the color of red

Watson returns to their lodgings late in the afternoon–late enough that it could possibly be called evening, and his mood is pensive and quiet, enough so that Holmes glances at him above the paper and allows it to pass unremarked. Watson has to gently refuse dinner from Mrs Hudson before he retires to his own chair, chin resting on one hand, staring pensively into the fire.

Finally, after nearly an hour, he says, abrupt as a gunshot, “What do you think of the color red, Holmes?”

The man himself doesn’t answer for several minutes; a less clever man might have been mulling over his words, in order to pick the correct ones, but Holmes is merely being polite. Eventually, he says, “It is not an unpleasant color, though I’ve a preference for others over it. Unlike the lady in question.”

Watson sinks lower into his chair for a moment, his fingers pressed over his eyes. “We went to school together, did you know,” he said after a moment.

“I had wondered,” Holmes says, too carefully bland. Watson sees him move from the corner of one eye, long body uncoiling and recurling, shifted more towards him, eyes intent. “There are not many reasons a man will go to a woman’s funeral when she is not his blood-relation. Were you good friends?”

“Once, perhaps,” says Watson. “We lost touch some time ago, though we still exchanged letters every now and then. Still. None of our classmates wanted to work with a woman. It is an amazement she made it through with everyone biased against her. Even the dean of the school himself tried to persuade her not to take up the profession–she’d be better off as a nurse, that’s what everyone wanted to tell her. Instead …” He shrugs a little, wordless.

“You had presumed, as she had overcome those odds and survived every other disaster in that short life of hers, she would not die so soon, or so abruptly.”

“Correct,” Watson says, nearly a sigh, blown through his mustache. “After everything that has happened, I feel as if I should say, ‘thank God for the poor woman, she’s at rest!’ and yet I cannot quite bring myself to do so.”

“That is because you are an uncommonly empathic sort of fellow, Watson,” Holmes tells him, and his tone is nearly gentle. He reaches down and catches up his violin, though he does not yet set it to his chin; his long fingers move across the strings without producing any sound. “And I for one am grateful for that. Madame Red, however, cannot be glad or upset for your condolences now. She’s other business to attend to.”

“God rest her soul,” Watson says quietly.

Holmes says nothing else, but the song the violin sings is a quiet one–nearly a lullabye, more tender than his usual frantic practices, and Watson lets it lull him slowly to sleep.

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