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Bloody Balzac!

Chapter Text

The absence of newspapers at the breakfast table was singular.

It was, I determined later, the penultimate in a series of singularities at the breakfast table of 221B Baker Street.

The first had occurred four days prior.

There was a rustling, then a question.

“What do you think of French philosophy, Watson?”

I started, not at the nature of question, but at the question itself. Save for the rare interruption by a desperate client, Holmes and I breakfasted in silence, each absorbed in her own tea and reading material of choice.

Struck by the afore-mentioned singularity, I returned my cup to its saucer and gave the question due consideration. Then I lowered my paper and replied, “Favourable—provided that the philosophy does not include invasion of England.”            

Holmes harrumphed and raised a smudged-ink curtain between us.

Then, casting my mind back to the curve of a certain dancer’s leg, I added, “I do appreciate a certain joie de vivre.”

With no response forthcoming, I raised my own curtain, and silence descended once more upon the jam and butter.

I did not realise at the time, of course, that this particular singularity was a mere scratch compared to the blow that was to come the following morn.


More rustling. This time, I felt quite like a flushed pheasant.

“This evening, there is some Mendelssohn on the programme of that cosy venue you favour—“

Now I was surprised and disconcerted, like that pheasant sans plumes. Within the confines of our humble lodgings, Holmes had played a bit of Lieder on her violin upon request, but we’d never ventured out together to enjoy the melodious strains of—

“You might enjoy it, with, say, a quiet dinner at your club. I’m in need of privacy in the rooms this evening.”

“You haven’t invited another blackguard like Count Sylvius in order to dupe him into coughing up a stolen gem!”

“No.”

“You aren’t going to pretend to be dying, are you? You know how that upset Mrs. Hudson last time.”

She huffed. “Nothing quite so theatrical. Doctor Hooper has done me an unexpected kindness. I wish to show my appreciation. My dinner invitation has been accepted.”

Now I was so shocked that you could have served me, flushed, plucked, and cooked to golden brown, on a plate with some buttered parsnips!

Doctor M. Hooper, Doctor J. H. Watson, and Mister Sherlock Holmes were birds of a feather, as it were, but the flock was by no means cordial.

I met Doctor Hooper when she was studying medicine at what was to become our mutual alma mater. At the time, I marvelled at how, despite the many years than spanned my matriculation and hers, bright young gentlemen seemingly dedicated to shedding light on the mysteries of human anatomy were still pathologically blind to the presence of a pea-hen amongst the cocks, so to speak.

Her plumage was, however, remarkable, and I eyed her moustache with no little appreciation. It resembled a shoe brush, and was as thick and lush as my own well-oiled specimen. We exchanged a few pleasantries and, after an oblique complaint about what one had to do to get ahead in a man’s world, went our separate ways.

With Holmes, the tale was different. As head of the city’s morgue, Doctor Hooper was in possession of a commodity more precious to Holmes than all the accursed rocks of the world combined: dead bodies. The life of Sherlock Holmes was divided into Work and Science, and dead bodies were critical to both, as victims of crimes and as raw material for use in her scientific experiments.

Doctor Hooper was openly hostile to Holmes, disparaging her ‘magic tricks’ whenever we appeared in the morgue. At times, her vitriol spilled over onto me, perhaps out of proximity to her target, but also, I thought, out of a slight envy of my role as Holmes’s companion. Her fierce hatred of Holmes seemed, to my romantic storyteller’s mind, one spark away from ardent flames of passion.

And here was the proof. An unexpected kindness. One that Holmes was repaying with a private dinner, no less, which meant that said kindness must be on the order of an unprecedented magnitude. Or perhaps…

I had always thought that Holmes viewed Doctor Hooper as a means to an end, an obstacle to be circumvented with scheming and posturing and leveraging outside parties like indignant Scotland Yarders. But perhaps, I was wrong. Or perhaps her views had changed.

All this passed through my mind in an instant, and I said, “Just the club, I think.”

Of course I did not go to the club. I sequestered myself upstairs as silent and still as the dead and listened.

With each passing moment, my heart sank deeper. The conversation was amicable, even lively at times. Holmes had brought out the Montrachet, a sure sign of celebration. There was tobacco, one of the many luxuries of living this peculiar life of ours and one in which I indulged regularly, Mrs. Hudson might say to excess. I sorely wished I could have had a smoke right then, but I didn’t dare move. Holmes was playing the violin. The voices grew so soft, I could only make out one word.

Molly.”

I was a pile of spindly bones cast down to the dogs after the feast. The beastly word gnawed at me. It cracked me open and gobbled up my marrow.

On no occasion had Holmes ever called me John, much less Johanna, and it had never occurred to me to call her anything other than Holmes. But now, of course, the seed had been planted. It took root and sprouted immediately.

Rosalind Violet Sherlock Holmes. I would call her Sherlock.

I would call her nothing of the sort.

The voices grew louder and clearer. They were planning another assignation for the following night, and to my dismay, Holmes was actually outlining how she would surreptitiously depart Baker Street for their rendezvous without my being the wiser.

Really! Like I was some sort of dozing chaperone! I was a man—and woman—of the world!

The next morning I informed Holmes, through the barriers of our respective newspapers, that I would be spending the evening playing cards with Stamford at his club. She grunted.

I believed myself to be quite skilled in the art of deception when I met Holmes, but upon taking up residence in Baker Street, I became apprentice anew and under her tutelage acquired even more proficiency. That night I donned my best camouflage and went in search of them.

They were where I predicted: the morgue.

The scene broke my heart, for I knew it well. Holmes was the medical student with her first cadaver dissection, and Doctor Hooper was the seasoned instructor, taking her through the steps, one by one by one.

I left them to their examinations and stumbled back toward my club, and upon abandoning my disguise, devoted myself to whiskey and tobacco until dawn.


Such was my state when I was forced to contemplate a singularly naked breakfast table. Holmes appeared and sat down and proceeded as usual. I copied her movements and waited for the axe to fall.

“Watson, I wish to discuss an important matter with you.”

I sighed. She stared at me for a moment, but I motioned for her to continue. Best to get it out and be done with it. I already knew the verdict: Doctor J.H. Watson was out, and Doctor M. Hooper was in.

“It is a question of marriage.”

It was too much. My nerves were frayed raw. “Good Lord! Your marriage?!”

“Yes.”

Holmes was going to marry Hooper! Just to get her hands on a never-ending supply of corpses? Or was it…I shuddered…a love match?

Oh, to be the soul of that flushed, plucked, devoured, and disassembled pheasant and fly far away from this most miserable of breakfast tables!

There was only one question left to ask, but it was a delicate one. Holmes and I never discussed our dual natures at any length, and I fear that in my state of agitation I was a bit more boorish than I would have been otherwise.

“Am I to be a bridesmaid or a groomsman?” I blurted.

She stared at me directly, without a slip of broadsheet or daily between us.

“Neither. You are to be, should you accept my proposal, the bride. Or the groom. Or both.”

“WHAT?! WHAT IN THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU GOING ON ABOUT?”

Now it was Holmes’s turn to be the pheasant. She got up and fluttered about the room. Her dressing gown was strewn carelessly on the sofa. She threw it off and gathered the stack of newspapers that lay beneath. She hurried back to the table and dropped the bundle between us.

“Holmes!”

“Please disregard my earlier statement. Pray, let us continue as we were…”

“Stop it! You wanted my complete attention; you’re going to bloody well deal with it! Now, first, what is the understanding between you and Hooper?”

“Hooper?”

“Last night, in the morgue? The night before, here?” I gestured to the room about us.

“Oh. That was Balzac.”

“I know the lines get blurred around here, but you were dissecting a female last night, not Honoré de Balzac.”

Holmes huffed. “He said, and I quote, ‘A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy and dissected at least one woman.’ I thought it to be pretty sound advice, and seeing as how I haven’t actually completed a full dissection of a female to-date and how, when comes to certain matters, I don’t want to leave anything to chance, I contrived to obtain access to an appropriate corpse and the aid of a learned guide.”

“Let’s leave Balzac aside for the moment. You seduced Hooper into letting you dissect a corpse!”

“You were upstairs.”

“Of course I was upstairs!”

“No, I thought of deceiving Doctor Hooper, but, as I mentioned before, it was a delicate case, so I opted to take the proverbial high road. I put the matter before him directly, and he named his price. It was he who dictated every aspect of the evening down to the imbibing of my beloved Montrachet.” She grimaced.  

“You prostituted yourself for a corpse!”

“I prostituted myself for you! I’ve studied a good deal of anatomy, of course and, as of last night, I’ve dissected one woman from head to toe. So, I place myself before you.” The last bit she said very solemnly.

“You’re proposing marriage to me?”

“Yes, Watson, do keep up.”

“Is Mister Sherlock Holmes proposing marriage to Doctor J.H. Watson? Or…?”

“I am proposing to love, comfort, honour, and keep you, in sickness and in health, and forsake all others for as long as we both shall live.” She put her hand on mine. “And I am asking you if you will do the same for me.” By the last word, her voice was trembling, and I had never seen her, not at her most ill or imperilled, look so ashen.

How could she doubt my answer?

“Yes,” I said plainly and put my other hand atop hers.

She smiled.

“On one condition,” I added.

She frowned.

“That we work out the particulars after breakfast.”

She huffed. “Naturally.”

We silently distributed the papers between us, and the final words uttered before the singular became once again the blissfully quotidian were mine,

“Bloody Balzac!”

Chapter Text

Holmes was not the only resident of 221B Baker Street who could deduce.

I knew that something was stirring that morning by the way in which she buttered her toast, but the matter could not have been death or life or marriage because she waited until our breakfast had been reduced to crumbs, dregs, and a pile of improperly folded newspapers before presenting the case.

Or the box, to be precise.

With a magician’s flourish, she produced a small, flat, gold rectangle.

I smiled.

It was impossible to surprise Holmes with a gift. She could deduce the very idea of one—even before the idea has fully formed in my mind—from the flicker of my eye towards a shop window, and as such, it became my habit for Christmas and other notable occasions to bestow upon her a bottle of wine or a pouch of tobacco, impersonal tokens, as predictable as they were predicted.

That morning, however, I discovered that the impossible was only highly improbable, for at least once in our long and colourful association, I had surprised her—surprised and pleased, judging by the twitch on her lips that bloomed into a grin when she said,

“Monsieur de Sévigné came by yesterday evening on business.”

“The Case of the Confiscated Confections? The Purloined—no, Poe used that one, didn’t he?—Pilfered Petit Fours?”

“His business, not mine. He is interested in creating a limited edition truffle, the Sherlock Holmes.”

She raised the gold box.

“These are the three finalists. I am to select the one that I deem most representative and communicate my decision to him by tomorrow. I insisted that there be two examples of each so that we might compare impressions. They arrived by special courier early this morning.”

Now readers of The Strand may remember my description of Holmes as sensitive to flattery on the score of her art alone and quite disdainful of popular notoriety, and so you might conclude that she would find the whole scheme distasteful.

You would be wrong.

It was word made flesh or flesh made chocolate, to be precise. The homage, perhaps because of its nature, unexpected, singular, and temporal, or perhaps because of my role in it, struck her as wondrous.

I deduced as much by the manner in which her pale cheeks flushed with colour, her eyes lit, and her voice fell to a timbre never before heard outside the four walls of a bed chamber.

“Watson.”

But in that same moment, our next adventure opened, abruptly and dramatically as the door, with the arrival of a huge man in a grey check suit and flowing salmon-coloured tie. He burst into the room, demanding,

“Which of you gentlemen is Mister Sherlock Holmes?”

Fists swung. Pokers clattered. Woolly heads were in precipitous danger of being broken by both.

And then Holmes and I were on our way to Harrow Weald.

The rest of the day was spent in transit. Upon return to central London, we met with Langdale Pike. Then just as we crossed the threshold of 221B, a telegram arrived alerting Holmes to a burglary at our client’s home. A return journey to Harrow Weald followed, and the case concluded at an address in Grosvenor Square.

There had been no pause for nourishment, and by the time we returned to Baker Street, my tea and toast were a faint memory. As Mrs. Hudson was away, Holmes suggested Simpson’s.

Then I remembered the gold box.

Holmes read my thought plainly. She produced it once more and lifted the lid.

The first was a dark brown mound.

“Shall I?”

She nodded and took the other.

The confection melted in my mouth.

“Honey,” I declared.

“You showed your hand there, my dear Watson. How would Monsieur Sevigné know of my affinity for bees? It is not something you’ve mentioned in your stories as of yet.”

“Honey is a common enough element in sweets, Holmes. It is very good.”

“True and true, but should there be anything common in a truffle named Sherlock Holmes?”

There was the Holmes that world knew, the Holmes that earlier in the day had examined a fist made for pummelling right under her nose and coolly asked, “Were you born so? Or did it come by degrees?”

“On to the second then,” I said. It was a square of similar colour and size as the first.

It, too, melted in my mouth, but the centre was a very different nectar.

“Extraordinary!” I ejaculated.

Holmes was also intrigued. “Yes, Monsieur Sévigné is clearly as expert in his field as I am in mine. I should like to know the chemistry of it. An infusion or perhaps an injection?”

“Of Montrachet in chocolate!”

She hummed and chewed.

“It is very good as well. I see no clear winner,” I confessed.

“I fear hunger has blunted your palette, Watson. Well—“ 

“Mister Holmes! Mister Holmes!”

I recognised the voice as belonging to one of the Baker Street irregulars—that unofficial force of street urchins that served as Holmes’s eyes and ears about the city.

“Ah, that would Wiggins wanting his recompense for yesterday’s efforts. Excuse me, Watson. Do not eat that truffle!” She disappeared through the doorway.

I peered into the box. The third was work of art.

A violin.

A tiny violin of a light brown colour.

I bent to breathe in the rich aroma; my empty belly growled.

Do not eat that truffle! How dare she order me about like child?

I popped it in my mouth. It was sweeter than the first two, with a sharp citrus flavour.

“Watson!”

I smiled as I chewed. “Orange crème. Lovely. This is it!”

Her face was so stricken it brought to mind our time upon the moor.

“I told you not to eat it!” she cried.

As I whined in protest, the flavour changed. A familiar bitterness erupted upon my tongue.

Laudanum.

“BLOODY HELL, HOLMES!”

My voice, at its most indignant and irate, has the rare quality of discombobulating Holmes. Gone was the steely character who just this morning had taunted an adversary thrice her size. She began to pace about the room, babbling.

“It’s fine, it’s fine…”

It is a blessing that I was the only witness to her distress because if anyone else had viewed the spectacle the ruse of MisterSherlock Holmes would have surely been up. She was, in that moment, all goose and no gander.

No matter, I was gander enough for two.

“IT IS NOT FINE!” I roared and fell into my armchair, head in hands. “I shall need a purgative.” I looked up at her. We both grimaced. “I must retire at once, but I’ve not eaten…”

“I’ll pillage the larder for biscuits and claret!”

I was on my feet again. “BISCUITS AND CLARET!”

I was the lion; she, the mouse. She squeaked.

I sighed and made for the stairs. “It will act swiftly, Holmes. I shall be in a dreamless sleep very soon.” Her words stopped my progress.

“Not dreamless, Watson.”

I turned back. She was right, of course. Not dreamless.

Then Holmes did the most extraordinary thing. Extraordinary and foolhardy, to be precise.

She gobbled the last truffle.

Her hands were by her sides when she recited solemnly,

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither my Watson goest, I will go.”

“NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR SCRIPTURE, HOLMES! YOU ARE NOT RUTH, I AM NOT NAOMI, AND WHERE IN THE BLOODY HELL ARE WE GOING?”

She took my hand.

“To Xanadu and beyond.”

I will not recount the remainder of the evening, though it is still clearly etched in my memory, for our dream—it was, in fact as Holmes foretold, shared—was lurid, so lurid as to make a grey checked suit and salmon-coloured tie deemed Savile Row’s subtlest by comparison.

I will only close with my final words as we mounted the stairs together,

“Bloody Coleridge!”

Chapter Text

Even now, I can recall the morning clearly. Spring flowers were in bloom outside the walls of 221B Baker Street, but inside, a thick frost had formed.

Holmes’ icy stare cut through the two newspapers that separated us, but did nothing to chill me. My blood was already boiling.

There was a rustling and a hissed invective. Like fowl flushed by an asp.

You are a sly one, Watson!

My retort was cocked and ready.

I learned at the feet of a master!

Newspapers and pretence abandoned, our eyes met. Her gaze was as cool as her tone.

“I am an omnivorous reader, Watson. My appetite extends such publications as Town Talk: A Journal for Society at Large.”

“Indeed. How voracious of you.”

She produced a copy of said weekly and read aloud:

 

“SIR – May I ask whether you or any of your readers have had the singular experience of, upon administering discipline of the lower variety to a beloved but obstinate young gentleman, having the dear ask you for a mirror to view the evidence of his castigation? I gave my little Sherrinford a well-deserved birching on that part of the body which nature has intended for the purpose, only to have my beautiful boy asked his mother not only for a looking glass, but also paper and writing implement so as to sketch a reproduction of cuts inflicted. I did not spare the rod, as Solomon so wisely advised, but was I spoiling the child to indulge his whim at artistry?– MRS. ORMONDA SACKER”

“Poor woman. Must be vexing for her. What was the reply?”

“It was a scientific study! A comparison in the pattern of bruising—“

“I am content to play the role of fool in fiction, my own fiction, Holmes, but do not ask me to play it in the privacy of my home—“

Her eyes flashed. “How dare you! An innocent man was freed because of—“

“How dare I? Oh, you shameless creature! My revenge was as precise and exact as the surgeon’s knife. Your reputation is not tainted. Only you and I know the truth of the circumstances and the persons involved, and Mrs. Sacker’s query is no more or less provocative than the ones of last week or next in that publication. Your humiliation is a private affair, as humiliation should be.”

I paused to snort as derisively as possible, then continued.

“The inciting incident, on other hand, had all the precision and exactitude of a cannon blast! You have made me the object of pity and ridicule of every tobacconist in this city! No one will sell so much as a pinch of the stuff! And they all look at me with such a mixture of sorrow and derision, I cannot even speculate on the tale that you fabricated—or the sums with which you parted—to win support for your scheme.”

“And if I had asked you directly to curtail your smoking?”

“I would’ve directly, but politely and respectfully, ignored you. Smoking what I want, when I want is one of my principle reasons for stepping through this looking glass of ours. Yours, too, if you are honest with yourself, which I sincerely doubt you are, going by the depth of self-deception you are currently displaying—“

“You have a cough.”

I got to my feet and, unfortunately, coughed. But when my voice was once again my own, I threw my arms wide and shouted,

“Welcome to London, that great cesspool into which all the coughing loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained! Why don’t you leave the practice of medicine to the doctor?!”

Now she was on her feet.

“That’s why I did it! Because you are so obstinate! For the past two weeks, what you have been spitting into your chamber pot at night is alarming to say the least—“

“What reason have you for looking into my chamber pot?!”

“The same reason that you look into mine or that any of your patients! Because I am concerned—!”

“Yes, I’ve been seeing your concern on the face of every shopkeeper I visited yesterday.”

“Had you seen a secretion of that nature on the handkerchief of a patient, you would’ve immediately recommended decreased use of tobacco, but you are blind to the consequences that your habit is having on your health—“

“Blind? Let’s talk about who is blind here—“

Just then, there was a knock and a voice.

“A Mister Amberley to see you, Mister Holmes. Are you at home?”

We both huffed.

A client! When I could not bear to be in the same room with her! It was too much.

“I’m going out for some air,” I said.

“Do! If you can survive it!” she cried.

I set off at a brisk pace but almost immediately found myself winded. Much too soon for my pride, I was forced to return to Baker Street.

“Did you see him?” Holmes asked.

“You mean the old fellow who has just gone out?”

“Precisely.”

“Yes, I met him at the door.”

“What did you think of him?”

I glared at her and practically spit the words. “A pathetic, futile, broken creature.”

“Exactly, Watson. Pathetic and futile. But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole?”

Gone was the asp of earlier. Her voice was melancholy, philosophic, and the sudden shift in mood roused a concern greater than my ire. 

And then I was off to Lewisham.


“With your natural advantages…”

My natural advantages! Was she jesting?

“…I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the ‘Blue Anchor’ and receiving hard somethings in exchange…”

Perhaps a pair of blows! Those would be hard somethings! I didn’t press the matter, however, because her mood seemed lightened, if only slightly. But it was much more than slightly because soon we were off to the Albert Hall to hear Carina sing, with Holmes acting as if all was forgiven and forgotten.


But all was not forgiven or forgotten because the following day she sent me on the wildest of errands without so much as a plug of ‘ship’s’ for comfort. I cursed her the entire journey, but luckily, news of her embargo had not reached that primitive corner of the world referred to as Little Paddington, so I did have the opportunity to indulge my vice, courtesy of the proprietor of the ‘Railway Arms.’ It was not the Arcadia of my bachelor days, as Holmes calls them, but I did not complain.

I smoked.


When the case concluded, we returned to Baker Street in silence. Without a word, Holmes poured me a medicinal brandy, but the spirit had barely touched my lips before I was mumbling an apology and retiring to my bed chamber.

I slept fitfully, if you can call it ‘sleep’ when one’s few resting moments are full of imagined screams and frantic pounding and scratching on sealed doors.

I woke to the smell of fresh green paint. The air in my lungs was being poisoned, just like in Amberley’s murder-chamber.  My coughs were a loud, body-quaking rattling. Yet somehow, amidst the noise, the soft strains of a lullaby reached my ears.

I donned my heaviest dressing gown and padded clumsily downstairs.

When I entered the room, Holmes set her instrument and bow on the sofa and approached me. 

With her gold cigarette case open.

I snarled and shook my head and when I opened my mouth to speak, my voice was a grating rasp.

“I am a man of the world, Holmes, and I have seen quite a bit in my travels. I may not be able to tie bits of knowledge as you do, but I know people, and my ‘natural advantages,’ as you call them, are largely based on instinct. And I know you.” I pointed at her. “And I know the precise moment when that comparison of the pattern of bruising of yours became something more than scientific. And, in case you are wondering, I am not disgusted or repulsed in any way by that knowledge, but if you are not willing to admit it, then...”

I shrugged. I was so very tired. There was no part of me that did not ache. I wasted my last breath on a parting shot.

“But I will not play the fool here.”

I gestured to the space between us. Then I looked at her, and any other night, I would have reached out my hand and brushed that trembling bottom lip with my thumb.

I turned, and if Holmes called my name as I retreated, well, the word was drowned in the phantom shrieks of Mrs. Amberley and my hacking cough.


In a couple of hours, I was dressed and out the front door, on a mission. It took me some time to find what I sought, putting me quite late to the breakfast table.

Holmes was already seated. She began pouring tea as I entered. In the centre of the breakfast table was a vase of flowers.

Flowers that looked very much like the bouquet in my hand.

I sighed.  

Holmes and I are both fluent in that particular dialect so I was not surprised to see the purple hyacinths asking for forgiveness and the forget-me-nots declaring true love and the blue violets expressing faithfulness in our bouquets. The one variegated tulip in mine was meant to honour the stormy grey eyes that lit upon it.

I sat and, at the new angle, spied in her arrangement—and how she came to find it that time of year I shall never know—one dog rose.

Pleasure and pain.

She was watching me. I looked at her and nodded. And it seemed that spring’s warmth had finally breached the walls of our humble abode.

We spoke at the same time.

“Sussex.”

“Cornwall.”

We laughed.

“Please,” I said, gesturing for her to continue.

“I was thinking that a complete change of scene and air might be agreeable.”

“I was thinking precisely the same. Cornwall? Not Sussex?”

“A cottage near Poldhu Bay. If you’re amenable, of course.”

“I am.”

“Good. I will make the arrangements at once, if you will be so kind as to pack our bags.”

“Certainly.”

With equanimity restored, I reached for a newspaper and eyed the toast with no little alacrity.

“And Watson?”

“Hmm?”

“Please reserve a small amount of space—say, the size of a riding crop—in the luggage. There may be a necessity for further study of bruising.”

“Quite.”

Holmes went to a stack of old newspapers on the desk. Even without looking, I had no doubt which edition she was throwing into the fire. I hid my grin in my teacup and allowed her to have the last word before the hallowed silence of the breakfast table descended upon us.

“Hitting a child with a birch!” she scoffed. “Mrs. Sacker sounds like a bloody Sade!” 

 

Chapter Text

I yawned.

Holmes poured coffee for both of us.

“So, Watson, in your dream, were you the werewolf or the prey?”

I stared at her in astonishment. “Holmes! How…?”

She returned—with mockery, I noted—my wide-eyed gaze. “How can you, my dear man, still be so awed? Really, your reaction is a natural wonder. It has not dimmed since that first day at Barts. Yesterday evening, you fell asleep twice by the fire with…”

The Lancet,” I said, sipping the hot liquid and groaning with delight. “Now this will put hair on your chest! Good show, Mrs. Hudson!”

Sherlock tasted it and coughed. “Indeed.” Then she returned cup to saucer. “How can I fail to observe when a work as sensationally named as The Were-Wolf is hidden between the pages of a stalwart medical journal? After you were roused from your siesta segunda, you proceeded to abscond with two candles, no doubt to finish in your bedroom what you had started here.” She gestured to my armchair.

“I simply desired to know how the story ended.”

“And in doing so, gave yourself nightmares.”

“I am a storyteller, Holmes. Any story worth its salt is bound to make an impression.”

“But look at you this morning! Your lurid taste in fiction is detrimental to your health, Watson!”

My cup crashed into its saucer; brown elixir sloshed onto cream-coloured porcelain. I pointed a finger at Holmes and dropped my voice to a menacing tone. “Listen carefully, my good man, if you even think of attempting to do with booksellers what you did with tobacconists, there will be no experiments of any kind for a month!”

She scowled.

I scowled. And reached for a newspaper, but before my hand arrived at its destination, she said coolly,

“You did not answer my question, Watson.”

“If you must know, I was Little Rol.”

She bid me continue with the flourish of a hand, so I did.

“He’s a child who plays with a puppy, plays with a dog, and gets his hand cut while all the able-bodied are hard at work. Then he gets kissed, and, after wandering off, presumably eaten, by the were-wolf, who is a lovely, snowy, furry vision named White Fell.”

Holmes rolled her eyes. “Of course, why didn’t I deduce it? A she-werewolf. Lurid.”

“Not at all. It is religious allegory. The hero is, in fact, named Christian.” I rose and fetched the book in question and dropped it atop the newspapers. “He represents Christ, who died for our sins. That is not my interpretation: it says so on the final page.”

Sherlock eyed the cover. “Clemence Housman.” Then she lifted the book and flipped some pages. “Oh, yes. You like this wolf.”

“Every good story needs a flawed villain as well as a flawed hero.”

“Indeed. And what are her flaws?”

“People-eating. Axe-wielding.” I smiled and made a chopping motion with my hand.

Holmes huffed. “As I said, lurid.”

“I think you might like it, Holmes. Goodness knows what your dreams would be made of if you read it.”

She laughed. “I prefer my murderous axe-wielders to be of the real, clue-leaving, prosecutable kind. And such tawdry tales have no effect on the superior mind.”

Now I might not study the Pink ‘Un like I once did, but I can still smell a wager in the air.

“You sound awful confident, Holmes. Care to put some money where your alluring mouth is?”

Ignoring my flirtation, she laughed again, louder. “Certainly! The odds are mine.”

I shrugged and said, “I always did favour a dark horse.” This time, I stared pointedly at her lustrous mane, which though cut, trimmed, and slicked to a decidedly masculine shine, still stirred me.

She had the good sense to bury her blush in her cup and say, “New soles for your favourite boots.”

“A bottle of Montrachet,” I countered.

“Deal.”

We shook hands and by mute agreement gave ourselves over to breakfast. And more of that excellent coffee.


The next morning, Holmes made an awful spectre at the breakfast feast.

Pale, bleary-eyed, dishevelled.

“Oh, your silly boots!” she spat.

With only one glance at the table, she turned away and mumbled, “Nothing for me.”

“My dear man, I had no idea you’d be so affected. You slept poorly.”

She glared at me. More spitting, now with snarling. “Obvious.”

“You dreamt…”

“As you did. That you were Little Rol and that dreadful White Fell took you from me and no one would listen and I was running and running and she cut my hand off with that dreadful axe of hers and then…”

She reached for her cigarette case.

I touched her shoulder. “Coffee?”

She shook her head.

“How about some fresh air? The first shoots of green are breaking out upon the elms and the sticky spearheads of the chestnuts are just beginning to burst into their five-fold leaves.”

“What do I care for elms or chestnuts?!” She lit a cigarette and puffed. “Christ, I hate it when you wax poetic about the bloody spring!” She dropped the cigarette in her cup of coffee. “Might improve it.”

“Holmes.” I pressed more firmly on her shoulder, seeking to touch the soul beneath the layers of worldly costume.

“Oh, all right,” she said. “But no talk of, of…”

“No talk at all, if you’d prefer.”

She grunted.


When we returned, our page-boy said that a gentleman had been asking for Holmes. We found his pipe left on the table and soon we met the man himself, one Mister Grant Munro.


“It is all surmise!” I cried. “You have no evidence that her first husband is alive. None whatsoever.”

“But at least it covers all the facts!”

“I can imagine a dozen theories that cover the facts as well as yours do, starting with, oh, I don’t know, a bloody werewolf!”

Holmes snorted. “New facts may come to light and force me to reconsider, until then we wait for a message from Norbury."


The scene warmed my heart: Munro lifting the little girl, kissing her, holding his hand out to his wife, issuing such noble, comforting words. I followed the family in silence down the lane, content to bask in the love that radiated from them for a few moments longer. So absorbed was I that I quite forgot about Holmes entirely until she plucked at my sleeve.

“I think that we shall be of more use in London than in Norbury.”


We spoke no more of the matter until late that night, when she took her leave, with lighted candle in hand, and said,

“Watson, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers or giving less pains to a case than deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

“Holmes, if I put you off your game by my wager…”

She waved a hand. “I’ll see to your boots in the morning.”

I sighed and tossed the thin tome in the fire, saying,

“Bloody werewolves!”

Chapter Text

I found Holmes on the beach with her bare feet in the incoming tide. I removed my shoes and socks and joined her. We had most of the shoreline to ourselves.

“How did you find tea with the local doctors, Watson?”

“Tiresome, as you predicted.”

“Old-fashioned?”

“Positively antiquated. I took most exception to their views on women’s health, that is, the threats to women’s health.”

“What threats?” Holmes’ voice bore a teasing lilt. “I am an omnivorous collector of such facts, as you know.”

“Horseback riding, bicycling, sewing machines—“

“Oh, the dreaded sewing machine!” she cried in mock horror. “That up and down. Where will it all end, Watson?!”

I laughed. “Let’s see, they opposed vigorous exercise, running—“

“My dear Watson, I feel the necessity to exercise a liberty.” Then she nodded to the far end of the beach and took off at a sprint along the water’s edge.

I ran after her.

She reached the rocks long before me.

“How do you feel, Watson?”

And in that moment, she was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.

“Utterly ruined,” I panted, “for anything but the joy and privilege of helping you, regardless of danger or madness or whatever else the world may lay at our doorstep. What next, my dear Holmes?”

She gave me a mischievous grin and said,

“Bicycles.”

 

Chapter Text

“Inhale the witching air, Watson!”

“Where are we?”

“A place of listless repose where good people walk in continual reverie. That,” she pointed to a valley, “is Sleepy Hollow.”

“A dream?”

Holmes nodded.

“Yours or mine?”

“Perhaps a folie à deux.”

Something stirred. “I like your Continental side, Holmes.”

Holmes snorted and nodded toward the village below. “Shall we tarry?”

“By all means.”


We journeyed like ghosts, our feet never touching soil.

“There is the schoolhouse where Inchabod Crane was master,” said Holmes. “And the church.”

“And the graveyard,” I added. “And the bridge where Crane met the Galloping Hessian on his return from a quilting frolic at the Van Tassel home.”

“Where we are headed now. Ah!”

The long table was brimming with food.

Pigeon pie. Geese swimming in gravy. Ducks in onion sauce.


I woke on the sofa at Baker Street. “Holmes, you didn’t solve the case!”

“What case? The man had received his pay no more than two days prior, the object of his affection had thrown him over, and he’d been scared out of his wits by a prankster. Clearly he eschewed returning to his eelpot of a residence and sought a new life elsewhere. But our dinner, if my nose doesn’t deceive me, is on its way up the stairs. Woodcock!”

“Bloody Irving—and his birds!”

 

Chapter Text

“Now, Robert, you have heard it all, and I am very sorry if I have given you pain…”

“Excuse me, but it is not my custom to discuss my most intimate personal affairs in this public manner.”

“Then you won’t forgive me? You won’t shake hands before I go?”

“Oh certainly, if it would give you any pleasure.”

As poignant as the scene was, my thoughts returned to the cold woodcock and the rest of the epicurean supper laid out upon our humble lodging-house mahogany.

Such a lavish feast might have been for the benefit of our distinguished client, Lord Robert St. Simon, but I suspected Holmes had a less obvious plan in mind. That suspicion was confirmed when his lordship declined the invitation to dine as I—and if I, then surely Holmes—had anticipated.

I think that there you ask a little too much…”

Holmes proceeded to spew some nonsense about America toward the couple.

Then I trust that you at least will honour me with your company…

She was biding her time until the clunk of the front door and the grind of carriage wheels.

Then she spun in a circle. Without violin and bow in hand, the motion was even more theatrical than usual, but it allowed for the subtlest of nods in my direction before placing her once again before the pair calling themselves Mister and Mrs. Frank Hay Moulton.

“Please,” Holmes gestured to the table, “a reunion such as yours deserves a celebration.”

‘Such as yours’ is but one letter removed from ‘such as ours.’

Holmes would show her hand. She would not, could not resist a reveal such as this one.

But when?

She waited until the meal was well underway, when the second round of laudatory exclamations about the food had passed.

Then she pounced.

“Mister Francis Hay Moulton,” she said slowly, pronouncing each syllable with care. “Francis. Perhaps spelt a bit differently on your certificate of birth. I’s and e’s can look so similar in a sloppy hand. Such as Watson’s, for example.”

Her words were met by the sharp clank of dropped cutlery and frightened stares.

“Mister Holmes…”

“Do not alarm yourself,” said Holmes, setting her pale hand atop a wiry, sunburnt one. “Observation exceeds discretion by a very thin margin in these rooms, for me and for Watson,” I gave as reassuring a smile as I could muster with a mouth full of gamey manna, “who as a doctor picks up on certain anatomical clues much more readily than most.”

I grunted, then quickly hid my face under the pretense of downing the last of my drink.

Yes, let’s attribute it to medical training, shall we?

Through the curved glass, I spied our guests, and the look that passed between them was so achingly familiar that my own gaze went instinctively to Holmes. And hers to me.

I set my empty glass on the table. How much will they tell us?

She gave a minute shrug. How much would we tell them?

I snorted. Not a word. I’d shoot them first. Carve them up. Put them in a pie. Excellent pie, by the way.

She raised one eyebrow, then refilled my glass, pouring from one of a pair of ancient, cobwebby bottles.

“Perhaps it would be best to bury the past with a toast to the future,” I suggested with a wink.

After all, putting people out of their misery is part of the oath.

Their eyes lit. “Thank you, Doctor Watson. Mister Holmes.”

Four glasses clinked.

“So what are your plans?” I asked.

Another look passed between them.

I threw an impatient glance of my own at Holmes who raised a solemn ‘calm yourself’ hand.

“Frank’s not in the best of health.”

This statement was followed by what would prove to be, in a long and distinguished medical career, one of the most unconvincing coughs I ever had the misfortune to hear.

“So you’ll return to America and enjoy your remaining days in quiet, but comfortable, seclusion,” said Holmes. “You, Mister Moulton, perhaps have a female cousin or sister…”

“Yes, a twin sister, in fact, quite unknown to anyone outside the family, of course.”

“A secret twin!” I cried.

Holmes shushed me. She then ignored by glare and continued speaking, “…who will afford her comfort and household support in her widowhood. You and your sister-in-law will settle in…”

“Boston.”

“Excellent, or so I’m told,” said Holmes and smiled an almost doting smile.

Good Lord.

I sniffed. My eyes drifted to the remaining mausoleum of a bottle. Its curves recalled a Tahitian lady I’d once met on the banks of the river Seine. I gave the bottle an appreciative caress and contemplated spending the rest of the evening smoking myself into a Swiss sanatorium.

Somehow Holmes brought the evening to a close.

I waited for the clunk of the front door and the grind of hansom wheels before ejaculating,

“Holmes! You like them! Deny it!”

“Of course, I like them. I wouldn’t have helped her to rid herself of the other one if I didn’t. My question is: why don’t you?”

My reply was a frustrated shake of the head. Then I sputtered.

“Gold mining! Apaches! A secret twin!

“Their story is as good as any.”

“It is not as good as any,” I retorted.

“Not as good as meeting by chance in a laboratory.”

“If ever there was a rebuttal for pure chance guiding this life, it was that day in the laboratory!”

That silenced us both for a while.

Then Holmes reached for the unopened bottle. “Shall we save it for another occasion? Or would you like to continue your seduction?”

“An empty vessel’s as good as a full one in that respect,” I quipped.

“Is it really, Doctor Watson?” she said coolly.

I rose and closed the distance between us, leaning in until I could smell the sage and the spirit on her breath.

“I have a thought or two about for how we can use this,” I rested my hand on the neck of the empty bottle, “in whiling away these bleak autumnal evenings.”

Her cheeks went pink. Her mouth dropped open.

“I meant accompanying you on your violin,” I teased and blew across the rim of the bottle, producing a hollow thum-thum.

“Oh!” She looked away as pink deepened to scarlet. “You cad!”

“True, but I am your cad.”

When she looked back, her expression changed from warm regard to resolve; whatever was about to spring forth from those lips would slay me.

She nodded to the bottle. “Clean it well, and I’ll consider a duet,” she said haughtily before disappearing into her bedroom.


When I had completed my task, she reappeared wrapped in a dark blue silk dressing gown. She studied the bottle as if it were a clue upon which an entire case hinged; then, with flask in hand, she pivoted on her heels and strode towards the stairs.

The stairs to my bedroom.

She stopped and, looking over her shoulder, asked, “Do you know ‘O Susanna’?” She resumed her journey whistling the jaunty tune.

Slayed as foretold.

I tossed a breathy “Bloody Americans!” at the remnants of our feast and mounted the stairs behind her.

Chapter Text

Holmes and I rarely sojourned upstairs.

The bed was short, she was long. The room was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Any coupling resulted in the awkward and the sublime playing cards, trading wins and losses, cheats and thrown hands.

But tonight had already proved exceptional, the meal and the wine and the happy resolution to the case of the runaway bride, so it seemed right to be folded together atop the neatly-made bed.

Holmes was nestled between my legs, leaning back again my chest as I leaned against the wall. My fingers moved in gentle circles across her bare skin, rubbing back and shoulders, chest and belly.

But it was more than a lover’s caress.

My hands were searching for abrasions, anomalies in skin texture or circulation. I would often stop and lean forward, craning my head at an improbable angle, to scan her face for any sign of discomfort, however slight, at my touch. The instruments that she used to be Sherlock Holmes would not be allowed to wound her. And of the two of us, her body bore the stricter subjugation.

My examination was concluding, but not fast enough because she snapped,

“I’m fine, Doctor.”

My lips brushed the nape of her neck, once again awkward was trumps as the difference in heights forbid convenient reach, but it was plain to me—and if to me, then certainly to her—that the doctor was no longer in attendance.

My cupping of her breasts, my flicking of her nipples must have also been awkward because I could not tear my mind or mouth from the taste of her skin.

“You are,” I kissed and nuzzled the line of short, dark hair, “so much more than fine, Holmes. You are, in fact, edible.”

I licked. And bit. And worried a path from left to right across her back. I was suckling at a spot on her right shoulder when she threw her head back and said,

“Parisian?”

“What?”

“The woman you thought of tonight.”

“Holmes, I adore you with a devotion that borders on madness.” I kissed her neck and nipped at the shell of her ear. “There will never be another for me. How can you possibly be jealous?”

She huffed and tilted her head toward the bottle resting on the bedside table. “But?”

“In Paris,” I conceded. “But not of it.”

“Obvious.”

By way of reply, I gave her breasts a hard squeeze, and she squeaked.

“The bottle?” I asked, forcing myself to divide attention between fondling the luscious globes in my hands and bathing every available inch of her with my tongue.

“Later. For now, just you.”

Suddenly, I was drunk on the thought—how could she possibly want just me—but her matter-of-fact tone was cutting through the fog.

“I never consider them except as nuisance, until…”

‘Them,’ I realised, were the mounds of flesh I was weighing in my palms.

“Later, I will suckle them properly,” I promised.

“Watson.” She twisted around to face me and pushed up onto her knees and I realized ‘later’ was to be, in fact, ‘now.’

I sucked each nipple in turn; my hidden tongue teased and toyed until both buds pebbled hard. She wove her fingers in my hair and guided my mouth, back and forth. In time, her skin broke out in a thin sheen of sweat, and I lapped down the valley of her cleavage with undisguised thirst.

She turned back and sank to the bed and lifted an arm up and back; once more awkwardness prevailed as her long limb could not precisely curl around my neck, but rather rested on the side of my head.

But her lips met her and that, well, that was the very definition of sublime.

We kissed for a short eternity, and I only broke away to looked down at the erotic tableau set before me. Back arched. Breasts lifted. Knee bent. Legs wide. Gorgeous wet mons on display, just waiting for the attention it so richly deserved.

“The feast here,” I teased, “rivals the one on the mahogany downstairs.”

My hands moved lower, caressing her belly.

“Both for you,” she answered.

I chuckled. “This one will not be shared with Mister and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton of California. And certainly not with that prick St. Simon.”

She pulled away slightly. “The supper was for you, Watson.”

I frowned.

“You don’t consider that,” she gestured to the bottle, “a bit luxurious even for an avuncular detective playing host to the reunion of a young, singular couple? It’s an anniversary.”

Good Lord.

“Holmes, forgive me, but what exactly…?”

“The first time…”

Oh.

But no.

I drew her back to me and pressed my lips to her shoulder. “Holmes, I distinctly remember that our first time, daffodils were in bloom.”

I heard the smile in her voice. “Your first time.”

Oh. Well.

I nuzzled her neck. “The things you remember.”

“As if you’ve forgot a single one of mine,” she countered. “Plus, the rarer the stone, the more valuable, the more celebrated.”

The more cursed, I thought, but kissed the slope of her neck tenderly and whispered, “Yours is a price above rubies, my love.”

My fingers brushed wiry hair, and her tone turned impatient. “Watson.”

“Yeah, it’s time, no?”


I teased her folds until she called me the bastard son of a flea-bitten cur and a whoremonger, further proof, if I needed any, that Captain Basil was one of her favourites.

She was so wet, so open. Two fingers slid in easily with an obscene squelching noise that never ceased to stoke my lust. She threw her head back and moaned, then gave me a side-eye.

“Better than your Parisian girl?”

“There is no competition. Not now, not ever. I’m yours.”

Both of my hands were settled on the core of her, my fingers thrusting in and out of her wetness while my thumbs gently brushed her mons.

“Mine,” she said, wincing as if the word pained her. “Watson.”

She rolled her head back and forth. Her body clenched, inside and out. I added two more fingers and sped up my thrusting, timing my inhales and exhales to her open-mouth panting so as to anticipate her release.

And there is was, the tell-tale catch in her breath.

What I did not anticipate was the word on her lips as she came.

John.”

And I was reminded that the sublime is, at times, terrifying.

I released her at once. She turned in my arms.

I kissed the worry on her eyelids and brow and cheeks and trembling lips. I kissed her and kissed her until she sighed and her head drooped and my world righted itself.

We looked into each other’s eyes; then her gaze flitted to the table.

I smiled in agreement.

Yes, let’s put this moment of intimacy aside, on a shelf like the easily broken thing that it is, and indulge in a bit of rough filth.


I called her a whore in in every language I knew, and she growled back even coarser and more colourful insults and made to wriggle away from me. I pinned her to the bed, paddled her bottom with my palm, then ran hard, claiming hands up and down her back.

“Mine!”

“Make me!”

I made her mine, more than once, and by the time the slicked neck of the bottle entered her, my tiger had become a kitten.

“Watson,” she mewled.

“I’m here, love. I’ve got you.”

She was curled on her side. I was next to her, over her, behind her, any position that would prevent me from falling off the narrow bed as I guided the object in and out of her.

“Watson, Watson.”

She rocked back and forth, impaling herself over and over.

“You are sumptuous,” I said. “There is no other word for it. Like a feast for every sense. I am utterly besotted.”

She looked at me.

I smiled and brushed her hair from her face. “I love you, my dear. With all that I am.”

“Just you,” she whispered.

And with that, the bottle vanished, and I brought her to release with my hands.


I was drunk.

Drunk on the sight of her sex-limp, sweat-soaked body, drunk on the sounds of her pleasure, drunk of the fuck-stench that filled the room, drunk on the feel of her skin and hair beneath my fingertips and my lips and my tongue.

I rose up from between her legs, and like a drunkard, I did not have the words to ask for what I wanted or required.

I had, in fact, only one word.

“Holmes.”

Mercifully, it was the only word required.

I braced myself.

What came next was going to hurt. A lot.

She ripped off the moustache with one cruel tug that brought tears to my eyes. Then my damp shirt joined her dressing gown, and she began to undo my bindings.

In a few minutes, the last vestiges of John Hamish Watson, ex-Army doctor, were piled on the floor.

I curled at the foot of the bed, nude and terrified.

“You are sublime.”

I did not believe her, then or now, but I went to her and hid my face in the crook of her neck and attempted to bury my body inside hers.

Bursts of hot breath tickled my ear. “Any part, any plane, any surface, split my skull open like your silly woodcock if it pleases you. You have the whole of me, my love. I am yours to use ‘til extinction.”

I looked up and said in all seriousness, “Woodcock is not silly. It is, in fact, a divine-sent bird.”

“So are you.”

I laughed. She laughed. And just like that, the spell was broken. And my fear rolled under the bed like a discarded bottle.

I arranged myself atop her left hipbone and began to move against her.

At first, it seemed that awkwardness had the upper hand. I tried slipping a hand down to finger her as I rut, but that proved logistically impossible. I then attempted to recite a few of the more lurid limericks I’d heard at my club, but failed at the rhythm and the rhyme. I dropped my head in frustration and caught a glimpse of our cast-off wardrobe and props on the floor.

A new stab of panic shook me.

Finally, there was an impatient noise and a hand on the either side of my head, forcing me to stare into stormy grey eyes.

“Mine,” she said and drew my arms around her neck. “Let me love what is mine. Please.” It was the last word of chivalrous entreaty that made me choke back a cry and nod.

“Yours,” I mumbled and relaxed into her.


“Oh, God,” I breathed; there was no mistaking the nearness of my release; my hips moved in wide figures-eight; my body inched slowly up hers.

Her hands and her lips stilled. Her arms went around me, clasping me tight, binding me to her.

How sublime it is when love-spun skin replaces unyielding linen!  

“Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God…”

I came snorting and snarling, my lower half thrashing, my teeth sunk in the ridge of her shoulder.

Twined as we were, I felt her body convulse as mine did.

I refused to taint the beauty of the moment with words, so I said nothing, just held her as tightly as she held me.

We remained thus for so long that I began to wonder if we might expire together in that tight embrace, but then I placed the pad of one finger on the quivering pulse at her throat and whispered,

Sherlock.”


The next morning found us both in high spirits.

Coffee replaced tea on the breakfast table, a sign that at least some of the night’s activities had reached Mrs. Hudson’s ears and the need for cups of more fortifying elixir was duly recognised and met.

I eyed the newspapers between us, but waited for Holmes share what was on her mind.

“You know, Watson, the case of the…oh, what will you call it?”

“’Noble Bachelor’ has a nice ring to it, no?”

“Hmm. Well, anyway, it gave me an idea. Perhaps on holiday or an especially bleak autumnal evening…”

“Yes?”

“We might consider a bit of amateur theatrics.”

“Amateur?”

“Forgive me if the label was insulting.”

“Forgiven. Shall I be the gold-rich American and you be the stuffed English grouse? A duel to the death for the hand of maiden fair? Swords, not pistols. More sporting.”

“That is one possibility. I was thinking more of Mister Moulton’s tale. Outwardly fearsome, but inwardly, of course, kind and debonair captor and...”

I raised one eyebrow and smirked. “Outwardly frightened, but inwardly intrigued captive?”

“Oh, good, you follow.”

“But who, my dear man, would play whom?”

“It would be more sporting, as you say, if we understudied for both roles. And switched as the muses bid.”

“Brilliant idea.”

“It is, isn’t it?” She reached for a newspaper.

I buttered my toast. “I think I should quite like a turn as a bloody American.”

She hummed and with a rustling of newsprint, raised the yellow-and-black banner between us. 

Chapter Text

“Holmes, you are too late.”

I read aloud the newspaper account of Openshaw’s death, ‘Tragedy Near Waterloo Bridge’; then, silence fell upon the breakfast table as I refolded the newspaper.

From her seated, statue-like pose, Holmes sprang to her feet and began to pace. With every pivot, I saw more colour in her face drain until she appeared more spectre than flesh-and-blood being.

“That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death—!” she shrieked before crumpling into her armchair, head in hands.

I sank to the floor at her feet.

When she lifted her head, her eyes wet with tears. “I know evil, Watson,” she whispered, then winced. Her gaze rose to the air above my head as if the menace were there in the room, visible, incarnate, flitting about the dusty ether like a winged insect. “I know how it moves, how it dances, its swiftness and its ingenuity. Why, oh, why did I encourage him to travel alone? You and I should have been with him! I, who know peril better than most, to whom this troubled man entrusted his safety, was blind, and that blindness cost him his life! And evil won!”

I said nothing, but simply clasped her hands in mind, relieved that she did not shrink at my touch.

“There is your grand gift of silence, Watson,” she said bitterly after a few moments of searching my face for answers that I did not have.

“I am your comforter, not your deluder,” I replied. “Ultimately, Openshaw’s death is the responsibility of the people who killed him and those who ordered his death. But you, and your error in judgment played a part, as did the behaviour of his uncle and father and any other number of coincidences and circumstances unknown to us. But I see no weakness in mourning your mistake. Or being shaken by it.”

“I shall postpone the funeral until tonight,” she said gently, brushing my temple with her fingertips. Her voice grew raw. “For now I must go out!” She practically bounded over me. “To spin a web, to catch some flies!”

I stood and announced, “I’ll go with you.”

“No. It is not your mistake to remedy, Watson.”

“Yours is mine, Holmes. And I don’t like you battling these cunning devils without me. They could ensnare you as easily as they did Openshaw.”

“Hardly,” she scoffed.

“That’s your ego talking.”

“And your ego imagining that you can keep up with me when I’m on a mission such as this one.”

The words stung, I won’t deny it.

“Very well,” I snapped and turned away from her.


I was dedicating myself to treading a worn path in the rug when the clock chimed ten o’clock and Holmes finally re-appeared in the doorway.

I raised an eyebrow.

“I have them in the hollow of my hand, Watson,” she said.

Her extended palm shook before she balled it into a tight, angry fist, and I needed no further proof of my beloved’s worn and haggard, parched and hungry state.

“Please, Holmes,” I begged.

She allowed me to ensconce her before the fire that had been, at my insistence, raging for hours. I wrapped her in blankets and, removing her boots and wet socks, began to rub her icy feet between my hands.

“Young Openshaw will be avenged—and soon,” she said wearily. “The leader of the gang is a Captain Calhoun of the Barque Lone Star. The vessel left early this morning, homeward bound for Savannah, Georgia.”

“Well done, Holmes, but perhaps you should also put their devilish trade-mark back upon them.”

Her brow furrowed until I stood and produced the orange and the knife. Then understanding dawned and amusement tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“Watson, you conduct not just light, but darkness as well. Remind me never to get on your sore side.”

“You belong on every side of me there is, my dear Holmes, sore of your own making or otherwise.”

My cheeky retort provoked a laugh, a sound that I had despaired of hearing since the morning. Giddy, I grinned as I sliced the fruit in half and bit its flesh with theatrical savagery; then, spurred to further rashness by the light returning to her eyes, I bit my beloved’s cracked-lipped smile, leaving her mouth open with surprise and wet with fragrant sweetness.

She was addressing the seed-filled envelope when I flew downstairs. I returned carrying a tray with soup, bread, water, and wine.

She frowned at the soup, then cautiously consumed one spoonful.

“Dangerous,” she said.

Her pronouncement deflated me. “You don’t like it?”

“It’s very good, but if you persist in showing your acumen in the culinary arts, Mrs. Hudson might suspect your true nature.”

I smiled. “I told her I was worried about you and wanted to make you a dish that my grandmother used to make.”

“The grandmother that spit-roasted rats?!”

“No, the other one.”

Holmes smirked and tore a piece of bread from the loaf. I took my place in my armchair by the fire as she ate. When she had finished, she said,

“By the time the Lone Star reaches Savannah, a cable will have informed police there that Calhoun and his two associates are wanted for murder. The mail-boat will have arrived by then, too, delivering this warning for them. Yes, Openshaw will be avenged.”

“Good. Bed?”

She licked her lips and nodded. “Yours or mine?”

“You must be mad,” I admonished. “Yours, naturally. After all you’ve suffered today, I shan’t subject you to additional torture.”


I helped her undress, caressing skin and massaging flesh, and when she’d been completely divested of the trappings of Sherlock Holmes, she turned in my arms and straddled me as I sat on the edge of the bed.

“Watson?”

Holmes must say my name a dozen times a day, and each variation holds its own meaning. In this instance, she was asking me how much of myself I wished to reveal, unburden in this love-making. I considered the question, and to my own astonishment, found the answer was ‘very little.’

“Just Watson,” I replied before taking her nipple between my lips and sucking. I remained in my shirtsleeves, unbuttoned and rakishly rolled. My hands moved up and down her back in hard, firm strokes.

“I failed him,” she whispered as she rocked in my lap.

“Yes,” I agreed. “But you will not fail another like him.” I kissed her neck and her shoulders.

“I am human,” she said with a somber pout.

“Gorgeously so,” I said, nuzzling between her breasts. “And not truly omniscient, never mind the constant mind-reading of your Boswell.”

“Your mind is such an open book, Watson, a child’s tale with luridly adult illustrations.” There was truth in her words and teasing in her tone, and as usual, l was more charmed than offended.

Nevertheless, I spun her around and began to knead her breast roughly.

She grunted at the assault. I nosed and kissed along her neck and the shell of her ear. Her legs sprang apart, and her own hand dropped between them.


She came with a sigh of relief on her lips. Her eyes remained closed until I laid her in the centre of the bed atop the bedclothes.

“Watson?”

I crawled towards her from the foot of the bed, and her brow smoothed.  Her thighs opened in invitation, which I quickly answered.

“Not so much…but just a bit…more like…yes, God, yes,” she murmured.

I continued my gentle ministrations, reveling in the rare satisfaction of rendering so articulate a creature at a loss for words.


I dozed with my head pillowed on Holmes’s stomach. She woke only once. I answered her whimpered entreaties with soft kisses and kitten licks and whispered endearments that would never, ever be uttered in the light of day.

I woke a second time to her snoring and gently removed myself from the bed and the room.

Even in the dark, I found my Gladstone and the bottle.  

How long I stood there, cold and aching and resisting temptation, I will never know.

I finally uncorked the bottle and put it to my lips.

“Watson!”

“Holmes!”

I dropped the bottle. It made an ominous crack on its descent to the floor.  

“That’s going to leave a stain,” I said, noting the dark pool spreading at my feet.

“We’re long overdue for a new rug,” said Holmes dryly. “And you hate laudanum,” she added.  

“It has its place,” I answered stiffly. My back was still to her. “You should be resting.”

“Watson.”

I turned, keeping my eyes lowered. “Like a lurid children’s book,” I mumbled, referring to my face, which I knew was telegraphing my every thought.

“You’re hurting, too.”

“Yours is mine. Your failure of Openshaw is my failure of him, too. And you.”

“Of the former, perhaps. Of the latter, never.”

“It isn’t your decision to make, Holmes. You can’t erase my pain just because you wish it.”

“Don’t I know it? Come to bed, Watson. Let’s leave this bloody world behind us ‘til morning.”

I nodded and she led me by the hand from the room.

“Bloody world,” I sighed.

Chapter Text

Never had the frost on the breakfast table of 221B Baker Street been quite so thick as that morning.

I sniffed loudly, angrily, and for the third time since I’d sloshed coffee into two porcelain cups.

Holmes’s newspaper rustled rudely as she lowered it.

“Something on your mind, Watson?”

“The seduction of Mary Sutherland, if you must know.”

Up went the daily in a failed attempt by Holmes to hide her shock, but she recovered quickly. “Shouldn’t prove too taxing, even for you. A shoulder to cry on, perhaps, as she tries to forget her beloved Hosmer Angel?” The sneer was audible.

I grunted and sipped. The hot brew was bitter. Good. There was no sweetness in the world outside my cup, why should there be any inside it?

“Pity that you cannot escort her to the bath.”

At Holmes’s quip, our mouse-trap of an argument, now in its second day, was sprung anew.

“She should be told!”

“She will not believe it!”

Holmes and I had exchanged these eight words some fifty times in the past forty-eight hours.

I rose abruptly, knocking over my cup. A dark brown stain bled across the white tablecloth.

“No one has trouble believing you,” I cried. “Even when you're not the great Sherlock Holmes, even when you are Captain Basil, a fortune-telling crone, or a clergyman! Make her believe! Or arrange it so she discovers the truth for herself. Holmes, she is living in a world of lies!”

“So are we!” hissed Holmes, tossing her newspaper aside. “It’s not so bad.”

“We chose our lies with full knowledge of the sacrifices required. That girl is surrounded by threats that she cannot even imagine, much less perceive. And you refuse to enlighten her, why, I don’t know. She may be romantic and loyal, but she is far from stupid, Holmes! Windibank is a cold-blooded a scoundrel, your own words! His crimes will escalate, also your words. Who do you think will suffer the most on his journey to the gallows? That poor girl, if she survives! What kind of justice is that, Sherlock Holmes!”

“Tell her the truth yourself if you so impassioned!”

“I plan to. I don’t know how, but I will!”

 “You like her,” observed Holmes coolly.

“Of course, I like her. Why don’t you?”

“You like her fur boa, her preposterous hat, her Duchess-of-Devonshire coquetry.”

“I like her spirit, her intelligence, her energy. I like the woman beneath the trappings. Surely you can appreciate that.”

Our eyes locked. Neither spoke. God help us, we are a stubborn pair.

Holmes blinked first. “I shan’t play unwilling spectator to your amusements. I leave at once for France. A case in Lyons—it pertains to the Netherland-Sumatra Company and a Baron Maupertuis—demands my attention.  I require neither assistant nor chronicler.”

My eyebrows rose. “Holmes, if there is trouble, please contact me.”

She raised a hand, then turned her back to me. “It is a political, financial case.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and said, “Bon voyage.”


“This typewriter is a fine machine, Doctor Watson.”

“Thank you. So, here are the first pages of the handwritten manuscript. Your wage is by the day, so whenever you complete the transcription to my satisfaction, your work is finished. Of course, tea and luncheon will be provided.”

“That’s very generous of you, sir.”

“And perhaps a bit of company, if my presence is not too distracting.”

“Under the present circumstances, sir, I welcome distractions.”

“I quite see your point of view.”


“Doctor Watson?”

“All done already?”

“Yes, there was not so much today.”

“How about a stroll through the park, then? The weather's quite lovely.”

“That would not be wise, Doctor Watson.”

“Oh, yes. I quite see. Well, thank you, Miss Sutherland, until tomorrow, then?” I took the pages from her.

“Doctor Watson, this is not, well, my case, is it?”

“Oh, no. It’s a very old case, one of the earliest that crossed Mister Holmes’s path after I had taken up lodgings with him.”

“It’s just that the name of the young lady seeking Mister Holmes’s assistance, well, it’s similar to mine.”

“Mary’s a very common name in England.”

“Her name’s Mary Drutherland.”

“Oh, oh, I see, well, coincidences, rhymes do happen.”

“I am curious:  was Mister Holmes able to locate her missing fiancée, the Reverend Rosner Baneful?”

“Oh, yes! He did find the scoundrel, but I am afraid the couple’s tale had a sad ending. Miss Drutherland herself, however, went on to do marvelous, wonderful, truly spectacular things. Well, I have an engagement, Miss Sutherland, until tomorrow.”


“Miss Sutherland?”

“Yes?”

“Forgive me for asking, but when is the last time you saw an oculist?”

“It’s been years.”

“I’d be more than happy to accompany you to visit a colleague of mine. Perhaps these are in need of new lenses.” I held up the pince-nez that had dropped to the floor. “He’s quite reasonable in his prices. Plus, I can call in a favour or two on your behalf.”

“That’s very kind, Doctor Watson.”

I returned the pince-nez to her. “Do you wear those when you go out to dances and whatnot?”

“Oh, no. I’m much too vain. I just stumble about, blindly,” she said.

“Through a glass darkly, then,” I said under my breath before she turned back to the typewriter.


She laid the final page atop the pile on the table and said in a flat voice, “Doctor Watson.”

“Yes?”

“This case is…”

“Closed?”

She made a noise. “And thought-provoking.”

When she turned, I exhaled my relief. The scales had finally fallen from her eyes.

“That stroll of so many days ago, is it still on offer, Doctor Watson? I find myself in need of a great deal of air.”

“Yes, of course.”


I opened my umbrella just as the dark clouds released their tears.

“Doctor Watson?”

“Yes.”

“I must say it aloud or it will not seem real. Indeed, it may not seem real even then, but I must try.”

“You are very brave, Miss Sutherland.”

“If bravery is a kind word for stupidity.”

“I have seen battlefields, Miss Sutherland. I don’t speak glibly, or unknowingly, of either courage or foolishness.”

“My step-father masqueraded as the man I knew as Hosmer Angel…”

“Yes.”

“…with the full cooperation of my mother…”

“Yes.”

“…for the security of one hundred pounds a year.”

“Yes.”

“In the beginning it was a joke…” She choked on the last word.

“Yes.”

“…and in the end, he feigned the disappearance of Mister Angel so that I might remain unmarried out of sentimental loyalty to this character of his creation.”

“Yes, shall we return?”

She said nothing, but allowed me to guide her back to Baker Street.


She did not speak again until we were once more in the sitting room and brandy and tea had passed her lips.

“Is there so much evil and weakness in the world, Doctor Watson?”

“I am afraid so, Miss Sutherland.”

"You think my eyesight play a role, too, don't you? That's why you suggested the oculist?"

"I am a medical man by training, Miss Sutherland. I always look first for a corporal cause, even for something as seemingly abstract as a love affair."

She laughed mirthlessly. “Mister Holmes must think me a fool. I said that I would be true to my fiancée, that he would find me ready when he returned. Mister Holmes knew the whole farce, of Hosmer Angel and of me. Is that why he didn’t tell me the truth himself? He thought that I would not believe his words.”

“Mister Holmes is a mystery who solves mysteries,” I replied cryptically, not knowing what else to say.

“And what are you?”

I smiled. “I am a doctor. I aid people, and their bodies, in healing. I prefer gentleness and compassion to brutishness.”

“Mister Holmes had reason to doubt. It was clever of you,” she said, eyeing the typed manuscript, to have revealed my story, bit by bit, over these many days." She nodded at the pile of paper and said, “It is as if the dawning were slowly, slowly, and then all at once.”

“Many things are so. Now you may dispose of the story as you wish.”

“Truly?”

“I insist.”

She rose and snatched the papers and tossed them into the fire.

We watched them burn.

“Now what?” she asked the wallpaper.

“I have one possibility. A friend, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, is seeking a live-in companion temporarily. We could go to meet her and if the accommodations and responsibilities are to your liking, then you could stay there until you feel strong enough to confront your family. And, Miss Sutherland, this,” I placed a hand on the typewriter, “is my gift to you.”

Her eyes widened. “Doctor Watson!”

“I will be frank, Miss Sutherland. In the chronicles of the cases of Sherlock Holmes put before the reading public, I have purposefully obscured the truth of my gambling habit. I do not lose often.”

“But Doctor Watson!” she protested.

“Mister Holmes does not see any much merit in wagers for money, either as recreation or sport, and so whilst we share rooms, I normally refrain, but as he is on the Continent, well, I went seeking a game that would net me such prize. And found it. And won. Americans!”

“You won a typewriter at cards for me?!”

“Your nobility, your strength, and the tragedy that has befallen you, together they spur the preux chavelier.”

“You’re an angel.”

“Only on the side of them. So, are you ready to write the next chapter of your story?”

She smiled and nodded. “Yes.”


HOLMES ILL STOP HOTEL DULONG STOP

Within twenty-four hours, her hand was in mine.

“What have you done to yourself?” I said.

“Work,” she murmured. “Congratulations.”

“On?”

“Your engagement.”

I snorted. “One walk to the oculist’s and another in park was as much impropriety as was exhibited, except for a gift of a typewriter.”

Holmes opened one eye. Her nonchalant tone was belied by her keen gaze. “You told her the truth?”

I nodded. “I decided to take an indirect, avuncular approach.”

Holmes sat up in bed. “Avuncular? Given her family, do you think that was wise?”

I laughed. “Nothing happened between us, Holmes. Not a thing.”

“Where did you get the money for the typewriter?”

“I will answer your question if you answer mine: why would you not tell her truth?”

She frowned. “You first.”

“I won the typewriter at cards.”

“Did you keep your shirt on?”

I grinned. “Yes.”

“Did they?”

I shook my head. “Not a one.”

“Americans?”

I nodded. “Now, your turn.”

Holmes drank from the glass of water I offered then set it on the bedside table.

“I mentioned Andover in ’77 and The Hague last year.”

“Yes.”

“Andover wasn’t a case or a crime but it was a tragedy very much like Miss Sutherland’s. It was right before I took up rooms in Montague Street. I told her.”

“And she didn’t believe you?”

Holmes winced. “No, she believed me, but the words had no sooner left my lips than she threw herself from the bridge where we were standing, right then, right there.” Her eyes fogged and her hand reached out as if to touch the ghost of a memory. “She missed the river entirely and was dashed against the rocks. Better for Miss Sutherland to live deluded than die from the burden of truth. The mother tiger, upon finding her cub taken, may very well bring an end to herself as well as the cub-thief.”

“Oh, Holmes,” I breathed, and took her in my arms.

 “She wore preposterous hats, too,” she wailed before breaking down into sobs.


Very soon Europe was ringing with the name of Sherlock Holmes, and I was delegated to assisting the chambermaids in disposing of the ankle-deep flood of congratulatory telegrams. Holmes had succeeded where the police of three countries had failed, and I could not have been prouder of her.

But among all the accolades for her, one day, there came an envelope for me.

I smiled. “Miss Sutherland has found a new love, I think.”

“Another devil in disguise?” suggested Holmes with a smirk.

“No, much better than a man, art! Typewriter art, to be precise.” I glanced at the letter. “She says that she’s going on an international tour of typewriter artists.” I pulled two more sheets of paper from the envelope. “And here are two examples. Oh, these are quite lovely. This one is butterfly, and this one is…”

“You!” cried Holmes, snatching the portrait from my hand. She stared at the paper, open-mouthed, then exclaimed,  

“Bloody typewriter!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Nothing,” I replied and turned the newspaper page, rustling it most unnecessarily.

“Lie.”

I huffed. “Well, if you must know, Holmes, I was just reading of the good fortune of one of your former clients, Mrs. Violet Morton née Smith.”

“Ah, the solitary cyclist, so she married her Cyril, did she?”

“Yes.”

Holmes’s newspaper fell. “Watson.”

Ignoring her look and her tone, I swallowed the dregs of my tea. “I should consult with Mrs. Hudson about an appropriate gift. Practical? Whimsical? Musical? I know, cyclical!” I chuckled and patted my padded stomach as rose from the breakfast table.

“Watson, what are you’re not sharing with me?” asked Holmes pointedly.

“My joy of puns?”

She growled and brandished a butter knife in my direction. I raised my hands in mock surrender.

“Carruthers was sentenced,” I said, “but he had a daughter, the one Miss Smith instructed in music. I would be very surprised if the girl, Esme was her name, was not living with the Mortons now. Good thing, too. Mad about her, Miss Smith was. And much more stable environment for a young girl.”

“Hurrah,” said Holmes dryly. “I shall find out the whole truth momentarily.” She dropped the knife on the table and went to the bookcase. “Your chronicle of the case will tell me everything.”

When she had found the note-book that she sought, she folded herself into her armchair and issued her command.

“Stay, Watson.”

“Oh, Holmes,” I whined and moved to the table. I poured myself a cup of tea, then proceeded to drink it in as openly disgruntled a manner as possible.

Five minutes later, Holmes gave a cry of triumph.

“I don’t know what, but I know who!”

“Who?”

“Mrs. Dixon, the housekeeper. As I recall, she was not elderly at all, so let’s have it the whole truth.”

“How do you do it, Holmes?” I ejaculated with genuine awe.

“You know very well how I do it,” said Holmes quickly. “You’ve made your fortune—and a sizeable portion of mine—telling the reading public how I do it. Now, tell me just what is the mystery surrounding Mrs. Dixon.”

“It’s not a tale for breakfast, Holmes.” I gestured to the scattered bits of toast and news before me. “The dew is still on the vine—“

“It’s half eleven, Watson.”

“Good Lord!” I glanced at the clock. She was right, of course. “Where does the time go?” I mused philosophically.

She shot me a look. Then she shot to her feet, waltzed to the windows, raised both arms high and, with two sharp movements, drew the heavy curtains closed.

Bloody hell, just when I thought I could not love her any more than I did, could not want her any more than I did, she performs a simple, silly Lady of Shallot charade, and my heart (as well as other parts) just melts.

“Holmes.”

“Watson,” her voice was much softer when she turned, “Our morning lie-in would have done a pair of cushions in an opium den proud. That is where the time went. Now, pretend it is twilight if you must, and tell me the whole truth.”

“Very well.” I abandoned the breakfast tablet for my armchair. “Violet Smith and Mrs. Dixon had an understanding.”

Holmes’s eyebrows rose. “Watson, you see understandings among ladies everywhere we go. If you weren’t such a gentleman,” her eyes flashed, “I’d say you were hysterical!”

I smiled a self-satisfied smile. “I see them because they are there, Holmes. And this one, I saw with my own eyes. I caught them! Red-handed, bare-bottomed, as you like it.” I threw up my hands like playwright’s counsel resting its case.

“Where?” Holmes asked.

“Al fresco!” I announced.

Holmes groaned and sank into her armchair; then she picked up my note-book and waved it. “I knew it! Your descriptions of the gleaming, glowing, flowering gorse and the heath-covered countryside were definitely suspicious.”

“It was very beautiful, Holmes, nature and all its wonder,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows, “and not just the flowers!”

Holmes huffed, then steepled her fingers just below her lips. “Pray proceed.”

“Well, the morning events happened as I stated, but I was so pleased with my work, unlike someone else,” I shot her a look, which she volleyed to the ceiling with her own eyes, “that I decided to have some lunch in Farham, but while I was eating, I thought I’d be remiss in not checking on Miss Smith, so I returned to Chiltern Grange. I made paid, temporary use of a bicycle in Farham for the journey, in the spirit of the case, you see.”

“Yes, yes, and then?”

“When I arrived at the house, Mister Carruthers told me that Mrs. Dixon and Miss Smith and Esme had gone for a picnic. Well, I was of two minds about it, but finally decided to look for them. At one point, I left the bicycle and went on foot. I saw the girl, first, napping on the heath, and then a bit further, I saw the ladies.”

“Did they see you?”

I shook my head. “My hiding place was not very faulty that time.”

“No, of course, not,” said Holmes. “Not when something as vital as your perversion is at stake! Ogling women, Watson, really. You are a base creature.”

“A bit,” I admitted. “Miss Smith was an avid cyclist, Holmes. One must appreciate the effect that has on the lower extremities. And the way she was riding Mrs. Dixon—“

“Enough!” Holmes raised a hand.

“After a few minutes, I left, without a sound, then returned to Farham, to the house agents, and then to London. And then I returned here to a tongue-lashing—and not the pleasant kind—by you about my methods.”

“Methods,” Holmes echoed glumly. She crossed her arms over her chest and sunk even further in her armchair.

“I was surprised that you didn’t uncover the affair when you had your ‘quiet day in the country’ the following afternoon.”

“I was working on the case, not my own vices!”

I stood and stepped forward and stroked her head, just the once, and let my voice fall.

“No, those are my responsibility, aren’t they? I could give you a physical demonstration this evening.”

“Athletics of Miss Smith’s quality are bound to bring on bouts of consumptive wheezing in you,” she said with snarl.

“I could be the bicycle—built for you,” I crooned and stroked her head once more. “Your legs are as fine as hers. And longer.”

Holmes looked up and met my gaze. Then she shrugged and stood and strode towards the breakfast table.

“And you think that Mrs. Morton will bring the Carruthers girl—“

“Esme.”

“—Esme and Mrs. Dixon into her home and continue her understanding with the latter? That’s a tremendous risk, Watson. What will dear Cyril say if he discovers them?”

“He’s an electrical engineer. I suppose it’ll come as a shock. Or a jolt. His wires might—“

I ducked as the teacup flew overhead.

“Bloody women!” cried Holmes.


As a post-script, I must add that much later, in the evening, when I lay beneath Holmes and she and I and every bicycle pun in the English language had been exhausted, she said,

“I was consumed by the John Vincent Harden case, wasn’t I? And not very kind to you about your very faulty work.”

I smiled and brushed her hair away from her face. “Holmes, never apologise for your dedication to your craft.”

“But you might not have been watching half-nude women frolicking in the flowering gorse if—“

I put two fingers to her lips. She kissed them.

“I’m always going to be curious about what’s fluttering in the gorse, but I adore you, body, mind, and soul, forever and always. Come, let’s make like opium den cushions.”

And we did.

Chapter Text

“You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.”

He paused, withdrew a handkerchief to mop his damp brow, then continued.

“She is ruthless, Mister Holmes. I tell you that toward the end of our association, she, well…”

Another bout of mopping, then an abrupt question.

“You are a man of the world, Mister Holmes?”

Holmes gave a nod. “I have seen much of human nature, its highs and its lows, in my work, Your Majesty, and what I have not seen, my companion,” she gestured to me, “as a medical man and war veteran, has.”

“Well, then I confess to you, as a penitent to a priest, that I know the exact nature of her ruthlessness because, one night prior to our separation, Miss Adler lay siege to my very manhood and ripped it from me!”

His eyes were wide, his brow once more a deck in need of swabbing.

“Good Lord!” I breathed, on the edge of my seat, my open note-book and pen about to tipple from my chair. “Do you mean to say that she castrated you?”

The King gasped and recoiled in horror. “Doctor!”

I looked from him to Holmes, who spoke quickly. “Your Majesty, Doctor Watson suffers from an occasional lapse of judgment brought about by head injuries he received during in the war.”

Oh, what utter bollocks, but I’d be as much of a fool as Holmes claimed if I didn’t see the folly in arguing my case, so with a hand to my temple, I muttered,

“Sorry, sorry, please, do go on.”

Our client shot me a wary look, but did as bid. “Miss Adler is an artist, with an artist’s imagination, so she was given to enacting dramatic scenes. I had just received as a gift from an expedition recently returned from the Indian sub-continent a beautiful wooden screen. On it, there was a colourful rendering of the capture of a tiger.”

I looked at Holmes from the corner of my eye as I wrote in my note-book.

Screen. Tiger.

“You were the tiger?” suggested Holmes casually.

“No,” he looked from Holmes to me, “I was the tethered goat.”

I dropped my head and bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing, then wrote in my note-book.

Goat.

“And?” prompted Holmes.

“And nothing, Mister Holmes! Not a thing! She left me tied up and did not release me or pay me any attention for the better part of three hours!”

I continued my note-taking.

Good for her.

“She abandoned you?” asked Holmes.

“No, it is far more sinister than that, Mister Holmes. This is where her ruthless nature shows itself. She and another woman, well, they laughed.”

Holmes and I voiced our questions at the same time.

“Who was the other woman, Your Majesty?”

“For the better part of three hours?”

The King started, but quickly composed himself.

“I do not know who it was, Mister Holmes, I was blindfolded and to be quite frank, Doctor Watson, it was not continuous laughter. There were moments of silence and other noises of a singularly base nature.”

“If you did not see the other party, then how do you know it was a woman? Did she speak?” asked Holmes.

“Neither woman spoke, but the second person’s laughter was unmistakably feminine. It went ‘tee-hee-hee-HO! tee-hee-hee-HO!’”

“Watson, take note. It may be important.”

Oh, for goodness sake!

Nevertheless, I wrote:

Tee-hee-HO!

“The unknown woman and Miss Adler, for that matter, said nothing to you during your confinement,” said Holmes, feigning incredulity.

“No! They simply ignored me! At first I thought it was a lark, a silly game, but when time passed and my demands and my needs were left unanswered, to be denied like that, well, it defies reason. You can understand the heinous quality of it, Mister Holmes.”

I scribbled.

Crime of the Century.

“Indeed, I can. Your Majesty was unable to free yourself?”

“No, the bonds were quite secure.”

Finally, a damn clue. Holmes read my thoughts.

“Now that is interesting,” she said. “So how did Your Majesty finally escape?”

“As she left, she alerted my manservant to my condition, so you see, Mister Holmes, rather than I should marry another woman, there is no lengths she would not go—none.”

The interview proceeded as I have recorded elsewhere, and Holmes and I waited until the sound of the rolling brougham faded to before erupting into cackling laughter.

“Oh, Watson, if I did not already love you with the ardour of a thousand suns, I might find myself quite smitten with Miss Adler.”

“Indeed, Holmes, indeed,” I answered, holding my side.


The door of Briony Lodge was open, and a woman stood upon the steps. She watched Holmes and I with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham. The stress of the moment had proved too much for the King and he had, at the last moment, decided to wait in the brougham.

“Mister Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said the woman.

“Indeed,” replied Holmes.

“My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left this morning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for the Continent. Never to return.”

A hurried hunt followed.

But as Holmes and I read the letter, we heard a sound erupt behind us.

“Tee-hee-HO! Tee-hee-HO!”

We spun ‘round and stared at the laughing house-keeper—and mind-reader for she looked at me and spat,

“I am not her house-keeper,” then she swept out of the room, calling haughtily behind her, “My name is Kate, by the way.”

“Bloody women!” I breathed when she had disappeared through the threshold.


That evening as I melted into Holmes’s embrace, she asked,

“Would you mind if I wore the sovereign that Mrs. Norton bestowed upon me on my watch-chain?”

“I would not. If she’d given me one, I might do the same. She is why the French invented the term femme formidable.”

“I was a bothersome insect that found its way into her drawing room. She put a glass over me, carried me to the window, and tossed me back into the world.”

“Rare that.”

“Indeed. Fascinating woman. The Woman.” She kissed my bare shoulder. “So, would you like to be the tiger or the tethered goat tonight?”

“Neither. How about 'Irene and Kate'?”

“Well, I’m definitely not your house-keeper,” she said as our grinning lips met.

Chapter Text

I swiftly quashed my tremour when the first of several rough-looking men called inquiring for Captain Basil, and by that fateful day when Holmes arrived at the breakfast table with a harpoon under her arm, fresh from her early morning exercise of stabbing a dead pig, I believed myself to be under control.

I was wrong.

Mrs. Hudson soon brought Holmes’s breakfast and advised her that water was ready should she want a wash. I confess that I, too, detected a certain pungency.

Holmes disappeared into her bedroom with coffee perched precariously atop a plate of toast, propping the harpoon against the frame of the door as she passed.

And when she reappeared, she was Captain Basil.

I launched myself at her, pushing her backwards. I grabbed the harpoon right before I closed the door behind us. We ended up on the bed, Holmes seated on the edge and I straddling her thigh. I rested the harpoon at an angle on the bed next to us and began to rut against her.

“Oh, God, oh, God,” I whispered, running my fingers over her features like a blind man, then seizing the handle of the harpoon once more.

“My dear Watson,” Holmes said evenly, “maintaining Captain Basil’s identity is only the second reason for no longer entering 221 Baker Street in this disguise. Your inability to bridle your lust in his presence is the most formidable!”

“Shhh,” I said and kissed her.

Our moustaches met. I came at once, despite the many layers that separated my sex from hers.

“H—“

My hips were still rolling in slow, pleasure-stoking circles when she put a finger to my lips and mouthed silently,

“Hopkins.”

Good heavens!

“…no, thank you, Mrs. Hudson, I breakfasted before I came ‘round. Oh, well, yes, a cup of coffee would be…”

I shot Holmes a pleading look. Our mutual ruin was right beyond the door, but my body was still under Captain Basil’s spell.

Holmes smiled her most bemused smile. Then she put a flat hand over my mouth and, with her other arm, aided my lower half’s efforts to come to a second, smaller—but no less delicious—crisis.

Then she threw me off her, and had I not possessed the instinct to shove the harpoon out of my trajectory, this tale would never have been told.

Soon she was Sherlock Holmes again.

“Wait. Distraction,” she mouthed.

I hid behind the door until she’d left with the harpoon.

Ah, Hopkins. I got your wire last night. Cup of coffee? Good. Mrs. Hudson’s brew will certainly put hair on your chest. Just ask Watson. Ha, ha! How about some toast? Yes? Mrs. Hudson, if you would be so kind. Now, tell me about the case and I’ll show you what I’ve been up to this fine morning…”

I rolled my eyes and settled in for a long wait.


“Mister Holmes, I don’t know…

“Hold them like that, yes, so the shape of man, no?”

“But sir, your fine goose-feather pillows…”

“All for justice, my good Inspector, right, here we go. Yah! Yah! Yah!”

“Sir, the feathers!”

“He’s not dead yet, Hopkins, yah, it takes considerable force, you see, yah!”

“Inspector Hopkins, here’s your toast—“

CRASH!

“—MISTER HOLMES! JUST WHAT ARE YOU ABOUT WITH MY PILLOWS! WHERE ARE YOU? ARGH!”

“Oh, I’m so terribly sorry, Mrs. Hudson, I didn’t see you, the feathers, you see…”

And in a flash, I appeared at the bottom of the stairs and, just as disorder descended into chaos, announced jovially,

“Hullo, hullo, hullo, what have we here?”


“Let us walk in these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and flowers.”

We had walked half an hour in silence when Holmes reached for me. I strode ahead.

“Watson, if you wish to return to London…”

“And abandon you? Are you mad?” I turned and huffed. “Why are you investigating this, Holmes? That bastard’s reckoning was long overdue. Who cares who killed him?”

“The case has features of interest—apart from the character of the victim.”

I infused my second huff with more derision.

“Widow Carey and her daughter are now free, Watson.”

I laughed. “Free to starve, you mean!”

“The mother, possibly, but the girl, unlikely. She possesses a certain quality.”

“What’s that?” I snapped.

“I don’t know and I should know, considering I’ve been looking at it across the breakfast table every morning for over a decade.”

I felt my skin warm, then said stonily, “No one ever volunteered to harpoon my father.”

“We met far too late, my dear man.”


Later, we crested a tree-lined hill and heard,

“Shhh!”

I looked down.

“Miss Carey?”

I waved.

Two pairs of eyes looked up.

“Uh, hello!” I called as I made my way quickly but clumsily down the steep embankment. I smiled as I approached the two young ladies. “I’m Doctor Watson. I’m so sorry for—“

“Nobody’s sorry!” growled the dark-haired girl. “Everybody’s glad he’s dead!”

“Don’t, Vi,” Miss Carey whispered, tugging at her companion’s sleeve. “He’s with the police.”

“I don’t care who he is.” She leaned into me, fixing me with her hard stare. “I didn’t kill the monster if that’s what you’re wondering!”

I looked from one to the other.

Dear Lord.

Surely Holmes saw it, too.

I looked behind me, then up towards the hill from whence I’d come.

Holmes?

No Holmes.

Where in the devil had she gone?

I turned back and began again. “I am so sorry, Miss Carey, for the violence that you and your mother suffered.”

“We survived,” said Miss Carey plainly.

“Yes, yes” I agreed, nodding. “And do not let anyone tell you there is no strength in that. Is there somewhere that you can go now? Or perhaps someone who could come and stay with you?”

“My mother will be going to live with her sister. She’ll be happy there. I am to join her.” She looked towards her companion, so did I.

Oh, dear, dear Lord.

“Uh, Miss—“

“Slater.”

“Like the stonemason, the one who saw the shadows of Peter Carey and his visitor on the night of the murder?” I asked.

“Yes, my father, what of it?”

Nothing, except that, in my mind, I shall call you Sher-rock.

“Vi, please,” said Miss Carey.

I took a deep breath and asked,

“Have you a plan?”

A look passed between them.

“Excuse me?” asked Miss Carey, feigning ignorance.

You will have get better at that, my dear.

I huffed. “Your escape, together. Have you a destination, route, funds, people who will aid you?”

Miss Carey produced a picture postcard from a satchel.

“Norwegian fjords,” I read, puzzled. “Why?”

She shrugged. “It looks beautiful. And it’s far.”

Not here.

Fair enough.

I looked at Miss Slater. She shrugged and nodded towards Miss Carey.

Well, that’s that.

“All right,” I said. “Get your mother settled. Then find me in London. I’ll help. Doctor John Watson of Baker Street. In all probability Mister Sherlock Holmes and I will go with you, just to make certain you arrive at your first stop safely, after that, well, Providence will have to take over.”

“Why?” asked Miss Slater, eyeing me suspiciously. “Why would you help us?”

“I am a doctor. I help people in all kinds of circumstances.” I put a stress on the final word that has never, ever needed further explanation.

“You’ll really help us?” echoed Miss Carey.

I sighed and reached a hand into my pocket, and with one touch, realised it contained twice as much money as when I’d left London.

Bloody, bloody, stick-a-bloody-pig Holmes!

Their eyes widened when I divided the lot between them.

“Here, if you need proof. My only condition: don’t let any man touch this money.”

They both looked at me like I was mad.

Good.

Then they looked at each other like, well, like two girls in love who've just had something go right for once.

Also, good.

“I hope see you again,” I said by way of farewell.

“Thank you, Doctor Watson,” said Miss Carey.

I gestured to the trees about us and smiled. “You’re not out of the woods yet, my dears.”

Miss Slater snorted. “Are you puns always that bad?”

“Yes!” cried a voice from a branch above. “Watson! I'm stuck!”


“There’s the cab, Hopkins, and you can remove your man. If you want me for the trial, my address and that of Watson will be somewhere in…” She looked at me.

“Norway,” I said.

“I’ll send you the particulars later.”

When the flat was once more free of murderers, Holmes said,

“I have but one reservation about accompanying Miss Slater and Miss Carey to their new home.”

“So do I: that Sher-rock besting you at harpooning by the time we arrive in Oslo shall make for a cross crossing.”

Holmes gripped her teacup. “Sher-rock? Because her father’s a stone mason?”

“Naturally,” I said indignantly, though I also I readied myself to duck.

Holmes scowled, but continued,

“No, once our young friends are installed in their fjord of choice, I expect we shall take a holiday.”

“Naturally.”

“And given your reaction to Captain Basil, I fear for my health and sanity should you encounter Sigerson, the remarkable Norwegian explorer who bears a remarkable resemblance to me.”

I laughed. “As charming as all that, is he?”

Ingrid Sigerson.”

“Oh, Holmes.” My body stirred. “Bloody women.”

“Indeed, my dear Watson, indeed.”

Chapter Text

It was near on seven o’clock when I decided to head for home; in those days, it was not unusual for me to take an evening ramble alone, although Holmes’s company always turned a largely meditative exercise into an enjoyable and enlightening one. Sadly, events that followed the sojourn in question have so overshadowed it that I cannot recall what I saw or what occupied my mind prior to passing the man in the gold-rimmed glasses.

“Doctor Watson?”

He beckoned; I approached.

“Charles Augustus Milverton. I’ve just met your colleague, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”

“Ah, yes?”

“The interview did not go well. Mister Holmes was disappointingly un-original.” He made as if to mount the step to a stately carriage, then paused. “But Sherlock, there is something original in that, isn’t there? For one of such sharp angles, it is such a delicate, feminine name. Good evening, sir.”

I forced myself to tip my hat and nod, then forced my feet to finish the journey to Baker Street in as upright a manner as possible with the blood fully congealed in my veins.

Fortunately, Holmes was in a thoroughly distracted state when I arrived, and with one oblique inquiry, she exploded, first into an odd diatribe about repulsion at viewing serpents at the Zoo, but later into something related to the tight knot in my chest.

“Watson, I was to spare you the whole matter for several reasons, the primary being is that my role is that of intermediary, not sleuth. Lady Eva Brackwell hired me act on her behalf to retrieve a letter of hers, written in her youth, that will have disastrous consequences for her upcoming marriage to the Earl of Dovercourt, should her betrothed learn its contents.”

“As long as an American contralto doesn’t have them, I suppose she’s safe,” I said, hoping the wry mustered was sufficient to disguise my concern. I settled into my armchair and reached for an evening newspaper.

“The letter is in the hands of Mister Charles Augustus Milverton, the king of all blackmailers!”

My worst fear confirmed, I rustled the newspaper pages.

“Foul fellows, aren’t they? Blackmailers!” I grimaced. “The worst!”

I made myself an onion, outrage ringed by calm ringed by outrage. With enough layers, perhaps Holmes would not be able to discern the genuine from the feigned.

And it seemed to work.

“Indeed,” she said. “Milverton preys on the wealthy and respectable, collecting correspondence that will ruin them, waiting sometimes years for the most opportune moment, then exhorts them for unspeakable sums. He wanted seven thousand pounds for Lady Eva’s letter.”

“Good heavens!”

“She hasn’t the money. I’ve been advised two thousand is her limit.”

“But in that case, will he go through with his threat? Surely it’s in his interest to take what she offers.”

“His wealth is already great. He does it for evil sport alone. And yes, he will go through with it. A note of two lines of length, for which he paid a footman seven hundred pounds, brought about the ruin of a noble family once.” She sighed. “If he doesn’t receive the money by the fourteenth, there shan’t be any wedding on the eighteenth.”

I harrumphed. “Ah, he’s the snake of earlier.”

“Indeed.” She smiled, then added, “Apologies for the non-sequitur.”

I waved a dismissive hand.

She studied me for a few moments. “What is it, Watson? You’re thinking.”

“Of how such a blackguard operates.”

Not a lie. Something in Holmes’s description of Milverton’s methods had sparked a memory, and like a misplaced photograph, I searched for its proper setting in my past.

“I attempted to seize the man’s note-book and failed, Watson. If the documents are not on his person, they must be in his well-guarded home, and that is where my own thinking will go. A second set of apologies if you were anticipating a more scintillating evening.”

I covered her hand with mine and squeezed it. “Cold supper and then I’ll leave you to your thoughts.”

And rendezvous with my own.

Many hours later, in the sliver twixt dreaming and waking, a name and a face found me.


I saw little of Holmes the next several days and when I did see someone, it was a young rakish workman with a goatee beard whose skin she was currently inhabiting.

One evening, in full labourer’s regalia, she plopped down in her armchair.

“I am of two strong minds, Watson.”

“Well, that’s one more than usual.”

“I have the information I require about Milverton’s house and household, but it has cost me.”

“Clean fingernails,” I observed.

“I’m engaged to Milverton’s housemaid, Agatha.”

I stared, slack-mouthed, then said,

“Extraordinary.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, since you’re already married to me.”

She exhaled, and the apprehension vanished from her countenance.

“Price above rubies is my Watson,” she said quickly, then added, “With luck, Lady Eva’s torment ends tonight. I mean to burgle Milverton's house."

“When do we start?”

“You’re not coming.”

“Then you’re not going.” I held her gaze. “My resolution is taken. Other people beside you have self-respect and even reputations. To stand by when you go into battle alone? Never!”

Holmes’s annoyance was fleeting; she clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Well, well, my dear fellow, be it so.” Then she proceeded to show me her first-rate, up-to-date burgling kit.

We made plans, then Holmes departed for a final assignation with Agatha. I left as well, on the pretense of going to my club to while away the intervening hours before our adventure began.

I stopped on the way and bought a small bouquet of paper flowers, entrusting the two young vendors, sisters, one sighted, one blind, with a message.

Holmes had her army, I had mine.

Two whiskeys and half a cigarette later, I was back at Baker Street, awaiting an assignation of my own.


As the woman poured bullet after bullet into Milverton's shrinking body, Holmes's cold, strong grasp upon my wrist could not prevent me from springing out.

The woman stopped and handed me the gun. Then with a sharp rustle and a draft of night air, she was gone.

At once, Holmes was at the safe, pouring bundle after bundle of letters into the fire.

“Watson,” she whispered, “like prey, I have been much too fixed on the movements of the serpent’s head before me to note his tail curled at my very side.”

I turned to retrieve the blood-mottled letter on the table and heard her gasp. Roused members of the household were nearing quickly.

“Fly!” she commanded.

And so we did.


“Holmes, I respectfully request that you retire at once.”

Her mouth twitched stubbornly, but whatever she saw in my expression made her grab her cigarette case and disappear into her bedroom.

I had only half an hour to wait.

“John.”

I winced for nothing but eavesdropping Holmes’s sake.

“Louisa. For what have you to thank me? For my cowardice?”

“For my re-birth. I’ve been a breathing corpse in these years since Edward’s death. You gave me the chance to prevent further harm as well as to execute my own vengeance. You gave me a reason to act, to do something other than weep and shuffle about in memory’s world.”

“Catatonia doesn’t suit you, Louisa, you were always—”

“Reckless. Far too reckless for an old duke—though I loved him so! Also, far too reckless for a young doctor as I recall.”

“Not even! I was a medical student, Lou.”

“You had the gentlest hands I’ve ever known. You were brave then, you are brave now.”

“I was terrified for you then, I am terrified for you now. Throw your gloves in the fire and go.”

She nodded. “I leave for America at dawn.”

“Good. They love reckless there.”

When she was gone, the door cracked.

“I did not do it for her, Holmes.”

“No. You did it for her.”

She strode towards me and tossed something on the small table between us.

“Holmes.”

“I don’t know how he came by it. You haven’t anything similar?”

“Nobody photographs the daughters of poor angry drunks,” I said, taking it up and studying it. “You were something, weren’t you?” I shook my head and smiled and cooed, “Hello, my angel.” I looked up. “Christ, I love you even before I knew you, Holmes.”

“The highly improbable, and grammatically incorrect, things that you say, Watson, and do. Confess at once.”

My story tumbled out.

"I met Milverton in the street the day of your interview. He made a comment about your Christian name being feminine, and I took it for the threat it was, even before you enlightened me as to his profession. But when you described his methods, I remembered an old friend. Bit of observation, bit of gossip, and I found her, hidden away in a convalescent home. If she hadn’t, I would have, Holmes, gladly, but I did not breathe a word of your secret or mine to her.”

“I didn’t even know he had me in his grasp,” she said. “He made no reference to it.”

“You said that he waits.”

“Thank you seems so insufficient.”

“You would have done the same.”

“I would have made him suffer more first,” she said gravely. "That was the second reason I kept you from the case. I dare not give him any chance to snare you."

“What shall you do with it?” I put the photograph back on the table.

“As long as it exists, I am vulnerable,” she said, glancing at the fire.

I turned my back to her. “The pistol will find its way to the bottom of the Thames on our next evening ramble.”

“Which should occur as soon as possible.”

I nodded and when I turned back, the photograph was gone, and no more was said about it by either of us.

The photograph was destroyed, not that night as I thought, but years later. It was late yesterday morning, in fact, when a rogue burst into 221B wielding an axe while Holmes was having her morning pipe. We succeeded—with Mrs. Hudson’s well-timed swing of a coffee pot—to lay the villain low, but not before he had sunk his weapon into Holmes’s armchair several times.

With my revolver trained on the blackguard’s head, I caught a haughty eye peeking out of the shredded upholstery just as a group of Yarders were charging through entrance downstairs. Mrs. Hudson fled, then Holmes snatched the photograph out of its hiding place and threw it in the fire.

Our eyes met.

“Bloody women!” I mouthed with a mix of incredulity and exasperation.

She shrugged and mouthed back, “Inscrutable, my dear Watson,” then announced in a booming baritone, “Hopkins, here’s your canary-trainer!”

Chapter Text

Holmes struck a match and made a theatrical show of relighting her pipe.

“See here, Captain Croker, you claim that you took up the poker and struck a fatal blow to Sir Eustace Bracknell after he assaulted his wife, whom as you have referred to as ‘the only woman to you’ from the first day you met on the Rock of Gibraltar. Then you assert that you and the lady and the lady’s maid proceeded to concoct the burglary story and blame the Randall gang, who were conveniently in America on the night in question. We’ll do this in due form of law. You are the prisoner, Captain Crocker. Watson, you are the British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?”

“Guilty,” I said.

“What?” cried Croker, rising to his feet.

“Watson!”

I did not look at Holmes. I looked Crocker square in the eye and schooled my voice into that of the foulest of my aunts, may she rest in a somewhat uncomfortable peace.

“You’re not a man,” I sneered. “You killed a man, that’s for sure, and covered up your crime like a commoner and ran away like a coward. And the man you killed? Good man, bad man, he’s a dead man now, and you’re a murderer. And for what? For a girl that did no more than smile your way. Ha! She smiled so you mightn’t kill her with your kindness, you orangutan in uniform! She smiled because life has taught her to smile to save her pretty neck. This jury says, hang ‘im and hang ‘im high!”

What followed happened so very quickly, at the time I thought it one act. It would be days before I had the sequence of events correct in my mind and memory.

His purple face loomed over me. Holmes shouted, then there was a thud and a crash.

My eyes burned, my nostrils burned, my lungs burned.

And with a spark, I was on fire.


“Take the morphine, you stubborn fool!”

“You missed your calling as a nurse, Holmes.”

Pure bravado. I was about to take the morphine, for the last dressing change had reduced me to unabashed weeping and my tears—judging by Holmes’s breath when she shouted—had driven my mostly temperate lover to drink.

I was confined to bed, with dressing gowns and blankets and pyjamas about my shoulders and lower half and a patchwork of foul-smelling bandages dotting my bare chest.

Wounds are like mistresses; it is unchivalrous to compare them but most gentlemen fall prey to the temptation. And I much preferred a jezail bullet in the shoulder to this monstrosity.

The spirit lamp had been cracked and drained upon me. With one hand, he’d thrown Holmes to the ground and with another he’d dropped the struck match.

“If Hopkins hadn’t burst through the door, I would have killed him, Watson.”

Ah. For this conversation, as well as the over-due dressing change, I would need the morphine.


I knew that the medicine was having its effect when I reached my arm out and sang, to a tune known only in my mind, “The worst part of this affair is that it shall be a very long time before I can hold you as I like.”

Holmes smirked.

As soon as the new dressings were in place, she carefully eased herself behind me in the bed. Then she whispered into my hair,

“Where did I err, Watson?”

Here it was. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding.

“You, like most human beings, Holmes, fell prey to the same weakness that you decry in others. You belittled me for my ‘fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of a scientific exercise,’ but your own mind supplied a story, Holmes, a very sensational, very human story, at that, one of good versus evil. Sir Eustace was the evil husband who set his wife’s dog afire and pricked her with hat pins and Captain Crocker was the good and noble and chaste admirer who saved her from her horrid fate. You focused on the men, forgetting the woman.”

She pressed her lips to the side of my head.

“Guilty as charged. And mine was, in fact, a childhood of fairytales, Watson.”

“And mine was not, Holmes,” I said gravely. “When a girl, even a free-spirited one like Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide, ‘makes a mistake’ as her nurse put it, she may not learn from it, even if she pays for it as she did with Sir Eustace. She may make the same mistake again and again.”

“And, in my experience,” I continued. “The quickest way to make such a man show his true colours is to imitate the one who first dared to tell him he was less than one. You wanted one of her suitors to be a knight and one to be a villain. My fault, Holmes, is that I think all men are villains; that’s one reason why I decided to join them. It futile to try to beat them. But I’m often right, am I not?”

She was silent for a long time, then finally said,

“Shall I ever know the depths of my Watson?”

I smiled and closed my eyes. Sleep was rolling in like a heavy fog.

“Did you give me more than I advised?”

“No, I simply took the rest for myself.”

And it was a testament to how much she had given me that I merely chuckled at this. Then I looked down at the damage and sighed.

“I was never much to look at, but I’ll be a bit frightful now. And the binding will be a bit more delicate matter.”

“I adore you, Watson, charred or not. I’m to consult a burn specialist in the morning. And perhaps an investment in some silk and novels and a plump duck for supper...”

Her voice faded.

And the last thing I heard before I finally succumbed to morphine’s kiss was her low oath.

“Bloody sailors! Never trust ‘em.”

Chapter Text

“You smell like a woman,” observed Holmes from the sofa.

“I needed some air. Went to see someone I used to know.”

“Do doctors require air?”

“No, but nurses do.”

Grey eyes flashed.

“A liaison with a woman,” she sniffed, then frowned, “from the East, Far East, whilst your,” the word ‘wife’ hovered unspoken between us, “fellow lodger lies abed, recovering from a murderous attack.”

I strode to the sofa and leaned over her, loosening my collar and baring my neck to her aquiline nose. “You can do better than that, my dear.”

She glared, but sniffed again.

“Japan,” she said.

“Well done. And your murderous attack was two weeks ago and not so murderous as you wanted the newspaper-reading public to believe. But, snips and snaps aside, how are you, my dear man?”

I planted an avuncular kiss on the top of her head.

She almost hissed, then asked sharply, “Is this about that book on Japanese pottery? The one you haven’t returned to Lomax at the library.”

“It is. He mistakenly slipped it amongst all the volumes on Chinese pottery that I so feverishly studied in preparation for my interview with Baron Gruner. It caught my eye, but, of course, I didn’t have time for it then. But as you’ve spent a good deal of time napping,” the last word won me another hard glare, “I’ve had time to read. It’s quite lovely. Anyway, the book must go back to Lomax sooner or later, so I thought an old friend, an artist,” that earned me a noisy harrumph, “who is familiar with this form of art might be able to reproduce an illustration for me.”

“And did you wallow in nostalgia with this friend whilst she plied her trade?”

“Art, I’m certain you mean. No, she’s disappeared. Nothing sinister, as far as I know, but I found someone equally knowledgeable, skilled, and obliging.”

“And fragrant,” Holmes added, then she picked at the blanket that swaddled her. “I suppose it was a refreshing change from sickbed stench.”

I kissed her head again. “Jealous pique suits you better than self-pity, my dear. And after all, aren’t you son of a son of a sister of Vernet?”

“That’s the official version.”

“So perhaps this may appeal to you, too,” I said and slipped a sheet from the portfolio in hand.

Kintsugi,” she said after studying the sketch of the bowl. “Broken pottery repaired with gold. Interesting.”

I didn’t ask whether she meant the art itself, the drawing, or my interest. The answer was yes.

“Well, speaking of something forged, then broken, there’s some news that may you.” She nodded to a folded newspaper on the desk.

I read, then cried with glee,

“She’s broken the engagement!”

“Well, someone has. Perhaps her father. Or our illustrious client.”

I gave a whoop of delight and waltzed about the room, holding the newspaper like a dance partner. “Who cares? This means it wasn’t all in vain. Yes, yes, my girl! Violet de Merville finally saw the light about her betrothed. Oh, that’s the best news I’ve heard since this whole mess began.”

“She affected you.”

“She was maddening,” I replied quickly, then cast a wry glance at Holmes, “And not in your charming way. All those women, Holmes. He ruined them for sport. I’ll take a hundred of Professor Moriarty before the one of Baron Gruner. Vitriol was fine, but someone needs to put a bullet in him. If ever a man needed putting down like a lame horse, it is that man.”

“Not by you,” Holmes said cautiously. “Please.”

I shrugged.

“Watson.” She got to her feet.

“Hey, let me—“

“I’m not an invalid!” she snapped. She batted away my hands but nevertheless closed the distance between us and wound her arms ‘round my waist.

Need I say the curtains were drawn? They were.

“Watson,” she purred.

“You’ve a head injury, Holmes,” I protested weakly.

“That was ages ago.”

“Two weeks ago, ” I corrected.

“You’ve been gentle. Too gentle. A little less gentle, please.”

I took a deep breath and brushed my cheek against the dark blue silk of her dressing gown. “You smell,” I tilted my head, “sweet.”

“I bathed.”

My head shot up. I frowned. “Without assistance?”

“Of course not. Mrs. Hudson provided the water.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’m steadier on my feet than you imagine, Nurse Watson. And I’m as restless as you are. I want to be back at my work. The allure of reading and scrap-booking wanes fast. And I want…”

Her gaze grew heated; one of her eyebrows rose very invitingly.

“Say it, my dear,” I whispered, knowing I was already defeated, already bent to her want and whim.

She brought her lips to the shell of my ear and said, “Take me to bed, Watson. This very moment.”

And with that, she was bundled in my arms, laughing. We strode as one to her bedroom door.


She was nude slotted against me on the bed, her back to my chest. Two lengths of linen, our bindings, decorated the floor, but I was still in drawers and moustache, barefoot, with my shirt carelessly hanging on my arms.

I’d teased her to a first crisis and was now coaxing her rapidly towards a second.

“You smell beautiful, my dear,” I said as I kissed her neck.

“Better than a Tokyo—“

Teeth pinched skin in hard warning. “At times, you’re a bit of an ass, Holmes.”

“Well, that makes this a bastard farmyard because very often you’re a bit of cur, Watson.”

I licked the spot that I’d bitten and chuckled. “Touché.”

“Has it been dreadfully horrid, taking care of me?” Now her voice was a whine, but whether it was a flash of pity resurfacing or the effect of my hands at her mons or both, I didn’t know.

“Nonsense, but even the staunchest of attendants needs a respite. And that art is intriguing. The book did not suffice. I wanted to know more.”

Her reply was a half-grunt, half-whimper. I felt her body tense and shudder through a second wave of pleasure.

I kissed and licked and nipped quite hungrily at her neck; the scent of her kindled my own desire.

“Holmes,” I said, my voice cracking.

Why was this always awkward? After all this time.

She twisted far too quickly in my arms.

“Be gentle with yourself, my dear, please. You are recovering from a head injury,” I reminded.

“Bugger my head injury. Are you…? What do you want?”

Passion and concern warred within me.

“I want you to be careful, Holmes. Not strain yourself.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said just before pressing her lips to mine. “I plan to lie back and let you do every single bit of the straining. What was it you said? I’m yours to be used.”

“Always, my dear. Always.”


“Good news,” said Holmes as I returned from my errand. “Oh, Watson. Again with your Japanese friend?” Her nose crinkled. “Never mind. Kitty Winter.”

“Sentencing?”

Holmes nodded. “It’s as I predicted.”

“Oh, yes! Was that your work, Holmes?”

She shook her head. “Not directly. But it’s good news.”

“The best. And you’re up and dressed for work outside these four walls.”

“Absolutely. Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective, is past ready to reclaim his professional, public life.”

“Then here’s a token to mark your full recovery.” I produced the bowl from its box.

“Oh, Watson.”

She took the bowl and turned it ‘round, studying it from all sides, tracing a finger along the gold seams that crisscrossed the grey clay. “I should’ve deduced that you weren’t just commissioning a sketch. Or conducting a liaison.”

“It’s a reminder that being broken, that healing, the fissures, the new form, are all part of our history, something to be celebrated, not disguised or hidden. And for me, you are so much a part of that.”

“You were mended before I met you.”

“Not with gold, my love. Not with gold. You added splendor to what was otherwise a serviceable job at best. It is a difficult lesson to learn, but one I hope that everyone who’s been hurt by Baron Gruner, or someone like him, learns. It’s a gift for you, but a reminder for me.”

“Then let’s never forget,” she said as she strode to the mantelpiece and placed the bowl in the centre. “And if anyone asks, or even if they don’t and seem, well, to need it, we’ll mention it.”

We held each other’s gaze for a long minute, then Holmes announced, “You know, Watson, as a son of son of a sister of Vernet, art is, of course, in the blood. Perhaps I might try my hand at kintsugi.”

“Really?”

We moved to the breakfast table. I poured her tea. She fiddled with a stack of newspapers.

“I could start with that horrid teacup of yours, the one with the tiny shelf for your moustache.”

“Oh, no! Keep your hands off my bloody teacup!”

Chapter Text

“Hatpins?”

“Fifty-five. No, the weapon most often used by women, according to police records as reported by the Chicago Tribune was a broom handle, used in one hundred eighty-six cases.”

“Interesting.”

“Three women used a potato masher.”

“Good Lord.”

“And one woman used a nursing bottle.”

I frowned. “How—?”

Holmes clamped her fingers as if squirting liquid contents of said weapon into my eye.

“Ah,” I said and chuckled. “Well, needs must when the devil drives, no?”

Holmes smiled and tucked the newspaper clipping away. But when she looked at me once more, her face fell.

“I made an error of judgment this evening, Watson.”

Her tone was suddenly solemn, confessional, apologetic, all of which puzzled me.

“About the choice of the night’s diversion? I was surprised when you announced that you wanted to leave at intermission, but, of course, when smoked haddock pie from Simpson’s is in the offing, I probe no further.”

I wiggled my eyebrows and smiled, but Holmes did not look up. She rolled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers.

“The play’s mediocrity was a surprise but no, I erred in relaying to you that bit of gossip immediately before the curtain was raised.”

She winced, and so did I.

“A tragedy,” I admitted. “The actress who was to play the lead dying from burns sustained when she stepped too close to an open hearth and her voluminous costume caught on fire. Her understudy, who also happened to be her sister, rushing to her aid, sustaining severe burns herself, and not expected to live out the week. I suppose you think the actress who took over the role wasn’t up to the part?”

“On such short notice, she could hardly be expected to be, but no, I should’ve known the effect the news story would have on you.”

“Me?”

I cast my gaze idly about the restaurant dining room.

“You were fretting about it the whole first act! Please don’t feign ignorance. As if you don’t know that you, ruminating like a gloomy cow, is supremely distracting to me. It was a lark, a ghoulish whim, to spread such tittle. And it was also careless, reckless, even. It might have been a pleasant evening, but now you’re upset.”

“I’m a doctor, Holmes! Being upset is my vocation. I was thinking of Presbury, too, oddly enough. One person taking such risks to maintain his youth while the lives of two women, embodying the very youth so coveted, are extinguished far too early and in the most prosaic of circumstances. It is upsetting, and sort of connected, in a muddled sort of way. Fragility of life. Clinging to. Ripping away.”

I shook my head, then shrugged.

“We don’t have to worry about cinders on our skirts,” said Holmes. “And I venture that neither of us shall be injecting streams from the fountain of youth in our veins.”

I raised an eyebrow and shot her a glance.

“I know I shan’t,” she retorted.

“Good,” I said. “But Presbury wasn’t just after youth. He was after vigour, which is also not our concern.”

“Alice Morphy,” Holmes said with a smirk. “Would you make yourself half a monkey for her?”

I wrinkled my nose. “No. There’s only one sparks my animalistic instincts in me these days.”

Holmes smiled, then looked over my shoulder. “Here comes our dinner.”

“Jolly good!”

“Watson.” Her voice changed once more; now it was the unmistakable whisper of the sleuth-hound on the scent.

My muscles tensed.

I leaned forward, so did she.

“Coming this way,” she said in a low voice without moving her lips. “Morgan. In disguise. Clever disguise. But it’s him.”

“The poisoner? But he left London ages ago.”

One side of her mouth twitched. “Nevertheless.”

“There’s a warrant, Holmes.”

Our eyes met.

“Vatican cameos,” she said.

“I’m not armed, Holmes, but—“

“We’ve got one chance, Watson. On three. One. Two. Thr—“


Much later, Holmes mused,

“It was a pleasant evening, after all. Theatre. Fugitive-catching. Dinner.

“In that order,” I said and kissed the inside of her thigh.

“God, Watson, the moustache.”

I stopped and looked up. “Off?”

She looked down with a half-lidded gaze. “More.”

I grinned and resumed my kissing, inching closer and closer to her sex. She mewled as I nuzzled, purposefully teasing her until those long, elegant fingers sank into my hair and gripped me by the scalp.

“God, Holmes,” I breathed against her hair and skin and wetness.

She released one hand from my head and spread her folds with two fingers. I hooked one of her legs over my shoulder and covered her clit with my mouth.

She groaned and returned her hand to my head. She rubbed my cheek with her knuckles. “All night, Watson? Until morning? I’m ravenous.”

Not wishing to release her, I hummed my assent. She sighed.

I suckled until she came, then turned her over onto a pillow and pushing my own trousers and drawers down and finally ridding myself of shirt and undershirt, mounted her.

I snorted and bit at the nape of her neck as I rut.

“I like my Watson feral,” she said and turned her head. I kissed the crease of her smile, then ran a hand up and down her side.

She asked for my fingers inside her, I obliged.

“God, Holmes, as much as you hide your sex from the world, I love to feel it,” I said, stretching her.

“That’s why I don’t hide it from you.”

“All night. Until morning. I am ravenous for you,” I said as my own pleasure burst.


When morning dawned, she woke me.

“Watson, I must commend you.”

“On my stamina?” I groaned as I blinked and realised I’d fallen asleep between her legs.

She looked at me. “No, ingenuity in the capture of Morgan the poisoner. I’ll wager the women mentioned in the Chicago Tribune would also approve of your choice of weaponry.”

I laughed and kissed her mons and said,

“Bloody fish pie!”

 

Chapter Text

“One of your more fragrant pieces of post, Watson.”

Ignoring the quip, I slit open the envelope. But even before I had unfolded the pages and caught the colourful wisp that slipped from them in my palm, the scent that Holmes could not avoid commenting upon had transported me. I was in another place, another time, and another tongue, soft and lilting, spoke.

Dear John, I hope you have not forgot those nights in Barranco

When I had finished reading, I shook my head, dispelling the miasma of memory. And all at once, I was back in the familiar setting of 221b Baker Street, London with an even more familiar pair of grey eyes fixed upon me.

“Holmes, Soledad is no vampire,” I said.

Holmes’s eyes followed my hand with the letter as it fell to my side.

“Oh, Soledad, is it?”

“Yes, it is. Ferguson did not refer to her by name, and she’s got one, and a beautiful one at that. I should like to how he can imagine that the woman he purported to love at one time, the mother of his child, to be some diabolical supernatural creature.”

“And I should like to know if there is any woman of, as Ferguson so rudely puts it, ‘foreign birth and alien religion,’ residing in the British Isles whom you have not bedded at some point in your licentious life!”

I sighed. “I will go to her, with or without you.”

“Caballero rushes to the aid of a doña in distress?”

“Don’t pretend you’re immune to the impulse. You’ve battled as many windmills as I have.”

Our eyes met. I let her read my expression, my body language, even the very thoughts buzzing about the skep of my mind. And after a long pregnant pause, she huffed and said,

“This agency stands flat-footed on the ground, and there it must remain. No ghosts need apply.”

One corner of my mouth twitched in a smile, and my shoulders relaxed.

“Precisely. She’s no vampire, but she is in trouble, though extremely cryptic about the details of said trouble. She saw one of my stories in The Strand and thought we could help.”

“We?”

“Yes.”

I held out the dried flower that had been pressed between the pages of the letter. It bore a yellow trumpet-like tube that flared into tiny red petals.

“The flower of the Incas,” said Holmes, taking it and twirling it between finger and thumb. She studied it keenly from all sides. “Quantuta. May I keep it?”

I nodded and smiled and said, “I’ve no need.” Then I made a show of striding to the breakfast table and plucking the most English of the English roses from Mrs. Hudson’s splendid centerpiece.

But when I turned, I sighed, defeated and deflated, as my gesture had gone completely unnoticed.

Holmes was wholly absorbed in filing the flower in one of her index books devoted to botanical subjects.

“Sussex,” she said, without looking up from the book.

“Sussex,” I echoed.


“Would your mistress see Doctor Watson?” asked Holmes. He was looking at Dolores, but pressing a note into my palm.

“Yes.”

She was lying on the bed. She raised her eyes, then sank back with a sigh on the pillow.

“John.”

“Sole.

“Look at you.”

“Look at you.”

“What a pair we are, a long way from Barranco.”

“What is going on here, Sole?”

“If I told you, would you believe me?” she mused.

“Yes, but the question is why won’t your husband?” I replied.

I sat on the edge of the bed. She looked at me with eyes both weary and frantic.

“It’s his own flesh and blood, his darling boy Jacky. Better that the truth should come from some other lips than mine. If your companion,” she curled her lips ‘round the word, “is the magician that you describe in your stories, he will discover the truth.”

I handed her Holmes’s note. “I believe he already has.”

She read the note quickly and nodded. “I am so glad. Bob will believe him.”

“He should believe you, too, Sole.”

“Tell me, John, do men always do what they should do?” she asked with a skewering glance.

I sighed and looked away. “The baby—“

“Is mine,” she said quickly. “By tragedy but not deception, John, I swear.”

I held up my hands in mock surrender. “I don’t need to know the details, Sol. I trusted you then, I trust you now. I was going to ask if the baby was safe at this moment. Does Dolores know?”

She huffed. “As always, John. No one can keep secrets from Dolores for long. Not even you.”

I smirked. “The dog is part of it, I know, but that isn’t the Carlo I remember.”

“That’s the third Carlo since ours went chasing butterflies beyond the clouds.” Her smile faded. “The boy shot the dog with a poison arrow using the birdbow that Bob brought back from Perú. Jealousy in its form most pure. He loves his father. He will not have that love diluted by anyone. Carlo was a test. The baby is the target.”

I felt my skin grow cold.

“In that case, Ferguson has to be told at once. Holmes will tell break the news to him first, if that’s what you wish, but for the sake of everyone living in this house, let’s get it all out in the open before Jacky hurts someone else.”

She took my handkerchief and my hand and wiped her eyes as she stood.

Then she looked me straight in the eye and smirked.

“You got taller.”

“You didn’t.”

“Are you happy, John?”

“Yes.”

Her eyes danced about my face, a gossamer version of Holmes’s scrutiny. “Yes, you are. And I think I will be, too, when this business is behind me.”

A pang of fear gripped. “Sol, I don’t know what will be decided about Jacky, but if you need help again, you may always call on me. Or Holmes. Or just come to London.”

“Qué caballero,” she said, laying a halting hand on my wrist as I gripped the doorknob. “Oh, una cosa más…”


Holmes was holding the baby in her arms as Soledad and I descended the grand spiral staircase.

From my vantage point, I could see the whole scene below, including the danger that Holmes may have suspected was there, but could not see herself.

I yelled. I lunged.

A sting. A cry.

I fell.

My arms flailed, but failed to dislodge the small arrow protruding from my neck.

“WASTON!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Soledad snatch the baby from Holmes’s arms and shout,

“Dolores, por favor. Va por un médico!”

A door slam opened.

“Mister Holmes, what is the meaning of this? Dear God, Doctor Watson! My dear, tell one of the lads to go for a doctor!”

Then Holmes turned. Her profile was of pure rage.

Furniture crashed.

“Jacky?” called Ferguson. “How can this be, Jacky? Your own brother?”

“I hate him!” squealed the boy.

Footsteps, shuffling, but steady, then another door slamming.

“I wanted to tell you, mi amor,” said Soledad. “But—“

“Later, my dear. Jacky, my boy, come back!”

A third, and final, door slamming.

“Watson.”

“Did I fool you?” I said with a grin.

“For a moment. For which you will pay dearly later.”

I reached for her hand, which she held much tighter than required to help me to my feet.

“Sol said that she switched the arrows yesterday when Jacky was out with his father. Stings like a blighter, but no poison.” I plucked the thorn from my neck. Soledad returned my handkerchief and I pressed it to the wound.

“Señora Ferguson, I have told your husband everything that was in the note. It came as a great shock, but he is not unsympathetic to your plight. I recommended a year at sea for Master Jacky, but….”

Her voice trailed off as we all stared at the front door, then she continued.

“This, I fancy, is the time for our exit, Watson. I think we may leave you to settle the rest amongst yourselves.”

“Gracias a los dos,” said Soledad with tears in her eyes. I kissed her and the baby on the cheek. Holmes patted the baby’s head gently with a gloved hand and nodded at Soledad.

As we left, however, I saw a man, who could only be a member of my esteemed profession, racing up the walk.

“You are Doctor Watson, are you not? Then my services are not required.”

It was only then that I remembered Jacky and felt a flood of shame.

“There is a young boy, the elder son of the house, who may require medical attention,” I said.

“Oh, yes. Thank you, thank you,” said the man quickly and hurried towards the door.

“Well, there’s our chariot, Watson. Shall we spend the night at the Chequers or proceed straight to the train?”

“London.”

“Yes. Home, James and don’t spare the horses?”

“Quite.”


“Do you have your flask, Watson?”

I nodded.

“Would you be very inconvenienced if I drained it of slightly more than half its contents?”

I shook my head and handed it over.

I fell back into my own thoughts, and she into hers.

“You’re not still sore about Soledad?” I asked after a short but silent eternity.

Holmes huffed and waved a dismissive hand. “I’ve been thinking about Jacky. A year at sea is one of my more ludicrous suggestions.”

“True,” I said. “But I think by now my readership and your client base know not to take parenting advice from you.”

She smiled.

“I have a dreadful feeling about him, Holmes. When I think of his future, I cannot think of an institution or situation that might not make a depraved man out of a disturbed youth. I shudder to think of what the military would make of him.”

“Yes, an indulgence of fascination with weaponry seems a bit imprudent.”

“Perhaps his father…”

Our eyes met.

I sighed.

She sighed.

“Fathers don’t…”

“No, they don’t.”

“But what kind of caballero am I? What kind of doctor? I forgot about him. Or was, more honestly, relieved to be no longer about him. I suppose that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?”

“Given the arrow in your neck, I think it’s an understandable sentiment.”

“Don’t make excuses for me, Holmes. I’m horrid specimen of human being.”

“Oh, yes, quite horrid,” she agreed with a smirk. “Is Master Jacky beyond redemption? Is he beyond reform?”

“That the possibility crossed my mind disturbs me greatly.”

“Do you know for the single moment when I thought he’d actually harmed you, I almost struck him. I wanted to strike him. He’s fifteen years old. I struck the furniture instead. The phrase ‘blind with anger’ is one I’ve always considered hyperbole. Until now. I could not see, Watson, beyond my pain and what good is a bloody detective who cannot observe, especially when tensions are running high?”

Her face fell, her voice became a whisper.

“Am I my father’s child after all, Watson? Oh, what a humbling, morbid question.”

“Your father would have struck him,” I said coolly.

“My father would have killed him,” she corrected, with equal iciness. “And if that boy had killed you…”

She took a long sip from the flask and handed it back to me.

I shook it and raised one censorious eyebrow.

“Apologies,” she said, then sighed and squeezed the bridge of her nose between index finger and thumb. “Might we go back to the olden days of me behaving in a predictably, foolishly, possessively jealous manner about one of your myriad of former lovers? And you protesting predictably, feebly, but oh, so charmingly?”

“Christ, yes, please, I would prefer to leave Jacky to his fate and pray that Providence be kind—especially as I find myself currently, surprisingly, woefully out of refreshment.”

“Brilliant. Now what were you doing upstairs with Soledad?”

“What I do with every woman I meet in her bedroom! Reminisce.”

“Just as I deduced!”

I laughed.

She laughed.

“I like the Watson that you are today, my dear fellow. No ghosts need apply.”

And just like that, like an arrow to the heart, I was slain.

The train pulled into the station.

We stood and fussed about with our respective bags.

“I am very happy that we didn’t happen upon an undead blood-sucker, Holmes.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t celebrate so soon, my dear man. I, for one, have certain designs on your life force tonight.”

I bit my cheek to keep from laughing and mumbled,

“Bloody vampire!”

Chapter Text

First, there’s the blank canvas.

Then a foot, then two, encased in silk. The wool will come later. Next is a garment of her own design; it holds the padding that gives the illusion of the masculine organ. Cock in place, I bid a fond farewell to the breasts. Sometimes, I aide her here, though it isn’t required. She’s been transforming herself so long it’s second nature.

Second nature. Or first? Difficult to say, so let’s move on.

A layer for warmth. Drawers. Undershirt. Wool on the feet.

A splash of shadow. Dark trousers. Cream-coloured shirt. Collar. Cuffs.

Buttoning, buttoning, buttoning. Slowly, she’s in no hurry. The delicacy of touch evident in even this most quotidian of tasks. Smoothing the starched. Creasing the ironed.

She sits. She bends. The boots. No less enjoyable for the observing than the buttoning, though it be a rougher task.

A touch of personality in the waistcoat. A silk, grey to match her eyes when piqued.

She stands. She strides to the dressing table.

I study her as she studies herself in the mirror.

I wait.

There it is.

In the pass of a comb.

The face of the man I love.

“You know, Watson, most men are seduced by the undressing of a lover.”

“Sod most men. I like to watch Sherlock Holmes bloody become!”

Chapter Text

“I have something of yours, Miss Gainer.”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when Holmes, having spoken these words to our guest, strode blithely over to the bookcase; selected an enormous tome entitled A Hearty Selection of Early Christian Sermons; and from the hollowed-out interior of the volume, which, by the way, gutted or not, I was quite certain did not belong to our library, produced an ornate glass bottle.

“Holmes, do you mean to tell me that you’ve had the perfume this whole time?!” I cried.

“Naturally, Watson.”

Miss Margaret Gainer smiled. “Thank you, Mister Holmes,” she said, taking the bottle from him. She kept it in her lap, studying it. “Part of me would like to keep it, as a token of the day the course of my life changed, but…”

“But,” said Holmes gently. “If you have plans to travel, now that you have served your thirty-day sentence for stealing it, then this bottle is worth more to you as an asset to be sold.”

She nodded. “I need the money more than I need a memory.”

“You could, of course, wear it,” I suggested, feeling a bit like a fool when I saw the young lady and Holmes exchange glances of pity.

“I don’t like the scent of violets, Doctor Watson. Indeed, most scents provoke in me severe headache.”

Another feather-knocking-me moment.

“Then why, in heavens, did you steal it, my dear?!”

“Because Mister Holmes told me to,” she replied simply.

It was an afternoon for plumes who abjure the bell!

“What?! You encouraged this young lady to steal a bottle of scent from a hairdresser?”

“And to not relinquish it,” added Holmes. “Thus, ensuring her arrest.”

This was not the Holmes I knew—or loved!

My indignation must have shown on my face because our guest said quickly, “If I had not committed the smaller crime, Doctor Watson, I would have certainly committed a much graver one. You were correct, Mister Holmes: it is better to serve a month in a cell than to hang from the gallows for a man who did not deserve my love. When I discovered that my dear Percy had not just betrayed me, but his employer, his country, and human decency, too, I went mad. I was already drafting plans of revenge of a, please, forgive me, Doctor, horrific and gruesome nature when I crossed paths with Mister Holmes in the hairdresser’s shop. Percy suffered less at the hands of his confederates than he would have with me, I assure you.”

“She saw through my disguise better than you ever shall, Watson—”

“He was not a knife-grinder, of that I was certain,” she interjected.

“—and I saw through hers. Indeed, I saw in her something of myself at a delicate point in my past, and for once, I wished to avert a crime rather than solve it.”

“You did both, Mister Holmes,” she said. “And more. You saved a life.”

“By inciting theft!” I exclaimed.

Holmes ignored my cry and produced from the book, which was still in hands, a bulky envelope. While she addressed our guest, I made a mental note to, at a more appropriate hour, investigate our library for additional squirreled treasure.

“This is the value of the scent, plus a sum from my own pocket to speed you, and guard you, on your journey, Miss Gainer.”

The young lady blushed, but readily exchanged the bottle for the envelope. “Mister Holmes, I scarcely know what to say. You must have been sent by Providence. The literature that you brought me whilst I was serving my sentence was revelatory as well. When I travel, I shall go east to learn more how I might conquer this mind of mine, to still it, to go beyond the vicissitudes of good fortune and bad.”

Holmes nodded. “I am simply returning a favour or two which were once done me. Consider me a wind, which a critical crossroad, blew you from one course to another, much more fruitful path. Now, shall we enjoy this sumptuous tea that Mrs. Hudson has prepared for us?”

Indeed, at Holmes’s insistence, a feast to please a Roman Emperor had been laid out on the table.

After we bid farewell to Miss Grainer, Holmes returned to her latest experiment.

I strode to the bookcase. Holmes and I were both creatures of habit as well as order, and I puzzled about the gap in the shelf.

“Holmes, where is the Holy Bible?”

She leaned back and smiled and gestured to the apparatus in front of her, which included a flask being suspended at a jaunty angle by a thick book. “Where it should be, support Science.”

I chuckled, then turned my attention to the bottle of perfume. I opened it and sniffed. And sniffed again.

“Holmes, this isn’t scent.”

“No, it’s brandy.”

“What happened to the perfume?”

“I gave a small sample to our good landlady as a preemptive strike against future rent hikes, compensation for damages not yet inflicted, you understand, and sold the rest.”

“You knew that Miss Gainer wouldn’t take the scent.”

“I wouldn’t have. Not even at her age, Watson.”

“Well, I know what name she’ll take for her new life.”

“A name is a lighter, less cumbersome, memento than a cut glass bottle full of odorous spirit.”

“Don’t we know it?” I quipped, then took a long swig from the bottle. I smiled, let out an aspirative ‘ah!’, licked my lips, and exclaimed,

“Bloody violets!”

 

Chapter Text

“What a cad you are Watson! You’ve reduced the greatest mind of the age to writing maudlin verse!”

“Good Lord! Have we no cocaine?” I replied with abject indignation.

Holmes scowled beautifully.

I gave an inquiring nod toward the single sheet of paper that lay upon the desk. Cad though I am, I have not yet fallen to the state of depravity where I read another’s maudlin verse without permission.

She gave a wave of a hand, which I took for consent.

Another’s caught my handsome’s eye.

Her charms are so refined, it’s true.

Her beauty no one can deny.

A rival fair. Oh, what to do?

I’ve too much pride to pace and cry

to wring my hands and sob boo-hoo

But I’m so blue, so very, very

as she is red that bloody Mary!

“My dear Holmes,” I said as I extended my arms and performed a pirouette, inviting her trademark scrutiny.

“You’ve been to the docks,” she observed.

“Yes, when I told the woman why I was asking for the food, well, she went out of her way to do right by her countryman. The food was ready—and twice the quantity I’d ordered.”

“Then you went to see Tonga.”

“Yes, he tucked into the offering as I’d hoped, I mean, prison food is dismal regardless of nationality but the finest of English cuisine could hardly be palatable to someone accustomed to spice. But though appreciative, he won’t accept the Crown’s offer to return to the Andamans. He absolutely refuses to abandon Small.” I sighed. “But yes, to the docks, to Tonga, and home. You’ll note that my trousers have none of the dirt from that street upheaval that is underway outside Mrs. Cecil Forrester’s.”

“Upheaval which was completed two days ago,” Holmes remarked. “But…”

I did as I wanted to do since I cross the threshold and fell to my knees beside her armchair.

“But what, Holmes? I am not in love with Miss Mary Morstan.”

“You fancy her.”

“I’m a fanciful man.”

“You’ve been thinking.”

“You haven’t a monopoly on the act, Holmes.”

“You’re thinking about her.”

“Just wondering. Don’t you ever wonder what your life might be like if you chose another path? She’s a lovely woman and will make some man a lovely wife, if she chooses, but now being one of the wealthiest women in England, I daresay she can do as she pleases.”

“She might choose you.”

“She’s an intelligent, perceptive woman. She knows I’m spoken for.”

Holmes studied the fire, then asked in a quiet voice,

“What do you wonder, Watson?”

“Domestic life. Head of household. I expect it would be all right for a year or two, but sooner or later, I’d so wretchedly bored of it all that I would not treat her or it with the respect that either deserves. I have all the domesticity I desire right here, in rented rooms, with the one that I love.”

“She would understand. She might even like—”

“I don’t care.”

We fell into silence, then Holmes said,

“I’ve been foolish, haven’t I?”

“No more foolish than I am when someone comes around with twice the brains that I have. Wouldn’t you be happier with someone who was your intellectual equal?”

She shook her head slowly. “They wouldn’t ejaculate the way you do.”

I smiled. She smiled.

Then she stood and went to the desk. She retrieved the sheet of paper and strode toward the fire.

“No!” I cried, snatching it from her. “It has value.”

Holmes snorted. “Really, Watson!”

“Please?”

She shrugged. “As you wish.”

“Are you hungry? I bought an extra meal for two from the Andaman cook for us to try.”

“Famished. Writing maudlin verse is devastating for the appetite.” She sniffed. “Ah, if I’m not mistaken—”

“—and you rarely are—”

She shot me look. “—that’s our supper coming up the stairs right now.”


Three weeks later…

 

“I was promised the best meal that Simpson’s had to offer tonight, Watson. Music hall fare is a step, or a tier, below that.”

“We’re just stopping here for a moment, then onto dinner. Listen.”

“All right, everyone, here’s a new one, I just know you’re gonna love…”

A spritely melody filled the hall, and a comely chanteuse waltzed to the centre of the stage.

“Another’s caught my handsome’s eye.

Her charms are so refined, it’s true.

Her beauty no one can deny.

A rival fair. Oh, what to do?

I’ve too much pride to pace and cry

to wring my hands and sob boo-hoo

But I’m so blue, so very, very

as she is red that bloody Mary!

Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary!

Bloody Mary!”

Holmes’s eyes grew wide. “Watson!”

I grinned. “I didn’t say I liked it, Holmes. I said it had value, and it did. Tonight, dinner is on…” I pointed to the stage and the chorus finished my line.

“…Bloody Mary!

 

Chapter Text

“How’s your shoulder?”

“Damn my shoulder,” I muttered as my fingers traced the tiny scrawl embroidered on the wool. Even if legible, the words would still have been unintelligible, at least to me. Holmes had translated a bit of it.

I am not big.

I wish to read.

I plunge headlong into disaster.

“Christ, to use your clothes as diary.”

“Your shoulder, Watson…”

It wasn’t like Holmes to fuss.

“That door couldn’t do anything to my shoulder that the Jezail bullet didn’t!” I snapped. “You know damn well I put the bad ‘un to the plough when there’s rough work to be done!”

My outburst was robbed of much of its strength by the hacking cough that followed it. The truth was if pneumonia set in, my shoulder would be the least of my worries.

Lamentably, the door, and my shoulder, had been busted for naught. The girl had not required rescue: she’d already flown the coop.

A three-day search of the woods had turned up nothing. I’d been right among the pack.

Agnes! Agnes! Where are you?

“She’ll be found,” said Holmes.

“Her body will. But where could she have gone? If the best hound in England couldn’t track her—”

“The dogs lost her scent at—”

“I wasn’t talking about the dogs, Sherlock!”

I finally looked up.

I believed the shock that momentarily froze her features to be the result of my harsh tone. I wouldn’t realise that I had used her Christian, well, one of her Christian names until a few moments later.

I wasn’t keen to apologise, but I did try to soften my voice.

“Spend half your life in an institution, with your thoughts on your sleeve, as it were, then sold abroad because a warden realises, for some ungodly reason, that you’re a cross between a handy guide to the turf and the oracle at Delphi! And I can’t help but thinking,” I fingered the wool and the words, “‘there but for the grace of God—”

“You would never have been confined, John.”

I blinked, awareness dawning at the shift of address, but too riled up to care.

“Damn right I wouldn’t have. Nobody locks girls like me up! They throw us away! There’s no money in us, but you, Sherlock! You can do a lot more than pick winning racehorses. They would’ve cut you up and pumped you full of poison and left you so hollow that all you could do was sew your precious pleas on your cuff. I wish to read, Sherlock, I wish to read.

“None of that happened.” There were fingers by my cheek, and I kissed them. “You should give the garment back to Lestrade.”

“For what, his museum? So people can pay a penny to gawk at it? No, it’s going in my wardrobe until she’s found. Then I give it back to her.” I turned my gaze to the window. “She’s cold out there without,” my voice cracked, “without her bloody jacket!”

I fled up the stairs.

Chapter Text

“Oh, yes,” I breathed and began to sit myself up in bed at once.

The aroma had reached my nose long before Holmes appeared in the doorway with the tray, and with every careful footfall on the stairs, the delectable fragrance and my appetite strengthened.

“Poulet aux champignons,” announced Holmes triumphantly as she entered the bedroom.

“Hurrah,” I cried with the exuberance reserved for the convalescent who has finally graduated from broth. “No more tea and toast!  Tomorrow, modesty and hygiene be damned, I declare that I shall swaddle myself and descend to the world of the living once again.”

“I think it’s safe,” said Holmes. “You’re healing very nicely, indeed, and you need not take my layman’s word for it, I went to see your colleague the burn specialist and described the condition of your skin in minute details.  He concurs.”

I could only hum, for my mouth was too full of savory manna.  Then I quickly became engrossed in eyeing the small glass of sherry on the tray with no little lasciviousness.

Holmes sat on the edge of the bed by my knees.

“Watson, I also went to see Lady Brackenstall this morning. I told her everything: of our mock trail of Captain Crocker; of your purposefully provocative ‘guilty’ verdict; of Captain Crocker’s reaction, which was to rage and douse you in lamp oil and set you on fire; and of Captain Crocker’s subsequent arrest and pending trial.”

“And?”

“She fell into a fit from which she did not recover—at least in my presence.”

I inclined my head and shrugged. “At the risk of sounding heartless, my concern for Lady Brackenstall is minimal. She has her entirely too faithful maid to tend to her.  She may recover. She may not. She may come to understand or learn or accept the circumstances or her role in them.  She may not. Tricky thing in some respects, but, you know, in other ways, I think it’s a simple matter of mistaken identity.” I could no longer resist the siren song of the sherry. I took a sip and sighed rapturously, “Oh, hello, my beautiful,” as it made its way across my palate and down my gullet.

“Mistaken identity? How so, Watson?”

I speared the largest of the brown crescents on the plate with my fork, then held it out towards Holmes.

“Well, I had an aunt who used to said, ‘The only way to test a man is to marry him. If you live, it’s a mushroom. If you die, it’s a toadstool.’”

Holmes snorted.  “I see that there is an awfully cynical branch of the Watson family tree as well as a romantic one.”

I grinned ruefully. “The latter often turns to the former, with time and experience, my dear Holmes.”

Holmes nodded, then leaned forward and swept the fork clean with her mouth.

“I suppose so," she said with her mouth full, "but in that case, all that’s left to say is, 'Hurrah for us bloody mushrooms!'”

Chapter Text

It is not often that I am drawn from sleep by the mere force of a gaze upon me, but that of my grey-eyed Minerva is singularly powerful in its grip.

“You solved it?” I mumbled.

“Naturally,” said Holmes with an arrogant huff.

“How?” I prompted after a pause.

“Later,” said Holmes as she removed her gloves and hung her coat on a hook. “I knew I shouldn’t have gone to Devon,” she added testily.

“Of course, you should have. The case had many features of interest.” I blinked and snuffled and shifted my way to full wakefulness. “If it had crossed your path even next week, I would have joined you, but…”

I’d spent a week upstairs convalescing after suffering an attack at the hands of an enraged Captain Crocker, who’d doused me with lamp oil and set me on fire. Three days ago, I’d made the decision, sanctioned by the holy triumvirate of Mrs. Hudson, Holmes, my colleague Stoke-Mandeville, a specialist in the treatment of burns, to return to the land of the living. Of course, as fate would have it, no sooner had I ensconced myself on the sofa and was reveling in the sounds of bustling London without, when a plum of a case had fallen right into Holmes’s lap.

Regardless of her unwavering devotion to my person and deep concern for my condition, Holmes was not a nurse by nature, and after a week of pouring herself into the role, she was beginning to fray.

And so, though I kept my face impassive, my heart leapt with joy as the beleaguered Mister Philpot opened his Pandora’s box before us. Holmes’s fingers were steepled at her lips and her eyes were half-closed, the perfect pose of listening with quiet concentration, but there was a quicksilver gleam in the slivers of iris which was quite visible to one who knew where to look.

By the time Mister Philpot had left, Holmes was positively vibrating with anticipation, looking like nothing so much as a hound on the scent straining the leash.

She cast a single look in my direction.

“Go,” I said, with a wave of my hand.

Holmes sprang for her bedroom, and I smiled at the familiar noise of a small trunk being filled with lightning precision and speed.


And now Holmes had returned triumphant.

“You’ve had visitors,” said Holmes, pacing in the slow back-and-forth of a curious jungle cat and eyeing the little table beside the sofa with the same disturbing scrutiny that had wrenched me from sleep. “Generous, artistic,” she sniffed, “visitors of the female persuasion. More than one. And not together. One recently returned from America.” She dipped to the rug and plucked a frond-like bit of debris and held it up. “Preposterous hat. Miss Sutherland.”

“Yes. Returned from her international tour with other typewriter artists. She is,” I sighed, “amazing.”

Holmes’s eyebrow shot up. “Really?”

“Really. Happy. Hopeful. Strong in herself. It’s wonderful to see, Holmes.”

“Good,” said Holmes. “I know nothing of your other visitor, except that she had a young lady in tow. Mrs. Violet Morton née Smith and Miss Esme Carruthers, perhaps?”

“Well done.”

“They came to tea, of course.”

“Yes, I doubt if I could’ve persuade Mrs. Hudson to delve into the mysteries of making roly-poly jam pudding otherwise, with or without Mrs. Beeton’s guidance.”

“And how is Mrs. Morton?” asked Holmes with a smirk.

“She was in excellent form. I believe that married life has not deprived her of opportunities for indulging in her passion for cycling and, uh, other sport.”

“Ah, then, Mrs. Dixon, the housekeeper, remains in residence.”

I grunted. “That would be my presumption, unless Mrs. Morton has found another with whom she might frolic in the flowering gorse.”

Holmes grunted, then crumpled into her armchair with a weary exhale of a nature which invited only one response.

“Tea?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

I made to ring, but it wasn’t necessary. Mrs. Hudson was making her way through the door with a tray at the precise moment my hand rested on the bell.

“Mrs. Hudson, you are a goddess!” exclaimed Holmes as she rose and took the tray.

Our good landlady muttered something about goddesses not having to suffer quite so much mud on the stairs, but the slight pink of her cheeks showed that the metaphor had not missed its mark entirely.

“Oh, well done, Doctor,” Mrs. Hudson cooed upon observing the fruits of my morning’s labour, which were resting on the little table. Her tone was that of an indulgent mother, my grin and puff of chest, that of a praised child.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”

When we were once more alone, Holmes said, “Your visitors came bearing gifts.”

“Yes, they’d both read about the incident in the papers and correctly assumed that I’d be convalescing. So thoughtful. Miss Sutherland brought me this handsome volume from America, and Mrs. Morton, I think, at young Esme’s insistence, this set of paints and brushes. I’ve been putting them both to good use.”

“Gods and heroes,” mused Holmes, studying the black cover with the red lettering. “It is a handsome volume,” she admitted.

“The language is simple, but so poetic, I’m quite enamoured of it.” My eyes moved from the book to Holmes’s face. “Though you often demonstrate the omniscience of a god, Holmes, at the moment, you have appearance of a hero, home from an arduous trial.”

Holmes leaned forward and took up her tea. “You flatter me, Watson. I believe I’ve already exhibited modicums of petty jealous and pride worthy of both hero and god.”

“You’ll enjoy the stories, but I predict the monsters will interest you most.”

Holmes paused, then looked me straight in the eye and said softly, “How good it is to be home.”

We took our tea and settled into a companionable silence.

Finally, Holmes declared with solemnity,

“After some consideration, I believe that you are neither hero nor god, Watson.”

“I’m often reminded of the fact that I’m quite mortal,” I said as I touched my chest, where beneath clothing a swath of bandages covered scotched but healing skin, and then my shoulder, which the jezail bullet had left its calling card.

“You are,” Holmes continued, “a Bulfinch, that is, a myth-maker. Through your stories in The Strand, you have created the figure that the world knows as Mister Sherlock Holmes.” She extended one arm.

I smiled. “Boswell, Bulfinch, much the same, but the kernel of the myth is always there, Holmes, in you.”

“But the myth is never the same as the person, is it?”

“Not quite. Speaking of which, when I decide to move on from still life paintings of books and teacups, would you consider posing?”

Her eyes danced. “You may have me however you wish: the myth and all his trappings as well as the bared creature within—after a bath, of course.”

A wave of lust took me completely by surprise. For ten days, I’d been suffering through pain then discomfort, with thoughts of survival overwhelming any thoughts of pleasure.

But all that changed in a moment.

I licked my lips. “Perhaps some preliminary sketches, later in the evening?”

“As you wish,” whispered Holmes, her chest rising and falling. “I hated to abandon you, Watson, but I believe that a few extra days of convalescence have done you much good.”

“Let me show you how good,” I growled and took no little pleasure in hearing the teacup tremble once in its saucer. “After you tell me how you saved poor Mister Philpot from his plight, you may take your pick of scenarios: god, hero, monster, mortal.”

“Bloody mythology!” breathed Holmes as she flushed and reached for the handsome black volume.

teacup & book

Chapter Text

If asked, Sherlock Holmes will declare, with no little vehemence, that she’s immune to so nebulous an influence as atmosphere, but I would beg to differ.

I would recall a late autumn evening when a fine storm, with its steady, unflagging, steam-engine torrents of rain, sent her thoughts on a journey very similar to mine—on a train westward to Dartmoor and Baskerville.

Just beyond the street-facing window pane of 221B Baker Street, a raven was stubbornly refusing to seek shelter from the downpour and wind. I watched it, musing upon its huddled, suffering, dark-feathered form while my poet’s mind gathered and stored the acorn-like rhymes of ‘maven’ and ‘haven.’

I was also thinking of the moor and that maddening case.

And so was Holmes, for she said, apropos of nothing but the storm and the raven,

“I’d like to close the file on Baskerville, Watson.”

“I thought it was closed,” I replied without turning from the window.

“One page of your correspondence is missing.”

My attention was divided between memories of Dartmoor and the plight of the raven.

“Correspondence?” I muttered, knowing at once my vague echo would annoy her.

“Your notes on the case, Watson!”

Missing the caution, the warning in her tone, for she heard the danger well before I did, I chuckled and retrieved the document in question from my desk.  Then I turned—a moment too late. “It wasn’t notes on the case, Holmes. It was a love letter.”

“Excuse me, sirs.”

The letter fell upon the floor as Esme appeared in the doorway.

I motioned for her to enter and retrieved the letter.

Esme passed in with a tray and, head down, set about clearing the tea things.

The silence was palpable, and I knew, somehow, that Holmes and I had taken on roles in a play, for the housemaid’s benefit.

Holmes stood by the fire. She said quietly,

“A love letter.”

“A love letter,” I repeated defiantly. “Read it if you wish, but then you must put it in the fire—or I will.” I dropped the folded missive on the seat of Holmes’s armchair. “It will never be sent. It would be useless.”

“The recipient does not return your affection, Watson.” She was taunting me now.

“She is not free, my fair Rosalind. And she’s not mine, not mine at all.”

I glanced toward the table and for a half moment, caught Esme’s wide-eyed stare.

“How unfortunate,” said Holmes, but that was to be the final line of the drama for just then there was a stampede of boots upon the stairs.

“Mister Holmes, Doctor Watson, come!” cried one of the Baker Street Irregulars.

We were into our coats and hats and out the door in a matter of seconds.


When Holmes and I returned to Baker Street some hours later, I might have been mistaken for the storm-braving raven for I was soaked to the bone and cross as a devil’s companion. But little did I realise when I crossed the threshold that the storm within was equal to that without.


It was another couple of hours before I was where I wanted to be: in Holmes’s bed, surrounded an armada of hot water bottles and an army of blankets.

We were both nude, Holmes sitting up and me lying, more or less, atop her.

She had the letter in one hand.

“To think that Esme and Mrs. Hudson read my love letter before I did!” she said with a pout.

“I’m afraid our performance was a bit too convincing. The letter was there, the poor girl couldn’t resist, but I’m surprised that Mrs. Hudson…”

“I daresay she read a line or two over the girl’s shoulder, and outrage turned to interest. That is, of course, a testament to your way with words.”

“She’s a romantic after all, our landlady.”

“She didn’t dismiss the girl,” said Holmes.

“She wanted to.”

“But the girl threw herself on your mercy, and, of course, you were exceedingly merciful, but need you have spun her so pretty a yarn about you and your star-crossed Rosalind! Between your story and your natural advantage, my dear Watson, you might have that girl volunteering to mend your broken heart.”

I grunted and rose up in the bed.

Holmes, recognizing my need, proffered a thigh for me to straddle.

“You’re not really jealous,” I said softly and punctuated the truth with a nip at Holmes’s earlobe. “You know that my era of romancing housemaids was a short one and over long before I met you.”

Holmes tilted her head. I kissed her lips soundly as my lower half rut against her.

“And that natural advantage you’re so fond of mentioning,” I added with a grin, “is simply knowing how to coax a bud to bloom.” I kissed the side of her neck.

“No little thing,” said Holmes.

My need grew. “Holmes,” I breathed into her open mouth, rubbing fast and hard until my pleasure burst and my teeth sank into the ridge of her shoulder.

“My dear Watson, forgive me if I take a liberty and say aloud that you are one bloody gorgeous beast.”

One corner of my mouth curled in a smile. I kissed her cheek.

“A beast you don’t trust.”

Where the old taunt came from, I don’t know. Maybe it was the letter in her hand, a reminder of that case.

“I used you in the Baskerville case,” said Holmes swiftly. “I manipulated you. Lied, even. But never think that it was because I don’t trust you. Look, I trust you with all I am.” She motioned to her body, a raw canvas, without binding or disguise.

“What do you want?” I asked, gruffly, embarrassed that I had threatened to spoil the moment by picking the healing scab and making it bleed anew.

“I want to enjoy your natural advantage whilst I read my letter.”

I eased down her body and then using my tongue as a pen wrote upon her skin, from belly to breasts.

Rosalind Violet Sherlock Holmes.

Then I settled myself between her spread legs and pushing her hair aside, covered her bud with my mouth.

Dear Rosalind,

I cannot help but think of you, my dear, on such a cold night. The day was dull and foggy and the drizzle of earlier has risen to a fierce storm.

The lightning makes me think of your quicksilver eyes and the dark twilight makes me think of your thick hair and the thunder makes me think of your temper when you roar.

To be so far from you is melancholy itself, like the rolling clouds which bank in the hall. But the separation—was there ever anything else for us, my forbidden fruit—makes for not only a lovesick heart.

My longing, and I hope my confession will not offend your delicate sensibilities, is as vast and unforgiving as the moor.

I want you stripped of all the world’s unnecessaries, under me, writhing, moaning, begging for the pleasures that I would never, ever deny you, my succulent beauty. I want the taste of you on my tongue and the scent of you in my lungs and the texture of your skin inked on my fingertips.

Most of all, I want to keep you warm and safe and cherished.

This is a sinister place and on a wretched night such as this one, it is costs nothing to believe that the wolf—or in this case, the diabolic hound—is at the door.

To be curled around you, loving you in every way a man may love, until I no longer hear the rain and no longer feel the bloody cold!

“Yours! John!”

Holmes gasped the letter’s closing and came to crisis as she often did, that is to say, nearly smothering me.

She rolled onto her back and looked down.

I looked up and smiled.

She caressed my cheek. “All that I am,” she said.

I nodded. “But you can’t keep it,” I said ruefully. “Letters are too dangerous.”

“I know. But I’ve got it up here,” she tapped her temple. “I’ll rekindle the fire.”

She rose and reached for her dressing gown. I followed suit.

We tiptoed into the sitting room.

Holmes went to the fire. I went to the window.

I gazed out, and then an odd thought occurred.

“Holmes, would you mind if I opened the window? Just for a moment. I want to see if I can coax a raven inside.”

And Holmes, god bless her, didn’t even blink at the request.

“Certainly. It’s bloody cold out there!”

Chapter Text

The bridge, like the whole of the world was covered in snow and ice, and I could see that beyond the bridge only lay more of that which I had already traversed: barren winter wasteland.

I did not cross the bridge. I stopped and swore.

Bloody Holmes! Sending me on another wild goose chase!

My decision was quick and firm.

I would follow my own tracks back and reach the inn before nightfall. Then I would take the first train, cart, or pack mule to civilization, sit before a roaring fire and, alternately, drink tea, read tawdry literature, and curse the woman I loved, for the rest of my days.

It seemed like a capital plan at the time.

I turned back at once and listened to the crunch of my stalwart, stubborn boots on congealed ground.

Then I heard bells, but they were not church bells, for where, I thought rather uncharitably, in this godforsaken tundra could there be any god or any temple or any worshippers?

Nevertheless, when I heard the bells again, I stopped and listened intently.

Sleigh bells!

The sound grew louder, and I twisted ‘round, back and forth, trying to place it.

It was coming from the other side of the bridge.

I strained my eyes. There was nothing.

Rock. Snow. Ice.

Whites and greys.

But then something dark appeared.

It was moving fast, moving closer, and jingling all the way.

Finally, it drew near enough for me to see clearly that it was a dog sled.

When it reached the bridge, the driver brought the team to an expert halt and dismounted.

The stride was familiar, and by the time she drew back the hood of her bloody fur cloak, I was certain.

“HOLMES!”

“WATSON!” She held her arms wide and grinned and then gestured to the canine pack. “YOUR CHARIOT AWAITS!”

“YOU BLOODY FOOL! THE GRICE PATERSONS?”

“RESOLVED. COME. I’LL TELL YOU BY THE FIRE.”

I scowled and folded my arms over my chest and did not move.

“OH, WATSON. DON’T BE CROSS! A TINY PREVARICATION THAT EVEN YOU WILL AGREE WAS COMPLETELY NECESSARY UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH I WILL EXPLAIN BY THE FIRE AT THE OWL AND LADY. COME. LET’S NOT SHOUT.”

“NO. I’M RETURNING TO THE BEETLE,” I said with a childish huff. “MY THINGS.”

“BLOODY FOOL, YOU THINK I DIDN’T ARRANGE TO HAVE YOUR BELONGINGS MOVED?”

Holmes growled impatiently and started across the bridge; she slipped on the second plank but quickly recovered herself.

Fear battled anger and won.

“NOW, WHO’S A BLOODY FOOL? GO BACK, HOLMES! IT ISN’T SAFE.”

“SINCE WHEN HAS THAT EVER BOTHERED EITHER OF US?”

I did not exhale my held breath until her gloved hands were in mine.

“Come, Watson. I shall make it supremely convenient. The sled is for you, and there is a splendid fire and an empty glass just waiting for the congenial marriage of whiskey and your lips. Come, the dogs are hungry. And so are you and I.”

“Very well. But that bridge looks awfully brittle, Holmes.”

“Take my hand. We’ll cross it together.”

“Are those bloody sleigh bells?”

Holmes laughed. “Of course. I can resist anything but you, my dear Watson, and a touch of the dramatic, and after all, it’s Christmas!”

And I soon was reminded of two things.

One, that a bridge is much easier to cross when you’re holding someone’s hand, and two, a wasteland can become a wonderland if you’re skidding across it, snug in a fur cocoon, with a serenading driver…

I saw three ships come sailing in!

…accompanied by bloody sleigh bells.

Chapter Text

At the announcement, I got to my feet and began to pace up and down the lone platform of the village station.

An hour’s delay.

An hour’s delay was not, in truth, a great inconvenience as delay, prolongation, protraction was already so familiar as to be a veritable leitmotif.

My four-day visit to see a former patient, indeed, one of my very first patients as a licensed physician, had become a fortnight sojourn when her health had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and my role as friend had quickly been subsumed by my role as doctor. Her family had welcomed my assistance as had the one village doctor who, in addition to his regular patient load, had been overwhelmed by a surge of pneumonia cases in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

And then, despite the best efforts of all, my old friend had succumbed, and then there was the funeral at which I’d been honoured by a request to say a few words. Then came bittersweet farewells and lengthy expressions of gratitude

And, finally, I was on my way home.

Well, in an hour.

In an hour, a train would arrive, the first of three which would eventually ferry me back to London and Holmes.

Holmes!

My days had been quite busy, but my evenings, before sleep claimed me, were lonely. My head had never touched the pillow without an aching thought of my beloved.

But she was as occupied as I was, her missives, like mine, short, few, and business-like.

I strode purposefully up and down the platform, the purpose being to douse the heady anticipation of going home, going home, going back to Holmes and London and 221B Baker Street. My boots added to the trod of other travelers before me, creating a rather clean path in the otherwise snow-covered area. I gazed upon snow-covered trees and snow-covered hills and watched birds as they flitted and swooped, their bodies nothing but dark silhouettes against a background of white.

Home, home, home, I chanted silently, as my boots crunched in time.

To be back in my armchair, to be back before my own fire, to be back in the bed I knew as well as my own…

No. There was no sense thinking along those lines and getting myself too excited, too soon.

I had quite a journey before me.

I puffed out a breath of fog and, for the first time in quite a while, contemplated the comfort a cigarette.

There was a whistle.

When the train arrived, I tucked myself out of the way of the disembarking passengers and uniformed attendants. For such a small station, there was quite a bit of bustle. Christmas, I supposed.

I watched.

And then I stopped watching.

For there she was.

“Holmes!”

“Watson!”

Though we greeted each other as any two Englishmen would have in the circumstances, my heart was pounding, and her eyes held a barely-disguised glint.

“Have you come on a case?” I asked considering, for a moment, the possibility of an irregularity among the village gossip that might have attracted Holmes’ professional attention.

“You daft thing,” she said with no little affection. “I’ve come to fetch you home. If you do insist on lingering here on the outpost of the Empire—”

“My dear man, Scotland is hardly—”

“—then there’s nothing for it, but for logic and reason to extend an invitation to you, personally, and bid you return to where you belong, to where you’re needed most.”

“You missed me?” I asked with a teasing grin.

Her only reply was a snort, but she took a step towards me, looked at her pocket watch, and lowered her voice.

“If I’m not mistaken, here’s our chariot. A rather bucolic affair, but when we change in Edinburgh, I’ve arranged for a private compartment.” The corners of her beautiful mouth twitched once. Then she turned and took a couple of steps, looking up the tracks and then around at the environs of the station.

“A rather charming spot if one likes snow,” she observed.

“I do,” I said. “But, goodness, Holmes, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so glad to see a bloody train!” 

Chapter Text

“What troubles you, my lamb?” asked the venerable Italian priest who sat beside me on the pew.

I bent my head and smiled and said softly,

“Last night, I did not rest well, Father.”

“No? Tell me more, my lamb.”

“I dreamt, and the dream was so,” I paused, feeling the heat of my companion’s gaze, “absorbing that I felt the urge to commit it to paper as soon as I woke, which was an hour later than my custom. The transcribing was an unusually lengthy process, but I felt compelled to finish once I’d begun. As a result, without a word to anyone, I missed breakfast. I suspect my thoughtlessness provoked mild irritation in my long-suffering landlady and the not inconsiderable concern of my fellow lodger who is a man of,” I paused again and licked my lips, “strict habit and inquisitive nature.”

“And what was this dream, my lamb, that distracted you so? Confess all and be unburdened.”

The voice was not that of a confessor; it was the voice of an insatiably curious lover and an irascible sleuthhound on the scent of something new.

I passed a folded sheet of paper to the priest. “Read.” Then I leaned closer and hissed a warning. “And if I catch you hearing confessions or saying Mass I will rugby tackle you to the ground, Holmes.”

The priest waved a silencing hand.

I kept my eyes on the floor.

After a while, the priest said,

“Your limits, my lamb. Never will I fathom them. Answer me this: do you always dream in Spenserian stanza?”

“On occasion.”

“What occasion?”

“The Eve of Saint Agnes, naturally. So, what do you say, Father?”

It had not escaped my notice that the paper had disappeared but not been returned to me.

“I say ‘Bloody Keats!’”


Saint Agnes’ Eve was cold as old Keats’ owl.

The bead-hag shivered by the ivied wall

and muttered prayers into a coarse wool cowl

and shuddered in late January’s pall.

‘Neath stars like Lucifer before the fall,

the blind crone’s fingers trudged along the strand.

Her eyes saw not, but ears could hark the squall

of hare a-limping ‘cross the frozen land.

Each mystery she crowned with nip from flask at hand.

 

‘Saint Agnes Eve! Saint Agnes Eve!’ she cried.

as pair of silver pieces rattled bright.

“When every maid who longs to be a bride

shall surely see her own true love! Tonight,

my dears, perform our holy lady’s rite,

and when you deign to rest your pretty heads,

you’ll frolic in your dreams with hearts’ delight,

and greet stout futures in slim maiden beds.

Saint Agnes Eve! A portend for the yet-unweds!”

 

“Hush,” said John, called thus by none but herself,

“What care I for future husbands? For love?”

She, stiff as sermons bound on solemn shelf,

by ivied window stood, some heads above

the Homer-nag. “What rot these saints think of!”

she sighed. “Strip bare and lie entombed in bed.”

She eyed her cosy dressing gown of dove

with pang of yet-felt cold. “Why look ahead

and not behind? I’m filled with naught but love-sick dread.”

 

“Saint Agnes fail me most miserably,”

prayed John while slowly drawing off her clothes.

“Give forty winks of the viscerally

banal,” she added, striking corpse-like pose

atop the downy bed. “Spare me the rose

and bearer, please. A cup of tea and then

a scone. If not a book, then dreamless doze.

Oh, pray, don’t let a whiskered charmer in.

Oh, Aggie, please, I freeze my bits for thee. Amen.”

 

A wardrobe like a handsome cave replete

with woolly mantles, stalwart cloaks, stood tall.

John cast a glance of longing indiscrete

towards cloister and its trove against the wall,

then closed her eyes and answered Queen Mab’s call.

No sooner had John drifted off to sleep

than she felt heat diffuse like ewe-lamb shawl

upon her settled warmly, for to keep

her in a state of rather un-penitent steep.

 

A figure swam before John’s eyes, the face

concealed by drooping hood of forest green.

A green-gloved hand bid come with royal grace,

yet John shook her head and set her granite mien,

which crumbled quick when she beheld the scene

the sight of bow and quiver full on lend

to her. “I require knight-at-arms, not queen,

to guard me while at work, armed to defend.

No simpering maid. One on whom I may depend!”

 

“Who are you to ask such thing?” inquired John.

“A puzzle solver. A justice bringer.

The court of last resort for those who’ve gone

too long. A curious knot un-wringer,”

replied the dream-guest, “Dead (and toll) ringer.”

John did not hide her grin. “If you persist

on buzzing ‘bout with pun-witting stinger,

such bow, such promise, I can but persist

with query this: And trousers?” Answer: “I insist!”

 

John shook the glove and rose and swiftly dressed

while waited patiently the stranger cloaked.

As at her back the bow and quiver pressed,

John tittered with the hope of danger stoked.

“The ivy’s strong,” she announced unprovoked.

“I know,” replied the stranger with a grin.

“We’ve much to see and do before we’re yolked

by dawn. Sloth shall not be our ripe-most sin.

Come, let’s go and let the Eve’s adventures begin!”

 

They made their egress through the window gaped

and slithered down the vines like serpents two.

“Our sentry’s gone,” observed the figure caped.

“I hope she said a bead for me and you,”

said John as horses fine pranced into view.

“Your chariot awaits, dear John. Your mount

is handsome, strong and swift, no less would do,

and upon no other beast would I count.

With these, both time and space we’ll easily surmount."

 

First came a murder, which the stranger solved,

the wittiest display John ever saw.

An ancient curse was reversed, resolved

with a John-versus-asp battle raw.

A treasure buried. A frozen corpse to thaw.

A rogue thrice married: to miss, ma’am, and gran.

Smith looted. Church blackbooted. End in draw

of clash between John and a badger clan

with the cloaked dream-guest serving as John’s right hand man.

 

John never spied a face nor swathe of skin.

She saw a wit, a charm, a clever mind,

a thrill she shared until the moment when

the night began to lose its grasp. Then kind

voice spoke. “It’s time.” Through darkness blind

they raced. John climbed and found she’d left behind

her friend. She peered down the tall ivied wall

and saw nothing. Not a trace to remind

her of what had passed. Bow and quiver all

were gone. She threw herself upon the bed to squall.

 

The dawn had not yet broke. John’s sobs were loud.

So loud that something in the room stirred soft.

John stilled, then tiptoed towards the wardrobe proud.

She threw the door agape. A naked maid aloft

John’s robes! A strange perfume began to waft,

and John recalled the dream. The stranger woke.

“It was you,” said the voice John had heard oft

that night. “Yes,” said John. Seeking to invoke,

she drew a phantom arrow with a mighty stroke.

 

“I’d much rather tell my yarn someplace else,”

yawned the woken, dark of hair, grey of eye.

“What say we wrap up warm and gird our belts,

then to far corner of the map flit-fly,

to start afresh as if in saint’s eve dream?

My cloak’s at hand. I shucked it to comply

with our Aggie’s law, but it does now seem

quite cool, dear John,” she added with an impish gleam.

 

“I’m not convinced,” said John with stubborn nod,

though she turned as the maid tended raiment,

“That you are more than stowaway most odd.”

The maid fixed John and room with stares devil-sent

and at a waltz about the room she went,

announcing John’s whole life from little signs,

a drip of wax, a fold of sheaf, a rent.

Awed, John knelt. “O Oracle that divines

I’m yours to be used according to your designs.”

 

“I’m not a god. Or a witch. I’m a maid

who thinks she’s found that which she has long sought.”

“I think so, too,” said John. “Now with your aid,

I’ll pack for the next chapter of life. Ought

we hurry? Catch the night or we’ll be caught.”

“Some haste is wise,” said the maid, with combs

restoring order to her mane. Once taut,

she took a cloak, the blue of dark sea foams,

of John’s. “A gift. Oh, and the name is Sherlock Holmes.”

 

“Saint Agnes Eve! Dream well for it’s nigh morn,

my sweet doves!” cried the bead hag by the wall,

well-wrapped in cloak the blue of winter storm.

“Dream eyes have seen the bliss that will befall,

those maidens apt who’ve met our lady’s call.

Now wake and take the first step by dawn’s light

and may blessings shine (on two most of all!)”

she sang as many silver pieces rattled bright.

Chapter Text

As seasoned bird watchers can identify the feathered creatures they have spotted without being able to fully explain their reasoning, so I instinctively sensed with but the merest glance, narrowed not by binoculars but rather the dark interior of the cab, that Sherlock Holmes was amused.

I couldn’t observe the curl of her lips, nor did I hear any trace of mirth in her voice when she replied to my inquiry.

Nevertheless, and quite unlike bird watchers who seldom have the chance to confirm their claims, I was proved right.

“I was thinking of words we exchanged during the Cremond case. I asked, philosophically, if the rules for peers of the realm were different, and you replied that you didn’t know about the written ones, but the unwritten ones certainly were.”

I recalled the case. “We never found out because the earl didn’t do it.”

Holmes hummed. “I am thinking of it now, and it came mind earlier this afternoon when I made my remarks to Sir Eustace.”

Holmes did not have to specify which remarks. I knew she was referring to the cheekiest, most impertinent ones I’d heard her make in quite some time.

Following my train of thought, she expounded. “You took one simple but rather menacing step towards Sir Eustace.”

“I did,” I said just as the cab arrived at our address in Baker Street.

When we reached the sitting room, Holmes picked up the thread.

“It, your movement and your attitude, gave me an irrational thrill.”

I pressed my lips tight to avoid smiling and said,

“I make no class distinctions when it comes to your safety and wellbeing, Holmes. I’d break my fist upon the face of Prince Albert himself if circumstance warranted it.”

“I know. It’s a bloody weakness that such displays should affect me so. After all, I can take care of myself as well as any man and better than most, what with my boxing and my skill with a single stick and my bartitsu.”

I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath, “Two out of three isn’t bad.” Then I turned towards Holmes. “I wanted Sir Eustace to know that should he wish to deal with you, he would most certainly have to deal with me.”

“Oh, the message was clear. Sir Eustace understood. So did his wife. I think even the potted fern was aware.”

I laughed softly.

“Watson, I confess I should like to make a long night ahead of us if we hadn’t already another sort of long night ahead of us.”

I felt the caress of her gaze and smiled. “As soon as the case is over.”

“Yes. There’s a great deal that needs to happen.” Her expression changed from lover to sleuth, but I had a final declaration to make.

I closed the distance between us and raised my hand and cupped the back of her head.

“As far as I’m concerned, Holmes, nowhere in this realm or any other do you have a bloody peer!”

Chapter Text

“It’s simply a matter of friction, Watson.”

“Holmes.”

I looked down, mesmerised.

Holmes was in a very highly improbable posture and grinding her bare buttocks furiously against my bare mons. It was an obscene act which was producing the most intoxicating sensation throughout my body. I tried to support her, steady her, but my attempts were feeble and futile.

I was, frankly, incapacitated by lust.

“Where did you learn to do this?”

“Would you believe bartitsu practise?”

“Absolutely not!”

She laughed the musical laugh of a siren.

“Friction? Like this?” I leaned forward and rubbed my moustache against her back. This coupling of ours had been a spontaneous decision, and in the urgency, I’d elected not to dispense with the most masculine of my trappings.

“That just tickles,” she said. “Not like this.” She jerked backward.

I whimpered and gripped her by the hips. “Or like this?” I snaked one hand forward.

“Watson!”

The first minute was, I’ll admit, exceedingly awkward, and the probability that we both toppled to the floor great, but we soon found our rhythm and balance.

I nuzzled, listening to her moans and the wet, sucking noise of my thrusting fingers.

“Well, hurrah for bloody friction!”

Chapter Text

Boots on stairs.

“Oh, goodness.”

“Holmes,” I moaned.

I did not open my eyes because I could not open my eyes.

“It’s extraordinary, Watson. Your tolerance for other spirits is phenomenal, but…”

Strong arms were hoisting me bodily from the rug, but then there was a flutter.

“What’s that?”

Down I went, with a punishing thud. The room spun.

“No, you don’t!” cried Holmes.

Quick, extinguishing puffs of breath beat against paper while the fire crackled like a dragon thwarted of horde.

“Oh, dear. It’s worse than I thought. Poetry, Watson?”

“You,” I murmured. “The other. Dawn. Fleeting youth.”

“How much did you drink? Oh, there it is. Just half a bottle? Hmm. You know, I rather like this.” A long, elegant finger tapped a singed page.

Then a heavy tome was drawn out, a bit of drunken verse tucked in the cleavage of a literary bosom, and the treasure chest slid back into its place on the shelf.

I saw nothing. I heard all.

“Bed, Watson.”

“Yours?”

A sigh.

“Are you going to be sick?”

I harrumphed with as much indignation as I could muster.

“All right.”

Strong arms were around me once more.

“I swear, Watson, bloody wine!”


Watson's Wine Poem

 

of this, I sing so merrily

Wine! which quenches the raw thirst and relieves suffering verily

from such blithe swig, a treasure won

Joy! elixir of old gods! that which flirts, renders the wits undone!

 

from the ground, reaching hauntingly

Vines! extending, the lithe bearing fruit daringly, dauntingly

and upon limbs so slenderly

Rain! and sun! and the breeze jostling sweet rondures so tenderly

then, at last, ends the ripening

Harvest! reaping the sown, bringing in sheaves, nurtured and trifling

then the crushed, purpled agony

Spirits! buried in tombs, given to time, age and its alchemy

 

in the dark red and burgundy

Claret! bloodied and bowed hue, that which stains, marks with its certainty

in a fine old receptacle

Bottled up! and then poured out for the devout and the skeptical

as it’s held, raised auspiciously

Warmth! fermented, uncurled serpent-like tongue flickers deliciously

at the feast, shrined in tableware

Chalice! goblet and mug! cradled in glass, fairy-taled, fabled there.

 

in its rich warmth, a kindling

Passion! swirling about palettes and tongues, wherewithal dwindling

with a few gulps exhibited

Power! throbs in the veins, pulsing like breath, lust uninhibited

then the boon Bacchus promises

Drunk! a state to convert, drive the despair out of the Thomases

a few turn back from Stygian

Fate! but many advance, courting the void, bidding oblivion

 

and too soon day’s awakening

Dawn! the cruelest of wine’s foes which demands lovers’ forsakening

like the hourglass and its granulose

Tears! the weeping of youth, swindling sand, spindling lachrymose

it is both friend and enemy

Time! it robs the fete, leaves in its wake antique remedy

and the lark, foulest harbinger

Grief! at herald of last dregs by the crumb-pilfering arbiter

 

as for you, love, so charmingly

Brimmed! with spirits, my lips brought to your bare, softly, disarmingly

let me drink deep while nightingales

Sing! your praise as the plump swallows imbibe, ride upon zephyred sails

let your cup rule ungoverned tongue

Mine! that I may descend, drown in your fine vintage, my beloved one

Chapter Text

I was standing when the clock on the mantelpiece struck a quarter past seven.

“Oh, God!” I exclaimed.

“Don’t, Watson.”

I was already flying to the newspapers and looking at the date.

“Oh, God!” I repeated.

Holmes got to her feet.

“It’s the sixth!” I cried. “The sixth of January!”

Holmes closed the distance between us and put her hands on my arms. “It’s all right.”

“It’s not all right!” I wailed.

Holmes drew me closer. I was a wooden figure in her arms.

“Watson, this morning, before I arrived for breakfast, did you or did you not switch your toast with mine because you knew that I wouldn’t like it quite so brown?”

“The girl’s new. She didn’t know,” I muttered.

“And two days ago, did you or did you not go half an hour out of your way at the end of a long day to get me some of that tobacco I like?”

I grunted.

“And last week, after the conclusion of the Tarleton case, where, I may add, you saved my life, did you or did you not,” Holmes released me and circled me and pressed her lips to my neck, “make me scream your name?”

“We were both a bit tight.”

“Tight round each other.”

“That, too, but, Holmes,” I protested, “to forget your bloody birthday!”


“I envy you, Watson. I wish I could forget it.” She sighed. “Yesterday I found a grey hair.”

I looked at her short, black hair slicked to a severe shine. “Holmes, you are going to go a thick, full, and very distinguished silver whilst I march on towards sparse and doddering white.”

“It wasn’t on my head.”

“Oh.”

I dropped my gaze and shrugged. “A bit early I would think, but…”

“I pulled it out.”

I gasped, cringing. “You didn’t!”

“I didn’t want it to be there.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I do.” She huffed. “We inflict a lot more damage upon our selves in the course of events.”

She was referring to all the ways she and I shape our maiden spinster bodies and minds into those of two confirmed Bohemian bachelors, and, as usual, she was right.

“Anyway,” she continued, “as I said, you show me in a thousand ways, small and large, how you feel about me. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel cherished.”

I sighed and fiddled with a button on her shirt. “Let’s flirt by the fire for a bit, then turn in early and commence the celebration of your birthday week.”

“You aren’t going to give up, are you?”

“No.”

“Oh, well, then,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “bloody birthdays!”

Chapter Text

Any doctor worth his Gladstone will tell you sleep is the best medicine. Sherlock Holmes had been deliberately depriving herself of this panacea while running about London on a fact-finding mission, and by the fourth day I was consumed with anxiety for her. I should’ve been with her, helping her, suffering with her, but I was tending a delicate case at the time. My patient had joined the Great Majority the previous evening, and I had rested fitfully, only to wake alone and find Holmes’s bed still not slept in.

Mrs. Hudson had presciently laid the table with tea and toast for one. A coded message had come at dawn from Holmes that she had plans to kip in one of her bolt holes. I suppose I should’ve been grateful that she sent any word at all, but I couldn’t help pacing, leaving breakfast untouched.

At the first plod on the stairs, I raced to the door.

She was grey, dry, and drawn. Her gaze dipped from fatigue into madness.

“Holmes!”

“It is done,” she said in a low voice. One of her elegant hands clutched the doorknob, the other was sunk in the pocket of a dirty, frayed coat.
She advanced and I retreated until I fell into the chair by the desk.

Holmes loomed over me and recited,

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul panteth after thee.”

Then she placed a bloody handful on the corner of the desk.

It took all my training and innate reserve to not blanche.

It was not a human heart, I consoled myself, but somewhere in the cesspool there was an unfortunate animal with a hole in its chest.

“Thank you, Holmes,” I said sincerely. After all, token is token.

She nodded and licked her cracked lips.

I went to the breakfast table and offered her my cup of cold tea.

“Until I can wrangle some water brooks,” I said.

Holmes took three gulps and handed the cup back to me.

I had just enough time to set the cup on the table and catch her in my arms before she hit the floor.

“You will keep it, won’t you, Watson?” she asked as I carried her to her bedroom.

“Of course. Like Mary Shelley. Wrapped in a silken shroud or pages of verse?”

She hummed as I quickly stripped her, washed her, and tucked her into a clean nightdress.

“Both. But none of your bawdy limericks about the enchantments of Parisian women.”

“No, no,” I murmured, making a note to ask Stanford just what he and I had got up to during our last bacchanalia. “An ode. Your virtues, a bouquet of flowers, etcetera. Keats, you know.”

She hummed again and closed her eyes.

“Sleep well, Holmes.”

I gently closed the door behind me. My eyes rested on the lump and the stream of dark red which had trickled down the leg of the desk to the rug. I shook my head and sighed,

“Bloody harts!”


Shall I begin as poets often do?

With china roses gathered in bouquet,

for beauty such as yours is ever new,

a loveliness in blossom’s blithe array.

But if hibiscus blooms hold no appeal,

then let a vine of yellow jasmine climb

to tow’ring heights of grace and elegance,

like yours, my love, like dance, like church bell peal,

your movements, measured, strong and sure, sublime,

all improvised but nothing left to chance.

 

Cliché, you say, a la francais, too trite,

despite the heartfelt truth in every word,

and, I confess, I think you are quite right.

To treat you like any other love’s absurd.

Then, tamarisk for crime and dragonswort

for horrors, both encountered frequently.

And southernwood exhaling camphor breath,

for banter that keeps doldrums out of court

and twin disease of fear and doubt at sea

and gran ennui direct to certain death.

 

But then, in truth, what virtues, gifts attach

to flora? Petals fall where’er they may.

Your qualities, like your charms, have no match,

and thus, when baser appetites have sway,

a peach dessert with walnuts scattered wild

for intellect and stratagem, and last,

a sprinkling of lemon rind for zest.

And I, bewitched, besotted and beguiled,

devouring and devoured by sweet repast,

declare myself enraptured, intumesced.


"Intumesced?" asked Holmes, letting the sheaf of paper drop.

"I know, I know, but it rhymes! It was that or something like 'you're the best!'"

"But I am the best, Watson."

"I know."

Holmes hummed. "Intumesced. Gives me ideas."

"Oh, no!"

Chapter Text

In the moonless darkness, in the autumn cold, in the murky fog, Holmes had one gloved hand clamped tightly over my mouth and the other wrapped round my waist, holding my body to hers in an unforgiving grip. My back was to her front, and her back was pressed as close as humanly possible to the alley wall.

I wasn’t about to make any noise, and I wasn’t about to move, but I let her manhandle me anyway.

We were not alone in the alley.

“Frank, you’ve been a bad boy, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Miss Cordelia.”

“What happens to bad boys?”

“They get their comeuppance.”

“They get their comeuppance.”

Holmes and I had been stalking a criminal named Six-Fingered Sylvester when the fog had rolled in, quick and thick and totally unexpected. The change in weather had effectively put an end to our surveillance and ruined our plans for the night. We had made the decision to return to Baker Street on foot because that seemed just as swift as a cab given the circumstances.

We’d turned a corner, and who should we almost run into but Six-Fingered Steve himself. Holmes had immediately ducked into the nearest alley, pulling me with her.

That was when we discovered we had company.

Or they had us.

“Did you hear something?”

Holmes and I didn’t make a collective peep. I don’t even think we breathed.

The pitch darkness and the layers of fog, I supposed, formed a curtain to visibility as well as sound, but I heard the other two well enough.

“Only the throbbing of my heart, Miss Cordelia.”

“It’s not your heart I want throbbing, Frank.”

The dialogue ended there, and what followed was a series of gasps and grunts and groans from Frank and the rustling of garments.

I confess I began to try to imagine just what they were getting up to, based on the auditory clues. But I didn’t have to try long, for, in a few moments, Holmes was pantomiming the gestures, using the flat of her hand sweeping down my face and torso to indicate the wall into which Frank was pressed, face-first. I had no intention, even for the sake of verisimilitude, of putting my own face to the grimy wall and would’ve squawked something very embarrassing if Holmes had tried it.

She didn’t try it.

She did touch me, but I scarcely believed what her hands were telling me.

Had that person, Miss Cordelia, really shoved poor Frank against the wall and then, adjusting both sets of garments, attached a cock-in-harness to herself, and commenced to sod her ‘bad boy’? In public? In a filthy alley? On a cold autumn night? It seemed highly, highly improbable, yet that was what Holmes’s hands and my own ears were telling me.

Dear me, I thought, dear me. What the younger generation got up to!

Of course, hypocrite that I was, I was thoroughly enjoying Holmes’s grinding upon my arse in imitation of Miss Cordelia’s act in public in a filthy alley on a cold autumn night. I even closed my eyes and let my body go somewhat slack, feeling the noises Frank made and becoming aroused all the more by them.

Finally, Frank’s tiny whimpers seemed to be in crescendo.

Holmes wrapped a hand round me to show Miss Cordelia was frigging him while she sodded him.

I was highly aroused but, given my body’s peculiarities, there was no way I would find my release with Holmes behind me, and I wasn’t about risk turning around and alerting the two to our presence.

It was all a moot point in the end because a moment later, our little scene was invaded from the street.

“Oy! What in the devil—?”

In hindsight, I am deeply grateful for all the irritating afternoons in which Holmes had practiced her ventriloquism by throwing her voice across the room into a wooden parrot on a perch.

In this instance, she didn’t sing bawdy shanties or call me obscene names, she said,

“Excuse me, Constable Dobbs? Have you seen Doctor Watson?”

“Who’s that?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

The light turned away from the alley, and a hard, ruthless shove from behind sent me spilling out of the alley and into the street. There was a moment of confusion and a moment of panic as I fell and was almost trampled under the hooves of a slow-passing hansom. Constable Dobbs, bless him, saved my neck, literally.

“Oh, Mister Holmes, it’s you. He’s right here. Doctor, where did you come from? You nearly got yourself killed.”

Holmes jerked her head toward the opposite side of the street, and Constable Dobbs hauled me there.

“I wouldn’t reveal this to just anyone, but I know you, Dobbs, and I trust you. Watson and I are on the trail of Six-Fingered Sylvester.”

“Oh,” responded Constable Dobbs knowingly. Whether actually he knew or not, I’ll never know.

“It’s a secret,” said Holmes.

“Of course, sir. Mum’s the world.”

I glanced over Dobbs’ shoulder to see the two figures emerge from the alley, the skirted one going in the opposite direction of the trousered one.

Holmes continued. “We’ve been tracking him all night, but now my friend is done in,” I tried to look done in, “and I think we’ll go home.”

“I think you’d better, sir, Doctor. Would you like a cab, sir?”

“Yes, sound idea, Dobbs. Will you help us?”

I didn’t say a word. It was enough to get home safely and see to some hot water for a thorough wash. Of course, Holmes demanded that we reenact the scene, first with her playing the role of Frank and then with me as Frank, or a pseudo Frank, because while I had no qualms about wearing a cock-in-harness for Holmes’s pleasure, I wasn’t in the mood to be on the receiving end of one. Holmes didn’t insist, and I will say that the wall of Holmes’s bedroom was much more hygienic than that of the alley.

We ended up in each other’s arms giggling and marveling and sighing.


The next day brought a kind of coda.

“For you, Mister Holmes.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”

Holmes studied the envelope, then slit it open. She removed the card and studied it, too.

It was a single rectangle with no name, no address, no salutation. It held four words.

Holmes asked, “What shall Cordelia speak?”

And I answered, reading from the card where it was written in a neat, feminine hand,

“Love, and be silent.”

“King Lear,” said Holmes.

I knew damned well it was King Lear! I swore.

“Bloody Cordelia!”