By Candle Beck
They're at the docks and chasing again, hot on a murderer's trail with the wooden planks thundering hollowly under them. The night is dry and crisply cold, the animate smell of the river proceeding from every molecule of oxygen, every inch of space. Holmes is in front, Watson a few lengths back with approximately nine minutes left of strenuous exercise left in his bad leg.
Two weeks, they've been after this son of a bitch. Two weeks, three cold little bodies, forty-nine hours since Holmes last slept. It's thirty-two minutes past one in the morning, and the murderer is six feet tall. They are in Southwark, approaching Greenwich. The moon above the river is exactly one-half full.
Holmes is closing the distance. The murderer's head bobs in front of him, meagre light catching on his tonsure. He is tiring, having had no more sleep than the detective-Holmes has ensured that, at the very least. After all the cat-and-mouse schemes and near-misses of this case, it has become a remarkably elemental competition: which man will outrun the other?
It will be Holmes, of course. He sketches out how it will go in his mind's eye: Lussac (that would be the killer, Edward Lussac with his sunken weasel's face, his yellow eyes and thick hoary fingernails and bad habit of strangling street orphans in dank alleyways) will lose ten percent of his footspeed within the next few minutes, and Holmes will be able to drive him inland and uphill, finishing him off. He calculates that the chase will most likely end in the churchyard in Blackheath, in the shadow of the most vicious spire in all of London. Holmes is already planning how he'll secure Lussac before the Yard manages to make an appearance.
Watson's stride has faltered. Holmes hears it, registers it, glances back over his shoulder. It's instinct alone, the entirety of Holmes's conscious mind fixed on Lussac, and he suffers a flash of irritation at Watson for taking his eyes away even just for that second.
But then Holmes sees Watson's leg give out, five whole minutes before it's supposed to, and Watson is flung to the ground as if thrown off a building. The doctor doesn't have time to get his hands up, and Holmes watches as Watson's head slams hard into the dock, watches as his pale fingers spasm against the dark wood and he lies still.
Unconscious due to blow to the right temple, Holmes thinks unnecessarily, and then he realises that he has turned back. His feet are acting of their own volition, and Holmes says out loud, "Quit," but his body declines to obey.
Fading into the distance is Lussac's ragged panting breath, the staggering pulse of his stride. The villain is getting away, getting away, disappearing into the bowels of London to brutalise more children. Holmes is moving towards Watson like lead shot to a magnet.
"What are you doing?" Holmes mutters as he falls to his knees beside Watson's prone form. The rational part of his brain is abuzz with urgency and outrage, fighting a losing war.
He rolls Watson onto his back. The doctor groans from deep in his chest, sounding like a bellows split at the seams. There is grime like char on his forehead and the tip of his nose, and Holmes has a handkerchief in hand, again without conscious thought. He cleans Watson's face, checks his pulse and of course it's fine, steady and strong, he's fine. Watson is breathing and warm to the touch, no more than knocked out, and Holmes says once more, too loud, "What are you doing," and wrenches himself up and away.
He sprints after Lussac, forcing a last-ditch thrust of energy into his legs and ripping all thought of Watson out of his mind like a picture from the newspaper. The world narrows to the canyons of crates and towering stacked barrels, the moss and iron smell of the river. Holmes cannot hear the murderer any longer; he is running blind, no better than a rat in a warren.
Lussac escapes. Holmes ends up collapsed on a mooring bollard, heaving for air and feeling like his chest is stuffed with smouldering hay.
He is more than a few minutes in recovering. First there is the physical, regaining his breath, regulating the frenzied beat of his heart. Sweat goes cold and shrivelling on his face and neck as his body loses its fever. White spots drift away from his eyes, clouds before the wind.
Then Holmes finds himself debilitated from a bout of self-recrimination that puts a bitter taste in his mouth, pure loathing. He allowed this to happen. His mind fills with pictures of small bodies, still white faces no bigger than a man's spread hand, and he thinks that he will be sick, but that passes.
Holmes staggers back the way he came, several long minutes in a dark maze. Watson appears and he looks murdered himself, face down with his arms limp at his sides. The sight makes a stone drop in Holmes's chest, and he wilfully misinterprets the feeing as anger.
He presses his boot on Watson's back. Not very hard, of course, not with any real malice, just a harmless moment of solid contact. Air huffs out of Watson as he jerks back to consciousness, and immediately rolls hard away from the detective.
"Holmes," Watson gasps, braced defensively and obviously expecting someone else. "What, what are you doing?"
"I am attempting to process the variegated multitude of mistakes that I have made tonight, a list that no doubt begins with my request for your assistance."
For emphasis, Holmes kicks Watson's boot. The scowl he's wearing is so deeply engraved that he feels disfigured. Watson makes a startled sound like a dog whose tail has been stepped on, and looks up at Holmes with a baffled wounded expression.
"What have I done? What happened?"
Holmes snarls, tasting it like arsenic on his tongue. "Lussac has eluded us, Watson. Or rather, he has eluded me-you were hardly a factor in the chase."
A familiar scowl screws itself onto Watson's face, and he heaves himself to his feet, severely favouring his bad leg and asking for no aid. Watson stands tilted to one side like a tree on a wind-blasted cliff's edge, and Holmes experiences a flagitious urge to shove the doctor hard, send him sprawling back onto the ground. He doesn't act on it, of course. There are limits to what he will do to Watson, boundaries thin and inconstant but certainly there.
"A thousand pardons," Watson says acidly. "Would you mind telling me how I came to be unconscious?"
"It is a singular talent of yours," Holmes says, heedless and running so damnably hot under his skin. "Unflagging competence save for the precise moments when I would have most use of you."
Watson's eyes flash, and he pulls his shoulders up like a boxer, turns his back on Holmes and begins limping away. Holmes leaps upon his trail, a merciless sharp-edged feeling honing the edges of his frustration.
"Your performance tonight was impressive beyond description," Holmes sneers.
"Leave it, Holmes," Watson says, teeth clenched.
"As you left me? It's a sobering thing, my dear doctor, to look back for your support and find it lying prostrate on the ground."
"My leg gave out, did it not? How your conscience allows you to blame me for that, I cannot possibly imagine."
"Oh, it's done simply enough. I merely consider the contrast between the capabilities you present yourself as having, and those that you possess in actuality. The gulf between the two is rather extreme, you see."
Watson's face looks carved out of wood, weathered and old. He is walking stiff-legged, a stalking junkyard dog with the hair bristling on the back of his neck. Holmes stares at the shape of Watson's mouth like a bit of metal twisted, the pained anger scrawled all over his face. Holmes thinks, good, a mean satisfaction in him.
"Living up to your standards is clearly work for a better class of man than I," Watson says, and turns onto the main road, the rare gold puddles of streetlight. "Far be it for me to trouble you with my shortcomings any further."
"Ah yes, and up to Golgotha with you. Such a perfect martyr-your cross awaits!"
Watson shoots Holmes a hateful look, and Holmes grins hard and joylessly. There is a beast inside him striving against its chain, clawing at his walls.
"This is beneath you," Watson tells him. "I may be the most convenient target, but I am hardly at fault for Lussac outrunning you."
"Are you not?" and Holmes's voice cracks distressingly, and he curses himself. "If you hadn't distracted me with your disgraceful collapse-"
"How could I have distracted you?" Watson demands, and he's fraying as well, shaking with consternation. "How does my being out of the chase take you out as well?"
Holmes's mouth opens, and then he hits a wall. It is a prodigious wall, constructed of boulders and tar and the sudden awareness that he is missing something essential. He looks at Watson, whose taut features are limned under the dusky sallow light of a lonely streetlamp, and the detective finds himself purblind, stricken and dry-mouthed.
Distantly appalled, Holmes pulls together the disintegrating shroud of his intellect, and rallies to the good fight. He tells the doctor, "You fell, quite pathetically. I was distracted, if only for a moment, and Lussac escaped. Those are the facts of the situation, and you may accept them or not."
"I do not," Watson mutters. He is walking as if he has an anvil on his back. The small cutting looks he gives Holmes are like wasp stings, microscopic punctures. "You've never had a problem leaving me where I've fallen before."
"I beg your pardon."
Watson curls his lip, and shrugs. "I don't begrudge you it. Put me up against a remorseless killer, and I know where your priorities lie."
There is a hole in Holmes, a seam come unravelled, and the anger is leaking out of him, disappearing like sand through his fingers. He doesn't like the expression on Watson's face, the calcareous pallor that pain and exhaustion have wrought, the tense muscle in his cheek from clenching his teeth. Holmes stares at Watson and thinks like an echo, what are you doing.
"That's. Rather simplistic," Holmes says.
Watson could not sound less interested, his voice dull. They have come up to a better-travelled road and Watson flags the first passing hansom. It rattles to a stop beside them, and Watson tells the driver shortly, "Baker Street and Marylebone," before climbing in without waiting for his friend.
Holmes stands on the kerb, flat-footed, nailed in place. He wishes futilely that he were angry still, missing the clarity of it, the way it makes the world fall into black and white. Holmes doesn't know what to say if he's not speaking in anger.
"Are you coming, Holmes?" Watson asks impatiently from inside the cab. Holmes starts, and the tuberous driver gives him a smirking look that makes the detective want to hit him. He gets in the cab instead, sitting across from Watson and rubbing at the edge of his jaw, thoughtful and anxious.
They ride awhile in the non-silence of a hansom cab, the clank and clop and jangle, the night deep and soft-looking above the buildings like a velvet glove cupped over the city. They cross the river at London Bridge, the black water shining under moonlight.
Watson looks out the window with the intent sightless expression he adopts when auscultating patients. Holmes watches him without appearing to, disorientation seeping through him. Watson is largely free of bruises, a trace of grime the size of a shilling at the corner of his jaw, his hands scuffed but not bloodied. A slow heat gathers in Holmes's stomach, and he finds it increasingly difficult to keep from looking at his friend.
It's like back at the docks, seeing Watson fall and feeling his body suddenly jerk and move without his consent or control. It bothers Holmes that he should have reactions beyond his ken. The sensation is slippery and entirely unpleasant; his skin feels three sizes too small.
"Watson," Holmes says, and Watson looks over at him guardedly. "Some of my recent remarks to you may have fallen shy of civility."
Watson huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. "I agree."
"Permit me to make my apologies."
There is a moment of silence, a tic in Watson's cheek, and the doctor says, "I don't know if I should."
Holmes blinks, and curls his hand into a fist. "That is hardly the answer of a gentleman."
"Yes, let's talk about how a gentleman behaves."
"There is no need for sarcasm, old boy."
"With you, Holmes? There is always a need."
A scowl screws onto Holmes's face as tightly as a lid onto a jar. "I spoke in haste, and with the blindness engendered by adrenaline and high action. Of course I didn't mean a word of it."
"Dear God," Watson says, muttered under his breath with his eyes still turned stubbornly away from his friend. "The facility with which you lie never ceases to amaze me."
Holmes experiences a brief rush of flattered pleasure-yes I do lie exceptionally well-followed immediately by affront. "Slander! Only our long-standing association prevents me from demanding satisfaction of you."
Watson smirks, a kind of bitter sad smirk. "Don't restrain yourself on my account."
The conversation is progressing in an odd direction. Holmes's eyes feel strained and weak from being trained on Watson so long. At any moment now, the detective's storied insight will return to him and he will be able to identify this feeling that scrapes in his stomach like a heated metal rake, this bizarre weightless turn behind his ribs.
"You were not to blame for Lussac escaping," Holmes says, surprised by the rough tone in his own voice.
Visibly taken aback, Watson looks at him. His tense shoulders give somewhat. "No?"
Holmes shakes his head, stunned to feel his face heating. He lets his eyes skip past Watson to the blackened moil of the night and the impenetrable web of Regent's Park. They are almost home.
"It's distressing," Holmes says. "It was distressing."
"What. What are you on about?"
"I do not like being distracted."
Watson blinks at him, lost. "No, of course not."
"Catastrophe requires no more than the briefest diversion. If I take my eye from the objective for even an instant, all could be lost."
"So you are a liability," Holmes interrupts him, feeling his heartbeat fast and metallic in his mouth. An offended look flashes on Watson's face.
"Am I, indeed?" Watson asks, twisting his mouth around the words as if they are bitter-tasting.
"You are too much on my mind. I cannot be expected to, to-" and Holmes stops, colour springing hotly onto his face. A legless confusion runs amok in him, and the detective is baffled, infuriated. He doesn't know what's happening to him right now.
Watson is looking at him with something like shock writ large. Holmes takes a steadying breath and holds it, forces his mind to calm. The carriage comes to a rattling halt at their corner, and sudden quiet collapses like a roof falling in on them.
Holmes glances sideways at Watson, and then hurries out of the carriage, saying shortly over his shoulder, "Pay the man, won't you, old boy?"
The benighted street is hushed, as still as if dipped in liquid glass. Holmes reads the stories that the paving stones have to tell, the heartbreak poems written in mud and ash. There is a nervous scratching thing inside him, and he wishes he could make it go away.
They go upstairs together, walking softly to avoid waking Mrs Hudson. Holmes is terribly aware of Watson behind him, his weight creaking on the steps, his searching blue eyes on Holmes's back. Holmes does not like Watson watching him when he cannot watch back.
Once within, Holmes takes his chair, his spine curling. Small elements settle inside him, as if he has donned a suit of armour. He occupies his hands with his pipe but does not take out any tobacco, keeping an eye on Watson as he strips his coat and hat, flips idly through last week's letters. Holmes's gaze skitters and jumps, Watson's swift sturdy hands, the gold edges of his hair catching the light, his plain cheek and the half-hidden shape of his mouth under his moustache. Everything about the doctor is clearer, just now.
Watson puts down the post and wanders without direction to the other side of the room. This chest-tightening sense of anticipation, this feeling of being held on edge, it is clearly not reserved for Holmes alone.
The Dutch clock on the mantle ticks past three in the morning. Holmes thinks of the sleeping city out beyond the window glass, millions of witnesses all insensate, and the idea spurs him, makes his palms sweat and his mouth go dry.
"Well," Watson says, small word that breaks like a stone into a still pond. "What will you do? About Lussac?"
Holmes flinches so minutely that even Watson doesn't notice. That slick hiss of a name scrapes against his bones like a rasp. Holmes relives the man's dropsical features, his lumpen head and rat's eyes, the reek of him, and the detective's face wrenches into a snarl.
"He won't stay hidden long," Holmes says. "Vermin always have their favourite holes, and at each of his I've posted an Irregular to observe and report. We'll have him by dawn."
Watson lifts his eyebrows. "You sent street urchins to find the man who has been killing street urchins?"
"I sent my street urchins. Whatever their individual merits, the one quality they all share is ardent self-preservation. The lads will be fine."
"As you say, I'm sure."
Holmes sets his pipe down on the table and glares at him. The strange twisting anxiety has not left the room; if anything, it is becoming honed, silvery and lethal. Watson isn't letting him get away with the usual obfuscations and grand proclamations. When their eyes meet there is a crack that makes Holmes think of lightning.
"A little optimism, Watson, if you please."
The corner of Watson's mouth curls. "You have all my confidence, of course."
"Of course," Holmes murmurs in echo. He wishes Watson would sit down, return them to the same level.
"Although I don't know what weight it carries with you, as I am, as recently described by an acquaintance of mine renowned for his insight, an incompetent liability."
That is meant to cut and it does its job, a thin bloody seam opened in some undefined part of Holmes. Holmes keeps his face impassive, watching the doctor from under half-lidded eyes.
"I seem to recall apologising for that already."
"Apology and absolution are not synonymous, Holmes."
"No, indeed," and Holmes's voice remains stubbornly low, scratching along like a bird with its wings torn off. "The world would be rather too easy to bear under such felicitous conditions."
Watson starts to say something, and then stops himself, gives Holmes a quick surprised look that strikes abnormally hard. Holmes's eyes widen a fraction, that lightning feeling snapping in his chest again.
"You-" and Watson stops himself again, his hesitation palpable. Holmes's chest hurts, and he understands in a distant sort of way that it is because he is holding his breath.
"You have been acting out of character tonight," Watson says, dull vermillion creeping onto his face.
Holmes considers the validity of that for a fraction of a second, and finds it sound. "I concur."
"And the reason for this aberrance?"
"Therein lies the true mystery, Doctor."
"It's too late for riddles, Holmes."
"Blasphemy, sir. A good riddle does not abide by your imperfect human clock."
A fast burst of air betrays Watson's frustration, his eyes lit up and the flush unfading on his skin. Holmes is watching him openly, with rapt attention, bated breath. The room appears to be growing smaller by the minute, the walls themselves drawing the two of them together.
"Solve it, then," Watson says. "What is the root of your strange mood?"
Holmes swallows with a click, his mind awhirl. He knows he should say I don't know, but his pride will not allow it. He knows-of course he knows.
"I am suffering from an internal revelation," Holmes tells him. His voice, astonishingly, is steady.
Watson blinks, still standing near the door as if calmed by the proximity of egress. "What manner of revelation?"
"Internal. Do try to keep up, Watson."
"What is the content of your revelation, Holmes? Bastard."
The invective sends a thrill up Holmes's spine, delivered as it is in Watson's common tone of exasperated affection, as casual and warm as a hand placed on his back. The worst of the storm of emotion rioting in the detective's chest right now is the hope, hope lodged like a bomb just under his ribs. Holmes pulls his lower lip through his teeth, and sends up the first prayer for mercy that the Lord has ever heard from him.
"I appear to be singularly devoted to you," Holmes says. "My body reacted in an instant when it feared you were injured, and I could not-I could not stop. Not until I had put my hands to you and seen that you yet breathed, yet lived. My mind is distracted by nothing else. I am unable to draw any conclusion other than the obvious."
Throughout, Watson's eyes have grown steadily both in size and degree of disbelief drenching the blue. He is motionless across the room, as still as a painting on the wall. Holmes's hand closes around the arm of the chair, solid wood digging into his palm as his heart clutches and stutters and waits, and waits.
Holmes has time to imagine every possible hell, every killing thing that Watson might say next. It is worse than torture, worse than being beaten with clubs or slammed into stone walls, fingers broken and eyes black, blood soaking in his hair. Holmes would give a great deal to be anywhere else.
"Forgive me," Watson says in a whisper, and a frozen hand clenches around Holmes's vital organs. "I am no doubt missing something that is perfectly evident, but what is the obvious conclusion?"
A smile bends Holmes's mouth but it feels loose and uncertain, small sorrowful smile like greeting old friends at funerals. He stands up and his legs are shaking but he gives that no heed. There will be time to be aghast at himself later; now there is Watson, waiting for him on the other side of the room.
Holmes stops short of his friend, places a careful hand on the door to the side of his head. The shadow of his arm falls across Watson's face, his mouth made dark and soft with shock. Holmes is close enough that he can see the tremble of Watson's eyelashes as he blinks fast, the tic of the muscle in his jaw, the scar that carves a tiny white arrow on his cheek, and the detective is transfixed; he could study Watson from this vantage for months.
Holmes tells his friend, "You have hold of every part of me, Watson, at every moment. I had not realised."
Watson makes a small sound like a gasp, his face alive, eyebrows leaping. "Holmes," he says roughly, and Holmes twitches, breathes out an uneven breath. As if of its own volition, his hand moves from the door to the side of Watson's neck, his thumb fitting naturally into the hollow of his throat.
Allowing his eyes to close, ridding himself of the picture of Watson and all that it entails, Holmes says fast in a low voice, "It is only fair that I should have you too."
Blind, he braces himself for the wait, the inevitable blow, but Watson doesn't leave him in suspense longer than a moment, half a breath, before covering Holmes's mouth with his own and kissing him as if all of history is watching.
Holmes opens his mouth under Watson's, slides a hand into his hair. Watson's hands are on his back, pulling him in until Holmes's weight is upon him, chests crushed together so neither of them can properly breathe. Holmes licks against Watson's tongue and swallows a moan that might have come from either one. Their edges have blurred, difficult to say now where he is and where Watson is other than right here.
They break apart for the necessity of air. Watson pulls Holmes's head back and attaches his mouth to the detective's throat, hot slick of arousal spiralling through and Holmes plasters against him, pushes Watson's legs apart with his knee. Now he can feel Watson everywhere.
Breathless, Holmes asks, "May I take this as a yes?" because surety is critical to him, the loveliest thing in all the world that is not John Watson.
Watson laughs against his throat, mumbles, "Stupid," and kisses him again. Holmes allows him that for a minute or two, perhaps as many as five. He can't be expected to keep a flawless record, beset with so fatal a distraction as the man in his arms.
Eventually he drags Watson's mouth away from his own, panting against his shoulder and flexing his hips into the doctor's experimentally. Watson shivers, murmurs his name in a tone hoarse with wanting.
"Everything, Watson," Holmes says insistently, and he knows it is too much to ask, the very definition of too much to ask, but Watson does not seem to mind, nodding at once with the rasp of his cheek on Holmes's face.
"Yes, Holmes, everything," Watson says, and leans back enough to grin at his friend, his face clean and bright behind the grime. "Whatever you wish of me is yours-surely you knew that."
Holmes exhales, resting his forehead against Watson's and telling him honestly, as a vow, "I know it now."
They fall into each other again, hands clumsy with eagerness, fingers stiff from belated shock and sliding under untucked shirts. Watson takes hold of Holmes's bare sides, palms flat to his ribs to feel each breath rise and fall, and the look on Watson's face suggests that he has been waiting years for this, this simple prefatory moment of Holmes's body under his hands. Holmes kisses him because he can't not; it might prove to be a hindrance down the road, but that moment is not this moment.
Watson is tracing Holmes's ear with his tongue and they are grinding against each other hard and reckless, friction better than any half-remembered dream, and Holmes is swiftly losing what remains of his composure-that is when someone commences pounding on the front door and yanking the bell pull like a maddened hunchback.
Tearing away from Watson feels as if he's been stripped of the first several layers of skin. Holmes's body clamours and shouts for his friend's, his senses awash in the remembered feel. Holmes cannot think past it for several seconds, staring at the doctor with eyes black from desire, locked on Watson's abused wrecked-looking mouth, the pretty colour on his face, his gaping collarless shirt. Watson pants, staring back at him, and Holmes's every muscle twitches towards him.
The detective takes a deep breath, mutters, "Good Lord," and forcibly removes himself from Watson's presence. He leaves the room, moving stiltedly and running his hands through his hair. He can hear Watson catching his breath behind him, and Holmes rushes down the stairs, refusing to look back.
Mrs Hudson peeks out the cracked-open door of her rooms, her night-cap a pale cloud in the dim, and Holmes assures her of his mastery of the situation, a horrible flush staining his face and his hands plainly shaking, but the good lady has never been the observant type. There is an Irregular on the step, a stunted boy of ten with one mangled hand ever hidden in his shirtsleeve, and he is hopping from foot to foot with excitement as Holmes pulls open the door.
"Mister Holmes, I seen him, I seen him!" the boy yells, and Holmes hisses at him sharply.
"Discretion, McKinney, if you please."
The boy goes quiet as quickly as if a hand had been clapped over his mouth, his eyes still blaring with eagerness. Holmes stands aside and ushers him into the foyer. A quick glance to the top of the stairs reveals Watson emerging, hair smoothed back, collar affixed, reassembled into a staid and stolid English gentleman. Holmes looks swiftly away, scowls at the Irregular.
"You have seen Edward Lussac?" Holmes demands.
McKinney bobs his head, his teeth clacking. "At the Pig an' Whistle, sir, just where you told me to watch."
"Has he taken a room? On which floor?"
"The second, sir. I could point out the room for you; I saw him through the window."
"Right, fine work."
Holmes is distracted, ever and endlessly distracted, because Watson has come to stand by him, the good doctor's attention bristling at the base of Holmes's spine. He can still taste Watson's tongue against his own, still feel the hard angles of his body. Holmes ruthlessly refocusses, narrowing his eyes with the effort.
"Lay on, McKinney. Fetch us a hansom," Holmes orders with a sweeping hand, and the boy tugs at his cap brim and scampers down to the street. The doctor and the detective remain in the doorway for a moment, lingering together in that way they have.
"The night is not done with us yet, Doctor," Holmes says without looking over. His fingertips are tingling. He can feel every inch of his skin shimmering under his clothes.
"No rest for the righteous," Watson agrees, and touches his fingers to the back of Holmes's hand, and then up into his loose shirtsleeve, curving around the subtle architecture of his wrist. Holmes's body betrays him once again, an instantaneous shiver that has Watson grinning at him sharp and sweet, and then looking down and away as if he has been caught staring at the sun.
The contact breaks after two or three seconds at most. Holmes is aware at once that of all the memories he will hoard of this night, none will shine so clear as that moment just then, Watson's fingers sliding into his shirtsleeve as they stood before the open door of their home, both of them red-faced and single-minded and sick with joy, the first faint violet pulse of dawn barely creeping over the rooftops.
On they go, into the cab and halfway across the legendary city to the place where a killer has concealed himself. The police are summoned for back-up (wholly unnecessary, Holmes steadfastly maintains), and the climax is anti-climactic in the extreme: Lussac is fast asleep when they burst into his room. There are irons on his wrists before he has time to do more than sit up and shout a curse. Seven minutes later, Lussac is in the back of the police carriage, rattling out of their lives to live out the miserable and truncated remainder of his own.
Victorious, the doctor and the detective stand on the kerb for awhile longer. It is the best kind of silence Holmes has ever known, silence like sanctuary, like a cloak that can cover them both. Every time he looks at Watson, another piece of space opens up in his chest, another stretch of capacious blue sky. For the life of him, Holmes cannot understand how he managed to come so far without recognising the man at his side.
A ray of sunlight fights through the mottled buildings, a spear thrust at their feet. Holmes looks at his friend, can't seem to stop, cataloguing the weary tilt of his body and the deep happiness etched into the corners of his eyes, and Holmes thinks that he was right, after all. Watson is a liability; he is the treacherous path that Holmes will walk for the rest of his life.
Watson says, "Let us away," with a hundred filthy promises in his voice. Holmes grins at nothing in particular and says, "Let's," as all around them the day breaks, and breaks, and breaks.