Genre: angst, h/c, as gen or slashy as you saw the movie (your choice)
Characters: Holmes, Watson, and Mary appears
Word count: ~ 1,700
Spoilers: uh...the movie
Author Notes: Let me just start by saying I am not a huge fan of the traditional Doyle Holmes books. I don't dislike them, just not a diehard fan, nor have a I read many. I know the basics of novel canon...and I saw this movie once. So, please forgive any mistakes my poor memory may have left in the fic. But robgoodfella loved the movie so much that she saw it twice in one week, so I wrote this little ficlet for her as a belated Christmas present. Hopefully, you will enjoy it, too.
Summary: Missing scene from the movie...because bedside angst and h/c is always the best.
What makes a man?
There are those who believe it is a man’s station in life which defines him, be he Count or confidence man, banker or boatman. Some think it is his intellect− quick witted or dim, sharp tongued or addle-pated. Others still say it is his immortal soul, an attribute immeasurable by any other than God himself. Watson would say it is skin and muscle, blood and bone− the repertoire of a physician.
Blood and bone.
They are difficult to escape.
Watson groans low in his chest as I pull a metal shard from his back. He falls silent once more as I hold the shrapnel up with the tweezers to study it over the rim of the spectacles I wear as part of my disguise. Black iron, rough hewn, no doubt a piece of a barrel hoop torn to shreds by the explosion.
Torn to shreds more easily than skin and muscle.
At least this time.
Dropping the splinter on the tray, I turn back to Watson’s wounds. This time the moan sounds more like my name and I shudder as I use the medical implement to pluck another piece from his flesh.
"Steady, old man," I mumble when he flinches away, gripping his arm to secure him.
He stills at my touch, and if I squeeze slightly, it is only to stabilize him as I work to pull another shard free, this one wood. Perhaps it is another barrel piece, perhaps a sliver of the wall. Perhaps I care not what its origin as it was recently residing in my best friends shoulder. All thanks to a mad man who presumes to be a god when he is little more than a charlatan and petty arsonist.
I toss the wood chip aside then take a deep breath to calm myself. Steady hands are needed now. Steady hands and clear head, and I am honestly not sure if I am capable of either at the moment. My own bruises ache from the aftermath of the explosion, my head swims, not unlike how I feel following a brawl. And much like the pain that accompanies such an evening’s sport, it serves to remind me that I am alive, just as Watson’s cry when I extract a particularly deep-set shard of metal reminds me that he is alive, as well.
He. Is. Alive.
Watson is alive!
Those were the first words to cut through the ringing in my ears when the constable found me on the docks, a cacophony that had filled my head, not from the explosion, but from the sound of my own name as Watson screamed it in warning as the first bombs detonated and then engulfed him. At that moment I cared not what might become of me. Let the Inspector arrest me on the spot, bring me before the House Of Lords in shackles if that pleased them, make me a guest of the hangman’s noose for tea− it was of no importance to me. Nothing was important except for one thing, one person.
The constable’s words of warning were lost in the din of Watson’s voice that filled my head more loudly than the blasts ever could. None of it mattered as I stood looking numbly back to where my dearest friend had vanished into a wall of flames and debris. Nothing mattered until the constable final spoke those dumbfounding words.
Watson is alive!
And that matters. Those words, that fact, the man of whom they were spoken, all matter. They matter greatly, indeed.
I press a towel against the last wound to clear away the blood so that I might see the next shard. I am so intent on my work that I start when his hand lands on mine that rests on his shoulder.
"Don’t…don’t take my leg," he rasps.
His eyes are glassy but intent, his mouth tight, stubborn in a way only John Watson could be. He does not see me, and my disguise has no bearing on his confusion. No false beard and wire-rimmed glasses could fool him. Watson would know me by the tilt of my head, the crook of an eyebrow, the smell of my clothes. However, none of that registers with him at the moment as he is lost in dreadful memory. His mind has subjugated the damp English night and supplanted the sands of the Great Indian Desert in its stead. He sees not a tidy London hospital wing, but the canvas frame of a surgical tent whose red-stained walls snap in the arid winds. I know he is staring hazily at a field surgeon in Afghanistan instead of me, just as I know this illusion is a result of the disorientation brought about by the pain and blow to the head he took during the explosion.
"Please," he implores once more. "My leg…"
"Fear not, dear boy," I assure as I place my hand over his. "No Jezail bullet will rob you of a limb today." One had tried during the war, tried and failed, just as Blackwood’s traps had failed last night. Still, his time in the Afghan War has left him with a limp he will endure for the rest of his days, just as he will carry the marks of this shrapnel to his grave. But that grave will not claim him today. I pat the scraped knuckles under my palm. He is a doctor, yes, but one who has seen war, and one who never backs down from a fight. "You’ll heal whole; hale and whole, I promise you."
"Thank you," he tells me earnestly, already being pulled into unconsciousness once more. "Thank y…"
The last word slips from his lips as listless as his hand from off of mine. But his chest fills with air, his heart beats strong and steady, and he lives. He lives.
Soldier and doctor, skin and muscle, blood and bone− the very definition of a man.
Perhaps that is the answer to my question, or perhaps the true answer is found by observing the problem from another angle, looking at it through the convex curve of the lens as opposed to the concave. Perhaps one cannot truly comprehend what makes a man without first understanding what unmakes him.
What makes him burrow away from the world, take refuge in his rooms with only the finest in surgical pharmaceuticals to keep him company? What makes him contemplate the open end of a gun barrel or a closing loop of rope? What makes him slip a shilling to a back-alley fortuneteller to hawk her fallacious wares just so he won’t be left alone in a large house with nothing more than a bulldog, if he’s allowed to stay, a nanny playacting as a housekeeper, and his thoughts- his phenomenally ingenious, maddeningly persistent, never-ending thoughts?
The Devil’s ears must be burning, as I hear his agent approach in a rustle of cotton petticoats again wool skirts. Not the silk dress of a highborn lady but more ruffles than on one of the nurses; it is the wardrobe of a woman of modest station. It is the wardrobe of a governess. It will not do to be discovered at Watson’s beside by Mary Morstan, soon to be Mary Watson. No, it will not do. It will not do, at all.
I turn away from my work abruptly so that she cannot catch my face. I inform her that the surgeon will arrive shortly and all will be well. Then without so much as a goodbye, I beat a hasty retreat. Unfortunately, she is more observant than I gave her credit and she sees through my ruse. I should not be surprised; Watson is not the type to choose a silly, frivolous girl to be his wife. Although, why he feels he has need of a wife at all is a mystery even I may not be able to unravel.
Be honest with yourself, Holmes, you know exactly the reason why.
She is simple; perhaps not in mind, but in manner, temperament, and character. There is no challenge here, no struggle to keep up or comprehend what she is thinking and why. She is mild as a spring day, a quiet spot of sunshine to sit upon while enjoying a cool patch of grass and a book of poetry by Tennyson… no, no, Browning. Yes, definitely Browning. She is a kiss on the cheek in greeting, slippers and pipe by the fireplace, and Sunday tea with the in-laws.
She will never bring home a dead body to study, experiment with sedatives on the dog, play violin to wake the roosters, or use the parlor wall to assess her latest inventions. But she will also never challenge his mind, excite his senses, or share the heady thrill of besting a criminal or solving what appears to be an unfathomable mystery. I will tell you what else Mary Morstan will never do; she will never be unmade by John Watson. The white band of flesh on her left ring finger attests to as much. If she is capable of mourning one fiancé while simultaneously capturing another, then she is a creature of little heart or great strength. Either way, she is undoubtedly a better person than I, for I can claim neither her lackadaisical attitude nor her fortitude, whichever the case may be, when it pertains to Watson.
Which brings me again to my question…What makes a man?
Am I nothing more than a detective for hire? An intellectual sinner who corrupts his flesh and bones with drugs and wine? Is this what makes me? Makes Watson want to seek the solace of a simple life away from me? Or am I made of something more? Made whole by someone more?
Made hale and whole. Is that so much to ask?
Perhaps it is, for when Mary confesses she knows I care for John as much as she, I feel myself being unmade a little more.