January 2011

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Monday, December 27th, 2010 09:20 am
Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: Sherlock Holmes; slash; pre-slash
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Holmes / OMC; Holmes / Watson pre-slash?
Disclaimer: Alas, I don’t own Sherlock Holmes
Summary: I swiveled in my chair to face him—but stopped cold as I recognized the fellow. Of course I recognized him. How could I forget him? I had given my greatest performance, to date, in his rooms at Baker Street.

Part One: Jonathan Daniels

“Come in,” I called out, answering the knock on the door that led to my cramped dressing room. Not that I was complaining about the tight quarters, mind. The room was a luxury for this little theatre—and at least my portrayal of the ruthless and cunning Prince Hal rated some privacy.

A tall man with a keen pair of grey eyes stepped inside. I stared at him through my mirror as I removed the last of that ghastly rouge I wear on stage. He wasn't a member of our company. Had he sought me out to compliment my performance?

I swiveled in my chair to face him—but stopped cold as I recognized the fellow. Of course I recognized him. How could I forget him? I had given my greatest performance, to date, in his rooms at Baker Street. Sadly, it had been a private performance: he and that doctor friend of his were the only witnesses.

But did he recognize me? I had been dressed, convincingly, as a little old woman when last we met.

“Mr. Jonathan Daniels?” he asked.

He knew. His eyes were sparkling with amusement and a hint of respect. Oh yes, he knew. He had seen me perform on stage tonight—and something must have given me away.

“The same,” I said, favoring him with a warm smile. “To what do I owe this honor, Mr. Holmes? Have you come to chastise me for making off with that ring and leading you on a wild goose chase?”

“On the contrary, I came to congratulate you on a fine performance,” he said with a small bow that was somehow ironic and good-natured at the same time. “May I have a seat?”

“Please,” I said, indicating the only other chair that would fit in the room. “I'm not in legal difficulties, am I? Will you have me hauled off to prison for helping a man who turned out to be a murderer? I didn't know of his crimes—I assure you of that. Not that I blame him entirely, given the circumstances.”

But Holmes waved a hand to silence me. “The matter is settled,” he said, “and your friend's early death assured that he would face a higher Judge than any England could have provided.”

I nodded at that. “True enough,” I owned, remembering my friend with a pang. “Now, what gave me away? Really, I thought my portrayal of Mrs. Sawyer was pitch-perfect.”

I paused, transforming my voice and mannerisms to that of an old crone. “It's this as has brought me, good gentlemen,” I said, pointing to an imaginary advertisement, “a gold wedding ring in the Brixton Road. It belongs to my girl Sally, as was married only this time twelvemonth, which her husband is steward aboard a Union boat, and what he'd say if he come 'ome and found her without her ring is more than I can think, he being short enough at the best o' times, but more especially when he has the drink. If it please you, she went to the circus last night along with—”

Holmes threw back his head and laughed. “You still have your lines memorized, I see,” he said, once he recovered.

“I bloody well should,” I said, grinning. “They were damn fine lines.”

“Indeed,” he agreed, nodding amicably.

“But you haven't answered my question,” I persisted. “What gave me away? I was well disguised—hardly the handsome young man you see before you now.”

He smiled at my lack of modesty as he shook his head. “It had little to do with your appearance, apart from one or two mannerisms. It was your voice. Yes, yes—I know. Of course you disguised your tone and your accent that day on Baker Street. Nonetheless, there was a familiar ring to it. It didn't take me long to place it.”

“Well, I can't say I'm sorry,” I said, holding out my hand to him. “It's good to meet you, ah, legitimately.”

He took my hand and shook it. “Likewise."

His hand was warm, his handshake firm—and there was something damn enticing about those penetrating eyes of his. Very little must get past him...and that made my victory over him all the sweeter. But I was unlikely to enjoy another such triumph. In fact, I suspected that he had already taken stock of me and my cramped little dressing room.

I released his hand, but I let my own dark eyes stare into his grey ones a moment longer than necessary. He didn't break off in embarrassment. That was a good sign.

A good sign for what? To be honest, I wasn't sure yet. But I already knew that I wanted to keep all possibilities open.

Holmes leaned back in his chair, regarding me thoughtfully. “You are not quite what I expected,” he said. “Although I should have guessed that he would turn to a fellow American for help.”

I sighed at that. “Damn—was it my voice again? I thought I had purged all traces of my native Brooklyn from my accent.”

He shook his head. “It's dozens of little things—things that few people would notice. I couldn't begin to name them all.”

“What else can you guess about me?” I asked.

He slit his eyes at that. Apparently 'guess' was the wrong word to employ. Nonetheless, he deigned to answer me.

“You come from a large family—you have at least four sisters—but you are estranged from your parents. You are a member of the Israelite faith, but you do not much practice it. Despite your reference to your 'native Brooklyn,' you were not born in America. You did, however, emigrate there when you were quite young. No more than three or four years of age, I should say. And although your command of the English language is masterful, it is not your native tongue. You are not married, you smoke only a clay pipe—and that rarely—and you never drink to excess.”

He paused to pull out a cigarette case. “Jonathan Daniels, I need hardly add, is a stage name. I hope you don't mind if I smoke?”

“Not at all,” I said, grinning at his accurate assessment of my past and my habits. “I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm a Jew,” I added. “And you're quite right—I'm not in the least observant. I can understand how you guessed that much. But how did you know that I have four sisters? Or that I wasn't born in America? Or that I'm estranged from my parents? Did you investigate me before you came here tonight?”

“No. Why should I have?” he retorted. “I didn't realize that you were the mysterious Mrs. Sawyer until I heard your voice this evening. But you have dozens of tokens here that are clearly gifts sent to you by sisters—the gifts sent by an admirer or paramour would be of quite a different stamp. As for the rest...well, it would take too long to explain.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “At least tell me how you knew about my parents.”

Those grey eyes were sympathetic as he answered. “It would be remarkable parents indeed who would happily watch their son abandon their religious practices and tight-knit community in order to pursue a life on the stage.”

I had to smile at the truth of that, but I was still unsatisfied. Did he know that there was even more to the story? If so, he gave no hint of it.

I took a deep breath as I continued to stare at him. I felt as if this man had just uncovered a part of my soul and left it bare and open for dissection. And yet, some part of me wanted him to continue the operation.

“Why did you seek me out?” I asked at length. “Merely to satisfy your curiosity? To make sure that I am the man who fooled you?”

“Yes,” he owned. “And to ask a favor. You are obviously a master of disguise—I am somewhat adept myself, but I shouldn't mind picking up a hint or two.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. Was this a genuine request, or an excuse to spend time in my company? Or both? But what did it matter? Either way, I was willing to accommodate him.

I smiled at him, taking my time about answering. I remembered that doctor friend of his who apparently shared his rooms—but that didn't signify anything. Their arrangement was, no doubt, painfully respectable...quite the opposite of the arrangement I wanted with Mr. Holmes.

“Well?” he prompted, his grey eyes dancing with amusement as he called me back to the question at hand. It was almost as if he had read my thoughts.

I grinned at him. “Yes, Mr. Holmes. I'm sure we can arrange something.”

~oOo~

Part Two: John Watson

I have never known Sherlock Holmes to lavish time upon his friends. Indeed, those he calls friends are few and far between; I count myself fortunate to be numbered among them. It is not that he has no talent for friendship—it is merely that his devotion to his work leaves him little time to seek out companions.

It was with some surprise, therefore, that I learned he had struck up a new friendship—and with an actor, no less.

I remember the night clearly. I was smoking in my chair, letting my mind wander, as Holmes lounged on the divan, scratching a haunting melody on his violin. At length he put down his instrument and turned toward me with a decided sparkle in his eyes.

“I’ve met Mrs. Sawyer,” he announced.

I started at that, trying to place the name. But then my eyebrows shot up as I remembered the old crone…or the person who had disguised himself as such. “You don’t mean the accomplice? How did you find him?”

“Quite by chance,” he assured me. “He’s playing the part of Prince Hal at present—you remember, my dear fellow, that you cancelled on me that evening in order to tend to a patient.”

“That was last week, wasn’t it?”

Holmes nodded. “Yes. There was something familiar about the prince’s voice. It did not take me long to realise that this actor—one Jonathan Daniels by name—was the very man who tricked us out of that ring.”

He paused as his eyes seemed to glimmer at the memory. “I sought him out backstage after the performance,” he continued. “He recognised me, of course, and greeted me by name. I complimented him on his skill.”

“So he admitted his part in the affair?”

“Oh yes. We had a most instructive conversation—and we’ve met several times since. He's been training me in the art of disguise. I thought myself an expert, but my meager talent pales next to his. I shall certainly put his lessons to good use.”

I frowned slightly as I took that in. No case was occupying my friend at present, but he had nonetheless been out of our rooms for most of this week. And on one night, at least, he had not returned home.

Normally I would think nothing of that—I would simply be grateful that he had not taken to the needle out of boredom. But now I wondered if he was engaged in something equally dangerous.

I am not naïve. It occurred to me, almost from the first, that Holmes’ lack of interest in women or matrimony might be due to a preference for his own sex. We have never spoken of this, of course. If my friend is indeed cursed with that failing, it is not my place to take him to task, but rather to make certain that he is not found out. Such information, in the wrong hands, would be devastating. Holmes could, conceivably, be sent to prison.

I bit back a sigh. I dared not ask Holmes if this actor had become his lover. I had no right to ask such a question. But the mere thought of it turned my stomach. Quite apart from the perversity involved, I found that I could not tolerate the notion of a stranger on such intimate terms with Holmes.

However, I was able to comfort myself with the thought that Holmes would soon grow weary of his actor. No one could keep his interest indefinitely. Only a tantalizing case could do that. Holmes would forget his infatuation…assuming he was, indeed, infatuated. It was quite possible that I was worrying over nothing.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet the fellow,” I said as I attempted to feign nonchalance.

“Oh, there will be other opportunities,” Holmes responded. “In fact, we’ll be dining together tomorrow, after his performance. Why don’t you join us?”

His voice was careless, as if it was a matter of no importance—but he had tensed ever so slightly while waiting for my answer. Or had I imagined that? I was tired; perhaps my brain was playing tricks on me.

“I should like that,” I managed, wondering how to take this invitation. Should I be encouraged? Perhaps this Jonathan Daniels was nothing more than a friend. Surely Holmes would not go out of his way to introduce his lover to me?

Unless…unless he were so besotted that he meant to make Daniels a permanent fixture in his life. Would he wish me to meet the fellow, if that were the case?

But I was leaping to conclusions again. Holmes had only known this man for a week. In all likelihood, they were merely friends. And even if there was something more between them—well, a week was not long enough for Holmes to become besotted. He was not such a fool.

“Good,” Holmes was saying, his voice still careless and indifferent. “You had best to get bed, old chap. You’re looking quite done in.”

I muttered some words of agreement and then fled to my bedroom, where I passed an indifferent night.

~oOo~

Part Three: John Watson

My heart sank within a few minutes of meeting Jonathan Daniels. I had been hoping to find an attractive but vacuous chap who would soon bore Holmes to tears. But this fellow was no empty-headed beauty. He was intelligent and good natured, with a careless sort of charm.

I studied him from across the table. At the moment, he was explaining to Holmes why he found Marlowe’s Jew of Malta less offensive than Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

“You’ve taken leave of your senses,” Holmes was telling him. “According to Marlowe, Jews have nothing better to do than poison a whole convent’s worth of nuns.”

“Precisely—Marlowe’s charges are so ludicrous that they become farcical,” Daniels retorted, grinning. “Besides, Marlowe despises his Christian characters too. He hates everyone equally. But Shakespeare gives us far more plausible characters…and so the problems with Merchant cut much deeper.”

I knew from Holmes that Daniels was himself a Jew. Holmes had also told me that he was an American. I had been sorry to learn that: Americans, with their reputation for frank, open manners—not to mention boundless energy and ambition—never failed to captivate my friend.

“Would you play Shylock, given the chance?” I asked Daniels, forcing myself to take part in the conversation.

“Oh, I’d like nothing better,” he admitted. “But I’d hope for an understanding director.”

Despite my best efforts, I found myself smiling in response. “One who wouldn’t force you to play Shylock as if he were Fagin from Oliver Twist?”

He laughed. “Just so!”

“I understand that Dickens repented, somewhat, of his vicious portrayal of Jews in that novel,” Holmes commented.

Daniels shrugged. “So they say. The later editions weren’t quite as offensive…and he gave us an amiable nod in Our Mutual Friend.”

The conversation turned from there. Daniels asked me about my practice and my experiences in Afghanistan. He seemed genuinely interested, but that might have been a polite act.

Holmes must have told him that I had served in the war; I certainly hadn’t mentioned it. My name, then, had come up in their private conversations. I was uncertain what to make of that.

At length the discussion came back around to The Merchant of Venice. Holmes steered it that way, apparently because he enjoyed watching Daniels wrestle with the implications of the play.

“And I despise Jessica,” Daniels was saying. “She abandons her religion without a twinge of conscience, just to marry that Lorenzo fellow—”

“Would it have been worse if she abandoned her faith for the stage?” Holmes asked with an air of innocence.

Daniels glared at him, but he couldn’t stop himself from flashing Holmes an appreciative grin. “An excellent point,” he owned. “I would like Jessica much better if she didn’t remind me of myself.”

They continued talking, but I stopped following them. I was too shocked. Holmes had just made a cutting and deeply personal remark to Daniels—a remark that nothing but a long-standing friendship, or an intimate relationship, could excuse.

And there was, of course, no long-standing friendship.

Was I making too much of it? Holmes is hardly a master of tact. And Daniels had taken the remark in good part. But somehow that fact made the remark seem more damning. Why should Daniels accept such a remark from anyone but an old friend…or a lover?

“Is there not some Reformed movement in your religion?” Holmes was asking as I forced myself back to the conversation.

“Reform movement,” Daniels corrected. “Yes, but that’s not the Judaism I was raised with—and it wouldn’t satisfy my parents, believe me. It would be like asking devout Catholic parents to be happy that their child had joined the Church of England or, heaven forbid, the Anabaptists.”

Holmes smiled. “I’ve known some Catholic parents who would be happier with the Anabaptists than the Church of England.”

Even I managed a laugh at that, but it was a half-hearted effort. Holmes glanced at me with concern, but I purposely looked away, turning my attention back to Daniels.

At length the evening ended. It had not been a disaster; on the surface, it seemed nothing more than a pleasant outing among friends. Holmes and Daniels had, of course, behaved with perfect propriety. No one watching them would have suspected anything.

After Daniels took his leave of us, Holmes and I hired a cab to return us to Baker Street. We were silent for the entire journey. I was too caught up in a tangle of fears to make sensible conversation.

Some of those fears, I’m ashamed to admit, had jealousy at their root. I had so long been Holmes’ chief companion that I found myself reluctant to share his company. Nor did I care to imagine the intimate knowledge Daniels might have of my friend. But I also feared for Holmes. Did he understand what he was risking?

Holmes turned to me as we walked into our rooms. “You had best say what’s on your mind, old chap,” he advised me. “Do you dislike Daniels that much?”

“No,” I answered. “In fact, he’s impossible to dislike.” I paused in order to look him in the eye. “Holmes, do you know what you’re about? This could ruin you.”

The words were out of my mouth before I could reclaim them. But perhaps that was for the best—why should we not be honest with one another?

For a long moment, Holmes seemed frozen. “Yes,” he managed at last. “I know what I’m about.” He looked away from me as he fumbled for his cigarette case. “Will you be packing your bags?”

“Of course not,” I said. “Do you think so little of me?”

He looked me in the face again. “On the contrary, I think the world of you, Watson. And I—I would not do anything that would jeopardize our friendship.”

I inhaled sharply at that, wondering if he was willing to break off this affair with Daniels simply because it worried me.

“There is nothing you could do to jeopardize our friendship,” I said at last, giving him what I hoped was a comforting smile. “Just…just be careful.”

He favored me with a wan, grateful smile in return—and neither of us said anything further. For now, the matter was closed.

~oOo~

Part Four: Jonathan Daniels

I walked home from dinner instead of hailing a cab. I had a snug set of rooms in Covent Garden which, fortunately, is not quite the notorious red-light district it was a century ago. But it still attracts actors and opera singers and courtesans, not to mention the poor flower girls. All in all, the sort of people I've come to feel at home with.

I paused at that and spared a raw smile for my home back in Brooklyn. My sisters are as mad about me as ever. I'm still their little brother—hence all the tokens of their affection that Holmes observed in my dressing room. They were all upset by the rift between our parents and myself, but none of them cut me off. It'd be awkward for them if I showed up on any of their doorsteps...but I don't think they'd turn me away.

But my parents—well, if they were going to have just one son, they should have had a son like Dr. John Watson: intelligent, kind and, as I suspected, painfully respectable. He'd have followed my father's wishes. He'd have married a nice girl from our community, become a pillar of the synagogue and everyone's friend and confidant. He would have studied Shakespeare (a pursuit my father found acceptable, if somewhat incomprehensible to a man of his limited English) without falling in love with some actor and running off to the stage.

I started walking again. Watson knows, of course. He's not naïve enough to believe that Holmes and I are merely friends. He doesn't approve, and he's probably having nightmares about Holmes being hauled off to prison, but he'll accept me for Holmes' sake.

I frowned at that. Why had Holmes wanted me to meet him in the first place? I honestly think that he needed Watson's approval—or at least understanding. Well, I shouldn't be surprised. It had become clear, in the past week, that Dr. Watson looms large in my lover's life.

Perhaps Watson was the only true family he had. No, Holmes did have a brother. I knew that because I had pestered him about his background. His parents were deceased, but his older brother was alive and well and living here in London. But while there was no quarrel between the two, they didn't go out of their way to visit each other.

So I was back to where I started: Watson was the closest thing Holmes had to real family. Well, I could understand that, couldn't I? After all, I had a makeshift family of my own in my fellow actors and actresses.

~

“Perfect,” Holmes said, regarding himself in my mirror with a critical eye. “You're quite right—vaseline works wonders when it comes to feigning a fever. I do believe I could fool even Watson, if I didn't allow him to come close enough to feel my forehead.”

I grinned at him as I dabbed his face with a handkerchief. It was a month after that dinner with the good doctor, and things were looking quite promising between Holmes and me. And I noticed that he was becoming more and more at ease in my rooms.

“Vaseline has so many uses...” I teased.

He laughed and pulled me into his arms. “We should commence an in-depth study immediately,” he recommended.

I kissed him soundly, but then broke apart from him. “Alas, we'll have to postpone our experiments. I'm due to perform in an hour.”

He sighed, but managed a nod. “Very well. Why I don't I wait here for you?”

I was surprised by that, but flattered. Holmes is a finicky fellow—he either can't get enough of me, or he has no use for me for days on end. I can stand the time apart, but I like it better when he's insatiable for my company.

“Please do,” I said, “and make yourself at home. Feel free to prowl through my books if you get bored.”

“Oh, I shall keep myself entertained,” Holmes promised me. “Now off with you—I want to practice this fevered look.”

I smiled at that and took my leave of him, hoping that the hours would pass quickly.

~

I picked up a bouquet of roses from one of the flower girls on my way back. Holmes might not appreciate the gesture, but I would make it all the same. I took the steps two at a time when I reached my building and all but bounded into my rooms.

“Holmes?” I called out.

There was no response. I was just wondering if he had gone out when I heard him call back from the bedroom.

“John?” he said.

I stiffened at that. He called me Daniels. And if he were going to call me by my first name, he would have said 'Jonathan' rather than 'John.' Apparently I was not the one on his mind. But somehow I managed to swallow my anger and convince myself, yet again, that Watson was like a brother to him. Then I tromped toward the bedroom—but I froze at threshold.

Holmes was ill. Seriously ill. His face was pale and drenched in sweat, his eyes—I can't begin to describe how frightening it was to see such a vacant expression in them. Those grey eyes should be sharp and penetrating, not hollow and listless.

I rushed over to him. God help the man if this was an act, a way of practicing with the vaseline...

But this was no act. He was drugged. Had he taken an excess of laudanum? He hadn't mentioned any pain or injuries. But then I saw the needle and the bottle on the small table near my bed. Cocaine. I knew plenty of actors who favored that seven percent solution.

I also knew that even in the midst of a cocaine-clouded dream, no one should look like this. Something was wrong. Holmes had taken too much of the stuff, or he'd been taking it too long. I shook myself. I never dreamed that he'd be the sort to turn to these wretched chemicals. What on earth had induced him to plunge a needle into his arm? Would I find him in an opium den next?

I felt his face—it was cold as ice. I swallowed hard and searched for his pulse. I'm no expert, but it seemed weak to me.

“Holmes,” I said, shaking him gently. “Holmes, wake up!”

His eyes tried to focus on me. “Daniels? Where's Watson?”

“I'll fetch him,” I promised. “You need a doctor.”

He grabbed hold of me with surprising strength. “No! I don't wish Watson to see me like this...”

God damn him. Is that why he wanted to stay in my rooms? To indulge his habit without his beloved Watson being any the wiser?

“If you're in the habit of sticking a needle in your arm, I imagine he's seen you worse,” I retorted. But then I felt my face soften—I couldn't stand to see Holmes so distressed. God help me, but I was already half in love with this brilliant idiot.

“I'll get Kitty to look after you,” I continued as he finally released me. He didn't have the strength to maintain that grip.

“The courtesan downstairs?” he asked, his voice no more than a whisper.

I nodded. “She's discreet. And she's at liberty—her man's away in the country with his family.” I paused to lean down and kiss him. “Just stay put. I'll be back with Watson soon.”

~oOo~

Part Five: Jonathan Daniels

At some point—just as the maid was ushering me up to 221B, actually—it occurred to me that things might be a bit awkward between myself and John Watson. I even began to worry that I'd made too much of Holmes' illness. Perhaps he would recover on his own. But Kitty had been just as concerned as I was, I reminded myself. And she knew a thing or two about cocaine.

Watson's face paled as soon as he saw me. He must have guessed that I wasn't paying a social call. He waited just long enough for the maid to shut the door behind her before taking a step toward me.

"What's happened?” he demanded.

"It's Holmes. He's...he's unwell. He injected himself with cocaine—"

But Watson was already collecting his coat, hat and bag.

"I have a cab waiting for us," I continued.

He spared me a brusque nod and headed for the door. I followed him outside, back towards the hansom. Then I took my seat next to him without saying a word.

~

The ride back to my rooms was even worse than I anticipated. For the first few minutes, Watson stared straight ahead, refusing to spare me even a glance. I might as well have squeezed in with the driver up in the back—he'd have been happier with my company.

But at length the good doctor forced himself to speak. “Is Holmes in the habit of taking cocaine in your quarters?" he asked.

My eyebrows shot up at that accusation. Did he think I was operating an opium den? "No! I didn't know he took the stuff until today. I don't bother with drugs or chemicals of any sort if I can help it."

Watson finally turned his head toward me. He stared at me for a long moment, apparently evaluating the truth of my statement. "I see," he said at last. "I should have realized that, of course. Holmes says you scarcely even take tobacco."

I sighed and looked away. "Is this a regular habit of his?"

He shook his head, relaxing a bit as he managed to ignore the jostling of the hansom. "No. Holmes—Holmes can go for months without resorting to the needle. However, he grows bored when there's no challenging case at hand."

I gave him a sharp look. "You think he's bored of me?"

I shouldn't have said that—I knew that as soon as the words left my mouth. Watson was doing his utmost to ignore my affair with Holmes, but I had gone and thrown it in his face. Not well done of me, was it?

But I couldn't help myself. I was still fascinated by Holmes and I expected to remain so. Everything about the man captivated me. His passion for justice, his keen and cutting observations, his talent and skill in his profession, the way he could converse at length on obscure topics—even if he didn't know a damn thing about more conventional ones.

And then there were those piercing grey eyes of his...

No, I would never grow tired of Holmes. But I had to face the possibility that I was only a temporary amusement; something to pass the time between cases. Perhaps that's not what Holmes intended—perhaps he'd thought that I could keep him intrigued indefinitely. I was from such a radically different world than his own, after all...and such oddities fascinated him.

And yet, after a mere five weeks, he was bored enough to turn to cocaine.

I sank back into my seat and sighed again. Watson hadn't bothered to answer me, I noticed. At a guess, he was politely pretending that he hadn't heard—because, of course, he couldn't possibly converse on such a subject. It wasn't in him.

I shook myself. This wasn't the time for self-pity—there were more important things to worry about. I could figure out where I stood with Holmes later.

“No mere human can keep Holmes' interest,” Watson said suddenly. He spoke so quietly that I almost missed the words, even though we were sitting side by side.

I turned my head toward him with a questioning look.

“You mustn't take it personally,” the doctor continued, keeping his voice low and looking acutely uncomfortable. “And you mustn't think that he doesn't hold you in regard."

He paused and took a deep breath. "I don't believe that Holmes is trifling with you, Daniels—but only a challenging case can save him from the ennui that drives him to the needle. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this. Nor should you take it as a sign that Holmes has grown weary of you.”

Somehow I managed a nod, surprised but grateful for this unexpected reassurance. Watson must know Holmes better than anyone. I could trust his words.

I would just have to hope that his insights regarding Holmes sprang purely from brotherly affection.

~oOo~

Part Six: John Watson

I was frantic by the time we rushed into Daniels' rooms. The symptoms he had described—a low heartbeat, a forehead as cold as ice—were the opposite of what I expected. Holmes' seven-percent solution often set his pulse racing and usually made him feverish. But Daniels had witnessed the aftermath of his injection, I reminded myself. I swore under my breath, hoping that Holmes had caused himself no lasting damage.

Holmes was dangerously still when I charged into the bedroom. I took his wrist in my hand, feeling for his pulse. Daniels was right: it was faint. Moreover, his breath was shallow. I frowned and wrinkled my nose. My poor friend had soiled his sheets, I realised.

"What can I do?" Daniels asked, hovering at the threshold. He had just dismissed a woman named 'Kitty,' who had apparently been looking after Holmes in his absence.

I gave him a sharp glance, trying to judge how much use he would be in this situation. "Have you a fresh gown for him?" I asked. "And fresh linens?"

He nodded and promptly fetched the materials from a wardrobe in the room. I wanted to treat Holmes immediately, however, so after Daniels set the items aside, I sent him on an errand. I can't remember what I asked him to acquire; I just wanted him out of my way while I saw to my patient.

I'll own that I feared the worse. It was quite possible that Holmes had taken a stroke. True, his face did not exhibit the tell tale signs, but that did not preclude the possibility.

I tended to Holmes to the best of my abilities, chiding him as I did so. This habit was of his was going to be the death of him; perhaps not today, but some other time. He did not wake up for my lecture and so presumably did not benefit from it, but the act of taking him to task improved my temper regardless.

~

When Daniels returned, we bathed and changed Holmes together, making him as comfortable as possible. For the time being, there was nothing more to be done. His pulse was still fainter than I liked, but at least it was steady. And his body was no longer so shockingly cold. He had not yet woken up, but I had hopes that he would soon do so.

I stepped outside the room with Daniels. He turned to me with a face that was sick with fear. "Will he be all right?" he asked.

I sighed. There were many possible answers to that question. “I expect him to make a full recovery,” I told him, “but I can't be certain. We'll know more soon.”

He stared at me with an accusation in his eyes—he knew that I was being deliberately vague. I sighed again. Holmes assures me that I have no talent for deception.

“Daniels,” I said, looking him in the eye, “I'm answering you as honestly as I can without mentioning all the ghastly possibilities. I believe he will recover, but I can't be sure of it.”

He nodded. “I see,” he managed. “Please sit down, Doctor. What can I get you? Port? Brandy?”

“A brandy would be most welcome,” I said as I sank into a shabby but plump and comfortable chair.

I studied him as he poured a glass for me. He was deeply concerned for Holmes—more concerned, in my opinion, than Holmes deserved. That may sound harsh, but I was still furious with my friend. Furious, frantic, upset, worried...I paused long enough to spare myself a wry smile. What would Holmes make of my emotional state?

I sighed and turned my attention back to Daniels. I had not known, until today, that one man could fall in love with another. That they could lust after one another, that there could be a friendship between them—that I understood. But that a man could love another man as he would love his wife...this was an utterly new thought to me.

It was one that did not sit well, especially when it came to Holmes and Daniels.

Why did I feel so ill at ease with the notion? If Holmes must be afflicted with this unnatural attraction to his own sex, then a young man like Daniels was precisely what I should wish for him. Daniels was intelligent, discreet and, apparently, passionately in love with my friend. And yet I still couldn't stomach the thought of them together.

I did not object to the fact that Daniels was a Jew, I assured myself. He might have been a Hindu for all I cared. Nor did I look askance at his choice of profession; I could see how an actor would be of infinite use to Holmes. No, I had no objections to Daniels at all...except that he might rob me of my dearest friend.

I swallowed at that as Daniels handed me the brandy. I had no cause for jealousy, I reminded myself. I had no claim on Holmes but friendship—and surely Daniels had no intention of denying that claim. He had made no move to separate Holmes from me, after all. Quite the contrary.

Daniels seemed oblivious to my thoughts. He flopped into a chair near mine and gave me a half-hearted grin. “Do you go through this with him often?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, trying for a small smile myself. “As I said earlier, Holmes can go for months without touching the needle.”

“And when he does indulge, is he careful about the dosage?” Daniels persisted.

I did smile at that—a sour smile, I'm afraid. “It's not the dosage,” I explained after a gulp of the brandy. “The affects of cocaine are unpredictable.” I paused, cocking my head at him. “Are you prepared to deal with this situation again, if necessary?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But I'd rather he found some other relief from his boredom. We'll have to convince him of the harm he's doing to himself.”

I had to force myself not to roll my eyes heavenward. “I've warned him of that over and over,” I said, setting the glass down. “I can't understand why someone who prides himself on his logic insists on taking such a foolish risk—”

I broke off, for Holmes himself had appeared at the threshold of the bedroom door. I rose at once to assist him, guessing the extreme effort he was expending.

Daniels had his back to Holmes, but he twisted around as soon as he caught sight of my expression and then jumped to his feet. We each rushed to Holmes' side and soon had our arms under his shoulders. Fortunately he did not resist us as we guided him back to bed.

He smiled wanly at Daniels as I put another blanket on top of him. “Jonathan,” he said, “I need a word with Watson.”

At first I thought Daniels would object—he was anxious to remain at his lover's side. But after exchanging a long look with Holmes, he relented. “I'll go out and scrounge up some food for us,” he said, his voice measured and eminently reasonable. “I haven't much here, and we'll all be famished soon.”

And with that he took his leave of us. I waited to hear him exit the rooms and then turned back to Holmes.

He sighed and grasped my hand. “I suppose I should thank you for coming, old man,” he said.

“Would you have preferred to have gone untreated?” I answered coldly. I could not quite disguise my relief, however. His faculties appeared to be in tact.

He gave me a thin smile. “I shall listen to whatever lecture you think appropriate, my good fellow, in due course. But for now—” he shrugged and let his voice trail off.

I withdrew my hand from his and began to pace the room. He watched me for a moment and then stared toward the window, allowing the silence between us to grow painful.

“I hope you are not toying with that young man,” I said at last, resolutely stopping myself from facing him. “Whatever your intentions might be, Holmes, I assure you that Daniels is in earnest.”

It was an outrageous thing to say. The matter was no business of mine. And yet, to a certain extent, Daniels had made it my business. He had looked to me for reassurance.

Another long silence fell between us. “I'm not trifling with him, Watson,” Holmes said, finally deigning to answer me. “We deal rather well together. If he'll still have me, I see no reason to discontinue our association.”

“Association?” I said with a short laugh. “Holmes, that fellow is in love with you.”

My friend did not bother to hide the exasperation in his voice. “Must you be so maudlin? There's none of that romantic twaddle between us. Kindly rid yourself of the notion that we have nothing better to do than write sonnets to each other's eyebrows.”

I bit back a smile at that as I turned toward him. “I imagine he's quoted Shakespeare's sonnets to you,” I said ruefully, thinking of the ample suggestions of sodomy in them. “They would certainly be appropriate.”

Holmes stared at me for a long moment and then burst out laughing. “Well done, old fellow,” he said appreciatively.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't help but grin back at him as I made my way to the bed. “You're looking better,” I commented, seating myself at his side. “I believe you've escaped disaster yet again...but you won't always.”

“I'm aware of that,” he owned. “Very well, I shall make an effort to find another source of stimulation.” He paused and grasped my hand again. “Nothing has changed, Watson.”

I knew he was not referring to the cocaine, but to our friendship. And I also knew that he was mistaken; because of Daniels, things between us had changed irrevocably. I could not yet decipher the nature of that change, but I could sense it regardless.

However, even I was not maudlin enough to raise this point with Holmes—and so I let it pass.

~oOo~

Part Seven: Sherlock Holmes

Watson took his leave of us shortly after Daniels returned. He thanked Daniels for the invitation to remain—a genuine invitation, as far as I could tell—but insisted on returning to our rooms in Baker Street. He promised to return on the morrow, however, to make note of my progress.

Daniels, meanwhile, brought in a tray for me that contained a bowl of broth. I frowned at it. “I have Kitty to thank for this, I suppose,” I said.

“You do indeed,” he said, smiling. “And you’d best eat it. I won’t be able to face her if you don’t.”

“Very well,” I said, meekly picking up the spoon.

He gave me a wink and sat down on the edge of the bed, making it clear that I was to stomach the whole. I smiled wryly at him and forced it down. I'll own that the taste was acceptable, but I had no appetite.

He took the tray out when I finished and then returned to my side. “Shall I stay? I can read to you, if you’d like.”

I stared at him. He had spoken lightly, allowing me the option of privacy. But did he wish to stay? Watson would have—and that desire would have been written plainly on his face. But I could not read Daniels so easily. He was too accomplished an actor.

I sighed. This cheerful demeanor of his must mask some anger. Nonetheless, I reached out and took hold of his arm.

"Stay," I said, "Though I can't promise to remain awake for long." My voice, I noticed, was half pleading and half apprehensive, but I managed another wan smile. “I should think that you’d be washing your hands of me by now. I apologise, Jonathan. I have no excuse for becoming such a burden.”

He leaned over and kissed me, as if to assure me that we were not at an end. Then he changed into his night gown and crawled into bed beside me. I put my arm around him, allowing him to rest his head against my chest, and soon drifted off to sleep.

~

I awoke with an almost restless, feverish energy. Daniels was sound asleep, but I disentangled myself from him without disturbing him and crept out of bed. I then shrugged myself into my dressing gown and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind me.

I lit two lamps and then considered Daniel's living quarters, as if taking stock of them for the first time. They were crammed with books. Books on shelves, books piled on the floor, books spilling over, it seemed, from every corner. Most of these books were in English, but there was a Hebrew Bible, a Hebrew prayerbook—a Siddur, I believe it's called—and what I presumed were excerpts from the Talmud. There were also a few miscellaneous books in German and Russian. Daniels had an admirable talent for languages.

Which was his native tongue? I was fairly certain that he was born in Russia. (I had not asked him outright, for I was determined to solve this mystery on my own.) Presumably Russian was his first language, unless he had grown up speaking Yiddish instead. Did Jews in Russia speak Yiddish? Daniels, at any event, spoke it fluently. I'd heard him do so on numerous occasions and had already learned several colorful phrases from him.

As for the rest of the books—Shakespeare and commentaries on Shakespeare made up the majority of them. But there were plenty of other plays and novels, a few histories, folk tales and odds and ends that must have captured his fancy at one point or another.

I furrowed my brow as I pulled my cigarette box out of my pocket. Daniels was an intriguing fellow; he would never bore me. I expected to continue our arrangement for as long as he would tolerate me. Watson was quite unjust to believe that I was trifling with the lad.

I shut my eyes at the thought of Watson as I sank down into a shabby arm chair. He could scarcely stomach the thought of sodomy, poor fellow—and yet he had come immediately upon hearing that I had taken ill. I picked out a cigarette and lit it, wishing I had my pipe.

Why had I insisted on introducing Watson to Daniels in the first place? Why had I considered it a point of honour that I not hide Daniels from him? I frowned, trying to come up with a convincing—

“Why are you not in bed?”

I started at that. I had not heard Daniels open the bedroom door. He was was standing on the threshold, however, eyeing me with concern.

“I was restless, my dear fellow. Come, sit down.”

He folded his arms across his chest instead and leaned sideways against the door frame. “You haven't taken more of that wretched solution, have you?”

“No,” I assured him, shaking my head. “I'm not that much a fool.”

He managed a smile at that and then took a seat opposite of me. His face was not quite as cheerful as it had been earlier, however. Something was troubling him. Well, perhaps he was ready to give free rein to his anger. I certainly deserved the brunt of it.

“What's wrong, Jonathan?” I asked, keeping my voice soft as I continued to smoke.

He cocked his head at me. “Do you know that when you call me Jonathan, it doesn't sound nearly as intimate as when you say Watson?”

I believe I let out a long-suffering sigh at that point. “Daniels, I beg you. Watson is quite maudlin enough for the two of you—”

“It's not my fault that you have a penchant for sentimental men,” he retorted, grinning suddenly.

I glared at him, but I could not argue the truth of that statement. I certainly seemed to surround myself with such men.

“Holmes,” Daniels continued, looking me straight in the eye, “I've spent the past few weeks trying to convince myself that you and Watson regard each other as brothers. But that's not the case, is it?”

I held his gaze, but some moments passed before I answered his question. “I believe that is how Watson regards our relationship,” I said at length.

He nodded. “That's what I thought too...until today. Let's be honest, shall we? If that respectable doctor of yours were to confess himself a sodomite tomorrow, you'd have no more use for me.”

I looked away from him. “Daniels—”

“It's all right,” he said. “I'm not offended. I can stand the truth.”

I looked back at him. He did not appear to be crushed—quite the opposite. He was taking this in very good part. And yet I knew that I was incapable of penetrating any mask he chose to don. It was quite possible that I was witnessing a masterful performance.

“Are you finished with me?” I asked.

“No,” he said at once. “I'll take you on any terms, Holmes, and for as long as you please. If it must end when Watson comes to his senses...” he shrugged as his words trailed off. “Besides,” he added at length, “I'm not the jealous sort. I'd be perfectly willing to share you.”

I paled at that. Not from any shock on my part, but from imagining Watson's reaction to such a suggestion. I thought it highly improbable that my respectable doctor would ever declare himself a sodomite—but if he did so, he would insist on remaining as respectable as possible.

“While I might countenance such an arrangement, I fear that would be asking too much of Watson,” I said, sparing Daniels another wry smile.

He nodded. “I gathered that,” he admitted. Then he stood up and held out a hand to me. “Now get rid of that cigarette and come back to bed,” he ordered. “I may not have you for long, but I intend to take good care of you while I do.”

I obligingly put the cigarette out. “Are you sure of this, Daniels?”

“Yes,” he said, still holding out his hand to me. “And don't worry: I won't bore you with maudlin tears when it ends.”

Of course not, I thought to myself. You would never allow that mask of yours to slip. Your performance must remain in tact at all costs.

But out loud I said nothing. I merely accepted his hand and returned with him to bed.

~The End~

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