Sherlock Holmes: the Problem
Chapter four
Copyright held by Cynthia K. Coe

I looked up from the crate of books I was unpacking when the front bell rang. I knew Alfred would see to whichever customer had walked in. Unless he was one of the specials who knew to ask for me but I'd been bent over for an hour while I carefully lifted out each treasure from the first of the wooden boxes sent from the Duke of Hereford's estate. My bid had been successful and my partner had done the packing up at Hereford and traveled back with the stock.

Poor David was exhausted when he arrived and I'd sent him off to bed while I unpacked. But it was time for a break and I headed for the front to see who'd come in this cold Saturday. Ah, I'd recognize that beak nose anywhere. I do enjoy talking with this one.

"Mr. Holmes, how nice to see you. What esoteric study are you researching now?" He's always up to some form of study on some subject for one of his cases. "Let's see. The last time it was the Crown Jewels, I believe."

A faint smile crossed his face. "Anatomy, Mr. Harbottle. Dr. Watson gave me the name of some anatomy texts for which I am to search."

"Certainly, let me show you the medical section. We have some of the ancient texts as well as the most modern and up to date texts that the students are studying now at the medical schools."

"It is important that they be well illustrated. Words are all very well and good but they can not rival a line drawing from a life model." He had a slip of paper in his hand and we immediately scanned the shelves for the titles that Dr. Watson had written down. I recognized the good Doctor's handwriting.

We had them both but I also selected one of the modern translations of Galen, which had just been published by the Oxford University Press. It was very well illustrated with a text that even a layman could understand. Destined to become a best seller, if I was any judge. Discriminating readers like to read a subject for themselves. They don't want to have to use a medical dictionary to decipher what they're reading.

He nodded his appreciation and began to speak then changed his mind. I could see he was struggling with something in the stillness of his features and the small tremor in his hand while he pushed back in one of the titles. He may be the famous consulting detective but I'm not bad myself when it comes to the people I serve constantly. He's a very reserved man and some subjects were bound to be harder than others to approach.

So, it must be something personal or a subject on the long list of society's taboos. Hm-m-m. The way he's leafing through the pages of the Oxford text is seemingly random but . . . did he just hesitate over the male reproductive organ? His color is up a trifle and he's acting very nonchalant about these books. Are they for Dr. Watson or for himself? He didn't say exactly. He just said the doctor recommended them.

Satisfied in my own mind that the books were for him, I racked my brain for why he might be embarrassed to ask me for a further subject. He cleared his throat to catch my attention and I quickly abandoned my introspection.

"You may have noticed, Mr. Harbottle, the stories in the newspapers just lately about the rise of kidnapping in the surrounding counties?" He waited for my nod and then continued. "I am interested in an aspect that has so far not gotten much attention in the press. It is believed that some of the young men and women have been kidnapped for the purposes of prostitution." His tones were matter of fact but high on each cheek was a flag of red that signaled his unease with this subject.

"That is an unfortunate side effect of our society, Mr. Holmes." I kept my voice calm and soothing, even though my thoughts flashed instantly to the one case I knew fit his hypothesis. "I know for a fact that sometimes children as young as 12 are gathered in off the streets and into dens of unsurpassed inequity."

"Yes." He eyed me speculatively but continued with his request. "My cousin Auguste Verner, the painter, has written me that some of the children are painted whilst engaged in ... sexual activity. There seems to be a growing market for illustrated pornography in England. He wrote that someone appears to be trying to recreate the Kama Sutra in Victorian dress. Would you happen to have a copy of the original Hindu text?"

Well, who'd have thought it? What a round about way to ask for my collection of pornography. Every bookseller has one, tucked away in the back. Actually, I had quite a good selection at the moment. The Duke had been quite the collector.

"Actually, my collection of erotica has just grown threefold, Mr. Holmes. I actually have several different editions of the Sutra. One has hand painted silk drawings inset between the pages of text. I believe that one is in French. I keep them in the small room by the office. They're a little less likely to walk off that way." My complacent tone of voice had relaxed him a little and he nodded acknowledgment of my little joke. After all, he's the one who tracked down the thief who'd made off with my Shakespeare folio.

He followed me into what I like to call my inner sanctum. It's a small room about eight feet by eight foot just off the office where I do my books and speak with customers privately. Some of them are quite proud and do not wish anyone to know that they have to sell books from their collections. The sanctum had all the really rare first editions and the erotica. I'd put in a nice leather wing back chair and a small table so the buyers had the illusion of intimate privacy while they perused the treasures.

I selected two editions of the Kama Sutra and left him to them, shutting the door behind me when I retreated to the office. Sitting down at my oak rolled top desk, I pondered why the famous detective would be, for the very first time in his life, interested in erotica. I'd known him for over twenty years since he first came to London. We were about the same age and I was working in this very shop for my father when young Holmes had wondered in looking for a treatise on poisonous mushrooms.

Holmes had never married and had always seemed to me to be an entirely cerebral creature. I enjoyed his quicksilver mind and his ability to reason through almost any problem. But emotions were a foreign language to him or so I'd always thought. I smiled at the copy of my last book catalog, which sat on my desk. Someone had awakened the sleeping prince to love. More power to them.

"Josiah! I'm awake at last." Two warm hands slid around my shoulders and soft lips brushed a caress under my ear. I captured the fleet fingers and kissed each palm before straightening up and giving him a warning look.

"We have a customer in the sanctum." I gazed fondly at my partner of the last sixteen years. David would soon see thirty and I found him more beautiful now than when I first found him shivering in the alley behind the shop one cold snowy morning. He was the reason I found child prostitution so repugnant. We'd helped many young men over the years escape the streets and some of them had found the bliss that he and I had discovered in each other.

He made a face and smiled at me. Such an open beaming smile that told me he'd missed me while he was gone and that I would be well and truly loved just as soon as he got me back upstairs to our rooms above the shop. I shiver a little when I think about the love that blazes between us and has since the very beginning, or almost the very beginning. He was thirteen, when I found him and sixteen, when he seduced me.

My face must have given my thoughts away. I suffered during those years, thinking myself a monster for even entertaining such thoughts about the young man who had endured such abuse before escaping the house of prostitution where he'd been kept since he was twelve. David just smiled and leaned over to kiss me gently before perching on my desk.

"You know, I never regretted that year of servitude because it taught me what I really wanted, love and respect. Which you always gave me, right from the start. Besides teaching me that little trick with my tongue that always ..."

I stopped him before he aroused me further. "Imp of Satan, not in the shop. This day will be long enough without me thinking about your wicked tongue. Get you back to the workroom and finish unpacking those lovely books. When I'm finished here, I'll join you."

He stuck his tongue out at me but hopped off the desk and obeyed my request. Thank goodness today was early closing day. At one o'clock, I could lock the front door and take him to bed. If he were very lucky, I'd let him up by Sunday tea time. If I were very lucky, he wouldn't kill me with that talented tongue of his. Ah, but what a way to die. Killed by love.

A noise from the sanctum reminded me of Holmes. Oh dear, I hoped that door was firmly latched. He appeared in the doorway, holding the French edition of the Sutra. His eyes were slightly dazed but he carried it off quite well. "Mr. Harbottle, I believe that I will take this one and the texts you picked out for now. If further research is called for, I may return. After you catalog the Duke of Hereford's collection, I feel certain that you will have new items for this room."

I nodded and returned his half smile. Of course, our successful bid had been in the Times and I'd told him that the collection had just grown. So he'd put two and two together and come up with four. The pious new Duke was as different from his father, the old reprobate, as night is from day. It stood to reason that the old man would have collected erotica during his wild youth and far travels. And that his son would sell them as soon as he could.

"I shall let you know when they are all unpacked. He had quite a wonderful collection of treatises on the flowering shrubs of several continents, as well as a collection of erotica from all over the world. There may be a Sutra or two that you could use for comparison to this new French compilation. Certain editions are quite rare and the owners are known in book collecting circles. Perhaps I could be of some assistance in your investigation?" While I spoke, I was making up the packet of his selected volumes into a nice brown paper bundle, neatly tied with twine.

He paid me with crisp new pound notes, never balking at the price. He'd always been quite parsimonious until six months before and I wondered if he'd come into an inheritance or solved a case for a grateful millionaire. Whatever the reason, he'd helped my balance sheet several months running and I was grateful.

"Dr. Watson is always looking for medical treatises from the middle ages. He will enjoy the edition of Galen. If you come across any others, perhaps you would keep him in mind?" He asked while I showed him back to the front room. I agreed and we shook hands before he left.

Alfred was taking care of the other customer and I retreated to the sanctum to tidy up. The other Kama Sutra had been neatly put back on the shelf from where I'd retrieved it. But my eye was caught by a book that was pushed in further than it had been. Pulling it from the shelf, my eyes widened. Why would Holmes have looked at The Ring? Curiosity at the title or ...? I caught my breath while my brain put several pieces of the puzzle together.

Dr. Watson. It had to be that Holmes had finally awoken to the fact that his long time companion loved him. I caressed the spine of the text that many considered the manual for homosexual love. The color in his cheeks could have been chagrin at finding a subject of which the good doctor undoubtedly had a much wider knowledge, or perhaps embarrassment at his own lack of experience.

"Mr. Harbottle, Dr. Watson's here to see you." Alfred's quiet tones aroused me from my thoughts only to find their subject looking at me quizzically from my office. Serendipity, indeed.

"Come in, John. Pray forgive my inattention. I'm just tidying up after my last customer." I debated whether or not to say something but it is an awkward subject to bring up out of the blue.

The doctor closed the door behind him and sighed. "Holmes was here already, Josiah?"

Ah, interesting. "Yes. He just left a few moments ago with the texts you'd written down."

"And one of your Sutras, I have no doubt." His eyes told me everything I needed to know. They shone happily but a small anxiety lurked within their clear blue depths.

"Yes. The French one has much the better illustrations. He also looked at this." And I handed The Ring to him.

"Dear heavens." He sighed heavily and opened it to flick through the heavy vellum pages with their graphic drawings of male to male love. His eyes came up to mine and I smiled.

"I am very happy for both of you." I kept it simple and watched the blush creep up his cheeks.

He smiled sheepishly and looked back down at the drawings. He knew about David and I from the beginning. He was just starting out when I found David and he healed him with a gentleness that forever bound me to him. Most doctors would have sneered at treating a male prostitute. Contempt was rampant among the medical profession for the men and women of the street except for the rare few like Dr. Watson who treated everyone with the same respect and dignity.

When we started making love, I asked for his advice with much stammering and stuttering but he treated my questions with quiet dignity and gave me one of the same texts that Holmes had just bought. I had always wondered what his own orientation was but after his marriage, I just put his knowledge down to medical thoroughness on his part. Now, it seemed that he'd always walked both sides of the sexual line.

"He has many questions. I expect this book came as quite a shock to him." He sighed and handed it back.

I refused it with out-turned palms. "I think that you should take that one home. When he's ready, it will answer most of his questions. The ones it doesn't, you can. Consider it a gift from one who knows what it's like to have queries. Without your aid, all those years ago, I might never have found the one I love more than life itself. You have my permission to speak of us, if you think it would help. Sometimes knowing that you are not alone can be most reassuring."

He looked deep into my eyes and slowly nodded, his hands absently caressing the soft leather cover of the manuscript. "Yes, finding the other half of your soul can be rather shattering. But the joy ..."

We smiled together and all my questions were answered at that moment. The love was mutual and all consuming on both their parts. I wished them all the joy in the world. At least as much as the wonder and contentment that David and I had found. While I wrapped up his gift, I checked the time. Almost one.

I bowed the good doctor out and sent Alfred off with his pay for the week. Locking the door behind me, I pulled down the shades and turned off the gaslights on the main floor. Parting the curtains that led into the workroom, I feasted my eyes on David where he stood, half in and half out of the high-sided wooden crate. Crossing the floor quickly, I held his hips still and pulled him tightly to my groin.

"Oof, Josiah! It must be lunch time and I think I can guess what you'd like to ... eat." His laughing tones drifted up from the bowels of the crate and I slid my arms down over his chest and helped him stand upright.

"Something delicious and nourishing to start with," I mused, while my hands smoothed over the thin linen of his shirt, finding and tweaking his nipples.

"Oh, my. Yes." He twisted in my arms and leaned up to kiss me. We were both panting by the time he pulled away and began leading me upstairs to our private rooms. "Then, I'd like something ...meaty to fill up this empty spot I have inside."

My pulse skipped a beat and I spanked him lightly, one for every step up to our room. He yelped and wriggled his hips at me while casting a sultry look behind him. I sighed happily and spent one last thought for the unlikely lovers who'd visited my shop today.

May they have many years to enjoy each other's love. And may they be as happy as we were right now. Then I cast all other thoughts aside and picked up my laughing love to carry him in for an afternoon of lovemaking.

I sent off my package with one of the Irregulars before setting off on a tour of London. I walked for miles while some of the pictures I'd seen haunted my thoughts. For some blocks, I was able to concentrate on the people around me, then something would remind me of a particular pose and my mind would freeze again and the next few blocks would be a blur. It's a wonder I wasn't assaulted in some of the less savory sections of London that I wandered through while I strove for some composure. Heaven knows I'd have been easy prey. One of the Irregulars could have surprised me at that point.

I had the lowering feeling that I'd surprised Josiah Harbottle with my request and that he'd soon realized what I was really researching. It was a very unsettling feeling to wonder if another knew our secret. Of course, I think Mycroft knew. We'd said nothing to each other but he knew me better than anyone, save Watson, and accepting my inheritance would have triggered his mind into searching for the reason.

His mind is just as trained as mine and in some instances, he is the better thinker. But thankfully, he trained his on England and Her interests while I was content to deal with the individuals that populated her shores. Oh yes, I was sure he knew and accepted, treating Watson no differently than he ever did. I thanked the Universe everyday for my wise brother and his 'live and let live' philosophy. In his own way, I do believe he is fond of his little brother.

I'd been walking for almost five hours and could feel the ache deep in my legs. Hailing a hansom cab, I gave him the Baker Street address and settled back to think some more. There had been something in Harbottle's voice when he spoke of young prostitutes that spoke of passionate conviction. I wondered why while I thought about the man whom I considered a friendly acquaintance. He'd been one of the first in London to offer me good conversation and his knowledge of books had extended my own knowledge a hundred fold.

With a start, I realized that I considered him a friend, someone with whom I could share a confidence. Perhaps, I could even talk to him of the last book I'd pulled off of the shelf, The Ring. An intriguing title, which I'd, looked at with curiosity and then with ... I couldn't think of a word to describe my state of mind when I'd come across the first picture. 'Fellatio' was the caption and I recognized the position quite easily. It was one that both John and I had practiced.

The cab stopped and I roused myself with a start, paying the cabby and walking stiffly up the steps to my door. Mrs. Hudson was lying in wait for me and she took my outer garments with much clucking and admonitions.

"Change your shoes, Mr. Holmes. There'll be tea in half an hour. And put on dry socks too or you'll catch your death of pneumonia." Her advice followed me up the stairs and I found myself smiling at her well-meant mutterings. Between she and Watson, I am well and truly wrapped in care.

The door opened before I could even reach for the handle and Watson was pulling me in and shutting the door behind me. His arms hugged me tightly and his mouth warmed my frozen lips with his passion. I warmed my cold hands beneath his velvet smoking jacket, stroking them up and down the muscles in his back while enjoying his spicy kiss. Such homecomings reminded me of just how very lucky I was.

"Holmes, I was worried. When your package arrived but you didn't, I was afraid something had happened to you. Sit down by the fire so I can change your shoes. Your feet must be freezing." He tugged me towards the fire and the basin of water I could see sitting on the hearth.

"I'm sorry, Watson. I didn't mean to worry you but I felt the need to walk. You know how it helps me to think." I allowed him to seat me and watched indulgently while he clucked rather like Mrs. Hudson.

He removed my shoes and socks and briskly rubbed them with a towel before bringing the basin closer so I could soak my feet in the hot water. I hissed a bit as the circulation returned with a vengeance to my admittedly cold extremities. He stood and unbuttoned my jacket and vest, rather like Nanny used to do but I knew better than to remark upon it for fear of hearing the lecture that he was always ready to give, the one about taking care of myself and paying attention to the elements.

But this time, when he draped my dressing gown around me, he held me close and pressed a kiss onto the top of my head. "I love you, Sherlock. It was lonely without you. Now that you've returned, I do not believe I shall let you out again until next week. Not even for the Queen do you leave these rooms."

"Very well, John. Are you sure you won't be bored?" I daringly teased him while he crossed the room to pour us both a drink. He laughed and siphoned out the whiskey into two glasses.

"Surely not. I think we both have plenty of reading material." He handed me my glass with a very enigmatic look on his face and I remembered the package from Harbottle's. "Both of our packages arrived."

Both? I saw two brown paper packages with identical knots on the side table. The fat one was mine but the slender one must be ... Watson's?

"I see we both decided to patronize Harbottle's this afternoon." I looked a question at my lover who had settled into his own chair on the other side of the fire.

"Yes. He made me a present of a book that will help answer some of your questions. I consider Josiah to be a friend and of course, I've treated young David since he was thirteen." Watson spoke calmly while my mind raced through the implications of his statement.

"That is one of the things I had to think about this afternoon, Watson. I came to the realization that I, too, consider him a friend. He was one of the first people I met when I came to London. He has a well-stocked mind for books and the knowledge that can be found in them. I ... was introduced to some of the more esoteric books in his rare book room."

"Yes, I know. Oh, he didn't say anything until I did, just mentioned that you had come in and bought the anatomy texts. He is very discreet when it comes to his customers. He probably knows as many secrets about his clients as I do about my patients." Watson hastened to reassure me. "I asked him outright if you'd taken home one of the Sutras and he acknowledged your purchase. Then he gave me a copy of The Ring for when you have further questions."

I was quite speechless at his matter of fact statement. I took a large gulp of my whiskey and concentrated on the burn of the alcohol all the way down to my stomach ... my empty stomach, where it exploded like a fireball. The room immediately went a little fuzzy and I held onto my glass with difficulty.

"Heavens, Holmes, did you eat today at all?" His concerned voice came from near at hand and he removed the glass and felt my pulse with his free hand. "If I have to feed you myself, you are eating high tea which I can hear coming now. Stay there, dear heart, and I'll see to everything."

He kissed me quickly and threw the afghan from the settee over my lap before opening the door for Kathleen and the heavily laden tea tray. He pulled the table between us and she set down the tray. Watson handed her my shoes in trade and she curtsied before leaving us to our tea. A good girl, who'd come to London from the village where Mrs. Hudson had grown up and where her relatives still lived. We'd had a series of such girls who Mrs. Hudson trained for service before they left for another position or a home of their own.

John dragged a footstool over to my side and proceeded to hand feed me some of the scones and triangle sandwiches that Mrs. Hudson makes so well. I discovered my hunger at the third roast beef sandwich and between the two of us, we finished everything on the tray. The China tea was just right after a cold day and after Watson set the tea tray outside the door and locked up, he came back to me and dried each foot gently setting them in his lap after he was done.

Using his healing lotion, he gave each foot a soothing massage that soon had me relaxed completely. Each toe was lovingly rubbed into a rosy hue that satisfied even Watson's exacting standards. He moved the settee closer to the fire and held out his hand for me to join him upon it. I settled between his legs with my back against his chest and pulled the afghan over both of us. His hands crossed over my chest and held me close in contented silence.

The crackling of the fire was the only sound in the quiet room and I could feel the peace surround us. Sighing contentedly, I turned my head a little so I could see his face from my comfortable pillow on his shoulder. He looked a little pensive and I wondered what he was thinking while he watched the flames on the hearth.

He noticed my gaze and feathered a kiss to my temple. "Josiah gave me permission to tell you the story of his and David's lives. You have known Josiah longer than I have but it was a cold snowy night when I met David for the first time. Josiah had sent Alfred for me and since my practice was almost nonexistent at that point, I had nothing to stop me from going with him. I was afraid his father's heart was acting up so I followed quickly. But what I found was someone completely different."

He sighed and held me tighter. "Alfred led me upstairs to the rooms where Josiah and his father lived above the shop. I found Josiah in the back bedroom where he'd placed the unconscious body of a young boy." He must have felt me start and he answered my unasked question. "Yes, it was David. He'd been regularly beaten over the space of a few months, the scars on his body were sickening and some of them were fresh. He'd been pierced and also burned and his left wrist had just been broken. His skin was blue and he had gone beyond cold to hypothermic."

"I worked on him for several hours and twice I thought I'd lost him. His pulse was almost nonexistent and not even heated bricks and warmed blankets seemed to bring his temperature up. I almost despaired but Josiah never faltered in his belief that I would save him. Finally, I had him fill the bathtub with hot water and we submerged him in it. He finally started shivering and after that I was able to bring him back, but not to consciousness. It was almost three days before he came back to himself."

I turned completely in his arms and wrapped him in my embrace while we shifted to our sides on the settee. "It was sixteen years ago but sometimes it seems like yesterday. The cold was succeeded by a fever that ravaged his frail body. He spoke in his delirium, pleading for mercy from men who hurt him over and over. Some of the acts he tried to stop were so vile I can not repeat them. He was so small and young to have experienced such sexual abuse. His innocence had been lost in a bawdy house in the dregs of Limehouse after his abduction from a country village in Sussex when he was twelve. I do not know how he survived his torture. It seems to have been worse because he has such an angelic appearance."

I nodded against his shoulder and kissed his throat in mute appeal for him to continue, remembering the slender blonde man with the almost white blond hair above pure blue eyes and a face that Michelangelo would have immediately carved into stone. "What happened when he awoke?"

Watson sighed and rested his cheek on my hair. "He was mute while awake. He only spoke in the midst of his nightmares. It was a fortnight before he volunteered his first name to us. He hated to be touched but bore my examinations with fortitude when I had to change his bandages. But he would go rigid with terror when I had to insert the soothing cream into his anal canal. He'd bled quite heavily the first few nights and I'd had to suture two anal fissures. Who ever had raped him must have been very large and very brutal." Watson sighed again.

"Josiah was the only one who could hold him at those moments and he would rock him in his arms and croon lullabies to him while I gently bathed the area with witch hazel and inserted my little finger with the cream over the healing sutures. He never made a sound, just cried silently while Josiah held him. I was afraid that he would hate me for the pain I put him through but by the time a month had gone by, he would smile at me when I visited. He followed Josiah around the shop like a small ghost, disappearing when ever there were customers and returning when they'd left."

He finally smiled at some memory. "Josiah taught him his letters and numbers and set him to helping him with the book-keeping. He learned to tend to the books and became a great favorite with the lady customers with his shy manners and beautiful good looks. The Harbottles put out that he was a cousin, left alone when an accident killed his parents. Within two years he was translating simple Latin and he'd traveled to France with Josiah on a buying trip and come back determined to learn French. He was beginning to grow again with plenty to eat and a regular diet of nourishing food. He's like you that way, able to eat anything and never gain an ounce. By the time he was sixteen, he'd reached his final height of five foot eight inches."

His voice died away and the smile on his lips teased me with the rest of the story. "John, how did he and Josiah come together?"

His bright blue gaze glanced down at me with a mischievous look. "David is a very determined young man. From the moment that Josiah plucked him from the alley where he was slowly freezing to death, he felt as if he belonged to him. His devotion was complete and single minded. He soaked up learning like a sponge because he knew that Josiah valued knowledge. He tried to make himself indispensable to the running of the shop so he wouldn't be sent away. He told me once that that was his greatest fear. That he'd be sent away."

"The Harbottles would never have turned away someone in need." I spoke with complete conviction, remembering several instances when I'd found Josiah nursing a kitten that had been thrown out with the trash. All strays found good homes if they were lucky enough to meet the bookseller.

"Quite right. But you must remember that this fear was rooted in his earlier abandonment by his parents or so he thought when he was taken and told that they had sold him as one would sell a horse." Watson's voice rang out passionately in the stillness of the room. "He never would go back to his village or see his parents even after the elder Mr. Harbottle traced them. I think he was terrified that he would be made to stay with them and even then his heart was bound to Josiah's. I know that Josiah's father worried about their friendship and what he thought was an unhealthy attachment between them but he was of the old school and once he retired to Brighton, I know the atmosphere lightened considerably at the shop."

"But how did they come together?" I felt as if I was four again and Nanny was stringing out a tale to make it more suspenseful. He laughed down into my ... I'm afraid to say, pouting face and kissed me lingeringly before continuing.

"When David turned sixteen, old Mr. Harbottle retired and left Josiah in charge of the business. With his heart, I feared it would not be long before he passed on but with the sea air and no responsibilities, he lingered on for another three years. Anyway, all seemed to be fine in the shop and the two of them dealt well with the business with faithful Alfred taking care of the shop while they traveled to sales and estate auctions, buying up new stock. I would drop in whenever I could and it was on just such a friendly visit that David took me aside and asked if he could talk to me privately. Of course, I said yes and he suggested my office on the following afternoon. I agreed and he came about two o'clock."

"He plunged straight into why he had come before I had any chance to ask him a question. He wanted to know if I thought two men loving each other was wrong and did it have to hurt as the men at the bawdy house had hurt him. Well, I was somewhat at a loss for what to say and I asked why he needed to know. Blushing furiously, he said that he loved Josiah and he thought that Josiah loved him but was afraid of hurting him after the abuse he'd taken when younger. Of course, I'd known for some time that Josiah did indeed love him with all his heart. And he did fear hurting him but he'd had one brief affair earlier as had I so he at least knew the mechanics of the act."

I was feeling jealous again of the now dead lover who'd held John's heart so long ago. I hid my face against his throat and murmured, knowing he would hear me. "So what did you do?"

"I played matchmaker. I assured David that it did not have to hurt and I explained that with love any physical act could be pleasurable. Then I answered all his other questions and asked him to wait until I had a chance to talk with Josiah. I quickly sent him a note and met him for dinner at Richelli's. I asked his intentions towards David and listened for an hour to his hopes and dreams. He wanted a future with the young man when he'd reached his majority and had a chance to travel, see the world and meet people beyond the small circle of friends in London. And on and on until I was ready to sink beneath the table at his fervor."

I chuckled while thinking that I understood Josiah's point. The young man deserved a chance at meeting others before he settled down for the rest of his life. But I suspected that young David had had different ideas. "And then?"

"Well, I had to protect both of their confidences even though I knew they wanted each other. I was at my wit's end about a week later when I got a note from Josiah asking me to dinner at the rooms above the shop. I had a notion that David had taken the initiative and it turned out I was right. David met me with a hug at the door and we had a wonderful dinner while they took turns telling me of David's seduction of Josiah. Thirteen years later and their love is stronger than ever."

I sighed and thought about my own impressions of the pair. Josiah was a familiar fixture in the shop and I depended on his expertise. David was more elusive but now when I thought about the times I'd seen them together, I recognized the way they fit together. I had taken it for a familial resemblance but now realized it was their love that I'd seen but not understood.

"Do we give off that same air of being part of each other?" I asked hesitantly.

"We have been together as long but as friends and that is what others see. It has only been six months since you surprised me with a kiss." Watson ran his lips over my forehead and I tilted up to claim a proper kiss, which he promptly gave.

I could feel myself melting under his suddenly ravenous mouth. My entire body heated down to my bare toes and I moved as close as I could to him. One hand massaged my neck while the other drifted down to my lower back. Our clothes were in the way and I pulled away panting to see his glowing gaze strip me with a look. I blushed and sat up, holding out a hand to bring him up with me.

We headed for my bedroom, with our arms around each other, neither of us willing to let go of the other. I had the presence of mind to check the fire but the screen was up and it had died down during our conversation so I promptly forgot it and followed Watson into my room.

Stripping off our clothes while our eyes remained locked on each other; we reached the bed at the same time and slid beneath the covers to meet in the middle of the bed. Oh, the feel of his skin against mine was such luxury still. We heated to a too fast climax, our hands holding each other's shaft and providing that perfect grip which sped us to an almost simultaneous release.

He chuckled under his breath while bringing his fingers and mine to his lips to lick away our combined seed with an erotic gesture that held me spell bound. "You are truly ambrosia of the gods, my love. Beer or no beer, you grow sweeter every day. And that was disgracefully quick off the mark for two mature men."

I blushed and shook my head. "Each day that you love me seems to remove a day from my age. You are my fountain of youth and eternal spring in one."

He kissed me, sharing our taste with my eager mouth. I pulled him on top of me and cradled him with my body. "I love you more each day although it seems impossible that I could. Do you think that in another thirteen years we shall still be so much in love as they are?"

"Yes." He answered simply and raised his head to look into my eyes. "There are soulmates, Sherlock and beyond all barriers of age or class or sex they will find each other as we found ourselves. And as Josiah and David discovered even though David had to live through horror unimaginable to sane men."

I nodded and cuddled him closer, remembering my unhappy childhood and how it had led me to London and my profession and finally to him. Perhaps this theory of souls meeting and melding had merit. I only knew that I would not let him go nor would I spurn his love. And whatever he wished to do with my body, I would allow and if possible enjoy. For I trusted him. As simple and as complex as that was for me, still I knew that he loved me and everything would work out for the best.

Because we loved. Tomorrow I would sit down with him and The Ring and together we would explore the possibilities. I have always done best with a blueprint and hands-on research. My hands slipped lower onto his back and he sighed against my throat. Drawing the blankets up higher over us, I smiled at the thought of what we might discover.

End chapter four