by elfin

My greatest fear was of being too late.

Damn him, why had he gone?  He knew!  He knew about Stapleton and still he'd gone.

Lestrade threw his whole weight against the heavy wooden door of Merripit house, losing purchase on the wet mud as he did so.  He almost fell headfirst into the well-lit kitchen when the lock finally gave way.

I pushed passed him, desperate in my need to find my friend before my fears were realised.  I raced up the wooden stairs, calling his name, straining to hear some notion of reply.  But I heard nothing. 

I opened each and every door, throwing them wide in my search.

But there was nothing.

Frustrated, almost panicked, I descended two steps at a time and left the house. 

Outside, the rain was lashing down as it had for the majority of my stay.  I paid it no heed and ran, sure-footed, around to the stables.


When at last I laid eyes upon him, as terrifying as that one moment was, I felt relief like never before.

He was hanged, but struggling still.  His bleeding fingers were clawing uselessly at the rope crushing his throat, but he was obviously weakening.  He was kicking out with his feet, with the last of the strength in his legs.

I shouted with all the power of my lungs to Lestrade, and in two strides I crossed the damp, dirty floor of the barn. 

Taking out my knife, I split the thick, taut rope with a single slice, and he dropped.  I managed to catch his head in the cradle of my palm, before it could crack against the straw-covered stone of the ground, and eased him down as best I could as Lestrade came running into the barn and swore brightly under his breath. 

"Dear God...."

Being careful with my blade, I sliced through the noose around Holmes' neck while Lestrade crouched next to me. 

The rope gone, the inspector assisted me in loosening the collar of Holmes shirt.  I pressed two fingers to the pulse point in his neck as gently as I could.  But I needn't have bothered with that, for immediately his eyes flew open and a rough, pained cry escaped his throat.

"Easy."  I settled him against me in an attempt to make him comfortable, ensuring his breathing was now unrestricted.  Looking up, I caught Lestrade's concerned gaze.  "Stapleton did this.  Find him!"

He seemed relieved to have something to do, nodded quickly and left me to tend my ward.

It was a couple of seconds before Holmes looked up at me, eyes bloodshot, expression one of unguarded terror.

"I have you, Holmes."  It was the most reassuring thing I could think to say.  But it seemed to calm him and he closed his eyes, letting his taut, stressed body cease its relentless fight for life.  He lost consciousness.


It was late when Baskerville Hall finally sank into an uneasy silence.

Having settled Henry, I went to check on Holmes, expecting him to still be sleeping off the mild sedative I'd administered upon reaching the Hall.

He was no longer in the bed, but sitting on the sill of the open window.  I had opened the door quietly so as not to disturb him and for a moment I silently watched him.

He was smoking a cigarette held in fingers that trembled with every movement.  His usual composure was gone.

I stepped into the room and he started at the slight sound I'd made, turning to glance at me with a sudden fright I had not ever known in him.

Without a word, I moved to perch on the sill opposite him.  Outside, the moors still howled; that strange, haunting call particular to the untamed lands of Dartmoor.

Holmes flicked the stub of his cigarette out into the darkness beyond the window and immediately lit another.  In the flare of the match, I saw the bruising around his throat, left by the bite of the rope.  It was darkly livid.  By the morning it would be a vicious purple.

"Are you all right, Holmes?"

He stared into the cold, wet night and after a moment of hesitation he shook his head quickly.  The drags on his cigarette were longer than was his habit.  He was more rattled than I'd ever seen him, and frankly it scared me. 

He was my rock.  The foundations of everything I depended on had been shaken that night.

"Would talking of it help?"

It was a short time before he replied.  "What, Watson?  Of my humiliation?  Of my defeat by a man I'd thought to bring to justice?  No, I do not wish to talk of it."

"Hardly humiliation, Holmes.  He almost killed you."

He glanced at me then.  "He would have succeeded had it not been for you."  His expression softened, and his voice quieted to a tone I hadn't heard from him before.  "How very much I owe you."

I was seeing vulnerability in him that was new to me, and suddenly I was angry with him for putting me through the ordeal of that night.  "Why did you go with him?" I asked, as pertinent as a child and yet with an adult's refusal to regret the question.

His expression became a sad apology.  "His words at the festivities, Watson."

Yes, I remembered.  It had only been a few hours ago, but despite everything that had happened since, I saw clear in my mind the exchange between them.  And I felt the same stab of jealousy.

I'd watched Holmes' usually closed expression open up into an interested smile for just a moment.  And apparently Stapleton had seen it too.

Holmes must have read something then, on my own face, for he leaned forward and for a moment was his old self.  "I wanted to see his eyes darken in desire.  His lips parted and swollen from kissing."

His words lit a flame of arousal deep within me that I quashed immediately.  He sat back, shadowed once again, taking another log, shaky drag on his cigarette. 

"Do you think me self-destructive, Watson?"

I barely had to think.  "Yes, Holmes.  Yes, I do."

"And do you hate me for it, my old friend?"

I was surprised.  "Hate you?  No!  Never."

Silence again, for a time, and then without warning he reached for my hand.  Surprised, I let him stretch out my fingers and press them against the warm wool of his gown, over his heart as he leaned toward me.

"It's still beating," he told me needlessly.

"One day, it won't be."  But my words were mere murmurs, for my attention was completely on the warmth under my fingers, the subtle trembling of his body, the slightly elevated heartbeat.

Touching him, if only for this moment, was a wonder.

I met his gaze, loving him with my eyes as was the only way I knew he would allow.  He smiled at me for a second, and I could imagine just for that second that his feelings mirrored my own.

Until he broke the tenuous contact and released my hand.

Flicking the half-smoked cigarette out into the night, he swung his leg from the sill and reached to pull the window closed.

"I will rest, as per your orders, Watson," he told me with a smile, and I nodded, leaving him to climb back into the large bed.

With a sigh I hoped he hadn't heard, I closed the door quietly behind me and went downstairs to sit alone by the open fire.


Stapleton's attempt on Holmes' life had done more harm than I'd at first realised.

In the old Hall, sounds were muffled and their origins could easily be mistaken.  Back in our rooms at Baker Street, there was no hiding, and I soon came to know how deeply my dear friend had been wounded by his ordeal at the madman's hands.

The night after our return, I was awoken from an uneasy slumber by what I thought was a muted cry.  But I couldn't be sure I'd heard it, and even though I lay awake for over an hour, I didn't hear it again.

On the second night, however, I could not find rest, and sat up for sometime after Holmes had turned in.  Around midnight, I definitely heard a cry emanate from Holmes' room.  It was sudden to break into the silence and swiftly curtailed.  But I know what I heard.

In the morning, I asked Holmes if he had slept well, and he replied that he had indeed had a long, dreamless sleep.  For a detective, he's an extraordinarily bad liar when under my scrutiny.

On the third morning, he looked as death warmed over.  He had not rested properly for days, and I worried for him.  But it was only when, on the fourth day after the hellish events on Dartmoor, he turned away a client without even hearing the case, did I become overly concerned.

"This can't go on, Holmes," I declared, after reassuring the distraught woman who'd sought his help that I would speak to him and that I would be in touch.

"What can't?"

"I know you're having nightmares, or at least you were when you bothered to attempt to sleep.  You need some rest."

"It's nothing, Watson," he brushed me off, stepping past me and heading for his bedroom.

"I can help!"  I followed him along the short corridor.  "I can give you something to help you sleep without the dreams."

Pausing just inside his room, he turned to me.  The expression on his face was more brutal than I'd ever seen on those gentle features, and he snarled the words, "And can you take my memories as well as my demons, Watson?  Or does you hand not extend that far?"

With that odd accusation, he slammed the door in my face.

"Cocaine will only make it worse!" I yelled, but he ignored me as I knew he would.  As he always did when it came to that particular demon.

Exasperated and stung, despite knowing deep inside that it was exhaustion making him act this way, I grabbed my hat and coat and set out to find more civil company.


After that outburst, I didn't see Holmes for almost two days.  I knew he was in his room because I heard him at intervals.  I went out several times, and came back on each occasion to find his door still closed to me.

Once, I stepped up to it and was about to knock, when I thought better of it and turned away.

I wish I had disturbed him, for when I saw him next he looked worse than I'd ever seen him, even in times of illness.

He appeared one evening in the doorway of the lounge and stood pitifully, looking to me with such pleading for some respite from the torture.

"Oh, Holmes...."  I immediately rose and took his arm, leading him silently back into his bedroom.  "Undress and get into bed," I instructed him before going into my own room to fetch some herbs, and calling for Mrs Hudson to bring up some hot water.

He said nothing as I made up a concoction to soothe his mind and hopefully let him find some peace for a time.  Likewise, he drank in silence from the mug that I handed him and handed it back to me empty.

It was a long time before he closed his eyes, even longer before his breathing evened out.  I stayed with him until I was sure he was asleep, and when I finally tiptoed out of his room I left the door slightly ajar lest he should once again be taken by the imagined terrors that haunted him.

I checked on him regularly through the night, resisting sleep myself in order to keep my vigil.  Still, I must have nodded off in my chair, for in the early hours of the morning, I was startled awake by the sound of shattering glass.

Springing from my seat, grabbing the burning oil lamp from the table beside me, I ran through to Holmes' room only to find him still fast asleep.  His arm was hanging off the edge of the mattress.  He must have knocked the glass of water from the tabletop as he shifted position.

Uncertain of what to do, not wishing to disturb him, I picked up the bigger shards of glass and moved the rug - usually next to the fire - to cover the remaining pieces until the morning.

For the noise to have woken me from my light slumber in the next room, and yet not to have woken Holmes himself, I deduced that my medicinal cocktail had done its job, and that his body was catching up on some much-needed deep sleep. 

Watching for him for just a moment longer than necessary, I eased the door closed and went back into the lounge.


The next morning, by the time I'd bathed and dressed, Holmes was up sampling the breakfast Mrs Hudson had laid out for us.

He looked every bit a man who had slept deeply and peacefully. 

"Good morning, Watson," he greeted me cheerfully, eyes alight.  He wore no collar, the bruising around his throat being too raw still.

"Holmes."  I hoped the smile on my face was reflected in my eyes.

"I must thank you for dealing with the broken glass in my room last night."

"It's nothing, Holmes."

He shook his head and got to his feet, coming to stand close to me.  "It was something, John.  Thank you."

I know he was speaking of more than the glass.

The moment lengthened between us, and only later would I question why neither of us was willing to break it.  But finally, he backed off and stepped away. 

"Now, my dear Watson, I assume you have some means of contacting that young lady?"