Summary; Eight moments to highlight what it has taken Holmes and Watson many years to understand. Eight snapshots of a relationship that makes up a significant part of both their lives. No slash.
Original Title – Brothers in Bond
AN/ I know eight is a bit of a weird number to settle on, my only excuse being that I thought I had written five and then decided not to deprive you good people of the extra three.
Also this fic was originally written as being a strictly no-slash piece, but on re-reading (and considering I usually write slash exclusively), it can be considered Holmes/Watson to a certain degree. So if you want to read it that way, feel welcome to. =]
It was a fact well known to Holmes that Watson had an innate ability to know when to speak . An empathy with the common man, tuned in on the same wavelength in a way Holmes in his lofty heights of scientific knowledge and technical details could not hope to achieve. The instinct to let someone take control in the conversation, knowing when to cut in to avoid conflict, and perhaps most importantly, when remaining quiet was the best course of action. This talent proved quite invaluable in many cases; both in his capacity as a colleague and as a friend. He was aware instinctively when Holmes was thinking deeply about a problem he had been presented with, not disturbing him because he knew already that it would be detrimental to their goal.
Even in his personal capacity, he recognised when to stay silent when he sighted the syringes in the Moroccan case – taken out from their places and not returned after use – or when Holmes would sit brooding for hours on end upon the sofa in his dressing gown, plucking his violin strings in a disorderly tune of ergodic notes. Holmes had commented on this singular ability many times when he emerged from his medicines and melancholy, and he stood by that view even now. It was a trait he was grateful for, something which set his friend apart from the rest of the world. Watson's intelligence was not in Holmes field, but it was nevertheless there and strongly present.
But there were some times, when it was a particular brand of silence that Watson equipped, an angry silence that followed their arguments – loud shouting words screamed at each other that neither meant but said anyway – that Holmes hated this silence. Watson was a patient man at the best of times – especially when it came to dealing with the detective – but Holmes knew sometimes he pushed him too far, beyond what he could take. The arguments ended up with broken things and broken feelings with neither party ultimately winning, Watson stalking out of the room ; slamming the door so hard it rattled the hinges, knowing if he stayed any longer he'd probably end up coming to blows with Holmes, even if he deserved it at times.
And then came the silence, which had Holmes pacing the floor of his quarters angrily, feeling bitter and violent and guilty all at the same time. He cursed Watson in his head, wrung his hands as he practised apologises and ran his hands forcefully through his hair as every 'sorry' sounded inadequate, every 'it wont happen again' a lie they both knew.
The door to Watson's room would be locked, the quiet coming from it permeating the whole house with its pervasive malodor. Holmes wanted to slam his fists on that door, to apologise or to shout at Watson, to try and make everything better because yet again he'd screwed things up; because he just couldn't stand the silence any more.
But something, shame or pride he did not know, held his hand back every time he approached the door, and he would creep back to his room, left in the quiet regretting every word that had torn itself from his angry mouth, and vowing he'd take it all back again if only Watson would forgive him.
Holmes reaches a point sometimes when he finds he can't cope with the world. There is too much input, too much going on around him, every moment noticed as though a monumental snatch of time, and he feels as though he's drowning in his senses; a thick black sludge of information which he can't sort and compartmentalise. A flood of thoughts and ideas and plans and he chokes as he finds he can't breathe as the water pulls him under. He can't find himself within the debris – There isn't a Sherlock where he stands, only a man made of words and thoughts with none of the comforting shades that make him a person – and when that happens, he finds himself turning to his seven percent solution.
It gives him a sort of peace, where he can think and study his thoughts as though grains of sand through his fingers, touching and knowing each one before it is put back into its correct place. He knows what it is doing to him, taking away his control and making him feel just as helpless, but he takes it regardless, addicted to the feeling it gives him, the helpless spiral of self destruction that he can control with the prick of metal in his skin, the depression of the plunger.
It is his way of coping with the world outside , despite what it does to him. Holds him still and drowns him in a different sea of his own devising, and although in cases it helps, he cannot help but feel that the victory is sullied when he eventually reaches it, as though he has cheated somehow by using the substance. Relying on a mere vice and not his own instinctive intellect.
With Watson, he finds he needs the soothing vice less. With Watson, he knows who he is, can voice his thoughts aloud in a chronological pattern as his head takes one step at a time in order to make sense of the shear multitude of in the whirl of his mind. Watson listens, Watson helps him, Watson opens the curtains and forces him to take a look at what he is doing to himself with the seclusion the drug provides. The doctor never stops trying to help but he doesn't judge when the detective falls afoul of his old ways when a problem is so great that when talking is sometimes not enough, and after Sherlock awakes from his drug induced dreams, Watson is always there with a drink to quench his parched throat, speaking in a gentle voice holding no reproach, telling him where he is; that he is back, he is safe.
The doctor may not like what he is doing, may not like it when he sees the open Moroccan case upon the mantel, but he understand why Holmes thinks it necessary. And is always there when he wakes up regardless.
Sometimes, Holmes has a a day when things don't go to plan. When it feels like the whole world's against him, when the puzzle pieces don't fit and the final clue he needs for a case remains infuriatingly illusive. He feels moody, irritable and prone to snapping at people for little reason at all. Any man is liable to bear the brunt of his sarcastic wrath simply because they have spoken something aloud that he needs in his anger to comment upon, or even for the ridiculous crime of just being there, standing there looked relatively happy when he himself is so miserable. He feels guilty afterwards, knows that they did nothing to deserve his attitude, but as it stands when he feels himself snap, he can't control it, no matter who it is aimed at.
On those days he trudges back to Baker Street with a slow step, little of his usual vivacity. Watson will most likely have been at the surgery that day, and he will notice his boots carefully placed at the entrance to the house by the mat. Holmes sighs and will take off his hat and scarf and coat before throwing them wherever because he can't be bothered with cleanliness. He's not even tired, he's too damn awake, filled with passion and energy and no place for it to displace to. The stairs creak predictably as he ascends them, and he will walk into his room without going to see Watson and slam the door. Another thing that he takes his anger out upon.
There will be a quiet of little more than seven minutes, he has calculated over the many times this has happened, before there is a quiet knock on the door; a sequence of two successive raps that clues him into the caller. He wont reply, just merely wander over to the door with effort, opening it to reveal Watson, a tray with two cups of tea balanced carefully in his hands.
One look assesses the situation from what the doctor hasn't guessed already, and he can judge whether he will be accepted in, whether Holmes has cooled off enough by the tone in the detective's eyes. Once the lay of the land has been deduced as safe, Watson walks quietly in, and sets the tea tray down on a small table by the fire without a word, and after that he'll say little but will move to light the fire that Mrs Hudson will have set up earlier on. That done, he offers tea to the tired detective. Holmes never declines, because by now the musty smell of the room is being chased away by the smell of burning wood, the beginning of the crackling sounds starting up, and Watson's presence has done much to calm his foul mood.
A cup and saucer is pressed to his hands with little rapport, and a chair has been pulled closer to the fire – his favourite chair with the interesting pattern of chemical stains upon the length of the arms – for him to be seated upon.
"May I sit?" Watson asks, ever the gentleman, and Holmes' answer tells him whether he is wanting of Watson's company or whether he would prefer to be alone to allow his mood to naturally dissipate. To date, Holmes has never answered in the negative. The two sit down in a silence broken only by the crackling of the fire. Sometimes Holmes warms after a few moments to telling Watson his problem, and many a puzzle has been solved by his retelling it to the doctor, hearing the comments his friend makes having heard the case in a fresh light. A few times, the two have merely sat in silence, drinking their tea till it is finished or cold. But the quiet is never uncomfortable. Never tense. Watson's presence is that of a comfort to him, and mulling over the issue with Watson sitting before him is also sometimes the very inspiration he needs. Tea with Watson is rarely not beneficial to his thoughts.
Most of the time though, Watson manages to drag the detective out of his fugue and they spent the hours in a lighter company, discussing the day and refilling their cups with more tea that often has cooled to the point of being undrinkable with the distraction of conversation. At some point in the night Watson will look at the clock upon the mantle and declare the hour late, that he must retire to be up early the following morning. The doctor will stand and prepare to make his way out, and Holmes will always accompany him to the door even though it is no real journey.
"Thank you Watson" is always Holmes' parting phrase for nights like these, and he does not need to clarify on what he is grateful for.
Holmes keeps things. A bad habit of his that he has never quite grown out of, as in the back of his mind, he rationalises the clutter by imagining that one day, one of the pieces of paper in his quarters may be called upon as evidence.
His quarters at Baker Street are a veritable hive of items, much to the displeasure of Mrs Hudson, who never knows what is junk or a newspaper cutting of some sort that will provide a vital clue in his next case. She just gives the area a wide birth now; her cleaning habits sated by at least being able to dust and tidy within Watson's quarters. A man of habit, neatness driven into him by his period in the army, and so the state of the doctors rooms are the antithesis of Holmes.
Papers are dumped in piles over the floor, and Holmes only remembers the colour of the threadbare carpet because it is the sort of thing he is very good at recalling. The strangest place in his room however, is his desk, upon which lies a whole multitude of different items. Holmes is not a vain man, yet medals and rewards he has gained from his work in the field of deduction are displayed in a quiet cluster, the frames dusty, having not seen the underside of a duster for a long while.
Along with these however, are placed several items of considerably more worth to him than any rewards that he could gain. A pocket watch is placed with care on the top of the desk, and due to it's brightness compared to the dull shine of other metals of its ilk around, it would be a fair assumption that it has polished and buffed recently been recently; whether with the correct cleaning liquid that Mrs Hudson keeps in a downstairs cupboard or whether it has merely been given the once over with a coat sleeve. The cogs are in perfect order, and every morning, Holmes winds it up so that it can continue to tick. The watch was a present from Watson, a birthday gift even when Holmes had not previously expressed to anybody upon what date his birthday was. Yet Watson had obviously done his own investigations, and upon the day in question, Holmes had awoken to find a small carefully wrapped present upon his mantle.
It has been a staple of his routine ever since then, but he doesn't tell Watson. The doctor knows already; has most likely seen the care with which its lustre is preserved, how it is placed upon Holmes' person most mornings within the folds of his waistcoat pocket. That watch has admittedly survived many scuffles and skirmishes, and its front and back are scratched and dented with wear, but nonetheless it still sits proudly upon his desk.
More items have their holdings nearby the watch. There are cuff links and a comb; a joke from his friend at the state of Holmes hair. Many of the books in his shelves have been provided by the good doctor.
And all these little items might not seem much, but they mean much to Holmes, because they are gifts from a friend.
It was too much to hope for – a normal life. Not with Sherlock Holmes around. Watson cannot remember the last time he went to The Punch Bowl public house for a drink with some old war veterans, friends who number fewer and fewer after the Boer war and the conflicts in Burma. He spends his time in the house, Baker Street, with Holmes, acting as confidant, friend and practical babysitter. Relatively little of his social circles do not conflict with Holmes', and he knows more about the domestic life of Clarky at the station than he does of men he served with on the battlefield. Most nights are spent discussing a case with Holmes, or combing the usual hiding haunts of informants for clues on any recent criminal movements. He estimates that he probably spends sixteen out of every twenty-four hours in Holmes' presence.
It's a strange life, being Holmes' friend. Of course, he writes diligently in his diary of the exploits of London's only consulting detective and gets paid enough from the commission The Strand provides, as well as from his part-time work at the practice, to be able to keep the rent on Baker Street.
But the life of Holmes is fraught with dangers in many forms, and Watson often gets swept along with it. He's been hit, shot at and had a gun in his face more times than he cares to remember. Once in a while, when there's a criminal with a bit more intelligence than the average sewer rat, they figure out that it's easier to go for Holmes' cripple friend than it is to go for the detective himself. He's a doctor they think, uses a cane to walk, so it can't be that much of an issue to target him instead to get to Sherlock. It's well though-out except for the fact that while Watson might walk with a limp and has taken an oath not to deliberately harm anyone, he has put up and lived with Holmes for years. And anyone who can accomplish this feat must be made of stronger stuff than they think. Strangely though, none of them ever figure this out till Watson has defended himself from an ambush with his wits, fists and a walking stick that, when swung with enough force and at just the right place on the head, can knock a fully grown man unconscious.
But there are benefits to this life, as unnoticeable as they are. For the first time since with the Afghan war, he is living, not just surviving day to day. Holmes has helped him with his gambling, turning away from the roll of the die and luck of the hand, and is always there to tell him 'no' when Watson's control isn't doing the job for him. And Holmes, while being one of the most insufferable men to ever walk upon this earth, with his intelligence, sarcasm and lack of any redeeming social skills, is also Watson's closest friend. Who can read him like he can footprints or trail-marks, who can deduce from one look what sort of a day Watson's having and whether it's a stiff scotch or a quiet night upon the sofa free from Holmes' usual noise that the doctor needs. Who has always got his back, who would risk his own life to see Watson safe. Not many men would do that for him, and he doubt he would find any man who would do half the things that Sherlock does for him.
Watson cannot have a normal life, not with Sherlock. But this is the one he's got, and he wouldn't exchange it for much else. Not even if he had the choice.
"Let me in" It takes three words. Just three. For the walls to break down. Watson isn't an overly emotive man, doesn't display his own weaknesses if he can help it. He's a proud man, admittedly, and rarely allows himself to centre solely on himself. In the back of his mind, there is always someone else he is thinking of, or if not and he is the only centre of his universe, he still does not allow all of his many defences down even to his closest friends. He tries to dumb down his war injuries when the cold weather gives his shoulder grief or when the wound on his leg flares up from overuse, doesn't mention his tiredness at working at the surgery and on Holmes' cases when the two are both busy and time-consuming, and that's just the way he's always been. Closed off in a way exactly like Holmes at times.
But today has been a bad day and Holmes doesn't have to be a detective to be able to work it out from the tightness of Watson's jaw as he comes in the door, the downtrodden posture and expression of repressed emotion like a coiled spring.
Watson snaps at him with angry words for no reason whatsoever, and that is a big enough clue. Watson never gets enraged if Holmes hasn't done anything to deserve it – and Holmes knows that he often does deserve it – and in the moments while Watson is trying desperately to calm down and not do anything rash, to reel in his emotions, Holmes just looks at his friend – it's not pity, never pity, because if there is anything Watson hates, it is people pitying him for anything –, and speaks the three words that need to be said. Because the doctor looks after him with little complaint, and now it is his turn to be the dependable, reliable one.
And Watson just gazes back at him, before he tries to choke out explanatory words.
"It's just... just that," his body slumps, his eyes glistening with sadness, and Holmes wastes no time in crossing over to the doctor and enveloping him in a hug. It's not his usual way of doing things, as Holmes isn't the most affectionate of people, and to be honest, he's not big on personal contact if he can help it. But Watson needs him, needs this, and Holmes can think of nothing that rises over the duty he has as a friend.
"Th...there there Watson, old boy" he tries a front of jocularity, patting Watson awkwardly on the shoulder as he holds him close. And Watson holds on tight like he's clinging to sanity. He's not crying, because Watson has never cried in front of him, and the likelihood that he ever will is slim to none. Holmes has seen every emotion displayed in the expressions of Watson – has seen him raging in anger, or smiling in care – but he has never seen him cry. And never wants to, for that will signify that there is something that Holmes might not be able to have the capacity to fix, and he doesn't know how he'll be able to deal with that. "It's ok"
"I lost a patient" the doctor says with no preamble, and Holmes just listens for the moment, allowing Watson to say what he needs "A little girl ...caught in an industrial accident. Her mother came in with her...begged...begged me to save her, but..." his breath hitches, and he grips tighter in his hold on Holmes.
"Shh" Holmes murmurs, silencing the doctor, needing to hear no more. He has said all he needs for Holmes to understand "It's ok, Watson. It's ok. It wasn't your fault"
And he just stands there with his arms wrapped tightly around the doctor, saying what the doctor needs to hear. And just being there.
For however long Watson needs him.
"Go away Holmes" Watson growls out, trying to block out the detective with a pillow placed over his head. It doesn't work – such is his luck "I've told you, I don't want to speak to you"
"Would it help if I said I was sorry?" comes the slow reply from Holmes, who at the moment is situated on the other side of Watson's bedroom door.
"Why?"It's like talking to a child, Watson's muses, before he answers the whining question.
"Because Holmes. I am tired. I have a dinner with some of the patrons of the university tomorrow. And I have no cravat because you ruined it in one of your accursed experiments"
A pause, then; "Don't you have any more?"
"No, as you ruined all of them too"
"Did I?" Holmes even had the audacity to sound surprised, Watson thinks venomously.
"You stole them and never gave them back until I found you making a rope out of them"
"It wasn't my fault they weren't able to withstand the strain. It was an experiment after all" Holmes appears to be sulking at the accusation now "Anyway, I didn't steal them. I borrowed them"
"You stole them"
"For you they're one in the same thing"
Another pause from the other side, and it lasts for such a duration that Watson begins to imagine that Holmes had returned to his own room. It is too much to expect an apology. In the strange world that the detective inhabits, his crime was one of little consequence, and Holmes is not in the habit of doling out apologises. It's just his way, and Watson accepts it to a point. But still. The ruining of a perfectly nice cravat is still an irritant in Watson's eyes.
And then a sound starts up, clear and loud enough for Watson to not be able to block it out. A doleful note from the the bow of Holmes' violin sliding over the A string, pulling with careful length before the note progresses down an octave, beautifully toned in the quiet. And as the piece starts up, Holmes forming the notes and bars with his easy control over the instrument, Watson smiles despite himself. Holmes may not be able to apologise, not with words anyway, but gestures act as such. And this gesture, Watson's favourite piece being now performed when Holmes so rarely produces anything of substance upon the violin, is enough to stir his heart.
It was only a cravat, after all.
Holmes looks surprised as the door opens, Watson looking out upon the landing and seeing the detective standing before his door with violin tucked under his chin and bow in hand. The music stops suddenly, and Watson smiles again as he leans against the door frame.
Sherlock looks doubtful, like a child expecting to be shouted at again, before seeing the humour in his friends eyes and giving a cheeky smile back. Happy that he's been forgiven.
"Well go on then" Watson says "Continue. You've got a whole cravat to make up for."
And Holmes may not have been able to apologise easily, but he lowers his head with an acknowledgement before his bow drags across the string again, and music fills the hallway, the cravat slowly forgotten.
Holmes didn't really know what love was, not really. Of course he knew of it. Understood the basics and the construction of it; how one love could lead to another, how the language was made up of kisses and sex and illicit laughter. Love was the accompaniment to death, which of course was a field he spent a great deal of time investigating. It made sense that where there would be one, there would be another. It was a powerful motive; stronger than anger, more corruptive than jealousy. Holmes had seen people kill over love, had seen lovers and husbands and wives act cruelly out of love, and of all the forces he had seen at play, the innermost forces of the heart seemed the most destructive.
Yet even though he had never been in love, never had known the touch of a woman or even that of a man, he still had felt love. If that was what it had been; it was not a feeling one could readily describe with any degree of accuracy. It was more... a sense then something tangible, and that was what first took him off guard. How much value people could put into mere instinct, with no proof that there was any attachment between two individuals other than a mutual shared feeling.
He had never been in love – not in the traditional sense – but he was beginning to understand that he experienced it nearly every day, and he had not even noticed the transition. Not the love between lovers, not based on romance or sex, but love, a simpler affection that somehow seemed stronger. The love that meant caring about someone else's welfare regardless of your own, when you wanted to see them happy, when you wanted to keep them safe. So, without realising it, Holmes came to understand that he loved Watson; as a brother, as a companion, a man who was everything he was not but when the two came together it was like uniting two sides of the same coin. It was a strange sort of affection they had for each other, a friendship that surpassed all awkward emotional boundaries, where Holmes could steal Watson's clothes and describe things as 'theirs' and 'ours' rather than 'yours' and 'mine'.
It was never perfect, their relationship. They argued and fought and sometimes Holmes wondered why Watson bothered to put up with him at all with all the effort it took. They were two completely different people; Watson calming ice and Holmes blazing calculating fire. There were always going to be clashes. But Holmes knew that he would do anything for Watson. Knew that when he considered an existence without his friend by his side, going through a case without his companion, living alone in Baker Street with no-one to admonish him for the closed curtains or mess of papers, he had to banish the thought quickly; knew that when they argued, even his natural stubbornness would not stop the detective wanting to knock timidly on Watson's door asking for forgiveness.
This was no cheap love, the stuff of gossip and scullery maid whispers, but real love, a care in a concentration akin to murder. Sherlock had no doubt that if Watson were to die by another's hand his revenge would be all consuming and wrathful. He wouldn't even think, wouldn't even consider the consequences. Someone had once told him that it was good that he was on the laws side, for such intelligence as his would be a force to be reckoned with should he chose to turn his talents to villainy. And if anyone dared hurt Watson, he would be upon his own side, thinking little of the morality of anything as he planned revenge. He wasn't emotional at times, could be cold and calculating when the situation asked for it. That would be one of those times, and he would not regret any action he took.
Moving away from what might happened in a world of choices and alternate pathways, he recognised that sometimes, he just needed someone there, and that that someone would always be Watson – whether it was to voice a doubt in the middle of a case or a concern at three am in the morning. Understood and relied upon the knowledge that when he felt beaten, that someone had gotten the better of him, a sincere comment from the doctor would get him to drag himself back up from where he had fallen down. Knew that the arguments about clothing barter systems and whose dog Gladstone really was were never really meant, were a comfortable routine the two had developed over the years they had been friends.
Holmes might not have known much about love, but maybe all those small things that he took as home truths played a part of it.