Summary: Holmes and Watson are wounded in an encounter concerning a case; h/c and misunderstandings between Watson and Mary ensue.
Written for a shkinkmeme (on LiveJournal) prompt: Post marriage to Mary/Watson's move out of Baker street, Holmes and Watson are on a case and an encounter with the suspects doesn't go so well. In the aftermath, Holmes manages to get an unconscious Watson home to Mary. A displeased Mary shoos Holmes away, not realizing that he is the more grievously injured of the two.
Holmes held the limp Watson in his seat as the carriage careened around a corner, trying not to notice how the movement restarted the warm seep of blood from his wound. He hoped Watson's continued unconsciousness wasn't a sign of permanent damage, particularly since it was his fault Watson had been injured in the first place.
Their errand wasn't supposed to be dangerous, a simple fact-finding venture so Holmes could obtain the final pieces of his current puzzle. They had been surprised by four armed thugs, evidently hired by the suspect to prevent just this occurrence. Watson handily disabled one of their attackers with his cane while shouting to alert Holmes of the danger.
A particularly large pair of unpleasant fellows were almost atop him when he turned to face them, and while he could easily evade one man with a knife, two were a bit much. He narrowly escaped being eviscerated by a vicious-looking knife, dodging just enough that the wound, while long and deep, didn't puncture any further than the muscle. Or so he hoped; they hadn't had time to find out.
Watson had hurried to his aid, but the last of the ruffians caught him at the temple with the butt of a revolver, and Watson fell, completely insensate, onto Holmes. The blackguards dragged them to an alley and left them there, either expecting them to die or thinking that the lesson would be taken to heart. Holmes had, at length, been able to fold his scarf over the wound and used Watson's scarf to tie it in place under his coat, then managed to stand. Watson roused long enough to gain his own feet and they stumbled to the street to find a cab. Watson lapsed back into unconsciousness once seated in the cab, so Holmes ordered the cabbie to Watson's home.
When the cab finally stopped, Holmes had to have the cabbie help him get Watson down; he paid him well, then turned his attention to getting Watson inside. Despite the early morning hour, Watson's house was well-lit: Mary was waiting and probably furious.
Indeed, the door opened as they made their slow approach. "Where have you been?" she demanded. "You said it would only be a couple of hours and you've been gone half the night!"
"I do apologize, Mrs. Watson," Holmes said, wincing inwardly at how shaky his voice sounded. "It should have been a very brief errand, but there were . . . complications."
Alarmed that her husband was not the one to answer, Mary stepped onto the porch and peered into the darkness. When she could discern John's limp form, she gasped and hurried to him, taking his other arm over her shoulder and helping Holmes get him inside. Watson groaned as they laid him on the settee in his consulting-room, and Holmes was relieved. "Some smelling salts and a bit of brandy ought to be sufficient to wake him," he said confidently, though he wasn't at all certain.
Mary was staring, pale and stricken, at the blood on John's clothing and the lump at his temple. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes, I will take it from here," she said coldly, not even looking at him.
"But my dear Mrs. Watson-"
"No," she interrupted. "You need to leave, Mr. Holmes, and don't come back unless you're coming for a normal sort of visit. Like for tea. We would be happy to have you for tea, or even for dinner, but this nonsense about him helping you with cases must stop."
"He is losing patients because of you," she told him, sparing him only a glance. "A doctor needs to be available to his patients. You are keeping John from being a good doctor, Mr. Holmes, with your insistence upon dragging him off to God knows where whenever the inclination takes you."
"I'm sorry," he said, and meant it. "But-"
"Go home, Mr. Holmes," she commanded, rising from her crouch beside the settee. "I will show you out."
Holmes could only obey, and soon found himself on the darkened porch. Perhaps she was right that he ought to go home. Watson would come tend him when he could; it felt like the bleeding had nearly stopped, so a bit of a delay shouldn't be a problem. He swayed a moment, putting out his hand to support himself on the doorjamb, then straightened as much as he could and set off toward the nearest major road. He would have no hope of catching a cab on Watson's street at this time of night.
The journey to Baker Street was mercifully brief; it took him almost as long to find his key in his pocket and manage to put it in the keyhole as it did to arrive at his doorstep. He remembered to lock the door behind him, for Mrs. Hudson scolded him terribly whenever he forgot, and he slowly mounted the stairs to his rooms. He'd forgotten to lock that door, which was just as well. He stumbled inside, deciding that the floor in front of the fire was a good place to lie down; he added more coal to the fire and curled up, shivering, on the rug.
After Mr. Holmes had left, Mary followed his suggestion about the smelling salts and brandy, and John revived. She kissed him gently. "It's good to see you. How do you feel?"
"Headache," he said, clenching his eyes against the light.
"Where else are you hurt? You're all over blood."
"I . . . it was just the head, I think. I don't remember anything else."
"Lie still, then, and let me check." She efficiently unbuttoned the garments on his upper body, and found no injuries that would explain the blood. There were bruises, yes, but that was all. "It must be from someone else," she said finally. "You were fighting?"
"Yes, we were set upon by four men," he said slowly, straining to remember. Mary made a noise of distress and he squeezed her hand reassuringly. There was something important he was forgetting, he knew that much, but it felt like the blow had scrambled his mind and he hadn't yet found all the pieces.
"I'll get you a cool compress, and you can rest," Mary said, and left the room briefly. The coolness on his injury was soothing, and he drifted into a doze.
Watson woke suddenly from his slumber, the cloth on his brow dry and warm, and found he remembered what he'd been missing earlier. "Holmes!"
"What about Mr. Holmes, John?" Mary asked, rising from a nearby armchair and coming to his side.
"Where is he?" he demanded.
"I sent him home," she replied, confusion in her tone.
"What? Why?" Watson pushed himself up to sit, blanching as his head spun, and started buttoning up his shirt.
"I'm perfectly capable of caring for you, John." She sounded hurt.
He paused in his buttoning to touch her cheek. "I know that. But he was wounded, worse than I. This blood is all from him," he said as he refastened his waistcoat and jacket.
Mary paled and went to fetch his bag while he put on his shoes. "Can I help you?" she asked, returning with his bag. He checked its contents, and, standing very carefully, limped to his cupboards for additional supplies.
"No, I don't think so. Not this time." He kissed her briefly. "But in the future, remember that if I am injured while with Holmes, he is most likely injured as well."
"I will," she said, subdued. She helped him with his coat and handed him his cane, thinking all the while of Mr. Holmes and how she'd never let him finish a sentence. Had he been trying to tell her of his own injury?
Watson hurried to find a cab, the first blushes of dawn painting the eastern horizon. The trip seemed interminable, but he knew the cab was going as fast as it could. He was only fortunate that it was still early enough that there was no traffic.
The door was still locked; he rang the bell insistently, hoping Mrs. Hudson was already awake. She appeared fairly quickly, and seemed surprised to see him, but let him in without question. Before she could speak, he asked, "Have you seen Holmes in the past few hours?"
"Yes, I heard him come back, and when I checked on him he was sleeping on the floor in front of the fire. But what is this about, Doctor? Why are you covered in blood?"
"I will need towels and warm water, if you please," he directed, already heading for the stairs. "The blood is Holmes'."
Too used to strange goings-on when it came to her tenant, Mrs. Hudson went to fetch what was requested without asking any more questions.
Watson found Holmes exactly where Mrs. Hudson had said, curled up in front of the fire. Holmes' skin was pale and cool, and Watson hoped it was not too late. He carefully rolled him onto his back, taking care to keep his knees bent to lessen the pull on his abdomen.
Holmes slowly opened his eyes. "Ah, Watson," he said with a quirk of a smile. "I rather hoped I wouldn't have to pay you a visit during your office hours."
"Of course not," Watson said, taking the pulse in his wrist, then his neck, and found it rapid but reasonably strong. "I'm sorry Mary didn't realize you were injured." He started undoing Holmes' clothing, and discovered what had become of his scarf.
Holmes waved a hand dismissively. "I do not think a few hours' delay has done me permanent damage," he said languidly. "How is your headache?"
"Pounding," Watson admitted. He carefully pulled away Holmes' blood-soaked clothing, finally revealing the gaping gash in all its glory. "A few hours' delay can do great damage for many wounds. Only time will tell if this is such a wound. It's rather bad, Holmes."
Mrs. Hudson, entering at just that moment, nearly dropped the basin of water she carried. "Mercy," she whispered. She pushed aside her reaction and set the basin next to the doctor, then went for the towels.
"I've had worse, I'm sure," Holmes mumbled, lifting his head to peer down at it, but seeing only blood everywhere.
"Not that I've treated you for," Watson retorted. Truth be told, it reminded him more of war injuries that he'd seen than anything Holmes had managed to do to himself thus far.
He washed his hands in the basin and carefully began prodding at the wound, judging its width and depth, but particularly its depth. He sighed with relief when he found he could run his finger the length of the gash without it dipping into the stomach cavity; there was no danger of internal injury, internal bleeding, or an internal infection. So, while showy, the greatest risk at this point was infection. The blood loss was not inconsiderable, but Holmes seemed to be compensating reasonably well.
When Mrs. Hudson brought the towels, Watson also requested a pitcher of water and set to arranging the towels along Holmes' sides. He found a pillow and placed it under Holmes' knees, so his legs were extended but he didn't have to lie flat, and set out his needles and stitching silk. When all was ready, Watson squeezed Holmes' hand. "Will you be all right, or should I give you something? It will take a while to stitch this."
"I think I'll be all right," Holmes said drowsily.
Watson squeezed his hand again, then set it down. "You can't say I didn't offer," he said, then picked up the pitcher and slowly poured water over the wound to clean it, followed by a rinse with carbolic. Holmes stiffened but didn't cry out. Watson patted the skin dry, pleased to note that the bleeding was so slow as to be nonexistent. He washed his hands, picked up his needle, and set to work with the first layer of careful stitches.
It was almost pleasant to be able to take his time to do it properly, and in relatively clean conditions. He worked carefully, repairing the torn muscles with neat, even stitches. When he finished that initial layer, he rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck, wishing he'd thought to take some headache powder before beginning.
Mrs. Hudson checked on them periodically, and interrupted Watson's moment of respite with a telegram from Mary, inquiring whether she ought to cancel his appointments for the day since he hadn't yet returned. Watson didn't hesitate in answering yes, and asked that she cancel those for the next day, as well. Holmes shifted uneasily when he said this, and after Mrs. Hudson had left, he asked shakily, "Is it really that bad?"
"No, as long as you don't pick up an infection. I'm thinking more of my head," Watson explained, and Holmes was mollified. It was true, he was likely to have a lingering headache for days, but he also thought it quite likely that Holmes' wound would become infected. At the very least, he would need to be there to prevent Holmes from leaving bed before he ought.
The row of stitches in Holmes' skin was easier and quicker to do than the others, as these did not need to be quite so close together, and he used a different stitch that didn't require knotting and cutting the thread after each stitch. It felt almost like sewing a seam diagonally across Holmes' belly.
When Watson set aside the needle, Holmes asked, "Can I touch it?"
"Let me wash your hand, and then you may."
Holmes gently explored his wound for the first time, running his fingers along it from just above the right hipbone, across his stomach, to its end just under the left side of his ribcage. "It's worse than I thought," he said, impressed.
"And if you want it to heal well enough for you to ever box again, you will have to follow my orders to the letter," Watson warned as he pulled away the wet towels and tried to clean up.
A brief bath for Holmes, to wash away the worst of the blood, then Watson put some salve and bandages on the wound, and Holmes was put to bed with some broth and tea. Watson finally took some headache powder and decided he should take off his blood-stained clothes, only belatedly realizing he hadn't brought any others. Holmes persuaded him to make use of one of his nightshirts; Watson felt much better after a wash and getting out of the stiff clothes. He sat in a chair beside Holmes' bed to monitor his patient, who quickly fell asleep.
Watson was next aware of fingers carding gently through his hair, and a soft kiss pressed to his forehead. He opened his eyes to see Mary, who placed a finger across his lips when he moved to speak. "Mrs. Hudson let me in," she said quietly. "I brought you a change of clothes."
"You are an angel," Watson said fervently.
"How is he?"
"Weak; he lost a lot of blood."
"How bad was it?" Watson showed her on his body the length of the gash, and she shuddered. "I'm so sorry, I just couldn't tell . . ."
"Don't fret. Dark colors hide blood well if you don't know what you're looking for." He held her hand and patted it reassuringly.
"When will you be home?"
Watson sighed. "I don't know. I'm concerned about the possibility of infection setting in."
"I see. How are you?"
"Better, but I'll have a headache for a while." He smiled ruefully.
She squeezed his hand and leaned down to kiss him. "I should leave. Let me know when you know anything, all right? I love you."
Watson saw her to the door of the flat, not daring to go all the way to the front door in his state of undress. Holmes was still sleeping when Watson returned to his room, and Watson seriously considered accepting the previous invitation to join him in the bed. He was still rather tired, considering his lack of sleep that night. Finally, he decided to dispense with propriety and sleep in the bed.
It was early afternoon when Watson woke again, this time disturbed by Holmes shifting restlessly on the bed. Immediately concerned, Watson put his hand to Holmes' forehead and found it warmer than usual, but only slightly. By the time he had risen and dressed, Holmes had returned to stillness. It seemed an excellent opportunity to restore his supplies and obtain a few additional things from the apothecary up the street, so he had Mrs. Hudson check on Holmes periodically while he was gone.
Those supplies proved to be quite valuable, for Holmes developed a raging fever that night, tossing and turning with it until Watson had to give him a sedative so he wouldn't tear his stitches. The wound edges turned an angry red, and when the wound itself began to seep odorous pus, Watson removed the skin stitches so he could pack the wound with poultices and salves against the infection.
Watson had very little sense of time as he tended to Holmes, trying to cool him with damp towels, cleaning and packing the wound, assisting with his bodily needs, and, most of all, desperately attempting to persuade him to drink water and broth. Holmes was uncooperative, but he was also out of his head with fever much of the time, so Watson could not blame the lack of cooperation on his usual hard-headedness.
Then Mary reappeared. "I haven't heard from you," she said unhappily, touching his cheek so he would look at her rather than Holmes. "I've been worried."
"I'm sorry, dear, but he has been quite ill."
"Are you ever going to come home? You've been gone five days, and left me nothing to tell your patients. You need to come home, John."
"I can't come home yet, Mary. He is still very ill."
She glanced at Holmes. "Isn't this why we set up the spare bedroom? So you could care for ill patients at home?"
"Yes, it is, but are you trying to tell me I should move a desperately ill man from his own bed to our spare bedroom?" Watson hissed. Holmes groaned, and Watson jumped guiltily. He rose and pulled Mary into the sitting room, closing the door so they wouldn't disturb Holmes.
"Wouldn't it be easier to care for him at our home, with your supplies?"
"Not if it endangers his life to get him there! If you hadn't sent him home that night, then yes, we would be caring for him in the spare bedroom."
"If he's so ill, why haven't you taken him to hospital?"
"Because we can manage here, and he wouldn't do any better on a trip to hospital than he would to our house!"
"I think it's because it's Mr. Holmes," Mary countered, glaring at him. "You spend far too much time on him. First it's the insufferable cases, and now this! You have patients to worry about, John. Patients who are finding other doctors because you're never available!"
"Holmes *is* one of my patients!"
"You wouldn't do this for anyone else," she challenged.
Watson took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. "Actually, Mary, I would do this for any of my patients. Nursing a person through illness is a rather large part of being a doctor, after all. I thought you understood that when you married me."
"None of this would have happened if you hadn't gone with him!"
"Holmes would probably be dead if I hadn't gone with him," Watson shot back. "And if he had sustained this injury without me being there, I would still be here minding him. Why can't you understand that?"
"Oh, I understand. I understand that Mr. Holmes will always be more important to you than I am. And all of your other patients, too, if you manage to hold on to any after this."
Now she was crying, but Watson's attempts to soothe her were rebuffed. "Mary, please," he said helplessly, finding that anger, rather than sympathy, was roused by her tears. "Mary, I'm sorry, but I am a doctor. I cannot abandon someone who needs my help simply because my wife thinks I need to come home. If you're not going to help me, please leave. I will return home when I can."
Mary stared at him, stricken, her face streaked with tears. "You are very cruel, John," she whispered, then turned and fled.
Holmes was awake when Watson went back into his room. "I didn't mean to cause discord," he croaked. "I will cease calling on you about cases if that will help."
Watson patted his hand. "It's not your fault. It would be wise for me not to accompany you for a while, but I think the main point is that Mary still doesn't quite understand what it means to be a doctor's wife. Especially a doctor who has a private consulting detective as a patient." He quirked a smile.
Holmes smiled half-heartedly in response. "Would it help if I paid you quite handsomely for your time?"
"I don't know," Watson admitted. "But it might appease her. How are you feeling?"
"I feel like I've had a fever for days and my wound aches. Infection, I take it?"
"Indeed. I do hope you'll be more cooperative, now that you're awake."
"Don't count on it, Doctor," Holmes said with a wink.
Once the fever had completely abated, it was a week and a half before Holmes was out of bed and steady enough on his feet that Watson felt it was safe to allow him to be unsupervised.
During that time, he had Mrs. Hudson mind Holmes and went home for brief periods of time to wash, change, obtain any needed supplies, and try to placate his wife. Mary was stoically silent, though the tightness around her mouth betrayed her anger, and it did not ease even when he took her out to dinner and spent a quiet evening at home afterward. Actually, Watson had hoped the quiet evening at home might progress to a pleasant evening in bed, but Mary really was quite angry with him.
So it may not be surprising that he waited until a fortnight after the passing of the fever to officially return home. Mary was not there, a note on the entryway table telling him she had gone to visit a cousin for an indefinite period. Watson's immediate thought after reading it was to consider turning around and returning to Baker Street, but it really was more expedient to be here if he was going to try to take patients again.
And he fully intended to take patients again, had spent the past three days sending messages to the patients he'd had to cancel on inviting them to schedule a new appointment or come in during his office hours. But he'd be lying if he said he didn't long for the familiar comfort of his old flat, especially since the house felt empty without Mary in it.
Watson assumed this spat was just one of the necessary adjustments they both had to make in order to have a happy life together. After all, he'd heard that the first year of marriage was the most difficult, as each party had to accommodate their new partner. But he feared this disagreement went deeper than that. For both their sakes, Watson hoped this wound to their marriage wasn't serious.