New York shines like a diamond under a spotlight, glitters up against the skyline that’s always black with soot; but he’s Sherlock Holmes, and he, like his city, is a rough, rough diamond, too rough to ever get clean. His knuckles are scuffed through with red and his hat is always kept down low, over eyes that you don’t ever want to meet. It is 1947, and this is not his city, but then, where is?
“It was never the drugs,” he says, hands cuffed to the wall and his brother’s smile flickering behind his eyes like the flash of a streetlamp over the handle of a gun. (And if there’s anything his brother is--)
“Who are you talking to?” says the orderly, his eyes narrowed, which is an excellent question, as ever, and Holmes closes his eyes, tips his head back, does not wonder how his life would be without this slipshod, roughshod, needlepoint drip through his veins. No, he does not wonder. He does not wonder all night long.
“What’s your name?” she says, and it might be a question, but it’s a warning, too, a get out while you still can.
“Forgotten,” he says, and his hands don’t shake, if he tries his very hardest.
She cocks her head and smooths down her nurse whites, says, “Maybe you shouldn’t accost women in alleyways, Mr No-Name.”
“This is an alleyway?” he says, eyes travelling over hands that are shaking, no matter how hard he tries, “How very nice. I did not mean to accost you, madam, I was merely running, and, well, there you were.”
“You really don’t have a name?” she says, and Holmes laughs, says, “It will do you no good to hear it.”
“Try me,” she says, her head cocked again, challenge like nothing he’s ever seen before burning in her eyes, and he trails his fingernail down the inside of his arm, just barely pressing over lines still red, and he obliges.
“Don’t see what all the fuss was about,” she says, and starts to walk away, throws back over her shoulder, “You coming, Limey?”
He smashes his elbow into the first man’s face, shoves his knee into the second one’s solar plexus. She’s behind him with a pistol in her hand, and if it’s a gang war they wanted, they’re going to deliver. Three nights before, someone took a potshot at Watson; six nights ago there was a needle in Holmes’s arm, and, for once, he didn’t put it there. Neither of them is a gun for hire because neither of them is something so reductive as a gun. He’s a private detective, in the same way he’s also a scientist, a journalist, a weapon to point and aim and fire, deductions sputtering out like bullets. She’s a nurse, in that she can shove her hands into your guts and never even blink. She’s a nurse, in that she knows all the rights places to press to make you scream. She’s a nurse, in that she’ll break your heart and then tell you the best way to pick up the pieces.
He’s a detective, if he’s something, if he’s anything, if he can even be bothered at all. She didn’t used to be a detective, but there are worse things to be, she says, and he grins, as high on the sound of her voice as any opiate he’s ever been on, grabs her wrist, jumps through the window, does not look back.
“You love New York,” she says. It is 1951, and her hair is curled around her face in careful, glossy waves. There’s a knife in her pocketbook and her stockings are never ripped. There is a scar on her neck that no scarf will ever cover. Her clever gaze is hidden behind cat’s eye sunglasses, and her hand is steady on her arm as they walk like ghosts through the rush hour traffic of Manhattan, his lips near her ear and his eyes never on the cars speeding past them, as always, as ever.
“I love a great deal many things,” he says. His hair is shorn shorter, and there’s a gun under his arm and a cravat about his neck. All that he is says street but also says English. His shoes say poor but his pocketwatch says old money. His accent says everything it needs to, and is arranged in kind. His heart says all it needs to, and it’s hers to break, if he ever gathers the courage to tell her that, if he ever gathers the courage to be stamped into little pieces all over again. (Once was enough, he tells himself, and he’s Sherlock Holmes. Of course he knows he’s lying.)
“So you aren’t gonna leave?” she says, and he laughs, does not remember how he, in turn, remembers that scar on that long neck in the night, answers her with a press of fingers as he slides his arm around her waist, and nothing more, nothing less.
Her nylons glisten in the low glow from the neon sign outside the bar out the back of his apartment, her shoe dangling off her foot over the side of the fire escape, smoke trailing from between her lips and her hair wet and thick and never, ever, quite covering that scar.
I ought to tell her, he thinks, the way he does at the same time every night, the way he does before he goes to bed and thinks of her yet again, thinks of what would happen if he did tell her, in the kind of universe where Joan Watson would say yes to a man like Sherlock Holmes.
“I ought to turn in,” he says, and she smiles, lets smoke drift from her mouth, is death and dirt and glory, is the city, isn’t his, and he does not tell her, does not dare, goes to bed silent and wanting and nothing ever changes, not even once.
“I refuse to die in a fucking cafe in Hell’s Kitchen,” he says, conversationally, as his blood slides through his fingers in sickening waves.
“No one’s asking you to, you goddamn idiot,” she says, and her voice is steady but her eyes are full of tears.
“I was going to ask you something, Watson, but I feel it too cliche,” he says, and she snorts, as unladylike, and, thus, as beautiful as ever, and kisses him without ever having to be asked.
“I’m going to kill that bastard,” she says, pulling him in close, and he noses at that scar, forgets the pain, knows that from her lips that’s as good as scripture, better than a promise, all he’s ever going to need.
New York is a new world, but not a new world for him, because it’s a city, and all cities are the same, when their stories are sealed up and delivered with a kiss. If he grasps for sanity he clutches at straws, because seeing everything makes sanity something very relative, and very unimportant, something of checks and balances, not black and white. He does not ask to be sane, nor does he wish for it. Sanity means nine to five, means shined shoes and clean hair and fingernails that are not ragged, a man not run ragged, means to not be her rag doll in the night, one last time.
And aren’t they all the last time, that clutch in his chest, that fear that this time-- this time, she’ll see right through him? But she always sees right through him, and she always stays.
He sees the world the way a god sees it, and he is humbled by it in the way a god would never be. It’s a system, and people are not ants, but stars, the city a constellation of blooming light and sound and heat, every sensation peppered across his skin like the wing he once tattooed on his shoulder, on a cold night in Camden, a lifetime’s lifetime ago. He’s not sane, but he’s never asked to be. Not once. It does not matter what Mycroft says. Not once. Okay, so maybe. Maybe he’s been weak, once or twice, in his time, but that was then and this is now. He got bored of being weak. He got bored of being something he wasn’t. He got bored of being alone.
New York is New York, is life and heat and the roar of the subway, streets laid out in grids and the stench of sewers that are not grids at all. She is as dark as the city’s heart, and every bit as deadly. She kisses him in the night and holds him down, and he never has to ask.
She has a scar on her neck. All of Sherlock Holmes is a scar. This is right. This is the story. This is exactly how it was supposed to go.
“You make one wrong move, and your woman fuckin’ gets it,” says the latest in a long, long line of stupid men, and Sherlock Holmes steps right, smiles politely, says, “I don’t believe you’ve met my woman, old boy.”