As it turned out, poets lie--which was unsurprising. He'd never have turned to them for rational observation. But this was an area far outside his general expertise and the only terms he found in which to think of it were poetic ones, which went far wide of the mark. It wasn't like the witchery of a moonlit night; it was as obvious as daylight. He felt no pang pierce his breast like a shaft from Cupid's bow. His heart went on beating as steadily as ever. No one turned pale, no one swooned; there were no ardent speeches made on the night Sherlock Holmes realized he'd lost his head.
The day had been perfect. They had a case on, and after several hours' lackluster groundwork, his investigations had begun to bring results. The Irregulars had proven invaluable as ever, spotting the necessary lead drinking in a seedy back-alley pub. Three secondary witnesses had been interviewed sedately but efficiently in their own front parlors, and the fourth chased down through the chilly dusk and forced in rather dramatic fashion to explain himself--the combination of John Watson's level stare and his own firm grip on the man's shoulders providing very effective motivation. Returning to their rooms in a glow of triumph to find the table set with a magnificent dinner and a roaring blaze in the grate had sealed his sense of complete satisfaction.
"That really couldn't have gone better," said Watson and Holmes saw it in his face: he felt it, too, the joy of the life they lived together.
It had been four years since they'd met. They'd decided to share rooms in the space of a day; soon he'd begun to see how his own unusual methods were perfectly augmented by Watson's abilities. He called on him for help with increasing frequency, rousting the doctor from the nervous depression brought on by his injury, and rekindling his naturally lively curiosity. Watson had been enthralled by his deductive process, once convinced of its validity. His nerves were steady on a stakeout or a chase; he was medically trained and precise with a sidearm; he took notes with interest as Holmes spoke with his clients.
When Watson's stories began to be published in the Strand magazine, Holmes had been flustered to discover he was being recorded in detail--his interviews and observations, yes, and the progression of his logical analyses; but also the expression of his eyes, which Watson described as piercing and dreamy by turns; the tones of his voice as he spoke of his enthusiasms or dealt quips to the leading intellects of Scotland Yard; his height, his hands, his moods, his musical abilities and his supposed kindnesses. He was used to being observant; he had built his life upon it. He was entirely unused to being so thoroughly observed.
Watson was so unassuming about it, however, and so straightforward when asked to assist him on cases, and so startlingly delighted with his unconventional mind, that Holmes allowed him to quietly work himself into every part of his existence within their first year, without ever noticing. When at last he realized that he shouted for Watson in each emergency, and stored up each curious fact of his cases to amuse him, and turned by habit at the conclusion of every client's story to catch Watson's expression, he spent several minutes in acute discomfort. Then he realized that Watson waited for the summons, the facts, the looks, and inevitably met them with interest. It seemed each of them found something necessary in the other.
At last he'd settled into the arrangement, and began to feel a surprising security in it.
Dinner eaten and the evening wearing on, he settled in beside the hearth to smoke. Watson, in his own chair opposite, had placed his notebook on his knee and was scribbling rapidly, intent on recording his impressions of the day while they were fresh. Frost had crystallized in mandalic patterns over the windowpane, sparkling in the lamplight; the soft crackle of the fire was the only sound in the quiet room. Holmes studied Watson at work through the fragrant clouds rising from his pipe--the small, quick movements of Watson's steady hand, the fine furrow of concentration between his brows, his lips moving silently as he recaptured conversation from memory, the firelight shining in his hair. Contentment radiated out from him in waves and washed over Holmes' mind, quieting it.
"My Boswell in his element," Holmes murmured, and John laughed, glanced up at him, eyes warm with affection.
He was too far away. He wanted to reach out, to capture John's cheek in his hand.
For God's sake, no.
Watson wrote on, unaware, as Holmes sat staring. It had been ten years. Ten years since he had taken a clear look at his own nature and chosen to give up desire. He'd known even then that there would be no future joy he could trust. Love was a proven irrationality for men of his kind. To say to anyone, "My heart is yours," would bring on his beloved, with the gift, unending fear--the permanent threat of being cast off from society, safety, home--No, he would not dare. It would be unconscionable. He'd thought the impulse long conquered.
Now he saw that time had only distilled it. It was no wild, unfocused longing now, but a concentrated need. To touch a loved face tenderly--it was such a simple thing to be so entirely out of reach.
He stood hastily, walked about the room for a minute; reached out for his violin and began to play. But after attempting several pieces he threw it down. Every melody he tried sounded unbearably sentimental to his ears. He longed for the cocaine in his needle to clear his mind, but it distressed Watson; the last thing he wanted was a concerned doctor pleading earnestly for him to take care of himself, looking up at him with kind eyes. He turned to his bookshelf, thinking to find something to study, and realized he could not focus long enough to choose a volume.
"Watson," he said, and his voice sounded startling in the hush of the evening. "I'm going out."
"Now?" He looked up, brows raised; took in Holmes' expression. "Holmes, are you quite all right?"
"I am. I am perfectly all right, my dear doctor; don't concern yourself about me; I just need some air." He was talking too much. He pulled on his coat, grasped his hat. "I'll be out for some time. You should not wait up for me." He couldn't look at Watson's face; he knew he'd see in his eyes his wish that Holmes would stay. "It was a good day, Watson."