He had learned to value personal space early in life. He had always had his own room – nearly his own wing – at home in England but whenever the Holmes family had visited France he had shared a room with his brother. That experience had been tolerable but eventually Mycroft had wanted his own space and he had been demoted to sharing with his cousins, beasts that they were.
They were the most hateful part of his early years. Young Sherlock Holmes could deal with any other aspect of his existence, including his tutors and the other beastly English children that his mother insisted he get to know, but it was the months of sharing quarters with his frightfully dull and irksome relatives that put him at wits end. It was one thing to deal with other children being different from him but it was another thing entirely to be surrounded by relatives who were nothing like him.
He had begged Mycroft to allow him to sleep on his floor but Mycroft said he had served his time with their cousins so it was only fair that Sherlock serve his. Mycroft had learned the value of a room of one’s own and he wanted to impart that lesson.
Sherlock had more than learned that lesson. Once he was old enough to refuse visiting his cousins he often did if it would involve sharing rooms with them. When he went to university he had made a point to live alone, even with Victor Trevor wanting them to share together. Aside from the obvious need for discretion, he had had no desire to let Victor in quite that far. Victor liked him well enough outside but Sherlock feared what would happen once Victor saw exactly how different he was when he saw him all the time.
Naturally, the one time that he had Victor had shared a living space had spelt the ruin of Victor’s father and they had drifted apart soon after. Not surprising and, really, he had found it a relief.
He had lived alone for years then in Montague Street until his cretin of a landlord had raised his rent so high that he had no hopes of affording it. A small sitting room, a privy, and one wardrobe sized bedroom should not cost that much. It hadn’t taken him too long to find rooms in Baker Street that were much more agreeable and affordable. They were cheaper than his Montague street rooms but they were just out of the reach of his pocketbook. If he wanted out of his landlord’s clutches he would need to find someone to share the expense with him.
His first reaction had been to search out alternate potential accommodations. Anything that he could potentially afford himself paled in comparison to the rooms at 221b Baker Street. If he wanted them that badly he would need to live with someone else.
The first person that came to his mind was his brother. Mycroft however had perfectly agreeable rooms in Pall Mall and there was no good reason for him to leave them. He also considered several new additions to Scotland Yard but dismissed them as either too dull or too brutish for him to endure on an extended basis. That was even if they never spoke to each other and were never in the sitting room at the same time.
He had never charged Stamford with finding someone for him to share digs with but, one casual remark later, he was shaking hands with one Doctor John H. Watson – recently returned from service in Afghanistan – and was more than ready to share rooms with this man.
At that precise moment, and even after the first meeting at Baker Street with, he did not understand why he was so willing to do this. It is one of the first problems he encounters that he ignores. The rooms in Baker Street are his and that is case closed in his head.
Dr. Watson is at first a very dull but unobtrusive person to share a flat with. He is still a shadow of the man that he was before going to overseas and mostly keeps to himself. Anyone can see that. Holmes himself is out most of the time on cases, though a lot of it can be done at Baker Street. He has been on his own so long, has actively made sure he is alone in every aspect of his life, that having someone else in his life however tangibly is interesting and new. Watson, though, keeps to himself for the most part so Holmes is barely aware he is present.
That is with the exception of night time when the doctor can be heard screaming. Nightmares undoubtedly. Holmes himself doesn’t always sleep well and he finds himself pausing at the bottom of the stairs leading to his new flatmate’s room more often than not. A few times he actually goes up the stairs and nearly knocks to check on the man. Other than that he might as well have been living on his own.
Slowly but surely, however, Watson becomes a bit more sociable. He’ll find Watson in the sitting room when he wishes to use it, but Watson will quickly move or else cloister himself at the desk and be quiet and out of the way over there. Watson never asks Holmes to leave when he is in there. In return Holmes respects that corner of the sitting room. It is the one place his experiments, papers, correspondence, or clients, do not touch. They coexist ideally. Neither gets in each other’s way and neither speaks to each other more than necessary. It is perfect civility; as though they are living in a hotel for a brief period instead of living in a flat indefinitely.
Soon enough, Holmes finds himself under Watson’s scrutiny as the man tests his limits and his abilities. He had been waiting for this but is far less annoyed about it than he had thought he would be. Watson has grown tired of testing his own abilities and seems to either have no desire, or no comfort, in testing anything in the outside world. Holmes allows this without comment until he decides to enjoy himself. He makes claims about knowing nothing about the solar system and other such nonsense and is surprised, pleasantly so, at how quick Watson catches on.
Watson is a doctor. An army doctor. Holmes acknowledges that means that his flatmate is no fool. He is still very much unlike him. But there is something there, underneath the good natured medical professional that made him want to fight in her Majesty’s army. Part of it is certainly a good dash of patriotism. That being said, there is something else underneath John H. Watson’s civilized exterior that makes him lethal. He was a medical man who could kill you just as soon as he could heal you.
He’s long believed that doctors who go wrong are the worst criminals that can exist. All that intelligence and skill being put to ill use was one of few things that could truly make Holmes’ blood run cold.
This is perhaps the reason he invites Watson on the Jefferson Hope case. Holmes is not a sympathetic man – the fact that Watson has certainly seen better days and seems to have nothing better to do with his time than wander around the flat or around London with no real purpose means nothing to him – but it is this painfully pedestrian man’s hidden depths propel Holmes into bringing him along on these little puzzles.
There are many reasons that Holmes works alone. It is easier to look after one person than two, only one person’s opinion or methods need matter, and many many more other ones but simply Holmes has always worked the best alone. Any attempts made to initiate a member of the official police into his world have not gone well and he certainly has not actively sought for any sort of partner, official police or otherwise.
Watson’s sense of wonder is intoxicating. Holmes has always appreciated an audience, especially an appreciative one. An appreciative audience, however, is a rare thing and Watson never seems to tire of it; even when he can follow some of the simpler deductions. He also is an ideal helpmate in that he is far too used to taking orders and not giving them. He is also, as Holmes discovers and really ought to have known, very handy to have in a crisis.
It is perhaps a few weeks after the Jefferson Hope case when he sees just how lethal John Watson can be. He is back to, or close to, the man he was before he went overseas and it is far too easy to underestimate him. To forget that most of his adult life has been spent learning how to kill people as well as to save them.
The first time Watson fired his gun with the intent to kill on British soil had been to save him and no one had noticed. Not even Holmes himself. They had assumed the gun shot had come from their quarry’s partner, who had taken a bad fall off a roof when Watson had tried to subdue him. That man had been carrying a different type of gun and had been shooting at a different angle. Those key details had hit Holmes as he and Watson were retiring for the evening and he had stared at his flatmate in open awe. Watson had merely nodded his head, smiled at him, and had bid him good night. It was that night, as Holmes realised that Watson had planned on never mentioning it and he found himself wondering how many other things Watson did without his noticing, that Holmes realized he had a friend and not just a flatmate.
Holmes does not believe in soul mates, nor does he believe that people are meant for one another in any way shape or form. That being stated does not change the irrefutable evidence before him to the contrary. It is either the latter or that he and Watson had lived a whole lifetime together before meeting in this one and that is something else that Holmes does not believe in.
They may not be on the same page, Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes after all, but they are at least in the same chapter. Usually. Holmes may get frustrated and despair of Watson’s inability to keep up or his failure to follow instructions he never gave aloud but Watson rarely complains about it. On the rare occasions that he does it is after a degree of abuse and ill use that a saint would have raised an eyebrow at much earlier. Holmes has never been easy admitting fault or asking for forgiveness but he is able to do so with Watson. Maybe not with words but there are other ways to ask a question and receive an answer that do not involve words.
The Yard, Lestrade especially, was wary about this partnership. Firstly because it was yet another civilian involved in police business and secondly because they feared for the good doctor’s sanity. Sherlock Holmes was a menace but he was now as essential to Lestrade’s career as his badge and notebook. Holmes always got results from his cases, whether they were good ones or bad, and he usually kept everyone else well out of it. He accepted no credit in the official reports or in the press and kept most of the risk and the danger to himself. That last part bothered Lestrade if only because if Holmes had ever managed to get himself hurt there would be no end to the effect that would have on his own career.
Holmes always played his cases close to the vest. He never accepted help even when he desperately needed it and he always, always worked alone. The day that another man had arrived on the scene along with the consulting detective had been cause for some alarm. Again, this was for the man’s safety more than any effect on Holmes. Lestrade shared that belief but he was also quite curious, and wary, of this new element in this arrangement.
Lestrade has seen Holmes work with various people and he holds them all in the same polite disdain, with the exception a few people who are treated with open disdain. This Watson, however, is held above them all. Watson works in tandem with Holmes and deals with any aspects of the case that Holmes deems too trivial for him and offers a caring gesture or other such subtly that is beyond the often dramatic Holmes.
He also has someone to watch out for him and, more importantly, someone he would allow to watch over him.
They are, in every sense of the word, perfect for each other.
So perfect for each other that it is reaching the point of annoyance.
He sometimes thinks the pair has forgotten the importance of intelligible spoken English. Most of their discussions are done with looks and gestures of some sort. What they do say aloud is in half finished sentences or simple exclamations. It works fantastic for them, and Lestrade knows it works very well for the level of speed that Holmes operates on, but it leaves Lestrade and his men even more in the dark than they were before.
There are times that Lestrade does not know whether he should be thankful for Watson’s arrival into Holmes’, and by extension his own, life or not. Usually though, as Lestrade thinks of the man that Holmes is becoming with Watson and the man he himself is becoming, he knows exactly where he stands.
They have a language all of their own. It is English of a sort when they see fit to finish their sentences but otherwise it is a language of gestures and looks. It serves them so much better than the Queen’s English could ever could. Both of them are awful with words; Holmes because he has too few that matter and Watson because he has too many.
Holmes either is constantly speaking or completely silent. Holmes has long known that he is not one to do anything by halves. Watson is a much more sociable creature than he could ever hope to be, but apparently not by much, and he constantly speaks. Words to fill the silence, words to help or warn, words, words, words, and other such noises. It is what Watson does not say, or what he chooses not to say, that stays with Holmes the most.
For Watson’s benefit though he tries to make himself known in words from time to time. No matter how adept or meaningful their exchanges are there are some things that are better accepted and understood using words.
“I am lost without my Boswell,” may have been the most important thing that he has ever said to Watson. He may have meant it in partial jest at the time but it also one of the truest things he has ever said to Watson. He doesn’t quite understand, or even agree with, Watson’s desire to write up these cases and share them with the public. He likes an audience but he likes one that he can see and that are worthy of his time, which is not how he would describe most of the readership of The Strand. Watson himself is also an honest man and does not do it for the attention or the accolades. When Holmes mocks his scribbling, he is more upset at his effort to bring Holmes some recognition being disregarded than his own vanity.
The name of Boswell is ideal to Watson; not only for his role as biographer but also in the closeness they share. Watson has shown him that he was lonely before they met and he is not sure whether that is a blessing or a curse.
Mycroft Holmes does not like getting involved in Sherlock’s little puzzles. He is perfectly content to puzzle out potential solutions from his arm chair but aside from that he’d rather let the matter drop than deal with searching for facts, interviewing witnesses, or other such minutiae. He also knows full well that Sherlock dislikes interacting with people and their accompanying short sightedness but Sherlock’s desire for the truth (really it is his desire to be right) motivates him to muddle through it.
Mycroft does not show it but he is surprised to hear, and read, of Sherlock working with a partner. His brother has never played well with others and was always an abysmal flatmate. Their cousins despised their stays with young Sherlock as much as Sherlock did and Mycroft himself once lived with him for a time while Sherlock scrapped enough money to stay in the flat on Montague Street. That had been beastly.
Yet here was a man who both lived and worked with Sherlock and also spent his spare time with him. His brother did not have friends. He had associates or clients. Victor Trevor was the first and last person who he had given any sort of attention to outside of a case. That had not lasted very long and had vanished as soon as that mind of Sherlock’s had been unleashed on Victor’s family and, eventually, on Victor himself. If Watson’s writings were to be believed, and Mycroft had no reason to doubt any of it, he had undergone the same scrutiny and had come out still speaking with Sherlock. That was an accomplishment.
One day Mycroft forwards his neighbour’s troubles onto Sherlock and invites him over to meet the man and discuss the particulars. Part of the reason for suggesting Sherlock, aside from knowing that he will find the man’s answers no matter what obstacles might appear in his way, is to meet this Doctor Watson.
Mycroft is a very difficult man to surprise or impress but it is very seldom that a man presents in print the same way as in the flesh. If anything Watson underestimates himself which, given to how studious he is and how quiet he is during their introductions and the meeting with the Greek Interpreter, does not surprise him.
He approves of Watson, not that Sherlock has ever actively sought his approval but if this isn’t an unspoken inquiry he doesn’t know what is. He understands precisely what makes them work together and enjoy each other’s company where the rest of the world is baffled. It is so very simple but he knows that the three of them, and possibly that Inspector Lestrade at the Yard, will be the only people who understand it.
He does not get the opportunity to speak to his brother about Watson, and he admittedly stomps back to his quiet life after they exit the train and Miss Kratides is walked off by Scotland Yard, but he knows that his brother is proud of him. Proud of what he can do in a case, proud of his actions in this one, and proud to be friends with this singular, pedestrian, man.
Sherlock is smitten with him and neither Sherlock nor Watson appears to have noticed it yet.
Mycroft may not be a man given to romantic inclinations but he knows well enough that every moment lost between those two will be a moment they will regret.
It had taken some time for Holmes to acknowledge and accept the idea that Watson would do anything for him. He would always be at his side, he would always strive to protect him, and he would simply always be there as long as he was able to. So far Holmes had yet to find the right amount of ill use that would cause him to leave.
Watson quite possibly would die for him one day. That had been difficult to admit to himself. He had never thought himself worthy of this sort of friendship or caring. He knew he could count on Mycroft to stand with him but Mycroft was family for good or ill. This was the first person that by choice bothered with him at all.
What was harder to admit, however, was that Holmes felt exactly the same way about Watson. As much as he sometimes would rage and get frustrated with him he would never wish him to leave. He also knew that he would do anything to keep him safe and in his life. People always told him that his work would be the death of him. Holmes believed it would be the death of Watson, or the potential death of Watson, that would really do him in.
No greater evidence of this, he thinks to himself as he climbs to safety, exists than this decision he has made. He can argue to himself that it is strategically in his favour to be dead to the world. It may be true but it is not his primary motivation. Moran will feel the loss of his master keenly. He will lash out where he knows he actually has a chance of hurting him. He is dead because if he is dead then Moran has no reason to go near Watson.
When he finds a hidden place to rest his aching hands and feet he hears Watson calling his name.
There his Boswell stands, bellowing into the falls, and searching for any sign or clue that what he believes has happened has not happened. Holmes raises a hand to his mouth and starts to call out for his friend. He chokes it back before it reaches an audible volume. He has never felt this level of despair before, at watching another human being suffer in this way. He has seen humans far more distraught or hurt than this but it is the fact that this grief is for him and that he is also the one causing it that cuts into him like a knife.
Watson eventually finds the note he’d left him and that seals it for him. The Swiss police come and make their erroneous conclusions. Watson remains for a moment staring into the chasm. For several horrible moments, it appears he is going to leap into the falls. There is no way for Holmes to stop him, verbally or otherwise, if that is the action his friend chooses. Never has he been more helpless.
When Watson does not jump, when he picks up Holmes’ walking stick and cigarette case and leaves, Holmes near sobs out his relief and just like that he is dead.
When Moran starts shooting at him he knows that he has to keep running. Keep Moran distracted enough and as far away from England as he possibly can to keep his friend safe. He vows with every fibre of his being that he’ll return to Watson as soon as he can. He promises Mycroft in so many words in writing.
As soon as he can turns out to be three long years. He feels every single moment of those three years. Each one hurts more than thrills him.
When he eventually returns to London, when Moran finally makes a mistake large enough to give him the appropriate opening, it seems everyone else’s lives have stopped. Mrs. Hudson is shocked to see him. She has not aged a day and her routine has not changed and their rooms are still there. He had told Mycroft to keep them as they were but, as he looks at Mrs. Hudson, he sees the pain in her eyes. Living with his ghost and Watson’s has been too much for her.
Watson, his dear Watson, is a shadow of the man he was. Perhaps more broken than he had been when they’d first met. He doctors and works with Lestrade and the Yard whenever they need him. That is all. To watch Watson walk the streets of London is to watch a man wander a graveyard, pausing at the gravesites of loved ones lost. Holmes remembers Watson once referring to him as a brain without a heart. If that is so why does he hurt so much when Watson hands him a book, not recognizing him in disguise.
He wants to grab Watson, throw off his disguise in the middle of this crowded London street. Damn the fact that Moran could walk by at any moment. He wants to show Watson he is alive. He wants to do it right now and end both of their sufferings. Instead he grabs the books back with extra ferocity and bats the other man away. Not now. He needs to do it somewhere safe where their lives won’t be in as much danger as they are right now.
He overhears Watson give his address as he leaves. He manages to threaten another cab driver to bring him to the same address shortly thereafter. He pauses a few moments before he rings the bell and gets Watson’s new maid to admit him to the doctor’s office. He stalls for time and then, dramatically, reveals himself to his friend.
Watson faints and for a moment Holmes is almost sure he’s killed him.
When he gets his friend into his chair he allows himself the liberty of lightly running his hand down the side of Watson’s face. He refuses to call it a caress.
When Watson wakes up and his eyes focus it is like watching a man return from the dead. The man is overjoyed to see him. His joy is infectious and Holmes finds himself truly laughing and happy for the first time since the falls. Watson is hurt, he knows that, but Watson also forgave him everything the second he saw him alive.
Holmes had never felt more helpless on that ledge in Switzerland. Now, here in Watson’s consulting room, he has never felt so humble.
When Watson has moved back to Baker Street and they are, once again, working together and solving cases everything feels precisely as it should be. There is one difference, he feels it but he can’t identify the reason or define anything about it.
He and Watson complement each other. Any trait or skill one lacks the other makes up for. They may as well be one person for how well in sync they are with each other. The fact that they were separated for three years and able continue right where they left off is more than ample evidence of this. He should feel complete, right, and whole again and he does. There is just that sense of being off beat, or slightly off key, that plagues him. Watson, infuriatingly, seems to not see anything wrong and is just pleased to be sharing the same air and space with him again. Holmes does respectfully wait a few weeks before showing obvious signs of his annoyance.
Watson is even more tolerant than usual. Holmes marks this as simply his joy at seeing him alive again but soon it goes on for what Holmes deems too long. Then what any sane person would deem too long. Things that would have previously had Watson threatening moving out, and things that would have resulted in open retaliation, cause Watson to blink but not falter in his indifference to his confused friend.
He considers it the greatest mystery he has ever faced until the answer hits him. Hit is quite the word since he literally stops in the middle of Baker Street one day and Watson wanders a good few feet in front of him, nearly ready to open their front door, before he notices. “Holmes?”
Holmes hurries through the now open door like a bloodhound on a scent. Watson rushes after him. He stops as soon as Watson meets him in their sitting room. Watson’s face has never looked so perfectly confused. Watson’s face has never looked so perfect full stop.
All these years Holmes has wondered what he has done to deserve a friend like Watson. He is an impossible excuse for a human being; he knows it and does not apologize for it. There is no reason, no conceivable benefit, for Watson to follow him as he does.
That was the fault in his thinking: Watson’s reward was an inconceivable one. Human beings do nothing without a reason and the simplest one is reward. Watson does enjoy writing up cases but they are not his life. Doctoring is his income and not his life, he may find it rewarding but he frequently abandons it for other pursuits.
Other pursuits mean being at the beck and call of one Sherlock Holmes more often than not. Even after the seemingly unforgivable offense of leading Watson to believe him dead for three years. Holmes is not sure he would be able to forgive him so easily.
Of course he would, he smiles, the reason that Watson follows him is the same reason he is always looking behind him now to see if Watson is still with him. Not out of annoyance but out of fear that he’s been abandoned.
When Watson’s perfectly confused face softens Holmes realises the other reason Watson follows him: hope. The hope that, no the knowledge that, one day Holmes would realise it all for himself. He has waited years for this day, accepting full well that this day might never come.
If he had ever not believed Watson a saint he now had irrefutable proof.
Watson extends a hand and smiles a knowing smile. “I am a very patient man,” he says as though he has read every single word of thought that has gone through Holmes’ mind. He very likely has, Holmes allows; the softer emotions have and always will be his sphere. He will be doing most of the leading and the work here.
Holmes, however, has never been one to refuse a challenge or do anything by halves. So he takes Watson’s hand, whispers “oh, sod it,” and pulls Watson close to him. Then he kisses him.
Hard and sloppy and just plain awfully.
Watson does not pull away. Watson does not laugh at him. He works with what he’s given and turns it into something at least mildly presentable.
Holmes knows he loves this man, he will be berating himself for days that it took him this long to figure it out, but he is now absolutely certain that he adores him.