"Holmes? Holmes, I'm coming in."
The lack of protest from within the darkened sitting room caused Watson's heart to fall into his stomach.
Mrs. Hudson waited behind him, wringing her hands in fear. "Oh doctor," she whispered, "He's been worse than usual, barely eating or sleeping for weeks, I should have gotten you sooner, but he forbade it."
Watson gave her a small, half-hearted smile, "Nothing new, I'm afraid. Now, you wait here."
With that, Watson stepped in to the sitting room.
"Holmes…?" he called softly. "Holmes, it's Watson."
There was no answer. At first he worried that the detective might have somehow snuck out of his rooms without Mrs. Hudson knowing, but then he heard the sound of soft, shallow, rapid breathing coming from the settee.
Holmes was sprawled out on the settee, fully dressed, as though he'd simply fallen over, like a puppet with it's strings cut.
Watson darted around to the front of the settee, and knelt down next to his friend.
His face was paler than Watson had ever seen him before, and he drenched with sweat.
Gently, Watson shook the detective's shoulder, trying to wake him, with no results. He shook again, a bit harder this time, and called his friend's name. When that got him no response, Watson laid the back of his hand on Holmes cheek and cursed softly at the strength of the heat he found there.
"Damnit Holmes, why do you do this to yourself?"
"Doctor…?" Mrs. Hudson called from the door.
"Mrs. Hudson, I need you to fetch some cold water and some towels. He needs to be cooled down, and quickly."
Once the landlady was off, he turned back to his patient. He needed to move Holmes to his bedroom, and it was not going to be easy with the man unconscious.
"No beeswax and belladonna this time, my old friend."
Carefully, he got one arm under the detective's shoulders and maneuvered him into a sitting position. Next he draped one long arm across his own shoulders and slowly got to his feet.
Lifting the taller man was far easier than it should have been.
"When you're better, I swear Holmes, I am going to tie you to a chair and force feed you 'till you rival your brother."
Slowly, carefully, Watson made his way into Holmes's bedroom, and gently deposited his friend onto his bed. Holmes moaned softly as Watson carefully arranged him on top of the rumpled sheets.
"Holmes, can you hear me?" Watson cupped the too pale face in his hands, leaning in close. "Holmes, it's me. It's Watson, can you hear me?"
Grey eyes fluttered open ever so slightly, he might have missed it if he hadn't been looking.
"I'm right here, Holmes."
"Wa'sn…" Holmes moaned again, and weakly struggled to sit up.
"Holmes, you must lie down. You are ill."
It was all too easy for Watson to push Holmes back down onto the bed. He gently brushed the detective's sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead, trying to soothe the man as he muttered things too softly for Watson to hear.
"Hush now. I'm right here. It'll be alright."
Somehow, Holmes' fever seemed to have gotten even higher in the short time since Watson had gotten there. He needed to be cooled down, now, before there was any damage done.
Mrs. Hudson came back with the water and towels, and asked if he'd need anything else.
"Just this, for now, but I'll call you if that changes."
Once the landlady was gone, Watson got to work.
First things first, Holmes was no doubt dehydrated. Watson grabbed an empty glass from the dresser and poured in a small bit of water. Carefully he tilted Holmes' head up and held the glass to his lips.
"Holmes, I need you to drink this."
Holmes turned away with a whimper.
"Holmes, please. You need water."
His only response was a bit of incoherent mumbling.
Watson cursed and set down the glass. This was getting him nowhere. Then he had an idea
He dipped his fingers into the glass and then gently brushed them, still dripping, across Holmes' lips.
"Holmes," Watson whispered, "C'mon, you need to drink something."
He repeated this twice before he finally felt the cracked lips part and a flick of a tongue on his fingertips.
"Yes," he said encouragingly, "That's it."
Quickly Watson grabbed the glass up and pressed it to his friend's lips once more. This time it only a moment before Holmes accepted a few swallows of the much-needed water.
Once Holmes finished the water, Watson quickly but carefully stripped his friend down. Holmes, in his delirium, tried to fight against him, but he was too weak from fever to give Watson any real trouble. The doctor simply whispered reassurances and kept working.
Watson winced inwardly as he peeled off Holmes' sweat-soaked undershirt to reveal ribs that were far too prominent. The detective had been neglecting himself for a long time. Though at least, Watson was relieved to note, there were no fresh needle marks on the long, pale arms.
The doctor hesitated only a moment before removing Holmes' undergarments.
"Sorry, my dear Holmes," he said softly, "But now is no time for modesty."
With the clothing out of the way, Watson turned back to the water basin Mrs. Hudson had brought and grabbed a cloth. He wet it, and then gently brought it up to Holmes' fevered brow.
Holmes started at the cool touch, jerking away.
"It's alright," Watson said, gently placing his free hand on Holmes' shoulder, "It's alright. It's only me."
Watson brought the cloth back up to Holmes' face, gently washing his flushed forehead and cheeks. Holmes whimpered, but didn't flinch this time.
Slowly, he worked his way down the detective's body, carefully washing away the layers of sweat .
Holmes drifted back and forth between semi-lucidity and delirium, muttering incoherently and on occasion trying to get away from the cold cloth, but always Watson managed to quiet him down with a few gentle words and a soft touch.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Watson checked Holmes' temperature again and found it significantly cooler. Still far too high, but nowhere near as dangerous as it had been earlier.
Watson reached for Holmes' nightshirt, slung over a chair, and then changed his mind. He would more that likely have to wash Holmes down again at least once, and clothing would only get it the way. Holmes wouldn't be very happy with him when he was himself again, but so be it.
Carefully, Watson maneuvered his friend's nude body under the sheets, shaking his head as he noted again just how thin the other man was.
"Forget rivaling your brother, my dear Holmes," he whispered, "I shall not be content until you surpass him."
Watson wet his fingers and pressed them to Holmes lips once more, and was pleased that it only took one stroke for the feverish man to respond this time. He was holding up his friends' head as his took a few more sips of water when Holmes suddenly jerked upright with a sharp cry. Only quick reflexes on Watson's part kept the glass from spilling.
"Holmes!" Watson grabbed the man by the shoulders and just barely stopped him from falling out of bed.
Holmes thrashed weakly in his grip, wailing, arms raised up to protect himself from some imagined threat.
"Holmes! It's alright! It's alright," the doctor firmly but gently held onto his dear friend, whispering reassurances, and waited for the fit to stop.
Finally, Holmes stilled, his breath becoming soft gasps.
"There now," Watson whispered, brushing damp black hair back from the still too-warm fore head, "You'll be alright. I'm right here."
Whether he was talking to Holmes or himself, he didn't know.
They remained like that for several moments, until Watson was sure that Holmes had fallen back into unconsciousness. Then he carefully laid the detective back down into bed and tucked him in.
He had just pulled up a chair to Holmes' bedside when he heard a soft knock at the door. He opened it to find Mrs. Hudson standing there with a tea tray in her hands and a worried look on her face.
"How is he Doctor?" she asked in a hushed tone.
"Better than he was earlier. But he's still very ill."
"I should have call-"
"Now now, none of that," he told her, taking the tray from her. "You know as well as I do, that sometimes the only way to help him is to wait until he can't stop you."
Mrs. Hudson sighed, and gazed past him to Holmes, wearing that gentle, caring expression that she only wore when Holmes couldn't see it.
"I suppose you are right, Doctor," she said at last, turning to leave. "You call for me if you need anything else, any time of night."
"I will," Watson replied, "Good night, Mrs. Hudson."
"Good night, Doctor."
The first thing Holmes realized, as he drifted awake, was that he could not see.
The second thing he realized, (taking entirely too long to do so), was that this was because his eyes were closed.
The third thing he found, when he tried to rectify this, was that he was simply too tired to open them. So tired in fact, that even contemplating opening his eyes sent him back into slumber.
The next time the detective awoke, his head felt clear enough for him to try to asses his situation.
He was in a bed, that much was certain, his own from the feel of it. Very interesting, considering he couldn't remember going to sleep. There was something cold and damp on his forehead, a cold compress perhaps? Illness might explain the gap in his memory.
He was also, he realized, naked from the waist up, and covered in only a thin sheet from the waist down.
This would not do.
With far too much effort than it should have taken, Holmes reached up to try and remove the compress, only to have his wrist grabbed gently by a warm hand and placed back on the bed. When he tried again, the same thing happened. He wanted to ask the owner of the hand to please stop that, but when he opened his mouth, all that came out was pitiful mewling sound.
"Shhh," someone whispered, and something cold and wet was brushed along the side of his neck. "It's alright, Holmes."
Holmes knew that voice, he was sure of it. He wished it wasn't so dark, so that he could see its owner properly.
No, that wasn't right. Oh, his eyes were still closed.
Holmes managed to pry open his eyelids a bit, and found a very disheveled Dr. John Watson leaning over him, lightly rubbing his torso with a wet cloth.
The doctor gave him a slight, tired, smile that seemed somewhat forced, and gently brushed Holmes' cheek with the back of his hand.
"Hush, I'm right here. It's alright."
He spoke in a gentle, comforting tone he usually used on small, scared children. Why would Watson be using it on him?
"Wat'sn? Wha-," Holmes struggled to sit up, "What happ'nd…?" he asked.
Watson grabbed Holmes' shoulders to still him. "Holmes?" he asked. "Holmes, are you awake?"
What a silly question. Of course he was awake. He told his friend as much, or tried to anyways. It came out somewhat garbled.
Watson smiled again. A real smile this time. "Thank god. You had me worried." He put down the wet cloth and sat on the edge of the bed.
"What happened?" Holmes asked again.
"You've been ill. I don't know for how long, but Mrs. Hudson called me yesterday evening. You're very lucky she did too. If your fever got any higher, you could very well have baked your brain inside your skull."
"Oh." That explained the doctor's unkempt appearance, and the slight look of irritation.
"Yes, 'Oh'," Watson replied.
Holmes suddenly found he was having trouble meeting Watson's eyes.
Watson sighed. "Well, there's no use discussing it now. Would you like something to drink?"
"Please," he was suddenly very thirsty.
Watson grabbed a glass of water off the side table. He started to put his free hand over the glass, but stopped himself, shaking his head.
"Here," Watson carefully lifted his head and held the glass for him as he took a few sips.
"Much." Holmes' eyes were starting to feel strangely heavy. He tried to keep them open, to no avail. Watson lowered him back down onto the pillows and pulled the sheets up to his shoulders. The last thing he heard as he drifted back into dreams was Watson's voice.
"Rest now, my dear Holmes. I'm right here."