The sky was a dark grey and heavy rain beat against the window of the study, causing a dull throb in Watson's thigh where the Jezail bullet hit during his stay in Afghanistan. Holmes sat curled up on his armchair with his scrapbook of criminal records on his lap and briar root pipe in his hand, filling the room with the strong scent of Turkish tobacco. Watson sat at the chemical-stained desk, reaching across the plate of stale biscuits and cold tea to where letters sat piled up and speared through by the jackknife molded to the table.
"There's a letter here from Lestrade. He asks your help on a string of petty thefts." The Doctor told his companion as he held up the letter to the gas lamp and tried to read the message in its entirety around the ragged hole.
"Yes, I was wondering when he would ask for my assistance." Holmes mumbled as he skimmed over notes on the few of his unsolved cases. A frown worked itself around the pipe as he scanned over a particularly difficult case from years before we met.
"Why don't you take it then? I realize petty theft seems uninteresting to you but it's been awhile since your last case. It will give you something to do." Watson tossed the letter on to Holmes' lap, covering up the scrapbook.
He snorted and pushed the letter aside. "I've already solved it. The man is Thomas Winters. He's a small time thief, a pickpocket and nothing more. He is no use to me."
"Then wire Lestrade and tell him. You'll be doing London a favor."
"Lestrade wants evidence, proof as if I was an amateur detective that's hasn't helped him forty-three times over the last year alone." Holmes snort with some contempt as he put the letter aside.
"So do it for the people. Catch him without Lestrade's help if you want and take Clarke for the official arrest; he's always prepared to help you."
"Winters is not a smart man, he never covers his track well. Lestrade will soon catch on."
"And if he doesn't? What if Winters steals again and what if he resorts to murder? If not for Lestrade, at least think of the people." Watson implored, a feeling of victory already growing in his chest.
"No need for all of that, Watson. If you wish then I'll take it." Holmes rose to his feet and exchanged his tattered robe for his jacket and boots.
"Where are you going?" The Doctor asked, his eyebrows rose in surprise.
"To catch Winters. That's what you wanted, isn't it?"
"Well, yes but—"
"Well then there's nothing else to do but go out the and catch him." He grabbed his hat and placed it at a jaunty angle on his head so that the brim sat low and almost covered his eyes.
"Just a second, Holmes, I'll come with you." Watson rose to his feet, wincing at the sudden twinge in his thigh.
He cast a glance at his friend's leg and smiled knowingly. "Nonsense, Watson. It should only take a moment and this rain does nothing for your leg."
He was out the door before Watson could protest any further. He sat back down with a sigh and rubbed the knuckle of his thumb over his lip, the moustache rough on the smooth skin. Gladstone shuffled his way over, slow with old age and the various experiments of Holmes' that taxed his strength, and sat down at the Doctor's feet to look at the rain beating against the pane then at Watson. A soft growl accompanied the crack of the dying embers.
"He insisted on going alone. You know how stubborn he can be." Watson frowned as he gazed out the window. A sudden thought sent a feeling of dread to pool in the pit of his stomach and the doctor jumped to tear open the desk drawer from its niche to find Holmes' revolver sitting atop the various notes of chemical formulas and sheets of violin music stored up over the years.
"Damn it." Watson stood and tucked Holmes' revolver in his trouser pocket along with his own before following out the door.
An umbrella was useless. The rain pounded from above with such a force that it felt as if it meant to destroy and then the wind blew it sideways so that anybody out staggered out of their intended path with the force of it and was immediately soaked if they were not already. Watson foresaw this and ignored the umbrella on his way out. In a matter of six seconds the rain soaked through his jacket and sent a constant shiver to run down his spine. The injured thigh throbbed worse so that the Doctor had to lean heavily on his cane, listing far to the right to take the weight off of it.
Watson had no idea where Holmes went, where Winters was. The most logical place to begin looking was the poorer side of London, the back alleys full of cutthroats and prostitutes who would do anything for just a shilling. The destitute gathered together wherever there was shelter, under awnings and holed up in the abandoned buildings that lined the dilapidate street. Watson stuck a hand in his hip pocket to finger the revolver and approached a man taking shelter in the threshold of an old bakery, The door lay in pieces behind him.
"Excuse me, sir." Watson raised his voice to be heard over the shrieking gale and pounding rain. He had to squint to see the blurry outline of the man, the hunched shoulders and the ragged buddle of clothing beside him.
"Aye, what do you want?" The man shouted back.
"I'm looking for a man named Winters. Have you seen him?" Watson drew closer to step under the torn awning but the man held up a hand to stop the Doctor.
"Get your hand off your revolver before you come closer, if you please."
"Of course." Watson replied and took his hand from his pocket. "About the man, Winters?"
The man held out a hand and didn't reply until Watson dropped a shilling into his hand, the rain failed to wash away the grime in the lines of his palms.
"I saw him running this way not long ago with two other men on his heels. If you were here a few minutes earlier you would have heard the gunshots. Looked like he got himself in a spot of trouble again." The man gave a brief laugh while Watson felt his heart drop.
"Which way did they go?" The Doctor asked, trying to keep a steady face.
"They turned down that alley there," The man pointed to the alley beside the dilapidated bakery, "but after that I can't tell you where they were headed."
Another shilling landed in the man's hand without thought and Watson walked quickly down the alley with his hand on his revolver, the rain lashing at his face and stung any exposed skin like a million tiny needles. Shaken to the point of collapse, Watson staggered around the darker part of London with its helpless souls and bodies walking around in a constant stupor but without any sign and no more word of either Holmes or Winters. He didn't stop until he heard the sound of a gunshot ring through the drumming of the rain.
"Holmes." Watson virtually screamed to be heard over the gale and listened intently for an answer or another gunshot.
There was another gunshot, fainter than the first and Watson ran as fast as his injured thigh would permit and didn't stop until he reached the end of the street where the water came up past his ankles and the mud collecting at the bottom threatened to steal the shoes from his feet.
"Holmes." Watson cried again, his voice strangled and hoarse with the force of it. A troubled feeling stirred in his chest and he heaved a leg from the mire of the streets only to stumble and graze his hand on the cobblestone. Looking up, Watson found his vision severely blurred. The tears were indistinguishable from the rain that ran down his face.
The Doctor stumbled through the sordid back alleys of London and through the plush back gardens of the rich until the rain let up to a light drizzle and the sun peeked through the thick grey clouds that still threatened to flood the world. At last, Watson realized it was better to return to Baker in case Holmes had already returned and was seated comfortably in the armchair, ready to laugh at Watson's trying night.
The Doctor limped wearily down the streets, his clothes stuck to him like a second skin and his frame trembling constantly. He had not even made it to the front door when a small boy burst from it and collided into him, nearly knocking the doctor off his feet.
"Here now, watch where you're going." Watson snapped. The exhaustion was getting the better of him but he could bring himself to feel guilty for it until he knew Holmes was alright.
"Sir Watson." The boy gasped out heavily. "It's me, Francis, one of Mister Holmes's lads."
Watson regained some energy at the sound of his friend's name. "Is that right? Tell me, have you seen him? Is he alright?"
"I don't know, sir. Constable Clarke came in with a bleeding shoulder and asked if Mister Holmes had come back. I came out to look for you while some of the other boys went to look for the Detective."
Watson peeled the saturated coat from his body and dropped it carelessly on the floor as he ascended the stairs to the study, noting a smear of blood on the wall and a partial imprint of a small hand level to his waist.
Clarke rose to his feet as Watson entered, paling slightly at the exertion. "Apologies, sir, I may have gotten some blood on your floor. I would apologize to Mrs. Hudson but I find she's not here."
"She away." Watson took his medical bag from the desk and motioned for Clarke to sit down. "What happened?"
"It all happened so fast, sir. I was at home when Mr. Holmes came to call on me, asking my help to arrest the man behind the string of thefts. The next thing I know, I'm face down in the streets with Mr. Holmes sprawled on top of me and gunshots ringing in my ears. He got up and staggered a bit but ran after our man. I realized I had been hit but I thought I could keep up. I ran after them but passed out soon." Clarke bowed his head. "I came here as soon as I could to see if the Detective had come back yet. This boy's been keeping pressure on my wound." Clarke nodded to a young boy kneeling beside Holmes' armchair, blood covering his hands.
"He may make a doctor yet." Watson gave a sad little smile and stripped the Constable to the waist of his uniform. "It's a deep gash that nearly punctured the carotid artery. It'll need to be stitched of course and you'll need a sling but you will be fine. What of Holmes, did you see where he was hit?" The Doctor asked calmly as he examined the wound. Even though he was visible calm, he could hardly hear for the blood rushing in his ears and could feel his stomach do constant flips in his stomach.
"It's hard to tell, sir, but I believe it was twice in the side. I saw him hold his head as well. I am sorry, sir. I tried to go after him.
Watson nodded mechanically but wasn't aware of the movement. A strange chill that had nothing to do with the rain was filling his body.