The Painted Mule

This is mostly movie-book universe, but set when Holmes and Watson were about 25-ish and just coming into their own.

"He has more than once lost the month's rent."

Watson watched, enraptured. The two men, sweaty, beefy, completely uneven in everyway, had been pummeling each other for almost an hour. The rounds were endless, the breaks even moreso. The crowd, drawn by the excitement of mismatched fighting, was slowly losing interest as neither fighter gave way to blocked jabs. Watson, however, was by the side entrance, watching the ballet of angered sweat and blood. He had overbet. Again. But it gave him something to feel. Survival. Engagement. Physical contact.

Holmes, beside him, practically begging to come, had at first had been intrigued, but was growing restless. "Why does he not attack the man's elbow? It has been broken more than once and healed badly each time. It would surely take him down in seconds. Look, he coddles it, protects it."

"His elbow?" Watson echoed, ignoring the words.

And Holmes went on again as the fete continued. The two were nowhere close to being the only middle class members in the room- even one or two ill-disguised lower class peerages. But Watson knew that raids occurred every week or so when the bribes were late. He didn't care about being caught, about almost anything at that moment. The fight was finished.

He had won his bet; an overswung roundhouse that shouldn't have connected. But he was still trying to overcome that first loss. He had, however, regained their cab fare. "Holmes," he leaned over, suddenly tired, wanting to collect his losses, and leave for the night.

Realized that he was alone. That Holmes got gotten himself lost in a crowd of Jews, Irish, Indians, and other nonnative natives. Watson sighed deep. The man just did not know how to survive. For all of his rough vagaries, he was still a staunch member of the upper middle class.

Watson looked down, drumming his cane against something wet and potentially dead. Loooked up and found his friend shirtless in the pit. An old man with beetled mustache and no teeth against him. The crowd roared with laughter. The joke not unlost on the doctor. "Holmes!" he yelled, his voice unheard against the din. He tried to breach the pit's walls, but hands pulled him back, patting him on the back in both laugher and anger.

"Maite, the fighs areddy started, Maite." A sailor screamed into his ear. "Luckit. He's a righ' quensmary, he is."

Holmes had already assumed the position. Shoulders back, feet apart, arms up. The mob ate it, loving the sight of a foreigner- a toff about to be beaten. Watson inhaled, trying to wave his friend over to him, to not start a lost fight.

But it was over. Holmes jabbed right, then left. Then flat on his back with one punch. Gasping for air, for consciousness. Watson finally made it over, knees sliding through rancid sawdust to him. "Holmes," he looked at the man's face, assessing for concussion. Holmes's left temple was already bloody and bruising. "He could have killed you," Waston explained, reaching for his handkerchief. It was gone. So was his pocketbook. Time for that later.

"Come along. We must get out of here," he pulled his friend to his feet as the two hobbled out of the ring. Men still laughing as they helped haul Holmes through the diminishing crowd. His fight had been unexpected, and the highlight of the evening. Watson collected his last earnings, and exited the Painted Mule out the back door.

The walk through the East End was dangerous and cabs were rare in those quarters. Watson finally bribed a dockman to wheelbarrow Holmes to the nearest cab stand. It took an extra coin to dump what had first been in the barrow, and Holmes reacted with almost sobriety to its stench, but the three finally made it to the relative safety of a horse shuffling hansom.

The ride back was insufferable, but Holmes finally grasped back to consciousness amidst the rocking against cobble stones.

"What?"

"Queensberry! Holmes." Watson sighed, disengaging Holmes's long fingers from his own wrist. "You're lucky Williams Billy pulled his punch." The two rocked in tumultuous time with the street, bouncing far more than they had ever felt before. "Williams Billy bends coins with his fingers. He's brought to the pit when the house has lost too many bets. He could have taken your head off."

Watson lapsed back into silence, allowing Holmes to hover around consciousness as they rode through the wisps of fogged night. The two finally stopped, and Watson gave the driver the last of his change, and managed to heave and push his friend up to their rooms, lit the lamps, and had the man sit down for examination. Preparing pain medication and a glass of water, he finally held them out for Holmes.

"I'll be fine," Holmes claimed. Reached for the two items and missed.

Watson set the glass and medicine atop an ottoman, and grasped Holmes's cranium with his hands, prodding both the area around the wound and adjacent suture lines with soft fingers. "Well, I don't think there is a fracture, but I am ordering you to rest for at least two weeks in order to properly recover." Watson stood there, still probing the skin covering the sutura sphenosquamosa, finding it intact as he predicted. He stopped talking, waiting to haggle, to bicker over a shorter time frame, but only received silence in return. "What? No trying to jump up in twelve hours to enter yet another fighting pit?"

"Well, I had planned on just such a venture, "Holmes meekly replied, "but I find that I have lost the ability to bend my neck."

It was pathetic, and Watson fought back a smile as he let go of the temple. "Perhaps you'll learn that the pit fighters won't countenance Queensberry rules. You couldn't have done yourself a worse turn than if you had shown up dressed as an aesthete. Prouncing about with blue china and sunflowers in your lapel. They might have respected you more. Or at least left you alone for being soft headed." Watson let a small grin out as he handed over the dose and water again. "You've an eye for fighting, Holmes. But those fighters are all from the colonies. They're starving and have learnt different fighting styles from the Orient and elsewhere."

Holmes stilled at Watson's words. "Do you know any teachers of these techniques?"

"None that'll teach you, Holmes. They refuse to admix with Angareza, but will very rarely hold exhibition bouts if one knows how to find them. And what they do is far, far more brutal than what was shown tonight. "

Holmes slouched in defeat.

"There are."

"Yes?"

Watson hesitated, wondering what folly he was creating by speaking further. "There is a small group of Englishmen. A very exclusive group, you must understand, that are far, far above my own caste. They have developed a new martial arts called Bartitsu that is supposedly based on those from China. With the right connections, they might allow you to train."

"I shall find a way."

Watson finally allowed his grin to fully bloom. "So you are to breach the upper echelons of English society to brawl with its lowest."

"I shall begin tomorrow," Holmes's voice determined, stumbling.

"Holmes," Watson singsonged.

"Yes?"

"Two weeks from now."

"Forty-eight hours."