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In A Family Way

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I had not, precisely, forgotten about Margaret Watson.  But she was not foremost in my mind when I insisted that Watson move back to Baker Street, and she gave me quite a fright when I opened the sitting room door to the sound of Watson coming up those hallowed seventeen steps with something heavy in his arms and found little Margaret staring me in the face.

Watson put his suitcase down with a thump and hitched the child up higher on his hip.

"This is Mr Holmes, my dove," he said softly in her ear, his eyes on mine.  "Can you say hello?"

"Hello," she said, in the smallest voice I could have imagined, and then tucked her round little face into Watson's neck.  She had her father's blue eyes and her mother's golden curls tied up in a ribbon, and her tiny shoes were patent leather.

I stepped aside to let the Watsons— the Watsons!— in, dumbstruck.

Watson read my expression with a wry smile.  "This is my daughter Maggie," he told me.  "She'll be three in the fall."

"I'm very pleased to meet her," I said.  I had read of her birth in the Times, when I was in Sweden late in the year 1891.  My brother had sent a copy without a note of explanation, and out of habit I checked the obituaries.  John Watson's name had caught my eye in the announcements of births and weddings: On November 3rd, to Dr and Mrs Watson of London, a daughter, Margaret Amelia.  My heart ached then— as it did now— to think of my Watson as a father.  No man was more suited, I thought.

"I meant to tell you," Watson said, shifting his grip on the little girl, "but I was so caught up with— with everything, yesterday, I never found the moment."

"It's quite all right," I said.  Nothing, not even the presence of a child, would stop me from having Watson within shouting distance forever more.  "I should have known."

He frowned at me.

"Mary was a few months along when you took your leave of her to go to Switzerland with me," I said.  "She hadn't told you yet, but I could see it in her face, the way she moved.  November, isn't that right?"

"You astound me, as ever," Watson said, and moved across the room to take in the familiar surroundings.  He glanced at the broken window, patched with a leaf of foolscap, and checked the floor where the glass had shattered.  I watched him scan my laboratory table, neatly stored so long without me, and the fireplace grate.  Then he put the child down.  "I'm having the rest of our things sent over," he said, as Maggie stared around her intently at the furniture, as if deciding which one to tackle first.  "I'd like to turn the second room upstairs into a nursery, if you think that will suit."

He said as if he expected me to disagree.  I did have a considerable collection of chemistry equipment, paraphernalia from old cases, and the lesser-used half of my library up there.

"I'll clear it out this instant," I said.

"Oh, Holmes," Watson said, and visibly restrained himself from an expression of emotion.  "I'm ever so glad you're back."


It took a few days to carry everything out, during which time Maggie slept in the upstairs room with Watson, the crib crammed in against his old narrow bed.  There was hardly space to move about in there.  But once I had combed through files and folders, stacks of books, boxes of junk, and seen a great deal of it out the door, Watson set to renovating that room with abandon.  He had workmen in there for an entire week, stripping the wallpaper and sanding the floor smooth, replacing it all with new, fresh coverings.  He had a bookshelf built that filled the wall opposite the window.  The crib and a small dresser took up most of the northern wall, and a hobby horse and toy chest took up residence to the south, by the door.  Maggie became quickly fond of slamming that door, cackling with glee at the scoldings of her father, until upon my suggestion he installed a hook and eye fixture that held it open.

I hardly missed the upstairs storage at all.  It was infinitely more satisfying to have my Watson in his chair across from me by the fire with little Maggie in his lap, than to know relics of my work from decades past were languishing up there waiting to be lost forever.

Some of my other habits changed to accommodate the Watsons.  The good Doctor no longer smoked, under the pretence that smoking in the presence of a child would harm the child's health as if she herself were partaking, so I confined my tobacco use to my bedroom.  Chemical experiments were only permitted after Maggie's bedtime, unless they were probably explosive ones, in which case I brought them to Watson ahead of time and he took her out of the house.  Every one of my concessions was met by one of Watson's: when Maggie's temper got the better of her, he whisked her away upstairs to cool down, always mindful of my brainwork; if I had an experiment that would take longer than an evening, Maggie was permitted to look but not touch, and reminded of how careful she needed to be on that side of the room.

Being back in London was its own confusion of readjustment, but having Watson by my side made it bearable.  Maggie helped in her own way.  Watson would suggest we take the girl out on a walk, and the three of us would ramble through my forgotten streets at the pace a middle-aged army surgeon could push a two-year-old in a pram.  Or, frequently enough, at the rate of a two-year-old tugging at the end of her daddy's arm.  Maggie was a natural leader, dragging us from one end of the city to the other, pointing out the nuances of life that only a child can see.  She had a certain fondness for stray cats, puddles, and horse-drawn carriages.  I was able to recall the best back alleys from Baker Street to White Chapel, and from Chelsea to Blackfriars.

I saw the way people looked at Watson with his daughter, as though they couldn't quite believe that a father would be seen in public with his offspring.  Watson did not bring with him a nurse or governess for the girl, and appeared to be entirely devoted to her upbringing himself.  Rather than let her be cared for by a woman with motherly instincts, he was the one up at all hours, walking the length of the new nursery and singing in a low voice, or pleading with her to lie down and try to sleep.  He was the one that coaxed her to eat, that ended up with her supper in his lap, that praised her effusively when she finished her meals.  He was on the floor in the sitting room with her, lying on his back with her little body raised in the air, or watching her set up her doll and bear for tea.  He scolded me more than ever about keeping my untidiness contained, and now I obliged him.

When on one occasion I did ask why he had no nanny to mind her, his eyes became flinty and his mouth thinned into a line.

"She's lost her mother," he said, his voice low and firm, "she'll not lose me as well to the negligent manner of modern parenting.  Perhaps I am an unusual fellow, no doubt driven by long association with you, but I'd actually like to get to know my daughter as she grows up."

I put up my hands in surrender.  "I meant no harm," I said, and turned to light my pipe in order to duck out of his pointed glare.  "I'm sure residence in this house will make an eccentric of her yet.  Being on good terms with her father will be the least of her worries."

He fought a smile, the corners of his mouth twitching, and then gave into it with a sigh.  "Damn you," he said fondly, patting my arm.  "I suppose you think she'll take after that Adler woman."

In truth, I rather hoped she would.


Several months into my renewed co-habitation with Watson and Maggie, a case landed on our doorstep that necessitated a trip to the countryside.  Or, it would have, if I had not had a moment of clarity as the country solicitor, Whitfield, narrated the series of events that led me, within fifteen minutes, to a solution.

The client was a small, stout man with a nervous disposition whose wife had been dramatically abducted in the middle of the night while he had been away on business.  Signs of a struggle were in every room, and blood had been found on the floor of the foyer.  Whitfield described to us in fair detail the scene he had discovered, and lamented that the local constabulary had been unable to find any evidence beyond the lintel of the home.  All of the violence visible inside the house stopped the moment the police crossed the doorstep, and the road and walk outside were pristine.  No strange, heavy footsteps, no signs of a carriage, nothing.

Even the blood was not enough to suggest that Mrs Whitfield was injured or dead.  She could be dead by other means, of course, but the truth of it was that she had absconded with her lover and they were both well out of the country by now.

I looked from Whitfield, who was fiddling with his trouser cuff and staring at me intently, to Watson, who was fairly vibrating with excitement.  He was trying very hard to look nonchalant, taking notes as faithful biographer, but I could tell by the way his knee bounced at a rapid clip that he was having trouble staying still.

"I shall need to see the scene," I said, needing nothing of the sort.  "Mr Whitfield, thank you for bringing this most interesting—" terribly obvious— "problem to my attention.  I will wait on you in a few hours at your home.  Watson, see the gentleman to the door."

He did, and bounded back up the stairs to me, made ten years younger by his enthusiasm.  His face glowed with it, his eyes shining, his mouth unable to keep from smiling.  I grinned back at him.  I didn't need the case for my sanity, but I needed him, and he needed it.

"Pack a bag and we'll be at the station within the hour.  I don't suppose your revolver will be necessary, but you can pack that as well."

Watson halted, all the glee gone out of him in an instant like a deflated bladder.  "Holmes, I cannot."

"Of course you can," I said, "you haven't gotten rid of it, have you?"

"No, I can't go with you."

We stared at one another across the sitting room.  He was wringing his hands, frowning deeply now.  There was a spot of orange juice on his shirt front, just above his jacket lapel: Maggie had spilled her cup at breakfast with amazing force.

"It's only one night," I said.  "This'll be over by tomorrow afternoon."

"You can't promise that," Watson said.  "He could be lying to you and the whole thing could be terribly complicated, and we might be out there for a week."

"He's not the one who is lying," I said.  "And I have a fair suspicion that this will not take a week to untangle."  I crossed the room and took both his hands in mine, not caring what he would think.  "I need you— I want you at my side.  This is as important to you as it is to me, I can see it in your face.  Maggie will be fine.  Mrs Hudson will see to it."

"Mrs Hudson is our landlady, not a nanny, and it's terribly rude to assume that she'll want to have Maggie as her charge for the night."

I squeezed Watson's fingers.  We hadn't let go.  "Please," I said.  "Please.  Mrs Hudson would do anything for that child.  You're not asking her to become a full time nursemaid."

"You ask her, then," Watson said.

"Mrs Hudson!" I shouted.  Watson grimaced at the volume, no doubt thinking of the child in question asleep above us.  "Mrs Hudson!"

Feet on the stairs, and then as she opened the door, "What is it, Mr Holmes?"  The way she said my name might have translated in another language to, you madman.

"I need to take Doctor Watson away for the night," I said, even as Watson turned around and began to protest.

"No, he doesn't; I don't need to go."

"I do," I said, "and I would be very much in your debt if you would be willing to watch the littlest Watson until we return."

"No," Watson said again, taking his hands from mine and turning away.  "Really, I'm sorry he's even asking."

"Don't be silly," Mrs Hudson said, giving him a smile and me a very stern glance.  Somehow she managed to reprimand me for my plot and acquiesce to it at the same time.  "Doctor Watson, I'm sure you're itching for a chance to get out of the house.  It isn't a crime to want a little holiday!  Miss Maggie and I will be the very best of friends by the time you're home again."

They spent the next hour going over the details of Maggie's agenda for the coming day and night, although Mrs Hudson was already intimately acquainted with the girl's eating and sleeping habits, while I was left to stuff clean shirts into a carpet bag and rummage around for Watson's revolver.  Maggie was up by the time Watson was finally ready, and he bent to kiss her goodbye.

"Promise me you'll be an angel," he whispered into her hair.

He looked back once more as we got into the cab, and from the window Mrs Hudson and Maggie were watching us and waving.  The expression on Watson's face, that of remorse and apprehension, almost made me send him back into the house, but then he looked at me and his whole visage changed as we began to move.  The excitement written there could not be false.  He was as a man reborn, his cheeks flushed and his eyes shining, and I stopped my mouth before I said something foolish.


We arrived at the country station at midday and I turned us first towards the public house to procure a room for the night and a bite to eat.  I asked for a suite, priding myself on breaking the habit of booking a single room, but the landlord only had a double for us, two beds on either side of a bookshelf, crammed under the eaves on the second floor.  Watson threw his kit on one bed, beamed at me like a boy on his first fishing trip, and rubbed his hands together.

"Well, come on then," I said.

It was as I'd expected at Whitfield's house: the blood on the floor amounted to no more than might be produced by the mishandling of a butchered chicken, and had a tacky consistency.  It had been old before it had even met the floorboards.  The rest of the house was in a shocking state of chaos, but in every room.  If a woman had been abducted from her bed, we might have seen furniture overturned in the bedroom, perhaps in the hall, and the sitting room where she might have made a final stand.  Not in the kitchen, and the washroom, and the office.  No, this was the gleeful destruction of a woman about to be free of a man she hated.

I took my time, however, pouring over the details and the random arrangement of the furniture.  I had Watson inspect the lane outside the front door for footprints, and confirmed his assessment that there had been a man here that was not Whitfield.  This man was about five feet eight inches tall, a little over twelve stone, and smoked an American brand of cigarettes.

This man had also accompanied Mrs Whitfield down the lane and out into the road, neither of them in any distress.  An interview of the neighbour down the road confirmed that there had been a lady in a hat that obscured her face walking with a gentleman smoking a cigarette late the previous evening.

It was growing dark by then, so I suggested that we attempt to discover the identity of the man in the morning.  We returned to the pub in high spirits, which were raised further by a hearty supper on Watson's part and a bowl of soup on mine, as well as a few drinks shared between us.

We retired to our room leaning against one another, and undressed in companionable silence.  I lit my pipe and sat upon my bedclothes, claiming to need the time to smoke and think.  In truth, I simply wanted to bask in Watson's presence, even if he were asleep.  It warmed my heart to have him near, just a few feet away across the space between our beds, within arm's length if I were to reach out.  He put out the lamp and I looked out the window.  My mind felt clear and light, my head heavy against the wall behind me from the alcohol.  The moon was rising.

"I haven't been apart from Maggie since Mary's death," Watson said into the darkness.  I smoked my pipe in infinite silence, praying for him to go on.  "I don't suppose I've spent a night away since she was born.  It feels very strange to have you here beside me and not her."  He rolled over to face me, and a sliver of light from the window crossed his cheek, turning it white.  "God, how my life has changed."

"Do you wish it had not?" I asked, cursing myself the instant I'd said it.

He thought for a moment, and then said, "No.  If I could turn back the last three and a half years and not lose— not lose Mary, or— or you, Holmes, I might do it, but not at the expense of my daughter.  She's the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen."

I was quietly, irrationally, hurt by that thought, and he seemed to sense it.  The smile was evident in his voice when he said, "And I've lived with you.  Everything she does is fascinating, Holmes.  Even her fits of temper.  I had no idea I could love one person so much."

My chest felt tight.  I dragged heavily on my pipe and said, "I suppose everything changes when you have a family."

"Holmes, really," Watson scolded, sitting up.  "You have a family.  You have your brother."  I scoffed, thinking of a childhood wasted alone with tutors in an empty manor house, and he went on, "You have me, you have us."

We gazed at one another across the dark room.  It was as if a string connected us from breastbone to breastbone, and it had been plucked.  I could feel it vibrating.  "That's true," I said.  "I'm lucky to have you; to have you back, that is."

"No," he said, "it is I—"

"We could argue all night over who has had better fortune," I interrupted, suddenly embarrassed, "but the fact of the matter is that without you I would have had no reason at all to return, and that you were even willing to consider resuming your acquaintance with me after what I have done— well."

"I couldn't have stayed away if I'd tried," Watson murmured.  He lay back down suddenly, turning his back to me.  The thread between us twisted, tightened, and drew me almost out of my own bed.  

I resisted it, putting my pipe to my lips once more and drawing deeply to keep myself in check.  We both slept deeply that night.


In the morning, I broke the news to Mr Whitfield that his wife had left him.  Watson looked at me sharply from across the study, and I realized he had not suspected that.  What could have the American been, then, if not a lover?  Mr Whitfield, mournfully, agreed with me.  She'd traveled to America as a young woman, before they'd been married, and had mentioned once or twice a particular American friend.  He had been coming to visit, she said, but she'd neglected to say when.

It was better than her death, he supposed, but his worry had turned to sorrow and betrayal, and I very badly wanted to leave.  The amusement of taking Watson away for a night extended only as far as the holiday portion, not the case itself.  We conveyed the information to the local police and boarded a train for London.

In the compartment, Watson was brooding.

"It's a dreadful thing to do," he said, when I pressed him.  "Perfectly dreadful."

"I can't say why she went about it that way," I said.  "But I understand her reasoning."

"But to stage her own abduction?  To make him fear for her?  It's downright cruel."

I realized we were not really talking about the case anymore.  "Yes," I said, looking down at my hands.  "It is."  Arguing that she must have had very good reason would not sway him, so I kept that thought to myself.

We rode the rest of the way, a good hour, in silence.  Even in the cab from the station to our door, we did not speak.  Watson barely looked at me.  Guilt and discomfort crawled around in my gut.  It was the wrong case to have insisted on bringing him.

When we arrived at Baker Street, Maggie was overjoyed to see us.  Mrs Hudson was equally glad for our return, though she bestowed a kiss upon the girl's cheek as she handed her over.

"I missed you, daddy," Maggie said into Watson's ear, her arms wrapped around his neck.

"Did you miss me, little one?" I asked.

"No," she said, and Watson snorted a laugh.

"Were you a good girl?" Watson asked, and when he turned to look at me he was smiling.  "Did you do everything Mrs Hudson said?"

"Yes," Maggie said.  "We made tea for you and Holmes."

Tea was indeed waiting for us in the sitting room.  It was extremely strong and very sugary, but Watson and I drank it with many noises of approval and delight.  Maggie beamed and strutted around, telling us about her evening with our landlady.  Maggie had helped cook and eaten lunch in the kitchen, and she had helped clean and tidy.  Special attention had been paid to her own bedroom, and now she assured us that all the toys were in their proper place.  They had gone for a walk in the park and looked at the ducks, and Mrs Hudson had let her push the pram with a doll in it.  All in all, it had been a very successful twenty-four hours.

Maggie's good mood lasted only until supper, when the sense of betrayal that we had left her alone finally reached her.  She refused to eat, and when she lashed out and struck Watson on the arm with her little fist his patience evaporated.  He wrestled her into a hold that left her arms and legs pinned and took her up to her bedroom.  I could hear him saying, "We do not hit," over and over.

For ten minutes I listened to her railing against him, screaming and beating her feet on the floor, but it soon turned to exhausted sobbing, and thence to silence.  I busied myself with a pile of notes on the effects of differently sized bullets on the human body, so that when he returned he would not imagine I had been bothered by the ruckus, but he never came back down.


Around one in the morning, I heard movement above me back and forth between the rooms, and then Watson's tread heavy on the step with the weight of the child in his arms.  Maggie said something in her high, clear voice and he shushed her, reminding her that I was certainly asleep.  Certainly not.  I rose quietly and slipped into my dressing gown, and when Watson closed the sitting room door I opened my own.

"Holmes," he said in surprise, turning from the table where he was pouring a cup of water with one hand.  "I'm so sorry, we didn't mean to wake you."

"Nonsense," I said, waving away his apology like so much smoke.  I crossed the room to give Maggie a gentle touch under the chin and said, "I'm afraid she'll become familiar with our particular brand of insomnia."  Maggie had tear tracks on her face, but at my caress she smiled.  Watson's own smile of relief warmed me inside.  I left them at the window and fetched my violin from its case on my desk.

"You don't have to," Watson protested, half-heartedly, his eyes alight with hope and gratitude.  I could see the fatigue in the lines of his face, more visible in the low glow of the gas lamp.  He was in his dressing gown and slippers, his hair sticking up on one side and his moustache uncombed.  I had done my share of interrupting his sleep, but he always took the time to collect his appearance before he followed me out the door.  Now his state of dishabille was strangely charming, more domestic than I was usually allowed to see.  Even in the shared room at the inn, he'd been comfortably put together.

I started to play softly, mindful of the child's delicate ears, and Watson tucked his arms more securely around her and began to pace the length of the sitting room.  

Maggie rested her head against Watson's cheek and watched me, sucking intently on two fingers.  Her eyes were the same bright blue of her father's, and they seemed to see through me just as his did.  She had her mother's face, though, the same roundness, the delicacy of feature.  I tried to picture Mary with her and found that I couldn't.  Perhaps it was that I had not known Mary well enough, though she and Watson had been married a few years before my departure.  She had been a good woman, kind, and accommodating whenever I swept her husband away on a midnight venture, but we had never really become friends.  I didn't know what she was like with children, nor how she would have run her household.

The formality on my end was deliberate, for reasons I would not, at the time, have cared to admit.  Now, with Watson returned to me and I to him, it felt dishonest not to acknowledge that I had been jealous.  I found I still was, under the gaze of Watson's sharp-eyed child.

Soon, though, her scrutiny came to an end as she put her head down on Watson's shoulder and closed her eyes.  Watson raised a hand to cradle her back, holding her against him, whispering in her little ear.  She nodded, rubbing her cheek against his lapel, and he smiled at me across the room.  

"Keep going," he mouthed with exaggeration, and I tipped my chin up in acknowledgement and changed my tune again, playing a lullaby I found I had not forgotten, though it had been a long time since I'd heard it.  Watson's pace slowed as Maggie faded, and soon he was standing at the window, looking down at the street, rocking his weight back and forth.  His dressing gown moved like a metronome across his slippered feet.

I came to as gentle a stop as I could, ending my song on a fading note, and put the violin silently away.  Watson hadn't moved, so I went to join him at the window.  Maggie's face was relaxed in sleep, her fingers still in her pink mouth, her curls all disarranged around her face.  I stood close to them to feel her warmth, to press a gentle kiss to her forehead.  It brought me well into Watson's usual sphere of personal space, but he did not protest.  In fact, he reached for my elbow and squeezed it, whispering, "Thank you."

"Not at all," I replied, matching his whisper.  My mouth felt dry, and I realized my hands were trembling faintly.  My heart was pounding double-time in my chest.  I swallowed hard, looking up from Maggie's face into Watson's.  His eyes caught mine, deep blue and intense, and for a moment we were stock-still, staring at one another.

The impulse that struck me was too powerful to resist, and in the instant before I caved to it, I saw in his face that he had felt it too.  My hand came up to rest on the small of his back, feeling the warmth of his body though his nightclothes, and I closed the distance between us.

His lips against mine were soft and dry, parted on an intake of breath.  After a moment of no response I began to doubt myself, but then as I started to pull away his grip tightened on my elbow.  He pressed our mouths together once more, holding us there, and his tongue darted out to touch my lower lip.  It was like a bolt of lightning went through me, right down my spine.  I gasped, and Watson kissed me again, his hand sliding up my arm to the back of my neck.  His fingers were hot on my skin, his mouth sweet under mine, and we traded kiss after kiss with a kind of slow wonder that filled my head and heart.  I tried to move closer, guiding Watson to me with the hand on his back, and we came up against an impasse.

Maggie, between us, murmured in her sleep.

Watson broke the kiss suddenly, his hand on the nape of my neck now pressed against my clavicle, urging me away.  I stepped back, dismayed, but schooled my features quickly as I saw his face.  His eyes were wide and dark, wanting, his lips parted as he panted shallowly.

"Holmes," he said, hardly more than a breath of air.

My ribcage felt so tight that it was cracking.  I clenched my hands tightly at my sides, lest I reach out for him again, and said, "I'm so sorry, Watson, that was-- it was wrong of me."

He licked his lips, uncertain, and then curled both arms protectively around his daughter.  "I should—" he said, and cut himself off, shaking his head.  "It's late."

I nodded in agreement, but inside I was was rocked with denial.  No, we had to finish this.  No, he couldn't get away so easily.  No, there was more.  There was more to it.

"Thank you," Watson said, as he turned for the sitting room door again, "for playing."

"Of course," I said.  My throat was thick.  He looked over his shoulder at me as he opened the door, and then he was gone.  I sat down in my armchair, my legs no longer able to hold me.  With my head in my hands, I listened to him climb the stairs and move around the nursery, murmuring to Maggie as he put her to bed, and then into his own room: the creak of his bed as he climbed into it, and finally silence.

"Bloody hell," I said, into the emptiness of the sitting room.  I had not been off the mark, that much was obvious.  Watson had returned that kiss with as much enthusiasm as I had initiated it.  My face was hot with embarrassment at my actions, and yet I knew I had no reason to feel that way.

I got up to pace.  I stopped at the mantel to light a pipe, and then smoked it until the clock struck three.  Having worked nothing out at all, I returned to my bedroom and threw myself into a fitful sleep.


"My daddy is sad," Maggie told me one afternoon, when Watson had gone out for a walk and entrusted me with the care and entertainment of his daughter.  He had only been gone a little while, and we had only wasted a half dozen sheets of his foolscap for practicing Maggie's penmanship.

"Why is he sad?" I asked.

"He misses mummy," she replied.

I frowned.  I had noticed the signs lately: the increasing despondency, the slow responses to my queries and demands, the amount of time he spent lost in thought.  Guilt began its slow crawl up my spine to lodge in my throat.  I swallowed around it and felt it stick.  "Did he say that?"

"Yes."  Maggie looked up at me.  She was lying on her belly on the floor and I was sitting beside her, watching her move the pen with her little fist.  I had tried to write a few letters for her to copy, but she was more interested in drawing circles layered upon circles and calling them by various animal names.  "Look, it's a cat."

"I see that," I said.  "It's very nice.  Does he miss her often?"

Maggie shook her head and went back to drawing.

"Do you miss her?"

She shook her head again.

I sighed.  "Damn it, am I going to have to talk to him about it?"

"He likes to talk to you," Maggie said.  "I do, too.  Can you draw me a dog?"

"No," I said.

She scowled at me.

"I'm not any good at it."

"You can try."

I pondered this as I drew what would pass for a dog in the most lenient of art circles.  My grandmother would have been so disappointed.  Maggie began to draw it a companion, and I sat back against the leg of my chair.  The wisdom of children had never struck me as particularly noteworthy, but somehow she had got right to the point.  Watson was unhappy, and it was at least partially my fault.  The kiss we had shared shone brightly in my mind, stirring my blood and raising my spirits, but no doubt Watson looked upon it with some measure of anxiety.  Despite his apparent enthusiasm in the moment he had pulled away, turned his back, shut me out.  I had to know why.  Guilty speculation about Mary was no longer enough of an answer.

When Watson got home again, I didn't raise the subject.  He wasn't angry about the use of his good paper, only praised Maggie's drawings and laughed at mine.  We ate supper at six and I whiled away the evening with my violin under my chin while Watson and Maggie sat on the sofa.  Maggie pretended to read to Watson from her book of poetry, making up silly lines of verse, and he turned the pages dutifully as she urged him along.

Finally she was put to bed, and Watson returned to the sitting room with a deep sigh.  He accepted the glass of brandy I had poured for him, sinking gratefully into his chair.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"Oh, fine," he said, shaking his head.  "It's as if I feed her pure energy; she can go like mad until she drops in a faint."  He quirked a smile at me.  "Much like someone I know."

I raised an eyebrow, feigning nonchalance, and inspected the brandy in my glass.  Everything I wanted to ask was filling up my chest, pressing on my diaphragm and demanding a way out.  I would have to move slowly to come out of this conversation intact.  I took another sip, savoured the burn, and considered my options.  It was not yet late, but Watson's schedule was dictated by his daughter: too much more delay and he would be off to bed himself.

"Watson," I said, starting as I meant to go on, "we cannot ignore what happened."

He sighed, as if he'd been expecting it, and passed a hand over his face, smoothing his moustache in a little nervous gesture.  "I suppose we cannot," he said, "although I'd thought we were doing a splendid job of it."

"I was not doing so well as I'd hoped," I admitted.  "Please, Watson, allay my fears.  What— what I did was unconventional, and perhaps too forward, but I did not feel as though I was entirely off my mark."

Watson's remorseful smile crinkled his eyes, but he shook his head.  "No," he said, "you were not."

"So you admit there is something between us?"

He frowned at me as if surprised.  "I admit—?  Holmes, there has been something between us since the day we met."

I pursed my lips.  He was right about that.  I changed my tack.  "You miss Mary," I said.  "You have been thinking of her a lot lately."

"My God, you're absurd," Watson said, setting his glass down with a thump.  "Before your indiscretion the other night, she was the last person I'd been intimate with in nearly a decade.  I'd like to know who else I'm meant to think of."  His voice was getting sharper, but it wasn't to the point of anger yet.  That he was engaging in this conversation with me boded well, I thought.  "Holmes, you must see, with your incredible brain, that it isn't as simple as all that.  You can't kiss me and expect me to forget the last five years of my life, half of which you spent abroad."

I finished my drink and grimaced at the burn.  "I don't expect you to forget anything," I said.  "Only to consider the options which are now available to you."

"Now?" Watson demanded.  "If they had been available before, perhaps none of this," and this he indicated with a wave of his hand, encompassing Baker Street, my absence, and his daughter all in one, "would have happened, but it has happened, and there's nothing to be done about it now.  Think of Maggie."

I frowned.

"Say we do enter into some kind of… arrangement."  Watson looked away from me for a moment, and I could see he was blushing.  That was good: the thought of us together held some attraction for him.  "She will know.  It will be impossible for us to keep it from her.  I cannot shield her forever: soon she will learn what society thinks of a situation like that.  At every turn, she will be told that it is wrong, and horrid, and shameful, and she will be forced to keep our secret."  He shook his head.  "I cannot ask that of her.  Worse yet, she will come to see us— me— as something to be abhorred, and— and I will lose her."

"She loves you."

"She is a child," Watson snapped, "and I am her father.  Of course she loves me.  But she's growing up, and I can't protect her forever.  I can't protect us."

"You wouldn't be alone," I protested.

He glared at me, and stood up.  "I'm going to bed."

I caught him by the wrist as he passed and pulled on him as I stood up, bringing our bodies into deliberate contact.  His eyes were wide and his lips were parted, so I kissed him squarely.  I slid my hands up his arms to draw him against me, and he fairly melted, shoulders relaxing, hands finding my back.  I seduced him to the best of my ability with lips and tongue and gentle pressure, my hand on the tender nape of his neck, my thumb behind his ear.  He shivered and moaned and allowed me to guide him, tilt his head in whatever direction I wanted, manoeuvre his body close against mine, lead his hands to my spine, my hips, my buttocks.  He squeezed and I groaned, wanton, my whole body humming with desire.

A sound came from upstairs, Maggie calling out in her sleep, and we both paused to listen.  When nothing more was heard, Watson pulled away, his face dark and full of shame.  "I shouldn't," he said softly.  His hands were still clenched tight in the fabric of my dressing gown.  "I shouldn't ask for more than what I have, more than what I was given.  I have been blessed, Holmes, blessed to have you back, and it is wrong of me to wish for more."

I wanted to shake him.  His lips were red from my kisses and I could feel the press of his desire against my thigh.  I refused to let him go so easily.  "Wish for it," I said, keeping my arms around him.  "Please.  This is one I can grant."

"Every day," Watson whispered.  "Every day I wished for your return.  Every bloody day."  He pushed me away roughly and crossed to the fireplace, hiding his face in his hands.  "I'd go to the surgery, and imagine I was just moments from seeing you on the pavement.  I'd take Maggie for a walk, and think that you were here at Baker Street, waiting for us to come by.  I'd wake up in the middle of the night, convinced I was back in this flat about to be interrupted by your summons."

My eyes stung.  I pressed them each in turn firmly with my thumb to keep them from watering.

"Do you know what I wished for even more than that?"  He turned around to look at me, and his face was crumpled with misery I had never seen before: the deep furrow of his brow, the trembling flex of his mouth, the pallor of his cheeks spoke volumes about the emotion he had been keeping tightly in check.  "That I would miss Mary half as much as I missed you.  That I could give the mother of my child the kind of respect she deserved."  He made a noise of disgust, his hands folding in to cover his heart.  I felt the tug of the thread between us and took a step towards him, but the sharp jerk of his head stilled me halfway.  I could see the whites of his eyes from here, but could not name the colour of his irises, darkened with his sadness and frustration.

"When she died, I was glad for the chance to finally wear mourning," he said roughly.  "Do you know how sick that makes me?  Thinking of you when I should have been thinking of her.  God!  Maggie didn't understand, she was too young.  She wanted her mother, and I couldn't bring Mary back, and I couldn't bring you back, and for a few months she was the only thing that kept me tethered."

My heart felt like it had stopped, but, somehow, miraculously, I continued to live.  Breathing felt like a tremendous effort.  What had I done to him?  All that time I had wasted abroad, hunting for my prey, indulging my desire for esoteric knowledge.  I had learned secrets of spiritualism from monks in Burma, and Watson had been suffering under my deception.  I had lounged in a boat on a canal in Venice, while my best friend struggled.  I'd known that I'd hurt him, but I'd never expected the wound would go so deep.  I was an idiot.  How was he to know his feelings had been returned?  How had I not seen it?

He'd been married, that was how.  He had left me, our friendship, our potential, and I had punished him for it.

He was watching me, shaking his head.  "I can't do this right now," he said.  "I have Maggie to think of."

"John."  His name was out of my mouth before I could stop it.  I took another step, faltering, uncertain.

"Don't.  Please don't.  Just— just let me think.  Let me be."

"Don't go," I said, holding my hands out imploringly.

Watson scoffed.  "God in Heaven, Holmes," he said.  "It isn't me I'm worried about."

It was like a punch to the chest.  I couldn't breathe.  I could feel myself closing up, drawing back, even as I fought with myself.  I'd never get another chance to tell him how I felt if I let it end like this.

"The nightmares are different now," he went on, no longer meeting my eyes.  "Now I wake up convinced it's all a mistake, terrified I'll come down to an empty sitting room and be left alone again."  He shook his head.  "And then I'll hear you banging around down here, or playing your damn violin at all hours, or I'll see the light under your door, and I know it's rubbish and it's nonsense, and I know it wasn't real but— God, it was so real for so long.  I can't— I can't just—"

He broke off, clamping his hand over his mouth.  His shoulders were shaking.  I didn't know whether to look away and give him a moment to collect himself, or to take him in my arms and kiss his beloved face and promise him it was over.

I chose the middle ground, which was to approach him slowly, as if he might spook, and wrapped my arms around him.  He stiffened, unaccustomed to such contact between us.  A hand on the elbow as we walked down the street, a touch on the thigh as we waited in the dark for criminal quarry— those were familiar.  But this kind of physical comfort surprised me, how deeply I needed to give it.  It was not my area of expertise, and yet I thought of the way Watson and Maggie interacted, always reaching for one another, and I thought of the thrill I gained from merely being close to him, and I knew it was the only thing to do.

After a moment, when it became clear I was not about to move away, Watson turned his face into my shoulder and shifted to embrace me in return, wrapping his strong arms about my waist.  We clung to one another for a long time, breathing in tandem, until the clock on the mantle chimed nine o'clock.  Watson stirred and pulled away, and I let him go reluctantly.

He cleared his throat and said, "I'm going to bed," again, looking down at the floor.  I bit my lip to keep from pleading with him.  Then he met my eyes, and raised his hand to touch my face, his fingers around the bolt of my jaw, his thumb brushing softly across my cheek.  "I will see you in the morning, Holmes."

"Good night," I managed, and held myself still as he turned away.  Once again I watched his back retreat through our sitting room door, and listened to him climb the stairs.  

When he was safely stowed away in his bedroom, I picked up my 'damn violin' and began to play, always mindful of our sleeping charge above.


"I shall only be gone a few hours," Watson said, once more for good measure, halfway out the sitting room door.  There was a cab waiting for him in the street to answer the urgent summons of a patient.  Said patient had relocated herself to her family estate in Richmond that would take the poor man some time to get to, especially at this time in the evening.  But she had wired that afternoon begging him to come, and he, devoted physician, was off.

Maggie and I looked at him from our relative positions on the carpet and the settee, and then looked at one another.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because," I told her, "ladies with ailments are not to be ignored."

"Holmes," Watson said warningly.  He was clutching his hat very tightly in his hands.

"Yes, yes, I know."  I waved him off.  "We're going to have a grand time, Watson, do get on."  What I didn't say, since we both knew it and relied heavily on the truth of it, was that Mrs Hudson had promised to pop in from time to time, approximately once every half hour, to check on our progress.  If the furniture was intact and the flat was not on fire, I would consider the evening a success.

"Bed at eight," he said, and shut the door.

It was a quarter past six.  God, what was I going to do with her?

"Holmes," Maggie said, in a perfect imitation of her father, pitched up the register.  "Holmes, look."  She was holding out her doll to me, the one with the porcelain head and arms, real blonde hair, and a red silk dress.  The doll stared at me with empty eyes.

"What's the matter?"  I had never made a study of children.  My encounters with them, as an adult, had been brief and generally unpleasant.  The boy who tortured his dog came to mind, reminiscent of an abusive father.  Then there was the boy who had been presumed abducted by his German instructor.  Children got into trouble, in my experience, and were hopeless at getting themselves out of it.  It worried me a great deal that Maggie might be the same way.

"She's sick," Maggie said.  "She has a cough."

"If she's sick, she must be put to bed," I replied.  Maggie got up from the carpet and came over to me, entirely silent in her stockings.  Her dress was rumpled.  She clambered up onto the settee beside me and leaned against my leg.  The doll was laid along my thigh.

"She doesn't want to go to bed."

"She looks very tired, Maggie," I said slowly.  Was I playing pretend?  Only for this girl.  "You're going to have to be firm with her.  If she wants to get well again."

"I'm the doctor," Maggie said proudly.  "Charlotte, you must go to bed."  The doll didn't seem to disagree, but Maggie began to pet her hair.  "Hush now, don't cry.  I'm going to give you some tea and then you will sleep."

I found a tea cup abandoned on the side table and offered it to her.  She gave me a look, head tilted sideways, skepticism writ clear on her face.

"It's empty," she said.

"W— yes," I said.  "I don't want you to spill anything."

"It's empty."

"All right, but we haven't got any tea."  I got up and poured a splash of water from the pitcher into the bottom of the cup.  As I handed it to her, I remembered Watson's efforts.  "What do you say?"

"Thank you," she said, and poured the water on the doll's face.  At least I had avoided a tea incident, I thought.

Maggie entered into a series of negotiations with the doll and I, feeling dismissed, went to find the evening paper.

Supper came with Mrs Hudson's first check-in, the food for Maggie's benefit and the visit for mine.  Mrs Hudson plunked the girl into her chair and sat me down beside her.

"Even if you're not eating, Mr Holmes," she said, "you cannot leave her on her own; she will make a terrific mess."

"She'll do that regardless," I said, thinking of the lengths Watson went to to keep his own shirtfront intact.

Finely sliced chicken was the highlight of the meal, accompanied by a spoonful of pease and a single small baked potato.  Mrs Hudson cut open the potato and deposited a pat of butter into the middle of it, while I tucked a napkin into the neck of Maggie's dress.  Maggie had brought the doll to the table, her hair still damp from her soaking.

"You'll have to put that away," I said, reaching for it.

"No!" Maggie shrieked, snatching it out of my grasp and clutching it to her.

"Now, darling," Mrs Hudson began, and Maggie began to wail, her face turning abruptly pink and fat tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes.

"Wait," I said, as if that would help, "wait, Maggie, please."  What would Watson do?  I'd heard him scold her about the toys before, hadn't I?  Supper was not a place for such things, even I knew that.  But I hadn't the heart to take the doll away.  "What if she sits at your side?" I asked, trying not to raise my voice over her extravagant sobs.

Maggie stopped, blinking at me.  Her face was damp all the way down to her collar.

"She can't eat supper lying on the table," I said, holding out my hands in surrender.  "She needs to sit in her seat, just like you."

"I'll just be downstairs," Mrs Hudson whispered in my ear, but before I could turn and beg her not to go, she had vanished.  Damn the woman.

I spent the meal regaling Maggie with stories of some of my cases, and she spent it occupied with mashing pease everywhere.  I managed to keep them out of her hair, and mostly off her dress, but the tablecloth was a lost cause.  For dessert we were afforded a single lemon biscuit for her, and a cup of coffee for me, which we both consumed with relish.  

Afterwards, she convinced me to play Horse and Buggy, in which I naturally played the horse.  The state of my hands and knees was probably appalling, but she giggled so much and with such shameless joy that I hardly noticed.  She clung to my shirt collar and shrieked, kicking her heels into my ribs, and when I reared up she screamed at the top of her voice.  I caught her behind my back with both hands on her bum and Mrs Hudson winked at me from the doorway.

Maggie was rubbing her eyes with her tiny fists by a quarter to eight, but she resolutely refused to go to bed.  "No!" was a phrase I thought I'd gotten used to hearing from her, but it had never been directed at me with such ferocity.

"Just the nightgown," I pleaded, kneeling on the floor in the nursery.  She had allowed me to help her take her dress off, and now was determined to remain naked.  I didn't exactly blame her.  Even shirtsleeves felt too warm up here, especially after an evening spent crawling around the flat.  "Just the nightgown and drawers."

"I want daddy," she said, crouching to wrap her arms around her knees and put her face in her hands.

"I know," I said, "I do too, desperately, for so many bloody reasons, but he's coming back tonight and I promised him I'd have you asleep on time."

"No," Maggie said again.  She glared at me between her fingers.  "I don't want to.  I want daddy."

"What if we wait for him?" I suggested.  Reasoning with her seemed to be more effective than flat-out demands.  "Put on the nightgown for me and we'll go back downstairs to wait.  I'll read to you, and Watson— that is, daddy will be home before you know it."

She frowned, considering the possibility that it might be a trick, and then stood up and held her arms over her head.  I wrestled her into the nightgown and bloomers, insisted that she try and use the pot before we went back downstairs and then, my many missions accomplished, conceded to choose a book from her shelf and take it back to the sitting room.

Maggie climbed straight into my lap in the armchair with her little sharp knees and elbows, and settled down against my chest to help me read.  She was warm in a way I had not expected, all the furnace-like heat of a body compacted down into a tiny package less than three feet tall. Her curly hair tickled my chin, so I smoothed it down and found I couldn't stop petting it.  She snuggled against me, sucking her fingers, and turned the pages for me as I read aloud, usually before I was finished with the page.

"The moon has a face like the clock in the hall," I read, "She shines on thieves on the garden wall."

"What's funny?" Maggie asked, peering up at me as I laughed.

"If only it were that simple," I said.  "Do you know your daddy helps me catch thieves?"

She nodded.  "You stop bad men."

"Well, I often get to them after they've done bad things," I admitted.  "But I do try."

Maggie tapped the book, bored of my self-reflection.

"Sorry," I said.  "On streets and fields and harbour quays…"

She fell asleep by the time I had reached, "The rain is raining all around, It falls on field and tree, It rains on the umbrellas here, And on the ships at sea."

"Trite," I muttered, and realized she had gone quiet.  She was breathing regularly, snuffling against my dressing gown, and still sucking determinedly on those fingers.  I dared not disturb her.  It was now nearly nine o'clock, and the thought of getting her up again and put to bed made me tremble.  Besides, I had promised her we would sit and wait for Watson to come home.  He might not be impressed that I hadn't managed to get her actually into her bed for the night, but I decided to leave that task to him.  He was much better at it.

I put the book down beside the chair and found my palm drawn to the curve of Maggie's back where she was snuggled against me.  Watson had been speaking the truth: she really was an incredible creature.  So much spirit contained in such a little body.  She had none of the cares and concerns I remembered having as a child, she only needed to know that her daddy loved her and that was enough.  It coloured every single one of her actions, even her naughty ones.  And I was certainly growing on her.  Three months ago she'd never have let me feed her pease or cuddle her in my arms.  Three months ago, I wouldn't trust myself to handle her.  Things had certainly changed.


I opened my eyes to find Watson standing beside his chair, his hat in his hands, looking at us with his head cocked to one side, a faint smile on his face.  In the light of the lamp I had left burning, I could see the gleam of tears in his eyes.  I started, terrified that something was wrong, but he quickly brushed them away and came over.  It was late, and the exhaustion written in the lines on his face was outshone by the happiness there.

"Was she good?" he asked in a whisper.  He smelled of the city, smoke and fog, and like himself, cedar and sandalwood.

"A nightmare," I said, smiling.  "She takes after you.  What time is it?"

"Nearly midnight.  Shall I help you with that?"  He reached for Maggie, and I eased her off of my shoulder.  My arm was asleep down to my fingertips, but I helped him lift her.  She blinked once and closed her eyes again, pressing her face into his neck.  He put his hat down on the side table as he passed it, and I closed my eyes to listen to him move about above.  I was warm in my chair, lightly chilled where the girl had rested, and I dozed a little while longer.

Then Watson was back, taking off his coat and looking at me surreptitiously.  I shook myself awake and stood up, groaning with the stretch of my arms and legs, the crackle of my spine.

"Thank you," he said.

"Not at all," I replied.  "She may not be my offspring, but she's as much my family as you are."

He stared at me, his face soft in the gas light.  "You do that on purpose, don't you?"

I shrugged, slipping my hands into my trouser pockets.  I felt unguarded like this, being found asleep with Maggie in my arms, my affection for her showing.  She was half her father, and anything that was part of him I loved.  "Do what?"

"Damn you," Watson breathed, sounding irritated and fond at the same time.  He took three steps to cross the room and took my face in his hands before I could react.  Then he was kissing me, his mouth warm and soft against mine, his moustache tickling my lip.  I found a grip on his waistcoat and took hold, drawing him to me.  I couldn't let him get away this time.  I had to convince him to stay and let me prove myself to him.

"Please," I said, against his lips, "please."  It unmanned me to say it, but I knew he had to hear it.

"Yes," he replied, sliding his fingers into my hair and kissing me again.  "Yes, Holmes, yes."

I wrapped my arms around him in a powerful embrace and felt myself lost in his affection.  He had control of the kiss, teasing me, tempting me with little flickers of his tongue.  My hands roamed up and down his back, and he curled an arm around my waist.  My heart swelled.  Our bodies fit together so neatly, as if made that way.  He had his head tilted back slightly, his chin tipped up, and he pulled me down to meet him, opening me up.  Arousal flooded my body, heating my cheeks and sending blood pounding between my legs.  I was hard for him, already aching, and his desire mirrored mine.

His fingers were in my hair, disarranging it.  His fingertips against my scalp sent sensation racing across my skin, and I clung to him, moaning.  Then I found the buttons of his waistcoat, and was determined to be rid of them.  They came undone easily and he shrugged it off his shoulders without parting himself from our kiss, his teeth scraping my lower lip.  With the change of grip, he was able to skim my dressing gown down my arms and pull my shirt tails from my trousers.  Then his hands were on my bare skin, and I pulled away with a sharp gasp.

Watson stopped, his palms on my waist, staring up at me.  I licked my lips.

"Come to bed with me," I said.  "For tonight.  We can— we can talk about it in the morning."

"I'm not certain that's wise," Watson replied, "but I will come."

I locked the bedroom door behind us.  Watson had begun to strip with a kind of clinical efficiency, so I crossed the room to stop him.  Instead, I took my time divesting him of his shirt and vest, as well as my own, pressing kisses all the while to the revealed curve of his shoulder and neck.  He curled his fingers in my hair and sighed as I did so, his exhalation soft and warm against my cheek.

I sank to my knees and was presented with the distorted placket of his trousers, stretched over the evidence of his desire.  

“Holmes,” he said softly, touching my face, “you don’t--”

“I want to do this,” I said, glancing up, “very, very badly.”

He bit his lip and nodded permission.

I fumbled open the buttons of his trousers and pulled them down, to be faced with his undeniable masculinity.  He smelled of salt and earth, and he tasted so much sweeter.  He filled my senses with warmth and wanting, heady desire and bitter promise.  I took more than I could manage and coughed, but soon we had found a slow, slick rhythm that made my heart race and my face heat.  Watson murmured and moaned, air hissing between his teeth.

He stopped me suddenly, pulling away with a curse.  I stared up at him, panting, my lips numb.

“I’m sorry,” said he, “I was-- that is, it’s been rather a long time since I... well, I didn’t want it to be over so soon.”

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and stood up.  When he tried to explain further, I kissed him, and he did not recoil from the taste of himself.  Instead, he clutched at me, pressing his naked body against my half-clothed one, and I shook with need.

We finished undressing ourselves with barely a word, and I took him by the hips to lead him to my bed.  I had to let go to lie back upon it, but a gesture had him crawling to meet me, kneeling between my spread thighs and holding himself up above me.  I reached up to kiss him again.

“God, you’re magnificent,” he whispered against my mouth.  His blue eyes were fathomless, dark and intent.

“Hush,” I said, embarrassed.  He was the one worthy of admiration.  He was strong and brave and kind, and I was the fool in love with him.

He kissed me and said, “Never.  You know how I love to sing your praises.”

I snorted.  “I wonder what your public would think,” I said.

“They’re your public, Holmes,” he replied, “and I’d never tell.  This is for me alone.”

“God, yes.”

He lowered his hips, bringing us into perfect alignment, and I clung to him.  He was still wet from my mouth.  I tightened my knees about his hips and we began to move together, like the ocean, the swell and sway of the waves the model for our coupling.  Watson bit back his sounds of pleasure, his throat tight, but I coaxed them from him and was awash in his joy.  He was sweating, the powerful muscles of his back slick under my hands.  The weight of his body atop me was an anchor, even as I felt myself lost in the pleasure, the satisfaction, the reward.  Everything in me was beginning to tighten, to sharpen, and I slid a hand between us to speed him along.

He said, “Oh!” in my ear, and I felt him swell.  With a gasp and a shudder, he spilled himself upon my belly.  I bit down hard on his shoulder and followed, lit up inside and out.  He groaned softly, his forehead finding a resting place on my clavicle.

I wiped my hand on the bed clothes and, not caring for the mess, hugged him to me.  He relaxed, plastered against my body from hip to sternum, and kissed my chest where he could reach.  I closed my eyes, suddenly overcome.  I was trembling, and I knew he could feel it.

“Holmes,” he said, lifting his head to look at me.  I turned my face away, ashamed.  This was the danger of sex: the emotion that erased reason, stole dignity.  I was swamped with joy and terror, unable to process either just then.

Watson cupped my face and kissed it dry, and then kissed my mouth until I breathed easier and could bear to let him go.  

“I’m afraid if I stay here,” he whispered, “I will not hear her when she wakes.”  He swallowed.  “But I very much want to stay.”

“I want you to,” I replied.  “We will be up before she is.”

“I doubt that,” he said wryly, smiling, “but I think I will risk it.”

He rolled to the side, and after we had wiped ourselves clean I pulled the blanket over us.  He was like a furnace beside me.  I turned onto my hip and he pressed up behind me, his arm over my middle, his nose against the nape of my neck.  I squeezed his hand where it lay on my belly, and he kissed my spine.

Feeling him breathing against my skin, infinitely better than listening to it across the room, I fell asleep.


We were secure in our affair for three blissful days, until one morning as Mrs Hudson laid out breakfast, Maggie announced, "My daddy loves Holmes."

Watson and I, standing far apart from one another occupied with entirely innocent pursuits, froze on the spot.  Shock was like a cold fist in my stomach.  My heart raced.  I imagined I didn't care about the opinions of outsiders— I was an eccentric and I always had been— but Mrs Hudson was certainly not an outsider.  She could put us to the street if she had half a mind, no matter what she'd let me get away with in the past.

"Yes, he does," Mrs Hudson said, with barely a pause.  "And they both love you, isn't that nice?  You're a very lucky girl, Miss Maggie, and don't you forget it."

"I won't," Maggie said.

I turned to look at Mrs Hudson, and she only gave me a placid smile.  "Breakfast is ready, Mr Holmes," she said, "if you'll be eating today."

"Thank you," I murmured, barely able to hear myself over the rushing in my ears.  Watson, by the window, was regaining the colour in his pallid face.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Mrs Hudson said, and departed quietly.

Watson and I glanced at each other and then away, suddenly uncertain.  I fiddled with the papers on the mantle, and he went to sit by his daughter.

“Maggie, darling,” he said, “do you remember when we talked about things that are private, and things that are public?”

She nodded.  She looked like she’d much rather be talking about eating than talking about privacy, but it had to be done.  This was what he’d been afraid of.  I stayed where I was, my head down, listening.

“Holmes and daddy aren’t like daddy and mummy,” Watson went on, choosing his words carefully.  “We have a friendship that is private, and someday soon I hope you’ll understand what it means, but for now I need you to keep that in mind.”

“Why?” she asked.  There was a point of pain in my chest, behind my breastbone.  I heard Watson sigh.

“Because you’re right,” he said, “I do love Holmes, but not everyone thinks that’s as grand as I think it is.”

The pain eased a bit, and I was able to look at him.  He was holding Maggie’s hand in his and she was peering earnestly into his face.

"Why?" she asked again.

"I don't know," Watson said sadly. "I think they're wrong. But the fact of the matter is that it's private, and it's something we keep to ourselves, do you understand?"

Frowning, she nodded again.

Watson asked, "Are you hungry?" to change the subject, and the matter was dropped.

That night, I said, "I think it's grand," into his hair as we lay tangled together in my bed, sweaty and exhausted.


"That you love me."

He smiled and spread his palm across my bare chest. "Yes?"

"Yes." I kissed his forehead. "And I do, as well. Love you. Madly, in fact."


A week later, an constable from the Yard turned up on our doorstep. There had been a murder in Islington in suspicious circumstances, and Lestrade had sent the man 'round to fetch us. Watson had Maggie on his hip and they were discussing the pigeons on the roof at Camden House across the way. The constable lowered his voice in his description for the sake of Maggie's ears, but Watson caught most of what was said.

"I can't go," he said when the constable had been sent for a cab, straightening Maggie's dress out. "You know I can't. I'm not taking her to a fresh crime scene."

"I know," I said woefully. "Your notes are always invaluable, but I think for a while we can do without a published account."

He sighed. "Go, and come straight back and tell me all about it."

I risked a peck on the cheek before I went, for both of them, and hurried after the constable.

The scene of the murder was a grisly one, and I was immediately glad Watson's common sense was intact. A workhouse foreman lay dead in a pool of blood so wide I wondered if there was any left inside his body at all. His only wound was a puncture to his neck, half an inch across. This was no place for a child.

A week or two after the conclusion of that, Watson was invited to attend a medical conference in town. Though he was not an actively practicing physician, and claimed he had nothing to add to the conversation of modern practices, I could tell he itched to go. So I arranged a outing for Maggie and myself, complete with picnic to take to the park for a few hours of exploring, and sent Watson on his way. He returned energetic and grateful, physically demonstrative, and after he had concluding showing his gratitude for what I had done— which was hardly anything, in my opinion, and certainly nothing I wouldn't do for him again— he said, "She's splendid, she is, but sometimes an afternoon away does wonders for my sanity."

"I shall strive to supply them as often as necessary," I said, dragging contentedly on my cigarette.

He kissed my shoulder. "And I shall be grateful at least as often as that."

Then came the matter of the White Slipper, which called us once again out of the city. It was not so gruesome as the murder in the workhouse, so we packed up twice as much as we normally would and took Maggie with us. She could not have been more pleased by riding in a train, and was constantly pointing out the windows, showing us the farm animals and the little towns we passed. Watson walked with her around the grounds of the manor house we had been summoned to, while I poked around inside. Over supper at the inn, I went over all I had noticed, and Watson, as ever, was my conductor of light. We had the case solved by the following afternoon, but we stayed in the village another night all the same.

By the time Maggie's third birthday arrived, I couldn't imagine life without her. She was learning to read, and I provided her with old sensationalist literature to pore over in her study. Watson had regained much of his former vitality, aided by the twin duties of keeping both Maggie and myself hale and healthy, and slept more and more often in my bed. Sometimes I was even allowed to sleep with him in his, but Watson blushed at the thought of Maggie being so nearby, and so it was not very frequent.

And I, who had never considered myself a family man, played the part of second father very well, if I may be permitted to say so. The look on Watson's face whenever he caught myself and Maggie together often cracked my heart in two, but a single kiss from either of them would mend it straight away.