Watson wondered what one was expected to say upon receiving a beehive for one's birthday. An occupied beehive. After some moments of stunned silence, he settled for "Thank you. How very...thoughtful."
The wooden contraption hummed alarmingly, and he was grateful that Holmes had not removed the top to show him the contents. It was not the most peculiar gift Holmes had ever given him, but it certainly belonged in the same ranks as the Turkish fez, the bezoar stone and the mummified crocodile.
"A wild swarm, as you see," Holmes was telling him, gloved hands flying in his enthusiasm. "It was ticklish work, but I managed to capture it two days ago, queen and all; the workers appear to be settling in very nicely, and have already been making forays to my lavender field. You should not have any trouble with them."
"My dear Holmes --" Watson hesitated. Holmes was smiling at him beneath his beekeeper's veil, his eyes bright and eager. He could not remember when he had last seen Holmes look so well; clearly the country air had done him a world of good. "I have no wish to disappoint you, but surely you do not intend that I should take your bees back to London with me?"
"Your bees, not mine," Holmes corrected him. "My own colonies are over there," he swept an arm towards a distant orchard, "and I do not believe they would welcome feral intruders, though if you would care to make the experiment --"
Watson sighed. Of course he should have known better than to expect a direct answer to a simple question.
They strolled down the gravel path in the bright April sunlight. Holmes expounded upon the habits of his bees, their fascinating methods of communicating with each other, and his theories about the development of their queen, and Watson walked quietly beside him.
Once again, Holmes had confounded his expectations; he had been so sure that Holmes would tire of country life within a week and catch the first train back to Baker Street. Instead, they had not seen each other for nearly three months, though they had exchanged the occasional letter or telegram, and now it appeared that Holmes had no intention of returning; that he was, in fact, perfectly content where he was, and had found a new field of study to occupy him, one in which he could have no use for an aging medical practitioner.
When they reached the door of Holmes's cottage, Holmes stopped and looked at him closely. "My dear Watson, forgive me -- you have had a long and dusty drive, and I did not intend to begin your instruction in the noble art of bee-keeping in the very first hour of our meeting."
Watson raised his brows; perhaps it was time to make a stand. "You do not seriously imagine that I propose to keep bees in the middle of London?"
"Certainly not," Holmes said. "I do not believe the soot would agree with them. Or with you, either, for that matter; you do look tired, my dear fellow. No, I think it would be better if you kept them where they are now, under the apricot tree, but I insist on some course of instruction; your new hive will need a great deal of attention in the coming months, and my hands are quite full already, so that your assistance would be invaluable. In fact, I believe one of my hives may be suffering from foulbrood --"
Watson held up a hand to stem the tide of words; surprisingly enough, Holmes fell silent, his eyes intent upon Watson's, his right hand locked tightly upon the doorknob.
"I will stay," Watson said firmly, and then softer, "If you wish it."
As expected, Holmes did not answer him directly. He merely opened the door to the cottage, waving Watson inside with a dramatic flourish; but Watson watched his face and not his hands, and saw two spots of colour burn upon his cheeks as they went in together.