Character(s): Holmes, Watson, 3 OMCs
Summary: Why Holmes does not explain his reasoning
Warnings: gunshots, off-screen attempted sexual assault
Author's Notes: ACD-verse. Fill for July 19th song prompt: "A Foggy Day (In London Town)"
Word Count: 1017
Watson followed the lean shape in front of him, his hand on his service revolver, his eyes squinting as he scoured the fog surrounding them. Holmes had been positive that Schreyer was still tracing the false trail they had left for him, but Watson had learned long ago that there is no room for self-confidence in these investigations. Holmes might later curse himself for a fool in those (admittedly rare) occasions where he was mistaken about the degree of a man’s dimwittedness, but he had not yet stopped making those mistakes, so Watson took it upon himself: he was always sure to overestimate a criminal’s wits.
It was the result of his disregard for Holmes’s protestations of complete safety that slowed his own wits. A footprint meant little to him when half his attention was concentrated on listening for the foot that had made it. A fiber in a windowsill failed to speak to him when he was peering through the cracked pane above it to prepare for the possibility that the donor sleeve might still be around, covering a knife-harness on the street below. He could not believe that Holmes had truly failed to notice these extra demands on his attention. Once, early on, he had believed that it was the focus the detective devoted to the scene in front of him that prevented him from observing Watson’s preoccupation with the human element of their surroundings. He knew now, however, that Holmes was quick to read him, even during an inspection of a scene. Holmes could distinguish the blankness of confusion at the tweezers thrust urgently under Watson’s moustache (leading to an explanation of their significance) from the blankness of disappointment when the contents of the tweezers confirmed their darkest suspicions. Why, then, would he so often refuse to explain his thinking, or even point out the features that would lead him along his ineffable path of logic?
Tonight, thought Watson bitterly, was a prime example. He did not use the part of his mind devoted to caution to ruminate thus discontentedly, but he could feel his panting, failing attempt to follow Holmes’s thoughts falter. The footprints, for example—large feet, deep impression, heavy man, he would have suggested had Holmes asked him (he hadn’t). Why, then, the murmuring calculations that summed to eight and a half stone? The fiber was coarse wool—why natter on about petticoat lace? The fresh chip in the brick spoke fairly clearly of a violent struggle, which, in his experience, did not appeal to the type of people known as “lazy loafers,” as Holmes referred to them. Hoof prints in the dung coating the gutter—standard horseshoe, unremarkable wheel tracing, so why the rambling about goat carts?
He stiffened, hissed a warning, and Holmes stood up instantly. They started back the way they had come, but a rancid breeze was dispersing the fog faster than they could melt into it. Before they had reached the nearest doorway, three men emerged into the light, two carrying lead-weighted cudgels, the third sporting one revolver with another implicit in the threatening bulge at his belt. Watson brought his own revolver to bear, but Holmes seized his wrist. They began to run, and in that moment, Watson saw it all.
Between one heartbeat and the next, between the first and second step of his retreat, it became clear: the young woman, the daughter of their farmer client, walking here, alone, accosted by the loafers, her petticoats ripped in her struggle, leaving behind coarse wool fiber spun from her father’s sheep, rather than the lace favored by London ladies. The maroon paint left on the brick near the chip in the wall had come from her umbrella as she fought off the men; the smeared footprints in the dung told of her attempt to step into a cab, but she had not stepped high enough, being accustomed to the lower goat carts on the farm. The narrowness of the deep footprints had spoken of a reasonably slender man, but the depth betrayed extra weight, consistent with an extra eight and a half stone of burden as he strode away—about the weight of the young lady.
The insight was brilliant, illuminating. A careful explanation of each step in the reasoning could not compare to the flash of knowledge that burst in his head now. The moment of comprehension far outshone any second-hand solution. In every case, Holmes was not neglecting him; he was sparing him. To find this moment on his own even once proved the wisdom of Holmes’s action: it was the sun to a candle, the ocean to a puddle. Between the report of a gun and the impact in his back, it was the steady pulse in the wrist of a man no longer dying to the mechanical tick of a cheap watch.
Wrist—long, bony fingers were squeezing his wrist. Somewhere it was painful, bruising his skin, crushing his bones. Somewhere there was irritation as his hip and legs dragged over the rough pavement. Somewhere he was coughing as he breathed yellow fog into shocked lungs. Somewhere there was gunfire and shouting, but that somewhere was not here. In that somewhere, there was misty befuddlement; but here was the clarity of intellect, the knowledge of what had happened. Watson took refuge in the moment again: the wool skirt, the goat, the umbrella. The goat weighed eight and a half stone, and drew a hansom cab, and there were unemployed loafers with narrow boots. No—that wasn’t right, and he tried again to see, but the ocean was drying up, the sun was dimming into a candle, and the pain and noise were returning to the fore. The clarity of his thoughts faded, and he sank into the fog, waiting for the moment when the clamor in his ears would fade and the pain in his body would dissipate. For eons he waited in vain, until, between one hearbeat and the next, awareness fled. He heard the crack of a final shot, but he was gone before he could feel the impact.