The winter of 1881 shall forever be marked in both the public's memory and mine, albeit for different reasons. That was the only winter I or any Londoner in this day and age has ever experienced the terror, pain, and dreadful inconvenience of having our roads, cabs, trains, and businesses shut down by a blizzard.
That frightful beast raged shortly after the sun rose on January 18th and continued all day and into the night. It was the first time I could recall in all my years at Baker Street when I could not hear the clop-clop-clopping of cab horses' hooves outside our living room window, for anyone fortunate enough to possess a home and a lick of sense was indoors. Nothing could be seen outside the window either, just blinding whiteness that shook the very foundations of 221B.
We had naturally bolted our windows and doors, even the front one, as Mrs. Hudson was insistent that there could be no client in the world with a need greater than that of hers to stay warm and not have piles of snow falling into our foyer. "You'll not be taking any cases until this blasted storm passes, Mr. Holmes," she said with a violent shiver and a sterner voice than I had heard from her. "I'll open the door to throw you out before I open the door to let someone in."
Holmes and I both knew she would never do anything of the kind, but nonetheless we agreed to retire until the weather improved. My own practice had been closed down with a notice on the door as to the situation, and the two of us were trapped in our cozy rooms with only each other for company for the foreseeable future. I had feared this would bring about a black mood in my friend, and I was not entirely mistaken.
Over the course of my long and intimate acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I had begun to think of him as indestructible and immune to all needs of the flesh. He could deprive himself of food, water, and sleep for days and feel nothing. Not once had he come down with so much as a common flu. He was completely celibate and had no trouble staying so as far as I knew, though of course I dared not inquire about such a personal matter. Even those few fearful times when he'd been injured had seen a remarkably quick recovery. However, I had recently discovered that there was one affliction with which he seemed to suffer more than the average man his age, and that was the effects of cold weather.
Many a time I noticed that Holmes burdened himself with two or three layers of clothing while I could often make do with one, and on top of this he would carry a blanket. A blanket that was wrapped tightly around him, clutched, and let go of or taken off only when strictly necessary and for the shortest amount of time possible, to be exact. This was true even now. The biting chill had invaded Baker Street in spite of our precautions, and while I was comfortable in my dressing gown and socks with one quilt, Holmes was still shivering under three times that amount.
No, I thought when I leaned closer to observe, as he had taught me many times. He is past shivering. He is shaking.
"Holmes?" I approached him, where he sat mere centimeters from the meager, pitiful excuse for a fire. Firewood had been scarce, so we were denied the roaring, crackling flame we usually have. "Are you all right?"
He shut his eyes. "Really doctor, can't you diagnose better than that? Of course I'm not all right, I'm freezing!" He could barely speak for how his teeth chattered. The pale tinge to his face nearly sent me for my bag right then.
I crossed my arms, hiding my hurt but not my disapproval at his dismissive tone. "I understand that it is cold in here tonight, but you are wrapped in so many layers of clothing that you are practically swallowed by fabric, every blanket in our flat is around you, and you have eaten more of Mrs. Hudson's hot soup than I have seen you eat of every meal we've had together this week. Yet you are trembling as if you had none of those things. Can you not understand why I should be concerned?"
"Certainly, but your concern is useless when there is no solution at hand," he said, hugging himself in a heartbreaking manner. "There is nothing even your doctorly powers can do to cease the storm, and as you have clearly pointed out—for you have a penchant for stating the obvious—I have already made use of every possible method to seek warmth. So you see, there is nothing you can do and therefore your fretting is pointless." He dipped his head under the blanket and rubbed his red nose, which I gathered must have grown colder.
His terseness cut like a knife. "Nothing, Holmes? We'll just see about that." I marched back to my armchair and gathered up the quilt I had been using, the only bed covering left in the flat. Nothing, indeed. I showed my irritation by less-than-gently dropping it onto him rather than lovingly tucking it around his shoulders as I would normally do. He appeared not to notice or care. He pulled the quilt over his head and around his face so one could hardly tell there was a man under that fortress of coverings.
"That is a heavy quilt made of the finest material," I informed him, beginning to shiver myself now that I had given it up. "If that does not make you warm, then nothing shall." Holmes did not answer. Had I not been so hurt by the way he'd spoken to me, I might have laughed at his excessive bundling and exaggerated, bordering on childish response. He was certainly in no laughing mood, however, so I made my hasty retreat upstairs to bed.
It was going to be a cold night indeed without that quilt, but I found that by donning a few more layers of clothing—namely, every article I owned—and curling up under the sheets, I could almost make up for it. After an initial period of near-convulsing in shivers and engaging myself in rapid movement to generate friction and body heat, I fell into an uneasy sleep.
The wind woke me with a jump. Mother Nature, for whatever reason, was furious with humanity. Her screeches reached a decibel I had never heard. The windowpane was frozen solid and I could only pray it would not break. Judging by the total darkness of the room, I deduced that there was not one working street lamp left in London. Though it was impossible for me to read my watch, I guessed it to be some time in the wee hours, when the world is at its coldest. The sheets and clothing were no longer enough. Such a defense was almost laughable.
If I was this affected, I could only imagine how Holmes was feeling.
Then again, I thought with some annoyance. He has all of the blankets in this flat. It's entirely possible that he's perfectly comfortable while I'm struggling to avoid frostbite. Either way, I was not about to weather through this alone with no bed covering. I scooted to the edge of the bed and nearly cried out at the burning sensation of that hard, glacial floor. To get my feet used to it, I jogged in place for a few seconds, than hurried downstairs as fast as I could.
Holmes's bedroom was unlocked, which was surprising, but not as much as Holmes himself. Any hard feelings I might have had were extinguished the moment I saw him in that bed. He was shaking hard enough for a seizure and I feared his teeth would break for how hard they clashed against each other. His whole body was cocooned in blankets, and though I could not see his closet in the dark, I doubted there was any clothing left in it.
"Holmes," I said softly. "Holmes, for god's sake, let me help." Without waiting for a response, I dared to enter his bed without his permission and draw him close to me. I expected him to yank away as usual, but instead he surprised me by inching toward me like a caterpillar.
I pat the blankets until I found the opening where his hands—oh they were so cold! They were like death—gripped the blanket and held them. "Let me in," I whispered. "I'll warm you up." He was reluctant to pull apart the blanket ends, but he did so with me guiding him, and I was welcomed into closer proximity than we had ever shared before. Such a thing was awkward, but necessary if we wanted to employ our body heat. In a situation like this, it would be foolish not to make use of every option at our disposal.
Holmes must have understood this, because he nestled into my shoulder and made no objection to my arms around him. In fact, he moaned softly when I massaged his hands and face. "Watson, your hands are so warm," he mumbled gratefully. My hands did not feel at all warm to me, but nevertheless I was pleased at his compliment.
"You have a singular gift for being at my side exactly when I need you, Doctor," he said. His shivering had subsided slightly, as had mine. Warmth that bloomed from within the body was highly preferable than that of an artificial source which came from outside it. His words produced a similar effect, causing me to pull him closer.
Never in our years together had I been allowed to touch his hair or face, though I cannot deny I'd often wanted to. Now I must admit I took full advantage of my new freedom. I was so taken with its softness that he was able to startle me when he moved to lie on his back, unintentionally—or not?—pulling me on top of him.
"Can't sleep on my side," he grumbled. "I should like the pillow." That was understandable, I supposed. While he relaxed onto it, I continued to massage his arms and hands and eventually his feet, then moved back up so I could rest with my head over his heart and the blankets around us. His pulse was quicker than I should have liked, so I reached for his palm again and stroked it in hopes of relaxing him. To the contrary, his pulse picked up even more.
"Holmes," I said in concern. "Are you all right?" His silence led me to believe he hadn't heard me, so I moved up to speak into his ear. I shifted my fingers to his wrist so I could continue keeping track of his pulse. It was even faster now. Am I making him worse? I feared.
His eyes were glittering in the dark, though it pained me that I could not see their expression. "Holmes—oh!" He pulled me into an embrace so quickly that my lips brushed his face and then his neck.
"M-My dear fellow, I'm so sorry," I stumbled over the words. "I didn't mean—"
"You're warm," was all Holmes said, tightening his hold on my back and practically pinning me to him. My face was trapped in that space between his neck and shoulder and his hands were clinging to mine, desperate for their heat. I was still hard up myself, and remembering the abundance of blood flow in the back of the neck, I nuzzled my chilled nose against that part of him.
The groan he gave in response was maddeningly ambivalent. He could have been frustrated or thoroughly pleased. Not wanting to give up that warmth—as the blizzard was still sending gusts against Holmes's bedroom window—I repeated the motion.
"Watson?" This time his voice was softer and relaxed, though his hands belied this.
"Yes, Holmes?" I whispered against his neck.
"Your efforts to help, they mean a great deal to me—you mean a great deal to me."
I squeezed his hand. "And you to me, my friend. I'm glad to know you don't object to my—methods of helping you keep warm. I thought it best for us to share body heat where possible."
When he spoke, his voice was so quiet and crushed it hurt. "Is the body heat really the only reason?"
Could he? I nearly started shaking myself. Surely he didn't mean…I had always feared he would deduce it, but I had been so careful—
His lips were in my hair.
His lips were in my hair and his hands were on my back and I could feel him trying to do something with his feet but having trouble with the blankets and suddenly all the cold was gone. Not even a summer day had warmed me like he was doing now.
"Holmes," I whimpered, moving to his mouth. He put a finger to my lips.
"Sherlock," he said.
I could contain myself no longer. "Sherlock," I said, and slipped my tongue into his hot mouth. Soon we were warming ourselves from the inside out, and continued to do so even as the shadows shortened.
At one point in the midst of our affection, I noticed the blizzard had stopped, though I couldn't say when or for how long. The sun had finally risen. Now I could at last see Holmes in my arms (for it was him on top now), and was compelled to stroke his hair when I realized he was falling asleep against my chest. Understandable, since he likely hadn't slept much if at all the previous night. I took in his relaxed form. Has he always been this small in frame? Maybe it had been the many layers of coats that had always made him appear bigger than he was. Or, perhaps, his stern demeanor.
Whatever the case, I thought to myself as I tucked the blankets back around us and settled in, I was going to make it my mission to see that he was never cold again.