The case of the importunate client
Another investigation was concluded. From my chair next to the fireplace, I watched Holmes as he explained the points of his deductions to his client, who was hanging upon my friend's every world. As always when Holmes explained things, it was a mystery to me how I, having seen what he had seen, could have failed to draw the same conclusions, and I was once more reduced to shaking my head at myself.
Mr. Meriwether, however, unused to the dazzling brilliance of my friend, sat staring literally open-mouthed, and soon I noticed a quaint flush developing in his well-sculpted cheeks. My smile faded. Admiration is one thing, and an effect I am used to seeing Holmes cause in others. Infatuation, however, is quite another.
Holmes, as usual, went on oblivious, which at every other time would have been a source of never-ending amusement to me. This time, however, his client's interest seemed a little too blatant for my peace of mind.
His explanations finished, Holmes sat back with a triumphant smile, the one that invariably and secretly made me want to do indecent things to his lithe body. He was justifiably proud of his accomplishment. This had been a complicated case with motives hidden beneath concealed motives that took even him, with all his experience, almost a week to unravel, mostly because Mr. Soames, the accused, was also the main witness, and he plain refused to tell us anything. But Holmes not only proved the man's innocence but also the fact that Soames was screening the woman he loved by taking the perceived blame upon himself.
To add further a touch of the scandalous to the matter, Meriwether had only consulted Holmes because of a quite personal interest in Soames' wellbeing that was bordering upon the indecent. This fact, however, had not seemed to enter into Holmes' considerations for an instant, which no doubt was now causing Meriwether's inappropriate response. He had pegged my friend as sympathetic to his inclinations, and, exposed to Holmes' staggering intellect and undeniable physical attractiveness, he was responding almost helplessly.
"That is amazing, Mr. Holmes," he gushed, leaning forward in his chair until he was almost inside my friend's personal space, and I found that my teeth were clenched. "If it weren't for you… You are a magician. A wizard. I shall be eternally in your debt."
Holmes waved that aside in his typical, careless fashion that looked, to my jealous eyes, needlessly elegant. "Think nothing of it, Mr. Meriwether. You have brought me a mystery and I have solved it, which is where the matter ends with both parties satisfied."
"But surely, you are selling yourself short. I should be very glad to extend further compensation. Maybe we could discuss this over a dinner in a restaurant of your choice? I shall be honoured to have you as my guest."
My thoughts turned black. No doubt you'd be honoured, I silently fumed, but you're out of luck. Sherlock Holmes does not socialise, and if he does, it is with me, or at the very least with me very much in the way of your nefarious plans.
It might have been amusing if it were not so tiresome. Holmes clearly would not do anything about the situation, for he is oblivious to his own charms and rarely, if at all, notices when somebody, male or female, makes sheep's eyes at him. Therefore, it befell me to put a stop to this before my temper got the better of me, even if I was defending a claim that I had not, in fact, staked.
"If you'll excuse us now, Mr. Meriwether," I interrupted less than politely, "it has been a long day, and you have quite a journey ahead of you."
Holmes looked at me in surprise, glanced at Meriwether, and only then did I see the slight widening of his eyes telling me that he, belatedly, realised the problem. He rose abruptly and took over from me. "Indeed. Let us speak no more of it. All's well that ends well. Good-bye, Mr. Meriwether."
Meriwether was disappointed but hiding it well, or maybe he was taking offense at this paucity of social niceties on the part of the famous specialist – something for which, at that moment, I was quite grateful. It did not bear thinking about what kind of scenes I should have to endure if Holmes were habitually polite as well as brilliant and attractive. Of course, he is quite capable of charming the leaves off a tree if he so desires, but this is invariably a conscious decision on his part. Without it, he is often brusque to the point of being offensive. Not from malice, you understand – more from sheer thoughtlessness.
At any rate, Meriwether made a subdued exit while Holmes kicked off his slippers, curled up catlike upon his chair and proceeded to light his pipe, the briar one. "An interesting case, Watson," he remarked between puffs. "I confess that, even now, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would willingly risk the rope for someone else. On the face of it, it seems a singularly illogical decision to make."
"Such is the power of love, Holmes."
He glanced at me sharply before allowing his lids to slide shut. "My point exactly. Illogical and self-destructive. But nevertheless, an undeniably potent motivator that the criminal expert should never discount. A factor in a case, if you will. Nothing to which the reasoner, seeking to unravel such things, should himself aspire."
I was crushed by this careless dashing of my unvoiced hopes and struggled not to show it. "I take it you yourself have never loved," I stated, stung and, perhaps, driven by a perverse desire to drive the knife in even deeper.
He leaned his head back against the headrest, eyes still shut, and seemed happily oblivious to my agitation. "No. Unless, of course, one can be in love without realising it."
"I should hardly think that's possible. There are definite, incontrovertible symptoms, after all." I was heartily glad of his closed eyes by this point, for my face was blazing hot in a blatant exhibition of one such symptom.
The question sounded perfectly serious. I glanced at him suspiciously, but his eyes were still closed and he had that small frown between his brows that told me he was analysing a problem. I fought for composure and proceeded to describe my own state. "Well, shortness of breath, frequent blushes, erotic excitement, a tendency for irrational behaviour, a fluttering in the solar plexus, all connected to the presence of the loved one." I wondered if he was aware of my shortness of breath, and if that was the true reason for his question. "And a strong desire to see her again as soon as she is absent."
"Or he. I suppose the respective sexes of the parties make no difference except in a moral sense."
Again, I looked at him searchingly. Now I was certain that he knew. "What are you driving at, Holmes?"
His lids lifted a fraction, silver-grey eyes glinting at me. "I'm merely gathering data, Watson. It is not a subject I have analysed with any serious attention before."
When dealing with Sherlock Holmes in this mood, it is always best to be blunt. "Then, why now? Because of Meriwether and his… interest?"
"That is connected to it, yes, but there is quite another constellation at the heart of my deliberations." His eyes closed one more, the little frown still in place.
I waited, but he did not add anything, and I was too amazed by the sight of Sherlock Holmes thinking about love to press him further.
Truth be told, I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable. I had, of course, long since been aware of the state of my own feelings for my friend, and I was certain that it was only due to Holmes' peculiar blind spot concerning the softer passion that I had not been found out before now. From the turn our strange conversation had taken, however, this might no longer be the case.
Maybe I should make a clean breast of it? But no. It was still possible that this was connected to something else entirely, and that the "other constellation" of which he had spoken was someone connected to another case, or even concerned one of Holmes' distant acquaintances. I should make a fine mess of things if I now came out with my inappropriate feelings for Holmes if it had nothing to do with me after all.
A little while later, his eyes opened again. "My dear Watson, I wish to test a theory, and I require your assistance."
"I am glad to be of help, Holmes. What do you want me to do?"
He smiled. "Nothing. I shall be the one doing things. I merely wish you to refrain from violence, and to remember that I have an excellent reason for everything that I do. Oh, and it might facilitate things if you stood."
I did so, entirely mystified.
Holmes rose as well and came to stand close, obliging me to tilt my head to be able to look at him. I could feel my nostrils flaring as I took in his familiar and beloved smell. Then he put both hands upon my shoulders. "Remember, Watson, no violence."
There was a most peculiar mixture of curiosity, intense concentration and bewilderment in his expression as he looked at me for a second or so. And then he leaned in and kissed me.
As kisses go, it was not much of one - a mere brushing of dry lips upon lips, over in a moment. And yet, I was breathless with more than just surprise to have felt him so close, his nose touching my cheek and his presence all around me. His lips felt very soft and mobile for that brief moment of contact. Then he was gone, stepping back to look at me anxiously. I was amused to note that he had tilted his body somewhat, left shoulder turned towards me and both arms slightly bent in a defensive boxer's stance. He actually expected me to strike him.
When I did nothing of the sort, he blinked, turned his head away and closed his eyes, frowning fiercely.
I stood silent, waiting, wondering.
Presently, he opened his eyes again and gave a sharp, soundless laugh. "Fascinating. It seems I have neither seen nor observed, and that you, for once, are miles ahead of me in drawing the correct conclusions, if I am interpreting that smile correctly. Well! I think we may call this experiment a success with all the expected responses present and accounted for."
"Yes. The question now remains what we are to do about this."
"If I may offer my advice, Holmes…"
"My dear Watson, your advice and assistance has always been invaluable to me, nor do I expect this to change during this investigation."
I hesitated. "Do you want to do anything about this at all, Holmes? Nothing need change, you know. But know that is it my dearest wish that it should."
He smiled. "I think it is quite too late for putting our heads into the sand, Watson, now that I've finally reached the same page as you. Besides, theoretical knowledge is all well and good, but it is time to pile some new lumber into my brain-attic, to further mangle my metaphors."
"Well, then, I advise that we lock that door, and that we repair to the sofa, where we can cover some preliminary ground."
He nodded assent, and shortly thereafter we were both installed upon the sofa, the way we had been countless times before. Holmes critically inspected his shirt-cuffs, and then, with a shy smile I had never seen before, he took off his cufflinks and threw the cuffs onto the floor.
I could not suppress a smile at this mixture of bashfulness and enthusiasm. So typical of the man, I mused, to forge ahead undaunted even in the face of this, I had no doubt, wholly new terrain in front of him. And yet, I wanted him, more than anything, to be comfortable. Everything about him, from his set jaw to the deep breath he took as he faced me, told me how determined he was to get through this. But determination was not enough. I wanted him to want me.
"Holmes," I said, stilling his hands that were busy at his throat, untying his tie. "Let us take this in a timely fashion. It's not a competition. There are no expectations to be met."
"I assure you, my dear Watson, that I am quite equal to the task."
"Allow me to disagree. You're looking exactly like you look when you are faced with something that you know will require a substantial portion of your strength or willpower, and that I cannot accept. It's supposed to be enjoyable, not something to be endured."
He looked at me, then let his hands drop. "I shall accept your judgement as the experienced party in this. What, then, do you propose?"
What did I propose? I wanted nothing more than to feel him against me, and to do things that would, no doubt, be utterly alien to my friend. It was obvious, however, that my wishes were unimportant, and that we needed to take very small steps if I did not wish to scare him off.
"For a start, you should simply get used to being close to me. You're a man who is distant by nature, self-contained, aloof. I suppose that it would be difficult enough for you to merely allow me to touch you, and to touch me."
He frowned, but said nothing, apparently content to accept this as a working hypothesis.
"Lean back," I told him softly, sitting down upon the sofa next to him. "Relax." Then I put my arm around him, allowing the warmth of his body to seep through my clothes and connect with my own body heat.
He leaned his head against the headrest and closed his eyes with a soft sigh. "That is nice."
I smiled, content to remain thus.
After a while, raised his arm and threaded it behind my back, pulling me close to him. Naturally, I did not impede him, but shifted my position until we were entwined, and I confess that I have never known such bliss.
For long minutes, we did not move. Holmes kept his eyes closed, his head upon my shoulder, and I took the opportunity to study his face, growing bold enough to place my hand in his hair and stroke him there. This caused him to sigh again, which I took as a sign that, so far, I was not doing anything he did not like.
Then I saw him wince and flex his foot.
"Nothing," he murmured, eyes still closed. "This blasted business has merely involved a lot of footwork, the effects of which I am feeling now."
"Would you allow me to do something about it?"
"Giving you a massage. I confess it has long been a secret desire of mine to do so whenever I saw you stiff and tense during an investigation."
"Really. Why did you never say so? I would have appreciated it."
"I did not want to give away my totally inappropriate yearnings for you, Holmes."
He smiled again. It caused the corners of his eyes to crinkle in a manner that made me want to kiss him there, but I refrained. Instead, I slid off the sofa until I sat at his feet and undid the laces of his boots. Pulling his leg over my shoulder, I pulled off the sock and finally held my friend's foot in my hands.
Like his hands, his feet are long and narrow, almost incongruously delicate looking. Nobody who merely looks at his slender fingers and thin, straight metacarpals would suspect the force of his blow, nor be able to deduce his endurance as a runner from the lithe build of his feet and legs. A man of hidden strengths, Holmes.
I worshipped his foot, and then the other one, then his calf and the other, and then I heard his even breaths behind and above me turn into the rhythm of sleep.
I smiled to myself, content to remain there upon the floor, with my friend's legs draped over my shoulders. A long arm brought my sea novel within reach. I was not tired, and I was determined to enjoy this new situation we both found ourselves in until Holmes would wake up.
Considering the resounding success of this experiment, it might not be too much to hope that he would not be averse to sharing my bed tonight.