Traveling by coach on a dreary winter’s day was not unusual, but the weather had worsened mile by mile on our return to London. We sat close together for warmth, and I must admit I was a bit worried for our driver. The location of our last case had been some distance from the nearest station, and so, at the time, the coach had seemed the best course of action.
Holmes must have sensed my worry and shared some of it, because he moved away from me and leaned up to speak to the driver. His words were mostly lost, but I caught that he was requesting we find somewhere to rest before the storm got worse.
Sitting back, Holmes gave me a small nod and I reached out to touch his hand.
He squeezed his hand in mine, then let go, turning his attention out the window, looking at whirls of snow. I studied his features in the dim light, thinking, not for the first time, of how handsome he was.
The coach mercifully came to a stop only a short time later. The coachmen opened the door for us and we were quickly ushered into a tiny pub. One or two hearty regulars sat over their pints, but otherwise, the place was all but deserted. A woman greeted us, apologizing for the lack of proper accommodations.
“It’s only for tonight,” said Holmes. “And anything will do.”
“If you two gentleman don’t mind sharing,” she said. “We have a few other stranded travelers.”
“It’s fine,” Holmes assured her.
She nodded and led us up a narrow flight of stairs and down a short hall, opening the door. “If you’d like to come down shortly, I’ll have some dinner for you.”
“Thank you,” he said politely, slipping her a coin.
She curtsied and hurried out, leaving us to contemplate the small room. A bed took up most of the space, of course, and there was a small table with a basin for washing up. The room was chill, helped only a little by the heavy curtain over the window, but it would do for the night.
Holmes took off his scarf and set it aside. “I’ll sleep closer to the window of course.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, removing my own coat.
“I know the cold bothers your knee,” he said. “You’ve been trying to hide how much since we got out of the coach.”
“A foot will hardly make any difference,” I grumbled.
“Indulge me,” he said, removing his gloves.
I knew arguing would make no difference, so I wiped the snow off my hat and set it aside instead. There was a knock and the coachman gave us our bags.
“You’re staying in the house tonight, not the stables, I hope?” asked Holmes.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Probably sleep downstairs by the fire.”
“Good man.” Holmes tipped him as well and he went off.
Rummaging in his bag a moment, Holmes produced his pipe and some tobacco. I settled our bags under the bed and we headed back downstairs.
There we encountered the other stranded travelers. A young woman and her aunt played cards with two older men, while a third man sat by the fire with his own pipe. Holmes sat next to this last man and they fell into a quiet conversation. I ignored the flare of jealousy I felt. After all, we’d be sharing a bed tonight and then back to Baker Street.
The woman running the pub and her daughter brought out a hearty stew for everyone. I sat at a table and went through my notes on the most recent case, glancing over to make sure that Holmes was eating. He must have been aware of my gaze, because he set his pipe aside and finished his bowl though he never broke from conversation.
One of the gentlemen at the card table headed upstairs, so I joined the game. The time passed pleasantly enough, despite the wind howling against the walls. A trio of coachmen came in from tending their animals and huddled close to the fire with their own conversation. By the time the young woman and her guardian retired for the evening, I’d learned they were on their way to London to visit family, and the gentleman was returning from visiting his brother.
The card game finished, Holmes stood and tapped out his pipe. The other gentleman bade me goodnight and I followed Holmes back up to our room.
We undressed in comfortable silence, Holmes sliding into the bed first, taking up the place closest to the window as promised. I smiled softly and blew out the candle, climbing in after him, noticing the bed had been warmed recently.
We lay side by side in the dark and I felt him shift, looking for a comfortable position in the narrow bed.
“Here,” I said, “on your side.”
Holmes grumbled a bit, but obeyed. I rolled over and curled up around him.
“Watson?” he asked, somewhat delicately.
“Yes?” I asked, breathing in the scent of his hair as I held him closer.
He shifted a bit more and then settled, apparently deciding not to question me further. I smiled and tucked the blankets a bit tighter around us, quickly falling asleep.
I woke again some time in the deep night, finding the other half of the bed empty and the room even colder. Sitting up, I saw Holmes standing at the window, curtain brushed aside as he looked out, puffing on his pipe, lost in thought.
“Holmes?” I asked.
He started and turned towards me, looking young in the light from outside. Then the curtain fell and only the faint light of his pipe told me his location.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he said putting out his pipe.
“I’m not certain that you did. You should come back to bed.”
I felt him hesitate, but then he put his pipe away by memory and came back, laying down under the covers. I tried not to flinch at his cold feet. He faced me and reached out for my hand, echoing my movements in the coach, though this time he did not let go. “What are we?” he asked.
I let the thought roll around my mind for a few long moments, cushioned by the safety of the darkness, though I knew other people were quite nearby. I thought of the stolen moments we’d shared, affectionate touches, long conversations, the times where we simply enjoyed one another’s company. Letting go of his hand, I drew him into my arms, holding him against my chest. “We are what we are,” I said at last.
He relaxed against me and raised his head. I met him halfway and kissed him tenderly. It was the first time we had dared such an action and he sighed softly, as if achieving something he’d long hoped for. I felt the same.
I ran my fingers through his hair. He broke the kiss to rest his head on my chest once again. I wondered if he could hear the way my heart beat for him.
As I held him close he fell asleep. I kissed his temple and closed my eyes. Tomorrow morning we would again be the face of utter respectability. But tomorrow night we would be back behind our own closed doors, and a world of possibility lay before us.