Thank you to everyone who took the time to review! Reading reviews really makes me happy and inspires me to write more. Gladstone loves you for it too!
May 18, 2010 Note: There have been two tiny edits to this part due to anachronistic errors. Thanks to Original-Elfkin for taking the time to point out that the penlight had yet to be invented in the Sherlockian time period and for explaining that doctors weren't checking blood sugar levels back then.
Fragments of a distorted memory trickled through Holmes' mind as he struggled to regain consciousness. His head pounded dully while his stomach lurched as his body and mind fought to restore his equilibrium. The nausea passed gradually but the dizzying sensation of movement continued. Holmes chose to keep his eyes closed until the unpleasant sensations passed, concentrating on the sounds and smells of his mysterious environment.
From somewhere behind a thick plate of glass cawed a crow, its mighty wings flapping nearby as it settled on its perch. Further away, on the streets, a hansom followed a muddy trail, the hooves of a horse clomping, the riding crop of a man snapping. Little feet - insufficiently clad in ruined shoes and torn stockings - scuffed up and down the streets, hunting for spilled coins no doubt. They would find none on Baker Street. Not where the usual crowd of street urchins regularly swept the street clean of coins, lost buttons, and the occasional stolen loaf of bread. This lad would need to find his own turf if he wanted to busy himself in such practices.
Holmes' keen senses continued to sift through the barely audible noises filtering in from the streets, combining those with the odd smells lingering nearby. The faint suggestion of laudanum in the air overpowered the more appetizing aromas of fried eggs, heavily buttered toast, and freshly roasted coffee. More pungent still was the disturbing odor of something that had been wet and recently dried.
When the dizziness became too much, Holmes shut out the outside world and redirected his attention to the one inside. Concentrating on both simultaneously only served to multiply the ill feeling that unsettled his stomach and intensified the pain in his head.
The first thing he realized was that he was not in his own bed. This mattress was far softer than what he was used to, the springs further worn down by constant use. He rarely slept in his own bed so the mattress had yet to be properly broken in. Grasping the pillow from beneath his head, Holmes tested it for any sign of holes or tears. There were many, and the fabric was scrunched up, the feathers clumped together in a lumpy mess.
Watson's bed. And Watson's pillow.
Holmes wondered how he had wound up in Watson's bed, lying on the pillow that his friend frequently pounded on and used as a helmet to block out the noise from downstairs. Was it his violin playing or the pacing that bothered Watson the most? Holmes made a mental note to ask his dear friend sometime in the near future.
Speaking of Watson…
Holmes stiffened nervously when the heavy sound of snoring became evident from behind his back. Watson's hot breath wafted onto his neck and ear, and the faint press of something against his shoulder might have been Watson's hand. But, what was that? Holmes reacted instinctively, raising his sluggish arm to clap one hand over his mouth and noise.
The smell was putrid! Hadn't Watson been keeping up his strict regiment of proper oral hygiene? The man's breath was enough to kill! It was as if he had ingested a couple of pounds of rotting beef, followed by a barrel of cheap, stale beer. Add to that the smell of something damp and possibly moldy…
Turning over quite gingerly in favor of his injured back, Holmes opened his eyelids a fraction to observe Watson, and possibly stuff the pillow into the good doctor's open mouth. What he saw nearly caused him to launch himself off of the opposite side of the bed in fright. Two big, black eyes peered out at him, and a slobbery tongue came after his cheek, even as he pushed away from it in revulsion. This was definitely not Watson!
"Whoa! Take it easy, old boy." A gentle hand pressed into Holmes' hip from behind, holding him still, as Watson reached across the bed to push Gladstone back. "Bad boy!" He scolded the dog in a fairly soft tone, causing the bull-pup to sag back into the warm spot that he'd made, eyeing Holmes and licking his chops. "Sherlock, how are you feeling?"
"As good as can be expected, I suppose," Holmes sighed, his voice hoarse from disuse. "I must confess that I panicked, thinking that you reeked of such a dreadfully toxic odor."
"I beg your pardon?" Watson was on the verge of strangling Holmes when he took a whiff of the air and wrinkled up his nose in disdain. "Oh. I must apologize. I was so preoccupied with your injuries that he must've snuck past me sometime last night and finished the beer that I left open in the kitchen. And he has yet to completely dry from his encounter with Mrs. Hudson's laundry basket. He does smell awfully lethal."
"He is your dog," Holmes quipped.
Watson grinned, sitting on the edge of the bed to stroke his fingers through Holmes' hair. "So, when he smells bad, he's my dog? And any other time it pleases you he becomes our dog?"
"I must admit that I find your reasoning to be rather selective and unreliable," Watson teased lightly.
"Watson, what happened last night?" Holmes asked suddenly, looking up at Watson with his dark, probing eyes. He seemed to have no patience for small talk or friendly banter.
Very quickly, a foreboding cloud passed over Watson's features, his blue eyes narrowing in distress. "We will discuss it when you are a little stronger," was all he said in reply. His palm stroked over Holmes' cheek, settling there as he bent down to kiss his friend gently on the lips. Making the kiss brief, he straightened up again to retrieve the tools of his trade – a stethoscope, a small gas lamp – secured tightly to the sconce in the wall above the bed, and his professional manner. "I'm afraid that you've suffered a mild concussion," he informed Holmes in a less than clinical tone. "Although this may sound patronizing, I'm going to have to ask you to tell me your full name and occupation."
"Why, that is too simple a task to even bother myself with."
"Sherlock," Watson warned, beginning to feel irritated.
"Very well. My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am the only consulting detective who is called upon to solve all of the singular cases that bewilders the likes of Scotland Yard. I live at 221B Baker Street, along with my associate and friend Doctor John H. Watson, and our lazy canine Gladstone. Have I left anything out, Watson?"
"Would it be so disturbing to make use of my given name?" Watson muttered, calmly ignoring Holmes' unnecessary babbling. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
Holmes treated Watson with an all-suffering sigh, humoring him by counting off three fingers and then raising a suspicious eyebrow in Gladstone's direction. Their dog had shifted closer to him, so close in fact that Holmes was finding it very difficult to concentrate when bombarded with the slobbering noises and lazy panting.
Feeling peevish when Holmes made no attempt to acknowledge his simple request, Watson had trouble keeping his touch gentle and calming when his temper began to boil. He yanked the buttons open from Holmes' shirt more forcefully than he'd intended and unkindly pressed the cold stethoscope against the detective's skin without warning. Predictably, Holmes' gasped and flinched but was held down by Watson who showed no interest in anything other than monitoring his patient's heartbeat.
"Watson… show some compassion."
"Don't I always?" Watson moved the stethoscope over a bit and feigned a deep concentration.
"You only use that device stone cold when you are feeling particularly spiteful towards me." Holmes averted his gaze when Watson paused to look at him. It wasn't clear what sort of emotions were churning around inside of the detective, but if one were to judge by his expression then it would be safe to assume that none of them were positive. "What have I done to upset you this time?"
Unable to deny the pain and rejection in Holmes' voice, Watson took hold of his friend's hand and clasped it in both of his. "How would you expect me to react after all that has happened? After how close I came to losing you last night?" Exasperation and genuine fear mingled together to make Watson's confession quite unnerving. "I've been sitting here helplessly for the past few hours, worrying over your mental and physical state, all the while cursing you for your idiosyncrasies. Sherlock…" Watson began but made a visible effort to stamp out the internal fire before it engulfed their newly formed relationship in flames. "I can't do this now… You are injured. We will not have this conversation now."
"On the contrary, I must insist that we do."
"You are in no position to insist anything."
"John," Watson corrected with just a hint of annoyance.
"My dear John," Holmes began again, "while I may be sorely discomfited by what I assume to be a row of stitches in my lower back, and my mind may be fuzzy from either the concussion or the laudanum, you may rest assured that I am still mentally and physically strong enough to endure whatever it is you do not wish to burden me with."
"I am the doctor here. Your doctor, I might add. And based on my medical expertise, I consider your fragile state to be incapable of having this discussion right now." Lifting up Holmes' stiff right arm, Watson made a show of checking his pulse, occasionally trading a knowing look with Gladstone.
"So, now you're conspiring with our dog?" How an esteemed doctor such as Watson was managing to communicate with the small, portly beast really was beyond Holmes. Whether or not this was to be seen as an accomplishment, Holmes would not waste his precious time judging either way. He couldn't help but feel slightly offended by the conspiratorial antics of the dog and his best friend. Watson must have been training the dog in his spare time to act as some sort of spy. Gladstone was never usually so solicitous in his demands for attention. And now the mutt lay in the bed beside Holmes like a joke of a guard dog.
"At least he understands my concerns."
"Enough stalling, old chap."
There were times when Holmes really got inside of Watson's skull and today was one of those times. If he didn't get some fresh air, he'd end up having an emotional collapse as a result of his injured patient's bullying.
"Alright! Enough already!" Watson got up from the bed and retrieved the breakfast tray, helping Holmes into a sitting position before positioning the tray over the detective's lap. "We will have that abhorred conversation after you have eaten your breakfast and regained some of your color and strength."
Watson was halfway out the door, leaving Holmes to pick suspiciously at his meal, and nearly escaped in time… nearly.
"John, there is something disturbingly peculiar about this piece of soggy toast." Holmes held it up gingerly between two fingers and waved it accusingly in Watson's direction.
"Well, considering the state of our rooms after the ransacking, I must say that I felt it necessary to withhold access to Mrs. Hudson until after I'd put everything back in order. And while I may not have the touch of a woman in the kitchen, I tend to think that my breakfast preparations were not too shabby." Watson practically beamed as he appraised his breakfast assortment on the way out. "I'll be in the sitting room. If you need me, feel free to shout." And then he was gone.
As soon as Watson was out of sight, Holmes visibly deflated against the propped up pillows, allowing his face to finally show signs of fatigue and pain. He regarded the butter-laden toast and fried eggs, sunny side up but fringed with a burnt frame, with the interest of a scientist having discovered a new specimen. "Gladstone," he beckoned softly, smiling when the dog shuffled over to curl up beside him. He lowered his hand to Gladstone's head and began to pat him in a familiar pattern. He listened carefully for any indication of Watson returning and catching him in this very uncharacteristic position with the dog. It was in his best interests if Watson never found out just how cozy Gladstone and Holmes' relationship really was.
Gladstone rumbled off something in doggy language, his eyes on the breakfast tray.
"Fear not, Gladstone, you shall prove your worth yet again by sampling my dear John's lethal attempt at cooking." Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, Holmes broke off a piece of the toast and fed it to Gladstone, waiting for the dog to cough back up the morsel. When he didn't, Holmes muttered absently to himself about the toast appearing to be safe for digestion before holding out a sliver of the egg on his palm for Gladstone to lap up. Still nothing.
Knowing fully well that giving a dog coffee was an idiotic thing to do, Holmes sniffed at it himself before tentatively bringing the fine cup and saucer to his lips. It was bitter, obviously over-brewed, and tasted watered down, but was better than nothing so Holmes finished it off thirstily before attacking the unappetizing, soggy toast, and overly salted egg. Thankfully, aside from the occasional floating seed, the freshly squeezed orange juice barely met Holmes' standards.
Moving onto dessert, Holmes was pleased to notice that Watson was taking his love for sugarcoated concoctions into account. One of the smaller plates was littered with cookies, odds and ends that Watson had stolen from Mrs. Hudson's pantry, again.
Feeling a bit better now that he'd been properly fed, Holmes breathed a sigh of relief and was just leaning back, cookie in hand, Gladstone draped over his lap, licking at that cookie, when a gasp of surprise ruined their little picnic.
"Sherlock, what in heaven's name are you feeding our dog?"
To be continued…
I know that this part was kind of fluffy but I just felt that I needed a bit of a break before diving back into the angst and plot in part 7.