Thus Conscience Does Make Cowards

"What is he whose grief

Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow

Conjures the wand'ring stars and makes them stand

Like wonder-wounded hearers.

This is I…"

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I


"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought"

-Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

Author Note: Believe it or not, the inspiration from this came from watching David Tennant's amazing version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. I watched it twice for this, which is about six hours of TV watching so I hope the effort shows in this. :-) Anyway, just enjoy – if that's possible and if you want, tell me what you think.

Pairings: UST Holmes/Watson.


There is sadness in the air of 211b Baker Street; a gap, an absence of something lost, hidden in shadows and unspoken words. Silence fills the gap that is left behind and neither man talks as they sit on high-backed chairs, their postures ramrod straight and post argument tense.

Watson shuffles awkwardly in his seat as though he is uncomfortable even with his surroundings, moving his cane from one hand to the other, his free hand moving up to run through his hair at sporadic intervals; a nervous tic possessed since the war. Holmes is the complete opposite; his form straight and carved as though in marble, his brown tweed waistcoat with one untied button almost serving to straight jacket his usual kinetic disposition. Both the men's eyes: twitching brown and clouded blue are facing down.

Holmes clears his throat, a sound that cuts through the disquieting silence of the room that is only broken by an ornate clock that sits upon the mantle. Watson looks up suddenly, like awakening from a doze, alert and half expecting his friend to say something. But Holmes keeps his silence, his thoughts close to his chest like a hand in poker.

Quiet is King for now, reigning monarch with total control, the tension that has arisen its minions. Both men can feel it, the weight of things not said that will never be revealed, not to anyone, and never to each other.

"Well…" Holmes starts with the air of a man tired of doing nothing "I suppose we had better drink to your newfound happiness Watson" There is an edge in his voice that is seldom heard from the detective, clipped and brittle. Watson ignores it with an inner control he did not think he possessed, not wanting to start another argument. There have been enough accusations and recriminations spoken out already, and he has no desire to tear open old wounds with careless words.

"Yes…" Watson replies, treading carefully with his words, treating his friend cautiously like he is made of some fragile porcelain china or a volatile substance liable to go off given the right push. He gets up from his seat, glad of something to do which may alleviate the tension. Holmes is closer however and moves over first to the wood panelled drinks cabinet, leaving Watson to sit back down feeling slightly useless. Holmes draws forth two crystal glasses, into which he pours the dark amber liquid of scotch from the glass-topped bottle that had stood next to the glasses, before returning the stopper to the bottle and the bottle back into its place.

He walks back over to his seat with a slowness quite unlike him, which makes Watson feel more on edge, passing him a glass which the doctor takes with a low murmur of thanks before Holmes lowers himself back into his chair.

He pauses and raises his glass staring straight at Watson's as he says in a voice almost a mutter:

"To marriage. Wishing you a long and happy one"

The words cut at Watson, guilt rubbing the open wounds as though grains of salt, stinging and hurting long after they are spoken, but the doctor just nods his lacklustre agreement to the toast and gulps down the drink. Holmes just cradles it in his hands, looking very lost all of a sudden.

"It's not as though you'll never see me again," Watson ventures, feeling awkward and clumsy as he stumbles round for the right words. He's never felt this way round Holmes before, has never not known what to say or how to say it. They'd been friends for too long, so why was now so different? Why now was it so damn hard? "I mean, I'll still catch you as the station…"

"Mmm," Holmes murmurs, barely listening and not meeting Watson's eye, as through he is in another place entirely, pushing reality away so he can hide himself from not having to face up to what's wrong. Watson's not stupid, he knows why Holmes is hurting and he hates the fact he is being made to chose, and that he can't chose the choice he wants. He loves Mary, like a man loves a woman, but he also loves Holmes, in a way that can never be right. And it's not fair on either of them.

"I'll come and see you," Watson tries again, reaching out to Holmes, not wanting their friendship to end like this, not this way. He needs this, and he wonders if Holmes knows how much this is hurting him. Hurting them. "I'll bring food for Gladstone, I'll visit when I can," his words are feeble and he knows it, but he can't think of anything else he can say. "…You can even come round to dinner…"

"I'd have thought you'd be far too busy with your new wife" Holmes's comment comes out harsher then he intended, more accusatory and he looks away quickly, embarrassed at his outburst. Watson blocks out the temptation to reach out, to grab hold of his friend's hand and to tell him that everything was ok, to tell him everything he'd kept locked inside for too long.

"Sherlock, old boy, " he whispers to Holmes, emotions stark in his honest expression, trying to make him understand "We both know you mean far too much to me for that to happen"

His meaning hangs in the air, some phantom will-o-wisp, subtle and gentle before Watson realises what he's just voiced, his skin paling to mirror the drawn colour of a corpse. Both men look away abruptly, neither voicing what should be said but what isn't and never will be.

The silence returns again, seeping in like the thick smog on the streets of London as both contemplate what they could say a million and one possibilities un-acted, till Watson coughs and stands up, using his cane to steady himself on his bad leg.

"I really must be getting back"

Holmes stands up automatically so Watson can take his leaving, nodding even though he doesn't want the doctor to go. It'll make his absence all too real, all too tangible and it'll be as though Watson had never graced these halls, lived in these rooms. It's not the fact that Watson is leaving for Mary; it's never been about that. He likes Mary; despite the pain she is causing him. She's a smart strong woman and Watson is lucky to find someone so good for him. What hurts Holmes is the fact that Watson is leaving him and it is that that hurts, that that makes him feel angry and bitter and betrayed, that makes him feel a pain in his chest he can't quite explain. He knows he'll see Watson; it's not as though they're parting forever, but something has been lost. They had their own little group of the two of them, Holmes and Watson, Watson and Holmes, and with each other they could pretend the outside world didn't matter.

Now Watson was leaving and it'll be just Holmes now in a group all of his own. He's never been good at connecting with other people, keeping them at a distance, but Watson was different. Watson knew him and helped him and didn't judge him or try to hold him back. With Watson…with John, Holmes could be himself. The separation will be easier for the doctor; he'll lose the pain and unwanted thoughts in the touch of his wife so he doesn't have to notice how much he hurts, but Holmes…Holmes will have nobody. Of course he'll have Mrs Hudson and Lestrade and Clarky, but it wont be the same. Watson is his colleague, a man he can always talk to, and his closest friend. Holmes isn't sure it'll be the same with him gone and he knows that if they slowly part, he'll have nothing but his music and cases to solve and the opium-induced hours to help him think and to take the pain away.

And he doesn't want that.

"Yes. We must be getting you home to Mrs Watson. She'll wonder what I'm up to keeping you here so long"

Holmes's tone, quiet and reserved, scares Watson, and somehow the defeated resignation in his voice is worse them all the shouting, then the bitter accusations and snide comments. He'd take all that again gladly and without complaint if he could just see a spark of a fight in Holmes's eyes.

"Would you like me to call you a cab?" Holmes asks, walking with Watson down the carpeted staircase to the entrance of 221b Baker Street and helping the doctor on with his coat.

Watson shakes his head, fitting his hands through the coat sleeves without really engaging. He's finally leaving, and the feeling it gives him is worse then he had thought it.

"I'll be alright, I'll call one myself"

The hurt in his heart is becoming painful until Watson can bear it no longer. He turns to look at Holmes, trying to convey all his emotions, all his feelings into one single moment. This is the last chance he'll get.

"I'm sorry, Sherlock" he whispers in a voice he barely has control over and on and impulse borne of sorrow and guilt and need, he leans in closer, pressing his lips close against Holmes's, his touch feather soft silently asking if this is ok. He needs this, needs the closure, no matter how little it is, and he doesn't know what he'll do if Holmes rejects him, no matter how selfish his actions are.

Holmes pauses out of shock, but his thoughts gradually catch up and he kisses back with little prompting, knowing that this moment will never happen again, can never happen again. It's wrong; against everything they've ever been taught, but for a moment they can forget all that and pretend it's ok, that in a perfect world they could have this forever. The kiss is everything he had imagined and more as he tentatively moves his hands up, first to cup his face and then moving to card his fingers through Watson's hair, feeling soft skin and bristles of stubble as he pushes deeper into the kiss, the doctor pulling him closer with arms holding him tight, knowing that if he can only have this moment, it may be enough.

The kiss ends all too quickly leaving Holmes out of breathe and overwhelmed as they part from each other. Watson's smile is almost enough to make Holmes want to kiss him again, but they both know this can never happen again, knowing fully the consequences if caught.

Watson puts his hat on without a word, nodding to Holmes with his eyes filled with so many conflicting emotions, before he gives one nod to Holmes with a small smile on his face, full of care and opens the door, walking out. Just like that.

Holmes just stands there for a moment, touching his lips as he feels the ghost of that kiss upon them, the scent of the man he had loved and always would still lingering, a presence haunting, a benevolent phantom reminding him of what he had lost.

He feels almost a ghost himself, slowing walking back up the carpeted stairs to his room, the room where Watson had sat only moments before. No tears run down his cheeks, because that isn't the sort of man he is, but there is a hollowness in his heart as he picks up his violin and bow which have been resting on the table, a slow heartfelt tune in his mind, one of Watson's favourites. He pours all his sorrow into the music as he positions his fingers and readies himself, before pulling the bow solemnly over the A string, producing a long sombre note that reminds him of bleak moors and desolate streets as his mind fills with memories of Dr John Watson. Their friendship, their arguments, their kiss…all the moments they shared with each other that will remain with him always.

Because in the end, memories are all he will ever have to show for it.

---Thoughts? The little review button's right down there…