Fic: Found, ACD canon, Holmes/Watson, [NC 17], Pt 2

Aug 12, 2011 23:55

A case was the obvious starting point, perhaps some failure from the past which haunted him still. But she had not known him at first, only his name, and that was not the rule amongst his former clients. If, as a detective, he impressed on the page, he impressed even more in person. Their first meeting must have been ten years ago or more, but not a great deal more; Miss McRae was only a few years past thirty, and I had not been there; I, the inseparable companion of that near-decade of energy and glory after his return from the dead.



Besides, what mystery would an acrobat with a rope of (fake) pearls need solved? I tried to imagine her life then, what had brought her the means to own the Athena. It was unlikely to be her act. For every Blondin, a hundred threadbare costumes live little better than tramps on the road between shows. I had treated women players at the free Dispensary who had even resorted to prostit...

Surely not.

“One person may have many lives, Dr Watson.”

However improbable, to coin a phrase, it was by no means impossible. The way she spoke - the things of which she spoke - her beauty - her hard-won self-reliance - her ample funds which arose, I felt certain, not from any family connection: it might well be. And it might be (why was I holding my breath?) that Holmes had met her not in his professional capacity, but in hers; that she had rendered him that certain service which a woman might offer a gentleman for money.

It was foolish to be shocked, I scolded myself. Holmes was a man, as I was; he had a body, like other men. He did not, after all, subsist on air despite a seeming determination to do so at times. Life seeks continuance with all its power, and its power is very great. Greater, perhaps, than even the will of Sherlock Holmes. Foolish therefore, to be shocked: even more so to be... what? What precisely did I feel about it?

A door opened, and I was called in.

***********************************************

“So, where will you serve?”

Holmes was dressing for dinner by the time I returned. He had spent the afternoon at Whitehall, talking to a Captain Kell, who I understood to have been involved with the Altamont affair from the first, and to be another of those rare, omniscient beings Holmes both esteemed and resembled.

“That rather depends on where I decide to live,” I replied, not troubling to put into words the hard choices my domestic woes were pressing on me.

He paused, looking still into the mirror, but at my reflection rather than his own.

“I am...sorry that you are unhappy, dear boy. Although,” he continued sententiously, “I feel bound to say that I warned you. ‘Love’ knows no reason, and therefore cannot ultimately be relied upon.”

“You argue from a particular case to the general, and wrongly. There is such a thing as lasting love and I shall not stop believing in it, even if I cannot have it for myself.”

“The triumph of hope over experience,” Holmes scoffed as he brushed his hair - thinner now and iron grey, but with the same imperial sweep back from his high forehead. I was stung by his cynical quoting of Dr Johnson’s dictum on second marriages, and muttered something to the effect that persons without direct knowledge of the subject of romantic love ought to keep their counsel.

A large fragment of my attention was still stumbling to picture him with her: the beautiful Miss McRae, or whatever her name had been then. Had he been cold and demanding, as he sometimes was elsewhere; panting and desperate, no longer able to deny himself a natural release ; or had he failed, when it came to it, to rise to the occasion, and had she been (I hoped) kind to him? Had he visited her only once, or more than once? Could I have missed an entire side to the life of one I had thought to know as well as any soul may know another?

But he was saying something. Something about a life dedicated to pure, cold reason being the only fit one for a truly intelligent and independent man. I had heard enough such sermons from him over the years that my ears continued to process the words quite efficiently whilst my inner vision was still caught up with images of him in various states of undress, of his face slack with the intensity of sensation coursing through him, of how he might move, might twist and arch at the moment just before...

Balderdash. Someone had to stop him, and the only one present was me.

“You never relied solely on reason, not in the really interesting cases. You had rare intuitions, you exploited the play of chance -consider our meeting Miss Culpepper this morning - you judged character, you loved justice and positively enjoyed putting down the over-mighty from their seats. Admit it, Holmes: you have relied on a hunch, your instincts, on emotion, quite as much as pure logic and scientific deduction.”

He sniffed in grudging, conditional assent.

“But once let a woman in...”

I made the mistake (of such mistakes are happy futures made) of saying a name under my breath that rarely failed to rouse my friend to a fine pitch of indignation.

“’Doyle was right?’ Since when has Doyle been right about anything in the last twenty-seven years, aside from the unending appetite of the public for cheap sensationalism? Pray, enlighten me: about what was he ‘right’?”

I know that my face fell, as I recalled not just my agent’s first words on the subject of Holmes and the fair sex, but the whole of our conversation that summer day in 1901, the proofs of The Hound in Doyle’s hands. My face fell, and Holmes was looking straight at me when it did.

“Watson?”

“Er, nothing. Nothing of importance.”

“Doyle rarely says ‘nothing’, even when it were better he did. Come on, out with it!”

I obeyed him, of course. I always obeyed him whatever the risk, and it seemed never so high as that summer evening in a comfortable room in a gentlemen’s club.

I sat down carefully in a chair by the window, crossed my legs and took out a cigarette for each of us. Holmes, visibly alert to the cloud of uncertain emotion hovering about me, remained standing, the light behind him so that I could not easily read his face.

“He said that your opinions on the subject of women were not merely cold-blooded but irrational. That what limited exposure you have had, did not entitle you to pronounce upon the whole sex, and that you do so only to conceal your own fears.”

A corner of Holmes’ mouth twitched, but the merest flick of a finger bade me go on.

“He had seen you flinch - actually flinch - when a woman shook your hand.”

“Miss Leckie wore a great deal of perfume. Doyle imagines that when he is enamoured of a woman, for another not to be so is a species of insult. Hardly the gold standard of rationality.”

“And you place great value on fidelity.” I had never needed to hear Holmes’ views on the subject of Doyle’s affaire: his silences had run the full range from airy condescension to outrage on the duped first wife’s behalf.

“There is more, is there not? More ‘analysis’ of my regrettable lack of imbecilic uxoriousness?”

Perhaps, now I had guessed at Holmes’ own affaire, it was safe enough after all to say it. He would laugh, treat Doyle’s opinions to another acid bath, and we would go down to dinner. In the morning... in the morning we would part, with no guarantee of seeing one another again. Our lives would go on; they would be as we had made them: safe, and full of loss.

“He said that he had seen such cases before, that what alienists call horror feminae is a sign either of wholesale neurasthenia or...” and here I noticed my friend straighten - he was, I remembered, well-read in several languages and an abiding student of human nature -“...or of a tendency toward sexual inversion.”

I would have given anything for one of those old, eloquent silences. This one stood with stones in its mouth, vainly trying to form words and only succeeding in drawing attention to its struggles. At last he spoke, low and hesitant:

“And you, Watson: what do you think?”

I had been right the first time. This was unstable ground. “I think...I think all of us are both broader and at the same time narrower in our affections than we ourselves understand. I dismissed Doyle’s words that day and would have done so on a thousand days since, because if anyone would know if you had such inclinations, it would surely be me. Today...today I would have dismissed it still, because I think perhaps ‘horror’ is not quite the word. Miss McRae...”

Holmes turned to look out of the window on the bustling street below. He watched the flow of people, each one carrying at least one secret they would never entrust to another living soul. “Ah, my boy. What a time to turn detective.”

“It’s true, then?”

He lit another cigarette, paced about the room for a minute, puffing on it, and finally sat on the edge of the bed. I turned in my chair to face him.

“Truth. What is truth? Truth is that which one may uncover in others but be utterly blind to in oneself. Well, then. Let us face ‘the truth’ squarely. It is true that Miss McRae once followed a notorious profession, and that I once, more than ten years ago now, made use of her services. However that alone does not allow you to dismiss the notion that I had...that I have, as you would say, both broader and narrower affections. I would have dismissed it myself, before that day, denied having any instinct for the physical at all. It was supposed to be an experiment: dispassionate, enlightening. It became a revelation, an untimely and unwelcome one. She drugged me: no doubt from a business point of view an efficient means to an end. But you know, Watson, what odd things the mind throws up when it is addled: sometimes addled enough for complete clarity.”

I waited. He would tell me, or he would not. I would not ask, not because I feared the answer, but because I did not want him to feel beholden to my eternal curiosity concerning his every aspect. Yet there is both a beautiful agony and a terrible relief in confessing, and it seemed even Sherlock Holmes was not immune to its appeal.

“Suppose that after many years thinking of yourself, and having others think of you, and of living, as one with more than his share of courage, you knew yourself secretly proved a coward in some essential way; that you were not, after all, the man you supposed yourself to be? Would that not be a hard thing to bear; hardest of all when faced with the source of your weakness?”

I thought of my wife, and her lover, and all the awkward silences. “Yes, I suppose it would. But I’m not sure I understand...”

Holmes held up a hand and smiled: a wan little ghost of the triumphant one which always preceded his summing up of the facts and welding them all together into an unbreakable chain.

“Ten years ago, I had intimate relations with a woman, for the first time - the only time. I thought to discover the attraction the sexual act seemed to have for most men... for you. I left that house as a man haunted by visions from my unconscious mind- visions of broader affections than I had thought to have, and of one so narrow it was fixed on a single point - on one person. I fled the life I had then, the one that had nourished that singular affection unknown and unacknowledged, then allowed its fixed point to slip - to be pulled - away, with so little protest because it did not fully appreciate the potential loss.”

He put one finger to his lips, as if weighing all the evidence again; his eyes met mine, shining and sharp.

“As for facing the source of my weakness: you will understand, I think, if I tell you that you were there too, every time.”

We were not going down to dinner.

“All those weekends in Sussex.”

“And why they eventually stopped. Yes. I find that I am not only narrow but fiercely constant in my... affections, once they are set.”

Narrow and fiercely constant: I should have expected nothing else, I thought. Once over the Becher’s Brook of Sherlock Holmes admitting to love, that it should be me, rather than another, was really very like him. Who else should he trust, body and soul, with what he called his ‘weakness’ than me? Who else would understand that he would rather have been racked to dislocation than trust it to me whilst I was morally (‘legally’ had somewhat less weight with him) tied to another? I sprang from my chair and hastened to the large desk furnished for the convenience of a gentleman’s correspondence. As a gentleman, I could do no less than this.

“How much will you tell her?”

I cannot explain why I felt surprise at this and not, by some miracle, at the rest - at his admission of inverted passions, of their object and duration. I only know that I turned from my nascent letter with an exclamation to see him sitting there still on the edge of the bed, outwardly composed, displaying his flashy tricks as a smokescreen for the drama going on just behind the curtain.

Ha! You put me off, do you?

“No. No, I am not going to say it. For once, I will not give you your cue on demand. I will tell my wife that I have long known of her desire to leave me and become the wife of Marsden: that I will grant a divorce on any reasonable terms, respectability be damned. Well, I daresay I will not write that last word, but I am certain she will read it nonetheless.”

“Well done, Watson. We both have made confession. Now, what of absolution? What of the words that have not been said in this room, but which I believe you also can read nonetheless?”

I finished my letter, signed it, addressed the envelope with clarity and care, and sealed it before I answered.

“I think you had better be more precise. What if you have overestimated my abilities in detection?”

It was unfair of me, no doubt, to tease him so. Yet I trusted Holmes to preserve as much of his sense of self as was consistent with honesty and truth; I had only ever wanted him to remain himself.

“Very well, since it seems you were predestined both to complement and torment me in every respect: shall we?”

Bundled up together in the carpet bag of that single sentence was the whole mystery of our past and future life - fascination, coded messages, disguise, men who are not, whatever the world thinks, ‘really’ women: a veil drawn back, an opportunity for crime - but a crime without a victim this time.

As for his invitation, there was only one answer possible for my heart.

“I will not come for ‘weekends’, Holmes.”

He frowned, trying to fathom how he might, conceivably, have been wrong: not about his desires but about mine. He had clearly quite taken them for granted all along: deduced them a score of years before and dismissed them as irrelevant then; presumed that only my marriage stood in the way now. As I crossed the room, I continued:

“I will only come if all the weekdays are included as well. We have lost so much time already, my dear: I would not lose another second.”

I have long prided myself as being as good as my word. I knelt before him, cradled his long face between my hands, and kissed him.

“You know, Holmes, that is a very passable imitation of a goldfish.”

He closed his mouth, drew his dignity about him with some ceremony and concluded calmly:

“Weeknights, too, then?”

Oh, assuredly. He declined my offer to ring for brandy and soda (“this time, I will go clearheaded into a new world”) but we did have a light supper there in his room, and after some tender cold pheasant and tart sorbet I drew the curtains, secured the door and went and kissed him again, rather more thoroughly.

He had never had the least objection to being worshipped. On my knees before him, I drew back to see that same benevolent acceptance blessing me, and I rebelled. Acceptance was no reward, nor acquiescence, receptiveness, not even submission: all of them words for passivity. I wanted the active, concentrated force of Sherlock Holmes’ loaded mind and starved body trained on me, feeding from me, elaborating and consuming.

I wanted fire.

Yet before fire must come kindling, a spark, warmth. I needs must lay the fire, lay my beloved friend down in a bed of cold coals with me beside him and strike tinder.

“How have you gone about this, in the past, I mean, for yourself, not with...a certain lady?” I asked him plainly, once we were unencumbered by stiff collars and gartered socks, clad only in the club’s smooth cotton sheets and our own eager shyness and rising ardour. All the time we had taken about undressing each other, nearly every movement had discovered some hidden sensitivity, some touch that coaxed and thrilled, an action - unlacing shoes to uncover the high, proud tracery of veins under skin over the arch of a foot, the close, tugging embrace of a hand from wrist to fingertips in the taking off of a cuff - whose effects, out of all proportion , made us catch our breath and shake with haste for more.

“Grasped it and rubbed and wanted it to be over quickly.” Plain in his turn: a history plain, even barren in its poverty. No good, it was no good. We would have to begin anew. I put my hand gently at the back of his neck, kissed the very tip of his patrician nose - a good inch and a half from his mouth - and introduced myself.

“John Hamish Watson, M.D. Lover of women on three continents: of men chiefly, but not entirely, in the shady groves of my imagination. Long a student and admirer of human anatomy. We doctors love health, you know, not sickness, even though sickness brings us our bread. I could demonstrate the responsiveness of a healthy human male in a score of ways not covered in any textbook.”

He shivered, remembering the disrobing. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Doctor. My own knowledge of anatomy has been described as ‘unsystematic’. I believe I would benefit from such a demonstration.”

It was my turn to shiver, for he was not asking. Holmes would be master even when he was pupil. Well, of course he would.

“Risorius.” I traced it with my forefinger, the muscle that forms the smile; it obediently formed one as I reached the corner of his mouth. Tension ebbed away from his face and his frame. I brushed the fullness of his lower lip with my thumb, then my tongue; he kissed me back in earnest now, still unlettered in this language but fast catching up, his novice’s coltish, clumsy fervour so much more arousing than slick sophistication.

“Trapezius”,the slope from neck to shoulder and back, his strength under my hands, his whole upper body pressed, entwined against me. We were old now: slackened, grey, in my case run distinctly to fat, but I could not regret that this was here, now; not while his throat was bared to me (“larynx, carotid fossa”, lines of essential, exquisite function and form), not while I could make him sound so, each breath nearly singing from delight. This could not have been, not when we were young, and so I was very glad to be old.

“Sternum, intercostal spaces (my word, was that Sherlock Holmes chuckling, was he, world amazed, ticklish?), pericardium” - hard bone over vital flesh, the great heart that kept beating even after death, after the fall of Reichenbach and of my tears, the end of hope, the heart that was hammering now against mine, blood pounding, pleading for oxygen.

“Rectus abdominis and rectus sheath” He had been an anatomy lesson brought to life, in all those greedy, furtive glances at the baths, but despite a new softness overlaying the planes of his stomach, they were more beautiful now. I had never, back then, felt them flex and flinch under my searching, caressing fingers and the accidental brush of a moustache, never tasted the dense, soft, salty skin as I moved lower; never felt him clutch at my shoulders, trying to push down, trying not to push down, wanting the culmination and wanting to put it off for a moment, a second longer...

We were a single mind on that matter. If I could have drawn this out until the last trumpet and beyond, I would - what better way to spend eternity but in the anticipation of glorious release? Yet there was the release itself - as I said, I wanted fire: to burn and to burn out and to cool to resting, silver ashes, replete in the grate.

“Iliac crests” I skirted the bones of his narrow hips with my thumbs, traced the pelvic girdle sweeping downwards and forward to a central point, to circle in the small dip, there in its nest over the pubic bone (“symphysis” I whispered in his ear, and he shuddered)of a slender man. Slender hands kneaded my more ample belly, cradled its rounded pot, humming little noises of satisfaction even as he applied his open mouth along the length of my jaw. I felt his teeth, pressing, not biting, and the edge of my desire sharpened even as they were sharp, a lust fierce and white and clean, as they were.

I had brought my science and my writers’ art together, even as we had come together, to this strangers’ bed. Some words I find ugly, though the things they describe are not, or at any rate if they are earthly, their action is divine. So I did not name it aloud, the proper name for this improper thing - a man’s prick, warm and hard in the hand of another man; did not name it, but enjoyed it, the feel of the sheath of velvety skin sliding back and forth over the rod in my palm, his canting hips, his parted thighs (Sartorius? Rectus femoris? I could no longer quite remember), his soft, pleading cries. Enjoyed, too, reciprocation: nimble, unpractised fingers inquisitive then inquisitorial, delicious, tormenting strokes as warmth became heat, became spark.

Became fire.

He had unfolded at first like a white lily in the bed, one stiff, arching petal at a time, growing and turning towards the light. Now the whole rocketing force of nature streamed through us, and there was not enough pushing, grasping, rubbing, thrusting, clutching and kissing in the whole world to satisfy us. If we were old, this was young, was gathering and tensing to spring upon us and from us. He stuttered some nonsense about me taking whatever I wanted, pulling one of my hands around to the crease of his thigh (adductor magnus, gracilis), as we were going to do everything at once tonight, reckless fellow.

I wanted to say to him, had I wit or breath at that moment: ecstasy for a man can be had for so much less than the mere mimicry of whoring. Instead I showed him, a moistened thumb applied just so to the underside, to that delta of tissue where the foreskin joins the head of man’s splendour (“frenulum”, that, I remembered), until he buckled and curled and shook and bit his lip bloody ere he give us away to all of London. He coiled tense and released it all, all the life he had in him, tumbling, drowning in heaven, to land beached and gasping on a far shore. In a minute or two he came back to himself , his whole body tuned to one note - to me.

He was covered in a fine sheen of perspiration and I in most of his spendings, so it was easy and slick after that, grinding against the inside of his forearm, that long limb hooked around my hip, my prick caught between it and my belly as he lay beside me, watching. I knew the lines of that arm as I knew my own - no, better: every sinew standing proud, my mind seeing those ancient scars, all his hungry longings for transcendence, and me, healing them, feeding him with my own bliss.

I turned him about, so I could wrap my arms around his chest from behind and press against his spine, riding his back slowly and telling to one of his shoulder blades all kinds of foolishness I could not have said to his face. He heard the hitch in my breath if not my words, and rocked me a little faster every pass, the aches and pains of my tired bones melting in the heat of a sweeter, hungrier ache, root and branch swelling, growing, bursting into green spring as I soared, soared and came to earth nearly sobbing from relief - completely, amazedly happy.

“I believe,” he said, all arch disappointment, as we rested from our labours, sheets pushed down for the sake of cool air on our damp skin, “that I was promised a thorough anatomical demonstration. I must say that that seemed regrettably unsystematic. I foresee the need for an extensive further course of study.”

I brushed his forelock back into place, sweeping and imperial, just as it should be; he folded into my embrace, coming home, just as it should be.

“Occipitofrontalis: the elevator of the brow. At least my teaching methods seem likely to have left a deep impression.”

“You will make a disciple of me yet, my dear professor.”

“As long as you promise to pay close attention.”

I swear that I heard him smile before I felt him laugh, soft and low against my neck.

END

sherlock holmes, fic

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