Written for the shkinkmeme prompt: Spoilers a-comin' in a very vague kinda way:
A few months after the end of A Game of Shadows, Holmes asks Watson (and Mary, if you like,) to a concert. It's only once they're on the steps of the concert hall that Watson sees the posters advertising the performance of some of Schubert's works, including Die Forelle.
Que Holmes, who is determined to overcome the vividly terrifying memory of being strung up from the rafters by a meat hook (and probably just that whole, terrible affair in general,) and Watson, who knows what all this is about but is too stalwart to do anything but sit down, shut up, and let Holmes squeeze the living daylights out of his hand.
(12 March: Corrected a few verb tense shifts that were pointed out by a kind reviewer.)
The invitation was as unexpected as it was welcome.
Holmes had been keeping his distance since the less than satisfactory encounter when he'd revealed that he was not, in fact, dead. (If you must know, Watson fainted, Mary slapped Holmes, and Watson, when he'd come to, had punched Holmes. Things were said on both sides that were hurtful and wholly untrue but no less heartfelt, and they had nearly come to blows when Mary suggested that Holmes leave and allow Watson some time to adjust.)
So when a card arrived in the morning post, addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Watson in Holmes' handwriting, a fortnight after they'd last seen him, it was a pleasant surprise. An even greater surprise was the contents of the card: a formal-sounding invitation to join him at a concert the following evening. A post-script noted that it was unrelated to any case, just for pleasure.
Even without the post-script, Watson was inclined to accept, and Mary unhesitatingly agreed to the proposal. She thought a concert would be lovely, as would seeing Holmes in a situation where nothing was expected of any of them. Watson sent their acceptance note via the afternoon post.
Watson thought he saw Holmes in front of the concert hall when the cab pulled up, but lost him in the crowd and then was distracted by helping Mary descend from the carriage. When he finished paying the driver, he turned and the air was sucked from his chest. Holmes was bowing to Mary, kissing her hand, telling her she looked splendid (which she did), and looked exactly as he had that fateful evening when Watson watched him fall.
Well, not exactly. Obviously it couldn't be the same tuxedo, as the original would have been irreparably damaged by a plunge into the waterfall. This one hung more loosely on Holmes' frame, and the red sash was absent. But his slicked-back hair, his formal dress, his stiffly polite manner, the healing bruise near his eye all forcibly reminded Watson of that worst day of his life. His stomach clenched when Holmes greeted him with the same sort of falsely cheerful voice he used upon clients and annoying members of the Yard.
"Watson," Holmes said, proffering his left hand, his expression guarded even as he stepped closer.
"Holmes," Watson managed, shaking his hand firmly and dropping it as soon as he could while still being polite.
"Shall we?" Holmes said, offering his arm to Mary, who took with with a smile and a glance at Watson, who followed with a feeling of inexplicable dread.
Then he caught sight of the concert poster on the wall. "German?" he grumbled as they entered the lobby. "I should have known. At least it's not Wagner."
Holmes flashed him a quick smile. "I believe you will find Schubert more to your liking."
"What's wrong with Wagner?" Mary asked with evident confusion.
"Your husband thinks his work too morbid."
"You and he will have to take me to a concert of his work sometime so I can judge for myself."
Holmes glanced back at Watson with a knowing look. "A fine idea."
Their seats were in the middle of the seventh row from the stage where a pair of pianos waited. They sat with Watson between Holmes and Mary, strangers filling in on either side, and soon the concert began.
The first half was comprised of piano pieces, mostly duets with interspersed single-player songs in which the pianists alternated who performed. By intermission Watson was feeling much better about the outing, his vague earlier misgivings put to rest.
The second half of the concert featured a baritone soloist along with one of the pianists-who Holmes whispered was the baritone's lover-in a number of songs. The vocalist was quite good, even Watson could tell that, and the pianist's deft touch was excellent in the accompaniment.
Then the piano began a familiar phrase, and Watson stiffened in recognition. He glanced over at Holmes; Holmes' eyes were closed and his jaw clenched. His breathing was strained, perspiration already rising on his brow, and he bowed his head as the soloist began to sing. Watson's stomach clenched, remembering what he'd heard along with the music, and placed his hand over Holmes' fisted one.
Holmes clutched it in a bruising grip, a desperate grip, and together they barely breathed for the duration of the deceptively upbeat song, Watson watching Holmes the entire time.
It wasn't until the end of the following song that Holmes shuddered and took a deep breath, opening his eyes and glancing at Watson as he let go of his hand. Watson continued to watch as Holmes took out his handkerchief and dabbed his face, his breathing still uneven.
Sitting through the last three songs was agonizing despite their relatively short length. When the concert finally concluded, they politely clapped as the performers bowed. Holmes started to rise with the rest of the audience, but Watson gripped his forearm and firmly held him down.
Mary stood. "That was lovely," she said with enthusiasm, then turned and noted that they remained in their seats. "John? Mr. Holmes? What's wrong?"
Watson studied Holmes, who did not move his eyes from the pianos on the stage. "You knew," he said, caught between horror and rage. "You knew that song was to be performed, and you dragged us here to hear it."
"This is not the time or the place," Holmes said brusquely, standing abruptly and striding down the row to the opposite aisle.
Watson hurried to follow him, Mary on his heels. They caught up to Holmes in the crowded lobby, the press of bodies having prevented him from forging ahead any further. Watson caught his arm and pulled him back and murmured into his ear, "You're coming with us. We need to talk about this."
"There is nothing to discuss," Holmes said, wrenching his arm away and slipping into the crowd. Watson attempted pursuit, but Holmes had the advantage of being slight (too slight) and was able to duck through openings that Watson could only squeeze through if he wished to offend the people on either side.
By the time Watson reached the doors, he thought Holmes would be long gone. He was surprised and pleased to find Holmes-and Mary-on the other side of them. Mary's hand was tucked in Holmes' right elbow and her head was close to his, so they did not notice Watson's approach until he touched Mary's other elbow.
"John, there you are. Mr. Holmes will be joining us for dinner this evening," Mary informed him with a smile.
Holmes said nothing. Watson hailed a cab and ushered both of them into it. Mary pointedly sat in the middle of the bench on one side and, at Watson's confused look, tilted her head toward the seat next to Holmes.
As the cab jerked into motion, Mary said, "I am much better with French than German, so I'm afraid I didn't understand most of the words."
Watson looked to Holmes, who took a deep breath and explained that several of the vocal selections shared the theme of fishing and fishermen. His memory of the songs was, of course, impeccable and he related in brief terms what each song was about. Watson didn't know which song was the one he'd recognized, but judging by Holmes' manner they didn't reach it before the cab pulled up at the house.
The dinner conversation strayed from the songs to the performers themselves. Mary demanded to know why Holmes thought the soloist and his pianist were lovers, so he explained himself with no small amount of relish to his captivated audience-namely, Mary, as Watson was watching Holmes rather than listening to what Holmes was saying. Watson noted that Holmes was still pale and his right hand shook whenever it ventured out of his lap.
After dinner they settled in the sitting room, Holmes and Watson with brandy and their pipes and Mary with her own glass of brandy. As soon as Holmes was seated and smoking, Mary leaned forward and said, "You didn't finish telling me about the songs. Would you?"
Holmes shifted in his chair, glancing at Watson, then took a gulp of brandy before he spoke. "Does it matter?"
"Something upset both you and John, something in the concert. I need to know what it was."
"In the next set, one of the songs was called Fischerweise, about a fisherman. It was playing when I went to see Professor Moriarty in his office."
"You went to his office? When? Why?" Watson demanded, sitting forward in his chair.
"I went immediately after your wedding, to bargain that you would be left out of our little game," Holmes snapped, draining his glass and rising to pace. "The good professor and I disagreed on the subject, hence my presence on your train."
Watson seemed ready to ask him something else, but Mary held up her hand. "Please continue. The next song?"
"Die Forelle, about a trout that is caught when the fisherman muddies the water. The Professor rather enjoyed his fishing metaphor, to the point of using a hook on his own fish." He stopped in front of the fireplace, staring into it as he fingered his dying pipe. "I was strung up by the shoulder, and he put on a phonograph and sang . . ."
When it was clear that he wasn't going to continue, Watson said, "That song was broadcast throughout the factory. Moran had me pinned down and all I could hear were his shots, that song, and your screams."
Holmes turned slightly, glancing at Watson from the corner of his eye. "Broadcast?" he said faintly. "I had no idea."
"So I gathered," Watson said wearily. "Now perhaps you understand hearing that song was . . . jarring."
"Yes, quite," Holmes muttered. "Y-you could hear me?"
"Rather better than I would have liked. And you never did tell me what he did to make you sound like that."
Holmes' shoulders slumped. "Does it really matter?" he asked wearily.
"No, it doesn't," Mary said, rising from the settee and going to Holmes, resting her hands gently on his shoulders. "But if the song has such terrible associations for you, why attend a concert that includes it?"
"I thought to create a different association," he admitted, knocking his pipe against the fireplace bricks. He tucked his pipe into his waistcoat and turned away, resuming his slow round of the room.
"Did it work?"
"It was not particularly effective, no."
"What will you do now?" Mary asked softly.
Watson watched in fascination. There were many things he would have liked to ask, to say, but he remained silent to see how Holmes reacted to Mary's questioning. For one thing, he seemed to relax his guard more quickly around her than he had before. Watson had told Mary everything he could stand to tell her about that awful situation, the second-worst day of his life, and wondered if Holmes recognized that she knew.
"I cannot allow a mere song to have this sort of effect on me," Holmes said fiercely, stopping in the doorway with his back to them. He flexed his hands, then shoved them into his trouser pockets.
Mary voiced a question that had long been in Watson's mind. "Why did you allow him to get so close to you? You had to know he'd be waiting, yet you went forward without John."
Holmes turned to face them, but remained in the doorway. His expression was solemn. "The red notebook I sent to you was the fruit of those labors. I had already tried several methods to steal it away from him, but it was clear that close personal contact would be the only successful means."
"You let yourself be tortured for a book? You *died* for a book?" Watson cried out, aghast.
His ire seemed to make Holmes angry.
"Ask your wife about the ill-gotten gains confiscated as a result of that book, about the valuable evidence it provided to prove my case against Moriarty before you rage at me for what happened. Every move I made was calculated to snare Moriarty and protect you and Mary from him. I did only what I had to do." His voice rose as he spoke until he was nearly shouting. As soon as he finished, he flushed and studied the carpet.
"How could he not notice you took it?" Mary put in when the silence was becoming unbearable.
"I switched his book for an apparently identical one while he attempted to force certain small pieces of information from me. Then Watson collapsed a tower on us, so he had no time to notice the change."
"The wound still troubles you," she said softly, sadly.
"Yes," he admitted freely, but without looking at either of them.
"Why don't you have John look at it? Perhaps something can be done to ease it."
Holmes visibly wavered, but shook his head and shifted so he faced away again, his right side in the shadows of the hallway. "That's not necessary. I've already taken up too much of your time. I don't wish to impose."
Mary moved directly behind him. "It is no imposition, but if you insist upon leaving, first let me thank you for everything you've done for us," she said earnestly, then lowered her voice. "Especially coming back-John wasn't the same without you."
Holmes fidgeted with his pockets but didn't move and didn't speak.
Mary pressed on. "Do you trust me?"
That earned her a glance from over Holmes' shoulder.
"Do you trust John?"
Now Holmes turned slightly, far enough to see Watson sitting in his armchair, watching them. "With my life," he hoarsely replied after swallowing several times.
"Then let him see to your wound, if not because he is your friend, then because he already knows how you came by it and will ask no awkward questions."
Holmes tilted his head slightly. "That is a fair point," he conceded. "But not tonight."
"Why not? You are already here," Mary persisted. "Surely it would be more trouble to come here again at a later time."
Holmes remained unmoved.
Watson rose from his chair and joined his wife. "Come, Holmes, be reasonable. If you won't, I might just tear your clothes off again."
Holmes snorted. "In front of your wife? What propriety."
"This from a man who has dressed as a woman," Watson retorted.
"And as furniture," Mary added with a smirk. She reached up and set her hands on Holmes' shoulders, sliding them toward the front edges of his jacket.
Holmes stepped away and finally turned to face them. "Very well, I will allow Watson to take a look, but only if you cease this persecution."
"The first reasonable thing you've done all day," Watson declared. "Sit on the settee, Holmes, and take off your shirt. I'll be right back."
Holmes remained where he stood, but slowly began unbuttoning his jacket and waistcoat, watching warily as Mary went to the sideboard and refilled his glass. She handed it to him and took over the unbuttoning while he gulped the brandy down. He allowed her to remove his cravat and slide the jacket and waistcoat from his shoulders, but he stubbornly kept his shirt on, crossing his arms over his chest so she couldn't take it. Instead he handed over his glass and gestured for another refill.
"Feeling bashful, Holmes?" Watson goaded as he returned with his medical bag.
"It is inappropriate to disrobe in front of a woman who is not one's wife."
"That didn't stop you on the train."
"The disrobing on the train did not occur until after she had, er, disembarked."
"Ah, yes, that's right, your ridiculous outfit was in the way of me throttling you."
Holmes smirked at him but kept his arms across his chest.
"Really, Holmes, what is this about? Whatever it looks like, I can guarantee I've seen worse."
Mary handed Holmes his brandy and finished unbuttoning his shirt while he drank it, commenting as she did so, "I have seen your brother in the altogether, so you needn't worry on my account."
Holmes sputtered on the last of the brandy, then barked a laugh. "Brother Mycroft always did find clothes rather too restrictive for his tastes."
Watson could only stare at Mary. "His brother . . . exposed himself to you?" he asked in a dangerous tone.
"And everyone else in his home, yes. It took me quite by surprise."
"I'll bet," Watson said darkly.
Holmes finally lowered his arms completely and said, "Don't take on so, Watson. That he made himself comfortable in her presence is a mark of his esteem."
Watson was distracted from the question of Mycroft by the sight of bandages lurking beneath the shirt Holmes was allowing Mary to remove. When Mary stepped away with shirt and brandy glass, Watson stepped in and set to work on the bandages wrapped sloppily around the shoulder. "You've been tending this yourself, I see."
Holmes hummed in agreement.
When Watson pulled the gauze away, he was taken aback. "Holmes," he said stupidly. "This . . . this shouldn't look like this. It has hardly healed at all." He prodded gingerly around the angry wound while Holmes hissed in pain and took a step back. "It has been infected."
"Twice," Holmes said wearily. "Or perhaps the infection never fully abated the first time."
Watson heaved a sigh. "I need to clean it out thoroughly so I can see what we're dealing with. Mary dear, if you want to help, you'll need to change out of that dress."
Mary quickly departed for the upstairs bedroom. Watson rummaged around in his bag, setting several bottles on the floor beside it. Holmes wandered over to the sideboard and was pleased to see the brandy decanter was empty enough that he could manage it one-handed. He perched on the settee with his glass and watched Watson.
When Mary returned, clad in a housecoat and slippers, Watson had her fetch some towels, then sit beside Holmes on the settee. He directed Holmes to lie down with his head in Mary's lap, the towels folded beneath his shoulder, and his hands held out of the way by Mary.
"I think you've had enough brandy to take the edge off, but this is going to hurt," Watson warned, an open bottle of alcohol poised over Holmes' shoulder.
Holmes met Watson's eyes and nodded slightly. He jerked and squeezed Mary's hands as the disinfectant flushed his wound; Mary squeezed back and flinched when he whimpered, the brandy insufficient to deaden the pain. Watson put down the alcohol and blotted away the moisture with the end of one of the towels, peering at the wound and carefully separating the edges with his fingers.
"There has been some healing, at least," he said finally. "It's not as deep as it used to be. But in addition to the infections, it looks like you've reopened it several times. You need to let it heal, Holmes."
"I have not had the opportunity, Doctor. There was the small matter of trying not to drown, then trying not to succumb to hypothermia, to say nothing of working to defeat Moriarty's empire after that."
"But you have the opportunity now," Watson said firmly. "I think I will put some stitches here where it tore, and then you must promise to use your right arm as little as possible."
"I already do," Holmes said with a sigh.
"I noticed that, but you need to be even more careful. Wear a sling, if you have to."
"More brandy before you attack me with that needle, if you please," Holmes said just as Watson prepared to make the first stitch.
Watson sighed heavily but rose from the footstool and fetched a generous dose, which Holmes slurped down readily. "You should be well on your way to drunk by now, Holmes," he said as he set the glass on the floor and retrieved his needle.
"Pain has a way of sobering one up quite rapidly," Holmes replied, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes as the needle pricked his skin.
Three stitches were placed and Watson was preparing to do the fourth when Holmes spoke, his words languid, his voice soft as if he spoke from a dream. "I was prepared for almost anything, but not being hooked like a fish and dangled from the rafters. At first he was satisfied with pushing me so I swung like a pendulum, but then he grabbed my legs and swung me around in circles. He also tried to take my hands and pull on my arms . . . that may have been the worst bit; I could feel the hook digging in, ripping its way toward the joint when I couldn't brace it with my hands."
Watson's hands stopped moving when Holmes began his recitation and he looked with new eyes at the puncture and the short gash radiating from it toward the shoulder joint. He'd removed the hook with his own hands, tended the freely bleeding wound, and he still hadn't fully understood the import of the injury. He looked up at Mary, whose eyes were wide with horror and sadness.
Holmes sighed. "Are you quite finished, Watson?"
"Nearly," Watson said, resuming his task with an unsteady breath. "You know, you're fortunate the hook wasn't barbed. A true fish-hook would have been."
"Indeed," Holmes said with a quiet snort.
Watson tied off the last stitch and mopped up the blood that had sluggishly seeped out during his work. He covered the wound with squares of gauze, then began bandaging them in place. Mary had to help Holmes sit up so Watson could finish the bandaging; he made sure to wrap some of it around Holmes' upper arm to immobilize it. If Holmes noticed, he didn't comment.
When Watson finished, Holmes leaned wearily against the back of the settee. Mary gently touched his unbandaged shoulder. "You are welcome to stay the night," she said softly.
"Thank you, but that's not necessary."
"I insist. I don't like to think of you alone with your memories tonight."
Holmes chuckled humorlessly. "I have long been alone with my memories," he said, turning so his feet touched the floor. He stood slowly, releasing a slow breath as he wavered a bit. "Where did you hide my shirt?"
After Watson left to make sure Holmes made it into a cab, Mary stared thoughtfully at the phonograph in the corner of the sitting room. It had been a wedding gift from her parents, but they had not yet used it. Now, perhaps, they would.
Mary visited six shops before she found one that could order what she wanted, and it was a week before it arrived. She had the proprietor wrap it securely, then tucked the note she'd written under the twine and dispatched a messenger boy with it. She returned home and waited to hear from Mr. Holmes.
Two weeks passed with no word. Then she came home after a few errands to find Mr. Holmes in the sitting room, the record she'd sent him lying beside him on the settee. "I should have known you wouldn't simply write back," she teased as she removed her gloves and hat.
He smiled fleetingly. "You are certain about this?" he said, tapping the record.
"Absolutely, if it will help." She ventured toward him, peering at his expression. "Do you think it will help?"
Holmes shrugged with his good shoulder.
Mary picked up the record and went to the phonograph, saying, "Make yourself comfortable." She fiddled with the contraption for a moment, setting the record down and placing the needle. When it compliantly began to spin, she sat beside Mr. Holmes on the settee and took his hand.
Watson found them on the floor in front of the phonograph, Mary seated with Holmes' head in her lap and his right hand clasped in both of hers while That Song played. When it finished, Mary reached up and moved the needle back to the beginning without looking-she had done so numerous times before, it would seem. Holmes sighed.
"Better?" Mary asked, gently smoothing away the creases in his forehead with her fingers.
"Getting there," Holmes said without opening his eyes.
Watson lowered himself to the floor beside his wife, took Holmes' other hand, and closed his eyes.
Together, they listened.