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Poets Lie

Chapter Text

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.

No.

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."

Chapter Text

They made their way through the crowds, picking through the muck and stench of Smithfield Market to consult the purveyors of London's meat on a matter of professional urgency. The poisoned beef affecting the household of the Marquis had almost certainly originated from Smithfield--the source of nearly all London's roasts, steaks, and soup bones. Till the seller was found they'd all alike remain under suspicion.

He'd have thought that would provide clear incentive for everyone to help, but not all of them took well to being questioned. The proprietor of a particularly grimy stall had grown increasingly sullen as they interrogated his records and his reputation. When Holmes had ducked suddenly past him to peer into a crate of receipts, he'd let loose with an oath and a tremendous kick to Holmes' ribs that knocked him sprawling, the air driven from his lungs. Gasping, he saw John Watson descending on the man with militarily competent rage. A blow to the culprit's jaw sent him reeling backwards, two more to the gut doubled him over, and he was on his knees beside Holmes in the mud before twenty seconds had passed, hands twisted behind his back in the grip of Captain John Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. Several bystanders cheered. Watson said almost cheerfully, "Finished now, are we?"

"Yes, sir," groaned the man with sudden deference.

"Very good. Holmes, are you all right?"

"'m fine," he managed to gasp, and Watson smiled brilliantly.

"Still want a look at these papers?"

He tried again to catch his breath. "Saw--what I--needed--from here." He gestured expansively to the filth he lay in. "He's--a cheat, but he's--not our man."

"Excellent. Shall we return home? I think you need to bathe." His eyes lit with humor as he took in the unspeakable muck coating Holmes' hands and hair. He'd landed on his back in it. His trousers were probably past hope. Holmes smiled.

"You are right, as ever, Doctor."

"Come on, then." Watson held out his hands, the hands that moments before had taken a man to the ground in a few efficient movements. Holmes gripped them firmly, let himself be hauled to his feet. Standing there in the mud, looking down at John Watson's compact, competent self, he wanted only to pull him nearer, hold his radiance in his arms. Rest his head atop John's and be still.

He stood aghast at himself, silently longing.

Watson's smile dimmed. He studied Holmes' face. "Home, now?" he asked again, softly. "You look like you're still in pain."

"Home," he agreed.

They walked together, knowing no cab would take Holmes in that state. The streets were flooded with crowds, criminal and civilized, and Holmes watched them pass with a curious feeling in his heart, wondering who else had a wish that could never be fulfilled. It was not a common thought for him. His perceptions ordinarily extended primarily to the professions and intentions of unknown passers-by; he deduced emotions only when relevant to the case at hand. But now he studied faces for traces of discontent, longing, confusion, and found them everywhere. The sense of being alone with his treacherous heart was no less real, but the weight of it had grown less by the time they reached home.

If ordinary men could live with so many desires unsatisfied, he could manage this one. So long as John--as Watson remained his steady companion, he had more joy at hand than he'd thought would be his in a lifetime.

"Let me look at the place where he kicked you," Watson offered, when they had entered their rooms. He was already moving to his bedchamber to get his kit.

Slowly, Holmes took off his coat and his shirtwaist, unbuttoned the top of his trousers to pull the fabric of his undershirt back and show the deepening bruise spread across his side. Watson returned and stood close, looking it over. Prodded it gently with his fingertips.

"I have something to help with that," he said, and while Holmes watched he opened a blue glass bottle of arnica, poured some into a soft piece of cotton gauze, and began to rub it over the bruised skin.

He had never been so well cared for since he was a boy. He had never thought he'd wish for it.

He couldn't imagine how he had lived without it now.

Chapter Text

The light of the setting sun streamed over Regent's Park. It had been a wet, cold month, but the weather had passed at last into the sweetness of early summer. The edge of every leaf and bird stood out distinct in the flood of light, while Holmes and Watson made their way slowly through the haze of the golden evening toward Baker Street.

Watson's room stood empty, now. The missing treasure of Agra had brought Mary Morstan to their door, and within days he'd known Watson was no longer his. He'd heard the interest in Watson's voice when he spoke of her, had seen the gentleness in his hands as he'd held hers in greeting. It was inevitable, he'd known it was inevitable, that Watson should wish for a family and leave him at last. The fierce sense of betrayal had remained.

He'd sat near the back of the church when they had wed. He couldn't see Watson's face. He'd heard the tremor in his voice when he'd made his vows, and had wondered what fear or hope he felt. He'd left before Watson could find him, after, and had made sure to be out of town on the day Watson's trunks were removed to his new home. He had not gone to visit him there.

For three months after the marriage they had not seen one another at all.

In the end the separation had become unbearable. When Hall Pycroft had come and told his tale of the man who was his own brother, the wish had constantly intruded to see Watson's face as the story was told, to hear what he'd make of it. But then--why not? Why shouldn't he go and tell him about it? His last words to Watson had been rather hard; he ought not to have threatened him with a return to his needle, and he ought to have said nothing of his selfishness, let alone stupidity. But the doctor had forgiven him for worse.

He'd felt it rather hard to breathe as he waited in Watson's hall to be admitted. When the maid opened the sitting room and he'd seen Watson sitting quietly by the hearth in his new home, he'd lost mastery of his voice--had heard the high eager tone of his, "Ah, my dear Watson, I am very delighted to see you"--and would have been ashamed of his transparency, had Watson not lit up with joy at the sound and reached out a swift hand to meet his. He'd forgotten entirely any polite inquiries after Watson's practice and his new wife, and found himself asking instead whether he might have some interest in a case.

And Watson had exclaimed, "I was just reading over the records of our old cases this past night! I should wish nothing better than to have some more." His eyes had met Holmes' with such hope that Holmes knew already what answer his question of "Today?" would bring, and when Watson said warmly, "If you wish it," he'd felt a terrifying joy.

From that day on Watson had spent some part of nearly every day at Baker Street again.

On their second case of June, seeing Watson rush up to the train station with his bag, "It is really very good of you to come," he'd said, and saw startled pleasure in Watson's face. "It makes a considerable difference to me," he'd added, on impulse, "having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely." Watson's eyes had grown soft, and Holmes had wondered how it was possible that he'd never said that aloud in the years he'd had the luxury of Watson's presence daily. With the next case he'd made sure to introduce "my friend Doctor Watson--of most vital use to me," and had seen the way he blinked and sat straighter in his chair. By the conclusion of the fourth case that month he had begun to think that they might understand one another rather better now, after everything, than they had in all their unexamined halcyon years before.

So they walked together through the summer dusk, and Watson tucked his hand snugly into the crook of Holmes' elbow and walked close by his side, and Holmes felt a grief like happiness and a gratitude like grief. He talked, and Holmes watched the small, gloved fingers resting gently on his arm, and it found it impossible that he had never once held John's hand. Not a moment beyond a clasp of greeting or goodbye. How he knew each finger so perfectly, the weight and the warmth of them, and had never wrapped them in his own long fingers, touched palm to palm, never raised them to his lips--well.

He'd lost all his self-command again, then. And after only four cases and a month.

Chapter Text

Before they went away, he put his affairs in order. Mycroft would dispose of his personal effects, if it were necessary. Mrs. Hudson would let the rooms to someone else.

They walked the wilds of Switzerland together, and every night he played for him. The strings sang, and he closed his eyes while the music filled the room with wordless tenderness. He knew Watson was startled and confused by his exuberant exhaustion. He'd seen the startlement and worry on his face when he had shown up on Watson's doorstep thin and drawn and weary, asking for one more adventure, one reckless chance to disappear into the Continent with him and simply be at liberty. The struggle with Professor Moriarty had worn him down. He had thought they could get away. But when Moriarty evaded the trap they'd set and followed him, he'd felt a strange relief. It had a certain rightness to it. It would be a glorious end to his career--to best the man, and then go away from London. Somewhere quiet where he could study. He was nearly finished with being Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective, battling the criminal classes of the city on his own. He was ready to be Sherlock Holmes, chemist and scholar, at peace in his retirement.

He ought to send Watson back. He had no wish to expose him to Moriarty's fury. He'd only wanted his company once more. He'd drawn away from him, slowly, after the glory of the summer two years before; he dared not stay so close and lose the last of his control. And Watson had seemed to understand--after a few weeks of increasing coldness, had stopped coming constantly to ask about cases, had called at Baker Street less and less, and had finally stopped coming at all. If he had recognized Holmes' feelings and divined the reason behind his return to reticence, he had the grace to say nothing.

He had not expected Watson to come to the Continent, even as he asked it. He had not believed he would wish a traveling companion unable to stop staring at him out of the corners of his eyes, unable to play anything in the evenings that didn't sound like a love song. He expected him to be quite ready to go back to his wife and home when he suggested it.

Watson refused utterly to leave him.

They argued over it for half an hour before Holmes could accept that he was perfectly serious. He would not go home. Watson had never pulled back from danger before, but he knew full well that he'd not been part of Holmes' work for a year and more. He could not possibly believe he was obligated. He could not feel any further sense of duty to Holmes, after all that had passed. But his face was full of some strong feeling and each of Holmes' arguments were met, not with any calm, rational denial, but increasingly urgent repetitions of, "My dear man, how could you think it? How could you believe I'd leave you now? I have no wish to go. I am not afraid. Holmes, don't ask this of me!" At last he had stood still, looking down at him, and realized that Watson's sense of what they were together seemed, impossibly, entirely unchanged. He had work to do, and Watson would be there until it was done. He was under threat, and Watson would stand between him and danger till it was defeated.

In the silence of the room the music wrapped them round in the things he had never had words for, melodies of curiosity and small courtesies and the opening chords of companionship, the beginning movement of what they could have been together. All the weeks they'd walked the cold mountain passes, looked down on the blue-gray mists of the valleys and lay in the sun-soaked grass, he'd heard the melody of Mendelssohn's Lieder in his mind. It was John's, he thought, the way every beautiful thing was John's. Every good thing in the world belonged to him by right.

He'd been bold enough to beg for John Watson's company in the shadow of disaster. He would not shrink from what was necessary.

The falls of Reichenbach roared in the night.

Chapter Text

In the end it came to hand-to-hand combat on the high path of Reichenbach. Unnecessarily dramatic, but that was typical of the professor. He managed to keep Watson from being caught up in it--allowed him to be called away at the critical moment. This also kept Watson from the truth of its conclusion.

He had not fallen over the cliffs with Moriarty, as everyone but Mycroft thought.

Nor had he returned. Presumed dead, he wandered while Moriarty's remaining men were pursued and apprehended, one by one. He did not much care where he went. Far, he thought, the farther the better.

The first note had reached him in Lhassa, at the home of the head of the Tibetan religious order. When he returned to the cool shadows of his room after an evening of study, a blank envelope waited atop his thick handwoven blankets. He opened it. It contained a sheet of paper, bearing one line. "He has arrived in London."

He was not surprised that Mycroft's resources enabled him to send word of John Watson to a man traveling by fishing boat, pack mule, and cart, halfway around the world, under the alias of Sigerson. What startled him was that Mycroft had known the only news he wanted, and had thought it worthwhile.

The second envelope lay on his bed in an inn in Mecca. He lit a candle and sat on the straw mattress to open it. It said, "He has published an account of your death to correct the public accusations of the professor's brother."

On the desk he found an issue of the Strand.

The story began, "It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen." The phrase brought him up short. He had imagined after all this time Watson's thoughts of him would have taken on the pleasantly blurred quality of nostalgia, memories of past adventure to entertain his evenings now and then while his wife sewed by the fireside and the children (by now they must have children) played at his feet. He read on, and found his disappearance introduced as "that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill."

Tears filled his eyes. He dropped his head, his breath coming quick and hard, as he tried to master himself. He sat for some time listening to the night birds' quiet melodies, the voices calling out across the courtyard below, and wept, in spite of his efforts. The tears rolled down his face and wet his neck. He was missed.  At least if he'd been truly dead, he could have gone as a ghost and haunted Watson's rooms for him a while. He might have played the Lieder for him while he slept and given him better dreams.

At last he took the story up again. When it ended, he put the magazine carefully into his bag, and buried his face in his hands. Watson's last line had been: "I shall ever regard him as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known."

He could not have said whether he slept that night.

The third envelope came after his excursion into Khartoum and final settlement in France. It appeared on his worktable in the lab in Montpelier, set down amid the paraphernalia of his chemical research. He'd been approaching something like contentment, there, with a dangerous current of excitement running underneath. Three years into his self-imposed exile, only one of Moriarty's men, Colonel Moran, remained at large in London. It appeared likely that if he wished he could go home in short order.

And what then?

He had put no conscious name to the sense of possibility in his heart, in utter contradiction to years of rational self-denial; had scarcely acknowledged its presence until the sight of the envelope shattered it into shards of crystalline fear, because what news of Watson could merit Mycroft's attention now? His brother would not expend the resources of the Empire simply to notify him of another story in the Strand.

He ripped it open, standing there amidst his work, and read, "His wife has had a sudden illness. She is dead."

For the longest time he stood unseeing, not knowing what he felt.

At last he thought, I have to go now. I have to go home.

 

He'd been entirely unprepared for Watson's collapse.

The moment of revelation after he'd pulled off a disguise had always been a favourite joy; Watson was always so astonished. Pragmatism dictated he remain unrecognized as he entered Watson's study, with Moran still free to observe him, so he'd retained the stooped posture, the wig and stack of books that transformed him into an elderly bookseller. But once inside, it was pure self-indulgent happiness that kept him at it. He'd offered his volumes for sale, had cheerfully insulted the state of the bookshelves, while Watson responded to him politely, unaware. He had actually met Holmes an hour before in the street. Holmes had stood bent-shouldered and shabby in his guise amid the crowd gathered at the scene of Colonel Moran's incautious incursion into domestic murder, and someone's shoulder had met his, knocking him sideways, and he'd looked up, straight into Watson's beautiful face. A long-remembered voice had exclaimed, "Oh, I'm sorry!" and Holmes' books had slipped from his grasp. He'd stood stunned, immobile, while Watson, limping a little, had gathered them for him and placed them in his arms. Coming to himself, he'd spun away, snarling--well aware his eyes must be blazing with feeling, and Watson could scarcely avoid recognizing him if he stayed a moment longer, as many times as he'd fooled him in years long past. But there in the study he let himself stand tall at last, pulled off his wig and whiskers, set his books on the desk and looked at him, smiling. For an instant they regarded one another.

Then he realized Watson's face was drained of color, his gaze unfocused, and to his utter shock, he fainted--crumpled like a child's doll into a chair. He sprang forward--touched his face, called his name; undid his tight collar carefully, to let the blood flow back into his brain; pulled out his flask and poured a little brandy into his open mouth, supporting his head carefully. His mouth twitched as the liquid ran over his tongue and he swallowed--made a soft sound of confusion.

"My dear Watson."

His eyes fluttered open.

"I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea--" He stopped for breath; his voice wasn't steady. "I had no idea you would be so affected."

Watson's gaze grew clear, and he took a quick breath. His eyes shone. His hand reached out and gripped his arm fiercely. "Is it really you? You are alive?"

He could have wept, or laughed. He could have kissed him.

John Watson held onto his arm and stared, the color returning to his face with his astonishment. His lips were parted. You ought to be kissed, he thought. Dear God, I should kiss you. If the world was what it should be, if I could do it without grief to you, if you would allow me, I would kiss you now, John. I will never be done loving you.

Chapter Text

The man had a gun, after all.

As the reports rang out Watson jerked suddenly beside him, and nearly unbalanced. Holmes surged forward, knocking the culprit to the ground with one tremendous blow. Then he took Watson in his arms and half-carried him to a chair; he seemed stunned by the unexpected pain. A dark red stain was spreading through his trouser leg. Holmes pulled out his knife and cut the fabric away with shaking hands.

"It's nothing," Watson said quietly, "a mere scratch," and his hand rested over Holmes' a moment as Holmes trembled, trying to examine the wound through the blur of tears. His breath escaped him in a rush at the words. His vision began to clear. There was very little blood, after all.

"You are right," he said, and turned his fury to the coward sitting dazed on the ground. "If you had killed Watson," he said, and his voice rang through the room, "you would not have gotten out of this room alive." The conviction in his tone made the man sit up straighter. Behind him, Watson rose slowly. Stepping forward, he wound his arm into Holmes' and rested on it.

It was the solid warmth of him, leaning there, that made Holmes feel certain that he had not lost him.

Twenty-one years ago, they had moved in together. Fourteen years ago, he had yielded him to Mary Morstan. Eight years ago, Watson had returned to Baker Street. Every day since, he'd watched Holmes across the room while he sorted through the morning's mail, grumbling aloud about the lack of interesting cases or speculating on a promising one, and his look had said, "I am here now and I will stay." He would lay a hand on Holmes' shoulder as he said goodnight, at the end of a long talk by the fire, letting Holmes absorb the kindness of the touch. When Holmes played his violin softly in the evenings, he smiled up at him with a certainty that steadied him immensely. His laugh spoke of his happiness as he read aloud his collected memories of the years gone by; his calm confirmed it as they laid together side by side in the Turkish baths, talking endlessly in low voices, in the warm half-dark. With such daily reassurance it was not impossible to accept that he had gotten it wrong, after all, when he'd believed that joy would of necessity remain beyond his grasp. He might not be able to speak of it aloud, he might not be able to offer all he wished, but he'd thought his friend had understood something of his heart. "I should know my Watson by now," he'd said that morning, and Watson had smiled.


So he was startled when on their arrival in Baker Street, Watson pulled him into their rooms, closed the door and gripped him fiercely by both shoulders. "Holmes," he said. His eyes were wide and searching. His voice shook with some suppressed feeling.

"Watson," he answered cautiously.

"You wept," he said, and he sounded as though he might weep himself.

"I thought you were shot," he answered, directly. "I had just begun to believe--that I would not lose you again."

"Lose me again," Watson murmured. "When did you lose me?" and then his eyes flashed with comprehension. "When I went to Mary, you mean. You saw that as the end, did you? You left me alone for three months."

"I left you alone?" His voice rose in hurt. "You left me, John!"

Utter stillness fell. Watson's hands dropped away from his shoulders. His eyes expressed every possible shade of confusion and astonishment.

Finally, Holmes breathed, "I should go, then," and turned blindly toward the door. He had not realized how careless he had grown, how far he could betray himself.

"Good God, no. Wait." Watson's hand clasped his shoulder, turned him back around. His face was flushed; his eyes were very bright. "Sherlock?"

The breath left him, hearing his name spoken like that in Watson's gentle voice.

"Sherlock, don't go. Don't--be afraid." He was studying Holmes with extraordinary care. "You are afraid."

He couldn't speak. After everything, to enter upon the risk he had sworn never to consider, and to find Watson already there to meet him--it was an unbearable contradiction of logic. Nothing could be more dangerous. Nothing could be more assured.

"Hush," Watson told him, though he hadn't been aware of making any sound, and in the next moment Watson had gathered him close and was holding him. "Sherlock. Don't be afraid. You are safe, you are quite safe."

Slowly he put his arms around Watson, and drew him nearer. Watson laid his head upon his chest. His hair brushed Holmes' chin. He felt his sudden shiver. Holmes buried his face in the soft hair, closed his eyes.

Watson's hand came up to stroke his cheek gently.

"Please," he whispered, not knowing what he asked.

Watson drew back at at that a little to look at him. "Is this what you meant--have I understood you?"

Wordless as he was, he placed his own hand carefully on the soft curve of Watson's cheek. Watson's features filled with emotion, and he smiled.

"Well, then," he said. Holmes searched his expressive face and found no horror there, no fear, no confusion at all.

"This is dangerous," he said aloud, finally. "I could be your ruin, John."

He was quiet. Finally he nodded. "You could." He made no move to withdraw from Holmes' arms. His eyes were solemn when he said slowly, clearly, "You could, and it would be an honour, Sherlock."

"Do you mean that?" he whispered.

"That I would be honoured to be ruined with you, for you? I mean that wholeheartedly." He smiled.

There was nothing left in him, no resistance, no reason, that could stand firm against that smile.

He took John's warm face in both his hands, and with all of twenty-one years' tenderness, he kissed him.