Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! This is a giftfic for Amy, who requested a Granada-verse friendship fic on her wishlist at the Watson's Woes comm on LJ. I ended up choosing a ficlit based on "The Devil's Foot," and while the majority of the ficlit is based on the episode, I did draw from the book-verse slightly to help with Watson's description of his visions.
Insomnia was a plague upon anyone unfortunate to be afflicted with it, of course, but it was especially brutal to Sherlock Holmes—not only due to the way his brilliant mind was wired, but also due to the fact that the insomnia was a direct result of both withdrawal symptoms and an aftereffect of his experiment with the Devil's Foot Root.
Back in Baker Street after that alleged "holiday" by the Cornish coast, sleep seemed to be more out of reach than ever before. Out of the force of habit, Holmes had emerged from his bedroom and had grabbed the Moroccan case from his desk drawer. It was with a frustrated hiss and a snarl that he regarded the empty case, furiously shutting the drawer again, half of his mind screaming at him for having buried the needle, while the other half attempted to reassure him that he had made the right decision.
The detective's level of vexation only increased as he attempted to fill one of his pipes with tobacco, only to find his Persian slipper empty. He very nearly bellowed for Mrs. Hudson to pick up some more, only stopping at the last second once he reminded himself that it was two in the morning, and he then proceeded to hurl the slipper across the room; the slipper hit the wall, and Holmes heard the familiar, telltale sounds of scurrying in the walls—the mice were awake, as well.
With such a late forbidding his final method of escape—the violin—there was little left for Holmes to do other than sit in his chair in the hopes that his racing mind would somehow settle itself down and allow him to sleep. Even then, sleep would not be a relaxing time; the horrifying visions he had seen during his experiment with the Devil's Foot Root sought to return to his subconscious. After the amount of time it had taken for his waking mind to banish the visions, he had no desire to visit them in any form.
Holmes now pressed his fingertips together, trying to think of some of his older cases—anything to keep his mind occupied. For a while, the only sound he was aware of was the scurrying in the walls. It was after a few minutes that he finally registered the sound of pacing in the room upstairs.
Now what was he doing, awake at this hour? How long had the doctor been afflicted with insomnia?
And it was then that the rational side of his mind slapped his stimulant-craving side with a sudden dose of realization.
Watson had been just as exposed to the Devil's Foot Root as Holmes had been—he would have seen horrific visions just as Holmes had, and yet… he had never spoken so much as a word regarding what he had seen—what he had been forced to see due to Holmes's foolish experiment. Whatever Watson had seen, he had forced it aside for the sole purpose of rescuing Holmes from the horrors of his own visions, and now he was suffering in silence, without a single complaint.
Holmes silently cursed himself now, once again reminded of how callously he treated the only true friend he had… the very same friend who had pulled Holmes away from those visions… the very same friend he had called out to, by his first name—something he had never done before.
And even after the experiment—after the case—Watson still continued to look after him, seeing to his recovery from overwork, withdrawal, and now the effects of the root. And Holmes, despite possessing a brilliant mind, had not registered that Watson, too, would have had to deal with the repercussions of the experiment. Without a doubt, his long-suffering Boswell was ever the soldier.
Holmes now picked up the candle beside him, crossing to the foot of the staircase.
The pacing stopped, and the door opened.
"Holmes? Did I wake you?"
Holmes bit his lip, once again reminded of the doctor's selflessness.
"No; I have been awake for some time now," he said, after a moment. "There is some leftover tea, if you wish to have it."
"Tea?" Watson repeated, bemused. "When we are both stricken with insomnia?"
"If the cause of your insomnia is the same as mine, it would seem that our minds would prefer staying awake."
Watson did not respond, but he did head downstairs to the sitting room, sighing as he took his usual chair.
"Never mind the tea, Holmes," he said, as the detective moved to retrieve it.
Holmes gave a nod and took his chair.
"You have been having recurring nightmares, as well," the detective said. "You saw visions because of the root, and now they will not leave you."
The doctor said nothing, avoiding his friend's gaze.
"Watson, why did you not tell me?"
The doctor finally exchanged a glance with the detective.
"Your own mind was heavily preoccupied from your convalescence, the Tregennis case, and your own visions; I didn't dare to burden you further with my own trifles."
"It would not have been a burden by any means—and this is no mere trifle!" Holmes retorted, trying not to raise his voice.
"All the same, you have improved, aside from the insomnia, so my decision appears to have been a fair one," Watson pointed out, only to have Holmes dismiss the statement with a wave of his hand.
"I am used to going without sleep; you are not!" the detective said, no doubt recalling the number of times he had interrupted the doctor's slumber so that they could pursue the newest lead in a case.
It was then that a sudden realization struck Holmes. Watson was, by no means, faint of heart. The man had seen battle at its harshest, had emerged from the war wounded, and yet managed to attain sleep, whether or not nightmares of the war persisted. What, then, had the root made him see to unnerve the most stalwart of soldiers?
"Watson? What did you see?"
"It is of no importance," the doctor insisted.
"Nevertheless, I wish to know."
Watson sighed, gazing into the fire before answering.
"To be quite honest, I am not entirely sure as to what I saw," he said. "Everything was dark and indiscernible. I… I suppose it was the unknown aspect of it that made it so disturbing. I've always known the perils that I have faced in my life. To be unable to fully grasp something you know is malevolent and out to harm you… It is quite unbearable. And the darkness only seemed to grow darker—as though it was trying to consume me."
"Of course," Holmes said, disgusted with himself for having put Watson through it. "A man who has lived through such horrors as the ones you have seen would, naturally, fear something he could not properly grasp."
"Is that what you saw, as well?"
Holmes didn't speak, but it was his reflexive gaze at the painting of the Reichenbach Falls above the mantel that answered Watson's question.
"Of course," the doctor sighed. The detective seemed forever doomed to be haunted by the ghost of Moriarty—one way or another.
"It was that, and more," Holmes said. "Ghastly art… blood on my hands… But all discernible. Watson, I am truly sorry."
"You gave me the opportunity to leave; the choice was mine."
"That, it was. And I suppose I should be grateful that you chose not to leave. ...I did not properly thank you for what you did."
"There is no need for thanks, Holmes. You would have done the same."
Holmes scoffed. His first thought had been that Watson had only said that to lessen the mental load that he had placed upon himself due to his insensitivity at taking so long to recognize Watson's suffering, but there was sincerity in the doctor's voice, which could not have been fabricated.
"You say that with such conviction," Holmes said. "And yet, it has taken me this long to recognize that you, too, had suffered from the effects of the root."
"Holmes, you are a man who thinks based on what he sees. I was careful not to show you that I was affected; I expect that if you had not been dealing with your own hardships, I probably would have failed miserably in hiding it. But had I been in any great danger, I have no hesitation in saying with the utmost certainty that you would have acted upon it in an instant, whether or not I would have tried to conceal it. And I am certain that not even that blasted root could have stopped you."
The detective was ready to dispute this, but then he had to acknowledge that it had, indeed, been Watson's voice that had finally torn him free from the root's visions—the moment etched into his mind, as it was the only time he had forgotten himself…
"Holmes! For God's sake, can you hear me?!"
The detective sighed as he brought himself to the present, bringing his hand up to cover half of his face. A question now lingered in the back of his mind. Had it been merely the sound of Watson's voice? Or had it been the doctor's worried, panicked tone? It was a nice thought—that it had been concern for Watson that had pulled him to reality, rather than using the voice as an anchor to save himself.
He refrained from scoffing at himself; he had gone to such lengths to create the mask of "the brain without a heart." Now, he had either become the mask, or had convinced himself that he had done so.
"You have an interesting theory, Watson," he said, at last. "However, I trust you will understand if I declare this to be one experiment I do not wish to test?"
"I am in full agreement with that sentiment," he said. "And it does not need to be tested."
The detective was almost starting to believe it. After all, there was nothing he wouldn't do for his friend and fellow lodger.
"Watson," he said. "Thank you."
"I already told you, Holmes; there is no need to thank me."
"On the contrary, my friend… I believe there is."
And the doctor understood perfectly well as to what his friend meant. And as they continued to sit and talk, the horror of the visions were eventually banished from their minds.