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A Midnight Clear

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Prompts: Bored. Longest Night of the Year.
Scarf and Coat. Icicles.

 

Being Various Expurgations From The Journals of
Doctor John Watson

 

Although I have occasionally succumbed to a bit of exaggeration in my little tales of Holmes’ cases and his mastery in solving them, I have never, I think, been a credulous man. Never have I succumbed to the lure of investing in a secret diamond mine in South Zambezia or whatever they are calling the place these days. Nor have I ever been inclined to invest in a dodgy Christmas goose syndicate. [Placing a wager on a horse that was rated to win but who then gives up halfway round the track is altogether different. Although having said that, I can easily imagine the eye roll my friend would give me, before pointing out the numerous occasions upon which he has felt obliged to lock my chequebook away to save from myself.]

That was a bit of a digression.

Simply put, I did not expect that the change in our relationship [though was it really a change? Or merely an extension of what had always been there, albeit unacknowledged?] would bring about any real alteration in Holmes’ nature. Not that I wished for any such thing, of course.

All in all, therefore, it was absolutely no surprise for me to walk into the parlour [after an urgent dash to the tobacconist’s shop] and find a very bored Holmes occupying the space. Several days with no cases nor experiments to distract him always lead down this path. Briefly, I considered using the fact that we were now lovers [and the delight just writing that word gives me is quite indecent; no doubt, I am bound for hell and will still count myself lucky] to distract him from his malaise. But I did not want to become simply a distraction to the man; even having that thought come to mind caused me a flash of guilt. I could imagine the wounded look that would appear in Holmes’ eyes if I ever voiced such a concern.

“Cold night out there,” I remarked, briskly rubbing my hands together, having decided that perhaps ignoring his mood might be for the best.

“In December? You do surprise me, Watson.”

Well, at least he had not hit rock bottom with his mood; had he been at his worst, my comment would simply have been ignored. His tetchiness I could deal with. I reached into my pocket and pulled out two small bags. The one holding my usual shag I tossed down onto the table. The other, I held up. “I was able to buy you some of that imported cherry blend you like.”

There was a pause before he stood and walked over to take the pouch from me. His fingers lingered in my hand and I gave them a squeeze. Holmes smiled faintly. Then he turned around and walked over to the window, staring down at Baker Street. “You are too good to me, my dear boy,” he said softly.

“Nonsense,” I said, joining him at the window. “I am precisely as good to you as you deserve on any given day.” I thought to kiss him, to confirm my words, but then recalled that we were standing in front of the window, in full view of any passersby.

It seemed he read my mind, because he smiled again. We stood in silence for a moment, watching as snow began to fall.

“I despise myself sometimes for these black moods that take me, Watson, and I wonder that you do not feel the same.” Holmes voice was soft; his breath steamed a small patch of glass.

“I know that it is inactivity of your mind that drives these moods,” I replied. “And we both know that I myself am no stranger to such things.”

“Feeling so low tonight, however,” Holmes said, “is especially inconvenient.”

“Why so?”

“Do you not know?” He rested his forehead against the window. “It is the longest night of the year.”

His tone made it seem as if every second of this interminable night was going to be personally painful to him. Abruptly, I could not bear to simply watch the man suffer. “Right,” I said, sounding more confident than I actually felt over my quickly improvised plan. “We are going to take some air. Have a walk and perhaps shake off this mood before it overtakes you altogether.”

He turned his head to look at me. “Were you not just complaining of the cold?”

I dismissed those words with a gesture. “In my eagerness to obtain my tobacco, I had forgotten my gloves. We shall bundle up and walk to the park.”

Now he seemed vaguely amused. “Is that your prescription, doctor?”

“It is.”

“Well, I suppose only a fool would argue with his physician.”

He had given in more quickly than I had anticipated.

“Excellent,” I said, going to fetch his greatcoat and warmest scarf. Instead of simply handing them to him, I proceeded to help him into the coat, buttoning it all the way up. Just for a moment, I paused to appreciate his long, pale neck. He gave a smirk, no doubt reading my thoughts all too easily. I lifted the scarf and wrapped it firmly around the object of my appreciation. “Hat and gloves,” I ordered, then went for my own warm things.

As we went down the stairs, I could hear Mrs Hudson in her kitchen, speaking, no doubt, to Billy, whom she has taken under her wing as more than simply the errand boy. She does have a tendency towards the strays of the world and I do not fail to include myself in that group.

There were only a few other hardy souls to be seen walking through the winter night, although numerous carriages passed us, going hither and yon, undoubtedly ferrying their passengers to one festive gathering or another. We strolled along in our usual companionable silence, our arms linked together. Simply two gentlemen out for a walk. All perfectly acceptable to society. The snow continued to fall.

We passed a shop which had its front window draped in holly and I quietly admired the pretty sight. Holmes broke the silence. “I have always found it interesting that holly is so prevalent during this season of supposed peace and joy.”

A slippery patch on the pavement caused me to slip a bit, but Holmes; grip on my arm kept me from falling. I smiled my gratitude and then said, “Why interesting?”

“Did you know that the wood of the holly tree is often used in the production of chess pieces?”

I shook my head.

“Which is highly appropriate, given that it is a symbol of defence, aggression and combativeness.”

“How festive,” I said drily. I gave his arm a squeeze. “You have such a vast store of minutiae in your brain, Holmes. It continues to astound me.”

Probably on this occasion it was the cold that brought the pinkness to his cheeks, but it cannot be denied that Holmes remains as susceptible to praise [when it comes from me, at any rate] as any maiden. I do try not to abuse that fact simply because I so enjoy the reaction.

We had reached the park and once our steps had taken us into the interior, it felt as if we had entered a different world completely. All the sounds of the city---the clip-clop of the carriage horses on the roadway, the occasional call of a news seller, trying to rid himself of the last of his papers before quitting for the night, the hawking of roasted chestnuts on the corner---faded away to nothing and it almost seemed as if we could hear the snow as it landed on the ground.

Once again, we walked without words, neither of us apparently willing to break the spell that had over-taken us in this strange and lovely new world. Between the clouds, a shaft of moonlight made the snow glitter.

We had not yet reached the zoo, when Holmes paused. I turned my head to see whatever had caught his attention. “How beautiful,” I said then.

We were staring at a small stand of trees that had gained a covering of icicles, hanging from the branches like jewels from the gown of a woman dressed to the nines, as my Scots granny used to say. Holmes shifted his gaze and surveyed the park all around us. We were completely alone on the landscape. He tugged me closer and bent to press his lips against mine. After a stab of surprise, I returned the kiss.

“I have always wanted to do that in public,” Holmes murmured, nuzzling at the corner of my mouth. “This seemed the perfect moment, when Boreas could give us his blessing.”

I poked at the corners of my memory and managed to dust off some long-forgotten reference. “The Roman god of winter and the north wind. So has he blessed us, then?”

Holmes gave me one more kiss, then pulled back to take my arm again. “I choose to think so.”

As one, we turned and started back towards the park entrance. “In that case, my dear boy,” I said, “may I suggest that we return home and consummate this newly-blessed relationship?”

He chuckled as I had known he would, but it was brief and I wondered if he felt the same bittersweet regret as I myself. Regret that the blessing of a long-ago deity was the only one we would ever have.

Still, with the warmth of his arm in mine and the memory of his kisses fresh, I could not stay downhearted for more than a moment.

“And we are in luck,” Holmes said, his tone lighter as well. He cast a half-smile at me. “After all, it is the longest night of the year.”

 

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