Harlequin's Slash Fic

The Case of the Degenerates

Title: The Case of the Degenerates
Author: Julien
Universe: Sherlock Holmes
Characters featured: Holmes/Watson
Category, Word count: Short story; 1619 words
Rating: PG13
Summary: Holmes provokes Watson into admiting that Sir Henry was a fine young man, and just Watson’s type. Nevertheless, Watson is still in love with a hitherto unresponsive Holmes.
Notes: This piece is set immediately after the 2002 movie adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I just adored Ian Hart’s sensitive yet robust and intelligent take on Watson, a man with the potential to be a real partner for Holmes. My eternal gratitude is due to the friend who bought me the DVD; alas, I promised her a sequel, but never followed through.
First published: 22 April 2004 in Homosapien 7

 

The Case of the Degenerates

 

They were sitting in the dining carriage as the train rattled through the moors, facing each other and yet divided by a table, a newspaper, a pot of tea, anger. They’d be home in London before evening fell.

‘I have a box for Les Hugenots tonight.’ And Holmes dared to suggest, ‘I thought a little dinner at Marchini’s on the way?’

Watson snapped, ‘The answer to your question is no.’

‘What?’

‘No, I don’t trust you,’ he elaborated. It wouldn’t do – all Holmes’ lies of omission and commission, all his manipulations. Then, seeing the almost unprecedented chagrin on Holmes’ face, Watson relented a little. ‘But Marchini’s would be nice.’

Holmes endeavoured to appear complacent, but he couldn’t quite pull it off. It was startling to see how rattled the man had been by Watson’s fury. Startling, and … rather gratifying. Which took the urgent edge off Watson’s anger, but also stiffened his resolve.

Soon they made their way back to the last carriage, to the compartment they had to themselves, and they sat there facing each other, still divided. Holmes had reached into his suitcase for a small wooden box, inlaid with brass. A long stretch of mist–shrouded countryside slid past as Holmes pondered the thing. Watson had come to loathe the very sight of that box. Eventually he said, ‘And you call me a degenerate, Holmes, though my so–called degeneracy is about love and yours is about addiction.’

Holmes glanced at him, something of regret in the downturned mouth. Perhaps he found the subject distasteful.

Watson found it disgusting. ‘Are you going to the lavatory to inject yourself in lonely squalor? I will not have you do it here before me!’

‘I intended neither.’

‘Then where? Do you expect me to leave?’

Holmes did not reply. Watson was so damnably angry with the man. They were silent for a while, sitting there swayed arrhythmically by the train’s steady progress.

And then they came to a bridge over a small gorge with a river winding below. Holmes quietly, economically – not dramatically – stood, opened the window, and let the box fall. Watson, sitting there facing the rear of the train, stared out at the gorge as it swiftly receded. There was just time to see the box shatter on a rock, and the contents scatter into the flowing water. And then Watson stared at his friend, open–mouthed in shock. Holmes sat back, impassive, as if he did not need Watson’s acknowledgment let alone approval of this courageous step.

Eventually Watson nodded once, curtly. In response, Holmes broke his self–imposed calm and smiled a little, his nervousness betrayed as he rubbed his hands, just once, up his arms and shivered, as if cold. He picked up the newspaper for the hundredth time, and made a show of reading it. Within moments he was completely impassive again. Watson considered what all this might mean. He reached no conclusions, but couldn’t feel anything but pleased by the gesture.

After a while, Holmes interrupted Watson’s thoughts by raising the topic of their recent case and the young heir, Sir Henry Baskerville. ‘You thought highly of him, Watson,’ was Holmes’ concluding observation.

‘He is a fine young man,’ Watson replied shortly. Definitively: ‘The very finest.’ His recollections were still vibrant. Riding the boundary of Sir Henry’s new estate with him; admiring the young man’s firm and graceful seat, as utterly natural as if he’d been born on horseback.

‘I suspect that you are sorry to be returning to London.’

‘In a way, yes, I am.’ Seeing Sir Henry grow into his inheritance was a pleasure; watching him fall in love with the undeniably pure–hearted Miss Stapleton, less so. ‘A rare beauty,’ Watson acknowledged. But she was killed, brutally, and Sir Henry remained alone. Watson sighed, and confessed. ‘He asked me to stay on. In any capacity. As his estate manager. As his … companion.’

‘Then why didn’t you stay? The two of you were suited. As companions.’

Watson said, very evenly, ‘Of course he did not mean it in that way, Holmes.’

‘Ah. I am sorry, Watson.’

Watson eyed him warily, but it seemed that Holmes was sincere. Sherlock Holmes, simply sincere. An unusual occurrence indeed. ‘Thank you,’ Watson responded with equally simple dignity; forbearing to mention his already long and painful experience of being companion to a man for whom he felt unrequited love.

The train rattled on, and they each swayed along with it, contemplative. Knotting Sir Henry’s bow–tie before dinner, and not stretching up to kiss him. Waiting through long nights in the room across the hall from him, wanting to offer an embrace, a compliancy, to counteract the effects of the late Sir Charles’ granite mattress. ‘It wouldn’t do to be too comfortable,’ Sir Henry dead–panned. Waking to the young man’s bright face over breakfast.

At last Holmes broke the silence. ‘When you saw me silhouetted on the tor that night, I hadn’t meant to reveal my presence. But I forgot myself, seeing you both together in the Dark Walk. You were suited as companions, Watson.’

Discovering what Watson assumed was Sir Henry’s torn and bloody corpse; being almost undone in that moment by intolerable guilt and sorrow. ‘I’ll never forgive myself,’ he declared. Never once kissing him. Knowing that Sir Henry did not want to be kissed. At least, not by John Watson.

‘Yes,’ Watson replied, a little brusque. Yes, he would have suited me very well indeed. But must they dwell on the matter? Must they dwell on the fact that Sir Henry hadn’t even realised what Watson would willingly have given him? Perversely, this only seemed to enhance Sir Henry’s fineness, though, and not detract from it – the fact that the young man was so pure or at least innocent. Listening to him declaim to his guests on Christmas Eve (entirely serious, if not wholly sober): ‘And on earth peace, good will toward men.’

‘He wasn’t really your type, though.’

Watson stared at Holmes as the words hung clanging between them. ‘Wasn’t my type?’ he repeated, too stupefied now to be really angry. Though he suspected that the anger wasn’t any great distance away. ‘For God’s sake, Holmes! What the devil would you know about my type?’

Holmes acknowledged the hit with a shrug, and turned his gaze to the window. ‘You once did me the honour, my dear Watson,’ he murmured, ‘of implying that I might be your type.’ And there was humility in Holmes’ voice. ‘At least, so I inferred.’ Humility!

Watson’s stare intensified. What on earth was going on? ‘Holmes …?!’ he demanded, completely at sea.

Holmes cleared his throat, still avoiding Watson’s eyes. ‘I had thought to suggest that two degenerates, such as ourselves, should rub along together. Yet I now perceive that would do more harm than good.’

‘Indeed,’ Watson responded with a fair stab at huffiness. And yet he couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t softened, intrigued, by a possibility that he didn’t dare even name to himself. ‘Can you really call it degeneracy, Holmes?’ he quietly pleaded.

‘Not if it is, as you say, love,’ Holmes allowed. And he glanced at Watson, then turned to face him. ‘It is love?’

‘Yes,’ Watson whispered in reply. ‘You know that it is.’ A love that had endured a great many trials, and (so far) only emerged stronger.

They looked at each other, already beyond considering. They simply looked. And this was Sherlock Holmes …? What was it that had broken through all the prickly barriers, slipped beneath the solid fortifications, argued against such implacable logic?

‘Does it matter?’ Holmes asked.

‘No.’

Not so long ago Watson would have fallen to his knees at Holmes’ feet. Not any more. He stood, and quickly, efficiently, pulled down the blinds, locked the compartment’s door. Then he took the two strides necessary to return to Holmes. Sat on the bench at his side. Met his unguarded gaze.

‘And now?’ Holmes asked.

‘No. I still don’t trust you. I want you, though.’

‘And I you, John.’

‘Then that will have to do.’ But he made his tone express the satisfaction that his words did not. Watson drew close – let out a hard breath as Holmes’ eyes slid shut as his face tilted up towards him … And he met that mouth with his own. At last, dear God, at last 

Holmes was passive for a moment or two, as if testing the waters, but then he began giving as good as he got, as clever and precise and determined and fearless in this as in everything else. Afterwards Holmes sat back with an unbearably smug expression on his face. ‘Sir Henry was exactly your type, Watson.’

‘Yes.’

‘I let you have your chance.’

‘Throwing us together like that? Sherlock Holmes turned matchmaker.’ Watson shook his head. ‘How bizarre.’

‘Do I not receive credit for my potential sacrifice?’

‘Further evidence of your manipulations will do you no good, Holmes.’ He sighed. ‘It is just as well that love knows nothing of types. Of what is best for one. Love is not wise.’

‘Indeed.’ It was deplorable, Holmes’ self–congratulation at yet another case working out in accordance with his own agenda.

Watson almost let out a protesting growl. And yet he was more intrigued than ever, and had long been committed. He drew in to kiss the man once more; his infuriating best friend, his troublesome love. And so all was finally settled between them. ‘To hell with Les Hugenots,’ Watson said. ‘We’ll dine at Baker Street.’

Holmes said nothing in reply, but his gaze conveyed that he was perfectly in command of the situation. Of course, my dear Watson. Of course.

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2 responses to “The Case of the Degenerates”

  1. avatar Lee says:

    Brilliantly written. Beautiful characterizations.

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