My friend Dr Watson has many fine, sterling qualities, but of all of them, the most impressive, I think, is his capacity for compassion and sympathy towards those who are in an unhappy situation; those who need his assistance either physically or emotionally or practically. He has assisted me in all these ways over the many years of our association, and it was therefore with the assured expectation of a soothing touch and sympathetic word that I staggered wearily over the threshold of the comfortable little set of rooms we share together in Baker Street.

As predicted, his warm, honest face lit with concern at the dilapidated state I was in: a weary expression, clothes rumpled, hat askew - I was far too tired, however, to care as I usually did about the condition of my apparel. With that familiar half-fretful, half-berating look on his face, my friend - who describes himself, perhaps not without some slight justification, as 'long-suffering' - caught me by the arm and led me in the general direction of the sofa. With, I fear, very little of my usual grace, I collapsed upon it. Watson helped me remove my hat and coat and then hovered over me, looking incongruously like a large, moustached mother hen.

"It is almost two in the morning." He remarked, with an attempt at severity. I nodded cheerfully.

"Yes. But I have solved the case."

"I hope you last long enough to enjoy the moment." He replied, with less than characteristic sarcasm. I was rather too surprised to make an intelligent response, then realised that he had been sitting up waiting for me for three hours, as I had requested, having insisted,

"I shall be back for eleven at the latest." Watson, as his readers in the Strand will know, worries overmuch about my personal safety, and is in the habit of following me about with a revolver. A fearsome sight he makes, as well; contrary to what seems to be popular opinion among my - I beg your pardon, his - readership, Watson is a tall, powerful man - only slightly shorter than myself, and heavier - with a strong, handsome, and intelligent face. I might add a disarmingly warm smile and soulful brown eyes to the mix, and you would have a reasonably accurate impression of my friend Watson's physical characteristics, over which he often self- effacingly passes in his writings, preferring, perhaps understandably, to focus his best prose on generally flattering descriptions of me.

One would be forgiven for wondering about the less than usual terms I have chosen to describe my long-term companion and trusted fellow adventurer. One would also be forgiven for thinking that it was perhaps more than obvious all along that the good doctor and I have an attachment to one another that is - well, more than simply Platonic.

For years I had known the truth. Gathering my evidence from a hundred little clues, I deduced that my dear friend regarded me as more than just as an intriguing, fascinating, exciting figure. He admired more about me than my great brain and powerful personality. His little unjustified remarks about my 'arrogance' notwithstanding, I became convinced (to an extent from reading his stories in the Strand) that Watson harboured a deep and meaningful affection for me; that he wanted nothing less than a romantic liaison.

I was delighted to reach that conclusion. Also for years, I had fantasised about the most amazing possibilities, dreaming time and again of how it would be if we could find a way to express our long-hidden desires. Well, he is a very attractive man.

I am not emotionally demonstrative, and in the realm of the softer feelings I find myself rather out of my depth. With great self- understanding I recognised that any attempts to express my intentions, given that we were two middle aged men one of whom had been married, would perhaps come across less eloquently than I had visualised. I left it to Watson, sensitive, empathic, and emotionally well-equipped, to come to me instead.

He did not. Impatiently I waited for some sign, some indication, however subtle, that might allow a window of opportunity for all those things I wanted to say. I gave him every possible chance; he missed all my cues, no matter how unsubtle, until I became quite frustrated by his obtuseness.

But that night I was determined. The success of my professional endeavours had made me bold; surely, with all my genius, I could deal with a situation so simple and so close to home? True, the fact that we were both men complicated matters - otherwise, I think, he simply would have proposed - but what was that to me? I have known of my true nature since the age of eighteen, having discovered it in circumstances which I see no need to relate in detail. If Watson and I needed and wanted each other, where was the harm in that?

And so I determined, as he stood gazing down at me with that look on his face, that this very night I would take our relationship one step further, if it killed me to do it. I am not a patient man.

After forcing a little brandy upon me, the doctor shooed me into my bedroom, where he proceeded to help me undress. No, I did not pounce upon him there and then - though I could have done - please credit me with just a little more subtlety. I waved off his attempt to place me in pyjamas - disastrous to my plans - and collapsed wearily upon the bed. I threw in a groan for good measure, and immediately he was all anxiety, taking my pulse as I lay limp and nearly senseless. With one eye open.

"Poor old chap." He murmured, and placed a hand gently on my forehead, checking my temperature. I could have told him that it would be unusually high.

"Oh, dear. You really must rest." To my frustration, he rose. "I shall be getting to bed myself, then. Will you be all right?" I contemplated saying 'no', but it occurred to me that he might panic and call for a second opinion about my health, which again would have been disastrous. I gambled on another pathetic groan, and as he leaned anxiously over me, I reached out, quick as a flash, and grabbed his arm.

"Watson, you mustn't leave me." I wailed, in an admirable - if I say so myself - impersonation of exhausted delirium. "I have dreams...terrible dreams...I cannot be alone." This was absolute nonsense, of course, but the dear, trusting fellow believed every word of it. I felt no twinges of conscience for deceiving him in such a manner. After all, I was working for a higher cause.

"My dear Holmes!" He cried, patting my hand. "Let me get you a glass of brandy and water." And he slipped out of the room, leaving me staring after him, quite aghast. The exasperating devil! It occurred to me that he had seen through my act, and was teasing me as I had so often teased him. But surely not; dissimulation, as I have said before, is not among the good doctor's many fine qualities. I waited impatiently for him to return - as he did, after some minutes, bearing a glass, which he put to my lips as I lay prone. I drank some of it to please him then firmly pushed the stuff away.

"You will stay with me?" I murmured. He sighed.

"Until you fall asleep, old chap, if you want me to."

"You look tired yourself."

"Yes, I shall be off to bed once you're settled." I immediately moved up.

"There's plenty of room for two, you know." But he simply smiled at me and appeared not to have heard that rather blunt suggestion.

"Now lie down and rest." Obediently - with a pathetic little cough for good measure - I did as he asked. For a moment, silence reigned, as I contemplated my next move. The situation was not developing precisely according to plan. Stronger measures were required.

Opening one eye a crack, I saw him sitting beside me, watching me as I 'slept'. There was a faint smile on his lips. I heaved a long, slow, deliberate sigh - 'in my sleep' - and moistened my lips with the tip of my tongue. I allowed my right hand to fall limply onto the coverlet, and waited for his reaction. I heard his breathing quicken the slightest bit, and heard the faint sound of the legs of the chair in which he sat moving as he pushed it back in rising.

"Holmes?" He murmured, leaning over me. He was close now, so close that I could feel his breath on my face, and then closer still, so that I could feel his moustache tickling me. I turned my head slightly - still, apparently, asleep - and parted my lips in anticipation.

And then the sound of footsteps. Watson drew back abruptly, and I gave a sharp, unheeded hiss of frustration. The footsteps pattered closer; a soft knock upon the door. I heard him move across the room to open it, and the familiar tones of our landlady's voice drifted into the room.

"I heard him come in, Doctor," - 'he has a name!' I wanted to snap - "is he all right?" 'He' indeed!

"Worn out, but sleeping very peacefully." Presumably Watson indicated my faux-slumbering form. Mrs. Hudson made one of those cooing noises motherly women have a habit of making in such situations, and whispered something to my friend.

"Yes, he does look sweet, doesn't he?" Replied the doctor. I grumbled to myself, silently, and bit my tongue to prevent an acid reply to that comment. Thankfully, Mrs. Hudson soon departed, leaving the doctor and I alone once more.

Clearly, the time had come to throw subtlety to the wind. He seemed entirely incapable of perceiving anything other than that which was thrust unceremoniously under his nose. I decided to retake control of the situation, and sat up in bed as he turned from bidding goodnight to the landlady. He started slightly on seeing me awake, and had the grace to blush a little.

"Watson," I said evenly, and with, I think you will agree, admirable restraint given the circumstances, "please lock the door." He looked abashed, slipped out of the room.

"Watson," - such patience! - "close it from the inside."

"Oh! Yes, of course." He mumbled, and did that.

"What was it you wanted." came the bewildered question. He sounded like the landlord in a low-class public house whose difficult punter has just ordered oysters and caviar.

"Come over here." I was trying my best to sound alluring, but was so frustrated by that time that the words came out in a commanding rap. He slunk to my bedside like a scolded pup.

"Sit down." I added, impatiently. He dropped with a thud into the chair. I grabbed his arm and pulled him forcibly onto the edge of the bed.

"Now then, Watson. What are you going to do?"

"I.I beg your pardon, Holmes?" I gave another exasperated hiss.

"For Heaven's sake, man, I have been lying here for the past ten minutes in a state of alluringly pathetic exhaustion, and you sit there like a lump, chatting with the landlady, and offering not the least evidence of finding my effeminate condition sexually interesting. Get a hold of yourself!" That is what I would have liked to say - I did not, of course. The poor fellow would not have stopped running until he reached Charing Cross. Instead, I redoubled my efforts in making myself alluring, and took his large, warm hand in mine.

"I have waited many years for this moment." I told him in a honeyed voice. Drat his romanticism! Any other man would simply.ah, well.

"If you can look into my eyes and tell me that you do not feel the same," I went on, having lifted that particular charming phrase from a very bad novel in my friend's collection, "I'll allow you to leave this room now, and we shall not speak of tonight more." He blinked, doubtless at the familiarity of the speech. In the novel it had been followed by a heartfelt proposal of marriage, accepted with much weeping and wailing from a heaving-bosomed servant girl. Watson resembled more a large and ungainly whippet caught in an embarrassing situation, but I did not hold that against the poor, bewildered fellow. Doggedly I went on quoting sickening lines from a variety of vile novels, poems, and even the agony column of The Times. I had degraded myself to the level of quoting Byron when he finally broke in.

"Holmes, you are not yourself." I paused in mid-flow, exasperated.

"What? Watson, I am attempting to woo you." He simply stared at me out of wide, confused eyes.

"Oh for Heaven's sake, man!" I exclaimed, my blood thoroughly up, "for years I've been struggling to find a way of telling you that I want you in my bed. Perhaps you would be good enough to explain to me how on earth I might achieve this elusive end?" At last, a genuine smile broke through the bewilderment.

"I rather think," he replied, "that you just did."

The natural conclusion of the above encounter is obvious even to the most obtuse of minds. In the unlikely event that my narrative will ever be read by the public - it is written for other, more personal, reasons - I will refrain from describing in detail the activities of Watson and myself. I might remark simply that the experience was a mutually rewarding one.

It was in the grey light of the following morning that the blow fell. We lay entangled in one another's arms, he sleeping peacefully, I contemplating ways in which to make the man more assertive. After all, I wanted a lover and not an acolyte. As I mused, I felt his hand steal across my chest.

"Good morning." I told him, amicably but, I fear, not very romantically. He seemed more comfortable with this approach than with the false sentimentality of the previous evening. He smiled up at me.

"Morning, Holmes." I thanked the Lord that he did not take it upon himself to address me by my unhappy Christian name, the result of an assertive mother whose maiden name had been 'Sherlock'. I smiled back, feeling slightly awkward. How did one open a conversation in such circumstances?

"Well," I said, after a moment. "What is a nice chap like you doing in a place like this?" There was a stunned silence. Then he laughed, a completely relaxed, joyful sound, in which I joined. At the end of it he kissed my lips in a familiar, casual manner, and snuggled against my chest. For a brief moment I felt all that awkwardness slip away, replaced by a sense of euphoria beyond anything found artificially in the needle. And then, those few words which sent a jolt of pure terror through me.

"I do love you, you know." I lay frozen, horrified. Almost faint. My hand, which had been stroking his back, stopped its motion without my conscious awareness. I closed my eyes as though by some magic I could erase those last seconds. When I opened them, he was leaning up on his elbow, gazing down at me. There was a wealth of sympathy, of understanding, in his warm dark eyes.

"It is all right." He murmured. "I shan't make you say it." I would have been relieved, had I not seen in his expressive face a degree of hurt disappointment which he could not entirely hide. All my sardonic posturing of the previous hours seemed suddenly ridiculous in the face of his quiet sincerity. I felt deeply and bitterly ashamed. And yet he said no more, but simply lay down beside me, and closed his eyes.

I waited until his breathing was deep and regular before I stole from the room. Wrapped in my dressing gown I sat before my desk in the sitting room, and, having had a cigarette to soothe my rattled nerves, I took paper and pen from the drawer, intending to set down in words that which I could not bring myself to say.

And yet, I have written this instead. Am I so heartless and mechanical a being that even on paper those few words which mean so much cannot issue from my pen? I have always prided myself on my reason, my logical thinking, my lack of strong emotion. But perhaps in truth I am merely a broken thing, not superior to those around me but deficient in some vital way. I have suspected this horrible possibility for some time. Now it appears to be a harsh reality. With renewed determination I take up my pen and begin to write.

"My dear Watson, these words, which have cost me so much, are for you. An apology; an appeal, a hope that you will recognise my aloofness for the painful defect that it is and not the rejection that it appears to be. Perhaps here, in the security of black ink and white paper, I can express that which I have struggled to say aloud: simply that, with all my heart, and all my soul." I pause, as I sense a presence behind me. He is standing at my shoulder, reading as I write. As I stare up at him in chagrin and some little fear, he smiled warmly down at me, and speaks.

"'.with all my heart, and all my soul, I love you.' I think that would make a good ending. Don't you?"