Title: Heart of the Matter
Authors: med_cat and wirral_bagpuss
Word count: 3,200
Summary: Watson falls ill and Holmes has to help him.
A/N: our story which we recently posted on Watson's Woes and fanfiction.net
Heart of the Matter
"You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"
It was worth a wound -- it was worth many wounds -- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.
All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
(“The Three Garridebs”)
November 20, 9 a.m.
I was wearily stoking the fire in the sitting room. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I was still tired from the frantic chase through the back alleys of London last night. Our quarry had been Fossett, a brutal murderer responsible for the deaths of two men, one a retired lawyer, the other a policeman.
Having built up the fire, I sat back in my chair and sighed. Watson had been with me last night and he had struggled to keep up the pace. Both of us were not getting any younger, I dismally reflected, and these chases were taking their toll on both of us. Indeed, Watson must have been exhausted by last evening’s events as he has not come downstairs yet, contrary to his habits. I decided to let him sleep for a little while longer. Just then, Mrs. Hudson walked into the sitting room with the breakfast tray and the morning papers, and I applied myself to both.
It was with great difficulty that I awakened that morning. My limbs seemed weighed down with lead and I found I was unusually short of breath, as well as plagued by a vague discomfort in the substernal region. Ruefully thinking that I was certainly not getting any younger, I arose, determined to shake off this strange malaise the best that I could. I stumbled towards my bedroom mirror and it was with some consternation that I saw a pale reflection of my usual self in that mirror. No more running around the back alleys of London for me in the next few days, I thought wearily. And as if to emphasize that point, I felt a twinge of pain in my wounded leg. “Physician, heal thyself,” I thought glumly. I pulled on my dressing gown and headed downstairs, hoping that a cup (or two) of coffee and some breakfast would set me to rights.
Holmes briefly glanced up from his intent perusal of the morning Times’ agony column as I shuffled into our sitting room. His brows drew together in puzzlement.
“Good morning, Watson. Surely you cannot be hung over from the one brandy you had last night after we arrived home…or have you hidden a bottle of liquor under your bed and have been nipping at it on the sly?” his tone was gently teasing and his eyes twinkled.
I couldn’t muster the strength to respond to his good-natured obligatory teasing and settled for slumping into my chair instead. I could not suppress a groan as I did so, and Holmes was immediately scrutinizing me with what I could only describe as concern.
“Seriously, Watson, are you quite all right?”
“I—I don’t know…” I faltered, trailing off as the vague substernal discomfort suddenly flared into pain severe enough to make me gasp. I pressed my palm to my chest in a vain attempt to obtain some relief, and as I did, I felt myself break out in a cold sweat. Noting with a strange detachment that the room suddenly looked hazy, I desperately looked in Holmes’s direction and saw a blurry image of him leaping out of his chair. I idly wondered what could possibly alarm him so, and then I knew no more.
"Time," according to the old proverb, "is money;" and it may also, in many cases, and with equal truthfulness, be said to be life; for a few moments, in great emergencies, often turn the balance between recovery and death. (Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management)
I was just quick enough to prevent Watson’s head from striking the floor. Easing him down to the floor gently, I fell to my knees beside his still form. I tore Watson’s collar open and shook his shoulder, calling his name. There was no response. As I frantically searched for a pulse, I felt my own heart skip a beat. There was a faint beating in his wrist…growing fainter even as I laid my fingers on it…but he was not breathing. I desperately tried to take charge of the panic that shook my entire frame; this was no time for hysterics. What was it that Watson had told me to do when someone stopped breathing? Ah yes…artificial respiration…and heart not beating efficiently either…what was that newfangled method Watson was discussing and demonstrating the other day with such unbridled enthusiasm?... That was it, chest compressions…
Breathing first…I raised and lowered his arms as the air hissed in and out of his lungs. Then I placed my interlocked hands on Watson’s sternum and pressed down firmly. Press…release…again…now…raise and lower his arms as the air hissed in and out…again…press…release…the world narrowed to Watson’s face in front of me, deathly pale and slack in unconsciousness. I was working frantically, my mind racing all the while. I have always fancied myself an atheist, but much to my surprise (and somewhat to my dismay), I found myself praying to whatever Higher Power would listen...”If it is a life you want, take mine--surely his is of more use here...you are omnipotent, after all, if what they say is true...or if you'd rather take years off my life and add to his, take as many as You will..." My voice trembled as I spoke my thoughts out loud, not caring if anyone heard me.
I have always prided myself on being rational, but I found that in this instance, I was not rational at all…and I was far from being mortified by the fact; on the contrary, I didn’t care a whit…as long as Watson would be all right. My mind was racing still...is that how it felt to be helpless? I never thought about it before. Dear Heaven, how do doctors live with that? How does he?
After several interminable minutes, I was finally rewarded with a gasp from Watson, then another; slowly his breathing grew deeper and more regular. I gently pulled him into a semi-sitting position, supporting him, holding him tightly close to me and softly asked, “Watson?” He opened his eyes to meet my concerned gaze and attempted to speak but obviously found himself too weak to even make the effort. Seeing this, I gently squeezed his hand.
“It’s all right, Watson, don’t try to talk, just rest,” I said to him…confound it, but my voice was unsteady. I lifted him up as steadily as I could, carried him to my bedroom and gingerly laid him down. Despite my best effort not to jostle him, Watson groaned involuntarily as I was laying him on the bed. I rushed to the door of the room and bellowed for Mrs. Hudson to call a doctor. Mrs. Hudson acknowledged my request and I heard the front door shut behind her mere seconds later.
I ran back to Watson’s side and sat down on the edge of the bed. Taking Watson’s hand, I slid my fingers onto his radial artery; his pulse was still weak but regular enough…at least as far as I could tell. For the first time in my life, I actually found myself wishing my knowledge of medicine extended beyond anatomy. His eyes were open, but he was barely responding; he appeared to be slipping back into the encroaching darkness. I heard a very faint whisper; Watson was valiantly struggling to speak, but what I heard chilled me to my very core.
“…Afraid…don’t leave me….” He murmured wearily before his eyes drifted closed and he lost the battle to stay awake.
Still gripping his hand, I bowed my head, struggling for control. Watson, a soldier and a doctor, was afraid. And I realised that so was I.
Please, God, I despairingly thought, don’t take Watson away from me, he is my light and anchor in this world. Was this my fault somehow, for dragging him out on the chase last night? He had seemed in such good health and spirits lately…but oh, what if it was my fault? I’d never forgive myself…
“Don’t look so worried, Mr. Holmes,” said the doctor kindly. “Fear and a feeling of impending doom are common symptoms in heart attacks.”
“But he will recover?” I absently noticed that I had leaped to my feet in my anxiety and that my voice was rising in pitch.
“Mr. Holmes, sit down,” the doctor said. I obeyed mechanically.
“I am not a clairvoyant,” the doctor continued, “…but I do have every hope of his recovery. Mr. Holmes, are you all right?”
“Yes,” I breathed. “Never better.”
“Well, if you’re quite certain,” he responded doubtfully, “as you did turn rather an interesting shade of green for a moment.”
I waved my hand dismissively. “I’m quite all right, I assure you. Doctor…” I searched his face, finding my suspicions confirmed, and continued before I could lose my nerve, “…is there something else you’re not telling me?”
The doctor looked at me quizzically and hesitated for a moment...this was not a good sign. The moment seemed to stretch for an eternity...but finally, he began speaking. “Mr. Holmes, thanks in no small part to your quick thinking and skill, Dr. Watson will most likely survive and recover. I’ve administered morphine and nitroglycerine; he should be able to rest comfortably for a few hours at least. However...I must caution you, from what we know of this disease, the attacks are likely to come back. The only way to minimize their frequency is to slow down, reduce the work load and anxiety. Dr. Watson simply cannot continue at the pace he has been keeping. Fresh air and curtailing smoking would also help. I would also advise keeping nitroglycerine or amyl nitrite within easy reach at all times, should another attack occur.”
On hearing the news, I collapsed into a nearby chair, stunned by what I have heard. Fortunately, the doctor had the foresight to pour me a glass of brandy. I accepted it gratefully, swallowing it in one gulp. The doctor continued his prognosis.
“Dr. Watson was fortunate. He survived this attack this time; we must consider it a warning. The frequency of further incidents will be minimized only if he has a complete change of pace. He is not young any longer and if he continues the life he leads now...”
I was desperately struggling to keep my emotions in check as I got up and escorted the doctor to the door.
“Thank you for everything you have done, Doctor, I do appreciate your frankness in this matter”. And with a swift wave of my hand, I indicated that the interview was at an end.
When the doctor had finally left, I went into my bedroom and saw Watson sleeping peacefully. Slumping into the chair beside Watson, I observed him breathing in and out. The doctor’s words were reverberating in my mind. Dr Watson was fortunate. He survived the attack this time; we must consider it a warning. I placed my hand on Watson’s and then it seemed my control failed me no matter how hard I attempted to maintain it; tears slid down my cheeks as one thought hurt me above any other. Watson could have died because of me. How foolish I have been. I nearly killed my best friend, my only friend. Desperately trying to contain myself, I started thinking. Our era of chasing criminals and fighting for justice was over. It was time for a new generation to take on the fight. We had done our part for Queen and country, as it were. It was time to look to the future, as that future had nearly come to an abrupt end today. I lost track of time as these thoughts and more engulfed me. And then I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a weak voice.
“Holmes, it’s all right, not your fault. This was bound to happen to one of us, sooner or later,” rasped Watson. “Especially as my father died in his 50s of the same ailment...”
“And you never said anything about that?!” I could not keep a note of censure out of my voice.
“Would it have made any difference?” he smiled wearily.
“I—I don’t know...” I trailed off miserably, unable to meet his eyes.
“Holmes, look at me,” he whispered. I obeyed, finding no blame in the hazel depths—only concern, kindness, determination...dimmed albeit they were from weariness and morphine.
“We will find a way through this together, as friends do,” Watson whispered.
“Thank you, my dear Watson,” I forced past the lump in my throat.He smiled contentedly and dozed off again.
A few days later, both Holmes and Watson were sitting in front of the living room fire. Watson was propped up with pillows on the couch, eagerly perusing the latest issue of The Lancet. He was recovering but Holmes was watching him and making sure he was comfortable. The sitting room door creaked open, revealing Mrs. Hudson, who came in with a telegram for Holmes. Holmes tore it open and then let out a cry of joy, announcing,
“Watson, how would you like to come and stay with me in Sussex for the next chapter in our lives?”
Watson put down his medical journal and stared at Holmes in disbelief.
“Sussex, Holmes?! But... how?….” stammered Watson
Holmes only smiled in amusement as he turned to their landlady.
“Mrs. Hudson, would you do us both the honour of you joining us?”
Their landlandy stopped piling the empty plates on a tray, turned and stared at Holmes and then heavily sat on the nearest chair.
“Mr Holmes! You want me to join you and Dr. Watson in the Sussex countryside?”
Holmes tilted back his head and laughed.
“Yes, Mrs. Hudson, Watson would miss your wonderful cooking. We certainly would not expect you to do all the hard work since you deserve to join us in our retirement. We will employ the service of someone else to do the main housekeeping. You don’t have to accept the offer, of course, but we would very much appreciate it if you did.” Holmes turned to Watson, who eagerly nodded his head in agreement.
“Yes, of course, Holmes, I concur completely. Life in Sussex would not be the same without you, Mrs. Hudson, and I too would very much like you to join us. After all, it is the least we can do, after you have put up with Holmes’s more exotic rearrangement of the furniture and walls...” Watson grinned widely as he eyed the jacknife in the mantelpiece and the bullet ridden wall with the “VR.”
Mrs. Hudson smiled knowingly and replied with tears in her eyes,
“It will be my pleasure to accompany you in retirement. I once claimed you were the worst tenants in London. If anything, both of you are the kindest and wisest men I have ever known.”
Mrs Hudson left, taking the tray with her, and then returned a few minutes later with a new tray, on which she carried a bottle of champagne to the delight of the two men.
“I thought it was an appropriate time to bring this out. I will be sad to leave Baker Street, but all good things come to an end, and we should start the beginning of a new era.”
Holmes, Watson and Mrs. Hudson picked up a glass and glasses clinked in unison. It was the last time Baker Street would see them all united in celebration.
“Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt”
[The willing are led by fate, the reluctant dragged]
The soft summer’s breeze gently ruffled Holmes's and Watson's hair as they reclined in their deckchairs soaking in the dying rays of the summer’s sun that was beginning to set. Holmes was admiring his beehives, and Watson was reading a medical journal. Watson rubbed his eyes as the light began to dim and yawned, putting down his journal.
“Tired, Watson?” asked Holmes with some amusement but a hint of concern in his voice.
Watson turned to look at Holmes with a warm smile and looked at him thoughtfully before replying.
“I’m all right, Holmes, just not used to this sedentary lifestyle we have now. Holmes, I never really did thank you for saving my life a few weeks ago. If it had not been for you, I would not be here now...”
Holmes tried to interrupt Watson, but Watson raised his hand.
“Holmes, please, I need to say this, as I may not get a chance to do so again. I know that underneath that cold exterior of yours, you are a caring person. It is my honour and pleasure to have you not as a colleague and patient all these years, but also as my friend. My only true friend. And don’t think I didn’t know about the Strand issues you kept hidden under your bed, Mrs. Hudson found them when we moved out of Baker Street and took great delight in telling me about them! ” said Watson in jest.
Holmes looked at Watson in surprise and then laughed.
“Oh, Watson, I really never do get your limits. If you had died that day, I would never have been able to carry on. You are too important to me. Without your friendship, I have nothing in my life. It is I who should thank you. You have saved my life more times than I can remember. I cannot ever possibly repay the debt that I owe you, my dear fellow.” Holmes spoke with much emotion and there were tears in his eyes.
At this point, much to both of their relief, Mrs. Hudson came out with a tray of cloudy lemonade and honey cakes. She settled the tray down on a nearby table and poured both Holmes and Watson a drink and passed it to them together with a honey cake each. She sat back in her chair and sipped her own lemonade, sighing.
“It is a lovely evening, is it not? Those colours of gold and red look wonderful. I think we shall have another warm day tomorrow. And I have jars of honey to take to the market. They should sell for a good price. It is the talk of the village, the honey tastes wonderful. How do you do it, Mr. Holmes?”
Holmes smiled, his eyes closed as he soaked in the rays of the sinking sun.
“I have always wanted to keep bees, my Father and his Father before him all kept bees. I was shown as a small child how bees are kept, and how to bring out the best flavour in honey. Watson, you may be interested to hear that I have just written a monograph on the subject. It is being published in The Strand Magazine next month”.
Now it was Watson’s turn to laugh, and Mrs. Hudson joined in the laughter. Their laughter filled the summer air long into the night. As the friends slept by the fire later that evening, a slip of paper fell to the floor from a book that Holmes had been reading. It was a note from Watson which simply read,
A brother may not be a friend, but a friend will always be a brother.Benjamin Franklin