Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (movieverse)
Word Count: 8,200
Copyright: Title is from Tides by Hugo Williams.
Summary: In spite of the occasional moments that remind Watson that, very slowly and mostly far beneath the surface, things are changing, they muddle along as they always do.
Author’s Notes: YES IT IS NOW SO LONG THAT I NEED THREE PARTS. Continued immediately on from the last bit. Thank you so much for the shiny feedback, that means a lot to me! Nothing much happens in this part either (I'm just hopelessly wordy), but I do so love my angsty pining Watson of angsty pining, so there’s lots of angst and pining and internalising to the point of implosion.
Last time I posted slash for the first time on a moving vehicle. Now I'm posting at 2:50 in the morning for the first time!
The evening advances, then withdraws again
Leaving our cups and books like islands on the floor.
- Hugo Williams
Normal people – and Watson would never dare to class Holmes in this category, because lord knows he would not fit – would want to maintain some distance after whatever their conversation last night was. Normal people would feel awkward and uncomfortable and maybe even a little embarrassed, and so they would avoid each other after a conversation such as that. Watson is not even sure that he can call it a conversation at all, but he has had arguments with Holmes in the past and they had far more shouting and clean-cut objectives in them. All he really knows is that he does not want to see Holmes until his stomach has stopped clenching.
He especially does not want to see Holmes at six in the morning, looming over Watson’s bed looking far too awake considering how much he drank last night. Watson had rather more wine at his dinner party than was at all sensible in an attempt to try and combat the way his mind felt the need to repeat every last one of Holmes’ words over and over, and his head is thumping. In fact, it is entirely possible that he is still a little drunk.
“Wake up,” Holmes says, too brightly and too loud.
If he were more awake Watson would hit him. As it is, he just blinks stupidly.
“We have a case,” Holmes announces.
Oh, no. No, Watson is not doing this. He needs to sleep and he needs to get some distance and neither of those things can be achieved if he is dragged along to whatever crime scene Holmes is looking so very enthusiastic about.
“You have a case,” he mumbles, and endeavours to pull the blankets over his head. Holmes grabs them from his hands and pulls them away.
“We have a case,” he corrects. “A startlingly vicious murder, apparently; you’ll like it.”
Watson frowns at his choice of words. “I won’t like it,” he protests. “I’m not depraved, Holmes.”
Holmes sighs, raising his eyes heavenward as though Watson is being the unreasonable one here. “You will be interested,” he says, sounding long-suffering. “And you don’t have patients this morning, so you are entirely unencumbered to come with me.”
“I deliberately ensured I would not have patients this morning so I could get some sleep,” Watson replies, a groan settling itself around his words. “And you are the famous detective here, I am just the doctor you drag along with you so someone can step in and be tactful before you are slapped by the suspects, the witnesses or the police.”
That is not quite true and they both know it, but right now Watson is willing to make it be the truth, if it makes Holmes go away and lets him go back to sleep. Or, more accurately, drifting in an out of uneasy unconsciousness, but that will do for the moment. But Holmes is still standing there looking expectant, as though he cannot understand why Watson is so reluctant to leave with him, and for the umpteenth time Watson wishes that Holmes were capable of emotions like an ordinary person. It is not that Holmes is without feeling – far from it, much as he may try to hide it and pretend otherwise – but he is incapable of things like embarrassment on anything other than an intellectual level and this – whatever this is – is not something that can be rationalised or organised on an intellectual level. Watson knows this; God knows he has tried.
It seems that Watson cannot do anything that will make Holmes want to avoid him, and while maybe he will get some kind of masochistic comfort out of that in the future, right now it makes him feel nothing but despair.
“Is there anything I can say that will make you go away?” Watson asks, without the barest shred of hope in his voice.
Holmes appears to be actually considering this, head tipped to one side slightly. “No,” he says at last. “No, I don’t believe any of the responses you are considering will make me leave.” His expression becomes a little more focused. “In any case, Watson, you don’t actually want me to leave.”
Oh, so Holmes is aware that last night happened. Watson was rather wondering. He tries to search for words but realises that it is not so much a problem of how to say anything, but a problem of not knowing what he wants to say in the first place. He swallows, and reflects that he is really not getting out of this.
“All right,” he murmurs, and comes out tightly between his teeth, “all right, let me get dressed.”
“Good man,” Holmes says brightly, and practically bounces out of the room. Watson contemplates rolling over and trying to go back to sleep, but knows that it would be futile. Holmes would probably get Gladstone in – it would not be the first time – and Watson would like to start his day without being leapt on with as much enthusiasm as their dog can muster (admittedly, this is not much; Gladstone can be as lethargic as Holmes at times, and Watson occasionally wonders if there is something about his friend that is catching). Sighing, he pushes himself out of bed and learns that he is, unfortunately, not still drunk, because if he were he would not have a headache thumping insistently behind his eyes. There is nothing about today that is going to be easy, but then life with Holmes is rarely easy and yet he will never back away. He cannot back away.
With this in mind, Watson endeavours to repress his irritation, confusion and stinging infatuation, and goes to find some clothing.
Things go back to their version of normal far too quickly; possibly, Watson reflects a little bitterly, because there is already so much that they are not talking about that adding one more evening and one sharp accusation to the list is not really a hardship. In moments when he feels less angry and helpless, though, he tries to look at the whole silly situation through Holmes’ logical eyes rather than his own; he cannot be trusted, is in far too deep. Holmes can look at things with a clarity that most people cannot, and Watson strives to gaze at it all from the outside looking in, rather than from the inside looking out, because inside it is far too blurry and claustrophobic and confusing and it has got him nowhere.
Holmes understands that this is important, and Watson can see this. It is in the moments when they are alone and the silence is not quite as easy as it once was, it is in the thoughtful looks Holmes throws him when they are both willing to pretend Watson is not looking, it is in the way his words spill from him in a way that seems more considered than usual. Watson almost wishes that Holmes could dismiss it, that they could ignore whatever it is stringing between them – because Watson would really like to believe that he is the only one here with his emotions hanging helplessly in the balance, but he is perfectly aware that Holmes, whatever he does or does not feel, is invested in this too – and yet knows that that would be impossible. They have always acknowledged Watson’s inevitable fixation, even if it has only been by mutually ignoring it.
In any case, in spite of the occasional moments that remind Watson that, very slowly and mostly far beneath the surface, things are changing, they muddle along as they always do. They track down the murderer within a few days, and their names make the paper though their pictures do not. Watson keeps the article, clipped carefully out and pasted in a book that he keeps in the lowest corner of his bookshelf. After that, things follow their usual routine. Holmes fires a bullet through the mantelpiece and tries to call it a scientific investigation and not something dreamed up in the realms of boredom, Gladstone is subjected to some kind of medical experimentation but comes out the other side of his drug-induced stupor in perfectly reasonable spirits, and there is a particularly interesting time when Holmes elects to do some kind of research (his word, certainly not Watson’s) which mainly seems to involve drinking enough whisky to kill a normal person, and then he falls all the way down the stairs and breaks a vase.
Watson thanks God that Mrs Hudson is visiting her sister at the moment, and practically drags Holmes back up the staircase to assess the damage. He is, of course, unsettlingly drunk and seems more interested in the results of whatever experiment this was supposed to be than the fact he has sliced his hand open on a shard of the vase – which Watson is hoping that Mrs Hudson is not attached to – which is not surprising. Watson tuts as he fetches water to clean the cut with and Holmes calls him an old woman a couple of times in a fond tone of voice. Watson sits in the chair beside him and carefully bandages up the wound, even though he knows that Holmes will not listen to him and will not keep it clean or dry or even covered up, because little trifling things like physical injuries and the proper care and attention of them are not things that factor importantly in Holmes’ world.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me I want this,” he remarks after a while, working on the assumption that Holmes will not remember most of this come the morning.
“Of course you do,” Holmes responds, eyes shut, sounding sleepy. “You want all of it, and when you stop pretending that you don’t you’ll be a lot happier, Watson.”
“I’m not going to pretend to be happy about the fact it is two-thirty in the morning and you could have broken your neck,” Watson half-snaps, though he cannot summon up enough real frustration in his tone. He sighs, and realises that he is still holding Holmes’ hurt hand in both of his. He thinks about letting go, but makes no move to. “Still, I’m interested in how you’re going to justify this as research.” Holmes huffs a soft sigh, the kind he gives when he is feeling put-upon and believes Watson should have figured this out for himself. Watson has privately labelled it the Isolated Genius sigh, and it always grates. “Go on,” he says after a long moment when Holmes says nothing, “justify yourself.”
Holmes opens his eyes again and, after a couple of false starts, manages to focus on Watson. “The man they have accused of the Lofting murders was supposedly incredibly inebriated when they found him covered in the blood of the victims,” he begins.
The Loftings were a respectable enough family found slain in their beds three days ago. The supposed murderer was found sitting on the front steps, hands drenched in blood; case open and shut in everyone else’s eyes. Not in Holmes’, of course; Watson supposes he should have expected this.
“It’s not your case,” Watson points out, without much hope of being acknowledged.
“They found a bottle of whisky in the man’s overcoat,” Holmes continues, voice a curious mixture of competent and wavering, “and so it can be assumed he drank the majority of it the night he committed the murders. The Loftings’ bedrooms were on the top floor of their house. I was merely trying to establish whether he would, in his inebriated state, have been able to climb the stairs and kill the family.”
Watson swallows the urge to tell Holmes that that was a particularly stupid idea, and that if he was still insistent on going ahead with it he should at least have mentioned it to Watson so he could... well, Watson is not really sure what he could have done to prevent or aid this, but being left out still stings.
“People have different tolerances to alcohol, Holmes,” is all he says aloud.
“Yes,” Holmes agrees, “but no one has a greater tolerance to alcohol than I.”
This is possibly true; in any case, no matter how much he drinks, Holmes’ mind remains far sharper than an ordinary sober person’s. Watson occasionally finds himself wondering what it would take for Holmes’ brain to slow even slightly, but suspects that whatever Holmes would need to take would kill him.
“You certainly practice enough,” he sighs, and somehow manages to make it sound less of an accusation than he means to.
Holmes ignores him – or perhaps does not hear; either is plausible right now – and continues: “In any case, in my professional opinion, he would have been far too drunk to climb the stairs without noticeable accident. He is innocent.”
“How nice,” Watson says, without much conviction.
“We must contact Lestrade without delay,” Holmes adds. “There is not a minute to lose.”
“There are many minutes to lose,” Watson counters. “You cannot stand right now: Lestrade will not listen to you. And he will not thank you for waking him at this time of the morning.” Holmes scowls, a petulant expression crossing his face. “We will contact Scotland Yard later,” Watson continues in his most placating tone. “When it is daylight and you have become a little more sober.”
Holmes sighs, but he does look tired and his eyes are half-closed already. His back will not thank him when he awakes, sprawled uncomfortably in the armchair as he is, but Watson does not feel capable of getting Holmes into bed without accidentally breaking several more fragile things. Holmes looks to where their hands are still joined, and an unreadable smile spreads softly across his mouth before his eyes close completely and he drifts into some approximation of sleep.
Watson sits and watches him for a moment, thinking every permutation of how is it even possible to be a genius and an utter moron at the same time? and pretending he does not have a fond half-smile on his own face. Holmes shifts a little when Watson finally lays his bandaged hand back in his lap but does not regain consciousness; Watson doubts Holmes will awake much before this time tomorrow, given how much whisky he has consumed. Still, he gets up and locates Holmes’ dressing gown, laying it over him in lieu of a blanket, before he himself goes to get some rest.
He does not let Holmes’ soft you want all of it drift around his mind and keep him from sleeping. Well, not for longer than half an hour, anyway.
India and Afghanistan changed him, that much is certain. Watson cannot say whether it was for better or for worse, or even when the change was wrought and how deeply it extends. It has been so long – a lifetime, it feels like, a lifetime or two or even three – since medical school, since the days when he thought the worst was merely the drip of a patient’s blood on an operating table. He learned, of course, during war, that the gush of blood when you have no operating table and you are coated up to the elbows in dirt and gore is far worse, and you cannot learn that without fundamentally altering. He is not hard, not impenetrable; he does not have screamingly vicious nightmares of dying comrades and bullet wounds; the ache in his leg and the twinge in his shoulder are occasional, unimportant encumbrances in his daily life. And yet there are pieces of him that left for the wars and that did not come back.
You leave pieces of yourself throughout the world, Watson has learned, trails of emotion and thought that remain behind you. He is still not entirely sure how much of himself he left behind in Afghanistan when they finally shipped him home, leg still swathed in bandages and barely alive from exhaustion and every last sickness his body saw fit to contract. And he does not yet know how much of himself he has given to Baker Street, to this life he fell into because nothing else would have him.
He took rooms with Holmes in spite of barely knowing him – a name in the papers, a man he had only met on a handful of occasions, a man who had intimidated him in a draughty hallway once by telling him that he knew what Watson would not even acknowledge to himself – because he was tired of living in a hotel and feeling as though his entire existence was temporary. Watson can barely remember what their home in Baker Street looked like in those early days; it was much more empty and open and less cluttered and all of the walls and ceilings were intact. He almost feels sorry for the house at times; it is subjected to just as much abuse as Gladstone and no one ever speaks up for it, just sighs when another window pane is shattered or the holes in the wall need plastering.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Holmes saved him, because he did not; Watson did that for himself, refused to cave in to sickness and exhaustion and despair, pulled together a life back in England when he returned to his home country with nothing. But, still, he can acknowledge what Holmes did for him; allowing him to help on cases, saying nothing when Watson came home and made announcements such as I’ve bought a dog (lord knows what he thought he was achieving, and he would feel guilty about bringing Gladstone into this environment, but he is glad for their dog’s existence and anyway, at the time, he did not know what Holmes was going to do to the poor thing), taking away and looking after his money so he could not gamble it all away, distracting him from fits of melancholia that threatened to swallow him whole. Watson began a new life in Baker Street with Holmes; a new life that he could never have predicted years ago when he was at medical school and had such different hopes for the world. It is not a life he could have imagined in the thick of war either; this entirely unexpected path of the mind. Nonetheless, now he is on it and embedded in this existence, he cannot imagine living any other way.
When he attempts to look at himself through Holmes’ eyes, analysing his every last emotion to its origins, Watson supposes it would be inevitable for him to fall in love with Holmes, to assume that his feelings of admiration and gratitude would spill over into something far more complex. And he can accept the truth in that statement, much as it stings to do so, because living with Holmes has also burned away most of his ability to delude himself. There are so many lies in the world already; why should Watson add to them? In any case, he can accept that part of it is thanks and relief and sheer proximity, but to label it solely as those things would be to cheapen it, to deny his emotions their full rein, to make it all seem like something that can be explained away and forgotten.
Watson will not pretend that living with Holmes and loving him at the same time is easy, or that it has not caused him considerable pain at certain times, but he would not go without the experience for the world. He does not want it forgotten; does not want it analysed and tossed aside as something crossed off a list. He wants it to remain as something that matters, even if it is only to him, and maybe that is what will remain long behind him in Baker Street. Maybe that is the part of him that has spread itself into the battered and bruised walls, the part of him that Afghanistan could not kill, although it tried its hardest.
Watson pretends to read the paper – there is no mention of either himself or Holmes in it today; they have been without a case for too long – and pretends not to watch Holmes dashing from one end of the room to the other, muttering to himself at a rate far faster than Watson can follow, hands and face liberally splashed with ink. Holmes’ boots thud loudly on the floorboards, scattering loose papers and broken glass, and Watson sighs and turns the page.
“Lord Rossiter’s daughter appears to have disappeared,” Watson observes quietly a few minutes later, when Holmes has stopped rushing from table to table and is stood staring intently at the bullet hole in their mantelpiece as though he has never seen it before.
Holmes turns to face him, surprise on his features. “Watson!” he exclaims, as though they have met quite by chance in the street. “How long have you been there?”
Watson does not look up from the article; his sigh makes the edges of the newspaper flutter. “Three and a half hours, Holmes,” he responds lightly. “We had a rather enlightening discussion about teacups and Mrs Hudson’s attempts to poison you with them scarcely forty minutes ago, remember?”
There are the broken remains of a teacup in the fireplace; Watson is really rather glad Mrs Hudson knows them well enough not to bring the best china in at the moment.
Holmes frowns and rubs a hand across his face, leaving another streak of black ink behind. “That was today?”
“It was,” Watson agrees. “And before you ask: no, you are not currently aware what day it is.” He turns his attention back to the paper. “Lord Rossiter’s daughter?”
“Ran away with a soldier,” Holmes responds distractedly. “They’re probably in Brighton right now with his regiment. You should inform Lestrade.”
Watson swallows his smile before responding: “That’s Pride and Prejudice, Holmes.”
“Ah.” Holmes scribbles down something on a piece of paper on the table nearest him. He finally looks up. “Stable boy, then, if there has been no ransom note. She has run away with the stable boy and they will be married and deeply unhappy. There is nothing more destructive than an imprudent match, Watson.”
“Indeed,” Watson murmurs dryly, and swallows the sting he gets from the words because he knows that Holmes is not making a personal remark about him. Holmes is distinctly uncertain about his own identity about the moment, let alone Watson’s, so nothing he says at the moment should really be taken into account.
He reads another three pages of the paper while Holmes murmurs intently to himself as he continues to write; lord knows what is going through his head right now, but Watson catches the words Austen and dowry and Hastings and decides he has no interest in hearing Holmes’ entire chain of thought. He does, however, decide that he will keep an eye on the Rossiter case and see how events unfold. Watson has a suspicion that Holmes is probably correct, despite not knowing any of the facts of the case and not being in anything even loosely resembling his right mind at the moment. After all, Holmes is brilliant even when he is only a hair’s breadth from actual insanity.
“My violin!” Holmes says abruptly, straightening up and looking around as though the instrument will suddenly leap up and announce itself from behind a chair. Watson’s grip on the newspaper tightens slightly. Holmes continues to look confused, a scowl tumbling across his features. “My violin appears to have disappeared, Watson.”
“Has it?” Watson asks neutrally.
Holmes’ bloody instrument is currently concealed in a box beneath Watson’s bed; it took rather a lot of subterfuge to get it from the room, but Mrs Hudson begged him to do something and Watson’s nerves were in shreds as well by that point, so he was quite prepared to do whatever was necessary to separate Holmes and his tuneless plucking of strings.
“It has vanished,” Holmes announces, “we must begin an investigation immediately.”
“Must we?” Watson asks softly. Resigning himself, he closes the paper, folds it, and places it neatly in his lap. “Perhaps it has run off with the stable boy,” he suggests.
“You are being facetious, Watson,” Holmes observes, in his this is a clue tone. Technically, it is a clue, but Holmes will not be focused long enough to follow it up. “We have no stable boy, and if we did, my violin would have the good taste not to run away with him.” Watson tips his hat back a little, and patiently waits for Holmes to remember his initial point. “You are being facetious, which implies that you know the whereabouts of my violin.”
“You played it for eight hours continuously,” Watson responds, “at which point I distracted you with afternoon tea. I don’t know what became of it after you leant it ever so precariously against the coal scuttle.”
“I played it for eight hours?” Holmes echoes, sounding confused. “I’m sure I would remember that.”
Watson settles his hands on top of the newspaper. “I doubt it,” he says. “You have been awake for nearly five days straight, after all.”
“Oh.” Holmes runs a hand through his hair, which is sticking straight up from his head as though he has been electrocuted. Watson notes a tear in Holmes’ sleeve and wonders when and how he acquired it; still, at least Holmes is wearing his own shirt for once. Watson has had quite enough of his clothing ruined by Holmes and his insane schemes. “Have I given a reason for this, old chap?”
“You wrote it on a piece of paper that is over there somewhere,” Watson replies, indicating the dozens of pieces of paper spilt on the floor. “I suspect it made sense to you initially.”
Holmes flops into the armchair beside him, scrutinising him carefully. “You should be angry with me,” he says. “You should be being outraged and anxious and other adjectives of a concerned nature. I have probably caused myself untold damage and you are usually rather cross about that sort of thing.”
“I am,” Watson agrees. “I’m doing an experiment.”
Holmes looks almost hurt. “In not caring about me?” he enquires.
Watson sighs. “I have been sat in here with you for the better part of five days, Holmes,” he says. “You have not hurt anyone and have not yet hurt yourself, so I think I am doing a perfectly adequate job of caring about you.”
“You are leaving me to my own devices?” Holmes asks, though his eyes are alight, as though he has figured something out. He probably has; he usually has.
“I’m experimenting with not being angry,” Watson says. “I’m rather enjoying it.”
“I see.” Holmes probably does see, given the smile that’s widening over his mouth, but he is in no fit state to elaborate. Watson smiles back at him for just a moment too long, and then unfolds the paper again. After a minute, Holmes gets back up and walks over to his bookshelves on what is probably some kind of hallucinated whim.
They have had this conversation twice so far; Watson wonders how many more times they will need to have it before Holmes finally falls asleep.
It takes a drugged cup of tea – Watson is a doctor, after all; Holmes is not the only one with access to chemicals with interesting side effects – to get Holmes to go to sleep, and Watson only intervenes because Holmes discovers that it is Friday and remembers that they have tickets to Cosí fan Tutte tonight, and refuses to listen to Watson when he points out in increasingly loud and less subtle ways that perhaps Holmes is not in a fit state to attend the opera. He is nearly to the door, half-wearing a waistcoat that does not belong to either of them – Watson does not want to know where and how it was acquired – when the sedative finally kicks in, and it takes some quick work on Watson’s part to prevent Holmes from colliding with the hat stand as his knees give way. He is then faced with the unenviable task of dragging Holmes back up the stairs again and putting him to bed, but at least they are not causing a public scandal of some description at the opera house, and Mrs Hudson’s expression of fond relief is almost a reward in itself.
Holmes sleeps for the better part of the next two days. Lord Rossiter’s daughter turns up, having actually run away with the stable boy (much to Watson’s quiet amusement and her father’s reported horror) and the newspapers have a delighted field day. Watson’s patients comment favourably on how quiet the house is, and he almost feels guilty because the peacefulness will not last; it never does. And, finally, against all the odds, Watson has realised that he does not want it to.
That may not seem like an important thing, it may only seem like a small observational thought, but the first thing Watson learned upon moving into Baker Street (other than to duck immediately when told to) was that the little details are the most important. And this one? This one could be everything.
Watson bides his time on this one, keeps it to himself until he thinks that Holmes is in a mind to receive it. They have a case that is wrapped up in a day and a half – an open-and-shut case of theft that pretends to be far more interesting than it is, and when Holmes points this out in a loud tone of voice Watson can almost hear Lestrade’s teeth grinding – and Holmes gives every sign of being busy and happy and not at all tangled up in his own head. Watson likes him like this, likes it when it is easy and he does not have hold together their world in Baker Street. And yet. And yet.
It is a wet evening, raindrops thudding against the windows, and they have drawn the curtains and closed themselves inside. It is Mrs Hudson’s night off; she left with a number of anxious backwards glances, as though suspicious that the current state of peace cannot last and Holmes will blow the house up in her absence unless Watson is extremely vigilant. They have made their poor landlady rather paranoid over the last couple of years, Watson reflects; but not entirely without good reason. She takes the messes and mysterious noises and blind destruction and unsociable and unsuitable habits in her stride, and Watson knows many people who would not do that. Mrs Hudson, too, has become quietly fond of Holmes’ eccentricities; it seems to be an inevitability.
The dying fire is the only light in the room and Holmes is sprawled comfortably in an armchair reading the newspaper by its soft glow. His skin looks almost golden and Watson has to keep forcing himself to pay attention to the medical journal currently lying in his lap. He has read the same paragraph six times in the last ten minutes, and not one word has permeated his brain. It seems that the matter is hopeless.
Finally, he decides he may as well say something; he will have no peace of mind until he does, and it is always nice to remind Holmes that he is not the only one with the answers.
“I don’t want you not to be you,” he says quietly, and Holmes’ head snaps up. “That’s it, isn’t it?”
Holmes’ smile is fond and a little amused. “You’re lucky I am intelligent enough to unravel that thought.”
“Holmes.” The name breaks a little in his mouth. Watson does not know what he is saying; what he is trying to say. Still, he cannot be playful right now, cannot bat words back and forth until meaning tips out almost incidentally and certainly unintentionally. Holmes must see this on his face, because his expression softens a little. It is entirely impossible to know what he is thinking, but this is nothing new and is something Watson has become accustomed to.
“Yes,” Holmes says quietly, and his expression is the carefully sombre one he uses for things that actually matter; cases of brutal murder and abduction , Irene Adler. Maybe Watson, sometimes, when he is lucky. “Yes, that’s it.”
The medical journal slips off Watson’s lap to lie among the other papers on the floor. “Then that’s what I want from you, isn’t it?”
Holmes hesitates, just a fraction of a second. “What is?” he asks, but Watson knows that he is not asking the question because he does not know the answer; he wants to know if Watson knows the answer. Always so careful, and it must be difficult to be Holmes; knowing almost everything there is to know about everyone, but never sure what they themselves know. It must be tiring.
Watson’s nerves nearly fail him, but they have come this far and until he comes clean and says it aloud, their lives will never quite return to normal. There will always be this, left unsaid and simmering beneath the surface.
“I want you,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper, “I want you and every last inch of your failings, your flaws and your ridiculous bad habits.”
Holmes says nothing, and after a moment Watson realises that he has managed to surprise him. This is always an achievement; it is nigh-on impossible to surprise Holmes, who seems to know almost everything before it actually happens. But right now Holmes is staring at him, dark eyes wide, and does not seem to have any words at all. Watson does not know how long the breathless moment of silence lasts; his chest feels so tight that he cannot breathe and when his fingers curl into his palm he realises he is trembling. Eventually, he forces himself to move.
“I need some air,” he says, pushing himself to his feet, the barest hint of an excuse. “It’s stuffy in here.”
He has scarcely taken two steps towards the door when Holmes’ hand lands on his shoulder and he spins him around. Watson opens his mouth to speak without any idea what to actually say, and then there is no need to say anything because Holmes’ hand slides up from his shoulder to curl over the back of his neck, and he pulls him down, finally, oh God, finally, into a kiss.
For a few seconds it is surreal; completely surreal to be here, Holmes’ mouth sealed to his, his fingertips hard against the nape of his neck. And then Watson forgets all about the strangeness of finally getting what he has craved for far longer than he can ever admit and focuses instead on the warm heat of Holmes’ mouth, the strength of the body pressed against his; cataloguing details, he realises in shock. Cataloguing and listing details as though this were a case, as though he is actually going to record this in a story later and does not want to forget a single thing.
Watson clenches a hand in Holmes’ – mercifully clean for once – hair, learning the texture of Holmes’ teeth with his tongue. Holmes half-pushes him, Watson stumbles back, and the backs of his thighs hit a table, sending something fragile to crash on the floor. Watson hears it smash distantly, as though it is a long way away, pulling Holmes closer and not even hesitating for a second to look at the damage. Right now, he does not care if they broken a priceless, irreplaceable artefact or even Mrs Hudson’s favourite tea set, as long as Holmes is stood between his open thighs, teeth catching Watson’s lower lip.
They part for breath, foreheads pressed together, and Watson keeps his eyes closed because it is almost too much. He has lived so long with this claustrophobic longing that for it to be actualised is almost more than he can stand, though of course he can and will stand it. Oh, God, will he stand it.
Holmes presses a soft kiss to Watson’s lips, pulling away before Watson can deepen it, adding another kiss to the corner of his mouth and then trailing a line of them up Watson’s jaw. Watson hears a soft moan escape him and Holmes’ hand slides up into his hair, thumb stroking the nape of his neck in a way that makes him shiver. Holmes repeats the motion, adding another kiss just beneath Watson’s ear, and that is when the moment shatters, when reality skids back in.
Watson knows Holmes well, far too well in fact, and he knows his habits. He can hear Holmes’ breathing, now, pressed this close; the desperation of earlier has faded to be replaced with something far more even, far more thoughtful. Holmes is thinking about this, Watson realises; he is thinking through his every move, intently figuring out exactly what Watson wants. Passion has vanished; in its place is something almost clinical, detached. It is ridiculous that Holmes is dropping feather-light kisses along Watson’s neck and yet Watson has realised that Holmes has slipped away; Holmes is no longer thinking of him as Watson, but as merely as a body that needs to be pleasured, with a list of points that can be crossed off as each one is achieved.
He briefly wonders if this is something Irene had to deal with.
Now he has realised this, Watson cannot continue. He cannot sit here and have Holmes calculate what he wants. This should be instinctive, exploratory, and it is not.
“I’m not one of your bloody experiments,” Watson gasps out.
Holmes stiffens immediately, and pulls back enough for them to be able to look at each other in the half light. “I know that.”
“No, you don’t.” Watson can hear desperation in his tone. “You’re analysing what you think I’ll want. You’re not here with me, you’re in some fucking box in your head ticking things off as you try them and using them as calculations for your next action. You know you are.”
The worst part, the very worst part, is that Watson knows that Holmes is not doing it intentionally. It is just the way he is; even in the throes of what ought to be passion, his clinical, scientific mind is still whirring away. He is like a machine, and Watson already knew this, and finds himself wondering how he thought it could be any different.
Anger is paling, starting to be replaced with humiliation. Holmes can somehow work out exactly where Watson wants him to touch him and how and yet Watson cannot even distract Holmes from his own thoughts for more than a minute. He feels stripped naked, feels stupid, feels like a puppet being dragged about by an unintentional puppet master. And Holmes is not helping, standing there wordlessly, eyes wide with something that might be guilt or shock or regret or resignation; Watson honestly cannot tell.
“I can’t do this,” Watson says, breathless, and when he pushes Holmes back the other man goes without argument, stumbling a little. “I just- I just can’t.”
He wrenches the door open, hands shaking.
“Watson!” Holmes shouts urgently behind him but Watson does not look back, cannot look back. “John!”
Watson pauses long enough to take his coat, hat and cane from the hatstand, and then walks out into the pouring rain, slamming the front door behind him.
Despite spending more of his time chasing after criminals than really befits a doctor, and more of his life than is really healthy looking after the day to day aspects of Holmes’ life that his mind, working on several levels above an ordinary person’s, somehow fails to notice, Watson has still managed to maintain a few friendships outside of Baker Street. It is to one of these friends that he goes now: a bachelor and a doctor who will not mind Watson banging on his door at eight-thirty at night and asking for sanctuary in his spare room. Well, Watson will probably not use the actual word ‘sanctuary’ in his request; it will give entirely the wrong impression. Or perhaps too much of the right one.
“That nutter finally blown the house down, then?” his friend asks good-naturedly, not batting an eyelid at Watson’s abrupt appearance or distinct lack of overnight bag. There is almost the sense that he has been waiting for this to happen, for Watson to crack and run from Holmes. He distantly wonders if his other friends have been waiting for this too, but the thought makes him feel distinctly nauseous and he abandons it only half-formed.
“Something like that,” Watson mumbles, and follows him upstairs.
It takes two days for Watson to muster the courage and conviction to return to Baker Street. He does contemplate not returning at all; running for his life and his sanity and never looking back. But he could not do that; not to himself and not to Holmes. Even if things are ridiculous and broken and far too tense between them, Watson cannot leave him, cannot leave the life he has formed behind, just for the sake of his shattered pride. In any case, he has neglected his practice for too long and he has patients this morning, and Mrs Hudson is probably at her wits’ end by now. So it is in a borrowed shirt and with more than a sense of trepidation that Watson gets a hansom back home and stands on the steps for a long moment, looking up at the lantern painted with 221b. He glances up at the windows, but cannot tell if Holmes is looking out or not, if he is watching Watson’s moment of indecision.
Finally, he unlocks the front door and walks in. Everything looks as clean and neat and tidy as it always does and Watson feels for a minute as though he has been away a lot longer than a mere two days and three nights. At least the house is still standing; he thanks heaven for small mercies.
“Doctor!” Mrs Hudson looks helplessly relieved that he has returned, and throws her arms around him in a gesture that is probably improper and undignified and right now Watson does not care, just hugs her back. “Thank heavens you’ve returned,” she adds finally, letting go of him and straightening her composure again.
“What’s he done?” Watson asks, resignation in his voice, aware that he is at least partially responsible for whatever horrors Holmes has been inflicting on Mrs Hudson over the last couple of days.
“Nothing,” Mrs Hudson responds. When Watson frowns, she continues: “Nothing at all. He’s locked himself in his room and hasn’t come out. When I try and get him to let me in he yells something dreadful.”
“I’ll sort it out,” Watson promises, though part of him is wondering whether he can.
He knocks sharply on the door, and his stomach turns over when, for just a little too long, Holmes does not reply. Holmes must know he has returned; he will be able to tell from Watson’s gait on the stairs, will have heard the cab draw up and will have created appropriate conclusions. Holmes cannot ignore him; Holmes has never ignored him. Watson bangs again on the door.
“Open up now, Holmes, or I swear to God I’ll break the door down!”
After a moment, there is a fumbling with the lock and Holmes wan face appears, graced with a slightly sheepish smile. “No need for violence, old boy.”
He looks more worn than Watson has ever seen him, and he does not know how to react. Words once again fail him and they stand there – Holmes cut in half by the door, Watson hesitating in the hallway – and just stare at each other. Finally, Holmes steps back, pulling the door the rest of the way open, and allows Watson in.
The room is in more of a state than usual, papers lying every which way, books cracked open and left haphazardly around as though tossed aside when their contents proved to be uninspiring. One table has been swept entirely clear, random objects scattered across the floor, and the whole room is thick with pipe smoke, suffocating and airless. The curtains are still closed, leaving the whole space dingy and dark. There are two clear lines through the papers on the floor, as though Holmes has been pacing long enough to kick the debris out of the way, and Watson takes a moment to look around at the carnage before finally turning to look at Holmes.
His friend appears to be very tired, but he is also horribly, damnably sober. This is important, Watson thinks; this is far too important. He is enveloped in his dressing gown, hair a messy, uncombed shock, but he appears fine until Watson glances down and notes a mess of bruising not quite hidden by Holmes’ sleeve.
“Sit down,” he says quietly, steel threaded through his tone, though he can hear the concern in his voice and if he can then that means Holmes definitely can. Holmes, obedient for once in his life, settles himself in one of the armchairs. He twitches slightly when Watson perches himself on the chair arm, taking Holmes’ bruised hand, fingers quivering, but although they both notice it neither of them mention it. Watson examines Holmes’ hand carefully, pressing down on the scraped knuckles with a little too much attention to detail.
“What did you punch?” he asks, careful to keep his voice light, nonchalant.
“The mantelpiece,” Holmes replies, tone matter-of-fact. “It is remarkably solid, by the way. I was impressed by the craftsmanship.”
“What’s remarkable is that you have not broken your hand,” Watson tells him, and a sting of worry slips into the words. He does not add I do not see why you feel the need to hurt yourself, because that would be a lie. It is what Holmes does; when things are complex and uncontrollable on an emotional level, Holmes sorts them out in his mind with physical pain. Normally, he goes to the Punchbowl, forces out his anger on other people, comes homes bloody-mouthed and calmer. He has not done that in this incidence and Watson is relieved; Holmes is in a far better state than he expected to find him. And perhaps that should hurt, except that Watson is endeavouring to be calm about this whole situation or it will drive him mad.
Holmes is watching him carefully, eyes narrowed, and Watson does not particularly want to know what he is thinking right now. “That isn’t your shirt,” Holmes observes at last, as Watson concludes that the mantelpiece has caused no lasting damage, and certainly no damage that requires medical attention which is, if nothing else, a novelty.
“No,” Watson agrees. “But then I did leave here with nothing to wear, and it’s always nice to bring new clothes back, if we’re going to continue with this damned barter system.” He manages a smile. “Where did you get that waistcoat you were trying to wear to the opera from?”
Holmes ignores the question. “That is not a new shirt,” he observes. “The top button fell off at some point and has been sewn back on by someone with apparently no working knowledge of needlework and with thread of just the wrong shade of cream.”
Watson is responsible for all the mending in the house – Mrs Hudson is put-upon enough as it is – and therefore feels that Holmes should not really be in a position to comment on needlework at all. Still, he shrugs. “Well,” he says, “I’m sure the state of the buttons will cease to matter when you steal it from me sometime next week and blow something up all over it.”
There is the sound of the front door opening again; Watson assumes that his patients have begun to arrive. Holmes must realise this too, as Watson lets go of his injured hand, because his expression suddenly takes on an urgent air.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Watson replies calmly, his voice a study in steadiness. “I don’t ever want to talk about it, all right?”
Holmes looks troubled, but after a moment concedes: “all right.”
There are footsteps on the stairs; Watson can hear Mrs Hudson’s voice and the lower register of whoever his first patient of the day is (he has clean forgotten, but he supposes he will find out in a moment).
Watson presses a kiss to Holmes’ temple. “Everything can be analysed but that doesn’t mean everything should be,” he whispers against Holmes’ hair before he stands up. It is the only thing he will say on the matter; he is determined that it will be. “I would tidy up in here a little before we let Mrs Hudson in,” he advises. “She’ll have a fit otherwise.”
“Everything is where it ought to be,” Holmes says with calm confidence.
It is not, and they both know it; they exchange something approaching real, genuine smiles before Watson leaves, telling himself that things will somehow all be fine. Somehow.