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Secrets

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Prompt: Fruitcake

 

Holmes stands at the front window, gazing down at Baker Street, and judging from the expression of disdain on his face, he deems the sight to be most unsatisfactory. It no doubt raises the question of my current mental state that I find the dour expression on those elegant features most appealing.

Fortunately, I have long since realised that my life has become rather like some special, private ring of hell. And yet I would have it no other way. On my more fanciful days [of which Holmes would claim I have far too many] I am put in mind of the courtly rituals of love amongst the knights as told in the tales I read as a boy. As they often pined from afar for the object of their affections, I stand across the sitting room filled with love that I have no way to express. Although I do try in my scribblings.

I suppose Holmes would be the fair maiden in that rather pained metaphor and that thought makes me chuckle softly.

Not so softly, of course, that it goes unheard by the man at the window. He glances around at me and frowns in his most fierce manner. “I am so pleased, Watson, that my suffering amuses you.”

I walk across the room and settle into my chair. “I was not aware that the definition of suffering had been extended to include the absence of any hideous murders for three days.”

“Bah,” is his disgusted reply. He leans against the wall and watches the scene below once again. “All those petty people on their petty errands.”

I reach for my current reading, a nautical adventure by W. Clark Russell, with hopes that I might get at least a few pages read. Unhappily, I do not help my own cause, because I carelessly make one further remark. “I suppose they are beginning their holiday preparations, Holmes.” Such innocent words. I should really know better by now.

Holmes whirls around and I am glad that my pistol is safely stashed away, as the expression on his face now leads me to think that the poor wall would be in for yet more punishment at his hands. Mrs Hudson would not be pleased in that event. “Oh, good lord,” he shouts. “As if life is not tedious enough. Now you are going to inflict the most tedious season of the year upon me.”

“Not really my doing,” I point out mildly, realising with some chagrin that my place in the book was being marked by an unpaid haberdashery bill.

“But you tend towards the jovial every December,” Holmes grumbles.

I want to comfort the poor chap, because I do understand that for all the drama, Holmes does suffer almost physically from the effects of inactivity. Above all, I want to avoid the situation getting to the point where he reaches for the damnable leather case that holds the filthy tools of his vice. I put a bright tone in my voice. “Oh, come, Holmes, surely you know that the season of joy also brings out the unhappiness in many lives and that oftentimes leads to such delights as murder.”

Not for the first time, I wonder when exactly I slipped down the rabbit-hole like the little girl Carroll’s book. I suspect it was one day in January when Stamford led me into the cellars of St. Bartholomew’s.

Holmes saunters across the room and drops into his chair, regarding me thoughtfully. “As usual, my dear Watson, you have looked past all the gloom I throw out and found the one bright spot. There have indeed been a few delightful cases at Yule time. I recall the mystery of the poisoned Father Christmas. You have never written that one up,” he adds petulantly. “It was delightfully macabre.”

“Macabre is not really what most people want in their holiday reading, I think.”

“Worked for Dickens,” he points out, displaying a surprising bit of knowledge for a man who scorns reading for entertainment. He notices my raised brow and mumbles something about his mother and Christmas Eve. To spare him further embarrassment, I let the subject drop.

“Still, a poisoned Father Christmas might be a step too far.”

He only makes that inarticulate sound which indicates his utter disgust with the human race.

“I am sure that Lestrade or Gregson will be climbing our stairs very soon to gift you with a delightfully gruesome case.”

“Can you promise me that, Watson?” His question is in the tone of a child wondering if his Christmas stocking hung on the mantel would hold something wonderful or only a lump of coal.

I almost speak the truth. The fact that I would gift him with whatever he wanted. I would give him my very self if that were something he wanted. But, instead, I only smile at him. “Yes, Holmes, I promise.”

Although we both know that my words are meaningless, they are also sincere and he is pleased by that. He gives me a faint smile which seems to recognise that we are both absurd.

Still hoping to get some of my adventure story read, I glance towards the table. “You have set up some experiment, then?”

After a moment, he stands and goes to the makeshift laboratory and begins to fiddle with the microscope. “You might call it an experiment,” he mutters. “I call it a waste of my time, but…”
Now I am curious. “What is it, my dear chap?”

He heaves a sigh of monumental disappointment with existence itself and puts his eye to the microscope. “Mrs Hudson has commissioned me to solve a mystery that has vexed her for years.”

“Really? What might that be?”

“She wants me to discover what secret ingredient makes Mrs Turner’s fruitcake better than her own.”

I cannot restrain my laughter and after a moment my friend chuckles as well.

Courtly love has its own pleasures. Especially in moments like this one, when I think that there might be something hidden just beneath the surface of the gaze Holmes fixes on me. I watch him for another moment and then finally begin to read. The soft background noise of Holmes’ irritated mumbling suits me down to the ground.

***