Finding Sherlock


I must confess that it is a great relief to be back in London, dining at Marcinis, a world away from the mists and horrors of the moors that have been so much a feature of our lives for the past few weeks. My arm aches like the dickens from where Stapleton’s shot winged me but the food is good, the wine is exceedingly good, and Holmes’s company is convivial. That last should hearten me, but the truth is that I recognize the signs all too well. His conversation is too animated, his manner too restless, and his gaze too anxious. I know, without any doubt, that he will require my particular attention both tonight and for the next few days if he is to weather this particular storm safely.


My friend is a peculiar fellow – our long association has led me to an understanding of his habits but he is, perhaps like all geniuses, a man of many contradictions.


Now he inclines that russet-blond head of his towards me, those sharp eyes of his missing nothing as he dissects the case for me, piece by piece, examining each tiny part of it and instructing me on how he came to his conclusions…but there is an over-animated quality to his manner, and those sharp eyes of his do not scrutinize me to see if I am awed by his powers of deduction or seduced in any way by his tale – no, they have another purpose. My dear friend, despite all his many talents, is completely at sea when confronted with his own emotions. This man, who understands the motivations of the human heart so implicitly as to be the greatest detective of his age, is at a loss when the human heart involved is his own.


Thankfully, although I may lay no claim to being a great detective, I do have some small skill in matters of the heart – or at least insofar as they appertain to the heart of my dear friend. Only the skilled observer would notice that Holmes’s face is a little flushed, that those sharp eyes rest on my face then skim down to my left arm, ensconced as it is in a sling, and then back to my face again. He hangs onto every word I say in a manner completely at odds with the way he treats me when he’s in the middle of one of his intellectual passions. It is ever thus – when Holmes is pursuing a case he is a different man, almost entirely unrecognizable in fact. Now he is in that difficult in-between stage – our most recent case is over, and, as yet, there is no new intellectual challenge to stimulate him. This is a state of affairs he can hardly bear – and he is thus in his “coming down” period from being the great detective Holmes, to becoming that far more shy and diffident fellow, a man I happen to love just as much as I love the detective but in an entirely different way – a creature I’ve come to think of not as Holmes but as Sherlock, the man behind the mask.


“I was thinking that after we’ve dined we should visit the theatre!” Holmes proclaims brightly. I give a tight smile, lean back in my chair, and tip my cigar thoughtfully so that the ash falls into the saucer of my coffee cup, studying him intently all the while as I do so. He colours under my scrutiny, but is not willing to relinquish the mantle of Holmes the great detective just yet. However, I know that the theatre would be just the start of it – after that there will be an endless series of minor dramas and excursions, all of them arranged with the sole purpose of giving my friend something to occupy his mind until the next case comes along – and, if that case is slow in arriving, I know from bitter experience that I will witness his slow slide into a stupor of self-destructiveness from which he will not emerge easily and which must surely damage his health. I also know that he and his old friends morphine and cocaine will become intimately reacquainted on a daily basis – something of which he knows I disapprove and which does him no good at all. Boredom also does him no good at all, and if there is no case to keep him stimulated then I must endeavour to occupy that shining mind of his in some other way. Luckily experience, and a good deal of trial and error on my part, have fortified me with an armoury of ways in which to keep my friend from sliding into the abyss. It is no easy matter but somehow we must find a way to bypass Holmes and find Sherlock – then we stand a good chance of keeping my friend happy and well occupied until the next case comes along, at which time we can allow Holmes, the great detective, to resurface.


“Watson? The theatre? I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots’,” Holmes prompts.


“Yes, Holmes.” I shake my head regretfully. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s out of the question. We can neither of us go.”


“Why ever not, my dear fellow?” He remonstrates forcefully, his eyes flashing. He dislikes being told what he can and cannot do but I have no particular interest in appeasing him on this – when we are in the middle of a case he tells everyone what to do, including myself, and it doesn’t do him any harm to know that this state of affairs can be reversed in less trying circumstances.


“Because we have some other things to take care of tonight, do we not?” I enquire gently but firmly. He gazes at me, his entire body tense and mutinous. He knows what I’m referring to, but Holmes the great detective, that dominant and forceful personality, is rebelling against the very idea of it. I know, however, that Sherlock needs it, and it is that which keeps me firm in the face of his ensuing protest.


“If you are feeling unwell – I might choose to go to ‘Les Huguenots’ alone,” he proclaims.


“By all means.” I incline my head. “The conversation we must have can take place just as easily tomorrow, although I fear the delay will undoubtedly result in the consequences being more severe.”


His eyes flash again. “Watson, this is monstrous,” he begins but I note that he glances at my injured arm once more. I’m not sure that he consciously knows that he’s blaming himself for my injury – although there is no need for him to do so. It wasn’t his fault and neither was it his plan that caused it. However, while Holmes himself is impervious to almost all personal considerations whilst pursuing a case at full throttle, when the case is over, and Sherlock reasserts himself, I’ve known the fellow to experience some small niggles of guilt at the way he has treated not only myself but any others hapless enough to fall into his path and be on the receiving end of his manner.


“I am merely pointing out the facts of the case, Holmes,” I tell him firmly, cutting off his protest. For his own sake it would be better if he came home with me this evening instead of visiting the theatre – which will only delay the inevitable and make it even more difficult for him. However, it must be his decision.


“The facts of the case, Watson, are that sometimes you have an over-active sense of what needs to be done in a situation,” he replies haughtily. “I *shall* visit the theatre tonight. Good evening to you.”


And so saying, he gets up, and leaves the restaurant without so much as a backward glance in my direction. I finish my coffee with a sigh. I love the man dearly, but nobody could ever say that he was an easy creature to live with. I do my best by him and I think, in my own way, that I’m the support and good friend that he needs. Certainly I have never been as close to any other living soul as I am to him and I believe I understand him very well. For his part, he has eschewed close relationships all his life. Neither part of his personality is equipped to handle them in the least degree – Holmes is an egocentric, intellectual snob, with a superior manner and the insufferable habit of being unable to share his plans with anyone at all, myself included, while Sherlock, the rarely seen man underneath the genius, is a tortured soul, beset by an almost crippling shyness and inability to articulate or indeed live with his emotions to the least degree. I can see how Holmes became the mask Sherlock hides behind, but when Holmes is between cases, Sherlock invariably needs to resurface to breathe a little, and it is then that my friend is prone to his worst periods of self-destruction.


I bid farewell to the Maitre’d, leave the restaurant, and wander back to Baker Street, lost in thought. I’m not seriously concerned by Holmes’s rebellion although I am a little perturbed at the notion of him roaming the streets of London alone this evening. The Baskerville case was a very taxing one for all concerned, not least poor Sir Henry who ended up badly mauled by the infernal beast that Stapleton trained so well to fulfill his evil purpose. However, there are aspects of the case that still make me exceedingly angry, as Holmes knows all too well. While I do not in the least blame him for my injury, his conduct during this investigation left much to be desired, as I intend to spell out for him in due course.


My rooms are warm and cosy when I return – a welcome change from the chill of the moors – and I settle myself down in an armchair in front of the fire and read the paper.


I have been there barely half an hour, when I hear a tiny scraping sound at the door. Frowning, I get up, walk briskly over there, and open the door – only to find Holmes sitting on the top stair outside my room, his head tossed back, his tie undone, and his hair disheveled, looking utterly the worse for wear. His eyes are mournful and forlorn and he speaks up morosely when he sees me.


“Damn it, Watson. You know I can’t endure it when you’re in this kind of mood with me,” he says, looking completely enchanting as I’m sure he well knows.


“There is but one remedy for my mood, Holmes,” I inform him sternly. He glares at me with the full force of those intelligent eyes but I stand my ground. I think he has discovered, over the years, that Dr. Watson is a good match for him and can take all his whims and vagaries without buckling in front of them as others have done before me.


“But won’t you reconsider?” He asks dolefully.


“I’m afraid I cannot,” I tell him. “I am disappointed with your conduct during the Baskerville case and I would be remiss if I did not tell you how I thought you erred.”


“Telling me is one thing,” he hisses, glancing around to ensure that our landlady, Mrs Hudson, is not within earshot. “But it is the other method you employ of expressing your dissatisfaction with me that I am referring to, as you well know.”


“Holmes – this is more properly discussed in my room,” I tell him sternly. “But if you come inside you must be prepared to accept the full force of my censure, in whatever form that might take.”


He glares at me for a long time, and I stare coolly back. I can see the struggle in his eyes but it isn’t over yet – he isn’t ready yet.


“Your terms are unacceptable to me, Watson,” he says briskly, and then, without another word, he gets up and walks haughtily down the stairs.


I shut the door with a sigh and return to my fireside seat. I have been through this performance many a time before. My only hope is that he does not choose to inject himself with morphine or cocaine as a result of our disagreement. If he does, then I will not see him again this evening. Even if he were to come knocking on my door, I would not admit him in here while he is under the influence of those vile substances – and my wrath would be even keener tomorrow as a result.


Another half an hour passes and then I hear a thump outside the door. I sigh – his repertoire of stalling tactics are well known to me but sometimes it’s hard keeping my temper when he’s treating me to the full array. However, the fact that he left the theatre early and cannot stay away from my room shows me that he is in dire need of what I can give him right now.


“Holmes – what the devil…?” I begin, opening the door briskly, only to finding him scrabbling around on the landing with a strangely pathetic expression on his face. The wooden box containing his syringe and supplies of cocaine and morphine is lying open on the floor, and the contents have spilled out. “I was going to give it to you but I dropped it by accident,” he says, in a small voice, pointing at the box. “I’ve been opening and closing it for the past half hour until it began to drive me insane. I know you disapprove, Watson…”


“I do,” I tell him firmly. “These substances will the ruination of that fine mind of yours, Holmes – of that I’m sure.”


“So I thought I’d give the box to you to keep – for tonight at least,” he whispers, still looking as endearingly abject as it is only possible for Sherlock Holmes to look. “So that I won’t be tempted,” he adds. He finishes retrieving the contents of the box and places the items within once more, before standing up and handing me the box. I take it, gravely, aware that this is a touching expression of his trust in me, and his hope that I will save him from the tumult he is currently experiencing.


His face suddenly crumples, and he shakes his entire body in frustration. “Oh damn it, Watson! Do people not know where I live? Has nobody got a case for me?” He laments.


“Holmes – you have only just returned from Baskerville Hall,” I tell him firmly. “There will be more cases but you must be patient.”


“It was so exhilarating, Watson!” He tells me, his eyes sparkling. “Wasn’t it exhilarating? The mystery, the excitement, the solution…the Baskerville case was truly worthy of me. Damn, but how *do* people just live? How is it possible? I need something to occupy me, Watson. What am I to do with my time now? The future stretches before me, like a wasteland,” he sighs.


I open the door wide and step aside, silently, and he walks into my rooms. He doesn’t come reluctantly, and while he is still lamenting his lack of a new case as he walks, he knows the implications of what he is doing. He knows that once inside he will surrender to me in a way that the Holmes of a few days ago, out on the moors, would find absolutely insufferable. However this man here is not the Holmes of a few days ago. He is the lost soul who inhabits Holmes’s body between cases, and he is my dearest, most intimate and closest friend. I have often wondered at this apparent dichotomy in my friend’s personality – it really is as if he is two different people. He has never once, for example, come to my bed at night when he is working on a case – and I would not dream of going to his bed either during such times. I think that Holmes would gaze at me with utter disdain if I were to do such a thing and send me packing forthwith. Between cases he will come enthusiastically to my room and spend night after night in my arms, accepting my most intimate caresses with passion and excitement, but while on a case all his energy is directed elsewhere, and I would not claim any of that energy away from his intellect during those times.


Holmes comes to a halt before the fire and turns to gaze at me.


“I take it that the theatre wasn’t sufficiently diverting?” I murmur, walking past him on my way to the wardrobe. He watches my every move with those keen eyes of his. He knows where I am going, and why.


“You knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate, Watson, when you gave me such a damnable ultimatum,” he replies, but he isn’t angry, just full of pent-up emotion that he has no hope of either resolving or understanding. I hope that before the night is through I can enlighten him as to how he is feeling.


“It wasn’t an ultimatum, Holmes,” I inform him, opening the wardrobe door. “Any time you wish to change this aspect of our friendship I will be more than happy to discuss that with you. Until then, I believe we agreed that I would decide what is necessary and when. This arrangement would hardly work very efficiently if you were the one making that decision.”


I glance over my shoulder at him but he isn’t looking at me – his gaze is transfixed instead by what he has seen inside the wardrobe. I keep an old razor strop hanging from a hook and while he loathes the sight of it, he is at least familiar with its sting. However, I have thought about this carefully over the past few hours, and I don’t believe the strop will do at all in this instance. Instead, my hand goes to the cane that is hanging alongside it and Holmes takes a sharp intake of breath. I retrieve the cane and turn to face him.


“Holmes, I believe that the circumstances warrant the cane,” I tell him. His face is a study in emotion – and I know how hard that must be for him. He can bear the cane better than the emotion and his current distress is not that I will cane him but that I have deemed his behaviour worthy of such correction.


“Was I really such a monster back there on the moors, Watson?” He asks me in an abject tone.


“A monster? No,” I smile at him gently and he seems reassured by that. “The only monster out there was that hound of Stapleton’s, although I almost feel sorry for the poor brute because it was only doing as its master ordered. No, Holmes, you are never a monster – but you do forget that you are dealing with real people sometimes. People who bleed and hurt, Holmes.”


His gaze goes swiftly to my arm and he gives a little choking cry. I know that before we are through I will need to talk about this with him, but not just yet.


“You weren’t responsible for this injury, Holmes, and I will not punish you for it,” I tell him quickly. His eyes go to my face, as if to read the truth of that statement there. “I’m talking about Sir Henry,” I tell him forcefully. “You waited until the very last moment before sending me after him. I know you wanted to catch Stapleton in the act, and I know the fog on the moor was unpredictable, interfering with your plans, but even so – if you had shared more of what you were planning with Inspector Lestrade and myself, then Sir Henry’s injuries might have been avoided.”


He starts to bristle, and I know that intellectually he can justify his actions, but emotionally he cannot – and that is at the root of his struggle right now. The cane will at least give him absolution from that and ease his mind on the subject. I know that it has been concerning him – his mind can make all kinds of rationalizations for his actions but if his heart rejects them he finds himself stuck in a no-man’s land between the two, and that is when he is prey to the worst of his self destructive impulses.


He thinks about it for a long time and then, finally, he sighs, and bows his head.


“You’re right, Watson,” he tells me.


“In addition, I am caning you for the way in which you lied to me, Holmes,” I tell him sternly. His head jerks up again and I see just a pang of guilt. I believe this has been concerning him even more than what happened to Sir Henry, however much he regrets the latter. Where *I* am concerned, he gives himself no quarter, and even though the case has only just been concluded, Sherlock is already beginning to wonder what on earth Holmes was thinking about when he treated me as he did. “You sent me out to Baskerville Hall, had me submit daily reports to you in London, and all the time you were camping out on the moor yourself!” I remonstrate.


“I believed it was necessary that nobody realize I was there,” he tells me, but without the usual Holmes vigour. It is obvious that Sherlock is slowly reasserting himself, as he always does after a case. If I leave the process to itself, it will descend into an orgy of self destruction fairly rapidly, but if I deal with it firmly, now, then my friend will believe himself well punished and hopefully that will circumvent his need to punish himself. That is my reasoning at least, and I’ve always found it sound in the past. I am of the firm belief that a thorough caning will do him less harm in the long term than several days and nights of drug-inspired hallucinations.


“In addition,” I continue, “I am concerned that you seemingly gave no thought to your own safety while out on the moors, Holmes! What were you thinking? We knew there was a convict on the loose, and we had been warned about a dangerous animal roaming out there. You could have been killed, and that, my friend, is ultimately the reason why I am using the cane.”


He gives me a look of some surprise, and I sigh and shake my head.


“Did you think my concern for people getting hurt only extended to Sir Henry and myself?” I ask him softly. “Did it not occur to you that the greatest loss, not only to myself personally but to the world, would have been your demise, Sherlock?” The use of his first name jolts him slightly, and I can see that his eyes are glassy with unshed tears. He will not weep though – not yet. I must make him do that. I place the cane on the bed and put my hand on his shoulder. “My dear Sherlock, you surely understand how distraught I would have been if you had been lost,” I tell him. He glances at his shoes, unable to meet my eyes, lost in the turmoil of his own emotions – a turmoil for which there can be only one remedy. I tip up his chin and make him look at me, and his eyes are utterly confused and lost. I have never loved him more deeply that at this moment in time, when he shows me, unguarded, the creature who dwells within. He wouldn’t trust anyone else on this earth with the sight of him as he is now and I am honoured by it. I kiss him, gently, on the mouth, and his lips move beneath mine, accepting me, needing me and all the reassurance that I can give him. I pull back, and gaze at him sternly.


“I think you would benefit from a moment of quiet reflection. Face the wall, please, and consider what has happened to bring you there.”


He knows that such a punishment is childish but even so, he goes. I need him to spend these few moments in quiet reflection so that both he and I can prepare for what is to come. He stands facing the wall and I swing the cane experimentally through the air a couple of times. Luckily my left arm was injured and not my right, and I feel confident that I can swing the cane as effectively as ever – although I must take care to keep my balance.


“Watson, did you know the paneling on this wall is pure oak?” He asks suddenly. “I suspect from studying the grain of the wood that it was…”


“Stand in silence, Holmes, if you please,” I interrupt him. “And please do not, under any circumstances, *deduce* anything while you’re there.”


He gives a little snort but I know how hard it is for him to switch off his mind – and yet occasionally he needs to do so in order to enjoy his leisure time and have some peace from the constant ruminations that distract him. I give him a few minutes, and then decide to put him out of his misery.


“It’s time. Please make yourself ready,” I tell him and he turns, slowly, gazes at me blindly, and then nods. I watch as he removes his jacket, and undoes his bow tie, before unbuttoning his collar. He places the jacket neatly on a hanger and puts it in my wardrobe, and similarly disposes of the tie and collar. I have seen him go through this ritual a dozen times or more and it never varies. He is a creature of habit, unfailingly tidy – indeed, that overactive mind of his has a need to create order out of chaos wherever he goes. I’ve often thought that was at the root of his difficulties with his own emotions – they are too intractable and he is unable to order them as he would wish. He tries to control them but they always evade him and the subsequent confusion frustrates him terribly. He moves on to his trousers now, unbuttons them and hangs them in the wardrobe with the rest of his suit. Finally, he removes his underwear, to reveal those long, sturdy legs of his and then he turns back to look at me. I nod, and, taking a deep breath, he lowers himself over the wooden footboard of the bed, and those long, nervous fingers of his grip the wood tightly.


I rest the cane gently against his backside, and he glances at me again.


“I wish I could spare you this,” I sigh.


“Please, Watson. It’s entirely necessary – to say nothing of well deserved,” he replies.


“On that, I thoroughly concur.” I nod, and then I raise the cane and bring it down firmly on his waiting buttocks. He gives a little flinch, but holds his position. He is as much a product of his education as I am – and we both endured the torments of the cane while at school, so I know exactly how it feels and sympathise with him all too well. I also know that he will expect to receive the obligatory six strokes. It is a public school tradition that the number bestowed is six, and that is why I know I must give him a different number. His sense of order will be outraged, but I think he needs to release his grasp on his sense of order right now, and come back down to earth, where the rest of us mere mortals dwell. I decide that eight will be an appropriate number – enough to ensure that he knows I haven’t merely miscounted, as well as having the added benefit of making him very aware of how seriously I view this entire matter. I swing the cane down again and raise another red stripe across his bottom. He takes a sharp intake of breath, but as yet the tears have not come. They will – maybe not during the caning but certainly before I am through with him this evening. By the fifth stroke he has a thin sheen of sweat on that noble brow of his. I love seeing him in profile, his eyes closed, his head flung back, the blond hair flopping onto his forehead, darkening as it becomes damp. He is a strong, well-built man, and yet those long, delicate fingers tell of an inner sensitivity that few but myself are aware of. I know he is fighting the cane, attempting to rationalize it, and I intend to take him beyond that. As the sixth stroke connects with the lower surface of his buttocks, he opens his eyes, sure that he has taken the worst and endured it well. “Please stay in position,” I tell him tersely as he moves to stand up, and that makes him blink with anxiety – I have changed the rules without telling him, and how he doesn’t know how many more strokes he has to endure. Yet he goes back down readily enough – my heart swells with pride for him although to be honest his physical bravery and courage have never been in question. I swing the cane even more forcefully for the seventh stroke and he gasps out loud. His fingers release their grip on the footboard and he grasps, blindly, into thin air, as if searching for something.


“I’m sorry,” he whispers.


“I know you are, Sherlock,” I tell him softly. “This is your punishment – it will be over soon and then you will be absolved.” I swing the cane one last time to anchor that emotion in his psyche and he gives a moan of pain. Yet he remains in position, willing to take more strokes if I am minded to mete them out, willing to take whatever I deem necessary, and that chokes me a little, I must confess. I throw the cane on the bed and have to place my hand on his back and draw him into an upright position in order to get him to move. He comes, stiffly, his eyes still glassy with those unshed tears. “You took that very well,” I tell him, wrapping my good arm around him. “I’m extremely proud of you, Sherlock.” That is when I see it – the shy, endearing look that peeps out of my friend’s eyes. He is so completely without guile at this moment in time, so at peace with himself that he can *be* himself. With me, alone like this, there is no need for him to hide behind the mask of Holmes – with me he can be Sherlock and I will love him just the same. He knows that. I kiss him gently on the lips and then hold him against me, rocking him slightly. This is when the tears start to fall – it isn’t the pain of a spanking that will make him cry. It never is. It is the terrifying ecstasy of being loved. It’s just a few tears – he’s a proud man and would allow himself no more, but it’s enough to release the stranglehold that Holmes keeps on his emotions and to allow Sherlock to breathe a little.


“When Stapleton shot you I thought you were dead,” he whispers into my shoulder. “And at the time I felt nothing.”


“I know,” I tell him, still rocking him.


“It was only on the train, on the way home, when I looked at you sitting there, with your arm in that sling, and I realized that was what I had been thinking and *then* I felt it,” he tells me, his voice hoarse and desperate. I place my hand in his hair and stroke him soothingly. I can understand how hard this is for him – that a man can be so separated from his emotions that he doesn’t even feel something until a day or so after the event is extraordinary, but then that is my Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn’t swap him for the world, however difficult and complex he might be. “It was as if someone had drained the life away from me,” he murmurs. “When I thought how differently it could have turned out… that you could have died. What would I do without you, John? What would I be without you? I think we both know that I’d fall into a downward spiral and never get out of it.”


“Hush. Don’t talk about it,” I tell him softly. “It didn’t happen. I’m here. I’m well.”


“Thank god!” He says hoarsely.


“Come here…let’s make things right between us again,” I tell him, drawing him towards the bed. He removes the rest of his clothing while I start work on mine. I’m slow because of my arm but it feels good to have those sharp eyes of his fixed on me as I go about it. Then, finally, I slip into the bed beside him, and put my arm around him, drawing him close to my chest. I kiss him firmly, passionately, and he surrenders as he always does, pressing up against me. When I release him, he gazes at me, his expression almost dazed. I don’t think he even knows how he came to be in this relationship with me, and he certainly has no idea why I stay. I wish I could make him understand but he’s too emotionally illiterate to fully fathom it. Instead I make it clear to him how much I love him through my words, and my deeds – and by spanking him if that’s what he needs. He lies against my chest, and I relish the feel of his skin against mine after our necessary abstinence while working on the Baskerville case.


“Stapleton said I was all disembodied mind and cold calculation,” he whispers, his fingers playing with my sling, those long fingers of his nervously tracing the wound beneath my bandage. “And it torments me that maybe…maybe he’s right?” He looks up at me uncertainly and I smile down at him – so this is what has been bothering him.


“Ah,” I murmur, kissing the hair away from his face. “That’s because he didn’t know you, Sherlock. He didn’t know you at all.” And so saying, I take hold of his chin firmly, and bestow a warm, heartfelt kiss on his lips. He presses willingly against me, and I’m happy to see, when I release him, that I have managed to banish the doubt and concerns from his eyes. They are still sharp and intelligent, but now they are peaceful and happy too, content in the knowledge that he can both give and receive love, and that I at least, will never reject him. I smile down at him, and he smiles back. He looks so different to the man I have spent the past few weeks with and I realize that I have, once more, found my beloved Sherlock.






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