Watson learns something disconcerting about Holmes' past.
From this prompt. Warning - discussion of child abuse (physical, not sexual).
I finally thought of a title guys!
They are at the stage where lovemaking is still a panicky and incredulous clash of bodies, but afterwards there is time to map each other; twists of hair, locations and shades of freckles, the contours of shoulderblade and clavicle are still new and fascinating and need to be committed to memory. The room is hot and they have kicked away the sheets; the sun is streaming through the curtains and they are just rousing out of a sated doze in a warm, damp tangle of limbs. Watson tuts over the sharp points of Holmes’ hips and the ease with which he can feel the knobs of his spine, even while he admires the moulding of the long bones and the planes of lean muscle. In turn he almost ceases to hate the bullet craters on his own body when his friend’s lips are running over them, for Holmes seems to read his own pang of distaste the moment it occurs and murmurs, “You lived,” against the skin so Watson imagines he can feel his voice thrum through the crushed tissues and into his blood.
Holmes’ own most prominent scar is a thin red stripe skimming across his ribs. “Jack-knife,” he says, when Watson touches it. Watson can almost see how fast Holmes must have twisted to dodge the blade, the fierce elegance of the motion. He sucks in a rueful breath and resolves anew he will be there the next time anyone gets the idea to come near Holmes with a knife.
He turns, as he is almost always tempted to do, to examining Holmes’ hands. Pale zigzags on the right knuckles, only visible this close. Scattered blotches on the backs of both.
“Broken glass,” Holmes supplies. “Hydrochloric acid.”
“You must be more careful with your hands,” Watson admonishes.
Holmes rolls his eyes, but smiles contentedly. “To gratify your perverted preoccupation with them?”
Watson gives him a stern look. “What if you damaged the nerves, and it affected your playing?”
Holmes tilts his head and makes a little face to concede the point has some merit.
Watson smoothes his palm briefly over the only part of Holmes’ body that he hates – the lunar landscape between the left wrist and elbow. “Syringe,” he says sadly. He cannot bring himself to look at it just now. He knows it well enough already.
He has quite forgotten the existence of faint scribbles on his own calves until Holmes sits up and pounces on his lower legs. He studies them for half a second and announces, “Brambles.” Then he grabs Watson’s forearms to examine the faded scores there and adds with equal confidence, “Angry cat.”
Watson grins. “Did anyone ever tell you you are blessed with remarkable powers of observation?”
“No, never in all my life,” Holmes says dejectedly, flopping back on the pillows. “Pray, do elaborate.”
Watson laughs and lowers himself onto Holmes’ body to kiss him, with a lazy shift of the hips to bring their pricks into companionable contact, feels a warm aftershock of earlier incandescence. He says, “You are a very clever and unique and extraordinary detective.”
He passes his thumb over a small round scar on Holmes’ neck. It could have been a badly healed cyst, or an insect bite that became slightly infected.
Holmes’ eyes slide sideways towards him for a second and he says, “Cigarette.”
Watson kisses it, but feels a small twinge of concern and disapproval. He sighs, and shifts off Holmes to lie on his side. “Why were you stubbing out cigarettes on your own skin?”
Holmes raises his eyebrows and drawls, “That question rests upon assumptions unjustified by the data.”
Watson flushes. It is unfortunately easy to imagine Holmes stubbing out cigarettes on his own skin. At least, it is easy to imagine it happening at some point in the past, not now, surely, although it would hardly be a more damaging habit than what Holmes does to himself with the needle.
“Oh. Yes, it did, I am sorry. I suppose you must have run afoul of somebody.”
“I suppose I must. I have been doing that for a very long time.”
Holmes’ tone is light, but something in it, and the thought that if it is easy to imagine Holmes harming himself it is very hard to imagine him letting anyone get close enough to burn him, makes Watson raise himself onto his elbow and look down anxiously. “When did this happen?”
“Twenty-four years ago,” replies Holmes.
Watson’s breath stops, and he puts his thumb back over the mark, hiding it altogether. As if when he takes his hand away it will be gone. Twenty-four years ago Holmes was seven.
“Who would have...?”
Holmes frowns distantly and does not answer.
Mycroft would have been fourteen. Watson hopes for a single, uncharacteristic outburst of adolescent cruelty, and suggests after what feels like a long silence, “Your brother?”
Holmes starts a little away from him, face briefly contorting with indignation and snaps, “No. Of course not. It was my father.”
Watson murmurs another apology and waits. At last he asks, “Did he often mistreat you?”
Holmes has resettled himself into a consciously languid sprawl. “That must depend on your definition of mistreatment.” He smiles. “Spare the rod...”
Watson interrupts, “According to your own definition.”
Holmes’ face goes still, while his long fingers rub thoughtfully against his lips. At last he says, “Yes. I rather think he did.”
Watson drags his hand over Holmes’ hair in a rough caress and, urgent and tight-lipped now, resumes his exploration of his friend’s skin. Holmes lies passively under his scrutiny, watching, eyebrows still superciliously aloft as if the exercise is mildly ridiculous, but making no resistance. Watson finds a short row of the pale dots printed onto Holmes’ right shoulder, and one on his knee. Holmes even volunteers, “There are two more on my left arm. Or there were. They are rather hard to make out now.”
Kneeling over him on the bed, Watson turns Holmes’ arm and stares at the wreckage of puncture marks he couldn’t bear to look at a moment before. He lifts it to his face and kisses the ravaged skin, and though Holmes is still lying motionless in an apparently wanton stupor, Watson feels a faint shudder, a ripple of tension, run through him and vanish.
“You will observe there are not many such marks,” says Holmes, “He rarely broke the skin.”
Watson hates the part of his mind that is saying to him, Yes. Of course. There would have to be something like this. It is not even just that he is moved at being trusted. He knows he can never write this down, even in his private notes, this piece of Holmes’ life will never be passed to the interested public through him. Nevertheless somewhere in him is a conscienceless click like a catch coming undone: a biographer’s curiosity satisfied.
At the same time his hands tighten involuntarily on Holmes’ wrist at the thought of what he might have looked like as a child.
He whispers, “What... what else...?”
Holmes lifts his shoulders in a small shrug and looks faintly puzzled. He answers slowly, “I do not precisely recall.”
Watson collapses beside him with an arm flung over his waist and breathes, “But how long did it go on?”
Holmes’ fingertips have come together as if he is about to discuss some new strand of the science of deduction or the many and various failings of Scotland Yard. “He died when I was eleven. And he had been too unwell, most of that last year to... make a nuisance of himself to me. Or to my mother.”
“Yet you say you cannot remember...?”
Holmes’ lips twitch irritably. “I said I do not remember, not that I cannot. I know enough. I believe I could recall further details, were I to try.” His face softens and clouds at once. “However, I do not try. I very rarely think of him, but when for any reason I begin, I find I ... cannot focus my mind.” His voice trails off, he lets his hands drop and closes his eyes, nestling his head deeper into the pillow. “And there seems nothing to be gained by pursuing the point, so very rapidly I lose interest and turn my attention to other things. It is possible I am wrong and the full facts are no longer retrievable. It is also possible I exaggerate their severity.”
Watson tries to imagine pressing a lighted cigarette to a child’s arm and feels sick. He runs a hand lightly over Holmes, stroking from shoulder to hip; does it again. “I think that is most unlikely.”
Holmes sighs. “Well, perhaps it was not so many incidents. I was very young, and it was a very long time ago, after all.”
“How do you feel about him now?”
“I don’t know. I used to hate him. I am not very fond of him, certainly. I think... “ He gives a complicated grimace. “Poor old bastard. I think it must have been Hell on earth to be him. He’s been dead these two decades. What does it matter?”
“I wanted to know if you would be offended that I wish he were living, so I could go and beat him half to death.”
Holmes, unexpectedly, chuckles, and gives him a playful kick. “Such chivalry, doctor!”
Watson smiles, because Holmes clearly wants him to, though he can’t hold it in place very long. “I mean it though,” he says. He grasps Holmes’ head between both hands so he can look into his eyes. “He didn’t deserve you for a son. I am very sorry he ever harmed you.”
Holmes stares at him, and Watson feels that subtle tension coil through him again, even that apparently carefully controlled. Holmes is naked in Watson’s bed, their legs are tangled together, and yet what gazes back at him from the slightly narrowed grey eyes is keen and austere and ruthless – it is the reasoning machine, and Watson has no idea what it sees.
Then the muscles of Holmes’ face relax, and it is gone. He says, courteously, “Thank you,” and turns over and rests his face against Watson’s for perhaps a minute. Watson can feel the stroke of lashes against his cheek as Holmes' eyes close, and he wraps his arms around him as tight as he can and wishes there was something more to be said, or done.
Holmes kisses the base of his throat, then abruptly rolls away and springs to his feet. “Well, we cannot lounge about like degenerates all day,” he says merrily, “I have a client arriving at noon, and wonder of wonders, I fancy her problem may actually be worth my time.”
He darts out of the room. Watson is left alone trying to decide what to do with the chilly little ghost of a grey-eyed boy in pain.
Holmes reappears in the doorway, in a dressing gown. “Do cheer up, Watson,” he says briskly, in what Mrs Hudson calls his ‘masterful’ voice, though there is a trace of nervousness underneath it. “I suspect there is a marvellous fraud going on in Walworth, and I am certain that it is a beautiful day.”
Watson looks at him, and feels himself gently pushed to a slight distance. Still, Holmes is standing there, shining with determined energy on the threshold. Sentences that can never be written scrawl across Watson's mind. I had often admired my friend’s achievements, but never had I stood more in awe of his courage might be rather florid, but would get the general point across. “All right,” he says, getting out of bed.