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Fortius Quo Fidelius, part IV

The house was dark when I arrived home that night, and I presumed Holmes had gone to bed. I lit the fire in my room and changed out of my clothes. Before I retired for the night, I went downstairs to retrieve a glass of milk. On my way back upstairs, I heard a crash in the sitting room.

I pushed the door open. At first I could see nothing save a small candle on the fireplace mantle. But after my eyes adjusted I saw a figure lying on the settee. With a light groan the figure rolled to the side.

“Holmes?”

No answer. The fire had gone out and the sitting room had grown cold.

I approached the settee. Holmes’s body was twisted into an unnatural position. I bent down to pick up the object that had fallen to the floor. It was a hypodermic syringe.

“Holmes?” I whispered again. He grunted, but barely.

“Have you taken something?”

He mumbled a response that sounded like, “Go to bed, Watson.”

I reached down to press on his carotid artery. His pulse fluttered beneath my fingers.

“Come on,” I said, and tried to lift him.

He turned towards me and struggled to raise his heavy lids.

“To bed now, Holmes.” I got my shoulders underneath his right arm and hoisted him to his feet.

“Stimulates and clarifies the mind,” he slurred as we shuffled to his room.

I shook my head over his sorry state, disappointed that so brilliant a man would take such a foolish risk.

He collapsed into his bed and I removed his shoes. He made a weak attempt to reach for his nightstand, but I saw the object before his hand found it. It was a small, open case with velvet lining bearing the indentations of a needle and a small vial of clear liquid. I closed it and moved it out of arm’s reach.

I went downstairs to fetch Holmes a glass of water and a piece of bread. When I brought them into his room, he appeared to be asleep. I shook him awake.

“I want you to eat and drink this.”

“Stimulates and clarifies the mind,” he said for the second time.

“Come on, Holmes,” I said again, cringing at his confusion.

He took the water and the bread from me, and I watched him awkwardly consume them. After he was halfway through the bread and three-quarters of the way through the water, his head fell again to the pillow. I decided he was nourished enough for now, placed the remainders on his nightstand and brushed the crumbs from his sheets.

I covered him with a blanket and picked up my candle. Once I was certain he was breathing somewhat normally, I left his room.

*          *          *

Holmes never mentioned the incident. He appeared to be in fine form the next day, interviewed two clients and accepted one case. I watched him closely for any more signs of overdose, but saw none.

I did not see the needle again until the following week. He happened to be untying his tourniquet when I entered the sitting room.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” I said to him through a narrow glare.

“Just a little seven-percent solution of cocaine, my friend. Nothing more,” he replied cheerfully as he rolled his sleeve down his forearm.

“I don’t know how you can risk such damage—“ I started. But he held up his hand to stop me.

“Please don’t trouble yourself, Watson. When I am between cases I find that it helps to stimulate and clarify the mind.”

“Yes, you said as much when I found you practically comatose on the settee the other night.”

He stared at me blankly.

“You have no memory of this?”

“It occurred to me when I woke the next morning that someone had brought me some water and bread and covered me with a blanket.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Really, Watson, you’re making too much of this. Sometimes a little morphine helps me sleep.”

Morphine? Has it not occurred to you that a little too much can cause you to asphyxiate and never wake up?”

“I am a chemist. I know what too much is.”

“I’m not sure you do.”

The cocaine was beginning to take effect. His pupils had dilated and he started to laugh in a high, outlandish cackle.

“Oh, my dear friend, what would I do without a doctor in the house?” He sang, and picked up his violin from the settee. He began scraping out the manic witches’ theme from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

I covered my face with my hands and sighed deeply. Just what would he do without a doctor in the house?

*          *          *

“Good evening, Dr. Watson,” said Mrs. Hudson. “I’ll have dinner ready in half an hour.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.” I handed her my hat and coat. It had been an unusually long day at the hospital. A fire at the Alexandra Orphanage brought in dozens of burn victims, taxing every resource we had, including skilled hands.

I jogged upstairs to the sitting room, ready to calm my frazzled nerves with a glass of brandy and a good pipe. When I opened the door I nearly collided with a tall, red-headed woman in a bright green coat. She was in the midst of bidding goodbye to Holmes.

“Thank you kindly, Mr. Holmes,” she said, and offered him her hand.

He took it and bowed. “I am always here, Ms. Bergeron.”

She picked up a medium-sized bundle and swept past me, leaving a cloud of rose-scented perfume in her wake.

Holmes was still smiling after he closed the door behind her. He turned to greet me, pausing to allow his observing eyes to brush me up and down before he spoke.

“You look regularly done, my friend. It must be difficult to spend an entire day treating children,” he said.

Weeks of frustration and a bad day at work culminated in the most venomous words I’ve ever uttered to anyone.

“So you fuck women now, too?”

His smile froze before it evaporated from his face. My coarse language must have cut to the quick, for he had to take a moment to compose himself before answering very quietly.

“Annette Bergeron is the madam of a respectable brothel in south London. I supply her with my chemically-treated sheaths to protect her ladies, their clients, and the reputation of her business. You are now the third person on earth who knows of this.”

I dropped my head in disgrace, though I was still angry.

Holmes sighed, and continued in an even softer tone.

“Perhaps it would be better, Watson, if you did not accompany me to Lyons.”

“I never had any intention of accompanying you to Lyons,” I spat. My stinging regret was worth his visible disappointment, but no sooner had I realized this when I knew I could not go on deliberately punishing us both.

“Ms. Bergeron has little to do with this, Holmes. I’m afraid I cannot abide your habits.”

He frowned at the floor.

“The constant stream of guests, not to mention the horrifying effects of your drug use, have tried my last nerve. I’m sorry. I don’t think I shall be able to remain here.”

He raised his astounded face to mine. The small triumph I felt at taking him off his guard faded with my own devastation that I would indeed have to leave him once and for all.

“As you wish, doctor,” was his strained reply, and he said no more. 

*          *          *         

Holmes departed for Lyons three days later, and I was left to decide the course of my future. It seemed useless to seek alternative lodgings while the reason for my flight was away on the Continent, so I remained where I was for the time being.

I passed a lonely and miserable two months. I performed my duties at St. Bart’s and stayed out past dark, either at my club or a tavern, in order to avoid spending time in the empty sitting room. I made a few aimless attempts to find other rooms, but never bothered to follow up with any of my contacts. I started several stories but did not finish them.

I heard not a word from Holmes and the affair of the Netherland-Sumatra Company, though in my mind I composed and re-composed the apologetic letter I hoped to receive. I imagined him begging my forgiveness, promising to change his ways and urging me to join him on the case. Of course, no such letter arrived.

In the meantime, I did receive a note from my old friend Colonel Hayter, who had been under my professional care in Afghanistan. He was a kind man, several years my senior, though he seemed younger in his ways and his energy. As he convalesced, we two spent long afternoons in conversation about the politics of war and found that our views upon the subject agreed entirely. I was happy to see him make a full recovery, but I regretted the day he left my care to return to England. I had made so few personal connections during that horrible time, his company and friendship had been genuine gifts.

And so, when I received his request asking me to visit him in Surrey, the timely offer of companionship was again most welcome. I agreed to call upon him the following weekend.

But the next day a newspaper headline announced that not only had Holmes prevailed in Lyons, he had succeeded where the police in three countries had failed, and outmaneuvered at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe. Jealousy and pride fought for the greater share of my conscience, which was still at odds when I received a strange telegram from France the night before I was to leave for Surrey:

 “TO MY FRIEND WATSON: PLEASE TO COME HOTEL DULONG. I AM AILING.”

Obviously, this had not come from Holmes, but likely the manager of the hotel whose grasp of English was secondary at best. For a moment I suspected a trap, but as I had been uninvolved in the case I could see no reason why a criminal unfamiliar with my name would wish to bring danger upon me. I wrote to Hayter postponing my arrival, and hastened to Lyons on the following morning.

I found Holmes locked in his room at the Hotel Dulong. After the manager let me in, I waded through a sea of congratulatory telegrams to the bed, where Holmes was lying prostrate and inanimate. I shook him awake. He opened one eye which immediately narrowed in the direction of the man behind me.

“I told you not to contact him,” he growled.

“But, sir,” said the perplexed manager, “you have not left your room in four days and I fear you lose your sane.”

“It’s all right,” I told the man with a light pat on the shoulder. “You did the right thing, and I thank you very much. I shall look after him now.”

Once the manager left, I sat down on the bed and regarded Holmes. He was pale, gaunt and in the throes of the blackest depression I’d ever seen. If he was glad to see me, it did not show beneath his disillusion and detachment.

“I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced,” he mumbled, and rolled to his side.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“Considering I’ve worked no less than fifteen hours a day for two months, I should say I’m faring splendidly,” he answered coolly.

“I’ve come to take you home.”

“Your home or mine?”

“As of now,” I responded lightly, “they are one in the same. May we put our differences aside long enough to make this journey?”

He grunted in assent, and made no attempts to stop me packing his things and shuffling him off to the train station. He remained silent for the duration of the journey. We did not speak again until we reached Baker Street.

“I shall have Mrs. Hudson draw you a bath,” I said, as I deposited his travel cases in his bedroom.

“That won’t be necessary. Please close the door on your way out.”

“Very well,” I said curtly.

After three days’ time it was evident that being back home was doing little, if anything, to improve Holmes’s health. He barely touched his meals, offered only desultory responses to my inquiries after his well-being, and remained sequestered in his bedroom. I was still angry with him, but still so desperately in love with him that I felt the renewed rush of dread and disappointment when I considered removing myself from his life. Nor could I bear to see him fade away.

With all the strength I could muster, I stoically implored him to join me at Colonel Hayter’s home near Reigate where the country air would surely go a long ways towards his recovery. At first, he was unmoved.

“And place myself in the care of a stranger and his probably over-attentive wife? No, thank you very much.”

“Holmes, Hayter is a bachelor and one of the kindest people I’ve met. If peace and quiet are what you require, than rest assured you shall have it.”

To my great surprise, it took no more urging. Thankfully, Hayter was amenable to hosting two guests, and Holmes and I arrived in Surrey the following Friday.

*          *          *

Colonel Hayter was just as I remembered him. He greeted us with the enthusiasm of a long-lost family member, and shook my hand warmly, the lines around his brown eyes creasing with mirthful recognition. He was careful in his praising of Holmes, who I’d warned him was still reeling from his recent exertions, and gently offered him the most comfortable guest quarters in the house. Holmes responded with his usual courteous detachment, which was the best I could have hoped for under the circumstances.

That night over dinner, Hayter regaled us with some fascinating tales of his life after he left Afghanistan. I was pleased when even Holmes interjected with a remark now and again, though I could see he was doing his best to keep to himself.

This attempt failed altogether later that evening, however, when Hayter remarked on a recent crime that had taken place at his neighbor’s home the Monday previous. Holmes was suddenly present again.

“Was there no clue as to identity of the burglars?” he piped up from his recline on the sofa.

Hayter recited for him the strange list of items that had been reported missing from Acton’s library, which only piqued the detective’s interests further.

“Holmes, you are here to rest,” I warned him. He shrugged and excused himself to bed.

Hayter and I spent the remainder of the evening drinking brandy and chatting amicably in front of the fire. I was so absorbed by our conversation that I was quite startled when Holmes appeared once more in the sitting room. He glared at us, snapped up his newspaper, and left the room.

“He’s quite an interesting character,” Hayter said good-naturedly.

I smiled. “His moods and tempers can be extreme, but he usually means no harm.”

An awkward silence fell over us. I wondered if Holmes had really gone to bed, or if he was listening somewhere nearby.

“You know, I’ve thought of you quite often since our first meeting,” Hayter finally said, glancing shyly over the rim of his glass.

“Have you?” My heart skipped a beat.

“Yes. You struck me as someone who would make a very good companion. I don’t know that I would have recovered as well or as quickly if you hadn’t been the one attending me.”

I was touched by his kind words. “And your friendship meant a great deal to me during one of the most difficult times of my life.”

Hayter nodded, and swirled the amber liquid over his palm. “Yes, I gathered you were suffering a personal crisis, though I didn’t wish to force your confidence. Is it…better now?” He leaned forward.

I kept my eyes on the fire. “Yes. It is.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, and placed his hand over mine where it was resting on the arm of my chair.

“I hope you don’t think me too forward, John,” he murmured. “I’m just so…very glad to see you.” He squeezed my hand and began to rub my arm.

“Hayter, if there’s—“

“Call me Geoffrey, please.”

“I’m not sure if I—“

He drew his hand back. “Have I offended you?”

“No, not at all. I just don’t know if I’m quite ready for this.”

“I understand,” he said, sitting back in his chair with quiet disappointment. “Perhaps you would be willing to take a walk with me tomorrow after breakfast?”

“I’d be delighted, Geoffrey. I must admit it’s been some time since I’ve enjoyed good company.”

He smiled into his glass.

“I think I shall retire for the night,” I said, rising from my chair. I grasped his shoulder and leant down. “I’m very glad to see you, too.”

He looked positively thrilled when he raised his face to mine, so much so that I planted a light kiss on his lips.

“Good night, John,” he whispered, and the blush on his cheeks showed I had not been wrong in my perceptions.

*          *          *

Holmes was quiet and withdrawn during breakfast, and I gathered he had not slept well. But Hayter was in a delightful mood, and we continued to converse as easily as we had the night before. Suddenly, his butler burst into the breakfast room.

“Have you heard the news, sir?” he gasped. “At the Cunninghams’ sir!”

“Burglary!” cried Hayter, with his coffee-cup in mid-air.

“Murder!”

Hayter whistled. “By Jove! Who's killed, then? The J.P. or his son?”

“Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot through the heart, sir, and never spoke again.”

“Who shot him, then?”

“The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got clean away. He'd just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his end in saving his master's property.”

“What time?”

“It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve.”

No sooner had Hayter’s butler announced the terrible news than the local inspector appeared on the rumor that the great Sherlock Holmes was lodging there.

Holmes instantly came alive next to me, and was full of questions for Inspector Forrester. I tried once again to prevent him from taxing his energies so soon after Lyons, but when I learned that the Reigate police were confounded, I had to finally relent.

I must admit the change in him was remarkable. Where Holmes had all but shut down since I met him at Hotel Dulong, he was now brimming with vigor. His grey eyes resumed their shrewd focus, his body its natural quickness. He pored over the scraps of evidence Forrester showed him, and was soon following him out the door to the scene of the crime.

“Well,” said Hayter after they left, “I guess this leaves us to our own devices. Still fancy a walk?”

Ten minutes later we two were ambling along the footpath that led from his house to a small pond. He told me the history of his property, and of the families who had lived there for over two centuries. We stopped now and again to examine the flora, which was a welcome contrast to the concrete and brick of the city. Nearly an hour had passed before our conversation turned to his other houseguest.

“You seem quite attuned to Mr. Holmes,” he observed. “You react very quickly to him, and he to you.”

“Well, we have been living together for some time now. And I’ve assisted him on a good number of cases.”

“Is that all?”

I stopped and turned. “Why do you ask?”

“You’ll forgive me for prying. I thought I perceived some history between you and him. I like to know what I’m up against.”

“Yes, Holmes and I were involved for a period of time.” I’d no wish to provide him with any more details.

“And now you’re…no longer?”

“No, it became necessary for us to go our separate ways. In fact, I am currently seeking new lodgings.”

Hayter’s face lit up. “Ah!”

“We’ve remained friends,” I was quick to add, though I’m not certain why.

“Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you two, but I won’t pretend I’m not happy to hear it.” He took a step towards me and brought his hand to my face. “You deserve a loving partner, John.”

I knew he was right, of course, but hadn’t realized how much it meant to me to hear it. I leaned forward and kissed him. It was a longer, deeper kiss than the one we’d shared last night. He was very unlike Holmes in his embrace; Hayter’s lips were soft and restrained, and moved loosely under mine.

When we parted, a fresh blush spread across his cheeks. I must have done the same, for he grazed his knuckles under my chin and smiled.

“I’ve some business in town this morning, and I imagine we ought to check in with the investigation after lunch. But perhaps you and I could continue our visit after dinner?” He looked up at me hopefully.

“I shall count on it,” I returned, and kissed him once more.

He left me standing by the pond. I stared out at the placid water and wondered what to think. I was flattered and excited by the attention, but even though it had been months since I’d been with Holmes, it felt strange to feel another man’s touch.

I remained deep in thought as I rounded the path and came to a small clearing. There I saw a tall, familiar figure studying a group of ducks across the water.

“I have spent a charming morning, Watson,” he said without looking over at me. “The inspector and I have made quite a little reconnaissance together.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, Holmes. I must say you’re looking much more yourself now.”

“This case,” he continued thoughtfully, bringing his index finger to his lips, “has many points of interest.”

“I’m eager to hear what you’ve discovered. Geoffrey and I planned on looking in on the Cunninghams after lunch.”

“Ah, so it’s ‘Geoffrey’ now, is it?” he said, turning a steely glare to me. “Well, he is a fine catch after all, Watson.”

I reddened and looked away. “You needn’t make so much of it, Holmes. I’m not—“

“I say, Watson, I’ve just thought of something I must relay to the inspector. I shall see you at the house.” And he turned and was gone.

*          *          *

Holmes was correct; the case did present many interesting facets. But more interesting than those was Holmes’s comportment as we visited the scene of the crime. I’m no stranger to his methods, and I’m well aware that he can’t resist a touch of the dramatic. But on this occasion his theatrics were so exaggerated I was nearly embarrassed.

A show of forgetfulness, a sudden faint, a brazenly clumsy maneuvre (which he pinned upon me), each somehow escaped Hayter, the inspector and the Cunninghams, but I knew he was setting some sort of trap. All the same, I feigned surprise when at last he revealed that the Cunninghams themselves were responsible for both the burglary at Acton’s and the murder of their coachman.

That evening at dinner, Hayter raised his glass in a hearty toast. “To Mr. Holmes, whose brilliant expertise has restored peace to our sleepy little village!”

Holmes tolerated his praises with stoic courtesy and even ate a bit of food. But there could be no escaping the fact that Hayter’s bright spirits had as much to do with me as the resolution of the case, especially to someone as observant as Holmes. After the final course was served, he politely excused himself and did not return again.

*          *          *

“It has been a remarkable couple of days, John,” said Hayter, as he sat down next to me on the sofa.

“Cases always seem to arise where you’d least expect them,” I replied, taking the glass of port that he handed to me.

Hayter placed a hand on my thigh and offered me an intimate smile. “You look quite handsome in that color. It matches your eyes.”

I was so unaccustomed to such flattery I didn’t know how to respond. I came up with an awkward thank you and sipped my port.

“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” he said and tilted my chin towards his face. He didn’t wait for an answer before he moved his mouth to mine. He tasted of port and the pheasant we’d had for dinner.

“Have you a pipe or a cigar?” I asked him when we broke apart.

“I’m afraid not. I haven’t smoked since I left Afghanistan.”

“No matter.”

Hayter settled back in the corner of the sofa. “So, what’s next for you? You say you are looking for lodgings elsewhere. Do you mean to stay in London?”

“Well, I’ve considered starting my own practice. I’ve taken on quite a number of patients at St. Bart’s.” I had hoped that Holmes and I would continue to work together, but I did not mention this.

“Have you ever considered moving to the country?”

“From time to time. But I’m not entirely certain I’m suited to this life.”

Hayter put his glass on the table and took my hand in his. “It may be livelier than you think,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “What if you started your practice in Surrey?”

I swallowed a small gasp. “I’ve…never considered such a thing before.”

“Would you?”

“Are you asking me to move to Reigate?”

“I’m asking you to move in here. With me.” He looked at me steadily, his brown eyes clear and earnest.

“My goodness, Geoffrey. I’m not sure what to say.”

“Say you’ll think about it at least.”

“All right,” I said, dazed by the offer.

“I can see you’ve been hurt, John,” he said as his fingers traveled gently over my face. “He doesn’t see in you the things that I see. He thinks too much of himself. I would show you all the love and care that you deserve.”

I looked into his face and was awed by the tender expression I saw there. He took the glass from my hand and placed it on the table next to his. In the next instant, he was upon me, grasping my shoulders and kissing me with unmistakable intention.

“John…” he moaned as he feverishly peppered kisses around my neck.

I put my arms around him and kissed him back.

So long. It had been so very long...

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
tripleransom
Sep. 11th, 2013 02:40 am (UTC)
Yikes! Just...yikes! This is certainly an original (and very cool) take on REIG.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )