This is a little late, as I've been away and also wanted to get Jack In The Green properly drafted before I started anything else.
Usual disclaimer: None of this belongs to me, yadda yadda...
It was late when I returned to Baker Street that night.
I was cold and wet and looking forward to seeking my bed without delay. My fledgling practice was taking no little work to get off the ground, and my attention had been consumed with it for more than a week. Holmes was caught up in a complicated case, the details of which he had not shared with me and I had not found the time to ask. As I was away during the day and he invariably most of the night, we had not seen each other for some time, and I was therefore surprised upon entering the sitting room to find him not only present, but still up at such an hour.
He greeted me cheerfully enough from his position before the fire. I was only too glad to shuck my damp overcoat and join him there, warming my chilled hands. My wound was aching badly from the inclement weather, reminding me with force that it had not been too long healed. I felt an accompanying twinge from my shoulder as I rubbed my hands together, holding them out to the blaze.
"The case is concluded, then?" I asked idly as we stood there. If Holmes was back then there could only be one reason why and I did not need to be a private consulting detective to work out what it was.
He did not look up, one foot kicking at the fender. "Yes," he said, but there was no enthusiasm or triumph in his voice. That must mean that things had not gone well, and I glanced at him, slightly concerned. His face was turned away from me, his eyes fixed on the flames. His left arm rested along the mantelpiece, the hand of the other curled around the bowl of his pipe as he took an occasional puff. All seemed normal enough, but there was something not quite right. I could feel it, but I could not put my finger on exactly what it was.
"I suppose Mrs Hudson has gone to bed," I remarked as my stomach rumbled, reminding me that no food had passed my lips since early afternoon. Perhaps I could sneak down to the kitchen and make a sandwich… I considered the possibility for a few moments before I became aware that Holmes had not responded. "Holmes? I said, I suppose that Mrs Hudson – good God!"
He had finally raised his head, and I saw with alarm that his face, though always pale, was utterly drained of colour. There was a vaguely apologetic expression upon his aquiline features as he said, quite calmly, "I really am most terribly sorry, Doctor, but I think I am going to faint." A second after this startling admission, his eyes rolled up into his head and he would have fallen face down upon the hearthrug had I not been precipitate enough to leap forwards and catch him.
I nearly stumbled under his sudden weight, meagre though it was, and dragged him to the sofa, settling him comfortably there and loosening his collar. Sherlock Holmes was not given to fainting, and I hurriedly checked his pulse, finding it to be thready, racing. There were one or two bruises to the left side of his face which he had kept turned away from me, but they were not serious and would certainly not account for such a sudden collapse. I made a swift examination, running my hands over his chest, his shoulders, searching for injury. Sure enough, as I withdrew my hand from his left arm my fingers came away slick with blood. It was all but invisible on the thick black cloth of his coat, but the fabric was soaked, the blood glistening slightly in the lamplight. I do believe that as I stared at my gore-stained hand my heart did actually skip a beat.
Holmes was still unconscious, for which I was momentarily grateful as I manoeuvred him out of his coat. Beneath it the sleeve of his shirt was a horrible red, reminding me of the terrible injuries I had seen on the battlefield. I determinedly pushed those memories away, difficult though it was, and looked closer. A clumsy bandage had been wound around his forearm, but the dressing was crude, probably held in place by his coat, and had done little to stem the bleeding. I fetched my bag and found the necessary instruments to cut away the ruined sleeve and remove the bandages, revealing a deep gash that ran almost the whole way between the elbow and the wrist. It was nasty, and I could not be sure that some of the nerves were not damaged. I wondered who on earth could have done this to him – I had patched up the odd bruise or scrape before, but never anything like this. I felt quite sick at the thought of him battling with some unknown opponent before somehow making his way alone to Baker Street and applying such a clumsy treatment by himself.
I gathered my professional resolve and, not wishing to wake Mrs Hudson and cause her worry, I went downstairs to fetch water and clean linen myself. By the time I returned Holmes was stirring, his collapse I now knew due to shock and the large amount of blood he had lost. He blinked up at me in confusion as I settled down beside him and began to clean the wound.
"…Watson? What - " he began, but I cut him off.
"It's all right, Holmes. I will deal with it. Just rest," I told him.
He laid his head back against the cushion and groaned. "I did not…wish you to see this."
"So I observed. Was it your intention to bleed to death, or would that merely have been an irritating side-effect?" I immediately regretted the words - my anxiety was making me snappish, and even weak from loss of blood he looked stung by my remark.
"I do not need your assistance, Doctor!" he exclaimed, half sitting up before I pushed him very firmly back down onto the sofa.
"On the contrary, it is quite clear to me that you do!" I retorted, nettled as well. "You have made a thoroughly ham-fisted job of that dressing – it would shame even the most junior medical student."
"I am not accustomed to managing such things with one hand," he said, shooting me a glare, and I found myself wondering how many other injuries he had succeeded in keeping from me over the past year.
"Well, this will need more than a bandage," I replied. "The wound must be stitched. It will be uncomfortable, and I need you to lie still. As you are already weak I do not want to administer any morphine unless absolutely necessary."
With a weary nod, he closed his eyes. "Very well, if you must."
I prepared a needle and suture thread, and pulled the lamp closer in order that I might have more light to work by. I had performed the procedure many times in conditions far less suitable, but that had been some time ago and such skills are liable to become rusty without constant use.
Holmes did not make a sound as I inserted the needle. Over the years I have come to take his iron nerves almost for granted, but on this first occasion I will admit to being impressed by his incredible self-control. He did not move a muscle during the entire procedure, though it must have been extremely uncomfortable for him. I wrapped the injury in new bandages and made him make a fist and flex his fingers several times to be sure that there had been no damage to the nerves. When I was satisfied, I went to the sideboard and poured him a medicinal brandy. I gave it to him, and then poured one for myself, suddenly aware as the decanter clinked noisily on the rim of the glass that my hands were shaking. I took a deep breath.
"Holmes," I said quietly, "Who did this to you?"
He hesitated, glancing at me over the rim of his glass for a few moments before he said, "One of Fredrickson's men."
"The forger?" I recalled some mention of such a case some days ago.
He nodded. "There was a scuffle; one of them had a knife. I saw off the other two, but he was too quick for me. I managed to fell him with the butt of my revolver, but he had already sliced me, as you see."
I stared, horrified. "You went in against them alone?" I said. "Holmes, you could have been killed!"
"It is a hazard of my profession," he replied, affecting a shrug. "I will be ready for them the next time."
"You cannot be ready for them every time."
"That is a chance I will have to take." He swallowed the rest of the brandy and lay back, his injured arm lying across his chest where I had placed it.
I gulped at my own drink, trying not to gasp as the liquid burned the back of my throat. When I had recovered my voice, I said, "There is one way to beat the odds."
Holmes glanced at me and arched a questioning eyebrow.
"Take me with you."
The words surprised me as much as they obviously did him. His eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head. "No, Doctor. I could not ask that of you."
"It was not a request, Holmes, it was a statement. I am insisting." Now that the idea had struck it was rapidly taking hold. I had come to value his friendship – for such it was becoming – and the thought of losing a friend in such a way was abhorrent to me. I had seen too many lives thrown away to allow Holmes to be reckless with his. "I do not want to spend another evening like this. The next time could be much, much worse. When you next go out on one of these adventures, someone will be there to watch your back, and that someone will be me."
I waited for his response, but he said nothing, and so I waited a little longer. Perhaps he did not wish me to intrude further upon his business, and would refuse my assistance.
"Holmes?" I asked eventually, tentatively. "What do you think?"
He made no reply, and I crossed to his side. As the empty brandy glass slipped from his limp fingers onto the carpet, I realised that exhaustion had overcome him, and he was asleep. Whether he had heard my last words I had no idea, but I knew that I would keep to them. He would live to fight another day, but he would fight alone no longer.
I picked up the glass and drew a thick afghan over him to ward off the chill, before turning down the gas and settling into an armchair to keep a watch for an hour or two at least. There was always a chance of fever in these cases, but I felt sure he would recover without difficulty. I would make sure that he did.
The enemy had drawn first blood, but they would find it much harder the second time.