They'd returned to Baker Street well past midnight, still dripping with sweat after a lively chase through London's back streets. The hot and humid August night only added to their misery, although the knowledge that two thieves were now enjoying the hospitality of Scotland Yard helped. The heat in the holding pen was unbearable this time of year, something that Watson unfortunately had first-hand, repeated knowledge of. But they were both unharmed and able to go home together, and those facts alone would have been enough to make it a good night.
It was too late and they both were too worn out for a full bath, so Watson settled for wiping himself down as best he could and putting on the lightest underclothing he owned. By the time he returned to their room Holmes, with no concession to modesty whatsoever, had sprawled out completely naked on top of the bedding. It was a miracle the man had left enough room but Watson slid into the empty space beside him after blowing out the lamp. Leaning over, he pressed a soft kiss to his lover's lips, then forced himself to turn away from the enticing view of an undressed Holmes and pulled the sheet up to his waist. Yawning, he rolled over on his side and drifted off to sleep.
He was awakened an indeterminate time later by the feel of Holmes' hand covering his damaged shoulder, fingers stroking him gently. Holmes no doubt could deduce the exact hour without opening his eyes but Watson didn't care. All he knew what that it was still dark and he was still tired, therefore it was too early.
"Go back to sleep Holmes," Watson mumbled, but even as he protested he leaned back into the touch as if he were a piece of metal in one of Holmes's magnetic experiments. His lover's hand continued it's careful ministrations, lulling Watson back towards the sweet sleep he craved.
"I know what you thinking and it's entirely too hot for that kind of activity, as tempting as you always are," Watson said quietly. But he wasn't treated to the explicit stream of innuendo he was expecting from Holmes, the kind of talk that Watson never could resist although he always put up at least a token objection.
Holmes whispered softly instead. "I can still feel the scars."
Watson felt Holmes’s mouth tracing over the raised marks on his shoulder, reminders of the
damage from so long ago. Watson had taken the brunt of it and would do so again if it ensured Holmes's safety. He'd never regretted it and he had never blamed Holmes. As much as he had complained about being dragged into the case, it had always been the two of them against Blackwood. As Watson had tripped the wire himself, it had been no one's fault but his own and the man who had rigged it.
The slow, gentle, feather-like touches were very much like the ones Holmes had indulged in after the explosion. Even though he had been drugged and dazed at the time, Watson had known even then that it was Holmes taking care of him in hospital, painstakingly removing the shrapnel that he couldn’t reach himself, showing the love that Holmes hadn't been able to verbalize at the time.
"That was three years ago and you know it's long since healed." Almost fully awake now and worried for Holmes, Watson tried to reassure his friend. The man could appear cold and heartless to the outside world but he was the hardest on himself. "You know it only troubles me in very cold weather."
"Two years, 9 months, 4 days ago to be precise. Five actually, since it's past midnight."
Watson sighed. He was right, Holmes was perfectly able to track the exact passage of time without having to stop and think about it. The other man's tone was calm but Watson knew he still blamed himself, as he always did whenever Watson was hurt on one of their adventures. No matter how long ago or how superficially. Or what the injury had brought them.
There were other battle scars on both their bodies marking the many adventures they'd shared over the years and, although it pained him every time Holmes was hurt, Watson didn’t regret a one of his own. And even though the shoulder occasionally ached, the scars from the dock explosion didn't hamper his movement the way the bullet wound in his leg did.
"Why is this weighing on you now, love? Nothing happened tonight, aside from a brisk chase which didn't even leave us winded." He could not imagine why Holmes was torturing himself, this time of year brought no anniversary. The explosion had been in the late fall, not summer and over in Nine Elms, not South East London. They hadn't argued any more than usual today and no one had been hurt. There was no obvious reason for Holmes to be upset.
"It often does." Watson started at Holmes' words. Did Holmes always see just the scars when he saw Watson's bare chest? He could not believe that this friend had been pitying him all these years. There had to be something deeper but Watson was at a loss to imagine what was troubling his friend after all this time.
Picking up on Watson's thoughts as usual, Holmes continued, "No, you could never repulse me, beloved. I never think of it when we are taking pleasure in each other's bodies or when I dream of all the ways you excite me. It's mostly the nights when you are with a patient or my work keeps me away from you…" Holmes trailed off and, given how seldom Holmes voluntarily discussed serious emotions, Watson was content to wait for him to gather his thoughts.
But he desperately needed to see his lover's face, and thankfully, the low light from the streetlamps outside was enough. Watson carefully turned in Holmes' loose embrace, rolling onto his back rather than on his other side. Holmes had yet to remove his hand or stop his gentle touches, clearly needing the connection and Watson could not deny him. Then again he never could.
Carefully Watson cupped Holmes' face with his hand and kissed him the way he'd been wanting to ever since Holmes had started talking about past events. Holmes returned the kiss just as carefully. This kiss wasn't tentative the way their first had been so many years before but it was special in its own way. Something was happening, Watson just wasn't sure what yet. But as he had learned over many years of being a soldier and a doctor and a companion, sometimes it was best just to see things out, wherever they might lead.
"My mind plays tricks and I imagine that you won't return to me. I remember what it was like back then, when I thought you were going to leave me." Holmes wouldn't look at Watson, but he hadn't let go of him either.
After the Blackwood and Moriarty cases, they had become everything to each other. The life they had now was all that Watson wanted. He had just been looking in the entirely wrong place back then.
"You forgave me much too quickly," Holmes continued, clearly taking Watson's lost in his own thoughts silence for an accusation.
Taken aback, Watson was quick to respond this time. "I never blamed you in the first place. I blame you for dragging me through mud, rain, snow, and this god-awful London summer. I blame you for depriving me of sleep, for startling me with mysterious explosions, for setting our home on fire, and for borrowing and destroying my clothes. I most certainly blame you for making me worry about you."
And that last concern still continued to be a bone of contention after all these years. Watson had long ago learned to pick his battles if he were to have any chance with this brilliant, infuriating man that he’d fallen in love with. But that didn't stop him from worrying whenever his friend went out alone or concocted a devious and dangerous scheme to catch some miscreant.
"But I do not and never have blamed you for the actions of mad, deranged, or immoral criminals. That explosion was not your fault. And you must know that I could never leave you. Not then and most certainly not now."
"So you concede that I'm not a madman." Leave it to Holmes to find a compliment, if ever so slight. But if it would keep Holmes from dwelling on the past, it was well worth it. Watson would gladly give him this one.
"I said no such thing," Watson said, attempting to sound indignant but barely managing to keep from laughing. Quickly turning serious again, he told Holmes, "You are one of the most moral men I know, albeit you adhere strongly to your own code of ethics. You act like a man who is completely insane but you know how brilliant you are." Feeding the man's ego was always a risk but tonight it felt like it was worth it.
"The definition of insanity as it applies to you is quite different than the one that holds for anyone else. All I can say is that you are mine and I love you even though you are again keeping me from my well-earned rest."
"We should put this time to more productive use then, shouldn’t we, my dear. You may have forgiven me but there's no reason I can't make further amends." And those glorious hands of his moved down Watson's body and proceeded to apologize in the most wonderful of ways.