Disclaimer: I don't own Sherlock Holmes.
Thanks to the people who reviewed! Sorry if I didn't reply to anyone, I tried to catch everyone.
WARNING: does NOT contain slash, but does contain blood, violence, limp, angst (yippee!) and possibly some strong language.
Watson slept a lot over the next couple of days. Holmes steered clear of the quiet room next to his, happy to give the other man some silence at last. Instead, he spent his time cooped up in his own room. Sometimes he played his ancient violin, gazing vacantly out of the window and into the street below as he did so. Sometimes he glanced through the endless stream of letters he received daily, most of which went straight into the bin and others of which became burried under other paperwork and forgotten. Sometimes he played with the chemicals and bits and pieces spread out around his room. He was careful not to make too much noise, just in case.
Sometimes he sat in the armchair in the corner of the room and watched the wall that seperated his room from Watson's, and listened. He didn't know what he wanted to hear, but he never knew anything but an infuriating silence which sent him plodding back to whatever distraction he could find.
He heard Mrs. Hudson walking past his room three times each day, bringing a tray of food to Watson. Sometimes she left something on the ground outside his own room, but he was rarely interested. He was more concerned about how long she spent talking to him, whether he rejected the food or not, what he said to her. He didn't like asking Mrs. Hudson herself, as she seemed to find his questions somehow rude or ignorant. Instead, he sat with his back against the door of his room and listened and counted the seconds before she left. In this fashion he noticed a gradual increase in appetite and mood until eventually Mrs. Hudson left the room humming brightly to herself almost every time. Pleased with this thought, he began to spend more time on his own things rather than listening for his companion. But still, Watson made no sign of emerging from his room.
Which was why, when he was sitting in his armchair examining the handwritting of one paticular letter which niggled at his mind slightly more than the others, he didn't expect the sudden voice that came from the doorway.
Holmes started violently and the letter crumpled into his fist. Watson smirked. He leant against the doorway, a plain shirt hanging open around him to show the bandages beneath. One arm was wrapped protectively around his stomach, as if he was still having trouble straightening up. Holmes scrambled to his feet in an undignified lurch, gripping the letter tightly.
"Well, I see your time in bed has not altered your manners. You didn't even knock!"
Watson laughed wearily and pushed off the doorway. He moved gingerly forwards, his hand still on his side. Holmes remained where he was, watching as Watson walked slowly over to him and sat down cautiously in the cluttered, stained armchair opposite his own. He studied his friend carefully. His face still held that unhealthy pallor, but at least now his eyes were opening completely and focussing on him. Holmes cleared his throat and spread the letter out once more, moving away to replace it on the growing mountain on his desk.
"Mrs. Hudson has been very attentive to you over the last few days. I feel quite excluded."
"She always did prefer me," Watson said, his mouth twitching into a grin.
Holmes rolled his eyes as he made his way back over and sat down, leaning his elbows on his knees. Sunlight streamed through the window between them, a glittering flood of brightness striking into the darkness of the messy room. He could see the thought of her clear in Watson's eyes as the other man stared out into the sky, blinking against the blaze. Holmes didn't speak first. He never did.
"Mrs. Hudson brought me the paper. I see Lord Blackwood has been hanged - again."
"The Inspector was contemplating loping his head off just to be sure," Holmes replied, smiling. "I'm sorry to say he decided against it."
"Oh, shame," Watson commented, shaking his head. "Honestly Holmes, sometimes you speak as if you were those you hunt."
His voice was too light, too conversational. Holmes wet his lips, wondering if Watson would bring it up first. He could see it burning in his gaze, that self-loathing, furious grief which flickered and roared like a bonfire. He hesitated. Then he spoke, keeping his voice quiet, trying not to stray too far into that uncomfortably emotional area of conversation.
"You don't have to-"
"Don't, Holmes," Watson muttered. His tone grew abruptly dark. "I should have noticed. I shouldn't have been so stupid... It was too good to be true.
Holmes raised his eyebrows. "Noticed? Watson, I didn't notice."
"But you didn't like her." Watson shook his head. "I was too eager for her. I wanted to pretend I could have some innocent family life outside all of this maddness. Stupid," he repeated.
"Understandable," Holmes corrected, and Watson looked at him in surprise. He shrugged defensively, rising to his feet once more and crossing to a table on the far side of the room. "I have no doubt that one day you will shrug off my rather generous arm and wander off towards such a future. And you will bring your young children round for afternoon tea and I will invariably present one of them with a gun which you will fail to notice. Or perhaps blow off an arm or an ear, just to give the press a little something to snatch at..."
"I'm serious, Holmes," Watson growled, rolling his eyes.
"So am I," Holmes returned, pushing various objects around the table as he searched.
Watson fell silent. Holmes took his time searching for the letter, allowing the other man to think. He finally found the single letter he had been looking for and turned around, lifting it high in the air in victory. Watson looked up at him, and it seemed that some of that hate-wrought glare in his face was gone. He frowned at the letter.
"This, Watson, is a letter a man sent to Inspector Lestrade in the hope of a cash reward. Needless to say he was dissapointed, but we were not."
Watson held out his hand for it. Holmes strode back over to him and deposited the letter in his palm, then folded his arms and watched him read. He grinned as Watson's expression changed; subtle twists in his eyebrows and mouth, the gleam that entered his gaze as he reached the end. He looked up, his eyebrows raised questioningly. Holmes's grin widened.
"Tell me, Watson," he said. "Do you feel up for a little trip into town?"
Evening brought with it a blazing sunset, the type that is often seen in paintings in museums of art and commented on by old men with silver hair. The type which feeds the fire burning in the heart of excitement until your hands begin to tremble. Watson span his cane in his grasp, glancing sideways at Holmes as he did so. The detective had his usual, contemplating, deductive look about him as he strode down the dull, grubby street beside him, hands thrust deeply into his pockets, his hat tilted forwards over his face. Watson kept his own walk casual, doing his best not to limp despite the persistent throb in his side and the dull ache over his stomach. He could live with it for a few minutes more. Long enough, at least, to witness this.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Holmes taking occasional discreet glances in his direction. He was all too aware of the way the detective was watching him, as if expecting him to keel over at any moment, but for now he let it slide. He had no doubt that it would pass quickly enough as his injuries healed. It had been just the same on previous cases - Holmes had suddenly taken to accompanying him on errands or opting to stay in rather than go out for the evening. It was the closest the detective ever seemed to come to showing real concern. Unless, of course, you counted those last few seconds Watson could remember as he lay on a cold stone floor and felt his blood seeping out around him.
"Come on... please, Watson... John!"
Well, that counted as a special circumstance.
Holmes stopped abruptly and Watson looked up at the Inn they had arrived at. The Bright Star, its swinging sign portraying a ship sailing towards said star. The windows were grimy with dirt and the front door had a bullet hole in its thick wood. Not surprising for this area of town. Holmes pulled a pocket watch from his jacket, studied it, and then shoved it back in again.
"Lestrade, always late," he tutted softly. "Well, Watson, what do you say?"
Watson smiled, fixing his eyes on the door. "I say it would be a shame to miss such an opportunity."
"My thoughts exactly," Holmes replied.
Together they moved forwards and pushed their way into the Inn. It was busy at this time, filled with people who had just finished lower class jobs for the week and emerged into the streets in search of beer. No one took much notice of the two of them as they inched through the crowd towards the bar, where a large, well-built man was setting out a few pints for a group of young men. Industrial workers, by the look of them, Watson noted. The man glanced at them shortly, and then looked again. He hurried the group along quickly and made his way towards them.
"Mr. Holmes?" he asked hopefully. "I were told to expect you."
Holmes nodded. "I believe you have something for us?"
The man nodded and reached under the bar. He brought out a brass key with a tag attatched and held it out. Holmes took it.
"Room twenty," he said. "First floor."
Watson's heart lurched slightly. Holmes glanced at him, and he offered a short nod in return before they turned and moved towards the stairs in the far corner. The din of the pub died away behind them as they climbed the wooden steps, up past a small window and onto the first floor. The worn floorboards creaked beneath them, and the wallpaper was faded and ancient. It seemed as if the Inn was close to falling apart, but Holmes made no effort to try to mask his footsteps, and so neither did Watson. He kept in step with the detective as they headed down the corridor, passing room ten, room twelve, room fourteen... Watson felt a quick, nervous smile twitch at his mouth.
Room twenty loomed up on his side. They stopped, Holmes at his left. Watson flexed his fingers on his cane, running his tongue over his dry lips. Holmes shot him an arched eyebrow, and then pounded his fist on the door twice, short, precise taps. There was a muffled crash from beyond the door, and then a hurried, impatient voice.
"What? Ah said no visitors."
The voice was instantly recognizable, and even from the other side of a closed door it sent a tremor of rage through Watson's chest. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. In answer, Holmes simply knocked again. There was a shuffling, and then the door inched open to reveal no more than a dark figure hovering behind the tiny crack. He peered out, eyes narrowed.
He got no further. Unable to contain himself a moment longer, Watson sent a single, hefty kick at the door. It flew open and the man behind it stumbled backwards, letting out a cry of shock. Holmes ducked in before Watson could enter, taking the lead once more as their target scrambled to his feet, his whole body rigid with fear and panic. Watson felt a rush of satisfaction at the sight. He spoke as Holmes advanced, pulling his hands from his pockets.
"Evening, Joel. It's just been too long..."
Joel glared at them for a moment, and then turned and made a dive for the desk on the opposite side of the small bedroom. Holmes moved forwards at once, reaching out to grab him by the scruff of his jacket. Joel clawed the drawer open, plunged his hand inside. Watson's stomach flipped and he lifted his cane, starting forwards.
Too late. Joel had already whipped around, bringing his weapon down with a sharp crack on Holmes' temple. A weapon which was, Watson realized, Holmes' own revolver Joel had escaped with a week beforehand. As Holmes dropped to the floor and fell back against the foot of the bed, his eyes wide and blank with surprise, Joel tore open the window and threw himself out of it. Watson ran to Holmes' side and pressed his hand against the side of his neck, forcing the detective's head up. Holmes blinked at him, blood trickling from the small gash on his temple. Satisfied that the injury was no more than a concussion, Watson clapped him on the shoulder and turned to the window, determination set in stone in his gut. As he crossed to it he heard Holmes mumble something, but he ignored him.
This time, this was going to finish cleanly.
He reached the window and leant out of it. It wasn't far to the ground, and he could see Joel below rising unsteadily to his feet. The man looked up sharply, then sprinted for the mouth of a nearby alleyway. Watson didn't hesitate for a second - he vaulted over the window sill and dropped downwards. The ground slammed into his knees and he gasped, his impact jarring his wounds. But the pain was short-lived, because the next moment Joel had vanished into the alleway. Watson pushed himself to his feet and dashed after him, ignoring the steady ache in his side and chest.
Joel didn't run for long. They raced through they dingy, puddle soaked, twisting alleyways, their footsteps echoing thuds in the tight grimy space. After only a few seconds, Watson could feel himself beginning to tire. With his new weakness he couldn't keep up a long distance chase for long. Which was why, when Joel suddenly skidded to a halt and turned to face him, he felt not fear but relief. They stood a few meters apart, both panting, holding each other's gaze. Joel grinned, his shoulders heaving from the run.
"Thought there might be someone else," he said breathlessly. "Didn't realize it was jus' ya."
Watson flicked his cane around in his fist, his eyes narrowing coldly. "I knew you wouldn't be quite so confident in a fair fight."
Joel scowled, and then lifted Holmes' revolver. Even as his finger hit the trigger, Watson was moving. He heard the sharp zing as the bullet snapped past him before he had reached Joel. He lifted his cane and delivered a swift blow to the other man's stomach, and then another to his shoulder as he doubled over. Joel pulled away blindly, his hand closing over the end of the cane. He pulled it sharply, dragging it from Watson's grasp but before he could use it Watson had hit him in the face. Joel fell to his knees, breathing hard as blood rushed from his nose. Watson took his cane back with a steady tug, weighed it thoughtfully. Joel watched him, his eyes wide with the fear of a man with no options left to turn to.
"Alright," he said, his voice trembling. "Ah'll give myself up. Just please, don't... don't kill me."
"Kill you?" Watson repeated, glowering coldly back at him. "What do you take me for? Someone like you?"
Joel's eyes flashed. And Watson brought the cane down across his face.
For a few moments, Watson stood still, breathing deeply, allowing the throb in his chest to die. He looked down at the unconscious figure on the floor, lowering his cane. Despite the number of cases he and Holmes had executed in the past, he still found himself at a loss as to what to do now. He wondered dimly whether Holmes had brought the handcuffs with him or not. He lifted a hand to his brow and wiped away the pinpricks of sweat that glimmered there.
He turned, smirking. "I'm here, Holmes," he called back.
Holmes appeared at the corner, his hand on the wall. In his other hand he held a hat. Watson's hat. He must have lost it as he leapt from the window. Holmes swayed over to him, squinting at him with great difficulty.
"You... dropped you're hat," he mumbled.
Watson grinned and took it. "Thank you, Holmes," he said. "Very constructive."
Holmes looked down at Joel, fingering the graze on his head. "Well, looks like... you don't need help," he said, his voice still breathy and light.
"Apparently not," Watson replied. "Do you want to call Lestrade, or shall I?"
Holmes let out a short sound somewhere between a huff and a laugh. And, standing beside him, Watson smiled. This proved it, then.
He was well and truly back in the game.
Okay, that was it! Sorry it took so long to get this one up, but I hope you enjoyed it! A couple of people have mentioned a sequel... if anyone has any suggestions, please do review with them! If I do actually write a sequel - just a maybe - I'll put a preview up on the end of this story first.
Thank you so much to everyone who read and reviewed! Hope you enjoyed it.