Dulls The Senses
- Holmes -
Watson has returned; I discern from the way Mrs. Hudson addresses him that it is no one else. His tread upon the steps is slow but even. I infer that he is weary rather than pained by his wound. No. He is apprehensive at what he will find, more likely, judging from the uncertain glance he threw me before he left four hours and an indeterminate number of minutes ago. He was out much longer than his usual walk, and I am inclined to think that this is not because something held him up, but because he does not relish the thought of sharing my company.
I cannot blame him. During this past week, I have come to despise my own company.
Would that I could, like him, leave myself to myself and go for a walk, take in some air and come back refreshed, more able to face myself again! But no. The dose required to dull my senses sufficiently to ignore my own thoughts is much too high. I am thoroughly disgusted with myself and this damnable tedium, but I am not suicidal.
Watson has reached the sitting-room door. He hesitates, but then he continues to ascend the stairs to his own room.
Something within me is hurt by this, and I realize that this something must be looking forward to seeing him again after even this short absence. This gives me pause. Have I, then, grown so dependent upon this ex-army surgeon after a mere three months of cohabitation that being without him for a few hours should distress me?
I consider this question while I estimate the amount of morphine left in the glass vial. Why should it distress me to be alone? Such has been a constant for most of my life. It is, in fact, my preferred state. No. It cannot be the aloneness. It must be the absence of Watson that is causing me this discomfort.
But if I no longer enjoy being alone, without him, what should I do now? It is certainly not something I can tell him! He would laugh at me. I cannot bear the thought of losing his respect.
Well, one answer to that always lies within the morphine. It is currently the only thing that makes my life bearable. With my senses dulled, my brain slowed from its constant racing and the amorphous ache within my chest stilled, I am much better equipped to face myself and his absence.
Watson is in his room now; I can hear him pace slowly back and forth above me. I think - I hope - that he is trying to make up his mind whether he should join me after all. He is such an improbably decent fellow, always ready to suspend his own needs in order to aid his fellow man, no matter how disgusted he might be with said fellow man.
I truly could not wish for a more congenial flat-mate. He is so full of admiration for my little feats of deduction, has been since the first words I said to him. Even though he now knows my method, each new demonstration still elicits the same glow in his eyes. I do not think I shall ever tire of seeing it.
Oh, confound it. What is he still doing up there? Why does he not come down, so that I can tell him where he was and what he did?
Maybe I can lure him down. My violin has not been played today. She will enjoy a little practise. But she is in the sitting-room, and I haven't the energy to move from my bed.
That is strange. I do not think I have taken so much, but maybe I have overestimated the time since my last injection, which would be a truly stupid mistake to make. I do know that temporal perception is the first thing to be affected by the drug. Normally, I time myself by my bedside clock -
- which I apparently neglected to wind up. But then again, I have never claimed to be perfect.
Well, it is determined easily enough. I take my pulse and count my breaths in relation to the beating of my heart. Hm. Either my heart is racing, or my breathing is indeed slowed, which would be a symptom of overdose. I do not think my heart is racing.
My lips and fingertips are growing numb. Should I be worried? Probably, but that requires more energy than I have left. Besides, I have longed to be numbed.
I no longer hear him pacing.
I think I shall sleep a little. Nothing else to do, anyway.
- Watson -
As much as it pains me, I am at last forced to acknowledge that my companion does indeed indulge in opiates. The suspicions I have harboured since the first month of our living together have been borne out today in the most unequivocal manner when, through the half open door of his bed chamber, I spied him using a syringe.
I suppose I should have realised it sooner, but I was, I fear, too much in awe of this extraordinary man to employ my medical judgment without the bias caused by my great fascination and admiration. Being forced to recognize that he, too, is but a mere mortal with mortal weaknesses has been a considerable shock, and it has sent me out into the bustle of a London workday in order to come to terms with this new knowledge I now have of Sherlock Holmes.
I have seen no recourse but to put some distance between him and myself. The very superiority he has demonstrated in all things he attempts and his resulting arrogance - no matter how justified - make him a hard man to argue with. His natural haughtiness, combined with the highly personal subject matter, makes the notion of confronting him, even as a medical man upon a medical topic, well nigh unthinkable.
And so, like a coward, I have fled.
However, even the realisation that my body seems to finally have recovered sufficiently for me to indulge in a long walk such as this with hardly a twinge does not make this outing enjoyable. My thoughts are constantly turned towards Holmes. Why is he doing this? What on earth could prompt him to risk that wonderful mind in so haphazard a fashion? I have not asked him what it is he is using. It is not necessary to do so, for I have myself administered enough morphine on the battlefield to recognize its effect. I have even experienced it firsthand. But that was for the relief of unbearable pain, not for a mere fancy.
Yes, I am angry. Sherlock Holmes has been blessed with amazingly acute senses and with an extraordinary brain to get the most from the information he gathers with them. Yet here he is, risking what others would give their right hand to possess, for no good reason that I can see. This cavalier treatment of himself infuriates me. If I had not left when I did, I surely should have said or done something I regret.
It takes me an inordinately long time to gather myself enough to even consider facing him again, but when I finally return to our shared lodgings, I still find myself passing the sitting-room door and going up to my own room to continue pacing there.
Finally, I admit that there is nothing for it but to confront him, as sooner or later I must. It all would be so much easier if I did not care what happens to him. But of course I do care. The very anger that still warms my cheeks even after the exertion of my long walk is proof of that.
And so I enter the sitting-room, only to find it empty as before. The bedroom door is still ajar. Apparently, he has not left his bed yet.
The silence from his bedroom is ominous. I can literally feel my hackles rise.
Performing surgery under fire has taught me never to discount my medical instincts. Propelled by some inchoate need to act, I do something I have not done before: I enter his room without asking for permission.
The sight of him lying motionless in his bed, eyes closed, lips tinged blue, instantly drives all other considerations from my mind save those pertaining to the emergency.
He does not rouse, not even when I shake him. My heart turns to lead when I discover that he does not breathe. To my relief, I can find a pulse, if faint and irregular. There is a slight lifting of his chest while I count the beats of his heart, but it is much too weak and slow to sustain life.
The fool has taken enough morphine to suppress his breathing. From the colour of his lips, hypoxia has already set in. Brain damage is imminent.
Suddenly, in spite of my training, in spite of the emergency, the fury is back, a dozen times stronger than before. How dare he do this to himself? Does he not care what this will do to me?
Of course not! Sherlock Holmes is the centre of his universe! Everyone else is a mere factor in a case!
"You inconsiderate -"
I rip away the blanket, revealing his lean, nightshirt-clad body, his still chest. His face is paler than it ever was, and his nailbeds are blue.
" - unfeeling -"
I place both my hands upon his sternum and compress his chest, gently, in spite of the ire that makes my own breath grow short. The object here is to aid his breathing, not to re-start his heart, which, thankfully, is still beating.
" - thoughtless -"
I release the pressure. His chest rises, air hisses through his teeth, but it is not enough. I tilt back his head to stretch his air passage, then I place my lips over his blue ones and blow more air into his lungs.
" - uncaring -"
Another compression. While trying to time myself, I distantly notice that his bedside clock has stopped.
" - self-centred -"
Release. He shudders and seems to fight for breath. Air moves into him. I gently peel back one of his lower lids to check the colour there. Better, but not yet good.
" - heartless -"
Another compression. His chest gives easily beneath my linked hands, his ribs hard and close under a thin layer of muscles and skin.
" - callous -"
Release. His eyes open, his pale lips part. He coughs. The expression on his face is one of blessed awareness.
" - stupid fool!" I shout at him, weak with relief.
He starts to gasp for breath, his conscious mind now able to override his suppressed breathing reflex, while I, embarrassingly, continue to yell at him.
"Do you have any idea how close you came to dying just now, Holmes? If I hadn't come back when I did, I should have found no more than your lifeless body, and for what? Because you're bored? My God, man!"
"Watson -" he interrupts me weakly.
I haul him into a sitting position and shake him for good measure. "Don't you dare fall asleep now, or you might never wake up again! Do you hear me? You almost didn't just now! Come on, on your feet!"
Giving him no chance to protest, I pull his thin arm over my shoulders and drag him out of bed, my anger and, yes, my fear for his life lending me the strength and the impetus to overcome my normal reticence towards him. "Keep breathing!" I yell at him, holding him up when he stumbles, and then I walk him into the sitting-room and back, one hand on his carotid artery and listening to his breathing. Back and forth I walk him, and he is, I think, too stunned at my forceful treatment to protest, for he follows my instructions as meekly as you please.
Finally, the forced movement begins to have an effect. Satisfied that he will not drift off again, I allow him to sit down upon the settee. My anger has blown over a bit, enough to curb the insane impulse to shout unforgivable expletives at him, or, God help me, to strike him. His colour is better, I note with the professional part of me that considers him my patient, however infuriated the rest of me might still be.
He is looking at me with amazement. "My dear fellow," he says softly, "remind me never to get on your bad side. That is quite a temper you've been hiding under that placid exterior."
This I ignore. "Just answer me one thing, Holmes," I demand, striving to keep my voice level. "Why? Why did you do it? You do understand, with all your intelligence, that this could have been your final act upon this earth, don't you? Why did you try to kill yourself?"
He looks away, visibly embarrassed. "That was not my intention, I assure you. It was an accident."
"Indeed. A simple misjudgement. I do not wish to die, Watson. I have too much planned for my life to bow out now."
"Well, you'd better concentrate on your breathing for a while longer if that's the case," I seethe. "That was a deucedly stupid thing to do, Holmes. As your friend and as your physician, I ought to take away your cursed morphine and pour it into the gutter, or confiscate it so that it may be used for those who really need it. There is no possible benefit you can gain from it that would justify this insane risk!"
He raises his eyebrows placatingly. "Please, Watson, calm yourself. It is a way for me to fight ennui, nothing more. How was I to know you would be so affected?"
"Affected! You were at death's door! Of course it affects me when something as final as this happens to you, Holmes. How could you ever doubt it? Did you think me uncaring? Did you think me as unfeeling as you, apparently, are?"
He continues to stare. Appalled, I look at him, and we gaze at one another in stunned silence.
This reaction on my part is surely out of all proportion. I have behaved disgracefully. Never before have I let my feelings interfere with my treatment of a patient in quite this way. I wonder...
"I apologize," I finally say wearily, shelving the question of the cause of my anger for later. "That was uncalled for."
"Not at all," he returns, more contrite that I have ever seen him. "It is I who must apologize. It was not my intention to worry you so. I truly am sorry. Here, let me try to make amends."
Before I can caution him against sudden exertions, he rises from the settee and darts into his bedchamber, emerging a moment later with two glass vials filled with a clear liquid and holding them out to me.
"This is all I have left. Take them."
I reach out my hand, but he draws his back.
"Wait. I promise never to take any more morphine, Watson, but in exchange you must promise me never to raise the subject again. Do we have a deal?"
I smile. I never thought I should see the day when Sherlock Holmes is embarrassed enough to bribe me into silence. "We do."
Solemnly, he hands me the vials, and as I take them, I can feel an enormous weight being lifted off my soul. He is safe now. The drug still in his system should lose its effect within the next few hours. I shall keep an eye on him until then, and after that, this horrible spectre will never threaten him again.
- Holmes -
I watch him leave my bedside in the grey light of dawn, and I allow myself a moment of despair. Handing over my morphine to him surely was one of the most singularly stupid actions I have ever committed, second only to starting the habit in the first place. Why have I done it? If I feel so ashamed at being caught misusing it that it prompted me to that grand gesture, how do I expect to feel once he witnesses what will inevitably happen next?
I am aware that I shall not be able to just stop taking the drug. I tried to before, once, and the consequences were abhorrent. That was two years ago. I have not been taking as highly concentrated doses recently as I did back then, but still - going without the blasted stuff now will not be easy.
I truly did not think Watson would be so affected. His anger was a revelation. He was formidable in his indignation.
The only logical conclusion I can draw from his behaviour is that he either is an extremely passionate physician who is emotionally invested in everyone he treats and that this is his normal modus operandi, or that this was an exception and, for some reason, he feels this strongly only towards me.
Whichever it is – and I do know which I should prefer - it is a strange and unfamiliar thing to feel cared about. This whole deuced episode was odd. Never mind the fact that I almost died; what a remarkable, wonderful thing - I was not alone when it not quite happened. Watson was there. Watson would not let me go. He commanded me to breathe. He was angry with me for almost dying, as if I had wronged him somehow. I can think of no one else who would be moved so if I ceased to exist. No one else, and that includes my family, would have done this for me. No one save him.
Remembering his blazing eyes induces the strangest conflagration of feelings within me.
It is frightening the power he has over me. He commanded me to breathe, to move, and I did, even though my body wanted nothing more than to remain still.
Something enormous has happened, by which I do not mean the fact that I almost met my maker. That is incidental. It was what happened then that has changed everything. If I were a fanciful man, I should probably confabulate some rubbish about Watson now owning my life because he saved it, or some such nonsense to this general effect. Drivel, of course.
And yet, when he talked of taking away my morphine, I handed it to him almost without a second thought. Am I prepared to give someone else this much power over me that a mere suggestion from him will prompt my unquestioning compliance when normally I follow no one's orders unless I agree with them?
There is something going on here that will bear close examination. I have observed before this confusing tendency of mine to wish to please him. A reproachful glance will make me want to placate him with music, or brave the concept of eating. And now, his anger prompted me to willingly face withdrawal from the drug.
Obviously, whatever it is that is happening here has already begun to affect me.
But can I trust him with this power? I could certainly do worse than choose him, for I do know that he is a good man. The fact that he is still here, willing to put up with me and my deplorable moods alone proves his exceptional qualities. I am certain I can trust him to know what is good for me, probably even better than I myself do.
And even if I can trust him, shall I, in turn, be able to rely upon him? Can I, after spending most of my life self-sufficient and alone, allow someone else to take care of me?
If am I honest to myself, I will admit that the thought of sharing the load that my life sometimes becomes with someone else is a very attractive one.
My breathing is steady now; there is but a residual weakness left over by the hypoxia, but I shall not have time to recover fully. Already I am beginning to feel the first symptoms caused by the absence of the morphine. I have to make a decision, and soon.
Go, or stay?
Go, find somewhere to be alone while the withdrawal runs its course and hope that, a few days hence, I shall be able to return here as if nothing had happened, thus avoiding Watson's censure, and saving myself a world of embarrassment? Go, return to my lonely isolation, go through it alone but with my dignity intact, and retain the status quo?
Or stay, surrender myself to his care, allow him to witness me in the state that is sure to follow, suffer his fussing and, possibly, his reproach? Stay, risk my self-reliance by experiencing his fiery compassion and possibly grow even more dependent upon it than I am now?
The diffuse ache in my insides I have started to notice a few minutes ago suddenly coalesces into a sharp cramp, and I realize that, whatever I decide, I do not have much time left. From what I remember, the effects of the withdrawal are debilitating and more than a little unpleasant, all in all something I should much rather experience within four walls than out in the street.
Go, or stay?
- Watson -
It is now eighteen hours since my friend almost died. Some of those hours, I am ashamed to admit, I spent at his bedside while he slept. Despite my certainty that the immediate danger was past, I was still plagued by a remnant of the sight he had presented, white and still, suffocating alone in his bedchamber. And so I crept down into his room in the dead of night and sat next to him, listening to him breathe.
It took quite a long time before I was sufficiently reassured to return to my own bed. Still, my dreams were plagued with unpleasant imagery, causing me to make an early day of it, which, in hindsight, may not have been a wise decision, for I shall need all my strength in the days to come. I have seen enough of morphine addiction and withdrawal to be certain that Holmes' troubles are far from over.
A sound in my friend's bedroom puts me on the alert. With the oxygen deprivation his brain suffered, he still is not well enough to leave his bed, even though he probably does not realize it.
I rise from my chair and knock upon his door. "Holmes?" I call.
There is no response, but I hear a shuffling sound. The back of my neck prickling, I push the door open.
He is sitting upon his bed, struggling into his clothes. The very slowness of his movements convinces me that he is far from up to this task.
"My dear fellow, what are you doing?" I cry. "You are not well enough to be out of bed."
He raises his eyes to look at me with determination. "Do not worry yourself about me, Doctor," he says coldly. "I am well enough to find a cab."
I doubt that, but I refrain from voicing it. "Where are you going?"
Still seated, he leans down to tie his bootlaces. "I have somewhere I can stay."
I feel a sharp pang in my chest. "Holmes," I say, "by my unforgivable conduct yesterday, I may have revoked any right I may have had to speak to you as your friend, but as your physician, I must strongly advise you to reconsider. Your brain was without sufficient oxygen supply for at least a minute. You may not realise it, but that is bound to have a lasting effect."
He has finished with the laces and rises to his feet. "I am well enough to descend a few steps," he insists stubbornly. "Surely this is nothing -" Suddenly his eyes widen and lose focus.
I step forward and catch his thin frame as he collapses with a surprised groan. Frankly, I am astonished that he was able get to his feet at all. He stares at me in confusion while I settle him upon his bed. "Perhaps now you will listen to me, Holmes," I say gently. "The effects of hypoxia are not something you can simply overcome with even your formidable willpower. I am afraid that you won't be able to leave, so you will simply have to contend with my care."
He breathes heavily, blinking and looking away. "I do not wish to... burden you with this," he finally admits softly.
We both know that he is not talking about his current incapacity. I shake my head in fond exasperation. "And so you decided to crawl away like a wounded animal to suffer alone somewhere in hiding? Holmes, really! Have I offended you so much that you will not even accept my professional care?"
"It is not that," he murmurs, "and, pray, do not think you have offended me, my dear Watson. Never that. I merely fear that I am not very good at accepting help." While he talks, a flicker of pain passes over his pale features. "Watson..." His voice suddenly sounds terribly uncertain.
"Let me help you out of your clothes, Holmes," I say brusquely, moving to undo the buttons he has fastened so laboriously. "You will not be needing them for a few days."
- Holmes -
He has turned away to mix together assorted powders with water, and, making use of his distraction, I finally allow myself the grimace I have fought to keep off my face for nearly too long.
This is actually worse than what I remember from the last time I attempted to shake off the infernal drug's hold over me. It may have been a mistake after all to stay and let him see me like this - a man incapable of taking care of his most basic needs and subject to the whims of his body. I fear that, soon, I shall be beyond any concern for my dignity, such as I have left, but I actually find myself close to welcoming that state, which, surely, is not a good sign.
For the moment, though, I am still in control of my mind, if not my body. The craving is there, but manageable. Besides, I am determined that I shall not debase myself any further by begging for the cursed drug, not after what I have already gone through. No. Whatever happens, it has been my master long enough.
I am waiting in vain for the lessening of awareness I remember from the few times I was ill. Watson says that my temperature is elevated, but I do not feel feverish. On the contrary - all my senses are heightened, and worst of all, pain perception is in no way reduced. The feeling of red-hot pokers piercing my gut and the dull pain in each and every muscle I possess makes me long even more for the dulling effect of the thrice-damned morphine.
I wish I could sleep. I wish I could at least lie still. Every movement is agony, and yet I cannot stop it. This cursed sensation of ants crawling all over me is beginning to wear upon me. I wish Watson would place his hand back upon my brow and help me to calm, but I shall not beg for that, either.
Quite amazing how irresistible the body's demands may become considering that, at any other time, I can blithely ignore them completely for hours on end. At least, for the moment, my body has once again expelled everything that was in it in every way at its disposal. What a miserable, painful and demeaning affair that was! I certainly have no intention of eating anything again until this is over.
And another thing is certain. If he holds that bowl of soup under my nose once more I shall become quite vocal.
But no, when he turns back to me, he has a glass of water in his hand, and there is a patient smile upon his face, his "doctor" face, the one he would no doubt show to all his patients, were he in practice. It is such a waste. Such a singularly skilled and kind man, and all he has to care for is me.
I observe that his hands are shaking a little, either with worry or with sheer exhaustion, and no wonder. I have no idea how much time has passed since this whole miserable business began, but I do know that my poor Watson has slept as little as I have, maybe less. Yet, when he holds out the water to me, the surface of the liquid hardly moves.
Such an amazing man.
I shake my head, gently. Sudden movements make me nauseous. "Not a good idea, Watson," I croak, my throat still sore from repeated exposure to bile.
I might as well not have bothered. His jaw sets. I have only known him for about a hundred days, but I realize that this expression signals his utter unwillingness to give in. Stern mouth, gentle eyes. Implacable healer.
In a flash, the enormity of it all comes to me. Watson will not give in, not to me, and not to this ailment. That this remarkable man should, for some unfathomable reason, have come to care for me at this point in time, possibly the only time when I should ever need someone like him! How much more favourable the odds of myself being alone after so long a time alone, fighting this demon alone, or in the uncaring care of some hospital doctor!
Now, if only I could bring myself to gracefully accept this statistical improbability, and his help.
- Watson -
It has been more than 24 hours now since Holmes experienced the first symptoms of the morphine withdrawal. I should dearly like to offer some sort of consolation, such as my belief that it will not be quite as bad as all that, or that he might expect a less severe aetiopathology than normal, and that it will be over by evening. However, I know both the subject matter and my friend well enough by now to realize that, for one thing, I should be telling a white lie, and for another, Holmes would not appreciate my attempting to coddle him when he finds me out, as he inevitably must.
During the past hour or so, his iron composure has begun to show signs of strain, and I confess that I fear for him. The complete loss of control that I very much dread lies in store for him will be so much worse for someone as proud and self-reliant as my friend. I should dearly like to leave him to himself and thus spare him the humiliation, but the very nature of that loss of control makes that impossible.
My poor friend may think that, with his recent bout of vomiting and diarrhoea, he will finally have peace on that front, but I know that this is far from the case. It does not matter if his body actually has anything to bring up, and, of course, retching on an empty stomach can be agonizing. Also, I shall have to make certain that he stays well hydrated, no matter how often his body might reject the contents of his stomach, and no matter how much he might refuse nourishment of any kind.
Which, of course, he does. "Holmes," I say patiently, reaching out for the hundredth time to blot away the water constantly leaking out of his eyes and nose, "you are losing liquids at an alarming rate, and if it's not replenished, your heart will give out long before this is over. Please, drink." I hold out the glass of water fortified with electrolytes and some powdered ginger to help settle his stomach.
He sniffs, eyes and nose puffy from the incessant secretions, looking at me with weary resignation. "How long?" he asks almost plaintively.
Again, I resist the temptation to palliate things. "At least four days, maybe six. Too long to go without water in any case."
He groans and closes his streaming eyes briefly before glaring at me - the effect being somewhat lessened by his bloodshot sclera -, but he accepts the glass.
I know, of course, why he is so hesitant to take the water. Quite apart from the threat of vomiting caused by the withdrawal, one of the less well-known, lingering effects of hypoxia is a loss of the swallowing reflex, and there are few things quite so embarrassing as having to re-learn something even the youngest babe can do. So far, Holmes has persevered with that iron will that is so much a part of his being, but each time his concentration and strength flags he will choke and cough until the struggle to breathe leaves him weakened, and I watch that iron will becoming eroded a little more.
He drinks, expending as much care upon this simple activity as he normally would upon the solving of a complex cipher, this time managing the whole glass without choking once, and handing the empty vessel back to me with a wry twist of his mouth that tells me more eloquently than words that he considers this a wasted effort. I want to praise him, but that would no doubt be considered patronizing by this fiercely independent man, so I merely smile and place my hand upon his warm brow, ostensibly to check his temperature.
I have noticed that this touch to his forehead has a singularly calming effect upon him, and I naturally seek every opportunity to use something as unexpectedly beneficial as this. Sure enough, his eyes drift shut as soon as he feels it, withdrawal-induced tears still leaking out at the corners, but he finally lies quietly under my hand, the constant twitching and shifting stilled. I dare stroke the area between his black eyebrows with my thumb, gently, as if petting a fledgling bird, which relaxes him further. And yet, the lines of tension around his mouth convince me that he is in pain and trying not to show it, and I know that he will continue to remain awake indefinitely - another effect of the withdrawal. Only when sheer exhaustion finally overcomes the incessant nervous agitation will he be able to sleep, days from now in all probability.
He shifts and sighs, pressing his head more tightly against my hand. Resigned to the inevitable, I check my readiness for the next emergency - towels, hot water, bowl, fresh linen -, and settle in for the duration, content to let him have my hand for as long as it will soothe him.
A rustling sound startles me out of the light slumber into which I must have drifted, and, opening my eyes to near-complete darkness, I see the indistinct form of Holmes fighting to get out of bed. Not yet fully I awake, I reach out blindly to pull the bowl out from under the bed, help him lean over the side, shove the bowl under his face with one hand and hold him in place with the other, and then I simply support him while he retches, shivering and gasping in-between increasingly painful dry heaves, until finally he leans weakly against my shoulder as if unable to keep himself upright any longer. I dispose of the bowl and shift position until I can comfortably hold his too-warm body against my own.
In the darkness, I cannot see his face, but the halting sound of his breathing tells me that this is a good thing, if only to protect his dignity. Sure enough, he soon moves as if to disengage from my embrace, but I simply tighten my arms around his lean shoulders until he ceases his half-hearted struggle and allows the contact to comfort him.
"I'm sorry," he whispers at length against my neck.
"It's all right, dear fellow," I say softly, reaching out for the matches.
"But I've -"
"Shh. I know." I light the candle upon his nightstand, and by its light, I divest him of his soiled nightshirt, wash him with lukewarm water while he keeps his eyes closed in abject mortification, and place him, dressed now in a fresh nightshirt and wrapped in blankets, on the chair upon which I have been sitting, where he huddles, looking forlorn and incredibly young, silently blinking his streaming eyes with their dilated pupils, while I change the bedding, glad of the rubber sheet underneath.
Not five minutes later, I help my friend back into bed. "This was bound to happen sooner or later," I gently forestall any more attempts at an apology he might make. "And it will probably happen again." I blot away the moisture that still oozes in unending rivulets from his eyes and nose. "Consider it an unavoidable part of becoming well again, like an expected precipitation during one of your chemical experiments."
He blinks open his bloodshot eyes. "That makes it sound almost natural."
I smile. "It is. It is no reflection upon the patient's control, but a symptom of which the physician has to take care. And so I shall. All you have to do is rest and heal."
He looks at me with an expression that might almost be called a smile.
I take his wrist to feel his pulse hammering strong beneath my fingers, which speaks to me of elevated blood pressure, and his heated skin shivering with goose bumps and the restless shifting of his long limbs all add to the picture of a man deep in the grip of withdrawal.
"I know you don't feel like it," I continue, fetching the jug and a glass, "but you'll have to take some more water."
He closes his eyes and mutinously turns his face away. "It will only come up again," he mumbles at the wall.
"Most of it, perhaps, but some will stay down," I say patiently. "And that will make all the difference. If you don't, you will die of thirst before next evening."
He sighs, sounding supremely put upon.
I take heart in the fact that he still has the strength to be stubborn, and I silently wish that he might continue being obstinate for a while yet. But by this time tomorrow, I very much fear that he will be worn down, that he will do everything I tell him, submit to any indignity, just so the torture will, finally, end.
- Holmes -
There is not a single muscle inside of me that does not hurt, but that is nothing compared to the agony in my gut.
"Give me a knife," I tell the blur that I take to be Watson. "I must cut it out."
His voice comes back to me as if from the other end of some gigantic cave, all echoes. Maybe he has taken out the carpet to protect it. Good old Watson. Splendid idea. "Cut out what, Holmes?" his gentle voice asks.
I close my eyes, thinking. Cut out what, indeed. I am sure I knew the answer to that a moment ago. I try to recall it while listening to the combined racket of a steam engine outside and some poor devil groaning somewhere nearby, but the sounds are too distracting, my head hurts, and I finally give up.
Watson's cool hand upon my brow somehow silences both sounds. Gratefully, I consider this phenomenon for a while. Unless the groaning was caused by the steam engine - or vice versa -, it seems an amazing coincidence that both sounds should stop at the same moment. Have my ears, perhaps, migrated to my forehead, and Watson is holding them closed? It is the only explanation I can think of, and it alarms me. I extract both hands from where they have become ensnared in my blankets and press them to my ears, or rather, to where I remember my ears to be.
They are still there, same as always. I am so relieved that I almost speak out, but then the absurdity of the thought becomes clear to me, and then another cramp forces the breath from my body, and the groaning begins anew.
If I were feeling only marginally better, I should be laughing. Instead, I am glad to be able to breathe, and the impulse only lasts a second or so anyway before a new thought crosses my mind.
Am I going insane?
Again, I try to focus upon the blur, with negligible success. "Watson, am I going insane?" My voice sounds strange to my ears, hoarse and stuffy.
There is a slight and highly worrying delay before he answers, "No, Holmes. You're going through morphine withdrawal, and you've been awake for almost sixty hours. There may be some disorientation caused by exhaustion, but your mind is quite safe."
Well, that is good to know. His hand is still upon my forehead, to my enormous and quite pathetic relief. Since it happens to be in the vicinity, I place one of mine over it to prevent it from escaping.
"I'm not going anywhere, old man," Watson softly informs me. "You're not alone."
Something contracts in my chest, and a great heat blossoms behind my eyes. My breath catches. This symptom is new. Confused, I stare at Watson's increasingly blurred face.
Then he leans down and worms his free arm around my shoulders, pillow and all. The manoeuvre brings my face in close proximity with his shoulder, and suddenly I am in his arms, and a storm discharges itself out of my eyes, or at least that is what it feels like.
I have not wept since the last time I saw my mother, many years ago. It is something I tend to avoid at all costs, for once I start, I am quite unable to stop for an embarrassingly long time. The most unsettling thing is that the more I try to stem the flow, the more overwhelming it becomes.
It is a little like vomiting. A vomiting of the soul.
Watson, bless him, is as accepting of this as he has been of all my other "accidents". I cling to him, abjectly glad for his presence. He is my friend, and a doctor. He will make my sick soul well again.
- Watson -
I hold my poor friend until his shoulders stop shaking and his stuttering sobs taper off to quiet moans. He does not let go of me, even though I can tell he is thoroughly exhausted. So am I, but of course I can rest only when he does.
"Holmes?" I whisper. His earlier confusion worries me. It should not be happening, but considering the effects of the hypoxia, there is some slight possibility that his mind could be affected after all.
He moans again. "Tired." His voice is but the barest whisper.
"I know. I shall let you rest."
Again, his thin hands fist themselves into my shirt. "No. Don't go, please. Just... a few more minutes."
He sounds sane, if very weak. Making a decision, I take off my boots and sit upon his bed, my back against the headboard and my legs stretched out next to Holmes. He shifts, moving slowly, every muscle trembling with exhaustion, until he lies curled up with his head upon my chest, and I place my arms around him while he sighs and lies still, for the first time in hours.
I feel him fall asleep within minutes, and I am not far behind him.
Sherlock Holmes is still asleep when I wake up hours later. Relieved, I find that his fever has broken, and his eyes and nose have, finally, stopped streaming their watery excretions. He rests quietly, still curled up and using me for a pillow, and I am far too comfortable to move.
It is over.
It occurs to me briefly that this close proximity to him is not quite the way to treat a patient, and that I am in danger of losing my professional objectivity where Holmes is concerned, but I disregard the thought. He was my friend before all this began. I never was just his physician.
If anything, the trust he showed me humbles me. I may not be his equal in observation and deduction, but I am aware how close he was to fleeing and facing this on his own. If he really had wanted to be alone during this crisis, I have no doubt that he would have left sooner, when he still could. Therefore, he wanted me here, with him, and his soft words to me in the darkness confirm it. The thought fills me with warmth.
But it was a close thing. I look at his pale face resting upon my shoulder, wondering what could have happened to him to make him so distrustful of his fellow man that he should consider taking himself away instead of seeking help from a friend. This is nothing about which I can ask him, nor will I. If he wishes to take me into his confidence, he will do so in his own good time. But still, I cannot help but conclude that someone in his past must have hurt him deeply, enough to drive him into this self-imposed isolation, reluctant to seek friends, unwilling to seek even much-needed help, and I feel a surge of anger at this unknown person who has damaged him so.
But I am a healer. It is my vocation to treat injuries, and so I shall. Circumstances have contrived to bring this skittish man into my care when he would have refused help from anyone else. From now on, I shall make it my task to show him, with my love and devotion, that his trust in me is not misplaced.
I lay my hand back upon his brow and close my eyes to rest for a few more minutes.
- Holmes -
Watson's soft snores are the first thing I am aware of when I wake; then I realize that it is day, and that I am hungry.
I sit up carefully and regard my poor friend, who is dead to the world, worn out by his self-sacrificing care for me. Above and beyond, indeed.
I feel an unaccustomed impulse to show him my appreciation. No doubt there is some traditional way to thank one's doctor for a successful treatment, but a bunch of flowers or a box of confectionaries would hardly suffice in this case. Watson proved himself not merely an able physician, but a true friend, one I should like to have at my back in a tight place, or sharing my evenings' contemplations.
Curious. After more than three months of living here, I feel as if I have come home.
To think that I was so worried about losing his respect before all this began seems laughable. He has truly seen me now at my worst and lowest, and yet here he is, still by my side.
I continue to turn the problem of compensation for his care over in my mind while I get out of bed and locate my dressing gown.
There is a heap of dirty linen in a corner of my room. Wrinkling my nose, I draw breath to call for Mrs Hudson, but it is exhaled unused. I shall take the things down to her and procure some nourishment for us while I am there. If I am hungry, then poor Watson must be starving.
Maybe he will appreciate being served breakfast in bed.