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Holmes investigates. He calculates. He solves. Sometimes it seems to him that all his many measurements and assessments fit into one vast equation, the sum of which will only be revealed to him at the very end. 

(Not that he harbors sentimental ideas about souls or an afterlife. Holmes is perfectly aware that he may die in some sudden accident, or in his sleep, with no chance for any final tally. But already he thinks some parts of the solution are taking shape.) 

Given how much he enjoys his deductions, he should be charitable enough to allow others the pleasure of deducing his own character in turn, seeing where he fits in their own personal mathematics. However, no one has ever called him “charitable,” and with good reason. When people use their perception on him – weak though their powers are by comparison – it is usually enough to annoy, sometimes enough to send him into a fury. Perhaps it would be less annoying were people any less inept. 

But with Watson, he finds he doesn’t mind. 

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t fully understand her. Operative word: Fully. Of course he knows what Watson will do most of the time; of course he’s always a few steps ahead. Unlike most people, however, she retains a little mystery even upon a deep acquaintance. That’s refreshing. 

Yet he relishes every insight into Joan Watson, because each one represents something he can use. 

For instance, take tonight. They’re having dinner in a basement restaurant in Chinatown, where the smells are delicious and the feng shui perfect. It seems an ideal opportunity to practice their second shared language, Mandarin. So he takes up a menu and says, “Shuì jiào yī wǎn duō shao qián?” 

Watson laughs out loud. 

(It seems to him that this sound is rare, and valuable.  Yet the rarity is only an illusion. Watson laughs. She smiles. She can become positively maniacal when her beloved Mets prove victorious. And still he thinks of her as so wonderfully self-contained.) 

“You seem very amused by my asking the price of a bowl of dumplings,” Holmes says. “Is there something in them I wouldn’t want to eat? That you believe I wouldn’t want to eat, I mean. I suffer from very few dietary prejudices. Ate roasted beetles in Mali once. And a grasshopper on a stick. Fried. Not bad.” 

She makes a face, but her disgust is outweighed by her amusement. “You meant to say, ‘Shuǐ jiǎo yī wǎn duō shao qián?’” 

“That is what I said.” 

“No.” Watson sets down her own menu. “You’re not hearing the difference in the first two words. Most Westerners don’t.” 

“Tone.” Holmes says it as he would the name of an old enemy. “Endlessly frustrating to the non-native speaker. Yet for you, it’s effortless.” 

“Not effortless, but not nearly as hard as you’re making out. You just need to hear it more often.” 

“Then perhaps we should converse in Mandarin from now on.” He likes this idea – quite a lot, actually. Yes, it should intrigue her, attract her to the idea of their partnership as more than merely medicinal, but the concept has its own merits. “Think of it, Watson! We’d be able to openly discuss most suspects in their presence, trade clues and observations … and Gregson and Bell should find it wildly annoying. Marvelous all around.” 

“Whoa. Hold it. That’s not going to work. I told you before, I speak Mandarin, but not very well. At least, according to my mother.” 

“What does she consider lacking?” 

“I understand it pretty well, but when it comes to speaking it …” Her voice trails off, and her eyes dart down toward the floor in an uncharacteristically girlish expression.  “I can’t make myself think in Mandarin.” 

(In an instant he sees it: A preteen girl desperate to fit in, eager to be more like her friends, less like her parents. Deliberately responding in English to questions posed in Mandarin. A mother pushing too hard at the exact time in human development when we resist such pushing most strenuously. For a moment Holmes wonders what Watson looked like when she was still a work in progress – not so sleek, nor so elegant, perhaps with a brace on her teeth.) 

She recovers her composure quickly. “Also, there are wide swaths of Mandarin vocabulary I don’t know at all. Lots of them are the kinds of things that would come up during our investigations. So I think that’s a no-go.” 

“But practice is essential if I’m to achieve fluency." 

“I agree. You should practice by coming here.” Watson gestures in a way that obviously means all Chinatown, not just this restaurant. “If you try to learn from me, you won’t get very far.” 

She doesn’t further discuss her own fluency at all. Interesting. 

She also doesn't suggest that they'll still be speaking to one another in a few weeks.

Holmes says only, “You knew what I did wrong when I attempted to discern the price of a bowl of dumplings.” 

“Actually, you asked me how much it would be to sleep with me for a night.” 

“Ah. Unfortunate.” 

“And in context, the term for a waitress – a bar girl – could also be slang for a prostitute. You’re on dangerous ground.” She gives him a look. “You know, we might be better off in Little Italy. Spaghetti? Pizza? Pretty easy to pronounce.” 

“Nonsense. We’re staying right here.” He pauses. “But why don’t you order for us?” 

“Good plan. So when did you learn Mandarin?” 

Watson tosses off this question lightly; no doubt she expects him to talk about a course at university, or travels in the Far East. He could lie to her and she’d probably believe it. Good as she is at sniffing out falsehood, she has her blind spots. 

But he doesn’t lie. 

“My first supplier lived in Chinatown. London’s Chinatown, I mean. Which resulted in my spending quite a bit of time there. I was unsure of the quality of my company – common among heroin addicts, as I’m sure you know. So I began learning the language as a form of self-protection. Then it interested me in its own right, so I kept it up on my own for a while, even after I’d moved on to another source entirely.” 

(Her eyebrows draw together: some surprise, less dismay, no shock. Given her profession, Watson must be nearly inured to shock. Her eyes narrow slightly, a sign that even now she is considering how to best wield this information. She may not be as practiced in the deductive arts as he, but Holmes knows a natural when he sees one. 

Best of all, he has intrigued her.) 

The waitress comes to their table. Watson orders for them; God only knows what’s for dinner. 

Once they are again alone, she says only, “For self-protection.” 

“Yes. Lest I fall prey to those around me while I was insensate.” 

“Insensate?” 

“I’m being imprecise.” 

“That’s not like you.” 

Neither is the warm feeling that envelops him a few minutes after he’s snorted heroin. When the euphoria comes upon him, it’s like – like Christmas morning with your family by the fire. Well. Not his family. Some imaginary family where everyone is protected, everyone is loved, everyone is welcome. Holmes loves that warmth. Still it feels like the only way he’s ever been able to truly let go. 

Crisply Holmes replies, “Then let us say, when I was not myself.” 

“That’s even worse. Whatever else you were when you were using, you were yourself. And if you’re snorting an illegal drug into your body with people you don’t trust, believe me, your best method of self-protection isn’t learning Mandarin.” 

“It’s not being there at all.” He says it so he won’t have to hear her speak the words. 

Watson breathes out, the sound halfway between a huff and a sigh. “I apologize. I don’t mean to nag you. That is so very much not what I’m supposed to be doing.” 

“You’ve deviated from the ‘sober companion’ script, I take it?” 

She did. Of course she did. Because she was concerned about him. Being concerned about the well-being of Sherlock Holmes is a fairly rare hobby, these days. 

Watson simply tosses her long hair and smiles. “Did you not catch on to that the first time I helped you solve a murder?” 

Holmes would of course have solved the crime with or without her, he thinks, but she was very helpful at discerning how to prove what he knew for the purposes of prosecution. Often his deductions are not considered valid evidence in a court of law. Extremely annoying. 

She stands in the space between humdrum, confusing, torturous “normal life” and whatever life it is he leads. She closes gaps. Fills in blanks. Solves for X. 

Now he hopes to solve an equation for her, in turn.

 

**

 

Their relationship  as it stands has one mathematical certainty: It will end in twenty-five days. 

At that time, her sojourn as his sober companion will end. Either Watson will pass out of his life forever, or Holmes will have to devise another option. 

Maddeningly officious as she can be, stern and demanding as he sometimes finds her, he has absolutely no intention of letting her pass out of his life. Whatever he has to do to keep her around, he’ll do. Holmes even briefly considered using again. A relapse into the warm deceitful embrace of heroin would mean another (hopefully briefer) stint in rehab and then another six weeks of sober companionship, wouldn’t it? 

But he’s rejected this plan. Relapsing would be the same as saying to his father that Joan Watson had failed. He wants to keep her around, but won’t throw her under the bus. 

Besides – he’s aware of the little voice inside that looks for any rationalization to use again. Holmes doesn’t think that little voice came up with this plan, but he can’t be sure. 

So he’ll have to find another way.

 

**

 

“Akathisia,” she says one night, when he thought she was asleep. 

He’s pacing on his rooftop. This late, even New York’s roar is mostly a rumble, and he can hear the humming of his bees. He’d hoped it would be soothing. It isn’t. 

“Diagnosing me, doctor?” Holmes keeps walking. 

“You’re obviously showing signs of akathisia, which is – ” 

“I know what it is.” It is the ache in his jawbone so sharp it makes him gnaw the flesh of his cheeks until he tastes blood. It is the stiffness of his spine that makes even turning his head an impossibility, yet he must turn it or be crushed by the pain. It is the need to walk and walk and walk, until he feels again the need to rest – a blessed surrender to total exhaustion, leavened only by the inner knowledge that within seconds he’ll have to start walking again. It is the inability to focus his own thoughts, so instead of deductions he has only wild random madness that he hates with all his being. 

She nods, acknowledging that of course he would know this. Perhaps she spoke only in an attempt to clear his mind. “You made a smart choice, coming up here. Multiple stimuli, but low-level. Room to move, but nothing to harm yourself with. Except your pets, that is.” 

“I wouldn’t agitate the bees.” Holmes tries to stand still, but he can’t. His weight shifts from foot to foot; he stops that, but then he has to rock. Better to walk. “Although I’ve mostly inured myself to the pain of stings, they die after stinging. At least, this species of honeybee does. Not all.” 

“Fascinating,” Watson says, in the way that means she finds it anything but. And yet her tone is more teasing than unkind. 

So much comes down to tone.

He meant for her to hear him up here, of course. As much as Holmes dislikes being thought of as needy, Watson is with him in part because she believes he needs her. The longer this illusion remains, the longer she is likely to stay with him. Might she come to believe him dependent on her? Galling notion ... but if it keeps her here, he thinks he could endure.  

Still, the ideal solution would involve her thinking of him as something besides a mere patient.

She stands at the edge of the roof, hands folded in front of her chest. The still-bright lights of New York outline her form and brighten the edges of the white flowy stuff she wears – pajamas, technically, though softer than the starched-and-striped versions he was forced to wear as a child. Her dark hair catches in the breeze. 

(Normally she wears athletic shirts or oversized Ts to bed. Her sleepwear is almost defiantly unsexy, which Holmes is perverse enough to find hot as hell. This white outfit is luxurious, expensive, but a bit impersonal. A gift, surely. Perhaps from her mother, an attempt to push her daughter toward glamour – no, toward formality. And yet perhaps not the mother, because there’s something about the way the thin fabric drapes against her skin …) 

Watson is very beautiful. This is objective fact, and a necessary quality for Holmes to consider when weighing her experiences and her perspective.  He takes this opportunity to consider it in some detail as he paces along. Her silhouette against the city is his one constant.   

After a few minutes, she speaks again. “I hadn’t thought this would still be troubling you.” 

“Whyever not? Akathisia is not an uncommon symptom of opioid withdrawal.” 

“For the first month or two. This long after your last dose – it’s surprising.”   

“Accusing me of using again?” 

“No.” 

“Such a heartening show of trust.” 

“You haven’t been away from me long enough to get high.” 

“I could be sneaking out of the windows at night, like a stray cat.” He’s thought about it. 

“Just the fact you told me that means you haven’t done it. Besides, I’d hear you.” 

Holmes believes her.  Watson may lack his own vast deductive power, but there is something uncanny about her ability to know, all the same. 

“You are a difficult woman to quantify,” he says. 

“Thank you.” Leave it to Watson to respond perfectly. “Listen. I know this restlessness is almost unbearable. And it’s a fluke, I guess, that you’re still suffering from withdrawal symptoms this long after you’ve been clean. But it will end, Sherlock. It’s not forever. It’s probably not even for very much longer. It will end.” 

“A wise man once said all wisdom came down to these words: This too shall pass.” 

He watches her consider that, listens to the humming of the bees, and paces back and forth, back and forth. Watson never leaves him, not until he’s ready to drop, and it’s nearly sunrise. 

This too shall pass.

 

**

 

Watson will be with him for three more weeks. The measure of their relationship is the measure of her contract, no more. 

(In literal terms, Holmes means. He knows they mean something to one another that goes beyond the roles of addict and companion, but he also knows that Watson likes sharp edges and clean lines. It doesn’t matter what he is or isn’t to her; on the last day, she will walk away without looking back -- unless he can come up with a reason for her to stay.) 

He begins to turn his attention towards the subtraction of days from weeks. Division by two.

 

**

 

“I tell you, she was poisoned,” Holmes says a few days later as they stand on the subway platform, waiting for their train. “That level of arsenic in the blood? Accidental? Gregson must be mad.” 

“There are cases of accidental overexposure to arsenic.” Watson peers along the track, as though that will make the train come faster. It is a maddening habit, one step up from magical thinking; Holmes’ irritation increases. “In some professions, it’s a serious risk.” 

“For exterminators, mostly. Oh, and those persons involved in smelting certain metals. Do you really think a librarian got herself mixed up in a lot of smelting?” 

She gives him that look, the one that means Your sarcasm is not amusing anyone but you. “You said it couldn’t be accidental. I told you it could. I didn’t say I thought it was likely.” 

“So you agree. Perceptive of you, Watson. But where the hell did he put the arsenic?” They tested her food. They tested her water. Contact exposure? But they checked her desk, her bed, everything. 

Still, Holmes cannot forget that knowing glint of humor in the widower’s eyes. The bastard’s getting away with it, and he knows it. 

He'd had high hopes when he heard about this "mysterious death" on the police scanner. Watson likes working on cases, the thornier the better; they're alike in that way. Thorny this is. But will she see it in time? Will anyone?

The air around them stirs; a distant rumble echoes off the tiles. The crowd tightens near the track, preparing. Just as the train roars in, though, Watson’s eyes go wide. She says something, but the words are lost in the din. 

“What’s that?” Holmes calls out. 

As the train slows in front of them, Watson grabs one lapel of his jacket. “She had a cold!” 

“Yes, what of it?” 

The doors in front of them slide open, but Watson tows them back out with the people getting off, rather than the people getting on. “Her body – when we saw it – her nostrils were really red. Extremely. I noted it, but it could have just been the usual irritation that comes with a runny nose.” 

“But now you don’t think so.” 

“Redness and inflammation can be signs of contact exposure to arsenic.” A rueful smile illuminates Watson’s face. The crowds pushing past them shove them close together, but all the better to hear her. “Arsenic is well-absorbed by inhalation routes.” 

The final tumbler clicks. “A nasal spray. Somebody with a cold would reach for one immediately.” 

“And the arsenic exposure would cause further irritation of the mucus membranes, which would lead her to use the spray repeatedly, ensuring a fatal dose.” 

Holmes juts out one elbow, and she takes it as they begin hurrying toward the turnstiles. They have some detectives to confront, and some medicine-cabinet contents to test. 

Of course he feels quite certain he’d have made these leaps on his own – but how long would it have taken? He’s relieved not to have to find out. “Good show, Watson.” 

She shrugs it off, as though it were nothing. Probably she doesn’t even realize she’s smiling. 

How does she not see it? How has Watson not fallen in love with deduction? Why can’t she comprehend that this is her true path, as surely as it is his own? 

But she’ll see it in time. Somehow, he’ll make her see it. 

They go through parallel turnstiles with their arms still linked.

 

**

 

Watson will be with him for two more weeks.

Late at night, when he gets up to pace, it no longer has anything to with akathisia, which is at the moment mercifully in abeyance. Instead Holmes is measuring his own brownstone, relearning its dimensions when he is alone. Before it was a shelter, only that, a way to keep his possession from being stolen or rain from falling on his head. 

He has never thought of it as his, as the place where he lives. 

It is the place where she lives, which is far more important. 

When she goes these rooms will seem very empty. His footsteps will echo, just like this. 

Once upon a time, he would have thought he could never tire of being alone. 

Even the great Sherlock Holmes occasionally gets things wrong.  

(He could of course simply go to her, just say, I need you here by my side. Why define it? Why set terms? He could say it and see what she does. But that would be the same as admitting his vulnerability. Surely he can find another way.)

 

**

 

Withdrawal again rears its ugly head, though at least it has the decency to choose a new symptom for him. 

“Cold flashes,” he says, huddling on his bed, wrapped in three blankets. “Absolutely delightful. Like a sort of reverse menopause.” 

She smiles as she sets a mug of hot tea by his bedside.  “Oh, yeah? So that means you’d also be experiencing – hmmm – greater skin elasticity, increasing bone density and a sharply higher sex drive.” 

“Zero for three, I’m afraid.” Holmes sips his tea. Darjeeling – his favorite. Her powers of observation continue to strengthen. The warm tea inside his belly feels like the only heat his body knows or can even remember. 

Watson tucks her hair behind her ears. This usually means she is uncertain about how to proceed, but determined to do so anyway. “That’s going to come back, you know. It always does.” 

“I’m going to guess that you aren’t referring to my skin elasticity.” 

“No.” Her eyes shift sidelong, toward the place in the room where she had once glimpsed a pair of handcuffs. (These are now under his bed, awaiting better days.) “Your, ah, appetites didn’t seem to be diminished the day I met you.” 

“The tattooed woman, you mean? A mere point of pride. So many things were forbidden in rehab. Not only drugs, but also any number of healthier, more natural releases.” 

“And the twins?” 

“Largely an academic exercise.” 

She gives him a look. 

“Not entirely,” Holmes admits. “But don’t you think I’ve chosen a better means of self-indulgence?” 

“I’d rather you had casual sex than use again, if that’s what you mean.” 

“Reassuring to hear. As I’ve said before, regular sexual release is a core component of physical and mental health. One you shouldn’t be denying yourself.” 

Her eyebrows rise. “Excuse me?” 

“We’ve been over this before. The study from the Netherlands clearly demonstrates that a woman’s gait indicates the length of time since she last experienced orgasm, and your gait – ” 

“Please, don’t make me listen to that again.” 

“Obviously you remember it. Just as obviously, we’ve not been incommunicado for more than two hours throughout my – let us call it ‘convalescence.’ Enough time for a sexual encounter, surely, but you haven’t indulged.” 

“How do you know?” 

Holmes gives her a look. “I’d know.” 

“You would.” She sighs, but she’s begun to smile as though the joke’s on him. “You realize the enormous logical fallacy you’re relying on, don’t you?” 

Another cold flash sweeps through him, literally through him, as though the chill could cleave flesh from bone.  Every hair on his body seems to stand on end. Through clenched jaws, he says, “Please, illuminate me.” 

“Since you’ve already put this together for yourself, fine, I’ll admit it – it’s been a while since I had sex.” 

“By choice,” he says, meaning to be helpful. When Watson raises an eyebrow, he elaborates. “A woman of your exceptional physical attractiveness obviously has a wide selection of potential partners. While the evolution of an ongoing romantic relationship is largely a matter of chance, for you, locating men interested in casual sex would be – well, as simple as going outside.” 

“You’re not very selective, are you?” She’s seen his discomfort and comes to his side; her hands find his shoulders. The touch is clearly therapeutic, beyond misinterpretation, which is remarkable given what she says next: “What I don’t understand is why you, or those Dutch researchers, would assume that a woman’s last orgasm had to be with a partner.” 

“Oh! Masturbation. Well, yes. There is that.” 

“Indeed there is. So don’t worry about me, Sherlock. Relationships come and go, but my ‘physical and mental health’ is doing just fine. And my gait? That’s just how I walk. The end.” 

Really that was a very stupid assumption for him to make. Granted, with his own sex drive doing strange and mysterious things these days, mostly hiding, Holmes may have – miscalculated. But those researchers ought to have undergone more stringent peer review. 

After a few moments, she adds, “As long as we’re going there – honestly, I’m surprised you’re able to enjoy sex again so soon.” 

Heroin addiction does horrible things to the body’s ability to produce and respond to endorphins. Its sweet unnatural bliss comes at the cost of every natural source of pleasure. Holmes still exercises daily for strength and flexibility, but at this point he cannot recall how “runner’s high” used to feel. He consumes caffeine and sugar but their effects are dim shadows of what they ought to be. And orgasm … well, he can come. This is in fact the whole problem. His body, desperate for some kind of release, responds immediately to any stimulation, meaning his sexual encounters are fraught with embarrassment. (Professionals have seen it all before, of course, so they deal well with the prematurity. Also, Holmes considers it a point of honor to ensure that the ladies in question enjoy their stay, so he uses all the hours he pays for regardless. But still, how ... gauche.) Worse, his orgasms are weak. The pleasure is so muted that the entire thing feels like a waste of time. 

Only detective work and deduction give him real pleasure, these days. Only the sleuthing he does with Watson.

“How long?” he says. 

“The cold flashes? I couldn’t say. It’s atypical for you to have any withdrawal symptoms this late in the game, though certainly not unheard-of – ” 

“Sex. How long before sex is like it used to be?” 

Her reply is very soft. “Maybe a long while. Several months, probably. It could be even longer. Depends on how long you used, and how deep you got.” 

He didn’t use for that long, but oh, he went deep. Bloody hell. 

Watson stays with him for most of the next hour, until the worst of the chills have subsided. He lies down in his bed, but sleep eludes him for hours. His imagination, desperate for a subject besides the duration of his sexual aridity, settles on Watson’s amused confession. 

She’s gotten herself off here, during these past weeks with him. She’s done it while he’s been only a couple dozen feet down the hall. While he was sleeping – or while he was awake, perhaps. Maddening to think of being unaware of it. 

He tells himself masturbation is a natural human activity and his sudden fascination with Watson’s own experience of it is completely illogical. This is entirely true. 

But there’s more to life than mere logic. Otherwise he’d be better at life than he is. 

So wonderfully self-contained. And yet she can give in to pleasure. To abandon. 

Somehow Holmes is aware of the presence of the handcuffs under his bed, as vividly as though they were glowing. A vision flickers in his mind: Taking those handcuffs, walking down the hallway, kneeling by her bed and whispering, Please. Watson, please. For her his body would answer. He knows this as surely has he has ever known any deduction – or so he tells himself. That’s how badly he wants to believe it. 

She could conquer him. She could own him. So few ever could, but for Watson – oh, for Watson it would be deliciously easy. 

And yet she never would. Not even if she wanted to; not even if he begged. 

(He would dearly love to beg her.) 

A sexual relationship would be a massive ethical violation on the part of a sober companion. Watson absolutely would not betray her duty to her patient so egregiously. It’s out of the question – in retrospect, he can’t believe he blundered so badly as to think that addict ex of hers had been a client. 

(This was, perhaps, wishful thinking. Among other, ample sources of desire had been the hope that becoming Watson’s lover would keep her around for a while.) 

But no. It’s completely out of character for her. Therefore their relationship cannot become romantic, at least not in the swift time frame he requires. 

This isn’t a grievous loss, really. Maintaining romances has never been easy for him, Holmes thinks with considerable understatement. As richly enjoyable as sex with Watson would be, probably it would also be the beginning of the end. And it is not the physical limits of his relationship with her that pain him so much as the temporal limits. 

He doesn’t mind that he can’t have her before she leaves. 

He minds that she’s going to leave.

 

**

 

Watson will leave in one more week. Holmes is … resigning himself to a brief lull. No more than that. She will depart, but her absence will be only temporary. Still, he must prepare himself. 

This involves following Watson’s advice and taking a sponsor. Alfredo is a good sort, unlikely to pontificate, and with much to teach on the art of lockpicking. (Holmes, who can batter his way into top-security safes, is sometimes stymied by a good old-fashioned padlock.) Although he has not yet accepted any of Gregson’s invitations to join in police-officer fraternization, ultimately he may do so. 

He continues trying. His gambit with Watson’s family was, he thought, inspired. And he got her mother in on it with him! He heard her telling Watson that this – the deduction and crime-solving they do together – was her truest happiness. 

But that might have been one push too far. 

Once again he thinks of a preteen girl glancing down, resisting her mother’s authority when she should least resist. 

Really, given his own relationship with his father, he ought to have seen that problem coming.

 

**

  

“Well.” Watson stands at the doorway, large weekender bag slung over one shoulder. The rest of her boxes were hauled out over the weekend; she holds the last of her things. 

So wonderfully self-contained. 

“It must feel strange,” Holmes says. “Going back to a home that can’t entirely feel like a home. You spend so little time there.” 

She shrugs. “It’s a place to put my things.” 

“Do you have another client lined up already?” 

“Not yet. I’m actually – well, I’m going to take some courses.” Their eyes meet; she glances away. But then Watson looks at him again, more steadily. “It’s part of a re-entry program for physicians who had left the profession.” 

It’s been so long since Holmes smiled like this that the stretch of his lips and cheeks feels strange. “You’re going back to medicine. You’ll be a surgeon again.” 

“Maybe. Eventually. Let’s say I’m easing back into the pool.” 

Watson is returning to her first destiny -- not her best. Yet he must admit that it's good to think of her reclaiming what she lost. His concern for her seems to be outweighing his own knowledge of what would most suit them both. How peculiar.

“So no clients for a while," Holmes says. "More important things lie ahead. Broader and brighter vistas.” 

“If the right person comes along, I could balance the obligations.” Then her expression gentles. “But you’d be a hard act to follow.” 

“I should hope so.” That makes her laugh. He adds, “I’m glad to know you’re returning to your chosen profession. You’re a very good sober companion, but you’re also a very good doctor. High time you reminded the world of that.” 

“Thanks. That means a lot to me.” 

“Yes. Well.” Everything in him wants to fight this. Wants to try to find another way to make her see that they belong together – in some way Holmes doesn’t even care to define. But if he has learned one thing from Watson these past six weeks, it is perhaps how and when to offer a moment of grace. 

(To her. Only to her. The rest of the fools he must suffer are hardly worth it.) 

They can’t meet each other’s eyes for very long. She’s obviously moved but working hard not to show it. He wants to respect her need for self-control. 

But he also wants to touch her. Just this once. 

Holmes offers her a hand to shake; this seems the neatest compromise. She instead loops her arms around his neck and draws him close. 

(How is she so small? Watson fills a room, commands attention, commands him. It seems hardly possible that he could fold himself around her like this. That he could even begin to contain her.) 

“You’ve showed me a whole new way of looking at the world,” she whispers. He can feel her breath against his cheek. “That’s a gift. Thank you.” 

Although Holmes knows he should thank her in return, the words won’t come out. Gratitude isn’t his strong suit, any more than humility is. 

But when Watson pulls away, knowing smile on her face, he thinks she knows everything he would have said, if he could. 

“You know you can call me at any time,” she says. 

“If I’m having trouble. Feeling tempted to use.” Wasn’t that what Alfredo was for? That and lockpicking. Then again, it’s an excuse Holmes can use to call Watson, so it will do. He feels a crisis coming on already. Any day now. “By all means. Thank you.” 

“Well, yes, but that’s not what I meant.” Watson tucks her hair back into a tail, pins it up in a sloppy bun. “I meant, if you had another crime to solve and needed … medical expertise. Or a sounding board.” 

Good God. Can she mean it? At the very moment he thought he had lost her, she’s taking the bait. “… of course. Of course! Certainly.” 

She folds her arms in front of her. “You don’t have to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do. Not every time. At least not when it’s what they want, too.” 

Of course. Watson’s seen through him the whole time. 

He says, “You might simply have told me you intended to continue with our investigations.” 

“I wanted to make up my own mind.” Resettling her bag on her shoulder, Watson turns to go. As she walks off, she calls, “Next time you need something? Stop trying to trick me and just ask.”   

He stands in the doorway and watches her go, her body a lean dark line swaying along the sidewalk until she gets lost in the constant flow of people. One more speck of confetti falling on the parade.

Watson will come back. They’ll take on cases again. They’ll share in the one pleasure remaining to him, not just once or twice but from now on. (He knows this much already, even if she doesn’t. But after today, who’s to say how much Watson already knows? How much of their future she sees?) 

The point is, she solved the equation, and he doesn’t even mind that this means she’s solving him, too.

Holmes feels his smile broadening. “The game’s afoot.”

 

 

THE END