PART ONE: Excerpts from the Diary of Dr John Watson

Warning: Rated T for violence, drug use, angst, mentions of suicide, and not-quite-there slashy undertones.

May 21st, 1889

It is with a heavy heart and a trembling hand that I take up my pen to chronicle the strange events of to-day. I hesitate even to begin putting it into words - surely, there are no words to explain this thing that hardly makes sense in my own head, having witnessed it with my own eyes and ears. I have no fever, however; can find evidence of no drugs or alcohol that would have hindered my judgment; and if it was a dream then it was a most terrible nightmare that I have yet to awake from. The letter by my hand is physical proof of what has transpired. I am forced to accept, then, that this is reality, and it is my solemn duty to portray it as exactly as my rattled nerves will allow.

Six weeks have passed since my marriage, and in that time I have taken up a private practice, the running of which has kept me quite busy. Between that and my new wife and household, I had very little time to myself, much less to see my old roommate Holmes. My thoughts had not turned entirely from him, though, and so it was that this forenoon when a patient cancelled at the last minute and I found myself with a spare hour, I set out to see my dear friend. I confess that I dreaded the meeting a bit, fearing that in my absence he had turned to the false solace of his seven-percent-solution. Now I only wish that was what met me.

The sky was dark and heavy with the threat of rain this morning and I had not much time, so I only walked until I could flag a cab. I had not gone far at all when a brougham pulled up alongside me, and the coachman encouraged me to step up. I was hesitant, as it was much too large a vehicle for a London cab. It seems my fears were justified. No sooner was my head inside that dark, enclosed space then a bag was thrown over it, and I was made aware of at least two other presences with me, one of whom was quick to relieve me of my cane.

Even as the coach set off I began to struggle and yell. One of my captors clapped me upside the head and then struck a sound blow to my chest. I made out a threat upon my person, but it was hard to hear clearly over the ringing of my ears. Much more clearly could I hear snatches of Holmes' perennial advice, and so I ceased my struggling and sought instead to deduce my situation. The irony of it only strikes me now.

My captors did not speak further. I had not Holmes' full sensory knowledge of London, and we rattled over many twists and turns, so I was well and thoroughly lost by the time we pulled to a stop some half-hour later. I was dragged from the coach and guided by rough hands, stumbling from lack of my cane and from the protests of my old wound in this damp weather, through at least two doors. The bag was then lifted from my eyes, my stick thrust into my hands, and the door behind me closed while I was still blinking away my disorientation.

The room I had been lead into was small, some ten feet by sixteen, illuminated by a single lamp that left shadows to gather in the corners. The wood beneath my feet was bare, and indeed, the only furniture was a single table in the center with a chair pulled up to it. Papers lay strewn about its surface, and upon the chair was lain a cheap violin and fiddlestick. Heavy curtains flanked the only window, but were being held aside, and the gloomy view was blocked by the tall, gaunt figure of a man. I felt some immediate measure of relief when I recognized his presence.

"Holmes." My first thought was for his health, if he had been handled roughly as I had. "Are you alright?"

He did not acknowledge my presence at once. I started forward with the intention of checking him for wounds, but he turned to me then, and the strange gleam in his gray eyes stopped me in my tracks. "How sweet," he said, and there was no mistaking the tinge of bitterness in his voice. "I am fine, doctor."

"Holmes, where are we?"

"Do you like it? We are currently standing in the new headquarters of the criminal underworld." He read the question on my face before I could voice it. "You, my friend, are here because I felt it had been too long since we last spoke."

"Quite the coincidence," I said, much more calmly than I felt, "I was on my way to see you when I was abducted."

I took another step closer, and stopped when he frowned. Another moment and he was beside me, long fingers hovering over the tender spot where I'd been struck. "They attacked you. That was directly against my orders."

Holmes' cryptic murmurings had begun to turn my confusion to fear. Normally I would have allowed him to come to the explanation in his own time, but these circumstances were too fantastic for calm patience. "I'm fine. What are you doing here, Holmes?" He was entirely too composed to have been abducted, I decided, which left only one reasonable alternative. "Are you on a case?"

His laughter startled me, an uncharacteristic bark that was bitter as hemlock. "Yes and no, my dear doctor. I am making cases." He swept a periodical off the table and held it out to me. The paper was dated last Thursday, and I recognized it instantly, for the few details the paper had divulged had made me think of him.

"KING STREET BAKER DISAPPEARS WITHOUT A TRACE," read the headline, and the article went on to explain the wealth of contradictory evidence and the leads that dead-ended almost as soon as they were found. The police were baffled. I looked back at my friend, who wore the strangest expression: a tight smile thinning his lips, eyes glittering, brows tilted up imploringly.

"I don't understand."

His smile flickered; evidently I had disappointed him. "No, I don't expect so," said he. "You are far too unassuming to make such a deduction." He set down the periodical and made a show of lighting his old clay pipe. "You see," said he after a puff, "in my involuntarily imposed solitude, I have come to a most startling revelation. The thought occurred to me that my life was nothing more than waiting for a criminal to commit a crime of enough ingenuity to keep me occupied for a day or two. But you know as well as I that they are not all too common. Letter after letter of petty theft and crimes of passion passed over my table, but I could solve them all by a glance; no need to even leave my rooms.

"So, after some two weeks of 'wallowing in my own self-pity', as you have called it, I endeavored to entertain myself - I set out to create the perfect crime. Oh, don't look so shocked, old boy, you and Lestrade both have made mention of what a great criminal I could be. Come, sit down before you faint on your feet."

I took his offered seat numbly, unable to comprehend what he was saying. Blue smoke curled continually towards the ceiling as Holmes regarded me, his eyes twinkling as he waited for me to find my voice again. Finally I managed to croak, "The baker?"

"Has been transplanted to Belgium and is quietly continuing his profession. I'm sure I could arrange a meeting if you are concerned about his health."

"Holmes... why, pray tell, did you abduct a baker and send him to Belgium?"

"Merely to prove to myself that I could," he answered and turned away with a shrug, the picture of casual indifference were it not for the cold glitter of his eyes. "The intricacies that went into the planning were simply extraordinary. They kept me up for no less than thirty hours without distraction. Truth be told, I never planned to carry out the deed. But by the time I had finished, I felt as though I had theorized something revolutionary. I felt obligated to put into practice - to carry out this test of the practical issues that could arise in the process of such a plan. It seems you and the Inspector were right, I have quite a knack for crime, even if I don't carry it out myself. No, there is nothing to even begin to trace back to me - I was at home in Baker Street the whole time, awaiting news - and yet a baker disappeared overnight and is now making his way in Belgium, and Scotland Yard is at even more of a loss than usual. The entertainment value of the deed itself is almost overshadowed by watching them scurry after my false leads, one after another falling apart in their hands.

"Well, I could hardly stop there. When one has a talent for something, one should put it to good use, yes? Observe, my dear Watson, if you haven't already, the clippings on the desk there. I think you might recognize some of them from the recent periodicals. That stunning Bailey sculpture is on a ship bound for the Americas - I'm quite pleased by that one. Tomorrow a vault load of gold is boarding a train to Liverpool, where it will also be packed onto a ship. No motive, no profit, and each and every scene sprinkled with clues to baffle even the best - I imagine my rival Barker will be on some of these trails soon. I do not expect even he to catch any of my network, but for a lucky stumble, and even then I've alibis for all of them."

I had taken a look through the papers as he'd spoken, reading Holmes' scrawled notes and comparing it to the clippings that he had at hand. Random and varied crimes, mostly theft but for the baker's disappearance. He was right, no pattern could be found, no motive, not even a reasonable scapegoat. For all my education I could not - cannot - put a name to the emotions that I felt as I read his notes and listened to his account.

"As I sat working through the details, something occurred to me. It appears I take much more pleasure from smashing the glass to picking up the pieces."

Suddenly I was ignited, his words like a spark to a powder keg. His eyes widened as I crushed a paper in my fist and rose to my feet, ignoring the protests from my old war-wound. "Six weeks, Holmes! Six weeks and how far you have fallen. The once-great Sherlock Holmes reduced to petty theft!" I had more to say, but he sprang forward and leaned his lank form on the table, his eyes dancing with the same fire I felt within me.

"Reduced! My mind has never been so alive, Watson - you know I rebel at stagnation, and this has provided a most fine exercise whenever I should want it. This society protects its possessions with an intriguing amount of passion. From my renewed point of view it is almost an invitation to challenge them. Why should I waste my singular powers waiting for some desperate fool to present their pitifully simple case?"

I surprised even myself when I slammed my fist on the table. "Because that is what is right!"

"Right?" he echoed. "You wish to talk to me about morals, my dear boy? We have stepped over what many consider 'right' many times in our day, don't you agree?"

"That was for a good cause, Holmes. Justice rather than law - helping good people! You're better than this."

He laughed again, but his face was grim. "I think the facts disagree with you, doctor. What have I told you about forming a theory in advance of the facts?" I could not answer, struck dumb by the force of my anger in the face of his dark humour. He took this as cue to go on. "On the contrary, doctor, I do not think I have fallen at all, rather risen above the petty morality of our society. My actions harm no one, and I gain no profit but for entertainment, and better health because of it." He paused, watching as I automatically looked him over from this close vantage and realized that yes, he was much healthier than I had expected to find him. Indignation had colored his cheeks, but there was also a glow about him, an excitement usually only reserved for the midst of a challenging case. I did not know how to feel about that. "Now, my dear Watson, I have a proposition for you."

I frowned, waiting for his proposition, but it did not come. The silence stretched until I realized that he would not continue without my prompting; and though I have always had some stubborn streak, I have also always suffered from terrible curiosity when it came to Holmes, so there was little chance I would last in a waiting game. "What is your proposition, Holmes?"

"I propose you join me."

I intended to leave right that moment. I turned away, hoping that it was disgust that lined my features, and not the moment of consideration, of excitement that I am ashamed to admit leapt in my breast. "Mister Holmes," I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking, "you are delusional. I am going to have to take this to the police."

"I understand." His voice was unnervingly calm, and I knew without looking that he had fixed me with one of his soul-searing stares. "In which case, you must understand that although I have yet to commit anything other than theft and the single abduction, I have little doubt that I could turn my hand to far more heinous crimes, should the need arise."

I nearly lost my footing as I spun to stare at him, too shocked to reply - struck dumb for the second time that hour. On many occasions have I been threatened in my time, both with Holmes and before, but none reached into my chest and took a stranglehold of my heart. None before this. I found that I could not breath, and had the fleeting thought that it would be terribly embarrassing if I were to faint in that moment.

Then, with my heart already in his grasp, he took it and shattered it, with the merest change of his expression. A tilt of his head, a sinister smirk flitting across his lips, grey eyes hard and cold like chips of steel. "You've gone pale, dear doctor. Would you care for a drink?"

I believe I shook my head, though I can't say for certain.

I had to ignore the small, dark voice that asked me why I had refused his offer. Because I am a gentleman, a law-abiding and god-fearing man, I would answer, and yet they felt like insincere excuses, and the voice would not abate in pointing out how intriguing it would be to watch Holmes work again, to see his face constantly alight with new discoveries and new challenges. With the voice in my mind and the weariness in my bones, the walk to the station seemed to stretch on into eternity, but finally I found myself at the threshold. It was only there that a second voice spoke up and made me hesitate.

He hummed and turned his back to me, the broken gaze like a weight lifted and I could breathe again. "Then I really must bid you adieu. It really does not do to be behind schedule. As always, it has been good to see you, doctor."

I went to the door, but he was not quite finished with me yet. "Give my best to your lovely wife," he said, perfectly cordial.

My day was not to end there, though. I could not leave such a thing to sit, and having some friends among the Yard, I hoped that I could at least find some advice, some help for a friend that I still hoped was following some mad whim. I allowed Holmes' brutes to blindfold me and lead me to another carriage, tried again to discern my location but I am sure he had them take as many twists and turns as possible before they deposited me at the opera house. From there I made my way to the police station, limping and slow from a fatigue that suddenly settled into my limbs from the events of a mere hour.

I had to ignore the small, dark voice that asked me why I had refused his offer. Because I am a gentleman, a law-abiding and god-fearing man, I would answer, and yet they felt like insincere excuses, and the voice would not abate in pointing out how intriguing it would be to watch Holmes work again, to see his face constantly alight with new discoveries and new challenges. With the voice in my mind and the weariness in my bones, the walk to the station seemed to stretch on into eternity, but finally I found myself at the threshold. It was only there that a second voice spoke up and made me hesitate.

'More heinous crimes', he had said, and the mere memory of it made my blood chill. And then 'give my best to your lovely wife'. He - my intimate friend, my longtime companion, flatmate of eight years - could not really bring himself to do such a thing, could he? I clung to this belief as to a shield and stepped into the station.

Things inside were busy (perhaps from the rash of new and strange crimes) and bustling, but not so much that some of the men could not stop and say hello. I was well-known here from my association with Holmes, but the day had not made me amiable, so I did not return their greetings. I turned and shut the door deliberately - trying to stave off the inevitable, I fear. I should have known better than such foolishness.

"Dr. Watson?"

I turned back and gave as polite a smile as I could to constable Clarke, though I fear it was strained. "Clarky. Good to see you." Clarke's young face bore a frown that creased his brow. "Is there something wrong?"

He shook his head. "Not at all, sir. It's just that you have arrived just in time."

"In time for what?" Though confused, I feel that some part of me knew the answer, and was just hoping to be proven wrong.

The constable fished a small envelope from his pocket, plain but for my name written across the front in a delicate hand. He handed it to me as he explained - I only recall the words looking back at them, at the time I could not hear over the pounding of blood in my ears. "It arrived yesterday afternoon for you, sir. There were instructions that we should burn it if you hadn't collected it by noon today."

It was quarter-til. A close calculation. I studied the envelope, bypassing the writing in favor of a smudge of dirt along one edge. Holmes could have told me precisely where it came from, who had carried it, and whether they'd been tipped a shilling or two for the trouble, just from that smudge. I was forced to resort to mundane means. "Who delivered it, may I ask?"

"A street urchin, sir. We haven't opened it since it arrived. I was on my way to destroy it now."

Or Holmes could tell me all of that because he'd been present at its send-off. I slipped open the flat wax seal and withdrew a half-sheet of foolscap with no watermark, folded over and written in the same ink and hand as on the envelope itself. The writing was foreign, but I knew who had penned it before I read the first word.

Well done, my friend, you are still the righteous man I knew you as. I had hoped, though, you would never have to read this letter. Although I commend your nobility, I mean to reiterate that despite their best intentions, the involvement of the Yard would be an exercise in futility.

I apologize at the pain my threat must cause you, but it stands. You must understand that this is a delicate web which I weave now, and though they may be stumbling about in the dark, our good inspectors can still manage to upset my work. I cannot allow that to happen. I highly doubt that you have informed anyone just yet, which means that you still have the chance to walk away. As long as everyone else remains unaware of the true score - the inspectors, your lovely wife - they will not have to be... let us be delicate and say, 'removed'.

So, once again, I present you with a proposition. Speak not a word of what you have seen and heard today. Return home to your wife. I will take no action against you, my good friend, so long as it is only you who knows my secret.

Perhaps, in your silence, you may reconsider my proposal. I am still where you would expect me to be. My door is always open to you.

Adieu, friend.

The letter was signed 'John Watson', in the familiar scrawl that I had seen only an hour earlier. Had there been any doubts in my mind as to the sender, that would have dismissed the last of them.

I drew a shaking breath in some effort to calm my nerves. "You say this arrived yesterday?" I asked of the constable still standing near.

He nodded. "Yes, sir. It was about two in the afternoon. What's the matter - it's nothing bad, is it?"

A laugh slipped out of me, a high, jittery thing that was devoid of real mirth. "No, no," I assured him as I slid the letter back into the envelope and pocketed both. I was aware of confusion and suspicion in Clarke's gaze as I turned and hurried away.

Thoughts chased one after the other through my mind, demanding all my awareness though they shed no light or reason upon my situation. Ideas flickered past theories and twined with suppositions, all too chaotic and confused to be of any use. I have some vague recollection of having caught a cab home and greeted a surprised Mary before locking myself into my study and sitting down to write. Even now, looking back on these pages and pages of barely-legible notes, I still cannot make full sense of this day. It is as if the whole world has picked up and shifted three paces to the left, and forgot to inform me, so that I am scrambling to catch up. Every few minutes I catch myself wishing that Holmes were here to make sense of this.

I confess that I have never felt more utterly lost in my life.

Standard disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and affiliated do not belong to me. This is probably for good reason.

Nonstandard disclaimer: The seeds of this plot and the events of the first three chapters, though altered and rewritten to fit my own nefarious purposes, do not belong to me. They are borrowed (with permission) from Santai's 'A Brush With The Other Side', and this fic can be viewed as a sort of alternate ending to her story. Show your appreciation by giving her fic a peek once you're done here, hey?