We managed our escape from our friends with all possible haste. There was a moment when Aiba’s foot slipped on the window ledge and I feared that all would be lost, but other than knocking the breath from me after he fell into my arms, no harm was done, and soon we were standing together on the station platform, shuffling our feet in the cold, our hands clasped inside my overcoat pocket, waiting patiently for the train to arrive.
At this time of night, of course, it would be the local train, making stops in every tiny village and hamlet along the way to Hayworth (the smallest village of them all), but the prospect of a long journey did not displease me—what I wanted was to be alone with the detective, and we could do that nearly as well in a private train compartment as at Hayworth. Aiba had said nothing when I had requested the more expensive tickets for the private compartment, nor had he suggested sending a line to Shimura and Daigo asking them to prepare the house for our arrival—we both seemed to have agreed to keep our journey as secret as possible.
Flushed with the success of our escape, we had been laughing and teasing each other for some time—the detective, in particular, kept acting as though he were about to steal my hat—but after some time we quieted, and Aiba’s face assumed a meditative expression as his gaze fell from the sky to the station platform.
“Is anything wrong detective?”
Aiba shook his head and looked up at me with a half smile, “No, Jun. I was only thinking that it seems such a long time since I stood here, sending Horatio off—but really it could not be more than sixteen hours. So much seemed to have happened since then, though if I were asked to account for the day I would not know what else to say other than that we played Christmas games with Umi. And read Taka’s Tales of Terror, I suppose.”
I squeezed the detective’s hand more tightly. “You will see him again,” I insisted vehemently, my voice as stern as I could make it.
“I’m not upset, my dear fellow,” he smiled, reaching with his injured hand to smooth out my brow. But there was still a hint of melancholy in the detective’s eyes—I cast about for a subject to distract him—a question that had been hovering in my thoughts since that morning suddenly reoccurred to me.
“Do you have any idea of how Ogura was able to convince Gackt to abandon his plan?”
My question seemed a well-chosen one; the detective laughed quietly. I tugged him closer so that he might answer me quietly.
“Ah, I had my suspicions, and Nino confirmed them this afternoon when I spoke to him about it—of course I was wild with curiosity to learn what hold Ogura had on that villain. I do not know the details, but as the editor of the society pages, Ogura makes a point to stay informed on the secrets of all the wealthy and titled in London, and apparently Ogura has a particularly thick file on Gackt in his office safe. Nearly as thick as Kazu’s. Kazu believes some form of blackmail was involved.”
“Ogura has a file on Nino?” I asked in some alarm, “You do not think…that Nino is also being blackmailed by Ogura...?”
Aiba laughed, “Fortunately for Kazu, the only person in possession of more of the secrets of London society is Becky—she knows enough of Ogura’s exploits at the Circus to render us all quite safe.”
I smiled, imagining the dour Ogura at the Circus, besmirching his good name.
I then became aware that Aiba was gazing at me quite earnestly; his face took on that anxious expression I had seen so briefly before the fireplace in Garden Place, and his lower lip seemed almost to tremble as he began, “Jun…I am afraid that I will not…”
The rest of the detective’s sentence was lost in the whistle of the arriving train; I pulled him out of the smoke and inside the train as soon as the doors opened. By the time we reached our compartment, Aiba had turned white, and he looked as if he were having difficulty breathing as I pushed him into the seat and kneeled before him. I felt myself begin to panic.
“Aiba are you well? Is it your chest? Can you breathe?” I pressed my ear anxiously to his chest—his heart was racing. Growing more alarmed, I seized his hand to check whether the wound on his palm had reopened, but the bandages were still white. I cursed myself for not bringing my bag and was standing to examine his chest further when he held up his hands to stop me.
“I am fine, Jun. I promise you. I was…anxious…and I inhaled too much smoke on the platform. I am well,” he continued to insist while I stared down at him suspiciously. “Truly, doctor,” he pleaded. Color had flooded back into his face, and he seemed to be breathing regularly now.
I narrowed my eyes as I pressed a finger to the pulse point on his neck, “Then why is your heart racing? And you are trembling,” I accused.
Aiba surprised me by dropping his head into his hands with a laugh, “Because, Jun, I want to ask you something, and I am not certain of your response.”
This caught me off guard; then I recalled that Aiba had said at Garden Place that there was something he wished to speak to me about. “Oh,” I said rather stupidly, beginning to regret my interrogation of the detective. I took the seat across from him. “Then shall we wait until the train starts?”
Aiba raised his head slightly; I could see his eyes peeking above his hands, “Perhaps that would be better,” he replied, sounding half-amused and half-desperate, “At least in that case you would not be able to run very far after hearing my request.”
I knew the detective was joking, but I answered him sincerely, “You know there is nothing that you could say to me that would make me leave you. Although if you are about to tell me that Horatio has a brother in need of rescuing, I cannot pretend to be excited at the prospect.”
Aiba laughed, looking slightly more like himself as he answered, “No, Jun, I can promise you that Horatio is the only chimpanzee of my acquaintance in need of rescuing. At least for the present.”
I smiled, but of course now my mind was filled with anxious suppositions—for even if there was nothing that might cause me to leave the detective, what could be so terrible that he should look ready to faint at the prospect of confessing it?
As the train picked up speed, I looked at the detective attentively, waiting for his explanation. He seemed calmer now, but he surprised me by sticking a hand inside his overcoat and then turning to look out the window. I watched his face as he spoke, “Do you remember the first time we took the train together Jun?”
“To Oxford,” I recalled easily.
“I was nearly as anxious then as I am now.”
I smiled, “So was I. I remember thinking how absurdly small and hot the compartment seemed—I was thinking of writing a letter to the rail authority to complain.”
“Your knees kept bumping into mine.”
“I remember. I was afraid that I would forget myself and attack you.”
“I think that journey was when I first realized how much I loved you.”
I was taken aback; I could not think what to respond. Aiba continued to stare determinedly out the window, “I think I must have loved you even before that, but then when your face was directly before mine and I saw how you kept moving your legs so carefully so as not to crowd me, then I knew that I loved you. And my feeling has not changed since that day. I do not think it could change—it would be like forgetting my own name.”
Before I could reply, Aiba removed his hand from his overcoat and leaned towards me, opening his hand to reveal two rings. His hand was sweating and he began mumbling hurriedly, “The day I discovered the plans in the bookcase…I was looking for the secret compartment myself…because I wished to hide these…I was not certain…but I thought I might ask you on Christmas…if you would accept…”
Only Aiba knows how easily I can be brought to tears. I do not think I have wept in front of anyone but the detective since I was fifteen. And even before Aiba, I feel embarrassed—but now I hardly gave the streaming tears a thought as I took one of the rings from his palm, holding it carefully between my thumb and forefinger and studying it. My voice broke as I asked him, “Would you…?” I held out my hand.
Aiba nodded and carefully slid the ring onto my finger. Then, I placed the other ring on his finger. I held his bandaged hand carefully, studying it. Then I tangled my fingers in his hair and brought his face close to mine (with perhaps slightly more force than was strictly necessary, but amidst the overwhelming flood of emotions I began to feel almost angry), “How could you be so nervous? Did you think I would refuse, even after our conversation in the park?” I demanded roughly.
Aiba, of course, was crying now as well, but he smiled as he answered shakily, “Not exactly. But I’ve never asked anyone before, it really is surprisingly nerve-wracking, dear fellow. And your thunderous expression made everything so much worse.”
I interlaced our fingers tightly together, “Bad luck. You’re going to have live with it from now on. You do realize that this constitutes a formal promise to spend at the very least the rest of your life with me? And that you now have no possible hope of escape?”
Aiba was laughing, “The prospect does not alarm me. In fact, I think it will suit me admirably.”
“Really?” I raised a brow teasingly. “The prospect of a settled life of domestic bliss is not an alarming one for a detective?” I was only half-joking; I doubted life with Aiba could ever be described as “settled,” but I did feel a strange anxiety at the thought that, in his enthusiasm, Aiba was pledging himself to me too hastily. But I was surprised by how seriously the detective answered me.
Aiba brought his lips close to mine. “No,” he breathed softly, his smile so dazzling that I recalled the first time that we had kissed, when I had felt that his light would overwhelm me, “When you are beside me, Jun, everything is an adventure.”
As we had hoped, the stars in Hayworth’s night sky were bright, far brighter and clearer than London’s; I had to watch carefully to ensure that the detective did not trip over his feet as we made our way to Hayworth from the station, so intent was he on gazing up and identifying the constellations for me.
On a winter night, buried in snow, Hayworth presented a somewhat dark and forbidding prospect; it was also extraordinarily cold. But once we had fought our way through the snowdrifts and built a roaring fire in the drawing room, we were able to stop shivering and sit close to each other before the fireplace, enjoying each other’s company. I could not help but glance down every few moments to examine the ring on Aiba’s finger; it glowed in the flickering firelight. After a few glances I caught Aiba doing the same, his gaze fixed on my hand. I laughed, “Let’s run away more often,” I suggested as we fell back onto our coats, which we had spread to form a kind of bed before the fire.
It was then that we heard the doorbell. This time I was certain that I was the victim of a hallucination; I decided to ignore it, however (psychoanalysis could wait for a time when Aiba was not lying beneath me), but Aiba’s eyes were widening too—with a groan I allowed him to stand and drag me to the door.
The doorbell was ringing insistently; I decided that if Ohno and Nino were on the other side of it, that I would tell them to sleep in the village cowshed. They would be plenty warm there, I reflected bitterly.
But the door revealed only a very blank-looking errand boy, who shoved a telegram into Aiba’s hand without a word. “Who sent you out so late?” the detective asked with concern, “Do you need to pass the night here?” I wanted to strangle both of them.
The lad shook his head, “No, sir. I’m just done at the pub. A messenger from London came and paid me five pound to take this down to Hayworth. It’s from his Lordship Ninomiya Kazunari, sir.”
I growled, nearly slamming the door shut; Aiba caught it and passed the boy a few coins before thanking him.
It was icy cold in the hallway, so we hurried back to the great room to open the missive; Aiba opened the envelope to reveal a full paragraph of text. I gasped, “How much did that blighter spend on annoying us?”
Aiba read the contents aloud:
How extraordinarily rude leaving guests during Christmas festivities. Assume Jun’s work as Masaki too good-natured. Left me in impossible position. Toma’s revenge complete. Has given Satoshi revolting lizard as Christmas gift. Satoshi loves repellent creature. Cannot rid house of him now. And yes Jun I can afford this Taka broke all records am rolling in royalty checks ha ha. Thanks for plot point Masaki. Party coming down to Hayworth two o’clock afternoon be prepared to entertain. I repeat lizard at Garden Place Jun’s fault. You should not have slapped Sho with your glove. No I take that back of course you should have slapped Sho with your glove one of the happiest moments of life. But Kagi still your fault.
“Kagi?” I cried in horror.
“A lizard?” Aiba cried in delight. The detective was already brimming with excitement; I could almost see the plans for experiments forming above his head. “A lizard,” he repeated softly, his eyes taking on a far-away look, “Jun, what is your opinion of the possibilities for communication between reptile and mammal? I mean if Holmes were to…”
I pressed the detective down onto our jackets and began hurriedly unbuttoning his shirt. “Jun?” Aiba questioned with wide eyes, startled but unresisting as I pulled his shirt over his head.
“You read the telegram. They’re arriving at two. Leaving us…” I checked my pocket watch, “Approximately twelve hours. We’ve not a moment to lose, detective.”
Christmas Day, 1892
To return, reader, to the proper subjects of this narrative, I will inform you of the fate of some of those individuals so important to the adventure of Horatio’s rescue. Horatio, to my surprise, lived and grew strong again. I did believe the detective would see him again; I even thought that he would live to see the spring. But I could not have predicted that in the spring he would grow well, and that he still lives today, two years after that night in the Zoological Gardens; I feel amazed and humbled by his recovery. I am growing every day more like Aiba, because I cannot help but see a parallel in Horatio’s extraordinary resilience and the miraculous recovery that Aiba made the first winter I knew him. Aiba visits Horatio at Professor Inoue’s estate often—though at first it was difficult to arrange and had to be done quite secretly, our visits have grown more frequent since Professor Gackt’s death.
Yes, reader, this year the diabolic professor met his death in an extraordinary manner. Since our rescue of Horatio, we have been menaced at various times by his machinations, and we could never rest easy as to Horatio’s real safety; but this summer during a trip to Geneva to explore the possibility of purchasing a Bengal tiger for his museum, the professor was mauled to death by said animal. The papers had a field day with the story. Since I cannot express any real sorrow at the professor’s death, I shall say no more about it—or, I shall only content myself with noting its rather poetic justice.
Aiba begs that I include the news that Kagi (as well as Holmes and Watson) are also perfectly well. Although I am sure that my readers are uninterested in his fate, I can report that the lizard has proved depressingly hardy, though my annoyance is nothing compared to Nino’s at the continued existence of Ohno’s pet.
Nino has recently completed his first work of science fiction, The Black Orb, and Ohno will have his first public exhibition of work this winter, having been able to successfully apply his technique of painting Nino to the presentation of more appropriate objects. Both men, of course, still seem to coexist as though some thread connected them together; should one of them wander too far from the other, the other seems to give a twitch to that invisible thread and reel the other back in.
Sho and Toma still have a good understanding, which is fortunate for my patient’s health, but unfortunate in how much I have come to learn about the amorous side of their natures since their coming together.
Madame Becky and Lady Riisa still run the GHL; and I am able to testify to their excellent running of that establishment since, in addition to my visits as a physician, I am now there twice a week in my capacity as choir director. Umi still attends school there during the day; I think it would break the good ladies’ hearts were she to leave the GHL entirely.
Umi accompanies us on our visits to Horatio. As the reader must have guessed, she did come to live with us at Garden Place that spring. She is always delighted to see Horatio, and the two are able to sign to each other and with Aiba. But Umi’s expression is no longer confined to sign language; she speaks very well now, and sometimes (like Aiba) all day long.
The story of Umi’s coming to the Garden Place, and all that happened as we struggled to learn how to act as her fathers, must wait for another installment; but I can say that I have never regretted her coming, and I must write how grateful I am to her for her unreasonable affection towards me. I never thought that I could feel for anyone else the degree of love I felt for the detective. But from Umi and the detective I have learned the boundlessness of love; how it collects and spills over until I begin to feel how deeply I love not only Aiba and Umi but Ohno and Nino, and not only Ohno and Nino but Becky and Riisa, and not only Becky and Riisa but Sho and Toma, and soon I begin to imagine that I love Horatio, Holmes, Watson, and even the hideous Kagi.
It must be evident to the reader how, after these three years in his company, Aiba’s sentimentality has finally invaded me. In the interest of truthfulness, I must write that I am grateful to have been rendered so defenseless—thank you, my dear detective, for allowing me to discover such love.
I hope that this installment satisfies you nearly as well as the first. But I am growing daily more convinced that this narrative will have no end, for—as you most astutely pointed out, Aiba—as long as we are together, there is no end to our adventures.