He shows up one afternoon, thin and red-faced, his clothes worn but clean. On the surface, he seems all right but Watson knows that looks can be deceiving. He lets him in cautiously, succumbing to his embrace stiffly without meaning to seem aloof.
He simply can't help it. Too much has happened in the past for him to not be hesitant.
"My God, John, you look fantastic," his brother James gushes. He smiles and Watson notices that his teeth look worse for wear, typical for an alcoholic. "I swear I wouldn't recognize you. Healthy as a horse, you are."
Mrs. Hudson shows up to take James' coat, all sweet smiles and expectation. Watson introduces them, wishing he didn't have to. "Mrs. Hudson, this is my brother, James Watson."
Her face lights up. She obviously thinks that any close relation of John Watson must be a fine man indeed. If only she knew. "Oh, sir. What a pleasure and honor it is to meet you."
James bows slightly. At least he remembers some form of manners. When he's sober, that is. How much longer that will be is anyone's guess. "The same, Madame. You keep a lovely house."
She blushes and waves her hand. "Really, Mr. Watson," she chuckles. "Now Doctor, take your dear brother upstairs and I'll have tea sent up. You're in luck, I've crept in for a cleaning upstairs and Mr. Holmes is so jolly after his last endeavor he barely noticed. You won't be stepping on any broken glass today."
James glances at his brother with a raised eyebrow, making Watson feel suddenly defensive. "He's a scientist," is all he says, the need to shield Holmes from any intrusion from his less-than-stellar relatives a bit overwhelming. "Among other things," he finishes. Not that James will ever know the true extent of what Holmes is to him, but then again, that's no one's business but their own.
"I'd like to meet him," James says gamely. He follows Watson upstairs and is led into the study where Holmes is, standing by the window, violin in hand. He must have had a client in that morning for he's clean-shaven and wearing a jacket and cravat, looking extraordinarily handsome, at least in Watson's proud eyes.
At the sound of their entrance, Holmes puts aside the violin and smiles. "Welcome to Baker Street, Mr. Watson." He holds out his hand to Watson's befuddled brother. "You're wondering how I knew who you were."
James appears confused. He was never the sharpest scalpel in the bag, Watson thinks uncharitably. "Uh, yes."
"Very simple. You look very much like my doctor here." Holmes laughs easily. "And since I knew he had a brother ..."
Watson grins. There were probably other, much more complicated clues that gave away James' identity but Holmes decided to behave in a ordinary manner, probably for his sake. The dear fellow. "James, this is Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, my brother, James."
They shake hands. Everything seems all right, Watson thinks, tapping his fingers nervously against his leg. The tea arrives and Watson notes that Holmes attitude toward James is positively charming throughout the meal. Watson can't help but think it's adorable, as Holmes is acting very much like a suitor trying to impress his beloved's family.
Not that James seems to care, selfish sot that he's always been. Watson can see he's getting restless which means nothing good will come of the next few hours. Damn it. Damn him. "I have some other appointments I have to attend to, lads. May I come back later?"
Appointments, Watson thinks angrily. Is that what drinking yourself blind is called now?. "I'm not sure, James. Our hours here are irregular ..."
"All the more reason it shouldn't be a problem, Johnny," James laughs, rising and patting Watson on the head in the most infuriating manner. "See you later."
Holmes has kept very quiet through all of this, not saying a word even after James is gone. Watson feels like he wants to apologize, even though nothing bad has happened. Yet. "Very interesting," Holmes finally says, some moments later. He reaches out and squeezes Watson's arm. "You and your brother are nothing alike."
Sadly enough, it's one of the greatest compliments Holmes has ever paid him.
Of course, James stumbles in at some obscene hour and of course he gets lost in the house, landing himself in Mrs. Hudson's kitchen where he proceeds to fall down and piss himself, all over the clean tiles of her floor.
Horrified, Watson cleans up the mess, before anyone else can see. He's frightened and ashamed and angered almost beyond reason, but he can't bring himself to do anything but put James in his room, damning his sheets to an ignoble end. Gathering his composure, he makes it back to the study where a sleepy Holmes is waiting for him, his face soft with sympathy.
"It's not your fault," Holmes says, pulling him close for a tight embrace. "You don't need to be embarrassed."
"It's mortifying," Watson murmurs against Holmes' shoulder. "God help me, I think I hate him."
"If that were only the case," Holmes replies sorrowfully. He tugs on Watson's arm. "Come back to bed. Get what sleep you can. I'll look in on him if he stirs again."
"No!" Watson cries. Biting his lip, he lowers his voice. "Absolutely not. I would not subject anyone to him in this state. I will take care of it." As if on cue, James lets out a drunken howl and there's a loud crash in Watson's room. Watson shuts his eyes, his fists clenching and he shakes off Holmes' restraining grip. "I have it. Thank you, but I have it."
He stalks away before Holmes can speak. To no one's surprise, James is feverish with drink, slurring and knocking things about. Watson spends the rest of the night trying to talk him down, to reason with what amounts to a madman. Finally, with the sunrise comes exhaustion and the beast inside his brother vacates, leaving a snoring man lying in a smudge of his own vomit atop Watson's bed.
Bleary and miserable, Watson stares at the sunlight and it must be the bright rays that bring the wetness to his eyes, nothing else.
Days pass and James has somehow finagled a spot on Mrs. Hudson's sofa.
Watson is torn between yanking his own hair out and feeling somewhat relieved that his brother isn't wandering the streets where he could easily get robbed ... or worse. The relief doesn't last long when he comes home after a long day of calls to hear his brother drunkenly ranting in the study - at Holmes.
Terrified, he runs inside to see James pointing his finger in Holmes' face, his words peppered with obscenities. To Holmes' credit, he doesn't reply, he simply sits and holds his violin on his lap, almost as a shield. Watson has no idea what's inspired this tirade and he doesn't care.
He has had enough. "Get out, James."
His brother turns around, almost falling until he windmills himself upright. "What?"
"I said, get out. You aren't welcome in this house."
James fixes him with a drunken glare that sends a shiver through Watson' entire body. "But this filthy pouf can stay here?" he growls, waving a hand at Holmes.
Watson's world goes white. Enraged, he grabs James by the collar and drags him down the stairs as if he were an errant child, this man, his older brother who has always been larger than life. "This is my house. This is my family. You are not welcome here." He shoves him out the door, slamming it shut before he can see James tumble onto the hard top landing.
Eventually, James Watson wanders away.
Exhilaration fills Watson for a brief, glorious moment until it's slowly replaced by a wrenching wave of guilt. Sorrow. Pity.
Watson sits on the stairs and stares out over the foyer. One of James' gloves is lying on the carpet and he can't raise himself to retrieve it. He remembers playing hide-and-seek and how James would pretend not to find him, at least for a little while. He remembers falling asleep at a picnic, James' coat draped over his shoulders. He remembers too much and the loss is just like a death.
Holmes comes to sit down beside him. Puts a comforting arm around his shoulder and doesn't say a word when Watson starts to weep, shaking against the warmth of Holmes' shirt. "He's my brother," he babbles, sobbing. "And I love him. I can't help it. I love him."
"I know, my dear," Holmes replies softly. "I know."