colebaltblue: (sherlock)
[personal profile] colebaltblue
Title:A Study of Studies in Shades of Red
Author: [livejournal.com profile] colebaltblue
Characters/Pairings: Holmes/Watson
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Word Count: 5,000
Summary: A case, a kiss, a river called the Rubicon.
Author’s Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] lonely_hunter in [livejournal.com profile] holmestice. Thanks to the betas. This is a strange mash-up of canon and BBC. I hope it doesn’t offend...



I have often presented my friend and companion in my writings as being sharp, quick-witted, and almost always able to solve a crime with barely more than a glance and almost inhumane ease. He is rarely bested by a case so much so as to leave it unsolved, but it is not unheard of for the answer to present itself by accident rather than through the deductions of the world’s only consulting detective. One particular case comes to mind as I look over my notes from our years together. It occurred early in our partnership, only months after we had taken up shared digs at Baker Street and still at a time when accompanying Holmes was more a novelty than anything else. This was one such case and my recording of it here in my personal papers is not an effort to make my friend seem any less human, but instead to tell the story of how I came to see how human he really was.

I descended the stairs from my room, hurriedly affixing my cufflinks with my morning coat slung over my arm. I bypassed the last two steps with an agile leap and a pleased smile. Although it had not been long since I returned from the killing fields of Afghanistan sick to the point where I wished for death, my health had improved rapidly since moving in with Holmes and I liked to test it now and again myself with the kind of antics more appropriate for a lad of eleven. An amused sound from the direction of the table startled me and I looked up into the sparkling eyes of my housemate. I had missed him sitting there, distracted as I was by the last of my toilet. I blushed, embarrassed he had caught me behaving like a schoolboy, but no less pleased that I had landed nimbly without a twinge of pain in my leg. I grinned at him and was rewarded with an answering smile and a soft laugh as he caught the pink tinge of my cheeks.

“I believe I may have initially mistook you for a herd of elephants, Watson,” he said as I approached the table.

He was seated with a plate of half-eaten eggs, ham, and toast in front of him. I was surprised, very rarely seeing him eat and even more rarely seeing him at this time of day . He was often gone on a case by the time I found myself downstairs. Or, still abed if no cases were to be had. I had begun working for the elderly Dr. Tennant a year previously, handling his more routine housecalls that grew to be too taxing for him, and had fallen into a comfortable routine of morning house calls and an afternoon spent at my club or assisting the good doctor at his practice if he needed the help.

Despite the fact that I was a bit late again this morning for my first call, I slowed down to savor the moment of seeing Holmes sitting at the table with evidence of actually consuming breakfast in front of him.

“Oh dear me, and here I am having committed the same grave error,” I said cheerfully as I helped myself to eggs and toast.

I received a raised eyebrow in reply.

“Not that I mistook you for an elephant, but rather for the elusive and secretive cat of the Indian jungle so rare it is that I see you in such a domestic setting.” As I seated myself, he pushed a freshly poured cup of tea prepared how I liked it towards me. He snorted and rolled his eyes in reply to my teasing.

I thanked him around a mouthful of toast as he looked back down at the morning paper folded in front of him.

I attempted to read the headlines myself, albeit upside down and in between my less than graceful shoveling of food into my mouth. I was in far too good a mood this morning to attending to social niceties in front of my flatmate. As it were, it wasn’t long that we lived together before we had dispensed with the most stifling of them anyway.

“Do you find yourself between cases?” I asked during a brief moment when my mouth was clear of food.

“No,” he responded simply, glancing up from his paper. I eyed the breakfast on the plate before him. One of the first things I had learned after moving in with Holmes was how little he ate and how even more rarely he did so during an actual mealtime. His plate showed clear evidence of him having consumed breakfast and there was of course his presence at the table itself. Perhaps he was finally famished to the point of desperation or boredom. At my look he let out a small noise that could be annoyance or amusement or perhaps a mix of both.

He indicated a telegram on the table. I picked it up and looked it over. It was summons from Lestrade to Scotland Yard. Holmes pushed the morning paper across the table at me and I caught the headline announcing the news of the fourth suspicious death detailed in sensational prose.

“This one’s different,” he said, one long finger tapping the story in front of me. He reached over and picked up the discarded telegram. “Lestrade would not have needed my help otherwise.”

“The serial suicides?” I asked.

“Murders, Watson, murders,” he responded distractedly, his mind already on the puzzle before him. I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to point out that in our time together, Holmes and I worked on hundreds of cases, and he many more on his own. A few lent themselves well to a sensational narrative and those were written up for publication by me, but the majority of them were hardly taxing and only taken on grudgingly to ensure that the rent was paid in a timely manner. He may not have acted like it to the casual observer who did not know him like I did, but he simply lived for these puzzles from the Inspector.

“Excellent,” I cried, standing up. “You must tell me all about it this evening, Holmes.”

“Don’t keep your patients waiting any longer than you already have, Watson. I daresay Mrs. Lawson will be quite perturbed at your tardiness.”

I shook my head in amazement and he hid a grin behind his tea cup. I never would learn how he did that, no matter how many times he tried to explain his methods to me. As I dashed out the front door and hailed a cab to take me to my first appointment I simply filed the moment away as just another one of those questions regarding my companion I’d never be able to answer.

I returned in the early afternoon to a spread of untouched cold meats and bread that Mrs. Hudson so often laid out for me, knowing that I preferred to eat my midday meal light and quickly with a hot and more substantial evening meal. Much to my surprise my roommate was perched in his armchair smoking a pipe, impeccably dressed and groomed yet surrounded by the usual carefully controlled chaos of his living arrangements.

“Holmes,” I exclaimed. He glanced up at me and nodded once, a faraway look his eyes, before he returned to his contemplation of his pipe and the unlit fireplace. Ah, a problem then, two pipes thus far judging from the noxious odor that permeated the room. I turned to my plate, knowing there was nothing I could do to draw Sherlock Holmes out of his contemplation until he had solved whatever problem he happened to be working on. I ate with considerably less haste and appetite than I did this morning, as the smell of his tobacco lingered over everything. I gathered up the papers and retired to my writing desk and the open window with its fresh air next to it.

Although Holmes had begged me not to publish any more stories about him until he had retired, that did not stop me from writing up the cases or keeping my usual meticulous notes. I had begun the practice almost immediately after I moved in with him. He had enlisted my help compiling an index to use for future cases as I was confined to the sitting room while recovering from a relapse of my enteric fever. Finding the work to be more enjoyable than I had expected, I simply didn’t stop when the project was done. I made a brief entry into his ledger about what I knew of this current case including a clipping from the morning’s paper. He would either fill in the details himself, or he would impart them to me over brandy and cigarettes one evening and I would finish the notes myself. I could not help but glance at him surreptitiously now and again as I worked. He had finished his pipe, but not started another and was staring vacantly at a middle distance as was his habit when he was thinking on a case. It was then that I noticed a travel case at his feet, but it was not one I had seen before. It was open and looked rummaged through.

“I say, Holmes,” I said to catch his attention. “Does your work with Lestrade take you out of town?” I remembered mention in the papers that one of the victims had been from out of town, Cardiff if I recalled correctly. I asked for myself, not exactly looking forward to the prospect of being alone in our rooms as he left for yet another case. It wasn’t unusual for him to be gone for a night or even two as he worked for clients outside of the greater London area and those times that he was gone were proving to be more and more lonely. I often found myself knocking about our empty rooms wondering when he’d return and hoping for a telegram. Once, I had even been embarrassed to find myself seated in his chair with a book - loath to leave it despite the late hour and my early rounds because it smelled of his vile tobacco.

He looked up at me sharply.

“No, Watson,” he answered. He inclined his head towards the case, “the unfortunate owner of this case never made it to their intended destination.”

“One of the suspicious deaths, then,” I responded.

“Murders, Watson, murders,” he reminded me.

“So you can prove it, then?” I asked, eager to hear how he had solved the case.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I need a bit more evidence to convince the Yard,” he said, sitting up and turning to me. “I say, Watson, what do you say to giving Mrs. Hudson the night off and joining me at that new dining establishment we spoke about last week?”

I was surprised. The dinner invitation itself was not unusual. Holmes often invited me to dine with him either at his club or various other eating establishments about London. Sometimes it was for an ongoing case, and other times in celebration of a finished one. More than once it had been because I was about to collapse from hunger as I followed him about London chasing lost property and wayward sons and daughters of his clientele. Very, very rarely it had been for no discernible reason at all. I had not questioned his motives at those times, but although I may not be as observant as Sherlock Holmes, I was observant enough to realise that his relaxed and affable manner during those meals most likely meant he did it merely for the pleasure of my company. To me, his company was always a pleasure and so I always accepted his dinner invitations no matter what the purpose of our dining out.

“With pleasure, Holmes,” I said. “Shall I let Mrs. Hudson know?”

“I already did,” he answered turning back to look at the case in front of him.

I was amused by his response. One day, I thought to myself, I might refuse him, just to see what happened. He would most likely anticipate that, though, I finished the thought with a wry grin.

“Is it for the case?” I asked

“The case?” he responded, a touch startled as he looked up at me. “Oh, the case,” he said as he looked at me. “Yes, the case, Watson. A case.”

I looked at him with confusion. He gestured to the travel case in front of him.

“Tell me, Watson, if you were to leave town for an overnight journey...” he trailed off, not finishing the question.

I returned to my writing, leaving him to contemplate his case, or cases as it were.

The silence was broken a short while later by Holmes. “Well, I suppose there is no other way,” he said to himself as he rung for Billy. I listened in as he gave instructions to place a note in the evening editions of the newspapers with very precise wording concerning an address on Northumberland street. When Billy slipped out the door I questioned my companion as to what that all had to do with his travel case, but he merely told me all would be revealed in time and that he was going to rest before dinner.

We were shown to a table in the front window of the charming little restaurant. Holmes settled himself in to look out the window with his back to the restaurant much to my surprise. He rarely allowed his back to be to the patrons of whatever eating establishment we were in. His observations were to be of the street and not of our dining companions then.

“Mr. Holmes,” came a booming voice, startling me as I settled into my seat and contemplated the menu in front of me. I glanced up at the massive man bending over to shake my companion’s hand.

“Mr. Angelo,” he responded with a slight grimace.

“You would be Doctor Watson then,” the man said, turning to me and clasping my hand in a crushing grip.

“This man saved me from years of hard labor,” he whispered to me conspiratorially. The sound of it was just as loud as the man was large.

“A bit,” corrected my companion. He looked at me. “Early in my career I was able to prove to Lestrade quite successfully that Mr. Angelo here was quite occupied with housebreaking during a spate of murders.”

I looked up at the man in front of me. His smile never faltered as he gazed adoringly at Holmes. I couldn’t help but smile to myself; the circumstance I found myself in with one of Holmes’s adoring former clients was not all together rare.

“Anything you’d like, Mr. Holmes, and I’ll make it myself.”

“His cooking is really quite incomparable, Watson,” Holmes said to me lightly before looking up at Mr. Angelo with a smile. “Whatever you think is best, Angelo” he answered the man. Mr. Angelo strode off towards the back, presumably to whip us up something special.

I caught my companion’s raised eyebrow and grinned at him. Amusement danced in his eyes as he caught my look and held it for a moment. He broke it with a nod towards the street.

“Keep your eyes sharp, Watson.”

I followed his gaze, “For what, Holmes?”

“I’m not quite sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

I looked at him with confusion.

“Who moves amongst us, unnoticed, almost invisible, Watson?”

“I do not know, Holmes.”

“Neither do I,” he responded looking back out the window. I didn’t know how to answer that, but suspected that the answer to his question was who we were looking for and that Holmes, in this case, was just as confused as I.

“What does this have to do with the case, Holmes?”

“The case? Oh yes, the case. It belonged to our most recent victim, a Mr. Wilson. The killer must have not realized he still had the case after he killed Wilson, and discarded it before anyone could find out.”

Mr. Angelo placed two steaming plates in front of us with a pleased smile before he dropped a companionable hand on Holmes’s shoulder. I hid my amused smile behind a bite of food. Holmes did his best to avoid physical contact with anyone. I was very rarely bestowed with the honor of a nudge from his shoulder when he wanted my attention, a bump of my knee in a cab, and his arm as we walked and my leg was being particularly bothersome, but I had rarely seen him him voluntarily touch or allow himself to be touched by anyone else.

“But how did you obtain the case?” I asked, shocked that my companion would have a case he said had been taken by the killer.

“I located it in a trash heap.”

I tucked into my food, but noticed Holmes left his meal untouched, attention focused outside.

“Northumberland street,” he said, nodding out the window.

“Pardon?” I looked over my shoulder at the street.

“There, Watson, Northumberland street. I left a message in the evening edition that could have only come from our victim.”

“To come to Northumberland street? But he could be anybody, Holmes!”

“Not anybody, Watson. Imagine, you have completed the perfect murder, except for one mistake. Would you not be just a bit curious as to how your victim managed to reacquire his luggage when you left him for dead?”

I didn’t answer him, realizing that he was lost to his thoughts and the question was rather rhetorical. We lapsed into silence, the kind that made our frequent nights beside a warm fire on Baker Street so companionable. Holmes and I had first become friends sharing cigarettes and the warmth of a fire in the dark evenings with casual conversations about his cases. I enjoyed his company and he gave every indication of enjoying mine as well.

I was halfway through my meal and he had finally taken a few bites of his when he sat up suddenly, staring intently out the window. I looked over my shoulder, attempting to see what he saw.

“Holmes?” I queried.

“Watson, what do you see?” he asked, never moving his gaze from the gas-lit street outside.

I looked again, “A street, Holmes, with pedestrians, and shops, four-wheelers, and cabs.”

“Exactly,” he breathed as he leapt up, grabbing his coat and hat as he dashed out the door. I let my fork clatter to my plate as I hurried after him. He was paused for a moment on the stoop of the eatery, coiled and ready for action like a cat that had just begin the hunt.

“Quick, Watson! Come!” Holmes shouted as he turned and sprinted down the street, gracefully dodging newsboys and flower sellers. I followed as best I could, leg throbbing painfully. Holmes’s long legs carried him over the streets and his quick reflexes saved him from more than one collision with the carts on the streets. I nearly caught him as he paused in a doorway and shoved the man standing in it aside before he darted in.

I followed him unquestioningly up the dark stairs in the tenement, our feet pounding in tandem up the stairs. We burst out onto the roof. Holmes’s unerring knowledge of London streets guided him to the far side of the roof where leapt across the deep gap that separated the roof from the next one. I hesitated at the edge.

“Come on Watson, he’s getting away,” Holmes called over his shoulder. I took a deep breath and a running start to follow him. He paused for a moment to let me catch up to him before he leapt to another building. I followed him across with more confidence, hardly noticing my leg as the excitement of the chase caught me.

We descended the stairs of the next building and burst out into the street. I dodged left before Holmes’s shout of, “no, this way” caught me and I chased after him, splashing through the puddles of this dark and empty street. I caught him again as he paused at the end of the street, his quick brain working through all the possibilities in his head. He was off again and I was following just a step behind, as always. We emerged onto the busy street mere seconds after the cab we were chasing passed.

“No!” Holmes cried in frustration, and immediately turned down a side alley.

My rugby days were returning to me and I never felt so alive and youthful since I had returned from the war. I grinned as I followed him, each step growing easier instead of harder despite my labored breathing. I watched my companion’s graceful hunt with a detached air as I followed him through yet another alley.

We flew out of a narrow street to find ourselves right in front of the cab. The horse shied and reared. Holmes’s hand darted up to his neck and he placed a calming palm on it. We both looked at the passenger.

“No, no, no, all wrong” Holmes said between heaving breaths. “Look at that face!” He angrily gestured at the passenger’s face. It was tanned, wide, and had a growing look of surprise on it.

“American? Recently arrived in London?” Holmes asked. The startled look in the man’s face was enough to confirm Holmes’s deductions. He glanced at me. “The cut of the jacket,” he said, waving his hand at the man, “newest style from New York. And his luggage.” I caught a glimpse of the trunk at the foot of the cab; it bore a card with with the distinctive logo of a passenger ship line.

“Who are you?” the man asked, recovered from the shock of being accosted on the street by two strangers and was beginning to look a bit outraged.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade, Scotland Yard,” Holmes said dismissively.

“Welcome to England,” I said, “enjoy your stay.” We stepped back and the cab passed on. I looked at Holmes.

“Not our killer?” I asked.

“No, not our killer. Good alibi.”

I chuckled and glanced down the street.

“Holmes,” I said, to get his attention. He looked. The cab had stopped and the man inside was speaking to a uniformed constable on the street, gesturing back towards.

“Watson, do you have your breath back?” Holmes asked.

“Ready when you are,” I said with an enthusiastic smile. My friend turned and ran down the street. I followed close behind.

We burst through the door of 221B Baker Street and pounded up the seventeen steps, collapsing against the sitting room door as we closed it sharply behind us.

Still full of youthful energy I began to laugh. To my surprise I heard the delightful laugh of my friend beside me. I looked at him.

“That,” I said, between heaving breaths and laughs, “was the most ridiculous thing I have ever done.”

“And you invaded Afghanistan,” he said with a rare smile and a deep chuckle.

“That was not just me,” I responded, not wanting to lose this moment of levity and youth between us. I looked at him with an emotion I cannot describe, even now. His smile softened and his eyes dropped to my lips. Something caught in my throat.

I allowed my head to bend, almost imperceptibly, giving permission. His eyes flew to mine, confirming what he saw. I dropped my eyes to his lips in answer.

The press of his mouth against mine was soft. His breath was still a bit shorter and harder from our exertions, and I felt its heat across my lips as he pulled back after a all too brief contact. My mouth followed his and I answered his kiss with one of my own. I could feel a tension in both of us that had nothing to do with the chase that had just ended and everything to do with the moment we were now caught in.

I pressed my lips to Holmes’s again and breathed in. I could feel his hesitation and pulled back ever so slightly, allowing our lips to just brush.

“John,” he said softly, against my mouth. It was a warning. We stood at the banks of our Rubicon. We could turn around, not look at each other for the rest of the day, and pretend that none of this ever occurred. Or, it was a promise. If we plunged in together, there was much more that awaited us on the other side. We stood frozen, breaths ghosting over each other’s lips. Neither one of us moved. I knew that what he risked was so much greater than I, but that he was waiting for me to make the decision. I loved him, but would that be enough for us? Enough for him?

I caught his mouth with mine. I kissed him firmly, boarding on desperate, and let my teeth catch on his bottom lip. It was a far cry from the soft kisses we had been exchanging an instant before. A sound caught in his throat, desperate, needy, relieved, and full of something I can’t describe. His mouth opened under mine as I felt his hand come up and catch my hip, pulling me closer. We plunged in together, drowning under the feel of our tongues sliding against each other and hips pressed close.

I pulled back with a gasp in what could have been moments or hours afterwards.

“Holmes?” I asked, letting the questions hang heavily in the air between us. I needed him to tell me that he wanted this too, that we both understood what was happening and what it would mean.

His eyes dropped and he leaned forward, resting his forehead on mine, but pulling his hips back from their insistent pressing to mine. I couldn’t think with him pressed against me and knew he felt the same loss of anything coherent except the burning desire of more.

A small and frustrated noise to escape his throat. My hand came up to cup his jaw and I felt him melt into the contact. What we were doing was beyond dangerous, and not only because it could end with us both clapped in irons for years. When I had kissed him roughly and claimed his mouth we had crossed that line and moved to something far beyond even the close and intimate friendship we had. I knew what lay ahead for us was more than what school boys did in darkened dorm rooms or lonely officers pretended never occurred in tents on desert campaigns. I needed him to tell me that he knew it too.

I wanted nothing more than to kiss him again. I gave in and tipped my head up, capturing his lips, still wondering if this stolen moment would be our only one. Holmes kissed me back desperately. We kissed like drowning men.

“John,” he gasped out, breaking our kiss and shifting his body away from mine again. I wasn’t even aware of how tightly we were pressing ourselves together again until he did so.

“We-,”

“I-,” we began at the same time. I looked into his eyes for the fist time. They were dark and glittering with so many dangerous promises. I could feel myself being pulled in again. He inclined his head, encouraging me to speak first.

“We shouldn’t do this, Holmes,” I said, softly, but my thumb softly stroking his cheek revealed how little I believed my own words. He nodded in reply, but didn’t relinquish his hold on my hip or move his eyes from mine.

I knew we were going to in that moment just as I knew it from the moment that his lips first brushed mine.

We were startled apart from the sound of a knock on the downstairs door. We looked at each other with wide and panicked eyes, hands quickly righting our clothes and smoothing our hair as we heard footfalls on the stairs. Holmes looked at me as he reached for the door, chagrined that we had been interrupted just as were prepared to finish what we started. I couldn’t help but let an ironic smile twist my lips. Holmes’s eyes glittered with dangerous promises.

He flung the door open to reveal Lestrade’s startled face.

“It is a cab driver, Lestrade, and with a bit of patience and peace I shall have him for you tomorrow,” Holmes said with his usual arrogance. I smiled to myself as I stepped forward to offer to take Lestrade’s coat and a get him sniffer of brandy as I invited him in around Holmes’s form standing in the doorway. Everything was the same between us despite it now being so different.

I wondered if we had changed as I hung Lestrade’s coat and poured brandies for the three of us. Lestrade and I would sit rapturously as Holmes took us through his deductions with feigned annoyance. We would praise him and he would preen. Lestrade would act annoyed and leave after warming his feet by the fire to the Yard where he would tell his men to arrest the cab driver that Holmes identified. Perhaps the two of us would sit there with our books and papers for a few hours before retiring to one of our rooms. Perhaps we would fall upon each other the moment Lestrade closed the door behind him. I caught Holmes’s eye as I handed him the brandy. His fingers brushed against mine. No matter what happened, I realized, we were still the same.

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