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If you've found your way here it is likely because you think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are one of the hottest pairs in Western literature. My stories explore how their great and inevitable love came to fruition, and while I specialize in first-time fics, I do occasionally wander into the realm of an already-established relationship. I draw from Doyle's original stories, adventures concocted in my own imagination and Granada's unsurpassed television interpretations to spin tales of friendship, angst, longing and lust in the dark underworld of Victorian London. Ratings hover between hard R and scorching NC-17.

Below you will find the contents of my fics, and I will continue to update this page as new stories emerge. Browse the selections, come back often and comment when you are moved to do so. It is, after all, my wonderful readers, along with Jeremy Brett, David Burke and the many, many other talented fic writers out there, who keep me inspired.

Stories based on the Canon:
"Of Devils and Demons," NC-17
(Adapted from "The Devil's Foot")
Holmes's black moods and penchant for self-destruction test Watson's resolve to remain a loyal and forgiving partner.
Of Devils and Demons: Part 1
Of Devils and Demons: Part 2
Of Devils and Demons: Part 3

"A Case of Identity," R
(Adapted from "The Three Garridebs")
Holmes confesses stronger feelings for Watson, whose resulting identity crisis leads him to seek advice from an unexpected party. Based on one of the best lines in the entire canon.
A Case of Identity, Part 1
A Case of Identity, Part 2

"If I Fell," R
(Adapted from "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House")
This is a hiatus fic which follows the long journey from love's discovery, loss and recovery over three years' time.
If I Fell, part I
If I Fell, part II
If I Fell, part III
If I Fell, part IV

"From the Shadows," NC-17
(Sequel to "If I Fell")
Holmes and Watson learn to navigate their relationship in the aftermath of the detective's return.
From the Shadows, part 1
From the Shadows, part II

"The Beating of My Heart," NC-17
A shorter, darker take on the events leading up to Reichenbach. This one does not have a happy ending, so if you need a fix l recommend a quick stop to part IV of "If I Fell."
The Beating of My Heart

"Fortius Quo Fidelius," NC-17
Self-discovery begins at Holmes. Includes a hint of STUD, a whiff of GREE and a much more explicit version of REIG than the Strand was permitted to publish.
Fortius Quo Fidelius, part I
Fortius Quo Fidelius, part II
Fortius Quo Fidelius, part III
Fortius Quo Fidelius, part IV
Fortius Quo Fidelius, part V

"Watson's Wonderful Life," R
On Christmas Eve, a discouraged and suicidal Watson confronts a mysterious stranger who shows him what life would be like if he had never been born. A Christmas fic that re-imagines Blue Carbuncle in the context of the Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life.
Watson's Wonderful Life, part I
Watson's Wonderful Life, part II
Watson's Wonderful Life, part III
Watson's Wonderful Life, part IV

Original Stories:
"Summer of Change," NC-17
Holmes and Watson take up a case in Kent, when a chance meeting with an old friend causes them to reevaluate the boundaries of friendship.
Summer of Change, part 1
Summer of Change, part 2
Summer of Change, part 3

"For Your Many Considerations," NC-17
Watson deals with the angsty aftermath of confessing his love to a man with a natural aversion to softer emotions.
For Your Many Considerations, Part 1
For Your Many Considerations, Part 2
For Your Many Considerations: Epilogue

"Beyond the Red Door," R
Watson discovers Holmes has a secret, but an eye-opening experience reveals that Watson just may have one of his own. Includes a memorable line borrowed fromtinzelda's beautiful, touching summer seaside story  The Half-Empty House.
Beyond the Red Door

"Chasing the Rainbow," NC-17
The strange erotic story of one Mary's journey into the sexual world of Holmes and Watson.
Chasing the Rainbow

Challenge Fics:
International Month of Porn Challenge, November 2009, R to NC-17
This body of work (heh) represents one long effort to come up with a tasty smut nugget every day for a month.
PWPs:
After a Spell
Opera Night
Vows

The Tale of Charles Augustus Milverton Retold Over Thirty (Or So) Days
A CHAS fic in which the cloud of blackmail threatens not only first-time H&W, but the blossoming romance between Mary Morstan Watson and Irene Adler as well.

Merry Month of Masturbation Challenge, May 2010, NC-17
Four PWPs that examine the art of self-gratification from a variety of perspectives.
A Tight Spot
Voyeurs
So Inclined
So Inclined, part II

BBC Fics:
"Lovely" Sherlock and John have phone sex.
Lovely

Lovely

Sherlock had never used the word love in direct application to anyone he knew. “Not really my thing,” was something he made a point to reveal up front to any potential partners, though he usually followed with equal vehemence about his enthusiasm for unattached sex. When he moved in with Sherlock, John Watson was completely amenable to this arrangement.

Sherlock was fascinated by male sexuality, in particular the way an orgasm stimulated more aspects of the human brain than any other natural sensation. It was like leaping into the air from a great height and looking around as quickly as possible in order to memorize the view. He liked to experiment with technique, both on himself and his partners, in attempt to draw out the longest possible peak. But he was often disappointed when his lovers hurried right past their finish, showing few signs of enjoyment except to grunt now and again until it was over.

But John was different. He relished an orgasm like no one Sherlock had ever seen. The moment climax overtook his body, the tension that held him stiffly in place—and slightly twisted to accommodate whichever angle Sherlock was fucking him from—seemed to melt from his limbs. He would roll onto his back and arch his neck while a blissful smile poured across his face, and the hand that once pumped away furiously at his cock slowed to smooth, broad strokes as low moans and semen expelled effortlessly into the air above him.

“Fucking brilliant,” Sherlock murmured the first time he observed this.

Reaching his own peak usually meant shutting out the world around him, but this time Sherlock kept his eyes open and fixated on the bright unguarded smile that beamed up at him, encouraging him to not only come off as hard as he could, but that waited to share in its splendor.   

When the keen pleasure began to curl into Sherlock’s spine and spiral down his legs, it was accompanied by an unfamiliar sound. A moment later he realized that he was laughing, and that John was laughing, with the same breathless glee that sometimes punctuated an exhilarating chase through the streets of London. He was still chuckling softly when he collapsed onto his lover’s chest and John dug an affectionate hand into Sherlock’s hair.

Now, on this dull rainy Thursday, Sherlock was bored. Bored and listless. His two least favorite moods could compel him towards any number of unsavory activities, and their rooms still bore the scars of most of them. But rather than fantasizing about crime or an elaborate scheme that would bring much consternation to the police force, he found his thoughts turning continuously to John.

They really did strike an ideal situation. In fact, Sherlock found it so agreeable that he allowed an occasional gesture of sentiment to graze the boundary of their relationship. He was certain that nothing need come of a playful hair-tousle, an encouraging squeeze on an arm or even a lingering moment to open his mouth against John’s neck and inhale the way a cat imbibes an essence.

He was simply appreciating John. It was perfectly logical that he should do so.

So, why exactly did John’s three-day absence seem like a month? Why was it that when Sherlock surveyed their rooms for something to appease his chaotic attention span, all he could land on were— ahem—certain moments of deep appreciation?

Of course he didn’t miss John. He would call him to prove it.

He picked up his phone, pressed #1 on his speed dial and waited. Four rings later, John answered. He sounded like he was inside a crowded tunnel.

“Tell me you have something more interesting than chemoprophylaxis in the prevention of leprosy,” John half-shouted and half-groaned. They rarely said hello and goodbye, and Sherlock liked it that way.

“Stimulating conference?” Sherlock perked up. Boredom loves company.

“Not bad, really, but surprisingly few medical professionals make good lecturers. And the atmosphere is a bit stuffy, to say the least. Is something on in London?”

“Not really,” Sherlock admitted, though he decided to ignore the odd little jumps in his stomach that had started as soon as John answered the phone. “Where are you?”

“In the lobby of the hotel. There’s a reception for Dr. Gunnar, who’s retiring from the BMA this year, but it’s so crowded I can’t even see the buffet. What’s up?”

“Oh,” said Sherlock, flopping onto the sofa to help create an air of nonchalance, “I was just thinking about something.”

“Yes?” John must have lifted the phone closer to his mouth because now he sounded crystal clear.

“Being buried balls deep in your arse.”

Pause.

“Can I call you back?”

“If you like.” Sherlock tossed the phone aside and sighed. Fine, he’d take care of this himself and get back to work on...something. His bare cock was in his fist when the phone chirped with John’s signal.

“I just thought if you weren’t busy…” Sherlock said, rolling his eyes at the infernal pounding of his heart. Christ, had it been that long?

“Actually I’m in my room now,” John replied warmly. “You were saying?”

“Yes,” Sherlock cleared his throat. “Well, I’m here at home and, ah, just tidying the room a bit and I—“

“Bullshit,” John announced, and Sherlock’s face burned inexplicably. He was suddenly at a loss for words.

“You’ve never tidied anything, Sherlock,” John reminded him in a somehow alluring mix of sincerity and scorn.

Sherlock gave up. “I’m bored. I’m fucking bored in this apartment, in this whole godforsaken city, and I need a distraction, yeah?”

“How can I help?” John asked, sounding like he already knew the answer. Sherlock could certainly hear his grin.

“Tell me what you remember about the time we shagged on the kitchen table,” Sherlock said. He closed his eyes and tilted his hips upwards. His erection swelled in his hand.

“Mmmm. You insisted I get undressed but kept your clothes on. That was cool.” John’s voice hitched a few times as though he were moving into a more comfortable position. “I didn’t mind too much, either, when you ordered me to pull your cock out. I suppose you recall my slamming my tongue into your mouth as I unzipped your trousers. God, you were hard.”

Sherlock grinned and his cock twitched. John was rather good at this.

“I remember how your clothes felt on my bare skin,” John continued thoughtfully, “and for a moment I felt a bit like a rent boy about to be taken by a high-end professional. Especially since you were still wearing your suit from before.”

Sherlock nodded. He had barely made it through the inquest, so distracted was he by the sight of John describing the corpse with perfect medical precision.

“You tried to tell me you didn’t care for kissing much,” John said, his voice now a full register lower, “but I didn’t find that to be true once we started. I could taste how much you wanted me.”

Sherlock recognized this last bit as a challenge. “Your own state of arousal indicated that you were several steps ahead of me already.” He gazed approvingly down at his erection as he threaded his fingers around it.

John was unfazed. “You had no idea what you were in for, did you?”

“You mean how quickly you offered yourself up to me, or the enthusiasm with which you bounced around on my cock?”

“Ah,” John’s voice caught in his throat and Sherlock warmed in triumph over finally gaining the upper hand.

“I’ve no idea how long you pounded into me, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so vigorously fucked like that. Listen, do you mind if I put the phone down for a moment? It’s getting warm in here.”

“Take everything off,” Sherlock commanded him. “And lie down on the bed. But don’t touch yourself until I tell you.” He heard soft shuffling sounds as John acquiesced. Beads of pre-come began to spout through his fingers.

“All right,” John whispered a few moments later, “I’m here. What are you going to do with me?” The huskiness in his tone immediately brought Sherlock back to the sensation of having John wrapped around his form, bumping his calves rhythmically into his arse.

“I’ll start by lowering my mouth over your cock while simultaneously pushing inside you until you can’t think about anything except the tip of my finger teasing your prostate.”

“Oh Jesus,” John breathed on the other end.

“Then,” Sherlock went on, nearly quaking with sexual confidence, “I would place my other hand on your chest and start pinching your nipple. You like that, don’t you?”

“God yes,” John moaned.

“Are you pinching it now? Go ahead. Tell me how it feels.”

“It’s…oh…it’s like…a million delicious pinpricks to my groin,” he slurred from a haze of early pleasure.

‘What does my mouth feel like?” Sherlock no longer fought to contain the hunger in his tone.

“Your mouth, your mouth is…” John had to pause and swallow, “so warm that I want to push as far into it as I can. I want to feel the back of your throat and you’re…humming and…moaning and it’s sending exquisite vibrations into my core.”

“Mmmmm,” Sherlock saw it exactly as John described: his dark head bobbing over John’s crotch as he writhed underneath him, placing one hand firmly over the crown of Sherlock’s head to encourage him along.

“If I told you I was about to come, what would you do?” John whispered.

“I’d…” now it was Sherlock’s turn to swallow, he was so close. “I’d swirl my tongue one last time over your cock and then let it go.” He increased the speed of his strokes to keep up with the urgent burning desire that was beginning to give his own cock a mind of its own.

“Then I’d raise myself to my knees, grab your legs and watch your face as I slid all the way in.” Shit, he was practically there. “And I’d fuck you slowly, deeply, scraping every nerve, in and out, in and out….”

“Oh,” was all John could manage over his labored breaths, which resonated like flashes of white noise in Sherlock’s ear.

“And I wouldn’t let you touch yourself until you—” Any sentence now could be his last. “—until you begged me to fuck you harder.”

Fuck me harder,” John growled through gritted teeth.

Sherlock pulled the phone away from his ear and relinquished his final grip on restraint. Blind with lust, his daily visions flooding every corner of his infinite imagination, he fucked John with everything he had.  He could see and feel it all: John’s ankles locked around his waist, his arms stretched high above his head, hands grasping the edge of the table to give him more traction while his body pulsed and pushed into Sherlock’s thrusts. And he was smiling, savoring every minute of it.

“Now!” he gasped. “NOW.” And distorted sounds of helpless groaning emanated from the phone that hung limply in Sherlock’s left hand.

Sherlock came hard, harder than he’d ever come by himself, but it wasn’t himself he was thinking about. It was John’s smile, his beautiful brilliant smile that had the power to pull Sherlock’s attention away from whatever he was doing, however momentarily, to appreciate it. Was he calling his name? It didn’t matter. He followed the pleasure that drove through him, turning corners, descending, ascending, pausing and resuming until the molecules in his brain stopped buzzing and he finally went still.

He heard long sighs coming from the phone. He brought it back to his ear.

“John?”

He exhaled before answering, “Still here.”

“That was…did you finish?”

“Spectacularly.”

Sherlock saw John through closed eyes. He was gently stroking his softened cock and wearing a wide grin.

“You’ve had phone sex before, then?” Sherlock wasn’t sure why he was asking, or what he wanted the answer to be.

“Sure, lots of times,” John said, “I’ve lost track, really.”

“Oh—you have?”  Turns out he didn’t care for that answer.

“No,” John laughed and Sherlock wished madly that he was there with him. “First time. How’d I do?”

You catapulted me into another universe.

“Fine,” he said. “You were fine.”

“Almost as good as the real thing,” John replied, and Sherlock couldn’t tell if this was a question or an affirmation.

“I’m glad I called,” was all he could think of to say. “So, a few more days in Leeds?”

“Nah, I think I’ll take the train home tomorrow.”

“Sure you won’t be missing anything?”

“I’m beginning to think I’m missing more up here.”

“I told you there’s nothing on right now, so if you think—I mean, if you’re chatting with colleagues and all that then maybe you ought to finish out the conference.” Sherlock said this purely out of habit, only realizing later that it would be his final vain attempt to remain unattached.

“If you need my help,” John said, “with anything…”

That was it. He just needed John's help sometimes.

“Come home then,” he said quietly. "And John?"

“Yes?”

“It was...really lovely. So. Thanks.”

“I'll see you tomorrow," he said softly.




Chasing the Rainbow

Mary Morstan’s early life was lonely and drab. Her mother died when she was an infant, and her father spent most of his life stationed in India. During her formative years, Mary attended Stonyhurst Boarding School which seemed to exist only in shades of grey, from the stiff woolen uniforms and perpetually overcast skies, to the dour, unfriendly faces of her schoolmarms.

When she was twelve, Mary went to Somerset to spend the summer on her uncle’s dairy farm, and the world suddenly sprang to life. Clean country sunshine rose on a field of bright yellow daffodils, and lit the pastures in a dozen different hues of green and gold over the course of a day. Verdant hills rolled to a a peak that overlooked a tiny black and white cobblestone village some miles in the distance. On especially hot days, Mary bathed in the sparkling brook that zigzagged behind the barn, and followed the scent of meadowsweet to where it widened into a frothy river flanked by knotted ancient chestnuts.

Mary shared a room with her cousin Jonas, who was four years her elder. Jonas was a tall, attractive lad with a mess of light brown hair and misty almond eyes. He was polite to her, and kind, but kept mostly to himself. From the top of the tallest hill, Mary would often see his lean figure slouched against the large oak tree where he liked to read. Sometimes he let her accompany him to the barn to milk the cows, but he said little to her even as they worked side by side.

When the neighbor’s son David came to stay with them, however, there was a drastic change in the house. Mary knew it the moment David’s father bustled him into the sitting room for introductions. David was slightly shorter than Jonas, with ash-blond hair and a pensive aura that suggested wisdom beyond his sixteen years. And when David locked eyes with Jonas, Mary felt the atmosphere of the room charge with a magnetic energy so potent her insides glowed magenta and made her blush.

From that day on, the two boys were inseparable. Where Jonas had once been perfectly content to do everything alone, he now appeared to require David’s company everywhere he went. The two often stayed up late at night talking, and when Mary awoke at dawn next to any empty bed she could still hear them deep in conversation in the barn across from the house.

One afternoon Mary’s uncle went to town to sell milk, leaving her with instructions to tidy the hayloft. She retrieved a broom from the shed and headed towards the barn, but the strains of soft moaning stopped her in her tracks. She wondered if one of the boys was injured, but sensed there was something other than pain behind the keens and sighs that floated towards her. She climbed the ladder on the north side of the barn and cautiously peered through the dirt-spackled window.

Jonas and David were kneeling together on a bed of hay, kissing and undressing each other between the dusty gold shafts of sunlight that poured through the rafters. Mary’s eyes widened as she watched the boys nudge each other’s trousers to their knees, their stiff cocks bouncing into the gauzy light like a pair of pink gourds. They tumbled onto the yellow-brown hay in a tangle of awkward limbs, appearing to wrestle until Jonas pinned David beneath him and scooted down his torso.

Mary’s own body warmed with its first flush of desire when Jonas took David’s prick into his mouth and teased it with his tongue. The flush in David's cheeks darkened from pale rose to bright strawberry as Jonas slowly pushed his lips down David’s shaft. David crooned and arched his back, absently raking his hand through Jonas’s hair.

Knowing nothing of sexual release, Mary thought their activity was simply borne of casual, intimate curiosity. But David soon began thrusting into Jonas’s mouth faster, as if he was overcome by a desperate fit. With his head thrown back, David pawed blindly at Jonas’s bobbing head, gripping it in place at the moment he called out his lover’s name. Something must have happened to him then because the pinch of concentration melted from his face as his body trembled and he let out an indulgent groan. Finally, he went still and then it was Jonas’s turn.

Mary could think about little else besides her cousin and his friend after that. She would stare at them at the supper table and imagine the way they had looked in the hayloft, their sun-bronzed hands grasping at each other’s skin, the rustle of soft grunts becoming sharp and emphatic, the deepening pinks of aroused flesh swelling purple with need. Their passion was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

She was thinking about them on the day she crossed the brook over a fallen tree. She straddled the broad trunk and inched along the smooth bark until she was halfway across, then closed her eyes and listened to the water flowing sensuously beneath her. She leaned forward, pressed her cheek to the wood and wrapped her limbs around it.

Mary recalled how David’s spidery legs had fallen open when Jonas lowered his head between them, how eagerly he swung his hips forward when Jonas lapped at his cock and pulled at his own whenever David murmured in assent. Without realizing it, she began undulating her own hips just as David had done, first making small circles and then grinding more forcefully into the hard wood until the sweet echo of David’s ecstatic cry sent her into a liquid abyss.

Suddenly she was swimming in her own body and the world became saturated with watercolours. Pinks burst to burgundies, seeped into plums and azures and emeralds, flashed to goldenrods and tangerines, and swirled and mingled and bled inside the exquisite vibrations of her first orgasm. 

*          *          *

Mary became the boys’ secret ally. She conjured ways to distract her uncle so David and Jonas could spend long periods alone together, and even found reasons to convince him to make extra trips into town. She oiled the hinges on the door to the hayloft so they would not be heard sneaking into it at night.

Mary went about her own duties with watchful eyes and ears as though she had been charged with protecting a rare and elusive bird. Nothing brought so much excitement to her breast as the low rumble that signaled a nearby tryst. Her heart would race with anticipation as the sounds of love led her to empty cattle stalls, the abandoned wood shed, or a bend in the riverbank, where she often spotted two pairs of legs scissoring loosely beyond a patch of tall grass, taut calves and flexed feet rutting more insistently until they clutched one another in the grip of climax.

Such visions were Mary’s muses on those long summer days, warm and ripe and wet and blossoming with young sexuality.

But they would not last.

It was suppertime in late July when her uncle announced that David would be going away. Mary’s heart froze with their shocked expressions, and she blurted out in protest before she remembered her place. It was unnatural for two boys to be so close, her uncle had said. David’s father found him an apprenticeship in London. He would be leaving the following morning.

That night Mary could not sleep. The dreadful hush that followed her uncle’s decision hung suspended in the stagnant, suffocating air of her room. She ached with sorrow and regret, both for her cousin and for the impending loss of her radiant world. She was as distressed by the sudden invasion as she was by the thought that she might never find it again.

Unwilling to surrender to the encroaching melancholy, Mary crept downstairs and into the night in search of a sign that love could prevail.

The pale yellow moon illuminated the north end of the barn where her customary ladder seemed to beckon her towards the second-story window.  But there were no ecstatic sounds of lovemaking, no sensuous rhythms of creaking wood or joyous cries of completion, only the occasional snuffle of soft weeping and a shaking sigh. The faint grey silhouette in the corner of the hayloft where the boys were lying together remained still.

The last vestiges of Mary's hopes distorted with tears before falling at her feet. Her innocence was gone, not because she had watched two boys make love together, nor because a fascinating journey of self-discovery had followed, but because she realized then that what was right in Nature could be so cruelly extinguished by the whim of an ignorant adult.

August dropped its humid veil and brought the late summer rains, muting the vibrant colours that had once made the world seem so impossibly vivid. Jonas had withdrawn into a shroud of disappointment, barely raising his head to speak to anyone and spending most of his days hunched sadly underneath his oak tree.

Three weeks later, Mary returned to Stonyhurst.

*          *          *

When she was seventeen, Mary moved to London to attend the Governesses Benevolent Institution. The ceaseless clamor of the city both excited and frightened her, but she soon found comfort in the underground’s secret hideouts where the shades of humanity spanned a wider spectrum than polite society was willing to tolerate.

Mary’s roommate Alice shared her unconventional curiosities, and on the weekends they donned trousers and bowler hats in order to visit certain social clubs where men and women danced with members of their own sex. Mary’s body tingled with the now familiar sense of sexual anticipation as she observed strong masculine hands encircling one another, tall imposing bodies leaning together in slow dances, and sometimes, if she was lucky, a surreptitious kiss on the lips.

Sometimes Mary and Alice experimented together in the bed they shared. Mary enjoyed the feeling of a soft, voluptuous form moving against hers, but from this her body only yielded lemon yellows and fuzzy violets. She craved the bottomless jewel tones she first experienced as a girl, when the vision of gangly-limbed adolescent boys bumping together on a bed of hay made her come in rich marigolds and deep mulberries.

Mary left the Institution when she found work with the family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester. The starched formalities of middle-class Victorian family life offered no intrigue whatsoever, certainly not when Mr. Forrester propositioned her one night in the drawing room. Mary’s stomach churned with revulsion when he leaned towards her with a greedy, toadish grin, his sallow hand taking possession of her shoulder. She curtly rebuffed his advances and retreated to the safety of her room in frustrated distress. The beauty and excitement she sought was becoming ever more remote.

And then Fate delivered her into the strange world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Mary knew right away that she was in the presence of something powerful. Mr. Holmes was all black and white, his milky skin rendering his sharp features more severe, and his long ebony coats swirling elegantly around his tall frame when he moved. Dr. Watson reminded her of the ocean with his ice blue eyes and sandstone hair, clearly the serene counterpart to his friend and colleague’s more uneven temperament. The two men orbited each other like satellites, and the looks that passed between them evinced a slow, gradual seduction that thrilled Mary to the core.

She knew if she could secure a place in their world she could protect them from the kind of intrusion that had thwarted the relationship between Jonas and David. She could recover her Muse, and live out her days in heady proximity to homosexual love.

She would have taken either one, but it was Dr. Watson who responded to her subtle show of interest. They courted while Mr. Holmes solved the mystery surrounding her father’s death.

Mr. Holmes watched them from a distance, muted and disturbed by the loss of attention from the only person who shared in his darkly chaotic world of chemicals and crime. Mary’s presence awakened something in him—a sense of ownership perhaps, and an overpowering need to stake a physical claim where there had been none before.

But he remained sullen and removed, the only evidence of his unease carried behind his cold, mercury eyes. Their piercing glare bore right through her as he sat motionless and erect in his chair, thick tendrils of pipe smoke curling around his shiny black head like venomous mist.

On their wedding day, Mary and John waited together in a mahogany chapel. He looked especially handsome in his fine ecru suit and brown silk cravat. They sat close together with hands clasped in solidarity, but every few minutes John darted an anxious glance towards the entrance of the church. 

“Shall we wait a little while longer?” Mary asked him gently.

His eyes, turned serious cerulean on this momentous day, brightened again to their customary aquamarine when they recaptured hers.

“No,” he smiled and pulled her fingers to his lips. “No, let’s begin.” They nodded at the vicar who rose and faced them with commanding piety.

And so they married without the presence or blessing of Mr. Holmes.

*          *          *

Holmes flitted about in listless boredom after Watson left Baker Street. It was only the seven-percent solution that prevented his mind from dimming into despondency. Artificial as it was, the stimulant kept the lights on just enough for him to see the world in all its electric variegations, and maybe even do some good if he focused.

Six weeks passed before they saw each other again. Holmes tried to keep his joy over their reunion from being too obvious, which wasn’t all that difficult when he grudgingly observed that wedlock appeared to suit his friend. But what he had mistaken for wedded bliss was in fact Watson’s relief at rejoining the world to which he truly belonged.

The marriage had a remarkable effect on them both. Holmes could no longer look at Watson without being acutely aware that he had been sexualized by his union. There was no other way to explain the added sunshine to his wheaten features, or the jaunty way he swung his walking stick like a broad, phallic pendulum. Holmes was fascinated by it, and increasingly compelled to make physical contact with Watson.

At first the gestures were nothing out of the ordinary. Watson was used to receiving a grateful pat on the shoulder or a comforting squeeze of his hand. But Holmes grew bolder. He routinely placed themselves in small spaces where close contact was inevitable. He would utter instructions in the faintest whisper so that Watson had to lean even closer to hear him. Unaware that he was being seduced by his best friend, Watson would close his eyes and luxuriate in the rich butterscotch tones of Holmes’s softest voice, his obvious visceral reactions more than compensating for his lack of conscious reciprocation.

On one occasion, they hid for a full three hours—approximately two hours longer than necessary—inside an abandoned dog cart. They lied together watching the feather-painted clouds of late afternoon darken against a horizon of burnt orange and brilliant pink, until an orchid dusk  finally dissolved into the night sky. With one arm resting  on Watson’s waist, Holmes indulged in the delicious thrill of imagining them pressed together without the barriers of coats and trousers.

*          *          *

Mary reclined on the day bed in her lime green sewing room and watched the wind lash dark leaves across the window.

She was relieved when John finally announced he would be assisting Mr. Holmes on a new case. She knew the marriage had strained their friendship and was anxious for John and Mr. Holmes to recover their former closeness.

A recent lengthy and highly secretive search for a lost treaty made John happier than she’d ever seen him. The earthy glow returned to his face, his eyes were restored to mirthful sky-blue and the most charming shade of apricot crept into his cheeks whenever he mentioned Mr. Holmes.

Mary encouraged him to detail their adventures, and kept her gaze fixed on the sapphire light that shone behind John’s expression as he spoke of the great detective. She never took her eyes from his, even as she went to her knees and mouthed the fabric of his flies, opened them with her teeth and ran her tongue around his reddening length.

“Go on,” she would urge him when he faltered, speeding her momentum as his narrative gathered pace. Whenever he uttered the name “Holmes” she sucked harder and more fervently, hoping to hear it drawn out on the swell of his release. But so far he had not, and Mary assumed it was because he and Mr. Holmes had not yet consummated their love.

When it finally happened, Mary imagined, it would take place in an emerald forest, where the exotic scent of spice-aged wood tinged the air, and prongs of mossy boughs created thickets of leaf-thatched roofs.

They would be running, John and Mr. Holmes. And then Mr. Holmes would suddenly turn around and seize his friend, press him against a tree and cover John’s gaping mouth with his. With long, trembling fingers he would open John’s flies, and then Mr. Holmes would turn John around, lift his arms above his head and pin him to the trunk. They would both emit lusty groans as Mr. Holmes slid into his body, and the two of them would fuck like wild animals, their slapping flesh turning scarlet, their forgotten trousers inching down their legs as they pounded together.

Honeyed moisture began seeping between Mary’s legs. She moved her fingers to her swollen labia, and rubbed and rocked until a brilliant green tide crashed through her body and a shower of teal petals fluttered ecstatically down her spine.

*          *          *

But of course it didn’t happen that way at all. It happened gradually before it happened suddenly.

The first instance occurred at Baker Street under a coal-black night sky. Holmes and Watson were sitting cross-legged on the hearthrug against the settee. They were gleaning fragments of tarnished metal from a muddy satchel they found beside a dead blacksmith. Their heads were bent together, haloed by the orange-yellow light of the fire.

“Look here, Watson,” Holmes murmured, holding a piece of scrap towards the firelight.

Watson confidently placed one hand on his friend’s leg for balance and leaned in for a closer look.

“My God,” he breathed excitedly, more from their closeness than the object at hand. “Is that a monogram?”

“Our most valuable clue so far, I believe.”

They shared a warm, satisfied smile.

Holmes drew his other leg up to rest his elbow on his knee, causing Watson’s hand to slip inside his thigh. Holmes tensed for a moment, but did not move away. They both stared down at Watson’s chapped fingers splayed like coral branches over the curve of fine black fabric.

Watson closed his eyes and began to knead, and the heat that radiated from Holmes’s leg set Watson’s fingertips ablaze. He alternately squeezed and released the taut muscle, and the heat began to spread.

Holmes tipped his head to the side and studied his friend’s placid expression, trying to discern whether there was intention stirring beneath it. Watson slowly drifted towards him, imitating his own habit of being lured into the audible vicinity of Holmes's voice, bringing their faces inches apart. But half-whispers in the dark were nothing compared to the warm invitation of Holmes's mouth stretching into a smile as Watson reached into his trousers and gingerly fingered his thickening cock. He shared the quivering sigh that escaped Holmes when he drew out his member, closed his hand around him and slowly began to pump.

Watson opened his eyes.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“Do you want to stop?”

Watson didn’t, not for the world, and he tightened his grip in silent assurance.  A bright raspberry flush was beginning to advance on Holmes’s pale cheeks. His eyes were busy behind his fallen lids, the spasmodic jumps of his eyebrows describing the stimulating jolts that passed through him. He tipped backwards, his hands finding the floor for balance, so he could flex his buttocks and stutter his hips more deliberately into Watson's clutch. The merry crackle of the fire soon disappeared behind the quickening nose-gasps and tiny peals of effort that gathered behind Holmes's pursed lips until he could no longer contain the buildup of energy at his core. His plum mouth dropped open the moment he grew harder and began to seep inside Watson’s palm.

And then, Holmes choked and stiffened with a hoarse cry. The dim firelight splashed golden shadows onto his face while he came, head tilted towards the heavens, the ivory pearls of his issue leaping onto the rug. The most intense pleasure he had ever known turned his blood from red to maroon to deep purple and then all the oxygen left his body and he shuddered in a peak of midnight blue.

Watson’s anal muscles throbbed as white hot masculine essence dripped from his fingers. He gazed at Holmes’s cock and imagined it sliding and squishing inside him the same way it was moving now in his palm. He lost himself in this vision and continued to lovingly fondle Holmes until his cock was entirely soft and nestled snugly between his legs. 

When Watson finally raised a glance, he saw that Holmes was staring at him, his head leaning upon the arm he rested on the settee, his wide eyes still and grave. Watson pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gently cleaned them both, his own erection still twitching behind his trousers. But the sudden sharp glint of his wedding band diverted his arousal, and guilt made him recoil when Holmes reached for his flies.

“No,” he gasped as if he had been caught by surprise, “I can’t.”

Holmes pulled his hand away in perplexity.

“I’m sorry,” said Watson, scrambling to his feet. “I should never—.”

He cast about clumsily for his hat and coat.

“Watson, wait a moment,” called Holmes, now in a panic of his own. He stood just as Watson reached the sitting room door. “Please don’t take—”

But his confused protests only compelled Watson to move faster, away from Holmes and away from Baker Street.  

*          *          *

Mary saw the change immediately.

All was not right with Mr. Holmes. John’s face assumed an uncharacteristically ashy hue, and his blue eyes, normally so calm and present, skittered away from hers whenever she tried to look at him. Mary had hoped that their relationship would bloom as effortlessly as Jonas and David’s had done so many summers ago on the farm. She never anticipated the difficulties and misunderstandings that can complicate even the purest and most unconditional forms of love.

The wellspring of fantasies that Mary had been cultivating over the weeks began to run dry as the distance between John and Mr. Holmes grew longer.

Nearly seven days had passed before she finally confronted her husband.

“I am sure whatever happened between you and Mr. Holmes can be easily remedied with a conversation,” she ventured one night after the two of them had shared their fourth silent meal of the week.

He shook his head sadly and dismissively. If it were as simple as confessing his sexual transgression, he might have done so, but Mary could never understand what really bothered him was that he had allowed his basest desires to sully the sacred ground of his friendship. Holmes was no lover, and as much as Watson’s pulse accelerated at the memory of his golden passion-tinted face, he had convinced himself that he had no right to his friend’s affections.

He dropped a look of distress on his metallic yellow wedding band, still as shiny as the day Mary slipped it on his finger, and recalled how it had snapped him out of the moment of intimacy at Baker Street. It symbolized the love and promise he could never ask or expect of Holmes, and for Watson, sex without love was a far more troubling misdeed than mild adultery.

“I know your bond with Mr. Holmes is a special one, John,” murmured Mary as she watched him idly toying with his ring. “There cannot be anything so great that would compromise your high regard for one another.”

Hope fluttered in her chest when John finally relented, and left to pay the detective a visit.

*          *          *

Holmes surprised Watson by being very glad to see him. He showed no signs of unease as he led Watson by the arm to his chemistry set to demonstrate the results of a week’s worth of experiments. Holmes even rested his hands on Watson’s shoulders and hovered closely above him, his nearness making Watson dizzy with confused excitement.

But no. He must apologize.

Watson warmly congratulated Holmes upon his work, and then applied himself to recovering his military-bred sense of duty, rising again to regard his friend. Holmes had crossed the room to retrieve a book, but he turned in curious bemusement at the suddenly formal way in which Watson addressed him.

“Please know, my dear friend, that I did not wish to offend with my actions the other night. If I violated you in the slightest, I should waste no time in assuring you such a thing will never happen again.”

“Won’t it?”

The seductive arch of Holmes’s left eyebrow sent Watson tumbling down a precarious slope on which he scrambled to reassert himself. The merest glance from Holmes never failed to make Watson considerably less sure of his own mind, but he soldiered on with his self-made logic nonetheless.

“You have never loved, Holmes. You told me so yourself. And I am certainly in no position to expect you to indulge in such feelings, especially now.”

The late-setting sun turned the room sepia rose, charging it with an expectant silence.

“I’m sorry,” Watson said again, “That—that’s all I came here to say.” He grabbed his hat from the table and made for the sitting room door.

“I am.” Holmes’s voice was brisk and miraculous.

Watson's heart stopped beating. “Beg your pardon?”

Holmes squared his shoulders and pocketed his hands.

“I am,” he repeated. “In love. With you.” The angles of his face softened when he added, “And it’s…”

He hesitated, and caught himself before he said, “like a wide bright rainbow.” How silly and childish that would have sounded. And yet, when he was with Watson he swore he could see every colour in the spectrum, especially now as the dear man stood there in the indigo wash of evening light fidgeting with his hat and trying to cover his astonishment. But he finished with “wonderful” and let it go at that.

And then there was no wedding band and no doubt, but only a frenzy of hot pink lips and active red tongues, and frantic fists tearing at crisp white shirts as the two men stumbled blindly into the bedroom.

*           *            *

Holmes’s skin, Watson discovered, was not sheer porcelain but rather shades of vanilla cream that set off his cerise nipples, which were rapidly turning dark ruby under increased stimulation. His hair was not unvaryingly black but flecked with mild browns, the first sprouts of stubble on his lower jaw reflecting auburn against the flickering candlelight. The most erotic sight of all was the dark violet texture of his arousal betraying months and possibly years of inhibited desire.

Holmes curled his body around Watson’s head, pressing his thighs over his ears and claiming fistfuls of hair as he freely moaned at the silvery glimmers that spiked through him. His climax in the sitting room had followed a strenuous and adrenaline-fueled climb to a gorgeous peak. But tonight he was falling, falling into his own body as the pleasurable sensations of Watson’s tongue spread into his limbs and his sexual being opened like a virgin white swan unfolding its wings.

He writhed and pushed into Watson’s mouth, sinking deeper into the mattress, suddenly aware of his pathways to pleasure, grunting encouragements and affirmations as Watson traversed every one. All his life Sherlock Holmes had prided himself on treating his brain like a scientific pet, feeding it with reason while protecting it from the corrupting influence of emotion. But when an instant explosion turned his cells into diamonds, sending shimmering platinum light zooming in all directions of his body, his mind and body finally became one.

It would be the first of three orgasms that night. (Four for Watson, who could not resist bringing himself off as he eagerly swallowed his best friend’s cock.) After the first round they were only sated enough to take more time with the second, and Watson could be patient as Holmes set about learning where and how to apply his own tongue.

They took turns coming inside each other, Watson with Holmes flat on his back and one long leg hooked over his shoulder, and Holmes with Watson swinging and thrusting on all fours beneath him, the flesh of his backside shaking from the exotic burn of penetration. The powerful surge of his final climax arrested him entirely, save for the shower of brilliant white stars that rained through his field of vision.

The moon rose up behind them and peeked through the window and consecrated their love in its gentle luminescence. They remained joined long after their bodies came to rest, and continued to rock in embrace with their foreheads resting upon one another, the moonshadowed contours of their faces softened in tender satisfaction.

*          *          *

Afterwards, they lied awake together in a swath of white sheets.

“You know I cannot stay,” Watson finally said with much regret.

“I know.” Holmes smiled sadly, and love turned his grey eyes lavender.

Heavy and reluctant, Watson rose and silently dressed himself. He sat down on the bed one last time before he left, and traced Holmes’s cheek with the back of his hand.

“Holmes, this was—”

“I know,” Holmes whispered again, and he took up his friend’s hand and kissed his palm.

*          *          *

Mary knew. John arrived home smelling of tobacco and chemicals carrying an unmistakably post-coital glow that left a permanent salmon blush on his face.

It was everything she had pined for, and with the idea that she might one day bear witness to the couplings of John and Mr. Holmes, Mary spent the ensuing afternoons awash in self-pleasure. She saw their nude bodies rutting together on a settee, in a chair, up against a wall, lying down, bent over, folded together, always locked in rock-hard passion. She came again and again, every orgasm a different colour, each one bursting through her body in a great tide and making it sing with joy.

In her mind, Mary released John from all physical obligations to her. He belonged to Mr. Holmes now, and she preferred the privacy and gratification of self-generated sex.

It was a beautiful arrangement until Holmes went away on a case and was gone for two weeks. In order to keep their spirits up, Mary pressed John to talk of their latest adventure. She watched the bulge grow behind his trousers and the perspiration gather at his forehead before she sidled next to him and began massaging his crotch. The story of how they had located Neville St. Clair crumbled into bits and pieces and soon John was simply stammering vivid descriptions of Holmes as though the man were standing in front of him.

Intoxicated by pent-up desire, John bent Mary over the sofa. He barely noticed how wet she was when he took her, for he thought only of Holmes as rocked and huffed and moaned, the rippling muscles of Holmes’s back, the lust-crazed look on Holmes’s face right before he came and the obscene suctioning noises of his slippery cock driving into him.

John dug his fingers into Mary’s behind, and she cried out. She was thinking of Mr. Holmes, too, hoping to hear John call out his name once and for all. She climaxed as she imagined how it would sound: a sharp, desperate wail tinged with adoration and need, and when she plunged her fingers inside herself the world folded into dark crimson.

But when John came, he uttered a slow, strangled cry and nothing more. He extracted himself immediately and crumpled onto the sofa. Mary tried to reach over to touch him, but he covered his face and rolled away from her. Her amber eyes narrowed with concern.

“John?”

“I’m tired now, Mary,” he said into his hand.

Mary stared up at the ceiling. Then she realized what had happened.

John had been unfaithful to the wrong person.

*          *          *

“I cannot do this anymore.”

“What? You don’t mean—“

“Sharing you with another. I cannot do it any longer,” Holmes said again, his eyes frantically searching the sitting room for something to cling to. Anything but to look at Watson, whose recent intimacy with his wife was all too sickeningly obvious.

“But I’m yours. I belong to you, I do,” Watson insisted helplessly.

“You are mine for a short time only. And then you go home to her. There is no logic to this situation.”

Nauseating guilt eroded Watson’s stomach. His mind took another desperate swipe at reason.

“Holmes, I can—“

“You can do nothing. Go home to your wife.”

They stood half-facing one another, trapped in futile silence. There was no changing the great mind of Sherlock Holmes once it was decided, and Watson had no words to appease him. He placed a heavy hand on the worn brass handle of the sitting room, noting bitterly how often he had turned it, how it had tarnished over the years. His feet dragged him out of the room and down the stairs.

From the window, Holmes watched his friend and lover trudge up the street until his sad figure disappeared around the corner. He called then to Mrs. Hudson and informed her that he would be receiving no more visitors today.

He opened the drawer to his desk and pulled out his dusty turquoise and purple Moroccan case which had been untouched since the day he and Watson first made love.

He mixed an especially potent solution of morphine and tied off his arm. He arranged himself along the length of the sofa as he plunged the clear fluid into his vein. Moments later the expression of pain left his face and his features became fixed in a blank mask. His eyelids fluttered and dropped and he receded into the infinite grey nothingness where sea and sky meet on the horizon, and all the colour drained from his world.

*          *          *

John was inconsolable. Mary held his head in her lap and told him that it would be all right, though she didn’t really believe it.

In her insatiable fascination, Mary had flown too close to the sun. She underestimated the intensity of the bond between John and Mr. Holmes, and gotten the three of them mired in an impossible love triangle that neither man understood. 

She stared out the window at the slate grey rain and taxed her imagination for some way out. She would go live on the Continent and stay married in name only. John could write in his stories that she had died and return to his true life and love at Baker Street.

There would be heartfelt tears and apologies and it would break her heart to leave the two men who had become the center of her world. But she could not remain at the center of theirs knowing that it meant standing in the way of a partnership so perfectly arranged by God himself.

She had started over before and would start over again, always led by the hope that somewhere beyond the settling clouds she would find the next rainbow.

Watson's Wonderful Life, part IV

Back on the street, Watson looked frantically about for Henry Baker.

The man seemed to appear out of nowhere, leaning solemnly against a lamppost, his round profile haloed in a cloudy yellow beam.

“I tried to go home,” Watson panted when he got within Baker’s earshot, “but Mrs. Hudson didn’t know me, and the place was filled with—”

“But you never lived there.”

“I do live there. I moved in after Stamford introduced me to Holmes.”

“No, you do not. You never knew anyone named Stamford and you never met Sherlock Holmes.” Baker’s mantle of eager friendliness had been replaced by the dour mien of a judge.

Watson never wanted to see Holmes more in his life. He understood now that his friend might not recognize him, either, but at least he would be able explain these horrifying circumstances with the cold, precise logic that Watson had always depended upon to reconcile the order of the world. He realized just then how unaccountably comforting it was to have Holmes guide him down a marble staircase of deductions that led to a single truth, beautiful in its vast simplicity.

“Baker, where is he? Where’s Holmes?”

Baker looked away.

Where is he?” Watson repeated forcefully.

Baker shifted his weight and still didn’t answer.

Watson grabbed Baker’s lapels and shook him like a heavy rag doll. “I don’t care if he’s on the moon, I must see him! Take me to Holmes. Now!

Baker stepped backwards as he pried Watson’s fists from his coat, astonished and offended by the unwarranted abuse. Watson did not bother with an apology. He glared at him unrelentingly until Baker righted his clothes and restored his dignity. When he turned up the street, Watson followed him without another word.

They walked on and on through winter’s pale darkness, past shuttered houses and locked storefronts, under tall gaslights that flickered weakly behind sheaths of snow. They finally stopped in front of a small stone church.

“Holmes is here?” Watson’s unnatural laugh rang stark and hollow into the icy quiet. “What’d he do, turn himself over to a life of clergy?”

Baker ducked his head and led them through the wrought-iron gate of the church’s cemetery.

The wind howled like a banshee around them, and Watson hunched inside his coat. Baker came to a slow halt in front of a large granite tombstone, moved aside and nodded at it.

SHERLOCK HOLMES
1851-1889

Watson fell to his knees.

“No,” he whispered.

He stared at the grave.

“No! NO! NO!” he screamed uselessly through the peals of wind.

He placed his hands on the stone like a blind man trying to see. “It can’t be. He can’t be. He can’t.” He denied and denied, but the epitaph stared silently back at him, its brutal truth etched in permanent dark lines for all eternity.

“How? Why?” He looked maniacally up at Baker, who calmly reached into his inside pocket and extracted a newspaper. He unfolded it and held it out for Watson to read.

Sherlock Holmes Found Dead
Unknown Whether Overdose Accident or Suicide

Watson snatched the paper from him and pored over the article. Holmes had been found by his landlord with a needle in his arm and an empty vial of morphine next to his body.

The words blurred and the paper floated limply from his hands.

A world without Holmes would be the worst kind of purgatory, a life half-lived in the cyclical torment of an insipid dream from which he would never awaken, never escape, forced to abide an existence that was a fool’s game at best, a tragic waste at worst.

And without Watson, Holmes would apparently cease to exist at all.

“I want to go back,” he whispered.

“Pardon?”

“Mr. Baker. Whoever, whatever you are, you must take me back.”

“But you said…”

“Bugger what I said! I’ll take it all, everything, the war, the wounds, the mistakes, the shortcomings, the disappointments. I’d endure five more wars and a thousand injuries if it meant Holmes were alive. And he needs me, too, I see that now. Oh please…” he sobbed.

Baker shrugged one last time as a final screech of wind whipped up a violent drift that showered snow over the tombstone and sent Watson tumbling backwards.

And then, nothing.

By and by, Watson came around. He woke up under a jet black sky dotted with a million silver pinpricks of light. Baker was gone and the air was still.

Watson stood on shaking legs and pushed the snow from his limbs. He swept the snow from the grave against which he had fallen. He looked at the name, rubbed his eyes into focus, blinked and looked again.

ELIAS SUSSMAN
1805-1856

Relief swarmed into a cluster of hope inside his stomach and waited. The nightmare would not be over until Watson reached his home and the only family he knew.

As he left the cemetery he was momentarily waylaid by a familiar flash of pain gripping his leg. For the first time in his life, he was grateful for the reminder that he had lived to endure the Afghan war.

He pressed on, propelling his bad leg in wide circles as he galumphed up the street. He recognized where he was. There was the bookstore he so often frequented, the neat rows linen-covered books appearing soft and welcoming even in the dark. There was the haberdashery where a display of the finest top hats tipped at dapper angles from the lifeless heads of smiling dummies. There was the wine and spirits store where Watson had purchased a bottle of Holmes’s favourite Irish whisky from Mr. Russell just that morning.

And finally, there was 221b Baker Street, a heavenly vision of golden light pouring from the windows of the sitting room where a tall figure was just moving away from the curtain. The moment Watson saw it, pure joy catapulted him the final half-block to the front door, which had been left unlocked.

Watson pounded up the seventeen steps, taking them three at a time. His leg groaned with each thump, but it didn't matter. He was at the landing and through the door in a matter of seconds.

“Watson!” Holmes was already at the door, his face a mirror of the overwhelming waves of happiness that were crashing giddily through Watson. Strong hands reached out and grasped the doctor’s shoulders, planting him firmly at the center of the detective’s universe. Watson basked in the radiance of warmth meant entirely for him, ready to drown in the tenderness that was swimming across his friend’s eyes. Then he saw Inspector Lestrade over Holmes’s shoulder, wearing a strangely paternal smile.

“Dr. Watson, how glad we are to see you,” he said genially. He clapped one hand on Watson’s shoulder.

Watson smiled at the Inspector. He was almost as glad to see him. Almost.

Holmes unlocked his eyes from Watson’s when he suddenly remembered their landlady.

“Dear me, I must go and fetch Mrs. Hudson! She’s out trolling the streets with nothing more than a shawl and a lantern.” He flung his ulster around his shoulders and flew down the stairs.

The sitting room was aglow with Yuletide atmosphere. The fresh garlands draped over the mantle spiced the air with a pine-green fragrance that blended agreeably with the fire-roasted smell of burning wood in the hearth below. Sprigs of mistletoe sprouted from the archways and red candles pointed merrily like candy sticks from the bundles of holly on the table and sideboard.

“We found the jewel,” Lestrade said brightly, pleased that he got to deliver the good news. “Ryder managed to escape us, I’m afraid, but not before leading us on what I can only call, without understatement or originality, a wild goose chase. I couldn’t see the point of any of it until Mr. Holmes insisted on dissecting this creature we finally tracked down at the Alpha Public House. And you’ll never guess what we found in its crop, Dr. Watson.”

“The blue carbuncle?” he laughed.

“Damnedest hiding place I ever saw,” Lestrade chuckled, shaking his head. “Horner’s been let off, of course. Mr. Holmes mentioned that having the wrong man locked up is often a rather clever way of ferreting out the true criminal. A bit unorthodox, I must say, but I suppose I have to agree.”

Watson loosed a slow sigh as soon as Lestrade unwittingly lifted the great burden from his conscience.

“Dare I ask where you’ve been that caused you to become soaked to the skin, doctor?” Lestrade couldn't swear to it, but Watson looked like he had spent the night inside a snowbank.
 
"I was—“ he started, but he was hard-pressed to follow it up with anything that didn’t sound impossibly ridiculous.

A shadow crossed Watson’s face. “Lestrade, I have seen more than I ever thought possible. A lifetime has passed before me.”

Lestrade, who so rarely accepted hyperbole when it came to investigation, responded with a small serious nod. He never doubted it must have been a potent force that kept such a man out on a night like this.

“He was…very much distraught over your absence, Doctor,” confided the inspector in a low voice. “Oh, he would never admit as much to me, but the disturbance shook that systematic world of his from the inside out. Perhaps it is already evident to you how much you mean to him, and you’ll forgive me for taking too many liberties when I say,” he paused to consider his words carefully.

All the light in Watson’s smile was transported to his eyes and they blazed hungrily enough that Lestrade knew he was about to utter a sentiment that Watson had been waiting to hear for a long time.

“I know him to be many things, sir,” Lestrade resumed from a slightly different angle, “a brilliant man, some would say a genius, a methodical creature, certainly an exasperating character. But never before had I realized that the depth of his feelings go quite beyond—”

Watson would have to hear the rest from Holmes, for the mingled sounds of the chirping landlady and Holmes’s sonorous patter on the stairs interrupted their conversation. A moment later, Holmes was bustling Mrs. Hudson through the door.

“Oh, Dr. Watson, we were worried to pieces,” she cried as she leant her small frame onto his chest and pressed a cold cheek against his lapel.

Watson squeezed her affectionately and kissed the top of her white head. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Hudson. I cannot tell you how I’ve missed you.” Indeed, the hours he had been gone had stretched into such an anxious interval that it seemed far longer to everyone.

Mrs. Hudson tightened her hold around the doctor’s waist and immediately sprung back as though she had been bitten.

“Doctor, you’re soaked to the skin!” She admonished him with a scolding look and hurried from the room to fetch tea and hot water. The three men watched her leave. A heavy silence fell over the room.

“Right then,” said Lestrade, clearing his throat and reaching for his hat. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

Holmes wasn’t at all sure how to thank him, for he owed Lestrade more gratitude than he was equipped to express. So he followed him to the door, and when Lestrade turned to say his final goodbye, Holmes stuck out his hand and fixed a stare on the hat the inspector was holding.

“Lestrade, it's been..." he stopped and looked up when the stunning truth found its way into his mind.

“Your company, sir,” he finished, and Lestrade’s firm grasp communicated all the things they would never have the wherewithal to say.

“A very happy Christmas to you and your wife,” added Watson, whose warm smile and slight bow effervesced with his own appreciation.

Lestrade smiled at the two men, planted his hat on his head and exited Baker Street.

Holmes closed the door behind him, and turned to Watson. His eyes traveled up and down his person, but instead of developing into enlightenment, his expression stalled at perplexity.  

“What is it, Holmes?”

“From the looks of it, you spent some time in a tavern, walked a good deal and possibly fell asleep in a snowbank. But I would swear there was something…more.”

“You’re right," Watson said. "I traveled farther than I ever thought possible tonight.”

Holmes hiked his eyebrows with interest, but just then Mrs. Hudson rapped on the door. Her small face was still flushed with mirth when she entered with the tea tray. She would never say so aloud, but she knew that taking care of her boys kept the spring in her step and the sparkle in her eye. The dishes clattered cheerfully as she set the tray on the table.

“Oh, Dr. Watson, this was delivered for you while you were out.”

She extracted the letter from her apron pocket and handed it to Watson, then ordered him once more to change out of his clothes and go straight to the hot bath she was drawing for him in the washroom.

 “I would like nothing more than to see you rested and comfortable,” Holmes conceded.

Watson carefully mounted the steps to his room and undressed. He pulled on his heaviest robe and sat down on his bed to read the letter.

Dear Dr. Watson:

I am writing on behalf of the family of Dorthea Winchester, who passed away this afternoon under your care at St. Bartholomew’s hospital.

You were no doubt distressed by this unfortunate turn, for my mother spoke so fondly of you that it was evident you and she shared a special rapport, and that you took particular interest in her well-being. It is therefore of the utmost importance that I impart to you the fact that you are in no way accountable for her death.

Two months ago, Mother was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition when she was traveling in Bristol. Our family’s decision to keep this from her, while certainly not a laudable one, was done for what we believed was good reason: my sister Anabel had died in childbirth two days previous and the infant only survived her for a few hours.

As you know, the close relationship with her only daughter was something that Mother treasured above all else. Given the devastating effect the news would have had, and knowing that she herself only had a short time remaining on God’s earth, we let her believe that the delivery was successful, and that both Anabel and her granddaughter were healthy and anticipating their Christmas visit.

Your decision to keep Mother in the hospital was a blessing to the Winchesters, for she never had to bear witness to the solemn gathering at my brother’s home, which still carries the heavy, mournful climate of our loss. She died believing all of us to be awaiting her with lightened hearts and good cheer. That your kind and caring smile was the last thing she saw is something for which I shall be eternally grateful.

I hope that Mother will soon forgive us from her Heavenly rest as she is reunited with my father, the daughter of whom she was so proud and the granddaughter she already loved. I hope that you, too, can forgive us, Doctor, for any undue stress we may have inadvertently caused you.

Very sincerely yours,

Allistair Winchester, Jr.

*          *          *

“I was worried, you know,” murmured Holmes, relishing the way his heart began to gallop when Watson rested his forehead upon his.

“I know.” Watson circled his arms around Holmes’s waist and nothing had ever felt so right.

“Where exactly did this great journey of yours take you?”

“It’s a bit…difficult to explain. I spent the evening with someone who taught me some important lessons.”

“How charmingly vague.”

“All right, then. In an elaborate scheme I shall never fully understand, an old drunk showed me that, contrary to what I thought at the time, there are some people in the world who need me.”

“I can certainly think of one.” Holmes raised his head to regard him. “Was it really as bad as all that, Watson?”

The recollection snagged Watson's brow. “One of my most regrettable mistakes today was making a mess of the investigation and knowing that I let you down. The way you looked at me this evening…” he shook his head sadly.

“I wonder if it was anything like the way you look at me when you catch me with the needle. Or when I refuse to eat.” Holmes traced his thumb along the smooth contour of Watson’s chin. Touching him was coming much more naturally than he had imagined.

“Those are just habits, Holmes. So often when I strive to excel at your methods, I come up short,” Watson sighed, but the corners of his mouth turned up contentedly when he discovered how snugly his cheek fit into Holmes’s cupped hand.

“Then I invite you to look through your volumes of notes on unresolved or uninteresting cases, or better yet, the ones where I have failed entirely.”

“The thing is I—“ their eyes fastened on one another, and Watson felt his outer layer of skin slip away. “I love you, Holmes. A very great deal, in fact. And I want you to love me.”

“I do. I always have. I don’t need you to be perfect.” His wide-eyed gaze never faltered.

“Even though I dragged you into an investigation in which you had no interest?” he ventured, though Holmes’s affirmation had gladdened him so completely that all his remaining questions became superfluous.

“There again, your logic has failed you. When have you ever known me to be reluctant to track a criminal?” Holmes said, a gentle smile pausing his words. “No, Watson, I was only addled because I had so looked forward to spending the rest of the day in here with you.”

He leaned into Watson’s ear and whispered, “You see, I rather like what we’ve started.”

The words sent a thousand Cupid’s arrows squarely into Watson’s heart, and with a clean tilt of his head he found Holmes’s mouth. Their lips met and parted, met and parted and Holmes was no longer shy. His hands slid up and down Watson’s back, smoothing at first and then kneading until Watson was crushed up against him and they were perfectly latched in the kind of open-mouthed kiss that bursts through portals of passion.

But the kiss was broken by Watson’s tiny yelp when his leg finally gave out once and for all, sending him to the floor like a column of tumbling rocks. Holmes caught him by his forearms.

“Here. I’ve got you,” he murmured. He bent a sturdy shoulder so Watson could lean upon it while he shuffled him to the settee.

Watson landed heavily on the cushions, and Holmes seated himself at his feet with his hands resting on the planes of his thighs. He began curling his fingers in gentle squeezes around the tight cords in Watson’s leg. He jerked once, then twice, and Holmes glanced up in apology, eased the pressure and soon found more comfortable methods of coaxing the rigid knot to relax and release. It was as relieving as it was arousing.

Watson dropped his head on the back of the settee with a soft groan, and Holmes felt himself twitch in places he never used to think about. He wanted to touch Watson more thoroughly than this, to climb into his lap and run his hands through his hair and pass his mouth over exposed skin to find out what desire tasted like.

Watson offered no protest when Holmes reached curious fingers into the flies of his pyjamas, but his next breath remained suspended in his lungs when a hot mouth engulfed him a moment later. Holmes would need some guidance, that much was clear, so Watson grasped his head and thickly murmured instructions through his cottony haze of lust. The sound of his own voice dictating such sinful commands magnified the intense eroticism of Holmes responding in earnest.

In a few minutes, Holmes was doing quite sufficiently on his own, his busy tongue winding in mad circles, his lips stretching and puckering over hardening flesh. He was enjoying himself immensely, and soon observed that the tiniest variations could make Watson keen and gasp and shiver and writhe more loosely under his mouth. He loved the way Watson's hands raked through his hair and pressed into the back of his neck, restless fingers begging to be swallowed whole, and when Holmes finally indulged him he was more than ready for the wordless cry of warning that followed.

Two more thrusts and Watson was soaring. The tension within him swelled into blinding pleasure and then drained from his limbs as he sagged bonelessly and blissfully into the sofa. With a deeply satisfied sigh, Holmes closed his eyes and rested his head on Watson’s knee, thinking how lovely it had been to hear his name uttered with such ecstatic agitation.

It was Watson who finally spoke again. “Holmes, why don’t we…”

“Yes, let’s,” agreed Holmes, coming instantly out of his happy languid heap to grab Watson by the hands and hurry him into his bedroom. For the next several hours, he set himself to learning everything there was to know about the act of love. Watson took him places the seven-percent solution had never reached, and the best part about it was having him there to share in the joy of it.

*          *          *

The next morning, Watson noticed three things. He was not in his bed. There was someone next to him. He felt wonderful.

Holmes had been awake for some time, but he was so enchanted by the morning-soft flesh pressing warmly against him that he drifted in and out of consciousness until his arousal necessitated that he wake his bedmate. Then it was nothing but lips and hands and ragged breaths and two decidedly pleasant shudders before anyone spoke.

“Holmes, I’ve a question,” said Watson once his mouth was free.

“Why, yes, I do have another Christmas present for you,” Holmes answered and set about delivering it with aplomb.

“And I shall look forward to receiving it,” Watson chortled between gasps, “but my actual question is this: how did you know which goose at the Alpha Public House had the jewel inside of it?”

Holmes slowed his kisses along Watson’s stomach. “You spoke with Lestrade.”

“Yes, and you must forgive my dense—“ Holmes interrupted him with a sharp bite on his side. One day he would figure out a way to enumerate for Watson all the reasons he thought him a hero, but for now he would deliver affectionate physical reprimands for his self-effacing statements.

Holmes lifted his head and Watson smiled at the way his mussed-up hair fell across his forehead. “Now Watson, if you were going choose among a gaggle of geese to hide a jewel, what would you look for?”

Watson considered that a moment and when his blue eyes alit with the answer, Holmes couldn’t help the smile that poured over his own face.

“The one with the most distinguishing features, I fancy.”

“Quite so,” said Holmes, and he resumed the delicate oral trail he was criss-crossing over Watson’s torso.

Neither of them gave any thought to the dim commotion downstairs, or even Mrs. Hudson’s light footsteps speeding up the stairs. By the time she unlocked and entered the sitting room, Watson had just enough time to conceal himself in a tight ball at Holmes's feet before she burst into the bedroom waving a piece of paper over her head.

“Mr. Holmes! Mr. Holmes! It’s the most wonderful thing, sir!”

“Oh please,” Holmes drawled, putting forth his very best efforts to appear both sleepy and alone, “Go away.”

She marched over to the side of the bed and held the paper out for him to see. “A cheque for a thousand pounds from the Countess of Morcar made out to one Mr. Sherlock Holmes for the recovery of the blue carbuncle.”

Holmes sighed. He couldn’t believe she had come barging in to bother him with this. He cared nothing for money, especially since everything he ever wanted was currently hiding underneath his blanket. But it was Christmas after all.

“How lovely, Mrs. Hudson. Why don’t you keep a hundred for yourself and donate the rest to charity?” He rolled over in silent dismissal.

“Which charity? There are so many.”

“You decide. Now leave me in peace, won’t you?”

Mrs. Hudson pressed the cheque to her heart and hugged herself in a jubilant little dance. The Alexandra Orphanage where she volunteered badly needed its chimney repaired, and there would be enough left over to buy the children new winter coats.

“You’re a good man, Mr. Holmes,” she said, but he only grunted in acceptance of this. “Happy Christmas to you, sir.”

She turned to leave. “You too, Dr. Watson,” she called.

Watson poked his head through the blanket, and exchanged a worried look with Holmes.

“Mrs. Hudson, I can explain,” Holmes said hurriedly. “Dr. Watson’s room is very cold, you see, and he came down here in the night so he could sleep comfortably and...“

His words faded before they reached her ears. She stopped with her hand on the door knob and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. How daft did they think she was? Why on earth did they suppose there was mistletoe scattered all over their rooms?

Of course she never wondered about the misty-eyed looks had been passing between them for weeks or the pair of dressing gowns hanging crazily from the back of the settee or even finding them in bed together on Christmas morning.

The only thing Mrs. Hudson wondered was what had taken them so long to get there.

*          *          *

John Watson stood silently at the window of Baker Street, his eyes idly searching for shapes among the brilliant white wonderland below, a sad smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He was thinking about two men, the very best of friends, whose companionable habits had evolved so easily and naturally that he never noticed when they became the seamless fabric of their shared lives. 

Gratified as he was for the intimacy he’d longed for, Watson knew that things would never be quite the same. Some small part of themselves had been left behind.

“Whatever we may have lost,” said Holmes from behind, gently stepping into his thoughts, “will be more than remunerated in the discoveries we’ve yet to make.”

He slid his arms around Watson’s shoulders and gave him a reassuring hug. “My regard for you hasn’t changed, my dear boy, only my means of showing it.”

Holmes kissed his ear and moved away. He crossed the room and poured two cups of hot coffee. He placed Watson’s on the table next to his chair for whenever he was ready, and took his own over to the settee with the newspaper.

It didn’t take Watson very much longer to dispense with his grief. The scene that greeted him when he turned around held the most comforting possibilities, and he sipped his coffee in the amiable silence and cherished every single one of them.

In a couple days the world would shift back into place, the everyday trials of troubled strangers would appear again on their doorstep, sometimes leading them into dark underworlds of crime, sometimes leading no place at all. But they would never do any less than combine their greatest strengths in order to put the wrongs to rights.

There would be times when Holmes was irritable and thoughtless and days when his stubborn habits would tax Watson's  patience until a simple jest or the soothing sounds of the violin restored order once again. They would argue about cases and meals and chemicals and noise, but those, too, would pass as quickly as they arose.

Now when they laughed together it would be longer and sweeter, and they would share looks and ideas and memories more intimately and often. And there would be those thrilling moments of sensual bliss, each one a reminder of their unflagging esteem and devotion, the physical manifestation of their permanent place in one another’s hearts.

Offering a silent prayer of thanks to Mr. Henry Baker, whoever, whatever, wherever he was, Watson joined Holmes on the settee, wrapped himself in his arms and drifted into serenity, knowing the world was a better place with the two of them in it.

 ~

 

Watson's Wonderful Life, part III

The snowfall was beginning to ebb when Watson and Baker regained the sidewalk. It was getting late, and they would have a difficult time finding a tavern that hadn’t already closed down for the holiday.

Being carried upon two strong, sturdy legs was such a long-forgotten privilege that Watson did not initially observe that the streets had changed since he entered Baker’s flat. Broken and uneven bricks poked like little tombstones through the sooty snow. Noiseless huddles of people gathered around drums of fire like garish shadow puppets worshipping at the altars of high flames leaping into the air.

“Ah, here we are,” said Baker hospitably, and led them into a poorly lit cave among the labyrinth of small streets that spiraled away from Tottenham Court-road.

Two lone figures hunched in silence over the end of the bar, and the sour smell of cheap barley spirits pierced the stale, smoky air. But Baker pulled up a stool with the ease of someone who treated this place like a second home.

“Evening, Mr. Windegate.”

“Well if it isn’t Mr. Baker,” greeted the landlord. “I trust you’re keeping warm this evening.”

Baker returned his smile and rubbed his hands together, indicating that it was an effort in progress. “I do what I can, sir. This is my friend Dr. Watson.”

Watson thought “friend” might be a bit presumptuous, but he extended his hand all the same.

“How d’you do, sir?”

“Well enough, I suppose. At least, I’m grateful we haven’t seen too much trouble here today. The Professor usually makes his rounds just before the holidays and cleans me out.” A shiver stole through the landlord’s cheerful countenance.

Baker clucked his tongue and shook his head sympathetically. He ordered two whiskys and a pair of pints. Several more patrons hustled in from the cold, mostly a downtrodden lot, with haggard, world-weary faces couched in layers of moth-eaten clothes.

“A Professor owns this pub?” Watson asked. It didn’t add up.

Baker nodded as he lapped up his whisky. “Owns the whole neighborhood. No business occurs here that he doesn’t know about, or hasn’t somehow orchestrated himself.”

“I should think a Professor would aim to keep his establishments in better repair,” said Watson, throwing a scornful glance at the hole in the ceiling above them.

“You know, I’m not entirely certain he’s a real professor,” Baker replied thoughtfully. He started on his ale.

The tavern was beginning to grow crowded as more people sought refuge from the onslaught of another spate of weather. The wind had picked up and snow was teeming heavily from the sky.

“So, just who is this man?” Watson wanted to know what kind of business owner went around masquerading as an academic.

“Who, the Professor?” An alcoholic lacquer was already glossing over Baker’s pupils.

Watson nodded, reminding himself to remain patient with his doddering companion.

“Why it’s Professor Moriarty, of course. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him, as he runs half the city now.”

“James Moriarty is dead,” Watson informed him loudly over the rising din.

Baker coughed a laugh. “I’m sure we all wish that were true, sir.” He cast a worried glance in all directions before leaning towards Watson and lowering his voice. “Listen, I’d be careful with my words if I were you. The Professor has quite a formidable list of brutes on his pay scale I shouldn’t care to mess with.”

Another blast of cold air rushed in when the tavern door blew open once more, and a clamor of shouts from the street clashed with the conversational noise inside.

“I told you to keep away from here!” hollered a well-known voice. Watson looked up in surprise and saw Lestrade in a police uniform, his fist raised towards some unseen nemesis.

“Lestrade!” exclaimed Watson.

“Is he a friend of yours?” Baker asked chattily, unfazed by or simply oblivious to the unpleasantness surrounding them.

“Yes, I’ve worked with him for years.”

Lestrade pulled up a stool at the bar. With a long, defeated sigh, he removed his hat and rested it beside him. “One more impudent scoundrel and I’m going to make an arrest, mark my words,” he threatened no one in particular. He nodded at the landlord who placed a glass of ale in front of him.

Watson slid past Baker and approached the inspector.

“Inspector Lestrade,” he said, “how glad I am to see you!” And he meant it. Watson had seen his share of humanity, but there was something unsettling about all this that was making him start to long for a familiar face.

Lestrade angled his face defensively, pointing a suspicious eye at the doctor.

“It’s Dr. Watson, Inspector. I just parted your company in Covent Garden not three hours ago.” Watson passed his hand over his own face to make sure he was still recognizable.

“You’ll forgive me, sir, if I’ve no recollection of our acquaintance, for I’ve had a most dreadful night. In any case, it’s Constable Lestrade now. I lost my badge a year ago after the wrongful hanging of John Hector MacFarlane.”

“What do you mean? MacFarlane was innocent—Jonas Oldacre tried to frame him for murder.” Had everyone gone mad?

Lestrade winced. “Yes, all that came out later, but I’m afraid it was too late for MacFarlane and for me. It was a disaster for the Yard, and the last straw for my supervisor, who told me he could not abide any more unsolved crimes. I’d have lost everything if the Professor hadn’t negotiated a position for me. Of course, now I’m indebted to him.”

This last statement dripped with bitter disgust.

A comforting possibility suddenly dawned on Watson. “Has Holmes put you up to this?” he asked.

The question further confused Lestrade, but he never got the chance to answer. The large, burly man who had been snaking around the premises with a sinister glare found who he was looking for. When he saw Lestrade, he lunged for him, dragged him from his stool and shoved him against the wall.

“Why’d you send my man to gaol when you understood perfectly well he was to be left alone?” he demanded, his rough, serrated voice every bit as intimidating as his hulking physique.

“But, sir,” Lestrade cried, terror shaking the breath from his words, “he knocked down an old lady. She was defenseless and…and I was assured that there would be no violence.”

“He does what he has to do,” the man sneered. “And you’re paid not to interfere.”

“Please,” begged Lestrade, but it was no use. The man struck him relentlessly until Lestrade was in a crumpled heap on the floor, thick rivulets of blood oozing from his nose and mouth.

Watson reached for his revolver, but it was not there. He was ready to confront the lout with his bare hands, but Baker placed a warning hand on his arm and shook his head. He was forced to submit until Lestrade’s attacker left the tavern.

As soon as he was gone, Watson rushed towards him. “Are you all right? Here, take my…” he fumbled in his coat pocket for the handkerchief Holmes had given him in Covent Garden, but it was empty. He looked up at Baker bending in mild concern over them. He handed Watson a rag.

“Look, I don’t know who you are, but I think it would be best if you left,” Lestrade told Watson as he dabbed his seeping injuries.

“But I’m trying to help—“

“Go. Now. Before there’s any more trouble. You’re out of your element here.”

Baker nodded in acquiescence, and led them out into the cold once more. Watson glanced back only once at the sad, broken policeman they left behind.

*          *          *

“You needn’t stay Lestrade. I’m sure your wife awaits your presence at home.”

Holmes was still gazing out the window.

But Lestrade had no intention of leaving. Rarely had he seen the detective so discomposed as when they returned from the Yard and found the sitting room dark and uninhabited. He had only meant to stay a moment to thank Holmes and Watson for their assistance that day, but when Holmes began to chatter about the epidemic of ferric hydroxide that was sure to result once the snow melted, Lestrade knew he was not easy in his mind.

“All the same, Mr. Holmes, I’d like to see that Dr. Watson gets home safely tonight.”

Holmes spun around just as Lestrade had the courtesy to lower his gaze to the floor, hat held humbly over his chest. Wary of crediting Lestrade with too much intuition, Holmes supposed his frequent trips to the window had made his discomfort fairly obvious. Nevertheless, he did his best to affect only mild concern.

“Suit yourself, Inspector. But I’m sure Watson is hale and whole, and on his way home at this moment.” Try as he might, he could not contain a few tremulous notes of worry from creeping into his voice. He cleared them away with a tiny growl. “Brandy?”

“If you please, sir,” Lestrade said amiably, shrugging off his coat and dropping into Holmes’s chair in front of the fire. “Can’t remember the last time we had so much snow at Christmastime.”

With a vacant nod, Holmes poured two glasses of liquor from the decanter. He was aware that staring out the window was a futile exercise, much as he felt that was what he should be doing, and accepted the kind distraction that Lestrade was offering. He brought a glass to the inspector and sat himself in Watson’s chair opposite him.

“You don’t think we ought to be out looking for him, do you?” Lestrade ventured when he noticed that apprehension still rippled across Holmes’s brow. “I mean, if he was distraught he might have sought refuge in a tavern or perhaps even a…”

The words fell like cut cloth at Holmes’s feet, and he sipped in silence, refusing to let his already disquieted mind fashion a panicked vision of his friend resorting to ugly means of temporary relief that were well beneath him.

Instead he said very quietly, “I do not think so, Lestrade.”

He took up his pipe from the table next to him. He tamped the stale tobacco and struck a match and did not meet Lestrade’s eyes. If he did, there would be questions he did not wish to hear and could not at this time answer.

Had he been asked yesterday if his Watson was capable of losing himself to a fit of frustrated rage, he would have said no with all due confidence. Tonight, he was not so certain. But as long as he remained here in the sitting room, sipping brandy and keeping conversation, he could convince himself that he was.

*          *          *

Watson and Baker walked on in tense silence. Watson wrestled with a decision and, after a moment, turned to his companion.

“I appreciate your hospitality and company, Mr. Baker, but I think I’d like to go home now.”

“Home? Where?”

“To Baker Street. The hour is getting late. Can you point me in the right direction, please?”

“I’m afraid they won’t know you there, either.”

Watson had run out of patience with Baker. He was sick of the way his cryptic smiles punctuated statements that didn’t make any sense.

“You may accompany me if you like, but I’m going,” he insisted, pulling a few strides ahead.

“As you wish, sir,” Baker shrugged and fell into step with him once more. “It’s this way. Left at the corner, I think.”

But even the well-trodden streets of Watson’s own neighborhood assumed a menacing façade. Was there ever so much rubbish in the gutters, so many restless shadows between the buildings, so much visible unease among the few remaining merchants who watched suspiciously from their storefront windows?

“Here we are,” Baker announced when they reached 221.

Watson was caught off-guard by the haphazard sign over the door that read “Mrs. Hudson’s Boarding House.”

“I suppose she’s taken on extra lodgers for the holidays,” Watson said, ignoring the inanity of this conclusion. He reached for his keys, but found they, too, were missing. He rapped on the door.

“Mrs. Hudson! Are you at home?” He rapped again. The door finally opened, much to his great relief.

An old woman answered. “Yes? Can I help you?” Her sunken, withered face was partially obscured by a black shawl.

“I’m looking for my landlady Mrs. Hudson,” said Watson.

“I’m Mrs. Hudson,” she confirmed, and Watson could not prevent his jaw from falling open when he recognized the hooded brown eyes squinting up at him. She had somehow aged twenty years since he last saw her.

“I’m—I’m sorry, Mrs. Hudson, I’ve misplaced my keys,” he tried to sound nonchalant as he tripped through the door and wiggled out of his coat. “Has Holmes come home yet?”

“Sir, I think you are mistaken. I don’t know who you are, and no one lives here by that name.”

Watson could contend with the fact that, strange as it was, his landlady seemed to have forgotten him. But he could not believe that the woman wasn’t prepared to admit she knew Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes! The great detective!” he argued with thin agitation, handing the befuddled woman his hat and coat. They hung from her pinched fingers like a pair of dead animals.

Her pupils darted back and forth in an effort to find something in her memory to appease this intruder. Her brow finally cleared.

“Oh yes, Mr. Holmes, I think I remember him. Tall fellow. Attracted a strange lot of callers. But he hasn’t lived here in years. He didn’t get on with his roomate, and they left me owing three months’ rent.”

“Nonsense…” Watson scoffed, and he started up the stairs. But he already feared for what he would find or, more specifically, what he would not find when he reached the landing.

“You cannot go up there without an appointment, sir!” she called after him.

Watson paid no heed. He opened the door to the sitting room, and gasped.

The room was cold and unfurnished, and the walls were hemmed with silent children swaddled in dirty blankets. A dozen pairs of wide, frightened eyes trained on the doctor standing in the doorway. To them, he was a stranger, but Watson knew these small faces very well. It was the Baker Street Irregulars, every last one of them.

“Is your—“he started to ask, but just then a tall, bearded man came ‘round the corner from where Holmes’s bedroom ought to have been.

“Who are you?” he demanded, his gruff voice chafing Watson’s frazzled nerves, “and what are you doing here?” His left cheek bulged with a plug of tobacco.

“I’m…” Watson was no longer sure how to account for his presence. So he went on the offensive.

“Who are you?” he asked the bearded man. “And what are you doing with the Irreg—with all these children?”

“I’m James Callahan, the proprietor. These urchins b’long to me.”

“Proprietor of what?” Watson parsed the room more closely but saw nothing to indicate that this was a place of business.

“Hiring out the young ‘uns,” the man replied, spitting tobacco juice onto the floor. He jerked his head in the direction of the ragtag group of orphans behind him. “You need some of ‘em for your factory, eh what?”

“Certainly not,” Watson said, greatly shamed by the deplorable scene, “and I cannot believe Mrs. Hudson tolerates this.”

“Oh, she gets paid well enough to mind her own business, I can assure you. She sets up in her rooms downstairs all day and never has to worry for the goings-on in here or anywhere else for that matter. Now what is it you want, sir?”

Watson couldn’t bear it any longer. He fled the sitting room, flew down the stairs, grabbed his coat and hat where Mrs. Hudson had tossed them disinterestedly on the side table and ran into the street.

He was running out of ways to rationalize what was happening to him.

*          *          *

Holmes and Lestrade both jumped when they heard a knock on the front door. Holmes promptly set his glass on the table and strode to the window. It wasn’t like Watson to lose his keys, but he had done a number of unusual things tonight.

It was not Watson, but a dark-haired man dressed in full mourning. He poked the brim of his hat in polite greeting to Mrs. Hudson, and handed her a sealed envelope. Holmes’s deductive machine immediately set into motion: Young man, mid-thirties, fairly well-to-do. Lost someone dear to him recently. Air of calm resignation suggests the loss was not unexpected. Presence of a wedding band and recently brushed hat dismiss the possibility that he is a widower. More likely it was a sick member of his immediate family. Gold cross on his watch chain identifies him as religious. His errand his not urgent, but it is important. He is here in an act of kindness.

The man nodded in thanks and teetered away over uneven piles of snow. A minute later, Mrs. Hudson appeared in the sitting room and announced a letter had been delivered for Dr. Watson.

“Let me see it, please, Mrs. Hudson,” Holmes said, hand outstretched. “It may provide us a clue as to his whereabouts.” She handed him the envelope, and she and Lestrade studied the detective’s face while he scrutinized it.

Envelope with a black border. Absence of sealing wax. “Dr. John Watson” scrawled neatly on the front. He allowed himself a tiny sliver of satisfaction when his theories were confirmed. Then he paused and let the final conclusions form on their own. Watson lost a patient today. This letter absolves him of any wrongdoing.

“Well, Mr. Holmes?” Mrs. Hudson pressed anxiously.

He glanced up as if he suddenly remembered he had an audience. “The man who brought this letter is in mourning for a recently deceased family member. He is a distant acquaintance of Dr. Watson’s. Beyond that…”

“Yes?” prompted Lestrade.

“Not enough data,” concluded Holmes, handing the envelope back to Mrs. Hudson. If she gave the letter to Watson herself then he would not feel pressed to explain it.

Holmes wandered back to the window, less to resume his vigil than to indicate he desired no further discussion on the matter. Now that he was aware of the full extent of Watson’s troubles, his own heart fluttered in distress. Holmes knew his impatience with the case had surely exacerbated Watson’s guilt-laden conscience.

The kind of anguish that was welling inside him was something Holmes routinely assuaged with the needle, when the mental stagnation between cases became unbearable. Watson never did fully understand about the seven-percent solution, that Holmes needed it to draw a curtain over the crime-ridden world that repulsed him as much as it fascinated him. He wished Watson would try it just once so they could watch from on high together, and laugh at the preposterous human comedy playing out beneath them.

But to Watson, the needle was a betrayal, a compromise of health and friendship. It alienated them when they could be sharing in the satisfaction of a case's conclusion or the fleeting idleness of an empty afternoon. Were Holmes to use it now, it would mean the banishment of his genuine and abiding concern, and no matter how much Holmes tried to convince him otherwise, Watson would see it as the selfish act that it was.

And so Holmes would have to take comfort in its proximity, at most allowing himself to run his fingers over the Moroccan case before he snapped it shut and returned it to the drawer unused. He kept his mind as clear and transparent as the pane of glass before him.

Please come home, Watson, Holmes implored the night sky. It’s the world that needs your forgiveness, my dear friend, not the other way around.

Watson's Wonderful Life, part II

But when Watson returned to St. Bart’s that afternoon, Mrs. Winchester’s bed was empty. The doctor went in search of the attending nurse, and finally found her in the children’s ward.

“Miss Lindstrom, may I have a word?”

“Certainly, Dr. Watson.” She instructed her patient to keep the thermometer under his tongue until she returned, then met Watson into the hallway.

“Miss Lindstrom, I left here this morning with strict orders not to discharge Dorthea Winchester until I returned this afternoon. As the attending nurse, you were responsible for making sure my orders were followed.”

“Oh dear,” Miss Lindstrom warbled, her young face crimping in distress. “I’m afraid Mrs. Winchester has died, sir. She passed only an hour after you left this morning.”

Watson’s heart flung into his ribcage and sank like a stone into the bowels of his stomach.

“She couldn’t have,” he said, as though it were still medically possible to reason with the final outcome. “Mrs. Winchester was supposed to go home today. Her family is waiting for her.”

“I’m sorry, doctor,” she said. “There was nothing could be done. Dr. May suspects her infection spread to her heart and caused it to arrest, but her family has declined the post-mortem examination.”

The image of his late patient beaming up at him appeared with perfect clarity in his mind.

“I’m sorry,” Miss Lindstrom repeated, and hurried back to her post.

The activity around him receded into a distant buzz as Watson’s thoughts honed on the sprightly woman who had spoken with such exuberance mere hours ago. There was something he ought to have seen during their pleasant banter that would have raised an alarm. But he had been distracted by her flattery, and by thoughts of Holmes.

You really have done remarkably badly, Watson.

The reprimand now tolled like a morbid penance in between his mental visions of Mrs. Winchester, the baby granddaughter that was to be raised in her image, the innocent family that awaited its beloved matriarch to complete their holiday reunion.

He lowered himself to a bench and crossed his hands over his face. The woman had been elderly, but she was admitted three days ago with nothing more than a mild esophageal infection. How could he have let her die under his care?

As long as he lived, he would never be able to forgive himself.

“Dr. Watson? Sir?” a soft voice gently prodded him.

“Yes? What is it?” he looked up at the hospital page. He’s going to tell me it was a mistake. All will be well. It must be.

“A telegram for you, sir,” was all he said.

“Thank you, Baines,” Watson sighed. He already knew who sent it.

COVENT GARDEN. 6 O’CLOCK SHARP. SH

The abrupt tenor was as clear as Holmes’s own voice.

Watson checked his pocket watch. It was half past five. He had only thirty minutes to get to Covent Garden and pray that he wouldn’t find another self-made mess waiting for him.

*          *          *

The city of London was a tangled mess. The snow had clogged most of the streets, forcing every cab and private carriage to use what remained of the main roads, and the resulting jumble of traffic that sat waiting to pass stretched for miles. Watson sat in an unmoving cab for fifteen minutes until he decided he had better walk. He checked his watch again. Run was more like it.

He reached Covent Garden at ten past six, gasping and limping as his old wound swelled beyond mild ache to acute pain. He soon found an agitated Holmes standing near a lamppost at the north end of the merchants’ stalls.

“You’re late, Watson,” he greeted him curtly.

“I’m sorry, I was…held up at St. Bart’s. And then the traffic—“

But Holmes was impatient to relay more unpleasant details. “It’s bad, Watson, very bad. Horner’s case has been referred to the Assizes, and with his previous conviction he stands to lose his liberty. His wife is beside herself, desperate that her husband should at least be home with their two small children for Christmas. Meanwhile, the inspector can’t get a thing out of Horner, and the jewel is nowhere to be found.”

Watson closed his eyes against the fresh blows. The bitter chill shorted out the hot pulse that had temporarily loosened his fatiguing limbs. The cruel wind spanked his benumbed face. Many times he had faced the hardship of inclement conditions, many times had he known the frustration of a day spent running into walls. But never had he experienced the endless and unforgiving plummet into abject moral failure.

He opened his eyes again when he heard Holmes call out to Lestrade. Watson turned to see the inspector hurrying towards them, his last hope for salvation on this pitiless night.

“Pray, tell us what you have learned, Lestrade. I do hope we shall soon be delivered from this cold,” said Holmes flatly, barely covering the obvious fact that said he already knew the opposite would be true.

“The other man…Ryder…” Lestrade grasped at the words, for he had evidently been running for some time. “He…seems to…know something.”

“It is as I suspected,” Holmes said crisply. He was all taut stillness, a totem of masked impatience.

“He evaded my men,” Lestrade went on, “and he appears to be heading…towards Holborn.”

Holmes nodded, “He’ll no doubt remain on foot.” He turned north and waved for the others to follow him. Watson started to run, but his cold-stiffened wound seized his leg. He cried out and collapsed onto the curb.

Holmes was beside him in an instant, but he sounded more irritated than sympathetic.

“Can you walk at all?”

“I—no. I cannot.” Watson’s humiliation formed warm pools below his line of vision. The tears were filaments of ice the moment they dropped to his cheeks.  

“Go on, please,” he pleaded, hoping the world’s most observant man would fail to notice his wretched state. “I’ll follow later.”

“Don’t be a fool, Watson,” Holmes snapped. “Go home. You’re in no condition to give chase much less be outside on a night like this.”

Holmes shoved his hand inside his coat pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. “Here,” he said, pushing it into Watson’s hands.

“Go home, you say?” Watson snarled, his frustration and self-loathing finally inflating beyond his control. “Go home like a useless cripple while a crew of men runs about the city cleaning up my mistakes?” His outrage and shame rose above the maelstrom.

“Leave me, Holmes. Leave me, I beg you. I order you. I shan’t abide insincere and undeserved pity in this,” he looked around at the chaos that surrounded him, “godforsaken den of hell!”

“Watson,” Holmes started, as though he were speaking to a petulant child, “you’re being a trifle—“

“Oy! I’ve spotted ‘im!” boomed the voice of one of Lestrade’s constables, his blue hat bobbing excitedly over the crowd behind them.

“Wait for us here, then,” Holmes instructed Watson, and turned to follow the uniformed men who were elbowing their way through the thickets of humanity.

He would most certainly not wait for them there. He dug the heel of his hand into the hot swelling knot inside his quadriceps until he forced it into submission. Then, he rose to his feet and staggered blindly in the opposite direction.

*          *          *

Despite the agonizing pain, Watson walked on. He limped past festive storefronts and bands of carolers and happy merchants and rosy-cheeked well-wishers. Their brittle laughter rattled in his ears, their seasonal cheer mocked his black mood. The fierce wind churned up snow so violently that it was impossible to tell which came from the sky and which from the ground. He pressed his chin to his chest to avoid the cold and only looked up to glare at anyone who dared to turn a friendly glance in his direction.

What had it all been for? What of crime, what of medicine, what of life? Watson’s frenzied mind channeled all his thoughts into their most negative extremes, one scenario battening on another as if to outdo it for misery. He wasn’t a doctor or a soldier or a colleague. He was a feeble, dim-witted creature whose intellectual and physical deficiencies had led to nothing but destruction and disgrace.

Worst of all was the look of glowering disappointment that had narrowed Holmes’s eyes to deadened black slits, as if he had plundered the deepest corners of Watson's soul and been disgusted by the lack of substance.

Surely love was now out of the question.

Just then, something clicked in Watson’s mind. He slowed to a halt. 

The world would be a better place without me, he thought with the sudden misguided clarity of a despondent soul.

That was it, wasn’t it? Who knew how much better everyone would have gotten on had he never had the ill grace to be born? Mrs. Winchester would be with her family where she belonged. Horner would be a free man. Holmes would be able to solve twice as much crime without the encumbrance of his friend’s puerile meddling.

Watson found himself standing at the corner of Goodge Street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. He was jolted by the sound of a tavern door banging open, and three lanky figures spilled onto the street. Their attention was instantly aroused by the well-dressed gentleman standing dazedly under the gaslight.

“Well, well, what ‘ave we ‘ere, mates?” slurred the tallest one as he shuffled unevenly towards the doctor. “Bit off your turf, aren’t you, old chap?”

Watson saw right past the bloodshot eyes and alcoholic swagger to a cherubic, unlined face that could not have put the boy past seventeen.

“You wouldn’t ‘appen to ‘ave a sixpence for a pint, wouldya?” sneered the second one. An ugly purple lesion protruded from underneath his left eye.

Watson still did not speak. The men began circling him like greedy vultures, cracking their knuckles to demonstrate that it did not matter whether Watson answered them or not.

“Let’s ‘ave a look then, shall we?”

When they were close enough that Watson could smell the ale on their breath, his instincts returned. His hand darted to his inside pocket and pulled out his revolver.

“You can stop right there,” he said calmly, and three pairs of arms arrested in midair.

“One more step and I shall put a bullet in your brains faster than you can beg for divine mercy.” He cocked the hammer with a shaking thumb. “And not only would it give me great pleasure to dump your worthless carcasses into the Thames, I have no doubt there is not a soul in this city who would miss them.”

“Get out of here!” he screamed, and the youths scattered like roaches into the shadows of the alleyways.

It was an empty victory. The boys would perpetrate their crime on someone else, turn up dead or in gaol, squash the promise of their youth like fragile, vine-ripened fruit under careless heels. And it didn't even matter.

Watson's eyes fell closed over a long exhale. He weighed the gun in his hand as if he had never recognized its power before. It had certainly saved him from many a dangerous situation.

He opened his eyes, and looked down at the gun.

Maybe it could save him again now.

This twisted hope lowered a veil over his vision until all he saw was the outline of dull metal against a formless white backdrop. The revolver grew warmer in his grip. He clung to it and felt its hard reassurance. He slowly began to raise it towards it to his head.

And then the sound of a distant groan broke the spell.

A hunched, stout figure was lurching up the alley, a dead goose swinging stiffly in one hand, an empty jug dangling from the other. The man struggled to lean himself against the solid wall of a building, but he lost his footing and fell into the street. Just then a carriage drawn by a pair of horses came skidding round the corner.

Watson ran towards him. He grabbed his elbow and managed to haul him to the curb. The carriage narrowly missed him.

“Sir, you are in a very bad way and ought to be inside. May I help see you to someplace warm?” he kept one hand latched on the man’s arm while he quickly pocketed his gun with the other.

The man looked up at him gratefully. His ruddy face was chapped with windburn and his battered felt hat was soaked through. But he dropped again to his knees before he could answer.

Watson examined the tag on the left leg of the goose that lay beside him in the snow bank: For Mrs. Henry Baker. Below it was an address listed on Tottenham Court-road, just two blocks from there.

“Is this your home address, sir?”

The man tried to cinch his shabby coat more tightly around him, and nodded.

“Come on,” Watson said lightly, putting his arm around his waist, “lean on me. That’s it.”

He managed to get his arm over the man’s shoulder and, using all the strength of his good leg, Watson dragged him to his flat. He was able to produce a key from his coat pocket, and let them inside.

The room was cold and barren. Stalagmites of half-melted candles and a few pieces of tattered furniture were a landscape of survival, not comfort. The gas had not been laid on for some time, nor a fire lit in the hearth; the small bundle of wood next to the fireplace was either brand-new or neglected, as evidenced by the stagnant air and absence of ashes. A man could surely freeze to death in here.

Watson lowered the man to his musty sofa, and quickly divested them both of their wet outer layers. He laid the goose upon a small wooden table near the door. He hovered a moment, considering whether his host would object if he chopped it up for kindling.

“I believe,” wheezed a voice from the sofa, “that there are some papers ‘neath the sideboard.” A frostbitten finger wobbled in its direction.

Watson stuffed the hearth with wads of paper, and before long had a small fire. He laid their damp clothes in front of it.

“Thank you, sir,” said the man with a little more fortitude. “I believe you saved my life.”

“Oh now, you’re not so bad off, are you? Just a bit too much to drink on a cold night?”

“You’ll have to excuse my rooms. Shillings aren’t as plentiful now as they once were. When my wife comes home, she’ll make us a pot of soup.”

Watson could scarcely believe a woman lived here, but he did not think it wise to press the point.

“I’m sure that’s all right, Mr….Baker, is it? “

“That’s right. And whom do I have the honor of thanking for saving my life?”

His melodramatic sincerity irritated Watson. At worst, Baker might have suffered a broken limb or a cracked rib if the carriage had collided with him.

“Dr. John Watson."

“Yes, Dr. Watson. I’m sorry if my unfortunate state disrupted your night. It seemed you were on the cusp of an important decision.”

Was he casting a shrewd eye the doctor’s direction?

“Oh, it’s nothing, Mr. Baker. I was just chasing off a band of ruffians who were attempting to rob me.”

“Ah,” he said, sighing heavily. “It is a shame this neighborhood has fallen into disrepute. It used to be such a friendly place. Do stay and let your clothes dry before you head out again.”

Watson glanced appreciatively at the fire. “I’m sure that’s very kind of you, Mr. Baker.”

“It’s the least I can do. Would you like a cup of tea while you wait, Dr. Watson?”

“Please do not trouble yourself just now. You should rest.”

But he was already hobbling towards the stove before Watson finished answering him. He brought a heavy copper pot to the fire, then turned and steered Watson to the sofa.

“Come. You will be much more comfortable here.”

Once Watson was seated, Baker returned to the hearth and splayed his fingers over the flames. He seemed to be making a remarkable recovery.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Dr. Watson,” he said, his back to his guest, “you appear to be in rather a bad way yourself. You certainly don’t seem the sort who entertains delusions of self-harm.”

So he had seen. “I’ve had a rough go of late,” Watson replied flatly.

“’The strongest have their moments of fatigue,’” Baker quipped.

“Pardon?”

He tossed a smile over his shoulder. “Nietzche. You were saying, sir?”

 “Sometimes I think the world would be better off without me.” Waston was surprised to hear himself confiding in a virtual stranger, but he had little left to lose.

The teapot began to squeal. Baker went to the cupboard and located a small canister of China black tea. He brought a hot mug to Watson and settled in the opposite corner of the sofa with his.

“Why do you say that?”

“Say what?”

“That the world would be better off without you.”

“Because my existence has become nothing short of a bane to all who cross my path. I let a patient die today either through ignorance or negligence, I’m still not certain, botched the investigation of a serious crime which led to the false arrest of a man whose precarious freedom he could not afford to lose, and once again disappointed the man I call my best friend with my usual short-sighted attempts to earn his respect.”

“Goodness,” he blinked. “You certainly have been tried.”

“Yes,” Watson agreed through clenched teeth, his despair uncoiling again like a rousing beast. “And I think the whole lot of them would be grateful if I had never been born.”

“Do you really believe that, Dr. Watson?”

“I do.”

Baker rose from the sofa and paced the room, mumbling and scratching his stubbled chin while he held a private conversation with himself.

He’s mad, thought Watson. Just as I thought.

Baker stopped pacing. He turned to Watson and clasped his hands decisively behind his back.  

“So, you mean to tell me that you think all the people in your life would benefit by not having you in theirs?”

“That’s what I said.” When would he stop harping on this? Watson glanced with some annoyance in the direction of his clothes and reconsidered his assent to stay.

“All right, sir,” Baker said with the grave authority of a priest. “You were never born.”

“How’s that?”

“You were never born,” he repeated. “As of now, there is no such person as Dr. John Watson.”

“Right then.” Watson finished his tea. No, Baker was clearly not all there.

He leaned his grizzled head over the teapot. “Dear me, all this water seems to have boiled away and I’m afraid I’ve no more refreshment to offer you just now. Shall we take ourselves to a local tavern?” he offered, looking for all the world like he had just won a bet.

Watson thought of Holmes and his looks of disgust. He imagined him proudly escorting Ryder to Scotland Yard, reaping Lestrade’s praises and being grateful that Watson was not there to ruin it.

“Why not?” Watson went for his clothes. He found them quite dry, though they hadn’t been long in front of the fire. He began to dress, and stopped.

“That’s odd,” he muttered. He reached down to press on the chronically sore knot in his leg and found there was no pain to be had.

“There, you see?” Baker smiled triumphantly.

“See what? I must have finally rested it just long enough.”

“But your leg was never injured. You never went to war.”

Decidedly odder, since Watson had never told him he had been to war. But he would play Baker’s little game, if only for the absurd enjoyment of abandoning what was left of his own sanity.

“Then we’re better off already, aren’t we?” he said briskly, picked up his hat and followed Baker out the door.

Watson's Wonderful Life, part I

Sherlock Holmes stood silently at the window of Baker Street watching the last snowflakes sifting down from the sky. The pane was thick with ice, and winter’s frosty breath reached in just beyond the glass. Behind him, the sitting room was a warm cocoon, a tall fire snapping against the hearth and a fresh cup of tea steaming expectantly on his desk.

But it was with a troubled gaze that Holmes combed the street below, looking for signs of his friend. The hour was growing late, and Watson had not yet come home.

It occurred to Holmes for the first time that he was so long in the habit of not worrying for his friend, that to find himself actually doing so was all the more distressing. Watson had emerged unscathed from the rougher parts of their work with such regularity that his perpetual well-being was something Holmes depended on as confidently as his own wits.

But tonight was different. Although Watson was given to a short temper on occasion, Holmes had never seen him come entirely unhinged the way he had in Covent Garden that evening. He was no doubt frustrated with the case, and his leg was paining him more than usual, but his uncharacteristic disappearance told Holmes too late that something far deeper had shaken him.

Once or twice, Holmes raised his eyes to the fuzzy grey void of the horizon, or observed some small details so that Watson would have a chance to turn the corner of Baker Street when he wasn't looking. The luminescent shock of white that covered the city had muted the holiday clamor. The ghostly echos of shouting pedestrians gradually vanished like the stilled carriages that were dissolving into skeletal shadows underneath the snow.

Still no Watson.

Holmes was not a religious man, but as the clock ticked insistently into the future, he succumbed to the urge to ask the air that his dear friend, wherever he was, be kept safe.

Then, for perhaps the dozenth time that evening, Holmes revisited the day’s events, rifling for clues among the ruins of their scattered logic, hoping to find just one that would enlighten him as to the doctor's whereabouts.

*          *          *

“Mrs. Hudson! Mrs. Hudsooooon!” Holmes trilled from his recline on the settee, affecting the haughty, resigned impatience of an aristocrat whose servants always seem to be just out of earshot.

Mrs. Hudson finally entered the sitting room with an exasperated flush.

“There you are,” he said, his calm smile assuming she had all the time in the world. He picked up his empty teacup and thrust it in her direction.

She seemed to grow three inches taller as she drew a long breath, and narrowed her eyes into a vengeful glare.

“Mr. Holmes, if you please,” she began with measured restraint, though her words swiped a razor’s edge, “I’ve less than twenty-four hours to prepare this house for Christmas, cook two meals, drop my donations at the vicar’s charity drive, deliver three bundles of packages and set the plum puddings and I DO NOT wish to be summoned for so trifle a task as to REFILL YOUR TEA, SIR.”

Watson, who was sorting books at his desk, raised the "R" volume in front of his face and laughed quietly behind it.

Holmes lowered his cup in dejected innocence. “Why, Mrs. Hudson, you should not be standing here admonishing me when there are far more important matters to be tended. Get on with it then, and never mind the tea.”

She squared her shoulders, growled through gritted teeth and stormed from the room.

“What sort of beast do you suppose spat venom into her coffee this morning?” Holmes asked his flatmate, sounding more wounded than he had a right to.

Watson flung a disapproving smile at him. “Really, Holmes. You know how she is at this time of year. I realize you are in a position to go on holiday whenever you please, but she has no such luxury, especially at Christmastime. You’ve been too hard on her.”

“Permit me to remind you that the idea to abstain from detection over the holidays was entirely yours, Watson. Something about my health.” He was still pouting when he rose to retrieve a cigarette from the table.

Watson replaced the last book on the shelf. “No food and no sleep for three days do not a pleasant detective make,” he quipped, “not to mention a roommate. In any case, if you recall, I had suggested that we might enjoy Christmas quietly this year without permitting crime to draw us away from the warmth and comfort of Baker Street.”

Watson stole a sidelong glance at Holmes as he lit his cigarette. He tried to gauge whether or not Holmes had yet deduced his deeper motivations for keeping them sequestered over the holidays. The kiss they had shared four days previous was more thrilling than all their adventures combined, and Watson wanted very much to try it again.

It was no particularly special circumstance—in fact, it was a quite typical scene that had Watson on bended knee tending the angry gash that sliced across Holmes’s right palm. They traded playful barbs over the extent to which their ambush on an armed smuggler was, in hindsight, ill-advised and most certainly ill-timed. They shared a laugh. When Watson looked up, he was startled to see a shy smile chase across Holmes’s face. He came suddenly aware of the weight of his friend’s wounded hand in his own. And then the pattern of stains and scars he knew as thoroughly as a map of London creased into dark crevices as Holmes folded his bandaged palm around Watson’s wrist.

Watson had bestowed many a kiss before, but he was quite certain the world stopped turning when he held his breath and leaned into his best friend. Perhaps it was the briefest moment before he closed his eyes when he saw Holmes’s lips part and sink into a tiny smile. Or perhaps it was simply the wonder at crossing a monumental threshold with such a small gesture.

Either way, in that moment Watson was launched into the most exhilarating sphere he had ever inhabited. Holmes’s lips were as soft as a whisper in the dark, the soft yield of his mouth as charmingly uncertain as that of a young woman entering her first courtship.

Watson was staring at those lips again now, as Holmes puffed his cigarette to life and ambled to the window. He pulled the curtain aside and gazed with listless half-interest down at the street. “I suppose I do feel a bit smug knowing I haven’t any need to be running about the city in so common a fashion. One does wonder what it’s all for.”

Watson came to stand behind him. “They have families, that’s why.” He plucked the cigarette from Holmes’s fingers. “Tradition, Holmes,” he said through his inhale. “It means something to a great many people.”

Holmes shrugged and continued to stare with contemptuous pity at the pedestrians below, helpless pawns in a pointless game of their own making.

But Watson was already distracted. He was fixating on the graceful arch of Holmes’s neck, and the dramatic contrast between the neat edge of his dark hairline and his milky, translucent skin. Watson aimed his exhale for precisely that spot, and watched the locks of smoke swirl in graceful tendrils around his head. The awakened scents of fresh pine and rosewater on his clean-shaven face turned into a sharper aroma that was so essentially Holmes Watson’s kneecaps began to shudder.

He closed his eyes and started visualizing the most extraordinary things— a candlelit sitting room, heavy-lidded eyes, need-soaked kisses, graceful fingers skating over hot skin. Suddenly, Holmes tensed his body and tipped forward, sending Watson into a panic. He very nearly opened his mouth to begin defending his train of thought.

“It’s Lestrade,” Holmes exclaimed, annoyance and amusement at odds in his tone.

Watson, whose own reaction fell somewhere between annoyance and relief, peered over Holmes’s shoulder and together they watched the inspector approach the front door.

“One does wonder if he will be spared Mrs. Hudson’s wrath,” murmured Holmes, still unaware of the fact that it was his habits alone that drove the woman to her wits’ end.

Holmes moved away from the window and crossed the room. He left a cold void where he had been standing, much to Watson’s further regret.

Holmes waited a full two seconds before throwing open the door and ceremoniously greeting a surprised Lestrade, who was still brushing snow from his hat and hadn’t yet raised his hand to knock.

“The season’s greetings, Inspector! I hope whatever conundrum you’re about to present to us won’t have you working through the holiday.”

Lestrade stepped into the sitting room, nodding at Watson while he dusted the remaining snow from his damp lapels.

Holmes was already at the sideboard pouring their guest a glass of port when Lestrade started to speak.

“You know as well as I do that crime rarely takes a holiday, Mr. Holmes. But I will admit that jewel robberies don’t usually arise during a season of generosity and good cheer.”

“Ah!” The ever-present light behind Holmes’s grey eyes smoldered with intrigue. He dropped a sparkling red glass into Lestrade's hand. “Pray continue, Inspector.”

“It will be in all the papers soon enough, but you may as well hear it from me,” Lestrade went on. “Perhaps you’re familiar with the blue carbuncle, sir?”

Holmes cocked his head and rummaged through the annals of his long memory. 

“Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is—they are the devil’s pet baits,” he mused. “For a stone not yet twenty years old, the blue carbuncle already has a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of it.”

He strolled to the mantle and began to fill the pipe he always smoked at the start of a new case. “The stone is now the property of the Countess of Morcar,” he concluded, “or, I should say, it was before it was stolen this morning.”

“You have it, Mr. Holmes,” said Lestrade, “I’m on my way to the Hotel Cosmopolitan now.”

“Tell me the facts,” said Holmes, ignoring the warning shot that fired from Watson’s eyes.

“Bit of a puzzle. Only three people could have taken it—her ladyship’s maid Catherine Cusack, James Ryder, the upper-attendant at the Hotel and the plumber John Horner. They’ve each been detained for questioning.”

Lestrade took a sip of port before broaching the reason for his visit. He hated asking Sherlock Holmes for help, but neither did he want to give up his holiday. “I know it’s rather an inconvenient time,” he started hesitantly, “but I would be much obliged for any assistance you and Dr. Watson could provide, Mr. Holmes. We’d like to have this cleared up by the day’s end, you understand.”

Holmes felt Watson tense in preamble to the argument he was about to pitch to keep the detective at bay. But Holmes was feeling generous after all, and decided to surprise his roommate by raising his pipe into the air in a dramatic show of deference. “Alas, I regret! I shan’t be taking any cases until after the feast of St. Stephen’s. I cannot, however, speak for Dr. Watson.”

Holmes smiled around the stem of his pipe as he watched the startled joy bloom over Watson’s face. The doctor stepped forward with formal military attention.

“Well, Inspector, it just so happens I’ve a round to do at St. Bart’s later this morning. I’d be happy to accompany you to the Hotel Cosmopolitan on my way,” Watson replied generously. “Holmes must remain home to convalesce, but I’m sure you and I can make something of the investigation.”

“Much obliged, Doctor,” Lestrade replied. He drained the rest of his glass to cover his relief over having been spared an afternoon of smug reproaches. “I’ve a cab and two constables waiting downstairs,” he said, and plunked his empty glass on the table.

“Two minutes,” Watson called after after him, and the inspector waved in acknowledgment on his way out.  

Holmes turned an enlivened expression on his friend. “So. Watson. The case is in your hands.”

Watson fought to contain his eagerness. He imagined there would be no better way to earn permanent esteem in the man’s heart than to solve a case on his own when Holmes was indisposed.

“I shan’t be very long, I promise you that,” Watson assured him once he mastered himself. “I mean to spend the afternoon and evening here as planned.”

Holmes saw that gleam leap to Watson’s eye, the same one that shimmered like an unexpected beacon of light on that remarkable day last week. He watched Watson jog up the stairs to change, fondly noting the stiffness with which he usually carried himself to cover his limp had fallen away. He must be happy, thought Holmes.

He cast his mind back to that singular moment when those odd stirrings he’d been feeling were answered with a kiss as delicate as a brush of lace. He blushed, his fingers absently touching his lips at the memory. Perhaps it was the slight upward tilt of Watson’s face as though he were glancing at the sun that had made it so charming. Or perhaps it was the intimate smile that followed. Either way, this new situation of theirs was currently more exciting to Holmes than a forty-grain weight of crystallized charcoal, even if it was stolen.

Of course, he never would have agreed to remain willfully idle at Baker Street if he wasn’t practically vibrating with curiosity over what exactly Watson intended to do with him. It was clear the man had an ulterior motive for bidding him to remain unencumbered over the holidays; he had been a little too deliberate in his efforts to frame it in dire medical terms.

Come to think of it, now might be a good time to surprise him again.

As Watson’s tread scaled down the stairs, Holmes quickly checked the frame of the sitting room door, his great mind whirring with activity. Was it too forward? Would it be better to let Watson lead the way since he had more experience? What did one do with one’s tongue when involved in the act of kissing? Would the Countess offer a reward for the recovery of the blue carbuncle?

He was leaning in the doorway wearing a deep frown when Watson reached the landing, medical bag in hand.

“I’m off then,” he said.

Holmes did not appear to hear him.

“Holmes?”

“Tell the Countess to consider offering a reward, one that’s large enough to induce a greedy thief or his accomplice to come forward,” Holmes advised the floor.

“I shall certainly do so.”

Holmes shoved that thought aside and turned his attention to the other ones. What a curious sensation, he noted as adrenaline sluiced through his veins. It was almost like the flood of warmth that followed the prick of the needle, only instead of plunging him into a euphoric vacuum, this reaction felt more like a match had been set to the end of every one of his nerves. He welcomed it with an addict’s appetite.

“So, it seems...” he started, as a nervous tremor shot up his spine.

“Yes?” Watson pulled his coat from its hook and placed his hat on his head.

“It seems that Mrs. Hudson has been here,” Holmes said, and immediately berated himself for such awkward phrasing. What on earth was wrong with him?

Watson was confused. He glanced past Holmes and looked for the tea tray.

Holmes reddened and shook his head. His eyes guided Watson’s to the sprig of mistletoe that dangled over them. Watson flushed and Holmes was suddenly unable to swallow.

Get a hold of yourself, you bloody fool, barked his conscience.

“In the tidings of the season,” Holmes announced boldly, and like a nervous schoolboy he quickly planted a small peck on Watson’s cheek. “I am not averse to all traditions, you see,” he hastily added.

“Well, in that case,” said Watson, correctly surmising that the gesture begged for reciprocation. Heart pounding, he rocked forward and grazed his lips across Holmes’s mouth, pausing just long enough to capture and release them before he straightened again.

Watson watched him carefully for signs of response. But Holmes, that inscrutable creature, opened his eyes and quickly lowered them to the ground as his mouth squirmed around what might have been a grin.

*          *          *

“Dr. Watson, how came you to the Hotel Cosmopolitan?” ventured one of the Times reporters that had mothed to the steps of the hotel following the arrest.

“My colleague Sherlock Holmes and I are often commissioned to assist the Yard,” he answered, and a murmur of appreciation rustled through the swarm of press agents.

“And what is your assessment of the arrest of John Horner?” called another voice from the back.

“We have strong reason to believe he stole the blue carbuncle following his plumbing duties in her ladyship’s dressing room. John Ryder, the upper-attendant, has attested that he left Horner’s company for a short while, and returned to find the bureau forced open and the Moroccan casket in which the jewel was kept lying open and empty upon the dressing-table. Horner was brought in for questioning this morning, and when he was unable to furnish a convincing account of his actions, taken into custody.”

Watson was rather enjoying himself. Holmes rarely spoke to reporters, preferring instead to let the Yard take the credit for his cases. Just once Watson wanted to see them receive proper dues in the paper.

“Has the jewel been recovered, sir?” asked a young man who seemed intent on transcribing Watson’s every word.

“I’m afraid not, no,” confessed Watson.  “While our logical deductions have led us to the thief, the jewel remains at large.”

Several voices overlapped in asking the same question: “Has a reward been offered?”

Watson was particularly pleased to answer that, as it had been his gentle persistence that convinced the rather belligerent Countess to submit to reason.

“Yes, the sum is a thousand pounds,” he stated importantly.

Another crescendo of excitement rose from the crowd. This was a good bit of detail indeed, and they began hurtling questions at him faster than he could respond. It was suddenly all too much.

“No further questions at this time,” Watson said quickly, side-stepping the reporters and scampering down the steps.

A few minutes later Watson was in a cab swaying towards St. Bart’s. Holmes would likely see the story in the early edition of the Times before he had a chance to speak with him, but Watson was sure he would be proud of how smoothly and professionally he had handled things.

*          *          *

“How’s my favourite patient today?”

“I’m ready to leap out of this bed and marry the most handsome doctor at St. Bart’s the moment he asks me,” she replied playfully.

Dorthea Winchester was well past her seventieth year, but her eyes danced with the gay life of a woman half her age.

“It looks like the infection has receded considerably, and you can probably go home today,” he told her, pressing two fingers on her radial artery.

“Probably is not in my vocabulary, sir. I intend to be dancing around the tree with my newest grandchild by this evening.”

Watson chuckled as he adjusted his stethoscope. “I wish all my patients had your courage and determination, Mrs. Winchester. It would make my job a good deal easier.”

She smiled, and went on, “This is Annabel’s third, and is she ever thrilled to finally have a daughter! I told her, ‘Annabel,’ I said, ‘you must be thankful that the good Lord gives you a healthy child. Never mind if it’s another boy. Boys have their merits.’ And do you know what she said to me, Dr. Watson?”

He had been concentrating on the patter of her heart, and looked up to see her small face beaming with pride.

“She said, ‘I only want to have a girl so I can raise her to be just like her grandmother.’ Well, I tell you, doctor, my heart just about burst from my chest! I count my blessings every day for such a family. Honestly, how does one old lady get to be so lucky?”

He smiled and unhooked the stethoscope from his ears. “Certainly luck is a part of it, but strong families come from loving homes and you, my good lady, have provided your children with the very finest example.”

Her watery chocolate-brown eyes brimmed with emotion. “Oh, Dr. Watson, you are too kind. You remind me so much of my late husband.” Her arthritic fingers curled snugly around his arm. “Someone is going to be very fortunate to love you one day.”

Watson blushed, less from her sweet words than from the sudden image of a certain detective’s parted lips flashing into his mind.

Their second kiss was even more delicious than the first. That Holmes was ready to welcome a physical relationship was obvious. What was less clear was whether he attached any emotional significance to it or not. But Watson filed this bit of uncertainty away to be studied at another time.

“Well, Mrs. Winchester, there is one more test I’d like to conduct before I discharge you, just to make certain you and your granddaughter can dance around the tree tonight.”

Her impish spirit resurfaced. “I suspect you’re keeping me here to make love to me, but I suppose I can play along.”

The two laughed together as he made a note on her chart. Watson squeezed her hand in a warm goodbye and promised to return at the end of the afternoon.

*          *          *

It was just past one when Watson returned to Baker Street. A spot of lunch, some companionable conversation and a good pipe would fortify him before he returned to work. He hoped Holmes would be waiting for him in the doorway where he'd left him, ready to continue what had seemed more like a beginning than a farewell.

But he found Holmes precisely where he expected to—stretched on the settee, half-buried under a sheaf of newspapers.

“Quite a story, isn’t it, Watson?” rang a strident tone from behind the Globe.

“Seemed fairly cut and dried despite the fact that the jewel is still missing,” Watson answered with the easy confidence he had earned. He helped himself to the tray of sandwiches on the table, and poured a cup of tea.

“And you’re quite certain it’s this Horner fellow?” Holmes crinkled the paper into three folds and tossed it beside him before bringing a challenging stare to his friend.

Watson smiled over the rim of his cup. “I know you how you hate to believe the solution of a crime could be so overt, Holmes, but yes, the evidence was overwhelming.”

“Did her ladyship’s dressing-room show signs of having been ransacked?”

“Why, no, it was generally tidy,” Watson replied evenly. He wondered why Holmes hadn’t thanked him yet getting their names acknowledged in the press.

“Who sent for Horner to solder the grate?” Holmes asked more pointedly.

“I suppose it would have been one of the hotel attendants since the Countess had been abroad until early this morning. Listen, Holmes, did you notice that I mentioned—“

Holmes rattled on past him. “Did you not find it odd that he should receive a plumbing commission on the very day of the crime, in a dressing-room in which he had presumably never been, and would therefore likely be unaware of the location and possibly even the existence of the jewel?”

Watson shifted uncomfortably. Holmes was speaking to him in the defiant tone he usually reserved Lestrade. “Well, I suppose it’s…”

Holmes shook his head. “You really have done remarkably badly, Watson."

This remark, uttered with usual off-handedness, was a bruising rebuke. Watson turned his gaze down to the floorboards and tried to think of something constructive to say.

Something between a growl and a sigh pushed its way from the back of Holmes’s throat. He dismounted the settee and went into his bedroom.

“I can return to the Hotel,” Watson offered meekly, “and look around the room again.”

“Do not trouble yourself,” called Holmes. “If anything you have given the real criminal a clear path of escape. Returning to the scene of the crime will be of little use now.”

Watson’s high spirits collapsed under the realization that he was out of his depth. He wished they could forget the entire matter, but now it was too late.

In a few minutes Holmes emerged from his room. Gone were the pleasantly rumpled night shirt and the softly rustling dressing gown, gone was the look of serene anticipation that he had been wearing all that morning, gone was the relaxed posture and lazy lope of a man whose personal radius has dwindled agreeably to the perimeter of his sitting room.

Holmes was fully attired in his professional clothes and purposefully gathering his things, his nostrils flaring the way they always did when he began ordering his thoughts with rigorous discipline.

“Oh, Holmes, you mustn’t—“ Watson started, but he already knew he'd lost the argument.

Holmes halted his words with a raised palm. “If we’re going to get anywhere with this case, then I shall have to take possession. There is no other choice.”

“And,” he added even more sharply, thrusting his hands into his gloves, “I would appreciate it if you would refrain from crowing about the application of my methods to the press, particularly when they have led you to an erroneous conclusion.”

With this, Holmes snatched away the last vestiges of Watson’s dignity and all his illusions of competence. The doctor felt even more foolish as he huffed and hawed a clumsy apology.

Holmes flapped his hand dismissively while he gathered his ulster coat and his hat. He paused at the door.

“Are you coming?”

“I’ve got to get back to the hospital,” Watson muttered, head bent to avoid the unforgiving glare that made the morning’s affectionate exchange fade into the unreality of a gauzy dream.

Holmes nodded primly, and in one long stride he swept out of the room.

 

Fortius Quo Fidelius, part V

It was nearly two when I climbed the stairs to my room. I passed by Holmes’s door, which was slightly ajar, and saw there was a faint light coming from the hearth. I decided to check in on him.

“Holmes?” I rapped softly and pushed the door open. He was draped across the settee at the far end of the room, his dressing gown crumpled around him, his right arm thrown across his face. He made no noise, and appeared to be asleep. I crossed the room.

Then I saw his needle and an empty vial on the table behind him.

“How much have you taken, Holmes?”

“Not nearly enough,” came his muffled groan.

I left and returned a few moments later with a glass of water. “Drink this.”

He pulled his arm away and took the water from me but he did not drink it. He rested the glass on his stomach and stared into the fireplace. His breathing was coming in quick, erratic bursts.

“That was quite a performance today,” I said as I sat in the chair opposite him. “If you ever tire of detective work, you ought to try your skills on the stage.”

He said nothing.

“I must admit you almost had me fooled with that sudden fit. But when you said you were prone to such fainting attacks, I knew right away it was no such thing. It could only have been a diversion.” I was walking a precarious edge between sarcasm and sincerity, torn as I was between disgust and concern over his current state.

He registered no comprehension that I was even speaking to him.

“What’s the matter, Holmes?” I finally asked.

He shielded his eyes with a shaking hand. I was genuinely startled when he spoke in a voice fraught with anguish and fatigue.

“I have spent the better part of my days schooling my mind to function in strict and methodical ways, prided myself on the success of my mental acuity and indeed made it my livelihood. But for the last twenty-four hours I have been endlessly tortured by it, and entirely helpless to the agonizing images that refuse to cease parading through my head.”

He dragged his wrist across his brow and covered his face once more.

“No thought has ever preyed upon my mind with more cruel and excruciating clarity,” he paused, his voice at breaking point, “than the idea of you with him.”

I was so shocked it took me some time before I could find any words. My first impulse was to reassure him, but my conscience reminded me that he had no right to claims of betrayal.

“For months I had to watch and listen as you entertained every dignitary in Europe,” I began.

“Watson, please,” he said desperately, pulling his hand away from his face. “Please don’t. I’ve never been in love before. I didn’t know what it felt like. I didn’t know.”

 For a moment I thought I heard the man who did not form such attachments suggest that he loved me.

“What are you saying to me, Holmes?” I said, leaning forward in my seat. “Are you saying you’re—“

“Were you with him tonight?” he demanded, turning his pained expression upon me.

“Is that really any of your concern?”

He turned helplessly back to the fire, which tossed orange shadows over his troubled features.

“I’ve no right to ask, but, please…I must know. If only for the sake of pity.”

I rose and stood before him. “You’re the expert. You tell me.”

His frantic eyes quested wildly over my face, my body, my hands.

He reached a shaking limb towards me. “Come here.”

I went to the edge of the settee and bent over him. He grabbed my collar and pulled me to him until my neck was against his. He clung to me and inhaled deeply. 

When he finally exhaled, his body relaxed and he released me.

“You didn’t.”

“I didn’t. Not with anyone since you left.”

He shielded his eyes again. “I can’t imagine you were being faithful to me, Watson.”

I reseated myself in the chair. “I wasn’t. I was being faithful to myself. I admire and respect Colonel Hayter a great deal and I always will, but I do not love him.”

Holmes dropped his hand and stared once more into the fire, as if to question it on the senselessness of my statement.

“I realize this is an idea that’s foreign to you,” I continued. “But simply being attracted to someone is not enough for me.

Another stripe of pain contorted his features. I went on, surprised at how angry I still was.

 “Neither is it enough to follow someone about, waiting for him to cast his eye in my direction whenever he decides his cache of superior lovers isn’t quite satisfying enough.”

The blow landed heavily, for he exhaled sharply and folded his brow into deeper creases.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“Pardon?”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I fear it may be too late.”

“Too late?”

Holmes suddenly remembered the glass of water resting on his stomach. He brought the glass to his pale lips and quaffed deeply before answering.

“All the time in Lyons I thought of taking up my pen to write you, but realized I hadn’t the courage. So I threw myself into my work, hoping that over time the sadness and regret would recede and I would feel myself again. But they didn’t. I saw your face everywhere. I wished you were assisting me on the case. I wished you were there waiting for me when I arrived home each day.”

He was as close to tears as I’d ever seen him. He gulped down the rest of the water and continued in a stronger voice.

“I never gave a thought to any of the others, Watson, never. Superior, you say? Hardly. I knew from the moment I first laid with you that you were different—open and virile and kind and loving.”

My heart softened considerably at this. “Holmes, why did you not tell me this before you left? You knew how I felt.”

He sighed. “Because I don’t deserve you, Watson. I didn’t then and I don’t now. I thought it better that you should find someone who shares your strengths. You are twice the man I’ll ever be.”

“Oh, Holmes…” The anger rushed out of me in a single sigh. Relief and compassion flooded in.

“I could not face returning to an empty house at Baker Street. Who knows how long I might have lain in the dark at the Hotel Dulong if you hadn’t appeared to take me back to London.”

I pushed myself from my chair and knelt by his side. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

He shook his head. “Oh, my dear fellow…”

“Tell me what it is you want.” I took his hand between mine. It was cold but had stopped shaking.

He struggled to sit up. I slid my arm underneath his back and helped him rise to a seated position.

“If you’ll have me,” he started.

“Yes?”

He closed his eyes. “If you’ll have me, I will spend the rest of my life atoning for what a fool I’ve been.”

My heart bloomed with hope at the words I’d always wanted to hear, yet experience had taught me caution. “And what of the others? Are you certain that you’re suited to a life of monogamy?”

He smiled in spite of himself and clipped my chin between his thumb and index finger. “Watson, by some miracle I have earned your love. And I cannot now imagine any other life.”

And then he did something he had never done before. He gathered me by the shoulders, pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I felt the life returning to his limp body as his embrace grew warmer and stronger.

“I never wanted to leave,” I whispered into his ear. “I’m so very glad I did not.”

He nodded and tightened his hold before sliding away just enough to claim my mouth with his. It was the first kiss we’d never had—sweet, tender, and seasoned with only the slightest suggestion of desire.

But after two months of abstinence the kiss soon budded with urgency. With his powerful hands framing my face, Holmes’s intense passion was building to its former extreme. He kissed me harder and longer, wrapping his tongue around mine, dragging his lips down my neck. His hand darted to my shirt front.

“Holmes,” I said, laughing as I pulled away. “We can’t. Not here.”

“No,” he said between sloppy kisses. “I must have you this instant.”

I pried myself away and stood. “I mean it. I cannot disrespect Hayter. Not after he—no, I cannot.”

I stopped short of telling Holmes that Hayter had asked me to move in with him. Of course, I would have relished the fit of possessiveness that might have seized him if he’d found out, but we had still to endure one last meal with our host before bidding farewell, and it had been challenge enough to convince Holmes to be on his best behavior.

But Holmes paid no attention to my hesitancy. With a prim nod, he grabbed me by the hand and pulled me towards the door.

“Where are we going?” I called, but I hardly cared. I was dazed and exhilarated, brimming with love and joy, thrilled that he was already whisking me away on some new adventure.

He led us quickly down the stairs and out the front door.

“Holmes, it’s raining!” I protested, but he ignored me again. We didn’t stop running until we were under the broad canopy of a tall oak tree a good distance from the house. Then, he turned and began kissing me again with renewed insistence. The rain was pouring down on us but once we started on one another’s clothes, it faded into the background. We broke apart only long enough to wiggle out of shirts and kick off pairs of trousers. In a matter of minutes, we were completely disrobed and tumbling onto the grass.

Even now, it is difficult to articulate how good and right his body felt locking into mine, how magnificent his arousal felt pressing against my own, how exquisitely the erotic tones of his impassioned moans rang in my ears.

We rolled over and over each other, grasping and rubbing slick flesh that was growing muddy and wet atop the grassy sluice. A clap of thunder shook the ground underneath us when I took him into my mouth, and he swayed from side to side, his knees pressing into my ears and his fingers threading my hair as I worshipped his cock with my tongue.

He had no reservations about thrusting into my mouth, no admonitions regarding the speed of my pace or my unrestrained need to swallow him whole over and over again. When I had him at the precipice he abruptly pulled back, reached down for my head and clamped his mouth over mine without a word.

I draped myself over his body and aligned my cock with his so every pulse of our hips resulted in delicious tremors for us both. I cried out when he reached around and sank a moistened thumb inside me, starting a small fire inside my stomach. He started to add another finger when I stopped him and insisted he waste no more time in taking me completely.

In an instant he was on top of me again, guiding the head of his raw cock where I ached for him the most. The feel of him was at first a shock to my body, but my overpowering desire compelled me to claw at his hips and pull him determinedly inside me.

He raised his face towards the heavens at the same moment a flash of lightning revealed raindrops tumbling over an ecstatic smile. He pushed forward and upward in unhurried rhythm, knowing full well exactly where to reach me, and the private storm between us soon overtook the one that surrounded us. Another strobe of lightning and he was gazing lovingly down at me, gently cupping my cheek before bending down to kiss me again.

Holmes had never quite given all of himself to me before that night. Our previous couplings had often been characterized by his dominance and arrogant, albeit playful teasing. But now he was fully with me, yielding and affectionate, gracious and undemanding. For the first time I felt we were equal partners.

I drank in his kiss, taking advantage of his proximity to wrap my arms around his back and roll him underneath me once more. I wanted to straddle his hips and ride him until the lights went out and my world narrowed to the single pulse of a pounding heartbeat and the rush of hot blood. Our mingled moans brought us a step closer when he drew up his knees to push himself deeper inside me. As he nudged me forward with his thighs, I grasped my prick and stroked, slowly but firmly, leaning upon the hand he kept pressed into my chest.

When he knew I was about to come, he sat up, closed his hand over mine, and echoed my shuddering cries while I spent over his body. The act drove him so close to the edge he shook with anticipation as he waited for my climax to subside. The tides of pleasure that coursed through me lessened in force but did not cease, for when he stretched himself over the grass and arched his back I was already entering my second state of arousal.

I slid my hands over his long torso, smearing all of nature’s fluids over his damp skin, burying my swollen lips in his neck and calling his name as he bucked and thrust towards our final reconciliation. When at last he grabbed my hips, he shouted and gasped for a beautiful eternity before he finally lowered his boneless body to the ground.

He only rested for a moment before he was up again seeking my lips. There in the pouring midnight rain, he rested his forehead against mine and nodded. This, I knew, was his wordless vow that he was to be mine and mine alone.

*          *          *

“It was a pleasure to see you again, Watson,” Hayter said, shaking my hand and trying not to show his regret.

I took up his hand in both of mine and thanked him profusely for his kindness. I reminded him what a valuable friend he was to me, and promised to keep in touch.

It turned out he understood more than I realized after I rejected his invitation the previous night. We had shared several passionate embraces on his sofa before he pulled away and, with fire in his eyes, asked me to meet him in his bedroom.

I had assented, but once I found myself alone in the drawing room I realized I was not the least bit aroused.

I walked over to the window and watched storm clouds gather. I thought about Holmes, who would never love me, and Hayter, who already did. I thought about the life Hayter was offering me, and imagined how it would be to live in this quiet village with someone who treated me like a prince. He would no doubt be a faithful and doting partner.

But to never experience the sweet stings I felt when Holmes’s fingertips brushed my skin, to never know the constant and pleasurable longing for someone whose very presence made my heart race, to never lose myself in the sound of my lover’s voice as he made love to me, were too much to sacrifice for a life of loyalty and comfort.

Even if Holmes could never love me, I would not stop looking until I found someone who affected me the way he did. And Hayter was not that man.

When I finally reached his bedroom, Hayter was sitting on the edge of his bed, head bent sadly towards the floor. I started to explain to him how I felt but he lifted his face and stopped me. He said he already knew.

“I’m sorry, Geoffrey. I truly am.”

He shook his head. “Don’t be. Even if you stayed, I don’t think you’d ever look at me the way you look at him.”

*          *          *

Holmes was more kind to Hayter upon our departure than I could have hoped. He never let on that we had consummated our newly committed relationship on his front lawn, never cast so much as a smug glance in his direction. In fact, he was so warm and genuine that I suspected he was grateful for Hayter’s attentions on me. Without them, he might never have been moved towards his confession.

“Thank you, Colonel, for the much-needed respite,” he said when he shook his hand, and I knew he meant it. “Your charitable hospitality and this most interesting case were exactly what I need to rejoin the world of the living.”

Hayter nodded and bowed, and thanked Holmes again for lending his expertise to the mystery.

“So, Watson,” Holmes said as we settled into our compartment on the train to London. “I presume you’ll be writing up an account of all this in due fashion?”

“I suppose I will. Anything you’d care to add? Or omit?” I hadn’t slept all night, but I was ready to write volumes on how well the case had turned out.

“Best leave out the part where Hayter asked you to come live with him. It might raise certain speculations on the part of the public.”

My eyes widened in shock, but when he leveled a smirk at me, I simply shook my head and laughed.

*          *          *

The following Thursday a bouquet of white lilies arrived at Baker Street. They appeared to float into the sitting room on their own until I saw Mrs. Hudson’s small face peer around the mass of petals and smile at me.

“These are for you, Dr. Watson.” She placed them on the table in front of me.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”

It was the largest bouquet I’d ever seen. Thinking they were from Holmes, I was already blushing when I opened the card.

All the best to you both~

            Hon. Trelawney-Hope

I was so stunned I fell into the chair. I stared up at the huge arrangement and wondered if it was some kind of joke. Then I heard Holmes’s footsteps on the landing.

“Hullo, what’s this?” he said upon entering the sitting room.

“They’re from Trelawney-Hope.”

He paled. “Watson, I swear to you that I—“

“I know,” I said, waving away his assurance. “The card is addressed to me.”

He stared at me in confusion. I handed him the note, and he read the message aloud.

“I hardly know what to say, Watson,” he said softly.

“Tell me, Holmes,” I said, suddenly feeling a little bolder. “Is this sincere?”

“Undoubtedly. That man hasn’t an unkind bone in his body.”

I decided to dismiss the unpleasant reminder that Holmes knew the man’s body very well, and broke into a smile.

“So, it seems he’s congratulating me on a fine catch.”

 “I’m sorry for this, Watson, really. I’m sure Mrs. Hudson can find an alternative place for these.” He picked up the vase and carried it towards the door.

“You’ll do nothing of the kind.”

I crossed the room and snatched the vase from his hands. “I’m keeping them. It’s not every day one receives a fine bouquet and best wishes from the Secretary of European Affairs, is it?”

I firmly replaced the flowers on the table.

For the next week, I was flooded with similar gifts—bundles of roses, bottles of fine wine, handmade chocolates, fresh fruits and even a knitted Afghan of the most remarkable amethyst colour. They came from every corner of Europe, and each card offered us heartfelt wishes for a happy future.

Holmes was mortified.

“What exactly did you say to these gentlemen?” I asked him as I examined the fancy bottle of vodka sent by a well-known Russian nobleman. 

 “I merely told them that our relations must remain strictly platonic from now on.”

He could only gaze in sullen defeat at the entire history of his love life adorning every surface of the sitting room.

I felt glorious. Since we returned from Surrey I wanted nothing more than to tell the world that I was in love with the great Sherlock Holmes. But it seems the world already knew. It was like winning the grandest prize in all of Europe.

*          *          *

“Holmes?”

“Hmm?”

“It doesn’t add up.”

“What doesn’t add up?”

Holmes was lying face down, one arm dangling from the side of the bed. I scooted towards him and scripted the words “I love you” on his back.

“If you told your former lovers that you would not be seeing them in any intimate capacity from now on, why on earth would they send congratulatory gifts to me?”

Silence.

He finally rolled towards me bearing a sheepish grin.

“I may have mentioned something about having found a good doctor.”

“I am not the only doctor in London.”

His grin spread even wider and he shook his head. “Oh, Watson. This modesty of yours borders on willful ignorance, you know that?”

I still didn’t understand.

“Did you think you escaped their notice? They all of them asked me about you. Some expressed interest in getting to know you better. Others simply remarked on your many fine physical qualities.”

I felt my blush turn to scarlet as I groped for a response. “Well,” I finally said, “I do recall that Frenchman inviting me to join you. But you thought I was too weak.”

His eyes grew large and he quickly took up my hand in his. “Is that what you thought? Oh my dear, no, I’ve never believed anything of the kind.”

“Why then?”

He stared at me for a moment before he answered.

“Because I hated the idea of sharing you with anyone.”

 “Even then?”

“Always.”

“But you’ve had so many lovers, and continued to long after we moved in together. What difference could it possibly have made?” I fought to keep a knot of emotion from lodging in my throat.

“They never came close to you, Watson. The connection we share was and is too valuable to waste on the company of an overstuffed French imbecile.”

I smiled through the fine mist that was forming in the corners of my eyes.

Holmes squeezed my hand and continued. “I used to find it a challenge to impress all these men who begged for my attentions. What they thought or felt was of no importance to me as long as they got the release they were seeking. And then when you came along I realized—after far too long, I grant you—that what you think and feel is very important to me. And not just in the bedroom.”

I blinked away the tears but they kept coming anyway.

“I thought I could separate the two spheres by keeping you apart from the rest of them. But the excitement of the challenge quickly died, and then I lost you. It was my own fault. I can be quite daft sometimes, you know.”

I couldn’t speak. I placed his hand against my cheek.

“Will you forgive me?” he whispered.

I nodded.

He pulled me to him and I soon fell asleep in his arms. He was still there when I woke the next morning.

*          *          *

FIVE YEARS LATER

“You’re going to have to explain this to me again, Holmes.”

“Explain what?”

He poured a small pool of jasmine oil on my chest. It dribbled down my stomach.

“I understand that pushing the Napoleon of crime off a cliff would necessitate some discretion in the aftermath. But I still don’t see the usefulness in pretending you’re dead.”

Holmes began to knead the oil into my skin.

“There are still men after me, Watson. I told you that.” He poured more oil into my open palm.

“Men? You said man. This Moran fellow.” I started rubbing the oil over his stomach. God, his abdominal muscles are exquisite.

“Well, I’m not so much worried about the others. Ah…” he trailed off when I anointed his erection.

“Why not do away with him, too, then?” I asked.

“It’s not quite that simple, Watson. My death will induce them to take liberties. Eventually they will lay themselves open, and I can pursue them more sensibly through the British legal system.” He picked up my right hand and began tying it to the bedpost with a small piece of rope.

“Eventually? How long must we traipse around the continents in disguise to meet like this?”

“Right now, I cannot answer that. But you must admit it is rather exciting. I nearly fainted when I saw you in that soldier’s uniform.” He concentrated on securing the small loop around my wrist.

My cock stiffened further at the memory of him meeting my eyes across the train platform in Prague, running to find him in our sealed compartment, and being commanded to leave my uniform on as I took him with every fibre of my strength.

“It is, I grant you that. But I miss you. And as much as I enjoy having my own practice, I miss Baker Street.”

“We’ll be back there soon enough.” He tested the loop to make sure his own hand could fit through it. “Have you not been enjoying my letters in the meantime?”

“Oh, very much.” I was never so happy to see those dancing men as when the first one arrived, though I’m afraid the late Hilton Cubbitt would not have agreed.

“How many times did you bring yourself off after the last one?” he asked, with a gleam in his eye.

“Three. And once more on the train out of England yesterday.” The most explicit sexual scenario I’d ever read was so incendiary I spent half the journey abusing myself in the men’s washroom.

He smiled triumphantly, and started tying my left hand to the other bedpost.

“And you, Holmes? I trust you’ve been keeping your own company out here?”

His dazzling smile made my toes curl. “Watson, you know you’re the only man for me.”

Of course I did, but I never tired of hearing it.

“And what of the needle?”

He sat back on his heels and paused. His next words came out in a rush.

“Well, there was a time a couple weeks ago when I had to spend four days holed up in a monastery near the Prussian border and there was so very little to keep me occupied that I did go out and purchase some necessary supplies but only used a small, weak solution that proved quite sufficient and as I found my way out the next day I required no more distractions and so disposed of them entirely I love you.”

He sang the last three words as one cadences the end of a nursery rhyme.

 “If you ever actually die, Holmes,” I glowered at him, “I’m going to kill you.”

“Fair enough.” He gave the second loop a final tug.

“No hands?”

“Oh, you’ll use your hands. It’s your arms that will be quite helpless.”

With a mischievous tilt of his eyebrow, he slipped his hands inside the loops and wound his wrists until they tightened. He dropped his head and began to nibble my jawbone.

He was right, of course. The bindings around our wrists contained the force of our reactions to our lubricated hands. Twining our fingers and pressing into one another’s palms heightened the intensity of making love without embrace. But thanks to the jasmine oil, there were no spaces in which we could not insinuate ourselves.

We finished twenty minutes later with his knees wedged underneath me and my legs locked around his waist. With him buried to the root inside of me, I concentrated on closing the gap between us until the friction ignited my release.

After he untied us, Holmes congratulated me on my ingenuity.

 

Fortius Quo Fidelius, part IV

The house was dark when I arrived home that night, and I presumed Holmes had gone to bed. I lit the fire in my room and changed out of my clothes. Before I retired for the night, I went downstairs to retrieve a glass of milk. On my way back upstairs, I heard a crash in the sitting room.

I pushed the door open. At first I could see nothing save a small candle on the fireplace mantle. But after my eyes adjusted I saw a figure lying on the settee. With a light groan the figure rolled to the side.

“Holmes?”

No answer. The fire had gone out and the sitting room had grown cold.

I approached the settee. Holmes’s body was twisted into an unnatural position. I bent down to pick up the object that had fallen to the floor. It was a hypodermic syringe.

“Holmes?” I whispered again. He grunted, but barely.

“Have you taken something?”

He mumbled a response that sounded like, “Go to bed, Watson.”

I reached down to press on his carotid artery. His pulse fluttered beneath my fingers.

“Come on,” I said, and tried to lift him.

He turned towards me and struggled to raise his heavy lids.

“To bed now, Holmes.” I got my shoulders underneath his right arm and hoisted him to his feet.

“Stimulates and clarifies the mind,” he slurred as we shuffled to his room.

I shook my head over his sorry state, disappointed that so brilliant a man would take such a foolish risk.

He collapsed into his bed and I removed his shoes. He made a weak attempt to reach for his nightstand, but I saw the object before his hand found it. It was a small, open case with velvet lining bearing the indentations of a needle and a small vial of clear liquid. I closed it and moved it out of arm’s reach.

I went downstairs to fetch Holmes a glass of water and a piece of bread. When I brought them into his room, he appeared to be asleep. I shook him awake.

“I want you to eat and drink this.”

“Stimulates and clarifies the mind,” he said for the second time.

“Come on, Holmes,” I said again, cringing at his confusion.

He took the water and the bread from me, and I watched him awkwardly consume them. After he was halfway through the bread and three-quarters of the way through the water, his head fell again to the pillow. I decided he was nourished enough for now, placed the remainders on his nightstand and brushed the crumbs from his sheets.

I covered him with a blanket and picked up my candle. Once I was certain he was breathing somewhat normally, I left his room.

*          *          *

Holmes never mentioned the incident. He appeared to be in fine form the next day, interviewed two clients and accepted one case. I watched him closely for any more signs of overdose, but saw none.

I did not see the needle again until the following week. He happened to be untying his tourniquet when I entered the sitting room.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” I said to him through a narrow glare.

“Just a little seven-percent solution of cocaine, my friend. Nothing more,” he replied cheerfully as he rolled his sleeve down his forearm.

“I don’t know how you can risk such damage—“ I started. But he held up his hand to stop me.

“Please don’t trouble yourself, Watson. When I am between cases I find that it helps to stimulate and clarify the mind.”

“Yes, you said as much when I found you practically comatose on the settee the other night.”

He stared at me blankly.

“You have no memory of this?”

“It occurred to me when I woke the next morning that someone had brought me some water and bread and covered me with a blanket.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Really, Watson, you’re making too much of this. Sometimes a little morphine helps me sleep.”

Morphine? Has it not occurred to you that a little too much can cause you to asphyxiate and never wake up?”

“I am a chemist. I know what too much is.”

“I’m not sure you do.”

The cocaine was beginning to take effect. His pupils had dilated and he started to laugh in a high, outlandish cackle.

“Oh, my dear friend, what would I do without a doctor in the house?” He sang, and picked up his violin from the settee. He began scraping out the manic witches’ theme from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

I covered my face with my hands and sighed deeply. Just what would he do without a doctor in the house?

*          *          *

“Good evening, Dr. Watson,” said Mrs. Hudson. “I’ll have dinner ready in half an hour.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.” I handed her my hat and coat. It had been an unusually long day at the hospital. A fire at the Alexandra Orphanage brought in dozens of burn victims, taxing every resource we had, including skilled hands.

I jogged upstairs to the sitting room, ready to calm my frazzled nerves with a glass of brandy and a good pipe. When I opened the door I nearly collided with a tall, red-headed woman in a bright green coat. She was in the midst of bidding goodbye to Holmes.

“Thank you kindly, Mr. Holmes,” she said, and offered him her hand.

He took it and bowed. “I am always here, Ms. Bergeron.”

She picked up a medium-sized bundle and swept past me, leaving a cloud of rose-scented perfume in her wake.

Holmes was still smiling after he closed the door behind her. He turned to greet me, pausing to allow his observing eyes to brush me up and down before he spoke.

“You look regularly done, my friend. It must be difficult to spend an entire day treating children,” he said.

Weeks of frustration and a bad day at work culminated in the most venomous words I’ve ever uttered to anyone.

“So you fuck women now, too?”

His smile froze before it evaporated from his face. My coarse language must have cut to the quick, for he had to take a moment to compose himself before answering very quietly.

“Annette Bergeron is the madam of a respectable brothel in south London. I supply her with my chemically-treated sheaths to protect her ladies, their clients, and the reputation of her business. You are now the third person on earth who knows of this.”

I dropped my head in disgrace, though I was still angry.

Holmes sighed, and continued in an even softer tone.

“Perhaps it would be better, Watson, if you did not accompany me to Lyons.”

“I never had any intention of accompanying you to Lyons,” I spat. My stinging regret was worth his visible disappointment, but no sooner had I realized this when I knew I could not go on deliberately punishing us both.

“Ms. Bergeron has little to do with this, Holmes. I’m afraid I cannot abide your habits.”

He frowned at the floor.

“The constant stream of guests, not to mention the horrifying effects of your drug use, have tried my last nerve. I’m sorry. I don’t think I shall be able to remain here.”

He raised his astounded face to mine. The small triumph I felt at taking him off his guard faded with my own devastation that I would indeed have to leave him once and for all.

“As you wish, doctor,” was his strained reply, and he said no more. 

*          *          *         

Holmes departed for Lyons three days later, and I was left to decide the course of my future. It seemed useless to seek alternative lodgings while the reason for my flight was away on the Continent, so I remained where I was for the time being.

I passed a lonely and miserable two months. I performed my duties at St. Bart’s and stayed out past dark, either at my club or a tavern, in order to avoid spending time in the empty sitting room. I made a few aimless attempts to find other rooms, but never bothered to follow up with any of my contacts. I started several stories but did not finish them.

I heard not a word from Holmes and the affair of the Netherland-Sumatra Company, though in my mind I composed and re-composed the apologetic letter I hoped to receive. I imagined him begging my forgiveness, promising to change his ways and urging me to join him on the case. Of course, no such letter arrived.

In the meantime, I did receive a note from my old friend Colonel Hayter, who had been under my professional care in Afghanistan. He was a kind man, several years my senior, though he seemed younger in his ways and his energy. As he convalesced, we two spent long afternoons in conversation about the politics of war and found that our views upon the subject agreed entirely. I was happy to see him make a full recovery, but I regretted the day he left my care to return to England. I had made so few personal connections during that horrible time, his company and friendship had been genuine gifts.

And so, when I received his request asking me to visit him in Surrey, the timely offer of companionship was again most welcome. I agreed to call upon him the following weekend.

But the next day a newspaper headline announced that not only had Holmes prevailed in Lyons, he had succeeded where the police in three countries had failed, and outmaneuvered at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe. Jealousy and pride fought for the greater share of my conscience, which was still at odds when I received a strange telegram from France the night before I was to leave for Surrey:

 “TO MY FRIEND WATSON: PLEASE TO COME HOTEL DULONG. I AM AILING.”

Obviously, this had not come from Holmes, but likely the manager of the hotel whose grasp of English was secondary at best. For a moment I suspected a trap, but as I had been uninvolved in the case I could see no reason why a criminal unfamiliar with my name would wish to bring danger upon me. I wrote to Hayter postponing my arrival, and hastened to Lyons on the following morning.

I found Holmes locked in his room at the Hotel Dulong. After the manager let me in, I waded through a sea of congratulatory telegrams to the bed, where Holmes was lying prostrate and inanimate. I shook him awake. He opened one eye which immediately narrowed in the direction of the man behind me.

“I told you not to contact him,” he growled.

“But, sir,” said the perplexed manager, “you have not left your room in four days and I fear you lose your sane.”

“It’s all right,” I told the man with a light pat on the shoulder. “You did the right thing, and I thank you very much. I shall look after him now.”

Once the manager left, I sat down on the bed and regarded Holmes. He was pale, gaunt and in the throes of the blackest depression I’d ever seen. If he was glad to see me, it did not show beneath his disillusion and detachment.

“I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced,” he mumbled, and rolled to his side.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“Considering I’ve worked no less than fifteen hours a day for two months, I should say I’m faring splendidly,” he answered coolly.

“I’ve come to take you home.”

“Your home or mine?”

“As of now,” I responded lightly, “they are one in the same. May we put our differences aside long enough to make this journey?”

He grunted in assent, and made no attempts to stop me packing his things and shuffling him off to the train station. He remained silent for the duration of the journey. We did not speak again until we reached Baker Street.

“I shall have Mrs. Hudson draw you a bath,” I said, as I deposited his travel cases in his bedroom.

“That won’t be necessary. Please close the door on your way out.”

“Very well,” I said curtly.

After three days’ time it was evident that being back home was doing little, if anything, to improve Holmes’s health. He barely touched his meals, offered only desultory responses to my inquiries after his well-being, and remained sequestered in his bedroom. I was still angry with him, but still so desperately in love with him that I felt the renewed rush of dread and disappointment when I considered removing myself from his life. Nor could I bear to see him fade away.

With all the strength I could muster, I stoically implored him to join me at Colonel Hayter’s home near Reigate where the country air would surely go a long ways towards his recovery. At first, he was unmoved.

“And place myself in the care of a stranger and his probably over-attentive wife? No, thank you very much.”

“Holmes, Hayter is a bachelor and one of the kindest people I’ve met. If peace and quiet are what you require, than rest assured you shall have it.”

To my great surprise, it took no more urging. Thankfully, Hayter was amenable to hosting two guests, and Holmes and I arrived in Surrey the following Friday.

*          *          *

Colonel Hayter was just as I remembered him. He greeted us with the enthusiasm of a long-lost family member, and shook my hand warmly, the lines around his brown eyes creasing with mirthful recognition. He was careful in his praising of Holmes, who I’d warned him was still reeling from his recent exertions, and gently offered him the most comfortable guest quarters in the house. Holmes responded with his usual courteous detachment, which was the best I could have hoped for under the circumstances.

That night over dinner, Hayter regaled us with some fascinating tales of his life after he left Afghanistan. I was pleased when even Holmes interjected with a remark now and again, though I could see he was doing his best to keep to himself.

This attempt failed altogether later that evening, however, when Hayter remarked on a recent crime that had taken place at his neighbor’s home the Monday previous. Holmes was suddenly present again.

“Was there no clue as to identity of the burglars?” he piped up from his recline on the sofa.

Hayter recited for him the strange list of items that had been reported missing from Acton’s library, which only piqued the detective’s interests further.

“Holmes, you are here to rest,” I warned him. He shrugged and excused himself to bed.

Hayter and I spent the remainder of the evening drinking brandy and chatting amicably in front of the fire. I was so absorbed by our conversation that I was quite startled when Holmes appeared once more in the sitting room. He glared at us, snapped up his newspaper, and left the room.

“He’s quite an interesting character,” Hayter said good-naturedly.

I smiled. “His moods and tempers can be extreme, but he usually means no harm.”

An awkward silence fell over us. I wondered if Holmes had really gone to bed, or if he was listening somewhere nearby.

“You know, I’ve thought of you quite often since our first meeting,” Hayter finally said, glancing shyly over the rim of his glass.

“Have you?” My heart skipped a beat.

“Yes. You struck me as someone who would make a very good companion. I don’t know that I would have recovered as well or as quickly if you hadn’t been the one attending me.”

I was touched by his kind words. “And your friendship meant a great deal to me during one of the most difficult times of my life.”

Hayter nodded, and swirled the amber liquid over his palm. “Yes, I gathered you were suffering a personal crisis, though I didn’t wish to force your confidence. Is it…better now?” He leaned forward.

I kept my eyes on the fire. “Yes. It is.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, and placed his hand over mine where it was resting on the arm of my chair.

“I hope you don’t think me too forward, John,” he murmured. “I’m just so…very glad to see you.” He squeezed my hand and began to rub my arm.

“Hayter, if there’s—“

“Call me Geoffrey, please.”

“I’m not sure if I—“

He drew his hand back. “Have I offended you?”

“No, not at all. I just don’t know if I’m quite ready for this.”

“I understand,” he said, sitting back in his chair with quiet disappointment. “Perhaps you would be willing to take a walk with me tomorrow after breakfast?”

“I’d be delighted, Geoffrey. I must admit it’s been some time since I’ve enjoyed good company.”

He smiled into his glass.

“I think I shall retire for the night,” I said, rising from my chair. I grasped his shoulder and leant down. “I’m very glad to see you, too.”

He looked positively thrilled when he raised his face to mine, so much so that I planted a light kiss on his lips.

“Good night, John,” he whispered, and the blush on his cheeks showed I had not been wrong in my perceptions.

*          *          *

Holmes was quiet and withdrawn during breakfast, and I gathered he had not slept well. But Hayter was in a delightful mood, and we continued to converse as easily as we had the night before. Suddenly, his butler burst into the breakfast room.

“Have you heard the news, sir?” he gasped. “At the Cunninghams’ sir!”

“Burglary!” cried Hayter, with his coffee-cup in mid-air.

“Murder!”

Hayter whistled. “By Jove! Who's killed, then? The J.P. or his son?”

“Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot through the heart, sir, and never spoke again.”

“Who shot him, then?”

“The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got clean away. He'd just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his end in saving his master's property.”

“What time?”

“It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve.”

No sooner had Hayter’s butler announced the terrible news than the local inspector appeared on the rumor that the great Sherlock Holmes was lodging there.

Holmes instantly came alive next to me, and was full of questions for Inspector Forrester. I tried once again to prevent him from taxing his energies so soon after Lyons, but when I learned that the Reigate police were confounded, I had to finally relent.

I must admit the change in him was remarkable. Where Holmes had all but shut down since I met him at Hotel Dulong, he was now brimming with vigor. His grey eyes resumed their shrewd focus, his body its natural quickness. He pored over the scraps of evidence Forrester showed him, and was soon following him out the door to the scene of the crime.

“Well,” said Hayter after they left, “I guess this leaves us to our own devices. Still fancy a walk?”

Ten minutes later we two were ambling along the footpath that led from his house to a small pond. He told me the history of his property, and of the families who had lived there for over two centuries. We stopped now and again to examine the flora, which was a welcome contrast to the concrete and brick of the city. Nearly an hour had passed before our conversation turned to his other houseguest.

“You seem quite attuned to Mr. Holmes,” he observed. “You react very quickly to him, and he to you.”

“Well, we have been living together for some time now. And I’ve assisted him on a good number of cases.”

“Is that all?”

I stopped and turned. “Why do you ask?”

“You’ll forgive me for prying. I thought I perceived some history between you and him. I like to know what I’m up against.”

“Yes, Holmes and I were involved for a period of time.” I’d no wish to provide him with any more details.

“And now you’re…no longer?”

“No, it became necessary for us to go our separate ways. In fact, I am currently seeking new lodgings.”

Hayter’s face lit up. “Ah!”

“We’ve remained friends,” I was quick to add, though I’m not certain why.

“Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you two, but I won’t pretend I’m not happy to hear it.” He took a step towards me and brought his hand to my face. “You deserve a loving partner, John.”

I knew he was right, of course, but hadn’t realized how much it meant to me to hear it. I leaned forward and kissed him. It was a longer, deeper kiss than the one we’d shared last night. He was very unlike Holmes in his embrace; Hayter’s lips were soft and restrained, and moved loosely under mine.

When we parted, a fresh blush spread across his cheeks. I must have done the same, for he grazed his knuckles under my chin and smiled.

“I’ve some business in town this morning, and I imagine we ought to check in with the investigation after lunch. But perhaps you and I could continue our visit after dinner?” He looked up at me hopefully.

“I shall count on it,” I returned, and kissed him once more.

He left me standing by the pond. I stared out at the placid water and wondered what to think. I was flattered and excited by the attention, but even though it had been months since I’d been with Holmes, it felt strange to feel another man’s touch.

I remained deep in thought as I rounded the path and came to a small clearing. There I saw a tall, familiar figure studying a group of ducks across the water.

“I have spent a charming morning, Watson,” he said without looking over at me. “The inspector and I have made quite a little reconnaissance together.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, Holmes. I must say you’re looking much more yourself now.”

“This case,” he continued thoughtfully, bringing his index finger to his lips, “has many points of interest.”

“I’m eager to hear what you’ve discovered. Geoffrey and I planned on looking in on the Cunninghams after lunch.”

“Ah, so it’s ‘Geoffrey’ now, is it?” he said, turning a steely glare to me. “Well, he is a fine catch after all, Watson.”

I reddened and looked away. “You needn’t make so much of it, Holmes. I’m not—“

“I say, Watson, I’ve just thought of something I must relay to the inspector. I shall see you at the house.” And he turned and was gone.

*          *          *

Holmes was correct; the case did present many interesting facets. But more interesting than those was Holmes’s comportment as we visited the scene of the crime. I’m no stranger to his methods, and I’m well aware that he can’t resist a touch of the dramatic. But on this occasion his theatrics were so exaggerated I was nearly embarrassed.

A show of forgetfulness, a sudden faint, a brazenly clumsy maneuvre (which he pinned upon me), each somehow escaped Hayter, the inspector and the Cunninghams, but I knew he was setting some sort of trap. All the same, I feigned surprise when at last he revealed that the Cunninghams themselves were responsible for both the burglary at Acton’s and the murder of their coachman.

That evening at dinner, Hayter raised his glass in a hearty toast. “To Mr. Holmes, whose brilliant expertise has restored peace to our sleepy little village!”

Holmes tolerated his praises with stoic courtesy and even ate a bit of food. But there could be no escaping the fact that Hayter’s bright spirits had as much to do with me as the resolution of the case, especially to someone as observant as Holmes. After the final course was served, he politely excused himself and did not return again.

*          *          *

“It has been a remarkable couple of days, John,” said Hayter, as he sat down next to me on the sofa.

“Cases always seem to arise where you’d least expect them,” I replied, taking the glass of port that he handed to me.

Hayter placed a hand on my thigh and offered me an intimate smile. “You look quite handsome in that color. It matches your eyes.”

I was so unaccustomed to such flattery I didn’t know how to respond. I came up with an awkward thank you and sipped my port.

“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” he said and tilted my chin towards his face. He didn’t wait for an answer before he moved his mouth to mine. He tasted of port and the pheasant we’d had for dinner.

“Have you a pipe or a cigar?” I asked him when we broke apart.

“I’m afraid not. I haven’t smoked since I left Afghanistan.”

“No matter.”

Hayter settled back in the corner of the sofa. “So, what’s next for you? You say you are looking for lodgings elsewhere. Do you mean to stay in London?”

“Well, I’ve considered starting my own practice. I’ve taken on quite a number of patients at St. Bart’s.” I had hoped that Holmes and I would continue to work together, but I did not mention this.

“Have you ever considered moving to the country?”

“From time to time. But I’m not entirely certain I’m suited to this life.”

Hayter put his glass on the table and took my hand in his. “It may be livelier than you think,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “What if you started your practice in Surrey?”

I swallowed a small gasp. “I’ve…never considered such a thing before.”

“Would you?”

“Are you asking me to move to Reigate?”

“I’m asking you to move in here. With me.” He looked at me steadily, his brown eyes clear and earnest.

“My goodness, Geoffrey. I’m not sure what to say.”

“Say you’ll think about it at least.”

“All right,” I said, dazed by the offer.

“I can see you’ve been hurt, John,” he said as his fingers traveled gently over my face. “He doesn’t see in you the things that I see. He thinks too much of himself. I would show you all the love and care that you deserve.”

I looked into his face and was awed by the tender expression I saw there. He took the glass from my hand and placed it on the table next to his. In the next instant, he was upon me, grasping my shoulders and kissing me with unmistakable intention.

“John…” he moaned as he feverishly peppered kisses around my neck.

I put my arms around him and kissed him back.

So long. It had been so very long...

Fortius Quo Fidelius, part III

Trelawney-Hope wasn’t the only one with whom Holmes held congress, as I soon came to find out. He had scads of lovers, all of whom occupied Europe’s most elite ranks. I began to recognize when they called at Baker Street for personal reasons and not cases. The married ones would arrive during odd times of day when their presence at home would not be missed, and they almost always arrived on foot instead of by carriage. Worst of all was the hungry desire that glazed their expressions when they looked upon Holmes.

I tried to avoid being home during these interludes, though part of me remained morbidly fascinated by the parade of dignitaries who reserved such affections for the world’s only unofficial consulting detective. That these important, educated and well-mannered gentlemen became absolute tigers in the bedroom would have delighted me to know had I not been so slighted by the fact that Holmes clearly did not share my attitude towards our own relations.

They obviously trusted Holmes implicitly, for they carried out their affairs with no concerns whatsoever over my presence. Certainly these men could count on him for absolute discretion, and—I realized with another merciless stab to my chest—for what were likely the best sexual experiences of their lives.

I privately decided to put an end to our physical relationship until the damnable creature seduced me one night after the conclusion of a case, and I knew I was no match for his wiles.

He curled up next to me on the settee shortly after I settled down to read the evening newspaper. The print began to blur when his tongue tickled my earlobe. Long fingers reached across my chest and plucked at my shirt buttons. Wet lips opened and closed around my neck and, once my shirt was open, a groping hand dropped into my lap.

I lowered the newspaper. “What are you doing?”

I felt him smile against the side of my head. “My dear fellow,” he said with mock scorn, “I had hoped that my tutorials on the art of deduction had carried some resonance.”

“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” I started to say, but immediately faltered when his index finger began tracing the outline of my arousal.

“Is that so?” he whispered. “I happen to think this is a very good idea, and so, apparently, does this.” Together we watched him slide his hand up the inside of my thigh and push his palm into my genitals.

It was useless. I let him turn my head so he could clamp his mouth over mine and continue to undress me. I let him lead me into the bedroom and shut the door behind us. I let him lay me down on the bed and kneel over me as he peeled off his own clothing. And I let him lower himself upon me and begin to love me. It was as it had been.

But everything had changed. I could not shut out the vision of the other men who had lain here, nor the athletic activities that surely accounted for the bruises dotting Holmes’s hips and shoulders. I rested my hand on his head and let him take me into his mouth, knowing that I was too weak to deny him and too cowardly to tell him how much I cared.

I let him roll me to my stomach and prepare me without murmuring words of encouragement. And when he entered me I uttered not a single sound until the friction underneath me burst into flames. Only then did I indulge in a stifled moan, but his name died in my throat before I finished. My body climaxed, but my mind remained stagnant, for my orgasm was no longer accompanied by a rush of loving gratitude. When he increased the speed of his hips I made no efforts to deepen the contact but remained still until he reached his completion with a soft cry.

When he withdrew and slid to my side, I did not turn over to revel in his sated expression, but kept my face buried in my arms so he would not see the tears that dotted the pillow beneath me. I let him rest one hand on my back until he fell asleep. And then I pulled myself up, gathered my clothes and quietly exited the room.

*          *          *

I began to spend more time away from Baker Street, and from Holmes. I took some patients at St. Bart’s, and turned my attentions to writing. The stories I had published in the Strand detailing some of our adventures were well-received, and I devoted myself to chronicling our cases with more regularity.

But on the afternoon I sat down to recount the tale of the Greek Interpreter, I found that separating fact from fiction was becoming increasingly difficult.

During my long and intimate acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes…” How long had it been? The first months had flown by, but these days it felt like an eternity. 

“…I never heard him refer to his own relations, nor to his early life.” I briefly remembered the story of his first foray into sexual gratification, so I crossed out nor and replaced it with and hardly ever.

This reticence upon his part had…” What had it done? Made me love him more? Of course it did. Somehow, the longer I lived with Holmes the more enigmatic he became.

“… increased the extraordinary effects which he produced upon me…” I came to another halt. I could write a treatise on the effects he produced upon me, both physical and emotional. I pressed my palm into my forehead and tried to block out the growing resentment I felt over the fact that his roster of lovers was growing in direct proportion to his mounting fame.

I dragged a line through extraordinary and wrote somewhat inhuman.

“…until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon…” This was only half-true. There was no one like him in the world, I was certain, not even the person whom he insisted was more brilliant than himself. I laid down my pen and closed my eyes.

Solving a case with Mycroft had made me feel close again to Holmes. Seeing him with his brother was like gaining a rare glimpse inside the den of an elusive pack of animals. And the way he rushed in to save Mr. Melas from suffocating had been one of his most gallant and heroic moments yet. My heart pounded at the memory. My prick stirred with yearning.

Perhaps I could find some way to withstand being one of many partners. Maybe I could learn to dismiss softer emotions as easily as he did.

Suddenly, the door to the sitting room burst open and Holmes appeared, followed by a tall, pinch-faced man carrying his nose in the air.

“Watson, this is Jean-Luc LeBec, the French Ambassador to England. He is in London on official business.”

I stood from my chair and nodded coldly at him. I had no doubts as to the nature of his visit.

“Ah, Dr. Watson,” he said haughtily. “I have read your accounts of Monsieur Holmes in the Strand.”

“How nice,” I said with no sincerity.

“Shall we?” said LeBec, turning back to Holmes. “Unless your friend would like to join us?”

I froze.

“Dr. Watson is recovering from injuries sustained during the war,” Holmes said dismissively, “and is in no condition for such a thing.”

LeBec shrugged. “C’est dommage. He would make a lovely ménage a trois. Have you told him of the time we deflowered the Prince of—”

“All right, LeBec,” Holmes quickly cut him off, smiled at me and led him into his bedroom.

Just before Holmes closed the door behind them, I watched the other man place an affectionate hand upon Holmes’s chest.

I felt as though a cruel pair of hands had twisted what remained of my already broken heart into a tiny, aching lump that would only ever putter limply along until I died.

“…a brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was pre-eminent in intelligence…” I wrote bitterly until the noises from the next room chased me to the street.

*          *          *

I went to my club that night, shot billiards and chatted with my comrades. But my voice sounded hollow to my ears, my hands shook and it soon became impossible to focus on conversation.

I was not simply reeling from the vivid tableau of yet another man loving Holmes, but the offhand way in which I had been dismissed. Of course, I’d no interest in joining them in the bedroom, and would certainly have declined the offer myself. But I resented being treated like a weak child whose injury or delicate sensibilities might trigger some kind of nervous collapse.

I had seen the evidence of Holmes’s other lovers all over his body. I knew full well that he was not only capable of athletic intercourse, but likely favored it. That he refused to engage such rugged strengths with me only heightened my irritation. And the longer I considered it, the more that irritation developed into rage.

I left the club that night positively fuming over the injustices suffered to my character. I walked home while I considered how best to assert myself.

Holmes was alone when I arrived home, though he was not in bed. There was evidence of recent activity at his chemistry set, suggesting he had been seized by a fit of work that took him past his usual bedtime. When he appeared in the sitting room, he was wearing a bathrobe, his face newly shaven and his coal-black hair wet and slicked back from his forehead.

He looked breathtaking, which only further incensed me.

“Hullo, Watson,” he said charmingly, “Please let me apologize for M. LeBec’s lack of discretion earlier. He spoke out of turn and I hope this did not terribly offend you.”

“How would you know what offends me?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” he said, registering surprise at my uncharacteristic reply. “But I promise you that prince was no virgin.”

I waited until he turned his back before I lunged at him. I tore off his robe and shoved him roughly to his desk. He must have immediately known what I was about, for he propped himself on his forearms and lowered his eyes seductively at me. But there was a glimmer of apprehension behind them, too.

I pushed him down and positioned myself between his legs. I took hold of his wrists and locked his arms above his head, holding him with a single iron grip while I unfastened my trousers. I spat crudely into my free hand, spread the moisture over my cock and then penetrated him with one forceful thrust. He cried out, which only emboldened me to take him harder.

With no lubricant or sheath, our skin chafed and it was difficult to move around inside him. I thrashed with all my strength as I bore down upon him, locking him still so he could not touch me or himself. I leant down and stared into his face. He wrapped a calf around my waist and opened his unseeing eyes once or twice only to close them again when he observed how my own gaze burned into his.

My climax washed over me with a dull, dry heat. I stood on locked knees and spent inside him, though the act gave me little joy and a modicum of satisfaction.

Only after I finished did I realize he had climaxed, too, and without any contact. I didn’t care. I pulled out as abruptly as I entered him, and drew up my trousers. He remained sprawled on the desk for a moment, then began to chuckle. My face burned as he launched into great peals of laughter.

“Oh, Watson,” he gasped, rolling on the desk clutching his stomach. “I never get your limits.”

I hadn’t a thing to say in reply. I picked up his robe, tossed it carelessly over him and left the sitting room.

I could still hear him laughing when I reached my bedroom.

*          *          *

“I’ve had a letter,” Holmes announced at breakfast two days later. “A case that may interest you.”

“Oh?”

“I’m rather short on detail at the moment, but the Netherland-Sumatra company has sought my assistance in the most singular problem. We would travel to Lyons and conduct the investigation from there.”

“If I can be of help,” I said dully.

“That’s very kind of you. I say, I’ve been so busy entertaining company this past week that I’ve almost forgotten more pressing matters,” he said with a grin. “The spectrum of men’s sexual appetites never ceases to amaze.”

“Aren’t I enough?”

It slipped out in a barely audible whisper. I stole a glance at him to see whether he heard me. What I saw was so profound, yet so fleeting, that I haven’t entirely convinced myself it happened. His brows knitted together and his hawk-like eyes grew wide and soft. For one extraordinary moment all of his features melted into an expression of sadness and regret.

And then it was gone. A slight tic of his head, a sharp intake of breath and he had recovered his usual aloof countenance. It was like watching a door open and close.

“Never mind,” I mumbled and hastily left the table.

“Watson,” he said, coming after me.

Watson,” he said again, and grabbed my elbow. I jerked my arm away but turned to face him.

“I care for you a great deal,” he said, fixing me with a sympathetic smile. “But I do not form such attachments. I'm sorry if I misled you, my dear fellow. Your friendship is something I have come to value very much. It would bring me no small measure of sorrow were I to lose it.”

The disappointment that already weighed so heavily upon my heart found permanence there, but I held my head high and told him that our friendship meant a lot to me as well. He said he was pleased to hear it.

“Well, I’ve some patients to tend,” I said in attempt to make a smooth exit. “You’ll let me know about the case in Lyons.”

“Certainly I will.”

I avoided his gaze as I gathered my things.

I spent the day at St. Bart’s, and took my dinner at a local tavern. I sat by the window and observed the stream of passing pedestrians. They all looked so happy. I was certain that unlike mine their lives were ordered and simple and unencumbered by constant heartbreak.

A nagging dread implanted itself in the back of my mind just then. I could not articulate it any more than I could face it, but I think somewhere I knew that I would have to leave Baker Street.