My return from the Continent after a three-year absence was heralded with such fanfare and celebration that I was hounded for nearly a fortnight by press agents who were anxious to be the first to present the story in full. Returning to
Ah, Watson. When I last saw him he had been married less than half a year, and practicing medicine quite successfully on his own. It was no small favour he granted me when he agreed to accompany me to Switzerland. It was entirely my own selfishness that compelled me to make such a request, for I knew long before I let on that it would likely be some time before we saw each other again, if ever. I wanted him by my side for one last adventure, if only as a reminder of the days when it was just the two of us working to save London from its criminal class. Before he met someone else. Before he got married. After I had fallen in love.
Were one to ask Watson what his friend Sherlock Holmes knew of love, he would have laughed heartily and replied most vehemently that such a thing was as alien to me as a desert to a fish, that I placed cold reason above all else, most especially emotions. He believed this precisely because I had told him as much, and had it been the ultimate truth, things between us would have unfolded very differently than they did just before he married Mary Morstan.
He knew nothing of my emotional past before our mutual friend Stamford introduced us, and the fact is I was no stranger to the pitfalls of the human heart. I’d once expounded on my involvement with Victor Trevor just enough so Watson could transcribe the mystery involving Trevor’s father and the case of the Gloria Scott. What I did not tell him was that Trevor and I had been close for some time before we ventured into sexual territories the likes of which I’d never known before him. I always knew I’d had no interest at all in the opposite sex and hardly gave the matter much thought until a field trip to France to visit several chemical laboratories ended in a singular night of revelry and discovery.
I had always felt a certain attraction to Trevor, which I attributed to nothing more than gratitude for his friendship, for he had been my only company. He once asked me during an idle afternoon if I ever thought about men, to which I’d replied that I did not know, and he did not press the issue. But I caught his longing glances in my direction on more than one occasion after that, and soon began to wonder what sorts of things he was imagining when he looked upon me in such a peculiar way. When we traveled to France together, I perceived similar expressions from other men, both our own age and considerably elder, and recognized responsive stirrings within myself that were not devoid of interest.
Trevor and I had been sharing a room in a small inn above a tavern, and on our final night in Paris we indulged in more wine than either of us was accustomed to imbibing. In the chaotic atmosphere of the tavern, which was filled with Bohemian poets, musicians and artists, we grew bolder with our physical contact, first grasping each other by the arms in the amiable gestures of conversation, moving then to the upper thighs and, finding that neither of us was the least bit uncomfortable, eventually moving close enough in proximity to graze a cheek, whisper in an ear, rest a hand on a neck.
When we returned to our room very late that night, we were in high spirits, laughing over the things we had seen, mocking the drunken ladies who danced with one another by clumsily reenacting their movements.
“Oh, do stay for one more round, Mr. Holmes,” Trevor slurred as he spun me around the room, laughing when I stumbled backwards into his chest.
We swayed back and forth together to an imaginary tempo until I was suddenly aware that my friend had become aroused. I first pretended not to notice, but found I was rather intrigued by the reaction I garnered when I pressed back into him, and even more so when a tiny moan escaped his lips. My own blood was soon rising when he reached around to the front of my trousers, unfastened them and slid his hand into my flies.
I believe I actually heard music as he pulled at my flesh, coordinating his insistent thrusts with the jerk of his hand until we were bucking and grinding in such a frenzy that the world seemed to pause as my senses narrowed to the singular sensations running from my groin through my legs.
I exploded first, throwing my head back upon his shoulder and calling out in astonishment as a tide of exaltation washed over me. He soon followed, and I could feel his throbbing member underneath his clothes pushing relentlessly into my backside while he clutched my chest and emitted muffled cries into the back of my head.
When we were both spent, we collapsed onto one of the narrow beds and stared at one another. He asked if he could kiss me. I assented. It was the first time I had done any such thing, and the soft caress of his lips was a warm surprise. We slowly undressed one another, and spent the remainder of that night entangled in each other’s bodies, only just beginning to explore the limits of our pleasure.
After we returned to London, we enacted a full-blown affair, which amounted to months of secret trysts carried out behind the locked doors of our chambers and the most remote recesses of campus, the forbidden dangers making our couplings all the more exhilarating. On one particularly heady occasion in his bed, after I had taken him with such aplomb that he chanted my name until his release overtook him and his cries fairly shook the walls, he professed his love for me. I returned the sentiment, and from then on we began to plot the course of our future. I was certain we were fated to spend the rest of our lives together, and I was as happy and well-contented as I had ever been.
That summer, I accompanied Trevor to his father’s home in Donnithorpe, where I helped to solve the mystery of his father’s past in a story that has already been recounted. Unfortunately, the true aftermath was much less favourable than I ever let on; Trevor did indeed go out to the Terai tea planting after his father’s death, with promises to return at summer’s end. In his absence, I bided my time with my studies, boxing and fencing, hoping every day that he would send word as to his whereabouts and well-being. When that word finally came, it was to coldly inform me that he would not be returning to England after all, that he had become engaged to a Darjeeling native, a woman whose father owned a tea plantation that he would one day inherit. There was no explanation, no apology and certainly no acknowledgment of the closeness we had shared, even as friends.
Such heartbreak was as unknown to me as love, for I could not fathom how someone to whom I had given so much of myself could suddenly dismiss me as though I were nothing more than a passing acquaintance. For several excruciating months I wandered through my routine in a miserable haze, lost a stone in weight and started using cocaine. Eventually I left school altogether and became enshrouded in the very deepest melancholy that, for better and for worse, isolated me from the rest of the world. I looked for solace in the darkest corners of London, often sleeping in opium dens or the beds of male strangers who found my skills comparable to a night’s rent. I never cared a whit for any of them. The exuberance and optimism with which I’d enjoyed life with Trevor was replaced by a steel wall that forbade even the slightest penetration of sentimentality or emotion.
It was eventually my brother Mycroft who insisted I lodge with him and whose refusal to indulge my misery spurred me towards recovery. It became our habit to watch the passers-by from his second-story window, a perch he much preferred to any public venue, and challenge one another’s capacities for observation. Though he never said as much, I knew he was attempting to distract me from the needle, which had become rather a significant part of my daily habits, and I did my best to honour his silent request. My despondency began to fade and my heart began to reform, not as the open, malleable entity it had once been, but as an intractable stone from which I distanced myself in the service of my brain. The steel wall became as much a part of me as my sharpening intellect, and I discovered that observations of even the most minute circumstance, person or object had begun to fill that impossible void. The pursuit of absolute reason in all its forms was not only the antidote to my suffering, but an almost obsessive game with which I routinely challenged myself even before I applied my skills to criminology.
Through Mycroft’s government connections, I was able to conduct chemical experiments at various institutions, and eventually made myself useful enough to earn the favour on my own merits. My cocaine use receded into the background, and I only used it to quiet the free-floating anxiety that overtook me when my mind had nothing with which to occupy itself. This became even less problematic as people began to seek my advice when they were in trouble about something, and required some enlightening. Each case was like a puzzle to me, a delightful little puzzle to which I could apply my singular skills and pocket a modest fee. I began to write about my deductive methods in an attempt to further the science of reason, and had soon accrued enough savings to leave my brother’s haven and strike out on my own. I had in mind to start a consulting service in which I would not only advance my reasoning skills, but also serve justice by avenging wrongdoing, preventing crime or simply setting things right when and where it was needed. The rooms I found at Baker Street suited me perfectly, but I would require a roommate to help shoulder the expense.
When I was introduced to John Watson, I was immediately struck by his eyes, brilliantly blue and abidingly kind, as though everything he looked upon interested and pleased him. I was instantly at ease in his presence, no small feat for a man who routinely shunned the friendly company of others, and utterly charmed by his incredulity at my correct deduction that he had been in Afghanistan. I had scarcely known him five minutes when I was assured that he would be a most suitable roommate. We conversed little at the outset of our co-habitation, but as I went about the business of interviewing a growing list of clients, I felt his curious gaze following me as I worked. So interested in my methods was he that I invited him to accompany me on an investigation in Brixton, thus commencing our working relationship. It did not take long for our friendship to blossom from there, and I found his company so agreeable that we engaged in leisure activities together on a daily basis. He loved to hear me play the violin, and we two passed many a night without a word uttered between us, though I had communicated a thousand expressions to him through the works of Bach, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Beethoven. I would watch him lie on the settee, a serene smile implanted upon his face as he drifted into a seamless slumber wrought by my transition into a Brahms lullaby or Scarlatti air.
Suffice it to say I was greatly distraught to discover, against all my better judgment and avowals to never do so again, that I had fallen in love with him anyway, and to a far greater extent than with Victor Trevor. At first, I had been able to convince myself that whenever I felt his absence it was because I needed to consult with him on some matter concerning a case, or that thinking of him constantly was simply the natural result of our spending so much time together. I shrouded any deeper sense of need under the belief that I depended upon him for professional reasons, and that his companionship and moral support were secondary to this. At our introduction, I had known that he was not an invert like myself, and in fact his sympathetic approach to the opposite sex proved to be most helpful in the routine of our work. So, when flames of jealously leapt from my stomach at his comments upon a woman’s beauty or remarkable grace, I loudly proclaimed my impatience for such things that clouded the mind of the reasoner. I was living on precarious ground indeed, and managed to avoid the truth until a particularly dangerous chase across Covent Garden forced me to confront it in a very literal sense. As soon as my eyes fell on that terrifying scene—Watson had been cornered at knifepoint by a criminal—I feared all was lost. I became certain later on when I played my violin for him per our usual habit, and recognized the activity had become rather a pathetic exercise in futility, that I was not so much making music as making unrequited love to a man whom I could never have.
There could be no favourable outcome to the expression of my feelings; for I would surely be rejected by the most tender-hearted man in all of London, not to mention risking the high intellectual standards to which I had clung in exchange for an unencumbered heart. No, to tell Watson of my feelings was to guarantee the downfall of us both, the dissolution of our friendship and the end of my career. I went out of my way to drive a wedge between us, to agitate him to the point of argument, to berate him every chance I got. When Miss Morstan showed up with a case for me and an eye for him she should have, in every logical sense, represented our saving grace. I encouraged him to take care of her in the early proceedings of her case, and dedicated all my wits to bringing it to a successful conclusion. I turned a blind eye to his affectionate gazes in her direction, and ceased playing my violin for him altogether, for I could not bear to see that contented smile and know that he was thinking of her. Slowly and painfully, I resigned myself to the inevitable.
It should have been easier to let him go, but my damnable conscience battered me to the brink of madness and my subsequent verbal abuse pulled him right along with me. I hurled insults at him until he lost his composure and when he finally lunged at me, I was very nearly relieved. I hoped he would strike me with powerful blows enough to render me unconscious. I more than deserved it, having practically begged him to do so, and I would have gladly if not eagerly accepted the chance to endure physical pain rather than the emotional turmoil that was tearing me apart.
But he did not strike me. He kissed me instead, violently, insistently, madly. It was of course nothing like I had ever imagined, and in my profound surprise I allowed him to advance upon me. He must have thought he was treading upon virgin territory, and that attacking my prudishness would teach me a lesson in humility. I wondered just how far he was willing to go in his extraordinary display of contempt, and I have no doubt that he shocked us both when he landed us in my bed, tore off my clothes and swallowed me whole.
I must confess it was glorious. I struggled to keep from reaching an early climax, and it was a formidable challenge. He had no skills and very little technique, but the force behind his anger was more than enough to stimulate me, and in fact his determination made his inexperience all the more arousing. The harder I fought, the stronger he became, and when I finally spent myself into his mouth I felt years of pent-up tension pour out of me in a flood of unbridled ecstasy. It was enough, in fact, to compel me to draw him in, for now that I knew what he was capable of, I seized the opportunity to bring him into my long-dormant romantic world and experience it to the fullest. And he responded. Oh, how he responded. Gone was the concern for propriety, and the threat of Miss Morstan’s attachment, for I knew if I had him all to myself I would be able to command his focus long enough to show him at least what treasures could be found in the exploration of our relations. It was an extraordinary night we spent together, every detail of which is branded upon my perfect memory. He was willing, wanting even, to pleasure me and allow himself to be pleasured. I did not myself sleep, and I barely allowed him to do so. I was intoxicated by the continuous revival of his sensitive flesh and the beatific expression that accompanied his releases. I refused to let him go, remained wrapped around him throughout the night, whispered the words I could not say into the back of his neck and continuously caressed him in order to hear my name again and again, so sure that the next time would be the last, that once we were greeted by the light of day he would come back to his senses and beat a hasty return to Miss Morstan.
But it was I who had to first retreat, when an urgent summons from Lestrade called me away to Winchester. I was once again focused entirely on my work, and how to proceed with Watson following our night together was shoved into the recesses of my mind for three days. I was hardly prepared, then, when Miss Morstan herself appeared in the sitting room upon my return, and shrewdly reminded me who I was, or at least, who I claimed to be. I will never be certain how much she knew about that night, but she was obviously alarmed enough by the change in Watson’s demeanour to call upon me in an attempt to secure her place in his life. Her reasoning was sound, her motives clear. I felt little sympathy for her, but considered the long-term effects our actions would have on my best friend. The world would be infinitely kinder to a man with a wife than a man who secretly cavorted with the world’s only unofficial consulting detective. I knew I had to let him go once and for all, and to this day it is the single most difficult conversation I’ve ever had. When he appeared at
And so they married. Five months later, I was dead.
I ventured across the Continent, into the Far East, across Northern Africa and back again to France over three years’ time. Not a single day passed that I did not think about Watson, wonder at the state of his life, whether he thought of me, or forgave me. For the first month of my escape, there was a chasm in my heart as deep and wide as the one in which I had supposedly drown. I tried to convince myself it was flesh, not love, that I ultimately craved, and I lowered myself to the company of a starving German artist whose sexual preferences were exclusive to men and violence. Our couplings were ugly and unpleasant, their only redeeming value the one moment in which I allowed myself to picture Watson with me instead of that wretched creature, and I routinely succumbed to the urge to call the former’s name when my climax was nigh. For those few seconds, I could shut out the rest of the terrible world, and imagine Watson imagining me, pretend that I had meant as much to him, and feel almost human once again. But the personal compromise was too great, the humiliation too far-reaching, and I abruptly left the fool in the middle of some dull night.
As horrendous as it had been, my brief affair compelled me to make better use of my time. I headed for Tibet, spent some time in a spiritual retreat, went next to Norway where I enacted the identity of an explorer, something I’d always wanted to do, paid a short visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum on behalf of the Crown and landed finally in Montpelier where I once again turned my attentions to chemistry. When I received word from Mycroft that the last member of Moriarty’s gang had made a move, I also learned that Mary Watson had passed away, and that three years away from London had done nothing to prepare me for such an outcome. I was more than ready to capture Colonel Moran for murdering Ronald Adair, but as for how to approach my old friend I was filled with a strange, terrifying emptiness as though Fate had placed a great, yet unnamed demand on my shoulders. When I finally reached
He was beside himself, of course; shocked, overjoyed, angry, but still kind, always kind, even as he reprimanded me for keeping up my deception for so long. We swiftly brought the last of Moriarty’s gang to justice that night, and he promptly agreed to take up residence at
But he had not consented to love me, and I did not dare press him for more than he was willing to give. Though we had both essentially left one another, I would place myself in a false position were I to blame him in the least for taking a wife and moving out of
And so the question of our relationship remained unanswered in the first weeks following our reunion. As eager as he was to resume our work, I was acutely aware of the fact that he was keeping himself apart from me in a way he had never done before our separation. He was no less kind, of course, simply more distant in his cast of eye, and given to wistful silences that carried shades of unexpressed sorrow. I began to fear that he was thinking of her, that he wished it was his wife who had returned from the dead and not me. I had so few facts upon which to theorise Watson’s mentality in those days that I wondered if things would ever be anywhere near the same between us. I ached for him, realized that even though we were living under the same roof once more, I still missed him.
Then one rainy Thursday, after the conclusion of the case in
Upon our return to
I cleared my throat, “You’ve received some unwelcome news, Watson?”
He looked up in surprise, then back to the fire.
“No, not exactly. It’s from Mary’s cousin. She wanted to know if I kept Mary’s knitting kit. Belonged to their grandmother, I think.”
Hearing her name stung more than I care to admit, but I haven’t mastered the art of composure for twenty years for nothing.
“And did you?” I asked him nonchalantly.
“No, I didn’t,” he replied in a tone that was entirely unreadable. “I gave it away with the rest of her things.”
Here was my chance.
“I see. Was there nothing you wished to remember her by?”
Watson hesitated at length before replying.
“I never put much stock into objects, I suppose.”
I almost did not say it. But I could not help myself.
“And yet you asked Mycroft for my violin,” I stated quietly. I did not mean for a moment to challenge his assertion; it was simply a statement of fact that I made to myself in hopes of getting closer to the truth.
“So I did,” he whispered. The shadows of firelight flickered upon his features that were fixed in a strangely inward smile, as if he had answered a question known only to him.
“I hope I have not offended you, Watson.” I’m afraid this sounded more brisk than I intended, but I was trying to keep a respectable distance without closing the subject.
He sighed, and turned to me.
“There are some things of which we’ve not yet spoken, Holmes, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
“And you’re no doubt wondering how much I pine for my dead wife, or whether I do at all?” he asked.
I observed the charred end of one of the fireplace logs collapse into the embers, sending up a spray of orange sparks that rekindled the remaining woodpile in a burst of air.
“I do not consider any such thing my business, of course, but yes, I sometimes wonder if…” I was at a loss again. I really am so remarkably bad at this sort of thing.
He looked down at the floor and furrowed his brow. “I do think of her from time to time, yes. She was a good friend and a companion.”
I tried to keep my tone even as I answered with an obligatory, “No doubt.”
“She was intelligent, too, you know,” he went on, in an indirect reminder that I had called her otherwise during one of my lesser moments.
“I know that, Watson,” I said, cringing underneath my stoicism. I was beginning to wish this had never started, for I had no desire to hear Watson enumerate his late wife’s best qualities. If the truth was ultimately unfavourable to me, then I would rather not know it.
“She knew, in fact, that you were in love with me long before I did,” he said, striking yet another blow to my self-assurance. I waited miserably for him to continue.
“She also knew,” he went on, “that I belonged to you, fully and wholeheartedly, even in death.”
I felt the colour drain from my face.
“It must have been difficult for her,” I managed.
He nodded. “It was difficult for us both. The guilt I suffered was no easy burden, particularly in her final months.”
I shifted uncomfortably where I stood.
“But the truth was inescapable. It was you I pined for, and would always pine for. She was under no illusions about your place in my life and in my heart. It was I who needed to see it more clearly. And when she finally passed, she did me the very great favour of releasing me from my guilt. I did miss her, yes. But we were only married two years. You and I have been friends for quite a bit longer than that. Even after she passed, I still belonged to you.”
I had been holding my breath for some time, and in a rush of relief I nearly reached out to finally pull the man I loved more than anything close to me and never let him go. But Watson didn’t move, and neither did I.
“But this part of me that has grieved for you for three long years, Holmes,” his hand flew to his chest and tapped lightly upon it. “This belongs to me. And it’s not easy to just give it up. Do you understand?”
Slowly, inaudibly, I let the air out of my lungs. Of course I understood. Grief becomes a comfort in itself during a terrible loss, and his had become a part of him just as mine had done.
“Watson, I cannot possibly express to you the extent of my regret over having been the cause of it. I truly am deeply sorry, and I always will be.”
“I know,” he said.
“And I also want you to know that I’m prepared to resume our relationship in whatever capacity suits you best, that I have no expectations regarding…things between us. I meant those first words I said to you upon my return, and only wish to see you happy.”
He smiled, but briefly, and nodded.
“And I—“ he started to say, and I caught my breath again.
“Am still overjoyed to see you,” he finished sincerely.
That would have to be enough for now.
I abruptly called for Mrs. Hudson, who entered the sitting room with a tea tray and a look of admonishment, though the overriding joy in her own countenance had faded little since Watson and I returned to our rooms.
In the days that passed, Watson seemed more relaxed in my presence, and more often than not I found myself favouring him with a gentle smile where I might normally toss out a thoughtless rebuke out of frustration or irritation. A couple short cases came and went, and I was secretly delighted when he finally took up his pen and began again to describe our adventures for the public, exaggerated in detail as they would no doubt be, for the return of his muse meant the return of his fulfillment from the work we were doing. The distant look that had been haunting his expression began to fade into the wider-eyed presence that I remember, and I was unexpectedly pleased when at last I heard him chuckle effortlessly at some force of habit of mine that escaped me even as it happened.
One night, we stayed up rather late in reading, he with his journal and me with the agony columns of the Times. Hours had elapsed without a word between us, just like old times, and we alternated in rising at various intervals to tend the fire. Watson finally broke the silence with an audible stretch and a yawn.
“I think I shall finish this article in my room,” he said amiably, and rose from his chair. He courteously stoked the fire once more, and turned to me.
“You know, Holmes,” he said, replacing the poker to its stand, “I have been wondering when you might take up your violin again. I used to so enjoy hearing you play.”
“Soon, I hope, Watson,” I replied, hoping the flush his question brought to my face escaped his notice. “I shall dust it off, replace a string and have it in perfect working order by tomorrow evening.”
“I should like that very much,” he said with a shy smile. “Good night, Holmes.” And he left the sitting room.
“Just a moment, Watson,” I called, having noticed that he left his journal on the table. I picked it up and brought it to him on the landing.
“You forgot this,” I said, and handed it to him.
He had been on the first step when he turned. He took the journal from my hand, and stared down at it for a moment before he looked up and thanked me. I nodded once and smiled. Smiling seemed inordinately easy these days, more so than I ever remember, in fact. In many ways, I still could not believe that John Watson was standing in front of me again. Right now, he was turning something over in his mind. I waited. He slid one foot off the step, then the other. Still gazing down at his journal, he closed the gap between us, and then cautiously raised his face and brought his lips to mine. I inhaled deeply and drank him in as a man who has just crossed the desert quaffs his first glass of water. The mild aroma of his favourite tobacco and the port we’d had after dinner mingled with his own singular scent, fresh and masculine, and the vague earthy taste of his eucalyptus after-shave. All too soon he pulled his lips away, though he lingered for a moment before resting his head upon my shoulder. I closed my eyes and cupped the back of his head as flashes from our previous closeness leapt with renewed clarity to the forefront of my mind. He took a step back, smiled shyly at me and bade me good night once more.
I could only nod again, and I watched him hastily ascend the stairs to his room.