Why hello there! I am dipping yet again into a new fandom, this time into the Holmes/Watson category. I fully intend to do terrible things to the wonderful genius that is Arthur Conan Doyle, because I simply cannot help myself. I really wish this wasn't such a problem. Anyway, comments are love, and I hope you enjoy this here ficcy-doo! LOVE!
NB: While the feel of this fic is very much from the 09 film, and despite how much I adore RDJ in all his sexy wonderfullness, I couldn't in good conscience depict my Holmes as anything other than the book version, so that means: neat attire (for the most part), grey eyes, and considerable height, although I feel he has the eccentric bent of the RDJ version. My Watson is Jude Law. This is rule is immutable. ENJOY!
NBx2: okay, so I don't know how this will work out, but for some reason none of the page breaks I've put in are showing up in the final formatting. I don't know why this is, and I apologize if it makes the story difficult to read. I am crazy frustrated by this impediment, and it sucks. Blargh. Again, sorry for the formatting.
The leg was twinging a bit when Watson woke up that morning. Nothing incredibly noteworthy, no better or worse than an average day; just the right amount of pain to remind Watson that there was still a lump of iron lodged in the muscle near his femur, but not necessarily distracting. He dug his thumbs into the scarred, jagged tissue, a brief preliminary rub down to the damaged limb that was required damn near every morning. Once done, Watson dressed swiftly, performed a meticulous-yet-efficient toilette, and took one step towards the door when he was brought up short by a sharp, insistent spike of pain. Fast, unforgiving, vaguely lingering. A warning jolt, then. Watson sighed and reluctantly reached over to where his cane sat perched against the wardrobe, resigned to having to use it, even in the house. He tried not to. It was still fairly early in his recovery, he hadn't relapsed yet, by some miracle, but he tried not to use the cane whenever he felt he could manage. He hoped one day to retain almost full use of the leg, and most days he did. But there were still bad days, more than Watson thought there should be, and they almost always coincided with nights of restless, horror-induced sleep.
Today was not such a day, for better or for worse: he had no unquenchable nightmares, but the pain still persisted. He supposed it was for the best; physical pain was easily enough dealt with, but the psychological scars were far more difficult to endure.
Watson sighed once more, tapping his cane on the bedroom floor; the only concession to futility he would allow himself, before straightening his shoulders and heading out onto the landing.
Steps were frequently Watson's greatest adversary. The first step was a stiff, ripping growl, which abated around step six, and then heated up again just after the tenth, and successfully blossomed into a slow-burning agony by the time he stepped off on to the bottom landing. And that was simply the sturdy, even stairs down to the sitting room in 221 B Baker Street; some of those crumbling foot paths and carelessly hewn steps down in Whitechapel that Holmes dragged him all over were very nearly the bane of Watson's existence. On more than one occasion he'd come very close to fainting from pain – especially when his blasted shoulder joined the chorus – but had so far managed to hide the intermittent bursts of anguish from his overly-observant companion. It wasn't an every day scenario; there were entire week stretches when the shoulder was utterly silent, while the leg only whispered vaguely from time to time.
But then there were days, or weeks, or months in which the combination of both shoulder and leg very nearly kept him bedridden in inconceivable pain. Today wasn't necessarily one of those days, but the pain echoed ominously just below the ruined flesh, and there was a slightly worrisome shiver in the muscles of his arms and back, all of which told Watson, "Take it easy today, old boy. It can certainly get worse."
He paused a moment on the landing, teeth clenched, fingers of his left hand gripping white-knuckled on the top of his cane, focusing on the domestic sounds of Mrs. Hudson puttering around in the kitchen downstairs to try and block out the stabs of pain so he could walk again. With a deep, cleansing breath, Watson schooled his features carefully so not a trace of discomfort would be overly obvious, and reached out to open the door to the sitting room.
His hand was mere inches from the knob when the door swung open with a jarringly loud bang to reveal a Holmes positively vibrating with excitement.
"Watson!" he cried, grey eyes alight with vigor and amusement. "I was just about to roust you out! We've a case!"
"A case?" Watson asked, following as Holmes darted back into the sitting room, leaping over precariously balanced stacks of documents and diving into his own chamber, no doubt to find his hat and coat. "I didn't hear of any clients."
"It was by telegram, my dear boy, I received it not half an hour ago and have sat by the fire ruminating on all the many varying possibilities that it shall be worth anything to me."
"And I suppose it's passed the test, then?" he wondered aloud, planting his cane firmly into the carpet and allowing himself a moment's heavy lean.
"But of course!" came the slightly muffled reply. "It is quite remarkable in all its supposedly mundane features: it is but the slightest nuance that can mean the difference between an intellectual exercise and an absurd trifle. I do believe this particular little puzzle will prove most – Ah ha!" Holmes cried in sudden triumph, stumbling from his room in a rush, slapping what appeared to be a much abused, wide-brimmed hat on his thigh. "I knew it was somewhere in there amongst the snakes' skins and the Russian wig!"
Holmes' most energetic ramblings came to an abrupt stop when he glanced up at Watson just then, taking in his appearance with an utterly unreadable expression, and for one dreaded moment he feared the Great Sherlock Holmes had finally managed to deduce how much pain he was in. Would he insist he stay behind? Would he think Watson a liability? It was only one of several very unpleasant scenarios the poor doctor had dreamed up for just such an occasion.
But Holmes merely blinked, saying, "Why, Watson, you are not ready yet. Go, go! Fetch your coat, man, quick! There's not a moment to be wasted!"
Watson shook himself, forcing his worried mind back to the present. "Yes of course. Give me just a moment."
And with that he turned on his heel and limped as quickly as he could stand back up the stairs – after all that effort he'd endured just to get down them in the first place – and hobbled across the small space to the wardrobe, snagged his coat from the hook on the inside of the door, his top hat, and then just as quickly – and painfully – down the stairs of doom for the second time. Holmes was already in the foyer, bouncing on the balls of his feet and rattling his hands in his pockets in the most accurate representation of abject impatience that Watson believed he'd ever witnessed.
Holmes' eyes sparked when he caught sight of Watson.
"All ready? Good!"
And he marched off without further word, out the front door and up to the carriage he'd clearly contrived to have waiting for them. Watson attempted to don his coat and walk at the same time, but that required him walking without his cane, which was not particularly unheard of, or even an impossible task, but today -- today was clearly not the day to take any chances. He barely had one arm in the sleeve before his wretched leg seared with white-hot pain, buckled, and would have assuredly sent him face first into the wall had a side table near the stairs not been so courteous as the intercept his fall. His right hip was most likely bruised, but that wasn't the largest of his concerns. The hacked up quadriceps in his damnable left thigh were twisting and trembling with the effort to support even the small amount of weight Watson had assigned it, and that disconcerting shiver in his arms and backs had grown steadily worse. He didn't like it: shivering that wasn't accompanied by cold was usually accompanied by something else entirely, and Watson had been lucky so far, and he refused to think of the possibility because he feared even the merest allusion to it would make it real.
"Are you all right, Doctor?" a kindly voice asked from behind him, and Watson did his level best to appear only vaguely inconvenienced, as opposed to in complete misery, which was a bit closer to the mark, because surely Mrs. Hudson had enough to deal with in Holmes and his many outré eccentricities that she needn't be bothered with Watson's more mundane complaints.
"I'm perfectly all right, Mrs. Hudson," he said, bright smile in place, if a little ragged around the edges. "Just found a snag in the carpet, perhaps. Nothing to be concerned about."
She didn't seem to believe him, and he wasn't entirely surprised, but the one thing he truly admired about his long-suffering landlady was her ability to accuse with her eyes alone, and let the subject drop.
"Just be mindful, Doctor. It's rather chilly out today, and Mr. Holmes is certainly in one of his more careless moods."
He smiled thankfully at her. "I shall certainly keep an eye on him, Mrs. Hudson, you needn't worry."
The look in her pale blue eyes said otherwise, but she merely nodded and wordlessly helped him slip into his overcoat and reached up to set his top hat on his head at an amusingly jaunty angle. She smiled at him then, maybe a bit sadly, smoothing down the lapels of his coat.
"Well, you certainly look dashing, as always."
He thanked her for her kind words, despite his serious misgivings about their validity.
"You'll be home soon, will you?" she asked.
Watson had just opened his mouth to respond, when there was suddenly a cry that was half outraged, half exasperated, and all together far too close for either his or Mrs. Hudson's comfort. Holmes came storming into the foyer following the outburst, eyes blazing and all a-quiver with suppressed energy and restrained vexation.
"Watson, I consider myself fairly respecting of your self-ascribed early-morning laziness, but I had dearly hoped you could overcome such inclinations when time was truly of the essence!"
All right, so perhaps the vexation was not so very restrained.
Mrs. Hudson seemed about to rise to the good doctor's defense, when he overrode her, "My apologies, Holmes. Mrs. Hudson merely wondered whether we'd be home for dinner, and I thought it quite pertinent to give her such information so that she might not waste her entire afternoon," Watson replied with equal parts repentance and arched remonstrance.
The other man sniffed, expression just a few notches south of disdain, however he conceded the point by making no further comment. Watson bid Mrs. Hudson farewell with a reassuring smile, and once more followed Holmes out the door and into the carriage that awaited them.
A long, thoughtful silence had weaved round them for the majority of their trip, and Watson was beginning to grow more and more intrigued about their destination the longer it took to get there. He knew better, however, than to break into Holmes' thoughts when it was so very clear by his countenance that he desired not the slightest distraction at the moment, and so he sat in silent patience, trying subtly to stretch out his leg that insisted on throbbing dully the entire ride, rearing up sharp and angry whenever the carriage drove over a hitch in the road. His natural inclination was to grip the ruined limb with a firm hand to try and alleviate the most maddening ache, but Watson refused to give such a sign of weakness in front of his friend, regardless of whether Holmes was too focused to pay it much heed. So he slipped his left hand into his coat pocket and clenched it into a fist so ruthless he feared his nails, however short, would soon draw blood, while the other merely squeezed his cane.
The silence endured for perhaps five or so more minutes, when Holmes visibly stirred himself, blinking rapidly for a few moments before turning his gaze to Watson.
"Again, my dear doctor, you prove yourself utterly invaluable. You must allow me to apologize for keeping you so long in the dark. No doubt you wish some brief synopsis of the facts as they are before we reach our destination," he said.
Watson grinned in what he hoped was a rueful manner, but which probably looked more indulgent than anything. "And where might that be, exactly, Holmes?"
"It shouldn't be too much farther, now; there is a small factory down near the Thames that shall hopefully prove beneficial to our cause."
"Oh yes, forgive me: I have received notice from a very distraught laborer whose fear has been aroused by the undeniable disappearances of some of his coworkers. He says it is a gradual thing: they will voice some sort of displeasure at the working environs, which soon cultivates in spite, and then ire, and soon they are no where to be found. Vanished all together."
"And it isn't merely that they've all just quit?" Watson asked, a bit dubiously.
Holmes smirked. "My, you are perceptive of a morning, Watson," and received a glare for his efforts. "The laborer admits that the first two disappearances could very well have been just that. But once the third man went missing, our suspicious friend began to do a bit of investigating on his own. He found that not a single man was at his home, nor had anyone seen them in quite some time."
"Most disconcerting," Watson muttered, a shiver chasing down his spine at the very multitude of unpleasant thoughts that were summoned up.
"Indeed. He is afraid of who could be behind this, and wisely fears for his own life and those of his friends, since the only thing any of these missing men had in common was their job and a mutual hatred for it."
"Have you any thought yet about what could be happening?"
Holmes flicked his hand dismissively. "I subscribe to no theory until all the data has been compiled and thoroughly examined."
Watson huffed a sigh and readjusted himself minutely in his seat, small sparks of malicious lightening darting up his leg. He was proud to have kept the wince off his face.
"Just as you will then," he muttered, shifting his gaze from his frustrating companion to the dreary grey of the shadier London byways.
They did not speak for the rest of the carriage ride.
Holmes stopped first at the warehouse in question, asking a discomfited office clerk whether any men had recently quit the factory. The man admitted that there had been three rather hasty resignations in the last few weeks; apparently all the paperwork had come in just before each man's rather sudden departure from the warehouse. Holmes asked whether the forms of resignation had been hand delivered by the employees themselves, to which the clerk had to reluctantly reply that he wasn't sure: the files had always been left on his desk when he would step out for a bit of fresh air. He never saw the men physically hand over the papers. Holmes then got that fiery, slightly manic glint in his eyes that Watson had long ago come to realize meant he'd picked up a scent.
"Might I see these letters of resignation, please?" Holmes asked in great excitement.
"O-o' course, sir. Is something amiss?" the poor clerk asked in confusion as he pulled open a drawer in his desk and produced the requisite files.
Holmes snatched them away without answer and began pouring over the notices, his long nose scant inches from the paper. Watson rolled his eyes at his companion's knack for forgetting social niceties the moment they became obsolete.
"We are simply looking into a small matter that was brought to our attention," the doctor said to the clerk who was steadily growing anxious. "There really is no need to be so alarmed."
"I don't know, sir. People have been saying strange things is goin' on round here. I don't much know what to think."
"I would highly recommend keeping your suspicions to yourself about it," Watson admonished, not wishing to run the risk of a fourth victim. "It is a very delicate thing, and Mr. Holmes will have a considerably easier time sorting it all out if he does not also have mass panic on his hands."
"But I was jus' --"
"Stop!" Watson commanded, raising his hand to silence the young man and God did his shoulder ache like the Devil himself! A muscle in his face must have twitched because the clerk looked as though he were about to inquire after his health, but Watson once more cut him off with a severe warning glare.
It was then he noticed the shivering again, more powerful than before, so much that the hand not gripping his cane for dear life began to tremble, and so he shoved it firmly into his coat pocket, jaw locked to keep his teeth from chattering. The shivers ran deeper, no longer confined to the muscles of his arms and back, but plunging further into his abdominals, digging through to his organs so they felt as though they were rattling around inside him. If things continued to progress in this fashion – and he prayed to any god who might have once loved him that it did not – then a fever was next on the way. Followed by acute nausea.
Watson felt distinctly hollow inside. And he'd been doing so well.
"Ha!" Holmes exclaimed suddenly, just in time to halt Watson's downward trend into dismay. "I knew I should find something useful! Yes, yes, this shall do nicely!" He then pulled what looked like a pamphlet from his inside coat pocket, and a pencil from another, and began making hasty rubbings of the original documents.
"If it were copies you needed, all you had to was ask! I can have 'em transcribed in a minute," the clerk offered, but Holmes merely waved him away.
"I appreciate your assistance, surely, but it is not a copy that I need, per se."
The clerk glanced questioningly at Watson, who merely shrugged in response; he could not always follow Holmes' logic, and more often then not had simply to wait patiently until the detective was quite ready to reveal his masterful purpose. The man certainly had a flair for the dramatic, and a particular affinity for applause. And under normal circumstances, Watson would have loved nothing more than to follow in his friend's remarkable footsteps, watching his brilliant mind work and his immutable fervor carry him to the final answer at the end of a tangled web of deceit and chaos.
But he felt warm, now, and uncomfortably flushed, and the shivers had taken a turn for the worse, manifesting as outright trembling; very unpleasant and very hard to keep under wraps. He knew it was the case and the case alone that kept Holmes from noticing this, and for that he was unspeakably thankful, but the time for truth had at last arrived: when his wish to be useful to his friend and his own curiosity to slake butted up against the indisputable limitations of his wrecked and wretched body. He could push and deny and prevaricate all he liked, but his body would crash, it was inevitable, even if he left that very second he was likely to be rendered immobile in an hour or so, and there was nothing that could be done to change that.
Relapse, Watson mused, was much like a train with the brakes out. All he could do was ensure the crash was somewhere safe and secluded.
But, oh, how he hated having to admit it to Holmes!
"My dear chap," Watson began in an undertone, embarrassed and trying his hardest to keep his voice from wavering in spite of his quivering diaphragm, "I do so hate to abandon you on a case, but I must admit to feeling slightly under the weather. Do you think it --"
"Nonsense, Watson, you are the peak of health!" Holmes objected, eyes still focused on his task. "In any event, there are only a few stops left to make, and I can assure you it will only be an hour, at the most. I should very much enjoy your company, my good man, if you feel you can manage."
Watson swallowed his shame and medical advisements in kind. He knew he shouldn't. He knew it wasn't wise, or safe, or even physically possible. But he would do it. He would do it because Holmes asked it of him, and no matter how vexed Watson became or how outrageous the request, he truly could deny his dearest friend nothing.
"Fine, then. An hour. But no longer, Holmes. I really must head back soon," he conceded.
"Yes, certainly, by your leave," the detective mumbled, folding up the papers and shoving his etchings back into his pocket along with the pencil. He turned then to the clerk. "Thank you very much for your assistance and patience. We shall leave you in peace now, and could you be so kind as to inform no one of our interview with you today, there's a fellow. Come Watson!"
Holmes strode briskly out the office door, and Watson tipped his hat cordially to the young man before following his companion at a more sedate, painful pace.
He sighed. He hoped dearly this decision did not prove to have disastrous results.
The pain was unbearable. Utterly and undeniably blinding, spreading from the ruined muscle and bone of thigh and shoulder to steadily encompass his entire body in a dreadfully excruciating throb. The very feel of his clothes was like a bruising weight and he could barely stand up straight for the pounding in his skull and the shrieking in his spine. He nearly wept with every step he took, trailing farther and farther behind Holmes as the man marched up to their final stop on the investigative hunt. Watson couldn't even recall who was supposed to reside here, or how they would have any information, or if these details had even been shared with him yet. He barely recalled the carriage ride to their first stop, and everything since they'd left the warehouse was just an incomprehensible haze of agony and weakness. He was weak, and more than useless, he was nothing but a burden on his outstanding companion and the bitterness he felt at this knowledge was considerable. Holmes was too amazing, too extraordinary to have anything tie him down or hold him back, and that seemed all Watson was really good for: being an obstacle for Holmes to overcome. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair to Holmes, and if Watson could simply catch up to the detective he'd apologize to the man profusely and drag his sorry carcass back to Baker Street where he would be someone else's burden.
Watson came to a shuddering halt a few feet behind Holmes, who stood on the stoop conversing with what appeared to be a suspicious old lady with one too many cats, hanging back and out of earshot so he didn't cause a scene with his inability to carry himself with any sort of dignity. And so he just leaned on his cane, focusing instead on his breathing (heavy, shallow, minor crackling in the lungs, throat dry), squeezing his eyes shut against the pale, feeble light trying to break through the dense cloud cover. He was sweating and trembling, feeling his stomach twisting and curling into a knot while goose bumps crawled all over his flesh.
There were voices, then, he could hear them, but not what was said; volume muffled as though cotton had been shoved in his ears. Sound distorted. Cranial pressure increasing. He drew another shaky breath.
He thought he heard his name, wanted to look up, see who was calling for him, couldn't make himself open his eyes against the searing burn.
Sounded closer now, vaguely familiar. Maybe Holmes? Had he been with Holmes? Where was he? Was he okay? Was he calling for help? Oh Lord, what if something had happened to him? What if he was hurt? He was hurt, and Watson could do nothing to help because he was too weak and sick and frail to be of any use, and –
Mood swings, he thought with a clench of dread. Irrational anxiety. Oh God, I forgot the psychological symptoms. Depression first, that one's already accounted for. And then the anxiety, and…Oh no, the next stage. I remember what comes next.
He let out a low whimper, feeling stuck and blind and scared, not knowing what was happening but remembering exactly what it felt like, remembered the few brief moments of clarity, the horror, the wretched, miserable existence. All of it. He remembered.
And it would happen all over again.
Oh please, he cried, a small boy crying for the care of a mother. Oh no, no no no no no –
A firm, thin hand gripped his arm just then, and the whole limb shrieked in pain and he gnashed his teeth and let the pain, the hand, ground him again.
"Watson, what is it, man, what is wrong, you look positively frightful!" Holmes. It was Holmes, holding on to him, keeping him present. How ironic.
But he also sounded scared, rambling a mile a minute, unsure how to proceed, and Watson wanted to calm him. To tell him it was all right; that everything would be fine.
He raised his head, forced his eyes opened and they streamed tears and wept from the anguish, but he saw him. Saw Holmes. Amidst the pain and the blinding and the fear, he saw him.
Watson swallowed. "Holmes, I --"
He collapsed. Muscles went lax, air fled his lungs, and he fell hard and fast to the damp, muddy earth. His cane was underneath him, somewhere, and above there was the pounding of footsteps and a frantic voice yelling for a carriage.
Hoof beats. Door opened. Strong hands lifted him gently, cradled him against a thin but powerful chest, and he didn't know which way was up. Movement. Moving somewhere. A persistent rattling, occasional jars waking his mind up to realize he was no longer under the sky, but in a smallish compartment, arms wrapped tight around him and a low voice muttering fast and breathlessly in his hair.
"I have got you Watson, it is all right, I promise you it will be, we shall get you back to Baker Street and I swear on all that I hold dear you shall be fine, and I will call a physician because, yes, you shall be seen by a professional, I don't care if you object to it you are undergoing treatment and by God you had better be all right, you dashed fool!"
Holmes' voice (because it was Holmes, Watson knew that much) broke on the last part and he pressed his lips firmly to Watson's scalp; not a kiss so much as an effort to stop himself from speaking further. But Watson liked to pretend it was a kiss.
Oh God, the fever is getting worse, he thought with dismay. Thought process has become delusional. Not a good sign. It's progressing alarmingly fast…
He plunged then into another insensible haze, for how long he wasn't sure, but the rattle and sway and the strong arms holding him kept his mind, for the moment, in relative ease. Which was good. Watson knew from experience that it would get rather worse than this, and he was happy to savor what feeble ties to lucidity he still had.
A few minutes, or perhaps hours passed, and Watson was no longer conscious of the steady movement, or the arms that had been supporting him, but instead felt himself lying on something firm yet soft, a weight on his chest that he couldn't quite identify. His limbs were leaden, and though he knew he was awake, to a degree, he hadn't the will nor strength to move. He could feel…things on his skin, like tiny little insects, and he desperately wished there were no insects, because he couldn't do anything to get rid of them. A vacuum of heat held him captive, made the air heavy and thick and very nearly a solid thing, such that his lungs struggled and fought to draw in breath, and he choked as he would on water. Was he in water? Is that why he couldn't move? Had he fallen in the Thames?
Good Lord, where is Holmes?
If Watson were in the Thames, drowning to death, did that mean Holmes was drowning with him? Already dead? And if he wasn't, who would look out for him with Watson gone, as he surely would be soon. He was swallowing too much water. He tried – oh how he tried! – to coordinate his arms and legs, but bright, hot, unimaginable pain speared through his limbs, and he froze up. Muscles protested. Bones ground together. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe.
"Steady on, Watson, it will be all right."
Holmes. Holmes! He was all right. He was speaking to him. Did that mean he was not in the Thames? One can't speak while under water, at least not coherently, so he must not be in water. Unless this was all in his mind. Unless he was still in the Thames, and he was imagining Holmes' voice. Or was it Holmes' ghost?
He struggled anew, blazing agony in every cell of his body, but he fought all the harder against it until he knew he must pass out from pain, or drowned. But he would not go down without a fight. He would grasp it, with every scrap of himself he had left. He would do whatever it took to get to Holmes.
"Watson, Watson please stop! Please hold still, please, you'll only do yourself more harm! Watson!"
The voice sounded wrecked, worried beyond endurance, and then something gripped him, holding him down, restraining his movement, and Watson knew he could not stay conscious much longer. He would lose the fight. And Holmes would be lost.
"Holmes…" he moaned pitifully, feeling it more as it echoed through his head than hearing with his ears. "Homes…must…I must…"
"You must do nothing but lie still, old boy, I beg of you. You're safe. You are safe, Watson, I swear it, nothing shall happen."
"Holmes!" he cried insistently, fighting the abominable strength that kept Watson immobile, hunting for him in the darkness.
And then there was a puff of slightly cooler air against his face, and the voice was much, much closer, speaking into his ear softly. "I am here, Watson. I am well. You mustn't fret, please. We are both safe, we are both at Baker Street, and you are laid up in bed, my good man. So do please calm down."
Like emerging from a watery grave, Watson took in a deep, desperate breath that set him coughing, but he felt less like he would suffocate. He relaxed back into – he supposed – the sheets of his bed, that unnamable weight on his chest no doubt being blankets, which were dragged further up his body by someone. Presumably Holmes.
He was all right, then. What a relief.
With immense effort, more than Watson really thought the task required, he managed to open his eyes, darting around in an attempt to find…there! Holmes, perched just above him like a great buzzard. A particularly frazzled and concerned buzzard, a handsome buzzard, but a buzzard all the same.
Handsome buzzard. What a contradiction in terms. Watson thought it rather suited the detective.
"Holmes," he murmured tiredly, aware now of how scratchy his throat was.
"It's quite all right, my dear Watson. Quite all right." He laid a cool, pale hand on Watson's brow, and he sighed with pleasure at the same time Holmes hissed. "You are burning up, old fellow!" he cried, worry straining his voice into a weakened facsimile of its usual candor.
Watson tried to assure him it would be all right. Tried to inform him, yes the fever was high, yes it was wretched, but it would fade fast, that was the nature of the beast. It would come on sudden, dart out of a darkened alley and assail him before he could even raise a hand in defense, and it would ravage him, and then just as quickly it would flee. Rather a bit like mugging. Or being raped, Watson supposed, but decided that wasn't the best metaphor to supply his distraught companion with. He wanted to tell him all would be well, once the thing had run its course.
He blacked out again.
When Watson came back to himself once more – God only knew how much time had elapsed – it was to the sound of a heated row. People were yelling, in his room no less, while he lay abed, possibly dying.
Don't be overdramatic, he scolded.
The strangest thing about it, when Watson could finally manage to distinguish voices and words, was that the argument was about him. Or, his welfare, rather.
" – realize he is ill, don't I, that's why I sent for you in the first place --"
" – symptoms are at least two hours old, what the devil were you doing all this --"
" – only seemed a bit sore, perhaps a chill, he never said he --"
" – it is a relapse, Mr. Holmes!"
The last was very much bellowed, reverberating off the close walls and making Watson's skull throb. Holmes seemed to have nothing to say to that, for a ringing silence followed the outburst. It registered with Watson at that very second – and he was honestly surprised by his perception – that Holmes was quiet because he actually…felt guilty! Which was utterly preposterous! It was no fault of Holmes' that Watson had been so stubborn. It was no fault of Holmes' that he had had a case that afternoon (which Watson just now realized was probably rather ruined, or at least significantly delayed), and it was no fault of Holmes' that he lost his ability to focus on all else when his mind was so fully absorbed with facts. Watson had known all this about him from the moment he first embarked with Holmes on a case. He knew this when he woke up that morning. He knew this when he first felt the warning bolt of pain in his leg and the disconcerting shivers, and he remembered it even as he held his tongue when things progressively grew worse.
It was no one's boon but Watson's. If anything, Holmes should be furious with him for causing such a ruckus. He decided these facts needed to be communicated.
Forcing his eyes open, which now felt more crusted than watery and he was quite disgusted by that, Watson glanced around until he saw his flatmate and, assumingly, the doctor Holmes had summoned, squaring off near the door to the bedroom.
"Not…" he rasped before he had to stop and cough. At the noise, both men started noticeably, and moved closer, Holmes nearly throwing himself to Watson's side and leaning in. The doctor went to the foot of the bed, and Watson addressed him. "Not Holmes…'s fault. Not --" cough again, "—not…I didn't…didn't say anything…couldn't have…known --"
He hacked rather pitifully after that, and one of Holmes' blessed hands rested on his overheated neck, and he sighed at the cooling contact, eyelids fluttering a bit.
The doctor arched a bushy eyebrow. "I don't mean to sound discourteous, Doctor, but I find it hard to believe that this man failed to notice even a single sign of your declining health. You look really rather horrendous, you know."
Holmes turned to glare at the man, but Watson simply shook his head gently against the pillow, the hand at his neck drifting down slightly to rest over his collarbone, which had protruded quite grotesquely ever since a Jezail bullet had shattered it almost a year ago.
"Fine…" he muttered with a tiny grin that felt like it would rip his face in half. "True enough…after all."
Holmes' glare was on him this time, but he couldn't fathom why, and he hadn't the energy to expend figuring it out. And so what if being stripped of all his desirable qualities left him feeling somewhat bitter? Watson was quite certain he deserved the right to indulge in a little contempt, right now, if only for a moment.
"Not…his fault," he enunciated once more, as firmly as a dangerously ill man could, determined to get his point across not only to the doctor, but also to Holmes, whose eyes had appeared more shadowed than Watson could recall in all his memory.
The doctor shrugged, resignedly, clearly passing the statement off as a fever-induced fancy. "I shall come by again tomorrow to check on your condition. Should anything change remarkably, Mr. Holmes knows to contact me."
And with that he was gone. And with him, went all the reserves of Watson's energy. He dropped off just after hearing someone call his name.
What followed was a blind eternity of ins and outs, fluttering consciousness, perpetual dark, hazy images, sights horrible and confusing and painful. Pain was the overarching theme. Pain and heat and a total loss of control, weakness in his limbs, unable to move even when he thought he could. Nothing made sense, and one minute he'd be chasing blackguards through London with Holmes at his side, only to turn a corner and feel the searing, white-hot explosion of a bullet in his leg as he fell back into the sun-scorched sand, hands clenched around bleeding flesh, his own and others', trying to stitch all these young soldiers back together, these boys who would never see their mothers or fiancés or brothers or sisters, who died from pain or infection or blood loss before the night was out and suddenly Holmes was there, on the operating table, falling lifeless to the ground, being tortured by dockworkers, being pummeled to death and all the while, regardless of what happened, regardless of where or who or why, Watson could not move. He was utterly immobile, lying back as an Afghani loomed over him, turban blocking out the white sun overhead as he cocked his rifle in Watson's face, frozen as the gun fired, bullet piercing his shoulder, Holmes' heart, blood everywhere as the detective stumbled back, face blank and surprised before his knees gave out and he let him die, like so many of his patients before, let every one of them die, wasn't fast enough, wasn't good enough to save them, and he screamed. He railed and wept and cursed everything, anything he could think of, but himself most of all for how useless, how pointless his existence had become, and dear God, they'd been children, they'd been helpless and alone in hell on earth and Holmes! Good lord, if ever there was a man more desperately needed by society, by the world, by Watson himself, and what could he do? What could he really do? He couldn't protect him. He was too weak to protect him from foes, he was slow to keep him from traps, he was too utterly and hopelessly lost to protect the man from himself. He could not save Holmes from Holmes, and so the poor, brilliant, wretched, wonderful soul was doomed to die, all for Watson's own impotence. He did not deserve to live. He helped no one, accomplished nothing by surviving, and so it was he should pass from this world.
Except he feared what Holmes would do when left on his own.
And so he stayed.
There was a chirping of sorts. A cool breeze made itself known against Watson's skin, and he shivered, frowning in distaste even as the chill pulled him out of his sleep. He cracked his eyes open, allowing them a moment to adjust before taking lazy stock of his surroundings. He knew he had to have been in bed, because he remembered getting sick. He'd relapsed, that much was certain, and recalled Holmes telling him he'd been laid up in bed, but…this didn't look much like his room. It wasn't until his eyes alighted on the portrait of Amelia Dyer that he deduced the room could only belong to one amusingly twisted soul.
And speaking of Sherlock Holmes…
Watson rolled his head to the side, vision temporarily obstructed by his arm flung up near his head, but he was too tired yet to move it, and continued searching the room for any sign of his friend. He was right there, in fact, sitting on a chair near Watson's bed, and surprisingly not asleep. Watson somewhat expected him to be, from his own experience of waiting up at his remarkably pigheaded companion's bedside, but Holmes was not. No, he was wide awake, and looked as though he had been for days, eyes wide and bleared and staring openly at Watson where he lay amongst the bedclothes.
Nothing. No response, no recognition, and Watson was slightly afraid that while he'd been out Holmes had dosed himself with cocaine to the point of catatonia. If it weren't for the lack of mind-numbing pain, he would have been convinced this was just another fever-induced nightmare. Watson frowned, swallowing against his mounting dread.
"Holmes, are you all right? You look terrible, old boy."
That got a reaction. A cut off, strangled sort of noise emanated from the back of the detective's throat, and Watson didn't even get half a second to contemplate that most alarming sound before Holmes had launched himself from the chair and threw himself bodily on top of Watson. Long, thin hands clasped his face, Holmes' own hovering only a few inches above him, grey eyes darting around as though trying to relearn what he'd once known so well.
"Watson," he breathed, relief so evident on his normally-stoic countenance that it very nearly broke the doctor's heart to see. "I had hoped it was you. Really you, this time. You've been gone quite a while."
"Gone?" Watson asked, head cocked slightly to the side. "How long have I been unconscious, Holmes?"
"In and out for brief periods over the course of forty-eight hours."
"I've slept for two days!?" he cried, alarmed and not a little bit ashamed for his own weakness and inactivity.
Holmes' expression clouded over just then. "You have not slept, my dear. In fact, I would say you've slept rather less than I have, though you are the one currently occupying my bed. You have been --" He broke off, right when it seemed as though his voice would fail him, everything about his posture – or what Watson could see of it at this close proximity – telling of a long, weary tension. Fear, even. Whatever it was, Holmes was quite out of sorts over it.
He let out a heavy sigh. Holmes did not need to elaborate; it was a story Watson was more than familiar with.
"I was delirious, then."
The other's face, if possible, tensed up even further, lips reduced to a thin, nigh on invisible line, and he merely nodded as reply. Watson sighed again, this time in dismay and utter mortification.
"I am so sorry, Holmes. It was not a burden you should have had to bear, and I really am very, truly sorry that I --"
Swifter than he could even blink, Holmes had dropped his full weight onto Watson's chest, releasing his face only to work his strong arms under the prone man's back and hug him fiercely. He pressed his nose into the crook of Watson's neck and shuddered with pent-up energy, gasping slightly from the storm of emotions he seemed to be buffeting in.
"You screamed," he murmured, lips against the doctor's throat and Watson couldn't help but blush, only to drain of all color with the realization of what Holmes had witnessed.
"Holmes, I am so desperately sorry for --"
"You screamed," he repeated more insistently, arms tightening. "You screamed and wept and begged for it all to go away, and you were in so much pain, gnashing your teeth and gnawing your lips till they bled, and jerking and twisting and we couldn't give you anything for the pain, the doctor said your fever was too high, he couldn't risk it, but you were so --"
He hesitated, trembling violently against Watson, and he had honestly never seen the charmingly aloof detective so utterly broken. He couldn't go on, he couldn't say it, couldn't finish the sentence.
So Watson did it for him.
Damn it, he cursed himself again and again and again. God bloody damn it!
"My boy, I cannot tell you how ashamed I am. You never should have had to bear witness to that, and I simply cannot apologize enough for what I've put you --"
"Do not apologize!" Holmes yelled, rearing back to glare at Watson so fiercely, so angrily, he rather thought the man was going to strike him. It would be no less than he deserved. "Do not! Don't you dare – don't you dare apologize to me, John Watson, I swear on --" And then he swooped down again, pressing his forehead tightly to Watson's, thumbs rubbing over the arch of his cheekbones, still quivering, still completely wrecked. "The things you screamed about…" his voice sounded haunted, now. "The things you screamed about, the things you wept for, all the horrors, all the many, awful – how do you do it, John? How do you do it, how do you manage to wake up each morning and look at world and still feel that it is --"
Watson couldn't help a small, loving grin curve his mouth.
"Because I have a singularly amazing flatmate to save me from myself."
Holmes went utterly still, not a single muscle twitched for at least twenty seconds. He very much doubted the fellow breathed in all that time, until a deep, sharp gasp expanded his chest, pressing it more firmly into the doctor's. He pulled back after that, gazing down at Watson with wet eyes and an indescribable expression.
"You cannot mean that, Watson."
He quirked an eyebrow, smile growing. "And why not?"
Holmes blinked a moment. "Watson, I did not even have the presence of mind to know you were sick. You had a relapse, for God's sake, you could have died, while I was too preoccupied with puzzles and data and whatever other insignificant trivialities to even be aware that you were in any kind of jeopardy!"
The doctor sighed. "First of all, a relapse is a relapse. Sometimes it is avoidable, but most often it is not. And its intensity, when it strikes, cannot effectively be abated by any normal medical means: it simply must run its course until one comes out the other side of it --"
"—And second of all, you did not know I was ill because I did not wish for you to know."
The other man looked gob smacked. "You…didn't want…why?" he spluttered, amusingly inarticulate, for once in his life.
Watson frowned. "Because I…I was embarrassed, I admit."
"What could you possible have to be embarrassed about?" Holmes cried.
"I'm not --" he broke off with a grunt of frustration. This was exactly where he never wished to go with Sherlock Holmes. He did not ever want to enumerate his many failings or his persistent anxieties, because then surely Holmes would acknowledge them too, and he would not possibly want Watson to stay after that.
A thumb resumed its methodical caress of his cheek. "Watson?"
He sighed. It was now or never. "I'm not…Holmes, I'm not what I used to be. I'm less than what I used to be. I'm…crippled, I'm scarred, I'm sickly, I'm…" he laughed bitterly when he realized, to his never-ending chagrin, that tears were now silently flowing down to his ears, "I'm disgustingly thin, and frail, and weak, and there is so very little use I can be to anyone, let alone you, and I --"
Warm, soft lips pressed against his own, silencing whatever else he was going to say. It took surprisingly less time than Watson thought it might to process the idea that Sherlock Holmes was actually, deliberately kissing him. It was probably rampant exhaustion, but Watson acquiesced with hardly any hesitation, melting into the contact like he'd been waiting all his life for it. The kiss did not progress from there; it remained soft and chaste, almost in deference to Watson's weariness and Holmes' vulnerability.
The other pulled away just a centimeter, just enough to still touch his lips to Watson's as he said, "I will not listen to this trash you are pandering, John. It is nothing but lies and untruths, and if I were to hear any other living being suggesting such things to you I would happily smash his face into a brick wall and throw his body into the Thames, and I would not give a damn if the entire Scotland Yard were there to bear witness."
Watson gasped, couldn't help the small shiver that ran down his spine and arched him closer to Holmes. "I love you," he breathed across the small space.
"I cannot imagine why," he replied, kissing Watson again, just as slow and just as tenderly. Holmes then slid his lips against the smaller man's jaw, mouthing at the slight scruff that had grown there since he'd become bedridden, to pant softly in his ear. "But that is most fortunate, besides. For I am desperately --" kiss to his neck, "— and irrevocably --" nip to his earlobe, "—in love with you."
Watson moaned, arching his neck to invite more contact from that blessed, sinful mouth, at the same time reaching for Holmes' hair to better pull him forwards. Or, he tried to reach for Holmes, rather. His arms drew up short not even centimeters away from the mattress, and it was then that the good doctor became aware of something smooth and vaguely tight synched around both wrists. He gave a few more experimental tugs, hunting with blind fingers to see what was affixed to his appendages, and being sadly distracted from some of the more delightful things Holmes was doing with his tongue.
"Um, Holmes?" he asked, when the mystery persisted. Holmes, fairly oblivious – which was a revelation in itself when a case was not readily available – simply cooed an oddly pleased sound and proceeded to suck enthusiastically on Watson's collar bone. "Holm – ooooh!" The smaller man broke off in a low moan, which was echoed by the ravenous detective who pressed Watson further into the mattress to better devour him.
"Holmes, really – ah! – really, I need to know, what are these – nnn! – things, what are on my wrists? I cannot move!" The clear distress in this last statement finally seemed to register to the other man, who gave a slight start and pulled back to gaze at Watson, both flushed and panting heavily.
"Oh!" Holmes said, blinking in realization. "Yes, well, I had said you twisted and turned something dreadful while you were – while you were not well. The doctor and I feared you would do yourself some harm, and since he could not safely condone the use of a sedative, we agreed to lashing you to the headboard with some lengths of silk. It was of the strictest medical concern, I assure you. However," he trailed off, grey eyes alight with interest and want and mischief as they roved over Watson's prone and helpless body still covered by a thin blanket which Holmes was quick to tear off him in that moment. There was such desire when those eyes took in what Watson could only think of as all that remained of the handsome, sometimes-dashing man he had once been before the war. He looked down at his battle-ravaged frame, but any disheartening thoughts were cut off when he finally took stock of his state of dress, namely that there was none.
He arched an eyebrow up at Holmes. "I suppose my being stripped naked was for purely medical concerns as well?"
"But of course," Holmes crooned softly, eyes like liquid fire as a thin hand reached down to idly stroke over Watson's pectorals, and he arched into the touch, gritting his teeth around another embarrassing whimper. "Although I must admit that in this new situation, they are far more convenient that I had originally foreseen."
The doctor laughed, half-crazed with lust and fatigue, beaming like a fool at his frustrating, unbelievably brilliant, unspeakably tempting lover, giddy despite his physical weakness and lingering insecurities.
"You are perfect," he murmured, and had he been even a fraction more lucid, he was sure he would have been mortified.
Holmes paused in momentary surprise, but shook it off with a slow smile of his own, leaning down to once more cover Watson's bare frame with his still clothed one, nuzzling his nose into the other's cheek.
"If I am perfection, my dear heart, then you must be nirvana. God's heaven on Earth. A place of perfect peace and bliss and all things good and wonderful and --"
"Holmes? I shall surely pass out soon. Save the poetry for another occasion. Get back to buggering me."
With low chuckle that quickly turned into a moan as Holmes slowly dragged his hips against Watson's, he all but purred, "Watson, I do believe no one has ever truly appreciated your own particular brand of genius. It is certainly to be commended."
"Commend me later. Fuck me now."
And Holmes, for the first time in memory, could find not one aspect of that order to complain about.