Baker Street was in darkness when we returned. Shivering, soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone, we limped up the stairs by feel alone. Automatically, I went to light the fire as Holmes put a match to a number of candles about the place. It was unspoken between us that we would not light the gas lamps after that evening’s debacle. He disappeared into his room for a few minutes to light his own fire as I coaxed a flame in the main fireplace.
“Let me check your arm,” I said, turning from the blaze that was rapidly devouring a pile of kindling as he emerged.
“Nonsense,” he snapped. “There is nothing wrong with it.”
“Holmes.” I passed a weary hand over my eyes. “I can see the blood dripping from your finger tips even in this light. Remove your frock coat and your shirt and allow me to stem the bleeding or you will be even paler come morning.”
He looked for one moment as if he were about to continue arguing with me, then suddenly thought the better of it.
“Very well,” was his grudging response. I fetched my medical bag from the shelf in the corner as he began to peel his sodden clothing from his spare, pale limbs. I turned and watched, my face in partial shadow as the man stripped his entire upper body bare in the flickering candle light.
It was beautiful. Sculpted and smooth, the alabaster skin reflected the golden light of the fire from a dozen planes and curves. But the blood dripping steadily from the gash on his forearm stirred my medical brain sufficiently to shunt the over-enamoured part of my mind to the side. It would be enough, I thought, kneeling at the floor beside him, to be able to touch him like this.
“Sit,” I told him, pulling needle and suturing gut from the bag. “That will not cease to bleed unless I give it at least three stitches.”
“Do your worst, Doctor,” he growled, reaching for a cigarette. “You normally do.”
The offhand comment cut me to the quick, but I hid my pain. He was so good at that lately, I thought, threading the needle by candlelight. Every other pronouncement was either a barb or a stab or a cutting snipe and I was beginning to feel flayed; from the moment I came down to breakfast, to the minute I stepped from the room to seek my bed for the night.
So why didn’t I leave? I mused, tenderly beginning to stitch his arm. I strived to keep the discomfort to an absolute minimum, but every flinch hurt me further. If I had half an ounce of sense or self-worth, I should have left a month prior to that night. Instead, I continued to follow the man blindly, like some besotted fool who has lost his mind, into adventures and scrapes and near-death experiences.
Which, in truth, I had. I had lost my mind and also my soul to Sherlock Holmes many, many months before, and there was truly no hope for me. Well, there was one small scrap of hope, which I clung to in the darkest nights when sleep refused to grace me with her presence because ardour had too tight a grip on my body and mind. The only scrap of hope I had was that Holmes had no idea of my true feelings for him.
That would have been the death of me, I was sure of it.
“Have you quite finished?” he asked scathingly, as I snipped the final stitch.
“Yes. Let me dress it. You wouldn’t want blood leaking all over you during the night.”
His fastidiousness allowed me to carefully smooth a white bandage over the wound, tying it off carefully to stop it slipping. It would have moved by morning, but hopefully not too far.
I shivered as I began to pack my equipment away.
“You are soaked,” he observed in that dispassionate voice of his. “You should see to your own condition.”
“I intend to,” I replied, standing up and moving back to the shelves. “Now I know you aren’t about to bleed to death during the night, I intend on partaking of a glass of brandy, and then finding some dry clothing. Would you care for a dram?”
He nodded curtly, staring into the fire.
I wanted him to find his dressing gown, or another shirt, and in the same breath, was compelled and enthralled by how he sat there, half naked in that unselfconscious way of his. I could have stared at him all night. I could also see the weariness had passed. Fifteen minutes sat stationary on the sofa had refreshed him enough so the nervous energy he normally worked upon had returned with a vengeance. The muscles across his back were twitching and with a bounce he suddenly stood up.
“Watson,” he began with a scowl, but then suddenly stopped. He was looking at me, directly at me in such a manner as I hadn’t seen before and my mouth went dry. What had he seen, I wondered wildly. Dear god, please, let nothing that was in my mind have shown in my face. I watched him with a soul-wrenching mix of fear and excitement as he prowled around the sofa towards where I stood by the sideboard. I had the decanter in one hand and a half full glass of brandy in the other. Watching his approach, I put the decanter down and took a goodly swallow of spirit, bracing myself for I knew not what.
“Yes Holmes?” I asked lightly. “Did you want a glass?”
“I want to know what you were thinking.”
“Can you not tell?” I smiled at him, feeling the expression tighten across my face as my eyes refused to join in. “Good heavens, why ever not?”
“I can tell,” he rejoined quietly, his voice a sibilant hiss as his face approached mine. “I simply wish to know if you realised exactly what it was that you were thinking of.”
I gazed into those ice cold eyes and saw the burning need in them, felt it strike me hard in the groin as my breath froze. I shivered then, a combination of being soaked to the bone, and of not knowing what the next few moments would hold for me. Or, indeed, what the next few hours, days or weeks of my existence would entail.
“Enlighten me, please,” I said, the evenness of my voice surprising me. “I await with baited breath your deduction.” I could never have guessed his initial response, however.
“I first need to remove your wet clothing,” he decided briskly, the dangerous look fading for a second. “I cannot have you perishing of a chill whilst we discuss a matter that seems increasingly important to you.”
And so I found him helping me off with my greatcoat and cravat, unbuttoning my waistcoat and shirt and watching as I shed my collar and cuffs onto the sideboard. Only when my upper body was as naked as his did the eerie light return to his eyes.
“Better,” he nodded. “For now we are on an equal footing, yes?”
“Holmes, I am weary,” I told him, taking another mouthful of brandy. Before I could comment further, he removed the glass from my fingers and drained it in one go.
“Yes, I can see that. I can also see that you are a great deal more than just weary.”
“Enough of these games.” I was impatient now, my nerves shot through, my mind a wreck of emotion, arousal, fear and utterly black despair at my situation. He could never know all that, I reassured myself.
“No games, dear boy,” he murmured, stepping close enough so I could feel the heat from his chest against mine. “I think we have danced around one another quite enough, don’t you?”
My indrawn breath was, in hindsight, all the answer Holmes needed. His hands as fast as a viper’s strike, he caught hold of my head with his impossibly long, slender fingers and kissed me, hard.
I was drowning, I knew that much. Unable to draw a breath that wasn’t Holmes, unable to think a thought that was not Holmes, unable to separate any part of me in any way from the man who held my head in a fiercely gentle grip and whose mouth had claimed total possession of mine. When our tongues touched, I brought my hands up to his shoulders, to both anchor myself and to keep him close, but it seemed he had no intention of breaking away just yet.
He moved one hand from my face into the minute space that was between us and I could feel his fingers impatiently flicking at the buttons of my trousers. It seemed in that moment an eminently sensible idea to assist him.
We had shed our muddy footwear in the hall upon entering the house, so there was little to impede the removal of our trousers. Indeed, they seemed to simply vanish beneath the ministrations of our feverish hands. And I say ours, because Holmes seemed as caught up in the moment as I did.
We stumbled towards his bedroom door, him leading the dance and I following, as was the norm. Only as the door slammed shut behind us, Holmes reaching out with unerring fingers to turn the key in the lock did he break the kiss to look at me in the light of the small fire that flickered in the dog grate.
There were no words left though. Everything was said with a glance, and in his glance, for all my lack of intuitive skills, I could read need and desire and anger at something I could only guess at. Heaven alone knew what my face showed, but if it was half a measure of the abject devotion I held for the man, it would have been too much to bear.
He crushed me up against his lean, hard body and my arms wrapped around his torso in an attempt to remain upright, but he was having none of that. One quick twist and we were both prostrate on the bed, his longer, thinner frame pinning my shorter, sturdier one beneath it. At the feel of his weight upon me, I gave up any pretence I may have harboured of protest. I wanted him and I wanted him now.
My hands were all over him, smoothing across that perfect alabaster skin feeling the taut sinewy muscle beneath, following the sculpted planes of his shoulders, tracing the ridged muscles down his back. I couldn’t get enough of him, needed another dozen hands to drink him all in. And in return, he was devouring me. That exquisite mouth was everywhere upon my body. I felt him kiss from the point of my jaw, down my neck and across the scarred remains of my shoulder, his tongue gently tasting the tattered skin with an eroticism that left me breathless.
He pinned me down, a hand gripping both of my wrists above my head as he his mouth sought mine again with a brutal passion. The other hand dipped into his bedside drawer for a moment, then found its way between my cheeks. I saw stars as his fingers danced slickly across my entrance and my entire world threatened to implode as he slipped a single finger inside me.
“Mine,” he growled in my ear, sliding a second long finger in alongside the first and, crooking them both upwards, hit my prostate with a touch that felt like a lightning bolt. A minute of that and I was incoherent with desire, able only to moan and arch into his questing hand, my wrists still captive. He tortured me in this fashion for what felt like a lifetime, adding a third finger with a sly twist that had me gasping his name between kisses, begging him, please, more.
He withdrew his fingers, though, leaving me almost distraught at the loss, and positioned himself exactly where my feverishly aching body wanted him.
“Mine,” he repeated as he claimed me, and all conscious thought in my head stopped as he slid completely in up to the hilt. We both froze for a long moment, our breath caught in our throats at the sheer intensity of feeling. Then he began to move.
At some point, Holmes released my hands and I buried them in his thick black hair. His was not a mindless passion though. Every move, every touch was calculated to draw a response from me, and it did. He played me with the same consummate skill he played the violin, a master with an instrument tuned and ready for his pleasure. When I think on how I moved to his touch, how my body gave away every inner thought I had concerning the man, it still brings a blush to my cheeks. His hands caressed my body as I gripped at his and his mouth, those wondrous divine lips that had fascinated me from the day we had met travelled across my skin in a frenzy of possession. I felt him nip the skin of my shoulder as I buried my face into the crook of his neck before he continued to kiss me with passion and precision and an all-encompassing dominion that I was powerless to resist.
It was only as the tempo increased beyond human endurance that his control slipped a little; and I welcomed that slip. His breathing grew ragged, his movements almost desperate and I clutched him hard against me, feeling the divine friction of being trapped between our bodies as he suddenly convulsed in my arms. My own release was moments later and we simply existed together in that white hot moment of utter bliss the French so aptly term ‘the little death’. For it was a death, a death of the old us and I had no concept of where we would go from this night onward, but only that I wished to remain where I was, my body still quivering beneath his as our breathing slowly, gradually, returned to something approaching normal.
Now what, I wondered. I could feel the muscles beneath my fingers flexing, as if he were contemplating springing from the bed and that thought made me wish to cling harder.
To my surprise though, he didn’t roll away. As my arms tightened possessively around him, he paused, and then, in a move that shattered my heart into a million tiny pieces, he gently shifted to one side, rested his head on my good shoulder and relaxed. And in a moment as close to perfect bliss as I can ever remember experiencing, we fell asleep, damp bodies entangled together as the privations of the day caught up with us both.
I awoke to feel a pair of eyes upon me. For the longest moment, I tried to pretend that I was still asleep but knew it was futile – Holmes would have noticed the instant I regained full consciousness. I opened my eyes to look up into his and my worst fears were realised.
He sat leaning against the headboard, his expression cold and distant; looking for all the world as if he were considering a criminal he’d just tumbled to the ground before Lestrade.
“Good morning,” I offered. One fine black eyebrow twitched and I braced myself for whatever invective he decided to throw in my direction.
“I don’t know what could have possessed you to do what you did last night,” Holmes told me cuttingly. “I do believe you must have taken leave of your senses.”
“So you did not enjoy it as you appeared to?” I wasn’t sure why my voice was so level, even if the pitch was somewhat lower and quieter than normal.
“It was a passable experience,” Holmes shrugged. “Commonplace and somewhat pedestrian, but it capped an otherwise interminable evening.”
“I see,” I said dully, my eyes falling from Holmes’ imperious gaze to linger wistfully over the pale sculpted chest and shoulders of the man who was systematically shredding me to ribbons. And yet, I remained where I was, unmoving, unable to initiate a move away from where I had hoped to wake every morning for the rest of my life. Not where I’d expected to be flayed verbally into a bottomless pit. “So it held no warmth for you, nor engendered any affection?”
“Affection, Watson?” Holmes snorted. “Good heavens, no. Next you’ll be asking me if I am now in love with you. Which is preposterous. I feel no warmth for anyone, let alone your good self.”
I felt the last, tiny fragment of hope die within me at Holmes’ final pronouncement. No hint of any warmth touched Holmes’ steely countenance and I resolved to gather the final shreds of my self esteem about me and remove myself both from Holmes’ presence and from Baker Street forthwith. That is, I prevaricated, as soon as I’d filled my mind and soul with the sight of Sherlock Holmes sat naked beside me, the sheets tangled carelessly about his hips and thighs. The flat alabaster planes of fine muscle that covered his lean, toned abdomen entranced me and I could not drag my eyes away.
Holmes reached for a cigarette with a sniff.
“How is it possible that you are still in my bed, when I have levelled any number of insults at you, the least of which would have offended a man of even limited intelligence?” He struck a match and breathed in the tobacco smoke.
I lay facing him, one arm tucked up under the pillow on which I rested my head. I could still feel the residual warmth of him in the sheets and blankets around me and taking what was left of my courage and abandoning my pride altogether, I answered him as honestly as I could.
“I am here because I love you, in spite of your declarations that you can love no one. I am here because last night was the most extraordinary night of my life, contrary to your professions that you found it pedestrian and common place. I am here because the sight of you fills me with a warmth that you say you can never feel. I am still here, Holmes, because in your bed is where I want to be. In spite of your protestations that you do not want me, it is because I am a hapless, hopeless fool who wishes nothing more than to savour the sensation of being this close to you, and commit every last second to memory, in order to sustain myself for the rest of eternity until we come together again in another life.” So saying, I gazed up into his expressionless face one last time, before closing my eyes in order to hide my pain from him.
Except, of course, shutting my eyes to hide my emotions was about as effective as a child closing his eyes in order not to be seen. The enormous pain of being faced with a cold, heartless Holmes after the fire I had seen in the man not five hours ago was beyond forbearance.
The silence grew, until I feared the man had left the room without my knowing; then he spoke a single word.
“John…” The sound was a breath, an exhalation of agony that for a moment, I could hardly credit hearing it.
I looked up at him and the sight broke me in two. There was an expression of such abject torment in the man’s eyes that I could not trust it to be true.
“Holmes!” I sat up, reaching for him without thinking. “What is it? Are you hurt?”
“Hurt?” The laugh was short and hateful, but oddly enough, not aimed at me. “How can you?”
“How can I what?” Baffled, I paused, my hands half extended towards him.
“How can you be possessed of such a heart that, when I have methodically tortured it, on purpose I must add, you can still reach for me in concern that I am hurt. How?”
“I…” I tailed off, casting around for an answer, but none would come to me save the truth. “Because you are always my first concern. And my last. You always have been.”
“But why?” He caught hold of my hands, poised as they were helplessly in the air between us and gripped them firmly. “Watson, I am a monster of the highest order.”
A monster. That wasn’t what I would have called him. Any one of a hundred descriptives flashed to mind, but monster was not there.
“You are no monster, Holmes. You are many things, but monstrous? No.”
He continued to grip my hands, a paroxysm of agony twisting his normally serene face.
“These last three weeks, I have been abysmal. I have shunned you, employed countless heartless put downs and derisory comments, cut the floor from beneath your feet and scorned you in front of friend and enemy alike. And yet you are still here. Watson, what kind of man are you?”
“A poor one,” I admitted, my eyes fixing on where his hands still clutched mine. “A worn out wreck of a veteran, without pride or guile. Spineless and febrile, friendless save for you. Not much of a man at all, it seems. Especially to put up with what you have inflicted upon me, without the nerve to answer back or take my own destiny in my hands.”
“No, no, no,” Holmes exclaimed, pulling my hands to his mouth and burying his lips against them. “Oh dear God man, never let me hear you utter such words again. Ever. For you are thrice the man I ever was, and ten times more than I could ever wish to be.” His lashes fell over haunted eyes and a shudder passed through him. “I am a weak fool, whose pride has very nearly driven us to destruction and it would be no more than I deserve to have you walk out never to return.”
I blinked at him owlishly, part of my brain refusing to accept that I was hearing such a thing from Holmes himself. Obviously I was still asleep, I decided whimsically, and this was nothing but a dream. And thus, being a dream, it was perfectly acceptable for me to voice everything that was in my head, as, after all, there could be no repercussions in the real world.
“Why would I walk out on you Holmes? Here is where I wish to be. No matter your cruelty or harsh words, because I can see through those. At least,” I amended. “I used to be able to see through them, and brush off those things you uttered whilst your mind was occupied with other, more important things. Lately, I have lost that gift and was beginning to think that, maybe, you would be better off without me around.”
“Christ, no.” Holmes looked almost physically sick. “You may indeed be better off without me, but I would surely crumble to dust.”
I stared at him for a long moment, before the logic and deduction he had ingrained upon my mind over the previous years leapt up and demanded I pay attention to it.
“What then of this overbearing pride? Why would your pride drive me out? And why the calculated cruelty and sly barbs at every turn? To what end did I deserve that?” My eyes flicked to where his elegant, long fingered hands still held my squarer, more workmanlike ones, then back to his face. “I know full well you find no sport in chasing poor quarry.”
“My pride…” his voice faltered, for perhaps the first time in my memory. “You deserved none of it. I was lashing out at you to destroy myself.”
I sat back, pulling my hands free of his by some superhuman effort of will; and the look of remorse and self-loathing on his face cut me to the quick.
“You wish to destroy yourself? Holmes, you make no sense.”
“Watson, I am a fool. I determined long ago that you would never be mine for the taking. You married Mary and it is only through some cruel twist of fate that she was taken from you, and you returned here, to Baker Street. But since your return, I have been in paroxysms of guilt and of fear. That you would find another to marry and proceed with your dreams of private practice, or that I may in some way inadvertently cause your death through one of my more hair raising cases. Practically each case since your return has harboured some element of danger that has torn at my heart and I have cursed the day I let you come back. Except,” he looked down at where his hands were tying themselves in knots of remorse. “I could not ask you to leave. The thought of you not being here – it was too much to take. Maybe I could not have you as I wished, but I could have you close. And close was better than streets away. And then, sometimes, in our quiet spells when the cocaine would call and I would sit in quiet contemplation in the dark of the night, I could creep up your stairs to watch you whilst you slept.” His eyes closed on this confession as I felt the blood heat and pool in the pit of my stomach.
He had watched me sleep. Had stood in my room and gazed upon my slumbering form. The thought was extraordinary.
It seemed now, though, that the dam of reticence had been broken and his explanation tumbled forth from his lips in the same manner as did his delighted discourse after the solving of a particularly vexing case.
“I was too proud to admit what I was thinking, that I had made a mistake in letting you return. Too bloody proud to admit to you just how much you mean to me, as the only way I could think of driving you away was being the precise opposite of what I wanted to be. Of treating you as appallingly as I could, instead of taking every available opportunity to wrap you in my arms and protect you from the world.” His eyes snapped open, molten and guileless and glistening with unshed tears. “I do not deserve you John, but I adore you. In my misguided sense of righteousness, I sought to keep you safe by driving you away from my side, instead of taking my pitifully lacking courage in both hands and confessing that I could not keep you safe, but I could keep you close.”
I must state here that my jaw had dropped in complete and utter amazement. I was most definitely dreaming, my poor scrambled brain informed me. There was no way I could have heard those words from Holmes’ beautiful mouth. Not after the poison which had dripped in such a honeyed manner for the best part of the last month.
“I see you cannot believe me,” he said, his voice dropping to a faint monotone. “And for that, I do not blame you.” Turning away, he looked towards the grey cold ash in the fireplace. “I will understand now if you choose to leave. It would be a delicious irony, would it not? By admitting everything, you would finally understand how much I didn’t want you to go, and that is the one thing that will drive you away.”
My eyes followed the line of his pale, sculpted shoulder up the side of his smooth neck to the delicate skin behind his ear whilst my brain fought furiously to make sense of everything he had just said.
“And last night?” I heard myself ask. Of all the peculiar things to ask…
“Last night was the most perfect night I have ever spent.” He couldn’t look at me. “Pedestrian and common place are the last words I would ascribe to the sheer, divine beauty that was making love to you and with you.” He laughed a short, humourless laugh. “I had no idea, Watson. Well, a small idea, but part of my intellect was sure that any invert tendencies I had noticed in your makeup were no more than fabrications of my own enamoured mind. There were miniscule clues that you left here and there, but there was nothing concrete enough for me to act on. Until last night.”
“What was different last night?”
“You saved my life. You threw yourself between a madman with a revolver and my own pathetic person and the instant we hit the ground, I knew. I could see it in your eyes, in the terror and the fury and the barely suppressed desire that the both of us laid prone had engendered. And once home, you could not take your eyes from me.”
“It was that obvious?” I asked, wincing.
“No,” he spun around to clasp my hands at my tone. “Not obvious, unless you had been searching for it. Desperately searching for some clue that you would not run a mile to the nearest officer of the constabulary and have me hauled before the magistrate.”
“If you hadn’t noticed, that wasn’t the first time I have done such a thing,” I told him candidly and he blinked in surprise. “And how was I to resist? You were sat before the fire, shirtless and brooding.” I managed a smile at the memory and it broadened as it felt real. “You are the most stunning example of a man I have ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on. Watching you disrobe in that shockingly casual way that you have, as if nudity is nothing more than a lack of a dressing gown. Stitching your arm,” I reached out to bring the injured limb in question forward, and adjusted the bandage on it. “I was going to satisfy myself with just being able to touch that small part of you.”
“You were so gentle,” Holmes recalled. “You winced at each stitch more than I did.”
“I always do with you,” I sighed. “If I could have felt it for you, I would have done.”
Holmes studied my face for a long moment, and this time, I held onto my own pride and my love for him and my newly rediscovered belief in who I was because he’d not meant a single one of those belittling statements and I gazed back at him, letting my blue eyes do all the talking I wished to; and hoping against hope that he understood what I was thinking. Because there was no way I could put it all into words. There weren’t enough words in the language for what I needed to say to him. And then, there were just three.
He reached for my face in the same moment I leaned forwards, and our lips met in a very different kiss. It was still like drowning in him, a sensation which I would grow to learn that would never change. But this time, he was drowning too and we were holding each other afloat in the maelstrom of emotion that was pressing us closer and closer together.
I pulled him down next to me, hooking a leg over one of his to bring his body into alignment with mine and I simply kissed him. There were a hundred things I could have done to him, but all I wanted to do was to feel his lips and tongue against mine whilst we held each other tightly. Kissing Holmes had never been going to be a simple affair. Like everything else, the man did it with his heart and his soul and I wanted to simply crawl inside him and stay there wrapped up in his perfect warmth.
“I love you,” he breathed as we reluctantly broke apart for breath. There were sparkles before my eyes and judging by his dazed expression, he was seeing them too. “You can have no concept of how much I adore you, John. It nearly killed me denying any emotion earlier.”
“Then never do it again,” I told him, allowing one of my hands to trail a lazy pattern down his side to grip a streamlined hip. “Because I love you too. And,” I added, leaning forward to breathe in his ear. “If you ever try such a slap-handed way of getting rid of me again, I will not be held responsible for my actions.”
His eyes widened momentarily. Then a slow but sure smile began to twitch the corners of his mouth, and I found myself looking into the most beautiful expression I could ever have wished to see on his face. And it was because he was looking at me.