A/N: My first foray into the minefield that is Sherlock Holmes angst. As such, I'm actually quite apprehensive – I've used a writing style I usually reserve for my Naruto stories, but meh. Too late now.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I only like to play with them.
Please don't forget to review!
John Watson marries on a Sunday morning, early, collar starched beneath his dress coat.
He's smiling in the photograph. Caught somewhere half-way to a genuine laugh, his eyebrows arched up and his head held proud, a tiny flash of teeth underneath his moustache. The monochrome doesn't do justice to him; there's gold in that hair, and blue in those eyes, and a happiness so bright it would blind any camera, bleach out all else on a negative.
The letter says Hope you are doing well, Holmes. That's Watson's writing, a smooth, neat scrawl, the peculiar loop he has to his 'l's. Holmes can see him, his satinwood writing desk; can imagine the black smudge of ink on his thumb, his favourite white shirt, his sleeves pushed to his elbows, each delicate strand of blond hair on his arm. Holmes can see him. The nape of Watson's neck, and his throat. The way he flicks his eyes up to refill his Gillot. Holmes can see him, the troubled little perch of his brows, can smell the half-drained cup of coffee and the earthy scent of Watson's tobacco and the ink-smell (Hope you are doing well) and the scratch of the pen nib as Watson writes Holmes.
The letter says Hope you are doing well, Holmes.
It's a pretext, a gentrified excuse. Holmes stares, and then burns it. The photograph, too.
It comes back, Watson smiling, beautiful, except this time Holmes is dozing for the first time in weeks and the look of the cremated photograph is stuttered, is grainy, impossibly raw.
John Watson is smiling like the end of the world.
Holmes falls into it, graceless, a white-hot oblivion where he is folding his hands over Watson's jaw. He is learning the broad sweep of Watson's cheekbones and John Watson is silent, allowing him to. He is tracing a thumb over Watson's nose and then up to his brow, memorising the angles, his fingers pressed flush over the edge of one eye that's fixed only on him, and it dizzies, it blows. John Watson says nothing when Holmes kisses him, slow. Twists a hand to his hair, to the collar below, to the buttons; then finally down to the belt.
Watson lets him, and when Holmes jerks awake on the divan Mrs Hudson is making breakfast on the level below. Outside, street-carts clatter; an alley-cat yowls. It's November.
Six months that John Watson's been gone.
Watson's delighted to see him, blue eyes and a smile. A relief in the way that he says the name. "Holmes."
Holmes is dirty, soot-smothered, a hole in his coat. He's wet, too. River-mud clings like tar to his boots. It takes Watson five seconds to register this, and when Holmes says, "Ah, Watson," it comes out ecru, too unprocessed. Watson takes a step back from the door.
"Well, come in. Fell into the Thames, did you?"
"A case, merely," and that's not entirely true. It's a case. It's not merely. Not when Holmes is alone. "An unforeseen development involving a dock and a barrel of creosote, but aside from that, nothing unusual."
"Nothing unusual! You're dripping all over my floor."
"Do you mind?"
Watson smiles, second time. Holmes wants to kiss him. "No."
Mary's out and Watson leads him straight to the parlour, gestures him into a sabre-leg chair. It's a good choice; the seat Georgian canework, no silk. The armrests worn. Holmes puts his hands over the dark, scrolled wood, thinks briefly that Watson's palms made the calluses there, in the oak. The thought trembles.
Something desultory is happening and Holmes doesn't hear (Watson's voice saying "Stay", and "hot tea", and "dry clothes"), and then the room is empty, scooped out, morose. The air is the smell of Watson's air. Holmes steeps himself in it, immerses himself; there's the splay of a hand-knotted rug on the floor, the design geometric, extremely bourgeois, and Holmes thinks with a fondness that Watson's taste is the same, unimproved. Mary hasn't quite reached him there, yet. Thank God. But she's there in the wallpaper, chairs; in the drapes that are brushed to crisp cleanness, the paintings, the faint sentimentality in a Renaissance vase. A feminine patina over every edge, every line. Blunting things. Holmes decides he doesn't like it, not a single thing, besides the rug; decides he wants to take it apart at the seams and fill it with things Mary Morstan hasn't heard of before, the entire room full of Spanish and Mudéjar screens, stained-glass lampshades, a spade-backed Hepplewhite chair, Queen Anne candlesticks and dust-covered Arabic tomes, an orrery, French commodes and Gothic birdcages. Holmes wants Tanagra figurines and an Empire centrepiece, silver putti with medallions glinting white-fierce beneath, and an armoire with trelliswork parquetry and a cassone with stucco and bronze-gilt feet. Holmes wants beauty and a blunt, irreverent mess. Holmes wants Watson. The last, more than anything else.
"Hope this fits you; I think I've put on some weight," and Watson's back again. Holmes snaps his head up to see. "I'd run you a bath but you never used to like those things. Unless these six months have seen you reform on me?"
"I don't reform," Holmes reminds him. "And you have put on weight. Seven pounds."
Watson's grinning, a boyish, effulgent grin that's familiar, that Holmes has gone half a year without seeing. It steals straight to his centre, stays quietly, stings. The shirt's white. Holmes catches it; a towel follows suit, a pair of dun trousers, belt tossed playfully towards his head.
"No waistcoat?" Holmes says, pushing his luck again. He can catch the hard scent of lye soap from the shirt. "You have terrible hospitality, old boy."
Watson snorts at him. "I know I shan't see those clothes again. I'm not willing to add a waistcoat to the sacrifice. Are you very wet?"
"Perhaps I had best get the fire up, nonetheless."
"I suppose; I can hang my clothes to dry on that hook just there."
"If they are worth drying at all," Watson points out, but he's already at the coal scuttle, poker in hand. The fire drips a warm glow across his back. "At the present moment, Holmes, I'm more inclined towards burning them to save Mrs Hudson from cardiac arrest."
It's so ordinary, time-honoured, this exchange of theirs; Watson's spine spells a patchwork of memories in the way that it arcs by the fireplace. Holmes peels off his jacket, cravat, then his braces. The cloth is a wet sound against the dark rug.
"If you burn them, old boy, you shall have to provide me a waistcoat."
"I shouldn't be surprised if you're wearing one of my waistcoats already. A large number of them mysteriously disappeared from the boxes I'd packed before leaving Baker Street."
Holmes remembers the darkness, Watson asleep in his room, the silent unclasping of a portmanteau latch. The small, stolen stack buried deep in his closet. Holmes remembers each suit the waistcoats match, remembers thinking that Watson would come back to retrieve them, someday. He's never worn them, despite what Watson might think.
"Would you prefer me to return them?" he says, though he doesn't intend to.
Watson knows this. "No, my dear fellow; I shan't fit them now, anyway. And you were never much good at returning things in any condition nearing satisfactory."
"You besmirch me."
"Hardly. I know you too well."
Holmes is feeling masochistic, so he prods shamelessly, if only to hear Watson's voice. "Name an instance."
Watson pauses. Coal clumps hiss a cappella into the chimney, the smoke susurrating in ponderous whorls. Despite the fire Holmes feels that the room is cooling, turning opiate, the soft shade of clair de lune.
"Well, for one, Holmes, you never returned any of my letters."
This is true, almost inescapably so. Watson's back is an infallible, polite presentation as Holmes shrugs his shoulders out from beneath a damp shirt.
There's a silence. Holmes breaks it, eventually.
"I've been occupied;" studiously careless, remote. "I've had cases. Moriarty. And you've had your Mary. I did not think it my station to encroach on your domestic life."
Watson's frowning now; Holmes can read it too easily, the taut snag of the shoulders, transpicuous. The fire vaunts a roar of sparks onto the hearthrug and Holmes shunts borrowed trousers up over his hips. The belt snaps through the belt-loops. Watson's still turned away.
"Holmes, I cannot see how Mary comes into all this. You still could have written."
"I had nothing to say."
"I find that hard to believe," and the voice is startlingly angry. Holmes loses the tide of his breath for a second. "It's been six months, Holmes; you cannot still begrudge me my marriage to Mary after all this time."
Yes, I can. "I begrudge you nothing, Watson."
"If so, then why did you not write?"
"You did not visit." Holmes points this out as one would a dead body, a corpse found floating the breast of the Thames. "I extrapolated, old boy, on the data presented. I concluded you wished nothing more to do with me."
The surprise comes first, the temporary slick of guilt; and then fury emerges in blocks of restraint, in tight fists balled deep into grey trouser pockets. John Watson doesn't let this side of him reign – lets it simmer instead, a faint adumbration that's caught in the cage of a grey-blue gaze. The cords of light muscle down the length of his arms are hypnotic. Holmes thrills with it, the thought of John Watson angry, a trumeau between rapture and plangent dismay.
"Your conclusion was invalid," Watson says in time. He's polite, in the way that he is when irate; Holmes knows that he's trying to avoid a fight, circumvent it. "I did not wish that at all."
"You did not?"
"I did not. And neither did Mary."
Holmes needles his cuffs. Mary's name is a chafe. "Did you rusticate for some time in the country, then? That is the only explanation I can supply for your avoidance of me."
Watson starts forward from the fireplace, hands emerging to grip the mantel, tight. Holmes' eyes stipple over him, vaguely assessing. The voice, when it comes, is incredulous.
"My avoidance of you is hardly the case. You did not even present at my wedding, Holmes."
"You seemed not to resent that at the time, if I recall correctly. You appeared only too happy in the photograph you sent."
"A photograph, and a letter, to which you did not reply."
"As I've stated already, I was engaged in a case."
"Too engaged, apparently, to even jot back a note of congratulations."
The fight is happening; Holmes feeds it with a kind of glee, knowing that the full brunt of Watson's concentration is fixed on him and him only, with only cursory lapses to Mary. There's a jarring tension in Watson's jaw; Holmes longs to palpate it – bottle it, perhaps.
"Would my congratulations have pleased you, if given unwillingly?"
Watson scoffs, a disdainful disbelief. "I cannot comprehend you. Are you so unwilling to see me happy, Holmes?"
"Are you happy?"
It's superfluous; the answer is clear. In the Dresden china on the mantelpiece Holmes sees peace, sees contentment, domesticity. Watson's eyes have turned sharp now, a thin slip of steel, and the air is viscous as Holmes pushes up from his seat. He doesn't want to be sitting when the moment comes, when the word tips deliberate from Watson's lips.
"Yes." And there it is, like a stake. "I am, Holmes."
Holmes knows this already, so he's braced for it, waiting. It doesn't hurt him as deep as it used to, once. He shrugs blithely, an adscititious lie; Watson's leant by the console, mouth grim and set, and Holmes knows that he's gone but still Holmes wants him blindly, wants the way Watson glares from beneath dark blond lashes, wants the secretive hollow of Watson's neck. Watson's solid and Holmes is tempolabile, and in Watson's stability there's some sort of pledge. It's a pledge that, for Holmes, negates everything else – negates Mary, negates even the wedding ring. Negates Watson's smile in that photograph, Watson's eyes the blue of celadon glaze, Watson's laughter crystallised onto a sheet of paper over something, over someone, other than Holmes. Negates all of Holmes' own deductions and counter-deductions; his syllogisms and his sophistry, his probes into Watson and into himself that yield nothing but tor-tangled suppositions, a bleak field where Logic holds no sway. In the all-encompassing human mire only Watson stands still – only Watson exists. Holmes sees him, a lodestar, ubiquitous; and when Watson's arms cross over the front of his chest, his mouth opening to venture some afflictive truth, Holmes takes the three irrevocable steps and kisses that truth back down and away.
Holmes feels it, a grinding halt in the limbs. He rations himself; he's off Watson's lips before Watson has had time to push him away, to think. The room all around is a tenuous brace and Holmes reels to the door in sauve qui peut, and the last thing he sees is a lambent gleam, the bright catch of gold that is Watson's ring.
It's enough for a harem of dizzying nights, sleep held off by the needle and Watson's face. Holmes rakes at the violin like short gasps of breath, the remembrance of Watson's mouth against his a hot scalding against the inside of his ribs.
A week sidles; then Watson is there in the doorway, crossing over the Herez like Tisiphone.
The first hit to the jaw is vitriolic. Holmes feels his head snap to the side with it, feels the quick whip of blood, tastes it there on his lip. Watson's eyes are a furious, storm-addled grey and the second blow snags Holmes low in the chest, knocks him backward against the Baroque bookcase.
"I am married," is the first thing Watson says, and then his cane is across Holmes' collarbones and his mouth is a vengeful, bitter descent. Holmes meets him with teeth and voracity, with a drowning despair that sinks ruthlessly deep. There's the scent of char-smoke in Watson's shirt. Holmes wraps a hand into a waistcoat pocket, the rasp of lost bets against the backs of his fingers; there's a violence in the bone of Watson's hips and Holmes arcs his spine like a jet of spray, lets the feel of John Watson saturate him. Watson tastes like cheap gin and depravity, like the bruises Holmes knows he will have in the morning. Holmes wants him. Holmes wants him, exactly like this.
"I am married."
Holmes needs no reminder of that, and while Watson is trying to catch his breath Holmes is pulling him, dragging off buttons and belts. Watson's throat is a terse, closed-off domain and Holmes presses his lips to the pulse bucking there, shuts his eyes, carves the memory of Watson's breath as it quickens above him deep into his mind. Watson's cane slides away like a final pretence and then Watson's gloved hands are along Holmes' waist.
"I am married."
Holmes pitches their two bodies closer, moulds his mouth over Watson's to silence him.
There's no gentle quarter to any of it, just a furious, fathomless, telic event.
When it ends Holmes is dappled with purple-edged bites, Watson's arm slung a warm weight across his chest. The day sifts through the windows like ambergris. They say nothing.
Not even when Watson leaves.
Holmes doesn't move from the settee for almost a week, not eating, enchasing his arm with needle-pricks. The bites Watson left are a Gentian blue and Holmes submerges in heady, narcotic fevers, his eyes dark, tenebrous, his fired limbs trilling. His violin hawks denial and jagged misgivings and the notes come out gauntly, serrated and thin.
There are times when Holmes finds his mind painfully clean, when morphia has trickled away from his skin and John Watson emerges, a terrible dream. Watson's anger is a gimlet-eyed incubus that seeps slowly, a raggedly beautiful thing. This is a side of John Watson only Holmes has seen; in cases, with Watson's swordstick singing, a visceral sort of brutality that is riveting because it's so out-of-place in him. In arguments, too, when Holmes is winning – not because Holmes is right, because he usually isn't, but because he's a doyen in informal fallacies, in pointing out Watson's and neglecting his own – then comes the sudden lash of viciousness, Watson's eyes snapping briskly above gritted teeth. The culmination is bruises and knuckle-split lips, heated fist-fights that finish ambiguously. Holmes knows the way Watson swipes a hand over his cheek when it's over; knows the way Watson's eyes cool, a bit guilty, turn introspective and puzzled, an apology.
Holmes knows, and he pushes incessantly; because beneath the trim waistcoat and propriety is a facet of Watson he desperately needs, seeks to claim.
Watson's smiles belong to Mary.
But this side of John Watson belongs only to Holmes.
Mary visits and Holmes is wilfully gauche, too biting. Too caustic, too viperish. She's pretty, pragmatic, and precatory, and when she asks him what the matter with Watson is, Holmes occludes her politely and asks her to leave.
A day later and Watson is there as well. There's a light sheen of snow on his overcoat, frost aster-like on his lashes and hair; more sober, reserved, hat still on, necktie straight. Holmes is stilted from seven-percent solution, his breathing aflutter and his eyes half-closed. He knows what Watson is trying to do. Preciosity lingers in Watson's jaw, the still stone of a Delphic oracle.
"I came to – " and Watson falters there, scripted words abdicating themselves. Watson's mouth is a cold-bitten, motion-flushed red. "Are you well?"
"You came back."
It's not an answer, Holmes knows, but Watson accepts it anyway. "Yes, I did."
A quiet moment passes like ether between them, Watson framed by the doorjamb, a grey silhouette. A tense note is in Watson's shoulders, his neck; Holmes is trembling from longing and too much cocaine, the pads of his fingers a hollow panache.
"Won't you sit?"
"I shan't stay," Watson tells him too sharp, and the head is dipped low down over the chest, blue eyes hidden beneath the felt brim of the hat.
Holmes flicks a hand at him, tremulous. "Not even for tea?"
"Mary's waiting. She's in a hansom outside."
It smarts faintly. Holmes tips himself semi-upright; his voice lilts. The words chase a falsified grin, dissipating too quickly to really subsist.
"You would choose her above me, Watson?"
"I have already chosen her above you, Holmes."
"Ah." Holmes swallows, tells himself it is nothing. "I see. Is that why you have come here today?"
"Yes. It is."
He needs to hear it from Watson's lips. "So you love her?"
Watson's answering smile is stiff, slightly cutting. "Are you not the master of deduction, Holmes? Or have I placed too much faith in your skills to date?"
"I cannot read you," Holmes shrugs, and his fingertips lean. The ballast in his chest is sinking slowly, taut memories of Watson's mouth on his skin. "You have provided me with too much conflicting material. I'm afraid I cannot discern head or tail of it, though I believe I've made more than significant progress."
"You must enlighten me as to what you've discovered so far."
"You know I never share my cases while they're still incomplete."
"I'm not a case," Watson hisses then, and Holmes notes with a start that Watson's eyes have turned agate-grey, a bristling, beauteous, glimmering flint. "I am human, Holmes, and I live, I breathe, I feel – which is more than apparently can be said of you – "
"That is insensitive, Watson, and you know it's not true – "
"You came to my house," Watson snarls; and he's crossing the threshold, his cane stabbing into the fine Persian rug. Holmes sucks an unprepared breath from his place on the settee. "You came to the house in which I live with my wife, and you – committed yourself to destroying my happiness, to deliberately poisoning my relationship with Mary. You cannot deny it, Holmes. You cannot dare deny it in front of me."
The breath shivers, anticipatory, from Holmes' lungs. Watson's close, too close; Holmes' world is keening, too gaudy, too clouded, and much too clamant. Watson's standing just barely a metre away and Holmes thinks if he stretches out his fingers they will touch Watson's waistcoat, brush along his watch chain.
"It was you who came to my rooms last week, Watson." His sight skitters. "I did not seek you."
"I'd had too much to drink."
Holmes knows this already, this final panacea for everything between them to be forgotten, eclipsed. Another excuse – Watson has a repertoire of them, rusted keys to be tossed, to be buried away.
"But you were not drunk," Holmes says, and it doesn't quite matter. "You'd had but a glass or two of whiskey, and only a quart of a bottle of gin – "
"My judgement had been severely impaired;" and Watson doesn't ask why Holmes seems to know all this.
"I would not call it impairment; I would call it instinct."
Watson's mouth bunches into a sardonic knot by his cheek. "It is indeed Mankind's deepest instinct to sin."
"This is no sin," and Holmes reaches for Watson's shirt. The cane immediately knocks his wrist away, Watson investing enough force into the blow to sting. "You chose me that night. You did not choose Mary."
"Because I love Mary; I would never hurt her that way."
Those are the dread words for Holmes – the capital sentence. Holmes twists his hand sideways, gets a grip on the cane, wrenches Watson down hard. "And yet, you'd hurt me."
"I do not love you."
Pain twitches along Watson's jaw from his knee but Holmes has him at eye-level, and that's enough, at least.
"Yes, you do," Holmes says to John Watson. "You do."
The kiss comes too savage; Watson breaks it too quick. Holmes keeps his hands on either side of Watson's jaw, brings his mouth back forcefully down again, roughly catches Watson's lower lip in his teeth. Watson's eyes are the blue-tinted colour of pitch, crackling fierce and ferocious and Holmes doesn't care. He doesn't. Let John Watson's thoughts flinch towards Mary – to her curls and her freckles and her eyes of dark green – let them linger there, fester there, and Holmes won't complain; not now. Not when Watson's mouth is so near, not when the warmth of John Watson's coat and his body is assaulting Holmes in battering waves. Not now. Watson's mouth is malignant, unravelling, Watson's hand gripping Holmes' hip like a vice. There's the slam of cocaine in Holmes' blood vessels and the slam of John Watson not too far below. There's pain; very sharp; Watson's teeth, Watson's tongue. Holmes slips a hand underneath Watson's folded collar and his thumb is on the very first button when Watson finally shoves him away.
"You," Watson's hissing, charged and terribly low, "will stop this."
Holmes is breathing too hard. "You asked for the progress I'd made in the matter; I gave it to you. Those are all my conclusions."
"You will stop."
Watson's eyes hold a heated coal that's propped by a flagrant, vituperative note. There's blood on his lip – it's probably Holmes', red on kiss-bruised red, a peccant symbol imbrued. Holmes stares as Watson pushes up from the floor. The door trembles; Watson forms a tight hand on the knob. The hall drapes a faint light over Watson's form, a dove-grey that seems to hover above his dark coat.
Holmes finds his voice again in Watson's shoulder-blades, in the graceful hardness of cloth-covered bone. "I will not."
"I have no desire to accompany you into insanity, Holmes," and Watson is harsh, brooking nothing at all.
"You don't love her, Watson. You know you cannot."
Watson pauses, turns just the slightest angle; candescence blinks over the still of his profile, his voice very quiet, indelible. Holmes is trapped by the glancing light off his lashes, the smooth, unattainable curve of his throat. The door slams like contusion; the dark creases and folds.
"I can," Watson says from outside in the hall; and it's gelid, forbidding. A terrible oath.
Mary's back is the colour of aquarelle beige, pale skin daubed with the light scent of jessamine. She's an elegant harbour of linen-draped curves; a soft pliancy in the fan of her hair, the sound of her breath a mellifluous tide that turns muted and mellow as she drifts into sleep.
Watson thinks that Mary is something unearthly, an ethereal being with eyes terre verte that falls like a salve over all of his wounds. She is patient, forgiving, a love in her smile that is hallowed and irreplaceable. She has learnt all of Watson's vulnerable moments; six months of compassion and gentleness, and the feel of her hand sweeping over his forehead is a blissful sink into Providence.
Holmes is different.
Holmes is reckless and wildly tangential and the mordant texture of something unknown, sharp angles and plunges to chiaroscuro. Holmes is the flare of a wick that's left burning; Holmes is the scythe of a blackened impulse, his eyes never landing for more than a minute, his fingers despotic, his mouth too corrupt. There's the rampant leap in the fire-flight eyes, the quick twist of the head when a fact is made known – there's the malice, the spiteful desire to hurt, the half-cloaked look of defencelessness when Watson decides to hurt back in return. Holmes is barbed, a baccantic hook in the earth. Watson lies on the bed beside the form of his wife and the clock wheedles twelve, and then one, and then two, and the desperate look in Holmes' eyes is painted across the expanse of the roof. Those are nights when John Watson cannot fall asleep, and the morning sees him snappish and temper-short, the feel of his thumb inside Holmes' mouth a remembrance he'd much rather do without.
Mary's empyreal and Holmes is darkly terrene; and while Watson loves Mary with all of his heart something brutal, flagitious, tugs him down towards Holmes.
Holmes' back is a myriad of memory-flayed bruises and Watson finds that he cannot forget it, now.
Holmes has done this.
Some things are unforgivable.
A/N: More Watson in the next chapter, which should be up in a week. It's already written - I just need to do some polishing.
You can also follow this story on LiveJournal – I'm at knowmydark [dot] livejournal [dot] com. Updates usually appear there first before they appear here, and I also stick previews and things like that there too… so add me!
Reviews are love! Tell me what you think!