He licks his lips a lot. It's one of his many tics.
Occasional outbursts triggered by little or nothing. Such as: Mrs Hudson telling him to rest his leg.
Frequent glances at his hands to determine whether or not they are shaking.
Unconscious checking of the bolt on the door, the range dials, the latches on the windows.
Less unconscious: reaching to touch the small of his back as we leave the flat on a case.
"Do you have your gun, John?" I sometimes ask, even if I've seen him feel for it already. I do it to nettle him, to make him second guess himself. He always reaches to check again, the palm of his hand brushing against the fabric of his shirt or the wool of his jumper.
The lip-licking fascinates me. It is the behaviour of liars, of schizophrenics, of the nervous. John is none of these. I know him to be truthful, calm, and moderately sane.
It is also the behaviour of flirts, but it isn't only when flirting that he does it. But he does do it, then, yes. With shop assistants and secretaries, with women walking their dogs in the park. With the woman in the cookbook aisle of the bookshop. With women who share his taxis. With the neighbour, whose career as a dominatrix John has not cottoned on to yet.
I am aware of the exact moment when he becomes aware that I stare.
"What?" he asks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Have I got something on my face?"
I put my hands in my coat pockets and scan the crowd in the park where we have gone on one of our walks. The flat was becoming too dull for words. It made my bones hurt. He's watching me, waiting for my response. He thinks I don't notice.
"You lick your lips. Often."
As I turn back to him, he's licking them again, unconscious. Then conscious.
"I do, don't I?"
"Not a childhood habit. No... More recent. No one's pointed it out to you before. Something you picked up during the war. Sitting still for a long time. Waiting. It was the one part of you you could move without being detected."
He smiles one of his smiles. "Does it bother you?"
"On the contrary," I say.
His face shifts the moment he decodes my meaning. Before he can say a word, I take off, walking back towards Baker Street, leaving him standing on the path.
A few moments later, he catches up. We walk on in silence. I can hear the cranks turning in his less adept brain as he walks along beside me. Creak, creak. Yes, John, your tongue is quite pink. Likely to be extremely dexterous, I know, and I think about it. Constantly.
We are all the way to 2-2-1-B, and he hasn't spoken a word. Silence. Silence, silence, silence. Good. Let him be silent. I unlock the door, and forge ahead, using my longer legs to mount the stairs in threes. Seventeen. Nick in the fourteenth. Creak in the third, loudest when it rains.
"Sherlock!" he calls from downstairs, and I hear the front door close with a clap. There's the bolt.
I peer down at him. "What?"
He doesn't seem angry. In fact, his expression is remarkably open. "Really, what?" I demand, pretending to be cross. "Be specific. Generalities are the hobgoblins of lazy minds."
He climbs up the stairs slowly, finally drawing even with me. He's wearing his beige shirt with the blue squares made by thin lines. He dislikes it. Only wears it when he's running out of clean clothes. He'll do the washing tomorrow. Best sneak my things in tonight. He opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. Licks his lips. His hand comes up, as if to cover his mouth. "I did it again."
"Don't stop on my account." I turn towards my bedroom, my shoes sounding off the wooden floor.
"It's all okay, you know," he calls after me. "I meant that."
I stop just outside my door. "It's all okay, is it? Everything?"
He looks uncertain. "Of course."
"In the abstract, perhaps, but I'm a man who likes things proven. Here you are, honoured servant, brave soldier, constant propositioner of women. Living with me, Sherlock Holmes, who likes to wank at night, thinking about you. I suggest you get out while you can. Before I molest you." I step inside. And shut the door.
"Not Christmas," I mutter, wanting more than nicotine. Bang head against door. Filched that bit of morphine from the case at the hospital. Thrown out in a fit of virtuousness, no doubt. Foolish virtue. Vice is far more occupying.
The knock comes a moment later, as I knew it would. Aggravation. Bang head against door again.
He tries the door, but I'm holding the knob. Knob. A surge of heat at the word. It moves in my hands. I lean against the door, keeping it shut. I wonder if he's stronger.
"It's fine with me." He waits a moment.
I can hear him breathing. A trace of asthma, probably a reaction to being back in London pollution. Not a childhood asthma. Probably didn't exist before he went to war.
"It's more than fine." His voice sounds close, right on the other side of the wood panelling.
"Christ," I hear him swear softly. "Sherlock! Open. The. Fucking. Door. Stop being a spoilt brat."
I yank open the door and stand there as tall as I can make myself, looking down the bridge of my nose at him. Five foot seven. Makes him feel inadequate on occasion. He's well-built, muscled. Has installed a bar in his closet doorway from which he does pull-ups each day. I hear him grunting, sometimes in pain. I often listen for it.
Then his hands are on my shoulders and he's pulling me towards him. Lips. Before I know it. His lips. And then his tongue, which, in my surprise, I let in. I let it in.
Damn him! There's always something.
I am not an amateur in many subjects -- my array of knowledge is not only vast but in-depth. It includes the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, entomology, physics) and the soft (psychology, anthropology). It includes history (all periods, all countries), art (all periods, all countries), and languages (five, and counting). But there is one area in which I might call myself something of a novice.
Yes, I have made a study of sadism and masochism, of the various games, fetishes, kinks, paraphernalia, and perversions relevant to my profession. But of the lighter side of the coin, I know little. I have not been without opportunity, but most usually, I have refused.
John, I could not refuse.
I open my eyes to find him staring at me curiously.
"You taste of tobacco," he says, bringing his thumb up to rub against my lower lip. "How is that possible?" He looks at me like I'm a wondrous thing. As in many instances, he is wrong, but as in many instances, I won't correct him.
He tastes like fruit. Apples? Unexpected.
"There's always something," I say. "How could I not have seen it?"
"You. What a cretin I am!"
"Your brain is addled." He pushes me farther into the room, then closes the bedroom door behind him. "Do you know --" his voice gives. "What I want to do to you?"
Clearly, my powers of deduction are on the wane. I dare not guess, though I've imagined.
He licks his lips again. "What is it, exactly, about my mouth?" he asks, sitting down on my bed.
"Tongue. People say it's the strongest muscle in the body, but as a doctor, you know they're incorrect. The tongue comprises sixteen muscles, not one."
Genuine surprise. "My tongue?" A smile. "It's just like everyone else's." He sticks it out at me, starting to laugh. He lies back on the rumpled covers. Regards me with a strange vulnerability.
I lie beside him and stare at the ceiling. There's a bullet-hole. Can't remember doing that. "You show it to everyone. Bin men, waitresses, cabbies, Scotland Yard. There's no one in London who hasn't seen your tongue!"
He turns onto his side. Props his head on his hand. His face is puzzlingly fond as he gazes down at me. "Oh," he says. "Is that how it is?" He tugs on my coat. "Get this off."
I sit up, feeling lightheaded. The coat sticks. I'm sitting on it. A struggle ensues. His steady hands remove his own coat, then his shoes.
"Why do you like me?" I protest.
"What?" His jumper and shirt have come off.
Rid of the coat, but still dressed, I watch him unbuckle his belt, then release the button and zip of his trousers. "You stay here in this flat. You must like me, at least a little. Or maybe it's Mrs Hudson whom you like."
"Are you daft?"
The light in the room is fading with the day. It feels like a dream. Or a trip. Beneath his clothes, he's pale. Quiet now. Quiet. He sits beside me. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about his clothes. Even the boxers seem to be the type bought in threes at Marks and Sparks. He's out of clean clothes, it's a certainty.
"I have nothing to say about your insanity, but if it's my tongue you fancy, you can have as much of it as you want." He leans. Hovers at the meeting of button and buttonhole. Then his tongue dips between the buttons, finding skin in the gap. Sixteen muscles. Deft and wet. His fingers working at the buttons of my shirt.
"The clues! What--?" He never asked me. Never told me. He's very direct. If he likes a woman, he asks her out, no games. Painful to watch when they aren't interested. During all our cases, not one sign! I think back. And back. Six months. Six months. Six months. Thirty-one cases he's assisted me on. Up late. Going to work tired like a brick the next morning. The solution is becoming clear to me.
"Shut up. I can hear you thinking," he says. Kisses me again, his weight on top of me, the no-longer-bad leg between mine.
What to do with my hands? They settle on his back, fingers rubbing the cotton of his dull shorts. "These don't suit you," I point out, snapping the elastic.
"You're far more interesting."
"Than what?" He stands up. Sheds the shorts.
Beautiful. I sit up to have a closer look. His cock hard and flushed pink. Brown curls, groomed. Scar on leg. Scar on shoulder. Scar on abdomen, unrelated to the war. Childhood. Slight cant to his stance. Still unconsciously favouring the leg. Habit. Some hair on chest. Not shaved. Nipples more brown than pink. Deodorant: Mitchum. Another smell: his.
An experiment in sensitivity. I cup his testicles in my hand, enclosing them. Give the gentlest tug. He groans above me. I move on. Pressure on the underside of his cock with my thumb, and he thrusts forward. A rather large amount of precome, though my data points are limited.
"Please," he growls. "Do something."
"I'm collecting data." The last lover did not possess this much patience. He was my lover only once.
"I think," he says, grabbing my hand, "maybe you need to clear your mind." He falls to his knees, wincing only slightly, and reaches for the button of my trousers. Yanks my zip down, then hauls one layer of fabric over my hips. "Maddening," he says again.
I oblige him by lifting when he orders me to, and the trousers take their leave. The others, only once. Only once. They couldn't quite tolerate me, clothed and awake.
"Hey," he asks softly, suddenly above me, his knees causing the mattress to dip. "Okay?"
I nod. His face softens. "You're not... I mean...."
"Of course not!"
He looks at me for a long moment, thinking. Then, he leans to kiss a nipple. His tongue, his tongue, circling. He surprises me more often than one might think. A rare trait. I close my eyes.
"I'll have you know, I've never done this to any cabbies or bin men."
I laugh. Hear a rustling. Feel his body moving. He takes my hand, turns my arm. His tongue, electric, touches the vein at the inside of my elbow. Scars have faded. Hope he won't see them. Then the vein at my wrist.
Sight is over-rated. I feel everything. The room is vast around me. A thick rope of desire runs through me. And his mouth is on me, his tongue touching me through the cotton of my briefs. He finds the split in the fabric, and his tongue is a tease.
"Hm," he says against me. Works the briefs down, sets my cock free. He tongues me. His tongue on me. Tip in slit. And then his mouth. Frenulum and frenulum. Never occurred to me. The only two parts of the body. Heat running through me at great speeds, faster, faster. And bright light.
When I open my eyes, he's staring.
"What?" I focus on the bullet-hole in the ceiling. Really, when did that happen?
"That was...amazing. Spectacular. Brilliant." He shifts to lie on top of me, the tip of his cock butting at my wet skin.
"You do go on."
He kisses me. Guides my hand. It fits around him. His eyes are smiling. I smile back. We both burst out laughing. He kisses me again. Tongue. Teeth. Tongue. Mine. Fingers of my free hand wandering where they will, continuing their experiment.