MEASURE OF HAPPINESS
The story of how I had arrived separately from Holmes and Inspector
not important at the time--the violently ill patient, the missed
having miraculously caught the last train after wiring my friend I
fail to manage it, the elderly draper whose cart carried me up to the
before the enormous stone house. What is important is that
arrived, it was raining in sheets, and when the maid opened the front
me, she informed me that they'd already gone--first to check the
cottage, and then back to the hotel. I had seen no object in
town without making certain my friends had also departed, and so, with
collar pulled up around my ears and my hat low over my eyes, I made a
the cottage before resigning myself to walk a mile in a downpour after
An inch of grainy mud stood before the door, so I looked in the leaded
window. There were indeed two figures present, one of
build, and the other very tall, very poised, and very thin. I
weary relief. I was raising my hand to rap on the glass when
could not quite understand stopped me.
I saw through the thin pane that Holmes was holding out a photograph
evidently just taken from a drawer, the fondly mocking, teacherly smile
angular face. Hopkins took the evidence from him, then
laughed as he
uttered something congratulatory, as always graciously self-deprecating
in the slightest bit put out that he had been shown up for the third
my friend had taken a barb-headed spear to a steer's carcass in the
concerning Black Peter. But they were standing far too close
what the size of the room and the positioning of the furniture
Then the photograph fell from the inspector's fingers as he reached up
caught my friend's mouth with his own.
I am being as honest with myself as I am capable when I say that--at
did not move for the sheer shock of it. My friend's hand
the inspector's waist and pulled him forward with a masterful,
motion. Their lips lingered over each other's faces eagerly,
but not with
the breathless anticipation which accompanies discovery. I
read a history
in the casual touch. They had done such things before.
After I failed to move due to initial shock, I failed to move for
less honourable reasons. First and primary was fascination;
about Sherlock Holmes fascinated me and here he was doing something
that I had
never dreamed possible, let alone witnessed. I had seen his
on numerous occasions and admired the sinewy strength of it.
I had loved
it as my own, though ever at a distance and with brotherly
regard. I had
tended it when it was bleeding and pressed it when it sought after the
of my hand's brief touch in the silent darkness. I had
the scars he'd carried with him from beyond Reichenbach Falls, scars I
been present to prevent, and for still longer had I rued the scars on
arm that I tried for years to defray, failing all the while.
But as their
clothing was quickly discarded and my breath froze in my lungs, I could
think that I had never seen that graceful back arch so, had never
wonder what his flesh would look like against someone else's, how his
would fall if there were alien fingers buried in it.
After the fascination, there followed still worse motives for
I was terribly, shamefully angry. My heart seemed to beat
with the rhythm
they were setting, the speed of their love and the pounding of the rain.
You are not enough for him, the rhythm said as we all pulsed
concert. And how foolish of you, how typically
foolish, to have
thought that you were. What man has ever lived on
When it was nearly too late to reach the village ahead of them and I
was wet to
the skin, I fled at last. I reached the hotel just in time
for the rain
to stop, as it happened. A porter offered me a clean cloth,
and I was
applying it shakily to my face when in strode Sherlock Holmes, elegant
impeccable, having almost certainly arrived in the manor's carriage.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed at the sight of me. "Watson,
whatever has befallen you?"
He was smiling as he said it, genuinely concerned, and visibly
always was--that I had followed him. I was deeply grateful
for his merry
humour, for it meant that he would not expect me to reply at any length
question. And what had befallen me, to my considerable
chagrin, I had not
the slightest idea.
And then we were alone together, all too soon, returning to our snug
the looming city. The train rocked back and forth with a
clacking of metal. The newspaper in my hands felt like an
piece of stage scenery, designed to fool no one.
"Holmes," I said quietly.
He was peering out at the passing trees, soaked with rainfall and
dank, sweet moss.
"Yes, my dear fellow?" He smiled at me once more.
warm smile, from one side of his mouth, the one that had always brought
pleasant little ache to my chest. "I am heartily grateful you
to such trouble, even if your only part in this trifling drama will
to accompany me back to town and catch a severe chill."
"Where is Inspector Hopkins, then?"
"It is one of those lovely examples of shared effort, you see--I solve
business, and he shoulders the delightful task of tying it all up in a
to present to the Yard. He is gathering statements as we
"You work well together."
"He is very talented."
"Not so talented that he does not require your aid," I pointed out,
irritated for no reason whatever.
"He is also young," my friend shrugged. The fading light struck his
dark hair, the silver of his cufflinks, his perfectly tailored
trousers. "Perhaps one day he shan't require quite so many
in the right direction, and so can compose paperwork over crimes he has
Stanley Hopkins was indeed young, I thought, startled that I had never
looked at the man objectively before. He was not only young,
but he was
exceptionally active, strikingly handsome, and altogether pleasing in
hurried, good-natured manners. He was also very kind--to me,
to Lady Eva
Brackenstall, to his fellow inspectors. I now knew that he
curls of pale brown hair on his breast, and that his eyes fell closed
certain circumstances like an abject sensationalist. But he
was not a
sensationalist; he was in love.
"My dear fellow, I've no wish to upset you," I said slowly, "but
I fear that confession in this case is far superior to strained
I would not have our friendship suffer damage for all the
world. I have
stumbled upon knowledge that I don't believe you wish me to have,
your relation to--or relations with, perhaps--the Inspector."
I had not said it well at all. The man sitting before me, he
steely eye and iron nerve, looked at me sharply and grew white as
Holmes closed his eyes, looking as if he would have given anything in
to reverse what I had just said to him, and then he fixed me with a
keen as razor wire. The thin, beautifully formed lips parted
as he leaned
incrementally towards me.
"It is entirely your own affair, Holmes," I said, then cursed my
choice of words once more. "Do not ask me how I know it, for
clues were quite inconsequential and could have been remarked upon by
save myself, as we reside together and I am familiar with your habits."
"That is truly all you need know, Holmes," I said tenderly. I
had not trusted my ability to prevaricate around him for longer than
minutes, but I would not for a king's ransom have hurt him.
needn't tell you your secret is safe with me, but I am obliged to tell
think no less of you for it, nor any other man of the same persuasion."
"Is that so," he whispered.
"Yes, that is so."
My friend sat back again, and several very lengthy minutes passed
us. I gave up the newspaper as a bad job and dropped it to
staring myself out the window as I allowed my stricken, insatiably
friend to scrutinize me. I owed him that, at the very least.
"Watson," he said at last, in his usual voice.
"Holmes," I replied, smiling.
"I will never be able to explain to you all the ways in which your
calms my mind."
I laughed at that, as much from relief as from gratitude.
"Do you think," he continued, striking a match and holding it to a
cigarette, "that the world is wrong, then, to condemn such acts?"
"It isn't of any consequence to me."
"You hold the world's opinion so lightly?" he insisted, making a
valiant effort to sound quite logical and dispassionate. I
loved him for
"I don't care about the world. I care about you."
I was seeing it all again, then--the sheen of sweat on Hopkins' back,
quickness and the skill of their movements, how gentle my friend's hand
seemed when it touched his lover's lips and how implacably hard it had
when he'd gripped him by the thigh. Hopkins' face, reverent,
friend's only needful and on occasion deeply pained. It was
expression, although rather better masked, that I was confronted with
"You don't wish to speak of this," I surmised.
"Do you wish me to speak of it?" There was his bravery again,
massive stores of it, shining forth in steely eyes that narrowed now as
scrutinized my own.
Why should they narrow? I thought
petulantly. I am only his
Watson, after all.
"I only wish you could trust me," I admitted. "I've always
wished for that."
"I do trust you, but that does not mean I am eager to speak of it."
"I wish you to be yourself."
"I am a deeply secretive, terribly abrupt, selfish, impatient,
vice-ridden recluse," he reminded me.
He was, for I knew him through and through. He was six feet
tall, and his hands were covered in the faintest of marks, the results
chemistry and misadventure. He had black hair and grey eyes
spark into humour or dim into melancholy within the space of a
And he had lied to me every day, for years, through storm and fire and
itself, for every time he had claimed to have no use for love he had in
been saying he did not trust me.
I could not think of it that way. I would have to suppose
what he had
been saying was that he could not bear for me to cast him aside.
"Be as you are, Holmes. I've no use for you any other way, no
whom you are inclined to seek out for your trysts. I am only
to the other shortcomings you just mentioned, I ever added
"You were working with limited data." I could have sworn he'd
"I shall have to redouble my efforts to absorb your methods, then."
The rocking of the train no longer needled me, but brought instead a
calm. We were an hour away from London yet. An hour
pondering why my dearest friend's face, always noble and strikingly
well-formed, looked so alien to me now, and why I felt the need to map
from the beginning.
"Watson?" Holmes said a few minutes later.
"What is it?"
"Thank you." He leaned his head against the glass of the
window, his shapely neck relaxing as his eyes fell shut once more.
Every time I looked at Stanley Hopkins from that day onward, I felt
sensations of rage and of pity. Pity, because it had taken me
to discern that he was desperately in love with my friend and that my
felt no such reciprocal emotion; and rage, because the only man meant
close to Sherlock Holmes was I myself, and to share that calling
me. However, I could not very well avoid the Inspector's
Holmes drawing the obvious conclusion that I harboured an aversion to
and so I remained in the sitting room or followed blindly along on
no man the wiser of my dilemma.
We stood watching Holmes one such afternoon in a suburb just outside of
Norwood, smoking silently as the detective dashed from window ledge to
sculptured shrubbery, his face pale with concentration.
"I don't believe I shall ever muster that sort of energy," Hopkins
admitted rather bashfully.
"He is unique," I said.
All of a sudden, Holmes had hoisted himself from the sill of a window
cluster of gnarled vines surrounding a drainage pipe, and thence to the
"He'll do himself harm one of these days," Hopkins exclaimed,
trotting toward the house.
"Not while I am still standing," I vowed quietly. But he had
not heard me, and my friend had already leaped back to the ground with
skill of a born acrobat, and I'd no one on whom to blame my frustration
"Holmes," I asked hesitantly one night in our sitting room at Baker
Street, the fire having sunk to a comfortable glow, "have I known other
His head shot up in startled surprise before he buried it once more in
commonplace book. "Do I take it to mean that your term
connotes other men of whom I've some intimate carnal knowledge?"
"Yes," I replied, annoyed at how easily Holmes could use semantics to
"Are you concerned you've inadvertently offended one of my paramours,
having known him as such at the time? I assure you, Watson,
are generally impeccable."
"No doubt that is true."
He set the book aside and fixed me with a look so brilliantly sardonic
knew it was purposefully calculated to intimidate. "Are we to
about this, Watson?" he drawled. "Am I to explain what went
terribly wrong with my desires when I was young, simply and elegantly,
depth of feeling? Are you to draw medical conclusions from my
account? Shall I explain to you what specifically haunts me
well-formed men? Am I to enumerate for you the charms of one
glorious natural endowments, or the poetry contained in another's
"I hadn't supposed you such a romantic, but yes, if you like."
He laughed out loud, in appreciation of my fortitude if nothing else,
rested his head on his slim fingers.
"I had thought I knew you, you see," I remarked.
"I had thought the same. And don't you?"
"No." My voice was so inadvertently grieved when I said it
I hastened to say more. "I am sorry to badger you.
you see that, as your longtime friend--not to mention fellow
subject interests me."
At this well-intentioned remark, Holmes barked out a derisive little
exclamation as his brows shot upwards. "As my fellow
Really, Watson, you have nothing to fear from me. I am an
invert, not a
nymphomaniac. You need not trouble yourself with the notion
night I may drink one glass of brandy too many and fall to my knees
for your--simply because I desire men does not mean I desire all
and I seem to have managed to resist your rather pedestrian charms thus
I could think of nothing to say to this scattered and abusive assertion
some moments, for I was beginning to think that the sight of Sherlock
his knees was not necessarily a distasteful one. And apart
wounded, I could not see how my innocent remark had been so
"Well, that is a profound relief," I replied coldly.
"Thank God my pedestrian characteristics will continue to prevent any
awkward moments between us."
Holmes' lips twitched in anger before he rose with deliberate languor,
retrieving his book. "It is a blessing for which I have
myself many times. Even supposing I could overlook the fact
plain, upstanding British Army type holds no interest for me, I am
drawn to men with exceptional talent, and I always have been.
you quite out of the picture, my dear fellow, invaluable as your
at times proven itself. Now, if you will excuse me, I should
pass the remainder of my evening away from the prurient inquiries of
middle-class medical man."
I stared at his door for several minutes after it slammed
shut. The sound
of it rang in my ears. Nothing he had said was untrue, I
I am a plain, upstanding British Army type. I am not
talented, although I am clever enough in my own way and have never
longed to be
blessed with more than I have been given. Those were not the
My assistance. My assistance was
invaluable. With a twisting
pain, I realized that was all I was to him.
Assistance. I was an
extra pair of hands and eyes, and at other times I may as well have
bedpost for all the reciprocity expected of me.
Take away the assistance, and what was left? Would it make
to Sherlock Holmes if I moved away to practice medicine in Edinburgh or
killed by a runaway carriage? He would never wish for either
would he draw a distinction between the two? Did I so much as
him if I was not present? Had he spared a single thought for
the years of his own heartless absence, after all?
Miserably, I rose to my feet. As I passed his closed door,
heard the echo of a sound and saw a passing shadow in the crack
He was pacing.
Holmes paces when he is thinking, when he is restless, and when he is
distressed. As I climbed the stairs to my own room, I grimly
reserve my final judgment until I knew which of the three it was.
Holmes was not inclined to speak to me the next day, nor I to him, and
our rooms as speedily as he could. But he did not need to be
my thoughts ever to turn to him, for he was everywhere--in the air of
in the papers scattered on his desk, in the violin propped in the
the lingering images of spotless frock coats and carefully tamed black
hair. It occurred to me that hardly ever was I not thinking
Sherlock Holmes, and that such had been the case for years.
And I then
began to ask myself some difficult questions.
I came to the realization that to know Holmes as I did, and not to know
was driving me mad. I had been telling him the truth when I'd
any abhorrence of his sexual proclivities--I have always held the firm
that what two adults get up to in their own beds is their own business,
left it at that. However, I had simply never pondered the
manifestations of inversion previously at any length, very likely
because I had
not before cared so passionately about a man who indulged in the
Setting aside the visions that would not leave me no matter how I tried
banish them--the sight of his shoulder blades flexed with effort, the
that pale flesh, the perfect angles of his lower back--through all my
dreams of him ran a terrifyingly strong thread of possession.
Holmes was mine. His very blood beat within my
veins. He allowed me
every liberty, yet his heart held secrets from me and me alone, it
however much he valued my assistance--and, if I was fair to him, my
was Hopkins' hands caressing his body.
Two nights later, having received the barest terse "good morning"
from my friend before he fled our home to conduct inquiries in one of
northern suburbs, I watched from my armchair as Holmes arrived home and
at once into his bedroom, shutting the door. I allowed myself
crushing despair, but I made no effort to go to him, for such an action
have done me no good whatsoever.
Some five minutes afterward, I felt a warm, firm hand touch my shoulder
looked up from my medical text in considerable surprise.
returned to the sitting room silently, in slippers and dressing gown,
peering down at me earnestly.
"There are days when, as long-established as your presence is, my dear
fellow, I am frankly shocked to find you here. I am the last
man on earth
to deserve such a forgiving companion."
His hand drifted away from my shoulder, but gently, and for a moment I
the loss. "I am sorry to be such a reprehensible friend in
Watson, but I cannot undo the habit of many years deception all at one
go. I hope you can forgive me for it. And if you
can forgive my
reticence, I dare to hope you can also forgive my unspeakable
having attacked you so the other day."
His features had softened, though he looked drawn and quite unbearably
fatigued. As for his words, they were as heartening as they
unexpected, and I released a breath of relief. "Don't mention
"Oh, but I must mention it, for I have told you many times I should be
lost without my Boswell, and there are limits to even your patience, my
He collapsed into his chair, looking at me with such sincere
I hardly knew how to answer him. When I remained silent, his
in disappointment before he instantly cleared his face of all
"You've every right to be angry. Please believe that my
reaction was based in fear of your just censure, not of your hasty
intolerance. Come, I shall prove it--ask me
something. Ask me
anything. What did you ask me the other day? I can
hardly recall how
the argument began, it was such an innocent question."
My heart went out to him, but I was also struck by a pang of worry, for
disorder of thought and memory were very unlike my mechanically precise
companion. Speaking quite carefully, I obliged him.
you who else has been keeping you company. It was none of my
dear chap. I assure you I was not asking for anything
you would not have offended me. I was in the army, you know."
He stared back at me boldly, appraisingly, beneath which ran a thread
understandable fear. "If you mean liaisons which have lasted
than a single night, no one for years, Watson," he said at
"Certainly no one you know. Musicians, actors, a guardsman
once. I confess they have not all been gentlemen. I
have dreamed of introducing them to you, my dear boy. I'd
used to keep my
indiscretions at rather a further remove."
"Did you honestly suppose I'd shun you if I knew of them?" I asked
"They were not worth the effort, socially or otherwise, of bringing
Our world. The words gladdened my heart
ridiculously. "Do you
mean to say you did not love them?"
"I suppose that characterizes it. Did not spare a thought for
after the fact would also be apt enough."
"I should think some of the fellows must have been dismayed you'd no
further use for them afterward."
"Hardly," he shrugged. "Queers and buggerers, you will
find, possess few such scruples."
"You are trying to offend me," I observed.
"I'm sorry." He cleared his throat, looking down at his
slippers. "You are the last man I wish to offend. I
myself in an equally false position pretending to be better than I am,
however. You have asked me to be myself--I fear that you
would be better
off leaving that all too flawed man in peace, for I have willingly
in numberless meaningless affairs. Oh!" Holmes made
attempt at a smile. "Do you recall the night we attended the
symphony and you developed the most ghastly cough afterward, because
insisted on giving your overcoat to the poor woman we found had been
the alley on our way to Marcini's? You were standing for half
an hour in
the snow in nothing but a silk hat, tails, and a lily-of-the-valley
which I need hardly add provided little in the way of warmth."
"Yes? I'd quite forgotten that overcoat," I mused.
"It was charcoal, trimmed in black silk, and probably saved her
life. In any event, I knew the first chair flautist rather
you may have been aware. You see how very little his presence
the anecdote?" he asked gently. "Our world was quite big
without their intrusion on your sensitivities and my nerves."
"The Inspector is in our world," I noted, trying to keep my voice
calm. The thought of Hopkins was bad enough. But
the thought of
hundreds of anonymous beautifully muscled, carnally adept young fellows
their way with my closest friend was positively sickening.
"Yes, and a very assiduous war he waged at luring me into bed, that I
promise you," he admitted, blushing slightly. "For all that,
however, he is the same as the others."
"Did none of the others love you?"
"Love me!" he exclaimed, chuckling without a trace of warmth.
"Do you suppose every woman you've bedded in many nations and three
separate continents loved you?"
"Of course not. No one I've bedded since the death of my wife
He winced, whether in sympathy or some other emotion I could not
tell. When he seemed unwilling to continue, I prodded
"Stanley Hopkins loves you."
The question was delivered without the slightest tinge of
"Yes," I said pointedly.
"That was doubtless a very unwise decision. I would certainly
advised against it, had he bothered to ask me."
"That is one of the coldest remarks I have ever heard," I cried, my
sympathies broadening suddenly to include the hapless, kindhearted
"Oh, calm yourself, Doctor," Holmes said contemptuously.
"I may be the coldest man you have ever known, but I am not
For as long as I can, I will certainly see that he comes to no harm by
my clockwork heart. May we leave off speaking of subjects
for gentlemen now, before I utter a truth or express a fact that is
considerable capacity to excuse?"
"I wished only to know whether you toy with him."
"Why?" Then he added sharply, "Of course not. I've
absolutely no desire to find myself a new dalliance, after all."
"You do love Stanley Hopkins, then." I could barely force the
words from my lips.
"I do not love Stanley Hopkins," my brilliant companion scoffed, his
tone utterly scathing. "Where on earth would you get such a
notion? I sod Stanley Hopkins.
Because he desires me to, and
because I find him a safe and endearing companion."
"I cannot express any approval for that arrangement," I growled, my
facade cracking dramatically.
"So you harbour no reservations whatever regarding my proclivities,
the practice of them!" he cried. His lips lifted briefly into
derisive smile, a smile that meant he knew he was about to be wounded
think of no better defense than to wound me first. "How
illogical of you, not to mention hypocritical. I suppose you
going to lament I did not take a vow of chastity when I was fifteen
what I chose to do in fact."
"You know perfectly well, if you have any logic in you at all, that I
meant nothing of the sort. Holmes, only think what you are
doing to the
man," I snapped, vexation and lust making me sound still
"He is mad for you, and to play with him in such a manner is indeed
"He would prefer to have a fraction of me than nothing at all," my
friend shot back. "It is a condition with which I have some
A breathless silence fell, as his words stood before us in the air and
beat furiously in my breast. When he realized what he had
granted me a despairing half-smile before drawing a hand over his eyes
as if he
might give way to sudden tears. The instant he did so, a
gratitude caressed my very soul, and Stanley Hopkins ceased to exist
"Holmes, this is not right," I told him, as kindly as I
I meant to continue, but anger snapped his impossibly handsome face
back up to
glare at me in a fury.
"That Stanley loves me is true. What of it? It is
none of my
doing. I did not make the world as it is. He has
loved me for
months, and I have loved another for years, and your wife has passed
your reach, and to each of us will fall our portion of suffering, and I
again, what of it?"
"This is not you speaking--you ever seek to ease the suffering of
others," I reminded him.
"In that case, grant us some relief, Doctor, if we are not to be
any measure of happiness," he replied with an air of finality as he
from his chair.
The dead tone his deftly articulate voice had taken on was nearly more
could stand. I wanted to take his thick, black, impeccable
hair in my
fists and bruise his lips with mine, but Sherlock Holmes is a thinking
and--steadying my nerves--I reminded myself of the fact.
"What if I said," I murmured, my heart in my throat, "that I
think you could perhaps have a measure of
Holmes peered back at me for a very long moment. The light
from the lamps
illuminated the silvery gleam of his eyes and made him look an
thing, a creature out of England's distant past. Then he
and took a step behind him as if I had just said I thought his habits
and I never desired to see him again rather than confessing a measure
regard. How I had so horrified him I could not fathom.
"Don't," he ordered me. It was his most desperate, imperious
tone. "Do not say such things to me."
"Stop!" He walked behind the settee and placed it between us,
leaning on the fabric. My friend looked positively terrified;
to me that I had never once seen his hands tremble, but now one of them
ever so slightly. "Think what you are saying, and then cease
"I speak only the truth. You are--"
"I am your friend, and the source of several very melodramatic short
stories. Leave it at that."
"I do not wish to leave it."
"John," he whispered violently, "please. You are risking
very little, after all, merely an eccentric companion who torments you
habitually, but I will lose everything when it fails, as it
must. All I
have built for myself will be gone. My career, my lodgings,
begging you to leave it. I cannot gamble my very existence
upon a mad
experiment. This is my home--here, with you. You
home, and the only one I have known. You would not set a
match to Baker
Street and then stand back to watch the flames engulf it out of mere
curiosity. Why then do the same to my life?"
"You truly prefer a man you do not love to me?" I cried.
"I am the one who has been here with you, at your beck and call--I am
one who died staring into Reichenbach Falls, more than you ever did,
you. Oh, I know well enough I am pedestrian--"
"Please!" he begged hoarsely. "Do not throw my
transgressions in my face, for I have spent a great many years
myself. You have never once been pedestrian in all your
are the model upon which the world of men should be built, and I am an
near-lunatic with a few singular qualities. I've asked you to
once already; do not force me to babble senselessly on about Hyperions
satyrs, man, for you've not an inkling just how low it would bring me."
"Then never mind me--what is Stanley Hopkins' claim to you?"
"He is a homosexual," my friend snapped, "and he is incapable of
breaking my heart. You are neither one of those things."
"You doubt I love you?" I demanded.
It was in the terribly painful quiet which followed, as my dearest
visibly considered the question, that I resolved no matter the cost to
through. I was still capable of failure, or lack of desire,
and I knew it
full well, but as he studied me debating that simple, self-evident,
question, I knew that to see him doubt my boundless regard twice would
end of me.
"No," he admitted at length, turning his searing eyes away from my
face. He seemed to take no joy in the statement. "I
doubt you love me, after a fashion. I doubt very much you
know what you
are doing, and I doubt not that I will pay for it."
"You are speaking to a man who would literally stand in the path of a
bullet for you, and you suppose I would be careless with your
heart?" I crossed behind the sofa whether he wanted me there
and placed myself before him. His breath was coming in quick,
"Standing in the path of a bullet and engaging in voluntary sexual
with a man are two different propositions, you will admit.
"I love you," I insisted.
"I know. That fact has not made my life any simpler all these
years, I promise you." He laughed, a bitter and brittle
"The sun creeps through the galaxy, and the earth goes round the sun,
I go round John Watson in circles, and that is the thrice-cursed
of Life. I shall write up a monograph on the subject for you,
like. Get away from me, for mercy's sake." It was
no longer a
command, but an entreaty. He took another step backward, his
on the settee's wood trim, and I covered it swiftly with my
own. It felt
as if his fingers were burning.
"I am not offering you something simple. I loved my wife, and
know it. But I loved you even before I loved her, and for
what it is
worth, you know me far more intimately already than she ever did."
"That is not the sort of intimacy you are proposing now. Have
any idea the sort of things I get up to?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then how in God's name can you explain--"
"With the basest, most selfish, human explanation," I said, my voice
lowering huskily. "I saw you together. You and--I
it from my memory. He had his hands on you, and his mouth,
"When the devil did--"
"That isn't important. What is important is that you are
because I know you--I know you, everything about
you, I have studied you
and memorized you and made you my own, and the thought of him ever
again in a physical sense makes me ill," I cried.
"You are going to risk my life over an attack of covetousness?" he
"Do you recall," I asked him, "that once I inquired whether a
friend had written you a letter, and you informed me that save myself
"That was the truth." His fog-hued eyes had grown dark and
liquid as a wolf's, although whether from my words or my proximity I
"I should have thought that you could trust your only friend."
"I don't trust you," he owned at last, in a desperate gasp.
"Not in the slightest. I don't trust you because
you are my
only friend. No one else can ruin me. Please, let
us be as we
"I am finished obeying you," I answered. "You need not
trust me, after all, for you cannot say no to me either."
He made me no reply. He would have been lying to deny it, but
he make any move toward me. I think he wanted to see just how
far I could
carry it on my own, that some reckless part of him was willing to
something pure for something divine. I did what I have always
such situations when speech fails me. I slowly brought my
hands up to
either side of a face sculpted like a classical statue of some
martyred hero, and I kissed him.
And then I had always been kissing him. I had always longed
to feel his
breath in my mouth and the aching pressure of his tongue caressing
I had always wanted to feel his lean body against me, for a sigh to
lips when I pressed eager hands against the small of his
back. If it was
sinful, then let it be said that I welcomed the fire, begged for it to
gladly hungering for more.
It was only later, after pleas and blasphemies and acts that have been
since the ancient world, staring a perfectly formed arm nearly as pale
sheet beneath it, when I realized how much the feeling must have been
compounded for him. Had I lived oblivious day to day as
anything near the
object of worship he was to me now? I hoped against hope that
it was not
so. For if I had, time had not been kind to him.
He looked at me questioningly and I smoothed a hand over his
face. Why I
hadn't done so a thousand times before seemed as unbelievable as the
lit his eyes when I did.
I recall very well the first morning I awoke beside him.
to peer out the window, I settled back half-seated on the piled
cushions as my
eyes adjusted to the wan light. My friend, who has ever held
for the world's lightest sleeper, sensed me stirring and curled himself
languidly into a ball with his head in my lap.
"You were right," I told him.
I passed my fingers through an unruly mass of black waves. "I
now twice stood in the path of a bullet, and also engaged in voluntary
congress with a man. The two are nothing alike. In
fact, the latter
is infinitely preferable."
I felt his silent laugh on my thigh through the sheet. As it
glanced up at me piercingly. "You are not ashamed of it,
"On the contrary. Should I be?"
"I was, the first time," he said softly. "I thought myself
quite depraved. Ruined, even--he had already gone in the
know. That was the worst moment. Worse even than
when Father found
out, which was...painful, in more than one sense of the word.
But then, I
was fifteen, and very quickly recovered." Pensively, he
picked at a
stray thread before saying, "I shan't recover from this, however."
I ran my thumb over his lips. They were perfect. I
thought of my
last encounter with fornication sans love, and of
all Holmes' long--for
all he knew unending--years of parallel acts, and very nearly brought
"Never mind," I said. "You will never need to."
My friend dropped the telegram on the desk and shrugged sadly, lighting
pipe. I stared for several minutes longer at it before my
the form of words.
"Holmes, I worked to bring about this end, but I am very sorry to have
hurt the Inspector by it. I am sorrier still if you are
pained at his departure,"
I said slowly.
"It is of no consequence to me," he replied without
He had crossed to the window, and was staring out into the yellowed
Smoothly lowering himself to the cushioned seat before the glass, he
legs beneath him.
"You are not hurt he failed to say goodbye?" I asked. It was
doubtless an evil question, but I lusted after the answer so badly I
"No, not at all."
"But how is that possible?"
"That is very simple. Stanley would prefer to abandon me
word than to see my face when he bids me farewell," he
turned eyes on me as deep and haunted as any I had ever seen.
"Likely because he fears what he would see there. Or he fears
he would fail to see there, rather. It is another condition
with which I
have some sympathy."
I saw then a deep chasm, and a cigarette case beside an
saw his back as I had viewed it for seemingly the last time.
I saw these
things because he wished me to see them, and he wished me to see them
he could no longer bear to think of them alone.
"Thank you for telling me," I murmured. I felt suddenly very
tired. I rested my head in my hand and sat staring down at
the surface of
the desk, wondering why the admission that my friend had selfishly left
mourn him simply because it was the only way to ease his own suffering
me also a relief. Had I hoped it was selfishness that drove
him away, I
questioned? For if it was self-preservation, would that turn
an act of
utter callousness into a desperate bid for freedom? What
despot does that make you, John Watson, I wondered.
When did he realize he'd never be free of me?
"What's wrong?" a clipped voice ask me at length.
"I feel quite justifiably guilty," I confessed. "Inspector
Hopkins is a good man, and I took something that was not mine."
"It was always yours," he replied. "You took it when you
desired it. That is all."
My eyes wandered to the clock. Just past four in the
afternoon, and the day
quite lost within the sulphurous shroud beyond our walls. It
was too much
at once, and it was also not enough. The instant I quit
Holmes' bed I
longed to be there again, every second which ebbed away without contact
time wasted that we could ill afford, and I feared new horrors every
second--that he would tire of me, that a stray bullet would fell him,
would somehow be robbed of him again. But worst of all, the
in his eyes had not been banished forever. It was absent for
periods, when I reached for him or when he said something to elicit a
smile. He makes me smile so easily. But it always
"All this and we are not even happy," I said dully.
His pale grey eyes never left the street, but I knew he had heard
"This is not happiness," he admitted at length.
"What is it, then?"
"Love," he replied.
Watching him gaze at the traffic, I felt the sense of dread return all
again. I had never experienced such a thing with my wife,
even when she
was dying, for ours had been an easy, gentle union, full of joy and
reflection before we were at last tragically parted. This was
"Will it get better?" I mused aloud.
"Yes. And worse."
"Come away from the window," I pleaded.
He smiled wistfully, staring down for a few more seconds before he did
"What overcoat did I have before the charcoal with the black silk
trim?" I teased him when he stood over me.
"It was entirely black. Blue silk lining, horn
used to wear a blue muffler with it, but then you lost the muffler out
window of a carriage and the sleeve was badly torn in a
fight. The fight
was my fault," he added wryly, "but he got seven years in Reading,
for which I thank you."
"And before that?" I prodded, kissing his palm.
"Grey wool, no trim, quite capacious pockets, very medical in
effect. Various mufflers were employed, but I was partial to
He pretended to require some thought before answering, a line of
appearing between his brows, but by then I knew well enough what would
follow. "Deep brown, cutaway design, black velvet collar,
tiny gash in the tail where you caught it on a piece of scrap metal in
the godforsaken alleys I dragged you into. Staggeringly well
tailored. It suited you perfectly, but you gained seven and a
"I love you," I told him. "Please believe that. I
"I know," he whispered.
When I put my arms around him, I could almost imagine that our measure
happiness would be enough, that we would slowly cease being ardent and
that we would never take pleasure in power, that somehow we would not
other. If the passion was even slightly unbalanced, we would
spiral out of control within mere weeks. The smallest
affection could spell doom. Placing my lips against his
waist, I uttered
a silent prayer of abject gratitude to Heaven that we would at least be
the chance to try. At our best, we were transportive, not of
world. And even at our very worst, I could comfort myself we
from a mutually sympathetic condition.