Is it possible for a man's life to change completely twice in a single day?
The very suggestion seems ludicrous, and yet...
Today - the day Sherlock Holmes appeared before me like a spirit, after years of despair at his death and more than one fleeting thought to put my old army revolver to one last use - my world turned on its axis not once but twice.
When I woke from the first and only fainting spell of my entire life, to find my dear friend bent over me with a look of utter guilt and concern at the way his unexpected resurrection had affected me, I felt I could breathe fully again for the first time in years. All day long, I kept gazing at him, touching his arm, squeezing his shoulder, reassuring myself that he was real. That he was alive. Back at my side.
And I know he indulged my need to be certain of his presence not only because he felt guilty to have allowed me to think him dead all this time. He indulged me with soft smiles and even softer words, treating me with utter care as though he, too, was ecstatic to be with me again. I had to continually remind myself not to let my defences drop entirely at this unaccustomed openness, for fear I might make a fool of myself before this man I had barely managed to live without. For to scare him away now would be the end of me.
Holmes' return brought me back to life from a lonely, miserable non-existence. And by the time night fell and Moriarty's last associate had been put behind bars, I could barely contain my happiness any longer. I feared a deluge of inappropriate words if I did not excuse myself to go to bed.
Holmes, unexpectedly, halted my retreat - or rather escape - from our drawing room with a simple, "Stay, John."
He so rarely calls me by my given name. When he does, it is always in preparation for the sharing of something important.
"Of course, Holmes," I answered, moving to return to my familiar old chair by the fire.
"No, please. Sit here beside me," he offered, laying his slender hand on the settee.
Confused and possibly flushed, I did as he requested, turning to face him.
Holmes looked uncharacteristically at sea, staring straight ahead instead of looking at me. I had never seen him like this, and until he spoke, it worried me greatly.
"Nothing is wrong, my friend. I merely wish to speak with you about something... personal," he assured me.
With my heart pounding irregularly, I barely kept my surprise at bay. Holmes has never volunteered anything personal unless moved to do so by extraordinary circumstances.
He answered the question rising in my mind before I could voice it. "I know you have been much affected by my inconsiderately theatrical return, Watson." Before I could protest, he continued, "And I think it only fair that you should know that... so have I." He faced me then, his deep grey eyes like coals in the room's fire glow.
"No, please let me speak." A wry smile played about his lips. "I have much to say."
I waited in silence, anticipation of something unknown but vitally important freezing me in place.
"Unlike you, dear Watson, I have been much distracted while I was gone. Frequent travels, new and unknown places, strange adventures... it feels as though I was occupied all the time. And yet, not a day passed during those years without my thoughts turning to you - my dearest, closest friend."
I warmed at his words, wanted to speak, but even more, I wanted to hear what else he might tell me.
He gathered his tattered old rug around him, looking oddly vulnerable in the familiar guise, and continued, "There were times when I feared my mental capacities might leave me, when the solitude that had always been a comfort to me seemed an overwhelming loneliness. I realized then that what I had thought of as solitude had been no such thing. You had always been there, sharing it. It had been a solitude of two. And when you were no longer there, only then did I feel true loneliness, in my own company. I realized that the warmth in my past life had stemmed from you, John. That you alone had kept me from ever feeling lonely."
Warmth rose in me, covered my face in a flush, my entire body in a pleasant wash of comfort. Never had Holmes acknowledged me like this. Never before had he spoken so candidly about anything so personal. Nothing he could ever say would fill me with this kind of happiness again.
Or so I thought. Until he spoke his next words, facing me. "I never want to be without you again, John. I could not. I could never bear it a second time."
Now I had to speak, or I would burst. "Nor I without you, Holmes."
He shifted closer, and with each inch of distance melting away between us, my heart pounded that much faster. I was certain he could hear it.
The tenderness and deep affection in his eyes moved me as not even the most beautiful music had ever done. When he raised his hand - roughened and tanned from his travels - to trace my cheekbone, I closed my eyes with a sigh of pure wonder.
"What am I doing, John?" Holmes asked in a whisper, even as he continued to sweep his fingers along my cheekbone.
"You have never..." I swallowed, hardly daring to breathe, let alone speak. "Never not known precisely what you are doing." My cheek burned under his touch, as though his hands were flame, and I wanted to touch him in turn, at least move closer, but dared not break this spell he seemed to be under.
Holmes' grey eyes found mine and held them, questioning and unsure.
I was not unsure. Had not been unsure of my feelings for him in years, but I was terrified he would cease to touch me. Carefully, unwilling to frighten him away, I raised my hand to cover his, continued to hold his eyes while I pressed my lips to the back of his hand.
He sighed, and his lips remained parted. He looked at me searchingly, as though examining my sincerity.
It was not something he could question, for I had never been more sincere about anything.
"Do you love me, John?" he asked to my utter surprise.
I did not have to think about my answer. "I do, Sherlock. Oh, I do. I have for years."
"Not as a friend," he clarified with uncharacteristic vulnerability in his eyes.
Could he truly doubt what I meant? "I love you with all my heart, Sherlock. And body and soul. I want to drown in your mind and burn under your touch."
"Oh." His voice was husky, and his eyes dark and wide. "John. My dearest... my only... love." He leaned in close, his breath on my lips for mere seconds before his mouth covered mine.
We began softly, tenderly pressing against one another, lips against lips, tentative.
But Sherlock Holmes is not a tentative man. Whatever he does, he does with passion, and so our kiss caught on fire within moments, and his hands were around my face, holding me in place as if I could ever dream of leaving him. He devoured me like a feast, and I gave him everything I had, and more.
And when we fell upon his bed a little later, only partly undressed for we could not let go of one another long enough, he burned me completely. Ravaged me to a cinder for hours, until I was nothing more than a beating heart in ashes.