Wednesday, April 15, 2009

FINA and Reichenbach fic

I'm archiving a copy of my old Reichenbach fic, which is chapter 16. It's been posted before on my old website and other places. I've been wanting to revise it for a long time because I wanted some of Holmes's dialogue with Watson to be whispered and accompanied by tender touches, or a kiss of his cheek, but all these things are inappropriate for Struthers to witness. Not that she could hear whispers, given the roar of the Falls, but it's the principle of it. I've decided instead that Holmes and Watson will have their private scene before Reichenbach, while Watson is trying to help Holmes recover from cocaine yet again. So I'll attach that sketch here, which is new.


Struthers is introduced in Chap 12, during an earlier case in 1889. Watson was away for HOUN, and Holmes actually was tidying up another case in London for at least a little while. Struthers (then a widow by the name of Mrs. Wyle), interfered in Holmes's case, and he let her meddle only because she had useful information to give to him. The case ended disastrously, and they parted quickly, Holmes hurrying to Dartmoor to protect Watson (and, er, Sir Henry too) from some disaster as well. I still have no clue how I'll explain Watson going to Dartmoor while he's still married. Maybe Mary was away on another visit, and he was taking a holiday from his practice?

Nowadays Diana Struthers has reverted to her maiden name, just because she hated her husband that much. So that's why she's just Struthers now. Her husband is not the Charlie referred to here. Her husband is Thomas.



Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: sketch of chapters 15-16 of Deeper in Memory novel
Pairing: Holmes/Watson, (implied Holmes/Helen Stoner)
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: hetero, slash

FINA sketch


Holmes comes to see Watson, to explain that he's in danger from Moriarty. Lift some of the VALL text here. "You have heard me speak of Moriarty?"

Maybe Watson is doubtful, though, because he can see that Holmes is ill. Cocaine again. Holmes insists that he believe him. Shows his injured knuckle and talks of air guns. Finally Watson does believe.

They go away to the Continent. After Monday, Holmes tries to convince Watson to leave, but Watson will not abandon him "in your condition." H argues that he's not as bad as he was before.

Watson nevertheless stays near him, and when they share a hotel room, he even comes to H's bed. H is shocked, but W says it's only to stop his tremors, to hold him. Treading a fine line between being a friend and being unfaithful to his wife.

H embraces him and is overcome with memories. Does he confess about Helen, and grieve over her death? Does he confess how he's missed Watson since his marriage?

Watson comforts him, but tries to keep his distance, because of Mary. "Whatever you think, I do love her."

"I know." pause "But do you love me too?"

W uncomfortable, looks away.

H explains that he loved Helen, and he still loves W regardless. "Do you not feel the same?"

W meets his eyes and caresses him, feeling conflicted. "But I will not have an affair."

H understands, but clings to him anyway. Grateful at least for this moment to truly say goodbye to him. To let go, knowing that W will be happy without him. Why, Mary was very likely pregnant already.

So they remain together, sharing the bed. Whispering gentle words that can't be uttered at Reichenbach.



Reichenbach


Diana Struthers buttoned up her coat a little higher and straightened her hat. The wind had picked up a trifle too much at the moment, and she clung warily to the portfolio under her arm. Soon the breeze was gentle again and she resumed her pace across the rocky soil. The air was crisp over the hills and the view was as lovely as it had been throughout the spring. Meiringen was indeed quite a soothing place for a retreat. Diana only wished that she had a better reason for having come to it.

How long ago was it? Early October 1889 had been the last time she'd actually seen that peculiar detective and that tragic killing that had, ever since, been the subject of her nightmares. How awful it had been! All the blackmail, deceit, and sordid crime that only culminated in such a senseless death. Diana had thought that she could stomach it, that she could manage to quickly and responsively make all critical decisions for the sake of Charlie's reputation. The detective hadn't objected, and he'd found her knowledge useful for the case. But in the end, she had learned that she must pay a heavy price for having a keen desire to interfere.

That poor boy. She wished, selfishly, that she had not been there to see it, that she hadn't been involved enough to care. No doubt that very cool detective had experienced or known of many similar cases, and so had developed a well of insensitivity to such collateral occurrences. That was necessary for such a veteran of criminal investigation, she imagined.

But as for herself, after eighteen months of trying to recover from that horrid night, Diana could still not fully keep her mind from slipping back into the agony of remembering. After eighteen months, she could still sometimes feel the blood on her hands. So she had come here, to faraway Switzerland, vaguely hoping that the bracing air and the utter isolation from her London life would snap her back into her usual tranquillity of mind. But so far, a month of this "convalescence" had not really cured any of her mental distresses. She could only cable home that she would still be in Meiringen and only keep searching for the strength to return.

At the lake, Diana paused. Its icy blue surface had always seemed to sparkle somewhat eerily to her. She always distracted herself from it by subduing the lake into a mere drawing and by playing around with the sketch so that it became that fairy tale lake of the kind in which King Arthur had sailed away with the maidens to Avalon. But the idea was growing tiresome and not very effective, so she decided to give it up. She would go to Reichenbach instead.

Diana knew a shortcut to the Falls, unbeknownst to the general public, and she'd made good use of it these past few days. Just beyond the lake, an underground cavern opened up to the sky. She came to that ragged fissure in the ground and carefully slipped her portfolio, and then herself, through. Expertly landing on her feet, she paused to gather up her portfolio and to let her eyes adjust to the darkness, then she hurried along through the dim, moist interior of moderately large tunnels to her destination.

At last Diana heard the increasing roar of the Falls, saw the light of the opening, and reached the familiar ledge with its cover of soft, green moss. There she planted herself near the edge and put down her portfolio. Ought she to sketch that fierce rush of white water today, or merely meditate? Sometimes she could close her eyes and entirely lose herself in the echoing roar of the Falls. It was something like peace of mind.

However, that peace of mind was interrupted today. Below her, on the foot-path that curved around the cliffside, she saw two men strolling along and became vexed. Ah, and she'd thought she'd have this quiet afternoon all alone! Well, the tourists moved quickly anyway, as if they had other places to go before nightfall. Perhaps they would depart soon if she was patient.

She could not see them clearly, for the foot-path was several feet below her ledge, but they looked like Englishmen to her. One was tall and carried a walking stick, while the mustached man who strode along beside him had an able, quick, and almost military gait. They stopped at a boulder close by and leaned back, gazing at the tumultuous churning of the Falls. The taller, clean-shaven one began to look familiar to her, but she didn't know why. Diana pondered the men momentarily and opened her portfolio to draw.

"It's amazing," the shorter man shouted above the water's roar as he stared out into the magnificent view.

His companion smiled and threw back his head as he laughed quite heartily. "I should have expected more from you, Watson. Shouldn't the picturesque metaphor occur to an author like you? It sounds like a rather vague, clich├ęd thing to say."

Watson retorted with offence, "Sometimes words fail a man, dammit!"

"Yes, yes, I know," the tall fellow grinned. "But I just feel that a little imaginative, sentimental gem of yours would be very comforting to me right now."

At that almost casually thrown out statement, the frown vanished from Watson's face. "Are you in need of comfort?" His voice came more gently, though he could not lower its volume much, due to the Falls. He put his hand onto his friend's shoulder with concern.

There was a pause, then a slow answer, while the clean-shaven man kept his gaze fixed on the Falls beyond. "Yes, perhaps so," he admitted. "Perhaps the journey wearies me."

Watson nodded to him, leaning near with a look of sympathy and understanding. "It's hard, that's all." He shook his head, "Frankly, I don't know how I'd withstand it if I were you. Are you certain you don't wish to call in the police?"

Diana stopped drawing then, her ears involuntarily perked up by that word.

"No," the voice was matter-of-fact, "that would be useless. If Moriarty were to be found anywhere, they would have found him before now. He's careful, Watson. The only thing to be certain of is that he's after me."

"Then perhaps we should head back to London. It would be the one place he would not follow us to, for fear of capture. We could meet Mary then and organise some more permanent safety for ourselves."

His companion dismissed the suggestion. "No doubt Moriarty would only devise some more desperate measure to prevent us from getting back to England at all. And it's absurd, Watson, that I should wind up dragging not only you, but also your family around with me for the rest of my life! Surely you see that you ought to go home and leave me now?"

"Leave? I couldn't!"

His friend pressed again, gripping onto Watson's sleeve. "Please."

"No!" Watson grew only angrier, "In your condition--"

"Yes," he interrupted firmly, with a voice of steel, "my condition. Mine alone. It's got nothing to do with you, remember?"

With a strange mixture of pain and sorrow on his face, Watson looked away into the Falls in silence.

Relenting on his harshness, the man pressed Watson's hand and shrugged nonchalantly again. "I'm not too bad, really. You see I'm holding together?"

Watson inhaled uneasily and turned back to him, then nodded reluctantly. "As well as you can."

A slight smile twitched on the thin face. "Does it matter?" the man asked, letting go of his friend and leaning now upon his walking stick like a weary old man. "I've stopped worrying, you know, Watson. It's only one more thing to me. Only one more."

Then there was silence between them, allowing the roar of the Falls to creep in again. She stared at the strange scene below her, feeling intrusive yet still puzzled and irresistibly curious.

The taller man laid his head onto his friend's shoulder and closed his eyes, finally speaking again. "Listen to those Falls, Watson. Listen. Doesn't it make you feel... everything?"

Gazing at his friend closely, Watson touched his high forehead as though he were some patient in his care. "Come home to London with me," he implored.

"No," his voice and his frown were resolute. "It isn't finished yet, Watson; it must be ended." He reopened his eyes and raised his head, staring into the Falls. "I've infuriated him, and I don't care. There was no time for discreet manoeuvres anymore, for hiding behind another Porlock. Six years I wasted. If I've brought him down on me, it's what I chose to risk. I tell you, I have always chosen everything." Then the sharpness left his tone and he sighed, his voice very tired. "It hurts me more if you stay, Watson. It was Mary you pledged your life to, not me. I only asked you for a few spare moments. It won't be desertion if you go. Please, Watson, don't make me ask you again."

Watson was some time in finding his voice, and his eyes were troubled. "I... don't know how to. You speak so permanently, so finally, as if the parting were our last. How can I not stay with you till the end? I can't leave you alone now. And you--can't leave me."

They met each other's eyes in silence, and then the taller one stood up suddenly and stepped toward the Falls. He seemed to be hiding his face, moved by some great emotion. "Good old Watson," he said unsteadily and with an attempt at laughter, "You've talked me out of splitting once again. Could I ever refuse you?" He half suppressed some giddiness. "You want to stay old bachelors a few more days, don't you? Tell me, how long can a married man put off his duties? How long do women wait?"

Watson rose and carefully pulled his friend back toward the boulder. "No duties to avoid. I told you, she insisted on going."

"Yes! Yes indeed." He was laughing in a rather loud, unseemly way.

Watson simply checked his forehead again for a fever and nodded. "I have no objection to her remaining attached to the Forresters. They were almost her foster family, you know, and treated her with the utmost kindness. A man would be a selfish brute to not have respect for that."

His friend was finally calming. "Yes. Yes," he caught his breath and shook his head. "And you are not that. Could never be."

Watson smiled, not really at his words. "There, you'll be all right. See how we've gotten through another day?" He referred to the now darkening sky. "You wear yourself out unnecessarily. Shall we leave the Falls now?"

His companion sat up and affected surprise. "What, leave the greatest sight in all of Switzerland?" he smiled. "The churning, crashing Falls that one 'must never miss'?" He laughed with amusement. "Really, Watson, I am most disappointed in you. That you can look at all this and have to think to express it. How do you ever expect to be published again? Why, look at that monstrosity, that chasm that nature has carved. Hear the wild sounds it makes, as if it were alive. You ought to make it a poem. It'll be your next mission, to conquer verse."

Watson grinned and shook his head, turning to the white spray with that easy relish which one has only for an old joke between friends. How swiftly his friend's mood could turn!

"That's a better sight," his friend continued, "than any passive old mountain, whatever the pomp that accrues to the Alps. By what metaphor will you call it, Watson? A dreadful glimpse into the shaft of hell? Better a dull old codger of black teeth and white hair, with pretensions at grandeur. Or," his grin subdued and his voice lowered, "or a grave. A grave of the most profound and gentle sense... granting a solemn release to those fated travellers who once slip into its embrace."

Watson frowned at this resurgence of morbidity and began to speak, when someone's call from afar interrupted them.

They turned together and saw a young lad came up from further down the path, hurrying to them with a letter in his hand. The tall fellow took it and opened it immediately. "It seems it's for you, Watson. Well, well, well... Hmm? Oh I'm sorry, here you go." He handed it over and turned to the boy. "The doctor will be just a minute," he said in German, but spoke the English for his friend anyway.

Watson looked up from the letter, frowning. He tapped his companion's shoulder. "This--"

"--Is a letter from our hotel keeper of late. How clever of you, Watson. Was it the crest on the paper that tipped you off, the nice English for this part of the country, or maybe the signature at the bottom?"

"And he's asking--"

"--About some medical emergency, surely? Or else our hotel keeper has taken to writing frivolous messages and sending them quite a distance after his all departing guests, taking care to address himself only to the guest whom he actually liked." He snatched the letter back and scanned it again. "Women are always that stubborn and fearful, aren't they?" he muttered. "Is not her crisis of more moment, just now, my dear doctor, than the fact that a worried hotel keeper's hand becomes tense and thin as he writes this urgent request to you?"

Watson blinked. "Yes, it was the handwriting, actually. I hadn't noticed--"

"--That you are so easy to read. No, you wouldn't. When exactly are we going to end this boring conversation?"

Watson folded up the letter and stiffened with wounded pride. "We'll go back down to Meiringen then."

"Back?" The fellow cast off his abrupt, mocking manner and unexpectedly turned indolent. He raised his eyebrows with a pout upon his face. "But I couldn't, Watson. Are we not closer to the next village now? I can just go on and wait for you there."

"Go on?"

"Yes, I don't like backtracking this late, when the promise of tea and a lovely fire to smoke at looms so near. He did ask for you, and not me anyway, so it seems that I've already been snubbed."

Watson shook his head. "That's absu--"

"--And, to tell the truth, I'm not in the mood to see... suffering, just now."

Watson stared a moment at him. Then he sighed finally, "Alone?"

His friend and patient shrugged. "With the boy, if you like. He may be of some aid against my getting lost as it gets darker. I should treat him to a bit of dinner for having come all this way after us, shouldn't I?" He turned and spoke a moment to the young messenger. "He's agreed to stay. Does that satisfy you?"

Watson remained where he stood. "What lodgings will you take?" he pressed. "If I should miss you coming over--"

"No worry, Watson!" he dismissed. "I'll wait here a while to contemplate the sunset on the falls, and give you a head-start. When you come back through, you can bypass the detour to the Falls and will be bound to catch up to me before we reach town tonight. --Some words of comfort and a merciful sedative, of course? That will be your magic formula for her?"

The bluntness of his words caught the doctor off guard. "I will see you then," he said uncomfortably. The other man nodded. Watson stepped back and slowly turned away. His friend murmured to the lad again in German. The doctor looked back upon them once last time and then reluctantly walked away.

Leaning on the rock, the remaining man turned to the Falls again and was silent. The messenger took a seat on the ground and waited with one eye on the descending path back to town. The sun slowly descended into the horizon. So engrossed had Diana been in their talk that she had not noticed that she had entirely smudged the rudimentary drawing on her portfolio. What was it about that profile? How was it that the voice could seem so familiar?

Now there was another man coming, an aged fellow who came up the path quite rapidly, looking like some stern old professor. The boy stood up as he saw the man approach, and then the lean tourist sat up and turned as well. "Ah," he spoke to himself, "'Journeys end in lovers' meetings.'"

The boy hurriedly excused himself and left, going down the path past the spidery professor who seemed to be glaring fixedly at the tourist as he crossed the final yards of soil between him and the waiting man. He entered into speech abruptly. "You smile too much for a dying man, Mr. Holmes."

Holmes? She blinked. She leaned forward on the ledge, squinting.

"Is it not right that I should smile when I greet the man who has given me the greatest triumph of my career?"

"A career which is soon to end."

He shrugged. "A fair trade, considering that I've ended yours."

The professor seethed. "You petty thief! You insignificant little pest who thinks he can swallow me up--"

"Has swallowed you up, my dear sir. Pride aside, you must stick to the facts."

"They'll never have me in the dock."

"So I see. --It is quite good of you to keep up to me this closely, Moriarty, now that you are without your nefarious network. Pray tell me how you evaded the police this long. I should like to know, for matter of the record."

"You shall not make much use of the information."

Holmes smiled, unexpectedly bright and wistful. "As if I didn't know that all too well. How much, I don't suppose you'll ever know."

"There is not much I don't know," the professor replied. "I've known well how to protect myself, and how to trace you. I've tracked you from hotel to hotel, train to train. I've intercepted copies of your cables back to your brother Mycroft, Watson's to his wife, as well as those of the police, to keep me fully informed of how close they might or might not be to my trail. You thought abandoning your luggage at the station was clever, did you? I used it against you. I retrieved it and could always stop in anywhere, personally or through agents, to inquire politely whether the gentlemen who had lost their luggage had stayed here and where they were going, since a personal message also had to be sent to apologize for a particular item that the finder had sadly lost. All the while I kept myself from suspicious eyes, and employed various people as I went, never letting my veil of anonymity be lifted. I am no fish out of water without my network, Holmes. I am a professional, with too many years of expertise for me to be foiled and outrun by an upstart amateur like you."

Holmes only smiled at his enemy's furious tirade. "Ah, beautiful--and dreadful! Precise and swift, as I hoped it would be. I feared the possibility that you might have become less efficient lately, wasting over a week on me, when I was one of only two concerns you had left. But," he raised his hand to halt the response of the professor, "before you conclude the matter, may I request one favour? I should like to write a letter of farewell to Watson."

The professor folded his arms and scowled. "Very well."

Holmes took out a pocket notebook and began to write slowly and methodically.

She stared as the moments passed, trying very hard to recall to mind the last time she had seen that face. It was hard to believe. She still wasn't quite sure that he was the same person. However arrogantly in character he sounded now, he had been quite different just some moments earlier. How could the cold, precise detective she had met be reconciled with such a scene? She wished she could somehow get closer.

Holmes finished, tearing out the sheets and folding them neatly. He placed them on the rock and set his silver cigarette case on top.

"Well," he rose, "now comes the time for us to settle our remaining differences."

"Yes," the professor answered. "At such a time in my life, I would prefer efficiency." He ended on a reptilian hiss.

Holmes half smiled, pulling out his watch to check the time. "It was not accusation, I assure you, Moriarty. Perhaps a little unnecessary impatience on my part, arising from reasons you are not aware of. Ah, we've managed well. Just over an hour since Watson left. He ought to be arriving in Meiringen right now."

"Perhaps," Moriarty stepped forward. "Unless he stopped midway and reconsidered. I was not sure how easily the doctor could be fooled. He is your long time companion, after all."

"Yes, well, I sent him off quite assuredly," Holmes shrugged, heading with Moriarty down the narrowing path beneath Struthers.

"Or perhaps you communicated some signal to him that it was a ruse," insisted the professor. "You might well have arranged to evade me with a ruse of your own. What better trick than to appear to be falling for my decoy while in actuality having your friend depart for only a little way so that he may quickly rejoin us at such a critical moment as this?"

Holmes stopped in place and stared at the professor. "Are you accusing me of plotting unfairly against you?"

Moriarty stopped also. He looked at the Falls and at the path's sudden drop-off quite near to them. Then he looked back. "Are my words not plain enough?"

"How impertinent! Do you think me such a coward?"

"No, but I think you are a schemer. Why insist on my explanation and on your letter, if not to stall for time? You would require your friend's help for a capture, and I know that your real pleasure would be, not to see me tumble over into the Falls, but to place me in the dock, on display for all the world. Do I not read your ambition correctly, detective?"

Holmes narrowed his eyes. "Up to a point, you're right. Perhaps once I might have tried such a thing. It would do the public much greater good if the whole of your deeds were exposed to them in court, with both you and I present. I admit, I've wanted that for years."

"--To boost your career and reputation among the widest circle of the masses!" the professor accused contemptuously.

"Not for that alone. For the vindication of those you've cut down. For Birdy Edwards. For Porlock." He took a breath, and shook his head. "But you've got it wrong now. You don't understand. There are very good reasons why I prefer this now and why I would not deceive you here. If only you knew--"

"You speak repeatedly about things I do not know, Holmes! I tell you that I know everything! I've known it long before this moment, and I've taken precautions against your having the last laugh on me. My Swiss messenger has assuredly taken care of the possibility of any intervention by Dr. Watson."

Holmes blinked, his eyes wide. "What have you done?" he spoke in a strained voice.

"Only assigned a final task to my agent, for which I have paid him handsomely so that he may escape the area quickly." His smile and his look were wickedly reptilian. "Only a bit of artful sabotage. I have my uses for energetic and sly lads, too. After he left us, his task was to descend the hills and to keep an eye out for the doctor, giving me a loud signal if he should see any hesitation or turning back. In any case, his primary mission was to damage and block the path on the way to Meiringen. A felled tree here, a loose rock there--I was not too specific. No need to stifle the boy's creativity."

"My God! But Watson could be hurt! He'd not be careful in returning--"

"Well that is out of my hands, isn't it? It's essential that I have a spare hour or so of cushioning, against any delays you might feel inclined to impose, such as this prolonged conversation."

"You--!"

"Now there's the look I like to see on you, Holmes! The same confounding and infuriation that struck me when I saw you make what you must have considered your checkmate on me. Much better than that cursed complacency you began with."

"If anything happens to him, if Mary doesn't get him back--"

"Worry about yourself!" With sudden ferocity, the professor sprang at him and slammed him back against the cliff wall, his hands tightening on his throat.

Diana shrieked, horrified.

They looked up, catching a glimpse of her on the ledge above. Holmes gasped as the grip upon him relaxed for a moment, and he fought back, struggling with Moriarty.

She stared, jerking with every movement as they perilously neared tumbling over several times. If she could only do something, if she could get down somehow-- They started slipping, Moriarty at the far edge. He kept his grasp tight on Holmes, trying to make sure he would fall with him.

At last they were dropping, clutching each other. With a sudden instinct, Holmes reached out and grabbed the spare branch of a bramble that grew near to the rushing water. A jerk, a pause, and then his fall ceased. For a moment Moriarty also hung on, but abruptly he lost his now slippery hold, tumbling.

Holmes heard the scream, blinked, and then realised what he'd done. Unconcerned that the bramble was, inch by inch, being pulled out by its roots, he looked below him and then up. He squinted around the curve of the foot-path. "Watson!" he called. "Watson!" He didn't seem to be nearby. Was it true, then?

"Holmes," she called to him, "Get up! For God's sake, get up!"

He looked above again, trying to place the voice and the blurry face. He did not even try to reach for the path. He seemed to be waiting for something.

"Are you listening to me? You're falling! You won't last there much longer. Get up! Do you want to die?"

Funny that she should say that. What was taking so long? Wasn't his weight heavy enough? Wasn't the soil loose enough?

"He must be dazed," she said to herself. "Damn you, will you get up? I can't reach you from here!" She showed impatience, and he realised that he was impatient too.

Well, he might as well find out. Holmes made himself a handhold and foothold in the cliff and then began to climb.

"Oh my God! Are you mad? It's almost sheer! You'll slip. Get on the foot-path!"

He kicked the bramble out at its roots so that it fell away beneath him, dragging nearby soil as well. He repeated this process as he climbed up, both to remove any trace of him from the sheer walls and to give himself every opportunity of disastrously falling off into the Reichenbach Falls.

She bit her lip and watched silently, seeing that her words did no good. Why was he doing this? He might not make it for his friend to return and see that he had originally survived at all. The soil kept giving way beneath him, immediately tumbling out after him, and she couldn't stand it. She waited in suspense at every movement, hoping that fate would be kind today and spare his life, since he wasn't making very many efforts on his own behalf.

At last Holmes reached the ledge and she immediately snatched his hand and pulled him up and in, keeping him from the outer edge where the ground was softest and weakest due to the Falls' moisture. "Thank God! Heaven knows you wouldn't have made it without Him."

Holmes lay inside the tunnel, breathing hard and blinking. He stared at her closely and finally nodded to himself. "Yes, I do know you. What a silly coincidence."

"Silly? It's been nearly fatal! Really, I don't understand how you can live this way. I never want you throwing these abrupt death dramas in my face ever again." She breathed in and rolled her eyes, "And to think I came all this way for some peace and quiet!"

He coughed and ignored her, glancing around curiously at where he was.

"You're in a tunnel where, luckily for you, I spend most of my time lately," she said pointedly. She started to crawl around him, "Now you stay here, and I'll go back down through towards the hillside. I might be able to find your friend and guide him safely over here to you."

He suddenly snatched her wrist as she passed him. "Don't!"

"Ow!" She pulled away, rubbing the bruise. "What are you doing?"

"What's best," he said. "Stay right here."

"Holmes, stop acting incomprehensible. Your friend is in trouble right now because of the machinations of that wicked old man."

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps? You're hanging your friend's health on perhaps?" she said.

"Watson's a shrewd and sturdy fellow. He'll protect himself once his suspicions are aroused, and I think that the absence of any dying Englishwoman at the hotel will be certainly suspicious enough."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded. "It's only logical. I should have thought more clearly at the time, rather than have let Moriarty goad my emotions. He knew that he was at a disadvantage physically speaking, so he wanted to distract me so that I could not focus enough to win our fight."

"I see. But why refuse to fetch Watson? You surely need your injuries tended to?" She reached to touch a bleeding scar above his right eye.

He shrunk back with a sudden revulsion. "Leave it!" he said, covering the wound with his own hand. "I don't care," he sighed. "Just don't interfere in this, all right?"

She was stung. "Interfere in what, for God's sake? What's going on here?"

He took a breath. "With any luck, I'm dying."

"What?"

"Have been, for a long time. I tried to speed it up with this, but it didn't work. I was going to have my anger out on Moriarty, but really let him bring me down with him. I forgot myself, however, due to the unfortunate human instinct for survival, of which Darwin made us so aware." He frowned. "I was tempted to plunge myself over anyway."

She kept shaking her head with disbelief. "D-dying? What of?"

"Oh, many things. Cocaine. A broken heart. My decreasing ability at my work. The nagging fact that Watson is unbelievably happy in his perfect marriage. --From what he told me of his wife's last comments to him, I suspect that an inkling of being with child was what prompted her sudden girlishly shy visit to Mrs. Cecil Forrester."

"Wait! Wait! This is too much. I don't understand you. What is going on?"

He took a breath. "To put it simply, I have ruined my health. Also, I have lost the one dear angel who could have made a crawling existence bearable to me. I would deliberately go meet her now, by way of the Falls, but as I know she was a deeply Christian woman, I'll not risk an unhallowed action that could part me from her once beyond the grave. But perhaps these exertions will do the trick for me. I'm so tired."

She stared at him, not knowing what to say.

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