Work Header

Free Association

Work Text:

In early May of 1891, Mr. Sherlock Holmes disappeared from London and indeed all of England. Years later I poured my personal grief into a story, "The Final Problem," published by The Strand magazine. In this story I depicted the pursuit and death of Sherlock Holmes by a criminal mastermind named Professor James Moriarty – the pair of them toppling into the abyss of Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, locked together in mortal combat. This story was a fabrication; the truth of what happened to Sherlock Holmes was less melodramatic and would have been a stain upon the memory of a great man should I have depicted the same to the faithful readers of that periodical.

In private I wrote out the truth behind that long absence, in a manuscript that cannot safely see the light of day until the world is a little better prepared to accept the mortal faults of their idols. This memoir, which I entitled "The Seven Percent Solution," detailed Holmes' harrowing descent into full-blown cocaine addiction, and his recovery with the aid of the Viennese alienist Dr. Sigmund Freud (and some well-meaning assistance by myself) – only to be embroiled in a scandalous case involving the crowned heads of Europe and a kidnapped Baroness which culminated in a dramatic train chase across Austria and a sword-duel between Holmes and the villainous Baron Von Leinsdorf; this confrontation ended with the Baron's death and left Holmes with a wounded arm. All of this, however, paled in the light of the horrific revelation of my friend's tragic past, which he made whilst he was under hypnosis by Freud.

All of this tumbled and rolled in my brain as we two sat together in our cab with our travelling bags, leaving behind the Freuds' residence at Berggasse 19 for the Wien Westbahnhof train station. I noticed that Sherlock Holmes was also in a brown study, quiet and withdrawn.

When we reached the station I automatically followed his lead, feeling relief at taking up my wonted role once again. But I worried for my friend's mind when I saw that he'd taken us to the Milan Express platform in error, and not to the Dover train that would take us home, and I said so.

"I am not returning to England," was his bland response.

"Not returning?" I repeated stupidly.

"I think I need a little time to myself, a little time to think – and, yes, to pull myself together. You go on without me."

He's not well, I thought despairingly. He's been ill for months, he's only just mastered his cocaine habit, he doesn't even have two good arms right now–

"I need time," Holmes continued, pressing my arm affectionately. "Perhaps a long time." He turned to the train which was nearly ready to leave.

And at that moment I had nearly fallen back into my old role. Before that April I would have only made some half-hearted opposition to such a drastic action, perhaps ask Sherlock Holmes a few questions – how he would support himself whilst he was away, what was to happen to his Baker Street rooms, what I was to tell the readers of his stories – before automatically obeying his orders and letting him go away as I went home alone to Kensington and Mary and my practise.

But I had spent weeks taking the lead over Sherlock Holmes instead of following him, and that training snapped into place with the full force of my medical authority.

As relentless as when I'd physically wrestled a shrieking cocaine addict back into his sickroom, I stepped between Holmes and the slowly-moving train and planted myself in a boxing stance, halting him in his tracks. I must confess that I reveled in the startlement on his face. "There is some merit to that idea, old man," I said. "A tour around Europe just might provide a splendid rest-cure. Where shall we go first?"

"You are not coming." Flat, not to be questioned.

I glared into his eyes. "Then you are not going."

"Watson!" He was astonished and angry now, his grey eyes darting to the train now leaving the platform.

"Don't even think of attempting what you just considered," I snapped. "We have both had enough madness involving trains in this country for a lifetime, and you are presently one-armed and still not at full health. Do not try to get past me. Nor will you engage a special. The Austrian authorities will only forgive two foreigners so much in the way of broken laws, and we are well past that limit. Do not think I will not notify the police if you attempt to give me the slip and hurry on your way; you will be in irons before sundown."

Rage. "How dare you—"

"Holmes." My voice was pure ice. "Why, precisely, are we in Vienna right now?"

His own eyes were grey steel. His voice was low; but he did respond. "To…bring me to a specialist. For…for my health. Which has much improved, might I add."

"Correct. Here, very much at your doctor's orders. Yes, you are indeed much improved, but with much improvement required still. Tell the truth. Are you in robust good health right now?" I looked directly at his beslinged left arm.

A pause. "Not yet, but—"

"But until such time as you regain your full faculties, I think we may safely say that Vienna is your sickroom, for you are only here for a medical purpose and not a holiday nor a case, even if one was dropped into your lap owing to the coincidence of your visit." I waited.

Of course Sherlock Holmes deduced the rest. "And in a sickroom…" He exhaled, still angry. "You are the master."

I nodded. "Again, correct."

He was not the only one on that platform who could use his methods, and there and then I applied them to the man before me.

Sherlock Holmes' frail health would not easily stand much travel just now, and his rest and meal habits were scattershot when he was healthy, with no one to supervise him. No, while he was in this state I would not permit him to wander Europe and beyond by himself.

…And if it was wrong for me as a friend and remiss of me as a doctor to let Holmes wander around a continent unsupervised in this state, how different was this from me leaving him to his own devices in London? Holmes clearly thought I was about to chivvy him onto the Dover train after all, to continue our scheduled return to England; and due to the ordeal he had put everyone through – beginning with himself – he would submit to my authority in recompense. But at home we would once again part ways, I to my domestic rounds in Kensington and him alone in his rooms at 221b – with the Baker Street chemist's offering an easy return to the oblivion of the needle.

I couldn't leave him alone. He oughtn't to be alone in London. Impossible eliminated. What remained?

I turned toward the exiting stairs. "We must engage a hotel until we can rent some decent rooms, for we cannot impose upon the Freuds any longer than we already have. Come along, old fellow."

If scoring one triumph over Sherlock Holmes was a rarity, catching him out twice in less than a half-hour was like espying a dodo among the chickens. But in a matter of seconds Holmes followed me down the stairs as we left the station.

I'd said that Vienna was his sickroom. So for now, in this sickroom Vienna we would stay. All the rational objections my frantic mind raised, and my rebuttals to them all – how will you pay for this I am prepared to spend money as if it was water Mary she will understand your practise they're well used to my lapses but what happens after he is well we'll cross that bridge when we get there – passed through my mind before the Madrid Special Holmes would have taken had steamed over the horizon.


Once we were ensconced in a hotel I sent a telegram to the Freuds, informing them that we were not yet quit of their beautiful city after all, that we had no fixed time of departure at the moment, and promised to send along the address of our temporary lodgings when we had acquired them. With the easier of my two tasks concluded, I then pulled another telegraph form towards me.

"No need for that, old fellow." Holmes sat at the table, reading a newspaper. He still seemed subdued, but his anger was gone. "I sent a wire to Mrs. Watson via our hotel clerk while you supervised our baggage disposition."

"You!" But I felt my shoulders drop. Mary was the only reason I felt fear over this drastic change in plans, and I had not looked forward to notifying her that my homecoming was delayed yet again, and for the foreseeable future. Sherlock Holmes had little use for the fair sex, but he was unfailingly genteel and courteous when addressing his female clients, and had never been anything but kind and respectful to Mary; he would have been the soul of diplomacy explaining everything to my wife. Of course I would have to write her a proper letter and explain everything in detail, but for now Holmes had taken the worst dose of medicine for me.

Holmes turned another page. "My German has improved considerably in nine weeks – at least my reading comprehension. There are a number of people subletting rooms, but a somewhat bigger suite would be even more—" Silence; even the newspaper no longer rustled.

Fear gripping my chest, I turned from the desk. What had he read? Was it news of the scandal in which we had been involved? Worse – was his terrible, secret pain rising up again?

His face was transfixed, but oh I had seen that expression before, and relief drenched me at once. This was no tragedy nor horror.

"What is it, Holmes?" I might have been looking up from my yellow-backed novel to see my flatmate sprawled on the parlour floor with the Times as in my bachelor days.

"There is a townhouse for lease," Holmes said, "on Bäkerstrasse."

I stared at him. And seconds later, we were both laughing uproariously at the absurd coincidence, the way we had over poor angry Jabez Wilson. My heart was flooded. How long had it been since he had laughed like this? How long since we had laughed together?

"Oh dear fellow, fate itself demands we stay here!" I cried. "Well, we must go see it tomorrow, even if it doesn't suit us at all."


Life is full of strange little miracles. That flat-fronted two-bedroom dwelling on Vienna's own Baker Street did suit our needs admirably. I admit I blanched when I saw the terms, reasonable though I knew they were when translated from Austrian florins to British pounds. It was still better than hotel rates, and I firmly reminded myself that a few years of debt was a small price to pay for Sherlock Holmes' full recovery.

Holmes waved his free hand at the paperwork. "Mycroft will be a bit put out when I wire him for the money. This is very much out of his routine. I'll reassure him that this is part of my convalescence."

I stared at my friend a long moment, rather astonished at my own stupidity at not bringing up such an important subject myself, for I hadn't even considered asking him to contribute to this stage of our venture. "Mycroft?"

"He manages both our estates; I can never be bothered, and he finds numbers soothing. My fees are enough to live on most of the time, but this is most assuredly not an ordinary time. My dear fellow," he added gently. "Did you think I would not even consider paying my fair share?"

For the second time in two days a great weight lifted off my chest. "I was still operating on the idea that I needed to coerce you into a course of action, without your knowing it," I admitted.

"That work was concluded when yours and Mycroft's little trick dropped me at Freud's doorstep. Now we are on much more equal footing, are we not? Consider this part of my doctor's fees," Holmes added with a wink.

We settled into our lodgings in Vienna just as summer was beginning, with nothing before us – no detective work, no medical rounds. Once again I was free as air, and this time so was Holmes.

Or so I thought, until a telegram arrived for me care of the local post office two days later.


I stared at the missive for a long time before rousing myself to return to the townhouse. I marched into our sitting room where Sherlock Holmes pored over sheet music borrowed from the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek and scribbled notes in his small neat hand. When he looked up, I held out the telegram and fixed him with my gaze.

"Ah, she will be here before the week is over." Unrepentant, Sherlock Holmes gave a quirk of a smile, but it was genuine and one I had not seen on his face in a long time. "Watson, you have deprived yourself of the comforts of hearth and home for nearly two months already, for my sake. How long has it been since you and your wife have had a proper holiday?"

I stared. My expression must have answered the question, for he smiled once again. "Best of Watsons. Did I not tell both you and Freud that I had a lifetime to repay you?"

He had said that. I had completely forgotten his comment after the horrific revelation during Freud's request to hypnotise Holmes one final time, in which the alienist finally unearthed the cause of my friend's descent into cocaine addiction. That secret, that now lay like a live coal in my breast, had been Sigmund Freud's danegeld. But this?

I looked at Holmes, immersed in his new course of study. Once he'd realised that I had no plans to make him return to London – nor for us to part for the present – he had followed me without a murmur, almost with alacrity. The gleam in his eye was back, the same one whose lack had always led to the needle. He looked better and healthier than he had looked in a very long time. We had settled into our new lodgings at once and so seamlessly that I might have almost fancied myself the penniless bachelor Army doctor once again.

But I was no bachelor, and in two days the proof would cross our doorway.

Much though I longed to see my wife soon, I could not forget Sherlock Holmes' haunting comment that should have been a dire warning to me on the eve of my marriage: "For me, there still remains the cocaine bottle."

My apprehension only grew greater when I heard soft noises from Holmes' room late that night while I was engrossed in a book, and when I walked into his room out of medical habit I saw tears running from his eyes as he slept. I stood and stared in transfixed silence, unable to think for a long moment.

Somehow the doctor in me automatically confirmed that he lay on his right side and therefore was not on his hurt arm so this was not physical pain. Beyond that nothing came to mind. What was I to do? Was Holmes recalling the horrors from his past that he'd divulged under hypnosis? Was he anticipating being left alone once again even as I turned to my wife as before? Above all, the thought ran through me: Oh God, do I wake him or not? Mary and other women often spoke of the benefit of what they called "a good cry." But was such a thing useful for men? Would Holmes be mortally shamed at having been caught in such a state if I awoke him, or would he be grateful that I had pulled him from a dreaming hell?

And then I remembered the train chase, the bitter night, and his Inverness flung around me like an embrace that had warmed me more than the mere wool fabric should have done.

Without waking my friend I returned to my room, found the shirt I had worn the day before, and returned to drape it around his shoulders, making sure one sleeve rested just under his nose. Within the minute his tears and small sounds of pain stilled and he sank back into deep sleep. A flood of tenderness filled me and I barely refrained from stroking his hair before returning to my own room.

But I fretted long into the sleepless night at what would become of Sherlock Holmes when this Viennese interlude was over.


Apprehension or not, I was so glad to see Mary on the train platform that I kissed here there and then, before all public eyes. She laughed, blushing, but in her own steady gaze was the same longing I'd felt, separated from her.

"You surprised me with that telegram, dear," I said frankly. "But I'm glad for a happy surprise these days."

"Mr. Mycroft Holmes managed everything, once I'd notified him of Sherlock's message inviting me here." Mary walked with me down to the cabs, hand tucked into my arm-crook. "You'd told me enough in your letters about Mr. Holmes' state of recovery that I could see a little of what was going on. You both need me here right now. I doubt Mr. Holmes knows the first thing about engaging servants – he likely doesn't wonder how his breakfast arrives nor how his bedsheets get laundered."

Once again I was floored by another's deductive abilities. "Women's intuition?" I was only half-joking.

She laughed. "Women's observation, Jack. We have to make our way in a man's world, don't we?"

As logical and deductive as Sherlock Holmes. No wonder I had fallen in love with her.

On the way to our temporary home (she gazing in wonder at the gorgeous Viennese architecture all around us, and laughing when I named our destination), she reassured me that all was well at the Kensington household. I told her what I could of our situation without breaking doctor-patient privacy.

She smiled. "Poor Mr. Holmes must feel fettered by your medical orders."

"I'd thought he would, after I stopped him on the platform," I admitted. "But he obeyed me immediately. He's as settled here as if back home, and he's even started a new hobby."

"That is odd." She frowned. "We'd had to enlist Mycroft Holmes' brain and Professor Moriarty's cooperation to take him away from London, and now he's in no hurry to return. What is different?"

"He is no longer controlled by cocaine." I did not want to think of what Freud had told me about the cure sometimes being worse than the addiction by breaking the addict's spirit.

Holmes was engrossed in the local paper when we arrived, and stood to kiss Mary's hand. "Welcome, Mrs. Watson."

"Mary, please, Mr. Holmes. What has happened to your arm?" (I'd let Mary know only that Holmes had dealt with a politically sensitive case – I neglected to tell her about our hazardous night-long train chase across the border, the exchanged gunfire, nor of Holmes' wounding during a deadly sword-fight with the Baron.)

"This is merely a pinched nerve. And please call me Sherlock. I know I have you as well as your husband to thank for my salvation."

Mary laughed. "Mr. – Sherlock, I only suggested a consultation with your brother!"

"Which I might not have considered had I been left to my own thoughts," I added, smiling to see them together. "I was not thinking clearly back then. Come, Mary, we must show you around." I picked up her bag.

The living arrangements passed my wife's inspection, and she had decided on the staff we would need before we'd returned to the main room. "Some English a must," she said, scribbling.

Holmes took the list from her. "I'll get this in the papers by tomorrow morning." And he diplomatically left the house upon this errand, leaving us alone together for the first time in months.

I made myself take on the mantle of the considerate husband. "You'll want to bathe and rest after your tr—"

Mary prevented me from completing the sentence, and when she freed my mouth her voice was almost as low as mine. "We can bathe afterward."

Late in the night, I awoke and slipped from our bed as noiselessly as I could, quietly moving in the dark till I found my shirt tumbled on the floor where I had left it. Naked as I was, I padded to Holmes' room and listened; hearing the same sound as before I entered, made my way to where the weeping man slept, and again draped my shirt around him; I waited until his agitation ceased and he slumbered without tears before returning to my wife.

"The water closet is in the other direction," she said softly. "Jack, what was that?"

I could save Holmes a great deal of embarrassment…or I could involve the same person who'd helped him on his road to recovery. I held Mary, and told her.


The next few days were busy ones. Frau Heller and Marie passed Mary's muster and began to keep us three well, the former having worked for Englishmen before and well-versed in preparing familiar meals. Once Marie was firmly instructed not to interfere with Herr Holmes' work in the main room, our household settled in for the summer.

The first thing we did was to contact Sigmund and Martha Freud, who invited us all to join them for dinner. After the fraught weeks of Holmes' treatment and the case that followed after, Holmes and I were relieved to pay a strictly social call on people who had become friends. Mary and Martha kept the table conversation light and lively among us five, and Sigmund discussed music and art with us as if the men at the table had never been doctors and patient, nor united in pursuing a murderous Baron across Austria by train. After dinner Holmes sadly explained to little Anna Freud that his arm was hurt so he could not play his violin for her yet, and Mary took on the honours of seeing the little girl's nursery with the grave air of the governess she had been before marriage, helping Paula escort the child to bed after being presented to her parents and their familiar guests.

"Vienna still holds you, Herr Holmes," Freud gave his sad smile. "I am glad to see you recovering so quickly."

"As am I." Holmes moved his left arm and drew in a short breath. "I will remain here until my doctor gives me a clean bill of health."

I nodded, but remembered the shirt. When he was well, would he disappear – off into Europe alone as he'd planned originally, or into his solitary quarters in London? I firmly reminded myself that that bridge would be crossed in due time.

In the days that followed I introduced Mary to Vienna, as I had been by Freud whilst Holmes had convalesced. She, like me, admired the splendid architecture all around us which gave Vienna the image of a city built entirely out of palaces. She marveled to see the interior of the Opera House (during a daytime tour, sparing us both not only the cost of a ticket but hours of Wagner). In the market we both discovered a charming new confection from Salzburg that honoured their most famous son, a ball of marzipan and chocolate called a Mozart-BonBon. We were fortunate to visit the city the same year that a new art museum had opened, the Kunsthistorisches, where suits of armour, goldsmiths' masterpieces and enormous Roman marble sculptures shared space with Titians and Dürers.

In the Kaiserkruft, the imperial burial vault beneath the Capuchin Church, we passed enormous and elaborate caskets housing generations of Hapsburg royalty – most of them embellished to baroque excess that would make ancient Egyptians wince. Mary had the same look of distaste on her face that I felt on mine. But both of us gaped in wonder when we stood before the magnificent double sarcophagus that portrayed the Empress Theresa and her husband Franz Stephen in a facsimile of their marriage bed, tenderly regarding each other in a visual reminder of a royal marriage made for love. When we moved on, we still held hands as we had that night at Sholto's place.

In all these excursions, Sherlock Holmes chose to remain behind in the townhouse immersed in his musical study and gradually resuming his mastery over his violin as his arm improved. He had seen much of the city already in his search for the missing Baroness, he told me, and felt no need to memorise a foreign city the way he had mapped every inch of London in his brain. When we would return from our forays at day's end Holmes often deduced the purpose of our excursion, to Mary's delight (he easily named our luncheon site one day as the Hotel Sacher by smelling the package we had brought back for him containing their famous torte). We also brought him the bon-bons named after one of his musical heroes, and described the treasures at the art museum ("A gold salt-cellar? That must be the Cellini piece"). He did not hesitate to join us for supper in the main room in the evenings, nor breakfast in the mornings.

Of course we repeatedly invited him to join us – both of us together or I singly. He declined. "I have kept you two apart long enough, I think." He was genuinely engrossed in his music work, and this was very much like our old Baker Street days when he preferred his own company indoors to an outside ramble or a visit to my club. We suspected he was putting on a brave face, but left the man his pride as he recuperated from his long illness.

One evening Holmes prepared to go out by himself – this time to attend another Wagner performance. I stoutly offered to accompany him, and he laughed, knowing full well my distaste for the music. "My dear Watson, you have suffered quite enough already for my sake! I can attend solo."

"Sherlock, there really is no need." Mary smiled at him. "Jack doesn't care for Wagner, so I know very little about it. Perhaps you would be good enough to be my tutor as well as my escort tonight. Such outings are much more enjoyable with a friend."

We both stared at her. But her eyes met mine, and I remembered why I loved her so much; I smiled and nodded.

Holmes was quiet, but genuine in his reply. "I should be honoured, Mrs. … I would be honoured, Mary."

"Supper and a sea-novel it is for me, then," I added in a comically exaggerated long-suffering tone. "At least my entertainment tonight will not feature a singing dragon."

It was a risk. But with my wife on my friend's arm, keeping him company and blissfully neutral on the subject of Wagner (she did not go into raptures at the music but was not actively pained by it either), Sherlock Holmes found himself with a second Watson upon whose thoughtful silence he could rely; and they did look charming together. He was already expressing his admiration of the German composer to her as they headed for the cab outside, and I silently wished my helpmate fortitude.

Late that night a draught of cool air from Mary's side of the bed awakened me. Hearing her soft voice nearby, I soundlessly followed her to Holmes' room. And there was Mary, bent over the sleeping man's head, murmuring in his ear. He was quiet and still, sleeping peacefully with only a small hitch in his breathing to betray his previous agitation. When she straightened, I looked at her in the dim room and took her hand without a word.

Back in our room Mary curled back into my arms. "Poor Sherlock. He says he has no regard for my sex, but tonight he reacted to my presence like a parched houseplant being watered. That is a man whose mother died far too soon."

I said nothing, but bowed my head before a woman's powers of deduction.


"I should like to speak to Dr. Freud about this development." It was the next day, and we two were having luncheon at a Heuriger.

Mary set down her wineglass. "Did he never cry in his sleep during your time together in Baker Street?"

"Not in my experience. I wonder if it is a post-addiction symptom which Freud did not write in his article."

Mary smiled a little. "It may be a healthy sign, Jack, the way an itching wound means it is healing."

I covered her hand with mine. "I sincerely hope so."

Freud, however, did not share that belief when I came to see him. "His unconscious may be closer to the surface because of his fragile physical state. Herr Holmes may no longer be delusional about Professor Moriarty's true role in his life, but his mind is still convalescing from the trauma we have put him through. He may be much more aware of what he buried so deeply, so long ago."

I nodded. Neither of us spoke of what we two had witnessed in silent horror and grief in Freud's study that last day – the hypnotised Holmes revealing his mother's infidelity and his father's murder of her in his childhood.

"I haven't wakened him at night, when I've heard him," I confessed. "I fear traumatising him further."

"That is a wise instinct, Herr Doktor Watson." Freud put a hand on my shoulder. "If he is awakened suddenly, all of his old buried memories may remain on the surface, and he will once again be caught up in the trauma which led him to take cocaine in the first place."

Ice filled me at the thought of driving Holmes back to the needle out of a clumsy attempt to comfort him. "I've been – providing reassurance at night to settle his sleep." I did not mention Mary doing so as well. "I've managed this without waking him."

"Ja, that is hazardous. Do not do that any more, Herr Doktor. You are fortunate that he did not awake. Let him be from now on."

Sickened at how close I could have come to undoing all our work, I thanked Dr. Freud and left.

When I came back to Bäkerstrasse I heard two sounds that echoed in my bones and gripped my throat with the inchoate feeling of home: violin music in the main room and Mary's voice in the kitchen. I turned to the left and walked in, where Sherlock Holmes was sweeping his way through his Strad's paces with only a wince or two at his left arm's movements. He set down the instrument and bow. "Watson, you have been to see our friend Freud on a professional call."

I knew better than to hide or lie to him about a visit he would have no trouble deducing; the smoke from Sigmund Freud's excellent cigars still clung to me, and I'd have been the bumbling idiot indeed had I prevaricated to Sherlock Holmes. "Yes, I had some private questions regarding a patient of mine."

"Would this patient be a violin player, by any chance?" He said it in a jocular manner, but with an underlying tension.

"He would." I smiled at him. "I'd wished to confirm with a dispassionate medical colleague that this anonymous virtuoso was recuperating at a reasonable rate. Some doctors are a little too emotionally attached to their patients to avoid bias. He agreed with me that this musical genius required more time to regain his physical constitution."

Sherlock Holmes snorted. "Regain? If I remain in Vienna one more month I'll surpass."

We laughed together; Holmes had embraced Viennese confectionery even as he remained indifferent about the rest of Austrian cuisine. And I had taken the right tack with him by being transparent about the visit; Holmes was once more at ease, and more than a little flushed with pleasure at my compliments.

"Avoirdupois would look ridiculous on your frame, I agree." I walked back to the stand at the door without removing my hat nor putting away my walking stick. "There is a remedy; I can prescribe a good stroll around Rathaus Park with an amiable companion."

He smiled, but there was a little hesitation in his manner. "Both of you?"

I smiled at him. "Just the two of us, my dear fellow. If I can be heartless to Mary for a few hours."

"Go with your friend, you utter cad." Mary stood in the doorway of the kitchen with a tired smile. "Between dealing with the week's housekeeping and nursing a small headache I'd prefer to remain indoors this afternoon at any rate. Thank you for the music, Sherlock."

Holmes was already reaching for his hat. "You are quite welcome, Mary."

When Holmes had first broken free of his addiction he had been listless and quiet, needing reminders to eat and coaxing to walk in the park, where he stared at the ground the whole time. Now he looked around at the burgeoning summer flora and cheerily elucidated the other park visitors for me. How much was his own return to health, and how much was his hand securely tucked into the crook of my arm as we passed a lovely afternoon? He is getting better, thought I, and I will help him get better still though it pains me. And if he wishes to leave us behind and disappear… then I will make sure he is well and strong for the journey, and let him go. But a voice in my mind, not unlike Freud's, asked But does he truly want to be let go?

When we returned, Holmes disappeared into his room for a nap; I went to the main bedroom where Mary was lying down with a book. She nodded when I told her what Freud had said, but her frown and set mouth showed that she disliked the order as much as I. "That sounds like the warning not to awaken a somnambulist. New mothers are also warned not to pick up their babes when they cry, lest they ruin them. Well, Jack, a doctor and a former governess should know that sometimes one has to be hard-hearted to do more good than harm."

I bowed my head. "If I've learned anything from this venture, darling, it's how to be hard-hearted with Holmes. We'll do as Dr. Freud says."

That night Mary and I must have seemed like new parents, lying sleepless in bed together with the sounds of grief from the next room; that it was soft weeping rather than a newborn's piercing wail was little comfort. Once more we gripped hands as if presenting a united front to a terror. Thoughts tumbled and rolled in my head.

"Have I been neglecting you?" I whispered.

The hand holding mine tightened. "You've been acting like a true friend, Jack. Sherlock is my friend too. This is important work."

In other words: Yes. Yes, I had been neglecting her in tending to Holmes, just as my turning away from Holmes for Mary and domesticity had sent my friend into isolation with his dark thoughts and his syringe. I had been dividing my attentions poorly, taking turns failing one or the other.

We finally curled together to manage sleep. Of the three of us, none were dry-eyed that night.


After the first weeks of acting like any other gaping holiday-goers in the magnificent city, Mary and I took to more prosaic Viennese pleasures: the park, the library (both of us ruefully attempting to improve our German), coffee houses, bicycles, boat rides. We courted in a way we had not done before our marriage.

Yet once again I felt like the fulcrum of a scale, observing how my bond with Mary strengthened and rose even as Holmes … descended.

Our friend still played and studied his music, read his own material (scientific textbooks in German and French), attended the entire Ring Cycle, visited the University of Vienna to use the laboratory. And once again he grew leaner, sharper, more withdrawn, the way he had been just after he had shaken off his addiction. The warmth and ease were replaced by flat quiet responses, or silence. A full week we had left him to his solitary sleep, and if this was better for him the exact opposite seemed to be happening. I ached to bring the ease I knew how to give, with my voice and my touch as I had before. I dare not wake him. I dare not. This withdrawal did have the positive effect of clinching my resolve against Holmes going off by himself; it was bad enough that he was missing meals and playing late in the night to avoid sleep, with us here and near – who knew how fast and hard Sherlock Holmes would decline when he was truly alone?

"He's not getting better, Jack," Mary whispered under the violin music late that night. "He's getting worse."

"What choice do we have?" My voice was a whisper, but I snapped the answer all the same, for she echoed my thoughts. "What he needs is deep sleep, away from the chimaeras in his mind. But if we try to rouse him we may break him for good and all."

My wife was still and silent for a time. "You used to drape your old shirt over him, Jack, and the scent comforted him. We risk waking him if we try this again, with him in this state. But… what if he fell asleep to that scent and carried it down with him from the start?"

It was my turn to go still, thinking. He'd have deduced my visits from finding my shirts in the morning (all of which were returned to me after breakfast); would he be too proud to be given one outright, to keep close as he fell asleep? "How do we do that?"

As I pondered, the tune Holmes was playing impinged on my awareness, and I recognised the air. Despite everything I smiled. "That takes me back to my bachelor days," I murmured. "But it was usually his own strange compositions or discordant scrapings, not 'Poor Wand'ring One.' Some nights I needed to stop my ears with wax so I could sleep."

Mary gave a quiet laugh. "Shall I lash you to the mast, Odysseus?"

I shook my head. "Too late for that, my love. He was a siren from the moment I saw him in that laboratory, and I went straight to him."

"I could see that, every time he asked you to join him for a case. You needed those excursions as much as he did. You'd come home and a light was in your eyes again. I was not sorry to be on the receiving end of that spiritual revival, darling."

I covered my startled laugh at my wife's candour. "He changed me. And he changed. Listen to that." More sweet, lilting, frothy-light English operetta, the exact opposite of the heavy dark chords of Germanic work. "Now he plays Gilbert and Sullivan. He loathes Gilbert and Sullivan. But I love it."

"And he loves you," Mary finished.

I nodded. Then I buried my face in my hands as it all crashed over me. Mary held me as I wept, which only exacerbated my shame. He loved me. I loved him. I loved Mary. How could I reconcile? How could I help him? How dare I wallow in self-pity after all Holmes had been through? What were we to do?

"Oh darling."

Oh dear God, had I said any of that out loud?

"…Darling, this is how! Stay here, I'll be back."

And she was gone, after that voice like a scientist discovering the correct formula. Bereft and miserable and exhausted, I lay curled in a ball on the bed, unable to stop my tears.

The music next door stopped. Holmes' voice and then Mary's, pleading.

She was back in the room, with the odour of gardenia. But tobacco and brandy came in with her. And it was Sherlock Holmes' hands on my head and shoulder.

"He's been having such a terrible time sleeping," Mary said softly and intensely. "I think he can't stop dreaming about his past."

"Watson, my dear man." Holmes was comforting me. I shook, as hideously shamed as if I'd been caught naked in the middle of the street, and at the same time grateful that only the two closest to me saw this shame.

Mary's voice continued. "I've done my best, Sherlock, but I think this is something a friend can do better. If you were to lie next to Jack, so he can sense a comrade nearby, it might bring peaceful sleep."

"Watson. John. My dear Watson."

Warmth at my side, and familiarity, and the press all along my side like brothers sharing a pallet. Relief and peace unfurled inside me like a bracken frond, and I could breathe without sobbing. I felt the long body go still, save for drawing long breaths. "Holmes," I whispered. "Sherlock."

His voice was so tender. "You are quite all right, John. You are safe. Mary is here, and so am I. You may resume sleep without fear."

"Jack, it's all right, go back to sleep." Mary… She was back in bed, at my other side, and I was engulfed in warmth. "You needn't stay awake, Sherlock. Just being here should bring ease."

"I believe you are right, M- Mary." A deeper yawn interrupted the last word, and the warm hard body went limp. In less than five minutes Sherlock Holmes was deeply asleep.

Peace filled me too, and love that threatened to split me open, a swelling rosebud. "Mary," I murmured as Morpheus pulled me down on the brink of realisation, "you are a genius."

"Simplicity itself, my dear Mr. Watson," Mary whispered in my ear, her head on my shoulder.

For not once in her plea to Holmes did Mary specify which of the two men had trouble sleeping and needed the presence of his friend. She had tricked the master detective, and she hadn't even had to lie.

When I awoke the next morning Holmes was still fast asleep against me, warm and heavy; he had not stirred the whole night, nor wakened us with weeping. I embraced a drowsy, smiling Mary and kissed my clever girl who had succeeded in bandaging two wounded men last night.


At breakfast I did not feign my relieved state – and I was delighted to see a gleam in Sherlock Holmes' eye and an easy set to his shoulders that had been absent for days. Mary and I told Holmes that sleep would be deeper and better were he to share the bed with me (this subterfuge had the added bonus of being true for both of us). Holmes agreed, and both Watsons kept our triumphant smiles off our faces.

After breakfast Holmes once again happily engrossed himself in his music sheets while Mary and I went out to spend the day exploring the marketplace and bringing back wine to share with our companion. After supper, the poached Danube salmon nicely complimented by the Riesling, we all read in the main room before retiring for the night together. Once again I took the center, embraced by my wife and my dearest friend on either side; Mary curled into my arms and Sherlock curved around my spine. I wondered vaguely if Sigmund Freud would approve of our solution to his diagnosis, but sleep followed too quickly for much introspection.

In less than a week of this arrangement Sherlock Holmes was not only back to his former level of health but had surpassed it. Gone was the gaunt, pallid man who'd appalled me in my consulting room this April; this was very nearly the Sherlock Holmes who'd dashed around London in the 1880s with me a step behind.

"Jack." Mary set down her sandwich on the picnic blanket. "Dr. Freud is a brilliant man, and we're indebted to him for curing Sherlock. I know he has only our friend's best interest at heart. But I think … I think we were all wrong about this. Including him."

I looked out over Stephansdom and the rest of the city from our patch of hillside in the Vienna Woods. "It goes against everything inside me to agree with you, Mary. Freud is a medical man, an alienist, far ahead of routine medical minds."

"Even a brilliant man can have a blind spot or a weakness. You of all people know that, Jack." She was silent. "We're taught by conventional wisdom that pain and coldness is the way of moral uprightness, that pleasure is the easy path to sin. But leaving Sherlock alone was worse for him, and offering comfort is better. We see the proof every day."

I laughed in rueful agreement and rummaged in the hamper for the strawberries. "I'm glad that he's sleeping soundly and eating well. He's always been lean, but he was gaunt and hungry-looking for far too long."

Mary smiled sadly. "Jack. It's more than one hunger we're feeding. I've seen it, and so have you. It is you yourself he has been starved of since our marriage."

I blinked at the sting of sudden tears. "I know." I stared at the fruit basket in my hand, my appetite gone in a flash as the constant worry I kept in the back of my mind resurfaced. "While I was being a good husband I was a negligent friend; in being a good friend I became an absentee husband. Now he sleeps in peace thanks to your idea, but in our bed like a child, and once more the husband disappears before the friend and you are the one who pays."

Mary took a strawberry and passed it back and forth between her hands. "It's time we spoke. All three of us. We must arrive at some solution to this dilemma."

This would surely end Sherlock's peaceful nights. But needs must.

"Tonight, then." I put the strawberries back in the hamper. Mary still had not eaten hers. I did not foresee us enjoying a hearty supper either.

Holmes was alone in the house when we came back; the cook had left us a roast to tide us over for Sunday and the maid had also left for the day. That would make this a little easier, I thought grimly.

Our friend set down his pipe and rose from his chair as we approached him. "The Wiener Wald today, and a south-facing slope. The view of Stephansdom is good there."

"South-facing?" Mary's face lit up. "Of course! The sun we took today, and the shadows from our hats!"

Holmes smiled wide at my wife. "Excellent, Watson!"

My dread blew away as a laugh of joy burst out of me at this exchange between my two loved ones. A week of cradling both of them close in sleep had altered my reflexive responses, and before I could stop myself I had flung my arms around the two of them. It felt so right that I plunged forward, heedless of Freud's voice in my mind.

Mary laughed, as much from startlement as amusement, and Sherlock Holmes and I regarded each other nearly nose to nose, both of us no less bemused at my gesture.

Then I smiled broadly at him in unfeigned delight. "I'm just – so glad you're better, Sherlock." And I kissed him on the cheek.

Before Holmes could react, Mary, God bless her, reached up and kissed his other cheek.

His look of dismay was comical – for there was no terror behind it, none of the grief of his youth.

I embraced Holmes once again. "My other spouse." The rightness of that label rang like a church bell in my bones. But not quite…

"Our other spouse," Mary responded, and that was the missing element.

"Absurd," Sherlock whispered. He trembled in our arms, and fear shone in his eyes. He knew neither of us were joking, nor being cruel. "I am neither a roue nor an invert. There is no middle ground. I am not a marrying man."

A man of no masculine urges for either sex – neither of Babylon nor of Sodom. But not a man of pure brain, either. He yearned for human contact as would any normal man, any human being.

"You are also no island." I caressed his cheek with my hand. "You love. And you are loved. You have friends and you befriend."

"You were Jack's spouse in all but name before I assumed the legal title," Mary said.

"I neglected one spouse for another, and for that I am truly sorry." I kissed Mary and held her close. Again I enfolded Sherlock, and felt my heart beat faster when he returned the embrace. "Now that I know, I will not desert you again."

"Your wife," he said.

"His wife is quite capable of asking one of her husbands to tend to his music study for an hour," Mary responded so tartly I burst out laughing again. Holmes shook in our arms with his own mirth.

He looked at us both. Fear, old fear. But now a new wonder dawned. His eyes were full; his mouth parted.

I drew his head down so that Mary could easily reach him. All three of our mouths sealed the vows in one luxurious kiss.

Again Mary was a gift from the Deity. For when we parted from that profound moment, she said, "I think we had best go sit at the table and dine, and decide how we are to deal with the particulars of all this."

That is what we did. Supper grew cold but we made all things clear. And that night Mary slept curled against my back whilst I held a deeply-sleeping Sherlock in my arms all night.


Here is nearly all of the rest of our strange tale. Though the subject matter promises lasciviousness the reality was another thing altogether; there is little that is traditionally romantic about three adults soberly planning out a visitation schedule that includes sharing multiple residences and more than one marital bed.

One evening a week or so later we three visited Berggasse 19 once more. With his arm healed and his inner spirit revived, Sherlock Holmes was once more able to play his violin for the delighted little Anna, while her parents and his new spouses waltzed merrily around the room.

"Herr Doctor, the change is miraculous!" Freud gestured back inside (we two were enjoying a cigar in the inner courtyard after supper). "I can scarcely credit how well he has recovered."

"You have done wonders, Dr. Freud." I knew better than to let him know of the remedy we'd applied. "I can only wish you continuing success in your current work."

After one more month in Vienna, we returned to London and there began our new familial relationship. This proved less problematic than I'd feared. Though Holmes loved me and was pleased to welcome me back to our old digs, he also required vast stretches of solitude where Mary and I did not; now that he knew with surety that he had not been permanently abandoned for a wife he reveled in the peace of his Baker Street lodgings. I was glad to see dear Mrs. Hudson and the old rooms on my visits, with one extra bonus – as I now slept in Sherlock's bed I no longer had to trudge up one more flight of stairs to sleep. Mrs. Hudson may have had her suspicions about us, but did not question her good fortune in having two sober, sane tenants in her rooms in place of a cocaine-addled madman.

As the months went on from our return Mary once more had a husband, and not an addict's friend; she received my full attention for the two-thirds of the month I was with her, and far more independence than most wives as she often had to run and manage the household while I was at my other home. In turn, when I caught the influenza Sherlock came to Kensington to tend us both and hold our exhausted wife in the main bed while I languished in the sickroom.

We were not only able to love, but to work. I resumed my medical practise, and happily joined Holmes on a few of his out-of-town cases. Mary continued to manage the Kensington household, and often took advantage of my absence to visit Mrs. Cecil Forrester and her former charges.

All three of us observed Christmas together, taking turns celebrating at Kensington and at Baker Street.

When Sherlock Holmes announced his intention to take up scientific apiculture in Sussex, he selected a house with the same provisions as our old Viennese residence, and we three once again resumed our life under one roof.

And when Mary became ill more often, and had trouble breathing, and finally succumbed to the same heart ailment that had felled her father, Sherlock and I clung to each other that night in our grief. Holmes wore the proper black armband of a mourning friend and stood beside me when she was buried; but the inside of his suit was lined in black crepe and he wore it for the same full year as I wore my outer black.

At Sherlock's urging ("Work is the best antidote for sorrow, John") I took up pen again and wrote a plausible diversion of a tale to account for his disappearance from London in 1891. Strand readers mourned Sherlock Holmes' "death" at the hands of the villainous Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. (Of course I have changed the professor's actual name through even this candid account, both to save him from the vengeful hands of my friends' admirers and to avoid the scandal that would arise – for I have my suspicions about "Moriarty"'s exact role in the sordid business involving my dear spouse's tragic childhood).

This private and true account of that disappearance is to remain under lock and key in our rooms. This is written for the two of us who live, in honour and blessed memory of our beloved wife and the years in which we three freely associated with each other as a wedded trinity.

Here dwell together still two men, widowed and wed at one and the same time in all but the eyes of the law, until we join our dear Mary in Sussex soil. For though Sherlock Holmes never physically consummated his relationship with either Mary or me, he has proved as tender and loving a husband and friend as any Watson could wish.