A/n: Here is the last chapter. Thank you for all the kind reviews. ^^
My iron constitution was making a fighting return, and I was able to sit up a little while in the sitting room after dinner. Mrs. Watson gave me a blanket to put over my legs, and Watson surrendered the most comfortable spot on the sofa. We passed half an hour in that way, speaking little and listening to the click of knitting needles. When my head began to droop a bit, I thought it best to retire to my room and, folding the blanket, I bid them a good night and stepped to the stairs.
"Holmes, one moment." Watson lay aside his book and got to his feet. "I'd like to give you a quick exam before you go to bed, make sure you're convalescing properly. Mind if I come upstairs with you?"
"Not at all," I said easily.
He gave me a few minutes to change to my nightshirt and dressing gown, so that I might be comfortable while he checked my health. It was a small thing, but I appreciated it. I sat on the edge of the bed while he checked my pulse, temperature and reflexes. Then he pinched the back of my hand and looked at it intently.
"What the deuce are you doing?"
"Testing the elasticity of your skin; a dehydrated person's skin stays bunched after you pinch it. Yours needs improvement but it's a long way from the worst. Let me pour you another glass of water. I know you must be tired of having it poured down your throat," he added apologetically, fetching a glass, "but you've got to replenish yourself." He gave me the glass, and patted my shoulder in an odd way. It wasn't cold, but neither was it particularly…real.
He walked toward the door and I thought he was going to leave, but he turned back and settled into a figure-eight pattern about the room, walking slowly, absently, pausing only to straighten things that were not crooked. "Three days, Holmes. The absolute limit a man can go without water. Lord, no one can deny you'll suffer for a cause!"
"How the deuce did you manage it—I mean, how did you control your thirst? Any other man would have given in to a swallow or two from the sink."
"Ah, yes, I made provisions for that. I had a trick for myself—a mind game." I settled back against the pillows, watching his bemused face with delight. At last!—my accolades and laurels were in sight.
"A mind game," Watson repeated slowly. "What sort?"
"Well it's all motivation, you see. I had to make a goal for myself, something I could only have after the case was complete. I chose dinner at Simpsons, and from the moment I took to bed I used this destination as encouragement." I felt no little dark satisfaction at Watson's squirm. "The first day with no nourishment, I allowed myself to imagine going to Simpson's, but only as far as the appetizers."
"What does that…?"
"Well, it means I could imagine everything, absolutely everything, but only until we had the appetizers and were eating them. And then I had to wait until the next day for the main course."
"So I was there, in your imaginings."
Watson nodded slowly, rubbing his chin. "Can you remember, Holmes, before we went to Simpsons, when we were just standing about Baker Street—if, in fact, your vision started so early—what did I say to you, when you revealed you'd been feigning illness?"
I laughed through a stiff smile, and shrugged.
"I would venture a guess," he continued, after a time, "that I acted rather differently in your mind than I did in reality."
"Well—not even my mind can predict the future perfectly. Perhaps there were some differences, yes." I tried to be there again, in my vision, him and me, toasting my success…but I couldn't see it. It all seemed flat.
Watson cleared his throat. "How about I take a turn now."
"Yes, I will tell you my own imaginings." He drew up a chair and spoke evenly. "When I left to fetch Smith, I spent the cab ride picturing your funeral. I wore a black coat, I had a black armband around my left arm, and I carried my bowler. I was in the carriage to your funeral, for I believed you were dead."
"But you'd just seen me—"
"I saw you, yes; thin and feverish, delirious. And when I went down the stairs of the flat, as your crazed chanting fell out of hearing, you died to me. You must understand that Holmes, you died to me. I went through the actions of saving you, to carry out your last wish. Because I always do what you want, Holmes. You know that."
"Yes," I said faintly, grasping for the water glass. "I know that."
"When I saw the fresh grave, I felt revulsion that something so common had come to pass on you, and I cried a little, in the cab. In my vision I had a flower to lay on the grave; it was a rose, and I thought how you would have liked it, in your own way, but you were dead. I was so…angry, that I hadn't been there when you died. I thought maybe, there was something I could have done--maybe I could have saved you." He was far away.
"It...it wasn't my plan that you should suffer such visions, Watson."
He laughed in a way that frightened me. "What visions did you think I'd have, sugarplums?" He leaned forward. "Understand: every time you feign serious illness, I have to believe it's true. Because if one day you're really ill, and I think you're malingering and choose to, for instance, take care of Mary, or a patient, and if you should die alone because of that--afraid, in pain--I couldn't call myself a doctor anymore. Nor a man, nor a friend. My life would be over."
I watched the sun's reflected flare on the mirror.
"When you were in my room--walking about, you know...and you went to the mantle..."
"And picked up the box..."
"Yes. When I saw that, I was afraid, Watson. I thought you were going to open it, I thought you were going to die. And...it would be my fault. And all I wanted in the world...was for you to put down the box. That's all I could think of. And...confound it..."
"My head...aches a bit."
"I'll get a powder," he said, getting up at once.
I was alone in the quiet room for a few minutes, alone with my pain. And then I heard a clinking, and footsteps.
"Right, this should help with the pain; you're going to have to sit up a bit to drink it, though."
Resigning myself, I shifted my position, though the movement intensified the throbbing. I finished adjusting myself as Watson gave a last stir, tapped the spoon on the rim and handed me the glass. I drank the bitterness down quickly, hoping it would take effect soon. I glanced at him--he was still a little distant, but there was kindness in his eyes. When he reached to take the glass, I hesitated. "Watson--"
"Here, let me have that, old fellow. You should get under the blankets, get some rest."
"Thanks. I wanted to say, though--"
"What is it, Holmes?" He gently pried the glass from my fingers.
"Last night--last night, you see, I...well I…well, I was only pretending to be asleep."
He set the glass aside, turning back to me with a gentle, slightly sad smile. "Oh Holmes, I knew that. Your pulse was too fast for a sleeping man, even one whose health had been taxed. But if you didn't want to talk, I wasn't going to force you. Can you sit forward just a bit? You don't need all those pillows to sleep, do you. There we are, much more conducive to a good night's rest. Is the pain lessening?"
I lay quietly, drawing the blankets around my shoulders. "Yes, some. I appreciate...Watson, I never doubted you as doctor, you know. General practitioner you may be, but they don't come any better. You know…I always thought medicine was a perfect match for you. You see things before others do, you stand on your convictions…"
"The pain will pass," he said quietly, after my words had stumbled into silence. He lay his hand on my forehead--I was only startled for a moment--and with the pads of his fingers and thumb he gently rubbed the pained muscles on the sides of my head. "Thanks, by the way, for the compliment," he added awkwardly. "It—I was badly hurt, when I thought you doubted me. But that's over now, that's over now," he said hurriedly—I think he'd felt my jaw tense. "Yes, now I know the truth." He continued rubbing my forehead, which helped with the pain a good deal.
When his hand had moved more to the back of my head, when all I could see was the inside of my eyelids and all I felt was a bitter sorrow, I spoke his name. The room filled with an almost sacred silence and I spoke into it, like a spell I did not understand, hoping it would bring the right results.
"I'm...I'm sorry. I gave you a terrible scare, endangered your life—I'm very sorry, Watson, and I won't do it again."
His hand stilled. "Won't do what again?"
The sun's reflection had edged off the mirror.
"No more tricks, Watson. It's beneath us, it's beneath…"
"It's beneath us," I repeated with a sigh.
He looked at me, and I saw he was here, quite here, no trace of distance in his eyes, here was Watson. He spoke at length what we might do tomorrow, even if I should still be convalescing, and he advised me to begin mulling what colours I liked best, as Mary would no doubt begin knitting a scarf for me in the morning. Indeed I think the only reason he stopped speaking was that his voice went hoarse.
I did think about colours, once he had bid me goodnight and gone downstairs. I thought of worlds where the colour had gone, I thought how expensive it is to repaint things...and I whispered to myself how strange it is...I always fancied myself black, grey, brown. And here...I was all the colours. I was everything.