Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"These Things Were Promises [4/5]", Sherlock Holmes, Holmes/Watson

Title: These Things Were Promises [4/5]
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (movieverse)
Pairing: Holmes/Watson
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 9880
Genre: Slash
Copyright: Title is from Tides by Hugo Williams.
Summary: Holmes raises an incredulous eyebrow. “I am slightly concerned as to your definition of ‘fine’, Watson.”
Author’s Notes: Well, here we are, dear readers, at The Part Four That Was Never Supposed To Happen, Because It Was All Supposed To Resolve Itself In Part Three. To be followed in the near future by The Part Five That Was Really Never Supposed To Happen, WTF. Apologies if I’ve fucked up the use of laudanum; I did google it a lot (and got directed to websites telling me I could make it myself, which I considered, but I’m enough of a lightweight as it is...) Anyway. Oh God, the angst really got itself comfy in this part, if you thought it was bad in the other bits... I’m really not running this show any more, guys. I’m just sitting back and watching the wreckage. But I am enjoying the hell out of it nonetheless.

{Part One} | {Part Two} | {Part Three}



There’s blood on the ground, mixed with dirt and sand, thickly crimson and glittering and he had never seen blood like that before he came out here; there was something clinical about it at medical school, something wholesome and life-giving about it and here it is merely tragic and ugly and vicious, seeping out and lost too often. He does not know if the blood is his own or not; he cannot feel his body and his ears are ringing, full of shouts and screams and his own voice is ripping out of his chest in endless gasps and strings of words, desperate, meaningless babble. He thinks he is running; thinks something is holding him back, catching him, throwing him to the ground, preventing him from moving. Someone is sobbing, he thinks, and he wants to help them but there are harsh rough explosions rattling around them and the constant spitting of Gatling guns, hails of bullets screaming through flesh and he no longer knows why he is here or what he did to deserve this, to end up in hell on earth with heat and bodies and agony his constant companions. He swallows around a mouthful of blood and sand and tries to crawl, though his body feels as though it is made of lead and his fingers are scraped raw. He looks down, and his leg is a mess of blood and tattered cloth and split flesh. He wants to be sick at the sight, bile rising in his throat, and in that moment, in that exact moment, John Watson knows that he is going to die.

Watson sits bolt upright in bed and all he can hear is a wordless, roaring shout that goes on and on and on without wavering or stopping for breath. He is surrounded by the sound but cannot see its source, and cannot work out where it is coming from or why no one has tried to stop it. After a moment, he realises with a shock that it is coming from him.

There are hands on his shoulders, strong, firm hands, and a voice saying urgently into his ear: “Watson, Watson old boy, hush, or you’ll get nanny in here.”

Watson takes a breath, throat raw, lungs burning, and in the moment it takes to do that his surroundings become clearer to him. He draws in another shuddering breath and looks around at the familiar room, filled with clutter and dimly lit by lowered lamps, but certainly devoid of corpses and gunfire. He takes another breath, unable to stop shaking. He is in his own room, his own bed, his own nightshirt if the lack of burns and patches is anything to go by, and Holmes is knelt beside him on the mattress with his hands clenched firmly enough on Watson’s shoulders for it to hurt.

“It’s all right,” Holmes tells him quietly, eyes hidden in shadow, “you’re all right, dear boy, although you may have woken up half the street.” What Watson can see of his smile is awkward, crooked.

He allows Holmes to push him back down into the pillows; his body feels embarrassingly weak and heavy.

“You’ve given me laudanum,” he manages, frowning. His voice feels thick in his mouth, as though still choked by the sand of his dreams. “Have you started experimenting on me instead of Gladstone?”

“Good God, no!” Holmes’ voice is harsh, too loud, and Watson thinks he may have hurt him but the world is unsteady around him and he lets his eyes shut. “You were given laudanum because you needed it,” Holmes continues, softer.

Watson would like to demand more, to discover if he has an injury or not, to find out just why he is bed-ridden and filled with opiates and why Holmes cannot quite look at him, but all of it seems a little beyond him right now and without really even noticing it he slips back into uneasy slumber.

When he next awakes from a wash of dark cruel dreams he cannot quite define, pain is starting to seep into his being. It takes a while to make his eyes open and stay open, and a little longer to piece his thoughts together. Holmes is sat on a chair by the window, wreathed in pipe smoke and watching Watson silently but intently. It hurts when Watson breathes, an ache deep enough to permeate his entire chest, and his thoughts are scattered like debris; he cannot hold onto any of them for long.

“What happened?” he asks at last, and his voice does not sound like his own. It sounds distant, wavering, and his eyes slip shut again.

After a moment a cool hand presses against his forehead, and then fingers press to the pulse point in his neck. Watson sucks in a ragged breath and finally notes that his heart is beating much too hard. That fades into insignificance when he realises a moment later that Holmes is trembling, actually physically trembling.

“What happened?” he repeats, the words spilling from him, barely articulated. “Damn it, Holmes-”

“Doctors really do make the worst patients,” Holmes tells him, voice pitched low with an attempt at amusement, and something cool and wet is pressed to Watson’s forehead. He can feel water trickling down his face, soothing and cold. “I’ve been told not to fuss you, Watson, and if you’re going to fret I will get nanny in here to make disapproving faces.”

Watson takes a few breaths and lets the coolness sink through him, unclenches his hands from the sheets. Pain is still lingering around him, sharp and indefinable. “I’ve been hurt,” he says at last.

“You remember?” Holmes asks, and though his voice is still soft there is a sharpness to it.

“Not yet,” Watson replies. He exhales slowly; the cloth is removed momentarily and then returned to his forehead, sodden once more. “So... a head injury. And possibly something more, if I’ve been given laudanum. I also appear to have a slight fever. And you are worried about me, so my injury must have been quite serious.”

“Excellently deduced,” Holmes says dryly, though his voice cracks in the middle. “Your skills really are developing very impressively.”

“Am I out of the woods yet?” Watson asks, risking opening his eyes. Holmes is sat half over him, keeping the compress against his head, eyes pits of anxiety, jaw set firm. There is pause before Holmes answers, a pause that would probably worry Watson but the world is swaying around him and everything seems very far away.

“I have been told that you are,” Holmes says at last. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Watson closes his eyes again. “That’s good.”

The cloth is removed and he can hear the splash as Holmes wets it again before pressing it cool against Watson’s throat, water soaking into his nightshirt. He sighs, grateful for the coolness seeping through him.

“You’re surprisingly good at this,” he observes, words creaking in his mouth. “You shouldn’t be. You should be offering me... cocaine and prostitutes or something.”

He hears Holmes laugh, ragged and tired. “I know your feelings regarding my seven percent solution,” he says, “and I would not hire you prostitutes in any situation, let alone this one. You must be quite delirious, Watson.”

“I am,” Watson agrees, and already the edges of consciousness are starting to tip. He can feel himself dropping away from the room, away from Holmes. “Why wouldn’t you?” His voice is scarcely above a whisper.

When he speaks, Holmes has leaned so close that Watson can feel Holmes’ mouth brushing his ear with every word. “Well, for one thing, my dear fellow, I would be inescapably jealous.”

His smile hurts as he tumbles back into unconsciousness.

Delirium has uncurled its claws when Watson next awakes, and the window behind Holmes is full of the pink of sunrise. Holmes is reading, eyes carefully fixed on the pages of a book in his lap, but Watson knows he is paying keen attention to him nonetheless.

“I was stabbed, wasn’t I.” It is not a question and Watson hears calm resignation in his tone as he says it. His is voice is stronger and pain is running thick through him.

“You were,” Holmes agrees, voice utterly emotionless, though it takes him two tries to turn a page over.

“Did you catch him?” Watson asks. “Did you get a chance to question him?”

Holmes keeps his eyes on the book. “No. I was... somewhat distracted.” He clears his throat. “Lestrade and half of Scotland Yard are out looking, so we may be safely guaranteed that he will not be found.”

Watson brings a hand up to his face, kneads his sore eyes. “I’m sorry, Holmes.”

The book falls to the floor with a bang that slices right through Watson’s head, and he opens his eyes to find Holmes is on his feet, staring incredulously at him.

“You’re going to apologise for this?” he demands. “Really? You are stabbed after being dragged on an investigation by me because I could not run fast enough and you want to apologise to me?”

Watson sighs, but he knows Holmes well enough to know that the anger is masking other emotions, so does not try to argue back. “Don’t shout at me.”

“I’m not shouting at you.”

“Yes, you are. And that definitely goes under the category of ‘fussing’ me, which whichever doctor you had stitch me up undoubtedly told you not to do.” Holmes makes a face, so Watson swiftly adds: “he was right, by the way. Doctors other than me can have valid opinions, Holmes.”

He presses a hand to his chest and can feel the thick bandaging beneath it. He’s immediately curious to see the damage, see what has been done to him. And, whatever he may have just told Holmes, he wants to assess the state of his stitches, check that they have been done right.

“You do realise you are negating everything you just said,” Holmes tells him, a trace of real amusement skimming over his features. He comes over to the bed and frowns at Watson until he obediently lets his hands drop back to his sides. He fidgets with a loose thread in his covers, and notes that Holmes still cannot quite look right at him. His gaze skips over Watson, never meeting his eyes.

“You should go and get some rest,” Watson suggests. “I’m fine.”

Holmes raises an incredulous eyebrow. “I am slightly concerned as to your definition of ‘fine’, Watson,” he says. “In any case, if I leave here I will come back to find that you have taken out all of your stitches and are attempting to re-do them yourself. As a matter of professional integrity or some other nonsense.”

Watson considers saying I think you are confusing me with you, but decides against it in the end. It has been a long night for both of them.

“You need to sleep,” he says instead.

“I have proven that I can go several days without sleep,” Holmes protests.

“Yes, you have,” Watson agrees. “But I am currently in no fit state to look after you.”

“I do not need looking after,” Holmes protests.

Watson, even though he knows it will hurt his chest, laughs. The pain is really quite excruciating, but he doesn’t stop and Holmes glares at him.

“First you try to say sorry for being stabbed and then you try to ask me to leave – I do believe you would apologise to your own murderer for taking too long to die, Watson,” he says, annoyance flickering across his features.

Watson feels something sting at that, but he is not entirely sure what and so decides not to retaliate.

“Someone has to mother you; it is a full time job, and not one I can neglect simply because I am somewhat incapacitated.”

Holmes scoffs at this, though Watson thinks he is aware of the truth anyway. Holmes can wilfully ignore the truth, if he so wishes, but he is at least aware that it is the truth.

“You need more laudanum,” Holmes tells him, though there is regret edging his tone. Watson opens his mouth to protest but Holmes continues: “I was told to give you some later this morning. I waited until you woke up so you would know, but since you have implicitly instructed me to obey the instructions of doctors other than yourself...”

Watson thinks about arguing but decides that at least he can use this to his benefit. “I will take the laudanum if you get some sleep,” he says, carefully the laying the offer out.

Holmes studies him for a long moment, the first rays of sunlight glittering off his tousled hair, and Watson notices just how tired he looks. He also notices, for the first time, that the front of Holmes’ white shirt is almost entirely stained reddish-brown, clearly from blood that has dried recently. His immediate thought is that Holmes has been hurt somehow and that, like the foolhardy idiot he can so frequently be, he has ignored his own wound in favour of tending to Watson, but a another moment’s scrutiny makes Watson realise that the blood Holmes is covered in is his. It is a disconcerting thought and a confusing one, and he decides to fold it up and put it somewhere for later perusal when he is in something resembling his right mind.

“Very well,” Holmes says, clipped, and Watson will never tell Holmes just how much he resembles a sulking child when he does not get his own way or when he is forced to compromise.

Watson pushes himself up against the pillows –there seem to be far too many pillows in his bed, far more pillows than he recalls actually owning – and resigns himself to more hours of helpless confusion. It is how laudanum takes him, has always taken him, and he would much prefer to grind his teeth to powder than willingly drink it but can tell that he probably needs it. In any case, Holmes is relentlessly stubborn and will not rest until he has forced Watson to medicate himself, so he has little choice in the matter.

Holmes hands him the laudanum bottle and watches him with far too much interest as Watson swallows a mouthful, calculating how much he is drinking as he does so. Holmes’ unblinking stare is disconcerting, but Watson knows that if the roles were reversed – and, indeed, when their roles have been reversed – he has watched Holmes equally intently, terrified that if he looks away or blinks Holmes’ condition will become much worse. He grimaces at the bitter taste, swallowing hard, and lets himself slide back under the blankets again. It will not take long for the opiates to take effect and curl their cruel fingers into his senses, and he sighs.

“Now to uphold your end of the bargain.”

Holmes sits back down in his chair, putting his feet up. “I will sleep when you do,” he tells Watson, sounding as though Watson has given him a most unreasonable request.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Holmes,” Watson says, “you cannot sleep in that chair.”

It is not like the worn and long-suffering armchairs in the other room; this is a straight-backed wooden chair that Watson tends to use to lay his clothes out over, and he knows from experience that it is wickedly uncomfortable. He is quietly impressed that Holmes has lasted this long in it.

“It will be quite adequate,” Holmes responds, and Watson is sure he is saying it just to be contrary.

“There is room enough for both of us here,” he hears himself say, and when he blinks he can feel the world starting to soften, melt, waver.

Holmes looks both surprised and amused. “You are really quite forward when under the influence, Watson,” he observes.

Watson smiles. “I have stitches and we are both exhausted, Holmes,” he replies, “believe me when I say that, for once, I have absolutely no wish to proposition you.”

Holmes’ smile slips, just a little, but he covers it well and Watson decides to pretend not to notice.

He wants to say more, wants to order Holmes to go to sleep and ignore stupid things like propriety and the apparent awkwardness between them that has not quite faded, but exhaustion and opiate-induced drowsiness are tugging at his eyelids and he lets himself go.

When he awakes, half-terrified, from more vivid and vicious dreams about his war experiences, the room is full of golden sunlight and he cannot see a thing; it is all too blurred and he groans, angry with the drugs and with his mind for combining together to create such a circus of horrors. His breathing is uneven, erratic – another side-effect of laudanum, part of his mind manages to acknowledge – and he can feel his heart pounding as around him bullets fly and men fall to their deaths in dust and dirt.

A warm, calloused hand slides over his and locks their fingers together. “You’re safe,” a voice says, and Watson clings to it, his own breathing too harsh and loud in his own ears. “You are safe, Watson.”

Even later, when he awakes again, Watson finds Holmes lying fully dressed on top of the covers beside him, face relaxed as it only ever is in slumber, though a frown is still etched between his eyebrows. He looks down and discovers that their hands are still entwined, and though he knows it will not last it is this image that Watson holds securely in his mind as sleep overwhelms him once more.

=

Watson wakes alone in the middle of the afternoon, a slight indentation in the pillow beside him the only indication that Holmes was ever there, and fights the momentary twist of disappointment in his stomach because of course nothing different could occur in this situation. His chest is aching but his head is quite clear and on the whole he is inclined to think that he has had far worse and this has rather been blown out of proportion. After all, he and Holmes have got themselves injured on numerous occasions and a knife in the chest that managed to miss both his lungs and his heart is, quite frankly, very little to worry about. Perhaps other people do not see the world this way, but then other people have not lived through the things that Watson has lived through and he is hardier than he will ever reveal. Oh, not necessarily with regards to other people, but certainly when it comes to himself.

A soft knock at the door has him sitting up in the bed and trying, against all reason, to make himself presentable.

“Yes?”

Mrs Hudson appears with a tray laden with various food products, her face drawn and weary. She stands in the doorway and just looks at him for a long moment, and Watson belatedly recalls that Holmes is not the only person who has had to deal with his injury.

“You are both stupid fools,” Mrs Hudson tells him quietly, a shake of emotion in her voice; it is the first time she has done anything other than look wearily amused at their antics and Watson is still surprised she has not yet asked them to leave.

“I know,” Watson replies, fingers tightening against the covers for a moment.

Mrs Hudson smiles slightly. “I’m glad it’s not worse, doctor,” she tells him, tone much lighter, and brings the tray over to the bed. “You need to eat something.”

The idea of eating something does not appeal, but Watson can see the merit in it and obediently reaches for the teapot, ignoring the string of pain this uncurls in his chest, and pours himself a cup. Mrs Hudson watches him with steely motherly eyes, and Watson vaguely wonders if he himself looks like that at times, stood over Holmes ordering him to eat or sleep or leave the house just for an hour. The thought makes him swallow a smile and he takes a sip of tea to hide it.

The door has been left open and Watson can hear the tuneless scraping of a violin bow across the strings; the sound sets his teeth on edge.

“He’s been at it for over an hour,” Mrs Hudson tells him, tone radiating exhaustion and disapproval.

“Haven’t you asked him to stop?” Watson asks, taking another mouthful of the slightly too hot tea.

“I thought about it,” Mrs Hudson replies softly. “But I think he needs it.” She glares at Watson again, tone turning back to ice. “He was scared dreadfully when they carried you in here this morning. Covered in blood and wouldn’t say a word to me; Inspector Lestrade had to tell me what had happened. Mr Holmes was shouting at anyone and everyone; I thought he was going to punch the poor doctor.”

The tea turns sour in his mouth; Watson almost chokes on it.

“It was unintentional,” he says, and belatedly realises what a ridiculous thing it is to say.

Mrs Hudson’s mouth smoothes into a smile. “Well, I should certainly hope so. I’ll leave you to your breakfast, doctor.”

“Thank you,” he tells her, and she gives him another smile before she leaves, closing the door behind her and cutting off the worst of Holmes’ violin playing. Watson can still hear it if he strains his ears, and listens to the sound with rising guilt. He endeavours to eat the toast made so carefully for him, but it tastes of ashes in his mouth and fatigue is still clinging to him. It is also possible he has a concussion; details of last night are sloshing around incoherently in his head and remembers most of it in brief, bright flashes; his breath misting cold before him as he and Holmes waited outside the pub, the glint of metal on the blade of a knife that shone crimson in the moonlight before his world faded to black.

Tea splashes over the sides of the cup and into the saucer as he tries to put it back down. He feels a little nauseous and his head is thumping insistently, and the laudanum has not entirely worn off because the world is still shining too brightly, as though polished to a high gloss.

The door bangs open and cooling tea spills across the sheets. “You’re awake,” Holmes announces, as though this is a great deduction.

“It would appear so,” Watson responds, trying to work out if tea will stain the bed linens and if he actually cares. “Afternoon, old chap.”

Holmes frowns as though someone should have informed him of this fact, closing the door behind him and coming over to perch on the edge of the bed. He absently steals a piece of cold toast, pulling it to pieces before he eats it in small bites.

“You have quite ruined my shirt,” he remarks. “It was my best shirt as well.”

Watson smiles at that. “You don’t have a best shirt, Holmes, you have my best shirts. Or you did, anyhow, before you set them alight.”

“Well, I may have accidentally incinerated a couple of your shirts, but you have bled over two of mine in one night, and one of them has the most ghastly hole in it. Really, Watson, you are supposed to be the responsible one.” Holmes is still avoiding his gaze, but his tone is light enough.

“Terribly remiss of me,” Watson agrees. Something occurs to him. “I suppose I shall have to get a new coat as well. Unless...?”

“No,” Holmes tells him. “That also has a rather inconvenient hole in it. I believe Mrs Hudson has already thrown it away. She did look rather anxious, poor thing.”

Holmes says it almost dismissively; Watson decides not to bring up Mrs Hudson’s version of events this morning, since it will not really achieve very much.

“Bugger,” he says instead.

The corner of Holmes’ mouth twitches; Watson cannot tell if it is a hint of a smile or not. Holmes has ruined probably dozens of his shirts over time, Watson reasons that it is only fair that he is allowed to ruin two in return.

“I’ll leave you to rest, old boy,” Holmes says, dropping the day’s newspaper on the cover for him and picking the tray, spilling yet more tea and Mrs Hudson will probably forget fairly soon that she was genuinely worried for Watson’s welfare for a while and will go back to quietly resenting them in an affectionate way.

Watson smiles and says nothing and stares at the door for a moment too long after it closes.

=

“Absolutely not,” Watson says, though he is clinging partially to the wall and partially to Holmes in order to keep himself upright. His legs are quaking and aching and shivering and he is disgusted at how weak he feels.

“You are not being rational, Watson,” Holmes informs him. He sounds a little breathless, but then Watson is leaning on him rather too hard, and getting him to the bathroom is proving to be quite the undertaking.

“No,” Watson says, and his tone is too sharp, “but I rather think I can be forgiven for that right now, don’t you?”

“All the more reason for you to allow me to help you,” Holmes replies, voice infuriatingly calm.

“I don’t need help,” Watson snaps, “I’m not an invalid.”

“Yes, you are,” Holmes replies, still too steady. “You are very much an invalid and if you were to drown in our bathtub it would not only be a rather ridiculous way to die after all that you have survived, but it would also be terribly inconvenient for me.” He considers this, as they take a few more agonisingly slow steps down the landing. “I also imagine Mrs Hudson would be quite put-out.”

Watson sighs. “Yes, I imagine she probably would be,” he agrees. “For one thing, you would never remember to pay the rent on time.”

“No,” Holmes says, as they finally reach the bathroom, “but neither would I gamble it away.”

“That was twice,” Watson protests, too tired and distracted for Holmes’ words to cut.

“At least three times, unless we count that time with the cockfight and the moonshine-”

“Point taken,” Watson interrupts. “And that was mostly your fault, anyway.”

Holmes gives something approaching a soft laugh but does not reply, sliding out from beneath Watson’s arm. Watson wavers but does not fall, catching his hand against the wall hard enough to sting. His legs are just about strong enough to hold him and that is a relief.

“You can go back to creating that anaesthetic you thought of in the early hours of the morning watch the effects laudanum had on me,” Watson tells him with a little more certainty than he feels. There is a flicker of surprise in Holmes’ eyes before looks almost gratified. “I know you, Holmes,” Watson says.

“You don’t,” Holmes tells him simply, presumably recalling what Watson said those weeks ago. You do not know what it is like to be me. “But I suppose you are incredibly well-acquainted with my habits.”

“I am,” Watson agrees. He is hesitating, trying not to look at the bathtub full of gently steaming water. His mind is battling between asking Holmes for his help and asking him to leave, and at the moment he is tipped towards making him go and be in another room. There is enough awkward tension between them as it is without them adding this into the equation. Holmes follows his gaze and Watsons knows immediately that he is aware of everything that he is thinking, as though the words were inked carefully onto his forehead.

“I thought I was supposed to be the mother hen here,” he says, with an attempt at a smile.

“Well,” Holmes replies, “you know what I say about routine.”

“That you like it?”

Holmes smiles too. “Yes. Or that it stagnates the mind. Either will do.”

“I will be sure to let you know if I drown,” Watson says.

“Please do,” Holmes replies. “It would be best to have as much notice as possible so that I can choose what pretty poem I’m going to read at your funeral. It will have flowers in it, I suspect, and some kind of overblown metaphor involving a sunset and perhaps some kind of small woodland animal.”

Watson blinks. “Well,” he says at last, “I’m glad to hear that. It sounds very touching and melodramatic and I’m sure you will look very dashing wearing my best suit as you read it. But please leave, Holmes.”

Holmes pauses at the door. “I’d rather you didn’t drown, Watson,” he says. “I’m not particularly fond of poetry, especially not the ones containing overblown metaphors involving sunsets.”

“I know,” Watson tells him, and: “I’ll try.”

Left alone, he takes his time peeling his nightshirt off and unwinding the bandages from around his chest. The wound is ugly but neatly stitched, he must admit, and it will heal cleanly to a tidy scar. He has far worse scarring and has had far less professional medical care than this; he will have to find out the doctor’s name from someone and send him a telegram of thanks, or something similar.

The bathwater is warm without being too warm and the feel of sinking into it is quite simply heavenly. Watson reclines his aching and tired body in the water, washing off dirt and sweat and even blood – he seems to have it everywhere, for such a tidy wound it bled a lot – and letting out a long, slow breath. He should probably have help, he reflects detachedly, as warm water flows over the gash and the pain is so immediately excruciating he has to bite his teeth together to keep from shouting aloud – and he is ignoring all the medical instructions he would undoubtedly give someone else, but Watson is always careful with other people’s health and never with his own. It is something he has calmly come to terms with.

Watson is just starting to relax when the bathroom door bangs open. “Christ, Holmes!” he exclaims before he can stop himself. “What-”

Holmes does not reply, instead coming over and sitting on the (wet) floor beside the bathtub, putting him immediately on eye level with Watson. “I had a question.”

“Of course you did,” Watson murmurs, deciding against being outraged. Holmes has, after all, been doing this for as long as he has known him. He waits a moment, and when Holmes is unforthcoming, he adds: “well, what was the question?”

“I wanted to ensure you did not have a concussion,” Holmes tells him. “So I want to ask you what you recall of last night.”

It sounds a reasonable enough request, but Watson looks at Holmes and for the first time is absolutely certain that he is lying. He is not sure how he knows this, but he does.

“Is this a trick question?”

“No, old chap.” That, at least, seems to be genuine. “What do you remember?”

Watson hesitates, and then decides the simplest way to working out what Holmes actually wants is to give him what he appears to want and then work from there. He obediently shuffles his cracked memories into some sort of order.

“We stood in the cold for hours outside a pub waiting to question one of the men inside. He came out and we ran after him, and I managed to overtake you and so it was me who was cornered and me who got the rather uncomfortable knife in the chest.” Holmes’ expression does not flicker or waver in any way, but nonetheless there is something in his eyes that makes a curl of unease unfold in Watson’s stomach. “What?” he asks.

Holmes shakes his head. “Nothing at all. It’s all there, present and correct.” He smiles and it is not quite right, not quite genuine. Still, Watson has related everything he can remember from last night and cannot think what else would have happened. “No damage sustained at all.”

“Well, that’s good,” Watson says slowly, unable to read Holmes’ expression adequately.

“It is,” Holmes agrees, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ll leave you to it, old chap.”

Watson spends most of the rest of his bath searching through his indistinct memories for something else, something he has missed. He finds nothing except a building headache. It is with care that he gets out and dries himself off, wraps his chest up in clean bandages and dresses slowly and stiffly in fresh clothes. Finally, he starts to feel a little more human, and makes his way back along the landing to their main room. The curtains are wide open but the room is empty; Holmes is nowhere to be found. Watson is not entirely surprised about this and so sits himself down in an armchair, letting his head tip back, sighing into the silence.

After a while, Gladstone waddles his way over and stares at Watson in that slightly reproachful, slightly disdainful way that he has.

“Did you miss me?” Watson asks. “Worry about me at all?”

Gladstone continues to stare unenthusiastically at him, though when Watson lets a hand flop over the side of the chair he does move nearer and consent to having his head stroked.

“You should worry,” Watson tells him. “If I wasn’t here, Holmes would kill you. Unintentionally, mind, but he would.”

Gladstone grunts, unimpressed, and wanders off. Watson swallows a laugh that hurts his chest and slouches a little more in the chair, closing his eyes.

He wakes to find the room dark but for one lamp still burning, and discovers that someone has covered him in a blanket. There is a note pinned to it:

You are a damned fool, Watson, and if I did this so soon after an injury you would be being very tyrannical and disapproving.

“I would,” Watson agrees aloud, but he is too warm and too sleepy to attempt to go back to bed; he closes his eyes and slips back into slumber.

=

Two days later Watson finds himself seeing patients again, even though he knows he should not be doing anything more strenuous than sitting by the fire reading the papers and eating toast. He, too, should be laid out on the tiger rug imperiously ordering crumpets and making Mrs Hudson miserable with impetuous demands. Instead, he is smiling at retired naval captains and assuring elderly women that he can help with their nervous disorders, doing everything without a single crack in his professional demeanour, though he moves a little slower than normal and is conscious and careful of the constant ache in his chest. After all, it is one thing to be irresponsible, and one thing to be reckless. The last thing he needs is to split his stitches and bleed through yet another shirt in front of a horrified patient.

It is a relief that Holmes does not try to stop him in this. He gives Watson occasional we both know you are being foolish looks from time to time, but makes no effort to prevent him from slowly but steadily returning to his normal life. This is a relief; Watson thinks he would drive himself half mad if confined to bed rest; in fact he knows he would, because he had far more tyrannical doctors when recovering from sickness in Afghanistan, and the weeks before he was deemed well enough to be shipped back to England are loose swirls of confusion and exhaustion. Part of that can be blamed on his illness, on his raging fevers, but not all of it; John Watson has always been a man of action, of trying to accomplish things, and lying flat on his back counting cracks in the paint on the ceiling is enough to break him completely.

Mrs Hudson does not outwardly fuss, but she does cook all of Watson’s favourite meals and brings him tea on a more regular basis and shoots him little anxious looks from the corner of her eye when she thinks he is not looking. Watson is grateful for this, and more conscious than he has ever been that Baker Street contains more than just him and Holmes, more than them and their little world of injury and destruction. Their little world that is much too small and much too tight and Watson reflects that they will destroy each other eventually. It is the only way that their relationship can end; mutual annihilation and perhaps that should worry him or scare him but instead it is almost reassuring.

In any case, Watson reaches a decision watching Holmes dash out the door on the trail of a clue from the jewel theft cases that are still raging on about them, flatly refusing to allow Watson to accompany him because he is ‘recuperating’. Holmes does not use the word liability but Watson thinks he can hear it anyway and it stings. He sits and broods for longer than he thinks is really acceptable, and finally concludes that something must be done, otherwise all they will continue to do is hurt each other. There is a friendship in amongst these tangled wants and needs and confusions and grey areas, a real friendship that should not be strangled just because Watson apparently does not know how or when to stop pushing and Holmes chooses not to or does not know how to stop him. Sooner or later it will shatter under the pressure and Watson cannot lose his greatest friend. He must do whatever it takes to keep their friendship alive and breathing, no matter what the cost, no matter what must be cut free and tossed by the wayside.

He can never have Sherlock Holmes, that much is certain. Not because he does not want him, and not even because Holmes does not want him in return, but because there is too much that must be sacrificed. Watson wants Holmes in all his damaged, half-insane, half-genius state, but Holmes would have to learn too much, things Watson cannot teach him, in order to concede enough to Watson anything at all. Almost involuntarily, Watson closes his eyes and thinks of the last time Holmes kissed him, bloody-mouthed, at the Punchbowl, exhausted pain switching off enough of Holmes’ thought processes to make him vulnerable. Watson cannot ask Holmes to be physically injured or psychologically impaired all the time to maintain any sort of a relationship, and the idea that he could ever distract Holmes from himself when Holmes is in his right mind is laughable, ludicrous, and farcical.

There is only one option left to him: Watson must let all hopes of ever having Holmes for himself go. He must step back and stop pushing for something that they can never have; Watson is asking Holmes for things that he cannot give him, however much he may want to, and it is not fair on either of them. It is a door they have tried to open only to find it booby-trapped with explosives, and it is best to leave that door closed, with however many regrets that may linger behind, than to force it open and hurt them both. That is the truth of the matter of course; Watson entertains the possibility that he is drawing these conclusions utterly selfishly but he is always brutally honest with himself – Holmes has left him with no choice in the matter all, and it sometimes puzzles Watson that he does not resent him more for that – and he knows he is trying to protect Holmes as much as he is trying to protect himself. They need each other, and this fact will not alter, will not waver. They need each other but they will destroy each other if they continue down this path.

With that in mind, and finding that the fire has died, Watson pushes himself to his feet. He is tired, more tired than he had anticipated, and he supposes that there really is more in bed rest than just driving patients to boredom and despair. He should, really, wait for Holmes to get back, sit and make noises in the right places as Holmes relates what he has found, persuade him to eat something and maybe sleep for a few hours. But Watson knows himself too well and he also does not trust himself. Does not trust himself to be in the same room as Sherlock Holmes and stick to his new resolution. It is best for both of them and he knows this, but nonetheless he knows his resolve could crumble, could melt like wax before a candle flame, and it is important – it is vital – that it does not.

He takes himself off to bed, since he really does need the rest, and drifts into an uneasy sleep of cloying and confusing dreams. Watson is unsure of the time when he is awoken by the front door slamming downstairs; it is late, in any case, and he wonders what Holmes has been doing in the few hours since he practically ran from the house after sifting through a pile of papers and muttering how could I have failed to notice this before? to himself. He is almost about to get out of bed and ask Holmes before he remembers that he must not, and sinks back against his pillows, chest throbbing with pain. He must keep a clear head, and does not wish to take any more anaesthetics than he has to.

Part of Watson is hoping that Holmes will come and find him anyway – it would be the first time by a long shot – and tell him about the case in great excruciating detail, perched on the end of Watson’s bed and gesturing by lamplight. It has happened over and over again in the past and while Watson is resolute that he will not go and find Holmes he is helpless if Holmes comes to find him then it is a different matter entirely.

Watson hears a door close on the landing and lets out a breath he was not aware he was holding. He should go back to sleep, he knows – he needs the rest – but nonetheless lies awake for much too long, counting his own breaths in the darkness.

=

Calling it recuperation and relying on Holmes’ not-exactly-bottomless medical knowledge so that he will not think it a lie, Watson starts spending increasing periods of time outside of Baker Street. He takes himself for bracing walks; he tries to drag Gladstone on a few of them, but their dog merely makes annoyed growling noises and refuses to walk after about five streets – Watson is becoming increasingly concerned that Holmes has done something to Gladstone in order to make him the dog version of himself – and so he is forced to give up that idea and so goes walking alone. He returns to clubs he has neglected and rekindles old acquaintances with fellow doctors, spends afternoons discussing medical journals and sipping brandy. He accepts dinner invitations with friends and spends more time in hotel dining rooms than he really wants to, though at least in this company he does not have second-guess his every word. In fact, the true downside of talking to all these people is that they all read the newspapers and all of them quiz him on his ‘hobby’ of helping Sherlock Holmes; Watson recounts some of more public and lurid crimes until he wants to bite his own tongue out from boredom and loss.

Holmes must know what Watson is doing because even if the complexities of human nature occasionally seem to confuse him he does at least comprehend them. Still, he does not call Watson up on it and Watson is grateful for this; they have had too many frank conversations recently that have left them both blistered. In fact, he is seeing little enough of Holmes as it is; the jewel thief case is apparently getting more convoluted by the day, with officers from Scotland Yard trailing up and down their steps daily, with messages from Lestrade and news of yet more new developments, and on top of this Holmes gets distracted by the murder of three young women and the disappearance of their respective fiancés, flitting between the two cases like a butterfly. When he is at home, Watson sits in an armchair and watches Holmes plucking distractedly at his violin, theories spilling from his mouth in long contemplative strings, and cannot help but notice that any offers of assistance he makes are politely but repeatedly rebuffed.

“I’m not made of glass, Holmes,” he points out late one night, having come back from a particularly long dinner party, rather the worse for wine and for having been trapped into conversation with the most dull governess he has ever met. Catherine, with a droning voice and nothing to say for herself, though her features were pretty enough, and Watson catches himself in shock as he realises that he is analysing her as dismissively as Holmes would in his situation. “I can help you with reconnaissance, at least. I am unlikely to get a knife in the chest twice in the same month.”

“I thank you for your offer, Watson, but I really have no need of your assistance,” Holmes responds calmly, with a brittle politeness that jars.

“Holmes, for God’s sake-” he begins, but Holmes cuts him off.

“You smell overwhelmingly of lilacs,” he remarks, tone a study in nonchalance and therefore immediately suspicious. “Perfume, I believe, unless you have been rolling around in a florist, and I find that unlikely.”

“I know what you’re insinuating,” Watson replies, “and I will not allow you to distract me.”

“Well, you have made that perfectly obvious,” Holmes says, tone much too sharp.

Watson takes a steadying breath before he responds. “The perfume scent is because I was sat beside a woman at dinner wearing far too much of it,” he says, trying to keep his voice calm.

“And when will you start courting this one?” Holmes asks, not even attempting to conceal the acid in his tone. “At least you will have learned from past mistakes by now.”

“You cannot think me so callous, Holmes,” Watson snaps. “You cannot.”

“You owe me nothing,” Holmes points out. “You are entirely unencumbered to do as you wish and I am passing no judgement on you whatsoever.”

“I do not drift through this world picking things up and flinging them back down again when I lose interest,” Watson snaps, and it comes out far more accusatory than he means it to.

Holmes fixes him with an unwavering stare. “We are not having this conversation, Watson.”

“Why not?” Watson demands.

“Because I know everything that you are going to say and I know everything that I will say in reply and I know who will walk out and slam the door behind them at the end and so nothing can be achieved by us actually going through it all; it will be half an hour wasted and probably another vase broken.”

“And what about me?”

“What about you?” Holmes frowns.

“I don’t know every last syllable of this argument,” Watson says, “don’t you think it would be beneficial for me, at least?”

“No,” Holmes says simply. “I don’t.”

He walks past Watson, grabbing his battered fedora from where it is lying amid a mess of papers.

“Where are you going?” Watson demands. Holmes does not reply; Watson follows him out. “Where are you going, Holmes?”

“I have another lead on this murder case to investigate,” Holmes says stiffly, not looking at him, “as I was explaining to you before you decided to make it all about you.”

The injustice hurts and Watson is almost frightened by how intense his anger is. “I hope that’s true,” he says. “If you’re going to the Punchbowl I will have the locks changed and you can sleep on the bloody street.”

Holmes looks almost amused. “I have all your money locked in my drawer, Watson,” he says, “good luck.”

It takes every ounce of self-control that Watson has not to throw something down the stairs after him; instead he stalks off to his own room and spends a while kicking innocent items of furniture until his heart rate slows and shame begins to creep in. He walks back into their main room, to its clutter and confusion, and throws himself discontentedly into an armchair. He spends a while trying to construct some kind of apology, until his eyes light on a supper tray that Mrs Hudson presumably delivered to Holmes. The food on it is cold, congealing, and utterly untouched. Holmes frequently misses meals, especially when caught up in cases, but nonetheless something about the sight settles uneasily in Watson’s stomach.

=

The rooms become ever more untidy as Holmes whirls through them, scattering books and papers and newspaper clippings and files and abandoned thoughts to be left haphazardly behind for Watson to trip over. Mrs Hudson has given up even suggesting that perhaps she could help tidy up; Holmes merely gave her the everything is in its proper place, I know where everything is speech, and she shook her head and left him to it. After wrapping up the murder case – the fiancés were in fact all the same man, who had conned the girls out of enough money and then killed them all to cover his tracks; though of course, not thoroughly enough, and Watson understands he is to hang next month – Holmes ties himself up with two separate cases of missing persons and one of a young woman who fears her brother is being blackmailed. Watson considers telling him that what Holmes is doing is not only burning the candle at both ends but doing his best to make it light in the middle as well and that this cannot in any way end well, but although Holmes is as cheerful and civil as he ever is there a sharpness to him that Watson is loathe to try and touch.

He does not know if Holmes resents him for trying to step back so that he can repair their friendship before it is too late; he does not know if Holmes is even aware that this is the reason Watson is trying to keep his distance. He would like to talk about it, for once, would like to list his emotions for Holmes to sift through and make of them what he will, but neither of them seem to be in the same room for long enough, and in any case Watson needs to build up his courage before speaking, needs time and quiet and those things are currently conspicuously absent from Baker Street. Their home is barely and badly controlled chaos, slamming doors and occasional shifting smiles as they pass each other by.

One afternoon Watson finds a table full of cracked glass and spilt powder, and it reminds him of something he had almost forgotten. When Holmes returns later, eyes too bright and focused to be reassuring, Watson manages to catch him.

“What happened to that anaesthetic you were working on?”

Holmes looks confused. “Anaesthetic?”

“The one you were thinking off the night I got-” Watson picks his word carefully “-hurt.”

A frown flickers across Holmes’ face, before he says: “I finished that ages ago, Watson. It is all perfectly refined and Gladstone was quite happy to assist me in my endeavours, and it will be available to utilise the next time we encounter someone who has been injured.”

Watson has become so used to Holmes bursting in on him at all hours of the day and night to explain his latest achievements that he did not even entertain the possibility that Holmes would choose not to tell him anything. That is what they do; Holmes deduces what Watson has spent the day doing, whether Watson wants him to or not, and then tells Watson every inch of his own day, once again whether Watson wants him to or not, and that has always been the way things go in Baker Street. Watson’s stomach swiftly turns to ice and he realises that, hypocritical as it may be, he is hurt by Holmes’ omission. He probably has not earned the right to hear about Holmes’ experiments, given how little time he has really spent in Baker Street in the last couple of weeks, and how little they have actually spoken to each other of late, but that does not mean it does not ache anyway.

This was not what Watson wanted or intended, and he wonders if Holmes knows this and how he will tell him that he is brutally mistaken in a way that Holmes will understand.

“You didn’t tell me,” he says, and is ashamed of how weak his voice sounds.

Holmes looks momentarily confused, and then scrapes up a smile that makes him look nothing short of gaunt and exhausted. “I have been rather busy of late, Watson,” he points out, “and so have you.”

Watson is quietly impressed at how little accusation actually tumbles into the sentence, and swallows awkwardly.

“Have I done something to offend you, Holmes?”

He can think of at least four things off the top of his head but he knows Holmes will also be thinking of those things and so will dismiss them as something Watson would not need to ask about.

“No,” Holmes replies, and when he meets Watson’s gaze his eyes are impossibly dark; the pupils so large they have eaten away the iris, and they are glittering in a way that does not look at all healthy. “No, nothing I haven’t already forgiven you for.”

Holmes.”

“We always forgive each other,” Holmes points out, his gaze dropping to the mess on the table. He begins to shuffle the pieces of broken glass together into a pile, movements jerky and distracted. “I forgive you for all the wrongs you do to me and you forgive me for all the wrongs I’ve done you.”

He does not look at Watson as he says this, and one of his hands slips, glass cutting his palm. Although Watson knows it is nothing more than a scratch, he catches Holmes’ hand anyway. It is cold, and now they are touching Watson can feel how hard Holmes is trembling. He looks at his friend, really looks at him, studies him in the weak sunlight drifting through the dirty windows and realises just how wan and sick Holmes really looks. Holmes keeps his gaze on the table, mouth thin.

“God knows what you’ve poisoned yourself with,” Watson mutters, pretending his attention is still on the cut. Holmes will know that it is not, but sometimes it is easier to play out a charade than always stick faithfully to the truth. He sighs. “Well, at least it isn’t very deep.”

Holmes makes to pull his hand back; Watson does not let go. Holmes raises his head, and Watson takes care to catch his eye before saying: “when was the last time you ate?” Holmes opens his mouth and Watson adds: “don’t lie to me, or I’ll go and ask Mrs Hudson. She probably knows your eating habits better than you do.”

“I’m incredibly busy,” Holmes half-snaps, though his eyes shine with something like guilt; a child caught somewhere they should not be. Holmes does not often speak of his childhood, just drops random phrases into conversation, but Watson imagines that this expression is one that Holmes wore almost interminably growing up.

“Holmes,” Watson says quietly, “we both know that that is not going to excuse whatever the answer is, you may as well just tell me.”

“I don’t remember,” Holmes tells him. When Watson opens his mouth, Holmes adds swiftly: “not the exact number of days, in any case.”

“Days?” Watson repeats, warm anger sweeping through him. “You have not eaten for days?”

Holmes is scowling now and he tugs his hand back with a little too much force. Watson contemplates his options, and decides that they have argued enough of late and that it has not helped anything.

“Go and change,” he says.

Holmes’ eyes narrow. “Why?”

“I’m taking you out for lunch,” Watson responds calmly. “Clearly we are going to have to dine together at regular times until you learn to do it yourself again.”

Holmes just stares at him, and Watson stands perfectly still and lets himself be analysed. He sees something soften in Holmes’ expression after a moment, and realises that now, in this moment, Holmes has finally understood. Finally comprehended all that Watson is trying to achieve, and does not resent him for it.

“I do not have any decent shirts left,” Holmes responds, a flicker of a smile appearing at the corner of his mouth.

“No,” Watson agrees, “but you do still have plenty of mine – yes, Holmes, I have realised that, funnily enough – and those should be sufficient. We will go and have lunch, and you can tell me all about your cases and also how you came to sprain two of your fingers.”

“Ah, you did notice that then,” Holmes says, looking a mixture of sheepish and amused. “Your observational skills are really rather impressive.”

“They’re not,” Watson replies, “but my medical skills certainly are.”

Holmes smiles at him, the first real, genuine smile that Watson has seen from him in some time, and goes to change his shirt.

Left alone, Watson hefts out a sigh and tells himself that this will all get easier. He looks around the room and two bottles catch his eye. They are stood side by side on the mantelpiece, half-hidden in the clutter, and Watson grits his teeth. He is used to Holmes keeping one bottle of his seven percent solution there, but two is a new development, and one that does fill him with optimism. He walks over, kicking books and papers out of his way, and picks them both up. They are both sealed, clearly unopened, and Watson knows that he should be reassured by this, but he is not. He is not at all.

Holmes returns a few minutes later, reasonably well-dressed though he is hardly the picture of health, and greets Watson with another smile that Watson did not realise how much he missed until now.

“Shall we go?”

When Holmes reaches for his coat, his shirtsleeve – fixed around his wrist with cufflinks that Watson is vaguely sure used to belong to him – hitches up a little, revealing a purple bruise on the inside of Holmes’ arm. Given the number of accidents Holmes gets himself into, this is not surprising or unlikely, but something in Watson’s brain lights up with unease. Holmes shrugs his coat on, pulling the cuffs of his shirt carefully – too carefully – into place.

“Yes, let’s go,” Watson hears himself say, with a smile of his own, picking up his coat and hat. “You can pay,” he adds.

Holmes laughs, and for a few moments Watson allows himself to pretend that everything in the world is absolutely fine.

{continued here}
Tags: character: john watson, character: sherlock holmes, movie: sherlock holmes, pairing: sherlock holmes/john watson, type: slash
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