Disclaimer: I suspect the reader will have already deduced that I own none of the characters mentioned within this story, and am therefore experiencing no financial gain by writing about them. It's all in good fun. :)
A/N:A random bit that found its way onto my laptop courtesy of a persistent little plotbunny.
"A companion loves some agreeable qualities which a man may possess, but a friend loves the man himself."
It might have been the way he crammed his favorite hat down, silently, violently, and somewhat askew, over his not-as-of-yet combed hair, that led me to my conclusion.
It may have been the way he tried, rather comically, I certainly must admit (although not to him!) to descend the stairs while repeatedly bending and struggling upon every other step to pull a stubborn boot all the way onto his left foot without having to actually stop to do so, that caused me to form my theory.
It could, quite possibly, have been the slight rattle of the two front windows, produced as the door that led out onto Baker Street banged closed rather sharply, which directed me to consider that I had probably committed a verbal faux pas.
But if there was one fact presented to me which solidified my deduction that something I had just uttered had upset my dear Watson, it was the fact that he had exited rather abruptly and quite before he'd touched even one bite of the aromatic breakfast Mrs. Hudson had just laid before him.
Watson skipping breakfast, unless it was because I had hastily ringed his neck with a scarf and urgently dragged him down to a waiting cab to pursue an avenue of investigation that simply could not wait another moment, was an unheard of event, and the frosty look Mrs. Hudson leveled upon me, complete with one accusing eyebrow frozen in meaningful elevation, induced me to hoist one back in askance at her. No answer was forthcoming from the disobliging woman, and I was abruptly faced with the back of her skirts, lifted slightly in one hand as she huffed off through the sitting room door, and the two front windows rattled their protest in their panes for the second time in less than a minute.
Frustrated for the moment, I nonetheless took heart in knowing that the sound of Watson hailing a cab had not wafted up beyond those frost-veined windows, which told me his temper was to be a shorter-lived one rather than a longer; it was generally his custom to energetically walk off any irritation and return in an hour or so in a more placid mood.
Only twice can I recall him being so vexed by some word or action of mine that he'd taken a cab and been absent an entire day, and only once had he been gone longer; I had traced him quite easily, confronted him, and irritated him anew, which sent him off in a huff aboard the next available train out of St Pancras. I've learned since not to speak of the incident. Reminding Watson that he had meant to board the 10:25 Local to Kensington and not the 10:35 Express to Bristol accounts for a very stern look that crosses his face, ( as well as for the fact that he was gone far longer than he'd actually meant that day.)
I took one last pull at my nearly spent cigarette and put it out in the remainder of an over-cooked egg, reminding myself that I was short on both those (cigarettes, not eggs) and pipe tobacco, and that I would also have to venture out into the bleak, cold morning sooner rather than later, a thought I did not relish as my constitution is much more tolerant of June than of January. I rose quickly from my seat and covered the distance to the window in three long strides. As I gazed down below, I saw Watson shove bare hands into his coat pockets to warm them, for he'd forgotten gloves in his overly hasty exit, and then slip while rapidly crossing the frozen street. Down he went in a heap before he could even manage to free his hands, his frozen exhalation of pain and frustration visible upon the frigid air. When he struggled to rise and was defeated by the ice a second time, I did the kindest thing I could possibly think to do at that moment: I ducked behind the draperies so that he would not know that I had seen when he cast a rueful glance up at our windows.
When I dared peek again, having judged that a long enough moment had gone by for my poor Watson to get himself to his feet, gather his sorely bruised dignity, and trudge off more carefully through the light sleet that was beginning to tinkle against the glass, I caught sight of his hunched form disappearing around the corner.
For ninety-three minutes, with a blanket draped across my shoulders and over top of my dressing gown, I paced the length of the sitting room and back, upon each circuit taking a moment to survey the length and breadth of our street, and upon every score of circuits a moment to fortify the fire with more fuel. It was the sort of weather that I despised, and at the moment I despised even more that Watson was out in it, and out in it because of me.
Five more minutes of pacing gave rise to the thought that he might be ensconced in a warm chair at his club, a thought which brought only the briefest notion of relief to me; he would still have to make his way home in the dreadful weather at hand, an unpleasant proposition either by cab or by foot with the deteriorating conditions.
Another ten minutes, and I was annoyed that he was so determined to be irritated with me that he would sacrifice the comfort of his armchair across from mine in order to make his point. I sat back down in my own chair with a huff, determined to leave him to his own petulant devices.
How it was that I came to find myself winding a muffler twice about my neck and pulling my own hat tightly down over my ears while I passed Mrs. Hudson with a broom upon the landing, I really am not quite sure.
Again she raised a communicative eyebrow at me; this time it clearly asked where I could possibly be going with the current precarious precipitation conditions.
"Out," was my rather brief answer.
"For tobacco," I added pointedly, in order to clarify things for my landlady, who wore what could only be interpreted as a Knowing Smirk upon her face. For the record, I dislike that look. That is to say I much prefer to be the one to wear such an expression than to receive it.
I made sure my boots were solidly upon my feet, having no desire to repeat Watson's undignified one-shoed descent of the stairs in front of Mrs. Hudson, and I quickly found myself at the front door, bracing for the frigid blast and sting of sleet that I knew I would be met with once I opened it.
Both the wind and the frozen rain were upon my face in an instant, but it was not I who had opened the door, nor was it I who abruptly slammed it shut. At first glance it appeared to be the Ice Beast of Bhutan who had done so, (Watson has a detailed description of that case set aside under 'I' rather than 'B' where I should have put it) but upon closer inspection it was clear that Watson had at last returned, brim and brows and mustache iced over all alike.
We eyed each other silently for a moment while Watson began to thaw all over Mrs. Hudson's foyer, and another well-aimed eyebrow from the woman told him he'd best take off his wet things where he stood and not dare to sully the stairs and the landing she'd just finished cleaning.
After carefully hanging all his wet garments in the lower hall, Watson padded past me and up the stairs to the sitting room in stocking feet, a brown paper parcel that had been stashed under his topcoat clutched in his hands. I hesitated momentarily, glancing from the door to the top of the stairs, and weathering another Knowing Smirk from Mrs. Hudson before she headed for the kitchen, sighed and climbed back whence I'd just come.
"You've been gone a while," I observed casually, once Watson had settled himself with his package at his writing desk, and I had shed my outerwear.
My dear friend's reply was inscrutable as he methodically opened his parcel, and an awkward silence suffused the room.
"Ghastly weather," I continued, looking for some hint as to Watson's current mood. "Shall I stoke the fire?"
A silent nod prompted me to do so and to surreptitiously glance at my companion, trying still to gauge his level of displeasure with me.
"I hope you weren't out in that all this time, my dear fellow," I tried, gesturing at the sleet now coating the windows with the poker in my hand.
With no further answer forthcoming, I admit I determined where he had been myself, after glancing at the contents of the unwrapped package that lay before him: a new bottle of ink, a fresh, blank notebook of the kind he favored, six ginger cookies, and a smaller paper-wrapped box.
"I was concerned that you might have been overly exposed to the elements this morning, but now I see that I shouldn't have worried so –clearly you had a pleasant and lingering visit with a most charming young lady."
I knew I was correct in my inferences even before it was apparent that Watson was fighting back a smile he didn't wish me to see. The ink and the notebook were both from Hereford, a local stationer, and the gingersnaps from his eldest and very attractive daughter, who baked them (Watson's favourite) quite often in the hopes that she might have the opportunity to bestow them upon the good doctor at any moment that he might happen into the shop to replenish his writing supplies. I had suspected for quite some time that both the homemade baked goods and the flirtations of the fair maiden were cause enough for Watson to venture two blocks further than he needed for his pens and paper.
"That is not the only place I have been in this wretched weather," Watson said softly, after heaving a sigh which I knew to signify that he'd loosed his grasp of his earlier irritation. He picked up the smaller paper-wrapped package and held it out to me; instantly I recognized the mark of my favored tobacconist upon the seal.
"My dear Watson!" I exclaimed upon discovering he had thoughtfully taken the time, in the horrid weather no less, to re-stock my severely depleted supply of shag tobacco. This, I knew, required a substantial effort on his part; my tobacconist was not on a convenient route between our residence and Hereford's, and I could only imagine how long it had taken him, slipping and sliding all the way, to acquire the small gift he now handed me. I opened my mouth again to voice some form of thanks, but Watson spoke before I could.
"Self-preservation, old man," he said calmly, jerking his head at the persistent sleet pinging off the glass. "Being penned up here with you without your nicotine for two days would most certainly rival being caged with a cantankerous old bear."
I could only smile at his comment, for surely it was the truth.
A more comfortable silence reigned for the next few moments as Watson prepared to begin writing and I refilled the Persian slipper and then my pipe. All was returning to as it should be.
Several contented puffs later, from where I had wrapped myself in my discarded blanket once more and perched myself upon the sofa, I finally determined that I should attempt some manner of apology.
"I am sorry, Watson, if I have caused you any distress this morning."
The good doctor turned in my direction, apparently somewhat surprised by my frankness. I can't imagine why. With no reply forthcoming from him, I attempted to continue.
"What I said was quite thoughtless."
"I should be more considerate before I make such statements."
"I hope that you will forgive my indiscretion…"
"I already have."
A brief moment passed before Watson finally smiled and spoke again.
"Holmes, you really have no idea what it was that you said, do you?"
"Not an inkling."
I expected my confession to upset Watson yet again, but if anything, his smile grew broader. "No matter." He turned away and began to scribble upon the pristine page of his new notebook, no doubt glorifying for posterity some recent adventure we had shared together.
"If you told me I should be careful not to say such a thing again."
"No you won't." Watson's words were a simple statement without accusation.
"Well, and then what?" I asked, slightly perturbed.
Watson continued to write as he spoke, not bothering to look up. "I shall have an invigorating constitutional, a cup of tea with a most pleasant young lady, and some of the finest gingersnaps in all of London before returning home."
In other words, Watson would forgive me once again.
The good doctor continued with his writing, occasionally taking a bite of a nearby gingersnap, and I sat contentedly with a full pipe near the fire, trying to discern which story he might be recording based on the series of expressions that crossed his face as he worked. It appeared to be either the Case of the Six-fingered Man, or the Adventure of the Gilded Lily, but the answer didn't matter enough for me to interrupt him.
Nor did it matter that the storm continued to rage outside the front windows, or that Mrs. Hudson now wore a Knowing Smile when she entered with lunch, for I knew as she did that Watson glorifying my most brilliant deductive reasoning (if in a somewhat overly romanticized fashion) meant nothing compared to six ounces of shag tobacco and one ounce of understanding that even Sherlock Holmes could sometimes lack a clue.