Holmes awoke several hours later to find the sun was streaming in through the window, and that someone had draped a blanket over his legs at some point. He yawned, feeling tired and sore from having slept propped up against the bedpost, his legs stretched out on the bed before him, next to where Watson lay, still fast asleep. Holmes carefully stood, and was surprised when the familiar hazel eyes flickered open in response to the movement.
The voice that answered him was little more than a croak, but Holmes had to hide his delighted smile by turning away to pour some water into a glass.
"Here, drink this," he said.
Watson obediently took the glass between two shaking hands, and sipped at it slowly, swallowing with a wince.
"We made it out of the cellar…?"
"How much do you remember?" asked Holmes, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Watson's recollections were sketchy at best, and Holmes filled in the details as briefly as he could, before calling an end to the conversation when Watson's breathing became laboured again.
"More later, old fellow," Holmes promised, "for now, get some rest."
"You… you have to do the same," Watson wheezed, pointedly, "use…my bed…"
"Ever the doctor, never the patient," Holmes shot back, with a bark of a laugh, "Very well. If it will make you sleep easy…"
Nonetheless, Holmes waited until he was sure Watson was asleep and breathing properly, before he went out into the sitting room with a blanket, and stretched out on the settee for a nap, feeling more at ease than he had for weeks.
It was nearly two weeks before Watson was up and about as usual. Late one evening, he and Holmes were sat by the fire in the sitting room. Watson was writing up the case notes in a journal as Homes smoked idly, staring into the fire, and answering the occasional question where Watson's recollections faltered slightly.
"There's one thing I haven't worked out yet," Watson remarked, setting down his pen and glancing across at Holmes, "who was that boy Buckhannon hired to lure me over to the house?"
"I have been working on that fact myself," Holmes replied, absently, not taking his eyes off the fire, "Buckhannon spent a lot of time goading and gloating over the cellar in which Lestrade and I were so unfortunately imprisoned. However, he made no mention of your imminent arrival, and seemed surprised when he heard someone moving about in the pub – he thought we had brought additional yard officers with us."
"But… if Buckhannon did not pay the boy to pretend to be a police officer, who did? We had no indication this time around that Buckhannon had an assistant."
"Indeed," Holmes took his pipe from his mouth and studied the stem thoughtfully, "Watson… I have no wish to alarm you, but I believe that there is someone in London who plans our mutual demise."
"Why, Holmes! Whatever do you mean?"
"I mean, my dear fellow, that there are those who carry out crimes, and those who plan crimes. These may not always be the same people. In several of our cases of late I have seen indications of a greater mind at work behind the scenes…like a shadow on the streets of London, I sense in this case that this person was aware of Buckhannon's actions, and, although not directly involved, took the opportunity to make an attempt on our lives."
Watson froze momentarily, a horrifying thought crossing his mind.
"Moriarty?" he whispered, "Moran?"
"The former is dead and the latter in a penal colony," Holmes replied, bluntly, "I have checked. No… I fear that in their absence there was a sudden vacancy at the top of the hierarchy of the echelons of criminal society… I have worked hard to avoid having that vacancy filled, and it appears that someone intends to fill it, if they have not done so already… our deaths are planned to avoid our meddling in this person's affairs."
"What are we to do, then?" Watson said, quietly, a determined note creeping into his voice, "Holmes, I have no intention of fleeing to the continent this time around…"
"Nor shall we," Holmes replied, finally looking across at his friend, "We shall stay. We shall feign ignorance of my suspicions. And we shall observe, gather evidence, and deduce. And then, when the time is right, we will make our move."
There was a long moment of silence, as the two men both stared into the fire.
"When we do go after this person, whoever he may be… please can you try to avoid the cellars?"
Holmes hid his smile by biting down on the pipe stem, as Watson picked up the journal, and returned to his writings.