A/n: Rather experimental, a different style for me. Could possibly be seen as a sort of companion story to "Professional." Also, I've tried included a quote a la KCS. XD
"…he was by now looking cheerful as though he were suddenly set free from a terrible burden: and he gazed round in a friendly way at the people in the room. But even at that moment he had a dim foreboding that this happier frame of mind was also not normal."
--Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky
"That was an extraordinary case, Watson, was it not?" Holmes smiled a moment in satisfied reflection. "Without a doubt it was the most singular in my career thus far."
Watson paused in pouring the kettle of warm water. "You do realize you say that about every case?"
"Ah, but it's true, for I only take on cases that are more singular than the last!" A gleam of amusement lit his eyes, but it soon faded and he groaned, tilting his head back against the armchair.
Watson made an unhappy sound as well, but so quiet no one noticed. He continued pouring the heated water into the metal tub at a steady pace, testing it against his wrist periodically to be certain Holmes's feet would not be scalded. "I cannot believe you ran to the woods without your shoes or coat," he was unable to restrain himself from saying. "The dew was nearly frozen to the grass, you're lucky no toes needed amputation."
Holmes gave a soft but dismissive snort. "The game was afoot, the criminal had just been sighted. I knew we'd be able to follow his footprints in the crushed dew, we had a very limited amount of time before the sun burned away the evidence—and besides, my shoes were nowhere to be found."
"Do you suppose this could have been prevented by trying to keep the inn room in some semblance of order?"
"Ah! the blame always comes to rest on me, doesn't it?" Holmes' voice was playful, but his eyes remained closed.
"Nevermind," Watson sighed, pouring the dregs of the kettle into a mug, which he placed in Holmes's hands. "Let's just hope we can avoid your getting a cold."
"With your care, we surely have hope of averting that—and other things perhaps."
Watson looked up sharply; there was no smile in Holmes's voice, and the bushy brows were gathering together at an angle that gave the heart a short, sharp twist to see. "No, Holmes. No black moods, we will cut them off. You'll have a good long soak in the tub, and then you'll go to bed early and sleep through the night, no disturbances, a sleep well earned! We will breakfast tomorrow, then quietly and calmly think of things we may do to pass the time. I have several ideas of places we could go, you probably do as well. When we put our minds together the brilliance will be exponential. That's right, I knew you'd be glad of that! That's better, lie back and rest. Your feet are finally warm, you are in your familiar armchair with a hot drink. All is well; rest your body and mind. And now—oh bother, but what is this?"
Irked, Watson strode to the door and jerked it open. "Mrs. Hudson, it's terribly late, what is amiss? Oh no…it can't be…let me read it myself. No, you're right, I must go at once. I'm sorry for my short temper, go and get some rest, Mrs. Hudson, you look tired."
During this exchange Holmes's peaceful demeanor evaporated, and by the time Watson had bid their landlady goodnight, his feet were twitching so violently in the tub that the carpet was soaked round the edges. "What is it?" He brought out jerkily.
Watson rubbed a hand over his eyes and gave a stilted groan. "Patient—severe abdominal pain, could be nothing or could be death's knocking. I must go." He gathered up his coat, hat and bag, returning once to the armchair. "Holmes, promise me you will not use the cocaine. I will be back soon, if I possibly can. Promise you'll--refrain."
"I promise, Watson."
"Good man. I am sorry, Holmes, it's beastly timing. Do hang on, I will be back, you know. Ugh, the timing--!" Clapping his hat on firmly, Watson gripped his bag and set off into the night to face the demon of illness.
In the flickering fire and the ghoulish shadows, another demon swelled and bubbled to the surface of the one wakeful resident in the flat. After half an hour the water had gone quite cold, and he shivered. He made no move to take out his feet; rather he gazed down dully, swirling his right foot in circles and watching as the bits of dirt and grass gathered into a whirling vortex, opening a passage to the cold metallic bottom of the tub.
He heard a soft, desperate groan, and did not quite realize it came from him. The fire died down, bit by bit, and with a final collapse of embers, grey ash settled over all quietly, in a morbid and disgusting way extinguishing the light in the room.
His chest tightened; it was as repulsive as if a mother hen had settled so snuggly over her chicks that they smothered. It was horrid, this darkness! Misery, and how cold the water was that rippled about his ankles.
He pulled up his dripping feet and tucked them under him, burying his face in his sleeve. Sleep eluded him; his heart was racing and his breath came uneven. The darkness came so close upon him, and in his exhausted state he could not fight it back. There was no cheer, it was all a façade—he was doomed to this black grip on his nerves, the blank schedule and the dying brain-cells. Certainly they were already dying…certainly the symptom lay in his labored breathing and racing thoughts.
But no! He had gotten along perfectly well before, when he lived alone. So the crutch was broken--he would carry on.
"Haven't I always…found a way?" he whispered through dry lips, getting stiffly to his feet. "Yes, a way through the darkness…a strong way, escape---" He reached the mantel, and ran his finger along the bottle. "But I promised him…and I meant my promise." Turning from the fireplace, he stepped to another bottle on the sideboard. "He said cocaine…he did not mention liquor. I am a man of my word," Holmes mused, wrenching open the bottle and fumbling for a glass in the dim room. "And if he had forbidden me from liquor, I would surely have gone to cocaine. Lord help me if he'd mentioned both!" The glass was full to the brim, nearly, with the writhing and flowing drink, the blood of grapes, and he did not bother to re-cork the bottle before taking up the glass.
He took a long drink, pausing as he heard a cab pass nearby. But no, it was not Watson. "I wonder why I paused so nervously," Holmes muttered, fidgeting and refilling the glass. "'tisn't a crime for a man to have a little drink in his own sitting room, is it? No by Jove it isn't. In fact I may drink the whole confounded bottle if I want to, perhaps I shall." He took another drink, decided to refill the glass with scotch, and also decided to sit back down in the armchair for he was feeling a little odd.
"I wonder at the nonsense of hot water," he mumbled, sinking down in his chair and getting to work lowering the level in his glass. "Scotch warms a man so marvelously, and there's no worry of waiting for the water to heat. In fact I'm quite warm, all to the ends of my toes and fingers." His mind felt warm as well, but rather slower, and the racing thoughts were put to sleep.
It was a great relief.
He stretched out his legs, closed his eyes and let the veil of numbness fall over his mind, cloaking him in lack of knowledge, lack of sensation. The empty glass slipped from his hand, but he did not realize the muffled thump that followed was a consequence. His head ached slightly, a faint throbbing that crescendoed; when he pressed his hands to his temples, the pain bit back angrily and he groaned, resting his head on the armrest. But he had beat the darkness…he grasped this thought for a moment, before falling headlong into shadows.
He woke slowly, painfully, and gradually realized someone was rubbing warmth back into his feet. A stab of fire curtailed further observations. "My head…"
"I imagine it does ache; do you realize how much you drank last night?"
"I'm sorry, Holmes, I didn't mean to raise my voice. I'm just—"
There was a terse silence.
"Disappointed?" Holmes ventured, his eyes still shut against the sun.
"Maybe. I don't know! You did as I asked, but your loophole-finding isn't much better. I just don't know. I am glad you didn't use the drug." Watson closed his eyes with a sigh, his tired hands still working over the long feet. After lying unshod for hours, damp and on a cold floor, they were icier than ever. "You must learn—" Watson checked himself. "Never mind. I suppose you did your best. It's just they never told me about these sorts of things in medical school!"
"Well, then you're doing a fine job of ad-libbing."
The two friends shared a brief chuckle.
"Ah, Holmes. What can one do, after all, but laugh at the absurdities of life?"
"Quite a lot. But it's better to have laughter."
"It is…it truly is."
Holmes forced his eyes open at last, squinting in the daylight. "And how was the patient? I've only just remembered."
"It was not serious case, only mild food poisoning. But it took a while to work out of their system."
"Oh, that sounds charming."
"Ah well, I knew what I was signing up for when I became a doctor. Mostly," he added with a meaningful look. "Are your feet warmer?"
"Yes, thank you; they are quite warm."
"I'll be back directly with some stockings, then."
Holmes sat motionless during the interval, gazing into the lively fireplace. He rested his chin on his knuckles and his eyes were turning over eons. He shot a quick glance at the floor beside him and saw the glass, now righted. It had a brown stripe running down the inside, from where the drink had dried in the night; a stripe that went straight down his soul and discoloured his honor. He turned back to the flames.
"…and here we are, I could only find this rather odd pair with green stripes, but your feet won't know the difference, eh? Holmes?"
"Yes—yes, they'll be fine."
"Here, would you like to put them on?"
Watson paused. "Well—here they are, then."
"Yes, I see."
"Holmes, are you…listening?"
He took a quick breath. "I wasn't trying to be sly, last night, you know; I wasn't trying to spite you, to find the one little loop—"
"Oh Holmes I know that, I didn't mean to imply you were being sneaky in that way!"
"That is...well...perhaps I did know it wasn't the wisest choice, perhaps I thought there were better ways, but I...well I was too damned lazy to look for them."
"I know, I know." Watson sighed. "You were tired--exhausted, and I knew that. I wanted very much to be there for you in your hour of darkness; and who is to say I did the right thing? I was so flustered over the patient...perhaps I should have asked Mrs. Hudson to--well, at least to keep the fire going, or turn up the gas. Ugh! It was all too fast, much too fast. I'll do better next time."
"You mustn't take all the blame," Holmes said quietly. "I could have done a far cry better myself."
"Yes, but--you resisted the cocaine. That's wonderful, Holmes, why don't we think on that bright bit for now, no more dwelling on the shadows. Are you proud of yourself? You should be--yes, I think so. Not of everything you did, but there was a certain courage you displayed. Come, Holmes, look at me; don't be ashamed, dear fellow--all is forgiven. Yes, it truly is. Now let us get these stockings on your feet."
When once the stockings and slippers are on my feet, and he has sat down across from me, and gives me his old smile, I feel a warmth in my very bones, a warmth much better than any drink—and a warmth which dispels shadows with hope.