Games of Chance

Holmes/Watson. PG-13. ~1750 words. Pre-movie. Two-sided UST and shameless innuendo.
He had no idea how to go about telling Holmes he’d lost the rent again.

Mind and stomach reeling with spirits, heart in turmoil, Watson stumbled to the low settee in their sitting room and gingerly lowered himself to it. He reached a hand up for his hat, found the latter missing, and collapsed back in a shameful heap. He had no idea how to go about telling Holmes he’d lost the rent again.

“Best to do it quickly,” Holmes said, a lean shadow near the banked fireplace.

Watson released a slow, hitching breath. More than a year had passed since his return to dreary London, and aside from a noticeable lightening of his skin and the smoothing of his scars, he’d wrought little change for the better in his life. His wounds ached daily in the frigid January air and his idle hands had without a doubt become the devil’s playthings.

A soft step preceded the softer hush of Holmes’s voice. “No need then. Come, give me your hand.”

Holmes’s hand, warm and dry, enveloped the clammy chill of his own, and with an unsteady heave, Watson lurched to his feet. His stomach roiled alarmingly. Attempting to control his wayward facilities, he hung from Holmes’s shoulder like so much tattered drapery, dulled and dirtied and of no good use at all.

“I’m so sorry, Holmes,” Watson said, his tongue made loose and careless by drink. Holmes’s dressing gown smelled of phosphorous and tobacco ash, comfortingly familiar in its oddity. Leaning more heavily against Holmes, he breathed in deeply.

“Excessive apologising is irritating,” Holmes said, jostling him lightly when he delayed too long in lifting his foot to the next stair, “and unnecessary. You have yet to see me sunk in the abyss of my own black moods.”

“I think these moods of yours are a fiction.” The effort of speaking while walking nearly sent Watson’s cane clattering back down to the foyer. With effort, he held his tongue until they’d reached the landing, and then continued, “We’ve been together for some months now.”

“And what good months they have been,” Holmes replied.

Time wavered unpleasantly, solidifying again when Watson grabbed the side of his wardrobe in a desperate attempt to keep his feet. “Beg pardon?”

“I said, all things in time, my friend.”

“Of which things are we speaking?”

With a surgeon’s efficiency, Holmes stripped him of his greatcoat, then his jacket. Braces, shirt and collar followed swiftly. His balance wavered as Holmes dropped to one knee to deal with his laces. He stared down at the bow of Holmes’s back, clutching tighter to the wardrobe until his knuckles ached and the wood creaked in protest.

“Enough,” he finally said. “I believe I can manage from here.”

Holmes eased back a fraction. “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.”

“Why am I to be concussed? My bed lies but seven feet from where I stand.”

“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.”

Heaving a brandy-laden sigh, Watson conceded, “There may be some truth to that.”

“A small measure,” Holmes agreed, rising and tucking his shoulder once more beneath Watson’s arm. “So here it is again for you.”

“I’ve really no need for a keeper,” Watson said, stepping out of his shoes while Holmes steadied him and studiously ignoring the fact that at this particular juncture, not only did he indeed require a keeper, but he had also already admitted to such. “Really, Holmes, you may seek your bed.”

“I am currently occupied in seeking yours.”

Watson frowned. The floorboards were never quite where he anticipated them to be, rather like the words that formed on Holmes’s lips never were, either. He spent the trip from wardrobe to bedside in an attempt to put wood and words both back into their proper places. Failing miserably, he instead asked, “When was it you lit that lamp there? I’m sure we entered in darkness, and you have not left my side.” He paused–concession to his diminished capacity for observation–and reluctantly added, “Have you?”

“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.”

“How can you know that?”

“Fifteen seconds.”

“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.” A slight pause. “Eleven seconds.”

“But-”

“Nine,” Holmes began. “Eight.”

“I think I will remain where I am and test this claim of yours. Where is my pocket watch? Empirical evidence necessitates empirical research.”

While Watson was in the process of recalling that his pocket watch was in his pocket, specifically the right pocket of the waistcoat he was no longer wearing, Holmes reached the countdown’s inevitable end. Without so much as an if you please, Holmes dumped him upon his bed.

“There are times when you demonstrate the very heights of rudeness,” Watson told him.

“I did inform you of such,” Holmes said from his crouch between Watson’s knees, dealing with Watson’s stockings as efficiently as he had dealt with the rest.

“And you seem remarkably adept at removing a gentleman’s clothing.”

“I am fortunate to have had much practice.”

Again, Watson frowned. His gut, having ceased its pitching, sank under the suspicion that Holmes did not mean quite what he had said, but the possible alternative meanings Watson assigned to his words were of an equally ill fit.

“Astonishingly, I do dress and undress myself daily,” Holmes said.

“Ah,” Watson murmured, “of course.”

A hand resting on Watson’s knee, Holmes asked, “Would you care to explain why this concept gave you sudden pause?”

An attempt at a reply clogged Watson’s throat. He managed to squeeze breath in around it but not words out; it felt as if there was an actual physical obstruction threatening to choke him, wedged so closely up against delicate tissues that his eyes began to water.

“No,” he finally croaked. “No, I don’t think I should care to.”

“And if I should press you upon the matter, as opposed to press you upon the mattress, where at this point I can see without a doubt is precisely the place you belong?”

Picking through the thorny bush of that sentence was so far beyond Watson’s current capabilities that he forgave himself entirely for simply ignoring it. If he remembered it in the morning–which he had no doubt he would; nature had not been kind enough to include with his occasional fondness for inebriation the gift of a corresponding lapse in memory–he would dissect it of all its nuances, but for now he gave the back of Holmes’s hand a firm pat and said, “Mattress, if you please.”

“I do please, and you are already sitting upon it. Lie back; yes, I’ve your cane already, there we are.”

In yet another uncharacteristic display of conscientiousness, Holmes kindly hooked his cane into the stand near the bedside table, easily within reach, and sat on the bed’s edge, his gaze fixed on some point above the lamp’s flickering flame.

A long moment later, while sleep conspired with the brandy burbling through Watson’s veins to whisk his awareness away, Holmes said, “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?”

It took several sluggish seconds for Watson to reply, “Not in the least.”

Holmes breathed a sigh. “Thank god.” He patted Watson’s shoulder. “Sleep well, then.”

Bedsprings creaked as Holmes rose to snuff the lamp. He made his way confidently through the thick blanket of darkness, and Watson fell asleep before hearing the soft click of the door being drawn shut.

Come morning, Watson woke to a tender stomach and the conflicting odours of freshly fried bacon and Holmes’s dogged pursuit of heretofore unknown chemicals. The result left him feeling rather like a cork bobbing atop the murky Thames, firmly on his way to nowhere good at all, and he lay carefully still, willing head, belly and bed alike to please be still.

A light knock sounded upon his door. “Was that miserable sound you, Watson?”

“It was, and you’ll soon have another if you don’t lower your voice,” Watson rasped.

The door opened a fraction, Holmes’s body blocking the majority of the resulting blinding spear of sunlight that tried to skewer Watson’s eyeballs. “What was that?”

Watson attempted to ease the cracked dryness from his lips with the desert of his tongue. Failing that, he peered cautiously at his bedside table in the vain hope of a tumbler of water or perhaps even a speck or two of morning dew. His disappointed sigh became a wheezing cough as he settled back down.

The sad spectacle he made of himself prompted Holmes’s retreat, followed shortly by the quick tromp of footsteps down the stairs, which happily meant a few minutes for Watson to try to think clearly and hopefully, a jug full of blessed water.

When Holmes returned, glass in one hand and pitcher in the other, and after Watson had gratefully drained nearly half of it, Watson said, “I’m afraid I have something important to tell you. You’re going to be rather disappointed with me.”

Just finishing pouring another glassful and about to hand it over, Holmes instead lifted it to his own lips, drinking deeply. He cleared his throat and said in a measured, calm tone, “Yes, Watson?”

Standing at the precipice of a choice Watson was certain he would face again, he said, “I’ve lost the rent.”

The tension in Holmes’s shoulders eased. “Well. Not an altogether unsalvageable situation, as I have prepared for such an occasion. But perhaps we should consider other measures for the future?”

“Yes,” Watson agreed, clutching at the dreadful hope that he had not been wrong, that he would have another chance. “Yes, of course.”

End

2 Responses to “Games of Chance”

  1. Thankful reader Says:

    Brilliant and well done!
    I could only wish for more in the future.
    -Cheers!

  2. Shelly Says:

    I read this somewhere else, I remember loving it. I love the wonderfully oblivious Watson and concerned Holmes. It’s just so cute, the way Holmes makes those sly comments and Watson’s just adorably confused.

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