by Drunk in Charge

I think that, for many men, there is one man, above all others, whom they look to for their example in life. One man, above all others, whom they hold in the highest esteem and who has the greatest influence upon them; a paragon to emulate, an idol to admire, a teacher to heed, and a leader to follow. One man, above all others, who commands both their obedience and their devotion.

For myself, Lieutenant Colonel William Hartnell was such a man; at least, for that starry-eyed youth, the Army Surgeon in Afghanistan, he had been so. It was therefore with something of a sense of shock that I read his name upon the crisp card Holmes presented me with early one November afternoon, when I had inquired whom it was who was apparently requiring to be seen with such urgency.

"You know him?" Holmes was quick to ask; the recognition must have been clear for all to see in my face, let alone one as keen as he.

"Not well," I was equally quick to answer, feeling an unaccountable and unaccustomed warmth flood my face. "He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the regiment when I was stationed in Afghanistan. I had little to do with him myself, but he was by all accounts a most honourable gentleman and an exceptional leader of men. He was credited with turning our fortunes around after Maiwand. I am not surprised that he has made Brigadier." I had thought I was speaking casually, but I was now acutely aware that I was on the receiving end of one of Holmes' more penetrating gazes, and I liked it not at all. I felt as though he could already discern all my quiet, hidden thoughts, that I had followed Hartnell's career with keen interest, and knew perfectly well that he had been promoted to his current position last month, and all the details of his prodigious awards, accolades and citations for bravery.

"Well then," Holmes commented, with his familiar air of mild derision, "Let us see what this 'exceptional leader of men' could possibly require my services for."

I thought my heart should stop in its accustomed course when the Brigadier walked through the door. Tall and straight-shouldered, with an impeccable military bearing, his handsome face had acquired maturity without, it seemed to my jaded eyes, age; his leonine hair had lost none of its' glossy hue, his burnished moustache none of its' forceful masculinity. I swallowed hard. He was magnificent, and, it was swiftly apparent, in a magnificent ill temper.

"Mr Holmes," he said without preamble, shaking my friend's hand firmly, "I require your assistance with a problem of the utmost urgency and delicacy." "Please! Sit!" Holmes waved him to a chair, and, in passing, at me, "You know, I believe, my friend and colleague, Dr Watson?" Hartnell politely took my proffered hand, turning those steely blue eyes on me. It was clear that he did not recognise me, but then, I had not expected him to.

"Afghanistan, the Berkshires," I murmured, uncollected. "Of course," he said warmly, smiling, "I'm glad to see you in better shape than after Maiwand," and I felt instantly appeased at his remembrance. We all sat – with great relief in my case – and conversation paused whilst Mrs Hudson entered with the tea service. The Brigadier waited with carefully schooled patience. I am not a timorous soul, and am seldom discomfited by the mere presence of a forceful personality these days (and certainly, living with Holmes renders one rather immune to such intimidation) and, now my initial shock had passed, I was able to relax more. Holmes, naturally, was utterly unconcerned, but then, he always is. I think that he, of all men, amidst his other unique characteristics, has never had one to look up to as I had to Hartnell; no Solomon to guide him, nor Arthur to follow, but then, quite probably none have ever proved themselves a worthy match for him. I cannot, at least, imagine so. They made quite a picture, seated opposite; the heroic, charismatic soldier, and the intellectual, aloof, masterless master detective.

"Now Brigadier, what seems to be the problem?" Holmes inquired smoothly, almost unctuously, after Mrs Hudson had departed, sounding absurdly like a doctor asking after one of his more petulant patient's latest ailment. "Our regimental sword has been stolen!" Hartnell explained hotly. "It is outrageous!"

"Please, from the beginning," Holmes prompted him. Hartnell's moustache bristled as he reigned in his temper. "Very well. Of the men under my command, the King's Infantry has a regimental sword which I am custodien of, a superb piece of craftmanship presented by her Majesty the Queen herself in recognition of our services in India. It is kept always in a secure room at my headquarters, with the Colours, you understand, except on those occasions when it is brought out for ceremonial purposes, when I carry it myself and none other touches it. Two nights ago was one such commemorative occasion, the founding of the division, and the officers and myself dined out afterwards at the Pierre Savot Restaurant nearby. At the end of the evening, I walked back and placed the sword in its accustomed place." "What time was this?" Holmes interrupted. I had the distinct impression that the Brigadier was none too impressed with being interrupted by a mere civilian (and one still in his dressing gown at noon, to boot).

"At approximately 11:45pm" he replied, stiffly. A trace of a smile passed across Holmes' features. He was listening now, as was often his wont, with his eyes closed and his hands steepled before him. Hartnell hesitated, such that I felt compelled to give him a reassuring nod to continue his tale.

"I had no reason to believe that the sword was anywhere other than where I had left it, and neither I nor any of my staff have much occasion to enter the room, so it was only this morning – at 7:40am – that I discovered its' absence. It could only have been stolen!" Holmes smiled thinly.

"Indeed. You have ascertained, I take it, that nobody who has legitimate access to the rooms has it?"

"My staff is beyond suspicion," the Brigadier retorted brusquely, "And the only other who has a key is my batman, who has served with me for five years and is as honourable man as any on this Earth. It was been stolen, I tell you."

"It seems a strange venture for a thief," Holmes mused, and, opening his eyes, looked directly at Hartnell, as if expecting that man to add something further to his account (though I for the life of me could not hazard a guess as to what), but he merely looked steadily back at Holmes, as few men manage to do.

"I have not informed the police?" Holmes asked at last.

"Disgraceful though the matter is, I have done so, and can only hope for their discretion. As for their competence, I fear otherwise. They have found nothing--not the slightest trace of an intruder or any other clue. So I come to you, in the hopes that you may find something that they have overlooked. There is to be a ceremony at the palace at 3pm this coming Friday, at which I must wear the sword."

"And if you do not?"

"Then Sir," Brigadier Hartnell returned, rising (Holmes did not), "We must both admit defeat, and that, I fancy, is something neither of us would lightly do. Good day, gentleman." I hastened to show him to the door for Holmes, as was typical when a new problem had been brought to his attention, had already forgotten about its' unfortunate owner.

"Well, what do you think then, Holmes?" I asked him when I came back, trying to sound hearty.

"Yes, well, I think my time might be more profitably employed than in the pursuit of lost trinkets and imperilled martial dignity across London. However, as I am not at present occupied....I may as well look into the affair and see what our doughty Constabulary has doubtless overlooked. I daresay the Brigadier was right on that point". I considered saying that he was right on another point, concerning defeat and the admission thereof, but thought the better of it.

Holmes disappeared into his room only to poke his head round the door seconds later, in the manner of one who has just remembered something, and called out, "Come Watson! Howe Barracks, and let us see if we cannot extricate your dashing Brigadier from his difficulty. Ha!" So laughing he disappeared again and I ran for my coat.

Holmes' teasing of myself and my – by turns – dashing, gallant, heroic, patriotic, etcetera ad infinitum Brigadier continued unabated throughout that first leg of our investigation, and I think I can firmly say that for the first time whilst actively engaged in assisting Holmes on a case, I was heartily sick of his company.
He scoured the headquarters and found nothing, which disappointed me, and seemed, to my mind, to bring us to a standstill already.

"We have done the official police an injustice, Watson," was all Holmes had to say on the matter, but he seemed neither surprised nor inconvenienced by this. Dauntless, he interrogated all the staff, and the batman, then traced his way all around the place and out to the restaurant where the officers had dined that night. Then he returned to the barracks again and had a lengthy questioning of the kitchen boy as to the state of the Brigadier's boots, which seemed to me, even knowing his methods as I did, to be the crowning point of today's fruitless endeavour.

The Brigadier, meanwhile, had returned from wherever his duties had taken him and offered us a both a drink. Holmes refused, but I gratefully accepted, and we spent a most pleasant half-hour in conversation and an appreciation of the fine scale model of Waterloo in his office. It was easy to simply like him, now, though the admiration was still there, of course.

Holmes interrupted after a while and proceeded to be rude to the both of us, before dragging me outside again to assist in a cold and tedious examination of the layout of the nearby streets. I was sore-footed, hungry and ill-tempered by this time, and so I declared my intentions to return to Baker Street and fortify myself for my evening surgery.

"Never mind, Watson," Holmes said, "I'm sure the Brigadier's honour will survive the lack of its' champion for a few hours." It was really too much, and I'm sure I don't know what it was about my manner that had provoked this unprecedented level of gibing humour on his part. Yet still I held my tongue and didn't berate him for his baiting of me, for fear that he might take the opportunity to confront me about the Brigadier. I had evidently been more obvious about my feelings for the man than I thought. Holmes has always said I wore my heart upon my sleeve.

"Where do you think the sword is?" I asked instead.

"Now?" Holmes retorted, "Well, theoretically it could be anywhere, though I fancy it has not strayed far. This is the work of an opportunist, not a professional criminal."

"How do you know that?"

"Steal the sword and leave the silver? Really, Watson, do wake up."

"But what opportunity?" I was baffled. Holmes favoured me with an unforgiving stare.

"The opportunity presented by another man's mistake, Watson".

"I wish you would stop speaking in riddles," I complained, peevish.

"And I wish that you would take my lesson about observing, and not merely seeing, a little more to heart. However, in this case, it is clear that your vision is...blinkered." With that last, cutting, remark, he strode off and was rapidly lost in the gathering fog.

I daresay that I cut a forlorn and desultory figure as I made my way back to the comforts of Baker Street. Holmes is wont to tease, and apt to be merciless in his criticism, but rarely had any words of his stung quite so much as these had, and, if I were honest with myself (which unfortunately I usually am), it was because too many of them had hit home.

Holmes' mockery of what was obvious to him as my schoolboy devotion to my former Colonel was certainly justified, if unkind. My cheeks warmed despite the chill air as I thought of just how much he may have deduced. It is never wise to underestimate Holmes in that regard. He may even have seen the newspaper clippings that I had hoarded, and the one faded photograph I have in my desk drawer...

I am sure that I am not the only man who has fallen into a youthful infatuation with another and it was doubtless for the best that Hartnell had been both quite out of my social circle and utterly oblivious to the secret fantasies that his naive young Army surgeon dreamt up in his billet at night. Indeed, he had been quite barely aware of my existence at all...but there had been that time he had come in to see his wounded men and talked to me, concerned and friendly and charming all at the same time, his own uniform in bloody tatters, his fine skin soot-stained, but cheerful and assured yet, by God, the only man who was in that dreadful place.

There had been the time he had made sure that I was sent on home from the field hospital after my injury. It was as harmless and passing as most of these idle fancies are, and, if Holmes had guessed it, I only hoped he realised that too. Not that I had much concern if he had drawn a less savoury conclusion. Holmes, whilst passionate in his pursuit of truth and justice, has scant regard for either the letter of the law or human notions of morality, and I feared no exposure by him. I hoped he would tire of his sport soon.

It was late, when Holmes' quick tread sounding upon the stair woke me from my inadvertent post-supper snooze. By this time my ill humour had evaporated, and I was only anxious that Holmes should have met with success and recovered the sword, and inquired as such of him. He made no reply but came to stand in front of me. Anger and sadness warred briefly across his sharp features, before his usual cool detachment returned, and only the burning of his eyes, boring into me, betrayed the depths of his passion.

"I really cannot see why you attach such importance to a matter that is, on the scale of human doing in this city, monumentally trivial," he said at last. "Not to mention entirely without interest, merit or novelty to commend it. I fancy the sordid little affair of the Brigadier's sword shall not make it into your accounts of our adventures, Watson." He threw his coat on the floor moodily and leaned against the fireplace, turned away from me. The light from the fire highlighted on the unrelieved planes of his face, profiled, was unearthly, compelling...but then, I had always been compelled by that ferocious intelligence, that lively visage, more fool me. He really was in a damnably odd mood, even by his standards, and I still could not fathom what had birthed it.

"It beggars belief," he exclaimed suddenly, striking his fist against the mantelpiece, "How people of otherwise good sense can elevate in status one who is so obviously as flawed – if not more so – than they themselves are. I do not think I can stomach another sycophantic word concerning our brave Brigadier." A conclusion of my own suddenly dawned upon me.

"Holmes, really," I said, as mildly as possible, "You sound almost jealous. Why should you envy this good man his well-earned reputation?"

"Jealous! Jealous indeed!" He spun round to face me, clearly furious, his jaw working, then once more masterfully pulled his emotions back under control, sending a shiver down my spine. I was almost sorry. Holmes, when he comes alive, is an intoxicating sight. It's a shame he only does so when he's on the trail of a case, and there's more than one reason I let him drag me out at all hours and in all unfavourable weathers, that is for certain. I stopped that errant thought before it could stray too far.

"No," he said quietly, then laughed. "Perhaps", he continued, a little sadly, "I am merely angry that you – you, of all people Watson! – should have given your loyalty to a man unworthy of it, one who does not even notice it!" I think I was actually touched, then, though really, it was a damnable way to show one's appreciation of a fellow. "Brigadier Hartnell should not have command of a devotion as stirling as yours, certainly not anymore. Rare though such a man would be, there is surely another of greater merit than that." He stopped abruptly then, and turned to go. After all these years with him, it was too much.

"I long since found such a man," I whispered, more to the fire than to him, "But he does not notice it either." I should not have said it, by God I should not have, but I could not have stopped myself. Holmes froze, motionless as the hare who catches scent of the hound. I wondered if I might yet extricate us from the embarrassing situation somehow. He turned and looked at me again. There was no fathoming those stormy grey eyes and fine-boned features when he chose inscrutability. He stood over me, far too close for comfort, all dark shades and shadowed cheekbones, the brightest thing in the room.

"Yes, he does," he murmured at last. My heart lurched, and my face burned. So, he had noticed, of course. Noticed and chosen to ignore it, until I stupidly forced it to his attention – expecting what? If I had been his friend, if not his confidante before, he would surely keep me at a greater distance now, if not find some excuse to be rid of me altogether. "He had thought, perhaps," Holmes continued softly, leaning so close now that I could become drunk on his cologne, "Not to ask for a greater, or a different...devotion...than that which he was freely given, as he had never been given before, and unexpectedly had found...that he most earnestly required." How carefully our sentences danced about each other even as our heads inclined closer. I decided to step into the abyss.

"He should have known," I said, for more steadily than I felt, able at last to meet his eyes, like two smouldering coals, "That he could claim all of it, any time that he wished." Holmes smiled faintly then, and lifted my chin with his hand. I think that was the first time I had seen a real tenderness in his features. Abruptly, then, his irrepressible mischief
replaced it.

"Brigadier Hartnell," he enunciated crisply, slowly, and with relish, "Is a very foolish man." So saying he pulled me hard to him and leaned into me for an endless kiss. No chaste sweethearts' kiss that; my mouth trembled open under the probing insistence of his tongue; commanding, urgent and domineering as the man himself. My knees were dissolving even with my vanishing resolve as his long-fingered hands were roving across my back and shoulders, pressing me closer against him.

I felt a steady hardness pressing too, against my thigh, nudging me fully from groin to knee, and broke off with a startled yelp, gasping for air. From beneath Holmes' jacket protruded the leather-sheathed length of fine tempered steel.

"Holmes really!" I exclaimed, absolutely astonished. He roared with laughter, throwing his head back, then looking back at me, his eyes glittering in merriment at his game. Oh, he was mightily pleased with his joke, and I could not help but laugh too as he unbuckled the sword and unsheathed it with a flourish.

"Where..!" I gasped, "Where on earth did you find it?"

"Ah now there's a lurid tale," he replied, still mirthful, "Which I shall tell you," he declared, twirling the blade so that it sang in the air, "Later." So saying he levelled it at my chest and marched me backwards at swordpoint, laughing, into his room, then kicked the door shut behind us. Thus done, he threw the sword down and advanced upon me once more. Never before have I known Holmes want to delay his exposition of a case once all the facts are before him, from which I could only form my own humble deduction that he was more intent on me, and it warmed me from head to toe.

He was content for a moment to kiss me in the privacy of his room, pressing me to him once more and taking advantage of his greater height to swoop down upon me and claim my mouth, and I dared what I had so often longed to do; to trace the fine cheekbones with my fingertips, to run my hands through his coal-black hair and disarrange it from its' usual immaculate state, to feel the lean muscle beneath the constricting clothing. I wished to savour every moment of it, but Holmes was as intent on his pursuit as ever he is upon the scent of a case, and I, as usual, found myself running to keep up.

My waistcoat was being undone by nimble fingers and I was pushed steadily backwards until the back of my knees hit the edge of his bed and I was toppled back upon it. He actually pounced on me, and lay there atop me, holding my hands above my head, simply looking at me. He was still smiling, a hungry look upon his face that neither I, nor, I think, anyone, had ever seen before.

"Holmes, I.." I began, thinking with a sudden sober chill of the perils of pursuing this, the trouble I could bring down upon him, who claimed my heart absolutely. He drew back a moment, his smile fading.

"You do not, after all, want this, now it comes to it?" he asked softly, releasing my hands, "Or just not now?" His smile had gone, his face turned cold, and I desperately seized his face in my hands as though I could press the warmth back into it.

"Of course I want it – you!" I protested, endeavouring to inject all the fervour of my feelings into my voice, "I love you!" That had slipped out without my censoring it, and I feared it was a mistake. I knew how uncomfortable he was with other people's more open displays of emotion, and it made him scornful in hiding his own. I wanted to tell him that he did not have to say it back, but instead I answered his question and told him of my fears. He waved them aside, as though all the law and opinion of England mattered not a jot to him, which, being Holmes (God love him) it did not.

"If it has never been suspected before, it never will be now," he declared with his ordinary, supreme confidence, "Nor are we so foolish as to be incautious. I know how to cover my tracks!" He was smiling again, and I took this for permission for another kiss, this time pulling him down to me. It was the only time that night that I took control and kept it. With his greater, wiry strength, he held me down again, seeming to seek to keep me exactly where he could be sure of me, and divested me of my shirt and vest, stealing nips and kisses down my neck and chest, leaving jolting tingles in their wake, whilst I struggled to make him let me reciprocate. He, however, was having none of it. His hands unerringly found and pulled down my trousers, insinuated into my undergarments, and before I could utter a word he had firmly grasped my over-ready cock in his hand – I certainly uttered a word then, a blasphemous one and loud, and he covered my mouth with his other hand a moment, chuckling.

"Let me," he said, with a sudden deep intensity, his face hovering above mine. "Let me". I could only nod, and stared back at him as he loosened his tight grasp of me only sufficient to slide his hand along my length, slow at first then quickening, pulling on me almost painfully, whilst my breath went ragged and my heart galloped along in time. I clung to him, trying to pull him closer to me, but he was as unbending as iron in my grasp, his left arm pressing me down into the pillows, and so, craving a greater closeness, I arched up to him, stifling my moans in his shoulder.

"Look at me," he said, with that same incredible intensity, "Look at me." Helpless to disobey, I did. He pushed me down again, his face brought close to mine, touching my lips with his but never lingering, unrelenting in his forceful stroking, and gazing fiercely at my face. I understood, I think, that deep-seated need of his to see, to have the proof of everything before him, to know that I would hide nothing from him, that I would surrender myself utterly to his care. I could not believe, somehow, that he did not recoil from the force of my own passion; flooding out, it seemed to me, from I to him. He watched my every expression, his own unwavering, though I could feel his breath hot and fast on my face, see the faintest sheen of perspiration shimmering on his forehead. I thought I should burn and drown in the distilled inferno of his eyes, still boring into me as my own face contorted in its familiar rictus as I cried out and finally spilled myself over us both.

He lay above me a moment more, watching me, whilst I could only lie there and recover my breath, and try and re-focus on a world still wheeling in celestial grandeur about me; a glorious world, in that moment. Then he let go and moved aside to get up, so that I grasped and stayed him.

"Holmes," I begged, tugging at his shirt sleeve, "Let me. Please." I pulled him back, slowly yielding, to me. "Let me."

He did let me kiss him then, as he had kissed me, let me undress him and reverently press my face against him everywhere I could, but his expression was still guarded. He finally relaxed a little when I gently dared to latch on to a nipple on that gloriously smooth chest, teasing it with my teeth, and his muscles rippled like the flanks of a racehorse beneath my touch, his nostrils flaring. He twisted into my joyous embrace with a deep exhalation, and I almost fumbled in my haste to catch his attention and keep it lest he change his mind. I was trembling a little as I finally got his trousers down and his cock seemed almost to spring of its own accord into my palm, smooth and hot and expressing its animal desire as its owner refused to. I still could not quite believe he would permit it, howsoever much he desired it. I thought to do as he had for me, at first, but at my first sliding touch on his flesh he bucked and stopped me, pulling himself back to sit up in the bed. I reached for his shoulders anxiously.

"I - " he whispered, and swallowed uncomfortably, looking away, "I think I had rather not lie down like that."

"Then don't," I told him, rubbing his beautiful torso with my hands, soothing him, turning his face back to me. He smiled again, just a little. I had an idea then, and kissed my way down that smooth skin to his lap, whilst he shuddered beneath me, until I dared to bestow a light kiss on the very tip of his manhood, pointing up at me, then swirled my tongue around the head, delighted at the sharp hiss of breath that whistled through his teeth. Emboldened, I grasped his hips and took him further into my mouth, lavishing him all around, and his hands came to rest lightly on my head as I slowly sucked at him, revelling in the taste of him. He said nothing, but his involuntary starts and occasional escaped moan told me that I was doing aright, and, as I sucked him harder and made the lightest trace down his length with my teeth, his fingers curled unceasingly through my hair, until, with a guttural start, he seized me in a powerful grip and crushed my head against his belly as he spent himself in jerking spasms and I took it all. He held me pinioned there even as I regretfully released him and kissed where he would let me reach, then slowly, as he regained himself, he let me go.

I gently pulled myself back up and held him close, though I was not sure that he wanted me to. He lay there quietly, but made no move to free himself from my tight hold of him. After a while he settled his head back on my shoulder and squeezed my hand, just once, as his eyes langorously closed. A tight ball of happiness swelled in my chest so that I felt it could burst at the slightest touch. I could only hope he would want to pursue this relationship, and not return to his characteristic aloofness tomorrow. I thought, from that squeeze, that he would not, and he did not pull away from me as we lay there, draped together, our stickened skin cooling and drying in the cold air of the room. The fire had long since gone out, and I thought about persuading him under the covers, if I could find some energy from somewhere to move. From where I lay, listening to his slow breathing, my gaze drifted to an object on the floor, shining in the lamplight.

"I say, Holmes," I wondered suddenly, and his eyes snapped open, "Where was the Brigadier's sword?" He laughed, a rich, easy sound I rejoiced to hear.

"My dear Watson," he said fondly, "I really cannot get another man's equipment off your mind, can I? As the Brigadier himself said, he had no reason to suppose that it was anywhere other than where he had left it, which was rolled carelessly under a whore's bed in Green Street."

"Good God!" I exclaimed fervently, slightly appalled, "But how did you..?"

"Even a cursory consideration of the kitchen boy's account as to the state of the Brigadier's boots yesterday morning revealed a different story than the one he told. I disguised myself as a common labourer and made enquiries in the vicinity of the restaurant. It was a simple matter to retrace his steps from there to where – in a drunken state and parted from his fellow officers – he made a minor detour to the less savoury side of his barracks, and, in his inebriated condition, did not notice that he left 'Big Betty's' bed without it. Even when he found it gone he did not  remember where he had left it. At best, he may have considered that he had lost it on the way back from the restaurant. Inevitably, he recalled it all too clearly when he returned here after consulting me and walked through the area again, but by then he had already involved both the police and myself. So he stole back there – fortuitously observed by me – to try and persuade the handsomely endowed Miss Betty to give it back to him. She, of course, denied all knowledge of it, and sent him on his way with a flea in his ear. He could hardly call in the police to get them to talk to her. He may have eventually come clean to me – I fancy that was what all that jollying of you was about, feeling us out – but I doubt it. Such men hate to lose face.

"The charming Miss Betty, meanwhile, was far more forthcoming to my labourer persona than to the Brigadier."

"Holmes you didn't!" I blurted. He slapped me playfully on the shoulder. 

"Really, Watson!" he declared melodramatically, "I frankly despair of you ever developing the most basic of deductive faculties!" I slapped him back for that. It was good to jest, to lighten the seriousness of the mood, without detracting from its' meaning in any way.

"Miss Betty, our opportunist that I hypothesised to you from the start of this case, gained a sovereign from me for the information that she had taken the sword to the local pawnbrokers. I called there in my own person and the worthy gentleman was most anxious to return it once he learnt it was stolen. Naturally I recompensed him for his trouble – " I could not resist.

"Holmes! You didn't! – Ow!" I got a look for that which told me clearly I would pay for it later. I certainly hoped so.

"The Brigadier, I think, can reimburse me for mine; that is, if I return the sword to him. I have a mind to add it to my Museum, to teach him a lesson, and," a sidelong glance at me, "As a memento."

"Holmes, you really should return it," I was compelled to say.

"Hmm, well, I suppose the Brigadier is a bachelor and may spend his pennies where he will, though I'm sure that's not what her Majesty had in mind when she awarded him his handsome salary." He looked at my – I hope – stern look.

"Oh all right, Watson! One cannot help the Brigadier being merely a mortal and flawed man with quite frankly dubious taste, I suppose." His voice softened and he continued in a low tone, turning to look at me.

"Even great men, even paragons of virtue, are not without human weakness. The tragedy is that they are supposed by everyone to be so, and thus suffer the more for trying to live up to this fantasy of their own selves. I think the Brigadier would endure the lofty position his compatriots have elevated him to with far greater ease, if he had a stronger support to lean on, and be ready to catch him, lest he fall." He held me close to him then. It was more than enough, that tacit admission, than any direct declaration he could have made, and I felt my eyes mist over.

"Besides," Holmes said suddenly, wickedly, pulling back to gaze at me with a most lascivious expression upon his face, "It would only be sporting. I have, after all, acquired the better of his weapons." So saying he rolled back over again, and I, naturally, followed.