I had not heard from Holmes since we had concluded the singular affair of Professor Presbury. It had been nigh on six weeks or so, but a visit to a patient had brought me round near Baker Street and I had a little time and thought to call in on my friend. The front door was uncharacteristically locked and Mrs. Hudson seemed startled to see me when she answered my knock.
"Oh, Doctor Watson!" she exclaimed. She appeared confused for a moment and glanced up the steps to Holmes's sitting room.
"Mrs Hudson, is he at home?" I asked when she did not shoo me up with a promise to be right on my heels with tea and biscuits as was her custom. I had never been denied a quick and welcome entry before.
"But, Doctor Watson," she began. And then I knew. Somehow I knew in that instant.
"Oh, I see," I said carefully. I started to take a step back and she threw open the door and waved me in.
"No, do come in, have a cup of tea before you go on your way, I should like to be able to say goodbye to you at least, sir."
I had half a mind to refuse her, but she was right. Without Holmes at Baker Street I would be no more likely to call upon Mrs. Hudson than I ever was when he was absent from it for those three long years. And a good bye to the dear old woman would be nice.
"I suppose he has gone to Sussex then?" I asked.
She nodded, "I do believe so, Doctor, at least that is where I was instructed to forward the last of his belongings."
I couldn't bear to ask her what the future of 221B was to be, so we each shared a favorite memory or two over our cups of tea and her fine cake before I stood and shook her hand formally.
"I wonder if I shall ever see him again?" I mused as I took my hat from the hat stand and placed it on my head.
"Oh surely, Doctor, surely you shall."
I could only hope that she was right, but my friend leaving so abruptly, without even a note or a telegram to let me know he had departed made me uncharacteristically pessimistic about it. We had been growing apart, true, since I had taken up with Alice. My wife was not as understanding as Mary had been about my time spent with Holmes and instead of gentle fussing when I missed supper, breakfast, and returned home just after luncheon bruised with yet another pair of trousers ruined, I received admonitions, complaints all evening, and a cold shoulder that night.
Holmes had always welcomed me with open arms when I did call on him, and that welcome often meant an invitation to participate in his latest case, but he did not seek out my company nor demand my attendance via a cryptic telegrams and letters as was once his custom. I had blamed my busy practice, but that was more a convenient excuse than anything else. I returned home to St. Anne St., Alice, and my practice.
It was the following July, nearly eight months since I had last dropped in at Baker St. to discover him gone, when I first heard from him. A sparsely-worded invitation for a long weekend in Sussex arrived with the morning post, if my practice could spare me. It could not have come at a better time. London was deserted, an uncharacteristic heat wave and driven all those who could afford it out into the countryside, but relations with Alice had cooled at that point to lend my own house a frosty atmosphere. We both would welcome my departure so I dashed off an eager reply, packed a bag, and was on the next train out.
I stepped off the stuffy and hot train and breathed in the fresh air that carried just a hint of a cool sea breeze on it. I had not tasted air so sweet before in my life, I imagined. I looked about the platform as I gathered my things and spotted Holmes leaning casually against the side of the building in the shade. He was resplendent in a light summer suit of linen, body as lithe and fit as ever, a hint of color upon his cheeks, and a smile that made my breast ache. I answered it with a grin of my own that made my cheeks hurt. I managed to contain my enthusiasm to a vigorous handshake and we set off for a leisurely but long walk to his cottage outside of town.
The view was gorgeous, summer flowers in full bloom, the sun a bright blue, and the sea breeze cooling everything to a tolerable temperature. The sun was hot enough to suggest sea bathing which I was eager to do as soon as possible and we had both removed our coats and rolled up our sleeves. I remarked on it all, often, and by the third time I had exclaimed over some bit of nature Holmes wasn't even bothering to hide his smile. He let out a hearty laugh when I gave him a perturbed look.
"Oh Watson! Don't look so offended, you always were an enthusiastic admirer of nature, I was just realizing how much I had missed it."
I returned his laugh and replied, "I missed you too, my very good friend."
His smile dimmed a bit at that remark, but he rolled his shoulders and shook it off and turned up the lane to a very pretty and neat cottage.
"Just you, then, out here?" I asked as he showed me in.
"And Mrs. Gibson who comes a few times a week to see to the cleaning and my meals No Mrs. Hudson, mind, you, but she gets the job done."
The house was neat and tidy, but with a sort of casual lived-in clutter that was so much Sherlock Holmes that it made my chest ache. My lips twitched as I struggled to contain the soppy smile that threatened to spill out. There was a large front room, a smaller room off to the side that was threatening to spill books and papers right out the door, which explained the relative neatness of the front room, and a large sunny kitchen that I could see from the front door. Holmes inclined his head towards the kitchen, then towards the unseen back part of the house and took my bag from me.
As I headed back towards the kitchen, he disappeared up the narrow stairs that were tucked into a short hallway marked by a door leading to a room that was clearly Holmes's bedroom and a small washroom. He came clattering back down a moment later and smiled brightly at me. I had found the biscuits and lemonade laid out on the table and had helped myself.
And then all of a sudden it was as if we had never spent the previous seven months apart. He spoke of his bees and his vegetable garden. I had teased him over half-expecting a poison garden instead. He was remarkably well-versed in the local gossip and told me of being pressed to solve a few "lost handkerchief" cases as he liked to call them by some of the locals. I was delighted to hear he had even been pressed into teaching a bit of advanced chemistry at the local boy's school. We even managed to coax each other outside after a bit as he showed me around his little slice of Sussex. Supper was Holmes's honey over a dark wheat loaf, farm cheese, and ham slices from the ice box before we retired to the sitting room with brandy, cigarettes, and books read by the soft light of the lamps.
It was so easy and companionable and I found myself relaxing into it as I might a warm blanket in front of the fire on a cold day. I let the soft sounds of Holmes rustling the pages of his book, his mutterings under his breath, and the shifting in his chair soothe me. I missed him with an ache deep in my bones but these few hours since I had arrived in Sussex had healed my soul, more than I ever thought possible.
We likely would have sat there all night if I hadn't caught myself nodding off over my novel more than once. I took myself up to the charming little upstairs room holding a simple single bed, chair, and bedside table all tucked into the eves of the little cottage. It reminded me of my room on Baker Street in its simplicity and charm. I settled into bed and turned out my light. Sleep came quickly and easily to me.
I awoke the next morning and took myself downstairs to see about coffee. If Holmes was anything like I remembered him, he would laze about in bed for half the morning before rousing himself enough to grumble and complain over coffee and breakfast and his morning newspapers before finally resembling a human about midday where he would become a whirlwind of excitement and energy for the afternoon and evening.
I had just finished brewing my coffee and seeing to breakfast when a squeaky door hinge alerted me that Holmes was up much earlier than I had expected. He stumbled into the kitchen, eyes barely open, hair disheveled, and his old familiar dressing gown barely hanging onto his shoulders. He was clutching a cigarette like his life depended on it.
"Coffee," he mumbled as he threw himself into a chair at the table and attempted to light his cigarette.
"Yes," I replied, hiding my smile behind my cup.
He glared at me after a moment when he realized his one-word statement, or rather demand, wasn't going to garner any results.
"Damnit, Watson," he said plaintively, almost whining.
I raised my eyebrow at him.
He huffed and glared, "coffee please?"
I grinned and immediately poured him a cup, placing it carefully before him. He grunted his thanks.
"I see retirement has not changed you one bit."
"And why should it, my habits were formed decades ago, and I hardly think a few months in Sussex would undo all my careful work," he replied. I laughed heartily at him. He was utterly charming like this.
I watched him with a fond smile as he slowly woke up over his coffee and breakfast and newspapers. He looked, by all appearances, to be content in his retirement. We had spent too long catching up yesterday to see his bees or any of the countryside about us, something I planned to remedy today. I had rarely seen Holmes out in nature but when I did, scrambling over heath and meadow in search of clues, it was spectacular. I had every reason to believe it would be so again, even without the gleam of game in his eyes.
I wondered how he kept his company here. Holmes could be a charming man when he wanted to, happy to chat over pints with the locals, or entertain guests in his house. I had rarely seen him do this simply for his own pleasure, and his true friends were always few, but I didn't doubt that he lacked for acquaintances here.
When I had first lived with the man, I had wondered about his preferences towards more intimate company and had looked diligently for clues. It was clear rather quickly that he did not favor women with his attentions although he was not beyond a flirt if it would further a case. Irene Adler he admired for her ability to best him at his own game rather than any sort of romantic feelings towards the woman. To our other women clients, including those that made it quite clear they were eager to extend their acquaintances with him, he was professional, polite, and kind, but coolly detached.
So I had assumed that he favored men. But beyond a few casual mentions of friends at school, I saw no evidence he had formed a close attachment to anyone. I suppose he could have seen to his sexual urges at establishments for such things, but I was certain the man had never had a steady lover during our long association. Eventually I had merely begun to think the man to be lacking any sort of sexual urges at all and too busy, as he often exclaimed, to be bothered by romantic feelings for anyone, male or female.
But now I wondered about him and hoped that he had someone about. I loved Holmes, and over the years, that love had become a second comfortable skin for me to wear. His lack of any romantic interest in others allowed me to put aside any romantic feelings towards the man I might have entertained and I was simply comfortably in love with his presence in my life. This separation these long months had been difficult - I had only been here half a day, but I never wanted to leave.
I was startled out of my thoughts when his slippered foot nudged my leg under the table I looked up to see him smiling at me and looking much more awake. After a little discussion we quickly settled on a morning ramble through the countryside, a stop to check on his hives, and a finish with an afternoon dip in the sea. It was the most enjoyable day I had spent in at least the last eight months, and possibly in years.
Conversation flowed freely and laughs and gentle teasing were plenty. It reminded me of the early days, when we were young poor bachelors sharing adventures together and all we could afford were Sunday afternoon strolls in the park. Holmes had shaken years off his frame in Sussex and he reminded me of the gangly boy I had first met in a lab at St. Barts all those years ago.
We were headed back up the path to his cottage from our swim when he faltered slightly. There was a man at the back of the house who had just seen us and lifted his hat off to wave. Holmes seemed to catch himself and let the arm that had been tucked through mine drop and he lengthened his stride so he was half a step in front of me.
"Harold," he greeted with a half smile. I drew up beside Holmes and smiled at the gentleman standing in front of us. He was about Holmes's age, attractive in a generic sense with dark hair and clean shaven features. He wore a simple summer suit that showed off his trim figure. He offered Holmes a pleased smile as he passed an appreciative look over Holmes's sun-dried hair and bathing suit that showed off his lean and well muscled form. I had been sneaking in my own appreciate looks whenever possible so I certainly didn't begrudge him for doing so.
Holmes inclined his head towards me, "Doctor John Watson." Then looked at me and nodded to the man on the back steps, "Harold Stackhurst." He didn't seem overly pleased to see him, but I stepped forward with my hand extended and a smile on my face. Stackhurst himself seemed a bit confused to see me as well, but his greeting was friendly and open. We all three crowded into the kitchen before I excused myself with a wave to my upstairs room to change into dry clothes.
I came back down a bit later, quietly as I heard murmuring from the kitchen. It had been clear from their greeting that Stackhurst must have been a good friend of Holmes. But the easy way that Holmes had placed a hand on the man's shoulder as he ushered him into the kitchen contrasted with the way he had distanced himself a bit from me said that perhaps, to Holmes at least, there was conflict in both of us being here at the same time. I didn't want to intrude or disrupt their conversation.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I approached the doorway to the kitchen, but the sight that greeted me was certainly not it. Holmes and Stackhurst were standing close together, Stackhurst's hands on Holmes's waist in an intimacy that was startling. I had never known Holmes to be a physically demonstrative man, even in friendship. Stackhurst was leaning in for a kiss, which based on Holmes's tipped head, soft mouth, and closed eyes was more than welcome.
I was too shocked to move, terrified of both interrupting the moment and allowing it to continue. I must have made a noise of some sort because because Holmes's head snapped around towards where I was standing frozen in the doorway to the kitchen. He looked surprised, and then faintly terrified, his face draining of color. Stackhurst looked surprised as well, but more embarrassed than anything else with what in any other circumstances I would have called a charming flush to his cheeks.
I mumbled something and turned away too startled to be embarrassed for disturbing them. I found myself in Holmes's library cum office cum laboratory off the sitting room. I stared out the window at a few of Holmes's beehives next to the vegetable garden he had showed me so proudly just a few hours before. I had comforted myself for years that Holmes's lack of romantic interest in me was a lack of romantic interest in anyone. That belief is what allowed me to love him and not let that love break me in two. But it was clear to me from what I had just witnessed that Holmes's interest in Stackhurst was sexual as well as romantic. And that the man was perfectly capable of romantic interest as well as sexual and that yes, as I had suspected all along, it was directed at men in general and not at me in the specific.
I briefly registered Harold Stackhurst walking away down the front path before I heard Holmes enter the room behind me.
"Watson," he started, stepping up next to me. I shook my head once. I wasn't ready to talk. He pressed his lips together and stepped back a half step, for once in his life, respecting my wishes over his own. My throat tightened and I felt as if I could barely breathe.
After a few moments of silence Holmes stepped forward again and laid a cautious hand on my elbow. "Watson?" he tried again. He took a breath, "I hope I have not offended you too deeply my friend."
I was startled.
"Offended?" I looked over my shoulder at him. He was looking pale, lips pressed together into a thin line, staring out unseeingly through the window.
"Because you and Stackhurst are… friends?"
He nodded once. I turned to face him fully. He was stiff, and trembling slightly. He looked scared, more scared than I could remember seeing him before.
"Holmes?" I asked softly.
He raised a cool eyebrow at me, not quite looking directly in my eye, but he turning to face me a little. I could see him attempting to master his emotions and slide a mask in place to hide any hurt. "I am quite aware you were in the British Army, but the British Army is not quite the British Navy, is it?
"You have been the best man of my acquaintance, John Watson, I would not lose that for the world."
He was frightened he would lose my friendship over his affair with Harold Stackhurst, I realized. That I would condemn him for his ways and cast aside two decades of companionship for a kiss in the late afternoon sunshine in a kitchen in a cottage in Sussex. That simply broke my heart all over again. I looked at him and shook my head, smiling sadly.
"Never, Holmes," I said, placing a hand on his forearm and squeezing gently. "Never," I vowed. Then I removed myself to my little upstairs room, comfortable in the knowledge he would not follow. I would soldier on, because that's what I did, but I needed a bit of time to myself to mourn the end of something that never had a chance to begin. I pulled a yellow-backed novel out of my bag and settled in on my little bed to read my mind quiet and my heart soothed in the early evening light.
When the light grew too poor for me to read by I considered lighting a lamp and continuing on, but my stomach reminded me I had spent the day at exercise and had had no evening supper. No light spilled up the stairway from below and I realized I hadn't heard Holmes moving about downstairs. No doubt he would have worked himself into a very black mood by now.
Holmes was curled in a chair in front of the cold and dark fireplace. He looked miserable, head leaning on his hand, eyes vacant. A pile of cold cigarettes in the ashtray next to him spoke to the fact that he had been there quite awhile. I sighed and stepped forward to squeeze his shoulder before I took myself into the kitchen to see about food. The air had cooled considerably from the hot of the day, so I lit a fire in the stove to heat water for tea. I helped myself to some food and put together a small plate for Holmes that I was positive he would not eat and returned to the sitting room.
He started when I pressed a cup of tea into his hand, but he held it to his lips and blew across it gently. I smiled at him and settled into the chair across from him. He returned it tiredly and tentatively.
We sat there in silence sipping at our tea while I thought of how to bring up something that had nagged at me since our conversation in the library a few hours ago. Holmes looked exhausted and broken and far more worried about what had occurred than was truly warranted when being startled by your best friend while kissing another man, especially when I had always assumed he was aware of my own nature despite my marriages.
"Holmes," I said, softly. His eyes met mine in the rapidly darkening gloom. I made a frustrated noise and got up to light the lamps first, bathing the sitting room in a soft warm glow, it felt as if we were in our own little world, which certainly helped.
"Holmes," I tried again as I sat back down. His lips curled in a half smile. "You are the best and wisest man I have ever known. That you have found someone meaningful in your life brings me nothing but happiness for you." I stopped. I wondered if I had said enough, but although Holmes shoulders had relaxed a bit, I could still see the tension coiled throughout his body.
We were entering the twilight of our lives, I was in a loveless marriage, Holmes was retired by the sea with his bees. If now was not the time to have this conversation I was certain we never would. If I was wrong, Holmes would have Harold Stackhurst to comfort him and I would have London and perhaps if I attempted it, my wife. If I was right, though, perhaps not all was lost.
"Thank you, John Watson. I would be lost without you," he responded in a near whisper.
I mustered my courage and steeled myself to continue, "I can't help but be a bit troubled though. You have known me for a majority of my life, why would you think you would lose my friendship over such an affair?"
"Three-continents Watson," he said, a sardonic little twitch to his lips. "With his easy and comfortable ways, able to charm women into whatever he wants and leave them exclaiming his virtues when he goes? Why indeed?"
"Holmes, you may be overestimating things here a bit," I started.
He snorted. "Hardly. I have seen it at work for decades, Watson, and fallen prey to it a time or two myself. Did you know there is nothing I would not do for you?"
I rolled my eyes, "you are attempting to distract me, Holmes. What I am trying to ask you, is why you think I would end a friendship with you over the gender of your lovers when you have never once hinted that you would do the same to me?"
"Watson, you have always had a way with words, but tonight you do seem to be struggling."
I glared at him. "Perhaps I should be more plain then. Why should I condemn you for being queer when I myself have happily taken men to bed over the years?"
Holmes went white as a sheet and froze before he dropped his, thankfully empty, teacup, and scrambling to catch it, fell out of his chair. I sprang up to help him before the absurdity of the situation hit me and I sat back down heavily and buried my face in my hands, shoulders shaking in silent laughter.
He did not know, I realized, he really did not know. He never knew. I had managed to, inadvertently really, keep a secret from Sherlock Holmes my entire life, the one secret I actually never meant to keep.
I pulled my hands down and looked at him. He was sitting on the floor in front of his chair shaking his head.
"You?" he finally asked incredulously.
I couldn't help it, I finally subcomed to peals of hysterical laughter. It was either that or sobbing.
Holmes joined in and we sat there laughing like maniacs until we couldn't laugh any more.
I looked him over with a sad sort of smile.
"You hardly seem surprised about my inclinations," he said with a hint of query in his voice.
"You didn't seem interested," I answered back. He looked confused.
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable by pressing unwanted attentions on you, Holmes. I had figured you to be not interested in women early on in our acquaintance. I, wrongly, assumed that disinterest extended to men as well."
Holmes laid down on his back on the carpet in front of the fireplace, stared at the ceiling, and sighed. "You weren't entirely wrong, Watson. You always were better at people than I was, I should hardly be surprised that you should have succeeded where I failed."
I made a noise of query and joined him on the carpet, laying alongside him and staring up at the dark ceiling as well. He fished his cigarettes out of his pocket, arm bumping against my side, and lit a match. His features were sharply outlined for a moment in the flare of light as he lit his cigarette.
He sighed. "I was uninterested in anything more than satisfying my baser urges when they became a distraction to the work. You have always been too good to be used in such ways."
"And Stackhurst?" I asked.
Holmes made a vague gesture with his cigarette at the air above us.
"I'm retired now, haven't you heard? Harold is a comfort along with the bees and the vegetable garden. A way to pass the time, if you will."
I grasped his wrist and brought his cigarette to my lips and took a drag.
"Oh don't look so perturbed, Watson. Harold feels the same way. Having to listen to him tie himself in knots over Ian, a mathematics teacher at the school who is involved in an absolutely ridiculous love triangle with a local woman and the science teacher, is hardly worth it, but alas...."
I couldn't help but laugh at Holmes's annoyed tone. It really was ridiculous. He huffed at me and elbowed me with his sharp little elbows, but offered me another drag on his cigarette. My belly already hurt from the manic hilarity of earlier, but my soul was soothed by our rather genuine mirth now. Holmes joined me with a chuckle or two of his own.
"And what of your wife?" he finally asked.
I sighed and considered my answer. Our marital problems not exclusively her fault. I had welcomed the chance to escape our home nearly as much as she welcomed my absence from it. "We got along so well, initially, but I think we both thought the other was someone we were not. We're disillusioned with each other. And such feelings tend to lead to resentments and hurts. But my best friend left me for some bees and - now I've learned an affair with a man named Harold in Sussex - so I haven't quite worked up the courage to do anything about it."
"Oh Watson," Holmes said with genuine sadness. I turned my head to look at him. His eyes glittered with feeling. "Look at us," he whispered.
"You are always welcome here." He said falteringly.
I looked back up at the ceiling, a sort of melancholy settling into my chest. It was hardly what I had hoped for, but now in light of recent revelations, I wasn't sure what I wanted, whether I could remain his constant companion without something more, or whether we were even capable of something more. Perhaps our time had passed without either one of us ever realizing it.
His hand sought out and found mine, our fingers interlacing. I squeezed and he squeezed back.
He fumbled for another cigarette and broke our grip to light it. He offered it to me after he had taken the first drag and his hand sought mine out again. My back was starting to hurt a bit from the hard floor, I was not as young as I once was, but I was loath to break the spell that we had woven around ourselves, laying as if we were boys on the floor in front of the fireplace.
"I have my practice, Holmes. And as discussed, a wife. I doubt you have another medically trained cousin eager for his own practice and the ability to fund its purchase."
Holmes sat up abruptly and stood in a single fluid movement. He reached down to assist me up, which I appreciated as my back protested even the short amount amount of time on the hard floor. He took the cigarette from my fingers and flung it at the grate. With my hand still clasped in his he drew me back towards his bedroom, but stopped at the base of the stairs and looked down at our hands.
He reached up and cupped my face with both hands, brushing my cheekbones with his thumbs, but not quite looking me in the eye. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine, just the barest hint of a kiss. I tentatively reached for his hips and rested my hands there gently. He offered me a sweet little smile and leaned forward again. I caught his lips with my own as he brushed mine and pressed a dry and slightly firmer kiss to them. He bit his bottom lip as he stood back up and huffed out a little laugh and dropped his head down onto my shoulder. I squeezed at his waist and smiled.
"Is this goodnight?" I asked.
"If you would like to go put your pyjamas on and come back down it doesn't have to be," he responded, tipping his head towards his bedroom door.
I nodded and climbed the stairs. In the dark of my room I took a deep and calming breath. I had kissed Holmes, or rather, he had kissed me and it was something I felt like I had been waiting my whole life for. And it felt… nice. Not bad, but not the earth shattering moment I had always imagined it might be. It felt comfortable, simple, easy. I changed quickly into my pyjamas and headed back down.
Holmes was seated on his bed, legs crossed, hands clasped. His head snapped up when I opened the door and let myself in. He smiled and stood, looking the shyest I had ever seen him in my life. I returned his smile and stepped forward.
We met at the edge of his bed with a kiss. It was just as soft and tentative as the last one. I tipped my head to the side and opened my mouth, my tongue darting out to touch his lips. He responded and our tongues brushed against each other. It was one of the most careful kisses of my life. I leaned back and looked at him.
And then Holmes giggled. He collapsed out of my arms and onto his bed into hysterical giggles. I lowered myself down next to him, chuckling under my breath. He leaned against me, head on my shoulder as he laughed.
"Oh John, what are we doing?"
I shook my head and sighed, looking about his bedroom.
"I have no idea," I answered with a laugh of my own.
He reached for my hand again, his fingers interlacing with mine felt more intimate than the handful of kisses we had shared this evening.
He lay back on his bed and pulled me down and drew the covers up over both of us and tucked our hands in between us after turning down the lamp. I stroked at his chest with my thumb.
"When I asked if you would join me here in Sussex, this is what I meant, John."
The truth felt easier in the dark. For both of us.
"It's not that easy, Holmes. I could sell my practice, my partner is keen on it, but I have Alice to consider. I do care for her and I would want to ensure she was comfortable. She deserves that much."
Holmes's fingers stroked lightly at my chest.
"How much?" he asked, driving right to the point.
"Enough. I suspect she would like to go to New York and play the cast-off wife with the American lover. She would handle the role admirably and it would make her happy to be independent."
He nudged at my my face with his nose and pressed a careful kiss to my lips. I smiled into it.
"You are a kind man, John Watson. I could-"
"No. I know your fame has left you comfortable, Holmes, but no, you cannot give me money so that I may leave my wife for you."
His fingers were playing with the buttons on my shirt. He undid the first one and brushed his fingers against my bare chest. I untangled one of my hands and slid it down to his waist. He tipped his head up and kissed me again with just the barest hint of tongue. I could feel his smile in the dark.
"You could write again," he said. "I've retired now and your ridiculous story about glowing hounds, really John, glowing, did well enough, did it not? Bring me back to life."
I squeezed at his waist, fingers seeking and finding the warm flesh underneath his cotton shirt. His breath caught as my fingers stroked at his skin and he untangled another button. He pressed a palm to my breast.
I felt for his lips and when I caught them, swept my tongue into his mouth. He made a soft sound in the back of his throat as I nipped at his lips.
"You hate the stories."
He made a sound of protest. "I don't hate them."
I snorted in disbelief.
"I don't! They're fanciful. You spend most of your time titillating your audience and little to none on the science. Shifting details and facts to suit a story and not the facts. Like that bit about the glowing dog."
I pinched at his waist and he squirmed a bit in protest. "Don't be rude, Holmes."
He grabbed at the front of my shirt and pulled me in for another kiss. "Glowing. Dog," he growled against my lips before he nipped them open and swept his tongue inside. I slid my hand around to the small of his back and pressed his hips towards mine.
"Hush. You have read every single one of them."
"Of course I have. I had to know what ridiculous fiction you had created out of fact if anyone were to actually ask me what a swamp adder was."
"And now you want me to write more. You begged me to kill you, Holmes and I obliged despite the howling protests of my editor, let alone your adoring public. You hate the stories, you only claim you don't because I wrote them."
His hand moved up my chest to cup my jaw.
"John. If it is the price I have to pay to have you here like this the rest of my life, then I will gladly pay it. I will gladly pay it ten times over. Bring me back to life, send your wife to New York where she may live a comfortable and happy life, and then pack your bags and come here to Sussex to tend to my vegetable garden. I can hardly tell the carrots from the beets I don't think I can care anymore to try."
I swallowed heavily. Moved nearly to tears. It was probably the closest to a declaration of the softer emotions that I would ever get out of the beautiful and complicated man beside me.
He pressed a chaste and careful kiss to my lips and I clutched at him, wrapping my arm around him and pulling him in tight. We were pressed together from lips to toes, arms smashed uncomfortable between us, legs tangling under a light summer blanket. I burrowed my face into his neck as his fingers stroked the back of my head.
I nodded, too overcome with emotion to speak. He sighed and relaxed into my arms, rolling slightly onto his back and pulling me with him, his hand stroked down my side and rested on my hip.
I pressed desperate kisses to his neck, nips at his jaw line, a suckle to the lobe of his ear. His breathing quickened and his hand tightened pulling me against him. He made a soft sound, more a sigh and a catching of his breath than anything else. I sought out his lips again.
We kissed, cautiously at first, then growing more and more desperate. We turned, clutching at each other, hands stroking and petting, hips beginning a gentle rocking rhythm as we pressed together. I felt myself growing hard, pressed against his own growing member. He pulled at my shirt, undoing the rest of the buttons and pushing it open, hands stroking at my chest. I pushed his own up his waist, stroking at his back, dipping down under the waistband of his bottoms.
I pressed him over onto his back against, hand moving slowly and cautiously to his groin, seeking out his hardness. I cupped it over the cotton of his pyjamas and felt an answering hand on my own. I stroked him gently, softly, feeling its shape over the fabric, its weight in my hand, the slight damp at the head, the heavy weight of his balls. He gasped into my mouth.
We stilled slowly, hands resting and squeezing softly, no longer desperate, but now easy and gentle. His lips began a careful exploration of my face as my hand drifted away from his cock and sought out the smooth warmth of the skin of his torso. His own hand stroked at my upper thigh, our desperate moment gone and fading back into a gentle and careful exploration, almost chaste and timid.
By some mutual decision, we settled in close, hands against skin, lips brushing softly, and the hardness in our cocks left unattended and fading away. There would be time enough for such things when we were both free men. I fell asleep against the gentle rise and fall of his chest, the sleepy stroke of fingers at my back, and the beat of his heart under my palm.