I had been working at Sherlock for weeks to try to persuade him to take some time off. At first my exhortations had been met with his usual blunt disinterest at best, and a patronising dismissal of my medical abilities at worst. Finally, complete exhaustion, combined with medical concerns which I don't feel the need to dwell on, prompted the Great Detective to submit to my "unmitigated nagging" and to join me on holiday.
The question of where we should go caused some mild struggles on my part - despite Sherlock's proclaimed indifference, I could see neither him nor myself fitting in on a standard package tour. After months of seething humanity, often at its worse, I felt the need for a little isolation and peace, yet I knew my friend's overactive mind would tear itself to pieces without any stimulus at all. After a little research, I decided on Belize, thinking that the mystique of the ancient indigenous people and their atmospheric ruined cities in the jungle would provide sufficient fascination for Sherlock's esoteric tastes, whereas deserted beaches with magnificent snorkelling or diving would suit me.
A friend of mine from medical school and house officer days moreover owned a small diving business and four small isolated beach cabanas. He had often emailed me to persuade me to visit and was delighted when I contacted him asking if he had any vacancies. It was rainy season, and the cabanas were empty.
I glanced at Sherlock as we passed through security and he removed his belt. His trousers threatened to slide off his hips; he had lost an alarming amount of weight recently, which he could scarce afford. I picked up the belt from the plastic basket, and noted it was most recently worn two notches tighter than its previous position. Sherlock wasn't the only one who noticed things.
I had further opportunity to study my friend during the nine hour flight to Cancun - it was rare to see him both still and vertical for any length of time. He looked grey, and diminished, somehow, as if he had been rubbed over with an eraser. Usually, Sherlock could pass for a youth barely out of his teens if he wanted to, but his face now looked drawn and far too lived in. I had seen patients on palliative chemotherapy look healthier. He attempted to replicate his usual nonchalant pose that he invariably adopted upon the sofa during one of his prolonged endurance thinking episodes, stretching his long legs in front of him (we had paid extra for emergency exit seats), and reclining his seat back, yet he seemed to be radiating tension.
I responded by flirting with one of the air hostesses, to persuade her to serve us extra alcohol on her rounds and to make a couple of extra visits, thereby getting the recently abstemious consulting detective satisfactorily drunk. He finally succumbed to sleep, and I had an extremely pleasant interlude chatting to my air hostess in the spare seats at the back of the plane. We were all making an overnight stop in Cancun, and I foresaw another pleasant no-strings interlude ahead; a bonus, before our holiday truly began.
Sherlock, usually a thinking machine who functioned without reference to his physical needs, had reached the end of his endurance, and seemed far more slaughtered by jet lag than I was. He staggered like a zombie through immigration, and sat looking shattered and forlorn in the taxi to our hotel. I made him drink a 500ml bottle of water and eat a sandwich, listened to him gagging as he cleaned his teeth, and met with little resistance as I put him to bed as if he were a child. I even took the liberty of tousling his hair as he fell asleep.
I had a cat-nap, but years of shift work meant jet-lag was not a major hardship for me. I checked on Sherlock - he was sleeping like a baby ("what, waking up several times during the night screaming and covered in my own excrement?" would be his response). With gleeful anticipation, I set off for dinner with my air hostess. As I had predicted, a very welcome and long overdue interlude was the result, and I returned to our hotel room early the next morning local time, to find Sherlock still asleep in what appeared to be the same position as when I left. I studied his sleeping face, and was pleased to see he already looked a little less haggard. I made myself a coffee and sat on the balcony, enjoying the morning sun and the relative peace and quiet - a few early joggers and late-returning revellers, plus a few workers on the street several stories below. I dozed for a while, then padded over to Sherlock and gently woke him up half an hour before breakfast finished. Taking advantage of his unaccustomed sleep inertia, I steered him into the shower and then downstairs before he really gained the momentum to resist.
I was pleased to note he ate a large breakfast, although he began studying the other diners around us with thinly veiled contempt. They did look a variably chav or brainless lot, and I was glad we were setting off for Belize that morning, before he started getting insulting and embarrassed me. My friend could be perfectly polite, chivalrous even, when he wanted to be; the trouble arose when he did not want to be, and his wrath could be provoked by the most innocuous things. I had no doubt he was deducing all manner of unsavoury facts, and I hustled him out before had a chance to voice them.
Sherlock listlessly lolled around watching the passers by as I sorted the details for our hire car, naming him as second driver, although I was under no illusions that he would bother to drive unless he felt like it. Once the drive started, he almost immediately fell asleep again, his head drooping as if there were no bones at all in his neck. I could not really begrudge him his sleep; on the contrary, I felt a glow of satisfaction that he was finally giving in to the demands of his poor, put upon body.
He woke up after a couple of hours, and watched the scenery scroll by. We were driving through essentially jungle, with the sea to our left occasionally appearing behind the trees.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" I sighed, as we passed a particularly idyllic spot, palapas-roofed houses appearing through the trees.
"Hm," he answered unenthusiastically.
"What? Do you honestly think it's not beautiful?"
"I'm afraid it's one of the curses of the job. You look out and see these idyllic getaways, I look at them and think of the horrific crimes that could be perpetrated in them without anyone ever knowing."
I stared at him for long enough that I drove into a pothole, rattling us around. "Oh come on, Sherlock! You're not honestly suggesting that you see these peaceful houses and the first thing you think of is crime?"
"It's perfectly sensible", he said, looking slightly defensive. "They're just so isolated. At home, the longest police response time anywhere in England is around thirty minutes, perhaps a bit longer in parts of Scotland or Wales, but much shorter in urban areas. Here, there are no phones, no nosy neighbours. Dark, insecure glamorised sheds, with no way of differentiating the normal noises of the jungle from an approaching threat." He paused, and shuddered dramatically, then shrugged. "I suppose they are pretty though, if you like that sort of thing."
I started to giggle. Sherlock was quiet for a moment, then joined in. It was the first time I had heard the throaty chuckle in ages, and I pointed this out.
"You see! You're feeling better already."
"D'you know, I believe you're right", he answered, enthusiastically. "I'm obviously cured. Shall we go home now?"
In response, I turned on the CD player, and started singing along loudly, much to Sherlock's indignation. His taste in music, besides heavy classical stuff, is eclectic, and does include a lot of "normal", modern stuff (one of the few people I have known him to almost hero-worship is Laura Marling), but it has to have what he calls "artistic integrity", and categorically does not include Don't Stop Believing sung badly by one John Watson. I had burned this particular CD mostly with songs we would both enjoy, and a few specifically to irritate him. He skipped the CD forward until he found Under the Bridge. We both bellowed along zealously. As I caught sight of him starting to air guitar out of the corner of my eye, I realised I was starting to relax properly for the first time in months.
Maybe, just maybe, this holiday would work.
Well, what sort of things could two quite possibly mutually attracted trouble magnets get up to in their leisure time? Something tells me it won't be standard sight-seeing...
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