Arrogance, and Assumptions
I pace the sitting room nervously, checking my watch for the seventh time. It is well past one in the morning, and Holmes has not yet returned. Lestrade only stayed for fifteen minutes; we both agreed it would be better for me to discuss things with Holmes privately.
Just as I am wondering whether or not I should simply pack my things and go, I hear Holmes’ step upon the lower landing. I shut my eyes and steady myself as he ascends the stairs and enters the sitting room.
He pauses at the door, his breathing unnaturally loud in my ears. “I thought Lestrade would be here with you,” he says eventually, only the faintest hint of reproach edging into his voice.
I open my mouth to protest, to explain, to plead for his understanding, when I finally allow my eyes to meet his face and my words are stilled at the apparition before me. My friend’s chiselled features are awash with a perfectly startling array of colours, from the purple bruises upon his cheek to the crimson blood spilling from his split lip.
I cannot restrain myself, but find myself bustling him to the settee. He allows me to tend to his injuries, not meeting my eyes, only answering my questions with the vaguest of replies.
He waves a long, thin hand dismissively. “I should have had them running if their friend hadn’t shown up,” he says indifferently. “They were a minor inconvenience, a mere symptom of my rather eccentric choice of route. But that is no matter; how did you and your paramour fare after I left you? I trust you were not hounded by the press.”
“I was able to escort Mlle. Vernet home safely,” I answer blandly.
Holmes closes his eyes and leans back into to his seat. “No doubt the lady appreciated your company,” he says acidly.
We lapse into silence as I tend to his bruises. The marks upon his knuckles tell me that at least one of his assailants left the fray with broken teeth; his eyes, however, tell me nothing.
Suddenly, I find myself
wanting to tell him everything. “Holmes, please. I must explain –”
“You have made your feelings clear, Doctor,” he interrupts me coldly.
I feel an unexpected ire rise in my breast; once again, I am being chided for my emotions. He does not care if who I love, so long as it does not inconvenience him. “Is there nothing you wish to ask me?” I ask, my wrath lending me the courage my affections could not.
“Since you ask,” he answers in a low voice, “I should like to know one thing.”
“Why Lestrade, for God’s sake? You could have anyone – man or woman – you wish. Why do you love Lestrade?”
“I don’t know about being able to have anyone I wish,” I reply, a trifle confused. “And I don’t love Lestrade. He’s a good friend, and I respect him, but I do not love him.”
Holmes’ eyes open wide, and then narrow to slits. “I see,” he says, the venom evident in his voice. “So, if you do not love him, then what, pray tell –”
“I was in Lestrade’s arms,” I snap, “because the man I do love has no use for such trifles as the softer emotions, or so he keeps telling me.”
I immediately wince at my words, slamming my palm to my forehead. Dear Lord, what have I done? The silence is palpable; the import of my declaration has left a crater of shattered domesticity that shall tear our home apart. When I do risk a look at Holmes, the look of pure shock upon his features breaks my heart.
“Holmes, I – I don’t know what to say. I’m so, so sorry,” I begin. Knowing that I have nothing to lose, I begin to babble uncontrollably: “I never meant to speak of my feelings for you. I give you my word, I shall never press my attentions, and if you could possibly …” I falter, as I begin to realize that I see no disgust upon my friend’s features. Astonishment, disbelief, amazement – Holmes’ eyes search my face in earnest bewilderment; in all my years of knowing him, I have never before seen him so completely at a loss.
Then I remember the look on his face in the garden.
Not disgust, but jealousy.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that I have been a complete ass. The weight of thirteen years lifts from my shoulders, and I cannot help but chuckle merrily. “Oh, my dear, dear friend,” I laugh, and reach forward to touch his bruised cheek.
It startles me, then, when he pulls away suddenly, leaping away from my side like a startled deer.
“You’re mocking me,” he declares, backing away.
“Holmes, no, of course not, but you must admit that –” the sheer relief bubbling to the surface is too much, and I erupt into a fit of giggles at the preposterous look upon his face. I cannot stop myself, even when I see the confusion in his eyes erupt into pain. “No, please, my dear fellow,” I gasp, standing up and moving toward him.
In his haste to get away, he trips over a footstool and collapses to the floor, banging his head upon a small bookcase. In a moment I am beside him, wrapping my arms around him and pressing my lips to the side of his head, kissing his many bruises and scratches, reassuring him with murmured words and soft caresses as he trembles in my embrace like a frightened bird.
Holmes tries to wriggle free of my grasp, but I clutch him to my breast and continue to kiss his cheeks, his neck, his soft raven hair, whispering of my love and devotion as I lead him back to the settee.
“I saw you and Lestrade –”
I press my lips to his forehead until his protests abate, then pull away, touching his cheek tenderly. “Had you come just a few minutes earlier,” I tell him, “you would have overheard me telling Lestrade how much I love you.”
His eyes open wide at these words, but he shakes his head, unbelieving. “But you were –”
I can wait no longer; I kiss him as I have longed to do, claiming his mouth in a manner that can leave no doubts as to my devotion to him. I caress his lips with mine, sweetly invading his mouth before pulling back to look deep into his eyes.
“You know how dangerous it is for a man to seek physical intimacy with another of his gender,” I tell him patiently. “Lestrade and I were simply … there for each other, nothing more.” Finally he begins to respond, returning my passionate kisses with his own tentative ones, his lips trembling against mine as if he expects me to hurt him at any moment. I pull him into a warm hug, whispering the words I have not dared utter for too long, telling him that I love him, that I have always loved him, that my heart has belonged to him for longer than I care to remember.
He sighs and shudders at my words, but cuddles into my arms, finally accepting my embrace. I nuzzle his cheek and accidentally bump one of his worse bruises, prompting a slight wince from him. I kiss the area softly, whispering an apology.
“You were also a little rough here,” he murmurs, touching an abrasion on his jaw. “It hurts.”
“I’ll get the salve –”
He holds me to him. “No,” he whispers, tilting his chin, the better to give my mouth access. “Not salve.”
“Oh, my dear Holmes,” I sigh, and kiss the affected area.
“And here,” he continues shyly, tilting his head to show the welt upon the side of his neck. I press my lips to the mark before pulling back to inspect it.
“They tried garrotting you?” I ask, and find my fists clenching at the thought of it.
“The fool paid for it with a broken arm,” Holmes replies in a low voice, though not so low that I cannot detect the faint ring of pride.
I draw his mouth to mine, this time savouring the taste of him, inviting him to explore my mouth as the kiss deepens. I lay back upon the cushions, pulling him atop me and wrapping my arms around his lean waist. Slowly, so very slowly, our caresses intensify, and we begin to shed our clothing, pulling apart waistcoats and shirts in our desperation to feel flesh against flesh.
The narrow settee has become impractical for our purposes, and the remainder of our upper garments come off as we roll to the floor, and I crush my mouth into his as my hands slide over his naked chest, feeling every last inch of his straining muscles beneath my fingertips. Soon we are writhing upon the hearth-rug together, stripped to the waist, Holmes grasping at my body as a drowning man will cling to the life-belt.
“Watson,” he hisses, clutching me to his chest. “This feeling – I must be going mad. I need –”
I stop his words with a fervent kiss, then draw back and look deep into his iron-grey eyes, now clouded with confusion.
I lay a single finger across his mouth. “I know what you need,” I whisper. “Come with me to my bedroom,” I say, allowing my hands to resume their exploration of his chest and shoulders. “I shall show you such pleasures –”
He pulls away slightly. “Watson, I don’t know –”
“No more words,” I murmur, pressing my mouth upon his. I feel the evidence of his arousal against mine, and thirteen years of passion denied wells up inside me. The dam breaks; I push him down upon his back, covering his neck and face with ardent kisses. My heart begins pounding at the feel of his flesh under my hands and my mouth, and all thought – at least, all thought instigated above my belt-line – has been washed away by the urgency of my lust.
Holmes shudders at my touch, and I can feel his resistance melt beneath me, bringing a heady feeling of power to swarm my already buzzing head.
“Your bedroom –” he hisses.
I begin tearing at his trouser-buttons frantically. “No, here,” I tell him with a snarl. “I want you right here.”
I bite his collarbone. “Shhh,” I growl, digging my fingers into his hip bones and ripping his trousers from him, sending the buttons flying. I do not hear his half-articulated protests, nor do I hear his ragged breathing; I can hear nothing over the pounding of the blood in my ears. Most importantly, I do not hear the footsteps upon the staircase until it is too late.
“It’s all right, Inspector; Sherlock had a key made for me ages ago,” Mycroft’s voice rings out at the door as metal rattles at the lock.
There is no chance to achieve any semblance of propriety, and we are still pulling our clothes on as the key turns in the lock and Mycroft Holmes strides in, followed closely by Lestrade.
The look upon the elder Holmes’ face banishes all doubt instantly, and I watch numbly as he turns to lock the door behind him, smiling indulgently. Lestrade merely shakes his head in amusement, making his way over to the tantalus upon the sideboard and pouring himself a drink.
Holmes and I dress quickly nonetheless, and rather sheepishly take our seats side by side upon the settee, not daring to look at each other, certainly not touching each other. My face burns with shame, and I push the memory of my actions out of my mind as Mycroft settles himself opposite us, chuckling to himself.
“Well, Sherlock, I’m glad to see that you have had the sense to embark upon the very path I would have proscribed for you, had you come to me. But, instead, I see you went wandering on one of your shortcuts and had the thugs knock some sense into your thick head, to much the same effect. I’ll have bourbon and water, Lestrade, thank you. All’s well that ends well, eh? Or, rather it shall be well – after the rest of tonight’s work.”
“Hold on a minute,” Lestrade speaks up, frowning sharply. “I thought we were just here to see that your brother got home all right –”
“Certainly you do not think I would intrude upon my own brother in such an intimate moment if national security were not at risk?” Mycroft huffs impatiently.
“And exactly how is national security at risk, dear brother?” Sherlock asks, crossing his arms. Despite his defiant words, his voice is but a ghost of itself, and Mycroft peers curiously at his brother over the rims of his pince-nez.
“It seems that once again, with your typical dramatic flair, you have managed to bungle the whole thing,” he proclaims haughtily.
“Now see here –”
“Don’t talk back, Sherlock. In your zeal to point out Bradstreet’s error, you have given him a thread that might lead to our discovery. We cannot have our government’s involvement in this matter become public –”
“All right, brother mine, you may cease preaching. Merely tell us what scheme you have devised.”
“At this very moment, Inspector Bradstreet is applying for an arrest warrant for Mlle. Gabrielle Vernet. The lady was last seen in a hansom with Doctor John Watson, headed for Baker Street, no doubt for another round of drinks and a bit of continental goodwill.”
I feel an electric jolt of fear rip through my breast. “I thought –”
“Calm yourself, Doctor. If you all follow my lead, I shall be able to rectify Sherlock’s mistake. Lestrade, you’ll need to get back into character. Well, don’t just sit there, Sherlock! Get out your makeup kit, and quickly; we have less than twenty minutes.”
We all three bustle around Lestrade, and soon Gabrielle Vernet is ready to face the police just as Bradstreet’s four-wheeler pulls up outside.
“But if I’m arrested,” Lestrade hisses, “they’ll find me out as soon as the matron strips me.”
“You shall not be arrested,” Mycroft answers shortly. “Allow me to do the explaining, and only speak to confirm what I say. Now sit there, Mlle. Vernet, and try to look as frightened and contrite as possible.”
“Frightened I can do without any effort. But as for contrite –”
“I am sure you shall do your best. Sherlock, you may open the door.”
After many years of intimate association with Sherlock Holmes, I may claim more than a passing familiarity with the various moods and expressions of our friends at Scotland Yard, and I can tell that Bradstreet is at the end of his tether. He fairly bristles with annoyance as he enters the room, glaring first at me, then at Mlle. Vernet, before scowling heavily at Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft Holmes he does not even acknowledge, save with a stiff nod.
“I should have known your brother would be mixed up in this, Mr. Holmes,” he growls. “Well, I might have gone along with his schemes before, but this is a clear matter of theft, and Mlle. Vernet there – if that is her real name – is going to come downtown with me for a long talk.”
“And how do you know that Doctor Watson is not the perpetrator of the crime?” Mycroft asks softly.
Bradstreet shoots Mycroft an icy look. “Granted, I am assuming that he has been Mlle. Vernet’s unwilling dupe in this matter,” says he, “but it should be easier to assess his role in this evening’s events once I am clear upon the movements of the lady.”
“This is a state matter, Bradstreet. And I am representing Her Majesty’s interests, it is of –”
“That is not the question here,” the inspector breaks in impatiently. “I know who you serve. But whose interests does Mlle. Vernet serve?”
“Mlle. Vernet is an agent for the Belgian government,” Mycroft tells him stiffly.
Bradstreet shoots a piercing look at the woman upon the couch, who has been shifting nervously in her seat this entire interview.
“I should like to hear Mlle. Vernet’s explanation,” he says gruffly.
The lady sighs deeply. “It is true, what Monsieur Holmes has said,” she affirms in a sad voice. “It has been my honour to serve my homeland by assisting the diplomats at our embassy here in London.”
“The Belgian government had asked my brother to prevent the theft of the document in question,” Mycroft adds, “and assigned Mlle. Vernet here to assist him. However, she and Doctor Watson both forgot themselves, I’m afraid, and left their post to take a walk in the garden together.”
“No doubt, I shall be sent home in disgrace,” she continues mournfully. “At least the document has been recovered, and that monster DeLouisse has finally been captured in the act. I just wish that I could have acted better.”
I take this as my cue. I leave my seat and cross to behind the lady, laying a protective hand upon her shoulder. “The fault is mine, Gabrielle. I did not seriously believe M. DeLouisse would make an attempt on the document until much later in the evening. And you were such a charming companion, I could not resist a walk in the moonlight with you.”
“That will show you, Watson, the dangers of moonlit walks and making assumptions,” Holmes says, an icy edge creeping into his voice.
I look at my friend, and clearly see the warning glint in his eye. This is no time for improvisation. I bow my head. “You are right, Holmes. Such things are clearly dangerous.”
“I see that I’ve made some dangerous assumptions myself,” Bradstreet admits, “and I’ll apologize for my tone earlier. But surely, Mr. Holmes, you could have taken me into your confidence before.”
“You may blame me for that, Inspector,” Mycroft tells him. “The situation arose so suddenly that it was impossible to brief you correctly.”
Bradstreet turns once again to Mlle. Vernet, now with his most charming smile transforming his features. “And I apologize to you, Mademoiselle, for my ungentlemanly conduct before. If there is anything I can do to ameliorate the situation with your superiors –”
“Do not worry yourself, Inspector. Dear Mycroft is already doing everything he can for me,” Gabrielle purrs, fluttering her eyelashes, “and I thank you for your kind concern. But please, I grow tired. Jean, you may escort me home now,” she finishes, rising from her chair and extending a hand to me.
Bradstreet steps between us. “I would consider it an honour to escort you,” he tells her, then looks sharply at me. “Is there something wrong, Doctor?”
I force myself to assume a graver attitude. “Nothing at all,” I protest. “In any case, I have an appointment near Mlle. Vernet’s apartment. It is no trouble to walk her home.”
“It looks as if you’re trying not to laugh. Is there some reason that you find my wishing to escort the lady home laughable?”
I bite the inside of my lip, my mind racing as to how to answer.
“In fact, Inspector, I would consider it a great favour,” Mycroft Holmes says cordially, “if you would come round to my office in Whitehall. There are some files I should like you to see –”
“But it’s nearly three o’clock –”
Mycroft waves a flipper-like hand impatiently. “I have the master key to the building, Inspector. Time is no matter to men of the world such as us, eh?” he adds, patting the man on the shoulder and leading him to the door. “Come on, there’s a little matter in Algeria that I should like your views upon.”
Bradstreet pauses only a moment, looking over his shoulder reluctantly at Mlle. Vernet.
“You shall see me again, my dear,” Gabrielle calls, blowing him a kiss. “But for tonight, I promised my old friend Jean that he could escort me on the way to his appointment.”
“And what sort of appointment would it be,” Bradstreet asks, sneering at me, “that would bring a gentleman out on the streets at three o’clock in the morning?”
“The kind for which I cannot afford to be late,” I snap, taking Gabrielle by the elbow and propelling her through the door, only pausing for both our coats and hats. We are at the bottom of the steps before I realize that I have not said good-bye to Holmes or his brother, but there is no turning back and we step out into Baker Street.
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