Author's Note: I don't own Sherlock Holmes. I swear my slash goggles weren't on at all during the film: the movie practically begged for this. This takes place after the second Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
As Watson chases after the shadow of Holmes, he inadvertently brings forth feelings that he never knew existed.
Warnings: slash, unbetaed, sexual situations, sans page breaks
"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
The moment he spotted the elder Holmes' breathing device in the rather innocuous package, he deduced… no… he knew that Sherlock was alive. The certainty raged far into the apex of his heart and fanned out along his veins, bringing about a new goal to finish, giving him a new quest whereas prior he had been wandering quest-less. Immediately his mind flew in the four compass directions into the far corners of the Earth, and then he was overwhelmed with emotions.
There was anger: anger for being used again as a means to an end- to what sort of end, he wasn't quite sure; but ignorance was apparently and will always be a vital element. Not to mention that his dear friend had once again left him in the dark, about his falsified death no less! It's the absurd lack of trust that showed in the detective's plans that initially left him exasperated and now hurt. Perhaps there was an underlying misconception that John Watson could not keep a secret to save his life or that his face could be read as easily as the Daily Gazette. The second emotion was resignation because this was an action that Sherlock would attempt for his harebrained schemes that does not so much as toe the line of social niceties as merrily dance along it. The third emotion was anxiety because even if Sherlock had an oxygen breathing apparatus on his person, he had previously suffered from wounds that would see him dead if not for his ridiculous injected concoctions, the aftermath of a physical fight with Moriarty, subjected to the long fall of Reichenbach and its freezing temperatures. If the man had survived the initial impact, then Moriarty must certainly also had.
Who knows what happened in the latter struggle? The doctor closed his eyes and calmed his breathing. His imagination was growly increasingly morbid these days.
But the final emotion that left the final, lasting image was the burning need to find that blasted man: to see and feel the proof that the funeral was meaningless, that there was no tragedy. And that need spurned him as he hurriedly asked Mary if the delivery boy had left or not. Not surprisingly, the lad had disappeared off a side street: he was perhaps the next generation of the Baker Street Irregulars. As John grabbed his coat and quickly kissed his beloved wife farewell, he noticed that she grimaced. He didn't take time to dwell on the puzzling response.
He strolled through the busy streets, dimly wondering why Sherlock would send him a small clue instead of appearing at the door in person and relishing John's stunned face. 'The reason,' a small voice sniped in his mind, 'might be that he does not want to see you.' He promptly discarded the reason as preposterous. The thought, however, did stick and made the walk that much less pleasant.
"I pray for his soul every night. It's dreadful, simply dreadful." Mrs. Hudson tutted as she puttered from one corner to the other of 221B Baker Street, "Mr. Holmes was quite the man. Oh, please excuse me." She ducked her head low, pulled out her handkerchief and blew into it, "His usual antics led me to struggle to describe him to my fellows when we chat about our days. But he is a good man and I miss him terribly." Honorable. Brave. Genius. Loyal. Friend. The doctor's mind quickly supplied adjectives without trying: but he kept silent as he organized Holmes' belongings, keeping the man's old clothes in a side pile and assisting Mrs. Hudson in tossing out some of his more extravagant experiments- mold growth, termite mounds, shrunken heads, etc. Between hanging the old bed sheets and beating them, she remarked, still sniffing, "I understand these can be held for sentimental value, dear, but you must learn to let his memory go, for your sake and for his."
The air was hardly clear from the accumulating dust but the windows were, after much difficulty, finally opened. The relatively fresh London atmosphere and the indoor smell of innate Sherlock eccentricities made for an interesting combination. Dr. Watson laughed. Before he headed home, he promised to return the next day.
"I don't understand why you are going about in this manner," Mary exclaimed the following evening, leaning on the door frame as he returned from Baker Street with a familiar violin under his arm, "Sherlock is dead, John." She wore a simple off-white dress that would not have been suitable for outdoor wear, the one that he, once confided to her in private quarters, found lovely on her figure.
Humming contentedly, John kissed his wife on the cheek and smiled, "Of course he's not. Recall the package that I got, he must be alive, I know it." He stepped over the threshold and absentmindedly began plucking at the violin's strings. It would be better to store the violin in a secured location before beginning his meal. Even though he was experiencing the starting pangs of hunger, he knew how much the instrument meant to his friend.
"The package doesn't mean anything. It's a small breather, there was no note, there is no other information. You can't come to strong conclusions with such flimsy clues!" Mary wrapped her arms around herself and nibbled on her lower lip. In return, Watson stared passively at her, waiting for her to continue. She slowly approached him and held onto his arms with her small, feminine hands, "I'm worried about you, John. I really am."
"For what?" He asked, brows slowly rising in consternation.
Her grip tightened, "Because you don't see! I know you're devastated by your friend's death, but this has gone beyond reason: this is an obsession. I am also upset by the loss of a great man but I can put it pass me and live on in his memory. You hoped for any alternative to these unfortunate circumstances that you're starting to believe yourself. Your mental faculties cannot accept the fact that he will not return and you might descend into further madness," she cried, bringing him closer so she can rest her head on his jacket. "This Sherlock is a part of your imagination!"
His face darkened and his body stiffened in a barely noticeable manner but it was enough to make her glance up. "I believe," he responded coldly as he gently pulled away from her, "that my perceptions are perfectly within reason." With that, he kissed her forehead, "No need to fret, darling. I know that he is alive and well." He continued up the stairs without further hurdles to find a somewhere to place the violin. It would probably be more prudent to hide it from sight, since Mary was emotionally overwhelmed and would probably, in a fit, destroy the instrument if given a chance. He sighed and wondered how long it'll take her to calm back down. At the foot of the stairs, Mary wrung her hands, collapsed onto the chaise lounge and began to cry.
Two days later, John H. Watson was once again at the mercies of Mrs. Hudson's reminiscing as they sorted through the various disguises that Sherlock had once donned. The elderly woman had obviously made a full recovery from her earlier bout of mourning. "I remember when he would hide himself in the very smoke of his tobacco pipe. He had the notion that the fumes would conceal not only his form but his shadow and his scent and likened it to hiding in plain sight in the London air. Oh, the ideas he would conjure! I must admit that I miss those radical thoughts." Her line of sight drifted to windows beholding the busy urban streets as she murmured, "Life seems bland without them." The duo spent a half hour in contemplative silence. "I'm sorry that you have to listen to an old woman's dithering, dear, and I thank you for helping me. No other men," she sniffed daintily in outrage, "that I was familiar with were brave enough to sort through these contents."
John could sympathize with the men that the housekeeper was peevishly hinting at. Just a few hours ago, a mysterious bulbous object on a plate hidden in the back corner of a cabinet had spewed a foul pus-like substance all over the poor woman. He had thought that there was an uncounted for cadaver from the resulting scream. It spoke volumes of her character when she washed herself and continued on with her self-assigned duties with renewed determination.
As Mrs. Hudson unpacked green jumpers from boxes, she exclaimed in delight, "Look here, Dr. Watson. These military uniforms are so handsome and they look authentic. And there's a pair! Did he convince you into one of these too? I think I can remember that day when the pair of you headed out with these ensembles." She sighed as she headed back to the closet, digging through more various commodities and initiating a continuous racket of metal clinking upon metal, "Occasionally, I wonder about his ability to convince you into whatever insane plans he had. I honestly never could figure out why you followed them, and you did," she added pointedly, looking back, "despite all protests. And yet," her muffled voice continued as she turned back, "the plans have never failed before."
Dr. Watson gave a long-suffering sigh in response as he kicked aside a skull that was coated in some sort of preserving fluid. He arched his back and popped the stiff joints in his neck. It was getting late and he had working here all day long, having started early enough for the housekeeper to offer him breakfast. Sherlock's numerous belongings conjured all sorts of adventures. It grew increasingly apparent that the detective was a hoarder. Thankfully, after watching the shadows slowly shrink, grow and eventually darken, the clean-up was nearly finished. It would take another session before everything is finalized, stored, donated, or discarded. The corners of his mouth twitched at the thought of Mycroft receiving the majority of his brother's inventory.
Mrs. Hudson did not notice the sudden lack of attention and continued on. "It must be the close companionship you two shared- that sort that takes many years to develop. You had known each other for a very, very long time. Why, I was there to watch the relationship slowly blossom! That type of friendship you two shared, it's not common and numerous persons would envy-"
"Mrs. Hudson," Dr. Watson squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose, "please."
The old woman spun around and placed a hand over her open mouth, "Oh, beg pardon, I apologize." The silence was broken by the noises beyond the windows, of woman chiding kids of playing in the streets, of men chatting with men, of boys yelling headlines from newspapers, of horses and motors and activity, the liveliness that comes from a city. A few minutes passed until the housekeeper could not stand the tension any longer. "If I may," she hesitantly ventured, "How is Mrs. Watson?"
John paused in his work and stared at the expectant woman with an indescribable look. He opened his mouth and then closed it, shutting his emotions from observation as he struggled to find the words of a situation that he could not truly comprehend. He had not talked to his wife beyond frigid greetings and farewells since her confession of worrying for his mental state and had received many entreaties, concerns and hysterics in return. A small bubble of irritation formed at the base of his heart at the thought; he felt no inclination to repair the relationship anytime in the near future. It was a despicable decision and one that he would never venture in public. Finally, he managed to find some strength to force out a smile as it was not the elderly lady who was at fault. "It's lovely. The married life," he lightly replied, "is much different than that of a bachelor." Mrs. Hudson returned his smile and changed to subject to her own late husband.
Turning back to his side of the room and tuning out her one-sided conversation, he brooded on his thoughts. He understood on an instinctual level that a paradigm shift has occurred, but he could neither deduce the end result nor find the source. Sometime between watching Sherlock fall of the side of the cliff side with stunned horror and retrieving the package that was his only clue for hope, his soul had been shaken- he felt more... open minded and aware and a bit guilty for not appreciating such a treasured relationship that he had held with the man. The idiom that stated "absence makes the heart grow fonder" could not have been more aptly provided. In fact, it was that fondness that Mary was convinced had grown into worrisome, unfounded conviction and obsessive notions.
"Please John, listen to me!" She had cried yesterday in their home as he had dismissed her after another argument. "That is all I ask from you. Have reason!" None-the-less, they had embraced moments later, such were the ways of a newly wedded couple, and he had breathed in the scent of her Spanish-red hair and found it strangely lacking in vitality.
Wait a moment. …Mary's hair isn't red.
The doctor blinked out of his thoughts and realized that he was holding onto a flamboyant evening wear of rich scarlet and trimmings of other assorted royal colors and ruffled velvet smooth to the touch that had the slight scent of... As he stared at the dress in his hand, as his eyes wandered further into the closet full of drag accessories, his mind conjured images of Sherlock Holmes as a woman, able to trick Moriarty's men with something akin to charm.
John H. Watson violently threw the dress to the wooden floor with such vehemence in an attempt to rid the images in his head that Mrs. Hudson shrieked in surprise. Dazed, he stared at his hands in horror as he recalled pinning Sherlock to the wall, demanding an explanation for interrupting his honeymoon with Mary then followed by lying close to the other man on the train car floor to avoid the bullets overhead. He was lying too close and he could feel the detective's heat through his many layers of clothing and his breath was so close with the familiar scent that never fails to bring up the emotion of ever stranger affection... Watson rubbed his forehead as the housekeeper picked up the large dress with unconcealed bewilderment. After a round of half-hearted apologies and send-offs, Watson stumbled out of the familiar abode as the old woman shouted out recommendations to a good friend of hers that specialized in herbal treatments.
Once he managed to leave the immediate neighborhood, he leaned heavily against the fence post and struggled to regain his bearings. The darkness of the evening offered cover from the occasional pedestrians. Currently, his breath was too quick and his heart rate was too fast. It wasn't that the scent was arousing; it was that the scent reminded him of Sherlock. And that was the cusp of the problem, wasn't it? He tilted his head back and gritted his teeth, feeling his pulse jump below his clenched jaw. His headache has grown to the point that it was nearly unbearable.
He adjusted his cap and took one last breath before pushing off his support and continuing down the road. It was going to be an arduous walk back to his bed.
One of the most-disheartening aspects of his search is the lack of further clues. It wasn't as if his friend was purposely sending him along a merry goose-chase; it wasn't a game. Sherlock didn't see fit to leave any other hints with any other people. Not with Mrs. Hudson, not with the elder Holmes, not with any of their past acquaintances, and not with Inspector Lestrade or anyone of the Scotland Yard. In fact, the latter responded with incredulity and short laughter, "Suppose that your deductions are spot on and that he had survived and that the entire funeral was a farce. What the devil would make you think that he would leave something of whimsical sentimental value with me?" Dr. Watson had to concede a point but there was still the problem of where he was supposed to go next.
The backdrops of London had not yet been combed through. It was an underground world of poor and destitute, of refuse and trash, of those who never care to show their faces in society for varied reasons. The doctor tapped on the side of the brick wall twice with his cane as he stepped foot into the alleyways. The world was also his past of gambling and debts, when his life metaphorically could sink no lower. ("Watson, mate, how about stepping in for a bit and play a few rounds of cards? It'll be harmless, I tell you!") He missed the days of merry-making. The climb back up to a respectable status had been… struggling.
He was careful not to meet the eyes of those that he does not recognize and even more careful to hold gazes with those that he does for exactly two seconds, long enough to acknowledge presence but short enough to not offend. The denizens were far from the London proper and were painted with shades of grey and brown. If his friend was determined to avoid him, then every one of these people that he observed is a suspect under a disguise. But even that thought wasn't enough to lower his hopes: he banked on his natural inclination to guide him through the process- that the correct glimpse will stir something in his gut that can be likened to subconscious recognition. Though the detective was known for his unpredictable appearances, there was always something about him that Watson can point out that distinguishes him from any other man. Watson called it an ineffable, innate-Sherlock characteristic; Sherlock called it Watson's hound-like tendencies.
Navigating through the cobblestones, he continued to tap occasionally on brick walls out of habit. His feet moved without a thought. He began to breathe shallowly through his mouth to limit the stench wafting upwards. The air was unbearably musty today and it lingered of sweat and other even more distasteful bodily fluids. Some brazen men hugging the sides of the walls called out to him in his various titles and inquired the whereabouts of the detective. "How goes the search for the Professor, Doctor?" He did not pay them any attention as his mind began to wander to other troublesome aspects of his hunt, namely the actual reason for leaving behind the underwater breather. If it wasn't a clue then what was it? Was the Inspector correct in calling it a whimsical sentimental parting gift? He pulled nervously at the brim of his hat. Could it really be that simple and that depressing?
He turned the corner and froze at the scene before him.
Before him were two men in a highly compromised position. The couple was snugly situated in a small niche created by a back entrance of a parlor but they were not discrete about their actions. The taller man, his hat askew on his blond hair, had the other pinned against the wall, his face buried in the other man's neck, seemly biting and sucking at the skin. The smaller man was groaning, his black hair plastered against his face from the sweat, his knees buckling beneath him, the only thing keeping him from collapsing onto the ground was his partner's arms and the single thigh between his legs. Every part of their body was rubbing against one another, sensual and feral, burning with an unseen need. Somewhere in his shock, Watson dimly noted that the blond man had his hand deep in his companion's trousers, moving...
The existence of homosexuality in Victorian England is in denial, if the topic was ever ventured, all efforts would be taken to drive the discussion elsewhere. It isn't dwelled upon, it is seen as unnatural; there are so many opponents citing so many sources against the notion; but it is a part of England and it refuses to die so easily and so is shuffled into the backwaters of the neighborhoods where none of those dangerous ideas can be seen in public. John Watson had no opinion simply because he never thought about it and he had the fortune to never stumble into these situations- except… there's one here, playing before him. His horrified eyes were pinned to the duo as if entranced by the songs of a siren out on sea.
The slighter man was breathing heavily, clutching onto dirty cuffed sleeves as if they were the only thing keeping him grounded. The dominant male possessively growled and his free hand slid under his partner's shirt, slowly pulling it up. His hand then slid down to waist-line to slowly undo the belt buckle. The dark haired man moaned and arched his back, tilting his head up for a kiss, "Watson, Watson... Please, John, I need..."
Snapped out of his reverie, John Watson feverishly shook his head and turned away from the sight. No. That was wrong. His eyes were playing tricks. The smaller man did not have dark hair and a painfully familiar face and a painfully familiar low baritone. The man wasn't Sherlock. Sherlock would never chant his name in that manner. And he wasn't the taller man with the power to turn his partner into a moaning, sexual creature. Watson stepped back to the main path just as the taller man spun his companion around so that his stomach was pressed flat against the wall. There was a vocal gasp and more shifting movements of clothing, finally followed by a series of low grunts and slapping sounds of flesh against flesh: John refused to see any more.
Again, his headache began to build up. On the main alleyway, he stopped and applied pressures to his eyes with the heels of his palms and waited for the dull throbbing to die down.
Mrs. Hudson had always been the fan of the theory that Sherlock Holmes did not have any gender preferences but was rather attracted to enigmas and unique abilities and quick wits which would perfectly explain the scenario of Irene Adler. Of course, preferences wouldn't even equal coitus as Mrs. Hudson was also of the theory that men such as Sherlock Holmes, a once in a lifetime man, would never feel any sexual attraction. It was just the way of things. She had confessed all of this some months ago on one lonely night, "A unique man would have unique tastes or no tastes at all. I've known people whose interest in people were far out-shadowed by their interests in other topics and such things as love and marriage and family simply are not comprehended. You don't quite fit into the category, Sherlock dear, but you are close."
Leaning back against his high-backed chair, Sherlock had pressed his fingers together and side-glanced at Dr. Watson with a single brow raised in amusement, "The conclusion you've reached must have taken a very long time to reason, Mrs. Hudson. Unfortunately," the detective had casually wave his hand at the empty glass sitting on the table beside her, "you've had one too many sherries tonight. Would you like us to assist you to your quarters to retire?"
John Watson had felt the corners of his mouth twitch in amusement as he watched the exchange with lazy contentment. Times of peace such as this were rare and treasured in 221B Baker Street. The housekeeper blankly watched as Sherlock slowly eased himself up from his chair and offered his arm to the lady at the same time moving the glass away from her reach. His actions were smooth and lacked notable effort. The sole light from the fireplace was casting soft shadows, giving the detective an ethereal, supernatural-like effect, meta-human in appearance and aura. Holmes turned to him and smiled, his eyes reflected the dancing orange embers and his silhouette was prominent against the glow. John quietly answered the unasked question, "I'll remain here to wait for it to die," gesturing at the crackling flames, "Go on ahead."
The detective stared at him with an unreadable expression for a few silent seconds before turning back to his charge. The words spoken by him were so soft that the doctor almost thought that they was from the murmurs of the housekeeper, "If you must know, it wasn't that she was right or wrong, it was that I never gave too much of a thought about it. Her latter claim required that I had to actively think against it. One can liken it to the difference between atheism and agnosticism." The next morning, Mrs. Hudson could not recall her speech; Sherlock didn't see the need to bring it up and Watson kept silent.
There was no conclusive answer nor was there ever going to be a real choice. Simply put, Detective Holmes' personal life continued to remain mysterious.
Once out of the hovels of London, Dr. Watson picked a direction and walked down the street with a pleasantly numbed mind and military-like steps until he hit the River Thames. He approached its banks and surveyed the scenery: there was the Tower Bridge nearly completed, across was an industrial manufacturing factory making parts of a ship, on his side was various open pipelines for freely flowing sewage. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a boat's blaring horns.
He slowly blinked, feeling the dull throbbing in his head beginning to fade, leaving him more and more aware of the hot throbbing in his groin. "Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath, dropping his hands into his pant pockets, "Fuck." The word was aptly applied. His response was the background noise of waves washing against the side of the road.
He had always been a fan of the theory that if one ever makes a theory concerning Holmes, the detective would do his best to act against it.
Everyone can attest that they were closest of friends, a relationship grown and spun on time and adventures and trust. Yet there seems to be an ever-expanding gap giving sight to an abyss and it was more and more obvious that no matter how much one knows about Sherlock Holmes, one can never know Sherlock Holmes. The shrouded enigma was so cleverly hidden that it was only brought into view after the disappearance of the person that the enigma applied to. Had all these years meant nothing to the detective? Was Watson merely viewed as the other side of the dichotomy, a juxtaposition to aim more awareness to that of the consulting detective?
It can't be true. The time spent in each other's presence must mean something. The utter denial that Holmes expressed to John's own personal affairs (i.e. Mary) must mean something flattering.
John Watson drummed his fingers against the top of his cane: he can't hit a dead end now, not when he's so close, not when he had made so many revelations. There must be something that he's missing… something right under his nose. "That is the problem with you, my dear friend," Sherlock had mentioned once, "You see, you look, but you don't observe."
"How goes the search for the Professor, Doctor?" A grating, hoarse voice asked him from his memories of the impoverished neighborhoods. And as if a candle has been lit to assist him, Watson began to remember.
"Professor James Moriarty," Sherlock had announced with a flourish a couple of weeks prior to the incident at Reichenbach Falls, "The man behind everything from the assassinations to child trafficking to illegal weapons dealing and manufacturing. His hands are dipped in every pie on this side of the hemisphere." The detective had stood before a map of Europe and Asia, dotted with red pins connected by taut red strings. Between the webs were various articles of small and big crimes, disappearances, meetings of diplomats- events which all had the influence of one man. "He is the Napoleon of crime," Holmes had declared, pulling free a small newspaper clipping that depicted the awards ceremony for the venerable professor and flashing it to the doctor.
"Moriarty," John Watson sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Why have I not seen this before? The case never closed."
He found himself once again at 221B Baker Street. This time, he not only managed to time his arrival to where Mrs. Hudson had a social call with old friends but he also knew what he was looking for. It was a relief not having a pair of sympathetic eyes pinned on his back every time he lingered on a unique prop. The map was secured in a drawer in an antique, wooden desk of the study. The map was exactly as he had recalled. Each pin represented the leader of a syndicate, either underground or hidden behind official papers. Well-to-do men, men of power and high prestige, men who were seen with the Professor: scattered about the world like snowflakes drifting to the ground. John had blanched at the diagram; the network was intensive and more complex than any common man could imagine. And Sherlock Holmes was determined to become the one-man force to bring it all down.
One can bring up an image of sharp dark eyes and the faint smell of pipe smoke and a voice laced with sleep deprivation and excitement and a penchant for performance, "It would be altogether too simple, now that the leader of the organization, the architecture of the grandiose plan has now disappeared without a trace. Moriarty's plan has one flaw in it which is that it completely relies on him being constantly available as a consultant and financer to keep the structure, this upside down pyramid of unreasonable proportions, standing. There are no successors. The system is incapable of finding a successor of equal caliber." The man had tapped his finger against his mouth and smiled, "Without him, all is needed is a little nudge, a push, a small whisper of doubt, and then whole thing... falls." Everything would come to a halt- it would be too much for the interconnected framework.
Sherlock's plan would be foolproof if only Moriarty's world wasn't aware of his presence. But they know of him and they had been keeping a close eye for anyone resembling him. Even with his official death, the detective was still fresh in the minds of the scouts and spies. His penchant of overconfidence in his skills just might destroy him and this time the second funeral would hold his body, in small identifiable pieces.
"God save the queen," John muttered in disbelief, scanning the contents in his hands, ignoring the mild shaking from his agitated state. He wasn't even sure where to start. With a sigh, he glanced at the aged clock; there were still a few hours of solace before Mrs. Hudson returned, before Mary descends into hysterics. "I need a perspective," he reasoned as he read first article he came across, "If I was Holmes, I would," he leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling, "I would be efficient and go in the order of countries. I would first eradicate all of Moriarty's work in England and then move onto the next closest government by crossing the English Channel into France," he jotted a note down on the map. "Determination of the next course of action hereafter would depend on the ease of my progress and further news from informants." He then stared at the map for a very, very long time.
Somewhere here is a man that he's looking for.
He continued to read in his spare time, memorizing faces and statuses. He enlisted the unofficial help of Inspector Lestrade to make inquiries at Moriarty's college but the board was unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the fate of the Professor's associates. The daily newspapers made casual mentions of specific academic heads resigning from positions, hinting at the unraveling of the criminal infrastructure; the pattern was unnoticed unless someone knew where to look. A memorable report investigated into a scandal between a young girl and a well-known specialist in a branch of cutting edge physics; the article had the small shadow of the late Adler's influence and Sherlock's cunning but in no way mentions either names but instead offered a small list of concerned persons who had described the affair.
Outside of the college, small gossips emerged concerning the director of a well-known meat-packing company who was seen exchanging money with disreputable persons. Under pressure from the media, a retired copper stepped forth and confessed to planting evidence to aid in convicting criminals. A hypnotist was accused by a client of controlling men to aid her in mugging unfortunate wealthy patrons in the street just outside of her door. The list could go on. Every time a name was added to the list, a pin was taken off the map. This was solid proof that Sherlock Holmes was working in the seams of society but there was nothing concrete.
Days passed and Watson still has not managed to glimpse hide or hair of the man.
His impatience manifested themselves in his dreams. One of his dreams of note came from a night of endless wandering until exhaustion, dragging himself to the spare bedrooms so not to wake his wife from slumber, and passing out on top of the sheets still fully clothed.
He spotted Sherlock's silhouette bearing long trench and his favorite hat, standing to one side of the landscape with an unpolished but confident air against the familiar backdrop of the Tower Bridge and the River Thames amidst a crowd of gray and distinct-less pedestrians meandering to and fro, occasionally in the way of his line of sight. "Sherlock!" He yelled, frantically pushing through the people whose numbers seem to grow by the second. "Sherlock! Wait!" No matter how loud he was, no one seemed to hear him. A tall figure knocked against his left shoulder, throwing him back, a slighter woman brushed against his right side and made hasty apologies.
A slight wind blew the detective's messy hair and long coat to one side; the man began to turn away. The distance between them grew with an eerie distortion of perspective. "Sherlock! It's me! John!" His actions were to no avail. The world seemed determined to keep them apart. The gray figures were drifting slowly, garnering as much attention as one would to details at the corner of one's eyes. "Sherlock!" John had a sense that he was running out of time; his heart was beating fiercely within his ribs. Why wasn't his voice heard? Sherlock was walking away from him; blending effectively into a gray-washed city, losing his own significance in a crowd of men wearing frock coats and bowler hats. He was fading at a painfully slow rate: replacing his fear, Watson's frustration rose to new levels.
John H. Watson jerked up from his sleep and his eyes snapped open. The room was filled by sounds of his heavy breathing as he threw aside the covers and sat at the foot of his bed, wiping sweat away from his brow. He rested his elbows on his knees and hung his head as he recovered from his nightly ordeal. Lately these dreams were routine occurrences: the pattern consisted of feeling helpless and weak, the inability to change his position as he watches the detective become real no more, a figment of his imagination. As always, as the dream comes to a close, he inevitably wakes up the moment Sherlock blinks out of existence… he's gone.
"He's gone," Mary kept insisting one evening after he had returned from his fruitless search feeling particularly glum. John didn't answer and continued working his way through his meal. The dining room was filled with sounds of silverware clinking on old china, of a knife working through a stubborn piece of meat, of close-mouth mastication. Mary fiddled with her utensils in a manner that he used to find adorable and endearing. Her eyes flitted everywhere but at his face, the displays on the walls, the far end windows with thin curtains, the small designs etched on the table, the lovely rug sitting beneath the table. As he was finishing, Mary peeked at him through her eyelashes and softly spoke, "It hurts me watching you like this, John. This isn't like you."
John set aside his napkin and brought out the newspaper, flipping it open with a snap, "Mary, would you rather I remain indoors and wilt and die like a flower?" His eyes scanned the headlines, found nothing of note, and began the more tedious work of reading between the lines of each individual article. "He's not gone," he said steadily behind the paper barrier, "How many times must I prove it for you to believe me?"
"Once I see you return to your normal bearings," she replied and straightened in her chair. "The evidence that you showed me are still not enough. You're jumping to conclusions because of your personal investment in this case that never was."
"He's not gone."
"You have not seen him since his funeral," she slowly enunciated and emphasized each word.
He bent the top edge of the paper to peer at her with hard eyes, "It doesn't mean anything."
She hid her hands under the table and ducked her head, "It does when I hear you at night crying and calling for him. I know that you sleep in our guest room but our walls are thin, if you've forgotten." He flushed in response. Her lip trembled and her eyes glistened, "I've never seen this single-minded focus within you and your actions are killing our… our marriage," she stumbled noticeably over the last word.
The newspaper, barely read, was placed off to the side. John was well aware that they were entering a conversation topic that begged to be addressed but reluctant to be handled, "I see in no way how Holmes, or as you claim, the ghost of Holmes, is damaging our relationship." He started delicately, leaning across the table and taking her hands in his, "I admit that I might have a hand in the slight decline in our passion for us with my eagerness to find him but it has in no way crippled or killed our marriage. The habits that I've been indulging in lately are also for your benefit, I believe you need a restful sleep, especially with your countenance these days. My long haunts through London, returning in the middle of the night, would only wake you. Please be rest assured that I am not dabbling in any shameful activities and please calm down." He cleanly avoided the topic of his nightmares.
A small laugh that did not associate with happiness escaped from her lips, "I disagree."
"My actions are for your sake," he repeated, "I'm worried about your own anxieties and wish for you to be happy again." He sighed and rubbed his temple, "What happened, Mary, when we used to be carefree and loved each other in a way that we sought no other and were comfortable with each other?" Watson feared that good days were long behind them, no more than a memory, never to return. Merely listening to her histrionics was making him emotionally weary.
She quietly offered after thinking for a few seconds, "The only way for me to heal is for you to stop in your foolish endeavor."
"It's not foolish: it's a reasonable goal to achieve and one that will-" his voice took on a tone of exasperation and began to rise in volume.
"It is to everyone but you!" Mary cut him off, releasing herself from his hold and cradling her hands close to her chest, "You aren't there when friends inquire about your whereabouts and my inability to answer them. Every day they informed me that you were spotted on some corner of London and grow curious about your actions- what am I supposed to reply with? They whispered that I'm replaced in your heart." She momentarily paused to regain her breath, "I cannot stand for this loss of face. What kind of wife am I to you? What of all the promises you gave me during our nuptials?"
"Love, there is no other," John soothed, "You are the only one in my heart."
The air grew thick with stunned silence and barely restrained anger. Mary's leveled glare was cold and John returned with one equally dark. Slowly, Mary picked up her utensils and began cutting her meat and vegetables into ever smaller pieces. John rested his chin on two hands with fingers laced and stared out the window that glowed yellow and orange- soon the day will darken and the lights must be turned on but the kitchen was still like an aged painting, faded by the sun light. Wordless angry, accusations were thrown and wordless, angry denials were thrown back. But after an eternity, John abruptly stood, pushing his chair back, and stepping to the side.
Alarmed at the motion, Mary looked up suspiciously, "Where are you going?"
"Upstairs," he returned curtly, "to the guest room to not disturb you further."
"You are always welcome to our bedroom," she pointed out.
John Watson chuckled, "With what we have between us? It will not be good for either of our health. I, for one, am still bewildered by your continued mulishness even with all of the information that I had offered you, and only you, because I had trusted to be in your confidence, and had only received the exact opposite." Her face began to fall in despair. With enough effort, he smiled kindly towards her, "I would suggest that we try not to have one of these discussions such as this until I can return to concede defeat or return with my dear friend in my arms. Please don't stop your dinner on my account, the food will turn cold." With his small appraisal finished, he left.
At the foot of the stairs, he heard Mary's voice, "I saw him the day the package arrived," spoken devoid of feelings, barely loud enough to carry to his ears. The words forced him to stop and slowly carried him back to the doorway of where she sat, unmoved. She tilted her head to meet his questioning gaze, "Sherlock, I saw him." Her bitterness grew tangible under the heavy blanket of silence and her smile did not reach her eyes as she casually observed his entire stature change to stone. "Ironic isn't it, how I did and you never did, despite the amount of effort we both invested into his search? I gave none and you gave everything."
"Where?" He managed to choke out from the layers of shock.
(Mary would later sardonically comment that this was the first time in weeks that her husband had spoken to her and only her; but, at the time, she found that despite conceding defeat and knowing that the attention her husband was bestowing upon her would be temporary, she managed to feel warm inside.) "I spotted him from my balcony leaving our compound dressed in a tight, one-piece suit that bore the pattern of my favorite chair in the study. I have not seen him since."
He leaned back against the wall, unable to support himself further as his head lowered in thought. As an aside, he realized that the pose he adopted was purely Holmes-esque. He humorously entertained the thought that should the detective ever, truly die, there would be no doubt that he would inhabit Watson's body as a vessel, such in the way that all spiritual mediums have claimed. "Of course," he muttered, "He utilized urban camouflage. He even showed me an example of his disguises before the entire case with Moriarty escalated. It's all so elementary in hindsight." He let loose a sigh accompanied by shaky laughter and sank even further. His eyes snapped back up, "Why did you lie to me then?" He demanded, straining to hold in his anger, "You kept trying to discourage me. Did it not occur to you that if you had helped me, my obsession that you feared would never have reached these levels?"
Mary continued smiling blandly, "Because I feared that the fondness would not be merely one-sided, because I grew tired of worrying where that man had dragged you off to next, because I thought that with him gone such in a way that he wished it to be, he had essentially gifted you to me with his blessings. I thought that your actions would cease after no progress but you…" She sighed and pushed her plate of half-finished food away, "You claimed that I was mulish, you have not seen yourself then."
She was frustratingly vague, vindictively so, but he had to prod as gently as he could. "What do you mean?" He ventured cautiously, "What was one-sided?" Somewhere in the house, the clock struck to signal the pass of another hour. "…Please, Mary."
"At our wedding, just as we were about to leave our friends, I saw Holmes. He looked at me and nodded." She twisted the tablecloth in her fingers as she closed her eyes, reminiscing of the wonderful day, "I took that as a sign of his final acceptance that we were to be together. And then I saw him watching you with an expression as if…" Her eyes opened but they were dazed and stared off into a faraway distance, "as if his heart was being torn into two." Watson's own face was hidden in the shadows cast by the night; his arms were crossed firmly and he did not move. Mary stood and disposed the leftovers into the waste and began the process of cleaning the dishes, "I feared that what Sherlock has for you was not one-sided…" She paused before declaring with resolution, "I will not speak of it so blatantly."
"There was never anything," John said after a long moment of wait.
Mary glanced over her shoulder with a face full of doubt, "I thought that I had lost you but now I'm starting to believe," she sadly mused, "that I never had you to begin with."
Words were so cumbersome in these situations; he couldn't figure out the correct way to comfort her, not after it appeared to be him that was the source of her distress and not, as he had originally thought, his actions. Mary was strong; she was strong enough to, thankfully, voice her concerns, allowing a path of communication between them that is uncommon in most couples. Even with the growing enmity between them: that had respect for one another and that was the basis for civility. Both were aware of the cracks in their relationship though the schism will not be complete until Sherlock Holmes was actually found. It's amazing how the less the detective makes himself known, the more he matters to the household. Resolutely, when Mary's back was turned, John decided to take his leave once more. Exhaustion had begun to set in and creep into his bones, slowly rising up till he was beginning to feel lightheaded. But with her impeccable sense of surroundings, Mary knew of her husband's wish to depart and could not help but impart one last comment unto him.
"A man such as Sherlock Holmes, I would think that he would be able to control the number of witnesses to his person. Dear, did you ever suspect that you haven't seen him because he doesn't wish to be seen by you?" With one last knowing look, she turned back to her household chores, leaving him to his inner turmoil.
That night was a musty night of dead air and humidity that made sleeping nude preferable: all covers were gathered at the floor in an attempt to stay cool. The window was open wide for the slightest breeze, unmindful of the insects that it brought in. Facing the ceiling, John H. Watson dreamed something different.
He suffered from a type of tunnel vision that blurred the lines of architecture and faded corners into such discolor, it was nearly tinted sepia. He saw was what an old man would be able to see without spectacles. It was not known how he had come upon this place or why; but his feet continued to make assured steps deeper down the path shadowed by walls. His thought processes were slower than deemed acceptable as were his reaction times: it was as if he was treading through water- his muscles refused to obey the command to move faster. Streetlights loomed over threateningly- their circle of brightness was, at best, an arm's length from where they stood. Of all the sensations he was feeling at the moment, the strongest one was the obstinate deja-vu lurking in his depths: he has been here before but couldn't figure out when?
Shaken out of his musings, he spotted a distant figure leaning casually against the backdoor of a parlor. It was Sherlock Holmes, dressed in his usual outer-wear and favorite cap, so motionless that one could mistake him for a statue. Feeling joy blossoming in his heart, John hailed his friend, "Sherlock!"
The detective turned his head minutely in his direction and grinned genially- making the inviting motion for John to join him in whatever he was doing. Watson made his way over in brisk steps that gave the impression that he more or less glided along the paved stones and captured his friend in a strong embrace, unable to find the words to describe the feelings that he was experiencing. He had so much to say but he didn't voice out one word, feeling only satisfaction that the man was once again beside him. He pulled the detective in tight and for a full minute could not bring himself to let go or give even the slightest distance. The hug was warmth and centered on the relief that the other man was, above all else, alive.
Eventually, after giving a small sigh, he released his hold enough to peer at his friend, greedily observing every detail. One of his arms, still circled around the man, bumped into the door. The door gave an unnatural reverberation. It echoed like the bells of the local church during a funeral service.
The world tilted and slowed.
The world of dreams is a rather fascinating place to experience and hard to remember. The process of advancing from normal dreaming to conscious dreaming can be likened from walking through the bogs north of London to walking on man-made roads. John had not achieved the second stage and therefore could not catch the inconsistencies in his dream- how the time dilated at the pivotal moments and how the sense of fatalism and predestination never left. Conversations were anticipated and almost scripted: in a way, one was talking to one's subconscious.
Days later, John Watson could still recall how unnaturally vivid Sherlock had been perceived.
Watson was immediately hyper-ware of the detective that was secured in his arms, staring up at him with an unreadable expression, pupils dilated to black pits. Sherlock was exactly the same as John had last seen him sans arm injury: he still wore the blood soaked shirt that reminded of when he was hung in the air with a hook, his mien was worn with exhaustion, shadows were prominent under his eyes, he had not shaved, he still bore the superficial wounds of cuts and bruises on his pale skin. It was amazing that he was still standing and moving about in London. He looked so small, so vulnerable… With his throat suddenly dry, John swallowed nervously: without thought, his hand moved to graze the side of the detective's face, lingering at the corner of his mouth.
His hyperawareness extended beyond noticing the detective and towards heavy atmosphere that fell around them. He could not even begin to explain the motives of his tender actions as he did not know the answer himself. This could be the heralding of a second paradigm shift- another of which that he could not begin to comprehend. It seemed that recently his own mind was a mystery to himself.
"You mustn't try," Sherlock murmured reluctantly. "It wouldn't do you any good." John shakily released a breath. That was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? How much was he willing to dive into the taboo territory at risk of… everything? By now he knew the full consequences of what he desired and what parallels he can draw between the situation he's in and the situation he witness on that fateful evening where in the back alleyways of society. Try as he might, he could not rid the images of the two men lost in their passions, uncaring of the world around them. Try as he might, he could not stop touching his friend.
"What if I wish to?" He hoarsely asked.
The other man sighed, "It's not what we agreed upon, John." He turned away from his hand; John felt his heart grow heavy with his advances rebuffed.
"But if both parties are consenting," he weakly attempted.
"We aren't the only men in the world," Sherlock gently replied, his left hand cupping the side of Watson's cheek, his right hand pressed firmly on his chest, pushing him away, "I'm sorry."
Watson reached out; his hand froze in midair when the other man shook his head. He was so sure, absolutely positive that Sherlock wanted… needed this as much as he did. But then why was it that Sherlock was the responsible one of the partnership? In his absence, the detective crossed his arms, emphasizing the distance between them. A flash of hurt flitted across Watson's face as he inquired, "What did we agree upon?"
Sherlock's gaze sought his own- he was immediately struck by how black they were and how they seemed to glow in the surrounding colorless landscape. The detective's lips quirked up in an ironic smile as his hand went up to adjust the brim of his cap. "Can you not remember? My dear Watson, if you must recall my words to you, of that night on the train, when we were lying prostrate on the ground, ducking beneath Moriarty's bullets, I told you-"
The dream shattered.
The dream shattered but Sherlock's voice did not and continued on as if he was whispering right next to Watson's ear. "This is the last time I shall ask for your assistance," his voice carried a tone that echoed a promise, "As soon as Moriarty is incapacitated; I will never bother you or Mary ever again. This I swear." Awake with the scene still fresh in his mind, Watson whispered the words under his breath over and over again as if testing for their validity. His hand reached up toward the ceiling, his arm stretched toward something that could not be grasped, and then his hand sank back down to cover his eyes. He laughed and he cried; he felt sick.
He stood up and began methodically dressing and cleaning himself. Within ten minutes, he was out of the front door.
The small trail of rising smoke undulated with Mycroft Holmes' rhythmic puffs and drifted lazily towards the high ceiling of his home. Watson found it curious that the man was acting as if he had finished a long day of hard work when in actuality there were still many hours before noon. Mr. Holmes motioned for the butler to refill their drinks before turning back to the doctor, "I'm surprised by your visit, Doctor Watson. I thought that you were the type of person to avoid me since I served as a reminder of my dear brother. Instead, you bring a gift. So what do we have here?" Holmes took the small parcel from the other man and proceeded to delicately pull the strings apart and lay bare its contents. His brows raised a fraction of an inch and his hands froze, fingers still gripping the brown wrapping so tightly that his knuckles whitened. "Well," the man collected himself, "my little brother always had his own way about things- some that serve a purpose that most cannot decipher, others to satisfy his need for show. Care for a smoke?" He casually offered as he set the underwater breath aside.
"No thank you," Watson demurred. It was uncomfortable in the position of a close friend of a 'dead,' somewhat-estranged sibling. The Holmes were tight-lipped about one another to the point that prior to the Moriarty debacle Watson had spotted Mycroft visiting 221B Baker Street for five minutes at a time on two particular cases and in those instances, the elder Holmes was about to leave the compound with snide remark that never failed to infuriate the younger.
"This is definitely mine," the man declared, tapping his lip ponderously, adopting a pose similar to his brother, "There's only one of its kind in the world, there's only one in the world serving the purpose." Watson could remember Sherlock admitting that his older brother had more advantageous mental facilities but couldn't bring himself to use them for work of that of the consulting detective due to chronic laziness.
"Does that mean that you had predicted the final demise of Moriarty to be at Reichenbach?" Watson asked, puzzled. "So you had shown Sherlock the instrument just in case he had need of it? Or was the entire occurrence a long string of good fortune?"
Mycroft Holmes enigmatically smiled and did not answer the question but instead began disassembling the device into smaller parts, "I had suspicions that my dear little brother was alive but had nothing to work on as he didn't leave any hints for me but to you." He hummed and leaned back, resting his head on his balanced hand, staring into his pipe smoke with a strange intensity, "But I shouldn't be miffed- I should've expected it."
After taking a swig of the hard drink that the butler had set down for him, feeling a sensation of burning warmth rush down his chest and rest comfortably below his diaphragm, Watson inquired, "What are you suggesting?" On the spotless table before him, he observed the small, nearly empty, bottle of compressed oxygen, the small mouth piece, and the little switch one had to flick on to start the flow of air. He tried his hardest not to imagine Sherlock trying to fight against the unforgiving currents with nothing but his brother's new toy. The doctor finished his drink in record time under the curious gaze of his host; the butler quickly refilled his glass. Watson steadily met the gaze back and in the back of his head, dimly wondered what Mycroft exactly does for the British government- then his mind helpfully supplied that Mycroft Holmes wasn't as much working for the government as he was the government.
"His tendency of relying upon you more so than I," Holmes replied and casually flicked his wrist; the butler handed him the Daily Gazette. He opened the roll and perused its contents with a keen eye, hiding his face behind the large headlines. "What Sherlock has is the ability of making plans on the spot that still fitted into his greater outline: that quality makes him nigh unpredictable until the last moment, and even then, the aftermath is quite different from what we expected. One of the things that I could never have foreseen was his… ahh, friendship towards you. I would claim that his dependence on you was impractical as there were more qualified men and embarrassing as a whole, especially during your engagement with Mrs. Watson nee Morstan."
John Watson made a noise at the back of his throat, a sort of odd, choking sound: a noise that could be interpreted in a manner of surprise and trying to swallow an alarmed response. Had he had been drinking; he would've spewed its contents all over the upholstery. Heat slowly rose towards his face; he couldn't find the required muscles shoot back a retort that rested on the tip of his tongue.
Not giving any pity for the doctor's embarrassment, Mycroft allowed a smug grin flash across his face, "So you understand it too? Lovely. It's about time. You are the last."
"The last?" He finally managed to sputter out, carding both of his hands through his hair, "So Sherlock did…" Watson quieted down, clasped his hands together, and hung his head, "Mary mentioned at our wedding that he…" he dared to venture as he followed the flowing pattern lines on the rug, extending out until they hit the red border. "Of course he knew." The last words were spoken as if they were the most common of all common knowledge.
"Initially he did not," Holmes helpfully added, clearly enjoying the situation, "He is daft in manners concerning the heart, but brilliant in all other aspects." A small amount of pride leaked into those last words. "I guess that if you are aware that he's alive, it must be no small amount of relief to know that he's alive and well. Here, his latest developments from the today's newspaper," he pushed over a folded section of the newspaper over the table, "read the third and fourth paragraph of the first headline. In fact, read the entire front page."
Watson allowed his eyes to skim across the words: then he stood so abruptly that he almost knocked his glass over, not noticing the alarmed look on Mycroft's face nor how the alarmed face quickly morphed into calculating suspicion. Blood rushed immediately from his head; his knees almost gave way underneath and his vision began to fill with spots that took a few seconds to blink away. After making hasty apologies to the poor butler, he adjusted his hat and tipped it to the host, "Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Holmes, but I find that I must be heading to the portside and I'm already short on time." His apologies were half-hearted at best; his mind was already elsewhere.
As he turned to retrieve his coat and was slipping it on, he heard Mycroft's noticeably bland and emotionless question, "You're planning on following him?" His cadence was one that suggested that a myriad of emotions were hidden behind the thin barrier of monotone.
Watson graced the elder man with a strange look, "Why would I not?" His impatience was starting to show through his increasingly rude demeanor which on any other occasion would have horrified him, but his head kept him occupied by repeating small sections of the small article. Specific phrases bolded themselves as if crying for attention in his near photographic memory such as, "Accident on the Channel: Only One Company's Ship Sails! Foul Play?", "Abrupt Leave by Esteemed Professor of the Much Anticipated Lecture Series of Nietzsche and Kafka!", and "Threat of Mainland Countries Looms Ever Closer!"
For a moment, Mycroft pursed his lips, a variety of emotions flickered across his eyes from surprise to confusion and stopping at acceptance. He finally gave a rueful smile, "Forgive me. With the history between you two, I was under the impression that you didn't return any fondness that he had offered you. I hazard a guess that the assumption was my fault: of course you would be as unpredictable as your dear friend. But you must look at it from my perspective: didn't you want him gone?" Watson's face looked as if it could be carved out of stone. Holmes still sat in his armchair, looking as if there wasn't any rush, as if there wasn't a man standing before him nearly shaking with agitation and tension, "You were the one of the relationship who wished to stop the hectic chases and adventures well known in your line of work. You wished dearly to settle down and so you married. Doctor Watson," he concluded, "My little brother was giving you space that you don't want anymore. The fact that he's giving you any sort of space is unheard of."
The chamber was half-lit with a type of dimness that forces one to offer several minutes for the pupils to dilate, bringing about the air of an interrogation cell. The air was filled with metronomic ticking of the old clock in the corner, echoing throughout the gallery until it was nearly deafening until it could be likened to a stranger beating against hollow wood- the effect emphasized the fact that Watson refused to speak and explain his intensions. The clock also reminded the doctor what must be done. "I need to take my leave Mr. Holmes: time is of the essence," he gritted his teeth.
"There's nothing stopping you," Mycroft rested his hand on one of his knees and motioned towards the door behind him. "Though," he trailed off, that single word forced the other man to glance back just as the butler opened the front door. The elder Holmes glanced back from the high-backed armchair and his voice grew colder until it took the tone of disdainful authority that deigned to gaze upon his underlings. As if an invisible stream of water was poured down his spine, Watson felt like a small animal in the shadow of a bored predator, "Do remember that he is family to me and I watch closely over his health: physical, mental… and emotional." Mycroft Holmes turned back around and dismissed his guest, "Good day, Doctor."
John H. Watson ran through the streets as fast as he could, well aware of the time constraints placed upon him. The elder Holmes' words were accusing and doubtful of his intentions: after all, if he had hurt Sherlock once, what was stopping him from doing so again? Sherlock Holmes was trying to leave him. The mere thought caused Watson's own heart to start breaking not just from physical exertion but from despair. The day was hot, hot enough to make him sweat with exertion, hot enough to make him lightheaded when he refused to slow. "Didn't you want him gone?" The last time his chest felt this type of pain was when he had watched Sherlock slowly fall, throwing himself down Reichenbach Falls with Moriarty in tow. "Didn't you want him gone?" John urged his legs to pump faster, weaving through the pedestrians on the sidewalks, crossing streets and barely clipping the moving carriages and vehicles.
If he didn't hurry, Sherlock Holmes was going to slip from his fingers… again.
"Didn't you want him gone?"
"You're leaving me," Mary whispered in a daze as she stood in the doorway of their bedroom watching him pack his essential belongings into a small bag and picking up his cane that he preferred on more physically intensive days. "I hope that you would come back, but you won't be coming back, will you?" Her voice, low, soft, childish, was accusing him of dreadful things. Watson didn't say a word: he knew contributing would only add to her misery. "Why are you leaving?"
Why was he leaving? He has to leave. She might understand it on some lower level but then again, she may never fully understand his need. Their house felt empty despite its respectable and humbled furniture and friendly color schemes that had the definite woman's touch; it did not welcome him anymore; it was not inviting. What previously was a warm hearth and promise of love and kindness was now tense curtness. There was a transition somewhere that anchored their new perceived ideals of one another and suddenly, they were strangers living in the same house, making up excuses to not sleep on the same bed. There was nothing here for him and everything with him. But John wasn't talking.
Mary grabbed his arm and looked up imploringly, "Why?" Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, she struggled not to cry before him, "You're going to leave and this will inevitably draw into a never ending cycle, always running, always away. What…" She refused to release him even when he gently attempted to pry her grip loose and instead jerked to the side and hissed, "It was folly to hope that you would never leave! What type of husband are you, gallivanting off with another? Explain yourself! Explain why I must be the one to suffer for your actions and for your irresponsibility, for you inability to come to terms!" The tears finally fell, "Why must I suffer alone?"
John closed his eyes, feeling guilt slowly crawl up his chest, leaving a bad taste lingering in his mouth. The only boat crossing the English Channel today will leave at one in the afternoon. Though in reality the chances of intersecting the detective's path was about fifty-fifty, John was positive that he would meet his friend there: Mycroft knew it, Mary knew it, John knew it. 'I'm sorry,' John wanted to say, 'I'm very sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm terribly sorry.'
"I always thought that with the aftermath of your latest grand chase, the adventures will have stopped, but there is always more. Was I always the fool to believe that it will one day end?" Mary's voice rose with each sentence. She reached out and pulled his face down and kissed him, pouring all of her anxiety and her heartfelt desperation, hoping to anything that he would respond. He didn't move.
Aftermath was always a strictly literary vocabulary word: it gives the reader a sense of what lies beyond the concept of an end. In a way, where a story ends, a reality continues on- it's a marvelous concept bridging together both worlds. The Episode of Reichenbach Falls was finished but Case of Moriarty was not quite there and the Adventures with Sherlock Holmes will never end.
John H. Watson, friend, husband, gentleman, dipped his head low and, without a returning kiss, without a gentle touch, allowed his mouth to linger by her ear. Mary's breathing slowed as she strained to hear his whispered secret, "I have found the paradox," he breathed, "that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
Mary's breath hitched: she looked up and held his gaze steadily for a few seconds before letting go. With her eyes trained downward, she took his hands and kissed his knuckles before stepping to the side to allow him to pass through. He made the motion to place his hand on her shoulder but she abruptly brushed him off. "Good-bye John," she said curtly with her back towards him. There was so much he wanted to say, to apologize for, but this was neither the time nor the place: and so, with heavy footsteps, he descended the stairs into the foyer, opened the front door, and left the premise.
He did not look back.
The sole ship crossing to France today will leave at one pm: John Watson managed arrived at the dock ten minutes prior. The entire area was chaotic, crowded with families giving tearful farewells, small merchant boys selling small wares for the short trip, stray dogs trailing hopefully behind the sympathetic children who might sneak in some pieces of meat behind their parent's back. Orphaned children darted between legs, searching for chances of pickpocketing until officials chase them off the wooden planks, forcing them to retreat next to a group of lazy fishermen. As he skillfully navigated between the maze of people, John spotted Sherlock's target, a professor fleeing from Moriarty's college, dressed in a high, starched collar shirt covered by a wool coat that did no favors for him in this weather and a hat that overshadowed half of his features. The man's posture, hunch-backed and strung tight, reflected his paranoia. He stumbled as he walked to the gangway and relied heavily on the side rails.
Luggage of all sizes and wooden, marked boxes were being thrown into the storage of the hull area by muscled workers in a remarkable display of teamwork. Smoke billowed out in huge columns from the stacks and saturated the air that was alive with sounds of chatter and ship horns, of captains shouting last call, of ticket masters calling out how many available spots on trips were left, of last minute passengers rushing onto their designated boat just as the gangway was about to be pulled up. It stank of seaweed, moss, and ship exhaust. The incoming tide lapped at the sides of the large beams holding up the walkway to board the ships.
After cajoling, bargaining, and paying a good amount of pounds under the table, one of the workers dressed all in navy blue allowed John to cross onto the lower deck without anyone else noticing, with the understanding that should he get caught, he would only blame himself. John ducked under the small doorway and ended up in a hallway with the door to the boiler room on his left and a drawn map of the English Channel with curved arrows pointing in the direction of the currents.
The farther away from the commotion, the farther away from industry, the cleaner the air became in a near exponential relationship. The crew was rushing about around him, raising the anchor and untying ropes that held it in place. Someone shouted orders; everyone hurried to obey. No one paid him any attention. Their steps echoed heavily of boots against grey metal like that of a heavy rainstorm. The horn blared twice: the workmen began to crank multiple wheels to draw in the long train of thick rope until they came to the last loop knot.
John backed up onto the main deck where the passengers hustled about. A couple ran past him each hefting two large bags; two kids followed behind sharing a small toy between them. A small girl held her father's hand as he pointed out the different species of gulls that were hovering around the stern. Two brothers were already sitting on a small bench drinking glasses of Port. Watson took the stairs up to the promenade just as the ship began to pull away from the dock. There were people standing on the starboard side waving handkerchiefs to their loved ones below. There were entreaties and promises, farewells and well-wishes until everything was a cacophony of noise: each indiscernible from one another. Watson peered out and squinted against the blazing sun. The shouting crowd on the dock seemed to be no bigger than ants. The roads seemed to be as thick as thread. The houses shrunk ever smaller until they blended perfectly like rocks and boulders against the English coastline that was fast sinking into the horizon.
Soon, there was nothing to gaze at but open waters.
He gazed down over the side and watched as the sea, foamed dark blue and green, rushed by. He closed his eyes. The gentle swells gave and pushed; the ship gently swayed a slow rhythmic tempo, hypnotizing him into a trance. Exhaustion overcame his spirit that solely influenced his emotional and mental endurance: he keenly felt the frantic pace of the past weeks finally catch up to him and wash over him in waves such as those splashing against the ship. The clouds gathered and hid the sun behind a mix of haze, mist, and white cotton, allowing the air to cool and a small breeze to blow gently to his side. The clouds seemed to be enveloping his mind, rendering him unable to think clearly: he's so tired, very tired. With his head resting on the railings, he felt his body temperature lower as his mind prepared to collapse into deep sleep.
Turning to his right to the source of the familiar voice, John H. Watson's eyes snapped open and he found himself staring into the bewildered gaze of Sherlock Holmes.