A/n: I fear and despise the thought of aging; this story was my way to confront that. I could not think of a title, so I just sort of...tried the best I could. I'll accept suggestions!!
"What is it?"
I flinched at the irritable voice that came from the other side of the door. "It's…it's a beautiful morning, Holmes; I was hoping we could take a little walk on the Downs before breakfast. I know it's early for you," I continued hastily, after receiving no reply, "but I can't stand to be alone on such a fine spring day. I've been out already for a breath of air, the birdsong is heavenly."
"May I come in?"
"If you must."
"Well—no, Holmes, not if it will make you cross. I'm sorry for bothering you, I'll go have a little coffee and see you later today."
I opened the door at once, and found him still in bed, the blankets drawn up to his chin. "Didn't you sleep well?"
"Maybe a little fresh air will help--I'll open your window. There, listen to the birdsong! And the breeze--dear me, it's gotten stronger." I chuckled, squinting as a gust made my eyes water. "But still warm. If I was a boy I'd be getting my kite now." I turned back in time to see Holmes frantically grasping at the corner of his blanket, which was flapping in the wind.
"Holmes, what has gotten into you? It's quite warm—wait a bit. What's this..."
He fell into a panicked silence, face turning scarlet as I tugged the blanket down to find he was wearing his shirt, waistcoat, collar, tie and tie tack. The shade of red in his face was growing alarming, so I swept the blanket up and around his shoulder. "Why in the world were you sleeping in your clothes?"
He looked straight before him--his grey eyes were a crumbling iceberg. He ran his tongue over his lips several times before attempting to speak. "I found it the best course of action."
"And how is that?"
"Perhaps I might rephrase, Watson; it was—the only course of action."
"Oh…oh, I see. The arthritis, you mean...are you in much pain?"
"Just my fingers. It flared up last night--that's why--"
"You didn't eat much."
The shade of the room changed as the dawn turned a richer gold. If I was very still, I could almost imagine we were in a painting, drawn long ago and made to last forever.
The wind snapped at the curtains in a sudden gust, and I caught at the blanket.
"No; let it go, Watson," he sighed, watching under lidded eyes as it tumbled down to his watch-pocket. "The breeze is pleasant." He leaned his head back, inhaling the scent of wild flowers.
"I imagine so, after sleeping in all those layers! I think you're sweating a bit, Holmes." I took the liberty of rolling the blanket all the way to the foot of the bed. "Holmes, your shoes too?"
"Yes, my shoes too."
"But now you have dirt all over the sheets—"
"I know!" His strident voice trailed away to a low groan.
"I'm not happy about this, Holmes; you should have told me last night. You were in pain all through dinner, weren't you? Well—there's nothing for it."
He opened one eye apprehensively. "Nothing for what?"
"Well, don't you want to put on different clothes now?"
"No. Absolutely not. I know what you're thinking, Watson, and I'd die of humiliation if you were to--" he broke off, colouring again.
"And what is so humiliating about it?" I asked after a brief pause. "What's wrong with having physical limitations? The last I knew, it was not a crime."
He drew a long breath through his teeth. "To my mind, there is no direct and logical correlation between the morality of an action and the consequence that humans bestow on it. The human race is strange indeed, Watson. We make crimes into past-times, while the inevitable ruin of a man's body, ah, that becomes a crime. You know how it is looked on, that shameful word—incapacitation!" His eyes glittered with fury. "Rich or poor, genius or fool...we all meet death in the end; some more horribly than others. Yet all of mankind turns a blind eye to the fact that it will happen to them, the outrageous robbing of their dignity and freedom...and when they need sympathy in turn, no one will spare it." He paused to catch his breath.
"You have me there, Holmes." I sat in the ladder-back chair beside him. "The world is a terribly imperfect place, and human beings are capable of the most odious cruelties to each other, and to themselves."
He made a sound of acquiescence, and turned his head on the pillow to look out the window.
"Which is why every man must do his part to be a light, to give hope…to defy the cruelty, and the anger. You understand? My speck of light, Holmes, was being a healer to London, and yours was protecting justice. Even now, we fight the darkness."
"How do we do that, Watson? Here, on the Downs?" He asked absently, as leaves rippled outside.
"It is easy enough; we resist turning to hate and bitterness as we face our new challenges."
He gave me a sharp look. "I can't wish away my shame, Watson."
"So you may suffer a little. Maybe your pride will be bruised. But I have dealt with contusions of many kinds during my career, Holmes, not to mention my long friendship with you. I think it will be all right."
"You think so? You are being honest, Watson?"
"You know I don't lie to you, Holmes."
"Hm." He sat himself up against the pillows, and wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. After a moment he looked hesitantly in my direction. "Watson?"
"Would you mind removing my tie tack?"
"Not at all." Carefully I unfastened the tack, and set it on his bedside table as he instructed. He had closed his eyes as I worked, and now he opened them, studying the little pearl ornament twinkling in the light. He drew a breath. "And now--my tie?"
"Of course, Holmes."
He grew tense as my hands touched his neck; I paused, waiting until his eyes wandered up to meet mine before I spoke softly. "I don't want you to feel patronized in any way. You're allowing me to help you, and that is an honor for me. And it makes me happy to know you're not suffering in secret, do you understand? I don't care how small or big a problem is, suffering is not meant to be solitary."
He absorbed my words, then nodded briefly, looking down at my hand resting on the edge of the bed. He stretched out his own hand and touched mine briefly, which was, I knew, all that his pain-stiffened fingers could manage.
I waited a moment to be sure he had collected himself, and then returned my attention to the tie. This time I was careful to touch only the fabric, and I unwound the knot my friend had tied the day before—a knot I know recognized to be simpler than his usual standard. At last I slipped the tie from his neck, folded it and put it away in a drawer, again as he instructed.
His breath seemed to be catching a bit. "Thank you, Watson; that is enough for now."
"Shall I leave?"
"No…come here." He had a thoughtful look about him, and it was with no little curiosity that I returned to the ladder-back chair. He was cradling the pearl tie tack in his palm. "Watson…I should like to give you this tack."
"No Holmes, I can't accept that. Surely it's your best!"
"It is, which is why I want to give it. I think you will look very handsome in it, and at any rate it's something to remember me by after I—which won't be for a long time I'm sure, Watson, a very long time. Many years, decades probably, eh? So here—I'm sorry I can't put this on you myself," he added apologetically, gently dropping the tack into my hand. He smiled suddenly, looking to the window as the wind tousled his hair. "Shall we go for a little jaunt to the hives, then? I very much doubt my bees will take offense at lack of neckwear."
I stayed in the room for just a moment after he had left, though, and watched the pearl tack sparkle in my palm.