Title: The Aftermath
Word Count: ~1600
Summary: The request was Sherlock Holmes/John Watson Post "The Three Garridebs." Holmes has just unabashedly displayed his affections after Watson was grazed by a bullet. What happens now? Mush or smut.
A/N: Written for slashfest because I thought it would help motivate me. My first H/W! Tamely non-explicit, because I didn't have the imagination to write sex in Watson's style. I'm ignoring Watson's second marriage; never happened.
I have written publicly that "The Adventure of The Three Garridebs" was in some sense a tragedy, and in another a comedy. Here in my private journal I may admit that, to me, it was above all an epiphany. The discovery that my dear friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes felt a tendresse for me that was as great as and perhaps even greater than my own humble devotion to him shook me to my very core. I had not felt such an upwelling of emotion since I was a much younger man, yet I could let none of my turmoil show while we were in the presence of "Killer" Evans, whose actions had incited Holmes' revelation. As soon as a brace of officers from the Yard arrived at Mr. Nathan Garrideb's residence, I made the excuse that I must tend to my injured leg. Holmes, as always, was more than happy to take up the task of explaining events to the officers.
The house in which Mr. Garrideb rented his room was quite old, but it had been fitted with a modern water-closet and a tiled bath. It was here that I took my medical bag, a constant companion on any case that also called for my revolver. I leant upon the edge of the bath and set the bag on the adjacent shelf, yet I found when I reached inside that my hands were shaking so sharply that I could scarcely pluck out one bottle from among the others.
For several years after our first meeting, Holmes and I had enjoyed a connexion of that particular sort which gentlemen do not mention in polite company. It was a casual affaire marked by periods of fallowness. It could hardly be otherwise, given my friend's tendency to languish for days at a time under the influence of a profound melancholia, or that of his damnable cocaine solution. At such times, he had no interest in human intercourse of any sort. Nor did his complementary bursts of energy bring a corresponding attention to myself, as he was customarily absorbed in a case when such inspiration struck him. We conducted our liaison between cases, between his despondent slumps, and always at his convenience.
I had thought him cold, heartless, incapable of finer emotions. I had claimed as much to his face, and in my published writings. And when I could no longer uphold a bachelor's state that I believed to be, if not solitary, then bereft of deeper sentiments, I had turned from him to Mary. Sweet Mary, who had loved me as truly as any mortal may love another, and whose affections I had returned almost casually, until they culminated in her death in childbed.
I knew now what I had scarcely suspected in my wildest flights, that Holmes felt as deeply bereft and abandoned by my marriage as I had by his pretended death not long afterward. It was this realisation that left me shaken and slumped against the cold porcelain.
I had not yet pulled myself together when a tap at the door heralded the arrival of the man himself. I busied myself with my medicines, struggling to loosen the cap from the antiseptic solution.
Holmes, as ever, saw through my poor attempts at deception. He was beside me in a single stride, his lean fingers taking the bottle from my hand. "You'll want to wait to apply that until you've partaken of another medicine," he said, and produced a bottle of laudanum from my bag without the least hesitation, for he knew its contents as well as I did.
"Holmes," I choked, my voice more unsteady than it had been in the moment after the shots were fired.
He poured out a dose with unerring precision and raised the spoon to my lips. "You did not know," he said coolly, his grey eyes meeting mine. "I intended that you should not."
"But, for heaven's sake, why?" I cried. "Why should you wish to deceive me, of all people?" Shame at this outburst overtook me at once and I dashed the spoon aside, muttering, "I need none."
"Ah, Watson," he sighed, setting spoon and bottle down. "You have your pride. Well, I have my own, and you know it is a fragile thing. When you left, not knowing, it was very nearly my undoing. If you had known and left all the same -- if you had looked upon me with some cloying sympathy -- I could not have borne it."
"Never," I breathed, clasping his long hands in mine. "My dear Holmes, you know I have ever regarded you with the deepest admiration --"
"Except when you feel I am being a stubborn ass and endangering my health," he interrupted with a slight curve to his lips that was for Holmes what the tenderest of smiles might have been on another's face.
I returned the smile, but I was not ready to follow his shift to a lighter mood. "If I had known," I insisted, "I would not have left. There is nothing that would have pleased me more --"
"And there's the rub," he retorted. "If once I had shown you that which I inadvertently revealed to-night, we should have been past the pinnacle. Nothing more could please you to the same degree, and you would soon have a surfeit of my moods and demands."
"A surfeit of emotion, from you?" I teased gently. "This must be some other Sherlock Holmes you speak of."
Now it was he who clung to seriousness. "I am sorry that I hurt you, dear Watson. But I was only trying to protect myself from an even greater hurt -- from a loss I thought would be unbearable."
He had lost me even so, due in great part to that very deception. And then he'd had his vengeance, for the loss I suffered at Reichenbach nearly destroyed me.
"No, it was not revenge," he said soberly, reading my mind once again. "I thought the enforced separation would cure me, free me of such base desires. In my nobler moments I hoped it would free you as well, to love your wife with your whole heart and not be forever divided between us."
"It had the opposite effect," I told him. "Some part of me died at those falls, and it was only a broken shell that returned to Mary. I was not whole again until you appeared in my study that day."
"We each suffered, in our separate ways," said Holmes. "But since then, I have had your company, and that will suffice. I ask for no more."
"My company, yes, but not . . . in the same manner as in the past," I pointed out, watching him intently. Not for the first time, nor the last, I wished that I might match his penetrative powers of observation, for I had no idea what he was thinking at this moment. Perhaps he no longer had any interest in such activities. I half expected that he might make some protest that we were grown too old for such young men's amusements, but he confounded me by remaining silent under my gaze with his eyes downcast.
"We might have that again," I ventured, "if you wish it."
Still he said nothing. All that I could divine of his feelings was turmoil, but not the precise nature of the emotions in combat with one another.
I would have to trust him. I had trusted Sherlock Holmes with my very life on far shakier ground; I could do no less now. Mustering my courage, I pressed his hands warmly. "Holmes. Will you have me back?"
He raised his eyes, and there I could see, without need for complex logical deductions, that the combat in his heart was desire warring with fear. He feared to be hurt again, as he had been before.
"I will not be ignorant of your sentiments, as I was then," I pointed out. "And I will make no push to change your habits or moods."
His eyebrow twitched with an amusement I could read easily.
"At least, no more than I regularly do," I amended.
"Watson," he chided gently. "You need not press your case; you have won it already." So saying, he pulled his hands from mine and turned his attention to the rent in my trouser leg.
"Assuredly so. I propose that we clean this wound and bind it, then repair to our rooms for a more . . . intimate examination." His tone was light, but I could see the heightened colour in his cheeks as he bent to inspect my leg.
Our evening transpired just as Holmes had suggested. After that night, there was no outward change in our dealings with one another, though I think Mrs. Hudson may have suspected. Privately, however, it marked the beginning of the happiest period of my life, matching and eclipsing those first years in Baker Street.
Perhaps Holmes and I needed to be older and better seasoned in order to appreciate one another fully. I know that he still feared to be hurt; but one thing that could never be said of Sherlock Holmes was that he failed to face any threat. For my part, I saw no sign after that night of the depth of Holmes' affection for me, but I never doubted it. One thing that I hope may never be said of John H. Watson is that I failed to trust in Sherlock Holmes.