When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr. John Watson’s head dipped, and soft snoring began to emanate from low in his throat. Far from annoying, Holmes considered the sound as comforting as the the vibrations of a at purring, rhythmic washing of waves upon the shore. Quietly, Holmes set aside his book. He held the tip of a calabash pipe firmly between his lips and studied the man he referred to as his flat mate, his blogger, his business partner. And lately to his bemusement, his friend.
The fact that John now dozed meant he hadn’t slept well the night before. He hadn’t said a thing, but Holmes could read the signs as easily as words on a page. John had dined that evening at the Gymkhana with a woman - a first date, the anticipation of which had made John edgy. As level-headed as he was in the face of danger, interactions with dateable women tended to leave him even more unbalanced than did his wounded leg. Two strands of blonde hair clung to the sleeve of his cashmere blend sweater - a recent purchase. The faintest aroma of curry mingled with his aftershave - a brand that was not overly pretentious or expensive, but rather simple and clean. Holmes was inexplicably glad John didn’t change it even on those occasions when he wanted to make an impression.
John’s lips twitched as if he sensed, even in sleep, that he was being watched. John abhorred being the object of Sherlock’s infamous observations, taken hostage inside the detective’s mind palace, as it were. Sherlock kept his book close at hand, prepared to shift his interest instantly in the event John’s eyelids should flick open and Sherlock find himself the subject of John’s pensive gaze.
Something fluttered in the pit of his stomach as he willed those eyes - the color of which could encompass the spectrum from blue to green - to stay closed while he simultaneously longed for them to open. If John awoke, he could engage him in lively conversation that would ease the gnawing loneliness. But if he stayed asleep, Holmes could continue to admire how the soft light played against the curves of his face.
Holmes could deduce nearly everything about a stranger - his occupation, education level, family status, even what he had for breakfast - within ten seconds of their meeting. He could solve any mystery, from the hereabouts of a misplaced brooch to the whens, hows and whys of the most obscure murder. But the answer to one mystery continued to escape him. What was this intense feeling he had for John Watson? It couldn’t be dissected or studied. He had nothing to compare it to. There was no reference manual to guide him. The closest thing he’d come to reproducing it was when reading great poetry or playing Beethoven on his violin. A peace would settle over his fractured soul, binding him in the broken places and holding him together for a least a little while.
While the minutiae of everyday life fairly shouted to Holmes in tones ordinary men failed to heed, the interpersonal relationships others took for granted confused him. His intellect didn’t work like others’, and neither did his emotions. He’d known it from his earliest memories. He claimed to be proud of being different. Indeed he’d held himself apart his entire life, feeling far superior to those who bumped blindly through life’s emotional minefields only to end up bloodied and bruised for their efforts. His heart was unblemished. He eschewed messy personal entanglements to devote himself to the pure science of reason, hiding himself away in his mind palace when people got too close.
But then John Watson walked - or rather limped - into his life. John, whose sensible persona was merely a disguise for an exceptional soul. Bright, compassionate, brave enough to take a bullet in order to save a life of a perfect stranger. Perceptive enough to sense the neediness that Holmes hid beneath a prickly shell. Steadfast enough to stay when he had every reason to leave.
John sighed in his sleep, shifted position in the chair Holmes had come to think of as ‘John’s chair.’ Holmes continued to regard the dozing man as he nibbled unconsciously on the end of his pipe - the tousled, sandy hair, the long lashes feathering his cheeks. He wouldn’t lie to himself that he didn’t find John Watson’s physical attributes appealing.
John had brushed aside with some vehemence any suggestion by outsiders that they might be gay. All the while insisting that it was quite alright - it was simply meant for others. But Holmes believed John had been mistaking sex for love. Even strangers could have sex. It meant nothing beyond momentary physical pleasure. An interplay of hormones.
Holmes could turn on and off the pretense of attraction at the drop of a hat if it served his purpose. But he never pretended with John. No, not with John. With John he was his truest self. And still John stayed.
John had become so much a part of his life that Holmes couldn’t imagine it without him now. The solitude of the flat, the hollowness of his imaginary palace would be unbearable. Inside his mind were a thousand rooms and some part of John lived in every one. Holmes would lose himself if not for the anchor John had forged that secured him to this world.
Is that what love is? Holmes pondered. An all consuming desire to give oneself up to another until the self was absorbed, with sex being the ultimate symbol of two beings merging into one. His groin tightened in spite of himself as he thought of a combustion of elements, both physical and metaphysical, leading to an unquenchable fire. Do I love John Watson? It wasn’t improbable or even impossible. The idea intrigued and terrified Holmes at the same time.
John’s eyes fluttered open and Holmes looked immediately back to his book as he uncrossed, then re-crossed his legs, but not soon enough.
“Were you watching me?” John asked with drowsy annoyance.
“No,” Holmes answered too quickly. Then, “yes.”
“Have you ever been in love?” asked Sherlock.
To anyone else, Sherlock’s abrupt change of subject would have been jarring. John merely took it in stride as he made his way up through the haze of slumber. He smiled vaguely. “There was a girl once in a cafe outside of Kandahar.”
“I’m not talking about lust, John.” Holmes reprimanded him much like an impatient schoolmaster, then cringed inwardly.
John stiffened. “Why do you want to know? So you can examine my emotions like you would the pattern of a blood stain?”
“No, I . . . I just want to know how it feels.”
The painful truth lay exposed between them. That Sherlock Holmes was an expert at everything except human emotions. That he experienced them only vicariously, and quite awkwardly at that. On the other hand, John had allowed himself to be vulnerable and had been forever scarred because of it.
“It feels . . . ” John started then stopped awkwardly as he searched for a way to explain the unexplainable, “like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Being in love lifts you up, while giving you a soft place to fall at the same time. Love accepts you for who you are, but that only makes you want to be better.”
Was such a thing possible? Sherlock considered. He’d lived his whole life as a competition - always trying to prove his worth, to his parents, Mycroft, Lestrade. Terrified of a cosmic question he’d never know the answer to. But one thing he did know. Make that two things. John accepted him for who he was, and that only made him want to be better. Not a better detective, a better person. And looking at John made his blood hum.
“John, I . . . ”
“Don’t say it, Sherlock.” John Watson closed his eyes.
Holmes was grateful John stopped him when he did. Otherwise he might have said something he’d eternally regret. The only thing that they were both afraid of. The one thing that might make John leave. And if John left, what would Sherlock have? A collection of dusty books, a silent violin, an empty palace.
Holmes sighed and went back to his book. Interpersonal relationships that others took for granted always confused him. His intellect didn’t work like everyone else’s, and neither did his emotions. John Watson’s heart would have to be big enough for the both of them.
Sherlock Holmes had no doubt that it was.