It was with a heavy heart that I wrote up the final case of Sherlock Holmes. Over the years of my acquaintance with him, I had memorialised his singular gifts in the many stories published in the Strand, recounting my strange experiences in his company. I had not intended to write up the tragic event which created such a void in my life. Indeed, as the months passed, I found it more and more painful to set pen to paper describing any of our adventures, let alone the events of that day.
I did eventually write it, however, for a specific reason.
In my grief, I sought solace in the company of Miss Mary Morstan, whose acquaintance I had made during the events recounted in the story I have entitled The Sign of Four. I found her to be a singular woman, not only beautiful, but also brave and strong and clever in a way that few women of my acquaintance are. Her acceptance of my proposal lifted my spirits, but only partially eclipsed my sorrow. In retrospect, I suppose that my affection for her was fuelled by grief. When she held my hand and gazed into my eyes, the pain that squeezed my heart loosened its grip just a bit, and I was able to breathe. I recognise now that this was not love. She pitied me, and I used her pity as a distraction.
“Nearly two years have passed since his death,” she told me one day. “It is time for you to let go of this terrible grief. Take off your black hatband. He would want you to move on with your own life, not wallow in his. You have never written about what happened on that day. Perhaps doing so would enable you to put it behind you.”
I knew she was right. It was time to determine what sort of life I would now lead. I owed her a clear commitment, unfettered by past love. Every time I contemplated life as a quiet, married man, however, I remembered the days when I carried my revolver in my pocket and chased criminals down alleys, following his footsteps. At such memories, I grieved not only for my friend, but for the dangerous life we had lived together that was now past. That life, that danger, had revived my will to live when I returned from Afghanistan, crippled and depressed.
I am a man of action. With Holmes, it had always been about the chase. I admit he was my lover from nearly the first days of our association, but it was never an affair rising from purely physical desires. We were a complementary pair, a yin-yang, my love of danger drawn to the quests on which his deductive mind led us, his uncompromising rationality yielding to my sentiment. When we first met, it was as if a puzzle box had finally clicked into place, solved. We each provided what the other lacked.
That would never happen again in my life, I knew. He was gone; I saw him fall. But I have never been one to wallow in indecision. My nature demands a course of action. And so, I chose.
Dear reader, I married her. At the time, it seemed the only reasonable and courageous thing to do. I wrote the story, as she had requested. She read it and wept with me. My melancholy did not depart, but my life went on.
* * *
One morning as I opened my surgery, I received a note from Mrs Hudson, my former landlady, asking me to stop by the Baker Street flat as soon as I was able. She said that a new tenant desired to take the lease, and in going through the flat, she had come across a box with my name on it. Since I was certain that I had not left any of my personal effects behind, I was curious to see what it contained. I hardly dared to hope that Holmes had left something he intended for me to have.
When I had seen the last patient out the door, I left my paperwork behind and caught a cab to Baker Street. I still had my key, and so let myself in. Mrs Hudson came to greet me, looking (as I thought) rather nervous.
“Oh, Dr Watson,” she said. “I hope— that is…”
“Yes, Mrs Hudson. I am happy to take the box off your hands, and anything else that Mr Holmes left behind. Has the new tenant arrived yet?”
She looked confused for a moment. “Tenant? Why, yes.”
“And the box?”
“You will find it in the sitting room.”
I bounded up the seventeen steps to 221B, anxious to take the box and return home, where (once Mary was asleep) I might peruse it in private. Perhaps it only contained notes on old cases, I told myself. Though I did not want my hopes to rise too high, to expect some kind of personal message, I was at that moment like an addict who has just spotted his next dose. I was hungry for even the tiniest bit of evidence that I had meant something to Sherlock Holmes.
I knocked lightly and entered, hoping to pick up the box and make my exit quickly. I did not want to have an awkward conversation with the person who would now live in these rooms, sit in the chairs where we once discussed cases, sleep in the bed where we once loved one another. My own memories of the flat were still tender; I was not ready to face the reality that had apparently arrived in the person of the new tenant.
No one was in the sitting room. Not wishing to surprise the new person, I called out a greeting. There was no answer, and I felt relieved. I looked around for the box, but saw none.
Someone was coming down the hallway from the bedroom. A measured step, quick and energetic. In the darkness, framed by the light of the sitting room, the owner of the step appeared in silhouette, a tall man, lean, with dark, curly hair. He stepped into the light. “Watson.”
Sherlock Holmes stood smiling at me. I do not know that I spoke, or if I did, what I said. I rather think I was silent, too overcome with shock, grief, and sudden joy, for within seconds darkness washed over me and I fell into a dead faint, the first and only of my life.
* * *
“You’re alive then,” I said as my vision cleared. There was still a humming in my ears, but the shock that had caused my faint was abating.
Kneeling beside me, he lay his fingers on my carotid. “Pulse nearly normal. Sit up, Watson.”
I raised myself into a sitting position. He leaned towards me and brushed a kiss across my lips. Like a jolt of electricity, it went straight to my groin.
He took my pulse again and chuckled. “It appears that my presence has had a stimulating effect on your heart. As yours has upon mine.”
I gripped his arms. “Holmes, I must tell you —“
“Congratulations,” he said softly, his pale eyes studying my face.
He laughed. “I am a detective, Watson.”
“If I had imagined — if I’d had the smallest inkling that you were alive, I would never have married.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me and raised me up from the floor. Winding his long arms around my torso, he kissed me again, deeper, with more hunger than the first kiss. “Oh, John,” he sighed. “I had no doubt — none whatsoever — that you would be married by the time I returned.”
Tears started in my eyes. I turned away, ashamed. “But — I swore… I told you I was yours, forever—“
“Whatever that might mean,” Holmes said. “Obviously, you believed me dead. Even if you had suspected I was alive, there can be no legal tie between men such as ourselves. It makes sense that you would one day desire the respectability of a marriage. And children. You should have no regrets about that.”
“But what of us?”
He located a bottle of brandy and two glasses on the sideboard, poured stiff shots for each of us. Handing me a glass, he smiled fondly. “You are mine, Watson. I am not jealous of your wife.” He took a sip from his glass. “Neither will I let you go.”
I swallowed half of the brandy in my glass and felt somewhat braced. “Mary… she will not stand for any… infidelity.” Six months of marriage had taught me exactly how jealous Mary Morstan could be. It was not as though I was visiting brothels or propositioning women on the street. If I so much as tipped my hat to another lady, Mary would not let it go, but would carry on weeping and nagging until I swore upon my soul that I had eyes for no woman but her. Only then would she be mollified. My reassurances, however, had no lasting effect. There would be a next time, and the drama would repeat.
Because my profession sometimes required me to see women behind closed doors, she insisted that I always have a nurse present during examinations. A reasonable precaution against innuendos and accusations that might ruin my career, I thought, readily agreeing. Then she became jealous of my nurse, a woman of more age than beauty, and insisted that I discharge her in favour of someone less seductive. Eventually, it seemed as if my only recourse would be to serve as a physician to an order of monks.
Of course, Mary did not suspect my inclinations.
“She will not need to know.” Holmes set his empty glass on the sideboard and let his hands wander down my chest. “I have spent three years away from you, John, three years during which I thought only of you, waiting for the day we could be reunited. I will not be deprived of you now.” He began to unbutton my flies.
* * *
Late that night, I lay in his bed, unwilling to remove myself from his embrace. I had given myself over to the inevitability of Holmes, as if he were a gravitational field or an astronomical event outside of my control, but I was not as confident as he that such an unconventional relationship could work, especially in light of what Mary had recently told me.
This I pondered as he gently stroked my back.
“When is the child due?” he asked.
I lifted my head, looking into his face. “You knew?”
“I’ve been watching your house for days, Watson. I saw her.”
“But she is barely — how could you tell?”
“I learned her destination. She went to see a colleague of yours, one H. E. Williams, obstetrician. Of course, you would insist on a doctor, not a midwife. So… six months?” His hand slid between us, exploring my manhood.
I hummed in surprise at his touch. “Yes, she is just barely into her second trimester. Holmes, I do not see how this will work.”
“Babies are born every day, Watson. Most of them find their way into the world with few complications. Do not worry yourself.” He flipped me onto my back and began to flick his tongue into my navel. My manhood was now fully alert, ready for a second round.
“No, I mean — you and I… and Mary and I… and the child.”
“We are friends, my dear man, and as such it is a reasonable expectation that we will spend time together. Surely even your green-eyed wife will allow you some masculine company.” He grasped my prick and gave it an exploratory stroke. “You will continue to do your duty by her, and keep your promise to me as well. No incompatibility between these commitments.”
I groaned and pressed against him. “I must soon return home. What will I say to her? She is already concocting stories in her mind. She will interrogate me about my lateness, as she always does, and she will know if I am lying.”
He kissed me, gently biting my lower lip. “Tell her the truth.”
At this, I laughed bitterly. “Oh, of course. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just say, Sorry I’m so late dear, but I ran into an old friend and we ended up having carnal relations for half the night. I’m sure that will lay her fears to rest.”
“You have a character that demands honesty of yourself, Watson. Never a credible liar, my love, you are inclined to see all situations as choices between good and evil.” He smiled fondly. “Obviously, you will not tell her the entire truth. It will serve no purpose, and concealing some aspects of the truth from her will actually be much kinder. Simply tell her, I ran into an old friend. She will assume the rest. Old friends are known to talk for hours.” He began to stroke the inside of my thigh.
“Mmm. Will she accept this half-truth?”
He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at me, still fondling me. “I do know the lady, Watson. In fact, I probably understand her far better than you do. Don't look at me so, Watson. You have — and I say this with the utmost affection — a gullible nature. The day she brought her case to us, I already saw that she would eventually make a play for your heart.” He chuckled in the semi-darkness. “Or at least your libido.” He slid down my body, took me into his mouth and pleasured me for a few moments.
“Never my heart, Sherlock,” I whispered, breathless. “You know why I married her.”
He left off pleasuring me, went back to fondling. “Of course. She is a woman of guile, and you are a man of honour. All this was clear to me on that day. I’m only surprised that it took her so long to seduce you.”
“It was for you that I avoided her for so long. I grieved for you, Holmes. I could not give myself to anyone. I only kissed her because… I suppose I’d had a bit to drink.” I gasped as he slid first one, then two fingers inside of me. “I give myself to you alone. No woman, no man — only you.”
He rolled on top of me, inserted the third finger. Then he was in me, gently sliding into the place I would only ever give to him.
“Let us grieve no more, my love,” he said, settling deep inside me. “I will never leave you again.”
Had I not lost the power of speech, I would have replied, Nor I. Never again.
* * *
“You’ve been drinking.” Mary frowned at me. “But not in a pub. An old friend? What old friend?” She knew all my mates from Edinburgh, Oxford, and Barts, at least by name, and she had met many of my army friends at our wedding. I could see her mind spinning through that index of names. “And you’ve washed.”
Of course I had washed. It would not do for my wife’s keen nose to pick up the smell of what another man had done to me. “I stayed over, had a wash-up this morning.”
“You haven’t answered me.” She gave me the look, the one that peered into the dark corners of my soul. “Who is this old friend? Come, John. You fairly reek of guilt and shame. If you’ve been visiting one of your old haunts, I shall find out.”
“My dear, nothing like that,” I felt my traitorous face flush. “You know that for me, there is no woman but you.” This was a part of the truth.
A tear came to her eye. “I’m sorry to be so jealous. It’s foolish, I know. But I see the way women look at you. You are a handsome man, John, and so susceptible to flattery, so agreeable to suggestion, I sometimes worry that you will be drawn into an affair.”
This assessment of my character quickly made me defensive. She thinks me weak and foolish. Without considering what it would mean, I offered proof of my (supposed) fidelity.
“Well,” I said, smiling. “You will be surprised to know who my old friend is — I was certainly surprised to see him. Shocked, even. Sherlock Holmes, my dear — he has returned. I spent the night at his flat. Re-living the old days, as it were.” Again, all true.
She did look shocked, for a moment. Then suspicious. “Had he managed to return from the dead, that story would be on the front page of every newspaper. What are you saying, John? That he has been in hiding these three years? For what purpose?”
“He has not revealed himself yet, except to me, his brother, and our landlady. I cannot say more.” I knelt down and kissed her hand. “Mary, he is my dearest friend, returned from the dead. We had much to talk about.”
She smiled then, and kissed me. Briefly, I recalled the sensation of another pair of lips and almost shuddered.
“Of course, John. We will have him over to dinner.”
* * *
I went in to the surgery the following morning. My first patient was already waiting outside when I arrived, an elderly man, white-haired and bent over, demanding treatment for a boil on his buttocks. I confess that lancing boils is not a favourite part of my job, but people who suffer from these painful afflictions can scarcely be blamed for their ailment. I approach them with the same kindness with which I treat anyone, whether young or old, male or female.
“You are most kind to relieve my anguish,” he said in heavily accented English.
“If you will just lower your trousers and bend over, Mister Loveridge, I will endeavour to make you more comfortable.”
The gypsy did as I asked. “Please, Doctor Watson, relieve my anguish. I suffer so.”
No sooner had I laid eyes on that posterior than I recognised who it was. “Indeed, sir,” I said, “your affliction is obvious.”
I dismissed my nurse and locked the door behind her. “By all the gods, Holmes,” I said. “Do you expect me to give you satisfaction here?”
“My dear Watson,” he said with a devilish smile, “I do what I must to relieve my anguish. As you have caused it, so perhaps you are the cure for my ailment.”
“You’re mad,” I said, smiling in spite of myself. “I suppose you enjoy observing how easily I can be deceived by a grey wig and a crooked back.”
He chuckled. “You are just as trusting as ever, my boy. In part, that is why I am here in disguise. I must caution you not to come to Baker Street.”
“How am I to see you if you insist that I keep away from you? You cannot suddenly pop back into my life and then warn me to keep away!”
“You will see me when you see me. It will be dangerous for you to be seen going to the flat. Will you promise?”
“But why? Surely any reasonable person would expect —”
“I am not considering reasonable people, Watson. I am considering the criminal mind. I am considering the people I have been pursuing these past three years, the people who forced me to go into exile.”
His words did not put me at ease. Holmes had shared with me some of his harrowing adventures of the past three years. Moriarty himself was dead, he assured me, but there were those who continued his work through the web-like organisation he had built. For three years, Holmes had hunted them down and brought them to justice. Now, only one remained, a person whose name he had not yet learned. His return to London was in part an attempt to draw this criminal out and make him show his cards, he said. So far, he had not succeeded in this venture.
“You say people. Before, you told me that there was just one person left.”
“One person who has brought all of Moriarty’s agents into a single fold. This is an unusual person, Watson, a patient schemer not willing to lose all in one go.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily. “Do you not see, Watson? I am not the only one they seek. They will target you, as well, if they think they can get to me by hurting you. Promise me you will not come to Baker Street unless I call for you.”
I drew myself up. “There was a time when you trusted me to protect you, Holmes. Have I ever failed you under attack?”
He smiled and tilted my face towards his. “You have never lacked courage, my dear chap. Even without your sidearm, you are a formidable opponent. No, John, you have never failed me in the face of that type of danger. This danger, however, is of a different sort. You will not see it coming nor recognise it as it looks you in the eye. This danger will insinuate itself in such a way that you will have no suspicions.”
I gave a short laugh. “You make it sound as if this one person could be the ghost of Moriarty, haunting us.”
He smiled grimly. “Not a ghost. Promise me you will stay away. I am endeavouring to keep my return concealed as long as possible. You did not mention it to Mrs Watson, did you?”
I blanched. “I did as you said, just called you an old friend, but she was suspicious even so. Her jealousy is like… a force of nature. She threatens to harm herself, and I could not let it proceed to that —”
He looked at me curiously. “Has she ever threatened you?”
“No. She has, on occasion, struck me — but it was, perhaps, deserved. I provoked her.”
“So… You told her that I was the old friend you’d been with.”
“She was becoming agitated. She noticed that I’d been drinking, that I’d bathed… In order to allay her fears, yes, I told her it was you. I said that we talked until late and I stayed over because of the hour. Nothing more. She accepted that — she even said we should have you to dinner. She is my wife, Holmes! She is not a gossip. Surely you cannot believe that it would be a risk for me to tell her this.”
He put his arms around me. “It’s just as well. I could not conceal my return much longer.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought it was all right — I did not want her to be angry…”
“Do not be disturbed, love,” he whispered. “I’m sure it was not wrong to tell her.” His kiss made my knees weaken. “Now, Doctor, about my affliction…”
* * *
A few days later, I came home from work to find the table set for three.
“Tonight we are entertaining,” Mary announced, placing cut flowers in a vase. “Your dearest friend, Sherlock Holmes, is coming to dinner.” She frowned at me. “The cutaway, I think. Wear the pearl cufflinks. I had your black shoes shined.”
“You contacted him, then,” I said, feeling foolish.
“I was out running errands and stopped by his flat.” She gave me a tight smile. “John, get dressed! Now, please.”
Anticipating an awkward evening, I poured some Scotch into a glass and quickly downed it. Mary didn’t like my drinking, but lately she hadn’t been kissing me, so I wasn’t concerned. I dressed as she had commanded. When the bell rang, I opened the door.
He looked elegant. Smiling, he pulled me into a brotherly hug. “You gorgeous man,” he murmured into my ear. “I want to undress you.”
Mary entered, crying her greetings. “So glad you were available,” she said, kissing the air as she embraced him lightly.
Most people see Sherlock Holmes as a taciturn, asocial, even arrogant. He does not enjoy the social interactions that most people crave, and can certainly act above his company when forced to spend an evening with people he considers unworthy of his time and attention. His intellect is much to blame for his lack of manners. He understands social convention, and can conform when necessary (e.g. for a case), but finds it incomprehensible that any sane man of above normal intelligence should waste time on such play-acting. He generally says what he thinks without apology.
Because of this brashness, it took me years to learn that he is somewhat diffident in society, lacking confidence that he will be liked. This shyness he seeks to conceal under indifference. When I began to understand that his haughty demeanour concealed a bashful heart, it endeared him to me immeasurably. That such a great man, a great mind, could have doubts about his amiability makes me swoon a bit.
He is also an excellent actor, and that is the social animal I observed the evening of our dinner.
He brought wine, made every effort to charm Mary, flattering her a bit, even suggesting that I was fortunate to have acquired such a wife. She received all this with pleasure and responded in kind, reminding him of how grateful she was that he had taken her as a client and solved her mystery. “But even had you failed to solve it, I would have considered myself satisfied nonetheless, if only because you brought my dear John to me.” She smiled, laying her hand on my arm a bit possessively.
“Then perhaps you will consider naming your firstborn after me,” he said, grinning mischievously. “William Sherlock Scott Holmes. You may pick any or all of these.”
She was vexed. Turning to me, she said, “You told him. I asked you not to tell anyone until it could no longer be concealed.”
“My dear, he is my friend. When I told him of our marriage, my joy was so great that had I not reported this bit of news, he would have read it in my face. I have always been utterly transparent to Sherlock Holmes. He knows my every secret without being told.”
She was not pacified by this declaration but, ever the mistress of her emotions, within seconds she had smoothed her face into a pleasant smile. She regarded Sherlock archly. “If it should be a girl, I’m afraid none of your names will do.”
He leaned towards her with a roguish smile. “You know, Sherlock is actually a girl’s name.”
She let out a gale of laughter, laying her hand on his arm. “You are such a wit, Mr Holmes! I don’t know how I shall keep my composure when you are around. We must see you often now that you have returned. My dear John adores you, and I can see that you find him indispensable as well.”
I felt my face colour a bit and looked at Holmes to see if he found her observation as disconcerting as I did. He merely took her hand and kissed it. “My dear lady, it is as if you can see into my heart.”