A/N: Yes, I am aware my timeline for BLAN is off, but making a royal hash of the dates is nothing the Doctor himself is not blatantly guilty of. This is narrated in Watson's POV, btw.
~ EPILOGUE ~
A balmy breeze rustled the pale blue fleur-de-lis patterned curtains through the mahogany French doors, beyond which stood a long-limbed man wrapped tightly in his dressing gown, puffing away on his cigarette. An oppressing grogginess (which stems from those prolonged slumbers that are nevertheless altogether insufficient) obfuscated my senses immediately upon awakening in a cheery room brightly illuminated by natural sunlight. It was an agreeable a place to find oneself in, and indeed, my bedclothes were deliciously comfortable, but nothing about the room was at all familiar.
This must have given me cause to panic, for try as I might, there was no remembering how it was I came to be in this place. Convinced there was safety only in movement, I attempted to right myself, though in my weakened condition only managed something between a grunt and a groan.
It was enough to attract the attention of the smoking man, who flicked his cigarette to the ground and was perched on my bedside within three long strides.
"Watson? Watson! For God's sake, man, speak to me!"
"Oh, Holmes," I sighed, the anxiety flushed from my body like a bloodletting when he took my feverish hand in both of his. His skin was cool as ever, and for once, I was grateful for it. "They have you here, too?"
"No, no, my dear fellow - it is over, well and truly over. Von Wechsler is dead -"
"I know… saw his body," I interrupted. "But Rawlings…"
"Also dead; and good riddance to him, I say."
"How can it be?" I protested. Nothing was making a whit of sense!
"He escaped the cottage after sealing us into the closet that night, yet he was doggedly pursued by one of Lestrade's men, who was out on the porch for a bit of fresh air when he dashed out. I have remarked to you that violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. So it was in this instance. Rawlings was chased as far as the gates of Manderly Manor, though, having informed the mistress of the house as to the nefarious plans of the gang, she was insightful enough to loosen the entire kennel of Great Danes on the property. Our man believed only two dogs would be roaming the grounds, and then only behind a second gate encircling the manor. He was ambushed by a pack of the beasts, as I understand it."
"Do you know," said I, once the terrible revelation had set in, "that I was always a mite jealous of the fellow. Not only in my University days, but when last he stopped by our flat. I could not help but admire how active he remained whereas I had declined into an expendable cripple."
At the period in which this case occurred, Holmes and I were both friends and partners for just over sixteen years. During that time, I'd witnessed the gamut of his mercurial temper, yet never had I seen him so flushed with narrowly contained rage as he was in that moment. Tightening his grip on my hand, he began to speak in a deliberate tone.
"I regard myself as a moderately tolerant fellow, but I shall not stand for anyone referring to the most inestimably dear friend to ever bestow his loyalty on so unworthy a man, as anything so vulgar as an expendable cripple. Never utter those words again in my presence, Watson."
For the next several moments, we sat in companionable silence until Holmes finally deigned to speak to me again.
"My dear fellow, I wonder if you might be so good as to satiate my curiosity upon one puzzling matter?"
"Of course, if I can."
"In that cellar, I clearly saw them inject you with… heavens, with my own cocaine. For a man with my iron constitution, accustomed to the drug as I am, it should have proved a fatal dosage. How was it you were unaffected?"
I threw my head back in laughter, prompting Holmes to quirk an eyebrow at his lunatic friend.
"You've not been giving me an easy time of it lately," I explained, "what with the lack of interesting cases to keep you amused. As you were going at that cocaine bottle far too liberally for my tastes, rather than losing a decent fellow lodger - and half my rent - I took it upon myself to dilute your seven percent solution with sugar water some weeks ago. You, my friend, have been indulging in a three percent solution at worst, or at best, were in the thrall of a garden variety sugar induced attack of spryness."
"Admirably done, if I must admit," he sniffed.
"You were worried." I teased.
"I did no such thing. Logically, I had come to the conclusion you were out of harm, so why should I indulge in such frivolous emotion?"
I suppressed a smile at the man who had just shown me a great deal more of his heart than I ever imagined possible, confident that one day he might just lose his composure entirely, and in so doing, reveal to me the entirety of the vast depth of loyalty - perhaps even something akin to love - that pulsed through a heart as immense as his brain. If such an event ever did occur, I was left only to wonder what tragedy could ever stir such a reaction in Sherlock Holmes.
"Holmes?" said I after a short pause. "Your shoulder."
"What of it?"
"I believe I inadvertently shot you."
"Eh. Do not alarm yourself over much about the thing. It was a minor scratch. Dr. Moore Agar of Harley Street - in whose humble surgery Lestrade was kind enough to transport us to after the country doctor initially patched us up - is of the opinion I shall live. The ridiculous fellow furthermore believes a holiday is in order, and I've no doubt you will find that advice agreeable."
"I was on the verge of suggesting it myself. You cannot possibly deny we both are sorely in need of an extended rest. After this nightmare, I've an inclination to remove myself as far from any other living soul, besides your humble self, of course, as is humanly possible. Perhaps the Cornish Peninsula - I hear it is quite deserted there and ideal for a retiring lifestyle. I certainly cannot foresee much excitement in so isolated an area. Besides," I continued "I seem to recall missing a deadline due to a most freakish accident involving an overturned ink bottle and several sheets of a most engaging account of that little problem concerning the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Someone wishing to make amends for the defilement might take it upon themselves to write up another story for me, by way of apology."
"Might they, now?"
"Well, I suppose I can be influenced into trying my hand at your meretricious craft. I have always been rather fond of that case I kept notes on concerning Mr. James Dodd's unique predicament."
"Not that simple matter of the soldier who was thought to have contracted leprosy? My dear fellow, not only was that painfully obvious to the trained eye, I was with Mary at the time and did not even accompany you on the investigation, if you can even call it as much."
"Hmph. Yes, I am fully aware that was during the period in which you deserted me for a wife."
"Really now, Holmes!"
"Do you desire me to write up a case for you or not?"
"Yes, well, go ahead and use the affair of the blanched soldier. After all, I don't see how you could possibly botch that one."