John Watson has a sister.
The Watson twins never got on very well, but they'd shared house and parents and role-models for more years than they cared for; they learned all the same lessons, heard all the same explosive arguments, witnessed the same decay: and, thus, the Watson twins grew up loving in exactly the same ways.
Harry was the older one, by about fifteen minutes. She was loud, hot-headed, and very, very gay. She was an excellent flirt: attractive, daring, and often netted the quiet girls who desperately needed love lest they fade away. She kissed like heaven, and drank like hell; every relationship she started ended in a spectacular and snotty, sodden-screaming bang.
She'd only married once, and that romance went just as poorly as all the rest of them.
John was the older one, for his responsibility and reliability. He was reserved, polite, and as straight as a pole. He was an excellent flirt: handsome, caring, and often attracted the gorgeous girls who broke it off when it was clear no spark was there. He let them go, gladly, glad of the time they'd spent; only once had he had his heart broken, and after that, never again.
He'd never married, though he'd gotten close; but then, of course, he enlisted, and he never found out what had happened to his baby boy.
War is not good for the libido. By the time he was home again for good, sex seemed a world away. It wasn't important anymore, never would be.
Life stretched in front of him, endless grey.
And then, of course, that's when he met Siobhan Holmes.
His first thought: Oh. Oh, okay. I can work with this, I think.
Tall(er than him; not again), pale, with a long, thick twist of dark hair; she was unexpected, a dark-suited waif in the lab, more fairy than human, and he thought: I can work with this. Her hair was half-captured in a silver French barrette, curiously juvenile, and her eyes were startling. I can definitely work with this.
But it just so happened that Siobhan Holmes had to open her mouth, and that just changed everything, didn't it?
"So you don't have a boyfriend then."
"Boyfriend? No, not really my area."
"Oh... oh. D'you -- have a girlfriend then? Which is fine, by the way."
"I know it's fine."
"So, you've got a girlfriend?"
"Right, okay! You're unattached then, like me. Good."
She frowned, and then she groaned.
"John, I think you should know that I consider myself married to my work, and while I suppose your intentions are good I'm really not looking for a m--"
"No! Jesus, no, I'm not -- I'm not coming on to you, bloody hell -- I was curious. I'm just saying... it's all fine."
"...Oh. Oh! Good. Thank you. Thank you very much, actually."
“You were going to take that damn pill, weren’t you?”
“Of course I wasn’t! Biding my time; knew you’d turn up, save the damsel and all that.”
“What? No, Siobhan -- Jesus, no, it’s not bloody chivalry. You’re just about the last person I’d ever want to be chivalrous with, thank you.”
“So you’re suggesting I really would intentionally almost poison myself? Why?”
“Because this is your thing, this is how you get your kicks: you risk your life to prove you’re clever.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re an idiot.” He said it like he was one, too.
She giggled, sudden girlishness in the night.
Later: he opened the door to her favourite Chinese himself and walked in right in front of her, not even pausing for her sake, and her fears were assuaged. Some knight indeed; she laughed, ungainly.
Siobhan Holmes had to open her mouth, and that just changed everything.
Well, no. It did, and it didn't.
It's a bit hard to explain. Though, he's getting better at it, he is -- has to be, since he has to explain his living situation to everybody.
He stopped making half-hearted attempts at catching up with old friends before he'd even started; every friend from uni, everyone who knew him before he enlisted (everyone who thought they knew him still; idiots, Siobhan will sneer), asked him about his new girlfriend.
"Mike Stamford's told me, er, a bit back -- heard you met someone? Girl named Siobhan? She sounds a bit cold, from what I've heard. Hangs around doing science stuff at Bart's or something?"
"Er, yeah, she's -- she's my flatmate. She's ... remarkable, I guess. Brilliant, really."
"'Flatmate', eh? Been sleeping on the sofa?"
"Oh, knock it off, she's just my flatmate, really. I have my own bed and everything. And it's not --"
"Oh, yeah, definitely an ice queen." They would proceed to laugh heartily.
" -- not because of her. Right. Right."
And so on.
Siobhan doesn't seem to think this problem is worth pursuing or even acknowledging -- it's always John who has to insist that she's not his girlfriend for God's sake; she seems to have decided that the issue was resolved the first (well, second, but the first one doesn't count) night they met. Maybe that sort of thing works for Siobhan; she doesn’t care what people think, she says every day (except for the days when it’s obvious that John is not ‘people’). But John’s not like her; he gets angry about it; he doesn’t even think it’s for his sake, or because he has such a hard time getting dates nowadays.
He thinks about his past: the last time he was home he was an attractive single man of just the right age to seem seasoned, and had the dates he wanted. The last time he wanted any was on his first leave, when he’d still been young and incredibly sex-deprived. Maybe something got broken in him since then that he’s only now finding out about, but by now dating seems like one of the least important things in the world. Maybe he’s just old.
Now the important things in the world are solving mysteries -- murders and blackmail and what the hell the purple fungus in the shower drain is, Siobhan is this your fault? -- and catching criminals and runners and saving days and nights and twilights and dawntimes in cheap fish-and-chips and Chinese takeaways and saving Siobhan from starvation and incineration and poisoning from the dead things in the fridge and herself, usually, and her own utter stupidity and radiant brilliance. He gets her fed and he let her vomit on him that one time because she decided that mixing pills would obviously be a better antidote for flu than just lying in bed for a few days. He gets her home every night and he comes home every night too, even when he’s been at the pub, and she's fallen asleep in her chair; those moments are always the most arresting, because in sleep she's tousled and pliant and the barrette she always wears has come loose, and one night when he’s drunker than he’s been in a long time he adjusts it for her because it bothers him. She blinks awake, and looks at him, and her expression sits strangely on her face. He smiles, lopsided.
When he was young, he used to think that part of every sibling's duty was to sit at the kitchen table far past bedtime, listening to streams of tearful ranting and sniffling and complaining and everything he never did, because men weren't supposed to let anything get to them, in some useless attempt at healing both of their wounds.
He's long since forgotten whatever petty teenaged worries ate at Harry all those nights, but not the feeling of sitting there, as she talked: the feeling that she'd try to drag him with her, wherever she ended up, having gotten so used to his being there. The feeling that their arrangement didn't work both ways, that he'd get no sympathy. The decisions he made in coming years were as much to get away from her as they were to get away from their parents.
When she caught on, she stopped even pretending to listen to him, to talk about their mutual problems. In fact, they've not had a sober conversation in fifteen years that wasn't somehow emotionally constipated.
Only the raving about "bloody fucking Clara" is the least bit familiar, though the name and situation are quite different this time. And even to get that out of her, there needs to be drink flowing.
It isn't hard to get alcohol in her, these days, so she rants for all she's worth, about everything under the sun, and doesn’t care if John’s listening.
Three months after Janice Moriarty kidnapped him and John assaulted a woman for the first time for another one’s sake, Siobhan stands at three in the morning and puts her coat on.
John, in his chair, is awake in an instant.
“Where’re you going?”
“Out. Go to bed, I’ll ca -- ”
“Oh, fine. I’m going to go down to Farley & Farley’s warehouse offices. Need the documents from the Wiltshire sale. Don’t wait up.”
“Siobhan, it’s three in the morning.”
“You can’t go out by yourself to the warehouses at three in the morning.”
“Because even if you’re fine with what might happen to you, I’m not.” He stands, hangs onto the armrest for a moment as circulation returns to his legs. He’s really tired.
For a moment, she looks furious. She rolls her eyes: “It’s not my job to make sure everyone keeps it in their pants, if that’s what you’re referring to. I can go out at three am and I will.”
“I know that’s not your job -- it shouldn’t be like this, but it is, and it’s my job to make sure you do as few stupid things as possible per day. This qualifies as pretty stupid; it doesn’t matter that it’s not fair.”
“I can look after myself,” she says as he crosses to her, reaches around her. Is he about to block the door? She hopes not, because she probably won’t have the nerve to fight him for it.
“Never said you couldn't. Whether or not you can be careful is another story.” He puts his coat on and buttons it. “Give me my gun, since I know you have it.”
She blinks, and frowns.
“Rule one of warfare: never go into enemy territory without back-up, and I learned that the hard way. Gun, please?”
She starts, and smiles as she hands over the gun. “Oh, Doctor Watson, I think I like you.”
“Good. Let’s be careful, yeah? And stick close.”
And, at six-thirteen, as he checks her over for bruises from where the drunken alley loafer, thrice-divorced with a dying pet budgie and no restraint whatsoever, had pushed her, rough and sweaty-palmed, against the brick wall behind the warehouse, Siobhan smiles down at John’s pinched, worried doctor's face.
"God damn it, Siobhan.”
“What? I have proof now that Tom Farley knew that the money was stolen, and Lestrade can file charges. I think I came out on top, really.”
"Finesse. I'm fine, John, don't fuss."
“Move your elbow for me, just here -- does it hurt?”
“A bit." He presses. "Yes, okay! It does. You've made your point."
He snorts. "You should be glad that ... it's not worse." His voice has sobered.
"I had an extremely protective army doctor to save me, though, so I’m not about to worry about the ‘what if’s." Hers is gentle, and teasing. "And neither should you.”
He shakes his head, and tries hard (not hard enough) not to laugh. “What did you do before me? How have you not starved to death already or expired in some fit of ennui?”
“Mystery for the ages, I’m sure. Can we go home now, please?”
If John notices her fine tremors on the way home, he doesn’t comment, and he says nothing when she drops her keys on the doorstep. Once inside, he wipes down both of their scraped knuckles with antiseptic and tries to wrap gauze over his, which are worse; she frowns, takes the gauze from him, and does it herself.
"We need proper plasters for this sort of thing. I can get some tomorrow," John says.
"Will you make a habit of punching out alleyway drunks?"
"Mm. I'll get the plasters."
"You heard me." She secures the gauze rather inexpertly; John smirks. "All done."
"Remind me to never let you tend my life-threatening wounds, Siobhan."
"Shut up. It gets the job done. And it's only temporary."
"That it is." He smiles, and, after a moment, reaches to straighten her barrette, which has gone askew. The gesture unnerves her. "Thanks."
"No idea," he says, in a guileless voice. He makes her laugh, as he does.
Siobhan has never met Harry, and John hopes she never does. They'd probably kill each other.
When Siobhan deletes all of the voicemails from Harry for the fifth week in a row, John wants to kill both of them, and then himself, because he can't deal with this anymore. Harry was bad enough; but she, at the very least, could be placated by a phone call and his listening, in halves, to her slurred ranting. Siobhan, on the other hand, demands nothing less than his complete attention and every shred of his nerves and patience, and he's clean out of them by now: so he just explodes at her and walks out.
He doesn't remember what he said, but he knows she does; she always remembers. He should know better, by now, than to yell at her without thinking; oddly enough, that's usually when he manages to hurt her the most. The more time he spends with her the better he's getting at prying under her skin effortlessly -- and isn't that fucked up, he muses.
He doesn't call Harry to explain, though he really ought to. He can't bring up the energy and he knows, he knows, that if he talks to her she'll just make him angrier, in her infinite thoughtlessness. She always does, no matter how much he hopes. He's off pacing Regent’s Park to calm down -- not to get angry again and throw it all back in Siobhan's face when he gets home. She doesn't deserve that.
He doesn't get drunk like he said he would, but he does wander for a few hours, and returns with food -- her favourite Indian, with the good garlic naan and no cauliflower in anything, thank you, she'll have a fit otherwise -- and what he hopes is an agreeable disposition.
His step is heavy on the stair, and his voice very tired.
"Siobhan? You home?"
"Yes." She's not hiding off in her room like she did the first few times; this has become routine, the awkward returns home, dinner on his arm. She doesn't look up from her laptop. It appears a house-fairy has set the sitting-room table for them. John doesn't laugh anymore at the sight, since it's not unexpected.
"You're sober." If she's surprised she doesn't let on.
"No. But I will eat."
By morning they will no longer be stiff, will no longer be reading from an old script. In the morning they will be as normal as they always are, Siobhan and John, in their natural states. But now is not morning: it's about nine pm, and they are robotic.
It's so familiar, by now, that he doesn't even register as much. They eat. She doesn't thank him for the careful exclusion of cauliflower; she never does.
Roboticism. This never changes.
"I called your sister."
He is thrown for a loop. This is not what's supposed to happen.
"You heard me. I left a message. 'Unfortunate accident, terribly sorry, in my haste to deal with important things I seemed to have obliterated all of your voicemails, he'll call soon', and so on. You know how it is."
He tries very hard not to gape. He fills his mouth with naan instead.
"You're welcome," she adds.
"Er, remind me... what am I thanking you for?" He can't help the spurt of anger, from before, that is in his voice. He looks at his plate, and spears a piece of lamb with rather more force than is necessary.
She scowls. "Well, not for keeping her from bothering you, apparently. I was only trying to help." She sighs. "She's an incredibly irritating person; but if you want to keep subjecting yourself to her, be my guest."
Immediately, John is exhausted. "Siobhan, she's my sister."
An eyebrow rises. "Yes? That seems all the more reason to avoid her." The warped Watson childhood hangs in the air, but neither of them speaks of it.
"She's my sister, not my arch-enemy, for God's sake. Those two things are mutually exclusive concepts for most of us, I hope you know."
"I'm aware. But your sister is still a waste of your time."
"'A wast--'?" He'd be angry, if he could. He can't, not anymore. He's out of anger. "I -- look, you... you and Mycroft may have decided that mutual avoidance or whatever is the best method of survival, but you two are some of the maddest people I know. Harry and I -- I can't measure my relationship with her in how productive it is, Siobhan, it just doesn't work like that. She's my sister." He contemplates his fork, and sounds immeasurably sad even to himself. "I owe her more than that, even if I don't like it."
"You can't be wasting time on your silly family problems when I need you."
"Family's not a waste of time. It's important. And if it's not, it should be." Learned, robotic words; what he wants and won't have. Or what he has, but not the way he wants it. A foul taste sits in John's mouth now, and he rises to take his plate to the sink and fetch some water. He's halfway to the kitchen door when Siobhan's voice arrests him.
"Is it the most important thing?" Even without looking at her, he knows she's sitting far too straight in her seat. Even without listening for it, he knows what she's not asking but wants to.
"Siobhan..." He rubs his eyes with his wrist. He's never been more tired, more soul-tired, collapsing under heavy weight. "Harry's my sister. You... you're just Siobhan. It's not really the same thing."
She doesn't speak immediately. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Guess not. Thanks for calling her for me."
He drops his dishes in the sink and says good-night.
John only writes about a handful of their cases, since the rest are either boring or too sensitive to write about for the public. He never does get around to explaining about the rodents from Sumatra, or (in later years) about the whole debacle with the Dutch cargo containers. He never writes about Siobhan's face as she held onto him over the Thames in October 2011, trying to keep him from drowning in it.
When the case comes to them, he knows he won't be writing about this one: some tabloid tycoon is trying to wreck a teenaged heiress's life, and now the whole family is fighting over the money, and there's a lot of he-said-she-said about just what happened to half the family jewels. Siobhan has a plan; a bit of reconnaissance, nothing major, I'll call if there's trouble, can you get a hundred and fifty millilitres of wax when you're out? she calls down the hall, as she does.
He worries, as he does. But then she walks out of her bedroom, and his brain gets a bit scrambled.
She's wearing an extremely fitted, double-breasted dove's-egg skirt suit, along with some of the least practical navy high-heels he's ever seen. Where on earth she's been hiding her second bloody wardrobe he has no idea, and he's about to ask, but then he realises something else: she's also wearing a lot of make-up. Her lips are a livid red.
Siobhan never wears make-up, or heels. Also, the barrette is gone. She turns to the mirror, brushes some hair off her shoulder. She frowns at her reflection.
"John! You're a heterosexual male. Tell me, what do you think?" She smoothes down the fabric over her hips.
His voice is slightly hysterical. "Who are you and what've you done with my flatmate?" He's gaping on the sofa behind her, he knows, and trying not to dwell on how tight that skirt is fitted. It's practically vacuum-sealed. This is really weird, he thinks on a loop.
She doesn't turn, but he can see an eyebrow climb in the reflection. Her hands halt in their path over her hips and across her, er, bum.
"No, just -- er, you're not. Er, not usually... hot. Sorry."
She grimaces. "Poor word choice, I think."
"Sorry, no, that's not what I -- "
"But you approve?"
"Er, I guess. I don't know."
She turns. "You don't know?"
"Well, first of all, seeing you ... teetering around in that getup is kind of disconcerting. You're not the sort of person who should clean up well."
She rolls her eyes, but there's little vitriol in it. "You flatter me so."
"But, also -- it's just, you don't look like you, at all. Seriously, who the hell are you?"
"Today? Today I'm Amanda Knaggs, an independent journalist who seems to have lost her invitation to the Bellamy press luncheon, and hopes security will understand." She scoops her mobile and wallet and keys up from the kitchen table, where both of them usually empty their pockets, and loads them all into a small leather handbag. "Don't worry about me."
"They'll let you in?"
"Mm, I'm very persuasive. I should be back in the afternoon, probably past lunchtime. And remember the wax --" she says as she takes her coat from the hook.
"Phone me if there's trouble, please."
"A hundred and fifty, I said!" she calls up the stairs as she leaves, heels clicking.
It's of those heels that he's thinking when she texts him seven hours later, informing him of the rather sudden change of plans and of Bellamy family heirs. If there's been shooting going on, then he needs to be prepared: gun in his waistband, of course, but a plastic bag with Siobhan's normal walking shoes in, too, in case they have to run. She beams when he presents them to her.
"Practical as always, Captain Watson."
"Mad as ever, Miss Holmes. You okay?"
"Yes. Margery Bellamy is a little worse for wear, though, and George Bellamy hasn't been heard from in an hour; he's holed up in the study, I think. He's only got one pistol, from their father's collection."
"Shouldn't be too hard, then. You ready?"
She smiles, and reaches into his pocket; she pulls out the silver barrette, the one he'd pocketed just in case she wanted it. It goes into her hair.
"I am now."
As hard as it is for most to believe, John is single. 'Single' in that way that means there's a proverbial sign over his head, saying "date me"; not 'single' in the way Siobhan is 'single' as in 'unfettered and uninterested so keep your distance if you value your jugular'.
Wait, no, that sounded wrong.
(It sounds worse when you realise it's entirely accurate.)
Anyway, John is single. Single John Watson, who likes romantic walks on beaches and the occasional gunfight, does what Single Men do, and that's try to not be single for a time.
No thanks to Siobhan, this doesn't work out very well.
"Brilliant, Siobhan. That's the third one in the last four months," he says as he watches Rachel -- who Siobhan took exception to on account of "the drivel she calls 'conversation' and her ghastly propensity for giggling", which of course are the same ills all of John's girlfriends apparently commit -- storm down the street and hail a cab with such enthusiasm that her hand strikes a passing man in the left ear. The man, aged and of the type who believes that the curtailing of corporal punishment spells the very end of civilisation, flies off the handle. Rachel is red-faced and indignant. Their voices carry down the street, and passerby cringe. It's all extremely un-British.
"Well, I..." Siobhan clears her throat. "I didn't quite expect it to escalate so -- quickly." She looks so nonplussed John laughs, in spite of himself.
"I'm supposed to be angry with you right now, damn it."
"Angry about what? I only asked you to come with m --"
"Yes, to go beat up some professional boxers-cum-murderers-by-garden-shears for you."
"Yes. That's what 'recon' always means when you say it."
"Well, it didn't this time. I hardly think it was any reason for whatever-her-name-is to make such a fuss."
"Her name's Rachel."
"Oh, whatever. It's not important."
"She's broken up with you now, it's not relevant anymore. Now, come on!" She begins to take off.
"Siobhan! What the hell?"
"Come on! The longer we wait, the more likely it is they'll take up the shears again."
"Stop pretending this is bloody recon!" He shouts, as he runs after her.
And so, things continue thus for a while. A lot of the girlfriends are so brief Siobhan doesn't even remember they existed. The break-ups are always ugly, and would be massively hilarious to John if they weren't happening to him. And yet every break-up is neater than any one of the fights John and Siobhan have had, but John never brings girlfriends takeaway as a peace offering. He never comes back.
He always comes back to Siobhan.
He's not sure that he cares about this disparity. The fact he managed to date again at all blows his mind; he finds that the longer every relationship goes on, the harder it is for him to keep it up, because there's a point at which a good shag can only satiate a girl so much. He really ought to just stick to flirting in pubs; that's easier, but he's too old for that. So he waffles, and it's over.
He's supposed to be settling down, and he's not; Harry moans about the death of their family and how both of them will die alone. John's already getting old, and he's not settled down.
Except, he always comes back to Siobhan.
Whether or not she comes home is a non-issue, right up until she goes and falls in love.