Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were created by ACD and in this version by Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Author's note: This entire narrative is told in the words and voice of John Watson.
The first time that I laid eyes on Dr Holmes, I knew I was done for. He walked into the class for the first lecture of the term...strode in like he owned the place and looked around at all of us like he knew that he was by far the smartest person in the room.
I was in my final year of med school then...all of twenty three years old. I'd realised a few years ago that I was occasionally attracted to men, but I definitely preferred women...at least until that man walked into that classroom and seriously tipped the scales with nothing more than his looks.
And then he started talking and I swear to you, my knees turned to water…O my God! That voice, it was doing all sorts of things to me (and not just to me, I might add, we were a class of thirty…a good number of the girls looked like they were having trouble concentrating on the pathology part of the lecture).
I had heard a lot about Dr Holmes. He was a forensic pathologist, the youngest teacher at Bart's. He was just thirty two at that time, but he was already an acknowledged expert in his field. He had experimented with and developed several new tests and processes that were now being used around the world. He also worked as a consultant with the police.
I had been told that Dr Holmes was brilliant teacher. And he was...as I realised when I was finally able to focus on what he was actually saying…it took me more than ten minutes to stop staring at him, but I did get there... I'm not entirely without self control.
I've had some good teachers in my time, but this man was something else. His absorption in his subject was total. He started lecturing and his eyes lit up and then he walked around making these sweeping gestures as he spoke and he drew us all in…there we were, caught up in his enthusiasm and there was never a question of being distracted or looking away, even.
He was as demanding as he was brilliant and I knew that my massive crush aside, his class would be hard work. I needed to do well, needed the credits if I wanted to get my medical degree. I've always been a good student and being a doctor was important to me. I didn't have to make up my mind to work hard, it simply wasn't in my nature to do anything less.
It became very clear as I sat through lecture after lecture that my crush was not going to go away as I had dearly hoped it would. If anything, my feelings for him only seemed to intensify. The more I got to know him, the more I admired him. He was a genius, his mind making the kind of leaps that the rest of us could only wonder at. His love for science was obvious and infectious.
He brought so much passion to everything that he did, whether it was teaching or working in the lab or sometimes just talking about his subject. This was even more attractive to me than his looks or his voice. And it made it that much harder to get over him.
Two weeks into the term and I was working harder for his subject than I had ever worked for anything in my life. I wanted to impress him, make him notice me at the very least. Most of our professors made an effort to get to know us. But Dr Holmes stayed aloof. He knew all of our names and histories by the end of the first lecture, but he made it clear that he wasn't particularly interested in getting to know any of us. He was there to do a job and so were we.
Most of the professors at Bart's were quite friendly. Any doubts or questions and we could drop by their office and they would happily help out. Dr Holmes was the only professor that we hesitated to go to for help. This, despite the fact that his subject was probably the most difficult. He wasn't approachable at all. He was always serious and focussed. He never cracked a joke, never laughed...I wondered sometimes if he even knew how to laugh.
He handed out his first assessment of the term with the words, "I am well aware that most of you are singularly lacking in intelligence, but I hope that you have put in some effort into your preparation. Please make sure that you do a good job. I will not tolerate ignorance or stupidity."
All of us felt ignorant and stupid immediately. But we did what we could. Next class, he gave us back our papers...along with a scathing summary of our dismal performance. I got a B, probably the first time in my life. I felt awful. It was only later that I realised that Molly and I were the only ones who'd got B's. The rest had done a lot worse. Mike complained loud and long about his D.
He probably thinks I'm stupid, I thought, sinking lower in my chair. He does not think about you at all, my brain supplied helpfully. Right. Yes, of course. Why couldn't I stop thinking about him? I wanted to. But I couldn't. It was becoming obvious that my feelings for Dr Holmes were now well beyond a crush…I was falling in love with him. I know that is hard to believe, but there was something about the man which drew me to him from the moment I laid eyes on him.
The same something made it impossible for me to look at or think about anyone else, no matter how much I wanted to. Two more weeks, one more assessment and another B. I wanted to scream. I was working hard, I was trying, but there was no impressing this man. We got another dressing down about our woeful lack of intelligence...it was a tirade that was becoming awfully familiar. I sat there wishing the ground would just open up and swallow me.
Then, "John Watson, Molly Hooper, please see me in my office." And before either of us could respond, he turned on his heel and left. Molly and I looked at each other wondering what that was about. We went to his office together that afternoon. I waited outside. Molly went in looking nervous and came out in tears.
Poor Molly…she also had a major crush on Dr Holmes and she was totally unable to hide it. And it was not like she was an idiot. She was intelligent and usually sensible, but all of that seemed to go out of the window when she was faced with the man.
She would blush deeply and start stuttering and fiddling with her clothes and her hair. He usually ignored it, but then he'd called her to his office that day to discuss her work and she'd kept fidgeting. He snapped at her to kindly get herself under control and not leave her emotions leaking all over the place...And more on the same lines.
The truly pathetic thing as she told me later was that despite all that, her crush on him was as bad as ever. Now I knew that I was nowhere as obvious as Molly, but the man was perceptive. I was sure he would see right through me, see all my inappropriate thoughts and feelings. I was nervous, but there was no help for it, so I squared my shoulders and went in.
"John Watson," he said looking at me appraisingly. "Sit."
I drew a chair and sat down. "I asked you to come see me because I want to discuss your work which, as I'm sure you know, is not what it should be."
My work is not what it should be? I know that, but the rest of the class is doing a lot worse than Molly and me, so why are we getting pulled up?
The thought must have shown on my face. Either that or he can read minds.
"The rest of them are idiots. You and Miss Hooper are the only ones I have some hopes of. Your friend Stamford should consider a career in teaching. He'll never be any good in the real world."
I raised my eyebrows at that.
"I happen to teach because I like it, not because I cannot do anything else."
I tried not to smile at that. What is it about this man? Why do I find him charming even when he's being rude?
"Watson..." he began.
"Please call me John." The words were out of mouth before I could stop them. Clearly my brain-to-mouth filter was not functioning at that moment. Is this what happened to Molly?
I sat there cringing, waiting for the inventible put down, the sarcastic comment. But it didn't come. I looked at him and I noticed that the corner of his mouth was turned up in an almost smile.
"Okay. John, you are obviously intelligent but your work is not up to scratch. Is this because you're lazy or because you're content to be mediocre?"
I was wondering what to say as he sat there looking at me with his head tilted to one side in a way that I found quite adorable.
"Or is it" he continued, "that you need help and you're too proud to ask for it?"
"Afraid, sir, not proud." Again I spoke without thinking. I was sure I had offended him this time.
But to my eternal surprise, he laughed.
"I'm not as scary as I look, John. You have every right to ask me for help. It's my job. So what exactly are you having trouble with?"