fanfic, fic, holmes 09
Written for a prompt from the afterthecold comment fic meme: Holmes, for whatever reason (falling into the Thames? getting knocked over the head by a villain? staying out too long on a case?) gets hypothermia. Watson has to warm him up. Optional misunderstanding with Mrs. Hudson entirely welcome.
There's no Mrs. Hudson, but a lot of PTSD!limping!Watson along with cold!Holmes--though that's not really the same thing at all, is it?
Title: A Cold Night Out
Rating: pg, gen
Genre: shameless h/c, hypothermia!fic
Word count: ~2K
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit.
a/n: Never written in this fandom before...saw the movie, but haven't read the stories for years. Apologies in advance for any injuries to canon.
Summary: Just another night on the town...
A Cold Night Out
It was winter in Afghanistan. Deep, moonless night blanketed the mountainside, but beneath the howling of an icy wind, Watson was sure he could hear the groans and cries of wounded men. He tried to block out the sound; he knew that attempting to retrieve his injured comrades was far too dangerous —any light would make him a sitting duck for the tribesmen who had them pinned down in this pass. Besides, he wasn't sure how far his bad leg would get him on this treacherous ground; the thing had a tendency to stiffen up completely in this weather, and the cold was already sending flares of pain through the old wound. But the aches of his own body were nothing compared to the torture of listening impotently to others' pain. Fear and frustration threatened to overwhelm him, but he tamped them down brutally; he was an officer in the Queen's army, after all, and such weakness was impermissible.
Steeling himself against the swirl of emotions, Watson pressed his back against his horse, seeking warmth.
Except that the horse seemed to be shivering too.
Watson's eyes snapped open.
It was still pitch dark and cold as a witch's tit. But he was sprawled out on wet sand, not icy rock, and he could hear water lapping softly nearby. And he was wet, layers of soaked clothing enveloping him like a carapace of ice. Not Afghanistan, then.
The soft groans seemed to have carried over from his dream, however, and his leg was aching so fiercely that for a moment Watson he might be making the noise himself. Then he realized that the unmoving shape at his back, the mass he'd thought was his horse, was Holmes, and that Holmes was making those vague, incoherent sounds of pain.
Fighting a surge of panic fueled by the troubled memories of his dream, Watson struggled to turn over and reach his friend. Only to be jerked back by something holding his hands behind him.
The events of the evening came flooding back to him:
Tracking the grave robbers to the vessel they had cleverly disguised as a garbage scow. Being discovered, taunted by those thugs, who had declined to kill them outright, just bound their arms together so they were standing back to back, and pushed them into the black, oily waters of the November Thames.
Holmes must have hit his head on something on the way down, because by the time Watson had managed to surface the great detective had been nothing but a dead weight threatening to drag them both to the bottom of the river.
Watson had always been a strong swimmer, but even so, he had no real idea how he'd gotten them ashore. Somehow, he manage to lever Holmes onto his back, and then, without the aid of his bound hands, used his legs to kick them to land, determination driving him past the pain of his damaged knee and hip.
He tried to assess their current situation as clinically as Holmes would have done. Saved from a watery grave: good. Stuck wet and defenseless on a frigid autumn night: bad. The death the Thames had failed to furnish, exposure might easily provide. They needed warmth, shelter, and fast. But he knew, even without testing it, that he wasn't going to be able to drag an unconscious Holmes any further, not with his leg in the shape it was.
"Holmes," he said urgently, poking whatever part of his friend he could reach, "Wake up." No response. Watson tried kicking him—gently at first, and then with a bit more vigor. That just elicited more of those whimpery groans. Watson blew out a breath in frustration.
Maybe. Maybe if he had use of his hands, he could at least drag them beyond the watery verge, somewhere out of the wind. The thugs had taken all their weapons, including their pocketknives. All the ones they could see, at any rate. But Holmes usually had a knife strapped to his ankle that the robbers might have overlooked.
He squirmed around painfully until his hand met Holmes's boot, jostling the other man roughly in the process. "Sorry, old chap," he muttered, and dug his fingers under the sodden sock. Holmes's skin was slick and cold, his leg trembling. But Watson's hand found the leather sheath, still securely holding the knife.
The doctor was shivering hard himself now, and it took him a minute to control his fingers enough to get a firm grip on the knife. "Easy," he said to himself as he twisted the knife towards the ropes binding their wrists together, "easy does it." It was hard going—the ropes were wet, and he had no desire for the knife to slip—but after endless minutes of sawing, his hands came free.
With a gasp of relief, he rolled away from Holmes and coughed harshly into the sand. Goodness knew how much river water they'd swallowed, he thought with disgust, filing that problem away to consider later. He pushed himself up, not daring to put any weight on his leg, and hopped back to his companion.
A full harvest moon had now broken through the cloud cover, shedding a fair amount of light on the scene, but his first good look at Holmes was not heartening. The detective was lying on his back, breathing shallowly, shaking like a man in a palsy. His wet hair clung to his skull like a drowned cat's, and his skin was as pale as marble, except for the bruise already blooming over his right temple. His lips were tinged with blue, and he was still out cold.
Swearing in a way he hadn't done since he'd left the army, Watson surveyed the desolate scene and cursed their luck. Thankfully, the current had driven them past the embanked portions of the river, but he couldn't see any buildings or habitations nearby, couldn't even hear the sounds of a street or carriage way.
Finally, a few yards away, he made out what looked like a small lean-to or wind-break, built out of scavenged planks. It didn't appear to be inhabited, but he limped over to it heavily, just to make sure. Empty, except for a nest of filthy rags. Unsanitary in the extreme, but it would have to do; until Holmes woke up properly, he didn't think he'd be able to get them much further.
Hopping back to Holmes, he tried again. "Come on, old chap," he urged, patting his cold cheek a little less than gently, "up and at 'em." No response, unless you counted a few garbled monosyllables.
Stifling his concern over the length of time Holmes had been out, Watson hooked an arm around his chest, and started to drag him towards the makeshift shelter. He couldn't trust his leg, so he conducted the journey at what amounted to an ungainly crawl—undignified and somewhat ridiculous, but there was no one there to see, and it got the job done. The effort set him coughing again, but at least the exertion was driving out the river's chill.
Once there, he settled Holmes in the nest of rags—rags that were probably crawling with disease, a fact he added to his growing list of issues to take up tomorrow. He was warmer now himself, but Holmes was still shaking as if he had caught an ague (and who's to say he hadn't, Watson thought grimly, adding yet another item to the list).
But medical and military training concurred on the best way to solve the immediate problem, and Watson hunkered down beside his friend, cold fingers clumsy on the buttons and hooks of first his own stiff, soaked clothing, then Holmes's. When he had uncovered a reasonable amount of bare skin, he gingerly lowered himself onto the rag pile, fitting his own body over and around his friend's, and drawing both their coats back over them.
The initial contact with Holmes's cold skin set him shivering again, but he rode it out, until their body temperatures seemed to equalize a bit. Holmes, who often reminded Watson of a cat—albeit usually of a bad-tempered and barely domesticated one—was disconcertingly feline under these circumstances as well, nuzzling towards the warmth of Watson's body, tucking his head under Watson's chin, even emitting a weird purring noise. Disarmed by Holmes's lack of reserve, Watson found himself curling a hand around the nape of his neck, tracing tiny circles with his thumb in the soft skin there.
Of course, Holmes chose this moment to open his eyes. He held Watson in his limpid, uncomprehending gaze and whispered, "it is produced by the parenchymatous epitheliel cells," as if he were imparting the most beautiful secret in the world. Perhaps he was. It would have been endearing if Watson hadn't been quite so distraught over Holmes's continued lack of coherence. Bolstered by years of medical experience, however, he was able to respond soothingly, "yes, my good man, yes, it is, isn't it?"
Holmes subsided again, his eyes closing. Their shivers eased to occasional shudders as the skin-to-skin contact warmed them. Watson allowed himself to relax just a bit, tugging the coats more firmly around them. Exhausted by the events of the night, his own eyes started to slide shut, but he dragged them open again, dogged by the irrational sense that the frozen corpses of Afghanistan lurked just behind his eyelids.
Burrowing tighter against him, Holmes mumbled something into his collarbone. Watson could just make out a string of numbers. "Three point one four one five nine," Holmes was saying, "two six five three five eight nine seven nine three." On and on he went. So many digits, Watson thought, lulled by the iteration, how can he remember so many digits? But the endless sequence seemed to ward off the ghosts of imperial wars, and he finally allowed himself be pulled into sleep by the soft voice and the stream of numbers.
Watson drifted back into consciousness slowly, warm, and comfortably weighed down by a heavy duvet.
Holmes was looking down at him, clear-eyed and alert. The detective smiled one of his bright, fleeting smiles, and then sobered.
"Watson," he said, "are we…?"
"Medical necessity," Watson replied quickly, already scrambling out from under his friend, "medical necessity—the river…the night air…" He got himself as close to standing as the tiny structure would allow and tried to back away. His leg promptly buckled under him.
Holmes's lightning reflexes seemed to have been restored, however, because he had a supporting hand on Watson's bicep before he could even contemplate hitting the ground. The detective ran an appraising eye over him, and Watson could practically see the calculations as he deduced the sequence of events from the not-very-subtle clues arrayed before him. There would be no need to explain what had happened.
Which was just as well, because the whole awkward tangle triggered a coughing fit that was probably only partially the lingering effects of the river water.
Holmes kept one hand on his arm and thumped him gently on the back with the other. "Steady on, old fellow," he murmured, grimacing sympathetically, "I'll never forgive myself if you succumb to pneumonia after rescuing me. Much obliged for that, by the way," he added gruffly.
Watson shrugged his acknowledgment of the thanks. "How's your head?' he asked, when he'd gotten the coughing under control.
"No worse than usual," Holmes grinned.
Simultaneously, they both realized how few clothes they were wearing, and busied themselves with re-robing, eyes once again averted from each other.
Restored to some semblance of decency, Holmes held out his hand. "Shall we?' he said, for all the world as if they were planning an afternoon stroll through Mayfair, instead of picking their way through some godforsaken and probably rat-infested district of outer London at the crack of dawn.
"Always a pleasure, my dear Holmes," Watson replied, "always a pleasure," and he took the proffered arm.