Title: Holmes' Mistake
By: Pandapony
Pairing: Watson/Holmes
Fandom: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Feedback: Yes
Archive: Sure, just tell me where
Rating: NC-17
Series: Yes
Spoilers: No
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not me. No profit is made from this work. No offense is intended. Please do not read if you do not enjoy male/male romance.
Warnings: Slash (male/male), violence, sexual content
Notes: Enormous gratitude is owed to K_Haldane , who provided very useful ideas, feedback, and editing. Thanks so much!

***

In order to begin this private account of the capture and subsequent arrest of famed smuggler Arthur Cavendish, I must go back two months prior to recount Mr. Sherlock Holmes' previous case, the details of which, until now, I have not disclosed either to the public nor in this private collection.  

Mr. Sherlock Holmes and I had been living together for several years in the comfort of our Baker Street apartments, and I had accompanied my dear friend on most of his cases during that time.   After a long period of ennui, during which Holmes despaired that all criminals had atoned and left him without a career, we were informed of a dangerous gang who had kidnapped the young niece of a prominent land owner in the Cotswolds.

After several days in the countryside, Holmes was able to determine the whereabouts and movements of this coterie of kidnappers.   As was typical of our relationship at the time, Holmes kept much of his investigation secret, even to me.   I had grown used to his unique style of detection.   Holmes always kept his observations and conclusions to himself until revelation was either required for my continued assistance, or the unfortunate criminal under his gaze had been captured.

I spent much of those early days in the Cotswolds either following Holmes about, or else completing small errands and interviews that he felt were necessary for the enhancement of his investigation.   I neither complained nor questioned Holmes.  I had unwavering faith in his abilities as the premier consulting detective in England, and knew that he would surprise both the gangsters and myself with his discoveries.

On what ultimately became a dreary, rainy afternoon in March, Holmes finalized the details of his trap.   He dispatched me to the village stable, where he promised I would find the young niece of his client, possibly bound but in all hopes unharmed.   Whilst I was given the job of rescuing our client's kidnapped relative, Holmes himself would lead the local police force to the client's gamekeeper's shed.   There he intended to surprise the gang and have them arrested.

I went about my task with great pride, as Holmes had entrusted me to the most important mission of our hire.   I willingly went alone, albeit armed with my army pistol as per Holmes' instructions.

However, when I threw open the heavy door of the stable, I did not find our client's niece.   Instead, I found myself face to face with the very gang of ruffians that Holmes was expecting to interdict at the shed.

My first feeling, irrational as it may seem in retrospect, was almost amusement.   I had often chided Holmes for his egotistical belief in his own hypotheses, and his infallible faith in his own deductions.   The fact that Holmes had, finally, been wrong, brought a momentary smirk to my features.   I thought how I could rebuke him later for his error.

But I was given no other chance to consider the repercussions of Holmes' mistake, as I was quickly surrounded by seven men.   My amusement fled and, shortly thereafter, my consciousness.

I am afraid I have only a secondhand account of the capture of Patrick Fitzgerald's Gang and the safe recovery of their hostage.   Constable Lloyd Chalmers, who oversaw the arrest, told me much later that when Holmes and the rest of the constabulary entered the gamekeepers and found the bound and terrified niece of the Lord, Holmes went completely pale.   He barely hesitated long enough to untie his charge before he simply threw off his hat and bolted for the town, refusing to wait until a ride could be arranged.

My own memory of events subsequent to this is hazy at best.   On ensuing discussions with Constable Chalmers, I learned that Holmes ran nearly a mile in the rain to come to my aid.   Once inside the stable, he found me in the deplorable condition that my attackers had left me.

I had been beaten, and stabbed.   I remember little other than pain, and an absolute fear, the likes of which I had not experienced even in the heat of battle.   The men in my company were ruthless, and were enjoying their sport.  

When Fitzgerald and his thugs realized that Holmes and the police would be on their way, they strung up a stout rope and, to my utter horror, proceeded to hang me.

According to Chalmers, Holmes stormed into the stable and was the first to find me hanged in the corner.   Chalmers later recounted that he had never imagined the cold, calculating Sherlock Holmes reacting in such a violent way.

After Holmes had recovered from his sickness, he had noted that I was still breathing.   Holmes was the one who cut me down.   I do not recall this.   I do recall pain as I hit the wood floor of the stable aisle.   But most of my attentions were directed to my breathing, which came in short gasps.

Holmes removed his coat and pillowed it under my head, and managed to cut loose the noose around my neck.   I was finally conscious then, and managed to look into Holmes eyes.

Holmes was ashen, and, to my surprise, he was crying.   I stared at him, hoping to convey my gratitude at his timely rescue.   But instead, something about my stare triggered a shudder in him, and he pulled me to his breast, hoarsely begging me not to die.

The display of affection was moving enough to bring tears to my own eyes, and I would have enjoyed the opportunity to further indulge myself in the revelation of Holmes' true feelings.   But in truth, I was becoming quickly blinded by pain.   Each breath felt as though I were swallowing fire, and in panic, I realized I was losing my ability to inhale.   This, accompanied by the stab wound just below my navel, led me to do nothing but moan in his arms.

The stable door slammed open once more, and Chalmers and the local village doctor, Percy Andrews, rushed to my side.   I watched as best I could, although I was quickly fading from consciousness again.

"His throat is swelling shut.   He needs intubation."   Andrews rustled through his medical bag, pulling out a collection of instruments that made me uncharacteristically queasy.   The doctor's hands shook.

"Have you done this before?" Constable Chalmers whispered.

The doctor merely looked at him, face wrought with nerves, and then returned to his medical bag. "Gentlemen, please hold Dr. Watson steady.   This may be painful."

I braced myself but still looked to Holmes in panic as Holmes pinned me down by the shoulders.   Dr. Andrews pried open my mouth and used a pair of forceps to feed a hard rubber intubation tube down my throat.  

At this point I was irrational with fear and pain, and I knew my eyes flashed open and I tried my best to jerk away as the tube made its way down my injured throat.   I looked to Holmes, begging him to stop this torture.   He seemed even more distraught, staring down at me, his grey eyes wide with shock, trembling as he held me.

"I have only ever intubated young children for diphtheria," said Dr. Andrews, wiping his tools on a cloth from his bag.   "But a man's throat is far more difficult to manoeuvre.   I believe..."   The doctor frowned, looking down at his feet.   I followed his glance, seeing the blood on the floor.   Realizing it was mine, nausea washed through me and I was once more blissfully taken from consciousness.   Holmes informed me later that he had been so shocked at the sight of me hanging, and so panicked in his attempts to get me to breathe, he had entirely missed my perilous stab wound.   It had been Dr. Andrews who noted with alarm the amount of blood I was losing, and who ordered me to hospital without further delay.

In the months that followed, I later collected the details of the final capture and arrest of Patrick Fitzgerald and the blackguards who had inflicted such damage to me.   As soon as I was whisked off to hospital, Holmes and Chalmers had continued their pursuit, not stopping until all seven men were arrested and the niece was returned to her uncle.

I was not part of this final adventure.   I was too engaged in my own fight for life, first at the local infirmary, and later at St. Bart's in London.

***

It is a strange thing being a patient in the very hospital one works at.   My own knowledge of medical science prevented my colleagues from their usual well-intended but often overly-optimistic prognoses, and I was too unfocused to pay close attention to anything other than the grim news which my fellow doctors foretold.

My throat remained swollen, and so the doctors left the cursed intubation tube in my throat.   My stab wound turned out to be less serious than originally feared, although the location made it difficult for me to move on my own.   I was kept in a drugged stupor for most of my stay at St. Bart's.   I have very few memories in all, although I distinctly recall that Holmes did not visit me once while I remained in hospital.

This bothered me immensely.   In my fevered state, I accused Holmes of fleeing his responsibilities to me out of guilt.   And then I grew despondent, realizing that guilt was not an emotion Holmes often fell prey to.   My emotions raged, heightened by the morphine, and I was in quite an unstable frame of mind by the time my colleagues had decided I would heal better in the comforts of my own home and sent me back to Baker Street for recuperation.

There was an initial flurry of activity following my return to Baker Street. Since I had been brutalized four days before, I had not had a moment alone.  

Dr. Andrews had come to call on me all the way from the Cotswolds, as did my fellow surgeons from hospital.   Mrs. Hudson sat by my side, tending to my every need.

But it was five miserable days after my experience before I saw Holmes again.

He must have come into the room whilst I had been sleeping.   Against my will, I had been placed in his bedroom to heal, as his room was adjacent the bathroom and would be easier for me to access.   I awoke to see his long, thin frame stretched on the uncomfortable wooden chair near his dressing table.   He looked completely exhausted.   Most unusual for him was the distressing state of his beard, grown at least three days' worth and giving him the air of a street scoundrel.

His eyes were ringed darkly and I could tell he had not eaten much over the last trying days.   The dim gas lamp illuminated dark scabs and blisters on his hands, as if he had been engaged in vigorous activities.  

Even in such a dishevelled state, I could not help but admire the languid body in my sight.   I had long felt a deep and unnatural attraction to my dear friend, and in rare, stolen glances such as this, I could not turn away from such beauty.   His skin was pale, and glowed faintly in the low light.   His dark lashes fluttered over his eyes in his sleep.   He had the most expressive lips, full and red, and I found myself bothered by my immediate physical reaction to such a sight as his mouth, parted softly in slumber.

I would later learn that Holmes had barely slept over the days I had been recovering.   He and Constable Chalmers had been working around the clock to track and ultimately apprehend every last member of the gang who had assaulted me.

Now I could see the ravages of this case upon him, my heart opened and I forgave Holmes at once for his lack of presence at my side.   Of course he had not sat beside me at hospital; he was too busy personally hunting down the men who had hurt me.  

But there was still a nagging suspicion within me that Holmes was also avoiding me for personal reasons.   He did not want to acknowledge his blame, or his guilt, in this affair.   My suspicions grew as I faded from sleep and woke to find him once more gone from my side, replaced by the ever-cheerful and yet less-desirable Mrs. Hudson.

Again, that evening, I opened my eyes slowly to find Holmes beside me once more.   He sat close to me, reading the paper, nursing a brandy.   I feigned sleep and watched him from the corner of my eye.   He had shaved, and looked less gaunt.   In truth, he looked stunningly beautiful.

I quickly closed my eyes and turned in my sleep, so as not to let my mind wander in such a direction.   As soon as I shifted, I heard Holmes' paper rustle.   "Watson?" he whispered, his voice thick with emotion.   But I had been pretending to be asleep, and so I did not answer him, instead closing my eyes tighter, listening to his regular breathing, smelling him, wishing I could read his mind, know what he was thinking at that moment.

Holmes' paper rustled once more, and I then did succumb to sleep.   And once more, when I awoke, he was gone.

***

It had been hours since anyone had seen me.

I lay there, desperate for the toilet, my anxiety mounting as I realized the state of utter helplessness I was in.   I tried to get up on my own, but my stomach wound made it impossible for me to stand without aid.   I tried crying out for help but the blasted tube in my throat made my voice nothing more than a pitiful gasp of air.  

Mrs. Hudson had been in to help me that morning, but I knew she had planned on making a trip to the market.

And Holmes was nowhere to be seen or heard.   He had stopped in the bedroom that morning, to collect a change of clothes and a few of his personal items from his room.   When we made eye contact, Holmes did not say a word.   There was something unusual in his expression, an unreadable emotion I could not decipher.   It was very frustrating, to not be able to communicate, to not know what he was thinking or feeling.   He looked at me for a long time, speechless, and then finally, he reached over and touched my shoulder affectionately.   His long fingers were cold, I felt his chill even through my nightshirt.  

  "Watson."  

It was all he said.   And then, suddenly, he turned away and left the room.  

Was it an apology?   Was he too overcome with emotion?   It seemed unlikely.   Holmes had never understood the way I and other emotional beings felt.   He was like a calculating machine.   And in the face of my pain, he simply turned away.   He had not been back in the room all day, nor, from what I could decipher by sound, back in the flat at all.

Determining that I was indeed alone at Baker Street, I had no choice.   I steeled my nerves and tried to scoot towards the edge of the bed.   Although I had initially protested against being put in Holmes' room, now I realized the logic in his ways.   The bathroom was only a few steps away, no stairs.   But even those few steps seemed insurmountable.  

I was near the foot of the bed, trying to crawl to the bathroom, when I had my accident.   I don't know how many times I had comforted men who had lost bowel or bladder control during my tenure in the army, and yet now here I was myself, devastated by the loss of decorum, by the hideous feeling of being soiled and humiliated, of weakness.   I used to relate tasteless jokes to my patients as I cleaned them, trying my best to ease their embarrassment.   Now I sat, growing cold in my own urine, feeling as though I wanted to die.   How could I not listen to my own advice, even now?

Just then, Holmes returned.   He entered the room with his pale cheeks flushed red from the outside cold.   He smelled like rain and tobacco.   He was smiling, and seemed to be in good spirits.   But he took one look at me, in my shameful condition, and his eyes grew very large.   His smile vanished instantly.

"Oh, Watson!   I am so sorry!" he immediately rushed to my side.

With all the strength I could muster, I pushed him away from me.   I was irrational with humiliation. He had said nothing to me in days, showing he did not care.    And now he had come too late to save me from my disgrace, and too soon for me to attempt cleaning myself up.   I sat there, cold and filthy, and began to weep.   He attempted to approach me again but I shoved him so hard he fell backwards and slammed against the wall.   Now I felt guilty as well.

Holmes sat on the floor staring as I curled into a ball and went to pieces.   He did not say a word, he merely watched me in silence.

Finally, he slid himself back up the wall and left the room.   I was grateful for the privacy, but still too depressed to figure out what I was going to do about my soiled state.   When Holmes returned, he carried with him a basin of hot water and a sponge.

He approached me once more.   He placed his hands on my shoulder and turned me to look him in the eye.

"Let's get you cleaned up, shall we?"

I pleaded with my eyes for him to leave me alone, to let someone else do it.   The idea of Holmes, the one man on earth with whom I wanted to be intimate, seeing me humiliated such, caused me to weep once more.   But there was nothing I could do.   I could not speak, and I could not wait for the physician to return, as I had no knowledge of his schedule.   With infinitely gentle hands, Holmes slowly and quietly helped me out of my dressing gown.   I winced as he moved the fabric over my wound, and Holmes froze for a moment, going pale.   But then he steadied his nerves and forced the material over my arms, ignoring my pain.

He reached for my nightshirt.   I could feel my cheeks blush hot red in embarrassment.   I tried to convince myself that there was nothing to be ashamed of.   How many men had I myself undressed, and helped wash, in Afghanistan?   How many times had I convinced patients to allow me to conduct far more invasive inspections of their person, in order to help them in the long run?   It was no different than this.

And yet it was Sherlock Holmes who was undressing me.   I could not get the idea out of my mind.   I was so desperately in love with the man, and I had lived in my mind so many fantasies of us coming together.   This was not how it was supposed to be.   I did not want his first glimpse of my naked body to be this - wounded, weeping, filthy, humiliated.

Holmes looked at my face, obviously deducing my discomfort from my blush.   He smiled briefly, and then quickly lifted the soiled nightshirt off of me.   He was very businesslike.   He said nothing, and kept his eyes hooded under his thick lashes.   He helped me lay flat.   I instinctively grappled for a blanket to cover my nudity. Holmes watched me but did not say a word.  

"I was caught up at Scotland Yard."   Holmes was trying to apologize for leaving me alone, I saw that.   He did not make eye contact.   He rolled up his sleeves and squeezed the sponge.   Then he lifted the blanket slightly to wash off the outside of my leg.   Despite the embarrassment, the warm water felt wonderful, and I was relieved to be clean of my mistake.

"Do you remember Clarkson?   The small balding chap who assisted us last year?"   He looked into my eyes briefly and smiled.   Then he looked back to his cleaning.   "You would be surprised to find out, my dear Watson, that the man has been promoted to inspector.   The state of our police force in this country is really quite appalling."

Holmes launched into a discussion of the conclusion of the kidnapping case. Although I was pleased with the conclusion, the mere mention of the men who had tormented me made my stomach clench.   Holmes seemed to detect this, and therefore quickly switched subject to discuss Scotland Yard gossip.   I felt myself begin to relax. My breathing had returned to normal, which was a relief on my throat.   Holmes gently and efficiently washed my legs and belly.   His cheeks took on a slightly pink tinge as he then moved to my crotch.

"Excuse me," he said breathlessly, interrupting his own story to lift the blanket and sponge my genitals.   I was torn between hugely conflicting emotions - relief at being clean.   Humiliation.   And, worst of all, desire.   This was as close as I had ever come to having Holmes touching me intimately, and I could feel my cheeks blaze once more as I began to think arousing thoughts regarding his ministrations.   I looked down and, to my utter horror, I saw my body was reacting to my thoughts.   I groaned under my breath and squeezed my eyes shut, so I wouldn't have to see the look of disgust on Holmes' face when he realized his kind-hearted nursing of my condition had given me a completely unacceptable erection.

Holmes did not stop cleaning me, even after my member began to throb and grow.   It almost seemed as if he slowed down his gentle cleansing.   I kept my eyes clamped shut. My breathing grew ragged.

And then he pulled his sponge away, and quickly covered me with the blanket.   I was both relieved and suddenly saddened by the lack of attentions.   I felt him get up off the bed and opened my eyes.  

Holmes was by his bureau.   He returned with one of his clean nightshirts.   He helped me into it, saying nothing about my indiscretion.   But I noticed a wild look to his features, his face tinged a very noticeable pink, his eyes strangely liquid.

"Now to the sheets," he said.   He deftly changed them from under me.   I would have remarked on his impeccable bed-making abilities if I had been able to speak.   Where he had learned such housework was beyond me.   But then again, Holmes was always full of surprises.

Once the bed was back to normal, and all signs of my accident had been disposed of, Holmes helped tuck me back in the bed.   He left with the water and returned with a hand bell.

"Here you go, my dear," he said fondly, placing the bell on the bedside table.   "I had meant to give this to you yesterday, but with the conclusion of this case, I have not had a moment to spare. I apologize for this."   He reached out and gently laid his hand on my head.   "For everything."   And then, without looking back, he left the room.

***

The next morning, Dr. Andrews removed the intubation tube.

The process was startlingly painful.   It diminished the agony of my stab wound with its searing intensity.   As much as I tried to stay calm, by the end of it I was thrashing about on the bed and knocking over Holmes' possessions in my wild attempt to get the doctor and Holmes to stop.   Holmes sat beside me, holding me down with a grim expression as the doctor used his forceps to pry the tube from my throat.   I could feel the coarse rubber scrape my raw throat on its way up, and I swallowed blood.

As soon as the tube was removed I leaned over and retched.   Thank God, Mrs. Hudson had prepared for all sorts of emergencies, and had placed a bowl beside the bed for just such an incident.   I allowed Andrews to tend to me, but I pushed Holmes away.   After our strange and silent intimacy during my washing the day before, I was ashamed to have him near me now.

"Can you speak?"   Holmes asked anxiously.   He sat back down, ignoring my hand-gestures for him to leave me alone.   He reached out and brushed the hair off my sweaty forehead.    

I opened my mouth and tried to tell him I was all right, but speaking was agony.   My throat was on fire.   I tried to form a word beyond the pain but I could only moan.

"It may take some time for his voice to return," Andrews said calmly.   He patted my shoulder.   "No worries, old man, I'm sure you will make a full recovery."

I frowned at the doctor, knowing full well that there were too many contingencies for him to so confidently claim such a positive prognosis.   However, it would do neither myself nor the doctor much good to harp on all the other possible, negative side effects of such trauma to my esophagus.   Since I could not speak, I slipped down under the covers instead, closing my eyes and wishing my audience would go away.   The doctor and Mrs. Hudson quickly responded to my silent request.   Only Holmes lingered afterwards, sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down at me with a look of blank shock.

I believe that, even at that point, Holmes had managed to convince himself that no long-term, serious damage had resulted from his miscalculation.   But now I could see the darkness in his eyes, a sudden haunted expression.   He understood, at that moment, the full implications of his mistake.  

That evening, I lay morosely in bed.   I rang the hand bell constantly.   I wrote notes, demanding water, demanding tea, complaining the fire was too low.   Poor Mrs. Hudson arrived every time I rang the bell.

However I wanted Holmes to be the one to do my bidding.   For the first time since the incident, I was furious at him.   This was his fault.   His egotism had led me to this fate.   The idea that I may not be able to speak for the rest of my life was so appalling, I could not dwell on it longer than a few seconds before I would tear up and start raging against the man.   I rang the bell and demanded that Mrs. Hudson call Holmes to me.   She informed me that he had been out all day.  

Probably avoiding me

I wrote on a paper to her.   She simply patted my hand and then left me alone in that infernal room once more.

I slept on and off until dark.   After a fitful sleep, I was roused by the sound of the grate being pushed back on the fireplace.   I opened my eyes and saw the object of my anger, quietly stoking the fire.

Holmes was in his formal attire, and looked stunning.   I don't know where he went that evening, but he was obviously trying to impress.   When Holmes wanted to, he could take people's breaths away with his languid beauty.   The grey of his silk tie, the fine cut of his suit, the purple and grey patterned waist coat - it all complimented his grey eyes, his raven black hair, which had been slightly tousled from wearing a hat.

I watched him move silently about the fire place, and my heart filled with tenderness.   It seemed that every move he made now was slower, weighed down with the guilt of my injury.   For every moment I blamed Holmes for my disaster, I deduced he blamed himself ten times more.   He did not need me to remind him who was at fault.   He carried the truth in his eyes, the way they looked at me with such piercing regret.

Holmes turned and jerked slightly when he saw I was watching him.   He recovered quickly with a flash of a smile.

"Ah.   You're awake, then."

I nodded.

He washed his hands briskly in the water basin, and then sat beside me on the bed.   He smelled slightly smoky, as though he had spent the entire evening in a gentlemen's club.  

"Can you speak yet?" he asked hesitantly.

For the hundredth time that day, I tried forming a word and failed.   Only air escaped.   I began to suspect that my larynx had been crushed from the hanging, and I would not be able to talk again.  

Holmes winced as I tried to form a word and a breathless gasp came out of my mouth.   He turned away from me.

ven if my larynx is crushed, it may heal,

I wrote on a note to him.   He held it in his hands and stared at the note long after the time needed to read it.   He seemed frozen.

I decided to change the subject.   My anger had fled in the face of his sadness.  

Where have you been?   You smell like expensive cigars. And you look good enough to win a lady's heart

.

Holmes laughed, his eyes finally lifting from the scrap of paper and smiling at me.   He reached out and squeezed by arm affectionately.

"Good old Watson," he said.   "Always finding the best of every situation."   He stretched dramatically, his limbs shaking with exhaustion.   "I have been on a wild goose chase, in the Cavendish Estates.   I took the part of a guest at a ball this evening.   It presented a singular opportunity for exploring the depths below."

I immediately wished I was in better health.   It sounded like just the adventure I would have loved to accompany him on.   Few things brought a shine to Holmes' eyes like breaking and entering, and I loved the thrill of danger that accompanied such missions.

But I realized, with a frown, that circumstances had changed.   Before, I had never worried about capture, or the police, or what would happen if things went wrong, simply because things never

did

go wrong.   Events rarely followed Holmes' plans exactly, but he was always astute enough to get us out of any situation.   No matter how hopeless or precarious a predicament we found ourselves in, I always had complete and utter faith that he would get us out safely.   Therefore, the danger was simply a delectable additive, but never a threat.

But now, Holmes had failed me.   He

had

been wrong.   And the results had been disastrous.   I had nearly died, and would probably be mute for the rest of my life.   And even if I regained enough strength to be of some benefit to him on his cases, I wondered if such perilous pursuits as those we used to take without a thought would have the same thrill for me.   Now I knew Holmes was fallible, and would not always save me.   We

could

get caught by the police.   We

could

get injured, or even die.  

Holmes was watching me, his intense stare so powerful I had to look away from him as soon as we made eye contact.

"It was exceedingly dull," he said finally.   "A search for a single document that proved not to be housed at the estate at all."   He rose, as if suddenly disturbed.

I reached out and touched his arm, briefly.   He turned to stare down at me.

  "Can I get you anything?"   he asked softly.

I shook my head.

Holmes swallowed.   He looked momentarily nervous.   "Would you like some assistance getting cleaned up for bed?"

I studied his face before I answered.   There was a nervousness under his features, but otherwise, he schooled his expression stoically into blank neutrality.

I did not know what he had in mind, but I was curious.   Besides, I had wanted him to personally help me all day, as restitution.   So I nodded.

Holmes smiled briefly.   "All right.   Give me a moment, I'll return shortly."   He left the room with the basin of now-cold water.

I lay in bed, anxiously awaiting his return.   When he came back, he had removed his coat, waist coat, and was in his shirt sleeves.   He rolled these up.   He brought with him several towels and a clean night shirt, and a basin steaming with hot water.

"I remember you did this for me when I was ill several years ago," Holmes mused as he set up his work space beside the bed.   "I never thanked you properly.   You know how I prize cleanliness."

I would have chuckled if I had the breath.   Holmes' version of cleanliness verged on obsessive when it came to his person.   But the rest of his life - his belongings, even his prized possessions - were strewn everywhere, trampled on, forgotten, left in drawers, in disarray.   I smiled and shook my head at him as he helped me sit up.   The movement pulled at my injured stomach and made me wince.

"Slowly, then," he said, seeing my pain.   He helped me, but sitting up was very painful, and I began to go pale and clammy at the discomfort.

Holmes shook his head.   "This will not work.   Let us try it some other way.   Are you capable of laying down flat?   I will simply do what I did the day before."

I blushed at the memory of our intimate washing, the embarrassment of my accident.   But Holmes was not embarrassed.   He helped me lay down again, and then efficiently pulled my nightshirt from me before I could protest.

There I was, naked before him, on top of the covers.   The fire was roaring now, and so I was not cold, but I was uncomfortable, with him dressed for the opera and me nude.

"Here."   Holmes draped his old favourite blanket over me, and immediately began sponging my exposed leg clean.   There was a terribly uncomfortable moment, as he worked, when both of us looked away from each other.   And then Holmes broke the tension by launching into a recounting of his evening.

  "Scotland Yard contacted me this morning regarding a smuggler who has been operating along the docks.   His connections are too good to be one of the dock workers, and so my initial research led me to a man by the name of Arthur Cavendish.   He owns a small estate outside of London, and he scheduled this evening's ball in honour of his daughter.   I managed to break into his private suites whilst he was engaged with his guests."   So Holmes began, discussing his latest case with me, as he slowly but thoroughly gave me a sponge bath.

I finally relaxed as he reached my upper torso.   This was no different than the countless times I had given such care to my own patients.   And indeed, I had given such a bath to Holmes himself, when he had been too ill to stand.   My discomfort at the previous day's sexuality was gone from my mind.   I listened and laughed silently as Holmes amused me with his tale.  

But after he had completed most of my body, he casually and confidently raised the blanket and began to clean me once more between my legs.

This in itself was normal procedure for any sponge bath, I realized, but given yesterday's inappropriate reactions on my part, I assumed Holmes would forego this territory.   And yet here he was, nonchalantly discussing the aging process of acid-based papers while gently cleaning my genitals with warm water.   He did not look at me as he spoke.   He kept his eyes focused on his task.   And this is what did me in at the last.   Knowing he was looking at me, his intense stare focused on my groin, once again had the horrid repercussion of making me aroused.

I swallowed and looked away.   He continued to speak, even after I could feel my shaft twitch and stand upright before him.   I began to curl up and move away from him, but he steadied me with a hand on my thigh, holding me in place.

"It is all right, Watson," he said smoothly.   "It is perfectly natural.   Now relax, and let me finish."

It was the only time he mentioned my inappropriate reaction to his touches.   He stroked me with the sponge, moving my legs slightly to reach to my backside.   As he sponged the highly-sensitive region around my perineum, I let out a breathless moan.

And then he stopped.   He pulled the blanket down and put the water on the counter.   "Feel better?" he asked cheerily.

I looked at him as though he were mad.   He had just given me the most powerful erection, and my whole body quivered for his touch.   But he just stood there innocently, unfolding a clean nightshirt for me, acting as though nothing had happened.

I nodded, staring at him intently.

He flashed me a smile.   "Good.   Now, let's put this on you."   He helped me struggle the long shirt over my body.   For a brief second, I was once again exposed, my erection standing upright between my legs, engorged with need.   He looked at it briefly but did not bother to acknowledge it.   Indeed, his hand even accidentally brushed the tip of my erection as he pulled the hem of the garment down over my waist, but he did not flinch or comment.

The only unusual feature of his expression was his pink-tinged cheeks, and the enlarged size of his pupils.   He looked flushed.   But by the time I was back under the covers, tucked up and ready for bed, he was back to normal, his face schooled in neutrality, all heightened colour gone from his face.

  "Good night, Watson," he said softly.   And then he turned down the gas lamps, leaving me to ponder what it all meant.

***

The swelling in my throat receded over the week.   However, much to my dismay, I discovered that I still had not regained my ability to speak.   When I attempted to do so, a sound would emerge, but forming actual words was still beyond me. The lurid bruising around my neck and the beginnings of a formidable scar showed that the noose had tightened directly upon my larynx.  

Holmes' patience never wore thin.   He now tended to me regularly, and spoke enough for two.   Even on the nights when I could see the distant haze of his black mood come upon him, and I knew, in normal circumstances, he would not speak a word, even then Holmes made an exception for me.   He rallied a smile and discussed the minutia of his day.  

I wrote constantly, furiously.   I wrote demands and questions to him and Mrs. Hudson and the doctor.   I wrote my innermost thoughts in a diary.   I attempted to write down details of the case for a future story to sell, but found myself unpleasantly reliving our latest exploits, and so abandoned that effort altogether.

By the end of the month, I was able to walk once more, albeit with a cane for support.   I looked around the familiar confines of our sitting room and wondered how I could be back in almost the same physical state as I was when I had first moved in, all those years ago.   Physically exhausted. Always broken, always sore.   And now, to add to my discomfort, an inability to speak.

I moved back into my own room with some relief.   The trek up and down the stairs for the bathroom was difficult, but I looked forward to the challenge it presented, and hoped the exercise would speed my recovery.

And still, every evening, Holmes would come into my room and volunteer to wash me.

I was well beyond the point of needing his assistance, and yet I found myself loathe to give it up.   The brief intimacy of his touches were the only highlight of my otherwise dreary existence indoors.   I could not speak to Holmes now, but I could share this small moment of tenderness with him.

He came up the stairs every night, shortly after I had turned in.   He brought with him the basin of hot water and his sponge.   His shirt sleeves were rolled up, and he came with the same cheery expression.

"Wash up?"   he would say, and I would nod.

And then he would launch into a diatribe about anything.   A clue.   The chemical compounds of clay soils.   The history of Scottish blacksmithing.   It never mattered.   He would begin his lecture and he would help me remove my dressing gown and my nightshirt.   I would lay naked before him on the bed, and he would slowly, lazily, sponge me clean.

I no longer started when he reached between my legs to clean my genitals.   I would just look away, so he wouldn't see the desire glaze my eyes.   His voice would hitch sometimes in his rambling narrative.   Words would stumble out. Neither of us would make eye contact.   And he would slowly, gently, clean me.   My groin received a disproportionate amount of cleaning time, and that's when I began to fantasize that Holmes shared feelings similar to mine.   Perhaps he enjoyed this as much as I did.   He obviously didn't mind it.

And then he would finish, and withdraw, turning from me as I clumsily re-dressed myself.   Always the same, flushed expression on his face.   A slight tremble in his fingers.   We never spoke about this new ritual of ours.   We never addressed the tenderness in his touch.   But something was happening between us.

By the first week of April, I finally determined I had enough strength to venture out after a month indoors.   Holmes was busy for much of the day, narrowing his search for evidence against Cavendish and finding the man's accomplices in his smuggling ring.

It took me almost an hour to dress myself, but once done, I felt proud of my accomplishment.   I looked like my old self again.   I chose a high collar which would hide the scar ringing my neck.   There was still some slight discoloration around my eyes from my broken nose, but otherwise, I looked presentable.  

I prepared several cards in advance, explaining my inability to speak, and pocketed these along with a whistle, in case I needed help.   As I lurched down the stairs, Mrs. Hudson fretted and scolded.   She claimed I was turning her hair prematurely grey.   But I ignored her concern and ventured into the sunlight of the crowded afternoon Baker Street.

My spirits improved immensely after my stroll.   However I could not go far before my stomach wound began to trouble me.   When I passed by the book store, the clerk greeted me as usual and asked about my injuries, but I could not respond, handing him one of my cards in explanation.   But all of these problems aside, I was alive again, and out, and on the mend.   I knew I would rally once more.   I was going to survive.

I returned home around 5 o'clock to a frantic Holmes.  

"Where have you been?" He shouted, hustling me into the living room and sitting me down.   He looked pale with fright.   "For God's sake, Watson, you are not well enough to be trouncing around London on your own!"

I scowled, hoping my message was clear.

"Do not do that again!" he declared.   "I cannot waste precious energy worrying about your whereabouts!"

I wrote him a lengthy complaint.   He was not my doctor.   Nor was he in any way qualified to determine whether or not I was capable of anything.   I added several frustrated expletives, which had the result of making his eyebrows raise high upon his head.   I watched him struggle with the urge to laugh and the urge to defend himself, but instead, he simply let the matter drop.   Our dinner was tense and silent.  

My excursions had left me more exhausted than usual and so I retreated to my bedroom at an early hour.   I had only been in bed for a few minutes, however, when I was disturbed by a knock upon my door.

Holmes called out, "it's me" and entered, carrying with him his obligatory basin of hot water and sponge.

He set these up on my bedside and sat beside me.

"Wash?" he asked.

I stared at him.   He stared back at me.   I could see anxiety flutter in his expression, the longer I stared.   I wanted to talk, damn it.   I wanted to find out what these nightly cleanings were to him.   If I could dress and walk by myself, it was obvious I could bathe as well.   So why did he pursue this form of nursing?   What was in this for him?

"Unless, of course, you are recovered well enough to tend to grooming on your own..."   Holmes suddenly looked away and became very nervous.   He fidgeted with his sleeves, rolling them back down.   He reached towards the basin, making ready to leave.   I grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him back down beside me on the bed.

I shook my head and smiled.   I nodded towards the water.   Holmes seemed to let out a shaky breath.

"Shall I continue, then?" he asked.

I nodded slowly.

Everything he did that evening was in slow motion.   Now we stared at each other.   He washed me, watching my face.   I watched his.   He didn't bother with a lecture.   He didn't act as though what we were doing was anything else.   When I removed my clothing and lay before him, my desire was already visible, pulsing and engorged.  

Holmes stared at my member, and swallowed.   He then wrung out the sponge and began his gentle ministrations, starting as always with my left leg.  

By the time he moved his sponge to my inner thighs, my cock was twitching before him.   He looked at me shyly.   I looked back, all of my intensity showing.   I wanted to know why.   Why was he doing this?   Was he feeling this?   Did he have any idea how desperately I loved him, how much I wanted him?

He sponged my erection, his eyes focused on mine.   He was shivering, I saw that.   Tremors of desire, or nervousness, I did not know.   A ruddy pink bloomed across his cheeks.  

When he lifted his sponge to put it away, I quickly reached out and held his wrist.   I forced his hand and the sponge back to my prick.

"John..."   Holmes moaned.   He kept rubbing me there.   I knocked the sponge out of his hand.   He started rubbing my cock with his long fingers, his warm palm, slowly up and down my shaft.   He was trembling dramatically now.   His eyes were half-closed, his lips seemed flushed and swollen.   I could just make out the outline of his own arousal in his trousers, and the sight excited me so much that I began to ooze from the tip, lubricating his sliding movements.

I would have whispered "harder" to him.   I would have told him to go faster.   I would have said so much in that moment, had I the power of speech.   But instead, I could say nothing, so I reached for his lapels and pulled him down on top of me.   I kissed him instead.

Holmes fumbled with my lips.   He was shaking so badly that it was hard to hold him in place.   I kissed him deeply, plunging my tongue inside of him, and he moaned and pressed against me on the bed.   I fiercely gripped him by the back of the head and pushed his lips against me harder, forcing him to open his mouth to mine.   His tongue entered me with tentative gentleness, but within moments, he was thrusting inside, hands groping at the side of my face, my hair, pulling me tighter to him.

God, how I wanted him.   My vision was blurred by my desire.   He looked so startled by the kiss when he pulled back.   He looked drugged and wild.  

He put his hand back on my erection, and continued to stroke it as we kissed.   I wanted to touch him as well, see his naked body entwined with mine, I wanted to lick him clean in all the places he had so tenderly cleaned me.  

But I confess that I had over a month's worth of unspent sexual desire coursing through me, and so only base, primal urges dominated.   As Holmes leaned down to kiss my throat, and as he moved lower, I found myself rudely but clearly urging his head down further, pushing him away from my face and towards my throbbing prick.  

Holmes hesitated, as if he didn't know what to do.   I lifted my hips on the bed towards him, trying to close the gap between my crotch and his face.   He kissed my belly then, lingering gently around the red, angry skin of my newest battle-scar, before kissing lower.

I opened my legs wider, welcoming him.   His mouth lowered over my erect member, and he hovered there for an instant.   He looked nervous and excited all the same time.   He gently kissed the tip of my prick.

And I convulsed.   All of me shuddered and writhed in delight.   My greatest fantasy, come true.   Holmes' brilliant, passionate lips against my cock.   It was too much.

Holmes smiled then, just slightly, and I could see the confidence build in him.   He was obviously proud to have elicited such a dramatic reaction from such a small gesture, and he looked at me mischievously, giving me a quick kiss on the lips, before pulling my entire shaft into his mouth.

I wished I could scream.   I opened my mouth and tried to do so, to shout out my pleasure, but air escaped, silently.   I thrashed on the bed, mouth open, clawing at his hair and clothes, as he sucked my cock into his warm mouth and pumped me with his lips.

He was inexpert, and I could easily tell this was his first time.   His teeth scraped several times and at one point I pushed too far down his throat and he gagged.   But we soon developed a rhythm and it did not take much longer for me to explode.

I quickly pressed at his shoulders to push him off of me.   I did not want to come in his throat, I feared startling him, this first time.   So I pushed him away and turned, climaxing over my bed sheets in great spurts.   My whole body trembled with the release.   So long.   It had been so long.

Holmes knelt there, watching me come with a glazed expression in his eyes.   His cheeks burned red.   His lips were flush and swollen.   A small amount of pre-cum glistened on his lips.

I tried to say his name but failed.   I made do with just pulling him towards me by his lapels once more and kissing him.

I pushed him down against the mattress and rolled towards him.   Doing so hurt my stomach with an exquisite shock of pain, and I winced.

Holmes' eyes immediately widened.   "Are you all right?" he whispered.

I smiled at him, and then kissed him more.   He kissed me like I were oxygen, like I was life.   I had to pull hard to break myself from his mouth.   I quickly, breathlessly, unbuttoned his trousers to return the favour.

Holmes turned bright red as I fumbled with his flies.   He looked away, as if ashamed.   But when I pulled his trousers and undergarments from his hips, his need was stunning.  

Holmes was very well-endowed, his flesh straining towards me, seeking my heat.   I momentarily considered giving him an opportunity to feel what it was like to be inside another man, to have that most intimate contact, but I realized he would only last a few more moments, and I was not yet strong enough to hold myself up for extended periods of time.

So I simply covered his hips and thighs in kisses, licking my way towards his desire.   All the moaning I could not do myself he did for me.   He spoke no words, only gasps and cries, and his fingers twined in my hair, holding me close to him.

I licked around the tip of his shaft and he shook violently.

"Oh god, John... John..."   he thrust towards me and I swallowed him down.  

For a moment, he was frantic.   He pounded into my mouth with relentless power, and I had to pull back and try and slow him down, pressing him back against the mattress with my hands on his hips.   He pushed into me so hard I would gag if he wasn't careful.   But his na├»ve desire showed no restraint.   I was the first man to do this to him, it was obvious.   Perhaps the first person ever.   His eyes were locked on me, his stare intense and still, and he watched me suck his cock with an expression of awe and shock, unable to stop his hips from lifting.

I gave his sac a squeeze and engulfed his cock with my mouth, and Holmes suddenly cried out and gripped me.   He spent himself in my mouth, shivering, stunned.   I swallowed it all and kissed the tip of his erection before slowly sliding myself off of him, to lay beside him on the narrow bed.

"I'm terribly sorry," he gasped.   He turned to me, eyes wild.   "I'm sorry, I could not help myself, could not withdraw in time..."

It took me a moment to realize he was apologizing for coming in my mouth.   I smiled and kissed him lazily, showing him I didn't care.  

"Jesus."   He shook his head.   "Jesus Christ!"

His blasphemy made me laugh.   I chuckled silently and pulled him towards me.   We lay there together for a moment, catching our breaths.   His clothes were madly dishevelled, his hair beautifully ruffled.   I was naked beside him.   I threw my leg over him and he responded hungrily, pulling me tighter. Our shrinking erections nestled against each other, giving me another flash of desire.

  "I wish more than anything I could hear your voice right now," he said softly.   He pulled his head to my neck and nuzzled me with his lips and nose.   "I miss your voice."

In response, I kissed him.   I too wished more than ever that I could speak, to tell him of my love, of how long I had desired this.  

My frustration must have shown, for Holmes smiled gently and then kissed me with slow, exquisite softness. His hands rested on my hips.   His touch flooded me with warmth and reassurance.

I must have fallen asleep in his arms, for when I awoke, I was covered with the blankets, and alone.   My mind raged all evening - with excitement, that this was the dawn of a new relationship with Holmes - with fear, that he would regret this indiscretion and be cross with me in the morning - and with doubt that we could keep such a relationship secret, especially with so many of our mutual friends being members of the police force.

I slept little for the rest of the night, my hopes and fears trapped in my chest, unable to be spoken, too terrifying and powerful to be written.

***

In the morning, over breakfast, Holmes greeted me as though nothing had transpired between us. I kept my eyes upon him at all times, looking for some subtle clue that would acknowledge the new intimacy between us, and explain the rules of this new relationship to me.   But Holmes acted as though we had done nothing improper that evening.   My heart began to sink, as I theorized he was ashamed, and wanted to forget what had been, to me, the most joyous moment of my life.

That afternoon, I dressed and prepared to go on another venture outside.   Holmes offered to accompany me, but I declined, explaining in a note that I wished to be alone.   His aloof nature had left me wounded.   Now I saw him wounded in return.   He flushed bright red and looked away, reaching for his violin without looking back at me.

I clenched my teeth in frustration.   It was difficult enough to keep misunderstandings at bay in any normal relationship, I discovered while married to Mary.   But it was made even more difficult by my lack of speech.   Finally, I decided the only way to be clear on the subject was to write down everything I was thinking.   I wrote a three-paged letter before I left our suites, the melancholy, jarring tunes of Holmes' violin filling my head as I asked him directly if he regretted the previous night or held me in lower esteem because of it.   I then handed it to him grimly, and made my way outdoors for my walk.

My stroll took me down the Strand, and I stopped in my favourite tobacconist for my cigarettes. I was halfway back to our flat when I heard footsteps approaching rapidly behind me, and turned to see Holmes, following me at a slight distance.

As he approached, he stealthily slipped his arm through mine and steered me towards the park.

"I do not intend to come across as cold or rude," said he, his voice low.   He avoided my gaze. "But I have no idea how to proceed, my dear Watson.   However I assure you that I continue to hold you in the highest esteem, and would like nothing more than to spend more time with you in such a fashion."  

I looked over and, to my amusement, the great Sherlock Holmes was blushing like a schoolboy. I reached into his coat pocket and caressed his hand in response.   He looked at me then, nervously, excited, like someone in love for the first time.   I realized, in many ways, this was an accurate description of Holmes.   He had no experience in the turbulent emotions of love, and so I would have to teach him.

I stopped at a bench and we both sat down.   The sun was warm on our faces, and Holmes leaned his head back and closed his eyes, smiling as he took in the heat.

I handed him my note.  

Last night was wonderful.   Will you come to me this evening?

Holmes' eyes darted suspiciously around, and he quickly ripped the note into pieces, stuffing the paper into various pockets of his overcoat.   I laughed at his discretion.

He smiled ruefully back at me.   "I wish I could, my dear, but I am afraid I have a prior engagement, with Mr. Siegerson."

I raised an eyebrow.   Mr. Siegerson was one of Holmes' alter egos.

Holmes leaned back and closed his eyes once more.   "Siegerson has the unfortunate task of spending this evening lurking around the dockyards.   But I promise you, when this Cavendish case if finally over, I will return to your side."   He opened his eyes, and stared at me.   "If you will have me."

If I could have kissed him then and there, I would have.   But there were far too many people out in the park, enjoying their strolls.   Therefore I made do with squeezing his hand once more, and smiling to illustrate my acceptance of his offer.

That evening, over dinner, Holmes detailed his plan in apprehending Cavendish and his connections. It had taken him almost a month of sleuthing to discover where Cavendish and his accomplice met, and their schedule of transactions.   His sharp eyes glinted with the thrill of the chase, and I could tell that he was embarking upon the conclusion of this mystery.

Suddenly, I thought of Holmes venturing into this inhospitable underworld alone, in the frightful darkness of the dockyards, and I made a decision to accompany him.

So you will intercept Cavendish and his contact at the docks?

I scrawled on paper.

Holmes nodded, extinguishing his pipe and preparing himself for a cold night outside.   "It is imperative that I find out who this contact is.   He is our man, Watson, and I intend to follow him this evening to finally solve this case."

I'm coming with you

I wrote to him, already reaching for my revolver.

I was shocked when Holmes suddenly lunged forth and, with all of his great strength, pushed me against the wall by my lapels.   My eyes widened in surprise.   He looked suddenly furious.

"You are going nowhere," he hissed at me.   "It is far too dangerous, and I will not have you within a mile of the docks, do you hear me,

Doctor

?"

He let go then, and hastily collected his pocket watch.   He was breathing heavily, anger flashing in his eyes.

But I could be just as stubborn, and shook my head at him.  

If this is dangerous, then all the more reason I should accompany you

, I wrote hastily.

Holmes read my note and then scowled, crumpling the paper and tossing it to the floor.   He glared at me.   "Absolutely not!   You are not leaving this house."

I stepped forward, my anger clearly apparent on my face.

Holmes dashed for the door, as if he would be able to escape me by mere speed.   He turned to me.   "I will know if you follow me, and so do not think of doing so.   If you love me, man, for god's sake, stay home!"   He stormed out.

I was too exhausted to storm out after him, so instead, I simply picked up the bow to his violin and threw it after him.   I watched several strings break and realized that little fit of impishness was going to cost a pretty penny.  

Blast the man!

I wrote.   I looked at the note, wondering who on earth I had written it for.   Damn him for not lingering to read my curses!   I pocketed this one, and wrote several more for future use.   And then I grabbed my cane and my hat, and followed after him, making sure to kick the violin bow down the stairs for good measure.

My heart was pounding by the time I caught up with him, trying to hail a cab.   The weather was frightfully cold and I wished I had remembered to bring my scarf.  

Holmes took one look at me, and his lip curled in rage.   "Watson!" he shouted.   "Are you an imbecile?   What did I just-"

I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and kissed him, biting his lip to force his mouth to me. Just as quickly as I had done so, I let go.  

Holmes looked around him in shock, but it was too dark and the street too empty for our indiscretion to be noted.   I glared at him, transmitting all my rage.   I fumbled in my pocket and handed him a crumpled note angrily.

He read it, and his eyebrow rose.   So did the corner of his mouth.   He held out the note for me to read.

I would like more tea, please

was the note I handed him.   Scowling, I discarded the paper on the ground and fished around in my pocket for something more appropriately scathing.

Just then a cab pulled to the curb and Holmes flailed his hand to attract it.   He grabbed my arm in his and pulled me with him.   "All right, you may accompany me.   But if you do not do exactly as I say, I will leave you to bleed to death this time!"   I had no chance to respond, as we were both jerked back into the seat as the cabby took off.

We sat in a stewing silence as the cab made its way to the river.   Holmes was still angry. He would not even look at me.

As I stared, however, I saw a flicker in his eyes that was new.   Holmes was not simply angry. He was frightened.   There was a wide-eyed vulnerability in his expression, the likes of which I had only seen once before, as I lay with my head in his lap, bleeding to death.

I had been worried he would look down upon me as a failure for our last case.   But once I realized that Holmes did not wish my company because he was afraid I would be hurt, my heart swelled in my chest, along with my confidence.

I had wondered, a month ago, if I would be able to forgive Holmes, and trust him once more with my life.   He had been wrong.   His mistake nearly cost me my life.   I had wondered if I could ever find myself contentedly accompanying him upon another dangerous adventure.

And yet, without having taken a moment to think about it, I was at his side once more.   My fear was second place to the dedication I felt regarding our partnership.   I still trusted him.   I still needed to be with him.

I reached over and squeezed his knee affectionately.   He turned to glare at me, his grey eyes blazing from under the shadow of his hat.   He shook his head sadly.

"I do not think I could bear losing you again," he whispered.   He looked away, flushing. For Holmes, that was as endearing a remark as I could ever hope, and so I squeezed his knee tighter, hoping to reassure him.   I had no intention of being injured again either, and would be more cautious from this point out.   But I was still coming along.

The docks were ominously lit by a few gas lamps.   Half of the lamps near the water had burned out or were shattered, and the landscape was plunged in shadow.   The smell of rotten fish wafted from the shore, and I pulled a handkerchief to my mouth to block the odious odours of the wharf.

Holmes quickly steered us past looming piles of fishnets and barrels of tar.   Around one corner we were instantly accosted by several impoverished prostitutes, lifting the hems of their skirts as they offered their damaged wares.   I frowned at their poor state; their skin was filthy and one of them sported a frightful rash.   Holmes simply snarled in their direction and grabbed my arm, holding me closer as we made our way past.  

The pier was almost completely shrouded in darkness.   But somewhere, in that blackness, Holmes must have caught sight of his mark.   He jerked me back with him, crouching behind an impressive tower of empty barrels.

"Stay low and quiet," he whispered in my ear.   I could feel his lip against my skin, and the warmth of his flesh and his voice caused me to shiver in the corresponding coldness of the night air. Holmes pulled me closer, wrapping his long arm around my shoulder.   I was shivering in the cold, but he was not.   He leaned his head to mine.

"Once I see who Cavendish's contact is, I will follow him.   And you will go home.   Do you understand?   This is not only for your safety; I cannot track a man with you by my side." His words were whispered, his lips flirting along my earlobe.   I felt a corresponding flush of desire, but Holmes pulled away, eyes bright and focused on his task.   I sighed and leaned back to gain a better view of the scene which was to transpire.

Cavendish appeared on the pier only moments later, his rough features hidden by the large rim of his hat.   I recognized him merely by the bulk of his shoulders, remembering Holmes' description of him as a "bear of a man."   Cavendish stood nervously, smoking a cigarette and glancing into the surrounding darkness with fleeting glances.

Holmes had gone quite still beside me.   It was as though he were asleep.   Only the keen shine to his eyes, as he watched his prey, showed his alertness.   His body was   liquid, ready to pounce at the slightest signal.

A second man joined Cavendish a few moments later.   This gentleman was smaller in stature, and shivered noticeably in the cold, despite his fur cap.   He had a wide moustache and wore silver eyeglasses which gave his face an exaggerated, pinched expression.   The two men spoke in whispers for several minutes before Cavendish handed the man an envelope, and the two parted ways.

"Watson, go home!" Holmes hissed quietly in my ear.   In a flash he was up.   I followed his movements as he slunk against the shadows of the pier wall, and I saw his head briefly appear behind his quarry.   But then I lost him to sight completely.   Even knowing he was there, I could not find my friend.

I unintentionally groaned as I stood up, both my old leg wound and my new stomach scar protesting the movement in such cold. As I made my way from the hidden space behind the barrels, I suddenly caught sight of Cavendish, perilously close.   I sucked in my breath, holding myself quite still, as the man searched the surrounding darkness warily.

He had obviously heard something.   He was now scouring the area with his stick raised, pushing it into the dark nooks angrily.   I could feel all the blood rush from my face in fright.   He was only a few yards away.

Suddenly, I felt a hand at my mouth and I almost yelled out.   But I recognized Holmes' smell before I saw him.   Without a word he motioned backwards, and quietly, slowly, led me away from Cavendish.

Once we were around the corner, I hastily scribbled a note to him.  

What about Cavendish's connection?   Follow him!

Holmes shook his head.   "I'll wait for the next opportunity.   I saw Cavendish returning this way and realized you were in danger.   Come, Watson!"   Without another word, he led me round the corner and back towards the street.

My mind raged as we walked.   Holmes had been waiting for this opportunity for a month.   Now he had given up his quarry simply because there was a slight possibility that I was in danger. I felt suddenly insulted.   I did not need coddling and the   fact that he had given up his target out of some need to be over-protective rankled.

And I was sickened by the fact that my presence had ruined all of his hard work.   There had been a time when he had trusted me to handle danger alone.   Now, he would no longer run that risk.

Holmes reached over and squeezed my gloved hand in his.   He smiled briefly, as if discerning my concerns.

I frowned at him, wishing to convey my frustration at his behaviour.   For a moment, we stopped, looking at each other openly, both of us communicating with our eyes alone.   Holmes studied my expression with the corner of his mouth upturned, as if amused by my frustration.   In exchange, I snorted impishly at him.  

Holmes reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear.  

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, from behind Holmes.   It was Cavendish. He had found us.

And he was pointing a gun.

"Holmes!" I cried, my voice coming out in a blast of agonizing pain.

I seized Holmes' arm and dragged him down with me out of range.   The silence was shattered by the report of Cavendish's gun.   I grabbed my own revolver.   Pushing Holmes down and away, I fired back.

We both heard a startled cry, and Cavendish hit the cobblestones.   Holmes was up in an instant, rushing towards Cavendish with his stick raised.  

"Holmes!   Be careful!" I shouted.   The words sliced at my throat, felt jagged and painful.   I had not even intended to use my voice, so I was shocked and delighted by the sound.

Holmes suddenly dodged to the left as Cavendish fired wildly.   In another moment, Holmes was over him, kicking the gun from his hand and slamming his cane against the man's arm hard enough to cause Cavendish to cry out.

I ran towards the two men, my mind still whirling in joy that I was able to speak.    Holmes was wrestling with Cavendish, pounding the man's head into the stones as he roughly turned him over and handcuffed Cavendish's hands behind his back.   I leaned down to retrieve Cavendish's revolver, which I quickly slipped into my pocket.

"Have you got him secured?" I asked.   My voice was weak and scratchy, but Holmes could hear me.   He could hear me!   He looked at me in surprise, and suddenly, without caring about the man writhing and cursing at his feet, he barked in laughter and pulled me into an embrace.  

"Watson!" He touched my cheek with the side of his hand.   "Thank God!"  

"I'll fetch a cab, shall I?"

Holmes nodded, and then frowned as he looked down at his captive.   "Let us get him to Scotland Yard without delay.   You've done an excellent job of shooting his kneecap.   He will need immediate attention."

I dashed into the street.   It took several minutes for me to find a cab in such an inhospitable part of the city, but soon enough we were on our way to the police, Cavendish moaning lowly in the seat across from us.

Although I wanted to speak my mind, my heart, anything that required words, I found myself suddenly shy.   I did not want to share such a joyous occasion with foul company the likes of Cavendish, and so neither Holmes nor I spoke as we went about the business of securing Cavendish into police custody.   Holmes tarried a bit longer, describing Cavendish's accomplice and setting the police force onto the man's trail.

And then, finally, we were on our way home.   In the cab, Holmes held my hand and squeezed it affectionately.   It was strange, how much we were able to communicate to each other without words now.   A month away from my own voice had taught me how to show my feelings as well as I could have described them.

Mrs. Hudson greeted us at the door.   She held out the broken bow string with a raised eyebrow.

Holmes' eyes went wide.   "How the devil did-"

"-I did it," I admitted sheepishly.

"Doctor Watson!" cried Mrs. Hudson.   She stared at me in shock.

I grinned back.   "Yes, apparently, you will have to put up with my voice once more."

Mrs. Hudson instantly began to cry, enfolding me in the type of hug that only small older women had the power to do - surprisingly inescapable and suffocating.   I looked over her shoulder at Holmes, who was watching us with his own small smile, his eyes twinkling in merriment.

"Would you like supper?" she asked me.

I nodded.   "Yes, thank you, my dear."   I caught Holmes' narrowed eyes.   I smiled back at our landlady.   "Although I beg you to bring it up in an hour or so.   Holmes and I have much to discuss in private now that I have my voice back."

Holmes grinned impishly, and immediately made his way upstairs without me.   He even began to undress on his way up, pulling his cravat from his throat with much show.

I finally managed to disentangle myself from my good landlady's arms, and made my way after him.

Both of us said nothing as we silently went upstairs to my bedroom.   Once the door was shut and locked, Holmes reached his hand around the back of my neck and pulled me to him for an overwhelming kiss that lasted long enough to leave me panting and my need overpowering.

"I have missed your voice more than I dared admit," Holmes whispered to me, unbuttoning my waist coat.  

I kicked off my shoes.   "I must say, I rather missed it myself."

"How do you feel?" Holmes asked.   There was concern in his eyes.   Nevertheless, his hands were very skilfully unbuttoning my trousers as he asked.

I pulled his shirt from his arms, and marvelled at the beauty of his pale flesh.   I was stunned, as usual, and almost forgot the question at hand.

I smiled down at him.   "Well, my throat hurts like the devil, but I'm awfully glad nevertheless. Although I sound like I have a   mouth full of gravel."

Holmes' eyes fluttered.   "I think you sound absolutely delectable."   He stood and kissed me deeply, his tongue plunging into my mouth and filling me.   He leaned back to stare into my eyes. "You have the most erotic voice I have ever heard, Watson."

I smirked.   "Ah.   Well then hopefully you will forgive me for your bow."   I pulled him down with me onto the narrow bed.  

Holmes shook his head.   "Do you have any idea how much that bow cost?"

"I shall replace it."

"You could pay me back in services," Holmes whispered, entwining his legs with mine.

"Do you want me to talk dirty?" I whispered back.   Holmes leaned his head back and laughed.  

I laughed with him, delighted by my own voice, by the feel of his sinewy body in my arms, the conclusion of the case.

And then I proceeded to render Holmes himself speechless.

***

After a lovely dinner and, for the first time in a month, some wonderful conversation, I retreated to my bedroom for rest.   My body was sore and my wound tried by our activities.   My throat felt as if I had been screaming at the top of my lungs for hours on end.   Nevertheless, I felt wonderful. Alive.   More alive than ever before.  

I must have fallen asleep, but at some point in the evening I rolled over and bumped into Holmes. He lay with his back towards me, naked under the covers.   I yawned and rolled towards him, wrapping him in my arms and spooning up against his back.   I felt his fingers stroke my hands on his chest.

"Watson?" he whispered.   His voice was thick with sleep, or so I thought at first.

"Mm?"

"Do you forgive me?"

It took me a moment to remember what it was I had to forgive him for.   And then I realized. I had never forgiven him on paper, or in words.   He had lived this past month assuming I held him accountable for his mistake.

It had been Holmes' miscalculation that had led to my injury. But I still trusted Holmes. I wanted to say I forgave him, but then I recalled his over-protective behaviour at the docks, and turned him to face me.   "I forgive you, as long as you are capable of returning to the partnership we once had."

Holmes immediately looked shocked, and pulled away.   I suddenly understood his misinterpretation of my comment, and held him closer.   "No, Holmes... I do not mean in this aspect of our relationship."   I sighed.   "I need you to trust me again.   I need things to be put back the way they were before this dreadful incident.   You have to believe I can hold up my end of the case. You must let me be your partner again."

Holmes was watching me, eyes slightly lidded, an unreadable expression on his face.   "And if I trust you?   You will forgive me?"

"Of course.   I love you, Holmes."   I gently kissed his temple.

Holmes did not respond.   Instead, he turned over completely and kissed me deeply on the mouth.

"I do not believe you incapable of assistance, Watson," he said finally.

"I know," I responded, "However-"

"-And I have absolute faith in your own strengths and understandings of the perils in which we place ourselves."

This time I waited for him to finish his point.

Holmes swallowed.   "Do not think I lack any respect for your abilities."

"Then why did you come to my aid when I could have handled the situation by myself at the docks?"

Holmes seemed to stop breathing for a moment.   Then he stretched his hands back and rested his head on his palms, staring up at the ceiling.   "I no longer have absolute faith in my own certainties, Watson.   You made no mistake in the Cotswolds.   I did.   And it almost cost you your life."   Holmes stared blankly upwards, but I could see the emotion now, trembling under the surface of his skin.

I touched the side of his face gently.   "You have to trust yourself again, Holmes.   We have had one disaster after years and years of successes.   It is time for you to forgive yourself, and move on.   And it is time for you to trust me and believe that I know what I am doing."

"I trust you," Holmes said quickly, turning to face me.

I smiled down at him.   "Then I forgive you."

Holmes smiled, one of his brief, blindingly beautiful smiles, and then pulled me close to him.   I tucked my head under his chin and the two of us nestled close and surrendered to sleep.

***