Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: Not mine, although actually in the public domain. No profit is intended.
Summary: Secrets from both Holmes and Watson’s pasts are revealed after Mr. Charles Augustus Milverton calls upon them.
Author’s Note: This was supposed to be a short little fic that explored some of concepts regarding Holmes’ past and his obvious vehemence toward Milverton in the canon. However, this story continued to grow into a bit of a major opus.
Many, many thanks to my beta reader the_callum for all the editing, comments, suggestions, and encouragement!
Please note that some of the dialogue contained within is either taken directly or slightly revised from Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”.
The Rest of the Affair
Although my recollections of the Charles Augustus Milverton affair are recorded elsewhere, they were, of necessity, heavily edited to conceal many pertinent facts. Furthermore, it is no accident that the timing of the story’s publication coincided with both the unfortunate passing of the righteously vengeful lady as well as the celebrated retirement of Inspector Lestrade. All of the major players were out of the picture, and I felt it safe to tell an amended account.
For the most part, I am quite pleased with the tale as it stands, for it conveyed the basics of the story while covering up facts that must remain hidden. Even though Holmes took me to task for some of the fictionalization in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”, I felt, nonetheless, that I had communicated the horror, the frustration, and the shock of the actual incidents. There is nothing that I would add of the concealed events to the published account, even if I could. However, there is one piece of information that, while entirely personal, I know I should never commit to paper—that is how this case forever changed the relations between Sherlock Holmes and me. Yet I am about to do so.
Holmes, once he reads of this account of our personal lives, will be horrified that I have dared write of it, mainly since I know the dangers of blackmailing based on written indiscretions. The irony is not lost on me that I am about to commit the same mistake that was so very costly to Milverton’s victims. In most likelihood, I shall destroy these very papers as soon as I am finished; however, I feel compelled to capture the events, if only to acknowledge their utmost importance in my life.
It all began as I recorded, on a cold, frosty evening when Holmes and I had been out for one of our rambles. He seemed distracted and rather melancholy throughout the walk. I was used to his mood fluctuations and, while I was a bit concerned, there was nothing too outrageously out of the ordinary that moved me into the realm of worry. I did find it interesting that he seemed reluctant to return home, even with the cold weather, but I attributed it to a wish of his to escape from boredom. A ‘walking about town Holmes’ was not a ‘cocaine injecting Holmes’, and thus I was happy to keep him company on that winter evening so as to prevent the alternative.
When we finally made it back to Baker Street, I was surprised by his reaction to Milverton’s card upon the table; his ejaculation of disgust and his throwing of the card on the floor were unusual behavior for a man of his usually rigid composure.
“Who is he?” I enquired, after picking up the card and reading the name.
Holmes sat down heavily in his chair and stretched his long legs before the fire. “The worst man in London,” he replied, with a heavy loathing tone to his voice.
I blinked in surprise.
“Is there anything else on the back of the card?” he asked.
I turned it over and read out loud: “Will call at 6:30 – C.A.M.”
He shuddered, as if in horror, and proceeded to compare Milverton to a slithering, venomous serpent. I was immediately alerted since, if I have learned nothing else about Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I do know that he has a keen dislike of snakes. The fact that this Milverton character rated such a description concerned me greatly.
“And yet I cannot get out of doing business with him,” Holmes continued in a flat tone. “Indeed, he is here at my invitation.”
I blinked in surprise as I recalled my friend’s reluctance to end our excursion. He was usually quite meticulous about meeting his appointments when he in fact set them up, and it was rather unusual for him to purposefully miss one.
“But who is he?” I asked, trying to hide my confusion.
“He is the king of all blackmailers,” Holmes replied, the vehemence of his feelings blatantly obvious. “Heaven help the man,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, “or still more the woman,” he continued in a rush, as if it were important to quickly get on with his point, “whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton!”
“He seems like quite a despicable fellow,” I said cautiously, far more concerned with Holmes’ reaction than the behavior of our imminent guest. I had seldom heard Holmes speak with such an intensity of feeling and, even with my limited skills in observation, I could tell that he was quite affected.
“Oh, he is, Watson, he is,” Holmes agreed, and proceeded to tell me of Milverton’s horrific tactics and of the illustrious client, Lady Eva Blackwell, and her request for Holmes to negotiate the terms of her blackmail. “I’ve been commissioned to meet him, and—to make the best terms I can,” he said in conclusion, in a pained voice.
“Holmes—” I began.
“I mustn’t fail her, Watson,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I mustn’t let Milverton get the best of me—her.”
I was growing alarmed at Holmes’ unusual behavior concerning this man. “What can I do to help?” I asked in as soothing a tone as possible.
He blinked and then looked at me, a rare smile breaking onto his face. “Good old Watson,” he exclaimed. “I can always count on you. You’ll stay for the interview, won’t you?”
“Of course,” I agreed, knowing that, unless Holmes had ordered me outright from the room, there was no way I was going to leave him alone with this man.
At that instant I heard the clatter of the arrival of Milverton’s carriage in the street below. Holmes took a deep, steadying breath, looked over at me, and smiled at me once more. I couldn’t help but return that smile. But as we heard footsteps on the stairs, Holmes’ smile quickly faded, and his look was one of resignation when Milverton entered the room.
The hardness in Milverton’s eyes was in stark contrast to his fixed smile on his plump face and, although he tried to give off an air of benevolence, he came across as a shrewd and cruel fellow. Holmes remained seated and ignored his outstretched hand. Milverton’s smile only deepened. He then turned his scheming eyes toward me.
“This gentleman?” he asked, waving his chubby hand in my direction. “Is he discreet? Is he right?”
Holmes, whose countenance was already like granite, stiffened even further. “Dr. Watson is my friend and partner,” he said firmly.
“Very good, Mr. Holmes,” Milverton replied, his fixed smile never wavering. “It is only for your interests, and that of your client of course, that I protested. Our discussion is of delicate matters, after all, and I would hardly wish to include an additional party such sensitive topics.”
Holmes flinched. I saw it, and I’m certain that Milverton did as well.
“I speak only of current matters, of course,” Milverton continued.
“Dr. Watson has already heard of it,” Holmes answered, his tone clipped.
“Then we can proceed to business.”
As I listened to their negotiation, my mind was racing. There was very little in this world that would cause Holmes to flinch. He had confronted murderers and thieves. He had faced down Moriarty and Moran, both clamoring for his blood. He was, almost always, cool and aloof. Yet this man, this blackmailer, had caused Holmes to recoil, merely by mentioning the need to discuss sensitive topics. Perhaps years with Holmes were finally rubbing off on me, but I had also noticed the backhanded assurance that this discussion would only include current topics. A terrible suspicion was taking hold in my mind.
“What I say is true,” Holmes was saying. “The money cannot be found. Surely it is better for you to take the substantial sum which I offer than to ruin this woman’s career and marriage, which can profit you in no way.”
Milverton’s never-wavering smile held firm. “There you make a mistake, Mr. Holmes. An exposure would profit me indirectly to a considerable extent. I have eight or ten similar cases maturing. If it was circulated among them that I had made a severe example of the Lady Eva, I should find all of them much more open to reason.”
Milverton crossed the room and stood directly in front of my friend. “I cannot make an exception, no matter what the damage, no matter to whom, even if it is regrettable. I’m sure that you see my point.”
Holmes sprang from his chair. “Get behind him, Watson! Don’t let him out!”
I reacted instinctively, long since used to obeying my friend’s commands. Nevertheless, I have to admit my surprise, for it was quite unlike Holmes to resort to brute strength.
Milverton calmly opened his coat and showed us the butt of a large revolver hidden there. “I had been expecting you to do something original,” he said in a taunting tone. His fake smile was still perfectly in place. “I have, after all, been following your career and the published accounts of your friend here, having taken an interest in your life from an earlier time.”
This announcement seemed to frustrate Holmes. He clenched his hands into ineffectual fists. He seemed almost powerless against Milverton, a state in which I had never before seen my friend.
I could tell that Milverton’s taunts and jibes were intended to put Holmes off guard and make him more vulnerable to the blackmailer’s manipulations. What surprised me was that the tactic seemed to be working. Holmes stood there, breathing heavily in a state of impotent rage, as Milverton patted his revolver and continued to mock Holmes for a bit.
When Milverton finally left, Holmes collapsed in his chair and then sat motionless, staring into the fire. I sat on the sofa near him and watched him, worrying all the while.
“That blackguard,” he finally said, his voice trembling with anger. “I mustn’t let him do this.”
I placed my hand upon his knee. He started, and looked at me in shock. I think he had forgotten I was in room.
“Are you all right, Holmes?” I enquired.
His mouth flicked up in a quick smile that in no way reached his eyes. “I’m perfectly fine, Watson,” he said quickly. It was blatantly obvious that this statement was false. He placed his hand over mine to remove it from his knee. I could feel that he was actually trembling slightly, and I instinctively clasped his hand. It felt cold and clammy. His eyes widened in surprise.
“How do you know this man?” I asked gently. I continued to hold onto his hand.
“I’ve not had dealings with him before,” said Holmes, not answering the question and averting his eyes from me.
“You obviously know him,” I pressed.
“He also knows you.”
Holmes pulled back slightly. “My reputation, nothing more.” He tried to pull away, but I would not release his hand. I could sense his turmoil and his, dare I say it, fear. I was determined that he would not face this situation alone, whatever it was.
“Let me help you,” I implored.
He snorted in a deprecating manner and firmly removed his hand from mine. “You cannot, Watson. Now, I must go.” He stood up. I stood with him and grabbed his arm. He froze.
“Does he have something over you, Holmes?” I enquired firmly, giving voice to my horrible earlier suspicion.
“Please stop asking these questions.” He closed his eyes, all but confirming my fears.
I swallowed hard and knew that I must ask of my ultimate fear. “My God, is he blackmailing you?”
“Has he in the past?”
It was quite unlike me to press my friend, but Holmes’ countenance and his refusal to look at me virtually screamed of something wrong. Yet I also could tell that he was not outright lying to me. I knew him well, and his deceits were often done with actions as opposed to words. I was relieved that he was not the victim of a prior blackmail, but I was still deeply concerned. Realization suddenly hit. “Then it must have been someone you’ve known.”
His eyes flew open and he yanked his arm away. “I beg you, Watson, stop this line of inquiry,” he exclaimed, his actions essentially confirming my impression.
“Holmes, trust me,” I implored. “Please, let me help you.” I tried to reach out and touch him again, but he moved out of my grasp, keeping his eyes downward.
“There is nothing to help, Watson.” His tone was firm, and he began to walk away, heading toward his bedroom.
I hurried after him, but did not reach for him this time. I had never seen him so shaken, and I just could not let the topic rest. “I don’t have your powers of observation, but I can tell something is wrong. What has he done to you?”
“Nothing.” He refused to look at me.
“Holmes,” I said, basically begging him as I followed, “a blackmailer only has power over those afraid to speak. There is nothing you can say that would upset me.”
His stopped walking, and his startled laugh was full of bitterness. “If only that were true, Watson. But I tell you no lies. I have not had dealings with Milverton.”
“Then someone you know has. You are obviously upset by this man. Tell me about it.”
“Watson, please stop asking,” he said, he voice barely above a whisper. “I would not have you lose your respect for me entirely.”
I took a step back in shock. I have to admit that I was slightly hurt that Holmes would doubt my loyalty, but I could also sense his deep distress. “Holmes,” I said adamantly, determined to alleviate his fears, “I would never lose my regard for you.”
“I have so enjoyed your friendship, Watson,” he said in the saddest, most resigned voice I have ever heard. I was almost shaken to my core by his sadness.
“But perhaps you deserve to know the truth,” he continued quietly.
I waited, patiently, almost in dread. Our rooms were still with an almost unnatural hush. He closed his eyes.
“I believe I mentioned my friend at university, Victor Trevor,” he finally whispered.
“Yes,” I whispered back, as if afraid to disturb the quietness. I could hear the fire crackling, and the din of the street below. I watched Holmes as he stood, silently, breathing deeply, almost as if trying to calm his nerves. My heart ached for my friend.
Holmes finally swallowed, hard, and then opened his eyes and looked at me directly. “Trevor wrote a letter,” he said in a rush. “A very indiscreet letter. Hudson, the man threatening Trevor’s father, you remember, must have stolen it before he left Norfolk. He’s the one who likely sold it to Milverton.”
“I see,” I said, almost reluctantly. I thought I knew where this was going. I had my suspicions about their relationship from the time Holmes had first mentioned his university friend. Holmes had never spoken of another friend during our acquaintance, and he had recalled this Trevor person with am almost revered regret.
Holmes took his cigarette case out of his pocket and drew out a cigarette. He lit it with slightly trembling hands. He took a long drag, blew the smoke out slowly, and took a deep breath. “It was a letter to his lover,” he finally continued, his voice unsteady.
“I see,” I repeated.
“It was a letter to his male lover.” Holmes took another drag of the cigarette and I could see that his hands were shaking even more. We both watched the smoke rise toward the ceiling.
I wanted to tell him not to continue, because I did not wish to see him in such pain, but I also needed to reassure him, to let him know that I stood beside him no matter what. “Go on,” I urged, my voice as hushed as his.
“It was a letter to me.”
I took a deep breath and looked at the floor, allowing myself a moment of stillness. This revelation, I suspect, should have been shocking. It was, after all, an area of our lives that we had never discussed, a taboo subject and, in Holmes’ case, one fraught with illegalities and obvious pain.
But how long had I known the truth, yet never spoken of it? Was it respect for Holmes’ privacy that held my tongue, or was it fear of my own weakness and unnatural desires that kept me quiet. All of my suppressed feelings toward Holmes, that I had vowed that he would never learn, crashed over me, and I felt almost staggered by their weight.
Yet I also knew my silence would be seen by Holmes as a rejection, and I had to hasten to reassure him. Besides, my most current concern was for Holmes and what this horrid blackmailer could do to him. That worry sent a feeling of urgency through me, and I quickly looked up at Holmes. “Does Milverton know you were the intended recipient?” I asked anxiously. “My God, does he still have the letter?”
Holmes blinked. “Watson,” he said in a strained voice, “perhaps you don’t understand. I just admitted to being an invert and a sodomite!”
This time it was my turn to blink in surprise, but my surprise was at Holmes’ tone, not his admission. “Yes, I’m aware of that,” said I. Truly, he did not believe me to be that ignorant and unobservant, did he?
“Yet you do not recoil in disgust?” he demanded.
Yes, apparently he did.
“Holmes,” I said as gently as I could, knowing I had to soothe his fears, “it would have been difficult to live in such close, proximate quarters for so long and not have an inkling as to your nature.”
I honestly thought he was about to faint. I quickly grabbed his arm, led him to the sofa, and sat him down. I took the cigarette from his limp fingers and stubbed it out lest he drop it and start a fire.
“You know,” he said in a strained voice.
I decided honesty was the best course, since he could always perceive deception. “I strongly suspected, Holmes,” I said, sitting down next to him. I grasped his wrist and began to check his pulse, since his breathing was shallow and his eyes quite wild.
He yanked his arm away and pulled back from me, huddling into a corner of the sofa. “No!” he cried. “You can’t have known. I was so careful...” His voice trailed off and he folded in further on himself.
I reached out and placed my hand upon his shoulder. I found myself drawn to him and hastened to reassure him. “It’s not a problem,” I said, talking to him as I would a rattled patient.
He looked at me, his eyes filled with pain and sadness. “You can’t honestly tell me, Watson, that you have no problem living with a disgusting invert.”
I had no idea where all his self-loathing was coming from, but I knew I had to try and calm him. I squeezed his shoulder. “Don’t speak of yourself that way.”
“How long have you known?”
“I’ve suspected your nature almost since we began to share rooms,” I said as gently as I could.
His eyes widened in horror. “No,” he said in a strangled voice.
“Your attitude toward women, even your attitude toward men, well, they were clear indications. Perhaps not to everyone, but I had seen the signs before. Besides, I could always tell when you returned from a… rendezvous, shall we say.”
He shrunk, if possible, even further into himself. “Are you saying, Dr. Watson, that you could tell when I had meetings with...” He faltered.
“Yes, Holmes, I could tell when you had engaged in physical intimacies. Your change in mood, the signs on your body, the smell of another man on you. Yes, I could tell.” I was very proud of the fact that I was able to keep my voice level and soothing. What I did not say, what I could hardly admit to myself, was how pained I was when he returned from these encounters. I would tell myself over and over again that his affairs were not my business. And yet… and yet… I could barely admit, even to myself, how insanely jealous I was that he turned his attentions elsewhere.
Holmes drew out another cigarette and smoked in silence for a while. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, as if coming to a decision. “Leave me, Watson,” he said in a strained voice. He opened his eyes and looked at me, pain and pure loneliness intermingling in the liquid grey. “I don’t think I can bear knowing how much I must secretly disgust you, and that only your gallant and chivalrous manner has prevented you from saying something for all these years.”
I suppose I should have expected him to say something like that, but I honestly was quite surprised by his words. Yet I could hear his anxiety underneath his scathing tone.
There was only one way I could think of that might possibly ease his distress, to let him know that disgust was far from my mind, yet I feared his reaction, especially since he seemed to view his nature as something exceptionally shameful. I understood Holmes’ discomfort, for such a revelation could be devastating. But I knew that relieving his apprehension far outweighed any reluctance on my part. I grabbed his hand firmly, and his eyes widened in shock.
“When I was in the army,” I said softly, looking at our hands, “there were two men. One was like yourself.” Here I looked up into his wide, vulnerable eyes. “And the other,” I continued, looking down again at our hands, “enjoyed the company of both the fair sex, as well as his own.”
I took a deep breath, and feeling Holmes’ eyes upon me, I knew I had to go on. “These two men had an understanding and became firm companions. They both claimed that the connection between them was not serious, and perhaps they even believed it. Yet they were inseparable, and their regard for each other was strong.
“And then there was Maiwand. The battle was great, and bloody, and the man like yourself was shot, in the chest,” said I, very quietly.
I looked into Holmes’ eyes and willed myself to go on. I swallowed hard and felt a flood of emotions, ones that I had refused to allow myself to experience for years. “I held my lover close to me as he died in my arms,” I admitted, my voice breaking. “I could do nothing to help him. He died, and I had never, not once, told him I loved him. Nor did I even have time to mourn, for I was immediately needed to assist the other injured soldiers and to help those who actually had a chance to survive. We then withdrew, and he was left like a dog in a field, with no way to retrieve his body. I was injured a few hours later.”
I could feel dampness on my cheek. I angrily wiped it away.
“So Holmes,” I said, “I have an inkling as to your nature since it is something that I have, in the past, shared. As such, I am in no way disgusted by it.”
This time it was Holmes who was clasping my hand tightly, his eyes wide with shock and concern. “My dear Watson,” he said.
We sat in silence for a few moments as his cigarette burned low. We continued to hold hands.
“I never knew.” He smiled slightly, although it was quite pained. “You hid it admirably from me for years, far better than I myself have succeeded. No mean feat, my friend.”
“Well yes, but in some ways there was nothing to hide. I had vowed, upon returning to England, with all its strict laws and social constraints, that I would never allow myself to love another man again.”
I had never known what hope looked like in Sherlock Holmes’ eyes until I watched it die.
I could feel him pulling away and withdrawing his hand, his expression hardening. I knew I had to prevent that, no matter the cost to me. I held onto his hand and bared my soul.
“Then I met you,” I whispered.
His looked at me again, confusion, wariness, and longing all warring in his eyes. “Whatever do you mean?” he demanded.
“I’ve never met anyone like you, Holmes,” I said quietly, almost to myself. I couldn’t look into his eyes; instead I gazed at the floor. “You were, and still are, the most amazing man I’ve ever known. I went from intrigued, to infatuated, to in love within a very short period—weeks, months at the most. It was only my deep resolve and, I must admit, my still burning sense of loss that prevented me from approaching you, especially after I divined your nature.”
I could feel a trembling from where our hands were clasped. I did not know if it was him or me. I turned my gaze to that connection between us and willed myself to continue. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. “I feared it would be our downfall,” I said, and I could hear my voice shaking. “I buried it deep inside me, never to see the light of day and to be exposed to your ever watchful eye. I vowed to live a conventional life; so I married, and she was, God bless her, a wonderful woman. I also vowed, at that time, that you would never know how much you had come to mean to me.”
I forced myself to meet his eyes. He looked more vulnerable, more confused than I had ever seen him before.
“Say something,” I pleaded.
“I barely know what to say, what to think,” he exclaimed, pulling back slightly yet still continuing to clutch my hand. “You’ve shaken my very foundation, John Watson.”
I closed my eyes and could feel them growing hot as I started tearing up again. I squeezed them tighter, willing the tears to stop. “I am sorry,” I said dejectedly. “It was not my intent to upset you.”
I felt a brief, tentative touch to my cheek. I opened my eyes. Holmes was using one finger to gently caress my face and brush away the moisture.
“Having one’s foundation shaken is not always necessarily bad,” he croaked, and then swallowed hard. “It’s just unexpected and, as you know, I’m not a man who is used to surprises.” He smiled at me, tentatively, and I could not help but return that smile.
He continued to stroke my cheek. I stayed perfectly still, barely breathing.
His eye met mine. I was struck by the fierceness of his expression and the intensity of his grey gaze. “You said, Watson, at that time, I was never to know of your feelings? What about now?”
“Now?” I repeated. “I have lost everyone that I have ever loved in my life, Holmes. You’re the only one who came back.”
He looked stricken. He pulled his hand from my face.
“I don’t say that as a recrimination,” I said hurriedly, “but merely as an indisputable fact. Through my losses I’ve learned that life is fleeting and love even more so. Now I am less concerned with convention, and constraints, and social downfall.”
“Yet you still never approached me,” he pointed out.
“No I did not,” I said sadly, my thumb starting to stroke his hand which I still held. “I honestly did not think you’d have an interest in me, a wounded old army campaigner, a mediocre physician, and a widower to boot.”
This time it was he who was squeezing my hand tightly. “That’s not exactly how I would describe you, Watson,” said he. “You also forgot to add that you’re my dearest friend, my constant companion, and the only one I trust.”
“I was afraid, Holmes,” I admitted quietly. “Afraid of how adding a more intimate aspect to our relationship would affect me. My feelings for you are intense; they have been for years. I’ll never forget the horror of gazing down the abyss of Reichenbach Falls, and realizing just how very much I… I love you.”
“Watson,” he whispered, and reached out and touched my face again, gently stroking the remaining wetness, then tracing my cheeks, my nose, my moustache. My eyes closed and I leaned toward him, my lips seeking his own. I heard a gasp, and felt him tense and draw back. I opened my eyes again.
“I don’t kiss,” he said in a shaky voice.
“I don’t kiss,” he repeated.
I was confused. “Surely,” I said, hesitantly, “you’ve kissed before.”
“Trevor. I kissed Victor Trevor.”
“And since then?”
“I don’t kiss my anonymous paramours,” he said in a hard voice. “That’s all there has been since Trevor.”
I blinked in surprise and, I must admit, a bit of hurt anger. “I’m hardly an anonymous paramour, Holmes” I pointed out harshly. “I’m your friend and partner, remember?” I added, throwing back his own words that he said to Milverton.
He turned his piercing eyes on me. I closed my eyes, for I knew that I could not hide my hurt from him, of all people. I leaned my head back, silently berating myself for my folly in revealing so much of myself to Holmes.
I felt a ghosting breath, and then a tentative touch of his lips to mine.
Our lips were barely touching. Our first kiss was hesitant, timid.
I pulled back and opened my eyes. He looked beautiful. His were eyes closed, his lips slightly parted. I touched his face and his grey eyes opened to meet mine. He smiled. I cupped his chin and drew him back into another kiss. This time there was no hesitation on his part.
Then he stopped and stood abruptly. “I can’t,” he exclaimed in a shaking voice, “I can’t do this Watson. I’m sorry.” He strode from our sitting room into his bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him.
I stared at that closed door in shock. I had no idea what had happened, no idea what to do. I was angry, bewildered, hurt, and worried. I knew, however, that pursuing Holmes would be a mistake. Whatever his past problem, he would have to work it out. Yet I longed to help him and wished he would confide in me. I lit a cigarette and remained on the sofa, my mind in a state of whirling confusion.
A short time later the door reopened, and I looked up expectantly. What I saw surprised me. Holmes reappeared, looking like a rakish young workman with a goatee beard and a swagger.
He would not meet my eyes.
“Where the hell are you going?” I demanded.
“I’m off to gather information about Milverton,” he said. “I’ll be back some time later. Don’t wait up.”
“You can’t leave now,” I exclaimed.
“Why not?” he replied in his most dismissive tone, yet still refusing to look at me. “I have important work to do for my client, Watson, and I can hardly waste the evening in discussion. Good bye.”
And with that he fled down those seventeen stairs and disappeared into the night. I remained seated on the sofa, seething in anger and too shocked to even call after him.
Days passed in which I did not see Holmes. I learned from Mrs. Hudson that he was coming and going in this workman’s attire, arriving home late and leaving quite early. My anger faded first to concern, then to outright worry. I waited up for him one night, but other than to say he was spending his time in Hampstead and that it was not wasted, he refused to talk. I tried to insist, but he begged exhaustion and disappeared into his room. I could, however, hear his relentless pacing, and I knew that sleep was far from him mind.
I was at my wits’ end, for I feared that the exposure of our true natures had irrecoverably cost me my dearest friend. Holmes had never given any prior indication of any interest in a more intimate nature with me, and it was obvious that he found such closeness uncomfortable. I began to wonder if I would have to move from our cozy rooms. While I knew from previous experiences that Holmes could disappear for weeks on end in pursuit of a case, I also knew, without a doubt, that he was avoiding me utterly.
I went about my day-to-day business with no outward appearance of the turmoil that consumed me. But I wished, fervently, that Holmes would come home and just talk to me. I would even have left him, should he utter the request, if he would just speak to me.
About a week or so after the revelations in the sitting room, I found myself awakened suddenly from a fitful sleep. I could tell it was late, although I was unsure as to the exact hour. I looked around groggily for the source of my waking, and saw Holmes at the foot of my bed, wearing his nightshirt and dressing gown, his face illuminated by a single candle.
“Holmes?” I queried softly, almost uncertain as to his solidity, for he appeared as an apparition.
He swallowed and his eyes met mine. He looked utterly fragile.
I waited in nervous apprehension for him to speak as we gazed at each other in this perfect, frozen moment.
Eventually he dropped his head and focused, it seemed, on the candle he held. “It seems that I shall forever spend my life apologizing to you,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” I asked quietly, struggling to get the words out from the lump in my throat.
“I owe you many explanations, Watson.” He continued to look at the candle and I could see a stiffness in his countenance.
“There is no need,” I tried to reassure him. I was so grateful to see him, so grateful he was here, there was no way I would pressure him into discussing anything that distressed him.
His lips flicked into a half smile and he briefly raised his eyes to me. “Your unwavering loyalty never ceases to amaze me.” He looked down again, and I could see a faint blush to his cheeks. I will tell you everything,” he promised. “Just… after this case is finished.”
“How is the case going?” I enquired cautiously.
He looked down at the floor and swallowed hard. “I’m not very proud of what I’m doing, Watson,” he admitted quietly, “but I must get the necessary information.”
“You’re not in any trouble, are you Holmes?” I could hear my concern in my voice.
He shook his head but continued to avoid my eyes.
“Have you done anything foolish?” I insisted upon knowing.
He smiled his brief, half-smiled and said, “Not yet.”
I will confess that this answer did not reassure me. “Holmes—” I began.
“I must succeed, Watson,” he interrupted with a pleading tone. “You do see that, don’t you?”
I looked at the man before me. I had never seen Holmes look so lost. I had to admit to myself that I did understand his dilemma; whatever had happened between him, Milverton, and Victor Trevor, Holmes felt that he had to set it right, as much as he could anyway, at least concerning this current matter.
But I was also resolved that he would not face this situation alone. Whatever he wanted or did not want from me, I would be a poor friend indeed if I left him to his own devices in such a vulnerable state. I sighed. “Promise me that you’ll come to me before you do anything rash, Holmes,” I insisted.
“My dear Watson—“
“Promise me.” I said adamantly. “Or else I will not let you leave this room,” I added with a smile so that he could discern it as a mock threat, yet realize the seriousness of my intention.
He met my eyes and then he smiled, briefly. “My dear friend. Yes, I promise.”
I let out my breath in relief and noticed that he did the same. He paused for a moment and looked at me almost quizzically. “Whatever would I do without you?” he finally commented.
I felt myself flushing but I refused to look away. Indeed, I took it upon myself to examine him more closely. He was exhausted. There were dark circles under his drooping eyes and his body was slightly stooped. “Holmes,” I said, using my best professional doctor’s tone, “when was the last time you slept?”
He started slightly. I think he was always surprised when I was able to discern something of his hidden nature. “I’ve slept a few hours here and there,” he said, nonchalantly, as if trying to make it seem trivial. “My body is here—”
“To be used,” I finished for him. “Yes, I know. Holmes, you must sleep. You are utterly exhausted.”
“I cannot,” he confessed very quietly. “Sleep does not come to me when I lie down.”
His tone was so broken. I could scarce imagine the horrors that haunted him, but I knew they were there.
To this day, I do not know where I got the audacity to make my next suggestion, to Holmes of all people, for I knew how much he valued his privacy and how reluctant he was to be touched. I think I blurted it out suddenly without any thought. “Lie down beside me,” said I, and moved over in my bed.
He looked up at me in shock. “Watson—”
“I promise I won’t do anything,” I hastened to reassure him. “Sometimes people sleep better with a warm body beside them.”
“I don’t know about this,” he said dubiously.
There was a part of me that knew he would be able to sleep in my bed. I cannot explain how I knew, but it seemed almost urgent to me to get him to agree. “Please, Holmes,” I pleaded. “Trust me.”
He looked at the floor and was silent for several moments. “As I’ve trusted no one else,” he finally said in a strangled voice. He must have been exhausted and desperate for any relief, for he agreed to my proposal. He put his candle down on the nightstand beside me bed. I held up the blanket for him and he, slowly and cautiously, lay down next to me. He lay stiffly, facing the door with his back to me.
I could feel the chill of his body as he lay a few inches from me in my narrow bed. It took all my willpower not to pull him closer. I forced myself to control my body, for I had no wish to spook him with any unwanted reactions, and I kept my breath regular. “Sleep, my friend,” I whispered, willing him to do so with all my heart.
I could feel him release his tension, suddenly, as if a great weight had been released. He scooted back slightly, until his cold back touched my chest. My arm went around him instinctively in an attempt to offer him my warmth. He relaxed even further. “My dear Watson,” said he, his voice on the edge of sleep. I continued to hold him close to me. I could feel as his breath grew steady as sleep overcame him. I matched my breathing to his and followed him into a restful slumber.
When I awoke in the morning he was gone. I almost wondered if I had dreamed the whole encounter, but his candle was still on my nightstand, implying that he had left during the morning light. I smiled to myself as I remembered the feeling of contentment that I had when he was pressed against me. I rose and faced the morning with a lighter heart than I had in a week.
Throughout the day I would suddenly stop what I was doing and smile, remembering that Sherlock Holmes had spent the night sleeping next to me. It was not, perhaps, the closeness of my imagined fancies, but it was in many ways far more intimate. His slumber bedside me conveyed a sense of trust and familiarity which warmed me far more than a hurried physical congress. I had, since the first time we had revealed our hidden natures, a sense of hope regarding my relationship with Holmes.
That evening the weather was wild and tempestuous, and the wind screamed and rattled our windows. Holmes returned fairly early and, after having changed from his disguise, joined me in the sitting room. He gave me a brief smile, then sat in his chair beside the fire and laughed in his peculiar, silent manner.
I waited, patiently. I could sense that he had reached a crux in the case and I was determined to be there.
Finally he turned to me. “You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?” he asked gleefully.
“No, indeed!” I agreed wholeheartedly.
“You’ll be interested to hear that I’m engaged.”
I felt as if I had been literally punched in the gut. The sense of warm feelings that I had had throughout the day fled. It was if my attentions had been thoroughly spurned and I was left almost as a shell, my emotions crushed.
I could barely get out my next words. “My dear fellow,” I all but spat. “I congrat—”
“To Milverton’s housemaid,” he interrupted me.
I don’t think I was any less shocked. I admit, guiltily, that I was relieved at the obvious farcical nature of his romance, but I was also slightly horrified at his duplicitous nature. “Good heavens, Holmes!” I exclaimed. “What have you done?”
“I wanted information, Watson,” he declared reasonably, but I could hear a tightness to his voice.
“There had to be a better way to get that information, Holmes,” I insisted in the most calm tone I could manage. I do not believe, however, that it was very calm at all.
“Perhaps I should have broken this news to you slightly differently,” he said worriedly.
I resisted the urge to shake him. I was quite proud of that fact.
“But you wanted me to inform you if I planned to do something rash,” he continued. We both blushed slightly at last night’s remembered conversation.
“What are you planning?” I asked with trepidation.
He lit a cigarette and took a long drag. I could tell that he was quite nervous about his plans, no matter how calm he was trying to appear.
I, too, lit a cigarette and waited for him to go on.
He smiled at me wryly. “I needed to know the layout of Milverton’s home, and thus I courted the maid. She knows me as a plumber with a rising business, Escott by name. I got what I needed. I now know Milverton’s house as I know the palm of my hand.”
“But the girl, Holmes?” I demanded, feeling quite sorry for her betrayal.
“I couldn’t help it, Watson. I did what had to be done in such a dire situation.”
“This is what you meant last night when you said you weren’t proud of your actions, isn’t it?” I challenged.
“Yes,” he said contritely.
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. I took a long drag on my cigarette.
“I’ve disappointed you,” said he. It was a statement, not a question.
“It’s not like you to use people in this manner, Holmes,” I responded, not quite answering his comment.
“Would it relieve your conscience to know that I have a bitter rival, and that she’s using our courtship as a way to make him jealous?”
I smiled at him wryly and watched as he smoked his cigarette, trying to look calm but obviously waiting for my response. I realized then, as he worried his lip slightly, that I could not remain angry at him, no matter what he had done. “I suppose it does,” I admitted, smiling at him.
His return smile caught my breath. I scarcely allowed myself to realize how attractive I truly found Holmes. That insight was almost like a poignant knife twist in my heart. “I would prefer you don’t use my affections so callously,” I said, a little harshly, I must admit.
He looked stricken. “I would never do that to you, Watson.”
I suppose that I was still angry, however, for I replied, “Really? You have, on occasion, led me to believe that you were dying. In fact, I thought you dead for three years. You also frequently manipulate my services without any explanation or given reason. Why should my affections be treated any differently?”
I then looked at his crestfallen face and immediately regretted my outburst.
“I’m sorry, Holmes—” I began, but he cut me off with a wave of his hand.
“No, you’re right, Watson. I have treated you unfairly. My only excuse is that I honestly never realized how strong your regard was for me, at least not until I reappeared in your consulting room. I apologize, again, for no matter how logical my actions may have been, they were unconscionable to do to a friend who, as I have now learned… loves me,” he concluded in a whispered tone.
He swallowed hard. I looked at him and my face must have conveyed my shock. He quirked his lips in that half smile of his. “Of course,” he continued, “I don’t make any promises regarding your worthiness in my cases. Sometimes, Watson, you are far more helpful in your reactions when you are more ignorant of the facts.” He then smiled outright. “Besides, I too much enjoy surprising you to ever be entirely upfront.”
I snorted in suppressed pleasure and couldn’t help returning his smile. I also knew that it would be a mistake to make too much of Holmes’ apologies, since he would retreat far faster than he would open up. Instead I nodded, then took one final drag of my cigarette before stubbing it out and throwing it into the grate. “So what are your plans?” I enquired as a way to smooth over the awkwardness of the moment.
Holmes lit another cigarette and inhaled deeply, then let out the smoke. “What a splendid night it is!” he suddenly exclaimed, looking at the windows and avoiding my question.
At that moment, the wind rattled them, hard. “You like this weather?” I asked in astonishment.
“It suits my purpose, Watson. I mean to burgle Milverton’s house tonight.”
That statement took me entirely by surprise, although I suppose that it should not have. I had this horrible flash of Holmes’ capture and ruin and I knew that I could not let that come to pass. I also knew that I would not be able to talk Holmes out of this expedition and that he, in fact, believed it to be morally justifiable. I have to admit that I did not actually disagree with his assessment. “Why tonight?” I enquired, trying to fake composure.
I think he was surprised that I did not argue with him, for I could see his relief. “There is no other possible way of regaining these letters,” he said matter-of-factly. “The unfortunate lady has not the money, and there are none of her people in whom she could confide. Tomorrow is the last day of grace, and unless I can get the letters tonight, this villain, this monster, will be as good as his word and will bring her about her ruin.”
“I cannot let him do that, Watson. I cannot let him ruin another person that I can help. After all, surely a gentleman should not lay much importance in his own personal risk when a lady is in most desperate need of his help.” He was obviously playing upon my overdeveloped sense of chivalry, as he had sometimes called it.
I smiled at him. “I agree, Holmes. I don’t like it, but I suppose it must be. When do we start?” I was quite satisfied to see his look of shock.
“You are not coming,” he said adamantly.
“Then you are not going,” I said, calmly and reasonably. “I give you my word of honor—and I never broke it in my life—that I will take a cab straight to the police-station and give you away unless you allow me to come along.”
“You can’t help me,” he said harshly.
“How do you know that? You can’t tell what may happen. Anyway, my resolution is taken. Other people besides you have self-respect, and even reputations.” I took a deep breath. “I care about you far too much, Holmes, to let you do this by yourself. What sort of friend, what sort of man, am I to let you face such danger alone? No, I am definitely coming.”
Holmes had looked annoyed, but I could see his expression clear up as I spoke. He gave me a penetrating look, but I kept my expression firm. My decision was resolute.
“Think of what you’re doing, Watson,” he finally said quietly. “I won’t have your liberty curtailed because of me.”
I realized that he was speaking of far more than tonight’s planned burglary. “I make my own decisions, Holmes,” I said as calmly as I could, “and I accept my own consequences. I don’t hold you accountable.” I swallowed hard. “I follow you of my own free will, because I want to. I will follow you anywhere, take any risk. You are worth it to me.”
His grey eyes met mine and I could see his surprised pleasure at my declaration. He smiled and clapped me on the shoulder. “Well, well my dear fellow, be it so. We have shared this same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell.” His smile faded slightly.
“Well, it would be unfortunate if we ended up in gaol for something as commonplace as burglary,” I replied, mischievously, trying to lighten the mood, “as opposed to something more scandalous.”
He gave a startled laugh and the tension that had sprung up between us was broken.
We prepared for the night’s activities, creating the masks and putting on our dress clothes so as to appear as theater goers returning home after an evening out. At eleven o’clock we were ready to leave for a night of morally justified burglary. As we were walking out the door to our rooms Holmes stopped me.
“I really am glad you are coming along, Watson,” he declared. “I am grateful for your assistance and especially your understanding.”
“Of course, Holmes,” I replied, quite pleased and flushing slightly.
“Thank you.” He leaned forward and, much to my surprise, kissed me gently, with just the barest touch of his lips against mine. He then turned and bounded down the stairs.
I stood stunned for a moment, but then shook myself and hurried after him.