There was a rainstorm that night. Cobblestones slick, the carriage wheels sliding in odd ways and I remember turning to Holmes and asking if he thought it was safe to be out.
I never finished the sentence.
The world blinked away in a heartbeat. I don't remember anything except waking up in a twisted funhouse of a carriage, the walls crushed over us. Everything was backwards, the leather seat was atop me, pinning me down as surely as a butterfly in a box and Holmes ...
My God ...
My dear Holmes. He was free, but bent at an unnatural angle. For one black second I thought his back had been broken, but no, it was his arm that was not right, dislocated possibly, throwing off my perspective. Blood trickled from his lips and I struggled to free my own arm. I had to touch him, feel his pulse, examine what I could while I could.
I ignored the blood on my own hand as my fingers crawled to his throat. A pulse, weak but present, thrummed beneath my touch. Hesitantly, I pulled down his lip and felt a rush of relief when I saw the source of blood was inside his mouth and not a less-forgiving place. I pushed aside his hair and checked his ear as well as I could while around us, a nervous crowd had gathered.
I heard the shrill tones of the women, the authoritative arguments of the men and finally, the fire brigade, ordering people away before they went to work with the scrape, scrape, scrape of the crowbars at what once was the carriage's ceiling.
I saw legs then, confusion while arms flailed around me, snatching at my shoulders. I pushed them off and mustered my voice as best I could. "Him first!" I yelled, shoving their arms toward Holmes. "Careful of his left arm. Gently!"
Eventually, they had him. I was next and my energy was sapped to point where I felt next to nothing as they tugged me out. One of the firemen whistled at the sight of me before gathering the stretcher underneath, placing me in the waiting Maria. I felt chilled and numb, my lips were slippery with copper. The chill turned into euphoria, and I dreamed I was floating. For a strange moment, I thought I was hovering above the scene, staring down at myself being placed next to Holmes who was awake by then.
I was ... sleeping. Holmes was staring, his face stark white in the gloom of the vehicle and he was fumbling for my hand ... my shoulder ... me. "Watson?"
I tried to say something, but I wasn't there. Or I was there, but I was above me, somewhere. How like Holmes to immediately realize that I was gone. "Watson! Come back. Watson, please. Don't leave me. Please ... breathe, my dear. Breathe. "
A heaving expansion of my lungs and I fell back to earth beside Holmes.
Where I belonged.
I awoke to the smell of antiseptic, the busy whispers of the hospital. My mouth was perfectly dry making it impossible to speak. I opened it silently, surprised when I was gently propped up and a glass was tilted to my lips, sweet water sluicing over my swollen tongue.
Grateful to my nurse, I opened my eyes. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to see Holmes sitting beside me on the bed, his good arm holding me fast. His face was bruised, his lip swollen and his injured arm wrapped in a dark sling. To any passing bystander, he must have looked dreadful.
To me, he was a glorious sight. "More?" he asked, holding up the glass.
I nodded and he helped me take another sip. "Thank you," I rasped, wincing as he helped me back beneath the blanket. "My God. I certainly didn't see that coming."
"I should have," he replied darkly. "The weather was wretched. Not exactly a difficult deduction to assume we should have waited until the worst had passed before attempting pursuit."
"We'd never have had a chance to catch him if we hadn't," I reminded Holmes, watching as he moved to a waiting chair with more than a little difficulty. "It was worth a try."
His dark eyes examined me closely, a parade of warring emotions flashing through them. "It was not worth your life." His mouth set in a tight line, he glanced away from me. "You don't remember what happened, do you?"
Uncomfortable, I pulled the blankets higher. "I remember directly after the accident, checking you and hearing them pull the roof off before they took you out. They retrieved me and then ..." I paused, unsure of how to relate my experience, not knowing if I wanted to. "Things grew confused for me from that point on."
Holmes' long fingers clutched at the chair's arm. In all the years I'd known him, I'd never seen him look so distraught. "You died," he said shortly. "You weren't breathing. I felt no pulse." With a hiss, he raked trembling fingers through his wild hair. "You were gone. It's only by the grace of Fate that you somehow returned."
Looking down, I examined the edges of the blanket. "It's not unknown for an patient to temporarily cease before suddenly returning to existence. The heart and lungs may stutter on occasion and restart of their own volition, I've witnessed it myself."
"You died," he repeated harshly, as if trying to impress a disinterested observer with a blasphemous horror. "And it was my fault."
"Oh, Holmes ..." I began, but he waved me silent.
"I have things I need to reassess," he said. He was very pale, his brown eyes filled with an angry sorrow. He inhaled before smiling weakly at me. "But not now. For now, let us recover and get out of this wretched place. I find myself longing for our Nanny's care, as sour as she is."
I nodded. Misgivings filled my chest, but Holmes seemed in no mood to listen. Instead, I held my tongue and tried to return to sleep with limited success. Eventually I fell into slumber, strange visions of flying filling my dreamscape. A great cemetery was stretched out before me in shades of gray and Holmes, he was there curled beside a tombstone, shivering in the dirt and I tried to reach him, tell him that it was all right, but my voice refused to work.
With a start I awoke, disturbed. Even worse that Holmes was no longer sitting beside me. A doctor was puttering through the room, reviewing my chart. "Good morning, Doctor Watson," he said. "You are much improved since you were brought in, I must say. What do you think of heading home soon? Your flatmate left this morning, against orders, but he was well enough."
"Nothing against your excellent care, sir, but I would like to leave here as soon as possible," I said, pushing myself up to sit, ignoring the sharp pains in my bad leg.
"If you can walk steadily, you can go," he said, sitting down and checking my vitals. "Be careful of the carriage you pick this time. I must say, it's truly a miracle you have suffered no major damage. I was told it was quite the wreck."
I remembered Holmes' pale sorrow and shook my head. "It was."
To my surprise, Lestrade arrived as I'd finished dressing. He offered me the assistance of his officers and the Yard's vehicles to get me home which I accepted gratefully, knowing that Holmes had probably requested as much.
There are few comforts that compare to arriving at home after an unpleasant experience. Warmth, all-enveloping, surrounded me the moment I stepped in the door - the smell of dinner cooking, Mrs. Hudson's gentle embrace, even Gladstone's happy whine made me forget much of my pain.
The landlady guided me into the study, which, to my great surprise, had been thoroughly cleaned. "He asked me to do it this morning and no, I don't know what's gotten into him either," she says, helping me out of my coat. "But I wouldn't complain if I were you."
"Indeed," I said, not willing to tell her that the sight bothered me rather than otherwise. I accepted her help in sitting and smiled when she patted my shoulder and told me my favorite dinner was on the stove.
"Try to convince him to partake as well," she said as she left. "Or I'll feed it to the dog."
"She would," said Holmes, entering the study from his bedroom, dragging his document tin behind him with his good arm. He squeezed my shoulder in greeting before heading to sit down in front of the fireplace. The tin's lid was popped open and without a cursory glance, he began to toss reams of files into the fire.
"What are you doing?" I cried, nearly falling from my seat.
"Cleaning house," he replied nonchalantly. "No need to get yourself in a dither, my dear."
"Those are your cases," I said, cursing my inability to rise easily so I could stop him. "Those are your life."
"Hardly." Another priceless folio was fed to the flames, much to my horror. "There is much more to life than this foolishness, as I've recently discovered."
I gestured helplessly at him. "Please desist from destroying any more of those, I beg you. For my sake, Holmes. If you must be rid of them, give them to me to care for instead."
"I've given you far too many cares," he muttered angrily, but with an exasperated sigh, he put the lid back on the tin. "If you insist, I'll place this in your room. I have no desire to see it again."
With a huff, he hauled the box away and I was left there to gape after him, shocked. Later he returned, carrying the dinner tray, carefully spooning out portions, first for me, then for himself. Settling in, he ate as I'd never seen before, carefully and completely, wiping his mouth once done. "Starving is stupidity," he said at my amazed expression. "I used to think that denial of the senses would sharpen them to the point where the slightest intrusion would be noted more easily, supposedly honing me into the deductive machine I've become." He threw his napkin onto the tray. "What a ludicrous waste."
I pushed my food aimlessly around my plate, my appetite dulled by Holmes' strange behavior. "I agree that denying yourself the necessities of life aren't the wisest choice but you must admit that your extraordinary skills have been a source of more good than otherwise."
"Good?" he asked sharply. "Is it good to kill your dearest friend in pursuit of a common criminal, one of thousands, all of whom would never be caught if I'd deny myself unto death?"
"You did not kill me, Holmes."
With an angry gesture, he lit his pipe and puffed on it. "Technically, I did. Thank God my lesson wasn't a permanent one. I have been given another chance, I will not waste it on nonsense." His tone softened at what must have been the most woebegone expression on my face. "But enough arguing. You aren't fully recovered yet. Let me help you to bed and tomorrow we'll forge ahead to a happier morning."
Sighing, I let him take my plate and assist me to my feet. Slowly and with great care, he walked me to my room, even going so far as to help me remove my shoes. He spoke in such a friendly, easy tone, I was almost lulled into a sense that all was well, if a little odd, with him but my heart knew better.
This wasn't Holmes. This was some wounded facsimile of the man I understood so well and I was at a loss at how to fix the situation, beyond giving him time.
As tenderly as a parent, he tucked the blankets around me, even catching my hand in his and squeezing it. "To a new day. Sleep well, call if you need me."
"To returning to our life," I said, my tone meaningful. "The life we've always known."
His smile was rueful, but he nodded as if to appease me. A few moments later, the violin played, a very soft, sweet tune, obviously meant to lull me to sleep. It hurt my heart to hear it but I understood. If our positions had been reversed ...
Eventually, Holmes musical ploy worked and I slept, but again, those disturbing dreams assailed me. Holmes, stretched out over a fresh grave, his eyes dull with madness and grief, staring at a colorless sky. How I wanted to shake him, rouse him but I could only watch him fade from my sight.
I've had many nightmares in my life, but few were as upsetting as this. Perhaps, in his own strange way, Holmes was right. Except, as always, he'd taken it too far. What he needed, as always, was a case ...
A case he couldn't resist.
Days passed and Holmes stuck to his newfound 'normality' with the air of a man determined to reform himself in spite of all the odds against it. I said nothing, choosing to accept this state of affairs on the surface, but plotting all the while beneath.
I created a good opportunity one afternoon after taking Lestrade into confidence. He agreed that Holmes was merely suffering from unpleasant aftershocks of the accident and needed to be roused 'round.
Leaving the house at noon, I stayed out for two hours and returned limping heavily, without my cane. I sat next to Holmes, pulling off my gloves with a pained expression. "This is a devilish city we live in, my friend."
His eyes turned hawk-like, but his demeanor remained cautious. "Where is your cane? You shouldn't be talking walks without it."
"Stolen, as I walked down the street," I replied shortly. "As were my army medals, which I was taking in to have cleaned. Too bad the bastards didn't steal my memories of war away with the rewards, that's all I have to say."
His cheek twitched and I purposefully kept my eyes averted. He was still keen enough to read me if I looked at him straight on. In spite of that, I saw the emotions warring hotly within him and I couldn't be sure which side was winning, so I went on. "I shall miss the cane," I said quietly, stealing a glance at him. "Strange, but it always eased my mind to know that it held a sword within its center."
Holmes' fingers curled into fists. His mind, it seemed, was once again made up. "Stay here. I will retrieve your things."
"But what about your new life?" I asked innocently. "No, my friend, don't go back to a business you no longer have the stomach for. Maybe the Army office will take pity on a poor veteran and replace the medals some day. I honestly don't have a need for them and as for the cane, a plain ash one will do."
He peered at me curiously. A very slight smile curved his lips. "Your martyrdom is impressive." He pulled on his jacket and hat. "I'll be back soon. Call up tea for us if you can, old boy."
"Holmes! Come back!" I called out after him, half-heartedly. I smiled as I rang for tea. Perhaps Mrs. Hudson wouldn't appreciate the reemergence of the old Holmes, but I anticipated his return with a pleased smile.
A return that was much faster than I assumed it would be. He came back half an hour later, my cane and medals in hand. Laid them on the settee and faced me squarely, his hands on his hips, a frown lining his face.
"Lestrade hadn't even hidden them yet," he said accusingly. "Honestly, Watson, you must pick your co-conspirators with a little more diligence."
I felt the color drain from my face. "Holmes ... I ..." I exhaled wearily. "All right, I'm caught. I'm very sorry, Holmes, but you must admit that this newfound disdain for your life's work isn't right. Surely it doesn't have to be all or nothing - you can finish your supper and solve cases. Why, you've just proven it."
"If you call that a 'case' ..."
"You know what I'm saying," I interrupted. "There is no reason to abandon your work. The accident was just that, an accident. As for my 'death' ... there is something I didn't tell you." I paused, waiting as his eyes grew wide with curiosity. "I do remember being placed in the van beside you and you begging me to come back."
"Impossible," he breathed. "You were not alive. Your heart had stopped"
"And yet I saw it all. I don't know why or how, but all I know is that when you asked me to return, to breathe, I did so as I obviously had no desire to leave your side yet no matter what the risk." I looked at him meaningfully. "I wish to stay at the side of a very sloppy, careless, consulting detective, the greatest one that's ever lived. I have accepted the downsides to this relationship long ago, Holmes. If you were change the rules now, on my account, it would be the greater sin than having a messy sitting room and heading out to chase robbers in the rain."
A long moment of silence followed. Holmes sat down heavily in his chair, rubbing his sore arm. "I don't want to take your presence for granted any longer. The guilt I felt when I thought you were gone ..." He grimaced horribly.
"By all means, feel free to keep the sitting room clean," I added cheerfully, trying to rouse him from his reverie which looked too close to one of his black moments for my liking. "But don't disavow the one thing that makes you not only great, but who you are. I couldn't abide losing you in that manner."
Understanding dawned on him then, for as great a mind he possessed, his emotional self was often much slower to follow. "I see," he said. "I suppose I could temper my methods in a less drastic way."
"I have complete faith that you can," I replied enthusiastically. "As well as file your papers properly."
"Oh, those are yours," he said carelessly, but there was a smirk lurking behind the words. "I have a few other tins to drag in there to keep that one company. Your room will be growing a little smaller, I think."
"Holmes ..." I said warningly, but I couldn't help but smile, my heart at last free enough to finally ...