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Title: "Epiphany Is Just Another Word for Deduction"
Author: [ profile] skellywag
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Pairing: Holmes/Watson
Rating: R
Warnings: At least one spoiler of book canon, reference to a past character death, gay sex (though that should honestly go without saying)
A/N: Written for [ profile] aviss as a part of [ profile] hw09_exchange. Credit for the plot actually goes (at least partly) to Mike (who knows who he is, though none of you will), who brainstormed with me for two hours over the prompts—though his idea also included time travel and Spock (don't ask). Because I can't fully separate book and movie canon (and because my recipient didn't mind), I incorporated details from both, though the timeline is definitely movieverse. As far as can suppose, this fic probably takes place at least a year (and probably more) after the events of the film.

My Dearest Sherlock,

I hope that this letter finds you well; I know it has been quite a while since you've heard from me. Myself, I feel a bit of a sore throat coming on, but otherwise am in the most perfect of health. For the past two weeks, I have been visiting France, more work than pleasure, more's the pity. Paris has better air than London, however, and I feel I could go on for pages extolling the virtues of French hospitality. My trip has been extended a fair sight longer than I had expected, the circumstances fully outside my control as they so often are, where travel abroad is concerned. There has been some minor inconvenience regarding my papers, but the French have responded admirably and in the usual way, so I fully expect that the situation will be resolved by week's end. If you have some free time, perhaps you could pop over for a day or two? While I am detained here, I fear I shall grow dreadfully bored without company.

Most Sincerely Yours,
Irene Adler

Watson was not in the practice of reading his friend's correspondence without invitation, but Holmes had left this letter in such a paroxysm of excitement that he had dropped it amidst his half-eaten breakfast, and Watson reached out swiftly to rescue it from the grease of ham and eggs. It had been only a quick glance, to ascertain the sender, but upon recognition of Irene Adler's name in Irene Adler's flowing script, he had been unable to forthwith tear his eyes away. However, aside from being rather more affectionate than he had expected from that infamous woman, it was actually quite a short letter, delightfully mundane—certainly it did not warrant the fervour with which Holmes had dashed into his bedroom. Watson sat puzzling over the letter as the minutes ticked by and his breakfast went cold, but no hidden meaning revealed itself, and he couldn't tell if he was being obtuse, or if there was nothing more to it than a friendly note. Perhaps Miss Adler's correspondence had reminded Holmes of something else entirely.

The man himself emerged from his bedroom shortly thereafter, and Watson dropped the letter guiltily, flicking it back to Holmes' side of the table. He needn't have worried; Holmes barely glanced in the doctor's direction as he made a poor attempt to straighten his cuffs. He gave it up as a bad job rather quickly—the shirt was the one he'd worn the day before. Watson frowned at it, and not only because it originally had belonged to him. "What in God's name is wrong?" he asked, shock written across his face as Holmes made for the stairs. The detective seemed to throb with a frenetic energy; it was rare that Watson had seen his friend this agitated. "You aren't planning to go out dressed in so haphazard a manner as that?"

Holmes glanced down at his clothing with a bemused expression, but his reply was distinctly pained. "This is a matter of life and death. I haven't the time to dither about, having my clothing pressed. I shall just have to satisfy myself by borrowing this frock coat of yours to cover the mess, and I daresay no one will even notice."

A matter of life and death? Where had that come from? But Watson knew it wasn't an exaggeration. Holmes didn't exaggerate, not to mention the comparatively minor fact of the man's state of disarray. Holmes was fastidious about his clothing—the fact that he so frequently destroyed articles of his wardrobe during the conduct of his experiments was what had resulted in "their" barter system. Their barter system, that only Holmes ever availed himself of, because Watson didn't want to wear scorched, stained clothing any more than Holmes did. The only reason Holmes might leave their rooms in such a state was in the pursuit of an errand of extreme import.

"Don't worry for me, old boy, if I haven't returned before supper. I don't have the time to explain it all now, but perhaps once I return I'll have found that all is not as dire as I suspected, and we can have a laugh as I tell the story over Mrs. Hudson's curried lamb." Holmes grinned, but it seemed more a grimace in combination with his lack of conviction in his own words. Watson didn't like it, not one iota, but before he had the opportunity to offer up an objection, Holmes was gone.

What followed was easily one of the longest days in Watson's life, save several very memorable ones spent in surgery in Afghanistan—many more of these might have been memorable if they hadn't been completely forgotten due to liberal administration of opiates. He tried to keep in mind that Holmes might disappear for hours or even a full day if he were hot on a scent, but Watson could not recall the man pursuing a life-and-death matter with the distraction he'd witnessed that morning, as if he had a personal stake in the matter. Was that the issue? Was Holmes' own life the one on the line? If that was the case, the doctor would have expected the man to go out in disguise. Irene's life, then? Certainly she was the only person Watson could recall in whom Holmes had taken such an interest as to rival his own egotism. But how had the man deduced a life or death situation from a pleasant little note about her visit to France? It was a puzzle beyond Watson's own meager skills as a logician, and he attempted to content himself to await his friend's return.

First, he focused on the remnants of their breakfast, gone stone-cold and rubbery even if his appetite had remained to benefit from it. He fed as much as he could conscience to Gladstone so that Mrs. Hudson wouldn't be offended that neither he nor Holmes had eaten very much of it. It took quite a lot to offend their venerable landlady these days, but Watson at least tried to maintain a sense of courtesy. After she'd retrieved the dishes and gone, Watson turned to his case notes as a possible distraction. However, leafing through page after page of Holmes' virtues praised in his own voice wore on Watson, and only reminded him of the source of his own anxiety, the fact that his friend might be out risking his neck at that very moment and Watson had nary a clue as to why.

Finally, he could bear no more and yanked Irene's letter from the pocket of his dressing gown. Watson knew it was doubtful the note would provide any further insight, but it was the only clue in this case and he could not help himself. In order to deduce anything at all, he knew he would have to think like Holmes, though a twisty and convoluted proposition that might prove to be.

Watson sat at his desk and laid the note flat. It was written on what appeared to be cheap paper with no letterhead or watermark. He could not distinguish between inks as Holmes could, so the only feature he noted of it was its colour—black. His brain was not a receptacle of detail as Holmes' was; the detective could probably have told him which manufacturer had created the ink, which store had likely sold it. There was nothing, however, to be discerned from the media of the letter by Watson's untrained eye.

Moving on, he scrutinized the handwriting. He had seen Irene's handwriting before, though he was by no means on intimate terms with it. This note seemed a fairly accurate representation. There were samples for comparison, hidden between the pages of Holmes' prodigious scrapbook chronicling the woman's career, but Watson was not yet ready to invade his friend's privacy to such a degree—if Holmes didn't come home that night, however… Watson shook his head to clear it of the unpleasant thought and then focused again upon the writing.

The words had been written in a strong, steady hand, nothing to suggest the writer had been in fear for her life. Of course, Irene could be a very cold woman indeed—she was a thief by trade, among other things; it would follow logically that she could keep her head in a crisis. There were no obvious clues in her script, not a quiver in a single pen stroke.

The words, then? But the note seemed absolutely mundane. Watson reflected upon other codes Holmes had decrypted, tried reading every other word, every third word—fourth, fifth—but it seemed that Irene had not employed such an easy cipher. Of course, if she really was in trouble, it would have been utterly foolish for her to write Holmes in a code that just anyone could read. Which really was the key. Irene had written with Holmes in mind; how could anyone else hope to measure up? It had been written for his intellect alone.

Watson was still poring over the letter, still clad in his dressing gown, unshaved and unkempt, when Holmes returned to Baker Street that evening. Mrs. Hudson followed him into the sitting room carrying the dinner that Watson had optimistically been delaying in anticipation of the detective's return. It was indeed curried lamb, though the woman never announced what she was cooking ahead of time and didn't take well to suggestions from Holmes. But the doctor didn't give any thought at all to his friend's deduction of their supper, completely distracted by what the other man had done all day, where he'd been.

Holmes slouched bonelessly into his favourite chair, fiddling with his pipe and ignoring the food until Mrs. Hudson had withdrawn from the room. Then, he proceeded to tuck in quite voraciously, and Watson tried to keep in mind that Holmes had like as not worked without eating all day, really he did, but when the detective moved to take seconds without seeming to notice Watson's own refusal to eat, the doctor cleared his throat with pointed annoyance.

"Life or death circumstances, Holmes?" Watson ground out. "I recall you saying you'd clarify."

"Right you are, my dear Watson." Holmes smiled, but there seemed to be more stress lines around his eyes and mouth. "I still have preparations to make before the morning, but I do owe you an explanation." He pushed his plate away though his eyes lingered upon it. "Irene Adler has been convicted of espionage in France. The States and France are hardly enemies, but Irene has so many contacts in Britain that the French aren't taking any chances that she isn't working for the Crown. Of course, she probably is guilty, though I can't imagine what secrets they suspect she's stolen," Holmes added in a conversational aside, as if it hardly mattered what side of the law the woman was on. "I won't know what evidence they have until I've arrived in Paris."

How Watson remained silent for so long was a secret not even he comprehended, but the detective's last statement was what set him off. "You're going to Paris?" he asked in a quiet, reasonable voice. "Do you really think the French authorities are going to share their evidence against a potential British spy with you?" His knuckles whitened as he gripped the arms of his chair tighter, though his tone remained calm. "You are a detective, and you say yourself that you expect she is guilty. What do you hope to gain by traveling to Paris?"

Holmes was still smiling, but the expression had changed—there was no happiness in it, no thrill of the hunt, only self-deprecation. "The emotions you value so highly have lost me my impartiality. Even if she is guilty of what they accuse, I cannot leave her to die."

Watson stared at Holmes as if he had never seen the other man before. And maybe he hadn't. "You are the one who sees that criminals receive punishment," he hissed. "Are you really telling me that you believe Miss Adler is above the law; that you are?" The doctor was incredulous, but he was also morbidly curious. Had Holmes' egotism progressed this far? Watson had thought his friend's neuroses manageable—this situation and "manageable" were not even on speaking terms.

"I know better than most precisely of what Irene Adler is capable." Blast it, the man almost sounded proud of her, too. "I can't leave her to execution when she's asked for my help."

The doctor still wasn't sure how she'd managed to do that under the guise of a pleasant note, but he no longer cared. He had questions, pointed and scathing, about the nature of her crime—surely Holmes had spent part of his day investigating this—and regarding her plethora of past crimes as well. None of these questions made it past his lips. "Do you love her, then? Is that what this is?" Irene ranked high on the list of Holmes' unhealthy preoccupations—higher than cocaine or experiments involving combustion, at the very least. But the threat she posed –of both physical harm and damage to Holmes' reputation as a consulting detective—had always been a very real and tangible thing. This was a vague, restless unease spawned of the thought that if Holmes loved this woman, there might be no limit to the risks he might take for her. Watson's justification to himself rang slightly hollow, but that was easy for the man to ignore given his greater concerns.

"I don't love her." The words broke Watson from his turmoil of thoughts, but he wasn't sure he was convinced. Holmes read his skepticism at a glance, however, and his smile this time was genuine. "I don't. But you know how rare my friends are, and even rarer the ones who challenge me intellectually. I really would be heartless if I could sit here and do nothing while she is hanged." He reached out, placed a hand bracingly over Watson's forearm. "You must know that I would do the same for you? I cannot control the fact that certain people have insinuated themselves into my life, have become important to me."

Silence stretched thin and brittle between them, and Watson stared at the hand that lingered on his arm, longer than common decency could justify. Finally, he pulled reluctantly away, feeling suddenly cold with the lack of touch. "The difference between Miss Adler and myself," he murmured—and though he didn't want to, he raised his eyes to meet Holmes' in a dead stare. And sighed. "The difference is, I would never ask you to do something like this in the first place." He watched Holmes' expression crumple, and it ached, but he had more to say. "I would never commit treason, but even in the event that I did, I would never ask someone I cared about to take unlawful action to exonerate me. You work to see justice done, Holmes. Have you even given a thought what this could mean for the Crown? We may be on cordial terms with the French, but do you really think they will simply overlook what seems to be a British spy, slipped from their grasp? Any day now could dawn with the awakening of fresh hostilities."

"Do you think I haven't considered the ramifications? Do you think I haven't worried them like a cur with a bone?" Holmes was nearly whispering, and he looked wretched, but why? Was it the position Irene had forced him into, or the fact that he had lost his impartiality to emotions in the first place? "I know the difference between right and wrong. But that knowledge doesn't change the way I feel."

How had Watson not seen this coming? Apparently a Sherlock Holmes who could be ruled by his emotions was a far more dangerous thing than the previously unbiased man had been. After all, Sherlock Holmes had the mental acuity, the attention to detail, to successfully commit crimes—unlike what appeared to be the vast majority of criminals. And in this case, were he not very careful indeed, he might find himself the cause of an international incident.

"If you go to France," Watson enunciated quietly, "I will not be here if you return." Subtle emphasis upon "if." "This woman, rare challenge though she may be, has not earned this…this loyalty from you; she does not deserve it! For all you know, she might entangle you only to save her own skin. 'I am not the spy; this gentleman, here, is. Look, see how he is involved with Scotland Yard without being a policeman himself? Suspicious, no?'" When he dropped the falsetto he'd used to imitate Irene, Watson's voice was low and rumbled with anger. "She bested you at least three times, though that is generous because that last case included several separate instances of her outmanoeuvering you.

"I had to sit back and do nothing but watch as I lost Mary." Watson's voice was hard, but that couldn't fully mask the old pain that lurked there. "I won't watch this, too."

God, and Holmes didn't even have the decency to act surprised. Like he had expected this reaction from Watson, and perhaps it didn't even bother him. No, surely not even Holmes could be that cold. "This is something I must do," the detective replied softly. "I hope you will eventually forgive me for it, but I will understand if you don't."

Watson stared. This was it, then? But in retrospect, maybe he shouldn't have been surprised. There had been something…off, since he'd returned to Baker Street, and yes, Mary's death had affected him—of course it had—but that had certainly not been all of it. Something had been off between he and Holmes, and he had been loath to put his finger on it. Holmes had commandeered half his wardrobe in the week after Watson returned, dragged him out on a case the week after despite—albeit feeble—protests that the doctor wasn't interested.

Holmes had not tiptoed around the widower like any normal person would have, and Watson could admit openly that he had needed it that way. Holmes had, quite resolutely, been Holmes, and Watson could not pinpoint anything in the man's behaviour over the past nine months (eight days, sixteen hours) that seemed out of the ordinary. However, there had been some sort of strain between them, silent, intangible, and yes, this sort of dismissal hurt unimaginably, but it wasn't surprising—he'd brought it upon himself by offering such a ridiculous ultimatum in the first place.

Finally, he nodded, not in agreement but acknowledgment of the detective's words. When Watson rose from his seat, it was slowly, with the same bone-weary determination of an arthritic old man, though his bad leg had not troubled him overmuch since the winter. He retreated to his bedroom, but sleep was a long time coming that night and did not find him until the early hours of the morning. He slept late the next day, and when he finally worked up the courage to emerge into their shared quarters, Holmes was gone.


As good as his word, Watson had vacated Baker Street by the time Holmes returned from France, only a few days later. The detective moved through the rooms as a sleepwalker, but he wasn't really surprised—he had known what to expect. He knew Watson at least as well as he knew himself. There had been a dozen tells during their last conversation, most of which Holmes wouldn't have been able to categorize if asked, but all of which culminated in a sense of finality, of schism.

Holmes stood in the middle of what had been their shared sitting room, too large for only one person regardless of the fact that it was well-appointed and regularly used for consults. He stood very still and catalogued a mental inventory of what was missing (aside from Watson). This was worse than the last time had been, but not for a reason that would be obvious to anyone but Holmes.

Watson had taken next to nothing with him. Most of what the doctor had taken was clothing, and little enough of that, even. Holmes lifted one of the man's shirts from where it had lain, draped over the back of the couch, and sniffed the collar. But he'd already known Watson had been the last to wear this particular article, even before smelling his friend's strong and distinctly spicy cologne. His mouth tightened in an unhappy line, and he carried the shirt with him to Watson's open bedroom door, peering in without daring to cross the threshold.

So much left behind, not at all like the first time, when Watson had left to wed Mary, to live in a house with her. No, then there had been some reluctance, but it had been minor, and probably more related to losing his bachelorhood than anything else. It had taken Watson weeks to move out, weeks to sort through unmitigated clutter that was not even wholly Holmes' fault. Even after the final move, Watson had been forced to come back looking for missing articles (which Holmes may or may not have stolen for just this reason).

This time, Watson had left in a single day, a single trip. There would be no return to fetch a lost stethoscope or pipe. Anything Watson had forgotten or left behind would be written off as a loss. No note had been left to such an effect, but that only served as more proof. Holmes felt something inside him crack at the thought. Watson had gone, For Good. After extracting Irene from France, Holmes had informed her in no uncertain terms that she could not rely upon his aid, legal or otherwise, in the future. He had intimated that she could of course bring him walnuts or olives whenever she next found herself in London but didn't expect that would be any time soon—she had to lay low for awhile, now that the French authorities thought her dead in an escape attempt.

Holmes was alone, well and truly, in a way he hadn't been the first time Watson had left. He debated going down to the Diogenes Club to commiserate with his brother, but no, Mycroft was too perceptive, and anyway, the last thing he wanted was more quiet; he had enough of that here. He had only to think for a moment, and he knew exactly what he wanted, what he needed.

Hours later—Holmes wasn't sure how many—he found himself amidst no fewer than twenty varieties of tobacco smoke both stale and fresh, and though he knew better, he began picking apart the different scents, naming them in his head and under his breath. It was a distraction, after all, but the brain of Sherlock Holmes could handle several pursuits at once.

He caught the right jab, deflecting it with a slap of his own right hand, but his opponent was notoriously ambidextrous and he caught the man's left with his solar plexus. Of course, he had allowed the blow to land, but even knowing how to take a punch could not wholly mitigate the breathlessness, the pain inflicted by a beefy Scottish dock worker twice his size. Holmes reveled in it, the ache blossoming anew with each step as he staggered backwards to lean against the wooden barricade that formed the boxing ring, feigning more pain than he actually felt. Then he put on a quick burst of speed, darting around the Scot to give him a swift kick in the arse—a move intended to infuriate rather than damage.

The Scot was built like a bear, and he sounded like one, too, as he whirled on Holmes with a furious roar. Punches aimed for vital areas were parried with the slap of a stiff-fingered hand, but he let the vast majority land, fists thumping heavily into his larger muscle groups. There would be bruises the next day; they would be artwork. Holmes sincerely hoped that by then he wouldn't be conscious enough to feel them.

The detective danced around his opponent, taunting the Scot into a furor, allowing the man to punch him in places that were already sore, grunting with the impacts. After a half-hour of combat—though it felt simultaneously much longer and much shorter than a half-hour—he hadn't taken a single shot to the ribs or head, unwilling to end the fun early for a punctured lung or worse. But the Scot's stamina was flagging and all too soon it would become obvious that Holmes was toying with him. Holmes ended it by breaking the Scot's nose and following with a well-placed blow to the back of the other man's neck, before the gamblers could grow very suspicious. It wouldn't do to let them know he had the power to fix his matches.

He'd left two shirts with his overcoat, draped over the partition of the boxing ring. He used his own to mop his face, neck, and shoulders of sweat. The previously white linen quickly became streaked with dirt from the floor of the ring and blood from the places where the Scot's knuckles had broken the skin. Holmes discarded the article on the floor without a thought; the other shirt he clutched with white fingers as he headed upstairs to the room he'd rented. Paid up for the week, though he didn't think he'd use it that long. But it was too soon to return to the quiet of Baker Street. This building's walls were thin, and even two floors up and from behind a door, he could hear the shouts as the next boxing match began. The noise was soothing.

The room was little more than a closet with a bed, but that was all he needed; Holmes had every confidence that soon enough, he wouldn't even notice his surroundings. He stretched out carefully on the bed, sitting against the wall since it didn't have a headboard, and began withdrawing small items from the pockets of his overcoat. His pipe, a fine Moroccan blend of tobacco, a small leather case, a jar containing a brown powder.

The leather case contained a syringe and several solutions of cocaine varying from five to twenty per cent, but it also contained a small pen knife and it was this he selected, using it to carefully clean the bowl of his pipe. The cocaine was not even considered. Clarity was not something for which he had any desire. If anything, his thoughts were too sharp, and once he'd packed his pipe with fresh tobacco, it was the powder that Holmes studied, debating.

The first and only time he'd experimented with opium had been years ago—this jar was what remained, and Holmes wondered whether it might have lost any of its potency in all this time. True, he had not enjoyed its mind-altering effects then, but he had pursued certain recreational drugs for an altogether different reason at the time. Cocaine was unsatisfactory for what he needed now, all jagged edges and hyperawareness. Now, he wanted something to dull the pain, physical and otherwise, and he didn't want to think too much. Morphine would have been better, but Watson had, quite carefully, taken it all with him so its cousin would have to do.

He sprinkled a generous dose of the powder into his pipe, packed tobacco over it, and sank into a waking dream not long afterwards, contenting himself to chase the dragon. He was still clutching Watson's shirt, but was no longer aware of the fact.

There was a large brown stain on the low ceiling above Holmes' bed. He stared up at it calmly, tracing its edges with his eyes. It wasn't actually a single mark, but several smaller blotches that seemed to run together. Rather suspiciously, it was the colour of old blood, and probably, Holmes decided, that was what it was—in spite of its unlikely position. Even under the influence of opium, his heartbeat slow and steady and his movements languid, he couldn't stop his detective's mind entirely, thinking about what might have happened in this bed to spatter blood on the ceiling in such a pattern.

He let his eyes drift closed, and focused on the beat of his pulse instead. The monotony of the sensation, the thud of his heart, made it easier for Holmes to shut down the part of his mind that thrived upon logic, upon the here and now. The present held no appeal to him. At least the opium had the pleasant side effect of dulling his aches, the pain of his bruises. His whole body felt pleasantly numb, and though his mind hadn't quite gotten there yet, he had every confidence that the drug would eventually temper his thoughts as well.

Holmes floated through waking and sleeping for how long, he wasn't sure. His candle had died ages ago, and without windows in his tiny rented room, there were only differing qualities of darkness and the warm burn of his pipe whenever he added more opium-laced tobacco to the bowl and lit it.

When next Holmes emerged into awareness—or rather, what approximated it—he was staring up at the brown stain in the ceiling again. It had begun talking to him. The gears in his head turned slowly, but that still didn't seem right to him though he couldn't place exactly why. He tried to listen, tried to make out what it was saying, but each time he thought he was making progress, his focus slipped away. Holmes thought that if he were to take some cocaine he might be able to make out the words, but he wasn't entirely certain he cared to know. The voice had grown achingly familiar. His eyes were dry and sore and he closed them against the sight of the stain above him, as though doing so might also help block out the voice.

Voices, he corrected himself abruptly. Perhaps each individual blotch of the stain had its own voice, and he had heard only one of them actually speaking before. From their tones, they seemed to be arguing with each other, though there was little heat to it. Perhaps the stain hadn't been talking to him after all. Holmes decided he hadn't the patience to listen to them, regardless of the unintelligible nature of the words. The drone of the single voice had been relaxing, but this was more akin to the buzzing of flies beside one's ear—flies that were in desperate need of slapping. But it was a stain in the ceiling, after all. Reasonably, what could he do?

Well. Really, there was only one solution. His fingers felt like they belonged to someone else as Holmes lifted his pipe to his lips. His other hand groped for his matches, but his eyes were still closed and before he could find them fingers that really weren't his own had gently pulled the pipe from his grasp. When Holmes opened his eyes, he found himself looking up into a dream. A stern-faced and disapproving dream, but nonetheless hardly real. This was getting ridiculous. Hallucination was not one of the side effects of opium use.

Watson stared down at him. Except that Watson could not possibly be here. Watson had left, and Watson was a man of his word, a man of principle. Except that this Watson was carefully holding a stethoscope to his chest amidst the bruises, and Holmes could not recall ever before having dreams of being doctored. At least Watson wasn't holding a scalpel, or the experience would have been reclassified a nightmare.

He needed to ask questions. Verify that this truly was Watson and not a vision, another talking bloodstain created by his mind. He needed to ask how Watson had found him, how Watson had known to look, why he was (hopefully, hopefully) being given this second chance—he certainly didn't deserve it. But Sherlock Holmes, a man who asked questions and gave up information only when it made him look good, found he could not stop the words spilling from his mouth—words that were as much confession as plea, and words he hadn't intended to actually speak.

There was no apology and there wouldn't be—not because there was no regret, but because Holmes had done what he had to do. He told Watson in the tones of an eager child how he had faked Irene's death, how she had disguised herself as a man to flee France, how he had insisted she depart for anywhere but Britain and told her if she had any sense at all she would not return any time in the next year. He described their farewell, before her boarding a train to Italy. She had tried to thank him, and he had recited Watson's words to her, told her everything the doctor had said to him.

"As soon as I can, I will pay you for your work, so that the next time we may meet, it shall be as friends." Irene had smiled sadly and kissed him on the cheek, so quickly no one else on the station platform had even noticed—or perhaps it was acceptable for one bloke to kiss another in public in France; with the Frogs, one never could tell.

Watson had shifted to sit on the bed beside him. Holmes' arm was in his lap, fingers over the pulse point as if he'd forgotten what he was doing in the middle of taking his friend's vitals. The detective was beginning to feel far more lucid, however, and he knew none of his bruises were even potentially life-threatening. Still, he let his arm stay where it was.

It took him by surprise when it was neither he nor Watson who broke the silence left in the wake of his ramble, even though in the back of his mind he'd known Watson had not come alone—whorls of blood had not been arguing.

Inspector Lestrade stepped into his line of vision and glared down at Holmes with—if it was even possible—more disapproval than Watson had. "You are lucky indeed that I don't much care about the failures of French policing. In my jurisdiction, however, you'd best keep your nose clean." He glanced back and forth between the men suspiciously, as if he thought they were already plotting Holmes' next crime. "That case I have isn't so pressing it can't keep 'til tomorrow. See about fixing him up, if you would, Doctor?" Watson nodded and Lestrade made good his escape and Holmes smiled because indulgent treatment was something comfortable for him.

"Case?" he asked languidly, rolling his eyes up to Watson's face.

Disapproval returned to the doctor's expression in an instant. "Yes. The Inspector came looking for me when he couldn't find you for a consult on this case," he muttered. "Mrs. Hudson was out of her mind with worry."

That couldn't be right. Holmes' brow furrowed. "Perhaps she's finally gone round the bend. I spend an evening boxing or making inquiries on a case quite frequently."

"From Mrs. Hudson's account and the colour of your bruises, you have been here, or at least not at Baker Street, for four days." Holmes opened his mouth to object, and Watson held up the glass jar that had previously contained opium. All that remained was a faint dusting of powder and residue at the bottom. "You've smoked all of it," Watson affirmed. "I thought you didn't like the way it dulls your senses?" he prompted gently.

"I didn't think I did either." Holmes' voice was blithe and unrepentant, but he avoided Watson's eyes, stared at his arm and the doctor's fingers. "The Inspector would not have known to find me here," he fished.

Watson snorted, but Holmes could tell even without looking that the man was amused. "No, that was me. Rather brilliantly deduced, if I do say so myself." They both left unsaid the fact that no one else would have had any idea where to start looking for Holmes. "You might be more comfortable if I took you back to Baker Street tonight, but I think it might be better if you slept off the rest of the opium here; I don't fancy trying to carry you by myself."

"You aren't leaving, are you?" Holmes jerked his eyes back up to Watson's face involuntarily.

"Not without you," the doctor replied easily, so easily that Holmes could pretend the man hadn't seen the momentary look of abject loss he was sure he'd been wearing.

Watson scooted down, elbowing Holmes gently until they could lie side by side, and then reached out to extinguish the small gas lamp sitting beside the bed. Something the doctor and Lestrade had probably brought into the room with them. Holmes squirmed a little, edging closer to Watson when he felt his body shifting towards the side of the bed. It was awkward, he decided, sharing a bed so small between two people. Awkward, but not uncomfortable.


Watson was still on the bed when he woke. Given that the doctor was frequently a restless sleeper, this was actually something of an accomplishment. Of course, he was pinned to the bed by one of Holmes' arms splayed across his chest, one leg draped over his thigh. He found himself scarcely able to move even when actively trying. Judging from the grey light filtering into the room from the crack beneath the door, it was morning or some approximation to it.

He knew that the Inspector would likely call on them early if he hadn't already, but the urge to leave the bed was mitigated by how strangely comfortable it was to simply lay there. "Holmes," he murmured in an undertone not actually intended to wake the man. Nonetheless, the detective seemed to hear him, turning his face to Watson even though his eyes were still closed, expression peaceful.

Despite the yellowing violet bruises spanning Holmes' arms, shoulders, torso, there wasn't a single mark on his face. His hair hadn't been washed in several days and stuck up in every direction. A few loose curls fell lightly across his forehead and smelled faintly of sweat and tobacco smoke, not unpleasantly. It was a trifle…unsettling to see the man looking so peaceful. Watson had found Holmes sleeping in their sitting room before, had tended his injuries as well. In all cases, Holmes had seemed almost to sleep with the same single-minded energy he employed in any other task. This was different. Holmes looked content, and it was a strange sight to behold. Watson wasted a long time—or maybe it only seemed like a long time—just staring at him.

Nothing changed, silence reigned over the room, Watson barely dared to move an inch, and yet slowly Holmes opened his eyes. They were blurred and vague, lacking in their usual raptor-like intensity. They closed again as Holmes smiled and leaned in to kiss him. Watson lay stunned for at least five seconds, lips pliant but unmoving against Holmes' teasing brush of tongue, tasting of tobacco and narcotics.

He tried to register the sensation clinically. Tried to think about the fact that Holmes was kissing him with no trace of hesitation, as if the behaviour was not only acceptable, but frequently repeated—familiar. Tried to think about the hand at the back of his neck, carding through the shorter hair there. Tried to think about how warm Holmes' lips were and that it might be a precursor to a fever. Tried to keep in mind that more of their bodies were touching than just their mouths. All in all, Watson decided he was giving the situation rather more thought than it deserved since he should have broken the kiss immediately rather than beginning to tentatively return it. Except, of course, for the fact that even before he'd begun to return the kiss, he had enjoyed just the sensation of it—it might even have been welcome.

Watson self-reprovingly bit back a complaint when Holmes was the one to pull away, before he'd been expecting it. When the detective opened his eyes again, there was no longer anything half-asleep about them. They were sharp and clear and Holmes' smile was gone. Sherlock Holmes didn't wear fear openly, but Watson knew what to look for.

"To wake up with you in bed beside me," Holmes murmured in a measured, careful tone, "I thought I must surely still be asleep."

"Do you often dream that you are kissing me?" Watson raised an eyebrow and tried for a stern expression. He was gratified that, if not exactly stern, at least his amusement was not completely obvious. This had to be the explanation for the intangible strain he'd detected in Holmes' otherwise perfectly normal—for him, anyway—demeanour. Watson needed to hear it, from Holmes' own lips. He stared at them briefly, full and flushed from kissing, before meeting his friend's eyes again.

"Frequently," Holmes replied, and his voice had lost its previous reservation. It was more a challenge than a confession—perhaps he remembered that Watson had begun to kiss him back, or was it that he had recognized Watson's feigned sternness for what it was? He grinned (or was it simply a baring of teeth?) and added, "Though my imagination is usually much more explicit. I suppose that is how I knew I was awake. I thought, 'Surely only the real Watson would kiss me with such reluctance.'"

Watson snorted, but he was smiling. "You took me by surprise, old boy. Not the best circumstances if you were expecting a performance comparable to your dreams." He gave the other man a sly look. "Perhaps later you'll give me another chance to prove myself." There was no answer; Holmes looked utterly gobsmacked. Watson's smile widened to a grin. "If ever you have a weakness, Holmes, it is your unrelenting egotism!" he laughed. "Did it never occur to you that it is rather out of the ordinary for one man to spend so much time chronicling events in the life of another man? As extraordinary as your cases are, I would not spend nearly so much of my time writing about them had I not a vested interest in their source." He licked his lips. "I simply avoided the issue for its impropriety and for your self-confessed disinterest in emotional connections."

"I haven't had that disinterest since before your engagement." It should have been news, a surprise, but it wasn't. Hadn't Watson had a sense of the other man's jealousy? Blamed though it had been as only Holmes' loss of his comrade—his Boswell—to marriage.

Someone thumped down the hallway past their door, an uneven, heavy gait suggesting a man who was not yet sober. Watson felt his eyes widen—he'd somehow forgotten where they were. "I imagine this conversation might be better suited for doors that actually lock," he murmured reluctantly. "Not to mention, I expect that Inspector Lestrade will soon be calling at Baker Street, if he hasn't already." Watson made a move to extract himself from the bed, but Holmes was still half-draped over him, and the detective locked his leg over Watson's, pressing all of himself closer. A distinct hardness dug into his thigh, and Watson bit his own lip as he felt his own body begin to react to the implication. He glared at Holmes narrowly, as if the other man had aroused him on purpose—certainly the detective was possessed of a devious mind, but even Holmes was apparently a victim of more carnal impulses and Watson didn't really suspect him of anything deliberate. Holmes stared back at him, as blandly as a man with an erection possibly could.

The expression wasn't completely effective. Holmes looked neutral. Too neutral. The muscles in his face weren't relaxed. None of his muscles were relaxed. Watson grinned and shifted both their bodies, pressing Holmes down on the bed on his back, straddling one of the detective's thighs and slipping a knee gently up to rub his arousal. Holmes tilted his head back on the pillow and exhaled a soft groan as Watson applied a little more pressure, and then began stroking him through his trousers with a hand.

Watson leaned in to bite down delicately upon the other man's Adam's apple before whispering, "This doesn't mean we don't need to discuss the situation, only that I think we agree the situation needs exacerbating." He dragged the tip of his tongue up the side of Holmes' throat to his ear. "And if you can't keep quiet and thus attract attention, I will be forced to punch you in the face to mislead any witness of the reality of our activities."

Holmes chuckled softly and then choked on a soft gasp as the doctor increased the pace of his hand. "I can't say I don't deserve it," he panted. "But I think it might be more effective if you don't have your tongue in my ear when you do it."

"Duly noted," Watson mumbled into Holmes' shoulder, the words all but unintelligible as he began rutting against Holmes' thigh, timing his rhythm with that of his hand.

It was almost embarrassing, how quickly Watson finished. Except that Holmes didn't seem to mind, and anyway the light fabric of the detective's trousers went damp and hot beneath Watson's fingers only a scant moment later. The harshness of their breathing rang in his ears, his mind almost completely blank. It had lasted only a few minutes, ten at the very most, but Watson couldn't recall now whether either of them had been loud enough to attract any attention. However, as unwise a decision as it was, Watson let himself relax half atop Holmes, a sticky mess cooling and soaking into their trousers between them.

"There's still something bothering me," the doctor murmured after a long, languid, and comfortable silence spent staring at Holmes' jaw. "How did you know Miss Adler had been arrested in the first place?" And he pulled the much wrinkled and abused letter from his pocket, where he'd been carrying it for almost two weeks.

Holmes smirked, though the expression widened to a grin when he saw the letter. "Irene would never send me such a mundane note. However, it is not so much written in code as it is written in coded language. The first thing I noticed was that she said circumstances were outside her control, when of course I know that is only the case when she has gotten in over her head. Then I noted she was in France for work, and we both know at what sort of work she excels. At the beginning of the letter, she said she felt a sore throat coming on, and near the end she adds that her situation should be resolved by week's end—a hanging at the end of the week." The detective's expression became downright sly. "And, if somehow all that went over my head, she states, right at the very end, 'I am detained.'

"Really, Watson," he sniffed. "Some clues are obvious." Watson snorted and abruptly dumped him over the side of the bed and onto the floor.

on 2010-06-20 02:12 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I do like this, very much! Reading it again, I paid more attention to Lestrade, and if you ever feel ambitious, it would be fun to see this (and the consequences) from his point of view!

on 2010-06-21 11:15 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
You know? That is a brilliant idea. I adore Lestrade, and am ashamed to say that I didn't even consider what the long-term consequences might be for him overhearing Holmes' story. Thank you so much for the idea, because now I'm going to have to give it some serious thought. And may write it, after I square away a few more of my current projects.

Thank you so much for reading!

It is good

on 2010-06-20 01:30 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I remember that you said it once that Holmes love Irene, since I love Irene that much, it is good to hear you said that. I just always wondering, why did Watson against her, he know how much important Irene to Holmes, if she have anything, Holmes must go for her, so if he care Holmes much, why he need to force Holmes to choose.

on 2010-06-21 11:19 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Watson's problem wasn't really with Irene as a person. It was the fact that this time she was asking Holmes to break the law for her. Holmes is a detective. He's supposed to be helping to enforce the laws, not break them. Watson didn't like her asking Holmes to go against his own values to help her. Friendships have to go both ways, and sometimes Irene doesn't consider what might be best for Holmes.

on 2010-08-07 03:58 am (UTC)
sylvanwitch: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] sylvanwitch
Oh, delicious! I enjoyed the build-up of tension (of every kind) and the descriptions, especially of Holmes' opium-induced stupor. Thanks for sharing this with us :-)!

on 2010-08-10 11:17 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
♥ I'm so glad you liked it. Thank you for the comment.


skellywag: (Default)

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