A/N: The forum, Elementary My Dear Reader, had a recent challenge called "Now You've Gone Too Far." This isn't exactly an answer to that, since I had it mostly done for quite some time, but the challenge pushed me to put this up before a rash of forgiveness fics hits the scene - and it seems I'm already too late:)
It's from Holmes's POV, the morning after Colonel Moran's arrest in the Empty House. Enjoy!
'I can't forgive my friends for dying; I don't find these vanishing acts of theirs at all amusing.'
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946)
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," I said absently as my estimable landlady set down the dishes for a very early breakfast on this chilly spring morning. I made a mental note to have that broken window repaired this afternoon – the draught was decidedly uncomfortable.
I glanced at Watson, who was sitting in his old chair opposite me at the table, his eyes looking off into space at an invisible spot on the wall. He had been unusually quiet, even for him, since I had finished detailing to him my adventures in Tibet, and I was gathering an uneasy impression of impending mental storm clouds.
"Coffee, Watson?" I asked, hoping to shake him out of whatever was on his mind.
He did not start in surprise but replied calmly, almost coolly, in the affirmative, and I poured the beverage somewhat nervously. What was wrong with him?
He had gone in twelve hours from being overjoyed to find me to be alive yesterday afternoon to now - silent, morose, and obviously deep in thought about something. I passed him a cup and saucer.
That was all, just 'thank you'. No other converse.
It took none of my famed deductions to perceive that Watson was not really eating, only pushing the food round on his plate to give the impression that he was. And the sight took my own appetite away when I realized it.
Finally he looked back at me to find my gaze upon him, and he hastily laid down his silverware and rose from the table.
"Well, I must be getting back, Holmes; my surgery opens in an hour and a half, and I need to get things ready for the day."
Again, that was all, and the calm tone of voice he was using was so unlike his normal warm, obviously affectionate voice that I was instantly ill at ease. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
I stood as well and walked hesitantly over to where he was buttoning his overcoat and taking his hat from the stand.
"Watson, is something wrong?"
"No, not at all," he replied calmly, but I could tell from the way he avoided direct eye contact with me that there was. Something was very wrong. And I was quite afraid now that I knew what it was.
"There is something, Watson," I said earnestly, laying a hand on his arm.
I was shocked when he recoiled at my touch and took a step backward toward the door.
"I told you, nothing, Holmes," he said, his hazel eyes flashing dangerously at me in a warning to mind my own business.
But I never have been overly adept at refraining from poking my nose into others' affairs, and now was no exception. I was going to get to the bottom of this, here and now.
"And I said you're not telling the truth!" I responded, my own eyes flashing back at him, "you are acting very peculiar, and I want to know why!"
"Why should you even care?"
I was shocked at his vehemence, but more so at the underlying bitterness I could sense underneath the words. Why should I care? What –
Oh, dear heaven.
That was what this was all about.
I moaned inwardly, knowing that the outburst I had been half-expecting in Watson's study yesterday was now roiling dangerously close to the surface in my poor friend's nature. It was only a matter of time before he released – needed to release – those feelings that had to have been bothering him since my dramatic reappearance in the land of the living yesterday.
Heaven help us both.
His face had suddenly assumed a look of horror as he realized his outburst, and he turned in what appeared to be panic and headed for the door. I jumped in front of him and planted my back firmly against it, glaring at him. This had to be dealt with.
"You are not going anywhere until you explain that remark, Watson," I said dangerously.
He returned my glare with a venom I had always thought completely foreign to his soft-hearted nature – and I most certainly never expected to be on the receiving end of that kind of ire.
"I have nothing to say to you, Holmes. Now I need to be getting back home," he snapped impatiently.
Home. The word hit me like a load of brick. I had entertained some notion that he still considered this place home, especially since the death of his wife – why would he not want to move back in with me?
I had made a miscalculation. A bad one. One that was likely to cost both of us dearly.
"Get out of the way, Holmes," he said, his eyes flashing dangerously – I could see the barely controlled anger in their depths.
"Watson, there is something bothering you, and I know it, regardless of your denials to the contrary. You never have been good at prevaricating."
"You have made your belief in that last statement abundantly clear, Holmes!"
"Watson, please, you must let me explain –"
"I want no more of your explanations, Holmes," he said in a dangerously calm low voice, this time looking me straight in the eye, "I have heard more of them in the last twelve hours than I want to for a long time."
I stared at him, not knowing what to say, knowing that he was absolutely justified in hating my very being just now – he had every right in the world to.
"Watson, I apologized –"
"And apologies sometimes do not cover what has been done."
"I had to, Watson –"
"You did not!"
His calm had finally lifted and the violent anger bubbling under his cold exterior came to the fore suddenly, "you did not! Nothing you can say will make me believe you were unable to tell me anything for three years!"
"I couldn't chance it –"
"You chanced it with your brother!"
"I told you, I needed money!"
"And I am not trustworthy enough!"
"That is not true, Watson, and you know it!" I gasped.
"Yes," his angry voice had dropped to almost a whisper, so miserable did it sound, "yes, I know it. But do you?"
I opened my mouth to say something, but found myself shocked speechless by what he said – he really thought I had not contacted him in three years because I did not trust him as much as Mycroft.
I trusted him more than my brother – I would trust him with my life!
"Watson, it is not that –"
"Three years, Holmes," he snapped, "three long years of grieving – and not once could you spare the time, and the trust, to write even one letter. Not once!"
I swallowed hard.
"I did not have a choice –"
"A choice? You most certainly had a choice! You lay there above me at the Reichenbach Falls while I was screaming your name, Holmes – and you say you had no choice?" His voice shook on the last few words, and the sound sent a pang through my heart.
I indeed did remember – will never forget them though I would like to – those awful minutes at the Falls as I heard his heart-rending cries, saw him find the letter I had left, read it, and then collapse against the rock, sobbing like he had lost a brother.
"Watson, I – I – forgive me," I gasped, not knowing what to say – what could I say?
"I already have, Holmes," he said, that icy calmness taking over his anger once more, "but that does not mean I can forget as quickly as you evidently wish me to. Goodbye."
He walked around me and opened the door, and then it hit me.
Goodbye? Not good morning?
"Watson, wait!" I gasped, hurrying out to catch him on the stairs.
"Yes?" he called up to me, just about to reach the landing below.
"Can't – can't you stop by later and let us have a talk when you have more time?" I fumbled for the correct choice of words.
"No," he replied, that deadly calm once more overtaking his features as he looked coolly up at me.
"What?" I gasped, cut to the heart by his curt denial, delivered in a tone of flat finality.
"If you are in such desperate need for companionship, perhaps you should try your brother at the Diogenes Club, Holmes," he stated as calmly as if he were discussing the weather, and the icy chill in his words hurt more terribly than if he had physically struck me.
Before I could respond, he had left, shutting the door firmly behind him.
I sat down on the stairs, very badly shaken, and stared at the closed door, my mind racing with what I had just heard.
"Why should you even care?"
The words rang in my head like a horrid death knell – signifying the destruction of a relationship that I had taken ten long years to warm up to, tolling out what appeared to be the last moments of my friendship with the only man I had ever cared for outside my brother.
I shivered with the thought – Watson had been violently angry with me before, in the Culverton Smith case, had even gone so far as to blow up in the sitting room with an explosion of rage and then storm out of the house. But we had resolved that – he had come back to apologize for losing his temper and I had met him halfway with a much-needed apology of my own.
This was different. He had not lost his temper. He had remained cool and cold to the last, only raising his voice just that once. That was highly unlike him.
And he had said goodbye and that he was going home.
What had I done!
I stood a little shakily, leaning on the wall, realizing just how much damage my three-year long self-imposed silence had done to my poor friend.
I could not tell him the real reason for my reticence – could not tell him that from my vantage point on the ledge I could see Colonel Sebastian Moran with his air-gun trained upon Watson, ready to shoot if I so much as moved a finger to let him know I was alive.
Could not tell him that if Moran had so much as suspicioned that Watson knew I was alive, he would have taken great pleasure in trying to get the information out of him.
Watson thought I did not trust him – on the contrary, I trusted him too much. I knew he would never break and reveal my whereabouts, and Moran would summarily kill him for it. But if he as well as the rest of the world continued to think I was dead, Moran would leave him alone.
But I could tell him none of this, for it would mean far more emotional openness than I had ever, and would ever, welcome sharing. Even to Watson, I could not admit those feelings that had prompted my so very foolish actions – I just could not bring myself to do so.
I, Sherlock Holmes, the isolated brain without a heart, had finally succumbed to that stalwart doctor's success in somehow penetrating those shields I had so carefully erected round myself; I had at last found that there was something more important in my life than my own survival.
And I could not have put Watson in that kind of peril; had something happened to him because he was in possession of my dangerous knowledge, I should probably – I should probably have killed myself. I would not have been able to live with the knowledge that my worst nightmare had come true – that he had come to harm because of his association with me.
For a brief moment I put our positions in reverse, and I shuddered, knowing that I would not have had the fortitude to last three years under that kind of grief. That man was far stronger than I should ever be. Had I been in his shoes, it would have been only too easy to just slip a little too much cocaine in that syringe the next time and…
I shook off my cowardly thoughts – I had to find a way to make this right. Watson obviously was not interested in seeing or speaking to me, and I blamed him not at all. A reconciliation would have to be up to my machinations, for I had been the one completely at fault.
And for the first time in my career, I found myself facing a case without a clue to guide me as to its solution. It was definitely much more than a three-pipe problem, and I should not rest until I found its answer.
I spent the next eight or nine hours turning ideas over in my head, cursing my incompetence and also my lack of perception – I should have noticed the warning signs before this morning and perhaps we could have headed this rift off at the pass. But I had been too thrilled to be back in Baker Street with my dearest, in fact my only, friend; and in consequence the emotion had made me blind to the matter at hand.
Another reason why I firmly refused to allow emotional demonstrations very often – it clouded the judgment and dulled the perception.
Finally, in frustration, no nearer to a solution than I had been what seemed like so long ago but was actually only this morning, I got up and put my coat on with a sigh. I had gained permission from Lestrade to keep VonHerder's air-gun just to inspect it for my own curiosity, but I had to return it later that day when Moran was to be indicted. Now was as good a time as any.
I spent the cab ride to the Yard still trying to think of a way to repair the damage I had done to my poor Watson, but I could find no way out of the grave into which I had dug myself. I had gone too far this time, and actually I would not blame Watson if he never wished to see my face again.
It was with a drawn countenance and a heavy heart that I exited the cab at Scotland Yard and paid the driver – but then I hopped out of sight behind one of the stately white columns as two familiar figures exited the building.
Watson and Lestrade were – they were actually laughing, talking easily with each other and apparently in an entirely jovial mood. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy as I realized the truth – Watson had made other friends in my absence, that insufferable Scotland Yard inspector being one of them.
I watched with narrowed gaze as Lestrade elbowed him and pointed to something down the street, bustling with a mid-afternoon crowd, and they both laughed again. Then Watson wished him – wished Lestrade – a good afternoon (not a goodbye, I noticed with a pang) and started off down the pavement; the official watched for a moment and then went back inside.
I swallowed hard, pushing that pointed ache of jealousy to the very back of my mind and heart, and entered the station. A few minutes later I was shown to Lestrade's office. I really had no desire to even talk to the man after what I had seen outside, but no one would have been able to tell it by my businesslike demeanor.
"Here is Moran's air-gun, Lestrade," I said, laying the article down on the desk, "and the bullet that went through the head of my decoy. All yours."
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes. You are sure you don't want any of the credit?" the official asked, sighting curiously down the gun barrel.
"None. The work itself –"
"Is its own reward, yes, I know. But are you quite certain? It would be rather a nicely explosive return to life for you, coming back into the scene with a bang, you know?" Lestrade said with a smirk, looking up at me from his desk chair.
I had to smile at the man's utter lack of menace towards me – he either had mellowed much over three years, or else he was just sincerely glad to see me alive.
"Won't you sit down for a moment, Mr. Holmes?"
"I really do not have the time –"
"Oh, come on," the man said, motioning me impatiently to the chair.
Although my patience was wearing thin, I had no desire to offend the man so soon after my return, and so I sat. Lestrade's beady eyes looked me up and down for a moment as if trying to make deductions about me, and then he spoke at last.
"So you and the Doctor are no longer on speaking terms, eh?" he asked suddenly.
I started violently.
"Watson told you that?" I was exceedingly indignant.
"You do your friend an injustice, Mr. Holmes. He said nothing of the kind," Lestrade replied, his eyes flashing for just a moment.
"Then how –"
"I could tell something was wrong as he was saying goodbye after partially finishing that post-mortem just now," the official went on – I remembered now that Mycroft had informed me Watson acted as a police-surgeon on occasion to supplement his income – "he just looked – well, sad, I guess, and I should have thought he would be no less than ecstatic after your return to life. And when you show up here, less than fifteen hours after the events of last night, without him tagging at your heels, it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce something is wrong."
I realized belatedly that my mouth was hanging open slightly and snapped it shut, scowling at the man testily. He calmly returned the look with a small smile of his own.
"Well, what of it?" I growled, not wanting my business to be dredged up by this insufferable little Scotland Yarder.
"I've a good mind to lock you both into a cell together until you stop this whole ridiculous business," the ferret-faced man returned with a glare, "you both are at fault here, Mr. Holmes!"
I bristled. "No one asked for your opinion, Lestrade!"
"No, you never do. That's why I volunteered it!"
I stood to leave, not wanting to hear the man's well-meant but very unwelcome advice any longer.
I turned with my hand on the doorknob to find the man looking after me somewhat sadly.
"The Doctor will be coming back here in about an hour to finish that autopsy on the fellow in the morgue – he had to run back to his surgery to see an urgent patient."
I looked at the man.
"Morgues are not the best places for apologies, Lestrade."
"No, perhaps not – but, morgue examination rooms have locks on the outside of the doors, and I have a master key to said locks," the man returned, a slightly mischievous look overtaking his sallow face as he leaned back in his chair, eyeing me with a twinkle.
And as I felt a small grin start to slowly spread over my worried face, I knew he had won me. And for some reason losing to a Scotland Yarder such as Lestrade did not seem like such a tragedy at this moment.
I went back and seated myself across the desk from my conspirator.
A/N: Was going to be a one-shot and got too long. Next chapter shall be up shortly.