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What Am I Doing?
Winter in London - Part VII 
20th-Apr-2010 02:23 pm

Part I

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

I crashed into our sitting room with all the delicacy of a wrecking ball. Watson had abandoned his desk and was on the settee, examining a copy of the British Medical Journal. His fingers were ink-speckled and his hair a little rumpled -- he had been wearily running his hands through it. His face was, as it has been for some time, paler than it should be. There was a raw place on his lower lip, a tiny streak of scarlet; he has been biting nervously at a patch of dry skin there. Every familiar detail of him seemed to burn me as if I were a blank sheet of paper and he were sunlight trained through a lens.

If I had formed any idea of what I would say when I saw him, it went out of my head. I said wildly, “Oh, my dear – “

It has been one of the small luxuries of our years together that I can call him dear as often as I wish, provided some suitable noun is appended. My dear chap, dear boy, dear fellow, dear Watson... At that moment, however, I could not think beyond the epithet.

Watson had looked up from his journal as I entered. Naturally he was alarmed by my precipitate arrival. He asked, “Holmes, what is wrong? Where have you been?”

I gasped, “Wandsworth.” And Watson said nothing, but he stopped breathing and such colour as he had left his face. His hands went very tight on the paper.

And next I came out with perhaps the most unforgivably stupid thing I have ever said in my life. It was this: “How could you?”

He took in a single, sharp breath as if I had struck him. Then his lips tightened bitterly and he rose, tossing the journal aside, and I suppose he would have left the room without a word if I had not rushed into his path and gripped his shoulders. Several times between Wandsworth and Baker Street my horrible imaginings of what had actually happened in Gilfoyle’s house had been interrupted by visions of that blade sliding, promptly and without fuss, into my breast. One caught me again now and I wished, fervently, that it had been fact. I stammered out, “Oh, Christ, I am sorry. I am so sorry. I mean only – I would have done anything to keep you from... I would never have wanted... it was far too dear at the price, Watson.”

At first, he stood there rigidly, not trying to force his way past me but refusing to look at me or acknowledge I was there. Then he understood what I was saying. He pushed me back a little, and then caught my forearms with such force it hurt, his fingertips boring against the bones. “How dare you say that?” he said hoarsely, staring me straight in the face now, “What do you think I should have done? It would be better if you were dead? You think I should have let him rob the world of you? What do you take me for?”

Not for the first time since leaving Wandsworth, tears rose in my eyes and I said, incoherently, “Please.” Then, aware of how much worse than useless I had been so far, I made an effort to control myself and amended, “Tell me, is there anything I can do?”

He dropped my wrists. “No,” he said flatly, “I don’t see that there is.”

Oh God,” I said helplessly, and could no longer even attempt to keep the tears back. Watson’s gaze snagged back to my face and his expression softened a little, partly, I think, with shock. I am sure he had never seen me weep before. “Oh, God,” I said again, and meant it as a prayer, and then I closed my arms around him. As I did so the dreadful thought occurred to me ‘he will hate me to touch him’, for I felt him gasp and a kind of convulsive shudder ran through him, but the next moment he was crushing me against him with all his strength. So I grappled him even closer, handfuls of his jacket clasped tight in my fists and I felt our pulses clash; mine no quieter than his. Our foreheads came together, and I was for some seconds preoccupied with the impossible physical effort of trying, through that point of contact, to transmit whatever there might be within me that is any good.

For a moment I thought – not that this superstitious endeavour was working, exactly – but that his breathing was beginning to steady a little. My eyes had been shut. I opened them and I had just time to be freshly appalled by the despair in his. Then he kissed me.

To say I froze would not be perfectly accurate. My lips did part under his, though only in a gasp for unavailable air, and my hands shifted without strength on his shoulders. But I was powerless even to think, and it was only when I felt the impact of the wall against my back that I quite understood that this was actually happening.

My tastes may be criminal, and being kissed by John Watson may, in theory, be more bliss than I ever expected in this life, but I do not care to be an instrument of self-torture. Nor am I going to prey on him when he is half out of his mind with pain.

There was, in any case quite as much panic as sweetness in that kiss for me. It was as if the embrace were plunging us both over a cliff, and even if I had not been terrified for him, I do, after all, have some instinct of self-preservation.

I turned my face a little from his. “John,” I said. “Stop.”

He stiffened and let me go. Once again he would not look at me. “Forgive me.”

The tick of the clock on the mantel beside me seemed as shockingly loud as my own disordered breath, cutting against my brain as if I had an exceptionally severe hangover. I tried, without any real success, to catch my breath and collect myself. “Well, what was that?” I inquired.

It came out, quite against any intentions I may have had, as shrill but vaguely humorous.

He gave a short, desolate laugh. “An experiment.”

“Oh? And what were the results?” My voice, I am afraid, had a certain acidity to it. God knows the man had every excuse, but he was in danger of wrecking certain intangible but carefully-wrought structures in which I have lived safely enough, like a caddis-fly in its constructed shell, these many years. I had been shocked out of weeping but I was still leaning against the wall where he had left me. My heart was beating wildly.

He did not answer, but he looked at me at last. A man might look that way at a firing squad. I was not certain what it meant, but I could not speak again. I think I knocked my head back against the wall. Stop, stop, I thought stupidly to the world around me. I felt as if the channels of events should burn out under such an overload of chaos, and afford some kind of respite.

Naturally no such thing happened, and I was recalled to myself by Watson saying. “I will look for new lodgings.”

This was probably the worst thing I could have heard. However – I should never have imagined it could be so -- I believe I am grateful he said it. It focused my mind and established clear priorities. “You will do nothing of the sort,” I snapped.

“You have all the wretchedness of London to trouble yourself with; it is quite enough without – this. I must be going mad.”

“No, you are not.” And though I may have used the phrase ‘half out of his mind’ above, I was and am perfectly clear on this. “You are shaken and distressed. It is a severe but temporary state. You are not insane. He has not done that to you.”

He let out a long, jolting breath. “Oh, Holmes, I am sorry I–”

“For God’s sake, Watson, it is absurd to save a man’s life at terrible cost to yourself and then apologise to him!”

He had wandered to the mantelpiece and began sifting nervously among the debris of papers and spent bullets there. He muttered, “I don’t... I don’t know what I should...”

“Don’t leave,” I said curtly. “Sit down.”

He looked at me, shrugged, and did as I said. For an instant he sat there stiffly, hands clenched on his knees, looking at nothing.Then quite abruptly he sank back and rested utterly motionless against the back of the sofa, his eyes shut. He murmured softly, “God.” His skin looked paler and more easily broken than I have ever seen it.

I was intensely relieved he had obeyed me, but ‘Sit down’ seemed to be about the limit of my helpful suggestions. I tried to construct something more, a solution, or at least a piece of one. There is perhaps no condition I hate more than being unable to think of anything to say.

“Holmes,” he said, opening his eyes, his voice suddenly oddly close to normal. “Please. Stop pacing about.”

Until then I had not noticed I was doing so. I stopped and sat beside him. Then I rose almost at once in order to pour him a brandy. Watson stared at the glass in my hand, and then accepted it with a small hitch of half-incredulous laughter. I sat down again. After a time, while I continued to try to force some useful thought from a resistant brain, I picked up his left hand and held it between both of mine.

* * *

I was thinking then, if one can dignify the notion with the name of thought: This must be where it all stops. Not that I anticipated any external cataclysm, but I could not imagine time progressing from this point. We would be there forever, side by side and hand in hand like children, not speaking or looking at one another. All things considered that did not seem so terrible an ending.

But of course it could not be so.

>>Part VIII.

20th-Apr-2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
*whimper* I have no words to tell you what this fic is doing to me. You are pushing all my angst!whore, hurt/comfort buttons.

I love your pacing. Everything feels so deliberate and controlled.
21st-Apr-2010 01:01 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I am so glad the pacing feels controlled. It has been in the works for quite a while, but on the other hand, a number of things happened in this that I wasn't wholly expecting when I began! (e.g: oh, shit, Holmes, don't say THAT. Watson! No, don't DO that!)

I have, obviously, massive angst!whore tendencies myself, so I relate.
22nd-Apr-2010 02:52 am (UTC)
You just kill me with every single update. There, see now, you've made my keyboard all wet with tears.
23rd-Apr-2010 05:43 am (UTC) - MOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAR!!!!!!!!


23rd-Apr-2010 05:51 pm (UTC) - Re: MOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAR!!!!!!!!
Hee hee! Moar is in the works. Thank you.
23rd-Apr-2010 05:56 pm (UTC) - Re: MOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAR!!!!!!!!
I was horribly worried about this chapter, you have no idea. Accidental-victim-blaming!Holmes and BadIdea!kisses ... aargh.
23rd-Apr-2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
oh dear. I love your holmes-voice, but damn, at this instant I'd give a small fortune to know how poor Watson is feeling. So confused and conflicted and... gah!

Also, FFS Holmes aren't you supposed to be some sort of genius what came over you to say thaaaaatttt-

God, you're brilliant.

I LOVE the way Holmes is reacting. I love how even though he's... well, Holmes, he's so clumsy and usettled. There's no appropriate response to that kind of situation, and all the different layers of guilt and love and friendship and lust and more guilt because of the lust and confusion and misunderstandings make it just about as impossibly complicated as humanly possible. You weaved all those strands perfectly, and it's just breathtaking.

Also, the last paragraphs make you a profoundly evil individual *dies of anticipation*
24th-Apr-2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
I didn't mean him to say that! My characters (well, characters I'm writing) don't often do the whole "get off the leash/surprise the author" thing but when they do it invariably means they're going to do something completely messed up.

I was just kind of... running the whole thing from his POV and he was so caught up in nonononono oh God I should have died how could he be so self-sacrificing FOR ME I DON'T DESERVE IT that, well, what came out was "...how could you?"

And then, on his behalf I was all, "OH HOLY HELL NO ABORT ABORT ABORT".

So then of course he had to say it.

He never said he was a genius with emotional things!

I always suspected I might be evil, it's good to have confirmation.
1st-May-2010 11:42 pm (UTC) - ffffffffuuuuuuu
PLEASE for the love of my sanity and my whole existence
please write more for this ;A;

*shakes you by the shoulders*

1st-May-2010 11:49 pm (UTC) - Re: ffffffffuuuuuuu
Aaaargh I'm doing it I'm DOING IT NOW.

I wrote Holmes-in-the-TARDIS stuff! It's angstier than it sounds!
2nd-May-2010 02:59 pm (UTC) - Re: ffffffffuuuuuuu
FFFFFFF yessssssssssssss
and i started to read some of it OBBY
i shall continue to read.. after i play some animal crossing.
3rd-May-2010 09:24 pm (UTC) - Re: ffffffffuuuuuuu
4th-May-2010 02:36 am (UTC) - Re: ffffffffuuuuuuu
*sob sob*

ilu. *clings to your leg and never lets go*
3rd-May-2010 02:15 am (UTC) - YOU NEED TO GIVE ME MORE.
*is lurking*
3rd-May-2010 09:53 am (UTC) - Re: YOU NEED TO GIVE ME MORE.
3rd-May-2010 09:27 pm (UTC) - Re: YOU NEED TO GIVE ME MORE.
OKAY! OKAY! *puffs* *pants*. 2300 words of violiny angst! That's... something, right?
11th-Jun-2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
Oh! And there is the nervous newspaper clutching the prompter so wanted!
As first kisses go, this was fantastic. So emotionally loaded. And seeing Holmes so discombulated is a treat. The scene is so grave it's a guilty treat to enjoy both. Well done!
11th-Jun-2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Heh, yes, I liked that detail.

Discombobulated Holmes is the best kind of Holmes! Thrown-against-walls Holmes also has his points.

Thank you! Oy, I remember being so worried about that kiss.
16th-Jun-2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
Every familiar detail of him seemed to burn me as if I were a blank sheet of paper and he were sunlight trained through a lens.

I found this to be such an original metaphor! I loved the others as well. (especially the one with the firing squad and the one with the cliff and self-preservation remark)

OK, this story is really hurting me (in a good way), and I DO hope they come together at the end - they so deserve happiness with each other!
18th-Jun-2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I must admit I was rather proud of that image, so you make me happy by picking up on it!
21st-Nov-2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - I hate to be all English-y but...
...because of the use of "as", the sentence is a simile, not a metaphor. (just so you know...) ^^;
21st-Nov-2010 06:56 pm (UTC) - Re: I hate to be all English-y but...
Hey, thanks - I'll most probably forget it again in a couple months, but a reminder is never bad! :)
9th-Oct-2010 11:49 am (UTC)

*stops talking lest I make some horribly inadequate and misleading remark like Holmes*

I can only bow down in wonder and go on reading.
10th-Jul-2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
We would be there forever, side by side and hand in hand like children, not speaking or looking at one another.

I was on the edge of tears since Holmes' visit to the prison, and this was the sentence that pushed me over.

It's been quite a while since I've read anything about the original Holmes and Watson, and this hit me hard.

Wonderful work. *must keep reading*
21st-Nov-2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
There is so much that it right about this that I don't even know where to begin. It is simply fan damn tastic .
19th-May-2014 12:16 pm (UTC)
Thank goodness this is now finished. I don't know what I would have done if I had had to wait for updates!

How could you? What a terrible - yet completely believable - thing for Holmes to say. I'm glad you let him off the hook and he got to explain.
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