I had not been in my study five minutes when the maid entered to say that a person desired to see me. To my astonishment it was none other than my strange old book-collector, his sharp, wizened face peering out from a frame of white hair, and his precious volumes, a dozen of them at least, wedged under his right arm.
"You're surprised to see me, sir," said he, in a strange, croaking voice.
I acknowledged that I was.
"Well, I've a conscience, sir, and when I chanced to see you go into this house, as I came hobbling after you, I thought to myself, I'll just step in and see that kind gentleman, and tell him that if I was a bit gruff in my manner there was not any harm meant, and that I am much obliged to him for picking up my books."
"You make too much of a trifle," said I. "May I ask how you knew who I was?"
"Well, sir, if it isn't too great a liberty, I am a neighbour of yours, for you'll find my little bookshop at the corner of Church Street, and very happy to see you, I am sure. Maybe you collect yourself, sir; here's `British Birds,' and `Catullus,' and `The Holy War' -- a bargain every one of them. With five volumes you could just fill that gap on that second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?"
I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life.
When I came to, I was sitting in my chair, my collar open, and the taste of brandy on my lips. Holmes attempted to pour more brandy down my throat.
I sputtered and coughed. Holmes was sitting on my table, leaning over me. When I opened my eyes, he put his flask on the table and rested his hands on my shoulders. He looked remorseful.
“My dear Watson, I owe you a thousand apologies,” said he. “I had no idea that you would be so affected.”
I couldn't believe my eyes, my ears. Three years of loneliness, a pervasive, devastating sense of loss, and here he was, flesh and blood, the man I had missed like I would the breath in my lungs.
I gripped his arms desperately. “Holmes!” I cried. “Is it really you?”
He smiled, almost shyly. I brazenly touched him, still not believing my eyes. I felt his sinewy arms, his shoulders, even reaching up to touch his face, to run my fingers along his pale cheeks, his long nose.
In my relief, I abandoned propriety altogether and hugged him tightly. I rested my head upon his shoulder and, to my shame, began to weep.
Three years of grief poured out of me, and I sobbed as I gripped my dearest friend to my chest.
Holmes tensed, but after a moment he wrapped his long arms around my back and stiffly hugged me in return.
And then I had to look at him, take in his expression. I pulled away and sat back in my chair, wiping my eyes and laughing, looking at those features of his which held me enrapt. There had never been anyone in my life who had such an effect upon me, and here he sat, smiling down at me from my desk.
Holmes looked pale, and even more gaunt than I had remembered him. His thick black hair was unruly from his disguise as the old bookseller. The frayed overcoat and dark wool trousers of his costume made him appear somber, as if he had just stepped from his own funeral. In a way he had. His gray eyes looked my body over with similar intensity, and I realized he was as happy to look upon me after so many years apart as I was to see him.
“Can it indeed be that you are alive?” I asked him. “Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awful abyss?”
“Wait a moment,” said he. “Are you sure that you are really fit to discuss things? I have given you a serious shock by my unnecessarily dramatic reappearance.”
I assured him that I was fine, and begged him to sit down and tell me how he came to be alive. Holmes sat opposite me and lit a cigarette. He wanted to put off the tale of his survival until later this evening, but I shook my head and grabbed his sleeve in my enthusiasm.
"I am full of curiosity. I should much prefer to hear now."
"You'll come with me tonight?" He asked the question hesitantly.
I grinned from ear to ear. "When you like and where you like."
Holmes threw back his head and laughed. "This is indeed like the old days!” He inhaled deeply upon his cigarette, and then turned to face me with all severity. “Well, then, about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it."
"You never were in it?" I felt as though my heart had stopped.
"No, Watson, I never was in it.” Holmes smiled briefly, and then told me of his amazing battle with Professor Moriarty at the edge of the abyss.
Holmes had fought until Moriarty had plunged into the falls. Upon realizing that there would be other men in Moriarty's association who would want him dead, Holmes decided to take advantage of the turn of events fate had placed his way. If he were to pretend to be dead, his enemies would soon expose themselves, and allow him the opportunity to destroy them.
Holmes told his story with great precision, as if reciting a speech he had memorized. As I listened, my happiness at his survival was slowly giving way to a sense of betrayal, and a great hurt that he had been alive this entire time, and had not taken my feelings into consideration.
As he haughtily continued his tale, my anger began to boil. For three long years I had mourned him. Not a day went by that I had not thought of my dearest companion, and how his loss affected me. One word from him would have been enough to save me all the despair I had endured, and yet he had chosen to lump me in with the rest of the world, with the public and his enemies, trusting me no more than a stranger.
I knew Holmes well enough to see the glint of satisfaction in his eyes as he recounted his remarkable tale. He was pleased with himself, with his trickery and his reappearance. And all the while he described his harrowing escape, my heart began to break in my chest, for the great lie he spouted without a thought, that had torn me to shreds.
Holmes blew smoke around his face and leaned back in the chair. “I struggled upwards, and at last I reached a ledge several feet deep and covered with soft green moss,” Holmes told me. He put out his cigarette in the empty brandy glass on my desk and stretched back, his hands linked behind his head, staring at me with a small smile. “From this ledge I could lie unseen in the most perfect comfort. There I was stretched when you, my dear Watson, and all your following were investigating in the most sympathetic and inefficient manner the circumstances of my death.”
I leaned over my desk, swung my arm back, and punched Holmes in the jaw.
Holmes fell out of the seat and onto the floor. He looked at me in complete shock, holding his cheek.
“Watson!” his voice was hushed, startled. “What on earth!”
I was shaking now. To know now that all my bereavement could have been spared by a single word was too much. In three steps I made my way around the desk and lunged at him, grabbing him off the floor by his lapels.
“You sit there with a smirk on your face, berating my investigative skills, telling me you watched me as I sat weeping for you on that ledge?” My voice trembled with suppressed emotions. My eyes welled with tears again, and I wiped at them hastily. “Do you have any idea how devastated I was? How that moment shattered the man I had been? You stared down at my ruin, Holmes! I was never the same!” I threw him down on the ground.
Holmes stood shakily, still cradling his cheek. “Watson, please, I--“
“-- Do you know how hard the last few years have been for me?” I shouted, covering my face with my hands. “I was so shaken by your death, I was barely present to deal with Mary's illness. She died, and I hardly cared, because I was still too devastated by the loss of you!”
I looked at him again, and saw he had gone completely pale. For once he did not try to defend his immoral actions.
“How could you?” I cried. “I thought I was your friend!”
Holmes looked appalled. “I owe you many apologies, my dear Watson, but it was all-important that it should be thought I was dead, and it is quite certain that you would not have written so convincing an account of my unhappy end had you not yourself thought that it was true.”
“But afterwards, Holmes!” I stalked towards him and he retreated back towards the wall. “Could you not have trusted me after I published my account? For God's sake, there has not been a single day that I have not missed you. You could have spared me all of this with one word!”
Holmes would not cry, it was not in his nature. But I knew that the words I spoke affected him, for he looked as though I had stabbed him in the heart.
“There were other reasons,” said he. He spoke so softly I thought at first I had imagined them.
“What?” I crossed my arms over my chest. I glared at him, trying my best to loom over him despite my smaller stature.
“Several times during the last three years I have taken up my pen to write to you.” His voice had gone unnaturally quiet. He looked away from me. “But always I feared lest your affectionate regard for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret.”
“So I do not deserve your trust.” I swallowed another swell of anger and clenched my fists to refrain from striking him once more.
“You would have followed me,” said he.
“Of course I would have!” I shouted back. “You may have used me for support!”
Holmes looked to the floor. "I had only one confidant -- my brother Mycroft.”
My hurt raged in my breast once more. “Mycroft is a trustworthy associate, but not I?”
“No!” Holmes said, eyes wild, hands flying out towards me. “It isn't that! I had to confide in him in order to obtain the money which I needed.” He drew his hands together, pleading with me. “I had no choice.”
“No choice!” I reached out to strike him.
“Don't hit me again,” Holmes warned, his voice low.
But I was beyond reasoning now. My pain and rejection fused into one furious sensation and I leaned forward to throttle him once more.
Holmes is an excellent fighter, however, and he expertly dodged my blow. With startling speed he grabbed me by the arms and threw me down to the floor.
I fought back. My heartbreak made me irrational, and we grappled on the floor like schoolboys. But Holmes was less upset and more effective, and pinned me to the ground, sitting on top of me and holding my arms down, above my head.
We both breathed heavily from the exertion, glaring at each other.
“Don't hit me again,” said he once more.
“I thought you were dead!” I yelled pitifully, my eyes foolishly watering.
“I'm sorry.” He looked frightened. “Watson –- I'm sorry. I had to leave.”
“But why?” I went limp, and he let go of my arms. However he continued to sit on top of me, warily watching me with his sharp eyes.
“I had to leave you behind.” He frowned. “There were other reasons.”
“Why, for God's sake?”
“I needed to distance myself from you.” Holmes spoke in short, clipped tones.
But I spared him no sympathy. “You owe me, at the very least, an explanation!”
Holmes looked crazed. His expression was wild, flushed. Suddenly, he leaned down and grabbed me by the shirt. And then he kissed me, hard. His lips pressed against mine with force. I opened my mouth to protest, and he slipped his tongue inside me, forcing my mouth wider.
I squirmed beneath him, trying to push him off. Finally he broke for air, glaring down at me.
“Now do you see why?” he hissed, pressing the length of his body against mine. “Do you understand how hard it was for me to be with you, day after day, when I was filled with depraved ideas of how to express my total, absolute affection for you?” His voice choked at the last, and he finally did tear up, rage and sadness battling across his expressive face.
I wasn't thinking. My mind had gone blank with the joy of his presence, with the explosive emotions, with this new information. And it had been years since I had been touched, been kissed. I had always been an intensely tactile person, and to be touched in such a manner after so long an absence brought a flare of arousal which burned away all logic from my mind, or any consideration of propriety or gender.
I reached up and cupped the back of Holmes' neck, forcing his head back down to mine. I kissed him back.
Holmes' eyes widened, and then he plunged into my mouth. Our kiss turned feral. I rolled over and forced myself upon him. We bit and sucked at each other in a desperate, violent embrace, clinging to each other, running our hands over each other's heads and faces. There was nothing soft about this lovemaking. It was angry, full of years of our hurt. Holmes ripped at my shirt and I did the same with his frayed overcoat, desperate to feel his skin against mine, to have the warmth of another human body upon me.
I fell back as he opened my shirt, using the angle to extricate his arms from his coat. Holmes helped me, shrugging off his coat and plunging down to run his long, thin fingers along my exposed chest. His mouth was back on mine then, pushing my head back against the hard floorboards of my office, me oblivious to everything other than the thrum of pleasure from my groin, the desperate heat of his mouth, the need to thrust my tongue as deep into him as possible.
Suddenly Holmes broke from me. He bolted upright and in two quick strides was at my office door. He locked it and returned to me.
The small interruption gave me a moment to breathe, to finally question what it was I was doing. A sick, guilty sensation was already forming. This was wrong. This was very, very wrong.
And then Holmes was back, kneeling beside me. He kissed me again, and I forgot all my momentary reservations.
Holmes pulled me down to the floor with him once more. His hands were everywhere – tracing the contours of my face, running along my shoulders, my chest, even pinching my nipples slightly as he pressed his long body along mine. For my part, I just cradled his head in my hands, keeping his lips prisoner upon mine. I could feel his urgency pressing against my hips, and I instinctively ground my own hardness against his.
Holmes moaned. Suddenly his hands lowered, deftly unbuckling my trousers and unbuttoning my flies. Within seconds he released my shaft, holding it in his long fingers, grasping at it with strength.
I swore in excitement. None of the women I had ever made love to had held me with such gentle power. I thrust helplessly into his hand. His fingers curled around the tip of my shaft, and slowed my unsteady pulsing into an even rhythm, his thumb rubbing the tip of my slit with maddening smoothness.
I was desperately curious to feel what it would be like to rub my member against his. I untangled my fingers from his hair and tried to undo his trousers as expertly as he had undone mine, but I ended up fumbling about, simply stroking at his bulge through the fabric. Holmes hissed in pleasure, his head thrown back wantonly, red, swollen lips parted. He released me momentarily to assist me in freeing his shaft. The moment his hands left my flesh I ached for their return.
Holmes' member sprung loose through his trousers with obvious need. His cock was thick and long, and oozed from the tip profusely. His entire body shivered as I tentatively touched him there. I closed my eyes, imagining what I would do if it were my own flesh in my hands. I began to stroke him. Within moments, his own fingers returned to my aching need. The two of us stroked each other together, and I pressed my body tightly against his.
I threw my leg over Holmes' and moved my hips to be able to rub my shaft and sac against his cock. As I did so, Holmes bit back a cry and then climaxed, his seed pouring over my hand and my own member in large spurts. I pushed even harder against him, against his hand and his member, and within seconds I joined his climax, our seed mingling together in a sticky crime scene of unadulterated desire.
We lay there, panting, clinging to each other as we caught our breaths. As my heart rate returned to normal, I felt awash with guilt and shame. I couldn't even look at him. Was my pleasure at seeing Holmes alive so powerful that it debased my very nature?
Holmes pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to clean me up, wiping first my cock and then my hands and fingers. He then wiped himself clean and tucked himself back into his trousers. He leaned over to do the same for me. I flushed with sudden, belated embarrassment, and fumbled as I hastily buttoned my shirt. My hands were shaking.
Holmes didn't say a word. He had a small smile on his face as he trucked my member back into my trousers and buttoned them with delicacy, almost reverence. He looked at me, flush from our exertions, his eyes bright, and happiness radiated from him. His lips were red and swollen from our kisses and he looked absolutely beautiful. Guilt cut me like a knife at the thought.
I was unsure how to break it to him, but this could never happen again. My heart felt as though it were stabbed. He looked so very joyous, more excited than I'd ever seen him, his eyes glazed with love for me. But my stomach was flipping with my shame. “Holmes…”
“Halloa! What time is it?” Holmes suddenly stood. He glanced at his pocket watch. “Eight-thirty already!” He reached for the remnants of his bookseller's costume, and then smiled devilishly at me. “I'm almost late for my assassination!”
“Assassination?” I stood, much more slowly, my head still foggy with all that had transpired.
“I'll explain along the way,” said he, grabbing his hat and gloves.
I had barely a moment to glance in my mirror on the way out the door. I didn't look as disheveled as I felt, but my lips were red, my hair a mess, and my shirt was wrinkled beyond repair. Luckily, my hat and coat covered most of the damage. There was nothing to be done with the startled expression in my face, other than rely on the privacy of the dark evening fog of London. Without another word of our intimacy, I followed Holmes out onto the street, and into a hansom, my revolver in my pocket, the thrill of adventure in my heart.