived anyway.
"I'll be there," he assured me.
I nodded and he turned to let me shut the door and change. Then I realized it would be troublesome to dress. I choose simple attire and figured out how to sit and dress in order to lessen the pain.
I was beginning to feel better already and assumed the worst was over. I just had to learn to get out of bed more carefully. I left my bedroom and headed for the table, making sure to sit down gently. Watson was already there, his eyes perusing the paper.
"A woman in Paris is accused of killing eight children, including her own," he said, not raising his eyes.
I was stunned a moment, wondering how she could get away with eight murders before getting caught.
"Some of them weren't even two years old," Watson added. His tone was full of sorrow and I knew he grieved for the loss of life so young.
"Perhaps it was not her fault," I said, reaching for the article. He relinquished it to me and I scanned it. "See, it says the reports of the doctors all gave medical reasons." I tapped the spot with my finger.
"Holmes, there were bruises on their necks," Watson said. He'd worked with me long enough to know that that was not coincidence or chance. The woman was likely the murderer.
"Anything interesting happening elsewhere?" I asked, trying to end that topic. It was a gruesome crime, and it seemed to upset him a great deal.
"Not much. That missionary Taylor died," Watson said.
"Want to go on a walk after breakfast?" I suddenly wanted out of the house.
"I should probably pack first," Watson said.
"Watson, could you stay out the week?" I asked.
He looked up in surprise, then breakfast was brought out and he waited to answer. He took a bite and chewed slowly. I did not start eating, just stared at him, my eyes firmly demanding an answer. The answer I wanted to hear.
"Holmes, I have my practise," Watson said, trying to avoid my eyes.
"I see far too little of you because of that practise. You should retire," I scowled.
"I'm not ready to retire. Besides, I enjoy my work."
I could tell he did enjoy it. Couldn't he at least come out here and work? Why London with its many throngs of ill and infirm?
"I will build you a hospital next door," I said. It was a jest, but I was rewarded with an actual smile.
"What patients will come with all those bees?" Watson teased.
I snorted. "You seem to be a little offended by those bees, Watson."
"Not at all, provided they don't decide to sting."
"You're getting off topic, and if I didn't know better I'd say it was on purpose."
He immediately put down his spoon and shifted in his seat a little. I could tell he had been avoiding the topic of staying longer, and was now backed into a corner.
"Holmes, I shouldn't," Watson said.
"But you want to," I pointed out, knowing I was right. "And I want you to."
"What about my patients?" he asked.
"Watson, for once in your life forget the patients. Forget everything that would keep you in London. Would you stay if none of that mattered?"
"Of course, but that's not the case, Holmes. The reality is that I have patients and I need to be there for them."
"So, I come second."
It was a statement, not a question, and I hadn't meant to sound so cold, but I was jealous. I was angry that it was so hard for him to agree to stay for an extra three days when I was asking him because I was concerned for him.
He stood up and went to the window overlooking the beautiful countryside. "Do you enjoy putting me in difficult situations?" he asked.
I didn't know what to say, so I remained silent.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I don't mean that I care more about my patients than you, but… well, 'it is the sick who need a doctor.'"
"So all I have to do is come down with an illness and I'll have your undivided attention?" I couldn't resist a smile.
He sighed, but this time it was one of those sighs that told me he was holding back a laugh.
"Very well, Holmes. I'll stay."