A/N: The suggestion for this fic came from Igiveup just after I joined this site – at the time I doubted I could do it any kind of justice, and I confess to still being slightly leery about trying it. But she encouraged me to attempt it, and it has been bugging me for some time, so I decided to give it a whirl and see what happens.
I am drawing more heavily off the Granada version of DEVI, not the Canon, because there are some specific instances in that episode that may play a vital role in the plot.
I don't believe there is anything else you need to know…oh, this chapter will be in Watson's POV, probably the rest of it in Holmes's.
Then on with it, and wish me luck!
I have stated elsewhere in these scattered memoirs of my adventures spent in the company of the world's foremost consulting detective, that in the spring of 1897 Sherlock Holmes's constitution was in danger of giving way completely under the strain of an intense amount of work. This, I must confess, was a more than slight twisting of the truth.
The reader may be shocked to learn that I have occasionally, when necessary, changed the facts of a case to either protect the identity of our clients or simply because the true facts of the case were simply not fit for public consumption in such a family periodical as the Strand Magazine.
This was one such instance.
Holmes himself has undertaken to write a portion of this particular memoir under my request, for the better portion of the tale took place within the confines of that most remarkable of minds, and we have mutually agreed to put down the true facts concerning the time immediately preceding the case I have rather adventurously titled The Adventure of the Devil's Foot.
The trouble that culminated a few weeks later in our nearly perishing by the hand of that remarkable drug known as Radix Pedis Diaboli began in the very wet and rainy spring of that year, 1897. London had been in the grips of rainstorms since mid-February, and in consequence the entire city seemed to be at a standstill, taking cover each day until the rain ceased, which only happened once every fortnight or so.
Holmes had been at the peak of his career after his return – no case of any high standing, and very few of any consequence whatsoever, were not brought to his attention during those golden years of spring 1894 to the winter of 1896. We had traveled practically the entire civilised world by that point in time, our adventures keeping us so completely busy we rarely had time for anything else.
Sherlock Holmes, of course, was very much loving this hectic pace we grew accustomed to in those golden years of our partnership – we wanted for nothing since the cases and clients were numerous and frequently well-to-do, and our own relationship had deepened into the type of affectionate regard that can only come with fifteen years of close companionship.
It seemed that we were suspended in immortal time, for only rarely did something occur to shatter our complacently happy world. To all appearances we led a charmed life, the both of us, always dancing the edge of danger and always surviving – perhaps not unscathed but definitely together, invincible to the last.
But in the winter of 1896, our steady stream of business began to gradually taper down. The novelty of Holmes's return to life had now faded along with the clients, and with the onset of a very warm and wet spring came a dark fit of deep depression for my companion.
The reader will not blame me for dreading such a period of boredom and depression from my colleague, knowing full well where his weakness lay, even though he no longer craved the dreaded drug.
Holmes had previously used cocaine only to stimulate his mind in times of boredom; he never took it while on a case, for that was stimulation enough for his extraordinary mental powers. And thus, because of the immense explosive growth of his practice between '94 and '97, he used the drug only rarely.
He had given me his word, halfway through '95, after a series of events which I shall not here relate, that he would never use the drug again after its influence had caused him to make a mistake that nearly cost us both our lives. And for two years now, the syringe and its dreadful contents had lain unused and rusting in his locked desk drawer.
I refused to check them, only seeing them when Holmes opened the drawer for something, but apparently he had indeed given up the drug for good, thereby earning my complete trust. And to my knowledge, in two years he had used it only on three occasions – and after each of them he offered sincere apologies to me for breaking his promise.
The dosage was, after all, only a seven-percent solution; rather weak, and it was even legal to buy it in London in our day. I was then satisfied with his promise of only occasional lapses.
Until that awful day in '97. We had finished up a very straining and very dangerous case three weeks ago, and in the time since had not had work of any kind, not even a whisper from Scotland Yard.
This was the first time we had gone so long without a case, and I will confess that my mind turned in the direction I have been discussing when the days turned into weeks with no case, no client, and no mental challenge.
Holmes had gone nearly a year – ten months, actually – without the drug, even going so far as to refuse morphine when injured on this past case, due to the fact that he wished to keep his promise to me. I respected my companion for it, as well as feeling deeply touched by the gesture.
But no man is perfect, and I was very much worried that even my influence was not going to be sufficient enough to keep him from the siren song of the cocaine during this period of inactivity.
And as it turned out, my fear was only too well-founded.
I had, between cases, volunteered to work an afternoon shift at one of the poorer hospitals in the eastern part of London. Bronchitis, pneumonia, and influenza had a heyday with weather such as ours and my aid was very gratefully received. But this meant that I was absent from Baker Street for extended periods of time.
Sherlock Holmes was in a black depression, had been for over two weeks now, and perhaps in retrospect it was not the best idea for me to leave him without companionship for so long at a time. But when I was in the flat, he paid little or no attention to me but merely moved languidly from his bed to the couch, once in a while to the table to pick at his food, and then back to his bed again.
But he was not a child, and I would not treat him as a worried parent, hovering round as if in fear that he would break his word to me. I had more faith in my Holmes than that.
In consequence, I can only thank a just Providence that I returned early that miserable, wet night to our rooms – for it was only the grace of God that sent me home three hours early from my shift because of a lack of patients.
I arrived Baker Street in a downpour, having foolishly forgotten my umbrella that afternoon due to a mocking little burst of sunlight before the clouds had returned, and I was surprised to see that there appeared to be no fire going as I walked into the sitting room, thoroughly chilled.
I shivered, struggling out of my coat and feeling my old wounds aching with the rapid changes in weather, and glanced round the room to see no sign of Sherlock Holmes. I hastily went to stoke up the fire and then headed for the table to pour myself a drink.
I halted on the instant as I saw that Holmes's desk drawer was open, the key still in the lock as it stood ajar.
I still to this day am ashamed for my breach of privacy, but I was afraid, and so I opened the drawer.
The Moroccan case was gone.
He had left the case and its contents in there as always, for he was a pack-rat in every sense of the word; and though the idea of having the temptation right there locked in his drawer bothered me in the extreme, it was not my place to remove it.
Now it was gone.
And because the key was still in the lock, Holmes had not been expecting me to return so quickly; he thought he had plenty of time to use the drug and return it, time for the cocaine to wear off before I returned.
How many days had he been doing this while I was away?
I clenched my jaw, my anger and sense of betrayal taking over my common sense, and I stormed over to Holmes's bedroom door and flung it open – it was unlocked, yet another indication that he had not been expecting my early return.
But I halted, my anger fleeing me for the moment, at the sight of him curled up upon the bed, shivering far too violently to be merely hallucinating or paranoiac as I knew cocaine sometimes caused – something was wrong.
In two strides I was at his side, grabbing the case from the bedside table and inspecting the syringe and bottles.
The syringe was half-full – but the bottle to fill it from was more than half-empty. My throat and mouth went dry as dust.
My voice seemed to rouse him, though his eyes were incredibly dilated and vacant, not really seeing my face, and he was moving about more restlessly than I had ever seen him in any cocaine-induced stupor, moaning and clutching his stomach as if in pain.
"Holmes, look at me!" I turned his face to meet mine and saw recognition spark in the icy grey depths.
"Did you take all this?" I demanded, my voice shaking.
"N-not all t-today," he gasped, grabbing for my hand convulsively.
I saw fear behind the confusion in those dull eyes and realised he had misjudged the dosage, badly misjudged it, and that he was now aware of the fact. Even if he had not taken the half bottle today alone, as I had feared at first glance, he still had taken too much, more than he ever had before. And since he had not taken the drug in almost a year, the effects were far worse than they ever had been in the past.
He was clinging to me tightly, and I could see genuine fear in his face, which worried me even more. I hastily sat and took his pulse, which was racing far too fast. Suddenly his grip clenched and he started to choke.
He shook, convulsing, his eyes frantic as he struggled to bring in air.
Dear God, he had overdosed. Respiratory failure was the usual cause of death in slight overdoses, cardiac arrest in the severe ones.
"Holmes, breathe! NOW!" I almost shouted, frightened more than he was.
I lifted his shoulders from the bed, holding him immobile as he struggled.
"Listen to me! Stop struggling, count to three, and breathe, man!"
His face was turning a dark red, his pale grey eyes standing out in terrified starkness as he begged me wordlessly for help.
"Don't you dare die on me again!" I snapped fiercely, gripping him in an angrily tight hold. "Breathe, now! Slowly!"
I had just begun to run through the artificial respiration techniques in my mind in preparation for the minutes to come when he gasped and choked, finally drawing a ragged breath.
"That's it – again, Holmes!"
He finally got a lungful of oxygen, choking as the convulsions started to slow, his face going dead-pale again. I held him tightly, badly frightened myself, until he was breathing normally again and then laid him gently back onto the bed, changing the sweat-soaked pillow out for a clean one.
He shivered, trying to pull the blankets up round himself but his hands were erratically twitching and I did it for him. Then I headed for my medical bag.
As I had feared, his temperature was up very high, but the fever was obviously alternating with severe chills. He was still moving restlessly, occasionally murmuring something unintelligible.
As he shuddered, moaning and curling up into a miserable ball, I in a blind fit of anger broke the syringe in two and hurled it and the bottle across the room. The action made my nerves slightly calmer but not my heart.
He had broken his word to me.
And he had obviously had no intention of confessing that he had given in to the temptation – which was worse than if he had just blatantly done the deed. He had timed it carefully enough that I would never have known…
…until I came back – if I had come back at my normal time today he would have been dead.
The anger surged up within me again as I bent over him once more, but I firmly pushed it down under a mask of professionalism. Broken promises or no, he was still a very sick man; and what's more, he was a sick friend.
I checked his racing pulse again and piled another blanket on top of his shivering form, seating myself beside him, feeling my face draw in with worry despite my anger at his deception and betrayal of my implicit trust.
His haunted eyes fastened upon my face, though I did not know if he were seeing me or drug-induced nightmares. He shivered violently, convulsions seizing him and making him tremble.
But from the way he fought one hand free to clasp mine, fear making his grip almost crushing, it appeared he was apparently lucid enough to recognise me.
It is hard to remain angry with a man who is teetering on the edge of dying, clinging to one for help.
To be continued...reviews are very appreciated as always!