Here I sit, captured behind the table that was my confessional for such a long time, and even if the matters of the previous day are delightfully immoral and I should be thoroughly ashamed of them, I cannot bring myself to feel even the smallest bit of regret. I am not confessing today and I have a strange yet wonderful feeling that my days of seeking atonement are gone.
I feel happier than I can ever remember being, and I simply refuse to believe that such a joy can be sinuous. I am aware that - according to my Christianic upbringing - my actions are to be punished with eternal burning in Hell, but I have never really believed in this aspect of Christian religion. I do recall Holmes saying just this morning how he cannot imagine a mentally stable human being who would rather believe in eternal pain than in eternal love, and I also recall my answer, mainly because of the smile it had brought upon his sharp face.
"My dear fellow, are you saying that you believe in eternal love?" These had been my words, and I have to say that they had been unnecessary disbelieving - but then again, this was only the second time that I heard Sherlock Holmes speaking of love - or, as he would call it, softer passion - in all the years of our friendship. Both times had occured yesterday and today and it is solely because of that fact that my opinion is I should be forgiven for my disbelief.
"Precisely, my dear Watson." Holmes had smiled at me, his eyes crinkled at the corners and that new, foreign light dancing in the steel of his gaze. "Precisely."
I had only been able to stare at him, more than just a little astounded at the changes that the recent events seem to have inflicted upon him, my oldest and dearest friend, and because of that, I now have to extent the statement I have written earlier: I am certainly not the only one who is happier than he can ever remember being, as I am rather convinced that Holmes is also experiencing the same feeling.
But I have allowed myself to be carried away again. There is no much harm in that, since I am aware that this particular part of my writing could never be read by any other eyes than mine and perhaps Holmes', if he were to express the desire to do so. Still, I shall record this particular events in at least somewhat ordery fashion. Old habits are hard to ignore, as I had been forced to realize.
Ask any man, woman or even a child, who has had at least once in their lives heard of England, to tell you something about this country, and a vast majority of their answers would be the same.
There is a lot of rain.
I must say that rain was the only thing I did not miss in my time in Afghanistan. Of course, it can be quite pleasant, but it is positively dreary in the spring. Spring - the word alone makes one think of lush green and flowers of every possible color, but above all of clear, radiant sky of such blue its shine alone is enough for one to feel happiness, if even for the smallest of the moments. But when in England, one does best to forget such notions of spring, as they are rarely seen.
Yesterday, on the morning of 28th April, I woke into precisely that kind of a day, a simple wonder of an English spring; and I certainly wasn't surprised when I heard a knock on my door and Mrs Hudson handed me a small note, which proved to be Mary's. She was asking me - in her usual shy manner - if I would, perhaps, enjoy a stroll and a picnic in the Hyde Park. Her unusual boldness delighted me, since she was anything but forthcoming. I quickly wrote a short - and positive, of course - reply, which I handed to Mrs Hudson to be immediately send to Mary, and asked her to prepare me a picnic basket for two.
By then, my good mood was quite high, and if I recall correctly, I even whistled a little while I was dressing myself. There was sun shining outside, and just that alone was enough to make me smile; and my sweet Mary had given me a perfect excuse to admire the engagement ring on her finger for all day.
However, no good mood of mine was ever able to stand, let alone defeat the gloom which my dear, infuriating Holmes radiated when he was hanging in the middle between two cases, going half mad with boredom; and when I descended the stairs and stepped into the living room, I could almost smell his restlessnes in the darkness of the closed curtains. And in the next moment I could saw it as well; it was obvious that he has not even looked at his bed all night, and when I paused to think, I recalled hearing his footsteps and the soft singing of his violin sometime during the night.
His face was once again too pale and steely grey eyes were surrounded with dark circles, dark hair mussed beyond all decency; and most of all, there was that sharp look around his features, almost cruel in his desperate seeking for something that would occupy his brilliant, ever working mind. I only had to look at him to know that he was climbing walls again. I sighed. Bored Sherlock Holmes was a recipe for trouble, tested on myself on many occasions.
Violin in left hand, a jack-knife in the right and pipe hanging from his mouth, he turned to me and gave me one of his sharpened, furious, icy smiles. "Good morning, my dear Watson. I do hope you slept well." He raised his right hand and with a quick flick of the elegant wrist the knife was sent flying into the opposite wall. When I followed it with my eyes, I could clearly see many more blade-shaped holes in the wood. I needed no formidable skills of deduction to tell me how my friend had spend the night.
"Indeed." I closed the door. "Sadly, this cannot be said about you." I went to him and stilled him with hand on his shoulder, while I checked his pulse, felt the temperature of his brow with my palm and looked in his dancing eyes to check his pupils, and then cast a secret glance towards the morocco case, which was fortunately closed and almost hidden beneath a stack of papers. This is merely a habit of mine, a ritual that has grown on me in the years I spent with Sherlock Holmes. As his closest friend and his doctor, I have become accustomed to constantly watching his well-being; because when it comes to that man, nothing is impossible.
Holmes allowed my 'mothering', as he ruthlessly calls it, with an expression of long-lasting suffering. "Please, mother hen," he said, turning away from me with a dramatical wave of his long white fingers. "It is my mind, and not this body of mine, that should concern you."
"I do think that after all these years, you would know that everything about you concerns me." I went to open the curtains and pointedly ignored furious hissing that roused behind me as soon as the bright morning sun jumped into the room. I turned around and gave Holmes the most stern glare I could manage - the one that was usualy enough to dispose of any of Lestrade's useless men. But my friend merely returned my gaze - the original version of my glare, which almost had myself running in the early days of our friendship.
"Holmes, stop being ridiculus." I crossed my arms. "I do not have time for this today."
"And why is that, my dear Watson?" Holmes folded onto the sofa with all the grace and dark beauty that shines of him even at the moments like this, and proceeded to fill his pipe.
I pursed my lips. "I have an appointment."
Smoke curling around his face, Holmes haughtily raised his eyebrow. "With dear Mary, I presume."
I sighed, more than just unwilling to uncover that matter again. "Holmes ..."
"My dear fellow, there is no reason for you to be so alarmed." My friend raised another eyebrow, now infuriatingly calm. He always seems to find some peace in mocking me, and I usually do not have the heart to deny it to him, since I know his heart is not in it. It is best to indulge him and go along. I did not, however, had the neccesary patience at that moment.
"You said you trust my judgement, Holmes." I found it difficult to control my annoyance, my good mood all but gone.
"I most certainly do. You have proven to posses a formidable mind, Watson." He pulled from his pipe and slowly exhaled through his aquiline nose, a faint smirk beginning to bend his lips.
"But?" My irritation was quickly growing.
Mary, now properly engaged to me, had seemed to be considered by Holmes as some form of personal insult from the very beginning. For the longest time, he had been downright vile to her, and even not considering the pain he inflicted upon her, he disappointed me. It seemed unfathomable to me that a man like Sherlock Holmes - man who was so noble and proud and whom I admired so much - could behave to a woman in such a manner, let alone to a woman that I loved. And so Mary had been the subject of our worst quarrel; I had been determined to hear what had Holmes to say against her, and he had denied it all, saying nothing more than I, in his opinion, deserved more. It was quite typical for him to insult with praise, and the fact that he had been in one of his restless moods had not helped the matters. The fight had went on for almost all of the night, and during that time, some unknown coldness had set between my friend and myself. We had both felt it, and our words had grown sharper and more heartless with each minute, until the light of dawn had tiptoed around the curtains and we had gone to bed without sparing a glance for each other.
We had not spoken with each other for almost two days, which had been by far the longest and coldest period of Holmes or myself nursing the grudge. But eventually, we calmed down and in a week's time, nobody would had guessed what transpired between us. Only the coldness remained; the terrible, unnatural coldness, which certainly had something to do with the fact that on that night, we had said many things that neither of us really meant, but unlike on the other rare ocasions when we quarreled, neither one of us had later attempted to apologize to the other. However, it could not had been just the insults that made us drift apart in the following months; and I had found myself wondering more than just once if it was the sole conception of me marrying and leaving the Baker Street that insulted Holmes so, and not the subject of my affections herself. Whichever the reason, the brilliant man has always been the dearest friend to me, and the fact that we have not exchanged a pleasant word in more than three months was disturbing me greatly - and I had a rather strong feeling that it was the same with Holmes.
Smirk was complete now, and steely eyes glinted through the smoke, almost devilish in their sharpness. "But you have also proven that it still fails you sometimes."
I have had enough. "Holmes, I truly do not have neither time nor will for this today. I shall be away for the day, probably the evening too. Now, I want you to give me your word that you are not going to commit any foolish action until my return."
"Will you not invite me to join you and your radiant love for the day, Watson?" Holmes looked positively gleeful; I knew him well enough to know that he was more than just enjoying this. He has always been capable of almost childish cruelty when he has not a case on his mind, but in the last three months, he had become truly vicious when in his moods and unpleasantly cold while working, or at his best falsely cheerful.
"Your word, Holmes." By God, how was I growing tired of this - worrying, taking care of him even when it was obvious that any fondness he had ever harbored for me was absent, perhaps completely dead. I must confess that I was still furious with him, but apparently quite unlike him, even all our bitter words have not ruined the curious nature of the attachment I felt to him.
This attachment had lasted long enough, almost since the day we met, but I had never paid it too much heed. The fact that I would without hesitation give my life for the man had been dismissed as a mere act of great friendship; Holmes was, after all, the closest friend I ever had the chance to have in all my life. It was not until much later, when years had passed, bonding us together even stronger, than I had deduced my attachment - perhaps I would be more truthful if I were to call it hopeless fascination - with my friend had passed all acceptable lines. Try as I might, I had not been able to think of a single reason with which to justify my abnormal care for him.
And then, the day had came when I had caught sight of Holmes' long, sinewy arms and white, elegant fingers swiftly filling his beloved pipe, and the sudden rush of irrational desire to feel those hands anywhere and everywhere on me had at last convinced me that I had let my infatuation to get the better of me. The only explanation for my abnormal behavior had been the fact that I had been living with the man for a time that had been too long, and that I certainly needed to distance myself from my friend. Mary had proven to be a perfect reason for the increasingly smaller amount of time I had been spending in Holmes' company, and when I came to love her as well, I had been rather convinced that the matter of my absurd attachment to my friend had been solved. I would marry and move out of the 221B Baker Street; we would remain friends and professional colleagues, but my unhealthy obssesion would diminish and finally utterly dissapear.
But, as I had been forced to realize in those past three months, human mind does not simply cease to care for somebody, even if it is commanded to do so; rather, it seems that it clings to that person with an almost desperate force, and the more you try to make a distance, the more your mind is pulling you closer, completely unwilling to let go. It is a rather fascinanting fact, as I do not know of any other substance that is so hard to destroy.
"Very well, you have my word." Holmes turned his sharp face away from me in the manner clearly meant to dismiss me. "I shan't do anything that would be of bothersome nature to you, as you know I hate to be a nuisance to you. Good day."
There was once a time when neither of us would never let us part our ways in such a manner, but sadly as it was, it seemed that such times were gone; and Holmes had once again managed to extinguish all traces of my previous good mood. Now, I was extremely annoyed and irritated, my enthusiasm for the day with Mary gone for good, and so I merely turned and attempted to leave without as much as a word.
I was all the more surprised when the voice stopped me - the voice that had not adressed me with nothing but cold politeness for the last three months.
"I am sorry, Watson." Rich, deep voice was quiet, but the words were clear. I had almost forgotten how sincerity sounded on Holmes' lips.
I turned around, astonishment slowing my movements. He was still sitting on the sofa, his pipe in his hand now, watching me carefully with an intense expression of somewhat curious sadness. It was not unusual for Holmes to apologize; rather, it was unusual for him to really mean it. This was one of those rare occasions when I could see and hear that he truly believed an apology was in order.
"There is no reason to be saying this, Holmes," I said, struggling to keep my tone light and unaffected. I had no wish to have this conversation now, altough it was neccesary for us to solve certain matters, if we were to remain friends after my marriage. However, it had been me who wanted to put some distance between myself and my friend; I had no right to change my mind now.
Holmes merely sighed and stood up with his usual unconscious grace. His aquiline face was softer than it had ever been in past months, and grey eyes were not cruel anymore. "You, my dear Watson, have always been - and always will be - better man than I can ever dare to dream of being."
I must admit few things in all my years with Holmes left me so surprised as this statement. Even at his best behavior, Holmes was not generous with praise, but I had grown accustomed to it; and while I had certainly not expected him to say something like that to me in our old days, it seemed truly impossible to me now.
"Holmes, I cannot allow you to degrade yourself in such a manner." I was acutely aware of the fact that my own expression had considerably softened due to the my quickly diminishing anger. I had always been too quick to forgive him; it seemed I still was prone to that particular weakness of mine. But then again, there had not been anything to forgive. I was never capable of nursing a grudge against him for longer than a few moments.
Holmes laughed softly and picked up his violin. "You are kind, Watson, and I for one know that I will never posess that particular quality that defines you so. You are kind, and I will never be. Ergo, you are a better man."
I merely stared at him, trying to find an apropriate answer. By God, I did not know when and how living with him become so complicated, the mere actions of speaking twisted and changed beyond all recognition. Once, I would have been able to read his wishes in the shades of light in his eyes. Now, I did not know what he wanted. Did he want to apologize - not only for his most recent actions, but for three months of cold winter and empty looks? Make amends, try to get us back in the good old days when even the most outrageous of his antics could not upset me, but merely add a hint of smile to my never ceasing, resigned worry for him?
It seemed that he sensed my discomfort, for he suddenly smiled, warmer than I had seen him in months, and raised his violin to his shoulder. "My dear Watson, are you quite alright? I must say you look dreadfuly pale." He made his instrument sang a few long notes of aching sweetness, then put the instrument aside once more. "Perhaps you should sit down, since I, despite my many qualities, do not posses the muscular power required for lifting your unconscious body."
This was Sherlock Holmes I met and have been living with for three years; the noble, brilliant, unique man I have come to admire like no other. I had not seen him in three months, and because this sudden return of my old friend brought a strange sense of lightheadedness upon me, I indeed decided to sit down on a nearest chair. It would certainly not do if I were to faint simply because I missed the man more than words could ever describe.
"Holmes, may I inquire abouth your health?" I asked, all too aware of the fact that my friend was looking at me with a disturbingly familliar expression in his eyes. Familliar, I say, because I strongly suspect it mirrored my own expression my face must have carried sometimes when I was given the chance to look at Holmes without interruption. I shall call it disturbing, for it did not matter much which one of our faces it resided upon, since it always contained something quite unnerving. It has bothered me ridiculosly whenever I found it on my own face, and now, when Holmes stared at me with its light spilled over his face and eyes not unlike a sweet wine, I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck raise in attention.
I forced myself to speak. "Forgive me, but you really do not seem exactly yourself. Have you once again submitted yourself to some strange chemicals?" But no; when I checked him mere minutes ago, he appeared perfectly healthy and sober, if a bit sleep-deprived, dehydrated and starved once again.
The disturbing expression dissapeared, and Holmes gave me a look of very unusual sadness. "Dear God, Watson. Has it not occured to you that perhaps I have not been exactly myself for the past three months, and that I have at last seen the light?"
I have learned to expect anything from this man - from violin concerts in the middle of the night and the fact that he frequently stole my clothes to the mind-boggling philosophical conversations and doing nothing else for days than assisting him in solving another one of countless puzzles he could not live without - but once again, he managed to astonish me greatly. He did not only all but read my thoughts but also proved to be the first of us to dare address the present situation.
Holmes looked at my wide eyes and sighed. "My dear fellow, judging by your expression this possibility has not only occured to you, but you are indeed sure of its accuracy. Do not be insulted, but even Lestrage could have deducted that."
I had finally regained my powers of speech, but my voice proved to be embarassingly unsteady. "Holmes, I would greatly appreciate if you were to explain to me what exactly are you saying."
"I am saying, my dear Watson, that I am sorry for my behavior. As I recall telling you before, you are a far better man than I am, and you have done nothing to deserve such kind of treatment." Holmes gave me an open, kind smile I had rarely seen even back then when things had still been as they ought to be. His eyes twinkled, unusually soft.
What I did not expect was the reaction his smile and words evoked in me. The strength of my attachment to him had not ceased in the slightest, and when I was once again faced by the true image of my friend, the sheer force of it rushed through me, leaving me almost breathless. In that moment, there was nothing in the whole of the world that I desired more than simply giving the dear old bastard a good punch directly in the face and then ... What? I did not know, but the restlessness that suddenly descended upon me was quite unbearable. Was that how Holmes felt when he had nothing to occupy himself with? If it was indeed so, I was greatly surprised that he had not gone mad yet.
I stood up abruptly, unable to stay put any longer. "Holmes ..."
But he choose to ignore me, and that too was a trait that had dissapeared in the last months, being replaced by mockery or viciousness at every single word that had left my mouth - not that there had been many to begin with. "Why not stay with me today, Watson?" he asked, smiling and rubbing his palms together. "I am quite certain Marry shall understand. We will talk about philosophy and the latest scientific discoveries, if I recall correctly we have not visited The Royal in almost three months, and now that I am thinking about it, I am probably going to let you persuade me to go out and take a stroll. I shall even go out of my way and shave, except you request otherwise. What do you say, dear man?"
For quite a few moments, I was only able to stare at him. Judging by his words, the past three months could have been merely a nightmare - if not for the nervous, unsure tinge in his cheerfulness that I have not heard before. I was very close to accepting; indeed, I already had my response on the tip of my tongue, when I caught myself and swallowed it down.
This had to be thought over, if only briefly. It was me who wanted to distance himself from Holmes, and did not need his intellect to know that finally adressing our matters would help little in that quest. We were to remain friends, surely, since I simply failed to imagine my life without him in it; and while I unfortunately knew I would gladly accept his apologies and go back to our usual routine, I also knew that doing so would be unwise. If I wanted to push Holmes in the background of my life, I needed to mantain my cold stance.
I steeled myself and shook my head. "I am sorry, Holmes, but I have to go. Have a good day." I turned and left the sitting room as quickly as I could manage without actually breaking into a run.
It hurt more that I expected it to, words burning my lips like pieces of glowing coal, leaving a bitter, acerbic taste in my mouth and a sharp ache in the pit of my chest; and even if I did fled the room and Holmes in it succesfully, I did not leave quickly enough to escape the dark shadows of pain in the clear grey eyes of my dearest friend.
Disraught as I was, I forgot where was I going, and Mrs Hudson barely caught me on the doorstep with a picnic basket in her hand.
"Have a pleasant day, doctor," she wished me, smiling up at me somewhat anxiously with her wrinkled face. "I do wish that you would stay with Mr Holmes today, though. It would mean I don't have to worry about him throwing the house in the air for at least one day."
I am afraid that my reaction was quite rude due to the whirlwind of pain and confusion I was being submitted to. "Well, I am apending the day with Mary, Mrs Hudson," I said brusquely, taking the basket from her hands. "Thank you." But then, I caught a shadow of a movement behind the shining windows of the sitting room, white face and coal dark hair amidst even darker folds of curtains, and that softened me down considerably even if it caused me new pain. The man was almost my brother, for God's sake. "Can you make sure he eats something?" I asked, my voice gentler.
Mrs Hudson nodded with a sigh and an expression of resignated suffering I usualy find quite amusing. "God knows I will do my best." We both knew who we were talking about. "Give Miss Morstan my regards."
I promised to do so, and summoned a hansom while she closed the door behind me. I was now quite certain my day was not destined to be enjoyable, and was soon proved to be right. The hansom which brought me to the house where Mary was serving as a governess was so dreadfully slow I had barely restrained myself from lashing out on the poor driver. When I was let into the household, I found out that Mary also had a picnic basket in her gloved hands, which she apparently had prepared herself, and the result was a short and pointless but nevertheless unpleasant discussion about which basket we shall take with us, with me finally deciding that hers held priority. At last we drove off, with Mary puzzled and more than just a little hurt because of my unusualy heated behaviour. All I can say for myself is that I had rarely found myself in such a distressed, agitated, regretful and disturbingly painful state of mind, and as a consequence I could not at all enjoy the sun and warmth of air; to say nothing of Mary's company, which had in mere minutes become downright bothersome to me.
We found a sunny spot in the green depths of the Hyde Park, which was filled with people of various social status and age, and settled down on the warm grass. Mary began unloading the contents of her basket, all the while chatting in a gentle, kind manner quite typical for her soft personality. I strongly suspect that I am not the only man who despises English women's habit of making a small talk out of the most trivial and ridiculus things for the sake of good manners; I do not know of others, but in my case it was Holmes' disaste that piqued my own. However, Mary had succeded in making the best of her upbringing, and her chatting has never been anything less that quite pleasant in my eyes. She is one of the softest, kindest and least vicious women I have had honour to meet, excluding my own mother, and I have never before met a member of fairer sex less compatibile with the title of 'green-eyed dragon'. In Mary's case, dragon has to be replaced with a considerably gentler and kinder animal, perhaps a deer or some beautiful bird.
I am only lingering on this subject because I wish to record the full worth of Mary Morstan, and to make clear that my impatience with her on that day and on the other occasions had been purely my fault. She had never been anything but wonderful companion to me, and I truly am sory for my behavior on that day, even if she still has to accept my apology. But I am getting ahead of myself again.
We sat in the sun, sharing food and white wine, Mary still trying to cheer me up while I silently tried to unsuccesfuly compose myself. Wherever my eyes landed, my disraught mind found something that reminded me of Holmes. I had before experienced similar states of restless worry, when I had known he had undoubtedly put himself in some kind of danger while I had not been there. This, however, bested them all with its sheer force and decidedly different nature. My previous worries for Holmes had always been focused on him and his infuriating habit to risk his life for the sake of a distraction. Now, I was furious with myself. After three months of cold words and colder glares, Holmes had made an effort to straighten things between us, and I had simply walked out of the room, and while he was never emotional, I knew that I had not imagined the hurt in his eyes. After three months - three months! - he asked for my company and I refused him, and what for? This - the warmth of the sun, the sweetness of the spring air, grass beneath me and Mary with golden patches of sunlight in her hair. She did not need me; she was happy and in bright mood, while on the Baker Street the man who was almost my brother was sealed in a dark, stuffy room and was probably in that same moment reaching for his damned morocco case. Holmes needed me.
And I had denied him that.
I wanted to distance myself from him, but what was I prepared to sacrifice? Certainly not our friendship; and now I was plagued with a terrifying feeling of the road that had been closed behind me. Had I really taken the final step that could not be undone? I refused to believe that, but what was I to do now?
" ... really quite wonderful, and I am sure you will agree, John. John?"
I shook my head in a manner not unlike that of Gladstone, and Mary's smiling face slowly lost its brightness when she realized I had not heard a word she said. "What is it that you were saying, Mary?" I asked, my mind still with Holmes.
"Nothing of particular importance," she answered quietly, gazing at my face. "Are you alright? You seem unhappy."
"I am just a little tired, dear. Nothing to worry about. Please, if you would be so kind as to repeat what you were saying ..."
She started speaking once again, but her enthusiasm had clearly lessened; as for myself, I stared at her with unseeing eyes, thinking with furious speed and desperation. The best would be to simply stand up and go to Holmes before he would have the time to do something stupid and it would be too late for amends. But how to explain this to Mary? She quietly despised Holmes and she had more than just a good reason to do so. There was no way to know how she would react and how long would she hold a grudge, if I were to tell her I had to leave her alone in the middle of Hyde park with no escort and half-eaten picnic, all that simply because I had to go and save my friendship with Sherlock Holmes.
But who did I care more for? Mary, my beloved fiance, who had never shown me nothing but love and kindness - Mary, who should be my greatest priority? Or Sherlock Holmes, my very best and dearest friend and partner, who was regulary waking me up in the middle of the night and has been forcing me to constantly worry about him almost since the very day we meet, who has listened to my countless screams at night and not once pitied me? Sherlock Holmes, for whom I harbored hopeless, absurdly strong affection and had once - just once! - seen the steel of his eyes in my mind instead of Mary's soft brown when I kissed her - the fact I tried to forget. He was a male, for God's sake. Such thoughts were not merely highly immoral, they were also illegal and completely wrong considering my engagement.
"Yes, dear?" But I could not see her. I knew that I would gladly die for Holmes; I have already risked my life for him a dozen times at least and I do not doubt I will do it again in a blink of an eye, since Holmes can never stay out of danger and I can never stand not following him in said danger. But then again, I had risked my life in war, and while working with Holmes I had put it in danger for the sake of strangers more than just now and then. I did not doubt I would die for Mary as well.
I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing, and I knew what he would have me do - imagine an extreme situation that demanded clear priorities. Very well, I thought. What if there was a situation where both Mary and Holmes were in danger and I could only save but one of them, leaving the other to perish in the cold hands of the Reaper?
Who would I chose?
I did not want to know, but it was too late, because I knew it already, I have always known it. I would chose the person I could not imagine my life without, and that was Holmes. My dear, brilliant, infuriating, impossible Holmes.
To say this revelation left me astounded is an understatement of monumental proportions. In fact, I was so completely and utterly stunned I am surprised my heart actually kept beating. I had never before felt such extreme guilt and confusion than in the moment I looked at the face of the woman I promised to marry and asked myself if I even loved her. I was sure I did, even in that moment, but in that case, how was it possible I would have been prepared to sacrifice her life in order to save Holmes'?
"John, what is wrong?" Mary shook my shoulder. "You are dreadfully pale."
I blinked a couple of times and noticed she looked extremely concerned. "Nothing, my dear. I have a lot on my mind, that is all. What were you saying?" My mind was spinning. What was I to do?
Mary had clearly not believed me, but nevertheless she continued. "I was telling you how the other day I was imagining us ten years from now, and I was asking you to do the same. I must admit I am terribly curious how our visions differ."
It was not the first time for her to busy her mind with such small amusements and usually I loved to play along. This time, however, I did not have to make an effort, since images appeared in my confused mind on their own accord.
Indeed, where was I going to be ten years from now? Married to a woman I supposedly loved. I would be an accomplished doctor with no financial problems and a quiet, peaceful life. But would I be happy? It seemed more than possible I would grow to resent the woman at my side, my gambling issues resurfacing themselves with vengenance, and eventually, we would not even sleep in the same room anymore. And where was Holmes in all this? Living alone on the Baker Street, being visited once a month, nothing more than a distant acquaintance. Or perhaps even dead, dead and gone for good, killed in some dangerous situation because I was not there to save him once again?
My stomach lurched unpleasantly at the mere thought, and I swiftly put down my plate. Mary was looking at me with increasing worry in her kind eyes, but I barely noticed her when I closed my eyes and struggled to calm down. What joy would that kind of life bring? At the very least, I knew I was not prepared to ruin Mary's life with an unhappy mariage; not to mention the fact I did not want to be tied to a woman I was not absolutely sure I loved. And I was sure some part of Holmes did not want me to leave 221B Baker Street, however small it might be.
That was good enough for me. I stood up swiftly and grabbed my hat and cane. There was no time to waste.
"John?" Mary was staring at me, alarmed. "What are you doing?"
"I am sorry, dear, but I have to go. Will you be all right going home alone?"
"Well, yes, but John ..." She stood up as well and grabbed my hand. "Is everything all right?"
"I hope so. Here." I put some money into her hand. "Get yourself a hansom. I will see you tomorrow."
With that, I walked away as quickly as I could, and I know Mary is not going to forgive me this anytime soon. But at the time, I did not have the time to think more about her. I summoned myself a hansom and got in.
I had to talk with Holmes, and I had to do it now, but I could only hope he was still prepared to talk with me and not merely ignore or mock me. But like a curse, the driver was again one of those calm and collected men who never hurry if not absolutely neccesary, and this time I did lash out on him, pushing my head through the window and yelling at him in a manner quite unusual for me. Fortunately, my outburst had been at least somewhat effective, and a glance at my pocket watch confirmed I indeed arrived home quicker than ever before, even if the drive seemed to last torturously long.
Once before our house, I apologized to the driver and gave him a generous tip before bursting through the door in the manner quite similar to that of Holmes.
"Mr Holmes, where have you been? I haven't even heard that you lef... Doctor!" Mrs Hudson came out of the kitchen with a teapot in her hand. "What are you doing home so early? And what has happened to your picnic with Miss Morstan?"
"Mary can wait, Mrs Hudson. Is he upstairs?" In that moment, my mind registered the sounds of violin playing some wild and furious composition above our heads, and in the next heartbeat I was rushing up the stairs, taking them two at the time and not paying much heed to the pain in my leg.
"Calm him down if you can, Doctor!" Mrs Hudson called after me. "I am afraid he is going to shoot himself. He has been raging around since you left."
The door of the sitting room was closed, but the thin wood did nothing to muffle the fierce sounds of violin, and I have to say I had never before heard Holmes play something so frantic and complex.
I opened the door, stepped inside and closed it behind me with a little more force that neccesary.
My friend was standing in the middle of the room with his back to the door, dark hair standing almost completely upright, swaying along with his music like a tree in the tempest. He did not turn at the sound of the door closing nor did he stop playing.
"If you have brought me breakfast, you will be forced to scrap it off the walls, Nanny," he yelled over the storm of music. "But do not say I did not warn you, or I shall be very put out."
"I believe you have already achieved that state, Holmes."
The bow fell on the floor and he whipped around, quicker than a snake. "Watson?"
The extreme surprise on his white, drained face was a strange image; it did not suit him at all. "Well, it seems so, since I do not recall changing my name in the past two hours," I said, putting down my hat and cane. The mere sight of him calmed me considerably, like something in my chest had relaxed and exhaled when it had saw him. "We have to talk, Holmes, but first, allow me to apologise for leaving you in such a manner." Anxiously, I took in the wild shine in his eyes and strained neck. I had only seen him so troubled a couple times before.
"Oh, do not trouble yourself, my friend. I understand you completely." With a humorless chuckle, Holmes bent down to pick up his bow. "Dear Mary is your fiance, while I am but a friend and professional colleague. It is quite clear where your priorities shall be and indeed are. Therefore, I believe I am the only one to blame, since I have made a proposition you could not have accepted."
Finally, it dawned on me that something was disturbingly out of order. Holmes had had apologised, took the blame upon himself and praised me - all in the duration of approximately two hours. For the love of all that is holy, what was going on with him? And at the same time he was wrong, which was precisely why I was standing in that dark, smelly room and not in the middle of the Hyde Park.
"If I am allowed to inquire, what did you say to dear Mary?" Voice interrupted my train of thought.
"Forget about Mary, Holmes, and listen to me! You are talking about my priorities, but you are wrong and I am wrong and I do not have the slightest idea what to do." I stared at him, disheveled and with dark bags under his bloodshot eyes, and wondered when exactly had he managed to crawl under my skin and seep into me until I could not get rid of him even if I were so inclined. The real question was why exactly I had no such wishes.
Holmes tilted his head and put down his violin. "Now, let me see if I understood you correctly," he said. "You wish me to forget about the existence of Miss Mary Morstan and at the same time you are telling me my oppinion of your priorities is wrong as well as you are?" He sounded extremely surprised.
"Yes, catastrophicaly so. You have to help me, my friend, because I do not think I can solve this without your help. I am not in possesion of such a mind as you are." I do not consider myself a nervous person, but I suddenly found myself pacing the cluttered room.
"My dear Watson, I owe you my life," Holmes said with a strange smile. "I shall think I will be able to help you in any matter in which you require my assistance. Now, tell me where am I wrong and why are you even here?"
I exhaled, trying to keep at least some composure. "That is exactly why I am here - because I should have stayed with Mary, but I could not. As you said yourself, it is clear where my priorities are - but it would be far more accurate if I were to say where they should be, but are not."
"Do forgive me, Watson, but I have to admit I do not understand you ..."
"I do not believe I can marry her," I interrupted him, unable to stop now. "She is not my first priority, for God's sake! She should be the person I care most about, and yet she is not! Tell me, how can I marry a woman if she is not the first and foremost in my mind?" I was panting now, words rushing out of my mouth along with my breath, and my hands started to shake. Said out loud, my tormenting conflicts seemed even worse.
Holmes was merely looking at me, his eyes unreadable. "And if she is not your first priority, may I inquire who is?" he asked at last.
I laughed bitterly and turned to face him. "Look at me, Holmes. Who do I live with? You. Who do I work with? You. Who steals my clothes, frequently wakes me up in the middle of the night, has killed my dog innumerable times and is certainly going to do it again - all because I let him? You. Who am I with in this moment? You and you and you. You are my first and foremost priority, and I care for you more than for anybody else on this world, I worry about you in every waking moment of my days. I would be willing to sacrifice Mary's life if it would mean saving yours. Yes, you are my dearest friend, but it seems to me that a woman I love should be more to me than you are! Do you not agree?"
"Indeed." Slowly, Holmes sat down and started to pluck the strings of his beloved instrument. His sharp eyes suddenly gained the distant, glittering look so familliar to me. He was in process of analysing. "Most engaging," he muttered. "Still, it seems unfathomable to me ... most improbable, at the very least. Are you certain you indeed care for me on this level of intensity?"
I had to use every ounce of my will to restrain myself from yelling. Here I was, more or less climbing the walls out of sheer confusion and despair, and Holmes was analysing the whole matter like it was another one of his cases. But then again, what did I expect? He was a creature of logic, his powers of deduction superb - it probably seemed more than sensible to him to think about emotional matters in his cold, impersonal way.
"Data, data, data, Watson. You wanted me to help you solve this strange emotional puzzle. Give me the data if you expect me to do so. Now, I would greatly appreciate an answer, if you please." Eyes were closed now, fingers on the violin's strings quicker than ever, and a deep line had appeared between his strong eyebrows.
"I believe I would not care for you more even if you were my own blood," I answered truthfully with a tinge of impatience. I may have learned to give Holmes time with his deductions, but this matter was not merely some important case.
"My dear Watson, I assure you this is not the case. I do not care for Mycroft ever nearly as fiercely as you described."
"Who do you care for, Holmes? I fail to acknowledge the existence of such a person." My words were unintentional, exasperation forcing cruelty into my voice, and I regretted them the moment they passed my lips. I started to apologise, but he interrupted me.
Holmes' eyes flew open and he promptly put down his violin. "My dear Watson, you are, surprisingly enough, wrong. But let us not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? Now, I wish to test a most intriguing theory, and in doing so, your assistance shall be required."
"Holmes, for God's sake..."
"Pray forgive my impersonal approach and indulge me, my dear friend. You are familliar with my methods." Holmes stood up and made a few long steps until he was standing right in front of me. His eyes were shinning in a rather strangely fierce but nevertheles roughly beautiful way, clear and hard in his white face. But there was something else in that shine, a hopeful expectation tinged with dread, similar to that of a child opening a present and wishing desperately for it to be one thing yet dreading it to be something else entirely that is going to emerge from under the colourful wrapping.
I have never seen this kind of shine in Holmes' eyes before because he never allowed himself hope. Sherlock Holmes did not hope, he only knew. And what he did not know, he found out. Wondering what could possibly force him to feel hope now and considering the fact I have never been able to deny him anything, I sighed in defeat.
"What do you wish me to do?"
Holmes smiled, and it was quite a strange smile, sharp and radiant and incredibly uncertain all at once. "I merely wish you to bear in mind that my actions are purely for the sake of this deduction but are nevertheless completely and utterly honest and do not go against my wishes in the least. Oh, and it would also be helpful if you would try to restrain yourself from violence, as I hardly believe you are to suffer any pain or serious harm. Is this acceptable?"
"Certainly." A tinge of curiosity has creeped into my voice. What could require such unusual warnings?
"Excellent." Holmes straightened his face and made one more small step towards me. "Let me proceed, then. "
I watched him, mystified, when he tilted his head and stared in my eyes for a moment, more intently than I have ever seen him before.
Then he lunged.
In the first heartbeat, I could not even comprehend what exactly was he doing, because surely even he was not as mad as to ... By then, that first heartbeat had passed and I became aware of the fact that he indeed was truly and absolutely insane, which explained why he was currently grasping the lapels of my coat, pressing me against the wall with his too lithe body and kissing me as if his life depended on it.
But when the third heartbeat began, my hands were fisted in the fabric of his wrinkled shirt and I was kissing him back. It was insane; it was absolutely unfathomable how it felt: the aching tenderness in those long fingers removing themselves from my lapels and beginning to flutter over my face in whisper-soft caresses; the hard, all-encompassing warmth of this long, wiry body fitted against mine; the sharp, intoxicating scent filling my nostrils, so familliar and yet so new, because I have never before had a chance to smell it from such a nonexistent distance; and above all, the impossible, burning sensation of this damp, thin lips feverishly moving with mine and the red heat of the mouth beyond them. I wondered if the golden glow behind my closed eyelids could kill me with its sheer intensity, and then I decided there must be worse ways to go; and when Holmes made a move suggesting he was moving away, I merely tightened my hold on him. There was but only thought in my head, if extremely hazy and confused: that I would sooner let the world burn and diminish in the flames than let go of the man in my arms.
It could have been years before we finally parted, forced into doing so by the sheer lack of air, and stared at each other's wide eyes, dazed beyond expression. My head was swimming, but no amount of lightheadedness would be enough to distract me of the Holmes' face. His eyes were impossibly bright, almost feverishly so, and there was a new, strange light in them, making them almost silvery in the twilight of the room. He looked like someone who has wings, but has only discovered them right in that moment.
As for me, my mind was spinning. There was no doubt this was exactly what I wanted to do every single time I laid my eyes on my friend - for the last half of the year at least. What exactly it meant? That was another question entirely. It was indecent, no doubt, and completely immoral, not to mention highly illegal. It could land us both right in the middle of Reading Gaol. But I suddenly had trouble understanding how could something so indescribably perfect be immoral; and there was, of course, the fact I wanted nothing more than to simply pull Holmes back to me and kiss him again. And again. And again. Probably do something else even more immoral with him as well.
At last, we let go of each other, and even as breathless and lightheaded as I was, I did not fail to notice we both did so quite hesitantly. Holmes turned around and went straight for his pipe, his movements unusualy trembling and slow, while I gripped blindly around for the nearest chair and finally collapsed upon the sofa, my knees practicaly nonexistent.
My friend came to sit next to me and proceeded to fill his pipe, not looking away from me even for a heartbeat, but suddenly I lacked the courage to meet his gaze, and so kept my eyes downcast, when I finally cleared my throat and spoke my mind.
"Holmes, why did you do ... that?"
"It was extremely crucial for my deduction, not to mention the fact I wanted to do it. I would be unspeakably pleased if there was a chance for me to do it again, but that is another matter entirely. Do you wish to hear what I make of your emotional riddle?" Holmes' voice was shaking, but he sounded remarkably composed and - more than I have ever heard him before - overjoyed.
I was not sure if I wanted to know. There was enough in my mind, and I did not need Holmes' analytical theories in there as well.
"My dear Wason, I shall greatly appreciate it if you were to look at me." Now, my friend seemed somewhat uncertain.
I forced myself to lift my gaze, and with a formidable effort I managed to look him in the eye. He was staring at me intently, the unlit pipe in his hand, and even if this new light in them was still there, the joy was slowly diminishing, which hurt me more than I expected.
Holmes stared at me for a long time, piercing me with his gaze as he would hope to somewhat see my mind, and then he looked away. He glanced at his pipe, frowned and put it down, even if it was filled and prepared for him to light it.
"What are you doing?" I asked, surprised.
"I do not wish to spoil this quite unique taste in my mouth," he answered, still looking away.
I did not know what to say to that. His hair was absolute mess, and I had a rather absurd wish to bury my hands in it.
"Tell me, my dear Watson," Holmes said after a few uncomfortable moments of pregnant silence, "will you marry Miss Morstan?"
I shook my head. There was nothing more to say. It was quite obvious she did nothing to deserve a husband like me - one who would without hesitation be willing to kill her with his own hands if it meant saving his ... well, dearest friend, for a lack of a better word.
"Why so? If I recall it correctly, you said you loved her."
I gave a undignified snort, sharp with my desperation. "I do not know what love is, apparently."
"Allow me to disagree, Watson," Holmes stated with false brightness. "But if you wish, I shall tell you how I perceive love. It took me quite some time to come to this particular deduction, but at last I mastered it. I must say I am quite proud of it. Do you wish to hear it?"
Sherlock Holmes has taken his time and analysed love. There certainly was no doubt he was still able to surprise me. "I would be honoured," I answered.
"Listen then, Watson, and observe." He stood up and picked up his bow. "Now, first I have had to deduce what a common perception of love is. Once, I have heard my brother saying that love drove men to murder and to sainthood, and as the words stuck in my mind, I have decided to choose them as a start. Thus, I have started searching for reasons and situations which would possibly have enough power to drive myself to murder and to sainthood, and I have decided I need at least three of them. I had found two, but had to chase the third for quite some time. I finally caught it almost four months ago.
"Now, the first reason was quite simple. Caring for one person so intensely I would be willing to kill others or even myself solely to protect him or her. There has been but one person for whom I have cared on that level of intensity, and so the first reason was confirmed, as I was sure it is impossible to truly love - in romantic sense, of course - more than one person at once.
"The second reason was more of a personal trait. I have to find the same person intellectualy stimulating and humorous. Otherwise, I would be immensely bored in her, or in my case, his company. There has been a few people who have this particular trait, but only in one case the second reason interfered with the first. This person is sitting in front of me right now.
"The third reason gave me quite a considerable bit of trouble and I believe that was because I, quite uncharacteristicaly, did not pay enough heed to one most peculiar side of love. In the end it was my own fault; you did after all warned me more than once about my disregard of physical needs. I had been considering my body merely a vessel for my mind, so there is no wonder the answer took so much of my time. But I caught it in the end."
"Are you talking about lust?" I interrupted him, unable to sit still any longer while listening to him explaining the facts to me like the deductions of some clever crime.
"Thank you for expressing it so plainly and unaccurately, Watson." Holmes lifted an eyebrow. "I am, in fact, speaking of quite simple and formidably mighty force expressing itself in a violent wish for any kind of physical proximity and, if being developed on certain occasions, for numerous acts of lustful inclinations which are in this case, if I am not mistaken, highly illegal in our God-blessed country."
Even if I was used to his habit of complicating simple statements simply because he was unable to express himself more plainly, it took me a couple of seconds to understand his words. When I had finally untangled them, Holmes was smiling at me with a rather uncharacteristicaly soft eyes; but in that softness lingered a strange kind of somewhat painful hope I have seen before in the previous hour, and something in me wanted nothing more than simply reaching out for him and bringing him back into my embrace.
Then he looked away from me and I saw his throat constrict as he swallowed heavily. "This is my idea of love, Watson. It seems proper to inform you of the fact there is only one person this idea applies to, and I also believe I have made myself clear who this person is. Now, perhaps you should take your time and think what your idea of love is and who does it apply to. Good day, Watson."
With these words, Sherlock Holmes stood up and turned away from me, and as he picked up his violin and began playing some piece of unspeakable, aching sweetness, I was left staring at his shirt-clad back and wondering how was it possible I had been so blind, so unwilling to look and acknowledge. My thoughts were a fazed, lightheaded mess, sick with wonderment, while my heart seemed to want to beat harder and faster than it had ever beat; and I asked myself how was possible he managed to explain it so precisely and accurately, but then again, there was no mistery which would ever stand a chance before his mind. And in that precise moment, standing in that terribly cluttered, beloved room and listening to the thoughts in my head and the sweet sound of a violin, played by the man I respected, admired, honoured and cared for more than for any other being walking the Earth, I realized that I ... yes, loved him as well. And there was nothing in the whole world that would have convinced me I should not act upon that feeling. There has been enough misery for both of us.
"I have taken enough time," I said, my voice shaking, and Holmes' notes faltered as his hands shook, and quieted down.
What more is there to say? I crossed the room and fortunately, one of us still had enough restrainment left to place my beloved friend's violin on a coffee table, and then there was indescribable silver light in Holmes' eyes and one smile fitted against another smile, and somebody was sober enough to stumble to the door with the other in his arms and lock it.
And the rest is of delightfully indecent and personal nature.
This events have occured yesterday and today is almost gone, as it is almost midnight. Happiness engulfing me is sweet and sharp and almost painful in its intensity, and I have never felt better in my entire life.
There is blackish blue darkness behind our windows, and fire in the hearth, and before me, resting on the polished wood, is a engagement ring Mary Morstan has thrown at me earlier this day, when I went to her to inform her of the fact I cannot marry her. I tried to be as gentle as possible, but I am afraid it will be long time before she will even consider forgiving me. I am sorry for the pain and distress I have caused her, but there is no doubt those would be increased tenfold if I would ever indeed marry her. I am not satisfied with her recent disposition towards me, but there is nothing to be done. I am aware I had well deserved it. If I were smarter, she would not have to suffer. Sadly, this is not the case.
But in this moment, there is little place for Mary Morstan in my mind and heart. Holmes was playing violin for the past half of hour, but as I am writing this, he is turning towards me with a rather peculiar expression on his smooth, happy face.
"Watson, do forgive me, but I am experiencing increasing jelousy towards that pen in your hand."
I smile, and it is so wide my cheeks hurt. I wonder what should I do with the money I am to get for Mary's ring. Perhaps I will buy myself a new suit. A bit too big for me and in a rich shade of black that will go nicely with dancing silvery light in grey eyes and the utter mess of the dark hair.