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.
This is how Siobhan falls in love.
It starts in Buckingham Palace (of all places), with an unfortunate affair with a bed sheet and then with Siobhan, dressed now in a black pencil skirt (picked by the escort) that's a size too small (John's fault: she's put on 15 pounds since he moved in) and with legs crossed. Mycroft hands her a folder of glossy photographs, and delivers a short summary: Immanuel Adler, professionally known as "The Gentleman", is a dominant, which John is only now learning is the term for a male dominatrix.
Mycroft apparently thinks Siobhan's sex life -- or lack thereof -- is a) appropriate conversational material in Buckingham Palace (of all places), b) appropriate conversational material anywhere, and c) important. John's initially unsure of what to make of the information, but when he sees Siobhan stiffen he wants very much to punch Mycroft in the face. Later, obviously.
First, they have a meeting with Mr Immanuel Adler.
Siobhan prides herself on being a master -- or, rather, mistress -- of disguise. Her ability to step into a high-heeled alter ego is unparalleled, and John has seen her pull off the "tearful widow" act with far more ease then he'd thought possible (for Siobhan, at least). Though she hasn't said as much, he can tell she's gearing up for another act. Her hallway is littered with discarded shirts, at least one bra, a high-visibility jacket (John doesn't ask) and what are probably a hideously expensive pair of black pumps. They have red soles.
Despite the mess, she comes out looking mostly the same as she always does -- all black, with a longer, more modest skirt and her suit jacket, shirt buttoned all the way up. He jokes that she looks like a nun.
Two blocks from Adler's flat she stops them by an alley and draws a thick grey veil from her coat pocket, and he groans.
"You've got to be kidding me."
"Christ, this is ridiculous," he says to himself, an aside.
"Right, this'll do." She stops them halfway down the alley.
"Punch me in the face."
"Wh -- punch you?"
"Yes! Punch me, in the face; didn't you hear me?"
"I alw --" He stops the joke before it gets out. "Look, Siobhan, I'm not punching you. Absolutely not."
"Oh, for God's sake!" And then she punches him.
His fingers have reflexively formed a fist by the time he stands straight again.
"That is so not bloody fair!" He points a finger instead.
"Oh, why not?"
"Because you're -- I can't hit a woman, for Christ's sake! No matter how much I'd bloody like to," he throws in her face, knowing full well she's angering him on purpose.
"Oh, it's that chivalry rubbish again; I thought I'd rid you of that nonsense by now."
"Shut up! You'd think differently if there were seventy kilograms of veteran soldier pounding into you from above."
Her face snaps to a look of shock just as John realises what he said. His mouth is desert-dry.
"Oh, shit, no, that's not wha --"
"You're brilliant, John!"
"I -- what?"
"Excellent, this'll work. Here!" She turns a shoulder to him and steps closer. "Rip."
"Rip them off?"
"Well, no, don't rip them, the jacket's a good one; but bare the shoulder. Maybe take a button or two off the shirt, for effect. I must look... debauched," she says, with a romantic flourish.
"I don't think that's ... quite the word."
"No, but it's probably all the same to Mister Adler." She glances down as he eases the jacket off. "No, harder; the creasing pattern's all wrong. It doesn't look forceful; no-one will believe it."
"Would you rather do this yourself?" he snaps, and tugs, and takes a button as collateral damage.
It's forceful enough creasing for Adler's ginger valet, in the end, to believe: he lets them in almost immediately, seeming surprised. John braces Siobhan (who's busy crying quietly and pretending to wince at bruises) with a hand on her arm and around her shoulders, and immediately notices that she seems several inches more diminutive. She's a very good actress.
Not good enough, apparently.
When he arrives, she forgets to clutch her shirt front closed.
Immanuel Adler is over six feet tall, and lean. Dark, carefully styled hair, with a prominent curl across the forehead. He's wearing heeled dress shoes, and a crisp black designer suit. The tie, however, is just in the midst of being pulled off in a clearly seductive manner. It slides off his shoulder slowly, and he snaps it in the air like a whip. It falls to the floor.
He licks his lips. Siobhan stares.
Adler tuts. "Oh, it's always hard to remember an alias when you've had a fright, isn't it? And I was just gearing up to confessing all my sins," he looms in front of her, not quite straddling, and takes the grey veil from her head with a smile, "which are numerous, I assure you, Miss Siobhan Holmes."
She raises an eyebrow. "One can't confess to a nun, I'm afraid, Mister Adler."
"Touché." He smiles. His voice is pitched exceptionally low. "Oh, look at those cheekbones; I could cut myself slapping your face." With more bite: "Would you like me to try?"
He throws the veil over his shoulder, and brings a foot up onto the sofa beside Siobhan, his knee between her face and the doorway. She hears rather than sees John arrive.
"Right, this should d -- the hell?" Siobhan wishes Adler's knee weren't blocking her line of sight. John's voice comes tight: "I've missed something, haven't I?"
Adler's knee is removed and he steps away from the sofa, hands in pockets. "Please, sit down," he says, amusement in his voice. Siobhan watches him size John up.
John looks to Siobhan immediately, countenance concerned. "Siobhan?" She nods, to assuage his fears.
He has a lot of fears, but Siobhan is busy being intrigued -- and very annoyed about it.
Adler, folded smooth in the chair, revels in the scene: "D'you know the big problem with a disguise, Miss Holmes? However hard you try... it's always a self-portrait."
"You think I'm a nun who's been sexually assaulted?"
Adler laughs, like the implications of her disguise aren't horrific. "No, I think you're fragile, exposed, and believe in a higher power -- in this case, it's yourself."
She blinks, and doesn't quite scowl.
"Oh, and you lucky thing -- somebody loves you." He turns incrementally to John. "Why, if I had to disrobe that dame, I'd be gentle on the fabric, too." His eyes flick to her jacket, still rumpled (inadequately), and in the periphery John's gone slightly pink. "Though I might have gone in for the hit, if I were you," Adler adds.
John bristles, and forces a laugh; Siobhan can tell there's some sort of moronic male competition dynamic going on, and hates it. She wishes John weren't so worried, because when John's worried he's stupid. And he's being very stupid right now, being so fussed about relative sizes. But when John’s worried, Siobhan is clever indeed, so it all works out in the end.
John spends the rest of their little visit afraid that Adler really is as much of a creep as he seemed at first, though the arrival of the CIA kind of derails that train of thought, as does Siobhan's inexplicable cracking of Adler's safe code. But John's worries are back with a vengeance when he finds Adler's little valet, lying in the bedroom with a lump on the back of his head.
He had good reason to be worried, it turns out.
He's back in the bedroom in seconds -- he didn't get very far before realising Siobhan hadn't followed -- but Adler's already made his move, and when John roars into the room again and Adler throws Siobhan aside, she can but collapse, drugged.
There's an angry mark on her cheekbone and Adler has the phone back, and John socks the bastard in the face. It's the least he deserves. He does it several more times, for good measure.
It feels excellent.
They have a fight about that, two days later.
Less than excellent.
"How can you ask me that? How ca -- he was a fucking creep, okay, Siobhan, I couldn't stand him, I couldn't just sit b --"
"You could. It was fine," she says, sitting straight and sure as she types. Her voice is flat.
"No it bloody wasn't! Jesus, if -- think of what mig -- "
"I don't care about 'what if's. I thought we established this."
"I -- sure, in retrospect, fine, I agree -- don't worry about stuff like that -- but, Siobhan... worrying after the fact is not the same thing as knowing, in real time, that if you don't do something right now something awful will happen. To you." He stops, takes a breath, because that came out all at once. He's standing in front of her, gesticulating, and she's not moving. "That's not a 'what if'."
"I told you already, I was fine. Nothing would have happened."
John puts his face in his hands and turns away in a miserable circle. "Oh, Jesus, Jesus Christ. No, it wasn't fine. I -- God, how do I get through to you, Siobhan, how... oh my god. You really are an idiot. You're such a fucking idiot sometimes, God."
"No, you're the idiot, John," she says, her voice having only the barest amount bite in it. She mostly sounds bored. "Nothing would have happened to me. You don't understand, because you're so used to your stupid little world and the stupid ways you believe men act. He wouldn't have hurt me -- I wouldn’t have let him. I was fine. You can stop treating me like a child; it's quite an unbecoming look on you."
"Adler did hurt you, you idiot!"
"He hit me. I even told you that you could hit me, if you remember, so I don't care. It's your stupid chivalry that stopped you from doing it yourself."
"That's not tr -- "
She, very suddenly, becomes enraged. "Don't lie! It is your stupid chivalry, it is, and you're just upset about him because of your ludicrous misogyny and your frankly insulting over-protectiveness towards me and some stupid male rubbish about him encroaching on your fucking territory or something. Don't. Lie."
She had expected John to become incensed, but he's not angry anymore. He looks... she can't think of a word for it, there is no word. She doesn't understand the expression; she's never seen it on his face before and has no comparison. She doesn't understand the expression.
She understands enough that, when he seems to flee from the flat (he never does that, he always leaves like he's on a march, he never leaves like he's retreating), she's a little bit less than confident that he's coming back.
It's almost dark when John comes home. At this time of the year, that's not quite so late, but it's late enough. He got Chinese this time, though he's not sure if it's welcome.
She's in the same spot she was when he left, and he knows her well enough to know she probably didn't move at all. He's pretty sure she's cataloguing some experiment results; her Excel files are complicated and meticulous and this is her first chance in weeks to update them. They're a plausible excuse for immobility.
As is anger, he thinks.
He looks around. "Table's not set," he observes, worried already. He knows regularity is important to her; aberrations mean something's wrong. He hopes it's not too wrong, and she's not too cross. He hopes he's only mostly bollocksed everything up.
She shrugs. It's an abnormal shrug, almost hurried, and she doesn't look at him. John thinks he might understand it. He feels guilty. Neither of them can be sure of their norms.
"You hungry? I'm practically spoiling you with scallion pancakes, I got you two servings."
"I'll set the table, then."
"No, it's okay, I'll -- I'll get it."
For some reason, she doesn't like that. Regularity, John remembers. "Why?" She asks, almost sounding suspicious.
"Er, why not?"
"My question first."
He takes two plates from the draining board, and frowns at them. They make it to the sitting-room table regardless. He doesn't look at her as he unloads the takeaway bag.
"Can't I just -- why does there need to be a reason? I was, er, standing up already, so -- "
John does. She comes to stand next to him, and she watches him. He doesn't look at her.
She swallows. "When you were... out, I thought about what I said. I re -- "
"No, don't. Please don't, you don't ne -- "
"I said shut up."
She continues. "I realised that what I said was... possibly not fair. I won't say I didn't intend to hurt you, because I did. But it wasn't fair."
"No, no, I'm sure it was entirely fair. I'm sorry. I -- look, don't, you don't have to apologise, okay?"
"Who said I was apologising?"
John laughs softly, but he doesn't sound happy. "Maybe I'm just thick, but it sounds an awful lot like you're saying you 'didn't mean it'. That's kind of a thing in apologising."
"You are thick. I did mean it. But, that doesn't... make it fair. I did mean it, but, sometimes I mean wrong things."
"I -- what?"
"I'm tr... look, it is the truth, I'm not saying it's not, but it's my truth, not yours, and it's not fair. I..."
John looks hopelessly confused, and more of that unidentifiable thing than he even was when he'd fled. It's compounded, like an infection making use of an already weakened immune system. It's not a good emotion, she can tell. If it were good she'd not compare it to an infection.
"I still don't understand." He sounds miserable.
"Can you -- look, just forget I said it. It's not important."
"Obviously it is important. I'd put that on the top of the 'Important Things Siobhan Should Have Told John Earlier Before He Cocked Everything Up' list, actually."
"I can't just forget it."
"Then ignore it."
"Wouldn't that make it worse?"
"I – no. No. You don't... I don't know how to explain this," she frets. She needs to kill the infection, and yet she thinks she's making it worse.
"It's okay, you don't have to. I'm sorry," he says, in a dying voice. "I'm sorry for... however I act." He looks down. "I don't know how to do better."
Siobhan decides she absolutely loathes listening to him speak so. "Shut up. Stop it. Stop being sorry."
"You basically said I treated you the same way as Adler did, of course I'm fucking sorry."
"That's not true, and you are an absolute moron and I don't know why I put up with you."
"I don't know either."
"You're my friend, John, for some baffling reason. Now stop being in a strop, you know you hate cold food."
He looks up, meets Siobhan's eyes for the first time since he came home. Maybe she should try this talking-about-feelings lark more often. Maybe she just needs to insult him more. She tries a smile.
"I thought you said you were going to spoil me with scallion pancakes? Come on, I'm waiting," she teases. He smiles, though he still looks sad. And infected. That's the only word she can think of for the expression: infected. She's pretty sure it's wildly inappropriate.
She doesn't care. She has to kill it.
"If it matters to you, you're not anything like him."
He turns towards her. "Is that why you like him?" John's voice is quiet, his tone inviting honesty. She's a little thrown by it. People so rarely want honesty.
"Who said I liked him?"
His face transforms to something more familiar: amusement. "Hmm, let me think. Oh, right, only everyone who's been around you the past two days. You’re practically floating."
"That's not true."
"Nah, it is and you know it." He turns to the bag again, and clears his throat. She wishes he didn't still look sad. She wants to rub his shoulder and call him stupid until he stops looking sad. "So, dinner?"
She doesn't tell him the content of two of Adler's unanswered texts. "All right."
"Okay. And, it -- you're sure? That it's okay?"
"I thought we'd established this. I thought we'd spent the past fifteen minutes establishing it, in case you've forgotten."
He manages to act normal for her, manages to maintain normal John and Siobhan for the night, and she's infinitely grateful and utterly incapable of saying so. He's still infected, but she thinks his immune system can survive it.
It has to, for her sake. But she thinks it’s okay; he did come home, after all, even when she wasn’t sure he would.
She allows herself to be wooed, for lack of a better term, by Mister Adler. She doesn't delete the texts, though she knows John's jaw sets tense every time he hears the alert. She doesn't answer them. She fully expects their paths to cross again, and so she waits. She is looking forward to the next encounter: she predicts how it will pan out, in every particular.
She is unprepared.
Christmas is simultaneously the bane of her existence and one of her soft spots. She has some good memories about Christmases when she was small, and she likes good memories (they are so few). She loathes decorations, frippery, fairy lights, sentimentality, and large groups of people. Six people in the sitting room is simply far too many.
If she could have a Christmas with just John and Mrs Hudson, she might make some new good memories to savour, for when there aren't any more good memories coming.
As it is, she manages to ruin this Christmas as badly as she did the one of 1996. John's not happy with the treatment of his girlfriend (girlfriend had to be coaxed into going out with him, wasn't entirely convinced Siobhan and John weren't together, he placated her with cunnilingus), girlfriend's not happy with John's attentive treatment of Siobhan (some more cunnilingus might be in order), and Molly --
Siobhan forces herself to say she didn't mean it, because that's a thing in apologising, and it's too difficult for her to explain the ways in which she did and didn't mean it, and the ways in which she wishes she hadn't said it and the ways in which she has no regret. It would only make it worse, with Molly. It's important that Molly understand this top fraction of what Siobhan's feeling, because what was said wasn't fair. Siobhan thinks of John teasing her over scallion pancakes two days after Adler, and knows it's not fair. And that's important.
In a way, she owes Molly immensely, despite the irritation her relentless pursuit brought Siobhan. She doesn't like how easily she is perceived as John's girlfriend, it feels belittling; she is grateful that, even if Molly is silly and stupid in many ways (not in her job, she's very good at what she does, Siobhan would not put up with her otherwise), she's not blind. Molly knew Siobhan was not interested in men before, and she knows now, even if she still interprets such in entirely the wrong way. It's nice, a little. It's different. Siobhan kisses her.
It's not a good memory, but it is an okay one, which is as good as a good one. For this is a Christmas full of bad memories, most of them having to do with a morgue.
Siobhan barely speaks for days, and John is reaching his limit. The subject is forbidden by unspoken agreement and their previous, terrible track record with emotional conversations.
Siobhan plays her violin, as divinely as always, and barely speaks; John watches her, and sees heartbreak. They float so, during the year's last gasp, something broken drifting in the void between them. They don't speak in words, and John doesn't understand the tongue of the violin, nor the language Siobhan and her Gentleman both knew so well. He understands nothing.
John is incensed, and beside himself with sorrow. He zips up his jacket, and looks at her by the window.
She's in her dressing gown, the blue one, with the front left open despite the draft from the window (they've never been quite right since the glass was blown out, forever ago) as if she'd forgotten about it. Her hair is dishevelled, and might actually need a trim soon. It's loose; he finds the silver barrette languishing in a wooden pencil-box on the kitchen table, next to her microscope.
He grabs his keys. "Listen, has she ever had any kind of... boyfriend, girlfriend, a relationship, ever?"
"I don't know," Mrs Hudson sighs.
"How can we not know?"
"She's Siobhan! How will we ever know what goes on in that funny old head?"
Siobhan plays on, to Immanuel Adler's memory, to everything he gave her, to the lost language only they could speak. John doesn't understand her, but he understands heartbreak. He picks up her silver barrette. She plays on, oblivious to his presence, to Mrs Hudson's, to their sympathy; he hates inaction, he wants to shake Siobhan and make her cry at last so that he can hold her, tell her it's all right, do something other than stand and watch as she spins a eulogy and pretends it's only a lullaby.
He remembers one time, when he was only about six years old, when he and Harry had been sneaking out of bed in the night, and he tripped down a small flight of stairs and hit his head on the floor. He'd been fine, there was a carpet and he hadn't hit it very hard, but Harry had been utterly convinced for a few seconds that he was dead. This was back when Harry cared whether or not he was dead, and she'd cried, and he'd cried too out of bewildered sympathy. They made a pillow-fort and snuck a packet of biscuits in and by the end of the night, they could giggle again. The pillow-fort had been his idea, because he wanted to make her stop crying. It was one of the last times he successfully did.
He drops the silver barrette onto the table, and leaves.
She takes care not to let her steps reverberate in this vaulted space, and so she goes unheard, unanticipated. She comes silent, like a shadow -- John's shadow, and wouldn't that vex him -- closer to two echoing voices, both men's. There is something lovely in the sound of deep tones; she's always liked the cello. She listens now to the duet.
"It's for her own safety," comes the cello, deep and drawn upon a whole note. She forgets to breathe upon hearing it.
"So's this: tell her you're alive," and there it is, the instrument she knows; an octave higher but hardly a violin. The sound is warm and angry and thick and thin at once. Breathing she now remembers, when she hears that sound.
"Fine. I'll tell her," says the clarinet, a sound totally unlike the genius strings, "and I still won't help you."
"What do I say?" And it's a challenge, another one of these macho displays --
"What do you normally say?! You've texted her a lot."
And he reads them, Adler reads them, and something bad happens in Siobhan's chest, and she doesn't know what it is but she hates it. Those are not things to share with John.
Christmas is. Adler's texts aren't.
"You -- flirted with Siobhan Holmes?"
"At her. She never replies."
"No, Siobhan always replies -- to, everything. She's... Madame Punchline, she will outlive God trying to have the last word."
"Does that make me special?"
"I don't know, maybe."
"Are you jealous?"
Siobhan goes cold.
"We're not a couple," John says, at once fatigued and angry beyond endurance.
"Yes you are."
Siobhan blinks, mind racing and turning up nothing. She imagines John stiffening, shoulders those of a tiny wooden soldier.
John fights. "Who, who in the hell knows about Siobhan Holmes, who she likes, but -- for the record -- if anyone out there... still cares, I'm not actually interested in her. At all."
"Well, I'm gay. Look at us both."
Adler sighs in her pocket.
Nothing is as gratifying as exacting revenge upon over-muscled American men, Siobhan thinks. Nothing, it turns out, as is coming home one day months later to find Immanuel Adler ensconced in her bedroom. It's probably supposed to be suggestive, and John is upset, but Siobhan is pleased. Not happy, as John grumbles, but pleased.
She solves Adler's puzzle, because she's a genius and he respects her and that's lovely, she loves it, it's the best feeling she's had in a long time, to have like meeting like, and no-one's kissed her cheek for a very long time, that's nice too, it's very gentle. She stands, as does he. She's a few inches shy of six feet, and he towers. She suddenly feels immensely powerful, and challenges him to surprise her.
He does. John says a lot of things, but never that he wants to fuck her. John's jaw drops.
"What the fuck?" John says, sounding horrified. He's already half-risen.
"I've never begged for mercy in my life, and I don't plan to start," Siobhan says, casting her voice low. She's playing with fire, just as she always has, just as she always will do. John stares at her.
She's incapable of telling John that she'd not have said such a thing if he hadn't been in the room, because he'd misconstrue it entirely.
Siobhan fell in love.
Or, if she didn't, she ended up in the closest approximation to it she is capable of feeling. It hardly makes a difference; it's all the same to her. It's all the same to everyone. It doesn't matter that Siobhan Holmes is incapable of the emotion, because she never gets it in return.
Immanuel Adler, tall and dark-haired and with an impossible voice, impossible eyes that spread like galaxies when he looks at her, laughs and waxes upon Janice Moriarty (who Siobhan never wants to contemplate again but must), his kind of lady, destroys everything, burns it all, and there's the taste of blood and hate in her mouth; and now Mycroft, all a-glower, has nothing but contempt for her and she realises in an instant she'd have much rather grown up with John than with her own brother.
Siobhan is clever, and no-one can take that away from her, not even if she's lost everything else. Never dare underestimate Siobhan Holmes.
Adler smiles. "No such thing as too much, darling."
She's wearing three-inch heels, she'd felt like getting dressed for the occasion, and now she revels in their clicks, like dice. She plays. She purrs: "Oh, enjoying the thrill of the chase is fine, craving the distraction of the game -- I sympathise entirely -- but sentiment? Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side," she says, full of vitriol, even as she thinks of her small sentiments, of apologising to people and of killing John's infections and the fact that she thinks she was falling in love. She crushes them all in three-inch heels.
She crushes it all.
"Oh, dear God. Look at the poor girl. You don't actually think I was interested in you? Why?" He laughs, and she wants to smash cellos, which breaks her heart. "Because you're The Great Siobhan Holmes, Little Miss Clever Detective, in a cute outfit and a silly hat?"
And she crushes him in an instant, too.
"I imagine John Watson thinks love's a mystery to me, but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive -- "
Look at the poor man, she thinks, and she laughs cruelly, she laughs in his face because she can't believe he ever meant anything to her, he's just another idiot, his pass code is seven characters long and he's an idiot --
She decides she loves to see grown men cry.
She goes home.
Siobhan was once in love, and she goes back to John.
Home looks very small, at night, with the occupants all abed. She sheds her coat and scarf and pushes her windblown hair from her eyes, wondering where her silver barrette has gone. It's long gone midnight, and the fire has dwindled to embers, sad, infected spots of light; the flat is cold. She wonders why John let the silver barrette get lost.
John is half-curled up on the sofa, his head on the armrest and himself sound asleep. Siobhan doesn't remember quite how long she's been out; probably five hours or more. She sees the lines on his shirtsleeves, and knows he'd meant to wait up until she returned, whenever that would be. John, on watch. Something goes soft inside her, and things that were crushed tremble anew.
She bends over him. She notices, possibly for the first time, that she likes his face a great deal, it's very much him. It's a good face. It's unlined in sleep. That's nice to see; he usually looks so worn, and worried. She's very brave when he's worried. She never wants to see him cry.
"You'll wake with a sore neck if this goes on," she says, soft, and lifts him in her arms. He makes a noise, a phrase from the language of the beasts, a clarinet slightly out of tune. She slings his arm over her shoulder and they move; she's taller but he's heavier, and her arms tire. She drops him at last on his bed.
He groans, but seems unwilling to move into a better position, lying as he is on his stomach with his legs half-off the bed. He buries his face in the duvet. She looks at him, and sits on the bed's edge, reaching after a moment for his feet. His shoes come off and are lined neatly by his bedside, and his legs are swung up onto the mattress.
He blinks, like a mole, and is nearly incomprehensible. "Siobhan?"
"Hey." He smiles, for no reason, and she doesn't understand him at all. "You're back."
"Good," he sighs, and the next sound to come out of him is a gentle snore.
Siobhan frowns at him, at his face suffused in warm lamp-light, and finds herself unable to quantify her emotions. She doesn't understand why sentiment glows so heavily in the room, and why she doesn't wish it gone at all. She wants a little to touch him, somewhere secure and soft, wishes she had an excuse to touch his hair, maybe, because his hair is very him too. John is very mad and very stupid and very safe, and she doesn't want to ever crush his heart.
She turns off the light and leaves him to dream.
The air is thick with April rain and with sadness today, like it's never quite been before. John feels heavy, to his bones, and is soaked.
He's never lied to Siobhan before, not really. Mycroft has, many times, mostly lies of omission; this is a fundamental difference between them. John feels she deserves honesty. Mycroft knows she reacts badly to everything, and will not give her truth. Both men are aware she likes John better than Mycroft, and they know why, but the Holmeses aren't about to change their ways. They are set, they are robotic. Mycroft will not be the bearer of bad news.
John glances into the kitchen, and has no idea what to do.
"Clearly you've got news."
Yeah, he does. He bites his lip.
John's informed people of deaths, before. Loved ones, soldiers worried about their mates bleeding out in the tent. He's pretty good at it, at seeming sympathetic, so it was often his lot. That's not what's happening here.
What's happening here has never happened before.
The thing is, John's never really had anyone like Siobhan before. Well, no, obviously he hasn't, there's no-one like her in the world; but he's never had a friend this close, he's never had his feelings so mixed up about anyone. He's only ever had mates, and they were all blokes; the most he ever did was act as wingman, or tell a pushy friend to leave a girl alone. When he was older and he was the only one without a long-term girlfriend, he'd sometimes give encouragement and advice, but sparingly. Exactly one time, he passed a message from one mate to another, and they ended up together. They both died in a roadside bombing, at the same time. John will never forget that, that they stayed together.
But he's never had a female friend before. And, fuck, but she's his best friend, it's hideous how much his friend she is. He stands and drips rainwater on the floor, and realises he's never been on the girl's side before, and he doesn't know what to do.
He starts by lying, transparently, and it breaks his heart to do so, because she buys it. But he doesn't want to think of Siobhan crying violin solos to the night, mourning the loss of a common tongue, and he carries on. This is pillow-forts and biscuits, except it's a terrible thing to do, and he hates himself. He hates grey areas; he hates inaction, irresolution. He wishes things could be fixed as easily as they could when he was small, and Harry still loved him.
He thinks of Harry now, of late nights and sobs about the girls who'd left her and that just makes it worse, that makes the complexities of solutions even worse; it makes him even more inadequate because he should know how to do this, and he can't.
He's Siobhan's only friend; if only he were good at being so.
He never does find out that Siobhan thinks he's brilliant at being John and that that's quite enough, and he never does find out that Siobhan knew all about Karachi and though she left John for it she came back, because she always comes back, because they both always will.
Of course, always is only so long.
They carry on.
Siobhan is nearly run over by a limousine on Valentine's Day, which is hilarious in retrospect but nearly sends John into cardiac arrest at the time. In March John gets hit over the head with a toilet brush and he wakes laughing, still lying on the floor of the suspect's loo as Siobhan frowns down at him. Siobhan looks at a foot-tall bronze statue of a Greek hero and is in three seconds flat able to tell Lestrade exactly what pub in Bristol their missing person is currently pulling in. John brings Indian again, and he surprises her with fish-and-chips the night he yells at her because work was trying and Harry's in the bottle again and is telling him he's not good for anything and he's certainly not good at dealing with things that can't be fixed with a bullet so when he finds the preserved human bladders he calls Siobhan a "danger to society and my health and sanity and general well-being", and she tells him not to apologise because it was true, even if it wasn't fair, and he proceeds to get them both outrageously drunk because Siobhan deserves fairness and he deserves to get fucking drunk.
All in all, it's very normal.
When she falls down a flight of doubtful wooden stairs and twists her ankle, John turns into her doctor again; she lets him help her undress, and hold her crutches, and help her get into the bathtub. He holds her against his body as she braces herself on the wall above the tub, and is the only thing supporting her when she lifts her good leg in. She trusts him severely.
He stays long enough to wash her back in slow, strong circles, and maybe that's supposed to be peculiar or Not a Done Thing but she doesn't care and he doesn't, either. She doesn't object to John being her nursemaid. She trusts him, with everything, except the ultimate truth, the truth she can't say out loud. He rubs her back, and she hums, and she pushes the truth away. Everything else is more than enough.
The ankle heals with alacrity and soon they're both running around the moors together, in pursuit of everything that doesn't exist and everything that sets human blood cold and should make Siobhan laugh but doesn't, because she's a tiny bit human too, and that's rather inconvenient. She approaches Henry Knight's ultimate nightmare and wonders where John's got to, because she feels brave when he's here to worry about her and she might need some courage right now.
"Well, mates are mates, aren't they? People will ignore things about people they... you know, like. I mean, look at you and John."
"We're not a couple," she says, and it's the first time she has.
"Yeah, I know you're not. But, I mean, he's a pretty straightforward bloke, and you..."
He never finishes, but his point is made: Henry Knight has more perceptive abilities about him than she had ever thought possible. Siobhan is a little bit shocked.
Then the whole thing blows up in her face, and she does things to John that are very much not fair but she does mean except for the one time she doesn't mean it, she doesn't mean it at all, and it's really the first time she's wanted to take her words back entirely and she's at a loss. She had to find him, he didn't come back to her, and she's at a loss.
But he's her only friend, and she knows how to tell the truth.
She pulls off the gasmask that very night and sees blood-red lipstick and demonic eyes and she wants to scream, because Janice Moriarty is her only true fear, and Siobhan cannot lie.
Later, when it's all over, John will remember the little things.
He'll remember things like how irritated she was to get diamond earrings as a gift when her ears weren't even pierced. He'll remember the lead-up to the trial, dressing for it, the moment when he turned to look at her and she was holding a hairbrush limp in her overburdened hands and he took it from her, smoothed out the dark locks that had grabbed his eye the first time he saw her, left them thick and neat and pulled back in a silver barrette, as always. He'll remember her face when he got home after the verdict, when he'd come home panicked and she'd been there and assured him that she was fine, even when her face told him plainly that she wasn't. He'll remember reminding her that Siobhan Holmes is one of a kind and also a huge, annoying arse and his best friend. He'll remember her smile. It was one of her best smiles, because it was true.
But before Later, John won't want to remember anything; he'll force himself not to. He banishes everything, expels all thoughts, of her or otherwise.
He never does cry.
He doesn't speak to Mycroft again, After. He can't, won't give that man the pleasure of an audience. Mycroft is an appalling excuse for a brother. He won't protect Siobhan simply because they don't get along, and he sells her off for the chance of a state-saving secret and then releases Siobhan's murderer into the wild. Siobhan is --
Siobhan was --
Siobhan was immensely clever and there was no-one out there like Siobhan Holmes, in the world, and John always thought that was insane and incredible. Siobhan was clever and she could protect herself but she couldn't always tell when she needed it, when she needed to start being clever and defending, and so though she was good at getting out of trouble she was bollocks at avoiding it. She was hopeless on her own, but with allies she was a storm. John fought alongside her. Mycroft wouldn't.
Family is an important thing, it's the most important thing; it's all we've got in the end, really, all of us, John thinks. Siblings are like comrades-in-arms; they dealt with all the same crap together as children, and they should continue as adults; they ought to. It's important to have a family, someone to come back to, always. There should be someone at home.
John and Harry never patched their sinking ship after their mum died, and they've not tried, and maybe Harry's turned into a wreck and maybe they've lost all the good things, all the pillow-forts have been stormed, but they've not abandoned each other. Harry's still there, even if she's very distant and John's tired of trying to reach her.
It's clear that Mycroft loved Siobhan to the end, and never let himself get very far at all, even if Siobhan tried to hide. Mycroft is the very definition of psychotically overprotective and weird; it doesn't follow, then, that he'd just -- abandon her, at the end. He had to try to do something, even if it didn't work; she was his baby sister, he couldn't let her die just because they didn't get along. Even if they've broken each other, too, as all siblings do eventually, Siobhan was still his sister. John will never forgive Mycroft. She wasn't John's sister, and even he did more.
He never did do more, than he did for Siobhan.
John has nightmares of the end.
He only noticed it occasionally, but Siobhan was pretty. It's odd, because she wasn't an attractive person, and she was a nutter and a pain in the arse and brilliant and ridiculous and everything else in the world first, but she was also pretty. He thinks about that a lot, After. She’d hate him for it. It's upsetting.
Harry, in an unexpected show of compassion, takes John out places, to distract him. She takes him to museums, Tate Britain one day because it's free and convenient and she's cheap, even though he has little interest in art. He has less now. The canvases are blank, all, the colour patches are empty; he watches the people instead, wondering what Siobhan would have made of them. A plump woman with two toddlers is walking dour and defeated past the colours, and he deduces that she's just lost someone as well. He wants to hug her. He wants Siobhan to tell him that his deduction was erroneous. Everyone's been nice to him; he wants Siobhan to come and insult him again.
Sometimes he wakes and thinks there's still blood on his fingers.
He doesn't visit her in the cemetery again, because that would seem too pathetic, but he can't shake her off, shake off the sadness and the dullness and the memories of colour. He's bloody pathetic. He never does cry; he hasn't cried since he was twelve years old, and Harry told him she wished he were dead.
Mrs Hudson brings Siobhan flowers every Wednesday.
John thinks about Siobhan a lot, about how she was the bane of his existence and his best friend in the world, and of how she loved murder, and brainwork, and scallion pancakes. She was a good violinist, and she had a peculiar sense of humour, and he couldn’t but fight with her. She prided herself on being aloof, and she was ridiculous. She was brilliant.
She was Siobhan.
It takes the press over month to forget about Siobhan Holmes. It seems, at once, far too short a time for someone so incredible, and far too long for comfort. John tries to leave the flat one day three weeks After, and there are journalists chasing him.
He tries to ignore them.
"Dr Watson --"
"Has your opinion cha -- "
"In light of the --"
"Would you say th --"
He tries to ignore them.
"Have you started dati --"
"Bloody hell," he grumbles.
"Kenneth Reilly's resear --"
"Your late girlfri --"
"Fuck!" he shouts, and turns.
He probably looks quite frightening, because the journalists halt and stare. He probably looks murderous.
He feels as much.
"She wasn't my fucking girlfriend," he intones, syllables bitten.
He is beyond sick and tired of this rubbish; it's all he's heard since he moved in with her. People think they know shit they don't know, they assume fucking everything, deduce like they're bloody Holmeses and it's completely stupid, he thinks, Siobhan was right about the world being full of idiots. He's beyond enraged. He wonders, hardly for the first time, if things would have been different if John'd been a woman, or Siobhan a man. If anyone would think any different about them; if anyone would actually believe that Siobhan was his best friend and his feelings were all mixed up about her, but that he never wanted to kiss her.
It doesn't matter anymore. Siobhan's gone, it doesn't matter anymore. It's just John now. He puts his face in his hands.
"Dr Watson --" a petite reporter begins. She's wearing a blue skirt suit and heels, and John wants to hurt her.
"Shut up, all of you."
"Dr Watson, you know what it looks like, though... a man and a woman living together, I'm sure plen -- "
"She was my flatmate. I don't understand what your problem is, you lot, I don't -- I don't." He shakes his head. "She was my flatmate. She was my friend."
A tweeded man speaks. "Dr Watson, don't be ups -- "
"Shut the fuck up. Oh my God, just shut up." He removes his hands, looks right at the tweed man. John's eyes are bright. "Okay, fine, you don't bloody understand how I could give half a shit about her without wanting to fuck her? You don't think I should be fucking upset? Okay, fine. I'll bite. I'll fucking bite."
The tweed man says nothing. The petite in the skirt suit is holding an active voice recorder in her pocket, and is thinking that she should delete this encounter from it. Others are thinking the same.
"Do you have siblings? Any of you? You, mate: do you have a sister?"
The tweed man nods. "Yeah."
"Yeah, well so do I. Do you fancy women?" The tweed nods. "Right, and you love" -- John's voice breaks -- "your sister, but you don't want to fuck her?"
The tweed man nods sadly.
"Right," John nods. "There's your quote. Make it a headline, I don't care. I don't care anymore."
His breath comes trembling, and he feels unspeakably lonely.
He has her silver barrette.
He didn't take it on purpose; he doesn't even remember how he ended up with it. He only remembers that when he watched her being wheeled away, he was clutching it so hard the metal edge bit into his palm and pinched the skin. It still had her blood on it; it came off on his fingers.
He couldn't bear to look at the thing any longer, and so he threw it in a shoebox that was banished under his bed, because it really belonged in Siobhan's room but he couldn't even bring himself to open the door. It still had blood on it.
He finds it again, two months Later, when he's moving out.
There's still blood on it, dried now. He knows she'll never use it again, but he panics, spends two hours in the loo trying to scrub it all off. Despite his rubbed-red palms, there are still patches of discolouration, it'll never be the same, and he holds the thing in tremulous fingers. He feels raw and wounded.
You'd think, from his intensity, that he thought he was saving her life.
Five and a half months After, John thinks about getting married.
Eight After, he does.
Mary is everything he ever wanted, really: she's funny, and sexy, with hair like sunbeams and just as curled. He gets his legs tangled up in her bed sheets, and she laughs at him, lying there stark naked and being ensnared by fabric and he laughs too, in a way he hasn't since Before. She's ticklish, she likes to whisper things at him in the most awkward of situations just to get him flustered, he's a bit mad for her. She strokes his hair when he tells her about Siobhan. She gets it, she understands about Siobhan, and dear God he wants to kiss her, make her see stars. She likes his stories. She likes the Connie Prince mystery. She loves the story about the toilet brush, when he tells it: they're both absolutely plastered and laughing their arses off and when they're all done and he's lying face-down on her bed and spent and she's still giggling, he asks her to marry him and that's that.
They laugh on the way to the registry.
Their wedding is small and boring and mostly consists of signing papers, going out to dinner, and a night of creativity. Neither of them quite walks right the first few days after it.
Mary does her best to make him laugh again when he's depressed, and he's depressed a lot, but her best is very good so he laughs a lot too. And that's enough. She loves him, and she's ticklish and she comforts him when boring things like his hospital job and life and everything are killing him. He wants to marry her a thousand times, and walk all gimpy the day after. And it's enough.
John thinks about Mary a lot. He thinks about Siobhan a lot, too. He thinks that if they'd had a proper wedding, he'd have wanted her to be there. Maybe she could give a speech. He could have made her his Best Nutter, and she could have given a toast. To takeaway, to friendship, to important things, to the milk-stains on Mrs Hudson's lapel. To silver hair accessories. To murder.
His heart aches. He misses her.
He crosses paths with Mycroft exactly one time.
He's been diverted on his walk home; Harry calls, begging him to come to hers quick and he's not abandoned her yet, he still hopes, so he makes a turn and goes to do what brothers do. He wonders how drunk she'll be when he gets there, and refuses to abandon her.
She's in a sorry state, her head's over the toilet and she's half-dead and foul-smelling and clammy-skinned, and John wishes the pillow-forts hadn't all been burned long ago. He gets her to hospital for alcohol poisoning, because even though he's not sure how much she had, he's not kind enough anymore to pity her or give her the benefit of the doubt. He paces in the waiting-room; he's made a mess of everything he's tried to fix, and he paces and waits and hopes he's still got half a sister left.
He sits and puts his head in his hands. The hospital's coffee is truly terrible.
Later, when he comes out of her room haggard, he happens to glance down the hall. He thinks of how much crap Harry gives him, and how hard he tries to be her brother despite it all. He glances down the hall, and watches Mycroft Holmes, ever-watchful, send him a parting look.
If Siobhan had ended up in hospital instead of the morgue, John would've sat at her side until the end of time. Few things have been truer, or simpler, to John.
Siobhan Holmes comes back the next September, with the first frost; like a gust from bygone days, from John's past. She comes like a growing shadow, her face long and lean and her complexion speaking of woe. She breaks into John and Mary's flat in twilight, and John almost dies of fright. Siobhan is dead, her head smashed open and hair tumbled bloody and black and filthy on the ground, she's nothing anymore, she stopped existing; yet here she stands pale and skinny as the day he met her and with hair that curls around her brow, impossibly short. He stares at her.
She looks half-dead, and hopelessly tired. She chopped her hair off somewhere, and it's barely long enough to curl. Siobhan's alive.
He punches her. He doesn't think; he grabs her collar, and does it again. Her nose bleeds. He feels like a bastard, he thinks of the chivalry she always said he harboured, and he doesn't care. She deserves it, she broke his heart, and he doesn't care. He missed her so much it was near unbearable.
He yells at her, he swears and screams himself into incomprehensibility and she doesn't leave, she stays, and he stays too, and they ride it out. This is the return they've been building up to; this is when he comes back with takeaway except this time it's her, and she brought back her skin and blood and breath and the truth and herself and she's standing in his and Mary's kitchen, looking desperate.
"You came back," he says, when he can speak like a human again. His voice is raw and wondrous.
"I always do," she says, as she wipes the blood and time away. "Believe me, I -- I always do, John. Always will."
"Oh God," he says, like a wounded beast, and then he seizes her in his arms and he holds her until she's the one holding him -- and for the first time in his adult life, he weeps. Siobhan bends her incredible head upon his shoulder and he clings to her bare neck, and John Watson weeps, John Watson sobs.
John Watson sobs, and when his tears dry up he goes to his closet and back; traps two short curly locks to the side of her head with her scratched and stained and significant silver barrette, because he doesn't believe it's really her until he does. She looks like she's from the wrong century, but she looks like herself, and he laughs. Siobhan came back. He still feels broken, but she can fix him; she can do anything. She can come back.
They both come back. There's always someone to come back to, because home is safe and they've someone waiting there. They always come back, they'll always have this. They'll always have Siobhan and John, even if he broke her nose and she crushed his heart. This never changes.
John cries in her arms. She feels loved.