Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! This fic is a commissioned fic written for the Fandomaid fic auction on LJ; my bidder had requested a Victorian-era Holmes fic, and I found myself inspired to write this. I wrote it with the intention of it being pre-series Granada-verse, but it can also be read as book-verse, post-Study in Scarlet.
The silence that had blanketed the back alley behind one of London's many theaters was shattered by the bellowing voice of Sherlock Holmes. The lone figure departing the theatre from the back exit uttered the most ungentlemanly curse as the detective and the inspector approached from in front of him, flanked by several of Lestrade's men. The criminal then attempted to flee back inside the building, only to find his path blocked by Doctor John Watson.
The cornered man now reached for the knife in his pocket, but Watson had already drawn his revolver.
"I think not," the doctor said, calmly, prompting the man to drop the useless blade to the ground.
"Mr. Gordon Atkins," Lestrade announced, fitting a pair of handcuffs over the man's wrists. "I hereby arrest you on the charges of burglary and murder."
Atkins looked from the inspector to Holmes himself.
"How did you find out?" he demanded.
Holmes suppressed a laugh, amused.
"Must I explain something so unbelievably simple?" he said. "It was the sand scattered all around the body that told me that the victim had been clouted with a sandbag, and the unique footprints—clearly of decorative footwear not at all suited for the London winter—told me that the murderer had been in costume—an actor. Once I had deduced that, it was only a matter of finding out which of the nearby theatres had either a performance or a dress rehearsal tonight. This one fit the requirements.
"As for how I knew that you would be exiting through the back way, the sheer chaos that was present at the crime scene clearly showed that the murderer had not stopped to ensure that his tracks had been covered. It could then be assumed that the murderer would return to see if there was, possibly, any incriminating evidence that he could dispose of. As you can see, it worked. My only disappointment is that we've failed to apprehend your confederates—the ones who assisted you in moving the stolen items about. They were your colleagues, were they not? Fellow actors, perhaps even a few stagehands to help with moving the items to make them appear as ordinary props?"
"Why do you even ask me?" Atkins snarled, his voice dripping with venom. "You seem to have all the answers."
Holmes's lips flickered to a smirk.
"Very well. Lestrade, you may take him; there seems to be no point in continuing this conversation, though you may wish to see if an interrogation will result in his revealing the identities and location of his conspirators. Also, I believe a full search of the interior of the theatre will result in the recovery of at least some of his ill-gotten gains, providing you look for all of the trapdoors and search amongst the props."
Atkins now snarled in fury at the consulting detective as Lestrade's men moved to drag him away.
"A curse upon you, Holmes!" he roared, his eyes blazing. "But I vow that you shall not live to see me go to trial! I have my confederates, as you know; it is through them that I shall extract my revenge! Mark my words, Holmes—like Caesar, you will fall!"
"You are not the first to curse and threaten me, and I am certain you shall not be the last," the detective said, waving a hand in casual dismissal as he turned to his flatmate. "Now, then, Watson, it seems as though our part in this little drama has come to an end. Shall we return to Baker Street? I expect Mrs. Hudson will have laid out supper for you."
"You're not at all concerned with Atkins's threat?" the doctor asked. "Holmes, the man has murdered; it is not at all unbelievable to assume that his confederates are willing to do the same!"
"Shall I recount the number of threats upon my life I have received over the years?" Holmes asked, as they walked back towards Baker Street. "In summary, I have received promises of gunshots, stabbings, burnings, poisonings, bludgeoning, strangulations… I'd say the most colorful threat I ever received was courtesy of a murderous sailor who expressed a wish to keel-haul me."
Holmes paused, struggling not to laugh at the look on Watson's face.
"You will understand, then, why I am not about to take an offhanded remark such as Atkins's seriously," Holmes finished.
"If you'll forgive me for asking, Holmes, exactly how many of these threats were, at the very least, attempted?"
Holmes paused before replying.
"I am here, Watson—alive and well, am I not? There is no need to concern yourself with this matter any longer."
It was here that Holmes successfully changed the subject by announcing that he was going to go through their other correspondences that he had stabbed to the fireplace, hoping that one of them promised a case that would be significantly more challenging than the one they had just completed.
This prompted Watson to describe his intentions to write up the current case, to which Holmes pointed out that he had not yet received a response regarding his account of the Jefferson Hope case.
"Would it not be premature to embark on a second endeavor when you do not know the results of the first?" Holmes asked, as they entered the familiar, welcoming rooms of 221B.
"I suppose so. But in the event that they do request more from me, would it not be better to have an account of this case written when the facts were still fresh? Ah, good evening, Mrs. Hudson!"
"You have had a profitable evening, I trust?" she asked, kindly, as she accepted their coats and canes.
"In a manner of speaking," Holmes answered. "The case was solved, but it was childishly simple; I pray that there are some new correspondences for me to examine."
"You will first be eating the supper I have laid out for you—the both of you," she responded. It wasn't a request.
"Of course, of course. But the post—"
"And that reminds me," she went on, turning to Watson. "You received a parcel in the post, Doctor. You had apparently left some of your books in your old residence; your former landlady was kind enough to return them to you."
"Ah, bless her," Watson said, smiling. "And you, as well, Mrs. Hudson."
The landlady smiled in response as the two drew to the sitting room; true to her word, Mrs. Hudson had laid out a delicious-looking supper on the table, and on the small desk next to Watson's chair was the parcel.
"And what sort of volumes do you have in your possession once again?" Holmes asked, expecting some medical volumes that he could utilize for his forensics studies.
"I shall let you know in half a moment," the doctor replied, opening the parcel. "The complete set of Shakespeare's works! I had wondered where they had gotten to…"
The detective looked back at him with the most incredulous expression.
"Shakespeare!?" he scoffed. "Watson, I would have expected a medical man such as yourself to have numerous volumes of science and medicine—not such examples of mental decadence!"
"Mental decadence!?" Watson replied, in almost the same tone. "You mean to tell me that the words of the Bard—a man considered to be a genius in the world of literature—mean absolutely nothing to you?"
"Has he contributed anything to the study of criminology?"
"Of course not; he was a playwright!"
"Then he means absolutely nothing to me!"
Watson rolled his eyes heavenward. Of course, he should have known; first on the doctor's list of Holmes's limits had been "Knowledge of literature—nil."
"You do realize, Watson, that you are an intelligent man—a doctor who has great knowledge of general pathology and medicine," Holmes said. "Think of how much more your brain could do if you did not fill it with such useless nonsense!"
"You speak as though it is criminal to read great works of literature!" the doctor exclaimed.
"Not criminal, Watson, but a shame! It is a shame to see a brilliant mind wasting itself away! Had you had as much focus as I possess, you could have easily deduced that Atkins had clubbed his victim with a sandbag and had retreated to the theatre!"
"Had it not been for playwrights like Shakespeare, there would have been no theatre for him to flee to!"
"Ha! He would have run somewhere else, then, leaving clues that would have made it easy for a focused brain to deduce where he had gone! And that focused brain could easily be yours, Watson! Do you not want to be on the same intellectual level as me?"
"The same intellectual level as one who knows all aspects of the criminal mind and none of art or literature—who has to depend on dangerous artificial stimulants to stave off boredom between cases? Forgive my impudence, but I think I shall keep my decadent—but well-rounded—mind as it is!"
Holmes scoffed again.
"I think I am now apprehensive to read your account of the Jefferson Hope case," he said. "If that is the sort of thing you are filling your mind with, I shudder to think what you have done to that case!"
"Well, I will certainly not be so cruel as to force you into reading it!" Watson replied.
"Assuming it is even published—!"
Anything else Holmes intended to say was preempted by Mrs. Hudson entering the sitting room, glaring at the both of them as she saw the untouched food.
It was an instantaneous and unanimous decision made by the two flatmates to suspend the conversation and eat in silence.
Silence continued to fill the interior of 221B even after mealtime, and the silence continued to the next day. The flatmates weren't so childish as to sequester themselves in their respective rooms, but each continued going about his business the next day with only minimal conversation. Holmes had gone to work with his chemistry set while Watson continued writing his account of the Atkins case, taking a break every once in a while to page through one of the Shakespearean volumes. Holmes would give him a patronizing look every time he did so, but managed not to say anything.
It was in the evening that Holmes finally managed to get a break from the day's monotony; Mrs. Hudson arrived with a telegram.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, tossing the paper aside. "Lestrade has managed to wheedle out some information from Atkins concerning the location of his confederates; I am to meet him outside the police court."
"Atkins isn't on trial already, is he?" Watson asked.
"No; I imagine there must be some members of Atkins's gang nearby in the area, and Lestrade wishes to help me pinpoint their location."
Holmes paused at the sitting room doorway before leaving.
"…Are you going to join me?"
Watson looked to him in surprise, certainly not expecting the invitation after their argument last evening.
"No, I think not," the doctor said, after a moment. "I wouldn't want my 'mental decadence' getting in the way of your deductions."
Holmes opened his mouth to say something in response, but he apparently decided against it, looking away.
"Very well," he said, quietly. "With any luck, I shall return with the beginnings—or the end—of another successful case."
"I am certain you shall," Watson replied, returning to his writing.
After some time had passed, however, the doctor found that he could not concentrate. Something about this whole scenario didn't seem right, and his gaze returned to the telegram on the floor.
Picking it up, he glanced over it, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that concerned him. The message was a simple one: "Request you come to the police court right away STOP. Atkins gave cryptic hints STOP. Perhaps you can make something of them STOP."
Watson shook his head, unable to find anything amiss with the telegram, but it was as he placed it upon his writing desk, beside the Shakespeare volume, that he remembered the day's date.
It was the 15th of March. The Ides of March. And as Watson's gaze now focused on the Shakespeare volume, Atkins's words from the previous evening came unbidden to his mind.
"Mark my words, Holmes—like Caesar, you will fall!"
Watson bit back a curse, pulling his revolver from the desk drawer and placing it into his pocket as he bid a hasty goodbye to Mrs. Hudson.
How had he not made the connection before this moment!? Atkins was a man of the theatre; of course he would have devised a way of extracting his revenge in a manner such as this! His game was up; it would have only been a manner of time before his confederates would have been arrested, also. It would have made sense to that murderer to have them dispose of the man who crushed their ring before they, too, were arrested. And to have Holmes killed upon the steps of the police court would not only mirror Caesar's death on the steps of the Capitol (as both history and the Bard had so vividly described), but it would also be a slap in the face to the Yarders for having it happen upon their doorstep.
But, above all of that, there was the simple fact that a good man—no, a great man—would die.
And that was something Watson could not allow—especially not when the man in question was his friend and fellow lodger.
Holmes had decided that he had regretted the words he had uttered to his friend the previous evening. Even if he truly believed that Watson could be as much an expert in the art of deduction as Holmes was, if only he devoted more of his mind to the process, it had still been a step too far to utter that aloud.
Watson was a proud man, and he had every right to be one; being a doctor and a former soldier were not accomplishments to be sneezed at. And yet, Holmes wished for Watson to have a chance to see what more he was capable of; it was the man's obvious intelligence that had allowed the detective to consider going halves at Baker Street with him.
He thinks with his heart, Holmes thought to himself, with a shake of his head. It is folly—and a pity…
His thoughts halted—as did his steps—as he reached the steps of the police court building; a group of men were emerging from the shadows, converging from all directions, each with a knife in his hand. The detective's eyes widened in shock for a moment before this expression of emotion left his face and was replaced by a smirk that looked considerably more confident than he truly was.
"Well, Gentlemen," he said. "I must admit that if I had expected Atkins to carry out his threat of revenge, it would not have been so soon. I suppose his ability to organize this should be commended."
The men now drew closer, tightening the circle and cutting off all means of an escape.
"But, surely, you would not be foolish enough to commit a murder on the steps of the police court?" Holmes asked. "There are witnesses walking amongst us!"
They drew closer, still silent, and Holmes now drew the hidden blade from his cane.
"Do not try me, Gentlemen," he said, quietly.
They paid him no heed, not that Holmes had expected them to—he was grossly outnumbered. He was not going to go down without a fight, however; he swung his sword as the first assassin attempted to stab him; he parried the attack and shoved him into a second as spectators noticed and screamed.
Holmes had just countered the first attack when two more assassins moved to stab him from behind; he turned on his heel, knocking one out with a straight left to the chin while parrying the other's attack with the sword cane in his right hand and forcing him back. But yet another thug approached from the side even as he had dealt with the other two; the detective saw him too late in his peripheral vision.
Holmes knew there was no time to parry this; he turned to defiantly face the attacker who would inflict the first wound upon him. It was then that a gunshot echoed through the air, knocking the knife out of the assassin's hand, whereupon he crashed to his knees, howling.
By instinct, the other assassins looked to the doors of the court; Yarders were filing outside, but none of them had a weapon drawn. Holmes, on the other hand, turned his head towards the opposite direction to see Watson running towards them, the smoking gun in his hand.
Holmes suppressed the forming grin on his lips as he turned his attention back to his would-be assassins. The braver ones were still fighting Holmes (who was valiantly fighting back), while the rest fled due to the Yarders' approach and Watson's attack. One of these retreating thugs, aiming to avenge the co-conspirator whom the doctor had shot, threw his knife at Watson as he bolted.
Holmes had seen the blade flying through the air; he extended his arm in a futile gesture to reach out to his flatmate.
The doctor let out a cry as the blade embedded into his arm, his revolver dropping from his hand. Holmes furiously threw the assassin nearest to him to the ground and hastened to Watson's side. Even as he knelt beside him, Watson had managed to pull the knife out with his uninjured arm. Holmes quickly retrieved his handkerchief, however, and proceeded to attempt to stop the bleeding as Yarders apprehended the thugs all around them.
"Watson, you should have stayed with your writings," the detective said, softly.
"I could not let you face this trap alone!" the doctor protested. "Had I taken even a second longer to arrive, it would have been too late for you!"
"You knew it was a trap?" Holmes asked, staring in amazement.
"Not at first," Watson admitted. "Something about the telegram made me uneasy; it was when I recalled today's date—the 15th of March—and Atkins's threat that I remembered how Caesar had been stabbed to death upon the steps of the Capitol on the 15th of March. Shakespeare immortalized the story; if I hadn't glanced at the book on my desk, I might not have made the connection…"
Holmes felt his throat tighten. The very same book he had dismissed and had criticized Watson for reading had, ironically, given Watson the insight he needed to save his life—earning the brave doctor a wound in the process. And, after all of that, Watson was too relieved for the detective's safety to rub it in.
"Watson," he said, though he knew it was most inadequate. "…Thank you."
Watson had been surprised by the genuine gratitude that Holmes was expressing—albeit in the most subtle way possible. But, even then, it was nowhere near the level of his surprise when, the next morning, following the medical treatment, police interviews, and explanations that they had to contend with, Watson arrived in the sitting room for breakfast to find Holmes reading the Shakespeare volume that had been resting previously on his writing desk.
"Ah, Watson!" the detective said, looking up from the book as though nothing was out of the ordinary. "I trust that your arm is feeling better than it was last night?"
"You would be correct," Watson said. "Though might I ask why…?" He trailed off, indicating the book.
"Oh, this?" Holmes asked, casually. "It dawned on me that the majority of the criminals I contend with are also afflicted with mental decadence; I'm reading this volume in the hopes of better understanding the thought processes it might create. …You do not mind, I hope?"
Watson just smiled, recognizing the hidden truth in Holmes's words—the unspoken apology for the things he had said and the acknowledgement that there were other kinds of intelligence. The doctor silently transmitted his own apology, as well.
"Of course not," he said.
The smile flickered on and off of the detective's face as he returned to his reading, convinced now that Watson already was on the same intellectual level as he was.
And thank heaven for that.