Fic: 'Every Possible Combination of Events', Sherlock Holmes Canon, H/W, NC-17

Nov 29, 2010 08:07

Title: “Every Possible Combination of Events” (The Blue Carbuncle)
Author: tweedisgood
Disclaimer: *Checking*. Nope, still not mine.
Setting: Book Canon
Summary: Coincidence is NOT an overused device in fiction. Or in real life.
Word count: ~ 6,850
Pairing: Holmes/Watson
Rating: NC-17 (eventually). Contains Porn, also Plot. Be warned, but if you don’t like one or other of those, there is no hope for you.
Notes: Beta credits: mad_with_july who even put up with my attempts at smut.



My friend Sherlock Holmes once claimed, in one of his thankfully infrequent but characteristically trenchant fits of literary criticism, that chance is a much over-used device in fiction.

“A plot which relies entirely on the deus ex machina or a conversation overheard in a train corridor, must be wanting in verisimilitude. It seems to me an underhand trick to play on a reader, who might expect events to flow from established character, from the predictable play of human emotions and deliberate action.”

I thought this stuff and nonsense at the time, and said so. I pointed out that real life, indeed some of his own cases, furnished ample evidence that events and outcomes often did turn on the purest coincidence, so why should not fiction do the same? I could not of course have known that, shortly afterwards, just such a fluke as in the affair of the Sussex Vampire - a glance in the right direction at exactly the right moment - would lead both to a revelation about Holmes and to an extraordinary development in our partnership. Even if it turned out that character, emotion and deliberate action also played their part.

It was during that liminal period between the agreement for the sale of my Kensington practice - in which, readers of my work may recall, Holmes played a clandestine part -and my return to live full-time at Baker Street. My consulting room was on the ground floor of the building next to my house and my neighbour had embarked on the novel, noisy, and messy venture of laying on piped and heated water to the two upper floors, installing a bathroom with geyser and fitting a header tank in the roof space. All my pleas that he confine the active works to certain hours of the day fell on deaf ears. Then, to cap it all, a fractured pipe caused a sudden cascade of water to penetrate the floorboards of the room above my surgery, seeping through to the plaster beneath and bringing down a corner of the ceiling, chunks of malodorous material dropping onto the carpet. The whole room needed to be vacated and the area of ceiling and cornice allowed to dry out before repairs could begin, lest it start to blacken with mildew.

Altogether, I calculated that my place of business would be unavailable to me for nearly three weeks. I contrived to see a few patients at odd hours in the rooms of fellow doctors and friends, but the only other space to which I might reasonably lay claim was the sitting room at 221b Baker Street, and just then Holmes, who had taken on the pursuit of a series of possibly linked attacks of arson brought to him by Scotland Yard, was seeing hardly any private clients at home.

Coincidence again, you see, Holmes.

I had some regular patients whom I advised and treated, as far as I could, for chronic ailments. One such was a Mr. Edward Milton (I do not, for reasons which will become clear, give his real name), a surveyor by profession. He cut a striking figure. Most of his spare income - which, he being both successful and a bachelor, was considerable - appeared to be spent on his attire. I imagine too, that he kept the manufacturers of pomade comfortably in wine and cigars, given the prodigious effort required to tame his mane of thick, curly auburn hair to the extent that it would fit neatly under a silk hat.

Milton was an asthmatic, and submitted to my prescriptions for steam baths and friar’s balsam with good grace and little hope of permanent improvement. A move to the country would have done more for him than any physic, but he would protest that, exiled from London, he would turn into a pumpkin or a russet apple, “and be gobbled up by a starving yokel, and that would be the end of me!” He was altogether a delightful fellow and, I was flattered to note, a keen reader of all my tales about Holmes.

In the second week of my temporary relocation, he sent word to me that he desired an urgent appointment outside of our usual schedule. He particularly desired that I could guarantee he could come at a time when no-one else would be waiting on, or finishing, an appointment. Further, it must be when Holmes was certain to be away from home and there was no chance of them even meeting in the hall: a request I readily agreed to, and did not especially reflect upon. I would have expected to hear Milton’s labouring breaths as he came up haltingly up the stairs, but instead I was surprised by a soft knock at the sitting room door; absorbed with writing up the previous case, I had not noticed his approach.

He was very far that day from the smiling, easy soul of my acquaintance. As he sat at the end of the settee opposite my desk, he looked around the room intently, like Holmes on the scent of a clue, but couldn’t meet my eyes and stuttered his way through an apology for troubling me.

“Doctor, your word that this goes no further than this room?” he continued.

“Of course. The consulting room is as sealed as the confessional, you know that.”

He said nothing more for some moments, until I reassured him again that, as a doctor, I could hear anything and would tell nothing. “The truth is, Watson, I fear I may have...caught something.”

The way he inflected the phrase alerted me at once to the source of his anxiety. What is euphemistically termed ‘social disease’ is much more common than many believe; sufferers had passed through my surgery regularly for years, each one convinced he (or she) bore a burden of justified shame alone. However, even as I reassured Milton that I made no judgement on his conduct and would do whatever I could, inside I trembled. I had little effective in my armoury to fight such infections, and some could be deadly.

In the event, he only had a slight dose of the clap, as we would say in the army. I put my faith, such as it was, in nitrate of silver and a firm admonishment to make enquiries (I had made it my business to know where to ask) so as to be protected in the future, and to confine himself to the more refined houses, where the girls were more likely to be clean.

“You do not urge me to marry rather than burn, then?” he asked with an odd, sly glance that seemed to be appraising me, to see if some hidden, unwelcome moralist lurked in my soul.

“I understand that you may fear to marry, lest your weak chest be passed on to any children,” I reassured him. “And no-one ought to feel obliged to marry merely to avoid what society calls temptation. Yet,” I continued carefully, “heartfelt love must surely be better than a cold exchange for money.”

I would have thought him better-placed than many to find it, too. But he snorted, once more with a trace of Holmes’ manner on the same subject. “Heartfelt love is rarer than diamonds, doctor. Not all of us have been as fortunate as you.”

I thought of Mary, as I assumed he had. Then I thought of Holmes, as I did not believe he (nor indeed Holmes) could imagine. In truth, I did not see the equivalence, not then. I had set the two most important people of my adult life on different pedestals and did not trouble myself to examine the precise nature of my reverence for each. The capacity of the human mind to hide vital but discomforting facts from itself is surely enough to keep every alienist in London occupied his whole career.

After administering the first treatment, I saw him out, and it was only by chance that instead of sitting straight down to make my notes, I went over to the window and looked out. It was only by a combination of chances that as Milton began to walk up the street, Sherlock Holmes was approaching the front door from the other direction, a good twenty minutes earlier than expected. Truly, I could not have invented it.

To this day, I am willing to swear I saw Holmes actually jump back and turn a shade paler when his eyes met Milton’s. Holmes stoutly maintains that I exaggerate both his reaction and the keenness of my eyesight. For a few seconds they stared; Milton offered a fumbling handshake. Holmes’ gaze flickered down to the outstretched hand and back to Milton’s face. Then he said a few words, stepped aside gracefully and continued on without looking back. Milton, whose expression I concede I was not able to see properly from where I stood, half-turned on his heel and watched him go.

I could scarcely question my friend directly, without giving away the fact that Milton had consulted me professionally. Some instinct made me loath to offer that piercing mind even such a small clue, especially as he knew the man already. In any case, Holmes stalked upstairs and disappeared into his bedroom straight from the hall, not to emerge until lunch. It was not unusual for him to pick at his food, distracted by some puzzle; but to ignore all my enquiries about the case and miss a chance to show off his deductive powers was unlike him. Eventually he gave up all pretence of eating or conversation and went out again, with no word as to his destination or purpose.

There being no sign of Holmes by seven o’clock, I was about to return to my own house to eat, or find a chop house, when he strode in, seeming entirely himself again. He had, he said triumphantly over supper, definite proof that all six fires - two more had erupted since he took on the case - had been set by the same hands.

“In each case, minute traces of exactly the same mud at the point of origin of the conflagration. Mud baked to clay in the fire, but mud nonetheless, from the soles of at least three pairs of boots. But for the dry weather lately there would have been more, and I should have spotted it sooner.”

The difficulty remained, he went on, that the boots in question were as common as, well, mud, and no clue as to the actual identity of their wearers had emerged. He had tried to trace a common thread of ownership, trade or personnel for the six businesses, but none was apparent.

“For the most obvious motive is fraud, of course, but the owners lost as much as their insurance claims were worth.”

“Holmes.” My thoughts had strayed momentarily to Milton again; a thread of them caught on my consciousness, like sheep’s wool upon a wire fence. “Did you enquire whether any of the buildings had the same architect or the same...surveyor?” I do not know why my voice faltered on the last word.

He had been filling a pipe at the Persian slipper, and whipped round to face me, eyes narrowed. For an instant there was more than calculation in his expression, something akin to unease. A second later the sleuth hound had conquered all.

“D’you know, Watson, you may have hit upon an important line of enquiry. I will pursue it.” At which he lit his pipe, flung himself in his armchair, curled his long limbs up like a human knot, and closed his eyes. He was still sitting, silent, in that exact fashion when I left for home.

I saw Milton a week later in my restored surgery. I was relieved to see that his infection was well on its way to clearing up - an outcome which cannot be certain even in mild cases - and dared to express the hope that in future he would heed my advice and I should only need to worry about his chest. He nodded meek agreement but seemed only to be half-listening, as if my words were but distantly connected to his plight. One cannot after all force someone to be prudent, I reflected.

Imagine my surprise when the next time I saw Edward Milton was at Baker Street.

Holmes had not directly included me in his investigations. “There is no literary seam of recherché characters and odd legends to mine here, my dear doctor, and no danger to brave; only the patient unravelling of tangled skeins until the truth is revealed. I have spent more time waiting in the hallways of self-regarding officialdom over the past month than I would willingly inflict upon myself, let alone a friend.” I had learned whilst visiting to discuss arrangements for reoccupying my old room that my notion of a common thread to the buildings rather than the businesses had come to nothing. Thus, I was surprised to get a telegram summoning me for the hour of six in the evening the same day.

“ An unsigned, typewritten note requesting my help to avoid ruin and naming this day and time,” Holmes remarked, holding it out to me. “I was done on a commercial machine, not by its normal operator, after hours and in poor light. Conclusion?”

“A man of business, above the station of clerk, wishes to consult you anonymously and in secret.”

“Indeed. And there is his knock.”

I happened to be nearest the door when the new client reached the top of the stairs, and by the time I had shut it behind him and covered my own astonishment, Holmes had mastered any such reaction as the one I had seen in the street. In ordinary circumstances, I would have been unable to account in any way for the patent tension between the two men; now, my curiosity was near to killing me. Holmes moved over to the window and his face was hard to read.

“What is it that you believe I can do for you, sir?” he asked very softly. I have seen snakes in India fix on their prey with just such silent, waiting grace.

“What no-one else can, or I should never have presumed...” Milton turned his hat restlessly in his hands and addressed the carpet.

“I dare say not. Blackmail, is it?” The words were frost on thin glass.

Holmes had not invited his guest to sit and since for the moment this was his home and not yet mine, I could hardly take it upon myself to do it. It was as if they had forgotten I was in the room. This was no theatre of instant deduction and amazed acknowledgement, but rather a Greek tragedy where the story is all known in advance.

“Just so. But the demand is too high...” I had a sudden sense that the words “this time” should have been added to the sentence. Holmes seemed to find what Milton had said oddly amusing.

“What has been demanded? Money? Co-operation? Information?” He all but spat the last word out.

Milton drew an envelope out of his coat pocket and handed it over. “It‘s all in there. I am to tell them where the weak points are in each structure, where to get in without detection and leave swiftly, where the most damage may be wrought.”

It began to dawn on me that this was no ordinary blackmail case. Naturally, dawn for me was shining noontide for Sherlock Holmes, and his eyes sparkled, even as he continued to regard Milton with ill-concealed contempt.

“Very well: leave this with me and I will see what can be discovered as to the author or authors of your current plight. Call here again in two days and I should have news.” With that, he ushered Milton to the door without another word, holding the letter aloft with the other hand as if it might be snatched back.

I had to know more, but without giving away my own prior knowledge. “Holmes. You didn’t ask him what the blackmailers had threatened to reveal. Surely that must have a bearing on the case?”

“Watson, kindly cease pretending you are unaware that I and that...gentleman have met before. What you have not asked me is quite as revealing as what you have.” He tore open the envelope and held it in his bared teeth as he began to scan the contents, swiftly, as if hurrying toward the real meat of it.

I let out the breath I had been holding in a rush. “Very well, it is obvious that you do know him. You know him and there is some bad blood between you, some past unpleasantness.”

“ ’Unpleasantness?’” Holmes barked a bitter little laugh. “That is certainly one way of putting it.” He was turning to the second page of the letter as he spoke, then something he read made him exclaim in triumph. The envelope fluttered from his mouth to the floor.

“Yes, here we have it! The solution to the mysterious epidemic of fires. Read it.” He thrust the letter at me and I took it, so schooled was I in the habit of obedience to his direction. Yet as I absorbed the first words an alarm sounded in my heart.

“Holmes,” I protested. “Mr....your client has not given me leave to see this. It would not be right...”

“Anyone who has read your esteemed body of work,” (what a knack he had of making words convey their exact opposite) “ought to know that to consult me is to involve my Watson also. Read it. I doubt that, as a medical man, there is much there to shock you. The first page would scarcely fetch tuppence on Holywell Street. I draw your attention to the second page.”

And so I read it, and the alarm in my heart became a thin wail of distress. Someone had evidently been following Edward Milton, and had sent him an account of his visits to certain establishments where, for a fee, he had subjected himself to humiliations of which I will not write here but which were all of a sexual character. It was revoltingly detailed for its brief length. Revolting, that is, for the unfeeling malice in it, not for the acts themselves, which rather seemed pitiable to me in their desperation for human connection at any cost.

My hand was trembling in sympathy for the poor fellow when I turned to the second page and saw what Holmes wished me to see: that Milton must be one of a group of professionals connected with the construction of business premises who had been pressed to furnish the intelligence for arson on a large scale.

“No doubt the line of attack differed in each case, but the same result was intended. This poses the question: who profits?”

“But...”

Holmes waved away my interruption to his train of thought.

“Milton’s folly is no concern of mine. Besides, find the instigator of this web of crime and his difficulty is solved along with the case.” He lit a cigarette and paced the room, smoking and muttering: “Who profits? Owners? No. Creditors? Hardly. Customers? No, prices go up...Prices go up!” He flung the cigarette at the fireplace and began to shuffle through the piles of newspapers and periodicals scattered liberally on every surface in the room. Folding over a page, he began to declaim:

“The Sterling Fire Insurance Company begs to announce that it is accepting new business from corporations and limited companies of every description. In these times of rising premiums, Sterling offers an economical alternative for the prudent. Enquire 17, Cooper’s Court, London E.C.”

It seemed a little far-fetched, to my mind, but he would not be dissuaded from going to Cooper’s Court at the first opportunity the next day, posing as a tobacco merchant in a small way (and holding out myself as, inevitably, his subordinate) - not a large stretch, given his yearly consumption - by dint of greying his hair and adopting a wheedling, provincial way of speaking.

“So you see my predicament, sir; flammable goods, sir, and tales of fire-setting. Anarchists and Fenians, like as not.”

Peter Pater, lately a very junior partner in a solicitor’s practice, had, it transpired, bought into The Sterling only a few months ago, and was rapidly winning business away even from such luminaries as the Sun and Hand-in-Hand Assurances. He was a smooth, pale, slippery fellow with crooked teeth which he had the habit of hiding with his hand if he smiled too broadly. He was only too willing to provide a hand-written quotation on the spot, as his female typewriter was occupied with answering the morning’s correspondence.

Once round the corner, Holmes loitered in the entrance to an alley, scrutinising the letter and the quotation.

“Hah,” he remarked, “most unusual. A man who can write as well with his left hand as with his right, but in both cases, he leaves tell-tale signs - this ‘g’ here, the ‘b’ and the ‘f’. A more thorough analysis will find more, no doubt. I need to take these to Hopkins at once - no, Watson, have no fear, I will show him only the second page. Then the police can approach the other surveyors and architects to confirm whether they have received similar missives in one or other hand. Meanwhile, if you would be so kind as to send word to our client that he need not call tomorrow after all?”

As I sat at Baker Street awaiting his return, I tried once again to fathom Holmes’ and Milton’s previous acquaintance. It must have been one of those cases (which, as a matter of fact, constitute the majority of them) at which I was not present. Holmes loathed blackmailers above almost every other criminal, but he could be uncharitable towards their victims, if they had been so foolish (in his eyes) as to leave written evidence of their indiscretions. Yet, who can guard his every action against intolerable invasions of privacy? I did not doubt that had his own drug-taking suddenly become illegal or the subject of social shame, even Sherlock Holmes would have been hard put to give it up. Holmes believed privacy to be an inviolable birthright, as I did: that under its protection, an he harm none, a man may meet what needs and wants he may have, however out of the ordinary.

When I had spoken of bad blood between them, Holmes had not disagreed. A failure, perhaps: a case that, owing to Milton, Holmes had been unable to conclude successfully? His pride really is one of his worst faults.

“Perhaps you might forgive him, now that he has helped bring the culprit to light and once again made you the toast of the Yard?” I ventured that evening. Holmes had begged me to stay for supper, on the grounds that: “soon we shall again be dining companions as of old, and Mrs. Hudson had better get used to the increased traffic in plates”.

Holmes paused, his fork halfway to his mouth. He sniffed, favoured me with a withering stare, and continued to eat, making no remark. His stubbornness suddenly exasperated me, and I had drunk more than my share of the bottle of Beaune on the table.

“Really, Holmes: not all of us can be paragons of caution and restraint. God knows, I have not been. Besides, were it not for human weakness as much as human wickedness, you would not have a living.”

“And is it weakness, or wickedness, or the bastard child of both, that may cause a man to betray a friend to save his own skin?” he asked, in the same, deadly soft voice that he had used on our guest the evening before.

“Milton? I cannot believe that of him.”

“And why not, seeing you have only met him once?” He knew, of course, had known all along, but these little games at my expense amused him. “No, I do not ask you to break any confidence. It is really no matter, in any case. I doubt our paths will cross again.”

“You think he has learned his lesson and will be more circumspect in future?”

Holmes folded his napkin in his lap, avoiding my eye. “More likely, he will end up in the dock, and even I will be unable to save him,” he muttered.

I threw down my own napkin. “This won’t do, Holmes! Impatience with weaker mortals is one thing; but to accuse someone of betrayal, of criminal leanings without adducing any evidence: it is entirely unworthy of you.”

He sighed. “Are you concerned for my character, or that of your friend?”

“You are my friend. And it seems obvious, even to me, that some part of you wants to tell me about it, or you would not keep dropping these little hints. But I am not in the habit of forcing confidences, any more than breaking them.”

Holmes sprang up from the table, crossed the room to the mantelpiece and turned his back as he filled his cherrywood pipe with short, stabbing movements of his thin fingers. He remained standing so, smoking, for some minutes. I waited until he had composed himself. He was angry with me. No, as I came over to sit down, and he turned to face me, I saw rather that he was anxious, even wary. Nevertheless, he began to speak.

“Mr. Edward Milton first came to me in the spring of 1889. He had been robbed of his father’s watch in a certain alley behind one of his dens of resort, and dared not involve the Police. The first page of the letter you read yesterday did not specify - did not need to specify - one crucial point amongst all the flagellation and misuse of horse harness. The patrons of those particular clubs do not purchase, er, professional services; only the safety in which to indulge in those activities...with other men.”

If he thought that I would be shocked or disgusted, he had misjudged his man. “I see. Go on,” I said. Holmes offered me a sharp glance, but obliged.

“I duly investigated, and discovered that more than casual theft was taking place. Men were being systematically fleeced. The proceeds of these crimes, and all the members’ dues, were fuelling further and far worse crimes: extortion, blackmail, trafficking and the like. I tried to persuade Milton to give evidence, using some pretext to dissociate himself from the club itself, but he would not. FoolishIy, I tried to force his hand. He gave me, without shame, the real names of several other club members whom he knew - intimately and otherwise - and suggested I approach them instead.”

I was horrified. I protested that I could not reconcile the affable man I knew with such an action.

“Have I not more than once observed that charm is no guide to character? Fear may crack open many a glossy shell to reveal canker underneath.”

“What did you do?”

“What could I do, without offering evidence or suggesting a raid that would have ruined men who did not deserve it alongside those who did? The law is a bludgeon, not a scalpel. I recovered the watch - pawned under a false ticket in Borough High Street - dismissed Milton and refused his fee. That is all.”

I still felt some lingering sympathy for Milton. “In this case, the law is worse than clumsy: it positively enables evil to flourish, to fatten on the pain and fear of those who cannot help their nature,” I reflected.

“Well, I gather it is a matter of some debate amongst you medical men whether we can help it,” Holmes replied, so quietly that it took a moment for my mind to accept what my ears had heard.

We.

The floor seemed to shift suddenly under my feet.

“Holmes...”

“Ah, there, Watson, there is your outraged sensibility: not that anonymous men go with other men, but that the great Sherlock Holmes might do so, might submit himself to the lash for pleasure, for a moment free from control? What would you have thought of me, hmm, if Mr. Edward Milton had exposed me, as he also threatened to do if I so much as mentioned his name to the Police?” His eyes flashed, burning in a fire of his own making, for surely he knew that nothing, nothing could diminish him in my eyes.

“I am not ‘outraged’, only surprised. What you do with your own body is none of my business, as long as you do it no harm, and you will always be the best man I know, excepting none.”

His expression softened. “Staunch friend; forgive me. In fact, my tastes are far tamer; but of womankind, indeed no knowledge and no wish to know. Milton simply recognised that I am, in that respect if no other, like him.”

“So long as you take care; there are many who would gladly see you brought low.”

“The greatest possible care, my dear Watson. ’Qu'ils sont délicieux les plaisirs de l'imagination. How delightful are the pleasures of the imagination’, and the safest of all.” He made an elegant but unmistakable gesture with his right hand and I blushed. It was only later, going home, that I wondered just what he imagined, alone with his need.

I had old dreams that night, and I awoke in the dark, sheets tangled and dank with sweat. I had left all that behind with school, in the army billet, at the Turkish baths: groping through a swirling fog of unspent desire, furtive, busy hands and voiceless mouths, men with other men, no words of tenderness but an aching closeness all the same, the fear of life, of death, of loneliness. I had left it behind for the marriage bed, sweet and sanctioned and safe, but so too I had loved dear Mary, I had.

And Holmes? “Never marry lest it bias my judgement”? What rot. Why had I not seen it then, except I did not wish to see, was too busy running from the place where Cupid, that cunning little sniper, was aiming his rifle: the sitting room with the welcoming hearth and the Persian slipper and the lonely demigod of Baker Street.

I thought of Mary and I thought of Holmes; how she never made me choose between them, and how he never let me do anything else, simply by being himself. How, if I loved him, if I set up home with him again in the certain knowledge that once we crossed the threshold of desires declared and carnal pleasures shared, we could never more be only friends, the stake was sickeningly high.

Of course Holmes, being himself, was not about to make it easier for me.

I moved my boxes back into the upstairs bedroom, my medical bag once more rested on the table by the sitting room door, two pairs of slippers sat warming on the hearth rug side by side, and he said nothing. We ate together, worked together, smoked from a common slipper, got drunk together - he is a beautiful drunk, boneless gestures flying from his wrists, flights of mad, brilliant fancy pouring from his mind, words tumbling into lax eloquence. For God’s sake, we even went to the baths together! He is even more beautiful there, heating the very tiles of the plunge pool and drawing many a longing look, hastily disguised. And make no mistake, I was one who looked my fill and suffered and died gloriously for it in my bed that night.

I thought that he knew, he must know. Still nothing. I began to think that perhaps I had been mistaken; perhaps his solitary satisfactions were enough for him. Perhaps it was not even my touch that he imagined, coaxing him to bliss.

Then, one evening, I caught him. Rather, he caught me, as he had meant to do all along. A mantrap is a vicious thing - jaws powerful enough to shatter bone, hidden out of sight until a single footstep on the plate sets if off. The poacher means to bag his supper but is bagged himself. So, into that velvet trap stepped I.

I had dropped in at my club, but found no-one there of my acquaintance, so returned early to Baker Street. Holmes was evidently in occupation of the settee, but I could not see him clearly from the doorway. He jerked up his head with a theatrical little gasp as I came in, and scrambled to his feet, fastening his trousers with one nimble hand whilst holding the other up to stave me off, all the time staring straight at me with his perfect lips parted, in a way that made my bones melt.

I had had enough. As he retreated, I advanced. By the time the backs of his long legs hit the edge of my desk his stare had gone from startled to positively predatory.

“You were going to ask, perhaps, what was I doing to myself just now?” he purred.

“Never mind that. I know what you are doing to me now and so do you, you fiend. Where do you want it?”

“Are you referring to your hand, your mouth, your prick, my prick, or sexual congress in general?” He drawled, savouring every word.

I flushed, but my voice was steady. “Let’s start with the last item, shall we?”

His gaze flicked sideways towards his bedroom door then back to my face. A charming, and not wholly calculated, uncertainty appeared in his eyes.

“What is this, John?”

“This, my dear Holmes - and I shall always call you only that, so be grateful, there’s a good chap- is where we admit to each other and to ourselves what we feel and what we want. It is where our bodies finally follow the road our souls took years ago. This is love. This... has been a long time coming.”

His face was that of a dark angel, aloof and serene when I spoke of love, but the devil was in his voice. “How fortunate: I have always greatly appreciated things” and he brushed my trouser front with a delicate pass of his hand, “that take a long time coming.”

His touch stirred me so profoundly in that instant that my knees buckled. I seized his wrist before he could do it again. I wanted that long time coming with all my being, not to pitch into completion with only my flies open and my collar awry, not this first time. I pulled him with me into the bedroom and secured the doors and the blinds. Without conscious thought, I had tasked myself with his protection in this, as in all things.

“Mrs. Hudson...”

“...is out. Also, for future reference, discreet and shockproof,” he replied airily.

His iron self-confidence never wavered, although of the two of us I was pretty certain I had the advantage in experience. To play the blushing virgin, even if he was one, would have been foreign to his nature; when I found myself asking: “Have you...before...have you ever?” his answer was simply: “Never with you.”

I wanted him naked, the both of us naked on top of the covers so I could see him, could see myself with him, could know the raw truth of it. He brought with him a stoppered flask of ruby glass which he had out of a drawer in the armoire, and set it on the nightstand next to the burning candle. Scattered fragments of coloured light danced in the dark until our eyes grew used to it.

Kneeling on the bed, he poured golden oil from the flask into the palm of his hand until it overflowed, dripping slowly onto the sheets between his white fingers. Kneeling opposite him, my thighs braced apart and my prick at full attention between us, I held out my hand for some and we used it generously on each other, frigging roughly, handling each other’s balls, watching what we were at, drawing out the pleasure of it, groaning aloud. He stroked the insides of my thighs with another handful of oil, panting: “I saw this once, on a painted vase, I want to try it, let me, Watson, let me, please, ah, please!”

His begging undid me; I believe I would have let him rend me in pieces if he asked in that husky, needy tone. We rolled to lie on our sides and he braced my knees together with both hands, gripping my leg muscles as they corded with the strain; I saw what he meant to do and holding my thighs firmly closed, guided his tool downwards to slide, slick and heavy and long, between them.

He worked at me, strong and steady, his cheek laid against my chest, his hand now cupping me behind at my neck or my arse to hold me fast, now feeling up and down my spine, drawing every nerve to the surface in leaping delight.

Neither were my hands idle. I plundered his black hair, soft at his nape and crisp at his groin. I cradled his jaw and dipped my head to kiss him, to taste his greedy tongue and smoky breath. I slipped one arm between us down his slender body to pull now and then at my own prick, or to set it back to delicious friction on a glide of oil up his hard belly.

I had never lasted so long with a man. When one is young, and torn between lust and the fear of discovery, it is oft a matter of a few minutes between bawdy talk and a hurried spend. Here was lust indeed, but the slow pleasure of discovery instead, and tenderness too. Yes. It may seem odd, with all the heaving to, the moaning of base words, the urgent rutting, but there was tenderness too. He is not a tender man, my lover, not until he has cast off his shell and come naked and raw to me, mind and body both. Even then there are no words of love, but I do not require them of him, do not need them for myself. But when he presses against me, tangled up in me, desperate for connection, crying my name, his teeth marking me and his lips soothing the marks with wet kisses: then I ache for the beauty of it and afterwards, with the echo of its ending.

As now, so then. I thought Holmes meant to have me utterly, and I was not ready for that, knew that deep down I never would be, but I would have done it all the same, for him. He knew, of course he knew, from how I shifted subtly when he thrust high and powerfully between my legs, how I trembled when his fingers groped blindly around one of my buttocks. He set his mouth to my ear.

“It’s alright, Watson, it’s alright. I wouldn’t ask it of you; nor offer it myself, truth to tell. Come here,” and he pulled free only to kiss me, beginning at my mouth, petting my moustache with his thumbs as he did it, caressing my shoulder as he worked his way down my throat, my chest, all the way down until he took me in his mouth and I nearly died with the joy of it.

The scent of the oil was sweet almonds, heavy in the air as our bodies warmed it. I had a thirst to know its taste and that of Holmes mingled with it, and contrived to manoeuvre around on the bed, delirious from the feel of his strong suckling continuing without let, all the while I moved. I swooped on the head of his cock as he moved restlessly, trying to find some friction of his own. His whole body began to shake as we joined in the heavenly arc of giving and receiving, and there was honey and salt and musk in my mouth and nose as well as almonds and starched linen beneath us, and the sounds in his throat and mine and I couldn’t hold it back any longer, couldn’t stop, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe for the long seconds it took to spend every drop I had ever possessed into him. He relinquished my flesh, a last gentle salute with lips and tongue, then arched his supple back as I swallowed him deeper; a handful of gasping blasphemies later, he followed me over the precipice.

The world righted itself, by and by. We crept under the covers, shattered and shivering as the sweat cooled on us. We had burned in our own furnace as the fire had died in the grate. Now we took refuge from the chill, from the world and its freezing gaze that would punish men who did as we had just done, that would not look at what we are: friends and comrades, the best and wisest of men and an old soldier gladly spending a lifetime by his side, who were introduced by a mutual acquaintance.

An acquaintance I had met, I might remind you, my dear Holmes, quite by chance.

END

sherlock holmes, fic

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