“How did you know?”
As if by magic a filament of glass, as slender as a strand of spider’s silk, had emerged.
“I was looking for it.”
“Jus’ a tot. Still see it inches from my eye. Ser’sly…how did you know it was there?”
“I looked at it from Blackwood’s perspective. Between the two of us, he was cornered…no escape…yet he was still in possession of the almost invisible needle with which he administered the poison to the girls. If he could spike one of us, it would distract the other and he would have time to escape. But which? I was near, but not quite within reach, and you would have certainly shot him if he had lunged at me. But not otherwise; you are a civilised man. He insulted you, called you my loyal dog—outraged your humanity, as he lifted his hands to as if in humble prayer. Your blood was up, and he was counting on that to bring you within striking distance.”
“Meant to break his bloody neck.”
“Not the answer to my question, though. How did you know that he had the needle?”
“I didn’t, but the inherent contradiction between the provocative words and the submissive gesture told me that he was still dangerous. Blackwood is not particularly subtle. He is a brute with a second-rate mind, unlike…”
“No. An amateur magician’s trick and, as I said, I was looking for it.”
“Don’t…ever…impossible to distract…no natural instincts. Pass the decanter over here.”
“No, doctor, I think you’ve taken sufficient on board for one evening… Hoopla! Steady on. I think you had better let me… Quick march, now.”
Watson stirred fitfully in his sleep. Hearing the click of dice, he reached out, scooped them up, and threw down. His hand collided with the cool surface of the nightstand, and he woke in a cascade of confused impressions. The clicking of dice…no castanets…no, violin music, if you wanted to be generous. It was a tarantella, in fact, a flurry of sound coming from the sitting room. Notes raced along, whirling and flashing round each other, until they spun out of control. One single note escaped the frenzy and shrieked for a terrifying length of time until all of his nerves were thrumming with it. There was nothing for it in the end but to shatter, as did his nerves, and scatter its dissonant fragments up and down the strings.
He sat up, yelling, “Holmes! For the love of God!”
The noise cringed, resolving itself into an unobtrusive descant, and Watson fell back against the pillows in far more pain than the old familiar dull throbbing of his leg.
Bruised knuckles and aching muscles recalled the dank crypt under Saint Paul’s; the stink of moss and muck…
Holmes’ eyes, glittering black in the torchlight, fixed in that moment, on the glass thread hanging in the air…
He was momentarily grateful when the violin’s purr soft nicked his attention away from remembered horror.
He listened to it for a while. The instrument’s tone was perfectly pure, and the song was an old one, hauntingly familiar. He felt he should have been able to put words to it. In the eye abides the heart…
Then the tempo picked up, and the phrase slipped beyond the reach of mind and tongue. He smiled at the fleeting feeling left behind; the ghost of childhood contentment. The gaslight on the wall was turned down low so that he wouldn’t wake up the dark, and be frightened by the ogrerish heap of clothing piled on the back of his chair. All of the clothing that he had been wearing during that expedition to the crypt, in fact, was going to be a job for the maid to brush and press tomorrow.
How had he come to be so completely befuddled that he had undressed so carelessly, and not remember climbing between the sheets…? Ah, yes…
He and Holmes had been sitting in front of the fire, dissecting the evening’s events. At least one stupid girl, betrayed by powerful men and a fantasy of secret knowledge, would live, and, scandal scotched, possibly thrive. Himself…
Watson had only wanted one more brandy. Holmes had insisted that it was time for bed.
He remembered standing up but rubber legs had proved problematic, and the room had insisted in tilting and spinning. Somehow Watson had discovered that his arm was draped around Holmes’ neck. He had leaned on Holmes all the way to the bedroom. The strength and proximity of the man; the surprising concordance of pipe tobacco, jasmine oil, boiled wool, and brandy; it had all been…very stimulating.
“You know you’re making this more difficult than it has to be.”
“I’m helping you undress me.”
“You are? I only ask because that is my ascot that you’re mangling.”
“I’m distracting you?”
“Not at… Keep your eyes open, and please refrain— Stop that! This would proceed more smoothly if you will lie still, and let me have your other foot.”
“Lie down…keep still… eyes open…make the room stop turning round and round and round…never you ever get diverted. You… That came out wrong.”
“No, I understand.”
“If he’d harmed you, I would have broken his neck myself. Now, go to sleep.”
Had he dreamed the touch of a fingertip on his lip?
Sleep, yes….best to go back to sleep but, Dear God, Paganini’s Deutto Amoroso was bleeding softly through the walls. Like spending the night in a cheap hotel, there was going to be no hope of falling asleep with all those sighs and moans coming from next door.
Watson closed his eyes to both memory and music, but memory was fluid and mutable, and the melody transformed itself into a popular calling catch. It was one Watson did know the words to. …that was sung to the knell of a church-yard bell, and a doleful dirge ding-dong-o… Tears came along with the words. They failed to spill over, subsiding into a deep reservoir of resentment, instead. There was never a chance that Holmes would remember other people in the house might be trying to sleep.
He hurt. He ached. If he climbed out of bed and went out into the sitting room stark naked, as he was under the covers, Holmes was as likely to observe the obvious parts—the hideously scared leg, the tumescent prick, the shadowed ravenous eyes—infer the whole conflicted man, and still turn away, and go on fiddling on for hours. The music hardly mattered, be it Sullivan, Monteverdi, or Bach, traditional song or music hall ditty, it was among the few ways Holmes had of shutting the cacophony out of his mind. He consumed it indiscriminately, like a drug, and just as selfishly.
...Hey-di, hey-di, misery me, lack-a-day-de, he sipped no sup and he craved no crumb…
And be damned to anyone else’s misery! Watson raved inwardly. His feelings weren’t cacophony and he craved more than crumbs. He would have settled for the balance of his night’s sleep, but the violin was determined to have its way, and at least two of his bits were playing along with it. As the music grew louder, his hand under the sheet continued making the hard way toss…
…the moan of the merry man moping mum, whose soul was sad and whose glance was glum…
…and before Watson knew what he was about, he was halfway across the carpet, fully intent on smashing that devil’s instrument.
The music was coming from the curtained window bay, but the sitting room, with the fire dead in the grate, was a shadowy and dangerous veldt where lion claw table legs and tiger’s teeth lay in wait for vulnerable toes. He made his way across it, though, flung the curtain back, and was struck in the face by the smell of a man who’d been running in London streets, and playing harder. “That’s enough!” Watson thundered.
Holmes went on bowing. His arm flew back and forth, stitching notes together.
“Give me that!” Watson reached for the bow. The music stopped abruptly, the strings screeching in protest. Holmes merely turned, clinging to the bow as Watson attempted to draw it from him. Not with any particular muscular resistance, however. Holmes was making no attempt to wrench it back.
Watson stopped dead in the sudden realization that something was amiss. Holmes was pulling on the bow with only as much strength as if he thought he were picking it up to start playing again.
Watson tugged on the bow. Holmes gave an equal pull back. The bow sawed back and forth between them until Holmes’ arm was at its fullest extension. There he posed, still and uncharacteristically silent.
Watson, with his eyes tuning to the streetlight, saw that Holmes had taken off his waistcoat, and that his shirt collar stood open. The fabric was dark with sweat, not just at his armpits but across his chest and shoulders. Watson could make out individual clusters of dark curls twining wildly around Holmes’ head, but what struck him cold to the core, was the vague and incurious regard in Holmes’ eyes. The pupils were huge and black. The man had played himself into a rhapsodic daze.
A hypnotised patient should not be shaken or shocked out of a trance. Watson said, “Will you me have the bow.” He spoke very gently and Holmes let it go. “Why don’t you let me have the violin, as well?” Watson said.
With the Stradivarius safely in its case, and the case kicked somewhere out of sight, he took Holmes’ head in both of his hands, and applied himself to waking the dreamer. He kept his touch light. Holmes began to respond, his body melting against Watson’s until suddenly, he pulled back, and said, “Watson!”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m kissing you.”
“Oh…” Watson felt a touch on his flanks, curiosity stroking up and down. “You’re not wearing clothing.”
“Your powers of observation never cease to astonish me.” Having let himself be seduced by the violin, knowing Holmes had no natural instincts, he was full of guilt and bitter disappointment. “You undressed me, remember?”
“Did I?” Holmes leaned close and brought their mouths together.
The initial caress was followed by other touches, brief exploratory scales, succeeded in turn by extended passages that organized and fine-tuned discrete sensations. As he submitted to Holmes’ curiosity, Watson’s bitterness dissolved. His head swam with the surprising concordance of sweat, tobacco, and a faint note of pine that had to be rosin on Holmes’ fingertips. His cheeks prickled from the stropping of a whiskered chin, and his nipples tingled from the twiddling of sneaky fingers. Those fingers plucked, too, at the moist hair at the base of his belly, but it was the mutual thrusting and pulling of tongues that suggested a possible theme that could be developed. That theme, stated and restated, seemed to grow and swell…
“Watson,” Holmes said, breaking away, panting. “This begs the question why you were kissing me.”
“It’s three in the morning!” he cried. “You’d been playing that damned violin all night!”
“But it’s never bothered you before!”
“You’re right. It’s your unnatural need to parse every experience to flinders, and leave the mess for others to clean up. Do you want to see how it’s bothered me? I’ll show you how it’s bothered me.” With that Watson hooked his arm around Holmes’ waist and slammed their bodies together. He latched onto the pulse in Holmes’ neck and sucked and nibbled, working his way round Holmes’ jaw until he was drawing low groans from Holmes’ throat. The whole time he beat his hardness against the bulge in Holmes’ trousers, hardness to hardness. That seemed to turn the trick.
The next time their mouths parted they rocked breathlessly together with Holmes letting the weight of his head rest on Watson’s shoulder. He still complained, “I couldn’t find your nightshirt,” but his voice was dreamy, and he didn’t pull away. Far from it.
“Under my pillow,” Watson said, trying to work his hand between them and get at the buttons of Holmes’ trousers, “Remember that, next… Oh!”
“What do you mean next?” Holmes murmured. “Do you mean next time I undress you? Or possibly the next time we do this?”
While Watson had been trying for the buttons, his prick had been nosing folds of soft wool, undoubtedly leaving wet spots that would need sponging in the morning. The delinquent pego had been nabbed. It was fair cop. Holmes rolled his thumb over the tip, tickled the vent and proceeded to demonstrate a degree of technical facility Watson had never dreamed he possessed. It wasn’t until later that he recognized the fallacy of thinking a man who could make a violin ring like a bell, wouldn’t know how to ring the changes, as well. Holmes might not often feel the call to perform in certain areas, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be prepared for the few occasions that he did.
Watson didn’t realize how masterfully he was being conducted until the back of his knees stuck the sofa. He fell sprawling. His legs were lifted, and when they fell, he was flat on his back. His prick seethed in frustration. It wanted only to be browsing in Holmes’ hand.
He could hear Holmes’ ragged breathing as braces, shirt, boots, trousers, garters, and socks hit the floor. The whole kit was being shed and Watson made the mistake of picturing the narrow fringe of hair that bisected Holmes’ belly. In response, his prick thrashed obscenely. He was so desperate for relief that he almost cuffed himself…
…Shouldn’t do that if I were you, boy-o…
Sound advice, even if he couldn’t remember who had said it; his knees were being spread and his ass was lifted as a warm weight came down on top of him.
Prick fit itself to prick, beginning to stroke back and forth. It was too slow for Watson. He pushed back, straining against it, and suddenly he was in the grip of a greater strength than he’d experienced in his life. It was riding him hard, and the harsh voice in his ear was telling him, in the crudest possible way, what he was, and what it was doing to him, and what it was always going to do to him. Inexplicably, he was released from the need to struggle any longer. A persistent ache deep inside began to expand until thighs and ass, balls and prick were all burning and throbbing with an intolerable urgency. He heard himself begging for relief. Please…please…The stern voice commanded, Yes! Now! His soul poured out in a crescendo of rhythmic pleasure.
Holmes was snoring softly top of him when Watson’s conscience wandered back from wherever it had taken itself. His leg hurt. He tried to ignore it, but it started to cramp, and then it occurred to him that the insinuating drip he felt was more than likely going to stain the brocade.
He gave Holmes a poke. Holmes sputtered, and went on snoring. “Holmes!” Watson gave him another jab.
“Whassuh’?” Holmes’s head snapped up.
“My leg!” Watson groped the back of the sofa, trying to find a place on the carving to get a purchase. “I need to straighten my leg. Quickly man!”
There was sleepy grumbling and awkward shifting.
Watson had barely straightened his leg before Holmes flopped back on top of him, and a moment later, said, “What do I feel?”
“Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“I mean what is it that you’ve slipped in between us?”
“One of Mrs. Hudson’s crocheted antimacassars.”
Watson felt a tender flutter of muscles against his stomach, and hot huffs of air beating time on his neck and chin. As he stroked Holmes’ head, they changed into arrhythmic snuffles that grew quiet, at last.
December 12, 2012