After the damned babysitting incident with stupid Watson and the revelation about gay Watson, Watson retreated to his surgery to have an identity crisis. Or to sulk, it was hard to tell.
He had to get to the bottom of this appalling mess. It was intolerable to have impostors barging into his life and monopolising Holmes. His Holmes. His chest was tight so he poured himself a measure of medicinal brandy. What could these alternates offer Holmes that he could not? He could be stupid! He could be…hmmm, possibly that was where the problem lay. He downed another sip of brandy. Was that what it would take to win Holmes back? He considered his options, sipping the brandy, and constructed a plan. Rather a good plan, he thought, but that might have been the brandy.
His personal advertisement ran in The Times the following day:
"Experienced gay Holmes wanted for private instruction. Apply to: John Watson, Post Box 135, The Strand, London."
The plan was successful, with no less than six responses. Great heavens, six! Watson arranged to meet them at his surgery, clearing his diary of all other appointments. In the event, three were rogues who were clearly not any version of a Holmes and he saw them off briskly. The others, by ill chance, managed to arrive simultaneously. Knowing Holmes, they had probably staked out his house and decided to confront each other.
Watson knocked back another quick medicinal brandy and opened the door to the waiting room, from which raised voices were already emanating.
“I think you’ll find,” said a tall, thin Holmes with an aquiline nose, “that I am the original. Jeremy Brett played me from 1984 to 1994.” He turned. “Ah, Watson. What is the meaning of this summons?”
“Excuse me,” said a short, rather scruffy-looking Holmes in need of a shave, elbowing thin Holmes aside. “I’m sick and tired of people saying I’m too short to be the real Holmes. I was in a full-blown blockbuster movie, not some made-for-television nonsense. Just because I’m a tad shorter than the previous clichéd portrayal!” Thin Holmes sucked in an angry breath but scruffy Holmes overrode him. “I’ll take on any man who says I’m not the real Sherlock Holmes and believe me,” his smile was cold, “you don’t want to fight me.”
“Right,” said Watson, “I’ll just–” He ducked back into his office, grabbed the brandy bottle and took a swig, not bothering with the glass. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good plan, after all. He steeled himself and opened the door again.
A tall, younger man leaning against the wall in a long dark coat waved at him casually from across the room. “Hello Watson, this is fun. Sherlock Holmes at your service, and at least I can claim to be the only one not past my use-by date.” The other Holmeses glared at him. Gracious, he was tall, and with much longer hair. Watson craned up at him, mouth gaping. Young Holmes stared back at the other two Sherlocks impassively. “Despite being asexual myself, I at least know what being gay means, which I doubt either of you two do.”
Thin Holmes’ eyes narrowed, his lips tightening. “The term has been in use since the late nineteenth century, dear boy. I know full well what it means.”
“And are you?” asked young Holmes, his grey eyes glittering.
“Such things are private,” retorted thin Holmes, pulling his silk scarf more closely around his throat. “Watson and I are very close. Close friends and colleagues.” He pursed his lips.
Young Holmes smirked rudely, and turned to scruffy Holmes who was fidgeting and balling his fists in a somewhat threatening manner. “How about you, Holmes? Are you gay?”
“Keep your impertinent queries to yourself!” The shorter man bounced on the balls of his feet, fists clenching and unclenching.
“I say,” interjected Watson, stepping forwards, “let’s not get carried away here–”
“Oh, let’s,” said scruffy Holmes, dodging around him and punching young Holmes hard in the gut. Young Holmes doubled over, cursing, then retaliated, landing a creditable blow on scruffy Holmes’ cheek. Oh dear, that was going to need an ice-pack. They went at it, thin Holmes laying about indiscriminately with his cane, silk scarf flying.
Watson hid out in his office and knocked back another shot of brandy. He sighed and stoppered it; any more and they were going to be calling him “Drunk Watson”.
The noise seemed to have abated. Watson pushed open the door and peered around it. “Holmes!” he cried happily. Careful there, definitely a little too much brandy. But it was his own Holmes, his proper Holmes, frowning there in the doorway and surveying the other three.
“What is going on, Doctor? Who are these,” he flicked a hand dismissively, “individuals.”
Watson beamed at him. “They’re Holmeses too, Holmes. I put an advertisement in The Times, to learn how to be gay for you.” He paused; possibly that admission had been unwise. “Anyway, we haven’t got to that part yet, they’ve been arguing about who’s the real Holmes.”
“Not at all, my dear Watson,” said thin Holmes, brushing off his silk topper. “Each of us is perfectly clear about that. Reality lies in the eye of the beholder - ah, Watson, just in time!”
A slightly stout man with a moustache and a bowler hat stood in the doorway behind Watson’s own Holmes. “Holmes? What the dickens?” Thin Holmes strode forwards and took him by the arm. “We’re just going, my dear fellow.” He turned and tipped his top hat to the crowded room. “So nice to meet you all.” He led portly Watson away.
“I, what?” Watson rubbed his face. More damned Watsons? This was too much, but at least his own Holmes hadn’t shown any interest in stout Watson.
“Finally!” burst out short Holmes, grabbing the arm of yet another Watson (slender, with a small moustache) who had appeared in the doorway. Watson frowned. This one was far too good looking, as Watsons went. He shot a suspicious glance at his Holmes, but short Holmes was well ahead of him. He blocked pretty Watson from view and manhandled him out the door, glaring possessively back into the room. The door slammed behind them.
“Not gay my arse,” muttered young Holmes, rolling his eyes. He pushed off from the wall and saluted Watson casually, heading for the door through which his alter egos had vanished. “My turn next, I think. Hello, John.”
Watson frowned. A rumpled young man with short brown hair and a slightly battered face was standing in the doorway looking puzzled. “Sherlock? What’s going on? Why did you text me this address? Is it a case?”
Young Sherlock smiled, and nodded to Watson and the only remaining Holmes, his Holmes. “No, John, not a case. We’re done here.” He ushered the rumpled young man out, turning in the doorway for a final word. “Don’t let the others tell you you’re not real, just because it’s a comic.” He waved a hand, “Graphic art, whatever. Cartoons are the distillation of reality, after all – a picture is worth a thousand words.” He winked. “Good luck with the gay thing, Watson.”
“Sherlock, what the f–” said rumpled Watson, baffled, then the front door slammed and they were gone.
“Gay thing?” said Holmes, advancing towards him across the now empty waiting room. “As in this damned advertisement?” He waved it accusingly. “What are you playing at, Watson?”
Watson rubbed his face and thought longingly of the brandy. He faced Holmes’ angry gaze with difficulty. “It was ill-judged, I admit, but I was jealous of gay Watson. I thought if I could find a Holmes to teach me how to be gay, I could win you back.” He gestured in the direction of all the departed Holmeses. “Clearly without success; they just wrangled amongst themselves.”
Holmes’ face softened. “You wanted to be gay for me? Really?”
Watson shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. I’m entirely inexperienced but I think I’d like to try, yes. I want to be with you, to be the only Watson in your life. I was jealous.” He sighed and looked away, feeling tired. “I still am.”
Holmes cupped his face, suddenly right there, right in front of him. “Don’t be.” He leaned in and kissed Watson softly. “Mmmm. That cheap Spanish brandy again. I shall have to get you a decent cognac.”
Watson gripped Holmes’ lapels, pushing him back a little. “But gay Watson, and stupid Watson! What about–” Holmes kissed him again, with more heat, then nuzzled along his jaw. Watson felt himself melting.
“There is no gay Watson,” Holmes whispered, pulling back to smile at him. “The picture was just a ploy to bring about precisely this happy state of affairs.”
Watson glowered at Holmes, trying not to pout. “And stupid Watson?”
Holmes shrugged. “Stupid Watson is stupid. He kept getting jam on the evidence, so I sacked him.” He ran his thumb down Watson’s cheek. “You’re the only Watson I want. After all, how could I resist a brave, intelligent ladykiller?” He narrowed his eyes. “Less of the ladykilling would be preferable, though.”
“Yes, well,” said Watson, feeling unreasonably happy, “you’ll just have to teach me to be gay then, won’t you?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson,” said Holmes.