A/N: I've recently been polishing up my older fics and have taken the liberty of making this particular one seem more coherent, while also adding in a few lines of introspection here and there that were cut from the original draft. Having gone back to re-read them, I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the omitted bits met my approval years later, and, in my opinion, contributed well to the story. While they should not change anything of significance herein, might make this lean more towards pre-slash. Just so you know.
It was well into the small hours of the morning in late January '83, about that time before dawn when shades of gray and pink integrate into the night sky, when I heard the front door creak open, followed shortly thereafter by an audible thud. Undoubtedly the third floor tenant, Mr Merriforth, returning from a night spent in the most disreputable taverns and houses of ill repute London had to offer. His escapades were becoming a frequent enough occurrence of late that no sooner had I heard this than I dismissed it from my mind.
With a glass of dark brandy in hand, I stoked the fire before slumping down into my armchair with a sigh. Sleep was a tantalizing proposition at the moment, but I knew it would never come with my nerves strung high as they were. It had been scarcely an hour before when I had been knocked up from a peaceful slumber the persistent pounding upon our sitting room door by one Inspector Cartwright. I had, only once before, the displeasure of making the fellow's acquaintance, shortly after moving to Baker Street, and that single encounter was about all of him I could stomach. Granted, he was perspicacious enough to have won a passing tolerance by Holmes, but I made it a point to avoid any investigation I knew he might be involved with, so much did his very presence have the effect of making my skin crawl, for Cartwright seemed to me as malicious and arrogant as he was quick witted.
By the time I threw on my threadbare blue dressing gown and rushed down the stairs to investigate the cause of this commotion at so irregular an hour, I found Mrs Hudson had been roused as well and was letting the Inspector know in no uncertain terms that she would not tolerate such churlish behavior from anyone, including the official police force. Not at four in the morning, anyhow.
I suppressed a grin, knowing she handled with grace far worse from Holmes.
Be that as it may, I managed to subdue the threatening storm that was our formidable landlady's temper, escorting her back down to her rooms whilst assuring her I would clean up whatever mess her insufferable lodger had brought upon our doorstep. With a huff, our landlady retired, no doubt cursing herself all the while for ever renting to Sherlock Holmes.
"Holmes!" Cartwright shouted the moment he entered our sitting room - or rather, as he dramatically flung open the door and stormed into my companion's bedroom. "Holmes! Where the devil are you, you dirty, cowardly blackguard!"
I attempted to interject at several points as the Inspector proceeded to tear our rooms apart, searching every corner for Holmes as though he would stoop to hiding under the settee in lieu of a confrontation. However, he was ignoring my presence so thoroughly that for a moment I wondered if I was even standing beside him or back upstairs dreaming all this.
"Cartwright," I finally interrupted successfully, taking the man by the elbow. "Holmes left our rooms in some haste two days ago, shortly after breakfast, and has not returned since. And no - I haven't the faintest idea as to his whereabouts or when to expect him back. He's often gone for days at a time when on a case, and if it was not business enough of mine for him to tell me where he went, it's certainly not my place to give you any more information."
The inspector bristled at my words, turned several shades redder and, before leaving as unexpectedly as he had arrived, shook a warning fist at me.
"Confound that man! Doctor, you give Mr Holmes a message from me. If that man dares continue to mock the good laws of England and get in the way of our official investigations again, I will personally come round and horsewhip him once for every man down at the Yard! He has tried my patience far too many times, and he'll do best to remember that. Good-night," he finished, slamming the door in his wake with no little force.
Only the devil knew what Holmes had been sticking his nose into now, but lucky for him he had not been around to find himself on the receiving end of Cartwright's wrath. Of course, at one point or another, nigh on half the Yarders had threatened him with bodily injury for what they saw as interference, but this… not only did I believe he would have dragged Holmes out of bed - had he been there - to dole out a thrashing he should not soon forget, I also realized this was not going to be the last we would see of that man.
So here I waited at this ungodly hour, anticipating giving Holmes a good verbal thrashing myself, and pondering how one of these days, his methods would sink him in waters so deep, not even I would be able to pull him out, when there came another, more distinct thumping from the staircase, as if some great weight had been unceremoniously hurled down with some force. And while it may have been my overwrought nerves playing tricks upon a weary brain, there was, I swore, a most dismal groan accompanying the clatter. At this, of course, my medical instincts were aroused, for it was likely that the upstairs tenant would need assistance if he had not managed to right himself by now. As much as I could not approve of the fellow or his habits, my oath as a medico did take precedence.
Imagine my horror, then, when I stood on the landing and saw not Mr Merriforth in a drunken stupor, but Sherlock Holmes slumped over on his side, face buried in the carpeting. Even from the landing I could discern that his breathing was heavy and laboured, as though the five or six stairs he had managed to ascend was some feat of Herculean proportions. For his iron will to be reduced to this pitiable state was more frightening to me than the sight of him barely conscious on the stairs.
"Holmes!" I cried, rushing to his side. "Oh, my dear fellow! What's happened to you?"
Kneeling before him, I stroked his unkempt hair in an effort to make him turn towards me. My only response, however, was a low growl, intended as a remonstrance to what I knew he perceived as mollycoddling of the worst order, yet I was not to be deterred. Ignoring his weak attempt at expressing dissent, I proceeded to check the pulse at his neck, which was weak yet overly fast. This was suggestive to me of a fair amount of blood loss, and unfortunately my theory was confirmed true when I noticed the blood welling steadily through his trousers at the upper thigh, dripping onto the step into an alarmingly large puddle. Sweeping back his greatcoat revealed a substantial portion of his pelvis down to the mid left thigh were saturated with blood, a fair portion of which had already dried, even as the wound still bled afresh. This was neither an insignificant nor recent injury for the initial bleeding to have since dried so thoroughly. By Jove, how long ago must he have been wounded?
I must confess my stomach turned at the thought of Holmes trudging through the snow with this ghastly injury - and he had not seen fit to take a cab, of that I was sure. Using his own methods, I was able discern his trouser legs were thoroughly soaked with snow nearly up to his calves, indicating that he had indeed walked quite some way before finally succumbing to shock and fatigue before collapsing in our hallway.
When I snaked my arm underneath the poor fellow's waist in attempt to haul him up off the staircase, I was met with his usual resistance towards another's help. With much less force than I knew he was capable of, he shoved my arm aside and, without looking up, spat at me to "sod off, there's a good fellow". A surge of relief did flood through me at this, for surely Holmes' condition was not so bad off if he was still cognizant enough to be considering his pride. Proud or not, though, I was his physician as well as fellow lodger, and whilst I always obeyed his injunctions in the nearly two years we had been sharing rooms together, I was not giving in to his stubbornness this time.
Again I attempted to turn him over, but again he pushed me away with what must have been all the strength he could muster. His grip was pathetically weak for any grown man but doubly so for him. This feeble attempt to push me away was followed by the most colourful string of slurred insults and curses mumbled into the carpeting, though I hoped this was to blame on the effects of the shock more so than any actual ill feelings harboured towards me.
Be that as it may, I could be equally stubborn as Holmes, and would not be put off. With his third attempt to shove me, his arm collapsed under its own weight. At this he went silent, breath coming in panting gasps. I who knew him so well understood this was not simply from the exertion. Within those thinly veiled attempts to cover his sobs, I heard the very breaking of Sherlock Holmes' pride, and the sight of what my friend was reduced to clamped down upon my own heart like a merciless vice.