Cracks in the Marble
A/N: I just had to jump on the bandwagon and write a little piece of that most classic of SH fanfic genres: H/C. Yes, that's right. In this story, Watson gets hurt and Holmes comforts him. Bet you didn't see THAT coming. Then why do so many fics on here deal with the same theme? I put it down to the unforgettable "Adventure of the Three Garridebs." Yeah, you know the one I'm talking about. Watson gets shot and Holmes breaks down. Show's the "cracks in the marble." (If that metaphor was just a bit too subtle for you, the cracks are his emotions and the marble is his emotionless façade.) I read it on some fanfic or another where the author quoted Jeremy Brett as saying that of Holmes. And how fitting a title is it for my own little take on the classic? Alright, without further ado, here it is, written from two points of view (for maximum sap): Watson/Holmes H/C!
The knife she held in her right hand and the rope in her left. As I slowly eased open the door to the ballroom my eyes traveled up the rope to the chandelier it suspended through a hook in the ceiling. Watson, standing next to her under the monstrous contraption of crystal and artificial lights, was attempting in vain to coax her out of her attempt to sever the rope and thereby end her life by the weight of a hundred pounds of glass and light. The woman, whom I recognized quickly as the recently widowed Miss Gertrude, was in absolute hysterics, tears streaming down her face in torrents, and I have no doubt her recent bereavement at the hands of the mass murderer Deville was clouding her judgment. Not daring to disrupt Watson's noble attempts to announce my presence, sure that he was achieving a much more convincing plea for her to retain her life than I ever could, I was content to lean against the doorframe and wait, confident in the abilities of my Boswell.
Though having been married once and considering myself as having some knowledge of a woman's sensibilities, it had become clear to me immediately that Miss Gertrude was beyond reason. As a result, I had for some minutes been steadily attempting to creep closer to her and wrest the knife from her grasp and stop her mad scheme to bring down the chandelier on her head. Conscious that I was putting myself in direct danger by moving under it, I nevertheless advanced on her, holding out my hand.
"Miss Gertrude," I cajoled calmly, "Please, see reason. You are obviously upset. It is to be expected. You have suffered a grievous loss at the hands of a murderer. But my friend Mr. Holmes has, at this moment, handed Deville into custody and avenged his death. He will be sentenced with the full force of the British law, and I can assure you-"
"NO!" she screamed, eyes wild with desperation. "It doesn't matter, all is lost, lost, GONE! My poor Robert… oh, Robert…" and with that broke down into renewed sobs. Her grip on the rope convulsed, and above my head, the chandelier jangled slightly. She had looked down at the knife in her hands, and I took the moment of her distraction to pounce.
I noticed the slight tensing of Watson's body in preparation to spring. I also noticed the woman's momentary distraction. What I did not notice was that before I had arrived, she had obviously already sawed through the rope and was holding both ends together in her closed fist. She was now supporting the chandelier with only her own strength, and I realized that Watson's mad attempt on the knife would overbalance her delicate hold on it and bring death to them both.
No sooner had this chain of thoughts raced through my mind than I had shoved open the door and run into the room, helpless to do anything as I watched the chandelier fall to the floor.
I noticed the severed ends of the rope a second too late. Without thought for my own safety, I grasped the widow around the waist and bodily flung her out of harm's way. I was not a moment too soon as the heavy contraption fell on me. With my doctor's training, I immediately knew that the arm I had futilely flung up to protect my head had broken in at least two places. My knees buckled and as my head cracked against the floor, I knew no more.
The crash and tinkle of glass, Watson's desperate cry all reached my ears all at once as I ran towards him. Pieces of the ceiling had fallen out with the light fixture and were almost immediately smoldering from the sparks of the electric lights. Whatever had possessed Watson to attempt such a stunt as saving that miserable wretch? It had cost him his life, I was sure, and as I dropped to my knees at the edges of the wreckage I briefly had trouble seeing. To my anger and frustration, I realized that my own tears were the source of the problem, and I furiously dashed them away to focus on extracting Watson.
The chandelier's gilded metal frame had buckled and cracked in places where it had hit the marble floor. Watson lay facedown under it, a stray bar embedded in his leg. Blood was pooling and he was unconscious. I reached under as far as my arm would allow and grasped his wrist, checking desperately for a pulse- there! I felt it! Feeble but beating, his heart was still keeping him alive. I knew that if I did not get him out from under there he would certainly bleed to death. Lestrade and his men had already returned to Scotland Yard with their prisoner, as such I was left alone to rescue my friend.
Though I possessed no inconsiderable amount of strength, it would tax me to the greatest to lift the massive chandelier. Placing my feet in a place relatively free of glass, I braced myself against a fallen piece of masonry and lifted.
I could barely get the thing twelve inches up. Time was ticking. I was no doctor, but I had picked up some things from my boxing days, and I knew that Watson was at least concussed and if he wasn't treated soon could go into a coma from his injuries. This thought gave me new strength, and with my foot, I nudged a piece of wood under the frame to prop it up. I promptly dropped to my face and grasped Watson's shoulders. He gave a small moan. Dear God, he must have broken his arm.
"This will hurt a bit, old fellow," I muttered to him as I pulled his body under the gap I had created with the plank of wood. Once I had him clear I turned him over to assess his injuries.
His face was horribly bruised and cut, almost to the point that it was unrecognizable. His arm twisted at an unnatural angle, and his leg was bleeding freely, the metal strut going through his thigh. How would I get him out of here? I could not carry him myself without causing unbearable pain, and there was no one around I could call for help. My brain worked for a few minutes, wasting precious time, but it was like having the gas on when no one was home: pointless. My pounding heart, to my surprise, brought the clarity that my mind could not. That organ was so frantic and afraid my mind could not think properly. I realized I was being afflicted with the same malady the suicidal widow had been before me: grief. Grief for my poor Watson, who would die if I could not think of something.
Remembering the lady gave me an idea. She lay slumped against a set of stairs, slowly regaining consciousness from her fall. I ran over to her and briskly explained to her,
"My lady, it is imperative you assist me. My friend is dying, and seeing as it is out of your folly, you have an obligation to help." I could not keep the bitterness out of my voice as I thus admonished her. She only nodded dumbly, the tears seemingly stricken from her by shock. "I will need a stretcher to bear Watson to the nearest hospital. Do you have a boy in your employ?"
"Y-yes, Hector, he grooms the horses-" I cut her off.
"Good. Run now, as fast as you can, and tell him that he must call for an ambulance with all haste, as a man's life depends on it. Then get the strongest man in your employ and send him here. We will have need of him before the afternoon is done." She scrambled to her feet and hurried off.
I wiped my brow, a weight leaving me briefly, but quickly returning when I saw Watson was stirring. I hurried over and dropped to his side just as he woke. His face was a mask of pain, and his hand went to his leg. Upon feeling the metal speared through it, his face went white as a sheet. He seemed to be trying to talk.
"There there, old friend, easy. We're going to get you out of here. Just lie down and relax." I am sure I have no bedside manner to speak of, and I was also sure that my tone of voice would betray to Watson the true anxiety I felt for him. I could not, however, bring myself to tell him everything would be alright, for I feared it was a lie.
The thought almost stripped my mind of any clarity it had regained, and if I wanted to remain useful to Watson, I had to stay in control. I shut my eyes tightly and opened them once again at a soft whisper from the man lying before me.
"Wh-where's-… Ger, Ger-"
"Shh, no need to speak. She is alright. Your foolish brand of bravery has saved her undeserving life, and put yours in mortal danger." Watson had dropped into oblivion once more at the news that his heroism had not been for naught, but I continued talking. "Watson, if you die…" I took his hand absentmindedly in mine. "I shall never forgive myself for standing by as you pleaded with that woman to show reason. If I had acted, if I had entered-" But just then I was cut off as I heard the door. I didn't have to turn to discern two sets of feet running towards me.
I stood up, and slowly, with myself directing, we three carefully lifted Watson and carried him into the front hall to await the ambulance.
Pain shooting up my arm registered in my mind and jarred me out of the painlessness of unconsciousness. Dimly I heard a familiar voice say that this was going to hurt. What could hurt more than what I was already feeling?
The answer came in a second as I felt myself being pulled out from under the chandelier- pain as blinding as a white hot brand. And suddenly, there was Holmes's face looming above me, and the only thought which went through my head was: It's going to be alright. If Holmes was here, I had every confidence he would get me out of this alive. There was just one thing I needed to know- that my actions were not in vain.
"Wh-where's-… Ger, Ger-"
"Shh, no need to speak. She is alright. Your foolish brand of bravery has saved her undeserving life, and put yours in mortal danger." My eyes closed in relief and pain, but Holmes still spoke. "Watson, if you die…I shall never forgive myself for standing by as you pleaded with that woman to show reason. If I had acted, if I had entered-" Suddenly he broke off. I wanted to say to him, reassure him, that it was not his fault, that there was nothing he could have done, but I hadn't the strength.
I had often gone days without sleep in the course of a case. It was different then to what I faced now, though, as then I had a case to occupy and fuel my mind. Now, sitting at Watson's bedside, desperate for a movement to tell me if he was ok or not, I found it hard to fight off my weariness. The only thing that ran through my mind was fear. Fear that I would never see my Boswell again, never enjoy his invaluable assistance on a case, never see perpetual astonishment light up his face as I explained some point or another of analytical reasoning. The word "never" threatened to shut down my rational faculties, and I closed my eyes to block it out. When I opened them I was surprised at the tear that leaked out.
I paid it no heed as I focused on Watson. He had been admitted to the hospital ten hours ago, and I had stayed with him throughout, oblivious to the doctor's warnings not to get in their way. They had removed the metal bar, set his arm, treated his concussion and all the numerous superficial cuts and bruises from the glass. It was now around one in the morning of the next day and the doctors had finally finished their ministrations, leaving me alone with a sleeping Watson.
I studied his face with a critical eye, alert for any movement or sound. The surgeons had told me he would not be awake for many hours, and even when he woke he would be in considerable pain. But they did not know Watson as I did. He had a hidden core of strength somewhere within him. How else had he survived the chandelier's crash when any lesser man would have perished?
I remember the look on the doctors' faces when I explained how he had come about his injuries. I had to have Miss Gertrude back me up for them to believe me. (Why the woman had come, I had no idea. Perhaps it was from some faint sense of guilt. I hoped to God it was a very acute sense, for if it was even one tenth of mine it would cause her unending regret.)
How many times in these hours had I replayed the events in my head? If I had moved quicker, reacted faster, could I have saved Watson? Pushed him out of the way as he had the widow? Somehow tricked fate into releasing his victim? I had come to one conclusion from repeated study. If I had saved him, the widow would have gotten her wish and died that night, and I would as surely be the one lying on the brink of death in a hospital bed. The thought that Watson had saved the life I would have given up caused twinges of guilt to pluck at my heartstrings. I had thought it many times before in our friendship, but I knew now without a doubt it was true: of us, Watson was the better man.
That is why I should be here, not you! I thought with some vehemence. Even though I knew it would do no good, I wished for the thousandth time that our roles were reversed.
I tightened my grip on Watson's hand, and for a moment, I imagined he stirred. Then his eyes fluttered, and what I thought was a grief-borne delusion turned into reality. I bent over him eagerly as his eyes finally opened. His mouth was set in a hard line, and he was obviously in pain. The nurses had given me strict instructions to tell them when he woke, but I could not resist taking this moment to ask my friend,
"Watson! Watson, thank god you're awake! Are you alright? Please, man, say something!" He did not move his head, but his eyes flicked to mine and he answered with a whispered,
"Yes. Holmes, it- it-"
"What is it?" I asked eagerly. I was thrilled to my core that he was alive, talking! His gaze never left mine.
"It wasn't your fault." Oh my. Oh my oh my, he hadn't been unconscious when I told him that if he died I would never forgive myself. His voice was just a whisper when he continued, and I strained to hear. "I made a choice… to save her… and accept the consequences. I wish you could… accept them too." The wretched tears were back again. "Holmes… are you… crying?" I blinked rapidly.
"Nonsense, old boy. You still aren't quite in your right mind. We'll talk later. For now, you must sleep." Watson nodded, and I could see clearly how badly he needed sleep as he immediately dropped off.
I took no cases for the months Watson spent recovering. He frequently admonished me for neglecting my practice, but sometimes, when he could not get up from his bed for the pain or could not manage his crutches with his bandaged arm, I saw how grateful he was for my help. It was nearly a year before he was finally able to accompany me on a case again. His limp was even more pronounced, but his arm was fully healed, and besides from the old annoyance of the Jezail bullet it gave him no trouble.
We were breakfasting, and as he came down his face was thoughtful.
"What is on your mind, Watson?" I asked. He sat across from me and said carefully,
"Holmes, you remember when I was in the hospital, the night after the accident?" My face immediately sobered.
"Of course. I do not think I could ever forget that night." Watson continued slowly,
"I asked you to accept the consequences of my actions and not blame yourself. I was wondering if you had yet." I avoided his gaze as I thought, and I responded with the honest, unpolished truth.
"Watson, if I had a choice, I would have switched places with you gladly, without a second thought. I believe that you committed a foolish, unnecessary act of bravery that day. The woman wanted to die, after all. I watched as the chandelier fell, and I thought for the longest time that I could have somehow saved you if I acted sooner." Watson looked up at me sharply, but I continued before he could. "But, I have come to realize that only an act of providence could have saved you that day. And I thank the same providence that it did." Watson was smiling at me, genuinely happy for the first time in a long while. But there was one last thing I had to know.
"Watson, please answer me this: Would you do it again?" It was his turn to look sobered. When he answered, I found it evasive, yet highly gratifying.
"If you mean would I still save the woman, yes. But for all the world, I would not cause you so much pain as I have these past few months, for I know, were I in your position, what I should feel. For that, I am truly sorry, and I would never do it again."
"Thank you, Watson." And with that, I smiled, and returned to my breakfast.
A/N: If you recognized this, it is because I had previously had it in Pipe Smoke and London Fog, my anthology. But I liked it so much and it seemed long enough so I decided to publish it on its own.