Shortly after my marriage I
had bought a
connection in the Paddington district. Old Mr. Farquhar, from
purchased it, suffered terribly from the affliction of St. Vitus'
dance, and was eager thus to accept my offer to take the burden of work
from his shoulders when I presented him the opportunity. As
myself, I was equally eager to go into harness once more. It
tumultuous time of life for me, uneasy and tentative, and I hoped by
working once again for my livelihood to shed a measure of the ennui
which had settled on me the instant I was away from Sherlock Holmes.
I call it, but in his sense of the word and not the public's, for it
was a boredom tinged with longing and a resignation infused with
deepest heartache. It was a painful period, and one
over which I do
not delight in reflecting, but I am forced in my current confusion and
agony of anxiety to examine it carefully. Carefully, and on
medium which has always been a clarifying influence upon my thoughts.
I must, or I shall surely go mad--for he is gone.
No, no, he cannot be gone.
Absent he may well be, but gone....
can I have penned such a thing? It was as if writing it made
a nightmare. I would say that the
act caused my hand to tremble, but
that is not the case. My hand has not stopped
vaguely trembling for
many hours now, not since the alpine stock leaning against a
I do not know that it ever will again. I had sensed,
worn to a rail on the voyage back to England all those years ago, that
the palsy would dissipate over time. And I was right to think
matter how comprehensive my sufferings had been. I had only
Time heals many things, and what it does not heal, it often
was so for me. But not even time will serve, in this case, if
I wonder what on God's earth will save me if he is gone
where I can never follow him.
it. I must write it. If I cannot bring myself to
write it down,
to extract with surgical precision the serum of
truth from a nebulous
series of memories, I never deserved him in the first place.
do so in my place, and more besides. He would have known the
So, let me be brutally faithful to the evidence...he is gone.
That is known, the hardest of all hard facts.
gone where? Gone into hiding in faraway lands, or even
shortly to be
buried in the heart of London perhaps, biding his time? On
way toward safety and sunshine and rock-strewn beaches in the south of
France? Asleep in a warm, dry hayloft?
Running from airguns with a
bullet lodged in his breast?
Cold and unbreathing at the bottom of a merciless waterfall?
But I am getting ahead of myself.
should not write of that before I must. The other portions
dreadful, but nothing would save me were he dead in fact. His
I can bear, I think, though a torment. His no longer existing
decay me from the inside out. Perhaps that is how I shall
truth of it, if to write avails me nothing. If he survives,
will I, in sympathetic parallel.
I am talking nonsense.
Lord have mercy, where has my mind gone?
the beginning, then, and I shall try to make some sense of it in
print. I must be absolutely methodical about this, if it is
to work to
useful effect. And in any case, I must make more
haste. They are
watching me again, the sympathy in their eyes mingling now with
curiosity. But they can do what they like, for I must think
I was suffering, then, from ennui. Sherlock Holmes' version
of the word rather than the dictionary's.
do not say, mind, that I lacked any affection for my wife. My
a beautiful, intuitive woman, plainspoken in the very best manner, with
pale blonde hair and the kindest heart on this earth. She
love me from the beginning, and I relished every dark day the prospect
of sitting down with her over dinner and then later nodding with her
over the sort of books Holmes always scoffed at and Mary enjoyed as
much as I did.
We read to each other constantly in those
days. We read tales of savages and long-lost islands, pirates
noble inclinations, ships ransacked by the natural elements, and
orphans coming into fabulous inheritances. Mary Watson and I
each other until our eyes could no longer follow the lines, and then we
would retire--either to brief, genial, tender lovemaking or to
slumber. She was not overly inventive in the bedroom, but I
liked that I often allowed her to take the lead. I wished to
her of nothing, to be the very best husband I could. I owed
much, and considerably more, and when I thought of my true reasons for
marrying her I would run out to the nearest bookshop and purchase her a
fresh token of my affection. I love her as much as a man can
woman--or rather, I love her as much as a man who is aroused by other
men can love the woman to whom he has committed his life.
further back. I must be thorough. I cannot begin to
comprehend what I
truly did to him until I examine the case from its origins.
How I wish
I knew better what the beginning was. Every time my friend
for beginning a story backside foremost, I had supposed, poetically
speaking perhaps, that I was starting from the beginning.
Holmes always knew the beginning. I often find myself of
matter how cruel he was--wishing I could be more like him.
first blackmailing letter Holmes and I received was a ludicrous farce;
my friend took one glance at it, traced the sender via postmark,
stationery and familiar handwriting, and the villain was in police
custody for arson before the sun had set the following
Whether he was truly guilty of arson or not I neglected to ask, but
anarchist ties certainly ruined his credibility when he vehemently
denied it. The next attempt came from a subtler source and
more diplomacy, in the ironic form of Holmes laying his hands on
incriminating documents of the blackmailer's and observing that he
would be just as happy to publish a defamatory statement as the next
man. Then a clumsy satire of a joke written by a police
into Lestrade's hands, who had the loyalty and the sense to mention its
contents to us before burning it and reassigning the blackguard to St.
Giles. Then there was Milverton and four months of his
of hell; he is now deceased, although not at our hands.
became clear to me after Charles Augustus Milverton met his demise that
I could no longer stomach our life together. For Holmes'
sake, as well
as mine. And regarding mine...
It was never easy. It was also
never warm. Not deliberately. Heat, immense heat,
great waves of it,
and coldness in abundance, but never simple warmth, not by his
He never once said that he loved me after we commenced the affair,
preferring to raise a single eyebrow when I spoke of what a thrall he
held me in, or simply smile when I reached for him, desperate to breath
the same air. But he did love me, nevertheless. The
through in countless beautiful mistakes. This is what tears
pieces now at the same time it comforts me, for he loved me so
wholeheartedly that I cannot believe he would have walked
half-willingly over a cliff's edge. He loved me with a
tenderness I ache to recall, hailing cabs on the instant he spied me
limping or glancing at me the moment anything pleased him, to see
whether it pleased me too. And every time a new threat
splinter cracks through our carefully guarded lives, my friend reacted
with a determination that made him physically ill. And so,
It bordered on the suicidal. Holmes would drop
everything, throw himself headlong into the task of protecting
us--protecting me. He would go for days without sleep,
eat, coldly frantic to set things right again. And to no
he succeeded on every occasion, but none of that mattered.
I knew, was growing more porous by the month. Sherlock Holmes
could not look at me, nor I at him, without a beam of devotion
connecting our gazes. It was impossible. Love
fogged the air between
us even when he was staring at a corpse and I was carefully penning
case notes. In another world, it may have been
marvelous. Not in
ours. In ours, it meant at the very best lifelong social
following a sodomy trial acquittal. And so I faced the choice
either marrying, or watching the man I would have cut off my arm for
lose his mind preventing our exposure.
I cannot deny that I craved a bit of warmth either, as I recall it.
It was a ghastly mistake, of course. I know that now, for he
has told me. When he was here.
God help me, what have I done to him?
three months after taking over the practice I was kept very closely at
work and saw little of my friend, for I was too busy and too
heartbroken to visit Baker Street, and he seldom went anywhere himself
save upon professional business. I was shocked, therefore,
morning in June, as I sat reading the British Medical Journal after
breakfast, I heard a ring at the bell and the high, somewhat strident
tones of my old companion's voice.
"Ah, my dear Watson," said he, striding into the room. Then
found myself rising, though I did not quite know why. My
ceased beating, I thought. And then begun again when a spear
through it. That is what it felt like, at any rate.
"My dear Holmes," I murmured.
Holmes is a man who physically imposes himself upon every atmosphere he
occupies, save when he is attempting to remain unnoticed.
morning, he wanted me to notice every detail, every perfect buttonhole,
every fine black hair on the back of his neck. He wanted
better. And so, because I had been invited to stare, I
difficulty in setting down just how beautiful the sight of him was
cannot be overestimated. He looked coolly down at me from his
height, suave and elegant as always in grey trousers and a charcoal
frock coat, and he tossed his silken hat on an armchair. I
swear, if it made any logical sense, that Holmes can appear taller when
he wishes to, for my ceiling seemed suddenly of a very pedestrian
loft. His ivory skin was flushed slightly with June sunshine,
condition which lasts through July midway into August and then is gone
like the daylilies until another year has come. The look in
steel-coloured eyes was completely inscrutable, but completely
inscrutable looks from Holmes tell me his mind is very troubled, and he
looked even thinner than was his usual. My friend's
eyebrows twitched when I held out a hand to him. He took it
nevertheless, shaking it solemnly. The feel of him was as
as one of his own drugs.
"I trust that Mrs. Watson has entirely
recovered from all the little excitements connected with our adventure
of the Sign of Four?" he asked in a tone that could have shattered the
window at my back. I am surprised it did not, in retrospect.
"Thank you, we are both very well."
dropped my hand and returned his own to his pockets. Then he
be very interested in my bookshelves, and wandered over to my small
library. Holmes ran a single staggeringly lovely finger down
of a lurid short story collection.
"The Premature Burial
was of particularly grim
interest, I trust," he said caustically.
"I've always liked Poe. So does Mary," I added.
I confess I cannot easily picture her endorsing the same florid fiction
that you do, my dear chap, but I congratulate you unreservedly."
could think of nothing to say. I fell to watching him read
longing to put my arms around him where he stood with one hip cocked
dashingly to the side, but knowing I could not. I would never
Mary as I did Holmes, but she deserved fidelity. It had been
condition I had made absolutely clear to my friend when I announced my
intention of and reasons for marrying in the first place.
Holmes never ordered me not to do it. I think, if he had, he
have saved us both. If he had commanded me not to get
married, I do
not believe I could ever have wed her. His silence on the
fact, was deafening. It was as loud as his silence on the
love had been noiseless. Holmes had practically dared me to
with it, and devil take the hindmost. But when I told him
physically it was over between us when once I was wed, Holmes had only
remarked that if I truly did intend to get married, I would not have to
worry a brass farthing about it, for he would want nothing to
"Holmes, I am delighted to see you," I said at last. "I am,
truly. I have missed you terribly. But you cannot
be here to discuss
our widely differing tastes in literature."
"I am here for two
reasons," he answered me thoughtfully, although he did not turn
around. "One of them will probably annoy you. I
recently had need of
the monograph I wrote upon osteological durability when a victim's body
is destroyed by various methods--quicklime, fire, et cetera.
nowhere find it, and it's out of print."
"I apologize," I said,
going to him where he stood before the bookcase. "One or two
books ended up being delivered here by accident because they were
mistakenly on my shelves, and I haven't had the time to--here you
I'm sorry, Holmes. It utterly escaped my mind. This
is your Michel De
Montaigne as well, I believe."
"You are probably right, since
after all you can't read a word of it," he agreed, taking both
the little blue volume and the larger. "He
is one of my particular
favorites, you know."
"I can read it rather well," I corrected
him. "Some of the nuances are lost, I have no doubt, but the
is remarkably accessible. 'If you press me to say why I loved
can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.'"
second reason," Holmes said, ignoring me entirely, "was
because I hoped
that the cares of medical practice and the heavy chains of marriage
have not entirely obliterated the interest which you used to take in
our little deductive problems."
A thrill coursed through me. I
had not had the courage to ask him. I knew it was dangerous,
then that spending time with him was as precarious as walking through a
zoo without cages, but I would have walked through hell itself for the
chance to be next to him, even if I could no longer have him for myself.
the contrary," I assured him eagerly. "It was only last night
looking over my old notes, and classifying some of our past results."
grey eyes narrowed at me. Then they shone, with a light which
appreciation of my flattery and half icy dominance. The
and the frigid side of the moon. Never the warm earth between
if I ask you to drop everything, leave your practice behind, and go
with me to Birmingham instantly, you will say yes even though I have
not mentioned a word of detail regarding the case to you?"
"A thousand times yes. I was wishing I knew of a way to
ask...yes, in any event, Holmes."
hand drifted upward, his other arm cradling the books. Holmes
fingertip down along the line of my jaw, so softly that I could barely
"I perceive you have been unwell lately. Summer colds are
always a little trying."
friend's mere proximity was maddening, but I had not the heart to step
away from him. "I thought I had cast off every trace of that
"So you have. You look remarkably robust," said he, trilling
"Wedlock seems to have endowed you with a certain indefinable air of
hale normalcy, the sort I can only dream of ever attaining. I
the chill from your slippers. Are you truly going to
your practice and follow me to Birmingham this very moment?"
"If you wish it, Holmes."
"My client has been sitting in the cab all this while," he admitted
with a half smile.
he indeed?" I laughed. "Well, in that case I am sorry to have
waiting. Let us go, after I have a word with my friend next
neighbour is always willing to look after my patients, and I his, so
there will be no difficulty."
"You and I, then, shall softly and suddenly vanish away.
Nothing could be better," Holmes said quietly.
tone meant the exact opposite. A very great deal could be
we both knew it. But I went all the same with my friend to
to the offices of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company in Corporation
Street, and we solved Mr. Hall Pycroft's mystery and saved a man's life
from suicide in the bargain. I felt alive again, as I had not
months. Our client was a charming young City man making his
way up in
the world, fresh-faced and intelligent and rough of speech, and his
problem--while not an overly thorny one for the likes of Sherlock
Holmes--felt wonderfully of home
I had not sat
with my knees brushing my friend's in a private carriage for many
months, had not caught the gleam in his eye as he watched me listen to
an account of mysterious designs in still longer, and there is a
material difference between treating an elderly gentleman for catarrh
and preventing a man hanging himself in so dramatic a
fashion. By the
time the seventy minutes back to London had passed us by, I was in a
near panic at the thought that the morrow would bring me no sight or
sound of the world's first and only consulting detective. The
at which all his long limbs reclined within that railway carriage were
as well-known and as comforting to me as a child's nightly prayers.
you for having stopped by, Holmes," I said when we took our leave of
each other. We stood on the train platform, a sudden crop of
clouds obscuring the sun as it sank into the reddening
hope that in future--"
"In future, this sort of thing is not guaranteed to take place with any
frequency," he interrupted me coldly.
lit a cigarette with his long, pale hands in immediate view of
eyes. That was purposeful, I knew, and yet another silent
declaration. It had been for years.
do not say the opposite is true either," he sighed at my downcast look,
"but after all, a large portion of my visit this morning had to do with
ascertaining the whereabouts of my books. And I've done
concluded. "Haven't I?"
"Just what percentage of your coming to
see me do you claim to have been due to property losses, my dear chap?"
I shot back, wounded.
"More than you know." He left the
cigarette between his lips and extended his hand to wish me
shook it, and when I let it go the cigarette returned airily to a
magical little space between his middle and index fingers.
you do know, after all. I wonder. You do habitually
own perspicacity. Take care, Watson," he said flippantly,
I watched him go. His dark tails fluttered in his wake
as I marked his progress through the crowd, an impossibly tall figure
in a sea of drab bowlers and dun-coloured bonnets. There is
about the way Sherlock Holmes walks which makes the streets beneath his
feet seem his private, personal property. It is a joy to view
action, partly because of his unearthly grace and partly due to my own
certainty I could name any byway in all of London and he could deliver
me there on foot without a single wrong turning. London
Holmes, after all, as wholly as I do. As I lost him to the
affected to be thinking over what he could possibly have meant in
regards to his books lest he turn back unexpectedly.
kept his eyes forward, for we both knew better. And he
realized I was
watching him, in any event. Even exiting train stations is a
performance to the likes of Sherlock Holmes.
When I arrived home
that night, I felt guilty enough over my profound joy at merely having
been near him for a few hours to be carrying a yellow-backed nautical
tale for my wife.
"There you are," she said affectionately.
Mary was sitting by the darkened window, with an apple the soft yellow
tone of her hair resting in her hand half-eaten, and a volume of poetry
in her lap. "Thank you for leaving the note. I
might have perished
waiting dinner for you otherwise."
She was beautiful even to me,
in that moment. Fragile-seeming and feminine though she was,
easygoing candour inspired the deepest affection in me.
sorry," I said, leaning down to kiss her mouth, "for softly and
suddenly vanishing away." She tasted of the apple, and that
little thought made me still fonder of her.
"But you are back,"
she smiled. She handed me the apple and I gratefully took a
it. "Therefore the Snark was not a Boojum. What was
the Snark in
"The Snark was Sherlock Holmes."
"Oh, dearest, that's wonderful," she exclaimed. "You must
have missed him all this time, now I come to think of it."
"Yes, I have."
my fault," she said with a wry face. "I am so shy around him,
so distant from the world at large, that all the work is left to
But no longer. Don't think me bashful enough where he is
that you should suffer for it, darling. Let us stop
you call Bohemian reticence, and ask him to dinner.
And what's this? The
Wreck of the Dauntless
Thank you--no, we shan't begin it yet--first you must tell me what
daring adventure Mr. Holmes dragged you into, and while you are about
it I shall ring for your supper."
It was the next morning when I
failed her. I failed her utterly without having any intention
so, and yet the failure was inevitable, for Sherlock Holmes had first
failed to command me not to marry the kindhearted blonde woman with the
empty treasure chest.
I awoke, and I saw to my patients, and
I read the newspapers. Then I told my wife quite truthfully
was right, and that I would like to invite my friend to dinner, but
that I also wished to wrap up the details of yesterday's case with him,
so perhaps I ought to ask him in person at his flat in Baker
Something about having seen him the day before for the first time since
my marriage worried me in the faintest, deepest of fashions, and I
swear before God that ten minutes in his chaste company was the only
thing on my mind, and more than enough to key a heady anticipation.
not smoke more than one cigar, please," Mary requested happily,
coughing for a moment. "You come home from your club smelling
forest fire at times, and it is enough to quite alarm me. And
convey my regards to Mr. Holmes."
The sound of my door shutting behind me rang out weirdly unfamiliar in
my ears. It clanged like a funereal bell.
I stood for three minutes on his doorstep, in an agony of
Following my attack of nerves, I propelled myself to my old door and
rang the bell. Mrs. Hudson appeared entirely delighted to see
sent me straight up to our old sitting room.
When I opened the
door, I could smell his very presence. It was a mixture of
almond, of faint musk and fainter cedar, of immaculate cleanliness
living amidst utter mess, with a faint overlay of burnished
The sound of a sultry, languid stirring reached my ears from the
Holmes did not seem to be doing anything in
particular there--he was merely resting, napping perhaps, without a
book or a telegram or even his pipe or fiddle. In fact,
Holmes appeared to be entirely occupied with staring at the
a cold thrill went through me when I saw his revolver lying on the
floor beside him. Why that should have frightened me
cannot guess, knowing as I do now what he was already running from, but
it did; my friend's habits regarding firearms has always been just shy
of lunacy. He confuses bullet pocks with decorative
pistols with paperweights. Holmes' eyes remained lost
somewhere in the
distance a bit longer, and then he looked at me curiously as I leaned
down with my hands on the back of the furniture.
you doing here?" the lilting, clipped tenor
inquired. He had not been
asleep. Both his voice and the brilliance of polished steel
proclaimed as much.
"It was profoundly good to see you
yesterday," I confessed. "I fear I wanted to see you
again. And my
wife had desired me to ask you to dinner."
Holmes wriggled his
lips at me for a moment in puzzlement, then allowed his aquiline face
to fall back in the direction of the bow window. Reaching
down for a
cigarette, which for some reason was lying on the carpet in a pile with
several spent and unspent brethren and the clean little gun, he lit it
with a vesta from his waistcoat pocket. Employing my friend's
I was able to determine that he had been there for a minimum
hours, and was planning no further enterprise for quite some
clearly had no client impending, no other business at hand.
there was literally no welcoming warmth on that oft-caressed face
either. I knew he was very surprised I had come to Baker
all, and was thus measuring his words with care. I myself was
surprised at my own boldness. But he did not look pleased,
disturbed me. It was nauseating to think that the day before
have reminded him of faults of mine he no longer had to suffer, that he
could be glad of my absence. I am not so deluded
where Holmes is
concerned that I always suppose my company desirable to him.
"You should go," he objected.
For a moment, I simply moved to obey, and then a monstrous thought
"Why?" I asked before I could stop myself. "Do you expect
someone? A client, perhaps?"
Holmes answered that he expected a new lover, I may well have been
driven out of my wits. I could not have him, granted, but if
else was busy having him, pleasuring all that smooth white flesh while
I tenderly serviced a charming female whom I cherished like a
it would have broken my mind in half. I knew every inch of
had mapped it better than my own and worshiped each single scar and
birthmark. For instance, there is a pair of faintest freckles
above the sweet depression on the left side of his lumbar curve where
even he himself could never see them. The mere thought of
with Holmes, in Holmes, succumbing to Holmes, was so perverse to me
that I could not even bring myself to speak the words.
"Rather hypocritical of you, isn't it?" he smiled, reading my mind as
he always did.
"Yes," I owned testily. "It is hypocritical. That
is why I didn't say it."
"Why do you sound so put out?"
"Because you never give me credit for failing to say things."
am not required to give you credit for anything. But I will
wish nevertheless and admit to my complete and utter
celibacy. I have
been dry as dust all this while. Now, run along with
"Are you so eager to be rid of me?"
"I would only weary you with my mood tonight, I assure you.
You know how I am when without a case."
"I haven't anything to do tonight either. That is why I am
"Never mind--you will tomorrow. You're the owner of a
thriving medical practice."
I inquired, transparently hoping for an explanation as I rounded the
sofa and descended into my old armchair. Courtesy be damned,
nearness was like breaking the surface of deep water for a breath of
air. "I said nothing to you of its success or failure when
"Your neighbour possesses as old-established a
practice as you just bought. It was no very great leap of
make when I noticed that an elderly woman with a prescription in her
left hand had just emerged from the door adjacent to yours as we
She could conceivably have fallen ill only recently, but her complaint
appeared to me to be longstanding rheumatism, and the very old do not
change physicians on a whim. What is more, she glanced over
at you, my
boy, in obvious interest at laying eyes on the new doctor who has set
up shop next to her own. Therefore your medical neighbour's
is quite as old as was your predecessor's."
neighbour is well-off enough to afford a silver-plated door knocker,
but his stairs are worn three inches less deeply than yours.
while his business is successful, yours is more thriving
That was when it happened.
It was the
way his eyes were glimmering at me, perhaps, grey and subtle as the
early-summer winds beyond the glass windowpane. Then again,
it was the
fact that I had not seen him in months and had then run about with him
like a blithe boy that did it, the way a man who has no water thinks
water the most delectable liquid to be found anywhere on the
And yet, it was far simpler than that. Holmes was only
his open shirt revealing the clean white plane of his iron-hard breast,
with his bare feet tucked cozily behind his knees upon the
had no collar, nor tie, and yet his flowing black locks were sweeping
back across his head in perfect accordance with his meticulous
None of it was intentional or planned, but he is more keenly aware of
himself than any man I have ever met in all my life. And so,
if I am
truly honest with myself, the answer to the question was an even more
basic one still.
Sherlock Holmes was doing it on purpose.
I could answer whether or not I was satisfied, he had noticed and his
sensitive mouth opened a little, releasing a breath of triumph he had
not even known he was suppressing.
"Watson," he said, his drawl scraping over me, "what the devil is wrong
"Nothing whatever. And your inferences are sound."
I know they are. My inferences are almost always
sound. It is those
very inferences which prompt me to ask again: what the devil is wrong
with you? You do know you have a problem, do you not?"
"Explain yourself, please."
Sherlock Holmes propped himself up on his elbow with a look of
sugar-sweet neutrality. "Are you aroused
by my inferences, Watson?"
"What on earth can you be talking about?" I countered evenly.
sat up a little more, the long ivory hand holding his cigarette now
floating over the carpet with his elbow resting upon the arm of the
sofa. Holmes' eyes were daggers by this time, and every bit
"I am talking about the evidence at hand. Your face
is barely flushed, and your breathing has slowed ever so
confess it a premature stroke of bad luck at this juncture that I
cannot see your trouser front from this angle, but--"
"Holmes, haven't you better things to do even with your idle time than
"Since you left?" he reflected icily, blowing smoke through his
there it was. My fault, my doing, my cruelty, no matter how
and inevitable the act had been. When I look back on it now,
shocks me is that I was not yet frightened of him in those few
seconds. I thought I knew what he was capable of, the limits
vast invention, the lines he would never cross. I had thought
inability to resist him somehow sacrosanct within our new set of
circumstances, for he is a gentleman. He would never even in
wildest periods of sparkling mania have forced his attentions on me
directly, for instance, nor hovered over my lips for a kiss when he
knew me a man of my word. Holmes is as exact as he is
prideful, and as
unbending as he is exact. And he had never yet been
warm. But by
convincing myself I knew what he would never do, I had dismissed the
irrelevant task of guessing what he would
imbecilic of all elementary mistakes. Forgivable, perhaps,
circumstances, but errors are always fatal where Sherlock Holmes is
concerned. And I had never dreamed, never in my darkest
never had I even remotely fathomed how very angry he was.
"I did not leave because I desired to do so."
fail to understand you," he said brightly. "Surely you do not
you were coerced by that slightly built, good-natured little
that I left your bags at the foot of the staircase?"
replied in a tone of utmost gentleness, "we had been made
We've been through this before, several times. Your freedom
"I dealt with it," he said in the tone he would
have used upon a very stupid Yard inspector, grey eyes
would have been a poor swain indeed had I failed to protect your
interests. Chivalry may be dead, but common decency surely is
were ripping yourself in half," I observed hoarsely. "Do you
enjoyed watching that happen? Or knowing for a fact it would
soon happen again?"
"Doubtless your view is much improved now.
When you are at home, of course. How is Mary Watson today, by
way? Was she livid at you for your disappearance?"
"No, not at all. And she's...she's very well. Thank
you. We get on splendidly, under the circumstances."
loves you, that much is clear. Your hat was never so clean
lived with an unfeeling and mechanical consulting detective, and I
think you've gained seven pounds. It is most gratifying to
flourish under the care of true love at last. For my part,
decided relief. I would certainly never have brushed your
coat of a
morning or urged you to take seconds of beef stew."
"Why should you hurt me purposefully?" I demanded. "That is
what you are doing, of course, but why?"
no, I am only happy for you," he said with another terrible
"For your marriage, your practice, and your improved view of
sight of me ripping myself in half hardly sounds agreeable.
newfound pastoral scene, however--"
"I wanted to live and die
with you," I growled fiercely. It had grown
positively impossible to
keep my voice under control. "Surely you noticed that detail,
noticed all the others. I married her because the anxiety was
"You married her because you wanted someone to worship the ground you
walk on rather more visibly," he purred.
"What I wanted
was to give you everything in
me--and I did, for years."
"You needn't have done. What would you ever have gotten in
return for your pains? I never loved you."
could have been cruel, under the right circumstances. And I
the statement did not precisely surprise me--God knows that when
cornered Holmes is capable of nearly anything, including statements
which amount to deadly verbal sniper fire. And this one could
have been the sort of statement which would have sent a different sort
of man straight to the Thames, to join all the rest of the sufferers
who found one day their lives were more than they could bear.
was a bald lie. If there was one barb which would never work
me, it was that one. He had the advantage, perhaps, of never
declared his affections, but a man does not invoke the interest of
three professional blackmailers and a snide bigot of a police constable
over a roll in the hay.
"You did, once," said I. "Or you made me believe it."
"I never loved you.
Why make me say such
a dreadful thing twice? It's only you who suffers by it."
fists were clenching. "You loved me even though you fought it
and nail from the outset. You loved me, for all your petty,
tortures. That was the problem,
sake, Holmes. The problem
was that you
seem desperate to think so, in any case. And so I put it to
Watson," he murmured cuttingly. "Are you aroused, watching me
cases? Unravel puzzles? Describe a human being
based upon one lost
article of his clothing? Have you always been aroused by my
"Yes," I whispered.
Holmes threw the cigarette
into the grate, which sent up a crimson spark as it perished.
like a cat rising from its repose, he leaned forward to depart from the
settee. I expected him to stand, perhaps to throw me out of
but he merely continued the beautiful arc and descended to his knees on
what had once been our carpet, crawling toward me with the aid of his
hands as the seconds seemed to stretch themselves into days.
breathing, I think, and when I began again it was at far too rapid a
pace. Holmes came to a rest kneeling on the rug in front of
draped his fingers over my thighs.
"Or were there perhaps other activities of mine that aroused you still
more?" he wondered, stroking at my trouser leg.
"Holmes," I protested with far more firmness than I felt.
only ask out of idle curiosity," he said softly. Palms
friend forced my thighs open. He sat back on the rug between
of his own knees drawn up to his chin and one angled beneath him, not
touching me any longer, not even attempting to. He merely
black head against one of my legs and stared with the eyes of a Gorgon
at the seam in my trousers. "Perhaps I used to cultivate
still more precious to your libido. What did you think of me
I knew full well what he was doing by that time.
Heat, and more heat, endless heat, and stabbing cold, but never
warmth. I could have left at that very moment. I
still had the
strength, or I thought I did. And then he continued.
the occasions you've watched me box, I think the bare-knuckle charity
bout hosted by the police department was my finest moment," Holmes
mused. "He was a worthy opponent, and we went after each
other like a
pair of tigers. I was thoroughly bruised by the time I won,
but I won
nevertheless, and do you recall what happened after, when you took me
home? You stripped off my torn shirt and bandaged the cut
eye, and then you drew a bath, knowing I hate staying disheveled and
sweat-covered for very long, and when I was once in the bath you rolled
up your sleeves and insisted on washing me yourself. My arms,
breast, my back, my shoulders, my thighs, every single portion of my
anatomy was subjected to your private and benevolent
denied you access to nothing, as you slowly made me clean once
only moved at your guidance, as I recall it, only shifted when you
moved to open me further to your touch. And then you
realized, as I
had known for some time, that you were wearing far too much
So your stripped it all off and climbed in with me, and you soaped my
thighs to make my flesh slicker while you drove yourself long and slow
between my legs."
My hand drifted toward my crotch as if a demon
possessed it. That demon's name, I knew full well, was
Holmes, and yet I did it anyway. I stopped, pressing the
muscle of my
"Yes," he whispered. "Go on. There's no harm in
this, to a
married man. It isn't me touching you, after all.
ahead. I am safely out of the way, and I'll never tell a
did you think of me fencing?" he continued, in the same treacle-slow
tone. "I did it for you, you know, on the occasion I believe
to be recalling. It was a casual match, after everyone else
the gymnasium. I feel sure you remember. Only you
and I remaining,
and my fencing partner of the moment, and no one to tell either of us
we had better not remove our protective attire and go at it
bare-breasted as if we were fighting a duel centuries ago."
did remember. He had been a reckless, lash-thin twenty-eight
old, with the eyes of a god and the jawline of a fifteenth century
knight of the realm. I remembered every trickle of sweat down
washboard stomach, and the guilty thrill I had felt at seeing a shallow
line of red well up along his arm and knowing I--only I, out of every
man in London--would be the one charged with healing it
later. It was
nearly worth the harm to that beautiful flesh, though only nearly.
you recall that when I won that match, I teased you that the blond
fellow whom I'd bested was so adept at foils that he might well be
proficient at other forms of swordplay entirely, and that we ought to
invite him home to find out?"
"You weren't serious," I pleaded desperately, balling my hands into
not?" he mocked me. "I've hosted more than one chap in my bed
at University for a lark. But now you mention it, no, I
only thing on earth I wanted back then was you."
That was the
instant when Rome, which had not been the labour of a day and had
required severest effort to maintain, fell. I tore open my
front and grappled with the tie of my underthings for a moment before
freeing my cock from its cloth prison. Taking myself in hand
was probably the most mortifying thing I have ever done, but I could no
more have avoided it than I could have avoided loving him in the first
Holmes had one hand on the floor for balance, and the
other gripped his vertical upper shin, but his face smoothed over my
trouser leg in a devastating caress, like an affectionate animal's
nuzzling, his eyes staring at me with both longing and something like
"I always wondered why you didn't take me up on
it," he hissed. "I could see you admired him. He
was such a cheery
and golden-headed boy, after all, and I think his upper arm was as
thick as my thigh. Lord knows what the rest of him must have
like. And you possess an admirable capacity for loving
people, my dear
fellow, all sorts of people. Why, your present situation
proves it beyond a doubt. It's ironic, I suppose, that I can
one and you love several dozen poor souls. The whole world
within the confines of your heart right alongside me, I would
Would it not have been amusing, if only for a night? We could
prepared him together, ever so slowly, and I could have taken him while
you watched. Or he could have taken me, if you preferred
that, while I
licked and sucked at your--"
"Stop it," I snapped, though my
hand was on my flesh all the same. "I said no because I was
with you. I am still in love with you."
"Oh, yes. I recall
your having given that same reason a few minutes ago for another act
entirely. For the selfsame reason, you would have me believe,
off and married a female. I keep forgetting that you've
ways of expressing your regard, perhaps because I have never been in
love myself. Well, I shall leave him out of it,
then." His cheek
smoothed into my thigh once more, and his grey eyes fell shut.
what we could be doing if you were not married," he sang out sadly,
trying a new and far more devastating tack as I cradled my aching
flesh. "I would have you in my bedroom by now, I feel almost
it. I would already have removed your
clothing--piece by piece by
piece. I would have taken my time, but it would have been
keep my fingers from flying from task to task, so eager they would be
to reveal your skin to me. Once you were bare, I would have
the same ritual for myself while you watched from the bed, and by now
there would be nothing left between us. We could be making an
chain, the two of us, lying on our sides with our shafts in each
other's mouths. Do you recall, on the first occasion, I had
for that activity with you in my bed? With other men, I had
it, but with you... It had all seemed too much for me, a
sensation with an absence of any focus--your hot mouth on me only
distracted me from the sweetness of your cock, and vice versa, until I
felt I was falling to pieces. I mastered my own mind on the
instance, however, and I don't believe I ever brought you closer to
"Don't do this to me, Holmes."
"Is the scene not
precisely to your liking just yet? Let me see.
Although I never loved
you, I have missed your company, so I suppose I could be playing your
catamite, if you wished me to do so. I could take something
lie on my back on the bed with you above me. I could part my
ready myself for you with my fingers, and the only thing you would be
left to decide is whether and how often to kiss me while you watched me
at work. I should prefer if you did, of course, for I cannot
think the sensation of caressing your tongue within my mouth would
significantly enhance the activity. I could take as long over
you wanted, if the sight proved enjoyable to you. Perhaps I
you in my mouth while I did it, with you facing backward toward my legs
for a clearer view, so that by the time I was finished with myself your
prick would be wet and hard. Then you would turn yourself
round and I
would hook my legs over your shoulders and--"
"For God's sake, man," I moaned.
fell forward, my muscles no longer under my control. I pushed
slender body down against the floor, may the Lord God please have mercy
on me for it, and I collapsed the short distance to the carpet, my
knees on either side of his flawless torso and my greedy cock still in
my hand, hovering just above his beloved lips. When he spoke
his eyes wide and glittering with passion or perhaps tears, I could
feel his breath on my tender skin.
"Or we might go the other
route," he continued in the same maddening tone. I had been a
to be frightened. The strength in the body between my knees
breathtaking, the self-control required for him not to touch me
impossible, the lust in his eyes intoxicating. Whether it was
or the ice at the end of world I knew not, but it felt like both
simultaneously. "I am very angry that you passed several
stopping by to see your erstwhile friend. Perhaps what I
instead is to close the curtains and send Mrs. Hudson out to dinner,
and then bend you over the arm of the settee the way you deserve."
There are other men in the world, I can only suppose, who are capable
of talking an
ex-lover into a state of frenzied passion, but if so I have never met
them. If so, perhaps I would have feared them too.
But he was the
only one I loved.
"What do you think you merit on this occasion? The belt?"
"Far worse," I groaned, and I meant it too, as my hand gripped my
member like a vise.
have to locate the crop, then." His eyes darted to the cane
then back to me. "I would take meticulous care over your
only by thrashing you could I possibly convey just how tedious the time
has run since you left me, and what it means to me when you arrive as a
casual caller. I frankly hate you for it. That is
why I asked you to
leave. But once I was finished, having taken my
time, I would run my
fingers over the marks I had made and then take you just as long and as
hard as I pleased, because you would be asking for that too by the time
I was through making myself clear. After that many strokes,
pitch-perfect balance between pleasure and suffering, you would be
asking for it deep and fast and rough."
I always do what you ask, don't I? You must have been a very
intriguing diversion for me all this time, come to think of it, or else
I have no explanation for why that is so. You apparently love
along with loving half the rest of the world, so that explains your
willingness to obey me. But what explains mine to obey you?"
hands, almost visibly twitching for my body but kept under steely,
otherworldly control, were thrown up in a position of either surrender
or despair at the sides of his head. I reached down with my
and gripped him by the thick black hair above and a little behind his
temple. For the third time, his face melted into my skin, as
shifted to caress the backs of my fingers, running up and down and then
twining his own fingertips ever so slightly between them. I
their prints, every individual line which made him Sherlock Holmes and
no other, in the grooves where my own fingers joined my palm.
that slightest of all touches from him, I moaned. My friend's
flew open, and he looked up at me with what was almost purely
this what you do, John?" he whispered savagely. "Is this what
at night, or in the early morning, or in your consulting
yourself like a pathetic adolescent and think all the while of me
"Have a little mercy, if you love me."
"But I never did. Answer my question, damn you."
"I know you don't believe me when I say I married her for you, but--"
"Every man does it from time to time, you can't deny that, and you are
inevitably thinking of me when you touch yourself, aren't
you? Are you
deep inside my body in your mind's eye, with my knuckles white against
my bedroom mantelpiece? Or are you sweat-soaked and shivering
your coverlet in the moonlight when I used to climb your stairs and
take you in the middle of the night?"
"I beg you to stop."
you go about it after accidentally recalling me, or do you merely seize
opportunity when it arises, as it were? Is this pitiful
part of your life now, like eating breakfast or reading the Times?
Is this what you meant when you said you had been 'looking over old
notes' the night before last?"
"I swear to Christ you'll be the death of--"
"Is this what you do?"
"Every day," I gasped in despair.
hatred in his eyes broke apart. I felt a shudder building at
of my spine, at the identical moment I felt I might shatter into an
outpouring of uncontrolled grief he would never tolerate, let alone
enjoy. My friend knew I was on the very precipice as I
swiftly back from him, for I was two inches away and he had viewed the
sight on countless sweat-drenched occasions. And so he darted
with his hands and his lips and took only the very tip of me into his
I spent into him until I had nothing left inside me save
my shame and my anger and my undying love for every single thing that
he was. Even mercilessness. Perhaps especially
mercilessness. For I
no longer found myself particularly deserving of his clemency.
I had stopped pulsating, I forced myself to look down at him
His eyes were half-closed, and his face torn between raw hurt and
fleeting triumph. I threw my legs back with one swift motion
on top of him, tracing his lips with my fingers. For many
I felt the porcelain skin of his mouth, a blush of finest rose within
all the white and the black and the grey, before my head fell toward
"Don't kiss me," he whispered raggedly. "If you love me any
than you love all the rest of sodding London, do not kiss me."
obeyed him, at least partially. He gasped when I tore open
and his entire body arched with aching despair when I took him in
hand. I backed away from his face while trailing my other
his chest, and I swallowed him to the hilt. He was very
near. I had
not long to savour the precious task, and I regretted the fact on the
instant I realized how aroused his own vengeance had made
or eight movements of my mouth and my tongue and my hands finished the
job, and when he violently choked back the beautiful sound he had
always used to make freely and often even laughingly, I blessed his
essence in my mouth even as I cursed myself for a callous, cold-hearted
Then it was over. Everything was over. I crawled
again, not any longer a man who has kept his vow to respect his wife,
and fell shivering into the arms of my tormentor. All his
around me instantly. For the author of my torture and
downfall, he was
an endearing sort of villain. His breath was coming shallow
as if he was frightened to death of something.
"It will be all right," I lied, worshiping the side of his face with my
"No. It won't."
was far more likely to be correct than I was, and I knew it.
fallen in love with my dearest friend, watched him battle as best he
could not to fall utterly under my spell, conquered his surviving
defenses, and then left him. Even though that last had been
reasons, it was an unforgivable chain of events.
"If you never open your heart to me again in your life, tell me what
you are thinking right now," I begged him.
drew in a breath through his nose deliberately, and then out again past
his lips, so as to snap back into perfect control of himself, but
something about the technique he had employed a hundred thousand times
before no longer seemed to be working.
"I think I'm lost without you," he admitted, putting a horrified hand
over his mouth before he had quite finished speaking.
I'm here, now I know that is the case!" I cried. "I'm
here! It can be
just as it was before between us when I have occasion to be with
Forgive my shortsightedness for having indulged in trite,
self-righteous posturing before, but now--"
"You were right," he
spat out. "Forgive my shortsightedness in turn for wanting to
little of my own back. Forgive me for ever darkening your
all. It was a thankless experiment, and now I've paid for
it. I want
no part in your bed."
"But," I whispered. "When you said you were lost--surely you
still want me?"
"I want you as far away from me as is earthly possible."
"Why?" I managed.
when I said I never loved you," he replied brokenly, pausing to bite
his lip, "I may perhaps have misrepresented myself."
"Forgive me," I groaned, my face falling on his shoulder.
forgive me. But it was the truth when I said I did it for--"
it was for me one more time and so help me I'll throw
you down the
stairs," he snapped. "It was for better china settings and a
kiss goodbye whenever you leave the bloody room." In
a move made all
the more heartbreaking for its familiar grace and efficiency, he pushed
me off of him and rolled away, doing up his trousers as he walked a few
paces toward the fireplace.
"Very well. So be it. I'll tell
you the truth if only you swear you won't judge me too harshly for it,"
I persisted, trying to set myself to rights with trembling hands and
finally sitting back against the sofa, still on the floor. It
where I belonged. "Or never mind that, and judge me as you
deserve. Do you want the whole truth of it? Do you
want to know what
a monster I really am?"
"I don't give a damn any longer."
"You do, I know it. Shall I tell you what a travesty of a man
"Just as you please, and see where it gets you. I am through
with being affected by the things you say to me, John."
"She's dying," I told him.
turned around, his elbow still resting upon the mantel. At
looked disbelieving beneath his gently glowing flush of sex, but then
his mouth fell open just slightly as he comprehended what I was
saying. I felt the first tear run down my face, and didn't
wipe it away.
"I've only known for a fortnight," I whispered as
more quickly followed. "When she caught from me
the identical summer
chill you deduced I had taken, and I heard her. The way she
Coughs. It's only a matter of a few years, Holmes.
Nothing can be
done in the long term. When it first seemed she could grow
fond of me,
and I came to like her company so very much, and
I.... God help me.
She doesn't know it yet, of course, but I do, and nothing I could
possibly attempt will save her. I wanted to stay faithful to
she lives. What sort of evil beast would--but that doesn't
anymore. I have nothing left. Not my honour, not my
word, and my soul
I gave to you a very long time ago. Do you know what I first
I found out my wife was dying? I was glad, Holmes. Glad.
thought, a few years of suffering, and then no one would suspect us
again...did I mourn for her, or rail at fate, or plan a desperate fight
like a good doctor? No. I thought of you.
Taking me back. I was
never going to tell you how glad I was, never, so that you would never
know that I'm depraved and not the good man you trusted me to be at
all. Instead I've hurt you terribly, and lost every piece of
being I once was. There. Now you know
everything. The moral
gentleman you fell in love with is gone, so you needn't trouble
yourself on my account. Now you can tell me to get out of
that you never wish to see me again. Throw me down the
already forgive you. Any man would do the same in your place."
friend did neither of those things. He cleared his throat
looking away, and then he looked back at me. I was far too
to pull my handkerchief out of my sleeve and dry my face. So
he walked over and knelt in front of me, handing me his own.
it, pressing it straight into my mouth and nose instead of putting it
to any practical use, for it smelt exactly like him and I had missed
having my soul near me very much.
"Human nature is a strange
mixture, Watson," he said after a few more moments. "We are
all of us
many things. But no part of you is anything even remotely
evil. Perhaps you're a fool, I grant. Perhaps
not. But if you think
one errant emotion is going to make me consider you a monster, you are
I reached blindly for his hand and pressed it as
hard as if it was keeping me from a descent over a precipice.
not see him do it, but at some point as I shook he forced my fingers
open and kissed my palm with all his boundless devotion. His
rested, ever so slightly open, on the tender cupped skin. It
enough. It was more than enough. Then he released
me, sitting back on
Belatedly, I dried my eyes. "May I keep this?"
course you can." Holmes rose to his feet again. "I
know why you took
the books. The osteological pamphlet was covered with
in my handwriting, and I've read the Montaigne a thousand times."
ought to have known a story about shelving confusion would never
deceive you," I answered, laughing bitterly. "It was better
stealing one of your scarves or your pipes, you'll admit."
"Get away from here," he said, but his voice was kind.
"Will you promise me something, even if I don't deserve it at all?" I
asked as I staggered to my feet.
"If you find another lover," I said, and then almost choked over the
words. "Will you warn me?"
never forget how his face changed. The expression is before
me at this
very moment. But he turned away once more before he
leaning with one exhausted shoulder against the mantelpiece as he
rubbed his eyes with his fingers.
"John, you grossly
misrepresent either me or you to ask me such a thing. Either
implying I am savage enough to stumble blindly from mate to mate like a
dog, or you are implying that you are forgettable. In both
error is insulting."
"I'm sorry," I murmured.
"I know you are," he whispered. "Now, leave me.
Leave me alone."
I did leave him, for the second time. I stepped out of his
and I thoroughly dried my eyes, and I went home to my wife.
"Oh, my John," she said when she saw me, smiling in a pained sort of
fashion. "It went badly. Did it go badly?"
I said, taking her in my arms. I buried my face in her
neck, brushing up against lace and sturdy cotton.
sometimes if he deserves a friend like you," she confessed to me
softly, stroking the short hair at my nape. "But then I
better, in my mind's eye as he was with poor Mr. Sholto, and
I am able
to see him as you do. Whatever he did, my
sweetheart, I can promise
you--I would stake anything on it--I swear to you
that he regrets it by
That could have been the end of it. And it was, for a
period. I did not know when next I would see him.
As it happened, I
only set eyes on him again several weeks later. It was on the
hung Beddington, the famous forger and cracksman.
Holmes was, in my doorway. My ceiling grew smaller
again, and my heart
surged. He was holding his top-hat in one hand and a
newspaper in the
other, his countenance grim. There were new lines on his
realized with a small shock, a deeper feathering at the outer reaches
of his remarkably fine lashes, and several of the hairs at his temple
were now the colour of his eyes just after a climax. A
shade. I had done that to him, I thought, and seeing it
before me was
the worst possible punishment.
"Holmes, what has happened? What's wrong?" I asked him,
rising quickly and emerging from behind my desk.
Holmes dropped his hat on my chair and handed me the newspaper, that
"I beg pardon for the
interruption to your work hours, Watson, but I needed to see you."
eyes wandered over the print to no avail at first, but then I saw a
small notice on the right-hand side. "They've hung Richard
Beddington," I read. "That was an all too swift
justice. The trial ended quite recently. But I fail
"The brother," he said dully. "Thomas Beddington, known to
you and me as Harry Pinner."
"The man we saved. What of him?"
"He's knifed himself in the wrists."
"Oh, Holmes," I whispered.
set the newspaper behind me on the desk. Even had I not known
Holmes by heart, even had I not learned every piece of him religiously,
even if my devotion did not border upon obsession, I would have been
able to discern his distress. Running a hand over his hair in
distraction, he paced back and forth for several seconds, though
hampered by the smallness of my consulting room. "He's dead,
course. I had to see you. I know that I cannot be
responsible for the man's life, but surely indirectly--"
not your fault, Holmes," I said emphatically. In other days I
have caught him by the hands and physically stilled him, willing calm
into his body with the strength of my grip and the nearness of my own
form, but I had lost even that. My touch would be of no
comfort to him
now, surely. "What could you possibly have done?
Set a constant guard
over the poor man?"
"Warned his gaolers," he said with a fierce
gesture. It required every ounce of my strength not to
for when his graceful limbs make such sharp motions, his spirit is
flailing more wildly still. "Wherever did he come by the
was it a weapon at all? He ought to have been under closest
supervision. I never--"
"You could not have known, Holmes."
when I think of having saved him in the first place only for the
torment of living through the day his brother left the world, I cannot
bear to look at myself."
It was too much for a mere mortal, a
sinner along the lines of any other, and one in love with him at
When the next agonized limb flew through the air, I could bear it no
longer. I reached out and caught him by both his sinewy
turning his hands inward until I had pressed both his palms
I held his wrists in a gentle prison which nevertheless brooked
absolutely no argument. He appeared startled for the barest
before gradually stilling, twining his fingers together as my own sent
all the tranquility I could muster into the filigree of blue lines
around his radial arteries. His hands fairly vibrated with
beneath my steady ones, but mine never faltered, and he knew they never
would. It was always so with us. It had been a
lesson of inestimable
worth the day I learned that comfort must be thrust upon him.
give Holmes peace by raw force if he can come by it no other
felt his pulse slowing. It shocked me that I still could
feat, as disturbing as my proximity was to Holmes, but by virtue of
habit if nothing else, his rushing blood gradually obeyed me.
had slowed to its normal--admittedly still rapid--rate, I brushed my
thumbs over his pulse points and let him go. Before he could
my nearness, I returned to my desk, sitting on the edge while looking
up into the face I saw every time I closed my eyes.
nature, as I said to you some weeks ago, is a strange mixture, Watson,"
Holmes said at length with a wracked half-smile.
"How my well-being
remains any subject of interest to you after my inexcusable behavior
when last we--well, the mind of man is undoubtedly queer."
"I don't quite follow," I sighed. "You know my mind through
and through, and you're written on every page of it."
that case, inexcusable was not the correct term. I mean that
capacity to forgive me unpardonable sins appears to be as bottomless as
my capacity to commit them." Holmes likewise drew
a rueful breath. "I
should not, under the circumstances, marvel at it so,
however. Even a
villain and a murderer can inspire such affection that his brother
turns to suicide when his sibling's neck is forfeited."
I understand how he felt," I admitted, the shock of the event leaving
me quite without defenses. "You are the plague of my life as
you're my heart's desire, and yet if anything happened to you,
possibly act just as Beddington did."
Holmes started visibly.
Then he frowned, and strode over to me where I was sitting upon my
desk, stepping neatly between my legs and taking my face in his hands.
me you don't mean that," he whispered fiercely. "Accidents
happen. Mistakes. Promise me that you would do no
Thrilling at his touch, I ghosted over his hands with my own.
"My dear Holmes, you are right here in any event."
one day I may not be," he insisted. "Who can tell?
One day I may meet
with an accident, or a confusion of twisted circumstances requiring me
to flee danger, or with the sort of misadventure that keeps me from
contacting you, or with a Snark which is in fact a Boojum, and I may
softly and suddenly vanish away. Vow to me that even if you
of my actual demise, you would go on with your life and take care of
Mary the way she deserves."
"You could do
it. Think of the consequences that could befall me if you
mistaken and I yet survived, and you could do it. I have
confidence. If you could not do it for yourself or for your
could do it for me."
"But why are you--"
"Because I love
you, because you are you and I am I and I love you for that reason and
a thousand lesser ones, and you will now promise me that you would
never hurt yourself on my account. You're worth a great many
swear it," I said in deepest shock as his arms went
"Holmes, don't take on like that. I swear to do as you ask,
very unlikely event I should be faced with such a choice. But
softly and suddenly vanish away from me. Please."
back. He looked into my eyes for a very long time.
It was neither
hot, nor cold, but something gentle and not of this earth.
I had not been kissed by him since my marriage,
and the vortex of his breath and lips had already rendered me boneless
before his tongue began caressing mine and I was lost to all the
world. I had given him my heart and soul so long ago that it
natural to be without them, but when I kissed him I could taste them in
his beautiful mouth. I kissed him until it at once seemed the
blissful and piercingly sad act ever performed by a man, but I would
never have been the first to stop it. I could not have if I
Sherlock Holmes kissed me softly and suddenly, his hand resting over my
heart as our tongues tried to find what our minds had thought lost to
us for good and all, and I wished there were other vows he wanted me to
make to him. I would have sworn anything. I
wanted deathless loyalties and impossible
quests. I wished I had never
given myself to him, so that I could do it all over again.
was like breathing air, like my blood circulating, like all the
mystical functions of life itself. And all the sweeter,
my knowing that he would, barring an exceptional change in our
circumstances, never do it again.
It ended, the way all things end. Holmes ended it.
And he went at once for his hat.
"Come back, when you are able," I begged him. "Come back
am hard at work at the moment," he replied. "There is a
villain plaguing London of whom I'll tell you more when I
facts. It has everything to do with the Birlstone tragedy,
not be surprised to hear. But I will seek you out
soon. Farewell, and
keep well, my dear man, until I see you again. Later in the
possibly the next."
"I'm so very sorry about Harry Pinner, my dear fellow," said I.
happens the way we want it to, does it?" he asked softly.
It would be enough to make a man vanish, I think. If given
pressure. But not that way. Not through
vanishing I understand perfectly, but the other is final."
"What about the vanishing do you mean?"
friend walked over to my window and leaned with a half-closed fist
against the glass, touching his brow to his hand. For several
he merely watched the traffic, the light playing off his black
waited for him. Then he spoke at last.
"I dreamed it again last
night. That I had taken all the evil in the world inside me
injection. I did it willingly. Everyone in London
was happy, John.
Everyone. But they didn't want anything any longer.
They had no
desires left. One by one they all died."
"It was only a dream," I vowed to him
devoutly. "You must believe me. It is only ever a
"But if you felt that way," he whispered, "might you not
vanish? Simply be
nothing, and no one of
consequence? Or at least, might you wish to?"
I could answer, he had turned to go. And in truth, I do not
answer I could possibly have made him. Holmes hesitated with
on the door, his body angled so that I could clearly see the drape of
his fingers emerging from immaculate French linen, one of the countless
ways I knew he loved me before he had known it himself.
"I saw your wife, on the way in," he added. "She asked me to
A knot of fear twisted all at once within my torso. "Holmes,
accepted," he interrupted me. My face must have reflected my
disbelief, for he frowned just as quickly, holding up a hand.
what you think of me, John. I know what you suppose me to be,
know that person is closer to a monster than you would ever admit to
me. No, let me finish. It was my doing
entirely. I invented that
man, and I take full responsibility for my actions. All my
however reprehensible. But I cannot allow you to think that
measure of a gentleman is the sum of his mistakes. For your
never for mine. I have a feeling that, if you can one day
find it in
your heart to forgive me, you might think a little better of
And with that sole end in mind, I hope you can forgive me."
"I forgave you the moment I shut your door," I managed through the lump
in my throat.
you won't mind my haunting your dinner table on occasion, I can only
venture to surmise." Holmes set his hat on his dark
head, taking some
care, and drew pale summer gloves from his pocket. He walked
to me pensively, and then he rested his left hand's extraordinarily
delicate fingers on my knee for an instant.
"You need not
fear me, my dear fellow," he murmured. "Nor need you fear
arriving. There is no other man in the
world for me, but in spite of
that--no, because of it--I vow I shall never harm you like that again."
was not the words which made me believe him, nor his strangely
spiritual belief that if I did not think him a monster, I could not
think myself one either. It was the ethereal softness of it,
so far a
cry from his usual acidic speech.
"Nor I you," I whispered. "I give you my word."
you know how good a man you are?" he asked. An innocent
likes of which I had never seen from Holmes in my life, played
lips. "Without even trying?"
"Of course I try,"
I laughed, trying
valiantly to steady my voice. "I try every moment of
"Yes, that is what I mean," he nodded. He pulled my head down
kissed the very top of my brow. "Most of us don't, you see."
had vanished a moment later. A shining black top-hat passed
window, and then a beautifully tall, thin man plunged into London's
pedestrian traffic. Watching the space on the kerb where he
been, I pressed my fingers into the mark his hand had left on the glass.
was years ago now, of course. Before frequent telegrams and
dinners and still rarer laughter, and the feeling of his fingers taking
my elbow sadly as he steered me toward hansom cabs. Three
during those years, Holmes shook my hand when he did not need to do so
by any law of courtesy, and lingered for precisely two seconds too
long. Once, his eyes fell upon the hollow of my throat for a
before returning forcefully to my face. Only once.
On a single other
occasion, when I had very nearly been shot, he had gripped my head
fiercely in his hands and laid his brow with infinite gentleness
against mine before wheeling and silently walking away. There
never more than that. Somehow it was enough. It
would not have been,
had he not loved me.
But he did.
And here the note sits
in my lap. Even still I cannot make sense of it. I
cannot make sense
of anything. My mind is gone. And for once, I
cannot ask Holmes to
explain it away.
The Swiss police are kind to me, but they ask
me things I cannot tell them, and I have somehow drawn further within
the shell of myself than I have ever been since the slaughter at
Maiwand. Someone noticed I was shivering badly twenty minutes
placed a thick woolen blanket round my shoulders. Coffee is
hand on the table, and so is tea and brandy, none of which I called
for. They only want me to see them when they speak to
me. They have
wanted that for two days now. But it is too soon for that,
and I must
think. The instant they release me back to the hotel room I
of it down, every heartbreaking fact, for I will not survive without
the answer and here they gently take my pen away from me, wondering at
the cryptic shorthand with which I have been filling countless blank
My head aches constantly now. The station buzzes with
men, sending wires across the ocean, receiving fresh ones in
They placed one from Mycroft Holmes before my eyes, but I could not
even read it. I had always used to read Holmes his telegrams
Now the symbols may as well be the scratches left by chickens in the
dust, for all the sense they make to me. There is only one
writing I can see any longer, and that is the one in his handwriting I
found in the pocket of my coat when I reached the hotel at Meiringen
and there was no invalid lady to care for. It is not signed,
addressed. But I would know his hand anywhere, and it had not
my clothing that morning when I dressed.
"--as may be,
Sergeant, but I assure you he is as steady a man as ever
ought to know it by now. We can work through the business of
statement before we depart, but I have been charged with seeing him
back to London, and that's just what I mean to do. I'd not
lightly of standing in my way."
I know that voice.
I look up, I find I do not have to crane my neck very far at
short, shabby, meticulously dressed man with oddly bright eyes set into
a plain, sharp face bends down and grips my shoulder. His
thin and his brow wide. He is very pale, but seems equally
do you think, Doctor?" Lestrade asks, giving me an almost indiscernible
shake. "Back to the hotel for a meal, then a bit more of
afterward we set off for home?"
We walk at a slow pace back
toward the hotel, red shutters gleaming from the windows of the buttery
homes. The air outside is almost unbearably fresh now he has
But is London still standing,
Can London survive without Sherlock Holmes hastening down her
must not think of that, however. I must concentrate on not
the surface of the earth into the countless abysses surrounding me.
"Lestrade," I say when I recall how to speak aloud, "thank
you. Many times."
"You needn't thank me at all, I promise you, Dr. Watson."
"You haven't offered me condolences," I observe.
At first, he makes no answer.
"Now, here's a puzzle," Lestrade says slowly.
has me gently by the elbow with one of his petite hands.
arm, the Inspector pulls a folded note from his pocket. "Mr.
never allowed you to set eyes on the contents of one blue envelope
inscribed 'Moriarty,' hidden away in pigeonhole M,
silent, and he nods accordingly. No one had been granted
those documents, not Mycroft Holmes himself, not before the time was
ripe. And then the time had come, and the Yard had struck,
Patterson and Gregson and Lestrade and all our friends, and we had fled.
what I want to know, then," Lestrade continues, his dogged voice making
certain not to carry more than a few inches in any
direction. "How did
you write me a note and then hide the message within
pigeonhole M if
you were never allowed access to it?"
He passes me a sheet of paper, which reads:
the time you are holding this, grave events will have
require me to beg a favour of you as an old friend.
What Holmes has
done cannot be undone, God help us, any more than the earth can cease
spinning, but once he has seen it through, I will need you at my side,
I feel certain. How I hate to impose upon you in this sudden
but please--if you are reading this, and have ever cared for me--drop
what you are doing, leave Moriarty's gang in capable hands,
and fly to
Meiringen. --Dr. John Watson
"You never wrote that, did you?" Lestrade remarks as I stare down at my
"How did you guess?" I ask, dazed. "The penmanship
is the phrasing," Lestrade nods. "Sounds like you down to the
adjective. But it was locked in pigeonhole M, so I had a
at it, since it seemed long odds indeed that could have placed
there. You and Mr. Holmes habitually shared stationery for so
might not have noticed. I didn't notice, not until I was
staring at it
again on the Channel crossing. But this isn't from
room. It's from Baker Street. I need not tell you,
Doctor, that I
didn't care if the devil himself had written it by that time.
charged with reaching you, and I took my marching orders."
"My God," I murmur.
"There's something else," Lestrade surmises. He knows me all
well. "What is it, Doctor? What have you found?"
hand the Inspector the note from my coat pocket, the one I found at the
instant my friend may well have died. It costs me something
to hand it
over, but less with Lestrade than another. And in any case,
will never understand it. Only I was in my consulting room
Holmes begged forgiveness for the cruelest thing he had ever done to
me, and so only I could possibly wrest any secrets from Holmes' last
communique. The note beneath the cigarette case had not truly
me, but for the Swiss police. He could never have known who
arrive first on the scene.
When did he write it? Had he known? What
had he known? Was he thinking of life, or of death?
And why would he
take such pains to remind me of a vow made in my consulting room long
ago had he not seen a premonition of his own fate? Each
is like a symbol of a deeper mystery...and yet, only one meaning is
He was trying to tell me something about
vanishing--which he understands, and I do not. And further, I
obey him, even in death. I am to go back, and to love my
wife, and to
live without him.
The note read:
Erect and sublime, for one
moment of time.
In the next, that wild figure they saw
(As if stung by a spasm) plunge into a chasm,
While they waited and listened in awe.