"Until the Bandages Came Off"
An Optional Epilogue to the story "The Shadow Boys Are Breaking"
"Sherlock, you're not supposed to be working," Mrs Hudson scolded as she entered 221B, a bag of groceries in each arm.
Propped up by pillows and swallowed by the folds of his dressing gown, Sherlock appeared every bit as fragile as an antique bisque doll. He'd insisted on remaining on the sofa – which, to be fair, was often where he'd slept before the explosion anyway, when in fact he did sleep – and ceding his bed to John, so as not to put them on separate floors during their initial recovery.
"I'm not working," he huffed. "I'm texting John."
Mrs Hudson knew better than to take his sharp tone to heart. The aches of his injuries, not to mention his concern over the man responsible for them, made him impatient and short-tempered. She'd come to appreciate that he refused his pain medication not because he didn't need it, but because he feared wanting it too much.
As he'd told her more than once, he needed to keep a clear head, now more than ever.
"John's just in the other room, Dear," she said evenly, nodding toward the open door. "And he should be sleeping."
Sherlock shook his head. "I deduced from the strain in his voice that shouting is uncomfortable for him in his present condition. Texting is easier when I require an update on his status."
When I require an update on his status.Mrs Hudson hid a grin even as she welcomed the fierce protectiveness that blossomed in her chest.
My boys, she thought.
"And he's not sleeping at present; he's eating," Sherlock added. "Lestrade brought takeaway. John's been craving a curry. As you know, he hated the hospital food."
"How nice of the detective inspector," she said, lowering her burdens into a chair. "I'm sorry I missed him. He brought some for you, too, I see." Indicating the tray on Sherlock's lap, she added, "You could do with some meat on your mending bones."
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock said, "Lestrade couldn't stay, but he left something for you in the kitchen."
She surrendered to a heartfelt smile as she made her way to the bedroom door. "Oh, did he now? How lovely! Let me check in on John, and then I'll go see."
John Watson looked as though he should have remained in hospital. Grey faced and hollow cheeked, he seemed slighter when contrasted to the bulk of the casts and splints that held together his battered body.
Half-sitting now, wedged upright on each side by pillows and folded blankets, he was shoveling curry into his mouth with a relish that was nearly obscene.
Mouth full, he waved a stiff and bandaged arm.
"Hello, John. Need anything?"
"I'm good, thanks." His voice was weak and hoarse, belying his words, but she'd expected no less. "How's your day?"
Sweet John, she thought.
"Fine, Dear. Just back from the market. Stew for dinner?"
"Oh, God, yes." His eyes threatened to roll in their sockets. "You, Mrs Hudson, are a saint."
"Thanks for noticing, Dear." With a wink, she said, "I'll be back later to collect your tray."
Pointing toward the mobile at his side, she added, "That does have a mute button, you know. When you're ready for a kip. It won't do if he keeps you texting 'til your thumbs fall off."
They shared a conspiratorial look of fond amusement.
As she re-entered the sitting room, she said, "You're not eating."
"Your powers of observation are astounding," Sherlock replied. "Ever consider a career at the Yard?"
She ignored him. "Is there something else you fancy instead of curry?"
"Sherlock Holmes, you're no bigger than a minute. You need food if you're to heal."
"'No bigger than a minute'? A curious phrase."
"I have a deliciously sordid past," she said, deadpan. "Perhaps I picked it up in some foreign land as I roamed the great, wide world in my wanton youth."
His lips twitched. "Of course." Playing along.
With a loud sigh, she shook her head. "Back then I had dreams and aspirations. Now I'd be happy if only my tenant would eat his curry." In a stage whisper, "Age, Sherlock: it's a sad business."
He gave her and her chatter a mock glare.
"You're my landlady, you realize, and not my nurse."
"I'm a twenty-first century woman; I can be whatever I want to be. Or so they say on telly." Her hands went to her hips. "Don't think I won't sit on your chest and force feed you if necessary."
"I had a collapsed lung. I have four broken ribs. And my hip, my leg. What isn't broken is torn, burned, or bruised," he said. "That would be most unpleasant."
"So you'll tuck in, hmmm?" She tried for a stern look, playing out the scene between them, grateful that she still had the chance to do so.
It had been a very near thing. For both of the men. For days.
At last, surrender. With a meekness the landlady felt certain was feigned, Sherlock said, "Yes, Mrs Hudson." And then, to punctuate the words, he ate a bite.
"Good boy." She meant it.
On the kitchen table sat a wide terra cotta pot holding three contrasting sets of planted flowers: one hardy and bright and one small and sweet, the third as delicate as miniature bells.
Cut flowers were gorgeous, but Mrs Hudson always had preferred potted plants, growing things that could be nurtured and protected and coaxed into bloom. She wasn't surprised that the detective inspector, of all people, would understand. He, too, would value what lived, what lasted.
Nestled between the three plants was a card, a clipped blossom affixed to its envelope. The card read merely "To Mrs Hudson," followed by four names that identified the flowers.
"It's beautiful," she said, warmed by the kind-hearted gesture. Then, glancing over her shoulder at Sherlock, "Any message?"
To her delight, he was still eating.
After swallowing a mouthful, he said, "I suspect the plants themselves are the message. Lestrade's late wife had a volume explaining the so-called 'language of flowers'; he used it to determine a motive in one of the earliest cases on which I consulted. After that, seeing its value, I committed the book to memory."
Card in hand, Mrs Hudson drifted back toward the sitting room. "You don't know the name of the Prime Minister, but you remember the meaning of every flower?"
"Knowing the Prime Minister has never assisted me in solving a case. Knowing the messages behind various flowers has proved useful on three separate occasions. For example, that mutilation in—"
"I don't need the gory details, Dear," Mrs Hudson interrupted. She raised the card in her hand. "Care to translate for me?"
He nodded. Distracted as he was with something new to occupy his mind, he didn't seem to notice that he was making significant headway on his lunch.
"Chinese chrysanthemum," she began.
"That's cheerfulness under adversity."
Lovely man, she thought, recalling Lestrade's blush as she had teased him.
"And blue periwinkle?"
She smiled, quite touched.
"Lily of the valley."
"A return of happiness."
Yes, she thought. They're home now, aren't they? Alive and mending.
"And this last one: it must be the blossom on the card. Milkvetch?"
Sherlock frowned, his gaze turning inward. Then, "Ah! Astragalus."
Brows raised, Mrs Hudson waited.
"It means, 'Your presence softened my pain.'"
She remembered that grey, rainy morning of tears and despair and tea.
"That makes sense to you," Sherlock prodded.
"Yes. Yes, it does." She blinked and sniffed. At his curious look, she said, very quietly, "You weren't the only one hurt by that explosion, Sherlock."
Their eyes met for several heartbeats. "No, I wasn't," he conceded at last.
His voice said, "I'll get Moriarty," but his expression said, "I'm sorry."
"I know, Dear."
His gaze fell to his curry, as she wiped her eyes and retrieved the groceries.
Some time later she returned from the kitchen with a steaming mug of tea in hand. Sherlock was nodding drowsily like the seriously wounded man he was. His long fingers curled loosely around his mobile. His tray rested on the floor beside him. His food was gone.
Mrs Hudson put the tea where he could reach it. When she brushed a gentle hand against his curls, he didn't protest.
"Lestrade said he'd visit again tomorrow," he mumbled.
"That's good." She smiled to herself. "I'll make scones."
Vital Stats: Originally written in July 2011.
The title is taken from lyrics to the song "Time" by Tom Waits.