This is inspired by a story on ao3 called "The Knowledge of Somewhere", by unsettled. The style is completely different, but the premise is more-or-less stolen from that wonderful fic. I don't think you need to read that to understand this (though you should!), so long as you know that Holmes and Watson exist in a universe separate from our own, and what Doyle writes about them, happens. Through events explained in "The Knowledge of Somewhere", Doyle now realizes this, which is why he began writing Holmes stories again, and it's mentioned that he also wrote a few stories that he never published where the two of them confessed their love and whatnot. This is an exploration into the first of those stories he writes, from Doyle's point of view.
And now, warnings: There is heavily implied sex (but more lime than lemon) between two consenting males in the Victorian era. If this is not something you like, please turn back. Also, there is talk of past drug use, angst, some vague hurt/comfort, abuse of poetic license so I can screw with sentence structure, use of the present tense and a lot of (over)extended metaphors, plus a few things that are vaguely symbolic.
Reviews and concrit welcome!
Over the Wall and Home Again
And most confusing the thing is, he almost does not want to put his pen to paper again. He is afraid, far too afraid, that he'll get it wrong once more, and this time it will stick, unfixable, immutable, all his careful work reviving the detective gone to waste—that they'll end angry at one another, or worse, changed. But (and this he well knows) they deserve better than mere implications, than strange word choice and overlong gazes, than double rooms with one or two beds and so much space between them, a gap that might as well be a wall, the Great Wall, for it is uncrossable and terrifying and utterly monolithic. So he begins with this wall, because it should be torn down for an invading force, any invading force, Chin against the Huns or the other way around, and the defenses will not hold for them but who wants it to, when no one will lose anything, except fear.
So he reluctantly starts, this time, as the good doctor. Every other time he has tried to almost distance them from the tale (absurd, when this is a tale of them and for them alone), and there is his mistake; that is why he has not figured it out yet. The doctor makes the most sense of all points of view, first, third, or second, and truth be told the stories are no longer about the detective. They are about the detective's physician, the dear doctor, celebrating this, the greatest friendship he has ever known, and they are his attempts at giving him something to celebrate. He prefers Watson, the everyman, the broken man, the silent, understanding man, to Holmes, the unreachable, analytical machine. Watson is at the heart of the stories, and he is at the heart of his detective, and it is immaterial if he does not know it yet, or will not at the end of this story, for he will know one day, some day soon.
Watson's introduction flows from his pen, the once-choppy and undefined contrivance of a case taking a firm shape before the writer's eyes. It is of no real consequence, as he admits, but it is quite suddenly more real, more important to the story of their lives, even though there are days with no cases, days without intrigue and crime and any deductions more startling than the taking of a Turkish bath. Their lives exist elsewhere, but readers only see their lives in snapshots, with cases as a background and a filter at the same time.
They are in Edinburgh now, an inheritance scam leading them there, and like Joseph and Mary they cannot find a room in all the city, save one with a single bed. Another contrivance, another coincidence; such is all fiction, is it not? Hardly worth notice, except that this is the story of when things, not people, change, and change needs a catalyst, and catalysts, he has found, can be contrived without being bad.
They leave their new room without unpacking, and oh, how lamentable is the absence of the ever-changing Irregulars, for Holmes cannot learn Edinburgh in a day and he needs this, to know things only children and pigeons can see. His Watson, his dear Watson, helps as much as he can, conducting light, though it is like trying to redirect a candle so one can see through a forest.
They walk and run and scour the city until the doctor yawns, and is sent back to the hotel by an overly-protective Holmes. Doyle (and his dear broken man) linger on this—the tenderness, the insistence, the worried way in which he summons a cab. And if the doctor were not so exhausted he might question his actions, his tone and expression; if the doctor were not so tired the detective would not risk such a wide crack in his usually impenetrable mask, for he does not believe Watson would be kind if he knew, knew how human Holmes had become, and for whom. The good opinion and praise of his very own doctor are more addictive than cocaine, and he has already come close to killing himself in a misguided attempt to obtain a high half as strong. It is not something yet in the stories, not real yet, and perhaps tonight he will set it in stone, or rather in deep blue ink on a thick sheet of paper. Then again, perhaps not; some things should stay in the writer's head.
But one more contrivance is needed tonight: the doctor pauses in undressing, lies down to stave off a headache, and it is not long before he wakes to sunshine, finds himself tucked into the covers, images from a dream still clinging to him as he brings himself away from the edge of unconsciousness. Holmes is waiting for him to wake fully. He must have seen him at one point with neither shirt nor trousers, must have pushed him under the duvet, touched him.
The thought makes his manhood harder than it should be.
And this is not a first, Watson admits. It is simply the best way to introduce the thought onto paper, and that is more important than anything Doyle thinks at all.
Doyle is not good at romance, at the slow build-up to the kiss, the consummation, the climax, as they say. But these two have made him good at mystery, and now that there is mystery here, too, the mystery of how he is to keep it from Holmes, what he might say if it is revealed, terrifying mysteries indeed, it is not so difficult, merely another puzzle to contend with.
They run. He weaves together the two mysteries until they are near-inseparable, until the resolution of one must come with the dénouement of the other. There are false leads and dead ends, and the inheritance scam expands until there is a kidnapping, and Watson half-remembers a dream that would result in the doctor's arrest if real. The whole story has run away from him—he writes like a madman, not thinking beyond the next sentence because he doesn't need to, it comes to him as if from above, and he thinks he can feel the ghosts of Watson and Holmes, different ones, the ones he could not save, standing behind his old uncomfortable desk chair, judging, approving.
There must be a conclusion, and the case's end is so easy, so natural, that he regrets that it shall not see publishing, shall be locked away for good in an old trunk placed in the back of his wardrobe once he is finished and it takes. This is one of the best things he has written in a long time, or certainly one of his favorites, and he wishes he had known earlier, before making Moriarty, before Holmes' fall. For while he loathes Holmes the character, the one who took over his career and his "fans", he pities Holmes the man, so alone, so stuck in his ways, so afraid. He admires Watson the character and the man, who does not shy from anything, even his own illegal, inadvisable, untenable love for a man who cannot love him back; how many times has he looked back at his stories and realized suddenly the amount of attention which is paid to any part or aspect of Holmes that is not relevant to the tale at hand, with no idea of how it occurred, and then thought it was the character, or the man, speaking to him?
He used to believe his lonely doctor wanted only a wife, and so took pity on him and invented one. He supposes that says something, that for Watson's sake he did such a thing. The fact that it was the other Watson's suicide, not Holmes', that drove him to write again, says more.
They are back at the inn, and it's the moment of truth, it's time to fix the mess Morstan made. If not for her they would perhaps have gotten here on their own, the flickering firelight playing on the detective's aquiline face, the chill of the North and their own weaknesses forcing them to come closer under the sheets, closer than is proper, until they feel their friend's intoxicating heat. Their voices are soft in the gathering gloom, as if they are afraid of breaking this spell, the one cast by the traces of moonlight from between the curtains and the premonition that things will change, that this night, this magic night, Cannot. Be. Ignored. So they try to draw it out, make it last, commit every moment to memory; they will not waste a second, will not lose anything to sleep, not even if the other drifts off, for then they can indulge in watching him dream. And they would, if they could, do so every night, and thinking this is the once chance they shall have they are prepared to take advantage of it. But it won't be, if Doyle has anything to write about it, and he does, and still they surreptitiously inch closer until they must look away, for fear of revealing themselves. The detective turns, lies on his back, and the constant ebb and flow of the space between them means he will not stay there long, will move closer sooner rather than later, but—.The space left is still too great. It is the Wall of China, the English Channel, the distance from the moon to the sun, and they are not so brave as to cross it. Instead the doctor turns a bit, as well, hiding his coward eyes, and moves on.
"I cannot imagine," he says to the ceiling, "what Miss Daric's fiancée went through without her. To know someone so dear is still alive, and yet be unable to reach them, uncertain of their fate—well—I suppose it is more that I do not wish to imagine it than that I cannot."
"I don't have to," responds Holmes without thinking, and then he is rolling away from his doctor, his dear doctor, and the questions that will be asked, rolling and running away from the consequences of such a stupid mistake and that is the last slip-up he shall make here, tonight, this almost-ruined night, as Watson refuses to let him go, grabs him by the arm and keeps him there, and when Holmes struggles he pins him to the mattress so he cannot run anymore and demands an explanation, and the doctor does not realize he's jumped into the Channel until he's too far to swim back to England, to safety. To isolation. What you will.
But the detective, who cannot refuse him at the best of times, is powerless here, the worst of times, and does not notice the water being tread. And he responds with gritted teeth and averted eyes, "I was weak, after I faked my demise. I was so weak. I cannot express how many times I wished to write you, to assure myself of your safety, to end your misery, but if my enemies knew I lived they would have tortured you to find me, and I couldn't—I couldn't let that happen. I had caused you too much pain already."
Hope, that most flighty and dangerous of birds, is in Watson's chest, but he cannot allow himself to keep it because if he is wrong he is lost. He will not survive losing Holmes again. And, though perhaps it is not obvious to readers, he is intelligent, and he knows Holmes is already pulling away, already retreating even though he has nowhere to run, and if he is not careful Holmes is lost to him. So he is careful, so careful, when he asks, "We are not lovers. How could it be the same?"
How could it not?
Holmes feels the end, and cannot say that, can only see his doctor grow distant and leave again, sometime in the near future, like he is the Oracle of Delphi in a trance, he sees but does not observe, does not know, and all he thinks he can say to keep his doctor is, "Forgive me, Watson, please, forgive me…."
Watson sees only his detective and the shore of France, the later shrouded in mist, the former trembling beneath him, his head turned from the final blow, the deathblow, and oh, only the doctor can cut as deep as he (thinks he) knows he will be cut, can slip a scalpel into his heart and rend it in two and leave him alive still, a shell of himself, a wreck, a kite lost in the wind but still flying without that bird hope to guide it, and he'll go the way of the other Holmes, the one Doyle could not save, he who only exists anymore in Doyle's head and so cannot factor into the thoughts of this Holmes, who still lives and is waiting to die, but even so, if this Holmes knew then he would already be thinking of the best place to get his seven-per-cent solution, and how much would be needed to make it quick, and—
"I shall not forgive you when there is no fault," and Watson pulls him from whatever morbid wanderings did occur in this Holmes' head, "and if there is, my forgiveness means nothing, for I find I am as guilty as you, and what comfort can the redemption of a condemned man offer?" Then the doctor bridges the gap, swims the last meters to the shore and dances upon it, clambers over the Great Wall, and they kiss.
He could leave it there, he knows. In most romances, a kiss is all they need, and the rest seems to fall into place; or maybe it doesn't, everyone merely makes assumptions that it does. But they are not the typical characters, they are too good for assumptions, and he will not leave anything to chance this time, will leave no room for heartache, uncertainty, or irresolution. He will paint them a secret world within their world where they can love without fear, their own Garden of Eden in the wide wastelands, and put no avenging angel to keep them out at the East Gate, just himself, armed with no flaming sword, just a key.
He writes next that when Holmes recovers from his shock he kisses the way a drowning man gulps air, that he wraps his long arms and legs around his doctor and melts into him as if he is a wax seal held to a candle flame, clings to the body above as if this, this moment, is salvation, perfection, redemption. It is wet with tears that were shed when he thought this impossible, tears that are still being shed, and he does not let the doctor move long enough to kiss them away—he is still afraid of what might be said, so Watson wipes them from his cheeks with his thumbs, cradling the detective's face and it is more than all he needs and nothing close to it. (And Doyle does not know how often others will steal this thought unwittingly, that something is too much and not enough at the same time, and neither do they.) Breathing has become a suggestion; sharing breath is a necessity, and when they finally pull away to regain breath the doctor lays his head on the detective's collarbone for but a moment before he returns to arrange them so he is leaning his forehead against the other's, their noses brushing, and that, that is enough for now, just breathing together, sparks crackling where they touch.
When now passes, the detective pulls his Boswell down for what he thinks will be a chaste kiss, but it is tinder and the sparks grow to flames, they are scrambling for the hems of nightshirts and fumbling for bare skin against skin, and here Doyle could have the curtain fall, let one swoon into the other's arms, yet neither has so weak a constitution and they are already lying down and they've waited so long he needs to make certain of it, of them. Instead he tells that Holmes can play Watson the way he plays his Stradivarius, that Watson, when turned on his back, must count the cracks in the starlit ceiling to keep from embarrassing himself too quickly and consistently loses count at three, that they fit as if they were designed to fit, by God or Doyle or both, and that they shall take all the punishments of hell if that is the toll for this night, this joyous and perfect night.
—and it is some time before they get their breath back, before there is the true after—
They do not exchange "I love you"s. It is too soon, too new, and the detective is afraid, still, of rejection, despite all the evidence to the contrary. They do ignore the mess and near-smothering heat to curl up close, hands still wandering gently, just holding on. Already their creator (or perhaps he has never been their creator, just their guide, so to speak) is planning for when they shall say it, and how, and in a few years he will write the first version, the true version, of what shall be called "The Three Garridebs", mention that Holmes will tell his dear in every language he knows, talk of how he will call Watson luminous and a perfect symphony and a never-ending mystery, and all Watson will say is "You, Sherlock, are my sun." But that is not yet written.
What is written is the doctor's discovery of track marks in the crease of his detective's elbow and running down his forearm, his disbelief, his astonished "I thought you had stopped," the detective's stiffening, preparation for heartache that is overdue and his conviction that it will hurt all the more now that he has had a taste of what he will miss.
"I was weak"—and he cannot finish, is held tighter, and now Watson and Doyle both damn Mary's intrusion because they might have had this, sooner, there might not be these fresh marks of Holmes' damned addictions, and this divine intervention would not be needed, they would have fit this way until Holmes fell and would fit when he came home again.
They do not sleep.
Morning brings sunshine that reveals they have not moved, either, except to curl closer to one another. Holmes rises first, reluctantly, and Watson admires what the light does to the muscles in his back and stares openly and Holmes can't help but sweep back in for another kiss, breath his doctor's Christian name to see that it fits better in his mouth, and they are nearly late for their train, where they catch up on sleep while leaning on each other, dreaming beautiful dreams.
The second they arrive back in London, Doyle decides, there is a murder Lestrade needs help with, which turns into three, and they have little time for eating, let alone worrying about what happened in Edinburgh, though they do, privately, because there is little else they can do. And Doyle prays this works, that this takes and stays, because what comes next is pure genius and pure romance, and they finish that case one afternoon and have a quiet evening and they are chasing thoughts in their heads, unutterable thoughts, thoughts that that was a dalliance on the other's part, and Watson retires to escape the space between them as it mocks him. He lies in his bed without nightclothes, as is his wont, and thinks he will think himself exhausted, as he has not had time to do so since Edinburgh, but there is a gentle, almost hesitant knock on the door.
(And maybe he can write romance; maybe he just needs to make them themselves, or maybe it needs to be these two, who only need guidance to get themselves here, gentle nudging, not shoving and so much contrivance.)
The detective stands there, halfway up the Great Wall. He cannot speak, dares not, but he does hold out his hand and begs with his eyes. Watson does not look into them, nor does he notice the trembling in his arms, that they are both bare beneath their dressing gowns.
The doctor is far too busy grasping his hand and pulling him up the Wall, pulling him home again.