Title: Loyaulte Me Lie*
Author: rabidsamfan
Rating: high PG/low PG-13 for intense imagery, repercussions of violence
Character(s): Watson, Holmes, a bit of Lestrade
Summary: A rescue has gone desperately wrong.
Warnings: Let me say again, intense imagery. Some of it wasn't even comfortable to write.
Word Count: 2625
Author's Notes: For challenge 015 at Watson's Woes over on LJ. I couldn't help but hear the challenge line ("you're useless to me like this") in Basil Rathbone's voice, somehow. And I wondered what might be the first occasion he'd say something like that to Nigel Bruce's Watson. Beta thanks to janeturenne.


"Watson."

The word hung in the air for a long time before his ears plucked it down to be heard.

He let it tumble around inside his broken skull like the nattering of small birds until it startled him by turning upright and sensible again. A name. The word was a name. His own name, if he were not very much mistaken, but he had no faith in his own mind just at the moment, so he bit down on his tongue to keep himself from answering.

"Watson." The word came again in an urgent hiss, followed by more sounds that twisted desultorily into something like language. "Watson, you must wake up."

But he couldn't wake up. He couldn't remember how. Worse, he suspected that waking up meant acknowledging the pain that was treading relentlessly round the edges of his awareness.

"Blast it all, man, open your eyes!"

He flinched away from the image the words forced into his head, the image of hands with a knife coming up to cut away lids and slice deep into the vitreous center of his eyeballs. Everything would leak away if he opened his eyes. Perhaps he already had done and that explained the cool damp of evaporating liquid on his cheeks. Cold air touched his teeth as his mouth fell open and it was only by a miracle he remembered the danger of speaking.

"Bah!" Another word, flung down like a dead rat. "You're useless to me like this."

Useless. A whimper raked his throat, and he did not know if the pain of the sound was worse than the pain in his head and his shoulder and his back and his legs and his hand and his middle, all he knew was that he had to keep still and quiet or be eaten alive and oh, he was trying, but another whimper escaped and his eyes opened despite him to try to watch it fleeing.

Grey. Grey and more grey, shot through with jagged skitterings of pain and brightness. One of them touched a part of the grey and it twitched, sending belated telegrams of cold and rough and stone from something that might possibly be a fingertip.

"Look at you, lying there, pretending to be asleep. You're not even trying." The accusation burned like acid into his ears, hissing destruction as it wound its way into his brain. He flinched away from it, instinctively, and his body flew apart, reassembling itself awry, like a watch unmade by a curious child and put back together in guilt-ridden haste.

He shut his eyes tight against the knowledge that his hand protruded from his chest, that his knee was somehow melded to his spine, and his gut was drawn out from his mouth like mummy wrappings, wound round and round and round again to bind the disparate bits of himself together. The echoes of someone's groaning skirled by, green and purple, a bruise of sound.

"Hush! They'll hear you!" came a warning, but then the contemptuous whisper went on. "I should have known you'd be a liability. Hush, I say, unless you want another beating."

This time the cold words tasted of something different in his ears. Something he strained to identify, even as he curled in on himself to muffle the dismay that refused to stay inside his throat.

"It's no use hiding. Rouse yourself, man! One simple task, that's all I need you for, if you'll just do me the courtesy of waking up properly."

Cinnamon disdain, bittersweet disgust, but under the performance was chili pepper, vinegar, stinging nettles on the tongue and ear, pain revealed like a single tree just barely turned gold in a forest full of trees that were almost bare of leaves. Needle in a haystack. His brain obliged him with the tired idiom as if it were a gift, and it was, it was. Hurt like the devil. Bleeding like a stuck pig. Trussed up like a Christmas turkey.

Ropes. Not intestines, ropes. Ropes on his wrists and ropes on his ankles and ropes wrapped around his upper arms and torso. And nothing worse in his mouth than clotted blood from a loosened tooth and his own tongue swollen up with bruising.

Caught in the act. Trapped like a rat.

The timeworn phrases might leave blue and purple scrapings across his eyelids, but he didn't have to worry at them for meaning. Never mind how or why, he was a prisoner; and the voice heaping coals upon his head had no more reason to free him than the moon.

"Coward."

The word chafed against his heart. But it wasn't true. He could make it untrue. If he just opened his eyes.

Grey. Shadows upon shadows. He waited, measuring the minutes by the ache of his ribs as each breath expanded his lungs. Distantly he knew that the whispered diatribe of judgment had changed its note. But he could do nothing, not yet. Not until the shadows stopped their susurration.

"That's it. Lie there. Let a little knock on the head stop you."

He wanted to scoff – would have, if he could just remember how to make words work. Concussion, he wanted to say. At the very least. But he didn't want to think past that to something worse. Didn't want to consider whether or not the world would ever right itself to a place where sounds didn't taste and sights didn't touch.

"Never mind that it's both our lives at stake."

It was pain, he realized at last. Pain that made the whispers taste so wrong. That wasn't a voice that was meant to be in pain. He turned his head toward the whispering to see what had happened, and the shadows dipped and swerved, and bile rose in his throat, but one of the shadows was brighter than the rest and as he swallowed back his own pain, it steadied into a parody of a face. A face he knew.

"Holmes?" he breathed.

"Watson?" There were dark, liquid streaks marring Holmes's pallor, swellings marring the proud lines of his nose and chin. But it was Holmes. He was certain of that.

"You're. Hurt."

"We both are." Holmes conceded, and then raised his shoulders and head in a pretense of calm.

"But if you would be so kind as to fetch me the lockpicks that are in the heel of my left boot without alerting our captors, I think I can get us out of here."

He tried to move and his left hand shrieked so loudly that it seemed odd not to see the stones echoing back the agony. For a small eternity his world was dark again, and silenced by the overwhelming thunder of his racketing pulse.

Eventually, as his heart slowed down to something nearer its normal pace, he heard Holmes's harsh whispering between the beats. "Idiotic. Bumbling. Indolent. Foolish…" But he heard, too, the pain and exhaustion which made the words fall so leadenly upon his ears.

"Here now," he whispered back, forcing his eyes open once more. "No need. For insults."

"Sorry, old fellow. But they're the only thing you've responded to."

It took less time for the world to right itself this time. Holmes was still where he had been, and now the chains holding his blood-drained hands above his head were evident to even a twisted perception. It would take a key, or lockpicks, to free the man.

It would require moving.

This time he expected the pain, was braced for it, bulled through it, as he'd learned to do half the world away, on a different battlefield. Find a goal and reach for it, no matter how much you didn't want to. Find Holmes's boot.

"Two boots?" he grunted throuch clenched teeth, when his brain refused to identify which one of the boot-shaped protrusions into the greyness was on Holmes's left.

"This one," Holmes replied instantly, waggling the correct choice and drawing the other back, into the shadows beneath his body. "Can you see it?"

"Yes." Seeing it wasn't reaching it though. It took several tries to find a method of movement which brought the boot closer to him, but at last he stumbled onto one. Inch by agonizing inch he squirmed across the rough floor, unwilling to press down on the shattered hand and risk falling unconscious again for the sake of sitting up. But eventually his unbroken knuckles stubbed up against something that wasn't rock. He closed his eyes to breathe awhile before the next effort.

"Watson. Watson..."

"Wait," he managed, not wanting Holmes to think he'd given up. "Trying. To. Think."

"I'll do the thinking," Holmes said urgently. "Just do as I say."

Yes. That would be simpler. He couldn't think properly anyway, not with questions tumbling through his head like why Holmes was chained and he was only bound with ropes or how they had come to be in this dark place of rock and damp and was his hand broken forever or was it only his head and would he ever be right again when even now his senses didn't want to sort themselves out properly. The cold stone beneath his head thrummed like a massive hummingbird, the leather boot next to his fingers sounded a single soprano note. If Holmes could manage to think through the racket it would be for the best to listen. "Yes."

He gave over his body then, let Holmes decide how best to release the catch on the bootheel in front of his nose, let Holmes decide how to twist the heel aside, and which fingers to move to grasp the shining strands of metal that might make the difference between life and death. It was Holmes who told him to come closer still, to allow his arms to be pried off the floor, ever so painfully, by that same booted foot, and its mate, and even his head and shoulders levered onto the uncomfortable platform of Holmes's shins. Holmes who used legs and knees to push him farther off the floor, until he had to sit or fall, so sit he did, leaning against the warmth of Holmes's body, his head against Holmes's shoulder. He focussed all his strength on not leaving go of the lockpicks.

There was a long space of quiet then, until the desperate, exhausted iterations of abuse threaded its way into his ears. "...giving up. Leave me here to die..."

"Never." He said into the cool tweed beneath his cheek. "Never leave you to die." That was true, no matter how much his head ached.

"Watson?" Holmes's voice cracked. "Can you hear me?"

"Yes."

"Thank heaven. I thought... never mind what I thought. You've one last effort to make, and I'm afraid it's the worst one. You've got to lift those lockpicks up to my mouth."

"Mouth?"

"I think I can pull up far enough to get them to my hands. I can try." Holmes sounded uncertain.

It couldn't possibly hurt worse to raise his hands as high as Holmes's hands than it would to raise them as far as Holmes's mouth. He didn't have the strength to say as much, though, not and do it as well. Inch by wretched inch he worked his hands up Holmes's coat, catching his pinky into folds of cloth to keep himself from losing the ground he'd gained whenever he needed to rest. By the time his hands were level with his head, he was blind from the agony of the effort, but he kept on going.

Holmes's whispers continued, but he could no longer make out the words. He didn't need words. As long as he followed the course of Holmes's sleeve, he'd have to come to a wrist. And a wrist meant a hand. And a hand meant being able to pass over the metal that was cutting into his palm from holding it so tight. Please God neither of them dropped the picklocks, because he'd never manage this again.

He had to shift, to raise his head, and the movement broke his eyeballs free of their sockets and sent them floating uselessly around inside his skull, but he kept on. Higher. Higher.

And then something caught him, held him, forced his fingers open. Took the picklocks away. He cried out in disappointment, and the sound sliced through his head and left nothing in its wake. No sound. No light. Nothing.

Voices. Voices that didn't taste or smell of anything. Voices that were nothing, thank heaven, but sounds, lining up properly into words.

"How long has it been, then?"

"Three weeks. Four days. Seven hours."

"Shouldn't you be thinking about... well, putting him in a home or something?"

"This is his home."

"Mr. Holmes..."

"He saved my life."

"You saved your life. Climbing out of that there oubliette like a ruddy spider. Picking the lock on the grate at the top with your hands in the shape they were..."

"And before that I was chained in the dark for two days, with no chance of escape. Not until he came and found out where I was."

"And got himself half-killed. Why he didn't send for us the minute he knew where you were..."

"He didn't send for you, Lestrade, for the same reason I didn't. He was captured before he had the chance to do so. You can't fault him for that. Use logic, man!"

"I will if you will! Look, Mr. Holmes. I had an uncle who took a bad hit on the head when I was a boy. Lay unconscious for two weeks, he did, and when he came round he was never the same man no more. Wouldn't eat nothing but bread and jam, sat staring out the window all day. He couldn't even remember how to tie his own shoes. There was nothing for it but to put him away."

"There are always alternatives, Lestrade. If Watson needs his shoes tied, then I can tie them. If he wants to sit and stare out the window, I will see to it that there is a comfortable chair by the window. If he prefers to eat bread and jam, then I shall set in a good stock of jam! But I am not going to 'put him away'. He can be a doddering idiot for the rest of his days, but he stays at Baker Street."

"I only meant..."

"Wait. Did you see? His hand moved. Watson? Watson, can you hear me? Don't just stand there, Lestrade, send for Dr. Agar! Watson?"

Warmth against his hand, wrapping around and entangling itself among his fingers.

"Watson, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Yes. That's right. Well done, old fellow!"

He couldn't remember how to smile, but his hand proved as obedient to his own will as it had to Holmes's order. He tightened his grasp a second time and the simple motion unleashed a flood of words. Words he'd never thought to hear. A murmured litany of praise, and gratitude, punctuated now and then by another plea for a response. "...willing...determined...dauntless...stouthearted...loyal...lionhearted...true..." The words fell like balm, healing him, reshaping him. He wanted to return the favor, to tell Holmes that his loyalty was well repaid by the enticing aroma of Mrs. Hudson's bread baking somewhere off below mingled with the lingering scent of far too much shag tobacco consumed by a fretting detective; by the clatter of traffic outside the window which would never be allowed into a hospital ward. By knowing he was home, and would always be home.

But he was tired. He needed to sleep. He would sleep, whether or no. But that was all right. He'd awaken soon. When he did, Holmes would be there, safe and free.

And with any luck, there'd be jam.
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*Loyaulte Me Lie means "loyalty binds me". It was the motto of Richard III.