With This Pen ~ 31 December 1899
Jem's Bird

“I understand that there’s no year zero,” Lestrade repeats doggedly. “I’m just saying that I don’t see we can’t call this the century mark. Everyone is calling it that, anyway.”


Holmes eyes the inspector not a little unsteadily. “Because, my dear Lestrade, it would be inaccurate, erroneous, imprecise, and completely wrong. Just because everyone believes a thing does not make it so,” he finishes with a slight hiccough.


“You’re drunk.”


“I’m still right.”


I shake my head in amusement as I turn back to young Wiggins and his wife. “So when is the baby due?” I ask politely. It is enough of a shock to find out that Holmes’ former protégé has returned from his year in America with a wife, but the girl is lovely, and the evidence of their new family is plain in her swollen belly and radiant face.


She smiles and pats her abdomen in the most charming gesture of an expectant mother. “The doctor says mid-April, but I say the first week of the month, no later. If it’s a girl, we’ll be naming her Annabel Marie, after my mother, but if it’s a boy, we’ll call him John Sherlock.”


“Wiggins, tell me you’re not going to let your wife saddle your child with such a horrible middle name,” Holmes groans, rolling his eyes.


“Actually, Mr. Holmes, it was my idea,” Wiggins says a trifle defensively. “I intended it as a tribute to the only parents I’ve ever known,” he finishes, blushing slightly as he looks down at his feet.


“I think it’s a lovely idea,” I tell Wiggins, ignoring Holmes’ sharp look. “I’m sure we’re both honoured to have your child named after us.”


“The only parents you’ve known?” Anstruther asks, raising an eyebrow.


Wiggins regards him somewhat coolly. “Mr. Holmes doesn’t like anyone to know, but he has provided for my welfare since I was an infant.”


“That’s not exactly true,” Holmes puts in. “You were already walking and talking when I found you; you were well out of infancy, though no one ever could tell me how old you were or whose child you were. Even then, you had the sharpest eye and the quickest hand of any child on the docks.”


“Wasn’t he trying to pick your pocket?” Lestrade chuckles.


“There was no ‘trying’ about it; he actually succeeded. Why do you think I decided to take the lad under my wing?”


“I hate to think what my life would have been like without your support, Mr. Holmes,” Wiggins says earnestly.


“No doubt you would have made an excellent criminal,” Holmes replies, smiling cheerfully.


“Instead, as of tomorrow, the lad will be our youngest inspector ever,” Lestrade says with no small pride.


“So, then,” Holmes murmurs into his wineglass, “even more of a danger to society.”


“Mr. Holmes,” says the young bride, with a razor-sharp smile, “I take it you don’t approve of Michael’s choice of career.”


Holmes manages a slight bow. “Far from it, Mrs. Wiggins. In fact, I think your husband shall change the Yard for the better.”


“It’s a good thing that you’re inclined to fighting crime, rather than disease,” Anstruther tells Holmes. “A man like you on the loose in my profession would wreak havoc.”


“We rather happen to like Mr. Holmes’ brand of havoc down at the Yard,” Lestrade replies easily. “There’s many a guilty man behind bars that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for our friend here.”


“And many innocent men who would have been hanged unjustly,” Wiggins says with feeling. “What’s more, I’m not the only man who is working an honest job today rather than living the life of crime. The Irregulars are becoming a force to be reckoned with in this city, and it’s all due to Mr. Holmes’ solid wages, Dr. Watson’s informal schooling, and Mrs. Hudson’s hot meals.”


“I still remember the fight you put up when I tried to explain the basics of spelling and grammar to you,” I chuckle. “And the time Mrs. Hudson had trying to keep you fed! There were days we thought you had a hole in your stomach.”


“Speaking of Mrs. Hudson,” Holmes puts in, “I thought our guest of honour wasn’t to enter the kitchen tonight. Where is she?”


I look around the room.  Mycroft Holmes and Alice Lestrade are sitting in the bow-window, animatedly discussing the roots of Afro-Caribbean music, while Violet Anstruther is on the settee, chatting with Inspector Bradstreet and Father Vernesi, who arrived from Portugal only this morning.


“I hadn’t noticed that she’d left the room,” I say, truthfully enough. I sip at my wine to hide the smile that has begun to creep to my lips, but Holmes notices the change in my manner immediately.


“Watson, what the devil are you about?” he murmurs.


“You’ll see soon enough, my boy,” I laugh. I may not be able to hide anything from him, but I have succeeded in hiding this particular surprise long enough; to my delight, Holmes is genuinely astonished when, as if in answer to his summons, Mrs. Hudson sweeps into the room with the cake, placing it on the dining-room table. Holmes looks about him in some confusion when the conversation stops and the assembled guests gather round to look at the elegant triple-tiered creation with the two figures atop it, complete with the traditional floral arch and white sugar bells.


“Mrs. Hudson,” he whispers. “Certainly that is not your birthday cake.”


“I’ve had my fair share of birthday cakes,” the good lady chuckles, as she adjusts the tablecloth. “And I hope to have a few more, God willing, but I don’t mind if this years’ birthday cake also serves as your wedding cake.”


Holmes gasps involuntarily, and I have to suppress another smile; I have been plying him with wine from early in the afternoon, hoping that he would not notice that the guest list for the combined festivities our landlady’s birthday and New Years’ Eve party exactly conforms to the list of people who know the true nature of our relationship. He turns to me, his eyes shining with joy.


“And so the double fête becomes a triple celebration,” he murmurs, almost to himself. “And you managed to organise it all without arousing my suspicion, which is a feat in itself. Well done, Watson!”


“I didn’t do it alone,” I protest, blushing slightly at the praise. “Everyone here helped me pull it off.”


“It didn’t seem right that after arranging the perfect wedding, you should miss out on the wedding reception,” Lestrade tells him. “I, for one, was glad to help.”


“Of course,” Mycroft adds, “the most intelligent thing Watson did was to ask me to consult with him on how best to keep the proceedings hidden from you. But even so, he did not need much help from me.”


“Oh, certainly you corrected more than a few errors,” I answer modestly, turning to Holmes. “I would have spoiled the surprise months ago if it weren’t for your brother’s advice.”


“I daresay you’ve learnt my methods well enough to know how best to avoid detection,” Sherlock Holmes replies, beaming widely. “I can only hope you will never have cause to use your singular knowledge against me.”


I feel my blush deepening as my ears begin to burn. “I think we should just cut the cake,” I say, feeling suddenly self-conscious at the rather overt tone the celebration has taken. What was I thinking? And yet, none of our guests seem offended or shocked; quite the reverse. My hand shaking only slightly, I take the proffered knife from Mrs. Hudson as Holmes steps beside me.


We have both seen it done a thousand times, of course, but it is one thing to watch the happy couple slice their wedding cake, and another thing altogether to cut a slice of cake with another person also trying to slice it with you. Mary and I encountered the same moment of awkwardness years ago, and now Holmes and I cannot help but grin at the clumsy slice we cut, flopping it onto the plate that Mrs. Hudson holds out for us. I do not hesitate, but take a small morsel between my fingertips and feed it to Holmes, who then does the same for me. As we lean forward to share the traditional kiss, our gathered friends break into applause, and I smile up into my husband’s eyes, glowing with the knowledge that I am one of the few people who can surprise him.


Mrs. Hudson bustles around us as she passes out slices of cake, but Holmes and I still stand together, our eyes locked upon each other. The conversation starts up again, but we are deaf to the laughs and cheerful comments of our friends as we continue to stare into each others’ eyes.


“I love you,” Holmes says, just quietly enough that only I can hear.


My jaw drops, and I nearly drop the plate that Mrs. Hudson hands me.


“Steady there, my boys, later,” Mycroft whispers behind us, laying a hand on my shoulder. “I say, Father Vernesi,” he continues in his normal voice, “do you have a blessing for this excellent cake?”


“Not only for this cake, which is a blessing in itself,” Vernesi cries, “but also for this joyous occasion.” The priest beams warmly, stepping up to the table as the guests grow silent once more. “My dear friends, it has been almost nine months since our hosts solemnized their vows of love to one another with my blessing. As we know, that is the time it takes for a child to be born to its parents,” he adds, with a slight bow toward the expectant mother and her husband. “I have been observing this evening the many symbols of renewal and rebirth, from the physical to the metaphorical, as we consider crossing over not only to a new year, but a new century. Whether that century shall come tonight or a year from now does not matter; any line we draw is purely arbitrary. The point is not where we choose to mark that line to cross; the point is that we do cross it, that we do strive to grow, to change, and to give birth to our future together. It is possible to change our world for the better; the lives of these men and the love they share teaches us that. Heavenly Father above, help them in their path, as you help all of us to keep growing into the kind and loving beings you mean us to be. Amen.”


“Amen,” everyone repeats, with a hearty cheer.


Father Vernesi turns to Lestrade. “I believe you had the traditional toast?” he asks, bowing slightly.


The little professional coughs slightly, rocking slightly on his heels. “Well, I don’t know how traditional this is, but I did have something to say, or rather, a tale to tell. I can’t spin a story as well as the good doctor, but I’ll try.


“As some of you know, I came into the force by the side door, as it were, and there were some at the Yard who resented an inspector who hadn’t done his time on the street. But I’d gotten hold of a case to prove myself, a real corker, a three-year old jewel theft that had left everyone else stumped. No one thought could I solve the thing, but I knew I could, because I had myself a secret weapon. An old professor of mine once said that wisdom was not in knowing the answers, it was in knowing where to look for the answers, and I knew where to look for mine.


“There was this chap that would come round the station for every once in a while, a young student. Some of the boys called him ‘the Mantis of Montague Street,’ because he seemed to haunt the museum at all hours, when he wasn’t at the Yard or St. Bart’s. Now, granted he was an odd sort of fellow, with odd ideas and odder ways, but he was as intelligent a chap as any I’ve ever met, before or since, and, once you got past the bluster that any true genius develops to protect himself from the world, a kind enough fellow, too, who honestly wished to make his piece of the world a better place. I knew that he would help me solve this theft; the case had been unsolved for so long because it was so strange, with the most bizarre and outré set of circumstances.


“I laid the details of the case before Sherlock Holmes, and he had the thing solved for me the next afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, I paid him five pounds for his trouble, and I still consider it the best money I ever spent. In a years’ time, I was bringing him cases regularly, but by then, I had moved to Paddington with Alice, and Holmes, of course, moved to these rooms soon after. That night in March of ’81 when the good doctor joined us in the investigation of the Jefferson Hope case, I saw that Holmes had found the help he needed. The lonesome genius had found not only a sounding board, but an able and intelligent partner to help him in his life’s work.


“I have seen Doctor Watson perform save the lives of no less than five people, as well as perform the sad office of coroner dozens of times. I have watched as he has acted not just as sounding board, but private secretary, travel agent, bodyguard, public relations officer, and, above all, loyal and trustworthy friend. When the doctor began accompanying Mr. Holmes upon his cases, I knew that I had found a friend, as well. Perhaps I’ve rambled on a bit, but I want everyone here to know that if it weren’t for these two good friends, I should not be the man I am today.” He raises his glass. “John, William, I salute you. To good friends.”


“To good friends,” the guests echo, and we both blush heartily, stammering our thanks, feeling as if in a dream.


“I just want to know,” Bradstreet laughs, “which one of you shall be throwing the bouquet.”


“Why; are you going to be catching it?” Mycroft asks dryly. Holmes and I exchange significant looks; there has been something brewing between the Scotland Yarder and Holmes’ brother for a few months now, and we were not surprised to see them arrive together, talking loudly of some function they shall be attending together later tonight.


Before I can reflect upon this latest flirtation, however, I am drawn into a discussion with Vernesi and Mrs. Wiggins upon some of the sights of London they must visit. Soon Violet and James Anstruther join us, and we begin talking of the latest offerings of the theatre season. I do not realize until much later in the conversation that Holmes and I are still holding hands, and no one has said a thing; after all, we are one of four married couples in this room, all of whom are touching in some way, from the Lestrades’ linked elbows to Violet’s arm resting upon her husband’s shoulder as she tells us about the excellent performance she saw last night. Just a few decades ago, such public displays of intimacy would be unthinkable in society, even between a “properly” married couple, but thankfully such constraints have loosened in the past few years. I sip at my wine as I listen to Violet’s description of the concert, caressing Holmes’ hand in my own, and idly wonder if we shall live to see a time that we may publicly acknowledge our own affection for each other in public.


After all, as the good father said, the important thing is to cross that line, to grow, and to change, and to give birth to the future. Whatever that future may be, I know that I shall not have to face it alone.


It is much later in the evening, after most of the guests have left to await the new year at more lively parties, and Mrs. Hudson has gone to bed, leaving us and our two remaining guests to our merry vigil. Holmes and I have developed a singular friendship with Alice and Gabriel Lestrade, and we shall spend this night together as we have many pleasant evenings before: we sit Bohemian-style upon cushions spread on the hearthrug, snacking on a platter of fruit and cheese as we pass around one of Alice’s homemade cigarillos and talk of nothing in particular well into the small hours of the morning.


“I hope to dear God that young Wiggins and his wife are blessed with a daughter,” Holmes says to no one in particular. “‘John Sherlock,’ indeed.”


“You’re just upset because you’re about to become a grandfather,” Lestrade teases.


“Grandfather?” Holmes scoffs. “Absolute rot.”


“You formally adopted Wiggins the year I met you,” I remind him. “Technically, that makes you his father, and so any  –”


“I am not now, nor ever shall I be, anyone’s grandfather,” Holmes says with a petulant wave of his hand.


“Is there something wrong with being a grandfather?” Alice laughs.


“It’s rather staunch and conservative for an old lavender aunt, don’t you think?” Holmes counters.


“‘Lavender aunt!’ Good heavens, I haven’t heard anyone use that term in years,” Lestrade interjects, “and you certainly don’t fit the description. If one of my men called you that, I would have him patrolling Whitechapel for the rest of his career.”


“By which method you would certainly draw comment as to whether the constable in question had arrived at an accurate assessment,” Holmes answers blithely, “although I do appreciate your loyalty.”


Lestrade rolls his eyes and takes the cigarillo from my hand, inhaling slowly and thoughtfully before leaning forward toward Holmes, offering his mouth. Holmes casts a brief glance at me; I nod, smiling that he should still feel the need to ask. Holmes closes his eyes and kisses Lestrade, opening his lips to take the puff of smoke from his mouth. Lestrade allows his lips to trail down Holmes’ neck, and I watch in a pleasurable haze as Holmes exhales a cloud of smoke before ducking his head to receive another kiss from our friend.


“Such lascivious behaviour from Scotland Yard’s finest,” Holmes titters, running a finger down Lestrade’s jaw. “Honestly, Inspector, I’m shocked.”


“Inspector Lestrade,” the man chuckles, leaning back into his wife’s waiting arms, “is currently elsewhere for the evening. Probably doing paperwork back at the precinct-house, the poor sod.” He moves a stockinged foot across the hearthrug until it brushes against my knee. “Now, I happen to know that we’ve got a little over two hours until the end of the century –”


“– not until next year –” Holmes begins, but I silence him with a sharp bite to his neck as I draw him into my lap.


“– and I’m determined to make the most of it,” Lestrade finishes, blowing a petulant kiss at the pouting Holmes.


“Come on, William,” Alice purrs. “You’re taking yourself too seriously again.”


Holmes smiles at the woman. He has never been easy with any of her sex, but for Alice Lestrade, he has learned to make concessions. They have found common ground of high intellect and sharp wit, but insist upon fencing over it in a keen competition of words that leave Lestrade and I astounded at times. “My dear woman,” he begins in his most pedantic tone, “I am sure that you must be able to see how, as there is no year zero –”


“I am fully aware of the reasoning behind that particular argument,” the lady interrupts mildly, “and I could answer you with a variety of counter-arguments. The most obvious choice would be to counter that similarly, there was no year one.”


“But that would be poor sportsmanship,” Holmes says, taking the cigarillo from Lestrade.


“And hardly amusing at all,” Alice continues, her dark eyes shining brilliantly in the firelight. She looks at the board between us, and carefully selects a slice of apple, holding it in her fingers and staring at it thoughtfully as she speaks. “I could also go on about the arbitrary nature of the observance,” she continues quietly, “and perhaps even question why we should not observe the date of the Jewish or even the Chinese calendar, or for that matter, the calendar observed by my ancestors.”


“Indeed you could, madam,” Holmes replies, his eyes twinkling. “But I think that you have a much more compelling argument for tonight marking the century.”


She keeps smiling mysteriously, still gazing at the slice of fruit in her hand. “In fact, I have not,” she answers simply. “Technically, you are right. The current convention by which we are marking this calendar denotes that the twentieth century shall begin on January the first, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and one.” She pauses for a moment, and we three men stare at her enthralled. Her ebony skin glows in the firelight, and her eyes sparkle brilliantly as she turns the fruit in her fingertips. “Do you know what calendar my ancestors observed?” she asks casually.


“I must confess,” Holmes whispers, “that I do not know.”


“Nor do I. My heritage was stolen from me when my great-grandfather was captured by the slavers,” she answers in a conversational tone. “I bring this example before you, gentlemen, not to dwell upon evils we cannot change, but to illustrate that it is not the line separating one century from another that matters; rather it is important that we celebrate the crossing of the line from old to new every year. Our calendar is a circle, not a line, and with the passing of each year, we are given the gift of the wisdom of the past to change our mistakes and give birth to a new future.” She rises to her knees and places the apple slice between her lips, leaning over to Holmes, who takes the slice from her mouth to his. She kisses him playfully upon the nose. “Of course, all of this deep philosophy is your fault, William. You do keep taking things too seriously.” She leans back into her husband’s arms, Lestrade greeting her with a lingering kiss.


Sherlock Holmes sighs deeply, chewing the apple. “The fault, madam,” he says teasingly, “is in these foul cigarillos you invariably bring with you. Every time we partake, the discussion gets far too philosophical for my tastes.”


“I shouldn’t think such a thing was possible,” I chuckle, nuzzling his shoulder. I reach around and begin to unbutton his collar.


“Watson,” he hisses, “we have company.” Of course, his protest is feigned; we have been looking forward to this sweet diversion all evening.


I continue to disassemble Holmes’ clothing, whisking off his cravat. “Of course, my dear,” I murmur, kissing his cheek. “How rude of me to forget my manners – I say, Lestrade, old fellow, would you like to do the honours?” In a twinkling, I have tied Holmes’ hands behind his back. He could have stopped me at any moment, but he gives a satisfactory show of a struggle before giving a sigh of defeat, rolling his head back to expose his elegant alabaster neck, thus offering himself to our friend.


Lestrade leans forward, kissing me lightly before attacking Holmes’ throat with passionate love-bites. Holmes arches his back and moans faintly as Lestrade and I strip him to the waist, the two of us greeting his exposed skin with light, teasing touches from our hands and our mouths as we lay him bare beneath us. I slip from behind Holmes’ back as Alice replaces me, wrapping her arms around Holmes’ torso, as Lestrade and I continue to worship him with kisses, pausing occasionally to kiss each other before turning to the delicious banquet of naked detective laid before us. Holmes writhes under our ministrations, and as Alice lays claim to his mouth, her fingers pinching his nipples mercilessly, Lestrade and I work to remove the remainder of Holmes’ clothing, spreading his legs wide in front of us. I lay belly-down upon the hearthrug and bury my face in my lover’s groin, inhaling his delicious musk heavily. I feel the heat of Lestrade’s body as he positions himself above me, supporting himself upon his knees as his hands work upon removing my clothing. I nuzzle Holmes’ ballsac as Lestrade slips away first my waistcoat and shirt, then my trousers. By the time I have turned my attention to Holmes’ rampant prick, I feel Lestrade lying atop me, his own clothes evidently gone, for his naked skin covers my own and his hardness brushes teasingly against my buttocks.


“May I have a taste of that?” he murmurs in my ear, and I willingly relinquish Holmes’ cock, claiming a kiss from Lestrade’s lips before diving lower into Holmes’ groin, where I once again savour his balls, rolling them upon my tongue.


I am dimly aware that Alice has slipped from underneath Holmes, and he lies back upon the floor, spreading his legs even further. I burrow beneath his scrotum and begin lapping at his hole hungrily. Lestrade covers my head with his, sucking Holmes’ rod deep into his mouth as he grinds his hips into my buttocks, his hardness rubbing slickly against my tailbone. Holmes’ moans are muffled, but it is clear from the rocking of his hips around my head and the pulsing of his hole against my mouth that my love is just at his climax.


I plunge my tongue as deep inside him as it can go, and above me his prick begins to shoot its load down Lestrade’s mouth, who swallows it even as he pushes his own needful length along the crack of my buttocks. He has not yet ventured inside me, but I know just how he shall have me. With a gentle motion of my hips, I give him to understand my intentions, and the detective lifts himself from me. I raise myself to my knees to see that Alice is straddling Holmes’ mouth, the good lady facing me, her eyes shut and her back arched as she moans at Holmes’ attentions. I position myself between my lover’s legs, and raise his hips, placing a pillow underneath. Holmes does not stop in his ministrations, but he has somehow managed to slip his hands free of my cravat and now spreads himself for my entry, teasing his own hole with a long thin finger as he teases the good lady with his lips and tongue.


I watch this delightful show as I lean back into Lestrade’s lap a moment, whispering in his ear. He nods, blushing a deep scarlet, and rises to retrieve an oil cruet from the sideboard. He passes it to me with a shy kiss, and I pour a sufficient amount of oil into my palm before returning the bottle to him.


I oil my poor neglected prick with long, slow strokes, then kneel at my lover’s hole, pausing only a moment before plunging into his tight heat, groaning at the pure delight of his inner muscles gripping me so intimately. I pause, looking over my shoulder to make sure that my invitation has been taken seriously; sure enough, Lestrade is on his knees behind me, oiling his own cock with such a look of concentration upon his face that I smile as I reach back with both hands, spreading my own buttocks in expectation. I do not have to wait long; soon the tip of Lestrade’s prick is at my entrance, and I hold still as he slides into me.


The feeling of being penetrated while I am penetrating my lover is almost more than I can stand, and I must bite the inside of my lip to keep from spending myself as Lestrade leans forward and kisses my neck, his cock pulsing inside me just as I am throbbing inside my love.


“Oh, my dear doctor,” Lestrade groans, as he starts pumping his hips.


Alice smiles over my shoulder at her husband, and leans forward to kiss me; I can taste my lover’s seed upon her lips, and I realize that Lestrade and his wife were sharing Holmes’ delectable cock while I was laving his nether hole.


“Does he feel good, Gabriel?” Alice murmurs, her fingernails lightly raking my chest as Lestrade continues to pump inside me.


“He feels incredible,” Lestrade pants.


“He certainly tastes wonderful,” Alice purrs, kissing me again. Some sudden motion of Holmes’ mouth surprises her and she lets out a little cry of ecstasy, leaning into my chest and biting my neck. I wrap my arms around her and begin riding Holmes, matching my thrusts to Lestrade’s thrusts inside me. I cannot resist Alice’s breasts, and knead them mercilessly, even bending to suck each one in turn as I keep pounding into Holmes. I feel my climax building as Holmes’ inner muscles massage me, and as my own muscles tighten around Lestrade’s urgent invasion, I can stand it no longer and drop over the edge, stifling my yells into Alice’s breasts as I pour my essence into Holmes. Lestrade does not last long after, and as he dies inside me, I can feel his seed filling my loins, the gushing fluid over-spilling to drip onto my still-twitching ballsac.


Alice and I have collapsed onto each other, and I hold her tightly as she cries out in her own climax, her moans of rapture only slightly muffled by her husband’s tender kisses over my shoulder. I turn my head to join them, licking their lips as their kiss deepens. We eventually collapse together upon Holmes and the hearthrug, but only move enough to be comfortable as we lay panting in sweet exhaustion.


It takes us the better part of a half-hour to recover and re-assemble ourselves to some sort of appearance of propriety; by a quarter past eleven we four sit once more upon a makeshift divan of cushions upon the hearth-rug, sipping at our wine and nibbling the last of the cheese.


Holmes lies with his head comfortably resting in my lap, his eyes glowing in the reflection of the fire. I stroke his soft raven hair, only half-listening as Lestrade and Holmes idly gossip about Mycroft and Bradstreet.


“Oh, they’ve had an understanding since last summer, at least,” Lestrade says with a slight yawn. “They met during that Renfield case last year, you remember.”


“I remember,” Holmes chuckles. “I didn’t think it likely that he would develop such an attachment, though.”


“You didn’t think your brother had any use for the softer emotions?” I tease, ruffling his hair slightly.


Holmes frowns at me, smoothing back the dishevelled locks. “If you wish to do that,” he says with mock indignation, “you shall have to tie me up again.”


“You’d only manage to slip out of the knots again,” I laugh, kissing his forehead. “What’s the use?”


“The use,” Alice answers solemnly, “is that William, in allowing you to bind him, is putting his trust entirely in your hands. In this way, he may assert to himself the depth of your love.”


Holmes favours Alice with a reverent. “Honestly, madam, you frighten me with the depth of your perception,” says he. “Indeed I find the whole act of being bound by the man I love to be liberating, in a way I cannot describe.” He stares into the fire for a long time. “I am not a man of many emotional attachments, and yet I seem to have acquired a family, and, yes, even a grandchild on the way. I know that among you, my dear friends, I need fear nothing.” He closes his eyes. “It is a great thing to have such friends,” he finishes in a barely audible whisper.


I hold my love tightly to me, kissing his temple, and we four stare at the fire in silence together, sipping at our wine.


“You know, it is a horrible thing to be a detective,” Lestrade murmurs.


Holmes chuckles wryly. “I can agree with that statement on several levels, but I am curious as to which horrible aspect of our profession you are referring.”


“It’s this damned curiosity we’re cursed with,” Lestrade says, gazing intently into the flames, his dark eyes dancing with their light. “You see, you speak of trust, and I think you know that I would never do or say anything to betray that trust. But still, I am a detective, and, well –” he looks up, a sheepish smile playing at the corner of his lips.


“You wish to know how I managed to commit the perfect murder.” Holmes’ voice is eerily calm.


I stiffen, but find myself unable to protest. Lestrade licks his lips nervously, and nods. “I swear, I would never dream –”


Holmes smiles, waving his long white hand in a dismissive gesture. “You have earned the right to ask, friend Lestrade. I shall answer any question you wish to put to me tonight. But first, answer a question of mine. You have been to my family crypt and seen the evidence for yourself?”


Lestrade nods solemnly. “I saw the three freshly-dug graves laying empty, with the three crude hand-carved headstones and the three sets of gentlemen’s clothing at the head of each grave. I only have the old reports to tell me of the footprints, or rather the lack thereof; whoever was there brushed all traces from the ground. The clothes and the names upon the headstones are all that have ever been found of those men.” The detective sighs deeply. “What became of them next?”


“In order to secure their cooperation,” Holmes begins, “I had administered a certain alkaloid that is known for making those who take it rather susceptible to suggestion.”


“And you made them dig their own graves?”


“After stripping naked, yes. I then forced them to carve their own names upon three pieces of slate I had found earlier. I then blindfolded them and –” Holmes pauses, and I find I cannot breathe as I watch my lover’s eyes darken with the memory.


Holmes’ voice sinks to a low whisper, barely audible above the crackling of the flames. “I had fully intended to commit murder that night. I had bought a revolver and loaded it with three bullets. But I found I could not do it, not directly. Instead, I did something much more cowardly – and much more cruel.


“I discharged the weapon into the air, right by the ear of the first man, then knocked him unconscious with the butt-end of the pistol before he could realize he was not dead. I did the same to the others, and then I carried them to the dog-cart I had used to transport them to my family estate. I found some canvas bags in the old barn, and bundled the men into London, where I left them on the back steps of Bedlam, after giving them each another dose of the alkaloid, so that when they did come to themselves, they would be highly disoriented and completely unable to communicate. They would have only slowly realized where they were, and as they had neither clothes nor identification with them, no one would know who they were until they identified themselves.”


Lestrade’s eyes widen with honest amazement. “But why were they not discovered once the effects of the drug wore off? Did you bribe someone at Bedlam to hide their identities?”


Holmes looked mildly affronted. “I did no such thing. I left them without being seen by the staff. However, I was in possession of a piece of information that the official investigation never discovered. Do you know who the head warder at Bedlam was at that time?”


“I must confess I do not,” Lestrade admits.


“His name was Ralph Fleming – ah, I see you recognize it. You have studied this case, haven’t you?”


“I don’t,” I say, finding myself drawn in despite my wishes.


Holmes squeezes my arm and continues: “Shortly before their contretemps with me, the three men were up before the magistrate on charges of pressing their attentions upon one Miss Sarah Fleming, daughter of Ralph Fleming, head warder of Bedlam. For some time, the eye of suspicion also fell upon him, but it was proved that he had been attending the theatre upon the fateful evening, and so could not have been involved in the disappearance of his daughter’s attackers.”


“So if you did not speak to Mr. Fleming,” I say, “then how did you let him know you had the men?”


“I didn’t need to,” Holmes sighs. “You see, I only left the men there, knowing that they would be taken in and cared for. I also knew that all they had to do to secure their own safe release would be to identify themselves to the warden.”


“Dear Lord above,” Lestrade whispers. “And after their day in court, they knew all too well who the warden was, of course.”


“Of course. Mr. Fleming never knew that the three men who had assaulted his daughter were under his care. Of course, had the men identified themselves, they would have been able to leave, but …” Holmes shrugs. “I was not able to keep myself apprised of their condition once they were admitted, but I know for a fact that they did not leave Bedlam, not alive, in any case.”


“They could have identified themselves …” I shudder. “And you say they never left? What do you suppose …” I leave the question unfinished, and am relieved when Holmes does not answer. I know all too well what things may happen in the snake pits of Bedlam, and I shudder at the possibilities.


“You let their own guilt become the method of their destruction,” Alice pronounces solemnly. “Had they not deserved their punishment, they would not have had to endure it. It was an elegant solution,” she adds.


“I am a murderer,” Holmes says quietly.


“Murderer, no,” Alice replies thoughtfully. “Executioner, perhaps. It has been said that our culture needs its butchers as well as its shepherds.”


“How sad that it should prove to be true,” Holmes mutters. “I just wonder –”


His words are interrupted by the distant ring of church bells.


“Midnight,” says Lestrade, kissing his wife tenderly. “Happy new year, my sweet. Here’s to another year I come home safe to you every night, God willing.”


“Another year gone,” I sigh.


“Another year ahead of us,” Alice reminds me. “Tonight is a beginning, not an ending. We have another chance to make this sad world just a little happier.”


Holmes claps his hands together. “Well, I shall tell you what we need to make this sad man happier, my friends. Let’s get that final bottle open, and Doctor, would you be so good as to throw another log on the fire? Now, where did I put my violin? I’m sure that, given the date, the neighbours shall not object to some cheerful music.”


The light of a midwinter sunrise is a breathtaking treasure; the delicate hues in the sky seem to seep into the very air, and I am held awestruck by the beauty of the clouds over the opposite buildings as I stand in the bow-window, watching a sleepy Inspector Lestrade assist his wife into their cab.


A gentle snore from the settee behind me tells me that Holmes has finally dozed off. I shall have to wake him soon, and force him to assist me with some amount of tidying; it should not do to leave Mrs. Hudson with the detritus of her own birthday party, especially when she was so kind as to allow us to borrow it for our wedding reception.


I twist the ring upon my finger, watching it shine in the pale morning light. Later to-day, I shall have to put it back upon my watch-chain, just as the ring on Holmes’ finger shall go back upon a chain round his neck, but this morning it feels solid and reassuring upon my hand, an anchor linking me to my other half, the man I love.


I do not jump when Holmes’ arms slip around mine; although I did not hear him rising from the settee, I could sense his presence as he approached me, and I gratefully melt into his embrace as he presses his lips to my cheek.


“I expected snow,” he says, a hint of petulance in his tone.


“It was too warm again last night,” I tell him, staring up at the clouds. “I don’t think it shall snow this week, old boy, not in town, at least.”


“No, I guess not. Well, come on, then,” he says, turning from the window.


“Where are we going?”


“To bed,” he laughs. “We have a brand new year ahead of us. And I, for one, could use some sleep.”





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