I returned to the sitting room and observed all those trifle objects that signified the place was ours; Watson’s stack of medical journals, my piles of newspapers, the volumes over which we each pored when presented with a new supply of facts to consider, the worn patch on the hearth rug where I had paced, the mess of papers covering my desk, the neat piles stacked carefully upon his. On the surface, everything was just as it had always been.
Yet there was so much that was now unfamiliar. The taste of him was a thrill I scarcely recognized, for despite the endless fodder of my fantasies, our physical relationship had spanned only a single night. The uncertainty I felt in his presence was not something to which I was accustomed, either, and I felt the bounds of our friendship straining as I anxiously awaited a definitive word or gesture that might never come. I wondered, too, if his natural tendencies towards the fair sex would override whatever attraction he thought he felt towards me. Yes, he had only been married two years, but he had no doubt enjoyed far more intimate occasions with his wife than he had with me. It sickened me to imagine this, and I therefore did so very little, but I was determined to protect myself from any further heartbreak. I would sooner remain celibate for the rest of my life than abide the slip of her name as we tried to navigate another sexual encounter.
I took my time about retiring that night. It had become my habit of the last three years to avoid the demons that encroached on my wearied mind by remaining fully occupied until I nearly collapsed with fatigue. The darkest sides of human nature that have constituted my livelihood for over two decades can manifest themselves in the most unholy visions; I know what people are capable of, what deeds fear and anger may drive even the most mentally balanced to commit, and the distorted reasoning with which they justify their actions.
The worst of this is that I am no exception. It was a highly questionable decision on my part to continue traveling in Switzerland with Watson after I received word that Moriarty had escaped the net. It would have been far safer for him to return to England, but I still could not let him go, at least not as a direct order. That is why I sent the false letter from the tubercular Englishwoman I observed at our inn the day before. I hated to deceive him, but I was too cowardly to look into his eyes and tell him to leave me, nor could I willingly lead him to almost certain death. The impossible choice I had made haunted me more relentlessly than any other terror I have seen or lived, and to recall it was to feel a cold hand closing around my chest, crushing my heart and squeezing the air from my lungs.
I stayed up reading, and delayed climbing into bed until my eyelids grew heavy and my head dropped upon my chest. I had just extinguished my bedside candle when I heard a shuffling noise above my room. Watson was up, and I listened carefully to the familiar pad of his bare footsteps descending the stairs. He must be coming to the sitting room to retrieve something else. Another book, perhaps.
The door to my room opened, just a crack at first, then a little more until I saw his silhouette appear against the soft darkness. He hesitated, attempting to ascertain whether or not I was asleep, and then approached my bed. I looked up at him standing over me, my eyes adjusted to the darkness just enough to observe from the outline of his features that he had something to tell me.
“Holmes,” he whispered.
I sat up, and he sat down. For a while, neither of us spoke. I watched him enact the ritual of repeatedly drawing a breath and pursing his lips, a singular habit of his that signified he was grappling between thought and action. I remained patient, and tried not to focus on the stimulating fact that the thin fabric of our nightshirts was only barrier between his flesh and mine.
And then, finally, he made his decision. He leaned over and kissed me again, this time with more deliberation, and his full intentions became obvious when he climbed onto the bed and straddled my legs. I let my hands fall to the backs of his thighs, and at the resulting sigh of approval they climbed higher and higher, gathering his nightshirt into a bunch and slipping it over his head. He swiftly pulled off my own before we crashed upon the pillow.
Watson had grown thinner in the past three years, and his limbs had become tighter, quicker, and more well-matched to my own. He held nothing back. The bristle of his moustache contrasted erotically with the tender kisses he dotted all over my person, licking at the sensitive areas, and occasionally seeking my lips and locking upon them to in a heady rush of desire before he made another round over my chest. His strong and gentle surgeon’s hands seemed to be moving of their own accord across my body, smoothing and kneading my skin, pulling me into him, enveloping me in a fluid embrace. His arousal continuously brushed against mine as if drawn by magnetic force, and when he finally wrapped his hand around me I let out a wanton groan. I put my hand over his in order to guide him in his efforts, but he batted it away and proceeded to enact every technique and nuance I had silently imparted to him upon our first encounter. He had me at the brink, and then, in a final consideration, he momentarily relaxed the pressure before returning with a tighter grip.
“Ah—you remembered,” I gasped just before my head fell backwards and my chin rose towards the sky.
“I’ve thought about it every day since,” he breathed into my ear.
Oh. God. Watson.
You have no idea what you’ve done to me, my very dear fellow, for somewhere between the brilliant white shock of flaming magnesium and Sarasate’s whispering pizzicato the universe has fallen into perfect order and this essence that is pouring into your hand springs from the purest love , the best and brightest elements of myself, which are newly awakened every time you enter a room, and the only life force that I seem to require to be fully human. Please…just…yes….god…yes……
Watson was nearly at his own completion when I opened my eyes and saw his face staring into mine with such lustful longing as to extend my release by several meaningful fractions. I reached for him then and, having not only memorized but fixated for three long years on the memory of how he liked to be pleasured—faster strokes with more pressure at the crown—I set to the task of bringing him into the abyss of pleasure in which I continued to swirl. He cried out once, twice and there it was, my own name escaping his lips in soft sighs as he shuddered and rocked and spent himself against my body.
I wrapped all my limbs tightly around him, and together we slowed our breathing and relaxed our muscles until we reached stillness. He gently pried himself from me and picked up his nightshirt, gathered it into a ball and dabbed at the sweat and semen that streaked our bodies. When he brought his hand to my shoulder I took it in mine, kissed it and pulled him to lie down next to me.
“Upon my word, Watson,” I started, but realized I had no phrase to follow it. He responded with three light kisses to my neck, and four across my collarbone.
“If you keep that up I shall have you in another tangle before you know it,” I murmured into his neck.
He chuckled in his most affectionate baritone and rested his hand on my ribcage.
We laid there for some time, soaking up the energy of our lovemaking until I felt that unresolved tension begin to reassert itself, and I knew it would be my turn to address his long-unanswered questions.
“Never in my life,” Watson said, “have I been swept into such a state of passion, not with anyone.”
I smiled and stroked his hair. A gracious compliment before a pointed inquiry. He learned that from me.
“Holmes,” he said and raised himself on his elbow to regard me, “surely you have…that is to say you’ve no doubt…been with others. Have you not?”
It was only fair. The man was curious, after all, and if we were to remain sexual partners, I did owe him at least a partial account of my past. And so I told him about Victor Trevor, this time adding all the details I had left out of the story of the Gloria Scott. I told him how we had explored our physical attraction in Paris and resumed it in England, how we had planned to have our own chemical laboratory in London where we would conduct modern experiments that would earn us fame and fortune, that we were going to travel the world, giving lectures at prestigious universities, winning scholarships and curing diseases, all the while living contentedly as secret lovers. I told him of my nauseating shock when I received Trevor’s letter announcing his engagement, momentarily ignoring the way Watson tensed at this revelation, and went on to explain how I functioned in the aftermath, first in self-destruction and then in self-improvement, until the very moment Stamford introduced us as prospective roommates.
I had watched his expression pass from fascination to dismay and then to sympathy as he listened. He was palpably uncomfortable when I described my devotion to another, and though it was not my intention to flaunt this, I was glad to know that it mattered to him.
“I’m sorry, Holmes,” he said softly. “I had no idea. Now it seems you had very good reason for shunning emotion.”
“It was an effective practice for almost twenty years,” I told him, “until I realized that I had lost the battle.”
“Well, I for one am glad that you did,” he murmured, touching his lips to mine.
“So am I,” I replied between kisses.
Face to face, hands resting on one another’s hips, we drifted into slumber.
The warm softness in which I fell asleep disappeared and I awoke in a cold, empty room. That longstanding, familiar dread set in as I rose and entered the sitting room.
Mary Morstan was sitting at the table holding a bouquet of flowers. The hard sunlight on the furniture cast distorted shadows upon the wall behind her, couching her in a circle of grotesque, non-human figures.
“Oh, I’m glad you’ve come, Mr. Holmes,” she said brightly. “I’ll be taking John back with me today. He won’t be requiring your visits anymore.”
My heart plummeted into my stomach.
“Where is he?” I asked her feebly.
“Why he’s upstairs packing his things, of course.” She hummed and sniffed at her flowers. “He left this for you.”
I caught and opened the small box she flung in my direction. Inside was a tiny vial of cocaine with a solid gold cap.
“Read the inscription,” she sang.
I peered more closely at the vial and found a clumsy engraving that read “I concur.”
I dropped the vial and it shattered at my feet.
My eyes snapped open. Watson's head was resting on my shoulder, and he had emitted a low snore. I buried my face in his soft hair and tried to still the pounding in my chest.
“She came back,” I whispered, “she came back for you.”
Watson stirred, and when I pulled his head closer to my chest, his hands came alive and embraced me.
“Did you say something, Holmes?” he mumbled in a voice cracked with sleep.
I need you.
I was suddenly desperate to have him again, to chase away these demons with action, and I kissed him insistently and repeatedly until he had fully awakened. His tongue laving at my neck brought a goose flesh to the entire surface of my skin, and my responsive sighs and trembles emboldened him to take the lead. He eased me onto my back, kissed his way to my groin and slowly sucked my stiffening flesh into his mouth. I writhed and gasped, pushing myself into that sublime heat as though it were the only means to my salvation. My grunts and groans encouraged him to experiment, which he did with such enthusiasm that his resulting vocalisations brought the most singular sensation to my delicate nerves, launching a vision of white sparks behind my eyes and an indication of the tide to follow. I called to him, half-mad with desire, clinging to his hair, torn between wanting to come and wanting to remain in the wonderful haven of safety that exists in the anticipation of profound joy. He understood, slowed his activity and pulled back for a moment, snaking the tip of his tongue around my crown and sliding his hands up my torso. I had finally exhaled evenly when he paused to kiss my inner thigh, but just then he plunged back in, lifting my buttocks and pressing me into him until my entire arousal disappeared down his throat. I came completely undone, throwing my head back one last time and crying out under the overpowering surges of my release.
He rejoined me on the pillow where I was panting in the last convulsions of my passion. I felt his hand reach up to mop my brow, and I grasped his wrist in a show of gratitude, for I could not yet articulate myself.
Watson, Watson, please….
He would never know how many times I had awakened to that very incantation beating in my brain like a hammer, or how often I still felt that urgent plea rising to my lips. He could only palliate my insensible mumbling with murmuring kisses until my pulse returned to normal.
“You’re becoming rather good at that,” I breathed, when at last I could think clearly enough to imagine how I might reciprocate. But before I had a chance to act, my grandiose ideas dissolved into my subconscious and I dropped off again.
I was next aware of the dimly lit sitting room and the sound of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto coming from close range. Watson was at the window at the far end of the room looking onto the street. He motioned for me to join him.
“Look here, Holmes,” he said gaily. “They stopped in front of the house just now.”
I looked down at the street and saw a large orchestra had assembled outside the entrance of 221B.
“Just listen to those drums,” Watson sighed.
I heard no such thing until he said it, and in that instant there came the cyclical and hollow rhythm of a dozen drums that resonated from just beyond the door. The shadows of many hands danced across the wall and the ceiling, more and more of them beating and rapping in one big commotion until we were entirely surrounded.
Suddenly, the two of us were in the doorway of the bedroom, completely nude and fully ensconced in that lascivious rhythm, my right hand wrapped around his neck, and my left gripping him at the waist. I was buried deep inside him as he gyrated his hips to the primitive pounding of animal skins stretched taut over wooden cylinders, and together we bounced and bucked in that strange and intimate fleshly ritual as ancient as man’s desire.
“Faster,” he commanded. “With me.”
I fastened my hands across his stomach and doubled my tempo. He cried out and reached out to steady himself on the archway.
I awoke with my head pillowed on Watson's chest and the sound of his heartbeat thumping against my ear. He was growing hard underneath the leg I had rested between his just before I fell asleep, and his hands were passing restlessly over my back. I reached across his chest and scraped my teeth against his nipple.
“Holmes,” he whispered invitingly. “Do you remember when you astounded me with your agility?”
I grinned at the memory of sending him into a wild climax when I pinned his hands above his head and rolled my body over his with increasing ardor until the friction between us nearly caught fire. Tonight it would be his turn. I took up his hands in mine, stretched our arms overhead and pulled him on top of me. He uttered a soft cry of surprise.
“I’m not sure I know what to do,” he said with such modest charm that I fell in love with him all over again.
“Just do what feels good,” I replied thickly, relishing his shy grin and the leap in his eyes that showed he was still pleasantly unused to hearing me tell him to feel instead of think.
He moved slowly at first, carefully adjusting his positions as he discovered how to use my body as an apparatus for pleasure. Whenever he hit upon a particularly sensitive spot, he closed his eyes and inhaled as though he were pausing to take mental note and enjoy it at the same time. With increasing confidence he finally engaged the rest of his body, pushing and pulsing to the same rhythm that awoke me, while I flexed every muscle in order to offer the most possible resistance. He untangled our hands so he could cradle my head, and I seized the opportunity to give him an even greater thrill when I scooped one hand between his legs and applied some meaningful pressure upon his tiny entrance. I dropped the tip of my index finger just inside of him, to see what sort of reaction he would have at the suggestion of more intimate activites. I looked on with delight as he became so utterly lost that he clutched the sheets on either side of my head and squeezed them until his knuckles turned white and his face pinched into a scream that remained lodged in his throat. I felt warm fluid splash over my stomach as his delayed cries resounded like sobs against my chest. It was his most powerful climax yet, and he shuddered and started for a deliciously long time until he fell beside me again in a state of exhausted disbelief.
“My god… my god,” he stammered, shaking his head. "That was...I meant for you to…” he fumbled for my cheek.
“I’m not the least bit sorry,” I assured him, placing a mental frame around the image of his enraptured expression. I’ve seen Watson register many a reaction, both physical and emotional, but never such absolute bliss as that. I would not soon forget it.
I kissed him thoroughly on the mouth and then resettled myself next to him so I could watch him fall asleep. It was not long before I joined him.
The next thing I knew I was wandering the darkened streets of East London, where we had chased many a criminal to often gruesome ends. I was looking for Watson, frantic with worry, for I could not find any clues to his whereabouts, nor could I remember him telling me where he was going. I turned the corner of a dark alley and saw a body lying on the pavement. I rushed over to it. It was not Watson, but a former client of mine who feared the wrath of his vengeful brother. His body had been dismembered, the legs and arms cut evenly just below the joints and placed neatly beside him as though on display for some kind of bizarre experiment. I stared at them, imagining that putting them back together meant the solution to the case, and then watched as the ground swallowed up the body, limbs and all.
When I looked up again I was at Reichenbach, and there was Watson calling out for me, desperate and despairing, the sound of my name disappearing in the roar of the falls.
I tried to call to him, but I could not speak. I tried to run towards him, but the ground crumbled beneath me. I was startled when a hand clamped down upon my shoulder.
“Congratulations, Mr. Holmes,” said a genial Inspector Lestrade. “The finest achievement of your career.”
“But it hasn’t ended well,” I said, nodding to Watson’s tiny figure above the enormous white rush of water.
When Lestrade spoke again it was in Watson’s voice.
“He won’t be here long. And you’d better get on with it.”
He pushed me and I went over the falls.
My eyes flew open. Watson was nestled beside me in a deep sleep.
I pulled him to me and squeezed very, very hard.
He awoke again, but barely, and managed a lazy smile.
“Holmes,” he said apologetically, “if I were a boy of twenty…”
“Of course,” I relented, “I’m sorry."
But one of us might not be here tomorrow.
I sighed, extricated myself from his body and stood. It was time at least one of us should get some rest.
I put on my dressing gown and went into the sitting room. It was shadowless and dull in the dead quiet of the night. I laid down on the settee and rested my arm across my brow. When the room had finally grown a shade lighter with the suggestion of dawn, I got up to check on the occupant in my bedroom. He was sleeping soundly where I had left him. I closed the door and returned to the settee.
It was tomorrow. Of course we were both here. I wondered how many more nightmares it would take before I finally believed it.
* * * *
"Securing your retirement, are you?" I asked him.
"What do you mean, Holmes?" he asked me with a twinkle in his eye.
"I think buying shares of the magazine's stock is a splendid idea, Watson, and I applaud your foresight," I said, enjoying the dumbfounded expression that washed over his features.
I snorted and folded my newspaper. "Well, it's not so very difficult, is it, Watson? I saw you place that cheque in the envelope with your reply, which may have indicated you were humbly refusing the editor's gift except that you endorsed it after consulting your financial ledger. What reason, other than checking the value of the Strand's stock, would you have for doing such a thing in your reply? The twinkle in your eye as you sealed the envelope told me that you're very pleased with yourself. It's the same look you get when I heap praises upon you for having made a particularly astute observation."
Watson sighed. "One of these days I shall confound you with a series of activities that have no discernible meaning whatsoever."
I laughed. He rose from his desk and playfully batted me on the head as he walked past.
“Are you going out?” I called after him.
“Yes, I’m going to post this and then run an errand,” he called back.
He came back into the room wearing a wide grin. “Something to help you sleep better, Holmes. I'll leave it to you to deduce the rest.”
And he picked up his hat and left.
* * * *
That afternoon, as I was leaving Baker Street to pay a brief visit to the Diogenes, I was accosted by the one lone reporter who had been hovering on the premises for several days. I spotted him too late hiding in the bookstore across the street, and I silently chastised myself for not being more observant as he bounded across the street to meet me.
“Mr. Holmes!” he called in a raspy voice. “Just a few questions if I may, sir.”
I rolled my eyes. He went ahead before I could answer.
“Dr. Watson all moved in, then?”
I growled at him. The only thing more irritating than a blazingly obvious statement is one that is so unabashedly intrusive.
“Looks like he’s planning on getting rather…comfortable,” he went on in a more sinister tone.
I’d no wish to indulge his inanities, so I glared at him and began the process of cutting him to size, starting with the fact that he was clearly no reporter at all, but a tradesman hired by some private party to dig up gossip on well-known figures. But just as I did so, a carriage pulled up to the curb and a delivery man jumped out.
“Delivery for a Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” he said.
“I am Mr. Holmes,” I replied, and the man nodded to his driver.
“Got a new bed here, sir, a double-wide mattress and brass frame for the resident of 221B Baker Street.”
The reporter’s face expanded into a greedy smile as the two men proceeded to unload the furniture from the carriage. The scoundrel must have followed Watson to the store and back this morning.
Before I could proffer a response, the door opened and Mrs. Hudson appeared. She took one look at me, the reporter and the unfortunate object being carried into the house, and said brightly, “Oh wonderful, my new bed has arrived! Thank you and Dr. Watson both, Mr. Holmes, for buying it for me in exchange for keeping your rooms for you. The crick in my back will surely improve on a nice sturdy mattress. This way, gentleman!” And she led them merrily into the house.
I turned to the reporter, who was visibly crushed, and simply said, “I have no comment except to advise you that your appearance on this premises again will result in such professional disgrace that you shall be forced to find work elsewhere on the continent. Mark my word.”
He shuffled off, mumbling to himself about what an utter waste of time reporting turned out to be.
I went inside and found our landlady standing at the foot of the stairs.
“Mrs. Hudson,” I started to say, but she waved her hand and shook her head.
“Nothing more needs to be said, Mr. Holmes. I think you and I both know that there are some things in this world that do not need to be explained, for their intrinsic goodness is apparent enough.”
Our landlady had been many things to us over the years. Now it seems she was to be our ally as well. I beamed down at her.
“Thank you,” I said, “thank you.” She gave my arm a squeeze.
As I walked out to the street and hailed a cab, I doubted whether a new bed would help me sleep better, but it would certainly help us execute our waking activities with much greater ease. This called for one more stop along my way.
* * * *
I returned home just after dusk, climbed the seventeen steps to our rooms and found the second-floor landing alit with a row of candles that led into my open bedroom. My wardrobe and dressing table had been rearranged to make room for the new bed, neatly made up with fresh white sheets, a dark blue quilt and two oversized pillows propped against the gleaming brass frame. On the right side of it there was a small table with my evening pipe and cigarettes lying side by side, and my best pair of slippers had been placed underneath.
On the quilt there was a white envelope addressed to me. I opened it.
“My dearest Holmes,” it began in Watson’s neat hand.
You will forgive me, I hope, for writing such a thing to you, but as you know I often find it easier to communicate by my pen, and you no doubt find it easier to digest softer sentiments in the spaces of privacy.
It has been a wonderful and confounding couple of weeks together, reuniting under our old roof, resuming our old work. You cannot know the joy I have felt every day upon remembering yet again that you have returned, and that you wish to have me by your side. I did not think such dreams were possible, and I still marvel at the incredible circumstances that have led us back to one another which I feel in every sense is where we belong.
I am aware that my hesitation to fully accept this great fortune has caused you distress; you have, of course, had a longer time to acquaint yourself with the idea of our reunion than I. My initial doubts came from wondering why you waited three long years to tell me you were still alive, for despite all that has happened between us, it was difficult to imagine that so great a friend would choose to remain silent, knowing as he surely did just how heavy the grief his presumed death would bring. I once firmly believed that if our situations were reversed, I would surely tell you that I still existed in flesh and blood, even if I could not show myself for an undisclosed and indeterminate length of time. I realize now, however, that had that truly been the case, were you the one with a wife, a practice and a life outside of Baker Street, I may well have acted as you did, protecting me from the truth, and believing that I might be better off in learning to move on. I cannot say that I waited for you, for a reasoning mind does not anticipate the return of the dead, but I can in all honesty tell you that my heart never did move on. It built a shrine to you which I kept in the emptiness caused by your absence, and at which I knelt in those moments when the loneliness and grief was too much to bear. Now that you are back, which is clearly the infinitely preferable outcome, it is time for me to abandon that shrine and let you in as you are, and as I am.
Holmes, I know what it is to live with a broken heart. I understand now that yours shattered long before I knew of it, but mine followed soon after and just as irreparably, even as I tried to be mindful of my domestic life. I also know what it is to live under the burden of guilt. I told you that Mary did me a great favour in absolving me before she passed, and that is what I propose to do for you now.
I forgive you. For everything.
This bed—our bed—will be our primary sanctuary for rest and pleasure. Some days you may wish to occupy it alone, and as I know that your chosen isolation is sometimes best for both your work and your well-being, I will always honour your requests to be so. I also know that you have been plagued by fears and uncertainties that no sane man could long withstand were he not comprised of so many singular strengths. I hope, then, that you will honour me by allowing my companionship to comfort and support you as we walk this path together, and that no matter what befalls us in the future, that we always remain the best of friends.
I realize that you must burn this letter immediately after reading, so my final request is that you kindly commit the following to your very excellent memory, though I shall take many future chances to remind you of it in ways both spoken and demonstrated:
I love you. I always have and I always will.
When you walk into the sitting room now, you will find me waiting for you, a fire in the hearth, a freshly packed pipe and a glass of fine port. Let us now begin the life that we were always meant to have.
John H. Watson
I reread the letter exactly once, memorized the contents, and replaced it in the envelope. I ran my hands over the new bed, sniffed the crisp white starchiness of the sheets, tested the spring of the mattress and the feathery softness of each pillow. It was the very picture of comfort.
I found my dressing gown on a newly mounted peg to the right of the bedpost, changed from my street clothes, and splashed some water upon my face.
I unwrapped the small bottle of lavender oil I purchased from the chemist, and placed it on the bedside table next to my evening pipe. I could hear Watson patiently stoking the fire in the next room, and I smiled to myself as I imagined his wide-eyed curiosity upon discovering the gift I had left him—us—when we christened our new furniture.
The end of a long journey is not necessarily signified by an arrival point, but rather the realization that one has started on another. In a few minutes I would be embracing my beloved and pledging him my partnership, but for one more brief moment I hesitated in my softly lit room, in my haven of safety, in the anticipation of profound joy, and released the grief and the shadows. They had once served to protect me but I did not need them anymore.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
I opened the door to the sitting room.