A/N: Less verbosity in this one, because Watson's the main focus, and for some reason I don't associate him with extremely lyrical prose. O.o Weird. But anyway. The change should, hopefully, be refreshing, instead of annoying...? Or maybe just annoying. I don't know.
Thanks to all my reviewers of Part I: Kyla45, ShadedRogue, Peschi, Kaiho Neko, Positively, mildetryth, janinePSA, Hash Pipe, Holmesie Lemonade, lyssaloulou, desalina90, BookWormNiri, adevotedreader, SutaakiHitori, blanc-hiver, Nuitari Aquarius, Frankie and ask, Curreeus, Lucy'sDaydreams, LynLin, GiggleFunny, ripplinwaters, and sondre!
Please don't forget to review!
The thoughts come on jilted and juxtaposed, and Holmes finds himself shuffling interminably through memories as ordered as copperplate prose.
Holmes thinks he would like to renounce it all, take the sheaf of figurative newspaper clippings and scatter them, burn them, decimate them whole. Burn the moments of soul-stifled fascination, Watson with his braces framing his hips and his boots kicked up in front of a paper, steel pen hitched loosely between his teeth; Watson falling asleep by the sitting room fire, hat tipping, book sliding its way down his lap. Burn the stickling exchanges, the tête-à-têtes over tea; the habit Watson has of rocking back on his heels when he's speechless, Watson straightening when Holmes enters a room. Burn the soft smile that Watson only deigns to wear when he decides to, only this once, indulge Holmes. Burn the numerous locks on the wardrobe doors, that were never enough to keep Sherlock Holmes out; burn the dog, their dog, unconscious or not; burn the telegrams, the already-half-burnt chair cushions, the pile of The Times in the study room corner that dates all the way back to 1881. Burn the way Watson always snaps around to look whenever a gunshot sounds anywhere remotely near Holmes. Burn the holes and the gashes and the horrific, taupe bruises, and Watson's form on a dingy dock-front, palm thrown up, the single word rending itself as it echoes, the one man Watson cares about enough to warn.
Burn the dinners, the black tie and tails. Burn the operas, Rigoletto and Norma and Faust, Watson leaning across on a Saturday evening to straighten the front of Holmes' (stolen) waistcoat.
Burn it all.
Burn everything John Watson has said –
As your friend...
You're not human!
I do not love you.
Burn the sting of John Watson's cane on his wrist and the giddying taste of John Watson's mouth and by the time all that's burnt, by the time all that's gone, Holmes has nothing.
Just a needle and an opened glass vial.
Holmes haunts a barghest through Watson's thoughts, the dreams misshapen and too grotesque, the taste of Holmes on Watson's tongue a lacerating tantivy. There's no continuity to any of it – just blots of scenes in sharp relief, the snatch of Holmes' eyes, his teeth, the trenchant scrape of Holmes' nails across the back of Watson's skin. Holmes is arched and darkled there – a hiss between the bruising lips – and Watson slams up into him, the hitch of pain from Holmes' throat choked down by Watson's mouth on his; pernicious, the curve of Holmes' hip a wanton, bare profanity. There's nothing good, no sacredness, no testament to God or grace; and Watson wakes to sweat-soaked sheets, the pound of culpability.
The grit in Sherlock Holmes' smile crowds Mary down to nothingness.
To counter it, John Watson drinks – unchains his rankest innermost vices, thumbs their discord down his limbs. The shriek of cards and fights and gin slash ink across a white canvas. Some days the smoke and clamouring screams evoke Holmes in a grandeur hallucinatory, his shrewd eyes and the red of his busted lip, his knuckles blistering the gaslight air and dirt-sweat winging his shoulder-blades. Some days Holmes has his shirt peeled back, his fingers deep in Watson's hair, his thighs clenched bare round Watson's hips hard enough to leave bruises on pale-hued skin – and Watson sinks, sinks helplessly, dissoluteness that delves him straight into delusion, blank squares filled with Holmes and Holmes and Holmes that build a finale, a shuddering roar.
There's no surprise when Mary leaves. It's a conglomerate of little things, engagements Watson's forgotten or missed, late nights and Mary awake, alone, Mary seated silent and much too still with a supper spread for two, untouched. She says nothing about it; she pardons him. She's kind, too kind, her gentleness more terrible than open hate – and Watson feels her pity there, the kiss she cools upon his cheek.
The ring remains, a promise, dead.
And Holmes, snarled there in everything.
Holmes is folded like an argument in the corner of the sitting room, the comma of his hair too damp, a dark wet plaster over his skin. His arm snakes out from frayed shirt-sleeves. Bullet holes staccato over the ceiling, dank pits that echo Holmes' wrist, and Watson sets his cane aside to slope against the cabinet.
The name is stitched and thin, the borders of the consonants scuffed down to sawdust by cocaine. The timepiece on the mantel cranks.
This, too, is polished, strained, and Watson lets the bitterness command the sneer that shapes his lips. "Yes, Holmes, she did. How perceptive of you."
Holmes shifts, shirt crumpled over his chest. Watson can see the trembling soar that scintillates in Holmes' face, a hope that pounces much too fast before Holmes remembers to reel it in.
"You have my deepest condolences, then," Holmes says. His eyes dart, too nomadic. "She has gone to see her parents, yes? They live in Brighton, I believe. She mentioned them last time she visited. How long does she plan to stay away?"
Watson has no answer to that; it feels still altogether raw, the wound still opened up to the air. Six months is the time Holmes stayed away, the foggy stretch of happiness – six months of violets, embroidery, the copper tumble of Mary's hair and her gloves, her bonnets, shoes, her fan. Six months and nothing there beneath, no blighted, half-formed, murky need. Six months. It taints, a slavish thrum that's Holmes and inculcated. Steep.
The brimstone's there in Holmes' eyes, distracting and Damoclean; and Watson shirks his sight away when Holmes grabs at a basket-seat.
"Won't you sit?" and Holmes sinks into it. His fingers flit over the wickerwork. "Since Mary cannot possibly be waiting for you outside in a hansom cab."
The laugh barks low and acerbic. "You're rather contented with this turn of events, I see."
"Does my content come into the equation, Watson?"
"Not so much your content as your intent, Holmes."
The chink presents in Holmes' pause, the sway beneath the dark-shaped brows. The column that is Holmes' throat is white, a pale, precarious thing. "You blame me for this."
"Would you dispute that blame?"
"I have not disputed anything."
"You do not have to. It is already done."
Holmes' mouth jerks from his place by the hearth; his fingertips splutter across the chair arm, eyes scratching there at Watson's face. There's gold on the tips of Holmes' hair, sun reaming cracks between the drapes. There's light seized in the crook of Holmes' neck. Watson finds his eyes caught there by the vertiginous gutter of collar-bare skin; hot anger and a dark frustration balls his hands tight into fists.
"You must be clearer," Holmes says at last, steady. "Outline for me what has already been done."
"Is it not yet clear enough for you? I've lost Mary."
"You did not lose her, Watson. You chose to force her away; there is a distinct difference between the two."
It's a truth that whets a fierce dismay, a haul from deep in Watson's spine. The gape of Holmes' shirtsleeves is a basal beck from fifteen feet.
"You made the choice on my behalf – "
"I presented you with data, nothing more. You made your own decisions."
"I chose Mary, I did not choose you. I chose her the moment I put that ring on her finger, Holmes, and you saw that, and you sought to break my promise to her – "
"I sought nothing except to make you see reason – "
"I don't want your reason!"
Holmes pauses. The sun slants down his neck, erratic, straggling on his pulse. Watson feels his throat clamp closed when Holmes tips up from the basket-chair, the char-print eyes too volatile. Too torqued, too irrefrangible. Too close.
"What would you ask of me then, Watson?"
"I – what would I ask of you?"
Holmes spills the desperate hint to his voice as he moves across the sitting room. "If you ask repentance, I cannot give it you. I don't repent, Watson. Not any of this."
"And what would you ask of me, Holmes? Forgiveness? Because I cannot give you that either."
The words are sharded, edged to hurt – and then the press of Holmes is there, the sheet of air an inch or so, the prickling phantom feel of Holmes that skates its way down Watson's neck. Watson draws a startled breath, then tamps it down behind his teeth.
"I would not presume to ask for forgiveness," Holmes says. "It is not something I have ever deserved."
The instinct nettles Watson close, the jump of Sherlock Holmes' breath fanned quick across his mouth and throat; he means the name to shape a warning, but it catches, comes out something else. "Holmes."
"But still you came back. Again."
"I am not here for the reason that you suppose."
"But you are not with Mary either," and when Holmes tilts forward Watson halts him with a forearm across his ribs. "You have not followed her to Brighton, as any other husband would have done."
"I am not here for you," Watson snaps then, and a hot twitch of panic cores into his gut.
"If you are not, then what are you here for, Watson?"
"I'm – "
To his surprise the words evaporate, leave only an eschar of dread on his tongue. He can feel them, canted out of reach; canted by the scent of Holmes, his warmth, his pupils flared and blown. When Holmes tilts up a second time the brace from Watson's arm is firm, the heel of Watson's hand a rampart ridged across the collarbone.
Holmes lilts it like a litany, his eyes still trained on Watson's mouth. "You've still to answer me, Watson."
I have no answer. "The question lacks relevance."
"It lacks nothing except a truthful response."
"I am here, am I not?" but the bite's derailed by the ride of the apple of Holmes' throat. Watson's shaking, a buzz pithed under his skin. "Regardless of motive, I am here nonetheless."
Holmes pauses as if to consider this; Watson catches a "Yes, I suppose you're right", and then Holmes is tilting up one last time and the shock of wet on Watson's jaw is an unexpected, jolting hook. It stirs things – a tortured, black recall; Holmes spread across the teak floorboards, mouth tugged open, saliva-slick – and Watson grabs a tight handful of Holmes' shirt to earth himself.
"Stop," he gets out, much too late. "Holmes, stop – "
"I've never doubted you."
It's caught – hung there, the moment culled, the look in Sherlock Holmes' eyes a quaver black and pruinose; and Watson feels his chest knot closed at those four unexpected, artless words, the wrest of paper wedding vows deraigned by Holmes' open mouth. There's rage, the weal of blunt despair; the part down Watson's waistcoat front; the snaring hash of Holmes' hair, the sun (I've never doubted you) cragged over Holmes' white cheekbone; then soot, the taste of Sherlock Holmes, the moan that shivers Watson's teeth and scours its way all down his throat. Holmes sounds like sand and coal-dust, salt, his hands too fast and much too slow. Holmes sounds like ripping fabric, belt. Holmes sounds like Cerberus, like Hell, the pit beyond the Phlegethon; and Watson digs his fingers down against the bone of Holmes' hip, bites hard, draws blood off Holmes' tongue, thinks that if his soul is damned to Hell at least he won't be damned alone.
The sheets are irretrievable. Holmes lights his pipe, brows puckered low, and says, "I've never doubted you."
Mary writes two times a week, each note penned skewer-neat and short.
Watson finds he can't read them, can't go beyond the envelope; the letters on the escritoire still folded, crisp, and unopened. He thinks that he should answer them, scratch gallant lies in parchment print, a mock of every scratch mauled raw by Holmes' nails along his spine. He thinks that he should burn them, too.
But still, the letters stay.
Holmes visits, jacket much too large, his cuffs a gash of cotton-white against the dark of pockets, coat. His smile is something drossy, small, daedal in its worthlessness – a plaster cast on marble. Spiked. The flicker left in Holmes' wake stamps scarlet over every line, the dreaded 'A' emblazoned, gules, on every surface left exposed. John Watson sits when Holmes is gone and kicks the buttons from the boards, the weight of every Dearest John left scudding in the letter drawer.
Three months and Holmes is opium-slow, damp blankets swarming up his hips. His fingers trail on Watson's chest and Watson's staring at the wall, the panelled wood of Baker Street, smoke-stained and desquamating, clawed.
"You've lost the rent," Holmes says at last.
This is something Watson knows; to hear it in the open air is gall, a loaded mangonel.
"I have." The ghost of twenty pounds lends jaggedness to Watson's mouth.
"Is Mrs Turner aware of such?"
"She is not."
Holmes brands a shallow kiss against the meat of Watson's arm. "Will you not take up your old rooms here? I've left the furnishings untouched. You could be settled here comfortably before the week is out."
This is a conversation they've had before, the cards played out in habile loops; Holmes knows the scope of Watson's hand and Watson knows too much of Holmes, his cankered, twisting arguments, his words that pin and pry and probe. The question's never fully voiced beyond the hest in Holmes' eye, and Watson doesn't answer it. The surface ones are much more safe.
"You haven't even considered it."
"I've considered, and I've decided against it, Holmes." Watson's tone is pitched too harsh, a grate against the linen sheets. "I shan't have Mary come back from Brighton to find some denizen in Cavendish Place."
"So you believe that she'll return to you?"
It sounds a curious, notional thing, like Holmes has only just thought of it. John Watson knows this isn't true; knows that Holmes has rinsed this single thing innumerably around his brain, one tiny edge to the Charybdis that lurks in all they dare not say.
"You've had too much morphia," Watson snaps, and makes to shove himself away. "You're not remotely fit for company."
"I'm fit enough for yours, Watson."
"I'll return when you're in your right mind again."
"I'm always in my right mind," Holmes replies, and makes a snatch at Watson's wrist. His fingertips are slate-cool, slim, the reedy rasp of ink-stained skin. "The question was valid. You've no excuse not to answer it."
"I don't require an excuse not to answer your questions," and Watson's wrenching off the bed, eyes vespine in the dim half-light. The waistcoat's shrugged against a wall; Watson swipes it, shakes it out. The watch and chain are hours gone, curled in the pocket of a Chinaman with whiskers and two fives in dice, and Watson thinks it's much too late to try and fix this part of him.
Holmes tips his head. "She won't come back."
"She won't. I'm sure of it."
Watson stops. With Holmes the words are knives, honed sharp. Even in the morphia-haze the eyes are smudged a charnel black; within them crouch brute certainty, truths lacquered, marked, and stored away. It stings that Holmes should know so well the fears that scratch in Watson's chest.
"She will." It's bitten, riled contempt, denial gummed to half-formed rage. "Perhaps you've such little experience with goodness that you cannot recognise it in someone else."
"I have no use for goodness; it's inexact."
"You've no use for anything except yourself," and Watson shies it, hard, like a blow. The shirt is gaping, seams half-ripped; Watson drags it over his shoulders, movements rough and scurrilous. "You're incapable of seeing any worth in anything beyond – beyond dead bodies and footprints and – "
"It was Mary who left you, Watson, not me."
The clasp of Watson's belt spits lead. "That does not alter anything I've said."
"It was she who left you. It was she who could not appreciate your worth; a fault that, only a moment ago, you attributed to me."
"I am not asking you to appreciate my worth, Holmes, I am asking you to appreciate Mary's."
"Do you hold her worth so above your own?"
Watson takes the three steps back to the bed, grabs at his open cigarette case; Holmes watches, dark eyes scorched and sprained, and Watson barks a rankling "Yes", hot anger stuttered through his voice.
"If that is so then you do not deserve her, Watson."
"No, I do not. That is something I know already; you've no need to remind me of it again."
"You deserve me."
It halts things, Watson's palm paused on the head of his gold-tipped cane. Holmes hooks a hand inside Watson's belt and Watson's too surprised to stop him, latched on three words that don't make sense, the sheet of light on Holmes' shoulders burnished thick and coalesced.
Holmes says it once again, simply, as if it's obvious.
"You deserve me."
"I'm not in the mood to indulge you your games," and it's the only thing Watson can think of to say. Holmes has peeled the belt back off and is sliding his hands under Watson's shirt-tails, the pads of his fingers skimming taut skin.
"It's not a game." The air skids between Watson's teeth as Holmes puts a kiss alongside his navel, the gesture rushed and slightly breathless, fever-bright beneath the opium. "You're a doctor with an extensive list of vices that do no credit at all to your esteemed profession – you drink heavily, you're a degenerate gambler, a habitué of disreputable prize-fighting rings and a murderer of innumerable faceless crooks we've had the misfortune to encounter in our adventures together." The swipe of tongue up Watson's stomach checks the retort that forms on his lips. "Necessary, of course – but murder nonetheless. You know your Commandments, do you not? The sixth, I believe – Thou shalt not kill. You've breached that. And then there is the obvious fact that you're a sodomite and an adulterer."
This last point cuts to Watson's chest like a lance, like the parting look on Mary's face. "You are hardly in a position to condemn my vices," he snaps, "considering the ample scope of your own."
Holmes gives a crooked, couchant smile. "Precisely. We deserve each other, Watson."
"What we deserve and what we do not deserve may be left to a higher Judgement, I think."
"Have we not judgement enough to decide for ourselves?"
"I would not presume so;" right across Holmes' lips because Holmes has reared up on his knees and is briskly untangling Watson's cravat. "It is not our place to decide such things."
"It is not our place to do a lot of things, and yet we do them."
"That does not make them right."
"The things that are necessary aren't always right," Holmes says; "and what we are doing is necessary."
Holmes is at his most vulnerable when he's asleep, each wire-edged muscle gone slack in his body and the light turned imbricate down his chin.
At times, John Watson thinks in these stuttered, snatched moments that in a world of flawless symmetry he'd keep the truth a docile thing, curled dozing like a favourite cat beside a crackling fireplace. He'd tame it, file down claws and teeth; and then between himself and Holmes it would become a foregone entity.
In this world where truth is blurred at the edges there's an image glossed into Watson's ring, Holmes sparked and unpredictable but leashed, platonic, brotherly. The stubborn tilt of Holmes' chin speaks nothing more than pilfered books, ripped shirts; and Holmes' pleated smile means mischief, or a novel case, a foil that stings but doesn't bleed. In this Tantalean fantasy Holmes fills the sitting room with smoke and swears that Gladstone's just asleep. Holmes stays for toast and Ceylon tea, gripes about Watson's Armagnac, makes off with Watson's best silk slippers and raids his closet brazenly. What dangles from the slew-sly mouth is a pipe-stem, scraps of spangled cases spouted like amphigory – no longing sloughed across those eyes. No stark, corrupt necessity.
No force that spools Holmes back again, a spectre leaned across the door, the dark eyes waxed esurient and fixed on Watson's lamp-lit face.
But this is.
This truth is a gnarled, malicious thing, a real and brute grotesquerie that smarts and smatters ruthlessly. This truth is Holmes down on his knees and Holmes bent over a writing desk and Holmes saying, much too certainly:
You deserve me.
And yet, this truth is the clock chimed four and Watson still in Holmes' bed. Holmes is twisted there on his pale right side, bruised shoulders unaligned, unkempt, all indehiscent sweep of chest and blunted width of bone in hips. His legs engage the knotted sheets, his mouth a mute anomaly. The alertness scutched from Holmes' face leaves something open in its stead. The lines are smoothed from Holmes' brow, no rancour and no cogency; and Watson feels the time press in, the hours smudged like charcoal, skin, the shadows inked and fingered deep upon the plane of Holmes' cheek.
This is a verso side to Sherlock Holmes that Watson's glimpsed but never seen. Times past he leaves the room too soon, the guilt and Holmes' baleful eyes a sharp-fanged yapping at his heels. Times past he leaves because of Mary. Her pity and her wedding ring. Her goodness.
She won't come back.
In the watered light the words feel numb, a wound that's wreathed beneath the skin. They hurt – but softer, bearably, without the fury stoking it. The image of Mary, copper-haired, perched on the arm of Watson's chair and reading Virgil's Aeneid is a fraudulent, idyllic scene, the clouds that dust at Mary's feet a vast and still-retreating thing. She sews and counts the candlesticks; she brushes Watson's hat each day. She's a portrait on the mantelpiece and three months has polished all her edges, made her image out of reach.
Watson would like to melt himself alongside all that Mary is, make Mary a viaticum to sluice out all his blackest sins – but Mary's gone and Holmes is left, a truth imperfect, incomplete.
On Holmes' once unmarred, white skin trawl bruises, scars. Faint needle-pricks. Gauze scroops around two fingers sprained in nameless gas-lit fighting rings, and Watson sits right next to him, the headboard an éclaircissement, the two of them a fractured echo of how things really should have been.
But, Watson thinks, despite it all it's the truth nonetheless.
And it's necessary.
The clock is poised on ten to six and Watson's still between the sheets, his shoulders braced vitrescent up against a shoal of pondered things. The smile he wears is private, thin – a drabbet-raw but heartfelt grin that's nothing perfect, nothing clean, but real.
It's just enough, at least.
Three weeks sees Watson back again, the portmanteaus and carpet-bags, the boxes bustling from their cabs to 221b Baker Street. Holmes hovers in the doorway, stairs, violin bow clasped behind his back, his mouth a melismatic sling that never sets on anything. He snipes at drivers, delivery boys; his smile is always just beneath, tentative but half-tamed, fierce, and Watson sees it easily.
Holmes says, half-way through all of it, "Planning to stay a long while, old boy?"
"Just the two months or so until Mary comes back;" although Watson has sold most of his furniture and Cavendish Place is leased out already.
Holmes knows this.
Watson knows he knows this.
And so the smile remains fixed between them, one other unspoken thing they share. Within it tides a current latched, a callous and vindictive thing, the remnants of those primary months on which all other months are based; patched over are the recent weeks, the fragile sheen of tolerance. It's brittle, but it's progress made.
John Watson doesn't question it.
In time, John Watson likes to think they've tamped their way to normalcy, a final state of equipoise that's soothing in its fluency – Holmes preconising his way through cases, the fainéant mires in between, and Watson there to curb the moods that skulk there subcutaneously.
The months go by. Five months. Then six.
Mrs Mary Watson does not return.
The letters from her cease as well and in time, John Watson likes to think that Mary's purged and exorcised, a bruise left only underneath skin. She's a delicate and glass-spun thing that does not belong in Baker Street. In Baker Street lie crackling things, the flaring force to Watson's spine whenever eyes or fingers meet; the feel of Holmes' pulse trapped there within the cage of Watson's teeth. In Baker Street is Sherlock Holmes pressed up against the study door, the bite of Watson's wedding ring against the flesh above his hips. In Baker Street is Holmes' mouth, despoiling, heated, much too heaped, garrotte-wire grin snagged vespertine across the porcelain white of teeth; and fights, char-caulked and dangerous things, spun out from petty arguments that seep their way through everything.
But then, at times in Baker Street there's afternoons of autumn sun, Holmes wrapped within his dressing gown and sipping at a cup of tea. There's Watson in a chair nearby with Morning Post spread on his knee, and Holmes' wrist upon his arm, and Holmes' pipe-smoke in the air, and Holmes' voice a monologue that quirks a half-reluctant smile. There's light a pearly anadem upon the soot of Holmes' hair. There's quiet like a détente.
There's just the two of them, alone, within the stinting of the world and Holmes' mouth is much too steep, like something lost and found at sea; but even with its snarling ease, the rapier-edge that starts and stings, his mouth fits Watson's perfectly.
And that, too, is enough, at least.
A/N: I... have a terrible suspicion I'm going to be bashed for this chapter. I don't know why. I just have the suspicion. Maybe it's because I went through the whole (write + read + dislike immensely + re-write) cycle SIX TIMES for this Part II, that I'm still slightly unhappy with what I've ended up with, but I'm just so emotionally and physically exhausted that I can't keep it up and start a seventh cycle.
Sorry. I'm my own worst critic sometimes.
But anyway, please, please review my humble and (appropriately, I suppose, since we're dealing with the whole perfection theme) imperfect Part II! If you don't, I think I might just cry. And I'm being serious. I'm that tired.
PS. And please add me on LiveJournal as well – I post notifications and so forth on there.
(And please don't forget to review!)