I was anticipating a quiet evening at home after the successful conclusion of another case. I'd tossed my hat onto the settee, was unwinding my scarf, and was just about to ask my dear Watson to ring Mrs. Hudson for some late supper, when he abruptly announced that he was going out, offered some rather perfunctory congratulations on my triumph and walked out the door before I could utter a single word.
I was astonished. Out? Where on earth could he be going at this time of night? As soon as the front door clicked shut behind him, I re-wrapped my scarf and took off in pursuit. I was in such a hurry that I forgot my hat, but what was a cold head next to unravelling the mystery of where Watson was going without me?
There had to be some mystery to it or he wouldn't have left so quickly. If he was going somewhere he felt comfortable discussing, he'd have told me where it was or even asked me to go along. This sort of abrupt, mysterious behaviour was quite out of character for Watson, and thus was alarming enough for me to take an interest, although whatever he was up to was unlikely to concern me directly.
After all, it was nowhere near my birthday or Christmas, which, up until this point, were the only times of the year when he ever became secretive around me. Most of the time, the man was an open book; one I had no trouble reading even in the dimmest light. Therefore, whatever he was doing, it was likely personal. Yet what could be so personal that he couldn't tell me, his dearest friend, about it?
Unless he was called to an emergency, and I was certain he hadn't been, nothing related to his practice would be accomplished at this time of night. Most shops were closed by now, as well. No, it was definitely something personal that was dragging him out after such a long day, but was that something innocuous or was he in trouble? That thought worried me the most. If it were up to me, John Watson would never suffer a moment's trouble. He'd already suffered far more than he deserved in this life.
Yet surely if he was in trouble, he'd talk to me about it. He had to know that I'd be willing to help him out of even the most grievous difficulty. Though how grievous a situation could a man like John Watson get himself into anyway? I was quite certain that he hadn't been near a betting track in months, and that was his only vice. The man was a paragon of virtue otherwise. His health was good. Quite vigorous, in fact. So what could it be?
I narrowed my eyes and increased my pace to keep him in sight. He was clearly going somewhere in particular. There was purpose in his stride. Perhaps he was going to meet someone. Could it be a woman?
I stopped in my tracks. Women seemed to universally admire my friend, and he very much seemed to return their affection. I always held the thought in the back of my mind that someday I would lose him to one of them. Could this finally be that day? I could feel the blood drain from my face. I was nowhere near ready to lose Watson from my life. Indeed, I doubted I ever would be. He was irreplaceable. How would I manage without him by my side? I could not imagine it, and I did not want to.
I regained my composure before he slipped out of my sight and began to trail after him again. If he was meeting a woman with romance in his heart, then there was simply no way I could compete. I might conceivably be able to sabotage their relationship, but that would be unfair. I cared too much for Watson to do anything so underhanded. Besides which, it would cause him pain, and I would never willingly hurt him. He was too important for me to treat him so shabbily.
As I watched him hurry along the street, I decided, without the best of foundations, I grant you, that it wasn't a woman after all. Surely if he was bound for an engagement with a woman, he'd have changed his attire to evening dress and taken a cab to pick her up and then to go on to wherever they were to spend the rest of the evening, and he'd let many cabs pass him by unnoticed. No. He might be meeting someone, but it was unlikely to be a woman, or at least, not one for whom he had romantic feelings.
Feeling marginally better, but still enormously curious, I kept on Watson's trail and tried not to speculate in advance of the facts. Finally, he entered a pub that I wasn't familiar with. I debated the wisdom of entering the pub after him, but since there was no convenient window which I could use to spy on him, if I was to have any hope of discovering what he was up to, I really had no choice but to go inside. So I did, quickly.
Luck was with me. The pub was dim and moderately crowded. I spotted Watson heading for a booth in the back. Someone was there before him, but, because of the angle, I could not see his or her face. As Watson sat down, a small table nearby became available, and I snatched it before anyone else could do so. It afforded me an excellent view of my friend, but not of his companion. I would simply have to bide my time, and hope for a chance to eventually catch a glimpse of whomever it was.
Between the smoke and the dim lights, there was little chance that Watson would notice me watching him, but I kept my scarf wrapped around my face and my head ducked down just in case. Whomever Watson was sitting with, he, for I was more and more certain it was a man, was entertaining my friend quite heartily. I had not seen Watson laugh so much in months, and that thought gave me pause. Thinking back over the last few months, I could see that Watson had not been himself for some time. Clearly something was bothering him, but I'd been too wrapped up in one case after another to be consciously aware of it. I would have to do better than that if I was to keep my friend at my side.
I lurked and watched, nursing a single beer while Watson and his companion drank two. Then a billiards table came open and Watson got up to claim it. When his companion rose to join him I was astonished to see that it was none other than Inspector Lestrade. Why Watson would need to meet Lestrade here when he could easily have invited him to Baker Street was a mystery to me. I thought we both had established a relatively congenial relationship with the Inspector. We could have spent an enjoyable evening together lingering over our port and discussing the events of the day. As I was trying to make sense of this puzzle, I continued to watch, and soon everything became plain.
Whenever Watson bent over to take a shot, Lestrade's eyes focused on his arse, and the expression on his face would have got him arrested if it was I, and not he, who was the official policeman. While Watson was concentrating on the game, Lestrade was concentrating on Watson. His hand would linger near Watson's on the table, hover over his back, brush against his sleeve. Once the cad even caressed his arse, I swear he did! It was all so obvious I don't know why the people at the nearer tables didn't call the police to lodge a complaint. Such behaviour was illegal, was it not?
Clearly I had to re-evaluate the conclusions that I had reached about my dearest friend and companion. I had always believed him to favour women. They clearly favoured him. And perhaps that is what threw me off the track. He had always seemed to welcome their attentions, but now that I thought about it, during the three years we'd lived together, he had never once taken any woman to dinner, dancing or the theatre or even for a walk in the park. That should have told me something.
On the other hand, he'd never, to my knowledge, spent that sort of intimate time with any man, either. In fact, he'd seemed quite content to spend most of his time with me, immersed in case after interesting case, which, I must admit, is the way I preferred it. No doubt that's rather selfish of me, but I've never denied being a selfish man.
Suddenly the game of billiards came to an end. It appeared that Watson had won handily. Ha! Perhaps you'd have done better if you'd kept your eyes on the table, Lestrade. No money changed hands, so apparently no wager was placed on the outcome. Watson and Lestrade went to retrieve their coats. I bent my head down and laid it on my crossed arms as they moved past my table and headed for the door. As soon as it closed behind them, I was up and away in their wake, my scarf still hiding my features. It became clear quite quickly that they were headed for Baker Street and not in any particular hurry. Lestrade was walking very close, but, though I saw him try, he wasn't able to link his arm with Watson's. This gave me hope.
When they reached the stoop outside our house, I lingered in the darkness of a nearby doorway and watched them unobserved. Lestrade was crowding Watson into a corner, clearly hoping for…what? A kiss? Something more? In situations such as these, I was out of my depth. I'd never engaged in such puerile voyeuristic behaviour before, not even on the most vulgar of cases, so I was entirely uncertain what to expect from watching them. Though the very thought of seeing anything that involved Watson and Lestrade in an intimate embrace filled me with dread.
They were talking in low voices, and I was too far away to make any sense of them, which increased my frustration. Moving any closer was impossible, however, and not exactly appealing in any case. Lestrade's tone was at first cajoling, then slightly desperate. Then suddenly I saw Watson thrust out his hand to shake Lestrade's, open the door and flee inside. Lestrade stepped back and simply stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the lighted window of our sitting room. Then with a slightly dejected air, he lowered his head, thrust his hands into his pockets and walked off into the night.
When Watson stuck out his hand, I suddenly felt as if I had dodged a bullet. Lestrade didn't look happy about it, but he wasn't as devastated as he perhaps should have been, and as far as I was concerned, deserved to be, either. My dear Watson was ever the gentleman, and clearly he'd let Lestrade down easily. Though all I really cared about at that very moment was that he ihad/i let him down.
As I watched Lestrade vanish into the darkness, my first inclination was to rush inside and tell Watson that he'd made the right decision, but first inclinations are seldom the right ones to act upon and that one most definitely was not. If I was to return now, I would have to confess to my spying and that was not something I relished doing.
No, what I needed to do now was think. There were many things about tonight's events that required careful consideration. So I turned away from Baker Street and headed off into the London night wishing that I had my pipe in my hand as I was always more successful at considering a problem when I had a pipe to smoke.
When I returned to Baker Street, I tossed my coat over a chair and headed straight for the brandy decanter. I never expected my evening with Lestrade to take the turn it did, and it shocked me so much that I hardly knew what to think. The Inspector had casually spoken of sharing a pint and a game of billiards many times, but somehow the right opportunity never arose. This evening, at the conclusion of the case we'd all worked on, he'd asked again, and it seemed churlish to put him off once more, but I fervently wish I had.
The thought of spending yet another evening with Holmes, when he was so full of his victory and utterly satisfied with his situation while I admired him from across a room that had begun to seem as wide as a chasm and as impossible to cross, was unappealing at best. I saw no harm in taking Lestrade up on his offer, and indeed, I enjoyed myself for most of the evening. New conversation, a change of scenery, a game of billiards, but then there was that brush against my arse, that hand on my lower back, the look on his face when I turned at his touch and I knew.
Fortunately the game was almost over by then, but it was all I could do to finish it. The walk home was intolerable, the scene on the stoop, embarrassing. Under other circumstances, in a different world, I might have felt differently, but not now, never now.
How did he know? I certainly never would have suspected him of inversion. He's a police Inspector for god's sake! Of course, I wasn't looking. I haven't looked for companionship beyond the confines of Baker Street since I stepped inside its door. The only real companionship I want is here. It just hasn't become the sort of companionship that I'd like it to be, and, although it hasn't been easy, I think I've finally come to accept that it never will.
I downed my brandy in one gulp and poured another glass. Then I turned around and realized for the first time, that Holmes's bedroom door was open. I looked at the coat rack. His coat and scarf were missing. So he'd gone out. I immediately wondered where he might have gone. I knew he'd planned to stay in. Was it my abrupt desertion that sent him out into the night alone? A stab of guilt ran through me. Of course he must have felt abandoned.
I'd almost invited him to join us, and perhaps if I had, Lestrade would have kept his advances to himself, but how was I to know what the man had in mind? Yes, Lestrade had implied that he'd prefer that our evening be just the two of us, but that didn't alarm me particularly, since he knew as well as I did that Holmes wasn't overly fond of billiards.
My eyes fell on the settee and I noticed Holmes's hat. I picked it up. Now I began to feel faintly worried in addition to my guilt. Holmes would never go out and leave his hat behind unless he had to leave in a considerable hurry. Something must have happened after I left, but what? I sat down on the settee and took another swig of my drink as I contemplated the mystery of Holmes's forgotten hat. Perhaps he'd been called out on another case. I held the hat to my face. It smelled of him and I breathed in deeply and smiled.
As I realized what I was doing, I set the hat aside and tossed off the last of my brandy. I had to stop mooning around after Holmes. He was a grown man who could well take care of himself, and I needed to take a step back. Somehow I had to stop dreaming about a man who was incapable of returning my regard in the manner in which I so desperately wanted him to.
Sherlock Holmes would never love me. He meant it when he said he was impervious to love and the softer emotions. He had no use for such things and never would. Harbouring these irrational hopes that someday he'd change his mind and begin to think of me as something more than a friend and colleague, someone to support him in his work and share his expenses, but never his more intimate life, was ludicrous.
Perhaps spending this evening with Lestrade wasn't wholly a bad thing. It reminded me what an evening out could be like. In general, I had a good time. I enjoyed sitting in a pub and having a relaxed conversation with someone who listened to me and appeared to value my input. Not that Holmes doesn't listen to me, he does, but most of our conversations revolve around him and his concerns. It was a rather pleasant change for me and my concerns to be the topic of choice.
I even enjoyed the billiards, until the touching began. A relationship with Lestrade would never work. I don't have that sort of interest in him at all, but perhaps it iwas/i time that I considered finding other company, and enjoying other evenings out. Just because Holmes wanted to live like a monk was no reason for me to do so as well.
But first I had to put some distance between Holmes and myself. Living here at Baker Street and feeling as if I was caught in a loveless, sexless marriage was getting harder and harder to bear. Tomorrow I would begin to search for new lodgings. It was the only way.
I picked up Holmes's hat. Dusted it off gently and took it over to the coat rack, where I hung it on the top hook. Then with a final look around the empty sitting room, I headed upstairs to my lonely bed.
I tended to be a late riser most days in comparison to the good doctor and, having not got around to returning to our rooms until well after one in the morning, I was a bit later than usual in coming to the breakfast table the next day. I was a little surprised to find Watson still there, dawdling over eggs that looked somewhat past their prime and a cup of what appeared to be rather cold coffee. Since he usually makes short work of Mrs. Hudson's excellent cooking while it is still fresh, I could only conclude this meant that he'd been waiting for me to make my appearance. I wondered if that was a good or a bad thing.
I'd come to the conclusion while wandering around London the previous night, that Watson hadn't the faintest idea of what Lestrade was intending before he agreed to meet with him. His brushing him off on the steps of our home told me that quite clearly. If romance had been his intention then he would have kissed the man goodnight at the very least.
Therefore he must have accepted the invitation with the idea of nothing more than friendship on his part, which meant that my view of my friend was not immeasurably altered. That it was, in fact, the good inspector of whom I now had a slightly different image, which I would file away under interesting facts, but, since he had fortunately failed in his attempt to seduce my dear Watson, had no immediate bearing on my life.
However, I was also now quite certain that there was something bothering Watson. The contrast between the happy and engaged man I saw during the early part of last evening, before Lestrade made his unwanted advance, and the man I have been living with for the last few weeks was markedly obvious once I looked at it. He has not been his usual cheerful self for some time. So I had to determine what was wrong.
It shouldn't be a difficult problem. I might be able to discover the answer simply by asking him. He hasn't chosen to confide in me so far, but I'm the first one to admit that I've been quite distracted lately with one case after another. Perhaps he simply hasn't had the chance to tell me anything. At any rate, that's where I would begin, by giving him that chance.
"Good morning, my dear Watson! A lovely morning, isn't it?" I said as I took my place and began to set out my breakfast. "How was your evening out? Where did you go? If you don't mind my asking that is."
Watson, who really looked quite pale, blotted his mouth with his napkin and set it on the table before speaking. No doubt he was tired of pretending to eat and wanted an end to it now that I had arrived. I could hardly blame him; the congealing contents of his plate looked quite revolting.
"I went for a pint and a game of billiards with an old army buddy. He was only going to be in town for the evening. I feared that you'd find our reminiscing exceedingly dull which is why I didn't ask you along."
I'd already assumed that he'd lie about last night. In his place, I wouldn't have wanted to admit the truth either. It would be far too embarrassing to discuss. Believing as I did that Lestrade and his sordid little attempt at seduction had nothing to do with whatever was really troubling Watson, I let the lie pass without challenge, though the flush on his cheeks would ordinarily draw much more reaction from me.
"No doubt it would have. I trust you enjoyed your time together?"
"Oh, yes," he answered easily. "It was quite pleasant to relax and have a pint and talk to an old friend for awhile."
I frowned ever so slightly. That clearly was not a lie. Was he really implying that he needed some time out with a "friend" to escape the tedium of time spent with me? Before I could respond to his statement, he continued by asking me a question.
"I noticed when I returned that you'd gone out yourself. Did something come up unexpectedly? I thought you intended to stay in last night."
I took a sip of my coffee. "I did intend to stay in, but after I ate, I was restless without you here to talk to, so I went for a walk."
"Really." Now it was Watson's turn to frown. Surely he didn't doubt my story. I was a much more accomplished liar than he was. "So nothing sudden happened? No new case?"
Clearly something had raised suspicions in the man. "No, nothing. Why do you ask?"
"You didn't take your hat with you. I couldn't imagine why you should leave it behind unless there was some sudden crisis."
Of course… I'd forgotten the hat.
"Ah, yes, well, I did leave in rather a hurry. I decided that I desperately needed more tobacco, and I wanted to catch my favourite tobacconist before he closed for the night. It was all quite spur of the moment. I didn't manage it, as it turns out and so had to do without, but that's why my hat was left behind. My scarf turned out to be enough, however, so it was of no real consequence."
"I see," said Watson.
He didn't look as if he believed me, but it appeared he wasn't going to challenge me either. My dear Watson was nothing if not unfailingly polite. I took advantage of the lull in conversation to pursue my own inquiry.
"And what of you, Watson? You look a bit pale this morning. In fact, you've seemed rather withdrawn in general lately. Are things all right with you? Any worries that you haven't told me about? You do know that I am at your disposal for any reason, do you not?" I saw no point in being overly circumspect. If he avoided my direct query then that would be different, but I might as well ask him outright to start.
He looked a bit taken aback at my question, and he definitely lost a bit more colour which he could ill afford to do.
"I'm fine, Holmes. A bit tired perhaps. I think the conclusion of the case and my evening out, however enjoyable, took their toll, and I didn't sleep as soundly as I might have, but in general, I'm perfectly fine." He got up. "If you'll excuse me, I have a few errands to run before I'm needed at my practice. I'll see you at dinner."
Before I could ask him anything else, he'd grabbed his hat and coat and left the room. Again I felt this was very unusual behaviour. Watson is never in that much of a hurry to start his day. Obviously he was hoping to avoid having a lengthier conversation with me. There was no doubt he was hiding something, and it was up to me to find out what that something was. So I quickly gathered my own belongings, not forgetting my hat this time, and followed him out the door.
Unlike last evening, he picked up a cab within a block of our home, and I barely had time to grab a cab of my own and stay on his trail. I followed him to several unfamiliar residences. At each one he was inside for a relatively short time before heading on again. I made note of the addresses to check later, but I noticed that each one had a sign in the front window advertising a room for rent. This observation made me uneasy.
Finally we came to a pleasant, respectable building not far from where Watson had his practice. He was inside a bit longer this time and when he came out, he shook hands with someone from inside the building. As he crossed the street to obtain another cab, I watched the person he'd shaken hands with remove the room to let sign from the window of their residence. This alarmed me quite deeply. I knew that if he now proceeded directly to his practice that it was a near certainty that my fellow lodger was about to relinquish that title and had now taken rooms of his own quite apart from me.
Sure enough, the next stop he made was his consulting room. I instructed my own driver to take me back to Baker Street. I had some serious thinking to do. Why would Watson have been looking at new residences? Indeed, why did it appear that he had taken one of them? Without telling me he planned to leave? I thought he was happy living in Baker Street with me. How could I have misread things so badly? If I could not come up with a satisfactory answer by the time he came home for dinner, if indeed he did come home, then I would simply have to confess to my having followed him and demand a direct answer. If he was moving out, did I not deserve to know about it, not to mention why he was doing so? This was going to be a very long day.
I stood and stared out my office window, watching all the passing people hurrying home to their dinners. Normally I would be one of them, but today I lingered and watched the shadows lengthen on the cobblestones. All my patients had gone long ago. In fact, my consulting hours had been over for some time and the maid had left more than an hour earlier. Yet here I stood, unable to force myself to pick up my hat and coat and head back to Baker Street and Holmes.
I knew I had to tell him I was leaving. He needed to know. Yet I also knew that once he heard my plans, he'd insist on knowing why I was moving out, and there was the real difficulty. Although I'd been trying all day, I simply could not come up with a single plausible reason for my departure...except for the truth. Yet how could I confess to my friend that I simply could not continue to live in the Baker Street rooms because I'd fallen in love with him, and I couldn't face the fact that he would never love me in return?
I was reasonably certain that he didn't harbour a dislike of inverts. He'd once proclaimed consensual sodomy a victimless crime and thus not worthy of his interest, but even so, such a confession would be the height of awkwardness. I knew I was going to have trouble looking Lestrade in the eye again after our evening out, so I could hardly expect anything different from Holmes if I confessed my undying love to him. Yet, I couldn't think of any other way to explain my sudden need to leave either. I'd always found it nearly impossible to lie to the man, so I knew in my heart that even if I tried to lie, he'd get the truth out of me eventually.
With a sigh, I shrugged into my coat and picked up my hat. Waiting here another hour or another day wouldn't make my task any easier. It was past time that I headed home, faced my friend, and bared my soul to him. He deserved my honesty, as hard as it was going to be to give it to him.
The cab ride back to Baker Street had never been faster or less enjoyable. My feet dragged as I neared the door and fumbled for my keys. Once inside, I had to force myself up the stairs and for the first time in years, I counted every step as I climbed, wishing for far more than seventeen of them between me and my fate. I felt like a man heading for his own execution. However was I to find the words?
When I reached the top of the stairs at last, I took a deep breath and opened the door to our rooms only to stagger back as the poisonous atmosphere inside hit me full in the face like the very worst of a London peasouper. I coughed and retched because I could not help myself. Never in all the time I'd spent with Holmes in these rooms had I encountered a worse miasma upon returning in the evening. He must have spent the entire day doing nothing but smoking that black pipe of his with all the doors and windows firmly shut in order to have produced as foul and thick a cloud as now hovered in our sitting room.
My own troubles were momentarily forgotten in sudden concern for my friend. Whatever problem had driven him to this must indeed be a terribly difficult one. So I waved the smoke away from my burning eyes as best I could and tried to breathe more shallowly as I stepped into the room and looked around. I found Holmes standing before the unlit hearth, pipe in hand, staring wild-eyed at me. His hair was dishevelled and his clothing untidy. He wore his dressing gown with neither waistcoat nor tie beneath it. I almost didn't recognize him so altered was he from when I'd left him at breakfast.
"Holmes! Whatever is the matter? You look terrible," I exclaimed in concern.
"No doubt I do," he answered heatedly. "But my appearance is irrelevant. What has taken you so long to get home? You are at least one hour and twenty three minutes past your usual arrival time."
"Uh, well…" I was brought up short by the unexpectedly harsh tone of his voice.
Holmes waved impatiently, causing his figure to blur in the murky atmosphere. "It doesn't matter. You'll only lie to me again, won't you? Just like you did this morning when you told me that everything was fine and you were simply tired. Tired! It seems that what you are tired of is living with me."
His voice rose in accusation, then faltered slightly as he continued, "My dear Watson, I'm going to ask you outright and please do not lie to me again. You know I can always tell when you do. Why have you taken new lodgings? Have I done something to drive you away? You simply must tell me! I cannot bear this not knowing a moment longer!"
I was both dumbfounded and appalled. How had he discovered that I'd taken new lodgings? I hadn't even decided to do so until last evening. I'd made note of the addresses from the newspaper long before he ever came to the breakfast table. How could he possibly know? Then suddenly, I understood.
"You followed me." He didn't really need to respond. I was certain I was right. Not that he was about to deny it.
"Yes, I followed you. Of course, I followed you! When you lied to me at breakfast I saw no alternative. Now, please, don't lie to me again. Why have you taken new lodgings?" There was impatience in his tone and perhaps a touch of anger as well.
To give myself a moment to think, I removed my hat and coat and hung them on the coat rack. Then I crossed the room to stand in front of him.
"I did intend to tell you this evening, Holmes. If this cloud of smoke and your somewhat distraught appearance are the results of your discovering my plans on your own, I heartily apologise. I never mean to upset you this way."
"It is too late for that old boy. Far too late," he said, as he took yet another drag on his pipe and blew more foul smoke into the air.
Yes, clearly it was. I knew this would be difficult, but it was proving to be far harder than I'd ever imagined. Still, I had to do it. I squared my shoulders and stared into my friend's clear gray eyes and wondered momentarily if he would still be my friend once I'd told him the truth.
"It's nothing you did, Holmes. The fault is entirely mine. I am not tired of living with you, far from it. I have enjoyed living here with you more than I have ever enjoyed living anywhere in my whole life. Leaving here, leaving you, will no doubt be the hardest thing I've ever done, but I have to do it. Remaining here any longer, feeling the way I do, is even harder. I…I simply can't…" I lowered my eyes and stared at the floor. I couldn't continue to look at him. It just made everything worse.
"Watson, what is wrong? What do you mean, feeling the way you do? How do you feel? I don't understand." The anger and frustration seemed to have drained away, leaving only confusion and what was undoubtedly pain. Evidently I'd hurt him quite badly by my actions and my deceit. Could knowing the truth be any worse?
I forced myself to raise my eyes to his once more and shook my head helplessly. "The truth is that I simply cannot remain here, living in the same rooms, eating at the same table, sitting by the fire with you, feeling the way I do and knowing that my feelings will never be returned."
From his expression I could tell that I was just confusing him more with each of my clumsy attempts to explain. It was time to simply show him how I felt and leave. It was the only way. At least I would have that much to remember him by.
So I took one step forward to close the space between us, reached up and took gentle hold of his face, then I pulled it down to mine and kissed him with all the passion I'd been holding inside for months. He didn't fight me, but he also didn't respond in any way. He simply allowed himself to be kissed as if the act meant nothing to him at all…as it apparently didn't. I'd never felt a bigger fool.
I released him and stepped back. Although I hadn't really expected him to respond favourably to my kiss, there was a small part of me that had harboured a secret hope for a different result, and thus was sorely disappointed by his total lack of reaction. I knew that pain and embarrassment were reflected in my voice when I spoke, but though I tried, I couldn't suppress them.
"You see I've fallen in love with you, Holmes, and I know you can never feel the same way about me. You've always been quite clear on the subject of love and your total disinterest in it. I trust you can understand why it's simply too painful for me to stay here with you under the circumstances. I'll be packed and out by the end of the week. I hope that someday you can forgive me for this… unpleasantness."
As I spoke, he simply stood there, staring at me as if he'd never seen me before. I don't think I'd ever seen him look so shocked, and why not? It wasn't every day that your closest friend forced such unwanted attentions on you before announcing that he was in love with you. Suddenly remaining in his presence any longer was simply intolerable to me, so I ducked my head, murmured a further apology and fled up the staircase to the relative safety of my room.
As I stood and watched Watson leave the room, I must confess that for the first time I could ever remember, I simply did not know what to think or do. The idea that he had such feelings for me was frankly astonishing. Yet, when I took a moment to consider the matter, I could honestly say that his feelings were not unwelcome.
I raised my hand and ran my fingers lightly across my lips. They tingled, and I could still taste him, even over the stale tobacco flavour of my mouth. I closed my eyes and tried to recall exactly how it had felt to have his fingers in my hair and his mouth on mine and, as I thought about it, I felt the most peculiar fluttering in the pit of my stomach, and a tightening in my loins, and I shivered, though the room was warm.
Love... What did I know about it? In all honesty, absolutely nothing. I'd always dismissed it as irrelevant to my life. I understood loyalty and honour. I understood pride and responsibility. I even understood friendship, though only in the abstract until John Watson came into my life, but love? Love clouded the senses, warped reason, and interfered with the intellectual consideration of a problem. It, along with its favoured companion, lust, was likely responsible for at least half of all crime and virtually all scandal. I already knew what it did, so why would I want a deeper understanding of such an illogical, ridiculous, messy, irrelevant, and all together troublesome emotion? Why would I want not only to fully understand it, but to experience it personally?
I opened my eyes and gazed through the haze at the doorway that led to Watson's room. I couldn't think of a single rational reason why I should want to. Yet I suddenly knew that I did, more than I'd ever wanted anything in my entire life. In fact, when I thought of love in relation to John Watson, it didn't seem quite so illogical or ridiculous and certainly not irrelevant at all.
As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I set my pipe aside, headed for the staircase and started to climb. My heart began to pound harder with each step I took. What would I say to him? How could I explain what I couldn't truly understand? I was not used to feeling so uncertain, and I can't say I enjoyed the sensation. I was a man who was accustomed to being in control of a situation, of always knowing more than the other fellow, of being one step ahead, but I had never felt less in control, less sure, or further behind.
When I reached his door, I knocked...firmly. When he didn't answer, I knocked again… more firmly.
"Watson, open the door." I heard a faint shuffling sound, but the door remained closed. So I tried again. The good doctor could be frustratingly stubborn at the most inconvenient of times.
"My dear Watson, you might as well open the door. If you do not, you will force me to spend a very uncomfortable night attempting to sleep on your doorstep. I doubt such a course of action would be very pleasant for either of us, but I see no other alternative since I am not leaving this spot until you talk to me."
This time I heard the sound of a footstep and the door finally opened to reveal the pale and sober figure of my friend. "I'm not sure what else there is to say, Holmes," he said wearily. I wanted to comfort him, to wipe the pain from his voice, but I didn't know how.
"You surprised me downstairs," I admitted. "Perhaps shocked would be a better word."
"I know," he said with a nod of agreement. "I'm sorry, but you deserved to hear the truth."
"Yes, I did, and I thank you for it. Now will you listen to me?"
Albeit reluctantly, Watson ducked his head and stepped back, pulling the door open and wordlessly inviting me to enter his room.
I did, walking in as far as the edge of his bed before turning back to face him. I wasn't sure what the best way to proceed was, so I decided to start with the most important and most concrete of the possible topics for discussion. "Don't move out. I don't want you to go."
A faint smile crossed his face, but it didn't seem to do anything to lighten his sorrow. "I have to, Holmes."
"No. No, you don't. You could stay… and… and teach me…" To my supreme annoyance, words chose that moment to fail me. I could count the number of times that had happened to me on one hand, on one finger to be more precise, and this was it. It simply would not do. Words always made themselves available to me; they danced to my tune, I did not bow to theirs. I had to pull myself together and make better use of them. If I didn't find some way to convince him to change his mind, he would leave me, and I couldn't bear that.
"Teach you what? I don't understand." He stared at me, looking faintly perplexed.
Straightforward honesty seemed likely to be the best approach. How could he argue with the unvarnished truth?
"How to kiss for one thing. I must confess that I am completely inadequate in this area. Do you know that the last time I kissed another human being I was eight years old? I kissed my mother's cheek shortly before she died. A kiss such as the one you gave me downstairs was completely outside my experience, and I found myself totally overwhelmed by it."
Watson looked a bit dumbfounded. He shouldn't. Did he really think, feeling the way I always believed I did about love, that I'd spent much of my time kissing anyone?
"You mean…that was your first kiss? A real kiss, I mean, on the lips."
"Yes," I admitted reluctantly. I hated to confess my ignorance of any topic, but until a scant few moments ago, I'd never considered knowing how to kiss to have any value in my life. "I know I made a muddle of it. When you kissed me, my dear fellow, I just didn't know how to respond. I still don't, but I'd like to learn if you're willing to teach me."
Colour was slowly returning to Watson's face, but he still looked rather dazed. Surely I didn't misread the situation. He seemed quite clear about his desires when we were both downstairs.
"Watson? This is what you wanted, isn't it?" I asked.
"To kiss you? Yes, definitely, but only if it's for the right reasons," he said. "Holmes, how do you really feel about me? Surely you don't… I mean, I always believed… I mean, you can't…"
I decided to help him out. "Love you?"
He nodded, guarded hope in his eyes.
"My dear Watson, I cannot imagine my life without you in it. You have become as indispensable to me as breathing. I don't pretend to understand love, but when you kissed me, I felt…something I'd never felt before, something I want to know more about. All I really know about love is that if I were to love anyone, it would be you. There is no one in my life more important to me than you. I can't imagine there ever could be. Please, give me a chance."
I extended my hand and held my breath. For the space of a heartbeat, he just stared at me, and then, slowly, he raised his own hand and stepped forward until he could grasp my hand in his. Never had any human contact been more welcome. When he lifted his free hand and caressed my cheek, his touch caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand and sent a shiver through my body.
"Why don't we try that kiss again?" he said with a smile, and my heart sang out its relief. He was going to stay! He was going to stay here with me, and I was never going to let him think of leaving again. But first I had to learn how to keep him properly.
"What should I do?" I asked, eager to be a most apt pupil.
"Just relax and follow my lead." Slowly he slid one hand into my hair, cradled the back of my head, and guided my face down to his as his other hand rested lightly on my waist. His lips touched mine ever so gently and I hesitated for a brief moment, then my eyes fell shut and I leaned in closer, pressing my lips more firmly to his. My hands slid around his body of their own accord and suddenly he was pressed full length against me and the feeling was indescribably wonderful.
My lips opened to his insistent pressure and when his tongue slipped into my mouth to caress my own, I tried to respond in kind. Although my movements were still a bit clumsy, I was determined to be a fast learner, and in a satisfactorily short period of time, I felt quite secure in my ability to kiss and be kissed, and equally sure that I'd wasted an unforgiveable amount of time not kissing John Watson.
When he finally released me, I opened my eyes and smiled at him. "Your moustache tickles. Did you know that?"
He laughed, and the sound filled me with gladness. "I have never kissed anyone with a moustache," he said, "but I've had it said to me before, so I assume it must be true." A cloud crossed my heart. Of course he'd kissed other people. How else could he have become so good at it? Then and there I resolved to become such an accomplished kisser that he would never have reason to want to kiss anyone else as long as he lived.
I immediately leaned in to kiss him again, but after an enthusiastic start, he cut the kiss short, sliding his lips along my cheek, nipping at my ear and nuzzling my neck. I gasped at the new wealth of sensation and held him tighter. Apparently he felt I'd done well enough at kissing to move on to new subjects for exploration. I was extremely gratified.
"Holmes…would you…mind terribly, if I…was to remove your…clothing?" he murmured. His face was still pressed to my neck and his words came in short bursts interspersed with soft kisses planted strategically down the side of my throat. I thought the idea quite brilliant and wasn't sure why I hadn't suggested it myself.
Word recall was becoming difficult again, apparently lust has a deleterious effect on the speech centre of the brain, but I managed to answer him in close to a level tone. "An excellent idea. Shall you remove yours, as well?"
In answer, Watson pulled off his jacket and removed his tie faster than I've ever seen anyone do so. Of course not caring where, or in what condition, they ended up was a remarkable timesaver. His collar, cuffs and shirt followed rapidly. His shoes were kicked to opposite corners of the room all while I stood and gaped at him. Then he began on my clothes. Since I was much more casually attired, he had most of them off in an instant before pushing me down onto his bed and beginning to kiss me once more.
Kissing in a horizontal position was definitely easier than doing it while vertical. The height difference between us was no longer a factor for one thing. I found it much easier to sustain the kiss while allowing my hands to wander at will. I no longer had to worry about keeping my balance while being assaulted with new sensations, either. Really, it was quite a superior position.
Although I'd glimpsed Watson without a shirt once or twice during our close acquaintance, I'd never had the opportunity to touch before. If I'd known what I was missing, I would have manufactured a reason to manage it before now. His skin was so smooth, warm and alive beneath my hands, and the contours of his muscles created a fascinating map for my fingers to explore, which I wasted no time in doing. I found myself drawn to the twisted lines of the scar on his shoulder, once I discovered that my touch didn't hurt him and, indeed, that it elicited small moans of pleasure, I indulged myself shamelessly, which he seemed to appreciate.
The hair on his chest was both softer than his moustache and coarser than what was on his head. I had nothing on my body to compare, and I greatly enjoyed running my fingers through it. There was one rather tantalizing line of fine hairs that spread down the centre of his body, and I followed its trail until it disappeared into the trousers that he hadn't yet discarded. Then, quite daringly I thought, I let my fingers continue downward to brush along the contours of the erection that was patently obvious beneath the cloth.
He gasped at my touch and then smiled at me. "Well, it appears it's time to move on to the next lesson."
"I believe so. Particularly if that lesson requires the removal of the rest of these garments."
"I suppose you were always top of your class," he smirked as he reached for the fasteners of his trousers.
"Not always. As you know, if I saw no practical use for a subject, I often refused to clutter up my brain with superfluous information. However, I will admit to being highly motivated to succeed in these lessons."
"Well, you're off to an excellent start. I can't imagine ever having a better pupil."
"I certainly hope not," I murmured as Watson removed the rest of his clothing, and I did the same to my own. Then we took a moment to gaze at each other, and to my great relief, he seemed every bit as taken with what I had to show as I was with him. Though, truthfully, I cannot understand why. No one could compare to John Watson in the realm of physical beauty. He was perfectly proportioned, admirably built, in a word, magnificent from head to toe. Even the scars his body bore only added to his intense allure. As I gazed at him in admiration, I felt a moment's sympathy for Lestrade who, fortunately, would never know what he missed, but that feeling was a fleeting one. I was too thankful that I was the richer for his loss.
I reached out and slid my fingers around Watson's swollen manhood, and he moaned and grasped my shoulders tightly. "Yes, Holmes…oh, yes..." he murmured, and I moved closer and began to slide my hand slowly up and down his length. This was not a new activity for me. Though I'd never done this to another person, I'd used the technique on myself innumerable times in my life. Though certainly nothing in my meagre experience could have prepared me for the thrill I felt caressing my dear Watson so intimately. To feel his flesh in my hand, to hear his moans of desire, to know that I was the one giving him pleasure, was a devastatingly satisfying experience.
He was thicker, and possibly a touch shorter, than I and felt increasingly like living steel within a warm velvet glove. I continued to stroke him in time to his encouragement, faster and faster while he became harder and slicker in my hand. His breathing became quite irregular and was soon reduced to short, sharp gasps, and his fingers gripped my shoulders hard enough to leave bruises.
When he climaxed in my hand, crying out my name, I almost followed him over the edge so great was my excitement at pleasuring him. He collapsed against me and I held him close, caressing his back and burying my face in his hair as his breathing slowly returned to normal. I think that moment, holding him in my arms, was as close to pure joy as I had ever come. Truly I had been a fool to deny this to myself for so long.
Finally he pulled back and gently touched my cheek. "I see you have some experience, after all."
I shrugged. "Simply because I have tended to eschew emotional attachments, doesn't mean I have never given pleasure to myself in the privacy of my own bed, but I will admit it was a far more satisfying experience to give pleasure to you...John."
My words seemed to affect him deeply, and he thanked me most sincerely before rolling away from me for a moment to slide open the drawer of his bedside table. Reaching inside, he extracted a clean handkerchief from a neat pile, with which he proceeded to clean himself up. He tossed one to me so I could clean up as well, before taking both cloths and discarding them on the floor. Then he turned back to me, kissed me enthusiastically and pressed me back down onto the bed.
"Now it's my turn to return the favour," he said with a teasing smile that I didn't fully understand. Obediently, I lay back as he slowly slid his hands down over my chest and abdomen, and I closed my eyes and groaned softly, enjoying the feeling of his touch on my body. Finally his hand came to rest at the root of my cock, and I sucked in my breath anticipating what was to come, but instead, I cried out in surprise as I was suddenly enveloped in the incredible warmth of his mouth.
Words failed me once again as he used his lips and tongue to make me feel things that I'd never thought possible. No touch of my own hand could ever compare. My fingers tangled in his hair and I arched my back instinctively, thrusting upward, quite lost in the encircling warmth and vibration of his mouth. He took me higher and higher until finally I slipped the bounds of earth and soared into eternity.
When my senses returned to my body, Watson was curled against me with his head on my shoulder, and one leg lying atop mine. Having him there, in my arms, was the most comforting feeling imaginable, and I instinctively turned toward him and pulled him closer.
"That was wonderful," I said, as I laid my head against his, grateful that my ability to speak seemed to have returned with my awareness.
"Yes, it was," he agreed with a contented sigh.
"You're an excellent teacher, my dear Watson."
"With you for a pupil, I could hardly fail."
"Does that mean you won't be leaving me?" I asked. I felt quite confident of his answer, but I found I needed to hear him say it.
He shook his head. "No. Happily there's no longer a reason for me to leave. First thing tomorrow, I'll go and cancel the arrangements I made."
I leaned in and began to kiss the base of his throat. "The first thing?"
"The very first…"
I began to nibble his ear and press small kisses along the line of his jaw, and he moaned softly.
"Well, maybe the second thing…"he whispered as he held me tighter and leaned in to kiss me once more.
"Most satisfactory," I murmured as I gave myself up to his embrace.