by elfin

It was undoubtedly the worst moment of my life, standing as still as a statue with my back pressed flat against a packing crate, hiding in the shadow cast by the light of a dying gas lamp, clothes damp from the fog, tears running over my face from eyes stinging from the smoke.  I was hiding.  I was a coward.  And my heart was beating so loud I feared it would give away my position to the men who were hunting me.  I could hear the unmistakable sound of expensive Italian shoes on the wooden boards only a short distance from my hiding place and I knew if they found me they would certainly kill me.  They�d already murdered the man who�d taught me the art of fine hearing. 

For what felt like forever I stood there waiting; cold and in shock.  During the war I�d watched so many die I couldn�t start to guess at a number but to have watched, helpless, the death of Sherlock Holmes seemed to have affected me more than any act of senseless killing I was witness to out in Afghanistan and when the enemy finally deserted, I emerged from my hiding place and stood at the edge of the wharf and stared into the oily black of the water that had swallowed my friend; thrown into its dark, merciless embrace by a violent and unexpected explosion that had torn apart the warehouse we had been intending to search. 

This I explained to Lestrade when he and his men finally made an appearance, grief slowly numbing me.

I returned to Baker Street with dawn still an hour away.  Lestrade had persuaded me to at least change into warm, dry clothing before I rejoined the search of the wharf for Holmes� body.  I stood in the centre of the chaos that was our lounge and as I looked around the empty room I recalled our last conversation, earlier in the day, as he sat in his usual chair and plucked carelessly and tunelessly at the strings of his violin in the same manner as he had been doing since I�d risen for breakfast.

�Holmes, as rewarding as our partnership is, there are times when I feel that turning on the gas before I leave the house and waiting for you to light a Bunsen would be best for everyone involved.�

It made Holmes pause in the abstract playing, blinking once before his head fell back and his eyes widened.  �Really, Watson?  I had no idea you felt such homicidal tendencies towards Mrs Hudson.�

Rolling my eyes, I dropped into my chair, hat still on my head, cane still in my hand as I planned to take Gladstone for a walk.  Turning it in an arc, I idly pointed it at Holmes and used my dexterity with a long blade to lift his striped scarf from around his neck.  Holmes grabbed at it just before I took it from him and grunted his dissatisfaction.   I couldn�t help my smile; such childish plays between us a constant source of amusement. 

�I may find myself in need of your assistance tonight,� Holmes informed me then, pulling the scarf from around his neck and wrapping it around his hands in a loose form of bondage. 

�I may be otherwise engaged,� I responded casually and he smiled as if he knew I would go.

I knew it as well as he did.  I always went wherever he asked.  But as I stood there and listened to the silence, the absence of him was louder than any noise he�d ever made while he was alive and I uselessly thought what might have been if I had had other plans.  I wondered briefly what I would be without him, who I would be, and suddenly I regretted every moment I�d spent fighting him, every angry word and stinging insult.  I would give anything to see him once more, to tell him what a difference he�d made to my life, how dull the days were going to be without him.  There was so much I�d kept from him, and while our friendship had been everything it could possibly have been, I still wished there were some words I�d said and others I hadn�t.

I crossed to the window and looked out at the dark street below, at the light and the shadows.  And my mind played a cruel trick, imagining I could see him on the other side of the street, leaning against a lamppost with his arms crossed, scarf hanging around his neck, hat cantered at an angle on his head, white shirt under his heavy black coat.  Not even the last clothes I had seen him wearing.  I imagined him smiling up at me and with an aching heart I closed my eyes, knowing when I opened them that the road below would be empty again and my vision would be gone.

It wasn�t.

Sherlock Holmes was still standing under the gas lamp, staring up at me, and as I watched he nodded once, beckoned to me, then turned and vanished into the darkness behind him.

I took the stairs three at a time, almost breaking my neck when my foot went out from beneath me on the polished marble tiles in the hall.  When I got outside there was no sign of him and I stopped, my heart pounding, staring in the direction he had gone, thinking of where he would go if he couldn�t for whatever reason return to Baker Street?  Of course the answer was obvious.  He paid a small sum to keep a desolate room in the attic above the Punch Bowl, a disreputable hole where men boxed, gambled and imbibed alcohol throughout the night.   The place was known to us both.  I, because I liked to place a wager now and then, and as Holmes because for reasons I couldn�t understand as a man sworn to heal and not to hurt, he enjoyed being in the ring.  I�d only watched him fight the once.  I told myself it was because I hated to see him being beaten to a pulp by those brutish men, whereas in reality the whole scene had had quite a different effect on me, one I scarcely think about.  He is more than capable of defending himself.  The mystery was why he so often didn�t.

I hoped I was following him as I made my way through the roughest parts of the city to where the Punch Bowl was situated half way up a dank, dark street.  The door to the place was open as usual, barmaids still clearing up from the nights� activities, and I took the narrow wooden stairs two at a time, bursting through the door at the top, stopping when I saw him. 

He looked bruised and battered, a livid gash across his forehead and blood on his chin.  But a more beautiful sight I�d never laid eyes on and I swept him up in a tight embrace, letting him go almost immediately as he tensed against me.  He was in pain, and I shifted easily and quickly into my role as his doctor, persuading him to lie down on the makeshift bed he�d constructed from chairs and wooden planks, rugs and blankets.

�I�m sorry I had to do that to you, Watson,� he told me, tone heavy with sorrow as I unfastened his shirt to examine him, relieved to find the damage was only superficial.  �My enemies had to believe I died tonight.  It was imperative your grief looked real.�  He stayed my hands for a moment, forcing me to look at him.  �I knew I could depend on you but I wanted you to suffer for the shortest possible time, which is why I waited for you to return to Baker Street and allowed you to see me, to follow me.  I knew you would know where to come.�

Finally I found my voice, and all I could do it seemed was to state the obvious.  �I thought you were dead.�

�That was the idea, Watson,� he said gently.

My trembling hand rose to his temple almost of its own accord and to cover my embarrassment I made a pretence of closely examining the wound there.  �I�m very relieved to find you alive.�

�I�m very relieved to hear it.�

�But the explosion....�


�I saw you drown!�

�You didn�t see me surface.  I assure you Watson, I am well.�

�I can see that.�  My pulse was suddenly racing.  �When I thought you�d lost you...� why was it still so difficult to say? �life felt... empty.�

�You didn�t lose me, Watson.  I was never lost.�  But he looked away, apparently touched by my words and possibly without the emotional maturity to cope with it. 

I would call us at times intimate � not like those men who seek out the company of other men, although I have at times found myself somewhat attracted to my friend in ways that I can�t say are totally plutonic.  I just know him better than most, I�ve lived with him for three years, shared his adventures, fought at his side, tended to his wounds.  We go to the opera together, dine together; we are two eligible bachelors as far as London society is concerned.  Not that I�ve ever considered Holmes as a marrying man and neither, I think, has he.

�The wound on your head needs suturing,� I told him, and cursed myself for not having my medical kit with me.  �Let me go back to Baker Street and fetch my equipment.�

His hand came up and grasped my arm.  �No.  Please.�  For a moment it was if he was the one to have imagined me dead.  �There are candles in a box under the bed, melt them � use the wax to seal the injury.�

It was far from suitable but given his insistence I had little choice.  As I built a fire in the grate and melted the stub of a tallow candle in the pot, he told me of the enemy that had required him to pull such a desperate stunt as to falsify his own death.  It was a case that had come back to haunt him, George Franks, a man he had sent to Pentonville almost a year before I had introduced to Holmes, a man who had recently escaped incarceration and, blaming Holmes for the time he�d spent imprisoned, was after blood.

�When will it be safe to return?� I asked him and he told me, with some trepidation I noted, that Lestrade had been in on it and was waiting for the man at Baker Street.  He was certain to go there, Holmes said, now that the house was empty and believing that Holmes was dead, in search of evidence my friend had collected of his involvement in other, unsolved crimes.  It was another reason, he said, for getting me out of our rooms.

�We should be safe to return later today.  Lestrade has promised to come by and let me know when the coast is clear.  I�m sorry for involving you in this, Watson, but I had little choice.  Franks and his boys would not have given up until I was dead and I would always prefer that to be under my own terms.�

I surprised myself by not feeling any anger, just an overwhelming relief that he was alive.  The wax had melted by then and I carefully used it to seal the deep cut in Holmes� forehead.  It was hot and it must have hurt but aside from a momentary flinch when the heat first touched his reddened skin, he took it stoically, lying still and closing his eyes.  When I finished, he remained like that. I checked his pulse and found it steady and strong.  I hesitated with my fingers against his throat for a few seconds before moving them into his hair for a brief moment before rising.  But again he grabbed my wrist with a lightening-fast movement. 

�Stay with me, Watson,� he murmured, eyes barely opening and I was about to tell him I wasn�t going anywhere when he added, �There�s only one bed otherwise it�s the floor.�

I wasn�t sure the makeshift bed would hold us both and I considered telling him the floor would be adequate.  But the boards were filthy and splintered, it had been a very long day and an even longer night and while I knew it would be a squash with the two of us on the narrow mattress even if it did hold, I found myself wanting to lie with him.

He shifted onto his side as I removed my jacket and shoes and I gingerly lay down at his back, barely touching him, tucking one arm under my head and resting the other along my own leg.  Dawn was already creeping in through the dirty windows, and as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of stale water, salt and ash, he reached back and found my hand, lifting it to rest it on his hip.  My breath caught in my throat and I froze for a moment, but in the next I was spreading my fingers over the wool of his trousers.  He said something I didn�t catch and I must have quickly fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was bright in the room from the late morning sunshine and I was crushed against his back, my face buried in the curve between his shoulder and neck.

I should have moved away immediately upon waking, knowing full well that he would know the moment I opened my eyes.  There could be no pretence here.   But sometimes, I admit, I don�t know what�s good for me and instead of shifting away as far as was possible on the narrow bed and regaining some sense of propriety, I enjoyed for a short time the strange sensation of his hard body against mine and his rough feel of his unshaven skin against my own.  Not so much the smell of him as he hadn�t bathed since his swim in the Thames but I didn�t mind. 

I could still feel my panic and fear, my sorrow and grief when I believed he was dead.  Had I known before then how precious he was to me, how important?  As a doctor I had heard many of the recently bereaved express the wish to see their loved ones just once more, to tell them how they felt either for the first or last time.  I had been given that chance most never got and for the life of me I couldn�t think what to say.

I had no previous experience with other men and Holmes isn�t a physical person, but my hand moved from his hip along the curve of his leg of its own volition.  He stirred, shifted so that he was leaning against me, and I slipped my fingers forward so that they came to rest against his the base of his ribcage.  I felt him tense just for a moment, then he relaxed and it wasn�t long before I was admitting to myself how good it was to hold him, to have him in my arms.  There is a frailty about him, despite his mental prowess and his physical strength, that very few see, and there have been times throughout our acquaintance that the urge to reassure him has been all but irresistible.  I love him.

And not for the first time that emotion was manifesting itself within me as physical attraction and I turned my face further into the crook of his neck and kissed him there.  It was the first time I had kissed a man and I didn�t know what to expect but this was Holmes and I knew him well enough to know he wouldn�t cause me any actual harm.  I didn�t, however, expect him to turn his head then his whole body until he was lying facing me, eyes curious and wide, a little scared of me right at that moment; the last thing I ever wanted.  But I pressed the advantage and tilting my head slightly I kissed him on the lips.  His mouth twitched into what felt like a smile and when I pulled back slightly he started to speak.  What I would give to know what he was about to say... but we heard heavy footsteps on the bare stairs and raised voices heralding the unmistakable arrival of Lestrade.

He hesitated, eyes twinkling, smile growing.  Then just moments before the door was opened, he leapt from the bed and picked up my cane, swinging it nonchalantly.  In the same moment I swung my legs from the bed so that I was sitting up with my feet on the floor when Lestrade made his entrance.

The men who had been threatening his life had been apprehended at Baker Street.  They were in police custody and heading for gaol, which coincidentally would probably have been where Holmes and I were bound for had we allowed Lestrade to catch us on the bed.  Holmes expressed his gratitude, and assured the good policeman that we would be returning to our Baker Street rooms presently.  I wondered then whether I�d missed an opportunity, or narrowly avoided making a terrible mistake.