At last this chapter is finished. My apologies for not updating...anything lately. My muse has taken her summer vacation without me, I believe, without even so much as a "Gone fishin'" note.
Anyway, this chapter is written in Watson's perspective, a re-write of the previous chapter. I know you all wanted the continuance, but I thought it would be fun and interesting to see what was really happening while Holmes was wandering around inside his own head. Toward the end is where it gets most emotional for Watson, so I hope that's satisfactory. Oh, and if you want to throw pies at someone because you're angry for not knowing what happens to Holmes yet, direct them at RoadkillHermes; it was all her idea.
Lean on Me
This dark and dingy place bears witness to the mild gambling addiction I somewhat shamefacedly admit to possessing. In my own defense, all bets of my past had been small, with only the use of yellowed cards or old dice, but merely a week after moving the last of my boxes to 221b Baker Street, I learnt of my new flat mate's natural fighting ability (though I do wish he had simply told me instead of dragging me, distorted, into a brawl). Following that enlightening experience, I have since traded the bright sunlit world of topside gambling for the dark depths of the Punchbowl's violent, blood-spattered fighting ring.
This well-known pub is always dark and crowded a place as all manner of creatures, both human and not, press their unclean and foul-smelling selves together, selfishly claiming their individual spots in the stands from which they can watch the often gory fights.
Ah, but who can blame them now as they push and shove to get to the front lines? One of the greatest conflicts I have ever had the privilege to witness has just admirably unfolded before my eyes and all of those present. Voices all around me wonder aloud and to no one in particular who the bloody devil is this little man who has just exhibited such stunning grace and agility in bringing down their (previous) champion. Who is the David who has just defeated his Goliath?
I cannot help but feel a childish pride in the knowledge that I know the name of the new victor, and he is none other than my flat mate and bizarre friend Sherlock Holmes.
I can hear the grumblings of the less pleased of the mob ringing in my ears — those who have lost their money on such a (they assumed) absolute opportunity to make their wallets fatter. Ironically, one of the dominant lessons I have learnt from my new friend is that rarely is anything as absolute as it appears.
A prime example is that of the giant of a man who had the unfortunate draw of the card which matched him with Holmes. People had, in some unfortunate cases, quite literally fought each other to place their bets.
I waited until a few of the more inebriated of the crowd dispersed, some nursing bruised jaws or twisted arms, before making my way to the bookie. He was all too eager to take my money, and it did not take Sherlock Holmes' deductive powers to see that he was positive in his own mind that I had already lost said money. Now, I smile smugly as I anticipate the stunned expression that will certainly adorn his ugly face when I collect the small king's ransom that awaits me.
Though I pretend otherwise when he presses, I do admire the tousle-headed man who throws his arms up triumphantly in the ring, his naturally pale face alight and blushing pink in a rare (for him) bout of giddiness. His eyes find mine easily and he flashes one of his infuriating look-what-I-did-Watson smirks.
As always, I maintain the role I have come to accept as the stern protector and parent of the reckless madcap and shake my head as if to reproach him for such an undignified display of arrogance. Yet, unlike my friend (as he has remarked several times on foggy, caseless days in our rooms), my feelings are ne'er hidden in my expressions, and I cannot fight the smile that crosses my face, betraying my approval for a fight well won. My slip just seems to add more fuel to his fire as he turns away from his opponent to receive the full praise (what little there is) from the mixed crowds.
With his still-heaving back facing his defeated opponent and his dark eyes wandering over the many faces, Holmes is entirely unaware of what is occurring behind him.
My amusement evaporates in an instant, the tolerant grin fading like a shadow, as I watch the man roll onto his side. A wicked-looking blade appears in his meaty fist. My eyes flash again to Holmes, and I feel all the blood drain beneath my desert-tanned skin. He does not know he is in danger.
Every command from the more rationale part of my mind is overwhelmed by this dire realization, and I begin to shove my way brutally through the grimy crowd, a sudden, hot anger rising in me when I hear, somewhere from my left, a man's voice elatedly shouting something to the extent of, "'E'll be killed! The fight ain't been lost after all!"
"Holmes, behind you!" I scream loud enough for my vocal cords to throb, pleading in my mind that Providence allows it to carry over the noise.
By some miracle, Holmes not only hears but understands as well, judging by the hastiness with which the glee vanishes.
By this time, the murderous man has clumsily regained his feet and launched himself ravenously at Holmes. In the instant that my friend whips around, the heavier man reaches his target mid-leap.
My heart stops dead in my chest.
The blade has vanished. It is lodged to the hilt in Holmes' stomach.
I know that my friend's unexpected spin around in itself is a miracle, for the blade was obviously meant for his spinal cord, in which case he would have died near-instantly. Still, my medical mind — expertly trained on the bloody battlefields of Afghanistan — forces to the forefront every bit of human anatomy I have ever learnt, and I feel myself bristle at the knowledge of what life-giving parts lay beneath the skin of muscle of man's belly.
Let it have missed them…please…let it be fixable…
Even as I silently pray, I can see without difficulty that it is not.
By this time, the mob has turned against me, and dozens of near-panicked people are trying to push and force their way toward the stairs; I am making no headway in the ocean of bodies. I cannot pull my eyes from my wounded friend, and I see with a sinking feeling that he has not moved such much as an inch, his eyes remaining locked on the handle of the knife.
Even from where I stand, I can see the same look on his face that I have seen at least a hundred times in our short companionship. He is thinking, contemplating, arranging his mind to take in the full gravity of the situation before he reacts. In all the predicaments of which I have been a (usually unwilling) part, seeing that unfocused glaze over his eyes is a sign of hope and security, like an unspoken assurance that he will devise a way to win over whatever it is that we face — even if it is death.
This time, however, the sight of it does not instill confidence in me, for I can only be alarmed at the long amount of time it is taking him to reach any type of conclusion. To say that Holmes' brain is slow equals the same as to say that the Almighty is sinful. There can be only one explanation for such an atypical occurrence: his body is going into shock.
I grip my walking stick and, with a blind surge I have not felt since the Battle at Maiwand, I use it as a crude battering ram against anything or anyone that I must to reach my friend. After what feels like centuries, I arrive ringside and am treated to a horrible sight.
The man pulls the knife from my friend's body with a superhuman ease and there is a clear view of the blade. It is dripping with thick, bright red blood. My firsts clench reflexively when I see how much of the life-sustaining liquid coats the metal.
I feel my nails cut into my palms when Holmes collapses to his knees in a cloud of dry dust. He yet maintains the deep concentration on his pale face as he distortedly blinks his gaze upward and the monster (I can only see him as such) roars, his fist coming into violent contact with Holmes' narrow jaw. I bite down until I can feel the pain reach the roots of my teeth when he falls limply onto the right side of his body and immediately pulls his thin knees up in an unconscious attempt to protect himself. Seemingly without thought, the merciless opponent throws his booted foot into Holmes' fast-moving chest, and my friend's pitiful cry of surprise leaves my vision obscured with red.
Even with my weak leg, I vault over the thin wooden wall with considerable ease. With all the force I can muster, I slam into the man just before he delivers another kick to Holmes' exposed face. The giant stumbles, momentarily stunned. I take advantage of his pause and move to stand over Holmes, shielding him with my own body.
My intervention has only increased the black fury. He turns a venomous gaze upon me; his black eyes are ablaze with lust for blood, his face purple-red with contained rage yearning for a release. His body mass is twice the size of mine, I realize, and his uncontrolled wrath makes him an equal match for my developed fighting skill and personal hatred for him.
I want to kill him, and even with the threats he presents I have little doubts that I could should I attempt it. So many times in Afghanistan I watched a man die and his comrade avenge him; the soldier that will always be within me is telling to now to do the same. Yet, at the same time, the doctor — the only part of me stronger than the soldier — reminds me of the vow I took so long ago. I made a promise before the board of the University of London, myself, and God the Trinity that I would do everything within my power to preserve the lives of those around me, and though I wish dearly that it were not so, this includes those who do not deserve mercy.
Hoping that I may strike a level of fear that may cause him to retreat, I take the walking stick still grasped in my hand and remove the sharp steel sword from its hiding place.
The man throws his head back and lets out a hearty laugh. Very well then.
Sword still drawn, I twist my wrist and let the blade skim across his misshapen knee, slicing breezily through the fabric and cutting a fine line through the flesh. I am compelled to admit the yelp that accompanies this is rather satisfying.
However, it is not enough. I hear myself gasp involuntarily when his shout of pain transforms into a roar of attack. In an instant, he hurls at me with all his strength, his sun-leathered face twisted gruesomely.
He is too blinded by wild emotions to recall the blade I still hold. The knife in his hand is an inch away from my throat when his face suddenly drains.
He is dead before he hits the floor and stirs the dust.
The dirtied sword drops at my feet from nerveless fingers, my shoulders slumping as the tension fades from my body.
My relief last for no more than a brief second. On trembling legs I limp to the shallow pool of blood where my friend lays fighting for his life. Unexplainably, I stop short as it registers that the ruined shirt he wears is mine, and then, suddenly, I am on my knees, ripping what remains of it.
A forced bit of air hisses through my nostrils as my eyes take in the wound. Blood is spurting from it, and I can see that the blade obviously nicked his stomach. This sort of wound is one of the worst attainable, not because the cut is irreparable, but because the patient has a great chance of dying because of the blood loss before he can receive medical aid. Already, Holmes' breathing is shallow and there is a painful-sounding rattle with each inhale and exhale. He is hurt, badly.
"Holmes!" I call his name is a voice that is not overly loud so as not to alarm him, but loud enough to acquire his fleeting attention.
Though unsurprising, his lack of response sends a cold wave of fear washing over me. I set to work, attempting to ascertain exactly how much blood has been lost, and how long I have before the limit is reached. I glance up at him for a brief second to ensure that his eyes remain opened, then my hands freeze like icicles, my gaze locking with horror onto his pale, pale face.
Holmes' expression is no longer one of dazed blankness, or even the mild confusion I had seen a few short seconds ago, Hi entire demeanor has changed drastically; the deep lines of forced concentration on his marble forehead have smoothed out, his brows are slightly raised (as I have seen in the past when an idea strikes him), his mouth is relaxed and I swear that in that moment I nearly see a small and soft smile playing at its corners. Yet, I scarcely notice any of this when my eyes once again meet his. Dear Lord, those eyes…I cannot say I have ever seen them look this way ever before. It is said that a man's eyes are the windows to his soul. I have always believed this to be true of Sherlock Holmes, whose eyes are, at all times, a dark brown shade of unguarded suspicion and cool observation, mixed with mild sarcasm and a light of egotism; they are unfeeling and solitary, a silent declaration of his self-reliant existence.
Now, the steely, cold depths have faded into a warm, open caramel. Made visible in the glowing orbs are every one of those deeper human emotions I have long-since excluded from the definition of him. Every thought, every feeling past his hard mask of reason is revealed to me alone, and for a mere second I can almost believe I am looking into the eyes of a tender child.
It is as if he has grasped something that has never occurred to him, like he comprehends something more than he knew, or finally realizes where he belongs. I wonder absently what it could mean…
He holds my gaze for another long moment, and then his eyes dim as the lids flicker.
No, no, no…
Throwing aside all gentleness, I roll him onto his back and then tear off my jacket. I knot it in my fist and push it firmly against the still-gushing wound, feeling myself physically jolt with relief when I am rewarded with a sharp intake of breath and I watch his eyes shoot open. That unnerving look of peace has diminished, leaving behind one of startled discomfort, like a pup kicked out of its slumber.
"I need help!" I shout franticly at anyone, and after a moment a small, bearded, red-faced man rushes forth. "Bring a carriage 'round back," I order brusquely, leaving no room for doubtfulness. "I've got to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible."
He offers a curt nod and disappears into the still-panicked people.
I look down as soon as he is gone. Holmes' face is paler, nearly gray, his brow furrowed again, this time clearly with the intense pain that his eyes are now reflecting. His jaw is clenched, and his thin fingers are scraping against the ground, his hands shaking convulsively. The sight of his suffering sends a pang through me.
"Stay with me, Holmes, just a little while longer," I murmur to him, as if that would help, struggling to keep my voice calm — and failing. I feel a surge of hope when his face fills with a sort of slight recognition, his eyes moving over my face, a hand flattening on the ground inches from my own. "That's it, old fellow. Hang on. You've got to hang on, Holmes."
A vague deliberation falls over his face, and unexpectedly he attempts to rise. Knowing that would only cause him more blood loss and agony, I press a bit harder and he falls back with a moan. His jaw twitches, as if he is trying to speak, and then his eyes suddenly become murky with unshed tears and he chokes, "Watson…hurts…"
The mask I have placed over my own features falters at his words, and for one moment I am neither a doctor nor a soldier; I am only one man trying desperately to stop his dearest friend from dying. My eyes burn and I try fiercely to give him a smile, removing one of my hands to touch his scrawny, bare shoulder.
"I know. I know it does, old chap," I murmur to him. I try my hardest to sound reassuring and composed, to keep my strength for the both of us, but I believe he can see through my attempts…he always can. "You've lost too much blood as it is, Holmes. I'm sorry, but it is absolutely necessary."
Then, he coughs once, and I feel my cracked wall of resolve tumble altogether. I was wrong; it is worse than I feared. He is vomiting red.
Holmes looks at me strangely when I erupt into a string of curses, the comprehension fills his face and he swallows convulsively, his eyes rolling upward.
"Where is my carriage?" I practically scream, caring no more for useless self-control.
"She's comin' shortly, sir," replies the man hastily, who has at some point returned to hover nearby.
"Did you hear him, Holmes?" I say; if I keep speaking to him, perhaps he will have something to latch onto…. "You're going to be all right. The cab is…" The rest is stuck in my throat.
Holmes eyes are drifting shut again, dull and bleary.
"No, Holmes!" I shout, and continue my rant even when he flinches. "Holmes, stay with me. You have to stay awake. I know it's difficult, but you must fight. Fight, Holmes!"
I am not reaching him. He is too far gone.
I grip his shoulders and shake him roughly. "Holmes!" He lurches as the pain floods him again. "Holmes, don't do this. Please don't do this. Fight it!"
He does not seem to hear me. His breathing is scarce and irregular.
I clutch the jacket and reapply it with cruel force to his wound, but I receive no more than a flicker of eyelids and a twitch of his hand.
"Sherlock!" I've barked the name before I realize it, overwhelmed with an unexplainable anger — whether at him or Fate, I cannot say…possibly myself. "Do not do this to me! Don't you dare do this to me!"
For a moment, he is lucid again, and I truly believe he is coming back. Then, in a broken voice so soft I can barely hear it:
There is no more I can do now. He is leaving. I cannot stop it. Still, words tumble heedlessly from my lips.
"Holmes, don't talk like that, old boy. I am here. I'm going to care for you, d'you hear me? You'll be fine. Don't give up…Holmes!"
And then he is gone, my only friend taken from me and surrendered to the darkness.
To be continued
Do you have any idea how hard it is to think up a bunch of different words to call a nameless killer in a 3,000+-word chapter? I think I called him the same thing at least five times….