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Title: A Journey to the Core (Part 3 of ?)
Author: [info]nunewesen
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (ACD)
Genre: pre-slash, slash, romance
Rating: R to be on the safe side
Pairing(s): Holmes/Watson (eventually)

Summary:
Dr. Watson is finding himself unusually uncomfortable in his friendship with Sherlock Holmes. He decides to take a break and visit an old friend and client to clear his mind. But things do not work out exactly as anticipated, and so this particular journey takes him much further than simply into the country of Devonshire...

Chapter 1
Chapter 2


~~~


Hide and Seek

“Holmes! How the…?” I did not even finish the question, suddenly a bit concerned about the colour of my ears… for I very much feared them to have turned pink at his mere sight!

“Yes,” was his dry response. “I am glad to see you as well. Will you join me for a cup of this excellent coffee?” He nodded his thanks to Barrymore who had just been pouring him another cup and then turned his attention back to me.

“Yes, please,” I said – to him as well as to the butler. I then settled down at the table, still not over the fact that my very best friend, the constant object of my thoughts, had so suddenly appeared at Baskerville Hall.

“As to your initial question”, Holmes added, “my presence here is due to yesterday’s evening train and to Sir Henry’s telegram confirming your safe arrival and repeating his invitation to join you both whenever the whim struck me. It seems at the time of my arrival you had already been gone to bed with a headache, though. Hope you’re feeling better today.”

“Err… yes, thank you.” I found myself unable to take my eyes off him. “So… the whim has indeed stricken you, then?” I enquired, suddenly anxious to keep the conversation going, and all the same feeling strangely insecure about what to say. “I mean, there must be a reason for you changing your mind…”

“My dear fellow, do I always need a reason for doing certain things?”

“Indeed, old chap. As your friend and colleague I happen to know that you do!”

That remark made him chuckle, and I was instantly reminded how effortlessly he was able to charm me.

He held my gaze for a moment before he conceded: “Well, I will grant you that, Watson. In this case let me just say that this telegram of our host had reminded me of a conversation I have had with my doctor before he left for his vacation. Said doctor had mentioned that it would do me good to spend a few days of leisure in the countryside as well. And though I recall having rejected that idea, and rather gruffly, I must admit… I have come to the conclusion that there might be some merit in the suggestion.”

…to charm me, I thought. To utterly charm me…

“As your doctor”, I managed, “I am of course glad to hear that.”

“And beyond being my doctor?” The question came out in a casual tone, and his face looked almost indifferent – but even with my comparatively limited powers of observation I had noticed the subtle flicker of emotion in his eyes. There had to be something behind those words, even if I did not know what to make of it. I confess it puzzled me to see him like this.

“Beyond that…I am equally glad to hear it, Holmes.”

“So I am not disturbing you?”

At that point his words seemed indeed very odd to me. After all, he was not really in the habit to ask me such a question. And yes, one could argue that his unexpected presence, especially after such a night and an awkward early morning, might have been slightly… inconvenient for me. I could have used a bit of geographical distance to come to terms with my unsettled state of feelings. But the simple truth was, he was just where I wanted him to be, and that was close to me. Not exactly close, of course. But at least… near.

“No, not in the least.” It was the only possible answer.

Only when I noticed the slight movement of his shoulders, indicating that he was relaxing, I understood he had been waiting for my reply with some amount of tension. How very odd!

He gave me one of his familiar half-smiles. “Very well, then.” With that he leant back in his chair and watched me over the rim of his cup, favouring me with the same intensity he would usually dedicate to an intriguing case.

This was rather unsettling for me, and I desperately tried to look anywhere but at him. In my search for distraction I started to butter a piece of toast, but my mouth seemed strangely dry, and I could only swallow with an effort. When I tried to wash it all down with a sip of my coffee, I choked on the hot liquid and started coughing violently. Holmes darted to my side (which should only much later occur to me as a curious behaviour), but when he saw that I was basically all right and the coughing diminished again, leaving me red-faced and a little hoarse, he resumed his seat, wearing his usual detached expression.

This was ridiculous, I chided myself silently. Holmes and I had spent thousands of mornings together at the breakfast table – granted not always in the brightest of moods – but never before had I felt this uncomfortable and insecure! I really needed to find a way to get myself under some kind of control; otherwise our future cohabitation would be in serious peril! The very thought caused my heart to beat against my chest in a hard and protesting fashion…

…leaving Holmes? What a strange thought!

It was absolutely impossible that I would do a thing like that again! True, I had done it before for Mary, said the nagging voice in the back of my mind. Would I do it again, given the choice? That was hardly a fair question, even to ask myself. I had loved Mary… but even then… had I not always loved Holmes as well, though in some different way? And back then, I had left Baker Street, yes, but I never really had left him! My wife, bless her generous soul, had always been granting me the freedom, emotionally as well as in fact, to pursue our friendship as well as our cases.

So, leaving him was out. But why could I not simply feel content with what I had? What we had?

Holmes was my best friend, and I was his – which meant even more as I knew that normally he forged no real attachments at all. I was the only one he shared his personal life with; I was his partner at work, his companion in leisure. I did not even doubt his regard for me, his esteem, even some kind of affection, as far as the man was capable of such feelings towards a fellow human being.

So, why did I suddenly crave his love?

True, I was a man, and I had my desires, but why concentrating them on him, someone of my own gender? Left alone the problem that those particular cravings were commonly deemed immoral as well as illegal - if it had to be a man, why of all possibilities this man, the least probable of all?

Once again, my feelings must have surfaced, because suddenly I heard Holmes’ voice interrupting my thoughts. “Is anything the matter, old chap?”

“Hm? Why no! I had just contemplated a little walk outside to stretch me legs.”

He did not buy it, not for a second, I am sure. Nevertheless, he nodded. “Ah, the clean early morning country air! Very invigorating, eh, doctor?”

I allowed myself a direct look into his face to search for traces of irony, but his features resembled an unreadable mask. “Just so”, I agreed.

And so, hardly fifteen minutes later, we were strolling leisurely on the grounds, and as if the exercise of walking had broken some kind of spell, we soon found ourselves chatting about some recent London events and our old acquaintances here. I was almost ready to believe that we could simply go on as before. After all, nothing had really altered between us, right? My change of heart did not require any real consequences apart from a bit of self control, and that was the core of it. Soon there would be another interesting cases at hand to set our roles straight: Holmes, the great detective, and Watson, his loyal friend and colleague. Just as it was supposed to be… and yes, the thought made me feel better, at least for a while…

It lasted – perhaps – another quarter of an hour. Then my friend made a casual remark about some events occurring shortly before my departure for Devonshire... and my inner composure seemed to vanish into thin air. I suddenly – and very vividly – recalled my uneasiness before I left... the subtle tension of our conversations... all those things I, at that time, had not been able to put my finger on. Would those be gone once we were home again? Now that I at least knew their source?

I cannot say that I was convinced of that, but I knew of course that only time could tell what would become of it.

What suddenly struck me was that Holmes seemed to be a bit preoccupied himself. I knew this expression on his face from situations when he was pondering on some particulars of a crime – but as far as I could see, there was absolutely no crime at hand here. After all, we were not on a case, we were on... well... what was this all about? Holidays? Holidays with Sherlock Holmes – I could not help it, but the very thought put a grin onto my face.

“Something funny, my dear fellow?”

There! Preoccupied or not – I could never expect to escape his powers of perception!

“Uhm... frankly, I was just thinking how unusual – though very gratifying – it is to have you with me on a journey of leisure instead one of crime solving.”

A very brief smile crossed his features and was gone the next instant. “Mhm...” he conceded non-committingly. Then suddenly he looked straight into my face and I was struck by the full power of his silver-grey eyes. “I have simply been reconsidering a few aspects of my life, lately.”

“Oh, have you, indeed...” I said this completely without thinking, even without understanding what he might be talking about. The effect his eyes had on me, though, combined with a subtle and rather new undertone in his voice almost undid me.

Then, suddenly, he inhaled sharply, and the spell was broken. The tip of his walking cane hit the ground with, as it seemed to me, rather unnecessary vigour as we proceeded down the path. All of a sudden there seemed to be an air of frustration about him, for which I could not find a reason. His walking speed had increased considerably, and for a while I simply followed him, just the way I was used to do. There was something about his posture, almost as if his whole body was displaying a frown.

I am used to his moods and usually understand what triggers them. New developments in a case could get him excited, even into some state of elation. Music was able to soothe him and to fill him with some resemblance of contentment that could almost be mistaken for happiness. The lack of mental stimulation, boredom, was likely to throw him into a pit of lethargy and melancholy. I also knew very well the effects that blasted seven-percent-solution had on him. I pride myself that I know him in many aspects and generally also know how to adjust myself to the various situations. That day, however, I found myself at a total loss, and it took some time until I had gathered enough courage to ask the simple question: “Holmes, is something the matter?”

He suddenly stopped in his tracks (so that I had to take care not to accidentally bump into him) and turned to face me. He was breathing heavily, his eyes were wide open, and there was a certain glimmer of wildness, his posture showing an amount of tension that instantly reminded me of a cat of prey, getting ready to jump. Holmes looked at me in silence for an amount of time that seemed like an eternity, then he tilted his head and gradually his expression softened. He slightly shook his head.

“Have you ever considered me a coward, Watson?” His voice was barely audible.

“A coward - you? My dear chap, of all men I've ever met you are certainly the least one I would attribute that word to!”

A smile crossed his face, but it was a joyless one. “Thank you”, he said simply. “And yet. And yet...”

And then, with a sudden air as if we were strolling down Baker Street, he took my arm and assumed the countenance of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s foremost criminalist, the public persona everyone knew and which fit him just like a tailor-made glove. “Now, shall we?”

At that point I had already accepted that my mind was simply unable to grasp what was going on with him, and so I nodded with a suppressed sigh. “Whatever, Holmes. Whatever.”

Finally we reached the place that hosted the ancient stone hut, and I could not help but think of the unexpected awareness that had caught me during my latest visit there. Maybe he felt the sudden tension in my arm, or it was simply his remarkable intuition... anyway, he threw me a curious glance and said: “Would you please excuse me for a moment?”

He approached the entrance of the hut and then stood still, leaning against the stony frame, looking inside. I had the opportunity to admire the backside of his elegant form and his hair that was glistening in the sunlight like a piece of precious black silk, until he left the threshold and entered the room. It took him perhaps a minute or two; then he emerged again from the half-darkness, a lopsided smile curling his lips.

“I see you have taken a stroll on Memory Lane, lately”, he stated calmly, showing me the two cigarette stumps he had obviously found inside and which were obviously of my special brand, made in London and certainly not available anywhere around here.

There was no use – or any reason, come to that – to deny the facts, so I chuckled. “It is unbelievable that I seem to have allowed you to find me out the same way twice.”

I was glad to perceive an amused sparkle in his eyes, because it was, after all, a familiar sight. “Indeed”, he said with mock astonishment. “And I find that truly appalling!”

Something about the way he said that felt like Cupid hitting me with yet another one of his arrows. I felt incapable to take my look off his face, and he made no effort to look another way, either.

“Holmes”, I finally ventured, with a voice that felt as if it was not my own. “I can’t help myself, but I sense that you have been trying to tell me something today and just cannot bring it out.”

There it was again, that strange glimmer in his eyes that might be able to tell some tales about all of what was hidden behind his usual mask of self-control. The moment of silence stretched into minutes and I almost lost hope that he would speak his mind. He sat down on a large stone, hands on his knees, and seemed to form a resolution.

“When I boarded the train in London”, he finally began without looking at me, “I had planned to take care of a matter that had been bothering me for some time now. But now that I am here, it seems as if it turned out even more difficult than I had expected.”

I took my seat by his side. “Is it something in which I might be of any kind of assistance to you?”

“Assistance!” He let out a barking laugh and favoured me with an odd side glance. “Dear God... assistance!” The sigh that he heaved was positively one of exasperation, and his voice had an almost fierce edge when he blurted out: “For Heaven’s sake, Watson, I love –“

“Mr. Holmes! What a surprise!” We had not seen him coming, neither of us, but there was Doctor Mortimer, good-natured and pleased about the unexpected encounter.

I like the fellow, I really do. But I admit, at that very moment I only wished him being far away from us, preferably somewhere near the other end of the world.


Chapter 4