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July 10th, 2009

Of Devils and Demons: Part 1

Those first few months during which Sherlock Holmes and I explored the newfound territory of our expanded relations were some of the happiest of my life, and I flatter myself that the same was true for my friend. The closeness I had always relished between us blossomed so naturally into physical love that  I often wondered why we had not taken up together in this way so much sooner.

And yet despite our intimacy, there were parts of Holmes that remained just beyond my reach. He communicated with action far better than with spoken words, and he usually responded to my sincere declarations of love and affection with varying expressions of amusement. I often did not know what passed through his mind, though he was ever in tune with mine, so much so that I was certain my thoughts somehow echoed in his alone. But I did not doubt that in his fashion he loved me in return.

In his work, Holmes remained as he was—particularly trying cases still had him irascibly pacing the floor of our sitting room, he was still wont to speak sharply to me when he lost his patience or felt insecure in his work, and he sometimes left me in a state of complete bewilderment to pursue a lead on his own, only to offer the full explanation days later when the situation required it of him.

It goes without saying that we conducted ourselves with the utmost care when in the company of others. Even when it was just the two of us searching out clues in dark rooms or backstreets, more often than not we kept our regard towards one another on the level of friends and colleagues. This is not to say we did not enjoy tempting one another’s affections outside the bounds of Baker Street—for I could fill pages with torrid details of our secret trysts—but rather that Holmes never wavered in his commitment to his profession. While he might on occasion allow his hand to steal suggestively to my leg or lean appreciably close to me as we examined some piece of evidence, he was determined that the “softer passions” over which he used to scoff would not interfere with his adherence to logic where crime was concerned.

During the quieter times, when the caseload was light and required little effort from Holmes and myself, we delighted in exploring our nascent passion. I was not long in realizing the exquisite advantages of having the world’s most observant man as my lover. It seemed to me that we had only lain together but a few times before Holmes was keenly aware of how to incite my strongest reactions.

One night, I lay next to Holmes in his bed, gasping for breath and thanking every god under the sun that I’d still had the fortitude to enjoy such strenuous activities.

“Good heavens,” I exclaimed as my mind began to clear again.

Holmes chuckled, “All right then, Watson?”

Without thinking, I replied, “That was more delectable than the Friday night special at Romano’s.”

Holmes laughed his gentle but hearty laugh, the one he reserved for my ears alone. “So that is what goes through your mind when I’m concentrating so earnestly on making you come?” he joked as he rolled towards me.

For weeks after that, we made a game of it, half-mockingly and half-seriously drawing elaborate comparisons to our respective levels of satisfaction.

“More exquisite than Sarasate’s rendering of the ‘Devil’s Trill’,” Holmes once breathed into my ear after I had worked us both into a mutual frenzy with my hand.

“More rewarding than curing an epidemic of influenza,” I murmured contentedly one late evening as I traced idle patterns on Holmes’s smooth back while he puffed on a cigarette.

And then the words I had longed to hear but dared not ask for were finally uttered.

It had been a quiet afternoon during which we both set about our respective tasks, yet remained attuned to an atmosphere of growing friction between us. When Holmes chanced to look up from his book and found me grinning at him with the full measure of my desire, he raised his eyebrow and a rapid smile spread across his face. Seconds later his book was on the floor and my eager mouth between his legs. He gasped and clutched my head when I brought him to his glory, spending himself in great surges until his body relaxed and he slumped back into his chair.

“Finer than any solution in the needle,” he exhaled above me.

I laughed joyously at this revelation, finally convinced that our passions had replaced the infernal lethargy of his cocaine needle, and certain that my love alone was strong enough to banish the dark forces that threatened him. 

But I was wrong.

I did not know then that a long and arduous journey awaited my friend, nor did I realize how thoroughly our love would be tested when he took me to hell and back with him.

*          *          *          *

We had just completed a case in Bristol that had us running around the countryside at all hours of the day and night. It was an especially cunning band of criminals who had masterminded the abduction of not one, but three young children with claims to the English aristocracy. The case was further complicated by the troubling fact that the children’s families were mired in a bizarre and ongoing feud, and Holmes was under unusual strain to bring the case to completion without rousing the ire of either its victims or its perpetrators, both of which would have had disastrous consequences. He exhausted his nerves and his faculties working around the clock, and with no small amount of pride I can say that his efforts were entirely successful.

When it was time to return to Baker Street, I was anticipating a period of relative inactivity wherein Holmes and I could once again avail ourselves to one another’s physical needs. I thought as much to be true with him, even though he spoke little on the train back to London, choosing instead to gaze distantly out the window. Neither of us had slept much or particularly well in Bristol, so I put this down to general fatigue and took up my book as we made our way back to the city.

Once we reached home that evening, I went to my room for a change of clothes and Holmes disappeared into his. I greeted Mrs. Hudson warmly, and accepted her offer for some tea and a small bit of food. I expected Holmes would emerge as I had, more comfortably attired and ready to finally grant himself some sustenance.

Mrs. Hudson brought a tray into the sitting room, and I helped myself while I absently sorted through the mail. I placed the letters of greater import in a pile, and tossed the others into the fire. There was still no sign of Holmes.

I finished the last of my tea, wrote a reply to a former colleague on a medical question concerning a family member, and laid it on the end table to be posted. When at last the hour struck eight and day had long faded into night, I rapped lightly on Holmes’s bedroom door. There was no answer. I turned the knob and peered inside. “Holmes?” I called softly.

He was lying prostrate in bed, still wearing his traveling clothes, with one arm cast across his face.

“Holmes?” I said again.

“What is it, Watson?” came a muffled reply.

“Do you want some tea?” I asked, not a little concerned.

“I do not,” he said, without removing his arm from his face.

“Are you ill?” I was growing alarmed at this display of idleness.

He sighed and removed his arm. “No, I’m not ill, Watson. I regret I may have used myself a little too carelessly on this case.”

I was somewhat placated. I told him a full night’s sleep would surely have him feeling better tomorrow. I bided my time that evening, and when my eyelids began to drop over my journal, I brought my candle into Holmes’s bedroom and changed into my nightshirt. We had not spent many nights apart in the past few months, and it had become our new habit to share his bed, which was larger than my own. I carefully slipped in beside him so as not to disturb, though he had fallen asleep in his clothes.

The next morning I awoke to an empty bed. I took Holmes’s absence as a sign that a night’s sleep had indeed invigorated him and that he had met the day early. I rose, put on my dressing gown and entered the sitting room.

There was Holmes, stretched on the settee in much the same way I had found him the previous evening, looking ever more weary a sight in his now sleep-wrinkled clothes.

“Holmes,” I said in surprise as I walked over to him. “What’s going on?”

“Just leave me, please, Watson,” he said without looking at me.

I stood for a moment at a complete loss. It had been months since Holmes had fallen prey to a black mood, and such a fit had not visited him since we had become lovers. I was anxious as ever to revive him, and I urged him to take some food or at least some tea, to change his clothes, to wash, or to take to his bed if he wasn’t well. All of this went unheeded.

I busied myself that day with matters of task, running errands around London, catching up on correspondences, writing of our latest adventures, all the while with Holmes lying mute and unmoving on the settee. I again encouraged him to eat that evening, to which he uttered a noncommittal reply that I could not quite discern. But I did not need to hear it to know that he was refusing.

That night I slept alone in Holmes’s bed. I had lain awake, waiting for him until well after midnight, but he did not come.

When the sun rose the following day and Holmes again failed to rise with it, I realized I would have to occupy myself with more concrete tasks if I wanted to prevent myself from going mad in my efforts to coax him away from the settee. I visited some patients at St.Bart’s, and spent the day tending some rather interesting medical ailments with a colleague of mine. With great effort, I pushed my worries about Holmes into the recesses of my mind. I resolved not to return home until well after supper, giving him the full day to recover himself.

When I left the hospital, it was raining. I had not brought an umbrella, and was forced to make my way to a cab by ducking underneath storefront awnings. This did me little good and I arrived home soaking wet, and filled with apprehension as to Holmes’s mood.

When I entered the sitting room, I found Holmes had lit a lamp and was sitting upright in his chair near the fireplace. His back was to me, but I could see that he had troubled to put on his dressing gown. This cozy and comfortable domestic scene, which heartened me a good deal, was nearly complete save for the open window at the far end of the room. I went over and closed it, sealing the damp chill outside.

“Never saw the rain coming, but I fancy a spell is just what we need this late in the season,” I offered cheerfully. I was just about to approach Holmes and favor him with a tender kiss when something in his desk caught my eye.

I paused to examine it and my heart plummeted into my stomach. Lurking just inside the drawer was his open Moroccan case and freshly used needle.

I was instantly seized by both disappointment and anger.

“What is it tonight, Holmes?” I demanded tersely. “Morphine? Or cocaine?”

“Well,” he drawled, his back still to me, “I can strongly recommend a seven percent solution of cocaine.” He turned around to regard me with a strangely clouded and mocking gaze. “Would you like to try it?”

I unleashed a torrent of rage unlike any I’d ever had before. So deep was my hurt that I scarcely checked myself as my tirade grew more vehement. I admonished him first for the damage he was doing to the great powers with which he has been endowed, then for his foolishness in thinking that the answer to his melancholy lay in the abuse of narcotics. And finally, I told him that his efforts would be better placed in recovering his strength from the unusually taxing case he just completed. I stopped short of confessing that I had presumed our intimacy had replaced his habit, and that all this time my body had been aching for him to return to me.

Holmes stared at the wall ahead of him with an expressionless face. His eyebrow twitched once or twice, indicating that my words may have registered, but he offered no reply.

I had run out of ways to communicate with him, and I was beyond frustrated. I stormed out of the sitting room, slamming the door after me.

I went upstairs to my bedroom, which had grown dark and musty from disuse, and sat down on the bed with my head in my hands. Holmes was slipping away from me. Those joyous days of lovemaking and discovery seemed all too distant, further even from the days when we kept each other’s quiet and amiable company in front of the fire, the times when I chanced upon his needle and he turned away from me, but I did not take his action as a personal reflection of my own failure.

I opened the window to air my room, but thought better of it when the rain came down in great sheets and splashed onto the floor. I tried reading by candlelight, but could not stop my mind from continuing to launch coarse words at my friend who sat downstairs in his drug-induced haze. I finally blew out the candle and lay down.

Outside, rumbles of thunder began to erupt in the night sky and the corresponding lightning flashed with growing frequency. I could have used some brandy, but I did not dare venture back downstairs. Somehow, sleep overtook my anxious mind.

I do not know how many hours later it was when I awoke to find Holmes peering into my face with grave concern. The candle he held illuminated his smooth muscular form bending over me, naked from above the waist. I woke with a start and stared at him.

“Oh my dear Watson,” he said, his eyes as large as saucers. “I am so sorry. So very sorry.”

“Holmes, wha—“ I started to say, but he did not wait to hear my reply before he grabbed my neck and pulled my lips to his. They were hot and swollen and despite my confusion and lingering anger, it had been far too long for me to push him away.

Without letting me go, Holmes placed the candle on my bedside table. He took my face in his hands and deepened the embrace as he gently climbed on top of me. When at last we broke off, he began to ravish my neck, breathlessly repeating his apology. His hands—God, those hands—were everywhere, cradling my face, cupping my neck, squeezing my arms, caressing my back, grasping my hips, massaging my legs. In one dramatic sweep, he pushed my nightshirt up my chest and over my head, barely pausing in his ministrations to do so.

Never before had Holmes attacked me with such tenacity. I felt my anger twisting into lust as my body began to respond.

“Just take me,” I choked. “Please.”

Holmes flipped me onto my stomach, and I instantly pushed myself onto my knees to ready myself for him. He worked a wet digit into me and soon found that my body hungered too deeply for his to require the usual lengths of preparation. I felt him hastily unfasten his trousers to release himself, and when he entered me we both groaned at the overpowering sensation of conjoining our bodies in such heightened states. I sat upright so that my back pressed against his chest, his breath was hot and ragged in my ear and his hands tightly gripped my hips while he worked himself into my deepest essence.

When I felt his firm hand encircle my cock, I placed my own over it, and our bodies became synched in a steadily increasing rhythm. The powerful stimulation of both my groin and my backside was so overwhelming that I feared I would break in two, but the sounds of grunting and gasping and flesh lapping at flesh fed my desire until there was nothing left. My only awareness was that of want; I desperately, acutely wanted more of him, harder, faster, deeper. I could not stop my body from thrusting back as insistently as he thrust into me.

I felt the flame ignite in my stomach, and it spread like wildfire down my spine. All my tension, fear, anger and love manifested into an explosion that wracked my body in great convulsions. I called his name in a plea for mercy when I pitched forward and grabbed the sheets below me in a tight-fisted death grip. Almost instantly, I felt Holmes arch and push into me twice more, throwing his head back and uttering two sharp, wistful cries before crashing onto my back and cradling my torso. The feel of his warm seed seeping into me was as intensely, erotically satisfying as the sense of my own issue dripping from his fingers when he splayed them underneath my ribcage.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he panted, pulling my body into his as though he were attempting to fuse us into a single vibrating body. In the sea of sweat and sex and chemicals and cocaine that enveloped us as we shuddered together in completion, I knew I was as fatally bound to Holmes’s dark side as I was to the rest of him, a fearful realization to which my lust responded by quickening the pulse of my release.

He clung fast to me, his apologies dissipating as his breathing slowed. When he finally withdrew, I moaned from the loss that left me feeling like an empty shell. We collapsed in an exhausted heap upon my narrow bed, the soaked sheets crumpled and cooling beneath us.

Only his hands did not cease. They continued to run over the contours of my body as we found a mutually comfortable position in which to lay side by side. Right before I fell asleep I heard him whisper again, almost inaudibly, “I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” I whispered back.

We did not speak again that night, but fell asleep with our limbs entangled and the sound of the rain beating ceaselessly against the windows.

Of Devils and Demons: Part 2

In the days following our intense encounter, Holmes’s mood slowly improved. A few cases of interest presented themselves, small questions of missing brooches and disappearing grooms, and he whiled away many hours with his volumes and chemistry set. The dark circles underneath his eyes began to disappear and I was hopeful that he was on his way to a full recovery.

We did not exchange any further words on the subject of his return to the needle, and I was heartened to see the Moroccan case shoved into the recesses of his desk drawer. He kept himself at a little distance from me, save for the occasionally shy glances he offered in my direction. I do not know what he thought about our explicit and unprecedented act of sexual congress, but I hoped that he experienced the same stings of pleasure as I did when it crossed my mind.

By the end of that week, the familiar sparkle behind his eyes and warmth between us increased considerably. We took in a concert at St. James’ Hall and dined afterwards at Marcini’s, then returned home for brandy and pipes late that night. We loosened our cravats and relaxed on either end of the settee. We chatted in low, soft voices about the days just passed, the cases Holmes had worked on, the journals I had been reading. Our conversation was as companionable as any from our strictly friendship years, save for the fact that when we drew closer to one another Holmes began to gently stroke me until the sensations he invoked demanded more serious attention. We made slow love until just before dawn, when we finally retired to bed, sore and sated.

Though he had lost nearly a half stone in weight from his already spare frame, Holmes seemed ever himself as he resumed his usual habits. I cannot overstate how grateful I was for this return to normalcy. It was not always easy living with the world’s greatest consulting detective, but even the bursts of temper and occasional sharp words were wholly preferable to the terrifyingly lifeless state to which his fits of ill humour reduced him.

The next morning, I received a telegram from an attorney in Staffordshire. A distant relative had passed and I was commissioned to see to his modest estate. I breakfasted with Holmes, then went upstairs and to pack my bags for a week’s stay in the country. I soon heard the strains of Tchaikovsky coming from his Strad, and when I re-entered the sitting room to bid him goodbye, I found him clad in his grey dressing gown, eyes closed, attempting to recreate the romantic piece we had heard the night before.

“I’m off, old fellow,” I said cheerfully.

Holmes nodded but did not interrupt his playing. I waited patiently as I, too, fondly recalled our lovely evening together. He executed the final cadence with a dramatic flourish, opened his eyes and regarded me with a kind smile. I crossed the room and stood in front of him.

“Thank you for last night,” I said huskily as our lips met. “I hope to find you exactly as you are in six short days.”

I made to leave but he grabbed my waist and pulled me to him again, bestowing me with such a passionate kiss as to leave me breathless.

“I shall be glad when you can dispense with this business and return to me in the quickest possible fashion,” he said in his velveteen tone. I felt my face flush, for such overtly affectionate words rarely left his lips, and when they did they had the most singular effect on me.

“I shall do everything within my powers to expedite matters,” I replied, brushing his lips once more.

I left him in our sitting room, lovingly playing his violin, his dressing gown sweeping from side to side as his body swayed to the rhythm of his bow. My heart flamed at the sight, and I kept that perfect vision with me throughout my travels.

*          *          *          *

The business in Steffordshire was a rather tedious affair, but not entirely unpleasant. During the days, I met with a lawyer and tended to questions of my uncle’s estate, which amounted to modest assets mostly tied up in various stocks. The cousin with whom I lodged kept quiet company, and his wife was an excellent cook, thereby making the evenings rather enjoyable. Lucas and I had not seen one another in some years, and so we spent a good many hours after suppers reacquainting ourselves with the details of each other’s lives. Of course, he and his wife had read of my adventures with Sherlock Holmes, and they continually steered the conversation towards him. Though I am not often eager to expound on details which I have not given in the Strand, I surmised that this quiet country lifestyle whetted their appetite for tales of urban excitement, and I was happy to indulge them.

In the moments I spared for myself, I took advantage of the unusually agreeable weather, and walked through the network of paths that traversed the property. My thoughts turned constantly back to Holmes and Baker Street, and I found myself wishing I had convinced him to join me here. Besides the fact that his presence would have thrilled my hosts, I knew that the natural beauty that surrounded me would have been magnified many times over if Holmes were there to share it with me.

On the fifth day of my stay, my visit came to an abrupt end. When I arrived at breakfast, Lucas informed me that a telegram had arrived very early, and he nodded towards the end table where it lay. I opened it with a growing sense of dread. It was from Mrs. Hudson:

“COME AT ONCE. MR. HOLMES VERY ILL. REFUSES TO LEAVE HIS ROOM.”

My heart plunged into my stomach. I packed my bags in a heated rush, bid Lucas a hasty goodbye, and hurried to the train station. I made every attempt to keep my imagination from conjuring Holmes in any number of unfortunate states as my anguish increased with every hour of my journey. It was nighttime before I finally reached Baker Street again. I alit the seventeen steps with Mrs. Hudson on my heels, who was breathlessly telling me that Holmes was fine for a full day after my departure, but had taken a turn when he failed to rouse himself the following day. Her offers to summon me were met with vehement protests as he seemed anxious that I should not see him in such a state. When I entered Holmes’s bedroom my heart was beating like a hammer.

My worst fears were confirmed.

If he had eaten at all since my departure, it was not in the least bit evident, for he was now easily a full stone lighter, and he appeared to be drowning in his shirtsleeves and dressing gown. His pallid face was whiter than the pillowcase upon which he lay, and his chest rose and fell with alarmingly irregularity. When I knelt by his side, he slowly opened his eyes. They were slate grey and spiritless as his form.

“I hope you enjoyed your week in the country,” he slurred, and closed his eyes once more.

I pushed the sleeve of his dressing gown up his left arm. It was pocked with fresh needle marks. I let out a slow sigh and dropped my head onto his chest.

A limp hand touched my hair.

“You mustn’t concern yourself with…mere trifles, Watson,” Holmes murmured thickly before slipping into unconsciousness.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I gently rocked myself against him.

Several long minutes passed before I collected myself enough to engage my professional skills. I reached for his neck to feel his pulse, and found it weak but steady. I then rose to my feet and left his room, leaving the door open behind me. I lit a lamp and sat down at my writing desk. I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and began to write. When I finished, I summoned Mrs. Hudson and told her to post the letter first thing in the morning. I then returned to Holmes’s bedroom, pulled a chair up to his bed and spent the night in watchful vigil over him.

Of Devils and Demons: Part 3

Dr. Moore Agar, an excellent physician with whom I once attended surgery, promptly agreed to call at Baker Street the following afternoon. If Holmes paid little attention to my urges for him to meet his own basic needs, I was hopeful he might at least consider the advice of another professional with whom he did not share a bed. Dr. Agar was quite alarmed at my friend’s condition, and implored Holmes to dispense with the morphine and leave the confines of Baker Street at once if he wanted to avoid a complete and career-threatening breakdown. To my great relief, it took only minimal coaxing to incite Holmes to agree, and the two of us departed for the Cornish peninsula the following day.

I engaged a charming whitewashed cottage on the edge of Poldhu Bay, a place of sombre and dramatic beauty that suggested centuries of human struggle, of shipwrecks, violent storms and lost mariners. But it was only serenity that prevailed upon our arrival. High cliffs plunged away from grassy headlands, the bright blue sea gently swept upon the shore below and an ever-present breeze kept a freshness about the cool, salty air.

I was heartened by the fact that the journey alone seemed to have benefited my companion, for Holmes’s pallor was much less pronounced than when we left Baker Street that morning. In fact, he was well enough to argue with me over the subject of his health, the poor state of which was the only blazingly obvious fact ever to escape the man. But his acerbic challenges vexed me little, for I was too glad to be away from the stifling air of Holmes’s sickroom where he had languished uncommunicative and dispirited.

I felt light and hopeful as I unloaded our carriage and set our bags in the small vestibule near the front of the cottage. I inspected each of the rooms and was pleased to find them neat and accommodating. Holmes had wrapped himself in a blanket, settled at the table in the front room and commenced paging through the local parish magazine. I left him there to take a short stroll down to the cliff nearest the cottage.

When I returned, I started to chatter excitedly of the exquisite beauty that surrounded us when the scene before me stopped me dead in my tracks.

He was hastily throwing his blanket over his arm too late, for I had already seen the tourniquet. In front of him lay the Moroccan case and needle, which he made a weak attempt to cover with his foot. This was the first time that I confronted him face to face in the act of preparing to inject himself.

Devastated, I reached down and picked up the solution-filled needle. I heard him draw a sharp breath.

“Is it worth it, Holmes,?” I asked him in a small voice. I could not meet his gaze.

“Yes,” he whispered after a painful moment of silence.

“As you wish,” I replied evenly, and carefully set the needle back down on the table where I found it.

I grimly resumed unpacking, willing myself to remain calm despite the familiar knots of dread that tightened my stomach and shattered my hopes for a smooth convalescence. I would remind him of Dr. Agar’s strict orders to keep himself clean in the days to come. For now, I simply wanted to believe that Holmes’s desire to recuperate outweighed his appetite for cocaine, and that he would be at least be wise enough to use a minimal solution.

I rather started when I heard a sharp knock at the side door of the cottage. I opened it to reveal our neighbor, the town vicar by the name of Mr. Roundhay, who had come to welcome us to Cornwall. His stout face was flush with excitement when he confessed that he was quite eager to meet the great detective. I could not turn this kind man away, so I led him into the front room and introduced him to Holmes. So enchanted was Roundhay with the great man before him that Holmes’s cocaine-fueled eccentricities affected him not at all, and the two laughed heartily together as they conversed. He left us with a generous invitation to have dinner at his vicarage during our stay.

Over the next few days, Holmes spent long hours walking around the moors, gazing at the sea and immersing himself in solitary meditations. He seemed rather enchanted with the foreboding atmosphere of Cornwall, and I kept my distance as he set himself adrift in our mysterious surroundings. I was still struggling with the renewed sense of betrayal over my discovery that he had continued his deplorable habit on a journey that was designed to improve his health. For the first time in my life, I wished I’d been endowed with Holmes’s singular ability to compartmentalize his thoughts and feelings; I was starting to believe that if our positions were reversed, he would simply detach from concern after so many stubborn refusals to cease treating myself like a human pincushion.

Most nights, I fell asleep alone in the large bed, over a book or a journal that I would read until my eyelids dropped of their own volition. I know not where Holmes slept, or if he slept at all, save for the one curious instance in which I felt him slip into bed next to me. It was well after midnight and I was nearly asleep, but I was aware of his arm encircling my waist and pulling me gently to him. The gesture touched me deeply, but I did not press him about it in the morning.

Then, on the following Tuesday, an extraordinary chain of events led us into the strangest case Holmes has ever taken. I had just returned to the cottage from a stroll to town when I found Holmes deep in conversation with Mr. Roundhay and a dark-haired, frightened-looking man named Mortimer Tregennis.

“Tell me all the facts, Mr. Tregennis. Leave nothing out,” Holmes was saying firmly to the little man.

I opened my mouth to protest, for Dr. Agar had admonished Holmes of engaging in any affairs that would threaten his health. But something in my friend’s face stopped me. It was his eyes. The fire had again lit behind them, and they were shining with a trenchant interest I had not seen in weeks. Though he still appeared thin and frail underneath his large blanket, his gaze bore unmistakable signs of his characteristic spirit. I was so astonished by the transformation that I remained silent, and turned my attention to considering the extraordinary set of events that Tregennis recited.

In short, the facts are these: After an evening of playing cards with his siblings, Tregennis departed the family’s estate and went to his own home. The very next morning, an urgent call summoned him to return to Tregannick Wartha where, to his great horror, he found his sister dead, and his two brothers foaming at the mouth and babbling incoherently. Their faces were twisted into the most terrible expressions, and no one in the house seemed to know what had transpired in that room between the time Tregennis left and when he returned.

And so it began. Holmes and I commenced with a full investigation in our usual manner. We visited Tregannick Wartha, interviewed the staff, examined the premises and spent long hours in conversation over every facet of the crime. I must admit it was wonderful to be with him again in this way. Not only was this case remarkably compelling, but seeing Holmes return to his element boosted my own spirits and calmed my nerves considerably.

All that remained to rob me of sleep at night was the question of the inexplicable force that had been strong enough to kill one woman and drive her brothers insane. If Holmes knew what it was, he kept it to himself. Yet he was surprised as I was when Roundhay found Mortimer Tregennis dead a day later, and apparently through the same means as his siblings. We hurried to the vicarage where I tended the overwrought vicar with brandy and Holmes closely examined the lamp in the drawing room. I had not the faintest idea what he was looking for until the next day when he returned from town having purchased an identical lamp. He determinedly set it down on the table before us.

A combustion, Holmes explained, had occurred in both murders, and it precipitated the release of toxic vapours that exerted a profound effect on its victims. He showed me some remnants from the smoke guard of the lamp in question. He informed me rather gravely that he intended to test its effects and make certain that he had found the murder weapon. Would I stay with him?

What could I say? I was too weary from our ongoing battle over the needle to chide him for taking such a risk. I agreed to stay, simply because I had grown so desperately afraid I would lose him that if this activity did prove to be his ultimate undoing, I was certain that my very next act would be to figure out a way to follow him. If my love wasn’t enough to save him from himself, then at least my loyalty could lend strength to us both.

He upended the powder onto the lamp. When the circle of smoke started to rise, a caustic odor filled the room. My mind clouded and everything around me began to slip away.

Something horrible overtook me, and I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of dread. Emerging from the darkness were vague figures representing such menace that I heard myself scream in terror at the certainty that they would suffocate me to death. I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the vision, but it penetrated all my senses and I fell to the floor. I could not stop the parade of disturbing thoughts and images that incessantly repeated themselves in my mind where rational thought used to be. I felt my own features begin to morph into something other than myself, my extremities growing absurdly large but entirely useless, my eyes growing out of my head so they saw a reflection of myself staring helplessly back. I clawed desperately at nothing, so sure that I was being swallowed into the very depths of Hell that if ever I should see light again I would vow never to take leave of it.

There was another scream. It did not come from me, but from Holmes, whose face bore such unimaginable fear that I recovered myself enough to drag us both into the outside world and away from the poisonous atmosphere in which we flailed. All my fears and anxieties returned as I shook him and frantically called his name. He had been closer to the lamp than I, and feared he suffered more adverse effects.

Gradually, the madness in his eyes began to clear and with a great sigh of relief I saw that he recognized me. He reached up and clung to my neck.

“Upon my word, Watson,” he gasped, “It was an unjustifiable experiment for myself, doubly so for a—“, he stopped and stared at me. “My  God, what have I done to you?”

*          *          *          *

We recovered ourselves in due time. I shall not recount the hours following that horrible encounter with the drug, but suffice it to say the name “Devil’s Foot” does not begin to describe its potential.

I watched Holmes dash into the cottage to retrieve the lamp, which he promptly carried out to the cliff and hurled into the sea. He then summoned Dr. Sterndale, an ex-pat recently back from Africa who had hovered on the periphery of our investigation, and in a few hours’ time we were ushering the large man into the front room. From him, we learned of the origins of the drug and how it came to be used in this particular instance. Mortimer Tregennis had stolen it from Sterndale’s collection of African roots, and employed it to murder his sister in hopes of gaining her share of the family’s fortune; Dr. Sterndale used it to exact his revenge on Tregennis, for he had dearly loved Brenda Tregennis and could not abide the savage manner in which she was killed.

Holmes once told me he’d rather play tricks with the law than with his own conscience, so it came as little surprise when he informed Sterndale that he would not prevent him from returning to Africa to finish his work. The two men shook hands and Sterndale departed a free man. As we watched him disappear over the moor, I could not help chiding Holmes for being more comfortable bypassing the law than ever before in his long career. He turned to me with clear, grey eyes that glinted in the sunlight. 

“Now that I know something of love, I cannot deny that my sympathies lie rather with our lawless lion-hunter. Were anything so terrible to befall you, Watson, I would stop at absolutely nothing to bring the perpetrator to full justice, even if it meant the guarantee of my own destruction.”

“And I would do the same for you,” I told him, my voice full of emotion.

He smiled, kissed me gently and turned back to the cottage.

I remained where I was to contemplate the bitter irony that my life had become a struggle to do just that. That the “perpetrator” I continuously fought against was Holmes’s own conscience complicated matters infinitely. By all accounts, our stay in Cornwall had been a success, both in the solution of a case and the marked improvements in his health. But what was to happen when we returned home to Baker Street and no cases arrived on our doorstep? What words remained for me to try and convince him of the harm he visited upon himself every time he took up the needle?

My heart grew heavier on our return trip to London as I realized the near-impossibility of my position. I loved this man more than anything in the world, more than myself, more than anyone in my past or present, and yet I was forced to helplessly watch him nurture his penchant for self-destruction. My only recourse was either to remove myself entirely from his presence, or learn to steel myself against the habits to which he so stubbornly attached himself. One was unthinkable, the other inconceivable.

Such was my deeply troubled state of mind when I entered our sitting room the next day and saw the remains of Holmes’s makeup kit on the table. Among them was the dreaded Moroccan case, which lay open and empty.

Its owner was lounging in a chair in his dressing gown, wholly absorbed in the volume that lay in his lap.

“Where’s your needle, Holmes?” I asked him lightly. It would be unsanitary to misplace such an article, I told myself.

“Underneath the sand at Poldhu Bay,” he replied, without looking up.

“And the vial of solution…?” I asked him incredulously.

“Lies next to it,” he said, as he turned a page.

“What?” I dared not hope.

“I think I shall dispense with the habit.” He looked up and smiled briefly. “It has the most unpleasant after-effects.”

“You told me they were worth it,” I retorted.

“They were,” he answered. He looked up and regarded me with a steady gaze.

“The look on your face was not.”

I was so taken aback that when I opened my mouth to speak no sound came out. I stared at Holmes in disbelief. He rose from his chair and approached me where I stood, gazing downward as he spoke with a sadness I’d never heard before.

“I fear I cannot…love you so well as you deserve, Watson. I am rather too hopelessly flawed to bestow upon you the pure, kind-hearted love which you continue to give so selflessly to me. The methods I have sought to relieve my fits have admittedly exacted a price on my physical well-being, though the pain I bring upon myself is less oppressive than the agonizing mental stagnation it replaces.”

His eyes were large and sincere when they looked again at mine. “But the pain it brings upon you is unbearable.”

I felt little more than a sense of relief that was so profound I sank to my knees. Holmes gently brought himself level with me, and took my face in his hands. He was murmuring words I did not hear, and kissing my lips while his thumbs pushed away the tears that flowed freely down my face. All I knew and wanted to know then was the overwhelming love and gratitude that washed away the weeks, months and years of untold strain upon my heart.

It was the one thing I had never asked him to do, for I only ever wanted him to see the worth of his own well-being and cherish it as much as I. But if giving it up for me was the only way to vanquish his habit, I would gladly be his reason for doing so.

There would be days in the future when his black mood got the better of him and challenged his resolve, and it was no less a challenge for me to make certain he was looking after his physical health. But a chance revisiting of his past cases on my part soon had him recounting once-forgotten details of adventures that occurred well before my time, distracting him from his melancholy and providing me with fodder for dozens of new stories. In this way, we would learn to work together to contend with the shadows that periodically crossed his mind.

For now, for us, here at Baker Street, newly committed to one another’s happiness, Holmes set about expressing his love the only way he knew how.

He showed me.

After a lengthy embrace, cravats were tossed away and articles of clothing shed until his naked body was writhing on top of mine. The weight and feel of him felt like a human salve upon my body and soul. I cradled his head in my palm as he slowly and sensually gyrated against me, his face buried in my neck, until his soft cries and intense shudder signaled his release. I smiled when I felt warm fluid spread across my stomach, and he whispered my name as I like to hear it in my ear.

Ever the skillful lover, Holmes shifted his weight just slightly so that my own member nestled into a narrow crevice between us, and I gasped as the friction brought sweet surges of pleasure to my groin as I undulated underneath him. When I reached my own completion, I uttered an ecstatic, shuddering sigh as my every nerve hummed in rapturous climax. Holmes pulled me closer to him as he often did when I came, a gesture that never failed to enhance my pleasure for knowing that he wanted to share my sensation.

No sooner had Holmes settled lazily against my chest in the heady aftermath of our lovemaking when Mrs. Hudson rang with afternoon tea. We hastily donned our dressing gowns, ushered her into the sitting room, and seated ourselves comfortably at the table, he with the Times and me with the day’s mail. All was well and calm again at Baker Street.

That is, until the following evening when the headmaster of a prominent boarding school staggered into our sitting room and collapsed onto the hearthrug. But that is a story I shall recount another time.