I’m going to shove my own fist down my throat and see if they notice, thought Sherlock Holmes not for the first time that night. He didn’t, unfortunately.
Instead, he sat quite calmly with his back straight and his head up and his eyes cast politely down to his glass of water. He focused on the tiny ripples and vibrations on the surface, evidence of the silent hum of the engine. Everything around him was hatefully luxurious and beautiful, everything meticulously designed for the comfort of people with entirely too much money. It was just like home, always exactly the same. Tedious, repetitive, dull. He continuously forced himself not to yawn, or roll his eyes at the absurdly pointless topics of conversation. He’d already slipped up once tonight and Mummy Holmes and given him a glared the likes of which no mortal man should be subjected to. He was already on thin ice for the stunt he’d pulled back in London. Obediently, he sat back and stared blankly at his food while old men and uptight women decided his future for him.
He didn’t mind being ignored. In fact, he relished in solitude and peace and quiet; it gave him space to think without distraction. What he couldn’t stand was this constant and unending chatter, a pointless, unrelenting conversation that was solely concerning himself and his fiancé and the fact that he was not included. Surreptitiously, he cast his narrow eyes across the table at his malicious bride-to-be.
Irene Adler had the mind of a scientist, the dedication of a soldier and the heart of one of Satan’s prized tormentors. She was beautiful, came from money—a considerable amount, invested in gun-making in America—and that was really all Mummy had needed to convince her that Sherlock had to be married. The one thing that she missed, that everyone currently sitting at the dinner table was obviously too stupid to see was quite blatantly apparent to Sherlock: Irene Adler was a lesbian. She was also an unapologetic whore, though Sherlock tried whole-heartedly to avoid such crass accusations when he could.
For a moment, she met his gaze and smiled at him. Anyone who didn’t know her would think that smile to be supportive, friendly or even loving. He saw through that, straight to the cold, calculating bitch that wanted everything that Sherlock was entitled to as far as money and esteem went. Her blood-red lips twisted delightedly, like she knew what he was thinking, and he felt his expression darken. Then, under the table, a long-fingered hand slipped over his knee from his left.
“What is the matter with you?” hissed his brother, Mycroft. The hand squeezed and blunt nails dug into the soft fabric of Sherock’s trouser leg. “Get that look off of your face, or Mummy is going to be cross.”
Abruptly, Sherlock remembered why they were here, where they were going, and what was waiting for him in America. More important than that, he was struck with the thought that he had no control, no allowance for objection. He felt Mycroft’s fingers digging harder into his thigh and his head swam dangerously. He was quickly losing every faculty he possessed, and he grasped desperately at the seams that kept his rather delicate temper in check. It wasn’t working. Mycroft looked completely nonchalant, carrying on a conversation with a man farther down the table as if he didn’t have his fat fingers wrapped threateningly around Sherlock’s flesh. Mummy had noticed, but she went on as well as if nothing was happening. And Irene—oh Irene—she just looked at Sherlock, straight in the eye, and smirked with eyes full of mischief and delight.
“If you’ll please excuse me,” Sherlock announced through gritted teeth. He stood so fast he bumped the table slightly, and Mycroft practically broke his hand as he tore it away. “I’m feeling rather ill. I think I’ll retire.”
Mummy shot him a contemptible glower which bore into him until he approached Irene, apologized and kissed her hand. Nausea flared in his esophagus as he fled the dining room.
He hadn’t eaten anything today, but he could feel the bile start to rise in his throat. Taking the stairs two at a time, he spared no thought for decency as he ran out onto the veranda, threw himself against the railing and vomited into the dark depths of the ocean. He watched absently, bent over the side railing, as the sea churned and foamed up from the propeller and the waves that formed off from the sides of the ship disappeared into the night behind them. The night was very cold, and the breeze brought him back to himself a bit. He started to breathe again, less suffocated now that he wasn’t surrounded by fools who wanted to take over his life.
You’re overreacting again, he chided himself, searching in his jacket pocket for his cigarette case. Being melodramatic so that Mummy will pay attention? What am I, a child?
Sherlock’s hands were shaking, mainly because he needed to smoke, but the moment he had his case out it tumbled out of his hands to the deck. Kneeling to pick it up, he pressed his forehead against the middle rung of the railing, letting the coolness of it relieve his headache. His cool, blue eyes scanned the black horizon and his fingers wrapped around his cigarette case. He considered very thoroughly the temperature of the water right now, the speed and force of the propeller, the curvature of the ship and the amount of time he’d have to be conscious and in pain before the end.
As he straightened up again, he took a cigarette and pressed it between his lips. He cupped a hand around his matchbook until the flame burst to life and then he set the tip to smoldering and inhaled. The calculations that ran through his head gave him a small sense of serenity. He considered how long it would take him to drown and the more likely event of being ripped apart by the propeller. His undid his jacket and folded it gently over the rail before climbing up onto the metal rungs. His long legs swung over easily, and he hooked the heels of his shoes onto the railing as he stared down into the impending blackness of the water. It was nice to think that no matter what those stuffy “respectable people” did, he could just so easily end it here and now. That was in his control, that he could have completely to himself until his very last few seconds.
One hand braced on the top of the railing behind him, Sherlock brought the other one up and plucked the cigarette from his mouth, blowing out a slim thread of smoke that billowed into a cloud around his head before it dissipated in the breeze. He dropped the cigarette and watched it get devoured by the torrent below.
“Getting a nice view?” came a voice from behind.
Sherlock started slightly, but he gave no outward sign. He didn’t even look around to see who had caught him here like this. “Stay back,” he insisted in his deep baritone when he heard someone begin to approach.
“Alright, that’s fine,” the voice went on, “fine with me, okay. Just…thought I ought to let you know that if you’re planning on jumping, that’s a frankly awful way to kill yourself.”
That statement, expressed with such a flippant disregard for his safety, confused and intrigued Sherlock. He tightened his grip on the rail and glanced over his shoulder in the direction the voice was coming from. A short man stood there, easily in his early thirties with a cane held tightly against his right leg and a deceptively calm smile on his face. His clothes were old and ratty and his face weathered and creased. “You know this because you’re a doctor?”
The man blinked and cocked his head to the side, surprise apparent on his face. “Yes, actually,” he said. He stepped closer, very carefully; the rigidity of his movements clashed with his easy-going tone. “There are a lot less painful methods of suicide.” He stopped a polite distance away and hooked his cane over the rail.
“What would you suggest?” Sherlock asked conversationally. The cold was starting to get at him, seep in through the fabric of his shirts and make him shiver.
“Personally, I’d probably prefer an overdose,” the doctor replied, looking over the side and wincing at the frightening sight below. “Just take enough morphine, go right to sleep and never wake up.”
“Go on then,” Sherlock snapped, “go commit your own suicide and leave me to mine.”
The doctor leaned forward, crossing his arms over the rail and looking down. He had put himself just in Sherlock’s line of vision, just in the corner of his eye so that he couldn’t be ignored. “Tempting offer,” he said, “but I don’t think you really want to be alone right now.”
A familiar and invigorating sensation of anger surged up to Sherlock’s shoulders. He squeezed his eyes shut and grit his teeth. “You don’t know anything about me!”
“That’s true…but who knows, in another life a man like you and a man like me could have been the closest of friends.” The statement was so absurd that Sherlock could have laughed despite his situation, but he looked over and saw the man smiling at him.
This man, this complete stranger with the rumpled clothes, psychosomatic limp, scars from war and evidently a great deal more problems in his own life—-probably more even then Sherlock—was standing there, having a conversation with a man about to kill himself. The more important and infinitely less conceivable fact was that this doctor was giving him a choice. Obviously, he didn’t want Sherlock to kill himself, perhaps out of some sentimental, humane gesture or just Samaritan obligation. But he was staying exactly where he was waiting for Sherlock to make the ultimate move. Sherlock was officially fascinated.
“Are you really going to do it?” asked the doctor, gazing over the side with a grimace. “Awfully cold down there.”
Pressure built up behind Sherlock’s face, that unfamiliar sensation of on-coming tears, and he answered before he could stop himself. “There’s nothing else I can—” His fingers clenched around the metal rail and he looked away. “Right now, it’s preferable,” he amended.
“Okay, alright,” the doctor replied simply. Then, he pushed himself upright once more and started undoing the buttons on his coat.
Sherlock watched with considerable interest as the man stripped off his coat and waist and folded them neatly on the deck. Then, as the man knelt down stiffly to unlace his shoes and pull them off. This meant something, intention of some sort, but Sherlock was caught so off guard by the action that he drew a blank. “What are you doing?” he inquired.
“Well, I’m a doctor, as you noticed—not quite sure how you knew that, by the way,” he began. “It’s against my physical make up to just sit by and watch someone die, not when I might be able to do something about. So if you want to jump, that’s fine, go ahead. Just know that when you go, I’m going in after you.”
“That would be sad, wouldn’t it? It can’t be helped, however. If you jump, as a witnessing doctor, I have to try and save you. I really hope you don’t because as I’ve said it’s awfully cold down there.”
Sherlock stared at him, shock and disbelief plain on his face. That whole scenario was just completely ridiculous and asinine and…selfless. He had never known anyone to be quite this utterly marvelous, and the thought crossed his mind that, if he jumped and died he would never know this man. If he were to die in the next few moments, he would have to spend the rest of eternity with just a glance and a few words shared with this fascinating doctor. He quickly became terrified of where he was and the violent maelstrom below him. Closing his eyes, he took a few short breaths to calm himself and then slowly began to turn around on the railing. His hand closed tight around his jacket where it folded over the rail.
“Hello,” the doctor said, standing before him with a smile on his face. “My name is John Watson.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Holmes.” With a hand outstretched in a welcoming gesture, Dr. Watson beckoned Sherlock forward. “Let’s get you on the safe side of that banister, alright?”
Giving a shaky nod, Sherlock carefully lifted his foot up to the next rung. He kept his eyes fixed on Watson the entire time. Which, in retrospect, was probably not a very good idea. He didn’t see the sleeve of his jacket get caught under his foot before he slipped. His chin slammed against the metal bar; he almost bit through his tongue. Dazed, he started to fall, but he gathered his wits about himself in time to grab on to the second to last rung of the banister. His tailored tuxedo jacket fluttered into the sea, forlorn.
Eyes watering, he looked up to see Dr. Watson leaning over the rail with his arm outstretched. Sherlock’s heart was pounding so hard that he couldn’t hear anything apart from it and the suddenly very loud roar of the ocean below him. The doctor was speaking, his mouth formed words like “hold on” and “can you reach my hand?” but Sherlock’s ears started to ring.
Sherlock’s mouth fell open and he blinked rapidly to clear his vision. He was shaking, from the cold, the pain in his head and jaw and the fact that he was dangling above almost certain death and a man he had just met cared enough to reach out to him. He tried not to be stunned, tried not to let the shock take over. He shook the ringing from his ears and shifted his weight onto one arm so he could let one go. It didn’t quite work the way he planned. He swung slightly to the left, unable to stretch up far enough. Fear made him tense and grip the rail again with both hands.
“I can’t reach,” he muttered, voice calm and absent.
His mind kick started again, running through the force put out by a propeller that size and the velocity of the water, the speed at which he’d be falling before he hit the water, the temperature of the air, the temperature of the mist around him, the strength in his arms and the overwhelming thought that he was going to die. He could hear everything, feel everything; the smell of salt accosted him and he felt that sensation of an imminent shut down. He clenched his eyes shut and tried to shut out the noise.
“Holmes!” the doctor called insistently, “Mr. Holmes look up at me. Come on…Sherlock, open your eyes!”
The command got through to him, clear as a bell, and his head shot up again. He met Dr. Watson’s eyes and saw the earnest desperation there. All nonchalant façade was stripped away and honest apprehension left in its place. Sherlock narrowed his focus to the face above him, trying to use John Watson’s features to drown out everything else. He was fairly handsome man, age and misfortune had given him lines, but smiles had in turn softened them. Sherlock knew that he had no such lines and no such smiles.
“You won’t let me fall,” Sherlock said, as if the thought occurred to him, as if it was a statement of fact.
“No I won’t,” came the reply. Dr. Watson stretched down with both arms now, trying to get close enough to Sherlock hands. “But you can’t either. I need a bit of help here.”
There passed a moment of chaos where Sherlock scrambled frantically for Watson’s hands, and just a quick few seconds when he felt like he was falling. Then he was flying. He was hefted up, kicking his feet against the rail until he was over the top and they both tumbled gracelessly onto the deck.
Sherlock’s breath rushed out of his lungs when he fell on his back and the doctor’s not significant weight landed on top of him. He blinked rapidly until he could breathe again, then took in mouthfuls of air at a time. He looked up at the man who had just saved his life and tried to sort through the things he was feeling. Slight weight of a chest against his, warm thighs unintentionally straddled over his thighs. His cheeks were flushed and Sherlock told himself that that was exertion.
“Thank you,” he said, voice barely a whisper.
“Not at all.” Smiling lightly, the doctor reached up and pressed a gentle finger against the bruise forming on Sherlock’s chin. “Does it sting?”
“No.” He was lying. It burned like acid, especially when touched. However, Sherlock contented himself that it was John Watson who was doing the touching and it was okay.
“You’re lucky it isn’t bleeding.”
Silence fell between them and Sherlock looked up into the other man’s eyes in a way that was probably not very socially acceptable. It didn’t matter because John met his gaze. The warmth between their bodies was comfortable, and Sherlock was in no hurry to break contact. As their breathing slowed to something like normal, Sherlock closed his eyes and felt eyes on him, dedicatedly looking at nothing else but him. It felt nice.
The peace, the soft hush of the sea breeze and the lap of the waves around them was interrupted by a shrill siren to the left. “What the hell is going on!?”
Sherlock stifled his groan when the doctor’s weight abruptly shifted off of him. For a short moment, he stayed where he was, unmoving. He looked up to see Irene Adler standing there in the cold without her shawl, as it had fallen to the floor in her apparent shock. Of course, the whole reaction was an act. She had enough experience in certain areas that sight of two men in close physical contact was not enough to make her blush. On the other hand, Mycroft was standing behind her looking abnormally scandalized.
Slightly dizzy from all that had happened, Sherlock forced himself to his feet and adjusted his cuffs to steady himself. Mummy Holmes was fast approaching with two men in uniforms—a few constables from the small police force on board.
“Arrest him, already!” Irene shrieked, gesturing with her thin hand to the good doctor. She kept eye contact with Sherlock.
For his part, Dr. Watson did not try to flee. This could have been from a number of facts. He could only hide so long on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. His limp kept him firmly put. More likely though was that he felt he had done nothing wrong because he in fact hadn’t. When the larger of the two imposing figures grabbed his arms, Watson gave a small token protest.
Sherlock felt rather than saw eyes on him. Mummy’s gaze was demanding and accusatory, as was Mycroft’s. Irene had that hint of a challenging smirk tucked neatly into her terrified expression. The most important pair of eyes on him were John’s. They bore into him expectantly, as if to say “I saved your life, you could help me out here, you know.”
Thankfully, and much to Sherlock’s surprise, Watson didn’t even try to defend himself. He could very easily reveal that he’d stopped Sherlock from killing himself. It was plausible, Sherlock had made attempts before. Watson could save himself that way and get Sherlock into trouble. It would have been easy, but he didn’t. Instead, he just waited patiently, let the constable bind his wrists, until Sherlock broke the awkward silence and rectified the situation. John believed that Sherlock could do this. So he did.
“Stop, let him go,” Sherlock said, looking at his brother, who had the most sway in this situation due to his government ties.
“Give me one reason why I should.” Mycroft looked about like he’d swallowed a lemon and a salt lick in fast succession. He was, to put it plainly, not amused. “I suppose it ‘isn’t what it looks like’ again. Is that right, brother?”
“Yes.” Standing tall and straight-backed, Sherlock gave off a semblance of calm an authority that clashed with Mycroft’s own intimidating power-play. “I came out for a breath of air and a cigarette. I was just looking over, examining the output of the engine and I leaned too far. I slipped and Dr. Watson here pulled me back. He saved my life.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of Miss Adler’s mouth. She raised an eyebrow and looked at Mycroft, who still looked suspicious. “Is that true?” he asked, directed at the doctor, even though his gaze was still locked on Sherlock.
Watson hesitated for just a moment, a glance at Sherlock that seemed to wonder if he should lie for this man he’d barely met. “Yes,” he ultimately said, “Yes, I suppose it is.”
He was good. He might even have fooled Sherlock had not known better. However, Mycroft was far from gullible, bordering on psychotically paranoid. His eyes narrowed at the Dr. Watson for a while, but he eventually waved his hand at the constable who subsequently unlatched the manacles from Watson’s wrists.
“Well,” said Irene, approaching the doctor with a sudden air of gratitude. “Excuse me, Doctor for my initial impression. I should thank you, really. You saved my fiancé. Really, I don’t know what I would have done.” She stretched out her hand and Dr. Watson took it on reflex.
“Fiancé?” he inquired, a questioning glance at Sherlock. “Pleased to meet you Miss, but it was nothing, really. I didn’t even think about it.”
“Irene Adler,” she introduced herself, voice dripping with sincerity and emotion. She was a trained liar. “It’s an amazing thing you did. Surely we can afford him a reward.” That last was directed at Mycroft, who in turn looked to his mother.
“No, please.” Dr. Watson dropped her hand gently and backed away. “Thank you, it’s fine.”
“Nonsense. You should have something for your trouble.” Mycroft spoke as if the doctor had delivered his groceries or moved a large obstruction from his path. He was very obviously talking down to him as he dug out his wallet.
Mummy Holmes stepped forward and put a hand on Irene’s shoulder. The woman wrapped thin fingers around Sherlock’s wrist and beckoned him forward. “We should retire to our rooms,” she announced. “It’s been a rather eventful night, and it’s very cold. Stay out here much longer and we may catch our deaths.”
Reluctantly, Sherlock nodded and followed her. “Good night, Doctor,” he called over his shoulder, strained smile on his lips.
When he looked back, he saw the look on Watson’s face, the slight disappointment with a bit of skepticism in the mix. The fingers of the doctor’s left hand flexed and clenched, rubbed together as if to stem a nervous tick—perhaps some sort of PTSD. He was anxious, anxious for Sherlock. It seemed as if this man would never cease to amaze the youngest Holmes. Sherlock’s smile faded into something less fake, something a little comforted by the fact that John Watson would stop him falling into the sea. He only looked back for a few more beats before he obediently followed the women back inside.