Chapter 1: Heat
Part 1 – Heat
Heat waves are worse in the city. The air is thick as heat reflects off walls and cobblestones, touching you like something alive – an animal with damp, dirty fur. Things rust and rot and stink, doors creak on their hinges and windows are stuck, and people snap for no other reason than that they're sweating.
It's the second week of relentless, humid heat, and for the past five days Holmes has been pacing. And playing.
Mrs Hudson is visiting her niece on the coast and I envy them the sea breeze, but this is where I must be, stuck like the sitting-room window. The violin is screeching tonight. Occasionally the bow bounds across the strings in small, harsh, staccato-like skips, like a scornful laugh. It's tearing at my nerves. I don't mind Holmes playing; on the contrary. I frequently stand outside his closed door holding my breath while he plays – but then he plays. Tonight he's making noise.
He is a skilled performer, and if his technique is not absolutely polished and perfected, he more than compensates for it with his breathtaking ability to make the instrument convey mood, atmosphere, emotion. He can make it laugh, or wail, or hiss and scream like a frightened animal. Whatever he feels and wishes, the violin will sing to the listener. Right now I'm not sure its voice reflects anything more complex than impatience with the heat.
The screeching stops and Holmes resumes pacing. I retreat to my room.
It's late in the evening and the sash window is open behind the curtains. I take off my clothes and lie naked on the bed, only partly covered by a sheet. The humid air clings to the skin; the violin sings. I breathe and listen. Yes, it's singing now, its voice simultaneously rough and plaintive, speaking of abstinence and need. A rapid, muddy river hurrying to the sea.
This is what Holmes is doing: playing his boredom away. Nothing happens in this heat, nothing sophisticated enough to require his services. It's too hot for anyone to think up clever plots. What there is is domestic violence, axe murders and shootings at close range, nothing to challenge a mind of Holmes' calibre.
When there's nothing to do, he's bored, and when he's bored he usually reaches for the syringe in the morocco case. But now this source of relief is out of bounds – he doesn't want what the cocaine does to his system, he only wants the effect. Hence the constantly vocal violin.
It sings the violent craving and ruthless desire of addiction; it cries for release and completion. It crawls over my skin tonight, licks my spine from neck to tailbone and makes feverish images dance under my eyelids in the dark. I picture Holmes playing, undressed as I am and glistening with sweat. His eyes are closed and he sways with the force of his music, in time with it. A lamp is lit and shows him in silhouette. When he turns his profile I see that he is fully erect, aroused by his own music. A satyr on a Grecian urn.
I press my face into the pillow and slip my hand under the sheet with a groan, finding a slow rhythm and building it up to the cadences of the violin. The tempo increases, my hand obeys. I imagine Holmes under me, lost in pleasure with eyes closed and his mouth open; I die a small death and then everything is even stickier than before. I clean myself off with my discarded shirt and fall asleep to the sound of the violin.
Somewhere along the line I made the mistake of identifying my attraction to Holmes – no, my desire for him – and giving words to it. After that, it was impossible to ignore. The first thing to strike me when we met was his energy, the second his strange, intense grey eyes, the third his general beauty. He is always in perfect control of his body despite his considerable height. Holmes in the boxing ring takes my breath away. The ripple of muscles. Skin and blood. I worry about him too, as a friend and a doctor. But mostly I just stare.
The dreadful humidity makes the newspaper porous and pulpy to the touch, the pages nearly ripping as they are turned. I only skim while I eat my breakfast. Some days I don't want to know about the world. These are enlightened times of technical development. We've moved from Boulton & Watt engines to electric railways, from spinning jennies to the speaking telegraph, and still we sentence men to hard labour for having loved. We place poets on treadmills and break their bodies to destroy their souls, declaring their souls condemned already.
It's too hot to walk but I do anyway. I seek out parks and keep to the shade. The air tastes of metal; the Thames has a sickly colour and smells of sulphur.
"This damned weather makes you want constant inebriation just as an escape," Holmes remarks as we sit smoking together after dinner. "Even cheap brandy would do."
"It really wouldn't."
Holmes puts his pipe aside. "What an awful snob you are, Watson. Sometimes I'll drink just about anything."
"Before you resort to drinking anything you usually reach for the syringe," I retort.
We're both irritable. The open window – the one that's not stuck – offers no relief; the air in the room doesn't stir.
"True," Holmes sighs and leans back, stretching his arms along the backrest of the sofa and grazing my neck. I remember my own feverish images from last night and it's all I can do not to blush. "Anything to escape boredom," he adds.
I regret my comment about the syringe. He's already struggling and I don't wish to add to his burden. My discomfort is making me unfair.
"Would you play something for me?" I ask to divert our attention from drugs.
He gives me a look. "I've been playing constantly for a week."
"I'd like to hear something from beginning to end, not two bars here and three there." My smile is a peace offering. "It's different, I imagine, playing only for yourself and playing for someone else's ears?"
"Ye-es." His gaze lingers on me.
"So, will you play?" I urge him. "Please?"
He frowns, half smiling, and opens his mouth to say something but changes his mind and shrugs. Getting up from the sofa, he only says: "Very well."
Chapter 2: First Movement
Part 2 – First Movement
In a minute or two he returns with the Stradivarius, which means he takes my request seriously. Pleased, I sit back and watch. We're both in our shirtsleeves, no waistcoats, no cuffs or collars. Propriety is not a factor in this heat. Holmes' sleeves are rolled up, his shirt is open at the throat and his hair curls damply. His beauty still astounds me at times. Mostly, in our everyday life or when we're occupied by a case, I manage to forget it or push it away, only to have it return and hit me all the harder.
Boredom is dangerous; it attracts us to our vices. Holmes wants his cocaine solution. I want him.
"I'm glad you asked me to play," he says, eyes pinpointed by the reflection of the lamp. The irritation from earlier is gone, replaced with something else – if it hadn't been Holmes, I'd have labelled it hesitation. He seems to be on the verge of telling me something and stopping himself each time. "I've wanted to play something for you," he continues softly. "Are you comfortable? Sit back with a drink, Watson – I believe there's some port, or even brandy. Not the cheap sort," he adds.
I laugh and pour myself a glass of port, relaxing into the corner of the sofa and enjoying the soft thrill of anticipation. Holmes will play for me and I can legitimately study him for the duration of the music. "What am I about to hear?"
"Tonight's concert," he replies gravely, "will feature music by Camille Saint-Saëns and Sherlock Holmes."
Astonished, I lean forward and look up at him, leaning my forearms on my thighs and twirling the glass between my hands. Whenever I think my admiration for Holmes couldn't increase further, he does something that literally makes my jaw drop. "I didn't know you were a composer."
"Not an accomplished one, you understand," he says hastily. "But if no one composes the music you'd like to play, what can you do?"
For Holmes it's as simple as that. I lean back, speechless. He stands staring at the rug, focusing; his long fingers stroking the scroll of the violin until he announces:
"I'll begin with Danse macabre." Then he laughs and meets my eyes. "But I'm afraid you'll have to imagine the orchestra as well as the dance of Death."
Damn the intensity of his eyes; damn the beauty of his face. My mouth goes dry and suddenly I don't want the music any more. What I want is to take the violin from his hands and kiss him, offer myself up as an instrument yet untried. But I push my unworthy thoughts aside and settle down to listen. Holmes is on stage at my request. I'm his audience tonight. Captive.
He tucks the violin neatly under his chin and lifts the bow. My imagination can be vivid enough and I have no trouble picturing him as the solo violinist backed by a chamber or even a full philharmonic orchestra. I also have no trouble calling up a gothic image of him in a sinister graveyard with moaning trees, the lines and planes of his pale face lit by the chalk-blue moon; a lone violinist surrounded by dancing skeletons with grotesque, jerky movements and rigid grins. I shudder despite the heat as the music fills the room – eerie, haunting, whirling, building into a frenetic dance. There's a grittier sound to the instrument than usual, perhaps another of Holmes' rosin experiments. After a while I find myself listening less to the music than watching the musician with his dancing fingers and his eyes lost far away. After the climactic crescendo and the rooster crowing follows the quiet ending, and I release the breath I've been holding.
I want to applaud but it seems out of place, like I would wake us both from a dream. But Holmes wakes himself, lowers the instrument and rolls his shoulders to relieve his neck. I hold back an offer of therapeutic massage. It's only a feeble excuse to touch him.
"Now," he says, "let's cheer ourselves with some braying." He grins at me. "Some years ago, Saint-Saëns composed a suite of short animal pieces – elephants, lions, birds… amusing little things, quite clever. But after the première, the good Camille began to worry that the work wasn't serious enough, claimed it had only been composed in jest and forbade performance of any of the pieces except the soporific Swan. Which is why I will now play Characters With Long Ears."
I laugh and soon the violin is laughing too, in brays and shrieks, for about half a minute.
Holmes is smiling when he finishes. "I trust you are not too bored, dear friend?"
"Not bored in the slightest."
"Excellent. As you may have understood, I have used Saint-Saëns to gather up courage for the next step, and now we have arrived at it. I will play you my own piece, and for that, we need to settle into a more... quiet mood." The pace of his words has slowed down; the uncharacteristic hesitation is back. "Yes, quiet... and tentatively hopeful," he continues. "An atmosphere of something that could, perhaps, be." He looks at me now in a way I can't quite read. Wryly, pleadingly, but with an edge of urgency. There's something he wants me to understand, something he isn't saying but wants me to find.
"Something that could be if, say, certain criteria were met?" I ask cautiously.
He starts. "Yes," he replies slowly. Then more firmly: "Yes. If certain criteria were met." Again, that look. "I want you to listen, Watson. Really listen."
I sit more squarely, all attention at his entreaty, and with a shock I realise the reason for the quickening of my pulse: I'm about to hear something that Holmes would never express in words, perhaps could not express in words.
Holmes claims to be devoid of softer emotions, but I have often noticed an emotional element in his actions. Aside from the thrill of the logical and intellectual challenge of his detective work there is a pathos, a sympathetic undercurrent that perhaps eludes Holmes himself, but not me, and I'm sure not our shrewd friend Lestrade either. Holmes wants to bring justice on more than one level – not only as in the word of the law, but morally. He wants to help the child who is hidden away, help the frightened Miss Stoner. Above all, emotion is present in his music when he plays, and I'm certain the experience tonight will go far beyond an exercise in technique or mathematical precision.
Holmes lifts the violin, and from the moment it begins to sing, I am captured. I forget the oppressive heat in the room, forget everything but the music and its creator. The tune is clear and untroubled at first, happy and simple, dancing like a brook in the sun. Before long the passages grow darker and more difficult, phrases repeating over and over, in their entirety or in part. They're broken and resumed, a fraction of them appearing in between other phrases, in a voice growing tentative, puzzled, searching; tinged by anxiety and doubt.
Holmes said he wanted me to listen, and I find I'm listening with my heart as much as with my ears. Every note speaks to me, to me. It's as though he's telling me our story, the story of Holmes and Watson meeting, of a light, amiable companionship developing into something more complex until it begins to be troubled by… what?
The tempo slows as a new theme is introduced, repeated and paraphrased in different ways and moods as if trying to find its identity. The voice of the violin is lower, more insistent, more intense, frequently shot through with doubt. It's yearning, longing, deepening, alternately simmering, raging, and singing bittersweetly, until it ends in an upward, querying, chromatic sequence.
Yes, the whole piece ends in a question and I'm trembling, trembling because I feel the question is directed at me – and because I can't shake the impression that the entire piece ultimately speaks of love.
When Holmes lowers the violin I'm breathing like my lungs are depleted of oxygen. My glass of port is untouched. Silence reigns for an endless minute as Holmes stares expressionlessly at the wall, violin and bow lowered, his profile turned.
"I have yet to name the piece," he says at last. He says it to the wall, not to me. "What you heard is only the first movement. I'm not entirely pleased with the second and I have yet to finish the third – I can't seem to find my way through it. There is a beginning but only a tentative middle and no conclusion."
I focus on breathing, slowly. What the music showed me was like a reflection of my own emotions, familiar as my own heartbeat, and I can't think of anything to say that would adequately convey either my thoughts or my experience. My mouth opens but forms no words. Holmes puts the violin aside and comes to sit on the sofa.
"I thought I'd apply to you for a name," he says, still without looking at me.
My pulse picks up pace further. Naming the piece? That is a very delicate task. I'll need to think carefully before I speak; I have to maintain my balance. I want to tell him what I heard – love and longing, insecurity and fear, hope and uncertainty – and respond to it, reflect all those things back at him from my own heart, but my insecurity incapacitates me. How accurate is my interpretation? How can I be certain those emotions are his and not merely my own, projected? And if I did indeed hear them, how can I be certain that I am their object?
Occam's razor, I think wildly. If Holmes asks me to listen, if he speaks to me like this through his violin – then the assumption must be that those emotions are his, directed at me.
My pounding heart insists and the slight tremor of Holmes' hands suggests that my impression is correct, but reason tells me I'm treading a dangerous path, very dangerous indeed. But then so is Holmes, or why would he be speaking in riddles? Occam's razor.
Finally, tentatively, I say:
"If you have trouble naming it, perhaps it means you shouldn't try? It's a truly wonderful piece, Holmes. It goes straight to the heart."
He looks up at me. Often enough he's confident to the point of arrogance regarding his skills in many areas, but this is not one of them. He isn't the supercilious detective now. This is an artist at work. The creative process is a sensitive one and in it he is as unsure as anyone, as uncertain of the reception of his art. And tonight there's more at stake than the success of the artistic creation. How can I show him that I understand, that I admire his courage as well as the very real and true beauty of his work? At first it occurs to me to suggest The Friendship Sonata, but it's so trite as to be almost an insult, and doesn't convey my understanding of the piece.
"It's wonderful," I repeat. My voice is unsteady as I struggle to find words. "But perhaps… perhaps it defies labels. Perhaps it simply does not need a name. It stands on its own. Why not call it…" I swallow and lean forward to catch his eyes. I want him to understand me without words, just as he conveyed his emotions to me a minute ago. "Why not just let it remain… The Unnamed?"
Holmes holds my gaze as though he's waiting for something more, waiting for me to expand on the suggestion. But I can't. I can't be blunt; I can't say too much. The wrong word now would shatter everything. Just now we are both naked.
"Or," I add, my heart hammering, "possibly The Unspoken." I take a breath. "But I don't think that would be as apt. This piece speaks in a language all its own. The Unnamed, then."
Have I been clear? I don't want him to believe it a rejection. My heart is in my throat.
"I knew I was right to ask you for a suggestion." His beautiful hands are palms down on his thighs, his shoulders high. It's an odd position, one that can't decide between sitting and standing. Holmes poised to flee? "Unnamed it shall be. Thank you."
Taking the Stradivarius with him he goes to his room. It's not until the I hear the door click closed behind him that I realise I didn't thank him, and then I'm struck by the realisation that my words could have been interpreted contrary to my intention. I wanted to show him that I understood – but what if he thought I meant it should remain unspoken?
I empty my glass of port and slump back on the sofa, covering my face with my hands and damning the fear that has us speaking in codes and riddles.
Chapter 3: Second Movement
Part 3 – Second Movement
Holmes spends the next day holed up in his room, emerging only at dinner. In his absence I spend a restless day walking in Hyde Park, pacing our sitting-room and making half-hearted attempts at reading, only to find myself staring blankly at the page. Dinner is a silent affair where we wash down our cold meat and salad with quite a large quantity of wine. Holmes seems deep in thought, barely aware of my presence. After the meal he leaves for his room, and I go to mine to get changed. I decide I'll have an early night. The heat is thick and relentless, getting worse day by day as it's stored in walls, roofs and paving. I remove my clothes and put on my dressing-gown.
When I return to the sitting-room to pour myself a last glass of wine to take back to my room as I retire for the night, Holmes' door is flung open.
"My dear Watson, could you bear another concert?" Energy and nervous excitement surrounds him like an electric field. "I've reworked the second movement of The Unnamed. Would you lend it your ear?"
I nearly drop the glass. "Of course."
He runs for the Stradivarius and I place myself on the settee with a cigarette and the refilled glass, anticipation quickening my heartbeat. When Holmes returns he closes the curtains and positions himself to play, focuses for a minute with eyes closed and bow lifted, then breaks his concentration and puts the instrument down. He runs his fingers through his hair until it stands on end, and the mere outline of him, light against the dark curtains, is enough to undo me. I clutch the stem of the glass so hard I fear it might break. His beauty is disturbing tonight, vibrating like one of his violin strings; there's tension radiating from him that shakes me and I need to hold on to something, however frail.
"God, this heat!" he exclaims, irritably shrugging out of his braces. "It's clawing and pawing and driving me insane! Watson, would you mind terribly if I removed my shirt?"
My cigarette nearly burns my fingers and I crush it in the ashtray. "No, not at all." My voice is shaking. What I'd really like to say is: God, no – but please let me do it for you.
"Conventions can go to hell in this weather," Holmes declares as his shirt lands over the back of a chair.
Now he is dressed only in his trousers, with the loops of his braces down his thighs and his feet bare on the wood floor. He is devastatingly beautiful. I wish I could look away but can't stop myself staring.
He positions the violin again, and from the first note I know this is entirely different from what he played last night. The music then was hesitant, probing, searching, coming to terms with an unfamiliar emotion, but there is nothing questioning or tentative now. The voice of the violin is strong and direct, and if the first movement spoke to my heart, the second speaks to my groin. It's the voice of desire – sultry, demanding, relentless and absolute. Every note runs along my skin, touches me, undresses me, licks, strokes, kisses.
Two minutes into the piece I'm both overheated and have gooseflesh all over. I watch Holmes' closed eyes, his fingers suggestive on the neck of the violin, the line from his jaw to the shoulder, the shadow above the collarbone that seems made for me to touch with my tongue. My eyes follow the curve from shoulder to waist as he sways in time with the music.
There's no doubt about it: this piece of music is an act of sex. There's a teasing foreplay and then the act itself, its intensity increasing and building towards climax. My body responds as well as my soul. My lips part and my groin tightens; sweat breaks out on my forehead and along my back. I'm wearing only the thin silk gown with nothing underneath and there's no hiding what's happening to me, what his music is doing to me.
The Unnamed. Still unnamed, but hardly unspoken.
When the final crescendo builds, erupts and ends in one strong note that resounds and vibrates in the room, I breathe like I've been running, embarrassed and shamefully aroused. I glance at the cushion in the corner of the settee, but reaching for it and placing it in my lap would only draw Holmes' attention to what I want to hide. And in any case it's too late. He's seen my glance and my arousal, more underlined than hidden by the filmy fabric. My face burns with shame and excitement and I wonder whether I should make my escape, but I have reached the point of no return. I read his music as a sexual invite and allowed my own desire to pour forth. Now I must face the consequences. If I misread the language I have irrevocably exposed my perversion to Holmes, and I'm completely at his mercy. That thought arouses me even further, and frightens me in equal measure. If he chooses, he can destroy my life.
For all his brilliant mind, Holmes is a man of action. He places the Stradivarius on top of the piano, takes two long strides up to me and pulls me to my feet placing us face to face, very close. His eyes are burning with a fire that shakes me. There are danger signs all the way but I want the danger. I want his fire. I want him.
Without preamble he undoes the cord of my dressing-gown, and the fabric falls open to expose my utter nakedness to his eyes. My erect member is pointing at him, twitching as if trying to reach his hand. My breath is coming in gasps.
Holmes drops to his knees. His long beautiful fingers move the dressing-gown aside and hold my hips as I'm enveloped by his mouth. Pleasure shoots through me in a white-hot surge and I clutch at his shoulders and groan. When my knees begin to shake he pushes me back down on the settee, nudging my thighs apart to accommodate himself between them. The mere idea of Holmes pleasuring me with his mouth is almost enough to make me pass out, and this is real. His tongue stroking me and the gentle circles of his fingertips over my perineum make me see stars. I feel his movements more than I see them as he unfastens his own trousers to take himself in hand, and a sound at the back of his throat vibrates in a shock wave to all my nerve endings. Much as I want to watch him, the pleasure of his mouth on me is so intense I close my eyes and give myself up to it. When it reaches the unbearable my head falls back and I bury my fingers in his hair, arching my hips. My moans are loud in the room as I spill my seed.
Before I've fully surfaced into consciousness again, I hear Holmes scramble up from the floor and escape to his room.
The sitting-room seems unnaturally still and quiet. I wipe perspiration from my face as my breathing slowly calms. I cannot believe what just happened, and perhaps Holmes cannot either, hence the hurried retreat. For a moment, fear claws at me, but I unhook the claws and chase it away. After all, I did hear the music. It was a deliberate provocation, and what happened after was not an act of impulse. It was premeditated, planned, desired. So does he regret it now? Is he ashamed? It can't be that he doubts my willingness – that must have been demonstrated clearly enough.
I get up from the settee and tie the dressing-gown back in place before creeping up to Holmes' door. For several minutes I stand there listening, all trembling attention like a dog pining outside his master's chamber, but there is no sound until a faint groan reaches my ears. I lift my hand to knock but let it fall, carefully avoiding the creaking floorboard as I back away and return to my own room.
When I finally drift off into fitful sleep, dawn has already arrived.
Chapter 4: Third Movement
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Part 4 – Third Movement
Whatever misgivings I may have about facing Holmes the next day, they're not realised. I don't set eyes on him all day. The heat has not lessened and I spend most of the day sprawling languidly in my armchair reading, or sitting listlessly at the desk, chin in hand, trying to write. Linking words into sentences usually helps me sort out my thoughts. Holmes has often slipped me sarcastic comments about my "poetry" in narrating his cases. Today there's no poetry to be had, only the prosaic scrape of the pen. The words refuse to flow, from my brain and from the pen. At every second word the metal nib catches in the damp paper and needs to be cleaned – an apt metaphor for my mind, I think grimly. All day my thoughts have run in circles, grating to a halt at the image of Holmes from last night: playing shirtless, unfastening my dressing-gown, kneeling between my thighs.
Heat rises to my face and I throw the pen aside to lean my head in my hands.
Poetry! If my stories are a little embellished, it's only a drop of oil to ease the friction, a few grains of sugar added to the occasionally bitter draught that is Holmes' genius. Several times Lestrade has asked me, only half jokingly, how I can abide a man like Holmes, but the truth is I no longer know how to exist without him.
It's possible that physical attraction preceded love, but it's the age-old question of the chicken and the egg. When it comes to Holmes I'm unable to separate love from desire. They're as inextricably entwined as the acanthuses of a William Morris design.
When I leave our rooms my hair is damp before I've even crossed Marylebone Road. Sweat trickles down my spine.
The sky over London is opaque and dirty and the entire city is screaming for rain, for a good thunderstorm to break up the heat. I walk, and sweat, and swear between my teeth, and walk some more before I go home and collapse into as cold a bath as can be contrived.
When Holmes is still absent the following day I begin to worry. It's not his first sudden disappearance by far, but I know in my bones that this time he is not on a case. I knock on his door but there's no reply. When I open it a fraction and peer inside, the room is empty. Sheaves and stacks of paper cover every surface, clothes are strewn and draped everywhere, all of it pervaded by the stale, acrid smell of old tobacco. I step inside and look around, reaching out to run my fingers down a linen shirt hanging off the bedpost, touching it because it has touched his skin.
For the life of me I can't wish our encounter undone. I only wish it different, less like a casual, mindless act performed in a dark alley. If it is ever repeated, and I hope to God it will be, then I want us to be in full recognition of it, of each other, of us in relation to the other.
I've finished my lonely dinner and sit reading when hurried footsteps come up the stairs. A moment later the door is flung open and Holmes enters in a flurry of energy, swinging his violin-case and crossing the room in a flash to place the case on the window-seat.
"Holmes!" I exclaim, springing up from my armchair and knocking the book to the floor. "Where on earth have you been?"
"In church," he replies, infuriatingly.
"In – ?"
He bends over the violin-case and I can't see his face. "To be more precise, St. James church, where I happen to know the choirmaster, who kindly allows me to use the premises when the need arises. The vaulted ceiling offers excellent acoustics and, being a church, the place has the added advantage of being cool." At last he turns to meet my eyes, violin in hand. "My dear friend, please do me the favour of listening to the third movement of The Unnamed. I've just finished it."
He has the complex expression of someone trying to repress a jumble of emotions. I can see that he is pleased, exhilarated and very nervous, and much as I'd like to shake him, I take a deep breath and decide to set my irritation aside. His excitement is contagious. I pick up my book and place it on the side table, signalling my undivided attention.
"I'd be honoured," I reply.
A thrill, not all from pleasure, runs through me like a shudder. After the second movement I have no idea what to expect.
There's a quiet radiance around him, a bloom on his skin. The dark, electric glow of the night when he played me the second movement has been replaced by a softness, a paler light.
"Listen," he says, his eyes intense.
I sit back in the armchair as Holmes fine-tunes the violin and lifts it into position.
I only need to hear the first few bars to know that the third movement is quite astounding. The instrument sings on a clear, sweet note tonight, touched by melancholy. Again, there is a theme, a phrase played in its entirety at first and then broken up in pieces to be repeated, interrupted and paraphrased. The movement is adorned with two-point throughout, giving it a dark undercurrent; it's dotted with rough cadences, sweetly aching glissandi and the occasional short sequence of pure despair, clean and sharp.
When the tempo increases towards the conclusion, the melodic phrase from the opening sequence returns, transposed almost to viola register, making the voice of the violin simultaneously pleading and demanding.
I listen like I have never listened in my life. I hear affection and uncertainty, hope and fear, joy and pain, and above all love – overwhelming, all-consuming love, coloured and tinged by those other emotions but persisting through them all, strengthened by them; a love so deep it can only be expressed like this, wordlessly.
When the last lingering note dies away there are tears on my face and I clasp my hands tightly in my lap to stop them shaking. Holmes is breathing fast; beads of sweat are forming along his hairline and sliding down his temples. His hair curls uproariously.
We look at each other in the silence that resounds in the room. Then I rise and go up to him, take the violin and bow and place them on top of the piano, and cup my hands around his face with tenderness. At first I don't know how to speak. My eyes wander over the sharp features that I love, the arcs of his eyebrows, the acquiline nose and high cheekbones, the fine-lipped mouth.
Holmes has used his music to speak to me but I need words, as I always have. But just now I don't trust my own. Looking into the grey eyes, brushing my thumbs across his cheekbones, I quote softly:
"Once I caught him when he was open like Silenus' statues, and I had a glimpse of the figures he keeps hidden within: they were so godlike – so bright and beautiful, so utterly amazing – that I no longer had a choice: I just had to do whatever he told me."
I have rarely seen Sherlock Holmes blush, and it's beautiful to watch colour rise to the fine, pale skin. The tiniest of smiles appears on his lips as he breathes: "Poetry, Watson."
There is no longer any doubt or fear: Holmes, for all his disdainful comments about the softer passions, is in love. He is open like Silenus' statues and I can only open my own soul to receive the beauty.
When I feel his hands on my waist I close my eyes and kiss him.
Much later, we lie entangled in Holmes' bed, sated and drowsy. Every area where skin meets skin is slick with sweat and the sheets are damp and creased.
"We're not criminals yet," Holmes mumbles with his lips against the sprawling scar on my shoulder.
"Well, yes, I suppose. Gross indecency. But we have yet to commit the worst crime."
Physically exhausted though I am, I reply: "I'm looking forward to breaking that law," and mean it.
Holmes laughs and runs his thumb along my jaw.
The love that dare not speak its name. All spring I've suspected that Holmes has followed the Crown vs Wilde trial as closely as I have. Neither of us has mentioned it. Now that we're free to discuss every aspect of it openly, we have nothing more to say.
We lie in drowsy silence, listening to the sounds of voices, hooves and wheels from the street. Holmes' chest rises and falls in a calm, soft rhythm against my side, his arm heavy across my abdomen. Unsure whether he's awake, I kiss his dishevelled hair and quote in a half-whisper: "This person is so peculiar, and so is the way he talks, that however hard you look you'll never find anyone close to him either from the present or the past."
I don't continue the quote to its end with Sileni and satyrs, but I think of my fevered fantasies about Holmes in my own bed only a few nights ago. Life is a strange experience.
"Mmmm?" Holmes' mouth is pressed to my neck and his voice vibrates down my body.
I recall an item on a list I made during our earliest friendship, when I was still trying to catalogue and categorise the strange, fascinating creature that was Holmes: Knowledge of literature. – Nil.
"It's from The Symposium," I explain, smiling to myself. "Alcibiades on Socrates. Easily adaptable to Watson on Holmes."
His reply is a sleepy promise: "I will never speak against poetry again."
I laugh. "I'll hold you to it."
My fingers are slowly stroking his upper arm. Skin and muscle, tendon and bone. Poetry comes in many shapes.
In the early hours the thunderstorm breaks. By morning the rain has washed away the heat, bringing with it a more enjoyable climate.
~ THE END ~
"But once I caught him when he was open like Silenus' statues, and I had a glimpse of the figures he keeps hidden within: they were so godlike -- so bright and beautiful, so utterly amazing -- that I no longer had a choice: I just had to do whatever he told me."
Plato, The Symposium, 216e-217a
Translation A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff
"But this person is so peculiar, and so is the way he talks, that however hard you look you'll never find anyone close to him either from the present or the past. The best you can do is what I did, in fact, when I compared him, and his way of talking, not with human beings but with Sileni and satyrs."
Plato, The Symposium, 221d-e
Translation Christopher Gill