Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

"Something troubles you, Watson."

The man addressed blinks and slowly removes his gaze from some indistinct corner of the room as if coming out of a trance. He speaks slowly and uncertainly - far from his normal voice: determined and strong. "Would you care to enlighten me Holmes? I can certainly hazard a guess that you've been positively itching to deduce my inner-most thoughts as of late."

Holmes scoffs before smiling ever so slightly, one hand resting lightly on his cheek. His eyes never stray from his long time roommate's face.

"Really now, Watson." Holmes dips his head condescendingly. "You should know by now that guessing is never the right course of action. Also, if the helpful albeit questionable ability to read minds were to be added to my already astounding talent of deduction then your petty problem would have been solved approximately an hour ago."

Watson merely shakes his head and Holmes can't help but notice that his friend's usual amused chuckle is absent. Holmes hesitates – only for a second – before taking this as an invitation to glean what he can from any surrounding clues.

"You, Friend Watson, have been sitting in this room for the entire day. Your breakfast was ingested with less gusto than usual and you are not seeing any patients today."

Watson opens his mouth, but Holmes interrupts him before he can ask. "Your travelling cloak, hat and sword-stick are placed neatly on the hook over your walking shoes – the customary spot where you hang these items when you have planned to take a day away from your practice. "

Watson nods, satisfied.

Holmes rests his elbows on his knees and interlaces his fingers, leaning forward so as to study the man in front of him. "These two deductions prove to me that you are either unable to think properly or that there is one particular thought your brain has decided to focus on. I believe the latter to be the more likely scenario as to the fact that in all the years I've known you I have never come across a more level-headed man."

Watson's silence stretches uncomfortably thin and Holmes ploughs on, unaware of the tension lining his friend's brow. He breathes in and continues. "The morning paper lies fresh upon the doorstep. Therefore, your trouble cannot come from some outside news article further - proving my earlier point on your distraction over one particular thought."

Holmes pauses to study Watson's face – his half-closed eyes in particular. "Herein lays the problem. We have established that I cannot read minds, eh Watson? Over the past hour you have been averting your gaze from mine – rather pointedly if I do say so, old boy."

Holmes smiles hazily and again rests his chin on his slender fingers. "How am I to deduce what I cannot see?" Watson stares into his eyes for the first time that day and Holmes straightens. "Ah. Much better, indeed."

Watson's mouth twitches and Holmes' eyes alight with something akin to triumph (mixed with a rare display of kindness) at having brought about a small reaction. "So you have wasted an hour by staring at me the entire time?" Watson leans back and closes his eyes, cutting the connection and the light leaves Holmes' pupils.

"Yes." Always so blunt. "Although it has done me little good."

A pause. Too long, too long.

"You are right, of course." Watson sits, changing the subject and Holmes is left to wonder where his eyes are roaming beneath those still closed lids. "I almost always am," Holmes drawls hoping to elicit something, anything –

Watson eyes fly open and he looks – looks – at Holmes before answering. "It's about you, actually."

Hardly surprising. Holmes thinks but doesn't voice. He waits. And Watson speaks. "During that little 'adventure' concerning Mr. Culverton Smith…" Holmes makes a little sound of recognition before Watson can finish his thought. "Aha! Quite a thrilling theatrical challenge that was. I had you fooled in an instant did I not, Watson?" He chuckles and Watson doesn't answer; Holmes isn't expecting him to. He waves a hand in his direction. "Pray continue, friend."

Watson studies his left slipper and thinks before doing so. "I, well that is to say…"

He clears his throat and Holmes notices the subtle twitch of his fine moustache and the slight bob of his Adam's Apple –

"It really isn't something to fret about. It, it just… I must admit I am curious. Something you said…"

Muttering. Holmes recalls that he cannot stand it. Especially coming from the dear Doctor. Something I said, hmm? Memories of the aforementioned conversation tumble from the drawers and the infinite closet that is Holmes' mind and rush through his subconscious before one thought in particular presents itself violently centre stage with a resounding (mental) click. Interesting.

Holmes' eyes flicker and re-focus on Watson's, already expecting the next statement. Watson unknowingly hastens to prove his theory correct. "When Smith was about to come through the door…you told me to hide." Watson tilts his head questionably to the side and Holmes cannot help but think of it as endearing. "But in a strange way."

Watson draws out the word 'strange,' as if struggling to find a more appropriate word. "If I can recall correctly, your exact words were: 'Quick, man, if you love me!'"

He pauses and frowns before jumping slightly clearing his throat yet again. "I really do not know why I am making such a fuss about this particular statement, but it seems so odd and unlike you that I really can't not dwell on it. It is…strange."

There is that word again; floating like all the unspoken synonyms on Watson's stilled lips. Holmes sits rigid in his chair, theory proven to be truth. All it took was one slip – one slip! And Holmes is floundering for an explanation for the first time in his life. Holmes doesn't bother to fake a smile. He knows the Doctor knows him well enough to know that it would be false.

Instead, he improvises.

"I was delirious, my good man! Even I know not what came from my mouth on that day."

"You were most certainly not! You were only acting." Watson responds, indignant.

"Hah," Holmes exclaims. "Only acting? Ça n'est pas vrai. Why, you of all people should know how I do not merely act, I become the character - in this case, a delirious me."

"So, a 'delirious you' actually admits affection whereas your true self does not? The one time you seem to be something more than a machine and you just happen to be acting? I think not. What were you trying to prove, Holmes and to whom?"

Watson's statement is extremely uncalled for (and true?), Holmes thinks and shrinks and sinks into himself. The Doctor is, of course, baffled and wonders what he has said to make his friend behave in such a manner. He immediately thinks that maybe his words have been a tad too harsh and tries to console Holmes, tries to find an excuse to touch him (I want to touch him?) and lays a hand on his shoulder.

"Come Holmes, I didn't mean to be –"

Holmes visibly relaxes under the Doctor's hand and lifts his bent head. He speaks abruptly.

"I crave the contact."

Watson almost, almost takes his hand away, but leaves it resting on Holmes' shoulder and his thoughts are all jumbled because how can Holmes – Holmes of all people – crave contact because Holmes never touches anyone – not anyone, only –

And Watson stops thinking with a sudden: Oh…

And Holmes continues to stare at him.

And Holmes has been touching him quite a lot recently, hasn't he?

And Watson wonders.

The detective went on. "I wanted to know why. I wanted to know…what it would feel like to willingly not be able to touch Watson. To force myself away from you. It…was hard. Very hard."

Watson reminds him of Moriarty. Holmes dips his head. "Ah, and yet I had no choice but to stay away. My life was in jeopardy; I couldn't just return, old boy. Holmes returns to the main subject as his eyes flick over to the hand on his shoulder. "I was focusing too much on you, you see and when our 'guest' so rudely pounded up the stairs, I merely said what I logically thought you would respond to."

Watson removes his hand and slowly withdraws it back to his side. "If you love me…"

Holmes is too disappointed, upset, startled, at the lack of heat – no, no – he is a 'machine,' he doesn't have emotions. Never mind, then – he certainly isn't any variation of upset at all. He does not distinctly notice Watson's fingers upon the couch and not on him.

His face blank once, Holmes replies: "Well…you know now. Is there anything you need to discuss further?" Watson is simply astonished at how naturally Holmes can create his mask of indifference. Wasn't it chipped just a second ago?

The Doctor responds by grabbing Holmes' wrist and studying his face – hah! – and the mask is once again chipped (cracking, splintering, fading, what is beneath it?) Watson leans forward, trying to get a better view of Holmes' face. A foolish thought, really. He could see it perfectly fine from a few centimeters back. Holmes blinks, withdrawing his face, getting up from his chair and twisting out of the Doctor's grip – all in one fluid motion.

"I am a machine, Doctor – you have said so yourself more often than not." The mask is back, Watson notices. Does his touch really have such an effect on this person – for he is a person, Watson decides right then and there; capable of emotion and most certainly not a machine.

And Watson must quickly block the thoughts that momentarily flit through his consciousness, the thoughts of how far he could take this – to learn – to see – (to understand?) because he is, after all, a respectable Protestant and such thoughts are…well, not becoming of a respectable Protestant. So instead of settling things, Watson runs away from the problem. And he keeps this – whatever this is – a problem instead of potentially solving it.

And Holmes hungrily takes advantage of this, settling this experiment into the deep recesses of him vast mind without any further ado. "Right. Well, old boy-"

Holmes and his partner are spared the awkward conversation when a loud 'rapraprap' sounds from behind the doorway. "Yes, yes – come in Lestrade." The bulldog of a man enters and Watson is left to wonder how the devil Holmes deduced the presence of the inspector.

"Holmes…Watson." Lestrade nods to each man and continues. "I hope I 'aven't interrupted anything, dear fellows! I 'ave merely come to congratulate you on the successful capture of Vincent Savage. Quite a hole 'e put us in fer a while. Quite a hole, indeed." He removes his hat and grins – slightly embarrassed.

Watson stands up suddenly from his chair. His brow creases anew and the look he throws Holmes positively radiates anger, disappointment, sadness, (longing…) "Why thank you Inspector. You know how well we accomplish things, Holmes and I. Teamwork and all. Good day to you two."

With this he turns, grabs his cane and cloak and walks quietly out the door, leaving Holmes and a confused Lestrade listening to his receding footsteps.


One month later, Holmes receives an invitation to Watson's upcoming wedding. He tosses it into the fire like the previous two. He stretches his hands out to meet the grate, warming them – it's because of the cold that his digits are shaking. Just the cold – absolutely nothing else. It's December after all. Ghastly weather. But his chest… Out of all the data floating about in Holmes' vast mind, he cannot find a single argument that supports a December frost so affecting the heart.

AN - For the french challenged - Ça n'est pas vrai = That's not true. Hope you enjoyed!

- WhiteWinters