Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! This is a short ficlit written for Ladynorbert's contest at Knights of Fandom on tumblr. This is meant to be pre-series Granada-verse, but could also fit in the book-verse (post-Study).
Doctor John Watson tried his best to ignore the cold as he headed back to Baker Street. February of 1882 was bringing a rather vindictive winter storm upon London, and, by his choice, he would not have been out in it. Alas, it was not his choice; a letter had arrived earlier that day informing the doctor that, due to an unforeseen mix-up, his monthly pension check would be delayed. Watson had not been pleased; his finances were not strong (admittedly due to some irresponsibility on his behalf), and, as a result, he had been forced to go to the bank and withdraw all of his meager savings in order to pay the rent. Mrs. Hudson would be collecting it the next day, and she had absolutely no tolerance for late payments, as she had plainly stated to him and to Sherlock Holmes when they first began sharing the flat.
But as Watson opened the door to 221 B, it soon became clear that there was something else Mrs. Hudson had no tolerance for; she was positively shrieking with anger. The baffled replies of his flatmate soon made it clear as to what; their voices could be heard clearly, even from where the doctor was standing.
"Really, Mrs. Hudson!" Sherlock Holmes exclaimed. "You are acting as though I deliberately intended for that experiment to spill upon the carpet!"
"The carpet is still ruined!" Mrs. Hudson cried, a mixture of disbelief and woe in her voice.
"Yes," Holmes admitted. "Yes, it is. But you do understand that I had been in the middle of a highly important experiment; Lestrade had asked me to—"
"I don't care what the inspector asked you to do!" she retorted. "My husband and I bought that carpet years ago—together! It was the last thing we bought together!"
"Well, there you are, then!" Holmes said. "It's certainly not a new carpet; you can find a much better one!"
Watson buried his face in his hand in utter embarrassment, despite being nowhere near the scene. Holmes had absolutely no idea as to how much deeper he had just dug the pit in which he was standing, and not even Mrs. Hudson's ensuing cry of utter disbelief would be enough to drive the point home, either.
"Mr. Holmes!" she shrieked. "You are the coldest, most insensitive man in London! You had best learn now that I have no need for a tenant like that!"
Watson could hear Mrs. Hudson storming away; knowing that she would be coming downstairs, as well as being reluctant to let either of them know that he had overheard their quarrel, the doctor quickly ducked back outside into the winter storm long enough to ensure that Mrs. Hudson would have gone past the hall by the time he reentered.
Watson now went upstairs, pausing as he exchanged a glance with the detective. Holmes knew Watson had heard the quarrel, and Watson soon realized that was the case.
"Tell me, Watson—have you ever seen a person get so emotional over a piece of flooring?"
Watson carefully chose his answer.
"Holmes, I think you ought to apologize to Mrs. Hudson."
"Of course I apologized!" the detective exclaimed. "The moment she noticed it, I told her—"
"You didn't even tell her?" Watson blurted out. "You let her find out for herself?"
"Well…" Holmes said, gesturing to the acid stain on the carpet. "You must admit, it is rather difficult to miss… I do have good news, however; I am very close to solving Lestrade's case. You see, it was not vitriol as he thought; it was some other type of substance, and I do believe—"
"The case is unimportant, Holmes; you are about to get evicted!"
Holmes waved a hand in dismissal; this, clearly, was not a new experience for him.
"You may not have to worry about find new lodgings if you apologize," Watson insisted again.
"And I already told you, I did!"
"Not about the damage," Watson explained. "About how callously you treated the matter; I do believe that was what irked our landlady the most."
"Watson, it is a carpet! The old thing was half-threadbare already!"
"Yes, but you heard her say that it was the last thing that she and her husband bought together, did you not?"
"Of course I heard it, Watson. But does she expect the memory of the late Mr. Hudson to be sullied on account of the carpet being stained?"
Watson sighed in exasperation. Trying to explain to Holmes's logical mind about sentiment was like trying to mix oil and water.
"Never mind, Holmes," the doctor said, turning back around and going downstairs.
"You just got back; where are you going?" the detective inquired.
"Out; I have seen enough of war to know that this is merely a lull before the next skirmish."
In the hall mirror, he could see Holmes give another dismissive wave as he returned to his experiment. The doctor shook his head, wondering how such a brilliant man could be so out of touch.
Keen on not seeing Holmes thrown out into the winter storm, Watson pondered over what to do as he walked. And it was after he stopped by a small sweetshop that an idea came to him. Unfortunately, he soon realized that this idea would take up too much of his intended rent money; however, if it worked, Mrs. Hudson's good mood might be restored enough to allow him to get a few extra days to pay the rent.
At any rate, Holmes would not be in the cold if his plan worked. And that was enough motivation for the doctor to purchase a large box of expensive, gourmet chocolates for Mrs. Hudson, as well as to include a note of apology on Holmes's behalf. He left the peace offering on the table in the hall.
A few hours later, when he and Holmes were busy in the sitting room—Holmes finishing up with his chemistry notes and Watson going over his publisher's edits to his latest manuscript—Mrs. Hudson entered the room with the box, smiling.
Holmes leaped to his feet, as though ready to defend his chemistry set in case their landlady had just schemed to take out her frustrations upon it. But he relaxed upon seeing her expression.
"Mr. Holmes," she said, softly. "I take back what I said earlier; you are not cold and insensitive. I thank you for your apology and your gift."
Watson had to try very hard not to look amused at the uncharacteristic look of confusion upon the detective's face. Not wanting Holmes's confusion to betray his plan, Watson now stepped forward to address their landlady before she could notice.
"Mrs. Hudson," he said. "I must request an extension on tomorrow's rent payment; I received word this morning…"
His words faded from his lips as a dark expression crossed her face.
"Doctor, I thought I made it very clear when you first started staying here—I will not tolerate late payments on the rent! Mr. Holmes was enough of a gentleman to apologize and make amends; the least you can do is pay your rent on time!"
"…My monthly pension has been delayed due to an error, and I have hardly any funds left; I wouldn't have asked otherwise—"
"Well! You should have thought of that before frittering your savings away on unnecessary purchases or those horrid betting tables!" she chided. "I expect the rent tomorrow, Doctor; just as I have no need for an insensitive tenant, I have no need for one who cannot pay for his room!"
She turned roughly on her heel and left, nearly slamming the sitting room door behind her. Watson could only stare, gobsmacked, realizing that his brilliant plan had just gone up in smoke. On the verge of panic, the doctor rushed to his room without even a word to the detective, praying that he had, by some miracle, placed some money aside for a rainy day.
Left alone, it took Sherlock Holmes only fifteen seconds to piece together what had happened. Checkbook in hand, he approached his landlady—cautiously.
"Mrs. Hudson," he said. "You cannot evict Watson like this!"
"It is not irrational to expect that a tenant should be able to pay for his lodgings!" she insisted.
"But where is he to go? The man is still recovering from the hardships of war, and the weather is more than any man can stand! You heard him explain about his delayed pension; as for the rest of his money, you now hold it in your hands. It was he who bought you the chocolates in my name; I had no knowledge of them. I must confess, Mrs. Hudson, that I am still just as callous as you previously accused me of being. But Watson is not; he must have used a sizeable portion of the remainder of his savings to buy that for you—in the hopes that you wouldn't evict me. And I am willing to return the favor; I will pay for his share of the rent—in addition to the carpet, of course! I beg you to let him stay! You can cast me out, if you wish!"
But, to his utter surprise, the landlady was smiling.
"You may relax, Mr. Holmes. I have no intention of casting either of you out in this weather. I am just pleased to see that my little performance has succeeded."
"This was all an act?!" Holmes exclaimed.
"To prove that you are not the coldest, most insensitive man in London, as you yourself have also been led to believe," she finished. "I had to see that you held at least some concern for others. Did you honestly think that I didn't see the doctor's hand in all of this? I may not be as observant as you, but I am not that unobservant!"
"But… if you knew, then why do all of this at poor Watson's expense?" Holmes asked. "He's tearing his room apart, looking for whatever money he has!"
"Because the doctor still needs to learn to be more careful with his money! Had he been less frivolous with his finances, he would not have had to resort to depleting his savings just to pay the rent, even with his pension payment delayed!" she exclaimed, and then her expression softened. "The doctor is a good man, bless him. And so are you, Mr. Holmes. But I daresay that the both of you have much to learn from each other."
Holmes blinked in surprise, but gave a nod of understanding.
"Perhaps we do. Now, if you will allow me, I shall put the doctor's mind at ease by informing him that, as thanks for his generous gesture of appeasing you on my behalf, I shall pay his share of the rent."
Mrs. Hudson responded with a nod of approval, and Holmes practically tore up the stairs to deliver the good news.
As Mrs. Hudson had hoped, both flatmates did, indeed, learn something from this experience. For his part, Holmes began to treat both Watson and Mrs. Hudson with much more concern—a conscious effort, at first, which eventually became second nature, albeit one he tried to conceal; he endeavored to maintain the illusion of "a brain without a heart," though the doctor and the landlady both knew the truth. Watson learned to be much more frugal; the temptation of the betting tables was still an issue, which he countered by having his checkbook locked in Holmes's desk drawer—a humbling, though practical, solution that had been suggested by none other than the detective himself with his newfound empathy.
As for Mrs. Hudson, seeing a growing friendship strengthen even more as weeks turned to months, and as months turned into years, was all the reward she needed.