Summary: Guilt and fear are feelings Sherlock Holmes is not used to. These emotions are also misguided , and Holmes isn't thinking because he's too busy worrying. And it takes a certain Doctor to set things straight. Friendship-fic, although pre-slash if you want to wear googles. :-)
All the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear.
I am not worried, I am not overly concerned
You try to tell yourself the things you try to tell yourself to make yourself forget
I am not worried
But then I start to think about the consequences...
Anna Begins, Counting Crows
The Anger and the Eloquence
The smoking pipe in his hand was clenched tight against the taught skin of his palm, yet he could feel the tremors in his movements that betrayed his feelings. Trembling fingers struck a match against the box in his hand in the hope he could light the tobacco within, but the tiny flame extinguished when he brought it to the rim of the pipe. Flickered for a few pathetic seconds then surrendered to the inevitable with a barely a whimper, the frayed leaves within not even withered from the heat.
Cursing, hands shook as he tried again, yet this time when the flame didn't light, he merely threw the offending match down in an angered growl, replacing his unlit pipe back into his pocket and holding his clasped hands up against his lips as he tried to find a calm in himself that simply wasn't there. Trying to slow his enraged breathing, setting it into a pattern he could not commit to.
His eyes flitted to the doors of the hospital room, saw nothing that would help calm him. Rising up from the uncomfortable seat he had perched himself on, – had it been two hours ago he had first sat down with his head in his hands? – he paced for a few moments with shoes that squeaked and imprinted every step with a shadow of mud, before swearing loudly again and sitting down. Running his hands desperately through his unkempt hair, well aware the ward sisters were looking at him strangely after his outburst, he tried to set his mind at rest by thinking things through. Going through ideas, tests he would do when he got back to Baker Street, articles he needed to peruse. Maybe even checking out the new piece in the Strand that Watson – Anyway, puzzles usually calmed him enough to have some outside semblance of sanity. He tried this usual tactic for a few fervent moments, yet although his mind tried for purchase against the dark things that swam in his head, his frenzy of thoughts kept slipping back to the here-and-now. Damn, damn, damn! His mind cursed and cried, his mentation a mantra of worry and self pity, mingling with pleas and prayers and course language.
He watched with detachment the motion of his hand trembling, felt the inner frightened beating of his heart. And it occurred slowly to him in a recognition so strong that he could not shy away from it in the recesses of his mind, that he was afraid.
Sherlock Holmes was afraid.
And the man at which his fear and worry were directed was at that moment in a hospital ward, his life on the line and a bullet in his chest.
Holmes hadn't thought it would be any danger, no more than was usual. He'd accepted long ago that his line of work would always come with a certain amount of threat and warning, and he'd been able to overcome his instinctive fear every time Watson was placed in such danger. It wouldn't do either of them any good if Holmes suddenly adopted Watson's mother hen instincts every time things looked a little less smooth than usual. With the line of work that he had based most of his time around, he had learned the lesson that no matter how much he planned and plotted over the minutiae details, there was nothing in the world so unpredictable as the reactions of human beings when cornered. And Holmes needed to keep his own head above water trying to anticipate any danger to himself. It would not do if he had to be overly worrying about Watson, no matter how much he wanted to, and he'd come to rely on the knowledge that Watson was a fighting man as well as a natural healer, and so could look after himself in times of trouble. They both risked death and injury every time they went after a criminal. They both knew that a trapped man was all the more dangerous for being so, and Holmes had lost count after a while of the number of gunshots that had missed him by a hairs breadth. It was an occupational hazard, and both he and Watson had accepted it with merely a word upon the subject. Worrying about it after the moment, not during it.
So what had changed?
It was well known that Holmes and Watson were a pair quite inseparable. From his perusal of Watson's dictations for Strand publication (he would never tell Watson that he read them , of course. Doing so would incite embarrassment from the good doctor, for the man assumed that Holmes would not want to read mere prose regarding their adventures) Holmes deduced from the way Watson wrote upon his subject that he considered the detective a friend, a close friend that surpassed the relationship between two colleagues. Someone to be relied upon, to be trusted.
What surprised Holmes more was the fact that he was in agreement. It had unnerved him at first. He had never been the easiest person to get along with and as such had few friends. Even fewer people trusted him – there was always something about his forward manner and bizarre mannerisms that meant he was often viewed through eyes of suspicion.
But Watson had been different from the off. When they had had their first unofficial case together at Lauriston Gardens and Holmes had described deductions he had made that seemed – to him – quite elementary, whereas others would have reacted with scorn or even something akin to fear, a sudden caution at this strange man who read blood stains and boot prints as one would read the weather or the placement of stars, Watson had simply muttered a quiet 'Extraordinary' and had gone on to add his input into the comments Holmes had made. Glancing at him with eyes of curiosity and wonder, not misgiving.
After a while, Holmes had begun to trust the doctor more and more. Watson had simply made a place in his life from the day he moved into Baker Street, filled in a space that Holmes had not known was there, and it was at a point now when neither could remember a time when the other was not in their lives. Without staying anything, Watson had become a confidant to his work, a living board upon which Holmes bounced off his ideas in a flurry of speech. When Holmes had first walked in with injuries from his fights in the boxing arena, a bruise rising up proud from a reddening swelling on the side of his head and blood dribbling from his nose and bottom lip, Watson had not stood by and done nothing , but had immediately ordered Holmes to sit down upon a chair in the kitchen, bringing a bowl of lukewarm water and a cloth which he used to gently dab the blood off his wounds. He had asked upon the nature of the injuries as he did so, but had not pushed, and Holmes had found himself telling the doctor simply because he wanted him to know. Did not want to lie.
As time went on , the trust moved both ways , and Watson trusted Holmes as he spoke in a tone of shame of his gambling, how he had lost his half of the rent on a foolish hand of cards down in a back alley den that stank of smoke and misery. Holmes hadn't even had to think he offered to pay the rent, volunteered to help the doctor with this problem as the man had tried to help him with his own. And it worked, continued working until neither of their vices threatened to overcome them.
He should have seen the issue arising before it did. But he never considered, with the basics of their friendship so public and the depth of it merely glimpsed in moment by people outside the enclosed bubble of the two of them, that it could be used so against him. That their friendship could present such a target, could be such a weakness to be exploited.
They had been chasing a notorious bank thief, and although there was some danger involved, neither considered it. It was just part of the norm. Nothing to dwell on.
Until a bullet that should have missed instead found a target. Until a shot meant for Holmes, by chance of poor aim and desperation, found itself burying itself into Watson's chest.
Holmes had looked up at the man, – the robber, please, please not murderer as well – seeing dark eyes, the gun cocked again in his direction. His aim would be surer now, Holmes had no doubt, especially as he now had a painful victory to back him up. And in that moment, Holmes stared unwaveringly into the barrel of a gun, and wanted him to pull the trigger. Because if he didn't have Watson, he didn't really have anything.
But it hadn't hit him. There had been no chance for that, because Lestrade and his men – always showing up too late, and this was the one time where Sherlock would have done anything to have them arrive sooner – had chosen that moment to appear in a crow of shouting men and shrill whistles, pompous and loud and filling up the whole of the first floor of the ramshackle old building. Seeing himself surrounded, the thief had quickly dropped his gun and flung his hands up into the air , throwing himself upon the mercy of the courts with a cry that begged forgiveness that Holmes certainly would never give. And all the while as Lestrade shouted orders to try and make it seem like he had more control than he really did, as Clarky knelt down next to Holmes and told him gently that a hansom carriage was outside to bear Watson to the hospital, the detective just watched his friend bleed on the cold dusty floor, his words spooling from a forced calm running commentary to keep the man conscious, degrading into something a little bit more desperate.
Holmes begged. He never begged, would never lower himself to even consider it, but he did then on a day that no-one else would remember but him, with words that stumbled and choked over themselves and the emotion threatening to overtake him.
Watson couldn't die.
He kept telling himself that, attempting to buoy his thoughts by recalling all the times they'd gotten out of scrapes worse than this. The business with Blackwood and the gunpowder, with Watson screaming his name in a primal warning for his safety. That forewarning had most likely saved the life of Holmes that day, but it had nearly taken Watson's, and the detective focused with a shudder on how he had felt then; the whirl of plots and murders and Blackwood a hurricane around him, and the most violent tendril of wind in the middle as Watson, lying too quiet on starched white sheets, with Holmes barely able to anchor himself.
It never got any easier, he mused quietly, thinking about all those near-misses and considering whether they had ever felt as close, ever as painful. Holmes, with his rudimentary understanding of medicine that far paled when it came to Watson's knowledge, had sought for a pulse with fingers smearing crimson against the pale flesh that grew starker every second more life drained out, took a few moments before he isolated a small point along the carotid artery that felt so weak that it was hard to believe it wasn't some invention of his fevered imagination. Watson was always the stronger out of the two in Holmes's eyes; maybe not in brute strength, but in a strength of character. He stood solid and immovable at Holmes side, and when the detective reached out for a hand in the dark it was always Watson's he grasped who unflinchingly pulled him back to safety. It was hard to recognise that the doctor had only been in his life for a limited period, a man he felt more akin with that his own brother, a sibling in all but blood. So why did that feature have to be challenged now? Why, when Watson had made himself so much intricately tied into the lines Holmes's loom of Fate did someone have to draw the knife and try and cut the strings?
An thought shook Holmes, made him shiver as though with cold. What if he didn't make it? The doctors been in there for a long time now, what if something had gone wrong, they hadn't been able to fix the damage of the bullet, what if...?
Shut up, shut up! He swore again, loud and vitriolic, and was rewarded by another shocked look from a ward sister at his choice of language . He didn't bother apologising, and honestly could envisage more looks being pointed his way the longer he was forced to sit in this chair, waiting for news, any news but bad news. Just any word that would ease his raging mind. Yet he knew in his heart that the only thing that would calm him would be knowing that Watson was safe, seeing the evidence for himself in a familiar face smiling at him, looking healthy and safe and alive.
He stretched his legs irritably, sensing the inklings of a cramp in the leg he had kept still for so long, considering trying to light his pipe again, wondering if nicotine would do any good in calming him. The detective assumed not. He thought, vaguely, whether making a quick return to Baker Street and grabbing his Moroccan case would be beneficial, but at once was repulsed by the very immorality of his consideration. How could he even think of such a time at a time like this? But he knew the answer. It had always been a particularly vice-fuelled coping-mechanism of his, and only recently had he begun to at least try and use it less to appease Watson. To his mild surprise, he had found that bouncing things off Watson often provided a less hazardous way of gaining the answers he needed, and as such his addiction (if he could call it such, for it wasn't really an addiction by way of a regular habit, more of an addiction in terms of reliance to the drug when he needed the peace for mulling something over) had waned over time till it was only pulled from the drawer it was kept in in only the most desperate of circumstances, when a puzzle came too close to being unsolved by him.
Now felt like such a time. Only, this time, his question was not case-related, nor did he truthfully want to know the answer.
He wondered what should happen if ever he lost Watson.
The image was so detestable that he almost cast it from his mind immediately. It could not happen, so he should not even think it. It would not happen. Watson would be fine, Watson would be, he couldn't not be...
But something made him tarry from his abolishment of the thought. What would he do? He could not find another partner within the whole of London that shared his enthusiasm for such work as his Boswell, who would brave danger and Sherlock's domestic habits with a stoic loyalty. Who would write such... poetry about the extent of Sherlock's personality and prowess in the field of detecting, even when often the detective believed he did not rightly deserve such praise. But no, those thoughts were selfish ones, based around Sherlock and his needs, his wants.
When it came down to the bare bones of his dilemma, it was that he needed Watson. Not for his capacity as a companion, or a doctor, or a scribe. But as a friend. As a partner, the man who possessed half of Holmes's soul in his hands.
And if he died, he would have the entirety of it. Leaving Sherlock Holmes with nothing.
So caught up was he in the questions within his mind that he nearly didn't catch the slight push of the door to the room Watson was in, a pull on the hinges and a second pause as the person moving it lingered – perhaps to talk to someone on the other side, judging from the clipped and professional short exchange he was privy to. Then the door moved open, a buxom ward sister bustling out with all the grace of a lame cart horse, and Sherlock practically launched himself upon the unsuspecting woman.
"How is he?" he demanded "Was there any difficulty? Is he sufficiently out of danger? Is he..."
"Mr... Holmes, " the woman held her ground with applaud-able tenacity, grounding herself before Holmes with an impressive bulk. She looked over his attire with an aloof expression; taking in his shabby coat tails (from running through the muddy back alleys of the St Giles Rookery) and his unshaven features as though he was something unsavoury that she'd found on the sole of her shoe. " Mr Watson is..."
"It's Doctor. Dr Watson" Holmes interjected and was rewarded with another one of those looks , as if he had dared interrupt her. He wondered if the women had some poor husband who was subjected to those looks regularly. Surely the world could not be that cruel.
"Dr Watson," the sister snapped, before regaining her composure " is well and on his way to recovery. We were able to remove the bullet with relative ease, and steering clear of any infection, he should be fine in a few days"
"Can I see him?" Holmes asked, and without waiting for reply attempted to push past her as was his usual style. But the woman obviously had seen it coming and held her ground as her arms gripped his and forced him back.
"You will wait" The waspish tone had returned "Dr Watson is still in a delicate stage of recovery and will not awaken for several hours. I suggest," the word was bitten out "that you come back later"
The sister walked away, and Sherlock made himself sit down again, hating every second he was having to wait, holding back till he was sure that she wasn't looking before thrusting his tongue out at her.
That done, and his childishness satisfied, he slumped back against the hard back of the chair, his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hand. Watson was safe, for now. His relief was sudden and all-encompassing, but cracks were beginning to emerge, his original euphoria peppered with doubt. How long would it be until he was threatened again? How many more times would this happen. Again and again, until Holmes was sitting here again, in this chair, on his ward – only next time the news might not be so good.
Next time John might not be so lucky.
The thought that had grasped him remained lodged firmly in his head, taking on a new tangent. How long could he keep doing this? Keep putting Watson danger, without the consequences not merely being painful, but fatal as well? Sherlock was all too aware of the dangers he faced being a consulting detective. Crime was dirty, dangerous and you had to get your hands black if you wanted to get anywhere. But there was a line Sherlock was not prepared to cross, and that was the dirt on his hands being Watson's blood. Red and bright and staining his skin so that no water could wash it off. It was his fault that Watson had been hurt this time – a shot meant for his chest deviating its course – just like it had been the last time. The doctor hadn't wanted to work with Holmes on the Blackwood case either, and Holmes had coerced him into joining their misadventure. And then he'd been blown up. In a trap set by Blackwood.
Meant for Holmes.
Now he thought on it with a sickening recall of memory, every instance of Watson being injured seemed to stem from Sherlock's presence. An underground enemy making a surprise visit to Baker Street, leaving Watson with a bruised lip and swollen eye before he could subdue him. An ale house brawl that Holmes had accidentally started and Watson having ended up being recruited to finish it when their opponent aimed a fist at the doctors face as he tried to quell the situation. He'd only walked away from that with a cracked rib, but over the many injuries over the many years Watson had been in the acquaintance of Holmes, the detective had catalogued a plethora of similar or worse damages done. A swift kick which aggravated the doctor's leg wound, a black eye, various cuts and bruises.
All stemming from Holmes.
And now he saw it, clear before his eyes as he sat impatiently in a hard wooden chair, his gaze flicking over to the door that he knew Watson was behind, he knew that this could not continue.
He couldn't let something like this happen again.
For Watson's sake, as well as his own.
Watson glanced up from his bed when Holmes walked in, and a small smile split his face. Looking over him with a cursory sweep, Holmes applied his usual leaps of logic automatically, taking in the pallor of his skin (it was still paler than usual, he noted, but on its way back to his normal tone) and the state of the injury, the edge of the bandage peeking out through a gap in the man's nightgown (
.Watson held his right side arm more strictly so as not to worry the healing skin. Tender movements suggested at the stitches still healing, but sufficiently healed for him to at least move. He caught a small wince, barely betrayed by a twitch of his jaw – the morphine was wearing off slightly, but not enough for him to obviously be bothered by it. All this in a flash flood of thought, before Watson greeted the detective.
"Holmes! My good man, I wondered when I should gain a visit from you. Why have you waited so long?"
Holmes smiled back faintly, but he did not feel like smiling. The image that welcomed him, however cheerful, had been not two days ago upon death's doorstep, and he couldn't force the image from his mind of a mortally pale man bleeding out onto the dust and dirt of the ground; his friend, dying before his very eyes. It was something he warranted he would not forget for a long time. Nevertheless, he sat down by Watson's bed upon the chair provided, and the smile he wore, despite its small size, was a true one, one of relief and pent up emotion that he'd been waiting days to release.
"I... had some things to attend to at the station" It was a lie of course, for Holmes rarely went to the station even when he was wanted, but he didn't want to tell Watson that he'd backed out of coming to see him upon his awakening, slinking back out of cowardice and guilt to his Baker Street rooms, refusing all offers of tea from Mrs Hudson as he sat in his study and mulled over the problem in his head some more. The Moroccan case, he was ashamed to say, had come in handy.
"Nevertheless," Watson replied, taking in Holmes's state of untidiness but refraining from comment, merely frowning at the dark shadows he saw beneath the man's eyes "It is good to see you. It has been frightfully dull without you here to lighten up the atmosphere" Holmes could not doubt the sincerity of the man's words, for he knew Watson to be an extremely poor patient while others attended to his health, constantly self-diagnosing and proclaiming that he was perfectly at liberty to leave their care as he 'felt just fine thank you very much'. He was stubborn and unyielding and Holmes almost felt pity for the poor doctors that would have had to deal with him. Then he remembered that ward sister with the frightful eyes, and decided that he really didn't have much sympathy.
"It is good to see you too, mother hen" He gave a quirking smile, and Watson rolled his eyes good naturedly at the nickname.
"So you've been down at the station have you?" he asked inquisitively "Go on then. What case have you picked up now? You'd rarely go down to the station anyhow if something had not piqued your interest. What is it then? A kidnapping? Curious murder? Another one of those tales of passion and debauchery that you always seem to pick up?"
"Ah" Holmes froze, caught in the web of his white lie. "I... I hadn't actually picked up any other cases" He coughed awkwardly "In any case, I feel it would be... um... prudent, if you did not accompany me on the new case I take"
Watson sighed "I know, damn these bandages. The injury itself will most likely heal soundly and I'll have no other issue with it. But if it may hinder you then I shall have to stay in Baker Street until I am fully re-cooperated"
"I do not mean it like that , Watson"
The doctor frowned "Then how do you mean it"
Holmes coughed again. Once and then twice for good measure. Clearing his throat to delay the inevitable. Not that it made much difference "I – er... do not think that... er... you should accompany me on the next case. Or the case after that. Or indeed any case that may arise in the near future"
"My dear boy," Watson looked hurt, confused, and Holmes felt a shard of guilt slice at him. But it had to be done. "What have I done to deserve your... your disfavour?"
"Believe me Watson, when I mean that I still hold you in the same regard that I have always held you" Holmes needed to make this clear, and what he could not display in his tone he knew was evident in his expression. "But, it is just that I do not feel that I can allow you to put yourself in the situations I often find myself in. I …. I could not see you hurt again"
"Holmes, it was merely a scratch...!"
"It was a bullet to the chest, and you know it!" Holmes breathed out, pinching the bridge of his nose "I am sorry Watson, but what happens if next time it hits closer to your heart. If two days later you aren't able to be sitting here talking with me about it?" He looked beseechingly at Watson "I cannot have that on my conscience"
"It would not be on your conscience" Watson said seriously. He had sat up now and was gazing intently at Holmes like he couldn't the detective's reasoning. "My being shot was not your fault"
"You were injured because of me" Holmes snapped, and an emotion was rising that he was trying hard to control. It was not anger, not at Watson, but a fury directed inwards, towards himself. He needed Watson to understand his reasons for this.
"Yet not by your hand!" Watson responded.
"I as good as pulled the trigger!" Holmes stood up, ran a hand through his hair, trying to vocalise what he had been thinking non-stop the past few days "I dragged you into the danger, aware it would be risky"
"It's always risky , man!"
"I would not see you hurt. I cannot allow you to continue surrounding yourself in the lifestyle I live"
Watson gazed at the detective, his voice suddenly quiet, tone low. "You want me to leave" It was not a question, because he already would have known the answer.
"It would be...beneficial to you" Holmes swallowed, his throat dry, waiting for Watson's reaction.
The one he got, was not the one he had been expecting. Watson looked back up at him, eyes fiery and said; "Do you realise how selfish you are, Holmes?"
Holmes's brow furrowed in confusion."I'm doing this for your safety"
"No, you are doing it for yours." Watson said "You are so scared of being near someone who's death or injury could hurt you so. It's a weakness and you can't stand it"
"You idiot Watson!" Holmes was practically shouting now, before his voice subdued again. He did not want to part from Watson on these terms, if they had to part at all. "I don't want you hurt..."
He said the words quietly, like an admission before God.
"I have been hurt, Sherlock." Watson replied equally as gently, his voice placating without being patronizing. "Believe it or not, I had a life before you. I've been injured in bar fights and small skirmishes before I even knew of your existence."
"It is unfair to push this level of danger upon you..." Holmes started, but Watson interrupted.
"It wasn't fair for this country to push their own war on me either, Holmes, but it happened anyway. You talk of danger from petty criminals and gangs, but do you have any idea what its like when a whole other army is baying for your blood because of the uniform you wear? No matter how bad this may get, it will never be as bad as that. I will not wake up … screaming in the middle of the night with the thought of some robber or serial killer, I will wake up because I will see men dying before my eyes and my only thought is that I hope to God it wont be me." He paused, and lowered his voice from the loudness it had been gaining in its momentum"Do not talk to me about danger, Sherlock," he said quietly "Because I have lived through more than you can imagine, and living through more by your side as your companion doesn't bother me."
Holmes, for a moment, just stood there looking at his friend, seeing the strength behind the frailty of his features. Finally, he decided that he would have to reply "...You are..." he paused again, trying to search for the right words "...too loyal, Watson"
"It's a trait commonly found in idiots" The doctor responded with a small smile, and Holmes couldn't help but smile back, wondering if the man had always been so wise and that Holmes had merely never noticed before. "Now sit back down. You're making me feel giddy just looking up"
Holmes nodded and seated himself again, feeling more at ease then he had been in a long time.
"Holmes," Watson said quietly "I am aware of the risks. But you are too dear to me for me to leave you do this by yourself. You ever wonder how much I worry every time you go out and get yourself hurt?"
Sherlock had never thought of it like that, and he said as much to Watson. And then he smirked, a bit of his usual self peeking through.
"But then, you always worry too much, mother hen"
Watson laughed, and then promptly pulled a pillow from behind his back which he used to strike Holmes in the face. And everything was back to normal again; Holmes indignantly proclaiming pillow fights childish, before sending the object back against Watson's head – taking care to avoid any sensitive areas as the doctor laughed and promised that when he got out of his bandages, Holmes was in so much trouble. Holmes and Watson; the duo, together in the way Holmes recognised now that they would always be, for as long as possible.
Just as it should be.