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Witness and Testimony

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It was a chill day in the long tail-end of winter, the sort that makes one doubt that spring will be any different. London was dark and grey, as usual, and decidedly damp, though it was not actually raining. I had stepped out to the post office, and could not justify to myself the expense of a cab for such a short journey, so I limped back to Baker Street through the fog, overcoat wrapped around me and hat pulled down over my ears.

I attempted to distract myself from the misery of the journey with thoughts of hot tea waiting for me in our sitting room, but my mind all too quickly turned itself to my likely company there, and I had recently found it worryingly necessary to keep a very tight rein on my thoughts about my fellow-lodger. I diverted my train of thought to my club – equally warm and comfortable, and if my mind strayed away from the strict bounds of propriety when I considered some of the other members there, it was far less likely to cause difficulties. Occasionally there was even a chance of such interest being returned.

As there was not in our lodgings. I stamped my boots on the doorstep of number 221 and opened the door. As I entered I saw an unfamiliar hat on the hat rack, and I mounted the stairs with caution, expecting a client. At the top I heard Holmes’ cultured tones, and I opened the door to see him sitting across from Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.

Given Holmes’ profession, I had become quite used to police officers in our sitting room, and so I did not attach any particular significance to Lestrade’s presence. However, I was startled when upon my entrance he rose and said, “Hello, Doctor. It is you I came to see.”

“Indeed?” I asked. I liked Lestrade well enough, and he seemed to like me, but we’d never spoken to each other outside of Holmes’ work. I looked to my friend for help. “I assumed you were here on a case.” Holmes merely smiled.

“In fact I am,” said the official detective. “You see, we need a witness. A Mr. Hector has been accused of a very serious crime, and he claims he was with you at the time.”

Oh God, what crime? I tried not to show my sudden apprehension. “William Hector?” I asked.

“Yes. William Hector of Gray’s Inn. You do know him, then?”

“I believe so,” I said. “What has happened? Excuse me, I’ll just have a drink – it’s very grim out there. Do you want anything?” I thought it better to face this conversation with some liquid fortification. It would also give me a moment to collect myself, if I was careful not to let my shaking hands cause anything to spill.

Lestrade declined, and I poured myself a brandy and sat, carefully schooling my features and movements to show no more than concern for a friend. I hoped that Holmes’ habitual unflattering assessment of Lestrade’s capabilities was accurate. Holmes himself I knew I would have had no chance fooling, but this was not his case, so hopefully I did not have to worry too much about his penetrating gaze. He had not yet guessed my secret, so far as I could tell, and all I could ever do was hope that this inexplicable blindness would continue.

“Well,” said Lestrade, when I was settled, “might I ask first how well you knew Hector?”

How could I answer that? “Reasonably well. He’s a member of my club.”

“Bell’s Club, off Guilford Street?”

“Yes.”

“And when did you last see him?”

“Last Saturday night, at Bell’s.” Honesty, as far as possible, would no doubt be best if Hector was in trouble. “I met him around seven, and we parted ways at about twelve, I believe. Perhaps a bit later.”

“All right.” He busied himself writing that down. “Twelve. Well, that seems definite, though I suppose the coroner might be mistaken.”

“What has happened?” I asked again.

“Well,” said Lestrade, “do you know how matters stood between him and Joseph Rochester?”

“He mentioned the name once or twice, but I’m not a lawyer. I know they didn’t get along.”

“But he didn’t tell you more?”

“No, I don’t know the details. It didn’t seem to weigh on his mind too much.” Both Will and I had seen each other as a respite from our daily lives. I did not speak much to him of Holmes’ cases, and he had not told me much of his. But if I said that I would have to explain what we had talked about.

“Right. At the last Assizes William Hector defended a man on the charge of murder, and lost the case to this Rochester. There was a bit of a fuss, I understand. Hector claimed Rochester had taken advantage of certain court procedures to weigh the case to his advantage – played to the judge, even prevented him from bringing in some evidence. After that they were known to be on bad terms. Does this match with what you know?”

“Yes.”

“Joseph Rochester was found dead in his chambers Sunday morning.”

Along with with the horror, I felt a surge of relief, and then guilt. It was terrible for Hector, of course, and for Rochester, but it was not sodomy, not ruin that would reflect on me. Besides, any charge of murder against Will must be false, and should soon be cleared up.

“He’d stayed late over some work, and no one had seen him since the charwoman left. He’s a bachelor, and there was no one to notice he was gone at home. The doctor says the death must have occurred between eleven and midnight the night before. It was an unpleasant thing, Dr. Watson. He was beaten with some blunt instrument, and his face was nearly unrecognizable. There were no signs of forced entry, and no footprints or other traces, and all the doors were locked as they should have been.”

Holmes frowned. “You ought to have called me,” he said. “‘No traces’ – I’ve seen what you call a crime scene with no traces.”

“That’s as may be,” said Lestrade. “But we do have a suspect, remember, Mr. Holmes. Now, Doctor, about Mr. Hector. He said you had dinner together, then stayed at your club all evening, talking of various things. Can you give me any more detail than that?”

I certainly couldn’t. “That’s how it went,” I said. “I don’t recall what we talked about. Music, I think, and a little about art.”

“Hmm,” said Lestrade. “Where in your club were you?”

Oh no. “A private room, near the back.”

“Yes? You left at midnight, then. Who did you see on your way out?”

“Ah, no one in particular. A few men I don’t know very well. Smith.” I could not, of course, name anyone I had seen when we had actually left, some time earlier.

Lestrade frowned and made a note. I firmly kept myself from looking at Holmes. If he had noticed my evasiveness there was nothing I could do about it.

“Mr. Hector left at the same time?” I nodded. “And he seemed quite normal?”

“Oh yes.”

“Did he have a walking stick with him?”

“No, he doesn’t usually, and I don’t think he had one that night.”

“Did he say he was going anywhere afterwards?”

“At that hour? No. In fact he said he would be going straight to bed.”

“And you had no reason to think he would do otherwise?”

“Certainly not.”

“All right. And if you left there about midnight, you arrived back when?” He looked at me, and then at Holmes.

“Half past,” I said, “so far as I recall.” Holmes nodded.

Lestrade looked at his notebook. “You’re prepared to swear, then, that you were with Hector from the early evening until twelve last Saturday night, but not later?”

“Yes.”

“At your club.”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Alistair Mountjoy said he saw you and Hector leave at nine.” He peered at me with a poor imitation of one of Holmes’ searching expressions.

“Yes, he wanted me to see a painting he had. We returned shortly after.” That was what Hector and I had said to the doorman when we left.

“All right then. Hmm. I think that’s all I need.”

“You look dissatisfied,” observed Holmes. “Do mention it if you find there is anything we can do to assist you.”

“I must say,” I said, “that I can’t imagine Hector killing anyone, and certainly not over a professional rivalry. Surely there were official channels to punish Rochester for his conduct. Also, I do have some experience of criminal matters, from living with Holmes, and I can’t believe that I wouldn’t have noticed that the man I was dining and conversing with was planning to murder his colleague minutes after he left.”

“There’s something to that, of course, doctor,” said the Inspector. “Well, thank you very much, and if I need anything else, I’ll call.”

“Hm!” said Holmes, when he had left. “An unfortunate situation for you both.”

“Yes. God, I don’t like to think how Hector must be feeling.”

“Of course.”

“I think I shall -” I stopped. It was mid-afternoon. I could not go back out when I had only just come in, nor could I escape to my room without it seeming odd. If Holmes wished to discuss the matter, I was stuck. “Read,” I finished, looking around the cluttered room for a novel.

“Tea?” Holmes asked, his hand reaching for the bell-pull.

“No, thank you.” I had been hungry when I came in, I thought, but I certainly wasn’t now. I realized that I had to communicate with Will, and that doing so would allow me to leave. “But I must send a telegram.” I stood again.

“Have the pageboy take it,” said Holmes; “this isn’t weather anyone would be out in by choice, and your leg no doubt has been informing you of that fact.”

It was perfectly true. I sat at my desk with resignation, and some relief to be off the offending limb.

I managed to express my concern and support in terms suitable for the post, and sent the boy off with the message. Holmes had turned to his chemical table, and was paying me no attention. For once I welcomed his experiments. I resisted the temptation to pour myself another drink.

I started by thinking of Will, and the horrible situation he must be in, but my thoughts turned to my fellow-lodger as they had a distressing habit of doing. At first I had thought him like me. His eccentricity, his dislike for women and romance, his peculiar secretiveness – all of this had made me consider the possibility. No doubt his attractiveness had made me hope for it as well. But there was no sign of it in his actual interactions with men, and the revelation of his profession had seemed to destroy any possibility, even as it deepened my fascination with him. No one so closely connected with the law would take such risks in his personal life.

When I realized precisely whom, or what, I had taken rooms with, I took severe precautions. I kept my eyes above the necks of our male clients, and praised the beauty of the female ones. I put a short leash on my gaze, that it not linger too long on my fellow-lodger’s form. I did not speak of the men I had known in the army, fearing I should give something away by my face or voice. Should I feel a need for sympathetic company, I took a cab to some innocuous location before catching another to my true destination, and tried to time my return for when I thought Holmes would be out.

And now I, and another, were at risk from something I hadn’t foreseen at all.

I had known several men since moving in with Holmes, and my relations with them were enough to satisfy me, though none of them had lasted long as anything more than a very casual arrangement. William Hector was the most recent of these, and though I had no illusions of the relationship’s depth, I liked him and enjoyed his company. And I had had some experience of murderers in my time with Holmes, and could not believe Will to be one even had I not known exactly where he was all evening.

We had, in fact, left the club at nine. We could not go to his rooms, as they weren’t at all private, nor, obviously, Baker Street, and so we had gone to a hotel in Soho. It sounds dreadfully sordid put like that. But we had both enjoyed it, and left at midnight for our respective rooms. He lived farther away than I did, and there was no possibility that he could have reached home before one at the earliest.

It was a very familiar situation to me by then: a man was accused of murder, his friend knew him to be innocent, and Holmes was needed to prove that innocence. I was accustomed, however, to looking at such situations from the outside, rather than from a starring role. The proper action, though, was clearly still the same.

But if I asked Holmes to investigate, he would likely find out where Hector and I had been in truth.

The police would be inspecting Hector, I told myself, and after watching Holmes at work I admit I had grown to share his opinion of them. I would merely ask Holmes to look for other possible suspects.

It took me a little time to nerve myself up to it, but surely it was not such an odd request to make for a friend. “Holmes,” I said at last, over breakfast the next day, “would you mind looking into that matter of Hector and Mr. Rochester?”

“Not at all,” said Holmes. “I assume that you believe he is innocent?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, you are a relatively competent judge of character, and I have had nothing much to do lately. It might even prove interesting. I can talk to Lestrade about it, and I think he won’t object.”

“Thank you,” I said, trying to take care how much relief showed in my voice.

“Think nothing of it. I’d like to meet my client, if you don’t think he’ll mind.”

“He’s not been charged or taken into custody, then?” I asked. I had heard nothing after a terse reply to my telegram.

“No,” said Holmes. “As long as the police believe you’re telling the truth they’ll think there’s little possibility he could have done it.”

I could not find the words to ask if Holmes believed I was telling the truth. I was, in all the ways that mattered, but not entirely.

“Then surely you can find the actual murderer and keep Hector from scandal entirely?”

“I expect so. Right now, though, he can tell me about Mr. Joseph Rochester, and I must know about the man before I can have any idea who killed him.”

Therefore Holmes and I approached Hector’s office that afternoon. I had telegraphed Will offering our assistance, and also warning him that Holmes did not know of our relationship, so we were expected. Hector rose to greet us as we entered, and I saw Holmes scan him with his usual searching gaze, and wondered what he observed.

I had certainly found Will worth looking at when I had first met him, though from entirely different motives. He was dark haired and strong-featured and normally extremely handsome, but that day he was so pale he was almost grey, and his eyes showed clearly that he hadn’t slept.

I might not care deeply for Will, but I cared enough to strongly feel the restrictions placed on us by Holmes’ presence. I wished to pull him closer to me as we shook hands, but instead I merely nodded at him and said how sorry I was for his situation.

“It’s not so bad, he said, though his glance at me said otherwise. “They do seem to be convinced I was elsewhere. I have heard little from the police since they interviewed me, but I communicated with the Inspector in charge, and he says that as long as I can be reached by telegraph I am at liberty to do as I like.”

“We shall endeavour to remove even that level of scrutiny,” said Holmes. “I am quite confident in your innocence from Watson’s account, and no doubt the police have questioned you enough on the matter, so we will not go over it again.” He watched Hector closely as he spoke, so I did not know if he was speaking the truth or attempting to provoke a reaction. “Instead,” he continued, “please tell me about Joseph Rochester. Everything you know, avoiding bias.”

“Well, I’ll try,” said Hector. “I knew him a little at Cambridge, but only as a student a year or two older than myself. We didn’t move in the same circles. He’s of good family, I know, but a younger son. I can’t recall anything said against him then, and he had many friends. After that I heard nothing of him until a few months ago.

“I was defending a client on the charge of murdering his mistress. I was and am quite sure he was innocent, but either way, of course, I was sworn to defend him to the best of my ability. Rochester was the Crown Prosecutor. I couldn’t credit it at first. Lawyers are gentlemen, you know, or at least one likes to think so. Really I have nothing that could be proven in court. But my office was rifled two nights before the trial. Luckily, I had been working late at my hotel, and everything important was with me. Then, shortly before the trial, the courtroom was changed. I found out the new location the night before, and it was only by chance. There were other accidents that I did not escape, but they might just have been coincidences. These could not have been – they were directed against me personally, and someone must have been arranging them.”

“And you think it was Rochester?”

“Who else had half the motive he had for it? That conviction was extremely beneficial to his career. And it clearly must have been someone closely connected to the courts.”

“Ah,” said Holmes. “While interesting, that is not in fact what I wanted to know. What do you know about Rochester’s friends and relatives, or his enemies? Finding the true murderer will be the simplest way to clear your name.”

“Oh,” said Hector. “Well, from what I heard of him at Cambridge, his parents are dead. I don’t know of any other relatives. I know several lawyers he is friendly with.” He gave names, and I noted them down. “As for his enemies, I could tell you the men who were most receptive when I objected to his behaviour.”

“Please,” said Holmes, and he did.

“Beyond that,” he said, “all I know is that he lives in St. John’s Wood. I am sorry – very sorry, truly, that I can’t help you further.”

“That is in fact quite useful,” said Holmes, glancing over my shoulder at my notes. I shivered a little at the feeling of his breath on my neck. “I don’t suppose you know of any women he might have known?”

“Nothing,” said Hector. “I heard stories about him at Cambridge, though, so there must be some.”

“What kind of stories?”

“Oh, just the usual, I suppose.” Hector grimaced. “That he was profligate, and a bit of a rake. I didn’t pay much attention to such things.”

“Thank you,” said Holmes. “I believe that will be all. I hope we can clear matters up for you. Let’s go, Watson.”

I followed him out, though I would have liked to have had a moment to talk to Will alone. But Holmes would see through any excuse at once. I gave Will a sympathetic look as we left, and that was all there was time for.

“I have numerous interviews in my future, I see, Watson,” said Holmes, as we waited for a cab. I could not help but note the pronoun.

“You will not be needing my assistance, then?”

“I think not, in this case, unfortunately. Besides, it will be very dull – we shouldn’t both be bored to no purpose. Let’s go back to Baker Street – these aren’t quite the clothes I want.”

Holmes went out again minutes after we returned home, having changed into slightly more formal dress. He paused as he was at the door.

“My dear Watson,” he said, “you must not concern yourself too deeply over this case. It will all work out well. I am very confident.”

“Thank you,” I said, but his words did not help much. If my hopes were right and he did not know the nature of my relationship with Hector, then he had no notion of what worried me. If he was beginning to suspect...

I should have left once I knew he was a detective, before any of this became a problem. I had considered it again and again – I had known it was not safe. But I had not been able to bring myself to quit our rooms, not when my half of the rent was recompensed by such adventures and excitement.

And there was another reason as well, to do with his hands, and his face in the firelight, and the way he listened when I read aloud. I had attempted to suppress it. I told myself that it was merely aesthetic, and that I stayed because I would not be able to find another flat so well-situated for a reasonable price. And my failure to leave might well be the ruin of Will and me both.

When Holmes came back, late that night, he was dressed as a day labourer, evidently having changed his clothes again in one of his other, secret rooms about the city. “Anything?” I asked. I had intended to pretend that I had not been waiting up in anticipation of his return, but I knew that any effort that way was futile.

He looked at me consideringly. “Decided possibilities, my dear Watson,” he said. “I have high hopes.”

I had been expecting him to put me off with an exhortation to patience, and was rather surprised by his forthcoming. He did, however, as usual refuse to give further particulars, but I retired with a general feeling of reassurance nonetheless.

The next morning Holmes went out again in his labourer’s clothes. He returned at teatime, but refused food. It was his habit to do so when a case presented either an interesting puzzle or unexpected difficulties, and so I did not know whether to take it as a good or bad sign. He arranged himself in his armchair with his fingers steepled before him, and I knew better than to disturb him.

He was destined to be disturbed nonetheless. After an hour our doorbell rang, and shortly there was the sound of someone ascending. Holmes listened to the tread on the stairs and said, “Scotland Yard, most likely Lestrade. Very quick, if it’s in answer to my telegram. Hopefully he has the details on the servants that I asked for, rather than some objection to my channel of enquiry.”

It was Inspector Lestrade who opened our sitting room door, but he looked directly at me and said, “Dr. Watson, I’ve a few more questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” I said. “Do sit down. What about?”

“About your time with William Hector on the 14th. You see, we’ve had some difficulty confirming it, and I’ve spoken to a man who saw Hector in Soho at midnight, or thereabouts. Can you just go over the events of that night for me again?”

“Who on earth saw Hector in Soho?” I asked. “Did they know him well enough to be sure it was him?” I thought I sounded convincing.

“We can’t reveal our sources, of course,” said Lestrade. “You would swear to it, then, that he was not there at any time that night, and wouldn’t have had reason to go there?”

“He wasn’t,” I said. One gets so used to perjuring oneself that sometimes one can forget it’s happening at all, but this was not one of those times.

“Hmm. And he left you at midnight precisely?”

“It might have been a little later.”

He shook his head. “I don’t like relying on medical evidence. If Rochester had died a little later, now, Guilford Street is close enough to Gray’s Inn that I suppose it might be possible anyway. But he certainly wouldn’t have passed through Soho on the way. That is,” he said, with a sudden change in tone, “if he was in Guilford Street.”

“I have said he was,” I said staunchly.

“Of course,” said Lestrade. “But you are the only man who saw him at the club after nine, and no one saw you after nine. Is there anyone you could say, specifically, that you did see?”

“We were at the back, alone, in a private parlour,” I said. “I really can’t think of anyone. I think – I mean, no one would have gone out of his way to disturb us. And we left rather late. Also – ah – I don’t know your police doctor, of course, but time of death is not so difficult to estimate – but I could recommend someone if you wanted a second opinion.”

Lestrade frowned. “Well, I’ll ask if we think it’s necessary. Doctor, is there anything else you might have thought of that would be relevant to this investigation? Anything that happened, or anyone you saw that night who could confirm matters a little more closely?”

“I can’t say there is. I didn’t know Rochester, you know. Is Hector the only suspect you have?”

“We’re investigating all possible lines of enquiry, of course,” huffed Lestrade.

“Yes,” said Holmes. “I wired you, an hour or so ago. I don’t know if you received it before you left. Have you investigated the servants at Gray’s Inn?”

“I haven’t seen the wire, no. But it’s a large building – hundreds of men in and out every day – and no one new’s been hired recently. No reason for any of them to have taken notice of Joseph Rochester.”

“Of course not,” said Holmes. “I do recommend you look into all suspects, however. Have you further questions?” His tone was slightly forbidding, and I wondered again what he knew.

“I don’t believe so,” said Lestrade, not looking satisfied. “If you think of anything that will help the case, of course come to me, Dr. Watson.”

“Of course.”

Lestrade left with a faint aura of annoyance, and I tried not to look at Holmes. Had he truly been defending me, as it had seemed? How much did he know?

I would never stop wondering about that. It would be far better if I knew he did know – he had not mentioned it, had shown no sign that he objected, and if only I could be sure that was tolerance rather than ignorance -

“All possible lines of enquiry indeed,” Holmes muttered as the front door shut. “The simplest possible line of enquiry, rather. If only I could have got to the scene at the beginning.”

“Do you think they will arrest Hector even if they don’t get any fresh evidence?”

Holmes waved a hand. “Who am I to predict the random mental wanderings of the London police officer?” he asked. “I would like to say no, but the desire to be seen to be doing something often overwhelms any concern for plausibility. Watson,” he added, catching a glimpse of my face, “I am talking to no purpose. Your friend will be well enough.”

Holmes spent the next day out of the house, and I hoped that meant he was making progress. He returned as I was on my way up to bed, however, and waved me onward without answering my question as to how his day had been. The next morning he was out before I awoke, and after another day of fretting and failing to write or work on anything at all I went to see Hector. I could give him no new hopes, but I could not leave him alone and let him think he was friendless.

It was evening now, and he would be at home if not at Bell’s. His landlady, he’d said, was a shrew and a busybody, but she admitted he was in and let me up.

“How are you holding up?” I asked him.

He sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking I should chuck it all and set out for the Continent.”

“Surely it won’t come to that.”

“It has, or close enough. I’d already be gone if I had the slightest idea how I’d make a living.”

“But you can’t leave the country while the police are watching you, can you?” I asked. Will only shook his head.

I embraced him, gently. We could do nothing more in a house where the landlady did not knock.

“If I could, I would go to Scotland Yard and exonerate you at once,” I said. “They know me there, because of Holmes; they might give me some lenience. But the risk -”

“You can’t do that, Watson,” Will said, his eyes wide with fear. “Don’t speak of it. Neither of us could afford the consequences of that.”

“You can scarcely afford the consequences now,” I whispered.

“Don’t speak of it, don’t even suggest it,” he said. “My life would not be worth living should it all come out, and no more would yours.”

We tried to think of an alternate solution, but none appeared, and eventually I left, wishing for some way none of this could ever have happened. I felt as if I could see an inevitable doom coming upon us both, though I tried to tell myself that there was no reason for such worries yet.

Hector, and then me – I knew what I would have to do if Hector was arrested. And then, I thought, the cold inside the hansom suddenly intensifying, after me, Holmes. For if I were caught up in such a scandal – and he lived with me – and none of the police would believe that he had known nothing – oh God. And he had no idea of what fate might be coming upon him.

When I arrived at Baker Street, however, he was still out, and according to Mrs. Hudson had given no time when he would be back. It was well enough – in the surprise of that realization I might have told him something, and for now – for now it might still, must still, work out all right.

It had to. I could not live with myself if I was the cause of his destruction. I knew he could take care of himself – I was relying on him to take care of all of us, whether he knew it or not – but I had always been unduly protective of him. He knew it; he thought of it, no doubt, as solely motivated by my desire to be useful on his cases, and he took advantage of it in them. But while being useful to him had been one of the ropes that had tied me to life in my first rocky years in London, there was of course more to it than that.

It was so much easier when I did not admit it. When I did let myself think about it I was always certain that at any moment he would read it off me, as he had read so much else.

It was so difficult, though, keeping my mind on his work and his investigations and not on the brilliant mind that drove them or the wiry body that performed their demands. I seemed always unprepared for him, and his sudden moments of queer beauty were no rarer than his sudden stunning insights. It seemed so strange that he had noticed nothing of my interest. Now, alone in our rooms, I could let myself think about it, and wonder whether he was in fact oblivious, or had some other reason for his silence.

Surely even if he knew the rest of it he could not know that. I could imagine him unconcerned with my desires for other men. But I knew no normal man would trust a sodomite who desired him, and the one thing I was certain of was that Holmes trusted me as far as he trusted anyone.

But the rest of it – I wished I could be certain that he knew, or that he would take it well. If only I could tell him everything and let him work out a solution.

Of course, if it were safe to tell him, if there were no consequences to his knowledge, then neither I nor Hector would be in this fix at all.

If only I could have been normal, or been as sexless and dedicated to higher aims as Holmes was – but I didn’t truly want that. I wanted a world where no one would be harmed by my speech, but I wouldn’t give up my pleasure and fulfilment, or at least the possibility of fulfilment, to have it. No matter how painful it was to keep silent, or to live every day next to my friend, a man I cared for, a man I – and to not even be able to tell him of my nature, or the most basic happenings of my life...

Mrs. Hudson brought in my supper, and I set myself to safer considerations.

Holmes was not back when I retired that evening, and he was out again – or still – when I awoke. The week passed by without further word from Scotland Yard, which I tried to see as a good sign. Holmes at least seemed cheerful, when he was at home.

This was so rarely, however, that I was surprised when at the end of the week I found Holmes sitting at the breakfast table, frowning over the newspaper. He did not reply to my greeting, which was not particularly strange.

He looked up when I was nearly finished, though, and put out a hand to stop me from rising.

“Watson,” he said, “I advise you to go and talk to your friend. Whatever course of action he takes is his own concern, of course, but – to be frank, Watson, they are beginning to disbelieve your testimony.”

“Why would they?” I asked, letting the indignation I would have felt in any other circumstances show.

“It’s the only possibility that allows them not to think,” he said. This was more than his usual disdain for the official detectives, and I took it as a sign that things were going very badly indeed.

I wired Hector at his office asking if he had a free moment that day, and upon my return from the post office tried not to pace about our sitting room or otherwise show my anxiety. Holmes, at least, was busy updating one of his books of criminals, and paid little attention to me, so I could pretend that he did not notice it.

I received no reply, which was not like Will. Nervous and determined not to show it, I stayed at home until I could expect that he would be at his lodgings, rather than his office, and then left at once.

I knocked on the door of his boarding house a little too hard.

“Sir?” said his landlady.

“Mr. Hector,” I said. “Is he in?”

Her lips thinned. “He is not, sir. And he won’t be back, if what I hear of him is true.” My heart seemed to stop. “Don’t you know what’s happened, sir?” she asked.

“No.”

“The police were here this morning,” she said. “Only on suspicion, they said, but where there’s smoke there’s fire is what I say, and he’ll not be back. And begging your pardon sir, but I wouldn’t think you’d want to know him now either.”

“Thank you for telling me,” I told the hateful woman, and I left, making a desperate effort to maintain what little composure I had. I returned home not particularly calm, but certain.

This was why I had known it was a bad idea to live with Holmes in the first place. Here was the proof before me that I was a fool. I could either watch Will be persecuted and charged, with him knowing I had done nothing for him, or try to interfere and so likely incriminate myself. But my course was clear, whatever the consequences.

And there must be consequences. Even if Holmes had some feeling of loyalty to me (and in the depths of my misery I doubted it), there was no reason for Lestrade to shelter me. But what sort of man would throw away his friend’s life for the sake of his own reputation?

Of course, Will would be incriminated with me. But prison – not more than that, now, thank God – and even utter destruction of his reputation would be better than death. Or if he thought it wasn’t, that was his decision to make.

But if I had come to a conclusion, I was still no closer to action. After a lifetime of secrecy it is hard to walk up to a detective, official or otherwise, and say, “We were not seen at my club after nine because we were not there. We were indeed in Soho, in a rented room in a disreputable hotel, and whatever other crimes Hector committed that evening in my company, you can rest assured that he was not near Gray’s Inn.”

When I entered our rooms, after what seemed far too short a time, Holmes was not there. I drank a glass of brandy – only one, though I wanted more rather badly. Then I tried to compose a confession.

I managed to draft something in my head, something which left me some dignity. Perhaps I could keep most of it hidden. I might be able to ask Holmes to trust my word that we had been together. But no police inspector would, and I had to speak soon.

If Holmes would not take my bare word, or could not think of a way to find the true killer or convince Scotland Yard to believe me, I would have to tell him the full truth. It would have to be plainly – if I started to prevaricate I would never stop. And then it would be up to Holmes.

If he came home. He had been at home when I left; where in hell had he gone when I most needed him? If he did not return it would have to be Lestrade, who unlike Holmes would have a professional obligation to press me for answers and arrest me when I gave them.

I hoped to God Holmes arrived soon.

I had nearly emptied my cigarette case by the time he did. Though I heard the front door open, there were no footfalls on the stairs. I thought at first it was someone else – a friend of Mrs. Hudson’s, or an official detective, here to interrogate me again – but then I heard Holmes’ strident voice and calmed fractionally. By the time I heard him on the stairs I had restrained myself, so that I would not jump or startle when he entered. It still took a great deal of effort to remain seated, and not simply retreat to my bedroom before he opened the door.

At last he walked in, with his usual flair. “Holmes,” I said, rising. “I have something to tell you. It’s about Hector. He -”

“It must wait, my dear Watson,” said Holmes, something like a grin in his eyes. “I’m expecting Inspector Lestrade any moment now.”

“It is something that you must consider before agreeing with Lestrade’s view of the case,” I said. “You see -”

“I have never agreed with Lestrade’s view of this case, Watson,” said Holmes. “If that’s all it is, you need not worry.”

“It is not. Holmes -”

“It still must wait. Ah, good, that’s the bell. Later, I promise you, dear fellow – if you still want to tell me later.” He was smiling in a way that I could not interpret. An instant later Inspector Lestrade entered the room.

“Well, Mr. Holmes,” he said, after greeting us, “you’ve been mysterious enough about whatever you’ve got to add to this investigation. Suppose you actually tell me what it is, now that I’m here?”

“Patience, Inspector, patience,” said Holmes, still smiling. “We are just waiting upon another guest.”

“So you’ve nothing to explain yet?” said Lestrade, shifting restlessly.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Holmes replied. “We could discuss, for example, the peculiar absence of bloodstains.”

“There were plenty of bloodstains.”

“In the room, yes. Not outside it, according to the very interesting reports you allowed me to examine. You really have done very badly, Lestrade. You failed even to ask your primary witness the right questions.”

“And who’s that?” asked Lestrade. “If my primary witness is Doctor Watson, then I’d like to know what I should have asked him, when it seems like -”

Luckily, at that moment the doorbell rang. “Ah!” said Holmes. “That will be her. A few minutes now, gentlemen, if you please. Sit down, Lestrade, and we will all be grateful shortly for the interruption.”

Holmes crossed to the door, and stood next to it. We heard, faintly, a conversation between whoever was at the door and Mrs. Hudson. In any other circumstance I would have asked Lestrade what he was implying about me, but now I tried to calm my breathing and leaned back in my chair, from which I had been about to rise. Holmes seemed entirely confident, and I hoped that meant he had an alternative solution.

Whomever I had expected to enter, however, it was not the person who did. Mrs. Hudson escorted in a middle-aged woman, made older by the strains of poverty. Her dress was as clean and starched and neat as it could possibly be, but mended in several places and very worn. Her expression, I think, was confused and a little suspicious, but I had hardly any time to observe it before Holmes was on her, and shortly he and our landlady had her handcuffed and held between them.

“Gentlemen,” said Holmes, “this is Alice Pine, the murderer of Joseph Rochester.”

Lestrade and I rose in confusion, and the woman struggled in her captors’ hands. “He was a fiend!” she said. “A fiend and a brute.”

“Are you saying it’s a lie?” asked Mrs. Hudson, who apart from this doubt seemed to be quite enjoying her role in the events.

“No,” said Mrs. Pine. “No, I’m not saying that.” She glared at us all. “But no man deserved it more.”

“Well,” said Lestrade. “Well. I must say – well. Mr. Holmes, who is this woman?”

“She is the mother of Rochester’s former housemaid, and a friend of the charwoman at Gray’s Inn, whom she replaced for one night three weeks ago.”

“That man destroyed my daughter,” said Mrs. Pine. “He had what was coming to him, and nothing more. That’s all I’ll say.”

“She sneaked in, did the cleaning, and brained him, that’s what you’re telling me?” said Lestrade.

“Precisely so, and was able to clean up after herself as well. Your chief witness, as I was saying, Lestrade, was the charwoman. This is why I prefer to be in from the beginning. Now, if I had been able to examine the room, I could have told you where to look from the start, and there would have been none of this backwards tracing.”

“That woman insisted she’d done her rounds as usual!” said Lestrade.

“Of course she did; she was loyal to Mrs. Pine, whether or not she deserved it, and terrified that she would be charged as well if matters came out. But you could have overcome that if you had had the right idea of what signs to look for.”

“You’re presuming a lot on my inability. How do you know all this was at the scene?”

“Because it was in the reports written by your constables. Beyond that, Rochester had a history with women, and it took very little time to discover it. That meant that there would almost certainly be someone else with both opportunity and motive – Hector just had the one.”

“How was I supposed to know he’d got a housemaid in trouble?”

“By doing your research. Now, if you have no further questions, I think it’s high time you took your prisoner to the Yard and freed William Hector.”

I had sat down heavily when they started explaining the method, and barely moved since. I was safe. Will was safe, after less than a day in prison and no awful revelations. As Lestrade escorted Mrs. Pine out, Sherlock Holmes smiled at me with a trace of smugness.

“What did you have to tell me, Watson?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Nothing,” I said. “Holmes, you are – thank you.” I still didn’t know if he had guessed what I had been going to say, or if he thought something else had been going on, but I did not have to tell him myself, not under those horrible circumstances.

“Not at all,” said Holmes. “It is my business, you know that. Now, Mrs. Hudson, I hope your invaluable assistance in all this excitement has not upset your cooking?”

I did not ask as many questions about the case after dinner as I might have, and Holmes did not seem to expect me to. He was smug with his triumph, but quietly smug, for once. I should, perhaps, have been interested in how he had at the last minute pulled my friend out of danger; but I was too sick with relief for that.

The next time I saw Hector was at our club; he was refusing sympathy and casually dismissing queries with, “Just a little legal trouble.” I smiled at him from across the room, and he smiled back, and I did not crowd him. The next time we met there, he drew me into a back room.

“I want you to know that I cannot thank you enough for what you have done,” he said.

“It wasn’t me,” I said, still dizzy at the thought of how close to ruin we had both been. “It was Holmes. I have no idea what I would have done without him.”

“But you asked him in the first place,” said Will. He drew in a breath. “Watson, does he know?”

I bit my lip. “I don’t know. He hasn’t said anything.”

“And you think he wouldn’t – of course you do. Watson, I’m glad of that, but it doesn’t matter any more. We can’t keep on like that. I can’t risk it being found out.”

I was not as surprised as I might have been. The horror he had undergone would make anyone think twice about his life.

“We shall continue as friends, then?” I asked.

He looked at me in relief. “Yes,” he said. “I hope so. Don’t despise me for it.”

“Why would I? You’ve had a shock. There was never the sort of connection between us that would make me take it personally.”

“Thank you.” He took my hand. “Let us remain friends. Shall we return to the front?”

We had supper, and something like a normal conversation with some others there. I tried hard to seem natural, and I could tell Hector was as well. He had some more excuse for discomfort than I, however.

It was not that I had placed undue sentiment on our arrangement. But I didn’t want to think about the implications ending it had for me. Having other men in my life made it easier not to think about what Holmes was beginning to mean to me.

They invited me to play cards, and I wanted to. I wanted to very badly. But I knew that in the mood I was in I would get drunk, and play for as long as I possibly could, so as not to think about Holmes, and I did not have the money for that. Besides, Hector would think that it was because I had been more attached to him than I was.

I had been good about not gambling recently, with Holmes’s cases to distract me. I was sober enough to control myself. I declined, saying something about making an early night of it, and left, even though the last place I wanted to go was back to our rooms to reflect yet again upon the danger I had escaped, and what Holmes might know, and what I wanted from him.

But home was really the only option I had, other than places that would be far, far worse for me than a card game with friends.

It was raining, with ice cold water that sought out every hole in an overcoat’s defences, so I had the doorman hail me a cab and told the driver Baker Street before I could change my mind.

I would find something to read, I decided. Something to distract my attention at least until I could retire to bed.

I was still upset as I mounted the stairs to our rooms, and made more so by the knowledge that I would have to conceal it if Holmes was in. I paused at the top of the stairs, wondering if I could hear him and so be forewarned, but there was no sound within. I entered; there was no purpose in standing there and perhaps drawing his attention were he in.

He was in. He was leaning against the mantelpiece, smoking and staring into empty space. This was not a particularly unusual occurrence. What stopped me was his state of dress.

He wore no waistcoat, no collar, no cravat – only his shirt and braces, the sleeves rolled above his elbows. The shirt was quite open at the neck, though his throat was hidden by shadow. His normally sleek hair was a little – just a little – disarrayed. He looked like the first in a series of pornographic photographs.

It was not so far from his normal mode of dress at home, thought usually he at least wore a dressing gown. I later noticed that his chemical table was covered with the detritus of an experiment, explaining his shirtsleeves. But at the time I only had eyes for him. I might have been able to ignore it, or hide my reaction, at any other time. As it was I froze for too long a moment in the doorway.

Holmes turned his head and looked at me, too soon. I tried desperately to restore calm to my features; if I failed he did not remark on it. Instead he said, “Hector is well?”

“Yes,” I said. “Quite.” I crossed the room and poured myself a brandy.

“But he has ended his connection with you,” said Holmes thoughtfully. I spilled the brandy.

“How – that is, no, we are still friends,” I said uselessly, looking for a cloth. I could not look at Holmes, but I could almost feel him raising his eyebrows.

“Watson,” he said, “that’s Courvoisier. Kindly don’t use it for dyeing the rug. I was referring to the cessation of ... intimacies between you.”

I couldn’t speak. For an eternal second I couldn’t breathe. An effort of nearly five years of my life – or, looked at another way, my entire life – had been proven useless all at once. I had thought I had been prepared for him finding out, but clearly I was not. I gripped the sideboard and tried to collect myself.

“My dear fellow, I am sorry,” said Holmes. His voice was startlingly close, and his hand touched my shoulder. “I did not realize how much of a shock that revelation would be to you.”

“How?” I said, my voice hardly more than a whisper. “How did you know?”

“You are extremely generous of spirit, and would no doubt provide such assistance for any of your friends,” said Holmes, “but not, I think, with as much trepidation as I have noticed in you recently. And it was moderately obvious that both you and Hector were lying about your location that night. Obvious to me, Watson – don’t look so concerned.”

“Then how did you know he hadn’t done it?” A foolish thing to ask, but my wits were entirely scattered.

“I trust your judgement, as I said,” said Holmes with some impatience. “Besides, there was no reason to doubt that you were with him the whole time, especially as I had seen you return that night. Your manner after an assignation is rather characteristic.”

“You know when I have been -” I cut myself off. “Holmes, I can’t -”

“Sit down, Watson,” said Holmes, escorting me to the settee. I did, seeing no better option. “You know that generally I ask for complete honesty from my clients. Surely you realize, then, that I have been making concessions for both you and Hector through this entire case.” He sat next to me, leaning against one of the arms of the settee. “And from that, you must understand, Watson, that my regard for you is utterly unaffected by this knowledge.”

“But how long have you known I was – I -?”

Holmes tilted his head, a slightly ironic look in his eye. “My dear Watson,” he said, “I knew it less than five minutes after we were first introduced.”

My mouth fell open. “But – how -?”

“Your eyes when you first saw me, Watson. You did not take such care to guard your gaze then as you do now.”

I blushed. Did he mean, then, that he knew I had been immediately attracted to him?

“I have found it profitable to pay attention to such details, as you know,” said Holmes. “I doubt it would be evident to anyone else. You need not fear on that account.”

“Are you certain?”

“Of course. I am even impressed, though I suppose you do have years of practice at keeping this secret.”

“Why bring this up?” I asked. “You didn’t need to. You have managed not to mention it for years. Why now?”

Holmes smiled, an expression I recognized from when I made a relevant observation during a case. “Now,” he said, the smile fading, “I find I am curious.”

“About what?” I asked, and I cannot say my voice did not shake.

“About the reason for the end of such things with Mr. Hector,” said Holmes. “You trust each other, you have just proven yourself willing to protect him – you seemed very attached to each other.”

“Only as friends,” I said quickly. “Hector was shaken by the danger we were both in. He doesn’t want to risk it anymore. That’s all.”

“But you are very upset by it. You were before I spoke to you. Watson, stop that, I hate seeing you scared of me.” He reached out and turned my face toward his when he realized I was avoiding his gaze. “I hated seeing you scared of me,” he repeated. “It’s not like you. Why are you now?”

“I was in danger as well,” I reminded him. “Or I had good reason to think I was.”

He frowned. “I wish I had been certain enough to give you more hope. But I would never have let it come to that, my dear Watson.”

He was still touching me, still gently holding my face, less than two feet away from me. The dim light exaggerated his sharp, thin features, making him even more strangely fascinating. He had never been handsome, but to me he had always been desirable. The pause in our conversation lengthened beyond any hope of rescue. I could only breathe in small gasps, and seemed unable to exhale at all. He had sounded so sincere, so protective, so – affectionate, yes, but with what kind of affection?

My gaze kept returning to his thin lips, until they parted and his tongue slid along them. I closed my eyes, but I was already leaning forward.

He did not back away. He did not seem surprised. He leaned slightly against me and pressed his lips back against mine and I could not trust this, could not believe in it.

I opened my eyes as I pulled away, though, and he was looking straight at me with the focus he generally reserved for conclusive proof in a case. “I wondered,” he said quietly. “I did wonder.”

“Holmes,” I whispered. I knew I was shaking by the movement of his delicate, slightly cold fingertips against my jaw.

“To be clear,” he said hoarsely, “you are not paralysed by fear of social censure?”

“It rather depends,” I said. “I want -” I went all in. “- this to be worth it.”

“Emotionally?” he asked. “I think I can promise that, at least, if you want it from me. I may have spoken slightingly of such matters before – I may even have been surprised when I realized the exception – but it has been some time since then.” His gaze made the words seem far more passionate than they would have sounded on their own.

“Oh,” I said. “You – Can I?”

“Yes,” he said, and I gathered up my courage and kissed him again.

This time I did it properly, and it lasted some time. I tried to show him how much I meant by it. He responded, a little, but he seemed too passive, certainly too submissive for what I would have expected from him. But when I began to pull away he followed my lips.

“Sherlock?” I whispered, trying the name on my tongue. He smiled a little.

“I confess myself slightly anxious,” he said.

“Don’t be.” I reached up to run my fingers through his hair, wondering why he would be. A thought occurred, terribly unlikely were he anyone else, but consistent with what little I had already observed, and what he had said. “Have you never been kissed before?” I asked, half disbelieving and half desperately aroused by the idea.

“Not in ... nearly ten years, I suppose.”

“Who was it?”

“Oh, no one,” he said, and then at my look of disbelief, “No one important, truly.”

He caught sight of my expression and laughed a little. “Watson, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to hide anything from you. Ten years ago, when I was new in London and just starting out in my profession, I was investigating a network of alleged criminals. It took me some time to realize that they were not criminals in any sense that I cared about.”

I choked a little. “You mean...”

“That was how I found out about it, yes,” he said. “I mean, besides the classical authors, of course.”

“And you met someone there?”

“No,” he said. “I thought I might be missing something, so I tried to get closer to them.”

“By kissing men.”

“Well, yes. I felt rather a fool when I realized that my sources had simply been unreliable.”

“What an odd way to discover you were queer. But characteristic.” I smiled.

“I don’t know if I did,” said Holmes thoughtfully. “I might have realized that some of my prior feelings had tended that way, but I felt so little interest at the time, and afterwards. It is only – well, I find you make me unduly sentimental, Watson.”

“You felt nothing for – anyone?”

“Nothing,” said Holmes. “Nothing at all, before you.”

After that, I had to kiss him again. Since I now knew I needed to guide him I was prepared, and gentle. And Holmes, I realized, was observing – that was what his seeming passivity had been. His response to me grew in confidence.

It was more than stirring to feel the results of that mind turning itself to carnal matters for the first time, and my next kiss was not gentle. Neither was he. My mind flooded with a thousand possibilities I had tried not to allow myself to consider before.

I kept myself slower than I wanted to be, conscious of his inexperience and the situation, but eventually he growled in frustration and pulled away to untie my cravat.

“Watson,” he said, “I may be inexperienced, but that does not mean I have infinite patience.”

“You want -” I asked, too eagerly, but he tossed aside my cravat and collar and said, “Yes. Tonight.”

“Bed, then,” I said. “Let me take you to bed.”

In his bedroom awkwardness threatened me for one moment before he determinedly started on my waistcoat buttons and I remembered myself, or forgot myself again, and kissed him. He was already half-undressed.

“God, when I saw you,” I said, sliding my hands under his shirt. “No cravat, Holmes, you looked -” I shook my head and kissed him again.

“Oh,” he said, with a little surprise.

“You must know how attractive you are,” I said, laughing against his throat as I unbuttoned him.

“It isn’t a matter I’ve given much thought,” he replied.

I shoved his braces off his shoulders and pulled his shirt off over his head, then paused to stare. He was all lean muscle accented by black hair, thin and pale but clearly leather-hard underneath. “How can you not have,” I said, barely a question, my hands reaching to touch him of their own accord. “Look at yourself.”

He smiled and finished unbuttoning my shirt, then pushed my hands away so he could remove it. “There,” he said, drawing his palms up my sides and looking at my scarred, hairy, no longer muscular chest. “That’s what I want to look at.”

My automatic demurral was lost in his gaze. I took him by the shoulders and pulled him into bed. I lay between his legs, stroking my hands over his chest. He was reaching up, trying to kiss me, and I let him.

We spent long moments kissing, our chests sliding against each other, hands finding out all the textures of each other’s skin. He was warmer than I had expected him to be, or perhaps I was still remembering the cold outside. I fingered his nipples, stroked his muscled arms, tried to fit my hands under him to squeeze his buttocks. Our legs interlocked, and I felt him straining against me through cloth, and could not help but push back. His head fell back on the pillows. I hadn’t wanted to rush him earlier, but now I wished we were both bare.

He pulled at my waistband, clearly with the same idea, and I rolled off him to better undress. We tangled our hands and legs and clothing as we pulled each other’s trousers off, but there could be nothing better, then, than the feeling of his body catching and bending around mine. When I could kick our trousers off the end of the bed I kissed him again.

“What do you want?” I asked

“Everything,” he gasped, arching under me. “I want to know – have – everything -”

“Not all in one night, darling,” I said, smiling. In a second I was embarrassed by the endearment, but he did not seem to notice.

This, with the whole length of his body stretched out along mine, with his hard bone and muscle digging into me and winding around me, this was what I had wanted. My cock slid against his stomach; he was gasping and trying to bring his into as much contact with my skin as he could.

He held me against him with all the strength I had ever seen in him, and kissed me with everything he had. God, he was lovely, and thrusting against me with excessive energy. He would have just frigged us both to completion like that, but I had other plans, and I pulled away from his mouth reluctantly.

He tried to pull me back, but I smiled at him and wrapped my hand around his cock and he moaned and dropped his arms. I crawled down his body and gently sucked on his glans. Air came out of him in a great voiced rush.

“John,” he gasped, hoarse. I licked him and listened to him moan and then took him in deeper. He sounded not just wanting but surprised, and I remembered his virginity and groaned a little at the thought, with his cock still in my mouth. He thrust up reflexively, and I placed one hand on his hip. He would not last much longer. He was making little, broken off noises now, the beginning of moans or whimpers he did not want to allow himself to make. I sucked in nearly his entire length, and felt him hardening in my mouth. He was close, stiffening so that I could feel every ridge of his cock, his hips thrusting against my hand. I wanted him to come, wanted to feel him spurting into my mouth, wanted -

“Stop, stop,” he gasped, shoving me away, “stop, oh God, John, oh God.”

“What is it?” I asked, moving at once so I could see his face.

“I was – oh – going to finish -”

“Don’t you want to?” I asked, beginning to be relieved, if that was all. I held him in my arms as he shivered with tension.

“God, yes,” he groaned, “but not – you can’t want -”

“A pity,” I said, wrapping my hand around him again and beginning to stroke. “That’s what I was aiming for. I wanted it, trust me, Sherlock.” He moaned quietly, and I sped my hand. “We’ll do it again sometime. I want to feel you come off, taste you as you finish for me, Sherlock, do it now, for me, come on, let me feel it...”

He groaned, and his whole body flexed against mine, and he jerked and spilled in my hand. His face collapsed in on itself, and his neck was a perfect wonderful arch, and I could barely keep working him through it. I kept on until he had stopped gasping, though, and then reached for myself.

He grabbed my wrist to stop me, his eyes opening. “Tell me what to do,” he said, and then he was stroking me and all I could say was, “Don’t stop.”

I woke up early the next morning, with him curled up behind me. I wasn’t used to spending the night with men, and so at once I knew where I was, and with whom. I lay there warm and comfortable for a minute before I slowly realized that even if this was now possible, it was not necessarily safe. I pushed myself up on one hand, and Holmes’ arm at once wrapped around me and pulled me back down next to him.

“It’s early yet,” he said, “and no one will try to wake either of us unless there’s a client.” He said it simply, rationally, but there was a slight pause of expectation at the end of it. He was not asking outright if I would stay.

I rolled over to face him and kissed him, and was gratified when he eagerly kissed back. My automatic defences against thinking too fondly of him had returned for a minute, but he was showing me clearly that I didn’t need them anymore. He might have had a moment where he was as hesitant as I, but now that I had responded as he had expected he had tossed his uncharacteristic uncertainty aside.

Mrs. Hudson was used to Holmes being late to breakfast, but she had grown accustomed to punctuality from me now that I had largely recovered from my illness. When I at last retreated to my room to dress, trying to be as silent as possible though I was rather unsteady on my feet, the table in our sitting room was already laid for breakfast, though thankfully neither our landlady nor the maid were anywhere in sight.

Our landlady did not appear until I rang, but then she brought a tray loaded with tea and coffee and told us that breakfast would be just a moment, “since I told Annie I didn’t want you two disturbed too early, what with all the goings-on recently.”

It was an innocuous enough sentence, but Holmes, propped up against the mantelpiece and lighting his pipe, glanced up before quickly returning his attention to the match.

She brought up our breakfast and the post, and then returned downstairs, guaranteeing us privacy for at least half an hour. “Do you think she knows?” I asked as soon as she had left.

He glanced at the door and then turned to me. “Watson,” he said, “it does not matter. I think she may suspect; I am certain that within a month she will have realized. She’s clever enough; she is also discreet. I would not have lived here for so long if I could not trust her. You needn’t fear, Watson. Trust me. You can stop living in fear.”

“The world is larger than one landlady,” I said.

“True enough. But you and I are of more use to it free than jailed. Eat your breakfast, Watson, and don’t worry. I would never have let you be charged, even before you trusted me enough to tell me.”

I stood up, took his pipe from his lips, and kissed him. He tasted of coffee and his strong tobacco. I would happily kiss him every morning for the rest – but, I thought, I should not get too far ahead of myself.

“I do trust you,” I said. “I wish I’d trusted you long ago.” He kissed me more deeply, and my eggs were cold before I returned to them.

And it has been true. It has been years, now, over half a decade of trusting each other, with no scares, no surprises, and even a few moments of startling acceptance. Last month Inspector Lestrade made a meaningful remark about “crimes the law cannot touch, and others it should not touch,” and even Holmes looked amazed for a second.

He is never very demonstrative in language – he has said I write enough for both of us – but his protectiveness is his own proclamation. I had never expected to see him comfortable in this area at all, and he gives me so much evidence that now he is.