It was cold. Holmes was nestled up beside me for warmth, and Lestrade was pointedly looking anywhere but in our direction. I could smell the peppermint candy that Holmes was sucking on, and occasionally he made a soft slurping sound.
"Is he ever going to show up?" Lestrade snapped, drawing his collar up around his ears and burrowing deeper into his coat.
"Of course he is. Really, Lestrade, I would have thought you had learnt patience by now." Holmes grinned and puffed into his hands before tucking one of them into the crook of my elbow.
"I’m bored." the inspector muttered and glowered at the floor.
Perhaps I was bored myself. Perhaps I was feeling slightly deranged from the cold. Or, more likely, perhaps I just wanted the sallow little rat-faced man to stop complaining for a few minutes.
"We could tell stories." I felt two pairs of eyes stare at me in the dark. "It’s what we did when we were on our campaigns." I added helpfully. "To keep us occupied, and to stir the blood."
Snickering silently, Holmes elbowed me. “I’m sure the sort of tales you and your fellow soldiers told to keep the blood hot, are not very suitable for this situation, my dear Watson. I think that friend Lestrade would be mortified and embarrassed.”
I grinned and elbowed him back. “I didn’t mean like that.” That was partially a lie. While sitting around in our tents playing cards or chess while in India or Afghanistan, stories invariably travelled quickly to more horizontal settings. That they would often develop into live action demonstrations was a more closely kept secret. “Hunting stories. Sport. That sort of vein.”
Lestrade took one of the offered peppermints and slipped it between his lips with a thoughtful hum. As he folded his wrapper into little shapes, he leant forward as if he were sharing a particularly delicious piece of gossip. “When I first got promoted to inspector,” he began. “There was this big brute of a slasher running round the docks.” He launched into an exciting- and obviously embellished- story of a murderer that, to hear him tell it, he caught singlehandedly in the midst of a crime.
"Goodness!" Holmes applauded, and I lifted my hand to my lips to cover my grin. "Lestrade, you truly are a wonder. Bravo." I nodded and tapped my fingers into the palm of my hand.
Their eyes looked my way again, and I cleared my throat. Holmes squeezed my arm in encouragement. “I was twenty-four, and had been spending the summer in Bangladesh, after being given an opportunity to study under Dr. Edward Lees. I stayed at his home for the duration.” Holmes’ fingers tightened sharply, and I gave him a reassuring nudge with my knee. “We heard an account from a nearby village of a tiger that had been plucking goats out of their pens. We thought it was interesting, until news came that the beast had attacked a child. The pair of us, along with three of his servants rode down to the village that very hour. The poor mite had survived, but only because the village dogs had swarmed the cat. He lost an arm, however.”
"This is not a very thrilling story." Lestrade murmured. He crunched down on his peppermint in annoyance.
"After the surgery," I scowled at him. "We headed into the bush to find the tiger. We were each armed with a heavy shot rifle, and a whistle." Beside me, Holmes snorted. "Would you like to finish the story?"
"No, no, my dear. Go on."
"Dusk was setting in as I was heading back to the village. I had heard several gunshots, and assumed that the animal had been put down. I was still wary and had my gun up, which I’m sure is the only thing that saved my life. There was a rustling in the trees to my left, and an enormous tiger leapt out at me. Easily as long as I am tall, with a great head and shaggy fur. It had gashes on its front leg and neck from the dogs. I lifted my rifle as it advanced on me and it hesitated at the display, but before I could fire, another shot rang out. It seems that Dr Lees had been firing at every movement in the bushes. The cat took a slug to the hip, and screaming, it turned and vanished back into the forest. I had to stand and blow my whistle to keep from getting shot at myself as the blasted feline got away."
Holmes tossed his head back and laughed quietly in his strange fashion, while his hand stroked the inside of my arm. I chuckled and patted his fingers. “I’ve always been more partial to dogs.” I explained to Lestrade.
Before my companion could give a story of his own, our contact finally arrived. A short brawl later, Holmes bundled me back to our rooms on Baker Street. With soothing murmurs and a pinched expression he tended to the cut on my eyebrow. I had been distracted by Lestrade yelling for assistance, and failed to duck fast enough when a stick had been swung at my head. “I’m fine, my love.” I insisted, checking his handiwork in a mirror. To keep him from dwelling on my injury, I snagged him around the waist and drew him close. “You didn’t get a chance to share a story of your own.”
With a theatrical wave of his hand, Holmes turned away from me and sat on the floor with his legs crossed. From one of the many piles of books scattered around the floor, he picked out a thin red volume and opened it. “I have one. A very terrifying tale.” he murmured. He placed a finger to his lips as he scanned the pages. Peeking over, I could see that the book was an account of our finances, and was being held upside down. “Many years ago, there was a terrible war, far to the east.”
I settled back in my chair with a cigarette, fascinated by the way his fingers danced and moved as he spoke. His brilliant grey eyes were have closed and dreamy, his head tilted slightly to the side.
"A young doctor, strong, noble, and brave, joined the battle. He healed many wounded soldiers, saved many lives. Through luck, he managed to remain unscathed." His lips thinned, and his nose began to wrinkle. "For his bravery, he was given several honours. After the war ended, he returned home a hero, with various career options available to him. The doctor took a flourishing practice, and met a lovely young woman. He married her, settled down, and lived happily ever after."
"You’re right." I stubbed out my cigarette, and rose from my chair, crossing the room. I knelt in front of Holmes and took the book from his hands. Curling my fingers under his chin, I lifted his face so I could press a firm kiss to his lips. He let out a soft noise of distress before his arms went around my neck. The books were pushed aside as I bore him down to the floor, and his legs circled my waist to hold me close. "A very terrifying tale. An awful ending. I’m sure we can collaborate to make a better one."