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“You look absolutely irresistible like that, no, don’t move.”

I obeyed his whispered command and was rewarded with the soft press of his lips and slick slide of his tongue into my mouth. I opened to him and was granted a quiet moan in return. It made me shiver at the sound of it, deep and hungry, and I slid lower into the water, slipping my hand behind his neck and drawing him down with me.

“Stop,” he gasped, resisting. Laughing. “Stop.”

I opened my eyes and blinked up at him in the bright white light of the bathroom.

“You’re already dressed,” I noted and was unable to hide my disappointment.

“Don’t pout at me,” he chided, his hands braced on either side of the tub, hovering over me. “If I hadn’t had the presence of mind to avail the hotel of their spa—the barber is first rate by the way—we would never make our reservation.”

“Damn our reservation,” I said, scratching my fingernails through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. He had been to the sauna I could see and after, had had a cut and a shave. His skin was supple and warm and it smelled faintly of a strange aftershave. Something foreign; sweet, but bitter, like grapefruit. Or geranium.

“Join me.” I tugged him down to me again and kissed him softly. Ever so gently. Just a tease of lips and tongue and breath and I had him breathing hard and chasing me back.

“Sherlock,” he remonstrated, pushing back at last with what strength remained to him. It must have taken a colossal effort. My knees were weak from that kiss and I hadn’t been the one standing.

“Oh, all right,” I huffed, splashing a bit as I bent my knees, intending to stand up. “Hand me the towel will you?”

“No, no,” he said, waving his hands at me, “you stay where you are. Enjoy your bath. I’m going to finish dressing and then head down to the bar. I’ve laid out your things on the bed. Once you’re ready come down and we’ll go to dinner. You have—“ He broke off to look at his watch, “—a half an hour.”

I leaned my arms on the lip of the tub, rested my chin on the back of my hand, and watched him as he began to walk backwards out of the bathroom.

He was still barefoot, but dressed in black tuxedo trousers, blood-red braces, and a crisply ironed, snow white shirt with a stiff, starched collar. A bow tie hung loose around his neck. His cheeks were pink from my kisses, but his silver hair was still impeccably coiffed, swept off to one side and neatly trimmed, despite my attentions. He was rakishly good looking with three of his buttons undone and I wanted to have him just there on the rug before the sink.

“Stop looking at me like that,” he growled, his voice rough on my bare skin.

“Like what?” I asked, innocently.

“Like you’re imagining me naked,” he said, raising his hands to his chest to do up the last of his buttons. I sighed. He ruined all my fun.

“It’s not exactly a stretch of the imagination,” I drawled, leaning back against the tub and closing my eyes again. The water enveloped me, lapping at my chest. “I rather think that was you in my bed earlier wasn’t it? Doing unspeakable things to my body?”

“Unspeakable were they?” he retorted, and I could hear him smiling, his nimble fingers beginning work on the bow tie. The fabric rustled softly. He looked quite adorable when I peeked up at him just then. His chin was squished into his neck, his eyes going criss-cross, as he tried to see what he was doing. The tip of his tongue was trapped in the corner of his mouth as he began to tie the bow. “Well that certainly explains why you were reduced to a vocabulary that only included my name and the letter O.”

He had a point.

“Are you sure we can’t just celebrate here?” I tried one last time. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to indulge his incurable romanticism by letting him wine and dine and music me into a state just bordering transcendental, but I knew that by the end of it we would both be yawning and the evening would end with us curled up around each other, snoring into each other’s ears, all our other needs sated, save the carnal. In all honesty it sounded quite perfectly lovely, and he had worked hard to put it all together, but I could still feel his hands on me from earlier. An evening spent kissing him would have been on par with listening to any symphony known to man. I simply cannot get enough of him.

He looked up at me from beneath his blonde brows and shook his head. “A half an hour,” he said, and then turned and left.

I sank down into the water and listened to him put on his socks and shoes in the other room. He lingered a few moments in front of the mirror, settling his jacket, and then, with one last kiss for me, blown from the doorway, he was gone.

I didn’t tarry long in the bath. I washed and then shaved carefully, wanting to look my best for him. When I finally made my way out into the bedroom and saw just what he had “laid out” for me on the bed, I felt instant remorse at having so unfairly misjudged him. He had planned everything to the last detail.

The evening took on a whole new light.


**********

 

Downstairs I paused in the entrance to the hotel’s salon, taking a moment to savor the sight of John below me.

He stood at the bar, one foot propped on the copper bar that ran the length of the base. He was sipping from a crystal glass and chatting with the woman mixing the drinks. His back was turned slightly towards me and my eyes traced the silver vee at the nape of his neck and the outline of his familiar profile. As my gaze traveled lower, down his back and into the dip of his waist, I felt my heart beat, a slow heavy drum in my chest. My limbs felt gravid, saturated with desire, my blood a thick throb through my veins. As I made my way down the short flight of marble steps, my dress shoes clipping smartly against the floor, John turned and our eyes met with a snap. My stomach dove and my breath caught. He raised an eyebrow in question and I nodded. His pupils dilated, blue engulfed by black, and I felt, acutely, the lace whispering against my bare skin. Our gaze was laden with this secret and it flowed between us, a liquid current of intimacy and anticipation.

“Hello, gorge—“

I did not let him finish.

He tasted of whiskey and peaty smoke and his lips were wet and soft and opened to mine without hesitation.

“Thank you for my gift,” I said a few endless seconds later, as I brushed our noses together, before slowly pulling away.

“Yeah?” he said, his eyes flicking between mine, his pupils blown wide. His lips were slick and red and his cheeks were growing pink.

I nodded and knocked back the last of his whiskey. It was purely self-preservation. If I had kept looking at him any longer I would have simply dragged him back upstairs to our room and we never would have left.

“Shall we?” I said instead, coughing into the back of my hand as the liquor burned it’s way down my throat.

John smiled and slid his hand into the small of my back as we both turned to go.

It felt like a promise, the shape of his palm warm through three layers of clothing, imprinting on my skin.

Outside, the February night was frigid and an icy wind threaded it’s way through Paris’ streets. We walked down the Rue Saint-Honore and turned onto Rue du Chevalier Saint-George and were seated at once inside the bistro. The hostess led us through the tiny space and into the back left corner where the velvet padded benches that lined the back wall met in an L. Once the waiter had filled our water glasses and I had placed an order for oysters and champagne John moved the pillows that were stacked between us, slid into the corner, and pressed his thigh to mine.

Resting his elbow on the back of the bench John leaned in, his mouth close to my ear. “Are you wearing them?”

I shivered as John’s warm breath tickled my skin. I cast my eyes down into my lap where John’s hand was resting on my thigh, his fingers drawing small, tantalizing circles higher and higher up my leg.

“Yes.”

John moaned softly and all the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “God, I want you.”

“If you recall,” I said dryly, looking up at him, “I was the one who wanted to skip right to the good part.”

John huffed a laugh and squeezed my leg, the fingers of his other hand playing with the ends of my hair. “Every part with you is good.”

I snorted. “You’re hopeless.”

John hummed. “Mmm, hopelessly besotted.”

The kiss we shared was slow and wet, suggestive of things to come. Our tongues met and tangled languorously, our lips sliding against each other, slick. He still tasted faintly of whiskey and his skin was warm through his trousers when I slipped my hand beneath his unbuttoned coat and rested it on his hip.

When the waiter cleared his throat a few minutes later we parted slowly, our eyes fluttering open, and we shared a giddy kiss-drunk smile between us before turning to face him.

As John’s French was abominable, I ordered for us, la blanquette de veau traditionnelle for me and the filet de canette de Challans rôti for John. We would dispense with the cheese course in the interest of time and would have profiteroles fraîches au véritable chocolat chaud for dessert. A bottle of cabernet sauvignon would follow the champagne and oysters and I looked forward to the pleasure of watching John unwind. He would become softer and quicker to laugh, the lines around his eyes and mouth carved deep in joy and mirth. His eyes would glow, sapphire bright, and his gaze would be inexorably drawn again and again to my mouth, his thoughts writ clearly on his face. He would grow delightfully free with his hands, finding small ways to touch me. To tease me. To make my skin tingle and spark. To mark me as his own. He was utterly charming when he was soused and I wanted his inhibitions gone. I wanted him unchained for what he had in store. I wanted to banish his fears, his hesitancies, his propriety. His shame.

True to form he relaxed. We chatted quietly over the first course and when we were done I ordered us another round. Our mouths were chilled when they next touched and tasted of the sea and a froth of dry golden bubbles. By the time the veal stew and the duck breast arrived John was flushed and beautiful and his eyes had taken on a dark dreamy quality. He would become soppy if I let him therefore I needed to steer the ship in another direction altogether.

So when he asked me, “What are you thinking about?”, I answered truthfully.

“About you taking me back to the hotel and finishing what you started.”

He stared at me for a moment before glancing around us furtively. A small smile played at the corners of his lips. His eyes slid up to meet mine. He leaned closer to me.

“It will be worth your while to wait, I promise you,” he said against my ear.

“You know that I’m absolutely pants at waiting,” I said. “There must be a loo or an alley…”

“Sherlock…” he growled in warning.

“John,” I whined. “I’m wet and I’m hard and the lace is a torture.” John had stopped breathing as I spoke and his eyes were locked on my lips, so I continued. “Please, I’ve been thinking about you all evening.”

He licked his lips and looked around again before turning his gaze back to me. “Is that what you were thinking about when you were getting yourself ready?”

I nodded, silently entreating him with my eyes.

He dropped his voice lower. “I can just see you,” he whispered, his hand slipping into the crease of my thigh. I leaned slightly forward, giving him more space, and letting my jacket swing forward, giving him cover.

“…laid out on our hotel bed…” His fingers slid lower, skimming the edge of the knickers. “…Your skin would have been pink from your bath and your hair would have been wet…” The soft deep cadence of his voice was doing almost as much as his touch. “…Did you touch yourself first?” I nodded, and, remembering where we were, I dipped my fork into my bowl and fished up a piece of veal. “Your nipples?” he breathed. I almost dropped my fork.

I shook my head. “My—“ My heart was pounding. “My cock.”

He nodded, I could just see him in the corner of my eye, his body turned towards mine, one hand moving slowly down between my legs, the other bringing his wine glass calmly to his lips, his eyes fixed somewhere over my left shoulder. As if we were just having a casual conversation. As if he weren’t fondling the hem of the lingerie that he had bought for me at some point when I wasn’t looking the day before. That he had laid out for me beside my tuxedo on the bed with a bottle of almond oil next to it and a question mark written in black ink on a piece of hotel stationary.

Ever since John had seen me dressed up as a woman while I was tracking a certain Count while trying to recover a certain national treasure and we had both realized that it was a heretofore unrealized turn-on for him, well, we had had some few occasions to recreate that particular scene over the last few years. It had been some time since our last foray (a rather memorable time about a year ago which involved a corset, garters, and stockings—sans knickers) and I had been more than willing to play tonight.

He traced the seam of my trousers with his fingertips, light, and then ghosted them over my flies. My cock swelled eagerly into his touch, lengthening as he trailed them up and down. Up and down. I spread my legs wider and adjusted the tablecloth so that it fell over my lap, concealing John’s hand.

“So you were touching your cock…” he said, his lips stained from the wine; they were the color of crushed berries, and I wanted desperately to suck on them, but I stayed still, as I felt him tug on the tab of my zipper.

“…And you were thinking of me…” I was grateful for the noise of the restaurant as the zipper was drawn down, the grate of the metal teeth parting, muffled by the conversations happening around us and the brittle clatter of cutlery on porcelain.

I gripped my wine glass and, hand trembling, raised it to my lips.

“I was…” I stopped to catch my breath as John’s fingers slipped inside my trousers. “I was thinking of you seeing me in them,” I said, leaning my head down, over my plate, my elbow braced on the table’s edge. “I was thinking of me bent over and you not being able to control yourself. You ripped them and took me.”

John moaned softly under his breath, “Fuck, that’s hot. Keep going. Tell me.”

He pressed the pads of his fingers against my cock through the lace and rubbed lightly. I leaned back against the seat, the tablecloth hiding us from public view and I pushed my hips up.

“You were fucking me in the men’s loo at the opera house. Somewhere I had to be quiet and you took the ruined knickers and shoved them in my mouth to muffle my moans.”

“Oh my God.” He stroked over me, molding the wet fabric against my head, where I was leaking and making a mess.

“You fucked me hard and quick, all while someone was in the stall next to us. They could hear us.” I was whispering, the words were coming on truncated bursts of air. “They could hear the sound of our skin slapping and those little grunts you make when you’re close…”

Suddenly John pulled his hand away, slipping it out and tucking his fingers on top of my thigh.

Avez-vous fini avec ça?” I looked up at the waiter and could only blink dumbly back at him. My mouth worked soundlessly, my brain fogged, my body thrumming.

Oui, merci,” John said, cool as you please. Smiling politely, the waiter cleared our plates. As he walked away John pulled his hand out from under the tablecloth and turned back to face the table.

John’s head dropped into his hands and his shoulders began to shake.

“That was close,” I said unnecessarily, taking a sip of my wine to steady myself.

“Close?!” John exclaimed, still laughing as he raised his head to stare at me incredulously. “That is…that is the understatement of the year. Christ, that was madness! Pure madness. You make me reckless.”

“You love it,” I retorted. “You’re an absolute slut for danger and don’t even try and deny it.” I looked pointedly down into John’s lap where his erection was currently tenting his trousers.

“No wonder we’re so perfectly matched then,” he said, smirking down into my own lap where beneath my flies my cock was achingly hard and rubbing against the lace knickers, leaving sticky streaks of pre-come behind. With a quick glance around I slipped my hand beneath the table and did up my zip.

It was that moment, of course, when the waiter arrived with our dessert and despite the inappropriate things we had been doing just seconds before, it was only then that the restaurant became aware of us because as the waiter began to pour chocolate sauce over our pastries we both lost the plot and dissolved into helpless laughter.

 

**********

 

We passed down Avenue de l’Opéra as if in a dream. We were encased in our own bubble fueled by wine, love, and lust. All that I saw was him. And from the way he kept sneaking glances at me, the heat in his eyes prickling along the edges of my body, I knew he felt the same. I was lost to the feeling of him beside me. The corporeal fact that he was mine, that he belonged to me and I to him, it was heavy in my lungs and I felt my heart in my chest and his in his own beat in time. Is it blasphemous to say that we passed into Palais Garnier, beneath the gilt figures of Harmony and Poetry, and walked up the grand staircase, passed through the grand foyer and the rotonde, beneath the shining chandeliers, the countless works of art, that we passed through them all without a care, without a glance spared, that we were late, the guests were all seated, when we finally found the door to our private box, and, to the first stirring notes of Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat, fell against each other, against the locked door and into one of the most singular kisses of my life.

“I have to have you,” John said into my ear as the allegro swelled around us. “I have to have you right now.”

“The curtains.”

He spun and staggered to where the red velvet drapes hung, tied off to either side of the small balcony. The stage was directly below us and the sound of the orchestra was almost overwhelming in it’s power. The feeling of the music inside my chest, as intoxicating as a drug, in tandem with the look in John’s eyes as he turned and pinned me to the door with his gaze, my legs nearly buckled beneath me.

In three strides he was pressed between my knees, his hands in my hair, his tongue parting my lips. I grasped him, my hands curling around his shoulder blades and held on.

This was his night. I would go where he led.

“Just listening to you describe it,” he said, and I bent my head to hear him over the music. He put his mouth on my ear and sucked my earlobe between his lips. “I was jealous of your hand,” he said, ending on a laugh. “I love how you feel when I hold you in my palm. I love how heavy you are and how soft. How hot your skin is and how you get wet. I love it when I can just hold the tip of it against my tongue and you drip all over me. Are you wet for me right now?”

“Yes,” I gasped and leaned into his mouth. He plunged his tongue inside my ear and I groaned, loud and uninhibited. The music covered any noise we might make. John was a genius. He had chosen a public place to have sex where we needn’t be worried about how loud we got. Despite my fantasy from earlier this seemed like a more perfect option.

“I want to undress you,” he said, the words licked, hot and wet, into my ear. “And I don’t want you to help. Ok?”

I nodded, unable to speak.

He took a step back and cold air flooded in between us. His hands slid down from where they had been tangled in my hair and began to undo my bow tie. It slithered around my neck as he tugged it free and it sent a shiver skating down my spine. I felt sensitive, my skin alive and tingling.

He slid his palms up my chest, his thumbs catching on my nipples as he went, and then, as I trembled, under the lapels of my coat, running them up and over my shoulders until the jacket was sliding down my arms and off. John picked it up and stepped over to the sideboard, an extravagant Belle Epoch piece of heavy mahogany and gold filigree, and folded it neatly on top.

When John stepped back in front of me he took my right hand in his and raised it to his own chest, resting it in the center as he worked on my cuff links. I rubbed my fingertips against the fine linen, relishing the warmth of his skin radiating through, and he smiled up at me, his whole heart in his eyes. All around us the music rose and fell. I felt like one of the strings being bowed below me, strung taut and vibrating. He was my maestro and I was his tool. He made my blood sing, the way a virtuoso made his instrument sing.

Once my cuffs were undone and hanging loose around my wrists John stepped in close to begin work on my shirtfront.

I couldn’t help it, with his scent filling my nose, the tang of his sweat and the musk of his desire, and the music ringing inside my chest, I nudged my mouth down until it met his. It slowed his progress, but neither of us cared. We took the time to relish each other, the taste and feel of our tongues, the slick sweet slide of our lips. We had been doing this for ten years, but it had never grown old. I didn’t think it ever would.

My shirt joined my jacket and then he was back, his fingers on my chin, tipping it to the side. He ran his lips down my neck. He sucked at my pulse and licked at the hollow my throat. His hands moved up and down my waist, stroking my bare skin as if it was the finest cloth he had ever handled.

My belt buckle chimed as he undid it and then slid it out from around my waist and dropped it to the floor with a dull thud. Without warning he sank to his knees before me and when he looked up at me, his blue eyes dark and feral, I fell back against the door, spreading my legs to give him room.

He cupped my hips in his hands and leaned forward, running the tip of his nose along the ridge of my cock, standing out against the tight cut of my trousers. My cock throbbed and I moaned, shifting my hips restlessly as he breathed out, his breath seeping through the wool and wetting the lace beneath. It chafed slightly against my skin and my hands slid into John’s hair, tensing against his scalp. He rubbed harder against me, intensifying the sensation. I was awash in it. The soaring allegro and the heady drip of endorphins and oxytocin unleashed by John’s teasing touches suffusing me.

He relented, bending down to untie my shoes and remove them. He rolled off my socks as well and tucked them away inside. When he straightened his hands found my trouser button and deftly flicked it open. For the second time that evening he unzipped me and this time, thankfully, he slid the trousers down my thighs until I could step out of them. Somehow I managed not to knee him in the face while I did it. Small miracles. John folded them and laid them aside.

I cannot describe the look on his face when he finally saw me, naked but for the pair of high-waisted black lacy underwear that he had picked out for me.

It was like something inside him revealed itself to me in that moment. It was a look of pure need, pure yearning, pure gratitude. He did not raise his eyes to mine, he simply raised his hands and ran them gently down my body. Into the slight dip of my waist and over the jut of my hips, clothed in the lace. He lingered a bit at the hems, stroking the edges before molding his palms down the outside of my thighs. He did this several times before he seemed to come out of a daze and only then did he palm me, squeezing my cock in his fingers. I closed my eyes and simply experienced it. The way I filled his hand and the way the lace brushed my foreskin, sending waves of heat surging up my spine.

When John stopped abruptly my eyes flew open and I watched as he pulled one of the chairs away from the wall and positioned it in the center of the room. One wall was completely covered in an enormous mirror. It had been partially obscured by two large armless red velvet chairs. Once John had positioned one of them to his satisfaction he crooked a finger at me and beckoned me forward.

I went, on slightly unsteady knees. The music continued to trill around us, the violins reaching a repeated crescendo over and over again. A small part of me wanted to give myself over to it. To immerse myself in Mendelssohn’s masterpiece, written when he was only sixteen.

As I climbed onto the chair, kneeling on the cushion, my hands resting on the scrolled seat back, that part of me faded away.

In the mirror I watched as John took a handkerchief from his pocket and laid it on the chair between my knees. My ever proper doctor. Even while planning an elicit rendezvous for us he hadn’t forgotten the particulars of the thing: the inevitable clean up. If it was possible I loved him a little more in that ridiculous, endearing moment.

From this angle I could finally get a good look at the back of the knickers. I had had to hurry through getting dressed in order to meet him in the bar on time and hadn’t had sufficient time to fully appreciate John’s choice. It was an exquisite piece of work. The waist was scalloped and hugged my shape perfectly, accentuating the slim cut of my hips, while the lace on the bottom, scalloped as well, hugged the curves of my arse cheeks, leaving the bottom portion bare and swelling softly below the hems. The center was crisscrossed with black satin ribbon, which I had had to tighten and tie off in a tiny bow which was tucked into one corner, unnoticeable, and when I bowed my back, the effect, even I will admit, was quite stunning.

John was speechless. His lips were red from where he was biting them. He circled me hungrily, unable to keep his hands from me. At one point he traced the lace’s edge with the tip of his nail, drawing a hot line across my arse. I gasped and tipped my head back, baring the long line of my throat. My skin prickled and burned for him. I wanted more. I wanted his hands on me. I wanted pressure. I wanted him to let go of his control and ravage me.

Finally, after what seemed an age, he came to a stop behind me. I shifted my ankles wider and pushed back into him. When the bare skin of my thighs met the rough wool of his trousers I moaned. His hands settled on the arcs of my ribcage, his thumbs moving beneath the edge of the lace, stroking me gently. He moved lower and caught for a moment on the knot of the bow. His hands left me.

And then…

A tug.

The ribbon glided, slippery and cool against my flushed skin, as he drew it through it’s loops. I gripped the chair back and rolled my hips, thrusting slightly against the lace.

When he was done he splayed his hands in the picture window at the small of my back, his thumbs dipping into the slick seam of my arse, where I was still wet from earlier. From when I had laid on our bed and thought of this moment, when he would finally be inside of me.

John wrapped one arm around my waist and draped himself over my back, the fingers of his other hand, sliding down, down over the entrance to my body. His clothes rubbed against my skin and I felt my nakedness acutely. I tipped my head back until I felt his lips against my ear.

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered. I pushed back and he dipped two fingers inside me. I turned my head and we panted into each other’s mouths, our foreheads pressed together. “You’re perfect. I’m going to fuck you now. I’m going to fuck this tight slippery cunt now. Is that what you want?”

“Yes, God, yes, please.” I practically sobbed it.

He took the bottle of oil from his pocket and wet his fingers. When he returned them to my body he slicked them up and down the crack of my arse and circled my aching rim before pushing them once more inside. The friction of the lace against my cock combined with the feeling of being stretched and filled was overwhelming.

I reached back and grasped John’s wrist. He stilled and I turned to look at him over my shoulder. When he saw the desperate look in my eyes he understood.

The orchestra was reaching the end of the allegro, the music was frantic and matched the racing of my heart.

When John parted the lace edges and slid inside me, thick and hot and perfect, I cried out.

He gripped my hips and fucked me deep and hard, exactly the way I wanted it. I watched us in the mirror. The way he buried himself inside me as far as he could go, the look of concentration on his face as he watched the place where he disappeared inside my body, the sweat gleaming on his brow. His fingers bore into the scallops that circled my waist and I felt them tear through, his fingers slipping inside and digging into my hipbones. He was savage. He was wild.

He was glorious.

Finally he threw back his head and with complete abandon he groaned and I felt him stiffen inside me, flooding me with his come.

I was shaking by that point, my limbs could barely hold me up, and my cock was throbbing painfully, needing release.

At some point John turned me and guided me to sitting as he knelt on the ground in front of the chair.

He lifted my legs and hooked my knees over his shoulders.

Looking up at me, he took the lace in both hands and tore it away. My cock sprang out, red and rather desperate looking, and John instantly slid it between his lips.

I closed my eyes and rolled my head against the cushion, thrusting blindly into the tight wet heat of his mouth. I was so close. It trembled inside me, light pulsing through me, but I couldn’t quite reach the edge.

And then, just as the violins were singing so sweetly around me, John slipped his fingers back inside me, his come leaking out of my loose hole, and crooked them. He pumped and sucked and swallowed around me and within seconds I was coming down his throat.

I don’t remember anything else about that evening.

I don’t know how we got home.

I don’t know if we stayed for the end of the symphony.

All I know is that after that moment, maybe the most erotic moment of my life, his head was resting against my stomach and my hands were stroking his hair, and I loved him, I loved him, I loved him.

 

**********

 

“It’s good to be home,” John sighed behind me as I put the key in the lock of 221B and pushed open the door.

“It wasn’t a restful vacation?” I quipped, smiling at him over my shoulder as we made our way up the stairs. I admit I was taking them two at a time.

There was a reason I was adamant that I arrive in our sitting room before John.

It was a very good reason indeed and I had been bursting with it on the entire train ride home.

“Oi, Mike’s here,” John said, from the hallway, noticing Stamford’s brolly leaning inside our umbrella stand and his coat hanging on the peg. “Hallo, Mike, do you want some—“

John broke off and came to a startled halt in the doorway.

His eyes flickered back and forth between myself (grinning madly at him from the ground) and Mike (smiling hopefully from the couch).

“What’s this?” John asked, his eyes landing finally on me.

“Your anniversary present,” I said, petting said present with my hand and waiting…

waiting…

for the penny to drop.

“He’s ours?” Oh, the wide open blue of his eyes. Oh, the wobbly disbelief of his lips. Oh, the pure unadulterated happiness glowing on his face when he knelt down in front of me and reached out with both hands.

“His name is Toby,” I said.

“Toby,” John whispered reverently, nuzzling his nose into the black and white fur. “What a perfect, perfect boy you are.”

I looked up at Mike and we shared a smug smile over the top of John’s silvery head.

John was lost to us as Toby, the black and white and tan Australian shepherd with two intelligent brown eyes, who Mike and his wife had been unable to train as a therapy dog, but who was, in all other respects, a wonderful hound, tackled him to the ground and began enthusiastically licking his face.

The sounds John made then?

Yes, I think I’ll remember those too.