It was a painful walk, to put it mildly. Those thugs had given him a thorough beating for quite some time before Watson had put a final end to his suffering. Some part of him marvelled that Watson had even found him, another had never doubted him. How could he? His friend and companion had never failed him before.
But right now he couldn't think on congratulating him. The last week had been long, dreary and lonely. Cut off from his home, life and friend, he'd felt the jaws of misery begin to clamp down before his brave Watson had so easily banished that darkness into nothing.
Yes, he thought, so brave, always so very brave. Alone or with Holmes he would face any danger with that same brilliant fire he kept under wraps of composure and kindness. For Holmes that fire was a constant encouragement.
“Easy now,” Watson said, holding tightly onto his arm. Holmes eased onto the small boat desperately holding back a groan of pain. When he sat down, the jolt popped it loose and he breathed heavily trying to calm the pulsing agony. “Don't worry,” Watson said, touching his shoulder, “We'll be home soon, Holmes.”
They were heading home, his conductor of light right by his side guiding him through the sewers and back to Baker Street. It was sinking in, he wasn't in their hands any more, by God, he’d been saved.
The thought seeped through him just as Watson helped him to stand up again to climb back onto a new platform, and he fell into his friend, pulled closer by a sudden spike in gravity, his own heart seeking its warmth.
“Holmes!” Watson cried out, his arms instantly wrapping around to hold him steady.
“I've missed you so...” he mumbled, pressing into his shoulder, allowing the moment of serenity to take hold of them both. “So very, very much...”
And he had. Not just this past week, but through the whole of this case. He'd so violently pushed Watson aside that it had torn into him, leaving a mark on his soul. Seeping into cracks he'd never known were there until now. And it ached. Holmes hadn't realised how much a smile had meant, how dearly he'd wanted Watson to share a good pipe with him, to read the newspaper for him, to touch him...
He shuddered, suddenly spent, suddenly tired, suddenly in need of something more tangible but was too afraid to ask for...
“Oh, Holmes...” Watson said, pulling him a little closer, “I missed you too, I – “ he could taste the hesitation in the air, “... felt quite lost without you.”
A broken smile cracked over his lips, “Same.” he whispered, still pressed close. He swallowed, smile fading into nothing, “I am so very sorry, John.”
The arms around him tightened, and Watson pressed his own face into Holmes' shoulder. By his hard breathing, Holmes could tell his friend was holding back tears. The guilt rose like a typhoon, dear God he'd hurt him. Again.
Watson pulled away only slightly, blinking hard, “It's al right,” he said softly, trailing a hand up to cradle his bruised face. “You're here, you're alive,” he managed a bright smile, “I cannot think of a greater gift...”
The touch sent wonderful shivers down his spine. Swallowing Holmes reached up and mimicked Watson's gesture, brushing a light hand up to his face. In the dark and damp they stared at each other, an old emotion rising between them.
And there it was, hanging between them as it always had, just under the surface of their friendship. Leaking through touches and smiles, care and understanding without words. It had never felt more alive and real than in that moment.
Holmes leaned closer, allowing their breaths to mingle, but hesitated. A sudden coil of fear and trepidation bound him to his spot. What if he ruined it? What if Watson didn’t reciprocate? He swallowed, “John – “
Soft lips pressed suddenly against his, sending a rush of breath from his lungs. He pressed back, feeling a light smile touch his lips. My brave John.