It's been much too long, I know! So sorry...*hides, embarrassed*
This fic is dedicated to the sweetest, funniest, most awesome friend a little sister could have, RoadkillHermes. She sent this to me weeks ago, and I am afraid it has taken me much longer than either of us wanted for me to finish it. *hehe* It is impossible to say now that I have edited it which one of us wrote which sentences, but the following story is the product of both our work. She, however, came up with the idea and the title as well, so the credit goes to her brilliant, beautiful imagination. Love you!
Lean on Me
The rooms is crowded and hot, thick with the scent of sweat, old rum, and cigarette smoke. Women of the night of all sizes and shapes wearing dirty, dust-coated gowns and layers of bright-colored blush laugh and chat up the pathetically eager drunkards that fill the place. Surrounding me, crowds of flushing addicted gamblers exclaim amongst themselves in utter incredulity and — most — great annoyance. Nearly every last one has lost his ever-so-confident bet.
I am, for all intents and purposes, caught up in the moment. The man who lays dazedly on the dirt floor behind me had been, until mere seconds ago, equally as confident in his fight as the other ninety-eight percent present. Now, I feel with a twinge of satisfaction, perhaps they have learnt not to so quickly underestimate the less bulky side of London's male boxing populous. (1)
I throw my fists in the air in shameless pride for my triumph and scan the crowds for Watson's tanned face. His distinctly handsome features are not difficult to find in the sea of sneering, ugly faces of sailors and construction workers and other such roughs. Partly to amuse him and mostly to irritate him, I crack a huge, rather undignified grin that is only common to me in moments when my powers of either physical or mental feats are proven. I have felled the mighty giant and can't help but revel in the praise of both the audience and, more notably, my former soldier friend.
Watson is slowly shaking his head from side to side, but I catch an approving smile (the same that he is unsuccessfully attempting to conceal behind his mustache) on his beaming face.
My long forgotten opponent lies behind me to lick his wounds and sulk over his loss of higher dignity.
All in one second, the atmosphere changes drastically.
Watson's delighted grin dies on his face, leaving behind a pallor of death. He starts to violently push through the crowd, coming toward me in an ocean of people. If not for my exceptional hearing abilities, I would not be able to hear his voice over the thunder of the crowd.
"Holmes! Behind you!"
Though I have only known Watson for a few short years, all during that time and the many countless dangerous and rather terrifying exploits I have never once known him to show anything akin to panic. It seems that he has a strength and courage about him that has its source not only in the training and effects of a conquered war, but from deep within himself; it is an exceptional quality that is very rare among men, and has no equalities. And yet, in this very moment, written across his suddenly pale face is an expression of utter helplessness.
I whip around, prepared for anything. I am not, admittedly, prepared for what greets me.
My opponent, whose durability I have somewhat miscalculated, is, in fact, not unconscious, as I perceived. Instead, his drunkenly outraged face is quite close enough to allow me the unpleasant stench of beer, tobacco, and rotting teeth. His thick right arm is extended forward as if to shake my hand, but I know better than to assume that is his intent. When I trace his arm down to his hand, I find his clenched fist at my stomach. But, to my surprise, that is where the fist has ceased — just before making contact with my gut.
That, however, is not the most surprising thing. No, what surprises me most is what is clasped in that fist, what takes me a few seconds to register. It is a three-inch silver hilt that reflects the light of the gas lamps above, making the beams dance and, I can swear, mock me. It takes no great deduction to know what is at the end of that hilt.
There is no pain, but somewhat in the back of my mind that inner voice that regularly murmurs facts and observations to me whispers that it is the adrenaline that makes me numb. Yes, that is why I cannot feel it. The adrenaline is still coursing thick through my veins from the fight.
My mind unconsciously starts to evaluate how long a knife belongs to a three-inch hilt, and I do not like the numbers I calculate.
My mind snaps back to the present when I feel an increased pressure in my gut. That is all. Still no pain as I sense the sharp steel of a steelworker's blade cutting through muscle and tissue. I only hope he missed the important stuff.
Blood, bright and thick, is coursing down the hilt. It takes me another moment to realize that it is my blood.
Then, I suddenly realize how silent it is around me. I know people are still in the stadium. Some probably still cheering, while others are screaming. I cannot hear any of it. All I can hear is a dull, low roar in my pounding ears. That voice speaks up again and whispers shock.
My mind screams at my body; I want to move, to fight, to defend myself, but I can feel my knees starting to go weak beneath me, and my usually sharp vision is going dark around the edges.
My eyes are still firmly fixed on the hilt that is attached to me, as if hypnotised by the glistening of the light on the blood. Then, without warning, the hilt is suddenly replaced by a rather wicked looking blade that is also coated in dripping, deep red blood. Another fleeting thought reminds me that it's mine.
When the steadying pressure vanishes, my knees decide they would like to introduce themselves to the dirt floor. My vision is swimming when I get a sudden intense sensation telling me that I need to look up. I do, and a vicious right hook greets me.
My body — already slightly exhausted from the match — cannot bear any more abuse, and decides (intelligently) to begin shutting down entirely. I collapse to my side, not even having the strength to raise my palms to catch myself, and I come to lie in a semi-fetal position in the dry dust.
The voice does not warn me this time when a heavy boot crashes into my chest, and a cry of surprise escapes my throat.
Already I am lying in a shallow pool of blood that is widening much faster than I would like. The blade must assuredly have penetrated something serious for me to be losing blood so swiftly, but unlike my good doctor I am not a medical man, and so beyond that I have not the slightest inkling of what the internal wound could be.
Faced with the sudden feeling of physical collapse and impending mental stoppage, my mind begins to work overtime in some vain attempt to observe and deduce its way out of death's grasp. Before I can control it, my thoughts latch onto the small puzzle of the knife. The man must have hidden it in that small, secret pocket I observed the moment he entered the ring from the opposite side — the one paid the lazy seamstress in Anwhether Square who never matches the fabrics properly to sew onto the side of his trousers. This he probably did because of the threats from the gang to which he owes opium money, but when I wrongly concluded that he was unconscious, his rather uncontrollable temper combined with the unhealthy quantities of rum he ingested all this night to give him the idea that the knife could be used for something other than steelworks or payment-seeking ruffians….
My train of split-second deductive though ceases when a very familiar pair of shoes appears in my line of vision. All I can see are the heels of the brown country-made leather and the hemmed bottom of the pant legs.
The momentary lapse in my mind is enough to slow it down nearly beyond reverse, and it takes my dulled deductive powers a disturbingly long amount of time to put together to whom the shoes belong. Each time the answer comes within my grasp it slips away like sand through my fingers.
It is not until the owner of the shoes suddenly shoots forward that I see the limp in the right leg. The voice again breaks through: Watson. But what the devil is he doing in the ring? Does he not know there is a hell-bent drunk with a sharp weapon running about the place? Has he no instinct of self-preservation whatever?
When my blurring eyes refocus after a momentary bout, I see my Watson quickly limping toward me, but he is yet too far away for his face to come into focus and I to discern his thoughts (as I am wont to do in our sitting room on caseless days as he sips his tea by the fire). I do notice in the background the general lumpy shape of my attacker, lying in a similar pool of red liquid; it does not take considerable abilities such as my own to see by his apparently vacant stare and slack jaw that he is dead.
I feel the sticky, warm liquid soaking my — Watson's — shirt and decide I must no be far behind.
Watson's shoes stop just short of the pool. Good. It would cost him more finances than he has in the small savings locked safely away in my drawer to purchase a new pair; there is no need to ruin perfectly decent leather. Ah, I should tell him where to find the key to unlock said drawer before I become completely incapable….
In the midst of my random brain ramblings, Watson falls to his knees beside me — staining his trousers with unremoveable blood, the fool — and his mouth is moving, saying my name, from what I can gather, but without sound. His eyes are shining mysteriously as one strong, calloused hand grips my shoulder and the other, I feel, rips apart the thin fabric of my — his — shirt.
My mind gives this no more than a passing notice, for I know that his efforts are useless. Still, I fear very few things, and death is not amongst those that unnerve me. I have done a great deal much in my life, however short it may seem, things that other Victorian gentlemen would never consider, more the less attempt. I have had clients consult my talents and experience from the most luxurious of Europe's stately manors and the dingiest of Whitechapel's corners. I have known the satisfaction of confounding every bothersome Yarder I have had the misfortune of meeting, and earning the respect of every brilliant and worthy criminal I have had the luck to encounter. I have saved many lives and salvaged much property, helped a good many lost and lonely men and women who had nowhere else to which they could turn. But more than any of that, I have somehow (despite my antisocial, bohemian nature and indifference to all else but myself and my little world) managed to attain a flat mate, partner and true friend along the way.
As my vision darkens and my breaths become loud in my ears, I have the sudden, but not unwelcome, epiphany that all else matters naught with the knowledge that after I am gone, one soul on this earth will at least notice my absense, not for the lack of news in the papers, or for the desperate need and privation of a consultant, but for the mere comfortable fireside-evening companionship that is no more. I believe that I have finally realized there is more to this life than my own personal protection, that perhaps there are things that go beyond the importance my own meager existence. Perhaps that irrational thing they call "amour" really does exist, somewhere deep inside even the coldest of us. Watson has shown me that. I only wish now that I can in some way thank him sufficiently.
But my eyes start to drift closed. Slowly, each muscle relaxes and I ease back into the dirt.
I am ready to go now, I rather think.
Just as the noise is fading and my sight is blackening, a sudden onslaught of white hot tendrils of agony fire from my side and set a blaze inside my stomach. In an instant, every muscle in my body stiffens painfully. My back arches in response. My fingers claw the dirt, looking for purchase as if I might fly right off the ground. With a gasp of shock, my eyes fly open and all at once everything hit my senses in harsh waves.
I hear the crowd in the distance, some shouting or arguing loudly, most just trying to leave. I hear Watson yelling over the chaos to get help; my plight must indeed be a dire one, for his voice is saturated with that authoritative, inarguable tone that he only uses when the life of a patient or client hangs in the balance.
My breath is coming out in short, shallow gasps that I cannot control as I turn my full attention on the source of that familiar voice. Yes, he still hovers just as my side, his pale face filled with fighting determination and something else that is foreign to my perception. His voice now rings clear as he breathlessly addresses me, half-demandingly, half-pleadingly.
"Stay with me, Holmes, just a litter while longer. That's it, old fellow. Hang on. You've got to hang on, Holmes."
It is now, with my somewhat still weakened vision, that I note Watson is missing his jacket. An odd observation to make at such a moment, I know, but my brain latches onto the familiarity of a quite meaningless puzzle, struggling desperately to focus on anything other than the pain.
I take this little mystery by phase succession. Watson's jacket was on when he knelt down. The pain began seconds subsequent when I closed my eyes. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that he removed the jacket as a means to slow the bleeding of my wound. Hence, reawakening my numbed nerves which, in turn, sent the alarm to my brain of the penetration. Therefore, my system was flooded with adrenaline (wonders that any remains after all) and awakening me suddenly. This puzzle is something of a disappointment, as it only distracts me for less than three seconds.
Still, I try to sit up a bit to confirm my small theory, but Watson applies more pressure — blast him! — and I find myself collapsing back, a groan escaping me as bright spots dance obnoxiously across my vision.
I try to speak. To tell him it's too late, to just let me go in peace.
All I get through my useless lips is a shockingly croaky, "Wat…son…hurts…," as my sight blurs with tears of pain that come without my consent.
His watery blue eyes meet mine and the sad smile that he forces in that of a haunted soldier who has been through a great deal more than he deserves. He removes one blood-smeared hand to pat me encouragingly on the shoulder. "I know. I know it does, old chap," he murmurs, and his voice is oddly soothing (it is no great wonder why his list of medical patients lengthens by the day). "You've lost too much blood as it is, Holmes. I'm sorry, but it is absolutely necessary."
His is trying to maintain his usual composure of strength and optimism, but even with my dulled senses I can see the raw fear in his eyes. I wonder how many times he suffered through something as this during the Battle at Maiwand; how much loss and grief must one good man be put through before he can heal entirely?
A poignant weight pulls at my heart the same moment a physical weight hits my chest.
I cough to try to relieve some of the unbearable pressure and suddenly Watson's cursing. I feel myself giving him a look of utter surprise, not comprehending. That's when I taste copper on my tongue.
I am coughing blood.
Watson is yelling again, but it is not directed at me. I allow myself to drift; the pain lessens in intensity and my muscles start to relax once again.
Watson suddenly turns his full attention back to me and he yells, this time without any trace of equanimity, "No, Holmes! Holmes, stay with me. You have to stay awake. I know it's difficult, but you must fight. Fight, Holmes!"
His voice fades in and out, and it is becoming increasingly hard to hear his words — and to obey them. My eyes flutter spasmodically, so that not even his face remains an anchor for me.
"Holmes!" He shakes me, sending new waves of fire through my body to bring me back to reality. "Holmes, don't do this. Please don't do this. Fight it!" But it is of no consequence. The darkness is calling me, promising no more hurt.
Watson, in desperation, applies more pressure to my wound, but all he gets in response is a flucker of eyelids as they start to close, not to reopen.
"Sherlock!" he barks, and the sound of him using my Christian name, something I don't recall him ever saying before, arouses me ever so slightly. "Do not do this to me! Don't you dare do this to me!"
The darkness envelopes me blissfully, like a loving mother does her lost child. A nagging thought demands I must tell him something before I go, something that might ease the sorrow of my leaving for us both. I push the words through my numb lips, hoping it is spoken in a voice loud enough for him to perceive.
The last thing I hear is Watson's broken, senseless phrases:
And then I'm gone.
To be continued…
(1) Vague reference to a certain humorous exchange between the canon Holmes and a man named Grimsby Roylott, in the short story Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
If you spot any errors, please don't feel too shy to tell.
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