Title: Knowledge and Nerve
Summary: Holmes is injured, but it isn't Watson's doctoring skills that he needs or wants when he seeks out his friend.
Warnings: Discussion of rape, non-graphic and 'off screen' rape, and numerous references to rape 'victims'. Also, there's a rather graphic, though brief, description of 'off-screen' violence and death.
Disclaimer: I do not own/am not associated with/make no money from Sherlock Holmes. Which is in the public domain anyway, but still.
From the Unpublished Case Notes of Doctor John H. Watson
It was a blustery gray October day that brought a ragged looking man stumbling into my practice as though blown in with the skeletal leaves that danced across the pavement. It was towards the end of the day, just when I sending away the last of my patients. The man was quite pale, clinging a dirty and ragged cloak tightly about his thin frame, and anyone at first glance would think him an unfortunate, possibly homeless specimen of London's underbelly. To my eyes, despite his odd choice in wardrobe and hunched appearance, he was also instantly recognizable.
"Holmes!" cried I at his unexpected and frankly alarming appearance, "Whatever has happened to you!" For in addition to being dressed in rags, I noted a swelling about his eye, his face far too pale, and his entire posture that of a man in pain.
"Watson," he answered, "I'm terribly sorry to impose upon you like this." His voice was low and rough, and he did not quite seem to want to look me in the eye. Becoming more alarmed by the minute, I quickly waved him towards my examining room.
He moved with a limp, long fingers wrapped about himself and holding tightly to his cloak though I kept my practice quite warm and was careful to keep any outside chill from intruding within. He moved under his own power, jerking violently away from my one attempt to help.
Seeing that he was not about to expire at this exact moment, I left him to arrange himself for my exam and set about sending a telegram to my dear Mary that I would be late and to make sure my practice was locked up and that we would not be disturbed.
By the time I returned to Holmes, he had shed his cloak and shoes but had made no further attempt to disrobe and his very posture was defensive. He did not look, at first glance, to be severely injured beyond what would undoubtedly become a black eye but I had learned to never take appearances at face value, particularly when it came to Holmes.
"Now Holmes," said I, "Please, tell me what has led you to my practice. Are you injured?"
"Not...not terribly injured," he answered, though there was something very strange about his almost hesitant tone of voice; it was not a manner I had ever heard Holmes speak in except, perhaps, on occasion when he was putting his acting to good use on a case.
"I see you have been at fisticuffs again," said I, when he did not volunteer any more information, "Do let me see to your eye. And of course, I'll gladly see to any other injuries, however minor, you might have sustained."
For a moment, his posture remained so tight and defensive that I did not think he would let me examine him at all, for all that he had sought me out in the first place. But then suddenly he straightened and let out a strange laugh that did not seem to have anything to do with humor.
"Good old Watson," he said, his voice still so rough and gravelly that I had a severe desire to examine his throat for signs of strangulation or other injury. Instead I set about looking at his eye, which he grudgingly let me do, and preparing the necessary medicines, though in truth there was not much I could do and he had certainly received much worse for which he had allowed me to do less over the years I had known him. "I suppose," he said into the silence that followed my preparations, "that you'll want to hear the whole story. The Case of the Beaten Detective. Now there's a tale I'm sure your readers will clamor for."
"If you don't mind," answered I, purposefully ignoring the dark and mocking tone in which the statement had been muttered, in the hopes that he would share what had come to pass and perhaps allow me a more thorough examination, for it was quite obvious that he was injured beyond the burgeoning black eye. For a moment he did nothing but stare at me with his sharp eyes, perhaps attempting to read some form of deception. Whatever he read, it apparently reassured him, for after a moment he began to speak at last.
"I'm afraid it won't make a good tale for The Strand, after all," said he, "For it deals in matters that would be considered...unseemly for an upstanding writer. Much like the changes you felt forced to write in the affair concerning the speckled band."
I confess that these words made my heart lurch, for there were some abuses that were too personal and too foul to include within a published story for the public at large, even after changing the names of those innocent sisters involved. That Holmes's latest case concerned such abuse filled me with dread even before he could tell me the details involved.
"Yes, I see you understand the depravity to which I refer," Holmes said, still holding himself with that unfamiliarly defensive posture, "A week ago, a client approached me. His sister had been attacked and he was particularly desirous that the blackguard be brought to justice without betraying the victim's anonymity, as must happen if they contacted the police. I agreed, and some investigative work revealed the fiend to be a depraved but unfortunately wealthy individual by the name of Evans. Of course, knowing his name and bringing him to justice are not one and the same, as you well know; I needed to catch him in the act. In fact, there had been numerous victims, both women and young men, though none who dared to call upon the law to aid them. So I disguised myself, even as you see, making myself seem...desirous...to his depraved urges."
Here Holmes paused in his story, his hands suddenly moving with an almost manic urgency through his pockets. Finally he found what he was seeking and withdrew a cigarette. He did not light it, however, his sharp eyes instead suddenly turning to me once more, looking me up and down as though to read my very soul.
"Holmes," said I, speaking slowly so as to better consider my words, "Did your fight happen with this Evans?"
"I see your powers of deduction are not completely lacking, Watson," he answered, the cigarette slowly turning between his fingers.
"And did he...did he attempt his fiendish act...did he hurt you?"
"He was rather more formidable than I anticipated," Holmes answered "I deduced, of course, that he played out his depraved ways in private and without aid, and that he preferred weaker victims...women or boys...of a lower class who would not dare to share tell of his crimes. Such men who prey on those weaker than themselves are of course the worst sort of cowards."
"There we are in agreement," I said, "But how did your confrontation with this coward go. Did he have some unexpected help or some underhanded way to...to..."
"I confess there was a matter of luck involved, bad for me and good for him. It is, as you have undoubtedly noticed, a deplorable day out. We grappled and he was, as I thought, a wretched man who was quite terrified when faced with real opposition, and I should have had him in a moment. But when that moment came, I'm afraid I found the ground slicker than anticipated, which allowed for a quick jab on his part. I wish I could say it took a team of men to lay Sherlock Holmes low, but it was in fact down to a handful of wet leaves and one very pitiful man who managed to disarm me."
"Wretched individual," said I, my hands clinching with my desire to somehow intervene in these past events to lay this Evans low; if only I had been there at my dear friend's side! He was not looking at me now, but at the floor, his posture folded and dejected. "My dear fellow," said I, "You mustn't think this fight reflects badly upon your own skills. Why, I have seen you lay low men twice your weight with nothing but your fists! Obviously this blackguard reverted to treachery when his own skills failed him."
"Dear Watson," Holmes said, his gaze still steadily held towards the floor, "So quick to defend my honor. Would you still like to defend it if...if I were to say that I allowed his depravity to...to infect me?"
"What are you saying?" asked I, alarmed by the way his words uncharacteristically stumbled over one another, at the way his very posture screamed defeat. This was not the way I ever imagined or wished to see my friend.
"You have guessed it from the beginning," Holmes answered, "He had his gun upon me and he was quite...eager...upon finding himself the victor."
"Holmes," said I, "Dear chap, please, let me know how you are injured. I am a doctor, and I have treated such injuries before. I have never thought my patients to be weak or shameful and I should never think that of a friend." I stood as close to him as I dared, as I thought he might let me, trying in vain to see through his clothes to any wounds he might be hiding from me.
"You would treat me?" he demanded, his voice so gravelly and wretched it was painful to my ears. "You would touch me. A useless detective who fails to notice such an obvious variable as wet leaves, who lets himself be overpowered by a single pompous fool without any training in fighting whatsoever? A man who crumbled before this weak man's pistol and lets himself be used like some inverted dollymop whore?!"
"I would treat my friend," answered I. "I would touch a great man, a great detective, and the bravest man I know, and no worthless blackguard's depravity could ever change my opinion of you. If you ask it of me, I would disembowel this villain, I would unman him on your words even if it saw me hanged. I would take on every injury if it would help you. Yes, I would heal you, Holmes, and it hurts me to see you in pain and not able to help. Please, let me help."
"Watson," he said, his voice strange and hoarse and nearly a sob, and then he reached for me, his head falling forwards until it rested against my breast, his great long form folded against me. I reached eagerly in return to enfold him, to somehow press into him my high regard so that he could never doubt it again.
How long we sat like that, I do not know. It felt like a lifetime. I felt him tremble, though no sound issued forth, and I suspect his eyes remained quite dry though I cannot say the same for mine. Enough time passed that my old war wound began to ache from the position I was forced to hold, though of course I would have endured far worse before I would even think about releasing my friend before he was ready.
At long last, however, his trembling stopped and then he pulled himself upright once more. Before I could make any more suggestion for examining him, however, he pulled himself awkwardly upright. For a moment neither of us spoke and he remained in that disturbed, rigid posture, his eyes towards the floor. But slowly, even that changed, as his eyes forced themselves upwards to meet mine. When he spoke at last, his voice was still rough but his tone was calm, almost regretful.
"I'm afraid, Watson, that I must admit to deceiving you once more."
"Deceiving me?" asked I, taking in the almost manic gleam to his eye as he stood, making an effort to shed himself of the limp and hunched appearance I had first noted when he had stumbled into my practice.
"For the greater good, I assure you," he answered. "I confess I did grapple with Evans, as I said, but the foul deed I mentioned was never inflicted upon my person. No, no need to look so distraught; I remain uninjured in...in that regard. I simply needed to know...for future cases of this manner...the best way in which to fool even knowledgeable medical practitioners, such as yourself, that such...such injuries might have been sustained."
"I see," answered I slowly, looking him over with the practiced eye of a physician. He stood straight and tall, not the posture of a man in pain, his arms held in a carefully open position, one hand resting upon the examining table and the other steadily holding an unlit cigarette. He really was an extraordinary actor. He allowed my scrutiny for a moment before turning away, fumbling for his lighter.
"I am sorry to have alarmed you, Watson," he said as he lit his cigarette, "But I might wish to play the part of a victim, should it come to a conviction, as none of the other...none of the actual victims are willing to talk. My injuries are no more extensive than the black eye you see and perhaps some bruising...about my knees. I did, of course, rather exaggerate my limp."
"I was utterly taken in," answered I, still attempting to look him over with a physician's eye. He did indeed look rough about the knees, a spot of blood staining the one on the left though not enough to cause alarm. "You should have no difficulties gaining such a conviction. But is it not dangerous to convict a man under a false name?"
"Well, I could hardly take the stand as Sherlock Holmes and tell the world that...that I let such things..."
"Let is not the word I should use," I interjected firmly, "I have treated, as I said, an unfortunate number of men and women injured in just such a manner, and I can assure you it is through no one's fault but the inhuman scoundrels who attacked them."
"Nonetheless," answered Holmes with an almost careless wave of the hand, a plume of smoke writhing in his hand's passage, "Not everyone is so enlightened as you, dear Doctor. No...it is better if the same man who first...tempted...this villain's antics should be the one to put him away."
"However you wish to play it, I will stand at your side as always," I assured him, "Do you need a physician to collaborate on your...on the injuries you would have had?"
"No need," he answered, "Your part in these proceedings has been admirably played out, old boy, there's no point in bringing such a well known individual into the trials to come."
"And you're sure there are no other injuries you sustained in this fight?" I demanded, "I promise I will make no assumptions if he managed a hit in any unfortunate areas...I am the one who stitched up that uncomfortably located knife wound, if you'll recall."
"I promise you, Watson, if I had any such wounds I would share them with you" He looked me directly in the eye as he said this and his expression was so earnest that I found myself believing him, and finally allowing some of the tension I had held while fearing the worst to subside.
"Now, my dear Doctor, I realize that I have kept you unpardonably late from your supper with my little prank. You must allow me to get you a cab and do please forgive me for my ridiculous antics."
"Won't you come with me, Holmes?" I demanded, for he was still quite pale no matter how uninjured he claimed to be and I was quite certain that this latest case was affecting him greatly.
"No, I'm afraid my brain is still too enthralled to allow for dinner and domestics," said he, and whatever I said I soon found myself sent on my way with him making his own way in the opposite direction. In the end I let him go.
Two days later, however, I made my to Baker Street with my bag, determined that my patient would not escape me for any longer even if all that truly ailed him was his black eye and skinned knee. Though I was ready for a fight, I was allowed in at once and made my way up the familiar steps to find Holmes lounging comfortably before the fire. The bruising about his eye had developed spectacularly, though it was not as swollen as it might have been had it not been seen to at all, as I was happy to note.
"Watson," he said by way of greeting, "Come to check on your patient?"
"And to see an old friend," answered I, purposefully setting aside my bag and going to join him by the fire. The fire was delightfully large and warm against the chill of the day and very welcome.
"I suppose you will want to know the conclusion to the Evans case," he said, something which I had indeed hoped to learn, though I had thought I would need to work much harder to bring the topic around to it. Of course Holmes would do the unexpected and immediately bring it up himself.
"If you don't mind."
"It seems the criminal has in turn become a victim to a crime. He is dead. He was, in fact, found yesterday morning."
"I thought I read about something in the papers," answered I, "But of course there were not many details given, beyond that he died of stab wounds."
"He was stabbed," Holmes answered, his sharp penetrating eyes gazing deeply into me, "In a most peculiar manner. In the neck, avoiding all major arteries that should have brought a quick death. He had also been castrated and gagged with his own genitals. Then he was vivisected, quite neatly, while still alive. Whoever attacked him was quite knowledgeable in anatomy and kept him alive throughout this gruesome deed. The final cause of death is blood loss, but it was done very neatly and would have taken some time."
"What a horrific death," I agreed, "Do the police have much to go on?"
"Undoubtedly, it is one of the former victims of Evans who turned on him at last. Or perhaps a victim's friend."
"It's always a mistake, discounting a man's friends when you set out to hurt someone," I agreed, "It was only a matter of time before some unpleasant comeuppance fell upon such a terrible character."
"No doubt," said Holmes, "As I told Lestrade at the scene, they are looking for a particularly large and formidable man...at least six foot seven, likely red haired. He would be skilled with a blade like a surgeon...or as I suggested to Lestrade, a butcher. Clearly a large, red haired butcher."
"Remarkable, Holmes," said I, "To perceive all that. Do you think you will find this man?"
"I leave the rest to the police," he answered, "Though in this case, I suspect they will never find Evans' killer. After all, there are any number of victims, most of whom are unknown, and there is no real evidence even if such a butcher should be found. No...I'm afraid this is one crime that must go unsolved."
"Well I must confess," said I, "That perhaps this ending is all for the best. Though I suppose you would have preferred to bring Evans to justice yourself?"
Holmes stared into the fire now, looking almost unworldly with the firelight flickering over his features. In one moment, he looked almost tearful, in another quite fierce.
"The case is ended," he said at last, "But come now, Watson, I have been a deplorable host. What sort of friend am I, that I haven't even offered you a drink yet. Sit down, smoke, fuss about my eye if you must, and let's talk about other things."
"The best of friends," I assured Holmes, taking my seat, "You are the best of friends." He gave me another one of his long, intent looks, something almost fragile behind his gaze, if fragile is ever the right word to associate with such a man as Sherlock Holmes.
"So we are," he said at last, pouring the drink, "To friendship."
"To friendship," answered I, and we raised our glasses high.