Apologies for the delay. I originally had two versions of this chapter created and spent a great deal of time deciding which of the two would be the most suitable. In the end, this version won out with the addition of a small passage from the other version.
It took some effort for Mycroft and I to transport the cases out of the Growler and into the Georgian house which I had come to recognize as Holmes' home. The task was made all the more strenuous by Holmes' insistence that he was fine and could manage his baggage on his own. It took the threat of seeking further medical attention from the local doctor and the suggestion that he would be confined to a splint in order to send him limping into the house.
"Have you any medical supplies in the house?" I asked as soon as Mycroft had paid the cabbie.
"We do not have what you might at Baker Street, but I'm sure we can find something to treat those grazes that are concerning you," he replied.
"Then I wish to see them at once," I stated.
Mycroft nodded and led me into the house. "I'm afraid," said I as we entered the kitchen. "That Holmes underestimates the devastating effects of infection. Were he to succumb to it, there is little I could do, but…"
"Yes, Doctor, I am sure your worries are quite founded," Mycroft said in a tone that suggested the exact opposite. "But perhaps you might consider treating the patient first and then worrying about the outcome of your labors."
I ducked my head in shame. "Yes, of course," I murmured.
"I believe hot water is called for," Mycroft added, already pouring water into a kettle.
"If you would be so kind," said I as I rolled up my shirt sleeves. "And some proper bandages would be of great use as well."
It took about fifteen minutes for Mycroft and I to gather the necessary supplies and a good half an hour more to treat Holmes—who was in a moody temper for being treated as an invalid. By the time I had successfully changed the bandages and checked his ankle, it was half past midnight.
"If you are to take a train in the morning, Doctor, I would advise that you get some rest," Mycroft said once I had Holmes properly arranged in an armchair. "Your room is the one just to the right of the top of the stairs. All of my things have been removed from it already so I believe you shall find no difficulty in using it yourself."
I nodded and, after one last inspection of Holmes' ankle, began to ascend the stairs. As I had left my luggage downstairs and had no intention of embroiling myself in either Holmes' troubles without a good night's sleep under my belt, I decided that it would be best to simply sleep in the clothes that I was wearing. After I had pulled the covers over me, it took me mere seconds to fall into an uneasy sleep.
I was awoken scarcely an hour later by the sound of voices in the front hall. Curious, I got out of bed and made my way to the door of the bedroom. I opened it slightly so that I might hear the conversation better and found that the voices were very clearly those of Holmes and Mycroft. I noted with some displeasure that Holmes must be standing, since there were no chairs in the hallway, and that he was aggravating his injury even further. However, my attention was soon drawn to the conversation below me.
"Sherlock," said Mycroft. "It is really your place to tell him."
"And yet, you seem very eager to subvert me," growled Holmes. "Why must he know? I have committed no crime!"
"He deserves to know, Sherlock," Mycroft replied. "Really, if it were a more common lot I would have expected him to have deduced it by now! He has lived with you for several years."
"Has it occurred to you," Sherlock said in little more than a low whisper. I could not see his face, but his voice seemed strained and angry. "That it is precisely because I keep my peace that he continues to live with me?"
I began to feel guilty for listening so furtively to their conversation and, as it had as much to do with me as anyone, I felt it only right to reveal myself.
"Holmes," said I, stepping out from my hiding place behind the door.
Mycroft tightened his grip on the glass of port he was holding and Holmes' face turned white. "Watson," said he after a moment. "H-how long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough," said I nervously. I walked over to the staircase and looked from Mycroft to Sherlock and back again, waiting for an explanation.
"There is no point in delaying it now, little brother," said Mycroft after he'd drained his glass. "You might as well tell him."
"Tell me what?" I asked, now determined to get some answers.
Holmes stared at the ground, his jaw tightly clenched. He looked the very picture of pain.
"Holmes," said I, descending the staircase. "I… I don't know what it is that is troubling you, but I do wish you'd tell me. Surely, we have been through enough together that you can trust me?"
"That I do," said Holmes with a slight smile.
"Then why won't you tell me what is disturbing you?"
"Watson," said he. "I do trust you. I trust that whatever I tell you shall remain a secret. I trust that you shall act rationally. I trust that you will make an honorable decision."
I opened my mouth to ask what the obstacle was if he truly believed me to be trustworthy, only to be silenced by an imperious glance. "What I do not trust," said he. "Is your reaction. I do not wish to… lose you. However ludicrous that might seem at the moment," he added, in response to my indignant expression.
"Holmes, I don't know what could possibly…"
"Perhaps, we should let the matter come to light," Mycroft interrupted. "And then let you make such declarations."
I could see Holmes tense out of the corner of my eye. Mycroft must have noticed too, for he quickly added, "Sherlock, at this point we must tell him. He knows far too much at this point to ask him to simply live with his questions unanswered. Besides, given your own description of your friend, I've come to believe Dr. Watson to be a loyal and caring fellow—worthy enough of the secret we keep. Surely, you will not go against your own observations of the facts once they prove to be inconvenient?"
The fire in Holmes' eyes had grown to a blaze with his brother's last few words. Despite the overwhelming anger and sadness I could see in his countenance, his words were very calm.
"Very well," said he. "But you must tell it, Mycroft. I fear that too much personal involvement in the matter may cloud my description."
Mycroft nodded solemnly. He then looked at me with a gaze that seemed to look right through me.
"Come," said he, gesturing towards the parlor. He began to make his way over to the darkened room. "We shall all need a drink before this is over."
Thus, the three of us found ourselves seated once more in the parlor—Mycroft with the now familiar glass of port and I with a fresh whisky.
Sherlock had taken the chair closest to the window this time, as if to cement the idea that he was going to try to distance himself from whatever happened in this room. I took the chair nearest the door and Mycroft took up his post closest to the mantelpiece.
"What has Sherlock told you?" Mycroft once we had all taken our seats.
I looked nervously at my friend. Holmes' nodded his consent before turning to the window again. I related to Mycroft all that he had told me, from his mother's suicide to his return to England. Mycroft listened to it all intently and with an air that half reminded me of his brother when untangling the knots of a difficult case.
"Have you any knowledge of psychology, Dr. Watson?" he asked once I had completed my tale.
I furrowed my brow. "I have picked up bits here and there," said I with a nervous glance towards Holmes. "But I am in no position to say that I am an expert on the subject."
"Would you have happened to have 'picked up' that folie circulaire* is a family illness?" he replied as he swirled his glass of port. "It is passed through the blood."
"I had not," I replied.
"And that it is therefore likely," Mycroft continued. "That, if the illness is carried by a parent, it is likely to surface in at least one of the children?"
"I'm afraid I was ignorant of that fact," I said, hoping the conclusions I was drawing were false ones.
Mycroft cleared his throat and downed the last of his port. "I," he said after a moment's pause. "Take after my father in everything but social temperament. Sherlock, on the other hand…"
"Enough!" Holmes cried, sitting bolt upright in his chair. He turned his steely grey eyes to me. "Watson, have I not taught you the art of deduction? Deduce! The evidence has been laid before you. As a medical man, what conclusion must you draw?"
"I…I…" I looked helplessly about the room, afraid to say aloud the conclusion I was forming in my mind.
"He is mad."
I turned around to see Mr. Holmes standing in the doorway. He looked a supremely humbled version of the man who had greeted us with such gusto at the door but a few hours ago. He was in a dressing gown and his nightclothes and carried a candlestick in one shaking hand. He looked at me sadly. "He got the disease from his mother. I had not known of her illness when I married her, nor did I know it would be passed on to my son." He looked at Holmes, who appeared to be in a state of profound shock. "Which is why I wish you would give up this detective business and come home! You know what state your mother has been reduced to from trying to…"
"Sherlock!" Mycroft shouted as my friend leapt up from his chair in what seemed to be a sudden burst of energy. The hound-like quality of the great detective was now pronounced through his threatening look. He looked for all the world like a dog that has been cornered in an alley.
"Mother is dead," Holmes growled. "She has been for thirty years! If I am to be proclaimed mad, then so must you for your continual delusion that she continues to inhabit a house she abandoned along with us!"
A look of horror spread across Mr. Holmes' face. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment before crying "Violet!" and rushing up the stairs.
I had scarcely time to register all of this before I heard a low grunt. I turned to see Mycroft holding Holmes up by the collar and glaring at him. The two were practically nose to nose. I was about to break up what I perceived as an inevitable brawl between the two when Mycroft loosened his hold on Holmes' shirt.
"You damn fool," he spat before following his father up the stairs.
The moment Mycroft left the room, Holmes collapsed into his chair.
"Holmes!" I cried, darting over to my friend. He wore the glazed expression of a person in shock. I could see no sign of physical injury, but such a confrontation would obviously result in another sort of damage.
"Watson?" said he after a moment. He seemed surprised by my presence. I could not help but think back to when I had received a shock at the hands of that very man and my own feelings of surprise at seeing him once more in front of me.
"Yes, Holmes," said I reassuringly.
"Your luggage is in the hall," he said, turning his head away from me. "As you have kindly pointed out, the next train to London arrives at 6:34. I shall remain here in Oxford until I can find other accommodations. I will send a telegram to Mrs. Hudson to inform her of my departure. My things ought to be gone by Wednesday." He added, under his breath. "After all, this is not the first time."
I stood in shock for a moment. "Holmes," said I as I knelt down next to his chair. "Have the past ten years meant nothing to you?"
He looked back at me with a fierce and curious gaze. "They have meant a great deal to me," he replied, as if surprised by the question.
"Then surely you know that I shall not abandon you at the drop of a hat."
"This is far more than a hat, Watson," said he. He turned his gaze to the fire. "I cannot expect you to bear it."
I closed my eyes. It was true that dealing with such an illness, especially one so under-documented, would be a challenge. Were he more afflicted, he would no doubt be sentenced to a madhouse for it. For a moment, the thought of Holmes, the brilliant detective, locked in a cell so very similar to the ones in which so many of the villains he had brought to justice were kept sent a shiver down my spine. The lamentable fact of the matter was that such a fate was still possible if his secret ever got out. The mere word "madness" would keep him from ever getting another case from Scotland Yard, much less the general public. All fame, all industry would vanish. And now Holmes expected me to vanish as well, to never desire to speak with him again.
However, he could not be further from the truth.
"You have mislaid the facts of the matter, Holmes," said I. "I have lived with you for ten years. Consequently, I have been dealing with this illness of yours for ten years. I have lived through your black moods and your insatiable energy. I have lived through violin playing at four in the morning and your confounded use of cocaine. To think that I would pack up and leave simply because these things can be explained with a French name is unworthy of you and a discredit to me."
Holmes turned his face back to me, a look of sheer bafflement on his features. "You intend for the both of us to remain at Baker Street then?" he asked hesitantly.
I smiled sadly. "Of course, my dear fellow," said I. "I should expect nothing less."
*"Folie circulaire" or "Circular insanity" is the Victorian era name for bipolar disorder. There's actually an article by Falret, the man who first diagnosed the disorder, that reads: "Circular insanity is the most inhuman form of the disease, one that disfigures the soul." So, you might imagine why Holmes would be so hesitant to tell Watson about this affliction of his, especially if he were to publish the secret as he does with so many of their cases.
Reviews appreciated as always!