Watson was home. Of course, one hardly needed any great deductive faculties to know this, since he was making more noise than a small elephant might. His state of inebriation was fairly obvious once he came through the sitting room door, if not from the overwhelming smell, then from the fact that he was stumbling rather than walking.
Given that he was also hatless and looking incredibly guilty, I could readily deduce that he had also lost quite a sum of money, and wasn't sure how he should tell me.
"Best to do it quickly," I spoke up helpfully. Watson continued to sit looking hopeless, and I must confess that even in such a poor state as this, he inspired in me more care than I felt for most people. It was, ostensibly, none of my business what he did with himself, but I should have liked it if he took rather more care. Not that I can claim the high ground, in that arena.
I sighed and stepped towards him. "No need then. Come, give me your hand." His hand was terribly cold, and I fought the urge to warm it for him before pulling the poor man to his feet. If there was one thing I could understand, it was his desire for oblivion. He had lost an awful lot, in service to his country, destined to be pained by his injuries for the rest of his life, and even his own cherished medical science could do nothing for him.
"I'm so sorry, Holmes," he slurred and leaned against me. He needn't have apologised to me, of all the people who didn't want or deserve it. If I were a better friend to him – and we should be friends by now, surely – I would have stopped him from getting into this state.
"Excessive apologising is irritating, and unnecessary." I scolded gently as we began to make our way up the stairs, "You have yet to see me sunk in the abyss of my own black moods."
"I think these moods of yours are a fiction." He stumbled over the words, but I very nearly laughed in response. Would that they were, my dear Watson, I wanted to say, would that they were. "We've been together for some months now." He continued.
"And what good months they have been." I hadn't intended to say that. The last thing I needed was for Watson to know of my affection for him. It would send him screaming into the street, surely, and I would rather that not happen. No, far better to admire from afar than fly too close to the Sun. I waited for long moments in fear of Watson's inevitable realisation.
"Beg pardon?" Was his only response.
I managed to keep my sigh of relief inaudible. He was obviously too far under the influence to really know what was going on. Perhaps...perhaps this was something of an opportunity, then. Not that I would ever take advantage of his pliant state, but maybe there was an opening to test the waters, here.
"I said, 'all things in time, my friend'."
"Of which things are we speaking?" Came his reply, and I could not tell if it was suspicious or simply the genuine curiosity of one who was not following a conversation very well. I did not make a habit of getting drunks into bed. Into their own beds. Not into mine, either, obviously. How did such a simple task have the power to be so distracting?
I was faced now with having gotten Watson into his room, but the man was standing, swaying slightly and still fully dressed. He would be terribly uncomfortable if he fell asleep like that. It would also probably become my fault somehow, and I didn't particularly want that, either. I set about removing his coat and jacket, alternating between steadying his balance and getting the garments partially removed, as he was still unsteady despite his grip on the wardrobe. The thought that it was a small wonder that he was walking at all, considering the amount of alcohol he must have consumed. I hoped for his sake he wouldn't see it again in the morning. Braces, collar and shirt proved to be less of a challenge, perhaps because either I or he had gotten used to the rhythm of it. I bent down to start untying his bootlaces.
"Enough," he stated with surprising clarity, "I believe I can manage from here."
I considered this for a moment and decided that I'd rather he didn't do himself an injury. Whilst I had been enjoying the ease with which he had been accepting the disrobing up until now, I realised that his brain had merely not caught up with the situation. My heart sank a little at this realisation, and yet I was unwilling to give up just yet. As any one of a number of people will testify, I am nothing if not stubborn. I leaned back to look at him properly.
"You believe you can, I know for a fact you cannot. I may have need of you soon, Watson, and you'd be of absolutely no use to me at all concussed." For a case, I told myself sternly, I will need him for a case. Even as I was thinking it, it seemed ridiculous.
"Why am I to be concussed? My bed lies but seven feet from where I stand." I smiled briefly at his statement of independence, since there was little truth in it, but it was in earnest nonetheless.
"Nine and three quarters, and you are not standing so much as you are leaning precariously, and doing so while wishing quite fervently that my shoulder were still available." I replied reasonably, watching carefully in case he decided to prove me wrong.
He sighed heavily, and I was once again assaulted by the smell of brandy. In a strange moment of thought, it occurred to me that the warmth of the alcohol reminded me greatly of the warmth of my friend, and the whole situation was perhaps not as unpleasant as it should have been. I fear I was rather far gone into realms which I had promised myself I would set aside and ignore. "There may be some truth to that."
I smiled again at his agreement. "A small measure," I stood and offered him my support again, "so here it is again for you," he slumped on to me in a way that felt grateful. I hate myself for it, but I was glad of the contact.
"I've really no need for a keeper. Really, Holmes, you may seek your bed." The sinking feeling of being dismissed was frankly unpleasant, but I knew it was just unnecessary politeness.
"I am currently occupied in seeking yours." Damn. Interesting, how one's thoughts can stray terribly at the least convenient of times. Especially when they alighted on equally inconvenient truths.
We made the short journey to the bed with considerably more difficulty than I had anticipated – it appeared that in his current state, Watson was unable to think and walk effectively at the same time. I was almost surprised when he spoke up again.
"When was it you lit that lamp there? I'm sure we entered in darkness, and you have not left my side," he paused for a long moment, apparently trying to piece the evening's events together, "have you?"
Now that I had been his leaning post for a good period of time, I found that his weight was becoming too much for my narrower frame. Pushing aside thoughts of how he would feel leaning on me in a different manner, I tried to shift subtly to forestall the inevitable.
"No, indeed I have not, and that lamp has been glowing merrily for some time now. Please sit down, Watson. You are a surprisingly sturdy fellow and my shoulder is precisely seventeen seconds from failing us both entirely." I informed him as dispassionately as I could.
"How can you know that?"
I could almost have laughed at the question. Good old Watson, ever the sceptic about my abilities at the most unfortunate moments. "Fifteen seconds." I offered as a warning.
"Down to the second, Holmes! It's not possible."
"Remain where you are for thirteen seconds more and I will somewhat reluctantly demonstrate exactly how very possible it is." He remained where he was. "Eleven seconds."
"Nine," I interrupted, "Eight." The strain was coming very close to intolerable. Another man would have been let go of five seconds ago.
"I think I will remain where I am and test this claim of yours. Where is my pocket watch? Empirical evidence necessitates empirical research." I watched him spend a few confused moments calculating the position of his pocket watch, which was naturally in the pocket of the waistcoat he was no longer wearing, before inevitably reaching the end of my own strength and being forced to drop my friend lest I injure my shoulder with no capable doctor on hand.
"There are times when you demonstrate the very heights of rudeness." I smiled wryly and knelt in front of him to remove his stockings, satisfied that if he was able to make derisive comments, I had not done him any great harm by dropping him.
"I did inform you of such," this was comfortable, the usual easy bickering keeping me from dwelling on the overall situation too much.
"You seem remarkably adept at removing gentlemen's clothing."
Spectacularly timed, as always. I often wondered if Watson did it on purpose, or if he was truly so guileless in his speech that he missed his own inferences. It was even harder to tell when he was this inebriated.
"I am fortunate to have had much practise."
Apparently, accidental innuendo was catching. I was glad that he was unlikely to remember any of this. Watson looked positively confused.
"Astonishingly, I do dress and undress myself daily," I added dryly, affecting what I thought was rather a good imitation of being quietly amused.
"Ah," he murmured with an air of enlightenment, "of course."
"Would you care to explain why that concept gave you pause?" I tried to tamp down the hope that Watson had some concern over my questionable virtue. Even if he did, it was likely that if he figured out his own implication that he would recoil in disgust.
"No," he finally managed to rasp, "No, I don't think I should care to."
Well, that was all well and good, then. "And if I should press you on the matter, as opposed to press you on the mattress, where at this point I can see without a doubt is precisely the place you belong?"
He looked to be considering the question with all the seriousness he might offer the most complex problem. His answer of, "mattress, if you please," could very nearly have been my undoing.
"I do please, and you are already sitting on it; Lie back, yes, I've your cane already, there we are." I marvelled at how it didn't seem like a chore to look after him. I am normally as far from maternal as it is possible to be, but apparently the care of a friend was something I could do. Was there no end to the education I would receive from this man?
I sat on his bed for long moments, seriously considering the possibility of curling up with him and falling asleep as well. However, I could not form a reasonable argument for my presence there should he awake in the night, so I reluctantly scrapped the idea.
"Long experience with the City's rank underbelly has taught me that among the substances currently available to prevent the reliable formation of memories, alcohol is exceedingly effective, so it is unfair of me to welcome you further into my confidences while you are as such. Yet that is exactly my course of action, as I also now confess to an uncertainty about you, Dr. John Watson, a delight in your company that my aforementioned long experience has indicated is both inexplicable and inadvisable. Is my meaning clear?"
I hadn't meant to make such a speech, but it was not an uncommon thing for my tongue to run away with itself. I lived through several tense moments awaiting a reaction.
"Not in the least." I sighed with relief, and perhaps a little disappointment.
"Thank god." I moved to get off the bed. "Sleep well, then."
I turned out the lamp and picked my way through the darkened room. If I had learned nothing else that evening, it was that I would have to either be more careful, or man up and take the risk, soon. That, and that I would need, perhaps, to put a little more away in case it was needed for the rent. Perhaps the two issues could be solved at once, I thought, and went to my own bed with solutions of all sorts running through my head.