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A Matter of Precaution

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"It is as they say, Mr. Lyons," Holmes declared, tilting his head as he eyed the weapon aimed at his chest. 1873 Colt Peacemaker, walnut handle, two bullets spent. "The devil is in the details—or, in your case, detail."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Watson's grasp on his own revolver tighten as Lyons shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Fidgetingindicates either nervousness or expectation. Possibly a combination of the two, Holmes thought.

"I'm afraid you've lost me, Mr. Holmes," the banker declared.

The corner of Holmes' mouth turned up in a faint smirk. "Ah, yes, but you have not lost me, you see, which is very fortunate for the family of young Mr. Quincy," he replied, pointing at Lyons. He held the finger steady for a moment before flicking it down to point at Lyons' left foot. "While you were industrious about cleaning from your shoes any filth picked up on Charing Cross Road, you neglected to note the curious mark upon your left sole—a small crescent-shaped nick on the heel, most likely caused by stepping on a nail protruding from a floorboard. The same nail, in fact, as the one protruding from the floor of the study in Mr. Quincy's flat. I have deduced this because the angle of the gouge in your shoe matches that of the angle of the nail head in that very floor."

The detective glanced over at his friend in time to see a familiar smug look cross Watson's face. It was the same look the doctor got any time Holmes revealed the details that led to the conclusion of such a case as this—a slight narrowing of the eyes, the uptick of the right corner of the mouth into a smirk. It was a look barely noticeable to any except Holmes. Watson was not one to easily display his emotions—a trait, Holmes noted, that was beginning to change with the continuing presence of the doctor's most recent romantic interest. In their years together, Holmes had never seen a woman affect Watson as much as this Mary Morstan did. Holmes had yet to determine what the change implied.

Holmes' musings were interrupted when he saw Watson's shoulders tense and the smug expression drop from his face. The detective turned his attention back to Lyons; the banker's mouth had firmed and eyes had narrowed. The moment of comprehension, Holmes thought. A realization that the facts have indeed revealed his role in the crime.

"And how are you aware of this gouge on my shoe?" Lyons inquired.

Holmes' eyes shot to the weapon in Lyons' hand; the banker's grip on the revolver had tightened just the slightest. Subconscious reaction. The detective glanced at Watson, noting the slight wrinkle that appeared on his comrade's forehead—a wrinkle that was visible only when the doctor was anxious.

Holmes looked at Lyons. The banker stared back, no trace of nervousness in his eyes, as Holmes said, "You left a footprint in the soft earth just outside Mr. Quincy's flat—a footprint from a shoe the same size and make of the one on your foot right now. There is the same footprint just outside your front door, where you first ushered Dr. Watson and I into your home."

There was no reaction from Lyons. Holmes was puzzled; by this point in his previous cases, suspects had either fled or attempted to overpower Watson and Holmes. No discernible change in expressioneither an indication of refutation or a sign of something far more sinister, he mused. His fingers tightened into a fist—a nervous habit he had only experienced while facing an opponent in the ring. He immediately loosened his hand but knew that Watson had spotted the movement.

"These footprints, as I'm sure you can deduce, invalidate the city papers' claims that Mr. Quincy's murder was 'the perfect crime,'" Holmes continued. "A crime, indeed, but perfect? No."

Lyons' face remained disturbingly emotionless. "I see," he murmured.

Holmes' entire body stiffened as the banker turned; Watson, too, had stiffened when he saw Lyons' weapon was now aimed at him. An unexpected development. Holmes immediately began to devise a way to turn the situation to his favor, despite the fact he was unarmed. He'd been in too great of a hurry to be bothered with taking the time to locate his revolver in the mess of his rooms—an imprudent decision, in retrospect. He thought of the handkerchief in his pocket. Toss fabric as distraction. Employ right-handed downward strike

His internal planning ground to a halt when Lyons smirked and continued, "However, judging by the lack of commotion outside my door, I have also deduced that you have yet to inform Scotland Yard of your discoveries. Furthermore, it appears you are not carrying a firearm, Mr. Holmes. Thus, if I kill Dr. Watson—a more dangerous threat at this point—and then shoot you, no one will know of your conclusions, and my role in the crime will remain undiscovered."

Holmes saw Lyons' trigger finger tighten, and he reacted instinctively. "Now, let's not be rash," he declared, taking a step forward.

Lyons started and turned at the sudden movement, and Holmes realized what was about to happen an instant before Watson did. The doctor's bellowed "No!" was nearly drowned out by the sound of two revolvers going off almost simultaneously. Watson's weapon discharged almost two-tenths of a second after Lyons', Holmes thought as he observed the two plumes of gun smoke.

Then something slammed into his right shoulder, and he staggered back a step as he watched Watson's bullet enter Lyons' left temple. The doctor was standing close enough to the banker that the bullet exited cleanly from the right side of Lyons' head, the exit wound only a few millimeters larger in diameter than the entry wound. Lyons collapsed to the ground, his dark, unseeing eyes aimed at Holmes.

An unusual warmth spreading along his right side distracted the detective from the macabre sight. He glanced down and saw a wet patch forming around the hole in his coat near his armpit. His jacket's dark dye hid the color of the stain, but some part of Holmes' mind realized the rate of the growth of the wet patch corresponded with his heartbeat.

Most perplexing, he thought as he watched the stain's progression. He'd never felt a sensation quite like this before.

Holmes suddenly sensed someone looking at him, and he glanced up to see Watson staring back at him. The doctor's forehead was wrinkled with worry, his eyes were wide, and his mouth was slightly open, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't find the words. Holmes blinked once; when he reopened his eyes, everything around him was blurry. "This is most unexpected," he stated.

A dull roar filled his ears, and his knees unexpectedly gave out. He was vaguely aware of Watson calling his name, and suddenly the doctor was there, hands grasping Holmes' shoulders as he slowed the detective's fall and lowered him to the floor. The movement jarred the wound; Holmes was unable to stop the pained hiss that escaped his lips. "For a doctor, you are none too gentle with an injured patient," he declared through clenched teeth.

Watson scoffed as he yanked off his coat. "For a genius, you are a moron," he replied as he hastily folded the fabric several times and pressed it on the wound.

The pain flared, whiting out Holmes' vision. His body arched instinctively against the pain as he bit his lip to keep from crying out. "If that—dear God—is the best retort you are able to—Watson, are you trying to send me to my grave?—you are able to construct, we need to work on your witticisms," he choked, fingers clawing at the floor as Watson continued to press down on the wound.

Holmes could feel threads from the Persian rug beneath him embedding themselves under his fingernails. Silk and cotton blend, he conjectured as an attempt to focus his mind on something other than the pain threatening to consume him. More cotton than silk. I wonder if the dealer charged for the price of a silk rug.

Then the door opened. Holmes felt vibrations pass through the floor as someone entered the room. A woman, slight in stature, wearing heeled shoes. Probably the maid cleaning the dining room when we entered. His conjecture was validated when he heard a woman's scream. Holmes heard Watson bark something at her about Scotland Yard. He hoped Lestrade came; he wasn't much of a policeman, but he kept his men in line at grotesque crime scenes. And between the current state of Lyons' cranium and the copious amount of blood Holmes was losing, this would be a grotesque scene indeed.

The floor vibrated as the maid exited the room. The detective had only a moment to register the fact before Watson applied more pressure to the wound. The world faded out for a moment as another flare of pain consumed him.

"Damn it, Holmes, what in God's name possessed you to come and confront Lyons without a weapon?" Watson fumed.

Holmes forced his eyes open. It was unusual for his friend to curse, even when he was perturbed. He studied Watson's face for a moment. "Elevated heart rate… tense shoulders… increased use of vulgarities," he murmured as he let his eyelids droop again. "You're concerned, Doctor."

"Of course I'm concerned, you bloody dolt!" Watson snapped. "You've lost too much blood already, and by the time Lestrade gets his toy soldiers here, we'll both be old men."

"You're 'lready old," Holmes replied, swallowing to try and loosen up his clumsy tongue. "I know—I've viewed a copy of y'r birth records. Can't—can't fool me."

Watson growled and pressed harder on the wound. "Can't you focus on yourself for one bloody minute?"

Holmes opened his eyes, despite the fact that every instinct demanded he close them, and looked at the doctor. Holmes knew his comrade was contemplating his time in the military—Watson's lips were pressed into a thin line, just as they always were when he thought about some of his darker moments in the service. Holmes had never pressed, but he knew enough to draw his own conclusions. There'd been at least one battle, likely more, where one of Watson's fellow soldiers—a friend, even—had died despite the doctor's best efforts to save him.

Part of Holmes' mind knew this could be a similar instance; judging by his fading mental capacities, the numbness in his hands and feet, and his growing incapability to speak clearly, the amount of blood he'd lost had nearly doubled in the few minutes he'd been lying here. Lyons' bullet hadn't severed an artery—Holmes knew he'd be unconscious or dead by now if he had—but the detective was steadily loosing blood nevertheless, despite Watson's best efforts.

He suddenly had the strange urge to comfort his friend. "'S alright, John," Holmes whispered, his thick tongue slurring his words.

When Watson pressed even harder on the wound, Holmes knew he'd made a mistake trying to use his friend's Christian name to calm him. "No, it's not!" Watson hissed. "Damn it, Holmes, don't you dare think about throwing in the towel yet!"

"A prepo… prepost'rous 'ssumption, as I… as I have no towel," Holmes murmured.

Watson snorted despite himself. "Stick around long enough and I can remedy that problem," he replied.

Holmes smirked a little as he lost the fight to keep his eyes open. "I sh'll… endeavor… t' do so," he breathed as exhaustion took firm hold of him. He heard Watson call his name but had no energy to do anything other than let the pain sweep him away into blackness.

-o-

Awareness returned by degrees. He was first conscious of the warm fabric cocooning him. It was soft; softer than the starchy sheets of the local hospital; softer than any sheet he'd felt before, actually. He was at a momentary loss as to his location.

Next came the smell of bread baking. There was the faintest trace of cinnamon, ginger, and sugar—Mrs. Hudson's special recipe. That narrowed down his location to his Baker Street flat, although the bed on which he was lying was not familiar.

Then he heard someone snuffle. He recognized the sound—Watson often made that noise when he dozed off in his easy chair in the study. Therefore he knew his friend was in the same room and had presumably dozed off while sitting upright.

Someone turned the page of a book and made no further sound. Unable to determine the other person in the room, Holmes resigned himself to opening his eyes. The task was more laborious than he had anticipated, and it took several tries before he was able to view his surroundings.

Sunlight streamed in from a window to his right, and beyond the gauzy curtains he could see people moving along Baker Street. Ah, yes, he thought. The spare bedroom on the first floor.When he thought about it, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the bed in his own rooms.

Another snuffle drew his attention. He saw Watson slumped in a straight-backed chair, his feet propped on the edge of Holmes' bed, his hands loosely clasped in his lap, and his head tipped over the back of the chair. His clothes were wrinkled and he wore no waistcoat. Judging by the stubble coating the doctor's face, Watson hadn't shaved in at least four days; presumably Holmes had been unconscious for at least that long, then.

Holmes looked to his left when he heard another page turn. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw Inspector Lestrade sitting in another chair, quietly reading a copy of Shakespeare'sHamlet. "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil," Holmes quoted in a murmur.

Lestrade's head shot up, and he smiled when he looked at Holmes. "Yes, well, here's one fellow who hopes none of us has those dreams any time soon," he said softly, closing the book. He shot to his feet and laid a hand on Holmes' shoulder when the doctor attempted to sit up. "None of that now, or you'll undo all of the doctor's hard work."

Holmes fell back against the pillows, wincing as his wound throbbed. Looking down, he saw that his right arm was encased in a sling, and he could see a lump in his nightgown marking where the bandages were. He glanced at Watson, who hadn't stirred—most unusual for the doctor, as he was a light sleeper.

He looked back at the inspector. "What is today's date?" he asked.

"The twelfth of March," Lestrade replied.

Holmes arched an eyebrow. "Six days?"

Lestrade nodded. "We were all quite concerned, sir. You've awakened a few times before, enough to take some food and drink, but you haven't been yourself until just now. Dr. Watson has hardly left your side."

Holmes pursed his lips as he turned his attention back to his friend. "And as a result he has worried himself into a state of exhaustion," he murmured.

"Indeed," Lestrade said. "A word of advice for you, Mr. Holmes," he added as he rose. He waited for Holmes to look at him. "When you confront suspects in the future, particularly those involved in murder, take your revolver with you." He nodded at Watson. "I believe both the doctor and I would be grateful if you did. The outcome of this case could have been much different if you'd been able to confront Lyons with a weapon of your own."

"I shall consider it," Holmes replied, his lips twitching into a small smile.

"Excellent," Lestrade said, moving to the door. "Now that I know you shall have a complete recovery, I have business to which I must attend. Good day, Mr. Holmes."

Holmes hummed in response, closing his eyes and relaxing back into the bed as he heard Lestrade pull the door shut behind him.

Watson's feet abruptly jerked off the bed as the door latch clicked into place. Holmes opened his eyes, amused, as he watched Watson stare at the door in confusion. "It appears the old adage is true—a doctor is his own worst patient," Holmes declared.

Watson snapped his head around to look at the detective; the doctor looked even more haggard now that he was awake. "You look gorgeous," Holmes quipped.

He couldn't help but smile a little when he saw Watson roll his eyes. "Obviously whoever first uttered that adage never dreamed of a patient as exasperating as you," the doctor replied, tugging his chair a little closer to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

Holmes pondered the question for a moment. "If the medical journals I've consulted are accurate, a series of nerves transmit electrical impulses that allow me to currently feel the majority of the muscles in my body."

Watson rolled his eyes again as he stood. "You're thirsty and sore but otherwise fine, then," he replied, pouring a glass of water from the pitcher on the end table.

"Precise as always, Doctor," Holmes said, reaching up to take the glass from the doctor with his free hand.

"Not yet," Watson ordered, swatting his hand away. "You'll just gulp it down and then vomit it right back up, and I've already cleaned up enough after you. Small sips," he finished, holding the glass to Holmes' lips. Holmes scowled at the treatment but obeyed nonetheless; the tepid water did wonders to soothe his aching throat.

After a moment, Watson set the now-empty glass aside and adjusted the pillows behind Holmes. The detective let him fuss for a moment, arching an eyebrow when Watson finally stepped back from the bed. "Now that you've succeeded in performing your mother-hen obligations, perhaps we can drink something a little heartier. There's some excellent cognac in the study."

Watson lifted an eyebrow, crossing his arms as he stared at Holmes. Holmes stared right back, doing his best to keep a straight face; it was a difficult endeavor, as his lips wouldn't stop twitching.

Finally Watson's head dropped as he sighed. When he raised it again, he was smiling. "You are incorrigible," he declared.

"I've been told it's one of my finest traits."

"By whom, your reflection?"

Holmes snorted, which turned into a hiss a moment later as the movement jarred his injured shoulder. He held up his free hand when Watson started forward. "I'm fine—just a twinge."

Watson frowned. "You need to be more careful," he muttered as he sat back in his chair.

Holmes tilted his head as he studied his friend. Watson's shoulders were slumped with exhaustion, and there were large, dark bags under his eyes. He looked much older than he had just over a week ago. "That's why I've got you around, old friend," the detective declared after a moment.

"For all the good it did," Watson replied with a dark scowl, glaring at Holmes' injured arm.

"Lyons' behavior was irrational," Holmes answered. "Neither you nor I expected him to react the way he did." He paused for a moment before adding, "Admittedly, things may have taken a different turn had I carried my own revolver with me to Lyons' mansion."

Watson folded his arms as he looked at Holmes. "What if I hadn't been there? Would you really have gone in unarmed against a suspected murderer?"

Holmes' eyebrows furrowed. "An irrational query, as you were quite obviously with me. As a former military man, I can quite depend on you to always have a weapon on your person. There is no need to analyze what could have been, since there is no way to change the past."

"What about in the future?" Watson demanded. "You can't always expect me to be there, Holmes!"

Holmes stared, pondering the strange, panicked feeling that stirred in his gut at Watson's words. "Are you implying you will be departing soon?"

"No! But I…" Watson trailed off and sighed again. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees as he folded his hands. "It's a matter of precaution. You know as well as I do how things can change. Next time, I might be out of town. I might be following a different lead. I might… Look, the point is, you need to be more cautious. Just in case."

Holmes pursed his lips. "I'll try," he acquiesced after a moment.

The corner of Watson's mouth turned up in a small smile. "Good." He reached down and tugged his watch from his pants' pocket. "I've got to go send a few messages. Don't even attempt to get out of this bed—you'll heal much faster if you take the time to rest for the next few days. If you need a source of entertainment, I can fetch you a book," he said sternly as he rose, tucking the watch away again.

"Yes, Mother," Holmes replied with a smirk.

Watson rolled his eyes as he moved to the door. "Why I even bother…" he muttered.

Holmes tilted his head. "Watson?"

The doctor paused in the doorway, one hand resting on the handle. "What?"

Holmes swallowed as he made eye contact with his friend, suddenly at a loss for words—something most unusual for him. It was quite disconcerting. "I… you… well, you know… I just…"

Watson smiled. "You're welcome. Just don't do it again."

"I shall endeavor to do so," Holmes replied, relaxing back into the bed. He smiled. "Oh, and I'm still waiting for that towel, Doctor."

Watson chuckled. "I'll have Mrs. Hudson bring one up right away."

Holmes nodded once as he closed his eyes. "Excellent."

End.