Author's Note: There will be thirteen chapters total, and the final two will be posted back to back for reasons that will be obvious when you read it. I wish these chapters could come to you faster, but as much as I love writing this thing, it takes a lot of energy to keep the style solid (despite my love for this kind of eloquence). Thus, I have to be in a very particular mood to work on it. But I solemnly swear that I will never, ever, ever abandon this fic. I love you all.
Dear Mr. Holmes,
It has recently occurred to me that you have yet to take a tour of my new residence. Therefore, I would like to invite you for a proper introduction on the 12th of this month, at seven-thirty in the evening, if you are not otherwise engaged. I require your unchallenged intellect for an accurate assessment of the purchase.
Dr. John Watson, Nov. 8th
It would be my most sincere and rapturous pleasure to thoroughly evaluate your holdings. You may expect me at the date and time offered, eager to apply my unique service to your ample estate.
Sherlock Holmes, Nov. 9th
Holmes sat in the jostling carriage with his elbow on the window and his chin on his palm, heavily contemplating the event to come. He may have responded to Watson's telegram with subverted facetiousness, but in actuality his current gamut of emotions had scarce room for humor of any sort. Of all the tactics he had employed during these peculiar events, Holmes felt as if none of them would be of service in the coming conversation. It was obvious that Watson had requested a meeting on somewhat neutral territory, but without knowing precisely what purpose the rendezvous was meant to serve there was no conceivable way to prepare. There are a finite number of possible outcomes to this predicament, and any one of them could rise up to become reality. The mind could only extrapolate so far, even one akin to the detective's.
Over the past days of complete silence between them, Holmes had done his very best in maintaining an objective outlook. The burden of decision was a weight only Watson's shoulders would carry in this situation, and that sort of turmoil was far more complex than Holmes' basic, though painful, task of waiting. He was fully aware of this and, only because of his razor sharp rationale, could he possibly sympathize with what Watson was undoubtedly going through. That's not to say Holmes' experience was lesser in any way, merely that Watson's dilemma had vital time constraints and imperative circumstances to consider. Such circumstances certainly affected Holmes, but he was free of the responsibility that came with handling them.
The carriage lurched to a stop, knocking his chin off his hand. Peering out the window, he beheld a quaint but respectable home sitting on a street corner of similar attributes. For all intents and purposes, it was an ideal setting for newlyweds starting out on their life together. The sight of it made his stomach turn over.
Holmes set his hat on his head and climbed out of the carriage, making his way to the front door. Now in the shadow of convention and stability, he couldn't shake the feeling that he simply did not belong—for more reasons than he cared to mull over at this particular instant.
He stepped up onto the porch and, before he had the slightest chance to ring the bell, the door opened to reveal Watson appearing perfectly normal, save for his sleep-starved eyes.
"'Ample estate?'" Watson quoted dryly.
Holmes was unable to ignore the invitation. "'Endowed' struck me as a touch too forthright."
"You're asking for the noose."
"I'm asking for a great many things," he said pointedly. "The noose is not one of them."
Holmes stepped between Watson and the door, sliding inside with only the briefest acknowledgment of their shoulders grazing one another. His eyes drifted over the humble foyer as he heard the front door close behind him. The flippant attitude he had suddenly acquired was fresh, familiar, and terribly inconvenient. He swept his hat off his head and held it loosely in his hands.
"I'm sorry for leaving you in the dark these past few days," Watson apologized.
Holmes casually turned to him, "Hm? Oh, think nothing of it. I've grown used to long periods of self-doubt and agonizing psychological evaluation."
Watson slid his hands in his pockets. "I never meant-"
"I'm aware," Holmes gently interrupted, "My passive aggression was directed solely at the situation."
Another infamous silence came down between them, and eventually Holmes' nerves forced him to look away. He pretended to admire the surroundings.
"The staircase is rather splendid," he absently commented.
Watson cleared his throat, his tone grave. "I don't know how to start this conversation."
"It's only a staircase, Watson."
"I left Mary."
Holmes' attention snapped back to the doctor. For a man as acutely aware of his thoughts, feelings and surroundings as he was prone to be, not only had he been entirely blindsided but there was currently not a single thought running through his head.
Watson, in an overtly deliberate attempt to avoid eye contact, stared straight at the floor.
"May I offer my condolences?" Holmes asked simply, trying valiantly to hide his surge of victorious energy.
Watson glanced up at him, his expression clouded with severity, disbelief, and just a twinge of ironic amusement. "No, you may not."
"Then might I ask," he began, sneaking a step forward, "why you to took such an action?"
Watson's resolve was almost entirely firm. "Because I meant it when I said I don't want to waste a good woman's life. She deserves a man who isn't so attached to bachelor sensibilities."
Holmes' brow furrowed. That wasn't precisely the answer he had anticipated. "Is that the explanation you offered?"
"Yes," Watson nodded, his voice softening, "She looked so disappointed in me."
A moment passed, and in that flash of time Holmes could plainly read the guilt in Watson's expression. He never questioned for a second that the man had sincerely cared for one Ms. Mary Morstan, and Watson was far from insensitive.
Holmes tilted his head sympathetically. "You've nothing to be ashamed of. She's a most capable woman, and once we have you home your perspective should sharpen considerably."
Watson tensed. "I…I don't know."
He knew that specific reply was the likely one he would hear, but knowing didn't nullify the sting that shot through Holmes' chest. "Yes, of course. How foolish of me. One last query, then: Why, exactly, have I been summoned?"
The bitterness in his last words crept into his delivery before he could properly control himself; a fact Watson had evidently noticed, causing him to shift his weight.
"Plenty of reasons," Watson explained. "I needed to tell you about Mary, and I needed to ask for more time."
Holmes' eyebrows fluttered. "More time? You brought me here after three days of silence to ask for more time? Tell me, Watson, are you entirely hellbent on disintegrating the most valuable mind in the United Kingdom?"
Watson advanced. "When Mary showed up at your apartment, I thought we were dead. I'm seriously considering living under that kind of stress for the rest of my life, and if you focus on this sentence more than the previous one I will throw you out of this house!"
"Gladstone will not appreciate this, Watson, my experiments are getting progressively hostile."
"What are you doing to Gladstone?"
"Nothing I don't feel like inflicting on you at the moment."
Watson pinched the bridge of his nose. "Holmes, I realize how painful waiting can-"
"No, I don't believe you do!"
The air in the room shifted as Holmes instinctively bit back the words he'd let escape. Little by little his veneer of control was slipping, and he was scrambling to keep it in his grasp. After all of the predicaments through which he had maintained a proper demeanor, it was oddly suitable that this would be his undoing. Even geniuses have their limitations.
"My apologies," Holmes uttered softly, but sincerely, "I've never had the constitution for patience."
"I hate to ask this of you," Watson said with equal candor.
Holmes shrugged lightly, "I would judge you to be too hasty otherwise. I am interested, however, in the particular arguments you happen to be struggling with."
Holmes observed as Watson took a moment to gather this thoughts. In no time at all, his dearest friend had relaxed his stance, returning to the several issues that were undoubtedly old and familiar by now. It was a notion that struck Holmes as simultaneously damning and promising. Watson looked out the window and took in the view.
"I loved this city," he said wistfully. "I loved belonging to it."
"And this is something you could not recapture in my employ?" Holmes asked, watching him gently, curiously.
"My paranoia would put a quick end to that, yes." Watson answered, eyes drifting back to the man before him. "What if you glance at me one day and the man on the corner guesses the meaning?"
"Highly unlikely. I've been looking at you in public for months and nothing's come of it thus far." Holmes enjoyed Watson's flat reaction before continuing. "The man on the corner only sees what he can conceive of. You and I are beyond his realm of perception."
Watson motioned to the both of them. "This isn't unheard of."
Holmes took in a short, inquisitive breath. "You're aware of my penchant for defining things?"
"Whore houses that cater to a certain man are heard of, to an extent. That scenario has a name. We do not."
Watson crossed his arms, incredulous. "And if we pass a man with an open mind?"
"I'm not suggesting we take hold of each other in front of Buckingham Palace, Watson," Holmes pointed out.
"One count of suspicion and both our lives are forfeit."
"I am keenly aware of the repercussions, and I am also keenly aware that they matter little to me. The benefits greatly outweigh the risk in this circumstance."
"Yes, well, I also have frequent visions of us both burning for eternity," Watson stated bluntly.
"How cynical of you, Watson, to assume I'm rampant with disease."
Holmes watched, eyes shamelessly lit up, as Watson failed to hold back a smile.
The doctor's humor quickly began to fade. "I envy your resilience, but this won't be settled in your presence. The influence is too-"
"Semantics," Holmes declared with a brief wave of his hand. "But I will take my leave, assuming I interpreted your blatant suggestion correctly."
Watson kept a light eye on him as he moved to the door, but said nothing. Holmes approached, reaching for the handle while his stare was fixed on the man. Proximity now a dangerous aspect, Holmes tried vehemently to ignore the fact that Watson was holding his breath. He knew that look, he lived for that look, and as he leaned in he felt not even the briefest tremor of remorse.
Their mouths were only a breath away from contact, a precipice they had willingly leapt from before. As thoroughly as Homes appreciated the actions following such a leap, there was still a definite, unwavering power attached to this window of purgatory which never failed to send waves of adrenaline surging from his stomach to his heart.
Then Watson jerked away, and all events came to a disorienting halt.
Holmes exhaled, chiding himself for making such a bold move when Watson had only expressed uncertainty right from the beginning of the meeting. He broke eye contact and opened the door, loathing himself when he hesitated to leave. Watson was motionless, waiting.
Bowing his head, Holmes finally stepped onto the porch, turning back only part of the way to face his companion. "Secrecy does not always require imprisonment."
He let his words settle into the air and then, for a distinct change, Holmes was the one to quietly depart.