“Well - Watson - what do you make of it?”
Doyle had made better entrances. Hatless, shirt untucked, slumped against the doorframe, the door of which opened by Harry who now stood blinking at Doyle in the dim light of the hallway.
The look of surprise had been a flicker of a second on Harry’s face, before it was replaced with worry, which was worse. Then that had been gone too.
“I’m not the Watson. You’re the Watson.” There was a studied offhandedness that Harry insisted in using for a good ninety percent of all his verbal interactions, and this one time Doyle was willing to admit that he was pathetically grateful for it.
Doyle leaned forwards, shoulder still braced against the wall. “Actually I’m both.”
“No you’re not,” said Holmes from a pool of shadow somewhere to the right.
Doyle glared in the general direction of the voice; he knew enough not to talk back. Unfortunately Harry picked up on even this, and, there, that worry again. All Harry said, however, was “Well who am I then?” Harry stood aside to let Doyle enter.
Doyle pushed himself off of the wall and shambled himself disconnectedly into the Metropole suite. “You can be Lestrade.”
“Oh thanks.” Harry shut the door behind them. “Been writing?”
“Been doing a little drinking too, huh?”
Doyle had pulled the short bottle of whiskey out of a coat pocket as Harry made the remark. He gave Harry a withering and mostly focused stare. “Constricted pupils; itchy skin; runny nose.” He raised his eyebrows. “Also you can smell that opium pipe from out in the hall, you know, so I wouldn't get too high up there on your horse.”
Harry actually had the gall to look wounded, or at least pretend to be. “I am self-medicating.”
Doyle waved the small bottle, “...and what do you think this is?”
Harry gave a weary sigh through the nose, girding himself maybe. “So.” Doyle ignored the space left for him - the cue to speak. Harry continued. “What are you medicating for?”
“Well, apparently I’m losing my mind.” He started flippant, veered into peevish; then his voice gave a little break at the end.
Doyle wasn’t sure why he had chosen to come to Harry, of all people. Perhaps he was just looking for somebody to tell him that he was wrong.
“Oh.” said Harry. Doyle nodded, then looked around the room, so he wouldn’t have to look at his face. “What happened.”
“Unfortunately I’m quite familiar with how dementia praecox develops...wasn’t too much effort to recognise the symptoms as they manifested.”
Harry started to move towards him. “You’re going to have to take me back a couple of steps here Doc.”
“Symptoms of dementia praecox i-i-include -” in his rush to get the words out he stammered over them. He counted the symptoms off on his fingers. “- a gradual breakdown of the powers of perception and understanding of reality; paranoia; psychosis; delusions; hallucinations.” He gestured at the bottle in his hand. “Even bloody drinking is a symptom.”
“Alright, and you are -” Harry saw Doyle’s face. Was able to read what was there - “alright.” He nodded. “That’s uh.” He nodded again. Swallowed. “But you’re aware of it, right? People who are going insane don’t know that they’re going insane do they?”
“Who told you that?”
“What, that’s not true?”
“No it’s absolute crap.”
Perhaps he had just come here because he was looking for somebody to argue with.
“Right, uh. Have you considered the fact that this may be apophenia? This whole...your dad has been on your mind, right? What if you’re choosing symptoms that fit in with what you’re afraid you have. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Did you just call me a hypochondriac?”
Harry shrugged. “Occupational hazard.”
“I am not a hypochondriac. I am not making this up.”
“I’m not saying that you did anything, at least not consciously…” But he was cut off by the the whiskey bottle hitting the wall and exploding into shards. “ Doyle !”
There was a stirring from the other room. “Erich?” The head and shoulders of a small and well-put-together woman of advancing years, Mrs Weiss, peered round the corner of the door.
“It’s fine, Ma, it’s fine. Go back to bed.”
“Doyle just dropped something. I’m sorry we woke you up.”
Doyle watched all of this while shame prickled colour into his face. He hadn’t even really been aware of throwing the bottle until it had landed. Another one of his father’s favourite party tricks. He thought of what Harry had said, whether he was choosing the evidence, maybe creating the evidence to fit the theory.
“Yes, it does make a certain amount of sense, doesn’t it?” said Holmes from somewhere behind his shoulder. He started, twisted about so he could see him, but of course he wasn’t there. He was, however, in the corner of the room, crouched over the fragments of bottle, picking each one up and examining them minutely.
By the time that Harry had settled his mother and shut the door behind her, Doyle was out of the suite, halfway down the corridor to the staircase. He heard the sound of running feet behind him before Harry clutched at his arm and whirled around to face him. “Get back inside.”
“I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have come here.”
“Get your ass back inside before I make you.”
Doyle raised his eyebrows. “Really?” That would be interesting at least.
“C’mon.” Harry had creased his eyebrows together. “Please.”
Doyle thought that a rather dirty trick, but it worked, and he allowed himself to be lead back into the suite.
Doyle sat on an offensively elaborate chair. He rested his elbows on his knees, one hand supporting his head. Harry walked across with two whiskeys, sat down next to him. “I’m not sure I should be giving you any more of this, but sure as hell I need one.”
Harry raised an eyebrow.
“...Most of the time I am actually fine. It’s only occasionally that - he - comes back.”
“You know I could hear him.” Doyle tapped the side of his head in a frenetic rhythm. “Yammering away at the back of my mind for eight years and I had done a damn good job of ignoring him up until now. He just got.” He sighed and looked at Harry: listening, uncharacteristically quiet. “Louder. And louder - until that ergot made him - burst - out. And now he’s out he refuses to go back in .”
“We’re talking about Sherlock Holmes here?”
Dole drained the glass. Harry looked irritated, resigned to it.
“I came back - he seems to have come back with me.”
“Doc,” Harry turned to face him, crowding in on his peripheral space. “Holmes is you. You made him. The Holmes who is talking to you - that’s just your own voice.” It was said carefully, gently.
“Yes, all very well, but not very comforting when he appears in the corner of the room telling me how we should be solving the case.”
“I’m merely frustrated at watching you struggle away at it,” said Holmes, leant against the side of the desk.
Harry nodded. “Yeah I guess that must be weird.”
“Well I suppose I can only be grateful that it isn’t my father.”
Homes gave a commiserating nod at this.
Harry frowned a little in distracted thought. “Why him, though? Why Holmes? Why not Watson? He’s the narrator...”
Doyle sighed. He considered making something up. “Because I’m the Watson.”
“Huh,” said Harry.
“That doesn’t make you the Holmes.” Doyle added.”I mean -” He continued after a pause. “- I kill Holmes. I try to distance myself from him. What do I do? I go off to war to be an army medic. Then I come back and start consulting for Scotland Yard on impossible mysteries. Everything just revolves back and back and back.”
“Is it more exciting?” Asked Holmes. “Being us, rather than writing us? Here’s a pertinent question - does it make you feel any less of a fraud?”
“Hey,” Harry put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, look at me.” Doyle turned his eyes away from Holmes. “It’s been - what - a couple of weeks since you got a pretty hefty dose of ergot poisoning. You almost died. There are going to be some residual side-effects. This is a temporary thing.”
“What if it isn’t, hmm? What if this is my lot from now on? A permanent altering of the brain... Although it may have always been there, you know - madness - just waiting for someone to put a touchpaper to it.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“Telling me I’m paranoid is not very reassuring in this particular instance!”
“Look, if it’s permanent, we’ll deal with it.”
A staccato shake of the head. “I can’t be mad. I have a sick wife. I have children...”
“You won’t be dead .”
“Maybe that would be better.” He winced at the expression on Harry’s face. “For them. Less shameful, maybe. And for all the good I would be they would might as well be orphans.” He was remarkably dry-eyed and sober while he was saying this. He hoped that Harry would see that it wasn’t just facile self-pity, that he was thinking clearly about this. Making practical considerations.
“They - we - would rather have you insane than dead.”
“Give it a couple of years and I’ll come back and check with you on that.”
“Well, it’s certainly one plan of action to ensure that I stay dead,” said Holmes, archly, from over by the desk.
(“We’re going to think of something,” said Harry.)
Doyle stood. “Oh and how many other plans of action do you have, dare I ask?”
Holmes slapped the flat palm of his hand against a monogrammed hotel notepad. “Put me down on paper.”
(“Hundreds, literally hundreds better than that,” said Harry.)
Doyle shook his head. “I’m not indulging you.”
“Yeah well try it for five minutes, you might like it.” Harry had stood as well and grabbed him by the shoulders to face him.
“What?” said Doyle, suddenly aware that somebody else was trying to have a conversation with him.
“Listen. I am an escape artist. I am the escape artist. I am literally the best expert you are ever going to get about finding a way out of a bad situation.” He paused. “...without dying.”
There was a tightness of feeling in his chest - not panic but not entirely dissimilar. A quickening of something. Harry stayed there holding onto him, and Doyle remained painfully aware of the space between them. Which was something he should probably not be paying attention to with quite such intensity.
“Have you said anything about this to Addy?”
He shook his head. “No. In fact you’re actually the…” He scratched his nose in a self-conscious attempt to cover his face. Squeezed his eyes shut. Easier somehow, that way.
“You came here first?” The laugh was a little forced but he appreciated the effort.
“Via a few pubs...I can’t go home. Not like this. The children.”
Harry looked thoughtful - a man very carefully choosing his next few words. “Did you want to stay here?”
“I…” Doyle swallowed around the lump in his throat a few times, then tried again “I mean...would you be frightened to sleep in the same room as a lunatic?”
Harry shrugged. “Depends on the lunatic.” His expression softened as he noticed the look on Doyle’s face. “No.”
“Ah.” A small, one-beat laugh escaped his mouth. “That’s lucky.”
They had poured a second glass of whiskey each.
“When did it start?” Harry’s voice was surprisingly soft, when he wanted it to be.
“I was writing…” Doyle’s mouth quirked up at the corner, amused by something but not really able to define what. “...which is what we call ‘sitting at a typewriter and drinking’, these days.”
“And that’s when he…” Harry trailed off, leaving the rest to be intuited.
Doyle tapped the side of his glass. “I had…” He started. “I had this idea, for a story. Set on the Devon moors, generations of a family being hunted down by a spectral black dog - yes, I know, don’t look at me like that.”
Harry smirked. “And is it a real spectre? Or is it a trick.”
Doyle shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet. I suppose that’s for them to work out.”
“Me.” said Holmes, now sitting cross-legged on the desk top. Doyle shot him a dark look. In the pause Harry seemed to work it out.
“...So you are writing another Sherlock Holmes book.”
“I said I had an idea, I didn’t say anything about actually writing it.”
“How are you going to bring him back from the dead?”
“I wouldn’t - it’s set before… it would be set before the Reichenbach Falls. If I wrote it. Which I won’t. Holmes would stay dead.”
“So what’s the problem?” Asked Harry.
“That’s what I keep asking him,” chipped in Holmes. “Not quite in the same phraseology you understand, but still.”
“You said yourself that keeping Holmes dead was harder than you though. Why not let him live?”
Harry’s ‘oh why the hell not’ attitude was such an infuriating character trait when deployed in the wrong direction. It made no sense for Doyle to feel - fond - about it. He gave a weak smile. “Everybody dies, Harry. Whether we deserve it or not.”
Harry gave him a sharp and considered look. “At least this one you can control, huh?”
Doyle did not even deign to dignify that with a response.
Harry tried another tack. “So you think he deserved it?”
Doyle looked up sharply. “What?”
“Holmes. He got what was coming to him?”
Doyle held out a hand, palm up. “Look, do you really care?”
“Actually,” said Holmes, “I would like to know the answer to this as well.”
Doyle looked at Holmes. “He outlived his usefulness.”
“There’s that word again.”
Harry leaned forwards a little, bent at the waist, looking up at him. “Outlived.”
“Harry, please just fuck off.”
“Well, I’m just saying. He outlived your dad. He’ll probably outlive you. Hell he might even outlive your kids...”
“Harry that’s enough .”
This was enough to shut up Harry for all of five seconds. “Because you are a good writer...Don't tell anybody I said that.”
Doyle made a dismissive noise. “I'm a hack.”
“Hey, don't knock being a hack.” From the look he received from Doyle he continued. “What, you think what I do is high art?”
Doyle inclined his head.
“You know you can jump in and defend my craft at any point here.” This got a laugh at least. “I’m serious. You're a good writer and you know it. And to hell what anybody else thinks.”
He couldn't quite bear meeting Harry’s gaze anymore, there was something a little too tender in it that hurt to look at, and he turned his eyes downwards, towards the grate where a fire was still merrily carrying on and minding its own business. Therefore it was with a jumble of other sensory clues he was able to track Harry’s approach: the body blocking out light from the suite beyond, the increase in intensity of some expensive aftershave, the incredible heat that seemed to radiate from the man, the soft bump of Harry's nose against his own. He would have started back, had not Harry pressed lips against his own slightly open mouth and frozen him to the spot. One arm raised in alarm, and hovered there, unsure what to do.
In fact the surprise was so great that it took a couple of moments to identify what it was, underneath, exactly, he was feeling.
...Interest? Relief? Oh god he wasn't going to cry , was he?
The arm, making a decision for him when his brain refused to provide him with one, dropped at first, then very hesitatingly he put a hand on the top of Harry’s arm, and held him there. It was not exactly an unpleasant experience. Well in truth he was responding to it a lot more favourably than - than what? He hadn’t even contemplated this. At least not with Harry Houdini, a small, irritating American whose primary occupation in London was not so much his theatre show but following Doyle around and making him look, sound, feel like an idiot.
Obviously in light of recent evidence he could reinterrogate their past relationship in a new light, at some later time when he had the leisure to think about it, and probably realise how dense he had actually been.
Harry pulled away and looked at him; he was holding his breath.
“Well as distractions go…” Doyle still felt a little bit stunned.
“Did it work?” Harry looked pensive, though the corner of his mouth quirked upwards.
“It certainly threw off my train of thought.”
Harry broke into a proper smile. “Good, it was kind of a Hail Mary move to be honest.” He leant in, kissed him again.
Doyle found himself beginning, just beginning, to lean into it, then. He pushed Harry away gently. “Touie.”
Harry sighed. He patted Doyle on the chest a couple of times, lightly, a drumbeat with his fingers. “Touie.”
“...I'm sorry. I should never have…”
“No, no. Don't do that.” Harry observed him for a moment, close enough here that eyelashes were a cause for consideration. “God,” he said, “you really miss her, don't you.” It wasn't a question.
“She’s not dead.” His voice was flat.
“I know, I know, I didn't mean…”
“Yes. Yes I miss her.” He cut Harry off.
Harry nodded. “Listen, we should probably…” Anything else he was going to say was cut off quite abruptly by Doyle leaning in and pressing his mouth over Harry’s own, in desperation.
From there it was merely a matter of, well. Harry reached up and pushed the waistcoat off Doyle’s shoulders, started untucking the shirt, holding a fistful of cotton in his hand as he walked backwards. They both collided into the desk, a delicate filigree thing which skidded across the floor.
“Shh- shh- shh- my Ma’s in the next room -” before Harry kissed him again and the whole thing was so positively juvenile that he couldn’t help himself laugh a little into Harry’s mouth.
“What, you think that’s funny?”
“How old are you?” Asked Doyle.
They eventually, haltingly, fumblingly, found their way to the bed. They near collapsed on top of it, Harry falling on top of Doyle with absolutely none of his signature grace and knocking the wind out of them both. Doyle couldn’t stop himself from laughing again, once he got his breath back.
“This is one of the most stupid things we have ever done.”
“Are you sure? Because that is some strong competition.” Harry sat up, straddling Doyle’s hips. “Besides I think that this is a great idea.”
Harry contemplated this, nodded, then stripped off his shirt. He bent over Doyle, and the warmth he gave off was incredible. Doyle almost expected him to be feverish, hot to the touch. He reached up and scooped an arm around his back, pulled him in.
He did not think of Touie.
Harry was a strange mixture of solid and fluid, hard and soft. He moved around on top of Doyle, grinding into his hips in a way that made Doyle involuntarily cry out, causing more ‘shush’ing and giggling as if they weren’t two grown adult men.
It was him, eventually, that put a hand to Harry’s taut, flat stomach above him, and dragged the hand down to below the waistband, pushing until he had wrapped his hand around the cock. Hot and almost completely erect it was straining against the seam of Harry’s ridiculous tight trousers; and with his large hand inside there as well there was no room for maneuvering. Harry still bucked into his hand though, a look of surprise on his face. Doyle had to reach down and undo Harry’s trousers before he could do anything more. He was about to make a comment about the benefits of English tailoring when he looked up at Harry - his eyes so wide and so terribly vulnerable that it rendered him quite mute.
He reached up instead and curled a hand around the back of Harry’s neck, pulled him down and kissed him while his hand made slow and steady pulls around Harry’s cock; not for long before Harry was once again bucking into his hands and then all he had to do was hold on.
“Oh fu-uck.” Something hot and wet hit him in the stomach.
“ Shhh .” He chided, not entirely seriously.
He held on to Harry as the other man trembled above him for a few seconds, then collapsed on top. It was the longest he had ever heard him silent. It couldn’t last.
“You’re surprisingly good at that.”
Doyle considered this for a second before his face creased. “Surprisingly?”
Harry shrugged, lazily.
“You are obviously not very familiar with the English boarding school experience.”
Harry thought about this “What, they teach classes in that?”
He snorted. “I think it comes under ‘extra-curricular’.”
“Lot of people ‘coming’ under extra-curricular apparently.”
Doyle rolled his eyes (for his own benefit - Harry had his eyes shut), as he lay there still pinned down by Harry.
“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.” said Holmes, back on top of the desk, cross-legged.
“That’s not your line,” said Doyle, and squeezed his eyes shut.