Sherlock Holmes was invincible.
He could not resist strutting a bit as he entered the ring for his next bout, eyeing his large opponent calculatingly. The brute could give a fair fight to that overgrown Frenchman, but no matter. His previous three opponents had gotten progressively larger in size, the first having outmassed him by at least three stone, yet he had despatched them while sustaining only a handful of blows.
The roars of the onlookers bore him aloft, a small craft on a raging sea that rose with the waves rather than being overwhelmed by them. Adrenaline and cocaine thrummed in his veins, sharpening his gaze, his intuition flawless, his reflexes without equal.
He dodged his opponent's first swings with ease, and landed each of his own jabs uncontested. Allowing himself a brief smirk as he again ducked neatly under the lout's outstretched fist, Holmes enjoyed the moment as he hadn't done in a terribly long time.
To think he would have missed this if Gladstone hadn't insisted upon a walk!
Just a moment . . . what the devil had he done with the dog? He hoped he'd taken him home, but he honestly couldn't remember. He had halted in a dark alley to administer another dose of morphine while the dog sniffed the detritus scattered on the ground.
Gladstone having relieved himself while Holmes was otherwise occupied, he was debating whether to continue to the park or return home when he noticed the discarded page that advertised the night's tournament. Everything after was a blur until he was in his rented room at the establishment and preparing for his first match, which had included a generous dose of cocaine to counteract the lingering effects of the morphine.
He would have to inquire about the dog after this bout. Watson would never speak to him again if he lost their dog.
His concentration on the fight faltered with the thought of Watson, the one he'd been so steadfastly trying not to think of for the past month, give or take a fortnight. Married. Gone. A wave of melancholy swamped his boat and doused the euphoria.
An impressive upper-cut connected with his jaw and he stumbled back, cursing his lapse of attention. He struck back with fury, but the damage was done.
Every thought, every movement became a monumental effort. Blows rained down, and he was barely able to block them, much less answer with his own.
Distantly he listened for the call at the end of the round; surely, it must come soon! All he needed was a moment, another bit of cocaine, and this bout would be his like the others.
So much pain.
He was on the ground, trying in vain to protect his head and midsection from the worst of the blows that seemed to come from all sides.
His last conscious thought was spared to wonder what Watson would think of him now.
Mary was halfway up the stairs when there was an insistent knocking -nay, pounding- at the front door. Sighing, she went to answer it; only their third night home, and John had already been called away to tend to a patient, and here, no doubt, was another. A small group of ragged boys was standing on the doorstep. When she opened the door, one stepped forward, a coat in his arms and a leash dangling from his elbow. "Please, mum, is the Doctor home?"
"I'm sorry, child, he is away tending to a patient," she said kindly, then caught a glimpse of the dog at the end of the leash. "Gladstone?"
The boy tugged on the leash and coaxed Gladstone forward so she could kneel and pet him. He was rather dirty, but his hindquarters wagged with pleasure at seeing her.
"Please, come in," she said, and herded them to the kitchen. Setting out a plate of biscuits while the water warmed for tea, she addressed the leader. "Why do you have Gladstone?"
"And Mr. Holmes' coat," he said, offering it to her. "We found 'em in an alley."
She took the coat and glanced it over, relieved to see no sign of new tears or stains. "You are the lads that help Mr. Holmes from time to time."
"Where is Mr. Holmes, then?"
"He's hurt, mum, and needs the Doctor."
Mary held his gaze for a moment, then nodded. "What's your name, lad?"
"Well, Wiggins, let us have some tea, and then if John hasn't returned, I will tell you where to find him. Is that all right?"
Wiggins considered this, then nodded. "Oy, Cartwright! Go back an' tell 'em we'll bring the Doctor as quick as we can. Johnny, go with 'im."
The two he addressed rose from the table with a few complaints, stuffed their pockets with biscuits, and ran out of the house. Gladstone trotted toward the door after them, but soon decided he preferred the warm kitchen and the bowl of scraps Mary had put down for him.
While the boys had tea, Mary gently prodded them for more information about what had become of Mr. Holmes.
John had not returned by the time they finished, so Mary told Wiggins the address of the patient and cautioned him to be polite and leave the other boys on the street when he rang the bell. She gave him a note for her husband, then escorted the boys to the door. One of them she caught by the collar before he slunk out and held out her hand. Grumbling, the boy dug in his pocket and returned the spoon he'd swiped.
Once the boys had disappeared down the street, Mary locked the door and returned to the kitchen where Gladstone was happily sprawled in front of the fire. She sat beside him and petted him thoughtfully; after a while she rose and went to air out the spare bedroom.
The pain flared and he groaned. It flared again and he tried to pull away from the grip, but that hurt even more.
He moaned in response.
He opened his eyes a fraction, the dim light of the lamp stabbing all the way to the back of his head. "Watson," he whispered.
"Were you trying to get yourself killed, or was this an experiment to see how much of a beating one man can survive?"
"Test of the stimulant properties of cocaine in the boxing ring," Holmes rasped, trying to grin and tasting blood. "No conclusions could be drawn, however. The effects wore off before the bout was over."
"You did more than enough damage to yourself in the meantime."
Holmes tried to sit up and soon wished he hadn't. He slumped back onto the lumpy pillow of the narrow cot.
"Don't move just yet, old chap," Watson cautioned, shrugging off his coat. "I haven't determined the full extent of your injuries."
"Then what have you been doing?" Holmes grumbled.
"I only arrived a few minutes ago," Watson said. "My primary concern was to make sure you could wake. From the looks of things, you had several nasty knocks to the head."
"That is to be expected when one has been boxing."
Watson said nothing, his warm hands touching Holmes' face as he felt for fractures. "Wiggins, would you see if they have anything that could be used as a cold compress?"
Small feet could be heard pounding down the stairs.
"Wiggins is here?"
"He fetched me. Had to follow me to a patient's home to tell me you'd been hurt. The rest of the lot is huddled downstairs. You worried them, Holmes."
"I see." Something tense in Watson's voice compelled him to ask, "Is there cause for such concern?"
"You look quite ghastly," Watson said, removing his hands from Holmes' face.
"Both of your eyes will be swollen shut if we don't get a compress on them soon; they'll be quite colorful, regardless. The gash just above your eyebrow will need stitches. I put your nose back in joint before you woke. Your cheekbone is fractured. Your jaw is badly bruised, but not broken. And you've got several lumps on your head, so you're looking at a fine headache later."
That explained why he could hardly see, at least. It was somewhat of a relief. "It could be worse," he said confidently.
"I haven't looked at the rest of you yet," Watson said dryly.
Wiggins' footsteps returned and a cold cloth was placed over Holmes' eyes. "Thank you, Wiggins. Doctor, do what you must."
Fortunately Holmes hadn't been redressed when he'd been brought up to the small room, so Watson only had put aside the moth-eaten blanket covering him. "You're all over bruises, Holmes," he warned with a sympathetic wince before beginning his methodical assessment.
Patching Holmes up was laborious for Watson and painful for Holmes. Watson did what he could to avoid causing pain as he worked, but Holmes really was quite battered.
"Couldn't you have given me morphine before finishing what that brute started?" Holmes asked through gritted teeth while Watson splinted his broken left forearm.
"I did," Watson said coolly.
"You can't be serious."
"Now you doubt my honesty?"
"No, no, of course not. I doubt the label on your bottle."
"It was your bottle." Holmes could hear the smirk in the good Doctor's voice.
He groaned and was grateful most of his face was covered by a cloth so Wiggins couldn't see the tears of pain leaking from his eyes. His consciousness began to waver, and he willingly allowed it to drift.
"Your violin will be collecting dust for a while," Watson commented absently.
Holmes grunted, words beyond him while Watson was manipulating his aching fingers. Music wasn't at the front of his mind at the moment, he mused distantly before drifting away again.
He was brought back to himself when Watson patted his less damaged cheek. "Stay with me, old chap," the Doctor said softly as he removed the cloth from Holmes' face. "You need to sit up so I can bind your ribs."
Holmes nodded slightly, but regretted even that motion as pain flared bright behind his eyes. He took a few careful breaths, planning how he would attempt to rise. 'Attempt' was indeed the correct word; his abused body protested even the smallest movement, but he felt Watson's hands helping him up, and between his meager efforts and the support of those warm hands, he achieved a sitting position.
His head whirled dizzily from the change in orientation and his stomach churned in sympathy, but it wasn't until Watson helped him shift his legs over the edge of the cot that he was in danger of losing control. His stomach lurched as his feet hit the ground and he gasped, "Watson!"
Watson was ready for this possibility--had sent Wiggins away for this very reason--and supplied the only suitable receptacle in the room, a battered tin pitcher. Holmes retched, leaning heavily against Watson, and was grateful there wasn't much in his stomach, though the dry heaves hurt just as much. He tried to give the pitcher back to Watson when he had finished, but Watson didn't take it. "Hold on to that, you may still need it."
Holmes frowned, but obeyed.
"Now try to remain still," Watson cautioned.
Holmes shivered at the feel of Watson's hands splayed on his rib cage.
"Don't get excited," Watson said wryly, a smile in his voice.
Holmes snorted, then hissed as Watson's hand landed solidly on a bad bruise.
"Five broken, three of which are broken in two places," Watson announced as he began the wrapping. "By the looks of it, your opponent decided to dispense with the rules once you were on the ground. You were kicked, old chap, and I'll wager your arm, fingers, and knee were also the victims of a foot."
"In these tournaments, the rules are only adhered to when convenient," Holmes admitted.
Watson clucked his tongue disapprovingly.
"What's wrong with my knee?" Holmes asked, squinting down at his legs until he could discern the bandaging on his right knee.
"Dislocated patella." When he'd finished and ensured that Holmes could breathe sufficiently well, he began putting the medical supplies back in his bag and looking about for the rest of Holmes' belongings. His clothes were draped haphazardly over one of the chairs, so he fetched the whole lot and dumped them on the cot next to Holmes. "Let's get you dressed so we can go home."
"Our homes are no longer in the same location," Holmes reminded him as Watson helped him thread his arms into his shirtsleeves.
"You'll need help for a while, old chap, so it will be easiest for both of us if you stay at my house."
"Yes, my house. Mary suggested it." There was pride in his voice.
"Did she really," Holmes said musingly as Watson did up his buttons.
Both were startled when the door to the room slammed open and Wiggins burst in. Holmes stiffened and bit back a few very choice words. "The missus says the room is quite ready, and she had me bring Mr. Holmes' coat," Wiggins said eagerly.
"It's Mrs. Watson to you," Holmes said sternly.
"Yessir, sorry, Mr. Holmes."
"Watson, hand me my jacket, if you would."
Watson complied, uncertain what Holmes intended, and watched as he awkwardly dug in the pockets one-handed. Finally Holmes withdrew a battered wallet and, after squinting at several of the coins, he held out his hand to Wiggins. "Here, distribute these amongst the Irregulars. You all have been . . . very helpful. Doctor, I believe we'll need a cab?"
"Wiggins, if you would, and let us know when one has arrived."
Wiggins nodded eagerly and shoved Holmes' coat into Watson's arms before dashing toward the door. He hesitated just before reaching it. "Is it all right if I send Billy up when the cab arrives, Mr. Holmes? He, well, he stayed here while we all fetched the Doctor, and he was mighty worried about you, sir, but don't tell him I said so!"
Holmes' mouth quirked into a small smile. "You may send whomever you wish."
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes!" Wiggins carefully shut the door behind him, and his footsteps quickly receded down the stairs.
Holmes shoved the wallet back into his jacket pocket and held out his arms so Watson could help him with his waistcoat, jacket, and coat. Watson stopped after the jacket, however, and fashioned a sling for Holmes' left arm. Then he added the coat and buttoned it over the sling and arm.
"And now I must stand, eh, Watson?"
"I'm afraid so, my dear fellow."
Holmes took a steadying breath, then gripped Watson's offered hand. Watson had to support most of Holmes' weight while the detective attempted to find his balance, hampered as he was by his injuries. Holmes gritted his teeth and closed his eyes when the vertigo became almost too much to bear, but he was able to remain upright and his stomach stayed in its proper place.
He opened his eyes to see a hesitant Billy peeking in the door. "Yes, Billy? Has our cab arrived?"
"Aye, Mr. Holmes."
"Very good. Ah, Billy, would you mind carrying the Doctor's bag down?"
"Not a'tall, Mr. Holmes," Billy said eagerly, coming forward to take the medical bag. He had to use both hands to lift it, but he beamed to be given the task.
"Go on, we'll be down momentarily," Holmes encouraged. Once the lad had left, he fished his dark-lensed spectacles from his coat pocket and put them on. "My hat, Watson?"
Watson set it on his head and handed Holmes his cane as well. "I believe you'll need this more than I."
"Ah, yes, much obliged." He sighed, then straightened his shoulders and began taking careful steps toward the door. Watson followed closely behind him, ready to intervene if he stumbled. But while Holmes was moving quite slowly--especially for him--he did not stumble, and Watson wondered how much of himself he was expending in the effort.
Wiggins was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs, having sent the rest of the Irregulars outside to hold the cab and make sure there weren't any other onlookers. Holmes paused halfway down the stairs and glanced back slightly toward Watson. "Watson, what time is it?"
"Nearly six o'clock. Why?"
"Would, ah, Mrs. Watson mind providing a bit of breakfast for the Irregulars?" He resumed his slow descent.
"She'd be delighted."
"Wiggins, do you have your watch?" Holmes asked the boy.
"Yessir, Mr. Holmes. Right here," Wiggins said, pulling it from an inner pocket in his trousers.
Watson stared at it a moment, as it was clearly a woman's watch, and found himself wondering where Wiggins had gotten it.
"He came by it honestly," Holmes said as if reading Watson's mind. Again. "It was his grandmother's. Now, Watson, would you care to set a time for breakfast that would allow your lovely wife to prepare a sufficient repast for this lot of hungry fellows?"
"Half past eight," Watson replied promptly. "The housekeeper arrives at seven and can assist."
Holmes finally reached the bottom of the staircase. Wiggins held open the outside door for them; Watson took his bag from Billy, and they climbed into the waiting cab.
Watson sat next to Holmes rather than across, in case he was needed to keep Holmes upright and on the seat. Once the door was closed and the cab on its way, he half expected Holmes to somehow acknowledge his great discomfort, but his companion sat silently, inscrutable, his spectacles perched high on his swollen nose and his hat low on his forehead. The only sound he made during the journey was a brief gasp when the cab took a sharp turn and his weight pressed his wounded arm against the side of the cab.
Watson paid the cabbie while Holmes disembarked, paying careful attention to the area: Watson's new home. Between the pre-dawn darkness and his swollen eyes and dark spectacles, he was effectively blind, but there was far more to observation than mere sight. The smells, the sounds--or the absence of them--the feel of the pavement; it was a modest, well-kept neighborhood, quite suitable for a tidy man like Watson. Rather better suited than the chaos of Baker Street, especially for a physician with a growing practice.
Mary opened the front door as they approached the brightly-lit house, Holmes following Watson up the steps. Holmes was grateful his spectacles blocked much of the light of the entryway, for even what did reach his eyes was most uncomfortable to his already aching head. He surveyed the entryway while the Doctor helped him out of his coat and briefly told Mary what had transpired. When Watson reached the subject of the Irregulars, Holmes broke into the conversation and said, "Since you were so willing to extend your hospitality to me, I took the liberty of inferring that you would not mind extending it slightly farther."
"Not at all, Mr. Holmes," Mary said warmly. "It's a wonderful idea. I dare say you have a softer heart than John has seen fit to mention in his scribblings."
Holmes turned and regarded her with a raised eyebrow, but did not reply. She met his glance and smiled. Holmes decided that he ought to hang his hat on the open peg he could see out of the corner of his eye, so he ignored Mary and turned his attention to crossing the short distance. It was more difficult than it ought to be, even in his wounded state--it seemed his injuries were stiffening up--and once he came within arm's reach of the peg, it took him longer than it should have done to figure out what to do with the cane so he could deal with the hat. Having only one useful arm was going to grow tiresome quite quickly, that much was certain.
At length he managed to tuck the cane under his arm without dropping it and ducked his head enough to reach the hat brim without dislodging the cane. With considerable effort, he was able to snag the hat upon the peg on the first attempt, swaying slightly as he did so, then fumbled for the cane to keep himself from falling.
Taking a deep breath, he noticed that the entryway had abruptly lost its color and seemed rather distant; he wondered briefly if he should tell Watson that some new wallpaper was needed, but it sounded like he was still talking to Mary. As his vision narrowed and stretched, Holmes listened intently, clutching at the sound of their conversation with the last shreds of his quickly receding consciousness. Then even that sound was drowned out by his blood pounding in his ears, his vision a mere pinprick, and for a moment he feared he would disgrace himself by collapsing in Dr. Watson's hallway.
Warmth flushed his face and limbs as he began to return to himself; the first thing he could hear was Watson saying, "Holmes?" over and over again, though he couldn't yet respond. Then he felt a hand on his elbow and was fairly certain that the pressure against his back was from the arm that belonged to that hand. When he finally regained the capacity for speech, he said simply, "Watson," in response.
"There you are. I take it I should add light-headedness to your list of ills?"
Holmes made a noncommittal sound.
"Come, the guest room is down the hall, and you ought to be in bed. Mary is fetching some of my clothes for you to wear until I can fetch some of yours from Baker Street, though I noticed you're already wearing something of mine. I've been looking for that waistcoat for a week."
"You never mentioned it."
"I wasn't very well going to send a telegram to ask if you'd stolen a waistcoat from my luggage," Watson retorted. "Though knowing you, I should've known better than to think I'd merely left it behind on accident."
"Indeed." Holmes headed for an armchair before the small fireplace, but Watson caught his shoulders and turned him toward the bed on the other side of the room.
"No, Holmes, I want you in bed. Now."
"Are you propositioning me, Watson?"
Watson gave one of his little frustrated sighs. "Are you quite certain the cocaine has worn off?" He pushed Holmes down to sit on the edge of the bed and took his cane and laid it on a chaise lounge against the wall before efficiently unfastening the clothing he'd helped Holmes into a short time before.
"The cocaine? Yes. Everything else? Well . . ." Holmes replied dreamily.
"What else--no, never mind, I don't want to know right now." He turned when Mary entered the room, taking the nightshirt and linens from her and kissing her briefly. She left immediately after; there was a noise at the back door that should be the housekeeper arriving, and they had a breakfast to prepare.
The bare-chested Holmes was fidgeting with the wrappings on his hand and arm, his eyes still concealed behind those glasses. Watson divested him of his eyewear and eased the nightshirt over his head. "We'll need to draw you a bath later."
Holmes shrugged apathetically.
"So tell me, what became of the investigation of that machine and Moriarty? I checked the papers, but there was nothing about it."
Holmes decided not to comment on the fact that Watson was reading the London papers while at the seaside with his new bride. "I lack sufficient data for a hypothesis. The machine and the inspector's corpse yielded no new information, and Moriarty himself is behaving for the time being. I await activity on his part to continue the hunt," he said with an aggrieved sigh.
"I see." Watson gently pushed him to lie back so his trousers could be removed. He said nothing else until Holmes was settled in bed. "Is there anything in particular I should fetch from your rooms when I go?"
"You needn't neglect your patients on my account," Holmes replied. "A few borrowed items will be sufficient for my needs, I am sure."
"You are, at present, my sole patient. It is Sunday, so I have no office hours or rounds to make. Besides, I'm not giving you access to my wardrobe again," Watson retorted. "You'll wear your own clothing if I have anything to say about it."
"What of the other patient you were attending?"
"A child with a headcold. He will be fine. So you see, I am free to pay a visit to Baker Street and fetch a few things for you. At the very least I will need to assure Mrs. Hudson that you are not dead in an alley somewhere."
"Nanny would prefer it so. And I am certain she has not noticed I am no longer present."
Holmes looked far too satisfied with himself as he said it, so Watson had to pursue the matter. "I am certain she will notice the absence of strange noises, the fact that you are not eating the food she leaves for you, or at the very least that Gladstone is no longer underfoot."
Holmes considered this. "She might miss Gladstone," he conceded. "I am merely the source of the rent. But if you insist, I will require my dressing gown, tobacco, and whatever other articles of clothing you think necessary," he said dismissively.
Watson had a feeling he would be hearing--at length--from Mrs. Hudson about whatever it was Holmes had done to alienate her this time.
"That ratty dressing gown is not coming into my house," Watson objected. "It should have been burnt long ago. Why don't you wear the one I gave you? It's actually suitable for respectable company."
"It lacks character."
"If by character you mean strange smells and stains of dubious origin, then yes, it lacks character. I'm sure you'll have that remedied within a fortnight. I have never met anyone else quite so gifted at ruining clothing."
"It is an occupational hazard," Holmes said defensively.
Watson could think of several responses, none of which would result in a productive conversation. So he ignored the comment and decided it was time to let Holmes rest. "Do you need anything for the moment, old chap?"
"Just my case, if you'd be so kind," Holmes replied, almost suspiciously quickly.
Watson found himself moving toward Holmes' coat, where he'd replaced the case after dosing Holmes with its contents earlier. He stopped himself and frowned at Holmes. "Absolutely not."
When Holmes merely stared at him, Watson elaborated, "I can't give you anything if I don't know what else you've dosed yourself with. Anything you take must come from me."
"Might I ask when you will provide this 'anything'? Or were you planning to make me beg?"
"Good heavens, Holmes, I'm not a sadist. I just want you to eat something before I drug you so you'll sleep."
"I rather think the sleeping should come first," Holmes commented hopefully.
"Not this time," Watson replied shortly. When Holmes said nothing further, Watson left, saying, "I'll return with your breakfast."
Holmes sighed, not bothering to hide the grimace provoked by that unwise movement. He closed his eyes and took stock. His ribs groaned with every breath he took, his arm throbbed, his head pounded, his knee was blessedly numb from being iced (when had that happened? He wasn't sure), the rest of his being ached relentlessly, and his stomach churned with nausea. Each heartbeat, every inhale and exhale sent a jolt of agony washing through every nerve in his body. It was enough to make one wonder whether life was worth the effort. He was rather of the opinion that it wasn't.
He heard Watson return, but didn't open his eyes again until Watson cleared his throat meaningfully. Holmes looked at him, naked pain in his eyes, and he thought he saw Watson flinch. If he did, he recovered quickly. "I hope you'll try a bit of everything, but at the very least I insist that you have some toast," Watson said with a forced cheerfulness that made Holmes want to smear the jam on his face.
Watson set the tray over Holmes' legs, then helped Holmes sit up and wedged a few pillows behind him to keep him upright. Holmes had to blink a few times before the room stopped rotating around him, then he sighed at the breakfast staring up at him. It had all the stuff of a typical breakfast, and he wanted absolutely none of it. He was considering how he might hide the toast when Watson spoke. "Don't even think about it, Holmes. I'm not budging from this spot until I see you eat something."
Holmes glanced at him and sighed again, reluctantly picking up a piece of toast with a hand that shook rather alarmingly. Under Watson's watchful eye he dutifully ate the darn thing, and as soon as it was gone, he put his hand back in his lap and left it there. "I have eaten something," he reminded Watson when the insufferable man didn't move.
"Drink the water, Holmes."
Holmes glared at the glass of water balefully, then reluctantly reached for it. The glass chattered against the tray as he tried to lift it, his hand trembling and sloshing some of the water. Watson had to help him keep it steady so he could drink; Holmes drank as quickly as he could, though doing so made his stomach churn unpleasantly. But it was a success: Watson took away the tray and left the room with it.
When Watson reappeared, he held a bottle and a small glass. He carefully poured a small measure from the bottle into the glass, then held the glass to Holmes' mouth for him to drink. "If you're still in pain later, I will give you more."
Now Holmes asked for water, hoping to wash away the bitter taste of the laudanum. It helped, somewhat. Though Holmes wanted nothing more than for Watson to leave him alone, Watson insisted upon telling him any number of completely pointless things, as well as submitting him to the indignity of being helped to use the chamberpot.
Only after that did Watson help him lie back down. "Is there anything else you need before you sleep?"
"No," Holmes replied brusquely.
Watson stood beside the bed with his arms crossed and gave him one of those looks. "Suit yourself," he said. "Did you want me to let the lads come in to see you when they arrive?"
Holmes had to consider this, and thought about seeing their young faces clouded with concern, and how the older ones might know that the trembling of his hand had nothing to do with his injuries. "No."
Watson nodded once and turned to leave. "I'll check on you in a little while. Call if you need anything."
Holmes waved this away with his good hand and then he was blessedly alone. The irony was amusing: he'd been miserable these past weeks because he didn't want to be alone, yet now that he was in Watson's house, all he wanted was to be alone. But he didn't laugh; he felt more like weeping, and thought himself ridiculous for it.
His mind was slow and his body sluggish but not yet asleep when he heard the troop of boys herd into the kitchen. Several came very near his door, but Watson's voice cautioned them that Mr. Holmes was sleeping and they could visit later when he was feeling better.
Holmes snorted at the idea of 'feeling better'--it just didn't seem possible. Life was bleak, the world impossibly dull, and yet again he wondered why anyone bothered with this meaningless existence in the first place. It was a shame that his case didn't presently have sufficient morphine in it to curtail his existence.
Mrs. Hudson was not best pleased to see Dr. Watson appear on the doorstep. "So you have him, then? You can keep him."
Watson placated her as well as he could, and agreed to listen to her recital of the latest outrages over a pot of tea in the kitchen. Most were minor annoyances that seemed part of Holmes' nature--the mess, his hygiene, noise at all hours, allowing the dog to soil the rugs-- but others were more serious and Watson was taken aback. "He threatened you with his revolver?"
"He even set something up so it would go off if the door so much as opened a crack. Of course, after that bucket of water came down on my head, I wasn't likely to go opening that door, now was I? And when I put the tea or his meals outside the door, he wouldn't touch them. So I stopped wasting my time and waited for him to ask for his meals."
"Once in a rare while, yes. And he would go out on occasion, but he always looked like an indigent."
After Watson agreed to have Holmes pay for the rug cleaning and anything else he'd damaged and negotiated on several other points, he ventured--with some trepidation--up to Holmes' rooms to fetch what was needed. Though Mrs. Hudson had told him that she had not stepped foot in the rooms for weeks to do any cleaning, all his prior experience with Holmes' messes did not prepare him for the jumble that greeted him when he opened the door.
There were bottles upon bottles strewn on the floor, some of them broken from being smashed against the walls; crumpled newspapers and letters littered every horizontal surface; a heavy haze still hung in the air from Holmes' pipe; and various of Holmes' belongings were sprinkled amongst the mess, some things broken or torn or otherwise ruined in whatever destructive rage had led Holmes to throw bottles at the walls. Most of the bottles were from gin, brandy, and the like, though there was an astonishing number of smaller bottles that explained quite succinctly why the dose of morphine he'd given Holmes earlier hadn't been enough.
Watson ventured to Holmes' bedroom and tried not to think about the chaos of things he had to cross or avoid while collecting the few items of clothing and other things Holmes would need. He put them in one of Holmes' traveling bags and left it by the sitting room door, then endeavored to start straightening up a little.
As he piled the bottles upon bottles upon the settee, he was struck by something that should have occurred to him far sooner: all of this was from the past month and a half. Holmes' rooms had not been this disarrayed when he'd paid Holmes a visit two days before the wedding.
Watson surveyed the debris with new eyes as he tried to comprehend the amount of self-abuse Holmes had inflicted upon himself in a few short weeks.
While it was a pleasure to have Mr. Holmes' lads visit, Mary was relieved when they had gone and the house was quiet once again. It was about a half hour after John departed for Baker Street that she settled at her table in the sitting room to answer some correspondence while the housekeeper went to market for a few things they ran out of at breakfast.
She hadn't been writing long when she heard a loud thump and a cry of pain from the direction of the spare bedroom. Mary rose hurriedly and went to investigate; when she entered the room, Mr. Holmes was lying awkwardly on the floor beside the bed, coughing as he retched onto the rug.
Mary knelt beside him and held his head and shoulders up so he wouldn't choke, waiting until he stopped retching and went limp before she let him slump back back to the floor. He looked dreadful, pale and sweaty and shaking in addition to his injuries, but she wouldn't be able to put him back into bed on her own. Leaving him on the floor wasn't desirable, either, especially with the way he was lying on some of his injuries.
It didn't take her long to decide what needed to be done. Leaving the room briefly, it took her two trips to retrieve all she wanted, then she set about making Mr. Holmes more comfortable.
Watson hurried home, worried about Holmes' physical and mental state and berating himself for not thinking about the physical effects of Holmes' unwise indulgences sooner. As soon as he stepped into his house, he was focused only on reaching Holmes' room. Just before reaching the door, he dimly realized that he hadn't seen or heard Mary or the housekeeper in any of the rooms he'd passed, but that was deemed irrelevant.
Entering the room, he found Mary leaning against the bed as she sat on the floor, gently cradling a limp Sherlock Holmes against her chest, his forehead pressed against her neck. She greeted him with obvious relief in her voice. "John. He's not well."
"It's his own fault," he replied absent-mindedly as he checked Holmes' pulse and respiration. Both were more rapid than they ought to be, especially given the laudanum. He patted Holmes' cheek and called his name, but all Holmes did was twitch.
"He does that often, and he's almost always trembling," Mary told him when he frowned at Holmes' response. "What do you mean, it's his fault?"
"He's been less than wise in what he's consumed in the past few weeks, and both alcohol and morphine are not easy to cease abruptly."
"I thought you said he takes cocaine."
"He does. He uses cocaine when he wants stimulation. Morphine is to suppress stimulation, usually to help him sleep. Holmes being who he is, he more often desires stimulation than sleep. Now tell me why he's on the floor."
Mary told him what she knew and they discussed getting Holmes back onto the bed. They were able to do so with something close to ease, though Holmes woke in the process. He grabbed the front of Watson's shirt with his good hand and slurred, "Wasson."
"Yes, Holmes," he replied patiently, settling Holmes' hand back at his side.
Holmes clutched his sleeve instead. "Wasson," he repeated, sounding urgent as he tried to peer at Watson through the swelling surrounding his eyes.
"Hush," Watson said, detaching Holmes' hand from his sleeve and pushing him back against the pillows. He gestured for Mary to give him a glass of water; he was able to get Holmes to drink a few sips before Holmes insisted upon speaking again.
"Watson," he murmured, now sounding almost despondent. "Hurts."
"Where? What hurts?" Watson pressed, but Holmes didn't answer, his attention focused somewhere else. Watson turned away and poured another small measure of laudanum, then offered it to Holmes, who didn't seem to notice at first, but drank it quickly once he did.
It seemed to be sufficient, and Holmes lapsed once again into unconsciousness. Watson sat on the edge of the bed for a little while, watching Holmes' restless slumber and weighing his options. Finally he stood, drew a generous dose of morphine into a syringe, and carefully administered it to Holmes, who quickly slipped into a deeper sleep.
Even with as much morphine as Watson was willing to give him, Holmes steadily worsened as the hours passed. At first it was clammy skin, profuse sweating, and trembling that Holmes couldn't control; these were quickly joined by a fierce nausea, a mild fever, and insomnia. When Watson gave him chloral to help him sleep, Holmes suffered nightmares that had him writhing, and Watson was forced to hold him down lest he puncture a lung with one of his broken ribs.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Holmes' nightmares had him crying out fit to wake the dead; he wailed until his throat was dry and woke himself coughing. He coughed himself sick, and Watson could only hold him upright and wince sympathetically as Holmes continued coughing and retching.
When Holmes was finally able to take a normal breath, Watson offered him some water. "It will help, I promise."
Holmes drank willingly, greedily even, and for a moment it seemed all would be well.
But then Holmes faltered, choking a little, and started coughing again. All too soon the water was reappearing, and Holmes was gagging as he tried to breathe in spite of the lurching of his stomach. "You said . . . it would . . . help," he gasped.
"It should have," Watson said unhappily. Unsurprisingly, when he tried to offer a fresh glass of water, Holmes refused.
The next time Holmes woke, he saw snakes in the wallpaper and oysters in the bedding. His confused panic propelled him halfway to the bedroom door by the time Watson came to see what he was fussing about. Watson tried to lead him back to bed, but Holmes resisted, the adrenaline of fear overriding any pain from his injuries.
Watson was able to coax him to sit in a chair instead (the one furthest from the wallpaper, of course), and tried to understand what Holmes could possibly be seeing. The snakes were understandable; the curling stems of the flowers on the paper could be interpreted that way, especially when one's eyesight was still impaired by swelling. But oysters? In the bed? It had to be a hallucination.
And Holmes could not be reassured or calmed. He worked himself into a frenzy, eyes darting about wildly as he repeatedly tried to flee the room. He didn't recognize his surroundings, didn't even seem to recognize Watson, and continually babbled about the snakes and the oysters and needing to go back to Baker Street. Watson half-expected him to hyperventilate until he passed out, but instead Holmes abruptly stopped speaking and clutched his chest, breathing raggedly and whimpering.
Watson felt for Holmes' pulse and frowned when he felt it fluttering far too fast. He called for Mary and directed her in pouring a small amount of chloroform on a handkerchief, which he held over Holmes' face until he slipped into unconsciousness. Holmes' rapid heartbeat quickly subsided, to Watson's great relief.
They returned him to bed while he was insensible, then Watson watched for any signs of waking while Mary waited nearby with the handkerchief. As soon as Holmes' breathing and pulse began to quicken again, Watson pressed him to drink some water. Holmes swallowed a few times before he began to panic again and pushed the water and Watson away.
Watson's hope that Holmes would be calmer after his brief bout of unconsciousness was soon dashed; he again applied the handkerchief, but only long enough to make Holmes unable to resist. Then he produced a syringe of chloral to sedate Holmes through the worst of the symptoms.
It worked, to a point. He had to allow Holmes to wake at least somewhat so he could judge whether continued doses were necessary (and to press upon him bits of food and sips of water), and what he observed in those minutes of limbo between drugged sleep and frantic awareness made him suspect that Holmes still had terrible dreams. It was just that he couldn't harm himself in the process.
After three full days of uninterrupted doses of chloral, Watson judged it time to allow Holmes to regain full consciousness so as to assess his condition.
Holmes was confused, agitated, and anxious; he did not recognize his surroundings and refused to allow Watson to leave his sight. But the hallucinations did not return, nor did the heart palpitations, so Watson deemed it safe to discontinue the chloral.
As Holmes' symptoms slowly began to abate and Holmes' awareness returned, Watson pressed him to eat and drink as much as he could manage. Holmes often resisted, the nausea being last to diminish, but his resistance was easily overcome by an insistent Watson. It simply wasn't worth fighting over. Nothing was.
Watson monitored Holmes closely -though sometimes it was Mary watching for him, when she insisted that he get some rest- and waited until his condition was unchanged for two full days before he started weaning Holmes from the morphine. He would have preferred Holmes to be fully recovered from the previous week before doing so, but he could not in good conscience continue to aid Holmes in continuing his dreadful habit.
Holmes, of course, noticed immediately what Watson was doing. He waited until the second day to say anything. "You needn't bother," he said carelessly.
Watson stopped in the midst of drawing a dose into the syringe. "And why is that?"
"I shan't be here long enough for it to be done properly, and you know I won't continue with any regimen you concoct."
"Is that a threat?"
"Not in the slightest. It is merely an acknowledgement of the facts: first, that I am not the sort to remain abed any longer than I deem necessary, and second, that proper weaning requires faithful adherence to a strict regimen. My habits do not allow adherence to any sort of regimen, particularly when I am on a case."
"I could forbid you from taking cases until I am satisfied of your fitness."
Holmes sniffed derisively. "You could try," he said, emphasizing the last word. "I do not think you could succeed, even if you still lived at Baker Street."
Watson pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He knew Holmes was needling him on purpose, but he also knew Holmes was absolutely right. There would be no keeping him once he decided to leave, healed or not, and he was abominable at keeping any sort of schedule. Even consistent mealtimes were beyond him. "What are you suggesting?" he asked, actually curious what Holmes had in mind.
"Either allow me to mind my own dosage, or withdraw the morphine entirely."
Watson huffed a disbelieving laugh. "Absolutely not. No. You have no idea what you are asking, and you know what? I don't have to do either." He administered the interrupted injection and efficiently stowed everything back in his bag, which he took with him when he left the room.
But Holmes' words remained in his thoughts, echoing in his mind whenever he tried to focus on other patients, other matters.
Holmes was right, damn him.
"Do you have any idea what you're suggesting? To abruptly cease would be exceedingly miserable for you."
"I know quite well. I've done it before. Just ask Mycroft."
"You've- what- and you-" Watson spluttered, trying to comprehend how the insufferable man... he stopped himself right there, reminding himself that it was Holmes, and therefore there would be no comprehending him. He really ought to know better than to try. So he simply stood there for a moment and stared at Holmes, who was paying him absolutely no heed. "And having done this before, you want to do it again?"
Holmes turned to look at him, appearing utterly disinterested. "I didn't say I wanted to. I'd really rather not. But if you want me off the morphine before I return to Baker Street, that is how it must be done."
"How are you feeling?" Watson asked abruptly.
Holmes shrugged; Watson already knew of his physical complaints. Watson sighed and leaned back in the chair, opening the morning's newspaper. Silence ensued until Holmes snapped, "If you insist upon sitting there, then insist you read the paper aloud." Holmes was unable to read for any length of time; the swelling around his eyes was almost gone, but he had near-constant headaches.
Watson quirked a bit of a smile -hidden from Holmes by the newspaper- and dutifully complied.
The next morning Watson conducted his usual check of Holmes' injuries and wiped the unbandaged skin with a washcloth -the one attempt at getting Holmes into the bathtub hadn't gone well- but failed to conclude the ritual with the usual dose of morphine. Holmes nodded to himself and rolled over so his back was to Watson and the door.
Holmes began to suffer ill effects from the lack of morphine that evening. It was nothing much, just a bit of cold sweat and a persistent excess of moisture in his nose and eyes, but he knew what it portended. Watson seemed smug about it and bade him a cheery good-night, which annoyed Holmes more than the symptoms.
He did not have a good night. At some point in the wee hours of the morning he reached the point where the more painful effects began. Between the deep aches in his body, the wild temperature fluctuations, occasional twitches in his limbs, and the fact that his eyes and nose would not stop running, he spent the long, miserable hours wondering again why he yet lived.
Watson arrived conveniently at a moment when the intestinal symptoms were making themselves known. He didn't look so smug after that. He tried to urge Holmes to eat something, but Holmes refused. Finally Watson said, "You're eating, even if I have to feed it to you."
"Then you'll be wearing it," Holmes replied with exasperation, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth as a cramp twisted his insides.
Watson still tried to feed him a bit of porridge. Holmes promptly and unceremoniously threw up on Watson's shirt and waistcoat. Watson had the nerve to look surprised. "I warned you," Holmes said, "now leave me alone or I may decide to use your sleeve as a handkerchief."
Watson beat a hasty retreat, saying something about needing to change his clothing.
At lunchtime Holmes was no longer in the mood to snipe at Watson. He ached all over, his limbs sometimes moved of their own volition, his insides were trying to wring themselves out, and he'd had to gracelessly throw himself in the direction of the chamber pot far too many times. He was just fortunate he'd managed to get there in time.
Watson finally seemed to take his discomfort seriously. Holmes endured Watson's careful inventory of his ills; at least it was better than continuing to stare at the wallpaper for hours on end (though the horrendous pattern had the merit of being somewhat distracting). The assessment didn't mean Watson had any suggestions to make him more comfortable, however, just that Watson found he could be more annoying by constantly trying to make Holmes drink something.
Holmes was thirsty enough to let him.
That is, until his stomach objected and sent it all back.
Watson frowned as he cleaned up the mess and helped Holmes change out of the wet nightshirt. As soon as he was dry, Holmes curled up on his side with his back to Watson, hoping he'd go away and leave him to his quiet agony.
And the worst was yet to come.
"I think I'm dying."
"No one has died this way yet. I've looked it up."
"I have always been unique."
Watson carefully lifted Holmes while Mary replaced the sheet underneath him; it was the third time that night that the bedding had to be changed and dawn was still two hours away. Holmes shivered and curled up as tightly as he could manage when Watson set him down again. Watson touched his sweat-damp shoulder and urged him to lift his head to drink.
Holmes sipped awkwardly, trying to drink without moving, for moving was painful. Drinking was also fraught with peril, for either his stomach would reject it, or it would pass through him at an alarming rate. Or so he understood from Watson's worried murmurs with Mary; he wasn't of a mind to keep track of the timing of such things.
His awareness had narrowed to two sensations: breathing and pain. All else was irrelevant.
Mary perched on the arm of the chair John had dragged next to the bed, burying her fingers in John's mussed hair and rubbing the tenseness at his nape. "How much longer will he suffer like this?"
John sighed heavily, leaned back into her touch, and slipped an arm around her waist. "I don't know." He sounded almost as miserable as Mr. Holmes looked.
"Why don't you go sleep a while? I can watch him and call if we need you."
John tightened his arm around her, then nodded.
Mary kissed his forehead and murmured, "On the bed, not the settee. Don't think I won't be able to tell."
John quirked a smile and kissed her briefly before rising from the chair. He paused to squeeze Holmes' shoulder reassuringly, then slowly limped from the room.
Mary watched him go, then turned her attention to Mr. Holmes. He stirred a little under her gaze, shifting his eyes up to meet hers rather than staring blankly toward the wall. She sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, dampened a cloth, and wiped his face and what she could see of his arms and legs. Knowing Mr. Holmes wouldn't willingly drink, she wetted a new cloth and pressed it against his lips, squeezing it and hoping some of the drops made it into his mouth.
When the cloth was removed, he reflexively licked his lips and swallowed. Pleased with her success, Mary repeated the process twice more before Mr. Holmes turned away from the cloth. "Leave me be," he rasped.
Mary changed cloths and blotted the sweat from his forehead. "Is there nothing I can do to help you?"
"Leave. You shouldn't be here." He turned his face into the pillow and tried unsuccessfully to muffle a groan as he shuddered and curled more tightly into himself. "You don't need to see this."
She gently held his hand in both of hers until he pulled it away. "I have been a governess, Mr. Holmes, and now I am a doctor's wife. I have seen many things. What do you need?"
"Nothing you can provide," he said tersely when it became apparent that failing to respond would not make her go away.
"It is true I cannot make this illness cease, but I can read to you and give you something else to think about for a while."
Holmes lay perfectly for long moments, and Mary was afraid she offended him somehow. Then he slowly, hesitantly, nodded.
Her voice was something of a distraction, even when he did not -or could not- heed the words. The cadence of her voice as she read might even have been soothing if he were capable of being soothed.
But even that comfort was denied him; his torments were relentless and allowed for no relief. True rest, actual sleep, were so far from him they may as well not exist despite his fervent wish for even a short period of complete unawareness.
Once he achieved oblivion, he would rather not wake again, but that was of little importance when a semi-conscious doze was the closest thing to sleep he'd had in days.
But he refused to ask Watson to help, though he knew Watson could and would if asked. He had imposed on Watson far too much already.
"Holmes, wake up."
Instinctively he began to obey -it was Watson's no nonsense voice- though he found it difficult to pull himself toward waking. Whenever it was that he had tumbled finally into sleep, he'd fallen hard and deep, and it was a struggle to claw his way out again.
The voice continued coaxing him, and at length he reached the point where he was aware of his body -and rather wished he wasn't, as it ached quite terribly- and could again command it. He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it; the light stabbed straight through to the back of his skull and set his entire head to throbbing. He closed his eyes and groaned.
A hand was laid over his eyes. "Try again, slowly this time."
He cautiously cracked his eyes open again (the sooner he could glare at Watson and scold him, the sooner he could succumb once more to the exhaustion he felt pulling relentlessly at him). Watson gradually moved his hand, and Holmes found himself blinking in what was actually rather dim light.
"Sorry to wake you, old boy," Watson said, "but while you need to rest, you also need to eat."
Holmes reflexively frowned at the thought, but then his brow furrowed. Could it be that he was actually . . . hungry?
She was reading again, silently this time. He couldn't quite make out the lettering on the spine, but it was, no doubt, written by either Poe or Collins. There were too many letters in the author name to be Poe; Collins, then. Whatever the subject, it evidently had Mrs. Watson quite enthralled.
If only he had something so diverting to focus his attention upon. His need for sleep was thoroughly satisfied. Watson's claim that he yet needed "rest" to recuperate from his misadventures was quite unfounded; he had regained normal bodily function four days ago and was feeling sufficiently improved to be left to his own devices. He was certainly in no condition yet to resume all normal activities -and he knew it- but he was more than capable of lounging about his own sitting room.
Which made this sentence of enforced bedrest all the more difficult to bear. While he didn't mind being an interruption to Watson's conjugal bliss, being stuck in Watson's new home was a constant unpleasant reminder that Watson was happy without him but he wasn't happy without Watson. There was more to it than that, of course, but it was a part of the explanation for his lingering melancholy (another large part being that he was prone to these moods anyway).
Thus, he wanted to leave, and leaving required standing and walking, neither of which he'd even attempted to this point. But he was forbidden to try just yet; he wasn't even to sit on the edge of the bed without Watson present to assist. Holmes sighed heavily and began inching toward the far side of the bed.
"John will return within the hour," she said without looking up from her book. "It would not be wise to try anything without him."
He continued shifting away from her, but didn't bother to hide it any longer. "There is nothing you can do to stop me."
"No?" She gazed at him steadily, almost daring him to continue.
He moved over another inch.
She set her book on the seat of the chair as she moved forward to kneel on the bed. He watched her warily; she smiled, then, without moving her gaze from his face, her hand shot out and gripped his right wrist. Twisting his arm behind his back, she pulled it toward the headboard, and he heard an ominous click before she released his wrist and returned to the chair. She resumed reading as if nothing had happened.
Tugging his arm only rattled the handcuffs and he huffed in frustration. If he stayed close to the head of the bed, he could sit at the edge of the bed on the far side, though his arm was stretched awkwardly behind him. He sat there for a little while, just because he could, but soon shuffled back to his usual spot on the bed. Once there, he sank into his pillows with a sigh.
"Will you unlock me now?" he asked.
"I cannot," she said, turning a page. "John has the key." She looked up and smiled sweetly. "We had a wager, you see. I knew I'd need them. He didn't think I would. I had him take the key so there would be no doubt about whether they had been used or not."
"What were the terms of the wager?"
She laughed a little and blushed. "That is between us, Mr. Holmes."
"I see." He shifted his gaze to his feet as he contemplated this new bit of information. Watson had chosen a most interesting wife, one capable of surprising even him. No small feat.
He was considering just what the terms might have entailed when she spoke again. "I am curious. If I tell you about the characters of this story, would you be able to predict the climax?"
"It is possible. I haven't read any Collins, so you needn't worry that I know already."
She almost looked surprised, but then she laughed. "Very well, then." She proceeded to describe the main characters, from the lovely young woman pledged to marry a baronet, her sister, and their drawing master, to the young woman, escaped from an asylum, who resembled the fiancee.
"The baronet has debts, and his new wife has money enough to pay them," Holmes stated, and was pleased when this was confirmed, though she hesitated. He spent another moment in thought to ponder the hesitation. "But the husband cannot use it without her consent. She has refused."
"So, then . . ." He proceeded to tell her the course of events that unfolded at the turning point of the story. He was eerily and precisely correct on every point.
She stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then laughed. "It is just as astonishing as John has said."
A smile flickered across his face briefly, but it left just as quickly. She had no reason to be astonished; deciphering the plot of that story was child's play, and it took him longer than it should have to understand such a straightforward problem. He only hoped this deficiency was temporary. He didn't even wish to contemplate what would become of him if it weren't.
At the next opportunity, Holmes attempted to get out of bed and cross the room unassisted. Watson had allowed him to stand beside the bed on two separate occasions but nothing more than that; Holmes, on the other hand, was quite ready to be back on his feet so he could retreat to Baker Street and finish healing in peace.
When he awoke from an unplanned nap to find himself alone in the room, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to prove himself. He heard the voices of both Watson and Mrs. Watson in the hallway -speaking to a visitor, from the sound of it- and knew he had at least a few moments yet.
So he made an attempt, and it was a fairly decent one, too. That is, until he had to put weight on his injured knee without anything to hold for support, as he'd run out of bed and couldn't yet reach the nearest chair.
The knee would have given out if it weren't so tightly wrapped, but it still buckled enough that he staggered and nearly hit his head on the top corner of an armchair. He remembered just in time that he should not try to catch himself with his left hand, so he landed rather awkwardly on the arm of the chair with his right hand and his left elbow (the jolt still sent a stab of pain through his broken forearm).
He was able to carefully settle himself into the chair, where he tried to regain his breath despite the protestations of his mending ribs. By the time Watson appeared, he was quite at ease in the chair and rather pleased with himself.
"Holmes, you shouldn't-" Watson stopped himself mid-rebuke and sighed heavily instead. "If you thought you were ready to try walking, you should have said so."
"You wouldn't have allowed it."
"You don't know that, Holmes. I would much rather be here and let you try it than have you do something foolish when there's no one around to help if it goes badly."
"It didn't, so that settles that. What brought Constable Clark here?"
"Lestrade sent him to seek your input. I told him you aren't ready to resume work yet."
"Is that also why you've been removing anything remotely interesting from my post?"
"Yes." Watson met Holmes' glare with a steely gaze.
"What would you have me do? Remain quietly in bed and allow my mind to rot away? I cannot stand this idleness a moment longer!"
"The moment I allow you to even entertain the thought of accepting cases, answering only those that you can solve in bed will not be enough. I know you too well, Holmes."
"At this point, I would be content with being able to do anything more than merely lying about."
"But that wouldn't last," Watson said softly. "After all, being able to accept any sort of case didn't keep you from the alcohol and the morphine."
Holmes stiffened and looked away. "That was different," he protested. "There were no problems of interest for me to accept. You know very well that I do not accept every single case brought to my attention."
"Why morphine, Holmes? Cocaine had always been your choice to make the time between cases more bearable. And you're not the type to dive into the bottle. What changed?" As much as he would have liked to shout at the insufferable man seated across from him, Watson kept his voice calm and reasonable in hopes Holmes would respond accordingly.
He didn't. "My habits are no longer your concern," Holmes replied stiffly.
"Friends worry about one another, Holmes. It's what friends do. I have always considered you a friend, but it would seem you don't hold me in the same regard."
"I hold you in very high regard," Holmes said archly, now rather offended. "You are one of very few individuals I could call 'friend', but it seems you are not capable of understanding what that means."
"Then what does it mean, Holmes? That you poison yourself to punish me for getting married?" Watson asked bitterly.
"Don't flatter yourself," Holmes snapped. "That had nothing to do with you."
"No? Then is it merely coincidence that you started collecting empty bottles around the time of my wedding? I may not be your intellectual equal, but even I can see that the two just might be related."
Holmes snorted derisively. "Your failure to observe any of the supposedly incriminating empty bottles when you visited before your wedding does not mean there were none present. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to relieve myself."
Watson let him rise and shuffle to the bed without interfering; Holmes was steadier on his feet than he would've expected, though it was obvious he was in pain. Holmes was in bed and lying still with his eyes closed by the time Watson rose from his own chair. He needed to think without being in Holmes' presence, he needed to convince himself that the choking guilt he felt was unwarranted, that he'd done nothing to drive Holmes to such extremes of behavior. Holmes had done it to himself, had done such things before so it wasn't even a new problem.
Somehow that didn't make him feel any better about any of it.
It was difficult to move, difficult even to think. The argument with Watson had drained him so completely that he had no desire to budge despite Watson having (unwisely) left him alone again. The crushing weight of despair -which had driven him to the comforts of morphine and drunkenness- had returned; every breath was a struggle as he strained against the pain of his ribs and the suffocating bleakness that surrounded him.
Of course Watson didn't understand. He had never quite understood Holmes' melancholy fits, for as much as he tried to be supportive when Holmes was in the grip of one. So he couldn't understand that yes, everything was worse when he'd left. But it wasn't about him so much as his absence making Holmes' melancholy that much more unbearable. Having Watson around had helped, somehow, like a flicker of light in a dark room; the dark was still there, but it was lessened by that bit of light.
Then the light was taken away, and the darkness became oppressive. Being unaware had helped, but only until he woke up again.
He was painfully awake now, and the darkness was closing in.
Holmes barely moved for three days. He didn't speak, nor respond when spoken to. He drank water only when coaxed, and ate almost nothing at all, save a few nibbles of toast pressed upon him by a concerned Mary. She questioned her husband closely about Mr. Holmes' state, worried he'd had a relapse of some sort, but John dismissed it. "He's like this sometimes. Let him be and it will pass. It always does."
Mary did not doubt that her John knew Mr. Holmes very well and likely had his reasons for being so cavalier about the whole thing, but she did not like to see him in such a state. Somehow it reminded her of the way an animal cowers in a corner, curling up around a mortal wound until it dies, alone and in great pain. She had no idea what sort of wound Mr. Holmes might be suffering, but it was plain that he suffered greatly.
While Mr. Holmes was laid low in this manner, John spent much of his time attending to matters neglected during the previous weeks, and this often took him away from the house. Mary frequently sat with Mr. Holmes when she wasn't tending her own affairs; though John tried to tell her not to bother, she thought Mr. Holmes would be better off for the company. And knowing Mr. Holmes had someone at hand should he need someone set her mind more at ease.
She read to him for a while each day, from the newspaper or her book or, on the third day, from the letters John had been keeping from him, which she'd decided might be sufficiently diverting to bring Mr. Holmes out of his deplorable state. He did not visibly react to anything she read, but somehow she was certain he was listening.
Her intuition was proven correct the next morning when she found Mr. Holmes was sitting up in bed, several of the letters and newspapers spread out over his bedclothes, and he peered at each one in turn, muttering to himself. He did not look well, but at least he was moving about again. When she greeted him, he froze, his murmurs halting abruptly, and stared at her as if he wasn't entirely sure she was there. Apparently he decided she was real enough and returned to his papers, asking in an abstracted fashion, "Where is my pipe? I need my pipe. And the rest of my post. And any telegrams sent to me."
The pipe was easy enough, still in the bag John had brought from Baker Street, and as she handed it and a pouch of tobacco to him, she asked, "What have you found, Mr. Holmes?"
"Hints. Traces. Threads. She said he was clever, but I think I am beginning to find him out." His nervous hands plucked the pipe and tobacco from her grasp and quickly packed a pipe without him even looking at it.
"Who, Mr. Holmes?"
"Moriarty." His gaze was intent and keenly focused, even as he nearly vibrated with tension. Mary wasn't entirely certain that this state was any better than the other.
"I will bring you some breakfast with your post and your telegrams." He scoffed at that, but she said firmly, "You are still recuperating and need sustenance to do so. The sooner you are able to be up and about, the sooner you can pursue these threads of yours."
He nodded reluctantly.
"Is there anything else you will need?"
"The papers. All of them, from the entire time I have been here."
"Mrs. Hudson has saved all of the papers delivered in your absence. I will have the boy bring them when he brings your morning post."
For a moment it looked almost like Mr. Holmes was going to smile, but all he said was, "Nanny has her uses after all."
When Watson returned in the early afternoon from tending a patient, Holmes was reclining against the headboard, eyes closed, arms crossed loosely over his chest, pipe clenched between his teeth. He was surrounded by letters and scraps of paper cut from the newspapers, which Watson surveyed ruefully. "Feeling better, then?" he asked as he tried not to choke on the thick haze of smoke in the air.
"Having something to focus my attention always improves things, as you well know," Holmes replied without opening his eyes or removing his pipe.
"So what is it this time?"
"The same as before." Holmes' eyes opened and appeared to watch intently for his reaction.
"There have been new developments?"
"Not exactly," Holmes said briefly, abruptly setting his pipe onto the bedside table and slipping out of bed in a flurry of movement.
"Careful there, Holmes," Watson chided, catching him by the elbow when he stumbled from standing too fast.
"Much obliged, now let me go, there's a good chap." Holmes shook him off and limped along beside the bed. "Tell me, Watson: how much longer would you have me remain here?"
"At least a fortnight," Watson replied promptly. "You've just begun to regain your feet in the last week, after all."
"And if I were to leave before then?" He was standing by the fireplace now, staring at the cold grate as he leaned his shoulder against the mantel.
"I know better than to think I could prevent you from leaving, but I do hope you will heed my advice. You need to allow yourself to heal before you throw yourself back into the thick of things."
Holmes waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, I am quite aware that my activities will be hindered by my injuries for some weeks yet."
"To say the least," Watson said wryly. "Will you at least promise to let me know when you're leaving? I'd rather not wake up some morning to find you gone."
Holmes looked up and smiled briefly. "Yes, I will promise you that."
One week later Holmes dressed himself, packed his small bag, and limped down the hallway toward the front door. "I'm leaving," he announced along the way, little caring if anyone actually heard him.
But they did. He heard a huff of exasperation from the kitchen, then Watson called, "Come have breakfast first, and I'll go with you."
"Why would I want that?" He had research to do and inquiries to make; why waste time on food?
"Because I'll have Mary handcuff you to the bed again if you don't eat something before you go." He sounded like he meant it, too, and Mrs. Watson laughed merrily.
Grumbling, Holmes set his bag on a table near the door and made his way to the kitchen. Both Watsons were standing when he entered. Watson ushered him to a chair, and Mrs. Watson set a plate before him after he was seated. He murmured his surprised thanks as she returned to her seat across the table; she had given him only small amounts of toast and eggs and bacon, amounts he might actually be able to eat (unlike Watson, who would have piled the plate high and then scolded him when he couldn't possibly finish it all). It almost seemed she winked in response.
"You must let me rewrap your knee and arm before we leave," Watson said, sipping his tea between bites of toast.
"I don't need you to escort me home," Holmes replied, defiantly gnawing on his bacon.
"It's not an escort. I need to see to a patient near Baker Street, so I am merely accompanying you. Surely you will not object to sharing the cab fare."
Holmes made a face at his plate but said nothing.
"I hope you'll visit us again soon, Mr. Holmes," Mrs. Watson said. "You don't even have to wait until you've been injured again."
"You're welcome to come to tea or dinner anytime. Next week, even--John will no doubt wish to see that you are still well, and perhaps you will be able to tell us more about your investigation."
"Yes, perhaps," Holmes said briefly, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. She was trying to be kind, he knew, but all he wanted at that moment was to return to the familiar environs of Baker Street.
The rest of the meal passed in comfortable conversation between Watson and his wife. Afterward, Holmes passively allowed Watson to re-bind all his lingering injuries, including his ribs, but objected once again when Watson insisted upon accompanying him. "You needn't hover, mother hen," he said with exasperation. "I assure you, I can manage a cab ride without assistance."
"For heaven's sake, Holmes, be reasonable. My patient is between here and Baker Street. Drop me off on the way, if you must."
That, he could agree to. They secured a cab with ease, but settled into an awkward silence once inside. Holmes stared out the window, watching the familiar streets pass by and observing Watson out of the corner of his eye. Watson seemed uneasy, and finally he spoke. "I hope you'll let me know if you need assistance with any of your investigations."
Holmes grunted and didn't turn his gaze from the window.
The cab slowed and came to a halt, and Watson reluctantly opened the door and began to step down. "I want to see you in a week. If you don't come to my house, I will find you even if I have to ask Mycroft to hunt you down."
Holmes finally turned to look at him, a hint of a smirk on his face. "Yes, yes, now go," he said dismissively, waving his hand in a shooing motion.
"I know when I'm not wanted," Watson said dryly, nodding at Holmes and swinging the door shut with a bang.
Holmes was soon at his own destination, staring up at the familiar edifice of his home. Wiggins ran up and stood at attention before him as soon as the cab pulled away. "Ah, Wiggins, good lad. I have a few tasks for you and your fellows."
When Watson returned home later that afternoon, he slumped into his armchair and sighed wearily. Mary took one of his hands and squeezed it.
"You're worried about him," she said simply.
"Always," he replied immediately.
"But he is continuing his pursuit of that Moriarty. Won't that help?"
"I can only hope."
Holmes tossed his bag somewhere into his room, not even bothering to watch where it landed, and set immediately to pacing the sitting room, determining his next steps now that his young eyes and ears had been recruited to the cause. His knee began to protest after while, despite the supportive wrapping Watson had secured around it that morning, and the twinges reminded him of something he needed to check.
He looked in his usual spot, and found that someone -almost certainly Watson- had discarded all of his little bottles, both the morphine and the cocaine. Nodding to himself, Holmes returned to his meandering for a few minutes, then pulled on his coat and hurried out the door.
He would replace them eventually, but not yet. He had work to do first.