shnight

Nightfall

by

gm

Find more of my fanfiction at these sites:

Man from UNCLE - Hawaii Five-0 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer - SW:TPM - Sherlock Holmes:

www.qnet.com/~martin5

I record this in my personal journal because it is an incident of singular importance. It will serve as a reminder of significant and meaningful moments in one disturbing and revealing night.

In the early hours of the morning I awoke and perceived a dull glow of flashing light intermittently displayed under the door leading to the sitting room. A moment's observation showed feet striding between the subdued illumination of firelight and the door caused the blackouts. It was obvious even to the most unobservant that my friend Watson was engaged in the rare practice of nervous pacing in the middle of the night.

Just past two, I noted as I consulted my clock. This singular incident struck a chord of curiosity and concern. Of late, Watson had displayed unusual, uncharacteristic symptoms: restlessness diminished appetite, withdrawn and subdued silences. Those traits were normally associated to myself on my worst days. In Watson they were abnormal and disturbing.

At first I attributed the symptoms as a natural depression of the Season. Always a sentimental and generous man, Watson was usually delighted at Christmastide. I had originally intended the New Year as a celebration -- a decade since Watson and I have taken these old rooms! Instead our reunion is shadowed with unfortunate circumstances.

Watson is melancholy over Mary's delicate health, which is steadily declining. His income is absorbed by Mary's treatments at a private facility in Southsea. When she was readmitted to the hospital I insisted Watson should not be alone. I invited my old friend and roommate to move back to Baker Street for the duration of his wife's absence. Displaying his usual mixture of pragmatism and optimism, he agreed to the temporary change. I confess a great mutual joy at once more having my friend, chronicler and aide by my side.

In what spare time he had, Watson assisted in several investigations in recent weeks. After the conclusion of the Renfield murders, his manner took on this odd depression. Usually an steadfast sort, Watson had displayed a similar mood before.

It was so unlike the Watson I know now it took this long to remember the incidents. When we met and first shared rooms, Watson was recuperating from illness and injury. He relied heavily on his walking stick and was weak and downhearted. Poor sleep and nightmares of his battle experiences further hampered his slow recovery.

Abruptly the current picture came clear to me. Watson's moroseness was not due to the illness of his wife or the absence of his loved one at Christmas. His disturbance stemmed from something about the murder case. The night of our return from a case a fortnight ago, was the first, recent, sleepless night for Watson. I could not help but hear him pacing the sitting room.

Irritated at my own slowness of deduction I leapt from bed and shouldered into my dressing gown. How disturbing that I prided myself upon observation, deduction and reason, yet had missed such obvious and important clues to the well being of Watson. I -- the greatest detective in England -- failed to see something was amiss with my closest friend.

I strode into the room abruptly, past the sofa and next to the fire before I realized Watson was not in his chair where I expected him to be. A movement in the shadows alerted me that he was across the room.

"Watson."

"Did I wake you?" he asked, an apology in his tone. He stepped away from the window.

As he approached, the sphere of dancing firelight gradually engulfed him. The drawn face; red-rimmed, sleep-starved eyes told a detailed story which required no deductions.

"No," I replied gently. I automatically reached for a pipe. "I simply couldn't sleep."

He nodded in mute empathy and took a drink from a nearly empty glass.

Until now I had noted but not recognized his increased consumption of brandy, a return to a mild weakness I had noted when we took rooms. It would hardly be tactful or fair for me to comment on his minor predilections on drink or gambling, before I first removed the beam from my own eye, so to speak, concerning addictions.

By the time my pipe was filled and successfully drawing Watson was settled in his chair. I slouched in my own chair and observed him in silence, beginning to feel true concern at his aberration. He stared into the fire, unaware of my own intent study. Only once did he glance away, and then it was for a brief look at the painting I favoured of a Swiss waterfall, above the mantle, then back to the crackling depths of the fire.

No longer able to curb my own impatience I blurted, "My dear Watson, what is troubling you?"

The unguarded concern and compassion permeated my quiet enquiry. That instinctive talent for gentleness with people (according to my biographer) was my only wedge to break through Watson's silent reserve.

An almost startled expression was on his face when he turned sharply to look at me. The surprise was quickly replaced by an almost sheepish embarrassment.

"It is quite impossible to keep a secret from you, Holmes," was his rueful reply. With a nervous swipe he brushed at his thick mustache. His fingers trembled ever so slightly.

"I have no wish to pry," I assured in what I hoped was my most sincere tone. "Yet I cannot help but see your distress." I ended the entreaty, not adding what I wanted to say: 'It is my greatest desire to help you in whatever capacity I can, old friend.'

I could not bring myself to reveal my own emotional instinct to help. Almost against my will I had erected a barrier between others and myself -- a disinclination for intimacy which had included Watson. Automatically I formed a detached, analytical facade.

"It's nothing," he brushed aside. His tone and expression utterly betrayed the contradiction to his benign words.

My lips quirked with sympathy at his attempt at subterfuge.

My silence unnerved him and he strove for further validation. "It is of no concern -- truly. I apologize that I have disturbed your sleep."

Continued silence effectively elicited a voluntary confession with more economy than any interrogation would have accomplished. Watson was not one to harbour secrets from me. Nervously he shot me a brief glance; a look at the painting of Reichenbach above the mantle, then studied the fire again.

"It was just a nightmare."

A whisper trembling on a fear tangibly permeated the air. I could hardly contain the surprise I felt at this startling revelation. Watson was a physician who clinically and objectively probed the dark recesses of the human brain. He was a trained medical professional, a student of the newest studies of mental and nervous disorders. Often we had discussed the theories of the mind. We particularly focused on those ideas related to motives, criminal behavior, and very frequently, addiction. He had developed an insightful case, which he tried to apply to me, for the theory that repressed fears could be self-destructive.

Watson was a former soldier whose nerves and courage were so stalwart he had stood his ground in battle, had been wounded and nearly killed upholding his duty on the field of war. He was one of the last on the field -- prepared to stand and die defending his helpless charges. Fortunately for us both a faithful orderly saved him from certain death to fulfil an indispensable role in my life.

Here was a man whose childhood was the rough and tumble chaos of the military. He had undergone serious health trouble, emotional setbacks and discouragement, which would have broken many less steady. He was a companion and partner who unflinchingly shared harrowing and dangerous cases ever at my side. This man had endured my erratic and annoying habits -- which would try the nerves of many a saint.

John Watson was the most stable and pragmatic of men. He did not support the supernatural, except for that incident in Constantinople, which I ascribe to battle fatigue. He was the last person on earth I would imagine to be unnerved by nightmares, yet, unsettled he certainly was this night.

My unwanted detachment dissolved. I felt oddly upset -- selfishly, irrationally disturbed -- by this surprise event. Watson was MY anchor; my fearless companion, my dauntless comrade-in-arms. It was he whom I looked to for moral support and constant aid. He was the one whom I found at my side when I experienced my own vivid nightmares. I was not accustomed to filling that role for him. This new flaw in his armour was unnerving to one who never spared a thought that Watson would suffer trauma or stand in need of my moral or emotional comfort or advice.

Uncertainty cushioned my tongue in silence. It offered me time to think of an appropriate approach to this unique problem. I was called upon to offer solutions of reason and logic. Under normal circumstances I had no trouble sorting emotions from facts. It was precisely what I had trained myself to accomplish with stringent mental discipline

Yet this was not some strange client, this was Watson! He was not asking for my help because he knew of my resistance in this area. In his silence he begged for someone to lean on -- for ME to help where no one else could.

I felt honoured at the same moment that refusal built in me. Perhaps because it was Watson the urge to escape these emotional entanglements became overwhelming. Frequently I had seen Watson put aside his personal feelings to professionally deal with a case (often my continued addiction to cocaine). Certainly I could match Watson's example.

More importantly, for only the second time in our friendship, Watson needed my help. In '81 I had not known him well enough to offer assistance. Now I certainly would not turn away from him. Though my close association with Watson was the contact which muddled feelings and logic in a chaotic tangle it was also my intimate link and advantage in dealing with his problem. I was determined to achieve that state of sensitive objectivity. For this consultation I had to be in top form. This 'case' would test my skills at playing the sympathetic confidant to the utmost.

Watson had once told me emotional disorders could be sorted out with logic and deduction by 'mental detectives', a field he was fast molding into his own specialty. The moment was obviously ripe for me to enter into this alternate field of investigation and expertise.

Indeed my steps would be cautious, tentative, in this strange land. A misstep would not destroy clues but drive away my only witness, shatter the fragile willingness to confide in me. It would drive Watson back into his unnatural shell of reticence. A harbour I was quite familiar with and thus was hesitant to see Watson inhabit.

Suddenly it became very important for me to succeed in this endeavor. This would be one of the few times I could return a measure of my friend's compassion and support.

My tone was speculative and open, I hoped. "Pray tell me of it."

"No," was his quick, abrupt response. Momentarily he glanced away from the fire to look at me. His defenses visibly cracked. He turned back to the fire before I registered the unusual quality of -- fear -- in his eyes.

Slowly he shook his head. "That wouldn't be a good idea," he whispered.

I adopted on a gentle, neutral voice. One he had used on me in similar circumstances. "You have told me discussing problems is the best way to solve them."

"I was talking about YOUR mental dilemmas," he responded guardedly

"Perhaps the same theorem applies here."

A rueful smile briefly touched his lips. He shook his head in familiar resignation. "It is very hard to argue when you throw my advice back at me."

I thanked Watson's innate, amused tolerance of life and me. Humour was the buffer which frequently saw us through my non-conformities.

"As you have done to me," I reminded."

"Touché. I suppose you will not give up until you have it out of me."

"Correct."

I responded lightly although there was an unmistakable resolve in the word. Nevermind that I was never so forthcoming with my intimate fears. Watson accepted my reticence, but I would not accept his.

My patience was limited. I was anxious to end the verbal sparring and get on with the problem. Watson did have a way of rambling which could grate on my nerves. I did not tolerate such stalling in clients, less in my friend, yet this time I strove for patience. I crossed to the sideboard, filled a glass, refilled Watson's, and then placed the decanter on the hearth within easy reach. I stood at the mantle and filled my favourite brier with my mildest shag and settled into my chair.

"I should have known the folly of keeping secrets from you," he muttered in an attempt to dispel his nervousness. He took several gulps of brandy then refilled his glass with a very generous portion of liquor.

With amused triumph I lightly replied, "I should hope so." I gestured, an invitation for him to begin the tale.

"It is the same dream every time," he said with a nearly conversational tone. He paused to take a long, bracing drink. "Every few nights it repeats. It is always the same." He rubbed his forehead, as if he could wipe away the haunting recollections. "It is cold -- dark -- misty. There is a terrible chill. From a great height --" his voice stumbled, "someone -- falls." His voice dropped to an almost inaudible, trembling whisper. "Dead."

"That is not all," I prompted. It was transparent he was holding something back. Whatever was unspoken was the real fear, the heart of the terror which gripped my friend. Without conscious thought I knew the answer.

"Who falls from the height, Watson?"

"You."

For uncounted moments we did not move. The bleak, stark fear in his voice was more arresting than his identification of the victim. His rigid, tortured face -- pale even in the flickering orange/gold reflection of the firelight, was the spectral agony, which breathed vivid, horrifying reality into the dream.

I had little fear for my own life. Fate had always seemed to guide my destiny and I blissfully followed my course. The nightmare held terror for me for different reasons. A flash of transposition entered my mind: I thought of my own nightmares, some of them about Watson's safety, imaginings I prayed were merely evil dreams and not precognitive. I quickly wiped away the disturbing thoughts.

To Watson, this dream was obviously a devastating disruption of reality, relived every night in the private torment of his mind. His words, his tone, his face revealed fear which had transformed this dream into what he must have seen as a premonition.

Again, I did not find this disturbing as to my own safety. I disliked that Watson found it so upsetting. Neither did I appreciate that my safety preoccupied his concerns. He had enough worries with his wife and his career to be anxious after my own fate.

My first instinct was to reassure him with vows of caution and urge him to stop worrying.

His intent expression, his mesmerized story of haunting as he stared into the fire, warned me not to breathe a word of such trivial humourings. It would sound patronizing and cold even to me. How could I promise safety when my very nature meant reckless pursuit of a goal?

Because of the flickering, eerie light it took several minutes for me to see his shoulders shivering, the glass in his hands shaking as he gripped it to finish off the brandy. Then the glass slipped to the floor and he buried his face in his hands. Without hesitation I was standing behind him, holding onto his shoulders.

"Watson, you must not let this trouble you so."

Several moments passed before he confessed, "I have told myself it is only a dream." He was rather defensive. "It doesn't help."

I noted his voice was firmer and calmer, his shoulders no longer shook. Perhaps these purging discussions were useful in the emotional sciences after all. Perhaps the liquor had relaxed him enough to steady his nerves, though I doubted that was the reason since too much drink usually made him wax melancholy.

"It is the Renfield case," I assured off-handedly.

It was so obvious I knew he had already considered and dismissed it. Then we would steer the explanation along pragmatic, logical lines. We would stay clear of the supernatural angle of premonition and fate. Such considerations were the last things Watson need concern himself about with Mary's health in such precarious danger.

He raised his head. With some disdain he said, "I HAD thought of that. It's different than the Renfield chase," he insisted.

"Yet I think we would agree the dreams were inspired by our rooftop chase."

"Then why won't the dreams stop?"

The murderer Renfield had eluded a trap and fled across the rooftops of houses in the East End. I had nearly fallen to my death when I stepped on some loose boards. It had been a close thing. After Renfield's capture I gave no more thought to the case and wiped the dangers from my mind.

I wondered if Watson often harboured lingering fears from some of our more risky encounters. I had never been aware of any. Certainly if nightmares were to be had they would have preyed after our night vigil with the odious 'speckled band'. Or the unnerving Whitechapel confrontation with Saucy Jack, where Watson acquired his leg wound. Perhaps no nightmares were summoned then because like me, he thought danger to himself less serious than danger to his companion.

"What is your own explanation?"

"I don't have one."

"Watson," I chided automatically, now on familiar ground. "You are too timid in your conclusions." I released my hold of him and moved near the hearth to sit on piled cushions.

"You make it sound like an exercize in deduction."

With a piece of glowing coal I took a moment to re-light my pipe. "And so you have frequently likened it when we have discussed mental studies," I countered with some smugness. I derived a wicked delight in throwing his own words back at him since he so frequently did so to me.

For the first time that night I saw the ghostly shadow of fear visibly lift from his countenance. Natural inquisitiveness sparked intrigue in his mind.

"If we build the theory from the Renfield case," he began conversationally, "then I would guess --" He glanced at me wryly, " -- my concerns came to some kind of crisis point because of your near fall."

I nodded my approval. "Your logic is sound. Of course, there is no way of knowing since we move in such experimental circles."

"You don't sound convinced."

"Truthfully I can see no other solution, Watson, but it is not I who must be convinced." I tapped his knee with my pipe stem. "You must be convinced. Else this recurring dream may plague you more."

"You think if the source is identified the nightmare will vanish?

There was a hint of challenge in his tone. His mind seemed not focused only on his dilemma, but also on his persistent interest in my own difficulties. Examined under the magnifying lens of his diagnostic logic was disconcerting. He had caught me off-guard, as he often does when I think him predictable. At such times he displays his pawky depths. Reason and logic gave me control of even this untenable situation.

"It seems a valid theory."

"Indeed."

Our inquest thus far had been comfortably clinical and reasonable. Now a tone of doubt crept back into his voice. I felt my own sense of disturbance return. Emotionalism would drive us back to uncertainty.

"Watson, we must put our trust in the tangible," I urged. "We must use the skills we possess to deal with these problems as best we can."

Somewhat distracted he countered, "Life does not always offer soluble problems. How do we deal with those?"

I could not tell if he referred to Mary or to my proclivity for danger. Fortunately his tone was rhetorical. He did not expect an answer to the metaphysical and emotional. Philosophy and speculation were as far as I dared venture. Supernatural or self-analytical detection were fields I avoided whenever possible.

"We'll never have all the answers," he sighed wearily. He stifled a yawn. A definite sign the liquor was finally penetrating through and overpowering the anxieties.

"I can offer only one solution," I responded.

"What is that?"

"The balm of Morpheus, Watson."

A grin tiredly played on his face. "In the last few days I have avoided Morpheus."

"And now?"

"Perhaps I can make my peace with him."

The response was less confident than I had hoped.

His expression became distant. "It is believed there is a peace in carrying no burdens alone. I truly understand that now. Thank you."

I was grateful he was looking into the fire. My face flushed with complete sympathy -- uncontrolled, unguarded and open with emotions. I bit my lip to hold back comments of compassion and a betraying trace of envy. I wondered what it would feel like to be completely unburdened and at peace with oneself. I wondered if one day I would find the courage Watson had found, share dark and secret burdens with my friend and feel that same sense of inner tranquility.

There were still doubts lingering in his mind. Not fear anymore, but an unpleasant uncertainty of the future. Was there any wonder that my friend held such distrust of days to come? His wife was chronically ill and because of inattention his practice suffered from lack of funds. All while he kept company with an erratic friend prone to wild, dangerous nocturnal hunts.

"Stay on the sofa for the rest of the night," I suggested. I realized part of his fear must have been returning to a room which for some nights had seemed haunted with dreadful spectres.

An initial flicker of gratitude appeared on his face.

"A few hours nap, a solid breakfast, and I will be much surprised if you do not feel your bright, normal self again."

"An unorthodox prescription, Doctor Holmes," he replied with amusement. "However, your treatment so far has proved quite beneficial."

"I am glad to have been of some assistance."

Within moments Watson had settled on the sofa, the rugs layered over his already dozing form. I poked new life into the dying embers and lingered by the mantle. Slumber seemed to bring a much needed peace and calmness to my friend. For the first time that night he was relaxed and very much like his old self.

I was heartened by the improvement and was certain the nightmares were behind us. I now felt more confident in our ability to deal with whatever complexities life brought us in the days ahead. If Watson and I could deal so quickly with the ethereal difficulties of the mind, could reality be such a problem to confront?

It was a question I asked myself with annoying regularity. I did not linger for an answer for I knew too well of my own inabilities to deal with life. Fortunately, for once we had been too concerned with Watson's problems for him to make more than a half-hearted attempt to probe into my cocaine addiction or the spectres which usher in my nightmares

I glanced at the morocco case on the bookshelf. I did not feel the slightest need for the artificial stimulant of cocaine now. The habit suddenly filled me with revulsion for my weaknesses. I used the drug to escape from my own demons. My friend sought no drug or shelter from the very serious problems which plagued him. His patient long-suffering and laudable endurance was a sobering example. I hoped one day it would move me to follow his strength and fortitude. For once I was almost -- almost -- shamed enough to throw the drug into the fire.

The soul of patience and persistence, Watson encouraged me to relinquish my addiction. He often forced me to question my motivations, to ponder my continual need to take risks, to unrelentingly pursue those who flee from justice. All were questions better left untouched. I was not ready to face those answers.

Sounds from the street indicated dawn was already upon us. It was a grey morning, probably thick with fog and frost. I re-lit my pipe and settled back into my chair. Used to irregular habits I no longer felt a need for sleep. I found a much more comfortable relaxation in savouring the quiet moments in a study of my remarkable friend.

I wondered if he was dreaming. Once more I pondered if the nightmare was precognitive -- for me -- or for him. I gazed up at the painting of the Falls. I had my own sense . . . . Perhaps some mysteries were better left unsolved.

SH

3 January 91