Content Warning: Non-Graphic Slash

Being a short and somewhat sappy Christmas Fic in tribute to the wonderful folks at HolmesSlash. I hope yule love it! har, har. guh.

Seriously, Merry Best Wishes to one and all!

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The Case of the Missing Flat Mate
by nlr alicia

<< This story is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of his immortal characters, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. The content shared here is the responsibility of this author.>>

Content Warnings: Non-graphic Slash. Relentless sentimentality.

—oooOIIIOooo—

Every year, when carols fill the chill night air and pinpoints of light flicker through frost-painted windows, my thoughts fly to London and the Christmases I spent within the walls of 221B Baker Street. As I think back, one stands out among all the rest. It was to be the last Christmas I spent as flat mate to Sherlock Holmes.

oOOo

It was on the 20th of December that I was on hand to see my friend Sherlock Holmes bring to a close the case of Lady Amanda Somers’s garnets. It was one of those occasions when he indulged the showman within himself.

The loss of the jewels had sowed first consternation then despair among the Lady’s coterie. At the eleventh hour, Holmes performed a sleight of hand that caused the most pompous of those worthies to find the lost gems in his pocket wrapped in his own hand-kerchief.

For my part, I stood at the back of the great dining room and looked on with delight as the astonished gentry clustered around my friend. It was a great pleasure to me to see his talents recognized in exalted circles.

There was a round of handshakes, then the tall, fair Lady Amanda, looking radiant in her burgundy satin gown, moved to the front of the group. Quick as heartbeat she leant forward and kissed Sherlock Holmes on the cheek.

To the untrained eye, he remained as impassive as a carved cigar store Indian. I, however, had made a close study of my friend’s mannerisms and prided myself on being able to read his moods better than the average man. Holmes himself had once claimed that it was possible to fathom a man’s inmost thoughts through the merest twitch of a muscle. So I sought to put his principles into practice.

Holmes was always most alive when he was on the track of a minute chain of evidence. A bent blade of grass spoke volumes to him and watching him study it was like watching a storm at sea through the wrong end of a telescope. He vibrated with energy.

There was nothing of that spark in him as he nodded politely to Lady Amanda. She, to her credit, was blushing prettily and I watched his profile intently for a similar tint of color in his high, sculpted cheekbones.

Suddenly he turned his head and his fog gray eyes met mine. His lips quirked in a tiny, wry smile and the next moment he was leaning away, bending toward Lord Dennis and nodding thoughtfully.

My reaction was entirely surprising and utterly out of proportion. I turned away to hide the fiery color that burned in my cheeks. I thrust my trembling hands into my pockets and cleared my throat to cover the catch in my breath.

Thankfully the little party soon traveled into the morning room so I was able to collect myself. I knew Holmes would have to pay his respects to Lady Amanda’s father so I was able to quietly make my apologies to our host and catch a cab back to Baker Street.

I had dined and escaped to my upstairs room before I heard Holmes come in the street door later that evening. As I listened to the desultory strains of a medieval hymn drifting from his rooms late into the night, I lay awake brooding over this reaction in myself and what it meant.

I was a creature ill-designed for a monastic life. I had always enjoyed the pleasures of physical union in all its forms and London had that on offer in plenty, but I ached for the warmth of body and soul that only a true mate can give. My reaction to Holmes’s brief smile, a meaningless gesture of friendship, was a sign that I had allowed my feelings for him to go too far.

I could not deny to myself that Holmes was the sun that set the rhythm of my days, but I was under no illusion that I meant the same to him. Holmes was and always would be sufficient unto himself. He valued my company and conversation, yet any man might fill the role of sounding board and he had made plain my skills as a chronicler of his adventures were negligible.

In that hour justly called “the dark night of the soul” my thoughts were ever more bleak. By the time the sky began to turn gray, a half-formed impulse had taken root and grown into a resolution: I must separate myself from Sherlock Holmes.

I would need to go far from Baker Street for history had shown that, as surely as a compass seeks true North, I would be drawn back to his side. Years before I had spent time in Canada. Surely a man could find his own way in those wide, wild landscapes. On the principle that a painful task is better tackled than anticipated, I resolved to book my departure first thing the next morning.

I informed Holmes of my decision over breakfast. I cited a sense of wanderlust and the lack of my attachments in the city. I hadn’t the courage to tell him my true reasons.

Braced as I was for any reaction, I was completely unprepared for no reaction at all. He sat across the table from me, expressionless and silent. Before I could embarrass myself so far as to ask if he’d heard me, he pushed back his untouched eggs, stood, dropped his serviette on the table, crossed to his bedroom and closed the door.

He reappeared moments later, dressed for the cold, and without a backward glance he walked across the room and through the door onto the landing. I heard the street door close with a thump and he was gone.

Hurt in spite of myself at his display of disinterest, I braved the icy rain to book passage on a ship leaving out of Bristol on Boxing Day. I arranged to have my few possessions follow me, then I set about tidying my business affairs and calling on friends.

I would like to say that I was so preoccupied with my plans I didn’t take much notice of Holmes’s absence but that is untrue. As days went by without word or sign of him I had to assume he’d taken up a new case and had already dismissed me from his thoughts.

Christmas Eve dawned and I went about my errands with little enthusiasm. The London streets seemed gray and cheerless despite the fragrant swags of greenery in every shop window. I returned to Baker Street that afternoon with sodden feet and spirits to match.

Mrs. Hudson had taken herself off to her sister’s family home in my absence and had left tea waiting for me in the kitchen. I took my little repast and went up the stairs to our sitting room to enjoy my last Christmas Eve in that place.

The lack of Holmes’s presence was palpable. Our rooms were chilly and dark and I confess I was feeling quite miserable as I pulled my chair up before the fire. I cracked open the Canadian travel guide I’d purchased two days before. A scrap of paper fluttered out onto my lap.

It read, “Dinner at Simpson’s on the 24th. Gifts before. S.H.”

I stared at it dumbly for some moments, wondering whether it was an invitation and when it had been slipped into my book, but the paper held no more answers for me than the words it bore so I tossed it onto the fire and settled in to read.

I was dozing there with my head sunk upon my chest when a clatter of feet on the stair roused me with a start. I turned in time to see Holmes throw open the door and bound into the room, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

His long, elegant fingers fairly danced over the buttons of his ulster and he threw the garment carelessly aside so that it landed half on the corner table nearly upsetting Mrs. Hudson’s Delft pitcher.

“What’s this, not dressed?” he cried, crossing the room in two strides. “Come, come, Watson. Dinner beckons and I could eat my weight in goose tonight!”

I felt an unconscionable irritation at the bright smile that so countered my own dark mood and seemed a callous reminder of how I’d come to this state.

“You’re back then,” I said gruffly, stirring in my chair.

“You scintillate tonight, Watson, truly,” he responded dryly. “I perceive your leg troubles you after such a long walk in the cold this morning, but surely you were revived by the lemon shortbread Mrs. Hudson left for you. Thank you for the collar studs, by the way.”

He cocked an eyebrow at my nonplussed expression.

“Cuff links?” he said, then grinned. “Collar studs, without doubt.”

I sighed as I bent to lay the unread travel guide on the floor and retrieve the small velvet-wrapped box I had placed by at my feet. “Why do I still try to surprise you, Holmes?” I said.

“Hope springs eternal, dear boy, does it not?” he answered and I heard a slight edge in his tone that made me glance up.

There was no flicker in his gaze, however, so I handed him the box and readied myself to play my part in our old game, perhaps for the last time. Out of sorts as I was I couldn’t begrudge him the pleasure of revealing his chain of logic to me.

“The long walk in the morning?” I said dutifully.

“Boots by the door,” he answered. “And the muddy slush, manifestly from Regent Street south of Piccadilly, has had time to dry.”

“Collar studs?” I said, nodding at the box in his hand.

He shook it gently, his head cocked to the side, and grinned at the muffled rattle.

“A shot in the dark,” he confessed as he laid the box carefully on the mantle. “but the look you gave the rather dented set currently at my throat confirmed it.”

“Well, Mrs. Hudson’s lemon shortbread was certainly a guess.” said I. “After all, they are traditional.”

“Not at all,” Holmes protested. “It could as easily have been her cranberry scones or her rather unfortunate fruit cake. But none of them would have left that dusting of sugar on your mustache.”

“Ah,” I said. I chuckled in spite of myself and licked my upper lip. “Truly wonderful, Holmes.”

“Possibly,” he answered distractedly and coughed. Suddenly he darted back to rifle the pockets of his coat. His fingers moved over a slim sheaf of paper protruding from one pocket then closed on an object hidden below. With a short exclamation he turned and thrust an oblong box covered in red felt into my hands.

“Pens,” he said simply before I could unfasten the small gold clasp. “The tortoise shell set you admired in the window of Pulcinella’s stationers. Now get dressed.”

“Just a moment,” I said, resisting the pressure of his hand on my elbow as he made to drag me from my chair. “Hope, as you say, springs eternal. Let me try my powers once more.”

With a puff of mild irritation he stepped back and held his hands out to his sides.

“All right, Doctor,” he said, “I await your pleasure.”

There was a blotch of dark ink on one shirt cuff and a matching stain on his index finger. I took in the sag of his worn collar attached as it was to a shirt that was decidedly outsized. Folds of fabric were bunched under the sleeves of his jacket and bulged below the hem of his waistcoat although the outer garments were certainly his own.

His eyes were currently cast upward in that expression of restrained impatience he believed passed for saint-like tolerance when I attempted such an exercise but I noted the bluish shadows that, coupled with the more pronounced cut of his cheekbones, spoke of lack of both sleep and food. I pronounced my verdict.

“You have been on a case,” I said, “That required you to adopt the disguise of a much heavier man. A journalist, judging by the state of your cuffs and a none too reputable one judging by the state of your shave.”

His eyes widened sharply and he ran a hand over his chin. I grinned with satisfaction.

“I cannot tell in what quarter you’ve been exercising your disguise because I cannot discern one type of slushy mud from another even after all your patient tutoring.” I cocked an eyebrow wryly and was rewarded with a short grimace.

“Wherever it was,” I went on, delivering my summation with a flourish, “You have achieved a successful conclusion because your mood is light although you had to come away so quickly you did not have time to change your costume shirt. Have I gone wrong in any particular?”

“Almost every particular,” he answered airily. Then, seeing my expression fall, he went on with a conciliatory smile. “But you were correct in one thing. I was on a case of sorts. Although,” he went on with the same casual tone, “It was more in the nature of a problem to be solved.”

“I hope you’ll see fit to share the particulars with me,” I said with, I fear, a marked lack of grace for it always pinked a nerve when Holmes pursued cases without my knowledge or participation and it hadn’t escaped my notice that he’d evinced no interest in my imminent departure for Canada.

“Tut, Watson,” he said lightly, “Really, it was very dull and would have held no thrill for you or your many avid readers. Although the outcome may yet hold some points of interest.”

I let his high-handed dismissal of my literary career pass although I felt justified in thinking I knew better than he what would interest my readers. But this might well be our last Christmas together and I resolved to make it a happy one.

I allowed myself to be hoisted from my chair a moment later when he cried, “Now, up with you!” and seized me by the arm again.

“I will remove this questionable growth from my chin,” he went on when he saw I was on my feet, “And make myself slightly more presentable while you put the finishing touches on your holiday finery and summon a cab. Onward, unto the goose!”

And so it was soon after we made our way to Simpson’s, arriving in a spray of brown slush as our carriage all but skidded into the curb thanks to Holmes’ promise of a generous tip to the cabman.

Dinner was a marvel. The Simpson’s staff outdid itself with fine fare and even finer service. Myriads of sparkling lights glinted from every shiny surface and seeing them reflected in the eyes of my companion made the food and the wine taste all the sweeter.

We enjoyed our dessert of brandied pears, which were of the best quality, and as we sat digesting the treat over cups of rich dark coffee I talked of familial Christmas celebrations far removed from London’s bustle and hum.

I determinedly barred any discussion of the future from my lips and it seemed Holmes had done the same, though whether consciously I knew not. Whatever the reason it was as well for the gaiety of the evening and our conversation contrived to raise my spirits so that I was quite floating on air as we stepped from the warm glow of the restaurant into the chill of a waiting cab.

I tucked the lap robe around our legs and settled back, puffing slightly as one does in a sudden chill. Beside me Holmes had fallen strangely quiet. I could see his finely carved features in silhouette against the flaring glow of passing gas lamps.

My heart sank at the thought of losing the warmth of his company to one of those sudden fits of melancholy that often followed his rare bursts of cheerful abandon. I was sure that his mind had turned back to the case he had so lately left and I sought for a topic to distract his attention. I returned to the subject we had last addressed.

“Talking of family Christmases,” I began, “What of brother Mycroft this year? I thought he might join us for dinner.”

It was not an idle question for I had often wished for that eventuality. Not for the sake of his company, for while Mycroft Holmes was a charming man in his way, his outsized mental and physical presence could be daunting.

Yet I had long harbored a secret hope that the season and a plentiful supply of wine might conspire to loosen the Holmes brothers’ tongues. For all I thought I knew about my friend, there was a great deal that was still a mystery to me and I had visions of myself seated between the two brothers as they waxed nostalgic about boyish adventures.

Holmes answered my question in a strangely halting manner.

”Mycroft sends his regards…” he said, and then appeared to come back to himself and continued more heartily. “I used his rooms as my base of operations these last few days. You could say he’s been instrumental in this current case.”

“Really,” I said with all the neutrality I could muster. “I’m glad that he could be of help.”

Because apparently I could not, I added in the privacy of my own thoughts.

I heard Holmes take a breath in the darkness beside me as though he would say more, but he only paused and answered, “Yes.”

The rest of our ride passed in strained silence.

Once back on the stairs of our Baker Street rooms I managed, without much effort, to let loose a jaw-cracking yawn. I knew I would regret missing the opportunity to continue our evening, but Holmes’s lack of interest in my imminent departure was growing painful in the extreme.

“Tired, old friend?” Holmes asked, his hand on the door to our sitting room.

“Yes, abominably,” I answered. “I overdid it a bit today I’m afraid. I’m not as young as I was.”

“Won’t you come in for a toast to the season?” he asked.

“I’d best not,” I said, attempting a smile for the sake of appearance. “My ship leaves the day after tomorrow and I still must pack.”

Apart from a certain tightness in the set of his mouth, I could read no expression on his face. After years of study he was still a closed book to me.

“Oh. Yes,” he said blandly. “So soon?”

“I’m afraid so, old man,” I said inanely. “Time and tide and all that!”

I was aware that I was beginning to blither. I knew I must escape before I spoiled the memory of the evening with an ill-considered word.

“Good night, Holmes,” I said. “Happy Christmas.”

As I turned quickly to climb the remaining stairs to my room I heard Holmes say,

“Happy Christmas, Watson,” before the door on the landing closed with a small click.

oOOo

I was walking over the snowy hills outside Inverness. The sound of a lone violin playing old Scottish hymns drifted on the cool night air. In the way of dreams, it seemed urgent that I find the musician who could play with such painful beauty. I reached a small copse of yew and as I stepped into the shadow of the wood I felt a hand on my shoulder. Holmes’s voice in my ear whispered “John!”

I came back to myself as though falling from a great height and woke with a start to find Holmes peering down at me and shaking me lightly by the shoulder.

“Holmes?” I said my voice choked with sleep. “If you’ve woken me to tell me Father Christmas is downstairs…”

He barked a short laugh and I was a little surprised to smell claret on his breath.

“Nothing so remarkable, my dear fellow, although…” he said, “Well, come anyway. I need you. Don’t bother to dress for weather.”

This last he said as I was casting my eye around the room for my discarded trousers.

“It’s not a case then?” I said.

“No…” he said carefully. “And yes. In a way. Oh, come downstairs, Watson, do, before I…”

He broke off and ran a hand through his tousled black hair. Slightly alarmed at this apparent display of nerves on my friend’s part I answered quickly.

“All right, Holmes, no fear. I’ll be down as quickly as I can manage.”

He flashed a quirked smile and murmuring “Dear old, Watson” he slipped out the door.

Thanks to Holmes’ occasional practice of waking me from a sound sleep to speed into action by his side, I had never lost the ability taught me in my soldiering days to rise and dress upon an instant’s warning. So it was that I stood before the hearth in our sitting room within a very few moments.

The air was redolent with tobacco smoke though it was already dissipating. Holmes had apparently extinguished a cigarette just before coming to rouse me. He turned from the sideboard and held out a glass of claret.

As I took it automatically I noticed that it was one of the few fine pieces of crystal we kept about for rare and special occasions. I made no remark, however, and perched myself on the edge of our somewhat threadbare settee.

“So, Holmes,” I said, my anxiety eased somewhat by the absence of a frantic visitor or evidence of violence in the room. “What is it that can’t wait until a more reasonable hour of pre-dawn? Surely, the game’s not afoot?”

I said this with a smile for a little sleep and a strangely pleasant dream had combined to bolster my good humor.

“No, not as such,” he said and shot an enigmatic glance down at the soft soled slippers I habitually wore indoors. “But the hunter is in danger of fleeing himself.”

“Holmes, really,” I said, stifling another yawn. “It is rather early for riddles.”

“Early?” he said, casting a glance at the at the cabinet clock on our mantel. I followed his gaze and saw it showed two in the morning.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Here.”

And with no other preamble he reached into the pocket of his dressing gown and drew out the thin sheaf of papers I had seen in his overcoat that evening. He took a half step forward and offered them to me at such a distance I had to lean far forward to take them. I sat back and read aloud, “The Book of Life.”

The title sparked a memory and I ran my eye over the manuscript. The first words were familiar to me. I had dismissed them as ineffable twaddle when I’d read them in a magazine I’d picked up from our breakfast table many years ago. Holmes and I were only acquaintances then and it was the first intimation I’d had of my new room-mate’s singular gifts.

I looked up and he gave a quick smile. “I’ve re-written it somewhat,” he said.

I was aware of the crackle of the flame in the fireplace and the distant clatter of hooves fading away on the street outside. I cleared my throat and read silently.

“From a drop of water,” the text ran, “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it.”

So much I had read long before, but there followed words that were new to me, written in blue-black ink in his characteristic clear, strong hand.

“So it is with the mysteries of the heart. The evidence is manifestly physical. The pulse that quickens at the sound of a step. The breath that catches at the sight of a face. But the secret is more than the outward signs.

Mystics say that two mated hearts will beat in sympathy though their owners have never met. As the waters of Niagara are drawn down to the shores of the Atlantic, a man is drawn to the side of his true partner. So love is a chain, as light and as strong as a thought.

No amount of long and patient study will untangle its mysteries, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to fully appreciate its wonders. Yet there is perfection in the knowing of it, hope in the seeking of it, joy in the finding of it, and awe in seeing it reflected in the eyes of the one whom you love.”

I stared at the paper in my hand.

“Watson.”

The voice from behind the settee called me back to myself.

“I am not an eloquent man, Watson,” he said, “I don’t have your gift for expression. It is hard for me to say what I…”

My eyes stayed on the paper in my hand, though I could no longer see the words.

“Sometimes,” I said after a pause, “We speak clearest when we speak simply and from the heart.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder. The touch was painfully light. Without removing his hand, Holmes stepped around the settee and sat beside me. He moved as though he were made of glass.

He was watching me with an intensity such as I had seen when he bent over a blade of grass that spoke volumes to him and him alone. I looked into the same fog gray eyes I’d known morning and night for more years than I could recall, and saw them for the first time.

“John,” he said. “I love you. Stay with me.”

I swallowed then spoke softly

“I believe the writer of this piece,” I said, and laid the document still clutched in my hand on the floor at my feet, “Claimed that by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye, one might fathom a man’s inmost thoughts.”

His gaze remained fixed on my face.

“Please,” I said, “Be so good as to fathom this thought.”

I reached out, slipping one hand to the back of his neck and the other to his waist. The skin at the nape of his neck was warm to the touch and his hair was soft beneath my fingers.

I pulled him toward me, felt his breath on my lips before it mingled with mine, met his lips with my own.

They were not the lips of a woman. They were not soft or moist. They were altogether different and altogether wonderful.

I kissed his upper lip then his lower lip and let my tongue trace between them. I tasted claret and tobacco.

As though woken from a sleep, he came alive beneath my touch. His lips parted and moved against mine. He pulled away just enough to take a ragged breath then came back against me with such force I gripped him tightly to keep from being pushed away.

His hands that had rested lightly at my waist slid up my back. I felt his strong fingers traveling up my spine and it was as if a light burst behind my eyes.

I have no awareness of the next few moments. When at last I blinked and leant back against his hands, I saw a man transformed.

He glowed from within. His flushed cheeks radiated heat and his eyes shone in the firelight like black opal.

“I will,” I said in a voice quite unlike my own.

His smile, when it came, was radiant.

“I perceived it,” he said, and kissed me.

oOOo

“To paraphrase one of the great thinker of our time,” I said, “I believe you have actually worked a love-story into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”

I gestured at the papers lying by my side where we reclined on the rug before the fire. Holmes chuckled as he leant against my shoulder, his long legs stretched out on the hearth.

“Your influence is irresistible,” he said.

“Clearly,” I answered and twined my fingers through his as we watched the flames.

“Burns rather prettily doesn’t it?” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed, inclining my head against his as I saw the edges of the Canadian travel guide perched on top of the logs blacken and catch flame.

“Holmes,” I began after a pause, “When I tested my powers of observation yesterday…”

“Wrong in almost every particular,” he said.

“So you informed me at the time,” I said. “I think now you might share with me the details of the case.”

“Hum, I promise you it really was very dull,” he said.

“But as you said,” I reminded him, “The outcome held some points of interest.”

“Indeed, I did. And so it does,” he raised our entwined fingers to his lips.

I resolutely ignored the caress of his breath on my skin.

“The ink on your cuff and hand I can guess,” I said stoutly.

“Writing is a surprisingly messy business,” he agreed and held my index finger to his lips.

“The slightly disreputable appearance?” I asked, although I believe I may have gasped at the end of the question.

“Unsurprising under the circumstances,” he said as he turned my hand and studied my palm. “I spent three days on those three paragraphs. Were you aware, Doctor, that you have a rather remarkable life line?”

“What?” I said, blinking as he traced the line with his lips. “But Holmes, you were gone for four days.”

I felt him smile as his lips moved to the underside of my wrist.

“I spent the first day smoking,” he responded. “Writing is also surprisingly arduous. No wonder you’re so fit for your age. Any other questions before we re-examine those points of interest?”

“Ah,” I said, or rather groaned as his mouth traveled up my arm. Then, surprisingly, a thought crossed my mind.

“Yes,” I said as I shifted to allow him greater access to the bend of my elbow. “What still confuses me is the disguise of the oversized shirt.”

“Ahem, yes,” he said, pausing and raising his head to glance up. “Mycroft is indeed a much larger man, as you say.”

“Ah!” I exclaimed as the light dawned. “Ah, you used his flat as your ‘base of operations.’”

“He did send his regards,” Holmes remarked returning to his minute examination of my upper arm.

“Yes, but why did he send his shirt?” I persisted.

Holmes sighed and his breath was warm against my collarbone.

“Not realizing how long it takes for inspiration to be lured in and wrestled to the ground,” he said, punctuating the words with light kisses leading to the base of my throat. “I neglected to pack a change of linen. He forbad me to leave looking, as he said, ‘like a dog’s breakfast after the cat had finished with it.’ He forced his shirt upon me. Unfortunately, he didn’t do the same with his shaving kit.”

“Still,” I rasped. “Very decent of him.”

Holmes nodded, but thankfully did not speak.

“My dear, Holmes,” I murmured as his kisses reached the curve of my jaw, “It’s all so remarkably simple when you explain it.”

“Yes.” His voice was a ragged whisper at my ear. “Isn’t it.”

I leant back on one elbow and admired the way the firelight played across his shoulders.

“You know,” I said, “I am always eager to try my skill at putting your principles into practice.” I traced the muscle of his thigh with the fingers of my recently freed hand.

“Perhaps I might try my hand at fathoming your inmost thoughts?”

“Doctor,” he said softly as he leaned back and relaxed against the hearth rug, “I await your pleasure.”

oOOo

And that was the last Christmas I spent as flat mate to Sherlock Holmes. Forever after, in all the places we called home, I was simply his mate and he was mine.

.ooOoOoOoo.

Epilogue
One Christmas Eve, as we sat by a different fire in a cottage many miles from London, I asked Holmes if he remembered Lady Amanda’s dining room.

He studied the wooden brood frame propped in his lap and gave one corner an experimental shake.

“Indeed,” he said. “It was gilt and French cream with a rose Baccarat chandelier. Very tastefully unattractive.”

Standing at the mantel, I paused in the act of replenishing my pipe from the shell casing we used as a tobacco tin. I stared at him silently while he pretended to rummage among the tools scattered around his feet. He rolled his eyes. They were still the color of fog in winter and it was still an infuriating gesture.

“Yes,” he said, retrieving a small hex key from the clutter. “I smiled at you.” He slotted the tool into a corner of the frame and turned it experimentally.

“I was deeply mortified,” he went on, “And hoped that you might swoop in and rescue me, or at least provide moral encouragement from afar, and instead you turned your back on me.”

My pipe was destined to stay unlit. I stammered. “But you- you know I was- ”

“Yes, yes, I understood the truth of it much later,” he said glancing up, a smile gracing the fine lines at the corners of his eyes. “At the time I thought you were angry with me for being carried away by my own brilliance again.”

He gave the hex key several more turns and went on, “I was quite devastated that you were so infuriated by my arrogance that you left without me and went up to bed early. And I was absolutely gutted the next morning when you quite calmly announced you were leaving me forever.”

He gave the key one more twist then pulled it from its slot and tucked it into his trouser cuff.

“Which is a very instructive object lesson in why one should never theorize before one has all the facts,” he said, giving the brood frame another shake and smiling with satisfaction. “Of course I was quite insane at the time. Is there something wrong with your pipe, dear boy?”

“Oh, blast the pipe,” I said pointing the stem of it at him. “Do you mean to say, that if that woman hadn’t kissed you on the cheek…”

He nodded, “Then we wouldn’t be standing, and sitting, here today, as blissful as two old men with rheumatism can be.”

“Hum,” I said, folding my arms on my chest and leaning back against the mantel.

“You know, Holmes, maybe we should-”

He propped the frame against the side of his chair and, placing his hands upon his knees, pushed up to his feet.

“I send her a large quantity of our best thistle honey every Christmas. Now, Doctor,” he said and held out one long, elegant hand, “I shall fathom your deepest thoughts and you will be so good as to tell me where I am in error.”

I returned my unlit pipe to my pocket and, twined my fingers with his.

“Holmes,” I said, “I await your pleasure.”

Fin.

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