Author's Note: I don't own Sherlock Holmes.
As Watson chases after the shadow of Holmes, he inadvertently brings forth feelings for the man that he never knew existed.
Warnings: slash, bad grammar, hint of sexual situations, lack of page breaks
"Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'"
Sherlock Holmes could instinctively tell that the pain that flared in his chest as he watched his long time, dear friend get married was not physical. It warned of a revelation that decided to smack him unpleasantly and abruptly across his face. It was reminiscent of Adler's whips but with a fiery tinge to the tip, a bit more sting than was necessary or possible.
But still he was stubborn. It took him a cable hook through the shoulder, a couple bullet wounds, a shockwave, and a fight to the death with his (whom he now considers) late arch nemesis on the edge of a precipice overlooking Reichenbach Falls before he finally forced himself to admit his feelings- and that was only when Watson showed up just as he was about to execute his final move against Moriarty. A game of shadows, a game of strategy and tactics and contingency plans overlaid with contingency plans all halted in the name of a doctor with windswept sandy hair and a subtly worn formal ensemble. The moment he opened the door to the balcony, Watson was the new element of the chessboard, not even the pawn that had cross to the other side, but an extra move, a slight of hand, suddenly the game turned into a game of cards: the doctor's preferred method of merry. And suddenly, Watson was the final move.
But John was in a risky position of power, too risky, and the percent of success had risen with the new succession and choices of moves and mobility with Moriarty in such distraction- but in Sherlock's endless mind, the percentages were still too low. Because Sherlock didn't mind if he was in danger but god forbid if his dear friend, the only one whose opinion ever meant anything, gets in such situations. Immediately, Sherlock felt that he had to abort to his final fail-safe where both he and the enemy must descend into the waters. There was a pang of sorrow that crept into his heart from the possibility of never seeing the man again, possibly never telling his dear friend that… What?
Revelations herald joy; he was experiencing heralding a numbing shock.
It's a bit peculiar how love is an emotion fairly hard to admit with no limits of embarrassment and shame attached to its obvious tail, but it does feel nice to finally put a name to the reason behind his uncharacteristically clingy actions towards the man. It was easy to observe it clinically from a third person point of view; it was just as easy to be sucked in as soon as you meet said person of interest. There was an abnormally thin barrier between the thought, "Sherlock Holmes loves John Watson," and "I love John Watson."
Moriarty had grabbed him on their descent and had used him as a buffer between the fall and the initial impact where his breath had escaped him, rising upward to blind his enemy. The detective used the opportunity to force the professor's skull down against some rocks, crying out in pain as his own shoulder slammed into a cliff face, only managing a choked gasp. And down and down they fell, two men struggling in the face of near death, swallowing mouthfuls of water, trying to stay conscious of all things. "Grab to neck, angle downwards to reach pressure point, secondary point right above collar bone if first strike is not effective. If enemy attacks to the right, bend spine to minimize damage and hide vulnerable areas and then grasp for wrist and press on vein leading out from the life line. Wait for opportunity and keep at arms distance…" The act of survival almost became a chore: and that was perhaps the scariest aspect of the fight.
But somehow, somehow- Sherlock wasn't sure how- he had pulled himself onto the shallow shore at the bend of the river and dragged himself until he could no longer feel the waves lapping at his feet. He rose up alone, numb and not in his right mind. The memory of the struggle was already starting to fade but he was reasonably certain that Moriarty wouldn't resurface anytime soon. His memory dully informed him that the man was rendered motionless by some sort of head wound without relinquishing details. A breeze blew by, shocking him to the bones and he wondered how in the world he was still alive. "Quite the penchant for understatement," a memory of John seemed to remark at his side, "Stating that Moriarty was felled by a small concussion holds the same impact of stating that Irene Adler has a minor affinity for bondage." Sherlock shivered and sneezed; numbness was beginning to settle in on the wound where the professor had pierced him and spreading outward in a web-like fashion.
It took far too long to find the correct tools to make a substantial fire. Firewood was not scarce but the mere act of moving was an agony. His hands violently shook as he struck stone to flint but after a few desperate tries, a satisfying ember was smoldering in his hands, balanced on top of a meager handful of dry bark shavings. He gently blew and grinned when the rising smoke increased, the heat became almost unbearable, and a fire burst into life. He placed his bundle onto a premade pile of timber and started to strip off his wet clothing. As the warmth kissed his skin, he knew that he would live another day.
The long night gave him ample time to think, to ponder, to determine in a rare stroke of maturity that he and everything associated with him (consultant detective jobs and what-nots) was too much of a hassle for his dear friend, a dear friend that he dearly loved. He closed his eyes and touched himself, imagining a man walking down the street with the aid of a cane, turning towards him with a small quirk in his lips. Sherlock's breath quickened as his hand ghosted upwards over his sensitive skin. The doctor's eyes had a sharp glint in them in preparation for oncoming events (because no matter how much he denied it, John Watson was capable of living on the border between peace and stark terror) that were capable of softening in tender affection for the people that he cares for, namely, Mary Watson. Sherlock stopped his actions, sighed in frustration, and stared morosely through the fire.
Adler had once loftily informed him, citing dubious sources written by dubious authors, that sexual activity is physically hot to the touch. The larger the embodiment of passion, the deeper the warmth penetrates- able to break fevers. "Of course," she had then slyly added, kissing the tip of her dessert spoon, "This means that you must have an ever more intimate relationship with your right hand. You must know it well, every line, every crease, you must dream of your hand every night. Your hand must know you well in return." Sherlock had made a disparaging comment about her own lines and creases which must come from silk ties that lock her against bedposts every night for the King of Bohemia was known for his eclectic tastes in not only recreational activities but also women. Adler had then casually threatened to chain him to the bedpost naked again, this time without the key under a well-placed pillow.
Sherlock gritted his teeth to keep them from chattering and fed the fire another log. He would have released a well-placed curse if his muscles weren't so tense. It's pretty hard to generate a passion for someone who is already spoken for.
Perhaps this would be the perfect chance to enjoy new scenery, to leave home for a while as he starts his hunt across the world for Moriarty's allies. It'll be a sabbatical that will stretch for some long years, jumping from contact to contact. After all, didn't Watson complain daily about his antics, loudly insisting that he wished for a normal life with Mary? It would be best for the man if he did get that normal life that he had craved. If the detective closed his eyes, he could envision the future. One day, he will finally plant his feet back onto English soil, he will visit Watson's new home where there would be a happy family consisting of the doctor, his beloved wife, and a darling angel child or two between them. If there was a place for him in the family, it will be a small place.
The idea of leaving would not fade. Sherlock silently placed a hand beneath his throat and dragged it downward. His heart was crying.
But the decision was made and he was already concocting plans, recalling the world map of Moriarty and his crime ring sitting in his office from memory, as he had hailed a coach, asking for a ride. The driver had taken pity on his countenance and allowed him to sit by his side behind the horses; the driver side-glanced over as he winced from every jostle of the road. His fingers rubbed Mycroft's breathing apparatus, wondering how to discard the instrument. Or should he return it to his brother? After all, it wasn't as though he had asked for permission to use it- not to mention that the entire ensemble was still a prototype. If he ever gets the chance, Sherlock will send a letter filled with his raving reviews with a suggesting that there should be a strap attached to secure it to one's face.
Why not send the instrument to Watson? The doctor would surely recognize the gift. That's a thought, isn't it? A small smile crept to the corners of his lips: it was too good to resist the temptation of leaving one last note- if nothing but to assure his old friend, "Yes. I am copacetic. I am somewhere."
With great difficulty, he dozed on the coach after mentally outlining his plans for the professor's men in the heart of London. It would take approximately two months to rid of the vestiges of the syndicate: it won't be easy, but it was doable- risky, but when has he ever not taken risks? At least the small group in London is rumored to be tame compared to the organizations on the continent. He dreamed of pulling and swift tides, of ineffective punches and the slow dawning of victory on his opponent's face as he weakened his attacks and resolve from fatigue. He dreamed of Moriarty's hands around his neck, choking his as they tumbled about in the currents of the icy waters. He dreamed of kicking fiercely at the man's knees and pressing against a pressure point below his arms, forcing him to loosen his grip and he pushed free, attacking with a clumsy left hook, knocking the professor's head against a rock face. There was a small cloud of red that blended in with the man's hair, quickly dissolving away. James Moriarty stopped moving. The currents pushed the two men apart. The professor began to sink. Sherlock managed to get ahold of high ground. The memory ended. He woke up.
Sherlock Holmes promptly turned to the side and began to gag and heave to his companions' shock. He managed to produce some blood but not much else.
Bringing down Moriarty's crime ring was perhaps his greatest work to date on par with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, Mozart's Requiem, all of which concerned the element of time- patience, waste, and efficiency. Time waste was the absolute embodiment of base. It was an accumulation of his years of experience, of contacts and spies, of working slowly for months upon months for this one final event: the complete destruction of everything belonging to him.
Here arrived the one-leader army. Sherlock was the odd lady on the streets selling hollowed seed jewelry with gypsies, one of the middle class men chatting up with some street urchins, a foreign lord smoking with English barons, the old homeless sitting by the other homeless haunting the back alleys leading out to Thames, a delivery boy sending packages to prominent college men. His recent inventions of urban disguises also served to that purpose. Sherlock was a shadow clinging to the side of a typical lamppost and observing the streets with his trusty binoculars, an outgrowth from an undistinguished side of a brick wall, the flowery pattern of the hideous upholstery that Watson keeps in his study. Mary had spotted him though he doubts that she would say anything.
And so he discarded his skin and easily stepped into another. He kept himself busy out of fear of idleness: during the day he was on the move, during the night he was writing threats and hints to specified men. He gave proof that Moriarty was dead and before word could trace its origins back to him, he silenced the informed. If he did manage to sleep fitfully for more than half an hour, he dreamt of two occasions. If he had dreamt of killing Moriarty at the base of the falls, he takes his time to wash his hands, scrubbing at his palms and picking the area underneath his nails, before puking in an adjacent toilet. If he had dreamt of Watson's wedding with its solemn music, respectable audience, and dignified groom walking slowly down the aisle to ask for the hand of his beautiful bride, he woke up crying.
"She knows, you see," Sherlock mumbled as he examined his mien in the dusty mirror after a particularly vivid dream, "Some scholars have attributed to good breeding but a woman's intuition does not obey research articles on the fairer gender's small attributes. Nothing was ever said between us, nothing of value that no one could tell. But she knows. She knew before I did." He saw red rimmed, swollen eyes and a mouth that, though in the past would have the edges always at an upwards tilt, were pulled taut. The sight was horrific. His forehead fell against the cool glass with a low thud as he heaved a sigh.
Barring all of his personal angst, he warmly realized that he had forgotten the satisfaction of watching his efforts bear fruit. He was sitting above everything, overseeing London, both hands out, palms facing downwards, fingers outstretched, and to each finger was attached a thousand little strings attached to thousands of British souls. This was his grounds. He comfortably leaned back on his metaphorical chair of towers, feeling once again at home. Mycroft might be the London government, but Sherlock was the actual city, purging itself of impurities. By now, Sherlock was pretty certain that his brother might have inkling that he wasn't quite dead, though probably not sure how this was achieved. This would probably bother Mycroft a bit. Correction: this would infuriate him. The thought made him crack a wiry grin.
Slowly and slowly, Moriarty's pedestal of secrets crumbled under the weights of its own burdens, the very things that made it successful, under the absence of a foundation.
He took particular, vindictive pleasure in watching those that attempted to take the entire failing network by force via bold coups and other offensives. The new self-proclaimed leaders were very greedy, drawn like moths to flame as the Professor's previous position was very profitable, to say the least. But none of them could even hold Moriarty's shoes, much less fit into them. One needs inhuman-like genius to balance a metaphorical, inverted pyramid. Sherlock Holmes gleefully refrained from releasing all of his influences just to watch the circus act of the young and old upstarts try their hand: gathering followers, squirming under the first signs of failure, and then disappearing from society as another statistic. The underworld does not tolerate failure. The number of persons reported missing was climbing at an alarming rate.
"One-four-three-three-seven," Sherlock Holmes had muttered as he dug chalk into the side of a London office building, the white numerals stark against the backdrop. Wiping his hands on a handkerchief, he had stepped back to survey his work with a critical eye. At exactly twenty-two minutes to the hour, a little boy will see the defacement and inform his mother, who was one of Moriarty's runners, who will understand the message and blanch horribly, and hurry to inform her own superior of the message. Hopefully this will reach all the way down to the echelons of society so he wouldn't have to go through the trouble of making another symbol. The point was to make them nervous- to make them flee so that he may follow.
"That looks quite tiring," a voice from an associate had remarked behind him, "Nicely done, though. You're quite dedicated. How do you ever manage to tolerate this sort of lifestyle?"
"I wasn't really alone, if that is what you are implying," he had sharply retorted.
He entertained the thought that the moment he had gathered his forces together, every criminal from here to the shore had shivered in unexplainable, stark terror. Every single contact that he has ever made, every man, woman, trained mongrel, anyone that ever owed him a favor since the dawn of his fruitful career were called in for assistance. All were favors that his contacts were happy to offer. Sherlock likes to think that it's mainly due to his infamous skills of deduction that had struck the killing blow to history's largest organization of crime, but the truth was that it was a cooperative effort that rendered Moriarty's shadows no more of a worry in Britain.
"Well," he hastily corrected, "I wasn't before. I am now."
There had been a brief lull in noise where it was uncharacteristically silent enough in London for one to hear the horns on the ship docks along the river. "That is unfortunate. My condolences," the other had mildly remarked before pointing out, "Mind the blood at the lower left corner, I think our target has already passed by this area and was attacked by one of our men. I can send out a statement to White and Walker and ask for them to make haste."
"No need for well-wishes," the detective had distractedly replied as he examined the blood spatter. "Watson isn't dead." The pattern was too low for a deliberate attack and too concentrated to be a clean cut. There was a small trail leading down a road before ending at a slightly larger puddle, already dried and crusted red. "This blood is from one of your men that came from a mild wound on the forearm, probably his right or our target's right. The surprise flanking maneuver… two days ago… did happen but apparently our target has a weapon on his, something hidden, small, serrated- hasn't been sharpened in a while."
"Oh dear. That would explain Hoskins's injury- I will need to question him on the details after he returns from his family." Tomorrow, he will be meeting a man from the underground that runs a bar in the shadier areas of the Thames neighborhoods. On the day after he will send men to actively pursue his targets, far enough not to be implicated but obvious enough to raise one's paranoia. His associate had smacked his lips thoughtfully, "The doctor isn't dead, you say. Even if your doctor friend isn't dead, like everyone had thought it was for your situation, it's just as bad isn't it, Detective Holmes?"
For that, Sherlock had nothing to say.
"Rats and sewers," Irene Adler had once whispered as she blew smoke into his face. She tipped ashes into the little tray sitting on the table between them and mockingly sighed in a lovingly fashion. "I had originally believed that we differed from those who saw mice and forest, as we saw rats and sewers, long having lost our faith in our brethren. But you," her hand looked ghastly in the lights casted from the windows, "you suddenly gained a John Watson. And suddenly, you don't see rats and sewers, leaving me here in the filth, seeing filth, feeling filth, smelling filth, every day. And I see you out there smelling of roses." Her smile was of a young orphan with small feces smeared on her face by older street boys, of an aged, disabled woman with only half a cane in her hands, wondering how she can function. "I'm not technically leaving you since you are gone already. I wish you the best of luck with your very own John Watson."
But he wielded nothing.
On lonely nights, he missed the presence of his only friend that it pained him to breath. Every night was a lonely night. He missed Watson's fond exasperation at his antics and willingness still to follow him to the ends of the Earth. You don't just find a man like that on the streets. He has been taking and taking. All Sherlock Holmes ever did was take.
He is so grateful.
It was time that he must stop taking. This was the right time, he believed, to allow Watson to fall into the safe arms of his dear wife. Even if his chest contracted every time he merely thought about the wedding, his decision was steadfast: John H. Watson will have a good life.
What's left for Sherlock? Yes, yes, what is left for the famed and deceased Detective Sherlock Holmes?
There was still that initial idea, wasn't there?
A journey around Europe, a journey around the world: to see the sights before his bones begin to protest of their age. Sherlock calmly adjusted his hat as he boarded the ferry to France: one that he had painstakingly made sure was the only ferry leaving for France for this day, for this week, certain that the last of Moriarty's men was trapped on this small vessel, easily ambushed. After landing, he will set his sights on liberating Paris, then the small area of Nantes, where he'll then head west across Spain to Portugal and then through the Mediterranean Sea and finally back east along the coast of the dying Ottoman Empire: he'll hit maybe the remnants of the Crimean War. He has contacts in Moscow who would be willing to offer him room and board. Pity Irene wasn't here with him: she shared the same taste of adventure as he.
"Excuse me. Oh, sorry there, ol' chap," someone muttered as they brushed past him, "didn't see you there."
He was on a boat of modest size for a modest amount of people. The paints on the railings, once a proud, forest green, were chipping, revealing rusting metal underneath, rusting faster with the incoming mist. The horn blared and disappeared nearly as fast as it came. The windows were dusted on both sides with sea-crust sticking to the edges where the workmen failed to clean. The dank air held faint hints of moss and boiler smoke, combining together to form an acrid combination. The water mercilessly slapped against the starboard, rocking it steadily, causing a good number of the passengers to turn peak.
"Wave at them! We won't see them for another year. Farewell!" A woman cried, waving her handkerchief at the crowds below on the pier. Others followed her lead.
Stepping back from the commotion, the detective counted to sixty, taking deep breaths, feeling his heartbeat slow to a contented pace as the boat pulled from shore. Then he was on the move: weaving between families and luggage, keeping his eyes forward as his peripherals noted a man sneezing behind a worn handkerchief, a figure hiding behind a newspaper that was a month old, of a child running by with a polished briefcase - retaining any information that would be useful for the future. There were plans to be made; plans to execute. His feet were hitting the floorboards in a practiced tempo, fleet footed in its complacency, comforting in its uniformity as his mind raced until-
He turned a corner.
Time… Time innumerable… Time ineffable… It froze him into where he stood- he could be a statue forever if he hadn't shaken himself from the sight. A million things entered his mind and a million things passed by. Initially, he honestly believed that a perfect combination of exhaustion and depression had begun to interfere with his observation and deduction. But the vision did not fade.
There was a man directly in his line of sight facing the sea, slumped against the metal railings in a familiar stance. He wore a familiar coat and slacks that had been pressed but carelessly placed upon. Small amounts of dust had gathered on the hems and on his shoes: he had been running in the streets. He was favoring one leg over the other. "…Watson?" The man turned. He had sandy yellow hair as disheveled as his dress wear. The circles under his eyes were pronounced and extended down his face to a pair of sunken cheeks. The detective fought hard to not widen his eyes in obvious surprise. John Watson had seen much better days. "Good god, what did Mary do to you? Wasn't the married life supposed to be more agreeable to a gentleman such as yourself?" Sherlock winced: he hadn't thought that one through too thoroughly. The comment was part joke and all incredulity. Watson's features had hardened as if a plant has dried with no amounts of water, shriveled and brittle, more sturdy in tepid air but about to collapse into a pile of decompose at any moment. His air reminded Holmes of Kafka's hunger artist.
John Watson did not shift from his perch but turned his head in a way that an owl would and tilted his dead down, expressionless. Sherlock cautiously approached in case that he truly was hallucinating and placed three fingers on the man's cheek: feeling a face that has been poorly shaved. He noted humorously that should this man be a mirage, a bystander's sight must surely be an unusual one. Watson surveyed him with another emotion that he couldn't fathom- one that he was entirely unfamiliar with and for a moment, Sherlock wondered if he had pushed too far into the man's personal space. "What are you doing?" John whispered.
"I'm making sure that you are real, my dear friend." The detective replied, giving the cheek one last shameless, affectionate pinch, "You shouldn't be surprised, if you see it from my point of view. I momentarily feared that I was too engrossed into my plans to dismantle Moriarty's Eurasian network that I had neglected my health: physical and mental." Sherlock stepped back and grinned with his usual exuberance, "Never mind that, I believe my eyes, strange as what they present to me. Are you ok?"
The doctor's eyes flitted to both corners before grabbing Sherlock's wrist to prevent him from placing anymore distance between them, "Why did you send me the package of the underwater breathing device?" His voice registered at a lower baritone than was typical with a hoarse, scratchy undertone. Sherlock guessed that this was due to sleepless nights, even nightmares where one wakes up unknowing that they had screamed through the entire dream, where one is suddenly severely depleted of human interaction that a conversation is suddenly a chore. His friend's hands were trembling. He really was Kafka's starving artist: the detective could only wonder what he was fasting for. But if Watson decided not to comment, then it would be in Sherlock's best interest to not bring it up: especially when past attempts have failed.
"Wasn't really a message, was it?" Sherlock lightly replied, laughing nervously, suddenly all too aware of the hand burning it's mark into his skin, "I just wanted to reassure you that I was still walking. I couldn't resist one last farewell present. At least," he thoughtfully frowned in puzzlement, "I thought it was a farewell. But you are here now, standing before me." The last sentence faded into a whisper: conveying the truth of Sherlock's bewilderment that John was at his side and of his assumption that they were never to see each other for a long time, possibly forever. Something flashed in John Watson's eyes, something so quick and fleeting and unreadable. Sherlock huffed in annoyance: Watson was never this enigmatic. The stagnant air was heavy enough to weigh down his joking manner: it was enough to block his eyes from the noise of the other passengers on the ship, dulling their distant voices and cries into a faint roar: or maybe that was just the sounds of the water.
John Watson slowly released his wrist and reluctantly pulled away. The movement was so slow that Sherlock could still feel the ghost of the other's hand supporting his weight, hand dangling by the wrist. He stared at his hand in bemusement and then rolled his shoulders awkwardly back, feeling entirely too small in a too stiff shirt. Sherlock searched his friend for more clues, careful to avoid his eyes: those eyes were unnerving. Watson has changed dramatically for the small time that he was gone that was worrisome. Was it…
"What about Mary?" He attempted to venture.
The glare that John Watson gave was venomous, daring his companion to speak more. "What about her?" The detective was so taken aback by his answer that it takes him a few moments to find his bearings. He turned away to face the sea, feeling a bit troubled and entirely not used to such enmity from such a familiar face. Immediately, out of the corner of his sight, he observed guilt descending upon his friend like a dark cloud. The doctor calmed down, let out a long breath, and rubbed a hand across his face. It was an emotion that Sherlock thankfully was familiar with and it gave him new confidence to keep pushing.
"Can you at least tell me how you knew that I was leaving?" He curiously prodded, leaning more of his weight against the ship rails, feeling the small wave crashes create mist that kissed his fingers.
"…Deduction." The doctor cracked a smile: one that was broken and rusted but it was an attempt all the same, "It was elementary."
This is progress. Sherlock Holmes cocked his head in surprise and beamed at him, "Excellent! Never change my friend."
Everything is normal. Watson was immediately filled on the information regarding his investigation and his plans on the mainland. Everything was radical. The idea meant risking for a new life, a new name, new adventures, for Sherlock Holmes, in the eyes of the world, is dead.
Everything is normal. Holmes was the type to look at a gifted horse in the mouth but in this situation, he will look as discretely as possible. But it was quite hard when there was absolutely no evidence or clues to build anything on besides the initial observation of John Watson in such a mad state and his slow healing under Sherlock's careful watch. Sherlock wanted to know why. Why? Why? Why? As they moved from city to city, Paris to Prague, Madrid to Frankfurt, Amsterdam to Tunis, Leningrad to Warsaw, dismantling one piece of the Professor's crime ring after another, the normal partnership was there. There was Holmes and there was Watson.
Everything is normal. John seemed to be satisfied to avoid the fact that he had abandoned his newly wedded wife to go chasing a dead man's work across the continent. Mary Watson nee Morstan was a topic that they don't ever talk about- ever. It was essential that Holmes must avoid glancing into that mouth of the gifted horse. The gifted horse was a stallion of many mouths. Mrs. Watson was a topic to never be touched upon.
Everything is normal. John seemed to be aggressively possessive- Sherlock would rather that fact belong as a part of his imagination but one can't ignore the fact that the doctor seemed very reluctant to lose any physical contact: there was always the tug at the wrist or the hand on the back or the arm around the shoulder. Not to mention that John was behaving this way solely towards Sherlock. John is impossible to read these days.
So life went on for a consulting detective and his companion: a life that was a fast paced, unforgettable, whirlwind.