Fic: Home

Feb. 7th, 2013 01:34 am
spacemutineer: (window)
[personal profile] spacemutineer
Title: Home
Author: [ profile] spacemutineer
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: death
Word Count: ~2400
Author's Notes: Written for [ profile] hardboiledbaby for the 2012 [ profile] acd_holmesfest exchange.
Summary: Just after the events of the Adventure of the Empty House, Sherlock Holmes looks to return his life to the way he left it.

The first night back inhabiting my own life, I fell asleep early, crashing back to earth as a falling star after the exhilaration of finishing three years' work in the span of three minutes burned away, leaving only ashen exhaustion behind. I slept poorly, dreaming I was swimming to shore from the middle of the ocean. The colossal waves of the open sea swelled and rolled around me in heaving black tides. I kept my head above the surface of the dark water, but only just. It was miles yet to the beckoning sand glistening on the horizon.

I had tracked my prey meticulously to reach this moment, dedicating my life to the hunt and the hunt alone. Inside the empty house, Colonel Moran took his shot, and my long pursuit came to a finish that lasted only seconds. In the end, as he had been in the beginning, Watson was there, watching me work and watching my back. He pulled the old shikari's clenched hands off of my throat and wrestled him to the ground.

When it was at long last, over, Watson had the kindness to follow me back to our old digs, admittedly not a distant journey. I suspected he would have followed me to the ends of the Earth hanging on my elbow in those giddy, half-delirious moments, but we needed only to cross Baker Street once more and climb the well-worn seventeen steps.

Halfway through a glass of celebratory Scotch with my gleeful companion as Watson recounted the day's adventures in a stunned and delighted disbelief, I dared to rest my tired head on the sofa and within minutes had inadvertently dropped off into the benthic fathoms of sleep, the deep repose of the dead. The recently and temporarily dead, at any rate.

It had been days since I had last rested. How was I to sleep in the week prior, knowing what was coming, what I had left to do? How could I close my eyes at night knowing what was waiting for me in my beloved, long-lamented city? Knowing who was waiting for me?

He fainted at the sight of me, but I could hardly blame the man for that fact. My own heart thumped dangerously fast and hard in my chest as I stood before him, tearing off the final false identity of my long sojourn and revealing myself as Sherlock Holmes for the first time in years. If he had remained conscious, I've no doubt Watson would have noticed my unstable condition and begged me to sit, but as I caught his limp body and eased it to the ground, my doctor was in no position to protest.

He was thinner than I'd remembered, with lines of worry freshly pressed into his forehead and new silvery threads feathering at his temples. He looked tired to his bones; his first year as a widower had clearly taken a toll upon him. I unbuttoned his collar and tugged his tie loose, taking deep breaths all the while, and silently bidding Watson to do the same. He would come back to me sooner that way.

It was the most interminable twenty seconds of my life until he eventually did. He shook his head in disbelief against my legs in my lap and laughed, reaching up aimlessly and backwards to grasp my shoulder, my neck, my cheek to confirm the spectre before his eyes was indeed flesh and blood.

I admit, I had prepared myself for anger. It was how I would have reacted if I had been in his shoes, after all, and it was all I had any right to expect given the circumstances. A soldier's punch would not have been entirely out of proper line. But Watson, my Watson, had no ire in him, only joy, a strange happy form of sadness that very unexpectedly welled up my own eyes to witness as his overflowed.

All the elegant speechifying I had spent months in planning dissolved into vapor when I opened my mouth. Two imperfect words were the best I could manage.

"John. Hello."

"You're here," he said, tracing the sharpened angular lines of my face with his fingertips. "Holmes. You're here." But as I woke late in the next midday as the sun casting long shadows of the curtains on the floor, Watson was nowhere to be found. His bedroom, left at the ready by the ever-handy Mrs. Hudson, was untouched, the bed uncreased by his slumbering weight. The only signs he had ever been in our rooms was an empty whiskey glass and the warm knitted blanket that had been laid over me as I slept.

I called them our rooms, but all evidence was to the contrary. Stupidly I had entertained the fantasy that returning to London would reset the clock for my life, for both of our lives. I thought somehow that we would simply slip back into our old ways, into our old home as if nothing had changed.

I was right, but not in the way I expected. Nothing had changed. It was exactly as it was before, when he was a married man and I only his occasional acquaintance. His home and priorities remained elsewhere. A prominent physician required a respectable house and surgery to attract and keep his patients. Watson had those already, and had enjoyed such traditional pleasures for some time even before I departed for the Continent and departed the mortal coil. It was nonsense to imagine the doctor, a gentleman, would give up his comfortable, familiar lifestyle to rejoin an eccentric friend of long ago at the drop of an old bookseller's hat.

I would have to content myself with his courtesy to come by Baker Street again as the afternoon crept into evening. Dr. Watson was fresh from his due rounds, and brought his trusty bag with him. The sight of his stethoscope still squirrelled away as ever in his top hat made me smile despite myself. It is his constancy that makes John Watson the man he is. Time moves on, the world turns, but Watson remains, as reliable and vigilant as ever.

He rang the bell downstairs as if he were a common guest or client, as if did not still have a key of his own. I knew Mrs. Hudson forced him to keep it when he moved out into his connubial accommodations.

"You are always welcome here, Doctor," she had said, refusing to accept her key as his collected luggage lay waiting and expectant at the bottom of the stairs. "Always, you know that."

The sound of the doorbell jangled harshly in my ears, a lonely and discordant note.

Watson had come to invite me out for a proper celebration dinner. "It's not every day one returns from the dead, Holmes!"

"Perhaps not. But for accuracy's sake, I must point out that day was yesterday."

"Yesterday you were busy stopping your would-be murderer. Tonight is a different matter. Now before you bury yourself in the thousand cases London has needed and missed you for, I shall have you for one evening at least."

He could have me for longer if he cared, but I neglected to mention that. When he thrust my coat and hat into my hands with a boyish grin, his eyes crinkling in the corners, I did not argue.

The alcohol hit me along with the brisk chill of late autumn air outside when the doors to Simpson's opened after dinner and we spilled out into the night. I inelegantly stepped toward the curb to flag a cab for us, but Watson pulled me back by my sleeve, surprising me.

"Let's walk, shall we? It is a cool night, but I am having too fine an evening with you, Holmes. A cab will return us too quickly. I'm in no hurry to rush home."

Which home? I nearly asked him, but thought better of it.

"A walk sounds sublime, Doctor," I said instead.

"Ha! I was hoping you'd say that!" He smacked me on the back and linked his arm with mine. "You're not too tipsy, are you? Either way, we'll get there. Lean toward me if you need."

Watson moved smoothly at my side, despite his similar inebriation to my own. A decent level of drink washes out most of his limp for him, an effect due to the analgesic effect of the alcohol relieving him of some of the lingering pain I know he carries all other times. He would pay for the freedom tomorrow, of course, but for now, he was comfortable and relaxed. It was a remarkably contagious sensation.

We ambled in relative silence, taking in the city in her finest evening dress, accented in the dancing shadow flicker of the gaslamps. London was breathtaking in the night. My imagination wandered as we walked, and I fancied I could I hear the city's voice all around me, in the clip-clop of horses' steps, the clatter of shutters, the shuffle of feet. I could hear it in the startled gasps of passers on the street and in the excitable whispers from familiar faces, now three years older, concealed in the darkened corners of alleyways to see the truth of the rumor for themselves. They would be on my doorstep asking a thousand questions tomorrow, as good and clever boys do.

The city was singing to me. She had missed me almost as much as I had missed her.

Welcome, she sang, as clear as the starry night sky above us all. Welcome home.

"Holmes, may I ask you something?"

I descended from my dream. "Hmm? Of course you may."

"What happens now?" Watson didn't look over at me, instead favoring a conversation directed at the pavement as it passed us by.

"What happens now with what, precisely?"

"You. Your work. Me. Everything, I suppose. What happens now that you're alive again? What does it mean?"

He threw the word into the list as if it were an afterthought, rather than the center of the question at hand. Me.

"I don't know," I said. "I suppose it means we go back to what we were doing before."

"What we were doing before," he echoed, distant in his own thoughts. "But it's not as it was before, is it?"

"What's not?"

Watson turned to face me. "You are alive, Holmes. I am walking next to you at this very moment, talking to you, touching you. You're alive! You are living and breathing beside me. And-"

The next words broke off in his throat, but I could read them, chiseled into his marbled eyes.

"And she is not."

He blinked at me, startled, and promptly turned his head away again to watch the cement procession beneath his feet.

"You never lost your astonishing talent to read my mind, I see. God, I have missed you, Holmes. I've missed you both, more than- well." He swallowed. "More than I can say at the moment." He pulled me closer with his arm, warming my side as he leaned into me.

I had no response at the ready. What was I to tell him in reply to that intimate confession?

Should I ineptly and awkwardly attempt to offer my condolences for the loss of his beloved Mary, a woman who had my respect from the beginning, my fondness over time, and always, even now, my envy for her place in his heart?

Or should I tell him instead that I had erroneously believed I missed him long before the day I watched him abandon the search for my body on the side of a mountain, but that I had no conception of what the word meant at the time?

No, there was only one thing to tell him.

"Watson, come back with me. To Baker Street. Tonight, if you can manage it."

"For the night?"

"For the night, forever, as you wish it. But come. We shall both be returning home, Watson. Let us do it together."

I watched as that familiar spark of hope and excitement began to loosen the tension in Watson's face while he turned up to look at me. He was flush from high emotion and moderate alcohol intoxication, and so fully, so beautifully himself that I longed to avert my eyes like a man shying from the sun after a long and dark captivity.

"Holmes," he began. His voice stammered. "I did not think... Well, I did, but I..." When he managed to complete a sentence, it resembled nothing I had expected. "You know, you're going to laugh at me."

"Laugh at you? Why should I want to laugh at you?"

My dumbfounded and quizzical expression curled the doctor's lips up at the corners. "You'll figure it out, I am certain of that. But later. For now," he said, dropping his hand to grasp my own, "for now, Holmes, know that yes, I would love to rejoin you. When you were gone, I never dared hope I would see you again. Now that you have returned, I hope not another day shall go by when I will not."

We were up late that night, like schoolboys, joking and telling stories in our sitting room as if the clock had spun backwards to erase five years and multiple tragedies, and two prematurely aging men were vibrant youths once more. It was the first time I truly felt calm and comfortable in three hideous years. That night, one floor down from him, I did not dream at all but merely slept, absorbed in the depths of true rest, an almost forgotten indulgence.

In the morning, I felt awake in a way I had not for months, nearly thirty-six months, in fact. Watson looked a bit worse for wear, wincing at the light under the headache he'd bought with his frivolity and tugging at his itching day-old clothes. After breakfast, we left together to bring all that he would need from his house back to Baker Street. Another day in the same shirt and he would not be the only one of us complaining about its scent.

The door opened. As soon as I saw them, I knew what he had meant the night prior. He had been absolutely correct: I burst into a peal of laughter at the sight. An aging and familiar set of luggage sat patient and bulging by the entryway.

"Watson! That's where you went the night I returned, what you were doing. You were already packing!"

He grinned at me and shrugged, half-sheepish and half-proud, and stepped outside with his bags, ready to depart for home.

Date: 2013-02-07 10:03 am (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (sherlock grenada)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
Whee, another opportunity to say how much I loved this fic! Practically perfect in every way :)

Date: 2013-02-07 10:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm still so delighted that you liked it! You deserve a good story, and I had fun writing it for you. :)

Date: 2013-02-08 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Beautifully written. Lovely dialogue. Depth of the moment expertly conveyed. Thank you for writing and sharing :)

One of my favorite lines summing up this little piece:
"For the night, forever, as you wish it. But come. We shall both be returning home, Watson. Let us do it together."

Date: 2013-02-09 06:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
oh, this is lovely. EMPT is the one story I can never believe. This is so much more like the way it should have gone!


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