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the island of conclusions

The Silver Answer 2/2 (Holmes/Watson fic)

the island of conclusions

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The Silver Answer 2/2 (Holmes/Watson fic)

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sepia H/W
Author: ariadnes_string
Title: The Silver Answer 2/2
Rating: light R
Warnings: n/a
Summary: A chance encounter with a mesmerist has unexpected consequences for Holmes and Watson.
Word Count: 11,170 (total)
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.

Read in two parts on LJ, or a single post on AO3 or DW

a/n: This fic is a version of ACD’s own story, The Parasite, remixed for Holmes/Watson.
a/n: Title and epigraph from EBB
a/n: Written for the hw09_exchange.
a/n: A huge thank you to my inestimable beta, calamitycrow, not just for the usual beta things, but for all the extra hand-holding that is for some reason attendant on me writing Holmes/Watson fic.

…a mystic shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove…
Guess now who holds thee?...Death, I said, but there
The silver answer rang…not Death but Love.


part one



The Silver Answer 2/2

3

Watson awoke with a crick in his neck. He’d slept longer on the sofa than he’d meant too, and more deeply. It was Mrs. Hudson bringing in the morning tea that had disturbed him. She cast a deeply disparaging look in his direction as she left again, but held her tongue.

Holmes was already up, hunched over the breakfast table, a stack of books at his elbow. He raised his head as Watson stood and stretched, the lines on his face even deeper than they’d been the night before, his dressing gown hanging in loose folds from his shoulders.

"How are you feeling?" Watson asked, concerned.

"Wretched," Holmes replied, grimacing, "as if I’d been dragged through the streets from the back of a Black Maria."

"At least you’re admitting it now," Watson said, oddly cheered by the return of Holmes’s tetchiness, so different than the absent-minded vagueness of the past few days.

"I fail to see how that makes it any better," Holmes said, with asperity, "believe me, doctor, if I didn’t need every one of my feeble wits about me today, I would have stolen the laudanum out of your little black bag hours ago."

"A small dose would do no harm," Watson offered.

"No, no," Holmes waved him away, "we have work to do."

Watson came to sit at the table, poured himself a cup of tea. He peered at the pile of books.

"You are—?" he ventured.

"Trying to find out what I can about mesmerism. The topic is woefully under-researched,” Holmes said in tones of scholarly disapproval.

"Have you revised your opinion of its validity, then?" Watson queried.

"No," Holmes replied firmly, "and yet—"

"And yet." Watson agreed.

Holmes nodded, as if relieved that the doctor was not going to press the issue further. "There is a good deal on the origins of the, ah, art, to be sure," he continued, "and on its more spectacular manifestations—but I can find nary a word on how to break a—a—compulsion,” he ground the word out between clenched teeth.

Watson felt something go cold within him at the term. He looked at Holmes, alarmed. "You find it is still with you, then?" he asked.

"Yes." Holmes, to his credit, met Watson’s gaze without flinching. "Now that I am aware of it, I can feel it, like a splinter under the skin. I fear there will be hell to pay tonight."

+++++

The day passed quietly. Watson was all for going straight to Smythe, confronting him with the villainy of his cousin, demanding his arrest, or at least his ousting from the premises. But Holmes seemed oddly reluctant to return to the scene of the previous night’s adventures—and his friend’s state still seemed so fragile that Watson did not like to insist.

Instead, they stayed in. Watson made a swift decision to cancel his appointments; it did not seem right to leave Holmes alone under the circumstances. Several times during the day, he tried to question the detective, as gently as he could, about his time with Mr. Penclosa. Each time, Holmes just tugged fretfully at his collar and claimed to remember nothing. Ignoring Watson's suggestion that he’d think better if he got some rest, Holmes smoked bowl after bowl of tobacco. But in the late afternoon he dozed off in his chair, pipe between his lips, an arcane volume slipping from his hands. Sighing, Watson carefully removed pipe and book, settled a blanket over his shoulders.

++++++

The early autumn dark was already closing in when Holmes suddenly bolted upright, blanket pooling around his knees. Looked up from the medical journal he'd been distractedly perusing, Watson thought he caught a fleeting glimpse of panic in his friend’s eyes. But if he did, it was swiftly gone. Holmes straightened his waistcoat, looking around for his pipe.

"Do you have any pressing engagements for the evening, doctor?" he asked, his voice cool and controlled.

"No," Watson replied, startled that Holmes would think he would even consider going out. "I am quite free."

"Good," Holmes said tersely, and picked up his book again. Watson stared at him for a moment; then he realized that this was as close as Holmes would come to asking his help in withstanding whatever unseen forces might assail him.

"I’ll ask Mrs. Hudson to bring up some supper," Watson said.

++++++

For a while, things were peaceful enough. Holmes kept his eyes glued to his book, as if his life depended on absorbing its contents, and puffed relentlessly at his pipe. Watson made his way through several months of patient reports, organizing and making notes.

All too soon, however, Holmes began to grow restless. He rose and paced. He took his violin from its case, played a few bars, hit a discordant note, and quickly replaced it. He stood at the window, absently tapping a rhythm on the glass. Watson, watching him helplessly, saw a muscle under his eye twitch once, twice, three times.

Finally, Holmes blew out an explosive sigh, stalked over to the closed door of the sitting room, threw the seldom-used bolt, and turned to Watson.

"It’s no use," he said, "I can feel myself succumbing. I must ask you, doctor, nay, beg you—" his voice broke a little on the word, "not to let me leave this room tonight."

"Of course," Watson replied instantly, "I will do everything in my power—"

"You must do better than that," Holmes said, voice harsh, eyes truly a little wild now, "You must promise that whatever I do or say—"

"Whatever you do or say—" Watson echoed.

"You will not suffer me to leave."

"I will not suffer you to leave. I swear it." Watson hoped his determination would show in his face.

Holmes stared at him, desperation again flickering briefly in his eyes, and then nodded once, apparently satisfied. He resumed his restless circuit of the room, picking up an object every now and then, turning it absently in his hands before setting it back down.

Watson, feeling a little foolish, moved to a chair a closer to the door, and waited, though he had no idea for what.

He soon found out.

Gradually, Holmes’s movements slowed, and Watson saw the tension melt out of his shoulders. His face, when he turned towards the doctor, was as smooth and relaxed as he had ever seen it; his voice, when he spoke, carried all the authority and charm to which Watson had become accustomed.

"Thank you for your concern, dear boy," the detective said, "but it is no longer necessary. I have thrown off the compulsion, and I am quite myself again." He smiled, easy, brilliant, "Though I do fancy a bit of fresh air; being cooped up in these rooms all day has left me with a dreadful headache."

Watson scrutinized him. Holmes did look as if he had returned to normalcy. And yet, he had promised. "I—" he started. And then, as he watched, the muscle under Holmes’s eye twitched again.

"No can do, old chap," Watson said, moving to stand directly in front of the door. "Foolhardy as it may have been, I do not make such promises lightly, and I am duty bound to keep you here. I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with these rooms until sunrise. There’s still the laudanum, if your head is really bothering you," he added.

In an instant, Holmes’s entire demeanor changed. His face pinched and twisted in the grip of some mean emotion. "Duty bound," he said, almost spitting out the words. "You and your punctilious, overbearing, duty and honor. Will I never be free of them? Will I never be free of you?" He sneered, his expression ugly, "Always thinking you know best. Always thinking you know me." He fixed a cold, disdainful gaze on the doctor. "Let me pass, Watson,” he said, “you do not know me at all."

Watson reeled under the words—almost the worst Holmes could have thrown at him, as he was sure Holmes knew. But he forced himself past the hurt. This was not his friend speaking, he told himself; this was merely the foul workings of that devil, Penclosa. He rallied his mental fortitude, his voice shaking only a little, "Be that as it may," he said, "I cannot let you leave."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Holmes, in another mercurial transition, sagged dejectedly to the floor, like a marionette whose strings had been cut. He crouched there, hunched in on himself, utterly abject.

Watson hesitated, not sure if this was another trick, another ploy to make him drop his guard. But the tiny, whimpering sounds Holmes was making sounded horribly real. Unable to stop himself, he threw caution to the winds, left the doorway, and knelt in front of his friend, reached out a tentative hand to touch his knee.

To his surprise, rather than shaking him away, Holmes covered the hand with his own, slid closer until his legs tangled with Watson’s and his forehead rested on Watson’s shoulder. It was odd, almost unprecedented, for Holmes to seek comfort in this way, but Watson was powerless against the wordless plea. He encircled Holmes with his arms, and, for a moment, the detective clung to him, childlike.

Then, subtly, the embrace began to change.

Holmes’s hands drew up Watson’s back, slowly, like a caress; they knotted themselves in Watson’s hair, twisting, digging, with sensual intensity. Catlike, the detective nuzzled at Watson’s neck, and Watson shivered, unable to prevent himself from leaning into the touch, his body seeking more pressure, more friction. As if sensing his hunger, Holmes writhed subtly against him, their knees, thighs, hips, rubbing against each other. Watson realized vaguely that he should be suspicious, should be watchful, but every new point of contact only stoked the flames of his desire, made it harder to think.

Then, Holmes lifted his head and kissed him. Watson was instantly, achingly, hard, the speed, the force of his response overwhelming him. It was embarrassing, but not--if he were entirely honest with himself--surprising. Perhaps he had always known it would come to this.

After a moment, Holmes drew back and looked at him. The horrid, calculating look was back in his eyes. "This is what you want, my friend," Holmes said, soft and guileful, "this is what you’ve always wanted. You’d give me anything I asked for in exchange for this," and he moved his hand lower, cupped Watson’s rock-hard prick through the fabric of his trousers.

And he would, Watson acknowledged, as his hips bucked under Holmes’s hand, as his mouth greedily sought Holmes’s lips, he would.

It would be so easy, so sweet, to lose whatever inhibitions he had left, surrender to those fighter’s arms, those clever fingers. To give Holmes whatever he wanted and the devil take the consequences. Holmes’s tongue ghosted along the shell of his ear, and an involuntary moan escaped his lips.

He was almost lost. And yet, for better or worse, some stony nugget of selfhood refused to be seduced. "If you do this while he is under the influence of another's will," a stern internal voice chastised, "it is you who will be taking advantage."

The thought doused his lust like a pail of cold water. It took every ounce of willpower Watson possessed, but he pulled away, pushed his friend’s hands off his body.

"Holmes—" he began. But before he could continue, the detective had bolted for the door.

Watson lunged after him, and managed, with a lucky grab, to bring the detective to the floor. They grappled there, rolling over and over, as fiercely entwined as they had been in the throes of passion. All traces of civility had deserted Holmes, and he fought against Watson’s grip with an animal fury, like a fox with its leg caught in a trap. He ground his elbow into Watson’s side, drove a bruising blow into his right eye.

On an ordinary day, Watson would not have thought much of his chances against his fellow-lodger. The doctor was a decent brawler, by dint of some natural gifts and years of training; but for Holmes, it was nearly a vocation. Today, however, the compulsion under which he was laboring seemed to have slowed the detective’s reflexes slightly—just a fraction, perhaps. But it was enough.

Grunting with the effort, Watson managed to pin Holmes to the carpet. He murmured an apology, and put all his strength behind a roundhouse blow to Holmes’s right cheekbone. With a startled gasp of pain, the detective abruptly lost consciousness.

Panting slightly, Watson leaned back on his heels. Between the protean shifts of feeling and the physical exertion of the night, his head was literally spinning. He quickly checked Holmes’s pulse and respiration, ascertaining that he was in no immediate danger. He contemplated moving the detective from the floor to the sofa, but felt too exhausted to even attempt the transfer.

In a minute, Watson told himself, stretching out full length next to his friend, two sleepless nights and a week of worry catching up to him, he’d get things sorted in a minute.

++++++

The doctor awoke to the soft gray light of morning. He was still on the floor, but someone had put something under his head—a pillow, perhaps, or a folded coat. Holmes sat propped against the sofa, arms wrapped around his knees, watching him. The detective looked drained but calm, his eyes clearer than they’d been for days. His expression was unreadable.

Watson was too weary to move; his very bones ached, and his head felt filled with cotton wool. "You’re going to have quite the shiner by midday," he told Holmes, voice rough with exhaustion.

Holmes managed a tiny, rueful smile, touched the already-darkening skin under his right eye. He shifted nearer, brushed the same fingers across Watson’s cheekbone. "Then we’ll match," he said, very quietly.

"I’m sorry—" Watson began, though he wasn't sure if he was apologizing for hitting Holmes, or for something else entirely.

Holmes didn’t let him finish. He slid his hand down Watson’s face, ran his thumb across Watson's lower lip, stopping his words. In a way, the delicacy of the touch was more unnerving, more arousing, than anything that had happened the night before. Tired as he was, Watson felt his body responding, a warmth building low in his belly.

"No," Holmes said, "It is I who should apologize." He moved his hand from Watson’s mouth to his chest, laid it palm down over his heart. "I’ve caused you a great deal of trouble this past week."

"You’ve caused me a great deal of trouble ever since I moved to Baker Street," Watson replied, "I’ve grown used to it." He placed his hand over Holmes’s, squeezed gently. "The, er, compulsion—" Watson could think of no word better than Holmes’s own, "is it gone?"

Holmes nodded. "Quite gone. I feel as if something has lifted. No—like something binding my brain has been untied." He looked down at Watson, his face pale and beautiful in the morning light. "And yet," he said thoughtfully, "I find myself still wanting to do this—" He bent down and pressed his lips against Watson’s own.

He drew back almost immediately and met Watson’s eyes, his own calm and patient. And Watson could have wept with joy to see the return of the cool, well-loved, intelligence in his face. Holmes was himself again. Though not quite the same, Watson realized. There was something new in his face, something beyond the familiar rationality, something Watson recognized because it had taken up residence in his own heart as well. He raised himself onto one elbow, hooked a hand around the nape of Holmes’s neck, and drew him down into a deeper, more thorough kiss.

4

The next few moments passed in a blur of pleasant sensation, a lazy exploration of mouths, skin, bodies. Then china rattled in the hallway, and they sprung away from each other like characters in a bad Drury Lane farce.

Watson tugged at his rumpled clothing, dragging a hand through his hair, while Holmes smirked at him, greeting Mrs. Hudson with his customary, half-mocking grace.

She surveyed their battered faces, and the general disarray of the room with a cold eye, tssking disapprovingly.

"A—a case," Watson stammered, "merely a difficult case. All’s well now." He smiled in what he hoped was an ingratiating manner. The housekeeper looked unconvinced, but refrained from commenting.

Breakfast, punctuated by affectionate looks and touches, was markedly different than the miserable mornings they’d endured all week. Despite his weariness, Watson felt content, smiling with satisfaction as Holmes heaped marmalade on his third slice of toast.

All too soon, however, he was forced to drag himself away. He could not justify neglecting his patients for a second day—especially if all was well at Baker Street. And so, with an injunction to rest, and a promise to be back as soon as he could, he went out into the full sunshine of the October day.

++++++++

He was almost vibrating with anticipation when he returned home for tea. He had missed Holmes to an inordinate degree during the short time he had been a way, and hated to calculate how many minutes he spent imagining different conclusions to that morning’s beginnings.

His hopes, however, were dashed. Mrs. Hudson was descending the stairs just as he came in; she put a finger to her lips and jerked her head in the general direction of Holmes’s room. If Watson hadn’t known better, he would have sworn he could see a hint of indulgent fondness on her face.

Cautiously, he poked his head into the bedroom, and, indeed, there was Holmes, sprawled in unconscious abandon on top of the duvet, fast asleep. Watson briefly considered waking him, but then Holmes made a small noise of discomfort, and Watson noticed the dark rings still circling his eyes, the sallow tone to his skin. Better to let him rest, he decided, to recover his strength.

Just as he was closing the door, the doorbell sounded. Mrs. Hudson had disappeared into the kitchen, so he hurried down the stairs again to answer it himself.

There, on the doorstep, stood Mr. Penclosa.

At the sight of him, a burst of pure fury coursed through Watson and he almost slammed the door shut in the little man’s face. But curiosity prevailed, and he opened the door a little wider, allowing the mesmerist into the entryway.

A great change had come over Penclosa since the last time Watson had seen him. He had not seemed strong even then, but now he looked positively frail, leaning heavily on his crutch, papery skin stretched so tightly over the bones of his face Watson fancied he could see the outline of his skull. His diminished physical vigor, however, only accentuated the power of his eyes. They seemed to have grown larger, to shine with an uncanny, febrile glow.

It took all of Watson’s not inconsiderable courage to meet them. "What do you want here?" he asked, not sorry to sound uncivil.

"I have business with Mr. Sherlock Holmes," Penclosa replied, his voice soft and phlegmy. He drew a handkerchief out of his pocket, dabbed at his wet mouth.

"He is indisposed at the moment," Watson stated firmly, "but you can relay any business you have with him to me."

Those feline eyes bore into him, seemed to recognize him, although Watson had only encountered the mesmerist whilst in disguise.

"You are his close associate, then?" Penclosa asked, investing the words with some distasteful significance. Watson was certain the mesmerist was connecting the dark-haired serving-man with the half-pay army doctor who was Holmes’s fellow-lodger. The idea only stoked his fury.

"Yes," he said, anger making him brave, "and, again, I ask you to tell me what business you have with Sherlock Holmes."

"No matter," Penclosa said mildly, shaking his head, "it can wait until he is well enough to see me." He turned back towards the door, his movements halting, feeble.

Watson’s composure cracked. "What do you want with him?" he pressed, his voice low, intense. He was not speaking simply of this visit, and he was sure the mesmerist was aware of that fact.

Penclosa turned back to face him. "What do I want with him, Dr. Watson?" he asked, and Watson started at the use of his name—as far as he knew, they had never been introduced. "I imagine that what I want with him does not differ significantly from what you want from him yourself." A ghastly leer played across Penclosa's wasted face.

Watson’s skin felt too hot, too tight, and he started, very subtly, to shake, though whether from fury or embarrassment he could not tell.

"Well, he’s free of you now," he said harshly, all pretense to ignorance of the vile doings of the week abandoned. "You, like so many others before you, have made the great mistake of underestimating Mr. Sherlock Holmes."

Penclosa observed him coolly, seeming to enjoy the passionate response he’d provoked. "Oh no," he said, as if he had just solved some particularly irksome riddle, "I have not underestimated him. I find, however, that I have underestimated you, Dr. Watson."

The words were soft, voiced in his usual sibilant tones, but, to Watson’s ears, they sounded more like a threat than a concession.

"Get out," the doctor said, clenching his shaking hands into fists, "Get out now, before I decide to pistol whip you all the way back to Cadogan Place."

With one last mocking gaze, and an exaggerated dip of his head, Penclosa left, shutting the door carefully behind him.

Watson sagged against it, fighting to regain his composure. He almost jumped when he heard stirring at the top of the stairs.

"Watson?" Holmes called, a little groggy, "Who was that?"

"The man about the coal delivery," Watson improvised, with a pang of guilt for deceiving his friend. "They’ll be by next Monday."

++++++


Fate granted Watson a reprieve from the pricking of his conscience, however, in the form of another pull on the bell. Fearing that Penclosa had returned for some reason, he cracked the door, peered out onto the stoop. But it was only a messenger from the hospital come to tell him his presence was urgently required: the patient who had undergone surgery earlier in the week had developed serious complications.

Watson was torn. After his unsettling encounter with the mesmerist, he hated to leave Holmes alone. And yet professional duty—not to mention his very real sympathy for the patient—demanded that he attend her.

"Come in," he said to the messenger, "I’ll just get my things." Hurriedly, he ascended the stairs, collected his medical bag, his coat, his cane. Holmes, at least, looked well, better-rested and alert. Perhaps Penclosa’s veiled threat had been only that—a threat. He did not dare kiss Holmes, as he so desperately wanted to—the messenger’s eyes were too sharp, too frankly curious. He settled for a brief squeeze of the detective’s shoulder instead, leaning close and murmuring "Promise me you’ll be careful, old boy, that you’ll keep your guard up?"

Holmes all but rolled his eyes. "Yes," he said wryly, "I know that I have not demonstrated it lately, but in ordinary circumstances I am remarkably adept at taking care of myself. It is you who keeps rushing away," he said, for Watson’s ears only, feigning a pout, "If I weren’t quite so confident of my own charms, I would think you were avoiding me."

Watson had to grin. "I hope to persuade you otherwise when I return," he said, with equally mocking formality.


++++++

And yet he did not return until the wee hours of the morning. The patient’s situation had been desperate, her survival a very near thing. For most of the night, the strenuous efforts necessary to save her had driven all other thoughts from his mind. As he approached the flat, however, his anxiety returned, and he found his steps quickening as he mounted the steps.

He need not have worried. All was dark and quiet at 221b Baker Street. He eased open the door of Holmes’s room, daring to hope that he might still be awake; but, despite what looked like a valiant effort, Holmes was fast asleep, snoring lightly, a book still open in his hands. For the second time that day, Watson decided against interrupting his friend's slumber, and cursed his own over-considerate nature.

He made his way to his own room, had barely time to undress before the week’s events crashed down upon him, and he slipped gratefully into unconsciousness.

++++++

It felt like he had barely closed his eyes when the creak of his door awakened him again.

Instantly alert, he sat up, wishing he had thought to put his revolver, or at least the sword cane, by the bed. Before he could grow too alarmed, however, he recognized Holmes’s well-known shape in the darkness. He smiled, little shivers of arousal starting to run along his limbs. Perhaps the night would end happily after all.

Holmes approached the bed silently, and Watson shifted to make room for him, fumbling to light the lamp on the bedside table. In its dim light, he could see Holmes was wearing nothing but his nightshirt; he looked odd—well, sleepy, though that only stood to reason, considering the lateness of the hour. His face was slack, his eyes slightly unfocused. The unpleasant, fantastical thought that he was about to consummate his passion with a sleepwalker flitted across Watson’s mind.

He pushed it aside, though, as Holmes lowered himself, somewhat gracelessly, onto the bed. Watson put one hand on his knee, the other on his face, leaned forward into a kiss driven by a day’s worth of repressed desire. The merest touch of Holmes’s lips against his own fired his blood, and if Holmes’s response seemed a trifle sluggish, Watson could not bring himself to care.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of something clutched in Holmes’s right hand. It was small and unidentifiable, but incongruous enough that Watson drew back.

“What do you have there, old boy?” he asked, trying to get a better look at the object. It appeared to be a glass vial. “Do you really think we need something to enhance our pleasure?” he quipped, awkwardly striving for levity.

Still, Holmes said nothing, and, with a stab of uneasiness, Watson saw him begin to raise his arm.

Instinctively, he reached out and grabbed the detective’s wrist, was surprised to feel Holmes resist him, try to force the vial closer to Watson’s face. Truly apprehensive now, Watson pushed back, and they stayed like that, caught in a mute, tense, stalemate, until Watson thought to bring Holmes’s hand down, hard, against the edge of the bedside table.

The vial flew free, crashing to the floor. The fragile glass shattered with a crackling sound, and, then surprisingly, a strong, acrid smell filled the room. Startled, Watson, keeping his hold on Holmes's hand, looked over the edge of the bed, and saw a horrible, smoking burn spreading across the carpet and onto the floor.

Acid. There had been acid in the vial.

Next to him, Holmes screamed.

The sound was like nothing Watson had ever heard him make—it was an animal’s shriek of agony, of frustration, of defeat. It went on and on, like a death cry, until Watson, hardly knowing what he was doing, took Holmes’s face in his hands, laid a firm palm over his mouth.

"Hush," he said, reeling himself with the shock of it all, "it’s over now. Come back to yourself," he pleaded, "come back to me."

And slowly, so slowly, Holmes did. Sentience returned to his eyes, his breathing slowed, and Watson dared to lift his hands.

They sat side by side on the bed for a long time, stunned into silence, contemplating the scarred floor, the jagged hole in the rug.

"What happened?" Watson finally said hollowly, "I thought the compulsion had lifted, that you were free."

"So did I," Holmes said, voice soaked in remorse, "there must have been some remnant left, like a parasite one does not know one carries, some shard of Penclosa’s will; something specifically meant to hurt you."

He faced Watson, his eyes clear again, but haunted. He did not say anything more, but Watson sensed it was causing Holmes something like physical pain, to know that his reason had been stolen, his body used as an instrument to harm others.

"Me?" Watson asked, still unable to see how all the pieces fit together, “I thought it was you he was after.”

"The fiend knows that I—I treasure your companionship," Holmes said, looking away. Watson, touched to the quick by the admission, laid a hand on his arm. Holmes shook his head, though, still caught up in his guilt. "To think how nearly—" he said, "I am so terribly sorry, my dear."

But Watson wasn’t interested in apologies. He was already standing, dragging on his trousers, holstering his revolver.

"Where are you going?" Holmes asked, perplexed now in his turn.

"Cadogan Place," Watson said, "This has gone on long enough—he must be stopped for good."

"At 3am?" Holmes asked.

"The hour is inconsequential," Watson said, his words curt. “Will you accompany me, or shall I call Lestrade?”

++++++

The London streets were even darker and more deserted than they had been the last time Watson had made the journey from Baker Street to Cadogan Place, a scant forty-eight hours earlier. And yet, when they arrived at the Smythe residence, all the windows were ablaze with light.

Holmes and Watson exchanged puzzled glances, and then Holmes stepped forward to pull the bell. The door swung wide almost immediately, opened not by a mere footman, but by the housekeeper herself—Watson recognized her imposing presence from the night of the party.

She, however, did not recognize him. "Mr. Holmes?" she said, puzzled, "I was expecting the doctor."

Thoroughly perplexed now, Watson was grateful for the return of his friend’s quick wits. "Of course," Holmes lied smoothly, "I came as soon as I heard. And I have brought a doctor with me," he gestured towards Watson, "my associate, John Watson, MD."

Pure relief washed over the housekeeper’s face. "Well, thank goodness you’re here," she said, "come with me." She ushered them upstairs.

It seemed as if half the house’s staff was milling about in the upstairs hallway, some still in their nightclothes. At the sound of their approach, Smythe himself emerged from a room at the end of the hall, shirtsleeves pushed up to his elbows, hair mussed and face distraught.

"Holmes?" he said, echoing the housekeeper’s surprise.

"Yes," Holmes replied, as if the reason for his presence should be obvious, and then, before the banker’s confusion could gather momentum, "I have brought my associate, Dr. Watson."

But Smythe only shook his head sadly at the news. "I'm afraid you've arrived too late," he said, gesturing towards the room he had just left, "see for yourselves."

It was a bedroom, luxuriously appointed, as were all the rooms at no. 4 Cadogan Place. Smythe's young wife perched on the side of the bed, her bowed back obscuring whoever lay upon it. Then she turned, her face ashen, and Watson saw the body of Penclosa.

Aside from the fact that he was very clearly dead, the mesmerist looked much as he had earlier that day. Except for his face. Although it was too soon for rigor mortis to have set in, his features were contorted in some horrible combination of fear and fury, seemingly frozen that way. No one had yet closed his eyes, and they bulged dreadfully, as if straining to leave their sockets—their terrible, feline gleam at last extinguished.

Watson glanced at Holmes and saw that he had gone white, his own eyes wide and staring. With a pang, he remembered that this was the first time the detective had seen Penclosa since the night Watson had awakened him in the street.

Steeling himself against his own shock, he said, in the heartiest professional tone he could manage, "I am a doctor; tell me what has happened here."

It was Mrs. Smythe who answered. "We don't know," she said shakily, "he was ill, of course, in a clear decline, but we were unprepared for anything as sudden as this," she took a deep breath, continued, "Several hours ago, we were awakened by the most horrible scream--I've never heard anything like it—like an animal, really, more than a human being," Watson sensed Holmes tense beside him. "My husband rushed into the hall, and there he found our poor cousin, in a state of collapse, beyond speech. We brought him back to bed, but he just slipped away—he never recovered enough to tell us what had occurred." She looked beseechingly at Watson, "His heart, do you think? Was it the pain that made him scream like that?"

He hastened to reassure her, to tell her yes, heart attacks could be agonizing, although he had a sinking feeling that pain had had nothing to do with Penclosa's last cry.

"Tell me," said Holmes, finally regaining the power of speech, "what time did this occur?"

"Just now," Richardson Smythe answered gravely, as if he were sure Holmes was collecting the information for some important scientific inquiry, "between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning.

++++++

The sun was rising.

Somehow, Watson could sense the change in light, even though he was stretched on his belly in Holmes's bed, his face half-hidden in the pillow.

Beside him, Holmes was tracing some design on his bare back—counting moles or scars—perhaps sketching out some mathematical equation—Watson couldn’t tell; all he knew was that it felt good, and he never wanted it to stop.

“Are you frustrated, my dear?” Holmes's musing voice drew him back from the brink of sleep.

“Anything but,” Watson laughed, "you've seen to that.'

Holmes laughed too, then sobered. “I mean, to have had your revenge thwarted by Penclosa's untimely death. I shudder to think what you would have done to him if nature had not intervened.” Holmes's tone was gently sardonic, but there was something else there too—a hint of pride, perhaps, as if Watson's ire on his behalf was not entirely displeasing.

Watson could imagine what he would have done all too clearly; he was sure his unrealized plans for vengeance would haunt him for years to come. "A little," he admitted.

But he forced himself to put such thoughts away: to hide them in a dark corner of his soul along with his suspicions--his rage--about what might have happened on the nights Holmes had been drawn to the mesmerist, been alone with him for hours. He would never know. It would have to be enough that they were both alive, naked here together, greeting a new day.

As if reading his mind, Holmes curled his fingers in the short hair at the nape of Watson’s neck, tugged gently until Watson turned over to face him. The detective was wearing an unfamiliar expression, one Watson was not sure he had ever seen before. On any other man, he might have called it wistful.

"To think we might never have known," Holmes said, "All those years, missing this," he passed his hand over their entwined bodies, "all the sweet, sad years."

"Bloody hell," Watson growled, "who’d have thought you'd be the type to start quoting love poems as soon as you’d got your kit off?" And he reached over to put a stop to Holmes’s musings with a kiss.

fin

  • I love this story so much. And the last line always makes me laugh out loud!
    • I'm so glad! Thanks for reading again--and I'm so happy the last time makes you laugh--there had to be something lighter after all that worry!
  • Beautiful writing! Thank you
  • This is fascinating! I love Watson's confronting Penclosa, and the awful exchange with the acid. So well done!
  • That was great. I loved the plot and the suspense of what was happening. Watson was so dear, so protective - that's one of my favorite things! Wonderful, wonderful story.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it--I've wanted to write a protective!Watson story for a long time! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Oooh the suspense was wonderful! I was on the edge of my seat the entire way through! Love how wonderfully protective Watson is here :)
    • Thanks for the lovely feedback--I'm so glad the suspense worked! I've wanted to write a protective!Watson story for a long time!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • What a great story--the whole thing was tight and suspenseful, and sensual to boot. Bravo!
  • Oh, this was just brilliant. Everything about it was just perfect, I'm... gah. The plot, the characterisation, the sheer originality!

    I'm adding you, since I absolutely love your work (A Beautiful Pea-Green Boat was glorious.) Hope you don't mind!

    <3
    • Thanks for the lovely feedback (though I can't lay any claim to originality--as I noted at the top, the fic is a remix of ACD's story "The Parasite"--which is a pretty fun read itself!)

      Glad you're enjoying the fic! Adding you back--just ignore the other stuff that comes up on my journal--no ranting, just things I think are interesting and the occasional rec post.
      • Ah, now I have to go hunt down The Parasite. Thanks so much for friending back, will defs make use of those rec posts! <3
        • No need to hunt--there's a link at the top of the post, in the a/n's *points up*, if you haven't found the story already (UVA e-text--you can print it out and everything). I'd be interested to hear what you think, if you end up reading it--
  • Oh ♥

    Great story, loved the build up, and the mystery (and BAMFy Watson!) and the very idea of pitting Holmes' brains against an hypnotist!
    • So glad you enjoyed this one! I really wanted to write a BAMF!Watson story--and I really wanted to write a story about mesmerism (since the 1890s is the decade of Svengali)--so when I saw that ACD had written his own mesmerism story, I decided to see what it would look like for Holmes/Watson.

      Thanks so much for reading!
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • thanks, sweet kitty! never could have gotten anywhere with it without your help and encouragement. Glad you like that last line--I figured Watson had had enough talking by that point ;)
  • most beautiful H/W story i've EVER read. great job! this was the perfect fairytale before going to bed. :) good night!!!
  • I absolutely adore this story! Wow.
  • Whew! What a lovely, well-crafted tale - Penclosa was a genuinely creepy figure from his first appearance, and I love that we're left with nothing but unsettling implications about his nocturnal encounters with Holmes.
    And sleepwalking!Holmes, with the acid! *shivers*

    At least it worked out well for him and Watson in the end, thanks to some fortuitous revelations along the way ;)

    (By the way, would you mind terribly if I friended you? Everything I've read of yours has been excellent, so I'd hate to miss anything in the future.)
    • Thanks so much--I'm really glad you enjoyed it! (the sleepwalking/acid scene is borrowed and tweaked from the ACD story--linked at the top of the post--but glad you thought it worked in this context).

      I'm thrilled you're enjoying the fic--friend away! Friending you back--just ignore the non-fic, non-Holmes stuff (no rants, just rl stuff I find interesting and the occasional rec list).
  • What a fabulous and intriguing story. It captures the elements of the original Holmesian mysteries, and is also fabulously original, and I really enjoyed reading it.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it--I'm glad the re-mix aspect of it worked okay. Thanks so much for reading and leaving such lovely feedback!
  • that was awesome and that last line- lol!
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and that the last line made you laugh! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
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