When Watson came down to breakfast, he found Holmes already up and seated at the table, examining a pot of jam with a faint frown.
“Good morning,” he said cautiously.
Holmes looked up with the pleased smile Watson had been treated to extremely often over the last few weeks, but which, in spite of that, still managed to look out of place on Holmes's face. “Good morning, my dear Watson,” he returned.
Still acting oddly then. Watson sat down opposite him, trying to keep the confusion and faint concern off his face. Since his short bout of fever, Holmes had been behaving in various very strange and out-of-character ways, things that would probably not have stood out to anyone else, but which shone out like a warning beacon to Watson. This morning, for example, not only was Holmes already awake and actually prepared to eat something at a reasonable hour, but he was also dressed in what would almost be an acceptable manner for polite company - if he hadn't neglected to fasten the first few buttons of his short, exposing the pale strip of skin just below his throat.
Before, Holmes had only rarely appeared at the breakfast table, and even then only eaten if Watson badgered him into it. He had not bothered to dress until such a time as it was inevitable, occasionally spending whole days wrapped in his old dressing gown. Watson had not the faintest idea why such a change had been wrought, but it was not the only one he had noticed. Holmes was much more prepared to indulge in what he had previously dubbed 'useless activities designed to waste time that might be much better used.' He'd gone for several walks with Watson in the park and bought tickets for them to go to the theatre together to see plays that he had clearly found exceedingly dull, although Watson had enjoyed them.
They ate breakfast in a companionable silence while Watson ran through everything that had been anomalous over the last two weeks, and attempted to apply Holmes's methods in order to find the reason for it all. Perhaps Holmes had simply decided to cease being eccentric and experiment with following normal conventions for a while? Watson couldn't imagine anything more unlikely. Besides which, some of it was as much at odds with normal conventions as his previous behaviour had been, albeit in different directions. Watson had come home yesterday to find Holmes lounging in his armchair with his violin, without his shirt on. It had been all he could do to exchange a few words with him before escaping to his room, and he had wondered what on earth Mrs. Hudson would have thought of it if she'd entered instead of him.
Holmes ate several slices of toast and jam, cutting them carefully into strips as if making a boiled egg and soldiers for a sick child. He ate them messily, sucking the excessive jam off the top as if it were a lollypop before eating the toast, licking his lips with obvious relish. It was most definitely not a method of eating that would have been considered conventional, but neither was it typical for Holmes. Watson found himself watching with fascination.
“Do you have plans for today?” he asked eventually, giving up on trying to reason through anything involving Holmes.
Holmes cleaned a spot of jam off one of his fingers with his tongue before replying. Watson did his best not to stare too obviously, and wondered if Holmes had suffered some head injury that had driven polite dining manners out of his head. “I need to run a few errands,” Holmes said. “Then I might try an experiment I've been considering.”
“Nothing explosive,” said Watson quickly. They'd only just had the carpet replaced, and he was sure that Mrs. Hudson would be extremely displeased to have to do it again so soon.
Holmes looked amused. “Nothing explosive,” he agreed. “I want to test the various methods of cleaning blood from soft fabrics to see what evidence remains after they've been applied.”
Watson thought that through. It sounded reasonably quiet and non-destructive. “Not your own blood,” he clarified.
“One of my errands is to procure some pig's blood,” said Holmes. “What are your plans for the day?”
“I have house calls,” said Watson. He glanced up at the clock. “In fact, I should be getting along to the first one now.”
He stood up, and Holmes stood with him. “I shall see you later then, old fellow,” he said. He stepped closer to Watson and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Ah, yes,” said Watson, disconcerted by Holmes's sudden proximity. “Goodbye.”
Holmes squeezed his shoulder, favouring him with an affectionate look that made something unsettling shift restlessly in Watson's chest.
“Goodbye,” he said, ducking away from Holmes's grip, getting his coat and leaving before Holmes could do anything else inexplicable. Behind him, he thought he heard a quiet, despairing sigh and almost turned before reminding himself that this was Holmes and such a thing was ridiculous.
When he entered the sitting room, Holmes was slumped in his armchair, hands clasped in front of him and his head bowed despondently. He was wrapped in his old dressing gown and Watson felt a surge of affection at seeing it again, even though he'd been half-planning to burn the wretched thing only a month ago. Seeing Holmes in such a pose usually signalled the start of one of his black moods and therefore was counted as a discouraging sight, but after his recent behaviour Watson couldn't help but be relieved that they'd returned to a more familiar situation.
“How was your day?” he asked, putting down his bag and hanging up his coat. The only response was a grunt. “How was your experiment?” he continued, refusing to be put off by Holmes's attitude.
“Utter rubbish,” pronounced Holmes in a dark voice.
“Ah,” said Watson. “Then it seems likely we are both in need of a drink.” He poured them each a glass of brandy and then crossed the room to hand one to Holmes.
Holmes looked up, managing a half-smile of thanks that made Watson hope that this melancholy moment would pass quickly so that they would be able to enjoy a quiet evening together. As the glass changed hands, Watson's fingers brushed against Holmes's, just the barest touch of skin-against-skin but it sent a shiver of sensation all the way up Watson's arm. He had a sudden mental flash of what it would be like to feel those long fingers on other parts of his body, a quick image of other ways in which their skin could touch, and sucked in a sudden, shocked breath.
His fingers twitched and let go of the glass, which Holmes was just able to prevent from falling, and he stepped backwards as if he could leave the thought behind where he had been standing. Where had that come from? He felt his eyes widen, fixed on Holmes's face, and suddenly all he could see was the strong line of his jaw, the irrepressible intelligence in his grey eyes and the graceful curve of his throat.
Oh, he thought, unable to mentally articulate beyond that. He desired Holmes. The thought was enough to stop everything else dead, and he stumbled backwards to sit down on the couch. A myriad of images were swirling through his head – the lines of Holmes's body as he ran after a villain, the perfect configuration of the muscles in his forearms when he pushed up his sleeves on a summer's day, the brief flash of his tongue as he licked jam clean from the spoon. It felt like an avalanche crashing down on him, showing him what he should have known all along – that he was an invert, and that Holmes was the object of his affections.
After Watson's heated gaze had rested on him for the majority of breakfast without any sign that he even knew he was doing it, Holmes gave in to his frustration and said goodbye with a hand on his shoulder, close enough to finally kiss him if he'd been willing to risk it. Watson's only reaction had been mild confusion and a hasty retreat, and Holmes had given in to the despair that had been creeping up on him.
Instead of his stated plan for the day, he'd settled down in his dressing gown and tried to plot out an alternative plan, as this one was clearly inadequate to the task of breaking through the walls in Watson's psyche. He'd stayed there all day, ignoring Mrs. Hudson's occasional offers of tea and food, and growing increasingly down-heartened at the task before him. He couldn't shake the feeling that this was going to be the situation for the rest of their lives – Watson unable to realise his attraction to him, while Holmes was stuck watching and wanting with no hope of ever actually having.
By the time Watson had arrived back from his house calls, Holmes was in a thoroughly depressed and irritated mood, barely able to respond to his greeting.
“How was your experiment?” continued Watson as if there was nothing amiss, ignoring Holmes's lack of response entirely.
Holmes hadn't even thought about his proposed experiment since Watson had left that morning. The experiment he had been concerned with, though, - his attempt to seduce Watson - was going extremely badly. “Utter rubbish,” he replied, hoping that his manner would put Watson off enough that he would retreat to his room and leave Holmes alone.
“Ah,” said Watson. “Then it seems likely we both need a drink.” There was a note of intense weariness in his voice, and Holmes glanced up for the first time, taking in all the little details that gave away just how Watson had spent his day.
One of his patients is dying, he thought and felt a brief pang of guilt that he was adding to Watson's bad day with his mood. He pulled himself together enough to manage a half-smile when Watson handed him a drink, brushing his fingers against Watson's almost automatically after two weeks of making sure that they touched at every opportunity.
Watson let out a sudden gasp, his face turning white, and he stepped back as if he'd been burnt. Holmes only just managed to keep his grip on the glass, then looked up at Watson to see an unnerved, wide-eyed expression of shock cross over his face.
Has he finally got there? Holmes thought excitedly as Watson stumbled backwards to sit on the sofa. Could this be it – the moment of self-realisation that Holmes had been pushing for? Prompted by the merest brush of skin while Holmes sat, moody and unkempt, in his most tattered and unflattering outfit?
“Are you all right, old fellow?” he asked, sitting forward eagerly.
“Fine,” said Watson in a faint voice that gave lie to his words. “Just, uh, a sudden dizzy spell. It's passed now. I probably just need to eat.” He was staring intently at Holmes as if he'd never seen him before, eyes flicking over his face and body as if it was a revelation. This had to be it – there was no other reasonable explanation.
“Nonsense,” said Holmes firmly. “It was nothing of the sort. You had a thought, and it shocked you.”
“Holmes,” protested Watson.
“What was the thought?” asked Holmes fervently. All he had to do now was get Watson to admit it, and after two weeks of prevarication and frustration, he wasn't going to go softly about achieving that end.
“There was no thought,” insisted Watson. “Merely a momentary faintness. In fact, I think I shall go and lie down for a while before dinner.” He stood up, and Holmes stood with him. He wasn't letting him escape to his room where he'd no doubt rationalise this away, sublimate it beneath layers of repression, guilt and respectability so deeply that Holmes would have to waste yet more weeks on chipping through it.
“Tell me, Watson,” he commanded, grabbing at his elbow.
Watson glared at him. “There's nothing,” he said crossly. “Leave it alone.” He didn't pull away from Holmes's grip though, and his eyes flicked down to Holmes's mouth. “I don't know why you're making so much of this.” The clues were all there, as unmistakable as the marks on a typist's cuff.
Holmes found himself taking hold of Watson's shoulder with his other hand and stepping even closer to him, leaving no trace of propriety in their position. Watson shifted slightly, but still did not move away, seemingly frozen in place. “I have been waiting a very long time for you to have that thought,” he said tensely. “I have no more patience left with which to humour you. Now, what was it?”
Watson stared up at him as if a rabbit caught in the gaze of a predator. When he spoke, it was in a low, rough voice, barely loud enough for Holmes to hear but resolute despite that. “I realised how much I wanted to feel your hands all over my body, and not just brushing my fingers.”
Holmes felt a slow smile spread over his face. “Watson,” he said in a reverent tone, letting go of his elbow and shoulder in order to run his hands up to Watson's neck, holding his head in place. “My dearest Watson.” That was all he found to say before he kissed him.
Kissing Watson was even more overwhelming than Holmes had expected. Everything about it, from the brush of moustache against Holmes's skin, to the hesitation before he responded with as much fervour and skill as Holmes would expect from a man who could boast conquests across three continents, seemed to be tailor-made to bring a burning passion into life in the base of Holmes's stomach. Watson put his arms around Holmes after barely a second's pause, clinging to his shoulders and pulling him hard against him.
Holmes allowed himself a brief moment of self-congratulation, then let himself be swept up in the tidal wave of sensations, nothing left in his perception except the feel of Watson's lips, the scent of his skin, the increasing rhythm of his breathing and the tiny noises that he was making deep inside his throat. It was a perfection he hadn't dared dream of.