(Author’s note: it’s late, I know. I’ve made a habit of running late lately, and I don’t have a good excuse for why. It’s not lack of time or motivation; more like lack of focus. Too many other things on my mind, and none of them the kind of thing that inspires creativity.
But, at least it’s done.That’s saying something, right?)
I open my bedroom door an hour past when Anne’s retired to her room and strain my ears in search of any minute sound that might indicate my aunt is still awake. The house is silent as a tomb. The only sound at all is the steady tick tock of the clock in the sitting room as I tiptoe across it. I open the hall door a bare sliver and peek out, pausing again to listen for signs of life on the floor below. As I do so, I glance at the door to Mycroft’s abandoned room across the hall and thank the heavens Anne hasn’t decided to move into it now that its previous occupant has settled elsewhere. Her doing so would only make moments like this more difficult. If she knew what goes on in her house after she’s gone to bed, the move would be high on her list of tasks.
When I am sure all is clear, I quietly shut the sitting room door and tiptoe to the other side of the room, where the stairs to the second floor hide behind a pair of drawn curtains. I take these steps as quietly as I would the main staircase, careful to skip the fourth stair entirely; it creaks awfully and the sound echoes through the cupboard beneath it loud enough to wake the dead – or at least an over-attentive aunt. It’s one more reason Watson’s room is always the chosen location for our nightly rendez-vous – there is an entire floor between his room and hers to act as buffer. This dance we’re doing, Watson and I, is fraught with potential chaos. All our steps are planned and taken cautiously to avoid detection. It feels silly, a grown woman sneaking about her home like this, but it’s not for my sake that we do so. Anne’s unlikely to throw me out over it, but Watson has no such assurance.
Watson’s room is empty when I let myself in. I frown as I take in the empty bed, the unlit lamp, the bare stool where his clothes usually find themselves, folded neatly, when he changes out of them each night. His night clothes hang on the door of the small wardrobe. A book sits closed on the table next to his bed; there are nights when I make my way here that all we do is lie in his bed while he reads to me until I fall asleep in his arms. Over the last few weeks I’ve become quite acquainted with the doctor’s routines, and none of his evening ones have been completed. The room has the suspicious look of a space that hasn’t been occupied since its owner left it that morning.
I saw him at dinner earlier; though we were celebrating the successful end of the St. Clair case, he looked oddly tense and distracted. Part of that may have been my fault. We had disagreed – loudly – about one of the investigative techniques I employed early on. He objected to my going to the opium den, disguised as one of its customers, that Mr. St. Clair had disappeared from. Anne stood on his side of the argument. Those are not the sort of places well-brought up young ladies go, even if they’re pretending to be not-so-well-brought-up men, after all. Watson objected more to the likelihood for danger. The fact I had to indulge in a small amount of opium to hold up my disguise did not help matters as far as he was concerned.
But we settled that disagreement, even if I never have hope of ever lessening his worries. I thought we had settled it, anyway. His mood at dinner, his absence now…it makes me wonder. I worry, for a moment, that he’s wandered off somewhere dangerous himself, as unlikely a scenario as that seems to me. Perhaps he is upstairs in his office working and merely lost track of time. Yes, that is a much more likely possibility.
I sit on the edge of his bed, pondering this, while eyeing the shirt and pants hanging nearby. As I do, an idea begins to form and a slow smile settles across my lips. It only takes a moment to slip out of my nightdress and pull the top from Watson’s set on. I don’t bother with the few buttons; they don’t really help my purpose any at all. The hem falls just above my knees. The sleeves hang past my fingers. The open buttons not only don’t hide the bare skin left visible beneath them, they seem to emphasize it. That suits my purpose nicely, though. I crawl onto the bed and stretch out over the duvet just in time to hear the sound of distinctive footsteps in the hall.
The door opens. “I wondered if you forgot your last appointment of the evening, Doc…” Watson strides through the door in a fouler mood than I have ever seen him. He is disheveled. One sleeve of his jacket, which he tugs off as soon as he’s inside, is ripped at the shoulder. His hair is mussed. The worst of it, though, is the bloody, swollen gash in the center of his lip. I rise to my knees and scramble to the edge of the bed. “What happened?”
“It’s nothing to bother yourself about.” He removes his jacket with an agitated series of shrugs and tugs, then throws it across the room. It doesn’t land on its appointed stool but lands instead in a heap in the corner. “Just a mild disagreement between gentlemen. Well, between one gentleman and an idiot.”
“You were in a fight? My God, over what?” I stretch up and rest a hand on his cheek. He flinches, but he doesn’t pull away. “Point out the ruffian and I’ll be sure to give him a piece of my mind.”
“You won’t be giving anyone a piece of anything.” He squeezes my hand then removes it from his cheek before turning to the small table next to the window. “Especially since your pieces of mind lately come accompanied by fists. You will not be striking Inspector Bradstreet.”
I blink repeatedly at him as he drops onto the stool and pulls a few sheets of paper and a pen and inkwell from the table’s center drawer. “Why were you fighting with Inspector Bradstreet?”
“Because he’s an arrogant, pompous, small-minded imbecile, that’s why.”
I sit on the corner of the bed, waiting for him to elaborate. “Arrogant, pompous, and small-minded” are all fairly common words bandied about within Baker Street in regards to members of the constabulary. Few examples exist otherwise, to my chagrin. However, Watson doesn’t say anything else. He dips the pen and begins scribbling away at the top sheet of paper instead. He’s filled half a sheet before I pull myself up and pad barefoot across the room. When I reach him, I slide both arms around him and rest my chin on his shoulder, trying to read what he’s so desperately scratching away at.
“While I would never debate the arrogance or imbecilic nature of Bradstreet, or most others at the Yard, I’m not sure that’s explanation enough for why you’d initiate a brawl.”
He huffs. Neither his eyes, nor his pen, lift from the page. “I didn’t initiate it, and it didn’t become a brawl. There was only a single punch thrown. I’m not silly enough to strike a member of the police, even if they’re off duty.”
“Bradstreet struck you? Without cause? That no-good-“
He turns his head enough to look at me, a guilty, apologetic expression on his face. “Well. I may have provoked it. A little. But honestly, Charlotte, after what he said this afternoon…”
“What he said?” I frown. I try to recall the conversation in question, but to be honest, I stopped listening once the topic drifted from Nigel St. Clair’s release. In my experience, once the specifics are handled and out of the way, it just becomes an endless litany of the officer congratulating himself on how clever he is and how simple the case was to figure out. Since nothing good ever comes from my reminding them that I figured it out for them, I simply stop listening.
Watson’s brow furrows in unfamiliar anger as he turns back to the page. “How he figured it out all on his own. Didn’t need anyone’s help doing it, especially not some woman. Made sure to emphasize that point especially when I paid him the visit tonight. You do all their work for them, and they get all the reward for it. It’s ridiculous. Certainly not fair.”
“Fairness is rarely how the world works, my sweet doctor.” I kiss his cheek, then nod at the page he’s filled with ink. “And is this a letter of complaint to his superiors?”
“It’s more of a fair accounting of the real events of several of the Yard’s more celebrated cases. The things they never would have solved without you.” He stops and his eyes scan over the lines he’s already written. He frowns; a second later, he balls up the sheet and tosses it across the room. “The first horrible draft, anyway.”
As he starts scratching away at the fresh sheet, I press closer against his back and leave another kiss on his cheek. Unlike the last, however, it isn’t a solitary one. It’s the beginning of a chain of them that stretches down his jaw and over what scarce bit of neck his collar leaves bare. I fix that by loosening, then removing, his tie; the buttons beneath it are easy to undo. So are the ones below them. Watson’s hand falters, drawing a harsh line halfway down the page. I smile against his warm skin.
“I think your creativity is better used elsewhere tonight, doctor.” I whisper it against his ear before catching the lobe between my teeth. The last button on his shift succumbs to my fingers’ assault and I feel him drag in a deep, unsteady breath as my hands tug up his vest and slide beneath so they can skim over his bare skin.
He swallows roughly. His fingers grip the pen so tightly I imagine the case creaking under the pressure in protest. “But the account…”
My hands glide over his ribs. Lower. His stomach tenses beneath my touch as I reach the button on his waistband. “Will wait until tomorrow. I think the defense of my honor can spare you for a night.”
“I…I should really do this while the idea is fresh in my head.” I note the absolute lack of conviction in his voice and reward it with another light nibble on his earlobe.
“I have an entirely different idea that is very fresh in my head.” I pull back, slowly, my hands the last thing to leave him. He turns to watch me as I go. He’s gifted with the sight of me lifting his nightshirt over my head and tossing it to the same corner where his jacket landed.
I almost make it to the bed before he’s up from the chair; he snags me around the waist and pulls me roughly to him. We tumble to the bed, disturbing his neatly drawn duvet. When we settle, he’s poised above me with a bemused look on his face.
“You are the worst distraction God ever presented to Man,” he says, and seals the words with a kiss that empties my head.
He doesn’t get back to his scribbling until morning.