Part Four

Since our return, the storm which had initially provided a cover for our evening's activities had all but passed. Rain still fell, but only in the light drizzle that was so familiar to the residents of our fair city that it could hardly be considered rain at all. For a time, Holmes and I remained in comfortable silence by the window, each watching the steady fall illuminated against the gas lamp across the street, along with the slow return to activity below our vantage point.

Eventually the day and the evening's turn of events began to take its toll upon me and I shifted my gaze from the window to the man beside me. Holmes had always possessed a striking profile, tonight however my friend's worn appearance showed him for the man he was - not the heartless creation I had accused him of being, but a man just like myself, made of flesh and bone, and as deserving of love as any other I had ever met.

I drew a breath, sobered some by the true depths of my feelings and what I knew I would offer the world's only consulting detective if only he would accept it from me.

"Holmes?" I began.

Although he did not turn from the view I knew instinctively that he had heard me and that I should continue.

"If you are agreeable, there is something about which I think we should speak."

"A new case, Watson?"

I shook my head no. "An old one," I returned. "One that should have been given the attention it deserved long ago."

With his innate sense of curiosity piqued Sherlock Holmes turned to face me.

"The details man," he demanded. "Riddles will not provide answers -- only the facts."

He was right of course. Nothing could be gained by skirting a subject once it had been raised.

Gathering my courage I opened my mouth to speak, intending as I had all a long to tell him the truth. It was at that moment however, as Holmes and I regarded one another, that I experienced a strange feeling of daja vu. It was similar I realised in many ways to other occasions during our association when I had planed to tell him something, only to discover that he had already guessed my news. I could not for the life of me imagine how he knew what I was about to say, but something in his gaze told me it was true.

Unsure of what this new piece of information meant, or if in fact my suspicions were showing on my face I stepped away, returning once again to the fireplace to the study the flames steadily licking at the grate. If I had been obvious in my attractions towards Holmes then surely he would have made some remark, or alerted me to the dangers of such behaviour in some other way?

I searched my memory but could think of no such time, except…

As if my world was turning on end, my mind suddenly recalled, amongst other things, the disagreement we had earlier today. Holmes had accused me of jealousy and I had denied his accusation fervently, too fervently it seemed.

Folding my arms protectively across my chest I closed my eyes momentarily and shook my head. I was a fool, a blind fool who after years of cohabitation with Holmes should have known better than to ever think that just because he paid little attention to the softer emotions it did not mean he could not recognise them in others.

It should not surprise me that Holmes would know before me, it was his business of course to know what others did not, and yet I felt a wave irritation roll over me.

"How long have you known?" I inquired, at last unfolding my arms and dropping them to my sides.

During my brief reverie Holmes had gravitated from the window to stand along side me. His close proximity never as confounding as it was at that moment.

"That your interest in my well-being exceeded the common place," he returned curiously. "Or that the interest in question had reached a point of unnatural fixation?"

Contrary to what I already knew to be true I found his cold deduction and the recounting of my predicament as if it were no more than a trifle taken from the personal columns, more than I could stand.

"My God man, you might have said something," I admonished, my irritation quickly turning to anger though I had no real understanding of why. Holmes might very well be the most infuriating man I had ever met, but I had never known him to be intentionally unkind to me, or to anyone else for that matter.

Thankfully he remained calm in the face of my small outburst. "I had honestly hoped that no course of action would be necessary," he remarked gently. "However, that seems to be a miscalculation on my part."

I thought once more of the unfortunate occurrence in my bedroom when Holmes had walked in on me and felt my face heat uncomfortably at the memory. While it was obvious that my discomfort had not escaped my friend's keen observation he merely nodded on this occasion, silently acknowledging the difficulty of the situation before he then moved to collect our empty brandy glasses.

As soon as Holmes's back was turned to me I let out a breath and reached out to steady myself against the mantel. Truly I did not know what to make of it all. I had been resigned to tell him how I felt, expecting, I am not entirely sure what to happen, and yet everything about it now seemed ludicrous -- beyond impossible. I shot a glance towards the sitting room door, wondering if perhaps I might make good an escape, but found the option torn from my grasp as he turned to face me once more.

"I think under the circumstances Watson, we might indulge beyond our usual," he commented, holding aloft our refilled glasses, and appearing, at least on the surface to be decidedly more at ease with our current state of affairs than I.

Not knowing what else to do I took the proffered glass I sipped hesitantly at its content. Unlike Holmes I was not convinced that more brandy at this point was a good idea. In the matter of minutes I had experienced a full range of conflicting emotions, fear and outrage amongst them, and I had no desire to add alcoholic induced confusion to the mix. It was only after I had lowered my glass to once again meet his gaze did it occur to me that perhaps it was Holmes who felt the need for a little extra courage. The thought struck me as out of character, but like many things that had occurred tonight I was given no time to ponder what if anything it meant.

"Now," he said, indicating toward my previously vacated chair. "You promised me an explanation and I should very much like to hear it."

I glanced once more at the door, weighing the odds of Holmes simply allowing me to change my mind without challenge to what has already passed between us, but conceded that I would undoubtedly live to regret the division such a decision would cost our friendship.

Waiting until I had reseated myself Holmes also sat. Turning slightly to face me he gave me one of his rare smiles, assuring me that no matter what I had to say he would listen.

The realisation filled me with hope and despite the false start we had endured and my new found knowledge that Holmes already knew of my secret, my words came surprisingly easy. I began by telling him of my first impressions upon our introduction by young Stamford many years ago, and how what had started out as an arrangement of convenience for both us had evolved into so much more for me.

I also told him, that although I could not give an accurate account of just when my feelings of brotherly affection had surpassed acceptable bounds, I knew I would never impose myself upon him if he opposed the idea of broadening our relationship to a more intimate level. Indeed, if he found either my proposal or presence repugnant to him then I would leave Baker Street this very night if he wished it.

There was more of course. Being a man of words there was much more I wanted to say but Holmes waved all further attempts to explain myself aside. It was not necessary he said. As was any suggestion that I leave our home.

At length Holmes rose to collect his pipe from its resting place above the heath. I watched and waited expectantly as he lit it and proceeded to smoke for some time in silence, but he made no further attempts to converse with me or to acquire any more details about what I had said.

I felt decidedly relieved to have finally unburdened myself, but I was also very unsure as to how I might go about my daily life with Holmes knowing I was not the man he had trusted all the years we had shared rooms. If he was not prepared to accept my offer of a more involved relationship, then it was my wish to continue as we always had, and yet, now I could not help but wonder if that was going to be possible.

Having listened patiently to my disclosure Holmes had in fact given me very little to gauge his actual reaction to it. Other than knowing I was not at any immediate risk of being without lodgings, I had discovered little else. Of course, the fact that I had given Holmes a great deal to think about had not escaped my understanding and while I craved an answer now, I knew it would be best if I retired for the night and left him alone with his thoughts.

I yawned and the ageing construct of my chair signed in audible relief as I stood slowly. I expected Holmes to turn; to address me, but when he did not, I simply announced my intentions in the plainest possible terms. Years of experienced had taught me that it would do no good to press him when he was working on a case or some other problem, and I prepared to take my leave of him as I had a thousand times before.

I had not quite made it to the door however, before I found myself waylaid.

"I know you are tired Watson, but if I could possibly persuade you to stay a little longer, I would consider myself deeply in your debt."

Holmes's voice was apologetic and his profile somber. It was a rare combination, one that never failed to reawaken my empathetic nature. Barely suppressing another yawn I stepped forward again.

"Of course, Holmes, what is it?"

"I have in mind an experiment of sorts," he explained, "but it will require your assistance, my friend."

I nodded my agreement, not even bothering to inquire what exactly I was agreeing to - such was, and always has been the level of trust between us. It did occur to me though, that perhaps I had been rather remiss in this when I noted my friend carefully locking the sitting room door and adjusting the grate to the fire.

"Holmes?"

"It is quite all right Watson; I am simply ensuring that we are not disturbed."

Why he would think we would be interrupted when the hour was well past midnight perplexed me greatly, but I found myself otherwise distracted as he then took up a familiar position in front of the heath. Extending one long arm across the mantel and regarding me in a manner reminiscent of the self-assured Holmes I was used to.

It might sound like complete folly on my part, and was more accurately the results of our most eventful day, but it appeared that Holmes was in fact posing himself for me and for a moment I indulged myself in thoughts of going to him where he stood and kissing him. Of course I did nothing of the sort, and in the absence of an alternative I simply listened as he proceeded to provide not so much the particulars of his plan, but an explanation for it.

"As you are aware," he began slowly. "Prior to your arrival here I have lived a solitary, yet satisfying existence. I have no family other than my brother Mycroft, few acquaintances and no friends other than your good self to speak of. For the most part I have been happy with the choices I have made. I am not an emotional being as you know and I desire little in the way of companionship."

This was all information that was well known to me and I nodded at what I perceived to be the appropriate intervals, receiving by way of acknowledgment a small, almost undetectable quirking of his lips before he continued.

"You see my dear fellow while your presence in my life is useful at times, it is not always conductive to the one I have chosen free of emotional entanglement and responsibility. I must admit that when we first agreed to share rooms I did not realise that I had also agreed to your meddling in my personal habits."

I made an attempt to interject at this point, to defend my concerns for his wellbeing as those of a medical professional, but Homes would not have it and stopped me a with look that allowed for no such interruption.

"Indeed," he went on. "If I had known I would have to suffer your interference in exchange for a share in the rent I would have declared our agreement null and void the day you moved in."

I had to smile. I was very accustomed to Holmes's lengthy discourses into how, if he had his time over again, he would choose a less crowded household, or at least a flat mate who was more involved in his own pursuits and less concerned with the daily activities of others.

I crossed my arms. "And what made you change your mind?" I inquired.

In all honestly I expected another taunt from Holmes, but instead of further accounts about our less than satisfactory living arrangements, his face grew suddenly serious and his eyes darted away briefly to study the rug at our feet before they were raised once more to meet my own. "You did," he replied.

It is difficult to describe what happened next, what exactly allowed me to move toward him and lay a tentative hand upon his shoulder.

"Holmes."

"It is true," he returned, releasing his hold on the mantel to cover my hand, squeezing it gently. "I have never met anyone like you and as much as I have tried to rid myself entirely of emotional attachment, and live solely for my profession, I see now it has all been for naught."

I shook my head. "I don't understand. It was never my intention to interfere with you work, or to take you from it. I have only ever wanted to be of service, Holmes…to love you."

As if the mere mention of the words had caused Holmes some indescribable pain his hand closed like a vice around my own, startling me with his strength and the look of defeat upon his face. While our earlier conversation had allowed me to share a great deal and there could be no doubt of my intentions towards him I had not told Holmes that I love him in so many words. Hearing them now though, and seeing the effect they had upon him, I understood why he avoided them so.

"Is it so terrible?" I asked.

"It is not what I wanted."

 

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Part Five

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