AN: A thousand, thousand thank yous to everyone who reviewed! As you may or may not know, this was my first SH fic, and I was really scared that I didn't have enough of a grasp of the characters to do a good job. And while I'm still not sure about that, your encouragement helped so much. So thank you.
As to Watson's fate... To tell the truth, as I sit here writing this, I still don't know what's going to happen. But if I don't make up my mind soon, I'll tear out all my hair and have to answer awkward questions about how I managed to go bald overnight, and I think I'd rather avoid that.
Anyway: Here it is, folks. The conclusion.
Good Lord, I haven't even the slightest idea where to begin.
Let's try this again.
Anyway: Here it is, folks. The conclusion.
The time I spent outside Watson's sickroom as the surgeon worked on him felt to me like years passing. Not only did I detest the uncertainty clouding the atmosphere, but guilt was weighing heavily on my shoulders as well as fear. Watson had been wounded because of me--because my infernal pride had not allowed me to alert the Yard and go into the house with some backup. It had seemed to simple at the time, but the cost...
The cost could be the life of the single person on this earth whom I could not bear to lose.
I confess I was still entirely too shaken to be of much help to Lestrade, who was still piecing together the story. "The man pretended to be called Garrideb in order to make sure this other man Garrideb was out of his house so that he could get into the basement? I mean, when you think about it, that's rather absurd, isn't it? The whole thing is absurd. 'Finding three Garridebs?' I mean, I've heard some strange things in my time on the force, Mr. Holmes, but this is just about the strangest."
"Is it now," I answered, my anger at the little professional mounting by the second.
Lestrade, with unusual preception, seemed to realize. "I'm sure it's just blood loss, Mr. Holmes," he said, more quietly. "It probably looks much worse than it is. He's a strong fellow, you know."
I stopped pacing, as I had been doing since our arrival. "I am aware, Lestrade," I said forcefully.
"I mean, I know there was a lot of blood, but..." I glared at him, and he desisted.
His thoughts were very similar to my own, however. There truly had been a horrifying amount of blood, and Watson had lost consciousness so quickly... I tried to force the thoughts out of my head, but the guilt continued to pull them back--images of Watson lying on the ground, so still, and much too pale. I looked at Lestrade, who was sitting with his chin in his hand, staring at the wall, his posture reflecting the feeling that was beginning to creep over me, despite my attempts to shake it off.
I was dimly aware that I was shaking; try as I might to calm myself I could not, for once, contain my emotions. I fought against the chill, but it continued to rise within me, inexorably. Watson could not, could not be gone. Lestrade's slumped form, the dread chill that was enveloping my body--no, I was wrong, I had to be wrong, and I struggled desperately with the feeling, the certainty that was tearing into my chest. I couldn't lose hope, I wouldn't lose hope...
The surgeon stepped into our room, and my anxiety doubled within the second. He heasitated a moment to close the door before turning to us; I was sure my heart had stopped beating.
He spoke, then, and for as long as I live I shall never forget those words.
"Your man must have the very luck of the devil, sir."
-+-Author wipes brow-+-
I recall a moment of perfect, absolute comfort, as I lay in that dreamy state between true wakefulness and the arms of Morpheus. I was warm, and comfortable, and there was a sense of true contentment hanging in the air. It was as though I knew, and the world knew, that everything was all right.
Then I tried moving my arm, and I wished I hadn't woken up after all. Resisting the urge to swear, I gave up on that particular endeavour and waited for the pain to subside. I became more aware of my surroundings--I was lying in a bed, one that wasn't mine, as it didn't have that particular spring digging into my back. My shoulder was bandaged, and it felt like someone was holding onto my other hand. Then the events of the night came back to me, and things started falling into place. I shifted a little, and pain shot through me again. Blast, this was not going to be a pleasant experience.
The voice was as familiar to me as my own, and it succeeded in pulling me fully into wakefulness. I risked opening my eyes, blinking against the sudden brightness. "Holmes."
I heard him let out a shaky sigh and felt his hand tighten around mine. I tried to sit up, despite my previous experiences, and was rewarded with another jolt of pain.
"For heaven's sake, lie still, Watson," said Holmes, as I swore under my breath.
"What--ouch--what happened to Evans?"
"He's in police custody--Lestrade and Hopkins showed up quite soon after you--you lost consciousness."
The memory of the night's events began to sharpen, and I winced as I recalled the feeling of the bullet entering my shoulder. That one had been a close call... I turned to look at Holmes. He looked unusually pale, instead of his customarily indifferent façade his face showed nothing but relief, and his eyes, I noticed, were suspiciously bright. I realized how worried he must have been, and I was deeply touched, for I knew how my friend hated to display any sort of weakness. I squeezed his hand reassuringly, then frowned as something else from the night resurfaced. "You weren't hurt, were you? Evans fired two shots."
"No, Watson, I was not hurt. Killer Evans' aim was not as true as he would have liked it to be. But it was almost true enough--" He broke off, and took a deep breath, as if to steady his nervs. "According to the surgeon, you had a very lucky escape...my dear fellow, you frightened me half to death."
I managed to turn a little without hurting my injured arm, and looked him in the eye. "Holmes. It wasn't your fault."
A startled expression flashed over his face; I knew that those were not the words he expected to hear, but that it had been weighing on his mind all the same. "Watson--"
"Listen to me, Holmes. It was not your fault. You warned me of the danger ahead of time, and I chose to follow you. In no way should you be to blame."
I saw his features relax, almost impreceptibly. He said nothing, but gave me a small smile.
"So Lestrade has his man," I said, sitting back into the pillows. "No doubt you wished to keep your name out of the affair?"
"I had wished to, but in the circumstances it was difficult," he answered. "I believe Lestrade will retain most of the credit for the capture of the criminal, however. We will merely have been of some slight assistance. The papers will probably not print the full story, as I don't think I gave Lestrade quite a full enough account of it for him to relate it to them." He raised an eyebrow at me. "And you? Will this event appear in one of your romanticized accounts of our little adventures?"
I shrugged, then regretted it. "To tell the truth, Holmes, it seems a bit outrageous, when you think about it," I said, wincing. "Why, I'm not sure if it was a comedy or a tragedy. 'Three Garridebs...' I shall certainly have to write an account of it, if not for the public then for my own satisfaction, at least. It really was a remarkable adventure."
Holmes smiled, and I saw a glimmer of what I believed to be genuine fondness in his eyes. "It most certainly was, my dear Watson," he said, softly. "It most certainly was."
AN: Wow. I have to say, that was an EXPERIENCE! I was actually visibly shaking while I was writing bits of this. (That might have more to do with the fact that it's almost 4 am than anything else, but shhhh...) Reviews, as always, are welcome, and I have to thank bcbdrums again for presenting us with this challenge in the first place; it was excellent fun.