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|Author's Website:||The Rag and Bone Shop|
|Pairing:||Sherlock Holmes / John Watson|
|Author's Disclaimer:||They don't belong to me...|
|Author's Notes:||Watson's little quote is from Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris".|
|Series/Sequel:||Sequel to "Leaving"|
I stand at the doorway and watch his cab rattle off into the infinite fog, lost in my own thoughts until I feel a gentle hand tug my sleeve.
Turning back into the house, I look down into Mary's face, and am surprised by the expression there. It seems concerned; no, more than that, it is... apprehensive.
"I thought you were going to stand out there all night," she says.
"Just seeing Holmes off," I reply in some surprise. "What's the matter?"
She smiles her own singularly beautiful smile, and I decide I must have been seeing things. "Just afraid you'd catch a chill. That's the last thing my poor fellow needs, with all these nasty epidemics floating around."
I find my hand wandering to touch the softness of her cheek and her smile grows wider. "Nonsense." It comes out of me as a laugh. "I'm a doctor, loved one. Practically invincible, or hadn't you heard?"
Her hand covers my own, and then drops down to her side, our fingers still linked as we proceed back into the house, the housekeeper closing the door behind us. "Goodness," she murmurs, "I'm exhausted."
"A capital evening," I announce. "Mary, you were wonderful, as always. I think even Holmes enjoyed himself."
She glances into the hall mirror, tucking a stray wisp of hair back into place in her chignon. I consider absently that it might be rather nice to muss it up again later, when we retire for the night. "I think so," she says absently. "I found him... surprising; he's a nice conversationalist when he puts his mind to it, your Mr. Holmes."
I laugh again. "My Mr. Holmes! I should like to hear his reaction to that; or on second thoughts, perhaps I wouldn't. But you are quite right, my dear. He is an unusual creature, but eminently capable of surprising resources, when pressed."
Her lips quirk up into a half-smile. "Almost like a cornered animal," she murmurs.
I blink. It is an interesting simile, but I find I do not much care for it. Again I am struck by something in her face that alarms me a little, but I have not the faintest idea what exactly it could be. "I'm glad he got on with you, at any rate," I hear myself saying. "I confess I was a bit worried about leaving you two alone." Then I wince as I realize how that must sound to a woman.
But she only raises one eyebrow -- a gesture surprisingly reminiscent of Holmes himself --as we return to the drawing-room. "Good heavens, John," she drawls, "what can you mean?"
Damn it all, I can feel myself blushing. "Only that you might be stumped for conversation, my dear. As I have said, Holmes is... unusual. And not the most sociable of men."
"He seems to like you well enough." Her gaze pierces me. I am not the most perceptive of men, I admit it, especially when I compare myself to those as superior as Holmes; but here in my own household I fancy that I know the normal currents of life, and these seem to be swelling beyond my comprehension. What can be amiss? We are having a perfectly ordinary conversation, are we not? And yet, I feel the need to remain guarded in my reply. To my own wife. What can I be thinking of?
"I suppose I have had my uses to him," I reply lightly. "Holmes needs someone who is willing to let him be. And I am." I squeeze her arm a little, and the smile returns to my face. I am imagining things. I must be. "We have much to thank him for, do we not?"
She smiles at me again, and I feel my heart warm. "Indeed we do, John. And he is fascinating in his own way, I suppose, to us ordinary mortals."
"Quite," I agree enthusiastically. "And if my sales in The Strand are any indication, you and I are not alone in that fascination. I have only the last chapter of The Sign of Four left to write, and then I shall get you to thoroughly review it all before submitting it to my editor."
"I am sure I shall insist on putting a great deal more love-talk in the mouth of the gallant hero," she says, batting her eyelashes coquettishly.
My laugh seems to bounce off the walls. "Love-talk? In the mouth of Holmes?"
She leans forward and quietly kisses my cheek. "He was never the hero of that case to me." I am sure I stare at her with the most fulsome of smiles on my face as she drifts across the drawing-room to the stairs. "I am retiring now, I think."
I feel the need for one more cigar, though, before I join her. "I shall be just up," I say, dipping into the box. She wrinkles her nose in a manner I have always found singularly charming.
"Ugh! The taste of tobacco..." she shakes her head and sighs. "What difficulties I endure for the sake of love." And her laughter trails her up the stairs.
I chuckle myself -- it has been a long time since I have had an evening so full of pleasure and mirth -- and light my cigar, seating myself in the chair which Holmes occupied only a few minutes before. It is still warm, though perhaps that is from the fire.
Cigars and firelight combined tend to make me introspective, and in spite of my intentions to retire quickly I find myself drifting. Falling into a study that, if not a brown one, is not entirely clear.
For some reason, Mary's words on Holmes -- though well-intentioned, no doubt -- have stuck with me. Cornered animal. Un-ordinary mortal. Fascinating.
I draw deeply on the cigar and find my insecurities returning to me, full-force. Once again, in the absence of Holmes's sardonic quips and Mary's tender smile, I become convinced that something was amiss tonight. But as usual, I am in the dark. The ordinary mortal. I know only that it is something to do with Holmes.
Is he in trouble? He gave no sign of it, but then he never does. He will not turn to me until he judges it to be precisely the right time, and by now I trust completely in his methods. Scotland Yard have not yet learned the trick, nor have the country police, but I have. I seem to be the only one.
I do not know why, but that thought strikes a chord within me. The only one. Yes, I do seem to be that, in regard to Holmes. His only companion -- I dare say, his only friend. And I take shameful pride in that. Look, I sometimes want to say to Mary and Lestrade and all the rest of them, look how this wild, lonely man takes me and me alone into his confidence. Look how I can be exactly what he needs, when he needs it, and never question. Look at that.
I am the circus-man in the cage with the lion, who instead of being mauled to death is affectionately nuzzled by the deadly cat. Does that not, by some extension, make me extraordinary as well? Might there not be some special, untapped potential in me, if Sherlock Holmes, of all people, cares for me?
Ah, I have found a use for Mary's metaphor after all...
As I examine this thought in the cold light of rationality, I realize how foolish and self-important it seems. Simply because my acquaintances are extraordinary, that does not make me anything beyond ordinary -- only fortunate. But I cannot acquit myself of the deep, warm sense of pride I feel at being the friend of Sherlock Holmes.
In my most private moments, when I dare to bring the thought to light, I sometimes fancy that I have found my purpose in life. It is not that of a doctor, though healing the sick is surely one of the noblest callings in the world; it is not even that of a family man, though to be a good husband and father is nobler still. It is to safeguard this extraordinary man, this Holmes, to walk with him and shelter him as best I can from "the shocks and vicissitudes of life." His is a nature not meant for the reality of our world; his light is one that banality, incompetence and custom can all combine to extinguish. He seeks refuge in many things, from the needle to the violin, but I flatter myself that he finds it best in me.
As I said, I know when to leave him be. But I also know when not to do so. I find myself tuned to him in extraordinary harmony; I am not a religious man, but our meeting cannot have been mere chance. Holmes may have the major role to play in the world's turning and I the minor, but we must play them together.
And so I wonder, guiltily and to myself, if I did the right thing by marrying. Surely I could serve my purpose better by being with Holmes as we were, in Baker Street? But then I come to my senses and tell myself, as any rational man would, that I cannot be living my life all the time under the direction of another man. I love Mary, and she me, and it would have been utter cruelty to deny us both the happiness we have found. Man cannot live by bread alone, after all.
I draw one last time on my cigar before stubbing it out and smiling into the fire's depths. Suddenly I am far easier in my mind. As it is, life could not be better, could it? I have found a way to have both a wife and a dear friend in the centre of my existence; it has taken some doing, but I have done it. No, I cannot think that Holmes is in any serious trouble. Not now, when I have reflected on it at such length. He would have -- or will -- tell me, if he is. We are a team. Not equals, but then, we do not have to be.
I rise to my feet, stretching my back until I hear a satisfying 'pop.' Mary will be put out if I leave her for much longer. It was a capital evening, indeed. I shall have to invite him back again soon, or at least go calling at Baker Street. Perhaps on Wednesday.
I ascend the stairs to my bedroom and my wife, and I wonder what my next meeting with the fascinating, extraordinary Sherlock Holmes -- my Sherlock Holmes -- will bring.
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