"...I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, and what do you get?"
"For me," the detective murmured, "there is the cocaine-bottle." With that, Holmes calmly reached for his needle and methodically began to fill it according to his custom.
Watson stared at him, sitting up. He had not expected this. He had not expected this at all. Holmes had just been in a bright mood! He ought to still be chatting cheerfully and tossing off his sarcastic quips for some time, in the after-glow of his case. Instead, Holmes stretched lazily in his chair, his eyelids drooping, and he was rolling up his sleeve with the apparent intent that his "limp week" should begin right now.
"H-Holmes," Watson found his voice. "Surely not now? Miss Morstan's case only just finished."
"Yes, Watson." He did not look up, quietly picking out a place on his arm. "Finished." He stabbed the needle into his skin and drove the piston home.
Watson still stared in disbelief, blinking. This couldn't be. This wasn't like Holmes at all. Ennui? What ennui could possibly arise in the course of one conversation? Holmes had not even waited out the day before resigning himself to the cocaine. Without a thought that a new case might come at any moment to stimulate and occupy his mind, Holmes had simply and immediately resumed his habit of the past few months, as though Mary Morstan's case had not intervened at all.
Holmes packed up his needle and other paraphernalia, then rolled down his sleeve neatly. He sank back into his armchair with an expression of ease and calm, folded his hands together, and closed his eyes. He sighed. "You'll thank Miss Morstan for her most interesting case when you see her next, won't you Watson?"
"Y-yes," Watson managed to answer, although he did not accept the dismissal. He remained in his chair, watching Holmes lounge and trying to absorb what had just happened.
Could it be? Watson thought with trepidation. Could it be that, as exasperating as thrice a day in boredom already was, Holmes's cocaine use was worsening? If Holmes couldn't or wouldn't even discipline himself anymore to injections only when he had been long deprived of cases, could his habit truly be called harmless anymore?
Holmes shifted in his chair, half-opening his eyes at Watson and faintly smiling. "I observe, Watson, by your lingering and your immobile glare that you remain, as ever, opposed to my habit."
Watson frowned. "Could you imagine that I would ever reverse my opinion?"
"No indeed," he answered cheerfully. "Merely that you might over time become too frustrated to express that opinion." He shrugged. "I am quite willing, though, to hear your arguments again, should you wish to repeat them."
"No," Watson answered pointedly, becoming irritated at Holmes's cool and even manner. It made him feel futile.
Holmes said nothing and as the moments passed, without really closing his eyes or looking away, he silently drifted into private thoughts that had become more stimulating at the moment than waiting for Watson's continuing conversation.
Exasperated, Watson sat forward in his chair. "Holmes," he prompted.
The detective blinked his grey eyes clear and regarded him.
"Do I ... observe incorrectly," he asked slowly, "or don't you usually endure a drugless ennui for at least a few days, in the expectation of a new case?"
Holmes raised an eyebrow. "I do," he replied. "Yet the chances, my dear Watson, in favor of another truly stimulating case arriving so soon in succession after this one, in these dull and commonplace days, must be quite meagre. Besides, as you have seen recently with Miss Morstan's little problem, my use of cocaine just prior to the start of a case causes no noticeable interference with the solving of the mystery."
Watson frowned again. As he had thought--now Holmes possessed an utter indifference to injecting himself prior to, and possibly even during, a case. This would be an abominable trend indeed. "And what happened," he asked, "to your ability to find diverting mental stimulation in playing your violin, or attending concerts at St. James' Hall, or visiting the British Museum, or editing your index books, or simply walking with me through the streets of London to observe and remark upon the diversity of the human condition?"
Holmes narrowed his eyes at the depth of feeling that he detected in Watson's tone. He replied quietly, "Those are mere hollow entertainments for an afternoon or more. They pall beside the true substance of my cases, which may be mere adventurous larks to you--romances even--" he spoke sharply for a moment, "but they are to me rare and bright gems that dull ever more the gleam of such mundane pleasures as you name. In the squalid, ever present banality of this world, they are all that I have left to live for, save--"
Realising how strident his voice became on his last words, Holmes broke off his lecture and sat back within his chair. In studied silence, he swallowed and resumed the cool repose of a philosopher again. Looking at Watson with some measure of softness and apology, he murmured, "You'll excuse my cynicism, Watson, which I know you dislike...."
"No, no," Watson shook his head in dismissal. "I know full well the fits of black mood which are capable of striking you ... with your cocaine." After having ventured to risk that remark, Watson cleared his throat and turned immediately to lighting his pipe, wisely not pressing his luck.
Holmes glanced silently at Watson for some time. However, in the absence of continued words, the cocaine was a potent influence, and eventually his half-closed eyelids proclaimed that Holmes had drifted again into other realms of contemplation.
Watson shook out his match and watched Holmes again through his pipe smoke.
Watson resolved then, as Holmes sank back into that dreamy thoughtfulness which the drug had so oddly lulled in him lately, that he would break his friend of his destructive habit before his departure to marriage. It would be his honourable duty and parting gift to his old friend.
An indefinite amount of time remained, fortunately, as Watson and Miss Mary Morstan had not even set a wedding date as yet. Their engagement had arisen in a spontaneous moment of reckless abandon. They both had been overcome with the wild thrill of romantic love. But he and Mary had realised all along, of course, that more time would be necessary, as such a tremendous step simply should not be taken in haste.
So Watson and she patiently got to know each other better than the constraints of Holmes's case could allow them. He came to the Forresters' house on Mary's off-days to walk with her in the park or have tea or visit art museums. They talked about her late father, her time as governess for the Forresters, her likes and dislikes. They talked of Watson's own departed family, his friendship with Holmes, and his feeling of kinship with her as another soul who was almost completely alone in the world.
In the midst of these happy times, Watson did not forget his personal resolution, though. When not out with Mary, he faithfully lingered about the 221B flat, not wanting to leave Holmes long by himself. On days when he merely went to make inquiries about various medical practices available for purchase, Watson invariably endeavoured to bring Holmes with him, sometimes successfully. What Watson was doing was, of course, transparent. He couldn't very well forbid Holmes from doing anything he pleased, but he could at least be constantly around in order to volubly clear his throat and suggest that they attend another concert at St. James Hall, or some other diversion.
Holmes smiled often at Watson's redoubled, and well-meant, efforts at discouraging his injections. There was no harm, really, in humouring Watson for a while, if the cocaine really made him that uncomfortable. They only had these last several weeks together, after all, and they ought to be spent pleasantly rather than in argument or silence.
Watson even talked Holmes into accompanying him to dinner at the Forresters' home. It being an occasion for Watson to formally meet both Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Forrester, he had some difficulty convincing Holmes to attend until he phrased it as an act of friendship and solidarity. Watson wished to make a good impression on the Forresters, his fiancé's most trusted friends and nearly surrogate parents, and his nerves would be strengthened by Holmes's presence.
So Holmes had come, out of duty to him. Watson had only realised at the last moment that he ought to be concerned in case any of Holmes's eccentric behaviours reflected poorly on himself and caused the Forresters to advise Mary in dismay against going through with it. However, Holmes had been quite restrained and "normal", if that could be the term for it. Holmes made charming conversation, maintained an easy and philosophical attitude, and backed up Watson in every way. At times like this, he turned into an unaffectedly cultured gentleman rather than a Bohemian detective, and Watson watched him in amazement. His friend was a chameleon, peculiarly able to ingratiate himself with whomever he chose, and he himself could have easily made a cool and successful suitor. Even Mrs. Cecil Forrester, who had employed and met Holmes previously, found considerable difference between Holmes as a detective and Holmes as a dinner companion.
After that dinner with the Forresters, Holmes retired from further outings. "The sheer idle gossip!" Holmes had disparaged. He came home complaining of the impression that Mrs. Forrester was utterly charmed, and would be inclined in her motherly manner to "adopt" Holmes as well, and play matchmaker for him.
Watson realised that Holmes hated social invitations with all his Bohemian soul, and that his active brain preferred more stimulation than the niceties of etiquette could provide. Watson could not blame Holmes for wishing to retreat, therefore, so he let him alone for the time being. Holmes had steadily done without his cocaine injections for quite some time now, and he had had a case or two to break the dry spell, so there was no need to worry.
It was with confidence, then, that Watson left 221B the next day with Holmes busily tending to his index books and innumerable newspaper clippings, awaiting his next case.
Watson came back late in the evening to an empty sitting-room. It was dim, with only the crackling fire in the hearth providing any light to the room. Watson hung up his coat and then came to warm himself by the fire. He could see Holmes's index books, newly fattened, resting upon the bookshelf once more. Watson wondered if Holmes had had a new client yet, and if he were not already out investigating right now. How odd to think of Holmes being on another adventure, and Watson not there with him! But that would soon be regularly the case once Watson married, unless somehow Watson's practice became successful enough for an occasional holiday to see Holmes. He wondered if Holmes, perhaps, would miss him.
As Watson ruminated and stretched by the fire, he noticed something curious. Or rather, something curiously absent. The morocco case, which contained Holmes's hypodermic needle, no longer lay on the end of the mantle. Neither did the cocaine-bottle containing the seven-per-cent solution.
With a gasp, Watson rose immediately and hurried down the hall. Throwing open the door to Holmes's bedroom abruptly, he looked inside and his face fell. He had caught Holmes sitting upon his bed, a hand paused on his rolled-up shirtsleeve.
"Oh, Holmes!" he cried, shaking his head.
Holmes regarded the wounded-puppy expression on his face with irritation. "I am aware of your disappointment, Watson," he spoke blandly. "However, it hardly justifies your disrespecting the privacy of my room by failing to knock first."
"Holmes!" he repeated, just as mournfully.
"Please, no hysterics, Watson!" he sighed. "What I do is my own affair, is it not?" He began to roll down his sleeve again.
Watson glanced to the morocco case that stood closed on the nightstand. He could not tell if he had interrupted Holmes before or after an injection.
Holmes tended to the buttons of his cuff, murmuring, "Even with all the medical pamphlets that you slip under my nose with The Times..."
"Holmes!" Watson interrupted, coming nearer.
Holmes looked up at his sharp tone of voice. "Shut the door, will you? Don't make a scene if Mrs. Hudson or the servants can hear."
Watson absently did so and approached again. "Holmes, you didn't ... already, did you?"
"What?" Holmes glanced up. As Watson stood hovering at the end of the bed, Holmes found his inquisitive gaze curious. He frowned. "Watson, you left me alone for hours...."
"I know, but just now--did I stop you or didn't I?"
Holmes blinked at him. "What a futile question to ask. You didn't."
Watson frowned, looking down. "I just wanted to know for certain," he tried to shrug. He smiled bitterly. "Futile. A perfect word, Holmes, because that's how I feel--futile."
"My dear Watson," he began with a weary sigh, but did not finish. He sat with his knees drawn up on his bed, looking into other thoughts again.
"Let me see it," Watson said then.
"Let me see it." He knelt forward on the bed with a sudden impulse. He came closer and reached for Holmes's arm.
"Now wait a moment--" he sat back, frowning.
"I just want to see--" Watson followed Holmes's retreat and caught his cuff. "Can I--?"
"No!" Holmes refused, affronted by his touch.
"Just for a moment--" he pleaded.
Holmes disengaged himself from Watson's hold. "Don't be absurd!"
"Just to examine!" Becoming increasingly worried by his refusals, Watson wondered if he were hiding something.
Holmes repelled him again. "Stop it!"
"My God, what is it?" Watson grasped Holmes's arm well enough to begin rolling up the sleeve again.
Holmes continued resisting and pushing away until, in a rather clumsy struggle, Watson pinned him down on the mattress with his full weight. Holmes lay beneath, winded.
Not shifting his position, Watson pushed up the sleeve again. "Holmes!" he gasped. He shook his head at the sheer number of tiny scars, mostly weeks old, that he saw. He inspected the bare arm, running his fingers down the skin and feeling the traces of innumerable pinpricks. He found the most recent mark and touched it, frowning.
He hardly noticed at all that he still remained forcibly restraining his patient the whole while. Holmes noticed, however, and looked at him sharply but silently, still breathless.
Watson couldn't find just cause for Holmes's now flushed face nor his uncustomary weakness. He would surely resist again, wouldn't he? With the one hand that Watson kept on his wrist, he could feel Holmes's racing pulse. Infection? Fever? He minutely looked at the pricked flesh.
Slowly, Holmes calmed and found his voice. "Satisfied?"
Watson glanced up and saw Holmes shift his gaze. "I'm trying to recall," he turned back to Holmes' arm, "everything I've been reading about cocaine these past few months."
"Those pamphlets of yours?" he tried to say lightly.
"If I've got you, I'm not going to be futile." Watson explored the latest mark again, stroking the flesh in slow circles. "I suppose it's already been absorbed..." he muttered to himself.
"What would you do, try to extract it?" he mocked faintly.
"I'd suck it out like the venomous poison that it is, if I thought it would help!"
Holmes took a halting breath. "In--deed?"
"Indeed! But as it's already having its effects...." Watson disdainfully turned away from the glazed look in his friend's eyes. "What I can never understand, though," he returned to considering the exposed arm, "is why you keep reacting as if you've been sedated, when cocaine is not a narcotic and you yourself have claimed it to have a stimulating effect on your brain." He carefully took the pulse at Holmes's wrist. "There, your heart-rate is accelerated."
"Indeed?" Holmes repeated softly, blinking his half-closed eyelids.
"What else do you mix in your solution?" Not expecting any coherent answer from the extremely distracted Holmes, Watson sat up and reached for the cocaine bottle on the nightstand, peering at its contents closely. He considered that tasting the solution probably wouldn't be of much good in identification. So small a dose of cocaine taken orally would surely have little effect other than numbing the tongue.
"Boric acid," Holmes remarked belatedly. "Preservative."
"Not morphine?" Watson turned.
Holmes shook his head, blinking his eyes slowly. "No. That wouldn't let me think quite so well."
"Hmph," Watson turned the bottle in his hand. "Sometimes I wonder if you are thinking at all."
Holmes shifted in bed, and Watson set down the bottle, turning to restrain him again.
"You shan't let me go, Doctor?" he smiled.
Watson glanced toward the bottle, considering that he might analyse its contents in Holmes's laboratory in the sitting-room. But he disliked the thought of leaving Holmes alone again. "I haven't decided yet," he said finally.
His patient stared at him with an absorbed intensity. Holmes's fingers playfully roamed upon Watson's neck, only to be brushed away. Watson huffed with dignity and raised an eyebrow, puzzled.
Holmes chuckled. "Do you know what Mrs. Hudson would think if she saw us like this?"
Watson swatted away the slender fingers again. "I should hate her to see how deranged you are just now."
He laughed more heartily. "You just don't get it," Holmes shook his head.
"Holmes!" Watson forcefully held both hands away from him. "I wish you would take this seriously. I've been reading reports of violent reactions, and sudden death, occurring even from medically supervised doses of cocaine! I'm concerned. How large a dose did you have?"
"Not large enough," he sighed.
"I'm serious!" Watson clutched at him.
Holmes took some time in answering, gazing at Watson through hazy eyes. He flexed his hands in Watson's grasp and traced the muscles of Watson's palms until they twitched in response. "Are you?" Holmes murmured.
Watson released him only for a moment before grasping his wandering hands again. "I am!" he frowned. How could Holmes possibly find this amusing? Watson firmed his grip and watched his friend's odd behaviour with uncertainty. Holmes's breath was faint and uneven, and his eyes slipped in and out of their dreamy stare.
"Holmes, please," he tried again. "What's happening to you?"
He did not look at Watson distinctly for several moments. "Are you?" he repeated even more softly. "Are you?" Watson peered at him closely, suspecting that Holmes was falling asleep, but after a pause he continued. "Are you going to kiss me or thrash me--?"
"What?" Watson blinked.
"--Because you can do either without smothering me here."
The tension in Watson's shoulders abruptly relaxed. Was it only a bad joke, then? He took a breath and shook his head. "Not till I'm certain about--"
Holmes shifted within Watson's hold again, frowning to himself as he blinked his eyes clear of haziness. He attempted sitting up, but clumsily.
"Now wait!" Watson resisted and landed on him again. "Now, just wait." He pressed Holmes down by the arms and held him still.
Holmes narrowed his eyes at Watson, frowning silently and intently. His face flushed more than ever, and with each second his gaze became hazier. He repeated, "Are you?" in a strange tone of voice.
Watson decided to take Holmes's pulse again, grasping him by the wrist and reaching for his pocket-watch once more to keep time. However, the timepiece had been loosened from its chain in its previous use, so now it fell unexpectedly out of Watson's hand. It struck the mattress and slid somewhere along the outside of Holmes's thigh. Not wanting to shift to get a better view, Watson felt for it by touch.
"What--" Holmes began, trying to halt him, "What are you do--" He couldn't get any further, closing his eyes. He seemed on the verge of passing out.
"Holmes?" Watson stopped his searching and caught hold of him again, feeling his trembling. Holmes seemed to be having some sort of attack. Watson consequently unbuttoned and loosened Holmes's collar to allow him more air. Watson reached to feel the pulse at his neck, meanwhile leaning nearer. His caress prompted a moan ... and another sign, of why Holmes felt faint.
Watson froze in place, staring blankly in front of him. He swallowed, feeling certain that he must be mistaken somehow. This was not an erection that he felt pressing against him; it couldn't be...
Beneath, Holmes could feel and understand the tight tension that had returned to Watson's entire body. He bit his lip and frowned. As Watson continued to hover in silence and confusion, and now had difficulty breathing, Holmes blinked open his grey eyes and let a weak, self-mocking smile come to his features. "You didn't read of that side-effect of cocaine, did you?" he asked softly. He shifted to turn away from Watson.
Watson gave up on stammering and shook his head. He too turned and freed Holmes from his grasp, not without further clumsiness. Holmes gasped sharply, while Watson rapidly retreated and slid to the other side of the bed. He put his head against the bedpost.
"Oh my God," Watson whispered, sitting up weakly. "Oh my God, and I was--" He shook his head incredulously. Arousing him? He shivered at the thought.
Holmes listened to Watson's still tremulous breaths for several moments. "You won't be able to face me again after this, will you?" he asked quietly. "Perhaps it's just as well," he sighed, "that you're getting married and leaving."
Watson swallowed and at last faced Holmes slowly, fumbling for words. "It--it was my fault. All mine. I-I wasn't thinking, and--"
"It--doesn't matter much," Holmes interrupted, shrugging. He looked away. "It's ... only likely to happen within an hour or so after the injection. Then I go numb. Quite, quite numb."
Hell, Watson thought. Of course! It's bloody routine for Holmes, isn't it? He shut his eyes and swallowed. "Do you mean to say that you've been having--filthy thoughts right before our clients?"
"No I haven't had 'filthy thoughts' in front of decent ladies, if that's what you're asking. Clients! As you've pointed out, I've taken cocaine primarily in the absence of clients. There's been nobody around to have 'filthy thoughts' about but--" Holmes halted, suddenly realising what he was saying.
Watson looked up, blinking at him in shock.
Holmes shut his eyes, resigned. "--But you," he finished quietly.
An awful silence fell during which, Holmes knew, Watson analysed every word or deed that had ever passed between them in all their friendship. Though Holmes's eyes were closed, he could feel Watson's horrified gaze fixed upon him.
Finally unable to bear it, Holmes shifted and opened his eyes in a conscious effort to ignore him. He turned on his side on the bed and set himself to the practicality of examining his arm. He found the place where Watson had gripped him so tightly as to leave a bruise more severe than all the pinprick scars before. "You're more dangerous than the needle!" he muttered. Upon testing his wrist a bit, Holmes was inclined to think that his joint was sprained. Still wincing, he reached for a handkerchief to wrap and bandage it. He moved clumsily with his only free hand.
Instinctively assisting, Watson came forward and reached over to tie the knot for him. At Holmes's gasp, he realised he was leaning inordinately close to him again. He backed away, blushing hotly and with horror. "I'm--I'm sorry."
Eyes shut and shivering, Holmes bit his lip and whispered, "Don't be." He heaved a ragged breath and appeared to control himself only with difficulty.
Watson stared at him, disbelieving the entire situation. All of this was impossible! Insane! He swallowed and looked away, being far too shaken to manage standing and leaving just now. Watson felt more disoriented, weak, and confused than ever.
Holmes was the most masculine man he knew! He fenced, he boxed, he wrestled down dangerous and powerful criminals. He straightened steel pokers and shot firearms with unerring accuracy. He could intimidate villains simply with his cool, masterful manner. He duelled verbally as well, constantly teasing Scotland Yard inspectors, clients, and Watson himself with sardonic quips of amazing brilliance. Yet here Holmes was, looking pale and admitting to strange things indeed. This was too much to contemplate or understand. "Holmes!"
"Please don't puzzle over it, Watson," he sighed. "Just leave here now and don't talk or think about it anymore. Go."
Despite the slight infirmity he felt, Watson managed to turn to Holmes again. "I--couldn't leave you," he approached slowly. "Not like this. Not if you need help. The cocaine's effects--"
"--Don't force me to have to slap you, Watson," Holmes spoke sharply, opening his eyes with a suddenly venomous look. "I am perfectly apprised of my health, and you may trust me--it's not an illness to treat, it's not reversible, and it's not the cocaine."
Watson halted in place and blinked at Holmes sheepishly, stung by his tone. "I--um, I'm sorry...."
Holmes turned around fully to gaze at Watson, piercing him with his grey eyes, and then at last he found himself able to laugh. "My poor kind doctor," he murmured, "my dear obtusely clueless, but irresistibly handsome doctor." He smiled, brushing his fingers upon Watson's arm. "My intimate friend...."
Watson half gasped at his touch. "Holmes!" he virtually squeaked, backing away from Holmes and frowning with discomfort.
Holmes shook his head and sighed. He turned on his side again and ignored Watson, murmuring to himself as he adjusted the handkerchief at his wrist. "Leaving me for marriage...." He laughed softly. "Marriage? You're almost married to me already! The talks we've had strolling through London on spring evenings! Intimate dinners we've shared at Simpson's, followed by concerts or plays to combat our ennui. Our desultory and romantically philosophical conversations by the fireplace. Our exhilarating chases after criminals! What have you done with her that's half so passionate? What will you ever do with her that you can't with me? --Oh, that's right, the legitimate assault in bed, which you've surprisingly given me a taste of tonight..."
Watson flushed in a mixture of anger, embarrassment, and something else that he was having trouble sorting out. He tried to make himself rise and leave, but Holmes's tactic for driving him out of the room wasn't helping him find his strength.
"What are you marrying her for anyway? You've been damn near celibate so long as you've lived within my observation. I half believed you--" he shook his head again. "Of all our attractive female clients, what makes her so special? What makes her the one? --Other than the silly melodrama in her being an orphan all alone in the world like yourself and the theoretical heiress to an irrecoverable Indian treasure."
"Just trying to prove to yourself that you still have an interest in sex?" Holmes continued heedlessly, relishing the free venting. "Or was it my comments about her? You perked up when I spoke of her detective cleverness and usefulness. Perhaps you're marrying her because you want a female version of me!"
That was very nearly obscene, and Watson sharply covered Holmes's mouth to shush him. He clumsily threw his weight into it and wound up on top of Holmes again.
Holmes blinked and breathed out, his eyebrows arched at Watson over the covering hand. Then his eyes closed. He unexpectedly took the hand in his grasp and licked it. He licked and began kissing it. Watson stared at him, too paralysed with shock to withdraw.
Holmes continued kissing and caressing his palm, sighing in pleasure. Watson shivered and struggled for his voice as Holmes partially opened his eyes again. Even through half-closed eyelids, the intense grey gaze was penetrating. A dizzy, spinning sensation struck Watson as the hot breath electrified his skin. Abruptly, Holmes pulled Watson nearer and then kissed his mouth, passionately. Kissed him as though he might drink him in in one long, deep draw. Watson trembled and felt faint.
Finally Holmes let go and lay back breathlessly, his eyes shut. He swallowed and frowned at his succumbing to temptation. "I'm--I'm sorry," he spoke quietly.
"Don't be," came the unsteady, deep-voiced reply.
Holmes opened his eyes in surprise, blinking. Watson gazed at him hazily, his face flushed and his pulse racing. He leaned near again and, despite his breathlessness, kissed Holmes back.
Sooner than they both realised, they were doing things that only an hour ago they would have deemed impossible. And just in time too, considering the numbness that would eventually overcome one of them...