Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! This was written for the Turn Left challenge at the Watson's Woes comm on LJ, where the challenge was to take a moment from anywhere in the Holmes-verse and make a change. I chose to make the change in Act II of The Secret of Sherlock Holmes play, which is an AU (could be considered a Granada AU, I suppose) of FINA and EMPT (so, this fic is technically and AU of an AU). I wasn't too pleased with the "secret" being Holmes saying that Moriarty was his own creation/that he was Moriarty, and also the fact that Watson believed him, so my "turn left" is that Holmes was lying about being/inventing Moriarty (because, as every Sherlockian knows, Moriarty was real), and that Watson didn't believe it after all.
There were times in his life that Sherlock Holmes doubted himself. Granted, they weren't common occurrences; usually, Holmes's brilliant mind formed plans worthy of his intelligence, and everything fell into place.
Why, then, was he doubting his actions after what had been the most important decision he had made?
He had not wanted to have to resort to faking his death, but in retrospect, he'd had no other choice. Moriarty had come too close to victory—and had he succeeded, not only would Holmes's own life have been destroyed, but Watson would have fallen with him.
That was the one thing that Holmes could not allow under any circumstances. And it was for that reason that the detective had spent three years on the run from Moran and those who remained.
But Holmes was only human. He needed the companionship that Watson had so selflessly given to him, and so he had made the decision to return. But one dilemma remained—how was he to explain things in such a way that Watson would not put himself in danger the moment Moran or any of the others were mentioned?
It was because of that haunting thought that Holmes had spun the largest lie he had ever given to his friend—that Professor James Moriarty had never existed except for only in his mind, and that whatever transpired at Reichenbach was to symbolically destroy a merely internal demon.
He hated having to do it—hated having to heap more and more lies upon the one man who trusted him unconditionally… the one man who believed in him. This had been more than just a trick; Holmes saw the look of utter disillusionment in the doctor's eyes as he was forced to come to grips with the notion that Holmes had been so desperate for a challenge, he had invented his own worst enemy. For a moment, Holmes had been ready to forget the whole idea and tell Watson the truth, but he resisted, continuing with the lie. After all, it was better that Watson be forced to destroy the pedestal he had placed Holmes upon, rather than ending up destroyed himself.
And Watson, bless him, had accepted it—and accepted him. But all was not well; the doctor was now distancing himself from the detective; Holmes hadn't seen him since he had finished with his tale, after which they temporarily parted ways again after Watson requested he be given time to process everything.
Holmes hadn't stopped Watson when the long-suffering doctor said that he wished to be alone after the tale had been spun. After being forced to mourn for a friend who was never dead, and then to be told that the friend was not the hero he had written about in his numerous stories, it was incredible that Watson had not throttled Holmes senseless.
But it didn't stop Holmes from stopping those foreign emotions from creeping into his heart—the utter loneliness he felt as he repeatedly gazed upon Watson's empty chair back in Baker Street. He missed Watson—three years apart from his friend, and now, having returned, they were still separated?
He had no one to blame other than himself, but Holmes had to keep reminding himself that a distant Watson was a better alternative to a dead Watson.
And there was still more that Holmes had to do to see to it that Watson remained safe, and that involved seeing to it that Moriarty's sympathizers were stopped before they committed any crimes in the name of their fallen leader. Holmes knew of where some of them were hiding, and he had already made plans to infiltrate their ranks in the hopes of leading them to Scotland Yard.
After invoking his prowess in the art of disguise, Holmes departed Baker Street, indistinguishable from any other dockworker in the city. Night had long since fallen over London, and in the darkness, the criminals would be carrying on as per usual.
Despite his loneliness, the familiar thrill of the hunt was coming over the detective, and he quickened his pace, his eyes glinting in anticipation as he reached the docks. He knew the riverside shack where the gathering members of the gang were holed up; he had spent quite a while familiarizing himself with their haunts and gaining their trust. None of them would think twice when they saw him enter…
Holmes's thoughts trailed off as he came upon the shack and saw that the door was slightly ajar—and utter darkness was inside. There was always someone there to guard it, and always a candle providing light to the guard. What had happened, then?
The detective carefully opened the door the rest of the way, freezing as the dim glow from the gaslights outside just barely made it possible to discern the forms of men lying motionless on the floor.
Holmes's mouth thinned, grimly. Either there had been a violent internal fight, or some rival gang had attacked, determine to fill the void left behind by Moriarty—and had no desire to see his underlings rise to take over his position.
Slowly, the detective knelt beside the first man, feeling his pulse. He was alive, but badly hurt; bruises covered his face, and he didn't even stir as Holmes checked him.
The detective sighed as he looked on among the dozen men lying on the ground. Who could have attacked them with such force to render them so completely helpless? Were these attacks potential allies or a new set of enemies for him to contend with?
Holmes lit the candle in the room, allowing it to illuminate the room and grant him a better look at what had transpired. Yes, the signs of the scuffle were much more evident now, but, by the looks of things, it had seem that the assailants had been heavily outnumbered; footprints of riverside mud seemed to show the majority of men surrounding one of them…
The detective's eyebrows arched. There had only been one assailant? Who on Earth could have been foolish and brave enough to fight all of the assembled men here? The attacker's footsteps were not retreating; whoever it had been must have been furious…
Holmes's breath suddenly hitched in his chest as he held the candle down to the mysterious attacker's footprints. The soles of the shoes… the size of those shoes… He recognized them now, but how… How was it possible?
"Watson…?" he whispered.
Unbridled fear—an emotion that Holmes had only felt three years ago at the Falls—filled the heart he struggled to keep hidden. Slowly, he looked around the room—at the motionless men.
Eleven men… He fought against eleven men—perhaps more, if they had managed to get away—and had managed to overpower them… but what next? Had there been more from the gang here? There certainly were enough footprints to suggest it, but Holmes had no time to look into that.
The detective crossed the length of the room, trying to discern who was who in the dim light. He was hoping he wouldn't find Watson here—that Watson, triumphant after the fight, had left of his own accord, but he knew not to fall upon that hope; he was following the solitary fighter's footprints, and they were leading him towards the back of the room, where there was no way out.
And there, against the back wall, crumpled in a heap, was the unfortunate doctor.
Holmes placed the candle aside and checked his long-suffering friend's pulse. For a few initial moments, the detective feared he had been too late, but he finally breathed a sigh of relief as he felt a pulse—weak, but present.
Once that it had been established that Watson was alive, Holmes then had to stare at the doctor's condition. He may have incapacitated eleven men, but they had done the same to him; angry bruises had formed on the doctor's face, a cut on his temple was bleeding, and there were undoubtedly more bruises and wounds that Holmes could not see, for blood was visible on the doctor's waistcoat.
The wounds were fresh, he realized; whatever happened had taken place not too long before Holmes had arrived on the scene. He knew he had to get the doctor to Charing Cross as soon as possible, but, first of all, he had to bring him to consciousness.
Holmes cursed the gang as he gently tried to awaken Watson. What had they done? Why had they taken Watson? Holmes had been sure not to let anyone other than Watson know that he was alive; there would have been no reason for them to take him…
…Unless he had been here of his own accord—and the only reason he would have done so was to find out the truth as to whether or not Moriarty had been a fabrication or not, which meant that the doctor's injuries were entirely the detective's fault.
The doctor now finally stirred, his expression filled with pain.
"Watson!" Holmes softly exclaimed. "Watson, can you hear me?"
Holmes was relieved to see the recognition in Watson's eyes, despite his condition. Slowly, he helped the doctor up and, eventually, to his feet.
"Can you walk?"
"I… believe so."
The doctor tried to take a step, but his knees buckled under him; the detective caught him and helped him remain upright. Holmes drew Watson's arm around his own shoulders, supporting his weight.
"Let's try it again."
With the detective's help, the doctor was able to make it out of the shack, though he took a look back at the unconscious men still inside, as though silently asking what was to become of them.
And Holmes realized that he was now in a predicament as to how to explain what had just transpired.
"Watson, forgive me…" he began, but paused as he realized that he had to find out some way to keep the lie going. "I had instructed them to defend this place to keep up my charade. I could never have imagined that you would find your way here; otherwise, I would have told them…"
He trailed off as a hurt expression crossed the doctor's face.
"Holmes…" he said, softly, as they slowly continued towards the main road in the hopes of finding a cab. "When I…" He flinched from the pain of his wounds, nearly collapsing again. "When I came here, they told me they… were surprised and pleased to see me. They said that Moriarty had ordered them to attack me if I ever came here—to set an example. They said that Moriarty had given them that order before leaving for the Continent."
Ah, of course. Watson could not accept the idea that it had been Holmes who had ordered the attack. And even though it hadn't been, Holmes knew he had to allow Watson to believe it.
"Well, I had to be convincing…" the detective began.
"Holmes… Please. Look me in the eyes and tell me that you ordered them to do this to me." Watson cringed again. "I did not want to believe that you and Moriarty were one and the same person. But tell me this with the utmost sincerity, and I will believe it and leave this whole business alone."
There was an unspoken addendum to that last sentence, and Holmes knew it—I will leave this whole business alone. I will leave you alone, for that tells me that not only was this great struggle against Moriarty a lie, but so was our friendship. To say "yes" means one of two things—that you truly did order them to attack me, or that you wish for me to believe that you did so because you still do not trust me. And that is something I must know the answer to, one way or the other.
It took only one second for Holmes to process that thought. But it was taking a few more for him to decide on a reply.
Logic—the cold, calculated logic that had always guided him—told him that if it was necessary to destroy the friendship he had made with Watson, further disillusioning the man who had believed in him so much, then it was something that Holmes had to do. Though it was true that the detective had healed an utterly broken man back in 1881, broke him back at the falls in 1891, and had started to heal him once more upon his return, the situation suggested—nay, ordered—that Holmes break him once again now, perhaps for good, in order to save his life. Watson was already breaking again—physically, from his injuries, and internally, from his struggle to find the truth, and the fear of what that truth was. All it would take would be the right words from Holmes, and an indifferent tone…
Of course I ordered it, you fool. Did I not tell you that the great mastermind and I were one and the same? You were merely a tool to create a hero and villain, and now that both have been simultaneously immortalized and killed, I have no further use for you. Go back to your Kensington practice, and leave me to use my genius without any further hindrance from you and your tales.
And yet, those foreign emotions stopped the words from passing his lips, no matter how much his brilliant mind ordered him to speak. To blazes with logic! It was his celebrated logic that had gotten his long-suffering friend—yes, friend—into this predicament. With the doctor's wife dead, what solace would there be for him if he was to believe that the man who had healed him had only done so for personal gain and did not care for him?
If he broke John Watson now, with this especially, it would very likely be for the final time—the damage would be irreparable. There would be no turning back.
…Furthermore, there was the unspoken truth—a truth that he was reluctant to acknowledge—that if John Watson broke, Sherlock Holmes would soon follow. The past three years had been the most miserable of his life, what with the aching emptiness he had been forced to contend with during his travels. Holmes had lost count of how many times he had looked over his shoulder, expecting, out of habit, to see Watson there, and instead seeing no one. And how much worse had it been for Watson, expecting to see him in exchange, only to remind himself that, as far as he knew, his comrade was dead?
Holmes drew himself back to the present. They were still walking, slowly but surely (where were those infernal cabs when they were really needed?), and Watson was still looking at him for an answer.
And now, unbidden, came the words that one of the Tibetan monks had warned Holmes about after hearing his story.
"Take care that you do not end up destroying what you seek to protect."
Holmes hadn't truly understood what the monk had meant until the moment he saw Watson's unblinking gaze.
"My dear friend," he said, at last. "I beg your forgiveness. I have fed you many lies, most of which you have believed unconditionally. It is time that you learned the truth."
"The truth can wait until I am well enough to hear it," Watson replied, trying not to cringe again. "I just wish to know the answer to one question. When did the lies begin—three years ago, or thirteen?"
Holmes gave him a wan smile as sentiment won over logic.
"Three, my dear Watson. Three. Would I be here now, helping you walk, if it had been thirteen years of lies?"
"No," Watson admitted, managing a momentary smile. "But I wanted to hear it from you directly."
At that moment, a vacant cab rode by, which Holmes quickly flagged down. And as they headed to the hospital, Holmes could tell that the healing of his friend had, once again, begun.
John Watson would not break—not again. He would be certain of that.