"We managed just fine last night, in spite of the Yard's usual efficiency." Holmes informed Gregson with insufferable calmness. The tea would have to wait, I realized. I shifted uneasily beneath the blanket Holmes had thrown over me just as the door had flown open and the Inspector stormed in.
"These are dangerous men, Holmes." Gregson repeated with a near snarl. "You've been lucky so far, especially with you two stumbling around last night like you were, that miserable lot in close pursuit. If they hadn't seen us and scattered when they did, you'd be in their clutches now."
I didn't say a word, but met Holmes's eyes as they briefly flickered over to me. He turned his attentions quickly back to the Inspector, however, and proceeded to shrug off Gregson's warnings to stay away from this bunch and let the Yard do their job.
"Now listen, Holmes." Gregson was deadly serious now. "I mean it when I say these men are not to be taken lightly. We didn't just happen to be in the right place at the right time last night. Someone came in to the Yard, frightened. Said they'd heard screams. Like someone being tortured." A muscle in Holmes's jaw twitched and he turned his attention to pouring the promised cup of tea. I myself closed my eyes and swallowed nervously, trying to focus on the here and now.
Voice low, Gregson continued. "It could have been you in there, Holmes. Or the Doctor." I nearly jumped at the sound of glass shattering; Holmes had dropped the cup. Gregson swore. "What's the matter with you, Holmes?" He demanded as the detective absently knelt to inspect the pieces.
I stifled a yawn. "I told you to get some sleep before you nodded off on your feet." I told Holmes less gruffly than I should have. He had, after all, slept little this past week and certainly not at all last night. Not that that was really the point here...
He straightened. "I'm on a case." He replied haughtily, the shattered remains of the cup apparently forgotten. "I will sleep when I have finished this case and put these criminals behind bars."
This set the Inspector off again. "I'm telling you, Holmes, by the time we reached the house, it was empty. Not even their victim, whoever the poor wretch was, had been left behind. Blood all over the place, though." He shook his head as he spoke, and Holmes asked him something, but I was busy reminding myself to breathe then, and missed the question.
"I told you, we've got absolutely no idea who they have, or had, if he's still alive, though we're somewhat doubtful of that." Gregson was replying. Holmes was nodding in response, though rather distractedly again, I noticed.
"Perhaps we should give the force a chance to solve this one, eh, Holmes?" I suggested gently. He blinked, and promptly scowled at me.
Then he seemed to reconsider. "Very well," he said with an indifferent shrug, "you have twenty-four hours, Inspector, and if you haven't found them by then, I will."
Gregson spluttered, and was, of course, perfectly insulted, and proceeded to leave almost immediately. Holmes uttered a sigh as the door slammed behind him, and went back to worrying over the tea he had earlier offered.
"They didn't find the body." I managed to gasp as the sudden release of tension brought the pain back to the forefront of my mind.
"I told you they wouldn't." Holmes replied softly as he offered the other cup. "The good Inspector isn't particularly observant today, is he?" He commented idly. "You really should see a doctor, Doctor."
"A lot of that blood wasn't mine." I pointed out as I shook my head, and he set the cup down. I hadn't seen what Holmes had done to dispose of my captor, nor had I any desire to know, but it had been a somewhat violent death. I was sure of that much.
"All the same, Watson-" Holmes persisted. I cut him off wearily.
"They wanted to inflict pain, Holmes, not kill me." I protested irritably. "And the man knew well enough how to do that without risking a premature death."
"I heard you, Watson." He snapped. "For a moment I thought they were trying to kill you."
I was silent for a second, allowing myself time to think and him time to calm down, just a bit. "Right now I'm tired, Holmes." I said at last. "Too tired to be upset, or to care that I'm in pain, or to even bother going into shock. I haven't slept any more than you have this last week, and I haven't eaten for at least a day and a half. I promise I'll be properly injured and traumatized tomorrow, if you like, but right now I just want some peace."
My tirade, as lacking in energy as it was, was enough to reassure him that I was not on death's doorstep. Instead he turned to study the couch I was sitting on rather critically. "You shall, of course, sleep here for the night." He said decisively, "However…" He trailed off.
"What?" I demanded. "But what?" He seemed genuinely concerned. "Holmes?" He looked up to meet my eyes, and offered a small smile to ease my concerns.
"Nothing, Watson." He said at last. "I was merely thinking that Mrs. Hudson my not appreciate the fact that you've been bleeding all over the couch."
"Or that you've broken another cup." I returned wearily as I reluctantly let Holmes ease me into a position more appropriate for sleeping. I had no doubt he intended to keep vigil over me, tonight, but was too tired to argue with him at present. In the morning, of course, I would realize that it would have done more harm than good to run him off, but that thought was hardly foremost in my mind at the time.
"I'm sorry, Watson." The murmured apology was almost the last thing I heard before I drifted off to sleep. I was too tired to reply, and had I not been, would likely still not have voiced my true thoughts.
Nothing to apologize, Holmes, you weren't to blame. Besides, these things happen.
A snort that was halfway between amused and irritated told me that I had spoken aloud. "Well, we'll just have to be more careful next time, won't we?" The low voice sounded in my ear as a gentle hand rested for a moment on my shoulder. I was asleep shortly after.
Holmes lied; it was three days before he went after those men, and then he actually took the Inspector with him, much to my relief. He had also taken the irritating precaution, before he left, of ordering the very confused Lestrade to wait for his return when he stopped by to ask Holmes about some other problem the Yard was dealing with at the time. I was not so confused, however. Holmes was keeping an eye on me.
The criminals were caught, and sentenced with due speed, and of course Gregson received the credit for solving the case. Holmes scarcely bothered to comment on it, not even when Gregson stopped by to see if we had read about the case in the paper. It had been well and thoroughly done, if he did say so himself, and there was only one thing that he admitted still bothered him.
They never did find the body of the man they had been torturing.
Both Holmes and I refrained from commenting, but I could not keep my eyes from once again wandering to meet Holmes's weary gaze.
Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes does not belong to me.
Author's note: And no, I haven't been at this for very long. This is only my second Sherlock Holmes story. Please review and tell me what you think.