by Katie

The story of how I had arrived separately from Holmes and Inspector Hopkins was not important at the time--the violently ill patient, the missed summons, having miraculously caught the last train after wiring my friend I likely would fail to manage it, the elderly draper whose cart carried me up to the park before the enormous stone house.  What is important is that when I arrived, it was raining in sheets, and when the maid opened the front door to me, she informed me that they'd already gone--first to check the deserted cottage, and then back to the hotel.  I had seen no object in returning to town without making certain my friends had also departed, and so, with my collar pulled up around my ears and my hat low over my eyes, I made a dash for the cottage before resigning myself to walk a mile in a downpour after a truly vexing afternoon.

An inch of grainy mud stood before the door, so I looked in the leaded window.  There were indeed two figures present, one of athletic, medium build, and the other very tall, very poised, and very thin.  I smiled in weary relief.  I was raising my hand to rap on the glass when something I could not quite understand stopped me. 

I saw through the thin pane that Holmes was holding out a photograph he'd evidently just taken from a drawer, the fondly mocking, teacherly smile on his angular face.  Hopkins took the evidence from him, then laughed as he uttered something congratulatory, as always graciously self-deprecating and not in the slightest bit put out that he had been shown up for the third time since my friend had taken a barb-headed spear to a steer's carcass in the matter concerning Black Peter.  But they were standing far too close together for what the size of the room and the positioning of the furniture warranted.  Then the photograph fell from the inspector's fingers as he reached up and caught my friend's mouth with his own.

I am being as honest with myself as I am capable when I say that--at first--I did not move for the sheer shock of it.  My friend's hand snaked around the inspector's waist and pulled him forward with a masterful, practiced 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 other, far less honourable reasons.  First and primary was fascination; everything about Sherlock Holmes fascinated me and here he was doing something that I had never dreamed possible, let alone witnessed.  I had seen his body before 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 signal of my hand's brief touch in the silent darkness.  I had bitterly lamented the scars he'd carried with him from beyond Reichenbach Falls, scars I had not been present to prevent, and for still longer had I rued the scars on his left 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 only think that I had never seen that graceful back arch so, had never thought to wonder what his flesh would look like against someone else's, how his hair would fall if there were alien fingers buried in it.

After the fascination, there followed still worse motives for observing.  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 in concert.  And how foolish of you, how typically foolish, to have thought that you were.  What man has ever lived on companionship alone?

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 and 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 pleased--as he 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 to his 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 home in the looming city.  The train rocked back and forth with a relentless clacking of metal.  The newspaper in my hands felt like an absurdly cheap 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 covered in dank, sweet moss. 

"Yes, my dear fellow?"  He smiled at me once more.  The warm smile, from one side of his mouth, the one that had always brought a pleasant little ache to my chest.  "I am heartily grateful you went to such trouble, even if your only part in this trifling drama will have been 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 the business, and he shoulders the delightful task of tying it all up in a package to present to the Yard.  He is gathering statements as we speak."

"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 pinstriped trousers.   "Perhaps one day he shan't require quite so many nudgings in the right direction, and so can compose paperwork over crimes he has solved himself."

Stanley Hopkins was indeed young, I thought, startled that I had never once looked at the man objectively before.  He was not only young, but he was exceptionally active, strikingly handsome, and altogether pleasing in his hurried, good-natured manners.  He was also very kind--to me, to Lady Eva Brackenstall, to his fellow inspectors.  I now knew that he had several curls of pale brown hair on his breast, and that his eyes fell closed under 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 secrecy.  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, regarding your relation to--or relations with, perhaps--the Inspector."

I had not said it well at all.  The man sitting before me, he of the steely eye and iron nerve, looked at me sharply and grew white as ghost.  Holmes closed his eyes, looking as if he would have given anything in England to reverse what I had just said to him, and then he fixed me with a gaze as 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 the clues were quite inconsequential and could have been remarked upon by no one save myself, as we reside together and I am familiar with your habits."

"But I--"

"That is truly all you need know, Holmes," I said tenderly.  I had not trusted my ability to prevaricate around him for longer than five minutes, but I would not for a king's ransom have hurt him.  "I needn't tell you your secret is safe with me, but I am obliged to tell you I 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 between us.  I gave up the newspaper as a bad job and dropped it to the floor, staring myself out the window as I allowed my stricken, insatiably curious 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 silence 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 it.

"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, the quickness and the skill of their movements, how gentle my friend's hand had seemed when it touched his lover's lips and how implacably hard it had appeared when he'd gripped him by the thigh.  Hopkins' face, reverent, and my friend's only needful and on occasion deeply pained.  It was the same expression, although rather better masked, that I was confronted with now.

"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 they 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, imperious, vice-ridden recluse," he reminded me.

He was, for I knew him through and through.  He was six feet three inches tall, and his hands were covered in the faintest of marks, the results of chemistry and misadventure.  He had black hair and grey eyes that could spark into humour or dim into melancholy within the space of a breath.  And he had lied to me every day, for years, through storm and fire and death itself, for every time he had claimed to have no use for love he had in fact 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 matter whom you are inclined to seek out for your trysts.  I am only sorry that to the other shortcomings you just mentioned, I ever added cold-heartedness."

"You were working with limited data."  I could have sworn he'd nearly smiled.

"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 sense of calm.  We were an hour away from London yet.  An hour to spend 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 it again 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 mingled sensations of rage and of pity.  Pity, because it had taken me one glance to discern that he was desperately in love with my friend and that my friend felt no such reciprocal emotion; and rage, because the only man meant to be close to Sherlock Holmes was I myself, and to share that calling infuriated me.  However, I could not very well avoid the Inspector's presence without Holmes drawing the obvious conclusion that I harboured an aversion to his habits, and so I remained in the sitting room or followed blindly along on cases with 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 to a cluster of gnarled vines surrounding a drainage pipe, and thence to the roof.

"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 the skill of a born acrobat, and I'd no one on whom to blame my frustration save myself.

"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 of your companions?"

His head shot up in startled surprise before he buried it once more in his commonplace book.  "Do I take it to mean that your term 'companions' connotes other men of whom I've some intimate carnal knowledge?"

"Yes," I replied, annoyed at how easily Holmes could use semantics to deflect me.

"Are you concerned you've inadvertently offended one of my paramours, not having known him as such at the time?  I assure you, Watson, your manners are generally impeccable."

"No doubt that is true."

He set the book aside and fixed me with a look so brilliantly sardonic that I knew it was purposefully calculated to intimidate.  "Are we to chat about this, Watson?" he drawled.  "Am I to explain what went so terribly wrong with my desires when I was young, simply and elegantly, and with depth of feeling?  Are you to draw medical conclusions from my account?  Shall I explain to you what specifically haunts me about well-formed men?  Am I to enumerate for you the charms of one fellow's glorious natural endowments, or the poetry contained in another's merest glance?"

"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, and 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 that I hastened to say more.  "I am sorry to badger you.  But surely you see that, as your longtime friend--not to mention fellow lodger--the subject interests me."

At this well-intentioned remark, Holmes barked out a derisive little exclamation as his brows shot upwards.  "As my fellow lodger?  Really, Watson, you have nothing to fear from me.  I am an invert, not a nymphomaniac.  You need not trouble yourself with the notion that some night I may drink one glass of brandy too many and fall to my knees desperate for your--simply because I desire men does not mean I desire all men, and I seem to have managed to resist your rather pedestrian charms thus far."

I could think of nothing to say to this scattered and abusive assertion for some moments, for I was beginning to think that the sight of Sherlock Holmes on his knees was not necessarily a distasteful one.  And apart from being wounded, I could not see how my innocent remark had been so misinterpreted.

"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 thanked God myself many times.  Even supposing I could overlook the fact that the plain, upstanding British Army type holds no interest for me, I am irresistibly drawn to men with exceptional talent, and I always have been.  That leaves you quite out of the picture, my dear fellow, invaluable as your assistance has at times proven itself.  Now, if you will excuse me, I should prefer to pass the remainder of my evening away from the prurient inquiries of the 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 reflected.  I am a plain, upstanding British Army type.  I am not exceptionally 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 words which rankled, however.

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 been a bedpost for all the reciprocity expected of me.

Take away the assistance, and what was left?  Would it make any difference to Sherlock Holmes if I moved away to practice medicine in Edinburgh or was killed by a runaway carriage?  He would never wish for either event, but would he draw a distinction between the two?  Did I so much as exist for him if I was not present?  Had he spared a single thought for me during the years of his own heartless absence, after all?

Miserably, I rose to my feet.  As I passed his closed door, however, I heard the echo of a sound and saw a passing shadow in the crack beneath.  He was pacing.

Holmes paces when he is thinking, when he is restless, and when he is deeply distressed.  As I climbed the stairs to my own room, I grimly decided to 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 he quit our rooms as speedily as he could.  But he did not need to be present for my thoughts ever to turn to him, for he was everywhere--in the air of Baker Street, in the papers scattered on his desk, in the violin propped in the corner, in the lingering images of spotless frock coats and carefully tamed black hair.  It occurred to me that hardly ever was I not thinking of 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 him, was driving me mad.  I had been telling him the truth when I'd disavowed any abhorrence of his sexual proclivities--I have always held the firm opinion that what two adults get up to in their own beds is their own business, and left it at that.  However, I had simply never pondered the physical manifestations of inversion previously at any length, very likely because I had not before cared so passionately about a man who indulged in the habit.  Setting aside the visions that would not leave me no matter how I tried to banish them--the sight of his shoulder blades flexed with effort, the purity of that pale flesh, the perfect angles of his lower back--through all my fevered dreams of him ran a terrifyingly strong thread of possession.  Sherlock 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 seemed, and however much he valued my assistance--and, if I was fair to him, my company--it 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 the northern suburbs, I watched from my armchair as Holmes arrived home and strode at once into his bedroom, shutting the door.  I allowed myself a moment's crushing despair, but I made no effort to go to him, for such an action would have done me no good whatsoever. 

Some five minutes afterward, I felt a warm, firm hand touch my shoulder and I looked up from my medical text in considerable surprise.  Holmes had returned to the sitting room silently, in slippers and dressing gown, and stood 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 ached at the loss.  "I am sorry to be such a reprehensible friend in return, 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 churlishness in 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 were unexpected, and I released a breath of relief.  "Don't mention it, Holmes."

"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 dear Watson."

He collapsed into his chair, looking at me with such sincere self-reproach that I hardly knew how to answer him.  When I remained silent, his lips quirked in disappointment before he instantly cleared his face of all expression.

"You've every right to be angry.  Please believe that my inexcusable 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 such disorder of thought and memory were very unlike my mechanically precise companion.  Speaking quite carefully, I obliged him.  "I asked you who else has been keeping you company.  It was none of my business, my dear chap.  I assure you I was not asking for anything graphic, although 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 of quite understandable fear.  "If you mean liaisons which have lasted longer than a single night, no one for years, Watson," he said at length.  "Certainly no one you know.  Musicians, actors, a guardsman once.  I confess they have not all been gentlemen.  I would never 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 him, hurt.

"They were not worth the effort, socially or otherwise, of bringing into our world."

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 them 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 place 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 participated in numberless meaningless affairs.  Oh!"  Holmes made a renewed attempt at a smile.  "Do you recall the night we attended the symphony and you developed the most ghastly cough afterward, because you insisted on giving your overcoat to the poor woman we found had been robbed in 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 boutonniere, 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 better than you may have been aware.  You see how very little his presence enhances the anecdote?" he asked gently.  "Our world was quite big enough 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 having 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 has loved me."

He winced, whether in sympathy or some other emotion I could not immediately tell.  When he seemed unwilling to continue, I prodded grudgingly, "Stanley Hopkins loves you."

"Does he?"

The question was delivered without the slightest tinge of interest.  "Yes," I said pointedly.

"That was doubtless a very unwise decision.  I would certainly have 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 inspector.

"Oh, calm yourself, Doctor," Holmes said contemptuously.  "I may be the coldest man you have ever known, but I am not cruel.  For as long as I can, I will certainly see that he comes to no harm by way of my clockwork heart.  May we leave off speaking of subjects entirely unfit for gentlemen now, before I utter a truth or express a fact that is beyond your 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, only the practice of them!" he cried.  His lips lifted briefly into a derisive smile, a smile that meant he knew he was about to be wounded and could think of no better defense than to wound me first.  "How altogether illogical of you, not to mention hypocritical.  I suppose you are next going to lament I did not take a vow of chastity when I was fifteen instead of 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 angrier.  "He is mad for you, and to play with him in such a manner is indeed cruel!"

"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 sympathy."

A breathless silence fell, as his words stood before us in the air and my heart beat furiously in my breast.  When he realized what he had said, he 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 flood of gratitude caressed my very soul, and Stanley Hopkins ceased to exist altogether.

"Holmes, this is not right," I told him, as kindly as I could.  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 beyond your reach, and to each of us will fall our portion of suffering, and I say 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 allowed any measure of happiness," he replied with an air of finality as he rose from his chair.

The dead tone his deftly articulate voice had taken on was nearly more than I 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 man, 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 happiness?"

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 otherworldly thing, a creature out of England's distant past.  Then he paled visibly and took a step behind him as if I had just said I thought his habits revolting and I never desired to see him again rather than confessing a measure of my 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."

"But Holmes--"

"Stop!"  He walked behind the settee and placed it between us, leaning on the fabric.  My friend looked positively terrified; it occurred to me that I had never once seen his hands tremble, but now one of them was, if ever so slightly.  "Think what you are saying, and then cease saying it."

"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, my--I am begging you to leave it.  I cannot gamble my very existence upon a mad experiment.  This is my home--here, with you.  You are my 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 the one who died staring into Reichenbach Falls, more than you ever did, damn 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 cataloguing them myself.  You have never once been pedestrian in all your life.  You are the model upon which the world of men should be built, and I am an abusive near-lunatic with a few singular qualities.  I've asked you to pardon me once already; do not force me to babble senselessly on about Hyperions and 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 friend visibly considered the question, that I resolved no matter the cost to see it 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, elementary question, I knew that to see him doubt my boundless regard twice would be the 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 do not 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 or no and placed myself before him.  His breath was coming in quick, shallow little swells.

"Standing in the path of a bullet and engaging in voluntary sexual congress with a man are two different propositions, you will admit.  Don't touch me."

"I love you," I insisted.

"I know.  That fact has not made my life any simpler all these long years, I promise you."  He laughed, a bitter and brittle sound.  "The sun creeps through the galaxy, and the earth goes round the sun, and I go round John Watson in circles, and that is the thrice-cursed natural order of Life.  I shall write up a monograph on the subject for you, if 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 hand resting 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 you 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 you 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 cannot erase it from my memory.  He had his hands on you, and his mouth, and--"

"When the devil did--"

"That isn't important.  What is important is that you are mine, 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 knowing you again in a physical sense makes me ill," I cried. 

"You are going to risk my life over an attack of covetousness?" he whispered. 

"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 you had none?"

"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 could not tell. 

"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 were."

"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 neither did 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 sacrifice something pure for something divine.  I did what I have always done in 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 tragically 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 mine.  I had always wanted to feel his lean body against me, for a sigh to escape his 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 take me, gladly hungering for more.

It was only later, after pleas and blasphemies and acts that have been criminal since the ancient world, staring a perfectly formed arm nearly as pale as the 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 glow that lit his eyes when I did.

I recall very well the first morning I awoke beside him.  Raising myself 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 the prize 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 have now twice stood in the path of a bullet, and also engaged in voluntary sexual 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 faded, he glanced up at me piercingly.  "You are not ashamed of it, then?"

"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 morning, you 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 myself to tears.

"Never mind," I said.  "You will never need to."

My friend dropped the telegram on the desk and shrugged sadly, lighting his pipe.  I stared for several minutes longer at it before my regrets took 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 inflection.  He had crossed to the window, and was staring out into the yellowed fog.  Smoothly lowering himself to the cushioned seat before the glass, he tucked his 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 could not restrain myself.

"No, not at all."

"But how is that possible?"

"That is very simple.  Stanley would prefer to abandon me without a word than to see my face when he bids me farewell," he replied.  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 what 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 alpine-stock.  I 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 because 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 me to mourn him simply because it was the only way to ease his own suffering was for 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 sort of 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 seemed 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, that I would somehow be robbed of him again.  But worst of all, the pained look in his eyes had not been banished forever.  It was absent for long periods, when I reached for him or when he said something to elicit a smile.  He makes me smile so easily.  But it always returned.

"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 me.  "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 over 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 fond reflection before we were at last tragically parted.  This was like being drowned.

"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 as I asked. 

"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 buttons.  You'd used to wear a blue muffler with it, but then you lost the muffler out the 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 the dark green."

"And prior?"

He pretended to require some thought before answering, a line of tension appearing between his brows, but by then I knew well enough what would follow.  "Deep brown, cutaway design, black velvet collar, with a tiny gash in the tail where you caught it on a piece of scrap metal in one of the godforsaken alleys I dragged you into.  Staggeringly well tailored.  It suited you perfectly, but you gained seven and a half pounds when you--"

"I love you," I told him.  "Please believe that.  I always have."

"I know," he whispered.

When I put my arms around him, I could almost imagine that our measure of happiness would be enough, that we would slowly cease being ardent and frantic, that we would never take pleasure in power, that somehow we would not ruin each other.  If the passion was even slightly unbalanced, we would surely spiral out of control within mere weeks.  The smallest discrepancy of 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 given the chance to try.  At our best, we were transportive, not of this world.  And even at our very worst, I could comfort myself we suffered from a mutually sympathetic condition.