Angst, Arrogance, and Assumptions
Jem's Bird

Chapter Eleven



At the end of the fairytale, there is always the happy ending. The brave knight slays the fire-breathing dragon, Cinderella gets to try on the shoe, and Sleeping Beauty wakes to Prince Charming’s kiss. Hansel and Gretel leave the dark forest and emerge into the sunlight, blinking a little, the Queen guesses Rumpelstiltskin’s name, and Snow White awakes to another kiss from her own Prince Charming.


The end of the story is always simple in fairytales. It always ends with a kiss.


Life is not a fairytale. There are no sweet, story-ending kisses here. But there are other things to let me know that this is no dream: first, there is the pain, a dull, aching throb. Then there is the itch of bandages and the discomfort of a limb confined in a sling. There is that unique irritating burn right around the edge of the wound where the sutures are holding my skin together. Then there is the unmistakeable combination of odours that shall always mean Baker Street to me: the scent of tobacco, gunpowder, chemicals and old books has worked its way deep into the cushions upon which my head rests, and I breathe deeply, ignoring the flash of agony that comes from such a strenuous task as expanding my lungs.


This is not the first time I have been wounded in the line of duty, and it is not the first time that I have awoken from a deep slumber to find myself upon this very hearth. Granted my professional association with Holmes, it was only a matter of time before the two events coincided; why then, does this waking feel so strange?


Perhaps it is the swell of jumbled memories: the feel of Holmes’ fist connecting with my jaw, the look of shock in Bradstreet’s eye when he realized what he means to me, and finally, the dim memory of the frantic tone in Watson’s voice as he shouted at Holmes for the cocaine.


Apparently, they almost lost me this time. I almost wish they had, for if my addled mind has the facts right, I have lost the one person that matters to me.


And yet, there is something else here, a sensation that has remained constant since my awakening, so subtle that it has escaped my notice: a hand in my own, a thumb caressing my wrist.


It is most likely Watson, taking my pulse. Yes. It cannot be anyone else. Why should it be?


The fingers curl around my hand, caressing me gently. Well, why not? John Watson is a concerned friend. If he was not an affectionate man by nature, he would not be a doctor. And we have kissed before, if only that once …


As if on cue, he leans forward and presses his lips to mine, his moustache tickling me slightly more awake. And yet this must be a dream, for the way he and Holmes were looking at each other last night, he could not possibly be here in my arms, not kissing me like this. And in any case, Watson is not so broad at the shoulder, nor is his moustache so full. Whoever this phantom lover is, I decide to enjoy the dream while it lasts, tilting my head slightly back to allow more contact to this luscious mouth –


“I thought you were awake,” Bradstreet says, touching my cheek.


I sit up sharply, nearly banging my forehead into his. As it is, my efforts are greeted with a sharp tearing at my shoulder.


“Easy, old man, the doctor’s stitching is good, but give it more time to set. Here, lay back and drink this.”


I must be dreaming. I take the proffered glass and down it in a single gulp, noticing with deep disappointment that it is only water, and coughing only slightly, just enough to prompt another sharp jab of pain.


“The bullet ricocheted twice, the doctor said,” Bradstreet tells me in a disconcertingly matter-of-fact voice, pouring me another glass of water. “You’ve got a few broken ribs, but miraculously no organs were punctured. The infection was what nearly did you in. All in all, you’re lucky to be alive.”


I lean back and close my eyes. “Perhaps I’m dead and this is heaven,” I mutter.


“Now, why would you say that?”


“Because,” I sigh, “you’re holding my hand. And I distinctly remember you kissing me. Thus, this cannot be reality. Simple logic – hey! I’m a wounded man, you know.” I rub my cheek where he has pinched me.


“Just drink,” he laughs, pressing the glass into my hands once more.


I frown into the water. “Can’t I have something a little stronger?”


“We’ll have to wake the doctor to make sure, but I wanted to talk first.”


His earnest tone combines with the coolness of the water trickling down my throat to shake me into complete wakefulness. I sputter a little, but know enough not to try sitting up again.


With a heavy sigh, Bradstreet takes the glass from my hand and places it on the table, before leaning down to my lips once more and claiming my mouth in a soft kiss. I am just able to respond before he draws away, pressing his forehead to mine, closing his eyes as if steadying himself for something. When he does speak, his voice is so low that, close as we are, I can barely hear his words over the crackling of the fire.


“I had a lot of time to think while you were fighting for your life,” he begins, “and I’ve reached a couple of conclusions.”


“I should think you’d reached a decision or twelve. Kiss me again.”


“Lestrade, we need to talk.”


“Sod talking. This has to be a dream.”


“It’s not a dream.”


“Of course it is. If it weren’t, you would be currently punching me in the mouth for daring to wink at you, filthy sodomite that I am.”


He sits up again, looking slightly hurt. “I should think you knew me better than that, Gabriel Lestrade.”


“Well, let’s just say it’s not the reaction I expected. It’s not every day you find out that one of your oldest friends has been harbouring secret feelings for you that could earn him a stint in prison. And most men don’t take kindly to other men having inverted fantasies about them.”


“I’m not most men. I happen to have a close friend who is an invert.”


“Who – oh.”


“As I said, we need to talk.”


“Why do I get the feeling that reality is starting to edge its way in?”


Bradstreet squeezes my hand, and I blush furiously; I had honestly forgotten that he has not yet let go. “I’ve got it all down to a few salient points,” he continues solemnly. “First, I do … care for you. But I’m not in love with you, not that way, not yet.”


I close my eyes, not daring to breathe, almost wishing that I had the strength to snatch my hand from his. I am surprised, therefore, when I feel the soft brush of his lips upon my forehead.


“I’m not finished,” he whispers. “You see, the second point is that while I’m not yet in love with you – yet – I’m not sure that I couldn’t come to love you, given time.”


I open my eyes and stare up at him in amazement.


“Third point,” he continues with a smile. “We’ve been friends for over twenty years; I can’t just throw that out. Fourth point, it would be damned uncomfortable – for both of us – to work together if we agreed to ignore what you feel for me.”


“But it isn’t that simple. You’re not an invert.”


“My fifth point. No, frankly, I’m not sexually attracted to you. But, and here’s my sixth point, a few discreet hours finding sexual pleasure in the arms of a friend sounds a world more attractive than another lonely night releasing my frustrations into my handkerchief in my cold bed.” He takes a deep breath and rests his forehead on mine, a tiny glimmer of mischief in his eye. “Which brings us to my seventh point: I’ll be damned if I ever to have to spend the night watching that pillock Scotsman of yours insult you over the darts-board just so he can take you home to commit unspeakable acts with you beneath the bed-covers in a rented room; if you’re going to risk the two years’ hard labour at Reading, than I should rather you risk it with me, because frankly, Gabriel, he doesn’t respect you.”


I raise an eyebrow. “You’re certainly amassing an impressive inventory of points, Inspector Bradstreet.”


“Guilty as charged. Yes, I’m splitting hairs, rationalizing, even making it up as I go along. I figure that if I keep talking, eventually I’ll figure out a reason to kiss you again.”


“You seem to like that bit.”


“That would be my eighth point, then. I don’t seem to mind kissing you at all; I’d say that’s a good sign, wouldn’t you?”


A dim memory re-surfaces, flickering from the depths of my recent sleep. “You were kissing me earlier,” I say slowly, licking my lips. “While I was still asleep.”


Bradstreet nods. “After Mr. Holmes and the doctor went upstairs, I decided that I could do worse than to hold your hand as I talked to you. After all, no one would be the wiser, and I didn’t want you to … to feel alone,” he pauses as his voice wavers. “Then, well, I got to thinking, you know how it goes, your mind starts wandering, and I remembered how Mum would tell me stories when I was sick, so I …”


Vague recollections of strange mythic dreams float to the surface. “You didn’t.”


“I started with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And then I went on to Rapunzel.”


“Ah, the classics.”


“Well, when I got to Sleeping Beauty, and your breathing was still so … unsteady … and I thought, well, why not?”


I squeeze his hand, and feel my breathing growing quite unsteady indeed. When he lowers his lips to mine again, the room begins to spin. I must be dreaming; this cannot be Bradstreet’s mouth locked upon my own.


I decide I have nothing to lose and pull him atop me, thrusting my tongue into his yielding mouth with a fervour that startles us both. I crush his body to mine, ignoring the searing pain that rips through me, and I taste him deeply, roughly drinking my pleasure from his lips before he pushes away, panting heavily.


When I see the shock darkening his eyes, I know that I must be awake. Dreams do not hurt this much; the throbbing in my shoulder has nothing to compare with the agony tearing my heart as I realize how I have frightened him.


I sink back into the cushions, hiding my face behind my free hand. “Damn it,” I moan. “I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I thought I was dreaming and forgot to – oh, damn and blast!”


“Such language from the cream of Scotland Yard.”


I lift my head to see Bradstreet smiling at me. “I thought I just frightened you,” I say blankly.


“You startled me,” he admits seriously. “Up until this point, I had been trying to convince myself that it would be just like kissing a woman.”


“I’m not Gabrielle Vernet.”


“I just noticed.”


I take a deep breath. “I’m not the gentle type. I’m not rough either, or at least not as rough as – well, just leave that by. It shan’t be like being with a woman, not by a long shot.” I look down at our joined hands. “You might not be able to go through with this,” I tell him. “And if you can’t, old fellow, I’d like you to know that I’ll understand –”


Wordlessly, he takes our joined hands and moves them to the last place I would expect him to let me touch at this point.


And yet, this part of him is quite obviously glad for my touch; I caress the hardness growing beneath my hand and gape at my friend in sheer disbelief.


“No,” he whispers, “not like being with a woman at all. A woman would have fainted, had I put her hand there. You look … hungry.”


I dare to cup the evidence of his arousal, feeling how he reacts to my grasp. “I am,” I admit. “I am very, very, hungry.”


This time our kiss is anything but gentle, and we exchange fierce love-bites as I taste him again and again. He sinks down atop me and we manage to settle onto the camp-bed without completely crushing my wounded shoulder, not that either of us is paying any mind to anything as mundane as a mere gunshot wound now, not that we have found this together.


“Oh, it’s you two.”


The voice behind us holds no hint of shock. We spring apart to find Mrs. Hudson frowning down at us in mild puzzlement.


“I know it’s none of my business, sirs, and you’ll pardon me for saying so,” says she briskly as she tends to the fire, “but I didn’t know you two were involved.”


“We weren’t,” I say quickly.


“But we are now,” Bradstreet adds, squeezing my hand. “So why aren’t you running away screaming, like a proper British landlady?”


Mrs. Hudson shrugs. “Because I’m not a proper British landlady; I’m the landlady to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I’ve dealt with kings and cut-throats, violin concertos and chemical explosions, had bombs delivered to my door before breakfast, and know the market price of every brand of bullet you could care to name. Do you honestly think a little thing like two men kissing each other would even ruffle my feathers? Speaking of which, where are Mr. Holmes and the doctor? I was hoping you would be them.”


“You hoped you would catch your tenants kissing on a camp-bed on the hearth?” I asked, not quite believing it.


“Well, I never know quite what I’ll find when I return from one of my weekends taking the baths,” she chuckles, clearing away the detritus of what must have been the surgery to save my life as if it were nothing more than a few loose newspapers and a dirty wineglass. “I had hoped that the doctor and Mr. Holmes had finally come to some sort of understanding, though.”


“But surely they have been together for years,” Bradstreet frowns thoughtfully.


I laugh, no longer caring whether I am dreaming or no. “They did come to an understanding, Mrs. Hudson. Just last night, before I had my accident.”


Mrs. Hudson peers owlishly at my bandages. “Well, why were you so foolish as to get yourself shot again? The fifth time, is it?”


“The sixth. Are you all right, Bradstreet?”


My friend looks deeply puzzled, slowly shaking his head in confusion. “But they said … that is, Watson …”


Suddenly, it is all too clear. “Watson’s sense of humour can be a little strange at times,” I tell him with a chuckle. “Most likely, he didn’t wish to embarrass you by correcting you of your misconception right then and there.”


He smiles wearily. “Especially when I had so much to think about.” He looks up at Mrs. Hudson, who is happily tidying the bookshelves. “Am I to understand, madam, that you knew how your tenants felt about each other and so planned to manoeuvre them into a physical relationship?”


“Manoeuvre, poppycock,” she huffs, a hand upon her hip. “I had nothing to do with it. But I would have had to do something, if they hadn’t come to their senses soon. Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, some of us have housework to do.”


She sweeps out of the room, closing – and locking – the door behind her.

Chapter Twelve




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