fanfic, fic, h/c, holmes 09
"Body Blows" (Holmes/Watson fic)
Title: Body Blows
Rating/genre: pg (pre-slash); h/c.
Word Count: ~2.5K
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit
a/n: set in a vaguely pre-movie, pre-Mary era.
a/n: beta'd by the wonderful calamitycrow--thanks, as always, babe.
a/n: I started this for a prompt at the sherlockkink meme for an overprotective Holmes. But then I completely lost track of the meme, and this morphed into a sequel to A Cold Night Out (though there's no need to have read that one to understand this one).
a/n: I think I've gotten all the suffering!Watson out of my system now—I'm hoping the next H/W fic I write will be a lot peppier. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.
Summary: Holmes traced cool fingers across Watson's brow. "Just memories," he said, voice as light and dry as ever, "stirred by the fever. Just memories."
By the next morning, Holmes had made a remarkable recovery from their night of sleeping rough. Watson, meanwhile, was still coughing, could still feel the river's chill in his bones.
He was drinking his third cup of tea and watching his toast go cold, when Holmes spied something in the morning paper that had him reaching for his hat.
"Where are we going?" Watson asked.
"Not we, old chap," Holmes said coolly, "I am going to interview the cemetery attendants at the site of these new grave robberies," he tapped the paper, "Our friends apparently believe they have gotten rid of us, and that they are free to continue their activities unimpeded. You are going to sit by the fire nursing a hot toddy and reading the latest sensation novel."
"I'll do no such thing," Watson insisted, not sure why he was standing on principle—the cozy hearth seemed a far more appealing prospect than voyaging out into the November mists—but he pressed on. "You shouldn't go alone—not after what happened last time."
"My dear fellow," Holmes said, regarding him dispassionately, "It is clear that you are still feeling the after effects of our adventure. You are coughing and feverish—your leg still pains you. Stay inside. Keep warm."
His tone was dry, clinical, not in the least condescending, but Watson still bristled. "Oh? And are you a doctor now?" he snapped.
"No," Holmes said, clearly adding irritability to his list of Watson's symptoms, "I am a consulting detective. But one hardly needs such skills to see that you are unwell. Mrs. Hudson," he appealed to their landlady, who was just entering the room, "would you agree that the good doctor is not in top form this morning?"
Mrs. Hudson peered at Holmes, suspicious at having her opinion so uncharacteristically solicited. Then she cast a keen eye over Watson. "You do look a trifle flushed, sir," she ventured.
Exasperated, Watson pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the deep ache in his muscles as he did so. "It's just a chill," he said as firmly as he could, "the exercise will do me good."
Watson would have laughed at the way the expression of disapproval on Holmes's face so exactly mirrored Mrs. Hudson's, but he didn't want to risk another coughing fit.
It was a mistake.
He knew that as soon as he'd labored down the stairs, Holmes hovering annoyingly at his elbow. The thick, cold mist that greeted them felt like a sodden blanket tangling his limbs, slowing every movement. But his pride was involved now, and it seemed easier to go forward than to clamber up the stairs again.
The hansom ride to Highgate passed in obstinate silence. Watson stared resolutely out the window, concentrating on not making any noise as the wheels clattering over cobblestones jarred his aching leg, set his head pounding. If Holmes registered his distress, he had the good grace not to mention it.
They spent an unsavory hour inspecting the churned up mud around the now-empty graves. Holmes stooped and peered, searching for fragments of footprints, objects out of place. Watson tried to look occupied, but had to devote most of his energy on trying to stay upright. The heavy, grey sky sank lower and lower, the weight of unshed rain pressing it towards the ground.
After a while, a scattering of droplets did indeed begin to fall. Holmes gave him an appraising look, and suggested they interview the cemetery attendants in the small brick building that served as both office and shelter.
Escaping the increasingly inclement weather promised a respite, but in fact their retreat from the elements only made things worse. The air inside the shelter was overly warm, thick with pipe smoke, and after just a few minutes, Watson could focus on nothing except trying to control the harsh coughs racking through him. The workers, fearing contagion, drew away from him, and Holmes shot him first a concerned glance, which he ignored, and then a look which indicated he should take his disruptive behavior outside.
Watson did so, leaning gratefully against the damp brick wall, its cold solidity a relief after the fetid closeness of the room. The rain was falling more heavily now, but he welcomed it sluicing over his hot face. Suddenly exhausted, he tipped his head back, closed his eyes.
"Go home," Holmes had come up beside him without his noticing. The detective was watching him with a strange expression, arms folded over his chest—probably irked that he had spooked the workers, queered the pitch of their investigation.
"Just needed some fresh air," Watson protested hoarsely, "I'll be fine in a minute."
Holmes shook his head. "I'll fetch you a cab," he said, "you're of no use to me here."
"You wouldn't have said that the other night," Watson returned, sounding querulous even to his own ears, "when you were halfway to the bottom of the Thames."
He cut himself off. If he hadn't been feeling quite so wretched he wouldn't have let the words pass his lips at all, the admission of how much he needed to be relied upon, how terrified he was of being useless to his friend. Rationally, he knew Holmes was right, but he hated the idea of being sent home like a tired child.
Something sharp passed over Holmes's face, a little like pain, but not entirely. "No—" he started, for once in his life at a loss for words. "I—" And then whatever it was passed away, or disappeared again behind by his usual blithe confidence. "Well, if you're not going back to Baker Street, I am," he said shortly, "This rain will have washed away any evidence we were likely to get, and I need to consult the police reports again."
Holmes tugged at Watson's arm, and when the doctor swayed a little on his feet, wrapped a strong, warm, arm around his waist, steering both of them back to the street.
He dreamed he was in a gambling den in Kabul. Winter raged beyond its doors, but the air inside rippled with the heat of packed bodies and well-stoked cast-iron stoves. At first, Watson knew he was dreaming. Then the stench of wet wool and wood smoke, liquor and tobacco, overwhelmed him, and he forgot.
A month's pay was gone already, maybe two. Humiliation and self-loathing seethed through him, heating his blood until he could feel sweat dripping down his neck, settling into the small of his back, for all that he was down to his shirtsleeves in the middle of February. The numbers on the cards wavered like candle flames. Watson knuckled his eyes, but they refused to clear.
The room was big and dimly lit, so low-ceilinged that many of those standing had to stoop, and somehow that made the crowding worse. Watson could feel the soldiers and tradesmen, gaudy camp followers and painted women of the town, pressing into him, cutting off his air. Trails of pipe smoke, laced with something heavier, sweeter, snaked their way into his lungs, setting off a jagged round of coughing.
He should stop now, he thought, cauterize the bleeding wound of the night. But instead he bet again, gripped by a wild, spiraling desperation.
The ruddy Irish grenadier across from him smiled, full of teeth.
Someone must have opened the door then, because a blast of frigid wind caught him unawares, turning the sweat on his arms and face to ice. Fighting the shivers that ripped through him, he curled in on himself, ducked his head.
When he lifted his eyes again, he caught a glimpse of something on the Irishman's face, a flash of calculation, of dawning triumph. And he knew why the night had gone to hell.
Caution, he urged himself, caution. There was a right way and a wrong way to take down a cheater easily twice his size, and the right way involved a fair amount of precision and strategy. But his body paid no attention, and he furiously launched himself over the table, grabbing for any part of the rascal he could reach.
The enervating heat and the drag of his bad leg must have slowed him, though, because his adversary eluded him, drifting tantalizingly out of reach.
Watson lurched forward, toppling the table as he went, but the crowds melted away before him, his haphazard punches connecting with nothing but air.
Again and again he tried, but only heard the crash of furniture overturning, the clatter of crockery shattering, not the bruising crack of knuckles against bone he wanted so badly. He was off-balance, his bad leg on fire, but he kept on, the momentum of his fury holding him upright.
Finally, finally, his flailing limbs connected with something solid. His vision was too blurred to identify the recipient of his blows, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was the sweet release of fist sinking into flesh, siphoning off the shame and self-disgust that had been building in him all night. If he had been more coherent, he would have found it odd that his opponent seemed more concerned with absorbing his frenzied attack than combating it, taking the blows to his body without offering any in return.
But Watson didn't care. The rough contact eased the turmoil of his feelings, and by the time he found his arms pinned in something that was half wrestling hold, half embrace, he was willing to sag into the support.
"Watson," a voice said sharply, "wake up—you're dreaming," and then more urgently, "John—"
Watson's eyes slowly cleared, and he recognized the well-known folds and creases of Holmes's face. His relief at that familiar sight was so profound that he simply went limp for a moment, letting the detective take his weight.
Holmes traced cool fingers across Watson's brow. "Just memories," he said, voice as light and dry as ever, "stirred by the fever. Just memories."
Watson came fully awake with a gasp, panting as hard as if he really had gone five rounds with the Royal Irish Grenadiers. He struggled in Holmes's arms, broke away to find room to breathe. But the room tilted around him, and the ghostly smells of his dream assaulted him again, roiling his stomach. His leg buckled, sending him spinning to the floor, and he lost what little he'd eaten that day onto their fine Kilim rug.
"Easy, old boy," Holmes murmured, kneeling beside him, putting a light hand between his shoulder blades, "easy now."
Someone knocked insistently on the door.
"Is everything alright in there?" Watson could hear the concern in Mrs. Hudson's voice.
Holmes got up to answer it. "Yes," he said peremptorily, "we're quite alright. Just a bad night—"
Watson could see a pale sliver of Mrs. Hudson's worried face peering through the opening. She didn't look convinced. She moved as if to check on Watson herself, but Holmes kept the door between them, seemingly unwilling to let her into the room.
With a start, Watson realized that Holmes was protecting him, defending some idea of his dignity, not wanting their landlady to see him in such a state. If he'd had the strength, he would have told him not to bother. He was a doctor and a soldier and he knew that the mess and indignity of illness carried no shame.
But as it was, it was all he could not to keep himself from pitching face first onto the floor, so he allowed Holmes his misguided defense of his honor.
"Shall I call Dr. Reynolds?" Mrs. Hudson was asking.
"No, no," Holmes assured her, "he's dreaming, not delirious. Just bring us a basin of water, if you will, and some fresh linens. I'll take care of it."
"You, Mr. Holmes?" Her tone conveyed profound disbelief.
"Yes, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes sounded annoyed now, "I have negotiated my way around a puddle of sick before, you know."
"I'm sure you have, Mr. Holmes, I'm sure you have." Mrs. Hudson replied, leaving no doubt as to her opinion of that particular professional skill.
They engaged in dueling harrumphs before the door swung shut, Holmes apparently having won the round.
Holmes, characteristically, ignored the shattered china and disarranged furniture. But he did help Watson peel off his soaked night shirt with surprising gentleness, bundling him into the armchair by the fire. When Mrs. Hudson resentfully passed the water and linens through the door, he even changed the bed sheets, albeit a bit haphazardly, while Watson tried to clean himself up.
"Do you want anything from that black bag of yours?" Holmes asked, settling him between the clean sheets.
But Watson was too far gone towards sleep to answer.
Holmes must have decided to let Mrs. Hudson back in at some point—or she'd eventually disregarded his nonsensical gate-keeping—because when Watson next opened his eyes the landlady was puttering around the room, tsking at all the broken objects and straightening what she could.
The fever lingered, he could tell, and something as heavy as a water buffalo was still sitting on his chest, but his thoughts were blissfully clear. The dim November light of a Baker Street morning poured into the room like a benediction.
Mrs. Hudson noticed he was awake, came over and laid a practiced hand on his forehead. She frowned. "I wouldn't try getting up just yet, Sir," she said, not unkindly. "Can you manage some tea?"
Coughing had wrecked his voice, but Watson smiled his assent, and Mrs. Hudson made her way out of the room, irritably twitching her skirts out of the way as she avoided some obstacle on the floor. Curious, Watson levered his heavy head off the pillow. Holmes was propped against the foot of the bed, blanket around his shoulders, fast asleep.
Hmpf , said Mrs. Hudson, as she left.