A Study in Masochism

By Alone Dreaming

Rating: T or PG-13 for drug use and a minor injury

Disclaimer: I don't own it. I wish I did.

Warnings: Drug use. Character study.

Author's Note: I really don't know but it's here. And... it's done.

It starts with him returning to consciousness, and doing so in the incomprehensible manner of one ill, drugged or otherwise incapacitated. He may have experienced those things, on occasion, and it would be wrong of him not to note that at least fifty percent of those incidences were self-induced. But with a mind such as his, in the world that he inhabits, what else can he do to calm the ever pondering mass of tissue betwixt his ears other than swallow down mouthfuls of drugs pilfered from his roommate's bag, pick fights with men twice his size (and allow them to smash his head against walls and railings, against meaty fists and dusty earth) or work himself until he collapses from lack of sleep, food or proper hygiene. In conclusion, this form of awakening does not surprise him the least; the only thing that startles him is his location, curled up in a warm, clean bed with a number of blankets tucked about him.

"You look utterly done in, Mister Holmes," Mrs. Hudson lectures from her chair. "Utterly done in." And her tone says that this is not the first time she's spoken these words, only the first time she's spoken them while he has been coherent.

"Nhmm," he garbles and then, "Ngh?"

"I will fetch you some water," she informs him, and her utter lack of concern (or outrage) warns him that whatever has happened was not bad enough to elicit an extreme response and therefore, was just bad enough to thoroughly frustrate her and, no doubt, try the already damaged nerves of his six months roommate. He swallows a thick layer of scum off of his tongue and attempts to sit up only to fail as one shaking arm gives out from underneath him.

He cannot recall precisely what led him to this situation but, in truth, he doubts that it matters. His last clear memory involves languishing in a period without cases of any consequence, without any thrill of disguise or mischief. There were, at his disposal, a number of compounds sent to him by Mycroft with the stern note, "Entertain yourself. I will not post your bail again and I will most certainly not find you a new flat mate" but he found little to no interest in them after a few hours of tinkering. The letters calling for help, dutifully placed on his desk by Doctor John Watson each morning, provided mysteries so utterly devoid of real intrigue that even Lestrade and his pack of imbeciles could have solved them without trouble. After two weeks, he'd sprawled himself on the floor and his final memory before the fog set in, involved him prodding a long-suffering bulldog in his soft underbelly.

"Oh, to be you, Gladstone," he muttered. "And to have no worries whatsoever."

It merely confirms that he probably, against the advice of his brother, landlady, and fellow lodger, consumed one (or several) of the drugs from his personal stash and, possibly, one (or several) of the drugs from Watson's bag. After all, the man left it so conveniently in their sitting room, perched on his neat and tidy desk, practically begging to be investigated. He often went to it, even when his greatest joy and hell (his own brilliant mind) was in a peaceful state, simply to deduce what on earth the doctor did on his wanderings about town. Flecks of dusts, minuscule splotches of blood, the unusual fiber or hair; all of it painted a picture of this man he shared quarters with (but rarely spoke to) just as much as a tired expression and worn, leather shoes.

No doubt, said roommate will be much displeased about the unrequested imbibing of his precious medications. Watson will request repayment and he will happily give it. He has always done so in the past, whether or not Watson has required it, merely because it appears a logical and appropriate course of action. In a way, he actually considers the borrowing (without permission but with every intention of return) a form of doctor-patient relations. Watson, as a doctor, has prescribed him a drug and he, as a patient, takes it as needed- just not once daily with food, but all in one sitting, without any nourishment. In return, he replaces said items and they never speak of it with the exception of Watson's dark looks as he sags half-conscious onto their sitting room couch.

Then again, he considers, as he once again attempts any position than his current supine one, he has never had a truly bad episode in front of Watson. The very worst Watson has witnessed, to his knowledge, was a bit of vehement violin plucking and a brief lecture on what he believed about life outside the planet. Those both amused the doctor more than harmed him, even though the humor laced smile Holmes recalls held a tint of bitterness to it. In contrast, his head, aching, disgusting and dry, reminds him that whatever he put his body through does not fit the category of mild hallucinations and uncontrollable babbling. What he feels now, he has felt in a few rare moments; the most recent of which involved his brother, hulking, dictatorial, Mycroft, standing over him with hands the size of Clydesdale horseshoes closed over his cheeks.

"Sherlock," and his brother, unshakable, disdainful, overly intelligent and completely, utterly unemotional, had trembled in both voice and body, "this must stop. I will not see you kill yourself. Do you hear me? I will not allow you to destroy yourself." And Mycroft, who never showed affection, never deigned to debase his pure mind with romanticism, bent close and placed a kiss on his forehead. No more words after that, only fleeing the room. They never spoke of it but it did strike him. He dreams of it sometimes.

That time, he had not recognized that he lay in his brother's private rooms at the club, curled on the soft pillows in the corner for days until he had the strength to hobble to his apartments. Now, he truly does not know where he resides. His own room, bed, floors, walls, bookcases, all have personal paraphernalia that he recognizes in an instant, from his dirty animal skin rugs to his chemistry set burning holes in the floor in the corner. This area stands neat, tidy, organized from the desk to the bed he lies on; it doesn't smell lived in, loved in, experimented in. The sheets that wrap around him feel crisp, cool and clean, not a speck of dirt upon them while underneath him the mattress feels stiff and solid in comparison to his feather down cushions.

He has the eerie feeling that he may rest in the chambers of Doctor John Watson and coupled with that, has the urge to crawl (if he must) out of the place and into the safety of the sitting room. Unfortunately, his body has other ideas as it grows heavier, limper and far more tired. Mrs. Hudson, true to her word, reappears with a tray with a bowl, pitcher and a glass which she delicately sets on the bedside table. Also upon the table lies an assortment of vials, a stethoscope and a thermometer. Were he detecting an outside situation, he would hazard this a sick room and, whoever occupied it, very unwell indeed.

"Drink up," Mrs. Hudson prompts, offering him a glass which feels several pounds too heavy in his childlike grasp. "And then, some broth, I think."

"Are you trying to kill me?" he rasps and winces. "Your broth kills the mice that wander into my rooms."

"A little arsenic never hurt a healthy man," she replies without the slightest hint of remorse. "Now, can you feed yourself, or do I get the pleasure of treating you like a babe?"

He finds the willpower to lift the spoon on his own and sop up what bit he cannot manage (and he admits to himself that the food is palatable despite his protests) with several pieces of dry toast. His stomach clenches midway through the second and he sets it aside, pretending to want another sip of water when really, all he wants is sleep and for the food to disappear.

"Well, that is some improvement," Mrs. Hudson admits, her tone sharp, her eyes worse. Her lips form a thin line. "Do you wish to move so the good Doctor can have his bed back?"

Desperately, he decides, but physically, he cannot keep his eyes open. He allows them to shut for but a second, just so he can collect himself. At the end of the blinking, however, the room has darkened and Mrs. Hudson has departed. At his bedside, sits a ruffled looking man whom he has, over the past few months, deigned to call a companion. His hair, usually well-groomed, stands out wildly and he has gained definite scruff across his cheeks and chin. The dark bags under his eyes give him the same, hollowed look that he wore when he answered the ad in the paper. For a moment, he stands in the entrance to his rooms again, staring at an ill-used war veteran, wondering how on earth they will ever survive together.

"I hear skeletal complexion is all the rage in France this year," he whispers.

Watson tilts his head to the side just enough so he can look down at the bed out of the corner of his eyes. His one hand curls about his chin. "Then we shall both be in high fashion. Mrs. Hudson says you took some soup this afternoon. How do you feel?"

"Bored," he grumbles which is only a half-truth. He actually feels far more tired than unoccupied.

"I apologize," heavy with sarcasm, he notes, best to deflect, he decides. "Next time you decide to overdose on morphine, please, warn me beforehand and I will allow you on your merry way."

"Would it not be better to not alert you at all?" He hopes fervently that this train of mockery will continue and whatever else is brewing under the slightly volatile Doctor's surface will not emerge. Underneath his gaze, Watson drops his one hand to his lap and uses his bad arm to draw back his hair from his forehead. From his position, in the dim light, he spots bruising and redness with black crisscrossing.

"Be my guest," Watson replies. "It will save someone a few pennies to not deliver the message should I be out."

And with that, Watson walks out the door, leaving him in a bed not his own, in a room filled with shadows. His eyes wink shut again and he dreams that moments later, Watson comes back. He does not carry his cane but limps heavily to the chair and sinks down into it. With care, the Doctor reaches over and checks his pulse with hands so realistic that he almost imagines he feels them on his throat. The same fingers pull up his eyelids, palpate under his chin, turn backwards onto his forehead. He thinks that those fingers pull a cool cloth across cheeks and that this figure, this phantom like his roommate, sags back into the chair.

"Why?" He hears in this mirage. A low, rasping chuckle escapes the man. "To teach me how to duck? Lord knows I've learned my lesson." His fingers tap his forehead near the injury. "But, why, God, why? Have I not had enough trials and tribulations without this? Could you not just do me the blessed favor of a calm, normal life?"

And he imagines himself replying, "I can be just fine without you."

"I know," the image tells him. "Fine and dead can be synonymous. But, my dear Mister Holmes, it appears I have no choice. God has put you in my way. And I think I may rather like you."

And he does not recall if he debates it. All he knows is that, unlike his brother, when he awakens in the morning, Watson says nothing deep or meaningful. His hands do not quake as he helps him sit up or forces him to take sustenance or, even, as they bicker over the morning paper. And, also, when he exits the room, he does not fail to come back.