"The tea, Holmes," I prompted, suppressing a smile when he glared at me from watery eyes, any daunting effect further undermined by his red nose and puffy lips. "It will have little effect cooling an arm's reach away from you."
"Watson, I will drink your vile potions in good time, if only to stop you fuss... fuss..." Holmes sneezed heartily into a large handkerchief.
"I would hardly call a herbal infusion with honey and lemon a vile potion, Holmes," I stated as seriously as I could, laying down my book beside me.
"You would not, because you are the one who concocted it," he protested stubbornly, gathering his tatty blanket more tightly around himself with short, clipped motions.
"Strictly speaking, Mrs Hudson concocted it."
"Upon your instructions!" Holmes cried hoarsely, promptly setting off a coughing fit.
I sighed. "You, Holmes, are without doubt the most exasperating and ill-tempered patient I have ever treated."
"How can I be a patient, when I did not send for a physician?" Holmes grumbled. "You are well aware I loathe being fussed over as much as I loathe being medicated."
"Which is why your cold is troubling you longer than necessary. I had the devil of a time simply making you agree to the tea."
"Something I regret already."
I ignored this. "As for sending for a physician - I am well aware it was Mrs Hudson who sent for me, but only after your incessant grumbling and complaining drove the poor woman to it. Truly, Holmes, you owe it to the dear soul to recover with all speed. You are quite disagreeable enough when you are well."
He huffed and faced away from me, which told me I may have made my point after all, and perhaps with too much vehemence. I rose, ostensibly to stoke the fire - which I did - and rounded the table to stand by my friend's side. When he did not acknowledge me, I took the liberty of sitting down beside him.
Holmes met my eyes and, whether it was his puffy appearance or the slightly wounded look in his eyes, I felt rather guilty for reprimanding him when I knew him to cope so badly with being unwell. I tipped my head in silent apology and fleetingly covered his hands where they lay on his knees. Then I reached for the cup on the table and passed it to him.
"Please, Holmes," I said as softly as I could. "I only wish for your speedy recovery."
"You are fussing again," he murmured, but there was no vitriol in his voice now. "As physicians are prone to."
"So are friends." I smiled at him when his eyes widened, and he took the cup from my hands, his fingers brushing mine. I suppressed any outward reaction to the tingle even his most accidental of touches customarily sent through my nerves.
"Forgive me, my dear Watson. I know I can be trying at times." He obediently sipped the soothing tea while I watched him with a smile.
"You know I would forgive you even if you were trying at all times."
There was amusement in his eyes, and when he lifted his head from the cup, he said in a surprisingly teasing tone of voice, "Take care not to indulge me too much, John. I may take advantage of you."
"I wish you--" The words slipped from my lips before I could stop them, and I looked at my old friend, aghast at what I had all but said.
"What do you wish, John?" he asked softly.
"Why, I wish you... I..." I scrambled frantically through my mind, desperate for some acceptable finish to that damning sentence, but the best I could come up with was, "I wish you would recover with all haste, or we shall miss the violin recital at St. Martin's Church this coming Sunday."
Holmes looked at me with great intensity, and ill or not, in possession of his full faculties or not, I was all too aware I would never be able to fool him. He placed the nearly empty cup back on the table slowly, and when he looked at me again, his intense grey eyes seemed to be examining my deepest thoughts.
Some moments of this scrutiny went by, and when I thought I could stand it no more, he at last smiled and said lightly, "I shall do my best to be well by Sunday."
I breathed a sigh of relief even while a foolish part of me was disappointed that he had failed to uncover my long-held secret. With some effort, I smiled and rose to my feet, but he stopped me beside the sofa with one clammy hand around my wrist.
"After the recital, John, I would like to take you out to dinner, and once we return here, perhaps you will be honest with me about your wish?"
I held my breath as I looked down at him. And I might have bolted from the room in shame, if not for the warmth of his voice and the affection in his usually inscrutable eyes.
"If you are certain..." I said cautiously, knowing it was as good as an admission of my feelings.
Holmes smiled, his hand sliding from my wrist down over my hand before releasing me; the tender gesture left me quite shaken. "You will find I am not always disagreeable, John."
It was as good as an admission that my feelings were returned, and quite incapable of moving, I merely remained standing at his side, smiling foolishly.
"And now..." Holmes began energetically, breaking the spell. "Would you be so kind as to ring for Mrs Hudson? I seem to be acquiring a taste for this tea of yours."
I laughed, feeling light as air.