Story: Wedded Bliss
Warnings: Lime, but not very explicit, rather Victorian
Disclaimer: Holmes and Watson don't belong to me, sadly...
In which Watson tears his fingernails to shreds, and Holmes casts aspersions on the married state.
Translation of my fic Le bonheur conjugal. Little one-shot not connected to my other Holmes stories.
.. o .. o .. o ..
One day in early autumn, having received that month's edition of The Strand by the morning post, it was with a distinct feeling of apprehension that I left it lying in plain view on my desk, and went out to take my daily constitutional.
I very much suspected my fellow lodger of being an avid reader of the stories I published in The Strand, despite his assertions to the contrary. I was accorded the occasional remark which, though disparaging, gave me an inkling of the secret pleasure he took in perusing them, and therefore took care to leave each month's copy of the magazine lying discretely around our rooms. This month, however, I did so with a rather different sentiment in my breast than was my wont.
Upon my departure from Baker Street that morning, Holmes was still abed, having remained awake until the early hours of the morning, absorbed in the pursuit of a particularly complicated experiment. Consumed by apprehension at the thought of having to confront his reaction to the story he would certainly read over breakfast, I decided to prolong my stroll a little longer. I directed my feet toward Regent's Park, but even the sight of the good citizens of London, young and old, amusing themselves on the boating lake failed to raise my spirits. Finally I abandoned my efforts, steeled my nerve and retraced my steps to Baker Street.
I met Holmes on the threshold, dressed in the velveteen coat and gaudy neckerchief of a dock-worker on his day off.
"Don't wait for me to dine, Watson," he said by way of a greeting. "I shall return late."
He disappeared down the stairs before I could formulate a response.
Left alone in the sitting room, my gaze was immediately drawn by the magazine at the source of those sentiments of dread which had dominated my morning. From the slight change in its position on my desk, I deduced that Holmes had at least leafed though my story, before going out so abruptly without making any sort of comment on its contents.
At the end of an interminable, nerve-racking day, Holmes' eventual return brought me no solace, for he retired immediately to his bedroom, scarcely bestowing two words on me in passing.
This brusque treatment seemed to confirm my fears that the few lines added at the last moment to my story had led Holmes to divine my dark secret, and that the revelation had so disgusted him that he was driven to avoid my presence.
The following morning, however, he appeared at the breakfast table looking as though he were without a care in the world, let drop a few remarks on the tiring but uninteresting case he had apparently brought to a conclusion the previous day, and suggested a visit to the opera for that very evening.
Throughout our evening at Covent Garden, Holmes was at his most charming and loquacious. He amused me by recounting fascinating anecdotes about the history of the night's opera, insisted on fetching me a drink during the interval, and generally bestowed a myriad of small attentions on me, as he occasionally seemed to take it into his head to do. Although this certainly had its agreeable side, a part of me suffered as much as always at such attentions, knowing them as I did to be the proof not, as I should have wished, of a passionate love, but rather of the sincere but cold esteem which was the most I believed him capable of.
The evening over, we returned to our rooms without his once mentioning the contents of my most recently published story.
Indeed, after four or five days without the slightest comment from Holmes on the subject, I began to feel that all of my fears had been without foundations. I assured myself that they had merely been the product of my constant paranoia that he should discover the sentiments towards him which I secretly harboured, and perhaps also of a certain arrogance which led me to delude myself that he would be the slightest bit interested in those portions of my accounts which were not directly flattering to him.
At the end of the week, I accompanied him on a new enquiry in the neighbourhood of Hampstead Heath. The case concerned the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy young barrister, who had seemed to have enjoyed a happy marriage, a successful professional life and a very respectable bank balance. Holmes nevertheless eventually tracked him down in the ledgers of the shipping company Atlantic Star, on one of whose liners he had embarked for America several days previously. According to the clerk we questioned at the company's offices, the young man had claimed to be abandoning everything to begin a new life as a gold-hunter in Colorado.
"Thus, Watson, is it demonstrated how difficult it can prove to divine the true dreams and desires of another," Holmes remarked in the cab which took us back to Baker Street. "That is true even for those who are closest to him. What's more, this little matter recalls to mind the existence of men to whom a comfortable family life is far from the utopia one is generally supposed to view it as."
Like myself, I thought, although I ventured no comment, preferring to put my mind to appreciating the touch of my companion's leg as it pressed against mine in the confined space of the cab.
"It's nonetheless what you dream of possessing, is it not?" he added.
I looked at him in disconcertion, somewhat bewildered as to how he could have arrived at such an supposition, and why its uttering should have been accompanied by such a cold, unfathomable expression.
A few moments of reflection, however, cleared the matter up. Holmes was clearly referring to the lines added at the last minute to my most recently published story, at the insistence of my editor. The paragraph professed me to have moved out of Baker Street on the occasion of my marriage, despite the enormous improbability of such an event ever occurring.
It was this paragraph which had kept me in such a state of dread throughout the past week, in constant fear that Holmes would press me to reveal my reasons for inserting such a peculiar lie into my text, and deduce the truth from my evasive answers. It had never occurred to me that he might take the lines as the expression of a sincere desire on my part to find a wife and found a family.
Happily at this point we arrived in Baker Street, liberating me from the necessity of formulating a response to his question. We were scarcely installed in our armchairs by the fire, however, when he revived the conversation.
"In addition to the instruction in the excellent science of deduction which your little accounts provide to your readers, my dear fellow, I do find that they contain some other points of interest for someone who is personally acquainted with you."
"Is that so?"
"Indeed. Your stories are a rich vein of information on your psyche, Watson. One could say, in fact, that the act of writing gives you the opportunity to rework your own life in such a manner as best pleases you." He gave me a brief, humourless smile. "You should perhaps avoid letting your works fall into the hands of that Austrian neurologist who claims to be able to analyse a person from his unconscious desires. You would certainly be dismayed by the prosaicness of the man your stories reveal." On that note, he put up his newspaper before his face and refused to say another word for the remainder of the evening.
His voice had been cold, almost bitter. I could not comprehend this peculiarly insulting attitude, but dared not pursue the conversation, lest he should finish by deducing the true raison-d'être of this dashed wife of mine.
During the weeks which followed, our lives continued almost as normal. With great difficulty, I wrote up another of Holmes' cases for the coming edition of The Strand, including a few forced allusions to the supposed Mrs. Watson. I spent many hours labouring over those lines, but the final result was sadly far from the romantic ecstasies my editor had demanded.
This latter was an old acquaintance from my student days at the University of London, whom I had first encountered in a club for gentlemen of our kind, in the days when I led a less discrete lifestyle than I now do. We had never been more than simple friends, but had remained in contact throughout the years due to the excellent understanding which had quickly sprung up between us.
He was a precise, mild-mannered man with an anxious and easily perturbed nature, whose greatest desire was to be allowed to spend his days hidden away quietly in his office, surrounded by piles of manuscripts and back-numbers of The Strand. He had immediately noticed my constant struggle to suppress the hints in my stories of my sentiments towards my fellow lodger. Despite all my reassurances that Holmes did not reciprocate my feelings in the slightest, and that there was therefore nothing at all to hide, my editor continued to find grounds for worry and finishing by insisting on this charade of a marriage for my fictional self.
That was the situation as I feared Holmes would discover it, but in the event he seemed rather to take my fictitious marriage as a personal affront to himself, and as an expression of a dissatisfaction on my part with our communal existence.
This, at least, was the conclusion I drew from the series of waspish remarks I suffered throughout that month. A beautiful but tearful client led Holmes to observe how misleading outer appearances can often be. A case in which our client's husband proved to be the author of a series of poison-pen letters was the inspiration for an acidic remark on the bliss of wedded life. I was treated to biting discourses on the joys of love and sardonic reflections on the dangers of subjecting female charms to too close an inspection.
It was ultimately a caustic remark about the supposed joys of being surrounded by snivelling children which proved to be the final straw.
"Good grief, Holmes, when will you finally give the matter up? I don't even want to marry. I have never wished for a woman in my life!"
We were on the stairs which led up to our rooms, after a brief outing to buy tobacco and take the air. Holmes was a little way ahead of me, and at my words he stopped short, then turned slowly to face me, his features frozen into a long, gaunt mask.
I realized then what I had revealed, and turned on my heel, stammering an apology over my shoulder as I fled.
I wandered the streets for hours, heedless of my whereabouts. My only thought was the regret that overwhelmed me, for having finally and irrevocably destroyed the warm friendship which had bound my dear friend to me.
As twilight began to fall, I found that I had strayed as far as the Chelsea Embankment, where oft before I had strolled arm-in-arm with Holmes, in days that I was already beginning to regard with nostalgia, mere hours after their end.
Tired and depressed, but determined to face my friend and beg his forgiven for having so long concealed such a secret from him, I hailed a cab and returned to Baker Street.
Holmes sat in his chair, smoking and gazing into the fire. I could almost imagine he had been sitting there all evening awaiting me.
I closed the door behind me, but stayed standing by it.
Holmes laid his pipe carefully down on the dresser and turned to look at me in silence. His keen eyes ran over me from my hair in disarray to the mud on my shoes, but if he drew from this examination any deductions about the path my miserable wanderings had taken, he kept them to himself.
After a few moments, I understood that he would wait until I broke the silence. I took a deep breath, therefore, and began.
"Holmes, I will not do you the discourtesy of trying to withdraw or revise my words of this afternoon. I am sure you understood me, and I beg your pardon for having concealed for so long my true... that is to say, the truth of my... my inclinations. Understandable as I believe my silence to be, it was nevertheless a betrayal... " I stopped short, unable to continue.
Holmes said in a dry voice, "I still find myself confused, however, by this mysterious wife in your story."
I stared in amazement. His companion of three years had just confessed himself to be a criminal and a deviant, and the only thing on which he cared to comment was this small detail – even if it had been the seed from which this situation had grown!
I said finally, "It was my editor's idea. He too is a man of my... my predilections. He is also a man of an extremely anxious nature, which has the effect of rendering him subject to a constant dread that one of his friends should be unmasked. He fears that my readers will find something suspicious in our bachelor existence together, despite all my assurances that there is of course nothing to be discovered."
I paused. How difficult it was to discuss this topic with my dear friend, particularly knowing that I was still withholding the most important fact from him!
"He insisted then that I describe myself as a married man, in spite of my feeling that those of my readers who know me in person would find that even more peculiar." Such as you, above all others, I thought. "But I assure you that your reputation has never had anything to fear from me, nor – nor your person either."
This was the most difficult thing of all for me to say. The idea that he could be disgusted or frightened by my very nature was a torment to me.
"I have now come back to retrieve a few of my belongings, and then rid you of my no doubt unwelcome presence."
Holmes did not answer, but rather remained motionless in his chair, his long spine held stiffly upright and his gaze directed at the empty armchair opposite. Without enthusiasm I began to gather together the papers scattered across my desk, reflecting to myself how much more painful the task was made by his presence.
His voice interrupted these unpleasant thoughts.
"You will go to your editor, I presume?"
"On the contrary, I don't even know his address. In any case, he does not live alone, and I would not want to disturb them."
"He lives with someone," Holmes repeated slowly.
"Yes, indeed. With a man!" I tried to restrain myself, but could not stop myself from adding, "I apologise for having kept some aspects of my life hidden from you, but I do not apologize for what I am. I assure you that we do not all deserve to be treated like deviants who spend their nights in dark alleys with sailors. Browning - that's my editor – has known his companion for over a decade."
His face remained expressionless, his cold eyes regarding me in silence over steepled fingers. I gave an exclamation of exasperation and turned back to my thankless task.
"Watson," Holmes said suddenly.
I turned and saw with trepidation that he was subjecting me to his most piercing gaze.
"Watson, why did your editor find the fact that we share lodgings so suspicious? It is after all quite a widespread and useful expedient for gaining access to a class of housing more comfortable than that which one might otherwise have afforded."
This was the question I had been dreading since the very beginning of this dreadful affair! I longed to flee on the spot, but Holmes was awaiting a response.
I said slowly, "It is because of my great admiration and... affection for you, which he finds to be too strongly emphasized in my accounts of your cases. But I assure you again that you have nothing to fear. As I said, he is a man of a paranoid turn of mind."
Holmes did not respond, and I was seized by the desire to be somehow afforded a miracle which would allow me to relive the past month from its beginning. I had begun to turn away again, to recommence the vague attempt I was making to haphazardly sort my documents, when he said abruptly:
"I have often read your stories for the pleasure of imagining that I could identify in them the feelings for me which I so desperately sought, although I doubted it could ever be so."
Utterly taken aback, I gaped at him, my head spinning. Upon receiving no response from me, he went on:
"I see this is indeed not the case. Allow me to apologize in turn."
Since I was still incapable of uttering a word, he seemed to feel obliged to continue his excuses. "In the euphoria of discovering that you were... that is to say that you were not... that your inclinations could perhaps let you allow me to address you as I have so long wished, I allowed my emotions to overcome me. My dear fellow, pray forgive me for permitting myself the liberty– "
"It is indeed the case, Holmes," I interrupted.
"The case? The case? What case?" he exclaimed, springing to his feet, and I saw that I would have to be more explicit.
"I mean to say, that I sometimes struggle to formulate the sentences of my stories, due to the strong feelings I am obliged to hide behind neutral, innocuous words."
The chagrin written in the severe lines of his face was slowly replaced by the almost indiscernible traces of a feeling that I thought to recognise as hope. As for myself, my stomach was tormented by an exquisite combination of anticipation and apprehension. The atmosphere in the room had reached a level of unbearable tension. We stood facing each other, he by the fireplace and I by the door, frozen in place by the fear of destroying all our new-found hopes with one ill-chosen word.
Finally I ventured to say, in a voice that seemed far removed from my usual tones:
"Don't you think that we are... rather far away from one another?"
In lieu of an answer, Holmes crossed the room to fumble in the drawer of the sideboard. When he turned back to face me, his hand held high, I saw that his long, thin fingers clasped a large brass key.
"That is the key to the sitting-room door," I said slowly.
He nodded, his keen gaze not quitting me for a moment. We understood one another without needing to exchange a word.
I felt myself to be poised at a turning point in my life. I raised my hand silently and caught the key he threw to me. Turning, I quickly locked the door. The noise made by the bolt as it slid home resembled a fanfare to my ears.
I withdrew the key and placed it on the little table nearby, then the next moment we found ourselves together at the centre of the room, reaching for one another.
The warmth of my friend surprised me. His warm body was a mere hand's breath from mine, and his hand, heated by the hours spent beside the fire, came to rest on the nape of my neck, pulling my head towards his. His warm lips found mine and I noticed they were shaking. I too did not feel perfectly steady on my feet.
The kiss was soft and hesitant, but Holmes was gripping my shoulder tightly with his other hand, as if to reassure himself that I was truly there. With a similar idea in mind, I raised my trembling hand to caress the long line of his jaw and the warmth of his skin recalled to me how close my fingers still were to the temperature of outdoors.
I withdrew a few inches from him to whisper, "Forgive me, I'm cold."
"It's delightful," he murmured, prompting me to repeat the caress. His eyes fluttered closed and he turned his head instinctively towards my fingers. This small gesture dispersed the remnants of my doubts about his feelings toward me and it was with a fervent certainty that I recaptured his mouth with mine.
He too had ceased trembling and his hands were firm when he took my hips to press my body against his. When we touched, the mutual recognition of physical proof of the other's desire drew a moan from us both. Now without hesitation, we pressed as closely together as possible, our kiss deepening.
After I know not how long Holmes withdrew his head slightly, his hands still caressing my lower back.
He looked at me with a gleam of amusement in his grey eyes. "Watson, your hat bothers me."
Indeed, I was still in street clothing. I stepped back to doff my outer layers, then changed my mind and instead gave a smile of invitation to Holmes. Before I could say a word, his thin, agile fingers were already working on the buttons of my overcoat. He pulled it off, threw it without looking onto a conveniently placed chair, then repeated the action with my bowler hat. At this point he stopped, looking at me with a renewed hesitation. I too felt the same mixture of desire and reticence that I read in his eyes. I took a deep breath, and extended a hand to loosen his cravat.
This undressing rapidly became mutual, gauche but impassioned. Cravats, jackets and waistcoats soon decorated the ground about us. In shirt sleeves he began to pull me towards the closest armchair, where I ended up sitting across him as we explored one another with clumsy, insistent hands.
I shall never forget the burning fervour of that first encounter. Later came the sleepless nights, when we learnt by heart the other's smallest details, but this time my heart overflowed with joy to simply touch and be touched, as I should never have thought possible. I shall always relish the first time his hands tugged on the end of my undershirt, to be able to slip between it and my belt and brush for the first time the skin of my back; nor the first time I saw the pale, beautiful skin of his torso; nor the first time I heard him cry my name without control and without constraints.
After, we collapsed side by side in the wide armchair, and slowly regained our breath. I raised my head to look at my companion. His eyes were full of languor and dreams, as I had previously seen only when he was carried away by a beautiful piece of music. He noticed my gaze and his eyes refocussed as he smiled.
"John..." he said softly.
"Nothing. I say it because I can, like no one else on earth." This idea prompted another in his mind, and he sat up straight to exclaim, "However, my dear fellow, you do not know how I loathed your Mrs. Watson!"
"I, on the other hand, love her, for it was she who brought us together."
He grimaced. "It must be admitted. Yet if I discover in the next edition of the Strandthat she has the form of a Greek goddess and the character of a saint..."
I could not help but laugh. "In that case, you would know it to be a tissue of lies, since the person I love does not match that description in the slightest. I would say rather..." I let my eyes run over his long, lean form, wonderfully close at hand. "I would say the form of a noble boxer, and the character of a devil!"
He stiffened and I feared I had hurt him by my pleasantry.
"That is – me?" he said haltingly.
"Yes, but I did not wish to insult you, I assure you. My words were spoken in jest."
He dismissed all that with an impatient wave of the hand. "When you say, the person I love..."
I smiled broadly, and he took a deep shuddering breath before returning the smile.
"I had not dared to hope."
He leaned toward me to brush once more the skin of my neck with his lips. I heard the smile in his voice as he added:
"Perhaps in that case, I ought to confess some feelings of gratitude towards that damnable Mrs. Watson!"
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Please review if you liked it!
Note: Freud (the Austrian neurologist Holmes mentioned) hadn't actually published any of his work yet at this point, but I've taken a liberty with the dates, as with the details of Watson's first mention of his marriage in his stories...