Sherlock hates to be bored. Everybody who knows him knows this. Even the wall knows.
Sherlock is asleep now. Another case concluded. Happy client sent on her way. Payment already in the account. I checked. And I wrote up the case. I don’t usually do that so quickly, but it was one of those cases that are incredibly simple for Sherlock to solve and seem like magic to everyone else. Even me, after he’s explained it and it appears as clear as day, I feel the magic of that clarity appearing where only murk and confusion existed before. I wanted to catch that feeling in words while it was fresh. His mind is such a beautiful thing to watch at work. But it’s asleep now. So I wrote up the case. Not just a rough draft, but a finished version. Revised it, proofread it, posted it. No one has commented yet.
Sherlock is still asleep.
I haven’t been asleep for hours.
In fairness, he had been up all night experimenting right before the client contacted us, so he was more sleep deprived than I was. In fact, I wasn’t sleep deprived at all when we took the case. That’s why he is asleep and I’m not. Eight, nine hours was all I needed to get sorted. I’m rested. I’m showered and shaved and dressed. I’m well fed, breakfast and lunch, the latter with Mrs Hudson before she went out. I’m informed. I’ve read the papers, checked the news online. I can’t be bothered with the telly. Without the simultaneous commentary to which I have become accustomed, it is tedious. The commentator is asleep.
I could go out, but the day is drizzly and grey and we have milk. I did a laundry and the washing up. The flat doesn’t need cleaning. Mrs Hudson, who is avowedly not our housekeeper, uses days when Sherlock and I are away to conduct commando cleaning raids. We were out for most of yesterday. The flat is spotless.
The door to his room is very closed. So is the door from the bathroom. I checked. I could breathe through the keyhole, I suppose, but that’s not likely to wake him up. And I wouldn’t want to wake him, he needs the sleep. I prefer it when he sleeps on the sofa though, or thinks on it, stretched out or curled up, it seems the right place for him. Not locked away in his room. Well, I doubt the door is locked. I haven’t checked that.
The sofa looks incomplete.
One of my medical journals is still on the sofa cushion. I had set it aside when Violet Waverly rang our doorbell with her conundrum.
I eyed the glossy pages from where I sat at the desk. I could finish reading that. I wasn’t keen.
I went to the kitchen to make another cup of tea, listened for signs of returning life. Heard none, clicked on the kettle.
Mug in hand, I stared down at the last two pages of the article. The procedure it described had merit; the accompanying photographs irritated me. What the authors needed were diagrams, clearly drawn, well-labelled. Too many people think a photograph will always be best, but there are times when the abstraction of art is what is needed to make a concept clear. Once understood, it can be applied to the real world, which in this case was the heart.
I took a wander about the flat. We have dozens of pencils and biros, sharpies and highlighters scattered around. One was sticking out of the skull’s left eye socket. But I only found two coloured pencils: red and blue. They were actually two ends of one pencil. I would have preferred a broader palette, but I’m good at making do. I sharpened both ends.
As a student, what I used for my work was a small tin with eight colours plus a black and a white pencil. I got full marks for my lab reports and my anatomy course work was a thing of beauty.
I slapped the journal onto the desk, grabbed a couple sheets of printer paper and a rubber and set to work. I didn’t even look at the photographs. I’ve seen enough hearts, beating and otherwise.
I couldn’t see to shade properly any longer. I turned on the desk lamp. There was my heart, at the centre of its bright circle, in tones of light and dark blue, pink and red, lavender and purple. For all that I had been aiming at a diagram, it looked as though it might beat. That would have been messy because its veins and arteries were open-ended.
I plucked the regular pencil I had been using for the crossword out from under the newspaper and drew a right hand. I didn’t need a reference photo for it either. I know its length and its language. I’ve been staring at it and its mate for years. I drew it palm up under the heart, manicured fingers curving about it, not grasping, just steadying it. I fit in a couple centimetres of wrist before the paper ran out. I used the blue end of the pencil on the veins, a touch of pink on the bit of nail that was visible.
It is a strong hand. I have seen metal bent. How easy it would be for it to close too tightly around a heart. Also, messy.
I extended the veins and arteries, ran them between the fingers, looped their tapered lengths around the palm. I used the rubber to open up the veins in the wrist. Much neater with pencil and paper than scalpel and flesh. I made a connection that couldn’t work in real life.
“How have I not seen this?”
My hands flew up. The pencil arced backwards. It may have made it to the skull. “Christ Jesus, you are a stealthy bastard!” I said, twisting round to find Sherlock stood behind my chair, spectral in his sheet-wrapped pallor.
“I am, but I wasn’t being particularly quiet just now,” Sherlock said, “you were thoroughly engrossed.” He leaned over my shoulder, dishevelled curls brushing past my face and peered at the drawing. He held his right hand above it. “A good likeness,” he said, “from memory.”
I looked from hand to paper. I couldn’t have drawn it any better if it had been in front of me. I wasn’t surprised by this, but was rather proud. Sherlock isn’t the only one who enjoys being right about his predictions and successful at what he sets out to do.
His eyes skated over the photographs in the open journal then lingered on the bottom corner of the picture. “Experimental procedure?” he asked.
That tone would have got him in so much trouble in the military.
He leaned further over me, rested his hand, palm up, on the table by the top of the drawing. It pressed his abdomen against my shoulder. His sheet slipped. There was a warm, sleepy smell about him. I inhaled.
“It would have been easier at the crook of the elbow,” he remarked.
It was a much more complimentary level of interest than he has ever shown in my writing. Up went my chin, out went my chest. I had no control over it.
The bell rang. Once.
Sherlock turned to me, face creasing with glee. “Client,” he said and whirled away. His sheet had completely unwound by the time he reached his doorway. He stooped to pick it up and closed the door.
I stared. Exiting or entering, Sherlock enjoys making an impression. I hadn’t had the privilege of that view before, but I knew I would be able to draw it. Anytime. From now to forever. From memory.
I clomped up the stairs. It was my turn to be sleep deprived.
Two days of Sherlock leaping across ravines rather than rooftops, extolling the eloquence of mud as he went, had frayed my nerves more than a little. I draped his garment bag over a desk chair and let go of my case next to it. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it upstairs, but the case and I definitely weren't.
I scanned the sitting room. The desk had sprouted newspapers and post in our absence. They could wait. Whatever Sherlock had needed to stop to talk to Mrs Hudson about apparently couldn’t.
I got hold of the tab on my zip and wrestled my jacket off, flung it over the garment bag. I did a little dance step to regain my balance. I considered my shoes. I would fall over if I bent down to untie them. I closed my eyes. Perhaps I could sleep standing up. In my shoes.
Sitting was a compromise. I pulled out another desk chair, already shifting my weight towards the seat when I spotted the packages there. My body was committed to sitting. I avoided whatever was on the seat by a hairsbreadth, and brought everything down with me.
The jolt went right up my spine and spread out in a fan from the back of my skull. I squeezed my eyes shut and breathed through the pain. Maybe Sherlock would think I had collapsed and come up to run some experiments on me. A bruised coccyx was a sure thing. I exhaled slowly. At least I hadn’t bitten my tongue. Maybe the experiments would involve putting me on ice. That would help with the bruising.
I lifted my arm to the side of the chair. It might have been a step towards getting up, but it felt good resting there. I was sitting, weight off my legs entirely. That was pleasant. The chair half framed me, back behind mine, seat alongside. It might have been cosy if there hadn’t been a draught along the floor.
I contemplated untying my shoes since we were all on one level, but the packages in my lap were in the way. If they were lab equipment, it might have been worth landing on the floor rather than having an arseful of glass shards. I laid my head on my arm, reasoned that a bit of a rest right there might give me enough strength to get upstairs in a while, with or without my shoes
I wondered where Sherlock had gone. I let my eyes drift shut. Maybe Mrs Hudson had lured him into her kitchen to feed him. Each breath I drew was shallower than the last. I was too tired to eat, not that anyone had asked.
Curiosity is a funny thing.
As my eyes were shutting, I had half seen a word or perhaps a name on the packages’ wrapping. There had been a hyphen. My brain wanted to know more about this name word. I took a deep breath and told it to never mind.
“Lift your eyelid just a little,” my brain wheedled.
My belt buckle was digging into my stomach. I nudged the packages down my thighs a bit and managed to undo it, opened the button at my waist while I was at it. That felt so much better; it had been worth the effort. My hand fell to my side.
“Eye, eye, not hand,” my brain nattered.
“Sleep,” I murmured. Wrappers and words could all be explored after sleep.
I started thinking about how long it would take a liquid to seep through the packaging if the word-name was that of a laboratory or a purveyor of chemicals and the tumble from the chair had broken anything inside.
“There’s a flat package beneath the boxy ones. That would slow any liquid down considerably, unless it was an acid, of course,” my brain supplied.
I did not want to add acid burns to my bruises, so I opened one eye. The angle was wrong because I’d moved the parcels a bit. I heaved a great sigh and reached for the smallest package, which was, surprisingly, still atop the stack. I held it in front of my eye.
“Faber-Castell,” I read. Not chemicals, then. Good. My eye closed.
“How do you know they aren’t chemicals?” my brain asked.
Against the backdrop of my closed lids, I saw a boy staring into a shop window aglow with colours, wheels and rows and pyramids of inks and paints, brushes and easels and palettes, and an open treasure box with tiers of coloured pencils. “Faber-Castell,” each pencil whispered from behind the glass. “My name is Faber-Castell.”
Both my eyes opened. I even lifted my head. That was definitely what was written on the paper around the small box. I ripped it off, opened the box. There were rubbers inside. Ten maybe. All different sizes and shapes, one like a pencil, one like a biro and in the corner a small metal pencil sharpener.
I was sitting up straight now. I reached for the second box. Slightly larger, much heavier. Same name. Off went the wrapping, the front of the box with it. Shiny and black, the electric pencil sharpener was. My fingers left prints on its smooth surface. I rubbed them off with the cuff of my shirt.
I slowed down enough to think about which of the two remaining packages to open next, because opening them all was definitely my plan. I was fairly sure what the wide, thin parcel contained, but I set the package above it carefully aside and pulled the plain, brown wrapping paper apart with a touch more decorum. Four sketch books lay across the top of a large pad of bristol which covered much of an even larger one beneath it. I wiped my hand on my shirt and lifted the cover of one, ran my fingertip over the fine grain of the surface near the bottom edge.
Did you like my drawing that much? Are you asking me to be your illustrator as well as your blogger? The vision of Sherlock without his sheet flashed before my inward eye. Might he have drawings of a more private nature in mind?
I turned to the remaining parcel, grateful for the bracing draught along the floor. The imperative of sleep was vanishing.
I lifted the box onto my lap, smoothed my hands over its sides, found where the edges of the wrapping paper met and eased them apart. The box was wood. I undid the latches, raised the top. The trays unfolded. The colours shone. They were as beautiful as I remembered. Time had not dulled their allure one whit. My hand hovered over the top tray. What colours would I use? All I could think of was skin. What colours would be best to shade the contours? What would I draw for him first? The picture he had suggested perhaps?
There was a small sound at the door.
I turned towards it, smiling before I saw him there. I must have looked more than a little ridiculous with the overturned chair and the torn wrapping paper about me, like a child on Christmas morn who had raided the tree before anyone else was up. Only the flush, which I could feel suffusing my face, was from more than delight at the gifts I had found.
He stepped into the room just as my eyes reached him, coat swinging about him, taking off his gloves. In all this time, he hadn’t taken them off? Or had he put them back on as he came up the stairs to remove them again in front of me, because he has had irrefutable proof that I admire his long, graceful hands. I watched him do it anyway. I did not care if it was staged. The effect was always entrancing.
He put the gloves in his pocket and stood over me.
I ran my hand along the top of the case. “How did you know I’ve always wanted these?” I asked, tilting my head well back to look up at him. Why I still asked such questions is beyond me. I knew his methods.
He smiled, glancing at the mess about me. “Did they put up a struggle?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “they were trying to get away.”
They were a licence to look and I made full use of it. Well, not full.
I peered over the top of my computer. Sherlock was stretched out on the sofa, a medical journal of mine balanced on his chest. He had been reading for hours from several stacks of books and journals he had ranged nearby. He had not told me what he was researching or that we had a new case, but he had not become restless in the quiet of the evening.
The urge to draw him is strongest when he is quiet. When he flies into action, I am usually whirled away with him. There is no time to think of anything except trying to keep up, to not lose him. But when he falls quiet, I know the least about where he’s gone. So now I draw him, to study him, and later I look at my pictures and find out what it was I saw.
I decided to start on the drawing he had suggested. I pushed the laptop aside, got out the picture of the heart and hand and placed a sheet from the second largest pad of paper next to it. There was a marked difference in colour, thickness and texture between the printer paper and the bristol, but I was not to be deterred by such things. At some point, I could fill in a background colour to disguise it. I did not consider re-drawing the original. It had become a sort of talisman to me.
I had added yellow to the heart though and sealed three of the incisions in the wrist. I was content with that. In fact, every time I contemplated the drawing, I liked it more. I had scanned it into my laptop, before the changes and after, had emailed both versions to myself, had put copies on my phone. Who knew what mayhem the drawing might be exposed to, I reasoned. I stared at the picture more often than I would have liked to admit to anyone. There was something in it that I couldn’t quite see, but I could feel it.
I made a light sketch of Sherlock’s arm continuing on from the wrist of the initial drawing. His arms were not as well known to me as his hands. It occurred to me to omit the flesh on one side, so that I could render the muscles in coloured detail, but I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice that much skin. I gazed at the trays of pencils, the creams, the pinks, the greens and the blues. The underside of his arm would have all of those colours, perhaps more.
I glanced at the sofa and drew in a quick breath. Since I had last cast my eye that way, Sherlock had freed his right arm from his robe and rolled the sleeve of his vest up to his shoulder. I hadn’t noticed him move and my peripheral vision is very good, but, as I have remarked before, he is stealthy and proud of it. He appeared to still be reading from the medical journal.
If he was offering to model, I did not intend to keep him waiting. On the lowest bookshelf, I found a large atlas, went into the kitchen and retrieved a big sweet potato. I am rather fond of them. I set both on the coffee table, shifted the stack of journals from the chair by the sofa onto the floor. There were scraps of paper sticking out of several of them. On another day, they might have piqued my curiosity. I arranged an end table next to the chair and put my supplies on it. Lastly, I fetched my rough sketch.
When I returned with it, I saw that Sherlock had pulled the coffee table flush with the sofa and stretched his arm across it, palm up. The potato was in his hand.
I doubted this level of cooperation would last beyond the need to turn the next page, but I was happy to have the chance to see his whole arm in the correct position. Quickly, I resumed sketching. Accommodating a live model had never been an issue in my past; the biology and anatomy specimens had been long dead. My pencil stopped, poised above the paper. It was a cold thought.
Sherlock remained still, eyes hidden by the journal. For a moment, I watched it rise and fall with his breathing, then I set to recreating the lines of his sinews on the paper on my lap.
Sherlock was gone. I started. A firm hand pressed me back into my chair.
“I wondered where you’d make the connections,” Sherlock said.
I looked up. His dressing gown was half off; the journal still in hand. This close I could see the pulse at his throat.
“You used the ulnar artery at the cubital fossa,” he said, leaning nearer the paper.
He was starting to smile. He was pleased that I had followed his suggestion.
It was a good suggestion, but I had followed it because I wanted to please him. Flattery is an effective seduction technique. I looked down at the drawing, at the red and blue tendrils twining their way around the arm to penetrate the flesh at the warm pulse points. Is that what I’m doing? I had made no conscious decision to pursue what I had abandoned for so long. What are you doing, Sherlock?
“And the basilic vein at the axilla,” Sherlock said. “Yes, why crowd the entry points together when you have the whole arm to work with.”
Would this parasitic heart I had created have sharp points, like claws, at the tip of its mobile veins and arteries, to slice open the skin and slip beneath it, or did the skin open to it once it was near? How would that mechanism work? A chemical cue of some sort? I watched and read science fiction; I could extrapolate from this unusual premise my mind had directed my hand to invent.
“But,” Sherlock continued, “you have not connected the last vein you’ve brought along the arm...ah.”
My glance flicked up; his vest was over his head.
“You want the jugular,” he said as his head emerged from the cloth. “You’ll need another sheet of paper for that.”
“Yes,” I agreed and halted the progress of my hand towards his neck. Both the vest and the dressing gown were bunched around his left arm. I might have laughed at the inelegant arrangement, if the nearly smooth expanse of skin across his chest rising to the column of his throat had not commanded all my attention.
“Shall I get the paper for you?” he asked, already turning away, dressing gown trailing behind him.
“Yes,” I replied, monosyllables seeming to be the extent of my vocal capacities at that juncture. Is it seduction if one is being invited?
He swirled back, sketch pad in hand and stood between the end of the coffee table and me.
That was very close. If I had leaned forward only slightly I could have kissed his abdomen just above the drawstring of his pyjama bottoms or I could have tugged on the end of the bow and seen whether they fell off of his narrow hips. I suspected the swell of his buttocks would hold the garment up even with the tie undone. How much of my train of thought can you read on my face?
He handed me the pad.
Carefully, I set aside the drawing of the arm and the atlas I had been using for support and folded back the cover of the pad. When I glanced up, Sherlock had pushed the coffee table back and sat himself on the end. I met his eye. He was close enough for me to appreciate the mix of colours there, to see my own reflection. Maybe I could draw a picture with his iris as the background and a miniature self-portrait captured in his pupil. I exist there, in his beholding of me. Perhaps it was why I had felt so lost when I thought he was gone.
“Am I seated too close?” Sherlock asked.
Never close enough.
“Will it skew the perspective?” he asked.
My eyes dropped to his lips as he spoke. I wished to recreate that spring shade of pink, the glint of white teeth and wet tongue. “I can adjust the proportions,” I heard myself say. A whole sentence. I was proud. “Just tilt your head a little,” I added and reached out, stroked up his throat with the backs of my fingers and nudged his chin up and a bit to the side.
Colour splashed across his skin, bright and uneven. That was lovely, I thought as I drew my hand slowly away. “That’s perfect,” I said, “stay like that for a while.”
I wrenched my gaze back to the pad balanced on my knee and drew a long upward line.
I was listening as attentively as the drone of the speaker’s voice allowed. It was a pity, genetic testing was an interesting topic, although not one that came up very often for a GP. Mike had used the presentations on trauma surgery and post-operative care to lure me into accompanying him to the conference. He still has hopes of getting me to teach at Bart’s. Quite possibly it would be better than the locum work I resumed when I returned to Baker Street, but I remain ambivalent. Ambivalence could be a byword of mine.
Desultory applause brought me back to the lecture. Questions were being taken. I glanced to the left and right. I shouldn’t have sat in the middle of a row. It wasn’t worth the effort of squeezing past so many people to escape early. I flipped the PowerPoint hand-out over and began to doodle on the blank last page.
“The lecture wasn’t that bad,” a familiar voice whispered by my shoulder.
I looked behind me.
Sarah smiled back.
I tapped the drawing of a heart gripped by a skeletal hand with the tip of my biro. “It should have been a brain between the fingers.” I glanced around. Nearly everyone had left the room.
“Is artist another thing you left off your CV?” she asked.
“I suppose it was.” I stood up. “Coffee?”
Sherlock was standing in the middle of the kitchen when I got home. He looked me up and down. “Forensics wasn’t very informative.”
I smiled at him. His hair was damp from a shower; he appeared to have only his blue dressing gown on. He had been tending an experiment involving blood when I had left in the morning.
“There was a bit about wasps and bees eating larval flies,” I said, setting down my folder and going to hang my raincoat on the sitting room door. “But I suppose you already know all about that.” I heard him snort. “There were some new genetic tests discussed at another panel that I had not read about yet.” I heard papers rustling. When I returned to the kitchen, he was staring at my drawing.
“Dull speaker,” he said.
“Yes, very dull,” I replied.
He was looking down, turned slightly away from me. I couldn’t see his expression clearly. He would know the bones were his. I hadn’t thought much about what images were flowing from my biro, but the phalanges that dug into the muscle of the heart were long, the position of the hand otherwise the same as in my first drawing.
He kept hold of the papers and reached for something else on the table. A wrapper crinkled.
“Would you draw some blood for me? I want another control,” he said.
I had donated a vial the night before. “Sure,” I replied. “Let me wash. I left my cardigan on the back of one of the kitchen chairs and rolled up my sleeves. “Only be a moment,” I added because he was standing very still and it made the room too quiet.
I cleaned my teeth, too, while I was in there. I wondered what Sherlock would be making of that. It wasn’t as though I were going to bite the vein open.
He was seated, flipping through more of the papers I had brought home when I returned to the kitchen. My drawing was on the table.
I sat across the corner of the table from him and reached for his left arm.
He let me have it, set the papers aside, rested his fingertips on the bottom of my drawing.
I pushed the sleeve of his robe up, checked for needle marks. Sherlock was perfectly capable of drawing his own blood and too much of it in one day. I’d asked him not to do either. He had decided to humour me by waiting for me to come home. If he had waited. I reached for the other arm, slid a fingertip along the path of the vein.
“Do you want to check my legs, too?” he asked, knee bumping mine as he swung his leg to the side.
I didn’t look down. “You know you do overdo sometimes,” I said.
He didn’t reply.
I returned my attention to his left arm, rolled the dressing gown sleeve a couple times to keep it out of the way. My fingertips brushed his bicep. Sherlock’s skin is very smooth and almost opalescent in its pallor. The urge to feel the softness with my lips was strong. I tore open the packet, prepared the skin and the needle and sank it into the flesh at the bend of the elbow instead.
The blood flowed rapidly into the vial, a deep shade of red. I’d need to add navy blue to re-create the colour. I slipped the needle out, pressed the square of cotton to the small wound.
Sherlock put his forefinger next to mine. My whole body registered it. I withdrew, busied myself separating the vial and capping it. “What do you want on the label?” I asked, reaching for the biro that was clipped to the front of my folder.
“I am sorry, John,” he said.
I wrote the date and time and his initials. “I know,” I replied, “and I’ve forgiven you. Those weren’t mere words I said. I have. I do.” I set the vial on top of the discarded cellophane. “I was only doodling.”
“The trauma panel had preceded the one on genetic testing,” he said. “It was on your mind.”
The images returned: motor accident victim, head injury, blood on the pavement. Maybe they shouldn’t use police footage.
Sherlock hadn’t moved.
I curled my hand around his wrist, felt his pulse against my thumb. I let my head drop, closed my eyes when my brow touched his forearm.
A moment passed. I felt his hand in my hair.
My phone sounded far too loud in the silent kitchen.
We went haring off.
That night, it was Sherlock’s arm I felt beneath my face when I lay my head on my pillow. The feeling lasted for days.
In his own good-natured way, Mike is an insistent fellow.
I disconnected my laptop, slipped it and the charger into my bag. The last two students had gathered their rucksacks and were headed for the doors.
Mike had a smile on his face when he turned around. “Thank you for joining me for this,” he said, walking back from the edge of the platform to the table. “They appreciated hearing from someone with field experience.”
I zipped up my bag. “A&E is pretty intense in a big city,” I said.
“Yes, and they had lots of questions for the doctors we had in with that specialism, but the trainees will do rotations in A&E. What they won’t see first hand, is what you can tell them.” Mike had his hands on the edge of the table and was leaning forward as he spoke. I’d nearly forgotten how earnest his face can look; it’s been so long since we worked together. Raising a pint or having lunch doesn’t usually call for it.
I swung the bag over my shoulder. “I’ll admit I enjoyed it, too.”
“I’ve got another lot, you know,” Mike said, “next Thursday, in the morning, at 10.”
He kept his eyes on me; he knew he was pressing his luck.
“Lunch at the Criterion afterwards,” he added.
I couldn’t help laughing. “Fine, sign me up for that one, too, but I can’t guarantee we won’t be off on a case.”
“I’ll play the odds,” Mike said.
The police car in front of 221B didn’t have its lights flashing. I walked a little faster nevertheless. The front door opened.
“John,” Greg called when he spotted me crossing the street. He stopped at his car. “Better you than me, mate,” he added when I joined him.
I saw the files under his arm. “All done?” I asked.
“That’s the last of the ‘interesting’ ones,” he replied, opening the door and dropping the files on the passenger seat. “He’s bemoaning the lethargy of the criminal classes up there.”
“Right,” I said, glancing at the windows.
“Got any good private clients lined up?” he asked as he rounded the car.
I raised my eyebrows and shook my head.
“Good luck, then,” Greg said and got in the car.
“Ta,” I murmured as he drove away.
If Sherlock didn’t have something to keep his mind engaged, he wasn’t likely to sit still long enough for me to do any serious drawing and that was pretty much the star around which my days orbited unless we were running around for a case.
“I’m in pieces,” Sherlock said as I walked in the door. “Mainly extremities.” He was seated at the desk, leafing through my art folder. It had been upstairs, propped against my wardrobe.
I stopped a few paces into the room.
He always came to see what I was drawing if he was around and awake, but I drew at other times, too, and those he wouldn’t have seen unless he had looked through the folder before. From the sound of it, he hadn’t.
There were numerous studies of his hands. At rest or in motion, they mesmerise me. That would have been very clear to anyone looking through my folder, much less Sherlock Holmes looking through my folder, although I am sure that wouldn’t be news to him.
There was the series with the veins and arteries twined around his hand, disappearing into the flesh of his arm and neck, his face serene above the onslaught. I dream sometimes about those pictures, about the veins encompassing him totally, like ivy on a tree, tapping into him in all the warm places. I dared not draw those. Their intent was somewhat alarming and yet the temptation was always there. I was grateful I hadn’t succumbed to it now.
There were several other heads: profile, three-quarters, looking up, looking down. There were quite a few of the last. I suppose I had seen him like that most often, looking at his phone, his laptop, a book, a file. It had always given me a chance to look. His lashes cast shadows on his cheeks.
There were eyes. I did pages of them trying to get the colour right, and, I must admit, there were a number of mouths: pouting, yawning, smirking, frowning. There were several bare feet: flat on the floor, up on the desk, dangling over the arm of his chair, crossed at the ankle and balanced on the armrest of the sofa.
I was very glad I had not given into the other temptation and drawn him bending down to pick up that sheet. It had been before my mind’s eye frequently enough, especially if Sherlock happened to be coming out of or going into his bedroom or bending down for any reason, anywhere, which happens quite a lot. Yeah, that image was on my mind quite a lot. A full figure drawing. Full. It was in front of my eyes again.
Sherlock twisted about in the chair. He probably read everything I was thinking on my face.
“John,” he said, rising from his seat. “Get your materials. It is time to put the pieces together.
I am not sure what I was expecting when I followed Sherlock into his room a few minutes later, laden with the tools of my new trade, but I was surprised.
He had folded back the covers, spread his dressing gown on the white sheets and was reclining, upper half against the stacked pillows, lower half on his side along the blue silk, odalisque-style.
I froze, except for my eyes, which were trying to absorb every detail.
The bedside lamps were unlit. Other than the ambient light from the hall that I was mainly blocking, the light came from the floor lamp, which he’d moved to the far side of the bed. It poured faintly blue light over his skin and left the rest of that part of the room in shadow. How well he understands effect.
It struck me, for a moment, with something akin to snow blindness. Anyone would agree that Sherlock is pale, but the skin below those tantalising glimpses of his throat he provides, is so fair it is bright. I rubbed my thumb along the top of the pad I was holding. I wanted to test that that snowy skin was warm. It looked cool, like marble.
I wrested my gaze from his chest, followed the line of his hip down those long, long legs. He had arranged himself coyly, genitals hidden by the shadow of a muscular thigh. I had considered how he might be shaped. Unlike the rest of him, I had never caught a glimpse to guide my speculations. Is what is hidden always the most alluring? My eyes travelled back to his face.
No. I knew his face best and it held incredible allure for me. He was looking down as he so often is. He had his phone in one hand. That was a relief, because I knew my eyes were caressing every line and curve of his face. Perhaps I would draw the first nude with mobile? Surely someone’s done it already, but I don’t frequent the right places to have seen it, I suppose.
“You may rearrange me as you like,” Sherlock said, without looking up.
I could spend all night rearranging you.
Fortunately, he remained absorbed in his phone, thumb swiping the screen, eyes scanning whatever was revealed there. He probably didn’t need to read the open book I was certain I was, standing there thinking that I could have used my cane just then for the first time in years.
“I’ll get a table from the sitting room,” I said. He had already moved the chair from next the wardrobe to the foot of the bed. I wasn’t sure that was the perspective I wanted to start with. “Need anything?”
He shook his head.
“Right,” I rasped, noting the bottle of water on his nightstand. I needed one of those.
I washed my hands while I was in the kitchen filling a water bottle for my hydration needs. I dropped my jumper over a chair and left my watch and my phone on the table. I locked both doors to the hall. When I headed back to the bedroom, I was holding the little table from beside my chair by its pedestal, in the manner of a weapon or a shield. It seemed to calm me to hold it like that.
In my absence, Sherlock had rolled onto his stomach, the arm with the phone in hand stretched across the bed. He was facing me, eyes closed. I doubted he was asleep, but he might have gone off to his mind palace.
I set the table down, switched off the light in the hall and shut the door. I eased the mobile from his fingers, pressed the off button, watched the screen go blank. Greg and Mycroft could manage without him. Whoever else wanted him could wait. It could be just the two of us, without the rest of the world, for tonight. I put the phone on the night table gently, in case he was sleeping; moved the chair and my other things to that side of the bed.
The back of the flat was quiet. Sherlock’s breathing was quiet. I listened to the soft sound the pencils made as they moved across the paper mimicking his arcs and lines.
The paper rustled when I folded over another sheet. I put all the blue pencils in my shirt pocket and went to stand by the bottom corner of the bed.
Sherlock was remarkably still. He must have fallen asleep. Even so, he was bound to move. I sketched rapidly with midnight blue. The foot closest to me turned to bones.
I peeled the page away, walked to the centre of the foot of the bed. It was a breathtaking view. I chose royal blue and leaned over the mattress. I lost sight of his calves, focussed on the curves of his arse. I had been wanting to draw it for a good while, had been wanting for a good while. I placed it in the centre of the page, thighs larger as they came towards me, back sloping away, curly head in the distance, a hint of profile over the shoulder. The angle of the light made the shadows between the thighs as deep as the hair against the pillow, as the shade beneath the part of his outstretched arm I could fit on the paper. So many beautiful parts, but in the centre was the swell of those beautiful buttocks.
He was offering himself to me. I think that was pretty damned clear. And yet...
The line I was drawing wavered. I stared at it, lifted my eyes and stared at the naked form on the bed. How much more vulnerable could he make himself? What on earth more did I want?
Maybe I did know.
I put the paper and pencils down, walked around the bed, stopping by his outstretched arm. I nudged and pulled until he was on his side again. I paused, resumed breathing. If he had been asleep, I had surely awakened him, but he showed no sign of it. I took the arm that had had the mobile and positioned it along his side, let the forearm hang down near his waist.
I felt cold. I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I pulled his bottom leg forward, walked to the far side of the bed and pulled the upper leg back. My throat felt tight.
Back I went to the other side. I uncapped his water bottle, drank half of it, poured a few drops in my palm and rubbed it over my face.
He was very still. It seemed as though his chest did not move. He knows how to do that. He knows I know he knows how to do that.
“Sherlock,” I said. My lips moved, but no sound came out.
I held my hand over his head, poured more water into my palm. It dripped through my fingers onto his hair, onto his face. Red water. It stained the sheets.
The pavement is crimson with his blood.
“Sherlock,” I said again. I produced sound this time.
I push past them to see.
I clutched Sherlock’s wrist.
They try to pry it off, but I hold fast.
“Sherlock,” I said, choking. I couldn’t find his pulse. I tried to catch my breath. I glared around the room.
They raise their hands in surrender.
“Damn right,” I said. “I’m his doctor, his friend, his doctor...Sherlock.” I was holding his wrist too tightly to take his pulse. I forced myself to loosen my fingers. Closed my eyes to feel, to shut out all the blood except what was inside. What was inside was what mattered.
My breath whistled out of me. I had it now...delicate against the tip of my finger.
“Yes. Keep beating. For me. Keep beating for me.” I opened my eyes, pushed the matted hair off his brow, rolled him onto his back.
I saw his chest rise.
“Keep doing that,” I said. “Your heart’s strong; it can keep doing that.” I pressed his knuckles against my bottom lip. “Open you eyes now,” I whispered over them. “Open them for me.” I had crawled up onto the bed, knelt beside him. “One more miracle for me, Sherlock. Please.”
I crouched closer. Glanced about, narrowed my eyes at the shadows.
They back away, through the walls.
We were alone. I looked down. His eyes were focussed on me. Electric blue.
Sherlock was standing on the sofa when I opened the door. Bits of paper were floating to the floor around him. There was a snarl of red string in his hair, a couple of sticky notes clinging to his dressing gown. He looked over his shoulder at me.
“The lecture went well I see,” he said. “A couple fans of your blog in the class, too.”
“How’d you know that last bit?” I asked. I hung up my jacket and moved closer to the maelstrom.
“You have a specific half smile for when people admire your literary efforts,” he replied. “Mind the push pins when you sit.”
I squinted at the sofa.
“Or if you take your shoes off,” he added, prying the map loose from the wallpaper, Blu-Tack point by Blu-Tack point. “Hand me the scissors.”
I glanced about.
“Coffee table,” he said, back towards me.
I spotted an orange handle peeking out from under a sheaf of photographs, walked around the table and held them up.
“Snip here,” he said, sliding a finger under a segment of string that was still attached at both ends.
I cut as bidden. “I’m surprised you’re taking it down so fast,” I said. “You only solved it last night.”
Sherlock held the map by its top corners and eased it away from the wall. “Mike must have been pleased that his gamble paid off.”
“He was,” I replied. “He asked me to thank you for timing it so well.”
Sherlock huffed. The map was still attached at the bottom corner.
I moved a couple sticky notes to free the edge.
Without looking, Sherlock stepped backwards onto the coffee table, the map suspended from his outstretched arms. His head and hand appeared on the wall.
He’d had the coloured heart pictures, as I call them, mounted so they were joined together, their outline resembling an uneven flight of stairs. The frame was mahogany, the matting steel blue. The drawings went well with the skulls, I suppose.
I have trouble looking at them without thinking where else I had wanted the veins to go. I think that’s why Sherlock hung them in the sitting room. When he sees me sneaking glances at them, he has a tendency to shed garments and drop them like bread crumbs on his way to the bedroom. He hung a couple of the life studies in there. I rarely look at them; I usually have the original to hand. I think Sherlock likes them.
Sherlock was staring at me when my gaze shifted to him, his hands full of map.
I reached for it and laid it aside on the desk.
“Lestrade is coming over,” he said.
I might have groaned. I looked back at him. I’m sure my eyes were black. He was still on the coffee table. It was the perfect height. I might have licked my lips. It’s an awful tell.
“How soon?” I asked.
“He was in Bexleyheath when he called ten minutes ago,” Sherlock said.
“That’ll do,” I said, stepping briskly to the window and pulling the curtains closed. “Don’t move.”
I circled the desk and drew the other curtains together, marched to the door, locked it and slid the doors to the kitchen shut. I turned back to him.
There was a flush creeping up his cheeks.
He hunched over me, fingers digging into my shoulders.
I swallowed and swallowed, my finger curling inside him with each pulse. My other arm grasped more firmly about his hip, steadied him as his muscles unwound. I eased away, kissed his stomach, stroked his thigh. I took half a step back.
He lifted his head, swaying slightly.
I tightened my arm around his waist, pressed my shoulder against his thigh and looked up. Wild colour was strewn everywhere. I held out my other hand. “Come down,” I said, voice hoarse and urgent.
I lay my head on his back, eyes closed, arms wrapped around his chest. Every nerve in my body was clamouring for release and I willed them all to wait, to stay balanced on the sharp edge, thrumming with a pleasure that was almost pain. I inhaled carefully. Any movement and it was going to be the end and I didn’t want it to end.
I felt his muscles shift, his fingers brushed between my thighs, closed around my balls.
It ripped through me. The sound echoing in my ears was agonised.
My body no longer obeyed. Everything went lax and he bent under the weight of me.
I heard a car door slam. “No,” I whined. It was barely a word.
He was sitting up, drawing away. “No.” I ended up seated on the coffee table.
“Bathroom,” he said and dragged me up.
I felt for the belt of my trousers, managed to walk with them somewhere around my thighs.
The bathroom door closed behind us.
“Sherlock?” Greg called from the kitchen. “John?”
Sherlock flushed the toilet.
“Right,” Greg said. “I’m making coffee. The traffic was hell.”
“Not hellish enough,” I muttered.
Sherlock jumped into the shower. I was still clinging to the edge of the basin when he jumped out again and disappeared into the bedroom.
“How do you feel about Marseille, John?” Sherlock asked when I finally emerged from the bathroom.
I looked from Sherlock to Greg, my brain not yet clear.
“Coffee?” Greg asked.
I shook my head. “Tea. What’s in Marseille?”
A plate of Mrs Hudson’s ginger biscuits had materialised on the table. I took one as I passed. Sugar would help.
“Jean-Pierre thinks he’s located the headquarters of a ring of arsonists he’s been tracking for months,” Sherlock said.
“And he’s intercepted some communications that suggest they might be connected to a couple unsolved arson cases here in London,” Greg added.
“Not usually your division,” I said over the boiling of the kettle.
“Unfortunately, it is now. Night watchman injured in the second one died in hospital this morning,” Greg replied.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “And Marseille?”
“Jean-Pierre thinks the syndicate might be involved in the maritime sphere as well,” Sherlock supplied.
“Ship fires in Marseille harbour?” I asked, closing one hand around the box of tea and the other around my mug.
“One,” Sherlock replied, “but several unexplained deaths aboard passenger and cargo vessels departing from there.”
“One bloke had even won the cruise,” Greg said.
“Poor sod. Londoner?” I filled my mug and sat.
“Unsolved?” I ventured, adding milk from the jug on the table.
“Why didn’t Jean-Pierre call Sherlock directly?” I asked and dunked a biscuit into my tea.
Greg looked at Sherlock.
“Jean-Pierre didn’t want to deprive Lestrade of my skills if I was in the midst of working on one of his cases,” Sherlock explained.
I nodded and took a sip of tea. From some dark corner of my brain, a peevish voice whispered, “Everyone should ask your permission.” I drank more tea. I knew Sherlock’s eyes were on me.
“So,” Greg said, “sound interesting enough?” He took one of the biscuits, tipped his chair back.
Sherlock was tapping away at his phone, open file next to him.
I drank more tea.
Greg snagged another biscuit.
I smiled at him. They were great biscuits.
I needed to keep pettiness at bay. Greg had mentioned once that he’d called Sherlock a bastard when he appeared out of the shadows in a parking garage then hugged him and told him about Anderson’s crazy theories. Much better reception than mine. I’ve got to mind the pettiness.
“There,” Sherlock said. “We’re booked on a flight to Marseille tomorrow afternoon. We should research the passenger lists of ships departing in the next few days. I’m inclining towards the Sea Unicorn sailing the day after tomorrow due to the former Minister of State for Transport’s presence, but if we dig deeper we may find more likely candidates.” He picked up speed as he rattled off the details, finally looking up from the screen, eyes agleam with the joy of a seemingly worthy case.
I raised my eyebrows.
Sherlock’s brows drew together. “I’m assuming you want to go, John.” He had that look he’d had when I first told him I doubted the claims he’d made on his website.
“Of course, I want to go,” I said. As if I’d let you go alone. We’ve covered that ground. “I don’t have any shifts scheduled for a few days. I’m sure I can arrange something for the later ones I’ve already agreed to.” It would have been nice to have been asked first, I suppose, but why would he ask when he knows that where I want to be is with him? His expression brightened somewhat, but he kept his eye on me when he resumed speaking.
“Excellent. This could be an eight, or even better. John, you’ll be an artist travelling with his model. You accept commissions for nude portraits upon application from very exclusive clients only. Anyone who has not heard of you is clearly not in the know,” he said, warming to the idea. “That should attract the interest of the same people who attract other sorts of attention and the nudity could explain why no one will have seen your portraits displayed in board rooms or drawing rooms.”
Greg snorted. “No offense, but how’s John supposed to pull that off? Pretend to draw and not let anyone look?”
Sherlock stood. “John’s a man of many talents, Lestrade. Let me show you.”
I was relieved when he headed towards the sitting room, not the bedroom.
Sherlock opened the doors and switched on the lamps either side of the sofa. There was litter all around, but the intersecting beams of the lamps created a spotlight on the drawings that drew the eye away from everything else in the room. Blood seemed to pulse from the heart through the veins that climbed towards the face.
“You did that?” Greg asked, turning towards me.
“Yeah,” I said.
He considered the drawings. “Great likeness of Sherlock, you caught that superior expression of his, but Christ those veins are creepy.” Greg glanced at the painting of the skull and the skull over the desk. “Fits right in though.” He nodded, looked at each of us, opened his mouth, closed it again.
“John might be persuaded to do your portrait, Lestrade,” Sherlock said.
That surprised me.
Greg stepped back. “No, thanks. I’ll stick to selfies.” He took another step towards the door. “Besides, I like to keep my internal organs internal, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, that’s not my heart, it’s John’s,” Sherlock said.
Now I was astonished, but Greg had watched me marry someone I shouldn’t have and listened to Sherlock bare his heart to everyone there. It was fitting that he should be a witness to this.
He pointed to each of us in turn. “Just make sure you come back from Marseille with all your internal organs in place.”
“Yes, Detective Chief Inspector,” Sherlock said.
“I’ll call Jean-Pierre and tell him to contact you directly to complete arrangements, yeah?” Greg said from the doorway. “Which flight are you taking?”
“I forwarded you the details,” Sherlock replied.
Greg started tapping keys on his phone.
“Give him John’s number,” Sherlock added.
“Will do,” Greg said with a half wave and stepped into the hall. He leaned in around the door frame, phone to his ear and stared at the drawings a couple seconds more. “You two really are made for each other,” he said. “Allô, Jean-Pierre...oui...” He gave us a nod and left, voice receding down the stairs.
“I always knew that,” Sherlock said, throwing me his phone and sitting down in front of his laptop. “Passenger lists, John.”
I caught the phone, checked the seat of my chair for pins and finding none, sat. “No you didn’t. You were married to your work.”
Sherlock didn’t respond. He had a map of shipping lanes up on his computer.
“We’re both idiots,” I said, waking up the phone. The end of the passenger manifest for the Sea Unicorn lit up on the screen. I glanced over at Sherlock and caught the side of his grin. Maybe I’d try to draw that aboard ship.
I looked down at the phone and scrolled back to the beginning.