For the first time in my life, I found myself waking in the warm circle of another's arms. Each heartbeat thumped beneath my ear; each slumbering breath raised me up. Breathing deeply, I smelt tobacco, soap and sweaty linen. Our legs lay next to each other, bare flesh touching below the hems of our nightshirts. We rested back-to-chest, both of our torsos supported against my headboard. The arms themselves held me loosely, hands spread across my chest and stomach. Though the dim light of the early morning revealed nothing but blurred forms, I had known on waking whose arms they were. How they had come to embrace me so intimately remained a mystery. Solving such problems happened to be how I made a living, but my mind felt strangely dull, and I could not seem to put the facts in any sort of logical order. I determined that the only way to find the solution would be to wake Watson up.
I realised, however, that he had begun to stir already, my small movements having disturbed his slumber. Now he murmured my name sleepily and brushed his lips against the side of my neck, moustache tickling my skin.
I shivered and almost turned my face to meet his. But no, I thought blearily, that isn't right. I struggled to sit up, pushing his arms away. He released me reluctantly, and I scrambled from my bed. I stood on the cold floor, arms crossed, and studied the situation. Judging by his clothes and those of the bed, he had been there for most of the night. I saw no extra robe, slippers or candle and decided that he must have entered hastily. He was still blinking sleepily, but he met my gaze firmly.
"Good morning, Holmes," he said, his voice a little higher than normal.
"Good morning." Replying in kind seemed the most prudent response.
When I said nothing else, Watson swung his legs over the edge of the bed and rested his weight on his arms, hands at the mattress' edge. His nightshirt had twisted about his waist, barely covering him. My eyes followed the jagged scar from just above his knee to where it disappeared under the white cloth. I looked away when he pulled the hem straight, covering his knees.
"Sorry, old man," he said. "I did mean to leave before you woke; I must have fallen asleep."
I didn't reply, and the chill of the floor started to creep into my ankles. I settled into the only chair, curled my legs underneath me, and waited in calculated silence. My self-appointed biographer had once described my gaze as both cold and masterful, and I knew that prolonged exposure to it could break some of the most relentless criminals in London. I was a little disappointed that it worked so well on Watson, but not very.
"You were screaming in your sleep again," he admitted. "You wouldn't stop and you wouldn't wake. Your eyes were open but you didn't seem to see me." He glanced down, studied the white linen still clenched in his hands. Even the memory seemed to unsettle him. Meeting my eyes again, he added, "Holding you was the only way I could calm you."
So that was it. I had thought I had left such fits in my childhood, as my brother had. It seemed very unusual that I would suffer one now, after all these years of relief. Unless… Watson said "again," didn't he? My mind ran back over all the other times I had woken with my thoughts similarly slowed and confused. I could recall eleven times that were not the result by some chemical intervention. They each had followed the worst cases in my career, but I had attributed those other mornings to mere stress. Norbery, I thought in disgust, remembering the Negro girl with the yellow face. At least Watson himself had not remembered to say it.
"Well," I said at last, "I suppose I should be grateful."
He smiled. "It was no trouble, Holmes."
"On the contrary, you seem to have put a great deal of effort into sparing us both Mrs. Hudson's wrath and threats of eviction. I fear that screaming in the night may prove too much for her, the last straw as it were."
Watson closed his eyes and scrubbed a hand across his face. I saw his shoulders drop slightly, tension fading. It had been a long night for him. He asked if I wanted the bath, and began to limp towards the door. I knew that when he left, neither of us would mention this night again. It wouldn't even make a ripple in our old, comfortable life.
I rose to see him out, rubbing the stiffness out of my neck. The skin had dried, but somehow I could still feel his mouth on me. "Why did you kiss me, Watson?" I had not meant to say that.
He froze, hand on the door. "I must have been dreaming of someone else." He said, trying to smile ruefully.
It occurred to me that this was the first time he had ever lied to me.
"You said my name."
I saw him flinch. "I'm sorry." And there was a second lie. "I will find new digs, if that's what you wish."
"I do not wish!"
He turned to face me. "Then what do you want, Holmes?"
I shook my head. Damned if I knew.
My friend stood there, waiting, dark eyes searching my face. I opened my mouth, before I realised that I truly did not know what say.
Watson sighed faintly and dropped his gaze. I watched as lines of disappointment and frustration ran across his brow and turned his mouth down. He shifted his weight, about to turn away.
It was then that I realised what I did not want. I seized his shoulder, holding him in place. I could feel warmth through his worn shirt and wondered if he was hot or I cold. I slipped my fingers under his collar, allowing him to warm them. With my free hand, I trailed my fingertips across his face. His tanned skin felt curiously rough. I moved closer, rubbing my palm against the night's stubble. My thumb slid under his jaw to find his racing pulse.
I felt him swallow before he pulled me into his arms. One of his hands traced my spine through my nightshirt, while the other clutched my own on his shoulder. He rose up on his toes, matching my height and rubbed his cheek against mine. His moustache brushed across my face, and I tilted my head to increase the contact. Strange, I had never felt someone smile before.
"Watson…" I began.
"Shhh," he whispered, his lips touching my ear.
And for the first time in my life I found myself obeying.