Title: trapped in the eyes of a stranger
Pairings: Watson/"Holmes" (Watson/OMC)
Genre: AU; Angst, Romance
Word Count: 6 751
Summary: "You're back," Watson says and slowly opens his eyes. A beatific smile graces his lips. "It's you, and you've come back to me."
Disclaimer: This is a transformative work of fiction based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original works.
(The quotes found in this story are from "The Crooked Man", "The Naval Treaty" and "The Final Problem".)
Notes: This fic was inspired by Cress' Understudy — which I warmly recommend — but with my own, darker, twist to it. A What-if story exploring the theory that the post-Reichenbach Holmes was, in fact, an impostor.
This fic is an unholy mash-up of different 'verses, but the characters' appearances are based on the 2009 movie.
The drily pliant leather snakes through the buckle as Eli fastens his briefcase, and he glances up at the approaching man. "Good evening, Chaplin."
"Good evening. And to you too, Mr Johnson," Chaplin says, before turning to address Eli again. "Sullivan and I are going to take a pint down at the pub, would you like to join us?" he asks, smiling and radiant as ever, a wayward lock dancing over his brow.
Eli smiles, shy and furtive, but shakes his head. "Thank you, I'd love to, but I'm afraid I have a previous engagement this evening."
"What a pity! Well, 'til tomorrow then. James. Johnson."
"Chaplin," Eli replies, watching that narrow back and broad shoulders as Chaplin leaves the room.
"Engagement? You?" Johnson scoffs, a teasing smile playing at his lips. "And with whom would that be? A certain Mr Sherlock Holmes?"
Eli turns to his fellow-worker and tuts. "If I do, it is no one's but my business."
"Don't you ever get bored of always staying indoors and reading like some old spinster?"
"No, I don't, actually."
... It was evidently a term of reproach.”
“Yes; David strayed a little occasionally, you know, and on one occasion in the same direction as Sergeant James Barclay. You remember the small affair of Uriah and Bathsheba? My Biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, I fear, but you will find the story in the first or second of Samuel.”
Eli sighs contentedly and carefully closes the sheer pages of the Strand Magazine in his lap. Reclining in his armchair, his eyes drifting shut, he revisits those scenes, the Indian war zone and the tragic morning-room, guided by Dr Watson's gentle narrative. Words — sometimes harsh, sometimes soothing — fly through his mind like birds in flight, quotes mingle with fictitious conversations, the border between reality and the imaginary slowly fades...
A knock on the door jolts Eli out of his reverie, and Mrs Worthington announces that the dinner is served. Eli lays the magazine among the others and gets up.
Eli has no real friends, though he would like to consider Mr Holmes and Dr Watson as that.
He hopes he is — and at the same time hope he is not — the one man in London who feels that way.
The pub bustles with life, the sounds of clattering, murmurs and laughter a cacophony in Eli's ears, but he bears it with a smile and hides behind his pint.
"I used to shirk church when I was an undergraduate," Chaplin confesses, grinning when the others laugh. "Oh, come off it, it meant two hours at my leisure — I was not going to give that up. What about you, James? Did you ever play truant?"
"Never," Eli answers truthfully.
"Why not?" Sullivan asks, liquid courage giving his cheeks a flushed glow. "Drama school too strict, was it? Afraid God might shake his finger at you?"
Eli peers down into his pint as another salvo of laughter is discharged. "Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence," he says as it dies down, "seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras."
The others round the table remain silent even after Eli finishes the monologue, until Chaplin smiles, the beauty of it rivaling a garden of the most exquisite moss roses underneath the sun.
"That was beautiful," he says, his words bell-like to Eli's ears.
"Thank you," Eli replies. "I happen to agree with that sentiment whole-heartedly."
... it is due to those injudicious champions who have endeavoured to clear his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.
The magazine slips from Eli's limp fingers and meets the floor with a dry rustle, like dead autumn leaves.
He knows Sherlock Holmes died in 1891 — and how could he not? It was a national tragedy. But to hear the words from Dr Watson himself, to feel the grief that had not lessened with the passage of three years, is something Eli could not have prepared for. No, he believes nothing could have prevented the tears now rolling down his cheeks.
the best and the wisest man whom I have ever know.
God Almighty in Heaven, where does the man find his strength? Eli knows he would not be able to accept a loss such as that — how can Dr Watson? He must have the perseverance of Job, of that Eli is sure.
When attending church that Sunday, Eli prays for John Watson, with God as his only witness.
It is a bad idea.
Eli is aware of this, but praying alone does not feel like enough for the man he has come to admire and sympathise with so. Thus he stands outside Dr John Watson's practice on 10 Cavendish Place, gathering courage from the hazy grey sunlight.
It is a tremendously bad idea.
Dr Watson faints.
He hits the floor with a dull thud, his wrist knocking against the edge of the desk. Eli curses, throws himself on his knees and lays the doctor's head in his lap. There is no blood as far as he can see and the man is breathing, so he reaches for his pocket-flask of brandy. He coaxes a small amount down Watson's throat, but amber liquid stains his chin and shirt collar.
Just as Watson begins to stir, Eli loosens his tie and top button, to relieve the pressure on his throat.
"Holmes!" Watson gasps as he comes to, his eyes wide and disbelieving. "Is it— is it really you? Can it be—"
He reaches out to Eli, touches his shoulder and closes his eyes as if in reverence. His fingertips remind Eli of overblown flowers, of petals ready to fall from the merest breeze.
"You're back," Watson says and slowly opens his eyes. A beatific smile graces his lips. "It's you, and you've come back to me."
Airy laughter purls from his mouth, and when Eli touches his arm to say No, it must be a mistake, my name is Eli James, not Sherlock Holmes, the doctor buries his face in Eli's shirt front, shoulders still trembling. Eli feels how the stiff fabric turns warmly damp.
Eli carefully lays an anxious hand on Watson's shoulder, feeling utterly at a loss. He swallows, and then in a strangled voice says, "Dr Watson?"
"Oh, to hear you speak my name, after all these years," Watson whispers, the cotton stealing the sound from his words. "Please, say it again."
"Yes, Holmes?" Watson uncovers his face and smiles up at Eli.
Blinking, Eli grasps for words out of his reach. When he speaks, the syllables taste like sand in his mouth. "Dr Watson, are you feeling quite well?"
Watson hums, almost purrs. "I am now, when you are here," he says. "And please, drop the formalities. We are not strangers, my dear fellow."
Yes, we are. "Dr Watson—"
It frightens Eli, the way this grown man playfully beams at him, acting lucid and unhinged at the same time. "Watson," he tries again, "I am not—"
"Quiet." The expression of joy rends from Watson's face and is replaced by one of fear and trepidation. His hand touches Eli's shoulder again, this time less like overblown petals and more like clinging vines. "Don't say it," he whispers, "If you are like the others— Just let me believe. Just for a little while. Please."
Watson hides his face in Eli's chest. Feeling sick and unable to breathe, Eli lays his hand on the doctor's crown and holds him there.
Tucking the quilt tighter round Watson's body, Eli sits down on the floor beside the settee and observes his sleeping face. Their fingers are still entwined and Watson's plea is still echoing in his ears.
"Stay, for a little while. Till I fall asleep."
Watson frowns even now, when his mind chases dreams Eli cannot see.
He should probably leave.
Instead, he shifts slightly, taking the weight off his numb leg, and rests his chin on the cushion. Watson's eyelids flutter, lashes like butterfly wings, and they slide open. The dazed veil falls from his eyes and the look he gives Eli is one of shock.
"You're still here." The words are so faint Eli would not have heard them, had his ear not been inches from the doctor's lips.
"Holmes!" Watson cries, sitting up ramrod straight and then swaying. "How— What— How?"
Again, air has difficulty coming down Eli's throat. "Dr Watson..."
"It really is you," Watson says in awe. "You really are back." A disbelieving smile tugs at his lips. "Holmes, where the devil have you been?"
Eli should tell Watson that he's mistaken, that Sherlock Holmes has not returned, that he is in fact just talking to a poor stock-broker. What he should do is to quell the wary hope in Watson's eyes, to stab his heart with the truth. What he does, is doubt.
With each passing second, the hope flickers closer to death.
What harm has a white lie ever done?
"I'm sorry, my dear Watson," Eli says, affecting an upper-crust accent, and smiles, "I haven't seen you for so long, I simply cannot take my eyes off you."
Not even staring into the sun on the brightest summer day would have been as blinding as Watson's returning smile.
"I have kept the rooms just like they were before you left. Not a thing has been touched, I promise."
This was not supposed to happen.
Watson is not supposed to drag Eli to Baker Street by the hand, smiling and jubilant. Eli is not supposed to follow like a dog, meek and weak-willed. This deception is not supposed to continue, not supposed to leave the cold and quiet room in Cavendish Place. None of this is supposed to be happening.
"Watson, your hand," Eli protests, eyeing the blushing wrist glimpsing underneath the cuffs, the swelling that is like a rose on his skin.
Watson is not supposed to look at him tenderly, like he is someone to be cherished. "My dear Holmes, whilst your concern for my well-being warms my heart, I assure you, it is quite unnecessary. My wrist is fine. Now, come."
If circumstances had been different, Eli would have been thrilled to stand in the famous sitting-room of 221b Baker Street. As it is, it only makes him feel like a filthy rat, like vermin.
"There, sit there," Watson beseeches, and Eli hesitantly sinks down into the worn armchair. Watson does not occupy its twin, but sits down in the space between them, on the bearskin rug, and drinks in the sight of Eli like a man dying of thirst.
"I can't take my eyes off of you either." Watson laughs softly, self-deprecating. "I'm afraid to look away," he confesses, his words like footsteps in the night; furtive, secret. "I'm afraid you shall disappear if I do."
Now would be an excellent time for Eli to tell the truth.
"I shan't leave you again," Eli promises the fair man before him, whose hair the light from the fire turns into a golden halo.
The air barely carries the broken whisper of, "Thank you."
"Mrs Hudson is visiting her parents; she'll be back by tomorrow morning," Watson explains. With a wry smile, he adds, "I hope you aren't hungry."
Eli shakes his head. He is standing on the edge of the precipice, the threshold the brink and the room the abyss — Sherlock Holmes' room. The room he, at Watson's request, will spend the night in.
There is a soft touch on his arm, like blood-warm eiderdown, and Eli looks up at his host. Watson smile is as intimate as his hold.
"You can feel at peace," he says, "You're home now."
No, I'm not. "I know, old boy."
Watson's grip tightens a fraction. "Will you still be here in the morning?"
Eli covers the doctor's hand with his own and smiles. "Of course," he says, the implied vow a poison in his mouth.
Closing his eyes in bliss, Watson runs his free hand through Eli's dark, unruly locks. "Good night, my dear Holmes."
"Good night, my dear Watson."
Eli does not understand how Watson can confuse the two of them.
Eli reminds one of a cheap porcelain doll, with waxen skin and unpleasantly large eyes the colour of clay. His stature only meets the doctor's shoulders, let alone surpasses him. Were he ever to meet a ruffian, he would surely be bested, both mentally and physically. Where Sherlock Holmes was a golden eagle, strong and proud, Eli is but a famished mongrel cur, barely able to stand on his legs.
Insanity and grief are the only explanation.
Eli awakes to an unfamiliar room, and realises yesterday was not a dream.
For a while, he just lies in the large bed, endeavouring to quell the anguish that spreads through his body like a forest fire. He has to stop this. It simply cannot go on.
Careful fingers rap against the door, and when he croaks his welcome, it opens more slowly than is customary. Watson, though he tries, cannot hide the relief from his expression when he lays his eyes on Eli.
"Good morning, Holmes. Did you sleep well?"
Not at all. "Yes, thank you. Um, Watson? There is... something I need to tell you."
Watson blinks. "Well, certainly. Can we do it downstairs, though? Mrs Hudson has prepared breakfast for us."
If he were honest — which he really has not been enough — Eli would rather have it over and done with right this minute. But he smiles and says, "Of course. I'll meet you there."
When Eli five minutes later descends the stairs, he is met by shattering crockery, feminine hysteria and a maternal embrace like lamb's wool.
"There was something you wanted to tell me?"
Eli looks at Watson's anxious face over the rim of his cup, the doctor's expression as open and vulnerable as a child's. Eli sets down his cup and gives him a wan smile.
"No, never mind. It was nothing of import."
"You were on a case, weren't you?"
"Hm?" Eli asks, eyes fixed on his feet, pretending to be lost in his thoughts.
"These past few years. It must have been a very delicate case, if you thought it necessary to keep me out of it." There is a pause, where the crisp rustle of shag tobacco is permitted to fill the room. "Unless... Unless this was like the Culverton Smith case, and you simply didn't trust me?"
The taste of bile overpowers the smooth aftertaste of this morning's coffee. "No, no, certainly not," Eli stammers, "My dear, dear fellow, I—" He swallows thickly. "Yes, it is like you said. It was a very... delicate case."
Silence reigns once more, tense and ominous, like the air before a storm. Eli holds his breath as he waits for the thunder and lightning to strike him.
"I ought to be mad at you, but I'm too happy that you are alive to be."
For the first time since breakfast, Eli meets Watson's gaze. Watson is smiling, gentle as a caress, but his eyes are marred with grief. In that moment, Eli repudiates everything drama school has ever taught him and breaks character.
"I'm sorry," he rasps through a rough throat, not knowing whether the words are Holmes' or his own, "I am so, so sorry. Forgive me, oh, please, forgive me."
A crack, a whish, and strong arms enfold him and clasp him to a firm, warm chest.
"It's all right," Watson whispers into Eli's ear, his breath hotly damp and spasmodic. "Holmes, everything is all right. Of course I forgive you, of course I do. I'll forgive anything."
Eli clings to him, this angelic rock of reliance and sympathy, this St Peter in reincarnation. He nestles his fingers into Watson's shirt, his face into his shoulders, hiding his shameful countenance from his sainted eyes.
"This was what you wanted to tell me earlier, wasn't it?" Watson asks softly, threading his fingers through Eli's hair, his touch both soothing and condemning.
Closing his eyes against the dark, Eli nods.
As Eli stands before Sherlock Holmes' room for the second time, he feels as if he is wilfully walking into his own grave.
"I can scarcely believe everything has returned to how what it was before," Watson confesses as he absently draws constellations on Eli's shirt-covered back. His fingertips are like feathers, his nails the quills.
"Neither can I," Eli agrees, words indistinct. Watson draws nearer, his hand coming to rest upon Eli's thin shoulder.
"I meant what I said today," he says, voice low but clear. Meant for Eli's ears only. "I forgive you for everything."
You don't even know what you are forgiving. "I know. Thank you."
Watson brushes the hair out of Eli's face and tightens his hold, a loose, one-armed embrace.
Eli cannot sleep.
The room, the sheets, they smell of dust and disuse, of lingering ghosts. In this room of a dead man, he cannot find the peace to fall asleep.
He has to end this charade. There is nothing beneficial about it, nothing good can come from it. It will only tear his, and Watson's, soul apart, piece by piece.
Eli has to stop, for Watson's sake. He fears that what was meant to be a comfort has turned into a torment of the worst kind. When Watson realises that Eli is nothing but a fraud — because he will, oh, he will — he shall suffer heartbreak, and putting him on a spiritual Catherine wheel is the last thing Eli wants to. By the side of that, even the threat of arrest fades to a lacklustre triviality.
Because he cannot keep this charade up. He is not Sherlock Holmes. He never has been. Eli is not a genius, has no deductive abilities, he cannot even play the blessed violin. All he knows of detective work comes from Watson's stories; the last time he held a violin in his hands was nigh on thirty years ago. This can not continue. This charade must end.
Eli prays that when he stands before the Pearly Gates, God will forgive him.
"Is something the matter, Holmes?"
The opening is perfect; Eli could not have asked for a better one.
"What makes you think that?" he asks softly. He is Eve, and prevarication is the serpent.
Watson walks over to the settee and slowly, with effort, sits down on his heels in front of Eli. "Because you look unhappy," he says and caresses Eli's cheek.
"I suppose I am," Eli replies, truthfully. To be honest after all this deception feels like breaking free from heavy shackles.
"Whatever for?" Watson enquires, that horrible hurt once again showing itself in those light eyes. "Is it— Is it something I've done?"
"Certainly not!" Eli protests before he can stop himself. He swallows and continues, more calmly, "No, you have done nothing wrong, Watson. The blame rests entirely upon me."
"I've told you I forgive you," Watson says, a furrow between his brows as he frowns.
Eli closes his eyes. "I know you have. That is not the reason for my... unhappiness."
"Well, what is it, then?"
If he keeps his eyes closed, if he stays in this realm of darkness, perhaps he does not have to face world. He could stay here forever, let life pass him by...
"Holmes, if you don't tell me what's wrong, then there is no way I can help you."
It is the entreating tone in Watson's voice that makes Eli forsake his childish hopes. Opening his eyes, he whispers, "This is not something you can help me with."
"Let me be the judge of that," Watson says with a smile, and Eli feels his resolve crumble underneath his feet like sand in the wind.
How Eli ended up in Watson's lap with his chin upon his shoulder, he is not entirely sure of, but he does not feel the need to be either. If he pretends that the world only consists of Watson's warm arms around his body, if he pretends that this sitting-room is all there is, then the clawed beast in his chest might grow silent.
"So, when are you going to take on cases again?" Watson murmurs, voice like smoke, as he plays with the hair on Eli's nape.
"I shan't. For a while, anyway."
Eli feels how Watson tenses, how his fingers halt mid-motion. "Not for a while?" he repeats, voice strained. "You're not afraid you will descend into a black mood, then, are you?"
Breathing deeply, Eli shakes his head. "I do not believe so, no."
The tenseness leaves Watson's body as swiftly as it arrived, soft airy laughter following in its wake. "I shan't inform the public of your return then," he says as he pets Eli's hair. "There would be no end of requests in that case."
Eli hums and savours the lenitive feeling of fingertips against his scalp.
"Not that it would matter, I suppose. They would all be looking for a tall, pale-eyed gentleman with astute features, not a disreputable bohemian who detests collars," Watson teases, gently. "I told you that you needn't worry about people recognizing you on the street."
"I should never have doubted you," Eli murmurs into his neck.
A full week passes, and Eli does not come any closer to disclosing the truth than "Watson..."
This is not the John Watson Eli first came to admire.
The Watson he knows is a stalwart and faithful companion, a man whose courage is near boundless, a man of action as well as of emotions. That Watson always stands by his friends, never breaks his word, and is quite capable of protecting what he holds dear. His moral standard and fibre is to be envied, his innate benevolence likewise so. His strength, his intellect, his modesty, they all attribute to a human being that is quite above the rest.
This John Watson is so much more than that.
This Watson is clever, witty and his sense of humour is sly, drily biting. There is a sparkle in his eyes when he's feeling mischievous, and a different sort when he is amused. He mutters obscenities sotto voce when he is vexed, tends to smoke his cigarettes so low he singes his fingers, never turns down a wager and is invariably bacchic after four whiskies. He barks invectives, purrs endearments, has the habit of drumming his fingers against his chin when he feels nervous and cannot stand Darjeeling tea.
Eli realises he does not want to leave him.
"And what do roses mean?"
Eli shakes his head, smiling up his sleeve. "Are you telling me that you, a proper English gentleman, don't know the first thing about the language of flowers? However did you court anyone?"
"Don't twit me," Watson says, laughing unreserved, tossing a scatter cushion at Eli's torso. "I barely survived my education, and Afghanistan is not exactly rife with peonies and begonias and whatnot. I simply haven't had the time."
Watson sits down beside him and rests an arm across Eli's shoulders, rubbing the rough fabric of the shirt between his fingertips. "So what do roses mean?"
"That depends both on its colour and type."
"Love, respect and beauty," Eli quotes from memory.
"Innocence, purity, silence."
"Joy, jealousy, friendship."
Watson's eyelashes flutter as he frowns. "That's pretty contradictory," he remarks, his hand moving towards Eli's hair. His hands often stray there, like bees to sweetness, twining his fingers in the dark locks, but Eli does not mind.
"It is," he agrees, leaning ever so slightly against Watson's side.
"What about..." and here Watson pauses, falters, "What about moss roses?"
"Confessions of love," Eli says, and when Watson does not reply, turns his face to look at him. Watson's eyes are wide, dark, their surface rippling as something moves below, down in their depths.
"You do know the strangest things, Holmes," he says in an intimate murmur, ardour radiating from him.
If only I did.
On the fourteenth day spent in Sherlock Holmes' bed, which now smells of him, Eli lies sleepless again.
He has failed. A fortnight has passed, and still Watson lies in the room above, believing Holmes sleeps right beneath him. Our Father, which art in heaven, Eli has not left these apartments even once, and certainly not to attend church. He wonders if this is a trial, and if so, how God can be this cruel.
Eli cannot bring himself to tell the truth to Watson's face — but what if he did not? What if he crept away into the night, silent, shadowy, like the very ghost he is impersonating. What then? Unpardonable callousness, that is what. He cannot do that Watson, he simply cannot.
Even if he were to blacken his soul like that, what would there be to return to? He is most certainly out of work by now, heaven only knows if Mrs Worthington still considers him a tenant, and what little reputation he had is forever tarnished. To rebuild his life will take effort, so much effort, and Watson is standing here with adoring arms, imploring him...
Eli closes his eyes and wraps the covers tighter around him, clutching his hands to his chest.
The wood of the Stradivarius is smooth to the touch, lustrous like gemstones, heavy and light at the same time. The craftsmanship alone is truly to be admired.
Eli feels crestfallen as he holds it in his hands, gentle as if he is cradling an infant, perplexed when faced with its beauty. He tenderly drags his finger along a catgut string, the sound discordant and unpleasant. He winces and turns away from the instrument, throwing it onto the settee, where it lands with a soft 'doff' like cotton.
It is Watson's hands on his shoulders, unconditionally loving, which causes to Eli to harshly whisper, "I don't— I can't—" He hates himself, his loathing purple-black and serpentine, that he cannot even act the part of Sherlock Holmes, that he cannot give Watson even that slight relief.
Watson hushes him, embraces him, cooing soft nonsense in his ear until Eli ceases shaking. "My beloved Holmes," he consoles, solaces, "My poor, dear Holmes."
Face hidden in Watson's neck, surrounded by warmth and security, Eli starts to breathe.
"You hurt your head at Reichenbach, didn't you?" Watson says, holding him tight, refusing the world permission to their cocoon. "Perhaps your memory... It is well-documented that damage to the skull can be... hurtful to the brain. Not," he hastily adds, "that it diminish your intellect. Absolutely not, never worry about that. It merely means that certain skills, like playing the violin, need to be re-learnt. It is not something to be either afraid or ashamed of."
The thought, the mere notion of it, is so absurd that Eli cannot help the shrill laughter spilling from his lips. Watson shifts his hold, tips Eli's head back so they can see eye to eye.
"Holmes," Watson says solemnly, "I do not care. You are my dearest Holmes, and that will never change. Nothing can make me think any less of you. And if you— If you will permit me, I'd be honoured to be with you every step of the way."
The towel is rough and frail against Eli's skin as he dries his face, and as it falls, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
His hair, always unruly, is nothing short of wild now. Beard-stubble shadows his chin and cheeks, accentuating his narrow lips and sunken features. Dark eyes peer out from paper-white skin, but they are not his own. They are different. The gleam, the gaze, even the shade, it is all wrong.
They are Sherlock Holmes'.
Eli throws the towel at the mirror and leaves the room.
Eli starts with reading the scrapbooks. They contain a wealth of information, subjects that were important to Sherlock Holmes, his delicate scrawl adorning the margins. Watson stays by Eli's side, just like he promised, embellishing with facts and anecdotes when the notes are too brief. Eli reads the monographs as well, of which Watson sheepishly admit to have read more than once in the past three years.
Time passes in different manner than usual, here in their sanctuary, like drowsy summer clouds rather than rippling water. Days come and go, never to return, but Eli finds he does not mind it. Days are unimportant to him, to them, merely a phenomenon of use to other people. As long as Watson is within arm's reach of him, Eli can nearly feel content.
They sit on the settee side by side, Eli re-reading the M entry in Sherlock Holmes' scrapbook, Watson writing in his notebook. The fire crackles kind-heartedly, Watson's fingers twine themselves into Eli's hair, and Eli closes the book to just revel. The air in the room is warm and soft against his skin, calming him, throwing a thick veil over the world outside.
Papers rustle when Watson lays aside his notebook and he shifts, shuffles, 'til his chin rests on Eli's shoulder, his breath caressing his neck. Eli thinks he hears him mumble something, but that thought is lost when he feels a touch on his nape, a kiss, of lips like velvet. His breath hitches in his throat.
"Holmes," Watson breathes, his fingers tracing Eli's jaw, tender, like angels would touch, "Tell me to stop," he kisses Eli's throat, "... otherwise..."
His fingertips follow the arch and valley of Eli's lips, achingly loving, and Eli turns away from them to find Watson's own mouth. The kiss is chaste, but Watson emits a sound like a sob, and whispers, "Thank you," over and over again, until Eli silences him with another meeting of lips.
They make love that night, in Sherlock Holmes' bed, in sheets carrying their scent. Watson is infinitely careful, treating Eli like delicate porcelain, until he sees the pale skin of his left arm. In wonder, Watson traces the smoothness there, both with fingers and with lips, tasting the pulse in the veins.
"You're clean," he whispers, voice reverent, "You quit. You quit, for me." Then he showers Eli in passionate kisses, desire leaving its mark all over his skin, pleasure and love consuming Eli whole.
When they later lie with their limbs entangled, wholly spent in body and soul, tears well forbidden in Eli's eyes, hotly spilling over and down his cheeks.
Watson brushes them away, his fingertips glittering like morning dew. "Holmes..."
"I am not Holmes," Eli confesses breathlessly, and as the words tumble from his lips, he starts to shake. Watson gathers him up in his arms in an embrace, holding him close as Eli lets out the flood that broke the dam.
"Nonsense," Watson says gently, "Of course you are still Sherlock Holmes. Nothing will ever change that, my love."
Watson does not look like Eli had imagined him, and certainly not like the illustrations in the Strand Magazine.
He is much more handsome.
Hair like a lion's, but with the texture of a primped cat. Eyes like dreamily lush meadows, with flecks of sunlight in them. A smile that puts all the stars to shame, and renders illumination irrelevant. Shoulders that he must have borrowed from Atlas himself, and a graceful back to go with them. Hands that are strong and capable, yet gentle and sensual; hands made to save lives and make love. The limp that only accentuates his narrow hips, canted to the left as they are. A voice like smooth whisky and dry cigars, savoured in the evening breeze.
Eli wants him. He cannot imagine Sherlock Holmes would do anything else.
He awakes slowly, pleasantly so, and only gradually becomes aware of the warm body lying next to his own. He smiles and buries his face in Watson's hair, breathing in his scent.
"Mm, you're awake?" Watson mumbles, words wrapped in sleep-warm linen.
"Barely," He replies and bestows kisses upon Watson's brow. "You, my dearest heart?"
"I've never heard you call me that before," Watson whispers, sighing contentedly, his breath dancing against His neck.
"What, 'my dearest heart'?" He repeats, and rolls them over so he is perched on Watson's wonderfully asymmetric thighs. "My love, my darling, my heart of hearts, my lodestar, my beloved, my dearest Watson."
He spouts all the endearments and affections he knows, everything that comes to mind, making up for long lost time, until Watson is laughing beneath him, pulling him down to an embrace and fills his mouth with kisses rather than words.
Breakfast is a pleasant affair, shared in expectant silence, interspersed with furtive glances and coy smiles, all to avoid rousing suspicion in Mrs Hudson. When she eventually is out of sight and earshot, they fly at each other, rollick around on the floor like young pups.
"I thought she would never leave," He groans, kissing Watson wherever he can reach, unable to keep his hands off of him.
"What would you have done if she hadn't?" Watson asks through a grin, gripping at His locks.
"I would have ravaged you over the table, sensibilities be damned," He says, and presently acquits himself of this promise.
As they lie together in bliss, slowly regaining their breaths and wits, He trails his fingers across Watson's chest and says, "I'd like to go for a walk today."
The street is bustling with life, people chiming and shouting, carriages thundering by, movement and sounds wherever one turns. A ruthless assault to the senses.
"Holmes," Watson murmurs and grasps His arm, "Is it too much?"
He grunts in the negative, pulling his hat further down so the brim shields his eyes, shuts off the world, as he leans against Watson, borrowing his strength.
It is a strange experience. He knows the streets, remembers and is familiar with them, but at the same time he sees everything with new eyes, like a child on a voyage of discovery. The strangest is when he stands before All Souls Church, for he feels despair and impassivity struggle for supremacy in his soul.
"Are you all right?" Watson asks when He stares at the pinnacle, its grand adornments and their complicated spirals.
He jerks, then shakes his head and smiles. "Of course, my dear," he replies and turns away from the church, following Watson back home to Baker Street.
The quilts lay on the floor, forgotten, the fire-warmed air sheltering them from the cool winds outside. Watson traces the dales and mountains of His spine, every now and then brushing his lips against the highest peaks.
"Tell me about you family," he whispers against His skin, placing a kiss on his scapula, which juts forth like a concealed wing.
"My family?" He says, abstracted, half-torpid. Eli had a brother, once, five years his senior, but he died on his sixteenth birthday. Eli's mother never really recovered. As for Holmes... "There is not much to tell, I'm afraid."
"Now that's a lie," Watson smiles, "A bold-faced one, even."
"Perhaps," He admits, and starts retelling tales from Eli's childhood.
"James? Eli James?"
The name causes Him to halt and turn. Watson, close to him, arms linked, tenses up but follows his lead. A man is approaching them, hastier than decorum would normally allow. He is a tall fellow, with broad shoulders and a narrow torso, handsome in a boyish way, with hair that dances in the wind.
"Eli James, is that really you?" the man asks Him, clearly excited. "Where the devil have you been?"
The man looks vaguely familiar, He thinks, but he cannot place him. With a smile, he says, "I'm sorry, but you seem to have me confused with someone else. My name is not Eli James."
"It isn't?" The man frowns deeply, looking from Him to Watson and back again, the cogs turning full-speed behind his eyes. "Oh, if that's the case... I do apologise, I sincerely do. I thought you were a friend of mine; the resemblance between you is... uncanny. But clearly I made a mistake. I shan't take up any more of your time. Good day, gentlemen."
With those parting words, the man disappears into the crowd, as if engulfed by smoke.
"Who was that?" Watson asks, his grip tight on His arm.
"I don't know."
He sits in his armchair, lightly and playfully tapping the violin bow in his hand, a thoroughly teasing gesture, as the sitting-room door opens and admits the person behind it.
"You've been to Mrs Eccles, I perceive," he proclaims, before Watson even has breath for a greeting, a confident smirk gracing his features. "I do hope you bought a few of those heavenly éclairs. Oh, don't look so astonished, my dear fellow. It's perfectly obvious."
"The parcel you are holding," he explains and points at the delicate box in Watson's hand, "is specially made for that particular patisserie. That you are the purchaser — and not, say, Mrs Hudson — is easily established by a glance at your shoes. There is dust on the toes, but no traces of mud. Seeing that it started to rain about twenty minutes ago, it is a simple deduction that you walked to Mrs Eccles, procured some of their offered goods, and then took a cab home. A hansom, specifically, unless I am mistaken."
Bringing this exposition to a close, He taps the tip of the bow underneath his chin and awaits Watson's reaction.
Watson stares at him like he cannot believe his eyes, like a blind man seeing for the first time, overcome and hopeful and a little bit hesitant. Then he tosses the parcel on the table, where it lands by haphazard, and makes a pounce upon Him right where he sits.
"You did it," Watson gasps, hoarse, amid tangling limbs and desperate lips, "You did it. I knew you could do it, I knew you could. Oh, Holmes—"
He laughs, free and joyful, returning every kiss bestowed and more.
On one of His solitary excursions, where he trains and hones his senses, he catches sight of an unfamiliar man observing him from the other side of the street.
The man is large, both in bulk and height, well-dressed but with a languid air, a little out of place, like a seal on shore.
The man does not approach Him, neither does He approach the man, and after several seconds the man turns away, boarding a brougham which takes him in the direction of Pall Mall.
He does not think too much about this incident.
"How come I have never called you John?" He wonders as he caresses Watson's face, the light of the flames licking their skin.
Watson kisses his hand. "It would not sound right," he says, soft like silk, "I have, after all, always been, and always shall be, your Watson."
Holmes awakes to an empty bed, but the sheets are still warm to his touch, body-smooth and heavy, so he merely smiles and slowly rouses. When he after a while descends the stairs, it is to find Watson by the breakfast table, just where he expected him to be.
"Good morning, Holmes," Watson greets, stealing a quick kiss as Holmes reaches for the newspaper, careful not to knock over the vase of moss roses, "Did you sleep well?"
"I did. And you?"
"Likewise, thank you."
Sitting down beside Watson, Holmes opens the paper and scans the pages, quick and efficient. Calmly, Watson fills a cup with Earl Grey and loosens Holmes' grip on the flimsy pages, placing it in his hand. With a hum of acknowledgement, eyes never leaving the paper, Holmes takes an absent-minded sip of the tea.
"Found anything interesting?"
"Actually, I do believe I have," Holmes replies. Looking up at Watson through his lashes, mischievous, a smile like a cat, he asks, "Have you ever heard of Hon. Ronald Adair?"
Author's Note: I have never written a proper fic this quickly before in my life. For being an exercise in style, I had a real ball, despite the fact that I wore out my old Evanescence CDs. (Hullo, a girl of embarrassingly young age, reporting for duty, sir!) I also discovered that purple prose is strangely addictive and needs to be nipped in the bud.
I want to give a thousand thanks to queerlyobscure (who held my hand since the very beginning, made sure the prose would not be confused with an emetic, and encouraged the twistedness) and blacktablet (who was kind enough to give it the second opinion it needed to be whipped into something approaching "decent writing"). Girls, without your support and help, this fic would never have seen the light of day. ♥
I literally squee'd out loud when I saw you had posted this. Out loud, and now everyone is looking at me funny.
I just...I was about to quote back all my favourite bits and then I sort-of realised that I would have to quote basically all of it. Am I a bad person for thinking that this is a ridiculously happy ending? Probably, but I don't care because this makes me happy and I love it to bits.
After much ado, it's finally up and online. \o/
I still haven't made my mind up about the ending. I mean, they're both happy and in love, so that's good, but they are both a bit out of it, so that's bad. In any case, it's twisted and angsty and not overly long and that's exactly what I was going for.
Thank you so much again for all your help and support. ♥♥♥
I have to confess IO nearly didn't read this, it sounded VERY angsty and I didn't know if I could take it :-S but I bit the bullet, I clicked on the link and I am SO glad I did ^_^ I moved from 'this is so wrong, stop being a bastard and tell him the truth!' to 'DON'T FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TELL HIM, JUST MAKE HIM HAPPY!' so smoothly that I didn't even notice ♥ LOVE your writing style, I hope you post more ^_^ thankyou! xxx
Oh, dear me, thank you. What a lovely review! ♥
I was aware this would probably not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm so happy you decided to give this fic a try. Your reactions are exactly those I was aiming for. Again, thank you so much!
O___o;; There's some serious wackiness going on in your Watson's mind.... Poor darling.
Your reinterpretation was very interesting and the original fic was a good read too. The text format was hard at first to overcome, but I was very glad for your rec. The premise of yours and Cress' Understudy is truly horrifying but at the same time riveting.
Wow! Such a fascinating premise, and very nicely done. I love the gradual shift that occurs in Eli's mind as the story progresses, and the subtle change in tone that goes along with it.
And oh, poor Watson... although I suppose that for him, ignorance truly is bliss.
Oh gods, you recced it? Thank you so much for making my cheeks hot enough to fry eggs on. ♥
Thank you for the praise! I'm so relieved to hear you didn't dislike Eli, since that is always a worry of mine when I write OCs, and that you didn't find it too out of left field.