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Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at
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No Archive Warnings Apply
F/M, M/M
Sherlock (TV)
Sherlock Holmes/John Watson, John Watson/Mary Morstan
Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Mary Morstan
sherlock/john, UST, Pining, ACD Canon, Angst, first person present
tense, author chooses not to add other plot tags in order to not give
the plot away, author won't add misleading tags, but if you are
sensitive about difficult relationship issues, consider yourself warned
Published: 2011-03-22 Completed: 2011-03-27 Chapters: 25/25
Words: 62006

The Progress of Sherlock Holmes

by ivyblossom

I had, he said, come to an entirely erroneous conclusion, my dear Watson, how

dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data.
-- Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band


Thanks to trinaest, Elvichar, Em, Nef, and gelishan for constant and consistent beta,
britpick, and violinpick duties. You have my devotion forever.

Half second of disorientation that dissolves sharply into perfect awareness. Pain radiating from my
face. Stabbing ache in ribs like a punch in the gut. Broken rib, probably. More than one?
Uncertain. Hurts on inhale, exhale. Morning.
Strange dream lingers: John with teacups for eyes, disposable razor blades for fingers: disturbing.
Odd sensation coiled up in chest, like breath not caught. Distress. Fear? No. Couldn't be. Even
with teacups for eyes, it's still only John. Sadness, perhaps. Loss. Regret? It fades. Its morning,
dreams always fade.
Dreams are irrelevant.
Roughly twelve degrees outside; nearly a degree cooler than yesterday morning. The long slow
trudge toward midwinter. Boring. Muted light through the window; roughly quarter past seven,
mildly rainy, deeply overcast. Has been raining since somewhere around 4am. Will be muddy
down by the riverbank; must remember to wear boots.
Though: won't be permitted to even leave the flat today, probably. Not if John finds out about the
rib, certainly. John will bar the door (as if that will help), and Lestrade won't let me near the crime
scene. May find a way to arrest me to keep me away, keep me from moving around too much.
Pity. Will be a trying day. Hate being arrested. But: what needs must.
Right leg stiff, more than a bit sore: twisted? Strained? Impact of the fall, surely. Secondary
injuries untended by my careful and concerned doctor. His face: so full of compassion, of care, of
everything beautiful and pure in this world. How does he do it? How can he hold his heart in his
hands like that without leaving a trail of blood everywhere he goes? A certain kind of bravery,
more mundane maybe, but no less exceptional. He doesn't know about the rib yet. Didn't see that
set of blows. Wrist: broken? No. Bruised, surely, maybe mildly sprained. Will make playing violin
more challenging, but a little pain never hurt anyone.
Vulgar Tchaikovsky concerto in my head, why? No space for Tchaikovsky today. Perhaps later
tonight? John likes Tchaikovsky. Doesnt ever seem to know it is Tchaikovsky when he hears it.
Doesnt seem to care.
I love that, what was it? he'll say, sitting in his armchair, eyes shut (usually, sometimes not,
sometimes he watches me play, and I watch him right back). I imagine what he says instead is I
love you, and bask in it. Feels like sunshine radiating out from him, like heat, like fingers of smoke
that stroke me. I imagine he hasn't said it yet, only feels it, feels the urge to. And then theres me
caught in the moments just before he says it, the moment when its utterly true, before it has a
chance to degrade, fall apart. Hes about to say it, to say, I love you, to me, of all people, to me,
words about to appear in the air in front of him like smoke rings. I let it hover over me, the fantasy,
the sensation. Him listening to the sounds of my violin, of my fingers pressed against the strings,
my bow, the sound that vibrates through my chest first before it reaches him, his eyes shut (or not).
John sitting in his armchair loving Serenade for Strings, or a bit of Swan Lake (as I said: vulgar)
instead of loving me, but its so close. I concentrate, play even better, push the dire depths of my
maudlin heart strings into the violin strings. I love (you), he says, what was it? how can
anyone not recognize Swan Lake?
Every time. Every time he asks, its Tchaikovsky. Why? Does it appeal to some angst-ridden
homosexual tendencies in him? One can only hope. A soft heart, a romantic heart.
Still vulgar, though.

Dont want to open my eyes yet; reality is never quite as interesting as the insides of my head.
Teacups for eyes? How bizarre. John was naked in that dream. Naked and fourteen-feet tall. Still
irrelevant. I was tiny; he could hold me in the palm of his hand, trap me with his disposable razor
blade fingers. My subconscious is mad.
Eyes are gummy, nose feels flattened and sore, mild ache in left mandibular lateral incisor. Probe it
with my tongue. Loose, but wont fall out. Thank God, I hate the dentists. Aching head. Bit of
blood; copper taste. Eyes open: bleary. Sticky. Got roughed up a bit last night. Worth it. So much
evidence. Ha! So easy, this one. Idiot.
Eyes drain of moisture in the night, caught on damp eyelashes that tangle and stick together. Bit of
blood, unconscious tears. (would I cry if I lost him? I think I would. Emotional wound like an
overwhelming physical one, prompting a physiological reaction.) Tear them open, pull out a few
eyelashes in the process. Blink the gum away. The world is a bloody grey place once your eyes
are open. The dull grey of morning. Off-white ceiling, bare walls, bedroom door shut tight, the
pattern of the raindrops and streaks on the window against it.
Touch phone; flip over. Text from Lestrade? Nothing. Text him something peevish; he should
learn to share. Doesnt get him anywhere to hold onto details of cases. When will he learn?
Your lead is underwater. SH
That will keep him scratching his head. Ha! He should know better than to keep information from
me. As if I dont already know!
John moving around the kitchen; water boiling in the kettle. Box of teabags against the worktop;
sugar pot. (Slightly less than half full, from the sound.) Johns wearing socks, not slippers or
shoes. Hes still groggy, didnt sleep well. Nightmares again (of course). One of these days I will
just barge right in there, I will stop his nightmares with the sheer force of my will. I will stare them
down. I will outsmart them. Hes swearing under his breath now, why? Tired? Frustrated? Oh, he
saw the fingers in the fridge. Well, where else were they going to go?
John's tired feet against the floor, walking toward my bedroom with a mug of hot liquid in his
hand. He walks more carefully when he's bringing me a cup of tea, as if something dreadful will
happen if he spills it. Sensation in my chest, like my heart smiles as he approaches. I know the
signs and symptoms of being desperately, hopelessly in love. Sort of wish I didn't, but you can't
wish knowledge away. Bit of cocaine wouldn't hurt, though. John would never stand for it.
He taps on the door, like a polite flatmate. Grunt in response. A creak as the door opens. I love
that he doesnt care what I think about it; he comes in because he needs to, because he wants to.
Wants to see that Im all right, cares whether Im all right. John: hes like the sunshine pouring in.
He feels like warmth sneaking into a cold place. His hair, dishevelled, his face full of sleep, I want
to kiss him, I want to wrap myself around him and never let him go. Morning is not so grey when
hes here. He is my colours.
Sherlock? his voice is rough; hours of not speaking through the night. A rusty instrument.
Imagine an anchorite, hidden away in a cave for decades, living a life of sleep and prayer, not
speaking to a soul for years and years, then trying to form words with vocal chords that have been
so disused theyve forgotten their purpose; the human body needs to be used to fully function.
Like your heart, says the third man, my knowing subconscious. Like your heart, Sherlock. Like an
anchorite trying to speak. Metaphor: not really my area.
John sits down on my bed, the small of his back against my thigh. He is the very definition of
warm, a walking bit of vocabulary. Sigh. Act bored, act vaguely annoyed. John puts the cup of tea

down on my bedside table, his hand moving to my face.

How are you this morning? Always the doctor, my John. And so he is, my John. No matter
what happens. Light touches against my cheekbones, testing the bandage across my nose, his
fingers trace lightly at my torn lip.
Fine. Its fine, dont fuss. Deep breath; accidental (is it?) cough; wince from the pain. Johns
hands against my chest, only the thin material of a t-shirt between us. Eyes flutter shut again.
Shit, John says under his breath. You didnt mention a cracked rib, Sherlock. A note of
reproach in his voice. His hands lift up the t-shirt. The pain of the rib is nothing compared to the
pleasure of Johns warm hands pressing lightly against me. Like smoke rings. Like imaginary
love. Ill get you something for the pain, John says.
Mmm. No point in arguing. An opiate would soothe all of the various wounds, physical and
emotional. But likely John only means to give me paracetamol. Bastard.
I know you'll want to go back to the crime scene, John says, and sighs. He shifts a little on the
bed, his hands still pressed against me, his warm hands. His fingers; they pull triggers and kill,
they are so gentle on me. Ill have to tape that up first, though.
Oh, my John. My blogger, my helpmeet. Tape me up and take me out. I love you. I love you. I
love you.
Grunt, mumble out, Fine, turn head away. Pass me my tea. Not a question, a demand. An
anchorite, finally, finally trying to talk. Heart beats sideways. Warm mug in my hand, warm
fingers on mine. Thank you. Uncharacteristic: that will confuse him. He stops, I open my eyes
and watch him. He smiles. He looks concerned. I must look worse even than I feel.
Thats all right, he says. His voice is soft, like his fingers, his touch.
I will put on my boots before going down to the river bank to show Lestrade and his minions
exactly who they shall have to arrest. It will not be difficult. I will walk carefully for Johns sake
and John will hold my arm, concerned. We will have dinner, and I will eat, at Johns insistence.
Maybe soup. And when we come home again I will play some Tchaikovsky for John, in spite of
its obvious vulgarity and his protests about my sprains and cracked rib and wounds. He will keep
his eyes open to watch me. And he will love what I play for him. And that will be enough.

Hospital Corners
Hes asleep. His breathing has the rhythmic quality of unconsciousness; shallow, regular, quiet.
Slight hiss as air is drawn in through his nose, huff as it slides back out. Hes on his side, his face
away from the door, his knees bent and one arm tucked underneath the pillow. Asleep. A
reversible condition, but I wont wake him. Not yet, anyway. Not tonight. Someday, maybe.
(Maybe not.)
The door is partially open, as it often is. Theres plenty of room for me to stand here and watch.
Can stand still for hours without making a sound. I know I can, Ive done it. Repeatedly.
There remains not a single angle from, or condition under which, I would fail to recognise John
Watson. Have made a careful study of him, from the length of his thighs and the shape of each of
his toes to the dynamics of his gait. If John were kidnapped for any length of time (unable to
commit to his regular grooming pattern): would be able to report the precise length of his hair,
including facial. Could sketch the shape of his fingernails from memory. If handed a photograph
in which John was hidden within a crowd with only his right shoulder visible: would be able to
identify him (within fifteen seconds).
(A video; within ten.)
From here at the door, his back to me: the line of his shoulders almost entirely parallel to the
stretched pattern of light through the window from the streetlamp outside. Cannot see his face. A
pity. The image in my mind: never quite as good as the real thing.
Does he leave his door ajar like this on purpose? (Maybe hes inviting me, teasing me, daring me.)
No, probably not. Nice thought, though. Too devious. Something I would do (not John). John
doesnt play that kind of subtle game. Feigning sleep behind a half-opened door in order to be
watched, to be adored, to be desired quietly (and from a distance). Passive aggression isnt his
modus operandi. No, the door is open because he wants to be awakened when something
disturbing happens somewhere else in the flat in the middle of the night (not an unwarranted
presumption). Not a special message to me. Something about cigars being cigars. Dont remember
how it goes. Deleted it ages ago. (John would remember.)
His bed: so neat. Obscene. Hospital corners on the sheets, on the woollen blanket Mrs Hudson left
folded there for him months ago. Even the bedspread: hospital cornered within an inch of its life.
Sitting there in the middle of the day (cross-legged, or curled up, or lying flat on my back) when
John isnt around: the edges often spring free. Can just sit there, breaking his hospital corners,
thinking. Breathing. Leaving a mark on space and time.
Sometimes: lie there in his bed and stare up at the ceiling. Watch the pattern of lights from the
window, following the cracks in the ceiling to their logical ends. Perfectly straight, perfectly
smooth bed. Lie on the side John doesnt sleep on, the right side. (John is left handed.) Lie there as
if John is sleeping on the other side, perfectly occupying the space left there for a bed partner. (Do
all left handed people sleep on the left side of the bed? Why would they?)
John never notices the bedspread sprung free at the corners when he comes home. The slightly
disturbed lines of it. Hes never, as far as I am able to deduce (substantially far), managed to see
that his bed has sprung apart a bit at the seams. That its been sat upon. Never made any
appearance of recognising the telltale indentation my head leaves on the pillow. (So obvious. You
can smell a person on cotton pillow cases. I know. Ive done it. Repeatedly.)

Maybe he does notice. Underestimating him? Maybe he knows and approves, appreciates my
small battles against the remains of his military habits. Though my original, far more likely,
deduction is surely correct; he is an idiot. Simply doesnt observe the signs that someone else,
obviously his flatmate (who else would it be?), curls up in a foetal position on his outrageously
neat bed in the afternoons (as a proxy for curling up next to object of his pathetic, adolescent,
ridiculous, unrequited lust). For the best. Interpersonal relationships: really not my area.
At night John undoes a single corner of his perfectly folded and tucked creation and crawls into
bed, leaving most of the bedclothes undisturbed. So as he falls asleep he looks as though hes
wrapped in some sort of bed-shaped pastry, the form of his body beneath the surface perfectly
obvious to the casual observer. His feet, his calves. The spot on his lower back where it curves.
His shoulders, rising up to obscure his face from me. His bed clings to him, holds him, soothes
him. (I could do that.)
(Could I? Really? Would I have the patience? Wouldnt it get boring? Maybe. Probably. Maybe
not. Impossible to tell. Annoying.)
But in the night he dreams. Dream is the pleasant word for it; there is no verb for enduring a
nightmare. Slowly through the night, as the fear approaches (in the shape of a terrorist? Or the
threat of IEDs under his feet? Death and destruction, screaming? I dont know, Ive never asked.)
he starts to shake, and then he rolls onto his back, as if ready to defend himself, pressed against a
wall or protecting innocent Afghani children behind him, or some other heroic feat he is surely
reliving in his dreams, and as he shifts he rips apart one corner of his carefully-made bed. His arms
and legs start to move, first almost imperceptibly, then with more violence. He fights in his sleep,
struggles, moans, words fill his mouth but dont come out. The corner by his head comes apart
first, then, within roughly eight minutes, the one remaining hospital corner at his feet. From this I
deduce that in his nightmares he fights first, with his hands, then he runs. He runs because the
fighting has failed, or because it hasnt, and someone has died under his hands.
If John dreamed about killing people with his gun, he wouldnt tear his bed apart every night. The
act of pulling a trigger is such a gentle motion, so elegant: only three muscles are required. Flexor
Digitorum Profundus, Flexor Digitorum Superficialis and the Palmar Interosseous. Anyone who
isnt me might not even notice the subtle motion of these three muscles of Johns left index finger,
not even with the bedding pulled so tight across his body every night. John does not dream of
pulling triggers.
And thus during the night the carefully-constructed order of Johns bedclothes is utterly
eradicated; from perfect symmetry (the sheets, the blanket, and the bedspread are always laid
perfectly evenly on the bed, each side matching the other with mathematical precision) to varying
degrees of chaos by morning. Sometimes he pulls all the sheets off his bed, leaving the shiny
fabric of the mattress visible. Once he woke up, wrapped in his sheets, inside the cupboard - the
mattress pushed off the bed frame, the pillows slumped against the wall. That was early on, not
long after Moriarty and the pool. Hed been spooked, triggered, reminded of things he didnt want
to be reminded of, pushed into an awkward and likely terrifying place. All that could be seen of
him was a bit of sheet sticking out from under the cupboard door. He would have had to wrap his
arms around his legs tightly and stay that way, asleep, tense, alert to the sounds of nightmarish feet
against the floor, a rusty bayonet stabbed into the wall. I left him there. What else could I do? His
limp was pronounced the following morning, his sheets smelled vaguely of shoe polish and moth
Every morning he observes the evidence of his nightly struggles and he smooths it all out again;
remakes the bed, enforces order, straightens the pillows. Its incongruous, these military ways
against the softness of the bedclothes, the plaited rug on the floor, the gingham curtains Mrs.

Hudson (so lovingly) strung over the window. Hospital corners on a (soft, deep double) bed.
You would think the hospital corner ritual comes from Johns time in the military, and of course
you would be right. But thats not all: it is a ritual in which John undoes the chaos of his night
terrors. Erasing the violence he does in his sleep. Fighting back. Creating a new reality. Im not
sure he likes the reality he creates. In fact Im fairly certain he doesnt, not entirely. And so I
disturb it for him. Isnt that how a person demonstrates affection? Giving him what he wants, what
he secretly wants? Disorder, but not his own?
A slight shift; deliberate. His breathing has changed its pattern. Johns awake. Why? Didnt say
anything, didnt move, didnt make a sound. Hes turned away from me, surely he cant
Sherlock. His voice is sleep-rough. (Not even a question.)
(How does he know?)
First instinct: stay stock still, a deer caught in headlights. If I say anything, will he roll over and
look at me? (How does he know?) Second instinct, vying with the first (clearly originating from
my brain stem rather than my brain) is to run. Clatter down the stairs, duck into my room, slam the
door, hide under the blanket. Pretend to sleep. Deny all.
His shoulder shifts, he rolls onto his back. Takes the bottom left hospital corner with him, but
doesnt seem bothered by it. Can see his face now (caught in shadow, his eyes hollowed out of
darkness). Sighs, moves his hands. Rubs his fingers across his face, then through his hair.
You all right? Whats wrong? He sits up. Sherlock?
Have to say something. I wondered if you were awake.
Are you in pain?
Consider the question a moment: the honest answer is yes. Rib still on fire, face aches in various
places, headache. Easy to ignore. No.
Liar. Puts his feet onto the floor, into his slippers; switches on the light. Over-bright; eyes
adjusted to watching him in the darkness. The light is painful. Squint. Come in here, sit down.
Pads over to his dresser; opens a drawer.
Come into his room, sit on his bed. Try to sit cross-legged by my right leg objects. (Swear under
my breath.)
Comes to me in his t-shirt and his boxer shorts. (A slight gap between the bottom edge of his tshirt and the waistband of his shorts: they are hanging a bit low on his hips. See the abdominal
muscles in his pelvis. I may be staring; he doesnt appear to notice.) Hands me three pills, points to
the glass of water sitting on his bedside table.
I presume these are what youre here for. Saved by erroneous presumptions. My last three, so
dont get any ideas.
Peer at them. Round and white; narcotic opioid alkaloid. Probably morphine. Probably left over
from his recovery. Should have searched his drawers more thoroughly.
Put them on my tongue and taste their bitterness as they begin to dissolve. He picks up the glass of
water and hands it to me. Take it. For a moment his fingers are knitted through mine.

The water is lukewarm. The pills slide down my throat. He takes the glass again and puts it back
on the bedside table. It sits on a coaster that says Beautiful Torquay! and shows a faded
waterfront scene. He takes my wrist in his fingers. (Flinch. Still a bit tender.)
Thats sprained. He sounds surprised, his index finger pressing lightly against the swelling.
Barely. Dismiss it. Should snatch my wrist from his fingers, but dont want to. His gentle
fingers, his trigger finger presses against me.
Must have hurt though, playing your violin tonight. Thoughtful. Observant. (True.) Why do
you do that?
Helps me think. He hovers his fingers over my cheek, looks at my bruises.
You wouldnt have gone out today, if you were at all sane. The palm of his hand brushes
against my jaw. But youre a bit mad, arent you. He says it good-naturedly (affectionately).
Lestrade would have had another dead body on his hands had I not. Own voice sounds odd to
me. Deeper, more intimate, bit defensive. (Unintentional.) Missing some of its usual bite. Pain
dulling my tongue? Or just the effect of sitting on Johns bed. In the middle of the night. Staring
at the muscles in his pelvis.
Right. The heat of his hand next to my cheek. Im sure thats probably true. Hes looking hard
at my face, then runs his fingers lightly over the bandage across my nose. Close my eyes. He
pushes my dressing gown aside and pulls up my t-shirt. Can feel his knee hovering lightly next to
my thigh. His hands. One on my waist, as if to steady me, the other tracing the cracked rib. Stifle a
groan. If Id known you were planning on waltzing around the flat all night I wouldnt have
taken your tape off.
Huff in response. Was certainly not waltzing. Havent waltzed since that disastrous dance class
(1982). Facile, boring, tedious, humiliating experience.
Maybe Ill put a soft binding on it. Fingers tracing my sore rib. That all right?
Im going to find some old bedding. Stands. Feel the bed right itself with his absence. Stay
I stay. Empty stomach; lukewarm water. Pills that dissolve. Feel sleepy. Feel groggy. Feel dizzy.
Curled up under the bedclothes. Right side of the bed. Johns bed. Feels so familiar. Comfortable.
Perfect. All four of Johns hospital corners destroyed. His bed: a chaos of me. He should be
delighted. I have brought him the gift of complete disarray.
Up you get. John. Voice seems to come from a distance. He pulls back the blanket and props
me up. Feel my feet slither to the floor.
May be floating, possibly suspended in a warm liquid.
Feel the fabric of my dressing gown sliding off me, my t-shirt moving from my shoulders and then
over my head.Air: cool against my chest (feels good).
Sherlock, are you okay? John. Holding my chin. Open my eyes (heavy). John. Lit from behind
and to the left. Light from a lamp on his bedside table. (Yellow-orange glow.) Can recognise him
this way too, can see the perfect symmetry of his eyes, the way the firm line of his mouth of set,

the left side quirked slightly upwards. His eyes are blue, flecked with brown (if you look close).
Complex iris, a mass of pattern and disorder. No sharp edges. No hospital corners. Sherlock, all
Yes, fine. Try to say it. Not sure the syllables come out in the right order.
Maybe I didnt need to give you three of those pills. Johns voice. His hands on my shoulders.
John. Hands on your head, okay? Moves my arms (made from soft rubber), places my hands
behind my neck. Hold still a moment. Exhale.
Push the air out of my lungs. Wait. He wraps a strip of flannel around my chest, once, twice. Take
a deep breath and feel; constriction of cloth. Exhale again; he wraps another strip under the first
one. Feels like being held, (the way Johns bed holds him). Order around chaos. A revelation: hes
my order, Im his chaos. Yin and yang. Needs me (need him). A perfect match, a perfect pair.
Breathe. He puts his hands on my chest. Thats not too tight, is it?
Dont really have an opinion. Feels fine. (Better than fine.) Make a noise that could be interpreted
either way.
John. This is important.
Im your chaos. I gesture toward the bed. No more hospital corners. No dreadful, peaceful,
complete order that leaves John empty and riddled with pain and regret. No evidence of his
nightmares. Only evidence of me. I did this for you. Like Tchaikovsky.
Make the connection: its so obvious. A second epiphany. These things I do, I do them because
they soothe him, make him feel more connected to the world outside Afghanistan, to me. To
soothe him, the way his tightly-made bed soothes him in the night when I cannot. (Couldnt I? I
think I could. Worth a try.) He does the same for me, his order soothes me. Symmetry, like his
eyes. Yes?
Looks at me (vaguely amused; a bit puzzled). How could he be puzzled? So clear, so obvious.
Okay. He says it slowly. Well thanks. He laughs. I appreciate that. I think.
Yes. I feel a surge of pure joy.
I hoped you might. Smile. Lean forward. Forehead touches his. Shut my eyes, feel my lips
meet his.
Kiss him.
He is warm (tastes like toothpaste).
Put my hand in his hair. Kiss him again. Perfect.
He sighs against my cheek. (Warm.)
Folds me back into his bed, tucks me in. Smooths my hair with his hand, putting me in order.
Have a sleep now.

Feel the mattress dip beside me. John is on the left side, I am on the right. Have imagined this so
many times; feels absolutely perfect. Wonderful. He is warm, feels like he might be the source of
all warmth. A sun that revolves around a cold planet like me.
(Except that its the other way around, isnt it, the planet goes around the sun? Does that make any
sense? Who cares, who cares.)
Shift and press forehead against the back of his neck, hand on his hip.
Solar system. Words into his shoulder. Stars are warm, planets are cold. They rotate.
Sleep, Sherlock. John pats my hand. Sleep.
Morning. Sun from the wrong direction. Bed is soft, bedding is warm, feels odd. Pain. In my
head, my nose, my ribs, god. Ribs. Something holding down my chest. Right leg. Wrist. Gummy
eyes dont want to open. Shuffling sound from somewhere else.
In Johns bed. Eyes snap open. It all flashes in front of me: standing at his door, watching him in
the dark. He wakes, he sees me, he gives me morphine.
Oh god. Kissed him. Twice. Oh god.
Next to me the bed is not entirely made, not hospital-cornered within an inch of its life, but
ordered, flattened. Pillow removed and placed back in an orderly manner, no hint of an indent on
it. It looks as though I spent the night here alone (when I know I didnt).
Feet on the stairs. Johns feet; would recognise the sound of Johns feet anywhere, under any
circumstances. Including these. Including the outer edge of a panic attack, my life flashing before
my eyes. (Who else would it be?)
Arms and legs feel hot, then cold. Feet reach the top of the stairs and our roles are reversed; he
stands at the door (ajar) looking in at me in his bed, surveying the damage of the night. No
hospital corners, just chaos. Just his chaos: me. Feel my cheeks burning.
(The damage of the night: how severe?)
Oh. His voice. His every day voice, average voice. His everything is fine voice. Youre awake.
Good. Two cups in his hands. I was just about to try and wake you.
I... I dont have a vocabulary for this. How to gauge?
Johns face: free from any of the obvious emotions. No fear, no anger, no distress. Seems calm,
clear, relaxed. As always, just as he looks every day when he comes home and fails to notice the
disturbance on his bed. (Is this just one more disturbance on his bed?)
Pain? Nothing on his face but his professional concern.
Sigh. Yes. Too conflicted and uncertain to lie this time. (Of course Im in pain.)
Im out of morphine. Apologetic. Slightly wry. About to mention it. What do I say?
I choose my vocabulary (Obviously!). Falls out of my mouth in a rough voice, more raw than
intended, more intimate than intended. Dont relish embarrassment. He smiles lightly (difficult
expression to parse).

Probably for the best. I have some ibuprofen with codeine, though. Puts the cups on the the
bedside table, takes a bottle out of his pocket. I picked it up this morning.
What time is it?
Two oclock. Youve been out for a while. Sorry about that, I clearly misremembered how
strong those pills were. I shouldnt have given you three of them. Shakes two beige pills out of
the bottle and puts them in my hand; hands me a cup of tea. These should be fine, though.
Not as good, you mean.
He smiles. Should do the trick.
And just like that. All is forgiven. Relief (but something else accompanies it.) Disappointment.
Suppose I didnt really want to be forgiven. Cant be folded and tucked under the mattress like
every other bit of nightly chaos. But today, it seems, I will be. Smoothed over. No lasting damage.
Drink my tea, take my pills. John goes back downstairs to make me some breakfast. Kick the
blankets askew on the right side of the bed, even though it hurts. A little more chaos.

Penrose Man
Murder (obvious).
Anderson insists on calling it an industrial accident. Accident? With marks like those on the
wrists? (Twine: plastic threads. Wrapped around the wrists fourteen times. Snipped off after death
with nail clippers, inexpertly disposed of. Will probably find them in a bin nearby.) With the
remains of a boot print (industrial, steel-toed, dust and remains from a large flat-pack warehouse,
filled primarily with plywood) on the bottom of the trousers, and there, along the left thigh? Did he
fail to notice the fingerprint left on the side of the drill that will most assuredly not match those of
the murder victim nor anyone who works in the plant? Outrageous! Appalling! And this is what
passes for forensic expertise at Scotland Yard? He should never have been allowed to leave
primary school. Ive seen his forensic reports. Still hasnt learned where to include/not include an
apostrophe. Rubbish! He has the gall to disparage me to Lestrade and try to keep me off a crime
scene, but he thinks this is an industrial accident? (Clearly, idiots can be fooled by just about
Cant even look at him. Since youre clearly both blind and deaf, play dumb as well. He starts to
protest but I tune him out. Wave a hand in his direction, dismiss him. Lestrade will take care of it.
Kneel: the rib twinges with a reasonable but not completely debilitating amount of pain. Thats
good. Debilitating pain is even more distracting than Andersons ponderously plodding thought
processes. (I do miss Johns careful ministrations though, which are no longer regularly required.
Temptation: get injured in order to be so tenderly cared for again. Pathetic. Ridiculous. But his
hands. Those heady moments of closeness. Foreign and awkward and marvelous all at once.
Impossible to ever feel used to it.) Slide the phone out of the victims pocket; read the last three
texts. Lestrade is ordering Anderson off. Hes useless. More than useless; he gets in my way.
The body is surrounded by curls of wood, which are still lightly falling from the machines above
like snowflakes. The lathes above had to be stopped quickly, and the refuse from their labours had
covered the floor with bits of wood. It smells like a cedar forest, pried open and lightly burned.
Interesting the way the drill corkscrewed through the brain; left an interesting pattern of bone.
Broken in every direction, in seemingly arbitrary ways, fractured in wavy lines. Broken like glass,
like ice. So many variables inside a living skull. Force plus a slow and steady counter-clockwise
spin of uniformly twisted metal creates a unique signature on unsteady human bone. Near-infinite
possibilities at each millimetre. And the impact on the brain is spectacular; pulled apart into plaits,
draped out of the broken skull like silk. Beautiful. Could gather that brain into a bouquet and put it
in a vase to admire it. At least until it started to smell. (More experimentation required: could
procure another head from Barts, certainly. Drill bits in a box under the stairs. Corkscrew? In the
drawer. Johns? Mine? Dont remember. Does it matter? Might manage to steal industrial drill bit
instead; preferable. Place the head in a vice for stability? Or just wedge it between the microwave
and the toaster? That would do the trick.)
(John. He might not appreciate another head on the kitchen worktop.)
Glance over at him; hes looks pale and shocked, distressed. Look back at the body, tilt head,
imagine seeing it through Johns eyes, Johns humane, gentle, caring eyes; an awkward death,
certainly. Unpleasant. Painful. Frightening. Is that how John sees it? Hes seen enough of the
insides of men, hes not squeamish. Is it empathy? Does he imagine what it would have felt like,
himself in this mans place, a wide corkscrew moving slowly toward him, the minutes between
feeling it pierce the skin on his forehead and the point when his brain extrudes through fractures in
his skull?

(Wait. No. Stop. Deep breath.)

Dont much like imagining John as a victim of murder. Makes a bit of panic rise in the back of my
throat. Blame Moriarty for that: burn the heart out of me, indeed. If it werent for him I might not
have noticed, at least, not quite so soon. Caring isnt a victory, not at all; my feelings put John
Watson in far more danger than anything else does. More than the illegal Sig, more than flying
bullets and rooftop chases and hired assassins. (If it were me, caught in such a position, the
pending victim, hands tied behind my back with Ikea brand twine: an oddly fascinating train of
thought. Can think of seven separate ways to escape before the drill bit moved an inch.) But no.
Wont imagine it with John. Not his brain, not his skull. This bloody caring lark.
Watch him: hes rubbing his forehead, his mouth creased and small. Distaste? Discomfort?
Sympathy. (Most likely.) He shakes his head, rocks on his heels. His heart (so selectively) on his
sleeve. Makes something twist in my stomach. As much as I dont understand it, its something I
love about John. His capacity for sympathy extends out all over the place, touches everyone.
Grabby cephalopod of concern.
(Does he find things about me to empathize with? What things? Sally calling me freak? My lack
of friends but overabundance of enemies? What?)
Johns eyes on the plaits of twisted brain cascading out of that beautifully broken skull. (Just one
more head in the fridge. Molly will procure it for me. John will cope.)
He looks up, looks at me. Uh, he starts, folding his arms behind his back. Cause of death is
pretty obvious, doubt you need me to tell you he got his head drilled through.
Smile. It doesnt bother me when John states the obvious. It should, by all rights, but it doesnt. I
could argue that he does it with a sense of critical self-awareness, like a bit of black humour; I do
so love black humour at a crime scene. (Its so rare, and there are so few with the constitution to
indulge.) But its not that.
Something about his presence unburies a hidden part of me in these moments, I cant put my
finger it. Well, I can guess: his paradoxical nature. The way he is coherently made up of exact
opposites. His voice (strong, kind but ruthless, the voice of a man whos killed (more than once)
for all the right reasons, a voice tinged by a complex morality I will never have the skill or
knowledge to entirely unravel or understand) against this backdrop (a body, a murder, evidence, a
problem to be solved), his steady hands. His squared fingernails (always clean). His blunt force
patience. The broadness of his shoulders as compared to his trim waist. (I dont need to mention
the muscles in his pelvis again, do I? Lets leave the vulgar lustful thoughts out of it, for now; for
now, were in public, its too much.)
The words he uses to describe me, the tingle I feel in the base of my spine when he looks at me
with naked admiration. He makes me bleed emotion. It oozes out of me, messy, uncomfortable,
something to be cleaned up, disposed of, healed. Treated. I should hate it, but I dont. He states the
obvious in that voice of his, the same one he uses to tell me Im amazing, Im extraordinary, the
same one that shouts in the night to the tune of his nightmares and asks me if I want a cup of tea in
the mornings. His voice: the seat of all his dimensions, all his sharp edges and his gentleness. The
part of him that, right now, in front of Lestrade and Anderson and the nameless faces of the Met,
reaches out and caresses me, from his throat to my tympanic membranes. An intimate touch. (But
its not, its really not.)
There are marks on his wrists, John says, his eyes flicking over toward Anderson, who is
standing several metres away now with his stupid arms crossed in front of his stupid chest. (What

does Sally see in him?) John observes what Anderson does not. Of course he does. Smile even
more. John goes on, pointing. He was tied up, he struggled.
I nod at him. His eyes on me. (I remember his lips against mine; twice. Barely, but I remember.) I
can see the lift my approval gives him; its subtle, but present. His back a tiny bit straighter, like
hes on the parade square and his superior officer has turned his eyes on him. Prepared to impress.
(What is he thinking? Why cant I tell, why cant I read it on his open face?) Estimated time of
death? My voice has taken a softer tone, theres an intimacy there. The others dont seem to
notice it, but I think John does. A change. Slight. Not deliberate. Revealing.
He crouches down, looks hard at the body again. He touches a hand, runs a latex-covered finger
across flesh. Not more than an hour ago, Id say. He looks up at me, confident in his answer,
eyes clear. He rises and assumes his vague, newly-civilian take on at ease. I smile at him, a
genuine smile, not a calculated one, almost inadvertently. He smiles back. Thats how it is
between us now. More genuine? More affectionate? I dont know. Something like that. (I kissed
him and he let me. Twice. I curled up against him, my fingers on the elastic of his shorts, his
hipbone hard under my hands, and he let me do that, too.) Watch his face: eyes so uncomplicated,
no internal struggle, no awkwardness. Is that defiant, deliberate ignorance of what he must know
(or think he knows) about me, or is it casual acceptance? A trade off for a life that keeps him
feeling human? Hard to know. Hes smiling at me. Affection. Whats going on in that head of his?
Drilling him open wouldnt give me the answer, would it?
(Oh, very funny.)
Its been just over a week. One week, and almost nothing has changed. Except for a bit of extra
warmth from him, and, presumably from me. As if we have some kind of quiet understanding. But
we dont. I dont understand at all. He is completely open, yet completely closed. Tantalising. A
man made of paradoxes. Impossible, but here, in the flesh. A Penrose man.
Well? Lestrade looks a little helpless, his eyebrows raised. I can almost see the question mark
over his head. (How would they manage without me?)
I spot a bin out of the corner of my eye and walk toward it. The bootprints on the body are from
a work boot, the sort of work boot worn by industrial employees, the kind with a steel toe. These
particular work boots were covered with the remains of dust, glue, plywood flatpack, bits of card.
Who does flatpacked glued plywood? Ikea, obviously. Peer into the bin. (Of course: there it is.
Knew it would be. Rounded cuts dug into it from nail clippers. Burst of pride. That was a bit of a
shot in the dark from the shape of the remaining threads of plastic twine on the floor.) Lift the bin
and bring it back with me toward the body, where Lestrade is looking over at Anderson, and John
is staring at me, looking curious, thoughtful (why?), patient, confident. If only I could open up his
mind and read it.
This twine, peer into the bin, then display it to Lestrade and co., its the kind they use at Ikea to
tie boxes together before they deliver them to their customers. This particular twine was used to tie
that mans hands and feet together, and to tie him to that post so that the drill would pierce his
skull. You can see the blood on it; it belongs to the victim. So: youre looking for a warehouse
worker from probably the Wembley Ikea who was temporarily missing from his post after, lets
say, glance at my watch, one oclock in the afternoon, but back before three. Pull out a brush
and dust the drill; the fingerprint there is suddenly blatantly obvious. This is his fingerprint. You
probably have it on file. This isnt his first crime; given how terrible he is at hiding his tracks, its
probably not the first time youve caught him.
Run that print, Lestrade says, and Anderson, looking venomous, complies. And why would he
murder a man and try to make it look like an industrial accident? Lestrade asks.

Try being the operative word. That was meant for Anderson (of course.) He rolls his eyes.
Easy, I glance at John, who has that fascinated look on his face, that would be unbelieving
except that he knows exactly what to expect by now. A breath. Deliver the punchline. Our victim
spent his lunch hour with a lady friend, a lady friend with a husband, or a boyfriend, its unclear.
If I had to guess, Id say husband. Crouch, open up the right hand pocket of the victims trousers
so that Lestrade can see its contents. See: condoms, he comes prepared. Smirk. Pull the victims
phone from my own pocket; hand it to Lestrade. Last three texts on his phone are suggestive in
nature, both of a sexual liaison with a woman and of the necessity of secrecy. The woman,
obviously, has a jealous husband prone to violence. That jealous husband is our Ikea worker.
Hell finish his shift in an hour.
Amazing, John says. It feels no less good to hear him say it this time than it did the first.
Extraordinary. He grins and walks toward me. Lestrade is barking orders; Anderson has
finished with the fingerprint and is skulking out. The coroner is removing the body. Well done,
John says, then reaches up and puts his hands on my shoulders.
For a moment I think hes going to hug me, or pull me forward and kiss me, and while both of
those outcomes would be most welcome from John, they both equally frighten me. (Why?
Uncertainty, inexperience? The myriad rules involved in these social interactions is dizzying.
Every direction looks like a misstep. What do I need to do to ensure Johns good feelings? So easy
to do/say the wrong thing and disappoint, frustrate, or (possibly worse) amuse. I may feel a bit of
apprehension. I may be marginally afraid.) He sees what must read as distress on my face and his
expression changes. Youve got-- he starts, then brushes at my shoulders. Wood chips, curls of
wood shavings, sawdust. You were standing in the worst of it. Lean down a little, let me get it
out of your hair.
I bow forward, which is opportune, since I can feel myself blushing a little. These strange
relationship dances, where nothing is certain and there are no obvious facts, make me regress into
my adolescent awkwardness. I would take a moment to feel some resentment about that, but is
John running his fingers through my hair, which feels far better than it has any right to. I close my
eyes to keep the dust out of them, to focus on the feeling of his fingers against me. He shakes the
wood shavings out of my fringe, gently, from the top of my head, ruffles his fingers through the
back, slides them through stray curls at the sides. He runs his index finger around the curve of my
left ear, than the right. Runs his hand across the back of my neck. Then starts picking pieces out of
my hair gently one by one, untangling them from strands and blowing on his fingers to make the
whorls of wood flutter to the ground. I choke back the hum that wants to edge out from my throat
and subdue it into a sigh.
There, he says, smoothing over my fringe again. I open my eyes. The look on his face; perfectly
pleasant, perfectly normal, but theres something else there. Affection, surely; is it friendly
affection? I cant tell. (Amusement? Hes not laughing, though theres a slight smile on his face.
Tenderness? Its a fine line.) Pride in my work, still the traces of awe that he gets when he watches
me. Is there desire there? (For me?) Nothing overt, nothing inappropriate. I dont know. What
would I do if I saw it, recognized it? (run/hide/collapse/burst into
flame/cry/cheer/laugh/triumph/push him up against the wall and have my way with him?) If only I
could examine the inside of his brain as easily as one from Barts, as easily as the one the coroner
is pushing into a body bag. Too many unanswered questions.
I could just ask, I suppose. But that seems like cheating.

The Heart is Not Heart-Shaped

Rayleigh scattering has diffused the shorter green and blue wavelengths in the remaining light of
the sun, leaving only red and orange across the London skyline.
Sky. To date I have spent brain power only on considering what descends from it and alters the
conditions of human criminal activity, not the sky itself. Peer up at it now: a great empty space.
Initial observations suggest that it is largely pointless. Merely absence of a ceiling or upper floor.
Functionally, the origin location of weather patterns. Rain, snow, fog, sleet; these things can be
evidence, important to note. Otherwise, it is merely the Cartesian coordinate Z (up). How tedious.
The cosmos, largely, is boring: there are no motives in space. So far, no murders, no crimes. Dull.
Large balls of gas on fire and moving around in aimless circles. Tiny points of light. Bright red
glow, pushed out from the edge of the world, slowly dimming. (Dimming light can shift the view
of a crime scene; things can be hidden in different varieties of light. Worthy of notice, at least.)
Bright point of orange behind the skyline; fingers of red that fade into blue-blackness.
People appear to find this process romantic, the sun moving behind the horizon. Why? (Does John
find it romantic? Probably. Thought stings. He does not sit and moon over sunsets with me.
Would I want him to?)
(Could I find this process interesting, if John were sitting here next to me, mooning at the setting
Is it the colour? Do reddish hues bear some particular significance that prompts an emotion or
amorous action? Would staring at a wall painted red incite the same reaction? Could I paint the
entire flat red as a means of provoking John in an amorous direction?
Pathetic. It would only make him think of someone else.
Phone buzzes. Pull it out, look at the screen. Its a text from John. Cant help but look. Its the
latest of fifteen such texts, each more anxious than the next.
Where are you?
Cant hear tone of voice through a text, but I can sense it anyway. He is still angry with me.
Its not my fault his dates hair caught on fire. She was dangling it into the candle on the table, I
didnt drag her head over it. I didnt even ask her to turn her head away from me like that. Her
decision. I just wanted to ask John a simple question or two about liver decomposition, I couldnt
very well get his opinion without the liver in question present, could I?
Another buzz. Check screen. Two messages. Stomach does another little turn.
Sherlock, please answer me. Where are you?
Mrs. Hudson is starting to get worried, its not just me.
Red is also the colour of warning; signs, portside lights on ships, traffic signals. Red is the colour
of blood, which is, in a way, another kind of warning: stop, youve gone too far, broken the skin,
broken a body. Hearts look reddish when you first see them inside a body, but once cleaned of

blood, theyre predominantly yellowish, like chicken skin. Children draw them and colour them in
red, presumably because they have failed to learn this simple fact. Perhaps they have seen only
living, beating hearts, seen open-heart surgeries on their relentless tellies (do parents let their
children watch open heart surgeries on telly?) and failed to understand that the red around a heart
is only the blood. Do parents want their children to imagine only bloodied hearts? Presumably so;
live things are (apparently) more pleasing to people than dead things are. (Regardless of its colour,
the heart is certainly not heart-shaped, which is an odd failure of the English language, and a
bizarre and erroneous anatomy lesson for children. I suppose its like Santa Claus: one of the
things adults lie to children about by default, with no shame or remorse.)
If I dont hear from you in the next 5 minutes Im going to assume foul play. If you left your phone
somewhere I may have to kill you.
Red is the colour of ripeness, of sexual readiness. Is that why the red sky is considered romantic?
Does it remind (potential?) lovers of exposed and engorged genitalia? Staring at sunset light isnt
one of the things the very religious list as dangerous (such as dancing), so perhaps not.
Another buzz. Check. Not John, Lestrade.
Have you got lost? Why are you ignoring John? Do I need to send a patrol car?
Hmph. Clearly John has moved up a link in the chain of command. Well, fine. Send a text to
John, ignore Lestrade.
Im here. SH
Here? Wheres here?
Im at 221b, of course. SH
You are not. Im in the flat, and I can tell youre not here. Youre pretty hard to miss.
Look up. SH
I glance at my watch; it will be interesting to see how long it takes John to figure it out. I can
almost feel the neurons in his brain reaching out and trying to form new connections. Up up up
whats up? Sky. What separates us from the sky? Ceilings, upper floors. He already knows Im
not on the third floor; he would have checked. Mrs. Hudson checked the other units, even. So
whats left? What protects us from the rain, the snow, the sleet?
Sherlock! John, shouting from the street. Lean forward, peer down. Glance at watch. Two
minutes, forty seconds. Feel a stab of pride; general population would have taken at least two
minutes longer. Shift a bit; roof tiles digging into thighs slightly. Jesus Christ, Sherlock, dont
move! Mrs. Hudson clatters out onto the street, her kitten heels tapping against the pavement. She
bursts into tears.
In a matter of seconds John is launching himself through the small attic window and onto the roof,
panting. Sherlock, he says. Dont.
Dont what?
Hes treading gently on the slopped roof, moving carefully but determinedly. Soldiers fear no
shifting roof tile under their feet.
Im not going to jump.

No? He grabs me by the collar. Move back from the edge, please. He doesnt like my legs
dangling over the eaves, apparently. His hand is hot and insistent against the back of my neck. He
tugs. Plant my palms against the rough roof, shift backward and upward, and again, up the slope
of the roof until my back is pressed against the chimney and John has me pinned by the shoulders
with both hands. Hes bracing himself against the roof tiles, pitched to the side, panting hard; his
precarious position puts him in more danger then I was. His face is so close, his breath against my
cheek. I put a hand on his chest, push him back, force him to sit, steady and secure like I am. His
arm slips against the chimney in the curve of my back, his hand on my hip. Safe.
Really, I say. There was no danger until you arrived.
John sighs. What are you doing up here? And why have you been ignoring my texts?
Red, I say. I move to point at the dregs of the sunset, but on impulse he catches my arm and
holds on to it, pressed it into his stomach. I let him have it, let my hand grow limp against his
thigh. Denim under my fingers. Heat. I can feel his breathing, my arm pressed against him, his
heart beating so fast. He really thought I meant to jump. Odd; have I ever seemed like the kind to
commit such a pointless act? Extremely short term flight isnt something that particularly interests
John stares out at the London skyline, watching the sunset. Did you, he starts. You didnt
crawl up into the attic and through that little window to sit here and watch the sunset, did you?
It appears so. Thats neither a yes nor a no. I feel his fingers shift on my hip, tentative, cautious.
You were hiding from me. He sounds hurt, oddly, not angry. His deduction, of course, is
Not hiding, I say. Of course Im not. Im examining a natural phenomenon people tend to find
romantic. I thought Id see if theres anything in it. I presumed youd be enjoying it with Katy.
Cathy, John says. Her name is Cathy. And no, after I put her hair out, she wanted to go straight
home. Alone.
I have no answer to that. Im certainly not going to apologize. Not my fault. So instead I drag my
fingers along the seam of his jeans, watch his face out of the corner of my eye. Hes watching the
sunset. It bathes his face in red. Red for warning (stop, danger, blood and pain and damage) and
for invitation, sexual readiness (go go go go). I am paralysed between the two.
I rest my cheek against his shoulder.
After a moment he leans his face into my hair. I feel him sigh, his whole body trembles slightly.
He puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes. This means something. (What?)
Acknowledgment of physical closeness, beyond friendship? Acknowledgement that we have been
this close before, huddled together in communicative intimacy? I am consumed with want, though
Im uncertain about exactly what it is I long for. Closeness, surely. Skin. Contact. Friction. John.
Fumblings in dormitories have not prepared me for this. I am caught off-guard, no matter how
much I have stared at him. No matter how much I have watched him, studied him. I am out of my
depth. I do not know how to live with the want, or the having. He leans down slightly and kisses
my forehead.
You know I... he starts. I dont interrupt, I want to know what hes going to say. I dont move.
He pauses. His heart is beating very fast. I press my fingers against his wrist, I want to count, to
feel it. I dont... another start. No conclusion. He sighs. I count the beats of his heart. I feel an

odd sense of fear that I cant make sense of. (Danger? Where? Inside him; coming out.)
We could do this, he says finally. His voice is very, very quiet, as if he wants plausible
deniability. Up here on the roof, no one to witness it; his voice so quiet he could pretend the words
had never been spoken. We could. I dont usually... he sighs again, presses his face into my
hair. He can feel him breathing me in. Im straight, you know. And were mates. Youre my best
mate, youre more than that, you know that. I dont move. I feel numb, blank. I can imagine
seventeen different ways this speech of Johns can end, and Im terrified of all of them. I
wouldnt have thought... most of these sentences seem to trail off. I shift slightly, brush my
eyelashes against his neck. He shivers. There are wouldnt like, Sherlock.
Relationships, they take a lot of work, you know. Theyre...messy and there are needs and
compromises, and...
Hes right, of course. Theres a reason I have avoided relationships. Tedious. Boring.
Monotonous. I have no real interest in spending time worrying about someone elses needs. Hurt
feelings. Demands. Being expected to lie about some things and pet someones ego. Make
someone a priority, over the work, over me. No.
We could... he starts again. I understand, I mean, I feel it, theres a pull there, I know. I
think... his hand has shifted from my shoulder to my neck, gently, softly, like his voice. Into my
hair, onto my cheek. Well, I never thought Id feel that for a bloke, so youre the exception. So
we could, just for fun. To get it out of our systems. Youre not used to having people this close, I
understand that. We could, but I think youd regret it.
Blink. What?
Im not... he sighs. He leans forward and kisses me on the forehead again. Its a safe spot in
Johns mind. Safe, not sexual, not crossing the line. Affectionate. He wants. He wants to kiss me
on the mouth, but hes afraid. His jagged pulse. His fear makes me afraid. John fears nothing
except this? Me? Kissing me? Being close to me? (Being cast off by me?) I know what would
happen, Sherlock. Ive been trying to avoid it, getting too close to this line. If I step over it... His
fingers are carding through my hair. It feels like goodbye. Something inside of me is being torn
into pieces. I dont think I could shut it off. You wouldnt like it. You would loathe it. I would
get hurt and grumpy and you would hate me. It would ruin everything.
A revelation. I have been so stuck in the wanting, I cant even imagine all the pieces that come
next. From here, wrapped up in John, smelling him, feeling his lips on me, his fingers in my hair,
clinging to him like a terrified child, I cant imagine it. I cant even imagine the having. (How
would it be? Knees and elbows and teeth and tongues and logistics I cant entirely fathom. I dont
know.) John is three steps ahead of me, hes moved past wanting and having into my inevitable
boredom, rejection. I do get bored. Tired. Frustrated. I have got bored of every person Ive ever
met. Why would he be different? (But he is different. I have no proof, no proof. There can be no
conclusions, no assertions, without proof.) If a case goes on more than a week I get tired of it, too.
Hes right to think ahead. My brilliant John; he is the consulting detective of amorous
relationships. Hes right.
I let go.
He lets go too. Plausible deniability. I feel loose, my cables cut, like Im drifting. I lean against the
chimney for a second before I stand, my legs wobbly and weak. I walk down the roof to the
eaves. I feel crumpled, defeated. For the first time since I was thirteen (ridiculed, beaten by
classmates, called so many names, rejected, shamed, laughed at) I feel a deep-seated hatred of
myself, and wish I could be just a little more normal, a little more like an ordinary person, with
ordinary wants and an ordinary brain. Less destructive. Someone who wouldnt come to hate
John, the least hateable person there is. Someone who could just love him without getting bored of

it. (How can I become that person? What do I need to do?)

Sherlock, John says, louder this time. Dont. Youre scaring me.
I know. I know, John. I scare you. I know.
The sun is gone. No more red in the sky. The sky: a big gaping maw of emptiness, of nothing,
filled with tiny points of meaningless light.

The (7%) Solution

The small case is so familiar, though I havent touched it in years. Sense-memory is tenacious; the
weave of the fabric pulled tightly across it is achingly comforting under the pads of my fingers.
Unhook the clasp. It falls opens easily; (relatively) new hinges. The syringe gleams slightly in the
light, as if going out of its way to tempt me. Routing through boxes and drawers to find it, sitting
here with it on my knees, a bottle sitting on a stack of books on the table, makes a perfectly clear
demonstration that further temptation is no longer required.
The ornate silver work, antique glass, the slightly stiff piston are more appropriate tools for the
task at hand (fundamental alteration, escape, flight of inexplicably delicious fancy, shifting from
the uncomfortable now to the tolerable future) than a plastic disposable. Two needles nestled
above the syringe in a bed of the softest velvet; (relatively) new. Nineteenth century needles are
thick enough to be satisfyingly painful to use, but leave telltale marks. Took weeks to find
someone willing to retrofit a hypodermic set to twenty-first century standards, gauged specifically
to my drugs of choice. Two kinds; one for euphoria, one for oblivion. Its been seven years since I
last put the needles away.
Bit surprised Mycroft hasnt managed to confiscate this case yet. Perhaps he understands its power
as a talisman and has let me keep it deliberately, a reminder. It is dusted over with memories; days
and nights that blended together, the warm glow of comfort that comes from an injection, the rapid
speed of my brain, joy. Peace. Completeness. Calm. There are no faces in those memories, though
there must have been faces. The memories are all visceral. The longing is nearly intolerable. But
only nearly.
The front door opens, then shuts. The sound of familiar feet on the stairs, laden. Snap the case
shut, slip it under the sofa. Bottle palmed and into a pocket. Hiding in plain sight (from me), but
invisible to everyone else (John). Dont need the row. Feel an unusual pang of guilt,
embarrassment. The tiniest bit of shame. (I should be stronger than this, better than this. I shouldnt
have to resort to this again, but the mess of emotional complications is not my bailiwick. Everyone
should know that already.)
I will turn back to the cocaine, that decision is already made. Its been made for days. I have no
internal debate on that point. If not today, then very soon. Mycroft will be livid; Lestrade will be
disappointed. John will be sad, uncomfortable, and be either a) driven toward me, to care for me,
the good doctor that he is, fighting for my life and my health with vigour and righteousness, or, b)
he will be driven away from me, putting distance between the (heartbroken) hopeless junkie and
his guilt-ridden self. I hope for the former (the dregs of my romantic heart, rearing its head for one
last nudge at Johns oddly-rational stance on the matter) but I expect the latter. Either will be a
kind of relief, and will establish how the months ahead will play out. Will set the new ground rules
of this relationship. There is logic to it. Logic, and relief. Chemical and actual. It is my (7%)
solution. Open the paper across my knees.
Dont mind me, John says, plastic bags in his hands. I dont. I flip over a page.
John is relentlessly normal, a study in average. It is obviously deliberate. Not a hair different. A
demonstration that no line has yet been crossed, when we both know that one has been, crossed
and scattered in a confusing pattern in every direction. We will pretend otherwise until it feels true.
Then we will go on pretending.
Tea? Hes already put the kettle on. I glance up at him, his eyes on me. His eyes dont lie well.
They are filled with something unnameable, a jumble of fear and concern and uncertainty. I smile,
pretend (thats what we do now) I dont see it there.

Please, I say. Thank you. The polite words. The words I should say and mostly dont. They
feel appropriate now. John stiffens slightly; he doesnt want me to be polite. I think it may even
hurt him a bit that I am. I feel no guilt at all about that. Thats very kind of you, I add, hoping to
underscore the point.
He turns back to the groceries. Case? For a fraction of a second I think he means the one under
the sofa, and I feel a jolt of panic. He cant find out my plan so soon; it needs to be a surprise. The
surprise of me, dangerously delirious with the high, changed and vulnerable and at his mercy. I
need that shock to push John a) toward me (preferably), or b) away from me. One of the other.
Him discovering my plan too soon would alter the variables. But then I realize; he hasnt seen it.
He doesnt know. He is merely changing the subject, wants to know if Ive got a new case to
work on, if Lestrade has called, if Im taking up any of the various potential clients who have left
frantic messages on my website. Of course. Neither of us really want to vocalize the conversation
our bodies are constantly having with each other. Hes merely changing the subject. Relief.
Possibly. Im expecting a visitor shortly. Something about a missing parent. Boring, really. Not
something I would normally take on, but I want the distraction. The awkwardness with John the
last few days has been agony.
I blame him for it, but I dont at the same time. Thats worst of it, really; I want to blame him. But
its me whos to blame, which is harder. Engaging emotions is a dangerous thing; messy. Targets
are all wrong, no sense of direction, these fraught metaphorical bullets flying everywhere, hitting
both of us. The absence of Johns familiar touch; the little pats of his hands against mine that used
to be commonplace are suddenly gone. Rather than brush an eyelash from my cheek he just points
it out, brushes his own face instead in demonstration. He smiles at me more. Hes gentler with me.
He didnt get angry about the rack of blood in vials next to the leftover takeaway, or the rotting
liver (still in the fridge). He is more patient. It is disturbing. I feel a temptation to get up and help
him with the groceries, but that would be too polite, and would hurt him even more.
Deep breath. Johns admission is, after all, flattering; I am an exception. I have not been rejected,
but instead have been gifted an extended commitment. We forgo the limited and temporary desires
of the flesh (which, lets remember, are not only mine, but also his) in order to extend our
friendship, our working relationship, our symbiotic partnership, into the distant future. Perhaps as
long as we live. Thats like a vow. A promise. There should be comfort in that, no? I look for it.
Rationally what hes offered me is a richer, more complete promise than the other, the carnal
things (I long for) that happen in my imagination, the things I am (unsuccessfully) willing myself
not to (ever) imagine (again). Rationally I should be pleased. But there is an emptiness that is
leaving me hovering on a precipice. John is trying to pull me back. I am resisting, and I dont
know why.
I have developed an uncomfortable tension between my rational self and my (newly-confronted)
irrational self. Perhaps I too need a useless therapist.
Private client? John asks.
Yes, I say. It wont be very interesting. He stiffens again. I was about to suggest he not feel
that he needs to involve himself, that he go visit his mates or watch telly while I go solve some
pathetic little domestic mystery, and he knows it. The idea of leaving him behind is tempting, even
though having him with me is both socially and practically useful. Why dont I want him with me
now? Am I running away again, from all this awkwardness, the emotional work that has to be
done to set right what was overturned? Hes right. We need to work through this. This is the fight
for the future, the salvage. I can pretend the precipice isnt between us until it feels as if it isnt. I
would appreciate your help, you can keep me from being too rude when I get bored of her. Flip
another page in the newspaper. See him relax out of the corner of my eye.

I can do that, he says. He opens the fridge. I can definitely do that.

The client arrives an hour later. By then I have managed to put both the Victorian case and the
bottle of cocaine in my bedroom, in the space that neither John nor Lestrade will ever manage to
find, but I can still feel the texture of the case, the coolness of the bottle, I can hear the ticking of
the mental countdown with my addiction at the bottom. Waiting. Once this case is complete, I will
return to it, vicious side effects and all. At least it will be different.
She stands by the door. John has just finished washing the dishes, hes drying his hands and turns
to look at her. She introduces herself.
Im Mary, she says. Mary Morstan.

What We Know About Mary

Obvious whats going to happen. So obvious anyone would be able to see it (even bloody
Anderson). John: pitched forward, hanging on her every word. She smiles at him, flirts. Reaches
out, pats his hand; grabs on to his fingers once in a while. His hands move closer and closer to her,
hes willing her to take them. He licks his lips; I know what that means. Rubs his fingers through
his hair. Hes anticipating. She touches his shoulder, he smiles. He laughs at what she says, even
though its not very funny. For future reference: bringing a client along for dinner with John is not
a terribly good idea.
I can still remember with perfect clarity the feeling of his lips on my forehead. His fingers in my
hair. Sense memories are powerful and can hurt. (Make a note.)
Fifteen minutes into this case, and I can already see where it will end. An empty box, a solved
case, and a new woman in Johns life. A perfect excuse, a perfect solution. Better than mine, I
must admit. A more complete distraction, a barrier. Something to remind John of his total
normality, his perfect heterosexual future. Relegate me (whatever he felt for me, feels for me,
might have come to feel for me) to its rightful place in the shadows. Not as invigorating as
cocaine. Just as many nasty side effects (probably).
So: return to the cocaine, Y/N? Im suddenly undecided. Lounging high and contented on the sofa
still seems appealing, but in the state hes in John may not even notice my altered state.
She flirts a lot, this one; more than most. More than she realizes. Flirts with me even, and no one
flirts with me. (Why would they? My default reaction to flirting is to glare. Flirting is a form of
manipulation, and I will not be manipulated. Insulting.) She knows shes flirting with John,
though, shes doing it on purpose, and John is flirting back. Tight feeling in my chest. It hurts.
Emotions are useless. Get in the way. (I never imagined it would go any way but this.)
(It was going to happen sooner or later. I suppose sooner is better than later.)
If I am the exception, the one he would consider, the one he might have come to love, to make
love to, to fall in love with (all so very hypothetical, mythological, thought experiment) I would
have failed, miserably. I couldnt be her, I couldnt be him. I cant smile and giggle and bat my
eyelashes like that. Act fascinated by boring conversation. Laugh at nothing. (Well, I can. Of
course I can. But only playacting, only for a part. Only to confuse, manipulate, obfuscate. It
would never be genuine, or honest. Are they always playacting, ordinary people? Or am I missing
a piece?) I would have failed, it would have been awkward and uncomfortable.
This is for the best, really. (It is. Definitely.)
(Find a distraction. Heart thumps painfully. Distraction.)
What we know about Mary: her father disappeared six years ago under mysterious circumstances.
That much shes told us. What she didnt tell us is that her mother died when Mary was very
young. She was raised by her father, barely; he was largely absent from her life, engrossed in his
job, didnt know what to do with a daughter. Possibly blamed her for her mothers death. A guess:
she probably looks just like her mother, a painful reminder. (Once we see her flat: remember to
check for pictures of her mother. Prove deduction correct. Stab of pride would be nice, amidst all
these other emotional stabbings.) She grew up with a long series of her fathers pretty, glamorous
girlfriends paraded in front of her. Learned to flirt with men, learned that flirting (and, of course,
seducing) men results in male approval. In short: Daddy issues. No end of them.

Ive read your blog, Mary says to John. Its so fascinating! The kinds of words people use
when the flirt; always superlatives. Youre a really great writer.
Have to give her credit for knowing how to pet Johns ego. He wouldnt respond so well to talk
about his past bravery or heroism; women who are impressed by his profession are usually
interested primarily in money and John knows that. Talk about his soldiering past or his hours at
the surgery are likely to leave him bored and uncomfortable. But his writing; thats something hes
actively interested in getting better at. Praise Johns writing and he will turn slightly pinkish.
(Useful to note.)
You think so? John asks. Its working. Hes flattered. Pleased. Oh, John.
At least she isnt lying to him. I wouldnt stand for that. She means it.
(I suppose he has gotten better at it, the writing. If thats your sort of thing.)
Shes been married. At least twice, likely three times. Not just marks on her fingers; her jewelry.
Three earrings in each ear, expensive, more expensive than she can afford; two sets purchased by
one man, one by another. (No one who had bought the first two would deign to purchase the
third; radically different tastes.) Watch her glance around the room. She smiles at John, then
glances at me. Smiles that flirtatious smile in spite of my obvious rejection of it. Clearly: shes
prone to infidelity. Two marriages, likely three: all of them ended in divorce. All of them likely
ended when her husband(s) discovered her serial infidelity. Warn John? Not really my place, is it.
He wouldnt appreciate it. He would consider it rude, mean, unkind. Three marriages: more than
three infidelities. Necklaces (two currently worn), bracelet: gifts from lovers? She likes jewelry as
gifts from men, hoards it. One necklace, a heart pendant, simple, bought in the early 80s: a gift
from her beloved but distant father? Of course! Still looking for the perfect father figure to replace
him. A modest hero.
So predictable.
Shes not proud of it though; anxiety has left marks on her face. Struggles with it. (Therapist?
Unlikely. Deep-seated shame, not ready to share it. Probably needs one.)
Where did you go to school? At least shes interested in education; some of Johns dates have
been more interested in the dance club circuit, had a taste for the Daily Mail. Not Mary: she works
at a university. She keeps up with the news. She reads. (She has two books in her purse: one,
literary fiction, the other, fantasy fiction. Enjoys fiction as art, but also for fun. Not a snob. Prefers
red wine; a small new stain on the pages.)
Based on her loose definition of business casual, the vague smell of book mold that she cant
entirely wash off and the sliver of a date stamp on the left finger, she is employed in a
undergraduate library; probably as a librarian. One thats open late; possibly all night. Given her
address, probably in central London. She doesnt keep a very good sleep schedule (takes an
insomniac to know one on sight); likely that shes responsible for at least some of the night shifts.
She knows how to talk to strangers. She charms almost everyone she meets. (Not me, of course.
Not me. Certainly John.)
Three cats (one of them a ginger male). So she is a certified librarian, then.
Some money problems; her rent is too probably high. Likely in significant debt. No wonder this
supposed treasure of her fathers is of such interest (is that cruel?). Shoes are scuffed, clothes have
been washed too many times. She is relatively neat and clean, but she doesnt have any extra
income to devote to her appearance. She needs a haircut; has been trimming her own fringe
(badly). Her makeup is cheap, but shes kept it minimal enough that it doesnt matter.

Imperial, or LSE?
They both turn to me, startled. I interrupted something.
What? John asks.
Mary is a librarian, I point out. Which library, Mary? Imperial, or LSE?
She looks confused, as people usually do. LSE.
Hes got a gift, John explains. Its amazing, isnt it? He can tell almost everything about you
just by looking at you.
Mary looks decidedly uncomfortable. You can divide the world into two kinds of people (were
you so inclined); the people who are uncomfortable and/or afraid at the idea that I can determine
most (if not all) of the major themes of their lives within the first two minutes of our acquaintance,
and those who relish it. The latter group is very small. So far it consists of one.
Not a gift, I say. Just observation.
Definitely a gift, John says. Hes smiling at me now. Sherlocks a genius.
So, Mary asks, dropping a hand onto Johns knee as she leans a little toward me across the
table. What else can you tell me about myself, then? Its a challenge. Theres an edge of
something in her eyes; its not fear, its defiance. Who am I in this game of Impress Daddy? The
father that remained distant, the successful businessman, the one with the brilliant ideas that
(probably) got him killed? Clearly. John is the soft part of him, the fantasy, the part she invented in
her loneliest moments, the loving part she hoped existed and so craved. And I am the part that kept
him from her. The part she hated. The obstacle.
Perhaps I should have been a psychiatrist. A bracingly honest psychiatrist. Not enough dead
things in psychiatry, unfortunately.
Your mother died when you were very young. You look like her. You work occasional night
shifts, which works for you because youre a frequent insomniac. Youve been married, narrow
my eyes at her, glance at John; just how bracingly honest should I be? At least twice, and you
have three cats. Ones ginger. You prefer red wine.
Marys eyes go wide. She is visibly shaken, thinks Im putting her on, playing some kind of trick.
Resist a satisfied grin.
Is he wrong about anything? John asks. He looks pleased, delighted, in fact. The warning about
the marriages seems to have flown straight over his head. Perhaps I shouldnt be so subtle.
No, Mary says.
Amazing, John says. He takes her hands, as if its her whos amazing. As if its her whos just
proven a point. Been proven right. I feel an overwhelming urge to pout.
Hardly. Neither of them notice my modesty. They are looking into each others eyes as if theyll
find something there. I look away.
A week later, the case is solved, and John and Mary, relative strangers, attached at the hip, still
staring into each others eyes, are engaged. (Engaged!) I inject one generous dose of my 7%
solution that evening and wait for John to come home. He doesnt.

Surplus Data
Sirens. A woman shouting in the street: an argument with a boyfriend. (Shes drunk.) A slick
night in London, black sky, wet street. Clap of cheap heels on the pavement, dull thump of a bass
line from the bowels of a club. Sounds seem so much more prominent when Im alone. Harder to
ignore. Pressing in on me. No easy distraction at hand. Was Johns flesh absorbing the surplus
data around me? (Ha!) In any case. Different. (How can one person, one, make the world seem so
different to me? One man against the six billion nameless. It makes no sense.)
John: in Clapton with a change of clothes and a bottle of wine. Hes haunting Marys dingy little
flat tonight; back to Baker St. tomorrow while shes on the night shift. Possibly also the night after
that, depending on Marys other various commitments. John: A shared asset, like a child shifting
between not-entirely-amicably divorced parents. A toothbrush left with each. Appeasement. Half
the week, every other weekend. A satisfactory truce.
Nights without John are dismal. Dark (no one there to switch on the lights), cold (no one to switch
on the heating and complain loudly about the radiators, or to shove open the flue and build a fire
in the grate, or drop a blanket on my lap with a concerned look or an exasperated sigh) and quiet
(no terrible telly, no random conversation, no soft sounds of steady breathing; no throat-clearing or
pages turning; no rumbling kettle or offer of tea; a complete absence of the unmistakable sound of
denim rubbing against denim as he crosses one leg over the other). For the first time in years, I feel
no desire whatsoever to pick up my violin. Not when hes gone. The absence of an audience
(other than me) used to be a gift. That is no longer the case.
My bottle of cocaine has vanished; not entirely certain who to thank for that, John or Mycroft. (At
a guess, Mycroft; John probably unable to avoid admonishing me immediately had he found it,
while Mycroft, clearly more capable of finding my most secret hiding places, unlikely to admit to
breaking into the flat under any circumstances. Silent disappearance of an illegal substance: reads
Mycroft.) Probably for the best. The high is far more short-lived than I remembered and the day
after is extraordinarily unpleasant. I had forgotten. Pain is not something of which the human brain
takes a lasting imprint. (I take some cold comfort in this fact.)
Could always get more (if required). Biding my time.
Taxi rides without John are familiar, but uncomfortable. Empty seat next to me makes the universe
feel oddly canted to the right (the left is missing in action, awkwardly deleted): a constant reminder
of loss. (Temporary. I get him back tomorrow. Tomorrow: he will sit next to me, the universe will
right itself, he will listen to me, tell me Im amazing and extraordinary and the dull but persistent
ache in my gut will recede.)
Taxi is moving marginally faster than the top speed the accompanying traffic has mutually agreed
upon (significantly over the posted speed limit, but we all know thats merely a suggestion).
Acceptable; arriving sooner is worth the increase in risk to my health and safety. All risks, both
minor and major (leaping off rooftops, pursuing gun-wielding criminals down dark alleys,
breaking and entering, injectables) feel significantly more acceptable when John is no longer next
to me. Had not noticed the degree to which his mere presence was modulating my behaviour. (Do
I take more risks now because I no longer feel responsible for his safety, or because I care less
about my own? Or both? Will I develop a fear of danger on the days when hes with me, and
foster a dangerously risky lifestyle on the days hes not? Russian Roulette.)
There is no strict schedule posted on the fridge. John appears sometimes out of the blue, a surprise
(the very best). Mary works nights three days a week (true; verifiable); she has a book club (true,
though infrequent) and a bridge night with her friends (also true; sporadic). There are book sales,

charity events, taking shifts from peers, calls from struggling faculty members, a small amount of
private tutoring (the ultimate in inaccessibility). She volunteers at a homeless shelter (Strictly true,
but with no posted hours and very little direct oversight, difficult to confirm precisely in
retrospect). Her life is full, (full of potential excuses, plausible alibis) and the complex mess of it
leaves John ample time to return to Baker St. (to me) to satisfy his need for the battleground of
London (his need for me). Mary lives the life of a serial philanderer, even when she isnt
unfaithful. She is a woman who would never lose track of her phone, and will never let John see
her incoming texts without looking at them first. She cannot be pinned down, cannot be
scheduled, cannot be (so she thinks) traced or questioned.
She is not cheating on him. Not yet. But her life will make it easy to hide once she starts. (Seems
inevitable. Unstoppable. Compulsive behaviour.)
Tell John? How? How to broach the subject without him storming off, livid? If he asks. If he asks,
I will tell him. Gently. In the abstract. No accusations (none currently to make). Perhaps suggest a
therapist for her. Or suggest she have a bracing chat with me. Do I want to scare her into fidelity,
or scare her away from John? (Examine: do I want her to cheat on him, break his heart, leave him
twisted and broken, so that he will come back to me and I can put him back together for the
second time? Answer seems obvious, but I remain honestly uncertain. The stakes are too high.
Johns happiness. At least with Mary I have John part time. With someone else, I might lose him
Her schedule is random and unpredictable (deliberately); she can drag him back to her at a
moments notice. Can I do the same? Tonight: perfect test. Check time: after eleven in the
evening. If not already in bed (dont think about it), close to it. Send a text.
Crime scene in your neighbourhood. Likely dangerous. SH
Will he come? Its Marys night, a Clapton night. Cosy little evening in with his beloved, or a cosy
night out with danger and bloodied bodies? (With me?) Will he be able to resist?
His answer comes almost impossibly fast.
I thought I heard sirens. Are you here already?
Smile. Is he bored, sitting there (lying there?) with his lady love on that third-hand sofa (on that
old and too-soft bed)? This might be easier than I thought.
In a taxi. Lestrade is suspicious. Could use your help, if available. SH
Pause. Hes deciding, talking to Mary, making up for the fact that he keeps checking his phone.
Rude, isnt it? Hes trying to be subtle, but shes sure to notice anyway. (She does the exact same
thing.) Frowns at him. Feels put out. Stab of insecurity that plagues the chronically unfaithful.
(Does she suspect the presence of a problematic tension between John and me? I think not. Surely
she cant imagine it, I dont look like her usual competition.)
(I am not her competition. There is no competition, there never was any competition. Shes won,
shes won.)
Taxi driver signals; about to take a right turn.
Straight through. He looks startled, like hes forgotten Im here. Theres a road closure.
Straight through. Faster. A buzz. Another text from John. Sends of jolt of pleasure through me.
(At some point, will those stop? Will a text from John feel just like a text from anyone else?
Presumably. Eventually. Hopefully sooner rather than later. Is it odd to feel conflicted about that

inevitable loss? Hate it, treasure it. More paradoxes.)

A single word that shoots straight to the pleasure centres of my brain. Text him an address. Hell
be there before me, waiting for me, that look of anticipation on his face, buried in his professional
expression (competence, calm, objectivity), a hint of excitement. Hell be standing there, his flatfooted self, blending into the background, waiting for me.
London slips past. The superfluous sounds of it fade into the background hum. (John can
moderate the world around me even from the other side of a text. Amazing what power my senses
are willing to grant him over me.)
Seems like Anderson and Donovan have had a spat.
Smile. Hes already there. Took no time at all to decide, put on his coat and his shoes and ran.
John is continuing our regular whispered conversations in any medium available to us. My John.
An excellent deduction! Anderson persists in not leave his wife. Sally does not approve. SH
Ah. She really could do so much better.
The taxi pulls up to a poorly-maintained terraced house; I look around with my heart seemingly in
my throat.
A surprise; John is not alone. Hes brought Mary along with him. (Why?) She is looking around at
the scene with mild curiosity. A tourist. Burst of anger: why is John contaminating crime scenes
with his amorous affairs? Ill never be able to remember this murder fondly, at this rate. Pay the
cabbie; step out. Lestrade looks over; relieved.
Sherlock! he calls. He waves me over. Sally rolls her eyes at me. I have to force myself to turn
and face John; Mary follows a step behind him.
Good evening, John. The formality chokes me, but Marys presence makes me feel uncertain,
uncomfortable. Mary. I nod. I know how to be polite. Are you interested in crime scenes as
Not particularly, no. She wrinkles her nose. I find that I really dislike her. She links her arm
through Johns, then rests her hand on his hip.
Jealousy is a common motive for any number of crimes, and thus I have long been aware of its
potency and power, but to experience it like this, the hot poker of twisting emotion shooting up
my body and wrapping around my throat, is truly indescribable. I will have to ponder this
experience carefully in the future, and apply what Ive learned in this searing moment to further
deductive work. Jealousy must be an even more common motive than I surmised; I have likely
failed to assign it in any number of cases where it belonged. (John: why are you doing this to me?)
The tiny Clapton house that makes up this crime scene is a tumult of smells; four different brands
of air freshener (ghastly), fresh paint on the wall in the sitting room (painted less than two hours
ago), carpet cleaner, gas, and the apple crumble in the oven. The Met are removing items in
evidence bags (all useless). There is a pile of half-burnt leaves in the garden.
He beat me and left me for dead, the woman says. Youve got to find him, arrest him! How
dare he! Mary sits with her, pets her hair, coos to her gently. Sympathetic. John tends to her
injuries; the fresh cut on her cheekbone, bloody nose, a broken finger. Nothing serious. She has

two black eyes and a set of four perfect scratches on her upper arm. She displays a bruise across
her stomach (proudly). Lestrade: right to be suspicious. That bruise is a perfect match for one of
her kitchen chairs (self-inflicted). Black eyes: marks across her cheeks indicate they were created
by repeatedly slamming a door on her face (self-inflicted). Her fingernails have been recently cut;
the scratches are a perfect match for her right hand (self-inflicted). Examine the kitchen door;
evidence of her blood. Open the oven; apple crisp. Oven sparklingly clean. Tin of paint in a
cupboard, brush freshly washed. Peer into the basement; gas. Mildew. Wont be able to smell a
thing after leaving here; assault on the senses. Eyes water from the stench. Shut the door.
That crumble is burning. Mary, walking across the kitchen, a bloodied towel in her hand.
Arent they going to arrest her?
For burning a crumble? I ask. Curious.
For killing her husband, of course. She rinses the towel in the sink, twists it to get the water out.
I presume his body is locked in the cellar or something. Did you check?
A wry look. Shes surprised me. Would have thought this little domestic scene would fool her, her
own desperate shame would hide the results of such obvious infidelity. But apparently not. (The
woman has removed her wedding ring, thrown it at the wall. There is a condom under the couch,
a pair of knickers stuffed in the bin. So obvious what happened.)
Mary raises an eyebrow. Shes waiting for a response from me, which Im not giving her. Feels
like a game of cat and mouse. Again: she takes it as a challenge. Isnt it obvious? She painted the
walls. Who paints the walls after being beaten to a pulp? Surely she did it to hide the evidence of
something. Blood splatter? Gun shots? Something. Wrong, but not entirely. Not a bad
hypothesis. Better than Andersons, surely.
So: Mary is not unintelligent. Not at all. Well, of course she isnt. John admires intelligence.
(Know that already.) She has had to use her intelligence in a number of circumstances; hiding her
various infidelities (clearly); meriting a series of scholarships (three degrees; undergraduate, two
graduate); manipulating her employer in order to maintain the flexible schedule she craves. In
other circumstances, perhaps we might have been friends. (Too strong a word.) Colleagues? We
might have been able to tolerate each other, then.
Shes in jeans and a t-shirt; not quite enough clothing for a cool, damp evening. She had to get
dressed to come out, pulled on the clothes closest to the bed. (Her clothes were on the floor; Mary
is not as fastidious with her clothing as I am with mine, nor is she as neat and tidy as John.
Someone else he needs to clean up after: I sense a pattern.) John got her out of bed to come to the
crime scene. Imagine: Mary, in bed, John curled around her, her brown hair tucked under his chin;
had they just had sex? (Probably.) He leans over to check his phone for the text he just received.
He was thinking of me. (Was he? Of course he was.) Did they argue? Did she resist? Is she here
to stake her claim, remind me that its one of her nights, not mine? Shes staring at me, waiting for
me to confirm or deny her hypothesis. Theres no ire in her face. (I am most certainly not her
competition.) I give her a half-smile, almost genuine.
Interesting. Thats all Ill say for now.
She folds her arms across her chest. You think otherwise?
Dont answer. Walk back out to the drawing room, where John is cradling the woman, patting her
head, soothing her. She is crying (pretending to; no actual tears, but with volume).
So. I kneel down in front of her, in front of John. His denim-clad knee in front of me. I lay my
hand on it, as if for support. He glances at me, unperturbed. Curious. The heat of him rises up

through my cool fingers. John. (I miss you.) Hes petting her hair. No tears on her face, which is
half-hidden. Tell me. I try to say it as pleasantly as possible. Where did you hide the bodies?
She freezes, the false crying stops. Shes in shock. Shes been caught. Triumph.
Bodies...plural? Lestrade. Of course, plural. The husband and his lover, the ones our murderer
interrupted in the middle of the act on the drawing room floor. (A friend of hers? Probably.) Both
dead now. Gassed in the cellar and dragged back out of the house. (Where? The garden? A back
alley somewhere? A skip?) Infidelity kills. I wonder if the lesson is made plain to Mary. Does she
understand this as a warning? Perhaps. Cant hide one smell with seventeen others. Evidence of
the truth is always stronger than all the lies piled on top of it.
Mary fidgets as I list the evidence, point out the obvious conclusion. The woman screams as the
Met handcuffs her and drags her into the patrol car. I barely hear it (car doors slam, radios bleep
and fizz with static; sounds like lulling music, white noise). Johns flesh is muffling the sounds of
the rest of the world until my attention crystallises around him. He is his own magnetic field
(draws me in). The three of us: walking to the main road. Slap of rubber soles on the pavement.
He was cheating on her, John notes. Mary shifts uncomfortably. Fascinating. Johns face is
clear; he feels empathy, but not (personal) concern. She hasnt told him. Not yet. She means to,
but she hasnt. (What will he do? What will he say?) With her best friend, no less.
Yes. I manage to restrict myself to a single word. Three marriages already, John. You know
about the three marriages. Do you imagine that the fourth will be any different? How could it
possibly be?
Doesnt really justify murder though, does it. Mary is the tiniest bit defensive; will John notice?
Wraps her arms around herself, as if shes cold. (Shes not.)
No, he says. (He doesnt.) But still. Looks like she went a bit mad. She redecorated in a
The paint was to mask the smell of the gas, I explain. Isnt that obvious? And the burning
leaves, the air fresheners, and the crumble.
Cant hide anything with a crumble, Mary says. John and I look at each other, then laugh. After
a moment, so does Mary.
I suppose shes not so bad.
They invite me over for a drink at Marys dingy little flat, but I decline. I dont want to see them in
their domesticity; its bad enough that I can imagine it so clearly. I will sit in an armchair; they will
sit cuddled together on the sofa, wine glasses dangling from their fingers. No. Best not. I watch
John walk home with her, his hand on the small of her back. He looks back, once, to see me
watching them. Eyes in shadow. I walk through Clapton, lost in my own thoughts, until the rain
begins in earnest. A buzz; text. Check: from John. That same physical thrill at the sight of his
Thank you.
What for? SH
Letting her come along. I appreciate it. She was pleased. You were kind to her.
Was I? SH

I think youll like her when you get to know her. I hope you will.
Pause. Cant think of how to respond.
Youre both very important to me, you know that.
Start to compose a response, some thing like, of course, John or shouldnt you be sleeping?, but
before I can decide, another text from John.
I miss you.
It jabs me in the chest. Why? Hes just seen me. Hell see me tomorrow; well probably spend the
evening watching a terrible film or some quiz show on the telly. He sees me every few days, every
other weekend. But I know what he means. The piece thats missing. Why does he tell me this
now, why isnt he afraid (he was afraid, on the roof, in his bed with my hand against his hip)? Her
hair tickling his back, her steady breathing on the other side of the bed; his heterosexual future
unquestioned, it makes him feel safe. He says these things to me, tears my heart in half (again).
Press the keys, compose a response that is not what I mean to say, what I should say, if I let
myself think about it. But the early morning sounds of Clapton are filling my ears, pounding
against my brain; the rush of traffic, some drunk boys pissing against a wall and laughing, a bottle
shattering. It hurts.
I miss you too. SH

The Conductor
Mycroft, my bow in his hand, his fingers loosely grasping the frog. Knuckle perilously close to the
hair. Hate that. Bounces it about like a baton to a beat in his head (slow 6/8, like a bloody-minded
German), throwing ictuses everywhere. With Mycroft, music starts and finishes with conducting.
All that matters to him is whats in his head; he doesnt need to pick up his viola and actual play.
Lazy bastard. (Does he even still have a viola? Did he lock it away with the rest of the family
treasures when Mummy died?) My icy glare is pointless; hes not looking at me. Hes reading
from a notebook hes holding aloft as though hes Lord bloody Byron. Trying to get my attention.
He always has it. Its infuriating.
Pluck at the strings of my violin, the dull sound of it hums through my chest. (A little
Tchaikovsky, only every other note of the melody. Mycroft doesnt need to know how I soothe
my little hurts.) Want to snatch my bow from his fingers so I can play, loudly, and drown out
whatever drivel hes trying to read, but he wouldnt let go if I did. Hed much rather let me break
it in half. Hell smirk and just keep reading at me.
Trust issues. Ive heard this before, why is he reading this to me? He hits the the high ictus and
swings a long preparation down to the next beat. My bow hisses through the air. Can almost hear
the strains of the Wagneresque march hes conducting and its putting me off. Intimacy issues.
Theres a whole section on that here, youll want to know more about that, wont you.
John does not have intimacy issues. Well, he doesnt have intimacy issues as a general rule.
Intimacy with me, however: a frightening prospect. Others: no. If Mary is anything to go by. He is
prepared to share an intimacy with any woman who shows the slightest inclination. And a few
who dont. Heterosexual panic? (Or is it just me, causing panic? Its probably just me.)
Not interested in the slightest. Not looking at him now. Look instead at the smooth body of my
violin, my own fingerprints on it, visible only at a certain angle (this one). Fingers shift on the
fingerboard in pure muscle memory. Swan Lake. (Vulgar. But comforting.) Pluck the strings
gently. Still see the ivory tip of my bow bobbing about out of the corner of my eye. He always
manages to keep my attention, no matter how I try to fight it. Intensely frustrating.
Prone, Mycroft says, pausing for effect, to bouts of infidelity. But you already knew that, didnt
I look up. Hes got a wicked half-smile on his face. Hes enjoying this.
Mary. Didnt think she had a therapist.
These notes are several years old. Flourishes them at me. Think much has changed? My bow
is still slicing through the air: ictus, ictus, ictus, preparation swing. Cold distant father, hints of
covert incest. Puts the notebook down on his lap, lets me see the tiny print. Densely packed.
Pages of it. Mountains of information on Mary. You know that covert incest isnt actual--
I know. I spit it out. Im impatient. Anxious. What does he want? Why is he telling me all this?
Shes been married three times. That cant be news to you. She was engaged a fourth time, but
she sabotaged that one quicker than the ones before. It says here, lifts up the notebook again,
fear of intimacy coupled with low self-esteem and desire for approval from men results in her
aggressive sexuality and serial infidelities. Flips a page. This therapist recommended regression
therapy. Incompetent.

Do I need to remind you, I pluck one of the strings on my violin particularly hard, That I am
not the one marrying her?
She showed remorse. He goes on as if I said nothing. Makes my blood boil. She doesnt do it
deliberately. Its compulsive. Her therapist felt sorry for her. Did you know, she ended up sleeping
with him? He lost his license. Not her fault, of course. Shes a powerful narcissist, this one.
Shes not a narcissist. Defend her? Of course I will. Mycroft lies.
Youd know, of course.
Ive met her.
Youve evaluated her as the competition. He thinks hes correcting me. The conducting hasnt
stilled; it hasnt even faltered. Mycroft could have this entire conversation without me.
Ictus, ictus, ictus. Ive suspected all along, about you and your flatmate. You know that.
Sigh noisily. None of his business. None at all. If he wants to have this conversation, he can just
insert the parts I should say without me actually saying them. If I think very very hard maybe I can
block out the sound of his voice. Theres an experiment in the kitchen (lead, salt, coagulated
blood) I could check on; count prime numbers; 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107...
From the moment I first met him I suspected he might have this effect on you. Is that when it
started? Just then, the moment you first clapped eyes on him? Or did it come later?
...109, 113, 127 God no too boring, hes breaking through. Dammit.
He doesnt know everything. Wants to, even these irrelevant things. The unquantifiable. Things
that dont belong in the open. Things he can hold over my head later, get me to do what he wants.
Wont give in to him. Never do. Manipulative bastard. Itching to grab the notebook off his lap;
notebook, or my bow. One or the other. He cant have both. Marys failings or mine; pick,
Mycroft. Pick just one.
You fancy yourself in love with him, don't you. Not a question. I hate him. Ah. Yes. You do.
Good, Sherlock. Thats progress. Mummy would have been pleased.
Roll my eyes. Of course hed bring her up. Just trying to score a point. Hit a little harder. Yes: she
wanted me to do this, to feel this. She worried. Wondered if I could. (Or, more precisely: if I
would, if I would deign to let someone else come so close to me. She never doubted that I was
capable. Unlike others. Unlike me.) There was nothing I could do, then, to reassure her. She
would have liked John.
Until now, I thought it was mostly unrequited. Foolish, adolescent, and unrequited. But I
understand now that is not entirely true.
He holds up the notebook again. This was the evidence that finally swayed me, the part where
her therapist writes: Mary is primarily attracted to emotionally compromised men. Men who are
emotionally unstable, or unable to love her back, or who are in love with someone else. Drops
the notebook into his lap; it falls shut. He was speaking of himself there, the way his love for his
wife made him more attractive to Mary. He might as well have been writing about your John.
You have to blame yourself for her interest in him. He fancies you a great deal. A great deal
So well orchestrated, as always. My eyes lock with his without my permission. Hes grinning at

me. Did you already know? Ah. Of course. You did. Oh, poor Sherlock. You dont know what
to do with him now, do you.
Sigh. I hate him for this. Why wont he leave me alone? Hes not in love with me.
The evidence suggests otherwise. He drops a file on the table in front of me, but I refuse to even
glance at it. Why must he always pry?
Hes getting married.
Marriage doesnt physically prevent you from loving someone else, Sherlock. Roll my eyes.
And you sit there, plucking out Swan Lake as if that will make him love you enough to leave
I can feel the blood rushing to my face.
You can do better than that, Sherlock.
No. I drop the violin back into its case. Hold my hand out for the bow. Wait for it. He finishes
out the last two bars and then slides it gently into my hand. Hands are sweaty, shaking slightly.
Try to hide it, but he sees everything. Hopeless.
Yes, you can.
"It's irrelevant." I can feel my anger spilling over, making me lose all sense of judgment. I am
going to say things I do not want to say, do not want to admit, do not want to let Mycroft know,
all because he knows exactly how to inspire my most blind and most absolute rage. Theres a
moment before dropping down the precipice that I understand with startling clarity how well
Mycroft manipulates me, forcing me to revert into the child he will always consider me to be (aged
seven with a broken fishbowl in my hands, red-faced and livid and ashamed), but then I dissolve
into blood and spit and indignation. He doesnt want to.
A pause. Ah.
Dont look up. Shaking with rage. World tinted red. Some part of me hoped he would see a way
through. But he doesnt. My assessment is painfully correct.
Perhaps they deserve each other then.
After hes left I discover that Ive snapped my bow in half.

Almost Unnoticeable
Awkward conversations about personal subjects: really not my area. John, sitting at the kitchen
table, cup of coffee in his hand. In a worn t-shirt and pyjama bottoms; slippers on his feet. John
didnt used to do that; used to be so formal, even first thing in the morning. Shower, dress before
he came down the stairs. Damp hair combed, shoes on and tied, creases pressed. (More military
habits: the hospital corners remain, and I still disrupt them.) John is more casual now, more
relaxed. (Minus his cane, his limp, his constant despair.) His t-shirt is so worn that the next wash
will begin to tear it along the hem. I can see a bit of his scar through the fabric; reddish skin,
angry, slightly mottled.
(The more of him I can see, the more worn his t-shirts as he sits in the kitchen in the mornings, the
more often pushes his feet into his slippers: is that a gauge of his happiness? If so: he appears to be
very happy.)
Newspaper spread in front of him. (He always reads the international news first, all of it, even the
parts that trickle into the back pages. Has a special focus for Afghanistan (of course) and local
crime (naturally). Slowly loses concentration after that. Only skims in the following order: British
politics, sport, obituaries. Ignores the rest.)
In the middle of todays paper he will find another of the articles I have collected for him and
scattered around the flat. The various theses of these arguments should express my point precisely
without any muddled words on my part, without me starting up an epic row. Found this one in the
library, copied it, stapled it together. Underlined key points, made notes in the margins. Treger,
The Influences of Sociosexuality and Attachment Style on Reactions to Emotional Versus Sexual
Infidelity, from the Journal of Sex Research (2010).
When he finishes reading the reports of the latest news, he will turn a page and see it. It will be the
fourth article he will have found so far this morning, leading him to the inescapable conclusion
that Marys infidelity is innate, immutable and inevitable, all without me saying a word.
The first (found at the LSE library, ironically) was sitting on top of the toilet (Ezrar, Relational
Family Therapy Perspective on Adult Detachment, Journal of Family Psychotherapy (2010):
relies too much on nonsense theory and qualitative evidence, but the general thesis will get the
point across), another, left on the table next to the armchair (Hawkins, Defining Intimacy in
Diverse Asian Cultures, Graduate Research (2010): slightly off topic perhaps, but contains some
ideas on the subject of intimacy in general that are quite relevant), and finally one next to the
microwave, chosen to introduce a bit of levity to these dire affairs and convey a sense of my wry
wit and sympathy (Fincham, Faith and Unfaithfulness: Can praying for your partner reduce
infidelity? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010), obviously trite and not worth
the paper its printed on, but amusing and underscoring the basic point nonetheless). He will turn
the pages, see my notes, and then he will understand.
Sunlight hits the top of his head; his shiny hair. Golden. Bits of it grey. I want to touch it, feel how
the blond hair is different from the grey (softer? thinner?), but instead hold my hands still. Palms
pressed together. Wait. He will turn the page. He will understand. Tips of my index fingers
pressed to my lips. Keeping my mouth shut. He takes a deep breath in; then exhales slowly. Sips
from his cup. Watch his eyes zipping back and forth as he reads the tiny columns; down the page,
and then up; zig zag, zig zag.
Am I really that interesting? he says, not looking up. He turns a page.
I suppose Im staring at him. Perhaps not a good idea. Oh well. Of course.

Really. He looks up at me, stares back for a moment. Smiles. Theres a warmth in his eyes; he
doesnt actually mind. He might even like it. Looks back at me, his flecked eyes; a strange
intimacy in the looking. The obstacle of the table, the weight of the wrong words between us, the
wrong decisions. Easily pushed aside. Rub fingers against my lips, imagine touching his. What
are you deducing about me today?
Your left eye is slightly weaker than the right. I say it automatically. Its true, but I deduced it
months ago, not just now. Why am I lying? Comes out naturally. Both want and dont want to
start this conversation. The one about Mary, and what hes about to do. What he needs to know.
Bizarre internal conflict about starting an external conflict. (Conscience? Fear? Desire to keep the
peace? No idea.) Wait.
Is it? He finds it amusing.
Yes. Lace fingers together. Hes still looking at me, hint of a smile on his face. Also: your hair
is different colours. Blond, brown, some grey. I want to know what they feel like. That part is
true. Is it inappropriate to say?
He smiles again. The human face is extremely plastic, an evolutionary trait in support of a social
creature in need of relationships. Johns face is uniquely expressive (and he is uniquely in need of
relationships: are these facts connected?) His affection for me: obvious. (The bitter feeling in my
stomach outweighed by something else, a light sort of joy, a pleasant feeling in my gut when he
smiles at me like that. Soothing; also arousing. Interesting.) He leans forward a bit. Go on then.
Far be it from me to get in the way of science.
A table is no obstacle at all. I push my fingers through his hair; the warm bit at the top where the
sun has been resting; blond, brown, grey. Hard to distinguish them, but each colour has a slightly
different texture. Blond the thinnest and softest (of course), grey the thickest, coarsest. When he
grows older he will have a head of thick grey hair; testosterone level in his body is high enough to
give him a healthy sex drive (obviously), but not high enough to show signs of balding. Let one
hand trail over to the back of his neck; thumb rests behind his ear. Warm. Can feel his pulse, heat
rising on his skin. Feel his breath speed up slightly. Markers of arousal. Spike of pleasure. Have to
shut my eyes against it. John smells of sleep and soap. I cant smell the rancid fat from the chicken
shops near Marys flat, or the sickly smell of cheap cleaning products from the hallway outside her
door. This morning he only smells of Baker St. and himself.
Its been a few moments too long that Ive been holding on, fingers on his neck, in his hair. I
know it. I can tell he does too, but he doesnt appear to object. I lean closer and rub my cheek
against his hair. Quickly press my lips to his forehead through his fringe. A mirror of the kiss he
gave me. Then I let him go. Theres an odd trembling in my stomach. Steeple my fingers again,
John leans back, takes a sip from his cup. He studies me, his expression calm, relaxed. Well?
Ill write up a report, if you like.
He laughs. He doesnt turn the next page in the paper, and doesnt see the last article I printed for
him. I can only imagine thats why he doesnt get my point about Mary this morning.
So I try again in the afternoon.
Two strategically placed psychology textbooks on the coffee table (given my distaste for this socalled science, I had to go out of my way to procure these: found both in a second hand bookshop
near Imperial; one on co-dependency, opened to a extremely relevant section and highlighted by

its previous owner (too copiously, students lack rigour when given a bright yellow marker), and
another dissecting the odd but not uncommon conflation of intimacy issues and infidelity. Stack
them against each other, so that the corner of one book is pointing quite deliberately to an
especially cutting paragraph in the other. Precise.
In about twenty-five minutes, a documentary about socially destructive sexual behaviour in
Bonobos is going to come on the telly. John unlikely to watch the whole thing, but since the thrust
of its argument is present in the introduction, it will set the proper tone. John sitting on the sofa
with me, eating an apple, watching some chat show. I have a report on my lap, which I am
perusing. (Clearly: can watch a documentary and verify some lab results at the same time.) He gets
up to dispose of the core, and when he sits back down, he is partially sitting on my toes. I wiggle
He goes back to watching his show, but wraps his right hand around my ankle, absently, and
strokes his thumb back and forth from the top of my instep up, across the soft point between my
talus and calcaneus bones. Catches me; didnt expect that. A strangely intimate touch. (Breathe.
Breathe.) Feel my phone buzz: a text. Dont care.
In the Chinese tradition, stroking this spot is thought to stimulate the groin. While I know very
well that the bodys organs are not mapped out in the feet, linking this particular spot to the groin
might have been done for real physiological reasons; must research this phenomenon later.
Concentration is shot. Vision goes a bit blurry. Retain enough awareness to avoid drooling.
Pretend to be absorbed in the report all the same. Blissful. When he stops, I notice hes switched
the channel without my noticing. John may or may not have seen the documentary at all.
Check incoming texts: just one, from Mycroft. Ignore it (for now, at least). Hardly need him
spoiling the afternoon (again). Lingering warm buzzing in my lower stomach. Glorious. Dont
think John got the point of the textbooks or the documentary. Too subtle?
Over dinner, about to ask: searching for a way to phrase it, the way people do when they have a
question they dont quite know how to articulate without causing a riot. The way they ask
questions that arent the things they want to ask, just to introduce a topic. Want to ask, has she
told you?, when the real question is, are you aware that your marriage will end the same way
Marys previous marriages did, because theres no way for it to go otherwise? Are you sure you
want to do this? Cant see a way to phrase it that doesnt put him on the defensive. Enjoying his
relaxed posture, the smoothness of him. Dont want the frequent touches to stop, the warm grins.
Hes happy. Consider dozens of alternatives: Shes been married before, correct? playing dumb
doesnt suit me; only requires a yes or no response), Mary has a colourful past, doesnt she,
(bordering on offensive, terrible turn of phrase, trite, tedious) or, is she still in touch with her exhusbands? (Cheeky.) None of them seem quite right. Not talking about it is easier and more
pleasant. It remains on the tip of my tongue, hovering there, getting in the way of dinner, but it
never emerges.
Stalling, check Mycrofts text message. Prophetic, of course: If you tell him, and she is unfaithful,
he will blame you. Annoyed. Dislike the degree to which he can follow my train of thought, even
from a distance. Off-putting. But it works. I stop considering it. Cant argue that he doesnt have a
valid point. Feels like Im failing John somehow. Not prepared to sacrifice myself (my relationship
with him, my future relationship with him, in whatever form that might take) in order to prevent
his pain. None of my business. His decision.
Mycroft requires a very specific response: Piss off. SH
The night before the wedding, I fall asleep leaning against the frame of Johns partially open
bedroom door. Must have: remember standing at the door, watching him sleep, waiting for a
nightmare, waiting for the top right corner of his bed to come undone. Then suddenly, John

standing over me, hand on my shoulder. Ive fallen. Must have tipped over. He hauls me to my
feet wordlessly, pushes me toward his bed. Tucks me in. Gets in on the left side (why always the
left side of the bed? What advantage?) and curls up against me. His forehead on the back of my
neck, hand on my hip, which flexes, as if hes trying to communicate (hand, hip: a primitive kind
of language). Dont think I will, but I fall asleep.
Harry and I both sign as witnesses, while Marys two giggly friends look on and snap photos.
John looks sharp and serious in his dark suit; Mary looks happy in a green dress (she has the
decency not to wear white, which is atrocious anyway). Harry looks marginally perturbed; either
she doesnt approve any more than I do (and if so: perhaps I have met a new friend), or shes
concerned about how long it will be until her next drink. (She looks like John; same sharp eyes,
plastic, endlessly readable face.)
Something only I (and probably Mycroft, damn him) would see: John walks out toward the car,
off to begin his marital bliss with a weekend at a bed and breakfast (Whitstable in Kent), with a
very slight limp. Almost unnoticeable. But not quite.

Too Long
Murder weapon: a knife. (Just an old kitchen knife, made only slightly more interesting by two
careful letters on the bottom of the handle, in ink, covered over by a coat of clear nail varnish.
Someone cared for this knife, shared a kitchen, didnt want to lose her things (a woman,
obviously). A kitchen knife, for making dinners and salads, not for stabbing fourteen year old
boys in dark alleys. This knife belongs to a woman who shared a kitchen; lived in a group home.
A shelter. A battered womans shelter. Brought her own things with her. But that was years ago
now. In her own place now, polish is coming off and not been replaced. And her son; hes
sixteen. A history of violence. Someones picked up this knife in anger before. Fingernails dug
into the wooden handle. Male. Her sons? Her husbands?)
CCTV footage rolling on the screen; two boys wandering into an alley; one, fourteen (the victim,
lying in hospital now, stab wounds, critical condition) the other, sixteen (convoluted story about a
tall man in a waistcoat who shouted threats; too convoluted, too detailed. Who remembers a
waistcoat, other than me?). No one else on the street at all. One boy runs out (the elder). The
attempt. Clearly. Caught just off screen. A silent street, the testimony. Stop the footage and pick
up phone, text Lestrade.
Arrest 16 year old. Still have chat logs to sift through for motive. SH
The sound of throat-clearing. John. (Obvious. I can hear the edge of his voice, even in the clearing
of his throat. Impossible to mistake.)
Spin around and see him standing by the door. Half-hidden behind the coat rack. Looking small.
Bit ashamed. Hiding, but not consciously. Why? John. (How long have you been there?) Turn to
face him. Smile. Havent seen him in three weeks. Off mooning around with Mary. Missed him.
Can feel just how much Ive missed him now that I see him. (A shocking amount.) Something
looks wrong.
Hes had a haircut. (Thats not it.) It suits him.
Youre late. Hold out the weapon, still in the evidence bag.
Took me a while to get here, John says, sheepish, and moves toward me. Limping. Limping
badly, using a cane. (New one now: wooden. Gift. Oh. Gift from Mary. She had to purchase it
recently because Johns limp returned while they were away from London. She picked it out for
him, thinks he likes it. He hates it. Makes him feel like an old man with an old mans cane. His
grandfather had a cane like that. The ugly metal one was better, more medical, less geriatric. More
hopeful that the limp is temporary. This one suggests that hell just have to live with the limp,
pretty it up a bit with a gnarled and bourgeois-polished stick of wood. No. It wont do at all.)
Of course it took him a while to get here. On the fifth floor of the old police building. No lift. Oh,
Thats what it is, thats whats wrong. Knows its all in his head. Expecting me to tease him?
Mock him? Look down on him for letting it creep back? (Would I do that? Maybe once. Not
Frown. Cant help it. Concerned. Why does the limp come back? Thought Id cured that. Shocked
it out of his system. His mind is tenacious and stubborn. Wants to punish John, somehow. Make
him suffer. I see.

He limps heavily across the room toward me. Limp as bad as it ever was, possibly worse. Three
weeks away from a case (away from danger, running in terror, having to pull out his illegal
handgun) is too long.
(But consider: five weeks minus a case, living with me, didnt bring his limp back. Six weeks,
even. His normal workaday life, dinners out, watching telly, folding hospital corners, having
nightmares: six weeks, no limp. Now: three weeks away. Terrible limp. So: the cure not just
danger. But the potentiality of danger. Waking up every morning not knowing if today is the day
we get shot at again, have to leap from a high place, hide from murderers or break into houses for
evidence. Not just danger. Me. Three weeks away from me brings back his limp.)
(Johns well-being is entirely dependent on being with me. Satisfying. Bittersweet. But pleasing.
Does he know?)
The boy did it.
Youve worked it out already? John sounds disappointed. I preen a little. Yes, I did work it out
CCTV. Wave a hand. Dont want to be too cocky when John is clearly feeling so low. We
know who did it, but no idea why. Still have chat logs to go through. Motion to a laptop sitting
on the table. He leans his (awful) cane against chair and sits. Peers at the screen. Absently rubs at
his leg as he scans through the files. Havent seen his leg cause him this much pain since the first
moment I met him. Cant have that.
Solution: easy. (Send a few texts; arrange a meeting. Simple, really.)
Spend half the night being chased by a man I presumed was a potential killer (not an experienced
one). Shots are fired; hit the wall rather than either of us. Arrest made (after John tackled the man
to the ground and knocked him senseless, of course). John is panting, his leg is fine (its fine, its
all in his head, it just needs a reminder). He pats me down roughly, suddenly afraid Ive been hit
without him noticing. Grabs my jaw and forces me to turn my head. Touches his fingers to my
neck, my earlobe. Feel a slight burn. He pulls his fingers back and shows me. Blood. I was
grazed. Didnt even feel it. Now: it stings slightly.
Ouch, I say, and touch my neck. Blood dripping from my earlobe.
That was dumb, he said. If you were an inch shorter and youd have a bullet in your brain.
What were you thinking?
I was thinking about you. You, John. Obviously. His limp is gone. Twenty-one days apart is too
long. One burst of danger (a reminder of what his life is meant to be like, living with me, being
with me) is enough.
For how long?
Head is burning. throat is raw and dry. Feel so cold I think the wind is passing through me; then
so hot I need to push all the bedclothes off me. Desire to cough bested only by fear of coughing
up all of my innards in one go. Sweating. Aching. Damp cloth John has placed on my forehead
strangely soothing. (Because he put it there? Possibly.)
You obviously havent been feeling well for some time. You should have called me. John is
moving the telly from the sitting room into my bedroom. I have no idea why.
I prefer to text. My voice sounds strange, strangled. Not like my voice at all. Alien sounds

coming out of me.

You should have texted me, then. Now youve got pneumonia.
Ill be fine. Admittedly, I dont sound fine. I sound dreadful. Pasty taste of antibiotics still
lingering in the back of my throat. Cough. (Ouch.)
He places the telly on top of the dresser, plugs in it. Switches it on. Its too loud and he scrambles
for the remote (shoved into his pocket). Mashes a button until the volume ebbs. He adjusts it so
that I cant help but see it; the flickering light is annoying at best. Want to ask why he moved the
bloody telly, but talking might make me cough again. Unpleasant.
He flits around like a nervous rabbit. (Note: no limp. Its been four days since I last saw him. No
hint of a limp at all. Four days apart is all right, as far as Johns leg is concerned. My lungs beg to
differ.) Picks up a glass and goes to the kitchen; fills it with water. Forces me to drink it. (Makes
me cough.) Fills it with water again and leaves it on my bedside table. Returns to the kitchen;
comes back with three oranges in one hand. He climbs into the bed next to me, picks up the
remote, switches from channel to channel until he finds something he likes. Settles in, his shoulder
against mine. (Perhaps moving the telly was a good idea after all.) He peels an orange and pops a
wedge into his mouth, then points one in my direction.
Eat. I struggle to sit up a little more, complaining, coughing. He puts it in my mouth, reluctant as
I am. Burst of sweetness. His finger brushes my lip, rests for a moment on my chin. He detaches
another segment and hovers it near my mouth until I stick out my tongue to accept it. Good.
Four days is all right.
Body in the weeds, bloated and stinking. Donovan and Lestrade keep their distance. I dont mind.
The decomposing human body is just like a living one; a slightly altered set of chemicals inside a
highly elastic container. Still human, still full of details. Marks on the neck (fingers), marks on the
wrist (fingers), marks on the thighs (fingers), marks on the ankles (fingers). How many hands
involved? Five different sets. Gang related. This man was strong, and he fought back. Took a
couple of teeth with him.
See movement in the corner of my eye. Its been a little under two weeks since I last saw him.
(Visiting friends of Marys in Berwick-upon-Tweed; a golfing holiday, of all things.) John.
Limping again. Look up.
All right, John? Hes coming down a steep slope; no ones helping him. Using the cane again
(the wooden one; poor John. Its ghastly, and slightly too short for him).
Fine, he grumbles. Fine.
How was golf?
More boring than you can possibly imagine.
Given how well you understand the depths to which my imagination can descend, thats a truly
frightening proposition.
Fortunately, there is always something dangerous to do in London. Eleven days: too long for John
and I to be apart.
Send a text for me. He looks up, startled for a moment. He hasnt made it down to the slope yet.
Stops, pulls his phone out of his pocket. Looks up at me.

Recite the number for John. It will be a long night.

The body was found by the landlady. (Consider: what would Mrs. Hudson do if she found my
torso detached from my limbs and stuffed into a cricket bag in the attic? Scream, run away, cry
and call the police, or scream, run away, call the police, and then cry? She is a practical woman, at
heart.) I can hear John on the stairs. I already know what the evidence of the sound suggests: its
been nine days. Nine days is too long. His limp has reappeared. Its not too bad yet, not so much
that he hesitates to take the stairs and grimaces in pain when he sits, but noticeable. The tap of his
cane on the stairs.
I dont turn to look at him as he walks in. Im leaning over the cricket bag, looking for evidence
before I turn it over. (Littered around the edges of the room: a rake, an axe, a handsaw, a machete,
a chainsaw. None of which are the murder weapon. Marks on the throat, just below the point
where the head was removed. Strangled. Something soft: a scarf? Pillowcase? Not rope. Cloth.)
John. Hes at the door now, he stops. I dont need to see him to know that hes fiddling with
that pretentious wooden monstrosity. Give me your cane.
He limps toward me. I extend my hand back, dont look behind me. Dont need to see; I know
how he looks, just now, a bit ashamed of the limp, confused by it, frustrated. Hoping against hope
that I dont mention it. (I dont. I never do.) Hiding a little behind his over-long fringe (as if he
can). He slips it into my palm. Thank you. Moment of indecision; axe? handsaw? The simplest
is clearly the chainsaw. Walk over, pick it up, Johns dreadful cane in my left hand.
Tuck the cane under my arm and pull the cord on the chainsaw. It starts up on the first try. Hold it
in my right hand, drop the cane into my left. One single slice, right in the middle. The bottom half
of the cane hits the floor. (Tacky golden tip, all chipped and ugly. Looks like someones chewed
on it. Been getting far too much use.) I shut down the chainsaw.
Look over at John. He looks stunned. Confused.
Thats terrible, I say. Tragic accident, your dear cane. What a shame.
He starts to laugh.
I walk over to the door and pick up the plain black metal cane I brought with me, Hand it to John,
handle first. That will have to do instead. Its the perfect size for him; I ordered it to fit. (It helps,
of course, that I know the exact length of his legs and arms, the choreography of his gait; I was
able to specify the precise right size to suit. He will discover at some point later on that I had his
initials engraved on it, just under the handle. Small letters: JHW, placed so he can run his fingers
over them when hes bored. He wont notice now. Hell notice later on, when hes at home, and
runs his fingers over the brushed metal.) Not quite as workaday as his original one (given to him
by the hospital, no doubt, scuffed from previous use), but solid, unpretentious, and (above all)
obviously temporary. It couldnt be helped.
Thank you. He smiles at me. Surprise written on his face. Gratitude. Affection.
I nod, and go back to the cricket bag.
Johns set to meet me at Angelos for dinner. Mary is working tonight (is she, really? I wonder),
so we have the evening to ourselves. No plans; well see what turns up. I sit by the window and

watch him approach. His steady gait is very slightly canted to the left; hes favouring the leg again.
Doesnt know it, but he is. His body is fighting him, his brain is insisting on reacting to an injury
that isnt there. Not a full limp yet, but getting there. Six days since I last saw him.
Six days. Too long.
You need to see me about twice a week.
I tell John this while hes sitting in his armchair across from me. Hes reading a medical journal.
(His subscriptions still come to Baker St., even though he is no longer paying half the rent.) Its a
Thursday evening and Mary is meeting with her book club. He has a cup of tea in one hand. He
needs another haircut. He looks up, through his fringe.
Ive been tracking the progress of your limp.
He blanches a little. I have not mentioned it at all until now, in spite its prominent appearance and
disappearance over the last few months. He prefers to pretend its not happening, but this will be
our singular conversation on the matter. I will get through it quickly and change the subject. You
require exposure to danger, or exposure to the potential for danger. I provide that. Somewhere
between four and six days away from exposure to potential danger brings on the limp. If you see
me at least twice a week, the limp will not return.
Pause. He looks startled. I look down at the newspaper on my lap. Glance over the news. Looking
for crimes involving ball bearings. (Important.)
Of course, if you go on holiday or are otherwise barred from seeing me, I suppose you could put
yourself in some danger once a week. That might work, its unclear. Easier to just see me though,
I suspect.
I... John doesnt appear to know what to say.
Mary has at least one night shift a week, and meets with her friends at least one evening after
work. If you spend those evenings with me, you shouldnt need to use a cane at all. Dont look
up. I can hear him relax in his chair. He exhales in a laugh.
I...see. he say. I look up. Hes grinning at me. Impressed. Flattered. Still slightly embarrassed. I
solved another problem for him. (Didnt he realize?) Amazing. Youve got it tracked to the hour,
dont you. He shakes his head. Thats...amazing.
Well. Look back at the paper. Johns compliments never cease to make capillaries bloom with
heat under my skin.
How long have you been working that out?
Consider. About four months.
He stands, walks over to me. Sits down next to me. Puts the palm of his hand on my cheek,
strokes me with his thumb. I turn my head and look at him, still holding the newspaper. He is
beaming at me. He leans over and kisses me on the lips (lightly). Thats a good plan. Thank
I dont know what to say to that. So I dont say anything.

He stays sitting next to me, reading his journals. I can feel the echo of his lips on mine for the rest
of the night.

Call It What It Is
Small (cheap) dining chair; loose spindles in the back pinch and prod. Fidget. Shift weight from
side to side, shake left leg in staccato. Chair legs (ends raw, uncovered by bits of felt) scrape
beneath, drawing vertical lines (raw wood directed by never-ceasing motion) on the dining room
floor. Leaving evidence of this awkward dinner party. Take the furniture out and you could still
read this scene as clearly; the loving couple (John at the head of the table, Mary to his right)
leaning toward each other, beaming, happy, radiant, and their anxious guest (uncomfortable, ready
to leap up at a moment's notice, full of unresolved tension) on the right. You could read the story
in the floor: two people with no regrets; one made of them.
"I opened it, and there was a condom in there. With a paperclip inside it. A paperclip!" Mary,
telling droll library stories. Mary has good comic timing, a dramatic flare. Typical skills of a
pathological liar. (To be fair: also typical skills of those generally considered socially successful
and charming.) "He came back the next day, asking for his bookmark."
John laughs. Touches her arm.
(His hair is slightly mussed; hers, recently re-styled (fresh hairspray, cheap). Freshly-applied
lipstick (very cheap), with a smudge inching too high on her upper lip. A bit of that same lipstick
rubbed into John's jaw. Their bed (behind a closed door, as if they are trying to hide the presence
of the marital bed from me, as if it were somewhat unseemly for me to see it) was swiftly and
recently re-made. Smells of sweat, lubricant (cheap), and semen. They had sex before I arrived.
Can almost see the oxytocin drifting through John's veins. The heaviness around his eyes, the
quiet weight of satisfaction. Trust. Affection. (Love. Call it what it is.)
His face doesn't clench up with frustration (anger, hurt?) when he's with her (like it does so often
when he's with me). She smooths out his face (his shoulders, the long muscles in his back, the
small ones in his hands, the complications of his post-war life). She speaks; he laughs. Full,
unrestrained, confident, unafraid.
(The lack of fear: his body doesn't like it. His body feels tension where his mind believes there is
none, invents injury in the face of its deliberate and steady absence. The war broke John. The
thing he wants (happiness, stability, comfort, love), this thing that he has is what cripples him.)
My valued contribution to this blissful arrangement: jeopardy and fear. Uncertainty. Danger.
(Bitterness. Regret.)
A twinge.
(Valid evaluation. Accurate. I seek out danger as a matter of course. Problems and crimes,
evidence and careful thinking, observation and deduction: they keep me sane. Am I largely
incapable of providing the kind of comfortable, unwound, unsullied pleasure I can read on Johns
face as he drapes his (right) arm around Mary? The body weighed down with complete trust and
oxytocin? Is this what John thought I would hate? The dullness of shared bedclothes and mussed
hair, a familiar body under my fingers, reacting in predicable ways? (My own unpainted lips
against his jaw?) Would I hate it? Was he wrong? I don't know. I think he was. I think I was.
Regret. Rewind: start over.)
More potatoes? Mary has the spoon in her hand (enamel on the handle is chipped; she will cut
herself on it if she shifts her hand a little to the left). She smiles at me. Perfectly pleasant.
A surprise: Mary hides her tells. She is nearly impossible for me to read (on this point, at least, this

one point). Her whole body is neutral: her behaviour seems natural, but its the opposite. The
lesson: it is possible for Mary to have sex (with John, with anyone) without me being able to
conclusively deduce that she has done so. Her eyes are clear and friendly, her gaze direct. She
looks like someone enjoying the moment, full of confidence, all else shuttered behind her eyes, her
mouth, the deliberate expression on her face. I can look at John and know what happened within
minutes of my arrival here, but her eyes (face, body) tell me absolutely nothing. Disturbing.
Mary has developed a masterful skill in hiding her tells, or she was blessed enough to never have
any in the first place. (Sociopath? No. I dont think so.) Were she marginally less careful, or less
distrustful, or more more secure, less powerfully focused on controlling herself and her situation, I
would see the evidence of her recent sexual activity in her face, her body. She is more dangerous
than I realised. When she gets caught (three failed marriages and an engagement called off: she
obviously gets caught) she does it on purpose. (To punish herself? Possibly. Guilt. Shame. Desire
to be different, better? Desire to start over? Do her own mistakes stain the ones she deceives?
Does her ability to deceive them make them less attractive to her, less interesting? Do they remind
her of their failures with their complete ignorance?)
John and Mary are in very different places, sitting here in her Clapton flat, inclined together
toward each other like saggy ragdolls, laughing at rehearsed stories. She is controlled and affecting
nonchalance; he is loose and vulnerable, comfortable. Unwound. Open. He is by nature honest
with those he loves; she is by nature dishonest. Mismatch. Shes holding a gun to his head. Hes
leaning into it. Disaster.
He is in at least as much danger of pain and suffering with her than he ever is with me, but he
obviously doesnt know it. Being with Mary should frighten his limp away too. He doesnt even
need me.
Oh youve cut your--
Let me--
Just a--
Ill get my--
She moved her hand to the left. Gash on her palm. It bleeds profusely. A drop of blood on the
No swimming tomorrow, then. John bandages her hand.
I suppose not, Mary says. But tomorrow night Im with my, the slightest pause, book club,
remember? Pitch of her voice, very slightly different. Her hand (the left, the one John is not
bandaging) absently moves to her face. She glances over at me, then back at John. The
Sentimentalists. Another pitch again. Rehearsed, deliberate. Deliberately normal. Calm. She
makes eye contact. She stills her hand. She smiles. Really looking forward to it, its a wonderful
book. Canadian. Prize winner. Have you read it?
Shes lying. Did the pain of the cut throw her off for a moment? The surprise? The blood? Shes
lying about the book club. Is it the first time? The first rendezvous post marriage? Cant be. John
has no idea. Hes letting her change the subject, hes never heard of The Sentimentalists, or of the
Giller Prize. She tells him about both. Shes done her research. Shes read the book. (Shes a

librarian.) Airtight. The book club exists (of course), but I would bet my life (her life, his life?) its
not meeting tomorrow night, thats the lie. (Might meet tomorrow afternoon, keeping her lie very
slight, as close to truth as possible, but gives her a few hours of alibi for something she doesnt
want John to know about. Wants to get away with. The thrill of it.) Skilful. Practised. No guilt
around her at all, not now. Now its all the ploy, the game, the high; the sex tonight, moments
before I arrived, it was part of the lead up. Shes addicted to danger too. Shes addicted to getting
away with it. Skirting the line so close shes about to get caught. But she doesnt. Not until she
wants to.
You two should do something, though. Marys eyes are all smiles. Solve a crime or watch
telly, right? Youll take him out for dinner first, wont you, Sherlock?
Of course. I smile right back. I can play that game too. All warm and genuine. Is she trying to
get me off her trail, keep me occupied why she occupies herself? If Im entertaining John (dinner,
telly, maybe a crime scene), that would keep my attention off of her nightly wandering. (Is she that
calculating? Does she know I suspect? That I would trail her, watch her from windows, observe
and deduce?)
Such a gentleman! She laughs. You two, out on a date while I sit with the girls at the book
club. I should be jealous!
Deflecting. Classic. Suggesting that John would be unfaithful when a tryst with a lover is likely
her plan. Obvious. She laughs at her own joke. Finds herself so amusing.
John shoots her a wounded look. A burst of anger in his face, rapidly tamped down. Shes crossed
some kind of line. (What sort?) Johns whole face is tensed, his hand clench, then unclench again,
deliberately grasping for control. He is very angry; I have never seen him so angry. He smiles
tightly at me (an apology: why?) and takes a sip of wine (cheap: terrible). Hes been betrayed, one
of the thousand tiny betrayals between lovers. Slip of the tongue. Touched a sore spot.
Embarrassed in front of me. (Why? Is John keeping secrets from me?)
Why would that statement bother John so much? A slight against his heterosexuality, his
masculinity? Probably not. He says things like its all fine. His sister is a lesbian. Hes kissed me
(on the lips), hes curled up next to me in his bed. Admitted to having desire (unusual as it is) for a
man (for me). Cant see him being offended by a joke (obviously a joke) about him getting off
with me.
Its not a joke, no matter how prettily Mary laughs.
In the dark, maybe, in bed, on a cold night some time last winter with Mary in his arms, the dark
of night making all confessions seem less dire, he admitted his wayward but (deliberately)
unfulfilled desires (for me). Of course! No secrets between spouses; John is romantic enough to
believe that. Total honesty. He has been totally honest. She knows there was something
(undefinable, unthreatening, surely, she doesnt appear to feel honestly threatened) between John
and me.
(Does she know about the kiss? Does the kiss even matter, a light thank you between friends,
chaste and sweet press of lips against lips? I didnt even reciprocate. Wasnt time. Was caught offguard. Is that why it didnt matter? Do they imagine I wasnt a willing recipient? Is that why the
idea of her being jealous is so funny to her?) He wanted to (have sex with me). (And still does?)
And he didnt. (Not because he couldnt. Because he wouldnt. Because we agreed it would break
us. Hurt him.. Doesnt she know that? Of course she does. Doesnt he remember that? Did he
interpret it differently?) Have I been projecting rejection and unwillingness all this time?

Shes laughing: is it because I am so incapable? Because John wont, because I wont, because I
am some kind of monster, toying with Johns affections for fun? (Or the opposite? John as a
monster, toying with me? Impossible. Inconceivable. Not funny, at any rate.) Or does she believe
(do they both believe?) I am some sort of asexual creature who doesnt understand what the
closeness (the kiss(es), the hand on my hip, forehead against my back, fingers in my hair) mean
and therefore cant be seen as actual threat to their marriage? Cant be seen as a legitimate partner,
companion, lover?
Is this joke on me? Or on John? The incapable virgin terrified of having/not having John
(impossible: they do not know any of these things, how would they? How could they know?), or
the broken ex-soldier with a(n unrequited?) crush on his asexual, unemotional, unattainable
flatmate and best friend? Or on the both of us, locked in this ridiculous stalemate? Stumbling over
assumptions and confusions. I have been so stupid.
Johns anger at Mary is fleeting, but the discomfort remains. He is struggling to forgive her
already, sitting there in a terrible dining chair, the spindles squeaking against his back. She has had
a bit too much wine; he loves her; he chalks it up to her low self-esteem, her fear. The truth. He
has feelings for me he will not stow away. Acknowledged them. He will not isolate himself from
me, in spite of his feelings for me. She is justified in her nervousness. He accepts it. Forgives her.
He forces himself to smile, to chuckle lightly. False laugh even she should notice. She doesnt.
I remember what Mycroft read aloud to me: Mary is primarily attracted to emotionally
compromised men. Men who are emotionally unstable, or unable to love her back, or who are in
love with someone else. Mary is self-aware enough to know this; John is honest enough to admit
to the bifurcation of his emotions. They have reached a compromise.
She is mocking him. Mocking him for being in love with an asexual sociopath. His anger (hidden
behind false laughter) is palpable.
Its still just moments after she said it (though it feels so much longer: my world has shifted
forever, I need the space and time to readjust). Shes still laughing. Eyes shut. Johns blaze of
anger unseen by her, softened to awkwardness in the space of a few seconds.
I suggest: Maybe you should. Be jealous, I mean. Everything she thinks she knows about me is
She laughs again, even louder, as if Ive just said the most ridiculous thing. It appears that I am
playing along. John tries to keep smiling, pushes out some fake laughter, but his eyes: mortified;
confused; hurt. A question there, dismissed. There is more under the surface here. More than I can
dissect tonight. How can I explain, sitting in this terrible chair, leaning over an over-cooked roast
and under-cooked potatoes, watery gravy?
I dont leave immediately; they would both think I was leaving in an offended huff. Everyone
would be angry. John would fret. I wait another hour and forty-five minutes, through dull
conversations about local crime and bad telly. Innocuous. Tedious. Simple. The atmosphere
absorbs this tentative revelation, the inherent tension in the room. It dissipates as if it never
happened. The power of the assumptions and lies flees and John relaxes again. Laughs. Tells
stories about cases, much of which Mary barely believes. She looks at me as if waiting for me to
counter and correct John, but I dont.
I cant keep my eyes off of John; have to deliberately keep myself from staring. I am terrified and
fascinated. Watching him for more evidence, some subtle motion, a definitive look on his

expressive face, some additional clue. Ambiguous. He pours more wine. We finish the meal; John
goes into the kitchen and brings out a plate of Bakewell tarts. (I recognise them: they come from a
bakery for which I have a high regard.) John smiles at me. I smile back. (Evidence? Hardly.)
Marys eyes are sagging with sleep and with wine by the time I stand and put on my coat. She is
looking at John with naked affection. (Love. Call it what it is.) For all her faults, a lack of feeling
isnt one of them. She has not appeared to notice that she insulted and embarrassed John earlier in
the evening, and provided a vital bit of evidence for me. (My conclusions must, absolutely must,
remain tentative: it is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. And my bias
in this case is obvious.)
In the doorway, as I am about to step down the stairs away from this wretched little flat, John hugs
me. Friendly. A goodbye hug. A clatter of dishes and utensils in the sink from the kitchen: Mary
cannot see. A hug. An apology.
Thanks. Johns voice: I can feel it through his skin, the vibration of it against me. Glad you
came. He is. Whatever else is going on between us, we are friends. Important to one another.
Glad of one anothers existence. Complicated.
He pulls back from me a little, his hand still on my back. Hesitating. I smile. Make a decision in a
flash: dont let myself think it through. I lean forward and kiss him. Let my tongue run along the
edge of his upper lip. (Wine. Roast. Gravy. Almonds. The milkiness that is him.) Hes a little
started by it, but slightly drunk; his reaction times are slower, his defences are down. Unrestrained.
Hes unwound and trusting. (Even with me; maybe especially with me. Why not with me?)
Lightly sucks my bottom lip. Grips my back. Hand slides up to my neck. His tongue. In my
mouth. Odd texture against my own. Passion. My veins are all on fire. Lips. Wet. A clatter of
utensils in the kitchen; water runs. (A reminder.) We let go. His hand slides off my neck. We stare
at each other. Panting slightly (him; also, I notice a moment later, me).
It was nice. I mean dinner. Is that clear? Not prepared to evaluate the kiss just now, not like that.
Nice probably not the word I would choose. Feel so awkward. Exposed. Thanks for the
invitation. Still mean dinner. Hope thats understood. (Was there an invitation to kiss him?
Possibly. It was reciprocated. Our first (last? Surely not) fully reciprocated kiss.) My voice is
slightly more hoarse than I anticipated. He looks struck a bit dumb. Surprised. (How can he
possibly be surprised? If, if...need more time to consider. To piece it together.) He is aroused. Also
true of me. Heart is pounding in my ears. I am surely flushed. Blushing. Must be so obvious.
(Chalk it up to the wine.) Ill see you tomorrow. I cant stay here. I dont know what to do.
I turn, start down the stairs.
Tomorrow. John says. Confirming. An edge to his voice too. I dont hear him shut the door.
Hes watching me. Tempted to turn back, share a significant look, acknowledge that I understand
a bit more about him, that I misunderstood before (I think), that he misunderstood me (surely), and
say something ridiculous and emotional that I would immediately regret. But I dont turn back.
Outside, the rain is pouring down. I barely notice. Veins on fire. Skin thrumming. John.

The Case of Mary Morstan

Not terribly difficult to be mistaken for a student. Muss hair artfully (with a touch of product),
slouch. Carry a book bag. Dress down; old jeans and a thin t-shirt (Johns), a pseudo-hip retro
cardigan from a secondhand shop. Trainers. Pair of glasses; horn-rimmed plastic browlines, false
lenses. (Been ages since Ive required a disguise.) Look shy, awkward. Twist feet in slightly.
Standing by the main entrance at the LSE library, staring down at my phone, scrolling through
texts (just like the seven students scattered around me) paper cup of coffee in my left hand. Mary
walks right past me. Doesnt recognise me. Perfect.
Mary is also in a disguise (of sorts).
Wearing perfume (expensive, new: unusual), blue pumps on her feet, tights on her legs (bought
from a shop down the street from her flat in Clapton). Wearing a dress with a low cut neckline.
Lipstick. Her hair not in her usual ponytail or clipped up on the sides; hanging loose instead.
Blow-dried, curled. (Her hair is a cross between blonde and mouse brown; she started off her life
as a blonde and still thinks of herself that way: blonde in secondary school, always the short
blonde girl in awkward photos. She spent some time in India as a young adult; her blonde hair
would have made her stand out. Made her more attractive, unusual, alluring. Made her more
obviously different. Gave her an unusual amount of male attention. She would have loved it and
hated it. She does not dye her hair. She let it turn steadily darker as she aged. An interesting battle
with the traditional markers of female beauty, with the markers of her own. An acceptance
(perhaps a welcoming?) of the signs that she changes over time. That she can change.) She is
dressed up, as if today is an important day. Dressed as someone not quite but almost entirely
unlike the person she actually is.
She is meeting someone. The book club: an obvious ruse. She is meeting him tonight (whoever he
is), but also, if Im very lucky, for lunch. Difficult to prove, but I suspect I can. The homeless
network has received its orders: a fifty pound note and a page with Marys photo printed on it, her
particulars. Where/when/with whom? Answers will be forthcoming. Mary may imagine that my
nights with John will keep me from tracking her, that she is safe not only from his notice and
suspicion but also from mine. She is wrong.
Hacking into her work calendar was not difficult. (She and John have the oddest things in
common; the kinds of passwords they choose being one of them. Not the same passwords,
obviously, but the same pattern of passwords: objects of emotional value, childhood pets, and
oddly, the online pseudonyms they each used to engage in arguments on the internet while at uni.
John and Mary both: the appeal of the alternate identity, the secret self.) She has the lunch hour
and then some blocked off and labelled merely as Lunch Meeting. No name attached. Only
meeting without one. Most interesting event of the day.
The calendar pinned up behind the enquiry desk lists the librarians scheduled to work each shift; I
managed a glance. According to John, Mary worked two night shifts last week (unusual):
Tuesday night (when John left Clapton and joined me at a crime scene, fell asleep after two in the
morning face down on the sofa) and Thursday night (he insisted on bringing over a DVD to
watch, and spent the evening with his right leg entwined with mine, his hand resting casually on
my knee). The schedule: Thursday: yes, Marys name listed there (MM rather than her full name
in order to prevent others doing precisely what I am doing); Tuesday: someone elses initials.
Mary was not here Tuesday night. Wont be here next Tuesday night either. A lie.
Marys blue shoes clap against the brick, and I follow her, still staring at my phone. Her curly hair
bounces with each step. No one notices me. No one thinks my behaviour is odd. Even as I speed

up a bit as she turns a corner and crosses the street. I glance at my watch (indicate that I fear I am
late for something). Stuff phone into pocket, where it immediately buzzes. Pull it back out. John.
Where do I meet you tonight? Baker St? Angelos? Or is there a crime scene that needs your
Stab of warmth. John. Too early in the day to make these plans; normally Johns texts asking these
sorts of questions come around four oclock, as his shift nears its end, not before noon. Sitting in
his office at the clinic, between patients. Typically he makes himself a cup of tea, picks up a
biscuit. Instead hes thinking of me.
Our attention. Nothing yet. Preference? SH
Mary turns at a side street. Dodge a man with a handcart, keep her in view. Speed up to catch her
before she slips away.
Baker St, I think. Want to watch X Factor. Should I move the telly back?
Watch her blue shoes and her dress disappear inside a restaurant. Bookshop across the street with
a picture window. Will retire there to watch.
Ive put the cow hides there for now. Tellys fine where it is. SH
She is seated alongside the window rather than in front of it; a pity, but good enough. She is
facing toward the window; leaving the remaining seat for him, letting him have the view of the
front door and any oncoming waiters. Mary in the passive seat, the receptive seat. Not completely
but almost entirely unlike her. She sips at her water. The look on her face: delight. Anticipation.
That rush of adrenaline that comes from putting everything at risk, hovering on the edge of a
precipice. Odd amounts in common with John. They are not so terribly matched.
Im not even going to ask. Ill pick something up then?
Cars pull up; one parks almost a street away. Man in a suit; a likely-looking candidate. Married.
Slightly balding. Good looking, but not overly so. Clearly successful (expensive suit; expensive
shoes. Tie pin). Crosses the street and enters the restaurant; Mary rises, they embrace. She kisses
his cheek. Hands touch and linger. She sits; he across from her. The fluttering of napkins, shifting
of feet. Their hands on the table. He plays with her fingers. She laughs. Flirting. A date.
Anything you like. SH
Exit the bookshop, move past the mans car. (Bentley; in red. Unmistakable from a distance.) Stop
adjacent; pull out phone. Mimic sending a frantic text. Shift around in order to snap a photo of the
licence plate. Sigh dramatically; shake head, Push glasses up the bridge of nose. Shove hands
back into pockets. Displays required to prevent notice; agitated student texting on the pavement
not remarkable in the slightest. Walk back toward the bookshop, lean against the brick wall. Pull
out phone. Snap a picture of Mary, looking adoringly at the balding man. (More testosterone than
John. Greater sex drive? More ambitious, certainly.)
Send a text to Lestrade: ask him to run the plate number. Email the photo as a kind of evidence.
Lestrade more likely to take such a request seriously if photographic evidence available. As if
snapping a picture and sending it suggests a more serious request than merely texting the number
Whats this about then?
Important. Name/address required. SH

Another glance up at Mary; she has her hand on his face, shes smiling at him. Unfamiliar look.
Such bold passivity. Strange. Lestrade doesnt answer right away; good sign. Hes running the
plate for me.
Phone buzzes again. Lestrade? Awfully quick it if were. No. Mycroft. Nearly push phone back
into my pocket out of sheer childishness. Walk back up to the main road and glare petulantly at the
CCTV cameras before glancing down at the screen.
Is this really the best use of your time?
Amazing how Mycrofts sneering tone seems to be attached and dripping from each text he sends.
Is it the best use of yours? SH
Three streets down. Slip into a shop and change clothes in an unattended changing room; return to
proper trousers and shoes, leave Johns nearly-torn t-shirt on underneath a pressed shirt.
(Something appealing about having it on; it smells like him.) Leave the trainers (horrid); push the
glasses and jeans back into the bookbag. Sling it over my shoulder. Hang the cardigan from a
hook on the changing room wall. Phone buzzes. Lestrade.
James Carstairs. 4 Myddelton Sq Clerkenwell. What did he do?
Posh address (relatively). Fits with the make of his car, price of his shoes. Hail a taxi. No time to
respond to Lestrade (probably moved on to something else by now anyway), must find out more.
Taxi weaves through traffic; must focus. Address and name; search through the various databases
for which I have passwords (oh Mycroft, your sad little security), and determine that hes an estate
agent, up market. Linked to the London School of Economics in any meaningful way? Not even a
graduate. No obvious connection. No non-obvious one. His lunch meeting with Mary: could be
professional (possibly), but highly unlikely. He would never be seen near her flat in Clapton,
smelling like rancid chicken fat. Wouldnt dream of it. What would a wealthy estate agent want
from a night-shift librarian (other than the obvious)? Mary neither owns, nor is financially capable
of owning, property. The interaction between the two (James and Mary, Mary and James) speaks
of nothing other than intimacy. (He was playing with her fingers.)
Mary has failed to avoid infidelity within a marriage for the fourth (actually fifth, barring
semantics) time. It would have been insanity to expect anything other than this.
Four Myddelton Square is an imposing townhouse. Windows on the upper floor suggest at least
two children (daughters, not yet in their teens). The wallpaper: a wife. See movement inside.
Household help? No. Expensive dress. Wife is home. Putting flowers is a vase. Moving her hand
to music. Completely unaware. Phone buzzes. Check. Mycroft. (Why wont he leave me alone?)
What you are considering is extremely unwise.
Infidelity is a betrayal that hurts primarily through knowledge. Minus the knowledge: days
proceed as usual. Flowers go into vases. Music plays on. Children get their educations in the
countryside and come home for the holidays. If knowledge could be deleted (deleted from their
hard drives, reset, the evidence removed, no witnesses left to speak or resurrect), they could be
victimless. But they are never victimless.
Suppose sometimes they are, or could be: open marriages, polyamory/polyandry: but those only
change the definitions. Even those arrangements have versions of infidelity, all different. Is that the
case here? Wife, with tulips: large, expensive house; the red Bentley. The two children. Osborne
and Little wallpaper. Christopher Guy furniture. Uncertain. Unlikely. She is building something

within the walls of that house, something very specific, and he (James) is deliberately tearing it
down. Another poor sod who loves a risk. (He is an estate agent, after all.) She would leave him
and take everything he owns with her. She would ruin him.
Phone vibrates. Text. Mycroft again? No. John. Welcome, but why now? Hes seeing patients.
Mid-afternoon. Usually too busy, tells me to leave him alone. He is thinking of me. One kiss, one
real kiss: I am constantly on his mind. (As he is constantly on mine.)
Had a patient this morning who thought he had leprosy.
The stories of Johns patients; historically a way to while away the time between cases, between
cups of tea and bad telly programmes. He is feeling impatient, anxious. Wants to fill the space
with something (anything). I kissed him; he kissed me back. Unambiguous. He must wonder what
I meant by it. (What did I mean by it?) The order of things has shifted. He wants to stay at Baker
Street tonight, which suggests an intimate evening rather than a public one. Does he plan to take
things further? (Stab of anxiety/anticipation. Hard to separate the two.) Will he tell me, finally, that
he has to make a choice, me (danger, disaster) or Mary (disaster, danger), and he has chosen her?
Did he? SH
By tonight I will have definitive evidence to prove that her danger/disaster ratio is at least as high
as mine.
I think he was actually disappointed that he didnt.
As it is, John is not a victim. He doesnt know; Mary is protecting him. She will continue to
protect him until she is finished with him, until his (expressive, open) face brings her more shame
and guilt than pleasure. Minus this knowledge (presuming, of course, that Mary doesnt pick up a
disease along the way, but surely not, she is more than experienced in these areas) John is not
harmed. If I tell him: harm occurs. And I am the deliverer of it.
Sometimes pain is good.
I would be. Leprosy is interesting. SH
There is nothing for me here, in this posh neighbourhood with this unsuspecting wife. Mycroft
imagines I was about to confront her, to warn her, to give her evidence, but that was never my
plan. I only wanted to know who James Carstairs was. The opposite of John. Everything John is
not. A calculated risk where John is a certainty. In that lies the beginning and the end of his
importance to Mary.
A girl from the network stops me in front of 221b. Im late; John has already arrived, the food
(Thai) is getting cold. I texted him to eat, but he insists on waiting. (Is this a date?) The girl (called
Jane, I believe) shoves the paper in my hand. The photograph of Mary. Someone must have
followed her after work. Its been two and a half hours since her shift ended. In pencil: 4
Myddelton. Red Bentley. That is where she is, where I could find her. Where I could bring John,
show him the truth. Finish this.
Or I could bring this other form of infidelity (Johns, with me) to Mary. Two can play at that
game. Two are playing. John hovering on the edge, with danger on either side. Not yet taking the
decisive plunge. Mary has already fallen.
I walk up the stairs uncertain, but Johns face (his open, honest, familiar face) stops me. We watch
terrible telly sitting on my bed. (The food isnt cold at all.) When he laughs I can feel it vibrate all
the way through me. He leans his elbows on the pillows, rests his hand on my shoulder, his finger

against my neck. He doesnt mention the kiss, so I dont either. He doesnt confront me, or make
demands. He wipes peanut sauce from my face with his fingers, licks them. I stare at his hands.
He falls asleep in my bed, resting against my chest. I dont fall asleep until the sun begins to rise.

Eyes fly open. Feet on the stairs: not Mrs. Hudsons. Male. (Danger? An enemy?) Brain fuzzy for
a moment, as if interrupted mid-conversation, mid-deduction, ultimately distracted; caught in the
act, asleep. An odd dream. (Fire? Great expanse of snow, something about a handgun and a piece
of plaster, brick?) Gone now. Shoes on the stairs, one step at a time. Cautious in the dark. Trying
to be quiet. A man, in rubber-soled shoes. A limp.
John. (Deduced in less than three seconds; I have memorized the cadence of his gait, complicated
as it is with the variations of his psychosomatic disability. Regardless, I can recognize John by the
sound of his feet as he walks, even up stairs, even while half asleep, at each stage in the progress
of his limp.)
Its some time after two oclock in the morning. Closer to three. (Why is he limping? Its only
been three days since our last exposure to danger (a case, a fleeing suspect, a knife). Three days is
not enough time for the limp to return naturally.) No moon tonight. Only the rough yellow glow of
the sodium lights outside to see by. Sit up, feet on the cold floor boards. Rise. No time to pull on a
dressing gown. (Is John hurt?) Burst of adrenaline.
Hand on the doorknob as the door opens. I feel the cold air in my lungs like Ive been holding my
breath. (Have I?) John. Shoulders hunched, limp pronounced, but not as bad as it comes to be. No
cane. Hes been stumbling through the city, making it worse. He is startled to see me there; he
barely can, in this light. Startled look, his eyes blinking rapidly (sign of agitation, strong emotion,
distress). His face turned sallow in the faint sodium glow.
He is not clutching a wound, or nursing a broken nose or facial fractures, or staunching blood
from a bullet wound or knife slash or puncture, or splinting a broken rib with his hands, or spitting
out teeth and blood, or otherwise displaying signs of recent violence. Not hurt. Blinking rapidly;
face slightly damp around the eyes. Hurt in another way. Complicated. Mary. (Did he discover her
secret?) My heart is beating far too fast.
I woke you. Not question, of course. John lived with me long enough to recognize the
bleariness of me when Im only just awake. Pyjama bottoms. t-shirt (his). No dressing gown. Bare
feet. Im sorry. Didnt mean to...I...
He wants to come in (obviously). I pull open the door and make way for him; he limps inside.
The limp. Curious. Did the discovery of Marys infidelity bring it on (fast)? Emotional danger,
emotional wounds; these things cause a spike in adrenaline too (or can do). Risk of emotional
damage doesnt trigger the same kind of vitality and confidence in John that physical danger does.
Emotions and their effects: not a subject on which I will ever feel confident enough to compose a
monograph. Cigarette ash: yes. The impact of intense emotional states on the human body, on
human motivation: no. Too varied. To many variables. Unpredictable. Personal. (Interesting
challenge, however. Total confidence is dull.)
All right? My voice is scratchy with sleep. I can hear my own concern in my voice; unguarded
(half-asleep). A kind of an echo chamber, hearing ones own feelings like that; hall of mirrors
amplifying it, underscoring it, twisting it into shapes. The pain on his face is obvious. I feel
helpless. I dislike seeing him in pain. Feels like a hot and pulsing weight resting on my chest,
holding back my breath.
He looks at me. His eyes are bloodshot and damp. He looks haunted. I put my fingers on his
shoulder, my palm on his chest. He smiles.

All right. He puts his hand over mine. Ive never seen you look so...worried. His smile looks
strange against the pain in his eyes. Trying out that caring lark, are you?
Its nearly three oclock in the morning. Immediately defensive. Flash of hot embarrassment. I
thought you might be hurt. Glance down at his leg. Youre... About to say, youre limping, but
think better of it. The verbal dancing that goes on when youre trying not to cause more pain. A
strange act, but strangely necessary. John.
He looks down. He knows what I was about to say. His hand drops to his side; I remove mine,
cross my arms over my chest. Chilly. Body is trembling slightly. Waking up to strange sounds,
potential dangers; body on alert. John rubs his fingers over his eyes. I reach behind him and close
the door lightly. Keep him inside. Keep him.
Youre not all right. Also not a question.
He sighs. Theres a pause. He might not respond. He is neatly hiding his eyes with his fingers, the
part of him that makes his distress most visible. He doesnt want to tell me (why not?). His mouth:
tight, small, as if holding something back. Something in him that wants to spill out, but he keeps it
in. Argument.
Ah. Not (just) discovery (if it were that), not just facts and evidence. Confrontation. Did he find
out about James Carstairs, the man with the wife and two daughters at school, with the posh town
house? Or did he discover that (once, twice?) Mary was not where shed said shed be: caught in
another, smaller lie? Her lying is pathological; she lies whether she needs to or not. Book Clubs
and Bridge and night shifts and volunteering and whatever else shes picked up recently to play a
shell game with Johns life. Could have been anything, any small betrayal. (Could have been over
money: those blue heels werent cheap. The perfume: a gift, but would she admit that to John?)
These petty tensions that come with married life incite the limp, as well as distance from me. Easy
to imagine what John might argue over with Mary. Best not to ask (if he doesnt want to tell). The
secrets married couples keep to themselves (or think they do).
It only hurts him this much because he loves her.
He motions to the sofa. Dyou mind?
He wants to stay here for the night. Wants to curl up on the sofa (not in my bed, not against me,
his hair against my cheek, his breath warm against my (his) t-shirt, calming and obvious and real).
Small spike of hurt in the pit of my stomach; feels like a rejection. Shake my head clear.
Of course not. I wouldnt say no. To John? Never. He doesnt pay half the rent anymore, but I
still consider him my flatmate. Stay.
He hesitates for a moment. So do I. Teetering on the edge. Its late. Im shaking with interrupted
sleep. His eyes: sore and bloodshot and full of sadness. Anger. Hurt. I take his hand. Lead him
through the dark. I pull back the bedclothes on my bed (the left side; the left side for John) and
motion for him to sit. He does. Pulls off his shoes, his jacket, his jumper, dumps them on the floor.
He is so tired his hands are trembling (like mine). Stands: hands hesitate for a moment on the
buckle of his belt. He looks at me. A question on his face I dont entirely understand. (Weve done
this before. Many times. Why a question now?)
Realize suddenly that Im standing in front of him, watching him (staring). Revealing something.
What? Desire? Affection? Concern? (Love? Would that be a surprise? I think it would be. Im
showing him my hand, the one I didnt know was hidden.) I move over to the other side of the
bed, climb in. Cold feet. John has pulled off his jeans and folds himself into my bed. He lies on his
back: tense. (Why? Am I propositioning him? No different than any other night, curled up

together. Him asleep on my chest. Innocent. (Mostly.) Is it?) He rolls toward me, puts his (left)
hand on my shoulder, then my neck (cold fingers). He moves closer and kisses me.
His lips, his tongue. His cheek under my hand (fine stubble); smoothness of the back of his neck.
Heat. His body: so close. Pressed against me. Solid. Real. Aching desire for him; very nearly
overwhelming. Cold hands, heat rising from him, his stomach, his waist, the small of his back. My
wandering (right) hand. His (left) knee on my thigh. His (left) hand tangled in my hair. John.
He breaks away from me, rolls away (why?). He exhales. Sorry.
Why is he sorry? (For stopping, or for starting in the first place?) Want to ask. Instead: Its all
right. I rest my hand on his stomach (warm). Feel his breathing. Sudden need for air (not enough
air in the room).
Im just... He breathes in, out. Confused. Upset. Exhausted. Puts his hand over mine.
Sleep, then.
When I wake up, hes already gone. How did his leaving not wake me? (Body has gotten so used
to him.)
Need your help. Come if convenient. Or if not. SH
When John arrives, hes brought Mary with him. No more limp. Argument settled in the passing
of a couple of days? It appears so. Domestic bliss (such as it is): returned. The sitting room dotted
with plastic crates of various sizes, each filled with garden implements from three separate garden
sheds (all from the same street in Loughton). Working on an extremely cold case with only a
handful of photos and a cracked skull to go on. A murder is a murder: any, even a ten year old
case, will do in a pinch.
I want the distraction.
Saturday morning; the blissful couple have been out shopping. John carrying bags that are clearly
Marys. Mary looking chipper in bright red lipstick. (Bright red lipstick on a Saturday morning?
How deliberate. How earnest. A statement in itself: of what? Warning? Inviting? Red:
complicated.) A tentative reconciliation. Her face (as always) is friendly, pleasant, engaged, and
resolutely blank behind the eyes. Like a china doll on a shelf; a single expression deliberately
engraved, and nothing more. John looks resolute. Not unhappy, not filled with tension. His
shoulders: relaxed. He plans not to raise the subject of the argument again; trusts that Mary wont
either. The eerie quiet after a violent storm. His eyes: trouble sleeping. He drops the bags (clothes?
Possibly shoes) by the door.
What have we got this time? John eyes the crates.
Looking for a murder weapon that could cause this wound. Show the photograph to John.
Measurements written on it in pencil. I already deduced that it was certainly a garden implement.
In one of these crates.
I see. John rubs his forehead. Its good youre starting early in the day.
My god. Mary has stopped dead in at the entrance to the kitchen. This place is a health
Dont look in the fridge. John is amused. It will terrify you.

Avoid the microwave as well, if you have a delicate constitution. Seems fair to warn her. The
screaming can be so unsettling, and Mrs. Hudson wouldnt like it.
...Are these... The beginnings of a question. What could she be looking at? The pigeons
(preserved in formaldehyde; not that interesting)? The sliced asphalt? Oh of course: the fingernails.
Yes. Best nip that in the bud. Yes, they are, human fingernails. Dont worry, they were
removed postmortem.
John, opening up a crate, is stifling a laugh. So, how shall we do this?
Honestly, James, do you eat food thats come out of this kitchen? Mary, the hard heels of her
shoes (heels, not blue) pecking at the tile as she walks around the kitchen table. She hasnt
noticed. James. An amateurs mistake. Switching out names. Names placed in the same mental
category: loved ones, children, pets, colleagues, friends, lovers to whom I am lying. Still hasnt
caught it. You must need regular doses of penicillin.
John: his face moved from amusement, contentment, tired but resolved peace, to absolute agony in
the space of a few seconds. His whole body is tensed up. His hands in fists, his mouth squeezed
tight into a sharp white line. The colour is gone from his face. Even his knees are tense. That was
like a physical blow; John wasnt prepared, didnt have his guard up. Mary cant see him; theres a
stack of crates between them. She is wandering through the kitchen like its some kind of
department store display, and John is self-destructing.
He knows.
Of course he does. (How could I have thought otherwise?)
He knows about the infidelities; the reasons why her marriages ended, probably even about the
therapist. Hes known all along. He knew when he married her; is it, in part, why he married her?
An attraction to her basic brokenness, something he understands so intimately, both of them being
fundamentally broken by events in the past? He knows: her self-esteem issues, the destructive
influence of her father, her guilt and shame. He even knows about James Carstairs. Down to the
specifics; his name. I didnt tell him; Mycroft surely didnt. Mary herself is careful: did she choose
to tell him herself? Of course she did. Guilt. She wants to do better. To be absolved. She wants to
be honest; honest like Johns honest face, Johns agonized face. Honest back to him the way he
has been honest to her (about me, about his feelings for me). Tit for tat.
Is it? Is James Carstairs a form of revenge?
Is she punishing him for spending time with me? For that kiss? (Does she know?) For (innocent)
nights in my bed? For being an honest house divided from the very start, partially hers, partially
(mostly?) mine? (She is attracted to that quality but also frustrated by it.) Could Mary be that
spiteful? Hard to say. Maybe not deliberately, but unintentionally. Subconsciously. Bringing up
his name now: clearly an accident (but not unexpected; could be anticipated). Marys brokenness
spilling over and breaking John. She wants it to be controllable, as Johns is controllable. It isnt.
Johns face: this isnt even the first time.
Of course it's not. They have been married a little over a year and this isnt the first time Mary has
confessed to an infidelity. Its written all over his face. The first was hard; the second (third?) even
harder. His breath: deliberate inhale, exhale. Hes shaking. Its everything he can do to stay
standing. The agony of it. Why this? Being called by his (James) name. John: erased, painted
over, removed. (Mary, what have you done?)

She still hasnt noticed. Shes not going to. Shes looking into the sink now. Do you wash dishes
in this cesspit?
Open up a crate and pull out a trowel (definitely not the murder weapon). Show it to John. His
eyes (dark with anger, shame, agony) lock with mine. He doesnt move.
He even knows that I know. (Of course he does; how could I not?) He is not hiding his anger
from me, not even trying. What a delicate dance this has been. Moreso even than I realized. I
reach out and hold one of his shaking fists. He doesnt resist.
One of the corners of the blade, perhaps? What do you think? Possible?
He just looks at me. He cant respond.
Agreed. I drop it back into the crate with a clang. Not the trowel. I remove my hand from his
and he shifts. Gets down on his knees, his right leg suddenly useless. He needs to shift it
underneath him, place it. He opens a crate. Keeps his face away from the kitchen. A moment of
How long do you think this is going to take? Mary is leaning against the wall, looking into the
sitting room. She is clever, but not clever enough. Cant read the tension in his back. The sudden
loss of function in the leg. Cant hear his awkward, deliberate breathing. Cant feel the tension
filling the room.
Oh, well into the night, I expect. My voice: evenly paced. Unreadable. That alone should be a
clue. She doesnt hear it. John looks up at me. Gratitude.
She sighs. Ill go home then, all right? She picks up her bags. See you later, John?
Could it be the shovel? I pull one out with a flourish. (It clearly isnt.)
Later, John grunts through layers of pain. He coughs, as if the crates are dusty (they arent).
Sure. Later.

Pattern Recognition
Fingers in place, (new, slightly inferior) bow hovering. The notes are already there, waiting to be
rung. This immediate future is predetermined, predictable: the parameters are already set. There
can be no future other than the one established by these key contingent factors: the pressure of my
fingers, exactly in place, waiting. Pull the bow across the strings. The opening notes sound,
perfectly, as predicted. The music (certain, uncomplicated) is the result of this small violence of
hair against steel, my muscle memory, and the pressure of my fingertips. Unswerving. The
evidence always points to a clear and obvious end. Its only a matter of recognizing its pattern.
Tchaikovsky (of course): Souvenir dun Lieu Cher. Gaudy, maudlin, most definitely (at the very
least) bordering on trite. John doesnt seem to mind. (John never minds.) Forced, by all these
hours playing Tchaikovsky for John, to acknowledge the subjectivity of taste: observing his
enjoyment makes me hear it differently, as he must hear it, even as the notes are exposed under my
fingers in a familiar pattern. Ostentatious over-emotionalism on one hand; but also unpretentious,
earnest honesty.
John sitting in his armchair, his eyes shut, his face relaxed (finally). The pain Mary caused still raw
and hovering over him. (She has texted him four times. As each arrives, he glances at the name on
the screen and winces. Only responds to the final one. Short message.) His hands are loose and
resting on the arms of the chair. Palms down. Neat, clean fingernails. Jeans: slightly dirty from the
crates (packed up and returned to the Met now; pruning saw identified, old flecks of blood still
caught in its teeth. Simple). Johns chest rising and falling steadily. T-shirt visible under his shirt;
buttons undone. The subtle shifting of his Adams apple. His right leg at an odd angle (its causing
him pain). The reflection of the lamp in the shine of his belt buckle. (Recall: the sound of it against
the floor of my bedroom. Feel of his skin, his knee on my thigh. His lips against mine.)
I remember these intimacies with startling clarity at the most inappropriate times. In taxis, while
standing over corpses, in mid-conversation with Lestrade; standing in a queue at the bank. The
smell of him comes back to me in an instant, and with it all my predictable physical reactions. My
rapidly beating heart. A slight flush. My ill-timed tumidity. Never have I been so thoroughly
distracted, and so thoroughly desperate to be so distracted. Maddening. Deep breath: concentrate
on the music. My infallible muscle memory. The remains of takeaway (Chinese) on the table. John
sighs, shifts slightly in his chair. Add a flourish to a phrase and he smiles. His face: that smile is for
me, it makes my eyelids heavy with pleasure. He likes to hear me play.
Nearing the end. Turn to the window, as if Ive been staring at the empty space above the street
rather than at him. Last note: let it ring until it fades to nothing. Stand with my violin still against
my jaw, fingers loose on its neck, lightly stroking the strings. Strangely nervous (why?).The stick
of my bow against the seam of my trousers. Silence. Johns breathing. My rapid heartbeat in my
Can hear him prepare to speak; small shift in his seat, fingernails drag against the upholstery, his
lips part. Lovely. Beautiful. I enjoy Johns compliments. Burst of warmth in my chest.
The shuffle of his feet; hes leaning forward. Small hesitation. Did you... John is always starting
sentences he doesnt finish. When youve dated someone...been with someone, did you play for
them? A pause. Of course you must have. He leans back in the armchair again (the slight
squeak of the legs shifting against the carpet).
At first it sounds like something that required a yes or no answer, which would be mildly
awkward to provide, given that sentence construction, but the you must have appears to make it a
rhetorical question. Dont believe it requires an answer. Odd that hes asking such things; thought

Id been most clear that dating (or sleeping with someone, since thats clearly what hes asking) is
not my area. The evidence of that is relatively plain.
Its... he begins again, and just when I think he wont finish this sentence either, he does. Its
very seductive, you know. It would be...quite effective.
Hm. Its a non-committal response. Am inordinately pleased that he finds my playing seductive.
Is he remembering the same intimacies I am? (My hands on the back of his neck, in his hair,
creeping down his back?) Is he longing for them? Makes me want to play him something else. I
raise my bow.
So did you? you? Not a rhetorical question, then. I turn and look at him. His eyes are
open, hungry, hes tensed a bit. Bad leg forgotten (for the moment). His breath has sped up
slightly too (just like mine). Arousal. I cock an eyebrow. John is asking one question but meaning
another altogether. These are not the kinds of word games at which I excel. What does he mean?
Am I sleeping with someone else now? As he has Mary, do I have someone too? Do I play for
someone else as he sits in Clapton watching X-Factor with Mary?
Did you play like that for your...your ex-... a pause. Your.... he reaches for a word and fails to
find one. I know what hes cycling through: girlfriends, boyfriends, not sure which to use. Surely
he must know by now that I have a preference. Cant imagine me with either men or women,
struggling to pronounce the words at all? Or he can, he can imagine me with both and cannot
choose between them? Not wanting to be offensive, to make assumptions. (Making erroneous
assumptions: its what we do best.) Finally he settles on: Did you play for your...former lovers?
Gender neutral. A strike for political correctness. Bravo, John.
I swing the bow up and hover it over the strings again. Havent decided what to play. My fingers:
not placed, no contingency. Pause. Still an awkward sentence to answer directly. Must clarify. (Is
that what he wants to know? Surely Ive been clear on this point as well.)
Dont have any.
Tchaikovsky again? Or something else? Tchaikovsky will always please him, will always be
No former ones? A short laugh. Are you still sleeping with them, then?
What an odd presumption. John really observes nothing about me at all if he imagines thats true.
Perhaps that is the sub-conversation here: is John feeling jealous of people who do not exist? No.
I havent had any lovers. Concerto in D? Is one Tchaikovsky piece as good as the next for John?
Place fingers; prepared.
What? Genuine surprise. None at... Another sentence he wont finish. None at all. Thats
right John. I suppose thats odd. Unexpected. I dont really care. Oh. He exhales. I. Possibly
the shortest sentence ever uttered. A lengthy pause. I stroke my violin strings, wait for him to
make sense of it.
What does it mean that he didnt know this about me? Nothing. It means nothing. There is no
before and after consciousness, sex isnt the making of a man. There is no secret knowledge that is
unlocked, surely. It makes no difference, except for the difference it appears to make to John.
There is a palpable tension rising between us which I cannot strictly define. Dont want to be
standing by the window, violin tucked under my chin. Want to be in my bed, with John beside
me, his hands on me, his mouth against mine. Uncertain how to move from here to there. No
direct path. No map. I turn further so I can see him, see his face. Take the violin out from under
my chin. Wait. Watch.

I thought that... John sighs. He looks nervous. Strangely nervous. Is it nervous? Something else?
Apparently this is a more significant revelation than I realized. Why? Another category for John to
add to his list of areas where my knowledge is clearly lacking? Has everything changed meaning
He rubs his index finger against his lip. Well, at first, you know, I did sort of wonder about that.
You did say it wasnt your area. I remember that. I mean, I figured...maybe you werent currently
interested in...well, a relationship. A difficult break up, or something. Later I wondered if maybe
you, didnt have...
Didnt have what? If I had a useless therapist like Johns Im sure I would have had this
conversation multiple times already, but largely people dont share their opinions of my sexual
history (or lack thereof) with me. I have noted that many people presume I have no drives
whatsoever in that area, making them oddly relaxed and pliant in my presence. The asexual male:
not entirely a man, most definitely not a woman. The issues of neither. Absurd set of ideas. But a
useful fiction. Didnt realize John subscribed to it, in whole or in part. Is this why he was (has
been) hesitant with me?
John licks his lips. Nervousness. Oddly appealing. Johns tongue. Flash of sense memory: Johns
tongue on my lips, in my mouth, and (briefly) against my (right) earlobe. The evidence of physical
desire (his against my hip, mine on his thigh) plain. Obvious. Surely he noted that. Had he
imagined until then that I didnt have any need for sex? (Needs can exist without being fulfilled.)
Or did he think I had no desire (for anyone, result of a difficult break up, damaged, emotionally
scarred, or for him in particular)? Kisses and stroking and touches that were endless but never
resulting in sex: a year-long experiment in my sexuality? (Well played, John!) Or did he wonder if
I lacked the ability to become physically aroused, perhaps? (Did he wonder that? Picture him
imagining it, in the dark, alone with his erection in his fist, being my miracle cure, his hands, his
mouth. Intoxicating thought.)
John has not yet finished that sentence, and I have already deduced at least two of his
masturbatory fantasies involving me and solved at least one riddle of my own.
Opt to help him. No need for more suspense. A prompt. You thought I didnt have a libido?
I did wonder that. John flushes. Ive embarrassed him. Difficult admission?
Ah. Well, yes, I do.
Yes. John rubs the back of his neck with the his fingers. Yes, I think I...discovered that. He
adjusts his posture. His jeans are becoming uncomfortable. This conversation is arousing him. I
cant say the same isnt true for me, though perhaps for different reasons.
So. He looks me directly in the eye. You have a libido, but you have spent your life opting not
to indulge it? Is that it?
Consider for a moment how to answer. The truth: my (fifteen year old) hands up a girls shirt in
the cloakroom of the village church. She agreed to it, I was curious. Soft flesh encased in cotton.
Quick, clinical exploration. Since then: no contact (other than John) anyone would consider
intimate. No real question about my preferences (men rather than women) but never bothered to
test the hypothesis. No reason to question it. No real desire for the complications of relationships,
the little humiliations. Never so planned that it was a decision; just the result of many small
choices, day to day, week to week. I suppose the answer is simply yes.
John is looking at me expectantly. Waiting. He wants there to be a reason, when there really isnt

one. Im just not the type. (Or, as my mother said, Youve decided youre too independent to be
loved. She thought it was only a sign of my emotional immaturity. Possibly true, in retrospect.)
The opportunities presented have never been entirely... consider the following word as I speak,
search for the right one and fail to find it. Never been entirely desirable? Not strictly true.
Available? Occasionally. Sufficient, somehow. Certainly true, but too poignant to express. Settle
on: Appropriate. Not a lie, not at all. There have been opportunities, suggestions, offers,
proposals. They never seemed entirely appealing enough, or worth the effort, or worth the time.
Or the social contortions. Or: there were more pressing matters to attend to. There were almost
always more pressing matters. Cases, or cocaine. Mostly cases.
Dont you think you might be missing something? Struck by the sensation that we are having
two conversations at the same time, though the secondary one is on an unclear topic. I mean, isnt
this a realm of human existence that it would behoove you to have some understanding of?
Hesitate. Not sure how to convey the answer to this question in both realms in which it exists.
Only certain what the top level actually means. I understand how copulation works. Must
sometimes state the obvious.
John smiles. Its a fond smile, but something else. He licks his lips again. Just realized I have
provided a third, previously unconsidered masturbatory fantasy for John. The look on his face is
practically predatory. (And I am the prey.) Shiver down my spine. Have to put the violin down
before I drop it. My hands are trembling. His eyes never leave mine. You think thats enough?
Enough? For what? Work? Yes. Feels like the wrong answer. Is the right answer no? No, its
not enough. Not enough where youre involved, John. Never enough. Sometimes too much, but
even then, also not enough. Complex. A paradox, like every other piece of you. He stares at me for
a moment, look of vague amusement on his face, a moment of indecision as well. Like Im a
puzzle hes solving (maybe I am). It resolves.
He stands. Walks over to me. Opens the violin case on the desk. Motions toward it. Wants me to
put the violin down. Shaking hand fails to move. John takes my wrist between his thumb and his
fingers, guides it. Slide the shoulder rest off before John takes the violin from me, places it
carefully into its velvet cradle.
He snaps the case shut. Everyone deserves to be touched, Sherlock.
About to say, it isnt really a matter of deserving, but the look on his face stops me. Unadulterated
want. Lust. Love. Im back on the roof, over a year ago, the novelty of being so close to him,
feeling his breathing, the smell of his skin. Small spasm of panic. Uncharted waters.
He puts his hand on the back of my neck and pulls me close. He kisses me.

Pair Bonding in Moles

Nothing is tentative now. Did not realise the degree to which he has been tentative until now.
Petting me while half-asleep, pressing little kisses against my lips, his hand idly stroking my ankle:
all just shadows. All merely a (potential) prelude to this. His fingers gripping my hair as if to hold
me still, his teeth press into my bottom lip, his (left) hand tugging at my shirt. Undoing buttons,
fingers brushing against my stomach as he undoes each. Transforming me. Leaving a path burned
into my skin.
I was wrong. I didnt understand this. Not at all.
The collection of chemicals (me) shifts, tilts, fills to the brim. Becomes unstable. Feel the surge of
norepinephrine and vasopressin joining the constant flush of dopamine his presence elicits: feel it
in the rush of emotions that rise to the surface of me. Aching (desperate and unstoppable) love,
lust, adoration. For him. Only for him. (Always.) Imagine the brain MRI of this moment (his left
hand rubbing a pattern against my ribs, his lips sucking a mark into my neck); my thalamus, my
posterior hippocampus, occipital cortex. Bright spots of lust and desperate need visible and
obvious. Undeniable. His name carved there in oxytocin. Chemical mind games. The brains
natural addictions. (I love you, I love you, I love you.)
His hand sliding down against my hip (which he cradles for a moment in the hot palm of his hand)
to the small of my back. Hand against me, fingers stretched out, he presses; grinding me into him.
Varied pressure; hard and then soft. His fingers draw lines alongside my spine. Shiver: the tracks
of his fingers trace hot residue under my skin that spreads out over me, envelops me. Leaves me
hypersensitive, burning, everywhere hes touched me. Heartbeat pounds in my ears, thrums
through my body: fast. Not enough air.
Bury my face in his neck. Breathe him in. The smell of him; all the usual factors: his shampoo, his
laundry detergent, that pleasant milky smell of his skin. A smell I would recognize anywhere.
Breathe in his inevitable androstenol; his pheromones surely heightening my (obvious, palpable
and prodding) arousal response.
My hands fall against his waist. Tug at his jumper; fingers feel thick and useless. Hint of a tremor
that starts at my hands and moves through my whole body. His (left) hand shifts across my lower
back, fingertips sliding under the waistband of my trousers. My head falls backward as if hes
triggered an autonomic response. Gasp. The moan in my throat is caught in his mouth as his lips
caress mine. Right hand cupping the back of my head, fingers tangled in my hair. The texture of
tongues against one another; the taste of his Earl Grey tea. He sucks my tongue so hard it hurts.
Sound of non-words in the back of his throat, vibrating against my jaw as he kisses me there too,
short fingernails digging into the skin under my shoulder blade. Hot breath on my ear. Lips on my
earlobe. Teeth. Fingers on the button of my trousers; rapidly unfastened.
Panting; bodys need for oxygen rising. The world has become very small; it is contained within
this room, within the space that holds me (him). World becomes even smaller as his hand wriggles
into my trousers and makes contact with my over-eager erection. It might all be over in a moment;
the heat of his hand on my (now damp) sensitive flesh; rush of sensation so intense my knees
buckle a little. He catches me. His legs: perfectly strong, perfectly stable. I can feel him smile
against my neck. Kisses me. Feel his eyelashes against my skin.
Bed. His voice is slightly hoarse. Takes my hand (his thumb stroking my palm). Takes me to
my own bedroom. (Traditional location for such a tryst. He plays by the book.) It is hard to
imagine that any other room (or any other place) exists. (The world consists of his thumb on my

palm. Tiny movement, bit of friction. Volumes of words absent from any language.) I cant stop
staring at him. His lips are red and a little swollen. I can see my own teeth marks along his bottom
lip (dont recall biting him).
My bedroom. He pulls off his jumper, his shirt. My breath is shallow and fast, I take in gulps of air
and watch as his skin appears in front of me. Familiar, but unfamiliar all at once. (More
contradictions.) His body, military tight and lean. Straight lines. Familiar to me, but different now,
somehow. Used to seeing his shoulders hunched over a computer, or hunched over the sink
(washing the dishes), or hunched down with the weight of the groceries. His body padded and
protected by jumpers and coats and distance. Stands straight now; unflinching. Unflinching in the
face of certain danger, chaos (me). The circular bullet wound; angry red blotch when we first met,
only months old then. Sensitive and raw, still swollen when I first saw it. Now a pale pink
curiosity, nearly flat, the memory of an unthinkable intrusion into his body (how dare they!) filled
in and healed over. A mark that helps to explain why hes here (here with me, now, half naked,
staring at me). Black is white, white is black; what is clearly dangerous is a comfort, and what is
comfortable must be dangerous. Spun around.
Naked to the waist, he reaches for me. Pushes my clothes off of me as though he is unwrapping a
present. (The soft touch of his fingers against my feet as he takes off my socks, one by one.)
Unfolds me from my layers of fabric, gently, leaving me standing in front of him entirely naked,
trembling, as erect as I have ever been in my life. He stares. He touches my hip (lightly, as if I
might break. I might). Leans forward and kisses my (left) nipple, slick tongue circles it. For the
second time tonight I fear I am nearly finished. Choke back a sound I dont even recognize.
He quickly undoes his belt, flicks the button of his jeans and undoes the zip; he pulls off the
remains of his clothing in what appears to be one fluid motion. (Practiced. Feel a momentary stab
of regret that I have not seen him unpracticed as well, for the sheer pleasure of the comparison.)
Now visible: evidence I have correctly calculated (or, more properly: I have correctly fantasized
about) the general size and width of his erect penis, based on the handful of times I have had the
opportunity to come into enough bodily contact with it through the barriers of cloth and decorum
to make an estimate. (Months of my own masturbatory fantasies proven right.) My blood must be
filling with cortisol, my brain with dopamine. Unfathomably intense desire to touch him. Notice I
am worrying the corner of my mouth with my tongue.
Come here. He pulls me onto my bed, onto him; awkward tumble. His skin (smooth, endless)
presses and shifts against mine. Heady, overwhelming sensation of friction. End up half sprawled
over him, knee between his thighs, one hand buried between pillows and the other on his
shoulder. (Scar tissue.) Kisses me like he once did: on the forehead. Close my eyes and he kisses
those too. Hands on either side of my face. Open my eyes again to see him looking at me, as if
hes trying to read me. Expression: tenderness. Affection. Hes watching my face, my body: wants
to know if Im all right, in favour, consenting. Kisses me gently, as if were starting over. Press my
tongue between his lips as an answer.
His hands snake down my back and land on my bottom; hard grope that feels far better than it has
any right to. Stifle a groan.
For the first time I wonder if he has a plan, a goal. (Series of steps that lead to an end result:
copulation.) His hands firm on my bottom, shifting me against him, my perineum suddenly
tingling with the closeness of his hands, desperate to be touched. Sudden desire to be invaded (by
what?). Will say no to nothing. Have no boundaries. My penis, pressed between my stomach and
his, is spilling fluid onto both of us; his is leaving a round wet patch on my pelvis. Friction.
Sensation. Not enough but too much at the same time.
He breathes into my hair, a laugh. This isnt going to take very long, I dont think.

For a fraction of a second: hurt. Criticism? No. Hes talking about himself. Perhaps also about me,
but definitely about himself. Shift to one side, put my hand on his chest, prop myself up on my
elbow. Tuck one leg around his. Might as well be talking about me.
No. Agree. Lean forward and put my lips on his (right) nipple. Suck. A moan deep in his chest.
Small fist of skin rises under my tongue. (The wonders of erectile tissue.) He strokes my back with
his right hand, rubs his knuckles over my hip, slides down over my bottom.
Watch down the length of his body as my curious fingers slide across his stomach (damp now)
and take hold of his penis. The sound this produces in his chest is needy and rumbling into his
stomach. Hot and hard, living flesh made stiff by desire (for me). Squeeze. Run my thumb across
his glans, feel the split of the skin there, slick dampness, the tight knot of his frenulum beneath it.
His hips jump. He moans into my neck. These actions are not dissimilar to the only sexual act I
have any experience with; run my fist down the shaft of his penis and back up again, run my
fingers across his foreskin, thumb rolling around his glans. Even more fluid there already. His
(left) hand joins mine, fingers in a knitted embrace. He is rough, desperate, fast. Speeds up my
hand, then lets me linger on that knot of skin. Exploring him. Like me, but different. Fascinated.
Sherlock. Look at his face, his eyes half-closed, his mouth half open. Lean down and kiss him,
slip my tongue into his mouth. Follow the dictates of his fingers; fast and rough. He cries out into
me. Feel the heat of his semen on my hand. His fingers slow down, a languorous pace. Then he
lets go, his lips still sucking lightly on my bottom lip. Spent. Breathing deep and fast. His body
stills; his (right) hand resting on the small of my back, fingers unmoving. Watch the rise and fall of
his chest, his eyes falling shut. Shift a little, bring my hand up to my face. See his ejaculate on my
fingers. Put them in my mouth: taste. John. He hums; feel it vibrate through his body, into my
skin. Look over, fingers in my mouth, see him watching me.
He takes my wrist. Let my fingers fall and he takes my hand; puts my fingers in his mouth, too.
Nimble tongue; his mouth: hot. He pushes lightly on my hip and rolls me onto my back; my eyes
flutter shut for a second and he is everywhere at once. He parts my legs and climbs between them;
can guess what hes going to do next and screw my eyes shut. Anticipation. Heart beating fast.
But I am wrong. (How does he keep proving me wrong?) He lies on top of me, his skin against
me. Damp and loose-muscled and warm. The tickle of his pubic hair against my pelvis. He kisses
me: first on my mouth (gentle lips), my neck, my chest, across my stomach. He kisses the hollow
spot at my hip bone, the inside of my thighs. A pause. Feel his breath against my erection. Open
my eyes to see him staring for a moment, calculating. His hand hovering. He leans in, his hand
grips my penis, and presses his tongue against my glans, eyes closing.
World condenses into one sharp point. Body shuts down all non-essential processes. Given over.
His tongue. (Rough. Hot. Nimble. Oh.)
Mouth. (Wet. Suction. Hint of teeth. Hot and certain.)
Feel his soft palate. Pressing. Pressure. His tongue. (Christ.)
His lips envelop me. All of me (transport, brain, all deductive abilities, all victories) condensed
into him. One jut of erectile tissue. Under his lips. In his mouth.
My useless hands dig into the bedclothes.

His fingers caress my scrotum. Squeeze. There are sounds in my ears (my own voice) I dont
recognize. Cant. Bliss. Perfect.
His lips against my frenulum. Slight brush of his chin (stubble). Growl in my chest. (More.)
Moaning, begging, words fall out of my mouth. No control. (Dont want any.)
Hot damp thumb (my own pre-ejaculate, his saliva, indistinguishable now) on my glans, my
frenulum. Pleasure: intense, severe like pain. Bliss. (Oh. Please. John.)
Fingers against me, rubbing, stroking. Hard friction, cool hands. He is talking, (a question?) I cant
understand. There are no words. (More. Please. More.)
My hand: pried away from bedclothes. He kisses my palm. Puts my (left) hand on the back of his
head: fingers tangle in his hair. His (left? no: right) hand curls up against my hip and takes my
(right) hand, laces our fingers together. Five points of contact. Groan. (Please.)
His lips, his tongue again, hot, wet, perfect (I missed them, dont stop). Rumble of his voice
around me, his voice humming through me.
Thumb: slips low. Under my scrotum. Circles my anus, presses lightly. (Slick thumb.)
Nimble tongue. (God yes. Never stop.)
Thumb rests hard against my perineum. Presses in circles. Prostate. Grip his hair, tug. Hard
suction, swirl of stiff tongue. Pleasure in neon.
Explosion: starts on the inside, pushes outward in a rush of pure bliss. Waves; thrash of hips and
legs. Shameless. Thoughtless. Possibly shouting. Sound vanishes into whiteness.
Wrapped in warmth and safety. Words come from my mouth unbidden. His name. Declarations.
Remember: chemical alteration post orgasm. Rush of adoration overtakes me. Am limp and
boneless. Cannot move again. Never move again. Try to think.
Remember. Oxytocin. Endogenous opioid peptides. Results in pair bonding in moles.
Dont care. Feel his fingers laced in mine. Cannot let go (will not). His body against me, his thigh
rests over mine. He kisses me, so lightly I barely feel it. Too weak to properly kiss him back.
He forgives me. Feel his chin against my forehead (stubble). Perfect.
I love you too. He whispers it into the top of my head.

A Frightfully Dull Cliche

After dawn. 7am. Possibly as late as 7:20. Awake. (Why?) Mattress shifted; pressed down on the
right. Woke me. Groggy. Want more sleep.
Warm, comfortable. Content. Someone sitting on the bed next to me. Hand on my chest.
(Recall: his hands on my pelvis, his naked hip resting against my thigh, his tongue (oh god). His
lips. Fingers. His thumb. Falling asleep all tangled and soft, his heartbeat in my ear like music.
Waking up again, wee hours of the morning, disoriented, stretched out between his legs, his firmly
renewed erection in my hand, rubbing his glans against my lips. Wet. Him half-asleep too,
moaning, his hips bucking into me, no boundaries, no rules. Body takes what it wants, even in
sleep. Months of masturbatory fantasies enacted in one night: his foreskin against my lips, guide
him into my mouth, suppress gag reflex. His hand in my hair, his body thrumming with nonwords and tension. Better than the fantasy. Mad with desire for him. He ejaculates in my mouth
with a shout. Hes shaking afterward and I pull him into my chest, rub his back. He kisses me
hard, his hand wraps around my penis, three rough strokes and lights are going off behind my
eyes, pleasure fills me to my toes, a trail of fluid on his stomach. Words I dont remember.
Oblivion after that.)
Middle of the night; witching hour fumbling. Foggy. Details fade into an impressionist orgasmic
haze. Pleasing debauchery. Bedroom smells like sex.
Mattress shifts again: lips press against mine. He smells like fresh soap, shampoo (mine): he took a
shower. Open my eyes. Bleary. He comes into focus, sitting on the bed, staring at me: damp hair.
Hes dressed. Coat on. Hes leaving. (Dont leave, John.)
He curls his fingers behind my neck, his thumb strokes my cheekbone. (Dont leave.)
Grunt in response. Too tired. Notice I have rolled my head slightly, leaning into the palm of his
hand. Body reacts to him.
I have to open the surgery. Im the only one on this morning.
How many people need to see a doctor on a Sunday morning shortly after the crack of dawn?
Surely they can wait. Surely they can go to hell.
Do you want... a pause. (Why?) Bit of awkwardness. Daylight complicates things. Shut the
curtains, keep it out. Do you want to meet me for lunch? Or...dinner? Maybe?
Dinner? No teary reunions in Clapton until at least late this evening, then. Text me. My voice is
a blur of rumble and sleep.
What are you up to today, then? Case? Hes stalling. Mildly gratifying, but hes still planning to
leave. Has to. Sense of duty. Priorities. (Pay cheque.) The ill and elderly. The needy. Tamp down
annoyance at all of them.
Not yet. Roll over, turn my back to him. Fetal position. Dont want to watch him leave. Tired.

Sleep then. He kisses my shoulder blade, nuzzles his nose into my neck, sits back. Hesitates.
Hes watching me. Runs his fingers through my hair. Ill text you.
Hum in response. Feel the mattress shift and right itself as he stands.
The sound of his shoes against the floor; dont want to watch him leave but I can hear it just as
well. Shoes on the carpet. He stops, buttons his coat. The door opens and closes (lightly, its early,
he doesnt want to wake Mrs. Hudson, doesnt want to disturb me). His shoes against the stairs,
one by one, the slow descent. (No limp. Not a trace.) He stops halfway down, left foot slowly
settles on the sixth stair. Slightly rustle of the fabric of his coat. Pause. (Whats he doing?) Is he
changing his mind? Considering his options, thinking about coming back, pulling his coat off
again, curling up in bed with me, cheek against the back of my neck? Kiss me there, I would roll
over, kiss him back, rest my head against his chest to hear the pleasant and reassuring sound of his
beating heart. Dopamine. Oxytocin. Serotonin. Vasopressin: creating the pathways to solidify this
impossible pair bond. Making me silly with love. Biological basis for human attachment. I have
become attached. (Dont leave, John.)
Shoes against the stairs again. Left, right, faster now. He reaches the floor, the carpet there. His
shoes across the tile. Not staying. (Disappointment; like falling off a cliff. Stomach drops.) Hear
him open the front door.
A buzzing sound; my phone. Front door closes gently with a rattle of glass. Hes gone.
Take a deep breath, get up (briefly) to grab my phone out of my trouser pocket. Cold air. Strained
muscles on the insides of my thighs. Crawl back into bed. (Bedclothes are a disaster.) Look at the
screen. John (of course). Smile.
Already miss you horribly.
Stab of pleasure. Relief. Affection. Want. Grips my chest like a living thing lodged there.
Come back. SH
God I wish I could.
What to text back? Everything thats actually true sounds like a biology text or a greeting card
(one or the other). Lust, love and longing, individually or together, present a frightfully dull cliche.
How pedestrian.
Wish you were here.
You contribute significantly to my raised seratonin levels.
Im lost and miserable without you.
Fall asleep still thinking of what to text back.
The clatter of dishes. Awake. Kitten heels tapping across the kitchen floor. Mrs. Hudson. Nearly
10:30am. Late. Rub eyes. Stretch (thighs still sore; reminder. John.) Check phone. Six texts, all
from John. Stroke the screen with my thumb.
Cant stop thinking about you.
Should have done this ages ago, before things got so complicated.
Might not have been ready then, I guess.
Me, at least. Dont know about you. What about you?
Had thought I could get away before lunch and sneak back, but looks like no. Booked up.

God I love you, you know that right. Christ.

Johns bald emotions etched in digital letters. Warmth, affection, lust/love blooms anew in the pit
of my stomach. Overwhelming. His heart on display for me: so bright, like staring at the sun.
Need to look away: too much. Save these, look at them later, short spurts, reminders. Love that he
sends me these texts so unabashedly; hate that I dont know how to respond.
Ache: want. His absence and my desire for him translates into nearly-physical pain. I am besotted.
Should spend the day in a swoon across the sofa.
Youve turned me into a Victorian heroine. SH
Fuzzy mouth: needs a toothbrush through it. Coffee. Bedclothes: activities that occurred here fairly
obvious. Memory: Johns lean body half covered with the sheet, his head against the pillow. The
smell of his skin. Shove feet into slippers. Do up dressing gown. Pull the sheets off the bed and
dump them in the laundry hamper.
Phone buzzes again.
Have I? Are you having a swoon?
Fear I shall have to resort to one. SH
Sherlock? Mrs. Hudson, her kitten heels clapping against the tile, muffled as she crosses over
onto the sitting room carpet. Bedroom door is half-open (did she look in already? Did she see me
asleep there? Naked and debauched and completely spent?). Make sure dressing gown is tied;
smooth back hair. Feet against the floor; sore thighs, the evidence of multiple ejaculations on my
stomach, legs, chest (his; mine). I need a shower. Phone buzzes in my hand.
I need to see you tonight. Dinner? Angelos?
Good morning, Mrs. Hudson. I try to sound as pleasant as I can. I really am quite fond of her.
Shes got two cups of tea in her hands, one for me, one for herself. She motions for me to sit
down. I hesitate for a moment. Would really like a shower. And coffee.
Good morning indeed. She gives me a knowing look. A moment of surprise; how did she
know? Catch myself: of course. She would have heard it. Voices carry. It wasnt very late when
John rid me of my clothes; she might have been standing on the stairs, or carrying a plate of
biscuits past the door, as she does. Neither of us had much ability to control the volume. The walls
are thin. And of course Mrs. Hudson would have been curious. Of course she would have heard.
Amazing how easily I can forget that the rest of the world even exists once Johns lips are against
mine. Moment of solipsistic arrogance to imagine that that slice of time belonged only to the two
of us.
I make my decision and move toward my armchair (she takes Johns). She hands me my cup of
tea. I take it. I didnt hear your young man leaving this morning, but he has, hasnt he. She
winks at me. Im so glad to see you finally moving on after the last one.
The last one. John. Oh.
I couldnt believe it when he up and married that woman. She shakes her head sadly, lips
pursed. What a terrible thing. I really thought so much better of him. He seemed like such a nice
young man.

Ah. That seems a bit unfair.

And here hes been, mooning around after you all these months, as if it wouldnt hurt you to
have him hanging around. I very nearly told him off myself a few times. She tsked in a matched
set and shook her head. Drink your tea, dear.
The tea is blisteringly hot, and a bit sweeter than John usually makes it. It scalds my tongue.
Yes, dinner. Angelos. Ill meet you there. SH

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

Chapter Notes
See the end of the chapter for notes

Fascinating crime scene. Staged; obscenely baroque. (Could spend days combing through all
perfectly-laid out evidence. Exquisite.) Such fine attention to detail. Clearly all ties together as a
narrative; unclear precisely what that narrative is (thus far). Will figure it out. Steeple fingers.
Stare. Think. (Think, think.)
Phone vibrating against my hip. Ignore it. Think.
Two bodies. One (male, aged fifty-five to fifty-seven) seated in a decrepit lawn chair, wearing a
(brand new) rugby helmet, cradling a severed foot coated in varnish (hands clean, post-mortem cut
(less than a millimetre) just above the knuckle on the right index finger) wearing wedding rings on
both hands, both clearly his own. One on the left hand at least ten but less than fifteen years older
than the one on the right). The other body (female, aged thirty-six or thirty-seven) lying on the
floor on a towel, wearing a floral bathing suit and sunglasses, her head resting on a plasticised
human liver (not her own). She has a paperback book resting (open, pages down) on her stomach
(Orlando). Fingers around a plastic cup filled with gin and (flat) tonic. Both bodies: fingernails
trimmed after death. French manicure (hers). Hyper feminine. Her hair styled as though its 1964.
The entire scene set in an industrial freezer.
The narrative: what is it? The murderers parents, staged using innocent bodies? A memory of
some kind? Are these people players, actors? No. Evidence too closely tied to their lives. This is
no play, no lie. Something else. Something true. How delicious.
On closer inspection: the males feet (covered in socks and a pair of ornamental wooden clogs)
propped up on the last ten years of his own tax returns. (Is he Dutch? Returned from a Dutch
holiday?) Legs shaved to three inches above his (right) ankle.
Think. What can this mean? What happened here? A true puzzle. Wonderful. A tease of a crime
scene, baring all for its audience, so enticing that its hard to know where to look. Intoxicating.
Look everywhere. Drink it in. Maddening (in the best way).
Can we move them out of here now? Lestrade is rubbing his hands together. Is it cold? Suppose
it is. Well, its a freezer, what else did he expect?
No. Not even close to finished. Been at it for hours now (how many? not sure) and still finding
new evidence. Missing something critical. All this evidence planted and staged to hide something
else. Hiding in plain sight. Peer inside the womans ear. Something there. Tweezers. Careful,
careful...a insect encased in amber. Tiny. Latvian. (Why?) A note tucked into her suit, between
her breasts, a receipt folded eight times. Receipt for a buckwheat neck pillow. On it a single word,
written in pencil: offal. More bewildering the more details I find. Fantastic.
We cant keep them here all night, the restaurant owner will have my head. Lestrade again.
Annoying. I dont care about restaurant owners.
Let him.
Files, details. The story of these peoples lives. Gareth Jones, originally from Wales (obviously).
Flip though the papers. Inspect the body. A former rugby player, in his teens. Injury to his ankle
that required surgery. Married twice, divorced twice. Cheats on his taxes. The evidence is telling

his story. No lies. Only truth in the details. The murderer knew him well.
The woman: Chloe Taylor, from London. A chronic alcoholic with tickets to the Bahamas next
week; a sunbathing holiday. (Credit card records, impulsive purchase: a form of reward. For
what?) The novel: Orlando. Would it be too easy, too obvious, to guess that she was transgender?
Secretly, perhaps, almost secretly. Female to male. (Nearly) impossible to deduce otherwise. No
records, no true evidence. The contents of peoples deepest wishes and desires hard to always see
painted on the body. (Whispered confessions over time, whispered to whom?) Too easy, maybe.
Too perfect. Everything else about this crime scene is perfect, why not that?
Pull out phone. Blinking light: very low battery. Fourteen texts. Ignore them.
Sherlock. Lestrade again. Annoying. Ignore him, too. Served his purpose, anyway: documents
on these two stacked beside my feet. Pored over them already. The two are unrelated. Probably
never met. Did not live in the same neighbourhood, go to the same schools or work for the same
company (him: a salesman, her: a teacher). They do not appear to had have anything in common
at any point in their lives, aside from a few stretches of road and a roundabout. But not random:
the murderer clearly knew them both. Well. So well he (she? for once Im not convinced the
murderer is male) has collected all this evidence of their lives to dress them after death. (How?)
Cabbie? Travel agent? Therapist? Bus driver? Shopkeeper? Waitress? Barman? To whom does
one tell everything? (Absolutely everything?)
Wait. Think. Pull off sandals, clogs, socks. Toe nails: pedicure. Heels: soft. Dead skin removed
with a razor. Fingernails: perfect. Hair: cut post-mortem. Hairdresser? Ah. Hairdresser.
Innocuous. Search. Map. Hair salons in the vicinity: his work, her home. Three obvious ones,
relatively nearby. Battery about to go.
Hairdresser. Say it out loud so Lestrade can get to work on it. One of these three salons. Hand
phone to him. Battery is nearly dead.
He looks at it. Nods. Were you supposed to meet John somewhere? Stop. What? Youve been
ignoring his texts again, havent you?
Grab the phone back. Texts. John. Oh no. What time is it? Half past ten. Beyond late for dinner.
Missed dinner entirely. Stood John up. Why didnt I text him? Could have invited him along. He
might have enjoyed this rather whimsical tableau. Didnt think of it. Didnt think. Suddenly feel
extremely cold. Stomach twists. Couldnt eat anyway, on a case now. (Not the point.)
Can we move them out of here now, then? Lestrade. Buzzing like a bee in my ear.
Wave hand at him. Yes, yes. Go ahead. Leave the freezer, out in the warmth. Hadnt realized
how cold it was; cant feel my feet. Fingers slow. Possibly a bit of frostbite on my earlobes. No
So why do you think its a hairdresser who did it, then? Lestrade, blowing on his hands,
wearing a much thicker coat than mine.
Ignore him. Texts. Fourteen. All from John? Yes. (Oh no.) Dont want to read them. Have to read
them. (What have I done?) Have to read them quickly; battery light is winking at me. Send one
Case. Double murder. Plasticised liver. Battery dying. Lost track of time. Sorry. SH
Not really sure what else to say.
Response almost instant.

I guessed. Another time.

Stare at it. Digital text. Conveys nothing. No tone of voice, no edge of reproach to be heard,
parsed. Feel it anyway. John: annoyed? Angry? Disappointed? Frustrated? Probably. Thumb the
text. Will vanish in a few minutes, no battery left. How should I feel? Relieved? John understands.
He knows how I am. He knows that Im effectively married to my work. Ive said so before. This
is fine. Changes nothing. Minor oversight. Not feeling relieved, though; feeling...what? Guilty?
Sorry? Punch of regret in the gut? (Is that what that is?) Distress? Wobbly jot of fear? (Fear of
what?) Hands a little shaky. Must be the cold. (What have I done?)
Take a breath. Read.
Cant wait to see you. Youre all I can think about.
I wonder why you never said anything all this time. I thought I knew what you were thinking.
Clearly I was wrong.
I suppose I should never imagine I can guess what youre thinking. Mistake #1.
Patient sliced end of his finger off: will just grow back then? Felt like I was in a Python
Whered you go?
Were still on for tonight, right?
Am leaving the surgery, where are you? Meeting me there?
Sherlock? Are you going to be late, or are you not coming at all?
I suppose I shouldnt take this personally, but its hard when the waiters are giving me pitying
Did Lestrade give you a particularly interesting case? If I ever needed demonstration that you are
married to your work...
I hope youre all right and not dead in a ditch somewhere, you bastard.
You could have just texted me, you know. At any time.
All right, Im going home. You missed a lovely meal, but I suppose you wouldnt have eaten
I suppose Id hoped...well Id hoped.
Screen goes dark. For the best. John back in Clapton by now, chest full of regret. On the surface
of it: a communication failure. Expected. Surprise to no one. Business as usual. This isnt even the
first time. Its only dinner. Its nothing.
Hed hoped. Hed hoped what? That I wouldnt behave this way? Foolish. (Isnt it?) People dont
change. John knows that. Knows it better than anyone. Expects Mary to stop her infidelities even
though they are wired into her id, expects me to put someone else (him) ahead of the work?
Impossible. Want to feel outrage, want to tease out his fault in this. Hed hoped...hed hoped
what? Kiss me and Ill become someone else? Cant. Wont. Impossible. The fantasy has grown
out of control. Tried to pin it on me and it didnt fit. Disappointment. (His. Mine. I wanted it to fit
Not easy to find ways to blame him. Dont shape evidence to suit the desired theory; I know
better. My fault. Didnt think. Got caught up. Enticed, distracted. Made arrangements, made
promises. Failed to meet expectations. Not used to thinking about others. Relationships require a
rewiring of the brain. My brain may be too set in its ways to be rewired. Wasnt that the theory
from the start? Justified. Proven correct. Im no good at this.
Its only dinner. There will be other mealtimes to share. (Have I broken something? Have I lost
something?) It wasnt about dinner. The dual nature of these conversations: asking for one thing
but wanting another altogether. What? Im meant to understand. What was John looking for?

What would I have been looking for? Evidence. Evidence of closeness, of care, of commitment.
People (other than me) need to hear everything at least twice. Different circumstances. Evidence
that what happened in the darkness (with me in the witching hour) has a corollary in the day.
(Damn daylight.) Ground it in reality. Solidify it. Didnt realize. Should have. Should have been at
the top of my mind. (It was. It was, until...until the most beautiful circus of a case appeared in front
of me. Lead me not into temptation.)
Didnt have to be dinner. Could have been around that beautiful crime scene. Touch his hand,
smile, share this most precious thing with him. Why didnt I? (Deliberate?) Need a bloody useless
therapist now. Not my area.
Taxi to Clapton. Dont know why. Want to. Want to see him. Dont want to be seen. Dont want
to talk. (No words. Nothing to say.) Going to the other crime scene, the one I created. Less
beautiful, more painful. No varnish, no plasticised liver. No flat gin and tonic. Clapton, chicken
shops, narrow flight of stairs and the door between him and me. Not going in.
Taxi stops and I get out, cross the street. Look up: the light is on in Marys flat. Bluish glow of the
telly projected against the (builders beige) walls. Mary is watching her shows; John: sitting next
to her? Holding her hand? Arm wrapped around her, her head against his shoulder? Pretending
nothing has changed? (Maybe nothing has changed. Maybe my failure has reverted us back to the
status quo. Maybe the status quo was never meant to change.)
The building across the street is open (broken lock; dont even have to pick it). Up the stairs to a
landing (smells like cabbage). Small, dirty window, broken marble sill. (Good enough.)
Domestic scene; John (oh, John) sitting on the sofa with Mary. Right leg held tight (hes in pain).
Mary facing away from the window, sitting diagonally on the sofa, two hands holding Johns
(right) hand. Telly is on but neither of them is watching it. Sound is probably muted. They are
talking. (Talking about what?) John looks upset. Sad. Rubs his hands across his eyes. Mary holds
his hand to her chest. Touches her face (is she crying? Cant picture Mary crying). John shakes his
head, hes talking. Cant read his lips from here. Is he telling her everything? (Would he do that?
Why would he do that?) She leans toward him, strokes his head with her (left) hand. Rests it on
the back of his neck. He is still covering his eyes (hiding his expression from me).
She is comforting him. Not the reaction a wife would have to Johns confession. Is it? Mary is no
ordinary wife. No idea what theyre talking about. Could be anything.
John and I have never had conversations like this. Wouldnt know how to start one. Wouldnt
know how to conduct myself if one started. Vacant spot in my knowledge. Awkward
conversations. They stop at I consider myself married to my work. Mary: clearly an expert on
conversations. She is good at things at which I consistently fail. (She would not have failed to
appear at dinner, no matter what temptations crossed her path. I understand now.)
John knew what he was doing, marrying Mary. He was building a support network for the pain I
would inevitably cause him. For all her faults, she is better for him than I am. She leans forward
and kisses him. He buries his face in her shoulder, and she holds him. She rocks him. She is made
of comfort and I of thoughtlessness and indifference. (It was only dinner.)
I am cold and numb. My phone is dead. No texts, no apologies. Time to go home.

Chapter End Notes

An artistic interpretation of how this chapter should have ended by

purpleandsparking. *thumbs up* Can't say I disagree.

The Question Underneath

John, kneeling next to the body (female: between sixty-two and sixty-three). Leg a problem again;
he tucks it beneath him, as if he doesnt trust it. (My fault.) Watch: careful hands on the body.
Shifts (left) arm, tilts head. Pulls down on cheeks to see eyes. Gentle. Deliberate. Squared
fingernails hidden under latex. Concentration on his face. Compassion. Compassion for this dead
woman on the grass on a foggy afternoon. (Clearly posed.) Arms thrown above her head, legs at
an odd angle. Calm face belies her frantic position. (A staged scene created by a person who has
only ever seen a heart attack on telly.) Smells strongly of shampoo (artificial strawberry; dreadful)
and soap (Sunlight). Hair, face, hands scrubbed overmuch. Some abrasion evident. Faint trace of
oil (canola) remains in the hair, under fingernails. (Why?)
Heart attack. Anderson. (Idiot.)
No, I dont think so. John doesnt look up.
Quite right. Not a heart attack. Face, arms hair washed excessively after death: why? To hide the
evidence of the oil. Drowned in oil? No. (John will confirm.)
No? Anderson: defiant. Arms crossed. Hates having a doctor at a crime scene; John always
knows more than he does. Makes him feel inadequate. (He is.)
John catches my eye for a moment. Gives Anderson a withering look. Heart swells. (Oh I love
you, John.)
What, drowned in grass and sand? He laughs. (Why is that funny?)
No. John strokes her cheek. Petechial hemorrhages, here, he points at her chin, here, across
the bridge of her nose, and here. He drags down against her face and opens her eyes. Burst of
red, webs of exploded capillaries. Looks up. I guarantee youll find her heart enlarged.
Asphyxiation. Yes, but how? Why? Missing pieces.
No ligature marks, no bruising, hyoid intact. Anderson is still fighting his case. Dull.
Distracting. Heart attack could have the same effect.
No. John shakes his head. She wasnt strangled, I grant you. But she failed to get sufficient
oxygen for too long a period nonetheless. He looks down at the body. Compassionate eyes. I
dont think she even realized it was happening. She didnt struggle at all. He pats her shoulder, as
if she were still alive. Comfort.
Didnt struggle. Didnt even realize? Oh. Of course. John. I love you.
Phone. Search. Canola.
Lottery winner. Husband.
Of course. Of course.
Murder. Over money. (So pedestrian.) Was she about to leave him? In the middle of a divorce?
Maybe. Paperwork will tell. Motive clear, in any case.
Perfect. Missing pieces of the puzzle, delivered in situ. From his brain to my ear. How did I ever

manage without him? (How would I ever manage without him?)

Turn to Lestrade, standing with his arms across his chest, forehead creased.
George Simon, show him the news story on my phone, a man beaming at a press conference,
Did not buy that winning EuroMillions lottery ticket. (56 million.)
Lestrades bewildered face. (I love this part.) Go on, then.
Look over at John. Anticipation. Slight smile. (Affection.)
This, point to the body, Is Mrs. Simon. Her husband will identify her, will claim shes been
missing for days. Hell be lying, though. He killed her last night. Mrs. Simon purchased that
lottery ticket yesterday.
Kneel down beside John: thigh brushes against his hip. Shiver slightly. John. (Dont get
distracted. Not yet.) Reach in: grab receipt. Lottery ticket receipt. Crumpled. (Didnt make the
connection until John. Burst of warmth in my chest.) Uncrumple it. Hand it to Lestrade. He looks
at it, waits. Listens.
Her husband claimed the prize this afternoon. Flash my phone. News story. They can look it up.
Mr. Simon is a lorry driver for an oil company in Tottenham. Were you aware, Anderson, stand,
swirl around to face him, that cooking oil tanks are maintained in an inert state, minus any
oxygen, in order to preserve the oil?
He stares. Arms across his chest. Smirk. (Triumph.)
Mr. Simon pushed his wife into an inert tank. She died within minutes, not knowing the the air
she breathed had no oxygen in it. There was a remaining bit of oil in the bottom of the tank, which
she fell onto, obviously. Covered her face, her arms, her hair. Hence the strong smell of shampoo
and soap, shift the head slightly, touch an oily patch of hair at her left temple, which failed to
entirely remove the canola oil from Mrs. Simon.
Ah. John, sitting back on his heels. Pure oxygen deficiency. That explains it. He looks at me.
His expressive face. I can always read his emotions in his eyes, in the way he holds his mouth.
(Can I? Always? Really? I always think I can. I may be wrong more often than Id like to
presume. Theres always something I miss.) Face full of awe, admiration, faint surprise. Affection.
Extraordinary. He means it. He always means it. John doesnt say things he doesnt mean.
He still says them out loud, words like that, after all this time. Extraordinary. Amazing. Fantastic.
Cant help but smile at him. He smiles back. Feel my teeth press into my bottom lip (remembering
his teeth on my bottom lip, his hip under my hand, the small of his back, the sound of his wordless
So the husband did it, then? Lestrade. Snap head around. Almost forgot he was there. (Too
easily distracted.) Sally standing next to him, staring at her phone.
Clearly. Youll find canola oil under her fingernails and in her hair, and as John indicated,
evidence of oxygen deficiency without struggle or obstructed airway with a simple autopsy.
Glance around the park. Probably more than one witness of a man driving a, look down at the
remains of the tyre marks in a bit of mud, Ford Focus into the park late at night.
EuroMillions will not like this. Sally shakes her head.

Lestrade drops the receipt into an evidence bag. Motions for the rest of his team to return to the
body as he walks out toward his car. Follow. Hes bound to miss something else. (The receipt,
fingerprints; I have a theory).
Wait. Stop. Turn. John.
Still on his knees, trying to ease himself back onto his feet without his cane. (Someones kicked it
out of his reach. Probably Anderson.) He pulls the gloves off and leaves them next to the body.
Lestrade can wait. Only details now. He can work it out.
John. Move closer, reach out my hand to him. He looks up at me, surprised. (Am I regularly so
thoughtless as to leave him like this? I suppose I am.) He takes my hand. Help him up. Wrap my
arm around his waist (support). Hand slips under the bottom edge of his jacket. Rub his hip. His
breath speeds up a little (so does mine). Intimate contact. Daylight. (Dangerous.)
That was amazing. His voice: deliberately steady. Leg: any better? Hard to tell. Hes leaning
into me. I hook my thumb under his belt. Feel his skin. Warm. You got all that from a patch of
oily hair?
And your diagnosis. Overwhelmed by the urge to kiss him, but it feels inappropriate. In public.
In the daylight. Uncertain. (Hes married.) It was...perfect. My voice is not quite as steady as
He smiles.
(Left) hand never leaves the hot skin of the small of his back on the way to Baker Street. (Taxi
smells faintly of a former passengers cologne.) Tips of my fingers under the waistband of his
jeans; leather of his belt digs into my knuckles. Brush of friction between us with each corner,
gear shift, every slight bump in the road. His (right) hand rests on my thigh, his fingers on the
inside seam of my trousers. Tracing that seam with a fluid and small motion I can feel through to
my bones. Been less than a week. (What about Mary?) Dont want to ask. No point asking. Dont
care. (Curious. What did he tell her? What did she say?) Doesnt matter.
Arousal like a switch; from rational to irrational in a moment. He licks his lips. Trap tongue behind
my teeth. (Daylight, decorum, CCTV, hesitance: My enemies.)
John doesnt need my help up the stairs. (Left his cane in the taxi.) Leads me; holding only my
index and middle fingers cradled in the palm of his (left) hand. Light touch. Brings me inside the
flat; shuts the door behind me. He wraps his hand around the back of my neck and kisses me. Hot.
Wet. Slight taste of coffee. John. Familiar texture of his tongue. The edge of his voice lingers in a
hum in the back of his throat.
The world goes dark. (My eyes have closed. Why?) Something about the consistency of this
particular pleasure pulls my eyes shut. Evolutionary advantage? Perhaps. Block out the unpleasant
truths: the prior commitments, the time on the clock, the complications, the failures. Daylight.
Question marks my rational mind has placed in front of him. Now: reduced to nerve endings and
an elevated pain threshold, rush of endorphins and an addiction to him.
John: insistent. Lips and tongues (teeth) use a language of their own. Constantly saying more,
more, more. Not only him: also me. Demanding. Giving in to unadulterated want. Mine (on full
display in the slight tremor in my limbs, my wordless begging, my eager mouth) appears to
heighten his (his limber tongue, his erection obvious against my upper thigh, his hands buried in
my hair, pulling me into him). His desire heightens mine. Delicious cycle.
Pull off his jacket, slide my hands up under his shirt. Press my palms against the curve of his back.

Push all memory of Mary out of his bones. All memory of the past, my mistakes. (My arrogance,
ignorance, thoughtlessness.) My uncertainty, my distraction.
(Feel his teeth against my tongue.) Want. Demand. Take. His breathing is full of his voice. Cannot
be silent.
Too many barriers.
Undo his belt, button, zip: tangle one hand into his hair, push the other down the front of his jeans.
Wrap my fingers around his penis (hot, hard, damp in the palm of my hand). He moans in my
mouth, breaks free of my lips to gulp air. The sound of him panting forces open my eyes (I want
to see).
His eyes: shut. Mouth open. Face flushed. Moans with every shift of my fingers, twist, squeeze.
He swears under his breath and I kiss the corner of his mouth, nuzzle against his cheek with my
nose. Says my name, repeats it. Pressure of his hip against my groin provides insufficient friction,
but I dont care.
Watch Johns (expressive) face. So expressive I can almost feel everything he feels, its so
obvious; he wants my fingers firm and rough, fast; he licks his lips and moans. I give him what he
wants. More.
Suck on his earlobe. Tug on his hair (he swears again). Press my teeth into his jaw and he tenses,
groans, ejaculates onto my hip, my fingers. Eyes shut, legs tremble a little. Dont want to let him
Takes a breath; then another. Wet eyelashes. Slides his hand along my stomach and to my chest,
and the pressure in my groin is too much. I am burning along the edges, like a cracker about to
burst into flame.
I unzip my trousers, grab hold of my penis and tug hard (his semen on my fingers). The pad of
Johns index finger presses a circle against my nipple. Such a tiny motion, his finger. His finger,
my erectile tissue(s). His (left) hand slides down my back, rubs hard against my bottom. Squeezes.
Breathy moan (from me). He kisses me and the world goes dark again, pleasure surges through
me. Strangled cry (mine). Head falls back. Climax.
His hand against mine. His lips on my throat. His eyelashes flutter against my neck. Ragged
breath (his. mine). My kneecaps are shaking. Bliss rolls in waves down my limbs. He kisses me
lightly on the mouth, fingers against my neck shift upward and stroke my hair. Every motion,
every touch: perfect.
He chuckles against my ear. Sometimes, he holds my softening penis in his hand and maneuvers
it gently back into my pants. Fingers grasp my zip. It can actually last longer than that. He zips
up my trousers and kisses my lips again. Believe it or not.
He fumbles with the zip of his jeans, his shoulder still against me. My left hand cradled on his
Ill await evidence.
He laughs.
We get takeaway (Chinese). He watches the telly, pokes at his blog. I rest my head on a pillow on
his lap, reading Forensic Science International (Forensic implications of respiratory derived
blood spatter distributions, D Denison, A Porter, M Mills.). He plays with my hair, rests his hand
against my hip, my knee. The sun is going down. Transition periods. From one state to another.

From day to night, from tension to calm. Dim red light of sunset to the darkness. A state of grace.
Runs his fingers through my hair. Feels deliriously good. Sends tingles down my spine. Shut my
eyes, rest journal open against my chest.
You confuse me. He says it softly and with such tenderness I dont notice the meaning of the
words at first. (His fingers through my hair. Distracting.)
Do I? Of course I do. Not a surprise, I suppose.
Smile at that. Keep my eyes shut. He shifts his legs, feet up on the coffee table. Reach up and tuck
my hand under his knee.
I have to ask you.
Yes? A pause. Shift my index finger back and forth against him. Denim warmed by his body
You dont need to answer right now, you should think about it. He shifts. Uncomfortable.
(Why?) Hard exhale. (What?) Yeah, dont answer me now. Think on it.
His fingers still in my hair. Distracting. Lulling me. Wait. Eyes shut.
I want to know...I need to know... more trailing sentences. What do you need to know, John? Is
there anything left you dont already know? I need to know what you want. What I want? Right
now? Thats simple. His fingers in my hair. This sense of ease (quickly dissipating). Promise of
the night together (him on the left side of my bed, me on the right, his body mine to explore). For
him to stay the following morning, sit across from me at the table (coffee, toast, jam). Beyond
simple. From me. What you want from me.
A larger question. What do I want from John? His time. His affection (physical and otherwise).
His (undivided) attention. Whats the question underneath the spoken one? (These entanglements:
so fraught with conflicting evidence and convolutions. Meanings twisted inside other meanings.
Simple questions that hide more complicated ones. So many ways to misstep. Whats the right
answer? (What does he want from me? Right now? What do I have left to confess?)
Will do what he asks. Demonstration of my willingness. My understanding of the emotional
Penrose stairs on which I stand.
Ill think on it. Rub the back of his knee. He sighs. Starts poking at his blog again. Open my
eyes. Tension on his face (did I answer incorrectly?). He sees me looking at him. Smiles. Pets my
hair again. (Absurdly blissful.)
Read the rest of my article with my eyes half-crossed. Barely absorbed 80% of it. May need to
reread it. Later.
The show on the telly ends. His hands still in my hair. I should go. He sounds strangely
defeated. (Why?)
(Dont leave, John.) Sit up. Face him.

John. His face: deliberately neutral. Hes hiding something from me. (Why? What have I done?)
I will think on your question, as you asked me to. But I certainly... am I picking up his tendency
to let sentences peter out unnecessarily? Id like it very much if youd stay. (Dont leave.)
He smiles.
He stays.

Unfamiliar little bistro. Tiny chairs that belong outdoors. Tiny tables; forced intimacy. Elbows at
awkward angles. Fork and knife don't match. Feel as though shoved back to the children's table,
punished for some dire misdeed. Quiche (asparagus and swiss cheese: appalling) and salad
(soggy). Twee, monstrously large cups of over-sweetened coffee (with foam).
Had to accept the invitation. Too curious not to. (Does John know about this little rendezvous?
Mary's legs crossed at the ankles; prim tweed skirt, silk blouse (second-hand). String of pearls
(tasteful: gift from John). Dressing the part of the librarian stereotype; neckline slightly
(deliberately) too low. Granted a view of the band of her bra (indigo blue, near-perfect match for
her blue high-heeled shoes), as well as the rounded flesh of her cinched breasts each time she dips
her head down to sip at her coffee. (Deliberate? No doubt.) Attempt to appeal to my baser
instincts. (My baser instincts do not tend in that direction.)
Attempt to seduce me? Could that possibly be true? Uncertain. Wait. Collect further evidence.
She is anxious (or is she miming anxiety for my benefit?). Tapping her finger against her cup;
shake of her (right) knee. Face: unreadable. Open, friendly. Tiniest tells filtering through her tight
control. Why? (She knows.) Of course she knows.
She kissed the air beside both my cheeks when I arrived, fingers hard against my arm. (Strange
social conventions). Asked after my "consulting business" and, terrifyingly, my "brother, the one
in government?"
Never been good at small talk. Boring. Tedious. Pointless. Answered as honestly (briskly) as
possible. A wry, "it keeps me busy," and, in reference to Mycroft (has he poked his nose into
John's business even further than I'd expected? Apparently so), "I have no idea, I couldn't care any
less if I tried."
I do not ask her about her job, about James Carstairs, about her book club, her volunteering, her
night shifts. I do not ask about the new name that appeared on a stub of paper shoved into my
hand by one of my homeless network. Mark Johnson. Solicitor, divorced, history of alcoholism.
(She removes her wedding ring when she sees him.)
She uncrosses her ankles and presses her knees together tightly. Controlled expression on her face.
Can smell her (cheap) hairspray from here.
"You hurt him, you know that." She smiles, like that isn't a terrible thing to say. Do I hurt him?
How do I hurt him? Leaving him waiting for me in restaurants, at crime scenes? Yes. I have done
those things. He has forgiven me dozens of times, though I suppose that doesn't blot out the truth.
Yes. I have hurt him. I do hurt him. (People hurt each other. It's what people do.)
It isn't as if he hasn't also hurt me. (He left me for her. For Mary. Before I had a chance. Before I
knew anything. Before I could learn. Before there was sufficient evidence.) You hurt him, you
know that. I suppose I do. However.
"So do you." Retort. Bit childish of me, but not untrue. She hurts him more than I do, surely. I've
seen it on his face. She indulges her desire to flirt with, seduce, control, and manipulate men other
than John (also, presumably, John). Always will. She lies (obscures the truth).

She purses her lips. Wrong answer, clearly. Unimpressed. (Possibly embarrassed?) Argument;
counter-argument. Can't entirely tell what people are thinking at the best of times, but can usually
make a decent guess. Can't guess with Mary. Never certain. Don't know what's a deliberate cover
and what's a tell. Her constant and insidious congeniality.
"Not like this." She pierces a piece of lettuce with her fork and brings it to her lips. "I know you're
not one for" She pauses. Considers her lettuce. "Well, for sensitivity, but you should be more
careful. If you don't want him to die of a broken heart." Sticks her fork in her mouth. Lets me
chew on that statement.
Broken heart? (Recall: the sound of his heart beating under my ear. Not broken. Whole. Whole
and pushing blood through his body, the heat of him rising up into my skin.)
Why would his heart be breaking? Have I not made myself exceptionally plain? Does he not have
a wife (poor one though she may be) and a lover (me) to fill his heart to the brim? An
embarrassment of riches by any assessment. Is he not loved devotedly on all sides? In what ways
have I been anything other than careful?
"It's fine if you want to keep sleeping with him." (Talks with her mouth full.) She knows. (Does
she? A ruse? No. She knows.) Guessed she probably did. Doesn't seem to mind in the slightest.
How can that be? Read her face: impossible. Studied blankness. Pleasant, easy, calm. Unreal.
She's blocked herself behind a wall of good-naturedness. But she shows no signs of distress. Or
even surprise. (Only a slight and growing anxiety, eating away at the edges of her pleasantries.)
Odd. Unexpected.
John and Mary have their own negotiated rules (clearly). What might they be?
Mary: allowed to pursue her open secrets? (Really, John?) Quiet acceptance that fidelity is
something Mary cannot achieve? (What about the compulsive lying?) A mystery.
John: John is allowed an exception. Me. In every available way. (Could that be true?)
What I know, definitively: John is attracted to me (intellectually, physically). John is in love with
me. (He loves me.) Mary: attracted to emotionally compromised men. They believed I was
asexual. (Admitted that much.)
She must have always known that John loved me. From the moment they met. They imagined me
untouchable. A safe place for Johns (very specific) needs. Thought I was unlikely or unwilling to
demand (or accept) his body, his affection, his love. (John had his doubts. Imagine the
conversations: Mary must have tried to convinced him. Not shy, or inexperienced, or uncertain.
Not waiting, gathering evidence, weighing the options. Asexual. Marys interpretation became
Johns to prove or disprove. Which he did. Well done, John.)
She accepted it, a third person in their arrangement (me), like the constantly-rotating third person
she is always in the act of secretly introducing. A (welcome) potential threat. A draw on John's
time and energy. A physical compromise (John sharing space with me, with her, with me again.)
Why would she accept it? The demands of her own unique psychology (a string of secret lovers,
the need to compete for John); the demands of his (me, only me).
Is this true? Does the evidence support such a thesis? It all slots into place: when I text him, he
texts back. When I ask for his presence, he appears. If I kiss him, he kisses me back. When he is
naked and pressed against me there is no guilt in him. I am an exception. I ask him to stay and he
stays. (John: are you already mine?)

"Not that you're looking to me for permission, of course." Mary. She laughs. Why is that funny?
Is that meant to be a joke (again)? She already knows her permission isn't required. Already given.
(What a bizarre set of circumstances.) "But right now you're confusing the hell out of him."
"Am I?" Like standing on shifting sand. The truth is not as clear as I had expected. Nor is it as
simple. In some ways perhaps more simple than I realised. (John: what whirlwind have you
sucked us into?)
She laughs again. Short. "Obviously." Leans over her coffee again. (Indigo.)
"Can't imagine why." Only thing to do: dig for information. For evidence.
Mary exhales."He's a romantic at heart, you know."
"I don't, really."
"Of course you do, what do you think his texts were about?" She's seen his texts? To me?
Declarations, disappointment? (Did she also see my responses?)
My responses.
Does she imagine that John has feelings for me that are not reciprocated? My outward
expressions: look at them without knowing (me). A cane: not the thoughtful gift I imagined it
was? Perhaps in Mary's mind, a sort of joke instead, mockery (much like her own)? The texts:
terse? Look at my phone. Scroll. Mary sits back, smug. Thinks I'm reviewing John's texts.
Reviewing my own. He tells me he loves me; I make a joke. I stand him up. View it as evidence:
how would I parse this, minus the relevant information? From the perspective of someone who
imagines me emotionless, it looks different. Yes. I see it. Her argument. Her evidence. Her (false)
John: What do you want from me?
Is the question based on the conversations between him and Mary, John wondering whether I am
in love with him (I am, oh I am, John, you're right) and Mary telling him I'm obviously not?
Offering up these bits of digital (and otherwise) evidence, pointing out my flaws as signs?
Insufficient knowledge leads to erroneous assumptions.
"You see?" Her arms crossed in front of her.
"I see." I do see, but not what she's attempting to demonstrate. "What would you have me do?"
"Tell him the truth," she shrugs. "If you want to keep sleeping with him, it's fine with me. I prefer
it, actually. But tell him you don't want," she pauses. What don't I want, Mary? "to be
romantically attached. You don't want him coming home to you every night looking for a cuddle,
do you." She rolls her eyes. As if this is an outrageous presumption. A strange weakness of John's
that I would find (what?) unthinkable.
John. Coming home to me, looking for comfort in me rather than her. Wouldn't I want that? (I
prefer it, actually.)
Surge of excitement. Delight. Can barely contain it. Have been avoiding considering this for fear
of the inevitable agony it would cause. What if John left Mary, came back, was mine?

Granted: John's skin (lips, tongue, teeth, hands, pelvis, hips, to say nothing of other parts of his
body) are intensely distracting. If he were mine (entirely mine) and not Mary's, if he turned to me
for affection instead of her, would it become problematic? Potentially. Cases require my complete
attention. Would I be able to give it?
Possibly I would get used to him. The distraction might lessen over time. Or I would learn to cope.
Learn to keep the streams of ideas, data, deduction from crossing with the extreme pleasure of
John's touch (touching John). A challenge. Johns presence has resulted in my view of the world
expanding rather than shrinking. Evidence discovered that I would have missed without him. Yes.
I can manage the distraction. He understands when I cant. He helps. Yes. (A problem I would be
more than happy to manage.)
Marys tone is sarcastic, unsympathetic. (She must truly imagine me to be a sociopath. So many
people do. So many people, but never John.) "You don't want to rub his shoulders every evening
and ask him about his day, now do you?" Do I not?
I've never asked John about his day. Assumed he would tell me if he wanted to. If it were
interesting enough to share. (Expressing interest in the lives of others: a form of affectionate
display. More than merely asking for information. Means of displaying care. A useful revelation.)
She laughs again. (Nervous. Does she suspect that she's wrong? Is she reading my face, seeing
something there that causes doubt? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Uncertain.) "He's got confused. He
imagines you might be willing. Thats...a temptation for him, you understand."
"Bit of a...longstanding fantasy of his. You must have guessed that by now, with that big brain of
yours. You shouldn't hold his fantasies against him, though." An indulgent smile. (After all this,
after all the compromises and mistakes, she loves him. Wants him to be happy. Wants him to get
what he wants. Doesnt think he can with me. Thinks Im only going to hurt him, confuse him,
break his heart. Shes trying to protect him, along with herself.)
I knew there was a fantasy. Thought he wanted to keep it that way.Thought he'd made his choice.
Didn't have sufficient evidence otherwise. Data. But there is (apparently) still time. Time to turn it
all back, go back to the roof, answer the question he asked me (I didn't realise it was a question).
You wouldnt like it. You would loathe it. Didn't know better. Didnt know the truth: I dont loathe
it, him being in love with me. I crave it. Like he craves putting his life in danger, the feeling of a
gun aimed in his direction. I may develop a psychosomatic disorder myself without him. His order
begs for chaos (me); my chaos begs for order (him). Symmetry.
"Fantasy is fine, of course. More than fine. We're always wanting what we can't have, that's the
human condition, isn't it." Her forgiveness is extreme; of course it is. He has to forgive her in
equal measure. She allows him his fantasy in partial reality (a life with me, being in love with me,
me being in love with him, minus any back rubs or home comforts he saves for her) in order to
make him happy, make him happy enough to stay inside a compromised relationship. She fills in
where I fail him. She requires that I fail in those precise ways. A tightrope. Any gust of wind will
throw them over. (I am a gust of wind.)
The only human conditions of which I am aware are those of being alive or dead. The rest is a
question mark.
"I'm just" Under the table, her knee bounces. Anxious. There is relief on her face. She sees that
I understand. I do. "I want to get back to the status quo." She rubs her temple. Hes confused,
things are...not as they should be. We need to settle this.

John's romantic notions (about me). His doubts. Seeping into his marriage. (Doubtless. How could
it not?)
Hes drawn a line in the sand. (No wonder she invited me to this surreptitious meeting; she needs
to influence how I proceed. She can no longer influence John sufficiently. She needs me to go on
being a failure. To abandon John in my way, the way she abandons him in hers. Equilibrium.)
Hes not sleeping with her. Wont. Of course he wont. Holding pattern. Hes waiting for my
answer. So is Mary. Linchpin (me). In stasis until these relationships are clear and defined, put
back in order.
I am, once again, causing chaos, kicking the hospital corners of his life into disarray. And hes
leaning into that disarray, craving it. Seeking it out. Crawling into bed with it and making love to it
(to me).
What do you want from me?
Ill talk to him. I will. Absolutely will. Dont know what the words are yet. Will have to find
Compose a text to John.
Im your chaos. Youre my order. I need you. SH
Press send. Press phone into my hand, screen down against my thigh. Wait.
Great! Mary looks happy. She finishes her coffee, leans back in her (tiny) chair. Shes
misunderstood me (always has). Dont know how to correct her. Not here. What words? I knew
youd understand. Johns been...distracted lately. Since you two started up. Ive been worried. I
thought it was beyond time for us to have a little chat.
Of course. Phone vibrates against my leg. Stab of fear (why?). John. Look at the screen.
Where are you? At a crime scene? You need me to come? Or are you asking me to do your
Smile at the phone. John. Look up at Mary. You should know. Her eyebrow quirks. About
Mark Johnson.
She blanches. Her hands (loose on the table) tighten. She moves them into her lap as fists. She
hasnt told John about Mark Johnson yet; hes new. Very new. The one she found the moment
John told her about me, about sleeping with me. Mark Johnson: her revenge, her tit for tat.
Attempt at equilibrium. (This marriage is an ugly thing, for all its compromises and admitted
affection.) Her highly controlled face contorts. (Fear, shame, anger, embarrassment, outrage,
regret.) It rights itself after a moment. She takes a breath. Smiles. Says nothing.
He has genital herpes.
She blinks. Stares.
I found Acyclovir packaging in his bins. Clear evidence. Multiple packages. He hasnt had
shingles recently. Obvious. Herpes (genital most likely). Probably no active lesions at present, or
Mary would have noticed. Unlikely that he would start a new relationship in the midst of an
outbreak. But one never knows.

She covers her mouth with her hand. Eyes wide. (What?)
You should see your doctor. Get tested. Stand. Just to be safe. Pull on my coat. Bit of a chill
in the wind this afternoon. Feels like a whole new day is dawning. John. Thank you for lunch.
Smile. This has been most enlightening.

Designed for Poetry, not Accuracy

Shes wrong, you know that. SH
Too many people in the street. All walking too slowly. Dodge them. Run. Burst of energy like a
cocaine high combined with one too many nicotine patches and a cup of coffee. Zigzag through
side streets. Adrenaline (like chasing a serial killer) making my heart beat too quickly. Euphoria
(endorphin induced? Or merely circumstantial? Hard to tell. Both. Dont care). On the edge of
something (toppling over it). Up to the main road. Catch glimpse of myself in a shop window:
weird smile plastered across my face. Stare. Barely recognise myself. See motion from the corner
of my eye. CCTV camera. Swivelling to focus on me. Mycroft. Flip off the camera. Cant pull the
smile off my face. Dont want to. Nothing else matters. Have to get to John.
Hail a taxi. Breathing hard. Check phone. No response. (Strange.)
You know shes wrong, dont you? Certain you do. You know me. SH
Give the address of Johns surgery. Lean back, stare outside. Bit of rain from the morning petering
out. Clouds part and the sun comes out: startlingly bright. Feel jittery. Feel late. (Over a year late.)
No idea what Im going to say when I get there. Phone buzzes. Burst of anticipation in my
stomach; sharp shards of it extend out into my chest, down my arms. Check phone. Text. From
Mycroft. (Punch of disappointment.) Ignore it. Compose new text to John instead. (Why isnt he
answering me?)
Wasnt ready. Havent been ready. Ready now. Think Im ready now. Want to be. SH
Jittery feeling underneath my skin. Tap the bridge of my nose repeatedly (if only that would make
the taxi go faster). Damn traffic. Check phone. Check again. John? (What am I going to say?)
Phone vibrates in my hand. Look at the screen. Mycroft again. (Damn him.) Read his (bloody)
messages out of sheer frustration.
Well arent you chipper this afternoon. Have a nice lunch with Mary? Such a lovely woman.
With all that extra energy, perhaps you can help me with some legwork that needs doing. For
Queen & country.
Mycroft. Boring.
Respond: text filled with profanities. Press send. Response almost instant. (Had his response
written before I sent mine, of course. Probably dictated it to his assistant. Knew exactly what I
would say.) Bastard.
Wouldnt Mummy have been proud, such creative use of language. Will drop by this afternoon
with details.
Growl in frustration. Doesnt matter. Ignore him. Not going home anyway. Must see John. Watch
London slide by the window. Grip phone. (Will John to respond to me. Agony.) Vibrates. Check
screen. John. Pleasure centre of my brain pitches and tilts, working in overdrive. Can feel it all the
way to my fingertips. John. (Mummy would, indeed, have been proud.)
Where are you? Who are you talking about? You all right?
Must make no sense to him at all. Not enough words in the world. (What will I say?)

Am fine! Better than fine. On my way to the surgery. Will explain. SH

Pause. Consider. Decision: yes. Of course. (Have to.)
(Want to.)
I love you. SH
Odd rush of panic on pressing send. Why? No reason. Not even news. And yet, and yet.
Uncomfortable: extreme vulnerability. (Is this what its like?) Open like a flayed rodent pinned to
a dissecting tray. Hard muscle of the heart on display. (Always thought it was such a trite
association, the heart with love. Love is a psychological and physiological phenomenon, made of
synapses and hormones, endorphins and dopamine receptors, pheromones, experiences,
commonalities, mutual attraction. Not the muscle of the heart. Inexact metaphor. Designed for
poetry, not accuracy.)
Feel it there all the same. Clutch of it in my chest. As though it (a feeling, a mere feeling) is lodged
there, pressed against my upper lung. Leaning against my trachea so that I feel it with every
breath. Like a physical thing that could be removed, examined. Displayed. (Could it?)
Could do a series of blood tests, though. Perhaps John will lend me a syringe, draw my blood for
me. Could spend the afternoon in the kitchen, waiting for him to finish his shift, teasing out my
absolute love for him from my own blood. Scientific proof. I could take the results and mount
them on the wall. Then there would be no more confusion. I could just point to it and all would be
Phone. Text. John.
I love you too. What the hell happened? Did you get shot or something?
Taxi stops. Pay the driver (slightly too much). Leap out. Stride into the surgery. John. (What am I
going to say?) Walk past the receptionist, who stands up behind her desk, looks annoyed. Says
something (inconsequential). Johns office door: shut. Open it.
Hes sitting in a wide beam of the afternoon sunshine from the window behind him. His hair:
strands caught in the light make it look as though he has a halo around his head. (Bits of grey at
his temples, through his fringe: different texture, different feel. Reacts differently.) His hands on a
file, golden in the light. His face in shadow. Sun in my eyes. John.
Sherlock! He stands. Are you all right? Rushes over to me. Pats me down. Checks me for
injuries. Im struck dumb. His face. His eyes. His hands (against my chest, my stomach, down my
arms). John. One moment, Im so sorry, he says over his shoulder. Ill be right with you. A
woman sitting there. In her mid-sixties. Cane in her hand. (Have misplaced Johns cane. Will find
it.) She looks exhausted. Hasnt slept properly in months. Both of them looking at me, befuddled.
Oh. Ive interrupted. Forgot there would be patients.
Sherlock? Johns voice low. What the hell is going on?
He just barged right in! Distraught receptionist at the door.
Yes, I know, Daisy. John sounds defeated. Hes... another pause. Hes a friend. Its all

Its not all right for Mrs Clarke, is it. Outrage. Daisy does outrage extraordinarily well. She must
spend all day practising.
Oh, Im fine. Mrs Clarke: broken voice of an older woman. She has a severely deviated septum.
Probably the cause of her sleep apnea. Shes looking at me with curiosity. Probably thinks Im
some medical colleague.
You have a severely deviated septum. Fairly obvious. Sound of her voice, her lack of sleep.
Only able to breathe out of one nostril. Keeps touching the other one. Daisy makes tsk and huff
sounds and flounces back to the reception area. John sighs.
Mrs Clarke is startled. John looks me up and down. Glances back at Mrs Clarke. Sighs again.
Resigned face. Youre all right then? Soft voice. Concerned. I worried him. Hes confused by
my emotional outpouring. Apparently Im not getting it quite right. Not injured?
No, not at all. I just needed to talk to you.
My great-aunt had a deviated septum. Mrs Clarke: relief on her face. She had one little surgery
and then she slept like a baby ever after.
Thats exactly what Johns going to recommend. Using my most reassuring voice. Youre
going to be fine. Ive learned a bit about this caring lark. I could have a bedside manner.
John sighs. This cant wait until tonight? Hes lowered his voice. Have I embarrassed him?
Of course not. Suppose it could. Still not quite sure what to say.
Youre probably right about the deviated septum.
Smile. Of course I am.
Mrs Clarke, do you mind? Two minutes?
No no, of course not, take your time. She settles back in her chair, pulls a novel (The Intimate
Adventures of a London Call Girl) out of her bag. Settles in and opens it. (Dog-eared pages.)
He takes my hand, leads me in behind his desk and into a little storeroom beyond. Shelves of drug
samples and boxes of latex gloves, pap smear kits and vaccinations. Half-closes the door.
What is it? He looks perplexed.
I... Wait. Think. You said to me once, you thought I would hate it. Loathe it. This...process.
You remember.
John raises an eyebrow.
You were wrong. I was wrong. Mary is definitely wrong.
Look of alarm on his face. You were talking to Mary?
We had lunch.
Oh god. John rubs his forehead with the palm of his hand.
Lean forward. Kiss him. Aiming for his lips but end up only partially there; partly his cheek. (He

moved.) His body tenses with surprise, then relaxes. He shifts and he kisses me, hand landing on
the back of my neck. Warm. His tongue. (Earl Grey tea.) Lips on mine. My heart is speeding up.
He pulls back. Looks at me. Kisses me again (lightly, on the lips).
I think I understand. He looks so serious. (Does he understand?)
I want to answer your question.
Right. He glances back toward Mrs Clarke. Not now, though. He smiles. Its a big, broad
smile. He does understand. I appreciate the urgency, I do. But I have to get through these patients
before six.
I love you. Pinned to a dissection tray again. All raw with open wounds. Soft underbelly
exposed. Jugular his for the slashing.
He smiles again. His eyes full of certainty. I love you too. Kisses me again. Lightly. Hand on
my neck, slides down, his thumb caresses my clavicle. Makes up for the exposure, makes the
exposure feel right. Good, even. (Oxytocin. Serotonin. Dopamine. Endorphins. Even pain would
feel good right now. My nerve endings are all tingling. A chemical soup. Will he draw some
blood? Perhaps not right now.)
He picks up a thin torch and a nasal speculum. I need to confirm your diagnosis. We can talk
more tonight.
Yes. Not sure what to say. Yes, all right.
The door from the stairs into the sitting room: slightly ajar. Mycrofts way of making sure I know
hes here. Should turn around and leave. Make him wait until the flat goes dark, until hes wasted
the entire afternoon. Not prepared to take on one of his inane cases just now. Busy. Overcome.
Too much else to think about.
Hesitate in front of the stairs.
Ive brought you something. Mycrofts voice. Bit of singsong. (Hes teasing me.) Echoes down
the stairs. Freeze. Turn back. Gifts from Mycroft are never a good sign. Can go sit in the wretched
pub until John comes home. Come on. Youll like it. I thought since you broke yours you might
like another. Ah. Hes brought me a new bow. Tempting. (Can feel the cheapness of the new
one. Too stiff. Flat tone. Balance is off.)
(Bet its French. Gold-mounted pernambuco. Circa 1870.)
Turn around again. Reluctant. One stair at a time.
Thats it. His pleased voice. Damn him. Bloody manipulative bastard.
Mycroft. Sitting in Johns armchair. Holding a French, gold-mounted pernambuco bow from end
to end, between his index fingers. As if hed let it hit the floor if I hadnt come up the stairs just
Good afternoon, Sherlock. Smiles. Shows his (newly-whitened) teeth. (New suit. Slightly
different cut to hide the weight hes put on. Recurrent visceral fat deposits on his belly, leaving
him with stick thin legs like an ostrich. Suit doesnt hide this. Smirk.)

Fall into the armchair opposite. What do you want, then.

Hardly anything at all. He smiles. A minor matter of some leaked documents I'd like you to
look into. An inside job, I thought you'd like that."
Dull. Not interested.
No? He presses his thumb and ring finger around the stick, the light falls on the (stunning)
tortoiseshell frog. Holds it as if he were about to play. Are you quite sure? Studies the hank of
horsehair. You neednt agree to it just now, of course... Strokes the stick lovingly. (Bastard.)
You could just look over the evidence, couldnt you?
French. Gold-mounted pernambuco. It would make John's Tchaikovsky sound like silk. (Damn
Unfair. Entirely. I suppose I could. Were I so inclined. (Which I am not.)
Smiles. Turns it and holds the bow out to me. "Here. Its yours. Dont move. Dont trust him. He
raises an eyebrow. Go on.
I take it. Its beautiful. Its perfect. Better than my last bow by a wide margin.
Mycroft. Smiles at me like an indulgent grandfather. Reaches into his pocket and takes out a
notebook. A therapists notebook. Whose? (Did John return to his useless therapist? How did I fail
to notice that?)
It seems, he flips open the notebook, pages through it carefully as if its sheets were lined in gold
dust, well, it seems as though congratulations are in order, are they not? Slides his knuckles
down the page before he turns to another. Flesh against paper. Youve been keeping something
from me, Sherlock.
I keep everything I can from you, Mycroft. Muted bite. Still in too good a mood. Beautiful bow
in my hands. John will be home in a few hours. I can play for him.
So you do. Requires me to do such plebeian digging. His hands stop. A relevant page. He
smiles at me.
He reads: Complex relationship in the nature of polyamory. Looks up at me. Thinks this is
funny. Were you aware that you were part of a polyamorous relationship? I suppose you must
have been, on some level. Flips to another page. Demonstrated asexuality of former flatmate
causes marital tension. Theres evidence here, you know; tabulated. Its not a poor list. You make
for an interesting study on the subject.
Roll my eyes. Im sure youve found it all very entertaining.
Oh, quite. Most recent lover a perfect acquisition for patient's pathology: intellectually and
sexually appealing, but requires no emotional investment. Does that sound familiar?
Feel as though doused in cold water. Perfect acquisition indeed. No emotional investment
required? Marys interpretation. Not Johns. Couldnt be. (Could it?) Maybe once, but not now.
Its not John whos returned to his therapist. Relax. The evidence isnt quite that intimate. He
wrinkles his nose. I wouldnt want to read too many of the sordid details, frankly.
Mary found herself a new therapist? Couldnt she have found one who doesnt allow the
government access to patient notes?

Mary didnt find a therapist. A therapist found her. One in Mycrofts employ. (Does she know
Mycroft is paying someone to glean her darkest secrets for his own amusement? Shes met him;
my brother in government. Under what circumstances did he arrange for them to meet? What
lies could he possibly have told her to make her so at ease?)
Demonstrates a compulsive need to stray from the marriage, for that straying to be equitable
and mutual. He laughs. Its fascinating. She feels safest when her infidelities are equally
measured out, you see? The opposite of the textbook. But of course, what other kind of
entanglement would my dear brother find himself in but the most convoluted and complicated one
He flips through the notebook again. Ah, but here comes the crux of it: patients husband thinks
his former flatmate has romantic feelings for him. Arguments ensue. Patient fears it may end the
marriage. He has never once stopped grinning. Its positively evil. Youve never been one to
value emotions much, but do you see the value yours have? Look upon my works, ye mighty, and
He flips the notebook around. Holds a page up to my face. I dont want to look. You see the
date? It was over a year ago. Theyve been having this argument for the duration of their marriage.
Whether or not Sherlock Holmes loves John Watson. Flips through a few more pages. It seems
to be their favourite topic. John was never entirely certain. Did he ever just ask you? Seems like
the simplest solution.
Looks up at me. Waits for an answer. Dont want to give one.
Ah. He did. Didnt he. He asked. You avoided answering him, didnt you. Well, you cant blame
him for everything, then, can you. Flips through the book again.
Ah, here we are: Correction: former flatmate not asexual after all. Only inexperienced, uncertain
and shy. Shy! You! He laughs so hard he nearly drops the notebook. Mrs Hudson must hear him
all the way downstairs. Shell be up with a pot of tea any moment.
Patients husband has initiated a sexual relationship with his former flatmate. He smiles his
toothy smile at me. Patient is relieved. That was Marys first reaction to Johns night here with
you, did you know that? Relief! Youre still the cornerstone of that marriage. Shes attracted to
you by proxy, it seems! And how twisted: it made Mary all the more certain you dont have
romantic feelings for John. Closes the notebook, slips it back in his pocket. She thinks youre
just like her. A predator. Using others for your own ends. Everyone is disposable. I suppose shes
right, really.
No? He studies my face for what feels like a very long time. Nods. No, I suppose not. Smiles.
Youll hold on to him, then. And youll treat him well. I just stare at him. He nods again.
Mummy would have been so pleased.

His (Left) Hand

Supper in a paper bag on the table (getting cold). His face in my hands, his tongue caressing my
bottom lip. One hand against my lower back, fingertips inching into my trousers. The other
gripping my hair. All I can hear is a pounding heart (mine) and laboured breathing (mine; also
his). Like were running. Tracking a serial killer. Same rush of adrenaline. Drop hands down to
his waist; stroke his left hip. Hook my (right) thumb under his belt and pull. Can feel his erection
press against my thigh. He groans. Smiles against my neck, laughs lightly. (Huff of his breath on
my skin.)
Christ. Kisses my jaw. His (left) hand is resting on the small of my back as if designed to fit
there. (Poetic license: a means to express that which cannot be proven or tested, but is true
nonetheless.) Fingers stroking my coccyx. Shiver; his fingers trigger my vestigial pilomotor reflex.
Gooseflesh. Sign of sexual arousal. (Accurate.) Senses on alert; can smell his skin, hear his breath
running over his larynx. Feel his heartbeat through my fingers. Hyper-aware of him, every motion,
every tensed muscle. (Kiss them all.)
You make me feel like a bloody teenager. He whispers it. Telling me a secret against my ear.
An accusation. What I make him do. Feel. Feel what? Awkward? Confused? Angry? Sullen?
Words that aptly describe my own teenage years. (How do normal teenagers feel?) You touch
me and I very nearly come in my pants, its ridiculous. Ah. Sexual excitement leading to a
premature ejaculation. A compliment? Possibly. (Probably.) Press my lips against his neck, hear
the soft sounds in the back of his throat. Run hands over the (hot) skin of his back, the curved
indentation of his spine. Kiss him. (His insistent tongue.)
Sherlock, I- Mrs Hudson. In the flat. Oh dear.
Realization in rapid retrospect: heard Mrs. Hudsons kitten heels on the stairs. Heard her faint
knock on the door, even. But ignored both sounds in favour of the breathy noises coming from
John, his hot mouth, his fingers gripping my right buttock. Brain is selective in what it chooses to
A gasp. Oh, Im sorry, I... Mrs. Hudson. John freezes, then quickly pulls his hand out of my
trousers, disentangles himself from me. Her face goes from apologetic to apoplectic in a halfsecond. John Watson! Her mouth hanging open in surprise.
Uh, I... He clears his throat. Laughs softly. Hello. Adjusts his jumper.
I suppose I shouldnt be surprised! Puts her hands on her hips. Anger readable in her every
limb. Just when he was finally moving on after you dashed his heart to pieces. Crosses her arms
over her chest, taps her foot. Have never seen Mrs. Hudson so angry. Would it kill you to let
poor Sherlock be happy for once?
John opens his mouth to say something, but then closes it again. Turns to look at me. Question on
his face. Looks startled.
Now what are you planning to tell your young man, Sherlock? She tsks at me. Oh dear. Ought
to explain.
Mrs Huds-
You cant have both of them! She throws up her hands. That goes for you too, John Watson.
Make a decision and stick with it! I give up! She turns and leaves, slamming the door behind her.

Mutters all the way back down the stairs.

Silence. Johns hand reappears on my waist. Firm fingers. Your young man? (Is that jealousy?
Can John honestly justify jealousy after all this? Him with a wife?)
(Flattered all the same.)
Sigh. Explain. You. He raises an eyebrow at me. Isnt sure what to think. Doesnt consider
himself a young man. She overheard us. Last week. She imagined you must have been someone
Moving on from... Can hear him thinking, can almost feel it under his skin. Press my hands
against his hips again. Did she think we... John and his perpetually unfinished sentences.
Yes. Affirm. She thinks you broke my heart and left me for Mary.
He snorts. Right. Shakes his head, smiles as if thats funny, outrageous, unbelievable. Youll
have to tell her the truth at some point so she can stop hating me, then.
Pause. Consider. (Should I say this?) Well. (Perhaps I should.) You did. (Should clarify.)
Leave me. For Mary. It hurts to say (more than expected). Stab in the chest, opens up a store of
painful emptiness. (You left me, John.) Think of Johns bullet wound: the entryway of a foreign
object punching through flesh. Emotional open wound. Catch breath. That hurts.
No. He looks at me, shakes his head. Insistent. Distressed. (Cant imagine what he reads on my
face.) Twists his lip under his teeth. His hands on my arms, he pulls me into a hug. Rests his head
against my shoulder. Presses me close. Rubs my back. No, no, not at all. Wrap my arms around
his waist, bury my face in his neck. Breathe him in, dont let him go. (Yes, you did, John. Of
course you did.)
Leans back, looks at me again. I didnt think... He sighs. (Feel his exhale against my chin.) I
tried to talk to you about it, but...
I know. I do. But it hadnt been a question then. It had been a statement of fact, and it seemed
true enough. (How was I to know? How was I to know it was meant to be a question?) Deductive
failure. Those gaps in my knowledge John is always going on about. My ignorance is as
remarkable as my knowledge. Built of extremes.
I didnt think you were... Pause. I was what? Interested in anything like... Like this? No. Not
this. Like what he has with Mary. (We dont have that. Do we? Dont think so. Not yet. Maybe
now, maybe soon?) Am I interested? Of course I am. (Was I then? Dont think so. Dont know.
Didnt know then what I know now. Didnt know myself.) I didnt think you wanted a romantic
relationship. With me.
I dont know. Maybe I did. Surely I would have, given a chance. I could have come to
understand. Minus the heartbreak (could I have?).
Heartbreak. The sensation in my chest, the pain of seeing him with Mary, of seeing them happy: is
that heartbreak? Suppose it must be. More noticeable now in its increasing absence; hand on a hot
element: hurts more afterwards.
I knew it then. He says it looking me in the eye. Daring me to flinch away. I dont. That I
loved you. What I wanted. It didnt seem very likely. I couldnt... Closes his eyes. (Too much?
Too difficult to be so honest? With words? With me?) I wanted to give you what you wanted
from me and not more, you understand? How could I stay here with you, wanting you like,
opens his eyes again, returns his hands to my lower back, my coccyx, lower. His fingers press

hard against muscle. Groan (mine). Wanting you like this, like a fucking teenager, if you didnt?
It would have killed me.
You left me. (His singular selfish action.) Its true. An objective fact. I was alone. My hands
shift against his skin.
Sighs again. I suppose. The part of me you didnt seem to want left. The problematic part. The
rest of me stayed. Didnt I? Metaphysical nonsense. John cannot be divided into pieces, parts of
him leaving and parts of him staying. Parts of him marrying Mary and the rest cleaving to me. I
was never going to leave you completely. I couldnt have. I never wanted to. I need you.
Hand on his jaw. Kiss him. It doesnt matter. Cant blame him. Had he managed to ask, rather
than merely produce a statement of fact: would have told him the opposite of what (I now know)
is true. Would have spent the rest of my life filled with a crippling regret (no doubt). Would have,
wouldnt have; doesnt matter. Say it against his lips. I love you.
John is half asleep, his limbs entwined with mine, our bodies both spent (powered by nervous
energy and reheated Chinese). Watch him. Relaxed shoulders, eyes closed. Slow inhale, exhale.
His (left) hand is resting low on my stomach. Bit of light from the window leaves a glint on his
wedding band (gold, scuffed). It rides too high on his finger, sitting (now) just below the knuckle.
Sudden realisation: the reason why he (left-handed) sleeps on the left side of his bed, leaving the
right side for me. The habits of the sexually active. The hopeful. If he sleeps on the left side, and
turns toward his bed partner on the right (me, this time, now, in reality and in his imagination), his
dominant hand is free. Leaving my dominant hand free as well. To touch him. To stroke him.
Always the left side of the bed, leaving the right side empty. An invitation. A request. Hungry
imagination. John.
I realise: have not yet answered his question. (What do you want from me?) Promised to. Wanted
to. Meant to. No more guessing. Rest my (right) hand against his (left). Feel the gold of his
wedding band under my fingers. Grip it; pull. It catches on his knuckle first before it comes off
entirely. Hold it for a moment: light. Inconsequential. (Can a commitment be such a light thing,
such a trifle? A bit of jewelry that slips off so easily?) I put it on the bedside table. It clinks against
the wood. (Small; a token. Nothing.) Take his hand again; bend my little finger around his ring
finger, my fist under his palm. Ring of flesh, of bone, of me, where the (scuffled) gold used to be.
Replacement. (John: you understand?) A request. A proposal. Another question.
Thats what I want from you, John. Couldnt be any clearer. (Yes?)
He squeezes my fist (lightly). Raises his hand (my hand) to his mouth and kisses my finger curled
around his. He understands. (Acceptance?) His thumb strokes mine. Presses my loose palm
against his chest. His heart beating. Lean toward him; kiss his lips, his forehead. Listen to his
breathing as he falls asleep.
John (mine).

Advantage: John
Awake. (Why?) Dark.
(Middle of the night: somewhere between two and three in the morning.)
In bed. Hot. (Another body here with me. John. Heat pouring off him.) Nearly off the bed;
propping himself up on his arms, one foot thrown to the floor. John; did he shout? Possibly. His
breathing: sounds like hes drowning.
(Pool. Explosion. John, dont die.)
Slow brain, still half-awake: Not drowning. Nightmare.
Cautious. Sit up (head feels heavy). Brace self. (Nightmares can be violent.) Nightmare reaction
appears to be a panic attack. John Watson, former solider, steady-handed killer, my sure-footed
protector: not especially prone to panic attacks in the daylight. (Treats mere dreams like mortal
danger, and mortal danger like mere dreams. My paradoxical man.)
John. A whisper. He turns toward me. My arms fall around him (naturally. Easily). His face
against my chest. Tries to catch his breath. Like hes choking. Hes shaking. Burning hot.
Breathes through his nose. (Has practice. Been trained. Coping mechanisms, not solutions.)
Not sure what to do. Comfort required. (What does Mary do?) Stroke his hair. Rub his back.
Listen as his breathing progresses from panicked gulping to jittery and deliberate inhale, exhale.
Kiss his temple. (Demonstrated affection.) Does that help? Is there some other requisite action?
Nuzzle into his neck.
Do you want to talk about it? (Right thing to say, isnt it?)
He exhales hard through his nose. No. (Thank god.) Voice rough and raw. Shaky. Unlike him.
Sign of his distress. Sorry, but...
Its fine. Stroke his shoulder. Pull him with me back against the mattress. His head rests on his
pillow. Face to face. Faint light from the window casts shadows that hide his eyes (open? Or
closed? Cant tell). Listen to his breathing, feel it against my cheek. Closer to normal (not there
yet). Can feel his heartbeat (too fast).
Run fingers over his skin. His trembling shouldnt be erotic to me (but it is). A constant shiver like
intense arousal (but is not). Hot skin, his nude body. My (right) hand on his neck, stroke his jaw
with my thumb. Slide downward; press lightly against his shoulder. (Trace the borders of his
bullet wound. Lean forward and kiss it. Not the cause of his nightmares: the cause of him finding
his way to me. Grateful for it.) He shifts his arm; rests it against my shoulder. His hand in my hair.
(Love it when he plays with my hair.) Drag my hand across his ribs. Prominent bone of his hip.
Dampness of nervous sweat on his stomach. Coarseness of his pubic hair, his penis in my fingers.
Havent touched him like this before. I am/he is always too eager; impossible to present ourselves
in such a mundane state when were like this (naked in each others presence). Short moments,
stolen. Months of fantasy packed into such a small (temporal) space. Explosion of desire. Now:
nightmares, the tail end of a panic attack: not the stuff of fantasy. Desire (for me) the last thing on
his mind. Hand lazily strokes my hair (bliss). Unconcerned. Trusting. Move my fingers against
him. Delicate skin: silky, elastic, yielding, soft. Cradle his (inoffensive, utterly harmless) penis in

my hand.
Without doubt: this is the most intimate thing I have ever experienced. This small action: bit of
vulnerable flesh in the palm of my hand. Feel some hidden and unknown part of my psyche tear
loose. (John: I love you.)
Stroke him with my thumb. Squeeze gently (appreciate the unique properties of erectile tissue).
He kisses the side of my mouth and sighs against me. His breathing: normal. (Fully recovered. My
unorthodox cure for a panic attack works. Noted.)
He untangles his hand from my hair and rests it below my shoulder. Rubs his palm down to my
wrist and back up again. (A subtle encouragement.) Stroke him more deliberately. His flesh in my
hand: transforming. I can feel it: soft, yielding flesh grows marginally firmer; then firmer again.
Blood filling his corpora cavernosa. No longer cupped gently in the palm of my hand; its
boundaries extending, elastic skin pulls tight. Stroke him, feel the alterations of him under my
palm. His breath speeds up again. Adaptations.
Feels different from the outside, this biological process; a metamorphosis. Silky softness that
becomes a jutting, insistent demand. Familiar, predictable, but different. He moans, slides his
fingers across my back, grips my shoulder, kisses me. His tongue on my lips. His face is damp
(panic attacks often associated with tears; tears not associated with John. Recalculate.)
Circle his exposed frenulum with the tip of my thumb; he moans into my jaw. His hand trails
down my back to my hip. Grips me there (hard). A request. (Harder. Faster.) Know what he
wants. Desire so intense that it blots out everything else. (Know the feeling well.) Completion.
Pleasure. Relief. (So very close.) Dont comply; slow down instead, enjoy the altered texture of
his skin, the sounds in his throat. (Not so fast, John.) I can feel him laugh against my lips.
You tease. Smile in his voice. He breathes hard. (He approves.)
Roll over; grab the small bottle left on the bedside table for just such a moment. (Ignore Johns
ring dropped next to it.) Move back toward him, see him lying there in the dim of light from the
window, lying in shadow and half-light; hands over his eyes, resisting the urge to finish himself
off. He is beautiful. His lean, practical body, his desire so obvious. Kiss his mouth, his neck. His
hands panic-weak against me. (He is exhausted. I am relentless. He doesnt seem to mind.) Shift
down along the bed, nudge his knees apart so I can crawl between them.
Theres no hurry, is there?
He makes a huffing sound that I know means Sure, no hurry. Not for you. He is close, he is
desperate. But also: curious. Wants to know what Ill do.
Two things at once: curl my lips around the corona of his glans and hear him moan, his hips rise
up to meet me; flip the cap of the bottle and liberally coat my fingers with its contents. (A little too
liberally, but better too much than not enough. Drips down onto my hand.) Fingernails clipped
close in preparation. (Just in case the opportunity arose.) Glide my fingers between his legs. (He
starts a little.) Tongue on his frenulum, light kiss against the shaft of his penis. One lubricated
finger pressed against his anus. Moving in slick circles. Wait a moment for an objection. (None
appears.) Be sure. Ask. Yes?
Yes. Quickly. Voice strained. Is he holding his breath? Grip his penis with my (left) hand.
Tongue against his glans; a coating of pre-ejaculate. He shivers, makes an eager sound in his
throat. The sounds he makes are addictive in and of themselves. (The various fluids he and his
fluids replace: an addict cannot be entirely reformed; the addiction can only be (must be)

transliterated into a more socially acceptable habit. In this case, monogamy. Did not realise it was
so simple.)
Press in. Some give; then a tightening sphincter. (Expected. Autonomic. Research predicted it.)
Phenomenally tight heat. Pull out and wait (30 seconds, count them), push back in again. The
softness of his flesh here a surprise; so delicate, a contrast to the strength of the muscle warring
against me. Practical research did not demonstrate this softness, though the reading suggested it.
(Easily damaged. Move gently.) Dead flesh not as soft as Johns living flesh. Certainly not as hot,
as flexible, as responsive. The dead do not writhe with pleasure, do not make those breathy
groans, do not repeat ones name in a gravelly undertone. (Advantage: John.)
The idea of this act alone (let alone the act itself): a part of me inside of him, deliriously wonderful.
Like him playing with my hair; a tingle that travels through me. Third push, and calculate: roughly
two inches in. Feel, upward, and... there.
A string of creatively constructed curses from John. Affirmation. Prostate found. Pull back out;
introduce a second finger. Even easier to find the second time. A second string of swearing
(thematically related to the first, but not identical). The tiniest of motions inside him, fingers
moving in a circular pattern. Pressure. Constant. Lips against his (right) testicle, hand stroking his
penis, the pads of two fingers against that curious gland inside of him. Feel the tensing of his body
(inside and out). His breath a constant vocalisation (no words). His thighs vibrate with tension.
One small (tense) pause and his body goes nearly rigid. He ejaculates with a sob. (Reverberates
through him longer than average. Effect of prostate stimulation. The research suggested that too.)
Hands on him until he collapses against the mattress.
Jesus Christ. His voice quavers. Slide my fingers out of him; he makes a plaintive sound. (Pain?
No. Oversensitivity.) Rearrange my limbs; crawl up his body to rest my head against his chest.
Feel his trembling, his breath, his heart. Deep breaths, recovery. (Two sets of recoveries; from
panic, and from pleasure. Matched set.)
He lays an arm across my shoulders. Weak, loose. Exhales. Jesus. Invoked many times tonight.
That was... Struggles to find words. Where the hell did you learn...?"
Oh. God.
What now?
Tell me you didnt stick your fingers into dead mens rectums to learn how to do that.
Of course I did. How else could I find a small gland, without any experience, in a place where I
cannot see it? How else could I efficiently and effectively locate the proper spot inside the human
male body in such a high-pressure situation? Theres simply no substitute for first hand
experience. (I cant make bricks without clay.)
I sense that my answer to that question may not be the one you want to hear.
He laughs. He laughs so hard he jolts me off his chest. He is laughing hysterically (it is hard to
avoid joining in). Roll to one side, prop up chin on my hand. Watch him. Giggle. (Suppose it is a
bit funny. To people who dont have regular access to cadavers and a constant, gnawing
He laughs and laughs, his hand stroking my shoulder. God, youre mad. Tries to kiss me but he
cant stop laughing, rapid breath on my face so much like his panic attack. (The varied emotions

of human beings: so much more complicated than their physical states. Agony to ecstasy, despair
to delight: look and feel so similar.)
Youre absolutely stark raving mad, and I love you. He laughs until tears stream down his face
(twice in one night: tears). Wipes his face with his hand. Oh my god. The laughter slows down
a little and then starts back up again. I presume you washed your hands afterward.
Of course! But it was days ago! Pause. I wore gloves. Obviously. (Does that even need to be
Just makes him laugh harder. He holds his stomach like its hurting him. (Must be waking Mrs
Hudson by now, who would surely not be as amused as he is.) 3 a.m. fits of laughter; added to the
list of inappropriate activities that go on in 221b. At length his laughter subsides enough that he
can kiss me (lightly), Presses his tear-wet face against my neck, but hes still grinning.
You know. Do I? (Probably.) if you want to experiment. Seems like a preposterous statement.
(No if required at any time.) Drapes his arm across my waist. You can experiment with me.
Experiment with a live (loved) body; intriguing. Jolt of euphoria. Expanded realms of
experimentation. (His writhing body. Appealing.) He turns, his back to my chest, the length of his
body against me. Rests his head on (my) pillow. Arm across his hip. (Comfortable. Sleepy.)
Okay. Rest my head against the back of his neck. I will.
Good. Pause. Feel laughter rising again in his chest. It would be awkward to feel jealous of a
corpse. He laughs into my pillow.

The Hidden Man

Fingerprints. Watermarks. Trail of IP addresses. Analytics data. Database logs. A consistent
spelling error.
Motives (too obvious; clumsy. Pointing in the wrong direction). Lengthy email exchanges. (The
smell of coffee.) Transcripts of phone tapped conversations. Photographs. Evidence of a sex
scandal (pedestrian; too dull for words). Receipts. (Toast.)
Convoluted trail that turns in upon itself, branches out and merges back together. Maddening. Key
piece of evidence missing; the middle of the puzzle still obstinately blank. (Requires legwork.
Research. Possibly a disguise.) Not uninteresting.
For the bow, for the bow. Would he take it back if I refused? (Not just possible. Probable.)
Typical Mycroft: wait for me to get used to it, to love it, to be unable to live without it, then snatch
it back. Like his precious (bloody) chess set (1981). Bastard. Has been playing me like his
(bloody) viola since I was five years old. Places deliberate pressure in just the right places, forces it
(forces me) to sing (a very specific, desired note) on command. Seethe. Comply anyway. (No
Transaction records. Evidence of fraud. Newspaper: four stories reported as unconnected all
related to this case. Intriguing. In spite of its origins.
Annoying email from Mycroft. (Ignore it.) Three texts from Lestrade (dull).
In front of me, a cup of coffee (steaming). Plate: toast (jam).
Awake (obviously). Moving around the kitchen. Making breakfast (for me). Talking (to me).
Damp hair, dressed. Wearing a shirt he left upstairs a year ago, laundered by Mrs Hudson. His
jeans (picked up from the bedroom floor).
and you wouldnt know it looking at him. Chuckles to himself. Hes told a joke? An amusing
anecdote? Have missed the entirety of the conversation? Missed that we were having a
conversation. Missed that he was here. (How?)
How long has he been talking to me? (How long has he been awake?) Must have got out of bed,
said good morning, taken a shower, dressed, come back downstairs and made coffee. Toast.
Spread jam. Placed the cup and the plate under my nose. How have I become so unobservant? (Is
he angry? Hurt? Disappointed?)
He looks at me. Confusion must be written all over my face. He smiles. You havent heard a
word Ive said, have you.
A right answer; a wrong answer. Which is which? (Does everything depend upon my answer?)
He laughs. Its all right. I was talking shite anyway. Puts a cup and a plate into the sink. He has
become so familiar to me that my senses let him pass without comment, without alarm. (Strange.)
Nod. Mycrofts.
And youre taking it? Thats unusual.

I said Id look at the evidence. Been up for hours. Thirsty. Didnt notice that, either. Brain has
equated John with the various foibles and needs of my own body, to be ignored in favour of
brainwork. (Sanctified and joined together. Of one flesh. Are we? Already? Quiet ceremonies in
the night are powerful.) Wrap fingers around cup of coffee (hot). Drink. (Perfect.) Reassuring (I
suppose). Ability to concentrate utterly and completely: not affected by his presence, his
wandering around the flat, his idle conversation. (The hidden man of the heart, not corruptible.)
Gives you something to do. Smiles at me, fond. Smile back. (Im only able to ignore you
because I love you, John. Accept this humble offering.)
Lestrade doesnt have anything more interesting. (Yet.) A good murder would be nice. (Serial
killer: havent seen one of those in a while.) Better than a case involving a few (frankly dull)
leaked documents. (Mycroft: a life drowned in useless paperwork.) Could drop the file back in
Mycrofts lap, take John with me under the police tape, revel in the urgency of serial murder. The
tiny, telling details.
Watch John wash his hands in the sink. (Not wearing his ring.) Wipes his palms on a tea towel
(moderately clean).
Its nothing dangerous, is it? John: leaning back against the sink.
No, not terribly. Well, potentially. Everything is potentially dangerous. Leaving the flat is
potentially dangerous. (Staying in the flat is potentially dangerous.) Bite of toast. More coffee.
Rifle through a stack of income tax returns.
Out of the corner of my eye, witness: John stuffing his hand in his pocket, pulling something out.
See him stare down at the palm of his hand. Ring (glint of gold in the pale light through the
kitchen window). Looks at it. Lost in thought. Rustle some papers. Distract him. (Feel awkward.
Uncomfortable. Mildly embarrassed.)
(Removing it: not his decision. Mine. A suggestion, not meant to be a demand. More an
explanation. An answer. To his question. Feel my face flushing. Drink more coffee.)
Dont put it back on, John. Dont. Say nothing. Only a symbol. A bit of jewellery. Doesnt matter.
He puts it back in his pocket. Clears his throat.
I need to run a few errands. Look up. Smile. He looks tired. Slept late (unusual). Youre not
going to get yourself into any trouble with this case, are you? (Affection.)
Of course not. Just a bit of legwork.
Legs, arms, both fighting back hard, both failing. Hands around my throat. Suspect has nearly (but
not entirely) closed off my airway. Panic. Bodys urge to breathe stronger than (nearly) any other.
Slight misjudgment. (Wright. Government employee. Didnt think hed be here, trading secrets in
broad daylight, making it plain that I was right, he was Mycrofts leak.) Boring middle manager
(thumbs digging into my throat). No history of violence. No history of murder, certainly. Caught
me off-guard. (Didnt think he would be here. Didnt think he was capable. Didnt think.) Caught
me without my careful protector and his trusty gun.
Territorial Army (never deployed). Stronger than the research suggests. Hands feel like steel
against my throat. Squeezes hard.

Hes swearing at me, his face so red its as though hes the one being throttled. (Dyspnea: have
lost fine motor control.) Kick up, use my knees, my fists, squirm, but cant shake him loose. Cant
stop trying: insufficient air has pushed me into violence. He swears and his saliva hits my face. He
gets a better grip. Airway: closed.
Urge to breathe is indeed stronger than any other. Can barely think of anything else.
Phone: vibrating in my pocket. John. Responses to my last (terse) text. Dangerous. Hes here.
John. Find me. Save me. Take out your gun and shoot this man, make his hands fall away from
my throat. Cover me in his blood. Kill him and feel no remorse (this one isnt very nice either).
Kill him and play innocent. I will keep your secrets forever.
Phone vibrates again. Then again. John. Where are you?
Too late, too late. Less than two minutes before I will pass out. (Die in a swoon. Like a proper
Victorian heroine. The irony.) Struggle hard: shift his hands. Get a thin gasp of air. (Delaying the
inevitable.) Hurts. Chest filled with burning fluid. Demanding lungs override every other sensation
(even pain). Fingers go numb. Pressure in my chest, want to scream, no air. No air. Silent.
Shoes on the stairs. John. (Here.) Running. No limp at all. (Danger. Me, once again, in need of a
rescue.) Running. In slow motion: I can feel each step, the slapping sound of his shoe against a
raw wooden stair, then another; feels like it will take months for him to get here, to bang open the
door, to stand there on the threshold with his gun pointed forward, to see me here, my lips (surely)
turning blue, my hands weak and grasping, to assess the situation (attacker, me on the brink of
death), to aim and point, to squeeze the trigger. We are close (so close), Wrights face nearly
pressed into mine, but John wont hit me with his precise bullet. (John: too good a shot for that.)
Would forgive him if he did, though: would lie on the floor and bleed out and stare at his face, his
worried face, his apologetic face, grip his hand (with no ring) and let him be the last thing I see.
Resign myself to it. Nothing left to say. Kill me John, let me see your face.
Door bangs open. Vision is dimming; limbs twitch. John shouts something I cant understand,
runs forward. (Shoot him, John. Shoot us both if you have to.) The sound of metal against flesh:
Johns gun making contact with Wrights temple. Suddenly: hands vanish from my throat. Gasp,
gulp air, breathe breathe. Pain lurches through me. Rapid pulsing through my throat. Heart beating
too fast. Rush of blood to my arms, my legs (my numb feet). Pain.
Breathe. (Too fast, too fast.)
Cough. Groan. Fluid pours out of my mouth onto the greasy floor. Gag. Johns left hook into
Wrights face and hes on the floor too. Blood trickles from his mouth. (Breathe. try not to
hyperventilate. Fail.)
Gun placed on the floor in front of me. (Familiar: like an extension of John. Feel a stab of
affection for it/him.) Safety catch off (he was ready to fire, send another wayward criminal
towards a sticky end). Brushed metal. (Bit of blood on the butt; John hits hard when he wants to.)
Wright in the background (out cold).
My head resting against the floor on an angle. Feel weak. At eye level: Johns shoes. Then his
(denim-covered) knees.
Youre an idiot. Concern in his voice; also relief. Look up at him. Anxiety on his face. Fear.
(Doesnt want to lose me. His chaos; being chaotic.) Blink. His hands on my chest: checking for

broken bones. Fingers trace lightly over my hyoid (broken? hopefully not), my cricoid, down
across my jugular notch. Gentle fingers. Soft touch. (Johns hands, versatile: like a voice with a
four octave range.) Thats going to be a hell of a bruise.
Hear sirens outside. Lestrade. Not as fast as John. Hand on my face. Feel his breath; fast.
Adrenaline. Try to swallow (hurts). Cough. Rolls me on my side (recovery position). What were
you thinking? Strokes my hair. Dont try to answer that. Christ, Sherlock. Leans over, picks up
the gun. Switches on the safety catch. Pushes it back under the waistband of his jeans, against his
lower back. Not as if I cant work it out anyway.
Smile. Of course he can. He understands. Compulsion. Curiosity.
(Breathe. Breathe.) Press hands against the floor (fingers feel thick and swollen.) Sit up.
Careful. Johns hands on me, holding me. Knee against my back (support). Hand on the back of
my neck. Hear the door open downstairs; Lestrade and the Met. Feet on the carpet; on the stairs.
Lestrade calls my name.
John leans into me, kisses my temple. (Gentle.) You scared me. Whispers it: as if the Met (on
the stairs, turning on the landing) might hear him. Lean into him; rest my forehead against him.
Knew youd turn up. Comes out as a wheeze. He laughs softly as Lestrade appears at the door,
surveys the scene: bloodied body in the middle of the floor, me weakened and gasping, John
propping me up, his (right) hand hovering protectively over my clavicle.
What the hell have you done now?

He holds her chair, motions for her to sit. She does. (New dress. Purple. Fitted bodice, plunging
neckline. She tugs at the hem. Too short.) Looks back at him (flirty smile, eyes half-shut). Turns
her head to watch him walk to his own chair. He pulls it out from under the (cheap) patio table,
sits. Knee bounces; fidgeting. Hes nervous. Uncomfortable. Adjusts his (incredibly boring) tie.
Thumb fiddles with his wedding ring under the table. He never stops talking. She nods, smiles,
laughs. (False laugh: too deliberate. Shes humouring him.) He runs his hand through his hair
(recently cut). Looks nervous. (Guilty.) Keeps glancing over his shoulder, afraid someone will see
them. (I do.)
So Mary has a new lover. (Not a huge surprise. Bit fast, though.) Who is he?
Walked here from work. (Finance.) New. (Keycard clipped to his belt still shiny, unmarked.)
Probably unsuccessful. (Scuffed shoes, ink on his hands, folders of papers shoved into a bag.
Puffiness under his eyes. Anxious. Performance lacklustre. Not lunch (no time for a lunch break),
but coffee early in the morning. Affair: distraction.)
She reaches across the table. Strokes his hand. He blushes. Bites his lip (briefly: reminds me of
John). Blinks. Mary: brazenly flirting. Utterly confident. (Her shoes: silver. Also new.) She is
happy, completely content. (Why?) A new conquest in front of her, evaporated guilt? Pleased that
John is spending more time with me? Fewer lies to construct? Fewer nights to fill with crap telly?
More time for her (beloved) affairs? Her warped status quo: John has his, she has hers. Doesnt
care anymore whos watching. (Doesnt see me.) Wears her wedding ring with impunity while
sneaking her foot up another mans trouser-leg. (Doesnt matter; equilibrium. She knows where
John was last night.) Doesnt care who sees, doesnt care what they suspect. A man and a woman
with wedding bands; could be married to each other. Every married man in England could be
married to her. (For a night or two, at least.) Her posture suggests victory; desired outcome
achieved. A future of rotating secret lovers and one stalwart man at home, in love with a loveless,
impotent beast (me). Her dream; Johns (willing) descent into hell.
Pull out phone; no texts. Send one.
You bite your lips frequently. Its endearing. SH
The waiter arrives; they order. She laughs more than is justified. Burbling over with delight. So
counter-intuitive; the more of those vows they break the happier she is. There are shadow-vows
beneath the more traditional ones, the obvious ones. Ill keep them and you can keep him.
Contortions. Makes motivations harder to spot.
Have never seen Mary so easy to read; her defences are all down. She isnt even trying to hide her
tells anymore. She looks confident in her affairs and in her marriage because she is. So confident
that she has me worked out (why?). To her I am no threat, I can never provide what she can
(comfort, love, the simplest affection, regular humdrum conversations, what more? Surely theres
more). What has made her so certain? (John? No. He was never so certain himself.)
Phone vibrates. Take two steps back behind the tree. (Ive seen enough.) Text from John.
Affection blooms in my chest (flexing of that strange new organ there: theoretical, hormonal,
chemical, metaphorical).
Is that so? :) This your way of telling me youre thinking of me?
I see you in everything now. Nearly impossible to stop thinking of you. Such romantic thoughts.

An excellent deduction. SH
The place John chooses to meet Mary for lunch is an awkward one. So open, few places to sit and
listen. (Deliberate? Perhaps.) Have to stand at quite a distance to watch at all. John arrives first.
(Ache to touch him.) He looks even more nervous than her new financier. (Still no ring on his
finger.) Hes texting. (Her? Me?)
Phone vibrates. (Me, then.)
Got a case? Or are you shooting the walls again?
Have a case of sorts. SH
See Mary approaching in her purple dress, walking with easy confidence.
Consider: she is not unlike him. She too seeks danger by compulsion. Seeks out others who do the
same (just like he does). He walks around London with a gun pressed against the small of his
back. Offers up his life for the slightest advantage. Runs toward the sounds of battle rather than
away from it. And she asks him (only) to risk his heart (the metaphorical one). A small shift (risk
the emotional, not the physical). A tiny accommodation. Also for the sake of adrenaline. (Addicts,
all of us.) But her risks are not the kind that cure his limp, that make him feel alive. (We have
learned that much.) He has a taste for a different kind of danger altogether (mine). Less subtle,
more masculine, more brutal. More violent. More likely to end in death. (Hers hurts more; hurts
more than a bullet in the shoulder, than a lame leg. Never fatal. Never visible.)
Busy all day then? I shouldnt expect to see you later?
She approaches the patio; John rises. They smile at each other. (John looks sad in spite of it.) She
meets him at his table and they embrace. They kiss (briefly). His hand between her shoulder
blades. (Jealousy is a useless emotion.) She pats his hair, smiles, laughs. They sit. He is deeply
uncomfortable; she doesnt notice. Still riding her high from the morning. Crosses her legs
(doesnt tug on the hem of her too-short dress.) They order.
After the food arrives, Mary sees that John isnt wearing his ring. Remarks on it. See the shift in
her posture when she notices; a tinge of concern. She takes his hand, asks him. (Wheres your
ring? Have you lost it? Cant hear her, but I can imagine; can almost make out the words on her
lips.) He closes his eyes. Opens them again, his face even sadder. He pulls it out of his pocket,
shows her, it sits on the palm of his hand. He explains. (Cant quite make out his words; hes
speaking quietly, minimal lip movement.) His face, his body: shame, sadness, awkwardness, his
desire not to hurt her. (Impossible.) He leans back, mouth closed. Hes said his piece. Waits.
Moves his hands into his lap. Fiddles with the ring. (Nervous.)
Mary is still for a moment. Posture frozen. Her built-in defenses coming back up. Moment of
openness gone. Sinks back into her habitual unreadability. She laughs.
Laughs. (Even I did not anticipate that.) John looks confused (hurt, even). Surprised. Confounded.
She starts to talk. Animatedly. Can only catch bits of what she says, she is talking too fast. Too far
away: difficult to read her lips. Catch only do you really think, and you cant be serious, and
you know how he is. Johns eyes focus on the ring in his hands (curled in his lap) and stay
there. She goes on. An argument she has planned. The argument in her head, the one she believes
(completely). Details and evidence. Doubt. Questions. Complete confidence in her knowledge of
me. Convinced I am not what John hopes I am. (What I also hope.) Her evidence must be
staggering. Compelling. (Easy to imagine what it is. Not as if I havent left a trail of it.) Whats

most convincing? Which part? My history, my behaviour? My occasional lapses of judgement?

She goes on. She talks with her hands. Watch her. Watch him. His face.
Johns face. Pain. Doubt? Fear? He is conflicted, he is uncomfortable. She is forcing him to look
in places hed rather not. Eyes into the sun. (Eyes still trained on his ring. His hands.) Text him.
Taking you out for dinner. Persian. I once proved the owner had only a minor connection to a
terrorist plot. SH
Watch him. Distracted from the onslaught; pulls his phone from his pocket. It sits in his hands,
along with his ring. (Her; me. Held simultaneously.) Reads. Smiles.
Mary sees his smile. Recognises it. Back stiffens. (Doubt?) Battle of body language. She laughs
again, smooths her hair behind her ear. Crosses her arms over her chest. Tilts her head in wordless
disbelief. Cant see her lips. Shes talking. John is tuning her out. (I have intruded.) Still smiling.
If youre amenable, that is. SH
Watch him reply. Smile on his face. Mary stiffens a little more.
Im amenable.
One foot on a bottle crate. Reach up to the top shelf. Layer of dust. One finger along the spine
(dont rip it). Feel its thick pages. Pull (carefully). It resists for a moment, then comes free from its
mates. Slides out along the rough wood. Fingers on the cover. Prodromus der Moosgesellschaften
Zentraleuropas, Alex Von Hbschmann. (1986.) Been looking for it everywhere. Smells musty
(familiar; pleasant).
Phone vibrates. (John?) Pull it out, look. Not John. Mary. (Why?)
We need to talk. Come by the library ASAP plz.
Place the book (gently) on the shelf; ensure it wont fall. Text back.
Why? SH
Wait. Brush dust from my latest acquisition. Admire the inlaid cover with an artistic rendition of a
common bryophyte. No doubt she will respond momentarily. She does.
You know very well why.
Pick up the book. Tuck it under my arm; bring it to the front of the shop. Unkempt student rings it
up. (Has no idea of its actual value.) Look across the street at Marys library.
Terribly inconvenient. Middle of a case. Will drop by when I can. SH
We are constantly interrupted by students. (Help with printing, help with formatting footnotes,
help with a paper jam. One looking for the bathroom.) Mary irritably redirects them. She sits on a
tall stool, as if hovering in the middle of the round enquiries desk. Leans back a bit. Glares at me.
Bit of scrap paper in my hand. Fold it, fold it again. Tear it into pieces.
Now hes even more confused. She shoos away another student. What on earth have you

Say nothing. Whats to say?

Couldnt you just tell him the truth?
I did tell him the truth.
He clearly doesnt understand. Try again.
Has it occurred to you that he does? Drop a small pile of mutilated paper on the desk. She
brushes it into the bin. Fires an icy glare out of the corner of her eye at a passing student.
Are you mad? Turns her icy glare on me. (I remain unmoved.) Of course you are. He took his
ring off, Sherlock. He quite obviously doesnt.
Why are you so certain that you do? Am nearly finished with this conversation.
I have it on good authority, her eyes narrow, that you are most certainly not capable of the
things John thinks you are. Ive seen the diagnosis.
Of course.
(World tilts.)
Mycroft (bastard). His access to medical records. (Even mine? Especially mine. Cant keep his fat
fingers away from anything.) Record of my childhood fearlessness. Difficulty controlling me.
Threats of punishment: failed. Probably had the reports from my various psychiatrists all along,
tucked away in a file. In spite of Mummys anger and dismissal of the diagnosis. In spite of her
destruction of them, her determination that I never be thus classified and labelled. Her refusal to
accept it. Recall her fury at the psychiatrist, at the school; labelling me (at such a tender age) the
way they did.
(Psychopath.) Unethical to call me that. I was only seven.
Told the psychiatrist that I dissected cats. (Was proud of myself.) He presumed I meant living
ones, but I meant ones that were already dead. (Neighbours dog was not a fan of cats. Seized
them by their backs in his big, slobbery mouth and shook them. Perfect specimens, but for all the
broken necks.) Didnt realise it was important to mention that I didnt kill them. (Wouldnt make
that mistake now.)
Mummys repeat performance with a second diagnosis in my teens. (Sociopath: Antisocial
Personality Disorder.) She burned that file in the sitting room fireplace, with an audience of one
(Told the second psychiatrist exactly what he expected to hear; I was fifteen. The truth of the
textbook seemed like the only verifiable truth. Still dissecting creatures that were already dead.
Still fearless. Still interested in dead bodies and criminal intent; necessitated a certain amount of
risk-taking. Still distanced from emotion, from human connection. Told him what he expected to
hear. What I myself believed to be true. Unsurprising result.)
Mycroft. Brought those records to Mary the way he brought her diagnoses to me. (How did I fail
to deduce that before? Or even to consider it? A failure of the imagination.) A dual game; the
things Mycroft does to amuse himself. Would feel betrayed if I could summon up any surprise at
all. (Of course there were copies of those files, even though Mummy swore she had them all

destroyed. Of course they still exist. Of course Mycroft has them. Watching them burn in the grate
felt like watching them dissolve forever. Naive at fifteen. Still naive at thirty-four.)
Then I suppose you must be right. Aiming for detached (perfectly suited to a diagnosed
sociopath). It comes out more angry and hurt than I anticipated. Stab of fear. Will she tell John?
(Has she already done so?) Would he believe it? (Why wouldnt he?)
Just tell him the truth. Slightest hint of pity on her face. She glances at her watch. All of it. I
have to go. Meeting.
Marys meeting is with Mycroft. Of all people. In the librarys caf. Out in the open, where
anyone might see them. (Where I can see them. Walls of glass; on display. Lit from above:
obvious.) So unlike Mycroft. He generally doesnt like to be in public for his little chats (his
manipulations). Prefers to keep them off CCTV, away from prying eyes (mine) and public view.
Notice the cameras are all turned away; an orchestrated moment. (Not that anything Mycroft does
isnt an orchestrated moment.)
Feeding her information? More of the petty details of my life? (Why?) He bolsters her confidence.
Encouraging her to think of me as a non-threatening beast, barely human, easy escape for John to
purge his need for danger. A safe but impotent place for his wayward devotion. The crutch Mary
needs to allow her to remain (happily) married. Me: a fractured man with a broken brain.
Incapable of deeper emotion. (Why would he do that?)
Stand outside, on the pavement, hidden by traffic, by a post box, a bollard. A row of newspaper
boxes. In shadow. Hidden. Across the street. At best he could see my coat, my shoes, not my face.
Hidden in plain sight. See them sitting, coffee cups in hand, Marys thigh so close to the glass I
can see a scar there (old). Not tugging on the hem. Staring at Mycroft. Staring.
So angry: feel a urge to break the glass, shatter it, make it rain down across the tables, across their
skin. Use a shard of it to slice Mycrofts jugular. (Just like the psychopath he believes I am.)
Watch him bleed. A satisfying fantasy. Shaking with rage. Remind myself to breathe. Hands
balled up in fists.
Mycroft: folds his hands together on the tiny chessboard table. His lips moving. Too angry to
concentrate. No idea what hes saying. Calm face. Mary: listens. Listens harder. Eyes open wide.
Says nothing. Buries her face in her hands. Mycroft doesnt move. Shes clearly crying. Hes still
talking. Face doesnt shift at all. (No pity. No remorse. No sympathy. And they say Im the
sociopath in the family.) What is he saying to her? How could he make her confidence and
swagger dissolve so fast? (John?)
Text John: Are you all right? SH
Mycroft doesnt move at all until he does. Turns, looks right at me. (Surely he cant see me. Surely
he cant. I am well-hidden.) His eyes trained on me. Boring holes through the bollard, through the
post boxes, through the traffic. Recognises me by one shoe and the fabric of my coat as seen
between speeding cars. (Better at it than I am. Better at everything.)
A car pulls up in front of me: black. Door opens. Mycroft quirks an eyebrow, lifts his hand; wags
his finger at me. (He knows. How?) His assistant gets out, walks around the row of newspaper
boxes. takes my arm.
Phone vibrates. Text.

Im fine. Why? Whats going on?

Time for you to go home, Sherlock. She sounds tired (annoyed). Hasnt stopped looking at her
phone. Mycroft glances at Mary. Face in her hands. Shaking. Looks back at me. For a moment an
unfamiliar expression on his face: regret. (For what hes done to her, or what hes done to me?)
His assistant pulls me toward the car. Thats enough for now.
Corduroy jacket, tie. Pressed shirt and trousers. Polished shoes. John combed his hair. (Also: he
smells nice.) He doesnt object to the candle on the table. Doesnt object to Mazyar (unendingly
grateful) giving us a private nook at the back of the restaurant. We are (clearly) on a date. Feel
somewhat under-prepared.
Ask him about his day. (Not so difficult. Answer not even uninteresting.) Mentions lunch with
Mary (somehow didnt think he would). Awkward.
I tried to explain. He sighs. I think I failed. Shes got it set in her head that... Trails off. Know
what she has in her head. Dont need to hear him say it. Shes got it set in her head that Im
incapable of feeling genuine emotions, incapable of remorse, or empathy, or guilt. That I am a
manipulative liar. That I am unreliable and cannot be trusted. That I will never be the man that
John imagines me to be. (Wants me to be.) Will only ever be half a man; other half excised by
nature. Hobbled. Broken. For good or for ill. (Can hardly blame her. I believed it too.) A long
Should clarify. In case hes not sure. Im not a sociopath. Pretty certain Im not.
I know that. He answers quickly. Pained look on his face. (Cant imagine what he can read on
She told him. Showed him the files. Ages ago (probably). He must have always known. From the
moment Mycroft gave them to her (when; the moment they first met? After their first date? The
night of their engagement? The morning after their wedding? When, Mycroft?) My oldest secrets,
the things no one was ever supposed to know. Descriptions of me no one should have ever read
again. Buried memories. Old mistakes as well as new ones. Sullen self-assessments. Failures.
Embarrassed; stab of shame, rage (at Mycroft, at Mary. At myself). Feel blood rushing to my face.
He reaches across the table and takes my hand.
I know that. His eyes: serious. Can see the candle flame flickering in them. He knows; doesnt
believe it. Knows better. Knows me. Has spent the better part of two years disproving a diagnosis
made twenty-seven years ago. He leans toward me, narrowly avoiding setting his elbow into the
candle. Hand on my jaw. Kisses me. (Kebab, rice, the slightly sour taste of doogh: John.) Doesnt
even care who sees. Kisses my (right) cheekbone. Runs his fingers through my hair. Leans back a
little and looks at me.
I know that.

His Last Bow

Chapter Notes
See the end of the chapter for notes

Text. Lestrade. Case. A second murder (identical to the first). Brilliant. (Love a serial killer.) Text
him back: tell him Im on my way. (How will the incisions look? Perfect? Perfectly the same as
the first? And the hands, the fingers? Posed just the same, with fishing line?) Shiver of delight.
Jacket; keys; phone. Dropped into pockets. (Wheres John?) Pull open the door, and step
Mrs Hudson. Holding a plate (assorted biscuits). For a moment the plate (faint floral pattern, not
her typical set, glued-over crack down the middle) looks as though it might tip over; Mrs Hudson
catches it, cradles it against her chest. Rights herself.
Standing too close to the door (listening?). Checking to see if my young man is visiting? If I am
indisposed? Otherwise occupied? Odd. Tarts: purchased from the bakery down the street.
Biscuits: homemade. A set of brownies with a glaze on top. Two strawberries. She spent time
arranging it. (Why?)
Goodness! She fusses with the biscuits. Attempts to rearrange them into their original order
through the cellophane. Nervous. Not a regular visit. Has something to say. (Plate: possibly from a
charity shop? Ancient, broken twice: a plate to give away. Not expecting it to be returned. For
gifts. Gifts for bachelors. For me?) So sorry, Sherlock, dear! I didnt know you were in!
Just on my way out. Shes dressed up a bit; her best shoes (black), new skirt (purple). Pressed
shirt (violet). (Why all the effort?) Share my own news. Serial killer. Smile conspiratorially.
She smiles back and blushes, looks down, as though Ive just said something off-colour. Waves
her hand. You and your serial killers. A pause. Is John going with you?
About to text him. I am. The moment the door closes behind me, pavement under my feet, I
will. Think of his face, a warm feeling rises in my stomach, thinking of him. Text him. Tell him
where to meet me. Tell him its a serial killer.
I just wanted to... Mrs Hudson looks at her plate, then back up at me. Im sorry for yelling at
you and John the other day. I shouldnt have, its really none of my business. Ah. An apology.
(Should have guessed that. Apology for losing her temper. Id nearly forgotten.)
Quite all right. Give her the faint smile that suggests that it is. (Its fine. Of course its fine. Its
Mrs Hudson.)
No, no. Its not all right at all. Sighs. Calculate: how much will I miss if I stop and talk to Mrs
Hudson now? Consider. (Nothing.) They wont move the body. Anderson will be afraid to.
Lestrade will insist. Wont be long. A few minutes. Like waiting for a taxi. (Am awfully fond of
Mrs Hudson.) Study the pained look on her face. Needs to express something. To be forgiven. To
set things right. Understood. (Have surely worn that expression myself recently. More than once.)
Turn to the right, open the kitchen door. Motion to her to go through. An invitation. She accepts.
Kitchen is a disaster. She tuts out of habit, puts the plate down on the table. Sits. Sighs again.
Opportunity. Repair Johns reputation. (Make him more receptive to moving back in? It could.
Worth a shot.) How much to tell her? What words to use?

John wanted me to tell you, I find myself pausing. Mrs Hudson looking up expectantly
(hopefully). John wants me to tell her that he isnt the monster she thinks he is. That he didnt
know he was leaving me (heartbroken) for Mary. That he tried to give me what he thought I
wanted. Clear my throat. In the past I had not, (been honest? been brave? known the truth?)
made myself plain to him. We were not... pause. Debate a variety of word choices. Cant
choose. Let Mrs Hudson assume a word of her choice. (We were not lovers? Were not Intimate?)
Pause has gone on too long. We were not. Prior to his marriage.
Well. She huffs. Crosses her arms over her chest. Thats no excuse, he must have known.
Surprise. What?
It was obvious, Sherlock! Obvious! My emotional state, my desires, my deep-seated devotion to
my one-time flatmate. Obvious? Only to Mrs Hudson, apparently. Im sorry, sweetheart, I just
feel protective of you. Sad, plaintive eyes. I know how happy he makes you. It pains me to see
you hurt. Abandoned. Left alone by someone you love so much.
(How did she know? Clearly Mrs Hudson possesses deductive abilities that far surpass those of
the average human.)
Its just not right. She furrows her brow and shakes her head. A heart as big as yours, broken,
its a terrible thing.
Unlike the rest of London, it has apparently never occurred to her that I might be classified (by
some) as a sociopath, incapable of genuine emotion. Apparently Mycroft didnt share my
diagnoses with her over a cup of tea. (One person at least left in London who doesnt know all my
deepest secrets.) Mrs Hudson. A genius.
Now, I know things are complicated, but... She bites her lip. Does he love you? Does he tell
you so?
Awkward. Blink. (Appropriate to answer? Are these matters private?) Yes.
She smiles. Good. Stands, adjusts the cellophane on the plate, protects her tarts. Good. Then
everything will be just fine. If youve got love, Sherlock, everything will be all right.
Kiss her cheek. She squeezes my fingers. Tell him hes forgiven. She pats my face with her
warm hand. Rubs my elbow. Affection. Listen to her kitten heels against the stairs. As long as he
doesnt leave you again. She smiles at me, then ducks back into her flat.
Pull out my phone. Text John.
Mrs Hudson says all is forgiven. She may be a genius. Apparently all we need is love. SH
Down the stairs. Close the door behind me. Hail a taxi. Lestrade is waiting; a serial killer! Havent
seen one of those in ages. Phone: John responds quickly. Must be bored. Rub my thumb over his
name on the screen. John.
Great! Now that song is going to be in my head all day.
Song? Doesnt matter.
Serial killer. Newham. Can you come? SH

Body perfectly posed, identical to the first. Both victims male, between the ages of twenty-three
and twenty-four. Fingers splayed out with artificial (latex) webbing glued between them, and postmortem slits cut along the sides of their throats (like gills). Found immersed in water. Legs bound
together with cling film. Eyelids sliced off. Genitals pushed back into the body cavity via (postmortem) incision (glued, not stitched). Cause of death: unknown.
Lestrade: pensive. Sally: perturbed. Anderson: distracted (eyes on Sallys exposed calves). Knees
free of damning evidence. Sallys moved on. Look up: shes eyeing me (distrustful). Defiant
stance. Daring me to say something. I dont. (No point.)
Well? Lestrade. Rubbing his thumbnail over his bottom lip. In the other hand hes holding a
manila envelope (photos of the previous crime scene). Dont need them.
Compare the skin on the face and hands to the rest of the skin. Stand by the head. Darker; seen
more sun. Rougher; often in the rain. Crouch down. Lidless eyes stare blankly up. Sign of a band
worn around the head for an extended time. Marks of a hard hat. Pull his mouth open slightly; as
expected. Broken teeth (three of them). Prone to violence. Probably fights outside the pub. Stand
again. Adjust jacket. Marks on the ankles and the callouses on the feet. Swollen, pale, slightly
twisted. Spent most of his adult life in boots. Probably steel-toed. Construction worker. Obvious.
Phone. Open web browser. Search. Missing construction workers in the vicinity. News article:
Jack Bailey. Photo. Match. Show Lestrade. Theres your victim.
Feel the striking absence of Johns ritual praise at moments like this. Lestrade studying the screen.
Snatch it back. Text John.
Where are you? Need to determine cause of death. SH
Impatient. Wait for a response. Lestrade confers with Sally. Anderson still staring at her calves.
Observe the body, attempt to construct. No marks indicating a struggle. No wounds. No broken
bones. Nothing. Test the blood (takes too long). What?
Phone vibrates. Text. John.
20 min at most. Just got a taxi.
Disappointed. Twenty minutes? Too long.
No wounds. How would you dispatch a 23 yr old male without visible injury? SH
Perhaps John can help from a distance.
Not a question Ive spent much time considering!
Perhaps not. Must institute a change in casual dinner conversation toward potential murder
techniques. Keeps the brain limber.
Consider it now! SH
A pause. Observe the colour of the skin. Reddish. Ruddy. (What does ruddy imply?) Text. John
considered, has a solution (fast). Burst of pride. (Knew he would.)
Any airway obstruction?
Tilt the head back; check. Clean. (Cleaned.) Evidence.

Airway has been scraped clean. Smells of vomit. SH

Certainly easier to deduce cause of death with John present. Lestrade, Anderson: hovering.
Annoying. Another vibration in the palm of my hand. (Joy.) Text.
Could be that. Choked on his own vomit. Not a murder then? Alcohol poisoning?
Must be a murder. But skin isnt bluish. Reddish. SH
Scan the body for puncture wounds. There must be one. Somewhere. Insides of the arms, hands,
feet, where? Has to be one. Couldnt have just waited for a violent drunk to drink himself to death.
Too disorganised. Too haphazard. Reassuring buzz of another text.
Alcohol poisoning more likely then. Dehydrated. Get a urine sample. Doesnt sound like murder.
Found it. Back of the neck. Injection from behind. Slowed reflexes. Inject lethal dose of alcohol
into an alcoholic. Perfect.
Hurry up! SH
I need a syringe. Dont bother to look up.
No. Lestrade. No samples from here, we can take them at the mortuary.
You hardly need a syringe to prove your hypothesis, Sherlock. Freeze. Mycroft. (Why? What is
he doing here?) Phone vibrates. Text. Glance at the screen.
Traffic, Sherlock! Im on my way!
Can practically feel the tapping of Mycrofts umbrella against the pavement. The relentless beat of
a Wagnerian opera.
Dont want to look at him. Sitting in his ridiculous car. Ridiculous tinted windows. Ridiculous,
silent driver behind bullet-proof glass. No assistant this time. Assassination vehicle. (Is he planning
to assassinate me? Or preparing for my inevitable assassination of him?) Driving somewhere. Too
blind with rage to work out where. (Wheres John?) Pull out my phone. Stare at it. Send a text.
When John arrives at the (beautiful) crime scene, Ill be gone.
Ive been abducted. SH
No. No interest in this conversation. I have nothing to say to him.
He sighs. Like Im seven again, and hes fourteen, hes more clever than me, more mature than
me, knows more than me. Hes annoyed with me and Im being trying. I know that sigh. Im tired
of that sigh. Can practically feel my lateral orbitofrontal cortex buzzing with neural activity.
Anger. Blazing, uncontrollable rage. Welcome vibration on my phone.
Your brother, I presume? Are you ok?
Clutch at my phone; John. The only thing thats keeping me sane. (He should be here; hed take
my hand, draw soothing circles on my palm. Take my chin, look me in the eye. Calming. John.

My fixed point.) Take out his gun and shoot Mycroft between the eyes for me. (I love you, John.)
Punch the keys with my thumbs. Lips are twitching.
I hate him. I may kill him. Be prepared to post bail. SH
You have every right to be angry. Unexpected, but the truth at least. I must admit that...
uncharacteristic pause. Hes hesitating. Saying something difficult. What? I was wrong.
I have never heard him admit to being wrong before.
I have never known him to be wrong before.
Wrong? (The surprise of it looses my lips.) Where to begin. Wrong to keep my personal
medical files for decades after they should have been destroyed? After our mother ordered them
destroyed? Or wrong for sharing them? Finally look up at him. Can barely contain my rage. Feel
my phone creak in my hands, gripping it so tight I may break it. Sharing them with my
She was never your competition. He says it like hes tired of it. Being wrong does nothing for
him; looks like hes gained about a stone since I last saw him. (So. Guilt weighs (roughly) a stone
Did you show those notes to John as well, so he would always fear me, Mycroft? Keep his
distance? Or were you hoping he would walk away from me forever?
Of course not. Shuts his eyes. Take a deep breath. I was trying to help you, Sherlock.
The unlikeliness of it nearly makes me laugh. Help me?
Believe it or not. Yes. I was trying to help you. I was trying to get them to understand. To
understand what you were capable of. To not expect more from you than you could give. I was
trying to ensure, he stops, purses his lips. Distaste. I was trying to ensure that you would keep
someone who loves you in your life, Sherlock. So that you wouldnt break him. Thats what I was
trying to do.
Break him? At what point was John in any danger of being broken? Why?
Another sigh. Because youre my brother, Sherlock. And though you may struggle to fathom
this, I care about you and I want you to get what you want. I want you to be happy.
Happy. Convincing Mary (and trying to convince John) that I am a psychopath: in what context
could that possibly make me happy? Lying about me was going to make me happy?
As I said. Mycrofts voice has gone flat. I was wrong.
Twice. Mycroft admitting it twice in one conversation (twice in one lifetime seems generous. Until
now: unthinkable). Certainly he was wrong; a bizarre and impossible series of actions with
motives that cannot possibly, under any circumstances, map against them. Telling Mary (telling
John) that I am barely human, a monster: Johns uncertainty (his faith, his bravery, his attraction
for impossible risks) clearly not something Mycroft had counted on (or had he?). Growing closer
to me, putting his heart (love has made me giddy with metaphors) in my monstrous hands, with
my (erroneous) diagnoses in the back of his head. Mycroft is fiddling with his umbrella. The car
turns a corner. He sighs again. Doesnt look at me. I was wrong to believe it was true.
Mycroft. Annoyed older brother, disdainful looks, slamming doors in my face, laughing at me.
Dragging me out of dubiously legal clubs, destroying my collection of tinctures and hard-won

substances, pushing me into bedrooms with locks on the outside. Mummy (her love always
unconditional) hadnt believed it (wouldnt, couldnt), but Mycroft is (always was) different.
Guarded looks. Doubts. Assuming the worst. (No wonder.) All this time, naively, thought
brotherly love might have given me the benefit of the doubt. That Mummys word on the matter
was law (except for the gnawing doubt in me, the gnawing fear.) Already hate him, already wish
we werent related; didnt think he could still hurt me.
Didnt even realise I still wanted him to believe anything good or kind about me. To close his eyes
and believe the unbelievable. I suppose I did. (Another betrayal: bigger than the first.) He had the
same doubts I did. (Suppose I cant blame him for that. But I will anyway.) He believed me to be
incapable (I believed the same thing).
What do you do to make a psychopath happy? (Lower the expectations of everyone around him to
avoid him breaking them into tiny pieces and rubbing his hands with glee?)
Im sorry. Look at his face. He does indeed look sorry. Sorrier than anything; a sorry excuse.
For a brother. For family. There has been nothing unconditional in my life since Mummy died.
Barring the unconditional annoyance that is Mycroft. Everyone assumed the worst. (Including
You surprised me, Sherlock. You surprised everyone. And what is the big surprise? To love
and be loved in return? Such a simple thing. Something anyone can do. Mycroft: believes I can
solve the most complicated crimes, but am incapable of sharing a simple emotion? (Suppose I
surprised myself too.)
Mycroft smiles. Its a sizable accomplishment, surprising me. Exceeding my expectations. You
understand that. Im, he pauses. Hesitating, or pausing for effect. Im proud of you. Roll my
eyes. Mycroft pulls a case from under the seat. So I brought you a little something. A gift. A
peace offering. An attempt to mollify me? A balm on our brotherly rift? Whatever it is, no matter
how expensive it is, Im duty-bound as the (wronged) younger brother to destroy it instantly. He
places the case on his lap and opens it. Turns it toward me.
A violin. A little worse for wear; the finish a bit rough in places, some nicks and cuts. Hasnt been
as well-cared for as it should have been. Some water damage. Wait: No. Not just a violin. (My
God.) Italian. Amati. Seventeenth century. (Impossible.) A masterpiece. (I cannot possibly destroy
it.) Nicolo Amati, grand pattern. A grand Amati. Incredibly rare. Amazing. (Priceless.)
I hope youll forgive the heavy-handed metaphor. A weak smile. A beautiful instrument that
hasnt been as well-loved as it should have been. But a beautiful instrument still. He passes the
open case to me (faith).
In my first act as a non-psychopath (in the eyes of my dear brother) I will not destroy this
(stunning) violin. (Will have to find something else to destroy. Perhaps his car.) Run my fingers
across the body. Unbelievable. Trace the (perfect) sound holes. The pegbox. The scroll. Lift it
from its (nondescript) case. Caress the upper treble corner, where a drop of water was left to sit.
Stroke the wound. Wrap my hand around the middle bouts and feel the weight of it. So beautiful.
Mycroft says nothing. Just watches me. I should say something, thank you, but I cant bring any
words into my mouth. Too much else there. (Sadness, disappointment, bitterness, hope.)
Have no idea how much time has passed when I notice the car has stopped moving. Look out the
window. Baker Street. (Home.)
You should know. Mycroft. More wheels turning within wheels? (Of course.) About twenty
minutes ago Mary received word that a job she applied for seven years ago has come open again,

and her application has been accepted. A job at the Bodleian. The Bodleian? Mycroft is sending
Mary to Oxford? Its the job of a lifetime, the job shes always wanted. Of course shell accept
Of course.
I believe in happy endings. He knits his fingers together.
Stand by the window; watch the rain. Play. The feel of it, the music (Mendelssohn) reverberating
through me. The bow (pliable, perfect), the instrument (the most stunning tone Ive ever heard).
Every other violin, every other bow: Platos cave. Shadows of this bow, this violin. Nothing Ive
played has ever sounded so real. So complete. Can hear the voice of the wood (of my fingers,
particularities of each shift, each movement, even vibration of my muscles, my bones). Close my
No idea how much time passes.
Hear the door open (rain pounding outside). Taxi speeding off. Hear it shut again (rattle of glass).
Hear something heavy deposited on the tile. A coat shrugged off, hung by the door. A pause.
(Hes listening. Im playing. Still Mendelssohn.) Feet on the stairs. (Johns feet, of course. Id
know them anywhere. His sure step. No limp. Never again.) Opens the door to the sitting room.
Turned toward the window. Hear the beat of the rain, the wind lashing against the house. Play.
Eyes shut. He doesnt want to disturb me; takes a seat in his armchair. The sound of something
metal placed on the table; next to it, something plastic and flat. (His gun; his computer.) He leans
back. His eyes either open, or shut: cant tell. He sits still. He listens.
The realisation almost interrupts the music (Adagio non troppo). Almost open my eyes in surprise
(but dont). Relish the thought instead. His gun. His computer. The heavy bag downstairs. A
warmth in my stomach that travels up through my chest (through that impossible new organ there)
and through my fingers into the music. No more Clapton. No more Mary. John has moved back
In a few minutes (three at most), the piece will end and I will open my eyes, turn, watch John
sitting there. His eyes (if closed) will open too, will meet mine. Hell tell me the music was
beautiful (it is). He wont notice the new violin (unlikely he can tell one violin from another). Ill
take off the shoulder rest and put it (lovingly) in its (nondescript) case. He will want to tell me
what hes done; wont know that Ive already deduced it. (Or perhaps he will know. Knows me
well enough. But hell want to tell me anyway. Say the words so theres no confusion.) Ive come
back. I wont leave you again. Smile at the thought of hearing it. (Two and a half minutes.) How
will I answer? Smile. Cant think of any words to suit. Maybe I will, in two minutes. If I dont he
will understand.
Next hell stand. Whats most likely? Turn toward the kitchen, ask me if I want a cup of tea.
Thirsty work, moving out of Clapton. (No beer in the fridge.) Hell notice the plate of biscuits and
tarts on the table. Ask about it. Ill explain: gift from Mrs Hudson. The mark of her blessing. Hell
make a joke; happy announcements or gossip. Well both laugh. Hell take one of the tarts, and
offer me one. Ill decline.
Or will he instead ignore the kitchen, ignore his thirst and thoughts of tea, and walk toward me?
Take my hand? No. Embrace me? Kiss me. Kiss my neck. Tell me he loves me. (I will

reciprocate.) He will smile at me. Will he take hold of my fingers (two fingers, lightly, in his palm)
and take me to the bedroom? Or ask me if Im hungry, if Im eating, if Im still on a case?
One way or another. Tea, tarts. Declarations. The immediate future. All will follow, in whichever
order John chooses. But all will follow (eventually). For now I will play, with John listening
(loving both the music and me). Only a minute (or so) left. And then it will begin.

Chapter End Notes

And that is it! On the whole, let me take a moment to thank trinaest, who helped me
through the whole thing, and listened to me blather on while I tried to work out what
was going on behind the scenes, Elvichar (Elise), this story's careful and longsuffering britpicker, for staying up late on too many nights. Gelishan has provided
incalculably useful violin-picking and musical support. Thanks to everyone who has
read and commented, and engaged in crazy back-and-forth commentary with me,
because without that I would be motivation-less and probably idea-less. Finally,
thanks to Google docs, for providing the perfect location for me to write and share.
And you: have you read this far? My love forever!

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