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August 7th, 2009

A Case of Identity, Part 1

I sat in Sherlock Holmes’s bed staring dumbly at the wall in front of me, my conscience laden with sorrow and regret in equal measure. With a heavy sigh, I threw the sheet back, rose to my feet and slowly began to dress. I dreaded facing Holmes again, wary of the damage wrought by this brief and bizarre encounter and terrified at the implications for our future relations. I considered exiting through the door that led to the second-floor landing and going directly to my own room, but thought better of it. To avoid him entirely would be a far greater and more awkward mistake than whatever conversation we were about to have.

When I was fully dressed, I drew a large breath and braced myself. As boldly as I could, I opened the door to the sitting room and entered it.

Holmes was sitting at his chemistry set, peering through a microscope and jotting notes in the little book he kept beside the table. I walked past him to the front window, and stared into the street. Mentally, I cast about for something, anything to say to him that would sound halfway close to normal, desperate to hear him address me in his old familiar tone.

“I say, there’s quite a lot of traffic for this time of night. Wonder what has so many people milling about in the middle of the week?” I glanced over my shoulder in hopes of garnering a response. Holmes ignored me, picked up a large beaker full of red fluid and poured it into an empty glass.

I tried again. “Holmes, please. You must forgive me for—“

He abruptly raised a hand, and cut me off. “There is nothing to forgive. Please do not trouble yourself over such a trifle incident. Now let us put the whole matter behind us.” He returned to his solutions, indicating the conversation was to go no further.

“I should be very glad to do so,” I returned gratefully. I stretched my arms over my head, and indulged in a slow yawn.

“I think I shall retire, then. It has been an exceedingly long day.” I turned and made my way for the door.

“Good night, Watson,” Holmes said tersely without looking up from his work.

An icy blow struck my chest at the way this was delivered, but I could see no use in making a labor of an already painful exchange.

“Good night, dear fellow,” I whispered back, hoping he would recognize the affection in my voice. Whether he did or not, I’ll never know.

When I at last reached my room, I collapsed onto my narrow bed and buried my face in the pillow. My mind revisited the events of the preceding day, scanning every moment for the opportunity to admit a mistake on my part alone. But I could not. It was difficult enough to make sense of it all.

*          *          *          *

The previous afternoon, Holmes had concluded a case that had long confounded Scotland Yard when he discovered that a wealthy stock broker’s death had been brought about by a chemical reaction that resulted when the victim added his sleeping draught to his heart medication. The effect had been almost instantaneous suffocation.

Few things delighted Holmes more than outshining Inspector Lestrade, and the added element of chemical analysis had my friend feeling unusually exuberant after the murderer had been identified and arrested. The grateful family showered Holmes with heartfelt praises and a small sachet of gold coins, which Holmes promptly took to Romano’s to treat me to an early dinner. He was especially indebted to my assistance, for my examination of the body left me entirely unsatisfied as to the cause of death, and I voiced my reservations over and above the medical examiner assigned to the case. I was certain there had been foul play where he was not, and Holmes congratulated me on my instincts.

Over our meal, Holmes filled in the details that had escaped me, explaining how the heart medication had been tampered with, and how only someone with an expert knowledge of chemistry would have known how to generate a combination of toxins that would strike a fatal blow and then vanish without a trace. I took his affectionate glances at me for gratitude, and I returned them with equal sincerity, for Holmes knew how much I appreciated a stimulating adventure and a fine meal.

We returned to Baker Street arm in arm, laughing heartily as we recounted the Yard’s numerous missteps, how certain the officers had been that death had been accidental, how smugly Lestrade announced that the investigation was closed, how surprised they all were when Holmes demonstrated the chemical reaction that had actually taken place. True to form, Holmes shunned all offers to be credited with solving the case, preferring instead to spend the evening with me rather than talk to the scads of reporters that surfaced in the aftermath of the arrest. His work is its own reward, and I admire him all the more for it.

It was later that evening when Holmes revealed that he desired me. I was trying not to look as shocked as I was, for I had never dreamed that my unsentimental and logic-oriented friend was capable of such feelings. That they were for me alone was positively dumbfounding, but it made sense in its way. He had never shown the slightest sign of interest in the many alluring and desirable women who commissioned his services, no matter how overtly some of them tried to win his affections. They were only clients to him, and when the case was solved, he immediately ceased his professional attentions and took up with whatever he had been doing before they rang. It was always up to me to usher them to the door and offer a polite but hasty goodbye, if only to cover the fact that Holmes cared nothing for such social graces.

When he told me of his feelings that night, he did not do so in a particularly remarkable way; there was no long speech leading up to a declaration, no emotional confession. He simply told me he had recognized deeper stirrings underneath his regard for me, and thought I should know of it.

“Holmes, I hardly know what to say,” I said in astonishment.

“What can you say, Watson? I have blindsided you entirely,” was his swift and sensible reply. He proceeded to flutter about the sitting room, stoking the fire and packing his pipe, glaring into the bowl as he lit it with a smoldering ember.

I stood motionless in the middle of the room feeling rather like a guest in my own home.

“I’m flattered by your statement,” I offered as I watched him spin about the room.

“No doubt,” he said breezily. I had to laugh. Of anything he could have said in response, this was the most like him.

He chuckled in spite of himself, and finally approached where I stood. He shyly reached one hand out, seemingly uncertain as to whether he should take mine.

“What is it you propose to do now?” I asked him kindly.

“I should like to kiss you,” he returned, a stilted smile still playing at his lips.

“Would you?” I replied playfully. I must admit the curiosity was powerful, and my heart began to pound. “You may proceed.”

He took a step forward, and placed one hand behind my neck. He pulled my face to his, stopping only once to offer me a brief smile, closed his eyes and placed his lips over mine.

It was a light kiss, which surprised me. For a man so bold in his actions, I expected something far more aggressive. But he simply let his soft lips hover just on top of mine for a few moments, then let me go. It was very sweet.

When he stepped back, I opened my eyes and saw again his shy smile.

“You do not recoil in horror. You do not push me away in disgust,” he observed.

“Hardly,” said I. “In fact, if I may be so bold…”

This time I stepped forward and placed my lips on his. This singular feeling, the headiness of finding out that one’s dearest friend harbours such regard compelled me to seek the taste of him again and linger upon it. I had ample experience with such actions, but none with a member of my own sex. While the particular experience had not occurred to me, nor had it struck me as the act of gross indecency defined by law. I had always believed that what transpired between consenting adults should be no one else’s concern.

Holmes responded warmly to my embrace, allowing his hands to rest at my waist and his mouth to open just slightly. I dared to let my tongue dart past his teeth just once which delighted him, for he opened further and tilted his head at a greater angle to deepen the kiss. It was utterly delicious.

It was he who broke the kiss, and when I again looked into his face I saw it had coloured with a considerable flush, and there was eager excitement dancing behind his keen grey eyes.

“Tell me, Holmes,” I started to say, but he knew what I was about to ask.

“For a brief period,” he said, “when I was sixteen. I’d a friend at boarding school with whom I shared private quarters. For three months we experimented in all matters physical until the headmaster responded to the rumours that we had grown suspiciously close.”

Holmes did not appear particularly troubled by this memory, so I pressed him.

“What became of your friend?” I asked him.

“Transferred to another school. I was as bored as I was lonely when he left, so I took up boxing and soon thought of him less and less. I could not call it love because I never thought of him beyond the skills we honed together in the bedroom. I considered it a rite of passage of a kind, though admittedly unlike those the boys around me were experiencing with members of the opposite sex. Once he left my company, I moved on to other matters of young manhood.” Holmes looked at me expectantly.

“So for the next thirty-some years you’ve felt no similar inclinations?” I asked.

“I suppose not. Not enough to pursue in any case. But lately, with you, it has become rather…singular…” he trailed off here and gazed at me intensely but with an unreadable expression. 

Unsure what to say next, I took up his hand in mine, and we both looked down at the floor. He looked up a moment later. “And what about you, Watson? Are you in unfamiliar territory?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “though I cannot say it’s entirely unpleasant.”

A smile lit up his face. “Ah!” he said, “Then you have no objections if I do this?”

Without waiting for a response, he pulled me to him, wrapping his lean, muscular arms entirely around my form and kissing me again with renewed vigour.

How easy it was to become lost in this! A certain kind of magnetic energy envelopes Holmes wherever he goes, and he is capable of drawing the eyes of a roomful of people to himself without uttering a single word. I often did marvel at his incredibly lithe physique and the subtle grace that accompanied his every movement, to say nothing of the dark, angular features that turned many a head in his direction. I have written extensively on his eyes and the enigmatic flame that flickers behind them on a constant basis, flaring with the advent of a case, waning when exhausted or gripped by a dark mood. It is here that the whole of his stunning persona seems to be the most concentrated. And the way they looked at me tonight would remain fixed in my memory for a very long time.

Finding myself pulled into such a charismatic sphere, I was hardly apprehensive about letting our activities escalate, and rarely did I turn down an opportunity for adventure, especially with Sherlock Holmes.

I barely noticed that he had pushed my jacket from my shoulders and commenced unbuttoning my waistcoat. I found that my own hands followed suit almost of their own volition, divesting him of his cravat and collar before cradling his face.

With little inhibition remaining, I let my tongue play over his, sucking it alternately into my mouth and starting over again and again with my lips trying every angle. We were soon both out of breath, and stopped momentarily to take in some air.

“Will you join me in the bedroom?” he asked me in a low, velvety murmur. As if to prove the necessity of his question, he took my hand and placed it over his groin to feel his arousal. I swallowed. Surely this was the next step?

“As you wish,” I murmured back, tasting him once more.

He broke off, turned and led me into his room. After locking the door, we resumed undressing one another and were soon entirely nude, nestled together in his bed. I realized his brilliant hands were capable of so much more than rifling through evidence as one pressed gently into my lower back while the other traced over the contours of my body. I simply held him as his breathing quickened and he began to nudge my growing arousal.

He rolled on top of me, straddling my waist and pressing his swollen member into mine. I felt his back muscles flexing as his movements intensified, and it was here that I felt the first grips of panic.

I had never done this before, and it flashed into my mind the absurd question of which one of us was supposed to be the man. Surely it was him, writhing ecstatically on top of me. What did that make me?

I suddenly wanted to stop, but did not dare interrupt him in such a remarkably urgent state—I know well the painful effect a half-consummated encounter can have on a man. I willed my mind to remain calm and remember how thrilling it had all been up to this point. I placed both hands on his back and allowed him to continue, hoping my physical response would again take over and blot out the disturbing thoughts that had broken into my conscience.

Holmes groaned aloud as he ground into me, thrusting his hips into mine so forcefully that I could feel our hipbones chafe. His cries grew more frequent as he buried his head in my shoulder, and I realized there was nothing I could do to reignite either enthusiasm or desire. My only wish now was for a swift ending. I squeezed my eyes closed and held him against me until he stiffened and then shuddered to his death. I held my breath as his semen spread across my stomach and seeped onto the bed, waiting for the aftershocks to subside.

When stillness came, he lifted himself up and brought his swollen lips again to mine. I kissed him back hesitantly, and attempted to return his sated smile. He reached down for my cock, but I pushed him away before he could see that it had softened entirely.

“It’s all right, Holmes, really,” I said lightly, trying to sound as if I had been completely satisfied by his release. He attempted again to kiss me, but I pursed my lips and turned my head away. As soon as I did so, I knew there was no way such an observant man could mistake my demeanour.  I was not wrong.

I glanced over at him just long enough to see his eyes widen and his lips part as he slowly drew back in a state of shocked disbelief.

“It really was lovely…I mean, I’m just not used to…I’m not sure I….” I tried to explain, but the damage was done.

“I see,” Holmes said quietly, and shrank to the other side of the bed with such an expression of sadness and disappointment that I could not bear to look at him.  I taxed my brain to come up with the right words to say to him, to at least make the tension bearable, but it was no use. After a long silence, he noiselessly sat up, reached for the dressing gown he kept draped over his bedstand and put it on with his back to me.

“I’ll leave you some privacy to dress,” he said quietly, wrapping his arms tightly around himself. He left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Oh, how many times I played and re-played those events in my head, hoping to uncover a sure sign of my wrongdoing so I could take it to him and tell him how sorry I was. All I wanted to do was assuage the rejection and humiliation that had left him sad and speechless in an effort to quickly repair the erosion of our friendship. But a thousand apologies would never have been enough, and short of attempting even that, there was nothing left to be said.

I was not surprised to find that he had risen early and left Baker Street by the time I arrived in the sitting room the following morning, nor was I surprised when he did not return until very late that night, long after he knew I would have retired. I had no choice but to afford him his space, and hope that in due time he would somehow forgive me.

For my part, I busied myself at St. Bart’s during the days and whiled away more hours than usual at my club in the evenings.

“We’ve been seeing an awful lot of you these days, Dr. Watson,” my friend Thurston said warmly on my fifth consecutive night at the billiard tables. “To what do we owe this privilege?”

“Oh, I suppose cabin fever has been pressing upon me,” I responded lightly. I was having difficultly making casual conversation, and truthfully I only remained at the club to stave off the crushing loneliness of an empty Baker Street and an uncertain future with my best friend.

“No interesting cases with Mr. Holmes?” Thurston asked innocently, though I could have throttled him for it.

“They don’t always concern me,” I replied, trying to keep my tone even and non-vexed.

“Well, I just read in the Times that he captured a band of thieves who had been posing as kitchen staff and robbing an invalid woman of her inheritance over a period of months,” Thurston continued. “Sounded like a most damnable business and how he learnt of their identities is anyone’s guess. I would have thought you’d have been at his side for that one.”

“Sometimes the man prefers to work alone,” I snapped as I thrust my cue towards the corner pocket. “Besides, I have work of my own to attend to at St. Bart’s. I’m still a doctor you know.”

Thurston backed away and shook his head in protest. “No harm was meant by it, Dr. Watson. Please forgive my invasive questions.”

I sighed and leaned against the table. “I’m sorry, Thurston,” I said wearily. “It’s been a long week for us both and I suppose I’d rather not speak about it.”

We finished our game in strained silence. I returned my cue to its stand, bid good-night to Thurston and left the club. My time of asylum had run out. If one more person asked me about Holmes I feared I would break him in half.

I slowly made my way back to Baker Street that night, expecting again to find the sitting room bereft of my flat-mate and a cold supper long ago left by Mrs. Hudson. But when I turned onto our street, I saw a light in the window. My heart rate sped and I dared to hope that Holmes was up there and willing to finally speak to me. I hurried my pace and went inside. When I opened the door to the sitting room, there sat Holmes, finishing a cup of tea and idly sorting through the day’s mail. He looked up when he saw me, and I was momentarily stunned by the parade of expressions that instantly crossed his face; it had first brightened at my presence, immediately darkened and just as quickly shifted to indifference, where it remained when he uttered a noncommittal greeting.

“Evening, Holmes,” I responded in the same even tone. “Has Mrs. Hudson brought supper?”

“She has, but I sent her away,” he replied. “There may still be a warm plate if you should like to ring her.”

I was not actually hungry, and I waved away his suggestion. I crossed the room and poured a glass of brandy for myself, then settled in the chair opposite Holmes at the table.

“How have you been?” I asked him cautiously.

“Busy,” he sighed, “I have been busy, Watson. I suppose you heard that the entire staff of Whidby Manor has been placed under arrest?”

“I had heard that somewhere, yes,” I said as I took a sip of my drink.  

“It is unfortunate that the majority of the stolen jewelry has long since been sold for cash, but I was able to recover a goodly portion of the lady’s sword collection. Such items rarely get far for their singular military features,” he said.

I was crestfallen. Glad as I was that Holmes was speaking to me again, I would have loved to accompany him on such a case. But I could hardly blame him for shunning my company after what had happened.

“I’ve no doubt you left another grateful family in your wake,” I said encouragingly.

Holmes offered one of his brief half-smiles right before he frowned at a letter that lay across his lap.

I patiently sipped my brandy while he read in silence.

“Hum,” he said when he finished, folding the document and returning it to its envelope.

“Something of interest?” I asked hopefully.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Then again, perhaps not.” He looked down again.

“Holmes,” I said, leaning forward. “I wish you’d let me explain.”

He looked up in surprise. “What is there to explain, friend Watson? I nearly forced you into a situation which undoubtedly made you uncomfortable, and which you politely endured as long as you could, and now we both know such a boundary should never be crossed again.”

“Force is hardly the word, Holmes,” I said in equal surprise. “I was a willing participant until—“ I stopped.

“Until what?” he asked me sharply.

“Until I…wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be,” I said, and as soon as the words escaped my lips I realized how strange and senseless they sounded.

“You are John H. Watson, M.D. My friend and colleague. Nothing more,” he said, then added with a sincere smile, “and nothing less.”

I smiled back. “I must admit I’ve missed being in on your cases. It’s a slack time of year at the hospital.”

“Then I shall keep you apprised of anything that comes our way,” he promised. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I shall retire for the night. I have been keeping rather late hours this week.”

“’Night, Holmes,” I said with no small trace of relief in my tone.

He nodded once as he walked towards his bedroom and closed the door.

For the first time in over a week, I slept that night. I slept so soundly that I had an uncharacteristically vivid series of dreams, all of which concerned Holmes. The first few were not so noteworthy; we were mired in our usual line of pursuit, though the criminals always remained unseen and their motives never clear. These mostly came down to odd, linear conversations between myself and the detective in which I was coaxing him to divulge more details than he was offering. In one particular dream he was showing me a knife that had been twisted beyond all recognition. Yes, but what does that make me, Holmes? I continued to ask him. He refused to answer. He just kept urging me to examine it, to look closer, to observe. But the closer I looked at the object before me, the more blurred it became.

I woke briefly to the sound of rain coming down against the window. I fell asleep again and dreamt anew.

This time, Holmes was lying on the settee, clothed only in a shirt and trousers. He was holding up a blue and green painting and trying to see the light through it. It’s okay if you hold it upside down, I said to him. He merely frowned and shook his head. I walked over to him, took the painting in from his hands and tossed it away. I grabbed his collar and attacked his mouth with my own. The taste of him immediately sent the blood to my groin, and I climbed atop him and feverishly began to unfasten his trousers. Let’s hold this up to the light, I said, taking out his smooth cock and holding it delicately in my hand. Or shall I…? He shook his head. Put it back, he said, it’s not yours. I felt urgent. Please, I begged him. He shook his head again. So I laid on top of him, pressing his cock to my stomach and telling him to be quiet, though he wasn’t saying a word. The lightning bolts that traveled between his body and mine were incredible, and after only a few quick thrusts, I reached a profound climax.

I awoke suddenly in a full-body sweat, face down on my pillow, and aware of a cooling wetness underneath my hips. Thoroughly confused and not fully conscious, I rolled over and covered my face with my arm. What did it mean?

*          *          *          *

I slept late the next morning, still troubled by the inscrutable scenarios with which my conscience challenged me throughout the night. I washed and came downstairs to an empty sitting room, though Mrs. Hudson had left a fresh pot of coffee and some toast on the table. I assumed Holmes had risen and left early again until I heard shuffling noises coming from his bedroom. He emerged in his dressing gown, beautiful grey eyes aglow, bearing a foolscap document in his hand.

“There’s money in this case, Watson,” he said excitedly. “Have you ever heard of the name Garrideb?”

“No. I’m sure I would remember a name so strange as that,” I replied, heartened by the return to a familiar routine.

“Well, if you can locate this fellow, a princely sum shall be yours,” he gazed eagerly at the document in his hand. “Rather a whimsical little scheme,” he added under his breath.

“I’m all ears,” I said enthusiastically, but he waved his hand in front of me.

“I believe I will let the man explain it to you himself when he visits us later this morning. But mark that name, Watson,” said he, and he glided to the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.

 A short time later, we heard a knock at the door and presently Mrs. Hudson arrived with a calling card bearing the name John Garrideb, Counsellor at Law.

“Are we rich already, Holmes?” I asked him jokingly.

He snorted. “Hardly that, Watson. Show him in, Mrs. Hudson.”

A few moments later, John Garrideb was standing in the sitting room. He was an American, but Holmes instantly observed he had been in England for some time, a revelation that seemed to take the short but powerful man a little off his guard.

“Your clothes, sir,” Holmes said, “are entirely English. It is very simple. Pray, take a seat.” He motioned towards an empty chair.

I remained a little distance from Holmes and our guest, as the two discussed details of the letter which were not yet known to me. From their conversation, I learnt that it had been sent by a Mr. Nathan Garrideb of Kansas, who was a direct relation of the man who had just entered our sitting room. The present Mr. Garrideb struck me as very suspicious in his nature, and for a time, Holmes had to employ his most soothing voice in order to placate his growing vexation. Finally, Holmes gestured towards me and invited Mr. Garrideb to tell his story, partly for the benefit of my ignorance.

Mr. Garrideb’s eyes narrowed at me. “Must he be involved?” he demanded.

Holmes was unfazed. “We usually work together,” he replied evenly.

“Very well,” said Garrideb, “I suppose there’s no secret in this.” And he proceeded to tell a most singular story about a man also named Garrideb who made his fortune in real estate in the United States. When he chanced to meet the man before us, he confessed his strange interest in collecting a roster of men who shared their odd name. John Garrideb had initially dismissed him, only to learn a year later that his namesake acquaintance had passed away and left a bizarre will. The elder Garrideb’s sizeable estate was his on the condition that he uncover two other Garrideb men and split the fortune among them. He had one stroke of luck upon finding a Mr. Nathan Garrideb in London, but the possibility of another in connection with him seemed to stop there.

I glanced over at Holmes as he listened to this tale, and interjected now and again with pointed questions. He sat in his chair with one leg drawn up at the knee and an expression of patient amusement surfacing ever so slightly under his professional mien. I let my gaze linger on him for how handsome and confident he looked, so apparently relaxed, though I knew he could burst into flight in an instant and disappear from the room in a whirl of sudden energy. For some reason, my heart beat faster at the thought. When Holmes chanced to look over in my direction, I quickly lowered my eyes to my notebook and hastily scribbled some notes.

The interview concluded with Holmes agreeing to help Garrideb and his lawyer locate another heir to the American fortune. As the man prepared to leave 221B, Holmes casually asked him if he knew an old acquaintance of his in Topeka, to which Garrideb enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. Holmes offered a peculiar smile in return, we shook hands all around, and Garrideb exited onto Baker Street.

“What do you make of it, Watson?” Holmes asked me, his eyes shining as he leaned against the fireplace and lit his pipe.

“A most extraordinary set of circumstances, I should say,” I replied, “but I am a mite baffled by it. What do you make of it?”

Holmes smiled as he waved out the flame of his matchstick. “Extraordinary is correct. Never have I heard such a pack of lies heaped upon me in a single interview. Everything about him rang false. I knew no such person in Topeka, and neither did the man who just left us.” He sucked thoughtfully on the stem of his pipe. “This case is most interesting,” he said, rather to himself.

That evening, Holmes and I paid a call to Mr. Nathan Garrideb, a strange elderly man who clearly seldom left the comforts of his strange home. He ushered us into a large round room, which resembled a small museum for the collections of all manner of scientific subjects. Holmes’s eyes shone with curious interest as he made his way about the place, stopping momentarily to let his hand wander idly over a plaster skull or microscope. I was momentarily startled by the unbidden memory of those same hands caressing my body, pressing into my back and holding my face. I gasped inaudibly at the curious twitching in my nether regions, but the physical sensation was halted when we heard a sharp rapping upon the door.

Nathan Garrideb promptly opened the door, and greeted an American lawyer. The latter was quite excited, for he announced he had found a third Garrideb, and heartily congratulated his host on becoming a very rich man. As the two arranged for N. Garrideb to collect his newfound wealth in Birmingham the following afternoon, I was struck by a queer sense of déjà vu, though I could not place the source of it. It pressed upon my mind from that point forward, however, even more so when Holmes suddenly inquired after Garrideb’s house agent. When we finally left the man’s house, Holmes and I parted ways. I went back to Baker Street, he sped off to Scotland Yard. I remained preoccupied on my solo journey as I turned the case over in my mind and tried to find a connection. I was vexed as ever when I returned home and spent some hours at my writing desk puzzling over the odd facts that I had recorded in my notebook.

Holmes arrived home soon after, and he greeted me warmly before stepping into his bedroom to change into his dressing gown. When he re-emerged, he took a cigarette from his case and perched on the edge of the settee.

“We’ve seen it before, Watson,” he said thoughtfully.

“I thought so,” I said wearily, “but I cannot quite—“

He leaned forward, and spoke in a low, excited tone, “A bizarre will based on a singular characteristic, a lone man promised a fortune, an elaborate plan to get him out of the house…”

And suddenly it came clear.

I snapped my fingers. “The Red-Headed League!”

Holmes smiled, “Excellent, Watson!”

I joined Holmes on the settee, and asked eagerly, “I presume you asked after the house agent to find out what secret lies within that particular home?”

“Exactly,” he said, still smiling.

“And what of your inquiries at Scotland Yard?” I continued eagerly.

Holmes’s joyful expression turned dark as he sighed and rose from the settee. He placed his hands in his pockets and spoke again with his back to me. “I have identified our client as a man with a sinister and murderous reputation. I fear I am putting you in some danger with the resolution of this case.” He turned and looked gravely down at me.

“It is not our first foray into such conditions,” I said, as I looked up at him.

He started to say something else, but furrowed his brow and stopped himself. Then he offered me one of his half-smiles and replied, “Very well. We shall call upon the empty home of Nathan Garrideb tomorrow at four o’ clock. Bring your revolver.”

That night, I dreamt again of Holmes, but my blurred morning memory of it amounted to no more than passing images of Holmes and myself running after carriages, bolting in and out of buildings, and I was never certain if we were chasing or being chased. Holmes always remained several steps ahead of me and I could not see past him to the object of our pursuit. Nor could I see behind me, for every time I turned my head all I saw was white light. I called out to him repeatedly, but he never turned to answer me.

The following day, we returned to Nathan Garrideb’s strange home, only this time we were quite alone on the premises. His housekeeper had let us in, then promptly left, and so we crouched in a corner shadow and waited for our client. Anticipation passed like electricity between us, and I felt my breath quicken when we heard a key turn in the lock and the cautious footsteps of the man who had called himself John Garrideb, Counsellor at Law. He had his purpose clear in mind, for we watched him move a table, pull up the rug and open a trap door with all the confidence of a seasoned criminal.

Holmes squeezed my wrist and nodded towards the hole in the floor. We crept over to it and I extracted my gun. At the sound of the creaking floorboards, the criminal’s head popped up and he saw in an instant that his game was up. In a final and desperate feat, he pulled a gun from his breastpocket and fired two shots. I cried out from the hot pain that struck my thigh. In the blink of an eye, Holmes was on his feet and he struck the man a mighty blow to the back of his head, sending him bloodied and sprawling to the floor. After he searched him for weapons and found no more, Holmes put his arms around me and dragged me to a chair. He looked at me with wide, terrified eyes.

“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”

I looked at my friend in astonishment, for his usual expression of trenchant focus had been replaced by soft, rimmed eyes and shaking lips. To look at him was to experience the greatest epiphany of my life.

“It’s…it’s all right, Holmes. Just a scratch,” I answered when I found my voice.

He tore open my trousers before I could protest and exhaled a sigh of relief when he saw the wound was entirely superficial. Then he turned towards the criminal, shooting daggers from his eyes as he snarled, “It is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of here alive.” He righted my clothing and helped me to my feet. The case had reached its denouement.

Killer Evans, as he was called, was promptly rounded up by the officers of Scotland Yard. It had been a counterfeit printing press he was after, which had resided underneath Nathan Garrideb’s feet for the five years he had lived there, entirely unbeknownst to him. As with the flaming red hair of Mr. Jabez Wilson, Garrideb’s odd name had given Evans the opportunity to craft a cunning and elaborate scheme to make sure he was absent during the break-in.

Holmes led me, limping and shaky, to a cab that carried us back to Baker Street. My nerves were frazzled, but it was not due to my brush with death, for I’ve had more of those than I should ever recount, nor could I attribute it to the physical strain caused by the searing scratch that pained my leg. It was the look on Holmes’s face and the urgency in his voice that echoed again and again in my head. In that moment I knew that his desire for me was not borne of idle curiosity, boredom, or simply an urge to satisfy baser instincts. Sherlock Holmes had loved me.

A Case of Identity, Part 2

In the days that passed, I grew more troubled. Relations between Holmes and myself were nearly back to normal as our embarrassingly aborted sexual encounter receded further into the past. We might have gone on as though nothing had happened were it not for the increasingly frequent dreams I was having in which he seduced me all over again, but with much more favorable results. In this way I was growing used to the idea of a physical relationship with him, despite my strong notions that this ran contrary to my own nature.

One night, I lay awake in bed, trying to will my mind to dream of something other than the endearing ways in which Holmes tilted his head, raised an eyebrow, or passed a supportive hand over my arm. But thoughts of him were now accompanied by needle-sharp stings in my groin and stomach, and it did me little good to turn my thoughts elsewhere, for they always found their way back to him, and my body now sought the thrilling sensation as much as it wanted for air. I decided relief was my only course of action, and took myself determinedly in my hand. It was only a passing fancy, I thought as I tugged at my prick. I am not an invert. I closed my eyes and sped my pace.

 For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!

I stiffened and swallowed a groan as I rolled to my side and spent myself, yet another spare moment in which I permitted myself the ecstatic luxury of sexual release. Physically satisfying, yet emotionally empty, this activity did nothing to quell my concerns. My problem demanded a more permanent solution.

The idea occurred to me the following day as I completed my final rounds at St. Bart’s. Holmes had business in south London that night, and I did not expect to see him back before late. When I left the hospital, I took a cab not to Baker Street but to the east end, and looked cautiously about as I alit just near the edge of a lesser questionable neighborhood. I remembered the address from a case we had taken years ago, in which Holmes and I sought information from the madam of a relatively upstanding brothel tucked into a narrow side street. I rapped on the door and was led inside by the same heavily made-up woman we had interviewed before, though she did not recognize me. She brought me into a dim room draped in bright pink and red throw blankets, with black lace curtains framing two windows that faced a brick wall.

“An hour at the least, three at the most. Is there something in particular you’re after then?” she recited her lines without looking up from her little desk, and gestured towards an album of glossy photos of the women for hire.

“She’ll do,” I said, pointing to a voluptuous dark-haired woman, and trying to sound as casual as if I had done this many times before. “An hour shall suffice.”

“A fine choice, sir. Miss Rose is one of our most popular girls. Wait one moment, please.” She left the room and returned a minute later with a woman dressed in a flimsy blue dress who only vaguely resembled her picture. Clearly, some years had passed since it had been taken. Miss Rose nodded courteously at me, and I followed her up a winding staircase to short hallway. She unlocked a door and led me into a small room with a bed, wash basin and fireplace. Décor was spare, although she had troubled to add a vase of flowers and a few lacey pillows, which provided a small measure of character to the premises. I took off my hat and sat awkwardly on the edge of the bed.

With a distinctive American accent, Miss Rose recited her list of specialties, including an addendum of what she would not do, and turned to light the fire while I made up my mind.

I closed my eyes as she ran her hands over my chest and began to unbutton my shirt. Her hands, so unlike Holmes, were cold and crisp and businesslike. She dutifully kissed my neck and helped me out of my shirt. For a single moment, I felt something tighten in my chest, and realized I was putting all my faculties to work in an attempt to forget my friend.

A few minutes later, I was on top of her, awkwardly trying to find a suitable rhythm in which I could abandon my body to its instincts. When it was clear that this was not going to be a viable position, she helpfully offered to roll me onto my back, and minister me from above. I watched her with furrowed brow as she executed her repertoire of customary noises and expressions, her great breasts swinging pendulously from side to side, and feeling all but numb from below my waist. She stopped and looked directly into my eyes.

“If you don’t mind my sayin’ so, sir, this don’t seem like your cup of tea,” she said.

“What makes you say that?” I asked her suspiciously.

“You just don’t seem like the type I usually see in here,” she replied, pushing herself off of me.

“What type?” I pressed.

“Desperate for female company. Driven by lust. Unsatisfied at home. That’s not you, is it?” She put on a red silk robe, and went over to her bureau to find a cigarette.

“And how do I seem to you?” I asked her as I sat up.

She lit her cigarette and peered curiously into my visage. “You look more thoughtful than the rest of ‘em. I’d say there’s sort of a sensitive nobility about you. And you’re certainly out of your element here.” She turned her head to the side and blew a line of smoke before continuing, “Someone else on your mind?”

I sighed, and nodded.

She shrugged. “Makes no difference to me, sir, though most men in your situation figure out how to get the release they’re lookin’ for. It’s not just anyone, though, is it?”

“No,” I confessed, surprised at how relieved I was to be talking to someone about it. “It isn’t.”

“Whattsa matter, honey? Your girlfriend leave you in the lurch?” she asked soothingly as she pulled up a chair.

“I’m afraid it’s rather more complicated than that,” said I, offering a weary smile.

“I’ve heard it all, baby,” she said cheerfully.

I took a deep breath. “It’s not my girlfriend. It’s…a man. My best friend.” I braced myself for her response.

She simply nodded and tapped the end of her cigarette in her ashtray. “Right. Does he know how you feel?”

“No. That is, I don’t know. I don’t think so,” I stammered, searching for a way to articulate the strange situation I had been living with. “It was he who approached me, and at first I reciprocated. Rather enthusiastically, I might add.” I looked up and saw she was listening with some interest.

“So what happened?” she asked as she brought the cigarette to her mouth.

“I froze,” I said. “Halfway through. He finished, but I…froze. It had suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know who I was. I mean, I’m not an invert, never have been. So how could I allow myself to carry on with another man?”

She gazed for a minute at my face, then smiled. “I know what you are,” she said soothingly. “You’re in love.”

“Well, I do love him. As—as a friend, I mean,” I was careful to add.

“Rubbish,” she said with a snort. “You’re in it deep. I can tell. But you’re too afraid of yourself to admit it.” She spoke with some conviction.

“But I’m not—“ I started to remind her, but she cut me off.

“Listen, honey, it don’t matter. Love is love. Trust me, I’ve seen all manner of types. You don’t strike me as an invert, but neither does the man who comes here once a week just to prove he’s not. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

I looked at her in surprise.

“It don’t make sense,” she continued, “to say you’re either this or you’re that. People got all kinds of inclinations, and many satisfy them accordingly. Others try to hide it, and for what? There’s always someone else out there whose interests match your own, so why not do what’s human? Now, if you’ve found love, well, that’s luckier than anything.”

We sat in silence while I allowed her words to sink in. “He loves you, too, don’t he?” she asked gently.

I blinked back tears as I nodded.

“And he’s a special one. Don’t let just anyone see who he is,” she puffed on the end of her cigarette.

“Now, how would you know that?” I asked her incredulously.

She smiled. “I used to read palms at a circus in New York. I learned that people aren’t so complicated when you really look at them. It’s easy to tell what kinds of people are drawn to others. Most just want to love, and be loved in return.”

I could have hugged her, though I could also finally admit the possibility held no allure for me whatsoever. But I had an idea.

“Miss Rose, would you do me a favor?” I asked her.

“Name it, honey. You still got a half an hour,” she said kindly.

“Could you…show me something?”

She smiled again, and chuckled. “You want to know how to please a man? You’re in the right place. Lie down.”

I lied down as she rose and came over to the bed. She straddled me just above my knees, grasping my cock with some authority, and commenced a very illuminating tutorial on the art of oral pleasure. I asked her many questions, which she answered with the expertise of someone long in practice, then proceeded to put her advice to the test. She even talked around me as she placed her lips around my tip, explaining which action garnered the best response. I was stirring again at the thought of visiting such skills upon Holmes, and when she finally stopped talking, I closed my eyes and saw his face.

Watson, are you hurt?? For God’s sake…

I gripped the blankets, shuddered and released. She took every last drop. “Do you always swallow like that?” I asked her breathlessly when the convulsing stopped.

She winked and dismounted from her perch, “Not for just anyone, honey. But if I were you I’d show him that you love his whole person, inside and out.”

Relieved, satisfied and immensely grateful, I rose and dressed. When I was ready to leave, I took out my billfold and extracted her fee, plus a generous tip.

“Miss Rose,” I said, taking her hand, “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“It’s nothin’, sweetheart. I wish you and your man all the happiness in the world.” She gave me a sweet smile, and I reflected for a moment that she must have once been a beautiful woman. She still might have been under different circumstances, but I daresay she seemed well-suited to her job

I left the brothel with a light heart, though I was still careful to remain discreet as I hailed a cab and returned again to Baker Street.

*          *          *          * 

Holmes was not yet home when I arrived, and I paced the sitting room in a state of nervous excitement. I had not decided on how best to proceed when he returned, and I turned several possibilities over in my head. In the meantime, I calmed myself with a glass of brandy, and stoked and restoked the fire.

When he finally entered the sitting room, I turned and offered him a bright smile. “You’re home!” I said warmly.

“Hullo, Watson,” he returned, his eyebrows twitching curiously at my state. He commenced his usual routine of changing into more comfortable lounging attire in his bedroom, gliding to the fireplace to find his favourite pipe and lighting it with a smoldering coal extracted from the fire.

When at last he took the pipe from his mouth, I strode over to him and planted a firm kiss on his lips. He stiffened in surprised, then backed away.

“Watson, please,” he said in a strained voice, “We agreed there would be no more of this.”

“I’d like to give it another try, Holmes. I think the results will be much different this time,” I said, approaching him again. I reached my hands out to grasp his lapels, but he grabbed them before I could do so.

“What makes you think so?” he demanded, a pained expression coming over his face. “I should not like to relive one of the most disagreeable moments of my life.”

The bitter truth of his remark stung me, and I stopped in my tracks.

“I’ve been thinking. And reflecting. And I believe I’ve worked some things out,” I told him.

“Have you?” he asked distantly as he settled himself into his chair and crossed his legs.

“Yes, and it’s clear to me now,” I said, sitting opposite him. I frowned. This wasn’t unfolding the way I planned. But I should have counted on his reticence to revisit the subject. I could not and did not want to consider how deeply my initial rejection had hurt him.

“What is?” he asked with a sigh.

“Who I am, who we are, what I feel,” I put rather simply.

Holmes rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Capital,” he answered sarcastically. “Who are you, who are we, and what do you feel?”

“I’d prefer to show you, if you’ll let me,” I said quietly and seductively.

He stared back at me.

I rose from my chair and walked over to him, then made to pull him to his feet. He reluctantly allowed it.

“Please, Holmes,” I whispered as I placed my hands on his neck and pressed my forehead to his. His eyes were tightly closed as though he were concentrating on preventing the memory of how it had all ended before from rising to the surface. I leaned into his face for a moment to taste him just once, then twice. He finally allowed himself to respond, lifting his lips to mine and gently grasping my forearms. He stopped again, frowned towards the carpet and tried to pull back. But I would not be deterred. I steered him towards his bedroom, backing him against the wall next to the door.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” he whispered into my mouth.

I did not reply, but continued to kiss him with growing passion, emboldened when he responded more earnestly. I pushed his dressing gown from his shoulders and started immediately on his cravat and tie. I then led him into his bedroom and sat him down on his bed where I finished undressing him. My heart ached when I noted that he kept his gaze cast downward in effort to mask his sadness. I would never be able to erase the memory of our very first encounter, and it would take months before he fully trusted me again. I only wanted to please him more because of it.

To see Holmes naked again before me was somehow as relieving as it was arousing. I always knew he possessed a beautiful body, and I was finally getting the second chance I had been craving. He watched me with hooded eyes as I shed my own clothes, and when I finally lowered myself upon him, I found that he was trembling slightly.

I prevented myself from attacking him with all the vigour and energy I had been dreaming of, and instead took my time about exploring his face and chest with my lips and tongue. I still sensed he was holding himself back out of fear that I would reject him a second time, but this only fed my own desire and urged me to make certain I convinced him that would never happen again. He warmed to me as our activities escalated, unable to stop his body from engaging with mine. I kissed my way down his stomach and to his groin, then traced my tongue to his inner thighs. He drew a sharp breath as I came closer to his manhood.

“You don’t have to do this, Watson,” he protested when I reached his long and graceful cock.

I looked up, and waited until our gazes locked before I said firmly, “I want to. More than anything, I want to.”

He exhaled slowly and closed his eyes while I proceeded to employ every skill Miss Rose had imparted to me. The effects were delightful and extremely erotic; Holmes placed one hand gently on the back of my head while I curled my tongue around his crown and traced my lips along his shaft. He gasped when I licked at his sac, and moaned when I prolonged the sensation by pulling it into my mouth.

Gradually, I worked my way back up to the tip of him, and finally swallowed him whole. He laced his fingers in my hair as I increased the suction and pumped him in a steady rhythm. When at last he started thrusting with wild abandon, I grasped his buttocks with both hands and pushed him deeper into my mouth. His grunts turned to cries when I raked my fingers across his perineum and I readied myself for his finish. He stopped his hips in mid-air when he shouted out in release, clutching my hair in both hands and throwing his head back upon the pillow. Short, uneven breaths escaped his lungs as he shuddered to stillness and, following Miss Rose’s advice to the very end, I took every last drop and licked him clean.

Before he had a chance to catch his breath, I threw myself on top of him and began to ground my throbbing arousal into his pelvis. Still very much in the heat of passion, he let his hands traverse my body while my own breathing sped to a series of ragged bursts.

“My dear Watson,” he panted as he felt for my face. The echo of my fantasies was all I needed to finish, and I buried my head in his shoulder and died, crying out from the currents of ecstasy that ran through my spine as my body violently convulsed against him.

When the aftershocks passed, I pried my sweating body from his and rolled to his side with a deep and satisfying exhale. I looked over at Holmes and saw perspiration on his furrowed brow and a look of utter disbelief on his face.

“Wherever did you learn to do that?” he asked me when his breathing slowed.

 “You liked that then,” I smiled, closing my eyes and reclining contentedly on my back

“Watson,” he said sternly. He rolled towards me and propped himself on his forearm. “You told me you had never been with a man. You were either not speaking the truth or—“

“Or?”

“Or you’ve been with one since,” he finished.

“I have seen someone,” I told him truthfully, looking over to see his expression fall to troubled perplexity. “But it’s not what you think,” I added quickly.

He waited for me to go on.

“I went to see a very nice woman in the east end,” I started to say before I realized how ridiculous it sounded. “She was most helpful.”

Holmes chuckled once, then he threw his head back and laughed heartily.

“Holmes, I’m being serious!” I scolded him.

“Yes you are, very serious indeed,” he chided me. “Watson, only you could make visiting a prostitute sound so wonderfully innocent. Where did you go?”

“Althea Mae’s Boarding House,” I told him. “I remembered it as a relatively respectable place from our investigation of the wharf murders some years back.”

“Ah yes,” he nodded at the memory.

“I must admit that my reason for going was to test my response to the, ah, usual proceedings in such places. But after a very awkward start, Miss Rose was well aware that I was going about it the wrong way,” I confessed, hoping I didn’t sound too callous.

Holmes’s eyes lit up. “Miss Rose? Brunette hair? American accent?”

“The very same,” I answered in surprise. “Do you know the lady?”

“Quite,” he answered, taking a cigarette from his bedside table and lighting the end of it. “And if Scotland Yard ever finds out about her they’ll rid themselves of half the force and make her chief commissioner.”

“How on earth do you know her?” I asked.

Holmes gave me a wry look. “Purely for business reasons I assure you, Watson,” he said drily. He waved his hand as I started to apologize for the way I phrased my question, then continued. “She has assisted me in a number of cases, for her knowledge of human nature and individual character is unsurpassed even by the most thoroughly trained doctors of psychology. She could certainly have a career as a consulting detective, though I shouldn’t care to be so challenged by the competition.” He inhaled deeply from his cigarette. “Pray continue.”

“Well, it’s just as you say, Holmes. She was immediately attuned to the fact that I was about something else, and she urged me to tell her about it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure just where to turn, so I told her about my—about our situation. She was most sympathetic,” I said, hoping Holmes understood what I meant. “She helped me realize what I was too blind to see on my own, then she gave me a very informative, ah, lesson on the art of oral pleasure.”

“Ah,” Holmes said thoughtfully. “So she solved your case of identity.”

“I suppose she did, yes,” I returned with a smile. “And, indirectly, so did ‘John Garrideb, Counsellor at Law.’”

“How?” he asked.

“When you thought I had been hurt you…it was…I didn’t know you felt that way, Holmes,” I said quietly.

“Was that not already obvious? I love you very much,” he said nonchalantly before he brought the cigarette to his lips.

I closed my eyes for a moment, uncertain as to what I had just heard. “What?” I asked in a small voice.

Holmes glanced at me and repeated himself in the same casual tone, “I said I love you. I thought that was clear.”

Only he could make such a meaningful declaration sound so wonderfully…Holmes.

“And I you,” I returned softly before kissing him gently on the mouth.

“Splendid,” he responded as only he could, and resettled himself against his pillow. We held each other in happy silence for a few moments before he suddenly spoke again.

“I’m going to send her a note of thanks,” he announced.

I was horrified. “You’ll do no such thing!” I sat up and glared at him.

“’Dear Miss Rose,’” he began, rolling his “r” majestically, “’I am greatly indebted to you, dear lady, for my friend’s newfound skills under your very excellent tutorial brought upon the most powerful sexual release of my life,” his eyes darted slyly in my direction, “that utterly took my breath away.”

“Holmes!” I scolded him, but could not prevent myself from laughing as he continued to compose an absurdly florid letter praising the effects of our mutual friend’s advice. I blushed furiously, playfully wrestled with him, and finally clamped my mouth over his to quiet him once and for all. For several long minutes, we remained locked in a passionate embrace. When we finally broke off, he addressed me in a more subdued tone.

 “I should not like you to consult with Miss Rose again, Watson, however well she educated you for both our benefits,” he said.

“Certainly not, Holmes,” I assured him. “I am entirely in your hands now.

There was relief in his smile when he took my hand in his and said softly, “Oh, the things I’m going to show you.”

And so he proceeded with my second lesson in loving another man, a thrilling exercise that left us both speechless and for all the right reasons.

*              *             *          *

In the weeks that followed, Holmes left it to me to initiate intimacy, though that would change in time. I think he wanted to be certain that I was sincere and secure in our newly expanded relations, and I gladly took on the task of signaling when I was feeling amorous. In fact, it was only a few nights after our first successful lovemaking that I found myself pleasantly distracted by the exquisite way in which his trapezius muscles curved gracefully into his long neck. He was bent over his chemistry set, wholly ensconced in the specimen that lay at the other end of his microscope. It had been too hot to wear a collar in the house, and his exposed nape started showing small beads of perspiration. I silently closed my journal, rose from my chair and walked to his bedroom, dragging my index finger along the top of his shoulders as I passed him. He raised his head, then turned to look at me as I offered a sly smile just before I crossed the threshold. I laughed joyfully when, seconds later, he attacked me in a brilliant flash and sent us both sprawling on the bed.

Keeping our love a secret was not difficult, though one morning Mrs. Hudson inquired innocently which one of us had been up late praying the night before, only to grant us a knowing wink when we looked back at her in stunned silence. Our working relationship changed little, though it did take more convincing now for Holmes to allow me into perilous situations, and I just as stubbornly refused to allow him proceed alone in such cases. But our domestic life blossomed considerably, in ways more rewarding than I can articulate. I had become his partner in every sense, a role that suited me perfectly and which I would never take for granted, for my spirit had shown me how beautiful it could be, how much I had loved him all along, and what treasures awaited me if I were observant enough to see them.

The bouquet of flowers I sent Miss Rose required no note. I have a feeling she knew exactly whence they came.