by Katie

The next morning, I awoke calm and altogether refreshed.  There were traces of my own helpless longing still upon my person, but the fever had quite broken and my upper torso was more free of ache than it had been since the war.  Carefully, I rose and further tested the phenomenon by shifting positions.  I was not healed--I would never be well and truly healed, I supposed--but I was much improved.

This new and altogether different aspect of my friend's many witch-like talents gave me pause, and a rush of nerves suffused my belly at the mere thought of laying eyes upon Holmes once more.  Surely he had noticed something amiss with me apart from my physical distress.  I washed very carefully, and dressed with still more attention to detail.  Holmes noticed everything, after all, and never failed to comment on the things he noticed.  Drawing a breath for courage, I descended my staircase, knowing that pondering what he was thinking was likely far worse than actually discovering it.

To my surprise--for he had not woken me, and in our severe financial distress he had developed a habit of rousing me when clients arrived to seek his services--Sherlock Holmes was not alone.  I found my friend deep in conversation with a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman with fiery red hair.  He had noticed something amiss, then.  Not only had he noticed, but he no longer desired my assistance.  Shamefaced, with an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes leaped from his chair, pulled me abruptly into the room,and closed the door behind me.

"My dear chap, you look splendid," he exclaimed, one of his blinding smiles breaking across his features.  "Are you at all certain you ought to be out of bed?"

"I feel quite well enough," I shrugged, smiling bashfully in return.

"Judging by your looks alone, I should deem you correct if I were not aware of your occasionally alarming penchant for unfounded optimism," he returned sternly.  "I find it difficult to credit you could have recovered so quickly."

"Relapses go as swiftly as they come, in my experience of injury-induced fevers.  And you have more to do with it than anyone, dear fellow."

The stout gentleman behind us half rose from his chair and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small fat-encircled eyes.

Sherlock Holmes waved his fingers dismissively in the direction of his client, who seemed to have noticed that the independent investigator had forgotten him.  "Mr. Jabez Wilson, this is my friend Dr. John Watson, whose health has been a little trying of late."

"And who heartily apologizes for disturbing you," I added in haste.

"No, no," my friend disagreed, "you could not possibly have come down at a better time, Watson.  Provided you supply me with your solemn oath you feel as hale as you appear."

"I do indeed," I assented, glowing at the compliment as my eyes flicked to the increasingly put out Mr. Jabez Wilson, "but I was afraid you were engaged."

"So I am.  Very much so.  This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt but that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."  My friend failed to so much as even glance at his client during this highly flattering assessment of my qualities.  "Try the settee, Watson, and put your feet up.  No, I insist.  After all, I know that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life," he added, winking at me.

Even apart from our fiscal worries, I am sadly incapable of saying no to my flat mate.  Obediently, I stretched out upon the settee with my feet up, slightly dizzy but supremely comfortable, and listened to their talk.  The discussion was illuminating in more ways than one.  I came to a better understanding, while Jabez Wilson expounded upon encyclopedias and absurdly untaxing berths for men who belonged to the ranks of the Red-Headed League, one of the reasons why my friend's assertion that I shared his professional love was so very true.  I was, admittedly, adrift in London and friendless but for Holmes.  However, the most hardened stranger could not have watched his grey eyes sparkling like lightning-illumined clouds, his fingertips resting together as if reminding their weightless selves to remained steady and at attention, wriggling in his chair like a fourth former at a rugby match, and not have been moved to suppose the deductive arts the highest achievement ever attained by mankind.  By the time we read Mr. Wilson's terse missive, "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED," and burst into simultaneous laughter, I had once again entirely forgotten the ruins of my own career had ever existed in the first place.  Then a strange pang of apprehension struck me.

"Small, stout-built," Mr. Wilson was listing, "very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, though he's not short of thirty.  Has a white splash of acid upon his forehead."

I knew a man with a splash of acid upon his forehead, who was very quick and lovely in all his ways.  I knew such a man all too well, but it could not possibly be the same individual.

Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement.  "I thought as much," said he.  "Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for earrings?"

"Yes, sir.  He told me that a gypsy had done it for him when he was a lad."

It was not possible even still, I insisted to myself, fighting the second wave of queasiness which flooded me, that he could be speaking of the same man.  This man's name was Vincent Spaulding, after all--Vincent Spaulding was unknown to me.  I had never heard of a Vincent Spaulding in my life.  Surely more than one man who has met with an accident caused by acid in his days might have also had his ears pierced for earrings?

If I was wrong, and it was the same man, what on earth would happen when I came face to face with him?  Would there be recriminations, even blows, and in front of Sherlock Holmes, no less?  And if such terribly consequential things did take place, how far would my life spiral out of control when I was forced to explain to my friend that I was an avowed--though non-practicing--sodomite?  Even then, I knew him well enough not to fear he would hate me for it.  I knew that one of his older Irregulars had been rescued from a disgusting situation, for example, but could not fail to notice in the telling of that story that Holmes never vilified queers.  He hated predators as I did, but he had never spoken against a queer.  In my large experience of ignorance, it was highly promising that he failed to equate the one with the other.  But once he realized that I myself was an invert, would he draw inevitable and correct conclusions as to the object of all my fantasies?

I came back to myself when Sherlock Holmes cordially escorted Jabez Wilson out the door with promises to render his opinion in the course of a day or two.  After Mr. Wilson was gone, Holmes carried a cup of tea and a small plate of cooled toast and fruit to me from the breakfast table where they lay, passing both to me silently.  My friend then found his black clay pipe and stuffed it with shag, holding it between his lips and throwing two or three pillows from his armchair on the rug beneath the settee where I reclined.  He settled down on the cushions below me and turned his eyes up in my direction.

"Well, Watson, what do you make of it all?"

It is difficult even for a man who finds writing comes naturally to him to explain just how sensual he looked sprawled on the carpet below the sofa, his elbow resting next to my knee as he looked at me expectantly.  I, of course, did not know what to make of any of it.

"We must be prompt over this matter," he mused.

"What are we going to do, then?"

"To smoke," Holmes answered.  "It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes."

This was an easy request, for my mind was clouded with apprehension.  The anxiety in combination with just having recovered from a virulent if swift fever severely dampened my appetite, but I ate the entirety of the small portion because Sherlock Holmes, after all, had handed it to me.  Then I set the plate on the floor and closed my lids, feeling the vivifying effects of the food and drink suffuse me.

I opened my eyes half an hour later because Holmes had perched next to me, his face alight with determination.  "What do you think, Watson?  Are you through with being a patient for a few hours?"

"The practice is never very absorbing," I answered dryly.

"Stout fellow," he rejoiced.  "You make a very poor invalid, my dear Watson, if you'll forgive me--the pursuit does not come naturally to you.  Now up, and come with me."

Any thought of pleading sickness and remaining behind out of the fear Vincent Spaulding might not be Vincent Spaulding was banished from my mind.  It was merely my nerves playing tricks on me, and that was that.  My hat was in my hand a moment later, and I was about the business of following at the heels of Sherlock Holmes once more.

We traveled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate and walked the remaining distance to Saxe-Coburg Square, a place my feet approached ever more reluctantly.  Three gilt balls and a brown board with "JABEZ WILSON" in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our red-headed client carried on his business.  Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids.  Then he walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly at the shabby-genteel brick houses.

All the while he was dragging his cane absently from time to time upon the ground.  The majority of his movements were very precise, but when he was thinking, he rarely drew short lines in the pavement with the end of his stick.  It was not a stick for me, however, nor could the sound of any dragging stick ever be again--it was a hacksaw, and I was gripping it while four other men held a foot soldier down who screamed at me for a murderer and pissed himself for the pain of it.  That particular soldier had been right in the end, for he had died the following day.  Cutting off a gangrenous limb is all well and good, but when there is a severe antiseptic shortage, the charges of murder against my person grew more accurate.  The strain of the night previous and the thought of seeing a man-who-was-perhaps-not-Vincent-Spaulding again in front of my friend were excruciating, but for the moment all that was lost in the agony of that slight, hideous sound.

"Stop doing--I can't," I gasped, my own stick clattering to the ground.  Then I hid my eyes, detesting myself for the unmanly shame of it.

There were strong hands gripping my arms in seconds, and one of them moved up to light gently on my neck.  "I'm sorry," he said.  His thumb was resting upon the skin above my collar, the other hand holding me steady as a boulder.  "You're here safe in London, and I shan't do it again.  Now when you're able, tell me what I am not to do."

I dropped my hand from my face to look at him, sick to death of my womanish, quivering weaknesses.

He was not angry at me, staggeringly--he was nothing but calm and insistent.  Granted, he looked alarmed, but he had quickly schooled the expression.  "What is it we're avoiding, Doctor?"

"I apolo--"

"Stop it," he growled.  Then he winced at himself.  "I beg your pardon.  I can be a bit of a brute at times."

"No, you cannot," I protested, "and I'm sorry I--"

"Yes, in fact I can, Doctor, and if you continue apologizing to me, I shall question your sanity, for your actions have not merited the gesture in the slightest degree.  Now, please, for my sake, tell me what is wrong."

I pulled a deep, steadying breath into my lungs and then blew it out again.  If I could not prove myself a man in front of him, I would at least demonstrate to him I could recover quickly.  "When you drag your stick on the kerb, it sounds like my surgical saw used to--and I was never using it for a pleasant reason.  The majority of them died."

He took a moment to absorb the implications of this statement, and then his face tightened in such a reserved, respectful display of sympathy as I had never seen.  Sadly, he let go of me. 

"It shan't happen again."

"I would appreciate it," I granted, "as long as this sad deficiency of mine endures."

"For God's sake, Doctor, be a little easier on yourself."

"Easy?" I snapped.  "You think if I was easy on myself this would happen less frequently?  You think keeping this sort of disgusting cowardice in check requires less vigilance?"

He was gripping my arms again, but now the hands were made of steel, for I had somehow infuriated him. 

"I realize you may not wish to hear this from me," he snarled, "but if you utter one more disrespectful remark about a war veteran I know to be of the finest quality, you will deeply offend me."

Just as quickly, he let me go for the second time.  He had never once raised his voice to me so violently previously, but in the lives of flat mates there is a first time for everything.  And the content of his argument left me speechless.  Slightly dazed, I reached down for my stick and stood upright again.  Holmes was being careful not to glare at me, but he was still fuming, and stalked away to stand before the pawnbroker's shop.  After examining its relation to the adjacent structures and staring at the ground for a moment, he turned back to me, dispassionate and courteous as ever.

"Come here a moment."

I joined him.

"I have no desire to trigger horrors for you again, but I need to know what this pavement sounds like.  We are not scraping--we are striking, and perhaps you will feel still more comfortable if you do it yourself.  Just tap very hard on the ground in this spot with your stick, Doctor, and I shall have my answer."

It may be difficult to believe, but already this was not the strangest request ever put to me from Sherlock Holmes, and all of the previous ones had led to stunning results.  Obligingly, I thumped against the spot he indicated three times.  The cane produced an oddly cavernous sound.

"Thank you," he said.  When Holmes' eyes met mine again, they were gleaming with silvery fire.  I had never seen him look so delighted at nothing in our acquaintance.  "My dear fellow lodger, do you know what sound that was?" he asked mischievously.

"It sounded...almost hollow, Holmes."

"That, friend Watson, was the sound of fifty pounds." 

He laughed at my incredulous countenance, and then wrung me by the hand. 

"Holmes," I exclaimed, "are you certain that's the sound of fifty pounds?"

"I am entirely certain.  It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London, you see.  All will be clear to you in time."

Wheeling theatrically, he went to the door and knocked.

The man who opened it was not named Vincent Spaulding.  His name, as a matter of fact, was John Clay.  His features were bright with intellect, uplifted with self-regard, and coldly cunning.  There was a striking splash of acid across his high brow, interrupting the line of his sandy brown hair.  He was clean-shaven like Holmes and likewise charming of feature but far smaller, projecting regality in his mannerisms rather than with his very being like my friend.  It made me quite ill to see him again.

Holmes, meanwhile, appeared to be asking directions.  John Clay delivered them readily, and then he glanced away to see who stood behind his questioner.  His clever green eyes raked over me twice, and then with a nod to my friend, he shut the door.  I stared after him in disbelief.

The detective walked back to me, still smiling a little.  "Smart fellow, that.  He is, in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in Lon--"  Holmes drew back in undisguised surprise when he laid eyes on my expression.  "Watson?"

I shook my head, leaning on the stick, searching for another explanation than the obvious.

"Doctor, are you all right?" Holmes demanded.  Then his gaze narrowed.  "Watson, are you--do you know that man?"

"Apparently not," I gasped, laughing unsteadily.

It was the one cruel outcome I could never have expected.  That we may have attacked one another was squarely within the realm of possibility, and that a flash of recognition would pass between us before we both ignored one another had been my second guess.  The idea that I was destroyed to the point that John Clay would not recognize me at all was too much.  I knew I was far too thin and much too brown, and that my coat no longer fit well, and that my muscle mass had receded into a wiry frame and a splintered shoulder.  But was not at least my face the same?  No, I realized--it was not.  It was haunted, corpselike, saddened by bloodshed, and forever after unrecognizable.  I would simply have to bear the fact.  Thank God my friend at least seemed able to look at me without flinching.

"Do you wish to--"

"No," I countered.  "I have no need to speak with him.  I must have made some mistake."

My friend stared at me as if he could read my thoughts printed upon my brain.  His grey eyes searched every part of my face for an answer, questing tirelessly, until just looking steadily back at him myself began to exhaust me.  Finally, he smiled.  I could not understand the transformation at all--it was a wonderful smile, open and heartfelt, the sort of smile I laboured for days at a time to produce in him, the smile that sent my unruly heart somewhere up in the vicinity of the nearest clock tower.  All trace of the sad and erudite gentleman without the means to pay his rent, who thought the countryside evil and whose skin was thick with syringe scars, had vanished.  He looked utterly peaceful and yet bursting with energy, and he offered me his arm.

"We have done our work, Doctor," he said, eyes still sparkling wildly.  "Don't you think it's time we had some play?"

The breathy tone was unmistakable, and trapped my tongue to the roof of my mouth.  "I--what sort of play do you intend?"

"A sandwich, for I cannot afford to buy you oysters at the moment," he said easily, "although I will buy you oysters when this affair is concluded, I vow.  And afterwards a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums."

Sarasate played at the St. James Hall that afternoon and, confident of his mysterious fifty pounds and inexplicably joyful, my friend treated us both to a ticket after previously treating us to a simple lunch.  All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most unaccountably perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes cast surreptitious glances at me.  It was one of the strangest sights, and the most sensuous, that I have ever laid eyes on.  I knew Sherlock Holmes to possess a dual nature, and an unfairly vast degree of inner complexity, but I could not believe that mere music could produce such an effect in him, although to be sure it was sublimely rendered music.  Though it was nearly impossible for me to forget the fact that I was now so ravaged that even John Clay could not identify me, I found myself being swept along with Holmes, as the Spaniard played his violin as though his heart were twined into its strings.

When we emerged, it was already evening, and the October clouds were menacing.  I felt Holmes' hand on my back.

"You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor?"

It was the same tone--inviting, no doubt, but also dangerously hypnotic.  I nodded, and my friend strode off in search of a cab.

Once back at our digs in Baker Street at last, I collapsed into my armchair.  Its mere familiarity, following the many events of the afternoon, was a comfort.  Holmes poured us a pair of whiskeys, leaving out the soda, and shot me a look.  "This business at Coburg Square is serious," he announced.

"Why serious?" I asked, swallowing.

"A considerable crime is in contemplation, but you and I are going to stop it.  I shall want your help tomorrow night."

"My help is always yours for the asking," I replied, forcing my voice to sound jovial and not strained.

He smiled, and then the smile disappeared.  "Did you care for the concert?"

"The concert?  I loved the concert.  In particular that piece based on--"

"The Carmen Fantasy," he commented.  "L'oiseau que tu croyais surprendre battit de l'aile et s'envola...l'amour est loin, tu peux l'attendre; tu ne l'attends plus, il est là." 

I knew he spoke French, for he often muttered in the language when vexed or tired, but as I never responded to him when he did so, he must have deduced I had never learned the beautiful tongue.  Flicking his wrist and finishing his drink, my friend picked up his own violin and bow.  "I confess myself very fond of Sarasate's variations," he said.

"I am as well.  I've always liked Carmen itself, in fact, though I don't know why."

"Car c'est la fête du courage.  C'est la fête des gens de coeur."

"Holmes, if you desire a conversation with me, it's going to have to be in English," I laughed.

"I wasn't conversing--I was quoting Bizet.  'Because it is the celebration of courage; it's the celebration for the men of heart.'"  He plucked at the strings of his Stradivarius tentatively with his fingernails.  "Although too much heart can grow to be a bad business--I do draw the line at stabbing former lovers when they grow to scorn you.  I suppose you're sick of the violin?"

"I am never weary of the violin, particularly your violin, and I never shall be," I corrected him.

Smiling, he lifted his bow and he played.  There is a saying that making a difficult task appear effortless is the sign of the true master, and Sherlock Holmes proves the maxim correct in more sense than one.  Where the violin is concerned, however, the man has been gifted with magic from the gods.  That evening, as the winds picked up and the sky darkened, he played the Carmen Fantasy in his own way--ethereally, urgently, twisting familiar phrases into new conceptions of what is sublime and what is ugly.  He could do these things because he knew far too much about the sublime and the ugly, I thought, and the rest of the sweet burden fell to his divine pair of doves'-wing hands.

As the bowing ceased on an impossibly long, quavering note, the perfectly poised spine relaxed, and the hand holding the bow fell gracefully to his side, I realized that I had not taken a breath in approximately twenty seconds.  I drew one, making every effort to appear natural and perfectly at ease.

But I was neither one of those things, for Sherlock Holmes was staring at me again.  His eyes were aglow like molten lead, and the faintest flush accented his striking cheekbones.  I was an insect being held under a magnifying glass, and I suddenly felt as if he were ministering to me in the darkness again, as if I was not wearing any clothing.

"Did I pass muster?" he asked casually.

I swallowed.  "You are quite too unfairly talented.  Having your own unique profession ought to be enough for you without also being a concert-worthy violinist.  My dear fellow, that was unprecedented--even apart from this Red-Headed League business, I am no longer in any way anxious about where we are going to come by the rent next month."

He smiled, but only very slightly.  Tapping his bow against his slim calf, he remarked in the tones of a courtier's cat, "You did appear rather profoundly affected by my performance."

"You remind me of the Pied Piper of Hamlin," I laughed.  "I think all of London would follow you into the Channel if you played for them liked that.  Anyone would."

"But you see," he murmured, his lips lingering over the words, "I don't play for anyone like that."

Just when I thought I had recalled how to breathe, the knowledge was stricken from me again.  Holmes, meanwhile, took two small steps toward me.  There was something in his eyes which I had seen there before, a truly strange mix of introspection and scrutiny, but this time it was unguarded and as irresistible as the undertow of a tidal wave.

"Would you follow me into the Channel?" he inquired coolly.

It was the end of me, or else the beginning.  But there was only one possible response to the question.

"Yes," I breathed.

I have no notion of what I expected to follow, but it most certainly was not what he did.  An expression flashed across his face too quickly to identify, as he turned aside and gently set his beloved instrument on the floor beside the hearth.  Then he pulled a cigarette from his case and lit it carefully, walking the short distance to the settee.  He sat down, his long arms spanning the back of the furniture as he raised his eyes to mine once more.

"I don't suppose you would object," he purred, "to my testing that assertion?"

I would have laughed had he not looked so burningly intent on the question.  I did manage to smile before replying, "My dear fellow, I've no real wish to swim the Channel, surely you realize that.  It would be quite detrimental to my health."

The smile which flicked across his sculpted lips might have lingered upon the features of a Sphinx in ancient Egypt.  "That was not quite the experiment I had in mind.  I do wonder, however, whether you would comply with my request to remove your clothing."  He paused, the cigarette half an inch from his mouth.  "All of it."

My heart stopped, I think, and then soared in its turn.  Even had a fog of lust not just then descended to utterly impede my judgment, my mind would yet have been subject to those eyes, those beautiful, wicked eyes, which now studied me with an appearance of perfect calm.  How like Sherlock Holmes to take what--I was beginning to comprehend--could have been a conventional declaration and twist it into a test of dominance.  And yet somehow I could not even hold it against him.  Regarding my apparent loss of free will, is it coercion to order a man to take the step he has been pining for already?

I stood up and went to the curtains, shutting them carefully before I locked the door.  I wondered from beyond myself in some remote Neverland whether I was afraid, but could not answer the question.  Going back to my armchair, I kicked off my house slippers and reached up for my cravat.  The same distant part of me said that my hands ought to have been trembling, but when I glimpsed them as they folded my waistcoat, I saw that miraculously they were not.  They steadily worked over buttons of their own accord, as if they'd already touched Sherlock Holmes and had performed the exercise for him a thousand times.  My imagination, however, still retained some cause for fear when I recalled the unbearable events of that afternoon.  Surely I was altogether ugly, was I not?  When I had been thought attractive, when men like John Clay had sought after me, I had weighed at least a stone more and had been unscarred at the very least.  When I at last slipped from my underthings and set them atop my trousers, my profound arousal was dampened by apprehension.

When I turned back to look at my friend, he was still smoking quietly, but with his left hand.  He had drawn his sublime member from his trousers and was idly running his delicate fingers over it.  Smiling at me in open, undisguised admiration, he flicked the cigarette away into the fireplace.

I think I reached him in three strides, and had straddled his thighs in seconds.  As first kisses go, it was everything a first kiss ought not to be--insistent, knowing, powerful, needful, entirely lacking the typical chaste restraint of the activity.  There was nothing sweetly tentative in that utter submersion, as I had countless times imagined there would be.  I can only suppose we had both been practicing it in our dreams for so long that we were already adepts.  I was gripping his hair with both hands before I knew my hands had moved, and the sensation of his deft tongue in my mouth only maddened me further when his musician's fingers traced their nails down my exposed back.  I slid forward until I could just feel the warmth of his cock nestled against mine, and the lips which burned beneath my own smiled again.

"You pass the first test."  Pulling the base of my spine into him with both hands, his black head lowered as he bent to run his lips, very gently, over the mass of scar tissue on my shoulder.  No one had ever done so before, and it was not in the least painful and shockingly erotic, perhaps as much from the sight of him doing such a thing as the vague sensation.

"Has anyone ever passed these tests in their entirety?" I murmured.

"I don't administer these tests to anyone."

It might have been merely an interlude, if the most powerfully sexual interlude of my life to date, had he not been so insistent upon my singularity.  And I admitted in that moment, if only to myself, that I did love him.  I was a lying, prevaricating fool who had loved him for months.  And I would one day have to endure the harrowing rite of telling him so.

He brushed his thumbs over my pectorals and shivering, I kissed him again.  That he was experienced was beyond doubt, but it was also possible to deduce he retained the soul of a violinist in matters of the flesh, for against my every instinct to hurry, wanting all of him at once, he was taking his time.  Something deep in my pelvis hummed with pleasure when he suddenly fastened his lips to my collarbone and sucked the blood to the surface.  My long abstinence likely made me more eager than I would have been otherwise, but I can only attribute his own languid restraint to artistry.  There was no part of me save the most insistent one that his sensitive fingers did not explore, as he ran his lips and tongue over my chest.

"What's the second test?" I asked, my cheeks flushed and my neglected member throbbing persistently.  I had thought to demand he remove at least some of his own clothes out of fair play, but he did not seem in the mood to meet demands.

"Simplicity itself," he said lowly.  "I wonder if you might fetch the Vaseline residing in the top drawer of my nightstand?"

He could not possibly have asked me anything I would more willingly have done.  I was up in an instant and striding towards his bedroom.

When I arrived there, however, his mirror gave me slight pause.  I studied myself over candidly for a moment.  Sadly thinned, and the less said about my shoulder the better.  It was a repulsive thing, the scar something between a crater and a splintering network of cracks.  And yet he'd seen it all, and baldly desired it. 

I was simply lucky, that was all.  And the wise man takes advantage of undeserved luck for as long as is possible.

I found the object in question between an old revolver and a fuel cartridge for his chemical burner.  As I arrived back in the sitting room, I tossed it to him and he caught it easily, setting it two feet away further along the sofa.  Still seated, he had removed his cravat, collar, cuffs, and waistcoat, though he was nearly fully clothed by comparison to me.  The glimpse of white flesh above his breastbone was beyond my capacity to resist, and I resumed my previous position, this time nipping at the pale skin near his shoulders.

"Your tests are not very difficult," I observed wantonly.

"They are tailored to suit the applicant, I grant," he laughed, inhaling sharply when I had pulled apart his finely laundered shirt enough for my tongue to graze his nipple.  "Ready for the next item on our agenda?"

"I fear I have been ready for quite some time," I replied, lust making the words all the harsher.

"Capital."  Lifting my face away from his breast with the palm of his hand, he slid down against the cushions by perhaps a foot.  Then he ran his hands down to my hips suggestively.  "I am about to do something I have been longing to do for months now.  I don't doubt that you'll like the activity, but I suggest that you simultaneously enjoy yourself with a similar exercise, and one I know you have been contemplating at length.  Now, up."

He pulled me to my knees until my palm was leaning against the back of the settee and my cock was at his lips, his left hand cradling it gently while his right traveled up my torso to my mouth.

"I think you know what I mean," he murmured.  I am positively certain he only said it so as it run his lips over my already aching member.

I did know what he meant, and I almost climaxed then and there as he swallowed me at the exact moment I drew two slender, perfect fingers into my mouth.  I believe to this day that if there is anything in the world better than worshiping other, more central portions of my friend's anatomy, it is savouring the hands which can literally guide me like a marionette tethered heart-and-body to their individual strings.  I kissed everything from his forearm to his wrist to his palm and back again, then devoted myself to each separate perfect finger singly while his damnably clever tongue did the same to my cock.

It was not a pastime destined to last forever--indeed, I began to fear it could last no more than about five minutes, and I pulled his hand from my mouth whilst gripping his hair and gasping out his name.  The locks twined in my fingers were thick and black as the coal-dusk that fell every night over London.

"Hmm?"  He looked up innocently.  "Oh, yes.  Admirable work, my dear fellow, thank you." 

Then the scoundrel merely tasted my length once more as his moistened fingers reached deftly behind me.  I let out a moan of desire, falling forward and clutching the back of the sofa with both hands. 

"That is not what I meant," I panted.  He was cradling my shaft with his lips and his left hand while the other gently drove into me, just as slow as ever he pleased, then deeper and harder, teasing and circling and sending white flashes before my eyes as I struggled desperately not to finish.  My brain, I knew, could control my body, but not when such lighting bolts of pleasure were running up and down my spine. 

"No?" he inquired, taking the briefest of respites.  "What did you mean?"

"I meant I'm close to--God," I gasped.  "I had to warn--not yet, wait--"

"I apologize," he said.  All his fingers left me, but only for a moment--and because my eyes were closed, trying frantically to bring myself back from the edge, I failed to notice that he only took such an action so as to coat them with the substance I'd procured from his room.

There are limits to every man's stamina, and being surprised once again in that same manner while he redoubled his efforts to swallow me whole happens to have been mine.  I made every effort not to cry out as I climaxed, shaking and sweating and shattering to pieces as I gripped the furniture so hard I might have broken it.  I was only grateful my hands hadn't been anywhere near my companion, lest I had snapped him in half.  When the aftershocks were beginning to subside but I was still dizzy and blinded, I crawled in closer to him as he sat up straighter.

"Please," I whispered.  Kissing him, I tasted the headiest mixture of two people ever produced.  I ran my tongue over his, wanting only to crawl inside of him and live within his ribcage.  "Now."

"Not now," Holmes replied, but I was gratified to hear that at least his breathing had grown ragged.

"Yes, now!  Why not now?" I demanded without any regard for pride.  Looking down, I saw his own need was surely painful by that time.

"I am waiting until you are ready."

"For God's sake, I have been ready since--"

"No," he said forcefully, his arms encircling my waist.

I doubted myself quite sickeningly all over again.  "But don't you want--"

"You were once a complete enigma to me, John Watson, and in almost every sense save for this, you remain one.  But now that I have you, I intend to retain possession of you.  There are rules about these things, and I am the one who makes them."  His tone was desperate with desire, but also hard as iron.  "One of the rules states that--because I am bloody well keeping you now I have found you--for the following week, every little death I allow myself shall be accompanied by two of yours.  It isn't negotiable, I'm afraid, although I do find your eagerness to proceed very flattering in a personal sense.  You'll be ready again in ten minutes."

My lips were already parted, but that statement made me weak in the knees.  His eyes were shining at me, full of dark, knavish mischief and yet perfectly serious.  I could not have doubted him if I tried, save on one count.

"That was--there is no anatomical way I will be ready again in ten--"

"Trust me.  You are a doctor, I know, but trust me.  Now I need to speak with you.  There are a few things we must settle."

"We'll settle anything you like," I hastened to say.  I had never in my entire adult life wanted anything more feverishly than for my friend to take me right then and there, but if there was an agenda to be undertaken first, I wanted it over.

"You've had relations with John Clay, yes?"

"I--yes.  Is that a problem?"

"He did not treat you well, did he?"

"No, he treated me vilely, but we were young.  We're both of us very young still, for all the trouble we have seen," I added to Holmes.  I had no notion what he was driving at, but it was shattering my nerves.  "Dearest fellow, it was a very long time ago.  Tell me truthfully, is it at issue?"

"No," he replied calmly, "but if he touches you again, he won't live out the night.  I'll see to that much.  The same is true for any other man in the Empire.  You have experienced the fourth smartest man in London, in addition to doubtless several others lower on the scale, and just now you sampled the second smartest man in London.  Your collection is over.  You are categorically forbidden to explore any other fellows on the continuum, and what I am doing now is proving that it is in your own best interests to obey that mandate.  I would never present you with an illogical ultimatum, and thus frame it as a question of value for your time.  I intend to treat you very well indeed.  As for the others, if they presume to make advances on what is mine, they will reap unfortunate consequences."

It did not seem scientifically feasible, but I felt my cock stir at this devastatingly arousing sentiment.  Smiling as widely as I ever had, I think, I kissed his warm lips again.

"I shall never have the first smartest man in London?"

"God, no," he said with a mock shudder.  "In any event, if you find me physically attractive in any way, he would not be to your liking, as he is a very, very large man."

"You are the most attractive man I have ever known."

His eyes widened in surprise, for the remark was so candid as to sound almost callow.  "That is not the same thing as fidelity," he demurred at length.

"Sherlock Holmes," I said softly, "I don't desire any other man in London."

"Don't you?" he inquired, his voice suddenly very gentle.

"Not a one." 

"You're quite sure?"

"Yes, I assure you.  I certainly have no intention of begging anyone else to get on with it and take me, for the love of Heaven."

"Not up to your standards of dignity?" he teased me, his eyes glowing at me tenderly.

"It should be clear by now that where you are concerned, I have no standards of dignity whatever."

He caught one of my nipples between his middle and index fingers.  "I really cannot tell you how charming it is.  I hadn't expected it, I confess.  I'd liken it to--"

"For pity's sake, what do I have to do for you to sod me?" I demanded hoarsely.  "Must I--"

"Get up for a moment," he requested.  I did, staring at him voraciously.  He finished opening his fine shirt with agonizing slowness and then shrugged it off his shoulders gracefully, throwing it to the floor.  The planes of his slim back were unbelievably taut with muscle.  He stepped from his own slippers and then removed his remaining garments, standing svelte and bare before me, carved out of priceless ivory, his member glistening and swollen and his lips flushed with sex.  He sat down again, legs slightly apart, looking with amusement at my fresh erection.

"You see?" he questioned.  "Chalk it up to experience, but I have rather a sixth sense about these--"

He cut himself off when I unceremoniously impaled myself on him, moaning as my lips fell to his brow and I ground smoothly, achingly, gradually into the solid thighs I had been longing after for far too long.  I choked back my own cry with an effort.  I wanted to move slowly.  Or at least, I thought I did.  But instead I found myself rising and falling and rocking ardently while he, to my severe delight, seemed to lose a good many of his powers of restraint as his fingers clutched at my hipbones.

When I knew for a fact neither of us could take much more I stopped, dragging the sweat from his pale brow with the back of my hand.  I had never seen so much colour in his aristocratic face, never seen his fingers wander over anything without a specific object in mind, never seen anything as open and human as that wide-eyed look of passion.  He gripped the back of my neck with both his hands, breathing heavily and shivering.

"Do you always make the rules?" I whispered.

"Yes," he gasped.  Then he tugged at my cock and I lost myself for the second time, dimly aware I had wrenched a cry from him as he shook underneath me, spiraling together into a state as close to madness as it was to bliss, and as close to oblivion as it was to either one.

I do not believe a single one of my muscles was free from tremors.  I was utterly unraveled.  Next thing I knew, I was lying on my side on the sofa, covered with a light blanket.  Panicked that I could no longer feel him, my eyes flew open, but he was before me--sitting on the floor, his face only inches from my own, his fingers twined into my resting hand.

"I thought it would trouble you," I whispered.  I do not know why I felt like confession, apart from the fact that his aesthetic features hovered so sympathetically near to mine.

"What would?" he asked, frowning.

"You are so fastidious, and I used to be more...desirable."

This remark drew only a dry laugh and the brush of his other hand over my face.  "I cannot fathom how that would have been possible, my dear boy.  And I have a very vivid imagination."

"I can promise you--"

"John," he said quietly, "whatever you were before, I doubt your current state of mind enables you to see what you are today.  I might have taken an interest in a stunningly beautiful young medico with his arms swinging carelessly at his sides, a lovely boy shining with untested self-confidence.  Might.  I doubt it.  The man upon whom I desire to lavish my time--I only hope you will allow me-- is one who cares about suffering because he suffers, cares about hardship because he has experienced it, detests injustice because he has seen injustice done, listens to the complaints of his peers because he knows how difficult it can be to keep his own complaints as silent as he does every day.  And even apart from your soul, dear fellow, your body is a wonder.  It speaks your history, and eloquently, though I am sorry you are ever pained by it.  I do not enjoy reading blank books any more than I enjoy sleeping with virgins.  Not all men are of my taste in these matters, but there you are."

His exquisite words were not even the main blessing as a wave of contentment washed over me--I had never been so grateful for simply being stared at before.  I needed to thank him, but could think of nothing valuable enough to give him in return for my self-regard.  I would ask him later, perhaps, what he wanted.

"I should remind you that my nerves are not yet fully recovered.  I don't think I can survive another week of this treatment," I murmured, smiling as I opened my eyes.

"Of course you will," he returned softly.  Leaning down, his lips touched mine.  And then he said, "I will take care of you."

He did not mean he would take care of me, for I was a grown man.  He meant that he loved me.  And so I said, "I love you too," before his face drifted entirely away from my consciousness.