This is a sketch of how Holmes returns to Watson in DIM, after three years. That would make it Chapter 20 in the DIM outline. Part of this sketch was previously posted on Holmesslash in answer to a story challenge for Holmes's point of view in EMPT. In that version, Mary was not alive, and Watson made up with Holmes rather unrealistically and quickly.
This version is more about slashy angst, because Holmes still loves Watson, but knows that Watson is married. I've decided for now to keep the Ronald Adair mystery in the story. Please forgive my slipping in and out of present tense, as I often do in my sketches.
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: Chapter 20 of DIM
Warnings: PG, slash, hetero
Holmes reads Watson's FINA in the Strand in Dec 1893 and can't believe that Watson is still grieving him two and a half years later. Why should he speak of a painful "void" in his life, or be bothered by the letters of Colonel James Moriarty? So Holmes is finally convinced that he must return, and tell Watson the truth. It takes them a few months to travel back to London, and they arrive in April 1894. [Or perhaps they came earlier, and there is some explanation for the chronological discrepancies of 1894?]
After giving Holmes a pep talk, Struthers agrees to separate and give him the privacy he needs. Perhaps she goes to get his wax head made from photographs? She does, however, expect to hear from Holmes soon, whenever the Adair case is wrapped up. Perhaps even earlier, if Watson does not decide to forgive him and help him.
Holmes left Baker Street in disguise that evening; he felt that he ought not to startle Watson the way that he had startled Mrs. Hudson by just showing up on her doorstep, suddenly alive after three long years. She had actually shrieked and cried and trembled to see him. He had had to spend nearly an hour calming her down and assuring her that he was indeed not a ghost. Watson would probably be greatly affected as well, so Holmes armed himself with a flask of brandy in his pocket, so that it would be handy as soon as Watson said that he needed a stiff drink.
So to break the news gently, Holmes wore the costume of an elderly bookseller. He would come visit Watson at his practice in Kensington and would start an amiable chat with him.
First he would mention Watson's nameplate outside, and ask whether he were actually speaking to the Dr. John H. Watson who had been friend and biographer to the great Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Dismissing any protestations of modesty, he would compliment Watson on his famous stories published in the Strand, and mention the date as being close to three years now since the detective had been lost at the falls in Switzerland. Then he would ask if it were really true and definite that Holmes must be dead at the bottom of the falls; after all, might not the detective be faking his death for some secret purpose?
If Watson could not reason from such clues dropped in their conversation, then Holmes would simply strip off his wig and makeup before Watson's eyes to reveal the truth. Then perhaps they would both need a drink.
Holmes stooped and shuffled to Kensington with the gait of man nearly a foot shorter than himself, and he carried several books with him. It was an odd balancing act, and considerably slowed his progress, but it allowed for ample time to think.
Holmes certainly needed to think, for his plan was not yet complete. There still remained the next crucial step, explaining his false death--what had really happened at Reichenbach, where he had been since then, and most of all, why he did not confess before now. But would Watson even want to listen to his explanations? To hear him out at all? Or would he naturally assume the worst, that he had been cruelly deceived and used in some scheme like Holmes's malingering to capture Culverton Smith? What if Watson threw him out and refused to ever see him again?
Frowning, Holmes realised suddenly how plausible that outcome was. Watson was a forgiving soul, but even he had limits. After all, they had once... loved each other. Holmes still loved him even now, and could not bear causing him such grief. But what if his return only wounded Watson more? What if seeing Holmes alive incensed him and hurt him? What if it killed any last shred of love that remained in Watson's heart?
Oh God. Holmes halted in his tracks and went pale. He was a fool. Suddenly Holmes wanted to turn around and head back to Baker Street, to hide there and wallow in his misery. But of course Mrs. Hudson would probably push him out again, insisting that he go tell the doctor the news. Or worse yet, send a message to bring Watson to him for an explanation.
Well then perhaps he could sneak back to Struthers' old house instead? Break in and hide out there until she returned from France. She would give him another stern lecture and force him back to London, but until then he could at least delay his heartbreak again.
But Holmes reproached himself for being a selfish coward once more; what did his own heartache matter? Watson had been suffering for nearly three years now.
Trying to steel his courage, Holmes looked up then and saw a man who looked very much like Watson coming towards him. Brown hair, moustached, medium height, with a rugby-player's build and a doctor's black bag in his hand--he looked just as Holmes remembered him. Holmes was seized with dread and turned immediately away. Never minding his disguise as an old man, he strode quickly to the other side of the street and turned the corner.
Holmes realised that he had now entered Park Lane, for a curious crowd had gathered around the house where the mysterious murder had taken place. A young would-be detective was espousing some theory to all the spectators, and Holmes decided that he could lose himself in the crowd and wait there until he knew for certain that Watson was nowhere near. As Holmes shuffled forward, though, he collided with a man who was simultaneously backing away from the crowd, so that, in one fell swoop, Holmes's armload of books suddenly toppled to the pavement.
"Oh, dear!" spoke a contrite voice over Holmes's shoulder, as he stooped lower to reach the tomes. A hand also touched Holmes's elbow with polite concern. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there."
The soothing voice startled Holmes, who recognised it and now looked up into the all too familiar face. Watson. Then the other fellow--?
"Here, let me." Watson bent down and graciously gathered up the scattered books for him, while Holmes just stood staring.
Unlike the other doctor Holmes had seen, Watson now had some grey hair and his face looked even older than forty-two. What had happened to him?
"There now." Watson dusted the books off carefully and handed them back to the old, deformed man before him. "No harm done, I hope?"
Holmes was not capable of answering. Idiot! Of course Watson had aged. These had been three very trying years. He had done this to Watson.
"Sir?" Watson blinked and looked genuinely concerned by the old man's paleness. "Are you all right?"
Holmes's throat remained dry. He did not know what to say or do.
Still Watson went on, "Sir, I'm a doctor, and--'"
Before Watson could come closer or touch him again, Holmes cursed suddenly and turned around, clutching the books as he rushed away. Not on the street. Not like this. He couldn't.
Watson was just left standing there, staring after the elderly man. From this gruff response, perhaps the books were quite precious to him. Evidently he was a bibliophile, rather than a bookseller indifferent to his wares.
Walking around in circles, Holmes needed quite a while to calm down and recover from his shock. He exhaled slowly and shook his head. He had been an idiot to mistake the younger doctor for Watson; his mind had indulged in a nostalgic fantasy, a memory of Watson in his prime, back when they had been lovers. When they had been happy, or so he had thought. Their affair had been all too brief, and he had failed miserably at trying to make Watson genuinely happy.
Holmes sighed. As ever, he could not be rational about Watson; this stubborn emotion would torment him forever, it seemed. Perhaps it was a punishment for their sins, and Holmes knew now what Watson's punishment had been: these three years of grief.
Unable to bear the thought that he had done this to Watson, Holmes finally swallowed and knew that he must get this over with. He must tell Watson the truth and relieve his grief, even if only to replace it with fury and outrage. Holmes owed Watson the chance to hit him or scream at him, hurting him as he so very much deserved.
So finally he forced himself toward Kensington gloomily, with the books feeling even heavier than before. Holmes soon arrived at Watson's practice and stared achingly at the building for a moment, then went up to the door. He remembered his disguise and stooped accordingly.
The maid of course took him for a patient, and let him inside. Holmes gestured to his books and mumbled something about seeing Watson on other business, so the maid redirected him from the surgery to Watson's study.
Holmes shuffled in slowly while Watson removed his reading glasses and raised an eyebrow in surprise.
He recognised the old bibliophile, but not of course the man underneath, and he gestured invitingly toward a chair. "What can I do for you?" Ever the doctor, he looked with concern and hope that perhaps he could assist the old man.
As the maid shut the door, Holmes fumbled first for words appropriate to his character. "You're surprised to see me, sir," he croaked, thankful to have the bookseller to fall back on until he felt ready to tackle the difficult task at hand.
Watson nodded and, at the same time, helped the old fellow place the load of books down on his desk.
Holmes sat down and continued, "Well, I've a conscience, sir, and when I chanced to see you go into this house, as I came hobbling after you, I thought to myself, I'll just step in and see that kind gentleman, and tell him that if I was a bit gruff in my manner there was not any harm meant, and that I am much obliged to him for picking up my books. "
Watson graciously dismissed the incident, and even apologised in turn for making the poor fellow hobble all this way. "I hadn't seen you behind me. Did you try to call out?"
"No, sir. I, uh, worried that you might rush away to escape any more ill-tempered curses from me. I behaved quite terribly to you." And he meant it.
"You make too much of a trifle." Watson smiled gently. "I did worry for your health, though. Have you a doctor? Perhaps I could examine you?"
Holmes shook his head and glanced away to the floor. "I'm fine," he lied softly, though he was tempted to murmur sadly, "You are already my doctor." But no, he should stick to the plan. It was more rational and would help keep Watson's shock in check. He absently touched the flask in his hidden pocket.
Watson insisted, "You look quite pale, Mr--?"
Holmes looked up again to reply, but those kind, beautiful eyes distracted him. Forgetting to introduce himself or to mention the nameplate, he abandoned his planned script altogether. "Well, sir," he began, "if it isn't too great a liberty, I am a neighbour of yours, for you'll find my little bookshop at the corner of Church Street, and very happy to see you, I'm sure."
Holmes made a mental note to add purchasing a bookshop on the corner of Church Street to his disordered plans. Perhaps he could keep up this charade for a few days and drop in on Watson for "neighbourly" conversations until he felt completely ready to reveal himself? But no, there was still Mrs. Hudson to protest any further delay. How desperate was he becoming?
Watson tolerated the change of subject, considering it a sign of senility. Or perhaps he was supposed to know the man's name from his shop?
Having brought up the subject of his books, Holmes showed off his selection of titles to Watson and then rambled on about stocking Watson's own bookshelf. Starting to run out of words, Holmes pointed out an empty space on the bookshelf behind Watson.
Watson politely turned his head, and Holmes rose from his chair, feeling a desperate need to reveal himself. To grasp Watson's shoulders and say, "I'm here! I'm Holmes. My dear Watson, how I apologise..." Holmes opened his mouth to say, "Watson," but the doctor turned back around just then.
Watson's eyes widened at the now very straight and tall posture of the old man, the sudden light intensity in his grey eyes, and the oddly familiar shape of his face and hands, beneath all the wrinkles and white hair... "Holmes!" he suddenly cried out, pale and breathless.
Holmes blinked, realising that he seemed to have already shed his disguise without knowing it. Relieved and pleased by Watson's sharp eyes, Holmes removed the wig and as much makeup as he could pull off without soap and water. "I-I owe you a thousand apologies--"
Before he could get far, however, Watson rose unsteadily from his chair. His voice no longer worked, and his eyes clouded over until he suddenly fell back in a faint.
"Watson!" Holmes rushed to him with concern.
After catching Watson, Holmes laid him gently upon the desk, then went to lock the door. He needed privacy to explain, and he certainly didn't want Watson's wife or child to interrupt.
Then Holmes comes back around the desk and moves Watson to lie on the floor. Undoes his collar and pours brandy from his flask. Can't help running his hands through Watson's hair.
At last Watson blinks and revives; he's still astonished and looks at Holmes hazily.
"Watson, my love."
Watson is touched, to hear Holmes call him that, after all these years.
But it's an unintentional slip. "I mean, my friend." H apologises immediately, and babbles that he meant to break it to him gently.
W clutches his arms, to feel that he's real. He's actually alive, not some figment of his imagination, his memory.
Holmes swallows nervously.
W sits up and asks how he survived Reichenbach. Still not angry yet.
H says that it's pure luck that he had not fallen in; he had not meant to live, or to deceive W so cruelly. He explains that he did fully intend to die at Reichenbach, because of his grief over Helen Stoner. "I'd lost you to Mary Morstan, and now I'd lost her too. It was more than I could take, and with Moriarty gone, so too would be my usefulness."
"But I found myself alive after all, so I determined to disappear and get myself killed some other way. Why tell you and have you suffer twice? So I lived in secret, and hoped that you would be happy without me around, always clinging to you. I could not continue to make demands, when you had a family to think of."
"Your child." He explains that he had deduced Mary's pregnancy.
W is amazed, since Mary had not even told him of her condition at the time. He explains to Holmes about their bereavement (the miscarriage).
H is stunned and sorrowful. Squeezes his hand. "My dear Watson, I'm so sorry. Oh God, is that why you wrote of the void in your life? You were grieving not only for me, but your child?"
"You read my story?" Surprised.
"Yes, it was why I came back. I could not believe that you should still feel such pain for me. And strangely I was right, but in the worst possible way. Oh Watson!"
"I'm all right, Holmes. For me the tragedy is nearly two years old, you know." Does not explain, though, why Holmes's death still affected him for three years. "I-I am taking it better than Mary is, though." W sighs and says Mary is away at the moment being treated again for depression. (Or perhaps is on holiday with the Forresters, trying to cheer her up?)
"Yes, I suppose a woman would take it very hard." H says that Mary needs an occupation to get her mind off it. Perhaps she should found a distaff detective agency or become the head of a school, like Violet Hunter did? "Work is the best antidote to sorrow."
W raises his eyebrows at the suggestion. "You didn't approve of Mary's handling of the Sutherland case."
"She hardly does what I approve of." But then falls silent. He feels guilty, because he again is wishing that there could be some way to keep Mary away, so that he could have Watson back for himself, to spend endless hours in his company. Even with no hope of more than his friendship.
W touches his face and almost smiles.
Trying to be less selfish, Holmes softly says that they should try again for a baby. "If ever a man was meant to be a father, you were."
Stunned, Watson is quite touched and hugs him for the first time since his return.
Holmes savours it, but tries not to cling, not to ache for him again.
Watson finally lets go and straightens his collar now. He decides to get up. Helping Holmes up from the floor, he says, "You need to clean up. Come, wash up and change your clothes. You can borrow mine."
They go to the door, but Holmes hesitates. "Do you really forgive me?"
"I-I can understand," but Watson frowns and shakes his head disapprovingly. "You should not have tried to die, and you should have told me long ago. Where have you been all this time?"
"I shall explain to you. Perhaps you would let me stay here for dinner and tell you everything?"
"Certainly dinner, and you'll stay the night too. I'll have the maid prepare the guest room. Where are your things? At a hotel?"
"No, um," H confesses that he already went to Baker Street to tell Mrs. Hudson. He also mentions the case, and that he had to prepare the rooms for them. Says it's a secret and dangerous mission.
"A case? Already?" Watson agrees to come along, and goes to the door, unlocking it. "Holmes, why did you--?"
"I thought perhaps you should like to berate me in private."
Watson tells his maid to make dinner for two tonight, as his guest was staying. Telegrams Mrs. Hudson at Holmes's request.
Holmes goes to wash up and change clothes in the guest room. He borrows a dressing gown while waiting for Mrs. Hudson to send over a change of clothes. Against his better judgement, he caresses and smells the dressing gown. Then tries to shake off the fantasy. At least he still had Watson's friendship; at least he could be forgiven. Should not ask for more than that.
Over dinner they discuss all that's happened in the past three years. H tells him in detail of travelling with Struthers and getting over cocaine again. "She's returning from France soon. I'll introduce her to you."
Watson does gradually get angry and annoyed at the length of Holmes's deception. "You were well again within months!"
"I was not well! I was in despair."
"You could not even write to me? Send me any shred of hope?"
Still, they make amends enough to leave for Camden House. Holmes goes on ahead to finalize arrangements with the police.