A/N: Updating again! Feel privileged; this is a 20.5-pager (on word) so WAAAAY more than usual! Mostly because this fiction is a serious addiction...intertwined with the Sherlock Holmes addiction I also fall victim to on occasion. Yes, I shall cease my appalling attempts at humour now and return to the dramatic cliff-hanger on which we left off...Thanks again to my beta, Chique52! (Check her fics if you love Gilmore Girls and the Bartimaeus Trilogy! You know you want to...) Sorry this is a ludicrously long chapter, I felt bad for taking so long to update, so made it a chapter (hopefully) worth the wait, by packing in as much as I could and generally writing too much. Thanks for your patience!! Please R&R, long chapters less often or shorter ones more regularly? Let me know please!
(Minor note: Have decided Mary and Watson are unmarried at this point, as I do not like this pairing being separated by marital laws :P So, as far as this fic is concerned, Watson is not married and Mary is purely a friend. In summary, I am messing with the timeline of the books just a little, for which I must crave your indulgence.)
Relief and fatigue overwhelm me as I return the hug, and I allow my head to fall forwards to rest on Holmes' shoulder. But only for a moment.
As the minor wave passes, I sigh, a faint whisper also slipping past my lips. My head jerks upright as I pray silently to God that I have not spoken aloud. That I'd just imagined it. That Holmes had not heard me. That those traitorous words, a betrayal of most typical society views, the words I had fought to suppress, had not found their way to the surface. I can only hope that instead they remain locked away beyond Holmes' deductive and often harsh gaze.
Yet, I had always known such thoughts could not remain hidden forever. I was aware from the very beginning that they would eventually break through the restraints I placed around them and overpower my rational mind. Such is the power, and price, of emotion. Since the instant of realisation, now many months ago, I have been constantly waiting, filled both with dread and relief at the prospect. The prospect of a moment when I no longer had to constantly be on my guard, maintaining a permanent wall around my secret. I would no longer have to attempt to guard it from my abnormally observant friend.
"I love you."
The words spin around my skull repeating that phrase again and again, every repetition building on my fear. A tiny grain of hope sparkles silently at the back of my cranium as the fear swells, washing away all rational thought in its path. He would hate me. He would throw me out. He would never so much as speak to me again... I feel my heart lurch as these poisoned thoughts spin round and round like a carousel.
Just one glance at his face, astounded and unmoving, convinced me that he had heard exactly what I'd said.
A fiery scarlet tinge bursts across my cheekbones, stinging my skin with shame, adding the tone of fear to my features. But I will not run from fear. That is one thing being a soldier in Afghanistan has taught me. Never to bow to fear, but to stand and face it with dignity and courage, regardless of the consequences.
I edge backwards slightly, in the hopes that such an action will somehow dissolve the newly-created tension between us, formed by my own hand. I relax my arms slightly, to assist Holmes in the escape he doubtless desires. His attitude towards any softer emotions or tenderness has never been favourable, and even if he permitted me to stay, things would never be the same between us. He would doubtless consider me weak, or my judgement impaired by feelings, sworn enemies of clear logical thought. Sworn enemies of Sherlock Holmes himself.
To my surprise, Holmes' arms prevent my moving, locked in place around me. I have no choice but to remain in his arms, but I do not trust myself to meet his scrutinising gaze, even for a second.
I curse my cowardice, but my face is now burning so brightly that I focus on attempting to drain the blood from my complexion, and at my obvious failure the burning only intensifies.
I desperately attempt to ignore the fire blazing in my cheeks, and find myself suddenly distracted by a sigh from Holmes. Frowning slightly, I turn my head a fractional amount, meeting his gaze.
As his shimmering grey orbs pierce through my layers of past deception, I find myself unable to move, despite the fact I know he can see straight through to my soul...and to the truth of my words. To add to my confusion, I also feel the blood cool in my face as his eyes survey me, although I feel that particular effect should be transposed...
The sound of my name calls me back from the strange distant place detached from my present predicament, and I avert my eyes from his, unable to bear the pain of the rejection I anticipate. Instead I face his shoulder, unable to shake the feeling of shame as I cannot even look my friend in the eye. I wish to bury my face in his shoulder, but I do not. I am no coward. I said those words, I shall take their consequence.
I feel him hesitantly squeeze my shoulder. "...Watson?" His voice is unsure, his normal confidence diminished. An incredibly rare occurrence, and one I would ordinarily delight in, but now I feel no such joy. It is replaced with the heavy weight of fear.
I'm sure my voice sounds much the same as his, and despite my silent efforts he doubtless picks up on the shiver of dread in my reply. "Holmes."
One word, but to me it sounds like a death sentence, marking the end of our friendship. The hope at the back of my skull is ignored, swathed in fear and shame. I had caused this. I had brought this about. Such knowledge made it all so much worse.
Awkwardly, I lessen my grip on him, taking half a step backwards. Physical pain seems to assault my insides as I contemplate whether this will be the last time I shall see him.
A strange foreign glint flickers behind those grey eyes, one I do not recall ever detecting before. Was it hatred? Disgust?
Without thinking, I attempted another step backwards, my progress halted immediately by Holmes' right hand on my shoulder and other arm still around my back.
I blink briefly in confusion, staring directly at Holmes, his eyes immediately arresting my own. I detect a faint smile around the edges of his mouth. He always delights in befuddling me.
"You astound me Watson."
I can devise nothing to say in response, and so remain silent. I have already said far too much.
Holmes sighs, his features now strangely mask-like and restricted, as though he is somehow restraining his feelings. "...You give me too much credit Watson. There are many others far more deserving of your affections than I." His voice is casual, with a lightly teasing undertone, but I know it is really solemn.
Clearly he is not aware how this works. Maybe the apparent lack of logic and structure in cases of tenderness is why Holmes despises them so. The miniscule pinprick of hope at the base of my skull burns away some of the fear that shrouds my mind like a toxic fog, allowing me to think once more.
I almost feel like smiling, but manage to keep my face as blank and serious as I can. "That is an oddity Holmes, for I doubt that very much. After all, there is nobody else in the universe quite like you."
Holmes' expression wavers, and he briefly allows his confusion to surface. Yet I also detect a very slight reddening tinge flicker across his marble cheek. My friend barks his violent laugh, and I feel a smile etch itself onto my face.
"I'm serious Holmes. I have never met anyone else who plays the violin at such obscenely early hours, disregards excellent food, leaves his rooms in quite such disorder, complains so vigorously about my writing, has such total disregard for all opinions of others and smokes a ridiculous number of pipes. You are truly unique."
I am rewarded by another brief burst of laughter.
"And yet..." My tone is far more serious now. "Yet I have also never met anyone so reticent and withdrawn about all of his feelings."
"How can you be so sure that I have emotions Watson? I could be an emotionless void."
I can tell he's bluffing. Whilst his acting skills are superb, this time I perceive the truth in his eyes. "Because I have seen you laugh with joy, cry with sorrow and blaze with anger. In short Holmes, I know you too well." I return my gaze to his shoulder. "Besides, no emotionless void would remain anywhere near me after such a...declaration...Or turn such a fetching shade of pink."
I do not know what sparked this rush of confidence, but I am deeply appreciative of the source. Perchance it was the faint blush; perchance the words I had long wished to declare had allowed other statements to pour forth at long last, like a river as the dam breaks.
I glance briefly at Holmes, my previously nervous smile now a smirk as I notice he has now turned even more clearly pink, amusing me greatly.
"You are hardly one to talk Watson." His voice is almost a snap, a reflexive reply to any attempt to imply he has any emotions. "I note that you also have gone rather red in the face." However, I notice a familiar smirk adorning his features.
I grin, but inwardly grimace as the lapse in conversation reawakens us both to the somewhat awkward position in which we stand; Holmes with his hand on my shoulder and arm around my back, and me with arms still partially wrapped around him.
Awkwardly, I unwrap my arms entirely, expecting him to release me also. It comes as a great surprise when he does not. Instead, he chuckles quietly.
"Again Watson, you baffle me. One moment you profess that you love me, the next you continually attempt to escape me."
I frown up at him, as he is a good few inches taller than I am. "I...merely thought it might be less awkward." Holmes confuses me. He does not appear disgusted, angry or any other response I had anticipated. If anything, he seems amused, which irritates me. Amusement is not an acceptable response to my accidental confession.
"You seem confused Watson. Whatever torments you so?" He is still smirking, perhaps even more openly than before.
"Dammit Holmes, it isn't funny!" I snap, immediately regretting it. My nerves are having a negative impact on my tolerance.
His face becomes solemn in an instant as the smirk disappears. "I do not recall ever saying it was." He sighs. "Watson, you know I have very little knowledge or care for the softer, or indeed any emotions."
"It's fine." I face away from him, turning to go. He does not love me.
"If you would permit me to finish, my dear Watson." I look back at him out of habit. A faint flicker of a somewhat devious grin can be seen on his face for a second, then it's gone.
The next instant, Holmes is nearer, and his hand goes to my back, pushing me close to him, into an affectionate embrace. His head rests on mine for a moment and he mutters, "My Boswell."
At this moment, I am truly as in the dark as I am during the majority of our cases together. This hug is different from the previous amicable embraces, and my heart seems to leap out of my chest, though I know such a thing to be impossible. I carefully wrap my arms around him in return and he smiles, a dazzling smile, seeming to shine with the glow of one thousand suns. Despite his aversion to sociable life, had he the inclination, I know he would truly shine in such circles with his boundless acting and charisma. "Holmes?" I mutter, curiosity doubtless visible on my face.
"Dammit Watson, I thought this would make my reply to your original statement far more evident." He uses the same tone as he does when dismissing my incorrect inferences during a case. "Use those hidden deductive powers of yours."
"Enlighten me." I still don't expect him to return my affections and I continue to wonder why he has not yet banished his inverted friend from the premises.
For a moment, he just looks at me, and try as I might, I cannot fathom what he is thinking. With a sigh, he turns his gaze from mine and gently places a kiss on my temple. Such an action from Holmes, the man who despises soft emotions and rarely expresses any affection leaves me shocked, but ecstatic.
I notice, perhaps for the first time since I met Holmes, and a flicker of uncertainty in his slate-grey orbs as he pulls away, as if to gauge my reaction. "I am not accustomed to love, Watson. I was not fully aware how slim the difference is between friendship and love before now, and as you know I despise the weakness emotions are able to inspire in me. I...do not know how to love..."
I simply smile. "Well, you do learn fast Sherlock."
He blinks with surprise at my use of his Christian name, but I am too relieved and ecstatic to wait for any response. Instead, I slip my arm around his neck and press my lips to his, just for a moment. To my amusement, as I move to pull away, I find myself held in place by my friend's hand at the base of my own neck.
I begin to run out of air, and Holmes pulls away, supporting me with both hands. "Dear John."
I feel a twinge of childish joy as he uses my forename, a welcome change from our ordinary manner of referring to each another by surnames at all times. It seemed to mark the end, or rather the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship, or any other term which might be applied to the situation. I doubt very much that a name has been created for us yet, or that people such as I (and evidently Holmes) are even acknowledged as such; besides being deemed inverted. For convenience's sake, I resolve to describe us as "partners" as Holmes does so often.
Rational thought is abruptly and effectively silenced by Holmes' lips upon my own once more, no longer hesitant, for Holmes' confidence grows fast in all matters to which he applies himself. I close my eyes, savouring the moment, and I slowly move my hand to his dark hair, similar in colour to that of a panther.
I feel Holmes abruptly stiffen and without warning he jerks away. A stinging hurt jabs into my soul as I fear he has merely misinterpreted his friendly affections for me, and has now realised his mistake. I am unable to suppress the flicker of pain that passes across my face. He darts to the door, hand flying to the key. I frown and listen intently for a moment, and sure enough I hear muffled voices from the floor below. Now assailed by guilt at my immediate leap to the worst scenario my mind could muster, I turn towards the window to catch a glimpse of the visitor. However, Holmes' long fingers wrap around my wrist, pulling me to face him as he cups my cheek with his free hand.
"Good god Watson, when will you cease to doubt me? What do I have to say to dispel those ridiculous expressions of yours?"
"What expressions?" I keep my face as neutral as I am able.
Holmes' eyes dart briefly to the door, now securely locked, then back to my own. "Your wounded countenance, dammit Watson!" He transfers his gaze to the wall over my right shoulder, his voice growing far quieter. "It...Is painful to see you look at me like that. As if you doubt me."
I appreciate this as one of the very rare instances when Holmes openly makes reference to his emotions, and I enfold him in a gentle hug. "I'm sorry Holmes. But you know I trust you, even when you forget your revolver."
He chuckles dryly. "As I trust you to remember yours."
I roll my eyes, although he cannot see this, and watch his head flick across to the door, the handle of which is being turned, but to no avail.
"Mister Holmes! Doctor Watson!"
I recognise the voice of our landlady Mrs Hudson and watch Holmes for his reaction. He ignores her completely, probably in the hopes that she shall leave.
With an amused air, I untangle myself from Holmes, briefly pausing to adjust my collar in the mirror. Holmes' response is an irritated sigh, before turning his back on the door and lighting his pipe. My smirk of beguilement is assuredly evident as I unlock and throw open the door.
"Alas Watson, it seems our irrepressible housekeeper has managed to bypass the door once again...What is it now Mrs Hudson?"
Mrs Hudson only stares in horror, though this expression quickly transmutes to scolding. As per usual Sherlock Holmes, pioneer in the field of private detection, has successfully obliterated all semblance of order in his rooms. I stifle a chuckle, but our housekeeper has a sharp eye.
"This is not funny Doctor! Look at the state of these rooms!"
I inject seriousness into my countenance with some difficulty. "Of course it's not." Beat. "It's disgraceful Holmes."
Holmes pays my comment no attention and picks his way carefully across the chaotic sea of papers, folders with contents askew, dented maps, fallen chair and remnants of a certain syringe. It is perhaps fortunate that this carnage hides the broken glass from Mrs Hudson's piercing gaze.
"Mrs Hudson if you are here solely to inspect the rooms do please make yourself scarce. Watson and I have some important business to attend to..."
Reverting my eyes momentarily to Holmes' face, I can only pray that last comment did not sound half so suggestive to our poor landlady as it did to me. Fortunately, she does not appear to have caught the suggestive undertone I thought I detected.
"A note arrived for you both." She holds out a small square envelope, which Holmes almost snatches from her.
"Thank you and goodbye Mrs Hudson." As abrupt as ever, Holmes shoos her back onto the landing and locks the door once more.
I wait patiently as he rips open the note, all personal matters disregarded momentarily at the prospect of a new and exciting case. Too accustomed to this to feel hurt or neglected, I find I am almost grateful, as it grants me time for rational thought without distraction. The first and most pressing problem is the illegality of our relationship. Despite Holmes' mockery of the law, I find this a far more fearful and dangerous matter than that of the simple breaking and entering we have committed on occasion. Such a scandal could damage Holmes' career considerably, and entirely obliterate my small practice.
The second problem was the flirtatious and persistent Mary, who is allegedly (according to Holmes) intent on making me her husband. Not that I had ever fully intended to accept such a role, except during the vague unrealistic meanderings into the realm of 'what if' where I pondered my existence as a normal human being, who was not inverted. In my youth and naivety, I had believed this reluctance to marry, as my darling mother dearly wanted, was due to a desire to be free, young and independent. I also believed it was a fear of being tied down, locked in a relationship for all eternity (little did I know I would later spend years of my life following an eccentric detective, with whom I was deeply and foolishly in love, around the world solving riddles!) However, I now know this was, in reality, the fault of a key aspect of my nature, the fact that I am an invert. Now I know such a life never really held any appeal for me, though fatherhood may do. No danger, no excitement, just the mundane existence of a husband. As much as I know I can never be happy with Mary, or in such a tediously lethargic existence, I am loathe to injure her feelings. I will also almost miss her company, as she is indisputably a good conversationalist and is often witty, though she is quickly cast into shadow by the radiance of Holmes. In reality, I muse, it is not really a choice. No matter what the scenario, Holmes would be chosen over Mary every time, as he chose my friendship over his cocaine vice. Gratitude and slight flattery well up in me at such a thought, and I silently promise I shall never give him any cause to regret that decision.
And for the third, rather more embarrassingly evident problem, it shall have to be dealt with in one way or another later on, and preferably in a slightly more private environment. The human anatomy never ceases to amaze or embarrass me, often in equal measures.
"My dear Boswell you look truly pensive." The voice, and the obvious smirk behind it, calls me back to the present and I realise Holmes' gaze is fixed on me.
"That my dear Holmes would be because I was in deep thought."
"Watson, you truly have a considerable talent for stating the obvious. I had surmised as much." Beat. "Although I must confess I have failed to decipher the root of your musings. Please be kind enough to enlighten me upon this matter."
I laugh. "Can you not utilise those famous deductive powers of yours?"
"Enlighten me." He repeats once more, demonstrating his remarkable memory. I almost feel a slight surge of pride that my words had been committed to memory, alongside those crucial facts that form Holmes' casebook.
"I would, were I unaware how much you delight in deciphering puzzles. Consider it my method of keeping your mind free from stagnation, my dear chap." I sit in my favourite chair by the fire, one leg folded over the other and paper open in my hands.
Holmes merely pouts.
"Holmes, are you aware quite how undignified that particular expression is?" I fix my eyes firmly on the paper in my hands, chuckling quietly at Holmes' puerile persuasion tactics.
I don't have time to even consider my reaction before the newspaper is yanked sharply from my grasp. On some illogical instinct, I jerk backwards into the seat of my chair. A slight miscalculation on my part then causes it to tilt back in an ungainly fashion.
For an instant, I see fear penetrate the swirling grey clouds of Holmes' irises, a ray of light bursting through the usually misted and impervious emotional clouds. Instinct forces my eyes shut, but the backwards movement ceases almost instantaneously as Holmes' hand grips the arm of my chair, preventing it from tilting any further.
"I think your reactions may require more rigorous control Watson."
"And yours far less." I release a breath I was not aware I had been holding. A devious notion suggests itself, unrequested, to my mind and I smother my amusement at the idea. Perhaps I may be able to astound and befuddle the great Sherlock Holmes twice in the space of a few hours.
Stifling the devious grin that threatens to show on my face, I slide my hand under his, where it rests on the arm of my chair.
Again a tiny gap in his emotionless, confident facade flickers into existence, or at least becomes more prominent. I watch his irises cloud with momentary confusion and awkward inexperience, as unaccustomed as Holmes is expressing emotions - not to mention human contact. I squeeze his hand slightly, in what I hope is a reassuring manner. Holmes allows his emotionless expression to fade, replaced with a slight smile of quiet affection. I have always been aware that Holmes is not at ease when demonstrating affection, particularly through words. I think he finds it nigh impossible to admit that he needs human contact and affection, because he is, despite what he might wish, human. A person with emotions, thoughts, dreams, fears... The small and somewhat exclusive group for whom he can even entertain vague forms of affection know not to expect admittance of human requirements from Holmes, a man so confident and controlled that many wrongly assume he is devoid of emotion, although I must admit that was also my impression upon our first acquaintance. However, I do make an effort to allow aspects of his mortal emotions during our adventures into my accounts, despite his protests about the romanticism and emphasis of these journals. I would like to think I know better than to believe his emotionless exterior, for I could say I know him better than most. I understand that he feels uncomfortable expressing his feelings, particularly those of the affectionate variety, and that he has often attempted to distance himself from these as a result. Ironically, this only serves to make him even less accustomed to such feelings, as he has not, to my knowledge, ever had reason to express them before, unlike me. In the area of affection and love, I would not hesitate to say that I am far more experienced than Holmes, who grew to despise and resent them, perhaps as he could not interpret them or understand their logic, of which they have none.
They must seem alien to him.
But not to me. I have always taken emotions for granted, a crucial part of my being, for I do not believe any man can be truly whole without some degree of feeling. They are, after all, the root of my loyalty to Holmes. Without any affection, I would not be the loyal Boswell, Holmes' great friend and biographer. Affection is the reason I have suffered Holmes' obscenely early violin playing, his erratic lifestyle and deliberate withholding of plans until the last possible instant. I have often thought that I must be mad. But then, do not many poets say love is a form of madness? Do they not say it can cause you to become erratic, inane and illogical, and that it can send you voyaging to the ends of the earth, flying through the skies, following the whims of another? To put one's life in danger without a second thought to secure the safety of another... I believe them, for I can see no other explanation. My love for Holmes has put us both in great danger, dragged me into situations where I had to trust his judgement, and often purely suspicions or vague inferences, with my life.
And I would not change it for the entire world.
Holmes hesitates awhile, but then I feel him tentatively squeeze my hand in response.
Tightening my grip, now around his wrist, I brace my feet against the floor. Holmes frowns slightly, doubtless pondering what I intend to do next. A devious smirk glowing on my face, I simultaneously push backwards on the chair and pull Holmes forwards, almost onto my lap. Exactly as I'd planned, the chair clatters backwards onto the carpeted floor, and the pair of us fall with it.
Almost before we hit the floor, Holmes raises his weight from me, supporting himself on his arms.
"My god John, are you alright?"
I chuckle briefly, amused and touched by the fear diluting his voice. He clearly didn't think I had intended this to happen. For answer, I place a hand at the base of his neck and guide him gently down for a kiss.
"Of course Sherlock."
His face lights up in sudden understanding and I smile up at him, his dark head a stark contrast with the paleness of the ceiling above him.
I see my devious grin reflected on his features, this time with no hesitancy to be seen in his grey orbs. He rolls, reversing our positions and flipping me onto my back as he does so. With a sigh, he locks his arms around my torso and I lean back, resting my head on his shoulder.
For a while we just lie there in silence, enjoying the closeness and peace it brings us. I tilt my head to plant a kiss on his jaw, and he smiles his dazzling grin, eyes glistening with affection and peaceful joy.
I hear approaching footfalls and lift my head, but Holmes growls quietly and yanks it back to his shoulder.
I feel my heart constrict with fear as the voice of Inspector Lestrade drifts under the door. I hastily begin to sit up and move away from Holmes, but his arms do not budge and I am held in place.
"Yes Inspector? I am rather busy at present." Holmes' tone is deliberately abrupt to dissuade visitors from lingering.
"Of course. I merely wondered if you and Doctor Watson would be gracing us with your presence tonight." Lestrade's tone is audible through the wooden door.
I glance at Holmes and he sighs. "At this...social gathering?"
"Yes...The lads thought it might be rather entertaining-"
Holmes opens his mouth to interrupt, but I am quicker than he. "We'll be there."
"Excellent. Well, I'll leave you to your work...Goodbye Doctor...Holmes." Footsteps are heard retreating back downstairs.
I almost laugh at the easily noticeable indignation on Holmes' face.
"Watson, what were you thinking?!"
"We have no other plans for tonight, and you spend far too much time hiding in here as it is. You never know, you may even find it amusing." I cannot disguise the tremor of suppressed laughter in my tone.
"I doubt that." Holmes scoffs. He pauses, and his final puerile protest contains just the faintest hint of a whine. "But John...it's a costume party!"
I withhold my grin with some difficulty. "I see what Lestrade meant; it may be rather entertaining after all."
"Lestrade and a room of other erroneous detectives in equally inane costumes is not my idea of an enjoyable evening Watson."
"I never said enjoyable. I simply stated that it could be rather amusing."
"Scotland Yard is hardly renowned as the centre of comic genius, is it Watson?"
I allow myself a brief chuckle. "It may well be after this...Depending on the costume theme of course."
I notice Holmes is forcing himself not to smirk, the corners of his mouth twitching slightly with silent belligerence.
"Considering..." His smirk breaks through to the surface of his countenance. "Technically there is no theme; although I suspect Lestrade and his troops shall have some pre-arranged theme between themselves."
"We will stick out like a sore thumb."
I begin to regret accepting the invitation. Perhaps a little more thought would have been a good idea...Well it is too late for such contemplations now. Yet I am also fuelled with determination. Holmes is attempting to persuade me not to go, to avoid an evening of socialising. I am supposed to be the one persuading him!
"What's the matter Holmes? After all, you do have quite a stash of costumes."
He pouts indignantly. "Those are disguises."
I laugh. "I must admit, I fail to see the difference myself, dear chap."
"Difference? John, there is all the difference in the world!" Holmes pauses, and I fancy I can hear the wheels of his mind whirring into life, driving the reasoning and deductive engine on which Holmes prides himself. His continued use of my Christian name again emphasises the change in the tone of our relationship, and I feel my mood lighten even further, just with that one word.
"Costumes tend to be expensive, flamboyant and wholly tasteless. Disguises can be almost free of charge, inconspicuous and with some semblance of taste or sanity." He continues in a factual timbre.
I chuckle quietly. "Then why do you not attend the event in disguise rather than costume?"
"It's not worth the materials." Holmes sighs. "All of those imbecilic inspectors shall know who we are regardless; it is pointless attempting to hide such a fact from them, especially as we must endure several hours of their mediocre conversations."
"Come now Holmes, have a sense of humour." I tease, smirking as I slip out of his locked limbs without his noticing...For approximately three seconds.
He bolts upright, and I flinch with surprise as his hands grab my shoulders.
"And where do you think you are going Watson?" He growls in my ear.
I disguise the unintentional shiver this invokes, my smirk clearly visible. "We must organise our costumes, my dear Sherlock."
"...waste of an evening." He mutters, with very slight indignation.
I slide my feet under me, and without warning I begin to stand. For once I am taller than him, looking down on the seated detective whom I adore. But having now spent half an hour on the floor, it might just be starting to look suspicious. Back on my feet, I almost burst into gales of laughter as I notice the expression that adorns Holmes' face. He greatly resembles a small boy who has just suffered the confiscation of one of his prize possessions. It is almost as though he is both his adult self and childish self simultaneously. As if he never fully managed to grow up, part of him left behind in childhood, possibly because his emotions, so tightly reined in, could not manage to grow or mature. He still seems to retain the innocence (yet not the naivety) and on occasion the emotions of his childish self, a young boy with outstanding deductive and analytical powers yet still, at heart, a child. A normal child with a sense of adventure, perhaps more pride than most, and maybe...emotion. I find myself wondering when he locked up his emotions and threw away the key, and hoping I can find this key and return it to him, so he can express emotion once again.
He watches me with an analytical expression, head tilted slightly to one side, observing with almost childlike curiosity. I smile with silent laughter and tilt my own cranium to the right, watching surprise and regalement play in his eyes. These grey orbs are my greatest indicator of his moods, the irises clouding to grey fog when he is angry or spiralling into lethargy and the depression this inevitably invokes; gleaming as brightly as the moon's silver glow when full of joy or merriment. His visage is too rigidly controlled (though perhaps this is necessary for impersonations) for me to use it to gauge his moods or thoughts, and every day I grow surer in my conviction that he learns more about my character than even I know, and incontestably surpassing what I know of his. Of his disposition, although I am no longer flummoxed, I must admit that I still am, at times, woefully uncertain and often fail to predict his next actions with any degree of certainty. His is, in truth, an anomaly. But an adorable one.
I stretch out a hand. He hesitates, perhaps as a result of his reluctance to ever accept help from another, but after a brief pause he clasps my hand in his, like hand in glove. I tug my arm back, pulling him to his feet.
"I can stand without assistance." He insists, feigning a disgruntled tone and taking advantage of his height to look piercingly down at me.
"Yes, but no doubt you would refuse to do so purely to delay us further." I reply, gesturing authoritatively in the direction of the extensive case of costumes stashed in his bedroom, though due to the closed door, I merely pointed in the direction of his bedroom...
A brief flicker of...fear? Nerves? Anticipation bordering on dread? An uncommon emotion darts across Holmes' face before being replaced, almost instantaneously, by a twinkling mask of humour. I feel my cheeks burn slightly, and manage to stammer some form of intelligible explanation, endeavouring to keep my face and voice stern. Holmes wanders nonchalantly in the aforementioned direction, although I hear a brief chuckle, barely audible over the flickering flames still dancing in the fireplace. I hadn't-I didn't mean it in that way...not in the slightest! My own embarrassment is pushed aside as I recall the former unshielded expression that showed itself on Holmes' countenance. Ordinarily, I would not have even glimpsed it behind that impenetrable facade, but he is less guarded at the present instance, as is the tendency of emotions. Guilt assails my spine, the spikes making me increasingly uncomfortable. I do not follow him, instead pausing by the couch and sitting down carefully, deep in contemplation. What was that flicker? Why was it present? Then a thought crosses my mind, though I doubt its merits or likelihood. Sherlock Holmes, a virgin? Of all those I am acquainted with, he is by far the most inquisitive... I had always assumed he would have been one of the first to...experiment, as is common, particularly at boarding schools. Perhaps I have made a complete miscalculation in this respect. It may of course be perfectly possible that he is a human being entirely devoid of any desire for physical intimacy. It is not an impossibility, after all. Maybe he is as distant from such mortal desires of flesh as most believe him to be...
"Watson?" A faint sigh reaches my ears, as though from miles away. "Watson, must you continue to pursue these ponderings at such inconvenient moments?"
I blink, my eyes refocusing on the familiar surroundings, my mental meanderings having blocked the material world from my mind for the duration of my deliberations. I had not noticed Holmes' return, with a pile of possible disguises with which to further the destruction and lack of organisation in his rooms.
"And what was this matter of such supreme fascination?" He asks, kneeling beside the pile of 'disguises' and sifting through them with a critical eye.
I inhale smoothly. "I was speculating as to the cause of your momentary expression."
"What expression?" I would almost have believed him, had he not immediately started to scan the costume pile with increased fervour.
I am seized with a sudden determination to get a straight answer. "I am torn between nerves and apprehension..." I notice him flinch slightly, as though my words have physically struck him. "...Why Holmes?"
"I have no recollection of the aforementioned instance, and so can be of no assistance-"
"Holmes! I insist upon an answer!" It emerges like a demand, a rare occurrence, usually transposed.
Holmes replaces the disguise he is examining back in the jumble before him, and almost seems to shrink. I feel as though I should hug him, hold him close and protect him...But not yet. I force myself to wait until he speaks. I am not kept in suspense for long.
"It was a long time ago. I do not like to discuss it." His tone is cold, but I detect slight pain behind it.
"Holmes..." I spring from the sofa, rewarded by a slight twinge in my old wound, and kneel beside him, placing my arm around his shoulders with only slight hesitation.
He seems to melt in my arms momentarily, slumping towards me, an abrupt change from the confident Sherlock Holmes I am accustomed to seeing.
"It's not good for you to keep things bottled up Holmes."
He manages a snort of disbelief. He has always treated such suggestions with cynicism.
"I'm serious Holmes. It may not seem so at present, but it is far better to let it out." I smile. "Trust me, I'm a doctor."
I detect an almost silent snigger, followed be an even quieter muttering from Holmes.
"I would not have you think less of me."
I hold him closer still, resting his head on mine for a moment, inhaling his scent. An intoxicating blend of his favoured tobacco, faint hints of eccentric chemical experiments and a scent that is simply Holmes. "Holmes, I swear nothing could ever change my high opinion of you."
"You may say that now-"
"I mean it." I pull away slightly, and turn his head to face me with a hand underneath his chin. "You know I mean it."
I gaze into his slate-grey eyes, now solemn and restricted, closed off from the world, and I am unable to deduce anything from them. It comes as a great surprise to me when he at last begins to speak.
"I was in my final year at the grammar school, boarding of course. One evening towards the beginning of term, my roommate suggested I might like to join him and some friends for some...entertainment. It was always a mundane and tedious business, finding something to occupy my intelligence, and so naturally I accepted the offer. I had certain ideas of the experimentations this might involve, and even though I did find some to potentially be not entirely disagreeable; no one ever really managed to arrest my attention. Yet I went along; perhaps it was an inane decision." He pauses. "Predictably, the evening was to be concluded in an acquaintance's own room. Upon reaching the crucial point however, I found I could not bring myself to...do it. Instead, I fled, fully-clothed I might add." He buries his head in my shoulder. "The only acknowledged virgin in the entire year, Watson. I could not even fulfil the most commonplace of all rites of passage. I, who prides myself on my curiosity and experience, have failed in an area where all others succeed. An area far more commonplace than even the murder cases I refuse every day."
"What did you do?" I begin to understand. Because he wasn't ready, he had assumed he was cursed to fail consistently at any real physical intimacy. It is almost ironic, in a way.
"The only thing one in my position could do." His voice is muffled, though far more controlled, a return to his normal factual timbre. "Buried myself in my studies, shunned society and resigned myself to a life of loneliness..." I detect hesitation in his voice and wait for him to continue. "...Until I met my Boswell. Though I admit that retaining your company is wholly selfish of me, as I cannot fulfil even the simplest of intimacies-"
"Holmes." I cannot hide the amusement that seeps into my voice. He glances up, bemused. This does not aid my attempts at solemnity in any way, and I struggle to keep my voice level. "Holmes, can you hear what you are saying? Do you honestly think I would love you any less for such a miniscule and erroneous reason? My dear chap, I have loved you in secret without such 'intimacy' for years, and I must say I am almost offended you think me so shallow!" I kiss the top of his forehead, my countenance a mixture of regalement and affection. "In any case, I believe you have been theorising with a paucity of data. Not everyone is ready for such things by a synonymous age, and I can honestly say I too was indisposed to complete that same 'rite of passage' before becoming romantically involved, which I consider more of a blessing than a fault."
He stares at me in mild shock, as though he has just encountered an epiphany. "Watson...John...I believe I may have been as blind as a beetle. Your deductions have shamed me to the core." He slaps a hand to his skull. "I should have seen this before. I have been absorbed in self-pity and resignation when I should have been concentrating on the facts!"
I just smile. That's the Holmes I know...and love.
Even if he can be slightly irksome or aggravatingly stubborn on occasion, as the glint of pale light reflecting off splintered glass edges serves to remind me.
It also prompts me; a reminder that I should dispose of the aforementioned syringe before our long-suffering landlady discovers it and demands an explanation. The fewer questions asked regarding the somewhat turbulent events of last night, the better it shall be for the both of us.
I note Holmes' expression has changed to one of annoyance, which I interpret as irritation at his own error of judgement. I maintain my cheery smile and relinquish my grip on him, whilst leaving one arm resting upon his shoulders.
"We really must begin preparing our 'disguises', Holmes."
"Or perhaps I could abruptly develop some manner of minor ailment and pilfer a night of your attentions solely for myself." His smirk borders on the diabolical.
"Do so and I shall have no option but to leave you in Mrs Hudson's care while attending the party by myself."
Holmes mumbles something which sounds more like a growl than coherent speech, and I decide to ignore it, instead focusing my energies on sifting through the avalanche of random items.
"Holmes, none of these items have any semblance of similarity!" I exclaim, dropping the article in my hand with a sigh.
His response is a quiet chuckle.
"You must observe far more carefully my dear Watson, beyond the colourings. I agree you have a swift eye for colour but in this circumstance that is rather more of a hindrance than an asset." He smirks slightly and selects two boots, both varying shades of brown, yet now I see they are in fact synonymous.
His smirk broadens. "In many of my disguises Watson, it has been necessary for my boots to appear odd, as would befit my character's financial circumstances."
" You altered the colour of perfectly good boots, which none excluding yourself would have observed, and which then prevents them being used in an alternate scenario, purely to mimic your character's financial situation?" I would previously have been startled by this lack of regard for perfectly decent boots, but years of living with Holmes' devotion to his impersonations has altered my expectations, and now it only vaguely surprises me.
Holmes places the boots on the carpet beside him and glances up at me with triumph in his eyes. "But Watson, you also perceived the difference in colour, however minor, proving my strategy to have had the desired effect. Therefore, I believe they served their purpose rather well, and justified the slight alterations."
"It still seems a waste." I resume my scavenging of similar items from the pile, which is gradually being depleted.
His voice becomes cooler. "Would you consider these meticulous boot alterations justified if I were to tell you they assisted in the discovery and capture of a criminal? A murderer, in fact?"
I fear I may have offended him by criticising his handiwork, as I know he abhors any discussion of his failings, except on that first occasion when we met and procured these rooms together in Baker Street and each informed the other of our various shortcomings.
"Holmes I did not mean-"
I slide my gaze from the pile, and watch Holmes' stern expression melt to reveal one of mirth.
"Purely a joke my Boswell, purely a joke." He bursts into one of his brief yet violent laughs, and I cannot prevent myself from chuckling, though far more quietly.
"I say Holmes; I do believe you have been secretly developing a sense of humour."
"Whatever would Mycroft say? My new-found sense of humour would assure him that I was really an imposter."
"You must have had a sense of humour at one time Holmes." Surely he had laughed when he was a child? Although considering his brother's reluctant, reclusive nature, I have my doubts about this.
Holmes pauses for a moment, his eyes fixed upon the window and the shaft of sunlight which pours through it. "Perhaps Watson...Perhaps."
I can devise no response to this, and I cannot shake off the feeling that there is certain information to which I am not privy...
Regarding Holmes' youth.
It worries me, as he never speaks of any of his family, save Mycroft on occasion, and he never mentions any events of his younger years, with the one exception I have just learnt. I have often wondered how such intelligent brothers became so disillusioned with society and locked themselves away; Mycroft in the Diogenes Club and Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street. I cannot fathom what events could have so blackened their view of humanity that Mycroft in particular can scarcely bear to be part of society.
"Holmes, are any of these disguises suitable for the event?" I sigh, dropping two leather gloves back on the pile. Though not before noting that they are women's gloves...
Holmes surveys the carnage with a technical eye. "Not that I can see."
Holmes' smile does not fade. "Do not be so easily discouraged Watson! I have the perfect solution."
With these words he leaps to his feet and strides to the door, pausing to glance back at me. "Hurry Watson, we have little under an hour!"
I smile, shaking my head slightly, and follow him, reaching the door as he darts out into the hall and up the staircase towards...my room?
Upon arriving in my room, I find Holmes scavenging items from my wardrobe. "Holmes?"
"Do not fret Watson; it is all part of my solution." He continues to scan my garments with a critical eye. I sit on a small chair by the door and watch him at work.
A mere three minutes later, he rushes out of the room, carrying half of the contents of my wardrobe. With sudden anticipation of their fate I follow him back down the stairs. "Holmes will you please explain what is going on?"
"All shall become clear momentarily dear Watson." He replies from within his own room and I wander back across to the pile of disguises, the gloves catching my eye again.
"Yes Watson?" His tone is distracted, and my smile spreads.
"Why do you have a woman's gloves in your possession?" I hold one up and watch the doorway for movement.
I am rewarded by a longer burst of merriment from inside his room, and he pokes his head around the door.
"An excellent question Watson, a truly excellent question. But it shall have to wait for another time."
I chortle quietly, throwing the glove back onto the flattened pile. The unsolved mystery of Sherlock Holmes and the woman's glove.
Though I feel it may not be entirely appropriate for public consumption...
A/N: PLEASE REVIEW! And sorry it took so long...Review it as you please.