As I sit here, with the latest edition of the Strand before me, attempting to sift through far more separate and tumultuous feelings than I care to encounter at once, I find I must allow myself to reflect methodically. So I shall do just that. And begin at the beginning, as I steadfastly recommend to others. But where did it begin, and at what precise moment did the match touch the fuse? It is all very well to say "begin at the beginning," but some origins are truer than others, and painful subjects often not broached unless broached obliquely. Ah, yes. The night it truly commenced, I was climbing the stairs.
I cannot recall ever having felt so exhausted.
As my friend the Doctor would point out all too readily, that is precisely the problem--I may well be exhausted, I may even be flirting dangerously with complete loss of consciousness, but when my brain is preoccupied, I do not feel it. I know as well as he does that when my mind is sifting difficult, perplexing, contradictory, obscure data that the rest of me becomes quite as relevant as wings would be to a brook trout. What he does not know, and what I cannot tell him, is that I adore the sensation.
Oh, there are many other sensations I cherish more fondly, to be sure--and all, predictably, centered around the endlessly estimable person of the Doctor himself. But before he was mine, the closest thing to Heaven for me was the moment when my intellect became purely, passionately detached, the moment when I knew that reason, and my reason at that, would once again win out, the split second before all was as clear to me as if I had seen it. In those isolated instants, I could feel that there was no one in the wide world who was more adept at this one skill than I was. I grew glittering and razor-sharp and entirely free of myself. In those instants, I could convince myself I was needed. Not appreciated, perhaps, and certainly not loved, but needed.
I'm afraid the experience did not cease to be intoxicating after Watson and I expanded our relations.
Turning my key in the door lock, I staggered up the stairs to our rooms. It had been an investigation tailored for solo work; Watson could not possibly have helped me, for I had spent more than three quarters of my time masquerading as other people, trailing appalling villains throughout Rotherhithe. I had finally discovered the hidden and alarming connection between the brutal stabbing of a young public house hostess and the depraved gang which until an hour previous had haunted the banks of the Thames, smuggling for profit and killing for pleasure. It seems after reading back over this sentence that I exaggerate, but sadly, I do not. The world is not a kind place, I have found.
The Doctor, bless him, had inquired whether I wouldn't prefer to have him there. Much as I missed his company, I preferred to have him anywhere else. And I told him as much. My argument was couched in terms of efficiency and not peril, a condition Watson is alarmingly willing to stick his neck into. Sharply, I objected to the very real possibility of his ruining my cover. I then pointedly mentioned the all too real demands which hospitals make upon talented doctors in the wintertime. To my relief, he did as I said.
But now I was freezing, and filthy, and I loathe being filthy, and my very bones ached, and the Yarders were scribbling their paperwork and my dark puzzle was solved, and what my friend calls the Reaction--always with an implied capital letter--was causing my eyes to sting and my hands to tremble as I closed the sitting room door and slumped back against it.
I lost no time in getting myself out of those disgusting garments and into a hot bath, which salved my preoccupation with hygiene if not my weariness. There was river mud on my arms and collarbone and shoulders, and rivulets of sweat had carried the muck down to my washboard of a stomach. Thoroughly repulsed, I scrubbed my familiar form with surgical precision. Leaning back with a sigh, my eyes fell shut. I had barely the strength to rise when the water began to cool. Putting on a shirt and trousers, I returned to the blissfully warm sitting room just to ascertain whether my friend had returned from St. Bart's.
The room was quite dark save for the fire, for I'd lit none of the lamps. The windows were frosted over at the edges. They smelled faintly of the winter without. My friend's desk was covered with papers, one of which I lifted blearily. It was a draft of one of my own cases, sadly over-dramatized as was his wont. Also, as was gravely necessary, our relations were reduced to heartily jovial back-clapping and the occasional darting smile. Very much the usual, I mused absently.
When I stumbled upon a description of my own hands, however, and some of their more peculiar characteristics, I found myself blushing furiously. Thank God he is not here, I thought. You look like a half-witted society girl whose figure has just been admired. I'm damnably vain where he is concerned, and I know it. And of all the details he could have fixated upon without any regard for sense, I quite like my hands. Apparently my "long yet supple fingers" had been "cradling" a thick length of rope with my "habitually profound delicacy of touch." A thick length of rope, of all things. I thought it best to return the page to its place.
The Doctor himself was not there. But the fire was blazing, and the rug had absorbed some of its heat. And the door to my room, ten steps behind me, suddenly seemed very, very far away.
I mentioned before that there are a few select sensations which are wholly preferable to that of intellectual triumph. One of them is awakening because John Watson is kissing you.
My eyes remained closed. I'd have been a wasteful fool to open them quickly. I buried myself instead in the scent and the feel of him, slowly moving my hands. He had thrown off his frock coat and draped himself on top of me in his shirtsleeves and a silk waistcoat, resting most of his weight on his good shoulder. I gripped his thick, solid upper arms. Then I balled the cotton of his shirt in my fist at the curve of his lower back. What more could I savour without sight, I wondered as my consciousness slowly returned. The back of his hands and neck told me sleet had begun to fall in the street beyond. But only just, or else he'd taken a cab. No, the slight moisture would have been only on his hands and not his neck had he used his umbrella, so he'd hailed a hansom and been caught in the wet on his way to the door. It was nearing ten o'clock at night, judging by the slight stubble on his face. He had only very recently arrived, I registered as my mouth fell open further, for his fine muscled torso was warm but his lips were still cold--a fact I set about remedying for him as I tilted my head and abandoned myself to the aching feeling that life only gives one a small, finite number of flawless moments, and that I'd just spent yet another. And in my case, that I didn't entirely merit the ones I'd already received.
That forced my bloodshot eyes open as he drew away at last, causing a mirrored look of worry in the Doctor's staggeringly blue ones.
Ah, there he was. Five feet nine inches of brown-haired, solidly-built, Adonis-featured, kindhearted perfection. If Adonis had been unmistakably square-jawed and Scottish in origin and his manners were military, I suppose.
"Are you all right?" he inquired in that calm, sure voice of his.
He was not expecting me to reply that I was terrifyingly lucky and that I had never in the slightest expected to be faring nearly so well as I was, and so I told him I was fine.
"You look ridiculous," he said fondly.
"Why? Because I am splayed on our rug like a piece of driftwood?"
"No." He ran the edge of his hand down the side of my face, and it was all I could do not to follow it with my cheek like a comfort-starved street cat. I managed with an effort to preserve my dignity. "Half your hair has dried, and is falling straight out from your head. The half nearer the fire. The other half is yet damp, and beginning to curl at the ends."
I brushed my hand through what must have been a bad mess. "I thought you liked my hair."
"And why did you suppose that?" he murmured, smiling.
"I deduced it, actually."
"From my touching it whenever I can, I suppose." He nodded gravely. "You were right. It's very striking, black as it is. And in general, very well groomed. I have never seen it quite so chaotic as now, however."
"I'll fix it, if you like."
"I shall only disarrange it again," he said.
Then he was kissing me once more, my fingertips playing scales upon his vertebrae, and suddenly I could no longer breathe. I reflected, and not for the first time either, on what a precarious knife's edge I lived. The edge I balanced to keep the Doctor fascinated by my cases, an audience to my finest assets, and yet not present for the potentially deadly ones. The time I spent maintaining a perfect semblance of control, at least partly so that I could artfully abandon it as a last resort. The care it required for me to remain coolly indifferent enough to Watson's presence that he didn't mistake me for the thousand other grovelling fools who worshiped him. The pains I took to keep his inquisitive mind guessing, without ever toying with him, for the thought of losing him by revealing too much of my dark, sad self made me an abject coward.
The thought of losing him in still worse ways was enough to bring on symptoms that I'd read in one of his medical texts resembled a heart attack.
"I take it you resolved your case?" he asked when I laughingly stopped to gasp for air. I was yet feeling deucedly dizzy.
"Yes. The gang are all in custody."
The trouble with perfect moments, apart from the fact that they end, is that they all too often end badly. Or perhaps I am just unforgivably stupid.
"The Yard has them all in tow," I assured him. I used my calming voice. It works wonders on occasion.
"Do you mind telling me just what the devil you think you were doing capturing a gang without so much as warning me that I had best be terribly worried if you didn't arrive home this evening?"
He was angry. In fact, he was very angry. Only when he is very angry does he adopt a tone so clipped and cold, for all the world as if he were me.
I knew where every ounce of the blame could be attributed for the wretched situation, too. It all had to do with that damnable business of the Greek Interpreter.
We had only two weeks before crossed a foeman worthy of our steel--a laughing, vile, unbalanced little villain whose machinations had killed the man we intended to save, and would have killed Mr. Melas had I arrived but a few minutes later. That was not the memory which haunted my nightmares, however.
"I shall pick up Mr. Melas on the way," the Doctor had said to me. I recall every last word. "We may need an interpreter."
"Excellent," I had replied. "Send the boy for a four-wheeler, and we shall be off at once."
"Holmes, we may well require the assistance of the official police," he had observed. "Do you drive quick as you can to Scotland Yard and find Lestrade or Gregson, and meet me at The Myrtles. I shan't do anything alone, I promise you--but supposing this unfortunate brother may be close to death, it would be wise for me to keep a guard of sorts until you arrive."
And so Dr. Watson had gone on ahead to do what he could whilst I had waited, chafing and pacing and shouting and nearly coming to blows with Gregson (inept fool that he is), for the arrival of the warrant. Never again. Never again. Never again, I vow by all that I hold dear, I vow by the Doctor himself, will I give tuppence for a warrant.
How many people, I wonder, have ever seen a man who has been poisoned by charcoal?
His face already looked swollen as a drowned corpse. His lips were blue as death, blue nearly as his eyes, which were open and staring and insensible. I had hurled the brazen tripod into the garden without a second thought, gasping for breath though I was, and then vaguely, as I carried him from the poisoned room, I realized that an officer had opened another window at the top of the stairs. I set my beloved burden on the floor and bent over him. I had physically thrown myself into the house, smashing and then diving through a glass pane, and the cut on my palm dripped red blood onto his white face. Mr. Melas was in a similar state, though I did not mark him as Gregson dragged his inert body into the hall. The brother, of course, the emaciated gargoyle with the sticking plaster upon his face, was stone dead.
How to describe it? How to relate what it is like when your world is crumbling round you, and all you can find to piece it back together again are ammonia and a flask of brandy? I was pleading with him to come back to me, though now I think about it once more, I only chanted the word please over and over again. Mingled with his name. How to fathom all I felt when he saw me, truly saw me, and began again to breathe on his own?
The Doctor can recall arriving at Mr. Melas' door at the same time as the smiling little fiend. He recalls perfectly well being herded into a chamber and then, realizing their intended fate, commanding all inside to lie flat before the crack of the door and breathe as shallowly as was possible. The dear heart remembers nothing whatever of being saved, my part in it, and my sad lack of propriety or discretion, before awakening in the carriage once more as we flew back to the train station.
The only reason Gregson lived to tell the tale was that he undoubtedly saved Mr. Melas, for I spared the interpreter not an instant's concern, God forgive me. That reason, and the fact that he could easily have laughed at the white-faced wreck of a consulting detective he helped into the four-wheeler, but instead only pressed my arm in silence and offered me a deeply apologetic little salute before returning to The Myrtles and the Greek who'd been tortured to death. I hadn't even responded. I was too preoccupied with the barely breathing ex-Army medic in my arms.
And now that same man was positively livid that I had gone to Rotherhithe alone.
"Watson, you completely misread the situation," I announced. "There was never any legitimate concern over safety. It was not even a challenging case, come to that."
"And that is why you have now fallen dead from exhaustion and hunger before our sitting room fire, not having had the strength to make it to--was it your desk or your bed?"
I opened my mouth, but to my dismay he pushed himself off me with his hands. I sat up along with him as if a rope tied us together, seeing kaleidoscopic stars at the effort. Beginning to fall back, I caught myself with one palm. I was aghast at such a display of my own weakness, and I vehemently willed the dizzy spell away, forcing myself to be calm. When I could see him again, he was shaking his head at me. The expression most visible was fury. Beneath that ran palpable hurt.
"Did you eat today?"
"Is that truly the most interesting question you can muster at the close of my investigation, Watson?" I snapped wearily.
"So you did not. How many armed thugs did you apprehend singlehandedly, Holmes?"
"Your logic is very seriously flawed. It is a predictably absurd assumption that simply because I failed to invite you to Rotherhithe this evening, I was callow enough to attempt the resolution alone. I was entirely safe. Lestrade and three officers accompanied me."
That had done it. I was trying to reassure him, but he winced as if I'd just uttered the most infamous of slanders. Too late, I realized my mistake, and cursed myself for it. He supposed I was recalling The Myrtles, rightly. He supposed I thought him a weakling and a liability, wrongly. And the man looked as if I'd thrown him out on the streets.
I know that my thoroughly weakened state made my sins feel still worse than they were, but nevertheless in that moment it felt as if I spent my time casually wounding John Watson every day, twice when I'd nothing better to do. To be truthful, I found myself in that guilty position heartbreakingly often, for all that I would gladly have signed up to be tortured upon a rack to prevent him coming to any harm. There was a single human being in the world whose happiness and continued well-being I valued above my life, and no man in that same world could hurt him as cruelly as I could. The irony was not lost upon me.
"I didn't want you there," I said swiftly. It was obvious, yes. But he would next ask me why.
"But why, Holmes?"
"I know you to be exhausted from your work at the hospital as it is, and I could not justify placing yet another burden on your shoulders."
"Your cases are a burden on me?"
In my defense, I fail so miserably only when at the end of my tether. The world was still spinning visibly, though I flat-out refused to show it. "I promise you that it would only have been a tiresome waste of your resources, my dear fellow."
"Then you are lying," he said, his voice dropping to a dull whisper, "as opposed to merely not trusting me enough to disclose the whole truth."
He was moving to get up, but I gripped him by the wrist. There is only one way out of a corner such as the one I had backed myself into, and that is admitting my own folly. "I trust you absolutely."
"You do not show it well. Or often. I am beginning to think that may never change, as sad as that admission makes me. And if it never does change, then I am beginning to wonder what I shall do."
He pulled away from me again and shifted to his knees so that he might rise without the use of his bad arm. His undisguised woundedness made my already pained eyes burn. Clearly, I was in it to the hilt, and the time had come for desperate measures to be taken.
"I trust you more deeply than you'll ever know, my dear fellow."
"That may be true, unfortunately."
"John Watson, I cannot and will not risk you in the pursuit of inconsequential brutes."
"Indeed? And for that reason chased down a Rotherhithe gang in my absence?" he answered frigidly, continuing to rise.
"Well, I also feared you may have been exhausted by the efforts of the night, and thus miss the small excursion I had planned for us tomorrow afternoon."
I allowed my heartfelt inner turmoil to appear on my face, if only a little. That can be very effective. I employ the eyes, primarily, and the set of my lips. It is essentially the opposite of acting, and I am rather adept at the technique. Allowing him glimpses of my mind plays upon his generosity, I know, but I was past caring. I had to be permitted to make it up to him.
The Doctor stopped, but he would not trust himself to reply. I slid forward, still seated, and placed my fingertips very gently at his waist. "That is, if you would do me the distinct honour of accompanying me."
"Accompanying you where?"
"The Diogenes Club."
"What the devil is the Diogenes Club?"
"One of the queerest in London, I assure you. No," I added, laughing, "not that sort of club. It is a club for deeply unclubbable men who nevertheless have no objection to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals, for which I can hardly blame them. I myself have found its atmosphere very soothing. Please say you'll come, my dear chap. I cannot exaggerate the importance of your joining me."
He took my hands in his and removed them, placing them emphatically on my own lap as he sat down on the floor again. He fixed me with a very suspicious stare. "And why should I wish to follow you to a club for the unclubbable?"
"To meet my brother."
And there it was. Small wonder I had saved that one in reserve for so long, for I had never so completely stunned him.
"Your brother?" he repeated, entirely shocked.
This is very bad, I thought, and only growing worse. Now I would in fact be forced to introduce my lover to my sibling. I do not mean to imply that I lack regard for either one of them. However, the merest thought of them in the same room--
"Is he your junior?" Watson inquired at last, his brows still reflecting his astonishment.
"Seven years my senior."
"What is his name?"
"Mycroft Holmes. My parents had an alarming sense of humour, as you have probably guessed already."
"Your full brother, you say?"
"Born of the selfsame parents as your very humble servant."
"And you never thought to speak of him before now."
"We are not intimate. That is, we are, but the more social manifestations of our regard are lacking." I thought I'd managed that rather nicely.
"Well, now I know you have a brother, I am at least grateful you are not estranged," he said distantly. "I need hardly remind you I was not so lucky."
"That was never your fault," I argued. "It was Fate and bitter circumstance."
"We were strangers. And yet, antagonists. That was not all his doing."
"Correct. It was at least partly your father's," I said dryly. "My brother and I are not strangers, and yet we have come as close to blows in our younger days as anyone. We know one another far too well, you will find, to be entirely peaceable. Mycroft is...disturbingly perceptive. I am little better."
"So," he summed up softly, "you were making an effort to save my strength so that I would have the fortitude to face your brother--whom you have never so much as mentioned to me in passing--on the morrow. As I little know what to expect, I suppose he is nothing at all like you."
"In spirit, he is very like me, actually," I sighed.
"I doubt that. However 'perceptive' he may be, your faculty of observation and your peculiar facility for deduction are surely due to your own systematic training."
"Would that they were."
My head began to spin again. It was not a convenient moment. I tried to blink it away.
"Sherlock Holmes," the Doctor said quietly, his gallant countenance quite breathtaking in the firelight, "I am about to say a number of things to you. Pray wait to respond until I am finished."
I nodded, focusing on my torso remaining vertical. It seemed best.
Watson's eyes were shining like clear lakes. As he spoke, he quite unselfconsciously removed his cravat and began loosening his collar. "I am extremely angry that you would venture upon a perilous case without telling me. You were right to think I would have been present had I known of it, but that is hardly an excuse. I am also appalled that you would lie to me about the all too obvious reasons you wished me away. I may have nearly suffocated, but that does not mean I fail to recollect the event, you know."
Oh, what a dangerous tone.
"I am equally amused and flattered that you should attempt to distract me with so drastic a measure as meeting your brother, and very thankful for it to boot, but please do not think you have fooled me. You wished me at the hospital this evening not in spite of grave danger but because of it, and the event had nothing in the slightest to do with your family, as surprising as their existence may be."
The cravat was gone, the collar thrown out of my field of vision. His eyes were dimming visibly once more as he began on his waistcoat and shirt buttons. And of course, the fault was mine. I thought frantically of a way to light them again, but something in his sweet, injured, terribly determined face stopped me from speaking. That, and the fact I hadn't the least notion what he was doing.
"I am only going to ask you a single question. How would you react if I continued work at the hospital every day in the throes of an outbreak of virulent typhus, disease running wild through the wards, and yet said nothing to you whatever of the potentially deadly risk?"
A cold, nauseating grip seized my heart of hearts. "Is there--"
"There is not." He pulled his muscled arms free, forever slightly browned by the desert sun. "But you are about to be taught a lesson."
I opened my lips to ask what lesson, but found I hadn't the breath for the project.
"How dare you?" he hissed furiously, an inch from my face. "How dare you suppose you are not as precious to me as I am to you?"
I ought to state here that sex had used to be a very simple affair for me. I am not conventionally handsome by any means--I cannot claim to possess any measure of my Watson's glowing good looks, of that I am all too well aware. I rather resemble a very badly fed vampire, and often wonder whether or not the Doctor is actually aware of that fact. But because I have cultivated a cynical, aloof variety of charm, and perhaps because I am at least strikingly tall, I have never wanted for a casual partner. I had used to think that was quite enough, and would be for all time. The libido, after all, is identical to the appetite for sleep or for food: it may be a nuisance, but ignore it for long enough and one can find oneself making very poor decisions. So I treated the desire for carnal intimacy as I did all other desires and subjugated it. When I chose to indulge it, I did so, as with my bread and water and repose, and that was the be-and-end-all.
Simplicity itself, really. Ten minutes sitting in a obscure corner of the Turkish baths with my towel arranged just so, and I would find a head between my lean legs. I never bothered with names, although I know for a fact that once or twice the eager mouth belonged to the same fellow. He would leave, whoever he was, and I would depart soon after, once more in firm control. If I needed more than that, the identical chaps were more than eager to lead me to a private chamber and allow me my way with their flesh. I was never wholly selfish. I would finish them by hand and leave, and I imagine they would depart soon after. Mutual benefit once more--their loss of control, my regaining of it.
Very rarely, I required loss of my own control. That meant slightly more effort, particularly if the morphine was running through my veins and I felt strange and haunted and self-destructive. And it could find me in the pitch dark with my brow and palms pressed flat against an alley's brick wall like a starving rent boy, biting my own lip so hard I could see the bloodied cuts in the morning. He would hand me a handkerchief and restore his opera gloves or his uniform trousers and leave, whoever he was. And I would depart soon after, feeling somehow myself again, and far less alone for having been used. Simple.
With the Doctor, sex is very complicated.
I am watching the smallest expressions that flow past his face, and shifting tactics accordingly. When his brows crease, when his lips part, when his hands clench, I am always watching. I am an instrument for his pleasure. Oh, I am yet commanding and strong-willed, and to be sure I am the one in control. But that is because, oddly, I can get the most striking results from him that way. Though every inch a man, he wants me at the reins. And I do what he wants. I happen to love the fellow quite beyond reason. If he cried my name so when I was mellow and supine, I think I should gladly spend my life bent over the arm of the settee with my own riding crop resting conveniently on my back. As it is, I am the master. At least, until the passion strikes me so deeply that I am breaking into pieces within him and have forgotten who I am entirely, except that I am his. And I'm afraid when things have gone that far, there's not a thing I can do about it save shatter apart.
But in general, I do my best to be fairly domineering. My soul isn't beautiful, as his is. Power at times seems to be all that I possess.
That is why I was startled (do please take note for the future that your reflexes are bloody useless when you feel this way, there's a more cautious fellow, I thought caustically to myself) when he gripped me quite roughly by the shirt and crushed his lips to mine again, taking my mouth like an invading army. I cannot say I disliked the feeling.
I was yet seated, and he had edged back to me on his knees, so it took him but one movement to swing his leg over mine and sit on my thighs. My hands came up to his jawline and he stopped kissing me. When he pulled back, his blue eyes were flaming. He took both my wrists in his hands and twisted them round behind my back. I am very, very strong in the torso, but I found to my shock that in that position, in that moment, he was supporting me. Violently, he kissed me again, his hot mouth moving down to my neck, and when I snaked one of my hands free, he shoved me straight to the floor.
When I grasped him by the arms, rising to meet him, he pushed me easily back down to the rug, and (for Heaven's sake, you've drained yourself entirely too far this time, you pathetic idiot, what if some vengeful lunatic had arrived to murder us in our beds and you--) then his hands tore my shirt away and I was already drowning and it had barely begun, and I suddenly realized with a strong flash of instinctual panic that I truly could not shake his grip from my shoulders.
Then I was fighting back, and in earnest. I hadn't any control over it. I felt everything that was wrong with my own body and cursed myself for the weakening of it, until I heard myself gasp when the Doctor slammed my crossed wrists against the floor once more, very roughly, above my head. "Don't," I begged him, my voice nearly breaking. "Please don't. Let go of me."
"Stop," he ordered.
He didn't sound at all gentle, but then he looked into my face and sat back, very deliberately and pointedly letting go of me. "You're going to stop," he said far more softly. It was still a command, however. "Now, please give me your hands. Or else you can go."
He could have easily captured them a second time himself, but I suppose he wanted my permission so as to know I would not careen into all-out hysteria. I did as he said. He reached behind him and found his own cravat. Bending down, he tied my wrists before my eyes with the strip of cloth as I lay on my back, tight as ever he could, and with another rush of what was almost fear, I realized that he knew what he was doing, and my hands were secure, and there was not one damned thing I could do about it, and he could see as much in my eyes.
I am not afraid of John Watson. I have never been, and I could never be, save for the loss of him. The man is a saint. And he loves me--at least, I thought possibly he had loved me. So I was not afraid of what he might do to my person. But I was screaming bloody terrified that he had seen me, would reduce me, had ever ever ever witnessed me in such a sorry state. I knew well enough what parts of me were admirable: they were calm and intellect and strength and control and self-possession.
And all of them had fled.
Short work he made of the few remaining clothes we wore. Short work of noting where all the scant blood in my body had pooled, no doubt, for it was practically aching by that time. I am not small by any standards, and being ravished by a beautiful Hercules is hardly against my instinctive tastes. Short work leaving me, and returning from my bedroom. Short work slowly preparing, as he kissed my stomach, from the edges of my hips to the shivering muscled knots of my abdomen as I repeated over and over to myself calm, calm, calm, calm, calm.
Then I gasped audibly at the true beginning of it, and he lowered himself on his arms very carefully above me, his shoulder causing him an exhalation of considerable pain, of course, which was one of the reasons we never made love face to face in that particular way, even when he did take me, and I waited for him to move. He did not.
"Open your eyes."
I'll see pity, I thought. And I'll have him for tonight.
And then he'll leave.
Seeing that pity would ruin me, and I knew it, but I did as he asked.
His eyes were still wetly glimmering. Still blue.
Still--beyond the bounds of human comprehension--in love.
"How can you want me this way?"
I didn't say it, so much as gasp it in an inaudible, tiny, whispered breath. It was an inner protest outside the range of human hearing, and thus I know that what he said to me next was not a reply, but a vow.
"I'll make you understand if it's the last thing I do," he said.
Then he did move. And move very well indeed, as he is quite practiced at the art. I prefer never to think of the fellows he'd been practicing on prior to our meeting, but unmistakably they existed, as they had for me. I bit back a cry with my teeth, as I always do. And I was so maddened at being unable to grip something that my head would have thrashed against the floor if he hadn't caught it. I could feel minuscule tears of exhaustion at the edges of my eyes and prayed to the God who'd never once listened to me in all my life that at the very least I could keep them in check. I fought like a maddened tiger on that count. But predictably, He didn't listen to me. And in lieu of gripping something, anything for God's sake, I moved my bound hands up to my friend's face. That was probably the moment I understood that I was far stupider than I'd ever imagined being, and that for some miraculous reason he was willing to forgive me for it.
It is impossible to chart just when it ended. Five minutes later, perhaps? Eight? After I'd failed utterly to remain silent. After he'd buried his face in my neck. After I'd pressed his head where it lay in the crook of my shoulder, awkwardly, with my wrists. I finished first, I believe, dragging him with me.
I cannot think why that would have been, for he was supporting his own weight in what must have been ghastly pain and hadn't touched me. Except perhaps that I finally let myself go.
At some point, he released me, threw my arm over his shoulder, and deposited me clean and safe and warm in my own bed. I was by then far too delirious to recall it. I think it was only twenty or so minutes later when I awoke fully, under the coverlet. He was next to me, watching me with an affectionately quirked expression on his lips. There was a water glass in his hand, which he passed to me.
"Tell me about your brother," he suggested.
"Hmm. He is...tall," I answered. The water was no longer cold, but none the less refreshing for that. I set the empty glass on the bedside table. It is amazing what twenty minutes of sleep can do for me.
"Does he look like you?"
"Well, he must look like you in some ways."
"He looks like five of me," I retorted. "The hereditary characteristics you assume to be present are obscured. You'd hardly mark them. Not if you didn't know me rather well."
"In what sense?"
"Well, our eyes are very peculiar, and in the same fashion."
"Your eyes are beautiful."
"My blushes, Watson." They aren't. They are an eerie shade of pale grey, and make me look even more weird and wicked than I already do. But I am heartily grateful he thinks so.
"Does he know--"
I thought back over the experience of having grown up with a sibling who was not only seven years older and wiser, and thus far ahead of me in learning, but who could also determine a fellow's darkest secrets at a single glance. It had not seemed entirely fair. One of the boys who had slept in our stables guarding the horses and sweeping the stalls had been charming at seven, and yet bearable at fourteen, but when sixteen struck him along with an increase in muscle mass and jaw definition, I was entirely besotted. Once I had recognized my dilemma, it was far too late. It was also too late to hide the problem from my brother. A man whose mind is so razor-keen he can solve the most abstruse of riddles can easily spot an untimely adolescent erection, not to mention draw appropriate conclusions as to the source. I was undone before I myself knew I was queer.
"But my dear man," the Doctor persisted, "does he specifically know--"
"He will when he lays eyes on us," I replied gently. "Are you comfortable with that? You could go alone and he may not see it, as he has not when I have visited him solo in the past. But should we appear together--as I plan to do, my dear chap--yes, he will know."
"Then by all means let us go together," he smiled.
Heavens above, it was hideous. As much as I was accustomed to being twitted over the differences between commissioned and non-commissioned officers, theory and speculation, Jack Tars and privateers, being twitted over Watson was a daunting prospect. I wondered for a moment whether I hoped Mycroft would not like him, that I might be defiant, or that he would like him very much, so that I might be even more horrified when he set in to pester me upon the subject.
What a magnificent type! he would say teasingly of the Doctor, not knowing of course that John Watson defies all types. Or in genuine surprise at my audacity at choosing a man several miles out of my league How bold of you, Sherlock. I should have suspected you to be a little out of your depth in such matters. No, the moment my friend was out of sight, he would wink fondly at me and drawl I see you have changed everything, Sherlock, quite rearranged your life--and here I thought you content with your usual petty puzzles of the police-court. Why on earth didn't you tell me you were happy months ago? You needn't have come by--a simple wire would have done it, you know. You are quite altered, my dear boy. And every word would be true.
"As you like," I said. "So long as you know secrets cannot be kept from him."
"Have I been a secret, then?"
"A spell," I murmured slowly. "A bewitchment. A charm that could shatter if spoken aloud."
"Can I be so ethereal by comparison?"
"Everyone is. He weighs over twenty stone."
He thought for a moment, the edges of his moustache hinting at more smiles to come. "Did you truly think I would drop it if you revealed his existence?"
"No," I said readily. "I desired an interlude of transcendent sex, and thought that was the most effective way to bring it about. The results, as you will acknowledge yourself, were admirable. I appreciate your having fallen in so completely with my designs."
"If those were your designs, I will at once own their merits." He was teasing me, but only gently. Then something arrested his attention and a drawn, grave look appeared on his face. Looking down, I saw the back of one of my wrists was beginning to bruise, and rather badly. It was darkening and swelling simultaneously. The binding had not done me any harm, for he'd been very careful, but striking the floorboards beyond the expanse of rug had.
"Never mind, my dear, dear fellow," I said quickly, having entirely recovered my calm. "That happened at the docks."
"No, it didn't," he whispered in dismay. "It happened just now. I did it."
"You're being ridiculous. I knocked it against the carriage door during a very minor round of fisticuffs, I promise you," I lied.
He was already out of bed, striding to his medical kit in the sitting room beyond. I watched him go without the slightest tremor of shame striking me--it is not particularly often that the Doctor wanders from place to place sans clothing, for he is rather more modest than I am (without any logical cause whatsoever), and though I regretted his distress, the opportunity was too precious to be dismissed. His lumbar curve brings me nearly to tears. I believe the man insists upon dressing gowns merely to vex me, at times. The return view was equally breathtaking, as he sat down once more in the firelit bedroom with a jar of liniment and a strip of linen.
He took my hand, running exquisitely gentle fingers over it. "I am so truly sorry."
"What on earth for? You are neither a gang member nor a--"
"Thank God," he breathed as he completed his assessment. "At least I did not break anything. You are the dearest, the most--and I adore your hands so. I was angered, very deeply angered, and I wanted you to know it. Some terrible part of me needed to show you. Still, I'm ashamed of myself. This is a wretched thing for a doctor--"
"To have done, no matter how lost I felt."
"It doesn't make any difference how you felt, as it was a carriage door! An even if it had been your doing, I've sustained far worse damage during hedonistic interludes," I said truthfully, then stopped. He does not like to hear such things. Small wonder, too.
"Please forgive me. Can you try, at least? I am every bit as frightened as you are, you know, you must know that," he added soberly, in a rush.
"Of what could you be afraid?" I asked him.
"Of not being enough for you."
I did not quite know what to make of that. It touched me deeply, although the fact he'd read me so well was also rather mortifying. I tried to think of a suitably reassuring sentiment that did not either make him seem foolish or myself seem childishly infatuated. But suddenly I realized I was too exhausted for artifice.
"I cannot conceive of you fearing such a thing," I whispered.
He laughed as he gently wrapped my hand. "My love, you have a profound effect upon those around you, from ticket-takers and scullery maids to the hereditary King of Bohemia. You are a genius in your chosen field, and doubtless would have been equally successful at any other. The merest fact that I receive such a large degree of your focus, of your powerfully intent time and attention, is at times very surprising to me. I am a battle-scarred pensioner, and count myself quite lucky."
The scar is very jagged, and raised in places, and reminds me of a sickening flower, where the all too soft-nosed Jezail bullet pierced his shoulder. He doesn't like it, for he finds it ugly and it reminds him of horrors I only hear about when murmured in his sleep. I have a more complex relationship with it. It is bravery and self-sacrifice and patriotism and unspeakable courage, as well as being a potent reminder of just what the Doctor is willing to endure for the sake of his fellow men. And in no small way, it brought him to me. For those reasons, I love it. And I also hate it as he does, because I can never look at it without being reminded that he is mortal, and was hurt very badly, and remains subject to the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
"If you only knew how that sounds to me. Or comprehended what I truly think of you." I touched the beautiful marred flesh with my fingertip. It was not an admission, but it was a slip, and a heartfelt one.
"You could tell me," he suggested, tying a loose knot.
"No, I couldn't," I said. It maddened me as much as it did him at times, I am sure, and yet it was true. "I lack all words for it, and yet I do require you to better understand why I lied to you."
"I know why you lied to me," he said, looking straight at me. His eyes are so frank that at times they nearly frighten me. "You lied because of Wilson Kemp and his foul, degenerate ways. You need not tell me, my love, what charcoal poisoning looks like."
Needn't I? I thought. I am no stranger to nightmares. Neither are you. But needn't I tell you of the worst vision I have ever seen?
"No?" I asked. "Well, then I will not explain further why I lied. I shan't do so ever again," I vowed quietly, "for it isn't worth the pain I cause you when I do. There was no carriage door, I kept you away because I wanted you safe, and I deserve more than a bruise on the wrist. I deserve considerably worse from you. I think you know that. But I never want to be without you, my dear fellow. In fact, I don't think I can be without you. If you managed to get yourself killed, I should have to determine how best to follow after you, like some bizarre retelling of Hermes retrieving Persephone, and that would be a very inconvenient exercise for a young man."
It had not been ideal, but his eyes were shining again, and I knew he understood me. "For not telling me what you think of me, and being an astonishingly meandering and altogether too classical declaration, that was shockingly effective," he said hoarsely.
"I sense a certain mockery in your tone," I pointed out, falling back to the pillows with an ironic expression. He blew out the bedside candle and then I had him in my arms, his head on my chest. I placed one arm around his back and rested my other hand softly over his throat, faintly sensing his pulse beat steadily on.
After several minutes, when I thought him asleep, he muttered, "I am going to give you a gift."
"Yes. A very powerful gift, too. Nearly a magical gift. Fire from Zeus himself. Pardon the poetry, but you did start it, you know."
"What the devil are you talking about?"
"I shall rewrite history," he declared drowsily. "As it ought to have been, and as I wish you to remember it."
"I don't understand, dear heart."
"Then wait and see."
I have just finished "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter." The Strand sits before me on my desk, untouched save for that single soulful offering. Prometheus returned from on high with a priceless fiery torch, and John Watson published another sort of Greek fable that made my life as clear to me as if the gods had equipped me with a diagram of it. I only hope he will not be punished for his generosity as Prometheus was.
I read all his pieces, mind. But very few of them are actually written to me. And I simply had to set this down at once, as it happened in fact, because John Watson has done such an admirable job of mending the shattered pieces that I had felt reality itself altered forever. The story was a mosaic of flawless construction. Part was a sly look at our actual meeting with Mycroft the next day...part defiance that the Wilson Kemps of the world could ever dare to harm us...part a nod to peril in all its devious forms...and part my own actions as I should have taken them all those months ago, fearlessly inclusive, with him at my side, because he wishes me to know that when we are together nothing can go wrong. I don't believe him. And I will never again, never again, wait for a police warrant. But I love him all the better for it, and I long to obey him--to call for him eagerly no matter the circumstance, to keep him from harm through proximity and not distance, to be the man in that story, with whom Watson shares a "long and intimate" acquaintance.
"Why would you rewrite history, and for me?" I asked that night, twined together with him in my bed.
"Because I love you. You do know that, don't you?"
"I am beginning to," I murmured.
For I was.