A/N: Strangely enough, this next little tidbit was not born of some desire for angst to counter all the fluff floating around my room lately. This unexpected piece was spawned by my frustration. Recently my glasses have suffered a fatal blow to one lens that has left me feeling blind. Only being able to see clearly out of one eye can be very, very nerve wracking. And I've got at least two weeks before I'll get my replacement glasses.
So, despite the ridiculously enlarged font size needed to write, I'm going to be playing with this idea to see how it turns out. Needless to say, updates may be a bit slower depending on the headaches this gives me.
Watson paced the sitting room. Limping painfully, he used the pain as a focal point. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good night's sleep, it seemed. His restless movement now was a cross somewhere between anxious worry and frustrated anger. The vicious, icy rain of the late-November evening outside their sitting room seemed to want to pound its way in through those windows. Holmes' restless, nocturnal activities of the last few days combined with his aching old wounds had kept him up for some time. And, now, it was all he could do to keep from chasing his friend out into that weather.
Holmes was nearly an hour overdue.
Though it was not unlike Holmes to disappear from time to time without telling his friend and partner where he was going or what he was doing, it was unusual for him to set a specific time and not meet it without at least sending word. More importantly, Watson's instincts for danger had been aroused when Holmes had been so outright evasive of his current case. It was not out of the ordinary at all for him to withhold details until his final, theatrical resolution of a case. However, there was something different about this. Holmes seemed almost...concerned, for Watson. It was as if he really didn't want Watson involved, and the best way he could find to keep his partner out of the case was to simply not discuss it at all.
Watson frowned darkly as he swung around to face the fire, yet again. He was certain Holmes knew better by now. Not telling Watson while giving every other indication of having a case was enough to drive them both to distraction. Granted, Watson had little else to do with his time than join in those cases that Holmes deemed he was fit enough to prove of some use. Yet, Holmes had not displayed any outward signs of annoyance at Watson's participation or continued "meddling".
Heaving a sigh, he tried to force some semblance of calm. Looking up at the clock for perhaps the hundredth time, Watson attempted to stifle his growing sense of something being very, very wrong. He did not even know where to begin. As much as he would love to go out and find his friend, if only for his own reassurance, he did not know where to even start looking for the infuriating man. He had found nothing to indicate what Holmes was working on or where he could have gone. He had only the man's word that he would be back by eight o'clock.
Watson continued pacing.
Grumbling something less than complementary about Holmes to himself, Watson continued to use the pain and constant motion as a motivation. At this point, nearly two hours late, he was certainly going to give the detective a piece of his mind. When Holmes showed up he was going to—
Suddenly, the sound of the downstairs door being thrown open rather violently arrested his attention. Knowing this would be Holmes, and it did not sound good, he threw open the sitting room door. Holmes was frantically launching himself up the first flight of stairs when Watson met him on the landing. Both Holmes and the child in his arms were soaked through. Holmes, shivering violently, met Watson's eyes with something akin to deep worry. To anyone else, his face would have been an impassive mask. To his closest companion, he appeared on the verge of outright panic.
Immediately Watson satisfied himself to Holmes' condition in that brief glance. Turning his attention to the child in his friend's arms, he noted the unnatural angle of the left arm, the spectacular bruising along the same exposed arm and leg, the blood-soaked bandage around the boy's head, and Holmes very deliberately not holding the child around the ribs.
"Bring him to the sitting room," Watson commanded. "How far did he fall?"
For a moment Holmes could not answer through his chattering teeth. Right before his eyes he had seen the friend and flatmate of nearly two years turn into something completely different. The man had suddenly taken on an air of authority and professionalism that demanded instant attention. The very timber of Watson's voice had even changed as he ushered them toward the settee. Even as Holmes moved to set the boy on the settee, Watson stopped him.
"Don't! I need you to hold him for now. Until I know more about his injuries, setting him down may aggrivate—"
"S-second s-s-story window," Holmes managed to stutter out between chattering teeth as he continued to shiver.
Watson had already called for Mrs. Hudson and was instructing her what items he needed from his room. Turning back toward the sitting room and his desk, Watson pulled up a chair to where Holmes now sat with the boy still carefully cradled in his arms. Ignoring Holmes almost completely, he gently began to check the boy over.
"Secondary impacts and injuries?"
Holmes could only blink in confusion, his cold and shock numbed thoughts filled with worry as he tried to comprehend what Watson was asking.
"Holmes!" Watson's green eyes flared impatiently. "Pay attention! I need you to answer my questions. Were you there?"
"Yes," Holmes said, finding himself shocked by this new man sitting before him.
"He fell from a second story window, correct?" Watson asked, leading him more gently. "Did he hit anything else or was it a direct landing on the ground?"
"Ground...I couldn't...I wasn't..."
"Don't worry about that now. Did he land on his side only, or was the impact at an angle?"
By then Mrs. Hudson had returned with the doctor's somewhat dusty, but obviously cared-for bag. Watson immediately began to root through it, but froze when he heard the boy's soft, wheezing cough. Frowning for a moment, he listened. Muttering something, he instantly moved the shirt a few inches upward. Despite the massive bruising, he sighed in relief at assuring himself there were no broken ribs.
"You can put him on the settee. Carefully! Then you need to go and change out of those clothes, now!"
Holmes had only enough time to flash a brief, defiant glare as this Dr. Watson cut him off before he even had a chance to protest. The fact that Watson had predicted his next words without even bothering to take his attention off his task just made it all the more irksome. However, he knew the doctor was right. He had to get out of those clothes and warm. Though he very dearly wanted to stay nearby and learn for himself how badly this poor child was hurt, he tore across the sitting room to his own bedroom. In minutes he was changed and dry.
"My wallet is in my desk drawer. There is a list of things I will need. You can get them from Dr. Cummings," Watson informed Holmes, never taking his eyes off the boy he was now cleaning and assessing. "Send up Mrs. Hudson on your way out."
Holmes found the swiftly scribbled list on the desktop. It never even occurred to him to send Mrs. Hudson or call someone else to do the doctor's bidding. That voice and his friend's demeanor demanded and expected instant obedience. And, just as Dr. Watson had expected, Holmes did as he was ordered. Dashing back into the nearly freezing rain, Holmes ran straight to Dr. Cummings' a few blocks away. He returned in record time with the supplies.
He found Watson murmuring softly to the semi-conscious child as he tended to the numerous injuries. The broken arm had been straightened, and only splinted for now to keep it in place. Watson's expression of urgency and concern had not changed, though he continued to soothe the child in a voice that was low and almost hypnotic. Holmes barely had enough time to take all of this in before Watson again began to fire questions at him.
"Is he one of your Irregulars?"
"Yes," Holmes responded, stopping his frantic pacing.
"No," Holmes said almost sadly, noting the doctor's frown.
"How many others are sick?"
Watson's frown of consideration and concern took on a note of annoyance as he was forced to take his eyes off the child long enough to meet Holmes' gray eyes. Those green eyes flashed angrily behind the calculating professionalism.
"He's sick. The rattling you hear in his breathing is likely pneumonia. How many others are sick? Where are they staying? What kind of care are they receiving? How did you—"
Seeing the level of concern in those gray eyes rise a considerable sum, Watson finally understood.
"You didn't know?"
Holmes pale face and pinched expression never changed as he shook his head. Watson sighed wearily as he returned his attention to cleaning the wounds and preparing his stitch the open wound on the child's head.
"Find them, Holmes. This weather will kill them. His fever is nearly enough to kill him by itself. He should never have been out in this weather."
"I'll do what I can. But you have to find the others. If they have nowhere else to stay, bring them here."
"Here?" Holmes shot back, incredulous.
"Yes, here," Watson affirmed, his annoying showing through. "Unless you have some way of furnishing me with a consulting room, then they will come here. Now."
Horrified by the very idea, Holmes warred with himself. His level of compassion for those children he had begun to work with in his still budding career was one he did not question. However, the idea of a bunch of sick children in his sitting room...
Watson had already returned to his task. Sensing more than seeing Holmes still present, he turned his face upward for a moment as he glared balefully. He didn't have time to argue. He began to carefully stitch the wound. Keeping his voice carefully lowered so as not to disturb the child he was working on, Watson put aside his irritation. But, to his closest companion, that voice was rigid with anger barely contained.
"Very well, then. Please, ask Mrs. Hudson to join us for a moment."
Holmes could only stare wide-eyed at the doctor. That tone, those features, his entire demeanor was not one he would have ever expected from the broken man he had met nearly two years ago. This was Doctor Watson, and he was not about to accept a negative answer from his flatmate. Annoyed beyond all reason, still reeling with the events of the night, Holmes opened the sitting room door to bellow down the stairs as was his custom.
"If you wake him..."
Whatever threat Watson was about to utter was cut off as Holmes choked on his shout. Grumbling angrily, he stalked down the stairs to knock on Mrs. Hudson's door. As Watson had been expecting, the woman was still up and about as if waiting to be called. Holmes grated out something about Watson needing assistance before heading back to the sitting room. By this point, Watson was tying of the last of the very few stitches the wound had needed. He was carefully tending the rest of the boy's injuries as Mrs. Hudson filed in behind him.
"Mrs. Hudson, thank you for your help," Watson started, again not taking his eyes off the patient on the settee. "He's running a very high fever. We will need cold cloths, blankets..."
"I'll see to it, Doctor."
"Thank you, and would you be so kind as to see to the lad tonight?"
Watson sighed. "He's very sick, and we need to get the fever down. But I have to find the others—"
"Oh, very well, then! I'll go!" Holmes cut him off. "I know where to find most of them."
"No," Watson cut him off. "I've reconsidered. This is not the place to keep sick children. Tell me where to find them—"
"—and I'll see to them, myself."
"Most of them don't know you. They won't trust you," Holmes said with finality, as the doctor finally rose from where he'd been sitting. "I'll go and fetch them. But if you think that turning this place into—"
"You're going to bring them here?" Mrs. Hudson asked, nearly horrified.
"Exactly," Watson said, as if she had just proven his point. "This is not—"
"If they're as sick as you say—"
"You can't bring a bunch of dirty street—"
"Enough!" Watson stated in a low voice that demanded instant response.
Watson waited only long enough to ensure he had their undivided attention. Turning to Mrs. Hudson first, he said, "Please, Mrs. Hudson. I will handle the situation if I have to take every one of them to a hospital myself. But he's injured and needs a place to sleep—just for tonight. His fever is high and needs to be brought down. Exposing him to this weather in his condition will kill him."
Her dark brown eyes took in the sight of the broken little boy sleeping fitfully on the settee and she knew she could not refuse even this. Nodding slowly, she made up her mind. "I will see to him. But—"
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," Watson said, leaving a miffed landlady behind as he had already dismissed her in turning his attention to the greater task at hand.
Repacking and doing a mental inventory of his supplies, Watson asked Holmes, "Where can I find them? How many are there?"
"I don't have time for this, Holmes," he shot back, grabbing his coat and cane. "Just tell me—"
"I'm going with you," Holmes snapped. "You'll need the help, and I know where to find them."
"As you wish," Watson said, already exiting the sitting room, all but dismissing Holmes and his protests from his mind.
Some four days later Watson stumbled as he re-entered the sitting room for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Surprisingly, Holmes was there. Part of his mind registered the fact that there was a blazing fire and warmth. He couldn't remember the last time he felt warm. He was shivering so badly he had been unable to remove his coat. He dropped his bag and cane just inside the door. All those days and nights spent on bedside vigils and tending the sick—
His next recollection was of a grumbling detective who's pale fact was once again pinched with worry hovering almost directly over him. His tired, sleep-deprived mind took several minutes to catch up. He remembered sending Holmes home once he had made a plan for his rounds of the houses of those Irregulars that were known to be sick. He recalled finally leaving the last house, certain they were out of danger. Though, everything after that had been a blur of freezing rain and...
Holmes' features relaxed with obvious relief. "Good morning, dear chap."
Watson's words trailed off as he took in his present surroundings. At some point someone had changed him out of his sodden, icy clothing and tucked him in quite warmly. He was surprised to see the settee had been pulled close to the fire. His face colored as he realized his present circumstances.
Holmes snorted. "Only a day."
Struggling to a sitting position, Watson started, "I'm sorry. I must have—"
Holmes cut him off with a dismissive wave of his hand as he resumed puffing away at his pipe. "You didn't sleep for at least five days. And, as near as I could tell, you didn't eat, either. You are in no condition to be traipsing around the city—"
"Leave off," Watson finally cut him off, cradling his sore head in his hands.
Obviously one day of sleep had not been enough. But, he had to admit, Holmes was right. He had not been in any condition for such activity. Nonetheless, he had discovered very quickly upon meeting several of the other Irregulars and their families that many of them had—as he expected—not sought any kind of medical advice or care. Their poverty was heartbreaking. And he would be damned if he'd just sit around his nice, warm sitting room knowing they needed help he could provide.
A moment later these thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a cup of tea within his limited visual range. Glancing up, he again caught a brief flash of worry from his friend before it was quickly smoothed away. Nodding gratefully, Watson accepted the tea with his thanks. Despite his exhaustion, his mind had already begun planning his next rounds as he would need to follow-up on the initial round of care he had provided along with instructions.
Watson blinked before turning his confused expression toward his friend.
"You need not worry further, Doctor," Holmes said more gently. "They have followed your instructions and agreed to inform me of there is further need for your services. For the time being, you need to rest. You will do them no good in your current condition."
Understanding lit those green eyes as Watson's still exhausted mind began to absorb the fact that his friend had once again been reading his thoughts. Frowning slightly, he returned to his tea. Part of him disliked the idea of not knowing the outcome or returning to ensure proper care of those he considered to be his patients. But he could not deny the wisdom of Holmes' statement. He only vaguely recalled the hours leading up to his return to Baker Street. While he did not doubt his abilities as a doctor, it was a rather disturbing to realize he had pushed himself so far. For a moment, he considered his condition. He did not feel unwell, but he had not experienced this level of exhaustion in...years.
"Are you certain? There were so many of them, and..."
Holmes smiled fondly. "You did, well, Watson. They will be fine."
Finally Watson allowed his friend's confident demeanor to allow him to relax. As he huddled more deeply into the blankets, allowing the warmth and tea to soothe him, he could feel something deep inside change within him. The fear he had kept closely guarded at last began to dissipate. He may never be a surgeon again, but at least there was something of his profession left to him that he could use to make a difference in the world around him.