I had gained a few new patients in the last week, a treatise opportunity had presented itself and a storm was coming near; my leg, polite as always, responded to the change in weather promptly and sincerely. Altogether I was quite tired, so I'd settled myself on the sitting room couch for a time.
Holmes had flopped in a nearby armchair with a book, smoking absently. He frequently changed his position in the armchair—at one point he had his legs dangling over the chair back—and he was flipping through the book quite rapidly. He was a twitchy fellow today, but I closed my eyes and tried to detach a bit. Right now I simply hadn't the energy to assist with the delicate attention his brain required, I needed to take care of myself for a little.
The rate of Holmes' page-turning was slowing considerably…in fact, I'd not heard the flick of paper for some minutes. He must be debating an author's point, or perhaps he was merely taken with a turn or phrase. The main thing was that he was engaged with something, and I relaxed with the knowledge that he was happily occupied. His mind was constructed with the most delicate, finicky machinery imaginable, and so much effort went towards functioning that often he rather…needed help with the maintenance.
Without warning, a powdery ash dusted my face. I started, opening my eyes to find Holmes leaning over me anxiously with a cigarette.
He hurriedly brought out his handkerchief, dusting off my face and stammering apologies. "I—I didn't notice the ash was building at the end--thank God it's gone out…I could have burned you—I'm sorry…" he slowed his hand as he brushed the ash that had fallen under my eye.
"Whatever were you leaning over me for, though?" I sat up and wiped the rest of the ash from my face.
Holmes paused, shaking out the handkerchief. "You were lying there so quietly."
"I'm fine, Holmes; I told you, I've had a lot of work lately and I need to catch up on sleep. There's nothing wrong with me. You have days when you're sleepy, don't you?"
"I suppose," he grudged, dropping his cigarette stub on a nearby plate of crackers and drawing a fresh smoke from his pocket.
Before he could light it, I put my hand over his. "You've been smoking all day. Is something making you nervous?"
He cleared his throat, tapping his foot audibly as he tried unsuccessfully to free the cigarette. "It might easily have been you, yesterday," he said at last.
"I plan on keeping my body and soul together for quite a while yet," I said, gently prying the cigarette from his hand and laying it on the side table. "If you wish to do the same, you'll stop this constant smoking. Bring your book over here, why don't you? There's room, see." I pulled my feet closer to myself, making a space for him on the couch.
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Go fetch your book, I'm not going anywhere."
"Well—if it's all the same to you…I can't read much more, really…I didn't—sleep much, last night, you see."
"Sit down," I said, nodding to the space on the couch. I heard a hesitant compression of springs.
"Hmm?" I'd already closed my eyes.
"You can't be comfortable, bunched up like that."
"I'm not bunched up."
"Yes, you are. I think it would be better for you if you straightened out your legs."
"I'm fine. Holmes, I really would appreciate a little sleep—"
"I know, I know," he said hastily, "but—you'd sleep better if you stretched out your legs."
"Oh for heaven's sake—" I looked over at him in irritation, but when I saw his expression I quieted. "All right then, if you don't mind," I said, carefully stretching out my legs, my ankles coming to rest on his knees.
He seemed not to mind in the least; in fact, he took great care smoothing a wrinkle in one of my stockings, and when he'd done with that he rested his hand on my ankle and leaned back, sinking into sleep at last.
I took a little longer to drift off, for my mind was troubled with the knowledge of how important I was to this man, and darkened with the worry of what would happen to him when I finally did reach the grave.