[identity profile] spacemutineer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] acdholmesfest
Title: His Heartbeat A Lullaby
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] elina_elsu
Author: [livejournal.com profile] apidologist
Rating: PG-13
Characters, including any pairing(s): Sherlock Holmes/John Watson, references to Watson/Mary Morstan
Warnings: depictions of war experiences and trauma
Summary: Watson’s army experiences are the source of nightmares which make it difficult for him to sleep, and Holmes is determined to do whatever he can to help.
Disclaimer: a line or two paraphrased from the canon and from the light of my life, BBC Radio Holmes

The smells were the first to come into focus: antiseptic, dust, sweat, blood.

All was silent. A scream pierced my skull. A drop of perspiration trickled down my back. My eyes snapped open; a soldier lay before me, blood spreading across his torso, tears trickling from the corners of his eyes as he squeezed them shut in pain.

"Hand me that bowl of fresh water!" I shouted to my assistant, distant from my voice, detached from my hands, which struggled to remove the rough fabric covering the man’s wound. There was no response - "The water, Jacobs! Now!" - I ripped the remainder of his jacket away, and turned to see that my assistant had disappeared.

I looked down at my hands, gloved only in the red of my patient’s lost blood, and time slowed, each second passing like an hour in my mind. I tried to assist another man who had just been carried in by his fellow soldiers, but his heart beat the blood out of his body faster than I could reach towards him. I looked around the medical tent, dazed, too overwhelmed to move to help anyone, too powerless. We had lost ground, we were losing men, and we were soon to lose hope.

I jumped as my patients turned to me in unison, mouthing "Help us, doctor. Help us. Please, doctor." They whispered, then grew louder, more furious, more desperate, but still I could not hear them through the din beyond the tent which was rapidly closing in.

Panic struck me, and I was immobile, impotent, my patients melting away before my eyes in the Afghan sun. My ears rang with the barrage of gunfire, shouted commands, desperate cries, and strangled yelps of agony from those poor young men whom I could not save.

A sudden pain surged in my shoulder, agonising, pulsing, and I clutched onto something which I could not see through the mingled tears and sweat which burned my eyes. Shadows began to close in, and the relentless throbbing of my wound receded to mere discomfort, the unbearable heat became almost soothing, and the unknown object I held grew gradually more familiar, more tangible, until it was a hand in mine, and all the sticky warmth of the desert faded away.

I awakened moments later to find Holmes kneeling at my bedside. He looked somewhat sheepish, and quickly stood, mumbling that he didn’t wish to shock me, but there was a cab at the door, he hoped I would join him, and this case should prove to be most interesting indeed, with a few other phrases I didn’t catch as he fled down the staircase.

This occurred about a year after our mutual introduction at St Bart’s. I had come to find it incredibly rewarding to act as Holmes’ companion in his work - though at times he seemed to regard me merely as a whetstone for his mind; he found it beneficial to sharpen and refine his theories against my constant questioning. As the year wore on, however, he displayed genuine disappointment when I was unable to assist him in his work, and spent more and more of his spare evenings with me before the fire, reading, conversing, smoking, or merely sitting in comfortable silence.

That particular case was ‘most interesting’ as Holmes predicted it would be, and an intellectual challenge, too: it took nearly a week to conclude. Accompanying Holmes on a turbulent chase across England to catch a jewel thief left me sleeping too heavily to dream in the few hours I could catch each night. We sank into the soft seats of the train carriage, exhausted, but in high spirits at the successful result of a long few days’ work.

I was delighted at the prospect of returning to the warmth and comfort of Baker Street once again, however, Holmes still seemed to be ruminating, lost in thought, and hardly responsive to the questions I asked or comments I made.

"Is anything wrong, old chap?" I asked him, leaning in to get a closer look at his face in the dim lighting of the carriage and check for any signs of illness. He had slept even less than I had, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had taken a toll on his health.

"Hm? Ah, no, Watson, just a little tired, that’s all."

"If I might make an observation, you seem to have something on your mind."

He hesitated. "Indeed, yes, Watson - you have observed correctly." I hoped he didn’t expect me to deduce what the observation might be. Holmes cleared his throat. "In recent months, I have noticed increasing irregularity in your sleeping patterns. You take a good deal of time falling asleep; I often hear you pacing, grumbling to yourself. You become fatigued in the course of your daily activities, even when you have not taken any form of exercise. Your concentration is poor, you consume much more coffee than is good for you…"

I sighed. Of course he would notice. "Yes, Holmes!" I had to interrupt him. "I have been having many dreams of my experience in Afghanistan of late. That is, when I can sleep at all." I chose not to divulge any more than that, trusting that he would understand that these were not mere dreams, but absolute horrors. "And I do think that observation about the coffee is a bit hypocritical of you, Holmes."

"Is there anything I can do?" he asked quietly.

I raised an eyebrow. "Is there...anything you have in mind, exactly?"

"Well, would you find it helpful if I - er, for example - played the violin? Or…" Holmes desperately searched his brain for other things he might do, but his blank look showed that he had come up empty.

"Really, Holmes, you don’t have to do anything for me at all. I must learn to overcome these things on my own."

"If you prefer to do so, Watson, I won’t say another word. But you’re wrong, you don’t have to be alone in this. You’ve done a great deal for me, and it is never an inconvenience to help you - quite the contrary, my friend."

Warmth gathered in my chest and rose to my cheeks. I trusted to the dim light to conceal this from Holmes. "Thank you."

"Think nothing of it."

"As a matter of fact, your violin idea might do me a world of good," I admitted, after a moment’s consideration.

Holmes smiled gently. "Whenever you need me, Watson, I am at your disposal."


Initially, if I was unable to sleep, or was awakened by nightmares, I would wrap myself in a dressing gown and descend to our sitting room. Holmes was invariably awake, and though at the time I believed he simply kept late hours, I now theorise that he had trained himself to awaken at the slightest sound of my tread down the stairs. There were a few favourite pieces of mine that he would cycle through, then, shutting his eyes against all other distractions, he would improvise beautifully. The next morning usually found me in my chair, propped up by pillows and wrapped in a blanket, blinking at the sun streaming through our sitting room windows.

Until my marriage, things continued much in the same vein. The more I found I could rely on Holmes, the easier I found it to doze off, and the less my dreams plagued me. In the instances which they did occur, Holmes gradually began to come up to me rather than wait downstairs - surely I must have made the occasional noise in my sleep when I was distressed by night terrors, but for the most part, I had the impression that he was able to intuitively sense when I needed him, as ridiculous as that sounds. He sat in the chair beside me, a lamp on my bedside table so that he could read aloud to me or work on something else, and his presence alone was usually enough to soothe my mind, though he still played to me if he was in the mood to do so.

Upon marrying my poor Mary, I felt equally as safe in her arms as I did at Holmes’ side. She held me at night when I trembled to recall my horror at the Englischer Hof, when I realised that I had left Holmes alone in mortal danger. Our time together was all too short, and soon after my friend’s death, I lost my dear wife as well - the best and most compassionate woman I ever knew, and the best and wisest man.

In the end, I, who had so often figured myself as the protector of these two who meant so much to me, was helpless to save either of them.


Then, of course, the insufferable man decided it would be an excellent joke to reappear in my consulting room.

(He was wrong.)

I was too relieved to be angry, then too shocked to be relieved, then too unconscious to be much of anything at all.

Somehow, he convinced me to assist him in the capture of Colonel Sebastian Moran, then convinced me to return to Baker Street with him. His mere presence was surreal, we had both changed in ways so slight, and we no longer fit together as naturally as we once had, but I had missed him too much to be anything but grateful for his return to me.

A few nights after his return, I was back in my old bedroom at 221b, feeling as though the last few years had been yet another of my horrible dreams. With these thoughts in my mind, I eventually drifted off...then awoke, gasping, damp with sweat, tangled in my sheets, screams still echoing in the air around me. Moments later, I heard Holmes’ light tread on the stairs, and he burst into my room without so much as a knock at the door.

"Watson? Watson, are you alright?" He rushed to my bedside.

"I’m - I’m fine, Holmes."

"You called my name. I was worried that you were hurt."

I twisted a corner of the sheet in my hand. "I dreamt that - if only I could make myself heard over the roar of the Falls - you would return to me. But my voice was always drowned out, or twisted, and came back to me sounding like nothing more than a whisper."

Holmes’ legs seemed to weaken suddenly, and he collapsed into the chair beside me. I thought it best to tell him what I had undergone in his absence, rather than letting him believe my published grief was the worst of it. I saw no point in being anything but fully honest with a man whom, until recently, I had supposed to be dead.

"The dreams never stopped, Holmes. Mary helped, at first, and I dreamt less and less of the war - if we were ever absent from one another, I could sleep through the night imagining her presence, and replaying the sounds of your violin in my mind. Then, you were gone, my visions of the horrors of war were replaced by my horror at losing you in Switzerland, and I could no longer conjure up the music you played for me as a sleeping aid. After I lost Mary--" I was momentarily arrested by the rising lump in my throat. Holmes placed a strong hand on my shoulder, eyes wide but unfocused.

I started again. "She said, in her last moments, that it hardly seemed fair that I should lose the two people I loved most."

Holmes winced, remorse showing in his eyes and in the tightening lines around his mouth. His nails dug into the flesh of my shoulder almost painfully, then his hand relaxed, falling powerless to his lap. He seemed unable to speak.

"Will you play something for me, Holmes?" I tried not to let a tone of longing overwhelm my voice.

"Those days, Watson, are in the past. You deserve better than a simple lullaby from the man who left you for three years, who deceived you even in your darkest moments."

He stood, and I feared he would leave me to suffer the rest of my night alone and drifting in and out of nightmares. My eyes welled with tears, and I buried my face in my pillow as Holmes moved toward the door on the opposite side of the room. But I never heard it open - I heard the rustling of Holmes’ dressing gown falling to the floor, and felt a rush of cool air against the sweat still drying on my body as the bedsheets were lifted. His angular body settled against mine, nose pressing against my neck, breath tickling my hair, feet chilling me to the bone, and his heartbeat a lullaby, and I immediately knew that I would sleep better that night than I had in years.

Yet I couldn’t keep from sobbing softly, and Holmes, previously uncertain of where best to place his hands, wound one arm beneath my neck and wrapped the other around my middle. "My dear," he whispered. "My Watson." I clutched his hand, overcome.

"I do not expect you to forgive me immediately," he mumbled into my hair, "or forgive me completely. But I will always do whatever I am able to assuage the effects my actions have had on you. I am so sorry, Watson. My thousand apologies were not nearly enough." His gravelly voice, bursting with emotion, soothed my tears, and in my exhaustion, I soon fell asleep.

The next morning was a brilliantly clear one, and though there was no sign of Holmes, he had opened the window and its curtains to let in the fresh late-April air. With a faint smell of coffee and breakfast rising through the floorboards, I had just decided to rise and dress when I heard a light step on the stairs and my bedroom door swung open, admitting one Sherlock Holmes and a precariously-balanced tray of breakfast.

He was in high spirits; our overnight companionship as well as the bright weather had obviously contributed as much to his mood as it did my own. Holmes managed to set the tray atop my bedside table without any major spillages, barely averting disaster as the tie of his dressing gown wound its way around his ankle.

"Good morning, old chap!" He beamed at me, and the room felt all the more suffused with light.

"Morning, Holmes. I’m perfectly well, you know, there’s no reason I shouldn’t dress and eat at the table with you like any other morning."

He shuffled his slippered feet. "You should have seen the wicked grin Mrs Hudson gave me as I bounded down the stairs to prepare your tray."

"Oh, Lord. I’m sure she’s endured worse from us over the years."

"The poor woman," he said with a chuckle. There was a pause, and he seemed uncertain, with the same look in his eyes as when I awoke to find him kneeling at my bedside so many years before. "Well, I’d better--"

"Won’t you join me?" It felt strangely bold to vocalise the question, considering that he was the one who made himself welcome beneath my sheets the previous night - which is not to say, of course, that I wouldn’t have invited him a decade ago if I thought he might acquiesce. Holmes stared. I held his gaze. I could see him fighting, and I knew exactly what was at war within him, the arguments of both parties, and all the stakes involved.

A voice rang up the stairs: "Shall I bring up your breakfast as well, Mr Holmes?"

He jumped as though shocked, and said, all in one word as he bounded down the staircase, "Thank-you-very-much-Mrs-Hudson-I-am-perfectly-capable-of-managing-my-own-breakfast-now-if-you-don’t-mind!" The door to the sitting room slammed shut, rattling the bookshelves, and Holmes let out the most affronted sigh I have ever heard from his lips.

He came slowly back up the stairs to me, the remainder of the breakfast balanced on another tray. At his hangdog expression, so different from his bright energy when he entered my room not five minutes before, I, who had thus far managed to keep myself together, burst into laughter. His eyes widened in indignance, and I was nearly reduced to tears in my mirth. Setting his tray next to mine, Holmes sank to the edge of my bed as if in a trance.

"Did I say ‘poor woman’, earlier?" he mumbled. "I believe I meant ‘infernally intrusive, prying busybody!’" He finally seemed to register my laughter, and turned to admonish me, but seemed to find a level of hilarity in my expression as well, and before long we were both giggling like schoolboys to the point of breathlessness.

I was the first to regain my ability to speak. "Come now, Holmes!" I said, patting his shoulder. "Perhaps the coffee is still warm, even if the eggs are not."

He pushed his legs under the duvet, poured my coffee, and carefully passed me my tray. "Society at large may not approve of two grown men having breakfast in bed together, but I suppose that does not apply to our landlady."

I chuckled over my cup and saucer. We crunched our toast and jam in silence, pressed together at the shoulders, hips, and knees for lack of space on the single bed.

As Holmes finished his last drop of coffee, I rested my head on his shoulder. "Thank you for staying, Holmes."

"Oh, my dear Watson, think nothing of it."


The following year passed quickly, and strangely, as I became more and more accustomed to the idea of Holmes’ permanence in my life. As spring became summer and summer passed into autumn, I finally stopped questioning myself as to whether Holmes would still be there when I opened the door to our sitting room in the morning. The dreams occurred less frequently, but whenever they did, he would appear in my bedroom as of old, and hold me until I was safely asleep in his arms. Occasionally he would stay until morning, and we would breakfast together, but more often than not he would leave after I had drifted off, or before I had awakened, in order to work on some aspect of a case, or some project of his own. Sometimes, when he did stay, I would wake up to him stroking my hair, or his hand over mine, or our legs twined together, and I would stay still as possible, enjoying the comfort of his body against me, until he awakened as well.

I was generally under the impression that he was doing what he believed he ‘owed’ me, but I could not completely reconcile this with his whispered words that night: My dear, my Watson. How odd language is, I mused, that my dear Watson should mean one thing, and that this should suggest something entirely different, something which caused my breath to catch in my throat at each fresh remembrance of it.

After one of the occasions on which he spent a full night by my side, I awoke to find Holmes in my arms for a change. He faced me, curled into my neck and chest, tickling my collarbone with his stubble and soft breath. I slowly brought my fingers to weave through his hair, and he snorted, nestling even closer. Holmes hummed as I brushed back the hair at his temples, and when I traced a finger along the outer edge of his ear, he pressed his lips to me, missing my mouth by at least an inch. My hand froze, and at this, he made a noise of frustration, tilting his face up to mine and hitting his mark on the second attempt.

"Holmes?" I whispered. I hoped he would awaken, so that I could be certain that he was acting under his own will and not that of his unconscious mind. Yet I worried that when he did awaken, he would not recall his actions, and I would never be bold enough to initiate anything myself.

"Watson," he mumbled, pressing his lips to my jaw, then my neck.

"Holmes!" This time he jumped, and appeared to realise that his actions were not restricted to the realm of sleep. His face was as pale with mortification as mine was with pink with the exertion of keeping myself from returning his kisses.

"It’s alright, Holmes, truly. No, don’t you dare try to run!" I grabbed his hand to keep him from fleeing. "I - I didn’t know that - well, I simply didn’t know."

"Now you do," he said, with a wry expression. "I’m sorry, Watson. I’m afraid I have crossed a boundary."

"A boundary? When have I ever imposed limits on our friendship?"

"I thought you would be disgusted with me - that you would believe I was taking advantage of you for my own selfish reasons. And unfortunately, Watson, I must admit that my actions have not been entirely selfless."

"Well, I can forgive you for that," I said, smiling. "I considered that you were merely doing what you believed you owed me, after your...absence without leave, I’ll call it. I would much prefer that you think of sharing my bed as a pleasure rather than a sacrifice. I am yours, my dear Holmes - in addition to being your friend."

Holmes threw his arms around me and pulled my body against his, warmly saying, "And I yours. It is one of my greatest pleasures, Watson. Thank you."

I aligned my face with his, and we kissed each other softly, sweetly, finally fitting together as we knew we would always be meant to.

Date: 2015-05-21 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
That was just perfect!

Date: 2015-05-21 07:40 pm (UTC)
hagstrom: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hagstrom
Bittersweet with a lovely ending! Congrats!

Date: 2015-05-21 08:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saki101.livejournal.com
It is lovely to think of the music bringing them together after all the things that had kept them apart.

Date: 2015-05-21 09:48 pm (UTC)
ext_1620665: knight on horseback (Default)
From: [identity profile] scfrankles.livejournal.com
I know it's only a cameo but I love your Mrs. Hudson ^^

Poor Watson - what a lot he went through. But that's such a sweet ending.

Date: 2015-05-21 10:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachelindeed.livejournal.com
That was lovely and tender. Thanks for sharing something so hesitant and heartwarming <3 <3

Thursday, May 21

Date: 2015-05-22 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] livejournal.livejournal.com
User [livejournal.com profile] marta_bee referenced to your post from Thursday, May 21 (http://holmesian-news.livejournal.com/443297.html) saying: [...] by (Watson, Hudson | ACD | G) + Anon Exchange Entries His Heartbeat a Lullaby [...]

Date: 2015-05-22 06:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gardnerhill.livejournal.com
Lovely. Just lovely.

Date: 2015-05-23 12:09 am (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
Ah, my heart ached as Watson's did, until you made it all better, anon :)

Date: 2015-11-09 12:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elina-elsu.livejournal.com
You know the sinking feeling of guilt of having something left undone and then time passes and the more it passes the more embarrassing it would be to go for it? - that's me for not having commented on my ACD-fest gift at all in months...until now! Many aplogies dear anon-who-turned-out-to-be [livejournal.com profile] apidologist

Holmes and Watson indeed do need each other for all the comfort and caring, be it doctor or detective - I enjoyed the image of them having breakfast together in bed, even before becoming lovers XD

Thank you for the Watson-warming gift!

Date: 2015-11-09 07:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] apidologist.livejournal.com
Hey don't worry about it! I've definitely been guilty of the same. Really glad you enjoyed it and thanks for responding ♥


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